Annabeth looked over as Alex packed the last few pieces of clothing into her suitcase.
"Hmm," she said examining the mysterious valise. "Crop tops, sundresses, swim-suits, and sunglasses…well, I can safely assume you're not going to Andoria."
"You know that much at least," Alex said zipping up her bag and walking around the bed to her wife. "Don't tell Scharr, I'm sure he'll be disappointed."
"You secret is safe with me," Annabeth replied adjusting the grey Klingon stole around her shoulders.
"You really have to wear that thing?" Alex said taking a look at the metal crests on either side of Annabeth's chest.
"Apparently, it's important to getting into the mood of the ceremony. Dan seemed very ardent about it."
"Well, just be sure you don't get too in the mood," Alex replied.
"I could say the same thing to you, Babe," Annabeth said with a chuckle. "Bachelorette parties are not exactly renowned for their virtue."
"I'll keep the other girls outta trouble. You can trust me," Alex said putting her arms around Annabeth's neck.
"Have a safe trip," Annabeth replied with a smile before planting a kiss on Alex's lips.
"You too, Beth. This "path of clarity" sounds like a hell of a time, and any voyage with a Klingon is one you have to take with your eyes open."
"Klingons have a bad habit of underestimating me," Annabeth said. "You don't start doing the same."
"How could I?" Alex said grabbing her suitcase and turning towards the shuttlebay. "Every single day with you is an adventure." Suddenly, Alex paused. "Hey, before I go, can you promise me something?"
"Of course," Annabeth said a little surprised.
"I heard what Admiral said about the Venture opening up. If you want it: take it. If you don't want it: don't take it, but don't use us as an excuse again. This ship and this crew are wonderful, but I go where you go, understand?"
"Alex, I really don't want to think about that right now, alright?" Annabeth said softly. "Now, get on that runabout to wherever it is you're going and party your ass off. I'll see you on Bajor in four days. We'll talk after the wedding."
"Ok," Alex said finally heading to the door. "I love you."
"Love you too."
The doctor disappeared out into the corridor and Annabeth found herself alone. She briefly shut her eyes trying to push her career out of her thoughts.
Annabeth Geist had never been this happy in her entire life. She had almost everything all in one place: the woman she loved, an incredible ship, and crewmates who were like family. There was just one thing missing: her command. The idea that she would walk away from the Pershing just to take a chair made her feel more selfish than she ever had before. That kind of ambition and career focus nearly cost Annabeth the woman she loved five years ago. It was only through sheer luck she had gotten Alex back. Still, the desire for that damned chair remained.
"No," Annabeth though to herself. That was for later. Now, she was going to embark on a "spiritual journey" as Daniel had put it. She opened her eyes and looked in the floor length mirror on the far side of her room. She adjusted her Klingon garb one final time.
"Qapla'," she said nodding to her reflection.
Annabeth rounded the corner. Scharr, Phil, and Admiral Murphy were already waiting outside the doors to Holodeck One. They all wore a Klingon stole identical to hers.
"There you are," Murphy said. "Ok, do you have any idea what the hell we're about to do?"
"I have no clue, Sir," Annabeth said shaking her head.
"Well," Phil said shaking his head. "Katie left to the runabout about fifteen minutes ago. She says if she finds any Klingon-scented stripper glitter in my things when she gets back, she's gonna rip my manhood from between my legs."
"Do Klingons even have exotic dancers?" Scharr said as his antennae twitched. "Cause I'm pretty sure they don't have glitter."
"Is this really an appropriate conversation to be having…" Murphy said awkwardly giving Annabeth the slightest of glances.
"Oh please, Sir," she said crossing her arms in front of her chest. "I was single-girl for a long time before I met my wife. I was getting lap dances at the Purple Parakeet along with every guy in my Academy class."
"The Purple Parakeet is still in there?" Admiral Murphy said in shock. "I thought it had to have closed down years ago. I mean, it was dump when I went through the Academy 25 years ago."
"It still is, Sir. But at least it's a classy dump." Phil said.
"Sir, the Parakeet is an institution. They could never close it down," Scharr said. "I mean, they still have James T. Kirk's booth preserved as a memorial."
"Yeah, I might have had my picture taken in it as a Firstie…" Murphy said slightly blushing. "Don't tell my wife."
They all heard the sound of heavy footsteps approaching and turned to see a very serious looking Torlek marching towards them. He had a large grey bottle in his hand.
"Good, you're all here," he said. "Daniel is already inside preparing himself for what lies ahead. Soon, we will join him."
"Ok," Annabeth finally said not able to take the mystery anymore. "What exactly is he 'preparing' himself for?"
"If you choose to go on the journey, all your questions will soon be answered, Annabeth," Torlek replied. "However, I must warn you, that the path to kal'Hyah is a difficult one. It will test us physically, mentally, and spiritually."
Phil and Scharr exchanged glances.
"I'm sorry, kal'Hyah?" Murphy asked.
"In the days before a Klingon man's wedding, he selects his closest male friends to accompany him on the Path of Clarity or kal'Hyah. It is the groom's final chance to purge the urges of youth from his soul.If he successfully completes his journey, he will be ready to become a husband and father. It will be our task to keep Daniel on the path. As difficult as our journeys will be, his will be the hardest of all."
"Sounds like fun…" Scharr said intrigued. Torlek laughed out loud.
"It can be a very pleasurable time, Andorian," Torlek replied. "But, I assure you, the Klingon concept of 'fun' is probably quite different than yours." He turned to Annabeth. "Annabeth, you are cha'Dich to the House of Torlek, and Daniel's Tawi'Yan. It is for this reason he asked for you to join us, but for any female to undertake the journey to kal'Hyah is unheard of, even for a Klingon woman. If you wish, you may leave now with no dishonor to you or your house."
Annabeth glared back at him.
"I wouldn't be much of a cha'Dich if I bailed when Daniel needed me most."
"As you wish, Daughter of Geist. May Glory and Honor accompany you."
Torlek drew his dk'tahg and sliced the cork from the bottle he was carrying. "If you wish to accompany my Brother and me to kal'Hyah," he said looking at each individual present, "Drink now, but once you do, there is no turning back. D'lak DOH!"
He held out the bottle of blood wine to Annabeth. She grabbed it and took a long swig of the powerful spirit. She then handed it to Phil, who drank as well. Scharr grabbed it next.
"Pssh," he said after drinking from the bottle. "On Andoria, we call that baby formula."
Torlek growled, but his eyes smiled at Scharr's confidence.
Murphy was the last to drink. He didn't exactly understand the importance of Klingon mysticism and tradition, but he loved Daniel Tigranian like a brother as much as Torlek. He drank, holding his breath so he wouldn't gag.
"Very well," Torlek said grabbing the bottle back from Murphy. "Let our journey begin!"
The General walked through the doors of the holodeck and the rest followed. As soon as they crossed the threshold, the air was nearly ripped from their lungs by an intense, humid heat.
The four non-Klingons looked around. They were in a cave, illuminated only by torches and a giant bonfire that burned nearly two meters tall in the center. Tigranian sat cross-legged in front of the flames, lost in meditation. They could see the sweat glistening on the back of his neck as he balanced his sword in his lap.
"It must be forty degrees celsius in here!" Phil said already wiping his brow.
"Tren, are you gonna be alright?" Annabeth asked very concerned for the Andorian's health. His species could withstand icy winds and bone chilling cold, but heat like this could kill an Andorian faster than a phaser blast.
"Don't worry about me, Ma'am," he replied as his antennae moved up and down with his labored breathing. "I'll live."
They looked around the rocky cavern.
"Guess, they don't have strippers after all," Phil muttered as the doors closed to seal them inside.
"Guess not," Annabeth muttered in reply. She couldn't take her eyes off the motionless form of Tigranian as the firelight danced around him. He seemed like a different person: dark, angry, and intense. To be honest, it frightened her.
A table overloaded with food from all over the galaxy was next to the wall. It's aroma was intoxicating. Prime Rib and Yorkshire Pudding, Roasted Andorian Ice Eel, Porterhouse Steak, Schnitzel with Mushroom Gravy, krada legs, Rokeg Blood Pie, Bajoran Mapa Bread with clarified butter. Immediately, they all realized that their favorite dish was staring them right in the face.
"At least the chow looks pretty good," Phil said walking over.
"No!" Tigranian yelled as he drove the hilt of his bat'leth into the ground next to him with a loud clang. "Do not touch it," he said climbing to his feet and turning around.
"That food is there as temptation," Torlek said. "To touch it is a sign of surrender and abandoning kal'Hyah. We will not eat again until the morning of the wedding."
"The wedding?" Phil said as his eyes grew wide. "That is four days away!"
"I told you it would be difficult," Torlek said. "It is the first trial we must face: Deprivation." He started walking towards Tigranian.
"The first trial? Phil said trying to conceal his nervousness.
"Just how many trials are there?" Scharr asked.
"Six," Torlek replied over his shoulder. "Deprivation, Blood, Pain, Sacrifice, Anguish, and Death." The proud Klingon took a knee in front of Daniel, his thick black mane already dripping with sweat. He held up the open bottle of blood wine and presented it to the captain. He began to speak in Klingon. The others listened as their universal translators kicked in: "We beseech you, Daniel, Son of Tigranian, as you begin your journey towards a new life with the woman of your heart, the woman who is the air to your lungs and food to your soul, let us journey with you. Let us battle together as one against the temptations of the flesh and reach a new plane of enlightenment where there is only love for the Lady Laria."
"I had no idea Klingons were such romantics," Murphy whispered to Annabeth who was overcome with the beauty and intensity of what she was witnessing in front of her. Suddenly, it made sense. All this crazy Klingon ritual and mysticism actually made sense. Daniel was about to go through absolute hell, not for vain pride, not for glory, but to prove that Laria was the most important thing in his life.
Tigranian reached down and took the bottle from Torlek's hand. He replied to his brother still in tlhIngan Hol.
"If you all would journey with me, it would be my greatest honor. I now dedicate this last drink before I depart to kal'Hyah to my Lady, Laria, Daughter of Amira, just as I will dedicate all things to her for the remainder of my life. May the Hand of Kahless, the Unforgettable, guide us on the path!"
The captain put the bottle to his lips and drank until it was empty. He then turned around and threw the empty bottle into the bonfire with all his strength. It shattered in the flames, sending them roaring towards the ceiling of the cavern.
Torlek climbed to his feet. He faced the fire with Tigranian who drew his bat'leth close to his side. As the General placed an arm around his brother's shoulders, the pair began to sing:
Ka'vek ko lee ko Eh to che mah lo!
Tah oo-wah kah esh to pah deh ah reee!
Yah bosh-ah! Yah bosh-ah!
Yah bosh tomah!
Scharr, Phil, and Murphy all exchanged glances. This was definitely not what they had signed up for, but helping Tigranian was as worthy a cause as any. They looked over to Annabeth, who was still in her daze. She walked over to the edge of the fire to stand next to Tigranian.
As the two warriors returned to the chorus of their anthem, she joined in. She stumbled over the pronunciation of the words, but passion was in her voice. As she stared into the flames, she saw Alex's eyes staring back at her. The trio sang so loudly, their words echoed off the stone walls.
Ka'vek ko lee ko Eh to che mah lo!
Tah oo-wah kah esh to pah deh ah reee!
Yah bosh-ah! Yah bosh-ah!
Yah bosh tomah!