Chapter 4: Life from Death
The Darkfire burned in a narrow valley in the desert, a place where light is already dim. A simple circle of darkness, with an even simpler bright circle inside it. No one watched it. The valley was abandoned, with no life or growth. There would be no witnesses to what would transpire here.
It was so different, Delenn reflected, from when she had gone to the Starfire Wheel, before all of Minbar. Then, the ancient ritual had been set, and the outcome had been certain, or at least she had believed it to be. Here, before a far more ancient ritual, there was only uncertainty. Delenn could still not believe that this was necessary at all. But Lennier was certain, and he had followed her certainty so many times, against all reason and tradition.
"Delenn." Lennier spoke her name as if it were a prayer, as if it were the most fervent prayer of his life. Then, before she could speak, he turned away from her and stepped into the circle.
The darkness was cool, seductive, caressing. "What do you want?" it asked. Lennier felt the memory, Delenn's body wrapped around him, her hands on his face, and it took all his focus to keep from gasping. All that is desired. As simple as turning back. And what more had he wanted, all his life?
He wanted her. He still wanted her, forever. To be her partner in all the years of life that remained them. To love her, openly, will all the devotion in his heart. Lennier felt the familiar ache in his heart, his body, his loins, his hands, his soul, every part of his being that craved only to serve the one he loved.
Lennier knew this ache. He had lived with it for a long time, and not even the force of Shadows could make it more intense than it had always been. He had faced this longing before, and knew that there was another answer. The greatest longing of every soul is to do good in the world, he thought, and stepped forward into the light.
"Who are you?" the light demanded, in a voice that allowed no mercy. Would-be murderer. Would-be adulterer. Bearer of hatred in your heart. The light was too bright to avoid seeing exactly what it illuminated. Breaker of vows. Friend of Shadows. Speaker of false evidence. Destroyer of Centauri Prime. Betrayer of the Anla'shok.
It was hard not to bend under the fury of the light and the answers it demanded. The one who turned away from John Sheridan, leaving him to die. The one who made a vow to Delenn to stay with her, always, and then broke it, fleeing. The one who let unspoken desire fester in his heart until it made him, for a moment, something that he was not. The maker of chaos in the first moments of the new order. The legacy of Shadows.
All these words were true. Lennier had heard them, often, in his own voice. They are what I am, he thought. But they are not all that I am.
Standing at last between the darkness and the light, Lennier spoke the words that he had prepared:
"I am the leader of the Grey Council, and I speak in the name of all of Minbar. I want the greatness of Minbari souls to be renewed."
Then the light pressed down on him, testing him, until all conscious thought was gone.
Delenn could see the struggle that took place inside the Darkfire, and hear the words Lennier spoke. She could not doubt that they were correct, if what he believed was true. The third principle of sentient life is its capacity for self-sacrifice. Only from self-sacrifice can greatness follow. Delenn knew this as well as anyone.
She had allowed herself to fantasize that Lennier had some secret plan for facing the Darkfire. Now it was clear that he had only planned, from the beginning, to face it in the ancient way: to give himself to the fire, and to die. Always self-sacrificing. It was the only way he had ever known how to be. This was the correct answer, for Minbar, and for Lennier as well.
And yet. And yet. There must be another answer.
Light and dark, desire and destiny. Delenn had lost John to destiny, to the fate that had brought him to her and then taken him beyond, to another place. Lennier had never been predestined for her. She had always known this. But then how could destiny take him away?
Light and dark, Vorlons and Shadows. Delenn had thought she had banished them, but their legacy was still here, at the heart of Minbar. Three creates possibility. What if there were a third term here to create possibility, to make things other than they were?
Delenn felt something rise in her, something that she had felt only once before in her life. Of course there is, the thought. There's us. She whispered a prayer to Valen, and took her place in the circle.
The darkness was soft, gentle, welcoming. "All that is desired," it whispered. "Speak, and we will give. Any hope, any gift, only desire it of us." Behind the voice was ice-cold hardness, the seduction of death.
It was an easy temptation for Delenn. She had sent away Shadows before. She took the next step, and felt the brightness hit her, white-hot and angry. "Who are you?" Delenn could hear Sebastian's voice, trying her, searching for an answer she did not know how to give.
She knew now that any answer would have been false. There is no one essence that can explain all our actions, all our destiny. Only choices that we make that shape who we are.
Lennier knelt beside her, bent by the pain of the light that was taking his life, testing him, demanding to know if he would hold true to the being and desire that he had stated until death claimed him. She intended to make certain that he would not. "Go", he managed to whisper. She took his hands, to reassure herself more than anything, and turned her face to the darkness and the light. "I want a long life, for myself and for Lennier." she said. "I am the mother of Lennier's child."
He heard her words, from the place where the pain was so great he had almost forgotten his name, and the pain of knowing he was abandoning her yet again was worse than the torment from the light. 'I am...' he thought, and then realized that he could think no more. 'What I said before is true,' he forced into his mind.
In the distance, far away, he imagined he could hear words in a great voice. "Your wish will be granted."
Then, everything tore apart.
The light shattered, a thousand short screams of brightness mingling with the dark. The dark seemed to break as well to join with the light, not to become grey, but to form patterns, dark and light together on the desert earth. The voices were still, as if pausing before beginning the next great question.
Lennier huddled on the ground, gasping but alive. Delenn could not help but remember the broken White Star so many years ago, the last time they had faced death together, and she kissed him, quickly, to take away the memory. "Are you hurt?" she asked.
"Not any more," he said with a confused smile. "What you said..." he began.
"A simple chronological problem," she said. "Nothing that would unduly disturb the Shadows and the Vorlons. Besides," she added, "I needed to get your attention."
He laughed, and she smiled to hear his weakness fading. "I would say that you shouldn't have," he said, "but it seems to have worked. Or at least I think it did. It seemed as if the Darkfire granted my wish, as the light changed. But how did you know..."
"How to break the Darkfire?"
"It isn't broken," he said. "Look." He held out his hand so that the patterned light would reflect on it. Light fell in the center of darkness, darkness in the center of light. Delenn could feel the same patterns on her face, on the back of her neck, tiny bursts of heat and cold flowing over her that she had forgotten to notice since they gave no pain. She could not explain this, so she spoke what she now finally did understand.
"You explained it to me," she said. "The Darkfire is the teaching of the Shadows and Vorlons. Between them, they can give almost anything. Power. Riches. Wisdom. Goodness. Strength. Belief. It is only life that they cannot give.
"They demand life, each of them. The Vorlons ask that we give our lives for the greater good. The Shadows offer us the opportunity to give our lives for what we desire. But what if life itself is what we desire? What if we see in ourselves the possibility for its creation? In that case, the Shadows and the Vorlons have nothing to teach us. Either that, or they reject us as unworthy of their teaching. And at the moment, I find that I do not very much care which."
"Or," Lennier said, "they remain, and must find methods of teaching that do not require our destruction." As Delenn felt the play of light and dark on her body she realized that he could be correct. Once Delenn had believed that she had sent away the gods, and that any further magic in the Universe must be of her own creation. If what Lennier said was true, and if the Darkfire was not truly broken, then there were possibilities in the Universe beyond what Delenn could begin to imagine.
"One last question," Lennier said. "Is it really possible that we could have a child, even now, after you have become what you are?"
She took his hands and placed them on her belly. Not that he would feel anything, but it was good to have his hands on her. Two parents and a child: the most primordial three of all.
"Faith manages," she said.
In the Grey Council chambers, Nur paced through the spirals of light and dark that had replaced the stark patterns on the floor. So the Darkfire had broken, or changed. Nur was still uncertain if she had acted correctly in telling the Grey Council that she had found it. But it had seemed only right. She had found it while doing weapons testing in the desert, thirty-five years ago, when she had taken her team to the uninhabited wastes to work on the weapons that she had designed for the utter destruction of Earth.
The Earth/Minbari war had been over for many years, and Nur's crimes were well in the past. Since the war she had built nothing but homes. Still, at night she dreamed of a charred planet, and ten billion screams, and silence. There was no forgiveness for this, and none could be asked. When Nur had found the Darkfire, she had hoped that it would bring renewal, life from death. "The hand that breaks is the hand that fixes," was a saying among the Workers. Nur hoped her aging hands would stay strong for a while. There was much fixing left to be done.
Barenn entered the chamber, and joined Nur in her pacing. "If Satai Shakth does not return," she asked, "will you take his place?"
"I believe he will return," said Nur. In fact she had received a message saying that he would, but she did not want to relay it yet. She needed a few more moments alone with everything he had said, everything she still needed to understand. "It is possible that Delenn will also return, and take her place among us as well."
"That would be wonderful," Barenn breathed.
In the center of the room the triluminary lay resolutely dark. Nur glared at it, as if staring it in the eye. "Not every story has to be about Valen," she said.
Josif knew he was an unusual child. His parents were unusual. His father was a Worker who had once been Religious, and his mother was very famous and had hair, just like he did, and sometimes his parents would go to secret meetings that Josif wasn't supposed to know about. And then there was his much older brother, who also had hair and was with the Rangers. Physically, Josif knew he was just a little bit weaker. His teachers had given him some trouble at first, for being slower than his friends, but then his mother had said a few words to the teachers and everything had been fine. In the evenings Josif's father would meditate with him, or practice sparring, or teach him to carve a bird from a stone.
Josif had heard the story of why he was different. They said his father had gone to a distant planet, to a place where they had more children than they needed and some they couldn't care for, and brought him home. Josif wasn't sure he believed it, though. He knew he was Minbari, just as much as any of his friends at Temple. He was Minbari, and his soul was Minbari, and no differences could make him anything else.
Sometimes Josif would get up early in the morning, and his mother would be in the garden watching the dawn, and his father would sit at a distance watching her. "What's she doing?" Josif would ask his father.
"Remembering," he would say. "Let's remember with her." And Josif would think of good things to remember, like walking with his friends in the mountains near Tuzanor at sunset.
And sometimes Josif's parents would fight, just like everyone else's. Mother would bang her fists on the table, and Father would bow low and call her Satai, which would either make her laugh or get angry. But after they finished fighting they would sit together, and she would put her head on his shoulder. "It's alright," she would say. "Not every story has to be about me."
...And there are those who do not fear the Third Rituals and their warning, and refuse to renounce and to choose. They scorn the talk of exile and death, for what other fate awaits us all?
For the Workers believe that what we desire we may build. And the Religious teach that in exile we may repent, and become greater than what we are. And the Warriors say that when we die we may be born again, into a new and better incarnation.