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 3

"Do you happen to know Alyt Neroon?" she asked lightly as they prepared for
breakfast that morning. She covertly glanced at Revaal, whose grey eyes
registered surprise. Jatrinn almost bit her lip, but caught herself and
schooled her features into a look of mild curiosity.

"Some," the other admitted, tugging on her tunic to adjust the drape. "Why
do you ask?"

Part of her wanted to mention what Neroon had said last night, to thank
Revaal for her consideration, but she knew how uncomfortable that would make
her. Revaal's feelings ran deep, but she preferred to mask them under a
veneer of brashness and rivalry. /Probably why we get along so well,/
Jatrinn admitted in a rare moment of candour. She wasn't exactly the most
expressive person herself.

Adjusting the seam of her new bodysuit, Jatrinn pulled on her trousers and
boots, before reaching for the remainder of her outer garments. She
shrugged, casually. "Isn't is wise to know what kind of man you serve
under?"

Revaal didn't turn around, but the eyes of her reflection sought Jatrinn's
as she stared into the small mirror above the sink. "He can be...
unconventional," she stated at last. "He has some definite ideas about the
way our caste should be governed... and the way Warriors should govern
themselves. He is demanding and hard, but never cruel..." A small smile
pulled at the corners of her lips. "Tyran all but worships him."

Jatrinn looked up from adjusting the straps of her chest plate. "Tyran?"

"One of the gunners... you'll meet him later. He's partnered me in
sparring."

Revaal's nonchalant dismissal of the individual in question was all but a
declaration of undying passion to Jatrinn, who knew her well. "Oho? And in
any other activities I should know about?"

"A few," the other admitted, pivoting away from the mirror to stretch
languorously on her bunk like a gok in the sunlight. "Although we aren't
technically lovers yet." She rolled over onto her stomach thoughtfully,
grabbing the top of the bed and arching her back in a stretch. "He is
*very* good though..."

Ignoring the renewed twinge this subject was causing, Jatrinn determined to
take advantage of Revaal's placid, conversational mood. Besides, perhaps it
would give her some insight into her own situation. "So you think you want
him?"

"I do want him. I've already decided. The flight master is pleased with
my progress in the fighter drills. He's already suggested to the Alyt that
I be allowed to go out and engage the enemy in the next low-priority
attack - to bloody my sword you might say. And after the battle, if Tyran is
lucky..." Revaal's smile was positively wicked. "...I might just let him
bloody his."

Jatrinn was mortified to feel her face growing hot at her friend's frank
speech. She took a deep breath, and rummaged through her duffel bag,
willing the reaction to subside.

Revaal noted this behaviour with a look of surprise. "What's this? You
don't mean to tell me that you haven't already...?"

"No," Jatrinn replied. "I haven't."

"I'm very surprised. I would have thought that you, of all people, would
have dispensed with that long ago."

"No one has attracted my interest sufficiently to make it worthwhile." Until
now.

"Mmm, so you say. Of course it could simply be that you're afraid."

"I am *not* afraid."

"Aha!" Revaal crowed. "That's it, isn't it?" She sniffed scornfully. "Some
Warrior you are, cringing at the thought of a man between your legs."

Yanking on a glove with more force than necessarily, Jatrinn looked up,
voice dangerously quiet. "Stop it."

Her foreboding expression did nothing to subdue Revaal, who instead snorted
with mirth. "I would never have had you picked out for a prude."

"Prude?" Her lips compressed as she smoothed her glove over the back of her
hand. Her eyes narrowed, fixing on some distant object. "You don't know the
half of it, little fool." As soon as the words were free, she longed to
call them back. Revaal, for all her lack of subtlety, was merciless when
she sniffed out a curiosity.

As predicted, Revaal's grey eyes lit. "Oh-ho, is that it?" She rolled off
the bed, dropping neatly to her feet and giving Jatrinn an appraising
glance. "I don't suppose you'll tell me who it is?"

"Who what is?" Jatrinn snarled, but Revaal's cunning curiosity told her that
the facade was totally transparent. Nevertheless, she lifted her chin and
forced her features still. Her still-red cheeks betrayed her.

"You don't need to be coy with me. But if you won't say...." She shrugged,
artlessly sliding her breastplate over her chest. "Well, I'll have to find
out for myself, won't I?"

Jatrinn's jaw set. "Do what you please." She shivered, her belly clenching
fearfully as if the bottom had dropped out of her, and her stomach muscles
were trying to hold her together. Revaal flashed her a toothy smile.

"Oh, come on. It's no shame to want to feel a man inside you." Her eyes
slitted. "No shame at all."

/If you only knew, Revaal./

"I think it'd take a big one to satisfy you." Revaal cocked her head,
studying her. "Maybe Khartyl?" She watched Jatrinn's face for reaction.
"Brengal? Not him either... perhaps your mystery lover will be at your
dedication ceremony tomorrow evening?" Her voice dropped low as a sly,
mischievous smile spread over her angular features.

Adjusting her crystal encrusted epaulettes one last time, Jatrinn shrugged
impatiently. "I have to be on the bridge..."

Revaal leaned back on the incline of her bed, saying nothing, but the smug
look in her eyes spoke volumes. Touché.
More drills, more routine patrols, reports of distant battles to be gone
through. String after string of victories - the necklace of Human colonies
was unravelling rapidly under the relentless Minbari onslaught. Desperate
tactics, suicide missions, none of it made any difference, not even a
perceptible dent in their forces. There was a rumour of a Religious caste
cruiser that had been caught unawares, but even accounting for the ineptness
of the Priests, it could be nothing more than that: a rumour.

Nonetheless, Jatrinn performed her duties with the same vigilance as if they
had been engaged with a far more powerful foe. She would never have
admitted it to a soul, but something of Neroon's warning about luck had made
her shiver.

At the end of her shift the watch dispersed as new Warriors relieved them of
their stations. Most went in search of the evening meal, but Jatrinn did
not. She would fast until after her dedication, when she would become a
full member of the ship, and, finally, a full Warrior. It was an ancient
ceremony, with roots reaching as deeply as the first written accounts of
Minbari history, and, some said, long before that.

She returned to the quarters she shared with Revaal, finding them empty.
Revaal would come to escort her to the ceremony, but until then, would
tactfully leave her alone to meditate and prepare. There seemed to be
little time for that however, barely enough to bathe her overheated body
with a splash of water and don her stifling armour once more before Revaal
appeared.

"Bah! I don't know why you bother with that," Revaal taunted, catching
Jatrinn pouting before the mirror as she reapplied the blood-dark lip colour
she favoured. "You look so pretty your enemies will laugh in your face."

Pretty. It wasn't a word Jatrinn would have applied to the face that stared
back at her, to the harsh features, the too generous mouth, the sharp
cheekbones, the frozen blue eyes, large and pale like an animal's. She
quirked a smile though, then bared her teeth at herself with a *lhyral's*
hiss. Neroon had seemed to like her well enough...

No. She bit the thought off abruptly. Two days into her first duty and she
was already contemplating the unthinkable... /Why *now*?/ And more
importantly, why *him*?

"Are you finished yet?" Revaal prompted her impatiently. "Or are you going
to stand before the mirror and dream about your phantom lover for the rest
of the night?" She chuckled. "Now I *really* want to see who's caught your
attention so completely. But guessing won't be as easy as I thought - half
the male compliment on the ship is already staring at your ass, and the
other half is talking about it."

Jatrinn felt a pinch on the aforementioned portion of her anatomy and
yelped, turning an about-face and glaring at Revaal. "They are *not*!"

"To say nothing of the female compliment," Revaal continued, blithely,
"Though fortunately they're far more subtle..."

"You are playing with *fire*, Revaal."

"It's my life's mission, Jatrinn," she replied with a chuckle. "You know
that. Now come on!" Hooking her friend around the arm, she dragged her out
into the halls. "Warriors aren't late, remember? Especially not for their
own ceremonies!"
A trip down the lifts and a short walk later and they stood before one of
the large briefing rooms. The halls they had passed through were deserted,
ghostly. Not a single Minbari seemed to stand watch, not a soul uttered a
challenge. But Jatrinn knew where everyone had gone, where they were now.
Behind the door she now faced, with Revaal at her side.

Revaal had ceased her teasing, and now gave her elbow a squeeze, a thing
somehow more alarming. "Don't be afraid."

"I'm *not* afraid!" Jatrinn snapped.

The smaller woman smiled slightly. "You seem to say that a lot. Oh alright,
don't be so -nervous- then. Sha'neyat sits badly enough on an empty
stomach, let alone an upset one."

This time, Jatrinn couldn't restrain a glare. Revaal chuckled and gave her
a slight push forward. The motion sensors of the door reacted, and the
portal irised open, revealing a dimly lit, cavernous room. There was no
help for it now, but to step forward, into the sea of eyes. But perhaps
Revaal had done her a favour after all, with the bubbling of annoyance in
her blood the glittering stares of the ship's company were no longer
daunting - their bright, predatory gleam was echoed in her own. She was a
Warrior, she belonged among them.

Neroon stepped out of the shadows, blocking her way, a denn'bok extended and
lethally bright within his two gloved hands. "Why do you come here?"

Boldly she made her answer. "I come to serve." She took a step forward,
then halted abruptly as he lifted the pike and aimed it at her throat. Her
heart pounded in reaction, despite knowing this was part of the ceremony to
follow.

"None may pass without forfeit. What will you give?"

The answer was as old as time. "My life."

Revaal had disappeared into the darkness, but now she appeared again, a cup
of red liquid clutched in her hands. Neroon closed off his pike, tucking it
away as he took the cup. Sha'neyat. Death Destroyer. The Minbari had long
ago discovered the dangerous psychoses produced by fermented drinks, but
continued experimentation had created a poison far more potent than mere
alcohol. The berries from which sha'neyat was pressed stopped the heart
within minutes, the liquid itself had to be carefully distilled and cut with
pure spring water until the potent chemicals no longer posed a threat. It
was a traditional Warrior's ceremonial libation, jealously guarded, the only
outsider to partake of it being the head of the Anla'shok. In ancient
times, many an unfit candidate had been... eliminated by a less than
judicious watering of the drink...

Jatrinn swallowed hard, grasping the symbolism only too well.

"Taste of it," Neroon prompted her. "The blood of enemies who will die at
your hands, the blood of friends who will die at your back; your own blood,
when you cannot stem the flow... On this day you are called to shed it."

Bowing, Jatrinn took the cup from Neroon's outstretched hands, her gloved
fingertips brushing briefly against his own. Lifting it, she gazed solemnly
into the depths, savouring her last moments of life... A copious swallow
later, and she was no more. In a daze she saw herself passing the cup back
to Neroon, who drank also, even more deeply than she, finishing the rest,
sealing the bond that an Alyt shared with every member of his crew.
Responsibility for their actions, and for their deaths, if they should come.

He held her gaze for long moments, hers dropped to the strong, sensuous
curve of his mouth, and the remains of the drink gleaming there. Even
poison would taste sweet on those lips...

Taste of it.

Jatrinn hardly felt Revaal's hands guiding her, helping her to lie down for
the next part of the ritual. Neroon remained nearby, staring down at her
prone form, brow furrowed and stern. She wished she had remembered to ask
whether to keep her eyes open or closed.

She heard footsteps nearby, and a thin, almost transparent layer of black
gossamer cloth interposed itself between her gaze and her new leader's. The
Warriors who had been carrying the cloth released it, letting it pool airily
over her body as another layer was brought, and another, and another. Her
vision was fading, as Neroon dwindled from a distinct shape into nothing but
a vague shadow. Layer upon layer of silk fell over her, piles of it, mounds
of it, until it seemed as heavy as the earth in a grave. Finally she could
not see, could barely breathe. A Warrior was already dead, and so there she
lay; buried.

Her body felt strange and very light, as if she had no bones. She heard a
voice, far away, as if heard through a dream. It was the only sound she
heard--the Religious sang dirges for their dead, but Warriors were silent in
the face of it.

"She lies," said the voice, low-pitched and songlike in its cadence. "She
lies, dead. She knows death."

And then he was addressing her, his voice coming deeply into her bones. His
voice no longer muffled by the veil that shielded her from him.

"Know death, Warrior. It is your partner, your lover, your life. Taste of
it."

She thought she heard a drumbeat, but no, that was foolishness. Perhaps it
was her own blood in her ears.

She thought she could feel her heartbeat slow, slow... Was it the
*sha'neyat*? Was it her own mind? Would it still, if she breathed evenly,
lying buried here?

She felt something - panic? - blossom in her chest, suddenly, beating
frantic wings against her ribs. She could not keep from gasping, hoped it
was not heard.