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And so it was, that this one small group of High Ones made their first decision on the world which had become a place of exile. And Var drew them away from the others, believing that it was wiser for the remaining elves to stay in groups, so as to try different paths to survival. Across the mountains he led them, then slanted eastward, ever seeking a place of safety, a place of peace ... where, perhaps, they could seek to regain their selves, to regain their fire, their power ..

But in those first years, there was little time for such goals, and less energy. There were other lessons that had to be learned. Lessons of survival. Watching his friends starving on a diet of only plants, with their seasonal scarcities, Var learned one of the hardest lessons -- to kill. For food. And taught Tayalli, Maelin, and Soriaythek, the only other Firstcomers who could fight down their deep-seated revulsion enough to take up crude weapons to give death.

They learned. And learned not only of the world, but re-learned themselves. That Tayalli had a bright and reckless courage, and a quickly-learned skill for skulking, which she used to observe the beasts of the world, including those who walked upright. That Maelain could search backward through their clouded memories to answer questions, to discover ways of surviving that they had observed on uncounted other worlds. That Soriaythek could unerringly find the best shelter, whether that was ancient pine or hidden cave. And Liria, so tormented by the world, discovered that physical sensitivity could mean not only torment, but with another, could bring exquisite pleasure.

And so, they survived. Meanly, for the most part, skirting starvation too often, replacing shredded, finely-woven clothing for badly-cured and sewn-together skins. They were in misery much of the time, save when they clung to each other seeking comfort. Yet, they all survived, even Kayeer, whose awareness seemed permanently lost in the chaotic memories of the Fall. And, as their physical skills slowly improved, there was no reason to believe that they couldn't continue to survive.

But something was missing.

They were aware of that, when they had a moment to think past mere survival.

Not that they had many moments ...

Var leaned over the young buck he had just slain, trembling in every muscle. If only he did not have to share! But it had been an eight-day since anyone had brought down a beast. With the white-cold season beginning to stroke its cold hands across the forest, every bit of meat they could take was needed, before the winds started howling in earnest. But the surest way to a kill was the use of what shreds of magic were left to him. But to use it so --! It was kinder to the animal; capturing its mind with his gaze, stilling it, freeing it of pain or fear. But what it did to him! He could not keep from feeling the beast's death; a swirling, sucking void that threatened to trigger the chaos held far back in his mind. The chaos of memories of terror and death. The remembering of the night that had shattered a universe.

Opening his eyes, Var shifted the shaped-stone knife in his shaking hand, preparing to slit the deer's throat. But, from behind him, a slender hand covered his. **Daleur will return the blood,** sent Maelain, touching his head with her other hand. **And will prepare the deer's body. You need me.** He tried to resist her, pulling away. **The task is mine. I slew the deer.** But he was still shaking too hard to prevent her from pulling him to his feet and guiding him to one side of the trampled clearing. And his legs had no strength; when she sank down, he, perforce, went with her. Hands about his face, Maelin gently turned his tear-streaked face to hers. **Should we not share in the burden?** she asked. **The deer's death will feed us all.**

With a shudder of revulsion, Var crumpled against her, fresh tears searing his face. **Why must we kill?! I can barely abide what I do, but that to watch my friends starve is worse! But to cause the dying, the pain, to feel it --! Sometimes, I wish I were like the humans, to not feel a creature's pain!**

Her thoughts wrapped around his with a warm serenity he could never seem to match. **And if you lost that sensitivity, then what would become of you -- and us? You know why we must kill -- it is part of the world's pattern. We shaped ourselves to it, and must live by it, if we are to survive long enough to return to the Palace, and the stars.**

**But what if we can never return?** Var's fear flared, and Maelin trembled with her own. **So few of us, and fewer yet --! Maelin, I can feel the call of the Palace fading, and it is not just the distance we have come! It fades, and our kind dies! Even if we ever do learn to control our magic and all come together again, will we be enough to escape? Those in spirit will help, but what if it is not enough? What if we can never leave?! Then we will have killed and killed, for nothing! For nothing!**

Maelin flinched, unable to contain his terrible fear and despair, which he had kept hidden from her. Her own fears, so carefully hidden beneath the love and courage that gave her the strength to face each day, flared in response, she could not help it! Without meaning it, her thoughts joined with his, and an unvoiced cry rose from their minds, rising, spiraling outward. Daleur gasped, and fell into the spell, unable to resist the rising tide. Despair raced outward, washed over the two in the cave, pulled them in, then continued on ...

Something shattered. Kayeer found himself staring at fists stained and darkened with a black-brown dirt and warmed by yellow sunlight. Voices were screaming in despair in his mind. It hurt. He projected a query, wanting to know what was wrong, who were screaming. The screams battered aside his sending, unaware of his touch. He felt more pain. Something was terribly wrong. Bracing himself, the High One snapped outward with all of his mental strength. Stop! They were hurting him! They should stop, and tell him what was wrong, so he could help them!

The screaming stopped. There was silence within, except for one very soft sob. Kayeer puzzled. Why was no one sending? Or ... were they? There was something just beyond his awareness,as if someone were sending very far away --

A new scream tore through his mind. But not of despair this time, but of fear! And very close! Tayalli! Kayeer scrambled to his feet and looked around, searching for her with his mind. Sensing the direction of the scream, he jumped into the air. And crashed to the ground. Blinking, puzzled, he stumbled to his feet and began to run, trying to go in a straight line. The strange greenness resisted him, and more than once dark, vertical shapes loomed which he barely avoided running into. Then, the obscuring greenery gave away, and he was running freely. Running towards him was a figure his eyes didn't recognize but his mind did. She was terrified, running from something. She was too terrified to 'hear' him, had he tried to send. Still bewildered, he ran towards her. He wanted to help her, to be with her. A voice cried something into the air, but he didn't understand the words.

Less than two strides from Tayalli, something hard and sharp slammed into his side. He gasped in shock, strength vanishing, his legs giving way. In numb surprise, he studied the long shaft of wood sticking out from just beneath his ribs. His body was badly hurt, he realized. If he did not withdraw the shaft and shape the wound closed, he might be forced to abandon his body, as it would die. He wasn't sure he wanted to do that --

**No!** Tayalli's self cried with horror and despair. **Kayeer, why didn't you go back?! Now we'll both die, and we're so few already -- so few! Oh, Kayeer!**

Moving his head, he found himself looking up into bright blue eyes. Tayalli was filled with grief and despair. That bothered him, for no one should be that filled with pain. Kayeer extended his thoughts, wanting to comfort his friend --

Something happened. Instead of just brushing the surface of her self, offering comfort, he abruptly seemed to be falling through her. In a timeless instant, he absorbed what had happened and what she was now -- no longer the confident, magic-filled being of the bond-group, but an exiled, magic-stripped elfin woman struggling to survive on little more than determination. In that moment, he knew what had just happened to her: The screaming despair had caught her up, causing her to fall from the tree she was climbing. When his cry had silenced the screaming -- including hers -- she had found humans almost on top of her, and had run, trying to escape.

The moment shattered, as her mind screamed with terror, and she was abruptly torn away. Lifting his head, he saw her struggling in the grasp of two humans. One had his hand in her long black hair, pulling back her head, and his other hand held an edged object which he was bringing towards her throat. He was going to kill her.

No! Sudden rage, unlike anything Kayeer had ever experienced or imagined swept through him. She was his! He needed her, he wanted her, he couldn't let her die!

With a wordless cry, he sprang to his feet, pulling out the spear with sudden strength. Face twisting into a snarl, he glared at the two holding Tayalli. They stared at him, dumbfounded. Tayalli gave a sudden twist and broke away, darting to his side. From behind him, he sensed something slicing through the air towards him. Without needing to think, carried on the fury, he reached out with his mind and flung it into the trees. The humans in front of him shrank back. Rage increasing, he snarled silently at them. They had tried to kill her. They had tried to kill the one he needed, wanted, the one he must have. They had tried to kill her!

Another spear flew through the air, and he dashed it into the tree tops. Glaring, staring, aware of nothing except his rage and his need, he stalked slowly towards the two who had tried to kill her. They trembled, stepped back, then broke into a run. They fled.

Turning, he watched the others flee as well, still filled with that bottomless rage. Not until the last human had disappeared beneath the trees did he feel the hand on his arm and the self trying to touch him. Blinking, he looked around.

**How did you do that?** she asked. **How did you manage to fling those spears away? How did you know I was in trouble?** He looked into her eyes, not understanding her questions. The need for her strengthened. Dropping the spear, he touched her face, moving closer to her. He wanted her...

Her eyes widened, starkly surprised, then warming with understanding. But -- **Not here,** she told him. **We need to find a safe place, and take care of that wound. We can't leave a blood-trail -- can you Heal yourself?**

Heal. Self-shape. Kayeer looked down at himself, at the red liquid streaking out of the hole on his side. **I'll help you as I can,** sent Tayalli. **We have to stop that bleeding.** Her thoughts moved closer, merging with his, trying to offer strength. Touching the wound, Kayeer concentrated, trying to shape that part of his body back into wholeness. The magic stirred, but sluggishly, as if draining away with the fading rage. But the other self knew how important it was to stop the bleeding, and they persevered. The red flow trickled to a stop, and skin grew over the opening. Looking up, he touched Tayalli's face again, in a mute question.

**When we find shelter.** This time, she took his hand. **Come. I know a place.**

Content with the promise in her mind, he followed.

After a black, starless night filled with bitter fear, no one would allow Var to seek the missing elves alone. Following the nebulous traces of two unaware minds, they found themselves approaching the cave they had abandoned only two years before. Still no conscious thought responded to their tentative sendings -- though none cared to send at full strength, after the devastating merge of the day before. They could sense no pain in the wordless replies. But that was not entirely reassuring, for something had changed.

Spear gripped tightly in both hands, Var leapt through the entrance. Looking around the dim interior, he quickly found two forms, sprawled in tangled disarray along the farthest wall. Scowling, Var silently summoned the others. All of them stared at the unexpected scene. **Joining, after that cry of fear I heard?** Liria asked 'aloud.' **And so deeply asleep, they do not hear us. Why?**

Lips compressed, Var used the butt end of his spear to nudge Tayalli's shoulder. When that failed to stir her, he snapped a sharp sending into her mind. With a yelp, Tayalli sat up, wincing. **Var --!** She glared at him. **That hurt!**

**What happened?**

The black-haired elf blinked at him for a long moment, gently rubbing one temple. Then, as if remembering, her eyes widened, and she looked down at her companion. A smile drifted slowly across her face. Leaning over, she began to stroke Kayeer's fine, auburn hair. Var shifted his weight, impatient.

**He saved my life,** she sent at last, her thoughts rippling with sensual bliss, affection and wonder. **We looked at each other and were suddenly two needing to become one ...** Memories flowed, showing what had happened during the escape from the humans ... and after.

**It wasn't just pleasure,** sent Tayalli dreamily, apparently oblivious to the startled reactions to her revelation. She lowered herself as Kayeer began to stir, and pulled him gently into her arms. **We're part of each other ... almost like in the bond group, but different. We slept, I keep hearing a name, a singing ... never heard before ...** Sighing, still smiling, she squirmed closer to Kayeer. Without rousing, he responded with an arm around her.

Liria gasp broke the puzzled silence. Var glanced at her, as she took a half-step forward, one hand extending towards the pair. Her face paled, emerald eyes enormous. **I -- I sense ... new life! Tayalli ... in Tayalli ... I - I feel new life!**

**What?! Show me!** Var reached his thoughts to Liria and mind-locked with her senses. Barely visible to her inner senses was a tiny spark of newness deep within Tayalli's belly. It was alive. **It is life -- but what? How?**

The five elves on their feet all stared at each other for along moment. Then Maelin laughed aloud.

**It's so simple!** Swinging towards Var, she caught his arm. **Var, can't you see?! Tayalli bears a child! New life -- new elf! We are not seven now -- we will be eight!**

He stared a her a moment longer, meaning not quite coming with the words. Then, like the sunrise after the long night, comprehension and joy swept over Var. His laughter joined hers. **Yes! I do see!** He swept an arm around her. **It is the answer to our deepest fear! Our children will help us return to the stars! We will not have killed for nothing!**

The others huddled closer, while Tayalli sat up and watched them. Maelin returned Var's embrace. **This is what we've been missing!** she sent. **To survive on this world long enough to return, we must match its patterns. We have been killed, we have killed, we may be killed. But life renews itself, through children. And now we know -- we can have children -- we will have children! Even if we all die, our children will live on, and they, one day, will return the Palace and our spirits to the stars!** Breaking away, she went to her knees beside Tayalli, and grasped a slender hand. **You heard the name of your child in your dreams,** she sent. **What is your child's name?**

Kayeer woke, and smiled at her, awareness in his golden eyes. **Her name is Aerva,** he sent. **Our child's name is Aerva.**