Dreams from the Darkness

Part 5c

I travel south, away from the city and away from those who search for me. I have become a horror of the night and wander in the darkness where dreams take shape. I am now part of those dreams, those nightmares that seep into the minds of the sleeping and they will awaken with the same screams that torture my mind.

The Pera Palas hotel was a welcome sight for Lori's weary eyes. She hadn't realised how tired she was until the fresh air hit her outside Sirkeci Station. She had done very little all day besides sit and talk with Burlington but the long train journey had drained her energy nevertheless.

Accompanied by Burlington, Kay and Lori had forced their way through the crowds of street traders that flocked around any foreigners that looked like they may have some money to spend. They found a taxi and managed to convince the driver to leave without trying to squeeze another few people in to the automobile and were soon on their way across the old Galata Bridge to Beyoglu. Lori wanted to be excited and marvel at everything around her but she found her mind drifting to the prospect of a large bed and a soft pillow and by the time they had arrived at the hotel the taxi ride had become a blur of images in her mind.

There were uniformed porters carrying luggage for the array of foreigners that were pulling up to the hotel's door. Kay and Burlington queued at the reception desk while Lori took a seat in the lobby. The interior was beautifully decorated with spectacular chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling. A string quartet could be heard playing soft music in the lounge at the other end of the lobby and Lori had to fend off the alluring call of sleep. There was a bed somewhere upstairs waiting for her.

Room 411, Lori's room, was one of the more luxurious in the hotel. Kay replied with something about the possibility of them being here for a while when Lori commented on the need for such a room and she was too tired to pursue the matter. Kay left her to get changed and she did so after unpacking the case that the porter had left at the foot of the bed.

Kay returned with some incense sticks cut to different lengths, lit them and placed them in the same formation as the night before. Lori was already beneath the covers and her eyes followed Kay around the room until she was finished preparing the area surrounding the bed. She turned to look at her. "It will be alright. You can sleep now," she said, seeing hints of fear in the eyes that looked back. "I won't let it enter your dreams tonight."

Fatigue had caused her to forget about what lay hidden in the night but she remembered all too clearly now with sleep just around the corner. She managed a smile anyway. "Thank you," she said, blinked a few more times and then bravely closed her eyes, waiting for sleep to take her and bracing herself for what lay beyond.

Everything was silent and still, all but the swirling smoke of the incense as its fragrance dispersed through the air and the gentle rise and fall of the bed covers as the Jasmine scent carried Lori to a land of pleasant dreams. Kay stood watching her, unable to take her eyes off the sweet face and blonde hair that peeped out from beneath the covers. Such vulnerability and bravery in one person, Kay thought. If only things were different. If only some other research had taken me to your shop. If only Rome had yielded no answers. If only we weren't two thousand miles away from London, stumbling blindly through the darkness looking for answers to questions we do not even understand. If only things were different, then maybe...

She closed the distance between them and brushed some stray strands of blonde hair from Lori's cheek.

...but things aren't different.

She turned away to dim the lights and prepare for a night of relaxation and mediation, unaware of Lori's eyes creeping open and closed again and a hint of a smile coming to her face.

Lori took a sharp breath and awoke with a start. Her eyes shot open and for an instant she thought she was paralysed, but her motor skills returned and she frantically threw off the bed covers, unaware of where she was. Then she spotted Kay. She was standing in the middle of the room in a strange position, one arm extended in front, palm facing out, the other arm extended behind with her fingers held together to make a downward facing point.

"It was in my dreams again," Lori said in a panicked voice. "I thought you said..."

"No, it wasn't in your dreams," Kay said, returning slowly to a finishing position. "Not like before. You were just dreaming about it. I can stop its invasion of your dreams but it would be dangerous for me to stop you creating your own dreams."

"No, Kay. It was in my dreams. I know it." Lori was getting more on edge with each word.

Kay sat beside her on the bed and put an arm around her shoulders drawing her close. "Ssshhh... Lori, you're safe now. It was just a dream like any other. There's nothing to worry about."

"I don't know, Kay. It seemed real." Lori looked up at her with frightened eyes. "Are you sure."

"I'm positive," Kay reassured her with a smile.

Lori got up and looked around the room. It looked so much better in the daylight and without the hindrance of fatigue to dull its splendour. It was even bigger and more luxurious than the one she had in Rome. Everything was so clean and new. It was very modern, very European, but still had the hints of Turkish culture as a charming reminder of where they were.

She turned to Kay. "Remember you said you'd show me how to do some of those moves sometime. You said it would help me protect myself. Can you show me now?"

"Yes. Why not?" Kay said after a moments thought and led Lori to the centre of the floor. "It's going to take a long time to learn enough for it to be of any real use to you but there's no harm in making a start. Just don't expect anything to happen too quickly."

"I won't."

"You're going to have to explore a lot of different mediation techniques before you'll gain sufficient control of your mind. We can start off with some Qui Gong and then move on to a Tai Chi form later. First of all, there are a few things to remember. Moving faster doesn't mean you'll benefit quicker. In fact, it will result in the opposite. Everything has to be done at the right pace."

"Alright," Lori responded, nodding.

"Also, don't force your fingers straight. Let them relax and curl slightly but don't let them touch each other. Keep your tongue touching the top of your mouth so that it completes a circle around your body."

"Alright," Lori replied again.

"Finally, make sure you're not wearing any metal jewellery. Metal stops your chi energy flowing freely."

Lori wriggled her fingers at Kay. "No jewellery."

Kay smiled. "Follow what I do." She extended both hands in front of her and raised and lowered them slowly, bending her knees to follow the motion of her arms.

"Breath in as you lift up and out as you drop down. Imagine you are lifting your arms through water. Let it flow around them, delaying their ascent and softening their descent. Your whole body is relaxed, no more tension than that which you need to move."

Lori followed the movements, not quite as gracefully as Kay but as close as any beginner could. "How am I doing?" Lori asked after a few repetitions.

"It's a start," Kay said, stopping. "You're still too stiff though. Your arms are too rigid. Everything is tense."

"Relax more," Lori said to herself and repeated the movement a few more times. "Any better?"

Kay moved around her, placing her hands on her shoulders and feeling along her neck and back muscles. "See how tense you are. It's like your muscles are made of wire. You have to relax or you're your Chi energy cannot flow. This sort of tension is unhealthy."

"I can't relax any more than this," Lori said, letting her hands fall to her sides. "Is there a different one we can do?"

"Not before we find some way to get some of that tension out of your body and I know exactly what you need," Kay said with a wry smile. "Get dressed. We'll have some breakfast and then I'm taking you to experience one of Turkey's best traditions."

Lori knew better than to ask where they were going. It was going to be a surprise. They had breakfast in the hotel restaurant - some feta-type cheese, tomatoes, olives and cucumber, as well as bread, butter, honey and jam, all served with tea - and then stepped out into the bustling Turkish city. The medieval Galata tower rose high into the skyline, far above any of its neighbouring buildings. Lori found herself looking straight into the face of history and suddenly everything she had learned about seemed more real.

They made the short journey up Asmali Mescit Sokagi and onto Istiklal Cadessi by foot, passing close to the Mevlevi Monastery. Once home to one of several sects of Sufis, a controversial mystical branch of Islam, the infamous Whirling Dervishes used to use music and dance to bring its practitioners into direct communication with Allah. It now housed the best collection of Divan literature, classical Ottoman poetry, in all of Turkey.

They moved north along Istiklal Cadessi, getting no more than passing glances from the local citizens, and finally turned down a side street. "This is it," Kay said, stopping outside an old building.

"Hamam." Lori read the sun-faded sign. "What's that?"

"It's a Turkish bath," Kay said with a grin and didn't wait for Lori's reaction before leading her inside.

Soon Lori found herself in the Camekan, the entrance hall and the first of the three rooms where she was given a towel and slippers and instructed to change in one of the surrounding cubicles. Some women sat around a central fountain drinking tea and talking. Lori caught a few strange glances but she found that she didn't know the people of the city well enough to read their meaning.

Kay was waiting when she emerged from the cubical wrapped in a towel. "I don't know about this, Kay," she said with a worried look.

"You'll love it," Kay replied and without another word led her through the Sogukluk, an intermediate room where a waiting attendant handed dry towels to those emerging from the third room, and into the Hararet, the hot room. The centre was occupied by a large marble plinth below a dome pierced by small star-like windows. Wooden benches lined the walls between the marble basins and taps for washing.

Lori was immediately struck by the heat on entering the room and found it difficult to breathe for a couple of breaths before adjusting to the saturated air. There was a fragrance of eucalyptus and other oils in the air and a thin sheen formed on both women almost immediately.

"Let's sit for a while," Kay said, indicating towards a wooden bench at the far side of the room. They took a seat near one of the washing points. "If this doesn't relax you then nothing will."

Lori smiled and self-consciously pulled the towel up a little higher. They sat without talking for a while before Lori broke the silence. "What do you plan to do now that you're here in Constantinople?"

Kay thought for a moment. "I have to find out what I can about Zoras Zakythinos. If he really wrote the manuscript then I need to know who he was. I have quite a few contacts in the libraries and museums around here. If there's information to be found then it shouldn't remain hidden for too long."

"What about Du'drosmos?" Lori asked suddenly, the sound of the name making her feel uncomfortable she spoke it.

Kay turned to her and answered truthfully without hesitation. "I don't know. I don't know what it wants or how it is linked with the Templars and the manuscript. I don't even know if it has escaped The Dark Lord of Koth or if it is acting in his service. These are the questions I hope to have answered here." She took Lori's hand in hers. "Look, don't let it worry you. I can deal with this. I brought you here to relax so worry about more important things like which mosque you're going to visit first."

"Can't I come with you to the libraries?" Lori asked cautiously in case Kay believed she would slow her down.

"Of course you can, if you feel up to it."

She was reassured by the words. Kay was just looking out for her. "I'm as involved in this as you are. I just want to help."

They took a kese each, and began to scrub their bodies with it. The coarse cloth left their skin feeling a little raw but more open to the effects of the steam. They washed the soapy lather off at the washing basin and made their way to the centre of the marble plinth. Kay took a small cushion and placed it on the floor. "Lie down," she commanded Lori with a grin. "It's time for you to do some relaxing."

Lori lay face down on the smooth marble with her head resting on the cushion and Kay knelt beside her. "Now, just trust me." Kay turned the towel that covered Lori so that it opened at the back and then released the folds that held it in place. A streak of nervousness rushed through Lori but it quickly subsided as Kay's hands took hold of her shoulders and started rubbing them gently. Her hands were lubricated with massage oils and they glided over Lori's smooth body with ease. She began with small movements that worked the surface of the skin and gradually got deeper so that the muscles were coaxed to move with Kay's guidance. Then her thumbs began to press into her shoulders at the base of her neck, working out knots in the muscles with deliberate circular movements.

Lori's natural reaction at first was to resist the external forces that were manipulating her but she eventually gave in to the new sensation as Kay's fingers overpowered the will to resist. Lori closed her eyes to reduce her number of senses and give heightened awareness to the remaining, touch being the most prominent of all. She began to breathe slower and deeper as she released herself to the pleasure that had its source in the tall dark woman.

Leaving the shoulders, Kay's hands moved lower down her back. Strong fingers played with her skin as they made their way along its length, guiding confused muscles in the right direction and subjecting any pools of tension to some extra pressure. Lori flinched several times as a ticklish nerve was found or as the sensitive skin around her lower ribs was being awakened. Thumbs then climbed her back again on either side of her spine, carefully probing and manipulating the muscles and tendons that held the fragile bones in place.

Lori was being drowned in wave after wave of intoxicating pleasure. Kay's hands had a monopoly on her body and she wasn't sure she could regain control even if she wanted to. Her mind was in ecstasy and it had no intention of returning to a place where sensations such as these could not be experienced. It felt like her body was on fire and she had left the border of pain and pleasure far behind, travelling deep into a new land.

After some time, Kay's hands left her back and followed a rarely explored trail along her triceps, gently pinching and bringing all the nerves and vessels to life. As her thumbs worked the back of her arm, her fingers reached underneath to work the biceps. They then moved past her elbow and onto her forearm. Before Lori had realised, Kay had finished with one arm and was working on the other.

When she thought she had reached the edge of sensation, another excited nerve would seed a shiver in the base of her neck that rushed through her body in a split second and fizzled out to leave a calming sense of tranquillity. She didn't have to fight against unpleasant memories or struggle with whispers of unwanted sounds any more. Her mind was so empty of worry that she could have been a child again.

Her legs were last to receive Kay's attention and they got the same sort of sensuous stimulation that the rest of her body had received. Inch by inch they were caressed, Kay's fingers finding hidden muscles that Lori didn't even know she had. Her hands ran along toned thighs and tender calves, making sure that nothing went unexplored.

For Lori, the whole experience seemed to last forever but it was still over too soon. She had been silent throughout and Kay waited for a reaction. Lori turned slowly, holding the towel to her chest with one arm and leaning on the other, and looked up at Kay. "That was..." she began but found herself lost for words and shook her head sheepishly. "Where did you learn to do that?"

"I have many skills," Kay replied with a wink. "I learned a lot in China."

"I wish I could do the same for you," Lori said, lazy eyes looking through the steam.

"There is something you can do for me. Close your eyes and think about how you feel right now. Don't try to put words to it, just try to remember."

Lori closed her eyes and sighed deeply. She let her mind probe her senses and emotions, wading through the contrasting combination of stimulation and tranquillity. The encompassing feeling that was present was easily distinguished because she had never felt like this before in her life. She savoured it.

"Now, open your eyes and choose something that will remind you of it. Make a mental association between a physical object and the state you are in now and I'll teach you how to return to this state whenever you need to. Have you got something?"

Without taking her eyes of Kay, Lori answered. "Yes."

The remainder of the day had a somewhat new feel to it for Lori. Her body was rejuvenated and her mind was relaxed. All her worries seemed to have disappeared and she was content to carry on with the research that had brought her so much misery. It wasn't just a mind blocking numbness that allowed her to forget what had happened. Her mind was clear and she was somehow able to accept what had happened. The fear was gone, her worries were controlled and her primary goal was not to try to cope with what had happened any more. It was to discover its source and how to stop it before it accomplished whatever it had come here to do.

It was well after midday by the time they left the Turkish Bath and after briefly returning to the hotel to gather some research materials, Kay and Lori made their way to the closest library that Kay believed would be of any use to them. Their journey took within view of some of Constantinople's best-known landmarks. Lori was tempted to give in to Kay's suggestion and take time to relax by visiting some of the mosques and other historic buildings that had become tourist attractions in recent years, but she was determined to help with the research. She couldn't let Kay carry the burden herself, not as long as she could help.

The day was unfruitful but both of them had been prepared for that. No mystery as dark and complex as this could be solved in so short a time and Kay didn't believe too much in luck. Jack had only visited Constantinople once during his years of researching the manuscript but it was as unproductive as the other cities he had visited. Armed with the name Zoras Zakythinos, however, Kay hoped to have more success.

Because of their late start, their time at the library had been rushed but Kay was satisfied that there was nothing of interest to be found here. Kay had taken the books written in foreign languages and Lori was given those written in English. Most of the older books had no reference section while many of the more modern books had references to volumes that were missing from the library. Kay recorded the names in the hope that they would turn up in another library in the forthcoming days.

Lori found herself pausing from time to time to watch Kay from a distance. On one occasion, she stopped at the edge of a bookshelf while returning from the main floor with an armful of books. Kay was leaning over an old volume, her head resting on her left hand while her right held a pencil, poised over some notepaper in anticipation of finding something worthwhile. Her blue eyes scanned pages with exceptional speed and Lori could only dream of knowing the thoughts behind them. They didn't speak much during the day but simply working with her brought a joy to Lori's heart, the kind that she had long forgotten existed as a result of her solitary existence in her Grandfather's shop.

At closing time they gathered up their notes, awash with names of manuscripts, titles of books, authors and a wealth of other information that made sense only to the hand that wrote them. It was assumed that the list would grow exponentially over the next few days as various libraries and museums were visited and revisited, but neither Kay nor Lori dreaded the prospect. Despite the dark subject and the possibility of finding nothing at the end, they found strength in one other that working alone would have deprived them of.

They stepped out into the cooling air of an August evening and quickly realised that they hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. "Don't worry," Lori said when Kay apologised for forgetting to take a break to eat. "I used to do the same back in London when I got engrossed in a book. Sometimes I think I would have starved to death if my grandfather wasn't around to remind me when it was mealtime."

They left the library and walked the same route they had taken earlier in the day. This time, however, another figure walked the route with them, using shadows and alleyway entrances to his advantage. Always out of sight, always blending into the crowd, always close enough to see them turn the next corner and always far enough away to be just another pedestrian in a foreign city.

They brought their notes back to the hotel and made their way to the restaurant. They took seats at a small table and scanned the menu that had English translations for the foreign visitors. After a few moments, Kay set down her menu. "Do you see anything you like?" she asked Lori.

"I'm not sure yet," she replied, not taking her eyes of the menu.

Kay hesitated for a moment. "How about we eat somewhere else," she suggested, causing Lori to look up from her menu. "I mean, if you want to, that is."

"Of course. Where did you have in mind?"

"I know a great little place down by the water. Great food, beautiful views."

"That sounds charming," Lori said with a smile.

They left the menus on the table and slipped out of the restaurant. They walked downhill from the hotel to the waterfront and along the cobbled towpath, passing many market stalls where traders would be selling their wares late into the night. The city's face was beginning to change. For some a day's work was over, for others it was just beginning.

They came to a stop outside a little restaurant that had a terrace extending from its second floor over the towpath, supported by an arch. At Kay's request, they were guided to a table for two, right at the edge of the balcony. Those seated there could see out over the Bosphorus to the east and the Golden Horn to the south, the vast waterways that split Constantinople through the centre and gave it its life. The calm evening left the waters still and they carried the city sounds on their smooth surface.

The intermittent cries of distant sea birds could be heard as they scanned the depths of the water from a great height in search of their dinner. The periodic calls of street traders, alternating between Turkish and English, rose from the towpath below were tourists gathered to admire the foreign craftsmanship. Mosque bells rang from their minarets where the muezzin called the followers of Allah to evening prayer. All this was set to a backdrop of the faint chugging of the Bosphorus ferry as it brought its passengers from Sirkeci port in Seraglio Point to Harem on the Asian side.

A waiter approached them, wearing black trousers, a red waistcoat and a small red hat. He handed them a menu each and left them to look over it. "Let me order for you," Kay said to Lori. Lori accepted and when the waiter returned Kay ordered for both of them in his native language.

Lori spent long moments watching the stillness of the world around her. It was as if the city was slowing down, threatening to come to a complete stop. Uskudar, on the Asian side, was a mass of domed roofs and pointed minarets, painted between the sky and the sea and bathing in the last rays of sunlight that the day had to offer. The only signs of life were the boats that casually drifted to and from its piers, laden with goods or passengers, or both.

"This is wonderful," Lori said, almost in a whisper.

"I uses to think so too," Kay replied, "but it's hard to love something that is beautiful on the outside when you know it has a black heart."

"Is it really that black?" Lori asked quietly.

"If you had seen some of what I've seen, you might think so too." Kay looked deep into Lori's eyes. "Or maybe not. Maybe you could still see past that to what really matters." She looked away again. "Maybe I could have at one time too but that Kay died along with the rest of the expedition. Nobody really survived that night."

After some thoughtful silence, Lori said aloud what she had been thinking for a long time. "You miss him a lot, don't you?"

Kay smiled softly, not surprised any more that Lori could read her mind. "This was our favourite place to eat. We spent long hours here watching boats pass or playing silly games like identifying mosques from their domes and minarets." She laughed quietly to herself, remembering. "He used to know almost every mosque in Constantinople. He'd know who ruled the city at the time it was converted or commissioned. He said that each one had a part to play in the city's history and they deserved to be recognised for it." She shook her head, looking back to the waters again. "I think I will always miss him. I never thought I would be able to come back here again. I don't think I could have alone."

Lori reached out and took her hands that were beginning to fidget awkwardly on the table. "You're not alone any more."

They were still holding hands when the waiter returned with their food. They ate their meze of Zeytinyagh Enginar served with Raki, which Kay called Loin's Milk, a clear anise-flavoured drink. The main course of Bamya Bastisi was served with a fine Turkish wine and they finished with a desert of Firinda Sutlac. They mostly talked of books and history, of home and London, trying to avoid casting a shadow over the evening by drifting onto the subject of why they were in Constantinople.

On the towpath below, people moved from one stall to the next, idly passing the evening by. All but one who saw everything that was happening on the terrace above.

They finished shortly after the sun had fallen below the rooftops behind them, where the Galata tower rose high into the dark blue sky. Strands of thin cloud were being woven by gentle winds and the edges were glowing with a golden hue. What shadows were left were stretched to their full length awaiting their release into the night where they would dance to the flickering flames of oil lamps and candlelight. A new city was being born.

They left the restaurant to join the rest of the crowds along the waterfront towpath. Rich couples strolled arm in arm with wooden canes and white umbrellas trimmed with frills. Some had aides to deal with any beggars who would approach them, on occasion handing out small coins but mostly beating them back to whatever corner they had come from.

They walked some distance before passing the last of the street traders and coming upon a much quieter part of the towpath. The sky had turned a brilliant red where the clouds had gathered to soak up the remnants of the fallen sun. The sunset bathed the Asian side in its red glow while the skyline of the European side was silhouetted against the red sky and it appeared as if the pointed tops of minarets had pierced the clouds so that they bled.

They paused at a low railing to look out over the calm waters of the Bosphorus and take in the fantastic view of the city descending into night. Ship horns sounded as they approached their ports or simply passed through the channel on their way from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. With the city in shadow, Lori could almost picture the cannons firing from atop the city walls to sink a Turkish trireme and her mind could see the hundred and fifty ores of a Venetian Merchant Galley working in unison to the time of a single drum to guide it to the calm waters of the Golden Horn.

Lori turned to see the taller woman looking out across the water to where lights in the buildings on the Asian side of the city were beginning to wink into view. Despite what she said, and even in the half-light that now surrounded them, Lori could see wonder in Kay's face. Perhaps she knew what lay hidden behind it all and of the secrets it kept but whatever innocent fascination she once had for the world around her was returning, or maybe she never lost it at all. That Kay never died, she thought. She just lost her way for a while.

"You know, we're not far from where one of the great battle between the Christian galleys and the Turkish battleships took place," Kay said, looking further up the Bosphorus.

Lori looked to where her gaze fell. "Hundreds of Turkish ships battling with just three Genoese galleys and an Imperial transport. It must have been amazing. They say that anyone who wasn't engaged in the defence of the walls flocked to the slopes of the Acropolis or climbed to the top of the Hippodrome ruins just to watch it."

Lori could see the battle in the night air before her. The Turkish cannons firing in vain at the tall Christian ships, lacking the elevation to reach their decks. The rain of arrows and Greek fire that fell from the galley's high poops and prows onto the Sultan's finest soldiers. The chaos as ores of fustae entangled with ores of parandaria and Sultan Mehmet II shouting orders from atop his horse that he rode out into the shallows of the battleground. She could almost reach out and touch the water where waves of history lapped at the walls of the towpath beneath her.

As daylight took leave of the city, the small lighthouse on an islet just offshore from Uskudar came to life. "Leander's Tower," Lori said enthusiastically, directing Kay to the periodic flash of the tower's light. "How romantic."

"Romantic?" Kay said, curiously.

"Don't you know the story of how it got its name?" Lori asked, looking up to her.

Kay found herself leaning closer to the blond woman. "No, but I get the feeling you're going to tell me."

"Well," she began, enthused to be telling Kay about something she didn't know. "According to Greek myth, Leander was a young man from the town of Abydos on the Asian side of Hellespont. He was in love with the maiden Hero, a priestess of Venus who lived in the town of Sestos on the opposite shore. They were deeply in love with one another and each night Leander swam across the strait to be with his beloved, using the torchlight that Hero placed in a tower to guide him across the dangerous waters. One night, however, a tempest caused the waters to churn so badly that his strength failed and he drowned. His body was carried to the European shore where Hero learned of his death. Grief-stricken, she cast herself off the tower into the sea...and perished." She trailed off her tale with a dramatic pause.

"So they're both dead. How is that romantic?" Kay teased.

Lori nudged her with her shoulder. "They died for love. Of course it's romantic."

"I wouldn't be foolish enough to swim a strait in the middle of a storm for anyone," Kay continued teasing with a grin.

"Haven't you ever been in Love?"

The question was only half-serious and Kay knew she could have played off it again, but she didn't. "No, I don't think I have. There was this tracer who worked with us on a couple of expeditions a long time ago and I think he was in love with me. We were only young then and I used to tease him all the time. He eventually found another girl and I never heard from him again.

"I never really thought about love that much. There was my father and there was me. There was no room for anyone else. There never had been and I never though there would be. When he died I entered a world where love was a disease that had been eradicated for centuries and since I left that part of my life behind me, I've been too busy trying to piece a new life together, until now."

The last two words caught Lori's attention, but she tried not to show it.

Kay continued, after a pause. "Suddenly I find myself standing here looking out over the waters of a beautiful city and finding peace again."

They were comfortable leaning into each other now, feeling each other's warmth and moving ever closer so that they could speak in hushed tones. "It wasn't that long ago we were leaning on a railing together looking out across the water." Lori said, thinking back. "Things have changed a lot since then."

"Maybe more than you know," Kay added, her voice giving away the true meaning of the statement.

Lori hesitated for a moment, but then gambled on her instincts. "Maybe not." She put her arm gently around Kay so that she could move even closer and her heart paused for a moment before beating again, deciding that if Kay pulled away it would be better to stop beating altogether. Kay didn't, and it beat again as if her soul had taken its first breath of new life. Each beat brought her closer until she was sure Kay could hear it.

Kay couldn't hear it above her own. Lori's delicate touch filled her with a wave of emotions that threatened to bring tears to her eyes. For the first time in longer than she cared to remember, she felt as if every wrong she had ever done had been forgiven and someone wanted to be close to her again. She felt ready to let someone get close to her again, but not just anyone. There was only one person who could evoke such tender emotions in Kay with a single touch or a gentle smile and she was so close now that she was powerless to stop herself from reaching out and touching her.

Lori felt Kay's hand brush her cheek before she saw it. Time was playing tricks on her. It slowed and then stopped as Kay's eyes looked into hers, opening her heart and soul to Lori in a single moment that lasted forever. They revealed everything, her strength, her pain, her hopes and dreams and the fear that they would never be realised. She thought she saw herself in those dreams but they were just eyes again, growing larger as they drew her closer.

Kay saw the light in Lori's eyes with its source somewhere deep within her innocence. It was the same light that she had seen burn when they first met and she realised that she had been swimming toward it all along. With each day that passed, she had battled with the tempest and she was so close now she could feel Lori's breath on her lips, sweet, life-giving breath that she needed to survive.

With one final stroke she reached the shore and stepped from the dark waters that had held her for so long. Their lips met and the light disappeared behind closed eyelids, no longer required to guide Kay to the arms of her Hero. A new light burned and it grew more intense with each passing moment. They held each other close and moved in slow, unrehearsed movements, as if discovering true love for the first time and realising that there is nothing you can do to control it. Just surrender. And they did, into each others arms where everything they had ever longed for could be found.

Lori thought she was crying, but she didn't really know. She wasn't thinking any more, just feeling, and those feelings left no room for anything else. They filled her to overflowing and still they kept coming, another volley every time their lips parted and met again, another wave as Kay drew long fingers through her hair, a shiver as hands slowly tightened on her back and a warm body pressed against hers in a gentle embrace. The world around them was forgotten, left to continue with the normal passage of time. But it didn't. It paused to gaze upon the couple standing at its heart for it would never find such a befitting definition of beauty.

It was the completion of a journey that began with their first breath and ended with a kiss. A life long search that all souls make, some finding their way, others loosing it in a maze of life's twisting paths. Now, at journey's end, they stood on the shores where battles were fought and love was lost and they gave the waters another story to tell.

Part 5d