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::As she always did before going into battle, T'Lara thought of her loved ones. Would she see them again? Would they float a small wooden bier down the Jlaran River for her in her memory? How would the children fare, her parents, her sisters? What of Russ'lk ... would he love again? Their mental bond told her no, he would not. But T'Lara fought it anyway.::


((Betazed, Two Years Ago, Temple of the Goddess Saraswati))

::The ceremonial drums had called all assembled to enter. A slow, loud procession of drummers had led T'Lara into the large hall, lit only with candles and burning fragrant oils arranged in front of the large alabaster statue of the Goddess. Then, a collection of Betazoid guitars, which sounded like sitars to most humans, joined the drumming to play an ancient piece of ritual music. On one side stood her mother, on the other, her sisters, followed by her daughter, then her son and father. T'Lara and her female relatives were dressed in long, purple colored togas with golden belts, and long capes of a darker purple. Her father and son were dressed in purple robes the same shade as the capes.::

::This was one of the most ancient ceremonies of the cult of Saraswati. One of the most ancient, and one of the least spoken of. The Da'lyn, or Joining of the Mind and Heart. There is very little written about it in the sacred texts. But other, older, and less well known texts, some kept deep within the clans of Saraswati, wrote extensively about the ceremony. The joining of two about to be married. Not in the sense of marriage, as man and wife, but as spiritual counterparts, lovers of the soul, and binded at the heart. This was, at it's essence, the origin of the concept of Imzadi. The musicians, the music, the blend of oils and burning spices, the colors of the candles, all details were lovingly preserved by many of T'Lara's Betazoid ancestors.::

::At the giant marble altar stood the cauldron of fire that burned eternally at the feet of the goddess, symbolizing the eternal fire of life, the strength and heat of passion, and the fire that would guide her children home. Tonight, the fire was strong, the flames shooting high out of the cauldron. The priestess stood directly behind the cauldron, her back facing a wall that was covered with a mosaic of mirrors and glass. The light of the fire reflected off the glass, casting shadows and light all around the room.::

::When she reached the altar, T'Lara and her family bowed to the priestess, and then T'Lara's mother, Larien, guided her daughter to the altar.::

Larien: (translated from Betazoid) We wish for the joining, the connecting of the heart and mind. Our daughter is of age. Let it be, and so be it.

Priestess: This undertaking is an ancient, but cherished, ritual. However, it is not for the weak of heart or mind. T'Lara, daughter of Larien, allow me your thoughts.

::T'Lara opened her mind to the priestess, allowing her access to her most private and innermost thoughts. It was a level of intimacy rarely allowed to strangers.::

::After a moment, the priestess spoke.::

Priestess: T'Lara, daughter of Larien, your thoughts prove you worthy of the Da'lyn. Bring the one to be joined!

::More ritual drums. More Betazoid Guitars. Russ'lk is lead to the altar by his parents. His mother, Saroma brings him to the altar, kisses him on the cheek, and presents him to the priestess. He, too, is dressed in purple robes. The moment he sees T'Lara, he locks his eyes on her with an inpenitrable stare.::

Saroma: This is my son, Russ'lk. Let him be joined, should he wish it.

::The priestess then takes both T'Lara's and Russ'lk's hands into her own. She wraps their hands in a purple altar cloth trimmed with gold.::

Priestess: In the ancient days, our people first discovered their powers of the mind, and they joined with one another in communion and harmony. They joined to share their thoughts, their feelings, and their passions. They joined to protect and defend. They joined to honor the lost and to mourn. Most importantly, they joined to share love, passion and the fire of physical intimacy. They chose one to call Imzadi, the first ... the first of many loves, the first to posses their spirit, the first to reach them at such intimate a level.

::She looked over at T'Lara.::

Priestess: Daughter of Larien, do you desire the joining?

::T'Lara looked at her briefly. Just long enough to answer.::

T'Lara: I do.

Priestess: Son of Saroma, do you desire the joining?

::Russ'lk's eyes never left T'Lara's face.::

Russ'lk: I do.

Priestess: Then let us all meditate upon the joining together. Focus the strength of our abilities, and allow for T'Lara and for Russ'lk to be born to eachother's minds forever and always.

::Many moments of silence, filled only with ceremonial music. T'Lara felt it, as she was sure Russ'lk felt it. They became joined. Her heart became his, his became hers. On many levels, they would be closer than married. The offical marriage ceremony would only seal the joining.::

Priestess: So it is done. Let us all rejoice, in the name of the Goddess.

::T'Lara and Russ'lk kissed. The drums began again ... and he began to speak .. only ... it sounded like ...::

Rhys: T'lara,how long before the Mess'treth gets here?

::She shook her head a bit, allowing the cobwebs of time to dissipate. Looking down, she observed her monitor.::

T'Lara: Less than 30 minutes, sir.

Rhys: That's how long you have. Lieutenant Commander Kirov, attack pattern Zeta

::T'Lara sighed, and said a prayer that Saraswati would hear her and spare them another bloody battle. Starfleet had seen to many of them.::

Commander T'Lara Cha'Stelin
USS Triumphant