Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I'm standing on the balcony - which is one of the largest I've ever seen - with Gareth and K'thyri, waiting for news of Raina. I'm facing her room, so I'm the first to notice when Star trots out.

"She's awake," are the first words out of her mouth. "If you want to talk to her, you'd better go now. Rowan has given her pain medicine, and she won't be awake long."

Gareth and Ky hurriedly make their apologies and head to Raina's room. I stay behind for the moment; Star is wearing a sleeveless gown and I can see what look like fluid-filled blisters - tinged blue by the remaining dye, but an angry red around the edges - all along her upper arms. The moons stand out in greater contrast because of their pale coloration.

"What the Hel happened to you?," I ask, horrified.

Star explains about the Bal-Char and I listen, more horrified still. "You risked your life for a piece of jewelry? Love, did Mortuis waste his breath when he told you that you can't act on impulse anymore? That was beyond crazy, and Tori would tell you that herself."

Her face sets in that stubborn look I know so well... but then tears begin to gather in the corner of her eyes - though she tries to hide them. My heart breaks a little at the sight. I take her hands, tug her close and just hold her for a minute. "C'mon, let's go see Raina."

"You go. I want to get Alise."

She runs off and I smile, bemused. How can she twist me around her finger like this? I shrug inwardly and make my way to Raina's room.

"Hi, stranger," I say as I enter. Raina raises her head and gives me a weak, uncertain smile - but a smile for all that. "Hi yourself," she says as Ky and Gareth move back so she she can see me without stretching.

"How do you feel?"

"Like shit on toast."

"I'm gonna go get Tannr," Ky announces and the Wyldfae is off like a shot.

Raina cautiously turns her head and winces. "Did you get the license number of that frost giant that smacked me?"

I give her a tight-lipped smile. "Nick turned him into shaved ice."

"Oh, good. Saves me the trouble. Where is Nick, anyway?"

I jerk a thumb at the window. "In bed. It's daytime."

"Oh. Is that what that shiny thing in the sky is? I thought it was just my head exploding."

His touch is gentle, unsure, yet enough to bring Tori to mental tears. She shakes it off and reaches out to entwine her thoughts with his. You are an idiot Coppertop. I am going to be like this for many hours. I don't expect you to sit out here the whole time. She tugs at his hair. Ky told me you stank.

She feels the surprise at her touch, then the acceptance and stubbornness. The only time I am leaving, Rós Himinn, is if Raina wakes. At the growling sensation in her emotions, he sends her a deep kiss. And maybe to eat and shower. That's it. Deal?

The mental tears slide. Tannr touches his cheek in his sleep, feeling her tears. In their shared dream, his arms pull her close. Her voice is gentle, a soft caressing whisper in his mind.


Ky knocks softly on the door in front of her and enters slowly. The lights were off but the morning sun from the balcony bathed the room in soft light. She makes her way to the balcony and sees Tori, an awesome sight in her stone form, looking as if she was keeping watch over the fountains and the grounds. Tannr was in a straight-back chair that looked miniscule with his large body covering most of it.

Grinning, Ky greets Tannr. “Hey! I brought you something...” Ky decides not to tease, poor guy must be going through hell right now...

Tannr looks up and greets Ky...”Hi... Hows the ankle? Why arent you resting?”

“Couldnt sleep. Raina is still out... and I got to thinking, if she were awake she would be yelling at you to take care of yourself.”

A small smile appears on Tannrs face as he nods.

“So I thought I would offer to sit with Tori if you needed to do anything... like wash up.... you kinda smell, Viking... smell bad.... Get a clean shirt too while you are at it...”

Tannr hesitates, not wanting to leave the balcony.

“Go! Stubborn damn Viking... take five minutes... if you dont the smell will knock her out when she changes back to human.”

Tannr sighs, “All right. Five minutes.” Tannr strokes the side of Toris face, not sure if she can hear him in this deep of a sleep that she must be in. I'll be right back elskan min... she wont give up otherwise...

When Tannr left, Ky starts talking to Tori, not sure if she can hear her or not. “Dont be mad at him, I made him go. He looks like hell and smells worse...” Ky rolls out the sleeping bags she found, placing them in arms reach of the gargoyle. “I grabbed two of these...” Ky places one on top of the other... “I'm sure he is used to sleeping standing up it thats what he has to do, but I thought I would be nice. I kinda like the kid, even though he can be annoying as hell.” Ky disappears for a second and returns with a couple of pillows from the bed inside. “There. Now when you wake up you can crawl in and surprise him..” Ky winks at the statue.

Tannr returns wearing sweat pants and a clean t-shirt. His hair is wet and tied back, still dripping.

“You could have taken a little more time...”

“No, I didnt want to. I dont want to leave her at all, not even for a few minutes.” Tannrs voice chokes a bit, the emotions and exhaustion of the past few days catching up with him.

Ky nods. “Okay. At least you just smell like soap now..Try and get some rest, I'm sure you need it.”

Tannr nods and doesnt say anything. Ky smiles sadly and reaches over to give him a hug. “You must love her a lot... To risk so much to get her back, you could have been killed. Star and the rest of us blended right in with the Drow, but you stick out like a sore thumb..”

Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Tannr replies, “I do love her.. more than anything. She makes me want to be a better man, to be worthy of her, to honor her... its kind of hard to explain...”

Ky nods, “I think you do a pretty good job of explaining. She's a lucky woman.”

Ky turns to go as Tannr asks, “Let me know when my sister wakes?”

“Of course I will. I'm sure she will want to see you with her own eyes to make sure you are okay.”

Tannr watches as Ky limps out of the room, then he settles down on the sleeping bags. He reaches for Tori, wanting to feel her close even if she was stone then falls into a light sleep.

The book lies forgotten on the side table. I'm focusing my whole attention on Raina now... not that anything seems to have changed. I'm so absorbed that I'm caught completely by surprise when a pair of hands come up to cover my eyes and someone nips the edge of my ear. "Guess who?" The voice is no more than a whisper.

"I don't know... errr... Nick?"

"Smartass." The hands are removed from my eyes and a grinning K'thyri moves in front of me. "How's she doing?"

"No change... it's just going to take time, I think... there's not much the Healer can do, just let Nature take its course."

"Well, that's frustrating."

"Yeah." I yawn suddenly. "Hey, it's not time for you to relieve me yet. What's up?"

"Can't sleep." She makes a face. "I'm horny as hell and all my lovers are out of commission."

I grin. "Sorry about that."

She sticks out her tongue. "I hear Tannr is spending the night with Tori. I thought I'd bring him up a blanket or sleeping bag or something... damn stubborn Viking."

"Yeah, like you wouldn't do the same thing," I scoff. "If you can catch one of the sylphs, they can probably show you where such things are kept..."

"Right. I'm off then." She gives me a gratuitous wiggle as she leaves.

Raina opens her eyes slowly, taking in the winter landscape. Where am I? Back home? But I was in Fairie... the Drow....

As she sits up she can hear a girls giggle and she gazes through the forest of trees and snow. Everything seems strangely lit from within, almost as if the trees are glowing, the branches heavy with ice. Turning her head she sees Tara approach. Skipping in the snow, her blue cloak billowing behind her. She smiles and laughs as she sits next to Raina.

“Hello sister. We cant visit for too long this time.” Tara throws her arms around Rainas neck and Raina pulls her close, wondering why she has been given this gift but not daring to ask.

“Here... I found this for you...” Tara places a doll in Rainas arms.

“My Ellie... where did you... nevermind.... I should know better than to ask, right?” Raina grins at the old doll. It was the only doll she had ever had. One of her fathers wives many unsuccessful attempts to curb the tomboy in her. She had kept the doll in her bunk and sometimes let Tara play with it.

“I just wanted to see you and give her to you. I hope you dont mind...”

“Of course not. I love you Tara... I wish...” Raina stumbles over the words. They had been through all this before and there was no changing things. Tara had said everything happened as it should... but that didnt mean Raina wouldnt always wish for a different outcome.

“I know...I love you too. Thats a nasty bump on your head...” Tara runs a finger lightly over the side of Rainas head. “Its going to hurt when you wake up.”

Wolves start to howl in the distance and Raina automatically reaches for her sword, which isnt there. “Damn it...”

“Dont worry. They cant hurt us. I have to go anyway.”


Tara nods, “Yes...but we'll see each other again. Tell Tannr and Erik I love them. Tell Tannr that his love will be fine. And remind Star to give her back the snake necklace. I think she has forgotten that she has it.”

Raina stands with Tara and brushes the snow off. “It isnt even cold... how strange... I will tell them, I promise..”

“Can you hear the little ones? They are sending you their energy and good thoughts, willing you to come back. I shouldnt keep you, they have been frightened to see you so still.”

She nods as she embraces her sister and in a flash Tara is gone and Raina is left in the woods, snow swirling around her and the howling of the wolves in her ears.


Tori begins to ease herself upwards, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. Tannr tries to stop her, telling her to lay back and rest.

"Take the needle out Tannr. Take it out NOW."

No Coppertop, no sweetheart. She wasn't kidding. Tannr didn't argue, didn't go get Rowan. He simply slid the needle from her arm, holding a cotton ball on the puncture wound like he saw the Healer do to Ike. Medical tape to hold the cotton in place, and Tannr found the switch to turn off the IV before too much liquid drips on the floor. He looks back just in time to catch her as she begins to fall.

"Red! What are you doing?"

His arms tighten around her waist as he holds her up. She feels heavier than when they brought her to Rowan. Her skin has a slight grayness to it. Tori lays her forehead against his chest with a sigh.

"I'm going stone, Coppertop. I need to get outside."

Tannr, kisses the top of her head and sweeps her up into his arms. He grins at the surprised look in her eyes. "Silk had them put you in a room with a balcony."

She seems to get heavier with every step. By the time he sets her on her feet, Tannr is breathing heavy. Tori cups his face and kisses him gently.

"I'll try not to... I mean, Ike gave me enough blood..." She sighs. "I'm not sure how long I will be in the stone sleep, Tannr. I'm sorry."

Tannr strokes the backs of his fingers along her jaw. "I'll be waiting."

She steps backward, tilting back her head, crossing her arms over her chest as the stone begins to make its presence visible. Her hair flattens, skin texture taking on scales, as wings spread from her shoulders. Blowing him a kiss, Tori gives up the last of her human form for her gargoyle form and stillness.

Tannr kisses her stone cheek, and traces a finger over the image of her snake bracelet clutched in a taloned fist.

"I'll be waiting, Red. I'm not going anywhere."

The sylphs have cleaned away dinner and the families have gathered in Raina's room, with Rowan's permission. I lean against the door frame, sadly watching the visit. Raina has not woken since being brought here. It seems all we can do is watch, and pray to whatever Gods we follow.

Chloe and Tara have worked their way up the bed. Almost as one, they reach out and lay a hand on Raina's face. I feel all the little cousins in tandem, as if they are channeling their thoughts to Raina through the two girls. I look at all the little faces and see concentration. Mera's eyes are closed, Tomas and Grace stare intently at Raina. Star's little man, what was the name Tomas gave him? Ah yes, Robin. Robin stands close to Tomas, eyes glued to the girls. Even Ruarc seems intent on what the girls are doing.

Surprise seems to bloom slowly as the others finally catch on. They are not talking to Raina. The girls are filling her mind with the love all the children feel for Tante Rain, images of their favorite times with her, her stories of being a little girl, being a warrior. Ob leans close to Star and Erik telling them what the children are doing. Keon nods as Mera reaches out and lays a small hand on Raina's side, Soon Tomas and Robin are also touching Raina.

Ruarc starts to squirm in Star's arms, and I offer to take him. She seems startled at first, but gives him to me. I kiss the little man's forehead and nestle him in the crook of our sleeping beauty's arm. Ru beams at me and snuggles in. I breathe deep of the love the children are enveloping around Raina, remembering when they did something like this for their adopted Gran, Grace.

It takes only minutes, but feels like much longer. Chloe and Tara look at each other and slowly remove their touch from Raina's face. The others also move away and I pick up Ru, handing him back to his mother. As the children reach for their parents, Tara's soft voice is heard by everyone.

"Tante Raina is sleepy, but she not going away now."

Nick is forced to retire just before dawn to search out his room for the night, acquire another bottle of blood, etc.; fortunately the Manse boasts several subterranean chambers where sunlight can be completely excluded. He charges us in his absence to keep an eye on Raina - at least until she regains consciousness and Rowan pronounces her out of danger. It's hard to say no to a guy with finger-length fangs who could juggle us both like tenpins - so we agree. Wouldn't you?

Not that we'd have refused in any case. Ky beds down in one of the Manse's innumerable spare rooms, promising to relieve me in four hours. I borrow a book from the sorcerer's library - something, as I recall, about a vampire that was created by science - and settle in for a long day.

The book is interesting, if a trifle ludicrous in its premise, but I soon find my attention wandering from the printed page. Raina, so pale and listless, draws my eyes back again and again. I smile at Raggedy Ann - or the Norse equivalent, whatever that might be - evidently a very old plaything, worn from much handling, stained with tears... I wonder if it was Raina's doll, or that of her lost sister?

Ah, Raina..
.. I remember when we first met, when she thought I worked for Morgan willingly, rather than under duress. I really thought she might kill me when she learned that Morgan stole children - and truth to say, I wouldn't have fought against it very hard. And then there was the time that she thought Nick and I had had sex... not that I could blame her for that; she did find us naked in the same bed.... Yes, we had quite the rocky beginning... and now.... I smile as I watch her breast rise and fall, watching intently for any change.

After Stoney and his family leave to go see Raina, Rowan comes in and switches Toris IV lines. At Tannrs questioning Rowan tells him the blood is finished and she wants to start an antibiotic, to run until sun-up when Tori will go to stone.

“I dont want to take any chances. It's more of a precaution than anything, but who knows what was on that knife..”

Tannr watches as Rowan discontinues one treatment and starts another with practiced ease. She excuses herself when she is done and Ike does the same.

“Gonna wash up and get something to eat. Want me to bring you anything?” Ike asks her sister.

Smiling as Toris stomach growls at the mention of food, Tannr says “Maybe we should ask Rowan first. You havent had much to eat in awhile..”

“I'll go find Rowan and ask...” Ike kisses her sisters head and squeezes Tannrs shoulder as she walks past, finally able to relax at feeling some signs of recovery in her sister.

Alone for the first time since Toris return, Tannr takes her hand and kisses the palm, then the wrist, his eyes full of passion and love for her.

Tori sighs, closing her eyes for a moment. When she opens them, there is a shadow that wasn't there before

“Tannr, I know what it's like after a battle, all the adrenaline, the need for release." She looks into his eyes for a moment, then glances away. "I'm sure there is someone at the club that could take care of those needs." At his silence, she twists her lips into a sad smile. "it wouldn't be the first time a male left me for someone else's bed..."

Tannr quickly swallows his anger at the thought of anyone hurting her like that. He smiles softly at Tori. “Well Red... I'm not that guy. What I have right here in front of me is more than worth waiting for. I love you. How long is it going to take you to realize that?”

Tori smiles with relief, “Maybe forever...”

“I'm game for that if you are...”

Looking deep into Tannrs eyes Tori can feel the love and concern for her and feels no guile, only honest emotion that brings tears to her eyes.

“We can talk of serious things when you are up to it Red. Right now you need to rest and heal. I can wait. I dont care if it takes six hours or six years. I'm not going anywhere, okay?”

“Okay..” Tori responds quietly, content and willing her body to heal...

Sitting at Rainas bedside, Nick turns his head at the sound of soft knocking. Alise steps in and asks, “Do you mind a little visit? The children are worried about their tante...”

“I dont mind at all... please.... bring them in..” Nick smiles as he stands, knowing that were Raina awake she would love to see the kids.

Stoney carries the girls in and Tomas walks with his mother. Nick grins at how much they look alike, the gold hair, the facial features.

Stoney sets the girls near the bed, where Tara promptly pulls herself up and looks at Raina. She gently pats Rainas cheek, then leaves her hand there for a moment, a faraway expression on her little face.

Suddenly the little girl starts to giggle, startling her family and Nick. *”Elle visite avec sa souer, celle comme moi...

Nick looks to Alise, puzzled as to what was going on. She smiles, exchanges a few words with her daughter and tells Nick. “She says Raina is visiting her sister, Tara, the one who our Tara is named after. I asked how she knew that and she didnt really tell me. Maybe she has other gifts besides being an empath.”

“I wish she knew when Raina was going to wake up. Its hard to see her so... quiet.... She is normally so full of life...” Nicks eyes never leave the still form on the bed as he speaks.

Stoney approaches and clasps Nicks shoulder. “She will be fine mon ami. I have seen many a warrior take a hard blow to the head and awaken as if nothing happened. She is a strong woman, but you know that already..”

Nick nods, unsure of what to say. At a time like this friends can be as close as family. He's grateful for their encouragement....

“Well...I think we need to let Tante Raina rest for now. And my children...” three little faces turn to their father in unison, bringing a smile to Alise and Nick., “we should go say good bye to Chloe. She is going home with Uncle Ob. Chaton, will you stay here or join us?”

“I think I will stay for a few minutes and then join you, if thats all right with everyone?”

Tomas and Gracie go to their father and Tara hesitates for a moment. She looks at Raina, then kisses her cheek and whispers something to her. Alise watches as she climbs down from the bed then bends down to retrieve something from the floor. Alise cannot see since Taras back is to her and sends to Stoney, What is she doing?

Before Stoney can respond Tara moves away from the bed and takes Tomas' hand as they leave the room. Stoney looks to Alise, Join us when you can mon amour...

Alise nods as she stands and goes to the bed. Tucked in next to Raina is a rag doll. Brown yarn for hair and button eyes, clothed in a Viking style dress and apron and obviously much worn and loved. Alise smiles and turns to Nick, “Does Raina have any dolls?”

“What? Dolls? No... at least none that I have ever seen...” Nick stands and joins Alise. Looking down at the bed he asks, “Where the hell did that come from?”

“My guess is her sister sent it somehow. I dont know if it is hers or Rainas, but maybe Raina can tell us when she wakes up.”

*She is visiting her sister, the one like me....

Tara hangs back a bit as the children greet their fathers. She hangs on to Alises leg and watches as Stoney lifts Tomas and Gracie.

Stoneys smile fades as he sees Alise kneel and whisper to the little girl. He sends to her, blocking from the children.

Chaton... what is wrong? She seems frightened....

I dont know mon amour. She has been fine, playing with the others....unless they have been covering like they sometimes do...

Stoney sets Tomas and Gracie down with a kiss for each, “Let me talk to your sister...”

Reaching out a hand Stoney watches as Taras eyes darken with sadness. Suddenly she races into her fathers arms and wraps her arms around his neck. Stoney rubs her back and kisses her dark hair, so much like his own.

Tara sends him images of Star, her fingers stitched and covered and sobs, “My tantes...”

Stoney looks to Alise, “The children have not seen Tori or Raina?”

Shaking her head Alise says, “Non, not yet. Tori has been getting blood and Raina is still unconscious...”

“Well then..” Stoney gently brushes a tear away, “Let us go speak with Rowan. She may okay a short visit..” Stoney scoops up Gracie in his free arm and looks to Tomas, “Lead the way...”

Avec mes ailes?” Tomas is beaming. (With my wings)

Stoney nods and Tomas takes to the air. **“Suivez-moi..” (Follow me)

Tomas leads the way up to the second floor of the Manse. He hovers near a door and waits as his family catches up. He points to the door closest, “Tante Tori...” then points to a door directly across the hall, “Tante Raina...”

Assuming that Rowan would be with Tori, Stoney taps lightly on the door and opens it halfway. “Rowan? I have a little one here who is very worried about her aunties. May we visit for a short time?”

Rowan grins and looks to Tori who smiles softly and nods. Tannr grabs a couple extra pillows from a nearby pile of clean bedding and helps Tori sit up part way.

Approaching slowly Stoney smiles at Tori. “Hey sis. You look better than the last time I saw you.”

“That wouldnt be saying much...” Tori pats the bed next to her. “Put her here so I can talk to her.”

Lowering the girls to the bed Tara curls on one side and Gracie the other. Tomas crawls into Tannrs lap to get a better view of his aunt.

He looks up at Tannr, “Tante Tor sick?”

Tannr shakes his head, “Not sick, weak. She will be better tomorrow, after some rest as stone...”

Tomas nods and shares a look with his twin. Tara visibly relaxes, feeling better at seeing Tori for herself.

Alise and Laila watch the grounds from one of the many balconies at the Manse. The children were just inside, playing quietly under threat of going to bed without seeing the warriors return. Tomas was finding that idea a fate worse than death. He was anxious to see his father and Uncles return and hear stories of their bravery.

“I see some of the Riders...” Alise points to the far end of the grounds.

Laila looks and gasps. “Its Ramji... and he looks injured... his arm...”

“Go.... go.... Star and I will watch the children..”

Laila races out of the room and outside. She doesnt stop until she throws herself in Ramjis arms.

Laughing her holds her close, “Mela... I told you I would be fine...  this is a scratch, nothing more.”

“It is bleeding more than a scratch. Rowan is here... and Star.... one of them should look at it.” Laila is worried, but relieved at the same time that no one among this group seems to have any serious injury.

“Is it done then? No more fighting for now?” Laila asks.

Ramji nods, “For now...” He looks behind him and sees Stoney coming through the wards, along with his kin. Keon had joined the Riders and Inari was the last to enter, her expression serious and thoughtful.

Laila glances from Inari back to Ramji as they head towards the back entrance of the Manse. “Did something happen? She doesnt seem very happy...”

“Losing Ghaunt weighs heavy... and the fact we all seriously underestimated the Drow and the number of forces at their disposal. This battle could very easily have gone the other direction....”

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Keeping Ambassador Inari's strictures in mind, I make shift to expunge all signs of carnage from the battlefield while milady Silk conducts our warriors the nearest route back to the mortal world - and Exton. My cleansing agent - a mystical fire that destroys flesh, bone and blood utterly, while leaving other living matter untouched - makes quick work of the bodies. The gnomes pack weaponry, armor, bits and pieces of clothing and other incidentals in a cart for transport back to the Manse, where I will gauge the usefulness of each. That which is still useable will be distributed to the tavernfolk to use as they will; the remainder will be smelted down into raw ingots to be used for whatever purpose I deem needful at any given time.

I sigh as I weave a spell that will assist the Realm's own energies to restore all things as they were before the battle. The churned-up ground will be once more verdant with grass and flowers, the waters which have been fouled will be purified and the stenches of blood and death will pass away. Would that I could so easily restore those who have been hurt this day, and most especially he who selflessly gave his life to protect those he barely knew. If my word has any influence with the Queen, I will add my voice to the Ambassador's to petition for a resting place for him in the Grove of Tears.

When my work is done, I pass through the portal and allow it to close behind me. I am weary, but there is much yet to be done before I may seek my rest. I note in passing that Lady Alise has the domestic arrangements well in hand, insuring that the returning warriors are afforded a chance to shower and change into clean clothes before they sit down to dine. Rowan is managing - seemingly without undue effort - a task that would break many a stronger woman - on-the-spot triage, followed by whatever immediate arrangements are needed to minister to the most sorely wounded. The remainder are remanded to the makeshift infirmary, there to be tended by a small army of elementals until the presiding physician can look in on them personally. In truth, there seems little for me to do, given the efforts of these two good women, and I take time to perform some rudimentary ablutions before indulging myself in a quick but satisfying meal.

The clearing has seen its own battle. Drow bent on cutting off the rescuers' retreat to the Human Realm found more resistance than they expected. The sight of HellHounds and Murduachan warriors pulling Drow bodies into a pile is heartwarming in a grisly way. Torrent and Twillon stand near, gathering their powers both to incinerate the corpses, and to contain the burning so no Human would be drawn by the smoke.

Fea is off to the side, tending wounds and watching for the rescue party. She stares at keon as he emerges from the Shadow paths, Eite following with Stoney and Ob. The Sea Hag blinks curiously as Eite kneels before her.

"Get up child. Yer no slave among these people."

Eite gets to her feet slowly. "I can't go back."

Mer Cronigh nods. "We will find a place fer ye. As fer now, come help wi' ta wounded. I ken our dark Lord has a bairn who wonders where he is. So do the stonemen." She turns to the three warriors. "Off w'ye. Wish and Pike will make sure Erik is at the Manse in a blink. Ye lads better run the Shadow Paths. A cu' sith waits to guard yer passing. Off now Lads."

Keon turns back as he holds the way open for the gargoyle brothers.

"Don't worry yer pointy ears about ta Lass. I'll see her safely t' yer boat. Fox will keep her company til ye return."

Fea waves, shooing Keon onward. When he slips through the Veil, she turns to Eite and shows her how to sort injuries. Eite works quietly, occasionaly looking around. The lost look in her eyes is not unnoticed. Fnally she asks quietly, "Who is Fox?"

Fea laughs, the sound harsh, yet merry. "Another of Keon's friends. The lad's name is Ron. He is in need of company as well. Someone other than that brother of his. Time he moved out of the dorm and somewhere he can recuperate without someone hovering over him."

Pandora was sitting on her favorite sofa with Teri's bassinet beside her; talking with the tavern patrons who stopped to ask for news and see the babe.

She had regained all her strength and was frustrated at being resigned to the tavern walls until Ob's return... she knew it was for their protection; but her mind was full of anxious thoughts since Ob was blocking the battle from her and the children.

Pandora felt a soft caress.... Bruha... it was Ob... It will be just awhile till I return, I stop with the others at the manse to clean up and check on Tori and Raina; then home to you... I'll bring Chloe with me.

Pandora relaxed her whole posture at hearing his voice... and glancing down at the movement beside her; she realized Teri was awake and watching her intently... he had heard his father's words too. She reached down and caressed his cheek... "Yes little warrior, your father will be home soon... you have had little time to know each other yet with this battle on your birth day." He moved his mouth as if he would try to form words... but smiled at her instead... and gripped her finger as it lifted from his face. Pandora was surprised at the strength of his grip, he looked at her and she felt his love for her wash over in a wave.

He was the most handsome boy child she had ever seen, and his features already seemed to have matured months worth instead of the days he had been alive... and she swore he had grown a couple of inches longer in just these last days. Monty had been taking time out to sit with Teri and talk to him... Ike's absence was hard on him; and the child kept his mind busy. Pandora had even had time for a leisurely bath one morning while he entertained the babe.

Watching the baby's reaction to Wish and Pike's stories before they left to join the fray had convinced her that his mind was much advanced in gathering information... he seemed to have understood their tales, and now Monty continued with tales of Spanish warriors from his childhood.

Stretching... she rose and went to Monty... "Ob will return soon...I imagine he'll be starved,so you might prepare some food, and he's bringing Chloe... so a snack plate for her too"... she laughed; "I know the child should be asleep, but she will be too excited to have her papa home again, and her new brother to regale with tales of her adventures at the manse."

Returning to Teri ,she scooped him up in her arms and headed upstairs to freshen her appearance before Obsidian arrived.

Alise lowers her eyes, not sure how to respond to Nicks honesty. She sighs and looks to Raina lying still on the bed. “I love her too... maybe more than I should...”

Her words are interrupted by Stoneys thoughts, We'll be home soon Chaton... keep the children busy until I can shower? It's raining but I am still... a mess....

Nick sees the smile and nod and knows Alise is 'speaking' with her husband. He stands and stretches and goes to Rainas side. Taking her hand, he kisses it and his thoughts start to roam. He thinks of how they met, the first 'I love you' they exchanged. He remembers how happy she was when he bought the house for her and how much she enjoyed fixing the place up. The fight they had about Gareth... what a misunderstanding... and it almost ended everything...

He sets her hand down gently and runs the back of his hand over a soft cheek. Panther stirs a bit and settles back to watching.

“Come on Rain. Wake up girl, before I get all maudlin on you and make you want to kick my ass...”

The light touch of Alises hand on his shoulder stills his words.

“I will leave you alone for a bit. Stoney and the others are on their way. I will have supper ready for them, will you join us or stay here?”

“Stay, I think. I dont want to leave her alone...”

“All right Nicholas. I will send something up for you... to eat... or drink...”

“AB negative if the old man has it...”

Alise smiles, “I will see to it.” and leaves the room. She heads to the temporary nursery where Laila has taken the children after their meal for showers and getting pajamas on in preparation for bedtime. In the hallway she stops a sylph and explains that the men are returning and a meal should be waiting for those that wanted to eat. Mortuis had always given Alise carte blanche in the Manse so she knew her orders would be followed.

When she enters the nursery and hears the chaos Alise laughs. The girls were putting nightgowns on their dolls and chatting happily to each other, Ru was squealing from the safety of Stars arms. Tomas was racing around the room, naked as the day he was born and Laila was trying to scold him in between fits of laughter. The little one Star had rescued was watching it all, a smile teasing the corners of his mouth and his laughter whispery and almost silent as Stars used to be.

“Tomas! Enough!”

Tomas stopped short at the tone in his mothers voice.

“Yes mama..” He looked at the ground not minding the fact that he still had no pajamas on.

“If you wish to see papan when he gets back later you better get dressed..and listen to Laila...”

The little face brightened immediately, “Papan? Tonight?” and the girls all looked up when they heard that their fathers would be returning.

“Yes, but it will be late. You may stay up... if you behave...” Alise is laughing again as her son walks to Laila and lets her help him into his Batman pajamas. He sends an image to Alise of his new friend in the same pajamas. “We will find something for him to wear... Star... what should we call the little one? Does he have a name?”

Before Star can reply Tomas says “Robin. Name is Robin.” He goes to the bag of clothes that was packed for him and pulls out an extra pair of pajamas.

“Oh... like Robin Hood?” Alise asks.

Tomas rolls his eyes dramatically, “Non maman... Batman and Robin..”

"Okay, Nick, come on in."

I nod and Rowan steps aside to let me pass. "Talk to her, Nick. It might help bring her around."

I walk into Raina's room, step up to the side of the bed.

Raina is pale, almost as pale as me when I'm in human form. Her breathing is regular and her heartbeat is steady. Against that, I've seen Raina sleep for a couple of years now and you can always read her personality, her "self" in her face. Now it looks like the lights are on, but no one's home.

I talk for about fifteen minutes, telling her that we won the battle... telling her that her brothers are okay. I tell her that Ky twisted her ankle again and now she's going to be impossible to live with, at least for those who live by day... I tell her that we all miss her and we love her and we want her to get better and come home soon. I'm not really sure what I said after that, it just kind of blurs together... 

I start when Alise touches my arm. "Come away for a bit, Nick. You can try again in a few minutes."

I follow her to a pair of chairs, maybe ten feet from the bed and its occupant. "She's going to be all right, Nick; she just needs to rest."

"How sure are you of that? She looks like watered-down tea. Is Rowan sure there's no brain damage?"

"Quite sure, mon ami. It's the kind of thing that would show up very early, and she found no sign of it. A concussion can be a tricky thing to recover from." She smiles. "I love her too, you know. I have pestered Rowan with many questions since Raina arrived here. Be of good cheer... all will be well."

"I hope you're right." I let my eyes search hers. "She loves you, too."

Blood and more seems to cling to their stone forms. Ob looks at Stoney and shakes his head. In a sign of just how tired he feels, Ob's words slip between languages.

"Our *esposas e hijos, they would not be happy to see so much... ^sangre."

Keon laughs, the sound turning both their heads. "Lads, I think any of the women would nae happy with the way we all look."

Stoney grins, looking around quickly before speaking."I think the Ambassaduer would not care about such things..."

Keon grins. "Nae, tis right ye are. Inari would nae be off put by such. Nor Raina and Ky. But as for yer wives and bairns, and the others awaiting..." He levers himself up from where he sits, favoring his left leg. Eite offers her hand to steady the Dark Lord and he smiles his thanks. She blushes and ducks her head.

"Still, one would wish for a gentle cleansing rain to rinse away some of this ..."

The words are barely out of his mouth as the first warm raindrops splat against his face. All three men look upward, glancing around. Keon laughs as Pike points to Wish where she dances slowly. She spins and the rain falls harder, a gentle shower.

Stoney slides his fingers along his arms, sloughing off blood and more. His words are soft, pitched only for the trio standing close.

"Whose going to wish for soap?"

*wives and children


Tannr pauses, making sure everyone was all right as Mortuis spells the area and clears it of bodies. Ky is limping, looking as if her ankle were re-injured. Erik is holding his ribs, having taken a hard smack with the side of someones sword. Guunnar was tying a rag of some sort around Ramjis upper arm and there were several other minor injuries, mostly cuts and bruises. Suddenly he feels Tori... Crying? Tori is crying??

Red? Whats wrong? Does something hurt worse? Tannr sends an image of his arms around her, holding her close, wiping her tears.

Ike? Whats wrong? Whats happened? Tell Star to send Wish and I can be there in an instant...

Tannr is greeted with silence from Toris sister and he sends his thoughts to Tori again. Talk to me Red, please...

Stoney sees the confused look on Tannr face. Knowing how new Tannr is to connecting with Tori mentally he reaches for his sister and hears her quiet tears and anguish over losing her necklace. He approaches Tannr and lays a hand on his shoulder.

“Go to her. We are done here and she needs you.”

Tannr nods as Erik comes up from behind. “Hang on. Go with Wish.” Erik turns and calls for Wish and Pike. “Wish... please....”

Nodding, Wish encloses Tannr and Pike with her in her bubble and as Erik blinks they are gone from sight.

The minute they arrive at the gates, the Wards go down. Pike is impressed. Either the guardians are very alert, or the Lord of the Manse had a way of letting them know friendlies were incoming. They step through the Wards, and as soon as they are well inside, Wish is whisking them to the foyer of the Manse itself.

A sylph appears and motions for them to follow. It drifts up a staircase and down the hall, pausing outside a door. Wish touches Tannr's arm, making him stop before he throws the door wide.

"She needs to rest and stay flesh, If ye rush in, she may go defensive and try to turn stone."

Tannr stares at the Piskie a moment. Pike slowly opens the door, then moves aside to let the Viking enter when Rowan nods. The healer's eyes widen at the sight of all the blood, but says nothing. Ike is talking to Tori, her words soft, but insistent. Her eyes meet Tannr's and she tells Tori softly, "Look who's here."

Tori turns a tear-streaked face to Tannr. She holds out her hand and he leans over her, touching her face gently, wiping away the tears.

"Hey Red..."

Cupping her face, he kisses her, gently at the start but soon deepening until Rowan clears her throat. Tannr glances at her sheepishly, then kisses Tori's cheek. "We made it baby... You don't have to cry anymore... We made it... and you can sleep if you need to... I'm not going anywhere."

Ike closes her eyes, releasing her hold on the compulsion. "One of the Drow took her necklace. Right before they took her to the altar."

Tannr caresses Tori's cheek, kissing it gently. His words are soft, murmured against her ear. "It's only jewelry Rós Himinn. I can always get Traeger to make another. Rest, sweetheart. It can be replaced. You can't."

Rowan sat back and looked at her patient. The dressing was holding the clay in place, packed into the wound it had finally slowed the bleeding to a trickle. Toris color was still pale, the bruises still dark and angry-looking. Ike looked a little less worried. Rowan kept an eye on the transfusion and the IV antibiotics she had started.

Star had just stepped out of the shower, much of the blue-gray coloring washing off. Her skin was a very pale blue now and she resembled a naiad more than a Drow. A few stitches to her fingers and a clean dressing and Star was off to see her children.

Joining Alise on the balcony for a short break, Rowan watches the children playing in the fountains in the cool night air. Many lanterns lit the area and the kids didnt seem bothered by the cooler evening temperature. They had all welcomed the new boy even though he seemed a little shy. None of the children minded that he didnt talk, they all seemed to be communicating just fine. Star came out of the Manse carrying Ru and was greeted by a soaking wet Mera who almost leaped into Stars arms.

Rowan laughed, “She is so happy now. Its good to see...”

Returning the smile, Alise nods, “It is. The children adore her...”

The women watch as Star gets wet hugs from all the kids until she is almost as wet as they are. She is laughing and Ru is squealing when Alises attention is caught by a movement at the gates.

Alises face loses its color and smile as she realizes who it is. “Mon Dieu! Its Raina... and she looks dead....” Tears start to fall and Rowan takes her by the arm.

“If she were dead, they wouldnt bring her here. Get a room ready... I'll go down and try to get her in without the kids seeing anything...”

Several minutes later Rowan has examined Raina and reassured Alise that she has a concussion, and the cut to her head was not serious.

“But the concussion could be ...” Alise was worried. She had never seen Raina so still and quiet.

Rowan nods, “It could be, but I think she'll be fine once she wakes up. I need to get back to Tori. Can you get Raina settled and cleaned up?”

Alise nods and gathers supplies. Her eyes fill with tears at the thought of losing Raina. Next to Stoney she is the person Alise feels closest to.

She feels Stoney sending his love and support, telling her he would be there soon.

Gathering supplies Alise then sits on the edge of the bed and gently cleans the blood and dirt from Rainas face. Her thoughts go back to when they first met and how Raina had been spooked by her uncanny resemblance to Rainas dead sister. It was a miracle that they were such close friends and one would gladly die for the other if need be. Snake lifts her head and looks at Alise with solemn slanted eyes as if to tell her all would be well and Alise smiles at the small asp. Panther comes in from the hallway, damp from playing with the children but wanting to be with her mistress. Alise tries to keep her off the bed but Panther jumps on the foot of the bed and curls herself there, resting her head on Rainas bare legs.

Alise struggles to get the covers up, “Move Panther...she will get cold...”

Raina gives a soft moan and Alise freezes for a second, watching her friend closely. She sighs as there is no further reaction and begins to talk to Raina as if she were awake. Telling her about the children playing, how silent Stars new little one was and wondering if they would ever find his family.

I'm out of arrows and Ky is out of darts. As one, we draw our swords and wait....

I'm not sure exactly what tips me off... a change in the air, a feeling of pressure, the hint of ozone - but I risk a quick look behind and there he is, big as life, caped and hooded, his blade belted by his side and yellow-green flame flaring from both hands. Silk stands by his side, dressed in fighting leather, with a scimitar held lightly in either hand. Her face is still, but there's the tiniest hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth. And now the sorcerer lets fly and three Drow burst into flames, flame that eats them down to blackened bone in less time than it takes to tell it. Mortuis laughs, a terrible echoing laugh that reverberates throughout the battlefield; a laugh that might have arisen only out of Hell. And now another fireball, and another. The sickly green flames cling to whatever they touch and men shriek and burn and die. Silk dances onto the field, her blades spinning in intricate, unpredictable deadly patterns, killing with unequaled precision and grace. New flames blossom on the battlefield every second, roaring conflagrations of blackening flesh and cracking bone and boiling blood. The Drow seem to hesitate in their headlong charge; their front line falters and then breaks, and then they turn tail and run; and from behind I can hear the sorcerer's voice, just one word: "Havoc!"

Take no prisoners.

It's the signal for a final assault and those of us who were holding the line now rush forward to begin a grim wholesale slaughter, killing with all the mercy the Drow have shown - none. We can smell blood, sweat, burning flesh - the stenches of War. There's no glory in this, just grim necessity. We have to hurt them so badly that they'll think twice, or three times, or twenty, before they meddle in the mortal world again. We kill without mercy, without finesse - mechanical, efficient killing, again and again and again and again....

And then - quite without warning - the field is empty and we stand alone, the victors of the day.

But at what a terrible cost....

The battle seems overwhelming, but the rescuers are holding their own. After dropping off Inari, Wish followed Star's energy. Finding her safe behind the Manse's defenses, Wish returns to the battle.

She has barely begun to dance when Pike appears at her side. His face is grim, eyes deadly blank. His usual impish merriment gone beneath a side of him only a few would remember. She smiles, and if any stood near, they would step just a little further away. Wish begins to gather her magicks, as Pike wills his armor into place.

They cut their way to Erik's side. The Viking seems surprised to see them there. A Drow blade stabs for Keon's chest. The Dark Fae turns from one opponent to turn back the blade. As he does, Wish flicks her hand, evening the odds. Keon turns back to an opponent now nothing more than ash.

Pike tips back his helm, bowing to Erik. His voice is thickly accented, the words nearly beyond comprehension. "We are yers, My Lord Erik. Let us clean this bit of Faerie of this rabble."

His pike jabs out, thrusting deeply through the chest of an oncoming Drow. With a vicious twist, he pulls free as Wish throws another ball of magick. He pulls Wish's blade and slashes, opening a deep wound on another Drow, laughing as the man falls back in horror at the burning of the steel.

I'm having a fine old time tonight, cutting down Drow with every sweep of my blade, getting splashed with arterial spray... I wouldn't drink Drow blood on a bet, but it's still nice to see it on the outside instead of the inside. My friends are far enough away that I can just hack at random and be assured of cutting a Drow to bloody ruin - but then I see Raina get hit and go down, bleeding.

"RAAAAIIIINNNNAAA!" It comes out as a deep-chested roar. Now I'm cutting my way to her side, uncaring of the blades that slash at me, every slice a mortal wound. I don't have time for subtlety; I kill and kill and kill, opening a way between me and my lover, sending the Drow to the Hell they deserve almost absentmindedly.

My only thought is for Raina. If she lives, I have to protect her, get her out of here; if not, I have to avenge her and make sure to retrieve her body so the Drow can't mutilate it.

A part of me is screaming, another part is killing with utter detachment. When a dark elf knocks Johnny from my hand, I rip his throat out with my claws and continue on, now tearing bloody chunks from the bodies of those who oppose me. I call Johnny back when the crowd thins a bit and scythe my way to Raina's side. The Drow pull back a little, appalled, I'm sure, by the look of utter rage on my face, the gore covering me from head to toe. I kill them all before stooping to raise Raina to my shoulder in a one-handed fireman's carry. I'm stabbed in the back then, but I pluck the blade from my shoulder and stick it into the first eye-socket I can find. That discourages them for a second and by then I'm moving forward again, now moving toward the exit, killing Drow with every step. I can feel the heat of Raina's breath - shallow, but still there - and a slow, barely perceptible heartbeat. I roar my defiance, letting them see the full length of my fangs, Johnny slick with blood and sticky with thicker things. Arrows flash past me, thudding into the Drow on either side; quieter impacts tell me Ky is deploying her darts. Searing heat skims just past me as Erik releases Phoenix to join the fight. His axe and sword make a bloody circle of steel and every time he strikes, someone dies. Tannr leaps in to cover my back, his face a mask of rage as fierce as my own. There's a flash and a whiff of acrid smoke some fifteen feet away and suddenly Inari appears behind their lines, an avenging spectre in well-worn leathers, dealing out red retribution with every slash of her blade.

There's the harsh music of a hunting horn and Herne's Riders thunder into the fray, splitting the Drow's ranks, wearing their nightmare semblance that might cow fiercer fighters than any we've seen today. HellHounds take out the stragglers and the wounded and that big bastard Guunnar is in the thick of it, grim as Death, killing with a terrible passion.

I can relate.

I don't recall exactly how I made it to the Gate; I can vaguely remember handing Raina to someone - one of the shifter kids, I think - with orders to get her to the Manse. I may have added a threat in there somewhere, I don't remember... Then I put my back to the Gate and wait for the next wave.

The blood slowly slips into Tori's veins under Rowan's hawk-eyed vigilance. Ike keeps a constant touch on Tori's mind, watching for any sign of her slipping toward her stone state. She had to keep her sister in her flesh form. If not, she wouldn't get enough blood to actually help the healing. Instead, her body would need to create it while she rests as stone, and if that happens... Ike pushes away the thought.

When they began to remove the cuffs and chains, Tori had nearly gone into hysterics. She had kept screaming "You can't have it!" over and over. The writhing and fighting had renewed her bleeding and when they finally calmed her, Ike realized she was talking about her bracelet. The silver was so encrusted in blood, she hadn't even noticed it on Tori's wrist. Ike had finally gotten it of Tori's wrist, promising she could have it back when they had triaged her wrists. Ike cleaned the snakes carefully, wrapping it around her sister's fist when they found it wouldn't fit over the bandages. tears had slid from Tori's eyes, but she refused to talk about her reaction.

As Rowan hooked Ike up to her own set of tubes, Ike distracted Tori by talking about their childhood. They talked about growing up in the Highlands of Scotland, how the hills rang with the sounds of their clan when they gathered. They regaled each other with memories as the transfusion began.

When Rowan slips from the room to help Traeger with the clay need to fill the deep gash on Tori's leg, the gargoyle sighs deeply and lets fall the tears she had been holding back. Ike reaches out, touching her sister's arm. Tori turns her face to Ike's. Her words are broken, filled with pain.

"Tannr's necklace is gone Ike. It was ripped from my neck." She chokes back a sob. "I hid the bracelet up my sleeve, but the necklace..."

Ike slides her fingers along Tori's arm. "It's only jewelry Tor. Tannr won't care, as long as he has you. He loves you." She watches her sister helplessly. Tori doesn't cry, she just doesn't. The last time Tori cried... Ike pushes that thought away as well, hoping Tori didn't catch it.

After a bit, the tears begin to slow and Tori wipes her eyes with the back of her hand. Tori's eyes begin to drift shut.

"Tor! Stay with me!" Tor looks at her eyes vague, skin paling. She hollers again, "Roisin Skye Tavisham! By use of thy true name I hold thee!" Tori's eyes widen.

There is an alertness to her gaze that had been slowly fading. "I command thee to stay awake, Roisin Skye Tavisham."

Tori stares at her sister. "You can be such a catty bitch, Gwyneth."

Ike grins at her. "I will release you when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, you won't go stone until you have enough blood, you're more focused, and Tannr is back!"

When Rowan and Traeger come back, they each carry a small bucket of what looks like mud.  Ike says a small prayer for small favors.