Time is like a river made up of events that happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has appeared, it is carried away, and another comes in its place; and this will be carried away too.

--Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

s night passed into day the sky lightened and the stars began to fade. Taarna arose when the first rays of light crept over the horizon and filled the room through the window. The rising sun slowly illuminated the altar on the opposite wall in an ever-lowering line. She stood in the middle of the chamber and stretched. An ivory-colored gown, delicately embroidered at the neck and hem, hung to mid-calf, concealing a tall, powerful frame. A breeze slipped through the windows, stealing away the vestigial warmth of her slumber.

Expressionless, she glanced out the window at the arid landscape in the valley far below. The sun glinted off a network of rotting pipes which snaked across the parched, coarse surface, their pathways occasionally conjoined by small, decrepit pumping stations. At the time of her birth, the system of stations and pipes through which vital water flowed had been well-maintained. Now they were corroded and weather-beaten, bent and broken in places, and water was much more scarce. She saw a bleak, desolate land that was slowly declining into ruin.

She shrugged mentally as she looked out at the barren wasteland. A numb, weary feeling crept over her. Another day was upon her--a day to be spent alone, like the day before, and before that, in a seemingly endless trail spiraling backwards into her past. She felt deeply isolated, fundamentally separated by who she was, and uncertain about who she would be in the future.

Moving to the washstand, she poured a small amount of water into the bowl from a ruby-colored vessel resting beneath. A pair of tired green eyes stared back at her from the rippling, reflective surface.

After washing her face, she turned habitually toward the altar. Many times in the past she had knelt in silent prayer, but not today. She had recently become neglectful of her prayer life. A growing anger and bitterness had gradually eroded the frank self-examination of conscience and humble request for intercessions which had routinely marked her mornings. The hardening of her heart had begun as whispered thoughts of distraction. They had increased from day to day, driving out focused attention, until she had been engaged only in an affectation of prayer. Finally, one day she had simply not bothered to try. She turned away from the altar, deliberately ignoring the twinge of guilt. This, too, had become easier with the passage of days.

Already she sensed the increasing heat of the day as the sun continued to rise into the pale, lavender sky. She dressed, slipping a lightweight blouse over her head, and pulling on a pair of tan-colored pants with a seat and inner thighs made of leather. She quickly pulled onto her forearms a pair of boiled leather wrist gauntlets, scuffed and worn from years of use.

Before taking the stairs down to the lower level, she paused briefly in the hall outside another bedchamber. Reluctantly, she found herself halting beside the closed door. Through a not inconsiderable act of will, she had been able to avoid looking at it for several months, but today, by happenstance, it had caught her from the edge of her vision. Despite the irritation that she felt with herself at her looming self-pity, she grasped the knob, and heaving a sigh, swung open the door.

The room was square, and smaller than the uppermost turret of the home. It was gloomy, the single window on the opposite wall being shuttered, and dust motes floated in the slender shafts of sunlight which found their way through the louvers. The walls had been painted in soft pastels. A child's bed, neatly made, was in the far corner.

On an adjacent nightstand, the framed likeness of a very young girl smiled at her. Cynane, her only daughter, taken from her by an occult heart infection at three years of age. She stared at the image briefly, then turned away. Head downcast, hands holding the doorjamb tightly, she closed her eyes at the powerful sorrow and loss which gripped her, and she struggled--still, after so many years--with the thoughts which inevitably entered her mind. Cynane, her child; her only daughter, the last of her family. How keenly she missed her, missed loving her. All that could have been, all that she wanted for her, wanted to do for her, wanted her to be; now, nevermore.

After a moment, she carefully shut the door.

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