On Minbar, a white-robed figure waited patiently for the water clock's reservoir to fill and the day to become Zhi'Valen, the feast day of Valen. On this day of prayer, fasting, and ritual in this year of the Shadow war, the last of the sealed letter coffers of Valen would be opened.
The aged Minbari female continued to wait patiently as the water dripped through the elaborate and beautiful crystal sculpture. There was a soft chime as the water filled the hour reservoir and it became a new day.
The priestess moved the crystal box from her table to her lap, disengaged the seal, and slid back the lid. Within, as expected, was a small wooden coffer, similar to the others. She offered a prayer that her soul might be purified by the contact with that which Valen himself last had touched.
She opened the lid of the coffer and saw a piece of pale, folded paper. Reverently she lifted it out, handling the thick paper delicately in case the seal had not protected it from time as well as the others had been.
She need not have worried. The paper was still as sturdy as the day it had been shut away. The only thing written on the outside surface was a single word in Adronato: "Entil'Zha".
The priestess beckoned the awed young acolyte to her side. "I have a message you must deliver."
Delenn stared into the candles, seeing nothing and trying to feel nothing. Trying to be nothing. Nothing had no clawing, rending grief. Nothing had no awareness of its own emptiness.
The soft voice had called her before, several times. Nothing decided to come back, a little, and let the pain in. "Yes, Lennier?"
Lennier bowed his head. In his hands he carried a Minbari coffer, of a style which had been popular long ago. A thin cord of light shot through the emptiness within her as the first ember of new hope flared. Could it be?
"A Ranger brought this from Minbar," he told her, and transferred it into her shaking hands. Then, with another bow, he left her there.
She opened the lid and saw the cream-colored paper, printed with the Andronato word "Entil'Zha". One finger traced the writing whose hand she recognized, though the lines were less steady.
She whispered his name, and the word caught in her throat. Until this moment, she had not realized how much she missed him. She brought the letter to her heart and tears filled her eyes, feeling the pain of that loss anew.
He had been so strong, so brave, in her last sight of him. Only when he said goodbye, with a hand to his heart, had she realized he loved her, and that she loved him. Not as she loved John, which was a passion of the heart, but with her soul, purely and freely, as a friend, student, and in the end, her teacher. Being near John felt like coming home--being near Jeffrey felt like finding refuge in a temple as a child. He could protect her and rescue her from taking the wrong path. But she no longer had his guidance or his strength to lean on.
Or did she?
She held the letter in front of her and looked at it a long moment. Then, with delicate urgency, she opened it. At first her eye slid over the small, closely written letters without understanding. The Adronato was clearly written, using the ahil dialect which had been sacred for hundreds of years and taught to only the highest religious caste members. Until this moment Delenn had never realized why ahil was the only dialect of any Minbari tongue which used several words for obscure concepts which had identical sounds and meanings to English words.
It was an absurd thing to think about. She reminded herself to breathe and focus. And she began reading...
"My work now comes to a close. The Shadows are dispersed with only a few of their minions still fighting. Still, the victory is marred by reports of the Wind Sword and Fourth Fane vendetta rising again. I go to them tomorrow to settle this. We have lost so much, yet they want to toss aside everything that we won. I will not permit it. I know that out of this will grow the Grey Council, which will endure when I am gone. The seeds are already planted... I still find it strange to know what the result will be.
"But it is the journey which ultimately matters, not the destination. Without the journey there is no destination. The Vorlons assure me that what must be, will be, and I need only do what is necessary. So I have tried not to arrange matters, but let them grow naturally. I cannot be certain that I have done well, but I have done as best as I can.
"I confess these things to you, Delenn, because I canot speak of them here, to anyone. While I write this, for a short time, I can remember you and the man I was, and a time when the universe was much simpler. I recall when you and I would sit in the garden and speak of nothing more weighty than the following day's diplomatic function. You cannot know how much I treasure those memories of peace, Delenn. For seventy cycles I have had war and death and killing, and the weight of the future. And far worse, the weight of awe.
"When I leave this chamber where I write I must once again be Valen, warleader and mystic, revered by all. I am Valen, and I know what will happen--what must happen to my name and memory. So I accept it. I have no choice, but I do not like that acceptance. I am not a god; I am a man. I am here because there was no one else, but that does not make me more worthy.
"You are no doubt worried now. Do not be. I have not been unhappy. The work has been challenging and fulfilling. What I have helped accomplish will endure for a thousand years, and there is satisfaction in that also. I also found love, which I did not expect. Tialera was for ten cycles my companion, and I loved her. She was warrior caste, the head of the Star Riders, and she died in battle with the Shadows. I had thought that Valen had no children, but that is wrong--our little Valeria has grown into a beautiful young woman. She is a warrior like her mother with a noble heart and will continue the work. She is also headstrong and stubborn, like me, which will also serve her well. I wish you could know her, Delenn. Not the Valeria you know of your time, but as she truly is.
"You and I, Delenn, we have the easier tasks. A war, though bloody and terrible, is at heart a simple thing. We fight or we die. But our children will have to live in the future we leave for them. I have tried very hard to leave Valeria a future of peace.
"All of this has been somewhat beside the point of my letter. I woke from a dream and had to write you again. As I grow older I dream more of your time; sometimes of my past, and other times of the future or perhaps of times which never will come to be. I do not always understand what they mean, but I believe that my soul is readying for its long migration.
"In my dream you were desperately unhappy, despairing. Please have faith, Delenn. John will return."
Delenn gasped as the words seemed to drive a knife into her heart with the shock. She read the words again, and then again. John will return.
The terrible burden of her grief lifted and hope returned like the sun in her heart. Her tears sprang free to roll gently down her cheeks. "Thank you, my friend," she whispered. "You have answered my prayers."
He had reached out nine hundred years into the future solely to give her comfort in this time of need. He had known somehow, and he had answered.
She felt something else stirring in her heart and soul, a return of something she had not even realized she had lost: her faith.
She had believed that she had accepted the fact that her people's greatest religious figure had begun life as a Human. She had believed herself all right with the revelations that Valen's great prophecies of war and darkness to come were nothing more than vaguely written reports of his past. She had thought she accepted the loss of mystery.
Now she realized that she had simply ignored the spiritual questions that were raised by knowing the truth of Valen. The fulfillment of prophecy--the cause--had kept her too busy to discover whether she still believed in more than the cold, unadorned facts. But one person could give her the perspective of steady faith and an untroubled spirit.
She called, "Lennier?"
He came quickly, no doubt worried for her. "Yes, Delenn?"
She raised her head to look at his youthfully earnest, yet wise, face and asked softly, "Tell me, Lennier, have you reconciled the man we knew as Jeffrey Sinclair with Valen? Has it not challenged your faith to know the truth?"
At first he looked surprised by her question, coming as it did out of nowhere, but after a glance to the paper in her hand, he tucked his hands in his sleeves. He regarded her for a long moment in a silence broken only by the hiss of the burning candles and the more distant hum of machinery. When he spoke his tone was marked with the same respect he always had, but there was more than a touch of instruction in his tone.
"How does the truth ever challenge faith? We have always known that Valen was mortal, a Minbari not born of Minbari, and that he came out of nowhere. We have always known that Valen would return, and that his return would mark the new rise of the Shadows and the sundering of all ties he made. Now we know that all these tenets of our faith are true. Did he not defeat the Shadows? Did he not save us in our time of need, unite the castes and create the Grey Council? Valen did all of this, so we honor him as our savior and the greatest of all Minbari. Wherein lies the challenge to faith?"
She could not directly answer the question and lowered her gaze back to the candles. "I tortured him, Lennier. I saw him at his weakest, his most human."
"All of us are tested, Delenn," Lennier answered, and her eyes flew to him at the reminder of the Inquisitor. "Not all rise above that testing. And only a few of the greatest forgive. Minbari tortured Jeffrey Sinclair and killed millions of his people, yet he sacrificed everything, even his humanity, to save Minbari. For that alone, I will continue to direct prayers to him, that his spirit may guide me."
"You shame me, Lennier." She bowed her head again and her eyes fell on the letter. She held it out for him to see. "As does he. He wrote this and had the priests keep it until this moment, simply to tell me that he believes John will return. He knew. How could he know? I want so much to believe, but... the prophecies ended when Jeffrey went back."
"Did they?" Lennier asked. "Are you certain of that, Delenn? There are still many stanzas of the Dream ode which remain unfulfilled, and most of the Letter to Valeria could just as easily be now as two hundred cycles ago. With all respect, I believe you are missing one detail of importance: Ambassador Sinclair transformed so that his outward appearance matched that of his soul. He became part of the universe made manifest, and what he was before should have held little meaning for him. Yet he risked the future to come to your aid."
Her mind awhirl, Delenn murmured, "Thank you, Lennier." He nodded once and left her there with her letter.
Calm again, or as calm as she was going to be, she returned to where she had left off in the letter, but without the previous despair.
"John will return. His destiny is not complete. Destiny can be averted, but I, above all, know that the price for doing that is unacceptably high. The hand of the universe lies heavily on people like us who are in the right place at the right time.
"You are Entil'zha now. I told no one whom I wanted as successor--I knew it would be you. Who else? You started me on my path, Delenn--it seems only right that you follow it. Care for the Rangers, please. I knew them well and they are all special. But do not care for them too much. Remember that they are sworn to live and to die for you. Some must fall if all are to be saved. This will be hard for you, but it must be. It has been hard for me also, but being Entil'zha was a gentle preparation for my work these past cycles.
"I must stop. They will come soon, and I have told you what I must. I believe in you, Delenn. There are few days which I still do not think of you and hope that you are well.
"One last thing. I have given my private journals to the Vorlons for safekeeping. If you ask, the Vorlons will give them to you. I am not certain the Minbari of your time are ready for the true history of Valen. However, the journals also contain the only complete history of the war, which you may need. You may judge who is ready to read them. The Vorlons will continue to keep them, if you do not ask."
The writing changed at the end into English letters as if he had to express himself in his first voice one last time.
"We will meet again, Delenn. With all my love, Jeffrey David Sinclair."
At the very bottom was the stylized initial that marked all of Valen's works.
Delenn refolded the precious letter and placed it in the coffer. Then she turned back to the candles, set her hands into the proper position and sought a meditative trance of healing and peace.
"I ask that John Sheridan live and return to me," she whispered. "If he cannot, I ask that I have strength enough to lead in his absence. I ask that I be allowed to strike at the Shadows and be victorious. I ask all of these things in Valen's name, with Valen's light in my soul." She hesitated only a fraction of a moment, then added, "And I ask all of these things in the name of my friend Jeffrey, with his light in my soul."
With faith once again shining in the crystal of her heart, she knew she could withstand the waiting. And if she were fated to see John again only in the place where no Shadows fall, she knew that Valen would be there too. With an old friend's gentle hands and wise eyes, he would guide her to where John waited.