Healing Hearts

     The elf - correction, the bedraggled creature before the WolfRider chieftess, may have looked like a Sun Villager, but she didn't smell like a
Villager. Worse yet, even her send was strangely familiar. But this stranger had arrived one morning and saved the life of a child who had been
injured while trying to save his wolf-cub. Cub and child were safe... and all because of this stranger who would not even give her name.
     It was making Ember's head hurt.
     ** You won't tell us who you are, and you won't accept anything for our gratitude? **
     The mystery elf shook her head. ** The greatest gift was the joy in your eyes when you told his mother that she still had a son. **
     Ember leaned back, completely amazed. ** Then, will you stay with us for a while? **
     Her guest shook her head. ** No, I am needed elsewhere. I will be gone before the fall of night. **
     Ember sent briefly, her blue eyes flashing, then looked to the other. ** Then you will at least accept some leathers and a travel fur. Do not tell
me that you will not, for I am not interested in that. It is what Tumble wants to give you for helping his wolf-friend. **
     There was a pause, and the short black hair flipped forwards as the Healer nodded. She had little choice.
     As evening fell, she made her way from the small tribe. It had been nice to be among others for a short time, but she didn't belong there. There was
too much risk for them to find out who she was. She drew the travel fur about her as she climbed up a low-hanging tree and settled in against the trunk. As she closed her eyes, sleep overtook her with a rush.


     ** Aeoria! You shouldn't go that far from the others. What if something happened to you? **
     The child looked up at the slender blonde female who gathered her into her arms and hugged her close.
     ** But, Mama... you could still send to me. ** She protested, pushing away with her child's hands, squirming to get herself down. It wasn't working.
     ** I can, yes. But not everyone can send as far as you or I can. So you must remember that. **
     The child's black hair swung at her back as she nodded. ** Yes, Mama, I'll remember that.**


     She awoke with a jolt, a send-cry tingling at her mind. It was in the distance, but she could hear it.
     Tying her travel fur around her, she scrambled down to the ground and took off running in the direction that she had felt the cry, wishing again that
she had the power to glide.
     It took her too long to get there. Far too long. The send-cry had grown considerably weaker as she had run, and all she could do was keep sending
that she was coming.
     When she got there, the other elf was all but gone. She didn't need the send to understand what had happened. Humans had found the hiding spot and
had ravaged it. Three lay dead, the fourth dying, and Aeoria felt a cold chill when she realized that they had been Gliders.
     Somehow these four had survived the Mountain, survived long enough to fall to the hatred of the Humans. And she had failed them yet again.
     ** Itesa... ** came the weak send from the dying female.
     Aeoria laid her hand on the elf, willing the pain away. It was all she could do, and they both knew it. ** Shh... it's over now. **
     ** No... Itesa... isn't here... ** the other elf sent through the haze that began to fill her.
    Aeoria frowned at the elf, trying to remember an Itesa in the Mountain. She wasn't having much luck. ** Joivel, who is Itesa? **
     The other elf, Joivel, didn't answer.
     Aeoria sighed softly, lifting her hand and looking around the carnage. Alinsa there, Kamin, her mate bedside her, as if he had tried to guard her.
And Irian... she looked away. How deeply she knew that she had failed them all.
     A soft sound touched her ears, and she spun, dagger coming to hand, expecting the Humans had returned to gloat over their victory. But it was a
child, perhaps six turns, clearly stunned into shocked silence at what she saw, large blue eyes wide and wild.
     It clicked in Aeoria's mind. Itesa, the one who wasn't here. ** Itesa, come get your things. I am Aeoria, and your... mother, Joivel has asked me
to look after you. **
     The child simply nodded, the hypnosis in Aeoria's send glazing over what was seen and noticed. It was better to keep the true knowledge of the
carnage from the child.
     So it was only a little while into their travels that the girl was chipper and sending brightly, answering Aeoria's questions blithely and adopting
Aeoria as her mother with very little resistance. For some reason, it eased Aeoria some to have the child nearby. She was another mind, and a mind
intent on discovering all that she could, learning everything put to her, and absorbing all the knowledge that Aeoria offered her.
     ** Itesa... I'm tired. Can't we just walk along quietly for a while? ** Aeoria sent after a particularly intensive discussion over the various uses
of gliding, and why Aeoria wished she had it.
     ** I... guess. ** The child replied. ** But why don't I have other talents? You have healing and other talents that I can't quite figure out
yet. **
     Aeoria paused, looking to Itesa. The child could sense things in others, then? Perhaps there were more talents hidden. ** All will come in time,
Itesa, and nothing I do will change that. It's up to you to discover what you can and cannot do. **

     Over their travels, they both learned that Itesa couldn't heal - she cut herself and Aeoria chided while healing her. The way to find out if she
could heal herself was NOT by cutting herself first! Properly chastened, Itesa promised never again to do something like that.  That was the day
they ran into an elf that Aeoria really hadn't wanted to meet. Cutter. And the rest of his tribe.

     She hadn't known that they had left Sorrow's End… but it made sense.  That group couldn't stand the light of the sun forever. She wanted to avoid
them, but Itesa wanted to meet them. She didn't see much of a choice.
     ** Why are you shaking? Is there someone bad here? I don't sense anyone bad here… ** Itesa tilted her head and looked at Aeoria's shaking fingers.
     Aeoria herself glared at her fingers as if they were trying to reveal her secrets of the past. ** They don't like me very much. **
     Itesa frowned. ** They don't like you? Why not? That's bad of them. Who doesn't like you, and I'll give them a good talking to like you do me when
I've been bad. **
     Cutter approached the pair, and upon overhearing the child's comment, did his best to hide a smile. ** And I'll speak with them after. Bold words for
such a little girl. Come, it's not often that visitors manage to find us. **
     Aeoria sighed inwardly. She was bound to be recognized in this group… and then everything she was trying to atone for would destroy her.
     Right away, Cutter noted the reluctance of the child's companion to go with him, and he wondered to himself what they might have seen. It was
clear that there was little resemblance between the two, so ruled mother out. Even more, the child was gliding. She was younger than the Fall… was
she born after from survivors?
     ** Cutter…? ** Came Leetah's locksend.
     ** I have visitors, Leetah. One of them's a Glider. The other seems to be a SunVillager. ** He replied.
     Leetah burst out of a nearby thicket and stopped in surprise to see what Cutter had found. That was Aeoria… but where had the child come from? She
was a Glider… the child looked up with clear blue eyes and smiled at Leetah.
     The send rang clearly through. ** Look, Momma. She's a Healer too! **
     Cutter started, looking out at Leetah with surprise. That far away, and she could tell? Leetah returned his surprise, but largely from the way that
the child referred to Aeoria: Momma.
     As they made their way into the Holt, others seemed to appear out of nowhere. Itesa was delighted.  Aeoria, on the other hand, seemed to
withdraw into herself further and further.
     Leetah walked up and Cutter held up his hand to abate the torrent of questions that Itesa was pouring at him. ** Leetah, this is Itesa, and her
mother… **
     ** …Who is a friend of mine from Sorrow's End. ** Leetah finished with a smile as Aeoria's black eyes snapped to her green ones in shock. ** Though
the last time we talked, I don't recall a child, 'Ria. Come, I think there's much that needs talking about. **
     Aeoria felt the blush creep over her face. Itesa looked at her with questions bubbling through her bright eyes, but didn't ask.


     Inside the den, Leetah turned to Aeoria with a smile. ** She's cute. Who is she? **
     Aeoria considered stalling, then sighed. ** She's a Glider, yes. I couldn't save her mother, and I couldn't leave her alone after seeing what
the Humans had done to her parents. **
     Leetah nodded. ** Does she know who you are? **
     Aeoria shook her head. ** No... and she has a strange view of Winnowill indeed... as if Winnowill had been a grace to all things living. I'll
eventually have to correct that... ** It occurred that she was talking about herself after a fashion, and a look of disquiet crossed her face. **
I'm never going to put that behind me, am I? **
     Leetah considered for a moment, tilting her head, her curls cascading over her eyes before answering. ** Never is a long time, Aeoria.
** She didn't explain further. Somewhere, deep within, a part of her seriously questioned certain others ability to completely forgive. But they
hadn't linked with Aeoria... hadn't seen Within...
     ** And it will be even longer before Rayek forgives me. **
     The auburn curls shifted as brilliant green eyes looked back to Aeoria. ** He left Sorrow's End shortly after you did that day. **
     The dark eyes looked off into the distance, memory flashing across them. ** Back to the Palace, no doubt. To make certain that there was no
damage. **
     ** No, I am fairly certain that he went after you. **
     Shock flashed across Aeoria's face, and she looked back to the other Healer sharply. ** After what I did to him? **
     ** Did what to who? ** Came Cutter's send as he entered the small niche.
     Leetah raised both eyebrows as she looked to her mate - who had Itesa happily perched on his shoulder bubbling brightly at the Preserver
MossBrown - who was, as its name suggested and quite unlike its other kin, the drab colours of moss.
     Aeoria whirled, catching her breath. But before she could answer, Leetah had done so for her: ** Rayek. **
     Cutter set the girl (and her bug) down in mid-air with a slight doubletake to make sure that was what he had done, then put his hands on
his hips. ** It's amusing to know how hard he chased you, Leetah, yet how fast he shies away from being chased himself. So you were one of the
Rayek-chasers? How badly were you chasing him? **
     Aeoria found herself blushing involuntarily, looking away, to Itesa and the Preserver. ** I... was probably the worst... **
     Leetah looked at Cutter, the whole moment passing in a single locksend to her mate which revealed the identities of both Aeoria and Itesa.
     It took Cutter all of two heartbeats to absorb the information, and when he did, his entire presence of Self darkened. It began in his eyes and
spread quickly across his face.
     Paling in sudden fright, Itesa grabbed the bug tightly, flitting over to Aeoria and clutching her quickly. ** Mama! What happened? He's
angry he doesn't like you and you didn't do anything to him and I'm scared and I want to leave now! ** The send tumbled out of her, words pushing
together with her emotions.
     It took Aeoria less than a heartbeat to make her decision. Placing an arm protectively around Itesa, her eyes and lips hardened, chin rising
ever so slightly. ** It seems that we are no longer welcome here, Itesa. We will need to seek hospitality elsewhere. **
     Cutter's send was dangerously low. ** The child stays here. She needs a better life than with you. **
     Itesa clung tighter to both MossBrown and Aeoria, burying her face in Aeoria's shoulder. ** I don't want to stay here, Mama! I want to go with
you, don't leave me here with him! **
     Leetah's eyes flashed with a green fire as she glared at Cutter. ** If you, or any other member of this tribe so much as touch these two, it
will be a long cold time in the furs until I've healed them both. **
     A thin tendril of shock flickered into his eyes, but he didn't look like he was backing down.
     Aeoria took several secure steps towards the exit, and Cutter. When she was immediately beside him, she sent quietly. ** Even wolves know how
protective mothers are of thier children. I am no longer that which you fear, but I am perfectly capable of protecting that which desires to be
with me. **
     He stepped to block the exit, his gaze sliding to her, and he saw the white knuckles of the child as she clung to her adoptive mother in fear.
     Leetah's send was low. ** Let them go, Cutter. They need each other more than you can know. **
     The WolfChief lifted his gaze incredulously over Aeoria's shoulder fixing his mate with a blazing blue stare. ** Just like that? **
     Leetah's chin came up. ** Just. Like. That. **
     Cutter didn't like it. Leetah taking sides with Winnowill? No matter that in Sorrow's End, the two Healers had worked together to heal the child
injured by a tribesmate's zealousness. She was the Loveless One.
     Or was she?
     The corner of his eye caught a movement, and on reflex, he leapt back, hand on the hilt of his blade. But all Aeoria had done was to hold
Itesa closer and lean her head gently against the girl and gently brushing her hair with tan fingers.
     The Loveless One.
     Bah. ** Get out, ** he sent, scowling further as he stepped aside. ** Before I change my mind. **
     Aeoria knew better than to look back.

     Ducking out of the tree, Aeoria and Itesa were keenly aware of the eyes that watched them. Every branch seemed to have six or eight eyes
peering down from it, and Aeoria quickened her steps, again wishing that she could take to flight.
     But as she neared the edge of the clearing where the dark woods might swallow them into hiding, a flame-coiffed figure landed lightly
before them.
     Aeoria came to a halt. Cutter had changed his mind! She had learned well the cost of her life now, if it was demanded, she would give it.
 But for Itesa... she could not leave her alone in this. Shifting the child on her hip, she looked at the figure with quiet eyes.
     Tyleet wasn't that old, and for that one fact, she would be forgiven her next act. On that, she counted with all eight of her fingers. Taking two
hesitant steps forwards, she offered a leather bag, akin to one used during long hunts or Dreamings.
     ** Here. The whitecold will be bitter this turn... and she will need this. ** Small hands pressed the bag into Aeoria, who had to take it in
     ** I... thank you... to lose her... ** Aeoria couldn't finish, so horrible was the thought of being alone again.
     Tyleet looked around Aeoria and then back to the elder elf. ** You'd better go. Quickly. Cutter's mad. **
     Aeoria nodded, clutching bag and child to her, then running deeper into the woods.


     Ember looked up in surprise at the raven-haired hunter that she had once fallen so in love with. ** No, you're mistaken, Rayek. There is no possible
way that was Winnowill. For one thing, what would She be doing healing one of us? Or a wolf-cub? No, you're just mad because another Sorrow's End elf
has more powers than you. **
     Eyes the color of the golden necklace at Ember's throat narrowed. ** Where did she go? Surely she said? ** Never mind that Ember didn't believe that
it had been Winnowill. It was even more proof that he had been so desperately wrong.
     Ember shook her head. ** She didn't say, and nothing we did could convince her to stay. Tier tracked her for a bit, she went back towards the... **
She paused, frowning. ** Towards the ruins of Blue Mountain. Rayek...? **
     He was too busy mentally chastising himself to hear what else she sent. Three hands of moons. Always too far behind her, and getting farther. If he
just hadn't gone off blindly from Sorrow's End... if he had only looked for her path... Every morning he awoke, keenly aware that he was no blood-born
hunter, no tracker of those who left no trail but the scent they left behind...
     ** Rayek! **
     Ember's send cut through his thoughts and he looked over at her. ** What? **
     ** I said, if she's headed to the Mountain, she'll end up running across my father's tribe. And if she truly is Winnowill... **
     Rayek knew that Cutter still didn't trust her, didn't believe that she wasn't the same. He knew, of course, now that it was too late. He rose to
his feet and shook his head. ** I can't stop until I know for certain. **
     Ember sighed. ** Then you'd best not stay. The longer you stay here, the farther she gets. Go, and go quickly. **
     He nodded, and headed out the door without so much as a goodbye. She watched him go with a rueful expression, then shook her head. That
blackhair. Typical of him, though, to figure it out too late.

     In the air, he could have travelled much faster, of course, but she didn't travel by air, so he had to follow what was left of her trail the hard way:
walking. He was somewhat grateful that she couldn't glide - trails didn't exsist when you flew. As it was, her trail was weak, mostly made of areas
where she had paused to rest, and even those were few. At one point, he found a fur in a lowlying branch of a tree, and pondered why it was still
there. If it had been hers, why had she left it? He collected it, and moved on.
     Later in the day, he shuffled into a small overgrown clearing and paused to take a drink of his water and clear his head. That fur was bothering
him. What had it been doing there? Almost imperceptably, he sensed her magic and sat so as to better clear his mind and search the potential
magical trail, something he had not felt since she had left Sorrow's End.
     Something hard was under his knee, and absently, he reached under to pull it out. Magic sense flared, and he looked down at it, sidetracked, and
froze in horror.

     Ember had only just woken when a strangely haggard figure shadowed the doorway to her den. ** ? ** She sent fuzzily, willing life into bones that
had not yet slept enough that day.
     A send filled with thickly mixed emotions accompanied the leather-wrapped bundle. ** I found... this. In a clearing. ** He sat heavily, obviously not
having had a chance to sleep himself.
     Ember took the bundle and unwrapped the leathers around the object in question. Blue eyes focused, refocused, then she gave a muffled yelp,
snatching her hand away and dropping it.
     Not yet old enough to be sunbleached white, the elfin skull rolled into a pool of shadow in her furs.
     Like a little lost wolf-cub, the Chieftess peered up at Rayek, uncertain. After all, if that -was- the Black Snake's skull...she couldn't truly be
sorry. But she saw the pain in his eyes, pain deeper than what she had always seen, ever since she had been a cub, when he had looked at Leetah.
And for that reason alone, she could send it, and mean it.
     ** Rayek... I'm sorry... It wasn't.. couldn't have been... father's tribe...? **
     He shook his head slowly. ** No, it wasn't. Your father isn't that bad a sender, but he was still out of range. And even your father's hunters know
how to cover a trail. The trail was as clear as if it had been made intentionally. **
     Ember gave a half-sigh of relief. At least Cutter wasn't responsible for both levels of pain. She knew that if Cutter had been responsible for the
loss of both of Rayek's loves... the tense truce between the two would be shattered for all of Now, and any future Now there was to be. ** So... what
now? **
     His magic collected both skull and leathers. When he sent, it was quiet, and with a resigned sense that Ember had never felt in his send before. It
felt like she was feeling him die, bit by bit, and a detached part of her wondered if that was what her mother felt when fighting the dark coldness
of death. ** I'm taking... her... to the Mountain. Where she was going. **
     She scrambled forwards, watching him wrap the skull gently. It unnerved her to watch, to see the skull still tinged red. She wasn't squeamish by a
long shot, but the last time she had seen a skull like that, smelled that scent... Suddenly she understood her irrational fear and behaviour. **
Humans! Father showed me what the Humans did to us when they caught us. They skin us as we skin ravvits! **
     He darkened some, an aura of anger filling the den. ** I know. I'll deal with them when I return. ** The skull in its wrappings vanished into a bag
at his belt.
     ** Rayek? You aren't going now? You can't, you need to sleep! **
     He stepped out of her den, his send bleak enough to make her shiver. ** Sleep is for when you wish to dream. I no longer have a use for dreams. **
     She sent again, trying to convince him to rest, but he was already gone, having taken to the air and speeding towards the ruins of Blue Mountain.


     She wanted to forget about him. More than anything else she had wanted in a very long time, it hung in her mind like a mantra. Over and over she
wished that she could just forget him and let it be. But Rayek wasn't the type that you could forget so easily. That was just her luck.
     Itesa was growing quickly, and Aeoria found herself surprised by that.
     Glider children hadn't seemed to grow that quickly, as she had recalled. But then... it had been a few centuries since she had the opportunity of
being near a Glider youth.
     An enormous discussion had arisen over the fact that Aeoria chose to walk, rather than fly... which resulted in Aeoria finally having to give in to
the fact that she couldn't simply take to the air with a passing thought. Itesa considered, then remarked that she couldn't heal, but she could
glide. It ended the discussion on a lighter thought.
     Yet, Aeoria's mind kept drifting back to that. Why couldn't she glide?  Voll had. Hadn't others who had gone with them had the ability as well?
Hadn't she?
     She couldn't remember yet. But she would. Even if it meant that she had to pry it out of her mind the hard way. But it had something to do with her
father. So why couldn't she remember him either?
     ** Mama...? Why don't we stay when they ask us to? ** Itesa asked one day as they left a small group of elves near a river.
     Aeoria shook her head. ** Because others need me. I can't just stop and not help. ** The rocky path was difficult, and she climbed up and over a
rock as she sent.
     Itesa floated nearby, looking at her. ** Then why don't you go somewhere and let them find you? Everyone knew where the Great Healer Winnowill was. **
 Aeoria stumbled, slipped off the rock that she was attempting to climb over (she wouldn't have done that if she was taller,) and looked at Itesa.
    ** What? **
     The girl landed lightly on the rock and peered at her adoptive mother.  **  That's what they told me. Only I don't remember who. But the rocks
fell and took her away. So I was thinking if you lived in one place, others could come to you for Healing. **
     Aeoria lowered her head. She was doomed to this, wasn't she? What she had been would forever be reaching out from behind her, reaching up from the
past to swallow her back into the darkness. She didn't want that, didn't like it. ** Itesa... Winnowill was not the Great Healer that you think she
was. She did a lot of... of very very wrong things to a lot of those who came to her for help. **
     Itesa frowned, folding her arms and looking petulantly at Aeoria. ** And how do you know? **
     She hadn't expected that question so soon. It was easier to take the short way out, to simply say that she knew Winnowill... and that would be the way
that she knew the tiny thread of darkness within her wanted her to go. Back towards the road which would allow the Loveless One to re-emerge.
     But she wasn't having any of that.
     Aeoria sat on the rock, looking to Itesa and sighing. ** Sit, little one. It's about time that you learned the truth. **

     The child's reaction was anything but good. Aeoria couldn't be Winnowill... everything she had shown her was just plain awful! But her
eyes had been so sad when she showed her... and Mama had never lied before.
     Picking through the rocks, Itesa looked up and squinted across the flats.
     It was a desolate place, and it fit her mood right well. She'd left Aeoria somewhere back there, fled for thinking space and time.
     But she wasn't even alone out here. There was someone else, and he was doing something. Well, anything would be better than dwelling on Winnowill,
so she wandered over.

     A skull hardly merited an entire cairn, but Rayek would be eternally cursed if he didn't give her one. And with his bare hands, too. One by one,
he picked up rocks and moved them into place, some big, some small, but all of them that sickly shade of blue.
     ** What are you doing? ** came a piping send, somehow cheerful, yet not.
     He jumped, his magic the only saving grace his toe had from the rock he had dropped. Stepping away from the rock, he turned to look at the blonde
girl and stare. Glider-child. Lost spirit?
     ** What are you doing? ** He countered uneasily. ** Are you lost? **
     She smirked in a vaguely familiar manner. ** I asked you first. **
     ** So you did. I'm building...  ** He paused, unsure how to explain it to her.
     She took that as a dismissal, and pressed forward. ** Building? What are you building? ** Peering around, she caught a glimpse of the skull and her
mouth fell open. ** I've seen that before. In a send, when Mama was explaining what happens when we die. Poor thing. **
     He turned, settling the rock into place with his magic. ** Her pain is past now. **
     ** Pain? Oh... it makes you sad, doesn't it? ** She gave him a long look.
     ** You loved her and now she's gone and that makes you sad. **
     Rayek gritted his teeth. Why did he always seem to manage to find the ones who wanted to talk more than a Preserver in a bright mood? And always about
the wrong things! **
     ** You could meet my Mama. I'm sure she'd be able to help. She's good at making people feel better, ** the child offered.
     ** If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not. ** He sent, snatching up another rock and putting it in place quickly. Just what he needed. Another
distraction. How was one to feel properly sorry for onesself if there were too many bothersome girls and female distractions?
     She tilted her head. ** If that's what you want. Mama's pretty lonely, though. We wander from place to place, looking for people to help, so it's
not likely that we'll stay long. **
     ** Fine, ** was his reply.
     She studied his back for a moment. After all was said and done, she liked Aeoria better, even if she -had- been Winnowill. And Mama was bound to be
lonely... ** Okay, bye! ** She sent, then turned and floated off.
     Rayek sighed as she left. He'd stay here for a little while. Maybe her spirit was here, in these ruins.

     When Aeoria saw Itesa coming back over the rocks, she tried not to be too hopeful. But when the girl glided straight into her with a hug, she
couldn't help it. ** Am I forgiven? **
     ** Mama... you aren't Winnowill. I think I understand why Cutter doesn't like you. He thinks you're still her, and that you'll hurt him again. **
    Itesa sent softly. ** But I know you won't. And it makes sense why you stay so lonely and why we never stay when asked. But why did we come here? **
     Aeoria opened her eyes and looked around the ruins of the place that she once called home. With a small sigh, she answered: ** Perhaps I came to bid
Winnowill a farewell. To try to leave her memories here and let the past finally leave me in peace. **
     Itesa nodded, pulling out of the hug and settling in the air. ** There are lots of unhappy feelings here. I'm starting to learn what all these
sensations are... and this place is very sad. **
     Aeoria sighed and looked away. ** Mostly my- Winnowill's fault, I fear. I told you that she did a lot of horrible things. Most of them were right
here, in the Mountain. One of the worst things she did was what caused the destruction you see here. **
     Itesa looked around, pondering the rubble thoughtfully. ** Did anyone live? **
     Aeoria looked to her. ** A few, from what I know. Myself, a handful of others... ** Should she tell Itesa about her parents? It would wrong not
to. ** ..your parents. **
     Itesa turned. ** My... parents? **
     Aeoria sighed. The day had been too long for another tale, but she was bound to it now.  ** I found you one day, during my travels, Your mother
Joivel was dying, injured even beyond my ability to help by the humans who lived close to the area. Your father and the others had died first, trying
to protect your mother and you. They had sent you off for something, and the humans attacked. **
     Itesa's brow furrowed. Something... at the edge of memory...
     ** When I got there, Joivel begged me to take care of you. So I did. **
     ** Why don't I remember it? ** Itesa asked.
     Aeoria sighed again. ** I... darkened the memories, so that you would not live afraid. **
     In the moment that Itesa considered, Aeoria held her breath. ** I understand. Joivel asked you to take care of me. You did what was needed.
Maybe it's better that I don't remember. **
     Aeoria released her held breath in relief. ** I think it is. And now it's getting late and we are both tired. While you were gone, I found a small
cave... it should do for the night. **
     Itesa nodded quietly and waited for Aeoria to stand before moving to follow her to the cave. She was awfully tired, and she had a lot of new
things to sleep on. She'd have more sense of some of it by morning.


     A moon flew by, Rayek gradually becoming less and less gruff with his intermittent girl-child visitor, and eventually, he decided that she wasn't
a spirit after all. He learned her name, and discovered that she was learning the various powers that she had inherited from her Glider heritage.
     Early on, Itesa had caught that Rayek wasn't in the mood for endless chatter, so she didn't bother him with Aeoria, and hardly thought to tell
Aeoria about him. After all, if she had been Winnowill, others were sure to hate her too... and it was better to be able to stay in one place than have
to move around again. So she kept her thoughts still about that.
     In the moon of keeping a strange companionship with him, she had learned to give up on making the rocks do what she wanted them to do. She wasn't a
rockshaper by any stretch of the imagination. She was, however, fairly good at sensing things in others, so she learned to 'read' him in almost no time
at all. On the days that he wanted company, she was there. On his bad days, she stayed clear.
     Today was one of those bad days, but she had come around anyway, stoic-faced and quiet. It was so unusual to see her without a smile that he
forgot about his troubles and called her over.
     ** Itesa? You are upset. ** It wasn't a question, he could see it in her eyes and something compelled him to walk over to her.
     ** Mama said we're leaving. She thinks we've stayed here long enough and that there are others who need her help. ** The send was quiet, eyes
downcast and hands clasped before her.
     For a moment, Rayek was torn between asking her if she wanted to stay here with him, or telling her to be good and go with her mother. But that moment
passed, and he mentally shook his head. What did he know about children? ** Then you'd best be good and go with her. ** True, he'd be sorry to see her
go, but he wouldn't be good for her. He hadn't the first notion how to begin.
       She sighed in a purely child-like fashion. ** I can't. I ran away. **
       He looked over at her. ** Then you'd better run back. **
       She frowned. ** Why? **
       He tilted his head, a memory flitting through his eyes. ** Because I ran away from someone once. And when I ran back, she was gone from me forever. **
       Itesa's eyes widened. That skull. Had that been who he'd run from? No, she didn't want that to happen to Mama. That would just be awful, and she
couldn't live with herself knowing that she had caused it by running away. (Was that why he was so moody?) She took a step backwards, magic gathering
to take her airborne when a send cut clear through the silence.
      ** Itesa? Little one, come back! There's nothing here but sadness and bad memories. Why do you want to stay in such a dismal place? **
       Rayek and Itesa both froze, each for very different reasons. His thoughts refused to cooperate, jumbling over each other in a frantic frenzy until a
strangled send managed to emerge: ** Your mother is Aeoria??? She's alive? **
       Itesa, more afraid of what Aeoria might do when she caught up to her, scurried around behind Rayek and sent hushedly: ** Of course she's alive
and now she's gonna skin me when she catches me, for sure! **
       He half-turned to look at her incredulously, and that moment, Aeoria rounded the ruined wall and came to a halt.
       Heartbeats passed painfully, and Itesa turned to look to Aeoria.
       Noticeably pale, Aeoria took a breath, straightened, then looked to Itesa. ** Itesa, come. We're leaving now. ** She said nothing to Rayek, didn't dare.
       Itsea sighed and moved towards Aeoria. Giving the stunned Rayek a look, she offered a weak apology to her mother, who simply shook her head and
took her hand.
       Shifting the leather bag on her shoulder, Aeoria turned and started walking away, Itesa floating in mid-air unhappily beside her.

       He recovered from his shock moments after they had vanished behind the wall. She was alive! And that girl had called her Mama... but she wasn't
young enough to be anything but taken in, though she was obviously a Glider... High Ones! Enough of that, they're getting away!!
       He flew around the wall, distressed to find that they were already gone from sight. He rose into the air, higher and higher until he saw the
movement of the two figures as they worked their way across the rubble that the Mountain had become. He had the advantage - the larger rocks presented
a challenge to Aeoria because she had to climb down them.
       He couldn't lose her again! Not after thinking she was dead. She had been right there and he'd been to dumbfounded to say anything. He truly was an
       Flying quickly to catch up and land nearby, he called out in both send and voice: ** Aeoria, stop! **
       The pair stopped, and only Itesa turned to look back at him, to watch him come closer with an unreadable expression. She frowned for a moment, then
it came clearly to her, the whole thing of it, and she smiled.
       Aeoria didn't turn, didn't dare hope. She simply stood there, waiting for him to come to her.
       He took a breath, steadied himself, then reached out and touched her cheek. ** I've been a fool. **
       Brown eyes looked steadily into golden ones, heartbeats again passing by with nothing offered.
       ** Have you, Rayek? ** She sent quietly.
       Itesa strategically let go of Aeoria's hand and floated off to the side.
       He nodded, his send quiet and thick with emotion. ** Yes. I had something very precious and I... ran away from it. I didn't know how precious it was
until I thought I had lost it. **
       She couldn't move, couldn't send, she was so bundled up with emotion, so she just stood there and waited.
       ** And I'm sorry I ran. I've followed you for so long... and I finally know what to say. **
       Itesa didn't hear what he said because he locksent it as he held Aeoria to him. She smiled. Things were going well.

      She had waited for this moment so long that she had begun to think it wouldn't come. And when it did, she reached to take the opportunity, and
found herself caught up against a strikingly cold wall of resistance.

       Aeoria stiffened in Rayek's arms, her body going cold, and her mind cutting off all sends. Alarmed, Rayek looked to her - to see her eyes
vacant and cold, as if she weren't there at all.
       The send-shriek from Itesa told him more than he wanted, more than he had feared. ** Winnowill!!! **
       The Black Snake was trying to regain control and forever destroy Aeoria.
       He couldn't let that happen. Not just for himself, not for any other reason but that Aeoria herself deserved to live more than Winnowill did.
       Whimpering softly, Itesa floated over. ** We have to do something! **
       Rayek cradled Aeoria close, looking at the child that had managed to unite them both without intending to. ** Have you met Leetah? **
       Itesa nodded. Cutter's mate, the one who had spoken out for them. She remembered her.
       Rayek gathered Aeoria into his arms and his lips thinned into a grim expression. ** Cutter won't like it, but she needs Leetah's help. Let's go. **


       The ebony-tressed child hovered in the air, staring down the taller, pale-skinned female who stood with her arms folded. It wasn't merely a
child against parent, it was something far older, far more important, and far less known. It was soundless, wordless, but the emotions were tangible.

       Leetah sighed softly, withdrawing her magic from Aeoria's still form. ** I can't do anything for her. Her body is not injured, and her spirit is
locked deep away. **
       Rayek watched with a quiet gaze. ** Can you sense the Black Snake within her? **
       The sunkissed Healer shook her head. ** No... it's almost as if there is nothing there... as if she were like Door and Brace were in the Mountain. **
       Itesa made a softly unhappy  sound and put her head against Aeoria's shoulder. The more she considered losing Aeoria, the less she liked it. **
Mama's gotta win. If she doesn't, all is lost. **
       Rayek found himself reaching out to rest his hand on the little girl's shoulder, thought about it, then went head and did it. He'd learned to
love, right? And honestly, it was harder than it looked.
       The night would pass, long and quiet, and he was keenly aware that he would be the only one to comfort Itesa.

       ** For once, in your existence, for I won't actually call it a life, will you listen to reason? Not that you've ever listened before, after all's
been done. ** The child really shouldn't have been sending it. The words were too old, the send to aged to come from the child.
       ** Why should I? Without me, you're powerless. A weak, pathetic little child, ** came the dark reply.
       ** I am not a child. I simply have the appearance of one because you control this illusion of reality within. Besides, without me, you're even
more powerless than I. You wouldn't be alive, ** shot back the... child.
       ** How pathetic, grasping at flimsy insults. I am alive. On the other hand, you haven't existed since you were six. **
       The onslaught of images flooded through the child/not-child, sweeping her awareness back into a darker past that had been almost forgotten.


       He didn't waste time in explaining to her that he was her father. That didn't matter to him. What mattered was that she had his power and her
mother's abilities. She would be... useful. She was a tool, no more, no less.
       Haken considered the frail child before him, her long black hair and her mother's eyes. Had he been anyone else, he would have considered her sweet
and given her a pat on the head and sent her home. But he was not that sort, and all he saw were traits that reflected on the powers that she
would command.
       She had been with him a week thus far, and he had been successful in shielding off the sends from Gibra as she had searched for the child.
 Soon, the child would be too far away for even her, and then all would be right.

       She was only six, and she didn't understand a lot of this, but she knew it hurt, and she'd do just about anything to keep the pain from lancing
through her. So she put her own thoughts and desires aside, focusing entirely on what he wanted her to do. When he said to do, she did. When he
said to stop gliding, she promptly forgot how. Part of her, the part that knew the pain and missed her mother eventually went to sleep, leaving the
resigned side of her aware and learning. It was an excellent opportunity for Haken to take advantage of her. Weaving his magic around the sleeping
mind, he pulled the two separate; the sleeper fading into the back of her mind to be forgotten. The mind that awoke the following morning was that
which he named Winnowill.
      At first, she wasn't as willing a student as he had wanted her to be, but a few well-timed incidents not only bent her to his will, but revealed that
she could Heal as well.
      It pleased him to no end.

      Life was torturous for Winnowill, and as she grew older, she grew angrier and angrier. He might have been her father, but by what right did he have
to hurt her and treat her so? She spent more of her time within her own mind, and one day, happened across the sleeper. Unable to wake the sleeping
mind, she sensed the magic associated, and her anger rose. Haken had done this? To her?
      And she began to plot.

     She was the perfect child, doing every last little thing that he wanted of her, and he never once suspected that she was harboring the ideal and
resolve to kill him. But she was, and when her moment came, she seized it with little care.
     He had been careless with a trap, and the wooden tines had caught his hand, mangling it between the sharp wooden teeth that he had fashioned to
catch dinner. As he prepared to open the trap and pull out his hand, she reached with her magic and caught him. It was somehow strangely amusing to
her as she watched realization flicker across his face as he tried to battle her magic. Yet she had a talent that he did not, and she used it to
hold him firm, gliding powers reawakening for a dark moment, her child's hands over his heart. Stop, she willed it. Stop, stop, stop, /STOP/!
     And it did.


      The child simply looked at the older female, tilting her head. ** You don't get it, do you? You didn't kill him. **
      Disbelief echoed in the other's eyes. ** What? **
      The child pointed. ** You stopped his shell, but he moved right on in with you. It makes sense now. Why you didn't destroy me when you had the chance.
Why you've fallen in love with Rayek, and why you were able to fool even Gibra. That darkness that kept creeping through you was Haken. You aren't
evil... just angry. And you have every right to be. For what he did to you... to us. We're the same, Winnowill. You and I are simply the two parts
of a whole that never should have been separated. **
      Hazel eyes narrowed to deep brown ones.
      ** Look within yourself. He's right there, hiding within the darkened pathways of our unexplored mind. He's set us against each other for so long
that we can't see it anymore. I'm a frightened child and you're an angry youth. That's the cold truth of it. **
      The words, flooded with power, stripped clear the illusion, and a suddenly much younger version of Winnowill was standing there, perhaps thirteen
years of age. The same age as that day that she had killed his body and freed his spirit to creep insidiously into hers. Winnowill looked at her
own hands, shocked into the knowledge that she had been fighting herself the entire time.
      The send continued softly. ** I can't fight him by myself. But if we join together as we ought to be, we can get rid of him once and for all. **
      The child, Aeoria, offered her hand, magic glittering around it.
      There was a moment of pause, the youth tilting her head. She could hear him for who he was now, not as a random thought within her mind. She
understood right then how he had continued to use her to his own twisted purpose. Magic glittering in a brilliant pulse, she reached out and grabbed
Aeoria's hand. ** Time to end this. **

       Itesa had finally fallen asleep, her head up against Rayek's shoulder. Cutter had been in once, seen the child sleeping, raised an eyebrow, but
said nothing and departed. Rayek suspected the WolfRider Chief was somewhere laughing himself into a stupor.
       His magic sense flared painfully for a moment, then he could almost see a dark glittering shimmer fall away from Aeoria. Leetah lifted her head,
green eyes sleepily opening, and Aeoria sighed softly.
       Opening first one eye, then the other, Aeoria looked around herself and offered a weak smile at Rayek.
       If Itesa hadn't been sound asleep, he would have fallen all over himself to get to Aeoria's side. As it was, he could only send  a soft: **
Winnowill? **
       Her smile grew secretive. ** She and...I... have come to an agreement. **  None of them noticed the dark glimmer had reoriented and was considering
the sleeping child, a thin sendril reaching around Rayek towards the flaxen hair.
       ** Agreement? ** Rayek asked.
       Aeoria sat up slowly, nodding. ** It's a long story... and one better left for- ** Her eyes narrowed and she looked to the side of him quickly. **
Stop him! Itesa! **
       Rayek, not entirely clued in, shifted to the side, away from where she was looking, looked and saw nothing.
       Itesa opened her eyes, blue flashing brilliant for a moment, and then she was gone from Rayek's arms.
       A chill cold filled the den, Leetah now fully awake and looking around the room in confusion. Where was Itesa? Was that Winnowill or Aeoria? And what
was /that/?

       Cutter threw open the curtain with Strongbow right behind him. ** Leetah- what?! **
       The magic was so tangible that even Cutter could feel it pressing against him.
       A send rang through the den, pure and powerful. ** Haken, enough! **
       Rayek, Leetah, Cutter, Strongbow, and Aeoria all reflexively cringed. The four who had dealt with Timmain before recognized the touch of a High One's
mind-voice all too clearly.
       There was a swirl, and then the form of a female took shape and substance.
       Rayek knew who she was almost immediately. He had seen her before. But he hadn't noticed her resemblance...
       A darker form twisted into being, Haken's power radiating away from him in waves.
       It took Aeoria only a moment to put things together, and she looked worriedly at Rayek. But he was staring at the female High One. Aeoria
looked at her, then gasped. It wasn't!
       Gibra's send was stern. ** Enough, Haken. You have played your game, and you have lost. Now lose well and come with me. It's time to go. The Palace
calls. **
       The children of the High Ones were stunned into deep silence. Here were two obviously alive High Ones, unbound by the mortal shells that they had
granted their children. And it looked to be quite an impressive battle.
       There was a pressure, a sensation of someone's will superimposed over the room, and all at once, Haken dissolved with a rush, dissipating into the
air, and vanishing from sight and sense.
       Gibra turned and looked to Aeoria. ** I'm proud of you, daughter. You are every send the Firstborn that you had been intended to be. You've overcome
what he did to you, and that pleases me. ** She turned, casting a glance at Rayek. ** Now will you go hug her? She's waited a long time for it. **
       Leetah smothered a laugh, sending softly to the High One. ** And what of you? Will you go back to the Palace... or stay with them? **
       Gibra watched Rayek as he moved to embrace Aeoria and smiled softly. In a familiar childish manner, she grinned at Leetah.
       It wasn't lost on Rayek, for he saw her grin and his golden eyes widened over Aeoria's shoulder. ** You-! **
      She giggled softly as she faded from sight and sense, but her locksend touched his mind lightly. ** Oh, I'll be back.... just as soon as you get
around to it, Daddy. **


The End.