Once upon a time in the 30th Century, a boy without a body fell in love with a girl with wings.
The boy's name was Drake Burroughs, but people called him Wildfire because of what had happened to him. A laboratory accident had transmuted his physical corpus into pure energy. As such, he had great powers, but lacked some of the attributes of a normal teenager. They had exited with his body. In order to show a physical form to others, Drake inhabited a containment suit that gave him a human appearance. He eventually joined a great band of youthful superbeings called the Legion of Super-Heroes, and took the name Wildfire, using his energy-powers to fight evildoers. He was not known as the least obnoxious of Legionnaires, though he managed to get elected leader once, and did not disgrace himself.
The girl with wings was Dawnstar, who came from Starhaven, a world inhabited by emigrant American Indians from Earth. She was a mutant, with great white wings on her back that enabled her to fly at super-speed through the air, a TK sort of power that propelled her through space, and other powers which enabled her not only to survive without air, pressure, and warmth in the void, but to track the slightest mote of a thing across the entire cosmos. She joined the Legion of Super-Heroes as well. After awhile, she fell in love with Wildfire, and he with her. Neither quite knew why, but they were very glad that it did.
All lovers have obstacles, though, and Drake and Dawnstar faced a big one. That was Drake's disembodiedness. The major problem with that, as far as they were concerned, was that Wildfire could not physically love his lady, and Dawnstar could not give her lover physical pleasure. But other couplings have been made without sex, and Wildfire and Dawny knew, just knew, that they could make it as just such a couple.
For a good long while, they did.
Dawnstar, however, was a full-blooded young woman, in the time of life in which Nature draws people most powerfully towards couplings with others. She was also a very lovely young woman, with long, dark, braided black hair, dark eyes set evenly apart and signalling mystery and intelligence to those who looked into them, a nose that was a bit longer than the norm but no less pretty for that, high cheekbones, full lips, a classic chin, breasts that were half-covered by the laced-up yellow leotard she wore and which had driven more than one male Legionnaire to furious night-fantasy, rounded hips, and long legs which fairly begged to be displayed uncovered and, thankfully, were, most of the time.
She had received her share of offers. But she steadfastly put them off, for she was a good woman, and she was in love with her man. Even if he was an energy-being.
Wildfire loved her all the more for it.
Then came a time in which Dawnstar found herself alone on a mission to a world which reminded her ever so much of Starhaven. Yet, even though she found herself loving that world, she was captured and caged by its natives, and prayed for Wildfire to come and save her. Someone else came, instead.
He was a youthful priest called Jhodan, who served a god named Kol. And Dawnstar found him interesting indeed. He reciprocated with interest in her. They fought side-by-side, in a battle in which Dawnstar accidentally killed a man and Jhodan was wounded. It was very interesting to her to fight beside a man who was as physical a being as her, of only human capabilities, yet very brave and handsome.
During the month they spent together on the planet, Dawnstar and Jhodan fell in love.
Then Brainiac 5, another Legionnaire, and Dev-Em, who was a friend to the Legion, came for Dawny and took her back to Earth, the Legion's headquarters planet. Back to Wildfire, who finally saw her when he burst in on her taking a bubble bath. He noted the tone of her greeting, noted the faraway look in her eyes, and asked her, "Who was he?"
Wrapping a towel about her dripping body, Dawnstar looked at him in awe for a moment. She did not know she was revealing so much of herself. Emotionally, that is; the exposure of her body to Wildfire did not matter a whit to her.
Then she said, "Just a man. He was very kind to me."
She saw her reflection in the front of his helmet and was glad she could keep that much of a poker face.
Bravely, Wildfire said, "Don't sweat it, kid. A good man is hard to find. See you around."
She did not tell him that she had not made love to the man she met.
She did not tell him that she wanted to.
She did not even tell him that her heart still belonged to Wildfire, or the greater part of it did, anyway, though her body yearned for something else.
After Wildfire left the chamber, she went to a viewscreen and dialed up the sector of space that Jhodan's planet was in. She silently vowed, however, that she would see him again, and soon. If she could keep it a secret from Drake, whom she did not want to hurt.
But duties with the Legion kept coming up, and Dawnstar could not find time for a pleasure trip to Jhodan's world. So she cleaved as much as she could to Wildfire, and tried to reassure him that she was his, in heart if not in body.
Finally, she did manage a trip to the world which its inhabitants only knew as Home. It had to be done covertly, which was difficult for a girl with huge white wings, but she wrapped them in a cloth of invisibility devised by Jaques Fouccart, the Invisible Kid. After a short series of adventures on the road, she came to the temple in which Jhodan served as a chief priest. She was dressed as a penitent, in one of the templars' robes.
But when he came near her to offer blessing, he saw her face, recognized her, and knew that she knew he had. He paused only an instant, then travelled down the row of worshippers. After the service, he returned to his private chamber. Dawnstar followed, telling the guards in their native tongue, which she had mastered, that she only wished to speak with the young priest.
On the way, she passed by Ina, the redheaded novitiate who had also loved Jhodan. Dawnstar was glad that Ina had recovered from the disease the Legion members had inadvertently passed on to them during their earlier visit. Still, she did not forget that Ina had believed her to be a rival for Jhodan's heart and body, and had fought her once.
Ina, for her part, did not recognize Dawnstar, who had the hood of her outfit pulled up as far as was possible. They passed without incident.
At the entrance to Jhodan's chamber, guards felt her for weapons and detected none. She gave them a cover name, told them that she had a problem only Jhodan could solve, which was true, and was finally admitted.
The priest of Kol looked up from his scroll towards her. Dawnstar threw off her hood.
"You," he said. "I knew you would come here."
"The last time you were here, you and your compatriots ended up on the Arch of Agony," he recalled. "The Reverend Mother learned of us, and sent hunters after us. We triumphed, but I had to publicly renounce my association with you to save your lives, and to regain my standing as a priest."
He sighed. "Come here," Jhodan said.
She did. He met her after the second step, taking her in one arm and barring the door with the other.
Dawnstar doffed her robe and pulled the invisibility cloth from her wings. She was nude, underneath, except for her boots, which she quickly pulled off.
"You should not have come here," said Jhodan, and kissed her.
She wasn't used to undoing the sort of garment which he wore, but he helped her with it.
Afterward, they lay side-by-side on the discarded robes upon the floor, and conversed in low voices.
"Your advice is most satisfying to me, Jhodan," said Dawnstar.
"It is all in the manner in which you take my advice," he said.
She lay her bare leg over his, tenderly. "It should be obvious that this is...my first advisement."
"No. No, it is not apparent. Yet..." He turned his head away from her.
"What is wrong, Jhodan?" Dawnstar turned on her side, stretching her wings a bit. They had been a tad cramped. In the future, she thought she would ask to remain on top. "Did I dishonor you? Did I cause pain?"
Jhodan's hand was laid flat against a flooring stone, tracing its edges with his fingers. "You caused anything but pain. But, Dawnstar, this is impossible. For both of us."
She sighed and encircled his head with her arm and drew his head towards hers and kissed him. "Impossible, indeed, Jhodan. Which only makes it more satisfying."
"Ina still believes herself bound by love to me."
"If you had not come--it is difficult to say." He looked at her soberly. "The Reverend Mother wishes us to be bondmates. It will be difficult to put her off for very long."
"Can you not refuse her, Jhodan?"
"Not without good reason. Not without revealing your return, and what we have done."
"Are you ashamed of what we have done?"
"Kor's eyes, no, woman! But I barely managed to save your lives when last you came here. You know how my people feel about outworlders. The group of knowledge-men that came from your world afterward, to study our history, was only permitted in with greatest of difficulty. If they learn of our lovebond, you may be assured: the two of us will not come down from the Arch of Agony before our deaths."
Dawnstar drew her knees up to her bare breasts and hugged her legs with her arms. "I, too, have another to consider, Jhodan. I should lie to you, or conceal the knowledge. But...he is not as we are."
"How does he differ?"
"He has no body," she said.
After a pause, Jhodan said, "Are you in love with a ghost?"
"In a way," she said. Then she told him, in simplified terms, of the origin of Wildfire, and of what they shared with each other. A heart-love, but no physical love.
"Then it is done," said Jhodan. "You will return to him, and I to Ina. And all will be well, and all manner of things."
She looked at him, a bit fiercely. "Do you wish that?"
"No," he said.
"Then it will not be," she said. "I, too, do not wish it. What I have learned here tonight, to feel you within my womb, to feel your arms about me and your mouth and know you, that is a chapter of love I had not read thus far. Forgive the way I speak, Jhodan."
"Your analogies are fine enough, Dawnstar. And to feel your loins about mine, and the kiss of your lips, and your fire stoking my own..." He shrugged. "Kor knew what he was doing when he created women. And their attributes."
"And men's, as well," said the girl from Starhaven. "Yet...I cannot leave the Legion, which I serve."
"As I cannot leave the temple of Kor," said Jhodan. "Not even for you."
"And I will not hurt Wildfire," she said. "I still, in large degree, love him."
"Nor will I hurt Ina," he replied.
After a silence, he said, "How can this not be the last time we have together?"
"I will find ways," she whispered. "I will always find ways. And this is how it can not be the last."
With that, she mounted him, and rode him, and was ridden, and her high white wings unfurled time and again as she gasped and sweat in pleasure. It took time to bring him around, but it was worth it.
Their cry of pleasure at their second climax was almost worth the entire affair, to them both.
And then, a few seconds later, they heard a knocking at the door.
Both froze, in position, and looked in each other's eyes, fearfully. Jhodan strove to bring his voice tone to a normal level. "Who is there?" he called.
A voice outside said, "Ina, Kor-priest Jhodan. I heard a cry from your chamber. Are you well?"
Jhodan paused, then said, "Yes, Ina, but indisposed. I will see you anon."
"The Reverend Mother wishes me to accompany you to her chamber," said Ina. "There is much which needs to be discussed regarding the outworld knowledgemen, and, hopefully, ourselves."
The priest fought to control his breathing. "Kor-novitiate, I will accompany you, but only in a quarter hour. Withdraw to your chamber and I will meet you there. But...I am busy!"
"As you say, Kor-priest," said Ina, and they heard her steps moving away.
After her footsteps could no longer be heard, Dawnstar muttered a curse.
"Speak not in that manner in this temple," warned Jhodan. "You cannot remain."
"No, I cannot," she agreed. She stood, giving him one last look at her body, and then picked the robe off the floor and donned it, smoothing out its new wrinkles. "You have, I know, more than one door."
"I do," he said. "And I shall have more than enough trouble telling the guard that I allowed you through it."
"Also," she said, "if your...Ina...heard the cry, she must have heard more than one voice."
He was silent.
"I will return, if I may," she said. She bussed him on the cheek as she drew on one boot, then the other.
"It might be best if you did not."
"Do you think that?"
"No," he said. "Kor help me, I do not. Go. If you get caught..." He made a gesture of helplessness. "Do not get caught."
She wrapped the cloak of invisibility about her wings and left, through
the second door, and was felt by another guard, who doubtless noted the
dampness of her robe, but said nothing. Then, through various means,
she made her way back to the encampment of the United Planets scientists,
and told them a suggested lie about a reconnaisance mission. Then
she returned with them to Earth.
Wildfire knew, when he saw her next, that she had seen the Other Man again. Also, that more had passed between them than words.
But he did not ask her about him, and she did not deign to tell him. Instead, she tried to love him all the more, in expiation of her infidelity.
And she made plans for her next journey to the Homeworld.
Then came the great event known as the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In that battle, which threatened all realities, Wildfire was the one who actually destroyed the master villain, the Anti-Monitor. The energies of the Anti-Monitor's body reacted with Drake's energies and caused both of them to explode and form a new sun in the anti-matter universe. This battle had to be fought in 1985, a good thousand years before the Legion's time.
Those Legionnaires who had gone to the past to fight alongside other heroes brought the sad news to Dawny. She shrieked with anguish. She cried. She flew to her room, with the Legionnaires following to make sure she did not hurt herself. With her back to the others, she tore her uniform open and daubed red polish on her breasts, in a miming of how Indian women of some tribes in ancient times cut themselves upon the breasts to mourn a loved one.
And she keened, the sorrow-song of her tribe, sitting cross-legged on the floor. One of the female Legionnaires stayed with her, until Dawny finished her song and forced her out. Saturn Girl, who could read minds, stayed in discreet contact with her to make certain she did not attempt to harm herself.
Dawnstar requested a short leave, which she was given. She went to Starhaven, saw her parents, told them of her loss, and was consoled. Then she went to a shaman, and told them not only of her loss, but of her sin, as well.
He counselled her that it was not as great a sin as it would have been had she and Wildfire been married. Then he asked her if she wished to marry Jhodan.
She said that what she wanted was immaterial now that the man who had claimed her heart was gone. Though the shaman told her she should find another, Dawnstar felt that such a thing would dishonor her heart-lover's memory. So she returned to Earth, determined to submerge her distress beneath the great works that the Legion undertook.
And so it was for a time, until the Legion had its final confrontation with Mordru, the most powerful evil sorceror of their age. During that battle, it was discovered that Wildfire was not dead, but extant and sentient in the heart of the star he had brought into being. Mon-El, a Legionnaire with the great powers of his Daxamite people, went to that star with one of Wildfire's old containment suits. Drake Burroughs entered the suit, became Wildfire again, and returned, a ghost taken form again.
Dawnstar fainted in his arms.
After she came around again and explanations had been made, she went away with Wildfire, who had been heartily welcomed back to the Legion. They went to her room.
She had so much to tell him. And even more that she dared not tell him. But she did not shrink from his embrace, though she knew he could feel nothing sensual as he did it. Dawnstar held him in her arms and placed her head against his shoulder, as if he were a real lover, because she knew it comforted him.
"One thousand years,"he said, in his synthesized voice. "One thousand years. Trapped in a sun, talking to a whole planet of people. Almost getting worshipped. Almost...hell, probably...going nuts. But not quite. You know what saved me from that, Dawny."
He said it as a statement, not a question.
"Your thoughts of me?" she asked, quietly.
"What else?" said Wildfire. "People fell in love on Qward in their own kinda way, Dawny, and with my sense of perception boosted by the sun's power, I could see them all. Every one of them I saw in my mind, I imposed our faces over them. I kept that concept before me. ‘Someday, I'm gonna get out. Someday, I'm gonna get back to Dawnstar, even if it takes me a million years.' It was a lot less than that...but it felt like ten million."
She cried, silently and softly.
"Only Mon-El knows how long a thousand years can be," Wildfire continued. "I guess it's funny how he was the one to bring me back my containment suit. And now I'm back, Dawny. Both of us, back together again. A thousand years between. Lord."
"Drake," she said.
"Dawny, I've got something I'd like to try with you," he said. "It might not match the real thing, but it'd be..."
"Drake, I betrayed you," she said, looking into his blank faceplate.
"I lay with a man," she said. "I gave him love, and he gave me his love. This is what I have done, Drake."
He was motionless.
"As the Great Spirit witness, I tell you the truth--" she started.
"I know, I know," he said. His body had stiffened. "So that wasn't just a misperception. So that little nag at the back of my mind was the truth. Damn it to hell." His tone was more tired than angry. For some reason, that made her more fearful.
He sighed in a synthesized way and went on. "But it is all right between us, isn't it, kid? I mean, after a thousand years, isn't it worth another try?"
She wiped her eyes. "Perhaps it is, Drake. Perhaps."
He put an arm about her shoulder. "Is that perhaps good enough for what I want to try?"
"What do you wish to try, Drake?"
She pulled the yellow leotard-uniform off of her shoulders and then from her body, stepping out of it and then doffing her boots. It was done almost in automaton fashion.
"Now let me try this," said Wildfire.
The containment suit was shaped like the body of a normal human male, more or less, but was flexible within limits. Within, it was simply a hollow shell inhabited by Drake Burroughs's energy. He could shape it much as he wanted.
The forefinger of his right hand altered its size a bit. "Drake," she said, nervously, looking at him.
"Shh, don't look at it," he said.
Thus armed, Wildfire was able to make entry into her body, to conform the surface of his probe to her interior part, to manipulate her, and, yes, to bring her to climax. The black-haired girl cried out, her consciousness overridden by sex until, like a coal, its afterglow faded.
As her motions lessened, Wildfire asked, "Was it all right?"
"Yes, Drake," she breathed. "Yes, it was all right. Thank you."
He embraced her and she him, there on her bed. What he was thinking would be hard to tell, without a face to reveal his emotions, but his arms encircled her firmly enough.
And Dawnstar had, indeed, enjoyed her orgasm.
Yet, even as she lay beside him, she knew how limited their love was. She did not feel the skin of a human lover upon her own. She had not caused Wildfire to climax in ecstasy, for he had no body with which to do so.
She had been pleasured, but she could not pleasure him in return. Not physically.
It had been an act of love, in its way. But not of passion.
Dawnstar lay in Wildfire's embrace and knew that, irregardless, she would have to make her way back to Jhodan's arms.
And she damned herself for the knowledge.
There were, of course, things that Dawnstar remained unaware of on Homeworld. One of them was Ina's first visit to Jhodan's chambers, after their talk with the Reverend Mother of matters great and small. She had insisted on coming back there with him, under pretext of wishing to borrow one of his illustrated scrolls.
"I can have it to you on the morrow," he told Ina.
"No need for that," she said. "Not when everything in your room is so easy to find."
For the first time, he regretted his orderly nature. But he did let her in, for, after all, she was to be his fiancee. Or so it seemed.
"Let me find it for you," he said, guiding the redheaded girl to a stool and sitting her down upon it. "But for the life of me, Ina, I've no idea why you want my copy of the Scroll of Terath. You could come upon a dozen translations in our book-hall over yonder."
"Yes," she said, arising from the stool as he turned his back. "But not one with the illustrations of Barkerith. You know how I enjoy his work, Kor-priest Jhodan."
She saw an object where a section of wall met a section of floor, beside a desk, and picked it up.
Jhodan, turning back to her with the scroll in hand, said, "I do. I wish you would speak less formally to me when we are in chamber, Ina. And mind you, this is a rare edition, so mind the pages, do not eat while you are reading it and risk staining it, and..."
Ina had something in her hand, and was regarding it, and then looking at him.
It was a large white feather.
He attempted a nonchalant air. "Perhaps I'm not as orderly as you thought," he said. "Big birds often fly through my window, you know."
She nodded. "And, possibly, get caught."
Dawnstar stood before Element Lad, having made her request for more leave time.
The Legion's leader looked up at her from his desk. "I haven't gotten a leave request from Drake."
She sought to keep her face expressionless. "Drake is not involved in this, Jan. It's simply some personal business."
"Okay," said Jan Arrah. He spoke up, in the direction of a wall speaker. "Computo."
"Functioning," said the voice of the Legion's in-house computer.
Element Lad said, "Give me Dawnstar's remaining personal leave time for this year."
"Four weeks, three days, per fiscal annum," Computo reported.
"Allot five days for her, beginning tomorrow. No, hold on to that, just a minute." He looked at the winged woman. "Dawny, your performance during the Mordru affair was exemplary."
"Thank you, Jan," she said.
He clenched his hands together before him. "I had to admit I was worried about your performance, given your outburst at Kara back then. But you came through for us repeatedly. Leading the spy mission to Zerox, entering Black Adam's mind, then playing point on the trip to the Cosmic Axis and the Supergirl rescue mission. All very commendable. You were a team player, and I'm grateful for it."
She sat down in a plastic chair that hovered over the floor. "I am grateful to you for giving me the chance to make amends for what I said to Kara. It was what I felt at the time, but I was out of line. Now, of course--" She let her voice trail away.
Element Lad put his hands to his temples. "Dawny. Is there some trouble between you and Drake?"
Her gaze came back to him. "What do you mean, Jan? How could there be? Manitou help me! He just returned from death, or what we thought was death. I am grateful, more than grateful, that he is back with us. What are you saying? What have you seen?"
He paused before answering. "I don't know that I've ‘seen' anything. Maybe I'm only imagining things. After all, seeing your man come back from the dead like that has to disalign your mind a notch, at least for a short time. It's just...you don't act like you used to, when you're with him now."
She breathed. "How should I act? Drake and I are soulfriends. But he has spent 1,000 years within a sun. He has changed as well, matured, perhaps for the better."
"Maybe so. I can't expect Wildfire to act like the same guy he was before the Crisis. And, Dawny, there is a point at which your private life is private, even from me. But." He raised one finger. "I do have to know when interpersonal dynamics affect the workings of this team. God knows, we've got enough of them, like Brin and Ayla recently...I've thought the Legion was just one big superhero dating service, more than once. So, if there is some difficulty between you and Drake...if you think it's going to interfere with either your or his performance with the Legion...I'm depending on you to let me know. What we do is important, Dawny. To Civilization, and to ourselves."
Dawnstar crossed her legs and hugged one knee. "I can assure you, Jan, that my performance with the group will still be optimal, to the best of my ability. As for Drake, you must ask him yourself. But I think you may still rely upon him. Since his sojourn in the star, I think he has become...how should I say?...a much larger man."
"But you're not having him go with you," said Jan.
"No." She said nothing more.
Jan Arrah sighed and leaned back. "Computo. Leave for Dawnstar is approved."
"Leave for Dawnstar is granted," said the computer. "Time remaining on leave, three weeks, five days, this fiscal annum."
Jan said, "I can keep a secret, Dawny."
"So can I, Jan," she said. She got up and left the room.
The head of the Legion looked at her until she exited, then attended
to routine business.
The present inhabitants of the Homeworld had come there only five centuries ago. That much, the United Planets research team had found out. Their most likely planet of origin was Earth. The lingua franca was an altered and adapted form of 25th Century English. Their racial types were the norm for Earth natives of that time, with a predominance of Caucasians and American Indians, plus Negroes, Asiatics, and a few others.
A few of them had been allowed into the temple of Kol in robes, though they had not been permitted recording devices. Those who knew shortscript were allowed to covertly take notes. They learned that the language of the chants and songs in the ceremonies was vaguely Latin, with some words--such as mahatma, "Great Soul"--borrowed from India. Their god, Kol, was unknown to the researchers.
But the temple itself appeared to be constructed from a great space transport, with the Arch of Agony placed prominently before it. The Arch was a stone and metal arc to which heretics and criminals were clamped. After judgment by the priests of Kol, the accused were either released, or stoned to death by the worshippers. When they came there originally, Brainiac 5 and Dawnstar had only escaped that fate by the intervention of Jhodan and Awian, the Reverend Mother.
The Legion duo had inadvertently passed on disease germs to which the Homeworlders were not immune. More than a few natives died, most of them children, before the United Planets sent a vaccine satellite two weeks later.
Jhodan had covertly passed a datadisc to Brainy on his way out. It contained a copy of many of the Homeworld's historical records, such as they were. There were even some images, though these were mostly illustrations that interpreted the words of the chronicles.
Brainiac 5 and his comrades, including a schizophrenic named Spliff who had been his rescuer and guide there, had been plagued by natural disasters such as a tornado which seemed to specifically seek them out. The natives said it was the wrath of Kol. Brainy thought it was something else, and studied the disc to try and discover what.
Laurel Kent, who had been dating Brainy for the few weeks since the Mordru incident, came upon him in his lab at Legion HQ one night as he was running the disc through an antique reader. "The Great Confrontation," Brainiac exclaimed, not looking at her.
"What?" Laurel looked at the screen full of strange script which Brainy was gazing at.
He whirled in his chair, a look of excitement on his face. "Don't you see it, Laurel? The Kor Disc, the one I got from Jhodan at Homeworld. The references are veiled, but interpretable. The ‘third world from the Old Star' from whence they came, the ‘Time of Destruction', the Blue Men, it all fits. The Homeworlders fled Earth during the Great Confrontation."
Laurel's mouth was open. "Oh. Oh, dear Rao. Brainy, Kara mustn't hear this. Like, no way. I don't even like to hear it."
He looked at her gently, then took her hand. "Laurel, your family has redeemed themselves twice over...no, many times over. Your line greatly benefitted Civilization before the 25th, and continues to do so today. To Earth people...to all people...the El family is a family of heroes again."
She said, "Even so, Brainy, that's the reason I use ‘Kent' as my last name everywhere except Rokyn. Found out anything else about that place?"
"A lot," he said, and was pleased she was stroking his fingers. "But I haven't deduced what causes the selective disasters yet. Nor do I know much about ‘Kol'. Only that he's said to have led the People to Homeworld from Earth, and that he protects his faithful to this day. And attacks the heretics."
Laurel drew in a breath. "Which could mean Dawnstar."
Laurel let his hand go. "Brainy, can you keep a secret?"
He nodded. "Unless it's more important for me not to keep it."
"This is really important."
He waved his hand for her to continue.
Laurel pulled over another hoverchair and sat down, facing him. "Dawny's been, well, like seeing a guy over there. She confided in me, ‘cause we've been friends ever since the Academy. But I wasn't supposed to tell. Especially not Drake."
Brainiac nodded. "Jhodan."
She also nodded, silently.
"I suspected as much," said Brainy. "After she came back with us the first time, she seemed far-off for awhile, preoccupied. Like a--"
"Like a woman who's fallen in love," said Laurel. "It's not that she didn't love Drake. It's just that, like, there are things he can do for her, I mean, Jhodan can do, that...like..."
"You don't have to say it," Brainy replied, tiredly. "I know all about what certain men can't do for certain women."
"I'm sorry, Brainy," she said, softly.
He sighed. "It's all right. Just...Laurel, I'm very glad you're around. Very glad. I hope you'll stay with me for awhile. I know we've got some things to work out, but--"
"It's okay, Querl, it's okay." Laurel stood up, pulled him out of his chair, hugged him. "You've got things to work out with me, too, I expect. But we're working pretty good, so far."
He hugged back. "It's good to have you around, Laurel. It's very good. I--need somebody to hold onto at this time."
"Maybe all the time."
"Maybe," she said. "We'll see. Brainy, she went to Homeworld this afternoon."
He pushed her away, alarm in his eyes. "I hadn't heard that," he said.
"You've been in your lab all day."
"She's in danger, then," said Brainy. "The Kolites she might be able to handle. But this ‘wrath of Kol' stuff...I haven't analyzed it."
The door schussed open. Both turned their heads to glance at it.
Wildfire stepped inside.
"Hi, Brainy," he said. "Laurel, Computo told me you were here. I want to talk to you. Private, if I might."
"Um," said Laurel. "Listen, Drake. If it's about somebody we both know, Brainy might be able to help."
Wildfire walked closer. "Maybe. But I don't feel like talking with a man about a woman right now. Come on, Laur, dinner's on me."
"Go on, Laurel," said Brainiac. "But please come back here afterwards."
"I will," she said.
"Even if you have to wake me up."
Laurel kissed him briefly on the mouth, then turned to go with Wildfire.
On the way out, Drake muttered, "You know what the worst thing about not having a body is?"
"What?", asked the Rokynian.
"You can't get drunk when you really need to."
Jhodan never felt more at one with himself, and with his people and his god, than when he faced the congregants and gave them a sermon.
"The gifts of Kol," he said to the hundreds of men, women, and children who sat before him in the temple, the great back doors open to let in the autumn breeze and the late afternoon sun. "The gifts of Kol are many, are everything we have. But the greatest of them is love, and possibly the second greatest is life. Remember that, O brethren: love, then life. It was for love of our forefathers that Kol spared their lives, that he brought them here to our Home, that he passed on to us the Temple and the Sacred Texts. It is for love of us, their descendants, that he brings rain and sunshine and pollinating insects and herds of edible beasts in their season. It is for love of us that he sees the individual who strays--"
He could not help but see Ina out of the corner of his eye, and noted that she showed no hint of singling out his comment for visible response.
"--that he sees the straying individual, and steers him back to the fold, if possible, or, if too far gone, destroys him." Jhodan paused for effect. The faces that looked upon him were sober. He judged it good. When a minister loses the ability to invoke fear as well as faith, he loses some of his power.
"And we have seen this power in action, you and I. We have seen it. But, brethren mine, do not dwell overmuch on the fate of the strayer. Rather, dwell upon the love of Kol, and the blessings he provides for his chosen, for his faithful. For we have been chosen, we who are the descendants of those who were brought from the Great Explosion, snatched from the Blue Men's grasp--"
"So be it," murmured a penitent in the front row, and others echoed him.
"--and taken across the great gulf to this world we call our own, and Kol's," said Jhodan. "We are set apart for a purpose, brethren. We must be worthy of that purpose. Remember love, and life, in that order. And always, always. Remember Kol." He paused, and looked from side to side, fanning the room with his gaze. "Remember--"
His eyes caught one face in the crowd, in the fifth row from the front, on the leftmost wing, which he knew quite intimately. He could not tell whether or not she reacted to his gaze. He paused a long moment, then realized he had a sentence to finish.
"Remember Kol," he said. "Seventh chant, if you will. Mahatma Kol rammha Kol ab initio ashatni ashanti ashanti."
"Kol ashanti manna Kol ad finem," responded the congregation. The chant went on for some time.
Among the chanters was a redheaded man named Spliff, clad only in vest and pants. He chanted the hymn as he hung upside down from a rafter, suspended by his legs, behind a ceiling hanging so that none of the penitents could see him.
If it had been anyone but Kol's mystic who did that, he would have ended
up on the Arch of Agony in short order.
After the sermon, Jhodan made his way back to his study as soon as possible. He closed both doors, but only locked the back one. He heard a gentle rap on his door.
"Identify yourself," he said.
There was no response, other than another rap.
The young priest threw open the door. "It had to be you," he said to Dawnstar, standing there in robes. "Where is the guard?"
The Legionnaire stepped inside. Jhodan slammed the door shut and shot the bolt. She held up her palm, and showed him a device held within it. "This was created for our spy squad," she said. "It places a normal man's conscious brain on hold for a short time, unless he is properly shielded. Your guard's was not."
Jhodan set the guilded scroll he was holding down upon a table of Homeworld wood. "I have prayed about you," he said.
"And I of you," she said, looking into his eyes.
"I prayed," he said, "that Kol's will be done in this matter. That was all I could do."
Dawnstar stepped very close to Jhodan, looking up, breathing heavily. "I prayed that I would be allowed to see you again," she said. "That no obstacle too great be between us two. That I might come to you, and make you understand my abscence."
"That can wait," said Jhodan, breathing heavily.
She pulled the penitent's robe over her head. Beneath it, she was in her yellow leotard. "I did not know whether to face you as before. I...wore my uniform..."
"We can do something about that," said Jhodan, his hands caressing her back and finding the catch to her costume. She placed her arms around him, breathed on him, felt his breath on her neck, felt his manliness against her body.
He gently pulled the costume off of her with her help. He then helped her with her boots, holding one of her beautiful bare feet for a long moment after taking off her second boot. She smiled at him, saying nothing.
Then she helped him out of his vestments, at a considerably greater pace.
Then he made her wings beat high and furiously.
Ina had requested audience with the Reverend Mother herself. The Mother, who was called Awian, was an elderly lady whose official garment was a white robe. It signified that only she was able to go within the Holiest Holy beneath the temple. None beside her was known to have penetrated that area. If they did, none ever returned to tell the tale.
Now Awian held the big white feather Ina had given her between two fingers, twirled it as she sat in her chamber, and knew Ina was waiting for her to speak.
"Jhodan is my chosen successor," said the Reverend Mother. "When I die, the robe will be passed on to him, to be worn as the Reverend Father. The Secrets of Kol will be revealed to him, and to him alone."
Ina almost shivered. Such things were rarely ever spoken of, even among the novitiates. Even those priests who made up the Arms of Kol guarded their words about the Secrets.
"You did not see the outworlder, Ina?"
The redheaded girl sighed, her hands clasped before her. "No, Reverend Mother. But I did hear a cry, as of two voices mingled together. Jhodan would not let me in his chamber for some time afterward. Then, when I was admitted, I found the feather."
Awian thought to herself that Jhodan might have been indulging in that eternal vice or necessity which young people of either sex employ to relieve their mating-tension. If so, that would certainly have been a reason not to see Ina at the time. There were many other reasons why he might keep her out, as well.
This might also be only a bird's feather.
Ina might have misheard.
But in a case involving the high priestess's successor, such things had to be investigated. Matters of moral or loyalistic taint do not become a man to whom an entire tribe is obliged to look up to. Awian dropped the feather on a side-table near her seat and looked at the girl.
"Ina," she said. "You are in love with Jhodan, well-nigh betrothed to him. Is this not so?"
"It is, Reverend Mother, as you well know," said Ina, nervously.
"Has Jhodan returned that love, in your belief?"
Ina wrung her hands. "This is a difficult question, Reverend Mother."
"Those are the only questions worth asking, novitiate," said Awian. "Speak."
The girl looked towards the stone-and-wood ceiling of Awian's chamber. "In times past, I might say that he somewhat enjoyed my presence, though no final love-congress passed between us. In the time after the outworld woman was seen, we made a bargain for marriage, that a line might be borne to Jhodan and his priesthood continued. But...for over a month, more than two, probably, his attention has wavered. He...no longer requests my presence as much as previously. When we are together, he is friendly, to be sure, yet that which might have been seen as the spark of love..." She looked towards the floor. "I no longer perceive it, Reverend Mother. If it is not the outworlder woman returned, then perhaps it is me at fault."
Awian said, "You know that a priest of Kor may not have congress with an unbeliever, novitiate Ina."
Ina replied, softly, "Yes, Reverend Mother, I understand."
"You know, furthermore, that the disclosure of such will damn the priest and the unbeliever to the Arch of Agony. Only a conversion might save the life of the unbeliever, and perhaps the priest as well. This is written in our law."
"Yes, Reverend Mother," said Ina, even more softly.
"You also know that the outworlder brought with her a disease which slew many of our children. This was not done deliberately on her part, and others of her people cured the plague. But the children still died."
"I am...I know these things, Reverend Mother."
Awian's aged face came up sharply and her eyes held those of Ina's, powerfully. "You are aware, then, that your accusation may result in the death of the man whom you love? Who is also my chosen successor?"
Tears were welling in Ina's eyes. "I...I do," she said, finally.
Awian's gaze went to the feather on the table. "You might have gone to Jhodan, told him your suspicions, and allowed him to put this affair aside, reminding him of the penalty."
"Peace, be still. I do not doubt that in your decision there must have been a great amount of jealousy. If priest Jhodan does love the outworlder woman, then there is little space left in his bed for you. Is that the only reason you have brought me this tale and this token?"
"He is a priest!" cried Ina, in tears. "He must be kept from such things! Our, our people need him! I need him!"
"And so you do," said Awian. "And so you do. Ina, there are two burdens I would lay upon you at this time."
The novitiate waited.
"First: that you speak of these things to no one, save myself and one other, whose name I will tell you. For Jhodan has been charged once with this sin, has recieved absolution from myself and, hopefully, from Kol already for it, and now backslides and strays once again. This is no small thing, for a man who comes to doubt a priest may, possibly, in time come to doubt Kol."
Ina's face was ashen.
"Go you and bring me Rand," said Awian. "He who was warrior, and who once fought with Jhodan and the outworlder. He is to gather a band of men, trusted to himself, and discern the truth in this matter, without telling the men before such is proven. Do not interrupt me. I will instruct Rand myself when he comes to me, which you will tell him is immediately required. If Jhodan and the woman are found together...they are to be brought to me. No one else is to learn of these things. Is that clear, Ina?"
She nodded, wordlessly.
"If it is determined that the story has strayed to outsiders," Awian warned, "there will always be a space left reserved on the Arch of Agony. Now go."
The young woman turned on her heel and began walking barefooted to the great wooden door of Awian's chamber.
Ina turned, looking at the Reverend Mother's impassive face.
"Well done," said Awian.
Dawnstar and Jhodan lay side by side on the bed in the room adjoining the priest's study. It was so much better than coupling on the floor, she decided. But she still insisted on remaining on top.
The love-glow was still present in her loins and heart. She placed an arm about his head and kissed him again. "I would spend eternity confined within this room, just to be loved by you each day," she said.
Jhodan smiled at her, a touch ruefully. "I fear for my own eternity, Dawnstar. But if I might spend it in your arms, feeling your touch and watching your wings beat...well, that would be as close to Paradise as one could imagine, outside of the Kolian Scrolls."
"This will certainly do till then." She shifted to lay her upper half across him, embracing him again. "Jhodan, return to Earth with me."
"No," he said. "I am the high priest, the Reverend Mother's successor. The people need me. Perhaps, may I be forgiven, Kol needs me here as well. It cannot be, Dawnstar."
"Then we must find a way for me to stay here," she said. "Or at least to return more easily."
"If you would convert, perhaps allowances might be made," said Jhodan, one hand upon the bottom of her spine and the top of her buttocks. "There would be repercussions, but you might eventually be accepted."
"No," she replied. "I believe in Manitou, and will not relinquish my belief. Also, there is the Legion. To them I owe a duty, a great loyalty."
Jhodan forced himself to say it. "Greater than to me?"
She swung her leg over his body and straddled him, holding his face in her hands. "Do not say that. There are loyalties of love, and loyalties of duty. I must order my life so that both may be attended to. I am your lover, and I am a Legionnaire."
"Then how will we remain lovers? Is not such a gap of void a barrier to our love?"
Dawnstar began positioning herself to allow him entry. "Not as long as starships and teleport beams exist, beloved. Not as long as our love exists. Not as long as we may do this."
She ground upon him then, and he did not believe he could respond so quickly after their earlier session. But he did. He saw her eyes close with passion, her teeth clench and then open, her body sweat, and, yes, the beating of those wings.
He could only guess what she saw in him.
Then there was the climax, and the passion-cries afterwards, and the melting-glow in which two minds were surprised, minutes afterward, to find that they were still attached to bodies, but were not so surprised that those bodies nestled quietly and lovingly against one another.
And then the locked door to the bedchamber sprang open.
Spliff stood there, the light of the candle in the chamber beyond illuminating him from behind.
Before the stunned lovers could respond, he spoke to them.
"Spliff has beheld before his eyes
A gathering of handpicked spies.
Towards this bedchamber they do march--
Depart with Spliff, or dare the Arch!"
Dawnstar sat up in bed, clutching the nightsheet to her chest. "Who in the living hell are you?", she said. Her face was a mixture of shock and anger.
Jhodan's hand clutched her arm. "Spliff," he said. "What are you saying? Someone's coming for us?"
The redheaded man nodded, vigorously. "You both to follow Spliff, make haste / Or else the Arch your blood will taste."
Dawnstar wrapped the sheet about her body and sat up, her eyes blazing anger in the interrupted darkness. "I do not care who you are or what way you talk, one does not barge into another's bedroom uninvited! Especially in this case."
"Hush, Dawnstar," said Jhodan. "Spliff is--"
"Do not tell me to hush, as if I were your little redhaired novitiate," snapped Dawny. "I am a Legionnaire. Remember that, Jhodan."
"As if you would let me forget it, woman," said Jhodan, getting out of bed. "As if I knew or cared a whit about your ‘Legion'. And I do not appreciate your reference to Ina."
"I--" Dawny looked away. "I am sorry, Jhodan. Forgive me. I was merely angered by this--interruption."
"You interrupted us in the midst of love, Spliff," said Jhodan, stepping into his pants. "But your words convince me that the interruption is necessary. Get dressed, Dawnstar. How long have we, Spliff?"
The strange man shrugged. "Five minutes more or less, Spliff guesses. / Depends on just how fast she dresses."
Dawnstar stepped out of bed, ensheeted, and went to the chair upon which her yellow leotard lay. "Turn around, Spliff. I'll be decent in a moment. You have a place where we can go?"
Jhodan adjusted his hood as Spliff obidiently showed her his back. "If anyone knows a refuge, Spliff will. He is a Mystic of Kol. Hurry, Dawnstar."
Four minutes later, the lock to Jhodan's outer chamber door was forced.
Six men barged in, with five more waiting outside. All were armed, all were robed as devotees of Kol. Which, strictly speaking, they were.
They saw the opened door to the bedchamber. Two of the team rushed forward, as silently as they could manage. But the room, like the rest of Jhodan's apartment, was deserted.
One of the group, looking out the window, motioned to his chief. "Over here, Rand," he called.
The large man with the red mustache went to the window and peered out, shouldering his fellow aside.
It was hard to see what the spy had indicated. But the full moon did pick out a figure in the distant sky, two great wings bearing her aloft, and two others hanging onto her legs.
"Damn the Outer Darkness," swore Rand. "All right. We've
a bit of travelling to do."
Laurel Kent usually wore a black bikini for a uniform. To dine, however, she often dressed in a demure sort of pantsuit. It wasn't from modesty, but from a desire not to be mobbed by fans while off-duty. She wore a simple green pants-and-sleeved-halter affair to the Corellian restaurant to which Wildfire had taken her. Of course, he was wearing his containment suit, which made him easily recognizable and meant the waiters had to seat them in the most secretive area and keep looky-lous away.
She reflected, briefly, that it wasn't fair that dinner was for one, since Drake couldn't eat or drink. But that was the way it was. And in that, she thought she understood a bit of Dawnstar's frustration.
"A thousand years," he was saying, his red gloves spread upon the table. "A thousand years, with only burning plasma for a roommate. I come back to the woman I love, Laurel, and wham. I find out she's cutting me out of her life."
"Oh, Drake, it's not that simple," said Laurel, spearing a bit of seafood. "Dawny loved you, and she still does, I think, to a large degree. But...a woman needs more than just intellectual and emotional love from a man. We've been over that."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," said Wildfire, leaning his elbows on the table and putting his helmeted head between his hands. "Laur, I try. I gave her pleasure, physically, I mean. Don't ask how. I tell her I love her, and I do. She's a good woman, Laur. She'd have to be, to be in love with me. When she was."
Laurel chewed the bit of pulpy Corellian fish-mass, then put her fork down. "There you go again, Drake. You're still talking about what you and she have as if it were in the past tense. Don't you think you still have it? That she still cares about you?"
He fidgeted. "Maybe. But love, well, it's mostly like a two-person bed. Try to get another one in there, and somebody ends up sleeping on the floor."
"That's in both our cultures, American and Rokynian," said Laurel. "Others have other customs of sex and marriage. Polygamy, polyandry, et cetera. But about love, I'm not sure you're not right. Tell me, Drake. Do you love Dawny? I mean, like, really, really love her?"
Wildfire stared straight at her. She thought that if his voice wasn't synthesized, it would have broken. "Of course I love her. I spent ten centuries thinking about her. Ten centuries imagining she was there. That, and the interacts I had with the Quardians, kept me sane. I think. What's your punch line?"
Dawny sat both her arms on the table. "Do you love her enough to give her up?"
He said nothing for a second or two, then said, "I want her."
"Of course, Drake. That's, like, established. But if this affair was really good for her...if she really found herself in love for the first time with a man who could give her what she needs, like...would you be willing to let him have her?"
He turned his faceplate away from her.
"That's a question I faced twice," he said. "Once, when she came back from Homeworld. Again, when I came back from the star. And it's all...Laurel, dammit, don't you see? It's not me that lets her have him, or me. It's Dawny who makes that decision. It made me...it made me so proud, beforehand, when she decided to love me. But now, she just finds somebody who can lay her, and it's all crumbling."
"Sex is more than just the laying, like," Laurel replied. "If it's worth a damn, that is."
"You make me feel so secure."
"I'm trying to get you to face up to realities, Drake. Those bits where people just fall in love and nothing ever gets in the way, like, that's just holostories. Romance tales. People fall in love, they fall out of it. They fall in lust, fall out of that, too. Sometimes they learn, and it's a really big shock to them, that they don't control what their partner does with his or her body."
"I saw millions of people fall in love on Qward," he said. "I saw them stick with it to the end of their lives. I saw them lose their love in thousands of interesting ways. I saw them hurt their lovers, sometimes kill them." Wildfire settled back in his chair. "Every love story is a different story, Laur. I know that much."
Laurel weighed her words before speaking.
"Drake, I've seen her when she came back from one of her rezendevous with her lover. Like, I could tell that something had gone on, between them. And Dawny was both better and worse for it. She was better in that she'd gotten something she'd wanted, something she'd needed, for a very long time. She was worse in that she had a terrible guilt trip. She was ashamed that what she'd done would hurt you. That's why she didn't tell you at first."
"I know that," he said, impatiently. "I could figure that out. I forgave her, for crying out loud."
"If this was a normal thing here on Earth, I'd advise you, like, to let the affair go on. It'd either play itself out, or grow into something better. Maybe what Dawny's needed and wanted, like I said, for all her life. But there's something else in the stew, Drake. She's, like, loving a priest. And on that world, loving somebody like her can get the priest excommunicated--or killed."
Wildfire looked at her. "And her, too?"
She nodded. "And her, too."
"She can't leave him alone? Even if it'll get them both...executed?"
Laurel sighed. "Brainy and I are going to Homeworld in a Legion cruiser. We both think she's probably in danger. Both from the priests, and from this ‘Kol' phenomenon...the natural disasters that aren't so natural. If you want to stay here, we'll understand."
"When are you going?"
"Tomorrow morning, after Brainy and I both catch some sleep."
"You couldn't keep me away from it."
"Just remember, Drake: you're a Legionnaire. And Legionnaires don't hurt innocent people. Even if they are romantic rivals, like."
"I'm a Legionnaire, all right," said Wildfire. "And so is Dawny.
Sign me up for the voyage."
Dawnstar was using her wings and her TK power to keep herself aloft with Jhodan and Spliff hanging onto her legs. They'd gotten out of the city by then, and were soaring just over an area of hills beyond.
She wanted to get them all to the United Planets outpost where the research team dwelt. But Spliff was insistent that they take this route. Jhodan saw his reasoning, and explained: "You might be safe there, but I would not. The knowledgemen operate by the allowance of Awian. Should they wish to take me from there, you would have to use force to resist them."
"We shall probably end up doing that anyway," said Dawny, her breath labored a bit from her load.
"Fly just northwest, then circle round,
Spliff shows you where to go to ground."
The Legionnaire sighed. Then, after a bit of thought, she replied,
"Although from rhyming I can't stop you,
I ought to shake my leg and drop you."
"Dawnstar!" said Jhodan. "Such is Spliff's way of speaking. He is a Mystic of Kol, and deserves respect."
"You are a priest of Kol, and I am a Legionnaire," she said. "We both deserve respect. And what do we get? A posse of fanatics, seeking our lives. I shed blood in this land, and accidentally killed children with disease from my body. If I did not love you so much, Jhodan--"
She paused, realizing she had just admitted her heart-secret for the first time aloud, to herself and to Jhodan.
"Yes?" said Jhodan, still clinging awkwardly to her right leg.
"--If I did not, then I would leave this world on the scientists' next shuttle and wipe its memory from my mind, pleasant though its aspect be." She paused. "That is all."
Jhodan said, "And if I did not love you, I would let you."
Spliff said, "Valley below this hill. Hidden door within hillside. Spiff knows. Lady should land."
Dawnstar chanced a look down at him. "Why aren't you rhyming?"
Jhodan said, "Spliff has more than one way of speaking. Also more than one personality. But I trust what he says."
Dawnstar flew lower. As she did, she noticed a strange feeling: it was getting colder. The temperature was dropping, as if a mass of northern air had just blown in.
She looked up. "Jhodan," she breathed.
A mass of clouds, visible in the moonlit sky, was coming on swiftly. Thunderheads. Lightning was visible, if not yet audible. But worse than that.
A funnel cloud in the midst of it.
"Prepare to land," she said. "And to seek shelter from the whirlwind."
Jhodan said, in a voice above a whisper, "The Wrath of Kol."
Spliff did not contradict him.
Rand and his band of bravos also saw the storm as they followed the airborne trio. "Great god, the whirlwind!", shouted one of the men, in fear.
The redhead moved his hand in a chopping motion. "Be calm. It does not come our way. For the moment, we remain where we are. Cover is good enough."
"The damnable thing can change direction," said another. "Without warning!"
Rand said, still watching the storm, "It is anything but a damnable thing. And unless I err greatly...I do not think it will change direction."
The group sat on the cool ground and waited. In the moonlight,
some saw a half-smile on Rand's face.
Now the sound of the great storm was like a horn being blown by a god. It was coming for Dawnstar and her two companions unerringly, quickly. She saw this as she looked over one shoulder, flying lower at as great a speed as she dared.
"We are not at the valley door,
To reach it we must journey more," said Spliff, tensely.
"We're going to ground, Spliff, and we're going to find a hole and hide in it," snapped Dawny.
"The storm is the Wrath of Kol," said Jhodan. "We cannot hide from it. It seeks me out."
"If we can reach the cavern portal,
Our danger will prove less than mortal.
Once we are safe within its gate,
No whirlwind storm may penetrate."
The winged woman looked back again, saw the great funnel cross a forested area, saw the trees burst into millions of fragments.
"All right, then, Spliff," said Dawnstar. "We're going down. Show us where the gate is. And run for it!"
Thunder boomed about them. Then a great flash, blinding her for a moment. They dropped the last thirty feet of the descent, Dawnstar pulling up before they struck ground by the side of a great mountain. The men dropped to the earth, while Dawnstar almost pancaked, skinning her knees and muddying her costume and exposed skin. The lightning bolt had struck very near them. Perhaps the Wrath of Kol was seeking them out, she thought.
But if so, Kol must have been firing for effect.
Spliff and Jhodan ran up to her, grabbed her arms, and pulled her to her feet. Dawnstar shook her head, trying to banish the last of the lightning-blindness. The mystic pointed to a half-hidden trail up the mountainside. "This way, this way," he said.
"Let me carry you," said Dawnstar, and, holding their arms, began to take flight again.
Another blinding flash, and the smell of ozone above their heads. Seconds later, a deafening boom. The bolt, she guessed as she picked herself off the ground, must have travelled only a few yards above her.
"I think we had better run," said Jhodan.
So, with Spliff in the lead, they did.
The warriors were able to see their three prey with some difficulty, until the storm moved in. They saw them at the mountain trail.
"Looks like the wind will finish our task for us," muttered a one-eyed hunter, his longbow slung upon his back.
"Even if it does, our task won't be finished until we bring evidence back to the Reverend Mother," said Rand. "The deaths of a high priest, and a mystic, must be confirmed."
"What if the storm doesn't leave enough of them for a confirmation?" said Wirtham, an old swordsman who was concerned with details.
"Kol will provide," Rand answered. "If the storm is his will, then he will leave token of what he has done."
"A thousand pardons, Captain," interjected another. "But if it isn't Kol's will, then what?"
Rand looked at him, unkindly.
"Then we stay out here till we find something to bring back," he said. "Clear?"
"Understood, Captain," said the man.
The agent of Awian turned back in the direction of the storm and kept
The air pressure had changed. All three had felt their ears pop, and Dawnstar had wiped a bit of nosebleed away. She kept her wings as flat as possible against her back, so as to leave less target for the wind.
The trail curved up the side of the mountain to a point high above the level ground. It was difficult to discern anything in the lightning-lit darkness, but Dawnstar could see no door there. Only what appeared to be solid rock.
Jhodan had been muttering prayers for a while, but now he only gasped for breath as the three of them ran. By now they were being lashed by rain, and once she had to pick up Jhodan when he slipped.
Spliff seemed as sure-footed as a Starhaven deer, even on the wet trail. Dawnstar got the feeling he was holding back a bit, so as not to get too far away from them. But the entrance was still a good distance away.
She smelled ozone.
Using her TK power, Dawnstar thrust herself back down the trail, and carried Jhodan with her. Ten yards behind her, lightning struck. It was an almost perfect hit upon the trail, or just above it.
Loose rocks above hurtled down, blocking the trail. Spliff was cut off from sight. Dawnstar held Jhodan tightly, both of them turning rain-streaked faces to the sky.
"O Kol, forgive," called Jhodan. "Let not your wrath be loosed upon those who are with me. Visit it upon myself alone. If I be sinner, let mine be the punishment."
"Shut up," said Dawnstar, and lifted him into the skies.
She hurtled upward, praying to Manitou to intervene. If Kol existed, she hoped her Great Spirit could reason with him, or perhaps catch the thunderbolts as they were hurled.
Her flight took the two of them in a short arc above the pile of rubble on the trail and beyond it. As they landed, another bolt flashed nearby, but above and behind them. She thanked Manitou.
Spliff and the end of the trail were not so far away.
"Come on," said Dawny, and ran, holding Jhodan's hand.
The whirlwind was almost upon them. She looked at it, only once, saw the great rope of wind and cloud not a hundred yards distant.
"Enter with Spliff, conserve your breath," said the mystic. He placed a palm upon the mountainside.
A section of it swung back, revealing a passageway within.
"Or else, remain, and face your--" Spliff began.
With one last thrust of flight, Dawnstar gathered Jhodan and Spliff in her arms and hurtled all three of them inside the doorway. They landed on their stomachs on the polished stone of the walkway beyond.
The whirlwind's noise filled the air, and it became impossible to breathe.
Then the stone door behind them cut them off from the world, and normal air pressure returned. The great wind was audible beyond, but could not enter. Small lights came on in the ceiling above.
Dawnstar, Jhodan, and Spliff looked at each other.
"We're safe," she said. "Where are we?"
Rand and his men sat and watched the storm batter the mountain. The whirlwind seemed to be squatting there, trying either to pick the peak up or batter it down.
"Never saw a whirlwind act like that before," said Marcton, who pulled his hood over his head to keep the rain out.
"Has to be the Wrath of Kol," another put in. "He really must not like those three."
The leader of the band half-stood and watched the phenomenon. "That, or the Reverend Mother, Kol forgive me, has more pull than I thought. If the storm doesn't blow itself out within an hour, we'll make camp here till morning."
"Think it'll be gone by then?"
Rand shrugged. "Even considering those three, Kol must have other
things to do."
Dawnstar and Jhodan followed Spliff down the cave passage. She had toured several caves on Starhaven and on Earth, including the great Carlsbad Caverns, and this reminded her of the latter. The passage was natural, but enlarged and reformed by human methods. No animals were visible. The lights, recessed into the ceiling, were of an antique type she had not seen outside of historical texts.
Jhodan was breathing heavily. "‘And the heavens will purge the sinner from the congregation's midst,'" he quoted. "‘Kol's wrath be manifested in the powers of the air--"
Dawnstar almost slapped him. "Jhodan, stop! I'll not listen to your guilt-ridden quotes. We are here, and we are safe. If such were not the will of your god, do you think we could have made it?"
He replied, "Perhaps it is another test of faith, Dawnstar. Another forking path, with the correct choice being crucial."
"Path is not forking, it is straight,
And so has been since entering gate," said Spliff. He turned aside, though, and placed his palm against another cave wall. It, too, shrank from his touch, and light and sound were perceptible through the opened door.
Dawnstar was first through the passageway.
Beyond was a fairly large cave-chamber. Within it was a mass of computers and monitors, some devices the uses of which she couldn't guess, and passageways branching off from it. Upon some of the monitors they saw aerial views of portions of Homeworld. One of them had a surprisingly close-up view of the Temple of Kol.
"Spliff," she said. "What is this place? Who constructed it?"
"When from the city Spliff does roam,
This is his home away from home," said Spliff.
"Now follow Spliff for food and washing,
Your bathing following your noshing."
"Noshing?" said Dawnstar, wrinkling her nose. "I think I may have heard Gim use that word before." She took Jhodan's hand.
She was disconcerted to feel a bit of stiffness in it, before he reluctantly relaxed.
She led him forward, silently.
In her sanctum, the Reverend Mother sat alone, with a heavy heart.
From what she had learned, Spliff had to be leading Jhodan and Dawnstar to the Mountain. Once within, if they managed to reach it, they would be safe even from the whirlwind and storm. It was possible, slightly, that Rand might find a way in. But she hoped that he would not.
Bad enough that Jhodan, Spliff, and the woman had to die.
If the hunters penetrated the mountain, all their blood would have to flow, as well.
"Kol," she prayed, "take this goblet from my hands. Spare as many as you can. This burden proves too much for your servant."
There was no answer.
It looked as though she'd have to have them all killed.
Dawnstar, Jhodan, and Spliff were seated within a utilitarian dining chamber. There was a table, big enough to seat only ten or so people, and the rock walls were not far from their back. Thankfully, the floor was covered in a sort of rubbery plastic. Dawnstar had taken her boots off and enjoyed rubbing her bare feet against its surface. She sat beside Jhodan, and insisted on glancing at him as they ate, until he finally gave back her gaze with love and sadness.
The food was centuries old, she guessed, but palatable. It had been rendered into a jerky-like substance, in small, vacuum-sealed cans. The pull of a strip popped open the top of a can. A tap in the wall produced water, flat and old-tasting but purified and drinkable. When mixed with the jerky, it helped soften it into more recognizable meat and vegetable matter. It was emergency rations, she guessed, and they were glad to have them.
The table itself was pressed wood, covered in plastic, bolted onto metal supports that were, in turn, bolted into the ground. The chairs they sat in were plastic swivel-types, likewise connected to the ground by metal supports.
Spliff was stuffing his face and emitting a belch every now and then. She told him to turn his head when he did that, as she didn't fancy brushing beef stew out of her cleavage. For the most part, he had obeyed.
"Spliff is a heyoka," she said to Jhodan, between bites of what tasted like dried turkey.
"A heyoka?" Jhodan turned to her with a priestly look. "Spliff is a Mystic of Kol, touched by divine madness. What is a heyoka?"
The redhaired man in the vest looked at them, interested, but didn't stop eating.
"The heyoka is not unlike that," said Dawny. "In my tribe, in several others, he serves as the village clown. A comedian, but with a purpose. When food is low in winter, he goes before the entire community, melts snow in a pot, drinks the water from a spoon, and declares it the best stew ever concocted. Then he might bathe in the snow, to turn himself blue and make the rest of the people laugh at his misfortune, though they might be shivering themselves in winter clothing. When game is scarce, he might paint himself as an absurd warrior, and go hunting mice with a bow and arrow, or slay imaginary animals and eat their airy flesh."
"Ah," said Jhodan, in comprehension. "So, through his misfortune, the heyoka lifts the spirits of your tribe, through laughter. Not an unwise thing to do. Have you seen such a man on your world?"
Dawnstar looked at Spliff. "Not as in the old days. Modernization has touched us all. Today, our heyokas are just comedians. They compete with each other at jokefests, they hire others to write their jokes, and the lucky ones are featured on worldwide holoshows." She drank half of her plastic glass of water. "I believe Spliff is the truest heyoka I have found."
"Spliff thanks you kindly, lady," said Spliff, around a mouthful of what appeared to be beans.
"You are welcome, Spliff," said Dawnstar. "Jhodan?"
"This chamber, the materials in it. I believe they came from Earth."
"If such is the name of the Third World from the Star, then you are probably right," said Jhodan, eating cheese and bread from a can. "The Scrolls say that all the People came from such a world. Kol brought them thence from the plague of the Blue Men."
"Your people had science, knowledge, technology, five centuries past," said Dawnstar. "This station, your temple, all are evidence of it. You came here on a starship."
"If great Kol brought the People across the stars on a ship, then such is possible," said Jhodan. "It matters naught to me."
She touched his arm, gently. "It should matter greatly to you, Jhodan. As a priest, a seeker of knowledge, you should be eager to learn as much as you can of your faith's origins."
Jhodan turned to her, eyes ablaze. "One does not seek out the Mysteries of Kol, woman! Such matters are kept within a Veil of Iron. Only when the Reverend Mother or Father chooses to impart the holiest of knowledge, is it imparted. And then, only to one. If Kol wishes me to know, I will learn from Awian. If not--" He shrugged. "--I will be content."
"Perhaps he wishes you to learn from other than Awian," Dawnstar said. "Perhaps he wishes you to learn, by using your own eyes and mind."
He looked at her with a gaze of infinite sadness, and grasped her shoulders. "Dawnstar. You know that I love you, do you not?"
She put her glass down and reached up to touch his face. "As much as I know that I love you," she replied. "And I know that infinitely."
"Yet, you play the role of the Temptress to me. The being who exists to turn the unwary away from the path of Kol."
"No," she said.
"Yes," he responded. "I am now a fugitive from my people. I, who was their high priest. I, who was the guide of their souls. Damage beyond reckoning has been done to the tribal mind by my actions."
"You're wrong, Jhodan," she whispered. "You are only a man in love. They must understand love, if they understand anything."
"They do," he said. "And they will understand that an outworlder woman, whom no priest may marry, has seduced their chief priest and made away with him."
"We were fleeing for our lives!"
"Do they know that?"
She was silent, looking at him in shock.
"Awian knows," he said. "But Awian will not tell them. If we return, we would be damned to the Arch and killed. Such is the penalty called for the heretic priest. And for those who stood beside him. It would be the only way of repairing the damage done to the tribe's faith." He paused. "If I were in such a place, even I would do it."
She looked at the table.
"Dawnstar?" he said.
The Indian girl said, "If I leave you, perhaps they will accept you again."
"No," he said. "Such is not an option, now."
"You may tell them I was the Temptress," said Dawnstar. "That you finally rejected my charms, and turned back to Kol. I will find a way to leave this mountain alone. It will be the best way, Jhodan."
"I think not," he said. "Even if it be so."
She looked up at him, tears in her eyes, oblivious to the silent Spliff sitting five feet away from them. "I will not be the cause of your death, Jhodan. If my love means anything, it means that I must give you up."
"And if mine means anything, woman, it is that I will not give you up," said Jhodan. He tossed his food can aside, and, with the same motion, stood and swept the startled Dawnstar into his arms. Holding her, he looked at Spliff.
"This way," said Spliff. "This way for the bedchambers."
"No, Spliff," he said. "Dawnstar and I wish to bathe, first. I may smell like a goat when I get out of bed, but I will not smell as such when I enter it."
Spliff considered it. "If man and lady both be reeking,
The water ceiling rooms you're seeking.
Once more, Spliff guides, then off to bed,
But not for Spliff--he reads, instead."
Comforted by Jhodan's arms, Dawnstar looked at the redhead. "What is it you read, Spliff?"
"The Word of Kol," he said. "What else would Spliff read?"
Dawnstar watched Spliff scamper off.
The heyoka, she decided, had to be a key to the Kol-mystery. How did he know of her presence in Jhodan's bedchamber, hours ago? How did he know of the spies sent to capture them? How did he find this "home away from home", which was apparently connected to the deepest secrets of the Kolites?
But there were other matters to contemplate. Such as how to get herself and Jhodan back to the United Planets' scientists' outpost, and how to get them both safely off-planet before Awian's agents could find them.
Awian possibly had the outpost under surveillance even now. And only Manitou knew if she would breach agreement with the outworld savants if Dawnstar and her priest-lover were found therein. Assuming they could leave the mountain unseen by the spies, assuming they had not been harmed by the whirlwind.
Matters to consider, indeed.
But right now she was content, enjoying the fact that Jhodan was strong enough to carry her without strain through the hallway after Spliff. The redheaded man in the blue vest was waiting for them beside a door set into the rock. He pressed his hand against a section of it, and it withdrew into the wall. There was a short pathway beyond, and a second door, as in an airlock.
"Touch the door beyond and it will open
Just as this will close behind you.
Pleasant bathing, and Spliff's hoping
That the warriors never find you."
"Spliff?" said Dawnstar.
The Kol-mystic looked at her.
"Why are you doing these things for us?", she asked.
Jhodan looked down at her in surprise. But he waited for Spliff's reply.
"Because," Spliff said, with a look of difficulty on his face, "Spliff
really likes you."
As Spliff had indicated, the outer door did extrude behind them, and the second door did open when Jhodan lowered her and placed his palm against it. Within, they found a well-lit shower room with six water-heads in a low ceiling, though no controls were visible on the walls.
"How do we get this thing to work?" asked Dawnstar.
Jhodan shook his head. "I know nothing of this. I expected a drawn bath, as we have in the village. Do those disks sprinkle water upon us, as a woman watering a garden from a can?"
"They should," she said, going to one of the walls and running her hands along its surface. Nothing responded to her touch. Jhodan, impatient, untied his belt and removed his robe. He stepped idly towards the center of the room.
The shower heads sprang to life and began to drench him in soapy water, like an ancient Terran car-wash.
He spluttered, standing there in his tunic. Dawnstar had to laugh. "I'm sorry," she giggled, and, still in her costume, stepped under the spray to get her share and to help him finish undressing.
Jhodan helped her as well, which she was counting on.
The sensuality of the moment was irresistable. Water and suds flowing off their mutual nakedness, the artificial lighting of the shower room sparkling off their bodies, almost matching the light each of them saw in the other's eyes. Dawnstar encircled his body with her arms, but not before she looked down to notice his growing manhood, and nuzzled him, her head against his chest. He gazed upon the water dancing off her full, exposed breasts, her great white wings dripping water in a cascade, her lovely legs outlined like a surf-nymph's.
Then her legs went about him and her womanhood opened to admit him and they sank to the concrete and plastic floor. She gasped in pleasure and closed her eyes. He groaned, softly. On their knees they did the dance.
And the showers accompanied their love and moaning for a long, long
Later, the two found their way nakedly out of the shower, dried by gusts of warm blown air that hit them when they stepped to the edge of the shower-room. They carried with them their drying clothes, went down the hall, palmed the door again, and had it open for them. Several doors branched out beyond that. They saw a scrawl on one such door, in some kind of grease marker. Jhodan told her it meant "This one" in his language, and must have been done by Spliff. It opened onto a small apartment with a bed, light, small table, chairs, closet, and even a small holoplayer, though no media were evident.
Jhodan sat on the edge of the bed, his hands clasped between his knees, looking at nothing. Dawnstar came to sit beside him and rubbed his shoulders. "I hope you are not feeling guilt," she murmured.
"What else should I feel?" he replied. "If I let myself, I will know what I have done. I have wronged my people, betrayed Awian, deprived them of their high priest. I must return to them. I must make amends, somehow. I must--"
"You cannot," said Dawnstar. "They would stone you on the Arch, and me as well. I will not have you martyring yourself. I wish it had not been this way, also, Jhodan. But having yourself killed is no answer to your life-question."
He smiled, grimly. "Then what will we do, Dawnstar? Being a priest is all I know. It is all I wish to know. Are there Kolian congregations on your homeworld?"
"Then what am I to do?"
"We will find something," said Dawnstar. "The Legion has great resources." She rested her head on his shoulder. He was conscious of his manhood's stirring to life again, and wondered how it could be so, this soon after service. But he stood, and did not face her.
"Can the Legion give me another Homeworld? Can it find me a new people, whose spirit I may bind together? Would you stay with me there, Dawnstar, instead of on your world, at this Legion's beck and call?"
She answered, "I have duties, Jhodan. Even as you."
He did not say a word.
"But you could live upon a world in which there would be no bar against us seeing each other," she continued. "That is...if you would wish to see me again."
Jhodan turned. "I wish it more than anything. That is why I wish I had not wished it."
The woman from Starhaven hung her head. Was it always to be thus, when one loved a priest?
"Dawnstar," he said.
"I am sorry," she said. "Sorry that I led you astray. Sorry that I loved you." She went to the dresser, took her leotard from it, and stepped into it, pulling it over her torso and clasping it in the back. Her back was turned to Jhodan. She stepped into her boots.
He touched her wings.
She pulled away from him, palmed the door, and ran through the opening into the hall.
He stood and watched her, but did not follow.
Without direction, and not caring for one, Dawnstar walked the hallways of the mountain cave, remembering unerringly her starting point and where all the rooms she had visited were. A noise came to her ear as she approached one door. Electronic noises, and, subdued, Spliff's voice.
A touch of her hand to the door opened it.
Within, a room of data storage machines. Squatting in its midst was Spliff, with a far-away expression on his face.
One of the machines had a disk drive opened. Spliff was running his fingers over the surface of the spinning disk, and chanting in the language of Homeworld. A video screen overhead ran through scenes of Homeworld. She guessed that, somehow, Spliff was directing the imaging.
Then the screen was lit by the image of Awian, in a room similar to this one.
She gazed at the video screen as if she could see them...which, Dawnstar realized, she probably could.
"Spliff," she said, "break contact."
He said nothing to her, but kept chanting.
Dawnstar looked for a power switch on the apparatus, but Awian's voice from a speaker stopped her.
"Jhodan must return to the Temple," said the Reverend Mother. "If he faces the Arch, many lives may yet be saved."
The Indian girl turned to the priestess in defiance. "But not his own," she answered. "You would have him stoned to death, for no more crime than love."
"Perhaps love is the greatest of crimes," the old woman said. "I should know, more even than you. Your own life might be saved, if he complies. If you defy...more blood will be on your hands than you could expiate."
"What do you mean?" said Dawnstar, stepping closer to the monitor.
"None may know the Mysteries of Kol without paying the price," said Awian. "Save for the high priest, that price is one's own life."
"I sought to reason with you, Reverend Mother. Jhodan and the woman have sinned only in bonding with each other. If she leaves, Jhodan may be reinstated, the others sworn to silence, and all will be well."
Awian replied, "The spies know now, as does Ina. We could beswear them, but only one way would truly seal their lips. No, Spliff. Jhodan knew the penalty when he chose to bond. I grieve for him, and for her, though you might not credit the latter. But Jhodan must face punishment, by the Word of Kol."
Spliff said, "If the spies enter the mountain, they will learn somewhat of the Mysteries of Kol."
"Just so," agreed Awian, and said no more.
Dawnstar, after a moment, said, "We will triumph over you, old woman. I am a Legionnaire. Their power is beyond what you know...and they protect their own kind."
"As does Kol," said Awian. "As does Kol."
Then her image winked out.
Spliff tried to activate the monitor again, but could not do so.
Dawnstar ran from the room and back down the hall, to the apartment. Jhodan was lying on the bed.
"We must escape," she said. "I have spoken with Awian."
He looked up at her, in shock. "She is here? How?"
"She is not, but I saw her from afar. I can show you. She knows we are within the mountain. She may be able to send the hunters after us."
"The Eye of Kol," Jhodan muttered. "It sees even into the mountains. We cannot escape our fate."
"We can damned well try," said Dawnstar. "I will get Spliff. Perhaps he can show us another way out." She turned to go.
He grasped her arm.
"Not now," she said, and tried lightly to pull away.
He kissed the side of her face. She flushed slightly.
"Now," he said.
"Ah, Manitou," she sighed, "preserve us. Perhaps...Spliff can...wait..."
His fingers were upon her body, stroking her. Both of them were dressed. She turned, looked into his eyes, and saw that lust and love had once again conquered guilt.
They both broke records denuding each other. They feasted on the sight of each other's nudity again, then, for the lark of it, she grabbed him, unfolded her great wings, and carried him through the air towards the bed.
She had him use his hand upon her first, squeezing it between her thighs as she came. Then she took him within herself, wrapped her bare legs about him, and used her wings to lift them both off the bed. For a moment, he was shocked. But only for a moment.
They did not touch the bed till the game of thrust and grind was done. Her climax was severe, bringing tears to her eyes. His was no less powerful, with one great throe of movement followed by gasping and limpness.
Dawnstar lowered him to the bed, exhaustedly. Spliff would have to wait.
Their loins disengaged, the two lovers fell asleep where they lay.
Ger Comm, the leader of the eight-person team from the U.P. research division, was apprehensive about the matter of the girl Legionnaire who kept showing up on-planet with little announcement and tight security. The few guards they had were equipped with firepower far in advance of the Homeworlders, and their shuttle held emergency forcefield equipment. The starship which brought the party to this backwater world had enough weaponry to defend them against a casual enemy attack, as long as it wasn't something on the order of the Dark Circle.
But none of them were really warriors, and they weren't out there to provoke a conflict with the native populance. They were historical researchers.
Comm knew as well as damn-it that the winged Starhaven girl, Dawnstar, had it bad for someone in the Homeworlders' temple city. That was just begging for trouble. The natives weren't quite barbarians, but they were insular and highly tribalized. Thanks to the intercession of the woman priest, Awian, the researchers were barely tolerated. The Legionnaires who had landed there earlier brought a plague that killed a number of children. Even though the U.P. had brought a cure that saved the populance, he knew that the Homeworlders feared it could happen again.
If their fear became great enough, it'd be time to hit the shuttle and get out, before either Homeworlders or outworlders could die.
All of this because Brainiac 5 had demonstrated a link between these primitives and the more highly advanced Earth of some five centuries ago. How they could have degenerated socially into the tribes that populated this world now, he had no inkling. But their legends stated that Kol brought them there from another world, whoever Kol was and however he did it.
Comm had been on enough culture-study teams to know when hell was brewing, and he felt the process on this planet was underway.
Now, one of the guards had brought a native girl to him. She was redheaded, barefoot, clad in the robes of a priestess-novitate, in her late teens. She had arrived on one of the horselike beasts the Homeworlders used for transportation, and she looked frightened. Ger Comm sighed, reached into a pouch he had sitting on the table beside a small mountain of databooks, and produced a plastic can filled with the coffee-drink from Earth that was standard choice on most U.P. craft. He indicated a folding chair on the other side of the table. "Sit there and drink this," he advised.
The girl sat, obiediently, and took the drink. "You must help me," she said. "You must save Jhodan, our high priest. The outworlder woman, too, if you can. The one with wings."
Comm sat up, and the guard stood at attention. "They are in danger, then?", said the historian.
"Great danger," said the girl, holding the can in both hands but not drinking it yet. "My name is Ina. Jhodan and the winged woman..." Her hands shook. She put the coffee down. "...They make a forbidden bond. Now the Reverend Mother seeks to bring them back, to face trial and Arch-stoning. I dare penalty by coming here, but I have no choice. You must help them--please, I beg you in the name of Kol."
"Where are they?"
Ina took a drink from the can, had a hard time swallowing, and said, "From what I have learned, they are at the Mountain of Mystery. The one struck by Kol's wind last night. I do not believe they were killed by it, for I was in the Reverend Mother's presence this day and she made no mention of their deaths. And she would know." She coughed. "This drink of yours is terrible."
Ger Comm said, "When I first tasted it, I agreed. So Awian sent a police party after Dawnstar and your priest?"
The girl said, "Yes. Rand and his men. They have not yet returned. But the Mountain of Mystery, it is said, conceals...conceals things known only to a few in our caste. Secrets which are said to rival those in the temple." She took a deep breath. "If they are privy to those secrets, without the blessing of the Reverend Mother, they may be destroyed without trial. Even the outworld girl. Your weapons are great, lord sir, but as nothing compared to the Wrath of Kol. Can you give aid?"
Comm swore, mentally. "Young lady, our mission here is not one of war, or police action. We are historians, past-studiers. We are forbidden by our law to interfere with your culture or your political matters."
"But you must help me!" the girl said, almost in tears. "For it is I who is responsible for this!"
"You are?" asked Ger Comm. "In what way?"
The girl paused, then, as if in penance, took another drink of coffee. "I found evidence of their bonding and brought it before the Reverend Mother."
She did not look up.
Ger Comm said, "A very foolish thing to do, under the circumstances, wouldn't you agree?"
She said nothing.
Comm went on, "Normally, despite the problems we might cause, I would try to give aid. After all, the girl is a U.P. citizen, and a Legionnaire. In this case, though, I must defer to another agency. I have been contacted by others, who have told me they are coming to this world. They did not tell me why, but after speaking with you, I can guess. We will leave the matter to them, and thus I will defy neither your law nor my own."
Ina sprang to her feet, knocking over the coffee can. Comm grabbed his databooks to keep the liquid from their circuitry. The guard had Ina by the shoulder. She held her hands out to Comm, desperately. "But you must help me! By this time, they may already be in Rand's hands. I implore you, lord sir--"
The historian said, "D'nebb, Ina here is to be placed under our protection. I'll see if I can speak with Awian myself and negotiate. As for the rest, get them back in camp and have the shuttle readied."
"Aye, sir," said the guard, and relaxed his grip on Ina.
"As for you, young lady, we'll do all we can to keep you safe. The Legion of Super-Heroes is on its way. They'll be here by tomorrow. I have a feeling they'll perform up to your expectations. D'nebb, if you'll escort her to her quarters?"
The guard left with the girl. Ger Comm sighed, and took a stronger drink than coffee from his pouch.
Viewed from any angle he could see, this entire mess looked like disaster.
He just hoped the Legionnaires could get there in time to minimize the
The Legion cruiser threaded its way through warpspace on its way towards Homeworld. Even though the properties of the warp shrank the distance between points in their own dimension, the journey would take the Legionnaires several more hours.
Within were Brainiac 5, Laurel Kent, and Wildfire, the only three who could be spared for the mission. Actually, given the nature of the enterprise, all three of them preferred to be the only participants. They hoped they would be enough. Wildfire could traverse space unaided at super-speed, but not much faster than the cruiser. Also, he wanted to be among his friends.
Being in a star for a millenium had taught him of loneliness.
"It's a primitive world, but there's more to it than we see on the surface," said Brainiac. "Even the disk doesn't answer the questions of the Wrath of Kol, and all that. Our job is to get Dawny out of there safely, and do the same for the U.P. group if they're endangered."
"Provided she wants to get out of there," said Wildfire. "If she wants to stay with this Jhodan character, all we can do is make sure she's safe. For the moment."
Laurel touched his shoulders, from behind. "Drake, I'm, like, really sorry. I know it's got to be hurting you to know about her."
Wildfire, seated near a control console, cradled his chin in his left hand. "It's not as simple as hurting, Laur. I want Dawny, yes. I've wanted to be near her for a thousand years. But--"
Brainiac and Laurel waited.
"But more than that, I want her to be happy," said Wildfire. "And if it takes somebody with--that is, somebody like Jhodan, maybe that's what we'll have to live with. What I'll have to live with."
Quietly, Brainiac said, "Your personality has deepened since your sojourn in the Qward star, Drake."
"Too right," said the Rokynian girl. "Just weeks ago, you were like..."
"...Like Mister Snotnose," Wildfire said. "I suppose I was, Laurel. Weeks for you, centuries for me. But when you have all that mass and gravity and energy binding you in, and you have to sit there alone for a thousand years, and peek into people's minds on the nearest planet...well, it does give you a new perspective. It was like meditating, in a way. Maybe I reached nirvana, or as close as I can get to it. Dawny's memory was like a mantra. My God, I loved her."
He stood up. "But I know what I can't do for her. So if it's more important to her to find somebody who can make love to her, let it be. All I want to know is that she's safe, and happier with him than with me."
Laurel, after a pause, said, "Gosh. I wish someone could feel that way about me, somehow." Then she shot a glance at Brainiac. "Sorry, Qwerl."
"It's all right," said Brainy. "Maybe we're getting there."
Then she said what she knew had to be said. "What do you think this will do to her standing in the Legion?"
"That's for Jan to say," said Brainy. "And I, for one, am glad
he'll have to say it, not me. Get ready to ground in about an hour."
Dawnstar awoke with Jhodan's arm over her naked chest and was glad of his presence. He was still asleep, all that lovely man-flesh beside her. She contemplated his body in the dimmed light and considered waking him up to see if they might love again.
But she was ashamed of herself for selfishness. Their lives were endangered, as was Spliff's. And she had put off forming a plan of action, or dealing with their peril, so that she might have another session of sex with her lover.
As she got up, gently laying his arm aside so as not to wake him, she was even more ashamed that she thought it had been worth it.
Wrapping herself in a spare sheet from the closet shelf and taking her leotard and boots in hand, Dawny silently palmed open the door, went down the hall to the shower room, lay her uniform outside its door, and washed herself thoroughly in its cleansing jets. Then, after drying, she ensheeted herself again, went outside to recover her uniform, and dressed before leaving the room.
Then she sought out Spliff, who was once again in the communications room. She wondered if he had left it since their last meeting. With one hand, the vested man was eating some jerky-food. The other hand was splayed upon another turning disk. But the monitor showed nothing.
"Awian has cut us off from the communications satellites," said Spliff, matter-of-factly.
She sat on the floor beside him, crossed-legged. "Satellites? Spliff, how is it that a world such as this has satellites? And why does your manner of speaking change when you are in this room?"
He looked at her, with an aspect not unlike a professor's. "The satellites are the gift of Kol. Only a few, such as Awian and myself, know about them. Their sensors enable us to see what happens planetwide. As for me, when I am within this room, I am One."
"Why?" asked Dawnstar.
"Because of the providence of Kol," said Spliff.
"What is the providence of Kol?"
He gestured with his fooded hand. "All that you see about you. Plus everyone who lives upon Homeworld. They survive, they thrive, because of what Kol has provided. Our life is a tribute to him."
"Mine is a tribute to Manitou," said Dawnstar. "But I will not argue belief. Spliff, what are you when you leave this room?"
"I am One, but I am a different One," said Spliff. "Once I touch the holy disks, my communion is complete."
Dawnstar shook her head. She only wished she had Brainiac 5 beside her now. "Are we safe within this mountain, Spliff?"
"For a time," he said. "Then Awian will be able to activate emergency controls. She will admit the search party."
"Is there an exit from the mountain, besides what we came through?"
"There was," said Spliff. "But while you slept, Awian used the Wrath of Kol to fuse it shut with a stroke of lightning."
"Oh." She felt guilt rushing in like spillwaters over a dam. "Are there weapons, that we may defend ourselves?"
"There are," confirmed Spliff. "Will you kill the searchers with them?"
She flashed back to an earlier battle, during her first trip to Homeworld, and the terrible sight of a man dying, his blood spurting out over the sword she carried, and over her. "I do not wish to. But I will not see Jhodan die. Or you, or myself, if I may prevent it."
"Then you must use the weapons," said Spliff.
She was silent for a moment. Then she said, "Show me where they
The meeting with Awian had gone as badly as Ger Comm had feared it would. The high priestess was in no mood to be placated, and was occupied by another matter, whose nature Comm could guess all too well.
"Reverend Mother, the woman is one of a band of powerful beings," said Comm. "Some of whom could move Homeworld out of its orbit unaided. They are on their way here at this very moment."
"Then Kol will deal with them," she snapped back. "My first duty is to my own people, outworlder. We stand on the brink of a crisis of faith such as has not been seen in many a year. I have no more time to devote to you."
"The Legion will intervene," he said. "Perhaps the United Planets as well, Reverend Mother. Your people may suffer for this act. You will definitely feel the repercussions of it, and even I cannot predict what they may be."
The aged priestess looked on him with disdain.
"My people already suffer from this act," she said. "But what must be, must be. And as for what I will undergo, it will be the will of Kol. Go."
"Reverend Mother, show Jhodan and the woman the mercy of Kol," said Comm, as two guards moved towards him. "Without love, wrath is an empty, tyrannic demonstration."
For once, the woman looked upon him with sadness.
"Kol's mercy be upon us all," she said. "Take him away."
Comm left, the guards flanking him.
He didn't know what would be the best course of action to take now, but he hoped the force-fields back at base held strong, and that the Legion would arrive very soon. The delegation would have to leave when the Legionnaires did, under their protection.
Ger Comm thought it would be a good idea to take Ina along with them,
when they did.
Spliff escorted Dawnstar into a room hidden by no less than five doors. It took more than palms to open them. The last one had only sprung open when he produced a small silver key from a pouch.
Dawnstar peered within, into a chamber lit by harsh artificial light.
She did not like weapons, and that was all this chamber held.
Particle beam blasters. Lasers. Bullet guns. Napalm throwers. Grenades of various sorts. Ammunition.
The damnable things were stacked to the ceiling on shelves, each coded and labelled, each one smelling of cosmoline or something like it.
Each one of them five hundred years old.
Each one of them calling out to her like a seducing demon, begging her to touch their cold metal flesh.
She choked down nausea and realized, to some degree, how Jhodan felt by being corrupted.
Spliff was very grim.
"Time of choice for lady's making,
Life-preserving or life-taking.
Yet, if we believe the Reverend Mother,
Might take life to preserve another."
Dawnstar exhaled, went to her knees, looked at the floor. "My God, I do not wish to do this."
Spliff said nothing.
"I killed for the first time on this world," she said. "With my own hand. With diseases from my body. Great Spirit, let there be another way."
The heyoka looked as though he was about to say something.
She said, "There is no other way. Perhaps the sight of the weapon will be enough."
Rising from her position on the floor, she put out a hand, and gingerly touched one of the weapons. An ancient rifle.
Both of them turned.
Jhodan stood within the weapons room, behind them.
"We will not use such things against the seekers," he said, flatly. "I will not shed blood, nor see it shed in my defense."
She faced him, defiantly. "And what of my defense?", she said. "Your life matters to me. Does mine matter nothing to you?"
"I must face judgment," he said, simply, standing there in his robe. "My blood will expiate this sin, on the Arch."
"You damned fool!" she said. "Do you think Awian would be satisfied just with your blood? Don't you know that she wants me, too? The harlot, the wanton? The one who seduced her precious little priest away from her?"
"I will not! I am not one of your people, Jhodan."
"How well I know that. Great god, how I know it."
"I will not be bound by your traditions or penalties," she continued. "We are not the guilty parties here. We are fugitives, chased by persecutors. Because we fell in love. Great Spirit, Jhodan, if falling in love is not worth defending with one's life, what is?"
"Faith is," said Jhodan. "The faith that holds my people together. The faith that has sustained me from my earliest understanding. The faith in Kol, who preserves us."
"The only thing that will preserve us now is this weaponry," said Dawnstar, facing him down. "I have no great power such as my allies have. I am no Supergirl. I only fly and track. I will not see us killed, Jhodan."
"Then you will kill?" He would not touch her. "You will murder my people, that the three of us might live?"
"You would let all three of us be murdered," said Dawnstar. "All of my being cries out against what I may have to do. I pray to Manitou that I be not allowed to do it. But, if our lives depend upon it...I pray that I may be strong enough to do it."
With that, she turned and took a particle-beam rifle from its shelf.
He blocked her path.
She pushed him aside.
He turned and grabbed her, whirling her around, trying to take the gun from her.
Spliff tried to get between them, saying, "No! Struggle not for the gun / Its discharge--"
Dawnstar relinquished the beamer. Jhodan fell against a row of shelves, knocking some rifles down. Some of them struck his chest, painfully. The beamer did not go off.
The Legionnaire had fallen on the floor, partially pinning Spliff. She got up and helped him to his feet, then faced Jhodan, still sitting in a mass of weapons.
"You may keep the beamer from me, if you wish," she said. "But there are many other things in this room I may choose, some of them less kind than the beamer. Either that, or use the weapon on me."
Jhodan said nothing.
He dropped the beamer.
She picked it up, left the chamber, and did not look back.
She wanted to throw up, but would not allow herself that solace.
Awian activated a control in her inner chamber and attempted to contact the threesome in the mountain again. But neither Spliff, nor Jhodan, nor Dawnstar were in the communications room. And none of the signals she activated brought them there.
She waited for the better part of an hour. Nothing.
Finally, the old woman realized that Kol had left her no other choice.
"Farewell, son of my granddaughter," she said. "Farewell, heir of Kol. Farewell, outworlder woman. Farewell, my six servants. Kol's mercy be upon us all."
With that, her hand went to an override switch.
In the Mountain of Mystery, a relay was activated.
The door into the mountain was opened.
Not far away, Rand and his five men saw it.
"Kol grants," said the hunter. "Let us begin."
The Legion cruiser swung out of the sky and managed a landing not far from the U.P. outpost, scaring off some of the locals who had been standing near the camp on orders from Awian. Ger Comm, who had returned from his visit with the Reverend Mother, was first to meet the threesome who emerged from the ship.
"Good to see you're back," he said, extending his hand to Brainiac 5, who shook it in businesslike fashion. "Your friend is in great danger."
"Old news," said Wildfire, his fists clenched. "Tell us where to find her."
Ina ran from the tent to meet the Legionnaires, in tears. "Thank Kol you've come," she said. "You must help Jhodan, and--and even the woman."
"Where are they?" asked Brainy, tensely.
"The Mountain of Mystery," said Ina. "But you must brave the Wrath to save them."
Laurel Kent rubbed her palms together and cracked her knuckles.
"We're pretty good in the wrath department ourselves," she said.
Dawnstar found even a running gait too slow for her liking, and used her TK power to push her along at greater speed, though the mountain hallway was too narrow for her to use her wings very well.
The particle beam weapon was slung onto one shoulder by a band. Spliff and Jhodan were somewhere far behind them. She tried to keep their image foremost in her mind. After all, it was on their behalf that she would have to do this thing.
It was on their behalf that she would have to kill.
No. No, damn it, that was not the real reason.
She would have to kill so that she and Jhodan would be free to love.
But would he love her after she killed?
At this point, that question could not be considered. If both of them died upon the Arch of Agony, or at the seekers' hands, or even one of them, no love would be possible. Nor did she wish Spliff to die.
This burden was laid in her hands, perhaps by Manitou. In ancient times, braves had to kill and die in defense of their clans, of their families. If such were placed in her hands today, she must be ready for the challenge. For the duty.
And none of it...none of it would have been necessary if she had been content to love Wildfire.
She could not restrain a sob, nor the others that came in its wake.
Wildfire. Manitou forgive her, if he could. She had treated him so poorly, just for the dictates of her body. No, her heart as well, for it held room for two, though it was badly fit. Nonetheless, she had hurt him, and he deserved better. After 1,000 years without her, surely he deserved better.
That question as well must be put aside. For, if she died, there would be none to make amends to her old heart's-love. She thought that he might understand, or might come to understand in time.
But, great God, how had things turned out so badly, just because she wanted to love a man with her body as well as her heart?
Could she face a man who wished to destroy both her and her lover, and destroy him first?
That question would not be put aside for long.
Dawnstar made a final turn onto the main hallway and looked onto what should have been the closed outer door.
Instead, morning light was visible through its opening.
That, and the silhouette of a large man.
"Great Spirit," she said, "guide me."
Flattening her wings against her back, she pushed herself forward like an arrow loosed from a crossbow.
The man limned in the doorway, armed with a great sharp sword, was Rand. She knew him. He seemed surprised. That, at least, would work in her favor.
Dawnstar smashed into him and knocked him out onto the rocky trail outside and rolled down the slope of it with him, striking and kneeing and fighting him as hard as she could. Two of the spies who had accompanied him were similarly bowled over. The four of them went down in a heap, barely able to keep themselves from tumbling over the trail's edge over the side of the mountain.
Rand kicked her in the thorax, more to push her back than anything. She staggered against the wall of the mountain, found herself in the opening to the interior, her hands grasping its edges. The big hunter regained his feet, his sword slung by his side, and moved at her with the speed and force of the barbarian he was.
Dawnstar lifted her legs, braced herself, and kicked him hard in the chest. He tumbled onto his back again.
Desperately, she slapped her palm against the sensor area of the mountain wall. It should have closed the doorway. It didn't. She slapped it three more times, but nothing happened.
The hunter said, "The will of Kol is greater than the will of his mountain." He began to advance on her again. The other five hunters were on the trail behind them, a few yards back, their weapons in hand.
"Damn you," snarled Dawnstar, and swung the beamer into her hands. She pointed its muzzle directly at Rand's chest. Her right index finger found the trigger.
Rand stopped. He didn't know just what the thing she held would do. But anything found within the Mountain of Mystery was bound to be powerful.
"Get out," she rasped. "Take your men with you. This weapon can pierce the very rock of this mountain. I could destroy all six of you with a single burst."
Not moving, Rand said, "Then do so."
The five hunter-spies fought to restrain their gasps of surprise.
"I do not play games here, Rand," said the Legionnaire. "You would damn me, the man I love, and the heyoka to death. To save them, I will do anything."
"Will you?" said Rand, and advanced a step.
The hunter said, "I saw the look on your face when you killed a man before, only by accident. He fell on your weapon. It was a look of horror. You wept for a man who had been seeking your life. You could fight no more. I do not think you can kill again, woman. Our mission is not one of killing, but of arrest."
Dawnstar hefted the beamer again. She fired at the ground between them. The smallest of bursts, but it sent hot rock up for some distance and burned them both slightly with heated earthen shrapnel.
"No," said Jhodan. "We bring you back for judgment. Death or life will be decided then, not now. Release your weapon, woman."
He took another step, across the small burning depression caused by the beamer, his hand extended for Dawnstar's weapon.
"Damn you to hell," said Dawnstar.
She took her finger from the trigger, and, in one swift movement, unslung it from her shoulder, grabbed the barrel, and smashed Rand against the side of the head with the plastic-and-metal stock. He was helmeted, but it still caught him on part of his unprotected face.
Unfolding her great white wings, Dawnstar rose into the air and attacked from above, swinging her beamer like a war-mace, smashing and battering at Rand and the five spies. The five backup men sought to avoid her, sought to loose slings and arrows at her, but she was like an unhorsed Valkyrie, pounding away at them, shedding tears of rage, cursing them in a language they did not know.
Rand grabbed her ankle and pulled her down.
In another instant, his great bulk had her pinned. One of the others tore her weapon from her hand. "No," she screamed, trying to use her TK power to push herself off of the ground.
"No," echoed another voice.
They looked towards the doorway, from whence it had come.
Jhodan and Spliff were standing there, and Jhodan held a grenade.
"Release her, Rand, and let us leave in peace," he said. "Or I will destroy myself, and as many of you as I can take with me, with this small bomb. Do not doubt me."
And the look that he saw in Dawnstar's eyes was a look of relief and love, for all the danger the two of them still lay within.
Spliff said nothing.
Rand had his mouth open, just as one cloud billowed seemingly from nowhere. The heyoka was the first to notice, to point at it, and to apparently begin to form a rhyme.
"The sky enclouded now, once clear,
May prove to--"
A thunderbolt struck very near them, on the mountain.
Its force bowled Jhodan and Spliff over, half-blinded some of the others, including Dawnstar.
When her vision returned, she saw that Rand's men had her lover and Spliff restrained, and one of the spies, the one with the eyepatch, held the grenade.
To that man, Rand said, "Throw that thing away," and he did. Then
he said, "Get the ropes on them. They have an appointment with the
Awian looked from her high window in the Temple and saw her chosen guards keeping the townspeople away from the bound Jhodan and Dawnstar. For once, she looked at the outworld woman with a sympathetic eye. Indeed, if things had been different, if she had been of this planet, if she had been a Kolian, there would be few he could choose as fine as her for a wife.
She was not adequate, for either condition.
The judgment had to be made quickly, the penalty quick upon its heels, lest the knowledgemen somehow interfere. It was not proper for men from Outside to tell the tribe, or her, how to conduct their affairs. The ways of Kol had been governing their tribe for 500 years, and would last another 500, at the very least, if they kept attentive to details.
Even one detail which could tear her heart out.
Awian turned away from the window. Ina had not returned. Lord Kol, she silently prayed, let me not have lost her, too.
But there was no immediate answer to her prayer. At least not one she could see. Unless the answer was "no."
Perhaps this was the true secret to devotion: that, though the doing of it broke your heart, the duties must be done. And a payment might be hoped for that would blot out present sorrow.
To do that, the payment would have to be great indeed.
One of her attendants stood near the chamber door, with arms clasped behind him. She favored him with a look.
"Have Jhodan and the woman brought before me," she said.
He rushed off to do it.
It took three men to hold the ropes which bound Dawnstar, or her flight powers would have freed her. As it was, she still resisted. Jhodan was held by two, Spliff by only one, but the mystic was not resisting.
Rand was silent after his greeting to Awian. The Reverend Mother went first to Jhodan. For a long time she studied his sweating face, seeing that he, too, was resisting the guards.
"That we should have been thus once is tragic," she said. "That we have been here twice is irreparable."
"Reverend Mother, ear of Kol," said Jhodan, in a taut voice, "release me and Dawnstar. Spliff as well. We will go, and will not disturb the tribe. I swear it."
"Release him and Spliff," said Dawnstar, laboring for the words. "Take me in their stead. If any have sinned, it was I."
Rand stepped forward. "Reverend Mother, recall that once I said the woman was not a witch, and she was not, though many believed she was. I did not bring them in hopes of witnessing their deaths."
Awian looked at Rand coldly. "You brought them here because I ordered you to. Just so. Justice will be dispensed not in accord with our will, but with Kol's, Rand."
"But how can you be sure of his will?" pressed Rand. "If he speaks not to us verbally, as in the days of the Beginning--"
"Enough!" She waved a hand at him, angrily. "We have Kol's word. We have the Arch. Between the two, we shall determine proper judgment."
"Between the two," said Dawnstar, "and yourself."
Spliff spoke. "This thing is not beyond repair / Put both in exile, bonds to share."
Awian said, "We cannot, Spliff. You know the law."
Dawnstar strained once more against her bonds. "Law! Shall I tell them all what I found within the Mountain of Mystery, Awian? Is there a law against that?"
The Reverend Mother's face was set in stone. "You presume even more upon my mercy, and Kol's, than you would imagine, woman. Take care."
One last attempt to spread her wings failed, and Dawny said, "Your religion is man-made. Your temple--"
"Silence!" Awian's hand moved back, preparing to strike the outworlder in the face.
"Your temple is formed from a spacecraft's remains," said Dawnstar in a rush. "That was what brought you across the stars, not a god--"
Awian slapped her. "No!" shouted Jhodan, and threw one guard off in his fury. But the other grabbed him about the knees and brought him down, and the first guard helped pin him to the floor.
Dawnstar continued, her face stinging from the slap. "The Mountain of Mystery is filled with devices from that spaceship. Things far beyond your science. You know this, Awian--"
"You know this, because you spoke to me there! On a communicator!"
This time, Rand had to come from behind and restrain the high priestess. "Peace, Reverend Mother. The outworlder but tests you."
The old woman raged. "And you saw, too, did you not, Rand? You also saw it!"
He drew a deep, reluctant breath. "I saw--something."
"Judgment will be made for that, as well! It is so ordered!"
Jhodan said, "How many people will you judge, Reverend Mother? Will you kill me, Dawnstar, Spliff, and then Rand and his men? These guards, as well?"
"If need be," said Awian. "If need be, I shall."
"What of the families of his men? What if they slip and tell before you can execute them? Will their families love you for it?"
"Jhodan! You risked only execution before. Would you risk damnation as well?"
He overrode her words. "What if their families, or members of them, seek out the Mountain of Mystery in their vengeance, to see what provoked you to kill their husbands and fathers? What then, Awian?"
"They shall be killed!" Awian was red-eyed now, and Rand was holding both of her arms as she raged.
"Will you kill every one of the tribe, to protect the secrets of Kol?"
The old priestess relented a bit, in Rand's grip. She sighed, "That will not be necessary. The secret will stop when only a few lips are stilled."
"You cannot know that."
Dawnstar said, "Old woman, the only crime Jhodan and I have committed is love. If he is truly barred from being a priest, that is punishment enough for him. Let us go. Say we escaped. We will leave, and you will never hear from us again."
Awian looked at the stones of the floor.
"I cannot, outworlder," she said. "For all my years, I have lived the life of a priestess. Of the highest priestess. The link between Kol and man. If I fail to obey his laws, then what of the tribe I care for? Shall we say, ‘This law is wrong. Let us question the one about murder, and the one about thieving, and the one about impiety'? Yet, if I did what you ask...that is just what they would do."
"Not if..." said Dawnstar, no longer fighting those who held her. "Not if they did not know, Reverend Mother. For the life of Jhodan, we would pledge our silence."
"Please." Awian looked at the winged woman with sorrow. "Do not tempt me. If I could, I would free all of you. But the mysteries of Kol must be kept."
"Great lady, all in puzzle pent
Must someday to the seer relent.
If secret's answer makes us grieve--
Then who remaining will believe?" said Spliff.
"Enough, Spliff," said the priestess. "Rand, you have done well. Gather your men, and remain in the Area of Faith at the arch."
Rand paused, then said, "As you wish, Reverend Mother. But if I may--"
"If I may, I wish to plead clemency for Jhodan and the woman and Spliff," he said. "His sin may be forgiven, she may leave, and Spliff has--"
Rand looked helplessly at Dawnstar, then walked away, in her general direction. Awian saw his purpose. "Pass not close to her, or the other two, Rand," she said. "I'll not have you passing her a knife."
Dawnstar noted a look of rage upon his face. Then she saw it replaced by one of regret, when he turned her way.
"Thank you," she said.
To the guards, Awian said, "Prepare them for trial within the hour. Prepare the summoning of the congregation for directly afterward."
One guard said, "Reverend Mother, it will be early morning. Many are safe abed..."
"And would to Kol I was as well," she said. "And Jhodan, and Spliff...and even the outworld woman."
Dawnstar looked at her, eyes ablaze. "My name is Dawnstar. You will call me that, and not ‘outworld woman.'"
"Very well--Dawnstar," said Awian. "Take them away."
The guards drew upon their ropes. Jhodan passed by Awian. She said, "Goodbye, my son."
His face twisted, Jhodan replied, "Grandmother--may Kol rescue your soul from Hell."
Dawnstar, her mouth agape, said nothing.
It was later that night and Dawnstar was sitting alone in a cell, her arms weighed down by heavy ceramic "cuffs", her legs the same, and both of them connected to a long chain that was embedded in the wall. She had requested a scribe, and he was there.
"All of these must be left with the United Planets group--the outworld knowledgemen," she had said. "They will know where to send them."
"Lady, the knowledgemen are banned from the temple for the next month," said the scribe, a spindly type with an irritating mustache.
Dawnstar was irritated. "Then leave them with the priests. They must deliver them when possible."
"As you say," said the man, and had poised his brush above the scroll across his lap.
To her parents, Dawnstar posted a note of regret, begging them to understand, and asking forgiveness for her failures as a daughter (and implying that they should remember her successes, too).
To the Legion, she composed a slight mea culpa. She was not sorry that she had come to Homeworld, only that she had managed to endanger the lives of herself, Jhodan, and Spliff by doing so. She begged even more forgiveness from them, and said that she hoped Element Lad would understand, and that she knew Laurel would.
To Wildfire, she dictated a short note, and was silent for long periods as she did so.
"Drake: Do not see this as a failure of your own, but a failure of mine. You are blameless. Because my heart had space for another, do not think it lacked space for you, as well. However...however, my heart is heaviest because of the pain I have caused you. I only ask, if you can, to know...to know..."
The scribe waited. Then, as he heard her sounds, he said, "Lady. Please put your face to the bars."
She did so. He took a cloth from his pocket and wiped the tears from her eyes. Those which had already fallen, that is.
"Thank you," she said.
He passed the cloth to her weighted-down hand, and she took it, knowing it would be a task to raise it to her face again.
"Let me...let me begin the last sentence anew," said Dawnstar. "I only ask, if you can, that you try to understand the way I loved my other. That, being a woman, I sought not only to be pleased, but to please. I am sorry. After a thousand years, you deserved better than me. I damn myself for...not being what you needed. I damn myself also for causing the deaths of the two beside me.
"If you can, find someone in my...find someone else. If not, forget me. And if Manitou grant, when we are both beyond the veil...perhaps things will be different. I place my love for my other beside my love for you. Not above it, or below it, but...beside it. And know that you are both worthy of love...but, perhaps, that I am not worthy at all."
She sighed, closed her eyes, turned her face to the ceiling.
"That is all, scribe." Dawnstar held the pose, not opening her eyes.
Dawny looked at him. He was, she saw, trying to keep his emotions in check.
"Can you spell for me the word you said which began with the ‘MMM' sound?"
"Write ‘Great Spirit' instead."
"It would be easier for me to write ‘Ko--'"
Dutifully, the scribe wrote what he had been told. Then he dusted it with absorbent powder from a box, blew the powder away, rolled the scroll up, and stuck it in his pocket.
"Thank you, scribe," she said, looking at him one last time. "For the writing, and the cloth."
"Thank you, Lady," he responded.
He turned and left the hallway.
She exhaled, glad for the short bit of company, but glad also that she was alone. That she would be able to cry, freely and unashamedly, now.
But the tears were too spent to come forth.
The trial was brief and perfunctory, lasting less than an hour. Dawnstar, Spliff, and Jhodan's crimes were presented by Awian to a jury of three councilmen. It was obvious they would do what she wanted. All of them registered their protests and arguments again, Spliff's in rhyme. But, even though the three hooded men seemed reluctant to condemn a prominent priest and a Mystic of Kol, condemn them they did.
Damning Dawnstar came a lot easier.
The three offenders were taken from the trial chamber to the Arch of Agony outside. Rand had asked to escort Dawnstar out, and Awian agreed, provided he be watched so that he could not pass a tool of escape to her.
The big hunter got as close to Dawnstar as he could, while three guards marched her chained figure to the Arch. "I sorrow for you, Dawnstar, and beg your forgiveness."
Dawnstar did not look at him. "You could have left us alone. We hurt none of you."
"T'was my duty. Surely you know that. But I sought not your death...especially not Jhodan's, nor Spliff's."
She turned her head to him. "Then know this, Rand. You and your men will be the next to hang on this Arch. Awian has told me as much."
His mouth opened, then closed. Then he said, "I suspected such."
"You must leave, as soon as possible."
He sighed. "That will not be possible. We are watched." He nodded to two sword-carrying guards who guarded the pathway from the Arch. "I suspect your old cells will not be vacant for long."
"Tell your men to flee, then."
"I cannot," he said. "Awian might..."
"Might what?" They were at the arch, now, and two of the guards took Dawny in hand. They grasped her by shoulders and ankles and raised her till she was at a certain angle to the ground, and then placed her back against a segment of the Arch. Shackles were fitted to her wrists and ankles and bolted tight. The chains and weights were unlocked, then, and removed from her body. She tried using TK to push against the restraints, but it had little effect.
He could not look at her. "We have families," he said.
Dawnstar craned her neck to look at him from her angular perch. "You mean...she would dare to..."
He turned to her, grim as killing frost. "I do not know what she would dare to! I do not know!"
She looked away.
She thought of telling him how futile his faith was, what they had learned of his tribe's origins, how he had given his life to a lie. How he had given his loyalty to a deathbird.
But she suspected he already knew some of it. And that none of it would really matter.
Another was being shackled to the Arch, on the notch of it next to her. It was Spliff. He grinned at her.
"We've seen this place a time before,
And though release was kindly shown us,
Best prepare oneself for gore--
Though I declare it's good to've known us!"
She couldn't help chuckling, and then laughing. "Oh, God, Spliff," she said, "I needed that. Manitou knows, I needed that. Thank you for being my heyoka. I know the wisdom of their existence now, most of all."
Spliff tossed his red curls out of his eyes. "Soon there'll be stoning / And from us, groaning / But if you've askings / I'll do the taskings."
Dawnstar, more-or-less parallel to the stone floor of the Arch stage, glanced out at the benches on the sward before it. The sun was beginning to rise, and Kolians were starting to gather, all of them in their dark blue robes. Soon, the torches round about would be snuffed. A number of priests were dealing out stones from bags, no more than two to a customer. But everyone got at least one.
"You broke into Jhodan's bedchamber, though the door was locked," said Dawnstar. "Yet, you seem bound by these shackles."
In explanation, Spliff said,
"So many things that Spliff has learned
Upon the disks in far-off mount.
He opens locks, he runs machines,
His skills are such he cannot count.
And yet, these bonds were quite designed
To shackle e'en a man of learning
And thus today, Spliff hangs in bind,
To give life's wheel its final turning."
"How did you learn these skills, Spliff? Even I cannot read a datadisk with my bare hands."
He smiled, briefly.
"When Spliff was a lad, of only three,
Was taken to the Mountain that's of Mystery.
And Awian his hands did clamp
Within two metal gloves that left a burning stamp."
"Within...two metal gloves that left a burning stamp?" asked Dawnstar, noting that the dawn that gave her a name was almost finished.
"They left a burning stamp so he
The surface of the disk with his bare hands could see."
She wondered. Were there some sort of implants within Spliff's fingers? "Is that why your speech changed when you were in contact with the disk? And why you speak in rhyme away from it?"
"Away from disk and mount, it's true,
That Spliff has but one mind, where he has sometimes two.
T'was Awian the change did toll
In order to create a Mystic man of Kol.
Away from mount, in rhyme I speak,
According to the data in my brainward leak."
"According to...the data in your brainward leak?"
"My brainward leak, since that far time,
Compelled me to express my every word in rhyme."
Another group of men stepped to the disk, bearing another robed figure. "Jhodan," called Dawnstar, in a voice only loud enough to be barely heard.
The young priest, his hood torn from his robe, was placed on a notch of the arch that was perpendicular to the ground. His wrists and ankles were quickly shackled. "Dawnstar," he said.
"Jhodan, they won't even let us be near each other," she said. Spliff and an empty notch were between the two of them.
He looked at her, holding a stoic expression in all but his eyes.
"We will always be near each other," he said.
"Jhodan, forgive me," she begged. "I was responsible. I knew the risks we would undertake..."
"Soft, lady," said one of the guards, in a not unkind fashion.
The young priest gave her a tender look. "And I was not responsible? And I did not know the risks? No, Dawnstar. I knew them better than you. And for the sake of lust--"
"Love would have allowed us to live. Lust's expression has brought us here. But, for the sake of love and lust, I blinded myself. I regret that I have brought you and Spliff to the Arch. If I could have spared us...but."
She hesitated. "Do you...Jhodan...regret our love?"
He looked upon her steadfastly. "Of all the things in this world and those beyond, that is the one I can never regret."
That was all they had time to say before a warden appeared and said, "Silence. The Reverend Mother approaches."
And so she did, though they could not see her until she had passed through the Arch of Agony. She stood with her back to them, and did not look at any of them.
"The three upon the Arch stand accused, and convicted, of these crimes," said Awian, unrolling a small scroll. "Jhodan, the son of Jhodan, of consorting with an outworld woman, and of penetrating the Mysteries of Kol without proper ordination. She who is called Dawnstar, of seducing and corrupting a priest prime of the first rank, of plundering the Mysteries of Kol, which no outlander may do and still draw breath, and of assaulting the troops of the tribe. Spliff, of giving aid and comfort to the two offenders, enabling their access to the Kolian Mysteries, and betraying his trust."
"No trust, in truth, has Spliff betrayed,
To halt this ill-conceived parade--"
"Silence!" Awian granted him a slight, flinty look. "For these crimes, the Laws of Kol prescribe the penalty: death upon the Arch. Death by stoning. So must it be."
She rolled the scroll back up and deposited it within her white robe.
Dawnstar did not miss the trembling in her hand as she walked away.
The sun was not a finger above the horizon. Awian stood to one side of the Arch, out of the path of the missles that would fly. Dawnstar softly began the death-chant of her tribe, and wondered how far she would get with it.
Awian made a motion with her hand.
The hands of several hundred Kolians raised, in response, each holding a stone.
The Reverend Mother meant to drop her hand quickly, to spare Jhodan and the others any more torment. But she let it hang a moment longer.
That was when the first truly remarkable thing occurred.
A figure streaked in from the skies at such a rate that none of the worshippers had the chance to perceive her as a small speck in the blue heavens, then a larger one, then arguably a human being, then, at last, a person showing a great deal of flesh.
The perceptive ones noted that she wore a red cape.
And that was a cause for great fear.
The flying woman halted her flight above the notch of the Arch bearing Jhodan. She lay her bare hands upon the stone of the great half-wheel, bunched her shoulders, gave a sudden effort.
With a horrific crack, the two bases of the Arch were torn from their moorings, and the red-caped woman lowered it to the stage, letting its back rest against the stone flooring. Spliff, Jhodan, and Dawnstar were unhurt.
Awian was aghast, and motionless. Some of the guards were equally aghast, and disinclined to do anything. A few, knowing that Kol would probably expect them to do something since it was part of his temple, started towards the woman, hands going for their swords.
The woman ripped up a section of flooring with her hands, hefted it above her head, and threw it away like a discus. It crashed to earth far beyond the range of the Kolians.
The gung-ho guards stopped, deciding that the woman's power range was obviously somewhere between them and Kol.
Awian's arm was lowered, but nobody seemed to want to chunk any rocks just then. The brazen, black-haired beauty struck a pose of defiance, hovering just above the hole she had torn in the floor, and brandished her cape over one arm in a gesture out of an ancient melodrama. In a voice louder than any normal woman could have managed, she spoke one sentence.
"I am of the Blue Men!"
Cries of horror went through the crowd. The guards shrank back. Awian's hand went to her breast, and she hoped her heart was still at work.
It was put to the test in the next second.
The caped woman was turning and advancing in her direction, one step at a time. Her expression did not convey any great affection for the priestess.
Awian thought of runnng, but her legs were putting such orders on hold for the moment. She supposed that she couldn't have run fast enough, at any rate.
Then the second notable occurrence took place.
A glowing figure, seemingly clad in orange, but somewhat difficult to see because of the bright aura surrounding him, dropped from the skies and landed with an audible thump in the space between the caped woman and the priestess.
The black-haired invader snarled, her hands stretched out in claws, and lunged for the newcomer.
He raised his hands and let twin bursts of light and power engulf her.
The caped woman hung in their wake for an instant, then dropped like a bag of flour. Her eyes were closed. Whether she was unconscious or dead, no one wanted to get close enough to verify.
Awian dropped to her knees and murmured prayers of thanks to Kol over and over and over.
The being in the nimbus stepped over casually to the fallen Arch and, stretching forth his fingers several times, sent forth thin beams of light that sliced the shackles from the captives without harming them.
"Drake," said Dawnstar, in a voice above a whisper.
Jhodan looked at her, then at their rescuer, and could guess from it just who was before them.
The man in the light helped Dawny, Spliff, and Jhodan to their feet, then strode over to the fallen caped woman and slung her body over one shoulder. He faced the crowd.
"I am a Messenger," he said. "These four will come with me."
There was a general hubbub from the crowd, and a great reluctance to do anything with the stones they still held, even to drop them. Mostly, they tried to hide them somewhere in their robes or behind their backs.
If the Messenger didn't want the convicts to be killed, it was definitely something to think about.
Mostly, the Kolians stayed where they were. But two hooded figures shouldered their way through three rows, stepped onto the stage, and stopped before Awian and Rand, who had come to her side. They doffed their hoods.
Brainiac 5 and Ger Comm stood before them.
"Good morning, Reverend Mother," said Brainy, with a smile. "Remember
"Interesting bit of business here," Brainiac said, sitting at the control chair and looking at the screens round about the chamber. "Controls for the system of weather- and spy-satellites orbiting your world."
Awian said nothing. She was, for once, a spectator within the area of the temple that concealed the Mysteries of Kol. Except that they were not mysteries anymore to Rand, Ger Comm, Dawnstar, Wildfire, Laurel Kent, or Brainy. They were all standing or sitting within the chamber, which had been part of the spaceship that brought the Homeworld tribe from Earth 500 years ago.
Brainiac whirled in the swivel chair to face her. "How much of it did you know, Awian? How much of the real history did you know?"
She gave him his hard gaze back. "More than the people. More than the priests. More, even, than Jhodan. But possibly more than even you."
Jhodan stepped to her side. "That will be enough, Brainiac. She is still the high priestess, and my grandmother. I will not hear blasphemy against Kol. Especially in his house."
Dawnstar grasped his arm, not noticing Wildfire looking on, or perhaps deciding not to care. "Jhodan, listen to me. Your Kol was just a--"
"Silence, woman!" His eyes blazed, as Awian's had earlier. "Not even you are exempt from this."
Wildfire took a step closer to them. "Watch yourself, buddy. I may be out of the picture now, but nobody raises a hand to Dawny while I'm around."
"Drake, please," said Dawnstar. "Do not harm him. We have much to speak of, you and I."
Jhodan said, "I will not strike the woman I love. But I will not hear insults towards Kol."
"I'm a Legionnaire," said Wildfire. "I don't get my kicks using my power to hurt people. Stay cool, and I won't have to."
Rand said, "This serves no purpose, green man. What is it you wish from us?"
Ger Comm stepped in. "We wish you to begin secularization of your government."
"Wrath of Kol, no!", shouted Awian. "We are governed by the Word of the Scrolls. To separate from them would be damnation."
"And to place all power in a theocracy administered by fallible human beings will be destruction," said Brainiac, quietly. "I'm not asking you to give up your religion. That is your own affair. I do know, however, that temporal power is best placed in the hands of a civil authority, responsible to its people."
Rand shook his head. "These concepts you bandy about are strange to us, outworlder. We know our own ways. Those are the only ways we can know."
"That isn't so," said Laurel Kent. "Like, all peoples seem to go through a theo mode in government, then they end up separating church and state. It's like a guard for the church from being controlled by the state, too."
"I am not saying that you should abandon your moral imperatives," said Brainy. "They are the basis of your social contract. But it will no longer be appropriate for you to administer your system of justice, Awian. It must be delegated to a governing body, and not of priests."
"You know nothing," said Awian. "You speak impossiblities."
"I know this," said Brainy. "That your ‘wrath of Kol' depends on your ability to control the satellites that control the weather on this world. For 500 years, you've been able to depend on that for prosperity. But that's going to end. Before we leave, we're going to destroy these controls...and the satellites."
"No!" She was aghast. "Our crops will fail! Our livestock will die of thirst! The people will die!"
Ger Comm said, "We've made enough study of this world to know that it can support itself, ecologically, without the satellites. You can grow your crops and feed your animals and yourselves without them. They're just a crutch. We're taking the crutch away."
Brainiac said, "If it was 500 years ago, we might let you retain the technology. But you've degenerated so much that the only way I can recommend for you is to lose it, and redevelop, with some help from your friendly United Planets outworlders here. You've proven that you don't know how to use the stuff correctly. When, and if, you show some improvement, some of it may be restored. But only some. We won't play God...or Kol. We won't let you play that, either."
Dawnstar, still touching Jhodan's arm, said, "Brainy...what did happen here, 500 years ago?"
Laurel Kent answered for him. "They came here from Earth, in a spaceship that was cut into pieces and installed here, and in that ‘Mystery Mountain' thingie. They were fleeing from what they later came to call the Blue Men."
"The Blue Men?"
Soberly, Laurel nodded. "My ancestors."
"Oh," said Dawnstar, in grim understanding. "Oh. So that is why you said what you said."
"Yes. I am of the Blue Men. Even if I didn't have a chance to whip up a whole costume, at least I had the cape."
Brainiac 5 said, "As far as I can tell, your founder, the one who brought you here in this space-ark, chose you from an area high in Amerinds. Once here, he apparently decided to restart society in an agrarian mode. With only one starship on the planet, he didn't have the technology or quite the equipment to replicate the Earth society of the 25th Century. Perhaps he didn't want to."
"It is said that Kol wished to return his people to their purest state," said Awian. "It is said that he delivered the people from the Third Star World, which had lost its way."
"To that end," said Brainiac, "he seems to have patched together a religion from Hinduism, Catholoicism, American Indian beliefs, various other spiritualities, and probably some of his own invention. The words of your chants--"
"Stop1" said Jhodan. "Kol is not what you describe, Brainiac. He is not a pilot aboard one of your ships of the stars. He lives, and watches over us. If we have been given these gifts, these things of metal and strange elements, it is by his grace and providence. Speak no more against the faith."
The green-skinned youth tented his hands, weighing his words before he said them.
"I was able to search through databases containing many of the records which survive from five centuries ago," he said. "One of them held information about a very wealthy man of that time. A man, we might say, of spiritual leanings. A man who controlled a fleet of commercial starliners, some of which were of great capacity."
"Brainy," warned Dawnstar.
Brainiac plowed ahead. "After the time of the Blue Men...what we call the Great Confrontation...this man was missing from Earth. But a lot of men were missing from Earth at this time. Many had died in the conflict. And many were just...missing. The man of whom I speak had a name.
"His name was John Coleman."
Awian went to her knees. Rand stood stock-still. Jhodan grasped Dawnstar tightly with one arm, but with his other, he pointed to Brainiac 5. His face showed great stress.
"You lie," he said.
Brainiac said nothing.
"You lie," said Jhodan. "Say it, green man. You lie!"
Dawnstar held him with both arms, interposing herself between him and Brainiac. "Jhodan," she said, quietly. "Brainiac is not a liar. This, I know."
Rand looked sadly at the floor, then placed his hands upon Awian's shoulders and helped raise her from the floor. She was crying.
Wildfire turned his faceplate towards them. "Look. For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
Laurel gave him a disgusted look, but said nothing.
Abruptly, Jhodan pulled away from Dawnstar. He turned and walked towards the door of the chamber of Kol's most mysterious chamber.
"Jhodan," said Dawny, unfolding her wings to fly after him.
"Leave me," he said, not turning to look at her.
She hovered for a moment, helplessly, as she looked at his retreating back. He palmed open a door and was gone, the portal schussing shut behind him.
Wildfire was there, grasping her shoulders as she began to cry. "I'm here, Dawny," he said.
She took his hands away from her shoulders and ran down the hall. A touch of her palm to the sensor, an opening of the door beyond, and she was gone.
Wildfire did not try to follow her.
The portal opened at an obscured area at the back of the Temple of Kol. Only a few onlookers were nearby, and none of them thought that trying to talk to Jhodan or the winged woman who followed him moments later was a good idea at the moment.
"Jhodan, wait," said Dawnstar.
He kept walking, across the courtyard, through an open gate, towards a stream that ran a few hundred yards away.
"Jhodan, stop," Dawnstar pleaded, only a few feet behind and above him.
He kept walking, until he stood at the brink of the stream.
"Jhodan, please," Dawnstar said, and waited.
He looked up the stream, and then down it, standing right where he was, not looking at the flying woman.
Finally, he said something.
"They were correct about my sin. The temple defiled. The faith shaken, unravelling like a parted rope before me. They were correct, all the time."
Dawnstar landed beside him, touched his arm. He shrank back.
"Jhodan, please, please talk to me," whispered the Indian girl. "Of all the sins, I can think of none greater than if you will not talk to me."
The word echoed through the courtyard behind and was caught and reflected by the distant hills and seemed, though Jhodan was the one who said it, to be a pronouncement from Kol himself.
Dawnstar waited. It was all she could do.
Jhodan sat, slowly, by the side of the stream. He sank one hand into the earth, pulled up dirt and grass. He looked at it, broke part of it off with his other hand, threw the clod into the stream. He repeated this till the bit of earth was no longer in his hand.
"For this I have been raised," he said. "To be a priest. To be the mediator between Kol and Man. To teach them the ways of the ancient scrolls, to tell them the things which are right and the things which are wrong, the allowed and the forbidden, to know the Mysteries and yet conceal them, to bridge the gap between Awian before me and the one who would come after me. And now, because of today, because of what has occurred, because of my lust, my selfishness, my...desire..."
"Jhodan, no," said Dawny, weeping, embracing him from behind, laying her head on his unresponsive shoulder.
"Because I strayed!" Jhodan stood, dislodging Dawnstar. "Because I betrayed Kol! By the Wrath, I should have died upon the Arch. I would have died with my faith!"
She grasped one of his shoulders and whirled him around, forcibly. She was teary-eyed, but steadfast.
"And I?" she asked. "Should I have died, as well?"
He stared at her for a long moment.
"Nobody but I," he said, at last. "No one but I should have died."
She embraced him.
"Dawnstar, do not." Gently, he took her hands away from his body. She looked at him, unable to speak.
"We obeyed the dictates of our hearts, of our bodies," he said. "Not of our minds. Not of our judgments. Because of this...imprudence...we have paid the price. Because of this, we almost died. Because of this...I am no longer what I am. What I...was."
"You...you can still be a priest," she said. "Your people need you."
He gestured sweepingly towards the Temple, fixing her with a look of fury. "Do you think I could ever enter that structure again, and preach? Do you think I could ever lay hands upon a penitent, and pronounce blessing upon him, or forgive his sin? After what has happened? After what they know?" He shook his head. "No, Dawnstar. I will no longer be welcomed in the Temple of Kol."
She swallowed. "Perhaps Wildfire could pretend to be an angel again. Perhaps he could appear to them, with you."
"Stop! Do you think I would agree to such a thing? To gain my office again through imposture? Before that, I'd gather the people again, put stones in their hands, shackle myself to the Arch, and tell them to let fly. No, Dawnstar. Forget you ever spoke such a thing. A priest who would even listen to such a thing twice, is not a priest."
She sat on the grass beside the stream and looked down at the greenness between her hands. "And yet, you still say you are a priest."
"Yes," he said, looking down at her. "It is what I know. It is what I am."
Dawnstar looked up at him, spreading her hands. "But how can you believe? After what you know?"
He took her wrist in his own, not without gentleness. "Because I must believe. Because the people must believe. Because there must be faith, and an object of that faith. Perhaps, Dawnstar, there was a human Kol. One who steered the great ship from the Third World of the Old Star, to this world. Can you say he was not a tool of the Kol who is beyond him? Can you say, because a human Kol exists, that the Kol whom we worship does not?"
She said nothing.
"There are many tests of faith," he said, holding her hand to his chest. "Many tests. Often, they seem more severe than the faithful can endure. But if we endure...if we hold fast, even in the face of all which would contradict us...then the faith is that much stronger. And so are we."
Dawnstar said, "Then...perhaps I, too, was just a test of faith."
He said nothing.
"Perhaps everything we had together, when we loved each other, when we lay with one another, perhaps all of that was just a great stinking test of faith."
"No, Dawnstar," he replied.
"Everything we had together...was love."
She embraced him very tightly. She would not take her face away from his chest. She wished to hide within it for the rest of her life.
But he spoke again.
"Perhaps love is the greatest test of faith," he said. "Perhaps it is a baggage that Kol gives us, from time to time, to carry with us for the rest of our lives, that our journey be made that much lighter. By its...memory."
She breathed in a great, sobbing breath.
"I do not know what I will do," he said. "Perhaps there will be a way. But, Dawnstar, this much we both know. You must go back to your world. And you must never come back."
Dawnstar shook her head, knowing that everything he said was true.
He stroked her hair absently. "But I do not know what I will do."
After a moment, she said, "Are there...tribes on Homeworld who...who do not know of your faith?"
"Of course," he said. "You were once trapped by them. Remember?"
Dawnstar said, "Have you ever heard the word, ‘missionary'?"
Then he murmured, "Say on."
Brainiac 5 did what he had proposed to do. He destroyed the monitors and controlling equipment within the Temple of Kol, and Wildfire melted it to slag, after which he and Laurel Kent went into orbital space, tracked down each of the satellites, and smashed them.
Their next visit was to the Mountain of Mystery. The weapons cache was completely destroyed. The rest was mostly left intact, with one alteration. The palm-sensor would now open only to the touch of Spliff. Brainiac told only Spliff about it, and bade him keep the matter a secret from the Homeworlders. Especially of Awian.
The Reverend Mother continued as high priestess of the faith, but the Arch of Agony was destroyed. Reluctantly, the Kolians agreed to enforce the death penalty only for murder, and that to be performed by a single executioner. A civil council was created, with some help from the United Planets reps, and the first steps towards secular government were taken.
The faith of Kol had been shaken. But it was a necessity for the men of that world, as faith is necessary for many men of many worlds. Within a few months, the Temple was filled anew, and the events which had occurred were chalked up to Kol's Plan.
It was difficult for the worshippers to know why Kol no longer gave them exactly the weather they wished for, when they wished for it. They wondered if Kol was angry with them, or if they had somehow separated themselves from him, and came to temple all the more. But the rains came, in their time, and the outworlder men helped teach them farming ways that would take better advantage of those conditions.
Awian offered the high priesthood to Rand. He rejected it, in favor of mayorship of their village. He was beginning to see the advantages of secular rule. Especially when he had to have several of her spies arrested.
Her search for a successor continued. Whether she found one or not, within her waning lifetime, is not for us to say.
Life went on. If it was a bit different from that which had been before, perhaps that was part of the Plan of Kol, as well.
When the party of Legionnaires returned to Earth, and the reports were made to Element Lad, he waited for a day before summoning Dawnstar to his office.
She stood before him. He motioned her to a hovering chair, and she sat.
He spoke to her as gently and firmly as he could. He was not harsh about it, but he could not afford to let the incident pass without penalty. Dawnstar had endangered her own life, and the lives of two others. She had not informed him of where she was going, or what she intended to do. She had created a potentially disastrous incident that could have impeded the duties of the United Planets delegation on Homeworld, possibly endangering their lives, as well.
In short, he said, she had thought too much with her heart, too much with her sex, and too little with her mind. All of which she agreed with. But she did not say that she was wrong. Or right.
Jan Arrah finally gave his judgment.
"Six months suspension," he said. "Without pay. Plus retraining at the Legion Academy, at your own expense. After that, your progress will be reviewed. If you wish to be readmitted, and if we find your progress sufficient, you'll get a six-months trial period. If you screw up, even once, a fraction of this magnitude, during that time...that'll be it. Do you understand, Dawnstar?"
"I understand," she said, quietly.
"Do you agree with the penalty, Dawnstar?"
"I agree, Jan," she answered.
"One last thing," said Element Lad. "I don't want to lose you. Scratch that--I don't want to lose the ‘you' we had. Before all of this came down. When you performed in an exemplary fashion. I still think that Dawny is there. Somewhere. You think you can find her?"
She nodded. "Perhaps I can, Jan. I will try."
"All right, then. Dismissed. And one thing beyond that, Dawny."
She looked at him. "Yes, Jan?"
"Love," he said, "is one of the most dangerous substances in the entire multiverse. Handle it carefully. More carefully than if you were toting triple-thread destructomite. Understand?"
"Of all that you have said today, Jan," she said, "I understand that best of all."
She left his office. Then she went to her dorm room, packed, booked a starliner for Starhaven, and arranged for her baggage to be transferred to the craft. All but one bag, in which she placed her Dawnstar uniform. Dressed in normal women's wear of the 30th Century, she walked out of the Legion's headquarters.
There was only one person in front of the building, waiting for her.
"Hello, Drake," she said, stopping a few yards away from him and holding her bag in front of her, with both hands, near her waist.
"Hi, Dawny," he said, not moving closer. "I heard you're going back home for a little while."
She stepped closer to him. "This is true. I'm going home to see my family. I'll spend a few weeks with them, then I will return to Earth. To the Legion Academy."
Wildfire nodded. "So Jan busted you. I'm sorry, Dawny."
"It will be all right," she said. "I will apply myself, Drake. You'll see. Within six months, I'll be accepted for trial membership again. Six months after that, if I am adequate, I will be a full Legionnaire again. I will show them...and I will show myself."
"I'll just bet you will, Dawny. I'll just bet you will. Dawny."
"I don't want to seem selfish. God knows, after all that's gone down..."
She stood directly in front of him, seeing her face in his faceplate. "You wish to know about the two of us. How we stand."
He put his hands on his hips. "I want to tell you that...I'm not sure how we stand."
She stood there, uncomprehending.
"It's not about jealousy," he said. "At least, I don't think so. It's about what I can't give you...what you need. And I know, I know..."
"No, you don't, Drake," she said, touching his arm with one hand. "No, you do not know how I feel about you."
"No, dammit, I know you need somebody you can be with. Somebody you can..."
She said it. "Somebody I can make love to."
"I had somebody I could make love to, Drake," she said, quietly. "And you know how that worked out."
He turned away from her. She flexed her wings, flew above him, dropped down in front of him. "It's not that easy to get away from me, Drake."
"Dawny," he said, holding her in both her arms. "I understand how it is. If you need to find somebody...there have to be a lot of somebodies to find on Starhaven. Or on Earth. And I, I can understand. I've spent 1,000 years..."
"Then, Drake," she said, "you will not mind spending six months more?"
He didn't say anything.
"I have still not emptied the room you occupy in my heart, Drake," she said. "Shall we see how it is after six months?"
"Well..." He rubbed the back of his neck, absently, as if there was a body to get a crick there. "I imagine I can keep myself occupied. If we can write to each other?"
"And talk to each other?"
"Maybe even see each other once in awhile, when you come back and start in the Academy again?"
"We shall see, Drake. But I will make no promises." She paused. "That would not be fair. To either one of us."
"No. No, I guess it wouldn't. It's hard for me, too. Heck, sometimes its hard for me to be Wildfire any more. I'm, like, 1,000 years out of practice."
She smiled. "I think you're doing just fine." She touched the side of his helmet. "Goodbye, Drake."
"Good luck, Dawny." He turned to go. But before he could lift off, she called out, "Drake?"
Wildfire stopped. "Yeah?"
Dawnstar gave him a slyer smile. "If you can still make your containment suit do everything it used to...I'll be waiting."
"Yahoo!" yelled Drake Burroughs, and blasted into the sky on twin jets of energy from his legs.
She looked up at him till he was lost from sight. She had to admit to herself that he did still occupy a room in her heart. A most important room.
If she found room in her body for another, she could not say. She almost hoped she did not, for she hoped that they could love one another again.
But she had to admit one more thing to herself: that she would never evict Jhodan from the other room in her heart.
And, having said that, she sadly hailed a transport cab, climbed within, and left Legion Square behind.
If only for a little while
On the planet known only as Homeworld, two figures walked along a dusty road. They were dressed for travel, in the appropriate clothes, with packs upon their backs. The two of them were far from the small city that housed the Temple of Kol, and fairly distant from the nearest large encampment of Kolites.
They were not alone. A camp of Riders, the nomadic bands which existed beyond and between the settlements, was not far distant. They saw the women, the children, the men in their makeshift village.
Both of them knew that the Riders were not brethren of Kol.
Ina looped her hand about the crook of Jhodan's elbow. "This bunch looks pretty tough," she said.
"We aren't here to fight them, Ina," said the raven-haired priest. "We're here to help them."
"Sometimes they can't tell the difference between those concepts," she said, holding him closer. "But I'll pray that Kol will get us through."
"As will I, Ina. As will I."
The redheaded girl put her head against his arm as they walked. Hopefully the Riders would see, and would honor their bond, and not try to buy Ina from him. He did not refuse her touch, and returned it in kind. He suspected that, before a sixmonth was done, she would bear to him their first child. Or children. Whatever Kol willed.
And one thought flitted through his mind, as they walked steadily towards the Riders' camp.
If only, he thought. If only she had wings.
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