Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"I pledge you my honor, nothing will happen to Tori for at least three days. These things take time to arrange, and much is dictated by ritual. Everything must be done properly, or all will be for naught." He meets Tannr's eyes. "If I speak false, my life is yours, to take as you will."

"If you speak false, you won't die for a long time."

Alise breaks the deadlock. "Why three days? What takes so long to prepare? I fear there is something you are not telling us, M'sieu elfe foncé."

Ghaunt's red eyes meet those of Inari. His face is composed, but his eyes are frantic, trying to find a way out of the pit Alise has dug for him.

Inari sighs. "Out with it, Ghaunt. They have to know sooner or later."

Tannr's eyes lock on Ghaunt's. "Speaking false already?" He puts a hand to his sword hilt and draws it an inch or two out of the scabbard.

"Tannr!" Inari's voice snaps like a lash. "If you draw that blade, your fight will be with me. I leave it to you to calculate the odds."

"Peace, Ambassador." Ghaunt's voice is weary. "When this is over, Viking, if still you want my life, you will have your chance. For now..." - he faces the group - "Ardara will want Tori for one reason and one reason only. She will serve as a gift to Lolth."

"A gift?" Star sounds sick, as though she already knows the answer.

"A sacrifice."

It takes two Riders to drag Tannr away from Ghaunt's throat.

Its early morning, still dark and the searchers are straggling in, hope wearing thin, that Tori will return on her own. As each group comes in they join the others, seated around a large table, discussing what to do next. The atmosphere is heavy as lead, the families' grief palpable, and Tannrs anger at waiting to start doing something was getting the best of him.

Inari looks to Ky'thri who has just joined the group. “I sent for Drai. You and he are the best trackers I know, in this or any realm. Star says Tori left with someone from the front of the Tavern. Ghaunt can tell you where the entrance is, I need that information verified before sending a rescue party..”

Ky nods and turns to leave. Raina grabs her stopping her for a moment, “Shouldnt you wait for your brother?”

Shaking her red curls, Ky then grasps Rainas shoulders and says in almost a whisper. “He knows whats up if Inari sent for him and he can meet me on the way. There is no time to waste if the Drow have her.”

Raina nods and Ky heads out the back door.

Inari stands slowly, her eyes taking in the group gathered around the tables. “I dont have a definite plan, but I do need to say a few basic things before we start. I know this has to be short as many of you are day sleepers. We can start with formal planning this evening, when I expect that Ky and Drai will return. First, under no circumstances can we do anything so rash as to cause war. The other Realms have an uneasy truce with the Drow and we need to keep things that way. There will be no help coming from either the Bright Court or the Dark. Both have other interests at the outer borders at this time. Whatever we have to do has to be accomplished quickly and as stealthily as possible.

“Second, and some of you arent going to like this...” Her gaze lands on Stoney. “None of the gars can enter Underdark, not under any circumstances...”

Stoney starts to stand but Alise gently tugs on his arm, “Let her finish... she would have good reason...”

Ob's eyes flash but he says nothing and Ike is close to tears.

Inari continues, “For some reason this priestess thinks taking a gargoyle is a great accomplishment. She singled Tori out, and took her. Any of you would be a target, and any Drow seeking favor would try. And they all seek favor. Their court is more ruthless than any.... You have families... and are pretty hard to miss... it cannot be risked. But we will need you, no doubt about that...”

“I can get in and out of Underdark undetected. As can the ones of you that are smaller and Fae. A Drow priestess would see right through extensive glamour and we cant risk that. We can hide one...” her gaze lands on Tannr, “maybe two humans or others, thats it.”

As Star listens to Inari describing the Drow an idea starts to take shape in her mind. She runs her fingers through her silver blond tresses and her eyes switch to yellow with curiosity.

Erik watches her and guesses at her thoughts. He leans towards her and says “No! Whatever is going on in that pretty little head, just forget it...”

Ignoring him, Star looks to Rowan. 'Is it possible to dye skin?”

“Well, yes. Do you mean like a sunless tanning lotion?”

Erik stands and repeats “NO!

Continuing to ignore her husband, Star says, “Sort of. Can you make skin dark grey, like the Drow? Maybe with blueberries and ash? That would be about the right shade, I think.”

Rowan nods, “It would be...”

Goddamn it, I said NO!” Erik slams his fist down on the table. There is no way you can do this or that I am letting you do it. If I have to tie you to that chair..”

Star gasps, “You would not dare....”

“You are NOT going... thats final...”

“I am going... and we arent arguing about this...”

Taking a deep breath Erik tries to calm his anger and his voice, aware that the entire group is watching. “Star. Listen to me Princess. You cant go. If something were to happen to you... I cant even think about it... and the children. The children need you... You cant just up and run off to Underdark...”

Stars expression remains set and stubborn. “I am going. Laila can take the kids to the Manse with Alise and her kids. They will be safe there and not a target. I have to do this, I have to. There arent many of us that can pass as Drow. I will be fine... I know it...”

A small noise from Ghaunt takes the attention away from the argument. “She could pass as Drow, if she pretends to be mute. I can say she is my sister or better yet my 'companion'. I am permitted to have a woman under the laws for servants to the priestess'.

A strangled breath is all the sound that Erik can make as he slams the chair in and starts to pace, muttering under his breath.

Tannr looks up, his face filled with rage and hatred, “As if thats supposed to make us feel better? Passing my sister in law off as your whore? And just how far do you plan to take this pretense?”

The suggestion infuriates Star who stands slowly, her eyes flashing between orange and black. “You have no right to suggest such a thing. I would do this for you... and Tori... because I love you both....”

Raina stands, her intention to knock Tannr on his ass, but Tannr stands and goes to his knees in front of Star. “Sister...” his voice chokes and he struggles for control. “I apologize and do not mean to lessen your offer. Its just that... I can not bear to lose any more or for my brother to feel as I do now if something were to happen to you...Please forgive me..”

Tears slipping down her face, Star leans down and wraps her arms around Tannrs neck. “I understand. Theres nothing to forgive. Nothing is going to happen to me. I know it wont. Let me help. Tori would do the same for me..”

Tannr nods and stands and Erik rejoins the group at the table. Just as everyone is about to let go a sigh of relief, Tannr pulls his sword and holds it to Ghaunts throat.

“If anything, and I mean anything happens to her, your head is mine.”

Ghaunt nods slowly and Tannr sheaths his sword and sits. “Where were we?”

Inari nods and the beginnings of a plan start to take shape. “Keon... there must be a waterway into Underdark. Does Mer Cronigh know of it, or the mermaids?”

“Aye, there might be. I will find out.”

Inari continues, “If Keon can get in that way, he is slim enough and dark enough not to attract any attention. Star will be close with Ghaunt and I can go where I will undetected. As soon as Ky and Drai verify the entrance we can have guards positioned there. And we need messengers on the ready. Ghaunt? Any ideas? You should return before you are missed.”

The Tavern is closed, all the lights out except the one here at my table and I'm waiting for the calls to come pouring in, when the front door opens.


"Hi, Jack."

"How'd you get in here? And what are you doing here in the first place?"

She smiles, all done up in Wyldfae haute couture - ankle-length suede boots, that suede loincloth/skirt thing they seem to favor, and a short suede top that falls to just below her breasts. She has a bag slung over her shoulder, probably bristling with weapons.

"Well, I got in with a key. I talked to Pandora when I found out you were going to be staying the night and I told her I'd bring you some munchies later. She gave me a key and her blessing. The new kid's cute, by the way.... Any more questions?"

"Just one. You have munchies?"

"Oh yeah." She sashays over to me, smiling. "You're doing a good thing here, Jack, freeing up our warriors to help in the search. You've earned some... munchies." The way she says the word, I don't think she really means "munchies".

"I'm not a warrior, Ky. This is something I can do without hurting myself or anyone else - and like you said, it frees up the warriors to do the hazardous stuff."

She sits on the table in front of me. "Not a warrior? You killed a kahligar. Do you know how few of my people can boast that?"

"Just luck."

There's a wicked grin on her face, a glint in her eyes. "Well, you're about to get lucky again, Mr. Stone." She hikes her skirt up around her waist, spreads her legs and tugs her thong to one side. "Come and get it...."

You don't have to tell me twice...!

I lower my mouth to her wetness - and yes, she's already wet - and lick. She moans throatily, leaning back to give me better access, and I ease a finger inside her, lapping at her juices, spreading them over her swollen clit. Her ass is jerking up and down, her hand on top of my head, pushing me tighter into her pussy. I hope Ob and Pandora's room is soundproof, because Ky decidedly isn't. I take her clit between my lips and suck and she bounces some more, her legs coming up around my neck, drawing me deeper still. "Ooooh, yes, Jack! Goddess, eat me! Eat that hot little pussy!" I add a second finger, stretching her tighter and nip at her clit gently. She jerks and moans and wails, bouncing steadily now... if I wasn't functionally immortal, I'd worry about her snapping my neck with those legs.

I wet a third finger with her juices - her wailing goes up a notch - and tease her asshole with it, just a little, just the smallest probe... "Damn, yes, Jack, do it!" - and I slide it inside her ass, continuing to lap and suck at her pussy while I finger-fuck her back and front.

She gives a Wyldfae war-cry - or maybe just a regular scream - and drenches my face, holding me in place till I've teased the last shivers out of her. It takes her a minute to recover; then she sits up and grins at the sight of my face. "Mmmmm... that was nice... I'll have to tell Raina about you." She scoots off the edge of the table and stands. "Come here and kiss me, Jack... touch me...."

She tastes herself on my mouth while I glide my hands over her soft skin, under her top, cupping her breasts, pinching and teasing her nipples.... The kiss is long and deep and nothing I'd ever have expected from Ky... then again, I'd never have expected any of this from Ky.

Her hands are at my belt; then she unsnaps and unzips my jeans, tugging them to my knees. "Sit down, Jack," she whispers. "I'm feeling hungry...."

Somehow I find the chair without falling over. and sit. Ky goes to her knees, gives me an amazing smile. "Just lie back and enjoy, big man...." She places hot little kisses all along my throbbing shaft, then glides her tongue slowly up the underside, flicking along my length. Her smile is wickedness incarnate when she reaches the head. "Deep breath...." she says. I do as she says, then lose it all as she plunges deep, taking my full length in her mouth, holding it there for a second, then swallowing me deep. The muscles in her throat pulse around my hardness as she swallows, over and over, her nails tracing lightly up my thighs, caressing my balls. The smile is in her eyes now as she sucks my cock and I groan deep in my throat, feeling her tongue and lips and throat working their magic... I can't say how long she works on me, gently and patiently - I can only say that she doesn't seem to be in any rush to finish... so I jerk and moan and thrust and groan and babble and she teases me until it feels like my head could explode. That's when she s-l-o-w-l-y licks her way up to the head again, gives me that smile again - "Ready?" - and slams her mouth back down, taking me to the hilt; but this time she's not going slow. Her mouth, so hot, taking me deep, again and again, sucking, swallowing, licking until I erupt with a scalding flood, filling her mouth - and she sucks and licks and swallows until I have no more to give.

She comes back to her feet with nary a wobble - does the woman have no bones? - and smiles before kissing me again - and it only breaks when I run out of air.

"Mmmmm," she says, grinning - "definitely gonna have to tell Raina about you!"

She rummages in the bag and brings out not one, but two Cuban sandwiches wrapped in butcher's paper. The scent makes me drool. "Where did you get these?"

She shrugs. "Miami."


"Hello! Elf? Shadow Paths?" She gives me another full-body kiss, and a card with her name and cell number. "If you want to go the whole route sometime, call me."

Wings close to her body, Ike soars along the ridge. This was one of Tori's favorite spots, far enough from town to be a bit like the hills of home, and yet close enough to be near her family. Monty stands on the ridge overlooking the lake, speaking to the shifters that have come with them. Byte howls, catching her attention. She banks and the powerful surge of her feathered wings soon has her back  to the others.

The soundman and drummer of Lunar Eclipse are on cell phones. Two of Tori's kids fidget nearby. Byte clicks shut his phone and nods. The young girl cocks her head and is soon airborne, grey form soon lost in the darkness. Ike lands as the dove disappears. Monty puts an arm around her, shaking his head.

"There is no trace of Tori here. Byte says the last scent marker is weeks old. I want to check something out though. When my previous Master was alive, we used to come out here to get away. There is a section of caves not far from here where a family of gnomes used to live. If they are still there... Well it's a shot in the dark."

He strokes the short fur of her cheek. "Byte knows where I mean. They are going to do ground recon." He watches her face, knowing that she is only half with him, calling to her sister.

Without a word, Ike slips her arms around him and beats her wings, As they lift upwards, she finally speaks, words choked by unshed tears. "I can feel her... She is trying to answer, but can't focus. All I get is her frustration. She is... angry, yet it's like she could care less."

Monty concentrates, closing his eyes to better direct his thoughts into Ike. She jerks, nearly dropping him as power surges through her. Suddenly she can see the darkness in Tori's mind, touch the thickness surrounding her sister. Where are you? Tori! Wake up and tell me where you are! She feels the halfhearted slap at her mental scoldings. There is a mumbled stay outta m'nightmare... Ike can't keep contact and slips out of her sister's thoughts.

Monty eases his eyes open slowly. Ike's wingbeats are erratic, faltering, and she lands roughly, stumbling. Monty catches her before she falls, holding her close. He holds her until the rigidity is gone and the trembling starts.

While things are winding down - or up - here in the Tavern, and before the phone calls start flying thick and fast, let me sum up what we learned from Rath. The other prisoners corroborated it, so this will be once for all.

The bad guy who's been commanding the ghouls here in Exton is called Theokratos; apparently that's not his real name, but a name he chose for himself. Neither Rath nor the other prisoners seem to know the name he was born with... there's a lot of that going round here.

Anyway... this Theokratos is pissed off because ghouls, alone among the supernatural community, seem to have been forgotten. The term "ghoul" is used nowadays to refer to anything scary and vaguely inhuman; not one person in ten can tell you what a ghoul actually is. Vampires and werewolves, on the other hand - anyone can tell you about them.

(Apparently Mr. T doesn't know that we now put vampires and werewolves on cereal boxes, or that a vampire makes regular appearances on Sesame Street, or that these days it takes a lot to make them scary - unless you live in Exton.)

So Theokratos wants to make ghouls feared again... yet another reason to fear the dark, like we don't have enough already - and in the process, he'll raise their standing in the supernatural community, maybe to a level with vampires. He also apparently has a healthy ego; he wants to be the Lord of the Flesheaters - no, wait, that's not quite right.

Let's put it like this: when you mention "vampire", nine out of ten people will think "Dracula". Theokratos wants to be the iconic ghoul, the name that immediately springs to mind when "ghoul" is mentioned. I don't know, maybe he thinks he can do endorsements or something...

Not to down him too much, he's very old, at least five centuries under his belt, and one helluva strategist - witness the way he kept us hopping in Exton. Once we get Tori back, we're definitely going to have to turn our attention to dealing with him....

Ob looks up from watching the children play when a hand touches his arm lightly. As he opens his mouth to speak, Pike shakes his head and motions into the hallway.

Wish waits by the head of the stairs, watching him, head cocked expectantly. her words are soft, but ring in Ob's head. "My Lady calls. Trouble is afoot. Yer kin thought best to leave ye enjoy some time with yer family, but now tis time to see what needs must be done,"

She turns, hair flying and is gone in an instant. Pike grins. "Showoff." He grins up at Ob. "But we'll beat her there."

He lays his hand on Ob's arm and winks. Moments later Ob finds himself on the landing behind his brother and sister-in-law. Pike is grinning at Wish as she spins to a halt on the step behind them.

Stoney chooses a very tight mental path to let Ob know what is going on. The Gargoyle takes in the absence of so many able body warriors and nods grimly. He sends Pandora a mental carress.  The timbre of his voice is tense, the r's rolling strongly, betraying his fears. Mi amorrr, mi Brrruha... It looks like we arrre a battle headquartairrrs again. Stay upstairrrrs with Kalterrro and the othairrr cheeldrren. Atleast unteel I know what forrces arre needed. Rrright now, yourr strrength and the *prroteccio'n of all the cheeldrren ees parramount. When she begins to protest about being kept in the wings, Ob laughs. I have seen full well what ^devastacio'n you can wield, Mujer. I know NOONE weell come even close to the young ones. I weell tell you morre when I know morre.

Wish makes her way to Star's side. Pike is close behind her, eyes distant as if listening to something none else can hear. The Demifae who chose to stay begin to drift down from the rafters, armed for battle.



With the Webmistress gone, Mortuis' network is crippled. We have to get the word out the old-fashioned way, with a cell phone and a whole slew of numbers. Not being the detective type - defective, maybe - I volunteer for this duty. The tavern supplies a notepad, pencils and pens, a booth by a window and The Amazing Bottomless Coffee Urn. As an added bonus, I get a couple of phone numbers and "call me's" from a pair of shifter girls. Who said virtue is its own reward?

Since I can go without sleep indefinitely - I think I said that somewhere before, didn't I? - they leave me to it.

Let's face it.  I've got no claws, no fangs, no magic, no knack for cryptic and pompous rhetoric. I'm no hero, I'm just Jack; but this I can do - provided I don't stick myself with a pencil and wind up with lead poisoning.

So I field phone calls, record and pass on possible leads and drink enough coffee to float the Queen Mary.

Every being that can fly is out there, crisscrossing the city in hopes of catching a glimpse of Tori and her abductors. Unfortunately, most of our air force will be grounded come the dawn, which isn't that far off. Ground troops are out there as well - a motley group of Riders, shifters, Hellhounds and street kids, combing the city in search of one redheaded gar-girl.

The results are discouraging. Wherever Tori may be, it's not Exton.

Raina steps back and takes a deep breath, steadying her emotions and releasing the wave of feeling she was sensing from her brother. The group is silent for a moment, letting the seriousness of the situation fully sink in. She exchanges a glance with Erik and watches as his gaze falls back to his wife.

“Bloody fucking Hel!!” and Tannr kicks a chair, sending it flying across the room and into a far wall.

Feeling a cool hand to the back of her neck Raina sees Nick. “Rain, are you all right? I mean, all things considered...”

Raina nods, “I am, but I am not so sure how Tannr is going to handle this... I'm worried about him. You thought we had our hands full with Stoney when Alise was captive....hopefully thats not what this is...” Raina sighs, “But if it is, I'm afraid Tannr is going to be a lot harder on himself and everyone else in the process.”

Her thoughts are interrupted by Keon, his voice deep and cold as he gives orders to the Riders, organizing a search and calling for the Hell Hounds. His words are clipped, the tones frightening. His voice softens only when he approaches Star, her eyes wide at the change in her foster daughters father.

“Call for Wish and Pike. We may have need of them.” He turns to Tannr. “Can ye come with me to the Gallery? In case she has returned there...”

Tannr nods and in seconds the Riders and several shifters have left the Tavern in search for Tori.

Upstairs in the nursery something Stoney had said is nagging at Alises mind. Like moving through molasses... like moving through molasses....

She excuses herself and heads downstairs. She sees Stoney at the foot of the stairs and starts to send to him as she moves towards him. She switches to French, so no one else will understand her words.

Remi! Je sais pourquoi vous Tori biseautés de portée… elle a été dopé, comme j'étais. Mes pensées ont semblé épaisses et ralentissent, comme l'essai de patauger par la mélasse. Quelqu'un a fait ceci à elle, elle ne prendrait rien pour alourdir son sens à ce point. Je sais qu'elle pas. *

Stoney pulls her into his arms when she reaches the bottom step. I am afraid you may be right Chaton... He holds her tight for a moment. I am going to search by air, around our place and maybe the cabin and clearing, just in case. Stay here with the children. We will have to tell Ob when I get back. I just hope he understands why we have waited to tell him...

* I know why you cant reach Tori... she has been drugged, like I was. My thoughts seemed thick and slow, like trying to wade through molasses. Someone has done this to her, she would not take anything to dull her senses to this point. I know she wouldnt.

Pandora holds her son; she looks into his eyes... they are green like hers, but not a soft green, a fiery green that seem lit from within. When she talks to him and strokes him softly she can read his response in his eyes; a glow... maybe she is the only one to see it... but it tells her Teri loves her in return.

The soft scales on his body are the color of flesh; and seem to taper to near normal human skin at his hands and feet... when he is clothed few will know of his difference... except for the spines on his head and neck. Pandora runs her hand softly over them, and finds that beneath her touch they seem to soften; go pliant and rubbery, not hard and dangerous as they may be to others when he is grown. His dark hair is straight like hers, not the mass of tumbling curls that Chloe inherited from Ob... but in the light from the lamp beside the bed she can see the iridescent highlights that grace the tuft of darkness that crowns his head.Again she runs her hand over his face, he is a beautiful child... she can see already that his features will be handsome to look upon; and muses about the bumps on his forehead... Ob will perhaps have more insight into what those will become. Chloe sits patiently waiting for her mama to complete her inspection of her baby brother... she holds a blue nightgown she is to help put on Teri... her first big sister act; then she gets to sit between her mother and father and hold Teri herself... she is excited at the idea she will have special things to do each day to help with her brother.

Pandora helps and soon the baby is in his gown and Chloe is ready for her big moment... Pandora holds her son close to her; feeling his answering emotion... and then lays him gently in Chloe's waiting arms.

Chloe's eyes grow wide as she realizes the babe is in her care... and Teri seems to sense this is an important first meeting... and he waves an arm at her... Chloe grabs the small hand at the end of the arm and the fingers clinch around hers... Chloe jerks... as it seems a current runs from her brother to her... "mama, he loves me too, he's telling me with his hand."

Pandora glances up to Obsidian..." Josephito, is it possible? I sense his emotions when I hold him, and we seem to meld together; is it possible he will have this strong bond with us all?" She is in deep thought for a moment... "he is born in the midst of a great battle of good and evil... do you think he knows it?..does he know you named him a warrior's right arm and companion?" Ob reaches past Chloe and caresses Pandora's cheek... "this is all to be discovered as he grows bruha, if we give him our love and guidance he will show us who he will be."

Teri starts to wimper,not quite crying... but letting them know he is in need. Pandora takes him gently from Chloe and tells Ob; "I think our son is hungry... will you take Chloe to the nursery to join her cousins and she can tell them all about her brother." Obsidian scoops Chloe into his arms amid giggles and he starts through the door.."I'll be back in a minute, bruha."

Pandora opens her gown and brings her son close, offering her breast to him... watching his mouth quest for mere moments before closing round the nipple and suckling. He feeds well for his first time; and Pandora closes her eyes and rests with Kaltero close in her arms.

Ghaunt's eyes fall on Tannr, his hand hovering restlessly above his axe. "You know little of me, Viking, if you imagine I am a threat to the Star, the Warrior, or your lady. I come here to bring a warning. Will you hear me?"

"I will," Raina says and she interposes herself between Tannr and the half-breed.

"The Star is in danger, and her child, and the one you call Tori. My mistress Ardara has designs on the gargoyle. She plots to steal her, and soon. She would be pleased to slay the Warrior and his mother, but for some reason the gargoyle is more important to her at the moment.

You understand, she does not confide in me; it is only that she no longer notices me." His voice is bitter. "I have become part of her surroundings, like a piece of furniture; she truly does not realize what or how much she says in my presence.

Ask what you will of me, I will answer; but be quick. My mistress will notice my absence if I am long gone from Underdark."

Star steps forward, her eyes whirling. "Tori is gone. I saw her leave the gallery with a street kid, but he wasn't really a street kid. There was something - wrong about him, I don't know what. He didn't feel like one of Tori's kids."

Ghaunt starts. "Then my warning may have come too late. You, Viking, where might she be at this hour?"

Tannr has sense enough to answer promptly. "If she's not at the Gallery, she'd be at the Tavern. Unless the kid really was legit - "

Stoney shakes his head decisively. "If she was at either place, I could sense her. Right now I'm getting nothing. Star, what time did you see her leave?"

"It was about nine-thirty, give or take fifteen minutes either way."

Stoney's face is hard, giving nothing away. "That's about the time I lost contact with her. I thought she just wanted privacy - "

The dark elf interrupts. "We must find her. If the boy is truly one of hers, no harm is done. If not - " His face is grim.

Tannrs gaze slowly takes in the room and the crowd gathered to hear Raths punishment. He watches Star and Rowan tend to the injured, relieved not to see Tori among those needing help. 

Would I feel it if something happened to her? Another question to ask.... Tannr smiles as he remembers the night they spent just talking and holding each other, asking each other a million questions it seemed like, but those hours had left them feeling so much closer to one another if that were possible.

Approaching Stoney, Tannr smiles and greets him. “I hear you are a new Uncle... Congratulations. Is Tori upstairs seeing the baby? I dont see her down here anywhere...”

Stoney's eyes narrow as he looks at Star, but his words are to Tannr. "She was on her way to you. She never came inside the Tavern. She was told you needed help."

Tannrs eyes go wide, “What? I didnt need any help. Who told her that? Why isnt she here?”

Stoney's dark eyes bore into Tannr's. He says nothing at first, then nods slowly. "That explains a lot. She was talking to Star. Was approached by one of her kids and followed. Star said the kid didn't feel right, like it wasn't really who they thought. Tori was gone before she had a chance to warn her." He leans closer to the Viking, words low enough that someone would have to be listening very hard to hear what the gargoyle was saying. "I can't reach her Tannr. It is like trying to push through molasses."

Tannrs mind starts to race, thinking of every possibility and just as quickly eliminating them. What the Hel? Who would have sent someone to get her? No one from the patrols.. She would have seen through a ghoul... His voice shaky and eyes full of worry he says, “Star... I need to talk to Star and find out what she saw...”

Watching from where she was talking to Nick, Star knows Stoney has told Tannr about Tori. She joins them, talking near the staircase. She repeats all she knows to Tannr. He starts to pace back and forth, mumbling at first, then Star makes out the words, “I have to find her, I have to...”

Star grabs his hand and pulls hard, getting his attention. “I sent for Inari. I thought we would need her.”

Tannr looks puzzled for a moment, so lost in thought and worry. “You can do that? Just send for the Queens Ambassador?”

Star nods and watches as Tannr stills himself and closes his eyes. He sends to Tori, not knowing if their connection was strong enough but he had to try. Tori! Where are you? Come on Baby, dont do this, please, let someone know whats going on...

Star and Stoney exchange a glance and Stoney blocks Tannrs thoughts from Ob, not wanting to worry him just yet. He knows they will have to tell him or heads will roll, But for now he needs this time with his family.

Glancing towards the front door as it opens a crack, Star watches as a demifae flits in. It was Trist, almost as if on cue, returning from delivering his message. He zigzags towards Star, exhausted from the fast pace of his trip.

“Trist! You poor thing. You must be exhausted...” Star holds out her hand for the small demifae.

“Milady Star.” Trist bows. “Ambassador Inari is on her way and will be here presently.” Trist falls in a heap and Star gently carries him to the bar, whispering her thanks. She asks Monty for honey and nectar and several demifae flit down from the rafters to help Trist eat and recover.

Across the room Raina looks up, her forehead wrinkled, eyes narrowed. What is going on? Why is Tannr so...so scared? Not for himself, worry for someone... Looking to Gareth she says, “Somethings up with my brother, back in a few..”

Suddenly the front door opens to admit Mya, zipping across the room. “Make way... visitor for Lady Star...” She is followed by a strongly built Drow and the two warrior Fae that escorted her to the fairy tree.

Tannrs reaction is instant and would have been deadly had Raina not moved quickly and grabbed his arm as he reached for his axe. “The tavern is a safe haven. Think Brother before you shame us all...You cannot draw a weapon here unless it is in defense..” As soon as Raina touched him she could feel the swirl of emotions, the pent-up rage and frustration that was almost let loose on the Drow.

Tannr looked angry enough to explode, but let his arm relax. His eyes never leaving the Drow, he watches as Star gasps, “Ghaunt! Why did Mya bring you here?”

“He has news. Must tell Star.” Mya lands on Stars shoulders and steadies herself by grabbing a strand of silver blonde hair.

With all eyes on the Drow, Ghaunt takes a deep breath. “I came to warn you and the gargoyle woman...”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Perpetual immurement...!

Suddenly and inexplicably, I find Star standing at my side. Her eyes are wide and her nose wrinkles as she asks. "What does it mean - immurement?"

I keep my voice soft. "It means that he'll be chained inside a coffin - probably a stone coffin - and buried alive. He can't die, but he can starve... starve for a hundred years, minimum. A hundred years, alone in the dark...." My voice trails off. Adrian's sentence is worse than death....

The sound of Ramji's voice is unexpected. "And in a hundred years, I will be waiting."

The door opens on the sound of Doctor Mortuis' voice. Ramji hides a smile as he listens, slowly working his way through the crowd. Tannr is at his back. The two warriors had met up on the porch as they returned from their patrols. Nick's raised voice has the two men nudging people aside.

It is the coldly sensual female voice that makes Ramji's stomach clench. He fights the sudden terror that takes hold and forces himself to move closer. Bodies part, almost as if edging away slightly, as Rath begins to confess. By the time the two men are at the edge of the circle, Lady Nyx has released Rath from her control.

Ramji's sword slide from its sheath. He is muttering under his breath, the Croation nearly trembling with anger. Tannr puts  hand on his shoulder, murmuring in the Rider's ear.

"Wait... they are not done yet. Think of this as a Tribunal of old..."

Ramji slides the blade slowly back into place.

Adrian rises.

"People of Exton." Adrian's voice is rock-steady. "Together we have heard my brother's confession, and it is such that no leniency can be shown. He has disgraced himself and his clan, and punishment must be meted out. I call you now to bear witness to the justice of the House of Acheron."

He turns to face Rath, his face as expressionless as a tombstone. "Stefan, known as Rath and Amrath, hear the sentence of your Lord and Clan.

From this moment, you are outcast. You are clanless. No one will succor you, no one will defend you."

Rath's expression is a study in incredulity. Clearly he never thought such a day would come.

"In light of the offenses you have committed, no mercy can be granted. I sentence you to perpetual immurement for a period of not less than one hundred years, to contemplate your sins in the darkness until it shall please the Lord of Acheron to grant you your freedom. This is my will; let it be done."

Alise was rounding up the children for the party to celebrate the new baby arriving. She noticed Star slip in quietly and get her bag, so there must be some injuries, Alise hoped only minor ones, she had heard some of the fighting had been fierce.

Pausing when she hears Stoneys words, Alise looks to Laila, who is helping Gracie get settled in a high chair next to Meras.

She sighs, loath to spoil Lailas fun with the little ones. She had arranged for the party as a surprise for everyone. Alise takes a deep breath and asks Laila if they can speak privately for a moment.

In the hall Alise relays what Stoney has told her. She watches as Lailas eyes grow dark and stormy. She is quiet for a moment and then in a strong voice says, “I will not let him ruin any more of my days. I am not going downstairs. Ramji will know why and where to find me when that monster is gone.”

Alise smiles and gives Laila a hug. “Good girl. I am sure they will send for us if we are needed. But you have already testified to Raths brother about how you were treated, so I think we can continue the celebration.”

The word of Rath's capture reaches me quickly and I waste no time making my way to the Tavern, stopping only to snatch up a Victorian-style doctor's bag. I observe the traffic laws, but make all haste. I am told that Nekron was in part responsible for the older vampire's capture, and I can hardly credit that he had the forethought to permit him to retain his sorry existence. Still, lest I hurry, Nekron will have every chance to repent his leniency and correct his supposed error.

It is with a measure of relief that I see that Rath still lives - whatever that may mean in his case - though he is manacled with sorcerous bonds and surrounded by such a circle of hateful faces as the gods forbid were ever clustered around me. Lord Adrian follows hard upon my heels and with his entrance the multitudinous growl softens. His eyes are hard as diamond as he sits and fixes his gaze upon his errant brother.

"My friends and neighbors, " I say, and the murmuring stills to near-silence - "tonight has seen a battle on many fronts, a battle that has been long in coming; one that has claimed many lives, though thankfully few have come from our friends. From that battle we have gained prisoners - and we must know all that they know if we would avoid further needless bloodshed in our community. Nor can we afford to be dainty in how we obtain this information, for knowledge is power, and we need all the power we can raise against this our enemy if we are to defeat him at last. In fine, my friends, we will encourage our captives to speak of their own free will - but if harsher methods are needed, they must and shall be used. This wretch" - here I point to Rath - "knows much, and it is he that I would put to the question first. But ere we employ those harsher measures of which I have spoken, let us give him a chance to confess himself - here, now, with his brother looking and listening, that all things may be done by law and in order. Lord Adrian" - I offer a bow to the vampire - "if you have any influence with your brother, I implore you to use it to spare him pain."

The vampire lord rises, his face like stone. "Stefan, I offer once, and once only. If you will tell all you know without further persuasion, I will do all I can to see that your punishment is not too onerous. Refuse me now, and you refuse forever. Will you speak?"

Rath's only response is to spit at his brother's black-clad figure. Lord Adrian stares at him, his face a mask, then sits without another word.

"It then falls to me to ask more forcefully," I say, opening the bag and removing a soft leather roll. I untie the thongs and unroll it along the tabletop. "I do not boast when I say that I am an expert with these instruments. I can keep you conscious and in pain for far longer than it will take to loosen your stubborn tongue. I ask but once more, and it will be the last - will you speak?"

It is then that Nekron snaps.

"I'll make him talk!" His flamberge appears in his hand and he lunges.

"Hold, vampire!" It is Mistress Nyx who speaks, and Nekron freezes, blade poised, but unable - for the moment - to deliver the fatal thrust. Mistress Nyx saunters over, a terrible smile on her face. Her next words are for Nekron, too - and possibly for Rath as well. "This one is mine." She takes Rath's face between her palms and her colorless eyes meet his. "Talk to me, little vampire."

Rath's eyes go wide when he realizes that he cannot look away, her words echoing and re-echoing in his brain. Talk to me....

The words come reluctantly, as if dragged forth on cruel barbed hooks. Then it is as if a dam bursts, and the words spill out - faster, faster - tumbling over each other in their haste to be free; faster still, till the result is a Babel of incoherence. Mistress Nyx releases Rath with another cruel smile and the vampire goes to his knees, his hands coming up to cover his face, trembling convulsively; but too late. We know.

His dark eyes seem bottomless.Stoney watches Star's eyes swirl with her concern. A blush stains her cheeks and Stoney nods slowly.

"It was one of your vue avant... your foresight?" When Star nods, Stoney looks away, letting his sight go inward, mind stretching out to touch Tori's walls. He slips past Ob's family, hiding his thoughts among the joys and worries in his brother's mind.

Alise feels his touch, but lets him go, knowing he is seeking something. He finds Ike, feels her brushing at her sister's walls, frustrated at Tori's lack of response.

He pushes at the walls, pressing deeper into a nothingness much like a first-timer's stone sleep. Puzzled he withdraws and comes back to himself. Star's eyes are on him, watching him as if she could follow where his mind went.

Before Stoney can tell Star anything, there is a commotion in the Tavern. Nick and K'thyri stumble in and their team boils in behind them. They dump a body on the floor and it takes a few moments to recognize just who it is. Stoney's mind wings to Alise.

They just brought in Rath. Keep Laila upstairs, at least until Ramji gets back.

Star opens the door to see Alise in the hallway, telling the children to be on their best behavior when welcoming their new cousin and brother.

“Aunt Pandora is very tired, so no rowdiness...”

Star smiles as Laila comes upstairs carrying Mera and Ru. “Let me take him. You shouldnt carry both of them, it gets heavy.”

“Look who is talking. You carry them both all the time.” Laila grins at Star as they enter the room.

The children are suddenly quiet as if aware of the miracle that has just taken place. Ob is setting close to the bed holding his son tenderly. He smiles and gestures with his head for the children to come closer. Pandora smiles, happy to see Alise and the kids especially Chloe. Chloe sits near her mother on the bed, then curls up next to her, a little unsure of how a new brother will affect her family. Tomas walks right up to Ob and peeks at the bundle in his lap. Suddenly Teri stretches out his arms, making Tomas jump and laugh. He takes one of the small hands in his, welcoming his new cousin.

Approaching Rowan, Star asks her to take Ru for a few minutes as she has something she needs to do.

Star steps out into the hallway and heads down the stairs, her thoughts a jumble. I need to tell someone what I saw, but who? I dont know where Ike is, I dont want to bother Ob right now and I might be wrong. Stoney should be here shortly, maybe Monty knows something....

As if called by her thoughts Stoney appears right in front of her, his intention to go see Ob and Pandora and the new baby. He startles Star who was lost in thought.

“Je desole, I didnt mean to scare you. Is something wrong? You look so serious.... is the baby all right? And Pandora?”

Swallowing hard Star nods. “They are are fine. Can we talk? And can you turn off....” Star wiggles her fingers on either side of her head making Stoney grin.

“Yes, I can block my family from hearing my thoughts. But what is it? Something with the ghouls?” Stoney sits on a step below Star and motions for her to sit also.

“I dd..dont think so... I am not sure. Its Tori.... She was coming here to see Ob and Pandora. One of her street kids stopped her out front, I was standing on the front step. She left with him...”

Stoney nods, still not understanding the seriousness in Stars expression. Tori would help one of 'her kids' with anything they needed. There was nothing unusual about that. He opens his mouth to say so but Star cuts him off.

“But I dont think that was really one of her street kids. It was someone trying to look like them, with magic... I think it was something else, not a street kid...”

K'thyri kind of halfway supports me till we get back to the tavern. It'd be more accurate to say that she half-carries me, but admitting that wouldn't be macho. The Flying Monkeys bring up the rear with our prisoners in tow.

I take a deep breath that I don't really need when we get to the tavern - old habits die hard. Ky props me up - elves are a lot stronger than they look - and gives me the benefit of her vast battlefield experience. "You look like hell, vampire."

"You say the sweetest things." The Monkeys enter and dump Rath on the floor like a sack of potatoes. I resist the urge to put the toe of my boot up his ass - barely. Someone thinks to call the old man; he'll want to be here when we question the prisoners...

Inari is busy helping Tychus try to organize some of his star charts. They seem to grow and multiply when her back is turned. As soon as she thinks they have a good start on it, Tychus remembers another spot where he has placed some more for 'safe keeping'.

A soft rap on the door and one of the students pokes his head in and asks if he can come in.

Tychus impatiently waves the boy in and goes back to moving some books to one side to get to some more of his beloved charts.

Clearing his throat nervously, the boy bows. “Ambassador... there is a messenger here to see you...”

“Oh.. from the Queen I imagine...” Inari turns and sets down the chart she was holding.

“I dont think so.. shall I let him in?”

Tychus interrupts, irritated at having to stop something he clearly enjoys doing. “Well send him in. What are you waiting for? An engraved invitation?”

The student backs out and the demifae flits in. Trist lands on a pile of books and bows to Inari, then to Tychus. “I bring a message from Star, mother of the Warrior, from the human realm to Ambassador Inari, of the fae realm..”

“Oh spit it out would you? Cant you see we are busy here?” Tychus continues to riffle through some papers.

Inari smiles at the demifae. “Please, your message? It must be important for the Lady Star to send you.”

“It is my Lady. She says you are needed at the Tavern right away. She says she isnt sure yet of what it is but that you need to come.” Trist looks up, “She has the sight you know...”

Inari nods. “I know. I will leave as soon as I make ready. Can you return to her or do you need to rest?”

Trist stands tall, “I can return, Milady..”

“Good. Then tell her I am on my way and should be there shortly after you.”

As Trist leaves, Inari turns to Tychus, “I am sorry Tychus, truly I had hoped we would have more time together..”

The old fae slowly makes his way around the piles of books and maps and pulls Inari into a warm embrace. “I understand. Duty has always been first with you. First to the Queen and now to the Warrior. Go. Save whatever needs saving and return if you can. I doubt I will have made much of a dent by then...”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ardara smiles grimly, watching her plan unfold to perfection. Tori had not seen through the glamour she placed on her servant and rushed away from the Tavern as planned. Ardara and one of her warriors move quickly and silently to the spot near the woods that the slave has been told to bring Tori to.

Ardara watches as Tori hurries to the alley that borders the woods. She turns and looks to who she thinks is one her street kids and her eyes go wide as the glamour slips away to reveal a young Drow. She turns to leave and feels a stinging in her neck. She tries to send to her sibs but her thoughts are instantly slowed and she crumples to the ground.

Stepping from the trees Ardara tosses the slave an apple, his reward for doing as he was told. Then she kneels and pulls the dart from Toris neck and hands it to her Warrior.

“Call the others. We must hurry. We need to have her in Underdark before she awakens.”

The labor pains are coming closer each time. Rowan and Star move about efficiently as Ob coaches Pandora. Alise shields the children, giving them lots to do to distract Chloe from trying to help her mama and little brother. Ob sends her a thought and mental hug, telling her to make a puddle of love to wash over her brother when he comes into their world. She sends him a pout, but slips out of their minds and into Alise's distractions.

Tori sends them a message that she is on her way, although Ob tells her there is no need, and he knows she has a patrol to help. Tori laughs and sends her affection as she wings to the Tavern. Moments later she touches them again, telling them that trouble takes precedence. She slips from their minds as they hear her calling to Tannr to hang on. Distracted by the impending birth of his son, Ob wonders when Tannr and Tori started hearing each other, or if it was just habit that has her calling out.

The pains rock Pandora's body and Ob merges his mind with hers. He takes some of the pain, monitoring the movements of their son.The child is terrified, grasping at their link. He calms as Ob begins to sing again, letting his mother's body push him from his little world. Pandora aches with pain as Rowan tells her they can see the top of his head. She grips Ob's hand and screams as pain spikes through her body.

Ob pulls the pain away, letting Pandora relax slightly. He feels her body gearing up for another push and hers a gasp from Rowan. Quick words are exchanged, and Star is ready with towels and sutures. Ob feels the tearing as his son is pushed out, catching a glimpse of pale flesh, and a shock of straight black hair.

He watches as Rowan works quickly, stitching, applying ointment as Star washes the squalling newborn. His lungs are healthy, His movements energetic as he waves his fists and feet. Star is talking softly to him as she takes measurements and jots down observations.

Rowan turns worried eyes to Ob. Pandora is pale, paler than she should be. Ob lets his wife ease back on the pillows behind her and kisses her softly. her eyes close, a small smile on her lips. "So tired,,," she whispers.

"Rest yourself mi amor. You are *mi hermosa bruja." He kisses her again, watching as she drifts into sleep.

"I don't like this." Rowan's words pull him from watching his wife. "She is bleeding too much. It might have been the spikes. If he panicked, they may have penetrated anywhere."

Ob picks up his sword and lays it on Pandora's body. Allah's Light glows softly. His question is distant as he begins to guide the sword's magic into his wife's body. "Spikes?"

"Your son has a row of spikes along the back of his scalp and along his neck. He is covered in fine scale, like a snake. They are pale, flesh toned in fact, and he is definitely all boy. She grins slightly. No tail though..."

Ob nods absently and Rowan watches as the bleeding slows. Only when Pandora seems to be resting easier does Ob move the blade and run his hands over her body. His eyes deepen in color, becoming their normal pale blue instead of the nearly white tone while he healed. he turns to look at Rowan as Star brings him his son. Ob cradles the blanket-wrapped infant in his arms, gently exploring his fingers and toes. A smile touches his lips and he murmurs softly to the boy in Romani.

"Hello.... Earth to Ob..." The Gargoyle looks up, but it is obvious his mind is occupied. "Your son, Ob. Scales? Spikes?"

Ob laughs. "He is the son of a Deamon/Gargoyle/Dragon and a Human. Somehow I am not all that surprised." He sits in a chair by Pandora's bed. "Hell, Chloe has wings." He grins as he strokes a finger along the boy's cheek.

"What is his name?" Star's soft voice raises Ob's eyes to hers.

He turns his head to look at Pandora. "Bruha wanted a name from my Kin. We tossed around a few, wanting a strong name... Kaltero, Terry for short." he kisses the baby's forehead, the brushes the hair back, finding two small bumps on the forehead.

"Welcome to the world little man."

Rowan looks at Star, at the puzzled look on her face. "Tero means strong. But what does Kal mean?"

Ob grins and there is something hidden in his eyes. "Marteen is a prophet of our Tribe. He told me that my son would be the solid right arm of a warrior born. He will be strong and loyal to his sworn Kin. We have a group of warriors in the clan that would claim him. They are called Reapers. That is what Kal means... Reaper."

Ob's eyes go distant as he fills in the families about Kaltero. A frown creases his brow and frustration twists his lips. He sighs. "Well I guess Tori will find out soon enough. She has us blocked. It must be a nasty bit of fighting."

*my beautiful witch.

Arriving at the fairy tree Mya asks for Trist. After a moments chatter, Trist is found and brought to Mya. He flits in front of her and gives her a short bow.

“I can take message for Warriors mother...”

Mya delivers the message and Trists eyes go wide when he hears who it is for. Another demifae tells him that Inari is with Tychus in his tower. “Hurry. Message very important.”

Trist nods and bows again, then disappears into the forest, wings buzzing.

As Mya turns to leave she runs right into Ghaunt who had just stepped into the clearing from the cover of the trees. She gasps and is ready to yell at him for scaring her, but something in his expression makes her swallow her words. Seeing the frantic look on his face, she asks him what is wrong.

Trying to catch his breath Ghaunt tells her, “I need Star. I need to warn her. Ardara... please Mya, where is she?”

Ardara! The evil one..
.. Mya hesitates only a second, sensing the seriousness and urgency of the situation. “Come. Mya take you....” and she leads the way to the Tavern, the two warrior Fae following close behind.

Twillon and his Riders move among the trees as if a part of the night. Gareth is not far ahead. They can see him swaying slightly, playing the drunken swain. Weebit cuts across the Riders path on Tork's back, halting Twillon with a loud cricket chirp. Danger lurks close,

Through the tree, other demifae blink faery lights on and off, like demented fireflies, pinpointing an ambush. Twillon and his men separate, gliding around the hidden attackers. The Dark Lord takes the head of one hidden foe before it is aware he is behind it. The battle begins in the trees, but is soon on the path around Gareth and his ghoul date. The female throws herself at his feet, screaming for mercy.

As Gareth clips the enchanted cuffs around her wrists, another ghoul strikes at his back. The Knight of the Bright Court is fast, faster than the attacker expects. The clawed hand goes spinning off into the night. The creature doesn't stop and Gareth's blade takes it through the heart. He shoves it away, as the dying creature tries to gouge furrows into his flesh. Gareth laughs as the ghoul falls away, shredded t-shirt under its nasty claws. Elven chainmail glitters in the night. This seems to enrage the ghouls. The tide of battle begins to move, pressing ever closer to Gareth. Twillon laughs as Silk's dragon form roars from overhead.

Moments later two ghouls are gone, impaled on her talons. Their bodies hit the ground with a satisfying crunch and are swiftly beheaded. A wounded Shifter pulls the female ghoul out of the battle and shoves her against the base of a tree. She screams and a ghoul turns from battle to bound in their direction. The Shifter meets it head on, claw to claw. The battle is short but fierce, one among many, in the end the ghoul lies dead, as does the Shifter. The female ghoul is nowhere to be seen.

Twillon wipes his blade slowly. looking over the devastation. He frowns noting the absence of demifae. Gareth nudges him, pointing to the trees. A trail of faery lights lead along a path forced through the plants and trees. Crossing a wide clearing, the Sidhe warriors find the female ghoul curled up against the base of a bike rack. Weebit sits Tork's saddle like a queen. The dragon's fern-like fur bristling as it watches the ghoul.

Weebit smiles. Blood drips from the corner of her mouth and she wipes it away casually with the back of her hand.

"It tried to escape."

The demifae waves a hand and small lights flicker to life. Small as they are, the amount lights up the area around the ghoul. It pushes harder against the bike rack, glancing up at the Sidhe. Blood dots her face and hands, welling from pinpricks and long scratches. Something resembling a spiderweb holds her mouth shut. Twillon raises a brow at Weebit.

"The foul thing tried to eat one of us. She is just lucky we didn't end all of her ability to breathe."

The enraged demifae stares at the ghoul and it cringes away from the much smaller fae. Gareth and Twillon fight hard not to laugh as they haul the female to her feet and nearly carry her back to the battleground.

Star had just stepped outside to take a short break. Erik had told her not go outside with all the attacks on the rise, but she needed some fresh air and Jeb was at the door.

She takes a deep breath of the cool night air and stretches out her fingers, cramped from rubbing Pandoras back.

Hearing a loud flapping noise she sees Tori, in the air above the street. She smiles, wishing she could fly and see the city from above. Tori lands and switches to human form, the change hidden in the shadows near the alley.

 “You shouldnt be outside, there are attacks all over the city..." She pauses, looking at Star's changeable eyes. She notes the concern, but also the confidence. "So how is Pan? Ob said she is holding up, and Chloe is trying to help her brother, but I came to check on them in person before I head over to the other side of town. Tannr and his patrol are holding their own but there seems to be more of those crazies out there than usual....”

Before she has a chance to drag Star inside, Tori is interrupted by one of her street kids. After a few hushed comments Tori turns back to Star and taking her arm leads her to Jeb. “Keep her inside.” She turns to Star, “Please... I have to go...” Tori heads after the tall boy that she was speaking with. As she hurries around the corner she sends to Ob, Trouble with a patrol, I'll be back soon....

Star watches as she slowly steps back into the tavern. Something was nagging at her mind, something that just didnt seem right with the situation. Tannr wouldnt send one of Toris kids if there was a problem, she was sure of it. One of the riders maybe... Tannr would try to keep Tori out of danger even though he knows she can defend herself...

Jeb watches as once inside Star starts pacing. Her forehead wrinkled in concentration, her eyes shifting colors like a kaleidoscope. He cant figure out what has her so agitated and wonders if he needs to call someone. Suddenly she whistles, a short high pitched sound that has the demifae at attention. Mya zips down the stairs wondering what is wrong. She lands on Stars shoulders, eyes wide with worry.

“Mya here. What wrong? Ghouls in tavern? Mya get them...” Mya pokes the air with her hatpin.

Star smiles at Myas antics, stabbing at imaginary ghouls. “No ghouls here Mya. I need a message taken to fairy and its urgent. Can you go to the fairy tree? I cant leave now. There should be someone there that can take a message to Inari...”

Mya grins, happy to help Star with anything. “Mya know Trist. He know way. I find him. He take message for Star.”

“Go quickly, tell the messenger to find Inari and tell her she is needed at the Tavern. Tell her I dont know what it is yet, but I know she needs to come, that something isnt right.”

Mya nods and flits to Stars cheek, giving her a kiss. “Mya go now, back soon....”

Star watches as Mya zips to the door and Jeb opens it a crack to let her slip out. The courageous little fae is stopped by two of the tavern demifae. Their conversation is high pitched and Mya gives them a regal nod as they bow to her in midair. The two males take point and rear guarding Mya as they zip on their way. Star utters a small prayer then heads back upstairs to Pandora.

This place is worse than any brothel or alehouse it has been my pleasure to destroy. I watch the patrons with a detachment that seems to be attracting attention, and not just by males. Everyone emits a telltale aura. I see humans' rainbows, the heat pulse around shifters, and the assorted mix of Others. Only three have the telltale shifting green of ghouls. Thank you Brothers Grim, for allowing me to hone my vision on your own auras. There is a small difference to these auras though. Sweeney and Moke have good solid tones, evergreen to spring green. These auras are a sickly tone, more yellowish than pure greens.

I am not casting any spells tonight, not even projecting my Succubi talents. I am not known in this place, so I am not even disguising my features. My hair was styled by one of the shifters. It lays perfectly, not a hair out of place. My pantsuit is navy blue silk, jacket opened just enough to reveal the lace of my lace cami. I tap the toe of my spiked heel shoe as I lean back against the bar. What did Guunnar say when he saw me..? Oh yes. All I need is a riding crop. I smile and give a nod to the bartender as he slides a white wine to me, nodding in the direction of two of the ghouls.

Gareth sits in a booth nearby. I wouldn't have recognized him, except for his aura. In his place is a very hot, very muscular young college student. His blonde hair falls in a shock of bangs over his forehead, while short and spiked up in the back. His shirt does nothing to hide the bulging muscles of his chest and arms. The jeans leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. No wonder both Raina and K'thyri exude lust when he is about. The ghoul female draped over him slowly drags her nails over the top of his thigh and over his zipper. I feel the shudder in his emotion from where I sit. If she keeps touching him so intimately... It is all I can do to control the rage I pull off him.

My pair finally come over to me. They chat me up and it is obvious they have done this before. It is also obvious they truly want me to dominate them. I slide from my stool and hook a finger at them. They follow like well-schooled puppies.

Twillon sits right outside on a Harley. His personal glamour gives him that badboy biker look... blonde hair loosely tied back, leather vest open, revealing a wealth of chest hair, bare arms covered in tattoos, worn jeans skin tight. The four fighters with him don't need glamours. They just look like street thugs. Twillon watches as we stroll by. He whistles and one of my "boys" turns to glare at him. I add a swish to my strut and Twill leans back grinning.

I tell the ghouls there is a shortcut to my condo through the Park. I can feel their anticipation as we walk the gravel pathways. Turning to stroke the cheek of one or my "boys", I catch a glimpse of Gareth on another path. The female ghoul acts as if she is drunk, but we all know better. Red eyes glimmer from the trees and high grasses of the more wild plantings. Twillon and his gang disappear into the dark shadows of the trees.

I open my jacket and it slides along my arms. I let it fall, noting one of the ghouls scoops it up and brings it to his face to inhale my scent. The other grabs it from him, snarling. There is a tug of war over the silk and it tears. I turn at the sound. My voice is cool, yet it snares their attention. They stop fighting immediately.

"You boys have destroyed my jacket. I will need to punish you for that."

They both grin and begin advancing on me. They growl softly, faces changing to their other forms. Instead of screaming or cowering, as they expect, I hold out my hands palms up. The pair laugh, a horrible hyena like sound which cuts off as they find themselves surrounded by silent Shifters in various states of change, and equally silent HellHounds. There is a crunch on the path behind the ghouls and they spin into a defensive position, back to back.

Dmitri twists his head and the crack of his bones is loud in the silence. A scream wails not far away. I smile as I hear Twillon's battle cry. The ghouls look around frantically, staring into shadows. We hear them, smell them, more ghouls are close, but we cannot see them. Three Shifters are down before we can respond to their threat. It dawns on us that all three are in human form, something they weren't moments before.

Chaos erupts, shifters morphing uncontrollably. The shifting seems to be keeping the ghouls off balance as they spin to attack one helpless human, only to find it has shifted, or a HellHound is suddenly between it and the intended target. Of the three first casualties, one lies still, the other two are suddenly covered in fur and back in the fray.

My blades sing as I dance among the foe. I get mere glimpses of Dmitri as he hacks into the ghouls that have come from seemingly nowhere. There is a ferocity in the Greek that burns bright, often hidden by the casual personality seen at the Tavern. Something swoops in from above and I feel my hair being yanked as I am lifted off the ground. I roar as my form changes and the vultures are forced to let go. Talons scrape along scale and I barrel roll, flame strafing the sky. Two go down immediately, burnt to a crispy finish. Another streaks away into the night.

Much as I want to follow, I see the battle on the next path. Glancing at my group, I see the battle well in hand. A Shifter is cuffing one of my "boys" as Dmitri cleans his blade on the remains of the other. One of Tori's kids is taking a head count and logging injuries as unharmed fighters clean up the scene. I roar and Dmitri looks up. He salutes and I dive into the next clearing.

Crouched among his stone breathrn, Stoney is just one more carved figure in the eaves of Town Hall. Nigel, the Nightflyer who makes Exton his home, has his batlike feet curled around a sill on the apartment building at the end of the block. Stoney shares a mental laugh with his Kin. Alise's soft laugh touches him as Pandora is momentarily distracted from her labor. He looks like someone's sheet!

As if on cue, a breeze picks, lifting the Nightflyer's wings. The nightmare creature lets his body stay limp, flapping like just so much fabric. Alise giggles. Mon Dieu. Keon out did himself with this glamour! Stoney laughs. Non Chaton. That is all Nigel. We all tend to forget he is from the Fae realms as well. Movement on the street below draws his eyes. One of Tori's kids, a crow, drapes herself against the corner of a building next to the alley. Stoney smiles as the girl fluffs her wild hair and hikes her skirt.

Alise reminds him that this one is no kid. They have been finding out that many of the kids are crossbreeds. Their heritages let them look like kids long after their teens. Ike's thoughts remind him that at 210 she was still thought of as a child in their own culture. Still... I am *tres hereaux that the alley is full of Shifters. This eclipse has me full of energy, but I have noticed the Shifters are on edge. So are many of the others. Thankfully the cops on this strip are Shifters and aware of our, how did they put it... Sting operation.

His mind strokes her gently, tickles all the children, before touching his Sibs. Stoney helps Ob monitor Pandora, easing her a little of her pain. Slipping behind a tight wall of thought, Stoney reads Ob's worry. Many women do not survive the birth of a Deamon spawned child.

Mon frere, you forget what you bear in your heart. At Ob's puzzlement, Stoney brings up a memory of Allah's Light as it healed. You love her, adore her, fear for her. Remember who you truly are... Azdaya Josephito Dago-Romanavich, Minstrel of the Desert Clan, Wielder of Allah's Light, Daemonspawn, Child of Stone, Gargoyle, Dragon... A small smile touches his thoughts. ^Barbere. There is a lifting of Ob's thoughts, a lightening of his worry. The Nestkin clasp mental hands, bumping shoulders mentally.

Stoney withdraws and hears Pandora ask Ob if he were alright. He watches, still in Ob's thoughts, as Ob leans down and kisses her forehead, smoothing away sweaty strands of her coal black hair. "+Si Bruha. My brother just... he was reminding me to be true to who I am. You bring our son into the world. You, ~mi Mujer, have the harder job. I am here to protect you, to support you," he kisses her gently and moves away slightly. "and to support Rowan and Star."

He presses his palm to his chest and begins to sing. The song is old among his people, one of love found and bought at a heavy price. The words mean nothing to those in the room, but the sound is soothing and full of love. The child in Pandora's womb struggles less, calming at the sound of his father's voice and the truth that bathes the room. Allah's Light shimmers into being, the curved blade glowing a healthy sunlit yellow. Moving back to the bed, Ob wraps Pandora's hand around the hilt. He holds it there and kisses her gently. When he feels the strength returning to her worn body, he lays his sword within easy reach for when her strength wanes again. Ob touches Stoney's mind Grazi Bro.

Anytime. mon ami.

Before he turns his thoughts to other things, Stoney leaves a message behind. Tori is flying back to check on Pan. Her team's shift is over. No contacts, no sightings. She is due to go back out with the next group. One of the seasoned Shifters is having a family crisis. Tori offered to take his place. He listens for a moment to the bluetooth in his ear. Gotta go, Nigel says we have ghouls at the other end of the street...

Ike touches Alise's mind. He is in stone and a seasoned Warrior. This is his home now. I pity the ghouls...

*very happy


+Yes Witch.

~my Woman

He's here; I can feel his presence, and the knowledge is like a fire in my veins. I follow the feeling, and suddenly I can see him with crystal clarity, as though everything else were in soft-focus.

The words are like acid in the back of my throat, but my voice is soft, my accent creeping back in. "Your blood is foul and corrupt, twice dead, fit only for the dunghill."

He smiles as he draws his blade, a saber with only a slight curve to it. "You have been a thorn in my side since I arrived in this cursed backwater. It will be good to remove you at last."

I gesture with my unencumbered hand. "Come ahead, foulness, and we'll see."

We come together as if pulled by some dark gravity. Blades clash, seeking flesh. He's good, better than I expected. Good enough to distract me with a feint and draw a deep cut just over a kidney. I spin, drawing him closer as he follows; continuing the spin, I score a thrust to his hip. I give Johnny a twist, gouging more meat from the wound as I whip it out. Rath just grins, fangs gleaming, eyes ablaze with bloodlust and hate. We dance, a dance of thrust and parry, cut and riposte and less subtle things, a waltz of death that can have but one conclusion. He thrusts, taking me in the left armpit and I hiss with the pain of it, but it gives me my chance. I twist, trapping his blade between arm and body and he loses his grip. I grin, feeling the blood drenching my side even as the wound begins to knit together again and I hurl his blade up and away. Huh... wonder where asswipe found an enchanted saber? I send Johnny back to wherever; the closer the better for this kind of work. Then we close again, fangs and claws replacing blades, hissing, roaring, blind with the need to kill, to tear and rend and bathe in hot blood. We tear at each other, ripping away fist-size chunks of flesh, blood aflame... Bloodlust makes me careless and his fangs find a grip in my throat.

One chance, just one.... My hand shoots forward, Rath shrieks and my fingers are wet with warm jelly. I gouge deep, pull back and then my own fangs strike home. No time for subtlety; already the ruined eyes are healing. I rip out a chunk of throat and feed. Rath goes for my eyes, but my head is bowed into his neck and he can only tear furrows into my face and scalp. When I can feed no more, I let his blood drip from my mouth, draining him until he sags limply against me.

His blood sings through my veins, tuning every sense to the highest pitch... I toss my hair back, blink blood out of my eyes as a pair of our young warriors step cautiously forward with a set of Traeger's spell-forged manacles. I let Rath drop then and look around me... It's a mess... bloodier than a slaughterhouse, with dead and dying ghouls all over the place. Erik looks shaken; he's never seen me at my worst. I expect it'll take him a while to assimilate....

I draw my axe first; it's a bit more awkward than the sword, so it takes longer. Nick, as always, only has to wish and his sword is in his hand.

"Need some help, Sis?" Raina grins; I don't think she likes playing bait. "Could you...?"

The ghouls shift to their true form then and I'm free to start hacking. Nick apparently had no doubts, or maybe seeing his girlfriend - girlfriends? - whatever; with a ghoul just pissed him off. His first thrust takes Raina's 'date' close to the collarbone. I think he was aiming for the neck, but these things are fast - damn fast. Behind us, Raina and Ky arm themselves and join in.

That's when ten or a dozen more ghouls join in on their side. I split a skull, wrenching the axe free with a twist and thrust Raina's date through the heart. That's one that won't be getting up again. Ky is slashing like a mad thing, her style like some weird cross between gymnastics and martial arts. Damn, doesn't the woman have bones? Nick fights more economically; his speed is similar to the ghouls', so he doesn't have to lead a cut so it lands where the ghoul will be fifteen seconds from now. He's going mostly for heart thrusts, one of the sure ways to put 'em down.

Raina decapitates another ghoul with a backhanded swing, courtesy of her longsword; her jian takes another ghoul in the eye socket and she twists it free. The ghoul continues to fight with just one functional eye - the other is healing as we watch. Lesser injuries slow them down, then, but don't kill... good to know for the next time.

I hear Nick saying something, but I can only make out one word in three... something about a dunghill? I risk a quick look his way and see that he's fighting Rath. Oh shit... just what we needed....

We can't do this now. Time to call in the reserves.

I chop off an arm, throw back my head and roar, "Release the Flying Monkeys!"

They come from all over, our shifter reinforcements, in animal or semi-animal form, moving faster even than the ghouls; ripping, tearing, shredding, biting. Ty rips the head from a ghoul with his bare hands while Nina thrusts another through the heart. Once again the tide of battle has turned, this time in our favor... but then I see Ty shift back to human, a very naked unarmed human... what the fuck...?

It's like watching an old movie, all flicker and flash. Our shifter allies are shifting from animal to human and back again, and apparently they have no control over it. Great, just fuckin' great.... I roar and throw myself back into the thick of things. We'll worry about this after we've won.

Ky eviscerates a ghoul who was about to take a bite out of my neck; before he can heal, she takes his head and moves on to the next one. We're all drenched in blood and worse things, but we can't exactly grab a shower just now. Raina seems to have caught some of K'thyri's berserker rage or whatever it is, she's spinning like a dervish, slashing high, slashing low, taking them down and coming back to finish them. The shifters, though sore beset, are fighting stubbornly, whatever their current form, and they account for their share of ghouls. If we were giving out medals, I'd recommend them all for one.

And suddenly, just like that, it's over.

The shifters break out a box of Traeger's magical shackles and go over the churned-up ground, shackling the wounded ghouls. There are only a couple... and Rath. How did Nick not end up killing him?

Some sadist is playing Barry Manilow in my brain, over and over. I'm sitting in my usual booth with my usual Corona and Could It Be Magic is doing doughnuts in my cerebral cortex. i've tried to stop it - witness the four empties in front of me - but Barry just keeps on wailing.

There's a feeling of impending doom hanging heavy in the Tavern tonight. Maybe it's because our fearless leader is upstairs feeling like a giant wishbone? Rowan and Star are up there with her, but haven't yet reappeared. In any case, glumness sits heavy on the countenance of many.

I've seen a few of the patrols meet up here, but I haven't seen any leave; they were just gone the next time I looked. Guess the glamour thing is working....

Patti takes charge of my empties with a strained smile. I don't have the heart to goose her and watch her try to balance four beer bottles, so I settle for a vacant-eyed smile in my turn.

It's gonna be a bad night tonight; I can feel it in my ancient bones.


I nod, looking at Nick, as grim as ever I've seen him look. It's not the inevitable black clothing - after all, he never wears anything else - it's the expression. His face is closed tight, giving nothing away, streaked with gray and black camo paint. Yes, we're going to be going out under a "don't-see-me" glamour, but it never hurts to be extra careful.

I check my sword and axe; both are snug in their respective places, so I give the vampire a nod and we activate the mystical baubles Gareth crafted for us. They're a plain gold bead - cannibalized, I suspect, from someone's Add-a-Bead necklace - that will give non-Sidhe the ability to walk the Shadow Paths. We both have one in case we should become separated. Raina has one as well, but Ky, being Fae herself, needs only her native abilities.

The Shadow Path stretches before us, like a monochrome version of the real world. Gareth tells me that the way we each see the Shadow Path depends largely on each person's expectations. Apparently I expected black-and-white. Oh well, it'll be handy to know when I'm back in the Real World, I guess....

Nick moves with no more sound than if he himself were a shadow somehow given substance. While I can't hope to match that, I've been a soldier for a long time, and within ten minutes we're at what I've come to think of as the killing ground. It's a public park, maybe five minutes' walking distance from The Strip, a two-block long expanse of bars and clubs, intermingled with tattoo parlors, liquor stores, adult stores, and so on. It's not really a bad part of town, but it's kind of an uncaring part of town. You get the impression that here, at night, you could go missing and no one would know or care.

Now we wait.

I wouldn't know Raina and K'thyri if we hadn't seen their disguises before we left. If I wasn't married - and if Raina wasn't my sister - I'd be seriously tempted. The changes are subtle, as though someone laid a thin veil over the real Raina. Her hair is still black, but shorter, caught up in a ponytail, and she wears a halter and a leather mini that hits just at mid-thigh. Fishnets and Doc Martens complete the Goth-chick-painting-the-town-red impression.

K'thyri has kept the red hair, wearing it in pigtails, but she's added some neon-pink highlights. Her outfit is more along the line of Catholic-shoolgirl-from-Hell, with white anklets and saddle shoes paired up with a plaid skirt that's even shorter than Raina's, a black bra and a white shirt tied at the midriff. Her makeup is vampire pale with subtly darker makeup around the eyes. It makes her eyes look enormous and strangely innocent, in marked contrast to the throw-me-down-and-fuck-me look of the rest of the outfit.

And they've brought friends.

Two of them, WASP-y corporate-clone types out slumming for the kind of girls that WASP-y corporate-clone types aren't supposed to know about. If I wasn't certain that they weren't human, I'd think out of their league. But I trust the girls to have used Keon's toy wisely.

Keon invented - created? - whatever - a "ghoul detector" for us. Using Sweeney and Mole as his control group, he came up with a magical thingy that reacts to a ghoul's aura - at least that's the theory. Both Ky and Raina are wearing one, in the form of junk jewelry. Come near a ghoul and it glows, ever so softly. So the odds are really really good that we have a pair who are out for dinner with their date tonight.

The girls are giggling drunkenly and plastering themselves all over their partners. Whatever happens is going to happen soon....