Fel (James Galloway)

Weavespinner

Chapter 3

It was all just too confusing.

The first issue, obviously, was Auli. Tarrin hadn't been prepared for her to do what she did, and though half of him wanted her to keep going, the other half of him didn't. Part of him was embarassed for being so easily seduced, but another part of him was angry that he hadn't gotten to see how far Auli was willing to go. He believed Jesmind when she said that Auli probably had no feelings for him, was only out to conquer him, but another part of him saw absolutely nothing wrong with that. If all she wanted was a good time, then that part of him was more than willing to accommodate her. That in itself seemed wrong to him; he was raised to believe in marriage, and not fooling around until he was married. But there was another part of him, probably something left behind from his time as a Were-cat, that thumbed its nose at that moral conditioning and saw Auli as a good time waiting to be had.

His feelings for the Sha'Kar complicated the issue. He liked Auli. Alot. She was funny, friendly, adventurous, and he thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her. Even now, knowing that she had tried to seduce him--or at least he thought she did, he'd never know thanks to Jesmind--he found himself looking forward to the next time she and Dar and himself all went out and had fun. He didn't want to avoid her, even if he didn't want her chasing him. He really liked her as a friend, and he wasn't going to stop talking to her, no matter what Jesmind said.

He honestly wasn't sure what to do about her. He spent almost all night sitting or laying in bed thinking about it. A good deal of that time was thinking about how nice it felt when she kissed him, he had to admit. He still was of two minds about her pursuit of him. Part of him wanted to pursue her, the other part didn't. Part of him was loyal to Jesmind and Kimmie, the other part realized that he was a different person now, so there was no true reason for him to remain so. Part of him realized that getting involved with Auli was probably going to cause more trouble than it would be worth, and the other part of him was willing to take the punishment if only to enjoy the crime. Part of him thought it improper to think things like that until he was married, the other part called that moral part of him all sorts of names and told him to seize the moment. Part of him saw Auli as a temptation, as a test of his moral character, the other part reminded him that so long as they were both willing, what harm could it do? Auli couldn't get pregnant by him. They were two different races. So there could be absolutely no harm done if she truly was willing to take it to that ultimate level.

And besides, Auli was beautiful. What healthy, sane man could look at her and not want to be with her?

That, he realized, was the half of the main part of the problem. If she'd been a plain woman, an average woman, he probably would have said no. But she was Sha'Kar, ethereal, almost breathtakingly beautiful, and that beauty was a more effective weapon against his morals than anything else could have been. The other half of the problem was the fact that Auli was his friend. He liked her, he enjoyed spending time with her, and he wasn't going to ignore her, even if he decided that he didn't want to pursue a relationship with her. That would make spending time with her tricky, he knew, but he'd try. She was too much his friend to distance himself from her just because she wanted to take their relationship to another level. As long as she wasn't bitter about him rejecting her, he was more than willing to keep on being her friend.

The other issue was with Jesmind and the Were-cats. He was surprised that Jesmind had been following him around, but he guessed that he shouldn't have been. What bothered him more than that was how they were treating him, like he was a toddler still in diapers and tied to his mother's apron, trying to run his life. Triana had done it to him from the moment he'd woke up, and now Jesmind was trying to do it. Kimmie, thankfully, didn't seem to be willing to do it, only obeying Triana's orders. At least she partially understood how their controlling him made him feel. Tarrin was a very independent young man, and having them lord over him like that was really aggravating him.

And what was worse, he really hated how they simply decided that he was going to change back. It was like they didn't care at all how he felt about it. What right did they have to determine how he was going to control his own life? Until he got his memory back and could make a conscious, rational choice, he honestly had no idea what he was going to do. He really didn't think about it that often, because until he got his memory back, there was really no good reason to do so. He expected the Were-cats to think that he would change back, but the way they'd decided that he was going to change back really infuriated him. Even Kimmie seemed to be doing it, planning her future around the fact that he was going to change back.

And what exacerbated that was the fact that they seemed to think that since he couldn't be changed back right now, that he should simply stop living. That he should sit in a nice safe room and do nothing but wait for Phandebrass to finish, so he could get back his memory. If they even bothered to wait that long. Part of him angrily wondered why Triana was keeping the others from simply biting him and being done with it. If they really did intend to make him change back, then why wait? Why not do it now, before he got his memory back, before he had a chance to choose for himself?

Not long after Jesmind left, he told himself to just ignore them until he got back his memory, but just as he wasn't willing to ignore Auli, he wasn't willing to ignore the Were-cats. He did like Jesmind and Kimmie, but he just couldn't ignore his daughter. He'd been totally ensnared by the wide-eyed child, and though some of the things she said surprised him at times, he just couldn't deny that he loved her. She was his daughter, and no matter what, he was going to love her. He wanted to spend time with her, and he was already looking forward to seeing her. He felt as much a duty and responsibility to Jasana now as he knew he must have before he lost his memory. No matter how mean he'd gotten or cruel he'd been, he just knew in his heart that he could never have distanced himself from his child.

The only problem with that was how to be mad with Jesmind and Triana and not have it affect his time with Jasana. The easiest way would be simply to take his daughter out and away from them, but he wasn't sure he could manage that. As paranoid they were over him, it'd go up several notches if he took his daughter out from their protective presence. He still wasn't sure about that one, but he'd figure something out before the time came. He was sure of it.

What to do, what to do. He did manage to get a little sleep, but not a whole lot. He was standing out on the balcony, which faced the ocean, and he could see it between two of the smaller towers that surrounded the big central one. He watched the lanterns begin to wink out as the sun started to rise on the other side of the Tower, but none of the many ships in the harbor had begun to move quite yet. There was alot he had to figure out to do. Firstly, about Auli. Did he really want to enter into a relationship with her? Still, part of him did, but part of him didn't. He really wanted to get Auli back in his room and kiss her again, but for now, at least for a few days until he got things hammered out with Jesmind, he decided it may be best to leave that alone. If Jesmind or one of the other Were-cats walked in on him and Auli when they were doing more than kissing, things could get very, very ugly. Tarrin had no doubt that Jesmind meant it when she threatened to tear Auli limb from limb. Besides, the few days would give him time to work out what he wanted, give him time to decide if he wanted to pursue her or not. Until he did know one way or the other, it was probably best to gently decline any of her other invitations. Since he knew he'd feel a little guilty if he did let her seduce him before he made up his mind, he decided that a short time of frustration and disappointment was better than days and days of guilt.

That layered into the other problem. He was still very angry with Jesmind, and he didn't expect to forgive her for a while, mainly because he knew she'd never apologize for what she was doing. Triana would be just as recalcitrant. Kimmie would probably show some compassion for his position, but she would not go against Triana, so he didn't expect much in the way of help from her. At least he could talk to Kimmie, and Jula, and pass any information he wanted on to Jesmind and Triana. He had a feeling that he wouldn't be talking to them very much by the end of the day. He was going to step on this now, before the Were-cats got it settled too firmly in their minds that he would do what they wanted, and that he would be easy to push around. He had to establish his autonomy now, before things got out of hand.

Of course, now he knew he had a weapon to use against them. The problem was, he didn't know how it worked. He'd used Sorcery somehow when Jesmind angered him, but he still had no idea how he did it. And he wanted to know how he did it. He hadn't noticed at the time, but using Sorcery had felt so familiar to him, like it was more than just a forgotten memory. Almost like it was a part of himself that he had only just rediscovered, something that hadn't been taken from him when he'd lost his memory.

That problem wasn't a very big one. He was absolutely surrounded by Sorcerers, and any of them should be able to teach him how he'd done what he did so he could do it again. Jenna would probably be the best one to do it, if he could get her to devote enough time to his education. She was also one of those sui'kun people, like him, and it would probably be best for her to teach him what he wanted to know. He had the feeling that his magic worked a little differently than other Sorcerers--he'd only seen that glow when Ianelle and the Sha'Kar used powerful magic to Teleport them to Suld--so it would be best if another sui'kun was the one who taught him.

It shouldn't be too hard. She was his sister, after all, and if she didn't have time for him, then who did she have time for?

Oh yes, he wanted to learn. Jesmind had been afraid of him, and he wanted that option to be available in the future. He wanted those high-and-mighty Were-cats to be afraid of him, he wanted them to understand that he would not be pushed around. He wouldn't go and pick a fight with them, but he wasn't going to let them bully him into doing whatever they wanted him to do either. He remembered the very poignant lesson that Kimmie had taught him. Their physical power made the Were-cats supreme, at least when one played them by their own rules. Sorcery would allow him to take them to a level they couldn't reach, and give him the advantage over them. If he wanted to establish his independence from the Were-cats, he'd need an advantage. And, he had to admit, there might come a time when he'd have to defend himself against them. If he chose not to be changed back, he felt that there was a good chance that they may try to force the issue. If it did come to that, he wanted some kind of way to protect himself from them.

He wondered again what Auli was doing, and just how serious she had been. Was she flirting with him? Was she playing with him, or was she being serious? If Jesmind hadn't come in, just how far would Auli have gone? He chided himself when he daydreamed a bit about her going all the way, and the image of her standing on the edge of the bathing pool nude wouldn't get out of his mind. Gods, she was so gorgeous. Like a living piece of art, all perfect lines and curves, and she had a unique personality that attracted him just as much as her body did. She was the first girl he'd ever met who was so adventurous and fun-loving, who did what she wanted and didn't worry about what her parents or the others might think. She had such a rich sense of humor, and she was so fearless! That probably attracted him more than anything else. Auli was fearless, alot like he was, but in slightly different ways. Despite those differences, he felt a communion with Auli that wouldn't let him get her out of his mind. She was very much the kind of woman he'd always wanted to meet. Strong and outspoken like his mother, drop-dead gorgeous, a woman that wasn't afraid of being feminine, a woman that wasn't afraid to be strong when it was needed. She was so many things that he found appealing in a woman. No wonder he was having so much trouble putting her out of his mind. He wondered if Jesmind or Kimmie had similar qualities, if they were reasons why he'd fallen in love with them.

Jesmind certainly seemed fearless. And she was very strong. Kimmie was very feminine, the most feminine-seeming of the four adult Were-cats he'd met so far. After all, she wore a dress. But he knew that she'd put aside that femininity in a heartbeat if it was necessary, and from what he knew of Kimmie, she was very smart and very, very brave. In her own way, she was fearless. Jesmind seemed rather calm to him most of the time, very much unlike the stories he'd heard of her. Jesmind was supposed to be wild, hot-tempered, fiery in nature and very confrontational. Kimmie was the opposite of that. She was calm, mellow, and she avoided such confrontations whenever possible. It wasn't that she couldn't win those confrontations, she simply preferred to avoid them. She was the most peaceful of the three Were-cats he'd known long enough to compare. Thinking about it, he could see qualities in Kimmie and Jesmind that would have attracted him to them The fact that both of them were very attractive didn't hurt, either.

Weird. The last thing he ever expected to have happen to him when he left home was to have girls chasing him around. He wasn't used to it...and in a way, it felt oddly appealing. They were going to give him a big head, with them virtually fighting over him the way they were.

But it was sunrise, and despite the fact that he hadn't had much sleep, it was time to get up. He wanted to find his sister and she if she could teach him any magic. He had the feeling that it was going to come in handy in a very short period of time.

"Hold on hold on hold on!" came an excited call from down the hall as Tarrin trekked the distance towards Jenna's office. It had certainly taken long enough to find someone who knew where it was, mainly because he didn't want to ask anyone who may willingly or unwillingly get that information back to Triana. It wasn't that he was worried that she'd find out that he went to see his sister, but he certainly didn't want her to know that he was trying to learn how to use magic again. At that moment, though he liked her, he had to think of Triana and the other Were-cats as potential enemies. It was only wise, mainly because if they did resist if he chose not to be changed back, they would definitelybecome enemies. It pained him to think so, but something deep inside him warned him over and over again not to underestimate anyone. That had to be the feral nature that was gone now, some memory of it that echoed inside of him. The last vestiges of paranoia.

The speaker was Phandebrass, and the white-haired Wizard, who was a riot of contradictions, jogged up holding his old gray robes up so he wouldn't trip on them while he ran. He was alone, his white hair flying behind him, that ridiculous pointy hat somehow managing to stay on top of his head when it would be best for everyone involved if he'd simply lose it. "I say, hold on there, lad!" he called, running up to him. "I've been looking everywhere for you, I have!"

"What's the matter, Master Phandebrass?" Tarrin asked curiously, stopping in place and waiting for him to catch up.

"I need to check some things before I can continue, I do," he answered, reaching him and pausing to pant a little after his exertion.

"What things?"

"I say, I need to get a better understanding of the kind of memory loss you're enduring, I do," he answered. "And for the best results, I need a Sorcerer to help me, one good with Mind weaves. Do you know of a good one, lad?"

"I don't really know anyone, Phandebrass," Tarrin reminded him.

"Oh dear, that's right. I guess you wouldn't at that, would you?" he grunted. "Ah well, let's go find someone who can point us in the right direction, lad. We need to get this done, we do. I can't move any further."

"Alright," Tarrin said. "I was going to see my sister. She'd know who could help us."

"Capital idea!" Phandebrass said happily. "Lead on!"

Tarrin led the white-haired Wizard along the passages, trying to remember the exact directions that would take him to his sister's office. "How is it going with that, Master Phandebrass?" he asked curiously.

"Call me Phandebrass, my boy," he replied. "I don't need all those frilly titles, I don't. As to the research, it's going very well," he reported. "Thanks to the very extensive library here in the Tower, I've found no less than four possible approaches to restoring your memory, I have. I say, that's why I need to do some checking on you, so I can decide which would be the most effective approach to utilize, I can."

"Oh. Any idea how much longer it's going to be?"

"I say, not really, lad. Depending on which technique I use, we could be trying to reverse the damage as soon as next ride or as late as next year. It's all going to depend on what the tests reveal, it will."

"How can there be different approaches? I mean, I lost my memory. Why would there be differences?"

"I say, you're right, you lost your memory, but the how of it is what's important," he said. "I need to determine as closely as I can exactly how the magic attacked your mind. That will tell me which approach would be most effective in restoring it. After all, you haven't completely lost your memory, you know. It's buried deep in your mind, it is, so deeply that it's going to take some very powerful, very specialized magic to bring it back out."

"I haven't forgotten about that," he answered as they came up one of the long spiral staircases. "How many different ways could there have been for it to affect me?"

"Well, several of which I can find," he replied. "I say, firstly it could have simply erased it from your mind, like blotting out ink. It could have put something in its place, like filling a pie pan with clear water. There's something there, but you can't see it unless you look at it the right way. It could have left it there, but placed a block over it, like laying a blanket over a mirror. You can't see yourself in the mirror because the blanket is in the way. It could have buried it--I mean to say, it could have pushed those memories so deeply into your mind that even you can't find them. Or it could have not done anything at all to the memories, but tricked your mind into thinking that they weren't there."

"Wow, I didn't think there would be that many ways."

"I say, those are just the ways I can think of, lad," he grunted. "The magic that did this to you was very powerful, and it was done by a god. Gods can think in ways we can't even imagine, they can. It may be that I simply don't have the intelligence to undo it. Just to warn you, lad. I think it's fair that you understand the full situation, I do, unlike some of the others."

"I appreciate that, Phandebrass," Tarrin told him sincerely. "You're one of the first people around here that isn't treating me like a child, or an invalid."

"Whyever would they do that?" Phandebrass asked curiously.

"That's what I'd like to know," Tarrin agreed.

As he expected, they found Jenna in her office. The office of the Keeper was a remarkably spartan affair, with just a single banner on the wall behind her large rosewood desk with a multicolored shaeram--the symbol of the katzh-dashi--on it, and portraits on the two walls to each side holding a dark-haired man and a blond woman, each holding a strange staff and with an amulet looking like it was carved out of diamond around their necks. They had to go through another office to reach hers, the office of Duncan, who had faithfully served three Keepers with quiet efficiency over the years. Duncan rarely spoke, and when Tarrin and Phandebrass had entered his office, he simply led them into Jenna's private domain. Jenna looked a little piqued, sitting there chewing on a tendril of her hair as she read from a scrolled parchment in her free hand.

"What's wrong, Jenna?" Tarrin asked as Duncan bowed silently and withdrew.

"Oh, not much," she replied. "This is from Shiika. Her messenger gave everyone down at the gate quite a shock."

"What happened?"

"Well, one of her daughters delivered it, and it seems that they can Teleport now just like their mother, any time they want. I guess the restoration of the Weave also restored some of the powers of the Demons too."

"Why would that surprise them? Don't they see magic things all the time?"

"You don't remember seeing them, do you?" Jenna asked with a smile.

"No, not really."

"Well, let's just say that you don't forget seeing one of the Cambisi." She set it down and rubbed her temple. "Shiika's starting to annoy me. She's really hot about us rebuilding a Tower in Dala Yar Arak. This is the fourth proposal I've gotten in three days. I can't make her understand that I can't make that decision. Alexis can't either. It has to come from the Goddess, and she hasn't told me to do anything about it yet."

"Why would she be so serious about it?" Tarrin asked.

"I say, you don't understand the power and advantage a city has when there are Sorcerers present," Phandebrass told him. "No city that has a Tower would usually ever get attacked by anyone, except for recent events, of course. They were rather remarkable circumstances, they were."

"Odds are, Shiika has some kind of ulterior motive," Jenna said. "I like her, but she is a Demon. I don't trust her."

"How can a Demon be a queen, anyway?" Tarrin asked. "Don't the people hate her?"

"Actually, she's the best thing to happen to Yar Arak in a thousand years," Jenna admitted ruefully. "She's not like other Demons. She's actually got a kind heart, at least compared to other Demons. She's very smart, she's amazingly organized for a Demon, and she's cleaning up Yar Arak much faster than I anticipated. Give her a hundred years, and she's going to have an empire as well run as Wikuna. I'd better make a note to keep an eye on things over there."

"Maybe you should build another Tower."

"Until we get our numbers back up, we're not rebuilding anything," Jenna said sourly. "There aren't enough katzh-dashi to staff a third Tower right now."

"Why don't you tell her that?"

"I say, it's never wise to reveal your weaknesses, lad," Phandebrass told him seriously.

"Yah," Jenna grunted. "So, what brings you two to my door? I doubt this is a social call."

"Actually, it's not, Keeper," Phandebrass told her. "I need your best Mind weaver to help me isolate the exact means your brother's memory was attacked."

"I was hoping you'd ask for our help," Jenna smiled at him. "Our best was Amelyn, but I don't think you want to use her. Koran Dar is probably the best after her."

"I say, Amelyn is still alive?"

Jenna nodded. "I put a shield around her that won't let her use her power, and she's currently residing happily down in our dungeon." She put a hand to her amulet. "Koran Dar," she called in a light voice.

"Yes, my Keeper?" his voice seemed to come out of the amulet, but it was a bit tinny, like a higher-pitched echo.

"Could you come to my office? We need your expertise for a rather complicated problem."

"I'll be there in a few moments, Keeper."

"I see you wasted no time learning that," Phandebrass smiled.

"It does come in handy, Phandebrass," she said with a smile. "I thought Duncan was going to kiss my feet after I told him that he didn't have to send runners and pages quite nearly so often anymore."

Tarrin spent the time waiting for Jenna to tell her about the fight he had with Jesmind, and then he outright asked her if she would teach him Sorcery. To his surprise, she looked him in the eyes and shook his head. "No," she said bluntly.

"Why not?" he demanded, just a bit petulantly.

"Because you'd be like a bull in a glassblower's shop," she answered. "As strong as you are, there is no way you're going to go monkeying around with Sorcery right now."

"But you're teaching Jasana," he pointed out indignantly.

"Jasana isn't you," she said a bit crisply. "Look, Tarrin, you lost your memory, but you're very sensitive to echoes in the Weave. If I start teaching you and you get one of those that shows you something you can't control, there's no telling what might happen. To say that it would kill you would be a mild understatement."

Tarrin was considerably disappointed, but the sincere look in Jenna's eyes convinced him that she was being serious. Right now, she certainly knew more than him about that kind of thing. "All right," he said in a slightly sullen tone.

"Just be patient, brother. You'll get it all back soon."

"I hope so."

Koran Dar arrived but a moment later, and Tarrin had to pause to admire the man. He was very, very tall, even taller than Tarrin, and had the same coppery colored skin that Camara Tal had. He had raven black hair too, just like Camara Tal, and he had ruggedly handsome features. He also had huge hands, Tarrin noted. No wonder Camara Tal was pining for him. He looked a very handsome fellow.

But it was his mind that Tarrin realized Camara Tal liked so much. After exchanging polite greetings with the Keeper, Jenna sent them to a different room where Koran Dar and Phandebrass could do their work in peace and quiet. Tarrin had the chance to talk to Koran Dar, then listen as he talked to Phandebrass, and he was impressed by how smart the man was. He was able to meet the addled mage on many intellectual levels, going way, way over the young man's head. Tarrin felt a little lost by the time they reached a quiet chamber with no windows, that had nothing within but a table and four upholstered chairs, with one of those ever-present glowglobes suspended over the table. Some kind of small meeting room. But he did know that the two of them had been working out what Koran Dar was going to do.

"Alright, Tarrin," Koran Dar said in a calm, bass voice. "Sit down here, and let me say right now that you need to relax. I'm going to be using magic on you, and you're going to feel it inside your head. It's important that you don't fight with it. It's going to feel strange, but it's not going to hurt you, alright?"

"Alright," he said a little uncertainly, sitting down in the chair Koran Dar had indicated. The Amazon man pulled up a chair and sat down in front of him, and then reached out and put his hands on either side of Tarrin's face. Tarrin felt a little anxiety, but he figured that that was natural, considering that he was about to allow this man to use magic to look around inside his head. That took a considerable amount of trust, and only his trust in his sister's judgement was allowing him to go through with it. Tarrin felt it when Koran Dar used is Sorcery, felt that strange energy build up inside him, then could literally see the magic snake out of the nearly invisible magic that moved through the room and converge behind his eyes.

He was more than aware of when it started, for he did indeed feel the man's touch inside his head. It was the strangest feeling, and it wasn't entirely comfortable. Tarrin tensed up at the initial contact with it, as he felt something decidedly unnatural appear inside his head. It was like a little star floating around in the darkness of his mind, and it was like he could see it with his inner eye, like a daydream, moving here and there inside his mind. He tried his best to relax, but it wasn't easy. The little star kept touching on old memories and some secrets, and Tarrin wasn't sure if Koran Dar could see or understand anything that the star was touching inside his mind.

Gripping the arms of his chair tightly, Tarrin strove not to get too screwed up as Koran Dar's magical spell dug deeper into his mind, going past memories and dreams and into the more autonomic places, like subconscious and ego and even instincts. Every time Koran Dar's spell touched something, Tarrin felt it surge through his mind, like the touch had triggered it into action. He endured any number of primal impulses, anger, fear, even a strange overwhelming superiority to everyone else, and then Koran Dar's star moved even past those, even deeper, down into the blackest depths of his mind, where the only light was coming from the star itself. Even Tarrin lost the sense of the star as it went beyond his capacity to track, into the darkest tunnels of his mind that had known no conscious thought. He knew it was there, and for some reason its presence in that blackness made him feel cold, and very, very anxious. Almost as if he knew there was something there that he didn't want him to find. Deeper and deeper it went, closer and closer, until it had reached the very bottom, the deepest part of his mind, the bottom of the well. Tarrin was sweating, but was very cold, and the sweat made him feel like ice as the star formed by Koran Dar's spell seemed attracted to something it found there in the very darkest part of his mind, floating closer and closer to it, nearly touching it. It turned its light on that area to see what was there--

--even Tarrin was not prepared for what happened next. Magical power flooded into him like a tidal wave, and before he even understood what was happening, It lashed out at Koran Dar with that raw magical power, almost of its own volition. Tarrin fell backwards with his chair as he recoiled from the bright light and ear-splitting crack as the energy manifested in the real world. The ceiling and the floor traded places a couple of times as he rolled to a stop on his back, his legs still tangled in the chair, feeling like someone had just sucked all the energy out of his body.

"Sizzling lizards!" he heard Phandebrass exclaim. "Koran Dar, I say, are you alright?"

"Sizzling is a good word," the Amazon man said in an unsteady voice. Tarrin managed to sit up and saw Koran Dar lying on the floor a good ten spans from where he'd been when he started, the front of his robes smoking and blackened. "If I hadn't deflected most of that, it would have burned a hole through me," he admitted.

Tarrin was too disoriented yet to feel guilty at having hurt Koran Dar. His head was spinning in a very uncomfortable manner, and even sitting up was making him so dizzy that he couldn't tell which was was up. He laid back down on the floor staring at the ceiling as it rotated in a wobbling manner around the glowglobe, and he wondered how he was staying on the floor when gravity kept changing directions on him. He was certain that his legs trapped in the chair was the only thing holding him down on the floor.

There was more. There was something else in his mind with him, something alien...yet there was a familiarity to it that he could not dismiss. It was like another being, but it was also a part of him. It had been that other thing that had lashed out at Koran Dar, for it had objected to his presence in their shared mind so strenuously that it had attacked the Sorcerer to chase him away. It was a non-thinking entity, primal, nothing but a bundle of feelings and emotions and impulses and instincts. Something primitive, but its power was more than Tarrin could deny. It may be simple and instinct-driven, but it was very, very strong. He felt it retreat back down into that chasm inside his mind unwillingly, as if it were fighting against the force holding it down there, but was not strong enough to counter its power. And as it retreated, Tarrin felt his disorientation and dizziness ease, but it did little for his dazed condition. The reaction and abrupt appearance of that other entity was too much for his mind to easily accept, and he wasn't sure how long he lay there on the floor before he became aware of Koran Dar and Phandebrass kneeling over him.

"What, what happened?" he asked in a bleary tone.

"I found what I was looking for," Koran Dar told him in a rueful tone. "I just didn't expect it to attack me."

"A-Attack you?" Tarrin asked in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"The part of you that made you a Were-cat, at least mentally, is still inside you, Tarrin," Koran Dar explained. "You always called it the Cat, so that's how I'll refer to it. It's still in your mind, or at least an echo of it is. I guess it couldn't be completely separated from you. It's part of what you lost, trapped with the memories that were taken from you. That's the key there, young one. The memories you lost are intertwined with the Cat. That's going to make recovering your memories without bringing that back into the forefront of your mind very, very difficult."

"But we can do it?" Phandebrass asked.

Koran Dar nodded. "I managed to discover how the memory was pulled out of him, Phandebrass. It was an attempt to erase it, but it only managed to erase the part of it that was locked in his human mind. When whatever happened to him stripped his Were nature out of him, it couldn't purge it entirely. The Cat had become a part of his mind, and not even tearing out his Were nature was enough to destroy it in him. It made the Cat retreat into the very core of his mind, and it took those memories, or at least copies of them, with it. Everything he knew since losing his memory is still in his mind. They're just locked up in the lost part of his Were nature."

"I say, restoring his Were nature would most likely restore his memories as well," Phandebrass mused.

"I'd say most likely, but we were told to find a way to give him back his memory as a human, Phandebrass," Koran Dar reminded him.

"I say, I think I can do that too," he said brightly. "Now that I know how his mind was affected, I think I can research a suitable cure, I can. I'll need to borrow the resources of your library, good Koran Dar. Would you mind terribly?"

"I think I can say with certain authority that you have the run of the library, good Wizard," Koran Dar said with a slow smile.

Tarrin looked at them in uncertainty and a bit of anxiety. The lost part of his Were-cat nature had possession of all his lost memories? It was still inside his mind, even though he was human again? He guessed it was possible; Triana had admitted that what had happened to him was something she considered absolutely impossible. She said that any attempt to cure Lycanthropy would kill the Were-creature in the attempt, for the nature and magic of being Were utterly infused the one turned. Whatever had separated that out of him could not do it with absolute certainty. It had left the tiniest of pieces of it inside him, and that fragment was holding onto all his lost memories.

"You mean if they made me a Were-cat again, I'd get back my memories?"

"I'd say yes," Koran Dar said with a solid nod. "The Cat is holding onto those memories, and I'll bet that it's trapped in the deepest part of your mind because what made you a Were-cat was stripped from you. If you were a Were-cat again, it would return to its rightful place in your mind, and I'd bet that it would restore your memory in the process. But I'm not saying that's the only way, Tarrin. Give Phandebrass some time, and I think he'll find an alternate solution to the problem."

"I say, I should have an answer by tomorrow evening," he said confidently.

"Why did I attack you with magic when you touched that--whatever it was?"

"I say, because the Cat in you rejects mental communion with unlike minds," Phandebrass told him calmly. "It was a phenomenon you'd displayed before. You can't Circle with any other Sorcerer, because your Were mind wouldn't accept the mental connection necessary to form the link, it wouldn't. I say, I think when Koran Dar touched the remains of the Cat in you, it reacted just as it did the other times others have tried to touch your mind. The Cat doesn't seem to like humans very much," Phandebrass said with a grin.

"You didn't attack me, Tarrin. The Cat attacked me," Koran Dar said calmly. "You are the same being, but sometimes you and the Cat can do things independently of one another. Like two sides of a coin. Both are different, and they can mean different things, but they're still the same coin."

"I don't understand."

"I don't want to scare you, but I'll be blunt," Koran Dar said evenly. "The Cat is a part of you, but as you just saw, it's capable of acting of its own volition when its instincts are suitably provoked. The Cat saw me as an intruder, an invader, and it took steps to protect itself from me. That's why it attacked me. You had nothing to do with that magical spell. The Cat did that all on its own."

That did scare him, and he had to admit it to himself. Triana and Jesmind had said that the Cat would make them do things, but he'd never experienced it quite like that before. He barely had any memory of it, and it frightened him that he was capable of reacting so violently and having no real idea why. He could kill someone and have no inkling as to why he'd just done it, or what it meant.

"Don't worry about it, Tarrin," Koran Dar smiled. "The Cat won't manfiest like that again. It simply can't, because you're not a Were-cat anymore. The only reason it could was because I was so deep inside your mind that I could touch it."

"It's a scary idea, knowing that there's something in me that may hurt people when I don't want it to," he said in a small voice.

"When you had your memory, you had control over it," Koran Dar assured him. "The Tarrin I knew may have been intimidating, but he didn't go around killing people for no reason. You weren't a monster, Tarrin. You simply had special circumstances that meant that people had to treat you in certain ways. That's all."

"What if they didn't treat me in those certain ways? What did I do?"

Koran Dar chuckled. "They only did it once, that's for sure," he said. "Usually, you made your displeasure abundantly clear."

"Breaking limbs was always your preferred method of education, it was," Phandebrass laughed.

"I sound like I was a bully."

"You weren't a bully, Tarrin. You were the king of the hill, and you knew it. There's a difference."

"That makes me sound arrogant."

"You were," Koran Dar smiled. "But all Were-cats are arrogant. Think about Triana and Jesmind. Aren't they arrogant?"

Tarrin considered that, and he realized that Koran Dar was right. Both of them were rather arrogant. And even Kimmie and Jula displayed traits of superiority, though not to the same degree. The Were-cats were bigger and stronger than humans, and they knew it. And they made sure everyone else knew it too.

"You were more modest than most of them, you were," Phandebrass told him. "But you still walked like the sun followed you around." He patted the pouches on his belt. "I say, I really must get to the library. I know exactly what books I need to study first, and I'm sure half the Tower is waiting for me to find an answer, it is."

They waited for Tarrin to feel completely recovered, and Phandebrass rushed off towards the library with an expectant gleam in his eye. Koran Dar escorted Tarrin along the carpeted passages of the Tower, taking him to the kitchens so they could get some breakfast. The revelations that had been placed on him made him quiet and thoughtful as he tried to work through them. The trauma of a sort that had come with finding the Cat still inside his mind--though he couldn't remember it--had been considerable. He'd felt...helpless. Though it was only hitting him now. He could have killed Koran Dar, and he had no idea that it had happened until it was over. That really frightened him, and all he could do was wonder if someone else was going to do something that would make him attack them too. Everyone around him, the servants, the katzh-dashi, the guards, they all seemed almost menacing to him now, as if one misspoke word or unconscious gesture would cause that buried part of himself to rise up from its dark prison and attack again. It made him very withdrawn, unwilling to speak or even look too long at anyone, afraid that he may hurt someone.

Another serious fear was over what the information that Koran Dar had discovered may mean. The absolute instant that Triana and Jesmind heard that restoring him as a Were-cat would most likely restore his memory, they'd be looking for a good place to sink their fangs into him. Tarrin wasn't sure if he wanted to be a Were-cat again, and he was positive that they were not going to give him a chance to decide one way or the other. As far as they were concerned, making him a Were-cat was the only possible course of action. They wouldn't even consider anything else. They'd both so much as admitted it. Even Kimmie had stated something to that effect. He'd become a Were-cat the first time by accident, when he had no choice in the matter. Now he did, and he didn't wan the Were-cats trying to take that choice away from him.

He had to admit, after seeing himself do something like attacking Koran Dar, he didn't think he wanted to be a Were-cat. If he was, then the Cat would be in his mind again, and it could do that again much easier the next time. How had he stood it before? It must have been terrifying, living in constant fear that he may go off and kill people at the drop of a hat. No wonder he sounded so withdrawn and moody in the stories the others told him about himself.

"I know, it's alot to consider," Koran Dar said in a reassuring tone as they passed a quartet of men in chain jacks, Tower guards patrolling the halls. "I bet right now you're wondering if you want to be a Were-cat again."

"A little," he said with a bit of a flush.

"Don't dwell on the negatives, Tarrin," he said in a gentle voice. "You had alot of trouble with it at first. I won't lie to you about that. But when you came back the second time, before the battle, you seemed to be completely in control of yourself. You were even happy. I think you really were happy, Tarrin. You had found peace within yourself and had embraced your new life completely. I honestly believe that if you had your memory back right now, you'd want to be a Were-cat again."

"Really?"

He nodded. "Camara's told me alot about what happened, more than most of the others know," he disclosed. "There was alot of pain in your past, but you had come through all of it and managed to keep your sanity. That's the mark of a strong mind and an unbreakable will."

"She really loves you, you know," Tarrin blurted. "Camara Tal does."

"I know she does," he sighed.

"You love her too, don't you?"

"Of course I do, Tarrin," he admitted. "But you know Amazon custom. No matter how much I love her, I simply can't go back with her. Not knowing what's waiting for me there."

"You know," Tarrin said in a pondering tone, "Camara's starting to get desperate about getting you back. If you did things right, you could wring some concessions out of her."

"Really?" he asked with an amused look. "Like what?"

"Well, now that the Weave is restored, I'm sure you could figure out some way to use magic to travel between Amazar and one of the Towers," he proposed. "As long as you can get here and do your work, does it really matter where you live? I think Camara Tal would agree to letting you stay as a katzh-dashi if it meant she got you the rest of the time." He touched his own amulet. "And these let you talk with the other Sorcerers when you need to, so alot of the time, I bet you wouldn't have to come all the way to the Tower to do some of your work. And when you did, even if you couldn't use magic to travel yourself, you could always call one of the Sha'Kar to come and get you. Jenna is my sister, you know. I can make her agree to anything it would take to let you arrange things with Camara Tal."

"My, it sounds like you've thought about this," Koran Dar chuckled. "And why bother? My problems with Camara aren't really your problems."

"Camara Tal's my friend, Koran Dar," Tarrin told him honestly. "I really like her, and I don't like seeing her in pain like that. I like you too, and I know you can't like what's going on either. Not if you love her."

"No, not really," he admitted. "The only thing keeping me from Camara is the society we live in."

"She's changed alot since you last really talked to her, Koran Dar," Tarrin told him. "I think that if you met her and bargained hard, you could get her to give over on some of those things."

"She's a High Priestess of Neme, Tarrin," Koran Dar sighed. "She's a paragon of Amazon society. There is absolutely no way she'll relax the rules."

"Well, there's no way she'll relax the rules that others can see," Tarrin said shrewdly. "I bet that if you agreed to keep your agreement a secret and at least pretended to go by the Amazon rules, you know, put on a public face, she'd let you break them in private. That way she saves face, you keep your freedom, and you two can finally be together."

Koran Dar gave Tarrin a very surprised look. "You know something, Tarrin?" he asked with a laugh. "That makes sense! I hate to admit it, but I think you've hit on an idea here. If I did at least pretend to behave like a proper Amazon husband, I think I just might be able to wring some concessions out of Camara concerning my freedom. And you're right. If the Sha'Kar can't teach me how to Teleport, then I'm sure you and me and Jenna could work out some kind of arrangement where they could come and get me."

"Well, you could always talk to her and see if you can't work it out," Tarrin offered.

"I believe I will, Tarrin," he said, patting him on the shoulder fondly. "I believe I will. You know, it shows much about your character that in the midst of so many of your own personal problems, you'd be so willing and able to help others with theirs. You're a remarkable young man, and I'm honored to know you."

"It's nothing, Koran Dar," he said with a blush. "Mother always says helping people solve their problems sometimes helps you solve your own."

"Call me Koran, Tarrin," the Amazon man smiled, "and it sounds like you have a very wise mother."

"I think so," Tarrin affirmed.

"So do I."

Tarrin walked along with the Amazon, his own fears and worries momentarily forgotten. In all the chaos in his life, at that moment, it just felt good that he could help solve at least someone's problems. Even if they weren't his own.

After a good breakfast with Koran Dar, the Amazon left him to seek out Camara Tal, and that left him alone. He wandered the halls of the Tower aimlessly, then found himself on the gravelled pathways of the gardens, walking by himself to sort things out in his mind. The distraction of Koran Dar was long forgotten as he worried over how the Were-cats were going to react to the news, and what it would mean to him personally.

He had a choice to make. He knew that, but he had been trying to discreetly avoid the issue over the last couple of days. He really didn't want to think about it now, but Phandebrass' revelation was forcing his hand, and he knew that he had to start really thinking about it.

He'd heard all the stories now, and from what he'd heard, the Tarrin who had been a Were-cat had been a very dark, menacing fellow, full of anger and pain and shockingly brutal at times. He didn't sound like a very good person to be, and he had been carrying around alot of pain. He'd heard of all the things he'd done and the many people he'd killed, all the evil had had both witnessed and perpetrated in the name of his mission. That Tarrin was ruthless, monstrous, almost evil in his own right, probably just as bad, if not worse, than the very ones he opposed.

But on the other hand, that Tarrin had two children, had two women who were utterly devoted to him, and he had been trying to build a future for himself. Triana had known that Tarrin better than anyone else possibly could have known him, and she told him about how he had managed to come to terms with the darkness inside him. How he had learned to let go of the anger and pain, how he had changed so much since entering the desert with the Faerie Sarrya. It was like he was a different person. When he thought of that Tarrin in those terms, he seemed courageous, almost inhumanly courageous, battling against all odds to manage to come out on top. That Tarrin may have been cold and ruthless, but it was just that. He had been. That Tarrin had changed, had shed some of the ferality that made him so nasty, had found acceptance within himself and had again learned to love, and to trust.

But if he decided to be a Were-cat again, which Tarrin would he be? Would he be the ruthless monster, or the Were-cat he had been just before he lost his memory, the one who had been fighting for happiness rather than making the rest of the world share his pain? Triana had pulled no punches. She admitted that she had no idea how this ordeal was going to affect him. It could make him feral again, or it may not. There was no telling how he would be if he was restored to his Were nature.

And on the other hand, what if he decided to stay human? He could build a new life for himself, the life of a Sorcerer, or anything he wanted to be. The possibilities were endless before him, because it was as if he had been given a second chance, another bite at the apple. He had no memory of his life before, and if he decided to stay human...perhaps it was best to leave those memories forever buried in the depths of his darkest mind. He could be a Sorcerer in the Tower, he could learn all over again, he could be what he was meant to be from the beginning, before Jesmind's bite had so radically altered his life. Or he could leave the Tower and go back to Aldreth, or even decide to travel the world. He could be whatever he wanted to be, he knew he could.

And there was Auli.

That thought just crept in there out of nowhere, but once it got into his mind, he couldn't let go of it. If he stayed human, he could explore just how far Auli wanted to go with him, an idea that had been eating at him since she kissed him. He just couldn't get the Sha'Kar girl out of his mind, even though he knew he had to get her out of his mind. He'd told himself he couldn't get involved with her right now, he needed to make an objective decision, and she was clouding the issue. But he liked her, alot. And she was so much what he wanted in a woman.

Auli wasn't the only reason to stay human. The simple fact of knowing that the tortures and horrors of the past years would never haunt him again was also a powerful piece on the board. And he was born human, wouldn't it be only natural to want to stay the way he'd been born, the only thing he'd ever known? He couldn't remember being a Were-cat. It felt natural, perfect, for him to be as he was, even if there was a large hole in his memory.

Memory. He thought before that it wouldn't be right to make his decision until he got back his memory so he could make a decision based on all the facts. But if he did get back his memory and decided to stay human, then the memory of what he had once been would always be there, and he had the feeling that it would haunt him for the rest of his days. Not just the memory of what he had lost, but the memory of the things he had done. Tarrin the Were-cat may have had the mental control and willpower to be able to cope with such awful memories, but he wasn't sure if Tarrin the human could. They may be too much for him to handle, and that would permantly stain any life he may be able to enjoy as a human.

No, if he wanted to stay a human, then it would be best if those memories were never awakened again.

But there were some things that he really did need to know, things that he had to understand before he could make such an important decision. And he didn't want to learn those things from Triana or Jesmind. Their bias was obvious, and he didn't want them flavoring things to sway him. He wanted an honest opinion, a clear one, a consice one. And he knew who would have one. It wouldn't be Allia or Keritanima, for they were too close to him. It wouldn't be Dolanna or Camara Tal, it wouldn't be Azakar or Miranda.

If he wanted an honest opinion uncluttered by personal view, he knew Dar would be the best one to give it to him. The young man was very smart and quite insightful, and he had a very formidable ability to see both sides of an issue, a trait instilled in him by his parents, who had been training him to be a merchant. Merchants had to understand both sides of the issue in order to be able to assume the most profitable posture in the bargaining.

Looking for Dar was one thing. Finding him on the vast grounds of the Tower was quite another. After checking his room and Dolanna's room, he found himself suddenly having no idea where to look. He didn't really know what Dar and Dolanna did in the Tower. For that matter, he really wasn't sure what all the other Sorcerers did in the Tower either. He guessed they went off and did magic things or studied or such things, things he probably wouldn't understand without his memory. The only one whose job he really understood was Jenna's, and that was only because she had explained most of it to him. He decided to just wander around and try to find someone he knew, and maybe they could show him to Dar or use magic to tell him where to go. Besides, it was a very nice summer day, and he really didn't want to spend it sitting in a room somewhere or wandering stuffy hallways.

Where he eventually ended up was on the periphery of the sand-covered ground used by the cadets of the Knights, and he stood there and watched as ten armored Knights prowled around on the large field and oversaw about fifty armored cadets going through sword exercises. They practiced with wooden replicas of swords, swinging them at one another but not close enough to make actual contact. The ten Knights paced up and down the lines of the cadets and corrected forms or stopped a cadet and explained something to him. He hadn't seen them practice before, and it reminded him of his own dream to be a Knight, to be out there on that training field and swinging one of those practice swords. It didn't look like wearing that armor in this heat would be very comfortable, but it was what he had wanted to do. Personally, Tarrin didn't see much use for armor. He never really had, at least not the kind of armor the Knights wore. That kind of heavy armor weighed a man down, restricted his movement and his mobility, and sometimes became more of a liability than an advantage. A fast opponent, more lightly armed, yet with enough strength and a suitable weapon to penetrate that armor could take down and armored foe easily. But that was a rather specialized situation. On the average, and in the furtherance of protecting Sorcerers, Tarrin could both see and understand why the Knights wore heavy armor. They did alot of travelling, and their horses bore most of that weight. Knights were trained extensively for mounted combat. That armor may be useless against a special foe, but it did grant a very formidable advantage against most others. The average peasant with a knife or threshing staff or pitchfork was not going to be taking a Knight. He probably wouldn't be able to take a Knight who was totally naked and unarmed. Knights were some of the most expertly trained warriors in the world. They were even respected by the Ungardt, and one had to be a very good warrior for an Ungardt to respect him.

He'd wanted to be out there, but he knew that even if he decided to remain human, he never really could. After all, he already was a Knight. He remembered that part of the story that Dolanna told him. He and Allia both were Knights, though they'd never gone through the same training as the others. They were special Knights, answering only to Darvon, the Lord General, who really didn't order them around. Dolanna told him that they'd Knighted the two of them because they'd become so close to the Knights. Allia and Tarrin had trained many of them in their forms of fighting, to give the Knights a stronger base in unarmed combat and make them more effective. Dolanna said that the Knights even branded themselves now, because of the brands on Tarrin and Allia. She said it was the code of the Knights, We are one under Karas, meaning that what one Knight did, all did, and when one Knight needed help, all of them answered the call. Since Tarrin and Allia had had the fortitude to allow themselves to be branded, all of the other Knights had had themselves branded as well as a symbol of their unity. That kind of powerful brotherhood was a weapon in and of itself, and it made the Knights even more feared as a whole than they were individually. Nobody--nobody--insulted or irritated a Knight. He very well may have the entire order lined up at his front door the next day, waiting their turn to demand satisfaction.

He tried to remember what Dolanna had told him. Knight Champion, that was what she called it. Darvon had Knighted both him and Allia and given them that title. Darvon had given them that title, and it meant that he was outside the structure of command in the order itself. He and Allia only answered to Darvon, and Darvon had basicly told them to do whatever they pleased. He'd done it to give Tarrin more leverage to use against the Council to make them give him more freedom, so they'd told him. But after they'd Knighted them, the Knights had accepted both of them as if they had undergone the training. They truly were members of the order.

Tarrin wondered what the Knights would think of what happened to him. He didn't remember any of them but Faalken, who had died, but he'd heard a great deal about Darvon. He was supposed to be a very wise man. He wondered if Darvon was down there in the compound right now, and if he'd see Tarrin if he asked around for him. Maybe Darvon would have some good advice for him, or maybe he could tell him some things about his time in the Tower that the others didn't know. Besides, he was supposedly a Knight, and he had a problem. The code of the Knights meant that if he had a problem, then it was a problem that the entire order would try to help him solve.

He realized he was just trying to make excuses to go in there and see what it was like with the Knights. He had no memory of them, and he doubted any of them would even recognize him like he was now. But it was a childhood dream to be a Knight, to wear the spurs, and the knowledge that he had accomplished that goal seemed empty without any memory of how it had come to pass.

Looking away from them, he wandered back towards the main Tower, by now a bit numb to its enormity. He slowed to a stop, however, when four Sha'Kar glided towards him in their stately, graceful walk, four young women wearing simple robes and gowns, not those shimmering garments they'd worn back on the island. And one of them he recognized as Auli. Seeing her caused his mixed feelings for the girl to rise up in him, both his desire to be with her and his resolve to stay away, and seeing her made him happy to see her and worried about it. He liked her as a friend, and perhaps was willing to let her lead him astray, but he knew that getting involved with her would cause nothing but trouble. On many different levels. He considered turning and going the other way, but they had already seen him, and he didn't want to insult Auli by blatantly running away from her. Despite what she may feel, he still considered her a friend, and he wasn't going to be mean to her. He simply jammed his hands behind his back and clasped them together and ambled forward quickly, like he was late for an appointment. He didn't want to drag any conversation between them out, especially since she was in the company of three of her friends. They were talking among themselves in what seemed to be casual tones, four friends or acquaintances that seemed to like one another. They all stopped when Tarrin got near to them, and then they curtsied to him gracefully when he was but a few steps away.

"Good day to you, honored one," the lead one said, a very tall, willowy Sha'Kar with the strangest mix of coloring. She had the dusky brown skin of the Sha'Kar, but she had flaming red hair. It was a very unusual combination, and it made her stand out from the other three, who had varying shades of blond hair. The redhead wore a red robe that closely matched her hair, as if to advertise her unusual hair.

"Hello, Tarrin," Auli said in silky tones, giving him a strangely naughty, knowing smile. "What's got you in such a hurry?"

"I'm looking for Dar," he said in what he hoped was a hurried, dismissive manner. "It's kinda important."

"I haven't seen him. Do you want me to call him for you?"

Tarrin stopped abruptly. Actually, that would help him out a great deal. "If you wouldn't mind," he said gratefully.

She gave him a short grin, then put her slender fingers to the amulet around her neck. "Dar," she called. "Where are you?"

"I'm in the library," came the tinny response, which was still Dar's voice despite the slight distortion. "What's the matter, Auli?"

"Nothing, Tarrin's looking for you, that's all."

"Oh. Well, I'll stay where I am until he gets here, then."

"We're all going to go watch the Knights practice," Auli said with that same naughty smile. "They're certainly one of the few things about having to come here that's been good so far. Isn't that right, Janelle?"

The redhead gave Tarrin a slightly embarassed giggle and nodded. "I never knew humans could be so much fun to watch," she agreed.

"Of course, they all fall over each other when we're there watching them," Auli added with a smirk. "I guess they can't concentrate when such beauty stands in their presence."

"At least it's fun til that wrinkled up old prune comes out and chases us off," another of the Sha'Kar girls said sourly. "He's always so rude!"

They were talking about Darvon, and Tarrin didn't want to say something unpleasant to them. From the sound of it, Darvon would take care of that when they arrived. Tarrin didn't remember Darvon, but he was the Lord General of the Knights, and Tarrin figured that he had to have some kind of duty to stand up for Darvon against them. But then again, Darvon probably wouldn't be impressed by the four Sha'Kar girls. Tarrin realized that the younger ones, the cadets, they probably would get distracted by the four very lovely girls standing on the edges of the grounds and watching, but the trained Knights wouldn't. Knights were trained to ignore distractions, even ones as lovely as the Sha'Kar.

In a way, Tarrin guessed that maybe them watching on would be a good thing. It would certainly teach the cadets how to concentrate on what they were doing, despite whatever may come along to distract them.

"Want to come along, Tarrin?" Auli asked with bright eyes, holding her hand out to him. "We could have fun."

"I'm sorry, but I'm busy, Auli," he said carefully. "I really need to go see Dar. And after that, I think I'll be spending time with my daughter for a while."

"Ah well, I can't compete with family," she said with an eerily predatory look. "But I'll walk with you for a bit. I'll be along in a little, Janelle."

"Alright, Auli," she said with a look, and then the three girls scurried off. Then they all started laughing loudly. Tarrin looked back at them sourly, wondering if Auli had told them about what happened in his room last night. Knowing Auli, she probably would.

Walking with her was both exciting and nerve wracking, because he wanted to walk a little closer, and he knew that that was a very bad idea. Her very presence had a powerful effect on him, and for a moment he felt like one of those cadets with those glowing eyes looking down at him. He kept a good distance from her, hands behind his back, as she walked along without any seeming discomfort. She didn't even seem to notice his own, at least until she glanced over at him and smiled. "I see you're all out of sorts," she said with a flash of white teeth. "Don't let that crotchety old she-cat get to you, Tarrin. She can't watch us all the time, you know," she added with a seductive purr, reaching over and grabbing his arm, leaning into him as they walked.

"I don't think you appreciate just how nasty Jesmind can get, Auli," Tarrin said carefully. "She wasn't joking. She will hurt you if you--"

"I can handle that fleabag," she said confidently, cutting him off. "So, are you going to be in your room tonight?" she asked with smoldering eyes. "I'll come after you finish visiting with your daughter."

"I, don't think that's a good idea, Auli," he said delicately. "I mean, you're very pretty and all, and I really like you, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to have a girlfriend right now. Not with my memory all full of holes."

She looked at him, then she laughed. "Girlfriend?" she asked loudly, probably a bit too loudly. Tarrin blushed slightly when two passing Sorcerers glanced at them as they went by. "You have an imagination, Tarrin!" she giggled. "I don't want to be your girlfriend."

"B-But you kissed me, and--"

"So? I like you, Tarrin, and I think you're very sexy. I know you like me, and I know you think I'm sexy. I want to go to bed with you, and the kiss you gave me last night told me you want to go to bed with me. Who says we have to say we love each other to share pleasure?"

Tarrin was shocked, more than he thought he would be, because Auli knew he did have interest in her, and Jesmind had had her pegged from the start. He was little more than a conquest to her. Some men probably wouldn't mind that at all, more than happy to let such a gorgeous woman conquer them all she wanted, but Tarrin had been raised quite differently than her.

Or was he just a conquest? Tarrin rememebered that she had in fact been raised in a very, very different society, one that had been perverted and depraved, and he wondered how much of that upbringing was affecting her behavior right now. Was Auli trying to take things to that level because that's what she thought she was supposed to do? Or was it one of the ways that decadent culture displayed friendship? Did she want to sleep with him because she did like him, or because it was what she had been conditioned to offer?

"I-I think it's a bad idea," he repeated. "No offense, Auli, really. I do really like you, but with everything going on right now with me, with Jesmind, and the fact that I don't think your mother would like it very much if you and me--"

"I can handle my mother," she interrupted with a snort. "And I can handle your furry girlfriends. So what's stopping us?" She reached down with her other hand and patted him on the backside, which made him jump. "You can say no all you want, Tarrin, but you're no different from some of the other boys who've said no to me. Your mouth says no, but your body says yes. And I know how to get your body to ignore your mouth." She let go of him and they stopped. She looked up at him with unashamed, hooded eyes, her expression one of strange expectant pleasure. "I'll get you yet, Tarrin," she purred. "Mark me on that. You should never have said no," she added with a wink. "Now I'm really, really curious."

Tarrin really couldn't say anything to that, so Auli took advantage of his silence to step up and lean into him, making sure to press all those things the dark side of Tarrin's mind liked to think about against him as she whispered in his ear. "I'm going to get you, Tarrin," she said huskily. Then she kissed him passionately on the lips for a brief moment, paralyzing him. She pushed away from him with twinkling eyes, full of mischief, and then turned and sauntered towards the training grounds as if she owned the entire Tower.

Tarrin felt her lips still ghosting against his, and he could only watch her go and berate himself for handling that so badly. Not only did he not try to reason with her, he had somehow almost made it some kind of challenge to her. Now she would think of it as a game, and she was the kind that would play it until she won. He had really messed things up, and he had only himself to blame. He should have tried to be more sensitive to her position, or tried to understand her motives a little better, he should have tried to talk with her much longer and gotten to understand what she was after before trying to deflect her. Instead, he had just blurted out no and piqued her curiosity. Piqueing Auli's curiosity had to have been the worst thing he could have done. He knew Auli well enough to know that when she got curious, absolutely nothing would stop her from satisfying that curiosity.

Woodenly, Tarrin remembered the library as he realized he was watching Auli walk away, and his eyes were not on her back. He growled at himself for doing exactly what he asked Auli not to do and then turned around and stalked towards the main Tower.

He found Dar in the library with Dolanna, and after a pleasant, short conversation with her, Tarrin borrowed her student and they walked along the outside grounds of the Tower. Tarrin had alot to talk about with his Arkisian friend, and it took him a while to try to organize things in his mind, so he'd know what to ask and how to say it. Until then, he disclosed to Dar his debacle with Auli, telling him what she'd done with him after Dar left a those two times and then telling him about the confrontation they had earlier. That made Dar flush, and then he laughed ruefully.

"I really wish you would have come to see me before you said that," he said. "I may have been able to help."

"She flirted with you too, Dar. Did she try to seduce you?"

"No," he said, and he sounded a little disappointed. "But you said it to her all wrong, Tarrin."

"I know," he sighed. "Now she's really going to come after me."

"Just keep one of the Were-cats with you."

"That's even worse than having Auli after me," he grunted.

"Well, then let her catch you and be done with it," Dar shrugged.

"Then Jesmind would kill her," Tarrin told him. "I don't think Auli realizes I wasn't joking about that."

"Well, then I guess you have a problem," Dar grinned.

"You're alot of help," Tarrin accused.

"I've never been very good with girls, Tarrin," Dar said. "I mean, look at me. I want to ask Tiella out, but every time she comes near me, I get all tongue-tied and forget what to say."

"I thought you and her were friends."

"Well, we are, but back then I thought she was just cute. I really wasn't looking at her that way."

"This from the man who boasts about how many naked girls he's seen," Tarrin teased.

"Looking at them is a bloody lot easier than talking to them," Dar admitted with a rueful laugh. "Anyway, what did you want to talk to me about, Tarrin?"

"I need you to help me," Tarrin told him. "Phandebrass found something out today."

"What?"

Tarrin told Dar about what they'd managed to discover earlier that day, and Dar's eyes turned sober when Tarrin explained the possible ramifications. "I don't know what to do, Dar," he admitted. "Jesmind and the other Were-cats keep pressuring me about being a Were-cat again, but I just don't know if that's what I want. And if it isn't what I want, I don't know if I should try to get my memory back."

"That does sound like a problem," Dar agreed.

"So I need to decide that first," he continued. "I thought I had more time to think about it, but as soon as the Were-cats find out that I should regain my memory if I'm turned again, they're going to be lining up to bite me."

"That's no lie," Dar agreed. "So, Tarrin, how can I help?"

"I want to know the truth, Dar," he said grimly. "Not this person's version of the truth, or that person's version of the truth. I want to hear the whole story, and I think you're probably the best person to ask. I know that the Were-cats have already decided what to do with me, but I think that even people like my sisters and Jenna and Dolanna and Camara Tal probable also have their own opinions, and they'd try to sway me one way or the other if I asked them."

"You're right about that," Dar admitted in a low tone. "Dolanna's been talking to me about you, and she doesn't think you should be changed back. I heard Jenna talking to her parents, and she's talking like they got you back from the dead, so I think she's decided you should stay like you are. I know that Keritanima and Allia are your sisters, but right now they're arguing about you. Keritanima thinks you'd be better off staying human, but Allia thinks that you're less than what you're supposed to be as a human, and that all the suffering and work you did to get where you were before you were turned human again would be for nothing, and all the honor you gained as a Were-cat was lost when you became human again. Allia's got funny ideas sometimes. The funny thing is, both of them told me that it's because they think it's what you would want. I guess they don't know you as well as they thought they did."

"They did know me, Dar," Tarrin said.

"I know what you mean," Dar nodded. "Miranda thinks you should be a Were-cat again too, so Kerri's getting it from both sides."

"What do you think, Dar?"

"Well, I think that it's your decision," he replied.

"That's why I asked for your help," Tarrin said with a relieved smile.

"So, what can I tell you?"

"I want to know what I was really like, Dar," he said seriously. "I've heard what Dolanna said and my sisters have said and Triana's said, but they all seem to be holding things back. I want to know the whole truth."

"Actually, they did a pretty good job," Dar admitted, scratching his chin.

"Then I really was like that?" he asked.

"For a time," he agreed. "But you've changed alot since I met you, Tarrin. The Were-cat I met was nothing like the Were-cat you became after Jula betrayed you. I think everything bad you became goes right back to that one act. And the Were-cat I knew right before this happened was alot different than the one you were before. You went into the desert paranoid and pretty mean, and when you came out, you were alot more mellow and friendly."

"They said I'd changed."

"Alot," he agreed. "When you and Kerri and Allia were in the Initiate, you were actually alot like you are now, but not quite. I guess that's because it was closest to who you were before you were bitten."

"Was I happy, Dar?"

"I really can't say," he said honestly. "You seemed happy sometimes. You were definitely happy with Jesmind and Jasana. But most of the rest of the time, it was too hard to tell. You were a very hard man to know, Tarrin. You never let anyone get very close to you, even among us. Only Allia and Kerri and Dolanna understood you, and they'd never talk about you with the rest of us. Even at the end, what happened with you and Jula had permanently scarred you. Between that and the mission, it really didn't give you much room to be you. It was very hard on you."

Mention of that reminded him of what he was carrying at that moment, in the magical regions of that place Dolanna called the elsewhere. The Firestaff. The one thing that the majority of the world was struggling to find, and he was the one who had it. The quest to find that artifact had been the whole reason he and the other had come together. For that, at least, he was glad it had happened. But from what he'd heard, that was about the only positive thing to come about from the whole thing.

"If you're trying to find out if you were happy being what you were, I don't think anyone can answer that but you, Tarrin," Dar told him soberly. "You'd need to get back your memories to find that out, because can any one man really say he knows what's in another man's mind?"

"A Sorcerer could," Tarrin said with a teasing smile.

"Well, I guess in that case yes, but you know what I mean," he said defensively.

"It's hard to believe that I was really like that."

"I know, but it was," Dar nodded. "I guess in what we were doing at the time, it was almost a good thing. Everyone was afraid of you, even our enemies."

"You were afraid of me?" Tarrin asked in surprise.

"Not the same way that someone that didn't know you would be," he said cautiously. "I'd call it more understanding your personality."

"I asked for the truth, Dar."

Dar blew out his breath. "Yes, I was afraid of you at times, Tarrin. Any sane man would have been."

"Were you afraid of me the whole time?"

"No," he answered. "When we first met, I liked you alot. Like I said, you were alot like you are now, with some pretty obvious differences, given you were a Were-cat then. But after Jula betrayed you, and we left to go find the Firestaff, those two things consumed you. You turned feral, and you were driven by the need to finish the mission and regain your freedom. Anyone that got in your way was putting his life in his hands, and when you were feral, you were very nervous and unpredictable. That can make any man nervous, since you were strong enough to kill a man with your bare hands."

"I don't think I would have ever hurt you, Dar," Tarrin said after a moment.

"I doubt you would have either," he answered. "You risked your neck too many times to count to keep the rest of us out of harm's way. That happened after Faalken died." He sighed. "You took that harder than the rest of us. I liked Faalken and I miss him, but you blamed yourself for it. After he died, you'd all but stick your neck on a headsman's block if it kept the rest of us out of danger. That really infuriated Allia and Camara Tal, you know," he chuckled. "They were trying to protect you, but you were running off and protecting them and putting yourself in harm's way in the process." He looked over with darkening eyes. "After Faalken died, I never really was directly afraid of you again. I'd be afraid of what you might do, and what might happen, but I was never afraid you'd hurt me."

They walked out into the gardens in silence, as Tarrin mulled over what he'd learned. Dar hadn't really told him much that he hadn't heard already, except for some personal insights. "What do you think I should do?" he asked finally.

"I think you should make the decision that makes you happiest, Tarrin," Dar answered after a moment. "I think you should make it for you, not for who may be angry with you for making it, or for who may not be. It's your life, after all."

"If you're talking about Jesmind and Kimmie, I know," he said. "I thought that nobody would really care if I decided to be turned again, but just about everyone would object if I decided to stay human."

"I think you'd find out how much some people care about you going back to being a Were-cat if you announced that you were going to," he said. "Dolanna told all of us to keep our opinions to ourselves, that's why nobody's really said anything to you." He chuckled. "Well, there's that, and then there was when the Goddess came to you. She more or less told all of us that you were going to make your choice yourself, and we'd better not interfere. So nobody's interfering."

"I guess Jesmind didn't get the message," Tarrin chuckled. Then he remembered something that that strange Goddess lady had told him. You were quite happy being a Were-cat, she had told him. If he got his memory back, I dare say he would demand to be restored. For him to be as he is now would seem unnatural to him, she had also said.

If that was true, then maybe had had been happy as he was. She kept telling him that it would be his choice, after he got back his memory. She had wanted him to make an educated choice, not a blind one based on fear or rumor or feelings. And he had to admit to himself, any choice he made before gaining back his memory probably wouldn't be a thorough one. He'd wanted to choose beforehand, in case those memories brought pain. But he saw that he was only thinking in the moment. He'd let his fear of what Jesmind and the Were-cats might do rush him, when he had forgotten that he really had all the time in the world. If the Goddess had told the Were-cats not to bite him unless it was his choice, then they'd behave. He doubted any of them would really care to cross swords with a god.

"Dar," Dolanna's voice came from his amulet. "Is Tarrin still with you?"

"He's right here, Dolanna," Dar replied, touching his amulet.

"Good. Could the two of you please come to the Keeper's office? It's important."

"We're on our way," he answered immediately.

"I wonder what Jenna wants," Tarrin mused.

"Well, we can continue talking about this later, I guess," Dar said.

"Maybe. I think I have some of my answers already, Dar. I forgot that the Goddess personally told the Were-cats not to bite me unless I agreed to it."

"I didn't know she said that," Dar said with a chuckle. "I guess that means that you really don't have anything to worry about at all, doesn't it?"

"Maybe," Tarrin said.

When they reached Jenna's office, Tarrin was surprised to see that Jenna wasn't alone. Keritanima and Allia were with her, Keritanima sitting in the chair facing the desk with Binter standing behind it resolutely, and Allia standing by Jenna's chair. Phandebrass was also there, as was Dolanna, Jesmind, and Kimmie. Jula stood just behind them, her head down and her large furry hands folded before her demurely, as if she was trying hard not to attract attention to herself.

"What's wrong, Jenna?" Tarrin asked.

"Nothing's wrong, Tarrin," Jenna answered. "I just though you may want to be here, that's all."

"Why? What's going on?"

"I say, I think I've found a solution," Phandebrass announced with a clap of his hands. "As soon as Koran Dar gets here, we can find out how feasible it is."

"You mean you can restore Tarrin's memory?" Jesmind asked quickly.

"I think I can," he nodded. "But I'll need to talk with Koran Dar, or maybe Camara Tal. The cure is a potion, and its key ingredient is a rare plant that only grows on one of the isles of Amazar. One of them should be able to tell me if we can get that plant right now."

"What is a potion?" Tarrin asked.

"A potion is a magic liquid," Kimmie answered for Phandebrass. "A Wizard makes it, and then the person he made it for drinks it. When he does, the magic in the potion takes effect."

"You won't need Koran Dar for that, Phandebrass," Jesmind scoffed. "All you need is my mother. She can Conjure anything you need."

"And I'm sure Triana will be happy to Conjure the plant as soon as she comes back," Kimmie said mildly. "But it's going to take time to prepare the potion."

"I say, most definitely," Phandebrass agreed. "At least a month."

"A month?" Jesmind said hotly. "You call that a solution?"

"These procedures are very delicate, they are," he said defensively, "and the draught has to be simmered for days on end at certain stages before the next ingredient can be added. I say, we are talking about some very delicate, very poweful magic here, Jesmind, we are. Did you think it would be as easy as chanting a few spells?"

"Yes," she said flatly, glaring at him.

"I say, I'm sorry to disappoint you, then," he said diffidently. "But the unusual circumstances that robbed Tarrin of his memory means that we have to use some very strong magic to try to reverse the damage, we do. And unfortunately, in the Wizard world, powerful magic often takes time."

"Are you sure that this will work?" Jenna asked.

"I say, assuming that I can get all the ingredients, I do think it will work," he replied brightly. "The potion was specifically designed to restore memories lost through magical attacks, and Tarrin qualifies. I read the description of the potion several times, and I'm convinced that Tarrin is a prime candidate for its use. It is almost perfect."

"What do you mean by almost perfect?" the Keeper asked quickly.

"The potion was specifically designed to restore the memory of a Wizard who lost it to a powerful magical spell left behind in a spellbook as a trap," the Wizard told her. "Afterwards, they discovered that it had wide-ranging effects on anyone who had lost memory, but its potency varied depending on the means by which the memory was lost, it did. Tarrin lost his memory to a magical curse. That very closely matches the original intent for which the potion was designed, it does. It should work perfectly on him. I'm convinced of it, I am."

"It does look very promising," Kimmie agreed. "I read the summaries myself, and I have to agree. This potion looks to be the best option we have."

"I feel alot better about the idea of it now that you agree, Kimmie," Jesmind said curtly.

Phandebrass snorted. "The simple fact of the matter is, the power of the curse that affected him leaves very few options available to us, it does," he continued. "Only the strongest magicks will have any chance of affecting him, and I say, we don't have the time to just try them one after another until we stumble across the one that works. We don't have that kind of time, we don't."

"What do you mean?" Jenna asked.

"Well, firstly, this kind of damage is going to set in his mind as time goes by," the addled Wizard replied. "The longer he stays thusly, the harder it's going to be to reverse the damage. That's why I've gotten so little sleep over the last few days trying to find the most effective way to restore him, because I know we don't have much time, we don't. The month's brewing time for this potion is going to be pushing it, it is. Secondly, after doing some reading about the Firestaff, I found a reference to when it was used. I took the time to consult some astronomical charts and a few ancient calendars, and I've worked out the exact day that it's going to activate again."

"Really? When will that be?" Dolanna asked curiously.

"Gods Day," he replied.

Tarrin looked at him. God's Day was a holiday of sorts, a day that came only once every five years. It was an extra day placed just after the day of New Year to keep the calendar balanced, a leap day. It was called Gods Day because it was said in myth and legend that the very first day of the world, the day of creation, was Gods Day. It and New Year were the only two such days that fell outside of the months.

"That's only a little more than three months from now," Jenna noted, scribbling down the date on a piece of parchment, and circling it several times.

"I say, not very far off at all, is it?" the Wizard asked. "If Tarrin is supposed to hide the Firestaff, then he needs his memory back as quickly as we can manage it. After all, so long as he's here, everyone knows where he is, and they know where to come in order to try to take it from him. We have to get him healthy and whole, and then he can disappear off the Tower grounds and defend the Firestaff until Gods Day comes and goes."

"I didn't realize it was so soon," Jenna growled. "Where did you find that information, Phandebrass? I've had my Lorefinders tearing our libraries apart looking for something we could use to find that out."

"I say, Jenna, it was right in your library. It was written in Sha'Kar, that's all. Your library is probably one of the most complete in the world, you know. It was just that most of the books there you couldn't read. I found it quite by accident. When I saw a book titled Ancient Artifacts and Their Use Over the Ages, I just had to stop and leaf through it."

Jenna laughed ruefully. "I was the only one in the Tower that can read Sha'Kar before the Sha'Kar came back, so I guess you'll have to forgive me for missing that," she said. "I haven't had much time to go through the library, not with all my duties as the Keeper."

"I wasn't blaming you, Keeper," Phandebrass smiled.

"I think Phandebrass makes a valid point," Dolanna said. "If there is indeed only three months, then we truly do not have much time. We must bend every effort into having Phandebrass make this potion and restore Tarrin's memory. Because as time grows short, those who want the Firestaff and are willing to use extreme methods to get it are going to get desperate. The sooner Tarrin disappears from sight, the better for everyone."

"I guess that means that I'd better quadruple the guard," Jenna said seriously.

"Quintupling it would be more wise, Jenna," Dolanna said calmly. "We must turn the Tower into a fortress until Tarrin can escape with the Firestaff. Because, and you can mark my words. If we do not turn the Tower into a fortress no man would dare assault, they will assault it."

"No doubt," Keritanima nodded in agreement. "I'll have some of my Marines brought in, Jenna. We'll give you a hand."

"Right now, I'll take all the help I can get, Kerri," Jenna said sourly. "I think I may even ask Shiika if I can borrow the Arakite Legions she left behind in Suld to help garrison the city. They're still here, and I'd be crazy not to want them on the grounds. Between them and the Knights, I'll have some of the finest soldiers in the world defending the fence."

"Just be careful what you give in return," Kimmie smiled. "It's always dangerous work, bartering with a Demon. They have ways of getting more than you thought you gave at the end."

"No doubt there," Jenna agreed soberly. "I'd better call both Councils and make some arrangements. I should go see the Regent, and talk to Shiika as well. We need to lock up the Tower as tight as a drum, and I'm going to need dependable men to do that."

"And the sooner the better," Keritanima agreed.