The Die is Caste
David J. Duncan
For notes & such, please see Part 1
Chapter 6 [On the Lake Entering Althanor]
Deirdre Dubois bit her lip and trembled. Just yesterday, she and her twin sisters, Lauren and Karen, had been playing together and enjoying their parents' company. Then, her Aunt Cybelle arrived and after a talk with Momma and Poppa, the priestess told her to pack a few things and come with her. Now, they stood within the mists, waiting for something. She yanked on the older woman's sleeve and asked, "Excuse me, Auntie."
"Yes, Deirdre. What is it?" Cybelle answered, relieved that her niece was speaking to her. Normally a very inquisitive and precocious child, the little girl had been silent since they left Tucson. "How I wish I could just teleport her to Althanor in one step. But, she must see," she thought as she awaited the response.
"Wh...Where are we going? When will we get there?" her small companion probed.
"We are going to Althanor. It's a wonderful place, Deirdre, with lots of pretty things and people. Now, I'm going to tell you something and then, I need a promise from you, okay?" the priestess responded.
"Sure," the other agreed.
"Do you promise to listen to what the good people say here?" the older woman asked.
"I promise, Auntie. But will Mama and Papa come to visit me? I miss them," the little girl concurred.
"Of course, Little One," Cybelle assured her companion. "I was trained by these very same people as you will be. And I turned out all right, did I not?"
"I...I guess so," Deirdre nervously nodded.
"Good," her aunt nodded. Then, focusing on her surroundings, she felt the approval coming from the high priestess for their arrival. "It's time. C'mon." Raising her hands, she opened a doorwar in the mists and guided the little girl through it.
Deirdre looked around at her surroundings. The houses were little and plain. The people were dressed in emerald robes just like her aunt's. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry as they walked at a relaxed gait. Following her guide's lead, she tottered up the walk to one hut in the middle of the town.
Cybelle knocked three times on the door and asked, "Mother, it's Cybelle. Might we come in?"
"Is the child with you?" an elderly voice asked in response.
"Yes, she's with me," the priestess assured her.
"Then, feel free to enter," the mentor replied.
Cybelle pushed the door open, allowing them to enter the tiny dwelling. Looking down at her niece, she asked, "Ready?"
"Uh huh," the little one agreed. She wanted to be a good girl and make everyone proud of her.
"I hope she maintains this stoicism throughout the training. If so, she'll be a marvel in her own right," the priestess mused as she steadied her companion and showed her where to sit.
The high priestess shuffled over, leaning heavily on her staff. Glancing down at the little girl in front of her, she immediately knew that this one was the daughter of David and Angela Dubois who had saved Althanor years before. If she was half as worthy as her parents, Deirdre would be a great hope for the hidden realm. "Welcome, Deirdre. I am the High Priestess of this realm. If you'd like, you may call me 'Mother'," she greeted warmly.
"But I already have a mother. Sorry," the girl sighed, her head bowed.
"Of course you do," the old woman agreed. "It's just that here, I am...a surrogate mother to all of the good people here. Including your aunt."
"That's right," Cybelle agreed.
"In that case, I like you, Mother," Deirdre smiled.
The elderly woman nodded. This one definitely had her father's backbone. Hopefully, she would not be too difficult to train. No matter. She seemed like a nice girl at heart. "Well, Deirdre, classes start tomorrow if you'd like."
"I like classes!" the little one exclaimed. "Thank you."
The high priestess smiled and nodded to Cybelle. "Can you take her to the advanced novice dormitory?"
The younger priestess glanced at her skeptically. What was going on? Certainly, Deirdre would receive her training as with any novice. But, best not to question her superior in front of the little one. Turning to Deirdre, she asked, "Can you wait outside for a minute? I'll be right out."
The girl sensed the sudden tension growing in the room. She knew about her aunt's temper and wanted no part of an argument. "Sure. I'll stay right outside." Saying that, she left the room.
Having waited for her to do so, Cybelle inquired, "Begging your pardon, Mother. Why are you sending her to the advanced dormitory? She has only just arrived tonight and needs to go through the training like anyone else."
The teacher nodded. While Cybelle had an impertient streak of her own, at least she had learned some decorum. "The girl already has more ability than I anticipated. She's already farther along than you were, Cybelle, when you first arrived. I sense the power inside of her. Besides, there is no time. The goddess has declared that this is a special situation. Your brother goes to face the murderer, Dijon, soon enough. She will play a major role in what happens after that conflict. Her father will need her aid to accomplish his task and you all will need her by your side in the great battles to come. Look for yourself," she declared, summoning a misty portal.
Cybelle stared at the space within the foggy wisps and gasped at what she saw. Dave was in a very dark and hot place reeking of brimstone. But, it was the Child who carved a path through the demons surrounding him. At his side, a young woman with long auburn hair was blasting their attackers with white magical bursts and psychic energies.
"Come, Papa. Dahak's realm is this way," the woman indicated, pointing to the path on their right. As she turned, her face came into view. The build and hair were Angie's but the mannerisms and spark in the eye were Dave's. Somehow, it was Deirdre who was guiding her father through the noxious pit.
"Certainly, you cannot be serious! Mother, she is a child. The woman is full grown and has full command of her abilities!" Cybelle challenged.
The elderly woman began coughing furiously and allowed her eyes to burn into her student's. "You would challenge me? Cybelle, the goddess has already placed her mark upon that girl. Trust in her judgement."
"Of course, it's just that..." the other countered. "It's just that if both of them are lost, then Angie will be doubly begrieved!"
"Then, you must train her well," the priestess advised. "Cybelle, I'm sorry. You have been like my own daughter these past seven years. Deirdre's parents have saved this realm on at least two occasions. Do you think that I would sacrifice her on a whim? Of course not!"
"You can send me! Or we can get Eve to guide him!" Cybelle argued, the fire already burning in her eyes.
The old woman flung her staff on the floor hard and snapped, "Don't argue with me, Cybelle! This is what has been ordained, and we cannot change it! Like it or not, you are to be my successor and Eve has her own role with the Amazons as does Xena. Therefore, it falls to our little charge out there. Trust in me and the goddess, Cybelle! Deirdre will have what she needs before that time. The question is: will you show her?"
"Of course," the younger woman bowed her head. "Forgive me."
"Absolutely, Child. Caring for one's kin is a forgiveable offense, but remember, if you are to survive, all must be treated equally. Leave me now and guide her to the dormitory. We will speak on this matter in the morning," the teacher concluded, stumbling to her bed.
"Until then, Mother," Cybelle agreed, leaving the room. Once outside, she found Deirdre shuddering against the wall.
"Is Papa all right? I saw so many monsters," the girl shivered.
"Did you look inside? I told you not to," her aunt admonished.
"N...No, Auntie. I was sitting out here and then, I saw monsters 'n stuff in the clouds," Deirdre indicated, pointing anxiously at the dissipating mists at the forest's edge.
"She can already see the future," Cybelle sighed. "The Mother was right. No wonder she has been chosen," she thought to herself.
"Aunt, where do we go next?" Deirdre inquired.
"It's bedtime, Little One. Come, we'll get you a nice place to sleep. Follow me," Cybelle indicated.
Deirdre nodded and tottered up the cobbled path after her older relative, heading for the advanced dormitory and her destiny. Little did they realize how quickly it would arrive.
For several hours, Deirdre tried to sleep, but couldn't do it. The room where she was lodged seemed so small and dark. Her father wasn't there to read to her. Her mother wasn't there to kiss her good night. While such things were small in the mind of an adult, they were earth shattering to a child. She began to sob quietly.
From the hall outside, a voice asked, "Deirdre, what is it?"
The little one stated, "S...Sorry, Genaria. I miss my Mama."
The priestess smiled and sat down next to the newest arrival. "Don't apologize. Missing your parents is normal. I remember the first night I came here, I was no bigger than you and I missed my parents. That first night was hard."
"I wish they were here," the little girl continued.
The older woman hugged her tightly and replied, "So do I, Child. They are fine people. I remember when they came here a long time ago."
"You know them?" Deirdre wondered.
"Yes. I brought them here just as your aunt brought you," the priestess stated. "And I'm sure they're missing you as well. They only want the best for you which is why you're here. You're a special person, Deirdre. Remember that."
"OK. I will," the girl agreed. "Thank you."
"You're very welcome," Genaria grinned. "Now, do try to get some sleep. The Mother will be expecting you to be at your best tomorrow."
"I'll try. I wanna make her and everyone proud of me," Deirdre noted.
"And you will," Genaria assured her. "Just believe in yourself. Now, I must let you sleep. If you need anything, I'll be in the hall."
"Night," Deirdre concluded and stared up at the ceiling.
Genaria closed the door behind her, allowing a bit of candlelight to pour in under the doorway.
For 20 minutes, Deirdre fretted in the bed. She felt better, but still missed everyone. "Why did they send me away?" she sulked.
Then, in answer to her question, a bright glow coalesced in the corner and a voice called, "Deirdre. They did not send you away. They sent you to me."
The little girl gasped. As much as she wanted to run away, she sat up and forced herself to confront the light. "Who?"
From the glow, a woman dressed in white stepped into the room. "I am she who everyone calls Mother. I want to welcome you here."
"What do you want?" the child demanded.
"Just to train you in the fine arts of the priestess. You want to help your parents, don't you? Remember the monsters?" the apparition probed.
"Yeah, I do. Ma 'am, I wanna help 'em!" she asserted.
"And so you shall," the visionary lady smiled, holding out her hand. "Come with me. We have much to do this night."
For some reason, Deirdre felt that she could trust this woman. Climbing out of bed, she toddled up to the woman.
"Now, prepare yourself," the woman advised and with a wave of her hand, transported them to the other side of the island. Once there, she spent a great deal of time revealing the Old Ways to the young girl. Fortunately, Deirdre learned quickly as she could recite the various herbs and what they did by the end of the first evening. By the end of the second day, she mastered the art of teleportation through the mists. Finally, the woman showed her how to use her natural powers to benefit the natural order.
"It has been three days," the glowing woman smiled. "And you have done well, Deirdre. You will make a fine priestess. I think it is time for you to return before they miss you."
"Miss me?" the girl inquired. Then, it dawned on her. "I've been gone three days! Auntie and Genaria must be worried!"
"No, Child. We've been in the mists for this time. In this space, time runs at its own pace. Trust me, you will be fine. However, I do have one last thing for you. Are you ready to be a big lady now like me, Genaria, and your aunt?" the guide asked.
"Will it help my parents?" the little one asked.
The woman nodded, "It will indeed."
"Yeah, I mean yes. I wanna be a big lady," Deirdre agreed.
"Very well," the apparition agreed. "Serve nature and all life well, Deirdre. Tonight and thereafter, you will join Genaria and Cybelle as one of my priestesses." Joining hands with the girl, she allowed energy to flow between them.
The girl gasped and felt a charge flowing through her. Although she couldn't tell exactly what was going on, she grasped that changes were going on inside of her. Her mind became more in tune with her surroundings. The ground shrank away from her eyes.
After a few minutes, the woman stopped this exchange and advised, "It is done. Welcome, Daughter."
"Thank you. But, I feel so different! What's happened to me?" Deirdre inquired.
"Look into the water and see your reflection," the other directed.
The girl walked down to the water's edge and stared at the water. Her reflection caused her to jump back. "I'm grown up! How?" she wondered. Then, she looked at the woman once again. "How?"
"I made you grow up faster," the luminous form explained. "If you need to talk with someone, ask Genaria about it or my High Priestess. Okay?"
"I guess," Deirdre nodded. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," the woman concluded. "Now, back you go!" She waved her hand once more and in a flash of light, everything changed again.
Deirdre looked around. She was back in the room, sitting on her bed. Had she been dreaming? She walked over to the water bowl and stared into it. The figure looking back at her was that of an adult woman. "So, I am grown up," she confirmed.
Now, how to tell everyone would be the issue...starting with Genaria who was about to walk into the room.
Genaria stirred from her brief nap on the bench outside of her little friend's room. She couldn't believe that she had drifted off during the last hour of her vigil. "Hopefully, nobody would notice. Deirdre was so good last night," she assured herself. Seeing that the sun was up, she stretched and smoothed her gown. After all, in the presence of the high priestess, it wouldn't do to have wrinkles in one's dress.
Turning to the door, she knocked three times but there was no answer. "Deirdre? Are you all right?" she called. After receiving no response to this second entreaty, the priestess decided to go in anyway. When she walked into the room, she looked at her surroundings. At first glance, everything seemed as it should have been. But then, she sensed a mystical crackle in the air. "By the goddess, what happened?" she wondered. "Deirdre! Where are you?"
"Genaria?" an unfamiliar voice asked from the room's furthest corner. "Is that you?"
"Yes," the priestess asked. "And who...?" She rushed over to the area and gasped at the sight she saw there. In the corner, an adult woman sat looking back at her. She had long auburn hair, bright brown eyes which sparkled in the early morning sunlight, and was dressed in the emerald gown of a trained priestess. "Who are you?"
"Don't you know me?" the woman asked. "Look at me. The lady said you'd know me."
"Lady? I..." Genaria wondered, reassessing the woman in front of her. Looking at the eyes, she saw something familiar. Yes, somehow, it had to be her new younger sister. "Deirdre, it's you, isn't it?"
"Yes, Genaria. I don't understand it either. Not yet. But last night was something else!" the bewildered woman answered. "After you left, I saw this bright light and...."
"And a woman appeared from it. You went with her to the Land Beyond the Mists and trained in the Old Ways, didn't you?" the priestess guessed. "Then, she remade you into what you are now."
Deirdre nodded nervously, "Yes, that's right. How?"
Genaria smiled, "That's because that lady appeared to me as well. It was two nights before your parents had arrived on the shores of the Holy Lake. Remember when I told you about my arrival here?" After getting a nod from the other woman, she continued, "A year later. I was in my room sleeping when I saw the light. The fairie woman beckoned me to her. Was she a brilliant apparition like an angel?"
"She was that," Deirdre agreed. "I felt so at peace around her."
"Yes. And she taught and tested you for three days, correct?" her friend asked.
"That's right. She said you would understand. Did you go through it too?" the newly grown woman inquired.
"Yes, she schooled me in those arts and left me the way you see me now. It was left to me to guide your parents here. And I did so. Deirdre, can I see your right hand?" Genaria continued.
Deirdre shot her a perplexed look but did as she asked. "Is there something there?"
"There should be," the other woman told her. For a second, she analyzed every facet of the hand. On the palm, the tell-tale mark of the crescent moon stood out. "Ah, there it is," Genaria added. "Want to see mine?" She held her hand up to the sunlight, revealing her own crescent tattoo.
"Then, I'm okay. It wasn't a demon or some monster?" Deirdre asked.
"No, Deirdre. The Fairie Empress herself trained you. You should feel blessed to merit such attention," her friend assured her. "The goddess promised me a sister in the light! I'm glad you passed the training!" She embraced the newly-minted priestess. "Now, come. We must see the High Priestess and confirm this event."
"Confirm? How would she know?" the other woman jumped.
"Do you think the Empress would do this without her consent? No, the High Priestess knows about this event. It is your aunt that's going to be the handful," Genaria informed her.
"Wait'll you see what Mama and Papa are going to do. You haven't seen anything until you see him get mad," Deirdre shuddered. "Trust me."
Genaria sighed and recalled, "I remember the fight between your aunt and father, Deirdre. She had possessed by Ares, the god of war. He had been taken by his own darkness. Sometime, I'll take you to the part of the forest where they fought. The trees are still scarred and the animals have just returned. Yes, your father is like a demon when he gets that angry. But, he'll understand as will your mother once the initial shock is past. Now, let's go."
The other girl nodded and followed her down the path toward the High Priestess' hut not knowing what to expect next.
The High Priestess rubbed her temple resignedly. From the vision she had received a few hours earlier, she knew that Deirdre had undergone the Fairie Empress's training. "The girl is now a priestess in her own right," she told herself. "Hopefully, Cybelle will accept it since she had no say in the matter."
At that moment, a knock came from the door. The old woman smiled and indicated, "Speak of the very soul. Enter, Cybelle."
The younger priestess entered the room and bowed quickly, "You called for me, Mother? I was about to check on Deirdre. I'm getting a strange sensation from her."
"Genaria is bringing her here presently. And, what are the feelings that you are receiving, Child?" the mentor asked.
"It's almost as if she's not the same person. Last night, I had the strangest dream. I saw her as she was in that vision. She was an adult. It was very strange," Cybelle revealed. "But it was only a dream, wasn't it?"
"Well, what do you think? Your instincts are telling you something. Listen to them and you tell me," the old woman suggested.
Cybelle nodded and focused for a second. She felt her niece's presence moving closer to the hut. Yet, for some reason, something was very odd about the girl's aura. It had changed somehow. "I feel Deirdre, but she seems different. Mother, what has happened?"
"Ask the girl herself. She will be here momentarily," the High Priestess indicated.
The younger woman shook her head in frustration. Sometimes her teacher could be so infernally maddening with her riddles! Then, a knocking came from the door.
"Genaria?" the High Priestess called. "Is Deirdre with you?"
"Yes, Mother. We are both here," Genaria responded.
"Then, by all means, please come in," the teacher instructed.
As the two women entered the room, Genaria advised, "Brace yourselves."
"So, where's Deirdre, Genaria? I sense her presence, but I don't see her. By the way, who is the other priestess?" Cybelle pressed.
Deirdre sighed and stepped forward, "Don't you know me, Auntie?"
Cybelle looked at the other woman. "'Auntie'? Is this some kind of prank? Genaria, what is going on?" she demanded.
"Aunt Cybelle, please!" Deirdre protested, grabbing the other woman's arm. "Look at me!"
The priestess did as the other woman asked. The features were definitely familiar. But the eyes clinched it. In that instant, she knew that the other woman spoke the truth. "Deirdre! But how?" Turning back to the High Priestess, she demanded, "Mother, how could this be?"
The elderly woman grimly replied, "Deirdre was trained by the Fairie Empress herself, Cybelle. While we slept last evening, she took our new priestess here to the Land Beyond the Mists and taught her the Old Ways. It is not unheard of."
"But, who else would have undergone such a thing?" the aghast priestess continued.
"I did, Cybelle," Genaria explained. "To free you from Ares, I was trained in the same manner as Deirdre so that I could bring David, Angela, Xena, and Gabrielle through the mists."
"That is so," the High Priestess confirmed. "And to save all of us, the Fairie Empress picked another of our number, your kinswoman, to impart her skills upon."
"I see," Cybelle replied dumbfoundedly. Turning to her niece, she requested, "I'm sorry I doubted you, Deirdre. It's such a shock."
"I know. That's okay," the relieved niece assured her as they embraced. "Still, what are we going to tell my parents? They're going to be expecting the smaller version of me. And I don't want to see Papa's temper flare up again."
"Oh, I think he'll understand," Cybelle stated. "Still...I would like it if Genaria came with us to explain the situation. If that's all right with Mother and her."
"That is acceptable to me," the high priestess agreed.
Genaria rubbed her sister priestess' shoulder and concurred, "Absolutely. I would be honored to do so."
The elderly leader smiled, "Very well. I shall let you all prepare for your journey. It seems that you will have a ceremony to attend first in the Amazon lands first. Eve is returning to assume her place as the caste-holding princess and heiress to Gabrielle. From there, you will return to the future and explain the situation. After that situation is resolved, Cybelle and Deirdre will accompany your kin to the duel site. Genaria, you will come back here and stand vigil in case Deirdre needs assistance with her task."
"I understand, Mother," Genaria agreed, albeit reluctantly. She really wanted to assist her sister priestess with the latter's dark mission.
"As do I, Mother," Deirdre concurred, giving the older woman a sight bow of acceptance.
"And I say the same," Cybelle chimed in with a brief nod. "Now, let's get ourselves ready. In two days time, we shall have to represent Althanor at the ceremony."
"Can I have a minute alone with Mother, Aunt?" Deirdre requested.
"If it's okay with her, then yes. We'll be outside," the elder priestess replied. After receiving a nod from the senior priestess, she and Genaria left the other two alone.
The High Priestess eased herself back onto her bed and asked, "What is it, Child?"
"Thank you for not thinking of me as wicked. I wasn't sure what was going on last night, Mother. I'm glad you like what you see," Deirdre told her.
"And why would I not like you? Deirdre, it is the goddess's will that you are in your current state. You are a true beauty both inside and outside. Maintain your focus and inner commitment and you'll be a wonderful priestess. Be true to yourself as well as to everyone. Now, the others are waiting for you. Go on. These old bones need to rest," the elderly woman assured her.
"Thank you, Mother," the young priestess beamed and left the room to join the others.
The High Priestess pulled her covers over her shoulders and snuggled up in them to keep herself warm. Despite the relative warmth of Springtime, she still felt an icy chill. "A heavy burden is set to fall on us all. I hope that we are capable of bearing it," she noted to herself before drifting off to sleep.
Onto the next part