Rating: PG-13 for stuff that will happen later on.
Disclaimer: Babylon 5, Minbar and all its inhabitants, belong to JMS. I am a humble fanficcer.
Acknowledgements: John Hightower for help figuring out ages, Diane for help thinking through some other stuff, Selena for encouragement and inspiration, and Maia for the endless hours of therapy that were necessary to get this thing written.
Series notes: If Lennier seems slightly out of character, that's because I've put him through rather a lot since 'Objects at Rest.' For my take on what happened to him, see my story 'The Candle and the Star', available here:
For Lennier as head of the Grey Council, see my fic 'Varieties of Repentance':
This story should be comprehensible even if you haven't read either of those, however. This story is not consistent with my fic 'A Thousand Years.'
Other notes: In 'Points of Departure' Lennier says that the diminishment of Minbari souls began two thousand years ago. In 'War Without End', Delenn says it began a thousand years ago. This difference is never resolved in canon.
Lennier's diary is mentioned in 'Objects at Rest'. Since it bothered me more than anything else in that episode - which is saying a great deal - I felt obligated to include it here.
Summary: On Minbar, nothing is as it once was.
Chapter 1: Hunger
There is a fire in the heart of Minbar, a harsh black darkness that burns in its core a white light. The fire is darker than the emptiness where the galaxy ends, and the light is brighter than pain, and they meet at the finest edge. None can stand between them.
The Darkfire is a thing of legend, in the distant desert where none now go. They fear it, as they should. The Minbari say that it is a gift, brought in times before history by Valeria and the one who came with her. According to legend, one who stands in the burning light at the center of the dark will attain his greatest wish, and will die.
The Minbari remembered this teaching, and held it precious. They kept this lesson before them two thousand years ago, when they first began to build the Starfire Wheel.
Delenn knew it was time when she realized that she had forgotten how to pray. It had been over two years since John had left her, and although they never found his body, still he was gone. She had not prayed often during the years that they were together, but her touch on his body was also a prayer, as was the future they were making together. All is one, and we are one, and we are the Universe trying to understand itself, and to create itself anew. But John was no longer here, and Delenn had forgotten how to pray.
The book she had brought with her was one she had not opened in twenty years. What she had found in it, then, had shamed her. Now she did not fear shame, nor the knowledge that she had no right to what she held in her hands. It was Lennier's old diary, and Lennier had always known how to pray. Delenn would never forget the soft chant of his words as she huddled in her chrysalis, the gentle thread of his voice, keeping her strong, keeping her alive.
There was blood on the cover. From a training accident, no doubt, from Lennier's short time as a Ranger. Delenn touched the stain, brought her fingers to her lips, and began to turn the page.
The first words in the diary were about the Third Rituals of Minbar:
On Minbar, three is sacred. When there is two, there is always a third, even if hidden. And so it is in marriage, that when two are joined, there are the Third Rituals. For every destiny that is fulfilled, there is one that is not, and when the door closes on the marriage chamber there is always a Third who waits outside, who would willingly have wed one who now chooses another. He must watch, and guard, and pray for the one he loves and for her mate. They must pray for him as well, that he turn aside, and accept his fate, and find love and joy with another.
It is harsh, to be a Third, but it is something that most Minbari must face. There are some few who never taste of this. They are called the Fortunate, and are much envied, but not one has ever stood among the Grey.
The Third Rituals must be followed. The one who remains outside must renounce his love forever. The one he loves must send him away from her, and pray for him to find another. Her partner must honor the ritual. It is said that if any fail, doom will fall on all of them, and death or exile will surely follow.
Delenn could understand why this text was here. Lennier had doubtless copied it as a reproach to himself. Delenn felt it as an accusation against her. Yes, she had said the prayers connected to the Third Rituals, and she had no doubt that Lennier had done so as well. But words were only words, and she knew she had never been able to truly send him away. How could she? She had not been able to imagine life without him. And so exile had taken him. If not death. One more guilt, to add to the many she carried.
Many years ago, she had tried to send a message to Lennier, although she had no way of knowing if he had ever received it. "When you find what you seek," she had said, "remember that it is not you alone who requires it. It is needed also for me, and for our people." He had gone off to seek forgiveness, and there was so much forgiveness that she needed. Lennier's was not the least.
There was a comfort in the guilt. It was familiar, like home, like the embrace of an old husband.
"I join myself to the One," she said, speaking the morning prayer invocation, "who speaks in us, and through us, and Is the Universe seeking to understand Itself." And if we are the Universe, then the Universe is far from innocent. Delenn let this thought console her as she slipped into her morning meditations.
Barenn threw the papers on the table. "I can't believe this, Satai Shakth," she said. "A generation has gone by since Delenn's change. The population decline among the Minbari was supposed to stop. And here it is. Look at this."
Lennier looked at the papers, and then looked at his friend. Barenn had once been his mentor. She had found him on Centauri Prime, when he was close to death. Under her guidance, and that of her mate and fellow council member Nur, Lennier had become a Worker like them. They had even found him a new name, since he needed one so desperately. The Grey Council knew who and what he had been, but they called him Shakth of the Worker caste now. In time he had joined Barenn and Nur on the Council. In the past few years he had stood in the place of light in the center, the place that should have been Delenn's. He would hold it for her.
"If these are the figures that you have gathered it must be true," Lennier said. "It may take more time, for Delenn's actions to have their effect. Or perhaps there is something else that must be done. We know that which has been spoken of has come to pass. Delenn has said..."
"Does everything have to be about Delenn?" Nur muttered. "Does Delenn need to be the end of every story?" Barenn frowned. It was an old argument between them. "There were powers on Minbar before Valen, and there will be when Delenn is gone. As she just as well might be. Have we heard from her? Has she shown any interest in the workings of Minbar since she became President of the Alliance?"
"We have not sought her out," Lennier said. "We have not called on her to return."
"But she hasn't asked," said Nur.
"No," said Lennier. "She hasn't asked."
They went into the council chamber, and took their place in the circle of light. The other seven joined them: Dalidi and Burli of the Religious caste, Mazik and Shaka of the Warriors, Dulann, Katz and Zaca of the Workers. Lennier had heard all of Nur's words, and knew them to be true. Delenn's sacrifice had changed much, but not all. There was another sacrifice to be made, and he would make it.
Lennier took his place at the center of the circle. "We are students of the Teachers of Light," he said, "and we teach their truths. Order. Stability. Obedience. Justice. We serve the light, and take pride in its service. We know, now, that the Shadows also came to be our teachers. They taught us to ask: what do we want? And now I must ask you: do you want Minbar to grow, and to be strong, as it was in ancient days? The darkness takes a life for a life. What is given must be paid for. Lives are being taken from us. Souls. I believe that I know how to end this. I must have your blessing to do what I must do, and to speak in your name."
He knew that Delenn would simply have gone. But he was not Delenn, merely her acolyte, though he stood in a place that should have been hers. So he remained, and bowed, and waited for the answer of the Nine.
"We will go with you," said Dalidi of the Religious caste. "Did we say nothing when we swore to follow you into fire?"
"This is also following," said Nur, unexpectedly. "I trust him."
"So do I," said Barenn, with her usual broad smile.
"And I," said Dalidi, more reluctantly.
Mazik of the Warrior caste folded his muscular arms across his robe. "What you ask," he said, "these are not things a Warrior should want." Mazik had never liked it when Lennier spoke of Shadows. "But go," he concluded. "You speak for us now."
Nur stopped Lennier on his way out. "I know where you are going," she said. "Haven't you stopped trying to kill yourself yet?"
"You are the one who brought the news of the finding of the Darkfire," Lennier said. "And it is my place as the head of the Grey to face it. I have earned very little in my life, but I have earned the right to face the Darkfire."
"How?" asked Nur.
"By discovering its secret."
He told her what he believed to be the truth of the origin of the Darkfire, and the cost of having turned away from it. "Two thousand years, it has been abandoned," he concluded. "Without it, we are diminished."
"How long have you known?" she asked.
Lennier considered. He remembered how, years ago, in what felt like another lifetime, he had told Sheridan and Ivanova the story of the decline in Minbari souls, beginning two thousand years ago. Not, like Delenn had said, with Valen's change a thousand years ago. He had tried to believe Delenn, but had never ceased to doubt. He had even written of this doubt, once, in his diary, to his shame, wondering how it could be that Delenn bearing human children could renew life among the Minbari.
"I have always suspected," Lennier admitted.
He knew now that for this reason he had come to stand among the Grey, to complete the work that Delenn had begun. He would go to the Darkfire in her place, and take her death, and earn her forgiveness.
It only seemed wrong, that he would never speak to her again.