What we know thus far... from Julienne's mind...
Sometimes when I stand very still and it’s been hours since the last rift was sealed I can almost catch clear glimpses of who I must have been before. Maybe those shimmering images are all in my hopeful mind, and perhaps they’re just leftover glimmers of someone else that used to live in this body before I was ripped from the soulstream and repurposed by my people.
My name is Julienne and I’m an Eth. My world is nearing it’s end if myself and the others like me who are called Ascended and who were also stripped from another time after we’d died to be brought here and reanimated with special abilities cannot find a way to combat the trouble someone else started with unwise choices and even less wise reactions to their outcomes.
Telara is in her end if we cannot stop the ever-increasing rifts that are being torn from other planes into our world and if we cannot stop the forces of Regulos and the persistent and ignorant masses of dragon cultists who combat for control over all that we are and can become.
One of the images that clings long after the few quiet moments when I can stand overlooking this magnificent world where I live in silence and just survey is of bright golden sand and hot sunlight that makes everything shimmer like fine gems all around me.
I’m laughing and floating high above the sands in a glittering bubble of magic and a man is there with me, so familiar that I can nearly smell him out of time. His long flowing robes are the golden color of captured sunlight and his smell is of sawdust and flowers and electricity, as though anyone anywhere could imagine something so silly. His hands are soft, not warrior’s hands, and his eyes are wise and the palest blue of the sky right where it meets the sand on the far horizon all around us, and in them I am admired and loved and cherished and desired and the sense of aloneness steals over me and I am again in this rift torn world where I am so many years from that fantasy that it is nothing at all.
Perhaps I was loved once by a powerful man who did not fight as I do in the faces of his enemies and covered in their blood and splattered marrow. Now I have purpose again and until I have served that purpose I cannot return to the stream and find out if that love might have survived to the ever-after that is promised us all in death. Until I was brought back into this time and place I hadn’t really given much thought to any ever after at all, I’ll be honest.
I have never been one for the romantic ideals of a world guided by omniscient all-powerful entities that choose like fickle children when they interact and when they do not interact with their creations. Even in my fantasy recollections or daydreams I have always been a woman of purpose, intellect and free will unbound by anyone else’s whims or words.
Defiant’s have no King or Queen. No high rulers or Chieftains. We have a Commander, and we have a Leader, and he is no one’s King or Prince or legislator of right and wrong. We do not bend our knees to the stars of ancient stories or to deities with altars built in their names. We are a people of action and of devotions of another sort altogether, and we are greater in our freedoms than any people will ever be in the bondage of absolute devotion to ancient ideals and leaders without voices that call for admiration and prayer as a method of finding solutions.
I’m only here because some vain fools thought to dabble in technology beyond themselves and their Gods or ideals and managed to tear the world into a fight for her very survival. The Eth involved is contemptible, in spite of being my leader. How a Mathosian could have done something so ignorant after the lesson my own people brought to Telara and their sworn abhorrence of it, I’ll never really understand in my mind. Some thoughts just don’t have conclusions and that’s alright, in the greater scheme of things.
In my heart I know he did it to have what he wanted and that the outcome was as far from his mind as it was from his imagination. I am Telaran, after all, and as different as our ideologies might be, we are genetically very alike, the Mathosian and the Eth inhabitants of this planet. Without our passion and drive and ambitions there would be nothing here to save in any corner of our world.
The sun has dipped behind the walls of our great capital city, and in the moments before the gray fades to black, the stone glows pink around her edges as though buffed by some greater power. The light makes everyone around me seem ill-defined and hazy, as though this is really the dream and those crystal clear moments of imagined memory are the reality where I belong instead of this hard lovely place so far from familiar that it is foreign and uncomfortable at the best of times.
A warm muzzle lifts my gloved hand and the massive beauty of my friend and best companion pulls me from my daze. “Stratus, you beautiful cat.” He loves when I use his name, and in the lingering effect of my thoughts I find myself wondering for the thousandth time if the plane we ripped him from lives in his heart as a place he longs to return to, or if, like me, he accepts this new destiny and enjoys the challenge, no matter how alone he is without others of his old life.
The constantly shifting blues and purples of his eyes seem to scold me for being sentimental and his lips lift, showing his perfectly white and fiercely capable fangs just before he licks my face from jaw to nose and makes the oddly comforting rumble in his chest that I’ve chosen to believe is a purr, and not the more menacing growl it really resembles.
“Of course you love the challenge, my beautiful companion.” I ruff his fur and we turn back from the outer walls and towards the city center that was behind us. “Come, Stratus. Lets find you something to play with in the Highlands. I hear there’s a lot of rift activity out there that calls for a guy possessing your particular set of skills.”
“Do you often talk to your cat?”
I almost didn’t even glance over my shoulder. I’ve become accustomed to the odd stares of others who find the friendship between Stratus and myself to be a little strange. I might not be the woman I am today if I’d ignored him and kept on walking.
And instead I glanced over my shoulder to say some cutting thing and stopped so abruptly that Stratus collided with my leg and nearly bowled me over.
Sometimes thought cannot answer what a person knows. There are just things that are so much a part of you that you cannot help but accept them, regardless of what others might think or say if you tried to explain. My partnership with my cat, an equal to me in every way including intellect, is one of these things I choose to accept without question. And recognizing a man out of time that mattered more to me than myself is another.
It was his eyes. Eyes I’d just held in my mind in an almost scornful longing. These were not eyes that beheld me in desire and love and equality, and they were the same eyes in the same angular once-handsome face that was now just passing it’s prime.
“I…” He seemed as affected as I felt and Stratus gave a low rumble that I quelled with a light hand on the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, I was teasing.”
“It’s ok.” I shrugged. “Stratus doesn’t eat Telarans. Not Ascended or otherwise. He has a taste for things that come through the rifts.”
“You speak as though he’s told you this.” His voice was so similar and familiar to me that my heart pounded in my chest.
“In his own ways Stratus is more clear with me than anyone else. And I speak to him because he is often the only one still around when it’s all said and done.” I extended my hand and knew that it was not as steady as it should have been. “I’m just Julienne.”
His lids fluttered over his flawlessly crystline blue eyes and I knew he was finding another way to say something that had come to his mind, as though I’d spent a lifetime seeing him do exactly that same thing, and again Stratus gave that unnerving low rumbling growl that had always meant trouble I could not see was dangerously near. “Well, Just, I’m Leopold. May I call you Julienne?”
I stroked Stratus’ head mildly and smiled. “Yes. By just I mean I am only Julienne. No titles no affiliations and no family name.”
“I’m an Ascended like yourself, Julienne. And I’m Leopold and only that. I sense I should know more about you though, and you’re the first person in the weeks since I was brought to this time that holds that curiously familiar feeling.”
“I’d have to say the same to yourself, Leopold.” And so this strange new alliance I find myself in today began. Just that simply. I rode with him overland from Freemarch all the way across the dangers of two torn countrysides and through weeks that turned into months of constant combat and near-death so that the pair of us could be here together on the hills looking down into the entrance of the Moonshade Highlands.
Leopold is a Druid of some fairly amazing ability, I discovered just a few hours after meeting him. He has some very powerful ability to heal when it’s called on, and his cleric’s abilities are pointed all at the special combat of a man whose power is drawn from the energy of the life around him. He is a man of few words when there is more than one person to hear him speak, and his humor is often as dry as his social skills would appear to be. His hands are soft and he doesn’t wear robes, and he smells here as often as not of leather and sawdust and plants because some of what we were is always going to leak through to who we are today, even if it’s years and miles and whole generations separated by a Telaran tragedy that creates it’s own miracles of technology.
He doesn’t look on me with those eyes from the daydreams that still steal me from time to time, Leopold has his own way of looking at me and his own gentle ways to keep me strong. He is my friend and my companion and the four of us, my Cat, my Druid friend and his little faery called Catherine, we are all moving through the world one rift at a time in search of a time when we can be laid to rest and return to those places where we were from before we came here. He is the one friend who knows my heart as clearly as Stratus and my new sweet little Nimbus do.
I like to believe that for Leopold I am as important, and since he’s never said I have to hold it in evidence that he has had many opportunities to travel with companions who are not always covered in the gore of their enemies and near the point of death as often as not. He has never taken them and that’s as telling as the words he might use. It is certainly true that on more than one occasion he has shared a view with me in the same almost sentimental silence without a need to fill the discomfort of rediscovering a world he’d once known with needless chatter or strange boisterous jokes the way others are wont to do.
(more to come... excerpted from a work in progress by Ruth Hinman... all rights reserved)