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Journey, by tirnanog

Part 7-8

I would like to step out of my heart
and go walking beneath the enormous sky.
I would like to pray.
And surely of all the stars that perished
long ago,
one still exists.
I think that I know
which one it is—
which one, at the end of its beam in the sky
stands like a white city.

Rainer Maria Rilke, "Lament"

Part 7

It was three in the morning, but a light still burned on the second floor of the monks' dormitory. With thoughts of the Watchers and Darius turning over and over in his mind, Enkidu found it impossible to rest tonight. For millenia, he had been a seeker of knowledge, but if there was one thing he had learned in all that time, it was that knowledge could be a double-edged sword. Knowledge might be power, but there were also times when it left one feeling powerless. Just now, he was frustrated because he knew that there was nothing he could do.

He turned out the light and went to stand by the window. It was a beautiful night—a terrible shame to waste it. He carried his telescope to the roof and set it up. Out here, away from the glare of the city, one could actually see the stars. Most people thought of the stars as peaceful, eternal and unchanging. Enkidu, who had been a stargazer for millenia, knew better—the stars were neither eternal, nor as tranquil as they seemed. Yet studying them brought him inner peace, a heavenly paradox if there ever was one.

He took his eye from the telescope for a moment in order to enjoy the entire expanse of the night sky arched like a glittering dome overhead. This was how he had watched the heavens in the ages before the invention of the telescope, with nothing but atmosphere to separate him from the vastness of the cosmos. He basked in the starlight for a while, and then walked around the flat roof, looking out over the empty grounds of the monastery. An unexpected movement suddenly caught his eye. A small figure, ghost-like in silvery gray, walked out onto the lawn. Diana Connolly was doing tai-chi in the middle of the night again. It would seem that her nightmares had returned.

Enkidu felt a little twinge of guilt for having sent her away so abruptly this afternoon. He had genuinely intended to speak to her in the evening, but after dinner, Father Benedict had asked him to discuss an administrative matter, and then to play a few hands of bridge, and when the game was over, Diana was nowhere to be found. He took down his equipment and went downstairs. Although he could do nothing about the concerns that were keeping him awake, he might at least be able to keep another troubled soul company for a while.

Diana completed the final movement of the form and returned to the neutral posture from which she had begun. In tai-chi, the body was in continual motion, constantly changing direction and shifting balance, but one always came back to the same posture where one had started. She paused for a moment and took a breath, trying to decide if she should carry on with another repetition of the form, or go for a walk instead. Then she heard footsteps behind her, and turned to see the man she knew as Brother Enrique walking towards her.

"What are you doing out here this time of night?" she asked. "I saw your light go out earlier and thought you had gone to bed."

"I might ask you the same question," he countered. "Another nightmare?"

She shook her head. "Not tonight. You have to be able to go to sleep first to have a nightmare. I've been tossing around for hours, so I figured I might as well get up and move. Sometimes it helps."

"I, too, am restless. Shall we walk together?" He fell into step beside her. "I apologize for sending you away this afternoon," he said. "I was preoccupied with a difficult matter. When I looked for you later in the evening, I could not find you."

"It's all right. I could see you were busy. I just went down to the river after dinner. It's very peaceful there." They walked together without speaking for a little while, finally turning into the rose garden near the gates. There they found a bench and sat down. Diana turned to her companion. "Enrique, may I ask you a question about Immortals?"

The Akkadian smiled "You may ask, but I cannot guarantee an answer. What do you wish to know?"

"Are Immortals' souls different from those of mortals?"

He gave a short laugh. "Ah, you plunge into deep waters, child! But I will do my best. I have observed many mortals and Immortals over the millenia, from the viewpoints of a scientist, a historian, and a priest, and apart from Immortals' ability to recover from any death or injury save one, I have found we are more alike than different. We are fashioned from the same elements, given life by the same Source. I believe the same holds true in regard to our souls. Does this help, or was there a particular aspect that you had in mind?"

"I have been wondering what happens to an Immortal's soul after death. Does it transfer to another Immortal as part of the Quickening? Have you ever experienced anything like that?"

"No, I have never felt that I received another's soul when I took a Quickening. Why do you ask?"

"It's just something I thought about after James died, but I didn't know if I should bother Darius with it--he had so many other things to worry about during that time. I hated to think that James' soul might be trapped in someone evil like Grayson . Of course, now Grayson is dead, and his Quickening went to someone else, so I wondered if James was now part of someone I don't even know."

"Diana," he said patiently, "A Quickening is not like a possession, or something one collects like a trophy, although it is too often spoken of in that way."

"Then what is it, exactly? I asked James once, and he would only say it was like a tremendous rush of energy that seemed to exhaust him even as he took it. He said that in the process he often experienced flashes of the other Immortal's memories."

"James was correct, as far as that goes," Enkidu said. "A Quickening is pure life-force energy, the breath of life, if you will. But it is not the same as the soul of the individual. What I believe is that the Quickening can contain reflections, or traces of the Immortal's memories, personality and thoughts, and these can be felt when the Quickening is transferred to another Immortal. But the soul belongs to the Eternal, and returns there when the earthly body dies, releasing it. Mind you, this is only my belief, but in these matters, all one has to go on is belief."

"All right, but when Grayson took James' Quickening, he spared my life afterwards, which Darius said was most unlike him. I have wondered since if something of James' goodness or his love for me might have affected Grayson and neutralized some of his evil, so that he let me go. But later, Grayson kept on killing. Taking James' Quickening had not really changed him at all."

"You are talking about something different now," Enkidu said. "You think of James as good and Grayson as evil, as different as day and night. But it is not as simple as that. Each person is a mixture of opposites, light and dark, positive and negative, conscious and subconscious forces. Neither James nor Grayson was all "good" or all "bad"—no one is. You may have not seen much of the darker side of James's personality, but it existed, and you never saw anything except Grayson's darker side. When Grayson took James' Quickening, he might have experienced for a short while some of James' feelings of love for you, and this saved your life. But the Quickening did not appreciably change the overall balance in Grayson, any more than Grayson's Quickening would have changed the balance in James if he had won instead. The net effect was negligible at best, and temporary."

"So what is a Quickening good for, anyway? Does it make you smarter, or stronger, or faster or better with a sword?"

"Some Immortals swear that it does all these things, and they take heads because they think it increases their prowess. If they manage to survive long enough, perhaps the confidence, skill, and strength they gain by so much fighting might also account for their improvement, however. All I can say is that I do not suddenly feel stronger or smarter the day after I have taken a Quickening—whatever long-term effects it has are more subtle than that. Others believe that the real power lies dormant and will only come into play when the last two surviving Immortals fight each other to the death for the Prize. I myself have doubts that any Prize won by such means could be worth having, and I would rather believe that the power contained in Immortals' Quickenings has another, higher purpose to fulfill in the universal scheme of things. But that is another story."

"What you say makes sense," Diana reflected. "But hasn't there been one instance where a very powerful Quickening changed an Immortal's life? Darius has told me that after he took the Holy Man's Quickening he gave up war, and became a man of peace."

Enkidu agreed. "Darius does seem to be an exception to the rule," he said. "Ever since I first met him, I have pondered this, and Daray, who knew both Darius and the Holy Man, has an explanation which I believe has merit. Daray was once a Zoroastrian, and one of their beliefs is that there are certain good spirits called Fravashis, who incarnate in earthly bodies in order to take part in the struggle between the forces of darkness and light. Daray believes that the Holy Man was an incarnation of such a spirit, a powerful force for good. When Darius took his Quickening, Daray thinks this spirit also became part of him. What he experienced was quite different from an ordinary Quickening."

"Incarnation? Do you mean like Jesus being born as a human being?"

"At the risk of sounding blasphemous, something like that, if not on quite the same order of magnitude. Or like the avatara in Hinduism, or the Buddha. Many religions and cultures believe in some form of divine incarnation, a god or spirit who descends to the earthly sphere of existence, and becomes human in order to help humanity."

Diana considered this. "I haven't known Darius for very long, but from the first moment I met him, I knew he was someone extraordinary, and knowing him has had a profound effect on me. But he is also very human, not a bit 'holier than thou.' I don't think he sees himself as having any godlike attributes, either."

"Agreed. He is a human being, with doubts and faults and hopes and fears just like the rest of us, and although he leads an exemplary life, he is no one's plaster saint. You must take into account that he spent nearly five hundred years as a barbarian conqueror before receiving the Quickening which changed him. Which only serves to illustrate that in order to be truly one of us, the spirit must partake of all that being human entails, flaws and frailties included."

"But if he should die, Enrique…" She looked at him with a troubled expression. "You know I have had dreams about someone coming to kill him. I haven't wanted to mention this, but lately the dreams have gotten much worse, and I am afraid something bad is really going to happen to him. I don't understand why he should have to die. Why won't he leave St. Julien, or let someone protect him? I didn't want to leave him there alone, but he sent me away. And if a mortal kills him, what will happen? Will this spirit within him be lost? Will his own soul go on apart from it? And where will his Quickening go, if not to another Immortal?"

Enkidu sighed. "You ask difficult questions, child, and I do not have many answers to give you. Darius' reasons are his own, and the choice to go or to stay, to fight or not to fight, is his alone. No one has the right to make that decision for him. But I can tell you this much--we will all die, sooner or later, even I. This phenomenon that my race calls Immortality is a relative term—no physical existence lasts forever. Only the part of us that is spirit is truly Immortal. And in the realm of the Spirit, nothing is ever lost. Do not fear for him, child. In the end, the soul is all that matters."

He put his arm around her shoulders, and they sat amidst the just-budding rosebushes, watching the stars, and waiting for the dawn.

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

T.S. Eliot, "East Coker," III

Part 8

"This is excellent," Daray commented, finishing off the leftover Road-Tar Casserole. "Did you make it?"

"A friend brought it over," Darius replied evasively. "A very old friend."

"Older than me? He must be really old, then. Don't tell me you know the legendary Methos?" he teased.

Darius gave him a droll look. "My lips are sealed," he said in a mysterious tone. He had not eaten very much dinner himself, but he was glad Daray still had an appetite, and a sense of humor.

After dinner, the two men went to the church. Darius had some things he wanted from the sacristy. "Just some more personal papers I'd prefer to dispose of rather than leave for someone else to deal with." He opened a wooden chest, and dug out more yellowed papers bundled together with string. When he tucked them under his arm, they deposited a gray film of dust on his robe, and gave off particles into the air.

"I can't believe you've kept all this stuff," Daray said, sneezing repeatedly as he waited in the doorway. "I can can fit everything I own into one duffle bag."

"That is because you have not stayed in one place for quite as long as I have. Rolling stones gather no dusty possessions, only the dust of the road." Darius turned off the light and came back out into the sanctuary again. He stood looking around the empty church. "We must make certain, whatever we do, that you are clear of this place before morning," he said softly. "That is when I believe they will be coming."

Daray looked at this friend with an incredulous expression on his face. "How can you stand here and speak so calmly of this, as if it were something that was going to happen to another person? This is your body, your life, your suffering. Not to mention the suffering of everyone who loves you. Are you certain about this? Is there really no other way? Let me be your defense. I will deal with these Watchers whenever they come."

Darius gestured towards the west doors of the church. "Daray, do you remember the day when the Ancient One stepped into the crossroads just a stone's throw from here, and blocked my way into the city? Did you offer to to deal with me then?"

Daray was silent for a moment. Finally he said, "I offered, but he refused to allow me to interfere."

"Because he knew it was his destiny he was going to meet, not yours. He, too, had dreams that showed him what was to come, and what he must do. And so I took his life, his Quickening, and his power. And I also took his destiny. He sacrificed his life fifteen centuries ago to stop an Immortal conqueror who could have destroyed the balance of power in Europe for the forseeable future, and plunged the continent, perhaps the world, into a darkness that might have no end. Now the wheel has come full circle. I am the dreamer of dreams, and it is my turn.

"He was among the first of our kind, Daray. Did you know that? About a year after I took his Quickening, I discovered some of his writings hidden in the roof beams of the oratory. He had scribed them for me before he ever saw me, in a form of Sanscrit that I could read, so that I would know his history. The scrolls went up in flames when the Normans came and burned the place, but I have them by heart, and now I will tell you. Think of the wonder of it—to have been one of the first Immortals to walk the earth, perhaps even the First, although he himself was never certain of this, and would never make such a claim. And in fear and ignorance, not knowing what would come of it, he took the life and Quickening of another. But from that day on, he never took another life, and all his life he tried to stop what that first killing had set in motion at the beginning of our history. So have I, since I became his successor.

"I have been thinking about him a great deal of late, of the sacrifice he made, and what it must have meant for him to make it. Was he afraid to die? I am. And yet there is something I fear more than dying—I fear the loss of what I am, and what he was, because unlike the Ancient One, it seems I will have no one to take my Quickening. Perhaps, in retrospect, I would have been wiser to let Grayson take my head, but I wanted to go on living. And now my Quickening, and the Ancient One's that I bear will be lost for all time if I die at the hands of mortals. I feel it is imperative that this legacy should be passed on and not wasted. If you really want to help me, Daray, then take my Quickening as a gift before it is torn from me by a stranger and lost forever. I cannot think of anyone more fitting to pass it on to than yourself, because you knew both the Ancient One and me, and you understand the need."

"Do not ask me to do this!" Daray exclaimed, horrified. "Ask me to fight for you, or to stay and die with you, and I will do so, gladly. But what you are talking about is murder. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a test, but he did not really intend for him to do it. How can you ask me to be the instrument of your death?"

Darius looked at him thoughtfully. "Perhaps it would not be necessary for you to kill," he said slowly. "You have just given me hope that there may indeed be another way."

"Not if it involves raising my hand against you," Daray declared. "I will never agree to that."

"No, not that. It would only involve remaining here with me, hidden, but nearby, so that you can receive my Quickening when it is released. I know of a place where the Watchers will not find you, and you will be safe."

"But this is Holy Ground!" Daray protested. "God alone knows what will happen if I take your Quickening on Holy Ground, even if I am not the one who beheads you. At the very least, both the church and I may be blown to dust, and if that occurs, both our Quickenings will be lost anyway."

Darius walked down the nave and stood before the altar. "Yes, that might be the case if you took my head in an act of violence, at the conclusion of Immortal combat. But my Quickening will be given up as a willing sacrifice, not wrested from me by an opponent in a fight to the death. Holy Ground is and has always been the right and fitting place for sacrifice. Within every church there is an altar. What is it for? Its purpose is the same now as it was when Abraham made a flat-topped pile of stones on that mountain—to make an offering to the Divine. Today we set a chalice of wine and a plate of Communion wafers on a table, and by word and faith we transform them into the Blood and Body of Christ, but the idea remains the same. What matters is the willingness of the victim, and the attitude of acceptance on the part of the recipient. When it is freely given and reverently received, a sacrifice is an exchange of spiritual energy, and a blessing upon both the giver and the receiver. It cannot be equated to the desecration of Holy Ground by an unlawful act. If you and I do this together, in the right spirit, with peace in our hearts, you, this church, and even those who raise their hands against me will come to no harm."

"But the one who murders you—is not his act a desecration of Holy Ground?"

"The man who murders me will be, as you put it, merely the instrument of the sacrifice, the sword that separates the life from the body. What he believes he is doing, and what he is doing are two different things. He believes he is acting of his own volition, but he is a tool, merely a blade in the hands of a Power he does not understand. With the Holy Water of the chalice, as in my dream, I will cleanse this blade, and turn it to a better purpose."

Daray shook his head unhappily. "This sounds completely insane—all of it, and if I had not witnessed what happened at the crossroads long ago, I would never consent. But I made a promise to see you through this, and I will not go back on it. If you are resolved, I will not desert you." He held out his hand to his friend.

Darius grasped it. "Once again you have shown me the way. After I killed the Ancient One, in my grief and remorse, I was ready to run to any Immortal I could find and beg him to take my head—do you remember? But then you showed me a different path to follow. Now, since this body will soon be taken from me, you must be the path I take. As you once told me long ago, we are brothers in more ways than one. Come, and I will show you the place where you will wait for me tomorrow."

This story is Copyright ©1998 by tirnanog and may not be reproduced without permission.

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