Author's Foreword: Several people have asked for additional stories about Aja, the ancient immortal who found and taught Methos. This is her story. Also, if you haven't found it yet, please read Lost in the Shadows, which I recently loaded. Both of these short stories ar set in the same AU as the longer stories Crossroads in Time, The Pilgrim Heart, The Shattered Soul, and The Artist's Loving Hand. I appreaciate any and all reviews. -elle-nora'


Fallen Embers:
Wind and Water, Fire and Earth

For the breath of life is in the sunlight
And the hand of life is in the wind.

Kalil Gibran

1

How long she had huddled in the darkness… fearing the storm that lashed the landscape, Aja did not know. Time had ceased to have meaning for her. All that remained was the storm, the heaving of the earth and the fire that moved inexorably across its face. Even the ocean seemed to sizzle as if even there, life was dying.

"My fault!" she cried beating her hands against her head again and again. Ever since she and Kritis, her brother, had begun the slaying of the People and the Others, chaos had ruled the day. Chaos… fire… the agent of change, she whispered to the lightning, thinking, perhaps, if she said the old chants and gave obeisance to the Source of Life… that she would be forgiven and the storm would end.

But the storm continued.

Lightning crackled through the darkness and the inner fire of the earth heaved into the sky in bright plumes of molten lava. The air no longer smelled of fresh grass or cut flowers… but instead smelled of scorched earth and sulfur.

Kritis had vanished wailing to the East… somehow forbidden to seek shelter in the earth he loved, even as Aja found the beloved ocean of her childhood… now a violent wind-tossed tempest.

He was Earth and I was Water. Until we have calmed… until we are at peace with what we did… the elements turn their face from us, she thought.

On her hand… where once the sign for water had been carved… her palm burned. She rubbed at it… feeling the emptiness of her soul. Kritis had been bound to her right hand… earth and water… creation and sustenance.

Almost as an afterthought… she opened her left hand and stared at it. That palm was cold and dead. The symbol of fire was dead… as dead as Havron's love for her it seemed. Air… the breath of life, and fire the agent of change.

Havron had warned her that killing D'Jann would not ease their father's pain at slaying their mother. "Only more hurt can come from this!" Havron had screamed against the rising storm.

But she and Kritis hadn't listened. Their father seemed to live within her… screaming forever his pain and sorrow. Their mother, Gael, too seemed to be there… filled with a despondent sorrow that turned the world to ash. Her despair seemed greater than Aja's own. Anger, despair, jealousy, and hatred filled her even now… even as it had filled her when, with her father's death… she'd helped her brother in the slaying of the People. One by one the life essences of the People had lit up the sky in an ever-growing maelstrom of lightning and spent power.

True… some escaped. But most did not. Nor had they been satisfied to attack the People. The Small Ones… the tiny ones sent to them by the Source of Life to be cherished and raised were also slain. So, too, the Others… the mortal and short-lived ones for whom the People had always cared… ran in terror from the demons, which seemed to have suddenly appeared.

Now the very existence of life itself was in doubt… unless the earth calmed, the seas stopped raging, the fires were quenched, and the air stopped blowing in a howling gale that sought to freeze her soul. Aja did not know what to do.

And still the storm raged.

Curling in upon herself in the dark, shallow hollow of the earth, Aja sought to make sense of the past… and sense of the glimmer of the future that even now flickered in Gael's great crystal. Scenes of some future that sparked and faded as each moment passed, and each chance for a different outcome faded. The future was like a thousand roads splayed about her… like the spokes of a wheel, and Aja was lost as to which to take.

Whimpering… she took refuge in the memories of the past… long before the madness had destroyed her world.

Within the Standing Stones, in the Before Time:

The moon was dark this night, hiding her silver face behind the veil of night. A cold wind blew across the face of the earth and Aja shivered as she huddled at the edge of the Standing Stones, the Sentinels of the Source, and peered into the darkness. On nights such as this… a small one sometimes appeared. It was, Aja, first daughter of the People had decided, the way of the Source… to send one when none should be about the Stones. This was neither a night for the celebrations… nor a night for the rituals. This was a night when most were in their hovels, clasping their beloved, and seeking warmth in their beloved's arms.

Aja sighed. On such a night, even she would wish it so. Still a child in the counting of seasons of the People, she remained as yet at the home of those who raised her, D'Jann the speaker and Gael the Healer, her mother and father in the speech of the Others.

At a scurry of small rocks behind her, she stiffened and then relaxed as Havron, her brother's friend, and the male she most hoped to bond with in the future, climbed into the hollow with her and wrapped his arms about her from behind.

He leaned close to her left ear as his hands found hers. "Why do you watch the night, first daughter?"

"Go away," Aja laughed and tried to shrug him off. "I'm busy. I want to see how it is the Small Ones come."

"They just do," Havron said as he nuzzled her ear and darted his tongue into it lightly and teasingly.

Aja felt the thrill of something deep within her at his attention. She'd always adored him and always known that one day they would be together even as Gael and D'Jann were, and she longed for that day. But tonight she was busy.

Eight times she'd sat here watching for a Small One to appear… and eight times she had failed. The one time one had appeared, it had been near dawn and she'd closed her eyes for only a moment. Startled when she heard a baby's cry… she realized that she'd missed the moment.

When Aja had been small, Gael had gathered the Small Ones and found them homes. Now the first of them, Kritis, he whom Aja called brother, Havron and she would soon face the trials and the changing… the secret ceremony by which they would be ushered into the unchanging life of the People. And now, it was Aja who came to the circle each morning in search of the Small Ones. Most of the hovels had one, and a few had two of them to raise. Surely the last of them would come soon. After all, surely the Source of all Life would not send too many more. One of the lessons of the symbols was that all life was to be held in balance. When the balance was altered… there were catastrophic failures. The job of the People was to maintain the balance of life in this place.

They watched over the Others so that with their increasing numbers they did not over-hunt the herds or over-fish the sea. They made certain that they did not clear the forests or dam up the streams unnecessarily. They watched over the Others and kept them safe.

But the influx of small ones in what had been for millennia a closed and static society of the People, was a wonder and a topic of conversation. They who never had children… suddenly had small ones to raise. Ones who looked like the babies of the Others… but in whom were the promise of the future. The People accepted and cared for the Small Ones as only the latest in the gifts they'd received from the Source of Life. "It is the Source's way of fulfilling our longings and desires," Morannon, the judge had said recently.

But Aja wanted to know how it was they arrived, if not how they were created.

Havron's hands teased across her bare breasts and he blew into her ear as he now wrapped even his legs around her. "It's cold out here. You're like ice, first daughter."

Aja leaned back against his bare chest as she often did when they sat at the evening campfires. In the past season, instead of sitting so often with Kritis and pelting her with small stones and teasing her, he'd begun to sit with her. Their elders nodded approvingly at their obvious choice of one another, and averted their eyes, as was the custom whenever any pair wished to pleasure one another.

"I need to watch, far-seeker."

"We have so many… surely no more will come." One of his hands moved down to rest lightly on her abdomen. "You can watch another night. Let me warm you now."

Aja closed her eyes and concentrated on the feel of his hands on her. They'd not done much else, as the elders had forbidden a formal joining until they were much older, but both had known increasingly in recent days that the time of choice was upon them. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps she was on a fool's errand and that they were what was important this night.

Aja shifted to face him and spread her legs to encircle him, feeling him enter her as they clasped one another in an attempt to reach the moment of unity that they'd heard the elders speak of… the moment when mind and body became one… when heart and soul beat as one… darkness and light… sunlight and wind… fire and rain… pain and pleasure.

Her mouth hungrily found his and they rocked back and forth in the night… eventually falling to one side as they sought to find other positions to totally encompass one another and to explore the undiscovered country of one another. Above them, Aja saw stars falling in the night sky.

No small one had come that night, nor for long nights after that. But Aja no longer sought to spend her nights watching. Instead, she sought only Havron, getting to know the smell of him, the sound of him, the feel of him. They were joined in heart if not yet in soul, in body if not yet in mind. They were the first of the Small Ones to take the next steps into the undying life.

Once, as my heart remembers,
All the stars were fallen embers,
Once, when night seemed forever
I was with you

from Fallen Embers, lyrics by Roma Ryan