{Where we last left our heroes: Ebony just met with Karliah, leader of the Old Covenant, and learned from her that the Covenant (and supposedly the Dominion, the wizard’s group) planned and hoped to take over earth.}

Chapter 5: When the Stars Dance

A quiet old man in a simple blue robe entered the room and motioned for Ebony to follow him. He led her out and through the city, and into the large building that sat in the center of the city. Inside, a huge fire blazed in the middle of the floor, surrounded on the back and sides by narrow tables and benches. The walls were made of hard clay, and the interior was all open. A few men and women hung around the room, some eating food at the tables and others pacing uneasily, troubled by what, she didn’t know.

The man led the way around the tables to one end of the room. Here stairs descended into the ground and to a door.

“Living quarters,” he said, and his voice was so quiet she could barely hear him. Sure enough, beyond the door a hall ran off to her right beneath the room above and off of it sprouted small rooms with a bed, washstand, chest, and a chair, and little else. He took her to the third from the right and stopped.

“I am Yota, priest of the All-Maker. My assistant, Atwi, has left with the warriors should they need healing or other such needs, since I am too old for such work and she has great skill in the use of the Arts in such ways. She was to attend to you, but I’m afraid you’re stuck with me now.” He smiled, and Ebony decided she liked him already.

“That’s alright,” she told him. “You’ve given me everything I wanted, and that’s a place to sleep. I can’t complain by a long shot. Thank you.”

“Young Karliah told us to give you whatever you needed as far as we can. We do not have an abundance of anything in these times, but we have enough. Your clothing is strange. If you care for a change, I can arrange that, and I will have food brought down to you. I doubt you will want to join the common room.”

Ebony thought about this. The costume she was still wearing, an Indian leather dress and leggings, if a little annoyingly tasseled wasn’t so bad all things considered. And she certainly didn’t want their armor. A knife could always fix her tassel problems. She shook her head.

“No, thank you, I’m really fine I think. Mostly right now I need to sleep, and…” she trailed off. How could she say “be alone so I can unwind and decide whether I trust your leader” to this man? Or to anyone, for that matter? He seemed to take the hint.

“Ask for Yota if you require assistance of any kind,” he said, and left the room.

Ebony sagged into the chair and dropped her head into her hands. Now what? Karliah wanted to take over her world. She said the wizards did too. According to her, this world, Mystra, was on the verge of flying apart. And what was the Dragon Stone? Ebony straightened up and closed her eyes in frustration. Everything had been so confused and mixed up, and her thoughts had been so all over the place when she was talking with Karliah, that she had forgotten to ask about Coriarkin or Ohbi Whan. Or Xalo.

Despite her unanswered questions, despite her hunger, Ebony couldn’t stay awake any longer. She flung herself on the straw pallet, a small cushion from the raised wooden frame, and fell asleep almost instantly, without even bothering to pull the blanket over her.

She woke up some hours later, not rested and still very tired. Her eyelids felt glued open, and her eyes prickled with grit. Stress and uneasiness refused to let her continue to sleep. A small tray perched on the chest at the end of the bed, and on it was piled some cold meat, crusty bread and cheese.

She ate it gratefully, and then washed at the washstand. Untangling her hair, she twisted it into a braid and tied it firmly with a tassel she stole from her dress. She found her way out and up the stairs into the common room. It was much more crowded now with people milling around, eating porridge and talking animatedly about wizards and warfare. Just looking at the group made her heart race and her palms damp, and she felt a strong urge to go back to the quiet peace and solitude of her room.

“Excuse me?” Ebony asked, tapping the nearest man on the arm. He moved aside and kept talking. She tapped him again, and tried again, this time a little louder. “Excuse me, sir?” He ignored her until he had finished the lecturing speech he had been giving his friend on the best way to fight a wizard with a sword.

“What?” he asked, turning to her and seeming irritated.

“I just need to see Yota. Where can I find him?” She had to raise her voice to compete with the chatter around her.

The man gestured vaguely toward the far side of the room. “Oh, in his chambers or something. I don’t know, someone else might know.” He turned back to his mead and his lecture.

Ebony wove her way through the eating and talking people and slipped through the small door the man had gestured towards. A door on each side and opposite confronted her, partially open.

“Yota?” she called softly. Movement stirred in the door to her left and the old robed man appeared. His face crinkled in a smile.

“Come in, my daughter. What is it you need?” She entered the small room that looked very similar to her own and sat down on the chair he motioned her towards. “Your eyes are bruised from little sleep, and I only parted from you a few hours ago. What is it that keeps you restless?”

“I need to find an old man named Ohbi Whan. Do you know where I can find him?” She held her breath, waiting. Steady. One breath, two, three…

Yota’s face softened, with the look of one who has to deliver bad news. And even before he spoke, Ebony knew.

“Child, I do not know who told you that name, but it only raised your hopes in vain. Ohbi Whan has been dead for many years.”

“What about… what about a man called Coriarkin?” she asked hesitantly.

Yota seemed puzzled. “I knew that name once. I believe he came occasionally in the company of Ohbi Whan, as a student or something. But I have not heard of him for many years, though it was rumored some time back that the wizards were in search of him. Perhaps they found him. Perhaps he assists them even now. Who can know? I didn’t know him well enough to know what sort of man he was.”

“So you don’t know where I can find him?” She pressed her eyebrows, trying to focus and figure out what would be the best thing to do.

“No, I don’t. But, allow me a question in return, if you will. Take as much time as you need to think it over. Can you remember anything significant or important in any way connected with your coming through the Gate? Anything the wizards were up to? Anything?”

Ebony’s brows contracted. “I – I don’t know. What do you mean by ‘significant or important’? What am I trying to remember?”

He leaned forward, speaking low but earnestly. “It is said that when the stars dance, anything can happen. It foretells of great happenings. The last time the stars danced was three hundred years ago when Skyho Muhara returned civilization to its roots and we went from the verge of powerfully dangerous developments back to the old world as it once was. It maddened men, but in many senses, saved them. The time before that was the night Rome fell and our worlds split. And the first time they danced, they say, was when the world first fell to its ruin. So you can see, it means great change. It means a time for legends to come alive, for the impossible to happen, and hope to either be crushed or fulfilled. And the stars danced when the Gate opened and you came through. Even in the early light of evening I saw them. Perhaps they merely danced to foretell the Apocalypse and the end of this world. But perhaps they told us more. Perhaps they were trying to show us something we are too blind to see.”

Ebony had tried to listen and absorb everything Yota had said, but her mind was filled with questions about what she should do and how to get home, and had only half heard.

“Um, not that I can think of,” she said in answer to his question.

“Take your time. Don’t feel you have to rush to an answer.”

She took a deep breath and sighed. “Okay.”

“And,” he hesitated and looked directly in her eyes. “Don’t do anything you will later regret.”

“What?” Ebony was startled and confused.

“I can see it in your eyes. In the way you look about you and glance at doors, and in the way you look at other people. You don’t trust them. Something is frightening you, or at least bothering you, and making a choice in such a state of mind is seldom wise, especially if it’s an important decision. Trusting people always is.”

She looked away. “I don’t know about all that. I just don’t know what to think, what to believe, who to trust, or what to do.”

Yota seemed to consider something. Then he leaned back and cleared his throat. “Karliah thinks you read her mind last night.”

Ebony looked at him. “She talked to you about me after she left?”

“Only a little. She was pretty spooked about her suspicion. You must have noticed that Karliah is not the most… well, the best believer in improbable or unexpected things. Such as mind-reading, or the Dragonborn. But most of us here in the Middle Kingdom believe that such things are possible, and in my experience a mind with ‘perception’ like yours is usually picking up on other people’s thoughts without realizing it. Some, after discovering their ability, can hone it and control it, deliberately reading minds or even shaping and changing the thoughts of others.”

Ebony dropped her eyes to the floor. She wanted to disbelieve him. She wanted to be a normal, skeptical, stick-in-the-mud, sane American girl. She wanted to look this man in the eye, shake her head, and say with perfect and unwavering conviction “that’s impossible”. But she couldn’t. Something inside her, well, knew it was possible, and not only that, but true too. And it always had. She had just never looked at it squarely before.

She straightened and smoothed her hair. “Thank you, sir. Maybe she’s right.” She quirked a slight smile. “Or maybe I just have a highly developed acutely sensitive intuition.”

“You have far more power than you realize. Far more. Be very careful.”

Ebony shot him a quick glance. He seemed to be meaning more than what he was saying, and about more than just mind reading. Something prickled deep in her mind, a feeling that she knew what he was talking about but hadn’t put it together yet. But the feeling ducked away and escaped her before she could have a good look at it.

“Thank you,” she said, “for your help. I just need to figure out what to do. If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go think it over in my room.” He nodded and raised his hand in farewell to her departing back. When she was gone, he shook his head.

“Don’t do it, Ebony. Don’t do it, for all of our sakes.”

Author’s Commentary: Ooh, don’t you just LOVE ominous chapter endings?!?! Oh, and about what I said last time? Got a little ahead of myself… you’ll have to hang on until next chapter + the one after that. Then it will all be made clear. This is also all off the record.

{Read Chapter 6: Grelka}

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