Time has an annoying tendency to pass. And to a mind whose senses have been numbed and  stripped away, time either drags or speeds by.
 So he had very little idea of how long had passed when he opened his eyes to a wide room with very little decoration or anything else of note.
     Not too far away, the woman who had watched him sat quietly, waiting. It hadn't been hard to keep him alive: a well-timed drink kept him alive without aging. And while she had, she spent the days making sure he was safe. She didn't know why she did it anymore, only that when he had started to truly die, it hurt her as well. So it must have started as a self-preservation act and only after time slowly grew into something more classifiable as protectiveness. She watched him dream, laughed with him, cried with him, and reached the most startling of realizations on her own:
     That which she had pretended to be; kind, loving, gentle and even sweet... all of that she -could- be.
     So why not be?
     She spent time preparing, trying to remember long ago and before - no, let -that- die.
     She wandered the place, moving things here, tossing things elsewhere, and when she came upon a knife, put it to use by cutting off her extravagant length of hair. It was drastic and it made her lightheaded. She liked it. Casting aside the more lengthy robes for more simple and serviceable clothing, she noted that she felt less... dark, and even more hopeful than before.
     It didn't occur to her that he might react badly to her.
     And so, as she stepped cautiously towards the ledge that he was resting on, he opened his eyes first to the room - and then to her.

     He froze, remembering things that she would have rathered he forgot. An eldritch glimmer began to form around him, and she found herself stepping backwards.
     Without a word, without a send, he sent a wave of magic out, catching her and pushing her farther away from him.
     As the wave hit her, she thought to herself: /Yes, I deserve that, don't I?/
     ** That, and more, ** he growled in send, then stopped. She hadn't sent that.
     He watched her land and then collect herself, pushing oddly-short hair out of her face. Still, she didn't try to retaliate or even send. She waited quietly, watching him for anything.
     He stood, scowling at her. ** What have you done to me, witch? Where am I? **
     Her send was soft, an odd contrast to the other sends that he remembered. ** We are in the Palace... high above the ground. I have been this way for some time now. How do you feel? **
     He almost forgot who she was, her send sounded so gentle, so like – stop it. She had never existed. But even as he looked at her, he could see - the same cheekbones, the soft lines of her jaw... No.
     She was not the illusionary. She was the real.
     She watched him at war with himself, unaware that she too was reflecting on the same illusion. She had not expected him to save the woman, had not given thought to carrying on the illusion further. And yet, she had tried to break him still.
     But who had won?
     She hadn't,  having unwittingly bonded to him... and he hadn't touched the bond on his own. It was almost as if he didn't know it was there.

     He glared at her, the eldritch glitter catching his eyes and setting them afire. As she sat there, watching him, she could feel his magic gather, and when she sent, it came blurting out in a rush.
     ** I'm sorry... I know you cannot forgive me, as much as I cannot forgive myself. And if you want, you can go on your way... but I would rather you stay... **
 The glimmer drained from his eyes almost as fast as if had come. His send, completely unbelieving, touched her like a falling feather. ** You're... sorry? **
     For lack of better manners, he stared at her.
     She ducked her head, cheeks flaming. Somewhere, in a darker and not quite vanished part of her, she marveled at her own emotions. Her? Blushing? Seeking forgiveness?
     It was pathetic.
     And yet, it was happening.
     She was in love with him.
     ** I'm sorry... truly and totally. I... don't know how to prove it to you... ** She sent again, head down.
     He stared at her, almost uncomprehending in his disbelief. She was apologizing to him. Unprovoked. Unrequired.
     And then he felt it. There was something just outside of his grasp... just his if only he'd reach out with his mind and snag it. So in an unusual send of curiosity, he did just that.
     She jumped at the same time he did, eyes meeting, then locking in surprise.
     ** No! ** He sent.
     She looked away suddenly. Spirit of Orolin... he didn't see... didn't know...  He hated her, didn't he?

     And then suddenly he was right there... right in front of her, frowning. ** Your name... **
     ** Is Aeoria. ** She finished for him.
     The frown settled deeper into his golden eyes. ** But I know you as... **
     ** Yes, ** she sent over his, ever-shifting eyes unable to meet his glimmering ones. ** I know. But long ago, I had a different name... a different way of seeing... **
     He grasped her by the shoulders, his grip almost too tight. Burning, his eyes flickered with his send. ** Then what happened, Winnowill? **
     Helplessly, she sent the only thing she had come to over the years: ** You broke me, Rayek. **

     He stood there, his long black hair swirling around him, golden eyes glittering with that dangerous eldritch glimmer. Broken. Broken! Ekuar! Where was Ekuar?    For a moment, time hung suspended like a precious gem, and then in something more than a feeling and less than a send, he saw it. As if the Palace itself were telling him, he could see Winnowill holding his inert form sending the other inhabitants out. He could see the whiteness of Cutter's knuckle on the hilt of New Moon, yet Leetah's hand restrained him-- barely. Venka was uncharacteristically crumpled against Savah's regal form, shoulders shaking. Ekuar was looking worriedly off while he patted Venka's shoulder, and then the image shimmered to show Winnowill holding Rayek's inert form, forcing all of the others out... even the newly arrived Skywise and Timmain in wolf form.
     She set them free. Just like that.
     He shook his head, not disbelieving, but uncertain if the image came from the Palace... or Her. He glared at her where she still sat, anger rolling out from him in visible golden waves. She wouldn't meet his eyes, not even when he sent.
     ** Tell me, Snake, what were your intentions once I woke? **
     She looked away, sighing softly. ** I... don't know, Rayek. I had hoped that we could... talk. **
     ** Talk? ** Rayek sent incredulously. ** After all that, you want to talk? ** He hovered there, golden glimmers of anger glinting within his eyes. A moment passed, then at her silence, he shook his head. ** No, Winnowill. I find that I have little to say other than let me go. **
     She looked up at him, her almost-violet eyes unreadable. ** I... would rather you stayed... **
     A vague smirk settled on his thinned lips. ** And I would rather go. **
     She lowered her head, eyes casting to the floor. Slowly, she placed her hand out beside her, palm down on the floor. ** Very well, Rayek. **
     The Palace seemed to tingle for a moment, then a crystalline door formed itself into the wall, opening to allow Rayek a glint of the fading sunlight from outside.
     Or was it?
     Instantly suspicious, Rayek rose into the air and swiftly flew out of the Palace... and into the waiting stones of Sorrow's End. The first familiar face he saw was the sun-kissed and dreamberry-drunken face of Mender, the Healer. With a grunt, as some things just never changed, Rayek landed in front of Mender and sent brusquely: ** Well? **
     Mender, for his part, belched contentedly and half-focused his gaze on Rayek. ** Hmm? Oh. Things've been fairly quiet since everyone got thrown out of the Palace. Figured you were dead for sure. **
     Mender looked older, calmer somehow. Instead of reacting the way Rayek expected him to, he simply sat back. ** You know, Savah's been trying to break that Snake's hold on the Palace and try to find you... but no luck. **
     Rayek's golden eyes glittered from within. ** Savah. Where is she? **
     Mender half-waved towards Savah's home. ** She's in there, no doubt. She'll be happy... to see you... **
     Rayek darted for the beaded curtain, stepping into the cool darkness that softly pervaded Savah's hut.
     ** Come in, my child. What can I - Rayek? ** Came her send.
     ** Yes, Mother of Memory, it is indeed so. ** He replied.
     She stepped out of the shadows, and he fought hard to suppress the smile that tried to break his face. ** Rayek... sit. Let me send to the others. Let me tell them you are safe. **
     He sat and considered as Savah sent. Sorrow’s End had changed little since Rayek had been within its stately confines last. In fact, he still had no idea how long it had been since She had come and the battle had begun, ending in that bizarre sequence and then pain.
     It hadn’t been death, but why not? Why had She instead removed everyone and kept him alive and sleeping in the Palace? Was it because the Palace wouldn’t accept her? But no, She controlled it enough to cause a door for him to leave by...
     Stranger still. He just might be dreaming yet.

     Outside, the blonde-haired elf frowned. Rayek? Nah... must have been the berries. Enough of those, then.
     But he paused. Damn good berry to have given him a vision of Rayek.
     He reached into the berry pouch and pulled out a handful. Maybe if he ate more... he popped a few into his mouth, smiling at the tartness.
     Two heartbeats after he had swallowed them, Savah's send came.
     He eyed the berries, then stuffed the rest in his mouth. Best dreamberries he'd had in a while, he decided.

     The lone living inhabitant of the Palace was somewhere between upset and bored. She missed him keenly, remembering every painful regret since she had watched him leave. The Spirits of the Palace had tried to cheer her up, but nothing they did could help.
     She hadn’t always heard or seen them. In fact, when she had first sent everyone out, they had been stubbornly silent. Only after she had started to care for Rayek... only after she had started actively trying to improve things - only after she loved...
     And then things started to happen. Doors that simply hadn’t been there before would open, rooms had made themselves available... and the spirits had started to talk to her. Some were old enough to remember Before, when she had been someone else, someone kind.
     And they had reminded her... called her something old, a name far softer than Winnowill A name she had almost forgotten: Aeoria. The name brought along with it old memories, dusty and near-forgotten, but she remembered all of it. Gibra and Haken, Vol and Voll... High Ones and Firstborn... and then herself. How the world had turns and changes and progressively the turnings got worse and more drastic. How Haken had vanished and Gibra seemed to wilt, her children worrying and fearing that their children should be harmed by this now-violent seeming world. She remembered how Voll worried for Gibra’s infant, often caring for the girl as if she were his.
     And so, after Gibra vanished in her mad search for Haken, Voll had gathered everyone and told them they should search for somewhere to live that was protected.
     Some believed him, others didn’t. Those who didn’t stayed behind. Vol believed Gibra would come back. Maybe she did. Aeoria would never know.

     She shook her head, clearing the memories away. What now? Rayek was gone, flown free down to Sorrow’s End. She felt that her purpose was gone, her driving force for life now in a place where she knew she would not be welcomed. Pondering this, she turned around, eyes closing for a moment to suppress the tears.
     When she opened them, he was there. His spirit remembered the flowing fabrics of the sunnier days, the flowered wreaths worn in his hair almost glinting with the memory of sun.
     It was a reflex, a whisper of recognition: “Voll...”
     His phantom features smiled faintly and she could feel that loving blue-eyed gaze once more upon her. His mind-voice touched her like an old whisper upon her soul. ** And now that you have remembered, will you let that memory die? Once, you did everything for love. Do not forget that in your remembering. You loved me once. **
     “Still do...” She whispered, the tears falling slowly. She didn’t dare blink, not for fear that he would vanish once more. She loved Voll... loved him so deeply that she ached to be by his side. But something within her resisted, drawn to the thought of the golden-eyed Rayek far below.
     His phantom hand reached up to just miss her cheek. ** I am ever here, Aeoria. But I am not what you need... or truly want. If you love him, you must tell him. But you must go find him first. **
     And just as his mind touched hers in that age-old and almost-forgotten embrace, he vanished back into the swirl of the spirits in the Palace. They were all in agreement; she should go to Sorrow’s End and speak at length with Rayek.
     She would do it, she decided.
     So why was she afraid?

     The dry winds blew across the hot desert sands, uncaring that the elf who walked towards the Sun Village was repeatedly stung by the blowing bits.
     Truly the stinging was only a mild annoyance, but she wished that she had been granted the ability to shield herself from such simple hindrances.
     Once at the stone archway that made the majestic entrance to the Village, the elf paused. What if they threw her out before she had the chance to speak with Rayek? She couldn't stop them...

     What are you thinking? The memories whispered. You can stop them... you have before…

     It came like a flash: the knowledge that lay within the darker and now more feeble part of her mind. The memory of enjoying that others were feeling pain... the blissful enthrallment that the giving of pain held... but no. It made her sick to think that she had done that. Made her stomach war and threaten to return her earlier meal of a desert snake.
     She wouldn't think of it. She just wanted to talk to Rayek.
     It was the heat of the day and most of the Villagers were safely ensconced within their huts, some napping, others weaving and creating the beautiful clothing they wore. Most of them missed the passing of the improperly clad figure through the Dancing Square.
     Even though she was born a WolfRider, Windsong had taken well to the sunny and hot environment, and indeed, she preferred to be out in the sun when it was the most hot. As a result, the strong sun had turned her normally dark hair to a beautiful white-gold and her skin to a soft nut brown. With the clothing of the SunVillagers, she looked every inch a Villager herself.
     She was busy setting out the two pots she had just made so that the sun's heat would dry the clay, and it came as a total surprise when the long shadow fell over her and she turned to see the poorly-suited elf
approaching.  She was even far more surprised when the elf half-smiled and approached.
     ** Please... might you have some water? I'm afraid I wasn't prepared for the heat... ** Aeoria sent carefully. The small elf before her didn't seem to show a flicker of recognition...
     Windsong made a small 'o' with her mouth before she gathered herself enough to send: ** Yes... in my hut. ** She pointed to the door, turning to follow the taller elf in.
     Once inside, Aeoria was pleased to find that she didn't have to duck as feared. It was cooler and darker inside, a far cry from the heat of the desert... but nothing like the temperate Palace, either.
     ** Here... it's cool, so drink it slowly, ** Windsong sent as she handed the other a skin of water. ** I'm Windsong. **
     ** Aeoria, ** she sent as she sipped at the refreshing water. ** Have you perhaps seen Rayek? I need to talk to him. **
     Windsong tilted her head. ** Have you sent for him? **
     Aeoria shook her head. She hadn't wanted to alarm him. ** No... I feared he might be occupied. **
     Windsong grinned. ** Well, I'll find out for you. Why don't you sit and rest? There's some food over there in that pot... and I'll be right back.**
     Aeoria watched the lithe WolfRider slip out of the hut and slowly sat on the floormat. She was tired... and it had been such a long walk... She fell asleep before she knew it, drifting into a quiet dreamless state.
     It was almost evening again when she woke, her hostess busy tossing clay to and fro in her hands. ** Ah! You're awake! How wonderful. Did you sleep well? Rayek said he'd try to get some time today, but Savah hasn't seen him in a while, so it's hard for him to get away. Maybe tonight at the party... **
     ** Party? ** Aeoria sent, sitting up and beginning to untangle her hair with her fingers.
     Windsong nodded. ** There's to be a festival for Rayek's return. Everyone's really excited about it. **
     And I kept him from these people who love him so…  The thought drifted uneasily through Aeoria's mind. She remembered all too clearly what she had done. The memories weren't fading quickly enough. But they were fading. That nagging voice was getting fainter and fainter.
     Something was tossed Aeoria's way, and before she had a chance to react, Windsong was sending. ** There. It's clothing more suited to the heat... and you don't have to worry about it. I traded a pot for them. **
    ** A pot...? Oh. What you make? ** Aeoria asked slowly as she inspected the lightweight fabrics and the intricate golden stitching along the edges. Small, yes. But there were plenty of flowing scarves sewn here and there to make sleeves and pants... it might work.
     Windsong nodded and drifted into the other area, searching for something. ** Yes. I make them for fun, so it's not a problem to trade one or two for someone who needs something. **
     As Aeoria made some sense of how to get into the clothing, she sent thoughtfully. ** I owe you something. What can I give in return for your pot? **
     Windsong's send was soft. ** Well... I don't really need anything... but if that pot managed to secure clothing for a new friend... what more do I need? **
     Aeoria blinked as she fastened the collar. Friend? She was being considered a friend?
    It made her pause.

    When was the last time she had been called 'friend'? Was she ever? Lovemate, yes. Lifemate... well. But never... friend.

     She was decidedly surprised. She liked it.

     Windsong almost literally bounced over to see the clothing and smiled in approval. ** That looks quite nice on you! The reds really do suit. **
     Aeoria pondered. She was used to blacks and blues. Red was... simply something she hadn't considered as a colour for clothing.
     Windsong giggled as she watched her new friend. ** So shall I do your hair for the festival? **

     Rayek sauntered around the Dancing Square with a droll expression. A festival for him. Imagine. And what was afoot, anyhow? They were tiptoeing around him and sending on tight levels... almost like they were hiding something from him.
     He shook his head, selecting a bit of fruit from a tray, watching the festivities and finding himself somehow separate from them. No matter how hard they tried to drag him into the dances, he found himself reluctant. In fact, he kept looking for a face, yet not completely aware of who he was looking for.
     Swallowing the fruit, he turned around to bump slightly into someone. Smallish and lithe, he recognized her to be a WolfRider who had come to call Sorrow's End home. ** Eh. Sorry about that, ** He sent.

     She was nervous. So many here who would know. So many who might call her another name...

     Windsong turned to smile up at Rayek, her long hair bound into intricate braids. Braids that weren't formed by her own hands, but by the hands of one long lost to the memory of braiding hair and flowers.

     It's funny what you remember.

     He wasn't aware of the slightly awed and somewhat stunned hush that had fallen over the part of the festival behind him.
     ** Oh, don't worry, Rayek! I've brought someone who wanted to talk with you. She came a long way to see you... ** Windsong pointed behind him, and he turned to see who it was.
     She stood there, hair softly framing her face, the flowing red scarves moving like within a dream. Her hazel eyes watched him quietly, lips perfectly poised as if to smile, but just held from it. Shoulders back, head held not so high as before, she stood there waiting. Her stance was different, but it was her all the same.

     The colour drained from his face.

     ** Winnowill! **

     She cringed. Winnowill. She'd rather forget that name, go back to the days when she was Aeoria, the days so long lost to memory and only now surfacing like the gossamer-thin Preserver wings. But how ever could she convince Them of that? How could she prove that the elf they saw when they looked at
her was not the elf that she truly was?
    'Them' (and 'they'), you see, were the six Wolfriders that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, various blades drawn. Strategically placed between her and Rayek's tent, the so-appearing 'leader' of the group looked ready to tear her apart with his bare hands if needed.
     ** Rayek... I just want to talk to you. Please let me talk to you? ** she sent.
     The 'leader', in the center of the Wolfrider group, a stocky elf with long brown hair glared at her. ** If you've got anything to say to him, Black Snake, you can say it right here. With all of us listening. **
     Aeoria sighed. This wasn't going as well as she had wanted it to. Too many memories were being held too tightly. ** Look, ** she sent, opening her hands to show nothing hidden. It was a simple gesture that could be taken wrongly.
     And indeed, it was as three of the Wolfriders leaned forwards, blades at the ready. ** I wouldn't do that if you wanted to talk to him, ** came a lowly growled send from one of them.
     She sighed again, dropping her hands. Well, that worked... She hadn't wanted to do this, hadn't wanted to locksend to him, but... ** Rayek... don't you see? I just want to talk to you privately. Please? There's.... there's something I must tell you. **
     The locksend caught him off guard and he jumped in startlement, golden eyes snapping to the violet ones that were looking towards him so sadly. That was all the Wolfrider needed to leap out at Aeoria with his blade high. It was a well-calculated charge, aimed smartly to catch her in the chest - were it not for Windsong's leaping out in front of her with a sendcry of alarm.
     There was a tumble of elves that ultimately landed at Aeoria's feet, the dagger having found purchase in Windsong's throat. Stunned by the selfless act, Aeoria stood in shock as the elf who had aimed at her looked up to growl ** Death always happens when you're around, Snake. **
     From her place at Rayek's tent, Leetah leapt to her feet, pushing others out of her way to get to Windsong. When she neared, she pushed the Wolfrider out of her way and silently placed her hands on the youth's shoulders, entering her healing trance before even attempting to remove the blade.
    The Wolfrider who had started it all glared at Aeoria as if daring her to move. ** Why is it that you always bring death? **
     Aeoria still remembered how to be cold, how to easily incite the terror that had been Winnowill, and she allowed a touch of coldness to slip into her eyes, her chilled gaze falling on the Wolfrider. Her send was cold, but not as cold as it once might have been, a hint of a reminder of what she was capable of if she so chose. ** It seems to me that you acted without provocation and injured her of your own hand. Now move. **
     It was enough to send him moving from her feet, and then she moved to place her hands on Windsong. The blade had done damage, more than Leetah could handle alone. But with their combined abilities... Aeoria's magic flowed easily to assist, offering itself without intention to Leetah's command.  Startlement flowed through Leetah's magic, but she accepted the offer and didn't notice when both Healers moved to remove the dagger at the same time, pale hand along dark hand.
     But Rayek and all the others saw the two Healers, eyes locked through each other and into the magic that was to work on saving the life that lay between them.
     Murmurs of astonishment and mistrust rippled through the watchers, but it was Cutter's voice that rang out: ** Let them work. Leetah knows the truth. Do you doubt her? **
     No-one said anything to the contrary. They truly didn't dare. They knew that Cutter was formidable himself, having stood up to the Dark One many times before... including the time that they had lost Rayek to Her. But Rayek had come back. And so had She.

     Several hours passed, Leetah and Aeoria sitting still over Windsong's silent form until with a sudden release, all three seemed to start breathing at once. Rayek and Cutter leaned forward, perhaps unaware that they were doing so, the WolfChieftain's send cautious. ** Leetah? **
     The dark-skinned Healer put her hand out as if to silence him. ** She'll be all right... Aeoria... saved her. If it weren't for her magic helping... ** The send got quieter as Leetah felt the rush drain away and sank into Aeoria's side.
     Aeoria, for her part, was amazed at how drained she felt. Healing hadn't pulled at her so harshly since... gracious. It had been a while. And when Leetah sank into her, she vaguely remembered someone else sinking into her long ago after a combined Healing. But the identity remained lost to her memory, and she closed her eyes and thought rest would be a good idea herself.
     Rayek and Cutter were speechless as both Leetah and Aeoria sank into an exhausted rest over the sleeping form of Windsong. A silent exchange between the dark-skinned hunter and the WolfChief, though heated, finally came to the decision to allow the three to stay resting where they were.
     After a moment, Cutter spun, blue fire burning in his eyes. ** Thornripper, what was that for? I didn't tell you to do that. You shouldn't have tried to harm her. **
     The Wolfrider almost growled at his Chief. ** She's the Black Snake. She's done enough, don't you think? **
     ** No, I don't. I think you've done more than enough this time. I don't want to see your face or hear your send around for a few days. Am I understood? ** Cutter sent.
     ** Aye, ** Thornripper sent. ** I understand. But when she turns on you, don't tell me I didn't try to warn you. **

     The WolfChief and the black-haired hunter mutually decided that even though the villagers as a whole had gone to their huts for sleeping, the three in the Dancing Square should stay where they were. As a result, Rayek and Cutter found themselves to be odd companions in the still silence of the evening. It wasn't unforgivably hot, nor was it cold enough to need a fire's warmth. Instead it was uncharasterically balmy, the breeze just enough to keep exposed skin cool.
     ** Do you believe in her? **
     Rayek looked over at Cutter with a quietly blank look on his face. ** She brought me back from the edge of madness… healed my body and mind. My soul is still afraid of her, but I think I am learning. **
     Cutter nodded, the answer similar to what he had expected. ** If Leetah believes, then I must believe. I must believe… **
     The two sat in silence, reflecting on the deeper importance of Winnowill not being Winnowill any longer. It was truly unnerving, because for all of memory, She was a source of fear. But now… with the single act of assisting Leetah save a life… the path to atonement had been opened. But atonement
wasn't as simple as that. By herself, Winnowill-now-Aeoria could live on her own. But it wouldn't be enough. She would need forgiveness of others in order to co-exist. And there was a lot to forgive. It wasn't a simple matter of one or two acts. It was several lifetimes of memory worth of actions.
     That made it something else entirely.

     Morning stirred the winds that promised to be breathtakingly hot later in the day. But now, as Aeoria lifted her head, the breeze was light on her cheek. It felt like the promise of a new day to her.
     Leetah and Windsong slept yet, lost to the gentle morning, but Cutter's slitted blue eyes noticed Winnowill rise and look about herself quietly. With a nudge, Cutter made Rayek aware, and in the illusion of sleep, the two watched.
     Aeoria moved slowly towards the garden, looking at the plants with quiet eyes, turning with interest towards the water. A bath would be a very nice thing indeed… wash off the dust and the night…
     Dropping her wind-worn gown, she slipped into the water with a soft sigh. It was comfortably warm, the gentle lapping of the water a relaxing and reassuring feeling. It wasn't anything like the grotto in Blue Mountain.
     Rayek leaned against a tree that formed part of the entry arch, watching through slitted eyes. She wasn't acting like Winnowill. She looked peaceful, calm. He could almost start to believe that she had changed.
     ** You said that you wanted to speak with me, ** he started.
     With a little splash, she turned to look to him. ** Yes… I… wanted to apologize for what I had done. I… had hoped that we could… at least stop fearing each other. **
     Rayek listened to the tone in her send; listened to the words offered, listened to everything he could as she sent. It wasn't too hard to begin to believe her. ** Winnowill - **
     ** Aeoria. ** She interjected.
     ** Aeoria… so much has happened… it has been so sudden. Please, understand… ** Rayek sent.
     She looked away, nodding. Yes… I have done… things unforgivable… things that cannot be forgotten. **
     The tone to her send tried to break his heart. ** Aeoria… I… ** He sighed. ** I'm sorry, but I need time. So much has changed… **
     She hadn't looked back to him, but he saw her shoulders slip and her head nod. ** Yes, I know. **
     What could he do? She was, after all, still the dominant reason for his self-imposed exile. He had loved her… seen the vision within the Mountain with her. But he knew that the vision was only a fever-dream. It could never happen.
     And yet - there she was. Trying to atone for her past transgressions.
     He couldn't help but love her all the more for it.
     Zwoot-brained fool.
     ** Aeoria… just… **
     He was interrupted by Leetah's gentle voice. "Aeoria, I've spoken to Anshen about new clothing that fits for you, so as soon as we've bathed, let us go visit him. He has some beautiful fabrics to choose from."
     Aeoria turned to Leetah, totally sidetracked. "Oh, yes. That would be wonderful. The rags I have are fairly worn out., and the clothing that WindSong gave me is too small…"
     Rayek took the immediate opportunity to escape. Ducking out of the gardens, he walked back up to the waiting Cutter, shaking his head.
     ** I thought I'd have to go in after you for a moment, Black-hair. Luckily Leetah volunteered for the job. **
     Rayek shot him a look. ** I'll give that you are most likely the closest thing I have to a friend, but I don't need you to come running to my rescue. Not that I'd have minded under those circumstances,  however. **
     Cutter chuckled faintly. ** You always do have a strange way of handling your differences with me. But I won't beat you around for this one. Yet. **
     Rayek chuckled ruefully, remembering how the relationship between himself and Cutter had finally settled into a somewhat strained friendship, then progressed to something considerably less than Cutter's relationship with Skywise, but far better than it had before. Indeed, at times, Skywise
himself was flabbergasted by the strange (and sometimes heated) banter that often flew between Rayek and Cutter. But Leetah summed it up the best for the bemused stargazer: They were warriors who agreed to fight for the same reason.

     In the water, Leetah addressed the elf before her with caution. ** I feel something has changed within you, but the darkness still remains. What will you do about it? **
     Aeoria regarded Leetah calmly; understanding in some strange way that she could not be whole without this darkness, yet with it, she would ever be a danger. With the softest of sighs, she acknowledged what Leetah was saying.
     ** Yes, I know. The darkness that ruled me for so long is twisted and without love. "Loveless One," I believe is how I am known. For that, I am beyond apologetic. I can spend my lifetime trying to make up for it, but I could never undo the damage that I have caused. I cannot ask you to heal me, for although I know that you would do it of your own free will, it is I who owe you. I cannot place myself more in your debt. If I cannot have life with Rayek… ** There was a silence there that weighed deeply upon Leetah. But Aeoria offered a feeble smile and continued. ** If I cannot be with him, than I shall live in exile as a travelling Healer. I will make no friends and live nowhere. I will Heal as needed, and move on, accepting nothing in return. **
     Leetah stared, shock draining all thought from her mind. ** I'm… sure that isn't necessary. ** She paused, then forcibly brightened. ** Come, let us go see Anshen, but be warned, not all of my people can send. **
     Both Healers dried themselves, and though Aeoria was loath to put on her torn and filthy gown again, she did so.
     Anshen was effervescent, trying many different colours on Aeoria by throwing them over her shoulders, but finally the choices were a soft teal or a bright red.
     Aeoria made a face at the teal. "I've… had enough blue and black for a very long time. I think I would prefer the red, if you don't mind."
     Anshen beamed brightly. "I must accent it… perhaps orange and yellow?" He held up some thin cloth that Aeoria could see through.
     She nodded after a moment of reflection. "How long will it take for this to be ready?"
     Anshen nearly tripped over himself to drop the fabric and clasp Aeoria's hands. "My esteemed beauty, I shall not sleep until it is finished. I see it all in my head and you shall indeed be as fair as one of our desert flowers!"
     Aeoria pulled one hand away and put it to her throat. "You… needn't do that. I just have only these rags to wear until my dress is complete."
     "Not so, Aeoria. Anshen made a skirt for me that I find is too long. I think, perhaps, on you, it will do nicely. And you aren't so tall that one of my tops won't suffice."
     Aeoria turned to Leetah. ** I owe you so much as it is… **
     Leetah smiled and thanked Anshen as she sent to Aeoria. ** Consider it a thank you for helping me with Windsong. **
     Aeoria was caught, and she knew it. She was the reason that Windsong was injured… it had been her duty to assist. But here, Leetah was almost demanding to thank her. What could Aeoria do but to smile as Leetah pushed her out the door?
     Leading the taller elf to her hut, Leetah gave many of the onlooking Sun Villagers warning glares. Fortunately, the Villagers knew what those meant. She could be mighty imposing when she had to be.
     It was no easy task to get Aeoria into her smallish hut, but eventually she managed to talk Aeoria into crawling into it.
     ** I'm not sure I like this… ** Aeoria sent as she crawled in on her hands and knees.
     Leetah smothered her laugh and busied herself with finding the skirt. ** If you crawl into the center, the floor is lower. It might be more room for you. **
     Aeoria did so, and immediately found that she could stand, though still not fully. But she sat so that she wouldn't feel more out of place than she did as it was.
 ** Here we are… ** Leetah sent, and suddenly a green skirt landed beside Aeoria, followed by a red blouse. ** Try those on. **
     Aeoria pulled off the tattered black gown and tossed it aside, picking up first the blouse and pulling it on over her head. She got it settled, and then worked on the skirt. That took some doing, but eventually she managed, and the skirt wasn't too short. Beside the paleness of her skin and her
height, she wasn't looking too far from a Sun Villager. Looking up at Leetah, she announced with a firm send that she wanted her hair shorter.
     Leetah stopped. ** What? **
     ** I want my hair shorter. ** She sent an image, hair the length of her ears and no lower. Bangs framed her face, just above her eyebrows.
     Leetah nodded slowly. ** I… can do that… but are you certain it is what you want? **
     Aeoria nodded. ** I can grow it long again if I wish it. **
     Leetah pondered, then laughed softly. ** Of course you can. I hadn't thought of that before. **
     Aeoria smiled, then turned her attentions now to something entirely different, allowing Leetah to cut her hair with relative ease and very little distraction. When she was finished, Leetah gathered up all of the excess hair and stepped outside to dispose of it. When she returned, there was an elf of an entirely different color sitting there.
     Aeoria had gone to many lengths as Winnowill, indeed she'd become as near to a fish as she dared come. So this was no major trick, darkening her skin to match the shades found within the Sun Village.
     Leetah dropped her knife in amazement. ** Aeoria! You startled me! **
     Aeoria offered a faint smile. ** I… don't wish to look so out of place. **
     Leetah smiled. ** You'll be a Sun Villager in no time, Aeoria. Just have patience. Cutter needs me, but you are free to sleep here if you wish. I don't use this hut any longer. **
     Aeoria nodded her thanks and watched Leetah leave. So much left undone… and she had yet to meet Savah face-to-face. At that thought, she shuddered. Coming directly into contact with her was not something she was looking forwards to.

     Rayek spent the day with Savah, discussing the true possibility of Aeoria's change of heart and possibly soul.
     Savah pointed out that Winnowill-turned-Aeoria was quite possibly older than she was, and most likely the child of a High One, if not the grandchild of one.
     Rayek's world swayed violently as that consideration made him momentarily lightheaded. And she had chosen him?
     Many discussions and a meal later, Rayek slipped out of Savah's hut and headed to one of the guest huts for the night. As he approached the door of one, he paused. Looking up to the stars, he muttered mostly to himself and only partly to them: Ancient Ones… please… I have asked nothing for myself…
but yet, this I must ask. Show me what is true and what is false. Grant me this knowledge and I will want for nothing else.
     Nothing answered. No wind, no comforting thought in reply. Instead, there was only silence.
     With a reluctant sigh, he stepped into the hut and prepared for sleep.

     Inside Leetah's old hut, Aeoria slept, but her magic was wide awake and working.

     Within her hut, Savah meditated on a great many things. She had heard the name Aeoria many centuries ago, when many of her closer kin were still alive. If this one, if Winnowill was indeed her… many more things would make sense.
     As evening fell, various Sun Villagers collapsed to sleep, but not Anshen. He worked all the harder, cutting and sewing, sewing and cutting. Somewhere, the back of his mind was worried that he would make it too small. But on he sewed, pausing only for necessity, then continuing long
into the night.

     The sun was nearly ready to rise when he wearily set the package just inside the door of Leetah's old hut. Indeed, he was too tired to notice the strong tingle of magic. So he staggered back to his hut, and fell asleep amid cloth and pillows.

     The first breath of morning crept through the hut, and the sleeping figure stirred. Awareness came mere moments after, and the dark-haired head popped up above the sleeping pit.
     It was hard to miss the red bundle by the door and she crawled over to it, unwrapping it as she moved back to the recessed area.
     Chaos of cloth and ruffles ensued before she managed to figure out the dress - sleeves there, neckline… well, modesty was only barely known to the Sun Villagers. She sighed and worked her way into the dress, tugging here, fluffing there. Eventually she was satisfied with how it felt on her, and she notices that he had indeed made it the perfect fit. She smiled softly. She hadn't told him. Perhaps that was his talent.
     Rayek awoke with the distinct feeling that something strange had passed in the night. He checked himself, checked his clothes, and then shrugged. High Ones willing, he'd discover it sooner or later. Best dress and get the morning started. It was bad enough that the Villagers still met him at the door with various gifts and embraces.
     As usual, there was ShenShen, cheerful and bright and entirely ever-willing to hug him. Next was Tahri, who was still quite young, but old enough to have developed a crush on him at first sight. Surprisingly, there were only three outside his door, and the third was Leetah. He didn't mind hugs from her.
     ** Rayek, ** She locksent, ** I don't think she's awake yet, so I wanted to have a word with you. **
     Rayek looked at her, then nodded, moving with her away from the hut.
     She began to send mere moments after they started walking. ** She's still a dangerous mind, Rayek. She appears to be trying not to be, but I'm not sure that her better side has completely won out. **
     Rayek eyed her askance for a moment, then sent bluntly. ** You know I love her, don't you. **
     Leetah's smile turned a bit wistful. ** My childhood companion, I find it hard not to know how you feel. You have loved her for a very long time. I don't think anyone or anything could stop you from loving her. **
     His cheeks turned a suspicious shade of deep pink. ** I.. ah.. .you know me too well. **
     Leetah laughed brightly, continuing and not even noticing that Rayek had come to a complete halt. After a moment, she stopped and turned to see what had happened.
     Rayek was face-to-face with a small female in a fairly revealing red dress. Yellow and orange flares of ruffle stuck out below the hem and sleeves, caught up by various golden catches. Short black hair dusted her neck, tanned ears gracefully sweeping back through the hair, tips peeking through the flippant strands.
     With a jolt, Leetah realized who this must be… and what her appearance entailed. Was she so willing to leave her past self behind?
     ** Rayek… good morning. I… ** Aeoria began hesitantly.
     As Leetah watched, Rayek's amber eyes betrayed horror and he took a few steps backwards. Unable to interfere, she watched Rayek shake his head and send. ** No! ** before taking to the air with reflex of his will.
     No sooner had Rayek departed, then Aeoria turned sadly away and walked slowly back to Leetah's old hut.
     Torn between comforting Aeoria and finding Rayek, Leetah paused. A hand fell lightly on her shoulder, and Savah's rich voice fell on Leetah's ears.
     "Let him go, Healer. He will come back to the Village when he is ready."
     Leetah turned to Savah. "But… Aeoria?"
     Savah turned her dark eyes to the small hut. "Bring her to me. I wish to meet her."
     But Aeoria would have nothing of it. She thanked Leetah for the use of the hut, then she went quietly to Anshen's hut and healed his over-weary body. Finally, she prepared to make her way out of the Sun Village.
     The soft send made her cringe, for this was a mind that she had not wanted to encounter.
     ** It is a pity that you leave so soon, sister."
     Head down, eyes lowered, Aeoria turned to face Savah. ** I have… I cannot stay here. There are injured that I must help… somewhere, ** She finished weakly.
     Savah looked at the drastically re-Shaped elf and mused for a moment. ** And what if there is someone injured here? **
     Aeoria's head lifted some and her eyes flickered up to meet Savah's for just a moment.
     ** Leetah is here. I am not needed. ** It was weak, and she knew it.
     ** Yet without you, Windsong would not have lived. **
     It came out explosively, the pain and shame of that night. ** Without me, she never would have been injured in the first place! **
     Savah had hardly dared to hope that Winnowill truly was the Aeoria of memory past, the child-healer that had been the daughter of Gibra and Haken… the stories told to her of the fear Gibra held for her tiny child who could Heal injuries even while sleeping. And so, Gibra had fled with the girl, taking along one of the helpers that would eventually be called Preservers. Secluded in a valley, they slept in wrapstuff until the Preserver encountered others like them and revealed the sleepers.
     Many years had passed, Gibra finding Vol a grown adult. They wept together and rejoiced over the baby. Timmain herself had been long gone, and Timmorn a fairly wild youth, but he sensed the spirit within the child, and was ever careful near her. But too soon, Gibra fell ill and departed once more to find Haken before she died. She didn't return, and Aeoria grew with her brother and the others that he 'led'.
     Savah shook her head only slightly, looking into the pained and tear-filled eyes before her. Truly, if this was Aeoria… child of High Ones… older yet than Savah herself. Yet what had happened to steal memory and soul?
     ** I cannot stay… even as I am, they will know my send. To them, I will still be Her, the Loveless One. That is not who I am. The memory is faded, but I must find myself. Leetah is right. Until the darkness within me is no longer a threat, I am too much danger to those around me. **
     With that, she turned, walking to the well, then beyond it, leaving a quiet Savah to ponder.

     Flying pensively over the desert was not where Rayek ever expected to find the Palace. But, there it was, bright and welcoming, almost seemingly alive. He entered, scouting it through for damage and found none. Instead, the spirits seemed intent on giving him soft pushes towards the Scroll Chamber. He gave in, allowing them to pull him into the room, where the Scrolls were moving on their own. As he watched, the story unfolded before him. The beginning of it all, Gibra and Haken's daughter so powerful, so young… Gibra trying to keep her child safe by escaping to the dreamless sleep of wrapstuff. But even that, and the relative safety of Vol hadn't worked. Haken had little difficulty finding his daughter and awakening her darker powers with his tainted will. Renaming her Winnowill, he pushed away the kinder Aeoria, drawing forth the more cruel and twisted powers. It was nowhere near an overnight change, but it was enough of a push down the hill. Her darker side to her Healing asserted itself the day that Haken made an error, and her magic left him almost dead.
     Terrified, she had reverted to some of Aeoria's kindness, and returned to those Haken had stolen her from. And yet, Winnowill remained.

     Rayek stared, amazement flooding through him as he realized what he was being shown. And then, in a soft brilliance, a spirit was before him, achingly beautiful with the memory of form, the only thing truly clear were her eyes.
     She didn't send, but he felt who she was, and what she was telling him.
     He had to find Aeoria.

     Savah was meditating in one of her inner chambers when Rayek unceremoniously burst in, Ahdri fussing behind him.
     "Rayek, how could you! I told you she is meditating!" Ahdri fussed.
     Savah's eyes snapped open in time for her to see Rayek turn on Ahdri. "I must see Savah, and right now is not the time to stand on ceremony."
     ** Savah, ** he sent. ** Where is she? The Villagers say she has left. **
     The Mother of Memory had known that he would be returning. It failed to surprise her as to why.
     ** I'm sorry. She left several days ago, through the exit by the well. **
     Rayek needed nothing more. Pushing past Ahdri, he flew out of Savah's hut, and pushed through layer upon layer of heat. He had to find her. He'd been so wrong.
     He'd been wrong.
     And he was willing to admit it.

     Unaware that Rayek was looking for her, Aeoria had dragged herself across the desert (once again) and collapsed gratefully beside a small waterway in the trees at the foot of a mountain range. Far North, she knew that she had headed towards the worst of all places for a magic-using elf to go: Go Back territory.
     She minded this, and she had very little intentions of crossing the mountains themselves. She'd follow the water to wherever it led, in the event that there were more elves along the way.
     But first, she drank and bathed, then left the water in favor of a crook in the branches of a nearby tree. Once settled, she fell asleep, faded memories returning in the guise of dreams.
     When morning came, she drew herself to wakefulness and climbed down out of the tree to begin her new life and to search for a better way of understanding herself.