A group of maybe three dozen, oddly dressed people stood at the edge of a plateau; one that gave a magnificent view of surrounding mountains and pine trees below. Normally, only the shamans were allowed to set foot on such a holy place, since this WAS where many who sought visions came to. This place was foretold by generations as the small tribal clan's most revered fireside story. Grandfathers to the current living grandfathers of the tribe heard it when THEY were children. This magical place was where their god, Lord of Tenku, created life with his powers.

Lord Of Tenku was their MOST powerful god. He controlled the wind and created life by creating atmosphere to make the Earth. There were OTHER powerful gods that they ALSO worshipped, but not to such a degree. Their fire god was appeased by throwing a small bit of meat they ate into the fire; thus feeding HIM.

Each morning, every person in the clan of ANY age got up as the sun rose, singing a song of praise for giving another day of light to banish the darkness.

They worshipped the earth and surrounding water...chanting prayers and greetings for invading sacred springs, and taking a small bit of dirt to eat with prayers during planting season to gain good growing powers.

Each revered a separate animal they felt close to for their individual attributes and good luck.

Every so often, as was custom with MANY local tribes, sacrifices or gifts were given to appease their mightiest god...and beseech him for the power to strengthen the clan in power, riches, numbers, and honor. The sacrifices took place every five years. But lately, it seemed their most elegant crafts, clothes, many dances and chants, shaman prayers, ceremonial meals, and rare animal sacrifice didn't make anything better. There was a one and a half year drought; small plague from a miniscule band of travelers; and bad hunting, almost in rapid succession. The people knew their Lord Of Tenku was not happy and wanted something MORE. So, the elders and shamans held many meetings and prayers for wisdom to decide what to do. It came down to a human sacrifice, one from the shaman's wife. Only a shaman's offspring would be holy and worthy enough.

And it must be a girl, because EVERYONE knew all gods were male.

From her birth, the sacrifice marked Stardust-to signify her destiny, was given the best food; clothes; and jewelry. Her heart's desire was fulfilled whenever she asked, though that was not often. The girl's training was strict and long. Though she must show signs of a good life for a worthy sacrifice, a shaman's daughter must learn EVERY rule and courtesy to a god. Prim behavior was only acceptable and acting as ANYTHING other than a god's sacrificed was punished by lack of food and kept in a dark hut for two days with no contact.

There were two sacrifices prior to the human. No GIRL could be given to a god, let alone one who had yet come to womanhood. Just after Stardust's fifteenth, a mere month to the sacrifice, she was reminded and retaught of everything needed to appease a god. The day before, her body was washed in both hot and cold waters to cleanse it from disease and spiritual sickness. New ceremonial garments were made for her. It was a gauzy, sleeveless, knee-length virgin white dress that currently whipped in the high winds. Ornate beaded necklaces hung over her neck with bracelets to match. Thick, waist-length black hair hung in two braids; signifying her life, and the life that belonged to her lord.

The elder stepped forward to begin. "By the will of the Mountain Clan, who brave the sharp cliffs of Your land to communicate with You...this shaman, Miran of the Mountain Clan; husband to Ko-Ko; father to Stardust-your sacrifice; announce the completion of fifteen years grooming in Your land, breathing Your air, and teaching of Your grace. I beseech you, Lord of Tenku, receive this sacrifice and grant answers to the prayers I've given two nights ago! Give my clan success, wealth, longevity, and power. Grant our animal totems power as they watch over us."

One of Miran's arms swung out and quickly grabbed hold of his only daughter's forearm. Without looking at her, he walked the two to the edge of the cliff. Keeping aged eyes ahead, as if looking into Lord of Tenku's eyes, Miran spoke to his daughter. "Recite your chant." He quietly ordered. Part of Miran's heart ached for his only daughter. He was fortunate to grant his clan's decision, since his wife had yet to bear any other children. It was like the Lord of Tenku WISHED this sacrifice to occur.

Inhaling a deep breath, every lesson roaming in her young head, Stardust's bowed head rose to he night sky and looking to Tenku's star, where the lord lived. Both arms raised like a child asking to be picked up by its mother. "Lord of Tenku...I, Stardust; daughter to Miran, shaman and protector of our clan...humbly accept and grant my pleads to be your sacrifice for the good of the clan! Grant my father's prayers and allow me access into Your lands to use me as you see fit. Protect my people and punish us no more! With Your life-bringing winds, bring blessings to the good of my clan!"

Inhaling a deep breath for courage to help calm her nerves, Stardust turned to her father and met his eyes. "I am ready." She solemnly proclaimed.

The aged shaman nodded and looked to two of his strongest warriors. They'd been picked and purified for this day, kept from everyone to keep from being contaminated. Silently, the two strong youths strode forward to either side of the young girl. They waited until the shaman finished his sacred signals to the stars, communicating with their lord.

"Ready." The shaman ordered.

As if hearing, the high winds picked up even more. Some of the villagers gasped in fear and awe, looking around in wonder. Raising his arms to the night sky, the shaman avoided eye contact with his daughter, to keep from tainting his mind with fatherly love. As the old man chanted in a language of the gods, both warriors picked Stardust up; one by the ankles and shoulders. Holding her prone form, deep blue eyes tightly squeezed shut, they slowly walked to the cliff. Both wished to say goodbye, but knew it was forbidden. They cast it from their minds, since a shaman had the power to see your thoughts if he chose to.

When the shaman's voice grew louder, Stardust was slowly swung back and forth to gain momentum.

"And I say to you evil spirits...leave this mountain upon this purified sacrifice and bother us no more! Depart to your underworld and live your life in peace! Lord of Tenku, use your magic powers to cleanse this holy mountain and the surrounding acres. Accept this sacrifice I beseech! By Your name, it is done!!"

Swinging so much, both warriors were nearly thrown over as they let go. Stardust's body sailed into the air, giving her a glimpse of everyone in her clan.

Her mind suddenly threw itself back to her childhood memories. She had a happy childhood then. She had a happy LIFE. Time seemed to slow her body's fall to the sharp rocks below. As the winds whipped her clothes, she slowly turned to meet her fate. This was it. Freeing her spirit was why she was BORN. But... Though a shaman's daughter, she was still HUMAN. The earlier nerves disappeared as old-fashioned fear and panic rushed instead. From the adrenaline rushing her system, a scream wrenched from her mouth as the fall seemed to speed up.

A few villagers crowded the edge to see. Instead of watching the beloved shaman's daughter falling, they jumped back in fear and confusion upon finding her body rushing up in the center of a mini-tornado. It shot back into the air from the high winds, stopping out of reach. Her body stilled when she faced the villagers and those night sky blue eyes, showing she was marked for sacrificed, opened. Forgetting every bit of mannerism she was SUPPOSED to know, a hand shot out in desperation for her father.

"PAPA!" She urgently shouted, leaning forward a little.

The shaman rushed past the people and looked to the yard distance. It was too far to reach, but he had no INTENTION of saving his daughter. Lord of Tenku was taking her, as they planned. "Daughter! Do not be afraid! Be strong! Remember everything you were taught!"

What she was taught... 'That's right.' Her hands tightly clasped together, eyes squeezing shut as she prayed. What was she DOING? Asking for help of the villagers?? 'Lord of Tenku...protect me...'

The winds picked up, but Stardust didn't move from her stance. Dirt and sand from the ground below was quickly assimilated into the vortex, blocking her from view. Slowly, it shrunk in width and evaporated. The people gasped and looked in awe and wonder.

She was GONE.

~*~*~

When those dark blue eyes opened, she found herself in a dank, dark, grey-looking room. It had no form, save for a very light fog in the area. Her eyes shot open as she quickly scrambled to her feet. Wide eyes looked around. Where WAS she!? Slim hands extended as she took a few experimental steps. There was no danger in falling or bumping into anything...

She brought a hand to her face and gently bit a finger. She winced from the pain, finding it WASN'T a dream. Then...

"Where AM I?"

"My HOME." A wind came from nowhere, gentle and warm. Hands touched her head as amazed eyes looked to the moving fog. That VOICE...a soothing tenor she heard in her HEAD. She gulped and tried to remember she was in a powerful god's home.

Her eyes looked around the area again. "Are you...Lord of Tenku??" She breathed.

An impatient sigh moved the wind and fog again. This time, there was a chill instead of warmth. "Why do you humans CALL me your LORD?? I am NO such thing."

Her hands clenched in anger. How DARE this upstart deny their god! "Imposter!" She shouted, taking a step forward. "How DARE you call yourself the mighty Lord of Tenku?? LIES! Insulting my clan's god like that! Come out and SHOW yourself, you coward!"

Another sigh chilled the air. This one as if its patience were being tested. "You want to see what I LOOK like? I HAVE no form, unlike the OTHERS. But we can assume HUMAN stances..."

A vortex whipped her clothes toward it. She steadied herself, against the pulling wind and watched with wide eyes as the blur of a body formed. When the wind stopped, a man stood in full, blue armor. "Is THIS what you wanted to see?"

She gasped and took a step back in shock. The Tenku insignia was on his armor! NO ONE had that except... In a blur, she dropped to the ground and bowed before the god she mocked.

Lord of Tenku sighed and rolled his eyes. "Get UP." He impatiently ordered. The voice was the same, but didn't move the wind or echo in her head.

Quickly, her head shook. She just insulted her god...her MASTER! What would he do NOW?? Would he punish her? Bring bad luck to her clan? Destroy her SOUL?? A shiver stole up her body.

The armor slowly evaporated with his thoughts, leaving the young man in a white and dark blue covering. He stood above and looked to her huddled form, armored hands on armored hips. A small sweatdrop formed as he finally gave her leg a VERY gentle nudge. Did she fall ASLEEP or something?? "Hey... You awake down there?" Her black head nodded, but she still didn't move. He gave a long suffering sigh and idly scratched his head, blowing at the stubborn forelock in his eyes. "Why don't you ANSWER me? You're allowed to SPEAK, you know."

Her head shook negative again. "NO ONE is allowed to talk to a god unless given permission." She tightly whispered.

A larger sweatdrop appeared and a hand slapped his face with a look of pain. "You PEOPLE and your RULES! Where did you come UP with that??"

Not allowing herself to be swayed with this strange god's ways, she stayed rooted. Her mind was filled with bewilderment and questions, a lot of them over this masquerader's origin and behavior, and her training. WHY was she being taken so LIGHTLY?? She was his servant, but he had yet to order her to do anything OR bother to formally introduce himself.

She'd heard STORIES during her teachings that OTHER tribal gods branded their insignias into a servant's FOREHEAD to mark them. She wondered if THIS god was like any of the ones she heard about, but discarded that thought. There was no NEED. Though many of her clan had black hair, their eyes were BROWN. Lord of Tenku did more than brand her BODY, he marked her before she was even BORN.

A quiet rustle from his subarmor sounded as he kneeled in front of her. His eyes almost amusingly locked with the top of her head. A small smirk appeared. "You're only going to do anything I COMMAND you to, AREN'T you?" The only thing she did was give an agreeing nod. ONE thing was sure, her clan certainly trained her to be SUBORDINATE. That didn't sound like anything GOOD if he was STUCK with her...

"Look up." He ordered.

With a furrowed brow at his simple command, Stardust did as he said and found herself inches from amused dark blue eyes and light blue hair. Her eyes widened as far as they'd go and she instinctively jerked backwards with a cry. Her face flamed as she quickly tried to assume a more dignified stance, trying to keep from showing anything. Even though, if her lord DECREE it, she would give herself to him. Anything to please him...

He watched as she primly sat on her heels, hands in her lap. Her eyes were squeezed shut. A brow rose at that, but he discarded it. Probably ANOTHER rule of some kind. Now that the fun was over, he stood and extended a hand. His throat cleared to gain her attention when she didn't open her eyes. After another short pause, he sighed and the wind blew.

"Open your eyes." One slowly peeked open and she looked to his hand, but not his face. "Is there a REASON you won't look me in the eye? And ANSWER me."

She gulped, wondering if she made him mad. An angry god was a VENGEFUL god and NOT someone you wanted to cross. "It...it's FORBIDDEN to look a god in the eyes..." She hesitantly whispered.

Deep blue rolled above only momentarily before he reached down and took one of her hands. Being careful to keep from yanking her arm out of its socket with his armor's strength, he pulled the girl to her feet with a startled gasp. He let go and stood in front of her, arms crossing when her head remained bowed. Already tiring of ordering her around, his hand moved and lightly gripped her chin, tilting it toward him. Her eyes remained tightly shut, but her brow was upturned and he could feel her trembling oh so slightly.

"I don't CARE about your tribe's rules." He quietly uttered, not letting go. "I'm TELLING you to open your eyes and look at me. If you DON'T; consider this an order then."

Her eyes slowly fluttered and locked with deep blue; as deep as hers. She bit her inner lip, hands fidgeting. She knew it was against over a decade of instilled rules, but if her lord didn't care for her rules, maybe he wouldn't PUNISH her. She fought not to take a step back. "Then...you're not ANGRY with me?"

He gave a small grin and casually walked a few foot into the mist. "Your tribe is SEVERELY disillusioned. I am NOT a god, or a lord. I am NOTHING that powerful. The animals your clan worships HAVE no special powers, except what they evolved with to survive. With ANY clan, the only beings of power, that I'M aware of anyway, are the five of us. And even WE are not powerful enough to be called gods. We are merely nature deities who serve OUR creator." He stopped a small distance away and twisted at the waist. "Do you understand so far?" He queried.

Her body stood there in a timid stance, despite the finery she had on. Her head shook. His eyes closed with a small sigh, knowing he'd have to SHOW her. Turning to face her, a hand swung in a wide arc. An invisible blur followed his hand...a small twinkle sparkling after a brief pause. The fog vanished, whatever mysterious light in the place dimming to blackness.

She thickly swallowed, trying to still her trembling. Her lord vanished with her eyesight and she hesitated to close the gap to locate him. "M...my...lord?" She whispered, wrapping both arms around her torso. Try as she might to stand strong and remind herself where she was, she was starting to get frightened. She couldn't even see her hands in front of her face!

"Look around you..."

That echoing tenor reached inside her head, startling her. But she did as commanded and gasped in surprise at the millions of stars that surrounded her vision. They were even UNDERNEATH her! Her eyes widened as she took a step backward, fearing she was in space!

"Don't be afraid... You are quite safe. I merely changed the room to show you my realm."

She looked around at the stars directly in front of her. They were EVERYWHERE! Her hand slowly moved and loosely fisted one. They glowed like fireflies... The glow didn't waver behind her flesh and she gave a childlike giggle. "Are we inside your home?" She queried, too lost in this beauty to remember her manners.

"I don't NEED a home. I simply EXIST." He answered, watching her. Every quiet breath she exhaled blurred the magical image in front of her. But at least she didn't ACT like she was moments ago. "Ever since the Earth was created, I have existed."

"Because it was YOU who made the Earth." She proudly answered. She beamed, like a child giving the right answer. Her gaze looked around, as if to see him.

"How do you FIGURE?" If he possessed a head, he'd be shaking it. But it wasn't really HER fault for being educated in fifteen years of lies...

"'With a thought, using mighty powers, Lord of Tenku created the Earth and every living thing...even down to the tiniest blade of grass. He created the moon and Earth to coexist together, to help keep order when He was unable to watch EVERYTHING. His eye and power extend into the vast solar system, creating what he deemed worthy for life'. That was the first thing taught to me when I was old enough to understand." She answered.

"So you think you KNOW me...is THAT it?" He sarcastically muttered. "You speak VERY little truth. I didn't make ANYTHING. It IS true my realm is space...but whatever is created is none of MY doing. I merely WATCH and LEARN. I do NOT possess the power of life, but INTELLECT...which you seem to hold very LITTLE of right now. I am the form of air because I NEED no form to survive. I am conscious thought. I am eons old, like my brothers. YOU, my dear Stardust, should just FORGET everything you were taught. It is blasphemy."

She stood amidst the stars, in what she THOUGHT was a god's home, and felt her eyes water. What this man was saying...COULDN'T be true! She held back sobs and almost wildly shook her head.

"NO!...that can't...BE." Hands clutched part of her dress, as if her chest hurt. What he was denying...was the entire reason she was ALIVE. "But...you watch over my clan! Protect us in the mountainous lands and give us life-giving AIR!..." Teeth bit her lip as the fists loosened. Slowly, her legs lowered her to the ground and she sat, absently staring at a star near her face. "I was BORN for you...you marked me with my blue eyes... I am a sacrifice of the mighty Lord of Tenku..."

The wind slowly blew as he sighed. "I am sorry to have to TELL you this...especially when I learned of what those shaman intended on doing before you were born... But my brothers and I NEVER involve ourselves with the affairs of ANY mammal. We simply keep order. I know, had I NOT saved you, that you would've died needlessly. And both creator AND myself couldn't stand for that."

Another sigh moved her braids, feeling a little guilty and frustrated. "Human beings do and think what they WANT to. But their conscious is that of your TRUE creator and we dare not stifle that."

The stars shifted and clumped together in front of her. His form appeared from those stars, clothed in simple white, baggy garments. A wide strip of cloth was on his forehead. He kneeled and leaned down, lightly resting a slim hand on her knee. Those dark blue eyes looked up, devoid of any emotion...save one. Defeat. She was a woman who had fifteen years of teachings and strong beliefs destroyed in the matter of moments by a crass explanation.

He gave a kind smile. "Come... I will teach you something NEW to believe. The TRUE reason your Earth was created." Gently, he took a hand and stood, slowly getting her to stand as well. His hand let go of hers, extending amidst the stars. A bright yellow light shone from his fingertips and then planets accompanied the stars.

She blinked dull eyes as she looked. "This is...our solar system..." She whispered. In the center was the sun, every other planet and moon revolving at different speeds. It was magnificent to behold.

He nodded and walked to the Earth, halting its slow rotation. "Every sphere that you see had a life of its own at one point in time. Many of the planets are uninhabitable NOW...but in time they WILL be. Some already HAVE been, but that is a different story."

The system disappeared, the Earth remaining. "This planet, though you might not believe it, is alive. It exists through life and death of plants and animals. Animal conscious is ITS conscious. Human consciousness is result of millennia in evolution. EVERYTHING evolves."

The Earth sphere changed to a circular view of a forest. "Time is this result." As if undoing the fabric of life, the forest quickly UNgrew at rapid speed. Soon, no trees were left; just flat land and sand. "What you saw in mere seconds took tens of thousands of years." His eyes left the vision to meet hers. "Do you understand so far?"

She looked at him and blinked. Part of her DID...but it still seemed too farfetched. An ironic twist for a human sacrifice standing around the magic of Tenku. "I...I don't know. I...THINK so..."

His eyes went back to the sphere. "I will continue then."

The sphere's view changed to a globe of water, small particles seen floating in it. "After this sphere gained its shape, Suiko became primary. HIS power spanned the globe, watching over the afterbirth of this planet. He watched over the creations that first developed; amoeba. Earth's first infant conscious. After millions of years Suiko's total reign submitted more and more to Kongo as Korin and Rekka dried up the water. Land defined oceans, soon making amoeba take a different roll. Those were the first land animals. As the Earth became more defined with Suiko and Kongo, of plants and animals, its consciousness also aged. But the Earth was still VERY young, unlike its sons. Evolution helps with this."

Once again, their eyes met in the pause. "Every animal possesses basic instincts. Eat, sleep, drink, mate, and survival. All animals evolved from that one amoeba. Human beings, though they possess more intellect, still evolved from this."

A slim finger pointed to the picture of the amoeba. "Do you understand?"

Her eyes stared at the palm-sized image, transfixed with this new idea. "A little better, yes." Her eyes lifted and locked with blue. "But how were you and your...brothers created then?"

A half smile appeared as his hand hovered over the sphere, changing the image. "The Earth started as a star in this system. ALL the planets did. Rekka's power was used as it enlarged. Rekka hardened to Kongo and dried. This process was repeated HUNDREDS of times until Suiko emerged and covered everything. Korin was born from Rekka's hot temperatures. The hotter the fire, the brighter the lava."

An image of fire, water, Earth, and light encompassed the globe. "Our conscious is on a higher level than animal. It is alongside the Earth's. We exist as a symbiotic, and sometimes destructive, unit to expand and strengthen our creator's conscious. We helped create this globe, but as our elements shaped the Earth, our consciousness was born on this planet. The Earth is our mother and to keep it going with its evolution, we guard this planet and watch it. We keep order when order is needed in times of destruction. But that is rare. Though everything lives and dies and feeds off one another for survival, life is still precious. When something is CONTINUOUSLY killed, we decide the best action to take."

"Is that why my village has been plagued with so many bad things?" She asked. "Because the shamans intended on sacrificing me?"

His head shook. "No. Those small things happen because nature HAPPENS. NOTHING in nature is ever certain and the disease, drought, and hunting was just what happened these past seasons. I was not punishing you, and your clan had done nothing wrong. Those who can't survive...die. That is the way of life."

She absently nodded and thoughtfully chewed on a nail. So many new questions burned in her head, but she didn't know which to ask FIRST. MUCH of her mind already knew what he was talking about with life and death. Things that were born served a purpose of their own intent in life, but that intent was their own to know. Some of her mind was wondering more of the Earth's creation process, just HOW it could exist from a STAR. Did the will of the planet create something from the star? Did that mean that EVERY star had a mind of its own? That was an interesting thought to ponder.

Letting go of her lower lip, she hesitantly locked eyes with Tenku. "...So...what happens to me NOW?"

"I bring you back home." He answered, like the answer was obvious. Done with the magical picture, the fog and dim light returned with a thought.

Her gaze wildly looked around at the room. She was going BACK?! NO! "But!..." Her gaze turned from absently gazing around to his form, but he vanished. Turned back to air no doubt.

She sighed. "But...but I was born as a SACRIFICE! My entire clan thinks I'm DEAD! Why bring me BACK? Can I not stay with YOU??"

"You are standing inside a star, manipulated from my magic to keep you alive. You do not BELONG here. I am not SUPPOSED to take care of you and keep you like a pet. You are a human being. You belong on EARTH. I am returning you to the plateau you were taken from."

Her gaze lowered in defeat, shoulders drooping. There was NO way to talk him out of it, as she feared. That even, echoing voice was final. "Then...what'll happen to me when I DO return? I'm supposed to be DEAD! How do you think my family is going to REACT when they SEE me??"

"That is something YOU will have to deal with. That isn't my concern. If I step in and explain things, everything will get WORSE. Your shaman won't believe me, just as YOU originally didn't. They're too stuck in their ways to accept change. You are different because everything was taught on your blind acceptance. You know a LITTLE truth about our mother Earth, and that helped to open your eyes. If you explain your whereabouts, that's YOUR business. But you are going BACK now."

Before she could say anything else in her defense, the fog moved toward her with the wind directing it. The same vortex swirled around her. The wind was so intense she couldn't breathe.

'No...please... Don't make me go back...' She mentally pleaded. He didn't KNOW what he was DOING by sending her back!

When she was released, her eyes peeked open and widened upon seeing the majestic night sky twinkling back down.

"Lord Tenku...no, just Tenku...I wished there was SOMETHING I could've said to make you let me stay..."

Though she was branded a sacrifice, truth be known, she WANTED to stay with him. Not as just a servant from her clan... It was something MORE... SOMEHOW...

With a sigh, she started down the well-worn trail, back to her village. Her mind whirled. How was she going to explain THIS??