October the Fifteenth, in the Third Year of the Reign of Alimia Ausa.
Humans are a paradox.
In all the years I've spent with them, I still cannot say I understand them. I've watched their cities rise and fall. I've seen their leaders give their lives for peace then sell their souls to start wars. I've witnessed their births and their deaths, their triumphs and their failures. I've visited every single place on this world, and for all their supposed differences, humans are the same--they love and they hate. A simplified point of view, but what do you want from an old cynic?
Wait. I don't think 'old cynic' begins to describe myself. Ancient perhaps, or even pre-historic would be more accurate. To the people who see me every day, I am Gregory Telka, son of Geoffrey Telka. But in reality, I am both men. In fact I have been every eldest son, and thus every single male in this historic line for the past five hundred years. It is a complicated issue, but suffice it to say that as one of my personas reaches his twilight years, he disappears and then his son resurfaces some time later. Of course he does so with a sad tale of his father's death in a distant land of his own well-documented birth in the same place. The humans have never questioned it, and I would not offer them an answer even if they did.
So why am I here? That is a simple question. I am here for their protection. I have chosen Vane as my home because the place always intrigued me. When I first visited with Alicia and Laticia all those years ago I was fascinated by everything from their colorful traditions to the comprehensive library. So, when I completed my service and was replaced by my successor, I chose to remain here and make it my home.
These past months since my sixteenth 'birthday,' I have been apprenticing with Mathias Veria, the Premier of the Guild. He is a good, kind man and I can tell that his soul is pure. He is a change from the last few Premiers who seemed more concerned with their social rank and personal power than their compassion. I will study under him until I am eighteen and then I will take the Master's Exam. I've taken the damn thing six times already and it never gets any easier. If I didn't know any better I'd swear they rewrite them every generation just to annoy me.
In short, my life among my human friends has been both good and bad. I enjoy their company, but still treasure my solitude. I have been careful not to let anyone get too close to any member of the Telka family. Our--or rather my--little secret is none of their concern and could interfere rather badly with my self-chosen duties here.
February the Twentieth, in the First Year of the Reign of Mathias Veria, Regent to Relina Ausa.
Peace is a paradox.
Our Guildmaster passed on last night. I am feeling more sadness than I had expected, but I still can't shed a tear for her--this is all part of the Goddess's plan. While the humans will mourn her loss I know that she is now at peace and in good hands. I think I feel worse for her daughter who is only three years old. I don't even know if Relina understands death. I am over two thousand years old and I know that I don't. But then, it's hard to comprehend something you have no need to learn about.
Mathias is very upset. I drew his bath for him like I always do, but he refused it. He dragged himself into his bedchamber and shut the door. I heard him crying. I know eavesdropping is rude, but I couldn't help it.
An hour later the Council appeared at his suite. He pulled himself together, and followed the four of them. When he returned he was a changed man. I don't know what they said to him, but he appeared to have aged forty years in that half an hour. In his arms was Relina. He explained that he was now her Regent and that she would be living with him. Then he went back into his bedchamber. I heard something break against the wall, but I didn't bother to knock to see if he was all right. There were other things to be dealt with and Mathias was ignoring the most important--the girl.
I wasn't really sure what to do with Relina, so I made her a bed on the couch in the sitting room. I've slept on the thing many times and it is fairly comfortable. Regardless, comfort was probably the last thing on her childish mind--the poor thing was terrified! Here she was, her mother had just died and here she is, freshly tossed into the arms of my Master who then just left her to me. I think what she really needed was someone to hug her, and tell her everything would be all right. I did that and then did my best to tell her the Legend of Althena and used some illusion magic to illustrate it. I hope she sleeps well.
August the Twenty-seventh, in the First Year of the Reign of Relina Ausa.
Time is a paradox.
Linny (that's the nickname I gave her) turned sixteen today and as according to tradition; she took the throne as well. I suppose it's a fitting day for her birth--the Day of Social Ideals. She has already promised to eliminate some of the more archaic practices such as only allowing men to serve in the Guard.
Mathias did his job well. He trained her skills and now she is a deadly mage. I don't want to say that he did everything well. Ever since that night the Council put Relina under his care his whole demeanor changed. He became stoic, distant and cold. I didn't understand it, but I lived with it, just as Linny did.
Relina and I became almost siblings since that night she was just tossed into Mathias's suite. Even after my apprenticeship was up, she would always make a habit to find me at the end of her day and talk. She would excitedly tell me about the spells she had learned that day from her private tutor and what she still needed to practice. It was always a light-hearted, friendly chat, and something that I believe she desperately wanted to share with Mathias, but because of his continued depression, she couldn't bring herself to even try to talk to the man.
Anyway, her ceremony today was beautiful. I looked around for Mathias and saw him standing at the very back, arms crossed against his chest as if he was holding his heart from breaking. He didn't even smile at her as she waved to the crowd. I was surprised that he even went to the reception.
The reception was perfect. If there is one thing Vane does well, it's throw a party. The food was fantastic, the music endless and the joy contagious. Oh, of course I danced with Linny. I heard some of the gasps from the crowd as the young flower twirled around with me, the older man. She silenced them with a glare. Why should they care if I danced with the girl who calls me her brother?
I cornered Mathias at the reception. I wanted to read his soul again to see if he was truly a hateful man or if his behavior of the past years was some sort of external madness. I decided it was the latter, and I was amazed when he explained the entire thing to me. It wasn't that he hated anyone, but the traditions of the city he loved so much had caused him so much pain.
As he spoke to me in his soft, pain filled voice, I began to understand. The traditions of Vane are strange and secretive. There are reasons for that to be and while I'm not sure what all those reasons are, I will not insult them only because I do not comprehend them. Mathias explained to me that the Premier is not just the figurehead of the Guild--he is the man chosen to father the next Guildmaster. He told me that he truly did love Alimia, and he wanted nothing more than to share his life with her but the laws prevented him from doing so. He was not her lover, he was not her husband--he was only to be her consort. The final blow to him was dealt when she was ill; the Council forbade him from being with her in those last few hours.
And then there was his daughter. She hadn't even been told the truth yet and probably wouldn't find out until her eighteenth birthday. He wanted nothing more than to love her as a father would, but the Council's instructions again were strict: he was to teach her magic, just as her mother would, but could show her no affection. She must be raised to be a strong leader and a stronger mage, not a softhearted little girl.
He shook his head and then delivered a sentence that will haunt me forever: "It's not that I don't love my own child. It's that I can't stand to see my own eyes staring back at me and being forced to pretend they are not."
As I write this, I am thinking about the entire conversation and began to wonder if he didn't feel used. If not by Alimia, then by the Council that strictly forbade him from developing any sort of relationship with his own daughter. My prayers are with the man tonight. He is truly a good person in a bad situation, a better one than I had ever understood until that moment.
April the Sixth, in the Second Year of the Reign of Relina Ausa.
Love is a paradox.
Love. I never truly believed in the concept despite my closeness to the supposed source of that power until a few months ago. I had never known the touch of that feeling, none of my family ever had. It is a strange sensation to "be in love" as the humans say. It's bizarre and it makes you behave oddly, but I can't say that I don't like it.
What I don't like is the criticism. Humans seem to have their own unwritten laws as to who should love whom. One cannot be too rich or too poor, too highborn or too common, too young, or in my case, too old. Yes, I appear to be twelve years her senior. Yes, I know I called her my sister. Yes, I understand this is socially unacceptable--especially for a woman in her position. But she doesn't care, and neither should I. So why does it bother me so much?
I don't think I could do her justice to try to describe her in a few sentences, but she is perfect. There is no better way to put it. She personifies everything that humans try to call love. She is beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, and full of life. Knowing how much tragedy she had endured in her short almost-eighteen years makes me also call her indestructible.
Anyway, in the past few months, I have found myself waiting for my last class of the day--not because I was tired, but because Linny would be coming by on what had become a daily visit. These days, as she spoke to me, the topics were more revealing. She would tell me about her hopes for the Guild, her thoughts on some of its policies, and of most interest to me, her dreams.
It was during one of these chats in my classroom I noticed just how grown up she was. Gone was the little girl who required a glow globe to sit on her bed stand. What stood before me now was a confident and beautiful young woman. The day she touched my cheek and said she'd see me tomorrow left my face on fire and my mind wishing the day would be short. A feeling that both confused and thrilled me. What was this weird and wonderful awareness that filled me when she stood near? I didn't know, and for some reason I still cannot explain, I didn't care either.
And so it went on. Every day she would come to see me, and every day she would tease me with her smile, her scent, her wit, and her all too brief touch to my cheek just before her departure. Then one day, I felt my own hand wrap around hers. I wish I could say it was planned, but it just happened--as if my hand suddenly just decided to grip hers! I was afraid that she might not be pleased, but she smiled! I gazed into her eyes and they danced along with mine, nearly mirroring every blink. It was a thrilling feeling, yet at the same time paralyzing. My mouth was running dry, my exhaustive vocabulary reduced to nothing; I simply didn't know what to do.
It seemed like an eternity as we stood there, but it wasn't one I ever wanted to end. As I sat there, staring into her dazzling violet eyes, I felt myself lean forward, just a little. She gave me a little grin as if she was waiting for me to do something. I wrapped my arms around her waist and pulled her gently towards me. And then we kissed.
No matter how many millennia I live, I will never forget that moment. I'm not sure who kissed whom, but it didn't matter. In those few seconds, I felt a passion spread between us and it was something I never want to let go.
And so now we are together, despite the snickers and comments about 'cradle robbing' I hear behind my back. I know it shouldn't bother me, but even so I am doing my best to keep my Illusion as young looking as possible while still being realistic about my thirty years in the hopes of abating some of the problem.
I guess love is about waiting. I wait to see her in the mornings, I wait to see her at lunch, and then I wait for the day to end so we can have dinner and go for a walk. Sometimes we sit in her room or mine and just talk. It's amazing how much two people can say to each other when they are in love. Even mundane subjects like the weather take on a whole new meaning between us.
Last night I slept with her. I have now broken all of the rules of my race, but I could not stop myself. She wanted it as much as I did, but that is no excuse. It was incredible to fully share myself with her--even if it was the self of my Gregory persona. Seeing every inch of a person is very revealing, but so is all but dying in their arms. You can be controlled by this person, but in a good way. You can see them at their most vulnerable state, and it makes you love them even more. Humans call this "making love." I don't know if that is an accurate term because we were already in love, we weren't making it, we were only adding to what already existed between us. Making it more perfect.
As I write this I am still feeling her surround me, and her chestnut locks dancing on my cheek. I cannot wait until we can share ourselves again. While waking up next to her made the night all the more perfect, I would be lying if I didn't say the feel of her skin against mine and her whispers of my name drove me all but insane.
I guess love among humans is different than it is between my people. We exist out of the Goddess's love for her children, yet we never truly experience it in any sort of physical form. Certainly nothing like this.
Goddess, I want nothing else but her.
August the Twenty-sixth, in the Second Year of the Reign of Relina Ausa.
Hate is a paradox.
Relina met with the Council yesterday and was told of the tradition that Mathias had imparted to me earlier. She came to me and cried. How could she be kept from her father by some stupid tradition? She swore to me that she would change the law. She was the Guildmaster! She could do what she wanted. The laws were archaic and served no purpose but to keep her as a puppet to defend the city. She wanted more than that. She wanted a life with a husband and a family...
And then she asked me to marry her.
I was stunned. I should have been expecting this after all we've been through together, but I wasn't prepared for it to come so soon. There was something I had to do before I could even consider marrying her. It wouldn't be fair otherwise. I had to tell her the truth, but before I did that, I would try to get the one thing my long life has lacked--a mortal soul, even if it cost me all that I was. It would be worth it if it gave me a life with her.
I accepted her proposal and sealed with a kiss, but it was a half-hearted one. I told her I needed to go on an errand the following day and retired. She was puzzled, but didn't ask me about it. I'm glad she didn't.
I left the city this morning and, once certain there were no intelligent beings nearby, I assumed my true form in the forest just below the city and quickly masked my presence with yet another illusion. It seems that's all I am sometimes, just a mirage of my true self. I am tired of playing so many roles. I just want to be the human that I can be with Linny.
My wings were tired and weak from lack of use as I pondered the ages since I had last assumed my first form. Adding to this was a nervousness bordering on fear, but this had to be done. I lifted myself off the ground and heard my heart pounding in rhythm with my wings! For an instant I almost lost myself in the glory of flight but then was brought back to reality with a single thought of Linny. The flight went swiftly; maybe too swiftly as I was still pondering what my words should be as I landed at the Temple's base.
The dust of my arrival had not even begun to settle as I shifted again and assumed my human form, but without the subtle touch of illusion. I glanced in one of the mirrors and shuddered at what I now saw as my grotesqueness. Blood red eyes and headfur that looked like a dead skunk--if Linny ever saw me like this she would run away. I know I would.
Althena knew I was coming. She also knew of everything I've done. I didn't expect any less from the Goddess; after all she was the Goddess. She smiled at me and addressed me by my proper name--Grelka, bidding me to step before her throne and speak.
I told her of my situation, and begged her--on my knees even--for what I desired. But she refused me without hesitation. I should have expected it. She gently stroked my headfur as though I was some stray cat and she explained her reasoning. I didn't want to listen to her, but I did.
My mother's voice was as musical as ever, and she touched my cheek just as Linny used to as she reminded me of my reason for being. I am one of the Black Dragons--one of the first and created by her hand alone. I might have finished my active protection, but as one of her Dragons I was to continue to defend her people--I was there for their safety, not there to fall in love with them. My duty was to all of her creatures, not just one. And should that one be threatened would I sacrifice the greater good for just her?
Althena lifted me into her arms she gave me one more order. I was to leave Vane and not return until Relina Ausa had passed into the next world. There was to be no more contact between the Guildmaster and an errant dragonmage. The Goddess explained that the Guildmaster of Vane must not have any more distractions from finding her destiny, a destiny that could happen only with another human. I didn't understand why, but I guess it made sense--I could not give her children. Only another human could, and even if I was human, I was not her destiny. There was already another chosen by fate.
I cried then, for the first time in my millennia long life I cried. I felt my mother's gentle light envelope me, and her lips kissed away my tears, but it didn't make me feel any better. I stayed in her arms for a while, and she didn't bother to tell me to leave. When I had finally exhausted myself, I looked up at her face and saw that her cheeks were wet--she was sharing my pain. Althena offered to erase the memories I had of Linny, but I refused. If I couldn't have my love, the least I could do, would be to let her live on in my immortal heart.
When I was ready, which was well after supper, Althena sighed and granted me the chance to say goodbye. By her own power, I was transported back to Vane as Gregory and Linny greeted me at the doors of the Guild. She had begun to panic when I didn't come home for dinner. She tried to get me to eat something, to join her in her chamber for a late evening's meal, but I knew I couldn't--that I didn't dare accept, knowing that I would give in again to temptation. I explained that I had received some bad news and that I just wanted to go to bed--alone. I apologized to her, promising that one day she would understand but that I couldn't tell her just then. She seemed hurt, but I made the excuse that it had to do with my father's inheritance, and added that because of it I wasn't feeling well, so with a soft kiss in the hallway we said goodnight. It was kiss I feared to accept, and hated having to break.
And now here I sit trying to figure out what say to her tomorrow. Should I tell her the truth? Her lover is not some fancy middle aged man with an old Vanetian name but one of Althena's Dragons! He is not even the man she knows as Gregory! He is a hideous creature that lives forever for the sole purpose of defending the Goddess's creation! He has no parents--unless you count Althena and the night sky that he was made from! He has killed in the Goddess's name, in numbers beyond counting! He is nothing but a murderer with divine license!
Yes, that is all I am. Protection comes at a price. But I am weak. I broke the laws of my people. I developed human emotions! I loved a human as only humans can love each other! I am weak. That is all there is to it.
I will be more of a coward tomorrow when I don't tell Relina anything. It's best that she not know. I'd rather have her hate me when I tell her I must leave her without reason. It would be easier on her that way. My mother is right. She must find a human to love and make her own destiny.
Damn you, Althena. Yes, I curse my mother's name! Yes you hear me, I curse it! I have slaved for that woman for the over two thousand years and now she refuses me the one thing I desire most in life! I defended her, her people, her world! It was all for her! And what is this utter shit about fate? Don't you think your children--whether they be Dragon or human--are intelligent enough to choose their own paths?
So then, if she controls our destinies, why let this happen? Why let me fall in love only to rip the feeling out from my heart? Why leave me yet again a hollow creature without soul, without love?
Is this some kind of parental test?
If so, I have failed. Miserably.
No. I place the blame on the wrong being. It was my pathetic frailty that caused the entire mess. I should be grateful for the few months I was allowed to experience the joy humans feel when they love each other.
Forgive me, Mother. Forgive me... Linny.
December the Twelfth, in the First Year of the Reign of Lemia Ausa.
Death is a paradox.
Relina died last week. Word made it out as far as the Prairie where I have been living, or rather, hiding. The moment I heard it, I shifted and took to the sky, rushing back to Vane as quickly as I could. I couldn't be there for her, but I swore to her when I left that her city would always be safe as long as I lived, even if she would never hear that oath it was one I swore to keep. I will not break that promise. I owe her that much.
I assumed the role of Gregory Telka again. Some people still remembered him, and I was careful to age his appearance enough that he would be believable. Alastair Gaine is still around. He was one of my friends during my last venture to the Magic City. He was smart enough not to ask me why I disappeared. Randal Mikasa was not--I don't think tact runs in that family. I won't repeat what I think does.
I went to the library and stared at the portrait of Linny that hung next to her mother's. My throat closed up as I gazed at her. She had been painted in front of a window, staring out over the world. I knew what she was looking for--me. That's not a sentence of conceit, it's one of sad truth. The past sixteen years, I had to be careful of the Magic Guard that traveled the world under her orders to find me, through the use of illusion I was careful not to assume a form that others might recognize. More difficult was to hide my power from any able to sense its presence, but somehow I managed. Gregory Telka ceased to exist for all intents and purposes.
I smiled at the painting hoping it would make its subject turn and see me or brush the eternal sadness from her eyes. There was of course no response, but I whispered again my promise to defend her city, and said a prayer that she would endure a peaceful rest.
At dinner, I met her daughter and the resemblance is remarkable. Lemia has her mother's eyes, nose and lips, but she has blonde hair. I guess that either comes from Mathias or her father--the man about to retire as Premier. I know him and he is a decent man. His name is Cedric and he is as dull as the day is long. When he saw me, he apologized. He said the Council had chosen him as Relina's consort since she refused to marry. I told him there was no need for apologies as long as he cared for her and not her title. He nodded and then didn't speak to me ever again. I guess I intimidated him. I can't imagine why, unless Linny had... No, I don't want to think that, I can't relive that again.
I also met Lemia's friends. She had been part of a campaign to save the world along with our newest Dragonmaster, a pirate named Mel and a member of the supposedly extinct Magic Race who calls himself Ghaleon. He reminded me of myself a bit--we both have those horrible red eyes, but he doesn't bother to hide his.
It didn't take me long (before dessert was served) to realize that there was something going on between Ghaleon and Linny's child. I tried to read his soul, but I couldn't. He glared at me, obviously sensing and angered by the intrusion. I was surprised he noticed--humans don't. I will be careful around him. If he is as powerful as the Magic Race used to be, he could probably see me for what I am.
June the Seventeenth, in the Eighteenth Year of the Reign of Lemia Ausa.
War is a paradox.
I broke my promise to Linny. I couldn't keep her city in the sky. When Ghaleon stole the souls of the four Dragons who were the ones of active duty, he sealed the rest of our powers. My brothers and sisters and I are as helpless as those who were captured. We can only sit back and watch as our world is destroyed. For the first time since I lost Linny, I again am forced to learn what helpless truly means. I can do nothing to stop this monster, who is far more powerful than I had expected--more powerful than he has any right to be.
Yes, I was right about Ghaleon. His soul is dark, and now he is trying to take over the world--or as he sees it, save it from destruction by replacing the Goddess. You see, my mother decided to become human--yes, the one thing I wanted, that I had begged her for, she claimed for herself. I suppose I should be bitter, but I'm really not. I wish her happiness, and right now I wish her safety, since the human form she assumed is now under the control of that madman.
Years ago you might have convinced me that humans need a Goddess, but now I'm not so sure. I have seen them rise up against the odds time and time again and somehow, survive in the end. They don't need a deity to ask for favors. They are more than capable of creating their own fate though they are often reluctant to accept responsibility for the results of that creation.
So, as I sit here helpless in Meribia with the rest of the Guild, our hopes are tossed on the shoulders of five young people, including our next Guildmaster. What can they do? We're not sure yet, but I pray for their return--especially the one I consider my ward.
His name is Kinashua, but the people of Vane know him simply as Nash. He was a child of the Prairie, and the last surviving member of his tribe. I found him wandering the streets of Reza seven years ago. His clothes were practically falling off his starved body, but he was bound and determined to get to Vane. Something within him told me that I had to get him there, and although it took a lot of coaching on mannerisms and a good made up story about his past. Amazingly, it worked. Kinashua, or rather Nash, was a quick study.
Unfortunately, he learned the ways of Vane too well. He became so intolerably conceited that as much as I cared for him, I could not stand to be around him. I believe some of that stemmed from his desperation not to let anyone know he is what the Vanetians call 'unfit' and perhaps his own lack of love for himself.
Still, I asked him to be my apprentice since I knew he did have a good soul and that the mask he wore around the Guild was just as thick as my own. Nash accepted, but then reneged when a better offer came his way--the new Premier wanted him as an apprentice.
I should have been happy for him, but knowing that Ghaleon had already lost his soul I was scared. I tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn't listen. He thought I was angry with him, and stormed off. Our words became pleasantries exchanged in the halls, and I found myself desperately missing his visits.
But there is no time for regrets now. I know he and the others will save us. I have seen his strength. Tribesmen would be great mages if they would be allowed into the Guild, perhaps the greatest of all. They are gifted with amazing talents, that others disdain as 'wild' since it all too often consumes them. Yet it does so only because they are so often denied the very training needed to control it. Training that Vane is so famous for. Nash is no different. He has that Wild Magic as they call it on the Prairie, but he also has skill and, under that shell of selfishness, a good heart.
It is a deadly combination--talent and skill. I believe all five of them have it. I know they will overcome that insane excuse for a man. I would give my life (if it belonged to me) to ensure their safety. But alas, I cannot. So I just wait. I wait and I pray for all of them--even though I know the Goddess is not there to hear my prayers.
May the Ninth, in the Fourth Year of the Reign of Mia Ausa.
Life is a paradox.
For a man who has known no family other than himself for two thousand years, it seems I now have a son. Family should seem like an abstract concept to a creature that measures his age in millennia, but it is a concept that I find myself enjoying. While I do call my friends throughout the ages my family, I have never felt the joy of having a child. True, they are not my children by the traditional definition of the word, but according the laws of Vane, Nash is now my son.
He stammered over the paper that I handed him to sign, and at first refused it on grounds that he felt it was undeserved. I told him that I already felt he was my child regardless of the paperwork. It was good to embrace him again--I missed that, since he grew into adulthood we had become separated, it was good to know I still did have a son, that he still considered me a father.
Nash and I have more in common than just our abnormal backgrounds (although by comparison his seems quite normal and, thank Althena, he knows nothing of mine). He is as infatuated with Mia as I was with Linny and yet there is a wall between them. Granted, the one he is fighting was erected by the two of them together, over a stupid insipid incident. But like me, it is his refusal to tell her the truth that keeps the wall from coming down.
Now that is certainly an interesting scenario. My son is in love with Linny's granddaughter and facing a similar dilemma! I bet she is laughing at the irony--wherever she is.
I have been telling him that it doesn't matter any more. Mia has changed the laws. Anyone can come to the Magic City now. There is no longer the barrier of air to separate Vane from the world it belongs to, and the elitist attitude once so holy here about protecting their so-called 'sacred art' has been eliminated. Well, I guess that isn't an entirely accurate statement either. There are some, but Mia will change their minds. She is Relina with black hair, and if I didn't know better, I might well believe that she is my granddaughter. Goddess knows she's stubborn enough.
To make the situation even more complex, Nash is to be inaugurated as her Premier at the end of the week. Mia has said it is not to be a marriage--no matter what tradition dictates. I know better. I know they will wind up together once they stop their childish bickering over bygones. I may not be human, but I have learned to sense the love within the human heart, and I can tell how they feel about each other. It is the same feeling Relina and I had for each other.
I just pray their story has a happier ending.
Back to the Library of Vane.
Back to the Shrine to Ghaleon.