The tale is told in the Scattered Worlds of the Daamin Unde Nes, who was not like others of her race. Unde Nes from a very early age loved the stars, and often would sit up late at night watching and charting them. In particular her fascination was stirred by the ReptKretzlab, and she longed for the lost homestars of her people.
In th time before Avethell rose, when she was still young as the Daamin reckon age, Unde Nes met one of the Galactic Riders on Nephestal. This Rider was of the race of the Bittalanen, a people who ruled briefly and came to maturity rapidly. Unde Nes became friends with this Rider, Sheltin kar-Nemeph, and together the two set off into the heavens to roam the Scattered Worlds. Many wonders they saw, and many tales are told of their adventures, but these are not part of their true story.
In these times some hint of the might of Avethell was heard, but the Gergathan had not yet come to fear the name of Aemallana, and there was more commerce between the Scattered and Gathered Worlds. At last the minds and eyes of Unde Nes and Sheltin kar-Nemeph turned toward the Core, and Unde Nes longed to see the close-gathered starry skies of Verkorra. So together they flew into Rept Kretzlab, and past the Curtain of the Hlutr, and so they came into the Gathered Worlds.
Upon several worlds they landed, and learned much . . . and rumor of their presence travelled far, even to Messilinia. And as the Gergathan was always on the lookout for those who dwelt in the Scattered Worlds, that it might pry from them the secrets of the Free Peoples, so it commanded that they be made to find their way to Verkorra, where some of its ships waited in ambush.
So came Unde Nes and Sheltin kar-Nemeph at last to Verkorra, and Unde Nes was eager for sight of her race's homeworld. But as the two made orbit, the ships of the Gergathan fell upon them and Sheltin kar-Nemeph was hard put to save the tiny craft from capture. The Rider, however, was one of the most skilled, and now her skill showed itself -- she brought the vessel to a safe landing in a snowy field at the foot of the Mountains of Kras Tenterb Nlan, the Great Glacier. The night sky was bright with the radiance of countless stars, stars of all colors Unde Nes had ever seen, and her emotions were lifted by the sight.
"We are dead, Unde Nes," said Sheltin kar-Nemeph, "For the ships that attacked us are surely those of the Enemy, and they have followed us down."
"Then let us flee, for now that I have reached this world I do not wish to give it up so easily." So they fled toward the mountains, as the Gergathan's ships settled to the ground nearby.
Then did Unde Nes face the Gergathan's vessels, and she composed her mind to peace, and she whispered prayer to Hesket, which in Coruman is the Hemmin Hesketen, a song older than the Pyslistroph (blessed be!). And Unde Nes' eyes brightened, and in their red depths appeared a tiny spark of icy blue. Then there sprang up a snowstorm, and under its cover Unde Nes and Sheltin kar-Nemeph were able to reach the mountains.
They climbed rapidly, and soon came to a cave in the mountainside; through cold and darkness they followed the cave's twisting passages until they were both very hungry, and each knew she could go no further. At last Unde Nes sat down and sighed.
"I can go no further, Sheltin kar-Nemeph," she said. "Calling the storm drained me of energy, and I cannot take another step in this cold and dark."
Now Sheltin kar-Nemeph, who was more rested, reached out to her friend. "If I may touch you, Unde Nes, then I shall carry you."
Unde Nes nodded, and thus it was that a lesser creature touched one of the Daamin and earned respect, not punishment. And in gratitude, it is said, thos descendants of the Bittlanen who remain in the Scattered Worlds are ever exempt from the prohibition on touching the Daamin.
Sheltin kar-Nemeph carried Unde Nes, and her burden was not as heavy as she had anticipated. And as they stumbled on through the dark, Unde Nes laid her head against Sheltin kar-Nemeph's body, and cried out in weariness and hunger, calling upon Naervara and asking for one more sight of the stars before death or capture.
Then Sheltin kar-Nemeph became aware of a glimmer in the darkness, and she made for it. Soon she came to a large cave atop the Great Glacier, a cave whose roof was crystal-clear ice; and beyond the roof was the brilliance of Naervara's endless stars, filling the whole cave with cold white light. Verkorra's small moon was visible as a pa;e shadow against the brilliance of the stars, and nowhere were the ships of the Gergathan to be seen.
Then Sheltin kar-Nemeph put down her friend, and she curled up next to her, and the two of them slept.
When Un de Nes awoke, she saw a gleaming female figure seated near her; the figure was aglow with the radiance of the sky, and she lowered her eyes at the sight. She put her hand on Sheltin kar-Nemeph, who awoke also.
For a moment the female seemed to fade and grow transparent,
till she was nothing more than a glitter of starlight upon ice;
then she reappeared, her image stronger than ever.
Unde Nes found her voice. "I called you, Star-Maiden, though I was not aware of what I did."
"You. I have been aware of you, Unde Nes." She faded again, then came back. "You are known to me. But why do I linger, when my time has come, to move on?"
"The Elder Gods pass on, Unde Nes. We have found a different way, mayhap a better place, and though none ever return, we think we know the way."
Sheltin kar-Nemeph, with the light of the Lady reflecting from her wide eyes, said, "Before you go, could you aid us?"
"Long have I worried about this place and these concerns, and I am weary. Will you not let me lay down this world and move on?" Naervara closed her eyes, and when she reopened them, they burnt with green starfire. "What will you have of me, Sheltin kar-Nemeph?"
"We have no food, no shelter, and we are being pursued by the agents of the Gergathan. Sooner or later they will find us, and then we will be examined, tortured, and killed. Can you do nothing to help us?"
"My power in this universe wanes. Call me not back from the brink."
"While starlight remains," Unde Nes said, "Your power is here, Goddess."
"You are kind, but unknowing. Still, I do not wish to carry regret with me, and you ahve come to this end partly from worship of me." The Goddess closed her eyes and sighed. "I will tell the Hlutr of the Scattered Worlds where you are, and they will send to your aid one of the Karessai Helyarren Teshra, the Galactic Riders. The stars will guide him and he will pluck you from the Kras Tentreb Nlan and take you back to the Scattered Worlds. Come, I will show you where to wait."
The wind was cold, and it seemed to tear the life from Unde Nes. She and Sheltin kar-Nemeph huddled together, and they listened to Naervara long, as she spoke of the glories of the stars she had seen. Unde Nes, listening to the Goddess, felt as though she herself had taken flight and was between the stars in space, not in a physical body but merely a phantom of starlight.
Finally, a tiny craft appeared near them, and came swooping to a powered landing; upon its skin it bore the markings of the Free Peoples of the Scattered Worlds as well as the crest of the Iaranor; and an Iaranori Galactic Rider came out to help them.
"Hurry," the Iaranor told them, "For we are being tracked by great ships that will be here in seconds."
"Go." Unde Nes turned back to Naervara, and the Goddess smiled. "Go, Sheltin kar-Nemeph, and tell them what happened; tell them that we gained a tiny foothold, for a brief moment, on Verkorra. Tell them that we must never rest until the whole world is free once again. Tell them, Sheltin kar-Nemeph. And go with my love."
"What of you?"
Unde Nes held her limbs toward Naervara. "If the Goddess would have me, I would accompany her to the b etter place."
Naervara nodded. "Go, Sheltin kar-Nemeph, and bear the tale. And tell your fellows that although Naervara departs, her blessings stay with them."
Then the first of the large ships of the Gergathan appeared, flying over the Great Glacier, and the Iaranor Rider's small craft sprang up into space, and was gone. Several of the larger ships flew after it, but Unde Nes knew that they would escape -- for no ship of the Enemy could ever match that of a Galactic Rider heading for the Scattered Worlds.
Then Unde Nes turned back to Naervara, and took her hand. And now it was not her form, but the world around her that seemed to fade into a starlight dream, and before her she perceived a path opening up. Together, Unde Nes and Naervara took a step upon that path.
And so passed Unde Nes out of the Grand Scheme, the first creature of the Scattered Worlds to follow the Elder Gods into the Beyond.
As for Sheltin kar-Nemeph, she carried the tale home to the Scattered Worlds, and it was told in full before the Karessai Helyarren Corageshra. But the Iaranori Rider had seen naught of Naervara, and so the story remained a tale only.
Sheltin kar-Nemeph became an esteemed Galactic Rider, and when her time came she retired to Nephestal, where she sat for long hours before the Cathedral of Worlds, staring in the direction of Rept Kretzlab and wondering.
Here ends the story of Unde Nes.
|The Lay of Istel||
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