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Author's Notes
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20


Jean watches in silence, careful to copy Ororo's movements precisely as they minister to Rogue's body. She understands that the small piece of bark in her mouth is to protect her spirit, and tries not to gag at the bitterness. Professor Xavier's psi-link has provided a quick initiation of Baoule culture and traditions. In moments, Jean is submerged in a ritual decades old as easily and completely as if she were born to them.

Ororo carefully cuts a single lock of Rogue's hair. Jean delicately removes a bit of fingernail. In true Baoule ceremony, these would be used to determine why she had died. Storm lifts her hands to the heavens, summoning cool rains to wash over and purify their bodies. Rogue's skin and hair are carefully cleansed with a fragrant mixture of herbs and roots, before being thoroughly dried.

I am sorry I could not protect you, little one.

Robes woven of the softest cotton are slipped onto her body, traditional gifts presented by the friends of the departed. Ororo fastens a thick, gold collar around Rogue's neck. Dozens of thin, gold circles are slipped onto her wrists and ankles. Jean, as her gift, adds a pair of gold and ruby earrings. They both quickly prepare her hair in several tiny braids, weaving in gold bands and nainglaiman beads among the strands.

A moment of silence.

Perhaps, if I were the goddess men believed, you would have lived as you were meant to live. You would have been initiated as a woman now, Rochelle. Your mother and I would have shown you the rituals, prepared you for the responsibilities you would assume as a woman of our people. You would have had many children for the village.

Ororo's throat tightens as tears slip to her cheeks.

As much as you have been my child, so they would have been my grandchildren.

Finally, Ororo reaches for the pot of white kaolin paste. She accents Rogue's face with an intricate pattern of bold, dotted lines. She follows this with simplified streaks of white on Jean's face. Then, handing the paste to Jean, allows her own face to be ritually marked.

From a small pottery jar, Ororo strokes perfume on all three of their bodies. Jean flinches at the sudden feel of the cold liquid against her skin. Her discomfort vanishes as she inhales the exotic spices. The scents evoke thoughts, strong enough to be memories, of distant savannahs.

She can almost feel the thundering earth beneath her feet from a stampede. After weeks of drought, welcomes the taste of cool water as a godsend. Senses the pure joy of stepping from burning sands to sparse grasslands. With a start, Jean realizes that these are memories, not her own, but another's. Ororo's. Although she senses no anger from her companion, Jean carefully dampens her psychic power.


Continued in Chapter 16


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