/ / Language: Русский / Genre:sf_epic / Series: Темное, кривое зеркало

Темное, кривое зеркало. Том 5 : Средь звезд, подобно гигантам

Гэрет Уильямс

Война Теней закончена. Тени покинули галактику, отправившись за Предел. Юные расы трудятся вместе в мире и гармонии как части благородного Объединенного Альянса, под руководством Благословенной Деленн и под защитой грозного флота Темных Звезд, ведомого «Тенеубийцей», Генералом Джоном Шериданом. Нарны и центавриане примирились, минбарцы реформируют их Серый Совет, За'ха'дум же — мир, который денно и нощно охраняется флотом ворлонцев.

Гэрет Д. Уильямс

Темное, кривое зеркало.

Том 5.

Средь звезд, подобно гигантам

Prologue. The Missing Year (не переведено)

Part 1. Learning How to Live (не переведено)

Часть 2. Истории Валена (перевод: Голодный Эвок Грызли, http://hungry-ewok.ru)

Part 3. On the Edges of Perception (не переведено)

Part 4. Hopes, Aspirations and Dreams (не переведено)

Part 5. The Three-Edged Sword (не переведено)

Часть 6. Огpомная pука, пpотянувшаяся с неба (Истоpия Паpлэйна) (перевод: Голодный Эвок Грызли, http://hungry-ewok.ru)

Часть 7…да не будет разорвано Богом (перевод: Голодный Эвок Грызли, http://hungry-ewok.ru)

Часть 8. Средь звезд, подобно гигантам (перевод: Голодный Эвок Грызли, http://hungry-ewok.ru)

Эпилог: Сказаны последние слова (перевод: Голодный Эвок Грызли, http://hungry-ewok.ru)

Gareth D. Williams

Prologue: The Missing Year

2261 was the year the war ended. 2262 was the year the peace began. But for some people the difference between peace and war is very small indeed. Decisions made in wartime look harder in the cold light of day, and the greater the light shining in the galaxy, the greater the shadows cast by it. 2261 was the year the war ended. 2263 was the year the peace fell apart. 2262 was the year in between. The year the dream was born.

The Shadow War ended in 2261, as did all the other wars that had been raging in the galaxy at the time — a result, directly or indirectly, of the Shadows and their involvement with the younger races. The longstanding conflict between the Narn and the Centauri that had resumed in 2259 came to a close with the Kazomi Treaty. The Human / Minbari War formally ended with both races joining the United Alliance. The Human civil war also formally ended with that event, as the new Proxima Government entered the Alliance.

It was a time of relative optimism, at least briefly. After all the wars and bloodshed of the preceding years, a period of peace was welcomed by almost everyone. There were of course numerous skirmishes, raids and attempts to hunt down those wanted for various war crimes during the previous decade, but except for the Drazi Conflict (q. v., chapter 7) 2262 was a year of peace.

It is easy to overlook those twelve months in the light of the events that followed, but the collapse of the peace and even of the Alliance itself cannot be considered in isolation. The formation of the Alliance and the circumstances that gave it birth have already been studied, and the next volume will deal with its downfall. Now, however, the twelve months during which the Alliance effectively ruled the galaxy unchallenged will be examined.

Note: all dates given in this volume are Earth standard unless specifically stated otherwise.

GILLESPIE, E. (2293) The Light Ages. Chapter 1 of The Rise and Fall of the

United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and the Beginning of the Third,

vol. 3, 2262: The Missing Year. Ed: S. Barringer, G. Boshears, A. E.

Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

* * *

The ultimate focus of 2262 was undoubtedly the building of the new centre of the Alliance: the space station called Babylon 5, a continuation, most probably, of Ha'Cormar'ah G'Kar's ultimately failed attempt at providing a central gathering place for those fighting the Shadows in 2260: the Babylon 4 space station, destroyed at the Battle of the Third Line.?

Babylon 5 was constructed in high spirits, with representatives from all the major races involved in the effort. While this was clearly used as a public relations spectacle — the sight of former enemies working together to create a home of peace was then a welcome one — practical necessities were also a concern. No one race had the resources to fund a station of that size and capacity on its own, and neither did the Alliance as a whole. There were many complaints about the vast resources needed to complete the station, seen by many as unnecessary given that Kazomi 7 was still perfectly capable of housing the Alliance Government and bureaucracy. However, others had more personal misgivings.?

? WILLIAMS, G. D. (2291) A Line in the Sand. Chapter 4 of The Rise and Fall of

the United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and the Beginning of the

Third, vol. 2, The Years of Battle. Ed: S. Barringer, G. Boshears, A. E.

Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

? See also Learning at the Prophet's Feet, by L'Neer of Narn, and One Eye to the

Future by G'Dan (based on interviews with Commander Ta'Lon), for more

details concerning Ha'Cormar'ah G'Kar's personal feelings about the

construction of Babylon 5.

LAKER, A. (2293) A Shining Beacon in Space. Chapter 14 of The Rise and Fall of

the United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and the Beginning of the

Third, vol. 3, 2262: The Missing Year. Ed: S. Barringer, G. Boshears, A. E.

Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

* * *

It would be a shining beacon in space, a dream given form, a place of peace in a galaxy that had known only war. It would be a symbol of the new age, an age which would at last no longer need to fear shadows.

And it would be called Babylon 5.

G'Kar said the name to himself softly. "Babylon Five." The name sounded right, somehow. Appropriate. He had tried to create a similar dream once before with Babylon 4, but that project had ended in fire and destruction and so many deaths. The cost had drained him, both financially and emotionally. After it had gone he had done…. so little, as if that station had been his greatest and only contribution to the future.

And now it was going to be bettered.

"Babylon Five," he said again.

It was Sheridan's idea, devised by him and Delenn. A new place, unbound by the symbols and memories and imagery of all the old. A completely new centre for the galaxy.

A dream, given birth by people who had long ago forgotten how to dream.

"Dreams are for people who sleep," he whispered, trying remember who had once told him that. The answer came to him soon enough. Londo, of course. "And where are you now, old friend? On the throne you always professed to hate, sending us diplomats and spies in your stead. Why do you not come in person?

"What do you fear so, Londo?"

He looked at the early drawings for Babylon 5 and shivered suddenly. He started and looked around. Kazomi 7 was a hot world, almost as hot as Narn itself. There were no draughts here.

But if not a breeze, then what?

A feeling.

"What do any of us fear?" he asked, his words as hollow as the grave.

There were only graves to answer him.

* * *

The existence of ancient races with vastly superior technology had long been rumoured among the younger races. Humanity's own love of myths and legends and conspiracies had given rise to numerous stories, most of which were expansions into space of old Earth legends such as the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster and the Abominable Snowman.

Other races had similar stories. Young Drazi warriors would go 'hunting the First Ones' as a rite of passage and a display of bravado. The Markab had numerous legends based on the events of the last Shadow War. The Narns had witnessed many inexplicable occurrences on their border at Sigma 957, and believed it to be a haunted world.

Some of these stories had a basis in fact. Others were no more than corruptions of old legends. The Shadow War, however, led to a resurgence of interest in First One myths, as many of the stories could be explained by connections to either the Shadows or the Vorlons.

2262, however, saw the rest of the legends become reality. Slowly at first, but with increasing frequency, awesomely powerful ships were sighted in forgotten areas of space. Initially these were ignored or disbelieved, but over time even the Alliance itself had to take action.

One of the first accepted sightings occurred in February 2262, at the Narn world of Sigma 957….

GOLDINGAY, D. G. (2293) Stalkers on the Rim. Chapter 4 of The Rise and Fall of

the United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and the Beginning of the

Third, vol. 3, 2262: The Missing Year. Ed: S. Barringer, G. Boshears, A. E.

Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

* * *

Captain Jack could be described in many different ways. He himself often used the words 'entrepreneur' or 'wheeler — dealer' or 'a bit o' this, a bit o' that'. Others used the words 'rogue', 'criminal', 'nuisance' and 'a right shifty bastard'. He was, however, definitely a man with an eye on the main chance.

Which had brought him here, to a dead world whose name he could not remember — usually a good thing as far as his employers were concerned — for a rendezvous with a group of Narns even shiftier than he was, on a mission that was both very illegal and very highly paid.

There were numerous political issues involved, which he did not even pretend to understand, it usually being safer that way. Despite having met and — sort of — befriended individuals as powerful as the Blessed Delenn, Emperor Londo Mollari II, Minister Lethke zum Bartrado and General John Sheridan the Shadowkiller, Captain Jack had a profound lack of interest in politics except where it related to his personal solvency.

However, he did understand that some Narns were very unhappy about the Kazomi Treaty that had sealed the peace between them and the Centauri, and wanted to make clear to everyone just how displeased they were. Certain…. artefacts needed shipping to certain Centauri worlds where certain things might be done to make that clear. And for obvious reasons, a non — Narn courier was needed.

Jack preferred not to think of these things as politics because if he didn't, he tended not to think of them as involving real people either. It was a lot easier that way.

And so all this was why he was at Sigma 957, waiting alone in his ship for a Narn ship that was very very late.

That was when he began to pick up the signal.

His communications equipment was specially modified to receive signals across a much wider band than that carried by most ships of his size, but this was nothing he had ever come across before. Muttering to himself, he started trying to tune into it, wondering if the Narns had had to resort to extraordinary measures to get in touch with him.

There were words in there, he was sure of it, even a conversation, but the language, the voices…. all these were beyond him. He felt like an ant trying to understand the words of angels. Falling silent, something touching what remained of his soul, he tried to tune in more clearly, working at the limits of his equipment. All thoughts of his mission left his mind. All he could think of was discovering the nature of this conversation.

He could pick up a little of one of the parties now. It seemed like countless voices speaking through one mouth. Or was it countless mouths speaking with one voice?

Everything stopped, and in one instant all the lights in his ship went out. He started, and began frantically trying to restore power.

Then he looked out at the scene before him.

There was a ship moving across the ecliptic, something so big and so vast it blocked out everything, space and light and stars and all. It glided through the planet's atmosphere, ignoring him utterly, an insect beneath the feet of giants.

Jack hardly dared to breathe, a wise move. As the alien ship moved forward a rent opened in the fabric of space, a vast jump point, bigger than anything he had ever imagined. The image of hyperspace beyond flickered with countless colours, very different from the usual red. Clouds of mist shimmered through the gap in space, and there were flickers of lightning.

Something was waiting in there, in hyperspace. Smaller than the vast alien ship, it was still huge, much bigger than Jack's diminutive shuttle. It looked slightly familiar, almost like a….

A castle?

The vast ship moved slowly into hyperspace, its every manoeuvre beautifully graceful. The gateway closed, and Jack was alone once more.

Alone in a dying ship above a dead world whose name he could not remember.

Fortunately, after a few hours of creative engineering with life support, a squadron of ships from the Narn fleet arrived and picked him up. Jack was so grateful to be rescued that he only had a few seconds to think up some suitably inventive lies.

* * *

After we joined the Alliance, affairs on Centauri Prime grew, not better, but slowly and steadily worse. With the death of Lord Kiro the riots had ended and the Shadow Criers fallen apart, but their legacies remained. There was widespread famine and hunger, the cost of the war and the reparations had almost bankrupted the Republic, and the costs of the repairs to the homeworld and to the regained colonies were almost impossible to meet. The Centarum eventually swallowed its pride and borrowed vast sums of money from the Alliance.

There was already resentment towards the Alliance, well before the burnings and the Inquisitors. The only Alliance representatives the Centauri had really seen were the strange Ambassador Morden and the equally strange Lennier, the Emperor's bodyguard. The fact that Lennier had not been seen for several months gave rise to many rumours, but his return to Alliance space was not noticed for some time.

Emperor Mollari found himself very unpopular, partly for all the reasons outlined above, but also because of his exile of the former Lord — General Marrago. The Emperor was spending more and more time in the palace and was seldom seen in public. Even his goodwill tour of the newly regained colonies ended prematurely after a fourth assassination attempt was foiled. His Lady Consort, Timov, was however often seen in public, and she was commonly believed to be one of the best things about the Court.

As for the former Lord — General, he had disappeared following his exile, and was widely believed to have been murdered by agents of the Court. However, while there was a large bounty on his head and assassination attempts had been made, he was very far from dead, and was engaged in very private dealings elsewhere.

LADY KEELA SHARNI (2293) Republic in Flames. Chapter 9 of The Rise and Fall

of the United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and the Beginning of the

Third, vol. 3, 2262: The Missing Year. Ed: S. Barringer, G. Boshears, A. E.

Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

* * *

He still saw her eyes all the time. They were shining in his mind, brilliant stars in the heavens of his soul. And sometimes he saw them dull and red, cold and lifeless.

I could not protect you, Lyndisty.

Marrago was old, and he was alone, but he was no longer tired. Indeed, he felt stronger than he ever had. At long last he had a purpose, a goal, a mission. And a simple, unequivocal one at that.

Free Centauri Prime.

It was the beginning of an alliance, a new alliance. A small one admittedly, only three at present, but then a night of a thousand drinks begins with a single sip. Marrago had heard a similar human phrase about miles and steps, which he preferred.

A Minbari, a human, a Centauri, and a flying castle full of Soul Hunters. Perhaps not such a small start after all.

And it would only grow.

Marrago was a tactician and he understood that not everything can be achieved at once. Sinoval understood that as well. It would take time, and in any case this was not a war of force of arms, but a war of ideas and beliefs and understanding.

But there were some similarities in both types of war. They both needed people.

Sinoval had said he would be busy elsewhere, but Marrago knew exactly what to do. He approved.

Mercenaries were easy to find these days. The entire galaxy had been at war for years, and a sudden outbreak of peace was very bad for professional soldiers. All manner of different people, of all different races and armies, were looking for work. Narns would not work for Marrago of course, and nor would many Drazi, but there were some.

It had taken a couple of months, but he had assembled a ten — strong unit, useful for hire as security, bodyguards and the like. Six of them were Centauri, with one Drazi, two Brakiri and a human. A small group, but a good beginning.

"You can…. find things, yes?" the alien was saying, twitching its forelimbs slowly. "Things that…. need finding?"

"We can do that," Marrago replied. "We need to know what it is, and a rough estimate of the risk involved, before we can set a price, of course."

"It is…. a delicate matter. A data crystal, with…. valuable information…. of a not altogether legal nature."

"I see. And what can you tell us about where it is now?"

"I had to leave Istakhr Station in rather…. awkward circumstances. An individual named Stoner took the crystal…. for safe keeping. He has…. vanished. Find him…. and the crystal, and bring the crystal to me."

Marrago nodded. "We can do that."

"And the price?"

"Will be reasonable. We can discuss that later."

"I am not a fool."

"I never believed you were, n'Grath. I hope to do business with you again."

And the price would be reasonable again, Marrago thought. n'Grath was a prominent crimelord, with influence in all sorts of places. He would be a useful ally. It was well worth losing a few ducats here for potential advantage later.

Marrago actually found he was enjoying this new life. No politicking, no dancing around, fearful of saying the wrong thing. All he had to do was complete the commissions he won, build an alliance and an armed force, and stay true to those who served with him.

He found he missed only two things: his garden, and his daughter.

His garden could be rebuilt, and as for Lyndisty…. well, she would not be returning to him, but she would be avenged before this was over.

She would be avenged.

* * *

Although there had been many rumours of the existence of the sinister Vorlon 'enforcers' known as the Inquisitors, there was no confirmed report until 2259, when Kosh Naranek sent an Inquisitor called Charles Dexter to Kazomi 7 to test the loyalty of John Sheridan and Delenn. Many authorities now believe this to have been a subtle attempt by Kosh to warn Sheridan and Delenn about the true nature of his brethren, but if this is so, the warning, like so many others, went unheeded.

The presence of Charles Dexter was not common knowledge at the time, and the existence of the Inquisitors only became public in 2262. Contrary to popular belief this did not happen on Centauri Prime, where their actions would attract much notoriety and revulsion, but on Minbar. The individual concerned was to become one of the most notorious and feared Inquisitors across the galaxy. He did not pursue the same objectives as his fellows, who were largely dedicated to tracking down those who had collaborated with the Shadows during the war. His purpose was different, and involved tracking down one single person.

The Inquisitor's name was Sebastian, and the Vorlons had given him the most difficult mission of his long career, but one they saw as of the utmost importance.

GOLDINGAY, D. G. (2293) The Unholy Inquisition. Chapter 8 of The Rise and Fall

of the United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and the Beginning of the

Third, vol. 3, 2262: The Missing Year. Ed: S. Barringer, G. Boshears, A. E.

Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

* * *

"Where is he?"

Pain. No screams. She had long ago given up screams, of pain or otherwise.

There were no screams, but there was pain.

"Tell me where he is."

More pain. Light and fire blazed in her mind. Whispers fluttered through her hearing, brief images, feelings from long ago. The touch of his hand on hers. The warmth of his breath on her face. The sheer love in his eyes.

"I do not care how worthy or unworthy you are. I do not care on whatever pedestal you choose to place yourself. I do not care whether you believe yourself to be holy, a messiah, a prophet to bring glory to your name. I do not care what your name is. I do not care who you are. All these things will be attended to by another, in due time.

"For now, I have one mission and one mission alone. That is the only thing I do care about. I came here because you were his closest friend, the one he trusted most, the one he risked a great deal to save. Maybe he even loved you a little, if he is capable of such a thing.

"So, I ask you again.

"Where is Primarch Sinoval? Where has he gone? Where has he hidden himself? What does he plan? What allies does he have? Who are his agents?

"Where is he?"

Again the light burned. The old memories were at the back of her mind, the things that woke her in the middle of the night, trembling and shaking, unshed tears in her eyes.

Kalain was dead, had died in agony of a fatal virus almost two years ago. She had laid him to rest in her memories long ago, silently forgiving him for the tortures he had inflicted on her soul and her body.

But somewhere, at the back of her mind, he still lived, still strong and powerful and capable of hurting her so much. Still strong enough to emerge now, as she was tortured again.

"You dare to come here," Tirivail had spat at the human as he had presented himself to the Council. "You dare to insinuate these things!"

The human appeared to be formally dressed, but in a style none of them recognised. He spoke Minbari flawlessly, with an archaic, stylised accent.

"My name is Sebastian," he had said. "I am an emissary from the Vorlons. This you know. I am here on their behalf to seek any information you may have on the whereabouts of the one known as Sinoval the Accursed. I am here to question those of you who knew him best. Satai Kats, the former Satai Kozorr."

"Kozorr is dead," Tirivail had replied. Kats had said nothing. Tirivail had not adjusted well to Kozorr's death, her anger consuming her too much lately.

"Sinoval is gone," Takier had said. "He has left Minbari space and informed us that he will not return. We do not know where he has gone. He has no authority or power over any of Minbari blood now, and we have no power over him. Is that enough for you?"

"No. I am instructed to question those of you who knew him best. As former Satai Kozorr is dead, I will question Satai Kats."

"No, you will not," said Takier calmly. "She is one of us, and she is protected by the power of the Grey Council."

"I have the authority. The treaty by which you joined the Alliance confers the necessary powers on me, and on any delegated representative of the Vorlon High Command. Refuse me, and we will return in force."

"We will inform the Alliance Council of this," Takier warned.

"Feel free to do so."

"I will submit to your questioning," Kats said suddenly. "I know nothing of where Sinoval has gone, or of his plans."

"That is not enough. I must be sure."

"Then make yourself sure."

Then had followed pain. She had followed his directions and arranged a private room for the interrogation, a place he no doubt hoped would conceal the screams, but so far there had been no screams.

"Where is Sinoval the Accursed?"

"I do not know," she whispered. Her robe of mourning white was stained by her own blood. She did not remember having been cut, but the rod Sebastian wielded had inflicted enough pain without breaking the flesh.

"Where has he gone?"

"I do not know."

"We will find him, and when we do we will destroy him, and then we will destroy all those who helped to hide him."

"You cannot win," she breathed. "I cannot tell you what I do not know. All you can do is kill me, and that…. that I would welcome." Wait for me, Kozorr. I love you.

"No," he said simply. "I will not kill you. You will kill yourself. Suicide is a sin for the Minbari, is it not? A commandment from Valen himself. And you will not merely kill yourself, you will kill all the Minbari who hope that Sinoval the Accursed will come to them."

"I do not know where he is," she whispered.

"I will return," he said simply. "And when I do, I will bring you his head. Think about that. Remember that, as I plague your dreams."

"I will not dream about you," she whispered. "That is the only power you have over me…. to make me fear you. You can hurt me, but I have been hurt before. You can kill me, but that will be a release. All you can do is make me fear you…. but I do not, and I never will.

"When you find Sinoval, he will kill you."

"We will see," Sebastian said simply. "We will see." The echoes of his footsteps and the hollow tapping of his strange cane faded away into silence.

Kats lay still for a long time, her body aching, burning. She could not move, could hardly breathe. She could feel Kozorr's spirit with her, whispering always of how much he loved her, and of how aware he had been of her love for him. Tears slid down her face, mingling with the rivulets of her blood.

Finally, Tirivail arrived and carried her to a clean room, where she slept for many hours. Kozorr was in her dreams. Sebastian was not.

* * *

The first true test of the post — war Alliance was undoubtedly the difficulties with one of its founding members. Under Ambassador Vizhak, the Drazi had always been committed to the Alliance, but the burdens and expense of the war soon caused problems at home. Drazi pride and ferocity always placed them in the thick of any fighting, and as a result their losses had been horrendous. The prestige attracted by carrying the Blessed Delenn offset this a little, but a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the Alliance was spreading, bolstered by a — perhaps justified — belief that they were not being given a large enough role in the new order, and that their objections were being ignored.

An attempt had already been made to regain control of Kazomi 7, originally a Drazi world. This was ultimately averted by the presence and personal charisma of Delenn herself, but that was no more than a stop — gap solution.

The early months of 2262 saw the Drazi colonies gripped by rioting and political uproar. The anti — Alliance fervour reached fever pitch. The Drazi Government refused to pay their share of the vast sums of money required to build the Babylon 5 space station, seeing it both as a waste of money and a rejection of their world as the centre for the Alliance. The Government collapsed and a new one was eventually chosen in the traditional Drazi fashion of extreme and bloody violence. This ritual began before the usual time, which should have been in late 2263, and this was a bad omen.

Ambassador Vizhak, one of the Alliance's most loyal supporters in the Drazi Government — not that the Alliance ever saw that part of him — was recalled to a minor position, and a replacement assigned, a figure much less welcome to the Alliance than Vizhak had been….

BARRINGER, S. (2293) Shadows on the Border: The Drazi Conflict. Chapter 7 of

The Rise and Fall of the United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and

the Beginning of the Third, vol. 3, 2262: The Missing Year. Ed: S. Barringer,

G. Boshears, A. E. Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

* * *

It is ironic, thought Ha'Cormar'ah G'Kar, as he sat in the Council Hall of the United Alliance, listening with greater and greater unease to the figure speaking before them all. All of us, myself included, had thought only of the end of the war. We had envisaged a thousand years of peace stretching out before us.

None of us had imagined that the thousand years of peace would require so much work.

Juphar Trikdar was still speaking, his voice commanding and powerful. He spoke all the languages of the Alliance fluently, G'Kar knew that, and currently he was addressing them in the Common Trade language. He was a magnificent orator, and G'Kar, who had done more than his share of public speaking in his time, recognised the little details, the tiny clues that confirmed that.

He also recognised the sheer contempt in the Drazi's voice, something he took no pains to hide.

The long scar across Juphar's mouth twitched and danced as he spoke, a snake crawling across his face. It was new and jagged, a pale white flickering reminder that there could never be peace, not entirely.

Less than half a year after the Shadow War ended, violence had come to the worlds of the Alliance. Everyone on Kazomi 7 had heard about the riots and uproar on the Drazi worlds. It had seemed as if there would be fighting here as well, but the calming words of the Blessed Delenn — and a heavy military presence — had ended that threat.

They had of course offered aid to the beleaguered Drazi Government, only for Vizhak to refuse it. The riots were because of the Alliance, he pointed out. Involving Alliance troops would only make matters worse.

It had all ended soon enough, but not for the better. A new Government had been formed. New leaders had been chosen. A new Ambassador to the Alliance had been appointed. Vizhak had returned to his homeworld, to a new position. Taan Churok had remained, always having served the Alliance rather than his own people.

They had sent Juphar. G'Kar had made a point of learning as much about him as possible. He had not liked what he had heard. Juphar was renowned as a skilled orator and a tough negotiator. He was also firmly anti — Alliance. He had been scarred during the rioting while delivering a powerful speech in favour of leaving the Alliance.

"Drazi will not pay these sums," he said, drawing his speech to a conclusion. "Drazi will retain control of Drazi fleet. Drazi fleet will go where they wish. Drazi merchants will go where they wish.

"Drazi will not permit Alliance soldiers on Drazi worlds. We fought the Shadows longer and harder than any others. Is an insult to say there are Shadow agents hiding on Drazi worlds. An insult, and we will not accept it!"

G'Kar sighed. He could see why the Drazi were upset about that. It was a requirement of the Alliance treaties that the Rangers and the Dark Star fleet should have free access everywhere to seek out Shadow agents, remaining vassal races or leftover pieces of technology. Few races liked it, but it was a necessity. G'Kar gave a quick glance at Ambassador Durano, who was listening intently. The Centauri had to put up with more than most in that area, and for a moment his heart went out to Londo.

But, much as he disliked it, he knew why it was necessary. If the freedom of movement of the Rangers was restricted in Drazi space then other races would soon be clamouring for similar concessions, and then the Shadow agents would remain hidden, and G'Quan alone knew what they would be capable of.

"We are not insulting you in this," Delenn said, rising to her feet. She had listened to the whole speech with an increasingly despairing expression. She knows the truth, G'Kar thought. The Drazi are lost to us, and there is nothing any of us can do about it.

"We are certainly not implying there are Shadow agents being sheltered by the Drazi people, but they could be hiding anywhere. We must have free access to find them wherever they might be."

"You cannot come to Drazi worlds," Juphar said defiantly.

"That is not an option," said Sheridan, also standing. General John Sheridan, the Shadowkiller. "We must have free access to all worlds, anywhere in the galaxy."

"Not Drazi worlds."

"Please," Delenn said. "We do not mean to insult you in any way. But we must…."

"Alliance do insult us. If Alliance continue to insult us, we will not be part of Alliance. We will not pay for Babylon Five. We will not provide ships or soldiers to die in your wars with no honour. We will not obey restrictions on where we go.

"We will not let Alliance soldiers on to our worlds."

G'Kar glanced across the table. Na'Toth and G'Kael were listening intently. Neither looked pleased, but the Kha'Ri would learn of these events from one of them. The Kha'Ri was growing more and more concerned about the direction in which the Alliance was going.

If the Drazi left and did not return, would the Narns be far behind?

* * *

The image of the alien was crystal clear. Most of those who saw it had never seen such a creature before, but for those who did the sight would never be forgotten.

It seemed to shimmer as it walked, the shadows forming around it, becoming one with it. The instrument that had recorded its passage was specially designed for the purpose. Most recording devices would not even have detected it.

It was short, and walked with a peculiar hobbling gait. G'Kar knew that the creature was capable of astonishing speed and agility, moving its disjointed body in ways no Narn could ever emulate — or human, Minbari or Drazi for that matter.

Black rags were wound tightly around its small frame, completely covering any trace of skin or fur or whatever lay beneath them. No living being had ever seen the face of one of these things. They showed their true appearance only to the dead. Hence the only name the creatures had: the Faceless.

The streets it walked through were narrow and cramped and filled with people, mostly Drazi. The recording showed them bumping into each other, starting and swearing, but the Faceless moved among them with no more substance than a….

A shadow.

There was no doubt about where the Faceless was. Kazomi 7 had been substantially rebuilt since the Drakh invasion and the rise of the Alliance, but there were still some areas that were as they had been when the world was a Drazi colony. Everyone knew there was only one race that built cities with such cramped streets. This was Zhabar, the Drazi homeworld.

The creature did not seem to know it was being followed. G'Kar found that difficult to believe, based on what he knew of them. No, far more likely it was letting the Ranger follow it. Far more likely that it knew what was about to happen.

It slid down an alley and came to a door. The moment it reached it the door opened. For that single instant, G'Kar saw the door as a mouth grinning wide. A Drazi stood there, dressed in a simple smock. He welcomed the Faceless inside, and then the recording stopped.

G'Kar stood back and looked at the Council before him. None of them was speaking. Lethke, Delenn, Sheridan, Durano, G'Kael, Kalika, all the other Ambassadors and diplomats and aides. None of them said a word.

It fell to G'Kar to break the silence. "That recording was found by one of my Rangers on the Drazi homeworld. It was recorded by another Ranger who disappeared some months ago, not long after the recording was made."

"Do you know what that creature was?" Sheridan asked carefully.

G'Kar nodded. "We do not know its true name, but G'Quan called it a Faceless. The Enemy often used them as assassins. They are all but invisible in darkened areas, they are very agile, and they can kill with their bare hands. The information in the Great Machine — " and here he paused, thinking again of the rush of information and knowledge and power the Machine had given him, " — the information there seemed to indicate that they were not a specific race, but an order, composed of the most skilled agents of the Enemy. They were altered in some way, before becoming the Faceless."

Lethke went pale. "Some of these Faceless walked our worlds during the war. Many of our people died."

G'Kar did not know what to say. The nocturnal Brakiri provided a perfect target for the Faceless.

Sheridan rose and turned slowly to look at Taan Churok and Juphar Trikdar. Neither of them had said anything throughout the meeting. "Who was the Drazi in the doorway?"

"No one," Juphar snapped. "That is lies. You seek to frame us." It had been three weeks since Juphar had arrived, and relations had grown considerably worse. More than one Ranger had been ejected from a Drazi world. Blockades had been set up around jump gates and several Drazi merchant ships had been turned back, or boarded and searched. Juphar had been furious after each incident. Taan had been as silent as ever.

But he was still capable of speech from time to time. "Dr. Literana Varda," he said. "Liaison to new Government on matters of biotech and chemical warfare. Very powerful man."

"Lies," Juphar hissed, turning on Taan. "Traitor."

"No traitor," Taan snapped back. "Varda ambitious. Enemies…. go missing. More than once."

Sheridan breathed out. "Thank you. We will have a warrant drawn up for this Dr. Varda, under the Kazomi Accord. He will be brought here for investigation and trial, concerning his dealings with Shadow agents."

"No," Juphar said. "Will not happen."

"It will," Sheridan said. "You will not try to stop us."

"Drazi have sovereignty over Drazi worlds. Alliance soldiers come to Drazi worlds, we will kill Alliance soldiers."

Sheridan's face darkened. G'Kar knew what was coming. He looked across the room. The Vorlon was still standing there in the corner. It raised its eye stalk and looked back at him. There seemed to be…. pleasure in its gaze.

"You leave us no choice," Sheridan whispered. "None at all."

* * *

There was something Delenn had once heard about leadership, a lesson from Dukhat. Leadership was a constant struggle between doing was what right and what was necessary.

It was a lesson she had remembered more than once, but never with greater sorrow than now.

"They have been with us from the start," she said sadly. "Vizhak and Taan Churok have been our strongest supporters. They granted us their world on which to build our Alliance. They lent us their soldiers and their warships. They fought for the honour of carrying me into battle.

"And now…. now we will blockade and invade their homeworld, arrest members of their Government, impose our laws and our customs on them.

"It is necessary, I know, but it is very far from being right."

"I know," John replied. He was at the far side of the room, carefully putting on his clothes. His ritual reminded her of tales of the warriors of Valen's day, readying themselves for battle, beseeching their Gods for aid, preparing to kill.

"There must be another way," she said, softly.

"There isn't," John said. "I don't want to do this either, but we have to…. We…. we can't let the Shadow vassals run around loose. We have to know where they are, what they are planning. And we have to know how far up in the Drazi Government they've gone. What if the riots and the political upheaval, what if all of that was orchestrated by them? What if they're trying to complete their Masters' work? What if it's the Shadows themselves, and they only pretended to leave?"

"No," Delenn said. "They have gone." She remembered a darkened conversation with many faces, all issuing a final message, one that had spoken of good intentions where she and her allies had seen only evil results. We only wanted to show you the stars.

"Maybe," John said doubtfully. "But that's the point. We have to know. We can't allow another war. We can't."

"So we bring war to avoid war?"

"No, we're bringing the threat of war to achieve peace."

"Do you have to go? Could someone else not go? Not Daro, I know, but Kulomani? Captain Tikopai? Surely there is someone else?"

He shook his head. "I'm General. I'm leader of the Dark Star fleet. If anyone is going to do this it might as well be me. If David were here, then…. perhaps…. but there isn't anyone else we can trust with something like this."

"Do you know when David will be back?"

"When he's ready." John finished and turned to face her. "How do I look?"

He was in his full dress uniform, the first time he had worn it for real. They had been commissioned for the Dark Star crews after the end of the Shadow War. They were black and grey, and all bore the sunburst badge that had slowly replaced G'Kar's original circle — of — light emblem for the Rangers.

"Like a leader," she said simply. He smiled and kissed her cheek. "I will be back," he said. "Nothing's going to keep us apart. Nothing."

"I believe you," she whispered. But she had seen too many friends depart these past terrible weeks. Taan had left openly, contemptuous of any attempt to stop him. Juphar had commanded Daro to take him back to Zhabar. Unwilling to lead his ship in an assault on his own world, Daro had gone, as had almost every other Drazi officer in the Dark Star fleet. In less than a month, the Alliance had been sorely crippled.

And for what? A true resurgence of the Enemy? Or just one ambitious man who did not care where his dark allegiances took him?

She shivered. A dark wind seemed to blow through her heart.

* * *

In the end the Drazi Conflict was resolved swiftly. The Dark Star fleet, under the personal command of General Sheridan, blockaded Drazi worlds and jump gates and imposed brutal trade sanctions. Rangers moved in force among the Drazi worlds.

There were a few skirmishes as protected merchant ships tried to break through the blockades, but the Drazi warships, powerful as they were, proved no match for the Dark Stars. The Drazi consistently refused repeated entreaties to permit a full investigation of their worlds, and it took a peacekeeping force of Rangers to seize the Government buildings on Zhabar. With Rangers and foot soldiers on the surface and the Dark Stars in space, they eventually capitulated.

Dr. Literana Varda was found murdered in a secret laboratory underneath the capital. His body was discovered in a room with only one securely — locked exit. A lair of three Faceless was located by a small group of Rangers. The Faceless were acting under the direction of a Z'shailyl Warleader. All of them were killed in the subsequent fight, along with twenty — four Rangers and almost a hundred troops.

The members of the Drazi Government were all tried under the relevant clauses of the Kazomi Peacetime Accord. All were found guilty and sentenced to long terms on prison asteroids. A new Government was inaugurated and relations with the Alliance were resumed. The popular unrest that had swept the Drazi worlds earlier in the year was put down to manipulation by the Z'shailyl, aided by treacherous members of the old Government.

Taan Churok resumed his place on the Alliance Council and Daro returned to the Alliance military, although not to his familiar Dark Star. He now captained a Drazi Sunhawk, and turned down all invitations to rejoin the Dark Star fleet.

Vizhak could not be found. Although he had been publicly visible during the conflict he had vanished shortly after it ended. Speculation was rampant, some claiming that he had been murdered by the Alliance or the Faceless or the new Government. As the first Vorlon Inquisitors arrived on Zhabar, rumours began to circulate that Vizhak was gathering an army to free his people and would return when the time was right.

One final rumour was circulating around the Drazi worlds during and shortly after the conflict. Strange aliens had been seen moving by night, always hiding, apparently drawn to places of death. No one seemed to look at them directly, or at least no one admitted to doing so, but a common thread to the stories was that each of them had a glowing stone in the middle of their foreheads.

BARRINGER, S. (2293) Shadows on the Border: The Drazi Conflict. Chapter 7 of

The Rise and Fall of the United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and

the Beginning of the Third, vol. 3, 2262: The Missing Year. Ed: S. Barringer,

G. Boshears, A. E. Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

* * *

The Vorlon network had existed in one form or another for millennia. Ever fearful of an attack by the Shadows, they had seeded their worlds and colonies with a defensive network, a system of carefully placed jump tunnels between two fixed points in hyperspace, the sheer energy and force of the jump point held in check by a telepath, his or her power amplified both by the jump point and by all the telepaths in the other nodes, an exponential curve with the whole very much greater than the sum of its parts.

It was only in 2261 that the network was first used offensively, as seen at the Battle of Proxima. The Dark Star fleet had been designed to create mobile nodes of the network, each ship having a telepath trapped somewhere within its core. The power of telepaths against the Shadows had long been known, and Ha'Cormar'ah G'Kar, in his very early days of fighting the Shadows, had tried to create a breeding programme for Narn telepaths for this very purpose. Many telepaths however proved too weak to handle the strain of full combat and instances of death and burnout were very high. The extension of the network into a mobile force eliminated the need for this. Each Dark Star ship had an active telepath, one who had potential access to the power of every other telepath in the network, one who would not die or burn out and who had no choice but to support the will of the network.

Its effectiveness was obviously enough to override any moral concerns among the Vorlons, if any of them even had any. It is worth noting, however, that construction of the Dark Star fleet did not begin in earnest until after the Battle of the Third Line which saw the death of the Vorlon known as Kosh, widely believed to have been leader of one of the more moderate of the Vorlon factions.

Few people knew about the Vorlon network, and those who did were in no position to do anything about it. Captain David Corwin had made tentative moves towards liberating the mind of the telepath aboard his ship, the Dark Star 3 or the Agamemnon, but the destruction of the ship and the disappearance of his ally and lover Lyta Alexander halted any progress he might have made. His subsequent mental deterioration was also a negative factor.

However, there was one threat to the security of the network, and one the Vorlons could not possibly have anticipated. It took a long time to become truly effective, but the ultimate results were devastating. The network was attacked from the most unexpected direction of all.

From within.

BARRINGER, S. (2293) A Serpent in the Garden. Chapter 12 of The Rise and Fall

of the United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and the Beginning of the

Third, vol. 3, 2262: The Missing Year. Ed: S. Barringer, G. Boshears, A. E.

Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

* * *

It had taken time to get this far, and he knew it would take much more time to get further, but the one thing he knew was that he had plenty of time. He might not have his freedom any more, but then he had had precious little of that in his life anyway.

He did have one other thing as well as time, and that was anger.

He could hear them all, his children, his brethren. There were no divisions between human and alien now, no boundaries at all. They were all his people, the special, the chosen, the unique.

The telepaths. The telekinetics. The empaths.

All of them were his people.

And they were all in pain.

He had woken from a very long and painful sleep, and all he had been able to see was the light. It had filled everything, from his mind to his vision to his perceptions to his horizons. It was beautiful and terrifying at the same time, and he had wanted to immerse himself in it while being utterly repelled by it. It was everything he had ever dreamed of: pure, ultimate telepathic power, a melding of minds from across the galaxy.

But it was also wrong. The minds were in pain, and they were trapped. And so he had pulled himself free.

Sometimes, although how often he could not be sure, forces came through. Like the pull of gravity or magnetism, he was forced in one direction as a rush of mental power swept through him. It drained dry everything that he was, and focussed it, and sent it on to the next person, whose scream joined in with the others.

The first thing he had learned was not to scream.

The second thing had taken longer to learn, longer to remember.

Some of these were his people, he knew that. People he had known. People he had loved. They were all people. Human or alien, they were all people. Each scream, each spark of light, each one was a living mind.

Every one had an identity. Most of them simply could not remember theirs. The rush of memories and thoughts and power had scoured everything away. Many no longer even knew that they were individuals at all, just that they were part of a beautiful, terrifying whole.

But they weren't, or at least, not like this. A whole like this had to be voluntary. This was slavery, this was worse than slavery, worse than the gloves and the badge and the frightened looks.

When all of these realisations clicked together as one in his mind, he remembered his name.

"I am Alfred Bester," he said aloud.

That was only the beginning.

* * *

Z'ha'dum had always been a world feared and hated among those of the younger races who knew of its existence. Minbari legends spoke of Valen's assault on Z'ha'dum, causing the more reckless of the young warriors to dream of storming it themselves, but the other Minbari regarded it with rightful suspicion. A few of the learned Narn holy men and scholars were aware of the planet, and they treated it as an almost mythical Hell.

Even with the Shadow War over, Z'ha'dum continued to exert its mystical spell on the younger races. The Shadows had abandoned their homeworld, it was true, but there were many rumours about things they might have left behind. Minbari spoke of holy places there, such as where Marrain and Parlonn fought their final duel, or the place where Valen first stepped on its surface. Whispers of hidden treasure, of vast, powerful caches of technology, of long — forgotten weaponry and sinister guardians.

Any potential treasure — hunters were foiled, however. The Vorlon fleet completely blockaded the planet, refusing to allow anyone or anything to enter or leave the system. This only added to the rumours of course, and there were some reckless enough to try anything. Many people speculated about what kept the Vorlons there, about what they were guarding or looking for or hiding.

All the speculations were dead wrong.

GOLDINGAY, D. G. (2293) Stalkers on the Rim. Chapter 4 of The Rise and Fall of

the United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and the Beginning of the

Third, vol. 3, 2262: The Missing Year. Ed: S. Barringer, G. Boshears, A. E.

Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

* * *

It was a world of mysteries, of enigmatic power and lost wonders. It was a world where the Gods of old had walked and lived and thrived, and created dark technologies. The forges of great Thrakandar were now silent, shut down forever. The grim temples where the Priests of the Fallen Midnight had raised their souls in prayer now heard nothing but the wind. The sanctum of the Drakh magi was abandoned and forgotten.

The Gods of Darkness and Terror had left Z'ha'dum. They had been defeated, cast down and exiled. It fell to the Gods of Light and Beauty to claim the dead world and see that its terrors never again threatened the galaxy.

And in the most ancient and holy site on Z'ha'dum, where the Pale and Silent King alone had stepped, the Eldest being in the galaxy stood and watched.

He watched as the Vorlons purged the world of all that the Shadows had left behind. He watched as they desecrated the Temples of Midnight, as they shattered the forges at Thrakandar, as they tunnelled deep into the bowels of the world, looking always for secrets hidden and forgotten.

The Shadows had taken much with them as they left, but not even a race as old and powerful as they could remember everything. In the countless millennia of their history, they had created innumerable abominations and terrors and monstrosities. And they had forgotten many of them.

But He remembered. Lorien remembered.

One by one, slowly, the Vorlons found these forgotten instruments of destruction and devastation. One by one, they took them away to safety.

And one by one, slowly, they spread out into the galaxy, seeking what the Shadows had left behind.

On their departure, the Shadows had offered their vassal races the chance to come with them, to experience the universe beyond the Rim. Many had accepted and gone, but a few had stayed, and it was these that the Vorlons hunted.

The Zarqheba had returned to their asteroid homes, their great wings carrying them through space as they had many millennia ago. Lorien was one of the few who remembered their cities of gold and splendour, before they had collapsed in fire and fury. The Zarqheba would never again know their former intelligence and beauty. Now they were little better than animals, but now at least they were free. The Vorlons were hunting them, but they knew how to hide. Lorien supposed they would escape.

The Zener had scattered. Some had gone with their Dark Masters, others had stayed. They the Vorlons wanted most of all, for it was they who had crafted the weapons of biotechnology and chemical warfare that the Shadows had used so effectively. Some had been caught, some had been killed, but some remained free.

The Streib had retreated. Never truly a vassal race of the Shadows, they had simply taken advantage of the chaos they brought. That was enough for them to be hunted and pursued. Their ships no longer raided, no longer hunted. They settled in their homeworld and hid.

The byakheeshaggai were all dead, the last one slain by the Vorlons on Centauri Prime. None remained, here or beyond the Rim.

There were others of course. The Z'shailyl, the Moradiin, the Faceless. Lorien watched them all, just as He watched everything else that transpired in the galaxy. He watched the building of Babylon 5. He watched the Drazi fall and be conquered. He watched peace and order come at last to the Tuchanq. He watched the others, the last survivors of races almost as old as His, move at last, returning to attend to the fate of the galaxy after so long in silence. He watched Sebastian awake and walk forth on his mission.

And when, at the end of the Earth year 2262, Ulkesh came to see Him in His hidden sanctum, as he had more than once in the last year, He asked the same question He had on every other occasion.

"Tell me. Have you found Cathedral yet?"

The answer was always the same.

* * *

It was so quiet. So new. Crafted fully formed from hopes and aspirations and dreams. Every bit of metal, every bolt, every door, every room, every piece of equipment.

It was all so new, and yet it seemed haunted.

As G'Kar walked slowly through the corridors of Babylon 5 he could not shake that feeling. He had not used to believe in ghosts. But that was before. Before he had met Londo. Before the Machine. Before the War.

Now he thought he believed in almost everything.

It was finished. Babylon 5 was finished, almost ready to go on line. Oh, there would still be improvements and modifications to be made, little bits of tweaking here and there, but for the most part it was done.

And was it worth it? Was it worth the expense? And not just in financial terms. The Drazi had rebelled partly because of this station. He had heard reports from Centauri Prime of famine and drought exacerbated by the crippling payments made to the Alliance. There were whispers of protest from Narn.

And was it worth it? What price peace?

He could not find an answer.

He walked into the room that had been designated as the conference hall, the place where the representatives would meet, where the decisions would be taken, where the fate of worlds would turn.

The Vorlon turned to look at him. Its encounter suit was pure white, unmarked by any other colour, unsullied and clean. G'Kar understood that in some cultures white meant purity and virtue.

All he could see in that gleaming whiteness were bones. Bones of the dead.

A light twinkled in the Vorlon's eye stalk and G'Kar took a slow step back. For one moment it had looked as if a skull was smiling at him.

He placed his fists together on his chest and bowed his head slightly. As far as he knew he was one of the first people on Babylon 5 apart from the construction crews, given permission to survey the new base for the Alliance. The others would come later, either being too busy to inspect it now, or not wishing to do so. G'Kar alone wanted to see the finished station as soon as possible.

He was not terribly surprised to see that the new Vorlon Ambassador had got here before him.

There was a rush of air, and a sound like dry leaves rustling across a marble tomb. <Welcome to Babylon Five,> it said.

G'Kar said nothing in reply. There was nothing to say.

* * *

The Babylon 5 station became operational at the end of 2262. The first meetings there took place early in 2263. It was always hoped and believed that Babylon 5 would be a consolidation of the peace that the Shadow War had ultimately brought to the galaxy.

Unfortunately, this was very far from being the case.

LAKER, A. (2293) A Shining Beacon in Space. Chapter 14 of The Rise and Fall of

the United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and the Beginning of the

Third, vol. 3, 2262: The Missing Year. Ed: S. Barringer, G. Boshears, A. E.

Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

Gareth D. Williams

Part 1. Learning How to Live

With Babylon 5 complete at last, the Alliance is ready to enter a new age, a golden time of peace and prosperity. But in a galaxy that has known only war, the concept of peace is hard to grasp. The new age brings many challenges, not learning how to fight, but learning how to live. Some seek that understanding through work and labour, others through continuing to build a better world, while for some there is no understanding, only continued war. And across the dead vastness of space, ancient ships continue to move, gathering for a purpose no one can comprehend.

Chapter 1

The Alliance had been shaken in 2262, the Drazi Conflict representing its first real test since the end of the Shadow War, but ultimately it had held. The union of the Blessed Delenn and General John Sheridan, the Shadowkiller, kept the disparate Alliance together through months that were largely marked by peace and optimism. The completion of the Babylon 5 space station at the end of the year was meant to mark a new beginning for the galaxy.

And it did, although not in the way anyone could have foreseen. Babylon 5 comes later, though. The early weeks and months of 2263 were distinguished by activity elsewhere, by a slow building of forces, by steadily burning tensions.

And by the continued absence of Primarch Sinoval.

NEY, S. E. (2295) The Birth of a New Dream. Chapter 1 of The Rise and Fall of

the United Alliance, the End of the Second Age and the Beginning of the

Third, vol. 4, The Dreaming Years. Ed: S. Barringer, G. Boshears,

A. E. Clements, D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

* * *

And at the same instant, they all woke up.

They were spread out across the galaxy; rich people, poor people, powerful people, helpless people. They were the people who shaped the galaxy, in one form or another.

And they all woke up at the same time.

Londo Mollari awakes from a dream he can remember now, wet tears on his face. He is a young man again, standing alongside Marrago and Urza and Dugari and Malachi and so many others. He is boasting in the way that only a young man can, and the others are agreeing with him. "I am going to be Emperor one day," he says, and they laugh. And then he looks up at the throne, and Refa is there, nailed to it by his own kutari. And then he looks back and sees Dugari covered with blood, coughing up more blood with each breath and taking those awful cough tablets of his which are covered with blood. And he looks back and he sees Marrago is not here any more, and Urza is dead and Malachi is dead and they are all dead except him and only his enemies are left, and Cartagia raises a mocking toast to say 'I won' and Elrisia combs out her long beautiful hair and Kiro plays an open flame across his fingers and it does not burn him and Mariel and Daggair laugh and plot and Morden is behind them all, smiling as he always does and saying, 'You owe me a favour, Emperor or Minister or peasant or wanderer, you owe me a favour and a man must always pay what he owes.'

And Emperor Londo Mollari II wakes up, carefully, so as not to wake Timov, and he goes to a window and looks out over the many lands of his domain.

Dexter Smith awakes from a dream. He was poor once, born in a slum of lost hopes and dead dreams to a mother who barely spoke to him and a father he never knew. Now he is a Senator, a man of importance, a man who is known and respected, a war hero, a champion of the people. But in his dreams he sees green eyes fill with blood as he kills her again and again and each time he hears the voices blaming him.

And Senator Dexter Smith wakes up and lies in his bed for many hours until dawn comes and he has things to do that will make him forget.

David Corwin awakes from a dream he does not want to remember. He cannot move, or think, or even remember his name. All he can do is scream, and there are so many people walking directly in front of him, Susan and Lyta and Mary and John and Delenn and Carolyn and none of them can see him or hear him and he is left to scream alone, the sounds echoing in his mind.

And David Corwin, once a captain but no longer, wakes up to the sensation of the sun on his face, but it is so cold and the sky is full of dust and the water is full of mud and his waking brings him no joy.

Talia Winters, who has more names than friends, awakes from a dream in which she is with her family. Abby is there, and Al, and they have more children, and she isn't wearing gloves, and she has only the one name, but she cannot remember what it is, and everyone is calling her different names.

And Talia Winters, who takes several minutes to remember that that is her name, wakes up and goes to check on her daughter. They have been apart for far too long and she will not let them be parted again.

Satai Kats awakes from a dream where she is in a circle of light, but she is not screaming and she is not afraid and as she touches Kozorr's hand and says the words she is bidden to say, she can feel herself crying, but in a good way. The sun is touching Kozorr's face, and he is looking up into it, unafraid of the light.

And Satai Kats wakes up and touches the necklace around her neck, the last thing he was making for her before he died, his last effort at a life where he created rather than destroyed. It is strangely warm to her touch.

Delenn of Mir awakes from a dream like many others she has had. It is not something she wishes to recall, but she hears that heartbeat echoing from stone and metal always, whether waking or sleeping.

And Delenn of Mir, the most powerful person in the galaxy, rolls over in her oddly horizontal bed and reaches for the person who should be there, but he is not, and she feels the cold where his warmth should be and she lies still for a long time.

And they all wake up and they all remember the same thing. Some recall the dreams, some do not, but in that one instant of half-slumber, half-memory, when what is real and what is not become blurred, a moment that Susan Ivanova would call the 'Hour of the Wolf', they all have one image burned into the back of their minds.

A pair of dark eyes and a fearsome voice saying one word.

"Remember."

But most of them forget.

* * *

There are more of them than people think, out there in space. They are the ancients, the forgotten, beings who walked the stars at the dawn of time. Mortals call them 'the First Ones' but they do not understand what it is they have named. They do not understand what it means to walk among the stars like giants, to look down at the younger races, at the mortals, beings little more than ants.

They have been forgotten now, largely. The Shadows and the Vorlons chose the twin paths of helping and aiding the younger races and the others…. they have gone, hidden, pursuing their own concerns, inhabiting their own floating cities and dead tombs. For countless millennia they have stood aloof from the rest of the galaxy.

Things change.

There is a world that no outsider has been to in tens of thousands of years. It has no name that anyone can know. The people who live there are forgotten and unknown. It is a world of cities crafted of air and rivers flowing among the skies. It is a world of hazy mists and whispered memories.

No ship has left that world for a very, very long time.

Until now.

It rises from the greatest city on the world, floating upwards on wings of water. As it leaves the atmosphere, the wings fold up and engines come to life.

And the First Ones' ship makes for a secret destination, far away from the worlds of the younger races. They have been apart from the galaxy for far too long. It is now time for them to return. There is one last piece of business for them to attend to.

* * *

Fear wasn't something he was meant to know. Not him, one of the special, one of the unique, one of the few. Fear was a lesser thing, for lesser beings. For mundane beings.

But as he ran frantically, his breath burning in his mouth, his heart pounding as if to break free from his chest, his blood rushing, Chen Hikaru knew fear. The thought uppermost in his mind was that this was not meant to be happening. He could not be afraid. He was a telepath, a personal agent of the Psi Corps itself.

Telepaths were not meant to be afraid. Not ever.

But he was, and he doubted anyone could blame him. The things chasing him, they were not human, they were not natural. They looked human, they talked like humans and acted like humans, but they weren't, and only one type of person could tell that they weren't human.

The special people. Telepaths, just like him.

This was supposed to be a routine mission. A simple reconnaissance. He had been here for three years, just keeping an eye on things for the Corps, or what was left of it. There was not much to Mokafa Station, at least not much to the public eye. A Brakiri trading station set up across a couple of moderately important trade routes. A layover point for traders and travellers into a few of the less explored regions towards the Rim.

But what the Corps knew but few others did, was that Mokafa held a secret lab making Dust, run by one of the more prominent Brakiri crime syndicates. Such a lab needed watching, and that was what Chen had been assigned to do. Just watch. He had been warned it might be a long time before he heard back from his superiors, and so he had not been unduly worried about the long period of silence. The rumours about the loss of Sanctuary and Mr. Bester going into hiding had troubled him, and he had even heard a whispered report that Laton had been taken and Bester killed, but he had not believed it.

It was only when the strange humans arrived that he realised something very wrong was happening.

They looked no different from any other travellers. There were four of them, a businessman of some kind, a secretary, a local guide and a bodyguard. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary. At least, to any mundane person. Chen had sensed something strange from the first moment he had seen them and a subtle probe of the businessman had confirmed his suspicions.

There was nothing there. No thoughts, no memories, nothing but a brilliantly shining light, a light that burned and blazed and raged at him. He had stumbled back before the unexpected pain, and all four of them had turned to look at him. And all four of them had smiled.

That was when he had started to run.

They had followed him, moving effortlessly. He could hear them communicating with each other, not by words, but by the thoughts he had been unable to sense. He could also hear them talking to him, sinuous whispers, soft echoes of childhood nightmares. Come to usss…. Be with usss…. We will show you the light. We will show you beauty and power and an entire universe of majesty and terror.

He wanted to scream, but he did not have the breath. He wanted to fall and collapse crying, but then they would catch him. Somehow he knew that they would catch him anyway.

Something twisted beneath his leg and he fell, his knee striking the floor hard. He stumbled forward and tried to scramble to his feet, but all he did was roll forward a little and hit his knee again.

Then they were there, just materialising behind him.

Let us show you the light, one of them whispered.

"Who are you?" Chen said, tears in his eyes. He was one of the special, one of the unique. He shouldn't have to feel like this.

Fear was for lesser beings.

We are the Hand of the Light, the first one said. He could no longer tell them apart. Everything seemed to be melting, clothes, features, build, everything. They were becoming mannequins, twisted approximations of what a human being should look like, made by someone who had never seen one.

Chen tried to lash out with a telepathic attack, but there was nothing to attack. There was simply nothing there. No mind. Nothing.

Come with us. We will show you the light.

"What are you?" he asked again. "What…. what are you?"

We are the Hand of the Light.

"You mean, you are worthless abominations," said a new voice, one harsh and strong, one that did not fear anything. Chen reached out with his mind to welcome the newcomer, but he recoiled. A mundane. How could a mundane be so calm when he was so terrified?

"Die!" snapped one of the creatures. There was a blur of motion and the thoughts of many telepaths joined in one. The sound as a PPG was fired, and one of the creatures fell. Another one stumbled back, clutching at its head. Chen could see light pouring from its distorted eyes and mouth. Something terrible and dark was seeping into the creature's head.

He shifted his gaze, only just daring to move, and he saw a tall man, dressed in innocuous grey, holding a PPG. There was a long scar down the side of his face. This was the mundane.

There were also several telepaths, led by an elegant, hard-faced blonde woman. They were joined, and holding off one of the creatures. The mundane shot another, moving with almost blinding speed.

Chen breathed out slowly and lent his own mind to the telepaths. Joining was a simple exercise, taught to every child. He had been warned in training that some joinings could remove control from him entirely, but he had not expected anything like this.

His mind was swept up in a current of energy that immediately pulled him free from any moorings he might have tried to form. It was a flowing river of darkness, that felt foul and smelled foul and was foul. He gagged at its touch and at its presence, but he could not escape. All he could do was try to stay sane and force the flow in the direction the others wanted — into the ball of light inside the last remaining creature.

It moved forward, unbelievably fast. The mundane fired again, but it managed to grab the throat of one of the telepaths. Looking with his eyes rather than his mind, Chen saw the light flow into her body. She gagged and stiffened, choking. He watched helplessly as the thoughts fled from her mind, the blood left her body, and she died, the body decaying practically before his eyes.

The creature turned to him next, and he trembled. He wanted to scream, but he could not even muster that much independence.

It stiffened and clutched at its throat, looking for all the world as if it were choking. More and more of the darkness poured into it, and finally it fell.

As soon as it hit the floor the joining ended and Chen was freed. He rolled over onto his side and shook, his stomach heaving. He gagged, and vomited helplessly until his stomach was empty.

He did not know how long he lay there, shaking, lying in his own vomit. Patches of conversation reached his ears, but he dared not even try to hear with his mind.

"No! We need one of them alive."

"They won't tell us anything. The last ones certainly haven't." That was the man, the mundane with the scar. Chen felt he should know him, but he just could not think clearly enough.

"Then maybe this one will. We certainly won't find out anything if we kill him." That was a woman's voice, but he did not know who she was.

"Another one dead, though. Was this worth it? Look at him, throwing up like a student celebrating his birthday." Chen felt his contempt and there was a moment's anger within him. Who was this mundane to criticise him? Him! He was a telepath, one of the special few, not some mundane, ten-a-penny mouse.

"At least she died free, not in one of their machines. We're doing something here. Each step we take is a step closer to ending all this."

"If you say so," the mundane grunted. "I'll take your word for it."

Chen rolled over and looked up at them. The woman was shorter than the man, and despite signs of strength and conviction in her face, he looked so much stronger than her. Of course she was a telepath and he was a mundane, but it was odd to see him taking orders from her like that.

"You shouldn't have tried to do that," the woman said, noticing Chen's efforts to rise. "It's more than a little disorienting the first time. And the second, come to that. It'll get easier though, once you've communed with the artefact."

"Artefact?"

"You'll see. We'd better get out of here, quickly. We can explain later."

Chen looked at the mundane, and suddenly he remembered who he was. "You're Captain Ben Zayn," he said. "You work for Mr. Bester."

"I work for her now," he said, pointing at the woman. "And so do you. It's the least you can do in return for us saving your life."

"Who are you?" he said to her. "What were those things? What did they want with me?"

"Do you believe in evil?" she asked simply.

Chen blinked. "I…. I don't know. I've never really thought about it. Why?"

"Those things are evil. What they do with telepaths is evil. We'll tell you all about it, but you'll wish we hadn't once you know everything. You really will. You can call me Talia. I know who you are."

"How…?" Chen stopped. He believed her when she said there would be explanations later.

He also believed her when she said he would not like the answers.

* * *

Whispers from the Day of the Dead — I

For one night, and one night alone, Brakir belonged to the ghosts. Marrago could see them moving through the streets of their cities, costumes of flamboyant whites and golds, masks and banners and jewellery.

There were many strangers here this night, aliens come to witness an event that most would never see in their lifetimes again. The Day of the Dead. Some came merely to say they had been there. Some came seeking answers to what lay beyond. Some came hoping for one last word with a loved one, now passed away. Marrago had his reasons for being here, and they had little to do with his mission for Sinoval. For six months he had been scouring the galaxy seeking soldiers and mercenaries and sellswords. Now he had a force of nearly thirty, with at least two he trusted as lieutenants. He had given them command, and he had come here.

They had tried to argue against him travelling alone, but he had come anyway, despite their protests. There was a price on his head from the Court, and there had already been three attempts at claiming it. He was still a recognisable figure and his refusal to cut his hair only made him the more recognisable.

But still he came alone. This was something he had to do alone.

As he walked beneath the night sky of Brakir, seeing the glow of the comet passing overhead, he spotted other outsiders, others here seeking…. perhaps the same things he was seeking.

A Minbari woman was standing on a balcony above him. She was short, slender and pretty, and her bearing spoke of power. She was looking up into the sky, and toying absently with an amulet draped around her neck. A human, his clothes stained and muddy, was sitting in a corner of an alley, starting at shadows and whispering names under his breath. A Narn, one Marrago knew he recognised, walked into the doorway of a temple, where hundreds of Brakiri knelt in prayer and meditation.

And a Brakiri, wearing the uniform of a captain in the Dark Star fleet, walked purposefully towards an abandoned building. He stopped before it, staring silently for a long, long time.

Marrago moved past them all. They had their own stories, but so did he.

He had rented a room in a quiet inn, not remotely surprised that the enterprising landlord had increased the rent tenfold for the Day of the Dead. He had paid. The funds he had gathered from various mercenary jobs were not inconsiderable, and what else did he have need to buy?

He sat down, trying to remember what he had been told. 'The dead will come to you.'

"Are you here?" he asked softly. "Lyndisty, are you here?"

There was no answer. He was not sure if he had been expecting one. The whole concept of the Day of the Dead sounded strange to him, and he had been weaned on ghost stories, usually bloody and melodramatic. His father had disapproved, of course.

But if there was even a chance, however slight, that he could see her again…. There were some things he had to say to her.

Softly behind him there came gentle footsteps, whispered breaths of the dead. His breath became very cold in his mouth. And he turned.

It was not Lyndisty.

A man was standing before him, young and handsome, dressed in the uniform of a Centauri officer, a kutari at his side. For a moment Marrago did not know this man, but then he spoke, and there was understanding. "Jorah?" the man said. "Jorah, is that you?"

Only one person had ever called him that. Even to Londo he had always been known as Marrago.

"Barrystan," he whispered.

"By the Great Maker," Barrystan said. "Look at you. You look old."

"I am old," Marrago said. "Older than I look. Sometimes older than I feel. But you…. you look just like you did when you…." He stopped, not knowing how to say the word 'died'.

"Has it been that long, then?" Barrystan sat down, as did Marrago. "How long has it been? Time doesn't seem to pass the same way there."

"It must be…. twenty-five years. Perhaps even more. Yes, twenty-five years since Immolan."

"Twenty-five years? Great Maker! That explains why you look so old." He suddenly straightened. "Lyndisty! How is she? She must be a young woman by now. Did you….? Is she…? Did you even hear me when I asked you to look after her? I don't remember."

Marrago fell silent. He remembered hearing his old friend's last request to him. A young wife, a baby daughter. Could he look after them?

How could he tell Lyndisty's father that she was dead?

"I heard you," he said. "She is fine. A beautiful young woman."

"Is she married yet?"

"No, but there are several candidates. I think she enjoys the attention. She has…. a way of looking at the young men, a way of moving her eyes that draws them all in. She got that from your sister. Exactly the same tilt of the head."

"And Drusilla?"

Another pause, as Marrago thought of something to say. Drusilla had become selfish and spoiled and shrewish. The two of them spent as little time together as they could. She played the Game of Houses and took young lovers to her bed and enjoyed intrigues and gossip.

But he remembered a time when he had danced with her at Barrystan's wedding, and watched her eyes sparkle with love for his friend, her new husband. He remembered as the light in her eyes died when he told her of his death. He had married her for honour, and she him for protection. There had never been love there. Her capacity for love had died when he had.

"She is well," he said simply.

"You did it, then?" Barrystan said. "Thank you, Jorah. Many would not have…. Thank you." Marrago did not say anything. There was very little to say. He had come here hoping, praying, for a chance to talk with Lyndisty one last time, to tell her he loved her one last time, to tell her that she had been the light illuminating his world.

He had never expected that he would have to tell the truth to one of his oldest friends twenty-five years after he had died.

"I cannot believe how old you look," Barrystan said again.

"I am old. I have been old for a very long time."

"Still playing at war? Are you Lord-General now?"

"I was. I…. serve the Republic in another way now. One better suited to my talents."

"What fool of an Emperor let you go from being Lord-General? Who is Emperor now, anyway? Turhan cannot still be alive?"

"He's been dead for a while. No…. a…. you won't believe this. Londo Mollari. Emperor Mollari II."

"Mollari? Never! Well…. he got it after all. The thing he wanted most in all the world."

"The thing he wanted most as a young man. I think now he only sits on that throne because there is no one else. Age…. is an…. uncomfortable thing, Barrystan. I am not sure if I would not have preferred to have died like you, a young man, still with all my hopes and aspirations and dreams."

"You saw my daughter grow up. You made love to my wife while my ashes were floating in the night winds. You could breathe clean air. You could drink warm brivare and eat fine foods. You are alive, Jorah. Death is a cold place, sometimes. Enjoy life while you have it."

What could he say? That he had watched Lyndisty die, that he had seen Drusilla shun his every gentle touch, that he had breathed air filled with the ashes of his people, that he had tasted only blood and bones?

Life was a cold place sometimes as well.

"Did we ever listen when we were young men, Barrystan? Some things do not change with age."

"No, I suppose they don't. Well, Jorah. Since you've awoken me from whatever it was I was doing, at least try to listen to me. You aren't that old, and whatever has happened to you, you are still alive, and it can always be made better. There is no going back when you are dead. There is nothing."

"Really?" Marrago whispered. He did not want to believe that. He did not want to believe Lyndisty had an eternity of nothing stretched out before her. "There must be something? Heaven, Hell? The infinite pleasure palaces of Emperor Creoso?"

"Whatever there is, I have not found it. You are alive, Jorah. So live!"

"Which of us is older now, friend?" he said.

"You, by at least three years, but that does not mean wisdom, does it?"

"Probably not."

"Be sure to tell Lyndisty I love her. I wish I could have seen her one last time. And Drusilla. I never loved anyone as much as I loved her."

"I will tell them," Marrago breathed, trying to hold back the tears filling his eyes.

"And remember." The voice seemed to be coming from a very long way away. "You're alive, Jorah. Don't ever forget that."

"I won't.

"I won't."

* * *

The Centauri were one of the oldest of the younger races, and certainly one of the proudest. The Shadow War had seen their ancient civilisation totter and almost fall, but a combination of luck, outside assistance and the dedicated leadership of Emperor Mollari II ensured its safety.

But as the Centauri were soon to learn, victory sometimes costs more than defeat. The enforced treaty by which the Republic joined the Alliance would soon cripple them. The cost of building Babylon 5 hit them no harder than it did many others, but the extent of military aid demanded for the Alliance fleet meant leaving many worlds undefended, a fact of which numerous raiders were more than willing to take advantage.

The Republic was also to bear the brunt of the feared Inquisitors, dispatched by the Vorlons to seek out any who had aided the Shadows during the war. Before this period the Inquisitors had been no more than legend. The first confirmed sighting was in 2259, with the testing of Delenn and John Sheridan, the second in 2262, when Satai Kats was interrogated by the most feared of them all, the human known as Sebastian.

Until now, they had only been seen singly. That soon changed.

And they were not even the greatest of Emperor Mollari's problems.

SANDERS, G. (2295) Prime Among Peers: A Study of Emperor Mollari II and the

Centauri Republic he Led. Chapter 2 of The Rise and Fall of the United

Alliance, the End of the Second Age and the Beginning of the Third, vol. 4,

The Dreaming Years. Ed: S. Barringer, G. Boshears, A. E. Clements,

D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

* * *

Our Dark Masters protect us. Our Dark Masters shelter us. In your Shadow are we guided, by your Shadow are we shielded. By your grace do we thrive. By your wisdom do we live.

Our Dark Masters protect us. Our Dark Masters shelter us.

Moreil continued the rite, speaking the words by rote as he had every day since the Dark Masters had gone Beyond. He had spoken them before battle, before trial, before food, before rest. He had spoken them the day the Priests of Midnight had exiled him from the worlds of the Z'shailyl and denied him the comforting presence of the Dark Masters' shadow.

He had never stopped believing, and he had never hated the Priests of Midnight for their sentence. It was an honour to serve the Dark Masters, an honour to draw each breath in their name. There had been too many failures during the bleak days that marked the end of the Dark Crusade. There had been too many defeats, and some had had to pay for those failures. Moreil had been but one among many, and he had deserved his punishment.

But still he lived, and still he served the Dark Masters with every movement. That was why he was here, commanding a Drakh starship, working with aliens, working with pirates and bandits and scum. They sought only glory and profit and power. Moreil sought only chaos, to serve the Dark Masters' memory.

They had many names, this motley little group of theirs. The Narn captain referred to them as the 'Brotherhood Without Banners', in reference to some group of heroes from his past. To the Drazi they were the 'Sword of Droshalla'. A strange human called them the 'Order of the Wolf'. The outcast Centauri lordling used the name 'Assassins'. Most, including Moreil himself, did not care. They all knew what they were.

They were the lost, the damned, the forgotten. The Dark Crusade, that some called the Shadow War, had left the galaxy in turmoil and chaos. Many had been displaced. Some, guilty of what would in more ordered days have been called 'crimes', had escaped and fled.

And people like that eventually came here.

There were many like them. Bandits. Outcasts. Raiders. Most of them had been destroyed by the Alliance. Only the Brotherhood Without Banners (or whatever you called them) had survived, and they had done that by hiding and building and gaining strength. Between them they had criminal contacts across the galaxy. Between them they had enough ships to comprise a small army. Between them they were capable of carving a small empire out of the galaxy.

And once they had done so, Moreil knew, they would descend on each other like the wolves the human had named them to be, and destroy whatever they had built. Such was the nature of chaos.

They did not even have a leader, although there was a loose council of sorts. Moreil attended its meetings when he could be bothered. Most of them feared him. There were a few other members of the vassal races here, but no other Z'shailyl. A Zener scientist and a few of his staff, easily cowed. A flight of Zarqheba, howling their mindless cries into the silent sky, easily directed when there were beings to kill and warm flesh to eat. A group of Wykhheran, who formed Moreil's personal honour guard.

To all of them, he was as a Dark Master. He had gathered them all and brought them here. They might be exiles, they might be masterless, they might be outcasts.

But they would bring chaos.

The Alliance would catch them eventually, of course. Moreil had no illusions about that. They and their Vorlon masters had bested the Dark Masters, so they would catch the Brotherhood sooner or later. The only challenge was to spread as much chaos as they could before that happened.

He turned, his long wings rising as he heard the Wykhheran shimmer into view, whispering darkly. Most lesser beings could see only faint outlines of the dread Shadow Warriors, but Moreil could see them in all their terrible glory. Forged in the black pits at Thrakandar, now forever silent, the Wykhheran were perhaps the Dark Masters' most awesome creation.

It was the Centauri, the one who styled himself a lord. That, to Moreil, was foolishness. They were all exiles here, what matter a meaningless title in front of your name? But to Rem Lanas, titles did matter. His clothes were shabby and torn. His face was scarred and ugly. His voice was raspy and hoarse.

But as long as he could call himself a lord, he was content.

Moreil did not understand, but he could at least tolerate it.

"Call off your hounds," Lanas said. "We are there."

"This I know," Moreil replied. He had studied this place carefully. Gorash 7. The agricultural centre of the Centauri Republic. One of their richest worlds. The Narns had almost taken it during their first war, and it had fallen during the second following a wave of peasant uprisings. It had been returned to the Centauri in the Kazomi Treaty that had ended the second war. Emperor Mollari II had worked hard at restoring the planet to its former glory. Centauri Prime was in ashes, and there was rumoured to be famine and starvation. The Republic desperately needed its breadbasket.

What better place to attack? Emperor Mollari had sent many of his most prominent officials here to oversee the restoration of the world. There would be fine ransoms to be had. There were Alliance officers here as well. There would not be riches, but there would be some plunder. The Republic was also the weakest of the major powers. It was not even capable of defending its own worlds.

A perfect place to begin the spreading of chaos.

Lanas looked eager to begin. He did not like the Drakh starship that Moreil had appropriated for his own purposes, he did not like the Zarqheba, the Zener, or the Wykhheran, and he did not even seem to like Moreil himself. It was a mystery, then, why the lordling insisted on this ship. He was no combatant, but his knowledge of Centauri power structures made him invaluable.

Moreil did not know why Lanas was with them at all. He did not know why Lanas was so willing to be a part of the sacking of one of his own race's worlds. He did not know why Lanas insisted on serving on this ship.

He did not care. None of that mattered.

All that mattered was the spreading of chaos, and the service of the Dark Masters.

* * *

The sun was rising. Once it had brought with it light and beauty, a million rays of colour shining from crystal statues and mirror-clear lakes. Now there was only mud and dirt, and the sky was a dull brown.

That was me. I did this.

David Corwin, once captain of the Dark Star 3, the Agamemnon, watched the sun rise over the horizon outside the city of Yedor, and he thought the same thoughts he had every morning he had been here.

I did this.

He had not really bothered keeping track of time since he had left Kazomi 7, but he supposed it must have been at least a year by now. No matter how many different worlds and different systems he travelled to, he still always based time on the old Earth Standard, and he reckoned by that token it would have been more or less a year.

He had left Kazomi 7 in the second week of 2262, twenty days exactly after the Agamemnon had been destroyed.

He did not know exactly what date it was, but he supposed it must have been at least a year. When had New Year's Eve been? Whenever it had been, he must surely have spent it here, on Minbar. He had been here for several months now and every day he woke up to watch the dawn, and every day he tried to forget the dreams that echoed in his memory, and every day he thought the same thoughts.

I did this.

He wished he could have seen Minbar before the bombardment. He had overheard some of the Minbari talking about it, and the wonder in their voices. He had heard the exact same tone among his own people as adults explained to their children what Earth had been like.

He could speak Minbari fluently, of course. Or two dialects of it anyway. He had learnt the warrior caste dialect during the war, to be better able to communicate with prisoners. The worker caste dialect he had picked up here. It was not all that difficult.

He turned away from the risen sun and walked down towards the city. Yedor, the Minbari called it, the capital of their civilisation. It was a city older than any on Earth, a city built when humans had still not even fully comprehended their own world, let alone the mastery of space, a city of wonder and intrigue and ancient mystery.

And the human and Drakh fleets had all but annihilated it in a single day.

Not all of the city, admittedly. The Temple of Varenni had survived, and a few other buildings.

And now there were more.

Someone had built Yedor after all, those countless years ago. Who was to say they were not rebuilding over the ruins of an even older city? Everything had to begin somewhere.

For over a year David Corwin had been a pilgrim, seeking some sort of peace with the galaxy. He had not found it, not on Proxima, not during the Brakiri Day of the Dead, not in the vastness of space.

He had not found it here on Minbar either, but he felt he was getting close.

* * *

He took the same path he had before, several times over the past year. It was not the most direct, nor the safest, certainly not the quickest, but there was one reason and one reason alone that Senator Dexter Smith took this route from his office to the Pit Trap.

It brought him past a certain nondescript alley, one just like countless others here in Sector 301, aptly dubbed 'the Pit' until something had happened here that had changed everything.

This was where the Blessed Delenn had died and risen again.

The shrine had grown quite a bit since he had last been here. His duties in the Senate had kept him busy, and this was the first night he had had off in months. His first chance to come back here.

The shrine took up almost the whole alley now. There were pictures and drawings and poems and scribblings. There were quite a few other people here. There always were. The homeless — and Sector 301 still had plenty of them, although fewer than previously — slept here, claiming her presence gave them protection. Perhaps it did.

He paused, as he always did, and remembered this place the way it had been. He remembered the feel of the PPG in his hands, and the look in her eyes.

Then he remembered her beautiful green eyes filling with blood as her body fell.

I killed her. She had told him to. The crowd — many of whom now worshipped here — would have torn them both apart if he had not. But he had still killed her, and nothing could undo that.

He sighed, and turned to leave. As he did so, he caught sight of a picture of himself pinned to the wall. He vaguely recalled that picture being taken. It had been for an interview with Humanity magazine.

Someone had scrawled the word 'Murderer' over it.

He left.

It was not a long walk from the shrine to the Pit Trap, and he made it in about ten minutes. It was busier than he remembered, and he wondered how much of that was due to the very public knowledge that he drank there. Celebrity was not something he liked. He had not liked it when he had been captain of the Babylon and he did not like it now, but he could not blame Bo for taking advantage, he supposed.

"Senator," said Jinxo, the barman. It was a sign of how much things had changed that Bo could actually afford to hire more staff. "They're waiting for you."

"I know, I know, I'm late." There was a bottle of Pit Bull on the bar almost instantly. As he always did, Smith offered to pay, and as always, Jinxo wouldn't take the money. Smiling as he swigged from the bottle, Smith walked past the bar into the back room, the one marked 'Private'.

"Hey, here you are at last," said a familiar voice. "Don't they have clocks in that posh part of town?"

"You and the horse you rode in on, Allan," Smith replied genially. He took the seat that had been set aside for him and leaned back in the chair, looking around the table.

Security Chief Zack Allan, his assistant Jack, and Bo himself. A pack of playing cards was placed beside Bo, as was a pile of counters. Everyone had a drink of some kind in front of them. "Prepare to lose all that you own," Zack said. "For tonight is poker night at the Pit Trap."

"I dunno," Jack said. "I think I've already lost all I own."

"The way you play I'm not surprised." Zack looked up at Dexter. "So?"

"So what? Bo's the dealer for the first hand. You know that."

Zack rolled his eyes. "Not that. The other thing."

"Uh…. what other thing?"

"Oh, for the love of…. Here, give a minute." Zack bent down and picked up a newspaper from the floor at his feet. It was the Proxima Yesterday. Dexter caught the front page headline, and immediately wished he hadn't.

"Here we are," Zack said. "'War hero Senator Dexter Smith was spotted leaving the Dome One-o-five apartment of Captain Bethany Tikopai late last Wednesday night, fuelling rumours of a romance between the two. We've been unable to get in touch with either to comment, but friends of Senator Smith, who wished to remain anonymous, stated that he was 'head over heels' with the Earthforce Captain. There have been rumours linking Smith, who was voted the seventh sexiest man alive in a survey by For Her magazine four years ago and is expected to rank even higher in this year's survey, with a number of women over the last year, but nothing has developed into anything permanent. Could this be love at last for the high-profile Senator? We'll have to see his reaction when Captain Tikopai returns from her tour of duty at Kazomi Seven next month. And if he's feeling lonely in the meantime, we know several woman who will only be too happy to keep him company.'"

"Give me that!" Dexter snapped, snatching the paper from Zack. It was open at the gossip page, unsurprisingly. "Oh, for the love of Gandhi. Mental note: Get that Media Bill passed as soon as possible."

"So?" Bo asked.

"So what?"

"Is it true?"

"No, it's not true. We're just friends, that's all. We had dinner together."

"Oh," Zack said. "I see. Just dinner. Right." He started nodding, knowingly.

"She's not bad looking," Jack said. "I hear Ladded asked her for a photo-shoot and she turned them down."

"Did you see that picture of her in Humanity when the new uniforms came out last year?" Bo asked.

"Oh, did I ever?" Jack added. "Mamma mia! I wonder if I can get the missus a uniform like that?"

"Uh, did we come here to play cards, or to talk about my non-existent love life?" Dexter asked. "'Cause I can hear all the gossip I like in the Senate."

"No, we want the juicy details," Zack said. "Come in, indulge all us poor working-class plebs here. We don't get to move in the celebrity circuits like you do."

"Zack, we start playing now, or I tell everyone about you and that doctor from the underground clinic. What was her name again? Something Rosen?"

Zack coughed. "Ahem. Come on, Bo. Get dealing."

The chips were soon piled up and counted, while Bo began to shuffle. "So," Jack said. "Explain that dealer chip again?"

Everyone groaned. "Jack, that joke stopped being funny two hundred and sixty-four years ago," Zack said.

"No, it was funny then."

"No, it really wasn't."

Half an hour later everyone had gone through several bottles of beer, Jack had gone through half his chips, Bo three-quarters of his, and Dexter three full houses and a straight flush. He had always been good at poker, but he largely played it because it was a break from everything else in his life. No squabbling Senators. No watching Alliance advisors. No gossip columns. No kiss-and-tell revelations from women he had dated fifteen years ago.

Slowly he fanned his cards out, and listened to Jack raving about how wonderful his hand was, which meant it was the biggest pile of rubbish since Sector 301 after the refuse collectors strike of 2251. Jack had never managed a good poker face.

Zack raised, Jack matched it, Bo folded, and Dexter looked at his cards again. He matched, and raised again.

"You haven't got the cards," Zack said.

"Yes, I have. They're right here, in my hand. See. Five of them."

"Ah, you've got rubbish. Here, I'll match you, and raise another…. fifty."

Jack matched, and Dexter. "Off you go, Zack. Let's see them."

"Read 'em and weep, boys. Straight flush. Seven, eight, nine, ten and…. hey, where did the bloody ten go?"

"That looks like a three to me," Dexter observed. "A three of hearts as well."

"There was a ten here. The bloody ten of clubs."

"What, the one that was a part of your drivel last hand?"

Zack took a moment's realisation and then started swearing.

"'Read 'em and weep,'" Dexter said, chuckling.

"And then, he did," Bo pronounced.

"Yeah, yeah, a mistake that could have happened to anyone."

"Anyone who can't tell the difference between a three and a ten. Bo, never let this guy behind your bar."

"Fine, fine. Let's all have a laugh. Jack, try and knock the smile off his face. Tell me you've got something."

"Two pairs," Jack announced, laying them down. "Aces and twos."

Dexter nodded. "Not bad. Not half bad. I've got two pairs myself. Kings." He laid down the Kings of Hearts and Spades. "And…. er, Kings." Followed by the Kings of Clubs and Diamonds.

Zack groaned. "Can I owe you?"

"Zack, you already owe me…. let's see. Seventeen jillion zillion credits, otherwise known as the Gross Planetary Product of Proxima for the next seven years."

"Only Proxima. Get back to me when it's the GPP of somewhere important."

"Where's important?" asked a new voice, and everyone stopped. Someone was interrupting their poker session. They'd all left standing orders never to be interrupted during a poker session. Dexter had told his assistants to contact him only if the Minbari invaded, and nothing else.

"Have the Minbari invaded?" he asked the newcomer. He supposed it would have to be something pretty important for Julia to come here. She knew the significance of Poker Night, even if she didn't claim to understand it. Even if she wasn't legally old enough to enter the bar, not yet. It would be her eighteenth birthday in a couple of months. Dexter had already picked out what he hoped was a good present. Bethany had confessed to having no idea what to get her daughter.

Legally, of course, she wasn't old enough to be in the Proxima Security Force either, but there were always exceptions in Sector 301.

"Not that I know of," she replied dubiously. "Who's winning?"

"Funny story," Dexter began. Zack looked at him and held up the newspaper, glaring dire threats. "But not that funny. What's up?"

"Something you're going to want to see. You too, Boss. It's…. strange. Very strange."

"Well, who am I to pass up the call of serious strangeness?" Zack replied. "Lucky for you, Smith. I was going to clean you out next round."

"I'm not worried. I'd see you counting on your fingers to work out which number is ten."

"Remind me why I don't play this again?" Julia said.

"Guy thing," Dexter replied.

"Oh, definitely," Zack added. "Guy thing."

"Yeah."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

* * *

It seemed that everywhere he turned, Londo saw a place where someone had died. That corner, where Malachi had breathed his last. That room, where Dugari had been murdered. That doorway, where the guardsman had fought off the Shadow Criers.

It was worst of all in the throne room. He could still see the patch of blood on the floor where Lyndisty's body had lain. He could still see the scuffs in the carpet where he and Cartagia had fought.

And he could still hear Cartagia's mocking words.

'The Republic will be finished before the century's over, Mollari. I know that, and so do you. Who wants to be known as the Emperor who guided us into oblivion? Not me.'

Not for the first time, Londo swore to prevent Cartagia's final prophecy. Each time he repeated that oath, however, the words came harder and harder to his lips.

The last year had been hard, so very hard. Famine had struck savagely, the uncultivated farmlands unable to provide anywhere near enough food for the Republic. Thousands had died. The breadbasket of Gorash 7 had supplied as much food as it could, but its resources were strained to breaking-point just recovering from the Narn occupation, and the number of ships available to transport food was pitifully small.

Immolan was troubled by pirates again, not an uncommon occurrence. The new Lord-General Carn Mollari was unable to muster enough ships to protect the major shipping lanes, let alone hunt down the raiders.

Time and again, Londo had swallowed his pride and asked Durano to appeal to the Alliance for help. Aid had come eventually, but only when Delenn had personally intervened. There were too many races prominent in the Alliance Council with no cause to love the Centauri, no cause at all, and who were only too willing to see the Republic starve. Oh, aid shipments were promised, but aid was needed everywhere and it was easy for promises not to be fulfilled.

And all the while, more and more people died.

And now this.

"The initial task force will only be five. They will of course be working alone, without any need for staff or suchlike. They have already marked out specific territories to investigate, and there is a list of people they will wish to interview. It would be much easier were these people to be available for interrogation in a place difficult for them to escape from. They would be caught eventually of course, but that would only take up more time and add to the overall unpleasantness, and neither of us wants that, do we?

"Their needs are modest, a room or so each at specified places. Two will be operating out of the palace. The homeworld is obviously the most important place to begin. Of the other three, one is to be based on Gorash, one on Immolan and the other on Frallus. Other worlds will be dealt with subsequently. The immediate priority is to find anyone who may have been working with the Enemy and is still in a position of authority, or of course those in lower positions working in espionage or informant roles. A list of all escaped fugitives will be drawn up and handed over to the proper authorities at Babylon Five and Kazomi Seven.

"Do you have any questions, Majesty?"

"Yes," Londo said, looking closely at Mr. Morden. "What did you call these…. investigators again?"

"Their names are really not important. If they wish to introduce themselves to you, that will be up to them, but if you meant their title, they are usually known as Inquisitors."

"Inquisitors, hmm? Well, a very fine-sounding title. We had some by that name once. Quite a long time ago it was, during one of our darker periods. They…. hunted down people who were felt to be enemies of the State, or of the Church. When they found such people, or fabricated evidence to incriminate innocent people, they burned them alive, as a warning to all other enemies of the State."

"I was aware of this, Majesty. Several cultures have had similar groups of people."

"I was not finished, Mr. Morden. Do you know the strange thing about these Inquisitors? They were very good at their job. Reports state sometimes hundreds, if not thousands, of these 'enemies of the State' were executed daily at some stages. But no matter how many they burned, there were always so many more. It seemed as though there were more enemies of the State when they finished than there had been when they started."

"Ours are a little more efficient."

"So I see," Londo said, holding up the list of names of potential 'interviewees'. "Lord-General Carn Mollari, hmm. Oh, I know these names. Several captains of my, and I use the word carefully these days, 'fleet'. Almost all of them in fact. Kiron Maray, yes. Lady Drusilla Marrago. Oh look, half of my Government, I am so pleased you have not forgotten them.

"Ah, regional bureaucrats and directors, yes. Oh, a lot of the Parliament at Selini, the ones who voted me in as Governor, the ones that are still alive at any rate. Tax inspectors and collectors. Prominent churchmen. Well, if anyone needs an inquisition, it would be them I suppose. Half, no, wait, three-quarters of my Palace Guard.

"Lennier, of the third Fane of Chudomo. Why, Mr. Morden, whatever can a Minbari name be doing down here? I thought it was just us Centauri who bargained with dark forces during the war. Well, well. It seems as though aliens are just as guilty as we are. I'll be damned. I never knew that.

"Ah, and my dear lady wife, Timov. I would rather you be the one to tell her that than I. She has a very fearsome temper you know, and I have had enough crockery thrown at me in this lifetime already, thank you."

Londo handed the paper back to Morden, who maintained his carefully neutral expression. "A most comprehensive list, Mr. Morden. I can see that a great deal of work must have gone into it. Alas, I fear there is at least one name you are missing."

"Oh, Majesty?"

"Londo Mollari. A particularly shifty sort, by all accounts. Just the sort of person your Inquisitors would want to talk to. He had a position of some power within the Republic, although not as much as you do of course. He also knows almost everyone on this list.

"Come now, Mr. Morden, did you think you could question almost everyone I know, accuse them with these lies, and not expect to have to question me as well?"

Londo leapt up from his throne, and knocked the papers from Morden's hand. "Did you really think you would get away with this? With slandering and insinuating these things about these people? Not one of your Inquisitors will set one foot on any world in the Republic, or I will remove that foot!

"I am Emperor here. Not you."

Morden remained impassive. "I hadn't forgotten that, Majesty, but evidently you've forgotten something. Everything the Inquisitors wish to do, including their presence here, is authorised by the treaty that you signed when you joined the Alliance. I have seen that treaty. It bears the signature of your authorised representative on Kazomi Seven, Ambassador Durano — or are you trying to tell me it is a forgery?

"Ambassador Durano will also be questioned, but that will take place on Babylon Five. I understand the bureaucratic centre of the Alliance is slowly being transferred there. Council meetings will be held there soon, I am given to understand."

"Not one Inquisitor, Mr. Morden. Not one."

"What makes you think you have a choice in this, Your Majesty? A breach of your treaty obligations would have grave repercussions. It might lead certain parties to think you have something to hide, things you don't want the Alliance to find out about.

"I might also lead to trade sanctions, jump gate blockades.

"A cessation of aid shipments."

"You bastard!"

"That treaty was signed by your representative, Majesty. We are only enforcing the rights you gave us."

"Not Timov. You will not touch her."

Morden smiled, a slight smile of triumph, and not the only one Londo had seen. "I might be able to persuade them that it is not necessary to question her."

"Good." Londo sat back down on the throne. "You will not touch her." He thought everyone else was gone. He had sent them away, or so he thought, but Morden had just given him an object lesson. Wherever they went, he could touch them.

It was at that point that an Imperial Courier entered the throne room. His face was ashen white.

"Majesty," he said. "There is bad news."

The humans had a saying Londo had heard. He had never really understood it until now.

It never rains but it pours.

* * *

Whispers from the Day of the Dead — II

There was no understanding, no wisdom, no intelligence, no plan. Nothing.

There was only the dead, and they were everywhere, hundreds of faces, looking at him, screaming at him. Some of them he knew were dead, Mary, Michael, his parents. Some he did not know for sure, Susan, Lyta, Lianna. There were many faces he did not know at all, human, Minbari, even Drakh, people he had killed in the war.

David Corwin did not even remember why he had come to Brakir. He did not remember much of anything he had done these past months. He did remember that last day, the day he would mark down as being the one on which his sanity had snapped, and the walls around his world had begun to tumble down.

First had come the news that Mary had died. A tumour, something as simple as that. Random chance, nothing more. No dark fate, no hideous whim of some omnipotent being. Just simple natural causes.

Then his ship had been destroyed. Scuttled, was the official report. Too much combat damage to remain viable. He had heard Carolyn's last scream and now he knew she was alone forever. He had not seen her here today. She was definitely dead, but also not dead. She would be alive and screaming for eternity, trapped in the void the Vorlons had created.

The next day he had left Kazomi 7, left the Alliance and just gone, seeking something out there that would make sense.

Sometimes, in his more lucid moments, he recalled an old story he had heard, of a fisherman who had grown sick of the sea. He had planned to take his oars and walk inland carrying them, until he reached a place where no one knew what he was carrying.

Corwin was carrying something much heavier than oars, and he could not put them down, as everyone had recognised what it was he was carrying.

Particularly everyone here.

"You've got to be one of the good guys, 'cause there's way too many of the bad," one of the dead said to him. "I told my son that. Do you think he listened?"

"Go away," he said. "You're dead."

"Yeah? Yeah, you're right. But that doesn't make me wrong. You'd have agreed with me once. There's too many of the bad out there."

"Yes, there are. And they're too big, and they're too strong, and we can't touch them. None of us can. What's the point in being one of the good guys? We can't win."

"That's exactly the point. We can't win if everyone talks like that."

"Was it worth it? Was it all worth it? You've left behind your wife, your son, everything…. Was it worth it?"

"Ah…. I don't know, really. But I do know this. If I'd backed out, if I hadn't been one of the good guys, I wouldn't have been able to look either of them in the face again."

"Go away. You're dead."

"By the looks of it, you will be soon as well. You could have been a lot more than this."

"Go away."

"I'm not angry with you. I should be, but I'm not. Just think for one second, will you? Just think."

There were more, countless thousands of Minbari, skin sloughing from their faces, eyes dull and hollow, poisoned and sickened and dying, all a result of what he had done. Him, and people just like him. They had been good men, the people who had attacked Minbar. Some of them had wives and children and families. They watched sport and played with their sons, and read stories and played cards.

They were all just like him. All of them. He had done it.

He could not look into their eyes. He could not even bear to look at any of them. He had not imagined the Day of the Dead would be like this.

He did not know if he slept at all, if it had all been a dream, but there had been a long delirium and then light had touched his eyes, the light of the sun rising. He stirred from the place were he had lain, and looked up to see someone standing over him. It was a Minbari woman, another of the thousands.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "Please…." Tears were rolling down his dirt-streaked face. "Please."

"There is nothing to be sorry about," the woman said, in flawless English. "May I sit?"

He looked at her closer. She was short, and slender, and pretty.

"You aren't dead," he said.

"No," she replied. "No, I'm not."

* * *

"They aren't human," Chen said.

"No," Talia replied. "They aren't."

"Then what are they? They look human, or they did at first, but…. It's not a Changeling Net. What are they?"

"It's hard to explain," she sighed. "At least it is until you see the artefact. Then a lot of things become clear."

"What artefact?"

"You'll be taken to see it shortly."

It had been a couple of hours since Chen had been rescued from the terrifying creatures who called themselves the Hand of the Light, and it seemed he had spent most of that time asking questions and not receiving answers. His rescuers had taken him to an abandoned warehouse, where they had built a camp. Chen knew of army bases less well protected.

They had brought the prisoner with them. He had stumbled and tripped and had been dragged most of the way. He mumbled occasionally. He looked as if he were drunk, or very tired. As he looked at him Chen felt a strange surge of pity, and the memory of what the man had been faded.

"Don't!" Talia snapped, looking at him. "Don't forget what they are. That's one of the ways they win."

Chen had rested at the camp a little, washing his face and drinking a lot of water. There were perhaps forty people here, almost all of them telepaths, but there were a few mundanes also. There were even a couple of aliens, but they were telepaths as well.

"What is this place?" he had asked when he arrived.

"You ask a lot of questions, don't you?" Talia replied. "I don't blame you. This is a hideout for the time being. We'll be moving on soon. We have to."

"Where to?"

"We don't know yet. Somewhere safe. Somewhere we can help more people."

"Don't you mean, help telepaths?"

"No, help people. Teep or mundane, it doesn't matter."

After he had rested Ben Zayn had come for him, staring at him with those dark eyes of his. Chen had never been afraid of mundanes before, not even as a child. He had always known he was one of the special people, but as Ben Zayn looked at him, he wondered if the mundane understood that.

"Talia wants to see you."

"What about?"

"She thought you might like to be around when she questions the thing we captured. She even thinks you might be useful there. I'll reserve my judgement, but listen to me. I worked for Bester all my life. Him, I trusted completely. He trusted Talia, so I will as well. You, I don't know. Don't go thinking I'll treat you with kid gloves just because you're a teep. Prove yourself, or go out into the big wide world and be incorporated into the network. I don't care. Got that?"

Chen only nodded.

The being who had once looked human was tied to a chair, its head held steady by a young woman. A telepath. She looked at Chen and flashed him a quick, welcoming smile. He smiled back, a little nervously.

Talia was there, staring at the thing, her arms folded. She looked up as Chen and Ben Zayn arrived.

"All yours," he said. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"We have to keep trying."

"You mean keep running the risk of burning out? How many times have you done this, and what have you found?"

"Which is why we have to keep trying. I've seen what they do to us, Ari, what they did to Al and Harriman and Byron and all the others. We have to know as much as we can about them to stop them, and that means this."

"Fine. You're still the boss, but I'll be ready."

Talia nodded, and turned to Chen. "You wanted answers? This is a way you can get them. It won't be easy. It will hurt, and it could even kill you. I don't believe in lying to you.

"But it is necessary, and then you'll understand. You have to understand before you can really be a part of us, before you can see the artefact.

"Do you want to do this?"

"What are we going to do?"

"Go inside that thing's mind. Try to invade the network."

Chen looked at it again, and then back to Ben Zayn. The man's face was twisted into a sneer, exaggerated by his scar. He would not be thought weak by a mundane, not in front of his own kind.

He nodded.

* * *

Moreil walked through the ashes of chaos, savouring the feel of the choked air in his mouth and the touch of the blood-soaked earth through his fingers.

He had not come to invade, or to conquer, or to subjugate. Some of his companions had sought riches, or captives, or even the love of killing, but not him.

For him there was only the joy of bringing chaos, only the joy of serving his Dark Masters.

The fight had been easy, so incredibly easy. The planet had hardly been protected at all, a half-repaired defence grid and a handful of antiquated ships. None of it was any match for the renegades, the Order of the Wolf, or the Brotherhood Without Banners, or the Imperial Order, or whatever they were called.

Then they had gone to the surface, to the capital, and the true destruction had begun.

They had killed some, they had taken some, but most they had left alive to spread the tales, so that everyone would know who had done this. And that, Moreil knew, was what most of them wanted. They spoke of riches and revenge and power, but all they really wanted was to be known and feared, to be people of influence, to have their names sung and whispered.

An elderly Centauri woman was crying, screaming at him, interrupting his walk and his meditations. Moreil remembered her. Rem Lanas had taken her daughter, and the Wykhheran had torn apart her bond-partner and feasted on him.

"Devil!" she cried. "The Gods will destroy you! They will come down from the heavens and destroy you with holy fire. You will all burn when the Light comes. All of you!" She was crying. "You will all burn."

Moreil stopped and looked at her. She was old, and looked weak. He could have snapped her in half without trying, and his Wykhheran would barely have made a mouthful of her.

He bent down and touched her face, moving his claws gently across her cheek, being careful not to draw blood. He was taking extra care. Some races were just so fragile.

"I am Moreil," he said, speaking in her barbaric and uncivilised tongue. "Your Gods are dead."

Then he set her aside and continued walking. He would not be here long. They had done what they came here for. Gorash was not completely ravaged, but it was enough for now. They had sent a warning to the galaxy that they existed, and that was a start.

Next time, they would turn their attention somewhere bigger.

* * *

Delenn awoke from yet another dream, the latest of many. It seemed that ever since she had moved to this station she had not slept well. John was not there. It seemed he was rarely there when she awoke. She was not a late sleeper, but he was always up before her.

But this was the middle of the night.

She rose and walked into the next room. Space on Babylon 5 had been at a premium, and although the rooms she and John possessed were the largest, they were still far smaller than the ones she had had on Kazomi 7.

John was there, standing still, as if he were a statue. A candle was burning just in front him, and he was staring into it as if nothing else existed.

Delenn shivered, and looked at the wall. Space was beyond there, an infinity of it. An infinity of nothing.

"Remember," she whispered.

But remember what? It appeared that all of them had forgotten so much, so very much.

"Welcome to Babylon Five," she said. There was a meeting tomorrow morning, a meeting of the Alliance Council. It was likely to be a difficult affair. There were so many new faces, and so many of the old ones were gone.

She did not know how long she stood there, simply staring into space. When she finally returned to bed, she looked at John.

He had not moved. Not a muscle.

She sighed, and returned to an uneasy sleep.

Chapter 2

She was transported to a world consisting entirely of pain. It was not in one place, it was everywhere. She saw nightmares come to life. She heard the voice of the man talking to her, telling her to call him 'my lord', telling her to do things.

She said nothing. She did nothing. She merely resisted as best as she could, and screamed when she could not. But he had not yet forced her to surrender, not yet forced her to beg. That was the only power she had now, the only power she could ever have now.

She knew all about power. She had grown up at its nexus, a daughter of the Centauri Royal Court. Her father had wielded power, so had her mother, but it had done neither of them any good. Her father had been murdered, regardless of the power he had commanded, and her mother had died somewhere, alone, anonymous. She must have hated that.

No, she had thought she understood power, but it was only now that she truly did. Power was to seize upon something and declare that that was something she would or would not do, for no other reason than because it suited her. She would not scream, she would not beg, and she would not call him 'lord'. He would have to kill her before she did any of these things.

That was the only power she wielded now.

There were others she saw, although whether they were real or nightmare she did not know. A Narn woman came and watched her often. There was a human as well, who carried a large knife, constantly sharpening it. These she was fairly sure were real and not hallucinations.

But there was something else, an alien. It had a sharply angular head, and large eyes. It never stayed long, and it always looked at her closely, as if peering through her. Behind it something moved and shimmered, but she could never be sure if that was real or merely lights dancing in front of her eyes.

She was forgetting too much. She was beginning to forget what Gorash had been like before they had come. She had even forgotten why she was there. She only remembered one thing.

She would not give him what he wanted.

Senna of House Refa, daughter of Emperor Refa, had that much power at least.

* * *

Chen had never experienced anything like this before. Not ever.

It was as if he had been thrown into a raging river, one composed of light and thoughts and memories. And on the instant he broke the surface, he realised he had forgotten how to swim.

There were thousands of them, screaming voices. Some he was sure he recognised. Some he was sure he had known once. But when he had known them, they had not been in so much pain.

That was what this place was. A river of pain.

Don't lose contact with us! One voice came rushing through the myriad others. It was Talia. You'll never find your way back if you do. You'll be lost forever.

What is this place?

The network. This is what they will do to us. All of us. Remember! Catch hold of something, anything that will remind you of who you are. Remember your name. And follow us. Don't get lost.

Chen could see them now, Talia and the others. They were a school of fish, heading upstream, moving deeper into the maelstrom. He had entered the river with them, but had become separated. He moved towards them and was swept up in the force of their motion.

Don't worry, came another voice, a female one. Stay close to me. I'll do what I can.

The woman who had smiled at him. I don't even know your name, he said.

Lauren. Lauren Ashley.

I'm Chen Hikaru.

Good. Keep thinking that. That's one of the first things they do to us in here. Take away our names.

Where are we going?

As far up as we can.

Chen found it easier to just let himself be swept upwards with the others. He could not navigate himself. There was too much that was strange and twisted. As they moved, he heard voices, he heard cries, he heard pleas for mercy.

Shaking, he concentrated his mind on his fellow-travellers. They were repeating phrases over and over again, reliving memories. Some listed names, some recited poems. Lauren seemed to be replaying a day with a lover, a discovery that gave Chen an unsettling feeling of jealousy.

There was little for him to concentrate on. He had no family. He had few friends. He read little, knew no poems or books or plays.

Ah, there was one thing.

The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father. I trust the Corps. The Corps will nurture me, will protect me. Maternis, Paternis. The Corps is Mother….

Some of the others seemed displeased by his choice, but some smiled.

Something's there! Talia said. Something's out there.

Chen looked at her, and realised something. She was the only one who was not repeating that constant litany of memory.

Then he realised something else. They were no longer within a river of light and gold. They were somewhere else.

Hyperspace! Oh, my God, we're in hyperspace.

Calm down, Lauren said. The network somehow crosses hyperspace. We don't know how. There are little…. folds and tunnels. We're in one of them now.

But how…?

Careful! Talia snapped. Something's here!

It rose out of nowhere, forming around them from nothing. It towered above all of them. Size meant nothing here, but fear did.

When Chen was a child, he had had recurring nightmares of spiders. He had been unable to sleep for fear of a blanket of them on top of him, crawling over him, suffocating him, moving slowly over his eyes and into his mouth so that he was unable to scream. During his first year with the Corps those dreams had been locked away, unable to hurt him any more. He had even identified the source of them — when he was a baby, a spider had crawled into his crib, a tiny, harmless thing, but to his child's eyes so much more.

The thing before him was the biggest spider he had ever seen. Just one of its hairs was bigger than he was, just one of the hairs he had dreamed was brushing against his skin.

And in its eyes, in its impossibly large eyes, as it looked at him, Chen sensed a human intelligence. No, an intelligence far greater than human.

He screamed. He did not know what the others were seeing, did not know whether they could be seeing the same thing, but all he knew was that this thing was real and dangerous and terrifying.

Remember! cried Talia's voice through his own screams.

Something dripped from one massive fang. It dropped just past him, searing hot as it passed close to his skin.

Remember who you are!

I am Chen Hikaru, he thought to himself. The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father. Maternis, Paternis.

No, the spider was too big, the fear too ingrained.

There was light. It was strange, the spider seemed so dark, but now it was covered with light. Chen looked and saw Talia. She was not afraid. She was looking at him, concentrating, and light was pouring from her mouth and eyes. Chen knew that she was not looking at a spider. She was not looking at anything at all.

He sensed another presence behind him, and he turned, hardly daring to imagine what he would see there, so afraid that he would witness another nightmare from his past.

It was a man, shorter than he was, dressed in a spotlessly clean black uniform with gloves, cradling one hand against his chest. A Psi Cop badge glinted and reflected the light.

He smiled, and in an instant the spider was gone, as if it had never been. The man, who had a name Chen dared not say even in his mind, moved towards Talia, ignoring the rest.

Chen did not want to intrude on a reunion he knew would be personal, and so he turned to Lauren. She was not shaking any more, but the residue of her fear was still there.

It was a doorway, a big, black doorway, and I knew there was something waiting on the other side, but I dared not open it. I just could not open it.

What was it? An illusion?

If I understand it correctly, the network is made up of the minds of thousands of telepaths, all trapped, their powers channelled in specific directions, to send messages, to block them, to heal, to destroy. This is the cumulative subconscious of all these minds. Why should their nightmares not be here as well?

We have to destroy this.

I knew you would understand. Just as soon as you came in. Everyone does once they've seen this.

Chen looked up, and the man was gone. Talia was looking back at the others. I've found what I needed. We're leaving now, quickly.

We have to destroy this, Chen thought again.

We will, Lauren replied. Did you see who that was?

Yes, I did. I didn't want to hope, but….

Now, I think we're in with a chance. We might just be able to do it.

* * *

"This had better be good."

"Trust me," Julia replied. "I know better than to interrupt your testosterone, beer and cigar night if it's not serious, don't I?"

"Were there any cigars?" Dexter asked. "I don't smoke."

"There should be cigars," Zack muttered. "What's a poker night without cigars? It's like…. um…. well, like something without something that should go with it."

"Well, there aren't any cigars, so what does it matter?"

Julia rolled her eyes. "And you wonder why you can't get any women to come to your poker nights?"

"Tradition," Dexter replied, smiling. Julia had a tendency to act a lot older than she really was, sometimes.

She had taken them to the Sector 301 guardhouse, refusing to elaborate on what it was they were meant to be seeing, saying only that they would undoubtedly not believe her unless they saw it with their own eyes.

"We arrested it about an hour ago," she was saying as they went towards the cells. "There was a report of an assault and a suspicious person sighted down-sector. We caught the suspect almost immediately. Like it didn't care if it was spotted or not."

"You keep saying 'it'," Dexter observed. "An alien, or something?"

"I certainly hope so."

Cells were meant to be secured by an electronic force field over the more conventional locked doors, but this was the Pit, where the budget was a little skimpy. As a result, the cells here were little more than locked doors. At least there were more security guards than there had been, and all of them were honest these days.

"Have a look," Julia said, gesturing at the screen in the office just off the cell block. Each cell had a camera, naturally.

"There's nothing there," Dexter said. "You've got the wrong cell."

"No, that's the right cell."

"Then the camera's faulty," Zack said. "That's not exactly unusual around here."

"No fault detected. Besides, it's showing the interior of the cell well enough. Just not the occupant. And yes, we know it's still there. We couldn't take any photos or electronic records either. Not even fingerprints."

"Okay," said Dexter. "Now I'm interested. Can we see this…. individual?"

"I'm not the boss here," Julia shrugged. "I would recommend a lot of people standing by ready though. This thing is…. dangerous."

"Dangerous how?" Zack asked.

Julia shook her head. "I don't think I could explain, and I don't think you'd believe me if I could."

Dexter looked at the empty cell in the picture again. Something caught his gaze, something just off-centre of his perception. He looked again, harder.

There was a brief flicker of light, and in his mind, a voice. Come to us. Come and see the light.

He frowned.

* * *

Whispers from the Day of the Dead — III

She knows why she has come here. It is not for diplomacy, not for strategy, or tactics, or alliances. It is not for the good of her people. It is for herself, one selfish action in a lifetime of service to the Minbari.

It is warm this night in the capital on Brakir. There are many people moving and dancing in the streets, processions and carnivals. The Day of the Dead is a holy event to these people, and even more so now, a time of celebration. There are so many dead to speak to. Yesterday there was mourning, tomorrow there will be morning. Tonight, there is a chance to meet again with old friends, old enemies.

Old loves.

Tomorrow, Satai Kats will return to Minbar to continue the slow rebuilding. Tomorrow, the faint semblance of diplomacy that brought her here will be concluded.

Tirivail understood. She alone would understand, Kats knew that. "Go," the warrior had said. "And if you see him, tell him…. tell him…."

"Tell him what?"

"I was wrong. He was not a coward. He was never a coward."

"I will."

Kats had not dared to hope. No one in living memory had experienced a Day of the Dead. The last had been over two hundred years ago. The very concept of the dead returning went against everything she had ever been taught. The warrior caste believed in ghosts and ancestor-spirits, but the religious caste taught that souls returned to the ether, to be endlessly reborn.

And even if the legends were true, who could say she would meet again with Kozorr? Why not her father, or Hedronn, or anyone?

But she had to hope.

She stood on the balcony, looking down at the people passing by in the street below. A tall, dignified-looking Centauri man moved with steady conviction, but he had the same air of desperate hope she had herself. In the alleyway beneath her room, a human sat moaning and whispering to himself. A Narn in a simple robe made for a nearby temple, and a Brakiri in the uniform of a Dark Star captain looked up at the sky, staring in wonder at the comet overhead.

"There you are," said a voice, and Kats stiffened, unable to believe that she had truly heard the words. Scars both old and new throbbed with remembered pain as she turned to see Kalain move from the shadows into her room.

He looked as he once had, before the illness had ravaged and torn his body. He looked proud and haughty and arrogant, a prince of all he surveyed. He had always belonged to a different time, the earlier days, where he could have walked beside Marrain and Parlonn and shaken the world with the sound of his footsteps.

But he had been born into the wrong time, and he had dedicated his life to changing that.

"You thought you were free of me," he said, his voice commanding and proud, not the hoarse rasp it had later become. "You thought you could escape from your sins."

Kats looked at him. "Why?" she said softly.

"Is this one of your worker tricks?" he asked. "To ask questions which make no sense?"

"Why did you do all the things you did to me? You enjoyed it, Kalain. Don't say you did not. Was that all there was to it?" She remembered his voice growing louder and louder, exhorting her to beg for forgiveness. She remembered his laughter at her screams and her pleas for mercy. Sebastian had been brutally cold and efficient. He had taken no pleasure in his work. But Kalain had.

"I did it to purify you, to make you repent your sins, to make you…."

"You are not of the religious caste. Why should you care for my sins? You are a warrior. Was I truly the most fitting opponent for you? Was I the only person you could fight?"

"Stop this! You lie! Have you forgotten who it was who massacred the Grey Council? Have you forgotten…?"

"No! I have not forgotten, and I never will forget. It was not I who did that, and you knew that. You always knew that. So, I ask you again, Kalain. Why?"

"Because…. because you deserved it! There was a day you would have knelt in the mud at my feet as I walked past, and you would have thanked the ancestors that I even deigned to look upon you! There was a day when you would have addressed me with downcast eyes and spoken only when given permission. There was a day when we were warriors, and that was understood by all, when we did not have to make people aware of anything, when we had but to speak to be obeyed, when…."

"When you had true power. When you had true respect?"

"Yes!"

Kats sighed. "Then that was what you wanted. You wanted respect and power, even if it was only from one person, only over one person. The rest of the Grey Council followed you only at Sinoval's orders. You had lost all respect from them when you faltered at Mars.

"But I was there. I was a worker who thought herself worthy to stand at your side. I thought myself able to command warriors. I thought myself worthy to stand in the Grey Council, where Valen himself once stood.

"So you brought me to the Grey Council, and you showed me just how little power I had, and you made for yourself someone whom you could command, someone you could hurt as much as you liked.

"I apologise, Kalain. I thought you tortured me for your own pleasure. I was wrong."

"I had to…. I was a warrior. I was…."

"Wrong?"

"I was wrong."

"I forgive you, Kalain. You hurt me, and you weakened me, and you almost broke me, but you did not. I am stronger now than I ever was, and for that I thank you, and I forgive you."

"I never apologised, and I never sought your forgiveness."

"I know, but I offer it all the same. Be at peace, Kalain."

"And you. There is…. someone else who wants to talk to you. I think you want to talk to him as well. I will see you again in another life, worker."

"May your Gods welcome you home," she said, the words sounding hollow to her, but she knew they were important to him.

Perhaps the Day of the Dead did not show you those you wished to speak to, but rather those you needed to speak to.

She touched her necklace gently, and then all the air seemed to be sucked from the room.

"My lady," said his voice. "I swear you are more lovely than ever."

She whispered his name, just once, and there were tears in her eyes.

* * *

The room was larger than she was used to, larger than she found comfortable, even. This was the place she had spent more time in than any other on Babylon 5, more even than her sleeping quarters, and yet she had never liked it.

Perhaps it was because this room seemed to breed so much strife, so much conflict.

Sometimes Delenn longed for the old days. There had been just a handful of them at the beginning. Herself, Londo, Lethke, Taan Churok, Vizhak. There were so many now, people she did not know, people who had not seen the things she had, people who did not seem to understand why there had to be an Alliance.

The races needed to be one. They needed to protect and help and shelter each other.

And yet so many did not understand.

Durano was still speaking. Delenn did not know him well. Londo had sent him personally, and Londo usually had good judgment. There was just something in him that made her uncomfortable. He was so…. rigid and formal. It was as if all his life was a mask and no one knew what lay beneath it, not even Durano himself.

"The death toll is still being calculated, but has run to over eleven thousand so far. While most of that clearly occurred in the early bombing raids, a significant number have succumbed to illness, injury and disease. Most of the hospitals in the capital were intentionally destroyed during the attack.

"We have received messages from one of the raiders demanding ransom for those captured. These include the Governor, his wife, several Government officials and assorted other nobles. The raider was a Centauri, who styled himself Lord Rem Lanas. There is no record of such a person, and there is certainly no such noble house.

"My Government is asking for financial aid, as well as food shipments and medical equipment. We also request military assistance to protect Gorash and to restore order. We also request to be released from certain of our obligations under the Kazomi Treaty. Far too many of our worlds are too sparsely defended, and we may be attacked elsewhere."

"That is not possible, I am afraid, Minister," John said, standing up after Durano had finished. "The Kazomi Treaty expressly forbids that, you realise. However, the rest of your Government's requests are not unreasonable."

G'Kael rose, and all eyes turned to him. The Narn was usually quiet, and rarely spoke. When he did, however, he commanded the attention of everyone listening. He had the rare gift of being either the centre of attention or completely ignored as the situation demanded.

"I communicated with the Kha'Ri before this meeting," he said slowly. "We had heard about the attack, and were anticipating these requests. My Government is of the view that this is an internal Centauri matter, and is not within the purview of the Alliance."

"What makes them say that?" John asked.

"A Centauri world was attacked by raiders, who are apparently led by a Centauri lord. Centauri dignitaries were captured, and the raiders sent ransom demands to the Centauri Government. The Kha'Ri believes this is a problem of internal security, in which the Alliance is forbidden to intervene, save for the pursuit of Shadow agents or vassals."

"That is incorrect, and you are fully aware of that," Durano replied. "Other races were seen taking part in the attack, including Narns and Drazi and humans. There were also sightings of one creature that may well have been a Z'shailyl. On top of that, at least two Alliance dignitaries were killed in the attack, and it is possible others were injured or captured. These raiders may well choose to attack another world, one not belonging to us. Clearly this is a problem for the whole Alliance."

"My Government's position remains," G'Kael said, sitting down.

Ambassador Kalika stood up. The Abbai had joined the Alliance late in the war, afraid of possible retribution from the Shadows. Some, particularly the Drazi, regarded that as cowardice, but to many in the former League of Non-Aligned Worlds it denoted courage, and she was the unofficial mouthpiece of many of those races.

"If the Centauri are too weak to defend their own worlds, why should the rest of us help them?" she asked. "Planetary defence is a matter for individual Governments and not for the Alliance."

"And why are we too weak to defend our worlds?" Durano asked. "Where are our ships? Where are our armies? They are here. They are chasing ghost stories across the galaxy! They pursue the faintest rumour of Shadow ships, they follow legends of ancient vessels to distant corners of the galaxy. As well have them chasing the Sanctuary of Aeons, or the Well of Souls, or humanity's Holy Grail! You have bled us dry, all of you! Will you see us all die?"

"That is the price of allying with the Enemy," Kalika replied coolly, unaffected by the uncharacteristic loss of equilibrium from the Centauri. "Why should we defend you? Why should we help those who fought beside those who would destroy us all?"

"Why?" Delenn said, rising. "Because we are an Alliance. Because the weaknesses of one must be borne by the strength of another. Because we can stand stronger together than we ever could apart.

"Because we are all of one blood, all of one soul, and if we cannot stand together, then we shall surely die apart. I count Emperor Mollari as one of my closest friends. He was here at the very beginning, when this Alliance was born. He suffered as we all did in the ruins of Kazomi Seven. He bled, as we all did, to give rise to this. Shall we abandon him now? Shall we say his sacrifice was for nothing?

"This matter will be voted on. Does this body wish to grant Minister Durano's request for assistance?"

She had been genuinely uncertain how it would turn. The war had been over for more than a year, and many of those here had become used to peace. The Centauri were not liked or trusted. They had after all allied with the Shadows. Humanity had as well, but they had an entirely new Government, and their representative here, an Ambassador Luchenko, was genuinely liked by most. Besides, they had John to support them, and his words carried a lot of weight.

But the Centauri…. they had too many enemies, particularly the Drazi and the Narns. They were still ruled by the same people as during the war. Durano was cold and arrogant and had few personal friends.

Lethke voted in agreement, as she was sure he would. He and Londo had been friends for a very long time. G'Kael voted against, although Delenn could not tell whether or not he was comfortable with that course of action. She and John voted for. Kalika against. Taan Churok abstained, as he always did, a silent protest against what had been done to his people.

Some for, some against. Finally, all was done. No.

Durano's face was expressionless, betraying no sign of his inner feelings. Delenn bowed her head. Sorry, Londo. I tried.

She was the first to become aware of the whistling sound, of the faint rustle of fallen leaves, of the clack of bones. She looked up. No, not the first. The second. John was already staring at the new arrival.

The Alliance had had a Vorlon representative since just after the Battle of the Third Line, but he had stayed behind on Kazomi 7. A new representative had been appointed to Babylon 5. He had given no name, but none was needed. He was instantly recognisable. His encounter suit was pure white, although the shade sometimes varied. Today it was almost blinding, seeming to reflect every light in the room.

He looked at Delenn, and then around at the Council. <This vote shall pass,> he said.

And that was that. Delenn just wished she could have felt better about it.

* * *

The stone was simple and small and plain. It was, Tirivail thought, and not for the first time, entirely inadequate. There should have been statues. There should have been monuments and epic tales. There should have been many things.

But all that remained to commemorate Kozorr of the Star Riders clan was a small black stone in the middle of a garden, and the words, 'Here lies a worker, who spent his life destroying and his death creating.'

Completely inadequate, and all the work of Kats. Satai Kats as it was now. Tirivail tried to dislike the woman, but it was hard to dislike one who loved one you loved. Even if she was a worker.

"In the Name of the Betrayer, so do we serve," she said, continuing the ancient oath spoken in Marrain's memory. Of course, he was no memory these days. Not to her.

"I am a warrior. I dance amidst the height of the storm. I ride among the stars. My sword clashes in the winds. The moon is my shield. My wings are of fire.

"I am a warrior. I shall not fall. I shall not let an enemy pass from my sight. I will walk in the dark places, and I shall know no fear.

"On death, my soul shall ascend to be judged by my ancestors and those who have come before. If found worthy, I shall be reborn, with no memories of my past life, but with the knowledge that I am a warrior in more lives than this."

She stopped, and looked at the stone. "Remember that, Kozorr. Remember that."

"Why do you do this?"

Tirivail turned, and saw Kats approaching. Her eyes grew even darker. Kats was shorter than she was. Kats had never been trained to wield a weapon, never stood on the bridge, never faced enemies in the certain knowledge that death was coming.

But Kozorr had loved her.

And, Tirivail grudgingly had to admit, she was brave.

"To remind him," she replied. "He was a warrior. His spirit should not be allowed to forget that."

"His spirit is gone. It has gone to the heavens, to rejoin the pool and wait to be reborn."

"Not to us. His spirit is everywhere. And he will return to us a warrior, if we but remind him often enough of what he is."

"He wanted to create. He was tired of destruction."

"And you think that is all we do? This city is ancient. You are rebuilding it now, but you are just building on top of what was already there. The bones of this city are our bones. The mortar that holds it together is our blood. There are so many ghosts here. I live with them every day."

"Yes, so do I."

"I merely honour his memory. That is all."

"So do I. But more than that. I come to talk to him. He cannot hear me, but I talk all the same. I tell him of my fears, of my nightmares, of my friends. I tell him all that has happened, and I tell him I wish he was here with me."

"I envy you," Tirivail sighed. "Sometimes I wish I could hate you. You had his touch, his caress, his heart. You had his love, and all I had was his respect. I wish I could hate you."

"Why do you not?"

"Because he loved you."

"There is one who loves you, Tirivail. Another you can love. I am sure of it."

"Oh? I wish I were. My father is planning a marriage for me. A way to bind our clan to one of the others, to gain political advantage. I am one of the few resources he has remaining if he wishes to rebuild our fortunes."

"Do you wish marry?"

"He is my lord. I swore to obey him, to die at his command, to die at his single word. I disobeyed my lord once before. I will not do so again."

"What order did you disobey?"

"I did not kill my sister. I leave you to your conversation, Satai. I must go and train."

She walked away, and did not look back.

* * *

There was a dark thought Emperor Londo Mollari II entertained in the middle of the night as he looked out over the domain he claimed to rule, a dark irony that was surely evidence of some malign force seeking to destroy him utterly.

It had not been three years ago that he had been a wanderer, travelling across the galaxy in exile, seeking allies, seeking friends. To his surprise he had found them. In those days he had had no power, but so many choices. Now that he had power, he had no choice at all.

Timov was sleeping. She slept like a child, far better than he did these days. He had spent far too many nights beside her, listening to his hearts beating and staring up at the ceiling.

Sighing, he turned away from his window and walked out into the corridor. The two members of his Palace Guard, not unused to such an occurrence, snapped to attention and followed him. Another two remained outside the room, guarding the Lady Consort. Londo supposed his midnight walks were no secret. They were not exactly uncommon these days.

He never had anywhere planned. He just went where his hearts took him, sometimes to the Royal Gardens, or to the throne room or the kitchens or out into the city or any number of places. He did not know where he was going to go tonight either. He just wanted to walk, to let his mind shut down and let his hearts guide him.

He could not do that tonight, though. There was too much to think about. The massacre at Gorash still preyed on his mind. So many dead, several taken. A parcel had arrived at the palace two days before. It contained the head of the Governor.

Things were little better here. The crops were failing again, disastrously this time. His advisors tried to conceal the truth from him, but he still knew. People were starving by the thousand. Was this what he had meant when he had promised Malachi he would look after the peasants?

He stopped suddenly as a shadowy figure emerged from the corridor in front of him, and he looked up. The Brakiri's dark eyes studied his own beneath the dark hood. Londo stiffened, recognising the lantern symbol on the breast of his robe.

It stood for light, of course. What did they say? 'We have power wherever there is light, and where the light is not, we bring it.'

Inquisitors. There were far too many of them. How many had they taken away? How many tried and executed? How many forced to suffer? He had saved Timov at least. That was a victory of sorts, however small, and he had to take his victories where he could find them.

The Inquisitor stepped aside and let Londo past. Not surprisingly, Mr. Morden was not far behind.

"Ah, Majesty," Morden said. He was as immaculately dressed as ever, not a hair out of place. Great Maker, Londo thought, does this man never sleep?

No, probably not.

"Are you sure you should be up at this time of night, Majesty? With all the burdens of your position, surely you need rest?"

"I do not let Timov treat me like a child, Mr. Morden, and she is far closer to me than you are. Kindly credit me with the wisdom to determine for myself how much sleep I need."

"Of course, of course." Morden took the rebuke without any sign of anger, as he always did. And why not? He could afford to allow Londo a stinging remark or two.

"I see your Inquisitors are out in force again. Whom have they arrested this time, I wonder?"

"The glorious work they do demands a lot of effort, Majesty, but as for your question, one of the maids in your kitchens was acting as an intelligence agent for the Enemy, leaving information of palace comings and goings under a rock in the garden. She is being…. questioned to determine her employer. We shall discover it soon enough."

Londo sighed. What Morden had just described had being going on for centuries. It was all a part of the Great Game of Houses, and quite frequently had nothing to do with the Shadows at all. Every noble House had agents in the palace, and in all the other Houses come to that. But if the Inquisitors found even the slightest trace of wrongdoing they would seize on it, and the Great Maker help those they focussed on.

"I commend your diligence," Londo spat.

"I will pass that on to them. Oh, by the way, Majesty, I received some interesting news about an hour ago. I was going to tell you when you woke up. A peacekeeping force has been assembled by the Alliance to protect Gorash and a few of the other vulnerable worlds. They will also help restore order and oversee the presence of humanitarian aid."

"I believe you humans have a saying about stable doors and horses," Londo said dryly. "Still, that is good news. I merely wish it were not necessary." I wish all those who were killed could be brought back. I wish we didn't have to go begging on hands and knees to aliens for the right to defend our own worlds. I wish Mr. Morden and his Inquisitors would all go back to the rock from which they came.

"Indeed it is. Commander N'Rothak will be taking overall charge. He's a very experienced captain and administrator. He will soon…."

"A Narn? Great Maker, they could not be so foolish, surely. The Alliance have sent a Narn to lead the peacekeeping force?"

"Why would they not? Eighty percent of the overall force are Narns. There are obvious advantages. You share a border, they are near enough to Gorash for there to be little time wasted. They know the system and the world…."

"And why is that? Because they occupied it for a year, because they spent decades attacking it! I do not believe this. How long were we and the Narns at war? Too long to let them take over one of our worlds in this way!"

"The war between you and the Narn is over now, Majesty. You are all part of the Alliance now. The Kha'Ri specifically requested this role, as a symbol that the past is done, and an example of renewed co-operation. Of course, if you would rather the people of Gorash starve, then you have but to say so."

"You know full well I cannot do that. Good night, Mr. Morden. I am suddenly feeling…. very tired."

And he was indeed feeling very tired, but there was little to be done about that. He needed more than one night to make himself feel better.

He lay still and silent beside Timov until dawn, listening to the sound of his own hearts beating. They seemed so much louder than they had before.

* * *

Councils were rare among the Brotherhood Without Banners. Usually there was little to discuss, little to agree upon. The captains came and went as they saw fit, banding together only for a common purpose.

They had, however, agreed upon a few situations that would necessitate a meeting of all the captains. A proposition to launch a new attack. A potential threat to their base, in particular from the Alliance. The expulsion of one of their number. Or the acceptance of a new member.

Moreil knew it was the latter, and that was why he actually deigned to attend this meeting. Usually he did not. Petty politics did not suit him. He did not care which of them led, which futile ploy of revenge they followed first. All he cared about was the service of chaos.

But something stirred within him as he walked the darkened corridors of their home. Something told him this would be important.

Behind him, the Wykhheran complained angrily. There had been little for them to eat recently, at least little worth the effort. Some of the prisoners taken at Gorash had died here, either from injuries or torture or suicide, and Moreil had let their carcasses serve as food, but that was cold meat. The Wykhheran wanted warm fare.

Why, they complained, could they not devour the Sin-tahri female? She was young and healthy and warm. What interest could Moreil have in her? Or, for that matter, in the elder Sin-tahri male who owned her? Surely neither of them mattered?

Moreil did not answer them. He did not have to, and they all knew it, but this time he did not reply because he did not have a valid answer. Rem Lanas meant nothing to him, but the girl…. He seemed to recognise something within her, and a hunch, an instinct, a revelation from the Dark Masters even, told him she would be needed alive at some point.

Patience, he told them. There will be plenty to eat soon.

It was time enough for another raid. If the whole of the Brotherhood did not agree to such an action, then Moreil would take out his own ship and go hunting. The service of the Dark Masters did not allow for a rest.

He entered the room that had been set aside as the meeting place, and immediately he noticed the other captains wince slightly. They feared him. That was good. All of them knew about his honour guard, and those who were wise feared the Wykhheran.

There was only one who did not, and that was the human. He was balancing his knife on the table, point first, and spinning it. Moreil had not asked his name, he had not cared to know, but some respect was called for to one so fearless.

Besides, it had been he who had helped them find this base. Apparently it had been attacked and almost destroyed during the war between his people and the Minbari, and since abandoned. Moreil had not cared for more details. He spent as little time here as possible.

He took his place, not sitting as the others were, and looked around at them all. The captains and leaders of the Brotherhood Without Banners. The human, the knife wielder. The Narn captain who had coined the name that had finally stuck. Beside him was a Narn female, who wore a long sword on her back. There were two Drazi, who looked enough alike to be twins. Rem Lanas was there, again pretending to be more important than he was. There were a few others, newcomers mostly. None mattered. None dared to look at him.

"We have a request to join our order," the Narn captain said. He was the one who most clearly saw the need to bond the disparate group together. There was something he quoted a lot, repeating the phrase over and over. 'If we cannot live together, we shall surely die apart.' It had been said by a great holy man of his people. It was not a concept Moreil liked. It spoke too much of order for his liking.

"We all know the rules we have agreed. When one wishes to join, he must explain to us why he wishes to do so, and why we should accept him. Then we vote. If there is even one vote against, he is denied, and killed."

Moreil listened as the Narn continued. Rules were irrelevant, creations of order. The only rule that mattered was the spreading of chaos, the only order necessary was service to the Dark Masters.

"Let him enter," the Narn said.

Moreil turned as the door opened and a man walked in. Looking at him, Moreil knew he had been right in his instinct to come here. Once again, the Dark Masters had steered him correctly.

It was a Centauri male, older than Rem Lanas. His hair was long and puffed up above his head. His once-fine clothes were now scuffed and torn. A sword hung at his belt, worn in the fashion of a man who treats his weapon as part of his body.

But it was his eyes that most convinced Moreil. They were eyes that spoke of a wealth of experience, of oceans of blood, of the wails of defeated enemies. This man was a leader, a lord, a general. He was the first here Moreil felt would be worthy to stand before the Priests of the Fallen Midnight and proclaim service to the Dark Masters. All the others were worthless, save for the human, and he was motivated by insanity.

"State your name to the Council," the Narn said. By the angry words of the Drazi to each other, they already knew it.

"Marrago," he said. "My name is Marrago."

* * *

There was always something to do. Usually more than one thing. Leadership was all a matter of prioritisation and delegation. This was something Delenn had been taught very early, but unfortunately it required enough people that a leader trusted in order to delegate to.

That was a list that was in woefully short supply.

And the most important position of all. That still had to be decided.

"Babylon Five needs a Commanding Officer," she said. It was true. The station was receiving an increasing amount of traffic in recent weeks. People were flocking here, not just diplomats and their staff, but traders, questors, anyone seeking a new home. There were even many who had come here to see her, a fact Delenn contemplated with no pleasure. G'Kar was working on establishing a Ranger base here, although he still insisted on maintaining the main base on Kazomi 7.

And as Alliance business grew, so did the number of people required to attend to it all. Nearly everyone from Kazomi 7 had moved here. Of all of the people she knew and trusted on Kazomi 7, only Vejar had never set foot here.

A succession of people had performed acting CO duties for the station during its construction. Major Krantz, Captain Tikopai, Captain Kulomani, Commander Ta'Lon, John himself, but no one permanent had been appointed yet. John was currently Acting Commanding Officer, but there was too much work for him, coupled with leading the Dark Star fleet.

"I know," he said, not looking up from the report he was reading. "I was hoping…. David could…."

"I know," she said. He had been hoping that for a while, back when he had first broached the idea to her. But David was not here, and neither of them knew where he was. It was more than a year since he had left, giving no explanation other than that he needed 'some space'. "But we do not know if he is ever coming back."

"He will be."

"But until he does…." Delenn was not sure if he would, but she did not try to puncture John's illusions. She had watched David's gradual slide into despair, seen all the wounds of body and mind he had suffered. Some such wounds never healed, and she doubted there was anywhere he could go where he could be truly made well.

"We'll appoint someone else until he does," John agreed. "Have you read this?"

"Probably." Delenn sighed. She doubted there was a single piece of paper anywhere on the station she had not read. "What is it?"

"Ranger reports. Some of the Dark Stars have been looking into these rumours we've been hearing all year. You know, the ones about those ships. Unidentifiable ships."

"I think I remember," she murmured. "What about it?"

"They haven't found anything. One of them hasn't come back, but there are still sightings. A Brakiri merchant ship almost ran into something in hyperspace just a couple of weeks ago. The description is…. like nothing I've ever seen before."

"There have always been stories, rumours."

"And if these are more? Dammit, what if it's the Shadows hiding out somewhere? Letting us think they've all gone, biding their time."

"We could send out another ship to investigate."

"No. They won't find anything. There's an old saying. 'If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.' Besides, I've been getting cabin fever. It'll be good to get back out into space again."

Delenn looked up, brushing a lock of hair from her eyes. "You will go yourself?"

"This could be important. It shouldn't have been left this long."

"We have been busy. The Drazi. These raiders. Securing trade routes…."

"There is nothing more important than making sure the Shadows don't come back, Delenn. Nothing. If this is them…. we have to know about it."

"I know that," she snapped. "But does this really need you? You are the General of the Alliance. What if…?"

She stopped. He was smiling, in that graceless, almost boyish way he had sometimes, rarely. "Is that just a Minbari way of saying you are going to miss me?"

She frowned, but could not help turning it into a smile. "I will miss you," she said softly. "When will you be going?" There was no point in trying in dissuade him, no point at all.

"The sooner the better. My crew is always ready, so we can leave tomorrow. We shouldn't be out that long. Perhaps…. a month or two."

"Tomorrow?"

"Early tomorrow." He looked at her, his head cocked slightly. "Are you doing anything important?"

"Well…."

"Anything that can't wait until tomorrow?"

"No," she said smiling. "Nothing that can't wait until tomorrow."

He moved forward quickly and took her hand, helping her to her feet. His lips met hers.

"Carpe diem," he whispered to her.

"I couldn't agree more," she whispered back.

* * *

Whispers from the Day of the Dead — IV

He had died in peace, his eyes open unblinking to the light of the sun, the same eyes that now look at her with such wonder, with such love. His wounds are gone, the limp, the shattered spine, the mangled hand, the injuries he had sustained defending her and had struggled with all the remainder of his life, they are now gone. His soul is as perfect as she remembered.

"It is you, then," she whispers. "I had hoped. I had dared to dream that…. Why did you never tell me?"

"What could I tell you, my lady? I think I knew, but only a little. I had only the slightest idea. Whatever Sinoval did to me when he brought me back…. it could not keep me alive forever. Not even for long.

"But what time I had, I spent with you."

"You died alone."

"No, my lady. You were with me. You were always with me. Even when we were apart, even when…. You were always with me."

"I love you."

"And I have always loved you. You know that."

She nods. "I know that."

He walks forward, a slow smile playing across his face. With a hand once mangled and ruined he lifts up her chin, and a flicker of lightning passes through her at his touch. She looks up into his eyes, and is lost in them. Gone is the Satai, the leader, the orator, the woman who has weathered torture and loss and heartbreak. All that remains is the woman in love.

"You wear my necklace," he says, touching it gently. "I never finished it. I wish I had."

"I will always wear it."

He kisses her gently, and holds her against him. She cries into his shoulder.

"Why have you not gone beyond?" she asks him, after a while. "Why…?"

"The warrior I used to be would tell you I remained behind to guide those who would come after me, that I had delusions of becoming a spirit like all those great ones who fell. The worker I became would simply say that I waited for you.

"I will wait for you, and then…. we will pass beyond together, to be reborn into new lives, to experience new loves, to live the long life of happiness we were denied in this existence."

"Do you truly believe that?"

"I do."

"It is just…. so hard…. sometimes. I wake up in the middle of the night and reach for you beside me. I sometimes imagine you walking beside me. I go to ask your opinion and I realise you are not there. I need you."

"I have faith in you, my lady. I always did. I know just how strong you truly are. Our people are lucky to have you. They need you more than they realise."

"But what if I fail? What if I trip and fall? Who will pick me up when you are not there?"

"You will pick yourself up. You will learn from your mistakes and grow stronger from what does not kill you. You are not alone. You have allies and friends. You have me."

"You are gone. After tonight, the comet will pass and whatever door has opened to allow you here will be closed."

"You have my memory, and we both have tonight. We always knew we would never have eternity, but we loved in the little time we had, and before the end I found peace and acceptance and love. What more can any of us ask?"

"Tirivail…. Tirivail told me to tell you something."

"Yes?"

"She says you are not a coward."

She feels him smile. "I think she always knew that, but tell her that neither is she. It would please me if the two of you could become friends. She has a brave soul, and she will never betray you."

"I know. I know."

She feels him gently stroking the back of her neck. "What are you thinking, my lady?" he asks softly.

"That I wish time could slow, and stop, and that we could be here forever."

"And the world outside?"

"Let it burn. If I have you, then it does not matter."

"You do not mean that."

"No," she whispers. "No, I don't."

"You will leave this place, and you will return to the world outside, and you will continue with your duties and your burdens and your sorrows. But you will have tonight. You will always have tonight. What more can any of us want?"

"I don't know."

"And nor do I."

And the night drifts away slowly, one heartbeat at a time.

* * *

There is a moment, one single moment when it is possible to win people over to your will, to make them allies, or friends, or servants. Fail, and they will become detractors, foes, enemies. Moreil understood this. He had experienced that moment when he had bound the Wykhheran to his cause, and with the Zarqheba.

This Marrago understood it as well. Moreil could see it in his eyes.

"We know of you," the first Drazi said, rising angrily. "Centauri Lord-General. You lead Centauri fleets. You lead Centauri armies. This a trap!"

"I was Lord-General," Marrago replied smoothly. "Now I am nothing. I am an exile. I am like you."

"No," the Drazi said. "Not like us. Not like us at all."

Moreil looked at the Narn female. She was whispering something to her companion. Something in her eyes sparkled at Marrago's presence here. She was the true power of that pairing.

"Why do you wish to join us?" the Narn male asked. "Why do you entreat entry to the Brotherhood Without Banners?"

Marrago paused, and Moreil watched as he breathed out slowly. Everything in the room seemed to slow down. Even the Wykhheran were quiet for once. Yes, Moreil thought. This is a man who knows how to command the moment.

Do you have orders for us, lord?

Not yet. Wait, but be ready.

"My family is an ancient one, going back to the dawn of the Republic. My ancestor was ennobled by the first Emperor himself. For centuries we have stood in the shadow of the throne, protecting him who sat upon it. We have been the shield of the Republic, the sword of the Emperor. We have led the Republic's fleets and armies and soldiers into battle in the Emperor's name.

"I grew up with Emperor Mollari. He and I were friends. Together we hoped to plot a new future, a greater and finer world than we had grown up in. The high-flown dreams of youth! I guided him through the times of trouble. I placed him on that throne. I could have taken it for myself, but all those ancient vows hung over me, and I gave the throne to him.

"And where am I now? While he sits on that throne, surrounded by wealth and riches and glory, where am I? My loyalty to the Republic has cost me my daughter, my friends, and now my home.

"To hell with all of it. I will find my own way and claim my own glory. If you do not want me here, then I will find it elsewhere."

The human chuckled. "The shin bone's connected to the knee bone," he sang, as he often did. "If we don't want you here, then you won't be going anywhere else."

"You are welcome to try to stop me," Marrago said again.

"What can you offer us?" the Narn asked. "What resources do you bring?"

"I have a ship. Not as good as I'm used to perhaps, but it will do. I have a crew for it. Mercenaries, ex-soldiers, outlaws, all just like you. Also, I have a lifetime's experience of war, something that looks as though it is lacking here."

"Sounds like you want to be our leader," said the human.

"We have no leaders," said the Drazi. "No leaders."

"I don't want to lead," Marrago said. "I've had enough of shepherding people around, or holding their hair for them. All I want is somewhere to shelter, and an occasional helping hand. And I'm sure you can do with another ship and an experienced captain."

"No," the Drazi said. "Get back to your Emperor."

"It is a vote," the Narn said to him. "You know that. I think he will make a most useful addition to our…. brotherhood."

"No!" the Drazi said again. His companion nodded enthusiastically. "Never!"

"Oh, the knee bone's connected to the thigh bone," sang the human.

Warrior, you see the Drazi?

Yes, lord.

Kill him.

The Wykhheran were big, very big, over twice the size of Moreil himself, but their size was created by engineering and design, not random nature, and the Dark Masters had crafted them for speed as well as strength. The Shadow Warrior moved before anyone noticed. Certainly not the Drazi. His first realisation of his death came when the shadow fell over him.

One grasp of the Wykhheran's hand, and it was done. Where the Drazi outlaw had once been alive, now he was merely a mass of flesh and blood and bone.

Feast, Moreil said, granting permission. He looked at the faces of his fellow captains. The human was laughing, playing with his knife as always, oblivious to the trickle of blood running down his finger. The other Drazi was on his feet, his long, poisoned knife in his hand. The Narn locked his glance with Moreil's, and held it for a long time.

Finally, the Narn turned to Marrago.

"Welcome to our order," he said simply.

Marrago only nodded, not once taking his eyes off the bloodstained mess in the Shadow Warrior's fist. He did not even wince. Moreil liked that.

Courage was a rare commodity.

* * *

"It can be done. What one has done, another can do, and another. Don't you see?"

Ben Zayn folded his arms high on his chest. "He's still trapped in there, isn't he? Fine, he can move around as much as he likes, but he's still in there, not out here."

"It's a start," Talia said. "He's proved it can be done, and he isn't trapped. He's moving around, trying to contact all the other minds, trying to wake them up. It'll take time, but what doesn't? He'll have them all free soon enough."

"Alfred's an unusual man, and you know it. Perhaps unique. There aren't enough like him in there to pose a threat to the network. If it's going to be taken down, it'll have to happen out here."

"I know, but…. it's still good news. I was wondering if I would ever see him again."

"I never said it wasn't good news. So, what now? What did he tell you?"

"A little. He's still trying to navigate his way around the network. It took him a while to remember who he was. Most of them…. just forget. That's a way to try to shake them all out of it. Remind them who they are.

"There are nodes spread out all over the place. Each Dark Star has one, so do all the major planets. Kazomi Seven has a couple. They've set some up on Minbar, Centauri Prime, all over the place. And the Vorlon worlds of course. It is possible to break telepaths free from it. We need their physical bodies, and we need to convince them of who they are, that everything they're experiencing in there isn't real."

Ben Zayn nodded. "Fine, that makes sense. So, what next? Do we just carry on recruiting?"

"No, well…. if we get a chance to help someone, then yes, but we can't keep doing this forever. We have to go on the offensive. I think we should try to break someone free."

"We can't capture a Dark Star. I've seen the specs, remember. The Shadow ships tore Sanctuary apart, and the Dark Stars were built to take those things on one by one."

"No, I know we can't. Not yet, anyway — but we have to start somewhere."

"It sounds as if you have a plan. Should I be worried?"

"Possibly," Talia smiled. "It appears I have a…. friend, who has been moving up in the world since I last saw him. Plus, I have some unfinished business with IPX. I think Proxima is the place to start.

"After all, that's where I got involved in all this to begin with."

* * *

It looked human. It had the basic shape of a human, but it was a shape put together by someone who understood the basics, not the specifics. It had a cold smile, a hollowness in the face, and a perfection to the hair.

It did not move as a human would. It did not fidget or breathe or blink as a human would.

Dexter could see why Julia had called it 'it'. It looked like a human male, perhaps a little older than he was, but whatever it was, it was not human.

"Creepy, ain't it?" Zack said. Dexter did not reply. He was not listening.

It was looking at him, staring. Just staring. There was no colour in its eyes, just a deadening light.

Greetings, brother, came the voice in his mind. You came to see me, then.

"What are you?" he asked.

I can hear you like this. Better this way, don't you think? We don't want the mundanes hearing everything, do we?

You're a telepath.

I was. Now I'm something better. You can be as well. You'll enjoy it once you're here.

What are you? You aren't human.

I was human once. A human telepath. I had a name once, but that doesn't matter now. Some of us, most of us, are put inside the network, just one mind among thousands. I am one of the lucky ones. They did this to me instead. They made me special.

Why are you here?

The Corps used to have special units they called Bloodhounds. Their job was to find 'blips', telepaths who had escaped from the Corps, who refused to wear the badge and the gloves and to live by the rules.

I know what the Bloodhound units were. They took my mother.

Of course. I'm one of the new type of Bloodhounds. But I don't work for the Corps any more. I work for something far greater. We are called the Hand of the Light. Think of us as a search-and-capture unit.

What are you searching for?

Is it not obvious? Telepaths, of course. Those like us. They need more recruits. They always need more recruits. Human, Centauri, Minbari, others…. it doesn't matter. They always need more recruits. More people like us.

I'm not like you.

You are. You just won't accept it. You aren't as powerful as most of us, but power means nothing. What matters is how you use it, and that is something you know how to do. You're special. They have special plans for you.

Who are 'they'?

Names have power. Even here. The mundanes can't hear us, but you'd be surprised who could. Sinoval, for instance. If he happens to be passing by….

What does he have to do with this?

You will see, brother. You will see. You realise this cell cannot hold me forever.

It's doing a good job so far.

You think I couldn't escape if I wanted to? I wanted to speak with you, brother.

Dexter pulled back, shaking. Zack and Julia were looking at him. "Jeez, man," Zack said. "What was up with you?"

"I'm out of here," Dexter said, breathing harshly, still looking at the thing. "Double the guard on him. No, triple it. Don't let anyone in to see him, no one at all. We're leaving now."

"I'll take your word for it," Zack replied.

As he left the cell, Dexter looked back at the thing again. It was still smiling at him, a movement of the facial muscles without any of the emotional connections.

"I've got to go," Dexter said, as soon as the cell was locked.

"Where?" Julia asked.

"To talk to someone. Someone who knows an awful lot about weird things."

* * *

The day when so much changed on Centauri Prime was dark and heavy, with clouds hanging low in the sky.

It began innocuously enough. A group of farmers had arrived at the capital, assembling to appeal to the Royal Court against the increasingly heavy taxes being levied on them. Normally they would not have dared, but one of them had met Emperor Mollari during his exile on Selini. He claimed that the Emperor had promised him that he would always listen to his people.

"The Emperor will listen to us," he had told his more sceptical companions. "He doesn't understand now, but that's because he lives in a palace and not out in the country like we do. We'll talk to him, and he'll understand, and then everything will be better. You'll see."

They had been dubious, but had ultimately agreed.

None of them had been to the capital before, and its wonder had dazzled them for a moment, causing them almost to forget why they had come. A sudden rainstorm led them to seek shelter in a bar, not wanting their only fine clothes to be drenched and ruined. Several cups of cheap liquor were drunk with the aim of 'Immolan courage'.

Unfortunately it continued raining and the farmers had a little too much to drink, moving from simple courage to fearlessness. So much so that one of them started telling 'Centauri, Drazi and Narn' jokes. At the punch line to one of them, a Drazi entered.

One dressed all in black with the symbol of a lantern on his chest.

He immediately moved to the table, drew a short stick that was his only weapon, and smashed it into the centre of the table, scattering drinks, breaking glasses and destroying the table.

"Names now," he demanded.

The reply of the drunken jokester was obscene, and the Drazi looked at him, lifting the stick. Lightning seemed to crackle along it. "Sedition, unauthorised assembly, refusal to recognise authority of an Inquisitor."

The Inquisitors had not yet reached the more outlying parts of the countryside, and so the farmers had heard of them only in rumours. They were not to know that over three thousand people in the capital had disappeared at their hands, very few of them ever to be seen again.

The farmers were beaten savagely, their feeble attempts to fight back easily disposed of. Some members of the City Guard dragged them away and they joined the ranks of the disappeared.

Word spread quickly. More than one customer had overheard the drunken boasts of the farmers that they would make the Emperor see sense on taxes and levies. Before long, almost everyone in the city outside the palace had heard that the Emperor had personally sent in one of his Inquisitors — and an alien at that! — to have them murdered.

The Centauri people had suffered greatly under their fair share of Emperors. Emperor Turhan had been reasonable, but aloof, and in the final years of his reign, weak. Emperor Marrit had been ineffectual, but protected by strong advisors. The troubles had seen much chaos and suffering.

But never before in living memory had an Emperor had to resort to alien assistance to maintain order among the people.

A crowd gathered soon enough. It had stopped raining, although the sky still seemed ominously dark, filled with thick clouds that appeared to be made of smoke.

The crowd moved towards the palace.

* * *

"The solution is clear," Morden said calmly.

"Yes, Mr. Morden," Londo said dryly. Sarcasm was his only weapon against the human. At least, the only weapon he dared to employ. "Perfectly clear. They are motivated by hunger and anger and a desire for reform. There are two options available to us. If, of course, you will permit me to outline how such a humble individual as myself might deal with this…. what is the word? Uprising? Revolution? Anarchy?"

"'Riot' will do just fine, Majesty, and of course I will listen to you."

"We can grant the reforms they seek. We can lower taxes, get more aid sent here, send away all those Inquisitors you are so fond of, and generally ensure that we still have a peasant class alive by this time next year."

"An interesting approach, Majesty. A touch…. radical, perhaps. What is your other idea?"

"Wait for it to start raining again. Then they will all go home."

"Neither really solves the underlying problem, though, Majesty. If we wait for them to go home, who is to say they will not be back tomorrow? And if we give them what they want, everyone will think you are weak, and that it is that easy to change official policy."

"Oh, then what do you suggest?"

"The oldest weapon of all. Fear. We send in the soldiers. Have them disperse the crowd. Kill a few, arrest the rest. Make it abundantly clear that we will not tolerate this sort of chaotic behaviour."

Londo stood up, his hearts beating loudly in his ears. "Great Maker, you are not serious."

"Very serious."

"All they want is food and safety."

"They are an anarchic and chaotic rabble. Their very presence is offensive. You do not protest against the decisions of your leaders. You accept that their decisions are made in your best interests, and you follow their orders as best as you are able."

"No. You will not do this."

"If we let them get away with this, it will set a bad precedent."

"To the Maker with bad precedent! I will not order the massacre of who knows how many of my people!"

"You will, Majesty. Or I will do it for you."

"No! They are my people!"

"Then make them realise that!"

Londo could hear Morden clearly, despite the roaring of his own blood in his ears. He could hear Malachi's last words, and see Timov's smile, and hear the Parliament at Selini accept him as their Governor, and hear Marrago call him Emperor and hear his own words exiling Marrago and his hearts seemed to be beating so fast, so very fast.

"No! I will not do…. I will not do this…."

"You will do this."

"No!" His knees were shaking, as if they could not bear his weight. He stumbled backwards and sat back down on his throne.

"You will." Morden's voice was so calm. How could it be so calm, when Londo himself felt like screaming?

"No!"

Everything seemed to go red. Was Kiro here again? Burning down his palace?

"You will."

"No…."

There was a shimmering behind Morden, and Cartagia was there, smiling. There was nothing else within sight. There was no floor, no walls, no windows, no guards, just himself and Morden and Cartagia and the taste of blood in his mouth and then he realised it was his own blood and he had bitten his tongue.

"No," he whispered again, unsure of whether he had actually said the words, or if he merely thought he had said them.

"A dream," he whispered, clutching his chest. His hearts were beating so fast. He hadn't imagined his own blood could taste so bitter. Surely it should taste of brivare after all these years? "You're dead, Cartagia."

Cartagia's smiled widened. "I've been waiting for you to join me, Mollari. I was right, wasn't I? And with a good few years to spare as well."

His hearts seemed to stop beating, the throne seemed to stop bearing his weight, Cartagia seemed to stop smiling and all of a sudden he couldn't hear anything any more.

Chapter 3

There are beings in the universe billions of years older than any of our races. Once, long ago, they walked among the stars like giants, vast and timeless. They taught the younger races, explored beyond the Rim, created vast empires. But to all things there is an end. Slowly, over a million years, the First Ones went away. Some passed beyond the stars, never to return. Some simply disappeared….

Not all the First Ones have gone away. A few remained, hidden or asleep, waiting for the day when they might be needed.

That day is now.

GOLDINGAY, D. G. (2295) Excerpt from an interview with Satai Lurna, in An

Ancient Curse. Chapter 3 of The Rise and Fall of the United Alliance, the

End of the Second Age and the Beginning of the Third, vol. 4, The

Dreaming Years. Ed: S. Barringer, G. Boshears, A. E. Clements,

D. G. Goldingay & M. G. Kerr.

* * *

He thinks he knows what he is hunting. He thinks he knows why his mission is so important. He thinks he is the only one capable of what he is doing.

He looks into the shadows and feels no fear, for he sees only light. Sometimes — not always, not even often, but sometimes — it fills his mind, and he knows what he must do. He knows what is important. At other times he cannot see clearly.

But now he is sure.

He is going out into the hidden places of the galaxy. He is seeking ships both ancient and powerful. He believes these to be either tools or allies of the Shadows, and thus a threat to the fragile peace he has helped to create.

But somewhere, at the back of his mind, beyond the light, beyond the smell and the touch and the smile of his true love, there is a tiny part of him that does not want peace, a part of him that knows he is a warrior and that he was born to fight. His entire adult life has been spent at war, and future decades of bureaucracy and diplomacy and politics would drive him insane.

So he is here, seeking a war to fight, somewhere, anywhere. Seeking an opponent to fight.

He cannot see the future. He is intuitive, but neither psychic nor an oracle, and so he does not know what awaits him at the end of his quest.

If he did, it is doubtful whether he would think himself the luckiest man alive, or the unluckiest.

He continues, content to wait, content to inhale the smell of her on his skin and his hair, content to close his eyes and see the light, and content to wait.

The shadows do not scare him.

* * *

It has been a long, long time since anyone called him by his first name. It has been so long he has almost forgotten it himself. He does not regard that as a tragedy. He does not care what people call him.

But sometimes he does feel regret that there is no one close enough for him to want to care. He wants people to talk to. He wants to tell people of the things he is doing, in the calm, casual way he would tell his wife about his day at work.

But there is no one. He was never comfortable with people, and his wife and daughter are long gone. There is his boss, but they speak less often than he would like. Besides, his boss is a part of the same business as he is.

It is a pity, Morden thinks, as he watches hundreds of Centauri citizens being driven away by the City Guard. If only there was someone he could talk to and explain why he is doing this.

He paused, and looked back at the empty throne where, less than half an hour ago, Emperor Mollari II had suffered a heart attack. That was someone he supposed he could talk to. The Emperor was a complex man, driven by an unusual mixture of idealism and cynicism, genuine drive and ambition coupled with self-loathing and apathy.

That was someone Morden wished he could talk to, but Londo did not understand. He just could not see. Morden wondered sometimes if that was why he was here — to bring order not to an entire people, but to one man.

He certainly could not have expected, in that first glorious moment when the creature of light rose above him, that his destiny would lead him here — to the Centauri. But God moved in mysterious ways, as he had always heard. And there was no doubt that he — or someone like him — was needed here.

He looked out again at the scene before him, with eyes that were better than any human's ought to be at picking out minor details. He saw a guard repeatedly kicking a downed woman, raining blow after blow on her head.

Too much chaos. Too much disorder. There always was, everywhere, but Centauri Prime seemed worse than most. Morden knew full well the magnitude of the task he had been given here, but he also knew the honour that had been bestowed on him. He was determined not to fail, and nor would he.

He had had a year, and he had been working hard. The Inquisitors had taken away many of the suspected Shadow agents. Morden was ready to admit that some of the disappeared had not been working for the Enemy, but they had certainly been a part of the Centauri's 'Great Game of Houses' and that was chaotic enough to merit destruction. He had removed much of the old, corrupt and chaotic system.

Now, all he had to do was replace it with a better one.

A young child was screaming, pulling at the arm of a man, seemingly unaware that the man's head had been split open.

He had an idea of where to start. The Game of Houses was chaotic, yes, and it needed to be stopped, but it did tend to throw up certain types of people who could be used…. profitably. The enemy had taken advantage of it, and Morden intended to do the same.

He looked back at the throne. The Emperor had been overworking himself of course. When he recovered — if he recovered — he would have to reduce his workload. A dead Emperor and another civil uprising was in no one's interests at the moment. No, Morden would see to it that Londo got all the rest he needed. After everything he had already done, he deserved it.

If he recovered, of course. He was not a young man, and years of drink and food and carousing must have taken its toll, to say nothing of the stresses of recent years.

The rioting was breaking up now. People were running, scattering in all directions. Morden smiled. Londo had been a good man, and a compassionate ruler, but that only took one so far. Order and discipline were necessary. This protest should never have been allowed to happen.

Well, at least Morden had an opportunity to see that it was never repeated. He had a lot of work to do.

* * *

"I will not tolerate it!" the Centauri lordling was saying. "She was mine. Mine! I took her in conquest. I claimed her in battle! By all the laws we have forged, she was mine!"

Moreil listened patiently, looking at the lordling with a fixed, staring gaze. Many broke and trembled before that dark, silent stare, but not Rem Lanas. Moreil was not sure if that was a sign of great courage or great stupidity.

There was a thin mark down the Centauri's face, a slender red line. Moreil had a feeling he knew the weapon that had caused that cut.

"The laws of our order," he was continuing. "All of them support me on this! She was mine!"

Laws? The last refuge of the weak. They see someone taking things that are theirs, and they cry out — 'You can't do that! The law doesn't allow it!' — and the strong would laugh, of course. The weak never realised that the way to stop the strong oppressing them was not to appeal to some mythical 'law' but to become strong themselves.

Rem Lanas would never understand that.

But Moreil thought this Marrago did.

"What happened?" he asked at last. The Centauri looked at him, as if surprised that he was really there. The lordling might as well have been talking to a wall, and he probably thought he was.

"He took her. She was mine! Mine! And he took her! He thinks that because he is a noble he can take whatever he likes! Well, he can't! She was mine! The law says so."

If Moreil had needed further confirmation that Lanas was not the nobleman he pretended to be, that was more than enough. He did not care, though. He knew exactly why Lanas was here. He wanted a place where a new law would protect him, a place where he could be someone important, and all the time he never realised that the way to become important was to be important, or that the way to be protected was to be so strong that there was no need for protection.

Some people would never understand.

The light behind him seemed to fade as the Wykhheran appeared, and Lanas visibly paled. Moreil looked at him again.

May we feed, lord?

Not yet, Warrior. A time will come when you face one more worthy. This one would not taste well.

As you say, lord.

"What happened?" Moreil asked again. "Speak slowly and clearly."

Lanas bowed his head, shaking, and then he began to speak.

* * *

The girl was unconscious, her back a raw and ragged mass of flesh. His arms had tired from holding the whip for so long, but he did not set it down. He cradled it in his hands, feeling the knobs of flesh and blood that splattered the lash.

He grabbed her tail of hair and pulled her head back. Her long, soft, dark, beautiful hair. Her eyes were closed. He didn't like that. He wanted to see the anger in them, the defiance, the way she had cursed him, the way she looked down on him, thinking she was so much better than he was.

They always had. All of them. All the nobles. They'd all looked down on him. He'd seen them ride past in their fine clothes with their beautiful women and their big houses and they'd all looked down on him.

Well, this one wouldn't. Not forever. Eventually she'd beg him for mercy, and then after a bit longer she'd beg him for more. That was what he wanted. A fine noble's daughter begging him for things.

He chuckled and crossed to the other side of the room. There was a lot more here. A lot more. Books, jewellery, riches. He had taken a lot from Gorash. Not as much as he should have, though. The others had tricked him, taken his share. Just because they had the ships and the weapons and the soldiers and knew where to fence the items, that meant they thought they were better than he was. All of them, even that loathsome alien monster Moreil. Oh, he might have said he was taking nothing, might have said he was not interested in plunder, but Rem knew differently. Moreil was scamming him, taking what was rightfully his.

Wasn't he important enough to them? Hadn't he told them all about Gorash? He'd spent enough time there. He'd told them where the Governor's house was, where the nobles lived, where the museums and galleries and craftsmen's quarters were. What would they all have done without him to guide them?

And what did he have to show for it? A few pathetic baubles and one girl. He deserved more than that.

No, patience, he thought to himself. His time would come. He could wait and all things would come to him eventually. He wasn't going to fence his treasure. He didn't want money. He didn't want mercenaries or liquor or any of the things the others bought. He wanted treasure. And he would have it all.

He turned, and started as he saw someone in his room. In his room! In his private sanctum! It was the Centauri. The former Lord-General. He was standing next to the girl, touching her cheek and looking into her eyes. He was touching Rem's property! Just like a nobleman. He thought he could take anything he wanted just because he had had a title. Well not here! His title didn't mean anything here! The laws of the order promised him a fair and equal share. Oh, the others had tried to trick him out of that, and they'd pay for it later, but no one was going to take something that was rightfully his from his own sanctum.

And now he was cutting her down! How dare he? How dare he!

"Leave her alone!" he shouted, moving across the room. "She's mine."

Marrago looked at him and he drew back for a moment. It was not fear, no. He was not afraid of the man at all. He was just like any nobleman. Too weak and too reliant on his servants to stand up to a real man. No, Rem was just…. taking his stance, not being too eager and overconfident.

"She belongs to herself," Marrago was saying. "No one else."

"She's mine!"

He finished cutting through her bonds and she fell limply to the floor. He caught her effortlessly and gently lowered her. He then removed his coat and wrapped it around her.

"She's mine!" Rem moved slowly sideways and picked up the kutari beside the wall. One of his little treasures from Gorash. He'd never been allowed one of these before. He remembered touching a nobleman's sword once as a child and being flogged for it, but now he had his own sword. It was his!

Just like the girl was, and this nobleman wasn't going to take either of them from him.

He charged forward, holding up the sword and screaming. He would defend what was his. He was entitled to defend what was his.

The nobleman must have tricked him. Yes, it was a trick. Nothing else could explain how he had moved so fast, knocking the sword out of his hands. It was all a trick. Rem felt the cold touch of Marrago's kutari against his face, and the warmth of his blood trickling down his cheek.

"She's mine," he said.

"I should kill you for what you've done to her, and elsewhere. But this is a different place, and different rules apply.

"But come near her again, and I will kill you, and to hell with the consequences."

It was not fear that made Rem stammer like that. Not fear at all. It was…. a bluff. He was lulling Marrago into a false sense of security. That was it. Let the nobleman think he was helpless, and then….

It was a testament to his acting skills that he was still trembling a long time after Marrago had left with the girl.

* * *

Rem Lanas finished his garbled story and Moreil looked at him. "She's mine!" he said again. "You've got to help me get her back."

Moreil had no further time or patience for the fool. "Go," he said.

"But she's mine! You have to get her back for me!"

"I said go! Recover her yourself if you are strong enough, but trouble me no longer."

Moreil did not watch him flee. The lordling was of no concern to him any more, but this Marrago was.

It was past time the two of them had a little talk.

* * *

Whispers from the Day of the Dead — V

"You aren't dead."

"No. I am not."

"Is the sun coming up, then? I can't see. Everyone I've seen tonight is dead. Everyone. I didn't realise I'd killed so many people, but I suppose I have."

"You don't look like a warrior."

"No. I'm nobody. Not any longer. I used to be a soldier, but…. after a while I just couldn't take any more. All of them…. At first, I thought it was…. justified. It was for defence and protection, but then it became revenge, and then it was a new war and it was for defence again and then…. and then…."

"You just did not know how to stop."

"How do you know that?"

"We were the same. I heard…. pieces from the Grey Council. It started in anger and continued in pride, because we were too stubborn to admit we were wrong."

"It wasn't stubbornness. It was just…. we didn't know anything else. Good God, have all those people died for something so pathetic?"

"No. They died for understanding. We know each other better now. We understand each other."

"Are you sure you aren't dead?"

"I am not dead. It feels as if I am sometimes, but no, I am not dead."

"I came here because…. I'd heard the dead came back, and they would answer questions. I hoped they would tell me some things, tell me what I needed to know, but all they've done is haunt me. All they've done. There are so many of them, and….

"You're the only person who's said anything to me all night. The others just looked."

"That is why you came here. For understanding."

"No. For forgiveness. Why did you come here?"

"There was one whom…. I loved very much. I hoped to see him here, to tell him everything I should have said while he was alive. To share one last night with him."

"Did you?"

"Yes."

"There was one woman I was hoping to see. I think I loved her, but I was never sure. I used to wonder if it wasn't more the idea of love than love itself I had with her. I wanted someone who would want to be with me, someone who could care for me, someone who could provide a focus, an understanding of what I was fighting for. Was that love? Shouldn't love be less…. selfish?"

"Perhaps. I don't know. I know only that I wanted to spend every minute with him, every second of every minute. Was that selfish of me? I do not know."

"Nor do I. I wish I'd seen her here. Or maybe I did and she was just a face in the crowd."

"Where are you going now?"

"I don't know. Somewhere they stop talking to me, I hope. Anywhere they stop talking to me."

"You were a soldier?"

"Yes. I was."

"My…. husband was a warrior. Like you, he had fought too much and seen too much and grown tired of it. He found peace at the end of his life, as a worker. He built and he created and he gave up destruction. If you want to, you can come home with me. There is a lot to be done there. I cannot guarantee you will find peace, but it is a place to look."

"It was me who destroyed your home, did you know that? Me, and people like me."

"I do not believe you, but it does not matter. Whatever guilt you carry, justly or unjustly, you can try to work it away. Do you wish to come with me?"

"Yes, please.

"Yes, I think I would like that. Maybe then they will stop talking to me."

* * *

It had taken Dexter Smith several hours to stop shaking. In spite of what he had told Julia and Zack his first port of call was not the Edgars Building, but his apartment. Once there he had vomited everything he had eaten that day, drunk several large glasses of Narn liquor, and then vomited again.

A shower, a change and a shave later, he felt a little better, but not much. He could still feel that thing crawling around in his mind.

He'd had few dealings with telepaths. His mother had sometimes spoken to him inside his mind, and he had felt touches occasionally from Talia, testing and probing, but nothing like that. Nothing like that….

…. thing.

A human. Once a human. It had called him 'brother'. It had spoken to him. It had invited him to join it.

'It'. It was an 'it'. Not a 'he', 'it'.

He had known fear before. He had grown up in a nightmare of crime and pain and despair. He had stood in battle. He had faced down an angry mob intending to kill Delenn and he had looked into her green eyes as he killed her himself. He had even looked at a hundred expectant faces as he prepared to deliver his first speech before the new Senate.

He had never felt anything like this. Never this kind of revulsion. The sense of something so…. so Other.

He looked at the mass of papers on his desk. They had to be studied and some signed and others likewise dealt with. The Senate was to debate the new Tax Bill on Monday, with important discussions on the Alliance Treaties following. The Alliance had invited the Proxima Government to submit candidates for the position of Babylon 5's Commanding Officer. There were two new members to welcome formally, meetings of the Reconstruction Committee and the Wellington Corruption Tribunal, not to mention a great many letters to get through. Smith did not particularly want a secretary, but it was growing more and more likely that he would need one.

He had taken the night off for 'Poker Night', and he should be getting back to them by now. Instead he turned away from the mass of paperwork and left the apartment.

He was able to catch a taxi not far away and instructed the driver to take him to the Edgars Building. The driver quite happily talked about films, his wife, the state of humanity today, the Minbari and why trusting them was not a good idea, some businessman he had taken for a drive a few years ago and was now some bigwig on Centauri Prime of all places, and hey aren't you Senator Smith may I get your autograph for my wife please only she's a big fan of yours has all your interviews and everything even the one way back when you were made captain of that ship oh what was it called again be forgetting my own head next the Babble-on no silly that's not it the Babylon yes that's the one here you are by the way sir won't my wife be impressed when she hears about this.

He paid the driver, gave him an autograph and probably an over-large tip, then walked up the steps to the imposing Edgars Building. It seemed to loom above him. Even after the damage done during the Battle of Proxima, when by all accounts President Clark had ordered the building itself bombarded from orbit, the Edgars Building was still impressive. It had already been fully repaired, and Smith was not surprised. The old man had enough in his personal account to pay for it all himself without troubling insurers or the Wartime Compensation Board. The repairs were probably even tax-deductible.

Smith was not surprised to be ushered through the lower levels and directed to the old man's private offices on the top floor. He was even less surprised to reach the new reception area, looking an awful lot like the old one, and find the secretary Lise Hampton there, still working despite the time of night.

He was not surprised in the slightest when she said, "Good evening, Senator Smith. Go right in. Mr. Edgars is expecting you."

* * *

The most powerful man in the galaxy closed his eyes and imagined the rain falling on the roof above his head. The gentle pitter-patter sound existed only in his mind, a reminder of long years gone and a life now consigned only to memory.

He was having trouble sleeping. That happened quite often these days, whenever he was apart from Delenn. With her beside him he felt safe and happy and content and reassured that everything he was doing was right. When she was far away, all the old doubts came creeping back.

And he was very far away from her. He was in a part of the galaxy he had never even seen before, following a trail of whispers and rumours and hearsay. He might as well have been seeking King Solomon's Mines, or the source of the Nile, or the Holy Grail.

That was what had first attracted him to space — the sheer vast emptiness of it, the feel that there could be anything out there, anything at all. Uncharted systems, ancient worlds, wonders never seen by human eyes, and he could be a part of it all.

This mission should have been perfect for him. Travelling distant and uncharted courses in search of ships of immense power glimpsed only in shadows and flickers and dead men's eyes.

But something nagged at him, something he could not explain. It was not just the potential risk of one lone ship seeking what might well turn out to be a legacy of the Shadows. It was not even the pain of being apart from Delenn.

It was just that it all seemed so easy.

The rumours had been circulating for years of powerful, ancient ships out there somewhere. The words formed capital letters in his mind. Out There. Not here, not somewhere safe and understood and predictable, no. Out There. In the wilderness, past the frontier, in unexplored territory.

There had always been rumours, but over the last year they had grown. So much so that he had elected to send Dark Stars to investigate. Most had come back with nothing. Some had not come back at all. There was nothing particularly unusual in that. Space was full of dangers after all, both mundane and rare.

But instinct was warning him of something, and his instinct was rarely wrong. Once it had been terribly wrong and he had never trusted it as much since then, but still….

This all seemed too easy. He had taken his ship to some of the most recent recorded sightings and scanned for anything out of the ordinary. At about the third location they had detected a rare radiation trace which led into hyperspace, and they had followed it. The trace remained strong enough to follow even through the swirling eddies and currents of hyperspace, and although it led them far from the beacons the Dark Star could navigate easily enough. It was a ship built almost entirely by the Vorlons after all, and there was little they did not know about hyperspace.

But still, this all seemed too easy. Why had the other captains not seen this? It was tempting to think that they were not as skilled as he was. He was the Shadowkiller after all. He had been the first human captain to destroy a Minbari warship in open battle. He had done more in one lifetime than most could do in three or four.

But he was careful not to believe that. Those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make proud.

He supposed it could be that he had a bond with his ship. Many Dark Star captains disliked spending too much time on their ships, but he was quite the opposite. He had spent so much time here he felt he knew it almost as well as he had known the Babylon. Sometimes he even thought the ship was alive.

Pure conceit of course. Humans had always ascribed human feelings to their vessels, going back to the earliest boats of wood and twine. Their ship was the greatest protection the old explorers had had against the elements, and so they spoke to it, named it, saw it as a shield and even as a friend. Time and technology had changed many things, but not that. If his ship failed him, a man was just as dead in the vacuum of space as he would be in the middle of the Atlantic.

But sometimes he thought there was more than that. A real presence here, a voice, almost a spirit.

"Are you here?" he asked the silence of his room. There was no reply. There never was. But still he wondered.

David had certainly seemed to think so. His reaction when he learned that the Dark Star 3 had had to be scuttled was almost as if he had lost a friend.

He paused. Why the need to scuttle it? It had seemed obvious at the time, but now he couldn't remember. Surely it could have been repaired?

He frowned. There must have been a good reason.

"General Sheridan?" came a voice through his link, and he sat up, opening his eyes.

"Yes?"

"We've found something. You're going to want to have a look at this."

* * *

He was alive. She had always known that, somehow, but to have it confirmed like that…. It was as if a shining light had fallen on her, refreshing and enlightening and lifting her spirits. Talia wrapped herself tightly as a barrier against the cold and lost herself within her thoughts.

He was alive. She had seen him, spoken to him. She had always known it, but now….

They had not been able to talk for very long, although time meant little within the network. The constant roaring and rushing and screaming still haunted her. That was what truly horrified her about the network — the constant noise.

She was used to noise, used to the voices. She was a telepath and lived always with a perpetual conversation going on in the next room, but the network was not just a muted conversation nearby. It was a million voices all yammering away in terror and anguish. So many people taking and no one listening.

He did not know where he was, where he had been imprisoned. Talia did not think he was inside a Dark Star. From what she had learned the less powerful telepaths were placed in external nodes like the Dark Stars, or relay points, funnels to the more powerful nodes. A psychic as trained and disciplined as Al would be in one of the central nodes, funnelling countless messages through himself to the rest of the network.

She wondered how long it would take for his escape to be noticed. There was so much she did not know about the network, but she did know it was patrolled. The Vorlons scanned it constantly, knowing that so much of their power was based in there. She had been lucky in skipping past them so far, but luck would not carry her forever. Nor would the artefact.

A sudden burst of pain twinged in her mind and she winced. The headaches were lasting longer these days, and usually when she was away from the artefact. She supposed she had been using it too much, but what other choice did she have? She had to use every weapon she had.

And that was why she was travelling hidden in the freezing cargo hold of this ship. There was a weapon — and if she was being honest to herself, a little more than just a weapon — she had not used. She had not wanted to use.

But things were getting desperate, time was growing short, and she did not dare let personal concerns distract her from her mission.

The shuttle continued towards Proxima 3.

I wonder how Dexter is doing these days? she thought to herself, and felt a tiny pang of guilt when her heart fluttered slightly at the thought of his name.

* * *

His wrists were covered in sores from the manacles. The muscles in his legs had wasted away from lack of use. The bright light hurt and burned at his eyes from long hours spent in the darkness. His hair was lank and greasy from too long in the dank cell.

But Durla was still a Centauri, and he was still a noble, and so he remembered how many days he has been kept in this cell — one hundred and fifteen — and he did not cower as the door opened and an unfamiliar person stood before him.

His eyes adjusted slowly, ever so slowly, but he refused to avert them, refused to show any weakness to this intruder. He took in all he could. Not a Centauri. A human. Finely dressed. Carrying no visible weapon. Alone. Power in his bearing. Durla knew of no human like that. But then he had been away from home for far too long, and of the one hundred and sixteen days since his return to Centauri Prime, he had spent one hundred and fifteen of them here.

"Durla," said the human, in a flawless accent. "Second son of Lord-Captain Sollaris of House Antignano. Younger brother to Solla Antignano, who died of poison a good many years ago, murdered by a jealous suitor over a woman."

Durla said nothing. These were simply words. Words are air, nothing more.

"In fact the poison came not from a jealous suitor but from yourself. You poisoned yourself as well to maintain the illusion and later attempted to court the lady in question yourself, only to be rejected. Following this, you served in the Palace Guards for several years, never marrying, until the truth of the incident came to light some eight years ago following an investigation launched by First Minister Urza Jaddo. You were stripped of your title and banished from Centauri space. Then you returned four months ago, and were promptly arrested and sent here, where you have been detained ever since."

Durla remained silent. The human was trying to intimidate him with his knowledge. That was all.

"Tell me, Durla Antignano. Who are you?"

"No," he said.

The human paused. Durla's eyes were still adjusting to the sudden influx of light, but he thought he could see a look of surprise on the human's face. Or was it self-satisfaction?

"Who are you?" the human repeated.

"No," Durla said again. "Who are you?"

"I am the man with the key to free you permanently from this cell, to restore you to high office and to give you anything you want."

"That is not what I asked, and I will not play games with anyone. If you will not tell me who you are, then at least tell me what you want and why you are here."

"I am here to see if you are the sort of person who can be trusted with the task of guiding the Republic through difficult times. If you wish to remain here until you die, you have only to say so."

"I wish to serve my Republic. I wish to serve my Emperor. I wish my voice to be heard by those people who never cared whether I lived or died. I came with information for the Emperor, and he repaid me by locking me up. I want an Emperor who will care about his subjects and a Republic that is worthy of my time and attention.

"If those things do not exist, then yes, I wish to be left alone in this cell until I die. I am tired of exile."

"I think we can arrange for your freedom, Guards-Captain Durla. My name is Morden. I am Emperor Mollari's…. personal advisor."

"I do not think I care what your name is, or your title."

The human smiled to himself. Durla could see that very clearly. The light in his cell suddenly seemed just a tiny bit brighter.

* * *

"A glass of orange juice?"

"No, thank you."

Smith sat down and looked at the man opposite him. William Edgars shrugged and poured himself a glass. He held it up to the light and smiled.

"A legacy of my childhood," he said. "No matter how much things change, we can never escape our childhoods, can we? Something always remains, whether on the surface or hidden deep down below. Something is always there. Don't you agree, Senator?"

Smith did not reply.

"In my case, it is a love of orange juice. Something so insignificant. In yours, it's a little more…. obvious. My congratulations by the way. You have done wonders with Sector Three-o-one. Truly."

"Thank you," Smith replied. "Now, I'd like to leave you alone there, and see how you fare."

"Really? After all the help we have offered you already, as well. Some might see that as ingratitude, Senator. Who was it, after all, who…. arranged for a generous proportion of the Reconstruction Fund to go to Sector Three-o-one? Who was it who arranged for the…. disgrace of Senator Voudreau after her very vocal plans to have Sector Three-o-one completely demolished and rebuilt as a military complex?"

"Both of them were you, and I'm sure so were a lot of the other mysterious events that have helped me. You know full well that I was aware of your involvement."

Edgars sat down, sipping at his orange juice. "I did tell you we would be keeping a close eye on your career. You are a man of great promise."

"You obviously control half the Senate…."

"A little more than half, actually, but please continue."

"You've seeded it with people in your pocket one way or another. So what do you need me for? Why not have me replaced by someone guaranteed to do as they're told?"

"Ah, to be fair, some did feel that would be appropriate. Not me, however. I like you, Senator Smith. I admire your courage and your resolve. I feel there is a lot of potential within you. Thus far, you have been proving me correct." He smiled, as if at a private joke. "I do enjoy it when my faith in human nature is confirmed. It makes me feel…. content."

"That thing was yours, wasn't it?"

"That…? Oh, you mean the Hand of the Light. Yes, in a sense he was mine. More accurately, he was attached to another division and I merely provided local assistance, but your assumption is correct. A part of the telepath underground in Sector Three-o-one is still operating and a few telepaths are still fleeing there. Some of my…. associates felt it prudent to take steps to shut it down now that it has served its purpose. And with Mr. Trace gone, an agent of the Hand of the Light was sent in."

"The Hand of the Light? A very melodramatic name."

"You might not think so, but some of my associates are quite poetic at times."

"We've arrested it."

"I was aware of that. I would appreciate his release as soon as possible."

"The law in three-o-one is not for sale any more."

"I was not saying it was. However, it is my experience that anything anywhere is for sale at the right price. I would not think of bribing you, though. I would merely remind you that we have an amicable working relationship, you and I, and it is undoubtedly in the best interests of both of us for that relationship to remain amicable. This naturally involves performing certain services for each other. Think of this as a deed done in good faith for a good ally."

"The law in three-o-one is not for sale. That thing is going to be charged and put on trial."

"I do have access to several lawyers who will be able to have him released from all charges and set free within days. That would bring a great deal of the affair into the public eye, though, and neither of us would like that."

"Hire all the lawyers you like. It's going on trial, and so are any more of those things we find in three-o-one. The Pit is off limits to you, and your…. Hand of the Light and your Inquisitors and whatever other agents or creatures or abominations you dredge up out of God knows where."

"The Hand serves a valuable purpose. They do, after all, only hunt down telepaths. We both share a concern over their power. You are perfectly safe from them, of course. I have made sure you are placed off-limits."

"Was that meant to be a threat?"

"Of course not. I do not make threats, Senator Smith."

"Well, I do. Keep them out of three-o-one. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a poker game to get back to." He rose and made for the door.

"Of course. Good fortune, by the way, although I doubt you will need it. You strike me as a particularly fine card player. Oh, have you heard from Miss Winters recently?"

Dexter stopped and turned.

Edgars simply raised an eyebrow. "Mere curiosity, I assure you. Have a safe trip home."

Dexter left. It was only after he had gone and the feeling returned, that he realised that when he had been with Edgars he had not been able to feel the thing's mind crawling around within his. He returned to his apartment with a splitting headache.

* * *

I wish sometimes I could have known G'Kar as a young man. I have spoken to those who saw him then, who heard him speak, and I see the eyes of old men light up at the memory. They told me of a man who could have talked the rocks down from the mountains, who could have charmed fire from the earth and voice from the land itself.

I never heard him speak. Wait, let me correct myself. I spoke to him often during my apprenticeship by his side. I have read all of his speeches. But cold words are pale imitations of the passion and fury he must have had. I have tried to imagine the old man I knew as the young and fiery orator I have heard described to me. Sometimes, when I caught his glance in the dancing shadows of the firelight, I thought I saw something there, but only for an instant and then it was gone.

He had lost so much by that time. We all had, but he seemed to take it all personally. He spoke the names of people I had never met: Neroon, Michael Garibaldi, Alfred Bester, John Sheridan. He spoke of the Great Machine, of Babylon Four and of the technomages, and I almost wept at the thought of all those wonders lost forever from the galaxy.

During the course of the Wars of Light and Darkness, G'Kar changed, irrevocably and permanently. The turning point was probably the Battle of the Third Line, where he lost forever the Godlike power that had been at his fingertips, and saw his dreams for the future vanish a millennium into the past.

But that was only one event. There were countless others. The loss of his eye, the betrayal that was the Night of Blood, the Last Night of Shadow that both of us were fortunate to escape when so many others did not.

Still, there were brief moments of respite as well, tiny pinpoints of light in the darkness. One such occasion he recounted to me. It occurred at the Brakiri Day of the Dead….

L'Neer of Narn, Learning at the Prophet's Feet.

* * *

Whispers from the Day of the Dead — VI

"You have changed greatly, Ha'Cormar'ah."

"Have I really? So much?"

"Your eyes. They do not burn as they once did. Your breath is tired. Your gestures are slow and heavy. Yes, Ha'Cormar'ah G'Kar, you have changed."

"I did not think it was so clear. Yes, I have changed. I am tired and weary. I have fought enough, and when I think it is over, there is still more."

"The war is over then?"

"The war we fought is over, yes. But I fear there is a greater war on the horizon, just beyond our perception. You once said that I see more than others do, that I look at the world with different eyes, that I remove all the blinkers others have raised about themselves."

"I remember."

"I wish I did not. I wish I were blind like everyone else."

"Truthfully?"

"No. Not truthfully. But sometimes, yes. No one listens any more. No one has been listening for a very long time."

"Then make them listen."

"I try. I speak and they listen, but when I turn my eyes away they carry on as before. Is that all I am to them? Is that all I will ever be? A stern teacher who is followed only when I am there, and ignored when I am not?"

"You were never that to me."

"Then why do they not understand? They are blinded by old hatreds. I thought…. I convinced them to end the war. The fleets went to help the Centauri. They actually fought and died to defend Centauri Prime. Who could have believed such a thing was possible?

"But now? Now they continue as before. They plot and they plan and they think I do not notice. We have assimilated too many things from the Centauri, but their 'Great Game' was the worst of them. The worst by far.

"We will destroy them in the end, or we will destroy ourselves, and why? Because they cannot see beyond the past! They cannot look to the future.

"No one listens."

"What do you expect me to say? I am dead, remember. I understood only at the very end. I betrayed you and everything you stood for. Before that I betrayed my people and my lord. And after that, I betrayed my new masters. Three betrayals, and only after the third did I truly understand.

"That did not help anyone else of course, but it helped me."

"Is that it? Will they only understand when they are dead?"

"I do not know. I truly do not."

"There must be more. There must be something."

"Why did you come here? I do not believe for an instant that you were simply passing through."

"Ah…. no. I had heard the rumours. I was afraid, and sceptical, but if there was the slightest chance…."

"Was I the one you wanted to talk to?"

"Truthfully?"

"Of course. You cannot hurt my feelings. I am dead, after all."

"I do not know. I do not know who I wanted to talk to. My father. My mother. Any one of a hundred friends from my days in the resistance, or the Kha'Ri, or the Rangers. There are so very many of them."

"That is it, isn't it? You came to feed your guilt. You live when so many others are dead, and you came here to remind yourself of them all. You came here to feel guilty and to flagellate yourself. I know you too well."

"…."

"Well, if you will not talk, then I will. This is not an opportunity I will have again for a very long time, and by then I doubt that anyone will care. How is she?"

"Well."

"Is she happy?"

"I believe so."

"Does she love him?"

"Yes. There is no doubt."

"Ah. I am…. glad she is happy. Do they…. have children?"

"No."

"Ah. A pity. She would make a fine mother."

"In a sense, she is mother to all of us."

"In a sense, you are father to all of us. You brought the Rangers together. You gave us purpose. You cannot understand that, but that does not make it false. Believe it or not as you will, Ha'Cormar'ah G'Kar. Ta'Lon, what of him?"

"He is the same. He speaks little, and does much."

"Tell him it falls to him to look after you now."

"He already knows."

"I do not doubt that."

"The sun is rising."

"I know."

"Do you…. do you have a message for Delenn?"

"No. Please do not tell her that you met me. If she is happy with him, then so much the better for her. That is enough for me."

"I am glad I could speak with you again."

"As am I. I am honoured. Did my words provide any comfort? Ah, probably not. I was never good with words."

"You are better than you think."

"You do not see yourself as the inspiration you are. That is your greatest weakness, G'Kar. Look past that and see yourself as we do. There, my last piece of advice. Goodbye."

"Goodbye, Neroon."

And then the room was silent.

* * *

Sheridan looked at the image the screen was showing him, and found it hard to believe. Even in a life such as the one he had led, some things were almost incomprehensible.

"It looks like a space station," he said.

It did look like a space station, albeit one designed by no race he had ever seen. The bulk of it seemed to be an asteroid, and if he looked at it only briefly, he might have remained convinced that that was all it was.

But on closer inspection what might have been mere rifts and folds in the rock were clearly buildings and constructs. As he studied it further, Sheridan was sure there was a docking bay, or an observation post. It was as if the very fabric of the asteroid itself had been carved to the form its creators had desired.

"Any life signs?" he asked.

"No. I don't think so," the tech replied. "There's some very strange shielding around it."

"What about power? Does it even have any?"

"Yes. Although it uses some sort of energy we can't pick up on. There have been traces of energy usage recently though. Someone's been there in the last couple of days minimum.

"Can you tell what race?"

"No idea. Sorry, sir."

"Hmm." He stood back, still looking at the image. Without that particular piece of information he would just have chalked this up as a strange piece of hyperspace debris. There was enough of it, especially this far from the main beacon routes.

However, the unusual radiation trail had led them directly here, and there were signs that someone else had been here recently. No one lived in hyperspace. At least, there were no confirmed reports. Sheridan found it hard to accept that anyone could live here.

So what, then? A completely new alien race? A group of very powerful and very lucky smugglers using this as a base? Perhaps the renegade group who had attacked Gorash 7?

Or perhaps someone else entirely. That was where his instinct was going. Whoever these powerful alien ships belonged to, they had to have a base somewhere. Why not in hyperspace? The asteroid seemed big enough for either an impressive force or very big aliens.

"Someone's in there," he whispered to himself, not caring how he knew that, or remarking on the strange warmth of the armrest of his chair.

"All right," he said at last. "Prepare space suits. Muster a few security men. I'm going in there. I need a look around."

The techs did not rush to disagree with him. Perhaps because they were curious, too. Or perhaps they did not wish to contradict the fearsome Shadowkiller himself.

Sheridan did not care either way.

* * *

There was something about him that chilled the blood, even to one as inured to fear as Morden. He had faced death, faced fear. He had seen Gods and fought Gods. He had been imprisoned — more than once — and he had seen a million rays of light rise in the face of a trapped man.

But he had never seen anything like this. Never.

It had been three days since the Emperor had collapsed and the rioting had been dispersed. Londo was still comatose. Hopes for his recovery were…. slim. Morden hoped he would recover. Partially this was due to an affection of sorts for Londo as a person, but there was also a pragmatic concern. He had not had enough time to build an effective power base of his own here yet. If Londo died there would be chaos, and no one wanted that.

Durla snapped to attention. He was doing well, Morden had to admit that. He had chosen well in appointing Durla Captain of the Guard. He had spent over a hundred days chained up in a cell and yet he had been ready to perform his new duties within hours of being released.

He was also the only person unaffected by the human at his side.

Morden had heard the name of course, but he had never seen him before. Very few had, not even the old man. He walked in the shadows, moving as the Vorlons dictated. He was their personal agent, assigned their most delicate tasks.

It was no wonder that he had been given this task.

Unlike the other Inquisitors Morden had met, this one did not wear the insignia. In fact he did not even wear the traditional robes. Instead he wore a very fine quality suit, of a style centuries old. The top hat had come back into fashion briefly when Morden was a child, and his father had owned a few, but no one he had known wore one as naturally as this individual. A small cane was held casually in his left hand, where immaculate gloves also rested.

"I trust this is important," he said, his voice precise, dwelling on every syllable. It was a voice that commanded the attention of everyone who heard it. "My time is too precious to be called away for every little problem."

"Of course, sir." Morden had settled on that as the appropriate form of address, and he had not been contradicted. The man did not have a title, but Morden knew he was ranked too far above him for first name terms to be acceptable. "This is exactly within your purview."

"Yes?"

"There is someone within our cells here you will wish to meet. We captured a Soul Hunter yesterday. He was found travelling outside the capital."

"Ah." Sebastian smiled, a chilling sight. "You were entirely correct to call me. Lead on."

"Yes, sir. This way."

* * *

There were few things more magnificent to his eyes than an alien sunset falling across an alien city.

Yedor was thriving again at last, growing and rebuilding. Corwin looked at the parts of it he had had a hand in, and felt pride for the first time in many months.

When he was not working he liked to take long walks, to look at the sky, at the ground, at some of the buildings that had survived the bombardment. Sometimes guilt overwhelmed him on these walks as he was hit by yet another reminder of the things he had destroyed, but mostly they brought him happiness and wonder.

He had been here almost a year now, since Kats had found him during the Day of the Dead and convinced him to come with her. They had spoken much during the return journey, and she still sought him out sometimes. She was often busy of course, with her duties to the Grey Council and her travels to other worlds. She spent some time on Kazomi 7 and the new Babylon 5 station. Corwin did not ask her how things were there, and she did not tell him. He did not want to know.

Mostly they talked about each other. She spoke of her childhood and her parents, and in simple, loving terms, of her dead husband. When she did so, she unconsciously toyed with the beautiful necklace she always wore.

For his part, he told her about his family, about what it had been like growing up, about his dreams for the future. He spoke of Mary a lot. Kats listened, watched in silence as he cried, and said the right things in response — about immortality, and new chances.

There was something her husband had said to her once, that she repeated to Corwin. He had hoped the two of them would meet up again in a new life in a new world, ready to live another lifetime together free from the mistakes and hardships of this one.

Corwin noticed the way her eyes shone when she said this, and he knew that she believed it was possible. He doubted if it would come true for him, however. He was not even sure if he loved Mary the way Kats had loved her Kozorr. If he did, surely he would have tried harder to stop her leaving, or gone after her, or something.

He just did not know, and mostly he preferred not to think about it.

When Kats was away, as she was now, he went for walks. He had few other friends among the Minbari. Many of the workers knew him by sight, but none of them were close. They bowed to him as he passed and he nodded back, and that was largely it. Most of the warriors hated him, that was plain, and they muttered darkly in their own tongue whenever they saw him.

He heard things on his walks. He spoke most of the Minbari dialects well enough, and little rumours reached his ears. Many, particularly the warriors, spoke about Sinoval. Some seemed in favour of him, others not. There were whispers of 'Inquisitors', feared aliens who were seeking out those who had bargained with the Shadows. One of them had come here, it was said, but only one.

Aliens were regarded suspiciously during these conversations. The new Grey Council was trying to attract other races to their homeworld, and the number of aliens was growing slowly. However, some of them had been attacked and beaten by warriors, possibly on suspicion of being these Inquisitors. No one dared to touch Corwin, though. His strange friendship with Kats was common knowledge, and the warriors all seemed in awe of her, either because of her marriage to a warrior or through the respect accorded her by one of the Satai, Tirivail.

Regardless, Corwin let life outside pass him by. He buried himself in simple labour, and was content to live one day to the next, repairing some of the things he had done and taking satisfaction from that.

His walk took him past the Temple of Varenni and he looked up at the ancient building in wonder, as he always did. It was there, he knew, that Valen had returned to the Minbari. Some of the religious caste argued that Valen had left them again as punishment for their sins, and that he would return when they had atoned. Corwin, knowing full well that would not happen, passed on.

And then he stopped, looking back. The front gates of the temple were open, as they always were. There were people moving about inside, praying silently, lighting candles in memory of loved ones gone, talking quietly with one another. Most of them were Minbari, but there was also a pair of Narns wearing the Ranger sunburst symbol, a Brakiri, two Abbai….

…. and a human. Corwin frowned, not knowing that any other humans were here, certainly not in this part of Yedor. He stood on the steps of the temple, still staring in. It was a woman, wearing a long grey hooded cloak. It was pulled far enough forward that most people would not have been able to tell her race, but from the way she was moving, the way she was sitting, everything indicated to Corwin that she was human.

She was also oddly familiar.

She was talking in hushed tones to a Minbari warrior, which was also strange. The warriors hated humanity and barely tolerated even Corwin.

Slowly, drawn by something he could not understand, Corwin began to walk up the steps. He caught a glimpse of black hair beneath the hood, framing a firm jaw. He knew he recognised her now, but who could he know who would be here?

Suddenly he caught a glimpse of one grey eye and the name came to him in a thunderbolt. He took a step backwards and nearly fell. It was impossible! But he watched her again, holding onto the balustrade for support.

Impossible or not, it was true. He could see a faint pattern of scars across the other side of her face.

Susan!

* * *

She was still asleep. She had been asleep for hours. Marrago had spent much of that time watching her. She had hardly moved.

He had done what he could to patch up the girl's wounds, although he was no medic. The damage that had been done to her appalled him. He was a soldier, and had been all his life. The notion of deliberately wounding an enemy was hardly anathema to him, but this…. The deliberate and callous torture of a young girl. What could anyone possibly gain from this?

Her sleep showed no sign of the horrors she must have endured. He listened closely for any dream-cries or screams, but there were none. There was no sign of any dreams at all, bad or otherwise.

She was pretty, and her torture had done nothing to mar that. Her face and arms and front were untouched. Her torturer had clearly not wanted to spoil her beauty.

"Was she worth it?" asked a familiar voice. Dasouri spoke Centauri perfectly, with only a slight trace of his Drazi accent. That was an unusual talent in itself. Most of Marrago's mercenaries spoke only their native languages and the common Trade-speak. Very few of them spoke his tongue, but then Dasouri was unusual in more ways than one. It was no wonder that he had become Marrago's second.

"What do you mean?"

"This will cause trouble. The ways of these mercenaries are…. not complex. The Centauri took her, therefore she belonged to him. He could do with her whatever he wished. By taking her, you have broken that law. There may be trouble."

"What else should I have done?"

"Was she worth risking all this for? You have seen the operation of these people just as I have. You could lead them all in a sixmonth. Within twice that, you could have a force of outcasts big enough to take on the Alliance itself. Why risk that for one girl?"

"Ambition is a powerful thing," Marrago admitted. "And yes, you are right. This may risk everything, even our lives. But I will not stand by and watch a young girl tortured and beaten. If that risks my life, then so be it."

"You are a noble no longer. Remember that. Now you are an outcast like the rest of us. Have you ever thought that your old ways may not match your new life?"

"All the time. But some things are right, and some things are wrong, and what was done to her was wrong. There is no doubt about it."

"Ah. As I expected. Well, I leave you to your lady. The others need training."

Marrago nodded as Dasouri left, feeling both bolstered and weakened by what the Drazi had said. Every word was correct, every argument justified. Marrago had risked a lot by this action. It was not the work of a tactician, or a strategist, but it was simply right.

It was not as if she even looked like Lyndisty. Her hair was darker, her eyes a different shade. She was a little taller, a little younger.

She stirred, and sat up in one instant, her eyes darting around. She had awakened immediately, without weariness or confusion or disorientation.

She looked at him, and pulled the cloth around her like a shield. He thought she was trembling a little.

"Who are you?" she said at last, after a long pause.

"My name is Jorah Marrago," he said, his first name feeling strange in his mouth. Jorah was the name of a stranger, a young and ambitious man. He had not used that name since his father had died. "Once I was Lord-General. Now…. I am just an outcast."

"I've heard of you," she said slowly, pulling the sheet tighter around her. She said nothing more, merely continuing to stare. He was impressed. There was no fear there, no silent pleas, just a grim determination. You will not break me, the stare said. You may do whatever you wish to me, but you will not break me. She had learned pain, and a great deal of it.

"Might I have the honour of knowing your name?" he said at last.

She looked a little surprised. "My name is…. I am Senna. I used to be a lot of things, but now I'm just Senna."

He nodded. "It is an honour to meet you."

"You…. rescued me?"

"Yes."

"Did you kill him?"

"No."

"Why?"

"I have killed too much. I am tired of it. I will kill if I must, but not otherwise. Your…. captor was a weak man. He was no threat to me, and I have made sure he will not bother you again."

"No," she said firmly. "Why did you rescue me? What do you hope to gain from me? There will be no ransom."

"I do not want ransom," he said flatly.

"Then what? Revenge? Or perhaps…. a little…. something for night-time?"

"Neither," he said, his words hard. "That man. Did he…." A simmering anger was burning within him, but he fought to keep it down. He was not even sure who he was angry with. He was just angry. "Did he…?"

"Rape me?" she finished, in a harsh, sardonic half-laugh. "Would you have wanted him to? Would that give you an excuse to go to him and beat him to a bloody pulp? Would you have liked to watch?" He was silent. There was no reply he could give, and she seemed to sense this, instantly regretting her sarcasm. "No, he didn't," she said finally. "He thought it would be…. more fun for me to beg him to touch me."

"I am sorry," he said, looking down.

"Why? You didn't whip me senseless all these days and nights."

"I should have been here sooner."

She laughed again, a sound entirely devoid of any humour. "Why? Do you expect me to believe you are some sort of hero? That your only motivation is pure altruism? Rescuing the captive princess from the evil monster? I'm not a princess." She made to add something, but stopped. "There was something else there. If you didn't want me for yourself, then you wanted me for something."

"You are right," he said. This was not how he had imagined this conversation going. Couldn't she be more like…? "I have…. had a daughter. She would not have been a great deal older than you are."

"I am not her," she spat. "And whatever happened to her, you will not be able to bring her back through me."

"Why are you so cynical?" he shouted at last, unable to contain himself any longer. He saw her shrink back. "I know you are not her. That does not mean I would have let that go on happening to you. There was no ulterior motive, no dark plan. Nothing but some sense that there is still right and wrong."

"There isn't," she whispered. "There's no such thing."

"How can there be such cynicism in one so young?" he mused, mostly to himself. He was not expecting a reply, and there wasn't one. "Anyone would think you had no dreams at all."

"I don't," she said firmly.

He looked at her, and saw that she was telling the truth. She wanted to hurt him, yes, but her reply had been truthful. He sighed. "I think that is the saddest thing I have ever heard," he whispered. "When I was your age, oh, what dreams I had! What dreams we all had! We would shake heaven and earth and leave behind nothing but smiles and wit and a reputation all men would envy.

"They did not come true, and most of the men who dreamed are gone now. Yes, we failed, but that failure was the fault of the dreamers, not of the dream.

"And you say you have no dreams at all. Not a single one." He sighed again. "Go to sleep. Food and drink will be brought for you when you require them, and you have my word, if that means a single thing to you, that no one will try to harm you here. Not while I live."

"I…." She was shaking. "I am sorry."

"Go to sleep," he said, as he left.

Dasouri was not where Marrago had expected him to be, where the others were training. His little group of mercenaries and outcasts had grown a fair bit, and they needed to learn cohesiveness. There were many different races here, with many different fighting styles, and they needed to learn each others' strengths and weaknesses. They needed to learn to trust each other.

He found Dasouri in the antechamber, arguing with a newcomer. It was an alien, the one who had been at the council. He looked at Marrago with his strange, almost infinite, alien eyes, and behind him Marrago could see the shimmering heat-haze of a monster.

"This is Moreil," Dasouri said. "He wishes to talk with you. I did say she would be nothing but trouble."

* * *

Ambassador Durano put down the missive and looked up at the wall. For a moment he felt physically sick. Not just because the Centarum had waited so long to inform him of the situation, not even out of concern for the Emperor's health, not even because the missive was signed by a human called Morden.

No, it was the instructions that nauseated him so much.

Durano was a rational man, painstakingly so. He thought clearly before each action. He carefully weighed the consequences of his every move. He took time to think and debate and argue with himself. Those traits made him invaluable to his people, and also a very fine chess player. He had played the game a lot since he was introduced to it by the humans, and he was acknowledged a master.

He knew how to separate sentiment from practicality. There were things which, while unpleasant, were still necessary. That was a part of life, and only a fool disagreed with it.

But this?

He had argued against the sending of Narn peacekeeping troops to Gorash, knowing that such a move would both inflame public opinion among his people and, worse, send a dangerous message that the Republic was weak. The Republic was weak of course, fatally so, but it was hardly wise to let this fact be advertised. However, his cautious mind had ultimately decided that Narn aid was better than none, and so he had assented.

The reasons for appointing a Narn as leader of the peacekeeping force were many, and for the most part well thought out. Commander N'Rothak knew the Gorash system well, having led the invasion force into the system. He was by all accounts a fine leader, and a more than fair man. Ambassador G'Kael had made a powerful speech advocating N'Rothak. The Narns were closer than any other race, knew the area better than any other race, and there was a great propaganda opportunity for the Alliance as well. What better way to show that the wars were over than to have the Narns offering aid and protection to their ancient enemies? A symbol of a new and enlightened future, where old differences were forgotten and all were one brotherhood against the Darkness. G'Kael quoted the Prophet G'Kar several times. It was a powerful and moving speech. Durano did not dispute that.

But G'Kael did not believe one word of it. The Narn was every bit as intelligent and cautious as Durano himself, and both of them knew it. That speech came directly from the Kha'Ri, as did the subtle menacing undertones that giving the task to someone less…. suited, might be construed as a deliberate insult to the Narn people.

Durano found himself almost admiring the Kha'Ri. They had learned from the Republic, oh yes. They had learned a great deal. Had it not been for Marrago's alliance with the Shadows they would have won the war, working together while the Republic self-destructed. The Narns had understood the truth of the Great Game. The lessons of intrigue and diplomacy and deception were to be used against a common enemy, not against each other.

One line from a noble centuries dead echoed in Durano's mind. 'What better way to defeat your enemy than to make him think you are his friend?'

He wondered who in the Kha'Ri had read and understood that.

But there was nothing he could do. There was no way to escape this. He looked at the missive again. It was couched in flowery language, with much talk of 'aid between brothers in alliance' and 'temporary need', 'poor weather conditions', 'union to lend much-needed aid to the starving'. The points however were clear to anyone with the eyes to see.

The Emperor had had a heart attack. He was in a coma, and unlikely ever to recover.

There was no heir. Too many of the noble Houses had valid claims to the Purple Throne. No doubt some of them were already moving into position. Some people never learned. The Game had consumed and spat out better people than they. Elrisia, Jarno, Malachi, Marrago, Dugari. All of them had thought they could play the Game, only to fall.

There was social unrest on Centauri Prime, which would inevitably spread to other worlds. There was famine and disease and starvation. There had already been one riot in the streets of the capital. There would probably be more.

The Republic was unable to handle all of these problems, especially with so much of the Centauri fleet away performing babysitting duties for the Alliance.

Would the Alliance please send help? A permanent garrison of soldiers, Rangers and Dark Stars would do nicely.

The request was not for Centauri ships and soldiers to be returned to do what they should be doing, guarding Centauri worlds and cities. No, that would not be granted. That would set a dangerous precedent and provoke fears of a renewed build-up. No, the Centarum wanted Alliance ships and Alliance soldiers, and it did not take a genius to work out who these would be.

Over fifty percent of the Rangers were Narns, although that number was falling. The Narn were the most powerful of the major races in the Alliance, and the most willing to assist in this matter. The humans were still under suspicion over their dealings with the Shadows. The Minbari were occupied with repairs to their own worlds. The Brakiri were busy observing the Drazi for any signs of renewed rebellion. The other races did not have either the power or the inclination.

Oh, there would be support from the other races, Durano had no doubt of that. Maybe the overall commander would not be a Narn, but the bulk of the forces provided would be Narns, and it would be a Narn hand pulling the strings.

But what other choice was there?

Durano was left with a grudging admiration for whoever in the Kha'Ri had orchestrated all this. They were hardly responsible for the lunacies going on on Centauri Prime. They could have had no part in the Inquisitors, the rioting, the starvation, the raids, or even the Emperor's illness. These were all a combination of weakness, stupidity and a stubborn refusal by the Alliance to realise that the Shadow contact in the Republic had been just one man, not some elaborate conspiracy.

Damn you, Marrago. Wherever you are.

No, the Kha'Ri had not been responsible for this, but they had used it all well. Very well. And Durano doubted anyone else would be able to see it.

He stood up, and began rehearsing his speech. The Council would be meeting in less than an hour and he would have to plead with them for help to give complete control of his home to an alien race.

The words were ashes in his mouth, but he continued. What choice did he have?

* * *

Talia awoke to feel a cold hand grip her heart. It took a moment for her to remember where she was. This was the cargo hold of the ship she had half-smuggled and half-bribed herself aboard. She was not…. there.

In truth, she found it hard to remember where 'there' was. She only knew that it had appeared in her dreams, a vast wilderness, a cold blackness where only the dead walked. The world was an alien one, the sky not one she knew, the sun dead and cold.

She knew there had been creatures there. There had been life there once, but it had all ended. Something had descended and destroyed that world, just as they had destroyed everything else in that galaxy.

She trembled, and not just from the cold. How much longer could it take to get to Proxima? She knew this was a trading ship and so was bound to visit several different places first, but still….

She was about to settle down to sleep again when something sounded in her mind and she sat bolt upright. No. No, not here.

The screams were always with her, apart from when she used the artefact, but they were louder now, and one louder still. They could not have arrived at Proxima yet. By her reckoning there was another day or so at least.

She reached out with her mind, then pulled back sharply. There was a presence here, nearby. That concept was relative out in space of course, but a node of the network was close. That could only mean one thing.

Gently, slowly, with exquisite care, she sent her mind out, concentrating on the ship this time, not seeking to expand beyond it yet. It was terrifying to realise how much her powers had developed, that she could approach that as a rational possibility.

The artefact. It all came down to the artefact. One day she would have to do something about it.

But that was a problem for another day.

The message was simple and straightforward and terrifying. She heard it with her mind easily enough. No efforts were being made to keep it coded or secret. She sensed the captain's fear. It had been him who had hidden her on board. There were no doubt other minor bits of contraband here as well, but she was the main concern. Her discovery would lead not just to a fine or the revocation of his shipping licence, but to something far, far worse.

This is the Dark Star Fifteen. We repeat again. You are requested to stand down and prepare to be boarded. If you refuse, deadly force will be authorised.

You have thirty seconds to comply.

* * *

Marrago had known it from the instant he had set foot inside the council room. Of all of them — Rem Lanas, the nameless human, the Narns, the Drazi — this Moreil was the true power here. It was not just the two monsters that never seemed to leave his side, visible or not. It was that Moreil had a quiet force, one that said he did not care about the dreams or ambitions of the others.

Marrago had taken time to study his fellow captains in the Brotherhood Without Banners, and all but Moreil he understood. The human was simply insane. He lived for torture and murder and commanded a crew of other humans just as insane as he was, binding them together by force of personality and lunatic whims. Revenge, that was all they wanted. Revenge on anybody and anything.

The Drazi were seeking revenge too, for the perceived betrayal of their race by the Alliance. They knew how to fight, and that was all. No doubt the survivors would be plotting some sort of comeback for Marrago or Moreil. Whatever that was, it would not be subtle. Drazi schemes rarely were.

Rem Lanas was a pathetic little man who merely wished to be someone important, and exaggerated his own significance in a bid to appear so. He had no authority, no power, no soldiers. All he had was a little knowledge, and a lot of pretensions. He would no doubt be planning some form of elaborate revenge as well, but Marrago did not fear him.

The Narns…. they were unusual. There was something about them that puzzled him. The male was G'Lorn, a Narn Marrago recognised, although it had taken him a few days to remember where from. He had been an aide to Warleader G'Sten. What he was doing here was a mystery, but the Kha'Ri were often even more unforgiving than the Royal Court. It was possible G'Lorn had been a casualty following G'Sten's failed attack on Centauri Prime and subsequent retirement.

He was not in charge, of course. The female was. Marrago did not know her, but she moved with the easy grace of one used to power, and trained in it from a young age. There was something in the way G'Lorn looked to her sometimes, as if seeking her approval. Marrago did not know if they were married, lovers, siblings or what, but she held the power. That was clear to anyone with eyes to see. What they wanted…. judging by the first major target of the Brotherhood, revenge on the Centauri was not an impossible notion. Marrago would have to be careful around those two as well.

And then there was Moreil.

The two of them were standing in an observation post, the vastness of space stretching out before them. Moreil's sentries were not visible, but Marrago knew better than to assume that meant they were not there. The alien was looking at him slowly, and Marrago met his gaze. He had nothing to fear, not any more.

"I was expecting some sort of visit eventually," he said, never taking his eyes from Moreil's. The otherness of them disturbed him, but he still did not shift his gaze. Sooner or later, in there, he would uncover all he needed to about the alien. "Have I broken some law or another in taking the girl? I thought the only law of this order was that strength is all."

"Many laws there are," Moreil hissed. "But that is the one truth of them. Laws are for the weak. The strong make their own. The girl is of no importance to this one. Take her. Keep her. Fight those who would take her from you. In strength there is rightness, yes?"

"Yes," Marrago agreed, the lie burning his tongue. He thought of Senna, weak before her torturer, or Lyndisty, weak before her murderer. He suddenly hated this alien. "If not that, then why did you want to talk with me?"

"Introductions must be made, yes?" Moreil replied. "This one is Moreil, former Takita'talan of the Z'shailyl war fleet, fourth in standing to the Warmaster himself."

"I know who you are," Marrago said. "You know who I am."

"Indeed I do. You are once Warmaster of the Centauri, once noble of the Centauri, once right hand of the Emperor of the Centauri. Now you are here, outcast, abandoned, lost."

"I have already told you why I am here."

"That is not what was questioned. This one knows of you, once-Warmaster. This one knows you bargained with the Drakh, with the Dark Masters, sought their boon in your war. This one knows much of your bargainings."

"That is no secret. Why do you think I was exiled? Why do you think both the Alliance and my Emperor are hunting me?"

"Lesson there is that was learned from the Dark Masters. There is never what is on the surface alone. Always something is there hidden, below the skies. No mere exile, you. No. Perhaps you are agent. Perhaps you seek something other than you have said.

"After all, why exile you, then place bounty on you for return?

"There is much hidden within you, once-Warmaster."

Marrago took a slow step back, his hand reaching for the hilt of his kutari. Moreil's two monstrous guardians shimmered into view.

"And this one will discover your secrets.

"Or you will die."

* * *

He walks through darkened corridors and tunnels and caverns without care, without heed, without danger. He walks as if in a trance, guided by footsteps and echoes not his own. Ghosts walk beside him, ghosts of a race long gone, long dead, now ashes in the wind, mere whispers on the tides of space.

He leaves behind those sent to guard him, and this he neither notices, nor cares. He is drawn in some way he cannot explain, pulled by some force he does not seek to understand. With eyes not his and a understanding altogether alien, he sees beings as old and immeasurable as any he knows.

They are dying before his eyes, raising glowing faces to the heavens, awaiting a mercy that will never be given, a sign that will never come, peace that will never reign.

This place is a monument to war, and on some level he understands that. This place is a graveyard, a floating cemetery to a long-dead people.

He does not see what is killing them. He knows somehow that he should, but all he can see are masks and smoke and mirrors and angels with bright and bloody swords raised, glorying in their power and their bloodlust and the terror of their opponents, and the light that shines on them from heaven.

Names and faces flash before him and he does not care. He sees a beautiful woman caught between two worlds, looking at him with bright green eyes, and he presses on. He sees a father, a mother, a friend, a lover, a sister, a daughter, and a son.

Seeing the last he stops, briefly, slowly, and pauses — and then he stumbles on, not knowing or caring what draws him, knowing only that he must keep moving.

He walks into the depths of the earth and the ghosts grow louder and louder and more and more plentiful. There are so many of them. So many dead. He should grieve, he knows. He should cry out and weep and collapse to his knees in anguish at the misery around him, but he does not.

All he does is walk forward.

And after several lifetimes he emerges into a dark, shadow-haunted chamber. It stretches far above his head, a vast cathedral of rock and misery and torment. He moves forward, approaching the far wall, and with each step an alien voice cries out an alien name and an alien message, whether of hope or curse or misery he does not know.

He merely continues to walk forward, until the shadows fall over him and embrace him, almost as friend, almost as lover, almost as saviour.

"Sheridan."

The voice is old, and the first one he has been able to understand. He stops, and turns. It is ancient, that voice, and filled with wisdom and anger and power and a terrifying familiarity.

He knows that voice, and as it speaks to him, memory returns. Understanding returns.

Anger returns.

"Sheridan," the voice says again, the terrifyingly familiar voice says again.

"Always a pleasure."

Chapter 4

Sinoval had changed.

The most obvious sign of this change was the clothes he wore. No longer was he garbed in the black-and-silver tunic of a Minbari warrior, with clan and rank emblazoned on his shoulder. Now he wore robes of bright red and gold. They looked almost ecclesiastical.

The robes had a hood, but now it was pulled back, revealing his face. His eyes were the same as ever, dark as midnight, filled with power and arrogance and confidence, but now there was a sense of age within them, a great and terrible understanding, and memories more than one lifespan could contain.

Above his eyes, embedded in his forehead, was a jewel. It was not held there by a circlet or any other sort of jewellery. It was just there, as much a part of him as if he had been born with it. A dull light shone from it, and deep within it colours swirled. Looking into that jewel was like looking into a mirror within which a distorted reflection could be seen, a reflection that showed death and decay and a truth that mortals feared to contemplate.

His bearing had changed as well, although more subtly. Before he had walked with arrogance, the walk of a man convinced he was the master of all he surveyed. Now his bearing was that of a man who knew he was master of all he surveyed. The difference was subtle, but clear to anyone who knew him.

His terrible fighting pike Stormbringer hung at his side. It was not something anyone wished to dwell upon. That blade, it was said, had once in a single day broken apart the armour of a Vorlon and taken the innocent blood of a Minbari. In Sinoval's hands it looked alive, a malevolent creature that laughed and rejoiced as crimson blood flowed around it. Now it merely seemed to be asleep. No, not asleep — dormant, awaiting always a chance to waken and spread havoc.

Sinoval stood there, in the place where he had appeared from nowhere, from the thick eddies of hyperspace, from the darkest memories of man, moving from the edges of perception. The shadows danced around him like servant creatures or pets fawning for the attention of their master, but he ignored them, his powerful dark eyes focussed on another. He stood alone in a dead place lost in the swirling tides of hyperspace, surrounded only by ghosts and memories of ghosts.

Sheridan felt his strange malaise and trance shake itself away and he looked at Sinoval with new eyes, noting the changes his adversary had gone through. Sinoval now seemed more dangerous than ever.

He waited for Sinoval to speak, and when he did the words were hollow and harsh and filled with power.

"Sheridan," he said, sampling the name with the skill a general uses to survey the forthcoming battlefield.

"Always a pleasure."

* * *

The Centauri was not moving. He hardly even seemed to breathe. His hand was on the hilt of his sword, and his eyes remained fixed on Moreil. Not on the two Wykhheran that had just appeared behind him, but on Moreil himself.

The Z'shailyl was impressed. That was a mark of courage, conviction and a certainty as to where the real threat lay. He directed the Wykhheran, mastering their mere animal desires to stalk and kill. If one of them was felled then he would be as before, but without him they would lose all intelligence and direction, lapsing into barbarian fury.

Do we kill, lord?

Not yet, Warrior. But be ready.

This one…. is strange to us. Is he a Master?

No, Warrior.

He stands as a Master. He looks as a Sin-tahri, but he acts as a Master. What is he?

A dangerous man, but a mortal all the same.

Do we kill him, lord?

Not yet. He may be better service to us alive.

This one is strange, lord.

Trust in the Dark Masters, Warrior.

The conversation had taken mere seconds, and Moreil was convinced no one could sense him communicating with the Wykhheran. He was wrong.

"Some sort of telepathy?" Marrago asked, not shifting his stance at all.

"What do you mean, once-Warmaster?"

"How you command them? Telepathy?"

"Not as you would understand it," Moreil replied. "This one is bonded to the Wykhheran, a chain created when they emerged in shadows at Thrakandar. Words ride faster than thought between this one and the Warriors."

"They obey your every command?"

"All serve the Dark Masters. While this one's commands are in Their service, the Warriors know to obey. Were this one to grow conceited and arrogant and power-hungry, they would turn on him."

"Your Dark Masters have gone. They aren't coming back."

Moreil hissed. "Lies," he said. "They have not abandoned this place. They will return."

"No, they won't. They lost the war, and they know it. That's why they left. None of us needed them any longer."

"Lies!"

"All you are doing is deluding yourself. You are carrying on their mistakes, their errors. You are making their true enemies stronger by pursuing a false creed. That is why you are here, isn't it? You don't want riches or power or revenge. You want to carry on their law. Chaos personified, that's it, isn't it? You want to serve them even though they are gone."

"This one follows the creed of the Dark Masters. This one remembers."

"Face facts. You failed them while they were here. You won't bring them back by over-compensating now."

Kill him! Moreil roared in his mind, anger and hatred and fury all coalescing into one raw, powerful, anguished emotion. He had never felt such hatred before, not for any living thing.

How could he have known? How could he have known of Moreil's failures? How could the once-Warmaster have known that if Moreil had only performed a little better, the Dark Masters would still be here?

The Centauri dropped into a defensive stance, moving precisely and effortlessly.

In a split second all thought of murder left Moreil's mind and a river of calm returned. No. Never fight a battle angry. His Warmaster had taught him that. He had forgotten. Once again, he had failed.

Stop! The Wykhheran did, although their thoughts were angry and confused. They never liked being pulled from a kill. For a few seconds their thoughts and Moreil's waged for dominance, but they soon conceded. The bond was too strong for them to do otherwise.

We want to kill, lord.

No. He is too strong.

Not as strong as we are.

He is strong in mind, not flesh. This battle he has won, Warrior. Accept and learn.

His flesh is weak.

His spirit is strong. No, Warrior. You shall not kill him today.

Marrago saw the Wykhheran step back and disappear from sight. He relaxed his guard, but only slightly. Moreil recognised the message there. Whatever he might appear to be, this mortal was always ready for battle.

"How do you know all these things?"

Marrago looked at him for a long while. The Wykhheran's angry thoughts flashed through Moreil's mind. He pacified them with promises of one of the captives the Brotherhood had taken from Gorash. While tearing apart a helpless prisoner was not nearly as exciting as facing down a true warrior, that did mollify the Wykhheran a little.

Marrago stepped back and folded his arms high on his chest. Still Moreil did not move. He knew the blade could be in his hands in less than a second.

"Did you think you were the only warrior to fail his lord?" Marrago asked.

Moreil did not reply.

"Is there going to be any action against me for helping the girl?"

"This one shall not care for the girl. If you desire her, then she is yours, by all this one cares. You should be wary, once-Warmaster. Soon you will stumble and your eyes will close and your death will be nearby."

"I have been a soldier of the Republic all my life. Death has never been far from me."

Moreil turned to leave, thinking carefully. As he reached the door, something came to him, and he turned. "This one remembers," he said. "The girl-child you rescued…."

"Yes?"

"You had a girl-child of your own. She is now dead."

Marrago's eyes darkened.

"Yes."

Moreil waited for something more. There was nothing.

He left, the angry thoughts of the Wykhheran still with him. They complained about not being able to kill this Sin-tahri. But their complaints were too many, too loud, too boisterous. They were hiding something. After a while Moreil realised what that was, and that realisation troubled him more than anything else he had experienced with this Marrago.

The Wykhheran were afraid of him.

* * *

Why are they so afraid of me? Why do they not see?

As he waited patiently in the anteroom, these two questions preyed on Morden's mind more and more. This would be so much easier if people just sat down and thought about things for a while. They would soon see what was the right thing to do.

But no, people never thought. They reacted out of fear and anger and greed and they would never learn to put aside personal concerns for the greater good. It was because of people like that, that his wife….

Human or Centauri, they were all the same. The Centauri had played their Great Game for so long, all they saw was the Game itself and none of the reasons for it. They never saw beyond. They spoke of tradition and heritage and legacies and never looked to the future.

Well, Morden would drag them into the future, kicking and screaming if he had to.

Londo's condition was not improving. It had been over six days since his heart attack. The best doctors in the Republic were working on him, but Morden knew full well that all of them were motivated by political concerns. Some were no doubt being paid off by various nobles. Some were worried about their own health, whether they cured or killed him. He had planned to bring in Alliance doctors, only to be told that was unthinkable. The Republic dared not be seen to be crawling to aliens for medical help. They had their pride, after all.

Their pride was going to kill their Emperor.

Morden had had enough.

The aide, who possessed some elaborate and wholly unnecessary title, came in and told Morden the Centarum was now ready for him. He rose and walked calmly into the massive room.

An antiquated custom, all of it. The Centarum was a product of the Great Game that always seemed to survive. No matter who tried to suppress or weaken it, it was always capable of rising again. Ironically most of the people here hated each other passionately, but still they remained together, arrogantly secure in their right to rule.

Morden took up his place at the Speaker's lectern and looked around. The room was full. How many of the nobility had died during the 'Troubles'? And somehow there were always more of them.

"Greetings to the Centarum," he said formally. Time enough to honour their etiquette for now. Besides, politeness cost nothing. "I stand before you as the official representative from the United Alliance of Kazomi Seven to the Centauri Republic." Over a year he had been here and not once had he addressed this body. Not once had he been permitted to and not once had they asked him to. Even over matters of Alliance concern, such as the Inquisitors, the Centarum had turned to Londo. No wonder the poor man had collapsed like that. The stress must have been intolerable.

"There has been no change in the Emperor's condition," he continued. "We have to consider the very real possibility that he will never recover." There was not a great deal of shock at this. He had a feeling almost everyone here had already considered that. "Contrary to some of the rumours circulating at present, the Inquisitors and the Ministry for the Interior have confirmed in their joint investigation that the Emperor's collapse was entirely natural, the inevitable result of poor health and stress. I am satisfied there was no foul play involved.

"However, the Emperor's illness has caused a considerable power vacuum here. The Republic as a whole is suffering as a result. The Alliance has decided to lend its support to the Centauri Republic during this time of crisis. Ambassador Durano has formally requested aid from the Alliance, and this has been granted.

"Military assistance will be provided in certain vulnerable systems, especially Gorash, Frallus and Immolan. This will be under the overall control of Commander N'Rothak, who is already in charge of the peacekeeping forces on Gorash Seven.

"Centauri Prime itself will also be protected by Alliance peacekeeping forces. These will consist of a squadron of Dark Star ships, two multi-racial detachments of support ships and five thousand ground based soldiers. The objective is obviously to prevent further recurrence of civil unrest during this difficult time. The leader of this force has not yet been chosen, but he or she will work directly in liaison with my office and with the Inquisition base established here.

"These measures are only for the duration of the current emergency and disruption will be minimised as much as is possible, but obviously the location and capture of Shadow agents and dissidents is of the utmost priority.

"Furthermore, the Alliance office will assume direct control of the Government for the duration of the crisis. All Government officials will take instructions directly from the emergency cabinet currently being constituted, of which I will be a member, as will the Commander of the Alliance forces, and the High Inquisitor.

"As a result, this body is suspended for the duration of the crisis. It is the recommendation of the Alliance that you return to your estates and help maintain order there. Alliance forces will be occupying the major centres of population of the assisted worlds and it is expected that all local officials and landowners will co-operate fully with them.

"There will of course be restrictions on travel, but I personally guarantee your return journeys to your estates will be given second-most priority after the movement of Alliance officials, and any delays are minimised."

Morden stood back and looked around at the expressions of anger and disbelief. They all believed themselves immune from any harm, all of them. Simply because of accidents of birth, they held themselves inviolate. Even when former First Minister Malachi had dissolved the Centarum during the Troubles, that was accepted. Malachi had been one of them. He played the same game they did, by the same rules.

But Morden did not play their game, and he did not play by their rules. He would bring order to the Centauri Republic if he had to break every rule, shatter every tradition and tear the society apart in order to do it.

"Are there any questions?" he asked at last.

There was a flurry of comments. "Outrageous!" was one. "You can't do this!" was another.

Morden smiled. It was rare that duty and pleasure came together at the same time and he took care to savour every such moment when he could. "Oh, we can do this. Read the Treaty you signed when you joined the Alliance. It gives me the authority to do exactly this.

"Your days of prestige and power are over, gentlemen. The Republic is teetering on the edge of the abyss, again. It seems that no sooner are you saved from one catastrophe than another emerges.

"I am interested in more than a mere quick fix. I will see to it that you are strengthened, fortified and made fit and ready to be a productive member of the Alliance instead of the burden and drain you all are at present.

"And, I should point out, if any of you feel you are having ideas, Captain Durla is outside this very building with an entire Imperial Legion, as well as three Inquisitors.

"You have been given your instructions. What comes from me, comes directly from the Alliance Council itself. Heed them. Defy them at your peril.

"This meeting is now over. I wish you all safe travel back to your estates, gentlemen."

With that, he left. Maybe now he would have time to do everything that had to be done.

* * *

Whispers from the Day of the Dead — VII

There had not been enough time. Not nearly enough time.

How could two people undo the mistakes of an entire lifetime in one night? How could a mere few hours' words make amends for decades of recrimination and anger and pride?

Oh, he had tried. Both of them had. But there had just not been enough time, and too many memories pulling at them both.

Kulomani, Captain of the Dark Star fleet, sat alone as the Day of the Dead ended, and looked up as the comet herald faded from the skies. It would not come again in his lifetime, he knew that. Nor his son's. He wondered what would have happened had he died at any time in the war now gone. Would he have come back to meet his son? Would his son even have come to talk to him?

And would they have made even half an effort to undo everything that had passed between them? Would they even try?

"Where are you now, I wonder?" he asked himself. They were still alive, his wife, his son. Perhaps his wife had remarried. Perhaps his son was already wed by now. Could he have grandchildren he knew nothing about? It was possible. It was very possible.

Would any of them welcome him back into their lives?

Would his pride even let him try?

"We chose our own paths," he said. "You did not understand mine, and I do not understand yours." Something his father had said from beyond the veil mere hours ago stayed with him.

"Why did you not want to follow me? Was a life of carving things of beauty really so terrible to you? Would you really have hated so much to follow in my footsteps?"

He had not been able to answer that. He had not been able to explain his decision to join the army all those years ago when he had left home. How could he do so now?

"We choose our own paths," he said again.

"And only now do we realise where they've taken us," said an unfamiliar voice. Kulomani turned to see an elderly Centauri in a military uniform sit down beside him. The length of his hair indicated he was of high rank. The Centauri sighed. "Only now, at the end of our lives, can we see the choices we have made."

Kulomani nodded silently.

"Whom did you wish to see?" the Centauri asked. "Parent? Child? Friend?"

"My father."

"Did you say everything you wished to say?"

"No. How could we, with only one night? I have been waiting for this day for so long, and now it has come and gone I feel so…. hollow. I have had my greatest chance for acceptance, and it has passed me by. And you? Who did you see?"

"I came to see my daughter, but…. I saw an old friend instead. I think I saw the person I most needed to see, not whom I most wanted to see."

"Some have said that is the way of it. We…. understand how this night works a little. It is not something that makes sense to aliens, but most of us are able to choose whom we speak to. Yet somehow it is the strangers, the visitors, the guests, who emerge from it with the most fulfilment and understanding, while we, who are raised with the knowledge of this night, remain lost."

Kulomani stared out into the rising daylight for a while, and then said softly. "You are Marrago, are you not? The former Lord-General of the Centauri?"

"I am."

"I understand your Government has placed a price on your head."

"They have. Are you going to try to claim it?"

"No. I am a soldier, not a bounty hunter, and one old soldier can respect the decisions of another, even if we are on different sides."

"Yes, we are on different sides, but which of us is on the right one? Are you happy with the way things are?"

"Happy? I do not think I know. The war is over. That is good."

"And how long until another one begins?"

"That is not something I want to think about."

"It's coming, though. You can't deny that."

"No. I have felt something stirring, an undercurrent of…. pain and fear and anger. Soon it will all break free on the surface, and then….

"And then…."

He paused. "I think you had better tell me everything."

* * *

Sheridan immediately took a step back, the trance that had gripped him as he had walked the dead corridors at an end. His PPG seemed to fly into his hand and he pointed it directly at Sinoval.

But the Minbari was faster still. Stormbringer flowed in his hands like water, like an extension of his self. One thrust and the gun was knocked from Sheridan's hands.

"I did not come here to fight," Sinoval said simply.

"You could have fooled me," Sheridan replied. "You look like you were expecting one."

"A wise man prepares for every eventuality, is that not so? I did not think you would welcome me kindly, Sheridan."

"You thought right. The Alliance wants you brought in for a war crimes tribunal."

"Oh? And what war crimes have I committed exactly? I made no bargains with the Shadows. At best, you could say I treated with one who was working with them, but that was outwith my knowledge, and she is long dead."

"You are plotting sedition and rebellion against the Alliance."

"How can it be rebellion? I was never sworn to the Alliance, and I never will be. The Federation joined only after I departed, remember. If you mean I am assembling forces to bring you down, then yes, I admit it. But if I am going that far, then I expect the same honesty from you, Sheridan.

"Who rules the Alliance?"

"We all do."

"And still you delude yourself. I saw the truth in you in that Council Chamber over two years ago, and I still see it now. They rule you. They rule all of you, and you just do not see it at all. Who wants me arrested, Sheridan? Who orders the Inquisitors? Ironic, isn't it? They hide in the shadows and make you all dance to their tune."

"The Vorlons aren't our enemies."

"The Vorlons are destroying you all, and you are too blind to see it! Look, Sheridan! Open your eyes and look around and think for one moment! Is this why the Alliance was created? Did any of you have the Inquisitors in mind then? Look at what is happening to the Centauri. Is that what you had in mind? Look at what happened to the Drazi.

"Did you envisage any of this at the beginning? Secret police. Martial law. Civil war, even.

"Can you truly tell me you wanted these things at the beginning?"

"It's not that simple, and you know it. We have to make sure the Shadows don't come back. We have to make sure this peace is eternal, not just for a few years, or even for a thousand."

"And your methods…. these will bring war in months. All you have done is build a paper house around foolish dreams. You remember the war, as you should, but you think anything is preferable to that. What matter if we have lost our freedom? What matter if we weaken and shatter and destroy one of our oldest allies? What matter if we are angry and hungry and lost?

"What matter any of those things? After all, we have our peace, don't we? Our precious peace!

"Tell me this, Sheridan.

"Just what kind of peace have you bought us?"

"Listen to me, you worthless hypocrite, before you start coming over all noble and concerned! A champion of the poor and downtrodden?

"How dare you? I've been at war for eighteen years solid! Eighteen years! It's cost me my friends, my wife, my parents, my sister, my daughter, my son…. It's cost all those things and more, to God alone knows how many people!

"Fine, what we have isn't perfect. Nothing ever is this side of the grave, but it's better than the alternative!

"And I think we should look at your motives here just a little. You're a warrior, remember. You're bred to kill. That's all you know. What does it matter whom you kill, hmm? As long as you have someone to fight, then good on you and get on with it, and to hell with anyone who gets in the way.

"War does no good for anyone. Talk to the people of Kazomi Seven and Proxima Three who can now look up at the skies without fear. Talk to the parents who can watch their children grow up without fear. Talk to the children who can look at a future where they don't have to be afraid."

Sinoval smiled. "Ah, Sheridan. What makes you think I haven't? And as for you, talk to the Drazi. Talk to the Centauri. Talk to those who have lost sons and daughters and wives and husbands to your Inquisitors. No fear? They are more afraid now than they ever were before."

"Don't lie to me. The Inquisitors look for Shadow agents. The innocent have nothing to fear from them."

"And who defines who is innocent, Sheridan? The Inquisitors themselves, of course. Whom do they serve? To whom do they answer?"

"The Council, of course."

"You are a blind man, Sheridan. Whom does the Alliance serve? All of your noble ideals of peace and justice and an end to war. Yes, I was a warrior, and yes, I was bred to kill. But all that means is that I look at peace with a suspicious eye. And this peace in particular is shaking at the foundations.

"Look at them, Sheridan. Just open your eyes and look. Ask yourself this question, and see if you like the answer.

"Whom do you serve?"

"I serve peace."

"You're as much of a warrior as I am. More, perhaps. You didn't have the training I did. You learned it all as you went along. There's no more place for you in a world of genuine peace than there is for me. Why do you need the Dark Stars if you have peace? Why the fleets, the defence grids? Why your new and precious Babylon Five?

"Whom do you serve, Sheridan? It is not peace."

"The people of the Alliance."

"Which people? The Drazi, perhaps? Vizhak was with you from the start, and where is he now? Go to Zhabar one day and look around. Or perhaps the Centauri? Speak to them of the wonders of peace sometime.

"Or better yet, wait a few months. Wait until the Inquisitors arrive in force on your beloved Proxima. Then go and speak to the people there and talk of peace.

"Whom do you serve, Sheridan?"

Sheridan suddenly laughed. "Is that your question, then? What did the Shadows ask — 'What do you want?' That's how they tempted me, and so many others. 'Whom do you serve?' doesn't have quite the same ring to it."

"Then I'll try another question. Who are you? Do you even recognise the face in the mirror any longer?"

"Do you?" Sheridan snapped. "Enough of the questioning of me. Look at yourself. You've changed since the last time I saw you. All those Soul Hunters, all that death, they've unhinged you. Who are you these days, Sinoval? Whom do you serve?"

"Ah." Sinoval threw back his head and spread his arms wide. Behind him countless little lights began to emerge, and a chorus of voices rose as one. Tiny stars began to sparkle beneath his skin.

"That question, I think I can answer," he said, his voice sounding like many mixed into one. "You see, Sheridan. We are not so different after all."

Sheridan's eyes began to glow bright gold, and memory left him.

* * *

He walked in her footsteps, stepped into her shadow, trod where she trod, moved as she moved. He knew nothing else other than that he had to follow her, had to find out what she was doing here, if she was even real and not another illusion like those he had seen before he had come here.

The woman whom he was sure was Susan Ivanova walked slowly and stealthily through the darkened streets of Yedor. The man who now remembered himself to be David Corwin followed her, unsure of where they were going, but knowing that there was nowhere else.

He had been sure she was dead. She had been gone for years. Ambassador Sheridan had taken her from Kazomi 7 to Z'ha'dum during the failed peace talks, and that had been the last any of them had heard of her. She had been comatose then, delirious and unconscious. Corwin was sure she must have died, but he had paid her no special heed. She had merely become one of the countless ghosts haunting him.

Until now. That slight glimpse in the half-light of the Temple of Varenni had reawakened all the old memories, all the old emotions. Stolen kisses in the moonlight of Orion, long walks though the parks, saddened conversations about friends and family dead, eating breakfast in bed the day before she left on the Babylon 2 mission.

And then her return, twisted, changed. A Shadow agent. It had taken him a long time to adjust to what she had become, but time and memories and loves changed. There had been Mary, and all the concerns about John, and Delenn and the war.

Always the war.

He continued walking, paying no attention to where she was going. He had no idea whom she had been talking to, no idea why she had been talking to a warrior, no idea of anything at all.

He turned a corner and stopped, looking around. There was no sign of her. He took a step back and looked around again. Still nothing.

Where could she have gone? She had not been that far ahead of him. There was nowhere here to hide.

Maybe she had not walked down this street after all. He turned to retrace his steps, and as he did so a sharp blow struck his midriff and then another his back. He fell.

Looking up at the sky through dimmed eyes, he saw a fighting pike held several feet above his head. It looked a little smaller than those he had seen before, but maybe that was just his blurred vision.

There was a flicker of movement and a long, sharp metal blade shot out from the end of the pike. It came to a stop less than an inch from his neck. It glistened razor-sharp in the moonlight, and colours seemed to shimmer as the light touched it.

"Who are you?" said a voice in perfect Fik, the warrior caste dialect. "Why are you following me?"

He did speak Fik, although his knowledge was largely limited to phrases necessary for use in war — understanding overheard enemy communications, interrogating captured warriors and the like. In his puzzled state it took him a while to translate, and it took him a little longer to recognise who was speaking to him.

Susan.

The absurdity of this ran him through to the core. She was carrying a weapon he had never seen before, but which looked a little like a fighting pike. She was speaking fluent Fik, without any trace of an accent. And she had just attacked him.

He did not know what to say in reply, what to say that would make any sense at all.

"Answer me," she continued. "Who are…?" Her eyes widened and the pattern of scars across her face danced. "David!

"What are you doing here?"

"I was about to ask you the same question," he replied, and then for no reason he could explain, he started laughing.

* * *

Talia could hear all their thoughts at the back of her mind, countless emotions, countless feelings. There was fear, there was concern, there was frantic planning. The crew of this ship, smugglers and criminals all, reacted in different ways to this new arrival, and all their thoughts were laid open to her, placed there for her to read.

The captain knew enough to prepare his papers and his cover story. The second as well. Many of the crew were old hands at avoiding detection. A few newcomers were worried, some even terrified.

But all of them knew one thing, one fact that had not slipped past Talia, and that knowledge added a hint of fear to every one of them.

They were not merely being intercepted by a local ship, not stopped at a border point, not facing down corrupt officials who could be bribed or bargained with.

This was a Dark Star.

Even here, Talia could hear the voice of the telepath trapped within the Dark Star. She did not know his name, it was doubtful he knew it himself any more, but she could hear his screams. They were loud. So very loud.

The smugglers were preparing to be boarded. There was nothing else they could do, after all. Flight from a Dark Star was impossible, fight suicidal. They would prepare their cover stories and hope for the best, but Talia knew their hopes were futile. This was a Dark Star. They would find the contraband, the drugs, the stolen goods.

And they would find her.

Breathing out slowly, she reached out with her mind, mentally prepared for the onslaught that would follow. The screams that came rushing at her when she lowered her blocks threw her back. Her head struck the wall behind her and she felt a dampness in her hair.

A voice…. who are you help me you must help me where am I who am I you must help me are you trapped here who are you are you real where do you come from why can I hear you there are so many here help us help us all you must help us you must get a message out someone will help us it hurts here it hurts so much I don't know who I am I don't know who are you who am I….

The thoughts did not stop. They rushed out in a torrent of fear and anger and desperation. Talia ignored the throbbing pain at the back of her skull and concentrated, fighting to winnow down the terror, to find the core personality within.

My name is Talia Winters, she said. Who are you?

I don't know I don't know are you alive are you real are you free please talk to me please are you there

I am here. Yes, I am real. I am free.

Oh thank God thank God thank God you are real help me get me out of here help me please

I am trying to. I will free all of you. Every last one.

Please help us out of here please I can hear them all screaming all they ever do is scream until the light comes and then there's nothing until the screams come back help us

There is someone who can help us. I need to get to him. If your crew board this ship they will find me.

Crew who are they I know of no crew…. oh, the ants, are they ants I think I can feel things moving around inside me some of them speak sometimes are they speaking to me who am I

If you let them board this ship they will find me. Please, stop them.

I can't I'm scared I do what the light tells me to I just do what the light tells me to

Where is the light now?

I don't know not here it passes through us all I hear them screaming as it reaches them and then they stop oh they stop and silence is terrible

Then do not let the crew on board, if you can. Please.

I don't know how I just do as the light says

The light is your enemy.

The light is…. What is the light?

The light is your enemy. Fight it.

How?

Remember your name.

I don't know it. Who am I?

Remember something. Anything. Your childhood, your first love, your first kiss, your parents, siblings, anything. Remember something.

Blue. A colour. Blue is a colour.

Yes, it is.

There was a…. a blanket. It was blue. I was safe there, beneath it. There were…. things outside there. Things in the darkness waiting for me, but the blue…. it kept them away. I couldn't hear them under the blue.

Yes. Remember that. The blue kept you safe.

It did. It kept me safe.

Then there is blue all around you. The light cannot get through the blue. Nothing can.

But…. the light….

You are safe when the blue is there.

Yes. I was safe.

Then create the blue. Place it around you, and you will be safe.

Yes. Yes! The blue is here. I can see it. They can't…. they can't get me here.

Then you're safe. Please, stop your crew boarding us.

I can do that. There. We cannot move any more. I'm safe.

Talia did not need to confirm what he had said. Here, especially here, she could scan the thoughts of those around her. The smugglers were puzzled, but with a surge of optimism. The captain was ordering the tech to re-check the instruments. The results were the same.

Thank you, she said.

I am safe. The blue is here.

Yes, you are safe. Do you know your name?

I…. No. No…. who am I?

You will remember in time. Keep the blue there.

Yes. The blue is here. It keeps me safe.

Do you know my name?

You…. you are an angel. Talia! That is your name. You are Talia. You have a name. You are Talia.

Yes, I am Talia.

Where are you?

Everywhere. Don't worry. You can talk to me whenever you want. Tell me when you remember your name.

Yes, I will. I will tell you when I remember. I am safe here.

The ship was moving away quickly, as quickly as they could muster. The smugglers, it seemed, were not about to turn their backs on this unexpected good fortune. The crew of the Dark Star was frantically trying to correct their ship, which had seemingly failed on them.

I am safe.

As they left, Talia listened for over an hour to the telepath's wonder at his newfound freedom. She did not have the heart to contemplate the consequences when the Vorlons learned what had happened.

For a moment, however short, he had felt safe. That was as much as anyone could ask for.

And once she got to Proxima, she hoped she would be able to make all of them safe. Every last one of them.

* * *

You've come back to me then, brother.

Dexter looked at the thing before him again, trying to hold back the wave of revulsion that swept through him. Its…. otherness seemed more apparent now, as if it were losing any grasp of what made it seem even slightly human.

"Don't call me that," he hissed.

It is what we are. Brothers. We are both blessed or cursed with this talent, but more than that. We have the ambition, the drive, the determination to do what must be done. All you have to do is open your eyes and you will see that. We are very much alike.

"We're nothing alike."

I can hear you like this, you realise.

"I know. I'm talking to you like this."

You do not like me, do you brother? Whyever not?

"Who did you used to be? Before this was done to you?"

Does it matter?

"Humour me."

I do not remember. It is not important. I would have been a nobody, a nothing, lost and alone and unimportant. Why do you ask?

"You don't understand, do you? That's why I can't stand you. You look like us, but that's it. You're dead inside. You're something animating a human, something that moves like a human and looks like a human and even talks a little like a human, but you aren't. You're nothing like a human."

No, brother. I am better than that.

"You're nothing at all."

Then why come back to me, brother? Why not remain in your apartment, drinking and staring at the ceiling? Why not remain there dreaming of her? If you hate me so much, why come back to me? It still bothers you, doesn't it? What you did to her.

"Stop that! It's nothing to do with you."

Your thoughts are quite plain, brother. There are two women in your mind, each one fighting for your heart. The first is…. human. Pretty, isn't she? I remember liking blonde women once, when such things actually mattered to me. As for the other, we both know who she is, and what you did to her. Every night, brother. Every night you dream about her dying, and about your hand on the trigger.

"Stop that!"

Come with us. Join us. There's no guilt here. You won't even remember her. And as for the other, she'll be a part of us too. Once we capture her — and we will, brother. Believe us in that. Once we have her she will be a part of us as well, and you will be with her always.

"Stop it!"

You will be with all of us always.

"Stop it! Listen to me, you monster. I've been to see someone. I think you know who."

So, when will I be free of this cell then, brother? There are things for me to do.

"You won't be. Ever. He wanted you released, but that isn't going to happen. You're going to be put on trial for assault, and you and all those like you are going to be dragged out into the light."

Ah. You will not reconsider, brother? Not at all?

"No."

A shame. Well, then. We will meet again, brother, I trust. I hope you understand a little better then.

"What do you…? No!" But it was too late.

The thing started to collapse around him, the edges of its image blurring and then fading, the features of its face melting, running into one and then leaving nothing but a smooth, hairless, featureless orb. Even that began to crumble inwards.

The disintegration could not have taken more than fifteen seconds, but it seemed far longer to Dexter as he watched it helplessly, staring in utter silence as the figure collapsed, until finally nothing remained.

Save for a voice in his mind.

We will meet again, brother. For now…. goodbye.

He stumbled to the corner of the room, and then fled. The voice was still speaking to him, echoing from the corners of his mind. It was still there when he left the building, still there when, for the second time that night, he tried to fall asleep into blissful oblivion.

* * *

There were a million voices, speaking as one, but on a million different subjects. There were a million sets of eyes, seeing the same things, but with different understanding. There were a million different races, each with dreams and goals and hopes and memories of its own.

There were a million souls, all fused into one essence, the amalgamation of an elder race's folly and arrogance and hubris.

They were the Well of Souls, and as their very essence infused Sinoval, he felt ready to confront the Vorlon essence that spoke through Sheridan.

This had been the reason for this meeting. He had always planned to talk with Sheridan, but he had not truly expected his words to be heard. No, he had wanted to speak with the Vorlons, to speak with those who now truly ruled the galaxy.

He had known the Vorlons would take an interest in the movements of the First Ones. They had been watching the elder races for millennia, a careful and wary eye on those whose power and age and wisdom matched their own. They would know when the First Ones began to move, and soon enough they would know who was calling them.

After all, why else would Sinoval choose to meet with emissaries of the First Races here? Golgotha was hidden, yes, abandoned in the depths of hyperspace where few could come, but a place that the elder races could navigate with ease.

But more than that, this place carried history, carried mythology, carried a legacy.

And it carried countless ghosts and spirits. A reminder of what it was they faced.

Sinoval wanted them all to remember.

And he wanted the Vorlons to know he was not afraid of them.

<This place is forbidden,> spoke the voices through Sheridan's mouth. Sinoval smiled wryly, certain he was addressing the Vorlon Lights Cardinal themselves.

Which is why it was chosen, replied Sinoval, channelling the power of the Well of Souls through himself. He was the Primarch Majestus et Conclavus after all, the focus of the power of the Well of Souls. He was their voice, their will, their personification made flesh. Some things will no longer be forbidden. Some secrets will no longer be hidden.

<We will find you. You cannot hide from us forever.>

We do not intend to. And you are welcome to try to find us. We will return when we are ready.

<We have won. The galaxy is ours now. Order is everywhere. Within a century, there will be no memory that anything else ever existed.>

You have not won yet, not while there is opposition to you, not while it yet grows and prospers. With every day that passes, another will take up arms against you, and then another.

<We will destroy them all. All who defy us will die.>

Then in the end you will rule a galaxy only of the dead, and the dead are ours.

<No, for we will destroy you as well.>

We are eternal. We are what lives on beyond the prison of flesh. We are what endures. We are everything you are trying to take from them, and we will not permit that.

<You are forbidden to interfere. Have you not already done enough here, in this plane?>

Some things will no longer be forbidden. We have remained silent and hidden for too long. We chose to emerge now, when our prophet arose. You could not destroy him, the Lords of Chaos could not shape him. He belongs to us, now and for eternity. He would always have been ours. Even had you succeeded, he would have been reborn in a thousand centuries and he would be ours once more.

<The future will be as we shape it. We are everything. We are order. We are stability.>

You are nothing. You will destroy what you set out to preserve. The Lords of Chaos saw this. Why do you not see it?

<We are the salvation. We are the glory and the light.>

We leave this place to you. Think on what you have found here, then and now. We will gather the Others in another place.

<They will not follow you.>

They will not follow you. Think of this place, Lords of the Cold and the Ice and the Death of Spirit. Think on this place, and remember why you are doomed to defeat.

The folds of time and space opened. The Vorlons, who could see this as well as anyone, could only howl in fury as Sinoval faded from the place of the dead. Bound by this prison of useless flesh, they could not follow, not in this form, and to bring themselves forth fully would destroy it.

For one instant they thought of doing precisely that, of tearing apart this sack of flesh and bones and manifesting completely, of opening a gateway and allowing their true forms to follow through to the Well of Souls.

But then reason prevailed. Cold and crisp. Precise and methodical. They needed this bag of bones. They needed it alive. It was, for the time being, useful. Far too useful to change and twist as the Well had evidently twisted their agent.

Besides, they were the masters of the galaxy. They owned the future. They could see its eddies, its whirls and twists and surprises. They would confront the Well of Souls again one day.

They had time, all the time in the galaxy.

When Sheridan awoke, they were all gone. Sinoval, the Vorlons, all of them. He awoke alone in an ancient place of death.

Alone, save for the ghosts.

* * *

Whispers from the Day of the Dead — VIII

It was over. The Day of the Dead had come and gone, and there seemed to be a vast…. emptiness over Brakir. People who had been waiting for years for this day now did not know what to do with their lives. They railed at lost chances, broken dreams.

One such walked slowly through the deadened streets. Last night Marrago had looked closely at all the people here, and he looked even more closely now, this morning. Some were happy, joyous, but most were depressed, weary, tired even. Kulomani had by no means been unusual.

But he had at least had a chance Marrago had not. There had been no Lyndisty to talk to, to tell one last time how much he loved her, how proud he was of her.

"A fascinating night," came a slow, mildly interested voice. Marrago turned and saw a familiar figure standing in the shadows of an alley. He had not been there before, Marrago knew he would have noticed, but then there was no surprise there. "I can still see the flickers of light and shadow. Old ghosts. They walk by moonlight and comet light. To some they speak, to others they are dumb."

"I can't say I'm surprised to find you here," Marrago replied. "This is the sort of place where you would fit in perfectly."

"Professional curiosity only, I assure you. There is no one dead that I wish to talk to."

"So, did you find out how it worked? Just how the spirits came back to us? Were they even real, or just some sort of illusion?"

"Oh, there were a few unusual effects I spotted, but I haven't worked out how everything happened. Leaving aside the problem of not having the time, I don't want to spoil the magic. Let the universe keep a few precious mysteries.

"And as for the reality…. did it feel real?"

"Yes…. yes, it did."

"Then it was. Did you find who you were looking for?"

"No, but perhaps I found the person I needed to see. How is that…. private project of yours going, then? The one you won't tell me about."

"It is proceeding nicely. I have found a little…. base of operations for it. Something of a rallying point, you could say. What about you? Is my army ready?"

"Not in this amount of time. I have a small nucleus, a couple of very promising under-officers. I've been making deals here and there. There's a Thrakallan crime lord who owes me a favour now."

"Any solid plans for the future, then?"

"I've been hearing, just here and there, that a group is forming. A couple of former captains, mercenaries, outlaws, that sort of thing. They always emerge after a war, and the bigger the war the more of them there are. They're going to cause a bit of havoc and chaos for a while, and then the Alliance is going to stamp on them and put them out of business."

"I assume you have other intentions."

"Exactly. With a bit of work I reckon I could take them over in a few months. There aren't many people with my standards of leadership and combat experience floating around. I'll join up, size up their strengths and weaknesses, forge them into some sort of order, and before they know it I'll be their leader."

"You think it will work?"

"I've seen groups like that before. Mercenaries just want to be paid for fighting, and in this sort of galactic peace there's no use for them. I can find a use for them. As for the others…. I will see when I get there. Some may be amenable. Some will have to be dealt with."

"Very well. I trust you. Just gather and train my army. That's all I ask."

"That's enough of a task for most people, but I'll do my best. I might have made a new ally today, actually. Do you know Captain Kulomani? Brakiri. Dark Star captain. It turns out he's not very happy with the way some of the Alliance policy is going. I gave him a few things to think about. When things start falling apart among the Alliance — and they will — he might be willing to join up with us."

"I leave it to your discretion."

"I told you. I'll get you as much of an army as I can. Just remember your part of the bargain. I want that name."

"I have not forgotten. It will take time, but I have not forgotten."

"Good."

"There is one more thing. These…. outlaws. If you do join them, what if they begin to raid Centauri shipping, even attack Centauri worlds? Would you really attack your own people?"

"I've thought about that. A lot. But…. what can I do? The raids and the attacks will happen anyway. If I join, then…. eventually I hope to be able to change that.

"But I will do what I have to. If I must kill my people, even my friends, then I will. That is a soldier's job, after all. To kill."

"And if among one of those victims you have to kill, you see your daughter's eyes, what then?"

Marrago shivered. "I don't know. Some days, my friend, I am glad I do not have to think the way you do."

"I do what must be done. I have given up a great deal to be where I am now, and I will doubtless give up a great deal more."

"Then so will I. If I must kill my daughter again then….

"So be it."

* * *

She was awake now, awake and moving. Marrago returned to his room, fresh from his encounter with Moreil and his twisted monsters, to find Senna looking through the pitifully few belongings he had with him.

"What are you doing?" he asked softly.

She turned, jumping in shock, and looked at him. For a moment she might have been about to cry, or scream, or attack him. A series of emotions chased each other across her face, but they soon settled.

"Looking for something to wear," she replied calmly, keeping her eyes on his, looking at him warily, half transfixed by his stare, half ready to run and flee at the slightest cause. She gestured down at the rags of her dress. "Unless you were planning on leaving me in this. If you were going to allow me clothes at all. Would you prefer me naked, lying on your bed, awaiting your pleasure?"

"Stop that!" he shouted, and she recoiled as if struck. He could not explain it. Staring down Moreil and those guardians of his he had been calm, perfectly at peace, ready to move into battle at the slightest motion. But here, with her, he could not think straight. Nothing made sense. It was just the thought of Lyndisty saying those things, of hearing her say them to him.

She was shaking, but still she looked at him. "Do…. do you have anything for me to wear?" she whispered. "This…. this will fall apart before long. I didn't see anything, but…."

"I didn't bring much with me."

"I noticed," she replied, still looking at him.

"Perhaps a spare jacket can be re-made into some sort of dress," he said. She was quite a bit shorter than he was, and one of his jackets might do as a dress in a pinch. "There is sewing equipment there somewhere. I will do what I can when I have time."

"I can sew."

He looked at her. "How does the daughter of a noble house know how to sew?"

"I watched the servants. A needle looked a lot like a sword and I used to…. pretend I was a soldier. That is why I learned. At…. At Gorash, I survived by doing sewing work and repairs. It was…. better than the other way."

He nodded. "You pretended to be a soldier."

"I wanted to be a soldier. I wanted to be…. strong."

"You think the life of a soldier means you become strong?"

"Don't you? I thought that…. the training, the battles. If I'd been…. stronger, I'd have…. got away from that…. man…. myself. You are…. strong."

"Yes, I am. I have been a soldier all my life. I am strong, but I am also lucky. I have known better soldiers than me. Much better. They're all dead now. Strength isn't everything."

"But if I just knew how to fight, then…."

"I taught Lyndisty how to fight. I taught her how to use a kutari, a maurestii, her bare hands, countless other weapons. She was fast, she was clever, she was a better fighter than I ever was, or ever will be, and she is dead."

"I'm sorry," Senna whispered. "But I am not her."

"No," he replied curtly. "And you never will be. If you wish to sew the jacket yourself, feel free. There is a red one over there. I do not know what the colour will do for you, but it is the lightest jacket I have, and the fabric is not too rough. It should…. do. For the moment."

"There was something else as well," she said. "I…. I found this." She held out something to him, and his eyes narrowed. He moved forward and snatched it from her hands. It was a locket, made of fine gold.

"Don't touch that," he snapped. "Don't ever touch that again!"

"I'm sorry," she breathed. Her eyes were wide, and her face very pale. "I didn't mean to…." Then she straightened. "Are you going to hit me?" she snapped. All trace of fear seemed to have vanished from her face. "If you are, then do it."

"I'm not going to hit you," he replied, angry and confused and upset. "I have to go and train."

"I tried to leave," she said quickly, moving forward to catch him as he made for the door. "The Drazi wouldn't let me. All I wanted to do was watch them train. Take me with you….

"Please."

"No," he replied. "If you feel you are capable of it, try to take in that jacket for a dress. Or feel free to read. There are some books in that box there. Or go to sleep and rest.

"But you will not be allowed to leave here."

"Why not?" she hissed. "If that…. man comes looking for me, then…. All he can do is kill me, and I'm not afraid of that…. I'm not," she added, choking.

"By the Emperor," he sighed. "You are a fool, girl. He has already killed you. You just have not realised that yet."

She took a step back, and then another one, and then she collapsed on to the bed, sobbing into it. For a moment he made to turn back to her, but then he stopped.

She was not Lyndisty. His daughter was dead, and he would never see her again, not unless Sinoval chose to grant him some of that immortality of his, and he was present at the next Day of the Dead.

She was not Lyndisty. She never would be. She was a…. He paused. He did not know what she was. She was still crying.

He left for his training session.

* * *

"A nice view."

"It is, isn't it?"

Susan sighed. It was a sound David had heard several times during the period they had been together. It was a sound of utmost exasperation, verging on disgust at his incredible idealism and naivet? a sound born of her deep-rooted cynicism.

"I was being sarcastic," she replied, tiredly.

"I know. I wasn't."

He looked down on the view before them, at the lake below the hill. Once it must have been beautiful, a breathtaking sight. He had heard some of the older workers talking about the light from the rising sun shining across the water. Each drop seemed to light up one by one, a miniature candle rising into the heavens.

But now…. now the sky was thick and heavy, and what sunlight there was was muted and grey. The water was saturated with silt and mud. It was dull brown, a viscous sludge rather than a torrent.

It was a sign, a reminder always to beware of the consequences of every action you ever took. David came here often.

"What do they call this place anyway?"

"The hill is called Turon'val'na lenn-veni," he said. "I don't know what the lake is called. The name means…."

"The Place Where Valen Waits," Susan finished. "What was he waiting for, do you think?"

"I don't know. I suppose I could ask someone."

"You could."

There was a pause.

A long pause.

It grew longer.

….

And longer.

"So," Susan said at last.

"So," David replied.

"You never answered my question," Susan said. "What are you doing here? This is the last place I'd ever have expected to find you."

"I live here now. I came here to…. work, I suppose. To rebuild, to…. make right a few things. I did…. a lot of things I hated during the war. I did this, Susan. Me, or people like me. I suppose helping to rebuild it is partly a gesture towards undoing all the things I did then. Does that make any sense to you?"

"No, but then I didn't expect your answer to make any sense. This wasn't your fault, you know."

"Yes it was. I could have done more to prevent it. I could have done…. something."

She sighed again, and shook her head. "I swear I really do not understand you sometimes. If I ever did."

"If we are talking about things not making any sense, what are you doing here? I thought you were dead, or…. gone or something. The last I heard you'd been taken back to Z'ha'dum during the peace treaty talks. And then…. nothing. What have you been doing?"

"Sleeping. That's not a metaphor, by the way. I must have slept almost a whole year. I spoke the entire time."

"I remember you talking in your sleep, Susan. You kept me awake half the night."

"Oh, come now. That wasn't just me talking. No, I…. I needed to clear my mind about a lot of things. There was someone there to talk to me, to explain a few things. I slept to heal my body, and I spoke to heal my mind."

"Who were you talking to?"

"It's…. I really can't explain. If you haven't seen him, then…. I'm sorry, David. I can't tell you. I really can't."

He sat up straight, tensing. "So why are you here? Who was that you were talking to in the temple?"

"I can't tell you, David. Please don't make me."

"You're working for the Shadows, aren't you? Still. After everything they've done to you, you're still working for them. It's over, Susan, the war's…."

"No! David, listen to me. I'm not working for the Shadows. They've gone. I'm not working for them. I was a lot younger the first time I met them. I was scared, and…. I felt so alone. But now…. I feel a lot stronger now. I know what I'm doing, and why. Trust me, David. This is right."

"Sinoval," he said suddenly. "You're working for him, aren't you?"

"I can't say anything more."

"Susan, he's dangerous. He'll get you killed. He's…."

"No one is going to get me killed. Sinoval is…. difficult, yes. And driven, and more than a little frightening at times, but he's a good friend."

"A friend? Him?"

"David, he has more power than any of us can understand. He's set himself on this quest of his for his own reasons. He has the potential to be the biggest tyrant and the most dangerous threat this galaxy has ever known. Can you think of a person more in need of friends?"

"But…. I'm sorry. I just don't know what to think of all this. I don't see you for so long, and then…."

"Thank you, David."

"What for?"

"You don't remember, do you? You spoke to me. You said that you would always be there for me. On Babylon Four."

"That was years ago. What, five, six years?"

"Not for me," she replied. Then she laughed. "Not for me. Take good care, David."

"What? Where are you going? You can't go!"

"I have to."

"You can't. Not now. Not when I've just found you again."

"I have to. I'm sorry, David." She rose and began to walk down the hill. He turned to face her.

"Susan, I…." He stopped. There was nothing to say. "I…." He collapsed to the ground, and simply lay there. He did not know for how long. He did not know how long he cried. He did not even know that one of his tears trickled down the hill where Valen waits, to join the muddy waters of the lake where once, a thousand years ago, he had waited for his one true love to return, the lake created, so some said, from his tears when she did not.

For a single instant, unnoticed by anyone, the light seemed to flicker across the waters, one still, pure, perfect moment of beauty. But it was only a moment, and then it was gone, with no one to see, or even to know it had existed.

* * *

Fear. It should not have been able to touch Morden. Not him. Not the man who had watched all those he loved die. Not the man who had died himself. Not the man who had pledged himself to the side of the Lords of Light.

But still, as he took those long, dark steps into the bowels of the earth deep beneath the Royal Palace, Morden felt fear.

He did not like this place. He had not liked it when he had been imprisoned here — twice — and he liked it even less now. The Inquisitors had taken over the dungeons for their own purposes. There were plenty of Shadow agents or spies or conspirators to be questioned and interrogated. Some were perfectly innocent of course, and were released. Some were not, and were not seen again.

Even those who had been freed were…. changed by the experience. Morden saw some of them from time to time, servants moving in the corridors of the palace, nobles meeting in the Court. Their eyes were always downcast, their voices hushed. They never laughed, never told jokes, never seemed to take pleasure in anything.

The Inquisitors were an evil, yes, but a necessary one. The Shadows had hidden for a thousand years after it had been thought they were defeated. Valen and his allies had stormed the gates of Z'ha'dum itself and put to flight all those they found there. Shadow worlds had been occupied, Shadow bases destroyed.

But still they had lived on, hiding, waiting. And those who followed them hid and waited also, moving in silence, keeping to their faith.

This time they had to be sure. There could be no room for doubt. None at all.

No, Morden did not like the Inquisitors. In an ideal world they would not be needed, but then this was very far from an ideal world.

But there was one even the Inquisitors feared. He held no rank — the Inquisitors did not seem to have ranks as such — but he was their leader, the one they all bowed to in acceptance. He had both age and experience, and a fanatical will. Something shone in his eyes…. not madness, not even zeal, but…. necessity.

Morden supposed he could have sent a courier or a servant to deliver this message, but he was the representative of the Vorlons. He was the liaison of the Inquisitors. He would do it himself.

He stopped at the door, the furthest, bottom-most one, naturally. Also the darkest, but strangely, the cleanest. There were no guards. What would be the point? Besides, there could have been Shadow agents amongst the guards anyway. Where better for them to hide?

He knocked at the door, firmly. He would not show this one his fear. There came a crisp, precisely accented, "Enter!" He opened the door and walked in.

"Mr. Morden," Sebastian said, not turning. "What manner of business brings you here?"

The Soul Hunter was hanging suspended by his wrists from a beam at the centre of the room. His eyes were closed, but the strange jewel in his forehead was glowing dully. Morden thought he saw his own reflection within it. Sebastian was not reflected there, obviously.

"We have found his ship," Morden replied. "It has not been boarded, as you ordered, and there are six guards on permanent duty. We have a further twenty-four in the surrounding area and access roads."

"Ah," Sebastian said. "Excellent. Double the number of guards. I will go and visit this ship shortly, but it must be done carefully. If the ship contains what I expect to find there, then we must be absolutely meticulous. Do you not agree?"

"Thoroughness is always important," Morden replied.

"Well said. I have need of a few more hours here, and then will visit this ship. Ensure no one, and I sincerely mean no one, enters the vessel. Anyone but myself who tries is to be executed instantly. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly."

"Good. Then go."

Morden bowed, and turned to leave. It took an awesome amount of willpower to resist the urge to sprint out of the room. In one last gesture of defiance he looked up at the Soul Hunter again. He had opened his eyes now, and there was a clear indication of fear there.

Shaking slightly, Morden left. No sounds came from that room. Not one.

* * *

Sometimes G'Kar felt he could just reach out his hand and touch the far side of the galaxy. He felt he could grasp stars in his hand and shut out suns with a thought. He could walk through time itself. There was no secret in creation that was not known to him, no mystery he could not unravel.

Waking came slowly, as always. This world and the next, the one of dream and memory, were growing nearer and nearer with every passing day. He could still hear the hum of the Great Machine in his mind, still regretted the passing of the power he had learned to wield so well.

He had always mistrusted those with power. The Centauri had had power over him and his people, and they had misused it. The Kha'Ri had power, and they used it to play their little games of intrigue and deception.

That, he supposed, was why he had sought power himself. His words had fired the hearts of his people. His speeches had spread thought and wonder wherever they were heard. He could have toppled continents with a word.

Who better to wield power than one who did not want it?

But now…. now he wanted it again. He dreamed of the Machine. He imagined he was there again, and all the years in between had been nothing but an illusion, a dream.

The war was over. The Shadows had gone. What place in this new galaxy for such as him? A leader of soldiers with no enemy to fight. A prophet of doom with no prophecies to utter.

He was not needed, and he knew it. He was not wanted. He was…. a difficulty, a problem.

An obstacle.

He brought his mind back to the discussion at hand. He was still a member of the Alliance Council after all. The number of meetings he attended was few these days, but this was important, and he had made an effort to be here.

Today they would finally choose a Commanding Officer for Babylon 5.

There had been a number of officers acting in that position during its construction and the early weeks. Some had acted with honour and dignity, others…. less so. But there was need for a permanent CO now, and there were a great many candidates. Each name was raised, and each name dismissed for one reason or another.

He ran the names through in his mind. Major Krantz, human, a capable enough officer, if uninspiring, but his ties to Bester still placed him under suspicion, even with Bester missing for all these years. G'Kar remembered his betrayal all too well.

Captain Tikopai, another human. She was competent and painstaking. She did not want the position, however. An underlying sense of cynicism and a daughter on Proxima 3 ensured that.

Carn Mollari, Centauri Lord-General. A fine leader, much admired by his soldiers, and of course highly connected in the byzantine corridors of the Centauri Government. But his race automatically excluded him from the position. The Kha'Ri would not stand for any Centauri in such a position, and nor would many of the other races.

Daro and Taan Churok and the other Drazi would all refuse the position, even in the unlikely event of them being offered it. G'Kar had heard tales of what was happening in the Drazi worlds since the Conflict. Any Drazi who took such a position within the Alliance would be an outcast at home.

The Kha'Ri, surprisingly enough, had not put forward any candidates. The statement given by G'Kael stated they did not feel they had any officers with appropriate experience. G'Kar, who could name at least three, was puzzled, but this was merely one more puzzle. The Kha'Ri had learned too much from the Centauri. Where once he would have understood their little games, and even controlled them to a certain extent, now he was reduced to merely standing by and watching.

Captain Corwin's name came up more than once. He was known to be the personal choice of General Sheridan, but he was not here. In fact no one knew where he was. He had not been seen in over a year. Some thought he was dead.

There were no Minbari candidates. The religious caste was too weak, the worker caste did not desire the role and the warrior caste was too much mistrusted. The spectres of the civil war and of Sinoval's disappearance hung heavy over them all. The Minbari had not even formally appointed an Ambassador here yet. They had always been a private people, and for all the Grey Council's words of opening up their worlds, they were still apart from the other races.

The Vorlons, naturally, said nothing, did nothing, and did not seem to care anyway.

The other races put forward candidates. Llort, Abbai, Vree, Hyach, but none of them had a representative with the appropriate experience, or desire, or the support necessary. This was a highly political appointment, very high-profile. In many ways this person would be the public face of the Alliance.

Delenn was too busy of course, as was Sheridan, as was every other member of this body, even G'Kar himself.

There was one name left, and after countless hours of argument it always came back to him. His lobby was powerful, and his Ambassador carried a great deal of weight. His experience during the Shadow War spoke volumes, and his loyalty was beyond doubt. He had governed Babylon 5 for a few months during the construction and had performed flawlessly.

It was in many ways an obvious choice, if he wanted the post. Which was perhaps why it had taken so long for a final decision to be made.

"Do you want this position?" Delenn asked him finally. There had been many hours of debate, but in the end the Alliance Council was agreed.

"No," Captain Kulomani replied. "I do not, but if there is no one else, if this is how I may best serve the Alliance, if this…. if this is my fate….

"Then so be it. Do you all wish me to command Babylon Five?

"Then very well. I will be your Commander. I will serve as best as I can."

"That is all we ask," Delenn said, smiling. "That is all we ask."

G'Kar flicked a glance at the silent Vorlon in the corner of the room, its bone-white encounter suit seeming to absorb all the light that passed near it. A faint glow came from its eye stalk.

The Vorlon seemed not unpleased with the choice.

G'Kar shivered. It was not cold.

* * *

He was quiet, unusually so, even for him. It was strange. He did not seem angry, he did not seem anything at all. He sat in silence in his chair and stared into nothing.

He did not blink once during the entire journey.

If anyone in his crew wondered why they were returning to Babylon 5 without having found what they were looking for, none of them asked. If anyone wondered at the ease with which they were moving through hyperspace, finding their path back to the beacons, no one mentioned it aloud.

If anyone noticed anything…. different about their captain, none of them said a thing.

They merely carried on with their duties, but they moved a little more quietly than usual, a little more carefully, a little more precisely. They spoke in hushed voices, casting the occasional fearful glance in his direction.

He was different, and not in any way they liked.

General John Sheridan did not seem to notice the fear in the eyes of his crew. He did not seem to notice anything at all. In fact, he spent the whole journey back to Babylon 5 staring at the bridge of his ship.

But there were a few, those who had known him longest, people like Ko'Dath and G'Dan, who would swear blind he was not staring at nothing. They thought, in some way they could not truly express, that he was looking at something.

Something none of them could see, and something none of them would probably want to.

But no one spoke about it.

Not a single word.

* * *

He could have been sleeping. He could have been resting quietly in his bed, enjoying the peace that comes with old age.

But he was not sleeping. This was not his bed.

And he was most definitely not at peace.

As she did every night, Timov walked into the room slowly and with perfect elegance. In one hand she was carrying a glass of jhala, in the other a glowing light globe.

As she did every night, Timov set the globe on the table beside her husband's bed. Next to it, she placed the glass of jhala. If he did not wake up tonight, one of the servants or medics would come and remove it in the morning, and doubtless drink it themselves.

As she did every night, Timov settled herself into the chair next to the bed and took his cold, cold hands in hers. She looked up at the clock on the far side of the room, not at the harsh machines keeping her husband's body alive.

And as she did every night, she spoke the three words, not to her husband, not to a servant or a guard or a doctor. Not even to herself. They were spoken to a man she hardly knew, had seldom talked to and had not seen in over a year.

As she did every night, she looked into the shadows at the corner of the room, hoping, almost praying that there would be the slightest sign of movement there, the faintest trace. She could not see him, but she knew from experience that that did not mean he was not there.

"Where are you?"

As it had been every night, there was no reply, no twitch of the shadows, no hint of motion, no sound of breath.

There was nothing.

And as she did every night, Timov sat forward in her chair, holding her husband's cold, cold hands, and looking into her husband's still, cold face, and she waited for him to wake up. It would not do for him to wake up to a lonely and empty room.

And as she did every morning, she turned and left the room, with her husband's motionless body still there, still alive, still trapped, still silent, still not showing the slightest indication that she had been there.

But as she did every morning, she walked from the room with pride and determination that belied her lack of sleep. She was Timov, daughter of Alghul, wife of Emperor Mollari II.

And she had work to do.

* * *

The apartment seemed darker than usual as he entered. There seemed to be things moving in the corners, just on the edge of his perception. As soon as he looked directly at them, they were still.

He dropped his coat casually on the chair, stepped over the pile of yesterday's newspapers on the floor, looked at the even larger pile of paperwork on the desk and sighed, going over to the commscreen.

"You have two audio messages," it said, and he activated them.

"Dexter," came the first. "It's Bethany. I was just wondering if you wanted to have dinner some time next week. I got a bottle of wine today and it'd be a shame to drink it alone. Let me know."

He sighed. That was not something he wanted to consider just now. He played the second message.

"Greetings, brother." He froze. It was the voice of the…. thing they had captured. That was impossible. He checked the time of the message, and his eyes widened. More than two hours after it had…. died, or dissolved, or committed suicide or whatever. He played the rest of the message.

"We cannot be got rid of so easily. Think on what we have said, brother. It will be so much easier if you join us of your own free will. We are the fortunate ones. There are many worse places to be.

"Think on it for a moment, brother. We will be watching you."

The message ended, and Dexter slowly looked around at the shadows of his room, one by one. "I don't scare that easily," he said, lying.

He went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of beer. Drinking it slowly and kicking off his shoes, he went over to the table and looked at the pile of paperwork there.

"Nope," he said. "A problem for another day." He set down the bottle and picked up the pack of playing cards hidden beneath the financial budget documents. There were all sorts of silly cards available these days, even ones with Sheridan as the King of Spades and Delenn as the Queen of Hearts and other nonsense. But these were simple, normal, traditional cards.

He began to shuffle them idly, cutting and reshuffling. "So," he said, to no one in particular. "Explain that dealer chip again?"

A handful of cards caught on his finger and fell to the table. Muttering angrily, he set down the rest of the pack and picked them up.

The King of Clubs. The King of Spades. The Eight of Clubs. The Eight of Spades.

"You have got to be kidding me," he said, as he picked up the fifth card.

The Jack of Diamonds.

Dead Man's Hand.

Sighing, he threw all the cards over his shoulder. He could pick them up tomorrow. Things would feel a little better tomorrow. He'd come up with a reply to Bethany's invitation, finish off his speech to the Senate on Section 31(3) of the Wartime Emergency Provisions, and not jump at things that weren't there.

Everything would be better tomorrow.

He went to bed.

* * *

He was surrounded by darkness and only darkness. He worked the forms as assiduously as he ever had when he was a student. He danced with unseen opponents, recognising their moves and countering them with his own. Stormbringer seemed to flow in his hands, as much a part of him as ever. He had heard legends of warriors whose blades changed to match them, becoming a part of their soul, even. Well, Stormbringer was a part of his soul. It had been forged as such — a mirror to the darkness within him.

"But less of a darkness now, hmm, brother?" Sinoval said. He stopped his dance, and inclined his head in a gesture of respect to his imaginary opponents. "You see, Sech Durhan," he said. "I have not forgotten your teachings."

He then sat down to meditate. He did not sleep any more, and it was surprising how much more time was available without the need for slumber. There were countless affairs that needed his attention, however, and all his time was still taken up twice over.

There was another lesson he had learned from Durhan all those years ago. Make time for rest. Make time for nothingness. Make time to clear thoughts and mind and remember in that time precisely who and what you are.

"I know who I am," he said to the darkness. "I know what I am. I am not afraid, not of myself, and not of my enemies." He breathed out slowly. He no longer needed to breathe these days either, but it was a refreshingly normal action.

He sensed her arrival a few moments before she entered. He had tried to warn her about entering his donjon, but naturally she did not listen. He was fortunate she had heeded his advice about not entering the Well of Souls itself.

"Hi honey. I'm home!"

"Susan," he said, creating light with a mere thought. "Enter."

She walked in, pulling back the hood of her grey robe and shaking out her long dark hair. "This will take ages to wash properly," she complained. "Still practising?"

"Meditating."

"Ah. I was interrupting again. Bad Susan."

"It does not matter. How did it go?"

She sat down cross-legged across from him. "You were right. Again. The Vorlons have been doing something there, and they still are. Officially there's just the one Ambassador in Yedor, but there are at least another three or four floating around. I spoke to someone who saw several in Tuzanor."

"The network?"

"Yes, that's there, but I don't think that was it. I couldn't really investigate any further without putting myself at risk, but there's something under Yedor. Damned if I know what, though."

"Were you in any danger?"

"No. Someone I knew recognised me. Not someone I thought I'd be seeing, believe me."

"Is this person a danger?"

"No. Definitely not. Take my word for it."

"I will. Very well, then. I will have to see if I can get a few others there to investigate. I dare not overplay my hand, but if the Vorlons are doing something to Minbar, I want to know what and why. Perhaps someone else, if you fear you would be recognised there again?"

"Feel free, and yes, I think I will be. This would be one of your many other agents I don't know about? And don't tell me that what I don't know won't get me killed. I've seen enough of war to know it's usually the exact opposite."

"What you do not know cannot be pulled from your mind by telepaths or the network."

"Ah. Good point. So, how was your mission?"

"It went…. as expected."

"How was John? Did you convince him? Or should you not be telling me this?"

"The Vorlons know everything that happened there. That was the point, after all. And no, he did not listen."

"What about the Vorlons themselves? Did they listen?"

"Of course not. Oh, they were…. shaken, although they hid it very well. They did not realise how much of their past I know about. The revelation that I knew about Golgotha was a surprise to them."

"Fine, you've shaken them up, but was it all worth it? They know what you are doing, they know not to underestimate you…."

"I would like to think they knew that anyway. They would find out about my summoning the First Ones sooner or later. Now they have found that out by my urging, at a time and place of my choosing. 'Choose your battlefield and make your enemy come to you.' They will now no doubt wonder what else I know about them, and they will act with caution, allowing me more time to do what must be done."

She shrugged. "As you like, but the whole thing sounded like a waste of time to me."

"Oh, I would not say that." Sinoval reached into a pocket of his robe and pulled out a small globe, filled with red mist and smoke. Clearly visible, trapped by the swirling fog and flashes of lightning was a human being. It was the exact image of General John Sheridan.

"No. I would not say that at all."

Гэрет Д. Уильямс

Часть 2. Истории Валена

Он пришел тысячу лет назад, минбарец рожденный не от минбарца. Он принес им победу и надежду, и он изменил их общество на десять столетий. Но кто он был? Кто были те, кто поддерживал его и те, кто его предал? Кто были те, кто любил его, и те, кто его ненавидел? И величайший вопрос из всех — куда он ушел, в тот памятный день когда он покинул этот мир? Пришло время того, чтобы на все вопросы было отвечено и более чем одна тайна была раскрыта…

Глава 1

Год 328 от Восхождения Шингена, первого и единственного Императора Минбара, пять лет до появления Валена.

Ашинагачи, Минбар.

Маррэйн прищурил темные глаза, глядя на сияющие белые башни Ашинагачи. Заходящее солнце и сумерки сделали белый мрамор стен огненно — алым. Алым, как огонь, что забрал Императора Шингена на этом самом месте. Алым, как кровь предков Маррэйна, что пролилась на землю.

Его подчиненные не смели беспокоить его здесь, в такой момент. Они все знали историю. Они все знали о его предках.

Более трех сотен лет назад предки Маррэйна склонились перед Шингеном у этих самых стен. Ашинагачи когда — то принадлежал Клинкам Ветра, до того как Шинген и его Огненные Крылья взяли город. Это была последняя битва в его восьмилетней кампании. В Ашинагачи держались против его непобедимой конницы дольше, чем где — либо, но в конце концов этого оказалось недостаточно. Не желая сдавать свой город захватчикам, предок Маррэйна бросился со стены, и его тело разбилось о землю.

Дед Маррэйна умер здесь же. Через две сотни и пятьдесят лет после смерти Шингена Клинки Ветра вновь испытали судьбу. И потерпели поражение.

Отец Маррэйна не увидел этих стен. Смертельно раненый в стычке на пути сюда, он предпочел повернуть обратно, нежели ввязаться в бой, который не мог выиграть.

Но сейчас сам Маррэйн пришел сюда. И он не проиграет. У него есть долг. Есть честь. Он прямо и честно служит своему лорду. Есть три сотни лет истории его предков, что будут направлять его.

И есть его собственное мастерство, его личный талант.

Уже в юном возрасте его называли одним из величайших тактиков его поколения, быть может величайшим со времен Шингена. Он сражался и выиграл в семнадцати поединках. Он вел флоты Клинков Ветра в битве против вторгнувшихся пришельцев, которых называли Тенями, у Икарры, и он был одним из Трех Сотен выживших в резне у Маркар'Арабар, где те самые Тени разбили гордость минбарского космического флота. Пятнадцать тысяч погибло там, и лишь тремстам удалось выжить.

Да, Маррэйн был признан как один из лучших тактиков своего поколения. И лишь одного полагали равным ему.

И Парлонн из Огненных Крыльев был за стенами Ашинагачи, планируя его оборону.

Порой, когда он закрывал глаза в медитации или во сне, Маррэйн заново видел Маркар'Арабар. Он видел движение Теней, видел как свет впитывался их пятнистой, черной кожей и пропадал навечно. Он чувствовал жару и вонь, слышал крики умирающих и торжествующий, страшный вопль кораблей Теней, проплывающих мимо.

То была последняя схватка с Тенями. Первые Воины собрались обсудить дальнейшие действия. И была сделка, оставившая гнев и чувство предательства. Маркабы и икарране просили помощи Минбара против могучего врага, нападавшего на их торговые пути и колонии. Кланы посылали свои флоты им на помощь, но почему они должны продолжать войну? Тени не атаковали миры Минбара. Они не трогали минбарских торговых трасс.

И так закончилась война — после двух битв и множества стычек. Здесь же разгорелась война куда большая — война между кланами. Война за честь, за долг, и за память.

Хантенн, Вождь Войны Клинков Ветра, совершил морр'дэчай после Маркар'Арабар. Он командовал объединенным флотом, и он нес ответственность за поражение. Он расплатился своей жизнью. Теперь его младший брат, Хантибан был вождем Клинков Ветра, и его не интересовали ни Тени, ни маркабы, ни икарранцы. У него была мечта и эта мечта была единственной.

Мечта Шингена.

Быть Императором.

И это значило — Ашинагачи. Именно его. Здесь был храм Шингена. Здесь он одержал победу, здесь он был коронован, и здесь он умер, вернувшись к этим сияющим стенам после ранения у Секигахары, где оставшиеся кланы, наконец, объединились в мятеже против него.

Чтобы стать Императором, Хантибану был нужен Ашинагачи. И также ему нужно было кое — что еще. Последний штрих.

— Глупость. — раздался голос.

Маррэйн не обернулся чтобы посмотреть. Он знал — кто это. Даже если не замечать ее явственный, чуждый акцент — была лишь одна единственная персона во всей его армии, которая посмела бы его здесь потревожить.

— Беревайн. — просто констатировал он. — И что же именно за глупость?

— Ты знаешь так же хорошо, как и я. И если ты не ослеплен воспоминаниями, то тоже сможешь ее увидеть.

Он взглянул на нее. Сумрачно — прекрасна, каждый жест и стойка говорит о страсти и выучке. Она была безупречным воином — преданна, честна и умела. Тонкие шрамы, протянувшиеся от ее глаз через скулы, лишь добавляли ей очарования. Грубая воинская форма лишь подчеркивала ее фигуру, Маррэйн немногим доверял так же как ей. Она была бы идеальным воином… если бы не ее возмутительная привычка говорить все, что она думает.

— Наш лорд приказал нам взять этот город. — твердо ответил он — Мы служим ему и потому мы повинуемся.

— Он хотел, чтобы мы взяли больше чем город, или ты забыл?

— Нет. Я не забыл.

— Он думает что у нас нет лучшего занятия, чем поставлять ему женщин?

— Для него это более важно. Он наш лорд, и мы служим ему. Мы обеспечим ему победу, и возведем его на трон, и когда он будет Императором, когда мы все станем едины, когда мы снова будем воевать с Тенями — мы будем на его стороне.

— Он не станет воевать с Тенями. — бросила Беревайн.

— Он уверил меня, что будет.

— И ты поверил?

— Он наш лорд. — холодно ответил Маррэйн. — Разумеется, я верю ему, но даже если и нет — это ничего не меняет. Я клялся служить ему, и я не клятвопреступник.

— И ты также охотно служил бы ему, если б его желания не привели тебя сюда? Когда — то ты взял с меня обещание всегда говорить правду. Если пожелаешь слышать от меня ложь — тебе стоит лишь приказать, но до того я буду говорить честно.

— Я знаю, и — да. Я рад, что я здесь. Я рад, что через два дня я осажу этот город. Триста лет моих предков зовут меня. Я буду оружием их мести и успокоения. Но я это сделаю не ради них. Я делаю это ради моего лорда. Мы на войне — с Тенями и друг с другом. Мы разобщены и раздроблены, и мы должны стать едины. Нам нужен Император, лидер и это честь для нас — сделать этой персоной нашего лорда. Ты знаешь это также, как и я. Чтобы он был Императором, мы должны вручить ему Ашинагачи.

— Ашинагачи… и ее.

— Да. И ее.

— А насколько это связано с ее отказом, ты не задумывался? Ты ведь тоже был там? И не будем ли мы сражаться и умирать лишь потому, что наш лорд был оскорблен какой — то жрицей?

— Эта жрица — единственная дочь лорда Огненных Крыльев. В ее жилах течет кровь Шингена. Тот, кто женится на ней, получит власть и признание всеми минбарцами. Наш лорд не сделает ничего, что могло бы запятнать его честь.

— Как скажешь. — ответила Беревайн. — Я хотела бы знать что она за женщина, эта… дочь Шингена… эта…

— … Дераннимер.

* * *

Люди — это крепость, люди — это камни, люди — это укрепления. Любовь для своих друзей, ненависть для врагов.

Война касается людей, а не замков. Война состоит в нападении, не в защите. Сложите ваши тела, чтобы они стали вашими стенами, сложите ваши тела, чтобы они стали мостом через ров. Ударьте по врагам, пройдя по телам ваших друзей и победа будет за вами.

Парлонн вновь посмотрел на высеченные по кругу слова. Сказанные Шингеном перед смертью, увековеченные на часовне, где был замурован навечно его прах — в замке, что стал тенью его имени. Ирония была горька. Шинген ненавидел замки всю свою жизнь. Он лишь однажды провел ночь в замке — и то была ночь его смерти.

Парлонн попытался представить эту картину. Шинген правил как Император восемнадцать лет, и у него были враги; слишком много врагов. Пять кланов восстали против него и он встретил их у Секигахары. Он победил — как всегда, но не вынес ранений и был привезен сюда, где и умер.

И три сотни прошедших лет его клан старался удержать его наследство, понимая что их будут ненавидеть за это, и зная что у них нет выбора. Без Ашинагачи Огненные Крылья были ничем. За пределами этих сияющих белых стен они жили на наследство мертвого Императора, и всякий Первый Воин, пытавшийся стать подобным ему, терпел поражение.

А теперь враги стояли у их ворот. Очередной враг, сражающийся за честь, долг и память сгинувших предков. На этот раз — Клинки Ветра. Они всегда были главными врагами Огненных Крыльев. Дружба между Хантенном и Шузеном временно примирила их, но старая вражда никуда не делась. Шинген не брал неприступную крепость Клинков Ветра, Широхиду. Ему это не понадобилось. Он выманил их армии из гор, и разгромил их в чистом поле.

С самого начала Клинки Ветра отличались своей безжалостностью. Они были холодны, и так же тверды как горы, с которых они пришли. Но Шинген разбил их, и они никогда не забывали этого. Когда — то они владели Ашинагачи — и они лишились его.

Неудивительно, что они помнили.

— Да, Император, мы тебя предали… — тихо произнес он, разговаривая с барельефом, храмом и призраками.

— Нет, лорд Парлонн. — произнес тихий голос. Он знал — кто это. Лишь одна персона могла побеспокоить его во время медитации. И также он знал — почему она пришла за ним.

— Леди Дераннимер. — он еще раз поклонился часовне, встал и обернулся. Она стояла в дверях. Он пристально взглянул на нее, высматривая признаки слабости или страха. Не было ничего. Она была истинной дочерью воина.

И все же она не была воином. Она была молода (хоть она и была лишь несколькими годами моложе самого Парлонна, он всегда относился к ней как к ребенку) — и стройна, прекрасная как зимний цветок. В глубокой мягкой синеве ее глаз светилось понимание. И она всегда шла по жизни с легким изяществом, со знанием, что за место занимает в этом мире она, и все кто встречается ей на пути.

Она могла бы стать воином. Она имела право стать воином. Несколько месяцев она проходила обучение, но неожиданно отвергла этот путь, выбрав жизнь жрицы, как ее мать. Ее отец Первый Воин Шузен прежде ни в чем ей не отказывал, и он согласился. И согласившись, он привел в движение силы, что обрекли его клан.

Жрица не могла править Огненными Крыльями, не могла править так, как могла бы воительница. Ее муж мог бы возглавить Огненные Крылья, если бы Шузен настоял на этом, но даже в таком случае оставалась еще одна злая насмешка. Неприятностей хватило бы и без того загадочного предсказания что было сделано при ее рождении.

Парлонн был слишком юн чтобы ее запомнить, но он слышал эту историю. В день, когда Дераннимер появилась на свет, в Ашинагачи явился гость. Он был высок, и закован в странную зелено — коричневую броню. Прошел слух, что это был один из легендарных ворлонцев, полумифических могучих призраков, что появлялись лишь во времена великих опасностей. Говорили что у Шингена был товарищ — ворлонец.

Ворлонец пожелал пройти к спальне новорожденной Дераннимер и ее умирающей матери. Просьба была исполнена. Никто не посмел перечить. Лишь Шузен двинулся остановить его, но ворлонец взглянул на него и тот замер, отойдя в сторону. Ворлонец вошел в комнату и раздались слова, слова что прозвучали в разуме каждого.

«Тот, кто возьмет в жены это дитя, получит власть и признание всеми минбарцами.»

Затем — был свет, алмазный, ослепительный свет, что ослепил всех, кроме самого ребенка. Когда исчез свет — исчез и Ворлонец.

Все знали о пророчестве. Кто — то верил, кто — то нет. Дераннимер была бы достаточной наградой для всякого, кто стал бы ее мужем, и без этих слов. А с ними — она стала самой желанной невестой Минбара. И поскольку она еще не встретила того, кого могла бы полюбить — а отец не принуждал ее — то находились и такие, кто решил добиться ее силой.

— Твой отец хочет видеть меня. — просто сказал Парлонн. Он ожидал этого.

— Да.

Он вновь поклонился часовне и вышел. Они шли вместе, Парлонн соразмерял свой широкий шаг с ее походкой. Она носила простой костюм жрицы и единственным звуком раздававшимся при ходьбе было тихое шуршание подола о ее ноги и каменный пол.

Они подошли к двери личных покоев Вождя Войны Шузена. Двое охранников расступились, позволяя им войти. Дераннимер осталась на месте.

— Я не пойду дальше. — сказала она. — Он уже… все сказал мне.

— Мне жаль, моя госпожа.

— Тебе не надо извиняться. Это… к лучшему. Это необходимость.

— Да. Но это не доставляет радости.

— Ты считаешь, что лишь потому что я не воин — это значит, что я не смогу вытерпеть боли? Если вы позволите, Лорд Парлонн, я уйду. Я должна уйти и молиться.

— Конечно, моя госпожа.

Она исчезла так же грациозно, как и пришла, и он вошел в комнату.

Первый Воин Шузен был внутри, он сидел в кресле, которое изготовили для него лично. Парлонн взглянул на него и отвел взгляд, вновь благодарный всем хранителям судеб, каким только молились воины.

Смерти он смотрел в лицо без страха. Бесчестье и поражение беспокоили его, но он был уверен что их можно избегнуть — с достаточным умением и опытом. Но это…

Когда — то Шузен был могучим мужем, многие считали его красивым. Он был так же элегантен в танцевальном зале Имперского двора, как и на поле битвы. Но Маркар'Арабар изменила его. Он был одним их Трех Сотен выживших, но как и многие из них — оставил большую часть себя на том поле битвы.

Шузен стал калекой. Страшные ожоги покрывали левый бок. Левая рука безжизненно висела вдоль тела, высохшая и бессильная. Гребень почернел и стал ломким. Вместо левого глаза был уродливый рубец. Ходил он тяжелой, шатающейся походкой — единственная здоровая нога едва могла поддерживать его тело. На половине лица кожа пошла отвратительными черными, мясистыми складками.

Шузен и Огненные крылья возглавили отчаянную атаку на флот Теней в Маркар'Арабар, стараясь выиграть время для остальных. Считалось что погибли все, но при поисках среди обломков после битвы оказалось, что Шузен остался жив, хотя и был ближе к смерти, чем к жизни. Он выжил — но какой ценой? Все три прошедших года он прожил таким — насмешкой над собой прежним.

— Вы хотели меня видеть, мой лорд. — поклонившись, сказал Парлонн. Он знал, что должно было случиться.

— Да. — ответил Шузен. Его голос был тихим и хриплым. Парлонн с трудом разбирал его. — Время, Парлонн. Давно уже пришло время.

— Да, мой лорд.

— Я… я пытался провести шрамы сам, но не… Мои руки недостаточно верны. — Парлонн не ответил, ожидая когда его лорд закончит. — Парлонн… Я хочу чтобы ты был моим помощником в морр'дэчай — моим кайшакунином.

— Да лорд. Буду. — Морр'дэчай предназначался для тех, кто подвел или предал кого — то — или что — то, большее, чем он сам — своего лорда, свой клан, свой народ. Те кто заслужил его — проводили клинком своего дэчай алые раны из — под глаз ко рту, Порой ошибка могла быть искуплена пролившейся кровью — и оставались лишь шрамы. Порой этого было недостаточно, и воин должен был умереть.

Горькой правдой было то, что Шузен предал свой клан. Он должен был умереть в Маркар'Арабар.

Как и сам Парлонн. Он был ранен у Икарры, и не смог занять свое место в последующей битве. Он слышал доклады о Маркар'Арабар, лежа на госпитальной кровати и не мог сделать ничего, кроме как оплакивать погибших.

— Ты… теперь ты Первый Воин, Парлонн. Я оставил завещание. Все сделано. Признают это или нет — не знаю, но все сделано. Я хочу чтобы ты взял в жены мою дочь. Тогда все будет… закончено.

— Я не могу это сделать, мой лорд. Я стану Первым Воином, но я не женюсь на Дераннимер.

— Почему? Это… укрепит твое положение. Ты хороший мужчина. Ты достоин ее.

— Но я не люблю ее. Не как супруг. И она не сможет любить меня — как жена. Вы обещали не принуждать ее к женитьбе на том, кого она не любит.

— Обещал, но это было так давно. Когда я еще был целым.

— И обещание все еще в силе, лорд. Я даю слово что буду защищать ваш клан и вашу дочь как только могу, но я не могу взять ее в жены.

— Понимаю. Что ж… хватит и этого. Я был… слаб, Парлонн? Мог бы я сделать больше — чтобы остановить это?

— Нет, лорд. Вы были прекрасным Первым Воином. Никто не смог бы сделать большего.

— Спасибо, Парлонн. Прошу, помоги мне подняться. Я хочу чтобы это случилось снаружи. Пусть все будет… быстро.

— Да, лорд.

— Слишком долго… Я жил… три года — слишком долго.

— Да, лорд.

— Нет. Теперь ты — Лорд. Ты, Парлонн.

— Да, лорд.

* * *

Несмотря на сложившееся в более поздние времена мнение, мы уже несколько лет воевали с Тенями — до того как Вален явился нам, и даже до Дня Света, который сейчас, как правило, считается днем начала войны. Причины, по которым мы ввязались в войну, могут быть не столь альтруистичны и высоки, какими их считают, но тем не менее — первое столкновение с Тенями случилось более чем за три года до Дня Света.

Мы вышли к звездам за двести лет до того, начав последовательно создавать миры — колонии и военные станции. Мы оставались разобщенным народом после смерти Шингена, первого и единственного Императора, поскольку воинские кланы начали грызню за его империю. Победы и ужасы той войны приходили и исчезали, но не было сомнений, что космические путешествия и экспансия будут не более чем продолжением войны. Для каждого клана это был шанс получить новые средства, новых союзников, новые базы.

Разумеется, ход войны был неровным, и он явно шел на убыль в последнее десятилетие перед Войной Теней. Частично — из — за старой дружбы двух могущественных Первых Воинов — Хантенна из Клинков Ветра и Шузена из Огненных Крыльев. Многие из воинских кланов видели в том начало вечного мира и начинали осматриваться в поисках другого противника. Это устремление поддерживала каста Жрецов, которая приобрела вес в политике, пока воины сражались.

К тому времени мы встретили три чужие расы сравнимого уровня. Маркабы и Икарранцы были дружелюбны и охотно торговали и обменивались технологиями и знаниями. Так'ча, бродившие в космосе на своих кораблях — мирах, оставались осторожно — нейтральны. Кроме того мы слышали сплетни о куда более старших чужих расах, существах обитающих на границах известного космоса, странствующих сквозь гиперпространство свободно, словно призраки и намного более старых, чем кто — либо может представить.

Еще, разумеется, были ворлонцы, но прошло много столетий прежде чем мы узнали, чем они являлись — неслыханно могучими Чужими со своими собственными правилами. Мы более охотно видели в них сияющих духов, даже духов предков, существ посланных нашими главными Богами присматривать за нами. Что ж, мы были более впечатлительным народом, а каста Жрецов была подвластна этому не больше и не меньше чем остальные.

В любом случае, когда Маркабы и Икарранцы официально запросили помощь, чтобы разобраться с могучей и неизвестной расой Чужих, которая пиратствовала на их границах и угрожала торговым маршрутам — каста Воинов была лишь рада проявить себя. Каста Жрецов также была довольна, что ее руки будут чуть более свободны в Имперском Дворе.

Были многочисленные мелкие стычки в ранние дни войны, увенчавшиеся битвой у самой Икарры, где союзный флот обратил в бегство большие силы атакующих. Уже после открылось что эти чужаки не были загадочными «Тенями» — кто и был виновен в нападениях — но ее вассальной расой, известной как дракхи.

На краткое время явилось чувство великой победы, но это был еще не конец. Контратака Теней оказалась вдвойне мощнее и страшней. Впервые они появились в битве у Маркар'Арабар, где гордость нашего флота была разбита в прах. Из пятнадцати тысяч воинов выжило едва три сотни и большинство из них были изуродованы, изранены или же измучены ужасом.

Многие из Первых Воинов кланов погибли при Маркар'Арабар, хотя и Хантенн и Шузен выжили. Но Шузен был близок к смерти и стал навсегда калекой, а Хантенн, главнокомандующий флота совершил ритуальное самоубийство по возвращении на Минбар — во искупление его неудачи в бою. Его заменил младший брат, Хантибан.

Теперь это стало новой проблемой — вожди наших военных флотов. Подавляющее большинство кланов теперь возглавили юные, неопытные и честолюбивые Первые Воины; все, как один, считающие себя достойными власти, и даже — достойными стать Императором. Многие усомнились в мудрости решения посылать воинов сражаться и умирать, защищая чужие миры. Вскоре кланы забыли о Тенях и начали интриги ради власти на Минбаре.

Первым среди них был Хантибан, ныне — Вождь Войны у Клинков Ветра. Он видел себя как прирожденного наследника империи Шингена и начал превращать эту мечту в реальность. Он твердо знал что понадобятся две вещи чтобы заполучить доверие и авторитет. Во — первых — ему нужна была власть над местом величайшей победы — и смерти Шингена: крепость Огненных Крыльев Ашинагачи. Во — вторых — ему требовалась единственная дочь Вождя Шингена, леди Дераннимер. Женившись на ней, Хантибан мог претендовать на весь клан Огненных Крыльев и Ашинагачи. И если этого недостаточно — на его стороне будет ворлонское пророчество, оглашенное при ее рождении, что ее муж будет повелителем всех минбарцев. На этом и строились его планы.

Разумеется, Тени не бездействовали во все это время, и второй этап их ответной атаки уже разворачивался вовсю. Мы могли забыть о них, но они не забывали о нас.

Из «Первая Война Теней и Времена до Валена», написано Сэч Турвалом из Тузанора, опубликовано в году 2234 по Земному исчислению.

* * *

Собор, где — то на грани изведанного.

Земной год 2263.

— Я на это не напрашивалась.

Синовал встрепенулся, слегка удивленный замечанием Сьюзен. Его слова все еще звучали в воздухе, словно эхо, но с другой стороны тут многое начинало повторяться эхом. Он считал это частью окружающего. Возможно, это зависело от важности им сказанного.

Сьюзен упражнялась со своим дэчай. Она была великолепна, он признавал это, но ее же тренировали величайшие воины в истории. Даже в отсутствие Маррэйна нашлось несколько воинов в Истоке, пожелавших обучать ее. Исток, похоже, признал ее за свою.

Ей было нужно оружие — не просто для самозащиты, но и ради самодисциплины, которую приносит такая учеба. Синовал не разрешал оружие дальнего боя. В нем не было дисциплины и не было красоты. Где отточеность, изящество, мастерство? Нет, никакого стреляющего оружия. По личным причинам она не желала брать денн'бок, и выбрала дэчай.

И она отлично справилась. Она научилась внутренней дисциплине, и приобрела отточенность движений, которую требовало оружие. Она стала прекрасным воином.

И это были больше чем просто тренировки. Они много беседовали. Синовал хотел знать, почему Исток и Изначальный прислали ее к нему. После этих бесед Синовал знал еще меньше, чем до них, но тем не менее — они ему нравились. Он рассказывал о своем ученичестве у Дерхана и Вармэйн, о Трайфане, Неруне и их пророчестве, о Джа'Дур и Соноваре, и даже — иногда — о Дерун.

В ответ она рассказывала о ее семье и друзьях. О ее матери, которой она лишилась, когда была еще ребенком. Отце и брате погибших в бою. Она говорила о мужчине по имени Маркус, и другом — по имени Дэвид. Она рассказывала о том как она росла в земной стране, называвшейся Россией, которая по мнению Синовала была очень странным местом.

А он рассказывал истории — про его народ и про чужих. Он говорил о расах, мертвых уже тысячелетия, память о которых сохранил лишь Исток. Он говорил о Тенях, Ворлонцах, о прочих Изначальных.

Но лишь теперь он заговорил о Валене, Маррэйне и Парлонне, о Дераннимер и Беревайн.

— На что ты не «напрашивалась»? — поинтересовался он.

— Почему ты рассказываешь мне все это именно сейчас? У нас было достаточно времени для историй раньше, но разве больше нечем заняться? Есть Изначальные, с которыми надо поговорить, агенты которых нужно завербовать. И эти… дела с Генералом Шериданом.

Синовал вздохнул.

— Я поговорил со всеми Изначальными, что откликнулись на мое предложение. Остальные придут лишь когда их вынудят к тому обстоятельства. У меня уже есть агенты для вербовки пополнения. Что же до Генерала Шеридана… — он помедлил — Я выучил все, что могу. Есть кое — кто, кому я должен помочь. И вскоре я буду готов к действию.

А почему я все это тебе рассказываю? Истории необходимы. Их нужно рассказать, пережить их снова и снова. И, в данном случае — извлечь из них урок. У вас, как мне известно, есть поговорка. «Те кто не учатся на прошлых ошибках, обречены повторять их.»

— Примерно так.

— Значит мы будем слушать, учиться и не будем повторять те же ошибки. Пойми, эта война не остановится — лишь для того чтобы начаться снова через тысячу лет. Она закончится. Навсегда.

Но было и большее — то что он не мог доверить даже ей. Это были истории, которые он слышал еще когда был ребенком, и когда был учеником. Они заставляли его кровь кипеть в жилах, когда его сердце переполняли истории о былой славе о великих героях и великих свершениях.

Эти истории были частью того, что делало его минбарцем. Что, если он перестанет видеть в них славу? Что, если придет такой день? Ему не понадобится более есть, пить, спать — и даже дышать. Это было тем что удерживало его в этом мире.

Истории.

А теперь — больше, чем просто истории. Как Примарх Мажестус эт Конклавус он получил доступ к самому древнему хранилищу знаний в галактике, которое когда — либо существовало. Душа Маррэйна была заключена здесь, и души других — те кто знал правду.

Истории исказились, истина стала податливой, изменяющейся в угоду интересам и желаниям тех, в чьих руках была власть. Они переиграли роль предателей и усилили власть Валена. Они пересказали события в своих собственных целях. Исток знал правду — и знал ее полностью.

Он не мог рассказать ей все. Во — первых, на это не было времени. И были вещи, которые она еще не готова была узнать — Энайд Аккорд, Голгофа и кое — что еще.

Но история… большая часть ее, подлинной истории Валена, Дераннимер, Маррэйна и Парлонна и многих других… Она была рядом и это он расскажет ей.

— Навсегда. — тихо прошептал он. И он знал это.

— Хорошо, хорошо. — она усмехнулась. — Я слушаю.

Он улыбнулся взглянув на нее, вновь удивляясь — почему же ее прислали сюда.

Затем пожал плечами и продолжил.

* * *

Ашинагачи, тысячу лет назад.

Высокие серебристые ворота были открыты и мастера возились снаружи. Не требовалось быть гением, чтобы понять что они делают и почему. Повелитель Ашинагачи умер, и ему готовился погребальный костер. Маррэйн не был удивлен. Он лишь хотел бы знать — раны ли доконали Шузена или он предпочел морр'дэчай.

Он был благодарен Шузену — как всегда, как любой из трехсот выживших при Маркар'Арабар. Эта война не изменила его отношения. Без самоубийственного героизма Шузена три сотни могли оказаться тремя.

И потому сейчас Маррэйн шел в тени белых стен Ашинагачи — встретиться с новым Первым Воином Огненных Крыльев, чтобы разделить печаль и принести соболезнования по поводу смерти его предшественника.

С ним была его личная стража, как было положено традицией. Не вся, разумеется. Это могло навлечь подозрения в подвохе, и воин не посмел бы рискнул нарушить перемирие. Нет, их было трое — как и было положено традицией.

Позади Маррэйна шагала Беревайн. Ей это не нравилось и, как обычно, она и не думала скрывать свои чувства. Хотя сейчас она и молчала. Может быть она и не видела в этом смысла — но его видел ее вождь. Она знала, как важна эта встреча была для Маррэйна, и пусть это безразлично ей — она пойдет ради него.

Она не высказала еще одну мысль — хотя Маррэйн знал о ней. Если Огненные Крылья попытаются предать — она сможет прикрыть ему спину.

И еще, так же молча, с ними шел Унари. Гигант среди прочих, самый высокий минбарец, которого Маррэйн когда либо видел. Унари был смертоносным воином. Выходец из старой породы Клинков Ветра, для которых победа была всем, благородство пустым звуком, и чей способ побеждать был — «стань более жесток, чем твой противник». Он мог бы дословно исполнить послание Шингена — штурмовать замок по телам своих товарищей, и не беспокоиться о том не окажется ли и его тело среди них.

Он внушал тревогу. Некоторые говорили что он наслаждается искусством битвы и живет только ради убийства. Он не был женат, и ходили слухи что он дал обет безбрачия. Ел он немного, пил еще меньше, и каждый час бодрствования посвящал лишь тренировкам.

Он мог быть возмутителем спокойствия, но он был верен, и Маррэйн не мог осудить его поиск совершенства. В конце концов — это одна из сущностей воина. Жаль только, что Унари был обделен во всем остальном.

Трое ждали их за воротами. Маррэйн не удивлялся. Они видели, как он шел, и знали что это значит. Они могли расстрелять его из орудий, но не пытались этого сделать. Огненные Крылья знали о чести не хуже прочих.

Их стало лучше видно, когда он подошел ближе, и двое из них оказались теми, кого он и ожидал.

Впереди — Парлонн, правая рука покойного Шузена. Маррэйн следил за его карьерой с большим интересом, увидев в нем родственную душу, и — возможно — смертельного врага. Или — точно так же возможно — ближайшего союзника. Они уже встречались, случайно и ненадолго — но это были встречи не на поле боя.

Парлонн был ростом с Маррэйна и сходного сложения. Его так же готовили в воины почти с самого рождения, и это отчетливо читалось в его поведении, его осанке и взгляде. Носил он костюм воина — с одним новым дополнением. Знак Первого Воина Огненных Крыльев вспыхнул на его плече.

Итак, Маррэйн был прав. Шузен умер.

Позади него стояли двое. Ни один из них воином не был. Один — всего лишь мальчишка. Носит простую накидку послушника. Значит, слуга. Паж или оруженосец — пока что неважно. Возможно, повзрослев он станет большим, но сейчас он — ничто.

Другая — женщина, и Маррэйн с первого взгляда узнал в ней Леди Дераннимер, будущая жена правителя Минбара, и так далее.

Она была высока, стройна и удивительно прекрасна. Она излучала невинность, смешанную с силой. Он знал — она могла стать воином, и признаки отличающие воина были видны в ней, несмотря на одежду жрицы. Она двигалась как воин — или же как танцовщица. Она стояла как Леди Ашинагачи, встречающая гостей. Лишь белый кристалл на цепочке говорил о том, что она носит траур; как бы ни переполняла ее печаль о смерти отца — она хорошо это скрывала.

Позади них колыхнулся воздух — обычное горячее марево. Длилось это недолго и вскоре пропало.

Парлонн заговорил первым.

— Добро пожаловать в Ашинагачи. — произнес он официальным тоном. — Я Парлонн, Первый Воин Огненных Крыльев, и лорд Ашинагачи.

Маррэйн остановился и поклонился.

— Приветствую тебя, Первый Воин. Я Маррэйн, Второй Воин Клинков Ветра, и посланник Первого Воина Хантибана, лорда Широхиды. Я приношу мои соболезнования. Все мы понесли тяжкую потерю со смертью Первого Воина Шингена.

— Мы благодарим вас. — сказала Дераннимер с поразительным достоинством. Маррэйн был удивлен. Он не знал, на что будет похож тон ее голоса, впрочем он ожидал, что это будет смесь из беспомощности и безразличия, и потому на мгновение растерялся.

— Я приношу вам свои личные соболезнования, леди. — проговорил он пытаясь скрыть растерянность. — А также мое слово что вы не испытаете трудностей на пути в Широхиду, и что путешествие, разумеется, будет отложено до окончания похорон вашего отца.

— Я благодарю вас за беспокойство, — ответила она — но я не собираюсь в Широхиду.

— Мой повелитель желает обсудить с вами некоторые вопросы до вашей свадьбы. — объяснил Маррэйн. Он уже не был уверен согласится ли она. Он ждал встретить жрицу, а нашел, без малого, воина. Большинство в Широхиде были убеждены, что она уйдет с ним, дабы предотвратить возможный бой и кровопролитие. Кое — кто даже сочувствовал Маррэйну в связи с «легкой прогулкой» вместо сражения. — … Свадьба, конечно же, будет проведена в Йедоре, в Храме Варэнни, но есть дела, которые следует решить до того.

— Свадьбы не будет. — ответила она. — Повторяю, я благодарна вам за ваше участие, и я понимаю желания вашего лорда, но я открыто объяснила ему мои намерения в Имперском Дворе. Я не выйду за него замуж.

— Леди Дераннимер неприкосновенна в Ашинагачи. — поддержал Парлонн. — Если она не пожелает его покинуть — она останется здесь.

— Это противоречит моим приказам. — ответил Маррэйн. — Я должен привезти ее в Широхиду, как можно быстрее, и в добром здравии, естественно. А также я должен не допустить, чтобы что — то мешало мне по пути.

— Мой отец часто говорил о вас. — внезапно заговорила Дераннимер, и Маррэйн запнулся. Из ее тона исчезла официальность и сейчас он был… более доверительным, почти задумчивым. — Он говорил о вас, как о человеке чести, отваги и мужества.

— Я мало знал вашего отца. — уступил Маррэйн. — Я благодарен за его поступок при Маркар'Арабар и буду благодарен всегда. Я обязан ему жизнью, но я не понимаю, почему…

Марево дрогнуло вновь, но он этого не видел. Беревайн чуть насторожилась, ее рука скользнула к дэчай. Маррэйн не заметил и этого.

— Вы знаете, какой будет моя судьба в Широхиде. — продолжила Дераннимер, словно он и не говорил. — Вы знаете, что ваш лорд намерен взять меня в жены против моей воли, не из малейшей любви ко мне — только ради права на мои земли и из — за пророчества. Вы знаете что он изнасилует меня, столько раз, сколько потребуется, чтобы он получил наследника — ради утверждения своих прав на Ашинагачи и прочее; а затем я перестану быть нужна, и меня отправят в заточение, или же убьют. Вы это знаете.

Итак, как же мог тот человек чести, о котором говорил мой отец, человек, которого я вижу перед собой — как он мог согласиться участвовать в этом?

— Он мой лорд. — сухо ответил Маррэйн. — Когда я приносил ему клятву верности, я не искал в ней условие, которое позволит мне от нее отказаться. В клятве верности Огненных Крыльев есть подобные условия?

— Нет. — согласился Парлонн. — Такого нет.

— Значит, я повинуюсь ему. Он приказал мне доставить невесту к нему в Широхиду, и я так и сделаю, неважно кто или что встанет у меня на пути. Если мне потребуется сжечь Ашинагачи и предать смерти всех, кто окажется в нем — я так и сделаю.

— Ты такой же, как и твой лорд! — вмешался послушник. — Я не позволю тебе коснуться ее.

— И как же ты остановишь меня, мальчик? — язвительно спросил Маррэйн. — Я не вижу оружия. Или твоя вера остановит меня?

— Ты, трус… — продолжил мальчик.

— Молчать! — крикнула Дераннимер, с такой властностью, что даже Маррэйн отшатнулся. — Немейн, он здесь как посланник своего клана в день смерти моего отца. Не смей оскорблять его.

Послушник опустил голову.

— Простите, Сэч Дераннимер. — проговорил он.

— Я также прошу прощения. — проговорил Маррэйн. — Мой гнев на миг перевесил мое уважение. Я приношу извинения за мою резкость.

— Извинения приняты. — сказала Дераннимер, и, уже более строгим тоном — Но это не меняет…

Теперь Маррэйн увидел это, и несколько событий случилось одновременно. Раздался крик «Измена» из нескольких глоток, слившийся в один. Огромная тварь появилась из ниоткуда прямо перед ним, и сшибла его одним страшным ударом. Он полетел на землю, и темнота заволокла его сознание.

На мгновение, когда он оказался на земле и его глаза закрылись, он вернулся вновь в Маркар'Арабар, и услышал крики товарищей, вдохнул горячий, сернистый запах. Он мог почувствовать корабли Теней, проплывающие над головой и услышал их крик в своем мозгу.

И снова чудовища проходили сквозь стены его корабля так, словно их не и было. Крылатые, гуманоидные создания с отвратительно разумными глазами, и кровью на клыках и когтях. Они устроили пир из мертвых, умирающих и живых и убивали любого кто оказывался у них на пути.

А за ними, высоки, могучи и чудовищны стояли эти твари. Звери. Животные. Вдвое выше самого высокого минбарца, с длинными мускулистыми руками и бритвенно — острыми когтями. Воины бросались на них, сверкало оружие, но они умирали в потоках крови и их тела рвали на части.

Туман времени рассеялся и Маррэйн вспомнил что он не в Маркар'Арабар. Он был у Ашинагачи, но и одна из тех тварей тоже была здесь. Здесь! Он бешено оглянулся в поисках летающих чудовищ, но их не было видно. Тут была лишь эта тварь, один лишь зверь.

Но одного — было достаточно. Его воины не убили ни одной твари в Маркар'Арабар. Ни одной.

Что одно из них делает здесь?

Оно наклонилось над его распростертым телом, и он посмотрел в огромные глаза твари. Они были красными, яркими и звериными. В отличие от летающих созданий — в них не было ни капли разума. Он было зверем, и только. Оно жило, чтобы пожирать.

И убивать.

Один глаз внезапно взорвался и тварь заревела. Черная кровь хлынула из развороченной глазницы и Маррэйну удалось откатиться в сторону. Перед ним мелькнула Беревайн с окровавленным дэчай в руках. Она вскрикнула, когда кровь твари плеснула ей на руки и в лицо и отшатнулась.

Пока Маррэйн поднимался на ноги, он успел увидеть Унари, стоящего возле Дераннимер. Одной рукой он заломил ее тонкие руки, а другой — держал клинок у ее горла. Она не сопротивлялась — но не потому что оцепенела от страха. Маррэйн знал этот захват — незнакомый с ним просто не мог пошевелиться. Дераннимер просто смотрела на Унари то ли с сожалением, то ли с гневом во взгляде.

Краем глаза он заметил послушника, лежащего на земле без сознания. Унари ударил его, но все — таки тот был жив. Рядом с ним — направляясь к Унари — на миг мелькнул Парлонн, с обнаженным дэчай, и готовый к бою.

Тварь взревела и Маррэйн развернулся к ней. Беревайн была небрежно отброшена в сторону и тварь двинулась к нему. Он нащупал свой дэчай и без размышлений выхватив его, ударил по лапе. Клинок скользнул по стальной твердости коже, и тварь отмахнулась от него. Лапа обрушилась ему на череп и он упал.

Здесь были крики, запах серы и огня, корабли Теней проплывали в его разуме, и он снова был в Маркар'Арабар, а затем тьма поглотила его.

* * *

Огонь. Великий очиститель. Он пожирает все, и даже в конце концов — самого себя, и ничего не остается после него.

Парлонн снова взглянул на слова бегущие по часовне Шингена, и увидел огонь перед своим внутренним взором. Огонь погребального костра его лорда, что теперь не будет зажжен. Стычка за воротами перечеркнула все.

Все рухнуло, когда неизвестная тварь появилась из пустоты. Она набросилась на Маррэйна и женщину рядом с ним. Парлонн было рванулся к ним, когда увидел что высокий воин явившийся с Маррэйном бросился к Дераннимер. Немейн попытался его остановить, но был отброшен в сторону. Он схватил Дераннимер, когда Маррэйн и женщина напали на чудовище.

Оно раскидало их обоих а затем… исчезло, скрывшись в том же ничто, откуда явилось. Парлонн добрался до высокого воина, и не раздумывая ударил — точным движением, которое освободило Дераннимер от его хватки. Затем последовал быстрый обмен ударами и гигант упал. Парлонн обернулся к Дераннимер — только чтобы увидеть как она мотнула головой.

— Немейн. — просипела она — Позаботься о нем.

— Ты более важна, чем… — попытался протестовать он.

— Нет. — хрипло повторила она.

Он согласился — выбора у него все равно не было. Ей удалось войти в ворота крепости с большим достоинством, чем ему; ему пришлось нести слугу. Никто из Клинков Ветра не двинулся с места, пока не захлопнулись ворота. Гигант пришел в сознание, Маррэйн и женщина — нет. К ним уже бежали товарищи. Парлонн приказал страже не мешать им. Это еще не начало осады. Время еще есть.

— Что теперь? — спросила Дераннимер.

— Последуем совету Шингена. — спокойно ответил он. Он уже обдумывал это. Он взглянул на часовню и снова перечитал слова. «Люди — это замок, люди — это камни, люди — это укрепления.»

Он не был уверен — поняла ли она.

— Я отправлюсь с ним. — сказала она. — Все же лучше, чем война.

— Что изменило твое мнение?

— Маррэйн был человеком чести. Я надеялась что он прислушается, но сейчас… Он ранен, быть может мертв…

— Таких как он трудно убить. Кроме того, если бы тварь хотела его убить — он уже был бы мертв, и в этом не было бы никаких сомнений. Он выживет.

— Значит он ранен, и не может сражаться. Их поведет другой. Высокий. А у него чести нет. Он разрушит замок и убьет всех внутри, чтобы добраться до меня. Мне лучше будет уйти с ними, чем позволить такое…

— Нет. — повторил Парлонн. — Есть другой путь.

— И?

— «Война — это нападение а не защита.» — процитировал он. — Мы вернемся на путь Шингена. Что есть Ашинагачи, как не камни и дерево? Мы не можем дать твоему отцу достойные проводы. И, как ты сказала, высокий не знает о чести. Что ж, мы зажжем большой погребальный костер.

— Ашинагачи.

Она помолчала, затем кивнула.

— Понимаю. Сколько у нас времени?

— Немного. Я объявляю отступление. Мы знаем эти земли. Мы можем раствориться в них, рассеяться, измотать их стычками, и дождаться зимы. И они не найдут нас. У нас будет время восстановиться и восстановить оборону. Мы сами станем крепостью.

Она кивнула снова.

— Я собираюсь.

— Не бери ничего сверх необходимого. Мы должны быть настолько быстры, насколько возможно. Мне потребуется кое — что из вещей твоего отца. Я заберу их из его кабинета. Тебе что — нибудь нужно?

Она попыталась сказать что — то, остановилась, затем поклонилась и ушла.

Парлонн обернулся к часовне и поклонился ей в последний раз.

— Мы подвели тебя, Шинген. — проговорил он. — Но, при удаче, и с нашей силой и храбростью, мы снова станем такими, какими ты желал нас видеть.

Он повернулся и ушел, не оглядываясь. Люди — это камень. Люди — это замок. Люди — это укрепления.

Он знал что нужно ему. Грамоты, утверждающие его как Первого Воина. Доспех Шингена — как символ, более великий чем прочие. Знамя клана. И тайные карты местности — с детальным описанием всех потайных троп, тайных лагерей, путей снабжения и спрятанных селений.

Огненные Крылья смогут выжить, скрыться и, в итоге, вновь выйти на поля сражений.

Он открыл дверь в кабинет с чувством потери — потери того кому все это принадлежало. Шузен оставил свой отпечаток на всем. Он почти не покидал эту комнату за последние три года. Он должен был умереть в Маркар'Арабар. Страшно было желать такого своему лорду, но это было правдой. Случись так — и его навечно запомнили бы как героя, а у Огненных Крыльев было б три года, чтобы оправиться и окрепнуть. Случилось же так, что он умер искалеченным, измученным стариком, и этот образ отравил всю его прошлую отвагу.

И Огненные Крылья умирали вместе с ним. Потребуется такой, как Шинген, чтобы вернуть им былую славу.

Парлонн не знал, был ли он тем, кто был нужен, или ему лишь предстоит стать таким. Или сможет ли он таким стать. Но он попытается. Он не может сделать меньшего.

— Приветствую, Вождь Войны. Мои поздравления с твоим повышением, и мои соболезнования в связи со смертью Первого Воина Шузена. Он был великолепен.

Парлонн настороженно огляделся.

— Да. — наконец сказал он — Он был.

Стоявшее в углу существо не было минбарцем. Парлонн не знал, к какой расе оно принадлежит. Оно был раза в полтора выше Парлонна, но гораздо тоньше его. Его серая кожа туго обтягивала кости. Казалось что у него совершенно не было мышц. Глаза были ярко — красными — без единого пятнышка другого цвета. Одето оно было в простую серую накидку и разговаривало на Фике почти без акцента. Длинные, лишенные ногтей, пальцы были сложены перед лицом.

— Меня зовут Шрайн. Мой народ зовется Рагг'хиа. Я здесь как… посланник от определенных сил. Скажи мне, Первый Воин — чего ты хочешь?

— Нет. — ответил он. Проигнорировав чужака, он начал рыться в ящиках с картами.

— Это простой вопрос.

— Я знаю. Я на него не отвечу.

— Чего ты хочешь? Я могу вернуть величие твоему клану. Я могу изгнать этих захватчиков. Я могу сделать тебя Императором. Желай всего, что угодно.

— Я не Шинген. Я не желаю быть Императором, а для всего остального мне твоя помощь не нужна.

— Я думал, что она тебе понадобится.

— Значит ты ошибся. Я не дурак, Шрайн. Ты служишь Теням, не так ли? Значит они не забыли о нас.

— Разумеется, не забыли. Мои Темные Хозяева немало восхищаются тобой. Твое сопротивление при Маркар'Арабар убедило их что ты наделен великой отвагой. И меня послали найти тех, кто достоин их помощи. И тебе гораздо лучше было оказаться на их стороне, чем на стороне их врагов.

— Меня не интересует союз с ними. Особенно после того, как они прислали эту тварь.

— Это сделал я.

— Ты не хотел, чтобы Клинки Ветра и я пришли к согласию, не так ли? Нет, куда лучше если мы начнем воевать. Тогда бы я более охотно принял твое предложение, так?

— Я советую тебе передумать. Мы пытались сражаться с ними — поначалу. Многие расы пытались. Со временем мы увидели мудрость иного пути. Как увидите и вы. Однажды вы поймете это.

— Нет. Я не передумаю. Убирайся. Немедленно.

— Твой предшественник говорил так же, как ты. Подумай немного о его судьбе.

Парлонн нахмурился, его темных глаза вспыхнули пламенем.

— Не угрожай мне. Или мне придется убить тебя.

— Ты можешь попробовать.

— Я могу сделать и больше. Вон.

Шрайн изобразил нечто похожее на улыбку. Он поклонился.

— Мы встретимся снова. Ты еще успеешь передумать. Тогда мы поговорим еще раз.

Шрайн исчез, растворившись среди теней. Парлонн не собирался преследовать его. У него и так достаточно врагов. Пока что — ему есть чем заняться.

Ашинагачи — это всего лишь камень и дерево. Вот и все.

Есть еще много дел.

* * *

Пожар поднимался до небес, застилая безоблачный небосвод своим дымом. Немногие Первые Воины удостоились такого погребального костра. Немногие уходили в следующий мир в огне собственного замка.

Огненные Крылья скрылись, бежали как трусы — которыми они и были. Их найдут. Если они не хотели встретиться с ним в битве — на них будут охотиться.

Унари поклялся найти их всех. Он не успокоится пока не исполнит приказ своего повелителя.

Огненные Крылья думают что они сбежали от него.

Они ошибаются.

Глава 2

Широхида, оплот клана Клинков Ветра.

Тремя месяцами позже.

Угрюмая горная крепость Широхида незыблемо и гордо стояла под натиском зимних ветров. Все в замке было создано ради мощи, и призвано вселять благоговение. За тысячу лет она ни разу не была взята, ни разу не склонилась перед вторгнувшимся врагом. Даже Шинген не взял Широхиду — хотя, возможно, ему просто незачем было это делать, после того как он выманил Клинки Ветра в открытую битву и разгромил их на равнине внизу.

Крепость породила особенных воинов, таких же твердых и холодных как сами горы. Тепла тут было не слишком много. Клинки Ветра должны были быть сильными, бесстрашными, беспощадными. Во многом они олицетворяли Шингеновское представление о воинах. Он даже признавал — в частной беседе — что Клинки Ветра были самым тяжелым противником.

Великий Зал Широхиды был лишь продолжением мощи, заключенной в остальном замке. Он был огромен, он протянулся к небесам, каменные пилоны касались крыши на невозможной высоте. Длинная дорога вела к Железному Трону, где восседал вождь Клинков Ветра. Всякому, кто шел по этим каменным плитам, приходилось пройти под взглядами изваяний Первых Воинов прошлого, что стояли в стенных нишах — где они могли смотреть на свой клан и судить о заслугах их потомков. Было известно, что несколько воинов сломались и бежали под этими беспощадными взглядами. Статуя Хантенна еще не была закончена, но до ее завершения оставалось немного.

Железный Трон был не самым удобным сиденьем, но таким он и был задуман. Покрытый неровностями, с острыми углами, он мог вытянуть жилы из того, кто его занимал. Как и предполагалось. Воин в удобном кресле мог бы соблазниться провести больше времени сидя, нежели стоя. Первый Воин Клинков Ветра занимал Железный Трон лишь в трех случаях: встречая высоких гостей, возвышаясь над побежденными и плененными врагами…

И верша свой суд над теми, кто подвел свой собственный клан.

У Клинков Ветра не было места для неудачников. Их не должно было быть. Но все же — никто не мог быть достаточно силен, чтобы сравниться с идеалом Клинков Ветра. Идеальный воин был подобен камню, но все воины созданы из плоти. И потому все воины были далеки от совершенства.

Но Клинки Ветра знали это, понимали, и неизменно стремились приблизиться к совершенству, насколько это возможно. Ни страха, ни сожалений, ничего что могло бы сделать их отличными от камня.

Вождь Войны Хантибан знал, что он далек от совершенства. Также он знал что он не равен его брату, и мечтал о дне, когда стальной взгляд Хантенна падет на него. Хантенн умер с честью и благородством, приняв на себя бремя поражения при Маркар'Арабар. И это стало величайшей смелостью: принять ответственность, не только за себя, а за весь мир, что он подвел.

Ирония заключалась в том, что потерпев столь ужасную неудачу, он стал героем большим, чем он мог бы стать, одержав победу.

Хантибан мог бы возненавидеть брата за это, но этого не случилось. Он не мог. Он обожествлял старшего брата. Именно потому он делал все что он сделал. Он хотел показать старшему брату, сколь многому он научился; но не делая тех же ошибок что совершил Хантенн — стать лучше чем сам Хантенн, стать лучшим чем кто — либо, за исключением Шингена.

Сейчас на коленях перед Железным Троном стоял Маррэйн, его дэчай был протянут Хантибану. Первый Воин не говорил ничего, ожидая что скажет его Второй Воин.

— Я подвел вас, лорд. — произнес он. — Ашинагачи уничтожен, и Огненные Крылья рассеялись. Выбранная вами невеста исчезла. Я не смог доставить ее к вам перед тем, как из — за зимних бурь стало невозможным рисковать вашей армией ради поисков.

Хантибан безучастно слушал, глядя на тех, кто так же, на коленях, стоял позади Маррэйна. Женщина. По имени Беревайн. Она не слишком тщательно изображала повиновение. Прекрасна, но с горячим и страстным характером. По сведениям из всех источников, она часто ввязывалась в стычки и не доверяла никому, кроме Маррэйна.

Позади нее — высокий воин. Унари. Хантибан не слышал о нем ничего кроме похвалы, но все же — слова и слухи могут лгать. Он сам не видел Унари в бою, и потому не может быть уверен. А он должен знать.

Были здесь и другие, но их имен он не помнил. Некоторых он даже не мог узнать. Почему? Маррэйн был его Вторым Воином, его лучшим командующим. Разумеется, у него были подчиненные. Они были теми, кому он доверял исполнять его приказы. Во многом они обладали великой властью. Они были связующим звеном между Маррэйном, а через него — и самим Хантибаном, и рядовыми воинами.

Почему же он узнает лишь немногих из них? Разве не должен он знать их всех по именам и деяниям? Но нет, он их не знает. И именно к этому он должен приложить все силы.

— Если вы пожелаете, лорд, я продолжу поиски в одиночку. Позвольте мне провести линии крови, и отправиться в это путешествие снова — как мертвецу. Я вернусь с вашей невестой или не вернусь вовсе. Я прошу вас, лорд позволить мне это во искупление моей неудачи.

— Нет. — спокойно ответил Хантибан. Он ждал такой реакции от Маррэйна. Второй Воин был слишком горд для меньшего. — Ты нужен здесь, Маррэйн, и ты не подвел меня. Огненные Крылья рассеяны и беспомощны, они немногим отличны от бродяг. Они отдали все с Ашинагачи, и у них не осталось ничего. Я должен лишь протянуть руку и собрать их всех в одном кулаке. Это не заслуживающая тебя задача, мой верный Второй Воин.

— Нет. Есть более важные деяния что нужно исполнить, более великие вершины, что надо покорить. Вскоре тебе выпадет достаточно возможностей прославиться, Маррэйн. Ты хорошо поработал и я доволен.

— Все вы будете вознаграждены. Ступайте.

Хантибан сошел с трона и принял дэчай Маррэйна. Затем он вернул его коленопреклоненному воину. Маррэйн встал, поклонился и в молчании вышел. Остальные последовали за ним.

Хантибан сделал знак одному из своих приближенных.

— Высокий воин. Я полагаю — его имя Унари.

— Да, это он лорд.

— Я хочу говорить с ним. В частном порядке. В моих покоях. Проследи за этим.

— Да, лорд.

Так много измены повсюду. Он должен убедиться, что она истреблена. Он чувствовал как на него смотрят его предки. Он чувствовал что его брат смотрит на него — хоть его изваяние и не было еще закончено.

Я не подведу вас. Никого. Я сделаю Клинки Ветра сильнее и лучше чем вы даже могли себе представить.

Я не подведу вас.

* * *

Совершенство. Путь к предельному совершенству. Именно это было истинной целью каждого воина Клинков Ветра. Возвысить дух, отринуть плоть. Стать камнем.

Плоть слаба. Плоть порождает страх, сомнения, страсти. Все что разрушает истинную силу, все что отнимает у воина его дух.

Маррэйн медитировал, пытаясь отстраниться от слабости плоти. Он уже подвел его лорда. Дераннимер все еще не была найдена. Неудача. Он не желает повторить ее, и это значит, что он должен укрепить себя, пройтись по лезвию бритвы, пересечь незримый барьер — и стать камнем.

После того как они оставили своего лорда, он и Беревайн упражнялись вместе, сражаясь на дэчай и в рукопашной — друг против друга или спиной к спине против воображаемого противника. Они сражались пока в их телах не поселилась усталость, пока не исчерпали все силы. Тогда они предались медитации. Это было непросто. Беревайн отвлекала его.

— Мне это не нравится.

И не одним единственным способом.

Маррэйн попробовал промолчать. Он попытался сосредоточиться. Отрешиться от плоти. Вожделение — свойство плоти. Страсть — порок. Беревайн была прекрасна, страстна, и сильна, но он должен видеть в ней воина, соратника — не любовницу. И тогда его дух обретет силу.

Если только она замолчит.

— Нет, мне это не нравится — как, думаю, и тебе.

Он со вздохом открыл глаза.

— Что именно не нравится? — спросил он, пытаясь не смотреть на нее. В подобные моменты в ее темных глазах обычно начинали плясать чертики.

К счастью для него, она была занята своими мыслями.

— То, что сказал наш лорд. Великие свершения? Большие вершины? Что еще? Похоже, он не намерен стать просто главнокомандующим наших флотов. Он не хочет просто отплатить за старые обиды…

— Он мечтает о славе Шингена. — ответил Маррэйн. — В честолюбии нет ничего зазорного.

— Но что потом? Что насчет Теней? Разве не в них дело? Если он женится на этой… леди… он при этом станет лордом Огненных Крыльев и получит еще один клан за своей спиной. Тогда он уже мог бы снова повести наши флоты на войну с Тенями. Императором для этого становиться не обязательно.

— У нас нет причин воевать с Тенями.

— Мы можем забыть про них, Маррэйн. Но не думаю что они забыли о нас. Эта тварь… существо, которое напало на нас.

— Я медитирую. — оборвал он ее, чуть жестче чем намеревался.

— Оно было одним из них, не так ли? Я слышала, как ты кричал во сне про Маркар'Арабар. Впрочем, тебе повезло — я умею хранить секреты. Это было одно из них.

Тихо, прикрыв глаза, чтобы не видеть ее лица, он ответил:

— Да.

— Там было страшно, не так ли?

— Там было страшно. — прошептал он. Он представил ее там — ее тело обгоревшее и почерневшее, разорванное в клочья. Он представил ее на коленях — дрожащую от тех воплей. Он прошептал благодарность своим предкам за то, что ее там не было.

— У нас больше нет причин воевать с ними.

— Они не забыли, Маррэйн. Эта тварь… Либо Огненные Крылья в союзе с ними, либо кто — то хочет чтобы мы так считали. Рано или поздно они придут за нами. И мы должны быть к этому готовы.

— Мы никогда не будем готовы. — прошептал он. — Мы не можем сражаться с ними. Они уничтожат нас походя.

— Тогда мы умрем, сражаясь. Но мы можем хотя бы попытаться. Наш лорд этого не понимает, как, похоже, и ты.

— Ты их не видела! — рявкнул он. Как ты можешь говорить что будет нужно — пока ты их не видела? — Он хотел бы закрыть глаза — чтобы не видеть обиду на ее лице. — Где ты была во время Маркар'Арабар? Где?

Она застыла на миг, и поднялась на ноги.

— Ты хочешь остаться один. — прошептала она.

— Да. — ответил он, с болью в душе. — Именно. — Он не желал этого, но не мог о том сказать. Он не смел даже подумать об этом.

Она оделась быстро, не отрывая от него взгляда. Она направилась к двери, остановилась возле нее и обернулась.

— Я полностью сознаю, что то что мы… делаем — только дело плоти, и ничего связанного с чувствами. Я отлично сознаю, что на поле боя ты будешь моим командиром, и я буду повиноваться тебе. Но здесь не поле боя. И я думаю, что ты мог бы поговорить со мной.

— Иди. — ответил он.

— Как прикажет мой повелитель. — ответила она с горечью в голосе. Она вышла и Маррэйн закрыл глаза, пока не услышал звук закрывшейся двери.

Укрепи дух. Забудь о плоти. Страх, сожаление, страсть… все это порок. Будь подобен камню. Будь подобен горам.

Будь подобен горам.

Горы не знают страха.

* * *

Беревайн вернулась в свои покои. Ее ждали.

* * *

Хантибан наблюдал за допросом в молчании. Его спутник также молчал, хорошо понимая — когда следует говорить, и когда следует воздержаться от разговора. Она не кричала. Она не вскрикнула ни разу с самого начала. Лишь на мгновение он подумал что ошибся, что он неверно понял донесение Унари, или же что донесение оказалось неверным — но затем она ответила первый раз, и ответы полились рекой.

Предательство повсюду. Слабость повсюду. Он не знал, была ли она предателем или нет, но она оказалась слаба, и приносила слабость другим. И это было злом.

Клинкам Ветра нужны сильные. Хантибан должен быть силен. Маррэйн — особенно он — должен быть силен.

— Вы были правы, лорд. — наконец сказал его спутник, почувствовав что ему пора заговорить.

— Да. — ответил он. — Я желал бы оказаться неправ, но…

— Ваш Второй Воин невиновен.

— Да. Я думал… только на мгновение что он может быть виновен, но — нет. Она отвлекала его, соблазняла его. Вот и все. Не удивительно что он подвел меня у Ашинагачи, с подобным… — Он оглядел ее, отметив что она красива — даже такой, под пытками, израненная и истерзанная. — …раздражителем.

— Что теперь, лорд?…

— Хммм… в этом больше нет необходимости. Не думаю, что она служила кому — то другому. Будь так, она могла бы сделать куда больше. Нет, она всего лишь слаба, просто… заблуждается. В допросе больше нет нужды. Палачи могут забрать свою награду.

Он не видел, как его спутник вздрогнул при этих словах.

— А вы, лорд? Вы возьмете свою… награду от нее?

Хантибан на миг задумался. Она была очень красива.

— Нет. — сказал он с отвращением. — Нет. — Клинки Ветра должны быть подобны камню. Страсть порочна. Палачи же — не воины. Они даже не простолюдины. Природа их работы требует… низших созданий. Едва ли их можно назвать даже минбарцами — но настоящий воин знает как использовать любое имеющееся оружие, и они умелы — на свой манер. И если им требуется небольшая… награда, пусть будет так.

— Леди Дераннимер будет приведена к нашему брачному ложу чистой и невинной. Я привечу ее таким же способом. — Желание есть порок. Он должен быть подобен камню. Камень не испытывает желаний.

— Конечно, лорд. И очень скоро.

— Скоро?

— Да, лорд. Как вы и сказали. Все что вам потребуется — это протянуть свою руку и забрать ее. Вот и все. Прикажете… прикажете ли вы доложить Второму Воину Маррэйну о том, что здесь было?

— Нет. — ответил Хантибан, на этот раз более твердо. — Он все еще оправляется от ран. Я не могу разбудить его. Я сообщу ему лично, утром. Без сомнения, он будет благодарен, что я избавил его от подобного беспокойства.

— Мой лорд весьма милосерден.

— Милосерден? Да, полагаю что так. — Он взглянул на палачей, сгрудившихся вокруг Беревайн. Она так и не закричала. — Я знаю что это слабость. Без сомнения, однажды это меня погубит.

* * *

Он не чувствовал дождь, что хлестал по его коже, он не чувствовал холода, что пробирался в его кости, он не чувствовал страха, хоть он и поселился в самом его сердце. Он был камнем, он был подобен горам, и горы не чувствуют ничего.

Здесь было темно но это не мешало ему. Дождь в горах Широхиды неистов, но он не замечал его, шагая по скользким камням. Его шаг тверд, надежен и уверен нет риска упасть, он прошел по этим тропам в испытании совершеннолетия он прошел их с завязанными глазами и он не оступится он не боится в нем нет страха.

Горы не знают страха.

Камень не знает страха.

Он видел ее несмотря на тьму несмотря на дождь заливший глаза все это лишь дождь и нет слез он не заплачет он еще не уверен но он не заплачет и тогда когда окажется прав горы не плачут камень не плачет совершенный воин должен быть подобен камню.

Чувства есть слабость.

Она пошевелилась когда он подошел подняла голову невзирая на боль что должна была испытать ее удержали на месте гвозди пробившие запястья и лодыжки приковавшие ее к склону горы знак предателя она не предала никого он был уверен нет он знал что она не предатель это он он отослал ее прочь от себя он мог бы спасти ее.

Нет сожаления.

Сожаление есть порок.

Сожаление есть слабость.

Ее глаза все еще ясны все еще ее но он видел что сделали с остальным телом ее одежда изорвана содрана кусками там где остались следы ожогов ссадин надрезов она казалась побывавшей в бою может в самой Маркар'Арабар но она не была там не было битвы ее просто пытали пытали истязали и оставили умирать здесь как предателя чтобы она стала частью тех гор что предала.

Но она не предатель. Он знает это.

Он остановился подле нее одной дрожащей рукой коснулся ее лица она посмотрела на него не было надежды в ее глазах не было тщетной просьбы о свободе только ясное понимание того что случится что это все что он может сделать для нее одна единственная вещь и не более.

Он понимал.

Нет эмоций что есть слабость Это уважение. Уважение к обреченному собрату — воину.

Он протянул руку к гвоздям они забиты надежно с великой силой но нет силы что может противится Клинку Ветра медленно тщательно осторожно он начал работу первый гвоздь в ее правой руке распухшей искалеченной покрытой сочащейся и свернувшейся кровью но все же он продолжил он знал какую боль она должна испытать она не кричала ни крика от боли ничего только глядела на него темными горящими глазами воина.

Он не остановился.

Это будет поражением и это есть слабость.

Наконец гвоздь освободился и ее рука упала вдоль тела потом он принялся за гвоздь в правой ноге и он вышел на волю левая нога освободился и он он не знает сколько времени прошло едва ли это важно он не чувствует хлещущий дождь или жалящий холод или боль в его руках или раны на его пальцах только знание что он должен закончить с этим.

Воин доводит до конца то что начал.

Иное будет поражением и это есть слабость.

Он принялся за последний гвоздь теперь только один удерживал ее лишь один гвоздь удерживал весь ее вес боль должна быть страшной но она не кричала она не проронила ни звука она истинный воин гвоздь освободился и она упала но он поймал ее обнял осторожно опустил ее на землю дождь сделал камни мокрыми и скользкими но она не соскользнула она лежала и медленно без помощи поднялась на колени.

Он знает что случится и готов к тому.

Она подняла руку и одним распухшим ободранным изувеченным пальцем что когда — то был таким изящным что когда — то касался его с такой страстью такой любовью все слабость она коснулась его глаза и провела короткую линию ко рту потом она провела вторую линию от другого глаза два знака морр'дэчай поражения или предательства у нее были свои старые шрамы теперь искупленные и забытые всеми кроме нее он знал что это значит оба смысла и он кивнул она улыбнулась и попыталась что — то прошептать но слова унес ветер.

Жизнь ничто. Есть смерть и согласие с ней. Нет страха.

Страх есть слабость.

Камень не знает слабости.

Он вытянул перед собой дэчай лезвие указало на нее и она взялась за него не вздрогнув когда ее искалеченные когда — то прекрасные руки сжали клинок она опустила его к груди к сердцу посмотрела на него он вновь кивнул и обнажил второй клинок дэчай клинок обычно покоившийся в рукояти клинок что он использовал лишь однажды он сжал его в руках он не вздрогнул когда открылись свежие раны скрытый клинок всегда был бритвенно остер он всегда разрезал и он всегда оставлял шрамы делать для прочего он был бесполезен об этом следовало помнить и в этом было все дело.

Он не плакал. Это будет знаком слабости.

Только дождь коснулся его глаз. Капли не были слезами.

Достойная смерть это истинная смерть воина ее смерть останется с ним навсегда шрамы на его руках не шрамы на его душе просто шрамы на руках достойная смерть куда лучше чем скользить прочь во тьму здесь одной в горах в дождь в ночи достойная смерть.

Она улыбнулась и прошептала что — то но он опять не расслышал ее.

Он сжал скрытый клинок боль теперь была жестока но он не вскрикнул сделать так будет бесчестьем для нее она также сжала руки насколько могла и она также не вскрикнула она была сильна и горда истинный воин она заслужила достойную воина смерть.

Он толкнул клинок вперед он скользнул в ее грудь и в ее сердце и оно мгновенно остановилось она умерла в ту же секунду и ее тело повалилось клинок его дэчай выскользнул из ее хватки сдавшейся только смерти он удержал его и поднял его с ее тела шрамы на его руках стали глубже но он не замечает его кровь на лезвии и что он видит и что было правильно что было достойно что было нужно.

Он не проливал слез. Она умерла достойно.

Конечно должен быть погребальный костер но как он не думал что он сможет сложить его сам есть то что должно сделать и он может не пережить это но все же это должно быть сделано он не знает хотела бы она костра не будет нужен огонь чтобы осветить ее путь в другой мир ее мужества и отваги будет достаточно ибо конечно же ее предки подарят ей другую жизнь где у нее будет шанс быть также отважной и так же достойной и так же прекрасной какой она была в этой.

Он надеется хотя бы на это.

Надежда не была слабостью.

Он наклонился и выпустил скрытый клинок дэчай из его израненных рук и он посмотрел в ее лицо ее глаза были все еще открыты все еще смотрели на него все еще улыбались ее красотой ее страстью он осторожно закрыл их и поцеловал ее в губы нет нет нужды в погребальном костре он не для нее.

Не было надежды. Была уверенность.

Камень полон уверенности.

Горы не знают сомнений. Никогда.

Он отвернулся от ее тела все так же не зная что толкнуло его прийти сюда но зная только что это было правильно и необходимо и что это должно было сделано и он ушел все также не чувствуя дождя все также не чувствуя холода не чувствуя ничего кроме решимости сделать то что должен.

Несколько стражников видели как он, вымокший до нитки и покрытый кровью, с окровавленным дэчай, шел по коридорам Широхиды, но никто не пытался его остановить. Никто не пытался заговорить или сделать что — либо.

Все они смотрели в его глаза и видели пустоту.

И все они чувствовали страх.

* * *

Хантибан, Первый Воин Клинков Ветра, повелитель Широхиды и будущий Император Минбара не мог уснуть. Он не мог даже медитировать, и потому провел ночь, тренируясь в одиночку, слушая ветер и дождь стучащие в стены его замка.

Он не знал, почему сон покинул его. Он даже не знал почему он испытывает такое странное… предчувствие. Он не был мистиком, не был пророком. Он был только воином, и знал достаточно чтобы признать что он далек от путей просветленных. Но он чувствовал что — то этой ночью. Что — то… пришедшее в движение.

Силу судьбы, наверное. Поворот колес рока.

Он не знал.

Он опустил дэчай и утомленно опустился на пол. Его тело болело. Железный Трон изранил его в бесчисленном множестве мест. Как всегда. Он ненавидел это безжалостное сиденье.

— Тебе это было легко. — прошептал он теням. — Ты никогда ничего не боялся, ты был великолепным Клинком Ветра. Камнем. Вот все чем ты был. Камнем. Ты об этом никогда не знал, да? Но ты им был и в этом беда.

Его брат не ответил, но Хантибан знал что он следит за ним. Его брат всегда следил за ним.

— Я никогда не был достаточно хорош. Никогда. Как я мог быть хорош — в сравнении с тобой?

— Что ж, я — буду. Я обещаю это. Я буду величайшим воином в мире. В истории. Тысячу лет они будут славить мое имя, когда ты и Шинген, и все остальные будут давно забыты.

Хантибан выдохнул и огляделся. Дождь был таким громким. Таким громким.

— «Что ты хочешь?» Вот о чем он спросил меня, Не думаю, что мой ответ его удивил. Он улыбнулся — улыбнулся! И он сказал что это будет сделано, но он ничего не знает. Никто из них не знает. Это не то что я хочу. Что с того что скажут воины через тысячу лет?

— Нет, я буду величайшим воином, брат. Это верно. Но в своих глазах, не в твоих, и не в их! Я хочу посмотреть на тебя, посмотреть на эту проклятую статую, что более живая чем когда — либо был ты! Я хочу посмотреть в эти каменные глаза и знать в своем сердце, что я был лучше чем ты!

— Что я был лучше тебя!

Он посмотрел вверх.

— Будь проклят, брат — прошептал он. — Разве это невозможно было доверить мне? Ты даже не попросил меня быть твоим кайшакунином. Разве это было так сложно? Я не подвел бы тебя — не в морр'дэчай. — Он взглянул на свои руки. На них не было шрамов. Не было отметин.

Они должны были быть. Хантенн должен был попросить его. Он исполнил бы его долг с честью, и с гордостью. Он с честью носил бы эти шрамы.

Но нет. Даже в смерти Хантенн ясно показал, что считает его младшего брата недостойным внимания.

Он взглянул на дверь. За ней послышался шум. Это был его личный тренировочный зал. Никто не входил сюда, кроме его личного наставника. Если не случалось чрезвычайного происшествия. Кто — то напал? Огненные Крылья? Нет, они не прошли бы так далеко, не будучи обнаруженными. Один из его клана? Они предали его?

Затем все сложилось в одну картину и он лишь проклял свою слабость, за то что он не понял раньше.

Он подошел к двери и открыл ее.

Двое его стражей стояли здесь, с обнаженным оружием, готовые к схватке. Маррэйн глядел на них — если то был Маррэйн. Это был тот, кто выглядел как он, стоял так как он, но у Маррэйна никогда не было такого чистого холода в глазах прежде. Никогда.

Хантибан вздрогнул. Он как будто снова заглянул в глаза его брата.

В руке Маррэйн сжимал окровавленный дэчай. Хантибан знал, что случилось. Почему он хоть на секунду поверил, что это будет иначе? Каменные глаза. Каменная выдержка. Отвлекавшая его умерла и в смерти своей она послужила спусковым крючком, высвободив все, что она сдерживала при жизни.

— Пропустить его. — приказал Хантибан.

— Но, лорд…

— Пропустить. У нас есть… личные дела которые надо обсудить. Когда мы закончим, ему позволят покинуть Широхиду. Никто не будет ему препятствовать. Никто! Что бы ни случилось, ему будет позволено уйти и не будет чиниться препятствий. Приказ понятен?

— Да, лорд. — ответили они, как один. Они шагнули в стороны и позволили Маррэйну войти в покои. Когда он вошел, Хантибан закрыл дверь и взглянул на его Второго Воина. Он не мог удержаться и не посмотреть на руки Маррэйна. Перчаток у него не было. Да, порезы были на месте. Они все еще кровоточили.

Отметина кайшакунина.

— Итак, она мертва? — проговорил Хантибан. — Это к лучшему, Маррэйн. Она предавала нас. Она предавала всех нас. Она отвлекала тебя, не давала тебе стать тем, чем ты мог бы быть.

Маррэйн не сказал ничего. Дождевая вода стекала к его ногам, смешиваясь со все еще капавшей кровью.

— Их слишком много. А мы множимся слишком медленно. Шинген знал это, когда он разбил нас, и это лишь подтвердилось в Маркар'Арабар. Сколько из нас умерло там? Но ты выжил. Сильные выживают и становятся сильнее. Теперь ты станешь еще сильней.

Разве ты не понимаешь этого, Маррэйн?

Ответа все так же не было.

— Ты любил ее? Нет, я так не думаю. Она сказала нам, что ты не любил. Она тоже станет сильнее, после того что с ней было сделано. В следующей жизни она будет лучше, чем была в этой. Не знаю, понимала ли она это. Ты понимаешь, Маррэйн. Это, по сути, только к лучшему для нашего клана.

Первым Воином быть тяжело. Моему брату это, похоже, удавалось без труда. Он все делал так легко. Он был силен, не так ли? Благородный муж. Достойный и истинный воин.

Но он правил слабыми. Ты не был слабым — но было слишком много других. Он никогда не думал о том, чтобы сделать сильными остальных. Зачем это ему, если он силен сам? Что ж, я не так силен, но я создам сильных из тех, кто следует за мной. Если мне потребуется уничтожить для этого половину клана, что ж, оставшихся я сделаю подобными камню.

Как ты думаешь, почему я разрешил тебе войти? Почему я приказал выпустить тебя? Я знал, что это случится. Ты здесь чтобы убить меня. Убей меня, если сможешь. Быть может, это сделает меня сильнее. Быть может — нет. Но это — моя мечта. Потому я хочу править. Мы все будем сильны, каждый минбарец, живущий в этом мире будет подобен камню. Знаешь, почему я хочу быть Императором?

Чтобы сделать всех нас сильнее.

Убей меня, если сможешь, если ты этого желаешь. А я попытаюсь тебя остановить.

— Нет. — сказал Маррэйн; первое слово, что он произнес. Слово… что было словно лед. На мгновение Хантибан услышал голос его брата и он дрогнул. — Я не убью тебя.

Он взмахнул дэчай перед лицом Хантибана, твердой рукой целясь чуть ниже глаза. Первый Воин не пытался остановить его. Быстрое движение и вспышка боли но Хантибан не дрогнул и не вскрикнул.

Теперь ты, наконец, доволен мной, брат?

Движение повторилось — к другой половине лица. Хантибан знал что это, и знал — почему. Отметины морр'дэчай, знак живого мертвеца, воина кто подвел или предал его лорда.

Или же лорда, который предал свой клан.

Сквозь багровую дымку Хантибан бесстрастно наблюдал, как Маррэйн повернулся и вышел из зала. Воин что был камнем.

С сотней таких он мог бы править галактикой. Но здесь не было такой сотни.

Во всяком случае — пока что. Хантибан создаст их.

Маррэйн потерян — пока что. Но он вернется. Когда Хантибан будет достоин его службы, когда он сотрет эти отметины — тогда Маррэйн вернется.

Когда придет время.

* * *

Икар Мор Истринн, Икарра—7.

Полгода спустя.

Кин Стольвинг плотно запахнула капюшон вокруг головы и вышла из дома. Песчаная буря была яростна и собиралась стать еще хуже. Она не хотела путешествий в такую погоду, но выбора не было. Иначе придется тратить время выслушивая этих идиотов, что ведут прямиком к катастрофе.

Неужели они не видят? Нет, они слепы. Все. Слепы, глупы и страшно боятся.

Он взглянула на кроваво — красное небо, но звезд не было видно. Была ночь, но ничто не выдавало этого. Не было ночи не было дня, не было ничего — кроме красной мглы, песка постоянно взлетающего и падающего, обрушивающегося на города Икарры по воле безжалостного ветра.

Она помнила те времена, меньше десятилетия назад, когда все было плодородным и чистым, когда вода струилась, принося жизнь и звезды ярко сияли в холодном ночном небе. Мир всегда был жарок и пустынен, с множеством опасностей, но то было место испытаний, место где народ избранный небесами мог испытать себя и достигнуть звезд.

Если это все еще было испытание — значит боги оказались слишком строги.

Свет залил небо и она вздрогнула. Сражение. Как всегда. Прошли годы, годы тяжелой войны. Чужаки пришли без причины, без повода — они просто пришли чтобы сражаться. Планету бомбили с орбиты, пепел поднялся в воздух и ее прекрасный мир стал умирать.

Была и недолгая передышка. Пришли минбарцы и объединили свои силы с икарранским флотом. Пришельцы были отбиты и на планету пришел мир — но ненадолго. Минбарцев где — то разбили, и захватчики вернулись — более сильными и твердыми чем прежде.

Никто не знал что было им нужно. Они не преследовали выгоды. Им не были нужны ни трофеи, ни деньги ни земли ничего кроме смерти. Больше восьмидесяти процентов населения Икарры погибло за долгие годы бомбардировок. Кто — то пытался бежать, но большинство осталось. Этот мир был священен, этот мир был местом испытания. Все это часть испытаний назначенных богами. Бежать будет… неправильно.

Она вырвалась и сбежала, не зная и не беспокоясь куда ей податься. Где угодно будет лучше, чем здесь.

Был план над которым они работали. Все. Священники, генералы, вожди. Они создавали воина, они создавали броню, способную открыть перед воинами новые горизонты силы и отваги. Воинов не знающих страха, не нуждающихся в еде и питье, не устающих, не спящих, сражающихся и убивающих, пока все враги не будут мертвы.

Святотатство. Искажение облика что им дали боги. Кое — кто говорил что боги покинули здесь своих детей. Другие заявляли что эта броня дар богов и принесет избавление.

Все глупость и святотатство, но важно ли это? Погибли уже столь многие, что продолжать не имело смысла. Кин уже отдала пустынным ветрам ее родных и детей. Она одна и навсегда останется одинокой.

И она умрет достойно не здесь, а в просторах пустыни, куда уходили пророки и где жили боги.

Она не знала, далеко ли ушла. Время перестало что — либо значить. Свет наверху погас, она знала что их жалкие корабли посланные на перехват были уничтожены. Странно, но атаковались лишь боевые корабли. Гражданским судам, уносящим беженцев позволяли бежать.

— Это наш дом. — говорила она с собой, шепча слова в грубую ткань рясы. — Он всегда будет нашим домом.

Все случилось в один миг. Не было знаков, ни предчувствия того, что здесь было. Кин всегда верила, молилась ее богам каждый день, верила в их мощь. Она служила как воин в Легионе Огня — на службе богов. Она рожала детей, благодаря Богов. Она знала что они жили здесь. Она знала, что порой они являются наиболее праведным.

Но она никогда не верила, что один из них предстанет перед ней.

Он был всем что она могла представить. Высокий и величественный, свет лился с его длинных крыльев. Он был совершенством, облаченным в плоть, существом из света красоты и чуда. Песчаная буря не касалась его. Ничто не могло коснуться его.

Она тотчас упала на колени отбросив капюшон с лица, иглы боли от жалящего ветра вонзились в незащищенную кожу. Здесь был Бог и его следовало встречать с открытым лицом. Она протянула к нему руки, шепча заученные молитвы.

Он посмотрел на нее с добром и поднял руку. Она замолчала.

«Ты избрана.» — сказал он. Даже его голос был подобен музыке. «Есть великая служба что ты должна исполнить.»

— Назови ее, господин. — проговорила она. — И я повинуюсь.

«Ты покинешь это место. Этот мир. Ты отправишься в другой мир и найдешь того, кто любим нами. Он появится скоро, и будет с ним колесница из — за предела звезд. Ты будешь служить ему до последних дней, и этим ты будешь служить нам.»

— Да господин. — немедленно ответила она. — Кто он, тот кому я буду служить?

«Он Дух — что — будет. Он не из известной вам расы, но он останется с минбарцами и назовет себя одним из них. Они будут звать его…

Вален.»

Она затрепетала при звуке этого имени.

* * *

Храм Кар Драфа, родной мир Маркаб.

Тот же день.

А'Иаго Мар — Хан знал что он последний. Даже когда он готовил учеников, он знал что он был последним. Никто из этих учеников не понимает. Ни у кого из них нет правильного склада ума, верного понимания.

Это не была только лишь его ошибка. Это была война. Все из — за войны. Слишком много солдат погибло, и для генералов было естественно обратиться к Братству Кар Драфы. Именно они были величайшими воинами расы Маркаб. Правильное обучение Брата Кар Драфы длилось половину жизни. Меньше одного из полусотни заканчивали обучение и заслуживали право добавить «Мар — Хан» к своему имени.

Братство всегда было невелико, а теперь остался только один. Остальные ушли на войну, и они погибли. А'Иаго был самым младшим и он остался учить новых Братьев. Но генералам нужно было не это. Они хотели непобедимых воинов сейчас, сегодня, чтобы сражаться против ужасов, брошенных против них чужаками, что звались Тени.

Генералов не заботило стремление к совершенству, древняя философия и скрытая мудрость. Они не понимали что ученик должен потратить больше трех лет в безмолвной медитации и аскезе прежде чем будет рассмотрено — готов ли он хотя бы коснуться оружия. Их не беспокоили Ночь Горького Наслаждения, Долгий Год Тишины или Боль Маски.

Нет, им были нужны воины — сейчас.

У некоторых были задатки. Может быть. Большинство А'Иаго даже не пустил бы в Храм — в обычное время. Возможно один или двое из его трех сотен учеников и мог бы стать полноценным Братом — со временем.

Но у них не было времени.

Он оставил их упражняться, понаблюдал за тем как они лупят друг друга деревянными палками и ему захотелось взвыть от отвращения к святотатству, в котором он принимал участие. Его умершие Братья не дадут ему покоя после смерти, за осквернение Храма такой пародией на их тренировки.

Но что было — то было. Ему это не нравилось. Точнее — он это ненавидел, но этому уроку он научился давным — давно.

Что было — то было.

Он опустился на колени перед большой статуей Кар Драфы — высеченный из мерцающего кристалла истинный образ святого пророка. Статуя не нуждалась в чистке, не нуждалась в полировке. В ней всегда мерцал свет — и только она освещала комнату.

Он чувствовал себя таким ничтожным перед изваянием, так остро чувствовал свою неважность перед вселенной. Он был меньшим из Братьев, самым младшим, малоопытным и на него обрушилась задача воспитать новое поколение. Нет, это неправильно.

«Да.» — подтвердил голос внутри статуи. «Это неправильно.»

А'Иаго вскинул голову. Свет разгорался внутри изваяния. Яркий свет. Что — то двигалось в камне и появлялось из него. Это…

Это был сам Кар Драфа, созданный только из света, медленно взмахивающий огромными крыльями. Свет лился отовсюду, такой яркий что он почти ослеплял его.

— Господин. — прошептал он — Господин.

«Тебя ждет куда большая задача. Ты был избран для лучшей цели чем эта.»

— Назови ее, господин.

«Ты уйдешь отсюда и направишься на Минбар. Там ты будешь ждать того, кто придет. Он создаст новый орден — так же, как было создано Братство. Ты поможешь ему. Ты будешь знанием и мудростью для его восторга и устремленности.»

«Ты последний из моего Братства, А'Иаго Мар — Хан, но ты станешь Первым Рейнджером.»

* * *

Х'л Кар Капал З'бри, мир — корабль Так'ча.

Тот же день.

Зарвин продолжал отбивать поклоны, пока слова молитвы звенели в его мозгу. Мы грешны. Все мы грешны.

Он знал эти слова. Он знал их смысл. Он знал историю. Он знал страшные грехи, что стоили Так'ча их родного мира, и обратили их в космических изгнанников, скитающихся в их кораблях — мирах.

Когда — то Так'ча были самой сведущей и высокой духовно расой в галактике. Они знали что их Боги существуют и всегда стремились быть достойными благородными под Их взором. Боги жили среди них и являлись в их мир, мир что был раем и небесами, где все было прекрасным где не было зла, не было болезней, где не было смерти.

Затем пришла гордыня. Она была первым грехом. Так'ча были святыми особенными избранными и возлюбленными Богами. Не потому ли что они были лучше прочих рас? Конечно же они лучшие. Они избранные.

Проходило время, и если бы гордыня осталась единственным грехом Так'ча — они все еще могли бы оставаться в раю, но этого не случилось. Боги уходили, понемногу, один за другим, призванные сражаться в великой и ужасной войне, войне против страшного зла, что длилась извечно. Так'ча предложили свою помощь, но Боги отвергли ее. Они не готовы сказали Боги. Они слишком слабы. Они погибнут.

Тогда пришел второй грех. Гнев. Ярость проросла в душах Так'ча. Они всегда, тысячи поколений стремились служить Богам. Они совершали великие деяния в Их честь. Они создавали великие чудеса.

А теперь, наконец, Так'ча узнали что они всегда были ничтожны. Неважно чего они добились, неважно что они совершили, что за чудеса они создавали — они всегда были ничтожны и никогда их не посчитают равными.

И тогда Так'ча решились испытать свою силу. Один из Богов все еще оставался в их раю. В одиночестве. Так'ча отыскали последнего Бога и уничтожили его. Откровение было скорым и славным. Боги могут умирать. Так'ча могут превзойти их.

Расплата была неспешна, но неотвратима. Ярость Богов затмила небо. Райские моря вскипели, воздух наполнился пеплом. Охваченные ужасом Так'ча бежали, глядя с ужасом как их рай был разрушен дотла, уничтожен весь, до последнего атома. Им позволили бежать. Боги не пытались остановить их, но никогда больше у них не будет дома. Теперь они навечно останутся бродягами и изгоями.

Они грешны. Все они грешны, но будет шанс на искупление. Однажды Боги вернутся и они предложат Так'ча еще один шанс — если они останутся кающимися, если они останутся благочестивы, если они будут преданны.

И теперь, через просторы космоса донесся шепот. Великая Война началась. Ужасный враг вернулся. Боги вернулись к битве.

Это ли время искупления, что было обещано Так'ча?

Они ждали. Все они ждали.

Но не Зарвин. Он устал ждать.

В тот же день, когда Боги явились к Кин Стольвинг на Икарре—7, в тот же день когда Кар Драфа заговорил с А'Иао Мар — Ханом в Его Храме, Рамде Зарвин взял свой экипаж и свой корабль и покинул единственный дом, который знал. Х'л Кар Капал З'бри пропал в темноте небес. Он не знал, куда он направляется, знал только лишь что он ищет.

Богов.

* * *

Императорский Двор, Йедор, Минбар.

Год 329 от восшествия Шингена, четыре года до появления Валена.

День Света.

Сначала они пришли в шепоте и слухах. Это Мастера заговорили о их прибытии. Кое — то из них приходил, пораженный, на подгибающихся ногах к жрецам чтобы рассказать о том что он услышал. Жрецы выслушивали и тревожились.

Воины слышали сплетни, но верили немногие. К тому же их куда больше заботила война. Как только закончилась зима, Клинки Ветра продолжили войну, их армию вел новый Второй Воин, высокий воин по имени Унари. Они выследили скрывавшихся Огненных Крыльев которые заключили союз с Танцорами Шторма. Три клана встретились в бою на равнинах Осаришимы и Клинки Ветра были победителями. Леди Дераннимер не была найдена, равно как и Первый Воин Парлонн.

Несколько других кланов начали выказывать свои амбиции. Звездные Рейдеры, Лунные Щиты и Ночные Странники всецело укреплялись и усиливали свои войска. Казалось, что только экспансия Хантибана тревожила их, но согласно некоторым донесениям все три клана готовились к куда большему.

Нет, немногие воины прислушивались к сплетням или уделяли им внимание. Кроме одного, изгнанника с каменным взглядом, но если он что — то говорил или делал — это не было никем записано.

Каста жрецов обсуждала слухи настолько, насколько они могли заниматься этим в Йедоре. Это не выносилось на публику, но многие из них встречались с загадочным чужаком по имени Шрайн. Он говорил о необходимости мира. И эти новые слухи беспокоили их.

Знамения множились. Странные, ярко пылающие огни в небесах. Явления древних героев. Первый Воин Хантибан говорил, что ему каждую ночь являлся призрак его покойного брата, говоривший с ним о древней славе или же просивший его о избавлении от боли.

Война набирала силу повсюду. Все сообщение с Икаррой—7 было прервано. Миры Маркаб погрузились в хаос и беспорядки после того, как все Правительство было вырезано ужасным чудовищем, что скрывалось в мертвых телах.

Весь Минбар казалось затаил дыхание.

И тогда пришли они. Не просто слухи, не просто легенды, не просто шепот.

Они спустились с небес над Йедором в день, что стал известен как День Света. Их были сотни, сияющих словно звезды падающие с небес. Их огромные крылья взмахивали неторопливо и величественно. Их имена шептали, понизив голос. Валария. Варэнни. Ра — Хел. Без числа прочих.

Заговорил их вождь. Ра — Хел, Его голос раздался по всей планете, Его слова были подобны музыке и напевам, Его речь была словно поэма, Его образ был полон безупречной красотой.

И с этого момента путь народа Минбара был ясен.

К небесам.

К войне.

И к Теням.

* * *

Вавилон—4, временной поток.

Где — то за пределами времени.

И они тоже были в пути. Еще никто их минбарцев не понимал этого. Никто из минбарцев не знал их имен. Еще год их не будет даже в мечтах.

Но они были уже в пути.

Движимые в прошлое духом умирающего ворлонца, ведомые надеждой народа Минбара, занятые мыслями о битве что разразится через тысячу лет, битве, исход которой они никогда не узнают.

Один из них говорил и говорил и мало что делал помимо этого. Другой просто сидел, размышлял и слушал.

Никто на Минбаре не знал их имен. Никто не знал, что они идут. Никто даже не мог представить перемен, что они принесут.

Но они придут.

И теперь — уже скоро.

Глава 3

Год 333 со времени восшествия Шингена, год появления Валена.

Минбарская космическая станция Гисейнотоши.

Парлонн с трудом пробирался сквозь дым и пламя. Его мундир был изодран, обожжен и глубокие раны на спине терзали его. Он так хотел просто остановиться и лечь, но знал что не может этого. Из всего, что он раньше услышал про Маркар'Арабар, он не мог узнать ее истинный ужас.

Теперь он знал. Слишком хорошо.

Вопли были хуже всего. Не вонь. Не мертвые тела его товарищей и воинов. Не жуткий вид тех тварей, что запросто проходили сквозь стены. Даже не вид минбарских воинов, сражавшихся бок — о—бок с этими тварями.

Нет, хуже всего были вопли. Стоны умирающих, вопли темных кошмаров кружащих возле станции, крики воинов, что считали себя отважными и наконец узнали что такое истинный ужас.

Они заполняли его слух. Они заполняли его разум. Они заполняли его душу.

И все же он сражался, отчаянно, пытаясь не думать, пытаясь не сдаваться, пытаясь не вспоминать о предательстве Клинков Ветра, пытаясь просто сделать еще один шаг. Потом еще. И еще.

Посреди коридора валялось тело, или же — то что было телом. На взгляд Парлонна это была просто куча костей и мяса. Одна из крылатых тварей, которых Кин Стольвинг называла «Заркхеба» присело на корточки рядом с ним, пожирая его, его кожистые крылья были вымазаны в крови.

Оно вскинуло голову, когда Парлонн приблизился, красные глаза вспыхнули. Они были страшнее всего. В них был виден разум. Словно вселенная создавала тварь с телом из кошмара и душой безжалостного животного а затем, ради извращенной шутки, дала ему осознание того, чем оно являлось. Кин говорила что когда — то они п