torch 1995, revised January 1997

This story is a work of amateur fiction and in no way intended to infringe on anyone's copyright. This contains spoilers for Queen of the damned. It is part of a story arc consisting of three long and three short stories, meant to be read in the following order: Reflections: Not at first sight, A monument more lasting than bronze, Pandora's box, The lilies and the roses, The last gift, and Epithalamion: The wide world dreaming. Do not archive this story without permission.

Reflections: Not at first sight

I: Mael

If it hadn't been for the Roman, Marius, and what had happened to him, Mael would never have considered the idea of taking the blood himself. Sacrilegious! He had not been chosen. He would never have been chosen. He wasn't one of the clever ones, he wasn't the educated one. The one who could go down into Egypt.

Though he had wanted to, secretly. Just to see if it was real.

No, the god had ordered him to find someone like Marius, and so he had done it, and brought Marius to where he needed to be, and trusted that the force of the true religion of the living god would work its magic on the man and make of him what was needed.

But Marius had not become converted! Marius' cool civilized Roman mind had gone on doubting, not only while Mael had taught him everything that was sacred and important, but even afterwards when Marius had been touched by the god, when he had become the god!

And understanding this, and understanding also that the touch of the god and the gaining of godhead was something entirely different from what he had ever imagined, had rocked Mael's universe and it was never the same again.

When Marius fled, there was chaos. No one knew what to do, whom to obey. Mael tried to hold things together, but the change that had begun to come over him was so great that he could no longer concentrate on giving orders and on maintaining the old way of doing things.

One evening he left without a word to anyone. He had decided what to do. As he wandered through night after night, he prayed. Prayed to his gods, singing out loud and thinking quietly by turns, hoping one would hear him, hoping he would be guided to the right place.

And he was heard.

As the moon was rising on his fifth night, a mind fastened itself on his, and the voice of a god whispered in him and drew him close, closer.

It was an abandoned grove, where the great trees stood stately and silent, undisturbed by worshippers. Everywhere there were traces of druids, yet no one came to welcome him. There was only the voice of the god in his mind, telling him where to go, telling him to come, come closer.

Down into the dark night-shadow of a tree, into the deep musty silence of an earth-dwelling dug long ago by the faithful. There was faint light, a rushlight burning. And a presence darker than night waiting for him. Mael had tried to prepare himself for what he would find, yet was shocked by the reality. A god, yes. And so blackened and burned and twisted that it seemed impossible for the creature to move. This had really happened! The gods had been damaged everywhere! Burned close to death.

Mael shivered. Could gods die?

:Yes,: the god said in his mind. :But you will die in my stead tonight. A true and fitting end for you. Come closer, my servant. Come closer, my loving worshipper.:

And only then did Mael understand why he had been allowed to find this secret hideaway, this abandoned grove that no one entered any more.

"You need me," he said, staggered by the realization.

:I am your god. And I thirst.:

Mael drew nearer, moving as though in a dream. "Why do you not come to me?" he asked.

:That is not fitting!: He could feel the god's anger.

Closer and closer. This husk, this black shell, surely could not hurt him! It was a god, he should respect it as a god, but it did not look like a god any more. It seemed all but powerless. Damaged by some great invisible fire, as all the others had been.

"You are in pain," Mael said.

:Come... closer...:

He reached out and touched one arm, stick thin and brittle.

In a flash, the god was upon him, moving faster than his eyes could really see. And the thin arms held him fast more surely than the grip of the strongest man! And in the blackened skull Mael saw two white and gleaming teeth, and then the god sank his fangs into Mael's throat.


A rush of thoughts and feelings, words and images, flooded his mind. The hunger, yes, and the pain. And something else, some terrible secret.

With the last of his strength, Mael gripped his sacrificial knife with one hand, and cut at the arms holding him. He slashed the god's arm almost to the bone.

And the blood sprayed into his face. Into his open mouth.

In an instant he had forgotten all about his fear, all about his resolve to break free. This was what he wanted! And as he clung tight to the fount of this miracle pouring into him, he was filled with blood and knowledge, and all the maddening little contradictions and confusions that had come to fill his life drained away. He understood! He was learning the nature of the gods.

He was becoming one of them. Not a god at all. A blood-drinker. A hunter of the night.

And when he had drained the last drop of blood he left the dying god and walked away.

II: Maharet

Maharet stretched her legs and felt the heat of the fire warm her. The small tavern was dark, lit only by the fire on the hearth and one smoking torch near the entrance, so the owner could see his customers as they entered. She was sitting on a wobbly bench that would have given her splinters had she been mortal; there was a draft at the back of her neck where the mud and grass that had been shoved into a crack in the wall had fallen out again.

The floor underneath her feet was only trampled earth. But Maharet didn't care. She pulled her hood down, confident that the other men in the tavern were only seeing what she expected them to see. They'd remember that there had been someone in the tavern, someone who had been sitting roughly there — and that was all. The someone would have been so uninteresting that they'd remember no more.

Maharet was enjoying her solitude. Eric had finally recovered enough from the terrible burns he'd received that she felt comfortable about leaving him on his own in India. Nursing him, feeding him her blood night after night, had taken a great deal out of her. Not that it had been physically tiring. Not even giving that much blood night after night did her much damage, not if she fed regularly, and she did.

She was just a little tired of having him around all the time, that was all.

So, now that he was better, she had set out to find the truth of what had been happening, and where the fire that had scorched Eric but only left her slightly tanned had come from. Oh, she had her suspicions, all right. And the thought that someone might have discovered the truth about the Mother and the Father suddenly seemed not so much disturbing as exciting. At last, something was happening.

Maharet pretended to sip at her glass of vinegary wine as she considered her options. She could go straight to Egypt, but she had a hunch that Egypt no longer was the right place. She couldn't track the Mother and Father telepathically, of course. She didn't even know their minds well enough to find reflections of them in others.

But she could, perhaps, find traces of their presence somewhere.

Maharet opened up and started casting about for other immortals.

At first she only felt the presence of the mortals in the dingy little tavern two weeks' travel north of Marsilia. Then she started to slowly widen her range, taking in the surroundings, the night-dark landscape stretching all around them, touching sleeping minds full of dreams, and solitary wanderers fearing for their lives.

And there! There was something else — the unmistakable feel of another immortal's mind.

He was filled with feverish images, with confusion. A tall blond man, who then became a blood drinker. Another immortal, blackened and burned. A god, no, not a god — and he had to find that blond man, had to find him, needed help out of this confusion...

Maharet let go. This confused one couldn't tell her anything she needed to know.

Instead she ranged farther and farther, noting as she did so that her power had grown even more since the last time she had attempted a scan like this. It came to her that she might even be able to contact Eric back in India. As she thought it, her mind began to wander that way. She caught herself up; she had nothing to say to him right now, and more important things to think about.

Perhaps it was because she had seen him in the confused blood drinker's mind, or perhaps it was something else, but Maharet found her mind straying, trying to find the blond man, trying to see who he was.

And she did find him. Found him, the clever Roman with the orderly thoughts, and through him she found them: Akasha and Enkil. Through his mind she saw their serene faces, their skin now as brown as hers. He had them, he was caring for them! Creating some kind of sanctuary for them.

Maharet withdrew, and returned to herself. She moved a little and had another sniff at the wine to return herself to where she was. So, the Mother and Father were no longer in Egypt. She hadn't been able to see everything in the young Roman's mind, not enough to piece the whole story together. She knew that he knew Akasha and Enkil were with him of their own free will, and he intended to take good care of them. Maharet couldn't imagine anyone taking up that burden with the kind of cheerful acceptance she could sense in that new blood drinker.

She hadn't dared stay too long in his mind; he was newly made, yes, but he had been made by someone relatively old and powerful, and he had drunk from the old Queen, too. Yes, he had the makings of something special, that one, didn't he?

Maharet sighed. She'd need to keep an eye on him. And on the old ones. She didn't like to let them drift out of sight.

How to do it, though? She didn't want to meet him herself. He would ask questions she didn't feel she should answer. He might try to make her accept some kind of responsibility for the King and Queen, too. No, she needed something else, some kind of indirect link.

In a flash, she knew what she could do. And she opened up again and cast her mind out, and found the confused one, who was plodding steadily southwards, his mind filled with one image only, that of the Roman, Marius.

Maharet called out to him, touched his bewildered mind. :Come here,: she whispered gently. :Come here, I will help you.:

And she left the tavern and walked out into the night. No one seemed to notice much, or think it strange that someone would leave at an hour like that and abandon the light and company and safe four walls for the woods outside and the dangers of the night.

Maharet began to move speedily towards the one she had sensed, feeling him come towards her at what speed he could manage. Not bad, actually. He was very newly made; even at this distance she could feel that his body had barely begun the great change that would, in time and if he was lucky, make his flesh like hers. But he'd been made by a strong one, then. Yes, only the strong ones had survived the fire. And there was more sense and decisiveness to his mind than she had thought at first. He thought in a manner different from hers, that was what had misled her.

At the crest of a small ridge she stopped, out in the open, pushing her hood back once again to let her hair blow free in the night breeze. The moonlight illuminated her face, and she stood where she was and waited amidst the tall grass.

He came out of the forest, moving still like the human hunter he must once have been. Woodswise, this one. Dressed in tanned leather, walking briskly. He had blond hair, he was tall — taller than she, who was as tall as most men — and had a rugged, sensible face.

Maharet knew he had seen her, yet he did not acknowledge her presence until he had reached a spot only a man's length from her. Then he looked up at her, and bowed. "Who are you?" he asked huskily in accented Latin. "Domina — Dea—"

She could sense the awe in him. "Lady perhaps," she said, "but no goddess. I am here to help you, Mael."

He shivered a little at how effortlessly she had plucked his name seemingly out of thin air. "I see. Lady, you are someone like me, are you not?"

Maharet laughed softly. "Yes," she said, "or you like me. That was how I found you. Are you all alone? Did your maker abandon you?"

Another slight shudder ran through him. "Lady," he said and then just stood there, helpless to go on.

Maharet probed his mind, gently now. And she saw what had happened. "Ah, you left him to die!"

Mael flinched. "I did. I didn't think — he tried to kill me—"

"You stole the blood, Mael." She looked somberly at him.

He stared back, plainly terrified, but not about to run. Ah, he had courage, this stranger. "Are you the one Marius called Nemesis, then?"

No," she said after a suitable amount of silence, "I am not. I am not a goddess, I told you, and I am not here for vengeance. I can be help to you, Mael, if you will be a help to me."

"Tell me then, domina," he said. "Tell me what you would have of me."

She made an inviting gesture, and they started strolling along the crest of the ridge together.

"I do not come here often," she said and breathed in deeply of the fresh, chilly air. "I forget its beauty, this wild land."

There was a new light in his eyes as he looked around. "My land," he said confidently, calmly. "I feared the change would alter too much of me, but I can still feel it. It is still bred into my bones."

She nodded. "It will never let go," she said. "Trust me, I know. Tell me, Mael," she put a hand on his shoulder, "do you wish to find this friend of yours, Marius?"

He looked curiously at her. "You read my mind," he said. "You do it so easily!"

"I am old, Mael. I have had much practice. About Marius—"

"I wanted to find him, yes," Mael acknowledged. "Perhaps I still do. For company, and to see how he had managed this, the whole strangeness of it."

"I can teach you much," Maharet said. "And I can show you where Marius is. All I ask of you is that you will be my eyes and ears here, in this part of the world, and southwards for as far as I will show you. That you visit your friend Marius, and others whom you will come to know, and tell me what is happening. I need someone I can trust, Mael."

"I would be honored to serve you, domina," he said softly. "And can I be with you, too, sometimes?"

"Of course," she said and smiled. "That's the whole point, Mael. I would like you to be with me often."

He smiled back. It transformed his face from craggy and awkward into craggy and handsome; Maharet was startled, but not displeased. She reached out and touched his cheek lightly with the fingertips of one cold hand. He flinched slightly, feeling the difference in their flesh, but did not draw back. Brushing his mind, she sensed that he found her attractive. And that he felt far too much respect and, yes, awe for her to dare touch her back.

"When do you wish me to start?" he asked now. "Must we part at once, or..." He left the question hanging, plainly not wanting to be separated from her, yet ready to accept it. That was the quality she found most fascinating in him, his readiness to accept whatever she said, as though he were used to serving a capricious deity.

"Not at all," she said. "I will accompany you southwards for a while, and show you the way to Marius. Now, tell me about yourself. I will not probe your mind more, Mael. Tell me yourself who you are."

And they walked away into the night as he slowly and haltingly began to tell her the whole dreary story of his life.

* * *

For the following weeks they travelled together, spending most of their nights moving, far more slowly than Maharet had moved in centuries. She didn't want to show Mael the real extent of her speed, or her secret of flight, reasoning pragmatically that she'd save that for impressing him when she really needed to. He was enough in awe of her as it was.

As they moved, she taught him simple things of hunting and feeding, listening for human minds, and how to make sure he rested safely in the daytime. Much of it he had figured out on his own during the first time, but she noticed it comforted him to have it all confirmed — yes, this is proper behavior, this is a good way to do things. He was starved for company, and could talk and listen forever.

Young as he was, Mael was strong enough for her to teach him how to drink from a victim without killing, and how to heal the victim's wounds and make them invisible, and how to make the victim forget.

All these things kept them occupied through the heart of the Roman empire, and by the time they reached the Greek colonies in the south, he was as accomplished a vampire hunter as she'd ever met. It helped, she thought, that he was no stranger to this kind of death, that he had seen his 'gods' hunt and kill before, that he had taken life himself before.

And he paid the closest attention to everything she said. It was quite flattering, Maharet thought.

* * *

"We'll be there the next night," she said. "I must leave you now."

Mael looked up, a stricken look on his face. "Must you indeed. Lady..."

"I said it before," she said gently. "I cannot go to meet your Marius. You cannot even let him know that I exist. I am your secret, Mael, as you and your past are mine."

He sighed, but there was no resentment in his mind at this implied blackmail. "I know," he said unhappily. "But lady, I will miss you. When can we meet again?"

"I will call to you," she said softly. "You will know, Mael. I will let you know where I am. I don't want to lose you."

And to her surprise, she found that she was telling the exact truth. She'd grown to be fond of this big awkward Celt, with his haythatch hair and his sharp eyes. Even his refusal to wear cloth garments was somehow endearing. She had needed a servant here, but perhaps she now had something more than that.

They were sitting on a rocky shore, staring out at the black sea. Mael looked shyly at her, then looked away again. "I will miss you, domina mea," he said again, so quietly that she didn't know if he wanted her to hear him or not.

"You will enjoy the company of Marius," she said.

"Yes," he brightened a little at that. "I have missed his conversation. And I am curious about what happened to him, if he did go down into Egypt."

"I am sure he will tell you." Maharet knew he might not. Were she this Marius, she would keep the existence of Akasha and Enkil an utter secret. But there was no reason to think Marius wouldn't be pleased to see Mael again. And all she needed to know was where he was, where he kept the Mother and the Father. As he grew in power, he would likely become someone who could detect her telepathic scanning. Far better to have Mael keep an eye on his movements.

Mael, next to her, stirred again. "Domina, you are not of my people," he said hesitantly, "yet you almost look it, with your hair, and..."

She could sense that he was trying to tell her he found her beautiful.

And oddly enough, she found him attractive, too, big and clumsy and awkward as he was. No, she amended, not clumsy. He only seemed to be, but he moved with a hunter's lithe grace always. His rugged looks were a far cry from Eric's delicate features, and that, she honestly admitted to herself, increased the attraction.

She reached out and touched his face again, ran her fingers over his high cheekbones, his strong jaw, the small cleft in his chin. He was looking straight at her and the intensity of his piercing blue gaze pounded at her.

"We are of the same people now," she whispered.

Moving closer, she rubbed her thumb over his lips, still soft, slowly hardening. And then she let her fingers trail down over his neck.

She could feel how he held himself back, strained to sit still and not move, not touch her. But that wasn't what she wanted at all. And so Maharet pulled him to his feet, and slipped into his arms, and touched her lips gently to the side of his neck.

He gasped. :Ah, lady, my lady...:

:Call me Maharet,: she thought and sank her teeth in his neck.

III: Mael

He kept moving forward in response to her imperious summoning, running swiftly and tirelessly across the plains. Maharet was living in Persia now. Her call had reached him two nights ago.

Mael thought back. He had made his excuses properly, hadn't dashed off as he had sometimes done before. That would seem too suspicious, he had come to realize. Marius was no fool.

"And when will I see you again, old friend?" the Roman had asked, as they'd sat together in a cluttered room in the beautiful house he owned.

"Soon," he had promised.

But then she had entered the room, and he had almost taken it back as looks of perfect understanding and dislike passed between them.

Marius, of course, noticed nothing. When he set eyes on Pandora, you could practically see his common sense dribbling out his ears. He was so completely, utterly, foolishly in love with her that the sky could fall on his head and he wouldn't notice.

Mael had muttered a little prayer to Taranis the thunderer that the sky would fall on Pandora's head instead. But he knew he wouldn't get that lucky.

Swerving to avoid a clump of trees, Mael frowned as he thought about it.

Pandora made it very clear that she had first claim on Marius. That she was the one closest to his heart. Well, Mael knew that! And it wasn't as though he wanted to be Marius' lover or anything. He knew how Marius and Pandora felt about each other. It was just that, well, did she have to rub his face in it all the time? He just wanted some sensible conversation. That was all.

Instead what he got was a lot of Pandora wrapping herself around Marius' neck as though she were still the mortal courtesan she had been, and swaying around seductively and getting in the way every time he tried to discuss philosophy. Maharet had given him so many new and interesting ideas, and Marius was the only other person he could talk to about them. Or would have been, if Pandora hadn't been in the way.

He'd almost welcomed Maharet's summons. For the first time in a long time, Mael was more happy than not to be leaving Marius' company.

Now, as he entered the narrow canyon that was the only entrance to Maharet's little valley, he began to wonder why he didn't feel happier about coming here. Relief not to be in the company of Pandora any more, yes, he felt that. But the joy and anticipation he associated with seeing Maharet again was strangely missing.

Mael slowed his pace down and took his time as he went through the canyon, walking almost like a mortal man. He was going to see Maharet, the most wonderful woman in the world. He was her secret lover, right?

And she'd asked him to come, so she must be missing him, too.

Well, she hadn't asked, so much as ordered.

And she might be more interested in the news I bring, than in myself, a sneaky little voice whispered.

He pushed the treacherous voice down. Maharet could only call him when Eric wasn't with her, he knew that. In her eagerness, she might well have sounded a little more dictatorial than she'd intended to.

The canyon ended abruptly and he was in Maharet's secret little valley. The valley was small, and surrounded by sheer mountain walls on all sides except where the canyon broke through. Here she had built a large sprawling house that backed onto the mountain, and included deep caves and underground cellars.

Lights were showing in some of the windows. He saw a shadow moving that had to be Maharet.

Then he saw another shadow.

Mael stopped short.

He moved slowly closer, thinking himself invisible the way Marius had taught him.

Maharet never taught you anything like that, the sneaky little voice popped up again to say. She wants to know when you're coming.

Mael knew what he was doing might be ridiculous. Maharet was so powerful, she could find his mind among a thousand others, half a world away. For him to try to sneak up on her outside her own house was just plain silly.

But then, she wouldn't expect him to do it.

Through the window, he heard voices.

"Yes, I'll hide somewhere," a man said. "You know he won't look for me."

"Eric, I asked you to leave," Maharet said. "Why didn't you?"

The man sighed. "I'm tired of popping out the back door every time you Celtic lover turns up. Makes me feel like a fool actor in some stupid Roman play. Why don't you just shove me into the blanket chest so we can have a regular farce?"

"I need him." Maharet sounded tense. "I have to keep him coming here regularly. If you think this is easy..."

Mael couldn't believe his ears. He lost the thread of the conversation as he tried to take in all the implications of what he'd just heard. So Eric had known all along. Why had she done it like this?

She'd been making a fool of him. Secret lover, indeed.

Inside, the two immortals were leaving the room. All he caught was the end of a sentence:

"..and then get him out, all right?" Eric said as he walked away.

Mael remained sitting outside Maharet's house and watched the moon move over the sky. He remained sitting until he'd decided what to do. Then he rose, and brushed his clothes off, and straightened himself up so he looked neat and presentable. Not until then did he reach out and try to contact Maharet's mind, to advertise his presence.

:There you are!: She was in his mind, as welcoming and sweet as ever. :Come in, then!:

So he did.

She was wearing one of those Maharet dresses, long sleeves, narrow waist, long flowing skirt that swirled around her. She looked lovely. As she came towards him, holding both hands out, a pleased smile on her face, he almost melted, almost went back to the way he'd been before.

But then he remembered: the conversation he'd heard, the unease he'd felt, and the real reason he hated Pandora.

When he didn't take her hands, Maharet lifted an eyebrow in surprise. That was a lot, from her; time had pared her gestures down to a minimum. "Is something wrong?" she asked.

Mael turned a little, and looked the other way out the window. "Marius is still in Greece," he said. "Still living with Pandora. He won't move for a good long time. And the vampires of Egypt are recovering slowly if they were strong enough to start with, or else they're dead." He went to sit in the window, his back to the night, and looked at her.

"I wish you'd come closer," she said.

"No," Mael said. "No more. I think I'll go back to Marius and Pandora for a while. Unless there's something you actually want to know."

She was looking at him with utter surprise. "You know I always want to know what you tell me. And you hate Pandora."

Mael shrugged. "I'll always be your friend," he said. "Maharet. Domina mea. But I won't be your lover any more."

"You are not being yourself," she said. "What is this—"

"I do hate Pandora," he said. "I hate her for making Marius think of nothing else but her. Most of all I hate her because when I saw her and Marius together, I found out how lovers are. And lady, you and I are not lovers."

He thought about telling her that he knew about Eric, that Eric knew about him, that he had finally figured out a part of this strange double game she had been playing. But then he thought, no. That would break things too utterly to pieces.

"Are you leaving, then?"

"Not for good," he said. "I still owe you a debt, domina. And you still hold my past. I'll serve you and I'll be your friend. But nothing more than that." He swung his legs over the window ledge. "You know I'll be back. Otherwise, just call me when you need me. But now, I need to be on my own for a while."

Then he let himself drop down to the ground, and walked away. As he found the canyon again and began to run lightly back towards the world, it occurred to him for the first time that it was a beautiful night.

IV: Maharet

She stood inside the low-ceilinged room and just stared at the window's black rectangle, at its emptiness. He had been there only a moment ago; did some trace of him linger, a visual echo of a blond, handsome man? For one moment she thought of calling him back, forcing him back even. She could do that. She was so much the stronger.

But no, that wasn't right.

Maharet turned away, not wanting to stand there and stare after him like some silly girl abandoned by her lover. She walked over to a large chest by the wall and ran a finger over its carved lid, frowning at the dust. Her house wasn't as neat as it had once been. She'd let things get out of hand.

Then she heard steps in the next room. Eric, ever courteous, letting her know he was on his way.

He stopped in the doorway and stood there leaning to one side, and looked at her. "I heard him leave," he said in his cool voice.

"He is not as silent as he would like to be."

"Maharet, I heard him leave."


He walked over to where she was standing and jumped up to sit on the chest, legs dangling like a little boy's. The grace and delicacy that had enchanted her once were still there, but now she found them almost annoying.

"I'm thinking that I would like to travel," he said.

"You're restless every five years," she said dismissively.

"Yes," he agreed. "I'd like to return to the empire beyond India."

"Not now," she said.

"Fairly soon."

"Eric, I don't want—"

"I thought I'd go alone."

She was silent, looking at him. He annoyed her, yet she did not want him to leave. Finally she said, "Why?"

"Your friend the perceptive Celt had a point. About lovers. Now, we have been good companions for a long time. But I need to be on my own for a while."

"If this is because of Mael — he's gone away, Eric."

"No." He shook his head. "This is because of me. I'll be back, Maharet, probably. But you'll have enough to do without me." Getting to his feet once again, he padded towards the door, not bothering to make his steps loud enough for her to hear now that she could see him.

Once he was out of the room she sank down onto the chest herself, more out of habit than anything else. When in shock, sit down. Eric, leaving? They had been together almost the full thousand years since the night she had made him. And even when they had been apart, it had never been like this. They'd never parted in anger, or anyhing even close to it. They had never been so far from each other as this last conversation had showed them to be. It was almost as though they'd turned into different people all of a sudden.

But much as she tried to think only of Eric, Maharet found her thoughts straying in a completely different direction.


He had said he would be back, that he still owed her gratitude and service. Even friendship. Perhaps.

As he had done before, he would come to her house, to her window, bearing news of the Roman empire, of his friend Marius, of the location of the queen and the king, although he did not even suspect their existence.

But he would not be her lover again.

Eric was leaving, her companion of a full millennium was going away, and all she could think of was one stubborn Celt making his own way through the night outside.

"Damn the man," she whispered to herself.

Oh, she had done everything wrong, hadn't she? She'd been a fool. And she'd lost everything.

They'd both be back, one way or another, she knew that. But it wouldn't be the same.

Mael, with his strange mind, his fierce loyalty. She felt a pain deep inside.

"No," she denied. "It's not possible."

The pain grew, and grew. Maharet just sat still and let it be, felt it rise within her and take charge. Even when slow tears like ruby beads began to slide down her cheeks, she did not move. She just sat there, in a silence too deep for thought, and tried to refuse all knowledge of what her heart was telling her.

* * *

A monument more lasting than bronze

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