Chapter 1

The year 7,152 (New Age)

The first day of any vacation should be a happy one that is unless your vacation should turn out to be permanent. That's what this vacation would turn out to be for Zaehi. This was a move, a permanent one to the Orma capital, Cere. More specifically, to the palace in Cere. It was not that Zaehi didn't like the Orma it was that they had very few things in the city that would make a Zelati's stay easier. Most places in Cere did not take into account that the Zelati could not walk upright like every other race could. The cities the Zelati normally lived in did not have stairs, they had great sloping walkways that anyone could use, yes it did take people longer to get where ever they were going but the extra time was always well worth it because of the gardens that could grow. Plants from anywhere in the entire world could grow underwater because the Zelati could change the temperature and humidity of their underwater bubbles, an ability that they exercised frequently.

It wasn't only the ability to get around that the young Zelati would miss, it was also the people and places for living underwater was simple and convenient. A water elemental didn't have to worry about whether or not there was a break in the wall because they could breath just as easily under the water as on land. Zelati only preferred living underwater because it was easier to keep their tails moist and because only when immersed entirely underwater was a Zelati completely in control. But it was a well-known fact that the Zelati could live in any humidity and in any temperature just shy of boiling so each elemental race was "requesting" to have an ambassador. So the Zelati sent ambassadors and one of the ambassadors they had sent died of old age, that was the reason Zaehi and her family were moving to Cere. Her father was going to be the new ambassador to the people of light. It was a great honor but that meant that the entire family had to move so that's what they were doing.

While packing up all of her things, Zaehi had come to an understanding of just how precious time was. Here she was 249 and already she was just about to enter her first stage of adult hood. For at the age of 250, a Zelati began to gain the special tattoo's that would identify them to the other's of their race and also tell the personal history of the Zelati in question. The more elaborate the pattern the more the Zelati has done that has been deemed important. Her parents patterns weren't all that elaborate but they would be now that they were ambassadors to the Orma it just wouldn't do to have the Zelati seem as though they were slighting the Orma so, the patterns began becoming more elaborate. The Zelati tattoos are unlike any other kind for they appear on their own without any trying on the part of the mer-person in question. It has been a puzzle that has remained unsolved, that is, unsolved except for one Zelati. The mermaid went mad and is locked up in Habanoh, Home of the Mentally Disturbed.

Zaehi, the name itself means ripple, at least to the Zelati. Just now, Zaehi didn't feel much like causing ripples, or even being part of one. Her father was now in the Orma court being introduced to the Orma Royal family and a "few" close friends of them. Meaning that he was being introduced to basically everyone in the court other than those who are unable to make it to the occasion. It was to be a short meeting and then a formal dinner after; that's not how things turned out. The meeting ended up running late into the evening in order to get through all of the Orma titles so that no Orma would feel slighted. Zaehi personally thought that the lengthy names were the Orma equivalent to the Zelati tattoos. Though that fact was not a part of the ordinary mind of things Zaehi didn't care. You had to be an individual no matter who you were and if you weren't you were just kidding yourself because the idea of normal is so vast and changing that you would be abnormal to keep up with it.

Zaehi's father and the entire Orma court were locked up in the Grand Hall so Zaehi and her mother, Uri were left in the gardens to muddle through as best they could. Wandering through the gardens in their wheel chairs, the two Zelati women began to reminisce on all of the beautiful gardens they would be unable to visit. They couldn't even have some of their favorite plants with them because of the temperature and humidity needed to sustain their life. Rolling along, Zaehi began to realize exactly what she was going to miss and what she had to look forward to. After all, hadn't the Nayar said that it was her family that was to go to Cere?

The Nayar, the only Zelati who had regular conversations with the Three Ladies, the only Zelati whose word was always taken over any one else's. Of course, normally the Nayar didn't have to over-rule anyone because the Three Ladies didn't concern themselves with the trivial squabbling of everyday life. When the three Ladies did insist on something it normally meant that whatever they decided on was best for the future of all of the races. The Ladies showed no preference as to which elemental race they liked best so their word was always heeded by every elemental. The Nayar is the official voice of the Ladies for the Zelati, just as the other races all had their Voice who ever was the chosen.

The ramifications of the Nayar choosing Zaehi's family meant something was going to happen, something big. Whatever that was Zaehi didn't want any part in it. What was really making no sense was that the Nayar had insisted that the entire family go. Normally an ambassador is alone when he goes to the alien city, even if he or she has family they go by themselves. Ordinarily the family will move later just to be nearer the member whose task it is to be the peacemaker. Zaehi and her mother had to come with Emery, Zaehi's father, right away because of the Nayar's orders meaning that the Ladies wanted Zaehi or Uri here. Which, Zaehi didn't know but whoever it was, their part was going to be big.

The meeting was still not finished after Zaehi and Uri had gone through the garden three times.

Uri decided that it was time for Zaehi and herself to settle into their rooms and prepare for a formal dinner. So the two mermaids made their way to their first story suite and began to settle in. As they were unpacking one of the Orma servants knocked on the door. "Madams," he began, "This suite is intended for the Ambassador and his wife as this suite is not large enough to accommodate all three of the family." Zaehi was about to protest that the rooms were large enough because there were nine spacious rooms but Uri began speaking first, "Where will my daughter be moved to…." "Taur," The Orma manservant supplied, "Your daughter Madam Uri, is to be moved to the smaller suite down the hall." Uri smiled and turned to her daughter, "Well then, I guess it was a good thing that we spent so much time in the gardens right?" Taur interrupted, "The suite you will be moved to Miss Zaehi has a door that leads to the gardens and this room has a wonderful garden on it's own. If you look into the room adjacent to the parlor you will find that it is a green house whose temperature and humidity can be controlled so if you had any native plants which you wish to be sent for just let one of us know." Uri looked absolutely delighted and Zaehi could hardly contain her excitement.

A room with a door to the gardens! It was going to be perfect! Zaehi glanced at her mother and saw that she was outrageously happy, just disguising it rather well; but Uri's eyes betrayed her deep happiness and gratitude. "Mother, do you mind if I move down the hall?" Zaehi asked carefully. "Mind," said Uri sounding shocked, "I'll shove you out the door myself!" She then turned to Taur who had been patiently waiting and asked, "Would you mind helping with some bags? It seems as though Zaehi brought everything except the actual closet." Uri laughed and Zaehi said sounding nervous, "Um…. About that mom… I actually did stuff the closet into one of these bags somewhere…" At which point both mermaids began chuckling.

"Miss," Taur interrupted, "If you will follow me I'll take you to your new quarters for your approval. Madam Uri, if you would please put away the few things that Miss Zaehi has removed from her bag I would be very much obliged. If you wouldn't like to I can get one of the girls in here to gather them up but as you already know what Miss Zaehi has taken out it would be simpler…." "Yes, yes," said Uri, "I understand. Now go see your new room Zaehi and decide if you like it or not."

As it turned out, Zaehi did like the rooms down the hall so she was moved there. The rooms she was moved to were fewer but that didn't bother her any. They were perfectly suited to her needs. As she would not be doing much entertaining the parlor you walked into after opening the door was smaller but cozier than her parents. The parlor opened up to a patio to the gardens which Zaehi and Uri had been wandering through earlier. The bedroom branched off to the right with a spacious bathroom, and there was a dining area to the left. There was also a small closet next to the door to the hall and a wonderful little corner to be used for anything Zaehi could think of.

After settling in to her new rooms Zaehi changed into a formal shirt and then decided that she didn't want to be exposing her tail at her first dinner with the Royal Family so she changed again into a full-length dark blue dress. The dress, while normal for the Zelati, would have the Orma puzzled. It took into account the fact that the Zelati were unable to stand and was there for longer in the front so that when seated, the Zelati would seem as though they were wearing the dress while standing.

Nearly as soon as she was dressed her mother entered her rooms. "This is nice," Uri said, looking around the rooms and appraising the furniture. "I happen to think so," Zaehi replied. Uri then glanced at her daughter, "Perfect, I was going to come recommend that you wear that dress for dinner tonight." "I thought that you might," Zaehi fibbed. Uri was wearing a dress similar to Zaehi's only more elaborate and beautiful green in color.

It was at this point there was a knock on the door. Uri rolled to answer it. Standing there was an Orma girl. "I came to assist Miss Zaehi in preparing for the dinner this evening. My name is Hini. Lady Uri, you will find that someone has also come to assist you when you return to your rooms," the girl said with a curtsey. Uri propelled backwards, "Won't you please come in." The girl entered and then held the door open for Uri. "Thank you Hini, and Zaehi you behave yourself," Uri said as a warning before leaving. Hini shut the door behind her and turned in time to see Zaehi mutter something along the lines of, "I never misbehave."

"Miss Zaehi, if you will inform me of your preference of scents I will see to it that a bath is drawn." Zaehi winced at the title of 'Miss' and then replied, "First off, it's not 'Miss Zaehi', just Zaehi. And second, I am already dressed in the gown I would like to wear for dinner so I think it would be defeating the point to have me bathe now. Don't you agree?" "Mi…." Hini began but at the other girl's frown stopped. She then gulped and continued, "Zaehi, yes I do agree that it would be defeating the purpose a little bit but it will be another hour or so before dinner begins. I have been told that you have already been through the gardens several times and that you have also already unpacked. I do not know what else that there could be to keep you entertained for the meeting to end and then for those within to prepare themselves."

Zaehi was silent for a moment thinking, then she said, "It is true that I have gone through the gardens. But I have not seen much of Cere, nor have I seen all that much of the palace. I would like a tour, but only if you have the time to show me around. I don't want to be a burden; I have been doing things for myself for quite a long time. By the way, I meant to ask, are you to be my maid while I am here? Hini looked to the floor and said, "Yes I am to be your maid as long as you wish it." "Well," said Zaehi softly, "okay then." Hini looked up, "But as for the tour, I have plenty of time right now if you wish to spend the hour exploring." Zaehi smiled and then they were off.

Hini took Zaehi into the city where they went to the main marketplace on Hamena Street. The stalls contained all manor of things from cloth for clothing to semiprecious stones and precious gems for magic. However, what was most interesting for Zaehi to see was how the Orma interacted. Their talk and bartering was exactly like her own peoples even if the language and accents were different, which was something she had not considered.

What Zaehi never realized was that she attracted a large crowd who were intent on discussing her with out her knowing. Hini was doing her level best to keep her "charge" from even guessing that she was the main topic of conversation. Any hopes of Zaehi making it out of the market without a riot were dashed when two shadows drifted right in front of her.

Shadows can only exist if there is no light nearby… unless they are the Essence of the Night, in which case it is nearly impossible to get them away from their chosen target. In the Orma capital of Cere there were lights everywhere, no one cast a shadow due to the severe amount of light. The fact that there were shadows in the city meant that they were Queja… the first Queja to enter the capital uninvited since the end of the war.

The shadows shed their cloaks and materialized into the Queja Who Were Hidden. The man and woman stood before Zaehi, eyes guarded and hands on their sword hilts. Hamena Street tensed, not even the babes dared to cry. Hini hearing this and seeing that the Queja were here to meet the Zelati girl prayed to Father Time that Zaehi would keep her head. "Are you the child Zelati named Zaehi?" The Queja man asked abruptly. "I am," Zaehi answered cautiously, "Pray tell, why did you come seeking me in the Orma capital Cere?" The Queja glanced at each other then both dropped to one knee. "We cam to give you a warning fair Princess of Water," the man said. "Our version of your Nayar told us of a prophecy which you must hear," the woman said. Both then rose as one to stand before Zaehi and said in the language of Kijmer (the ancient language of the Zelati):

Spirit child heart

Water child born

Wise child mind

Water child torn

These qualities possessed

By child whose self is true

Girl do not fear

The workload you must do

Daughter of Fighting Spirit

Friend to Water child

Blood and massacre will be your bane

And we put it mild

Spirit of Conflict

War he seeks for

And when you light daughter are distracted

Fragile Peace will be no more

Once they stopped speaking the Queja waited for Zaehi's reaction. "You have brought this prophecy to my attention, for that I am grateful. But I would like to know why you chose to give me this knowledge," Zaehi said in the Orma language. The woman smiled a secret smile and responded in the same language, "We cannot give you all of our secrets little princess, suffice it for you to know that we were told that we must give you the information. This prophecy was to be told to a Zelati in the capital of Cere. We chose you to know. That should be enough."

While those three were talking it didn't escape Hini's notice that the crowd was edging closer and closer. An Orma man cried out, "What should be enough? All I heard was gibberish!" Both Queja gripped their sword handles. "Young Mistress of Water perhaps we should discuss this elsewhere," the Queja man said, eyeing the crowd with a glint in his eye. "If you wouldn't mind escorting me into the palace, considering this mob's reaction I think that we had best leave," Zaehi answered calmly.

Suddenly a different Orma man lunged for Zaehi's back. Hini stepped into his path and grabbed his arm, turned and flipped him back into his place. "I would expect better behavior from people of my race," Hini said in a huff, "Shame on you for being judgmental." Zaehi glanced at her maid, she had been unaware that Hini was also to act as a bodyguard. The two Queja looked at the Orma maid with the beginnings of respect. "I'd suggest we leave now Brother," the Queja woman said.

"You aren't going anywhere," an Orma woman said. The city folk had been quietly arming themselves and they attacked at the woman's words. To their credit neither Queja drew their swords but instead the woman turned around to defend Zaehi's front while her male counterpart jumped over Zaehi to defend her right side and back with Hini, Hini also defended Zaehi's left. The crude weapons of the Orma couldn't penetrate the wall of kicks and blows which the Queja and Hini employed to keep Zaehi safe.