A couple of days ago she might have felt dumb sitting alone on her couch in her empty apartment talking - essentially to herself. It didn't seem nearly so weird now. It didn't even seem in the least crazy, not anymore anyway, and that was the part that was bothering her. It was almost tempting to set up a mirror in front of the sofa to see if she could see any sign of Sunshine on her body when the woman spoke to her.
*My name is Amathana, you know.*
"Well, it means 'sunshine,' doesn't it?" she countered.
*You don't hear me calling you... whatever 'Rachael' means, do you? I happen to like my name a great deal; it's the only thing I have left that's really mine; and I would like to be addressed by it, if you so please,* the invisible woman in her mind snapped. *Let's get down to business now, shall we?*
"Sorry, I guess it's just a little odd arguing with a voice in my head. Makes me feel a bit schizophrenic."
A light flashed, and she had to shield her eyes for a moment. When she was able to look again, a woman she'd only ever seen in her dreams sat on the coffee table before her. Platinum blonde hair pooled on the table around her, parts of it in small braids. She wore the boots and priestess robes that she always did in the dreams. She looked older than she had in any of the dreams Rachael had had to date, maybe in her early to mid-thirties. Startlingly blue eyes blinked, watching her as if waiting on her to do some kind of a trick. *Is this better?* she finally broke the tableau by asking.
"I - I'm not sure." Her voice trailed off. "How -?"
*Miara's death has strengthened the remaining four seals.* Somehow Rachael wasn't surprised to note the other woman's lips did not move when she spoke. *It's something of a self-defense mechanism. Us dying is very bad for you humans after all.*
She had to blink and start at the woman's words. "How do the seals' deaths affect us?"
*Use your brain, my good doctor.* Sunsh- Amathana sounded annoyed but, at the same time, amused. *What does the word 'seal' imply? We were sent onto your world to keep you humans alive.* At Rachael's apparently blank stare, she sighed. *Five of us Ancients were chosen at birth to be protective seals. In exchange for us giving up any possibility of a normal life, we get powers beyond that of the greatest of our people.*
"What happens if a seal is broken, if one of you die?" she had to ask.
*Whatever element we protect you people from is unleashed. Miara was Earth, so her death caused an earthquake. Khaos' death would probably cause tornados or hurricanes or something of that ilk. Naoren's death... I seem to remember volcanoes exploding, unexplained fires, and stuff like that. And for the last one, expect flash floods and lots of water everywhere if Miven dies.*
It took her mind a moment to translate Miven to the name she thought of him as. "Rain? The kid's one of the seals? Why? How could that be allowed?"
Amathana snickered. *You sound like our parents. The priests kept going on and on about how big an honor this was supposed to be, since two seals had never before been born to the same family before, till Father finally had to run them off before Mother murdered them on the spot.*
She got the feeling she was begging for trouble, but she had no way to resist asking the next question. "I've never seen your parents in the dreams. Why not? Aren't they important to your story?"
*Of course they're important!* Amathana snapped. *I just haven't decided whether or not to show you.* She bit her lip, gnawing on it a moment before speaking. *I guess I can tell you though. It's easier.* She nodded encouragingly. *Mother worked for the Queen. She looked so much like her that that almost no one could tell the difference, so Mother could take her place and no one be anything the wiser. In fact, she was created to look like that. Mother wasn't like the rest of the Ancients; she was a chimera, a created being, and a lot of people hated her for being what she was.* She smiled fondly at a memory she was clearly keeping to herself. *Father didn't, though. He was her bodyguard, assigned to watch her when she was pretending to be the Queen.*
"They weren't supposed to... have a relationship?" Rachael guessed.
*Of course not! Chimera like Mother weren't even supposed to be able to have feelings.* She glanced up at Rachael, embarrassed blue eyes meeting curious hazel ones. *Anyway, I'm not positive who did the deed, but had to be tough to get past Father and Mother.*
"So you didn't really choose to be a seal?"
*Would you choose to be born to die a horrible death? I mean, Miven alone has been hung and stoned. Miara's been burned alive twice already. Khaos has been drawn and quartered. Really, who would ask for the destiny to die painfully at the hands of the very people you were born to protect? Almost every time, we've died by humans hands.*
She nodded slowly, trying not to show just how badly her stomach was turning. No wonder Sunshine - Amathana had such a low opinion of humans. She still had couple questions left though. "If Miven's death causes floods and Miara's earthquakes, what happens if you die, Amathana?"
*My powers are released on the human race. The ones who can absorb them will become nearly as powerful as the Ancients and will have to take over the seals' job of protecting humanity.* She sighed again, tugging on one of the braids framing her face. *I would have to die last though. My powers can't be released until the other seals are dead. If even one of them is still alive, then my death does nothing except slot us in to all be reborn and have this happen all over again.*
"Couldn't you give your powers to someone else?"
*Who? No one human can hold them, and the only other Ancients are the other seals.* She gave the braid a particularly vicious tug. *And I have a feeling this is the big one, the one where we will all be released.* She turned to Rachael, an unfathomable expression in her eyes. *I'm ready to lay my burden down, Rachael. I'm ready to go into the Goddess' arms. I've been reborn countless times and have seen the world grow. I saw the pyramids of Egypt when they were new, I've spoken with Gilgamesh, and I've watched countries and empires form, but I've also been tortured to death by the Inquisition, I've been killed in melees between sects of Christians, and I've been murdered by Crusaders. I'm tired of humans, Rachael. I'm ready to be done.*
"Well, when you die, I die, and I'm not quite ready to pass on yet. If anything happens and the other seals die, you and I will come up with something. Don't kill me with you, Amathana."
The blonde slowly nodded. *All right. We'll come up with something. I don't suppose it could hurt. But don't be surprised if -*
A knock at the apartment's front door interrupted the Ancient's words. "Who could that be?" she pondered aloud, rising and heading to the door.
*Be careful, Rachael. Something feels... odd here,* the woman's cautioned from her perch.
She glanced through the peephole. "It's just one man out there. He doesn't even look particularly dangerous." She unlocked the deadbolt but left the chain lock on as she opened the door a crack. "Yes?"
"Are you Doctor Rachael Steiger?" he asked softly, his gaze considering.
"Who wants to know?" she countered.
If he finished speaking, she missed it completely at the sensation of something passing through her. For a second, she thought another seal had been broken, but the sensation passed too quickly. She heard Sun - Amathana gasp and saw Jesse's eyes widen just slightly as he stared past her, and she whirled, not sure what she'd see when she turned. She certainly wasn't expecting to see the man with the cat-like eyes standing before Amathana or the Ancient woman's face streaked by falling tears.
*Naoren...,* Amathana whispered.
*I finally found you, my love,* he returned.
Confusion reigning in her mind, she turned to Jesse. "What's going on here?"
15 August 2004
Wow... a month to the day since the last chapter. Hope it isn't too much of a disappointment to my one reader out there.
I'm really starting to have fun with this, but I hope to have it tied up by Chapter Fifteen at the latest. I'm not even guessing at a finishing date. I'll try to have it done by the end of the year, but no promises. However, with the seasonal stand opening at work, I should have some more writing coming up; thank the gods Susannah is cool enough to allow us to read or do whatever down there, as long as we don't leave the stand.
Anyway, see everyone in the next chapter! Later!