Words: 9515

Date: 11-2009

Notes: This is technically fanfiction, in the world of Lythande, Pilgrim Adept of the Blue Star, created by Marion Zimmer Bradley. In this world, the Pilgrim Adepts have a secret to which their power is tied, and they would lose it and die should the secret be revealed; I apologize for the fanfiction, but the book is so obscure I thought it fit better here. Demerei is my own creation.

Star-Crossed

"D."

Beady eyes bleary with ale considered him suspiciously from under bushy brows, and clumsy hands held the mug of the spirit just above the table. "'D'?" he echoed, voice cracked with age and drink. "That ain't a name."

"It's name enough, I say." The speaker's lips twitched in vague amusement that became his fair face. Between his pale brows, a blue star glimmered good-naturedly in the dim firelight. "Surely you don't need more to hire me. If you do, you can always choose from the fine selection of other magicians..."

He let that sentence trail off, and his client's eyes shrugged uneasily before he hid the look behind his mug. They both knew magic-users rarely frequented Little Pirrin, and when they did they were even more rarely ones it would be safe and savory to associate with. In fact, the uneasy little man's luck in finding him here had been near astronomical.

The prospective client dropped his mug to the table again; the magician watched it slosh a few drops of pale liquid onto the wood with a slight frown that went unnoticed. "It's just, a name like that ain't to be trusted. You know."

"I do know; and maybe you are right. But I point out that you came to me, and not I to you, so you may take or leave what you find in me at your pleasure."

He hemmed again. "And your look, it don't exactly inspire confidence, you know..."

The one who insisted to be called D - it stood for Demerei, which was his name and always had been, but he saw no reason for this man to know that - let a small smile grace his lips. It looked natural there; he was not, as the client said, a very imposing or gruff looking man. He had a pale face with flawless skin, a fine mouth, high cheekbones, and rather large green eyes - a visage that was more pretty than handsome, perhaps, yet nevertheless managed to have very strong features at the same time, in the wide brow, straight aristocratic nose, and the cleft of his clean-shaven chin. If his face were older, perhaps, it might have inspired more confidence in his abilities, but he looked no more than twenty years, surely.

His age was more than half a century, close to three quarters in fact, but he saw no reason this man should know that, either.

"Is this better?" he asked, all full of seeming innocence and agreeability, drawing his fine had over his face. It changed as his hand passed, turning craggy and swarthy, with a large nose and uneven teeth, an understated mockery of the man's own face, beady eyes and all. His hair turned jet black and he grew several days of rough stubble at once, and seemed to gain some bulk.

With a swear, the man jerked back and almost toppled from his chair, clutching his mug tight. "Witchcraft!"

The magician D chuckled, amused, though his new face gave the amusement a harsh edge. "You wanted a spellcrafter; it such as it is. Will you take it or leave it then, I wonder?"

"But how can I know if you're true or...?" He regarded him warily.

Demerei gave a small smile and passed his hand over his face again, resuming his original appearance. He otherwise didn't answer.

Beady eyes cast down to the rough table and searched it, as though looking for more reason to procrastinate. They eventually settled on the mug before he lifted them again. "What, will you not drink with me? Think you're better'n me?"

"If I were less genial I would say I know it, I think. Luckily, I'm as genial as I am." Demerei smiled broadly and spread his hands; the firelight glinted off metallic bands and semiprecious stones that decorated half of his fingers. No mug or morsel of food darkened the table before him; only a black and white cat lay there, sleeping soundly.

He went on before the man could make up his mind to be offended. "But to drinking, I'm afraid I can't. I truly regret it, I do."

"Why?" Over the mug, those bloodshot eyes regarded the blue star on his forehead intently. "It a code of your order?"

"One of many, yes, and maybe the most regrettable." The condition was not, as the man probably assumed, a prohibition against the indulgence of drink - rather the vow that bound all of his Order was a ban on letting the least bit of food or drink past their lips in the presence of another man. Again, however, this was nothing it was the man's business to know. Let him think what he would, and the additional mystery around the Blue Star would do those who wore it no harm.

His hand fell to the cat's back and began to run through the short fur. "Now, I wonder if you need my services, or if you have a better candidate in mind to turn to?"

With a grumble, the man drained his drink and slammed the empty mug onto the table, jarring the cat awake. It lifted its head and gave him a lazy glare, which was ignored. "It's my wife."

"I do hope that there's more to it than that. That isn't too much to go on."

"She run'd away - with a magician. He spelled her and took her off, I know it..."

Merry green eyes wandered up and down the man, openly doubting that statement. "One must assume she is some great prize, then?"

"Ah, she's a beauty... Sweet little thing about your age..." It amused Demerei to think he meant his real age, which after all was far closer to his client's. "The prettiest voice you ever heard. She could sing the birds down from the trees, she could..." He sighed; to his credit, he seemed genuinely taken with her. "Little hard worker, too, and never raised her voice to anybody. She's just the perfect little thing. And then that filthy...!"

"So you want me to bring her back?" He interrupted the tirade, knowing that the drink could carry it on for a while. "I wonder what you could pay me."

"I... uh..."

"How much is she worth to you?"

"Everything!" The mug slammed in his passion back into the table; annoyed at the disturbance, the cat slipped off the tabletop and into Demerei's lap.

The magician gave a small smile. "Then we'll work out the price when I bring her back, depending on the difficulty and time spent and what I feel like afterward." Shifting the agreeable cat onto the shoulder of his dark mage robe, he slid from his seat.

The red-rimmed eyes followed him, then fell down to the table as his hands toyed with the empty mug. "I don't have too much..."

"I've already made up my mind to take your job... Now you try to discourage me? I am curious."

"Ain't that." He shook his head and looked up. "I'm thinking you owe me, since it was one of your own what took her, and all..."

Demerei paused, and the star on his brow glinted once before falling quiet. "I'll tell you that the actions of one Adept do not indebt any others to you or anyone else; don't make that mistake. Each is answerable only for his own karma." His voice had a heretofore absent edge to it, but it disappeared with that sentence again. His gaze remained intent, however. "Now you'll tell me of this other Adept that stole your wife."

The man gave him a slow blink, as though considering, before he nodded to himself. "I didn't see him but a couple times. Great skinny guy, taller than you... Uh, blue star..." He trailed off, realizing that he didn't really have a description, it seemed.

Demerei's eyes hardened and his hand moved impatiently as though to hurry him on. "Did he have a lute?"

"Yeah, yeah he did..."

"And two swords or daggers?" His voice quickened impatiently.

"Yeah, how'd you... You know him?"

There was no answer. Demerei was already on his way out the door, leaving his drunken client staring after him.

-

The cat stretched across the narrow shoulders didn't seem to mind the quick pace his human set.

Demerei didn't seem to notice his familiar at all. His staff and lithe legs ate up the road in the falling twilight. The set of his fey face was dark and intent; his eyes straight ahead and completely devoid of any merriment or amusement. The same man who had said his look inspired no confidence would probably now have run from him if he chanced to meet him on the road.

The blue star on his brow glimmered with a faint light, ensuring that he needed no candle to light his way. The shadows writhed in odd ways around him; he ignored them, because the cat didn't respond to them, but truthfully even if it had he might not have paid them heed.

Lythande... His hand clutched the crystal on the fine chain around his neck. A clear pendulum glimmered with an inner blue light and leaned delicately forward, responding to his magic and will and leading him on.

Nearly forty years had passed since he had seen Lythande. So long? It seemed like it could have been yesterday, or a dream. He had still been studying in the Temple of the Star-Sharers, barely admitted to the Inner Court...

And since this star had been set on his brow, he had been searching, hunting for him again. Here he was, so close... Lythande would not get away this time. He had vowed to find him again, and now he would. It was so close he could almost taste it...

I am coming, Lythande.

-

He did not sleep that night. He should have, perhaps, but he could not, not when he had to find him...

It was the bright sunlight of midmorning when he saw the tall form of the other magician in the road ahead of him, the identical dark robe turning the lanky body into a silhouette. It was unmistakeable, though, even from the back and the distance of decades.

"Lythande!" he cried, gripping his staff tightly. An amethyst set near the top gave off its own light for a moment.

The form paused in the road and turned back to look at him. He drew back with a start, hissing when he saw that the familiar form had not Lythande's face, or any face at all, only a black hole where it should have been...

The apparition faded away, and he drew a shaking breath, reaching into his hood to scratch his cat's head. He earned a quiet purr, but the spectre got no reaction from the animal at all. Of course it hadn't; it hadn't been there at all. And he should have known that... He was being careless.

The episode was like water splashed across his face, bringing him abruptly back to reality. Glancing around to make sure that he was unobserved, Demerei forced himself to sit at the side of the road and pulled from his cloak a small pouch of water, taking a deep drink. It awakened a thirst he hadn't even yet noticed, and before he realized it he had finished the water and started a meager meal of dried fruit and meat. His focus was making him careless. If he didn't start paying attention, he was going to get himself killed that way.

Eventually he finished the food and forced himself to remain seated, leaning back with a small sigh. His feet urged him to get up and go on again, and the crystal at his neck still pointed down the road, but he ignored them both for the moment.

The cat pulled itself from his hood and jumped into his lap, nudging its head against his chest for a moment before curling up there and getting comfortable. He scratched its chin and sighed.

"Mistakes are being made, Lyh," he said morosely. "Mostly by me." The cat purred and didn't seem to pay his words any mind. It wasn't surprising. Lyh was a normal cat in almost every way, certainly not blessed with magical intellect to understand him. He didn't mind; the tom was a good listener, even if he couldn't understand, and a faithful companion. The cat was also a good measure of the reality around him, and that was something he could not part with.

He thoughtfully fed some of his scant jerky to the animal, scratching down his back and letting the rough tongue lick his fingers clean. "What is one to do?" he wondered aloud, either to himself or the cat. "It's not a mistake to follow Lythande, but the focus is dangerous. I grow too focused and I become careless, and this is bad. Eternal vigilance, eh, feline?" The cat purred more as he scratched the white fur beneath its chin. "But not enough focus, and I go too slow, and I let him get away again. This is also bad. Balance, balance, then... I fail so utterly at balance. Come along."

He suddenly stood, holding his companion in his free arm, as the other hefted his walking staff again. The cat would bear this for only a few steps and quickly jumped down onto the road, but it never strayed too far from him.

Meantime, as he followed the dusty path and the pull of his pendant, Demerei amused himself watched the orbs of colored light that drifted from the sky and danced slowly in the breeze. Real or not, they were lovely... and they served to distract his mind at least for the moment from his quarry, his prey, the magician he sought. It would not do to become too focused again...

Until Lyh walked through one of those orbs unknowing; then Demerei shook his head and drove them away with will, setting his mind to the task at hand again.

The thought of the lady he had been hired to retrieve crossed his mind. He hadn't even asked what she looked like. He honestly wasn't sure how or if he would recognize her, save if she were with Lythande...

Would he even bother with her, really? He probably wouldn't go out of his way too much, but the chances were, if Lythande had spirited her away, there was something there worth spiriting... A great beauty, or great talent, or great value. A pang of bitter emotion touched him and he ruthlessly buried it, shoving it away like the colored lights.

At any rate, if Lythande had taken her, he likely still had her. If so, it wouldn't be any great effort to find her, although getting her back might be... interesting.

Honestly, if Lythande didn't want to part with her, impossible. In which case... well, he would think about it if that were the case.

The crystal pendant around his neck tugged a little more firmly, and the light it gave off suddenly grew in intensity. His hand closed around it and he paused. That meant its target was closer - Lythande was closer.

With only the faintest of conscious thoughts and no firm intention, his appearance changed. To any other eyes he grew taller, darker, more massive. His pale brown hair turned black again, and his eyes once more echoed the unpleasant beady eyes of his client. A smooth movement pulled the mage cloak off over his head and draped it around the staff; it swallowed it and the both disappeared with a nimble motion of his newly heavy hand.

When he strode forward again, he did not resemble Demerei the Star-Wanderer. Even his light clothes had morphed into the heavy, dirty fare of a seasoned traveler and his jewelry had faded into his skin. Only the single unsheathed dagger at his waist remained uncovered and undisguised. Illusion had never been a difficult school of magic for him; in fact he had found he had an aptitude for it, and for divination and magics involving tools and totems, though it was at least offset by his weakness with the more elemental powers. At any rate, illusion often served him well.

Why was he hiding in it now? He didn't know, but not knowing didn't bother him. Such impulses weren't all that rare in him, and he hardly noticed when he indulged them, although at the moment he was prepared to be chagrined by it. Lythande would doubtless see through the disguise easily.

His quick step carried him forward, after the urging of the crystal that was honed on the other.

Coming over a soft roll in the road, he saw them before him, walking away at a casual pace. The tall form of Lythande, dark mage robe about him but the hood down to reveal his pale hair, with his lute on his back, and beside him the form of a shapely girl with a long black braid that drank in the sunlight. That was all he could see of them, but the sight brought forth a surge of hot, bitter emotion again that threatened to choke him.

He nearly called out again, but the memory of his last vision of Lythande stopped him, and he cast his eyes about his feet for his cat. The animal was back up the path staring intently at a bird in a tree and paying not the least attention to him - a bad habit of cats, in his opinion.

"I need you, Lyh," he said aloud, and stepped back and scooped the cat into his arms. It struggled until it found a more comfortable position, but he refused to let it go this time, and carried it back to the top of the road. "Do you see them, cat?" he wondered.

Lyh neither answered nor looked down where he wanted him to. After an irritatingly long moment he was ready to put him down and assume that he should just walk on, when the cat's ears suddenly turned toward the pair below and he noticed them, or some noise they had made.

A small smile, that would not even have been entirely pleasant on his real face and looked vicious on his false one, curled his lip, and he wordlessly let the cat back to the ground.

They had drawn away a little from him while he waited to see if they were real, and his long legs had to eat up the distance between them again. He hardly noticed the time that passed; his eyes bored into the back of the other magician, and his mind was untroubled by any conscious thoughts. He was aware only of a tumult of vague emotions, and none of them showed on his face.

Before he reached them, the pair paused. Lythande's hand touched the girl's arm gently; with a tiny nod, the girl scampered off the road. Even as she was moving, Demerei called out.

"Lythande!"

The other turned, hand lightly on the dagger at his side. The other magician's face was thin and chiseled, the arched brows on either side of the star almost colorless and the eyes themselves a steely blue-gray. It was not a lovely face, for a normal value of loveliness, but it was strong, in his eyes.

"If you want a fight, stranger, there are better opponents for your sword," the other said calmly, and his star glinted. "Do yourself a service and find one of them."

A small smirk formed when he realized he wasn't recognized. "No, Lythande, it's you I want..."

The other magician considered him coolly, as unemotional as ever. "You speak as though you know me," he said, his hand closing around his dagger, "but I think I would remember a face such as yours."

"Would you?" He smirked a little bit, taking hold of his own dagger.

"I would," he answered confidently. "Have you a name?"

"D; it is name enough."

"I see. Through what magic have you tracked me?"

"Magic of my own."

Lythande considered him closely. His eyes grew distracted toward the ground, and then his face suddenly cleared. "Is your name your secret, wanderer?"

"It is not." His smirk turned into a small smile.

Lythande echoed the expression. "Then hail, Demerei, and well met."

"Hail, Lythande." The illusion fell away and his hand fell from his knife, and his face offered up a broad smile. He crouched down to let Lyh onto his shoulder, knowing it was the cat that had given him away finally, and touched that Lythande would remember. "I see that you remember Lyh."

"I do." The long musician's hands of the other sorcerer reached out to stroke the cat's head, and the animal purred. "And he remembers me as well."

"Yes, I think so." Demerei scratched under his pet's chin briefly. "He was quite as attached to you as another stray, once."

"I'm glad this one at least is with someone who can return the attachment. But not so for the other...?"

"No, not so." Demerei shook his head and let his eyes linger on Lythande's face, trying to be surreptitious in his inspection. It was still the strong face he remembered, with no extra lines or wear, although it had been almost fifty years since he had first seen him. Of course, he hadn't aged appreciably in all that time himself. He wondered how old Lythande actually was... somewhere between a hundred and forever, he guessed, and that was probably about the best answer he would get.

"There is time," Lythande told him, and made a gesture. The girl came back after a moment, leaving the trees and hurrying to Lythande's side, half hiding behind him. Demerei saw wide, anxious eyes, and the sight only roused annoyance in him. Or maybe it was the way she cringed close to Lythande that did that.

"Is he your enemy?" she asked, her voice so quiet it was almost inaudible.

Lythande considered him, and he distracted himself with retrieving his staff and cloak. "No," the other said, though he could feel him still watching him closely as he pulled the cloak around him again, displacing Lyh from his shoulder. "Demerei the Star-Wanderer is no enemy of mine."

He smiled to himself, because he could hear the question in that sentence and chose not to answer it.

"Will you be accompanying us?" Lythande asked him.

"I think this depends... Where are we going?" The mage cloak fastened about him properly, he picked up Lyh again and rubbed the cat's head. It endured it, for now.

Lythande's narrow face turned down the road. "The next town, Greater Pirrin, for now."

Demerei didn't let his eyes follow the road. Instead they inspected Lythande in profile - very sharp, distinguished features - then wandered over to the girl. She flinched under his gaze.

"Is this your woman now?" He hadn't meant his voice to have that edge of harshness.

Lythande glanced over, then his lips twitched in apparent amusement. "No," he answered simply. "Lady Renn hired me to escort her away from her town."

"Why?" His voice relaxed a little bit, and it sounded less like an accusation and more like a question.

"The young lady is afraid her husband will send someone to bring her back." Lythande began walking again, pulling from the girl's grasp but moderating his pace so that she could keep up. It was nothing like the road-eating pace Demerei remembered... of course, then Lythande had been trying to lose his companion. If he felt like it, D knew, Lythande could have taken her payment and then left her in the dust, without using magic at all.

The girl caught up to Lythande, walking on his other side, but not touching him, giving Demerei a distrustful glance as he followed. He only gave her a small smile that oddly didn't seem to set her at ease at all.

"It happens he did," he told Lythande, ignoring the girl for now. The other magician glanced at him. "He's under the impression that you spelled her and took her away."

"Is he."

That obviously wasn't a question; that didn't deter him. "He is. And there's nothing saying you didn't."

"That isn't true!" The girl looked at him very earnestly; her voice even in exclamation was soft.

"Except for the lady," Lythande pointed out, glancing back at him. "And myself."

Demerei ignored her utterly, watching Lythande with a small smile. "That counts for not very much. You could have bespelled her to say what you wanted, even to believe what you wanted. And everyone knows better than to take Lythande's word completely at its face..."

Lythande paused and suddenly faced him. His star glinted in what could be annoyance, though his face remained impassive. Lythande was maybe a hand taller than he was, but the way Lythande loomed over him made Demerei feel that he reached to his knee.

"Do you think that I would do so?"

Demerei looked up into his steely eyes, seeing himself reflected there. They were standing very close... He wondered what Lythande would do if he closed the distance.

Then he smiled and broke the spell. "No." He turned from Lythande and started walking again, his eyes sliding over the girl who stood back helplessly, with her hands clasped before her and worry in her eyes.

"You have dangerous hobbies," Lythande noted as he too began to walk again.

"Antagonizing you amuses me," he admitted.

"As I said."

The girl's step was the loudest of all of them, and Demerei heard her running behind them. "Wait!" she called in her small voice; Demerei wondered at the word, because it wasn't as though they were leaving her behind, but he paused aanyway. "Why did my husband send you for me?"

He glanced at her. She was actually as pretty as her husband had claimed, and when she wasn't hanging on Lythande he could admit that without bitterness.

"I didn't ask," he said. "He was probably too drunk to be coherent in his answer anyway."

"He didn't say...?"

"He seemed very taken with you." Demerei inspected her, as Lythande stood back and watched them both. "His opinion of you seemed to have been greater than the reality, though. I doubt it occurred to him that you would have run away from him of your own will, without a spell clouding your mind..."

She flushed and looked down to her feet. "I didn't..."

"Yet here you are, I see. Away from him, with nary a spell in sight, and not even a 'good-bye' left behind for him."

The girl seemed to draw in on herself. "I didn't want to hurt him..."

"Excellent job." She flinched. "So what did you want to do?"

Her eyes still didn't rise from the ground; she pulled her cloak tight about her and seemed to hide inside it. "I don't love him, but I didn't want to hurt him... I needed to get away from Little Pirrin. I wanted to see more of the world..."

"Good choice."

The girl glanced up. "Are... you mocking me?" she asked uncertainly.

"Of course I am." He waved a hand and turned his back on her. "If you're going to make a choice like that, the least you can do is believe in it."

He started walking again, on toward Greater Pirrin. More of the world... He barely contained a snort of disdain. If a two day journey from her little home was all the greater her ambitions were, she might as well have stayed home and enjoyed her lot in life.

Perhaps he was being harsh in his judgement; he wasn't incapable of admitting that. A defining characteristic common to all Pilgrim Adepts of the Blue Star was their ambition - even their collected arrogance fell second to their drive, and that was quite the feat. None could have found the Temple or succeeded in mastering the magic if they had not wanted much more for themselves than their lot, regardless of their motivation. Compared to even a relatively novice Adept like himself - and he only felt that way in the presence of Lythande or one of the teachers at the Temple - the greatest part of humanity fell far short.

"Will you not take me back then?"

He didn't look back at her. "No, if you don't want to go back to your home I won't take you back there. It's your choice and you'll live with it."

She didn't answer again. Lythande didn't add anything to the conversation, but eventually he took the lead again, and both he and the girl followed him down the dusty road. Trees turned very quickly around them to fields and then gave way to the city itself, and by the time the sun was beginning to set, they were deep in the heart of it.

Lythande stopped them in the street in front of a tavern. The part of town was not the best, but Demerei was not certain there was a best part of this dreary little metropolis.

"This is the destination you gave me," Lythande told the girl, as Demerei leaned with his cat in his arms against the side of the building. "Is it far enough?"

Looking down, the girl nodded. "Yes, thank you, sir magician... You've done me a great service. You deserve more than I had to give you. If you want it..." She took hold of Lythande's hand in both of hers and held it to her chest.

Demerei raised his eyebrows, but Lythande only slid his hand from hers. "No, I won't accept such payment. Go, now, and make the most of your new life."

She nodded and raised her eyes, searching Lythande face with a look he could only describe in his mind as worshipful. She looked as though she wanted to give her magical savior a kiss; if she had, he knew not what he would have done, but it would probably have been drastic.

Luckily, she resisted the urge, and no one had to see his reaction. Instead she turned and disappeared into the tavern, clutching her cloak tight around her. Lythande stayed there for a moment, lost in thought, until Demerei approached him.

"What was that, I wonder?" he asked. Lyh jumped from his arms and went exploring the alley, winding through their legs once on the way.

Lythande drew a breath and turned from the tavern door. "You were hard on her," he said, striding down the street, forcing Demerei to keep up.

"You didn't exactly jump in to defend her," he pointed out. The stones in his staff lit up in the darkness, lighting their way.

With a small shrug of his narrow shoulders, Lythande admitted as such. "You were right," he said. "But you could have been more gentle. Her aims may seem small to you and me, but she wants more for her self than she had. To her, it is a large thing, to leave her town. She may grow into a life of adventure, or at the least the sort of life she wants."

"She's going to end up a whore on these streets trying to make the money to buy her passage home."

Lythande gave a small nod, and a small sigh. "Probably." A weight seemed to settle on his shoulders; it aged him, and alarmed Demerei to see.

He reached out and set his hand on Lythande's shoulder. "What is wrong?" he asked, frowning a little bit. "You don't look well."

Lythande glanced at him, then gave a very small smile. "I'm sorry. Never mind; I'm feeling my faith disappear, slowly. It's strange to realize I had any left." He unobtrusively but undeniably pulled away from Demerei's hand, not allowing him to support him.

Demerei watched Lythande's back for a long moment as he walked up the street, before the other magician paused and looked back at him. "Are you coming?"

He blinked. "Where?"

"We should find a roof for the night, perhaps a meal. I have enough gold in my pocket from her to pay if you don't."

A small smile touched his lips. "I'm amazed you trust me that much."

"So am I." Lythande didn't look any less preoccupied, and it was still a little depressing.

Demerei paused, then shook his head. "I'm going to go back to Little Boredom to tell my client to forget her. But I would like your company..." He cursed the little nervous flutter in his gut; Lythande had no reason to come or want to come with him, and he was a fool to resist his suggestions and do anything that would part him from Lythande after looking for him for so long... he didn't need his body to remind him of that.

Lythande looked at him, and he could see his mind working, then he nodded. "I accept."

Demerei blinked, then smiled. "Thank you," he said simply, and started walking, catching up to Lythande as he paused. They both walked on together, and Lyh was winding between their feet again before they were out of the town.

Neither of them seemed to mind walking in silence for a while. He didn't know what Lythande was thinking, but he was relatively happy just to walk with him. That Lythande had accepted his invitation to walk with him had exceeded his expectations of him, and it was freeing. Maybe he would consent to join ways for a time, perhaps become partners on their respective journeys. They had strengths that could play off each other - well, Lythande was all strength, with no weakness, but he wasn't exactly weak himself. They would make an excellent partnership, even if only for a little while.

"You really never stopped looking, did you?" Lythande asked. He glanced over; he was still looking at the road preoccupied, and he looked back at the road himself before he answered. Unlike Lythande, though, he was smiling.

"I never did," he agreed. "I told you I would find you again. Did you not believe me then?"

"I did." He could hear a smile in his voice. "Why do you think I was so hard to find? A man who could not locate The Shadow in hiding would not be worthy of me."

His heart jumped in his chest at that, and he silently cursed it for being excitable. "Do you..."

"Demerei?"

A hand touched his shoulder, and he started, looking over. Lythande's face was concerned, as much as his impassive face ever showed it.

"...What?"

"I haven't said anything."

He stared, feeling the blood drain from his face, then yanked away from his hand and exploded into a swear that left a quite real smell of singed hair in the air. He kicked a rock that flew off down the road, and left the ground beneath it spurting clear water like arterial blood, until it slowly died away.

Lythande stood back, watching his bout of temper until it too dwindled away. "I take it you sti-"

He jerked his head up and grabbed at the air. Everything went still - there were no more sound of the wind in the trees, or the animals and birds beyond their sight, or Lythande's words, or even his own breathing. He could feel his heart racing, though he couldn't hear it, and that wasn't because it was excitable. Lythande could have killed him on accident, just now... He could feel his star trembling, if it could do so, knowing that doom had just brushed it.

He watched Lythande form the damnable words, then pause, realizing there were no more sounds and his word went nowhere. He snapped his fingers, probably to test, and his eyes searched Demerei's face and realization dawned. He nodded and folded his hands placidly to wait for sound to return.

Demerei sat down at the side of the road rather than carrying on, laying his staff across his feet and contemplating the stones in its surface. They glowed at him in the darkness, a gently pulsing light that slowly shifted through the rainbow according to what gem was glowing the brightest.

He only realized sound was coming back when he heard the soft note of a lute, and he looked up to find Lythande sitting an arm's reach away from him, eyes on nothing in particular, fingers running slowly over the strings. Lyh was sitting between their feet, gnawing on a rodent that still twitched occasionally.

As he watched Lythande plucked another note, then opened his eyes when the sound came through clear and loud. The noises of the animals and wind and whatever else was in the night came rushing back.

"That should have lasted an hour," Demerei said.

"I didn't want to wait that long." Lythande looked at him and set his lute aside. "I'm sorry. I didn't know that was your Secret."

He sighed, more annoyed than anything, and more at himself than anyone. "It is. Normally it isn't a problem."

"How long has it been since you slept?" Lythande asked. It felt like his cool gaze was going through him. "Postponing rest for too long can bring them on."

"Oh come off it, I say." Demerei stood and looked down at Lythande. "Treat me as an equal, not a pet or a child, would you? I know my own mind well enough. I postponed my sleep so that I could catch up with you, else I would never have found you again." His star pulsed with erratic prismatic light, unable to settle on one color or intensity.

Lythande looked up at him, his face closed, then pushed his lean form lithely to his feet. His star was quiescent, but his eyes were cool. "Do you mean to hold me accountable for your lapse in judgment?"

"My lapses in judgment are my own. I don't want to give you responsibility for them, or anything else."

Lythande looked down into his eyes, searching. Demerei put noting there for him to see.

"Do you mean to kill me for knowing your Secret?" he asked finally, quietly.

Demerei stared into his cool gray eyes, then turned away in disgust. "You would think that," he said harshly. "No, Lythande, I don't mean or want to kill you, and I couldn't if I did, could I? I haven't your secret. And I'm not asking for it."

"You'll trust me, then?"

"Yes," he said simply.

"You don't think that's foolish?"

Demerei looked at him over his shoulder. His star had fallen quiet again, and dark. "No," he said. "I think it isn't. You would never use it against me without reason... you would never succumb to another's attempts to buy it from you... and you would never break under duress. It's safe with you."

Lythande's lips twisted in something not quiet a smile. "You may as well be sitting on your mother's knee," he said, bending to pick up his lute again. "Your worship makes you naive. I am not as perfect as you seem to believe."

"You're close," Demerei said, turning his eyes toward the road again. "You could not make me feel otherwise."

"Perhaps I should."

"I won't believe it."

"I know." He heard Lythande walking behind him. "But it might drive you away."

Demerei glanced back at him and paused his step so that he would catch up. "There's no need to put so much effort into it," he said, as they started walking together. "I have grown up since you met me; I'm not the annoying child who wouldn't leave you alone. I'd say I was sorry for how I acted, if it hadn't gotten me where I am... So, I'm not sorry, no. But now, should you tell me to let you be, I will."

He could feel Lythande watching him, and didn't look over hat him. Let him make of that what he would.

"Very well," he finally said, then nothing more.

The moon was rising over the road before Lythande stopped, and perforce stopped him. "This looks like a reasonable spot to sleep for the night," he said, gesturing to a flattened spot off the road.

He frowned a little. "We could keep going."

"Not I." Lythande walking into the trees, and he followed, watching the other sit. "You need to sleep, and I need to eat."

His stomach rumbled as Lythande said that, and he grimaced. "All right. This self-deprivation still doesn't suit me..."

"You get used to it."

"It's been fifty years." He sat less than gracefully on the other side of the tree where Lythande leaned. "I need to hurry up and grow accustomed to eating only once every so often." He pulled the pouch of water from his cloak and filled it with almost no more than a thought, taking a deep drink, and giving a sigh of satisfaction. It was easy to forget the simple pleasure of water in a dry throat.

They were both silent for a moment, before Lythande spoke. "This isn't going to work."

"We can't see each other," he pointed out, reasonably. "I've done this before... Sit back to back with another, so we can both keep watch but we can't see each other."

"It's been all too long since I was able to eat knowing another was there."

"Try it," he urged. "I swear I shall not peek at you." He smiled a little bit. "You're too jaded, Lythande."

"Possible..." the other mused, then fell silent. Demerei could only assume he was eating whatever he had hidden in his robe or whatever he summoned to sustain himself. He nibbled on the bland dried fruits and jerky himself, trying to lure Lyh back from wherever he had run off to; the cat seemed too full on his dinner of rat to be interested in human food, and didn't show up.

"Did you eat?" he finally asked, leaning his head back against the tree and letting his staff wave back and forth, shifting the shadows it threw.

"I did," Lythande answered. "And now I will sleep, I think. You?"

"I agree." He pushed himself up and circled the tree, lying down in the grass across from Lythande. The light from his staff went out, casting them into darkness, and he wrapped his cloak around him. It was fully warm enough sleep in.

Lythande also lay down in the darkness, but more slowly. After a moment, Demerei smelled the sweet smell of burning herbs, and he knew Lythande was smoking. He didn't comment, looking at the stars through the trees.

Eventually, Lythande broke the silence. "Eventually, I may show you my secret..."

Demerei smiled a little. "Do you think it will be safe?"

"My confidence isn't as absolute as yours, but I think so. Eventually..."

The Secret was not an easy thing to share, Demerei knew. He still smiled. If Lythande could trust him that much...

"It will make your love for me disappear, though."

"I don't think that's possible."

Lythande chuckled, and they fell into silence.

-

The two of them, unencumbered by someone they had to escort, made it to Little Pirrin the next day, before evening was beginning to fall.

"He's probably in that tavern again," Demerei predicted shrewdly, as they walked through the streets. People avoided the pair of them as though they were carrying disease with them; he supposed it wasn't too often that the people here saw not one but two Pilgrim Adepts.

In fact, as Demerei had gathered, it was rather rare to see two of the Blue Star conversing civilly no matter where one went. Their order was not, as a rule, a terribly peaceful lot... and didn't as a rule really get along among themselves.

"Probably," Lythande agreed. "I dare say he has little else to do but drown his sorrows."

Demerei considered the tavern as they drew near; the streets were almost deserted, now that word of them had spread - that amused him more than anything, but if he thought about it it would become a little depressing. Suddenly, he thrust his staff at Lythande, and the other magician took it in surprise.

"What are you going to do?"

"Hold these," he said instead of an answer, adding his cloak to the staff, and dropping Lyh to the ground at his feet.

Bemused, Lythande did, watching him with raised eyebrows. He gave Lythande a cheeky grin, then illusion flowed over him. His memory was probably imperfect, but in a second it was the girl Lythande has escorted to the other town that stood before him, with her long dark hair and drab clothes - and a completely out of place cheeky grin.

"She doesn't smile," Lythande pointed out, crossing his arms and leaning on the side of the tavern. "And you are demented."

"I'm not demented," the girl said in her sweet whisper of a voice. The smile was obediently wiped away, leaving her shy and almost scared look in its place. "He should hear it from her mouth. What's my name again?"

"Renn. And his name is Charen, from what I gathered."

She nodded and inspected her clothes, then nodded again, satisfied. "Don't wander away with my stuff," she warned, then slipped inside.

The man she was looking for was tucked back in a corner, nursing his drink; as far as Demerei could tell, he might not have moved since he left. She hesitated near the door, hand fluttering near her throat, then slowly approached him. "Charen...?" she asked hesitantly, putting her hand down with the other with an obvious force of will. They writhed together before her.

He looked up; his eyes looked less bleary this time. "Renn - he brought you back!" He stood up, knocking the table and dumping his ale everywhere. He didn't pay attention to it now, but he was probably going to regret that in a couple minutes.

"No - well, yes," she said quietly, eyes falling away as he came forward and took her shoulders in his hands. "He brought me back, but just so I could talk to you..."

"It's fine. I won't let him take you again." He start to wrap her in his arms, but she resisted. A hand in his chest gently held them apart - not the least so that he wouldn't feel Demerei's actual body beneath the illusion.

"Renn?"

She shook her head, eyes averted. "No, please. He didn't... didn't take me. I hired him..."

He was so pathetically confused. He must really have loved her, Demerei reflected, or just had a low opinion of her. "Why would you...?"

"I need to get out of here," she whispered. "I'm sorry. I don't want to hurt you, but I'm leaving... I have to go."

"No!" Pain etched across his face. Demerei wondered what it would have looked like if he hadn't been drinking, lowering his inhibitions. Would it have been stoic? Anger? An interesting question.

He tried to pull her close again - if it had really been her, the strength behind it would have been undeniable, but Demrei was able to hold him back.

"I'm sorry," she said again. "I'm in Greater Pirrin." Then leaned up and kissed him lightly, and then she pushed away and fled out the door.

He followed, but she had already disappeared by the time he got out to the street. Demerei was standing beside Lythande, pulling his cloak back on, a strangely satisfied look on his face.

"Why did you do that?" Lythande wondered, watching the distraught man as he sought in vain down the street. He handed back the staff absently.

"Hm..." Demerei crouched to pet Lyh and invite him onto his shoulder again; the cat accepted. "I would like to say it was for a noble cause..."

"But it wasn't," the other finished. "You don't know, do you?"

"It gave him closure," he pointed out, and neatly evaded the question. They both probably knew the answer. He had no idea.

"Of sorts," Lythande said dryly. "Let's get a room for the night."

"Allow me." Demerei led the way in, and paid for a room and meal to be brought to them. Before they had even left the first floor, Lythande had given the bartender real gold and given Demerei back his spelled stones.

"You'll give us all a bad name," he told him sternly, assuring the proprietor that his money was good.

"We already have a bad name," he pointed out. "You won't rescue it." Chagrined, he put his false gold away for future use.

"Is anything about you genuine?"

Demerei only smiled a little as they stepped into the room.

Lythande made sure that they were unobserved after the food was delivered, and spelled the door impenetrable; Demerei formed the illusion of a wall that split the room neatly in half, so that they couldn't see each other as they ate.

Since the wall wasn't really there, they could hear each other perfectly, and he could smell the smoke of Lythande's herbs as he smoked them. It was relatively comfortable, as comfortable as one could be when he had to take care to never be observed while doing something as basic as eating.

"How long ago did you leave the Temple?" Lythande asked, making - for him - small talk. It was a treat for them both to be more or less able to let down their guards.

"Forty years," he said. "It doesn't seem like that long... But, it is, I say. I'd spent ten years there. It seemed average."

"Yes," Lythande agreed casually through the false wall. "I might have spent a little less time there myself. I can't remember entirely."

He mentally perked up at the opportunity to learn more about the reticent Adept. "I wonder, how long ago was that?" he asked; it seemed more appropriate than asking how old he was directly.

There was only a long silence in response; Demerei frowned to himself. How stupid of him, taking the chance of insulting him... "Lythande?"

"I'm thinking." There was another pause. "More than three centuries, I think. More than that, I can't say."

Demerei pushed his empty plate away, drinking wine from his pouch now, and stretched out in the rickety chair on his half of the room. Three hundred years of life since leaving the temple... that was too many for him to comprehend properly. He had lived fifty... some days it seemed like only a couple years, some days it seemed like a century that separated him from his original life. But three hundred... There must be nothing left that Lythande recognized.

"That's very long," he finally said.

"Yes."

They fell silent for a long time, smoking and drinking, and whatever Lythande was doing behind the wall. The silence made Demerei restless; he had Lythande here with him, comfortable, and yet they were wasting it in silence...

"Have you been alone all that time?" he finally asked.

"For the most part. It doesn't matter." That was obviously an invitation to leave the subject alone, and against his urges, he did so. If Lythande didn't want to talk about it, he wouldn't.

Lyh sat and stared at the false wall, puzzling out its existence, tail twitching. Demerei watched him silently, drinking slowly. "Do you want to stay alone?"

"Take down the wall."

He hid his drink and did as much, eyes moving at once to the bed where Lythande sat. He noticed that, though they should have been comfortable, both of them were still fully dressed and wrapped in their cloaks. Maybe neither of them was as comfortable as he imagined...

Lythande sat on the bed, no longer smoking, looking at him seriously. His eyes were unreadable to Demerei.

"I like your company," Lythande said simply. "Do not think I'm lying. But I do not think I will ever love you, Demerei."

His eyes narrowed a little. "You don't 'think'?" he echoed. "You don't know that. You have only to try, I say... You're too afraid of allowing anyone close to you."

"I'm not afraid." Lythande's star glowed once, then calmed as he took hold of whatever emotions roiled beneath the surface.

Demerei stood and crossed the distance between them instantly. "But you don't know." He leaned close to him - if not for Lythande's hand that came up to his chest, he might have kissed him. Oh, how he wanted to.

"Were you ostracized in the Temple?" Lythande asked him quietly, meeting his eyes squarely. "For preferring to love other men?"

"Of course I was. But being outcast by a group of outcasts means very little. As you well know."

"I do," Lythande agreed. "And yet, would you ever love a woman?"

"Maybe, if she were strong enough," he said defiantly. "Or if she were you." He felt power in the air and Lythande's eyes twitched narrower. He could have stopped and considered that, and he knew with every magical and natural instinct he had that he would have learned something important. Yet, he had no desire to. This conversation was more important than anything, even power that could be summoned by mere casual words. It faded as he went on. "You won't weave a trap of logic around me, Lythande."

"Maybe not," Lythande said coolly. His face was like a mask of stone. "You say this, but you probably would love no woman. As I doubt I will ever love a man."

Before him, Demerei melted away, shifting. His body became the dark haired girl he'd escorted. Then the burly man form he'd taken before. Then a fair-haired girl that looked like a gentler, more innocent Lythande.

Some emotion - it was impossible to tell what he was feeling, but he fancied it was disgust - moved across Lythande's face and made his star flash dangerously again before he quieted it. "You think to tempt me by offering to change yourself for me?" he said coldly, but he was getting roused; it had an edge to it. "You offer to let me shape you into my perfect lover?"

"No," the blond-headed girl said, then Demerei let that illusion fall and became himself again. "I could find an appearance that would tempt you, but my appearance has nothing to do with me. I don't offer to change for you or anyone."

"Then you would have me change for you."

"Never," he swore fiercely. "I would have you, only you as you are, love me as I am."

"Let it go, Demerei."

"I can't." He finally stepped back and turned away from the hand that held him apart from Lythande, presenting him his back. He wasn't as good as the other at controlling his emotions, and a miniature aurora played over the walls from his glowing star, no matter how he tried to wrest them back down. "It's been fifty years. If I could forget, don't you think I would have by now?"

"You haven't tried."

"And I never will!"

"Demerei."

He glanced back and narrowed his eyes at the gentle expression on his face; it twisted at his heart. "Do not pity me, Lythande," he said in disgust. "By the stars I would sooner have your scorn than your pity."

"I don't scorn you."

"But you don't deny pity."

"No. You're clinging to something that can never be; of course I pity you."

"You can't pity someone you regard as your equal."

"Yes you can." Lythande stood up but did not approach him. "I value you as an ally and a friend, and I would not say no to traveling further with you."

"Because no one wants to be alone forever." Demerei looked at him; his star would not stop acting up erratically, and Lythande was bathed in the colored lights. "I will always be your ally, but I love you too much to be only your friend." With a will, he reined in his emotions enough that the star on his brow no longer betrayed him, and picked up first his cat and then his staff. "I'm sorry. I suppose we'll both be alone then."

"Not forever," predicted Lythande, but did not get between him and the door. "You can find me again."

"But you won't look for me?"

"I don't know," he said honestly.

Demerei nodded and opened the door, leaving Lythande behind.

Downstairs, his client had managed to stop his fruitless search for his wife and had wandered back to console himself with more drink. He only knew that because he heard his voice, clogged with the stuff, and the scraping of a chair as he scrambled up.

"Magician! D!"

A hand clutched at his cloak, but he smoothly pulled away without once looking. "She never loved you," he said coldly, and stepped outside, closing the door between them.

Darkness wrapped around him, and he pulled up his hood, forcing Lyh down onto the road beside him. His staff didn't glow because he wanted the darkness.