Author's notes: This quasi-novella is a collaboration between myself and my good friend Valeria (neptune.spaceports.com/~valeria/), that dates back a few years. For a long time it languished on our collective Web sites, and now I think it's time it got a little further out into the world. I'm placing it here with her permission in the hopes that people who haven't read it will, and so that we can hopefully get a little feedback that will let us finish the final chapter of the tale.

For those looking for fiction that centres around the main characters of the Babylon 5 story, this is not the story for you. This is an interpretation of situations that could have happened on the periphery of the great events that shaped the wonderful universe JMS created for us, dealing with a most fascinating, mysterious, and misunderstood group: the Minbari Warrior Caste. And one Warrior in particular: Jatrinn. This is her story.

Again, I remind you, this is a collaboration, please address any review comments to both Valeria and myself.

The Dagger's Edge
by Valeria and Flarn

Chapter 1: My Enemy

Part 1

2247 (?)

The young woman leaned low against the animal's neck, burying herself in the
plumes of grey hair until she seemed more a part of the beast than a
separate entity. Her steed, slant-backed and tall as a full grown Minbari
at the shoulder, tossed his head, waving his single horn in a gesture of
defiance that echoed in the heart of his rider. Muscles bunched - she could
feel the leashed strength of the animal coalescing where her legs gripped
his sides - and she felt at this moment immensely grateful that she had
learned the follies of riding bare back at an early age. Well, almost
learned them, for here she was, without restraints again, and liable to
crack open her skull. That was the last thought she had time for; a
heartbeat later they had become the wind.

The massive quadruped sprang into a full-blown gallop, thundering across the
moorland, razor-sharp hooves churning up great clods of turf in his wake.
His rider let out a whoop of surprise and almost childlike delight at the
sudden acceleration that blew the hood from her jagged-crested head and sent
them speeding past translucent crystal outcroppings, and low stretches of
silver-fronded trees. No artificial contrivance could match this, the
seamless melding of nadach and rider. This was joy at its most elemental;
this was freedom, the legacy and sacred birthright of every member of the
Star Riders clan long before the time when they had taken truly to the
stars.

The stars, they called her now. Soon. It echoed in her blood, in the wind
so sharp and fierce it brought tears of reaction to her pale blue eyes. But
she wouldn't think of it now.

She leaned further into the beast's neck, trusting him implicitly to steer
their course, and had almost fallen into a quasi reverie, lulled by the
animal's rocking, loping gait, when a snort of challenge caused her to lift
her head again.

They were not alone.

Pursuing hoof beats rumbled in a rapidly closing distance. The ground
seemed to echo with the counterpoint of her own beast's flight. Whispering
fiercely, she urged her steed on with every imprecation in a Warrior's
vocabulary. "Islani, do you hear that sound?" The animal's ears, almost
lost in the feather-like strands of his luxuriant coat, twitched back to
listen as she spoke. "Someone is coming. Do not let them overtake us." She
dug her heels gently into his sides, and loosened the reins even more as the
stallion increased speed. This time she cooed with the fondness of a mother
to a very small child. "Yes, you are the finest stallion on the planet and
I know you will not let them best us. We will be victorious, no matter the
cost."

Still the interloper gained, closing the distance, until she could feel a
tandem presence, no longer eating her wake, but sharing her wind. Eyes lit
with pale, dangerous fire, she stole a glance at who dared to challenge her.

He was bent low over his mount, a black shape on the back of a dun stallion
whose horn very nearly matched her mount's. Wind stung her eyes, but she
saw, and seeing clenched her legs around her mount. The beast protested,
snorting against the wind. She dug her hands into his long fur, and he
finally acquiesced, pace slowing to a near stop. Her challenger did the
same.

"Lohrvan."

He smiled, a sharp, bright flash of teeth in the moonlight, and bowed his
head in courtly mockery to his sister. "Jatrinn. Still like riding
bareback, little sister?"

"Yes. Still need to prove you're better than me?" She matched him smile
for smile.

He grinned. It had always been a game between them, to struggle for the
upper hand - a game the religious in their town disapproved of.

Lohrvan's mount snuffed loudly, lifting his horn, and Jatrinn found Islani
tensing. He jerked his head up, blowing, and jabbed his long horn in clear
challenge. Jatrinn pulled his head back, burying her hands in his fur and
making noises half-soothing, half-threatening.

"You came," she finally said. "I didn't know if you would."

"Of course. I couldn't miss this, could I? Your first ship duty, and your
first service to Minbar... it's an important thing."

"Mmm," she said. "I cannot wait." Her eyes crinkled with anticipation,
excitement.

"No," said Lohrvan. "I imagine not. You always were a fighter, it will do
you good to have someone to fight."

"Faugh." Jatrinn spat. "As if the *Humans* were a worthy target."

"Well, maybe not," Lohrvan said, conceding her point with a nod. "But good
enough to whet your blade on, eh?"

She nodded, silent, solemn for a moment. Lohrvan turned his mount. "I hope
it goes well for you. The Humans may not be much of a contest for us, but
it is still important."

"Of course." And then she gave him a quicksilver glance, and said, softly,
"Thank you for coming."

"My pleasure." He watched her for a moment, as she wheeled her nadach, and
something wild and wicked caught fire in his eyes. "Catch me!" he shouted,
slapping his nadach on the flank. Jatrinn barely hesitated before doing the
same, hooves thundering across the flat moor, churning up the dirt.
Jatrinn had said goodbye to her parents at home. It wouldn't be right for
them to follow her to the terminal--this walk was hers to walk alone. She
was too excited to meditate, but too self-conscious to run headlong down the
streets as her nerves bade her do. But she walked quickly, head high,
unwilling to admit that she hadn't yet quite figured out how to move best in
her new armour.

She heard Kiardonn coming, but didn't stop to look, gawking like a child.
She did slow her pace, though, letting the girl come to meet her.

Kiardonn half-flew down the street, her robes fluttering around her like the
wings of a wounded bird. "Jatrinn, wait," she panted.

Jatrinn rolled her eyes, before she turned so that Kiardonn couldn't see
her, but did indeed pause and turn. "Kiardonn, you aren't supposed to be
here."

"I know," Kiardonn gasped. "I know. You were going to go without saying
goodbye."

Jatrinn couldn't tell how much of that was accusation. Kiardonn had the
face of a lily, and grey eyes like crystal, and she was not easy for
Jatrinn's Warrior mind to understand. So she shrugged by way of answer.

"I have something for you. A-a present." Kiardonn reached into the folds
of her heavy over robes.

Oh, Valen. Not a silly baby-gift from Revaal's little sister. But she
didn't say it, looking into Kiardonn's face. Her eyes were dusk-coloured,
and very clear. She looked so young, but she was old enough to work at the
weapons' factory. Maybe this was something worthwhile after all.

Kiardonn withdrew something from the folds of her cloud-coloured heavy robe.
She pressed it into Jatrinn's hands. It was wrapped in thin cloth, but
Jatrinn could feel the roughly triangular shape through the thin weave. She
pushed back the fabric, and her breath caught.

It was a sheath, of the same black leather as her new warrior's armour. She
fingered the hilt, but didn't draw the blade - that would be an insult to
Kiardonn, as if she didn't trust that the workmanship was good, as if she
had to check for flaws.

"I wanted to give you something," said Kiardonn. "And I thought you would
be likely to wear this."

"Yes," said Jatrinn. The sheath had two thin metal rings, and she found a
place to attach it to her new armour. Kiardonn was looking at her. "Take
care of yourself, Jatrinn," she said.

"I will," Jatrinn said, smiling a hawk smile. "The Humans couldn't hurt me
if they tried."

Kiardonn was still looking at her, and Jatrinn thought, suddenly, that
Kiardonn was no child, anymore. "That wasn't quite what I meant," she said.
"Valen walk with you."

"Yes," said Jatrinn. "And with you."

Kiardonn swirled away, lily-slender and pale. Jatrinn finished the walk to
the terminal alone.

Lohrvan was waiting for her at the terminal, which was as much a tradition
as the solitary walk had been. He greeted her with a formal bow, which she
mimicked - stiffly, in her heavy armour - and then asked, "Nervous?"

"No," she said, lifting her chin, and he laughed.

"I believe it, though you may be a fool, for it." His eyes fell to the
blade. "What's that?"

"A present. From Kiardonn."

He frowned, very briefly, then the creases in his forehead smoothed into a
smile. "Oh, she gave you one, too?"

"Too?"

"Never mind." He smiled at her. "Luck, Jatrinn. Your first battle
determines a lot, you know."

"I know." She wasn't nervous, that was true, but she was so excited her
belly fluttered. She breathed, trying to quell the stir.

"Na'Fhurs Jatrinn..." It was her name, prefaced by her brand new title, and
Lohrvan spoke it slowly, seeming to taste it like a new dish he found very
much to his liking. "You almost sound grown up, little sister."

She lifted her chin, almost as defiant in the face of his pride as she would
have been faced with a rebuke. "I am grown up." Then, more teasingly,
"...and you had better be on your guard, because soon I'll be coming after
you for all the times you teased me when we were little."

"A few years extra growth doesn't scare me." Her brother replied, smirking.
"Try again when you're an Alyt."

"No no," Jatrinn laughed. "By then I will be too smart to tangle with you.
It has to be now - while I still feel I can conquer the world!" In a rush
of exuberance, she grasped for his hands, even as he twisted them out of her
reach, and they sparred for a while in deep, yet companionable
concentration, each one never quite catching the other.

It was almost a dance, this kata of two, one pair of hands invariably
trailing another, like mirror reflections from two separate universes,
neither of them quite in synchronicity. Their fingers moved faster than
most eyes could track, blurring in their motion, leaving trails of stars.
Neither adversary noticed, they were riveted on each other's eyes - it was
the secret, to keep your intentions out of your eyes until you struck.

Suddenly, Lohrvan switched directions, strong fingers coming
counter-clockwise to fasten like manacles around her slender wrists. "You
can have the world if you like, Jatrinn, but you won't get the better of
me." He loosened his grip, and Jatrinn batted his arms aside.

"So much for thinking your arrogance would mellow with age," she groused.
Tugging at her tunic, she gave her brother a sidelong look. "I always
wondered why you didn't choose command."

"It just wasn't my calling, Jatrinn. I guess I'll always be more
comfortable bashing enemy heads than trying to see into them." He chuckled.

Jatrinn gave him a smug look. "At my rank I get the benefit of both." She
frowned, almost reluctantly remembering why she had come here. "It's almost
time."

"Yes," he agreed. "Be careful, sister."

She swallowed a jaunty reply, realizing that perhaps her invincible older
brother might in fact need something more. /I love you,/ she thought
suddenly, but said only, "I will."

Lohrvan nodded. "You have to go the last alone, Jatrinn." He swept his arm
out, indicating the tarmac, the spreading sunlight, and the pale, washed
morning sky.

She returned the nod, saluting him in the traditional way - and then he
pulled her into an embrace. They weren't the kind of family who hugged
much, and so it was brief and awkward, and then he let her go.

She left the terminal, walked out onto the tarmac alone, waiting for the
shuttle. She drew her blade, now, turning it in the light. Jatrinn weighed
the blade in the flat of her hand and smiled faintly. It was an appropriate
gift for a young Warrior, and so much more satisfying than a pike. Suited
for the drawing of blood, a weapon at once quick and elegant and dangerous.
Like me, she thought, then barked a laugh at her own arrogance. /Like I
will be/, she amended. /I will be a weapon./ The edges were sharp enough to
draw blood if she ran her fingertips along them, and the dull-silver flat of
the blade was etched with a stylized flame in a triangle.

Jatrinn had owned knives before, in fact there was one tucked into the top
of her boot, but nothing like this... Silently she vowed she would be
worthy, of the magnificent weapon, and of the uniform she now wore.

Engines hummed and whirred overhead, jarring her from her contemplation, and
she sheathed the blade, attaching it to her belt, as the shuttle continued
to hover. It would not land, but she knew what to do. Boldly she strode
forward to stand on a rough metallic circle that rested on the pavement, and
signalled her readiness. Light dropped down to surround her, and the circle
of metal began to rise towards the shuttle, carrying her with it.

Her stomach lurched, but she kept her eyes stoically heavenward. This
moment of limbo was the part she hated most, and looking down wouldn't help.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she saw the inside of the
transport drop down around her, and felt the metal of the bay doors clang
shut below her platform. She managed to step off without shaking, and hoped
she wasn't as pale as she felt.
After a brief transit, the transport was swallowed as she had been, this
time by the larger bulk of a cruiser's landing bay. She'd missed the
triumphant entry - a threatened bout of space sickness kept her ensconced in
the lavatory until she could master her rebellious stomach.

But now she was *here*.

Jatrinn could feel eyes upon her as she walked through the spacious halls of
the warship, despite the fact that no one was in sight. Fortunately she knew
the layout of these ships, having studied the schematics with more fervour
than a priest might examine the sacred texts. Priests. They could know
nothing of the exhilaration she felt now, so close to her goal. She fancied
she could feel the pull of the planet below easing as the ship left orbit,
despite knowing the artificial gravity wells made that quite impossible.

Adjusting the weight of her satchel on her shoulders, Jatrinn paused,
feeling her nerves tremble again. She was expected on the bridge, that
alone should have accounted for the tingling that had diffused into her
veins; but it didn't. The feeling became more electric, suddenly
crystallizing in a wave of urgency - responding instinctively, she pivoted,
ducking low and lunging with a kick. She had only a moment to congratulate
herself for the well-honed instincts that had prompted her to act, but that
moment was all her assailant needed. Deftly he caught her foot and held it,
effortlessly, making her flounder like some exotic black-winged bird in the
claws of a predatory cat.

"Not bad." She craned her neck painfully in search of the source of the
voice. It was soft, growling, reminding her again of a cat. "Not good,
either. But there is promise."

"Let me down, sir," she demanded with as much dignity as she could muster in
the situation, and was rewarded by a rich laugh.

"In a moment. I have your attention completely, now, and I shan't let that
opportunity slip through my fingers." He kept his firm grip on her ankle,
lowering it slightly to allow her to gain her stance. His other hand
flicked to her hip, unsheathing the dagger there and flipping it into his
palm. "Not regulation."

"No."

He released her ankle, and she scrambled to her feet again, drawing
attention. He turned the blade in his hand, letting the light play over the
etchings. "Acid-made? No, I suppose you wouldn't know." He turned it
over, testing the point on his black glove, then spun it into the air and
caught it expertly by the hilt, offering it back to her. "A fine weapon -
if you know how to handle it." His eyes caught hers and held them, firmly.

"I can." She slipped the triangle blade back in its place, and lifted her
chin almost without noticing the gesture.

His eyes flashed again, from the sheath at her waist back to her face.
"Good." She thought she saw a smile at the edges of his mouth before he
turned his back on her, calling over her shoulder. "You will be late to the
bridge. Tell the man on duty there that you were detained."

"By whom should I tell him?"

He turned his head marginally toward her again. "By Neroon, of course."

Of course. She had heard how the Alyt enjoyed conducting inspection of his
new troops in rather unorthodox ways - had even been expecting it, just not
quite this soon. To what did she owe this singular mark of favour?
/Caution/, her mind asserted, /There was nothing to suggest he favours you./
Which made her next conclusion, reached in those short instants, even more
alarming: she wanted him to.