Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pandora had gotten Ob's message; and before she was able to send someone for her father... he phoned her and said... "On the way to the Manse, Pandy, knew they were going to need some clay for Tori if she was hurt. I'm not a sorcerer for nothing,been monitoring the battle and I've already let Rowan know I'm on my way...I've broken pottery up and blessed it and it lays softening to mud as we speak. I will let you know how Tori fares when I get there."

Traeger drew up to the gates of the Manse... he felt the wards lift as the small gnomes drew the gates open for him to pass; and he made his way swiftly to the front door.... he picked up the large container holding the muddy pottery and lifting an arm in greeting to the children as he passed, he entered the Manse. The sylphs guided him up the stairs and soon he stood beside Rowan. "Here it is, milady, I see the gods guided my hands long ago in gathering this for more than its beauty and the remembrance it held."

Rowan touched his cheek gently for a moment as she knew he referred to his wife... but the look in his eyes told her that was long ago and she held his heart now. He stood by to help should she need it, and passed a practiced eye over Tori's still form, her ashen pallor speaking volumes about her condition, and he set his mind to silent spells of healing.

As Raina fights her mind starts to wander. She has to force herself to concentrate on the task at hand, something she has never had trouble with in the past.

A Drow goes down and another takes his place.

Damn it! Will this ever end? All this conflict... first that freak of a werewolf, then those ghouls, trying to eat everyone... and now this.

She risks a glance towards her brothers, both fighting like fiends..

Father would be so proud of them... Maybe this is what we were re-united for... to protect Star and Ruark.... Tara had said things have happened just the way they are suppose to...

Suddenly Raina thinks she hears Tara, that unmistakable giggle of hers. She shakes her head to clear it, then hears..

Watch out!

“What the h...”

Raina goes down, knocked in the head by the flat of a Drow sword, a small trickle of blood winding its way down the side of her face....

Tomas is playing in the top tier of the fountain when he looks up and sees a horse galloping towards the manse. He knew the gnomes were set to watch and would only let friends and family through the wards. He keeps watching until the horse approaches and he can see Star. He feels his twin, surprise, then filled with sadness. Being an empath, even a young one, lets her sense all that Star is feeling. Star had been crying and wiped her face with her bloody hand. Consequently she looked as if she was more severely injured than she actually was.

He had been scolded for flying but this was an emergency. As he unfurls his wings, Star slips off the horse and lands in a heap on the grass. Tomas lifts and races into the manse, yelling for his maman all the way while Sylphs scatter at the noise and commotion.

Alise was upstairs helping Rowan and Ike with Tori when she heard the yells. “What in the world has gotten into him? I better go see...”

As Alise turns, Tomas bursts into the room.. *“Maman! Venez vite. Tante Star....

Alise runs out of the room and down the stairs, her son flying right behind her. When they get outside, Laila is kneeling in the grass her arms around a sobbing Star. Alise could see some sort of bundle wiggling between them and thought that Star had found another animal that needed her attention. That thought quickly gone though when she saw Stars face.

Mon Dieu, Star! We must get you inside and to Rowan...” Alise was frightened, Stars face plainly showed her anguish. The blue of her face fading in streaks with her tears and blood smeared across her cheeks. Her usually silky straight hair was a mass of tangles and her clothes ripped.

“I'm fine... its just my fingers. But Ghaunt is dd.. dead, he saved us from a monster spider...” Star sobs and Laila rubs her back, murmuring to her as one would a child. “The Riders went to help with the battle... there are so many Drow...”

Star stops herself, realizing that all the children were looking and listening wide eyed. She feels the wiggling and smiles through her tears as a little face pops out of her robe, reminding her of a weasel poking his head out of its hole.

“Oh! Star... a child? Where did you get him? Or is it a her?” Alise is trying not to laugh. Leave it to Star to find a child in the midst of a rescue and battle.

Tomas had come closer seeing the little boy. He grins when Star tells the group he is a boy. Coming even closer Tomas holds his nose. “Bath... he smells...”

“Tomas! Be polite.” Alise scolds but silently agrees with her son. This little one was in desperate need of soap and water.

Star stands slowly, feeling unbalanced. Her head hurt from crying and the headlong rush to the Manse. “I need to clean up, I want to hold my children and I think Mera is a little frightened of how I look"

Mera approaches and smiles at Star and the boy. She wraps her arms around Stars legs, “Mama...” and Star leans down and tilts the little girls chin with her good hand.

“I will be right back to hug you silly...”

Mera giggles happily and releasing Stars legs she holds her hand out to the little boy trying to hide in Stars cloak. He watches warily for a moment, his eyes taking in all the children and the fountains. He looks up at Star who smiles at him, then he takes Meras hand, curiosity and wanting to play in the water getting the better of him.

Putting an arm around Stars waist, Alise pulls her away from the fountains. “Lets get you up to Rowan. Laila will watch the little ones and I will ask Mortuis what to do with the horse. I assume you are keeping him too?”

*Come quick.

Ike stares at her sister, taking in every pale-fleshed inch. The tawny hue of her fur takes on a definitely grey hue, blackfeathered wings nearly gunmetal in the fading light. Tori cracks open one lid, staring at her sister's feline features. Her voice is ragged, nearly nonexistent.

"You look like shit, Kittycat."

Ike bares her fangs, "Not much better Asp." She hisses at the grey fox curled on her sister's chest. "Hang on, *llwynog, and keep this pain in the asp from passing out."

The fox flexes sharp nails and opens its jaws wide in a vulpine grin. "Just don't eat her. I know how much your kind enjoys a bit of snake."

Her wings snap open, cracking the air with their force. They are in the sky before anyone can react, out of sight beyond the treetops.

Tori mind touches Tannr's, brushing a kiss along the curve of his ear. When the Viking touches his ear, Stoney smiles and turns away. If he did not feel it, Stoney knows none of the others in the link did either. A soft voice whispers in Stoney's ear. It is time she felt the strength of a true love. He glances around, then shakes his head to dispel errant thoughts.


Keons grin fades at the sound of sobbing. “Oh... puir lass...” His gaze takes in Ghaunt on the ground, in an ever-widening pool of blood, Star kneeling next to him holding his hand, sobbing her heart out.

Stars sobs were heart-wrenching to hear. Tannr sees how helpless Erik is feeling, guilt and sadness written all over his face.

“Heads up! We are about to have company...” Gareths shout cuts through the gathering as several Drow warriors make their way through the entrance and out of Underdark.

Star looks up, tears still streaming and urgently grabs Inaris hand. “You must take him to the Grove...”

“Princess... there isnt time...” Erik glances to the entrance and the Drow trying to get past Gareth and Ky.

Glancing from her husband back to Inari, Star pleads. “You have to take him, you know what they will do with his body... I wont allow it....”

Star stands and closes her eyes, “Wish! Come to me... now...” Turning to Inari as Wish begins to take form in front of them, “Wish can have you there in an instant and bring you back to rejoin the fight. Please Inari, I cant leave him to... them...”

Pausing only for an instant Inari nods. “I will take him there and return. We can send a message with details later...”

Erik interrupts, grabbing Star by the arm. “All right, this is settled.Now get on that horse and get to the clearing. Have one of the Riders take you to the Manse and send whoever else can be spared here. We are way outnumbered.”

Star nods, whispers something to the horse and hands the small dirty child to Erik. “Hand him up when I get on...”

Erik nods. He absently rubs the little boys back in his worry and feels the little body relax against his.

Once on the horses back Star quickly removes her cloak and rips a long piece off the bottom. When she reaches for the boy Erik hands him up and watches as she quickly ties the small body to her own. Another small piece around her injured fingers and she is ready.

“I love you...”

'And I you... now go... dont stop for anything...” Erik slaps the horses rear and watches as his wife gallops down the path to the clearing. “Gods go with them and keep them safe.” He draws his sword and joins the battle.

As Star gallops away HellHounds slide from the trees, pacing her racing steed as Irish Wolfhounds did the Hunters of Old. Wish nods in satisfaction as their spine chilling howls call to the Riders hidden further ahead. She turns to Inari and bows. She kneels beside Ghaunt, touching the pale grey hair.

"*Codladh i síocháin, Ghaunt cara. Do rith, Tá mbeidh fearg mo Pike beloved is beag eile a rinneadh i céadta bliain."

Her eyes meet Inari's, then turn to the battle behind her. Sparks begin to dance among the tangled chaos of her hair, turning the brilliant strands to flashing neon. A breeze rises, whipping her wild mane into a writhing mass. Inari follows Wish's gaze to a Drow dragging himself along the ground. The man lies still when someone steps near him, feigning death. As soon as the fighters step away, he drags himself just a little closer to Ghaunt and the two women with him.

A snarl escapes Wish's lips. Gone is the dainty teen for which she is so often mistaken. Power builds, raising the hair on everyone's arms and necks. The Drow still standing edge back, out of sword's reach, warily watching both the fighters they face and the glowing figure behind them. She points and a swirl of sparks engulf the crawling Drow. He screams, arms flailing as if warding off a swarm of insects. The sparks intensify as the petite wyldfae laughs.

"You cannot have him Darklings. Ghaunt has given his life for a noble cause. You and yours shall not defile that."

Her voice is cold, bringing the terror of that unseen thing which haunts one over the frozen wastes of nightmares. She smiles, yet the sweet smile fills the Drow with dread. A twist of her hand and the ensorcelled man bursts into flames. His screams last forever, even though he is reduced to ash in mere moments.

She turns her back on the warriors and kneels again to touch Ghaunt. Her other hand is offered to Inari. Without a pause, Inari grasps the delicate hand and a bubble encloses the trio.

"As my Mistress wishes."

They blink from sight.

*Sleep in peace, friend Ghaunt. Your passing will anger my beloved Pike as little else has done in centuries..

The others are through. Keon can feel himself tiring, strength draining from the myriad cuts he has taken. His magic is stretching thin as well. Each mystic shield, each defense/offense casting, grows weaker and weaker. Eite stays by his side, plucking arrows from where they land and ducking behind his shields as if she had always done it. Her basket overflows with feathered shafts.

He has long run out of throwing blades. Somewhere along the line Eite had scavenged a bow from an archer Gareth had brought down. He begins to shoot, displaying the uncanny accuracy of Fae Archery. Over the twang of an arrows release, Keon hears a slither and a gasp. He turns to find a man on his knees before Eite, sword still raised high.

Shock registers on the Dark Drow's face, dark eyes going dim as life rushes from his body. The sword drops, falling from his hand as he reaches out to touch Eite's cheek. Tears run down her cheek as she kisses his palm.

"My water witch..." His words are soft, nearly breathless. "Take my sword. Get your Outlander... beyond the Border." His  gaze goes to Keon. "Protect her. They will come for her. Men who look like us. Dark hair. Dark skin."

He falls, body folding into a boneless heap. Eite goes to her knees, kissing him gently as Keon watches for the next attack. When she rises, her face is tear stained and grim, her hands bloody. A slim dagger is gripped tight in her trembling hand. A necklace of pearl and shell in her other.

Her basket bristles with new feathers and a brace of daggers is tucked under her arm. Sparing a glance at the dead man, Keon is startled into taking another look. His appearence is enough like the Dark Lord to be of the House of Night. Eite spins and throws her dagger, blade thudding into something unseen that screams. Grabbing the basket, she tugs at Keon's arm.

"The Border is just beyond those trees. We need to move Master Keon, or we will be meat for Lolth's faithful."

Without another word, Keon sweeps her up in his arms and runs. They stumble through the trees, jumping over the bodies littered just beyond Underdark. He skids to a stop, glancing at the raised weapons of his friends. Slowly lowering Eite to the ground, Keon grins at Erik.

"So Bloodbrother, ye started partying without me..."

We were within six yards - six yards! - of the exit and safety. K'thyri was in the lead, Inari and Erik next, ready for whatever might come, and I brought up the rear, with a clothyard shaft for any Drow bold enough to show his face. Six yards... and then it scuttled forward...

Large as a pony, covered with stiff black bristles over a gleaming black carapace... banded in livid purple, with venom dripping from cruelly curved fangs.

It was an enormous spider - servant and guardian of the demon-goddess Lolth.

I wasted two arrows on the thing. The first skimmed along the creature's armor without penetrating; the second hit fair and true, but bounced off without so much as chipping the black shell. I drew my sword, ready to fight or die, or possibly both. Behind me I heard Ky, Erik  and Inari doing the same.

The thing moved faster than I would have believed possible, a massive foreleg scything out to sweep my sword aside. It lunged before I could return to guard -

There was a berserker roar and a massive broadsword buried itself hilt-deep in the hideous head. I looked up in astonishment to see Ghaunt place a booted foot on the monster's skull and tug hard. The blade came free with a ghastly sucking sound, covered in black blood from point to hilt. "Go! I'll cover you." He gave me a grim smile. "It pierced the venom sac," he said reflectively. "One scratch..."

Star climbs off the wagon and lifts the heavy blanket covering Tannr and Tori. She gasps at the blood, telling Tannr to call to Ike. “She needs to get to Rowan...”

Tannr nods and leaps off the wagon. He looks skyward and sees two flying shapes then leans in the wagon and gently lifts Tori out. She moans and he holds her close.

“I'm sorry....It wont be long, I can see Stoney and Ike....” Tannrs words are cut off by a 'whoosh' and a 'thunk'. Eyes wide he turns and sees a Drow laying on the ground, his neck almost severed, one of Stars shuriken buried deep and blood spraying.

His surprised gaze moves to Star. “He was going to kill you....”

“Damn you're fast. Thanks...” He looks at Tori, “Did you see that? We'll make a warrior of her yet.”

Tori looks and whispers, “Her hand... she hurt her hand...”

Blood has soaked through Stars cloak where she held it balled up in her injured hand. 'It's nothing...”

Before Tannr can ask about it, Ike has landed in front of him. Stoney lands and keeps watch, making sure no other Drow come close.

Tannr hesitates only a moment, knowing he has to let Tori go but loathe to leave her in anothers care even if it is her sister.

“Fox is going with her...” He kisses Tori as he places her in Ikes out stretched arms and tells Fox to keep Tori awake during the flight.

Tori turns her head, “Hey Coppertop... Give 'em hell...”

Smiling, Tannr replies, “You got it Red. I'll be there as soon as I can.”

I feel my chest unknot when I see the wagon explode through the entrance. I catch just one glimpse of Star, safe and sound, and then the Drow follow and I'm too busy killing them to pay attention to anything else.

A Viking longsword is a two-handed weapon, too heavy and slow for the press of bodies around me. I draw my axe instead and I can feel Inari at my back, hear the rasp of steel as she draws her blade. I plunge forward with a roar, sweeping the axe in a murderous arc, taking the first warrior low in the gut. He staggers back, one hand trying to hold his intestines in place. The next Drow takes a killing blow to the neck and then I kick him back among his fellows. A warrior comes at me, screaming with rage, a great two-handed sword held high. I smash him in the mouth, severing his lower jaw and cutting back to the spine. I wrench the axe free and let him fall - too slow, a sword comes out of nowhere, scraping along my lower ribs. Were it not for the elven mail I wear, that would have been the end. I retaliate, splitting the swordsman's skull. Behind me, Inari moves with a dancer's grace, lethal as a cobra, not even seeming to breathe. Then the Drow press me hard again and I strike blindly, knowing only that I'm hurting an enemy - and that's all I need to know. The rake along my side burns as I lop off a forearm and kick its owner in the balls. He folds in half and I use the back of the blade to break his neck.

More, always more. How many of these bastards are there? The fury of Tyr comes upon me then and I charge into the fray, my sight all a red mist, cutting and hacking and killing...

When I come back to myself, Inari and I are alone, drenched in blood and surrounded by dead and dying Drow. I can feel my ribs stiffening up and I realize that the bones are probably bruised. The berserker rage recedes, leaving me feeling weak and wiped out.

Bruha, mi amor... Does your father have more of the pottery he had brought back from the Isles? There is a pause and Ob feels Pandora speaking with someone. As he waits for his wife's response, Ob slides his thoughts along his children's. Chloe's fierce "hug" is followed a chatter of happy thoughts.

He catches images of ice cream in the garden and splashing in the fancy fountains. Tante Silk has bought them all water toys. Mera has learned she can stay under the water for a very long time. Chloe is as fascinated with Mera's gills and webbings, as the waterbaby is of Chloe's wings. The other children clamor for *Oncle Ob's attention, filling him in on all their escapades.

He opens a one-way path to his Sibs, hiding the adult thoughts from the children. Ob lets their stories flow through him, lightening the despair of Tori's situation. He feels hope wash through them all, feeling Tori's relief that the children are safe. While the others chatter happily, one small mind touches Ob's. It is solemn, but strong. The Gargoyle concentrates on the quiet watcher. It takes a few moments to recognize his son. He touches him gently and the thoughts grip tight, as if afraid he will slip away.

^Mi pequeño hombre, you are growing stronger by the day! Papa' will be home as soon as possible.

The child's mind swirls, casting images of Pandora's concerned face, Monty's somber eyes that light up as he leans over him, the Demifae hovering over his cradle. There are also images of Drow, but these are vague.  One in a black robe leans close, a wicked looking blade in his hand. Moments later the body is falling away headless, spraying blood. Instead of horror or fear, Ob senses extreme satisfaction at the sight. It worries him, until he picks up the satisfaction as Tannr's. What he gets from his son, is curiousity.

Teri, 'hijo mío, that man was a bad man. he was hurting your Tante Tori because he could. He wanted to make her scream and she did not want to do that. Anger rushes through the link. Your tante, she is a strong woman. Some men do not like a woman to be strong. They feel the need to make her weak. Also, she is different. Some People cannot... accept those who are different. Images of the taverners, the people he sees everyday, mama, papa', his cousins flash. Si, Teri. We are all different, but we accept that it is good to be different. We protect each other. It is a Warrior's way. That man was not protecting. he was hurting for fun. That, hijo mio, is not a good thing. 

Affection brushes along their thoughts and Ob wraps his baby boy in warm and loving waves of emotion. He feels Pandora's private touch. A small smile curves his lips. His wife had learned tight shielding very quickly. A tendril of his mind wraps around hers, and he shares his concerns.

Mujer, Teri has the quick mind of a Daemonkind. We need to encourage right over wrong even now.

The gypsy Gargoyle feels his wife's arms wrap around his waist and he sighs with contentment. She gives him an image of Pike and Wish curled on either side of Teri, telling stories of heroes from every age. He laughs.

So... the tutoring has begun...


^My little man

'my son

In the wagon Tannr grabs another towel and holds it to Toris side, the shirt he placed there already soaked with blood. He cringes for Tori every time the wagon hits a bump, knowing she must be in agony.

“I hate these...” Tori slowly lifts a arm and looks at the manacle.

“I know baby. As soon as you get to the Manse we can find someone to get those off.” Tannr puts a little more pressure to Toris wound, singing softly trying to distract her.

Tori grimaces and her mind starts to fade, scaring Tannr. “Hey Red... stay with me... talk to me.... no checking out on me, do you hear?” He is relieved to see her respond, trying to smile. “Theres my girl. We'll be out of here soon and Ike is going to take you to the Manse.”

Tori whispers, “And you?”

“I'll come as soon as I can. You know she can fly faster with just you. And I need to make sure everyone else gets out of this hellhole.”

“Okay...” Too tired to say more but her thoughts reach for Tannr, I love you... and she feels his love wrap around her.

Tannr lifts the blanket and looks out of the back of the wagon. He sends to Stoney, Keon and the group must be doing a good job of holding the Drow back, so far no one is following and we dont have much further. Can Ike fly ahead? Tori is bleeding a lot, I dont know if she would make it as far as the clearing...

Luckily Stoney thought to conceal their conversation from Tori, Tannr being too new at this to be very effective.

How much blood, mon ami?

My shirt, a large towel and now I am adding another...

Tannr hears Alise's sob, Mon Dieu! I will get Rowan here. We will be ready... then Stoney again, Ike and I will fly above and meet you... be watching....

As Tannr settles in under the blanket and close to Tori he feels Fox moving and restless. When he cant seem to calm the creature, Tannr sits up and releases him from his back. He scratches the white ears and murmurs,

*Fela sjálfur. dvöl með hana jafnvel hvenær the ufsagrýla tekur hana...

The small white fox darts under the covers and curls up next to Tori, resting his head on her shoulder. Tori smiles softly and turns her head feeling the soft fur against her chin.

“I knew he liked me...”Tori closes her eyes, gasping shallowly with each jolt of the wagon.

If I go stone, the manacles will pop off.


Ike's voice startles everyone in the link. Tannr jerks as Tori's eyes fly open.

You can nae sleep. If ye go ta sleep, ye may not wake..

A highland brogue rumbles in her words, betraying her distress. Tori nods slowly, her thoughts slow to follow. Aye, I remember... There is a pause, a quiet moment until Ike screams her name through the links. Tori stares at Tannr.

She licks her lips and tries again. "Coppertop... pinch me, dig at the wound, anything if I start to fade off, or if my skin starts to go gray. Keep me with you." She pauses, taking a weak breath. "If I go stone, it may be a long time before I become flesh again."

Tannr grips her hand as the fox digs his claws into her shoulder. She winces. "Like that... just like that guys..."

"Tori." She doesn't respond, staring up at the cloth over them. "TORI."

She turns her head slowly.

"What happens... why can't you go to stone?"

She licks her lips slowly. "Too much blood loss. It will take a long time for my body to remake blood. It will be a long time before I can come back... to you."

Tannr squeezes her hand tight. "How long?"

Her lids close, a tear slipping down her cheek. "Years."

Taking a deep breath, Tannr nods his hand slowly wiping the tear away. “I would wait forever, if thats what it takes. But I would much rather keep you awake.”

“Then hurt me baby... hurt me good...”

Tannr nods, kisses her gently and reaches for another towel, hating what he has to do but knowing there is no other way...

*Hide yourself... stay with her even when the gargoyle takes her.

Ky watches as Tannr frees Tori and sees Keon with his sword, making sure the pair leaves the altar with no Drow following. Gareth almost slides out of the tree, seeing the look on Ky's face as her attention turns to Ardara.

As he approaches, Ky's eyes narrow and Gareth tries to grab her arm. “Ky...lets go. This place is going to be crawling with Drow any second...”

Ky pulls her arm away and stomps towards Ardara, yelling at her as she goes. “You stupid fucking cow. I am the one that dragged Morgan, and I should have dragged her ugly skanky ass a lot further than I did. And I should have killed her for hitting my horse. The gargoyles had nothing to do with that...” Ky raises her sword and swings, but hits some kind of force field instead of her intended target.

Ardaras smile infuriates Ky even further and she slams her fist on the force field accenting her words. "I..am...going ...to ...seriously.....fuck ...you....up...."

Gareth pulls her away, “Later Ky...we'll get the bitch later....Come on....”

Intending to leave, Ky stops suddenly, making Gareth turn in exasperation with her. “Damn it Ky....” But seeing the evil smile on her face stops any further words.

Ky has seen the priests head, sightless eyes staring above, a trail of blood leading back to the stone altar that held Tori. In one smooth motion Ky scoops up the head and tosses it. The head lands with a splat sound on one of the sharp hooks that adorn the lanterns.

Ky's glance goes from the priests head to Ardara and she smiles again. “Till we meet again....”

The pair join Keon at the other end of the altar and begin the retreat out of Underdark.

Keon turns, sword spinning in one hand, dagger readied for a throw. Adara's voice cuts across the crowd.

"Assassin! They are yours!"

Keon bows gracefully as Drow civilians scatter. Tannr and Tori make his side in no time, Gareth and Ky covering their flanks. Eite slips behind him, a purloined basket on her arm. He covers their backs as they pass him. Adara screams in rage.

"How DARE you defy ME!"

Magic flares, eldritch casting crashes against fae shielding. Keon laughs, although he has felt the power in her spell. His voice is low, pitched only to be heard by the five people closest to him.

"Move out. NOW. I am not sure I can hold against her."

The appearence of Tannr and his flashing axe brings Drow guards running. Two slim blades take out the guards nearest the Viking. Another leaves Keon's hand in a deadly arc. As it nears Ardara, another Priest steps forward and it becomes embedded in the man's neck. The priest drops to his knees and then falls. Adara's eyes flicker in his direction, but she ignores the dead man.

Keon slips another blade into his hand. Eite warns him to be careful. The tips are poisoned. The Dark Lord smiles, eyes flashing merrily. His words are soft, only for her ears. "No worries. I like poison." With those cryptic words, Ke strides into the fray. Scooping up a sword from a dead guard's grip, Keon begins cutting his way through those fighting to get to Tannr. Adara turns her head, staring at him. A small frown creases her brow, but she points at Tannr. Keon nods once and continues to clear a path. Eite follows behind him, picking up blades and handing them to Keon to throw. Puzzled, Keon works his way closer, finding people moving out of his way to avoid being killed.

"Oh fuck, it's all going to shit," Ky gasps. "Get your ass up that tree!"

I spring and Ky grabs a handful of my ass and shoves, and I manage to make my way to my "nest" with a bare minimum of decorum and dignity.

"Don't move, Priestess" - my voice is calm, belying the thundering of my heartbeat, but it carries utter conviction - "or your goddess is going to suffer a sudden vacancy in her ranks - no you don't!" Ardara's bodyguards pitch forward without a groan, clawing at the arrows that seemingly explode from between their shoulder blades.

"That was stupid, Priestess." I'm irritated now. "Tell your people to back off - weapons and magic both - or none of you will go home today."

Weapons are dropped and the tingle of arcane energies stops at a word from the Priestess.

"That's good. Maybe you'll live to tell about this after all. Now my friends and I are leaving... I promise you, anyone who follows will die."

Now for the fun part... getting down this damn ugly tree without getting rushed. I sling my bow over my shoulder, slip an arrow into my belt, and rappel down the back of the trunk, keeping it between me and the Drow. I land in a crouch and immediately unsling the bow and nock an arrow. We back stealthily away, every sense stretched taut for treachery.

Time was moving at a snails pace to the ones left behind at the tavern; Pandora watched in amazement as each time Teri awoke he was more aware, more able to do... instead of just waving his arms aimlessly he could now reach our and grasp her fingers himself... he looked up at her intently and she could see him struggling to connect the pieces of her thoughts, and she could see his love... for it shown upon his face whenever she talked softly to him.

Teri had started crying softly the second day she finished nursing him; and Monty has strolled over with a small bottle... "Its rice cereal watered down; thought this one might start wanting food before long." Pandora smiled up at him and offered the bottle to Teri; surprised at how readily he accepted it and how soundly he went to sleep once he was done. "You sure anticipate things Monty, you're a treasure,".Pandora said as she laid her son in his bassinet. "Pandy; I've had hundreds of years of serving masters to learn about children and such......" He brushed the babes forehead, noticing the small protrusions were still obvious; and pondering if they would change as he reached puberty... or perhaps before. He knew daemon blood could cause many transformations... Ob's trials with his dragon form a perfect example.

Pandora's attention was drawn to a patrol returning; their tired faces turning at once to Jack and any news of the rescue effort... this endless waiting was hell; but the rescuers could not chance too many random thoughts to their loved ones while in concealment.

Patti's well timed entrance with a tray of steaming dishes soon turned their attention to the fact they were starving... and they fell to eating and talking among themselves.

Pandora ordered some food herself; and passed the time before its arrival by calling Chloe at the Manse... the little girl's excited tales of adventure made her happy she had sent her with the others... Alise assured her she had made the other children happy with her antics; for she was quite the rabble rouser like her father... and her flight off the top of the stairs, followed by Tomas had caused quite a stir among the sylphs who helped watch the children. Alise and Laila had sat them down and firmly told them they were not to fly without their fathers or aunts here to accompany them... pouts adorned both faces... but they promised.

Tannr watches in disbelief as they bring Tori out. Her clothes are rags, what little he can see of them under the chains. Enough chains to bring a grown man to their knees but Tori keeps trying to walk on her own. The bruises on her throat and face show plainly on her pale skin and the rage building in Tannr threatens to boil over. He feels Stoney, trying to calm him.

She is a strong woman Tannr... wait until everyone is in place... it wont be long now...

Tannr nods and tries to force back the rage. His hands grip one of his axes, wanting to move now.

They drag Tori to the long stone altar and force her down on it, fastening the chains to her ankles and hands to rings embedded in the corners of the altar. He sees Tori look at the knives laid out and she closes her eyes.

Tannr? Tannr, I love you...

I'm here... close enough to see... I love you... be ready....

Tannr knew they were waiting until the ceremony officially started. Hoping that they could take everyone present by surprise and no one would have time to sound an alarm or call more guards. He watches as Ardara steps out. Dressed in purple and red, jeweled spiders hanging from her ears and neck. She begins to speak but Tannr has no idea what she says. The only word he caught was Lolth which Ghaunt had explained earlier.

Ardara pauses and goes to the altar, smiling evilly. She picks up a large glass vase of some sort and the Priest standing next to her looks to be blessing it. Tannr can feel Toris thoughts and her fear and rage at this priest. Then he senses from her that he was the one who wanted to violate her in the cell.

Tannrs eyes narrow.. He is dead Tori... I will kill him for you....

The Priest turned from the altar to where the knives were laid out. Ghaunt had explained to Tannr that they usually did some form of blood letting before the actual sacrifice and that the blood would be used later in the ceremony to call forth Lolth from her lair.

Tannr starts to wonder, if its just a blood letting why that big glass?

Suddenly the Priest turns and has the largest of the knives in his hand.

“What the hell?” Tannr looks to Ghaunt who looks puzzled at the Priests choice.

The Priest raises the wicked looking blade over his head, intending to stab Tori in the stomach. But as fast as the blade comes down Tori moves to one side and the blade misses her abdomen but is buried in her hip.

When Tannr hears the scream of pain and sees the blood well up as the knife is pulled out his rage boils over. He could no more sit patiently after that than fly to the moon. With a howl of rage that had sparked terror in many an enemy he launches himself from his hiding place to the altar. In one swift move his axe separates the priest from his head. The body falls back and the head rolls away, still displaying a surprised expression and splaying blood across the altar.

Ardara screams her rage. “How dare you defile my sacrifice? You will pay dearly for this insult..”

Ignoring the Priestess, Tannrs attention totally on Tori and her injury. He pulls his shirt off and folds it over the wound. “Hang on Red, hang on. I'm gonna get you out of here...”

Tannrs axe makes short work of the chains and Tori is freed from them. The manacles would have to wait until they were safer. Tannr gently lifts Tori, apologizing for the pain he knows he causing her.

Tori wraps her arms around Tannrs neck as tight as she is able and whispers, “Fuck that. Just get me outta here Coppertop...” Her voice fades off, and just as he thinks she has passed out, her mind touches his... and when I am better, we are coming back and gutting the lot of them and their bitch of a Priestess...

Alise and Laila were trying to get all the children their breakfast. It was another bright and sunny day and they were all excited about playing in the water again. The Manse's many fountains and sprinklers fascinated them and it was impossible to get them focused on any other activity. The happy squeals and laughter when Panther joined in sent the sylphs running. Tomas had been sleeping later, partially going to stone when he rested. Stoney had told her not to worry, since he was half human he would probably set his own sleep schedule, at least for now.

Alise paused as Laila finished setting the table and watched as the sylphs set out fruit and cereal. Out of the corner of her eye she spies two small figures trying to sneak past in the hallway. Alise smiles and turns quickly, just in time to capture two giggling little girls in their swimsuits trying to slip outside.

Laughing, Alise carries Mera and Gracie to the table. Kissing the soft brown curls and then the smooth blue-black tresses Alise tells them, “Breakfast first *”mes peu de bébés de l'eau.”

The girls climb into chairs and greet Ru, who is sitting on Lailas lap, watching everything intently. His changeable eyes take in everything and Alise senses that he doesnt miss a thing. Tara wanders in with Chloe carrying a large beach ball in rainbow colors.

Mon Dieu! Where did that come from?”

Laila laughs, “I think the sorcerers lady has gifted them with some water toys..”

Before Alise can respond she hears Stoneys voice.

Allie...are you awake? 

Of course, getting breakfast for the little ones..

Something has changed at the temple. It wont be long now. Is everything ready at the Manse? I dont know yet what injuries Tori has other than she has had little to eat and the chains... and whatever happens with the battle...

Alise reassures her husband, All is ready. Rowan has her supplies here and Mortuis said the surgery is in readiness in case it is needed. I have a room ready for Tori with a balcony that overlooks the fountains. I thought if she could hear the children playing while she rests would help her realize she is with family... and not still in that awful place...

She would like that... you think of everything...What would I do without you?

Alise smiles and feels herself wrapped in Stoneys love before the link dissipates and her attention is once again with the children.

*my little water babies

Star rushes into Ghaunts room, finds it empty and hurries to the stables. She is out of breath after her headlong dash from the cells.

She bursts inside to find Ghaunt with Tannr, who is pacing, knowing something has changed with Tori.

He goes to Star, “What is it? Whats happened?”

She gasps and struggles to control her breathing so she can speak. “They have moved Tori from the cell. In more chains...” Star sobs, the image burned in her mind. 'They said something about getting her ready for the sacrifice.. I dont know where they took her, I came right here...”

Ghaunt looks to Tannr, then Star. “Can you harness the horse to the wagon?”

Star nods.

“Good. Then be ready to go. We may need to hide Tori in the wagon...”

“But... bbut Ghaunt...the children... there are so many here that dont belong here...” Star struggles not to burst into tears at the thought of leaving them here.

Ghant and Tannr exchange a look and it is Ghaunt who goes to Star and kneels in front of her. He tenderly tips her chin and looks into her eyes, filled with sadness.

“My Lady, my friend, you know there is no time to spare if we are to save Tori? The second I have her in the wagon, we need to leave. And you need to be here...”

Star nods, tears slowly slipping down her cheeks.

“I will tell you this... during the darkest part of the moon, sometimes the guards take the halflings out. To that clearing where the gargoyle womans family waits. Some of them need fresh air from time to time or they wither and die. Demifae could be watching... the guards would not bother to go look if any wandered away.....”

As Star realized what he was telling her, her tears dried and her eyes started to sparkle again. She realized that she couldnt help the children now, but maybe would have a chance in the future.

“Ttt.. thank you..”

Ghaunt nods and stands. “Be ready. We will have to move fast when we return.”

As Ghaunt and Tannr leave the stables and skirt around the temple on their way to the altar Tannr says, “You do realize she will try to bring them all to her place? My poor brother..”

Ghaunt replies, “I had to tell her or she would sneak off while we are gone and fill the wagon with children... it is her nature... as it is, we cant be sure she wont try to hide one or two....” Ghaunt leads Tannr close to the altar, there are stone rings all around the perimeter forming a sort of outdoor hallway. It is behind one of these large rocks that Ghaunt stops.

“We can watch from here.”

Star leads the horse out of his stall. She feeds him what she thinks is a carrot from the bucket of feed Ghaunt left for him. Brushing him and whispering to him she tells him whats about to happen. The horse nickers and gives Star a nudge with his head.

Getting the wagon turned around and the horse harnessed only takes a few minutes and Star settles down to wait. She gazes out the small window that overlooks the outer courtyard of the temple. People are rushing about, getting things ready for the feast that would start at noon shortly after the conclusion of the sacrifice.

Suddenly she sees some sort of scuffle in a doorway across the courtyard. Then the door opens wider and a man tosses a small child out onto the cobblestones. The child shows no sign of life until he curls up into a small ball. The man comes out and gives the child a kick and starts yelling. Several Drow stop to watch although no one thinks to stop him.

Star is angry. Angry at the treatment of this child, angry how the Drow treat everyone, angry that Tori was in enough chains to keep a horse from moving, all of it boiling over at what she had just seen. She pushes her way between two of the temple guards and kneels by the child. She places a hand gently on the small back and is relieved to feel him breathing.

“Get away there! Thats my slave... worthless shit that he is... I ought to just feed him to a shadow cat and be done with it. He isnt worth what he eats..”

Knowing she still doesnt dare speak, Star picks up a rock and throws at the man striking him square in the chest.

“What? Who are you? How dare you?” The man sputters and comes close to Star, intending to hit her, but one of the guards stops him.

“I wouldnt do that if I were you. She is one of Ardara's, the mute one. Wouldnt be worth it to anger the Priestess right before the ceremony.”

The man hesitates glancing from the guard to the child face down in the stones. “You're probably right.”

“Pick another slave or take it up with Ardara after the celebration. You dont want her to cancel it... and from the sounds of it this will be a big one. You should see the kegs stacked up...” The guards voice fades as he walks away with the man.

Kneeling Star pulls the child into her lap and looks at his face. A mop of curly dark hair and large dark eyes watch her with curiosity. It was impossible to tell what color his skin was under the dirt and grime. Star thought he looked to be three or four but it was impossible to tell, he was so small and undernourished.

As she stood and lifted him he wrapped his arms around her neck and Star rubbed his back. No one paid any attention as she carried him into the stables.

Once inside Star took what blankets she could find and put them in the cart for Tori. Then she set the boy in the cart and heaves herself up. All the while she had been speaking softly trying to reassure him and asking questions that he didnt answer. She settles herself to wait and the little boy crawls in her lap. Star wraps her arms around him.. “Its all right. I didnt use to talk either...”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The center of activity seems to be just up ahead. Eite leads Keon along a lesser used walkway. A small figure in a grey robe darts onto the stones and tears past, long pale hair streaming behind. An acrid scent lingers for a moment and is gone.

Eite glances around, then motions furitively. Keon follows her into the darker shadows off the path. Her voice is soft, words nearly whispered. "I don't know who, or what, that actually was, but to run like that... It doesn't bode well."

Keon says nothing. His gaze stares after Star's petite form. Sometimes it was a bitch, not having the mental link of the Gars. Something happened, and Eite was right, it doesn't bode well.

"The altar is just up ahead. There are several shadowed areas that Deathweilders would favor. I will take you as close as I can."

Keon nods once. He rests a hand on Eite's shoulder and the halfling peers into his face. "When we leave here, what will you do? You can come with us."

Eite smiles, hiding it quickly. "I will think on it." Her eyes search his face, seeing nothing but the impassive expression of an Assassin. Her voice rises as she hears the tread of feet. "Let us get closer, My Lord. Lolth may favor your next endeavor if you are close enough to be touched by the sacrifice's blood."

The footsteps are nearly even with them when she steps back on the stone walk, Keon a step behind.  The Drow stop, hastening to give room. Keon rakes his eyes over the small group of males. The stand tall, but wait for Keon to move away before continuing onward. The further along they go, the more busy the paths become. Eite finds a spot in dark shadow that is still unoccupied. Koen composes himself for a long wait.

Movement on the other side of the altar draws his attention. A priest is laying out blades. Keon touches his side, conscious of his missing sword. Eite watches and taps her wrist. With a tap of his finger on his own wrist, a slim blade slides into Keon's hand. Movement at the end of the shade has the blade flicked into a thrower's grip. The intruding Drow backs slowly away and slips back into the crowd. Keon says nothing, but hides the blade in his hand, just in case.

There is a stirring in the crowd and Eite leans close. "It won't be long now..."

If looks could kill...

Tori glares at the priest's back. The guards are half carrying, half dragging her along the passages. Anger burns deep, causing small flames to flicker in her eyes. She feel the touch of Tannr's mind.

I'm going to fucking kill that guard. If I could change, he would be already dead.

Red? What happened? Tannr's own anger is rising in response to what he feels from her.

He took something. It doesn't matter what. He got a black eye, but I want his life now.

Gone is the depression that edged her thoughts. Instead her usual fire has roared back into life. A stream of curses, in several languages, boils along the open link.

Good to have you back sis... Ob's laughter is echoed by a sigh of relief from the other sibs.

Star was awake early. Or at least she thought it was early. It was easy to lose all sense of time when there was no sun. Ghaunt was busy making breakfast and Star whispered that she was going to check on Tori. Since Ardara had appointed her to care for her 'sacrifice', no one stopped her or even paid the least bit of attention to her, thinking she was a halfling and therefore beneath any pure Drows notice.

She went down the corridor that led to the kitchens and pointed to one of the scruffy children that waited there for orders, errands and whatever else they might be needed for. A small girl jumps up and heads into the kitchen, knowing that Star was taking care of Ardaras prisoner. She returns with a bowl of something that smells and resembles oatmeal, but Star isnt sure. She smiles her thanks to the little one and moves down the hall towards the great room and the passageway to the cells.

No one bothers her and she tries to look around as much as she can with her head lowered. Passing a darkened room she thinks she may have seen Keon. His dark face familiar under the hood of his robe. Star keeps walking, knowing she could not risk speaking to him.

Entering the great room she sees Ardara and struggles to control the expression on her face. She desperately wanted to toss the bowl and its contents into her face. Instead she waited until she was called and approaches Ardara slowly.

“So its Ghaunts little halfling come to preform her duties. Go ahead, I'll stop the Bal-Char. I dont imagine it will hurt her to eat one last time...” Ardara heads down the hall, Star close behind, wondering at Ardaras words.

With a strange contorted wave of Ardaras slim hands the dripping Bal-Char slows to a drip and then stops. Star steps into the cell and glancing over her shoulder sees the Priestess leave, speaking with someone in a gray robe.

Star kneels next to Tori, her heart going out to her brothers chosen. Her skin was even paler today, one of her eyes bruised and swollen shut. Her heart ached with the words of comfort she wanted to say but didnt dare, a guard was standing near the hallway. Instead she took one of Toris hands to get her attention. Tori focused her good eye on Star, and stared, not quite believing that Star was really there, right in front of her, looking for all the world like a Drow servant.

“Is it really you? You look so....foreign...and yet still beautiful. I know they keep drugging me...or trying to...maybe my mind is playing tricks on me...” Tori pauses, listening to her brothers voice.

It is Star. She is playing mute so she can get close to you...

Before Star can give Tori the food a guard steps in and hauls her roughly to her feet. “Enough! The Priest wants to get her ready for the sacrifice..” He pushes Star aside as several guards enter. It takes at least four to subdue Tori who is screaming and swearing in Gaelic as well as landing a few well placed kicks. When they finally have her on her feet a chain is wrapped between the ankle and wrist cuffs, effectively keeping her still.

One of the guards, the larger one that will now be sporting a black eye grabs Tori by the neck, cutting off her oxygen. “I wont miss you, thats for sure. I hope Lolth picks your bones clean...” His gaze lands on Toris viper necklace and as he lets go of her neck he pulls it off and tosses it on the floor. “You wont be needing any fancy jewelry where you are going..” Tori tucks her hand into the metal cuff, keeping her bracelet out of sight. If she were going to die she wanted some part of Tannr with her.

Star stands slowly as Tori is half dragged from the cell. She follows and then turns to look at the necklace on the floor, just inside of the entrance to the cell. She hadnt seen Ardara watching from the shadows in the hall.

The Bal-Char is barely begins to drip and Star starts to count the drips, trying to figure how fast she has to move to grab the necklace. She sits on the floor and slips off her cloak, the pale crescent moons standing out in sharp relief against the dark grey of her dyed skin.

Fast as lightening Star makes a grab for the necklace. She doesnt see Ardara, who with a wave, makes the acid drip a little faster. The Bal-Char splashes on the bowl Star left on the floor and the mist that rises as the bowl is dissolved contains small droplets of the acid that hit Stars upper arms. She moans and curls her body forward, the pain intense even from such a minute amount of the acid. With tears streaming down her face she opens her hand. She has the necklace. She gets to her feet and steadies herself. Then she runs all the way to the stables to tell Tannr and Ghaunt.

She never sees Ardara who smiles to herself. Just who and what are you? There'll be time to find out after this ceremony. I think there is more to Ghaunts halfling than meets the eye....

I'm not afraid, not with Ky and Inari at my back.

Maybe if I say it often enough, I'll even start to believe it.

We've been slip-sliding our way through this endless bog for several eternities, but finally the end is in sight - and lo and behold, there are trees! The first intimation I have of this fact comes when I almost collide facefirst with a shaggy trunk.

The trees in this place are as creepy as everything else - gnarled and twisted into fantastic shapes that look ready to reach out and grab something, and probably eat it. But they have one distinct advantage - they look to command an excellent view of the temple.

Ky gives the whole thing an unhappy once-over. "Are you sure that's a tree? In this hellhole, it might just be something that looks like one - in which case it probably bites."

"Not to worry. I imagine its bark is worse than its bite." Ky looks at me incredulously, and I shrug. "Only one way to find out. Watch my back."

I leap and cling. Nothing grabs me or bites me or anything, so -

"It's a tree. Hold on, I'm gonna check things out."

I climb higher and find that, as I hoped, the temple is visible in its entirety. I smile grimly as I pick my way back down.

"Better than I could have hoped for. I can see the altar and the priests - everything, in fact. I think we're going to make camp here...."

Eite's hands deftly smooth the flowing length of Keon's hair. Once it is tangle free, she holds open a dark robe, offering silently to help him put it on. There is a shout from the cavern opening and a tall pale haired Drow strides into the room. Keon keps his eyes on Eite, watching as she carefully adjusts the tie at his waist. There is a slight tremor to her hand and, as Eite drops to her knees at his feet, Keon finally raises his cold gaze to the man who interrupted her dressing of him. The man backs up a step as Keon stares at him, through him. The Drow pulls an arrogance over his unease.

"I am sorry. I did not know you were using her."

Keon turns his gaze on Eite and she answers, head still bowed. "I am his until he says otherwise, My Lord."

The Drow stares at the halfling. Advancing he raises a hand. "You dare..."

Keon steps between them, cocking his head to look at the Drow. The paler man pulls himself up short, just narrowly avoiding any touch. He backs slowly away.

"My apologies. I leave her to your pleasure."

When the man is gone, Eite rises to her feet. Keon brushes back her hair, looking at the bruise on her shoulder. Eite grins. "One would think you lived this life before."

Keon cocks an eyebrow, saying nothing.

"Come My Lord. It is time to get closer to the altar. They will think nothing if I lead the way." She pulls a collar and chain from a niche in the cavern wall. Fastening the chain to a link, she hands the loop to Keon.

"This way, My Lord."

Inari wakes to the sounds of rustling near the altar. She slowly opens her eyes and watches as several priests enter the altar area. Some are carrying large baskets and one steps to the altar itself. He is carrying something wrapped in a clean white cloth. The white stands out sharply against the other colors in Underdark, or rather the lack of any color, making the white cloth seem all the more ominous.

The priest carefully unwraps his bundle, laying out several small knives. Then with an evil grin on his face, he pulls out the sacrificial knife and holds it high. The wicked blade gleams in the light cast by nearby candles another has lit. The blade is jagged, reminding Inari of a sharks mouth, rows of taller spikes and smaller in between. Ending in a vicious point. The handle was large, ebony and the priest who welded it seemed more than comfortable holding it.

Inari whispers to Imp, barely moving her mouth, “Can you get closer and see?”

With an almost imperceptible nod Imp leaves the safety of hiding with Inari and flies above the rock altar.

Inari slips from the cover of the rocks and moves to Ky who is pulling apples out of leather bag strapped to her belt. “They're a bit bruised, but better than nothing. And I dont think I would eat anything from this place...”

Inari smiles her thanks and accepts the fruit, the golden yellow reminding her of the sun.

Gareth sees the exchange and grins. “I can do better than that....” He holds out his hands, palms up and suddenly he has six eggs in his hands.

“Well, that was brilliant. How are we suppose to cook them?” Ky asks.

“Hard boiled.” Gareth smiles as he cracks one. “I would have made us breakfast but we cant chance them...” He nods towards the altar, “smelling anything and coming to look.”

A hunk of hard cheese completes the meal. The group eats quickly, always watching the altar and the priests who are coming and going. Inari saves some fruit for Imp who lands on her shoulder. His report isnt encouraging. There are more guards than they thought and several of the priests are armed.

Ky shrugs. “We knew we were outnumbered going in. It will be fine, more to kill this way...”

Tannr holds Tori close in his mind, telling her not to worry, not to give up. They are all close by and there to get her out, to bring her home where she belongs. He feels her quiet, thinking she has fallen asleep, when he hears her.


I'm right here, Red...

My name... my name is Roisin Skye... I mean my real name....I wanted to tell you sooner...

Red..its fine... thats beautiful... just like you are... lítill rós....

I always hated it....more when I was young....

Noo...you're a beautiful woman, I can just imagine how pretty as a child...

Tannr feels her relax and he sends images of her resting in his arms, her head on his chest, his hand cradling her head. Suddenly he senses her sob and trying to hold the tears back.

I want to go home...I miss you....and Ob's baby...he is born isnt he? My ankles hurt, damn these fucking chains...

It wont be long. We are all close by. Stay strong, dont let them see any weakness...Obs son is fine, strong, perfect. You will see him soon...


Tannr feels her relax again. He tries to take the pain away from her but only partially succeeds, being new to linking their minds.

But if one of those bastards comes near I'm wrapping this chain around their necks...

Tannr smiles for the first time since Tori was taken, Now theres my girl....

Keon looks in the mirror and frowns. The man he sees before him seems from another time, another place. Gone is the vivd blue streak that is his link to Cassie. He touches the strand, feeling it tingle beneath the dye. His fingers trace over the spot that usually bears a near white scar of the spell he cast on himself, just to be with the woman he loves. His eartips swivel as he catches the sound of practiced footsteps of his guide.

The Drow woman comes into the room, eyes to the floor. The gaze that darts to take in his appearance is quick, but critical. Her words are soft and he nearly misses what she says. "The robe won't do. You are as dark as the assassins."

Keon's eyes narrow as he watches her. She keeps her hands tightly clasped, using only a few gestures. It is when she motions for him to walk, that he sees the webs between her fingers. She folds her hands together in what seems to be habitual. He says nothing, but she looks into his eyes for a moment and turns away.

"Hide the pity M'Lord. I am beneath notice. I am halfbred. Your coloring and bearing marks you as one of the Deathwieders. The only person who would know you are not one of them is the Priestess. Even the Deathwielders do not know each other on sight. If someone should bump into you, stare through them. If someone would speak to you, keep a blank face. Even the Nobles step lightly around them." She frowns at him, "If you blow it, we are both dead."

Keon stares at her, dark eyes seeming to spear to her heart and slide right on out her back. The woman shudders and swallows hard. "Just like that. One would think you were born to the Guild."

A small smile touches Keon's lips. Instead of being reassuring, the halfling finds herself stilling as if in the presence of the Priestess herself. She licks her lips before speaking. "You have done this before."

Keon merely blinks and the Drow's third lid flicks nervously. His voice is cold, tone clipped, words nearly bitten off. "How are you called?"

She lowers her eyes. "Eite. It means,"

Keon cuts her off. "Fin in the celtic languages. You are called for your webbings?"

She swallows hard and bows her head. "For my deformities. The webs and the dorsal fin along my spine. Thankfully my gills are hidden by my hair."

He touches her chin forcing her head up. A warmth touches his eyes. "They are not deformities."

The girl snorts. "Don't say things like that in Underdark. It proves you are not Drow. Can you do that? Or are we done already?"

His eyes go cold, becoming bottomless pits of the abyss. "What do you think?"

The girl shudders. "Then we go now. Hide the shell beneath your shirt and put this on." She hands him a scarf, helping him to tie it in the proper fashion. "Pull it up over your nose just before you dive in. It is the Drow version of the Merrow's cap. You will breathe as if on land."

She turns and leads the way to another tunnel. The Siren and several Murdhuacha are waiting. Just before they dive in, she adjusts the scarf over Keon's nose. "Follow me. I will take you in through my private tunnel."

The arc of her body is graceful as she slices through the water. Keon blinks, seeing Cassie's beloved image for a moment. When he looks around, the water Fae are have gone deep. The Siren nods and bids him Fair Waters and Good Hunting. His own dive is flawless. Eite waits for him, motioning toward darker water. The Murdhuacha wait for them to take the lead.

The tunnel she takes is narrow and twisting, lit by phosphorescent plants and glowing rocks imbedded in the walls. She moves through the water with a seal's grace and Keon is half surprised to see her legs have not fused into a tail, or flippered. He soon realizes they are alone. The Murdhuacha have secreted themselves somewhere among the tall seaweed. Angling upwards, she points and is suddenly spearing out of the water. Keon follows more slowly, taking a moment to look around before hoisting himself out of the water.  She bites her lips and looks up at him from under a fall of wet hair.

"We will be seen leaving here. There is only one reason one of the Dark Ones would seek a halfing out." Keon raises a brow. "To use us. And it is never gentle."

Keon rises and looks around the cavern. There is a bed and a chest, and little else. He turns to her and reaches out, his long fingers twisting in her hair. With a yank, he pulls her to her feet. She yelps and he forces her close to his body. His words are low, just in case. "How long do we have?"

She swallows hard. "I have the night to myself. It is a necessary concession to my deformities. I need to be in the water." She grins into his chest. "But they don't know for how long..."

He pulls her closer, thrusting a hand between her legs. "Someone watches?" She shrugs, mouthing the word listens. He loses the softer tone, slipping into someone more commanding. "And when was the last time you were used."

"It's been a while. No one wants to fuck a freak, unless it is for show. Or you like something... "strange". She gasps as Keon scrapes his fingers hard, the wet fabric of her tight fitting leggings is forced into her crotch.

"What do those who listen expect."

She blinks up into his dark eyes. "To hear me scream." He smiles. "Beg..." There is a gleam in his eyes. "and to show signs of it in the morning."

He lifts her to her toes, hand twisting hard in her hair. His thumb follows the slight outline of her sex, rubbing roughly. She whimpers. A low growl trickles from between his lips and she shudders.

"That, I can do."

Pandora was glad for the time to recoup with little to do except care for Teri... he seemed to grow and change each time he was asleep for several hours and awoke. She thought maybe it was her being overzealous about his daemon heritage... but Monty even remarked that he seemed to be growing before their eyes.

Roxi had stayed around to help out; Traeger was concentrating his efforts on spells and incantations of protection for the rescue effort and told her it would be good for her to just chill out with Jeb and the tavern folk till the rescue was over and things calmed down. Pandora was not too demanding of her time, so she was having a chance to talk more with Jeb... to reveal more about herself, to discover more about him; and their relationship was going forward.

Once they initially had a sexual encounter they seemed unable to keep it casual; each time they made love it seemed their mental reliance on the other deepened... the bond was beyond physical now.

The tavern still had its group of hangers-on... the street kids that thought of Tori as an older sister and friend... none could rest while she was in such danger; so Pandora had told Monty and Patti to feed them and bring out the games that rested in a cabinet near the kitchen office... chess was being pondered at one table; while a boisterous group was fighting their way to Boardwalk at another.

Some just talked quietly among themselves and tried to help around the tavern... the floors were glistening clean and all the tables neat as a pin without Monty having to touch them. This place was another home to most of them and they treated it with respect.

The geek types had their laptops open... they still had patrols watching for the ghouls; and now one of the boys was keeping up the info for Tori. The mastermind was still free; and no one was safe till he was captured; another reason to protect the tavern while the majority of the warriors were away.

Inari steps silently from the cover of a large rock formation. Gareth smiles in greeting and Ky turns. “That shouldnt surprise me anymore...How long have you been here?”

“Not long. Any sign the sacrifice will start soon?” Inari looks towards a large stone altar, dimly lit as everything in this place was by street lamps that gave off a sickly yellow glow.

'A few things set out, no sign of life yet. No word from Ghaunt, although I wouldnt expect any yet..” Ky wrinkles her brow and turns back to Inari. “I hate this place, its beyond evil..”

Inari nods, as her attention is caught by a something small, dark and flitting lower to the group. Ky and Gareth exchange a glance at the smallest demifae they have ever seen. He is dressed in black and hovering in front of Inari, speaking so quietly Ky can barely make out the words. A few more words spoken between the two and the demifae flits to Inaris shoulder and hanging on to her shirt fixes his large dark eyes curiously on Ky and Gareth.

“This is Imp. He acts as my personal messenger. Imp... Ky'thri and Gareth. I think we can dispense with formalities considering the circumstances...”

Imp stands on Inaris shoulder and bows.

Inari continues, “Keon is close and resting. I suggest we do the same while we can.” Inari settles herself on the ground, leaning back against a large boulder, one of many scattered around the perimeter of the altar area. Ky watches as Inari and Imp blend into the rock and all can she can see is Imps large dark eyes until he closes them.

Gareth takes Ky's hand and leads her to another outcropping of rock where they will be hidden from view. Ky leans back and with another glance at the boulder, shakes her head.

“What?” Gareth asks.

“Nothing. I just want to get the fuck out of here. This place is worse than the Unformed Plane if you ask me. Always dark, fucking spiders, snakes, fog and who knows what else. Not a plant of any kind, just a few scrubby dead bushes and all these damn rocks. Rocks! Everywhere...rocks.....”

Gareth smiles at Ky getting herself worked up. Under any other circumstances he would be laughing at her, but she was right. This had to be the worst place in the world... any world.

“Calm down. Save it for the ones who will bring Tori out here... take it out on them...” Gareth loses his grin when he sees the feral one on Ky's face.

The stream of unadulterated cursing causes Ike to blush. Tori isn't one to hold back. Ob bites back a smile and Stoney whistles softly.

Tori's going to start a new trend among the Drow... neutered priests.

Tannr's thougthts seethe along the open mental link. Stoney does some fast talking. He sends Ghaunt's words to the Viking, along with the warning to keep himself hidden. Too many people needed to get into position before their presence becomes known. Tannr doesn't like it, but he knows Tori's brother is right.

She is as well as she is because she hasn't given in. If she had broken, the Drow would have killed her. Hang in there mon ami.

Ike tugs at Tori's thoughts. They are thick, muddled. Tori responds slowly.

Star... I swear I saw... Star. tell me is isn't her...

Ike tugs harder, trying to break through the drugs.

It is. Only a few can get close to you. Tori... The captured Gar's attention seems to drift. TORI.

What...? Her voice is distant, drifting.

Star is there to help. Erik is not far away. Tannr isn't far either. Tori is more aware at Tannr's name. That's it, Tor. Stay with me. She feels Tannr reaching out, trying so hard to reach Tori. Heads up sis. Your man is chomping at the bit.

Ike goes quiet, letting Tori feel Tannr. His anger is a white hot rush and Ike hopes it will burn out the fog induced by the drugs. She slowly withdraws, letting them feel each other. Tori's fingers trace along Tannr's cheek, stroking into his loose hair. Coppertop...

The anger in him banks, smouldering as they talk. She touches him gently, as if committing his face to memory. Ike breaks off, knowing their link wouldn't fall apart if she were gone. Stoney bolsters the link, quiet as he lets the couple regain their strengths. Ob slides an arm around Ik'e shoulder, letting her hide her tears.

Her words are soft, strangled, kept out her thoughts. "She is doubting she will make it out alive."

Ob nods. "You know it, we know it. But she is wrong Malachite. They are bringing her home." He hugs her, a wry grin twisting his lips. "Tannr won't allow any other way."

If Star thought the smells were bad on entering Underdark, she was horribly surprised as she walked the short distance from the main room to the cell where Tori was being kept. She watched as Ardara stopped the acid with a wave of her hands and turned to leave.

“Remember my words Ghaunt. I will return shortly. See that your whore knows her duties here.”

Ghaunt looked to the floor, glad Star could not understand Ardaras words. When he looked up he could see the pained expression on Stars face. Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at Tori. She was huddled in the middle of the cell, trying to stay as far away from the acid as possible, her wrists and ankles were chained and bloody, the skin raw and discolored. The clothes she was wearing when they took her were now little more than rags, her jeans and t-shirt shredded, barely covering her body. She was filthy and her face was pale as death, an eye blackened and Star watched to see her take a breath.

A small servant girl arrives with a bowl of something that resembles porridge and hands it to Star. “For her...” She tilts her head in the direction of the cell and scampers away.

Star is dumbstruck at the attitudes she has seen in the short time she has been in Underdark. No one seems to think anything of chaining a person up and leaving them in this foul place. She shudders as she remembers the body parts on display near the town entrance and again near the temple. Heads and other parts on spikes, meant as warning to others. Ghaunt had tried to explain but Star had put her hands over her ears and shook her head, not wanting to know anything else about this race of strange ruthless people.

Tori moves a bit snapping Star from her thoughts. She enters the cell with the bowl and kneels near Tori. Another bowl is near by, untouched and this infuriates Star. She picks up the old bowl and tosses it down one of cracks near the walls that catch the Bal-Char and hisses at Ghaunt, “She needs help to eat...”

Star takes Toris head with one hand and lifts the bowl to her lips with the other. Tori sips at the gruel, then her eyes focus and she looks at Star. “My eyes are playing tricks on me now...” and tears gather.

Star cradles her head against her, helping her finish what passed for a meal. She places a kiss on top of Toris head and starts to hum the song Tannr has been singing to her. Tori goes still as death and tips her head, “Star?”

“Shhh....Coppertop sends his love. Stay strong...” Star barely whispers, scared to death that someone will overhear. It would mean the end of them all.

Star sets the bowl down and tries to look at an injured wrist. Toris eyes watch her every move now, drinking in a familiar face. Suddenly a man dressed in a robe of variegated gray enters the cell. His voice is sharp and makes Star jump even though she doesnt understand the words.

“Did Ardara order any treatment for this prisoner?”

Ghaunt lowers his head and Star follows his lead.

“Answer me, wretch, or your hide will decorate the lamps during the sacrifice.”

Stuttering Ghaunt explains, “This is my mate, she is new to the temple. Ardara wants her to care for the prisoner, feed her and such... She turned the Bal-Char off so I could show her...”

The man grins evilly, “I think you can go now. I doubt if Ardara wishes you to waste anything on her sacrifice. Besides, I have something that will take of her...” and the man rubs his crotch suggestively.

Tori sees this and her eyes narrow. Before Star can stop her she spits at the priest and swears at him in Gaelic. Star watches as her hands start to vaguely resemble claws and she grabs the chains, wrapping one around her hand to use as a weapon if the priest comes any closer.

Glancing from Ghaunt to the priest and back again Stars mind starts to work furiously. Ardara would return if she could just stall long enough.

Star watches the priests expression as Ghaunt speaks. It changes from lustful to angry in seconds with Ghaunts words. "I don't mean to tell you your job, but I'm sure you know how the Priestess will feel if the sacrifice is besmirched... and that's a pale imitation of how the Goddess will react. But if you think you can get away with it, go right ahead...."

The priest hesitates, then backs out of the cell. Star heaves a sigh of relief at his leaving, but she is still angry and worried. What would stop anyone from hurting Tori further when they werent here?

Ghaunt pulls Star behind him, dodging other servants carrying huge platters and pitchers. “They are getting things ready... Ardara must be counting on this to be a great celebration.”

Star nods, her eyes huge at the sights in the temple, from the oppressive size of the place to the scared looking servants, the constant darkness and rank air. She already wants to go home, back to the woods and sunshine, Ru and Mera and her animals.

Suddenly the hall opens up into a large room. No furnishings except for the tapestries on the walls and two chairs and a table placed close to the fire. A hallway leading off the room that looks to go downwards but Star couldnt be sure in the dim light from the fire. The guard stationed next to it looked frightening to her, his face grim, his huge sword held across his chest.

Star jumps when she hears Ardaras voice. She cant understand the words but the disdain and contempt are clear in the womans voice. Star lowers her gaze as Ardara approaches but gets a glimpse of evil red eyes, silver white hair and a tall lithe body.

“Well, well, Ghaunt.. what have we here? A mate? Or did you bring me something else to offer Lolth along with the gargoyle woman?” Ardara reaches down and tips Stars chin with a slender bejeweled hand so she can look at her face.

“Pretty for a halfling... “

Ghaunt clears his throat, “She is my mate. Her name is Nat'laer, and she is mute. I do not wish to sacrifice her...”

An evil laugh erupts from the tall woman, “Dont worry Ghaunt. I will permit you your plaything … for now... And a mute you said? Where is she from? She obviously doesnt speak our language... nevermind. It really doesnt matter. At least I will be spared another females senseless chatter.” Her glance moves from Star to the guard. “Show her how to feed my gift...she might as well make herself useful, besides fucking you..”

Ardara turns to leave the room but turns back to Ghaunt. “Be ready for the ceremony. I dont think I want to wait another two days. I am going to consult with the Priests now. Make sure the rest of the slaves know their part.”

Ghaunt chokes down his panic, We will have no time to prepare... I hope Inari is here and knows this.....

“Will you stop the Bal-Char, Mistress? I will show Nat'laer her duties immediately...” Ghaunt isnt sure if Ardara will agree to this when she obviously is anxious to leave but to his surprise she does.

“Very well. Just dont let her escape, or the two of you will be taking her place...”