Her dark hair feathered lightly over the pink satin pillow that cradled her
head...So beautiful, so placid, so hauntingly disturbing. Will Riker swallowed
hard in an attempt to strangle the emotions that were threatening to eat him
alive. He ran his finger over her silky cheek. so soft, so warm, so terrifying.
How could she feel so much alive and be so far from it. One defiant tear had
escaped the barricade he had placed on them and dripped unfelt to hers. Will
wiped it away, as he had so many others, and tapped his combadge.

"Riker to enterprise. One to beam up." His steady gaze on her remained fixed
until the subtle grip of the transport beam pulled him back to his miserable
existence. Materializing in the transporter room, he offered no pleasantries to
the operator, but walked silently to his quarters. The doors to his quarters
slid shut, Will sat quietly in front of the computer screen at his desk. He had
work to do, problems in engineering, schematics to study, and current mission
logs all kept his mind sheltered from the torrential outcry of emotions his
body longed to release. He felt the enterprise engines increase, the gentle hum
more like a rumble as they entered warp. Pushing up from his chair, he walked
to the window, Betazed fading into the distance.

<Good bye, Imzadi.> A silent thought he sent each time he left her
here....There'd be no answer, there never was. His mind was numb, and quiet,
and he found no reason to dwell on it. He returned to the computer screen, the
images flashed in front of his eyes, but he didn't see them.

He saw her as she was once, vibrant and full of life, whispering silent
promises in his mind.

Leaning back in his chair he ran his hands through his hair, relenting to the
fact he would never be the same man again. <Maybe if she were dead.> He
thought. <Maybe then I could deal with it.> He knew that wasn't true, but at
least then he'd have a tangible, something he could understand. An inevitable
conclusion to all life. But she wasn't dead, no, she hung by a
thread..somewhere between life and death. The doctors didn't understand it, her
brain capacity was almost nonexistent, only enough to sustain her vital organs.
It was like a wicked trick, played by the devil ....holding her in limbo,
denying her the privilege of releasing her soul to either state. His anger
towards this unexplained rose to the surface....Anger, one of the few emotions
he had allowed himself to wallow in. For three years he had used everything he
could think of to keep his other feelings securely locked in the steel trap
that had once been his heart. He knew he still held the respect of the crew,
his life on the enterprise was what drove him. But he no longer held the charm
that had made him friend, as well as commanding officer. Pushing the chair back
from the desk, he shut down the terminal.

"Go to sleep Will. She still has a life in your dreams." He uttered the words
aloud, catching a glimpse of the picture that sat on the small table below the
mirror. Picking it up, he could almost feel the warmth of her body pressed
against his, just as it had been when Lwaxana had taken it. He looked at the
reflection of the man in front of him, weathered skin, lines deepening on his
face, no flicker of light in his eyes as there once was. The anger he was
feeling bound itself tightly around his soul, ignited a fire in his heart and
was finally released on the one person he had never been able to focus it on
before. The old fashioned picture, encased in an antique frame smashed into the
mirror....Shattering the glass, and Will's self contained emotions. Picking up
the picture he looked at it, at her, smiling, laughing at what he'd become.

"You bitch Deanna Troi! How could you do this to me?" Tearing the picture into
as many pieces as his heart, he fell to the floor. Three years of sequestered
feelings released themselves from their chains....And Will Riker finally said
good bye. Or so he thought.


Chapter 2


"Bridge to Commander Riker." Will jolted awake at the sound of his captain's
voice. He still laid on the floor, shattered glass, and the tattered picture
his pillow. Shaking the cobwebs from his mind he responded.

"Riker here, Sir."

"Will." Will could hear the condescending tone in the captain's voice, and
he hated it. Why did everyone on this dam ship think they had to walk on
eggshells around him.

"Have you had an opportunity to review the upcoming mission logs." He leaned
against the wall, admonishing himself for slacking in his duties.

"No Sir, I'm sorry."

"It's all right Commander. After you do, we need to speak privately." He
pushed himself up from the floor, he didn't like the sound of that. Since
when had the Captain insisted on talking to him privately before a new
mission. He shot a quick look to the remnants on the floor that represented
this thing he called a life and moved to his computer terminal.

He sat quietly, the soft ticking in his head increasing with each anxious
moment, he knew it was his heart and the beating grew louder.

<Get over it Riker.> A failed attempt to quiet his increased anxiety
....Turning on the computer he closed his eyes, waiting for the bomb to
explode in his face. Struggling past his dread of what he already knew would
be the ships orders, he opened his eyes.

{Internal conflicts have again arisen on the planet Astera. The Enterprise
is to proceed as soon as repairs to the ship have been made.}

Will tipped back in his chair, a flourish of nausea coursed through his
stomach, closing his eyes he remembered.

"She doesn't need a baby-sitter counselor." Deanna Troi's mind was all ready
made up, it flashed like fire in the steady gaze she held him with.

"The Captain has all ready given permission for me to return. Are you
challenging his orders?" She held her hands stiffly at her sides as she
spoke, he assumed an attempt to enlarge her persona. He didn't offer a
reply, he breathed deeply and conceded ....but this bond she had established
with Sylena, almost frightened him. He didn't trust these people, and he
especially didn't trust her. But as a starfleet officer he would never voice
his reservations, they had been accepted into the federation and he would
respect starfleet's judgment.. Deanna rubbed his arm reassuringly, knowing
his concerns but not confirming them. "I'll be fine Will. Porker at 0900
hours, remember."

And that was it, the last words he would ever hear from her, the last words
he would ever be able to speak to her. Aside from her terrified screams that
had echoed through the bridge, and still coursed perpetually through his
nightmares, his heart, mind, and soul would be irrevocably silent. The ship
had spun so quickly into the planet atmosphere, there was no time for a beam
out. The magnetic haze that hung like a dismal curtain over the planet had
stopped the enterprise from doing anything, stifling the transporters, and
his ability to feel her finial moments. Starfleet had agreed with the
findings of the Astaran counsel ....Accidental discharge of a surface to air
weapon. Of the nine occupants of the runabout, Deanna Troi, was the sole

Rubbing his hands briskly over his beard, he terminated the computer access
and the heart wrenching images in his mind.

"Come" the doors obediently slid open at the Captains invitation, Will
Straighten his tunic, and presenting an semblance of calm and confidence he
entered the ready room.

"You wanted to see me Sir."

"Yes number one." Picard replied, pushing aside the PADD he had been
studying, and gesturing for Will to take a seat. Sliding into the chair,
attempting to look more at ease then he felt, he spoke to the captain.

"If you've called me here to make sure I'm capable of performing my duties
on this mission, I assure you I am. With all due respect Sir, I'm not a raw
cadet, I've been called upon before to sequester my personal feelings to fit
starfleet orders, and I have no doubt in my ability to do it again." Picard
let Will finish with what he knew he felt he had to say before responding.

"I'm glad to hear that Commander, because that is exactly what I told
Admiral Myers."

Will shifted in his chair and cleared his throat, feeling a little foolish
for thinking he would have to justify his abilities to Captain Picard.

"I'm sorry Sir. I just assumed under the circumstances....." The Captain
waved a hand in a gesture of understanding, halting Will's need to explain

"The orders released to the senior staff are more or less a ruse. Internal
conflicts on Astera are unfortunately a way of life for them." Will nodded
an agreement, blurting out his next question without thinking.

"It wasn't an accident, was it Captain?" Picard folded his hands on the
desk, formulating his thoughts before speaking.

"It's come to Starfleet's attention that the young women Sylena did not
perish in the accident as we were led to believe. Why they deemed it
necessary to deceive us on this is still a mystery. But where there is one
deception, there is usually a snarl of others waiting to surface."

Will leaned forward, resting his arms on the desk. "I don't understand Sir.
I thought the Asterans had asked that all off worlders be removed from the
planet. How did starfleet acquire this information?".

"Empress Celestria."

Will leaned back in his chair, what had started as relief that someone,
anyone, suspected the Asterans as he did, replaced quickly with disbelief.
What crime could a child ever commit that would cause their own mother to
betray their trust. Picard could see the questions twisting through
Commander Riker's mind, the same ones he had found himself asking, he was

"Will, she has requested that you, and you alone are the only one she will
speak with. Doctor Crusher has been apprised, and is waiting to perform the
necessary alterations to your appearance." Picard searched his first
officers face, looking for any indication of what he was feeling. "This is
not a direct order, only a request. But she asked that I show you this
before you make your decision." The Captain slid the PADD he'd been studying
to Will. Will held his meticulous poker face as he looked at the few words
that were written on the screen.

~The future holds such promise. And just as I cannot imagine.....~ He pushed
the PADD aside, not needing to finish the words that had were permanently
engraved in his heart. Swallowing hard, and doing his best to tranquilize
the small inkling of hope that welled inside him, he met the Captains gaze.

"When do I leave Sir?"


Chapter 3


What was he hoping for he wondered, staring at the alien reflection in
the mirror. Beverly had increased the density of his beard, tinted his skin
yellow, darkened his eyes, and removed any trace of what had once been his
eyebrows, replacing them instead with a thin ridge of skin, that ran from
one side of his face to the other. He turned his attention away from his
image, and back to the question he had turned over in his mind for hours.

<What am I hoping for?> He knew where Deanna was, lying somewhere between
life and death in a special hospital on Betazed. Slouching down on the
couch, he accepted his minds argument that finding out the truth would at
least offer him some kind of closure. The other gentle suggestion that kept
creeping uninvited to the front of his mind was revenge. Had he actually
transformed into someone who needed to settle a score to vindicate the rage
he felt towards these people. No, he pushed the unwanted feeling deep into
his core, where he hoped it would remain forever. If there was one thing in
his pitiful existence he was sure of, it was Deanna Troi would never condone
a need for vengeance.

He felt the enterprise slow to impulse, he knew it wouldn't be long before
he could take the shuttle to the planet. Pushing himself off the couch, an
unknown force pulled him to the floor. Pictures and emotions flashed like an
old fashioned slide show through his mind, until he was literally pulled
into the nightmare that unfolded in front of him.

{Dark...cold. His fingertips bled from clawing and scrapping the sides of
the dank clay wall. He spit the residue of dirt and blood from his mouth,
and continued to climb towards the promising light that loomed above him. He
had to reach it, and soon, or his fate would be sealed. The harder he tried
to pull himself towards the light, the more clay fell on top of him. By
struggling to escape he had succeeded in burying himself alive. "Noooo!" His
plea suffocated as the last glimmer of light turned into black. And then it
was quiet, still...he was there, but he wasn't ....aware, but unknowing.
Unable to die, unable to live. It was the most horrific feeling he had ever
encountered, and it would be what he felt for eternity....that was the only
thing he was sure of.}

"And this is what it is like for her." He heard the faint voice, and was
back in his quarters. He couldn't respond to the women that stood before
him, he gasped for air, replenishing what he was sure he had lost....His
body shook uncontrollably, adapting to the warmth that had replaced the cold
that had covered him.

"I'm sorry, but you needed to know." She settled her hand on his shoulder,
the touch stilling his fears.

"How'd you get here?" He choked the words.

"That's not important. What's important is your anger."

Will struggled onto the couch, he knew if he tried to stand his legs would
certainly fail him. He stared at her through misted eyes...He knew who she
was, Empress Celestra, a strikingly beautiful woman, with a voice that
carried through the air like music. He wrapped his arms around his knees,
pressing his head tightly against them. He didn't need to know this, he
didn't want to know this.

"Leave me alone." He begged her, any particle of his life he had managed to
hold together up to this point, was threatening to break apart. He didn't
want to picture Deanna trapped in the nightmare he had just experienced, no
one should be forced to exist like that. He wallowed momentarily in his
twisting emotions, finally pulling his head from his knees. The emotion
Celestra had said would help him, bubbled to the surface, evaporating the

"Who the hell did this?!"

Celestra settled on the couch beside him, unaffected by the burning anger in
his words. Pushing a lock of hair behind her tiny shoulders she explained.

"My kind are not as we seem." Will rolled his eyes at the understatement.
"We are an ancient race, thought extinct millions of years ago. We've
learned to blend in with other cultures, and so on one is the wiser. Until
now, because of what Sylena has done, I will confide my secret in you." Will
leaned forward at the mention of Sylena's name.

"What did Sylena do?" His voice steady, something soothingly hypnotic about
Celestra's voice.

"Sylena performed a ritual abolished by my kind years ago. When the runabout
was hit, Deanna was the only one unharmed. Sylena was dying, she used Deanna
to restore herself." Will clenched his fist. "How, how did she use Deanna."

Celestra in a frustrating display of calm folded her hands and laid them in
her lap.

"My kind are capable of transferring the soul." Will shot to his feet.

"That's bullshit! You don't expect me to buy this."

He had heard legends, and known of religions that bought into the theory of
transference. Zombies, voodoo, even some biblical references could be
mangled to mean transference. He folded his arms, and eyed her skeptically.
"And you want me to what?"

Celestra sighed deeply, yet he could feel no remorse from her as she spoke.

"Kill Seylena, and your imzadi's soul will be restored." Will walked to the
window, hiding his suspicions from her view. His gut told him something was
wrong, this woman is not as she seems. He hoped Deanna had taught him to
bury his feelings deep enough to hide them from Celestra.

"Tell me Celestra, is this about your vendetta or mine?" He kept his voice
firm, and hoped he knew what he was doing by challenging her.


Chapter 4


For one instant Celestra dropped her guard in response to his question, but
it was all the confirmation he needed to listen to what his gut was telling
him. Whatever had happened, or was happening to Deanna, this women was the
key. Deceit wasn't something he excelled in, but when it came to Deanna he
would lie, cheat, possibly even kill if it meant he could save her.

"Sylena is my daughter. This is the most difficult thing I have ever had to
do." Her voice, her eyes regained their sweetness, masquerading the
bitterness Will was sure he had seen.

"And yet, for someone you barely know your willing to sacrifice her. You'll
excuse me if I'm finding it difficult to swallow." Will kept up his
antagonistic approach, to give in too easily would surely give him away.

"I explained the reasons. Her crime is an unforgivable one to my people."
Will turned his back to her, something about the combination of the tone of
her voice and the grip of her eyes diluting his rationality.

"Perhaps this woman's welfare is not as important to you as I had surmised."
She had moved closer to him, he felt her breath as it brushed over his neck.
He bit back his instinct to snap an angry reply, and turned to face her. Her
face was mere inches from his, he did his best to hold on to his commanding
charade. He placed his hand roughly around her tiny neck, stroking his thumb
from the base of her chin, down her throat.

"I don't believe you. But I've got nothing to lose." Increasing the pressure
of his thumb slightly against her throat, he released her. He had intended
it as a threat, and yet fear was not the emotion that reflected in her eyes,
Will was sure it was arousal. He ignored it, arousal was better then anger,
if she actually was capable of what she was claiming, turning her lights on,
was a far better outcome then having his turned off, permanently.

"Where is she?"

Celestra massaged her throat where his hand had been. "Proceed to the
planet, just as you were suppose to. Meet with me as planned. From there you
will began your search." With her words she was gone, leaving Will to wonder
if she'd ever been there at all.

The sound of the door chimes to his quarters gave him little time to ponder
his next move.

He released the lock he couldn't quite remember initiating, and the doors
slid open.

Commander Data stood in the doorway. "The captain asked me to escort you to
the shuttle bay, so I may explain the modifications we have instituted."

Will only nodded an acknowledgment, and followed Data to the turbo lift. As
the turbolift doors slid shut, Will turned to the android. "Data, what do
you know about transference of the soul?" He was hesitant to ask, and was
quite sure of the response the android would give him.

"It is curious you should ask Sir."

O.K. That wasn't the response he was expecting. "How so Data?" If Data had
been human, Will would have been sure he was wrestling with his emotions,
searching for a kinder, gentler way to say what he was about to say.

"Counselor Troi also expressed an interest in the phenomenon only hours
before her accident." Will felt himself envying data, able to mention the
accident without an ounce of dejection.[1]

"And what were you able to tell her, Data?" He held his emotions in check,
he had become a master at hiding his feelings.

"I was unable to offer her any concrete evidence to sustain the possible
transference of souls. But she seemed quite awed by my accountings of an
ancient race capable...." Will held up his hand to silence him. "Don't tell
me, the race was capable of literally acquiring the soul of another, leaving
the victim to dangle by a thread somewhere between life and death." Will
rolled his eyes, Data looked genuinely surprised.

"That is correct Sir. Though Counselor Troi did not seem to share your
skeptical persuasion."

The turbolift doors opened revealing the short corridor to shuttle bay
three. Will followed Data to the shuttle, half listening to the revisions
Commander LaForge had made to the ship.

Sliding into the cockpit of the shuttle he called one last question to Data.

"Data, did Deanna seem more interested in one concept then another." Data
accessed his memory tilting his head several times.

"Yes Sir, and I was unable to help her. She was much more interested in
resistance, then the actual concept." A shutter ran up his spine, had Deanna
actually believed this, was she actually afraid of her fate before it had
been met. The warning alarm that sounded through the shuttle bay mixed with
Data, and celestra words, personified his nightmare that perhaps Deanna was
being held in limbo somewhere, trapped in that vacuum of existence Celestra
had showed him. With more force then necessary he punched his coordinates
into the shuttle.

He watched the stars as they flew by the shuttle...Jewels of hope, Deanna
had called them. She was almost convincing in her argument, that encased
inside each shimmering jewel that hung over them in the sky, was a wish just
waiting to be released to the person who would truly believe in the magic.
He hadn't put much stock in the idealistic theory, but right now he found
himself sending a silent plea to all of them. The pleasant memory
dissipated, the dark metallic curtain looming in front of him was begging to
be feared. He tilted the shuttle, and braced for the initial impact, but
nothing could have prepared him for what hit him. The sensation starting at
the base of his spine, tickling over his skin like silk, causing goose bumps
to rise. It intensified the further into the haze he went, the tickle
replaced by a burning, a burning that increased as though his skin was being
penetrated by acid. And somewhere far away, beyond anywhere his mind had
ever been. He heard her, the voice carried into his thoughts, soothing his
mind, warming his heart, and gently embracing his soul. The words were
muffled, like a hand had been placed over her mouth, but the emotion was as
clear as the jewels that had hung in the sky. Relief ...she knew he was

Cutting threw the mist that had silenced her appeals to him for all these
months, he landed the shuttle on this orb of obsidian. Brushing away the
moisture that had formed under his eyes, he attempted to reinforce her
realization. With more resolve then he ever thought Will Riker would feel
again, he sent his promise. <I'm coming Imzadi>


Chapter 5

"......The breeze, the breath of God, is still

And the mist upon the hill

Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken

It's a symbol and a token

How it hangs upon a tree

A mystery of mysteries"

The poem spun in hopeless repetition through Riker's mind as he made his way
across the sheet of shiny obsidian that comprised ninety percent of this
bleak planet. The stark white pillars of the city battled through the gray
mist that threatened to swallow them, silencing what seemed to be the only
glimmer of hope in this silent world. The essence of Deanna he had felt,
grew dimmer and dimmer the closer he got to the city. But he knew if he
didn't show up at the palace as planned, it would only complicate things
with Celestra. He was relieved when he entered the confines of the city, the
arid air had dried his throat, he was sure he could taste blood. He breathed
deeply for the first time in an hour, filling himself with the fresh clean
air. Obviously the simulated air had been fortified with quite a bit of
moisture, he could immediately feel relief to his parched throat. He had not
come to the palace on the enterprises last visit, and he stood momentary in
awe of the greatness of it. It was also made of the same white stone as the
others, but ivy, in various shades of green crept up the walls. Fountains
cascaded over pieces of the deep black obsidian, the water below them dotted
with pale lavender flowers, that seemed to be vying for the sprinkles of
water that fell from above the. <Like an oasis in the dessert> he thought,
raking his hands through his hair and heading over the stone walkway that
led inside the palace.

The guard that stood at the doorway offered him a sly smile and handed him a
small black box. Will looked at the maze of lights on the black box, he
assumed it to be a guide of some sort. A large Red cross flashed on and off,
yellow lights sparkled over certain corridors leading his way to where he
guessed he was suppose to go. It was surprising to him, though he past
several more uniformed guards on his way to his destination, no one stopped
him, or seemed to care why he was there. It was hard to tell if he was
actually going anywhere, or just around in circles, the dense burgundy
carpet, the symbols on the white walls all repeated the same pattern.
Rounding a corner, his thoughts of being lost in this labyrinth of luxury
were rewarded by a different symbol, one identical to the one on the box. He
approached the doorway slowly, he wasn't sure why, but fear seemed to be
stirring through him. The muffled voices he heard as he neared the door,
stopped him from entering.

"We've retrieved the body from betazed." Will edged closer to the door, what
he had just heard causing the inkling of fear he had felt earlier to wax.

"Good, make sure no harm comes to it. If all goes well, this horrible ordeal
will be over soon. Has Commander Riker arrived yet." He was sure that was
Celestra's voice, but the other was unfamiliar to him, he was sure however
it was not Sylena.

"He was issued a locator cube upon admittance to the place..." Will shot a
look to the black box in his hand. <Shit> As quickly as he could he ran down
the corridor, not wanting to be found right outside Celestra's chambers.
Turning the first corner, he leaned against the wall, his chest was heaving
more from fear then exhaustion. His head was flooded with thoughts,<
Deanna's pleas, Celestra's unknown motives behind stealing Deanna's body,
and if Deanna had a body, then was all this mystical mumbo jumbo for real,
and what about sylena, how did she fit into all this? >He struggled for a
moment to seclude his questions, steady his breathing, and slow his heart,
the voices he had heard in Celestra's chambers were approaching him. With
one final breath he screwed up his nerve and turned the corner.

"Commander, we were getting worried about you. Please come with me." After a
feeble attempt at a bow, he followed Celestra to her chambers, the other
women after eyeing Riker provocatively continued down the corridor. She
sealed the doors behind them, Will doing his best to put on the same
arrogant show he had on the enterprise. She walked to the other side of the
room, leaning temptingly against one of the large posters of her bed.

"Are you ready to begin?" She asked, running her tongue seductively over her
full lips. Will hoped she meant ready for his mission, and not what it
appeared she was suggesting. For some strange reason the term sleeping with
the devil kept creeping into his mind.

"I'm sure you've felt her by now. Is that not so?" Her voice played that
hypnotic music through his mind, he moved toward her, hoping to appear
unaffected. <But god she was beautiful, her auburn hair cascaded over her
inviting shoulders, the sheer beige dress she wore, hid only the parts of
her Will was finding it harder and harder not to want>. As though she could
sense his need, she slipped the tiny straps of her dress off her silken
shoulders, and let it fall to the floor. He cleared his throat and tried to
fight it, but his mind was rapidly surrendering to her hypnotism.

"So are you going to help me find Deanna. Or continue trying to seduce me?"
Her breasts moved gently as she laughed at his words. Her laughter was
intoxicating, Will felt his head grow light, her arms slipping around his
waist, her breast pushing themselves against his open shirt. Control quickly
became a thing of the past, he clamped his mouth over hers, relishing the
taste, and the scent of her. He couldn't ever remember wanting a women like
this, it was almost as if, if he didn't have her he would die. He pressed
her tightly against him, watching the reflection of her in the mirror behind
her. He watched his hands as he slid them roughly over her back and
buttocks. Something erotic about watching himself do to her just as he
wanted. He spun her around to face the mirror wanting to watch himself
explore the front of her. His hands froze on her shoulders, the face that
looked back at him was not Celestras. Large dark eyes of warning, filled
with tears and pain shone back instead.

"Deanna." he whispered, his voice shaken by shock and fear. Celestra spun
out of his grasp, Deanna's image slowly fading from his view. Will recovered
quickly, his body trembling with rage. He held her shoulders firmly, and
shook her harder then he'd meant to. "Where is she?!" She brought her eyes
slowly upwards to meet with his, an infuriating satisfaction shined in her
smile. "Thank you Commander. I was sure you could find her."

Chapter 6

Will clenched his fists at his side, Celestra's musical laughter mutating
into something strangely haunting.

"Now Commander, if you'll wait right here. When I get back you can be with
your imzadi." Will tried to speak, yell, scream, no sound would come from
his throat. Celestra left the room, her dress still lying on the floor,
leaving Will prisoner of his own weaknesses. He shot a look around the room,
no windows, no air vents, no means of any kind to escape. He pounded briefly
on the door, his voice returning, he screamed his threat. "I'll kill you,
you bitch!" He repeated the phrase over and over till his throat burned. The
sense of anxiety he had first felt at being trapped in this room, escalated
with each passing moment. <Deanna> A hopeless plea, a last resort...he
wasn't even sure why he was trying. She was gone, the essence that had
stirred in his mind had ceased soon after Celestra had left the room.

"Damn it." He swore. "I won't let her take you away again. I won't, I'll die
first! Deanna don't do this to me." His eyes stung with tears, he brushed
them away, not willing to allow himself the privilege of any kind of relief.
He looked to the mirror, the one that had reflected his final glimpse of the
women he loved. He pressed his palm against the cold glass, wishing he could
reach inside and pull her into his arms.

"Will" The whisper was distant, and definitely not Deanna's voice.

"Behind the mirror." a contorted sound, like something out of a dream. He
followed the instructions of the unknown that prodded him. Moving the mirror
aside, he was disappointed to find only stone, just like all the others. He
ran is hand over the rough surface, air crept through an invisible opening.
From the floor, to as high as he could reach he looked for the mechanism
that would release what he had surmised to be a secret door. His efforts
were barren, falling back on the unknown voice who had moved him to push the
mirror aside, he moved his hands to the backside of the mirror. Running his
thumb around the brass frame, he found a tiny switch, pushing it, the wall
behind him moved aside. Bracing his hands on both sides of the entrance, he
peered inside. An extremely steep ramp lead downward into an obscurely lit
cavern, there were no walls on either side of the ramp, the pitch so steep,
Will found walking down to be impossible. He sat and inched himself down,
using the tips of his fingers, and the soles of his boots to grip the smooth
surface. His shirt soon became soaked with sweat, the heat escalating the
further he progressed. Nearing the bottom the humidity increased the air
filled with a sweet musty odor that smelled sickeningly like rotting fruit.
He sat at the bottom of the ramp, passageways ran in several direction, the
walls covered with fungus that thrived in this sultry environment. The
ground was soft under his boots, the fungus that grew over the walls also
carpeted the floor.

<Where do I go?> He thought, there was no answer from the unknown that had
helped him before, using his gut instinct that had always served him well,
he followed the narrower passage on the left. Walking down the narrow
passage the walls seemed to be closing in, his chest tightened, he tasted
the sweet aroma in the back of his throat. He quieted the butterflies that
had taken flight in his stomach, the sensation he was feeling vaguely like
the state Celestra had shown him on the enterprise. The passage veered off
in three direction, the one directly in front of him illuminated by swirling
yellow lights. He edged closer to the eerie glow, his heart leaping from his
chest at what he saw. He stayed inside the shadows of the passage, fighting
his instinct to go to her. Deanna's body hung from the ceiling, at first
glance it was like a magicians trick, looking closer he could see the three
thin wires that suspended her. Her hands were interlaced and placed over her
stomach, her eyes were closed, her long dark curls bushed against the symbol
etched in the stone beneath her. The symbol appeared to be a heart, impaled
with a sword, blood dripping from the wound. On either side of her, two
elaborate alters were marked with the same cross that stood outside
Celestra's doorway. Of the three alters in the room, including the one
Deanna was suspended over, each contained what Will presumed to be a
different element of nature. Water dripped into a crystal pool above
Deanna's head, the alter at her feet glowed bright with fire, below her,
rich dark earth had been poured over the steps that led to her. He refused
his emotional instinct to retrieve Deanna's body....The women that hung by a
thread in front of him was only a beautiful shell that encased the essence
of what he truly loved. A soft almost inaudible moan touched his ears, he
turned towards the sound. The passageway that led towards it was dark, he
used his hands to guide himself through it. His journey was short, a light
drifted through a small opening at the floor, getting to his knees he peered
inside. In order to maneuver through it he had to slid on his stomach, using
his hands to pull himself forward. He could see a form lying on a blanket on
the floor, the figure was motionless. Sliding his body out of the tight
space, he recognized the woman.

"Sylena." She turned to his voice, her features thin and drawn, and
weathered with age. Will tried not to show his shock as he looked at
her....The young woman that had befriended Deanna couldn't have been more
then twenty, but now she was old, and weak, her auburn hair flecked with
patches of gray.

"What happened to you?" He knelt beside her, brushing a strand of her
course, dry hair from her sunken cheeks. Through her agony she offered him a
weak smile, Will feeling more then guilty for all the terrible blame he had
placed on her over the last six months. He picked up her tiny hand, it
trembled in his, he cupped his other on top of it. The tingle started where
their hands were joined, moving up his arm causing his hairs to stand on
end...It moved over his shoulders, and like an electrical current it coursed
through his entire being, finally settling in the vacant place in his mind
Deanna called home.

"Deanna." He whispered holding the cold hand to his lips. Sylena still
looked at him through half open eyes, but floating behind the milky covering
of Sylena's eyes shined a hopeful light, The same sparkle of light that had
filled his heart like no other since he could remember. He held on tightly
to the hand that had seemed to warm with his touch. Running his hand over
Sylena's cheek, the course wrinkled skin that he could see, was not what he
felt. The skin felt soft, and young, warm and comforting. He released her
hand and cradled her face with both of his, his tears fell freely from his
eyes. What he could see, and what he could feel became two different
sensations. It was amazing, in this hideously wrinkled crone, he saw the
woman he loved, it coursed through his body like his life's blood.

"Sometimes the eyes deceive." The hollow voice pulled him from his paradise,
sending him to his feet.

"Who the hell are you?" The question sprayed like venom from his mouth, as
he set his angry eyes on this little man in front of him.


Chapter 7

"Mister Data have you readied the shuttle?" Captain Picard leaned his arms
on his desk. Behind the blue of eyes of his chief medical officer he could
see a multitude of questions waiting to be asked....He eluded her eyes, and
instead chose to stare at the ceiling and await a response from his second

"Yes Sir. We have successfully reconfigured the sensors to extrapolate only
the metaphysical energy readings we found in Commander Riker's quarters. The
transporters on the shuttle have been programmed to release a low intensity
force field at the source." Picard watched Beverly shift in her chair,
biting her lip in order to keep her incredulous question from escaping.

"Very good Data. The magnetic curtain around the planet may cause all
communications to be jammed. If for any reason you find our theory to be
incorrect, lock on to Commander Riker and get him out of there."

"Aye Sir. Data out."

Picard nodded an approval before leaning back in his chair. "And now Doctor,
you had something to say?"

"I understand the primordial cosmic principle of the Ezilians. What I don't
understand is how you could possibly believe it" She raised a skeptical
eyebrow, and waited to be convinced. He tapped his finger against his lips
looking for the most rational explanation, which is what he would need to
persuade Beverly that her captain hadn't lost is mind.

"I don't think believing is the rudimentary issue here Beverly. The energy
readings in Commander Riker's quarters, compounded with the interest shown
by both Commander Riker, and Counselor Troi in the concept of transference
of souls, and the fact that Counselor Troi's body turned up missing all
point to the possibility that the Ezilians ....." He stopped mid sentence,
his argument was falling on deaf ears, there were times he wished what she
was feeling could not be read so easily in her eyes. He ran his hands
together briskly, and let a long breath of air before launching his next

"Nineteenth century France....the Nancy school of hypnotism worked on a
elementary concept of a state called abandonment. The body completely
relaxing it's hold on it's ego, relinquishing it's consciousness." He
cleared his throat. "Allowing the soul to leave the horse that carried it. I
believe that to be a crucial belief in several religions, and as I'm sure
your aware most religions are derived from a certain element of truth. Who
is to say that this venerable race didn't exist, and could very well be the
driving force behind these convictions." She sat, arms folded, tapping her
fingers against them, he wasn't unsure but he thought he could see amusement
playing in her face.

"Damit Beverly...say something." Then he was sure it was amusement, that
infuriatingly playful look of mischief shined in her eyes.

"Why Jean Luc?....I'm enjoying this. It's not too often I see Captain Picard
having such a hard time justifying an order. I personally have no problem
believing that something else lies ahead for all of us, that the soul is
indeed the driving force behind our biological existence." He grumbled
something about women under his breath, and pushing up from his chair he
headed to the bridge. He was sure he could hear Beverly's soft laughter even
after the doors swished shut behind him.

"I am impressed that a life form as primitive as your own was able to look
beyond the physical, and find what lies beneath." The statement of the small
man before him, held a resounding similarity to one Q would make. But Will
held on to his seething glare. "You didn't answer my question, who are you?"

A sigh of disappointment escaped the man's lungs before he answered. "Who I
am, does not matter. But if a name is what you seek, you may call me Max."
Will was sure if the situation was not so dire he would have had a glib
remark to make. The man was no more then four feet tall, his head and hands
quite large in contrast to his wiry little body. His thick dark hair spun in
matted disarray over his shoulders and back, his eyes a deep ebony were sunk
deeply into his head... The name rumpelstiltskin kept popping into his
mind. Will did his best not to let his guard down in front of, what so far,
he had judged a non threatening man. Max didn't attempt to hold Riker's
stare, but instead walked to Sylena and knelt beside her. Will watched
closely, Max stroking his hands through Sylena's hair with almost a paternal
sadness. "And yet even after those we love are gone, it is hard not to hold
on to any concrete remnant that remains." Max's words were laced with grief,
the anger and suspicions Riker was feeling bowed to a profound feeling of
compassion. Knelling next to Max, he laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Will she be all right?" Without looking away from Sylena, Max shook his
head. "Sylena abandoned her own essence to save your friend from Celestra.
It will never return, nor will my daughter. Hosting an alien spirit has
taken it's toll on her...her shell will soon return to where it came." Will
felt an overwhelming understanding towards this little man. Just as he had
been doing for the last several months he was only trying to hold on to that
which he loved more then life itself. Will sat quietly on the cold dirt
floor, stilling the urgency he felt about Deanna....instead offering Max an
opportunity to say a good bye. After several minutes Max set his eyes on

"The three elements of the soul must convene into one, or your friends soul
will never be free." Will leaned forward on his knees, hanging on to the
belief that somehow this man could save Deanna and bring her back to him.
"How? How do I bring her back?"

Max stood up, and took a few wobbly steps towards him. "You have learned,
that that which you truly love in this woman exist outside her physical
beauty." Will nodded, sending a sideways glance to Sylena, knowing at least
a part of Deanna was held inside the old, wrinkled body.

Returning his eyes to Max, Will stood up abruptly ....the look on the aliens
face was dark and disturbing, a far contrast to the tranquil one he had held
until now.

Will felt his shoulders stiffen watching Max pull a weapon of some sort from
his tattered shirt.

"Take this." He reached down and took the blade he was offered. Running his
fingers over the intricate detailing on the handle, he could see the
familiar cross that had decorated the chamber, and the temple...the blade
itself looking more like an old-fashioned ice pick then a knife.

Without waiting for Will to look away from the knife, Max continued. "Take
the Baxu to the temple, and penetrate the heart of the one you call
Imzadi....her blood must drip into the rich dark earth from where she came,
and from where she will return." Max's words echoed through Riker's mind,
bouncing away, cutting through his defenses, before actually settling into
his reality. Dropping the knife to the ground, he backed towards the wall.

"Your asking me to kill Deanna! I can't...... I won't."

Chapter 8

Heading back through the dark corridor that lead to the temple where
Deanna's body hung, Max's words reiterated through Will's mind. <You must
free the base soul before Sylena is no longer able to hold on to Deanna's
life-force. Celestra has to release the quintessence she holds on to,
allowing the psyche, to combine with the main life-force before she willl be
able to reabsorb the entire soul. In doing so, she will free the spiritual
essence she hosts now.> Will freed the heavy sigh he had held in his lungs,
the entire explanation completely beyond his understanding. Turning the
corner, the yellow glow that lead to the chamber shined vividly. He leaned
against the soft cave wall, fondling the Baxu with his hand. There were only
two questions he needed to ask himself now...did he trust the words of the
little man calling himself max....and did he love Deanna enough to give up
that which was so important in his life, so that she could move to a plane
that would not include him. Yes, for some unexplainable reason he felt no
reason to doubt Max's word...but the answer to his second question didn't
come so easily. Pushing off the cave wall, the dampness on his shirt from
the moist fungus caused him to shiver. Pressing past his trepidation he
entered the temple and stood a few feet from Deanna. The water that dripped
in the shrine to his right seemed to magnify in relationship to the endless
silence that surrounded him.

What would he miss the most, he ask himself trailing his eyes over Deanna's
still form. Would it be the warmth of her soft skin as she snuggled against
him in the night, the fragrance of her hair as it whispered across his face,
the tickle of her long dark lashes as they brushed against his skin, or the
deep red lips that offered sweet kisses of promise and tender words of love.
Taking another step towards her, he knew that all of those things were
irrelevant, what he would miss the most, would always linger in his heart.
What he would miss the most, could never really be taken away. It was how
much he loved coursed through his veins, ignited his soul, and
could be found in each beating of his heart. Moving closer to her, he
brushed a hand over her cheek before raising the knife above her heart.

"I do love you Imzadi...I love you enough to free you from this purgatory
your being held in." His trembling hand paused over her chest, the shrill
voice behind him causing him to turn. The images were distorted through the
veil of tears that blanketed his eyes...A man laid Sylena's frail body on
the ground, Celestra stood above her, her eyes locking with his.

"Imzadi, don't listen to him." Deanna's voice floated from Celestra's mouth,
the sound reaching into his core. He held her gaze, indulging in the
familiar sound of the voice he hadn't heard in so long, before looking into
the Sylena's eyes. The light in Sylena's eyes was flickering like a flame in
a storm, blowing out, and restoring itself, but each time growing dimmer.
And as if he knew the next gust of wind would take her final breath, he
turned back towards Deanna's body. Taking a deep breath of the stale moist
air, he plunged the baxu into Deanna's heart, fell to his knees, and watched
her blood weep into the earth below her.

The room started to shake, streaks of crimson lights crept through the
temple walls as though they too were losing their life essence. Three cracks
of angry thunder sounded through the cave, each burst causing one of the
wires that kept Deanna suspended to be severed. He lunged for the body,
breaking it's lifeless fall before it hit the rock below her. The room
became a jumble of sounds, the water bubbled, the flame flickered, and the
crimson light that had bled through the walls, now twisted through the room.
Will turned towards Celestra, still cradling Deanna's body in his arms.
Among the swirls of red, a familiar blue took it's hold on her... The warmth
of Deanna's blood against his chest paralyzed his heart, the crimson lights
weaving him tightly into a smothering web, Celestra's agonizing screams
lashed over his nerves, stealing what was left of his consciousness. His
world darkened, until there was no more.

"Will." He squinted his eyes against the bright light, the forms above him
slowing coming into view.

"Captain...where am I ?" A smile of relief crossed the captains face. "I'm
afraid your lying on the floor of my bridge."

Will struggled past Beverly's determined hold on him. "Deanna!"

"She's fine Will....there bringing her on board right now. At the moment I'm
more concerned about you." She kept her hand firmly on his shoulder to stop
his attempt to stand. He leaned forward on his legs, burying his face in his
hands. "What the hell happened?" He asked, without pulling his hands from
his face.

"Your little lapse into the unconscious came simultaneously with the missile
fire on the Empress's shuttle." Will moved his hands to his stomach, it
churned with an unrelenting wave of nausea.

"The shuttle...Deanna was on the shuttle?!" His heart pounded in his ears,
he felt the sweat forming on his back. Beverly sent a concerned glance to
the captain before answering Will's concerns.

"It's all right Will....Deanna is fine, miraculously. Unfortunately the
empress Celestra was not so lucky. For some reason the transporters could
not get a lock on her....I'm afraid she's dead."

"What is this place?" Deanna's voice was filled with awe. She looked around
her at the hues of pinks and purples that swirled over a sea of ebony, the
colors broken by a never ending garland of stars that seemed to pulse with

"Eternity." He answered her, reaching deeply into his pocket. He hadn't
talked about what happened to him on the bridge a few weeks ago, but
whatever it had been, her sense of him had changed profoundly. He no longer
challenged his own decisions, nor did she sense he was struggling to make
any. He was pleased with himself, almost ecstatic with his life, but most
importantly, completely at ease with his love for her. Whatever had happened
to him in that instant in time had entirely solidified his commitment to
her. Lowering her eyes to his closed hand, she embraced the voice that
whispered to her.

"In the universe there is no beginning and no end. It spirals with bands of
light and dark, challenging anyone to solve its mystery. Sometimes Imzadi,
mystery's can't be solved...sometimes it's best to take that which we will
never understand and bask in it." She could hear the intense emotion
creeping over his words, and see it glistening in the azure oceans of his

Dropping to his knee, he took a shaky breath. "I spent years trying to solve
the mystery of my feelings for you....i don't know, maybe I wasted years."
He opened his hand to reveal the thin band of gold, it shimmered like the
light of stars above them. "The never ending circle of this ring, and the
infinite garland of stars that shine above us, are my offerings to you. As
sure as I am that neither of these things will ever end, I am more sure of
my love for you." Looking into his misted eyes, the promises of the heavens
shined within them. "I guess what I'm trying to say is..Will you marry me,
Deanna Troi?" As he slipped the ring on her delicate finger, she nodded
through her tears. Raising up to sweep her in his arms, he whispered into
her ear. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry it took me so long." Not willing to release
the warmth of his body pressed against hers to answer him, she sent her
answer to his regret. <It's all right imzadi.....we have an eternity to make
up for it.> Whether he had an eternity, or only an instant....Will Riker
didn't care, he was satisfied, his entire world was held safely in his arms.