Telic I

Mara made one more attempt, and only one, to call her scattered people home. She had hoped the assault would convince them they had a responsibility to the Reef, to come home and repair the damage they had caused. It went poorly, however, for though her tech witches were able to amplify her bond to her people through the augments Kelda had developed, she was only one voice in a maelstrom. Her Awoken had sensitive antennae, in the metaphysical sense, and could not hear her plea through the clamor. Also, the communications engineer kept forgetting to call Mara "Majesty" or "Queen."

"Good news," Uldren told her with the grim delight he always showed after a debacle he had survived. "Illyn and I went through the Fallen communications logs. Their Baron never transmitted our position to his Kell. He wanted the prize to himself. We remain secure."

"The Baron might have planted a time-delayed beacon," Mara warned him. "Never underestimate these beings. They've lived in the void longer than us."

"I already admire them," Uldren confessed. "They've lost so much. Some of them even ritually dismember themselves, Mara, to prove they have the strength to grow back the missing limbs. I tell you that even if we are doomed to dwindle and go extinct, those Fallen may outlive us."

Mara made a dry note in her log that her brother had at last discovered his true people.

For her part, Sjur Eido wandered about in a daze, filled with joy to be alive and grief that she no longer knew the day when she would die. "In you, all things are possible," she told Mara. "I live because of you." When Mara saw her string her mighty bow, the limbs coiled behind her leg and around her opposite arm, she was glad beyond telling that Sjur had survived.

In time, Mara appointed Paladins to oversee her new military, as Alis Li had done during the Theodicy War. She created talented starfarers as Corsairs, to scour the asteroid belt in utmost secrecy and to establish routes and caches that would support the covert motion of Awoken ships.

Most of all, she charged her brother with the mission that occupied her thoughts. "Brother," she said, "never again can I allow my people to be divided. We must offer them more than shielding ice and cold habitat cylinders and the warrens of Vesta. We must make a culture, a thread that binds us all in pride and wonder at the mystery of ourselves. Nowhere does culture flourish better than in a city."

"Gather in one place," Uldren warned her, "and you make yourself a target."

Mara had considered this, and found an answer. "Go forth and find me a power unknown to all the other powers of this world. Return it to me, and I shall make of it the cornerstone of my new city, where the Awoken shall dream of all they have been and all that is yet to come."

So Uldren went out voyaging among the worlds, swift as a blueshift ghost. In time, he returned to the Reef with a creature not larger than his hand, saying, "Behold, Sister, the lie that makes itself true. This is an Ahamkara."

Telic II

It was Mara alone who established a covenant with that young Ahamkara, which chose the use-name Riven, in honor of its host. It was Mara alone whose singular will and unity of purpose saved the Awoken from that which we now name the Anthem Anatheme. For there was in Mara very little division between Reality-As-Is and Reality-As-Desired; she was confident in her centuries of purpose and patient with the winding way by which the river of methods reaches the objective ocean. Blessed are those who in their absolute selfhood become selfless. Unappetizing are those who in their truest self-knowledge exclude the possibility of self-deceit.

"Mara," said Uldren Queensbrother, "why do you forbid me to speak to the Ahamkara?"

"This secret is mine alone," said Mara Queen. She knew that her brother had only widened the gap between He-As-Was (which is called NUME) and He-As-He-Would-Be (which is named CAUST). "Begone to the outer world, where I require thee."

This was when Sjur Eido, having spoken to Kelda Wadj and to Esila, at last came before her Queen. Kneeling, she said, "Your Majesty, Kelda Wadj says you are a god, for there is no difference between your desire and reality. Yet I know that you desire things before they ever become real. Esila says that you are keeping a secret from your brother that he must never know. I think the secret is thus: You are now a god because one day you will become a god, and a god is not temporal. Your brother is not a god because he will never become a god. Shall I worship you?"

"Sjur," Mara said, falling to her knees, clutching her beloved's face between shaking hands, "Sjur, on the day you worship me, you cannot love me anymore, for to worship is to yield all power, and I cannot love what has no power over me."

At this, the Ahamkara coiled around her neck, yawned, and showed its fangs: for there was a crevice between What Was and What Was Wanted.

"I see," Sjur Eido said. "Then to me you are not yet a god."

Although in time the knowledge of what Mara would become pushed them apart, it was a kind and happy push, as a friend might urge a beloved companion onward to a distant opportunity. And their days together were spent gladly.