"You're not nervous, are you, Imzadi?" Her lips turned up ever so slightly, Deanna Troi turned her luminous eyes on her fiancé.
Will Riker cleared his throat and ran a finger around the inside of his uniform collar. "Nervous? About telling your mother that we're getting married? Me?" He allowed his voice to squeak just a little; his reward was to see Deanna's smile broaden into a laugh.
Although Deanna maintained her offices aboard the Enterprise -- she still needed a place to consult patients, after all -- they had moved into the same quarters not long after the mission to the Briar Patch. Deanna had pretended not to notice the collective sigh of relief from senior staff members, nor the captain's avuncular amusement. Will pretended that he didn't know about the various wagers being settled amongst the crew.
They were in love, again, after more than a decade spent within touching distance of one another. They couldn't be bothered with what other people thought.
"Picard to Riker," Will's communicator said.
He tapped the device. "Riker here."
"We are entering standard orbit over Betazed, Commander," the captain informed him. "You and the Counselor may beam down at your leisure."
"Thank you, Captain. We're just headed for the transporter room now."
"Good luck, Commander," Picard said. "I do not envy you."
Out of deference to the captain, Deanna contained her mirth. Usually the soul of courtesy, he would be embarrassed that his indirect criticism of Lwaxana Troi had been overheard by her daughter.
"Thanks, Captain. I'm hoping Deanna can keep her from killing me on the spot," Will replied. "Riker out." He grinned at his fiancée and gestured toward the door. "Shall we?"
Deanna merely shook her head and exited their quarters. Although she would have loved to take his hand as they walked through the corridors of the Enterprise, despite the bags slung over their shoulders they were both in uniform and technically on duty until they materialized on the surface of Betazed, so they merely walked companionably close. The happiness they radiated was infectious; everyone they passed smiled at them.
The transporter tech was waiting for them, with coordinates already programmed. "Have a good leave, Commander, Counselor," she said.
"Thank you, Janet," Deanna said, rescuing Will, who clearly did not recognize the relatively new ensign.
They stepped onto the transporter platform and Will winked at the ensign. "Energize."
The ancestral home of the Fifth House of Betazed was a huge mansion. While Riker would normally have considered it too huge a home for a single person -- with or without manservant -- to occupy, Lwaxana Troi's overwhelming personality made the house seem far too small to contain the four of them for the next few days. In other words, Riker was not looking forward to spending that much time in such close quarters with his prospective mother-in-law, which was ridiculous, since he'd spent time with her aboard the Enterprise. But aboard the Enterprise, he had the excuse of duty to escape her attention, and without that excuse, he didn't think the entire planet of Betazed was large enough.
You're going to have to do better than that, Imzadi, in order to convince me that you're not nervous. Though her expression was neutral, Deanna's telepathic voice was amused. Riker thought it very unfair.
"I suppose we'd better get this over with," he said. "After all, it's not like she doesn't already know."
"True enough," Deanna agreed aloud. She had sent a subspace message to her mother the morning after his proposal and her acceptance. The reply had been short and sweet: About time, too. Come to Betazed for the betrothal.
Riker squared his shoulders and they stepped up onto the porch together. The door swung open at their approach, not due to automatic sensors, but to Lwaxana's tall and skeletal manservant.
"Hello, Mr. Homn," Deanna said as they entered. Her voice echoed slightly in the huge marble entrance hall. Mr. Homn nodded gravely. "Where is Mother?"
Lwaxana's voice boomed out from above, sparing the normally silent Mr. Homn from the necessity of replying. "I'm here, Little One."
Riker was, fortunately, too well-trained in diplomacy to wince at the volume. It appeared that Deanna's mother had not changed at all since the last time he'd seen her.
She posed momentarily at the top of the stairs, then swept down them, wearing a sumptuous gown that was certainly in keeping with her status as Keeper of the Sacred Chalice of Riix and the Holy Rings of Betazed, but was, perhaps, a little overdone for this hour of the day. Still, that was Lwaxana; in her view, things weren't worth doing if they weren't worth overdoing by more than a trifle. She managed to make him feel shabby in his neatly-pressed uniform, though. He sighed silently, beginning to wish for his dress whites.
Deanna's sigh was a little louder. "Mother. Don't you think I'm a little old to be called 'Little One'?"
"Nonsense, my dear. I am your mother and to me, you will always be the child whose skinned knees I kissed." She gave her daughter a quick peck on the cheek in passing, and swept right up to Riker, her gown rustling as she took his arm and tugged him toward her sitting room. "My dear Commander Riker! Or perhaps I should call you William?"
"Will is fine, Mrs. Troi," he said, throwing a glance over his shoulder at Deanna. She shrugged and rolled her eyes at him and followed.
He was surprised to see that Mr. Homn and their bags had already vanished.
The sitting room was far smaller than the entry hall, comfortably furnished, and quite possibly Riker's least favorite room ever. The last time he'd talked to Lwaxana in it had been … unpleasant.
"Now, William," Lwaxana said, pushing him into a seat, "I know we've had our differences in the past, but you really must start to think of me as..." she faltered momentarily, but continued gamely, "...your dear old mum."
Will, no longer young Lieutenant Riker angrily confronting his new love's mother, smiled at the image. "I'll do my best, Mrs. Troi."
"Please. Call me 'Mother.' Or 'Lwaxana.' But 'Mrs. Troi' is simply too formal for family."
"Differences, Mother?" Deanna said gently, taking a chair of her own. "I believe you once told him that if he ever came near me again, you'd have him drummed out of Starfleet the following day."
"Yes, well, you can't believe everything you hear, Little One." Lwaxana smiled at Riker again. "I'm just happy that the two of you are happy."
Deanna held her tongue, because for once, her mother really was happy. Lwaxana was an extremely difficult woman, partly because she made no bones about how she felt. If she disapproved about something, every being within five parsecs knew about it. And she had loathed the idea of William T. Riker having anything to do with Deanna. But that was decades ago, before Deanna had even finished university or thought of joining Starfleet, when she had still been promised to Wyatt. Now there was little doubt in Lwaxana's mind that they were right for each other, as she had made plain to her daughter from the instant they'd arrived on the planet.
What remained, then, was just a game that Lwaxana was playing with Riker, and Deanna was inclined to play along -- for now -- since her mother was so enjoying being the formidable mother-in-law.
Later, in their suite, Deanna and Will undressed in silence, both not surprisingly exhausted. Dealing with Lwaxana Troi could be described -- when one was feeling most charitable -- as tiring. As she hung her dinner gown in the closet (at Lwaxana's insistence, they had changed from their uniforms), Deanna glanced around their opulent suite. "I don't think anyone has been in this part of the house since my father died."
"It certainly is a long way away from the dining room," Will said. He'd been beginning to wonder if they should contact Planetary Transport when Mr. Homn had finally opened the door and silently beckoned them through. "This house is bigger than some palaces I've been in."
"Imagine growing up here," Deanna said. "I got lost more than once, though it never lasted long. Mother has a way of finding people when she wants them."
"So why did she stick us all the way out here, then?" Will plumped up his pillows and sat on the edge of the bed, testing it. "Very nice," he said approvingly.
"Nothing but the best for the daughters of the Fifth House of Betazed," Deanna said, smiling. She climbed into the bed and laid her head on Will's shoulder. "In answer to your question, it's her way of giving us a little privacy."
"What, she can't hear us out here?"
"Not physically, no," Deanna said.
"Not . . . physically."
Deanna answered Will's implied question. "Of course she can hear us telepathically if she wishes; my mother is one of the most powerful telepaths on the planet. As you know. However, in a telepathic society, one quickly learns to turn a deaf inner ear to others when necessary. I assure you, she's not listening to us right now."
"Really?" Will smiled archly. "So she wouldn't object if I kissed you?"
Deanna gave the matter some thought. "No, I don't believe she would." She shifted so that he could reach her lips. He leaned over and kissed her.
"What about if I did this?" He kissed her neck. "Or this?"
Deanna's answer was a little breathless. "I think it would be perfectly safe to do that, yes."
After that, they were a bit too busy to worry about Lwaxana.
It seemed to Riker the following morning as though Lwaxana's smile at breakfast was a little too knowing. "Did you have a good night, William?"
He glanced at Deanna before he answered, but her face gave nothing away. "Yes, Lwaxana. The guest room is very comfortable."
She arched an eyebrow. "And the bed's not too lumpy?"
"Not that I noticed."
"Good. Very good." She smiled and sipped from her tea. And you, Little One? Did you have a good night?
You weren't supposed to be listening, Mother.
Oh, Little One. You know better than that. Besides, you were both making a lot of noise.
Riker pretended not to notice the flush creeping across his fiancée's face, nor the smirk on her mother's. "So, what's involved in this betrothal ceremony?"
Lwaxana put her cup down. "Oh, don't worry, William. You're not expected to be naked at this ceremony, so you have plenty of time to get buffed up before the actual wedding."
"Oh, please, Deanna. You know that's what he was thinking as well as I do. It's what all men think. Except Deltans and Orions. They're far too busy chasing after their own women to worry about other cultures. And you don't need to worry about a diet, my dear. He likes you just the way you are."
"Mother!" Deanna said, again.
"Well, he does. And you should be grateful for it."
"The ceremony, Mother," Deanna reminded her.
"Oh, yes. It's really very simple, Wiliam. Basically, it's just a petition to the gods to allow the two of you to mate and and bear strong children. It's a very old and very outdated tradition," she said critically. "Still, one should not fly too often in the face of tradition."
"Besides," Deanna added, "it gives you a chance to haul out the Sacred Chalice and the Holy Rings." She turned to Riker. "The original function of the daughters of the Fifth House was as high priestesses. Which explains why Mother keeps sacred relics of Betazed's past in a closet."
Lwaxana shrugged. "As you yourself once observed, Little One, the Sacred Chalice is just a moldy old clay pot, and it doesn't go well with the decor."
"The Holy Rings are rather pretty, though," Deanna said.
"Yes, but not exactly useful."
"I take it that I'm going to be seeing these sacred relics soon?" Riker said.
Lwaxana nodded. "The ceremony involves drinking from the Chalice and wearing the Rings."
"We have to drink from a 'moldy old clay pot'?"
"It's not too moldy," Lwaxana said. She sipped her tea. I wonder if Mr. Homn knows of any way to get that mold out.
Deanna's peal of laughter rang through the room, but she wouldn't explain to Riker the cause of her merriment.
The betrothal wasn't scheduled until the last day of their leave; in the intervening days, Deanna and Will spent time exploring Betazed and visiting Deanna's friends. Will found the interlude surprisingly pleasant; Lwaxana was apparently doing her absolute best to be unobtrusive. He found himself surprised and grateful.
The day of the ceremony dawned with a blazing sky; as the sun rose, dark clouds on the horizon were transformed from grey into all the shades of flame. Crimson centers were limned with gold. Will and Deanna watched, speechless, as the sky went through its transformation, but as the sun popped up and was promptly lost in the black clouds, Will murmured something about red skies at morning.
That afternoon, one of Betazed's wicked storms closed in over the city. No matter where they went in the spacious house, the deep growling of the thunder and the drumming of the rain followed them. Several times, lightning struck within the grounds, producing catastrophic crashes of thunder and momentarily dimming the lights.
Riker straightened the collar of his traditional Betazoid suit. "Why are there no sleeves on this thing?"
"You'll see," Deanna said. She held up a necklace. "Would you help me with this?"
Riker crossed the room and took the necklace. She turned her back, holding her hair out of the way. He took the opportunity to kiss the back of her neck.
She shivered. "Don't do that."
"It tickles. Besides, we'll be late."
"Who cares?" He nuzzled her again.
She craned her neck around and looked at him. "Do you want to explain to my mother why we're late to our own betrothal ceremony?"
"Sure. She doesn't scare me."
Deanna laughed. "Liar. Come on. We're going to be late."
Riker sighed and fastened the necklace around Deanna's lovely neck. "Spoilsport."
She looked in the mirror and nodded in satisfaction at her reflection. The red of her simple, sleeveless gown complimented the rich brown of Riker's suit. Her hair was loose, her only ornament the golden necklace she now wore, the pendant -- the emblem of the Fifth House of Betazed -- hanging becomingly low. Riker found his eyes were drawn there….
She was laughing at him again; he had the feeling that she had called his name more than once. She took his hand and led him out of their suite to the mansion's great front hall. Through the wide windows they could see the solid curtain of rain falling from the black sky. As they watched yet another lightning spear struck the ground, so close that the crashing thunder rolled over them before the light had faded.
"We can't go out in this," Riker said over the noise. "We'll get soaked instantly."
"Don't worry. I've made arrangements."
Riker turned to find Lwaxana posed on the staircase exactly where she had stopped the day before. He reflected that she must have chosen that spot precisely because it showed her off so. Though he quickly squelched the thought, she smiled knowingly at him. Although she had assured him that the betrothal ceremony would take place with all the participants fully dressed, her stark white gown was so plain that for Lwaxana, she was practically unclothed. A golden circlet was threaded through the curls on her head and like Deanna, she wore the emblem of the Fifth House around her neck, though hers was more a chestpiece than a necklace, with the emblem picked out in gems on a background of beaten gold. Riker wondered idly what the Ferengi daimon would have thought had Lwaxana been wearing that when he snatched her so many years ago. Captain Picard might not have gotten her back so easily.
"Mr. Homn? If you would, please?"
Mr. Homn nodded and solemnly handed a clear wristband to both Deanna and Will. A similar band already encircled his own wrist. Lwaxana swept up and collected hers. "Transport locators," she explained, clamping hers around her wrist. "As a daughter of the Fifth House, I'm entitled to call upon the planetary transport system when necessary."
Riker privately suspected that even if she weren't a daughter of the Fifth House, the redoubtable Lwaxana would have managed to get access to the planetary transport system. He put the band on, and moments later, felt the familiar tingle of the transporter effect.
They materialized in the portico to Betazed's Great Temple. The storm had not yet advanced quite so far; looking beyond the great fluted columns, they could see the the storm front, a heavy line of boiling, black clouds lit from within by strobing lightning, crawling across the city. Deanna shivered a bit; she hadn't been on-planet for one of these awful storms for years and she had managed to forget their fury. Though Will's face wore a look of nonchalance, she could feel his awe as he watched the approaching front.
"We should get inside," Lwaxana said, as a gust of wind swirled about the portico, tangling the women's skirts around their ankles. Mr. Homn, carrying the cases in which the Holy Rings and Sacred Chalice resided, opened the door and held it for Lwaxana to sail through, followed by Will and Deanna, who cast a dubious glance back over her shoulder at the storm.
The Great Temple of Betazed, which occupied a position in the Betazoid religion similar to that of St. Paul's Basilica in the Catholic religion of Earth, was stunning in its simplicity. Originally a simple rock temple built to enclose the holy spring of Betazed's Great Goddess Riix, it had been gradually added to over the centuries until a huge hodge-podge of a building had stood there. Then, centuries ago, a ruler of the First House ordered the whole structure disassembled and rebuilt as a single building, with a rotunda surrounded by a number of small chapels, the whole accessible from all sides by the wide portico that ran on all five sides of the building. As much of the original building materials as could be salvaged was used in the rebuilding so that the new Temple was still an accumulation of the old. There were other temples, of course, just as there were other priestesses, but this was the first, and here was where the worship of the Great Goddess had begun in Betazed's prehistory.
"Surely all betrothal ceremonies don't take place here," Will murmured, pitching his voice for Deanna's ears alone, in an attempt to minimize the echoes all that polished stone would create.
"No, of course not," she whispered back. "Most of them don't even take place in a temple at all. However, the first officer of the Federation's flagship and the heir apparent of the Fifth House do rate a little bit of...." Her voice trailed off as she considered the word she wanted to use.
"Flash?" Will suggested. "Ceremony? Pomp? Grandeur?"
"Pomp will do," she said, "though I think you'll find it a bit simpler than that." She took his hand and led him up the aisle after Lwaxana's retreating back.
Lwaxana stopped directly under the center of the dome. At her feet a staircase began and spiraled down into darkness. "This," she said to Will, "is all surface stuff -- literally. The true sanctuary is beneath us." A light suddenly bloomed in the stairwell. "And Petrix must be ready for us." She looked sternly at Will for a moment. "Since you're a Starfleet officer, William, I don't need to remind you that this place is important to all Betazoids, even those who don't take their religion seriously, and you should conduct yourself accordingly."
Will nodded. "I'll behave myself, Lwaxana," he said, at the same time as Deanna mentally reprimanded her mother. We're both Starfleet officers, Mother.
Yes, Little One, but you are Betazoid and you understand.
Lwaxana gathered her skirts and preceded regally down the stairs. Deanna sighed and followed, Will behind her. Mr. Homn, still carrying the sacred regalia, brought up the rear. About halfway down, they became aware of the musical sound of falling water.
The genius of that long ago ruler was shown when they walked through a rude archway of stone into a smallish cavern, well-lit by flickering torches. High up on the back wall, clear water poured from an opening, cascading into a stone basin and pooling there before flowing through a stone channel and out through a wall. A small stone altar stood to one side of the basin. The underground river eventually surfaced several miles away and became the Riixsta, one of Betazed's largest rivers. The rock walls were decorated with many carved representations of Riix, worshiped in this place as the Mother of Waters.
Waiting behind the altar, clad in a simple white suit of the same cut as Will's, was an elderly Betazoid. His face crinkled in a smile. "Lwaxana, welcome. It has been too long since we've seen you here."
"Don't scold, Petrix," Lwaxana replied, more quietly than Will had ever heard her speak. "You remember Deanna, of course, and this is her intended, William Thomas Riker."
Petrix held her arms wide and Deanna hugged him. "It's good to see you again, child."
"And you, uncle," she said fondly.
He shook Will's hand. "A pleasure to meet you, sir. I have heard stories about you."
Will grinned. "Nothing horrible, I hope."
"You made quite a name for yourself when you were here before, my boy," the elderly priest said, referring to Will's brief stay on Betazed more than twenty years before. "I'm glad that you two children have found one another again. Let's to business, shall we?"
Mr. Homn stepped up to the altar and Lwaxana opened the cases he was carrying. The Holy Rings, five golden armbands with the emblems of the Five Houses in gems, as well as some abstract designs that looked to Will rather like circuitry, she laid on the altar in a certain order. The Sacred Chalice of Riix, a simple fired clay urn free of decorations with two large handles, she filled with water from the spring and set on the altar. Then Mr. Homn bowed gracefully to the altar and stepped back with the cases while Lwaxana joined Petrix on the other side.
"Come forward, my children," he said to Deanna and Will.
The ceremony was as simple as Deanna remembered from her friend Chandra's betrothal so many years before. She had first met Will at Chandra's wedding, and oh, how she had disliked him. It was funny how things worked out.
Petrix stood opposite Deanna and Lwaxana stood opposite Will. Priest and Priestess took the hands of the people opposite them and, invoking the four cardinal virtues of Betazed (Loyalty, Courage, Honor, and Truth), clasped the Holy Rings on their wrists. The fifth ring, that of Love, was first fitted over both Will's wrists by Lwaxana, then Deanna's by Petrix. When it came into contact with each of the preceding Rings, they began to glow softly. The golden light stayed steady for a moment, then slowly faded as the Fifth Ring was returned to the altar.
Then Lwaxana filled the chalice and Petrix blessed the water and offered it to each of them. Deanna, transported back to a time when she had studied the Mysteries of the Betazoid religion, drank deeply and passed the chalice to Will.
He sipped hesitantly, but finding the water cool, clear, and above all, free of mold, he, too, drank deeply.
Petrix then commended them to the Great Goddess and blessed their mating and any children that should be born of it, and that was it. Deanna and Will were now betrothed by Betazoid standards.
"I trust you'll both be returning here for your wedding," Petrix said, glancing slyly at Will, who had played too much poker in the years since his first visit to Betazed to be caught by such a jab.
"We haven't decided yet," Deanna said.
"Nonsense," Lwaxana declared. "You're a daughter of the Fifth House of Betazed. Of course you'll be married here."
"I don't know if my father can make the trip," Will said. He started to draw the Holy Rings off his wrists, but Deanna's hand stopped him.
"Leave them on for a while," she said. "There are mystical reasons. And perhaps we can have two weddings, one here and one on Earth. Or perhaps aboard the Enterprise, since so much of our family is there. That would solve a number of logistical problems. Would that be acceptable, Mother?"
"Eminently acceptable, Deanna."
"Quite clever, Counselor," Will said, smiling softly at her.
"Thank you, Commander," she replied. As she pushed her hair back from her face, the band on her wrist gleamed.
When they reached the surface, they found that the full fury of the storm had descended on the city; the echoing thunder was so loud in the rotunda that conversation was impossible.
Is transport in this safe? Deanna wondered.
Don't worry, Little One, Lwaxana replied. There has never been a transporter accident on Betazed.
If you say so, Mother. I'd still feel better going back by car; it doesn't matter if we get soaked now.
Don't be ridiculous, Deanna. We'll be perfectly fine. Lwaxana signaled transporter control.
Transport began in a cascading tingle, but almost immediately Deanna knew that something had gone wrong. There was an actinic flash, an agonizing pain, and then darkness.
Deanna woke sprawled on the Great Temple's floor with her mother's voice screaming her name in her head. She sat up slowly and looked around, but she was alone. Her head pounded in time to her mother's screams and she felt as though she'd been kicked by an elephant and then run over by...something even larger.
The storm was still pounding at the Temple, so she didn't hear Petrix come running up to her.
Deanna! he said. Are you all right?
She nodded, instantly regretting the motion. She pressed a hand to her forehead, but the pounding did not cease. "I think so," she answered, but realized that she couldn't hear her own voice over her mother's shouting which seemed even louder than the booming thunder. Petrix, however, understood what she was trying to say because he patted her hand and helped her to her feet. Mother! Please be quiet for a moment.
Oh, Little One! You're all right! Where are you?
I'm at the Temple, Mother. Why? Where are you?
At home. Is William with you?
Deanna looked around, but she already knew that she was alone except for the aged priest. Petrix, is Will here?
He shook his head, his eyes widening. No, child. You and I are the only ones here.
He's not here, Mother. He's not with you?
No, Little One, and I can't find him!
A chill settled over Deanna. Imzadi, she called. Imazdi? IMZADI!
But there was no reply.
By the time Deanna arrived home in the car that Petrix had summoned for her, Lwaxana had contacted Transport Control and determined what had happened. Just at the moment that transport had been initiated, the building that housed Transport Control had been struck by lightning. Normally, that wouldn't have been a problem, as the building was shielded and any number of redundancies and safeguards were built into the system. This, however, had not been a normal seasonal storm, but the worst on record, and there had been three simultaneous lightning strikes on the sprawling government building. Although the transporter techs had done their best, they had lost control of the transporter. Lwaxana and Mr. Homn were safely delivered to the Troi home. Deanna rematerialized at the Temple. But Will Riker was lost.
Lwaxana delivered the news to Deanna in her sitting room. She sat next to Deanna on a couch, holding her hand, both still clad in their betrothal finery.
"The pattern buffer?" Deanna asked dully.
"I'm sorry, Little One. They lost the buffer. The transporter platform itself was melted; the lightning followed all the circuitry it could find. Everything is gone. The whole planetary transport system had to be shut down." Lwaxana's voice was the gentlest that she'd ever heard it, and Deanna knew that if she didn't do something right now, she'd start screaming and never stop.
"The Enterprise is due back to pick us up tomorrow," she said. "Surely there's something they can do. Geordi and Data could...."
"Deanna," Lwaxana said. "Oh, Little One, I'm so sorry. He's gone, my dear."
"No!" Deanna shouted. "Don't say that, Mother! He is not gone. He can't be gone!" She jumped up and ran for the suite at the far end of the house, practically bouncing off Mr. Homn who had come to the door to see what all the shouting was about.
He glanced inquiringly at Lwaxana, but she shook her head. "No, Mr. Homn. Let her go."
Deanna dug through the closet and found her communicator. She activated it. "Troi to Enterprise," she said sharply. The communicator chirped, but there was no other response. The ship was still too far out of range. She threw the communicator across the room; it bounced off the wall and came to rest on the carpet, but by that time, Deanna was already lying across the bed sobbing. She reached out with her mind for Will, but there was only an aching emptiness where, two hours ago, he had been. Oh, Imzadi. How could we have been so close to one another for so long, found one another again, only for me to lose you now? It's not fair! Do you hear me, Riix? It's not fair!
She brandished her fist at the ceiling, knowing even as she did it that it was a silly, melodramatic gesture, but it made her feel strangely better. Her gaze was caught by the Ring still clamped about her wrist.
It was glowing, as was its mate. She ran her fingers dispiritedly over the two Rings she wore; the glowing was no doubt caused by the extreme atmospheric conditions. Data could probably tell her the exact cause. She let her arm fall and lay on her back staring at the ceiling. Eventually her eyes closed, her breathing deepened and she slept.
She found herself floating in a golden haze. Here and there were random jewel-toned flashes of light -- ruby, emerald, sapphire, amethyst. The atmosphere was calm, tranquil. She was pervaded by a deep sense of peace.
In the distance, a familiar, ever-so-slightly crook-shouldered figure in a rich brown suit walked away from her. Golden armbands encircled his wrists.
"Will," she called, trying to move toward him, but finding herself unable. "Will!"
He gave no sign that he heard her, but his forward momentum seemed to slow.
Symbols suddenly appeared in the haze. From her childhood studies, Deanna recognized the symbols of the Five Houses of Betazed. The emblem of her own house floated toward her, coming closer and closer, until it passed into her. She briefly felt a surge of energy. Other symbols came close and she recognized the Virtues that had been invoked in the betrothal ritual: Loyalty, Courage, Honor and Truth. The symbols joined and were surmounted by the last symbol, Love.
They danced around her, whirling until she could no longer distinguish them one from another. Through their gyration, she saw Will, still with his back toward her. As she watched, the glow from his armbands brightened until he disappeared into the light. One last symbol appeared to her, and then she abruptly woke to the darkness of deep night.
Mother! she called, without regard to the hour. Mother, where's the Fifth Ring?
The Fifth Ring, when a night gown-clad Lwaxana pulled it out of its case, also glowed. Mute for once, she handed it to Deanna who cradled it, sensing the a tie to her lost Will.
"What do I do, Mother?"
"The Rings are purely ceremonial," Lwaxana said shakily, "or so I've always been told. My mother never told me about anything like this when she passed them on to me."
"I need Data," Deanna said. "Data would know. Think, Deanna." The legend of the Rings said that they bound souls together; that's why they were used in betrothal ceremonies. What if that wasn't legend, but literal truth? She had three of the five Holy Rings. Without removing the two she was still wearing, she examined all three of them closely. She had never really paid all that much attention to them before, but the tracery and placement of the gems on them did sort of remind her of circuitry. She reached out with her mind, delicately probing first one, then the other of the two Rings encircling her slender wrists. She felt a distinct echo of Will, his good humor, his bravery, his deep and abiding love for her. Encouraged, she probed the Fifth Ring, the one that had touched all four of the others, and found such a strong imprint of him there that she almost expected him to speak.
"He's here," she said excitedly. "The Rings have him."
"But there are only three Rings left," Lwaxana objected. "How...?"
"It's magic, Mother, or rather, Clarke's Law -- any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Remember the stories you told me when I was a little girl, about the sorcerers and enchantresses of Betazed's distant past? Before science took hold, when we were a magical, not a telepathic people? The Holy Rings are certainly ancient enough to be pieces of a technology long abandoned by our people in favor of the path we currently follow."
"That's ridiculous, Little One. It's your grief talking." Though Lwaxana's words were sharp, Deanna could feel the hope leaking from behind her mother's tight shielding.
"We need to go back to the Temple," Deanna said.
Petrix had never heard of anything remotely like what Deanna suggested, but he was more than willing to search the archives for her. Entrusting her communicator to Lwaxana with instructions to keep calling until the Enterprise was in range, and get Data and Geordi here -- and probably Dr. Crusher, too -- as soon as they were in transporter range, Deanna descended into the torchlit cavern.
Even as she climbed down the long staircase, she was struck by the similarity of what she intended to attempt to myths from any number of worlds. She hoped desperately that her task would be easier than those of the other prospective seekers who had attempted to bring a loved one back from death.
In the cavern, the glow from the Rings was even more pronounced, filling Deanna with hope. She dipped the Chalice into the sacred spring and invoked the Goddess' blessing as she had been taught as a child, then drank the water, setting the ancient vessel on the altar.
"You can do this, Deanna," she said, lowering herself to the cold floor in front of the altar. She assumed a meditative position and closed her eyes. Slowly, she imposed order on her whirling thoughts and emotions, something she had learned to do before she had even started primary school.
Imzadi. She cast the call into the world, but as before, there was no response. She cast her thoughts wider and wider, spiraling always outward, but there was never any response and she could not find anything of William Thomas Riker.
Her eyes opened almost of their own accord. The Rings on her wrists were still glowing brightly. Was it possible that they were glowing even more brightly? A thought struck her and she reached up behind her and snagged the Fifth Ring off the altar, holding it in her hands. Yes, they were definitely brightler than before, and the light intensified as she brought them closer to one another.
The Betazoids of the past had believed in magic. They had built devices based on those principles. But a shift had come in their culture and their technology had taken a different path. She recalled her thoughts earlier, as she descended into this underground space. Perhaps that was the key. The Rings were meant to bind souls together. Perhaps Will was not without. Perhaps he was within.
She closed her eyes again and reached inward, into herself, while at the same time reaching into the Rings. She could feel him. Imzadi! He was just there, just out of reach, just.... Without realizing it, Deanna removed the Rings from her wrists, putting them together so and so, with the Fifth Ring thus, forming, though she would not know it until later, the final symbol from her dream.
Energy flowed through her, out of her, into the Rings, and she felt Will's hand in hers. Her fingers closed about his; she held on desperately and pulled. There was a flash that was as much sound and taste and smell as sight, and Will's fingers tightened on hers.
She opened her eyes. The first thing she saw was the three Rings, floating before her, the two she had worn floating side by side beneath the Fifth. They settled gently to the floor. Beyond them, lay Will.
"You called?" he said weakly, with a crooked smile.
"Will!" She had time to return his smile before exhaustion pulled her into a dead faint, just as Data, Geordi and Dr. Crusher materialized in the sacred chamber.
"Come on, Will. Wake up, now."
It wasn't the voice Riker wanted to hear, and he considered staying right where he was. Gentle as it was, however, the voice required obedience. He opened his eyes to find Beverly Crusher leaning over him, her worried expression changing to a smile as he focused on her.
"Good morning, Commander," she said. "How do you feel?"
He considered that. His head hurt all the way to his toes, and he seemed to remember a brief -- though terrible -- burning pain. "I'm fine," he said. "Where's Deanna?"
Dr. Crusher pursed her lips at his obvious lie, but, as she pressed a hypospray to his neck, said only, "Deanna's right beside you. She's exhausted, but I expect she'll be waking up any second."
She had obviously given him something for pain because he was able to turn his head without it falling off. He was surprised to find himself in the Great Temple's sanctuary, lying on the rough stone floor.
Deanna's appearance shocked him. She still wore the red gown from the betrothal ceremony, but her hair was draggled, her skin ashen. Deep circles like bruises bloomed under her closed eyes, but he could see that she breathed deeply and regularly. "What happened?"
Dr. Crusher moved to Deanna's side and administered a different hypospray. "There was a transporter accident, Commander. What do you remember?"
He thought he remembered something going wrong with the transporter, a flash like lightning and a terrible pain, followed by a period of drifting in warm, comforting light pervaded by a sense of being close to Deanna. When he mentioned this to Crusher, she nodded and looked over him.
"It would appear that Counselor Troi was able to save your life with the help of these," Data said, moving into his field of vision. In his hands, he held three of the five Holy Rings; Will could feel that the others were still clamped about his own wrists.
"She said to keep them on for a while," he murmured. "It's customary."
"It would appear that custom saved you," Data replied. "When the transporter malfunctioned and the buffer was lost, your essence was caught in the Rings, and Counselor Troi was somehow able to manipulate them to bring your body back into corporeal existence."
"I didn't know she could do that," he said.
"Neither did she," said Lwaxana unexpectedly. "And had the accident occurred after you had taken the Rings off, it is unlikely that she could have. Petrix was able to find some references to the Rings' abilities in the most ancient of the Temple records. Apparently, the ability to use the Rings is a genetic function of the Fifth House."
"Commander," Dr. Crusher said. "She's waking up."
Will turned back to Deanna. Despite the shot that Dr. Crusher had given him, he was not inclined to get up yet, but as he was in touching distance of Deanna, that didn't bother him. Her bruised eyes opened and lit immediately as they focused on him. He felt her touch on his soul and her voice in his mind. Imzadi. You're safe.
Yes, he replied in kind. Thanks to you, Imzadi. And to everyone's astonishment, he leaned over and kissed her soundly.
"Ah, Commander, Counselor," Captain Picard said, as they stepped onto the bridge. "Did you have a good leave?"
Well aware that Picard knew the whole story, Riker spoke for both of them. "Yes, Captain. Educational as well as fun."
Picard smiled faintly. "And you, Counselor?"
"Of course, Captain. It's always good to spend time with family." She took her accustomed seat. "But, still, it's good to be back."
Picard gathered them both close with his eyes. "Seriously, Counselor, Number One, I am glad that things turned out well. When Lwaxana contacted us, we all feared the worst."
"Thank you, Captain," Deanna said.
"She has managed to amaze me ever since we first met," Riker said, while Deanna blushed.
Picard nodded. "Well. Good to have you back, both of you. And, I have some news that might interest you, Number One, which I will relate to you later, about the Titan." He stood and tugged his uniform into place. "Helm, set course for our next destination."
"Course laid in and set, sir."
The helmsman touched his console and the Enterprise leapt forward. As Betazed fell behind them, Will caught Deanna's eye and smiled.