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Things were going swimmingly for Ainea. Bald Mountain Holt had been a tribe of dragon-riders as long as they had not been before - more than twelve hands of hands, some 90 odd years! Newcomers and arrivals kept coming in, Ainea had even spotted one or two herself on her long-flying travels. She had become a grandmother long before now, Icecap pairing off with Squall of all people. That was a mighty odd time for everyone... Apogee had already lost a mate, long before then - but somehow refused to be truly jealous of this matter, besides Squall wasn't all that intent on remaining the 'motherly' type, and Crystalstorm got a chance to spend a few Winters and Summers with Ainea! He could do so many things with his magic, but one of them was shaping crystals, and Ainea knew she could aid him well in that regard.

It was when she became a greatgrandmother that Ainea really was brought to realize how fast things moved when there were plenty of elves around. Those wandering elves, two hands or more of them, had brought new genes and definitely brought on a few Recognitions. Crystalstorm's Recogntion to Jade - who already had another child or more, out of Recognition - produced the very impressive girl, Scatterstone. The Holt would never be shy of rock-shaping magic, that was certain.

Though the Holt grew, Ainea preferred to keep to herself, because she honestly did much like the cold better than the warmer weather of the south.

Ainea enjoyed herself immensely as she traveled back and forth from the Holt to her ice house. In fact there were a few times she hosted mid-winter parties for the bravest among the Bald Mountain elves population. For who could resist (drunkenly) being drawn out to the frigid pole to admire the long midnight skies? Or indeed, the longest day of the year as celebrated by its never heading past the horizon.

The elfess, happy with her lot and the way that her dragons would play in the snow (constantly, at that, maybe they'd mate, but more likely they would merely cuddle), felt a weird gnawing at her mind.

It was as though something needed to be done. Something she'd never even thought of.

A huge dragon bugled above her ice house, and Adisath's excited reply brought the dark-haired elf outside. It was spring, nearly time for her to start taking the trip back to Bald Mountain and collect those well-earned hides her friends would give off. She knew that Heartshy would always enjoy the duty of tanning, and she was adequate... but would never really be given the very best hides. Even she admitted that Ainea was far better at it than she.

But this wasn't one of those dragons, arriving to her doorstep! This was a massive bronze, old-world they'd call him, because he came from Pern before the Nexus was connected up to many worlds. He was handsome, as was the human man who stepped from the dragon's shoulder. White haired, handsome even as a human, not just to the untrained eye of an elf.

He bowed, and sent to her.

"Greetings," he bespoke, clearly - he was a dragon rider after all but this was spectacular! He could mind-speak! "I am Hollis, of bronze Synesth," he indicated the elegant bronze. "And ... I'm here to ask if you would like to come teach some classes for us, at a school. It's rather new even to me, we've got riders and others, but the school is expanding and..."

What is a school? Ainea asked, not really innocent, she had heard the word, but not really figured out what it could possibly mean.

Hollis gave her a strong mental image. If he really was human, it certainly wasn't from this world, where mankind could barely grunt out full speech let alone think this crystal-clear! The image was of a group of evenly-spaced human-made structures. She'd seen things like that before on other worlds, so this couldn't be on Abode. She felt from Hollis: those are homes, that big group of larger buildings is where the School is. That black ground is not natural, it's a 'parking lot'.

Oh, like at the Healing Den! Ainea mentally said, and Hollis nodded.

He continued to send to her, people of all manner of description - defying even those gathered at the Flurries - they were young people too, going into the buildings. They sat in rows at chairs and tables, and they learned things there. Hollis and many other adults gave their best to educate the children in what they knew. Some were great at abstractions like math and science, others were artists, some more practical with building things and working with animals. All manner of subjects were taught at this unique school.

Ainea stood there for a moment, blinked, and then giggled.

So... what would you have me instruct? I fear I would not be very good at calming a large class of humans, they still frighten me a little when there are too many of them.

"I'm sure there would be something appropriate... We're mainly trying to expand the staff species variety." Hollis said, speaking with his voice this time. Though his words were strange, she knew what he meant. It was like that for her and humans, apparently.

So you don't know what you want of me, but you want me there... I suppose I have only these things here to do, and I could move between often enough...

"Perfect!" Hollis said, glancing at the two dragons nearby. "When it's convienent, come here." He sent another extremely clear image, this time of the parking lot specifically beside a large, somewhat artificial looking hillside. The dragonry which was being built at Carramba High.

Hollis bid her farewell, and flew off, disappearing between and leaving Ainea and her dragons with a weird sensation.

"How did he even know where to find me?" Ainea whispered, shrugging, and returned to her den. That could all wait - she knew already how to go back and forth through time. Adisath - like many old-world whites - was adept in it.

Nivoan decided he'd remain behind, though. "You took care of me as a youngling," he explained, "and now it's time for me to return the favor. I will keep the place tidy while you are gone."

He couldn't fit inside the home, but he could easily make sure that animals didn't tromp through it or over it. He was more uneasy with people around, too, prefering the chilly mountains to the Holt.


Ainea and Adisath arrived, with a little luggage and no idea what to do next. It was several weeks before classes were to start, and many people could be heard talking nearby. Down on the dragonry field, in fact, they were going over lesson plans and at the same time, watching the dragons have some fun in the air. Adisath immediately joined in, throwing her shiny self into the air and leading a mock chase.

"You made it!" Hollis said, waving his arm, "come on down here, meet the other instructors!"

It turned out that all the instructors down here so far were the "new" kind - dragon riders mostly, but also a few who were administration and the like. Hollis introduced her first to a girl with very dark skin, two-toned hair and a weird box with a cord that connected directly into her head!

"This is Cybil Qeats," Hollis said, "she'll be able to tell you where you'll stay and what courses you might be best with." The woman nudged him, and he went back to talking to the rest.

"Hi, what he said," Cybil leaned down and reached her hand out - Ainea had seen humans do this frequently enough that she knew to grasp it and shake. An odd custom, but one easily adopted. "Now... I'm getting that you're ... oh, you're a crafter! That's perfect..."

So it was that Ainea was given a dorm in the 'zee-dee' lab, a place which was kept at a low, constant temperature. She enjoyed that, because honestly it was far too warm and moist outside most of the time, for her to really relax. She sweated, until she finally did get used to the place weeks later. It was far more southern than even the Bald Mountain holt on Abode, and quite near the ocean.

Ainea's class schedule was, she declared, going to be quite fun. They had her teaching in the crafts department, but also in the sciences. Her 'science' class was to be "Rocks, Gems and Dirt" - she knew gems and crystals better than most, and the other instructor was far better at the 'rocks and dirt' part. In the middays she would teach leatherworking and tanning, which she was quite relieved to do, especially since she just couldn't sit still without doing something with her hands! And that pile of beautiful hides that her tribemates would deliver: they'd never go to waste now! Lastly she was set up in the early mornings for an Art class, which she could use her skills and knowledge to help with 'Ceramics and Sculpture'. She'd have aides who could get her supplies and sometimes explain them, because she didn't really work with anything other than ice, snow, leather and crystals.

All in all, it would work out quite nicely, Ainea thought. Adisath could get a lot of exercise, and she'd be able to help train young people!


Ainea rarely spoke in her classes. It didn't take too long for the kids to get the hang of it, though some spazzed out and tried to complain. Some of them even simply quit the class in question, but most stayed and those who were iffy at first very rapidly forgot she was even mind-speaking. The other "Using Telepathy Politely" instructor (at least, the other-other one, since Hollis taught one period, Molly d'Ouberville the middle, and ...) Darkhanis Paveh thought she had an excellent 'teaching voice'.

He narrowed it down to Ainea's ability to focus her mind energy on just the "hearing" portion of the brain. How he could do that was pretty far out of her league, but if he was impressed with it, that was great. It meant simply that for the students, she only mentally projected her words into the parts of their brain that 'heard'. It got away from the 'stop entering my brain without permission' area, which was why Paveh and the others taught the class in the first place.

She quickly got the hang of the ceramics kiln and equipment, but liked having someone else there to operate it. It was far too hot for her, and much too heavy to manipulate! But she used her artistic eye to help get students able to make not just simple traditional things like mugs and ashtrays, but truly blossom with little landscapes, how to use glazes (that came at least two years after her arrival though), and fine body-lined humanoid sculptures.

Ainea was really happy with her first set of graduates. After four years, having gone to and from Carramba and Abode, living essentially whenever she felt like it on either world... Ainea watched the youngest of her students finally graduate with honors and head off to an art school across the country!

The leatherworking class took off more quickly, because a lot of students who would take a course like this were more physical, and understood what it took to bring down an animal too. It didn't hurt that the Taxidermy course was taught nearby... Maybe it did. Some students were pretty grossed out by the stuffed and half-finished pieces. One of them so much so that her first project was a tarp to cover them while the other classes went on. Ainea was given permission to store a few hides and furs here, while she went home; same with home - she had about half her work spread in the ice house and Carramba!

At first it was difficult for her to teach the Rocks course, though. She had to really study along side the students for the first semester - because she didn't know the right words to describe things, at least the words which Twoarth would use. She merely knew "gold stone" and "crystal" but each different color of gem? Each type of layered rock? She questioned why Hollis would keep her in a class where she hardly knew what she was saying, but she did learn - and more, she learned to read English doing so. Scientific English at that!


It was easy for Ainea to remain in this steady cycle of events, for several eights. In fact she couldn't really say that time passed properly at Carramba. Sure, kids grew up and came and went. Whole families, in fact.

But... it never seemed like time was passing, for most of the staff. They had seen a couple of the older members of the staff retire, or even pass away. But there were newcomers to replace them, and ever-changing classes. The campus was expanded twice while Ainea worked, the dragonry itself had to warrant a makeover, and then the whole auditorium and parking area got a new look. A bigger stage and classroom area for the Auditorium meant more seating, more seating meant more people would have to park.

Every few years they did something new. There was always one or two guest speakers that ran seminars, those changed each semester or year. Ainea even held one herself, for the adults and kids - Cold Weather Survival skills. She stuck with what she knew.

One year, though, there was a big celebration. It was the school's 100th year (though... when had she arrived? The place couldn't really be that old, could it?) (it could, having been established with the City itself) and they wanted to celebrate the sheer vast number of cultures which now made the place a home.

It was to be called "Goods and Graces", a clever twist of phrase that would get people to bring items to show off, as well as traditions which they could share with others. A week long festival, not really coincidentally it was held at the begining of Winter break - when many of Twoarth's religious festivals were also being held.

Ainea was a bit in a tizzy. What could she bring? Her students were from many cultures - she had two eyeless Xeno aliens, a centaur and faun, a half-god, three Japanese Kitsune exchange students... And a bunch of kids from the local batch of human and kin people. But there were precious few elves to go around.

Before the whole thing started, however, she noticed that something had been gnawing on her mind for a while.

Shortly after she'd started working at Carramba High, within about an eight, in fact, there was another minor disaster-mixed-with-joy at Bald Mountain. Apogee had Recognized.

Now, that would normally be something to truly celebrate! On her journey back with piles of freshly dyed and cleaned hides, Ainea had heard Apogee - the chieftess of the Bald Mountain elves all this while - sobbing gently into her lifemate Squall's side. She didn't want to intrude, but gently worked her way into the den - and under the guise of applying a comforting new fur cloak, she listened to Apogee's story.

She was terrified now, of what might happen. Though this was not new: obviously Ainea had gone through the very thing with a male who already had a lovemate! But that wasn't it. Apogee, it seemed, had already had a mate and lost him, Ainea knew only that much before now. She learned more now, as Apogee spoke in fits and starts, it was more than half her life before she founded Bald Mountain. Tallow was his name, a candle maker and nomad.

Squall reminded her of him - black hair, dark skin. But on their way home from his wandering trail, Apogee's newfound life ended abruptly. A diseased longtooth cat had attacked, leaving Tallow gravely wounded, and at that moment - what bad timing, Ainea privately thought - his spirit fled to hers, and they Recognized.

That was ... almost three hundred years before now. And Apogee had gone with the idea that once she had Recognized it would not be able to happen again. How wrong, she knew now, how wrong.

But it wasn't 'wrong' really - Bowcrescent was a handsome, talented elf. And Apogee had nothing against him personally of course, it was that ...

"He promised me he'd be with me forever," Apogee whispered.

"You are afraid of losing Tallow's spark, within you," Squall said. She was much wiser than she often let on. Apogee nodded, muttering something too quietly for Ainea to hear.

Now... Now, a hand and one of eights later (that's 40 years or so) Ainea recalled that conversation clearly. It was strange, because Soulbind had grown into her own beautiful adulthood over this time period. Squall and Apogee remained together, Bowcrescent sometimes sharing their sleep furs with the pair. They were not lifemated, but Apogee had come to terms with their progeny. She even had joked about Soulbind recognizing or mating Crystalstorm, just to make things 'complete'.

The plans for the Goods and Graces festival were high on the minds of everyone at the school for a while, there would be Zekirans and Demons, furries from various planets, aliens and locals.

In the few hours before everyone was to pack up for the holiday, Ainea noticed a particular man in the teacher's lounge of the arts building.

He would be bringing his favorite students work to the festival - along with other things, but his Cake! class certainly did have an appeal! How this skinny man could pack away treat after treat and not balloon out into obesity, Ainea had no idea.

He elegantly sat with his kimono perfect and his hair unmoving, sipping tea with one finger lifted (that human spare finger of theirs) and a forkfull of tort in the other hand. She sat near him, and cleared her throat as best she could. She hesitated to touch his mind, there were things he would simply spill out in polite conversation that weren't meant to be heard - she hardly wanted to dive directly into his mind to hear more!

"Oh yes, dear! Haven't you had this cake? It's delightful." Ainea helped herself to a bit, and discovered it was indeed all that good. "But cake is not why you want to talk with me, is it." His voice was always lyrical, always sounding more like the elfin speech than gutteral and harsh human-words.

But no matter what he sounded like, his words more often than not either cut to the bone, or completely eluded the subject at hand.

"I would like to speak with you," Ainea said quietly (she couldn't speak loudly even if she tried), "about ... something totally insane and bizarre, but..."

"My dear, I specialize in bizarre. Insanity, perhaps," he flitted his fingers, a tiny smile coming to his painted lips.

"I want... to create a ... a child, sir." Ainea said. Shy's eyebrows arched and then his face went back to its normal porcelain mask of politeness.

"Well that is not very difficult--"

"No, I mean... not my child. It's not to be mine, I ... need... you to make me... Well, I have heard students talk about your... genetic procurement class. How it works, and how you make things with the samples you gather."

That was doubtless the most speech her tiny lips had passed in her entire life.

Shy's tilted head indicated she continue.

"And... it's for a friend, the chieftess of the elves. She... she lost the chance to have this child, but now I know what's been bothering me since the day I heard about it."

Now, she failed at words, so she had to telepathically connect. Shy's mind was as guarded as his exterior, she found, which was good. She spilled a strange story - Tallow, dead and buried, Apogee, alive and well with another child, but a spirit mind of a child that was meant to be with her the first time around.

That spirit child seemed to be calling to Ainea for some reason. The tiniest of sparks, now burning again. Was she lost? Had she ever really existed? Elfin souls grew from the moment of Recognition - or merely the moment of conception for those elves who were born outside of the magical genetic pull. This all intrigued Shy greatly.

"There will be Zekirans," he suggested, standing, "I would say you should ask one of them to find this spirit. This ... dead elf. That may be a problem. You've never even seen him."

It was true, but Ainea had a plan now. "If you can ... if you can get the sample you need of Apogee's blood, I can bring you what you need from Tallow. And..." She gulped, "and I will bear the child myself. If that's ... something ... you can arrange?"

"Oh this is cake," Shy said, "it's simple, and delicously complicated at the same time. And no, dear this is hardly as complex as some births I've done, so no worries. You just bring this Apogee to me, and I'll have something to work with. Find the spirit, bring me your ... portion," he said that so oddly - and Ainea didn't care for how he looked at her when he said it, "and we will work on this child you wish to deliver."


Ainea came back to Bald Mountain as she usually did, that day. With Adisath's neck-pack loaded with nicely done furs (this year it was definitely furs - it would be a very chill winter), and a smile on her face.

But there was something about how she pulled Squall aside, asking her questions. Would there be a way to bring Apogee and some others to the school? Of course! But weirder things: would there be a way to make sure that Apogee... well, lost blood at some point?

"What a very strange thing to ask," Squall said, flatly.

I know, but... it is important. I think you will want to know though I do not think I should say. You are too close to her, and... might...

"I would give it away, of course," Squall said. Apogee was on a long flight, patrolling around the human encampments like she'd always enjoyed. No one ever questioned it, she loved Humans and had always thought better of them than some believed they deserved. "It must be very important." Ainea nodded. Squall grinned, half-serious. "Well I could always have our dragons talk to each other and--"

No! Ainea laughed, but Squall sensed the seriousness in her tone. Just bring her to the exhibits, where... oh - someone said there's an embroidery booth. That would do perfectly... Squall wasn't sure what embroidery was, but if it'd draw some blood on her Lifemate, that's all the weird northern elf wanted.

After Ainea announced that there was to be this festival, it turned out a lot of the elves wanted to go. After all it was going to be a cold winter - and spending a few days at a place known for its sunny beach and smiling people, who could pass that up! Ainea told them her own Abodean booth would have things shaped by magic, and gear for survival.

Apogee herself chimed in, "there is a girl in the village," she meant human village, "that carves wonderful dolls. Do you think she could come? I don't know if any human has ever been out of this world... I think it's time they started."

And it was true: Apogee had two of the little carvings - they were made from wood, bone, leather and feathers. They were expertly carved, detailed with such lovely adornments that the elves actually appreciated their workmanship.

I think Nivoan would be able to take her safely, Ainea said, oddly a moment later she switched to words spoken from her lips, "After all I don't want to leave him at home for this."

"Oh -" Apogee said, tilting her head. Her short cut hair always stood up straight from the back of her head, and made even Ainea giggle when she did that. "You're speaking now?"

"A little more," Ainea said. "I practice at work, the children like to hear me speak more than with my mind," which was only a half-truth. "And I want to practice a bit for the festival." Which was whole truth. "You should arrange it with her tribe."

While Apogee did that, it cleared the air a little for Ainea. She summoned Nivoan from his wintery nook beside her home - and promised him that she would be spending the year after next at home the whole time. A planned break - well, one she was going to have to remember to talk to Cybil Qeats about. After all, she couldn't fly between or through the Nexus while pregnant.


The festival went very well - the Abodean crafts table did a good business, though several linguists had to be on hand to translate because very few people knew elfin-speech, and not every elf it seemed, could mind-speak to other species.

The human girl, Parha, had come with her parents - they would not allow her to go somewhere completely unattended by her own people after all. But they were swept up with the grandeur of the whole thing just as much as the girl was. Shortly it became apparent that their daughter would want to stay on at Carramba.

And they didn't think that would be an issue at all. It was the first after all, the first time they'd gone off world, and certainly a huge step toward understanding the immensity of the multiverse.

Maybe, Apogee announced that evening, "it would be the start of some wider peace between Humans and elves on Abode. They're ... well, they're going to breed themselves right up to everyone's necks."

"Ah, your people are just too slow at it!" Said Parha's father, laughing. "You have the eyes of a wild creature, but somewhere you lost the --"

He was smacked suddenly by his wife, "do not even start saying that, it's not polite at all!"

Everyone knew exactly what he was going to say, and laughed anyway. Ainea watched this with interest. And she noted that Shy was nearby, also watching.

She slipped away, and wasn't really noticed, because they were two professors talking at a school.

"That is her, Squall said she would go with her to the embroidery table, and probably manage to poke herself without being nudged." Ainea said. Shy nodded.

"Now, about this spirit child..." He said, looking around as though he could see such things. He did however spot a person he knew could help. His coy look was almost echoed on the face of a fabulously beautiful - and extremely tall - woman.

"Mirage," Shy said, bowing low and taking her elegant white hand to kiss it. "This is such a pleasure."

"I know it is, Shy," Mirage said, her eyes were merry and trustful - she trusted this man? No one 'trusted' Shy! "And you are Ainea, correct? I've heard about your furs and leather works. Perhaps tomorrow you should show me some. I have climbing in cold weather to do."

She led Ainea off to a more quiet area of the festival grounds. Things went on full time, what couldn't be seen or done during broad daylight (like, the vampire demonstrations...) was done in the shade of evening. Mirage was just...

"You are so pretty," Ainea breathed, and Mirage laughed again. It wasn't a mocking laugh - it was genuine. What was more, Ainea knew she herself was older than many of the staff and certainly all the humans in attendance. But this woman... She was ancient. New, new in body, but positively ancient in spirit.

Ainea spoke mentally, privately, and explained the situation. Mirage nodded, her periwinkle eyes narrowing in thought. "Since I have been ... reborn again, my old powers have returned to me much more strongly than they had while I was first alive. So yes, let me see..."

She glanced around, and apparently saw numerous spirits, but none that matched the description of this missing child.

Perhaps on Abode? Ainea bespoke. Mirage nodded. She had her own dragons, but Adisath would do for their trip.

Ainea concentrated longer than expected. We are not going right back to the Holt, I would like to do something different. With that, they entered the Nexus, and went back in time slightly. To just before Ainea had met up with the Bald Mountain elves. Now that they were on the world, it was easier for Adisath to flip them to the place she wanted: Twin Peaks.

It was there, she considered, that the spirit child would have gone. Apogee had spoken - very briefly - about the feeling of being 'haunted' by her unborn daughter. Mirage herself stated clearly - mentally - There are many spirits here, Ainea. Many died here.

Yes, I know. Twin Peaks suffered in a ground-quake many eights before I met Apogee. Some of the survivors became her tribe at Bald Mountain.

"Ah," Mirage said. "I ... can almost see... someone." She closed her eyes, and felt around. Whether it was magic or something more, Mirage was good at it. She singled one out - who had not died as a result of the collapse. Who had, it seemed, never quite been a child.

Mirage 'shared' the thought with Ainea. The elf immediately knew: this was that child. This... would be her gift to Apogee. For everything that the chieftess had done - collecting a tribe, uniting human with elf, bringing dragons to their world with her... This would be the gift that only she could imagine giving.

"Mirage, hold on to her, keep her with you."

"I can do that, she seems attached anyway." Mirage said, and glanced around. "Now where?"

Since we are here, I may as well try finding Tallow. Her father.

"But..." Mirage said, "but he's dead, you said so."

Ainea turned a bit on the dragon, Mirage sat behind her on the sleek white-silver's back. "But so were you, Mirage. You said so."


I've never been so sneaky - oh, maybe I have, Mirage thought to Ainea. They had returned back in time a little, and through careful trial and error flying around in the wintry sky, had spied in on some extremely private moments. But it looked as though there was never going to be a chance to actually just... up and swipe something from Tallow - Mirage might have been able to wipe his mind clean of any encounters but there would be noise, and Apogee would have known.

He's very talented, Mirage commented, the candles, I mean!

Ainea almost lost her silence, stifling a giggling embarrassed laugh as they watched (well, as they snuck peeks waiting for the pair to be done) Tallow and Apogee in the snow. Surrounded by candles, they didn't blow out in the wind, they were beautiful.

I feel terrible seeing these moments, we're not meant to see them. Ainea said. We need to head back, farther back I think. To before they met. It would be easist - he is a wanderer after all. How many elves could he have met before this?

Plenty, I'm sure, that's a good idea.

Adisath picked up the male elf's scent - it was easy to note because he carried a strange-smelling torch that kept bugs away. She'd be able to find that scent again, no problem.

They swept away during a bit of loud wind, unnoticed. Ainea asked, Mirage, when this is done, I mean - when the child is born, I need you to remove those intimate moments. It's not fair that I have seen that, I'm not Apogee, she was so in love with him. And here I'm to ... carry her child. It's so odd. But I don't want to keep those memories so clear.

"That's very noble of you," Mirage said over the wind, "I can do that, but I won't take them all away. I know what you want me to do, I've done it before with others. Usually it's a more traumatic experience to be done away with. I can... unattach them from your emotions. You will remember them, but they aren't going to be something important."

So they flew off, Ainea nudging Adisath into the plains where Tallow was supposedly from. There were elves there, of course - few in number, and very scattered. They didn't actually even have to locate him specifically - from above far away, they spotted a large tent surrounded by eights of carts, hoof-beasts, and travellers.

"If he's anywhere, he'll be there, I wonder when this is," Mirage said. She didn't know - this was almost two hundred years before their last jaunt, Adisath was that good at this by now. Travel between Abode and Carramba was making it quite easy for her to spot things like stars, weather, icecaps. Twin Peaks very far behind them would be in full swing, seven generations of elves already having been there, and some came from this very gathering.

Adisath landed behind a hill, and the women dismounted. "It looks as though humans are there, but I don't think I would fit in very well among them," Mirage stated. She was human in appearance outright, but she was quite a lot taller than even a well-built Abodean human, and particularly taller than any female around. She was Zekiran, in other words - and though she was perfect, Ainea also didn't want that perfection to linger in anyone's minds.

Yes, I go alone. Adisath you keep Mirage company, and if you need to hunt, do it in the future. Thus, Ainea took a pack of her furs (she always had something, Adisath almost never took off the neck-pack any more, and felt unbalanced without it) and would be able to trade too, with these wild plains-born elves and humans.


Ainea came back from the encampment looking fairly elated. Her pack was much lighter, she now carried certain twines, odd dark clay-like subsances, pitch and several other smaller things in jars. The humans of the plains were far more advanced than those found elsewhere, they traded and they were exceptional at languages in addition to their hardy craftwork.

"They said this would keep the bugs off, it's the same stuff I saw Tallow trading for earlier. I was thinking ... it could be reintroduced to the Holt. I'll give it to ... Well, whatever her name will be, she'll have it." Ainea packed down the things, and glanced at Mirage, whose expectant look made her laugh even harder.

Oh, yes, I got that too. You'd be surprised, Mirage, he really is talented.

They went immediately back to Carramba, hardly half an hour after leaving, though it had been more than a hand of days for the dragon and women.

Mirage located Shy first, he was yet again packing away more of the sweet treats his Cake! class was known for. She swiped a piece for herself and another for Ainea, and they went off to the labs.

Shy became a lot more professional, suddenly. The moment the lights went on in the genetic labs, he all but shifted into a new persona. He straightened things out, made sure that everything he needed was there, and -

Was stopped by a grey-skinned hand. Darkhanis Paveh. Ainea went pale, for though he was a brilliant professor and a rather kindly man in general, she was hardly even the size of one of his legs, let alone coming up to his broad waist. And when he was somewhat angry - as he was right now - he was truly terrifying. Ainea got the impression that he might make a great stand-in for the Humans god named Gotara...

"Now, what exactly is going on here tonight?" He asked, glancing at Mirage and narrowing his orange-colored eyes. "Mirage? What have you--"

"Darkhanis..." She breathed. It was very odd to her - because 'her' Darkhanis had perished nearly two million years before. She was encountering one from a separate timeline, one whose world included dragons and the like. She recovered quickly. "Darkhanis, you know Ainea." She considered a moment, and as Shy was helping Ainea onto the table nearby, decided to simply blurt out, "Ainea will be carrying a child, with the spirit that I hold right now. It's a gift, to a tribemate of hers. This was the only way to get this child born, she was lost - or never made - long ago."

There was clearly some kind of quick mental speech going on between she and he, Zekirans were intensely psionic and these two certainly among the strongest of their species. Darkhanis' bushy dark-grey eyebrows went up, then down, and then he nodded. "Well then I'll leave you to this, you'll want some privacy."

He was just about to leave when Ainea's soft voice said, "one might wonder what you were doing here this late after a school event, professor," and chuckled as he paused, dipped his head slightly, and slipped away.


Ainea wasn't embarrassed about the weird process that she went through to get Tallow's seed from her, and then put back in her along with a quickly assembled 'starter' egg belonging to Apogee. It hadn't been hard, indeed, to get Apogee's blood sample. She was absolutely miserable at sewing. Claiming that she'd done lots of leather work - which was true - but leather work required a heavier, more forceful hand. So she jabbed herself good a few times, before someone finally took the cloth and fine silken thread away from her. Squall was there to gather the blood droplets. She'd found Shy a while later, and while she wanted to see what was going to happen with them, she knew perfectly well she wouldn't 'get it'. Plus, she'd be missed in the sleep den.

It took all night, Shy worked rapidly but it was a few hours before there were results good enough for him to use. Mirage had done this before: she'd been there for Summoner, Scintilla, Splash, Scarlett, Saber, Serpentina and Somebody. Removing six unruly spirits from one shapeshifter's body, and putting them in separate newly created flesh. To her, this was something she could actually get used to doing.

To Shy, this was life. This was what it was supposed to be: beauty and science and messy sex all in one.

By midday on the second day of the Goods and Graces festival, then, Ainea begged out of attending claiming she was overwhelmed by the crowds, and she headed back to her dorm in the Staff housing area. She wasn't alone: Darkhanis showed up, just to be with her and ask her questions. As a genetic engineer he was top of the line, and as a sneaky spy, he was even better. He could shapeshift - he might have even been around when no one realized it. But he was also a Breeder, a man whose life wasn't complete until he saw the next baby born, healthy.

Zekirans were like that, really. Ainea was happy that he took an interest, because she did not want to go through this alone. She couldn't risk there being too much contact beween she and the tribe, because enough of the near-first-comer elves there would easily be able to detect her pregnancy. They'd ask questions. Or worse, they'd presume and speak boldly.

"How are you going to arrange it, then..." Darkhanis asked, sipping at the tea which she'd brought from Abode - it was spicy, something like you'd find on a talented cook's shelf. "You will be able to move on your dragon only so long."

I know, Ainea thought, and I've been working out a plan. It's mostly the second half that I can't fly between. I could go to the Healing Den, but then there might be a time when another elf would be there, see me, mess it up.

"So, you'll stay here," Darkhanis said. Ainea nodded, but then put her tea down.

"I'll stay here, but I'll do more in the meantime. You are not yet a dragon rider, are you Lord Breeder?"

Darkhanis shook his head. "Sadly, no, but I... Oh no, I don't know if I could ..."

Ainea smiled, sly. "I was not going to ask you to pretend to be me, shapeshifter," she laughed. "But if you can be someone else, or something else..."


So on and off for the first year of Ainea's second pregnancy, she taught, tanned, and worked. She returned to Abode regularly, but also she brought Darkhanis to her home and showed him around. He was so huge, Humans rarely stepped into her homestead, and it was a bit low-ceilinged even for a regular man. A Zekiran like him, hardly able to fully stretch upwards!

Nivoan will be able to fly you, but he cannot be seen either. He is good at hiding, I've found. Like the glare off water in the sun, you see him but you avoid looking right at him sometimes.

"A shame," Darkhanis said, "he's a good looking dragon."

Nivoan gave a little happy bugle.

Darkhanis would pose as a wandering human, knowing that Apogee would be all right with one or two strays around. He didn't have to be there the whole time, which was fine, and Darkhanis would get some interesting time on a new planet. Nivoan would be able to teleport him to Carramba, where he too would be able to run his classes and do normal things.

But they did have to work out a kind of schedule. Because what they were doing, was sending Darkhanis into the future on Abode, having him scout around and sense what the elves were up to, and then sending Ainea back to those times so it looked like she was there the whole time.

And at last, when Ainea could no longer properly presume to go between, she asserted that she needed to go home. She was beginning to show, she'd be needing those old-old maternity clothes again! She was on official leave from Carramba for a full year, she'd be back soon enough.

She had plenty of furs and hides to work on, and this time brought a good number of books on stones, geology and archaeological techniques to brush up on for her courses. She didn't expect anyone to want to come up and visit her, as she'd already visited the Bald Mountain Holt.

Ainea could feel the occasions when she was in two places at once. She'd be half-asleep tending the little lichen garden and then get the weirdest sensation of vertigo - was she talking? Oh yes, to Granite about that brilliant red stone he'd gotten. She hunted, flew around, acted reasonably normal.

But she was here in her ice-house as well. Thick-furred cloak and bundled nicely, she moved around her home and tried to do everything she could to bless this child within her.

She sent, she spoke, she couldn't sing but she could sway with music provided by a little wind-up box that someone had sent with her. "What shall your name be, little one? What will everyone think?"

Of course it wasn't all idylic and tame. There was a terrible ice storm that blew half a dragon-height of snow over the whole den, it would take eights of days to get rid of that. Nivoan and Adisath had to do all the hunting, because neither of them wanted Ainea out in this weather let alone trying to hunt in it.

And the few times when, alone and a little sad because she herself hadn't been able to speak or see anyone in quite some time (she'd gotten used to being around people, at least a little, and after that long at Carramba there was an ache in her heart to get back to what she did very well), she had doubts.

What if Apogee didn't want this child? What if she refused to have her in the Holt? What if the rest of the tribe didn't want to see her again?

But it was the gentle warmth of the baby herself who calmed Ainea at those times. Though she didn't send thoughts, the child knew worry from happiness, and vastly preferred her host to be happy.


Adisath took the initiative, and Nivoan came along just in case others were needed. He was bigger than Adisath, by a bit, and could carry another one or two people more. Ainea was going to have the baby shortly, and someone needed to be there to help.

Shy and Darkhanis, of course, were the ones which the dragons sought out. They were patient, waiting in the dragon field for the time when the classes let out. Some of the students recognized the dragons and chatted with them, but the dragons were distracted.

Mirage came along as well - though where she'd been that she was ready to travel at this point they didn't know. She wasn't instructing at Carramba, she was on Planet Twenty most of the time. But ... There she was. "Are you kidding," she told Ainea when they arrived, "I wouldn't miss this for anything. I helped you bring this baby into being, after all! I'm like her auntie!"

"How many children have you actually born, Mirage?" Shy asked, and Mirage slapped him hard on the shoulder.

"Thirty eight and some from splices," she muttered, "but that was before I was dead. I've had a couple since then."

"You wear it all so well," Darkhanis said, praising Mirage was something anyone could do, at any time, and be true.

They gathered in the very-close den, Mirage gathering water from the hot springs in the other section of the ice-house, and bringing out some towels they'd swiped from Carramba's restrooms. Shy was oh-so interested in this, Ainea was doing perfectly well bearing down, and the birth itself would be just fine. He examined the baby as she popped out - it was fast, faster than her first child, and while not painless exactly, Ainea was overjoyed to see the dark-haired and ruddy-skinned girl at last.

Mirage helped clean her off, Darkhanis made sure Ainea was not bleeding too much and was settled properly to rest up. The girl made little noise, a pleasant cooing at most.

"She's lovely," Mirage said, "and she will be extremely talented. Odd, I didn't think that Tallow had all that much magical power. He definitely did, but it was more... subtle."

The trio looked at Shy, who pursed his lips and gave a clucking sound. "Oh you know I'd have to do something, that elf girl had almost nothing genetically that couldn't be enhanced a little. Just a little!"

It would be years before the child would develop any powers, really, but for the warmth that she already gave off. Fire starting? Perhaps, but more likely something akin to fire shaping. Her father's magic wasn't wholly about flames - but it was enough to work with that Shy expanded it a little. And it was not normally possible for an elf of Abode to do what this girl could - eventually...

"Now... Should we name her here, or wait for Apogee to do so?" Mirage asked, "and did you want us all to come along?"

"I can't do it alone," Ainea said. She held 'her' baby, lovingly but knowing that soon, quite soon, she'd be merely a wet-nurse. But to see the magic in her golden eyes, Ainea knew she'd done the right thing.


Continued on Starbright's page!


About 20 years later...

Ainea had grown bold enough and confident enough in her abilities, to decide that now was the time to begin actively looking for her old tribe, the Ice Gliders. She'd heard from numerous travelers and arrivals to the Holt that there were 'strange elves with ice magic' here and there. It must be them. Her dragons kept a sharp eye and mind out, and one day they were rewarded with a ping - there were people out there, not in any great need but definitely not where they ought to be remaining.

The ice shaper asked if both dragons would be willing to come along, and of course they agreed. Adisath proudly picked up her rider and swept into the sky, and Nivoan led the search. They didn't have to go terribly far, actually, but it was directly into quite a storm.

When they were close enough, Ainea could feel a distinct tingle - an elf mind, to which she called out strongly, Remain where you are, I can find you more easily! She felt a response, curiosity, wonder, and relief tinting it.

And finally she did spot them, clustered together in the very slight shelter provided by a large stone outcrop. In this wind and sleet any hint of relief from the storm was fleeting at best, the winds moved abruptly in different directions. The two dragons settled with their wings out, mantling the group and their rider, suddenly offering the only true break from the wind. There, she realized that at least one of the group of Ice Gliders and GoBacks was familiar to her, Aoku, from her ... prior life in their wandering tribe.

He related their story after her banishment from that tribe, and she took them all to Bald Mountain. Eventually more stories would be traded, secrets exposed, and a new life started among these riders. She didn't stop looking for other elves, though, because she knew they were out there, somewhere.


Shall we return, I liked it there, it has been a while.

It's been forever for me, I have not seen this place yet.

Adisath tilted her head and realized it was true, her long-time companion had never been there? They had dallied closer and closer to becoming mates, they had long been what the elves might consider 'siblings in all but blood', but were hardly related. Now, perhaps, they could head back to Adisath's birthplace.

You have markings similar to mine, too, she chuckled, I have often wondered where they came from if not the Flurry sands.

The slightly larger male preened himself, more cat-like than fox, but that was what he was meant to remind one of. The long fluffy ears, and the anklet fur was as plush as any fox tail, Adisath had noticed that long before. She had another mate once, at an early Flurry. Now, bringing herself back there would be thrilling. So many others would show off their talents and icy shine.

Nivoan was quiet, stealthy, but sensible. Adisath was eager to meet and greet new dragons and find older ones that might perhaps have been in her era there. It would be quite an adventure, as they came along with Whitesnow, recently from the Flurry before this. They did leave and arrive during the evening and night time, that Nightmourner blood in Whitesnow caused her sensitivity. But they could easily follow where she both flew and teleported, those brilliant vanes and her magic left a luminescent trail that dragons could all but smell!


Male, Crystal-Grey Winter Fox dragon from Lantessama

Size: small but not too small, 'blue' equivalent

No known bloodline

Adisath (African: One who is clear)

Silver White Flurry, Ryslen Flurry 2001

Size: likely around 'small green' to 'green' Pernese

Parents: White Allotyth (no known lineage) & Silver Tuveth (Undasheth + Umuminaenth )