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Three

She went from a deep sleep to full awareness in the space of a breath. A slight breeze touched the silk curtains around her bed. Shadows fell across the curtain, dancing in the wind. She pushed them aside and saw the figure at the far end of the room. The other woman's long blonde hair cascaded down her shoulders, a contrast to the dark blue robe and green sash.

What is it, Joh'leen? Are we under attack?

We have intruders, Leen'da. Five of them, scaling the walls. We must be ready. Leen'da nodded at the other's telepathic orders and slipped out of bed. Leen'da was smaller than her friend, with dark hair, and eyes. People often called them "Night and Day", and she thought it was fitting.

She located her special pouch of knives by touch and attached it to her sash. Then she melted back into the shadows as soft scraping noises came from the window. Metal upon stone. Grappling hooks.

The first intruder hauled himself up and over the window sash. His feet hit the marble floor without a sound. Leen'da saw his outline in the light of the double moons. Gray hood, tall and broad-shouldered, muscular build. As he checked the perimeter of the room, his deliberate movements reminded her of a different memory, in a different time.

He moves like a MACO, she thought. She frowned to herself. Like a what? Where did that come from? Then the image of a sea creature, a vicious fish, came to her. These people used it as a symbol, and appropriately so. Silent, but deadly hunters.

But so was she. She was trained from birth to be a hunter. The man she loved was of the same kind. A grim smile quirked upon her lips; if only he was here to see her now! This one is mine, Joh'leen.

Very well, I will take care of the two after him.


The man froze in position. Just before he raised his hand, Leen'da's knife sliced through the air and buried itself into his shoulder. He staggered back, eyes locked in agonized fury. Leen'da's right leg shot out and put him down with a foot sweep. He fell heavily on his side with a muffled cry. With one smooth motion, she plunged her blade between his shoulders. The man shuddered once, then went limp.

Leen'da looked up and saw Joh'leen had already dispatched her two assailants. The last two were just climbing into the window. The fourth man launched himself at Leen'da; she saw that this one was more skilled than the first intruder, more determined. His steely gaze caught hers, and again, she felt that strange sense of deja vu, the feeling that she knew this man.

And in that time, he had been a friend. A friend who had saved her life, at the cost of his own.

But now, he was the enemy.

He smirked, his hand beckoning her forward. Leen'da answered with a slow smile. He was unarmed; she slid her remaining knife into her sash. Empty hands, then. Perhaps I should save him for the Weaponsmaster...no, not this time. Perhaps in the next life, they will seek combat against each other. In this life, he is mine!

Slowly, they circled each other in a lethal dance. Then he struck out with the flat of his hand. She ducked and kicked out, aiming for the back of his knee, but he anticipated her move and slid out of the way. They fought that way for a long time: striking, retreating, gauging each other's strengths and weaknesses. Leen'da suddenly realized she had to end the fight quickly; he was only keeping her occupied.

Enough of this charade. She feinted with her right hand, then brought her left fist across his throat. The edge of her ring scratched his skin as she jumped away from him. His eyes widened in shock and surprise as he fell to his knees before her, his right hand at his throat. The poison in her ring flowed swiftly through him, but Leen'da saw the calm resignation in his eyes.

"Ni'shala buina, " she hissed at him. "Go to hell, Shadow."

And remarkably, he managed a smile. "I'll be waiting," he rasped out, then he toppled forward onto his face. Leen'da checked the pulse point at his temple, but there was none.

She looked up at Joh'leen, who nodded her approval. The fifth and last assailant lay at her feet, limp. "There are more coming. I suggest we alert the others and make our stand here."

Leen'da sighed and turned her back on the fallen man. "They chose a time when the General was out in the field. They chose wrongly."

Joh'leen inclined her head. "Indeed they did," she replied.

*****

The other members of the household hid in their assigned sectors, behind curtains, tapestries and false walls. Leen'da pressed herself against the stones in the courtyard; she refused to barricade herself in a small space. It was easier for her to fight in open territory. Enclosed areas made her pulse race and her hands shake. At her right was Jo'leen; at her left was Yum'sa, a young courtesan from the far south. The dark-skinned woman watched the courtyard entrance with the single-mindedness of a hawk.

Then Yum'sa glanced at her and her hands conveyed the information: ten, perhaps eleven. Closing fast. Leen'da nodded and readied her knife. She had one chance to get this right...

Joh'leen straightened as the men came closer. Then her calm voice rang over the courtyard. "Open the gates! General Hu'fase comes!" A relieved sigh came over the women as the Aronian forces returned to the fortress. Leen'da's eyes widened as she saw an unconscious man being carried on a litter. Joh'leen ran directly for him, kneeling at his side.

"It seems that our Master Builder got himself into trouble yet again," a quiet voice said. "We found him floundering in the river. I don't think he's seriously injured, but I think he needs some attention." General Hu'fase strode up to her and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Will you care for him? We need him on his feet as soon as possible."

"Yes, General," Joh'leen said. "He will be at your side again soon."

"Good." Hu'fase turned his head and found Leen'da. A rare smile flashed across his face and he extended his hands to her. She walked over and took them. Hu'fase was her mentor, the one who convinced her to join his family, the one who provided her with the strength and fortitude. She owed much to him: her life and her love.

His smile softened as he read her thoughts and his strange green eyes held just the barest hint of sympathy. "Your husband succeeded in his mission, Leen'da, but he, too, was swept away by the current---"

"Where is he?" she interrupted, her heart tightening at the thought of the Weaponsmaster in the river. He hated the water; drowning was his greatest fear. "Is he alive? Is he--?" she broke off, remembering to whom she was talking. "Forgive me, S'kott---"

Hu'fase didn't seem offended by her questions. "He lives, but he must have taken a blow to the head; he's very confused. He couldn't remember what he'd done or even who he is. He needs rest, but like the Master Builder, I need him by my side, the sooner the better."

For the first time that night, her bright smile held no malice in it. "I will do what I can to make him remember."

Four

Trip's eyes flickered open, but the pain in his head was too great. He let them drift back shut and concentrated on his breathing. Where am I? What's going on? I can't even think straight.

A cool hand stroked his forehead. "You have been injured. Rest."

The voice, the words, and the intonation sounded familiar. "T'Pol?"

The hand hesitated for a brief moment. "You are delirious with fever, love. Just rest."

He allowed himself to drift off. Images and memories came through his mind. Jon Archer, how they'd met while working on the NX program, how Jon had saved his life in the Outback. Trip had been hurt, and Jon had slung him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, rushing for cover as arrows rained all around them...

Arrows? That's not right...More memories surfaced, memories not completely his own...his own wedding, in the light of the twin moons, holding her hands as the priestess blessed their union, feeling his wife's cool, steady presence in his mind. This was right, not like the first time, when he'd stood aside with an aching heart and watched her marry someone else...

Shore leave at a beautiful place, he and a dark-haired man...Trip remembered his name, it was Malcolm Reed, the Armory officer. They'd gotten attacked, tied up and left for dead, but they'd escaped and tracked their assailants down, and he shuddered as he remembered the smirk on his friend's face and the looks of sheer terror on theirs, as Malcolm administered his own brand of "justice"...

He cried out and sat bolt upright in bed. "What the hell! Where am I? This ain't right---" There was movement next to him, and a warm body pressed against his. Hands touching his shoulders, finding the neuropressure points and siphoning off the tension.

"The nightmares have returned." It was a statement, not a question.

"Yeah..." he muttered as he pressed a hand over his eyes.

"You are a sensitive soul, my love. Seeing so much death affects you more than the others. You are a Builder, not a Destroyer, but you are strong. Look deep inside you, find the Strength." The husky voice dipped lower. "And I am here. I will never leave you."

Trip opened his eyes and saw the speaker for the first time. Long blonde-brown hair, elegantly swept eyebrows, amber eyes set in a beautiful face. He stared at her for a long minute, then touched her cheek with a gentle hand. "Wait a sec..I know you..."

A ghost of a smile was on her lips. "You remember."

"Yes," he whispered. "I remember." He pulled her to him and kissed her, shutting out everything except the two of them. The questions could wait.

*****

All Malcolm had were questions and more questions. He was exhausted, but he couldn't shut off his mind. Instinct told him not to relax, not to take this world in truth, or he would be lost.

I must admit, it would be easy to do so. He turned his head and looked down at the woman in his arms. Her soft, even breathing told him she was finally asleep. They had spent hours just talking. He listened as she proudly told him how she had dispatched their enemy, then in the same breath, chastise him about nearly getting killed again.

She sounded just like Hoshi and if he closed his eyes, he could imagine it was her. This woman resembled his fianceè to a startling degree, both physically and personality-wise. Malcolm sighed; when the talking was over, she had shown him just how much she had missed him. It had taken all of his control to separate a part of him from his body, not to give in to the siren's song.

But it had been so tempting. He nearly had.

Be objective. See it as an investigation and look at the clues. Obviously, we've been transported to Aronia's past, playing out roles of people dead for five thousand years. You are Dom'ni, Weaponmaster to General Hu'fase, Supreme Commander of the Aronian forces. The war is going badly for us and soon it will be the final battle. It will be us or them.

He shivered; he knew what the outcome would be. Neither side won; they had destroyed each other.

He glanced down at her. Leen'da, the Weaponmaster's wife, married for five seasons, in charge of the General's household. S'kott Hu'fase brought her into his House, raised her just like a daughter. Malcolm chuckled; it sounded just like the history between Hoshi and Jon Archer. So the relationships between the players were similar to those on the Enterprise. Hu'fase had mentioned a "Master Builder". That had to be Trip, and from what the general had implied, this Master Builder was as accident prone as Trip.

"What's so funny?"

He started. "I thought you were asleep."

"I was. You woke me up."

"I'm sorry---"

"Don't be." She raised her head and flashed him a brilliant smile. "You don't laugh as much anymore and it makes me happy when you do."

"I'm glad." He tightened his arms around her. "The General wants me at his side tomorrow morning."

"Which is where you should be, love." Her tone became impish and her eyes sparkled with humor. "I know better than to be jealous of you two, with as much time as you spend together on the field." The wicked jibe made him laugh again, and her smile widened. "Besides, I know where your desires lie. You demonstrated it quite ably not too long ago."

Malcolm's face flushed crimson at her boldness. She reached up and placed a hand on his cheek. "In all seriousness, there is something you should know, if---" Her voice failed for a moment, then she pushed on, "---if you fall in the battle ahead."

"What should I know?" he asked gently.

"If it will ease your mind, a part of you will go on." She moved his hand to her abdomen. "I am carrying your child."

Malcolm blinked. Blinked again. His mouth moved, but he couldn't speak.

Oh bloody hell. Bloody, freaking hell.

*****

General S'kott Hu'fase sighed and ran a hand through his brown hair. I need another haircut, but it can wait until we've won, he thought. The burst of optimism faded as quickly as it came. A sense of foreboding took its place; there had to be a way to end this war, once and for all, without more massive casualties among his men. There had to be, but what was it?

He rubbed a weary hand over his eyes. At least his Weaponmaster and Master Builder were alive and with their respective mates. Hu'fase wondered if Leen'da had told the Weaponsmaster the wonderful news yet. It made the general even more determined to win this war. The son or daughter of two of his closest friends deserved to live in a world of peace.

"Damn Shadows," he muttered. "They strike and retreat, no pattern and no rhyme or reason. They burn our villages and steal our livelihood. Now they surround us in their trap. This has gone long enough. I must end it before they weaken us just by attrition."

He was tempted to break tradition and have Joh'leen and the other women on the front lines, but that wouldn't do at all. They were the Aronians' secret line of defense, and if Joh'leen was in battle, Leen'da would follow, and endanger her unborn child. That was unacceptable.

This damn war has taken my father and his father before him. I must end it. A soft noise caught his attention and his head shot up from the map was reading. One of his stewards stepped into the room and bowed in respect.

"My apologies, General, but your staff is ready to assemble for the morning strategic meeting."

"Is it time already?" Hu'fase sighed and took another deep breath. "Are the Master Builder and the Weaponsmaster among them?"

"Not yet, my lord, but they send word that they are on their way."

"Good. Distribute the morning meal to those already present. As soon as my two advisers arrive, we will begin. Oh, and carry a basket of sayo fruit to the lady Leen'da and please make sure she eats it."

The steward smiled and said, "Yes, General." He bowed again and left. Hu'fase gathered up his various maps and papers and tried to put himself in the right frame of mind, but the niggling sense of doom refused to leave him.

Five

Leen'da went on her rounds around the General's stronghold. She smiled as her women went about their daily tasks: the dyeing of wool in the fabric vats, the caring of the children, the storage of food in the larders. Previous sieges had taught her that one could never put away too many supplies for her people.

In spite of the uncertainty, Leen'da made sure that music and festivities echoed down the halls. Someone was always celebrating a naming day or a special occasion. The festivals came almost one right after the other: Maiden's Festival, the General's birthday, Ancestor's Prayer Day...Leen'da found the never-ending preparations a welcome distraction.

"My lady? The household is gathered for your instructions," said the young steward. The tow-headed boy smiled up at her. "Are we still going to have the Festival of the Goddess like we always do, my lady? It would be a pity if we don't have the music and the games and---"

She laughed at his childish rambling. "Come here, By'var. Of course, the Festival will go on as scheduled. The Shadows haven't destroyed our sense of fun, have they?"

The boy laughed. "No, my lady. We'll beat them like we always do, then we'll have all the festivals we wish, eh?"

Leen'da chuckled and tousled his short hair. "Bring them up here, then, and we shall begin," she replied.

The steward disappeared and returned with the women of the clan. Leen'da assigned them their tasks, swiftly dividing the workload according to their strengths and talents. After she made sure they understood their duties, she dismissed them with a gentle word. Then she headed towards the Players' Hall for her next goal: arranging the order of the music for the gathering.

The faint sound of a harp caught her attention. She frowned as she listened to the notes; they were atonal, harsh, nothing like the smooth rhythms of normal Aronian music. Leen'da closed her eyes and let the music lead her deeper into the stronghold, away from the light. The notes gave way to syllables, and then to words.

Who are you? What is your name? Where is your true heart?

"What kind of questions are those?" she whispered back. "I know who I am."

The words touched off a sense of unease. She was Leen'da, and Dom'ni was her true heart. Hu'fase was her adoptive father, and Jo'leen like a sister. Master Builder Kan'nar was like a protective older brother, always concerned about her welfare, especially after he'd heard about her early pregnancy...

Who are you? What is your name? Where is your true heart?

"I've told you," she shot back. "Who are you? Show yourself!" She withdrew her trusty dagger from her sash as she followed the notes up a flight of stone steps. "Riddles belong to the Shadows. I know the truth."

Do you? Perhaps you are only living a dream. The voice was not unkind, but there was an edge to it. I can show you how to save yourself and your child, if you will open your mind.

"Just myself?" Her smile turned sardonic. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, according to the Rules of War."

The Rules of War? The silent voice mocked her. You have heard that elsewhere. You refuse to remember. Very well, I will leave you now, but I will return, Hoshi Sato. Forget now, for you are not ready for your true name...or your true life.

She blinked and shook her head. The music had stopped and she found herself in a more familiar part of the stronghold. What was she doing here? Her mind was filled with cobwebs; what had she been doing? Then she recalled the preparations for the Festival...she was going to consult the musicians. She blew out a relieved sigh. Obviously, the tension was starting to get to her as well; it wouldn't be good for the child.

The thought of her child made her smile. She put a protective hand on her stomach and made her way towards her destination. A chorus of voices stopped her, this time the cadence was familiar. Leen'da reversed direction, heading towards the shouts.

She turned the corner and entered a large gymnasium, climbing the steps to the balcony that overlooked the main arena. Joh'leen led the noblewomen in their daily calisthenics. They stretched their muscles, then went into drills and techniques. Their hands and feet were blurs as they sparred and feinted against each other. Another pair grappled each other while standing on a narrow beam that was a few fingers wide. Still another group threw blades at targets set up across the arena.

Leen'da sighed. What kind of world would her child see? Your father will make it safe for you, little one. We will protect you with our lives, if need be. He will train you in defense, as he trained me and the others. Another memory came to her, one that both warmed and puzzled her at the same time:

They were in a large room. She had finished her own exercises; now she faced him across an open space. He watched her with neutral blue-gray eyes, but she could feel the amusement rolling off him in waves. She had a black belt in aikido; perhaps she could teach him a move or two.

And perhaps she could wipe that obnoxious smirk, the one that lurked near his lips.

"Are you ready, Ensign?"

She nodded. "I'm ready. I hope you've brace yourself for the worst, Lieutenant."

That smirk finally blossomed on his face, but he said nothing as they circled each other on the mat. She answered with a smirk of her own...he had no idea what "the worst" involved.

She blinked. What was that? The first time she had trained with Dom'ni, she was unsure of her skills. His confidence and his intensity had unnerved her, but eventually, she realized that was how he was. Ensign? Lieutenant? Her mind stumbled on the unfamiliar words. They sounded like titles, like Weaponmaster or Master Builder...

You refuse to remember. Remember what? Leen'da scowled and put a hand to her temple. Was she overtired? That must be it...the stress of pregnancy, the uncertainty of the war against the Shadows, the worry about her husband...

"Leen'da, are you well? You look rather preoccupied."

She sighed and glanced at Joh'leen, who stood next to her. Her mind must have been truly distracted, if her hearing hadn't picked up Joh'leen's movement. Such lapses could be fatal. "I was just thinking. How is Kan'nar? Is he all right?"

Joh'leen had a small smile on her face. "Yes, he is. I was concerned about the dreams he was having while he was feverish...such strange visions, indeed, but then the fever broke. He still needed assistance to sleep, but he seemed more like himself this morning."

Her words brought Leen'da up short. She turned to face her friend directly. "Visions? What kind of visions?"

Joh'leen brought her attention back to the women on the practice floor. Her eyebrows were knitted in a strange expression. Leen'da only waited until she chose to speak. "Visions of another time, of other places, of other people. I couldn't understand most of his ramblings, but he seemed to believe he wasn't...where he was supposed to be."

"Delusional? That doesn't sound like Kan'nar. At least," she amended, "Kan'nar, when he isn't on medicinal herbs or under the Healers' magic touch."

Her flippant remark made Joh'leen chuckle. "Whatever ailed him was gone by the morning. General Hu'fase summoned him for a strategic meeting. And so, that is where he is." Joh'leen gave her a sideways look. "Something else is bothering you. What is it?"

Leen'da sighed and looked down at the floor for a moment. Then she pushed forward with her question. "Tell me, my friend, have you ever had...premonitions? Dreams that you know, but don't?"

Joh'leen raised an eyebrow, causing Leen'da to smile. I must ask her how she manages to do that. That truly takes skill. That smile vanished as she realized Joh'leen was taking her words seriously. "It is true that the Temple says such things exist, but I find it difficult to put my belief in...smoke and mirrors. I must see it with my own eyes, touch it with my own hands, to verify it is real."

"I knew you would say something like that. You've always been quite rational, Joh'leen."

"Have you had any of these...visions?"

Leen'da said nothing for a long moment. She drew her attention back to the women as they went through their paces. "I'm...not sure," she replied. She told her friend about her bouts of deja vu, about the strange waking dream she had experienced on the way to the gymnasium, with her as an "ensign" and the unfamiliar "lieutenant".

The eyebrow arched higher, if that was even possible. "Did you know the man in your dream?"

"I have the feeling that I was..am..very close to him. Intimately so." She shifted uncomfortably on her feet as she said the words, "but I didn't recognize him at all."

They both fell into silence, as they listened to the ring of steel, the cheers as the women encouraged each other. Leen'da shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. Joh'leen noticed and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. She managed a smile; Joh'leen was even more reserved than Dom'ni at his worst, so this was an unusual surprise.

"A mental attack," Joh'leen finally said in a low voice. "The Shadows are adept in trickery, clouding the mind, causing confusion. That has to be it. They want us to doubt ourselves and our place. Think, Leen'da...has there been anyone else, besides you and Kan'nar, who have had these...lapses? Any obvious changes in behavior in the household?"

She winced. Of course, Joh'leen was thinking about this logically and tactically. It was something her husband would do...the unease in the pit of her stomach threatened to become full-blown panic. "General Hu'fase had said last night that Dom'ni couldn't remember who he was or what he had done to the bridge yesterday. The General believed that perhaps he'd hit his head in the explosion, or when he was in the river..."

Her voice trailed off. Joh'leen raised an eyebrow. "Similar to Kan'nar's condition, when Hu'fase had retrieved him..."

"And he was withdrawn last night, as if he was keeping his distance from me, hiding something. That isn't like Dom'ni at all."

Joh'leen's mouth tightened as she digested the information. "Do you think that both of them have been affected by the same attack? Something the Shadows may have done to them?"

"He didn't tell me the Shadows had done anything to him."

"He might not remember if they had," Joh'leen pointed out, "and neither would Kan'nar. We should alert the general about this."

Leen'da stared at the woman warriors as they finished their training routines. "Is that wise? It would destroy the men's morale if there are doubts about their Weaponsmaster's and their Master Builder's sanity. Hu'fase needs all the allies and the support he can get now."

Joh'leen was silent as they watched the women leave the gymnasium for their daily tasks. In a moment, the two of them were alone on the balcony overlooking the practice arena. "You have a valid point," she admitted. "Then we should keep a close eye on the two, and if the situation warrants it, we will tell the general."

She nodded unhappily. "Yes, but only if the situation warrants it."

"I have friends at the Temple who might be able to help us. Can you get away for a time?"

Leen'da nodded. "Yes, I can do that during the afternoon meal."

"Good. Meet me in the front courtyard at the meal bell." Joh'leen took a deep breath and let it out. "The situation is more complicated than it appears. I only pray we can stop the Shadows in time."

*****

The day passed slowly, too slowly for Leen'da's liking. There was no word from the General's Council, save for a request for food to be sent to them. Her kitchen staff took care of it without any interference on her part. So she was free to meet Joh'leen at the courtyard.

"Draw the hood of your cloak over your head," Joh'leen instructed. "It would do us no good to be recognized." Leen'da did as ordered, and they both left the stronghold and headed for the Temple.

The town lay at the foot of the fortress, the pointed red and blue roofs jutting out like waves. Beyond were the crop fields, and the row of sentry stations, and finally, the tall stone wall that surrounded General Hu'fase's stronghold. The people went along their tasks; even in wartime, life still continued like it always did. If the General's forces were victorious, this would continue for the rest of time.

The Temple was bustling with petitioners, all asking the Gods and Goddesses for victory against the Shadows. A quartet of musicians filled the space with meditative music. Leen'da noticed a team of artisans painting new scenes on the western wall. She narrowed her eyes at the scene of a battle, the men on foot, the women above, all defending the fortress. The words underneath:

"'Uako donn thot, sevo shiann thot... Varon d'agu uako bhalin dho...We shed blood to defend blood. May the gods grant us victory'," she whispered. It was the last line of the Rules of War. General Hu'fase's favorite quote. He had often said that he'd wanted it inscribed on the walls of his own tomb.

His tomb...she pushed the morbid thought away from her consciousness. Of course, her mentor would die of a ripe old age, be buried with all of his weapons, outlive all of his household, join his dearest friends in the Afterlife...

"Lady Leen'da, Lady Joh'leen," said the Priestess. The woman materialized in front of her, startling her out of her thoughts. Aronian priestesses all looked the same to her; the same gentle, wrinkled faces, the same sweet smiles. This one was no exception. The Priestess bowed to her and added, "I see that the Goddess has blessed you, Lady Leen'da. May happiness come to you and your house."

"Thank you, madam," she answered. There was little you could hide from a Priestess, and just as she thought the words, she saw the smile transform into a sober expression.

"You have troubles, my Lady, to walk all the way here in your condition. Please, both of you step inside my chamber, and tell me."

Joh'leen nodded and withdrew the hood from her face. "It concerns the Shadows---"

The Priestess raised a hand. "Not here. Follow me."

They withdrew deeper into the Temple. Leen'da shivered as a sense of dread came over her, and it wasn't reassuring when she saw it mirrored on Joh'leen's elegant features.

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trekwriter151

May 2012

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