Monday, February 27, 2012

Arriving at the Grove of Tears, Star is suddenly tongue tied, whether from the serene beauty of the place, her overwhelming sadness at the task ahead or being so far away from home, she wasnt sure. Inari dismounts first and moves to speak with a taller blonde fae who stood waiting, her head bowed and hands clasped loosely in front of her.

Erik jumps down and takes Star around the waist, helping her off her horse. Inari approaches and introduces the fae woman and explains that it is her family that has tended the Grove as far back as anyone could remember. The woman offers her sympathies and asks Star if she would like to privately view the burial site and approve of it before the ceremony. Star nods, her eyes changing from inquisitive yellow to gray with sadness. The womans eyes go a bit larger at the sight but she doesnt act as if anything was out of the ordinary as she calmly leads Star towards the river that runs through the Grove.

Tears fill her eyes and slip slowly down her cheeks when Star sees the spot Inari had chosen for Ghaunts final resting place. The sapling had been planted and its small trunk supported by stakes and twine until it took root. Star could see the river from the small grassy rise and hear the birds and countless other small creatures that made the Grove their home.

As she turns to leave she sees the fae woman suddenly go to her knees. As Star looks up she sees Titania, in a regal gold and blue flowing dress but barefoot and smiling at Star.

“I hope you dont mind, but I wanted to say hello in private, so we dont have to go through all the formalities...” As she speaks she waves for the fae woman to rise. “How is the little one? I hear you have brought him with you...?”

Star bows her head and smiles. She likes Titania, but she knows from conversations with Inari that she can be ruthless when need be. “He is fine, growing a lot and says a few words now..”

“You must be so proud, and I hear he looks like you...” Titania and Star walk slowly away from the river and towards the main entrance to the Grove.

“I am... he is amazing... His eyes are like mine, but he will be a big man, like his father...” Stars eyes sparkle with happiness when she talks about her son and her husband.

Titania nods, enchanted with Star. “Have you given any thought as to Ruarcs education? I mean other than sword play which I am sure he will have ample instruction and example...”

Star hesitates, knowing that it was custom among the fae to send their children to boarding type schools and she had no intention of doing that to Ru. “A little... we have friends with little ones too... he seems so young to be thinking about schooling...”

“After the ceremony there is someone Inari and I would like you to meet... and I think he is excited to meet you too..”

As they approach the entrance Star sees Inari speaking with an older fae man and they both seem overjoyed at seeing each other. Her attention is abruptly changed when everyone in Titanias entourage turns to her and kneels. Star stops dead in her tracks, not sure what to do.

Titania chuckles, “Annoying isnt it? Its a wonder anyone around here has knees left to kneel on.”

Star quickly suppresses a giggle and the Queen notices how embarrassed and uncomfortable the girl seems. She leans close, “Just wave your hands” , she makes an upward motion with her hands, “like this...”

Star smiles gratefully as everyone stands and she looks for Erik, her anchor. All the attention of the past days has her feeling confused and a little frightened. Her smile widens as her eyes fall on him, holding Ruarc, and she feels reassured by his presence.

Titania nods, following Stars gaze. “And there he is.” She turns to Star, “I know this is all strange and new to you. Dont be afraid to ask if you have questions. We will do all we can to help you and the young Warrior...” As Erik approaches Titania asks, “May I hold him?”

“Of course...” Star doesnt hesitate, knowing that everyone would see this as a sign of the Queens protection.

Ruarc looks at the Queen curiously and reaches for a large blue stone on a chain around her neck. Titania laughs and unfastening the clasp she hands the medallion to Ruarc, who promptly sticks it in his mouth. Before Erik and Star can object, the stone obviously worth a great deal, Titania waves her hand, “Let him have it. Its too big a piece to be attractive on a woman anyway, and I have others...too many others. The young Warrior should have a remembrance of his first trip here.” Titania turns and notices one of the fae from the Grove stands silently at the edge of the clearing. “I think they are ready for us... Star? You should go first since there is no family present...”

Mera's eyes are bright, looking around at the sunny path they now rode. Often she would say something to Wish when something caught her eye. Keon hides a smile as he watches both his daughter and Star take in their first exposure to Faery.

He listens with half an ear, keeping his own vigilance on the growing number of attendants. Many creatures had swelled their small party, following behind their group, or escorting them on either side. The Cu Sith suddenly stops, blocking the path and halting the procession.  It lowers its great shaggy green head over extended paws, dark green tongue lolling.

Two massive trees block their way. After a moment the tall oaks bow to the Cu Sith and shuffle to either side. Mera turns her head to look at her father. These creatures made the Treefolk in the clearing resemble saplings. Keon smiles and motions for her to look ahead.

Wish leans close to the little girl. "They are Radande. The Noble Treefolk of the Cold Lands."

A Rowan now stands before them. Both bright red-orange berries and creamy white blossom clusters grace its leaves. It moves gracefully, swaying where the Oaks shuffled. It bows to Inari, then to the rest of the company.

It speaks, the words soft and lyrical, carried on the sound of a gentle breeze. "We have heard that the Lady and the Warrior bring the Prophesied to give respect to the Dark Skinned Hero. We... ask... for the honor of the Grove, to accompany the Procession."

Inari looks to Star and turns her palm upwards, asking silently for her answer. It takes Star a moment to realize Inari is asking her. She wets her lips nervously and smiles. nodding slowly.  Her eyes go wise when there is movement further back along the train of followers. Turning in their saddles, the group watches as several trees shuffle out onto the Path.

The Rowan speaks again. "We would be honored if the Wee Folk would allow us to offer transportation. Our limbs are strong and plentiful."

Oaks, Maples, and Ironwoods stoop down, offering their upper branches to the smaller of the Fae. There is a sudden lessening of the crowd, as many take refuge among vibrant green leaves.

"My Warriors and Myself are at your service. I am the Lady Wittern of the Far Reaches."

Keon smiles to himself as Inari pulls herself up a bit taller in the saddle. Many have heard of Wittern, High Witch of the Radande although few have seen her. It isn't until the group rides closer that they can see the nymphlike face and graceful form made of bark and vines.

She falls into step beside Star, voice little more than a whisper, but loud enough for Keon to hear. "A small cadre of Drow await you a small distance onward. They shelter in the shadow of several of my Warriors, unknowingly of course. The zephyrs tell me they wish to swear to you on your Hero's honor."

The Radande does not turn, yet addresses her words to those closest. "They are young... three men, two women, and one with skin as wrinkled as a Walnut's bark."

Mera and Star listen as Wish asks the Lady Wittern a question about her own land. She regales them with stories of the forests between the Far Reaches and the Sacred Grove. It isn't long before the group slows to a halt.

Six Drow kneel in the middle of the road. Each has a sheathed sword lying on the ground before them. Keon and Guunnar canter to the front, halting on either side of Inari. The Riders wait, hand on hilts, to see the Drow will do.

Without raising their heads, one Drow holds out his hand. A white scar in the shape of a star and crescent moon can be seen, vivid against his dark skin. Each of the remaining Drow follow his lead.

One slowly stands. The Drow is tall, skin deeply wrinkled, white hair in a braid nearly to its knees. The voice is raspy, as if long unused. " Well met on this road of mourning. I am Herm. Those behind me are my Kin. We seek to bind our Honor to the Warrior and His Lady... and to add our voices to the requiem for a Hero of our Race."

As he waits, Herm pulls an archer's glove into place on his scarred hand. It effectively hides the star and moon. "We are born to the Bow. Our shafts fly straight and our promises are just as true. Unlike many of our brethren, we find joy in a clear sky." He drops to a knee again, waiting.

Inari looks back at Erik and Star. Erik is grim, distrust flickering through his expression. Star smiles sadly, knowing her husband trusts no Drow easily. Keon looks to the trees, taking in the slight nodding movements in the breezeless moment. He murmurs to Inari. "The Treefolk find no duplicity in them. Let them come. They will be watched."

The Ambassador nods slowly. She speaks clearly, knowing her words will carry back along the Procession. "Rise and join us. As for seeking to bind yourselves to the Warrior and His Lady, that is best done after respects are sung for the Heroic Drow, Ghaunt."

The six rise, three moving off to each side. Herm's kin don their gloves, belting their swords in place. Full quivers are returned to their customary places, bows secured. Keon and Guunnar allow the column to move forward without them, waiting for the family to come abreast of them. They fall into position on either side of them, allowing Eite and Dmitri to guard the rear. The Drow wait until the end of the entourage, then take up rearguard.

The Treefolk shuffling among the Fae weave back and forth, never allowing a clear sight, just in case...

Pandora woke with the formation of a plan in her mind. She sought out Monty and discussed her idea while eating breakfast and gulping down hot coffee.

If she was to teach her daughter the magical arts; it was good that she would have Ike as a student as well... Tori even might set in on a session.  Pandora thought the best idea was to work on one aspect of the art starting with the basic concepts. She thought since it needed to be in the evening; it might be good to work in the attic upstairs... less chance of distractions... and an open window through which random mistakes could be sent with little consequence.

Pandora grinned again as she realized her daughter had inherited her powers. Ike having them materialize showed that they could manifest at any time. Monty was bringing the books she inherited from her mother up to the room, where she was wiping them down and placing them in a bookcase. Monty had placed a couple of comfy armchairs in the room with a small table;and a child's chair for Chloe... even though she knew most likely the child would be in her lap or Ike's.

There was lots of room to move about to do the rituals when they got to that time... but there was much to learn. She decided once a week they should sit and work on lessons; then they could practice what they learned

Traeger said when they got to the stage of working on spells he would join them for some lessons; partly to impart knowledge, and partly to help thwart any mis-intended energy from getting out of control.

Pandora stood back after the room was done and thought it did look like a learning place... and went back down  to the nursery to gather Chloe and Teri for a walk in the garden. She would begin showing Chloe the magical herbs and explaining some of their uses.

"They are young ones."

Heads turn and Eite tugs her hood closer, hiding in its shadow. "They were boys. Not yet of the Warrior class. Among... among the Drow there is a prophecy. It speaks of an outsider who bears the marks of Bal-Char, and the changes that come to those whose lives touch hers." She turns to stare at the spot where the two had disappeared. "There is no doubt they will not follow Adara. I would not be surprised to find more of the younger ones seeking you out."

Erik frowns at the thought, wary eyes searching among the trees. Eite points at a low branch. A small creature hangs from the branch, watching the group intently. It spies Erik's gaze turned on it and scrambles back up, hiding in the leaves. Keon laughs.

"They just want to see the Lady and Her Warrior, and their son. You represent great hope."

Eite nods. "It seems we have become a Procession. The Unseelie have joined us as well."

She nods to a darker spot. A Hag stands in the darkness, cloak held close around her skeletal form. Beside her stoops a creature seemingly constructed of branches and vines. The eyes are cold and flat. It rises under their scrutiny and bows.

Keon bows in return. The shadow kitten in Star's arms hisses. The creature cocks its wooden knot of a head. It opens a slash of a mouth filled with sharp splinters for teeth.

Keon holds up a hand, palm outward. "Peace, Wood Sprite. Your kind is welcome in the Company as long as no malice is dealt."

The Wood Sprite bows, dropping to a crouch beside the Hag. Its eyes never leave the kitten, watching it carefully.

Watching the group disappear through the gate Tannr pulls Tori into his arms. Once everyone has gone past the veil he runs his hands up her sides, under his jacket she is wearing. Tori shivers at the warm touch of his hand and he lowers his head and sings softly...

Are you gonna kiss me or not... I think I love you a lot....

Tori laughs and swats at him. “Dont quit your day job Coppertop.”

Tannr just grins and keeps singing, humming and making up the words when he cant remember how the song goes. Laughing and teasing, the pair dances in the empty clearing as the sun fades and the moon rises

It seemed to Star that it was morning in Faerie, the sun light soft and golden on the plants and trees. Mera and Ru were wide eyed at everything, the different light and colors, and the small troop of demifae that started to follow them. Keon reassured Erik that he expected that and that by the time they reached the grove there would be more, and possibly races other than the demifae. Every time Star looked back there seemed to be more. And once she started paying attention to the forest alongside the trail they were on it seemed as if the plants and brush were moving along with the horses. Watching closely for gaps in the vegetation proved there were numerous tiny wood fae and creatures following that way, their modes of transportation using leaves and nut shells brings a smile to Stars face.

After some time, the group pauses in a small clearing with a quiet stream running through it. Star smiles, “It's so beautiful here...” The leaves are a strange combinations of the palest green and turquoise and shimmer with gold highlights in the sun.

“A good place for a break.” Inari returns the smile, enjoying the look of wonder on Stars face.

Star stumbles when she gets off her horse, “Oh... my legs....” Erik grabs her as she steadies herself. Star takes Ru from Wish who stays close, taking her role as Ru's guardian for this trip very seriously. Mera slips a hand into Star's free one, smiling at her Da as he leads the horses to water for a drink.

Ru is happy as can be, trying to talk to any demifae that flit close, eyes wide with curiosity.

“Mama!” and he points to the edge of the trees where in the shadows of the plants fairy lights can faintly be seen.

As Star watches she sees two tall dark forms step away from the trees. She gasps and looks around. Inari moves next to her, head bent and whispers, “They have been following us for awhile now. I doubt they mean any harm. They look young and their weapons are sheathed and are not those of full fledged warriors. If they had been warriors I don't think they would have gotten this close, not with the escort we seem to be attracting.”

Suddenly Inaris voice rings out, authoritative and demanding.

“Show yourselves! Or I will drag you out in the open.”

Wish and Pike move in even closer to the children, Raina and Ky right behind them, swords ready. Star holds her breath and senses all the creatures and fae following do the same. A sudden hush comes on the entire group.

Two young Drow step from behind a large gnarled tree. Their skin a bit lighter than what Star had seen on most in Underdark or it could have been just the light. But they didnt look very threatening to her. Empty handed, hands loosely at their sides. Star reaches out and lays a hand on Eriks arm, a silent cautioning to do nothing rash.

Inari asks, “Why are you following? You are a bit far from home...”

The taller of the pair nods. “We wanted to see her...” and he lifts a hand to point at Star. “Our legends speak of one who has the mark of Bal-Char and has survived. We mean her no harm, nor any of you.”

Right then Ru gave out a squawk, a small demifae having dropped an acorn on his head. He laughs and tries to grab the little fairy who starts to chatter and flits out of his reach. As Star shifts Ru from one hip to the other, her cloak falls to one side, exposing one of her arms.

The two Drow gasp, “She is the one....” they exchange a startled look and melt into the forest as if they had never been there.

“Should we go after them?” asks Ky, itching for a fight.

Inari shakes her head. “No. It would just slow us down and we dont have far to go. I dont think they are going to come back, they seemed in awe of Star and the marks on her arm. I know little of their legends or prophecy, but if they wanted to attack us they would have, not that they would have got very far with that...” Inari grins and her look takes in the entire group. “And they looked pretty young. Lets continue on. We should be at the Grove in a couple more hours...”

I am the eye in the sky, looking at you-oo-oo, I can bleed you dry....

So it's not the way Alan Parsons sang it. So sue me.

I can't imagine a place where we're less likely to run into trouble... I keep expecting to see a Care Bear come skipping along, or maybe a Smurf. The lands claimed by the Bright Court are so relentlessly bright and beautiful and cheerful, I feel like I'm trapped in a Thomas Kinkade painting. I may have to check my blood sugar level when we get home....

I feel like that buzzard in the cartoon - "Patience, hell - I'm gonna go out and kill something!"

The sun slips just a little lower, deepening the shadows among the trees. Wish and Pike disappear into the darkness. Moments later the pair returns, leading a trio of shaggy ponies. Wish whispers in the ear of the smallest and it tosses its head, nodding until its cream colored mane falls across large dark eyes. The pony prances in place for a few moments, then canters across the clearing to halt before Keon. It cocks its head, watching the Dark Lord. It nickers, then turns its gaze on Mera.

"Da? Is that for me?"

Wish dances to the pony's side, followed by a paler version of the same creature.

"She is a Phouka." At Keon's sharp look, Wish smiles. "They want to carry us." She rests a hand on the copper colored pony's back. "Fae never lie. They promised no mischief, no malice. They wish to be part of this moment."

Keon stares into the eyes of his daughter's would-be mount. The Phouka turns its head to bare its throat to Keon. The other two Phoukas nod as if in agreement.

"No malice. No mischief.All three protected from harm when in your care. If any of you break faith, you will suffer the Dark Lord justice."

The Phoukas bow their heads. Wish waves her hand bringing bridles and saddles into being. Keon helps his daughter settle on the saddle and moves to his own stallion. Once mounted, he canters to the trees to open the gate. Dmitri joins him and they ride through onto the Shadow Path. The men move to either side, clearing the way for the others to join them.

Inari leads the others, pausing for a moment to look over the Path. A short distance away, a Cu Sith lies across the roadway. It raises its green shaggy head as the Ambassador turns her pale mount in its direction. The green hound surges to its feet as Inari rides closer. Tall as a bull, the creature wags its braided tail and falls into step off to one side of the group.

Mera's eyes widen. She looks up into the trees. The leaves shimmer in the breeze. Small eyes watch the group pass. A tiny creature, with comical monkeylike, features waves at Mera. The little girl waves back. With a tittering giggle the eyes disappear back into the shadows. Mera looks at Wish, who winks and points ahead to where Inari has turned towards another Gate.

"That is where we cross into Faery."

Inari looks back. Guunnar and Eite have moved closer, allowing Keon and Dmitri to join Inari at the head of the column. She opens the gate and the pair of warriors pass through, moving to guard the passage of the others. Once more the column passes through, the Cu Sith barks. Inari mutters something to the creature and it bounds away. The thunder of its passage slowly fades and Inari looks up into the brightness of a beautiful Faery day and breathes deeply.

Keon rolls his neck. He feels the muscles shift, moving as if an unrealized tension has slipped away. Dmitri salutes his commander and tugs his hood into place. as the two take their positions at the rear of the column, he murmurs, "Welcome Home, Lord Blackthorn."

Guunnar and Eite pull their hoods into place and move forward to canter beside the family.

Leaving a second floor room after delivering room service, Ike pauses. There is a feeling, a distinct path of... something. She refocuses her eyes, looking for the telltale remnants of magic. Multihued sparkles glimmer before her Gargoyle sight, floating in one direction as if following something. Breathing deep, she opens her inner sight to the Wards.

She feels Pandora's spell, the touch point where it passed through the Wards. She also feels something else. There is a second casting downstairs, similar but not... quite. There is a touch of unease brushing her mind. Ike follows it with her thoughts. A sudden flare of panic is hidden quickly, but fear presses hard against the thin shielding. Ike focuses on the wall, feeling the panic rising. Chloe!

Tia Ike... M..m..momma will be mad.

The fear in the little girl's thoughts has Ike racing towards the nursery. She touches on Teri, finding the baby boy laughing and amused by something. She feels Ob and Pandora hurrying towards her. Their questions are met with her own. Chloe has a stronger wall than any of them expected.

Ike throws open the nursery door, expecting to find chaos. Instead she finds Chloe curled up in the Nanny's arms, sobbing, while Teri reaches toward the ceiling, feet kicking in joy. There is a whirling mass of magic bouncing along the ceiling like a large ball. Whenever it touches the walls, it stops for a moment, then slingshots in another direction.

"Gitanilla, what is it?"

Chloe looks up at her aunt. "It's momma's 'tection spell. I was pretendin. I didn' do it a' purpose."

"Of course you didn'..."

Ike throws up her hands instinctively to ward off the ball of magic flying straight at her. It had bounced off the other wall and zoomed straight at her head. Stunned, she finds the magic caught in her palms. Instead of the magic channeling through her, the spell became quiescent as if waiting for direction. She feels her brother and Pandora in the doorway behind her, but keeps Chloe's attention on herself so the child doesn't clam up.

Ike stares at the swirling mass, refocusing as she was taught as a young gargoyle. The colors are gemlike to one who can see magic. She can pick out several threads to the spell, a fluid tapestry of color and intent. She can see protection, love, and excitement, along with a touch of pride swirling in the mixture.

"Wow... Chloe, this is beautiful."

The little girl watches the ball in her aunt's hands. "Really? I did good?" The tears have stopped, replaced by fascination, and relief at her aunt's praise. At Ike's nod, she opens up more. "But it wouldn't GO! Momma's left. Mine got bigger, then followed me..."

"It just needs to escape the Wards, I think... or merge with them. I am not sure which, but your mama' would." Ike shifts the mass to one hand, running her other along the edge of it.

"Momma will be mad. She told me not to play with magic till I was bigger."

Pandora steps around Ike and peers closely at the spell in her hands. Chloe bites her lower lip, tears filling her eyes. "I'm sorry momma. I wasn't castin... I was showing dolly..."

Pandora gathers her daughter in her arms. "Not mad sweetie... but let's see if we can send this where it needs to go. Ike, what do you see?"

"There are strands here, some look much like yours when you cast, but there are others that are deeper in tone, more jewel colored."

Pandora nods. "Then Chloe needs to direct it. I could take it apart, dispel it, but it is a protection spell by the feel of it." She turns to Chloe, calm outward while her insides are a twisted mass of pride and subsiding fear. "It's your spell, so you need to send it. Unless you want me to show you how to take it apart."

Chloe's eyes go large as she realizes her mother is not scolding her. "Send it?"

Pandora nods. She whispers instructions into Chloe's ear. The little girl does as she is told, Pandora bolstering the strength of the sending with a little of her own skill. The ball lifts slowly and sinks through the wall. They follow it into the hall and watch as it escapes into the night.

Ob looks at Ike, voicing what he knows his wife wants to know as well. "How did you do that? Gargoyles channel energy, not capture and play with a spell."

Ike shrugs. "I just... caught it."

Pandora purses her lips, thinking. The trio reenters the nursery. Ob picks up Teri and bouncing the boy on his hip as the nanny straightens up a bit.

"Tori can cast spells. You can hold them." He looks at Pandora, then at Chloe. "Our daughter can already cast spells..." I think Chloe's Witchcrafting classes need to start."

Pandora nods, her mind already rearranging her schedule to make time for lessons.

"Ike, would you like to sit in as well? There may be something useful for you. I remember Tori saying you have Witches in your ancestry."

Ike looks down at her hands, then at the wall the spell disappeared through. She can still see vestiges of the energy. Her words are slow, but thoughtful.

"I think that would be a very good idea..."

Pandora was feeling like she needed to do something for the group about to depart. She knew they were physically protected, but decided to weave a spell of protection to send along. She went looking for Chloe; she was feeling left out; while Mera and Ru went on an adventure to the fae world... maybe if she helped Pandy with the spell she would feel special again.

Chloe was downstairs in the private room playing with her doll; Teri seemed sensitive to activity while trying to sleep and her presence in the nursery sometimes kept him awake... so she had taken to playing with her dolly there. "Chloe; want to help mama weave a spell to protect all those going to the fae realm?" The excitement on her daughter's face was unmistakeable, Pandora took her hand and led her upstairs to her private study. "First we must gather some magic herbs from the garden" she picked up her shears Chloe was already out the door into the night..skipping through the garden with Absynthe darting above. It was a beautiful calm night, and Pandora stood a moment drawing in the fragrance of the many growing plants... their presence soothing to her soul.

 Pandora sought out the sage, Rosemary... pulled a few leaves from the potted Bay tree... and once back inside; picked through her jars to extract a few clove stars. "Now we're ready".... Pandora made her sacred circle with Chloe standing close by her side; and then began to drop the herbs into her small cauldron... when they were bubbling enough to fragrance the room; Pandora began her spell. Chloe was fascinated and mimicked her mother's motions... even trying to remember the words as they left Pandora's lips. When the spell was cast Chloe could actually see the essence rise from the cauldron and drift out the open terrace door....

"Mama, will I be a witch too, and cast spells.?" Pandora was surprised and amused at her daughter's question. 'Chloe, you have much of your papa in you... that we know, what you get from me is still to be discovered. When you are a little older we will see if you still want to learn. Magick is not something to be played with; you must wait to learn properly." Chloe seemed happy with the answer; and found her way back down the stairs with Absynthe on her shoulder. A stop in the kitchen left Absynthe snacking on fruit bits... while Chloe went in search of her doll, she wanted to tell her all about what she learned.

"Dolly, mama did a spell today... you be good, and I will be mama and show you just how it is done." Chloe propped the doll carefully in the chair  and set to work... she mimicked the drawing of the circle, repeating the chosen words... and set about dropping herbs in her pretend pot, while murmuring the words her mother had used to cast the spell. She threw her arms open in a dramatic gesture in the air when she was done... giving dolly quite the show.

Chloe paused; the room was quiet for a moment, and then she felt the stirring in the air... the magick spell! she had actually done it... but it was not drifting off as mama's had done... it kept bumping up against the ceiling... and whirling about the room. Something is wrong... something is wrong with mama's spell.... Chloe's eyes tear as she feels the spell moving about her... the one that cast it... unable to go where she intended... she had no way of knowing the wards that protect the tavern would not let it pass; for she did not have her mother's presence and intent to send it through the wards... it was trapped within the tavern.

 Chloe is panicking a little; she can feel the power... and doesn't know what to do... she gathered dolly and went upstairs to the nursery... glancing behind her... hoping she would leave the spell behind... but as she left the confines of the small room the power seemed to grow; at least she felt it growing... and it soon wove its way around the ceiling of the nursery. Teri was awake; and Chloe went to him and began playing... hoping the spell would disappear. The nanny seemed unaware of the power Chloe felt; if she felt anything she would attribute it to the house wards. Teri held his hand up in the air... so he felt its magick too.

Chloe was growing fearful; it just wouldn't go away... and mama would be so mad, she had told her not to play at magick... to wait till she was old enough to understand.... Tears started to flow in earnest down her cheeks as she watched the ceiling....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Star looks up from her papers as Pike slips away from his usual sentry post, which is: slouched against the porch rails. He moves like a shadow, nearly invisible in the still bright late afternoon sunshine. Wish had already somersaulted off the roof and is drifting gracefully through the trees at the edge of the clearing. She pauses, fingertips drifting over the bark of several young trees. As she dances on, they fall into step behind her.

The pair meet before the telltale shimmer of a Veil parting. The tree folk continue moving until they flank the petite Wyldfae. Whoever is crossing would have a surprise waiting. Four black mounts step into the clearing. At once Wish and Pike bow low, sweeping back out of the way. The tree folk move back as well, forming a path to where the others wait. The horsemen urge their mounts forward, making way for Inari and the riderless steeds following her.

The dark steeds part, two to each side, allowing Inari to trot her mare forward. The Ambassador slips from her saddle and motions to the following horses. It isn't until the animals are closer that anyone notices the demifae clinging to the bridles. They rise in a cloud and move back to hover between the guards.

Inari hugs Star, telling the fae woman "I brought mounts for those who do not have a horse that would be able to pass into Faery. I assumed you would wish to ride your own."

"I am going to ride Horse and Erik is borrowing Tannr's warhorse."

Inari nods. The four riders dismount and join the group as Tori drops from the sky. She folds her leathery wings, still keeping the viperish image of her Gargoyle form. Her teasing words nearly hiss when she speaks. "Hmmm... Have you come in the company of The Four Horssssemen of the Apocalypsssse?"

Inari cocks her head, pursing her lips as she takes in the image the cloaked riders present. Tori grins, fangs glistening in the sun. "Let'sssss ssssee... Guunnar would be Famine. With him around, there issss no food for anyone elssse." The big man laughs as he pushes back his hood. "War would be Dmitri. I have ssseen him practiccce. Any weapon in hisss hands would be lethal." Dmitri bows his head in her direction.  Keon slides back his own hood, arms crossing over his chest. "Lord Blackthorn... you would be Pessstilenccce, becaussse," She inclines her snake head to the smallest of the riders. "A female is the deadliessst creature in nature, and our friend here would be underesssstimated by the malesss around her. Henccce, she would be Death."

A slim hand reaches up and pushes back the hood over its owner's face. Eite offers a tentative smile. Tori closes her eyes and concentrates a moment as Tannr puts his jacket around her shoulders. When he steps away, Tori is in her fully human form, bare legs the only betrayal of her state of undress. The Gargoyle steps forward and offers her hand to Eite. "I haven't been able to thank you for what you did to help rescue me. I heard you lost someone in the battle. For that I am... I am truly sorry."

Tears well in Eite's eyes. A transparent membrane blinks them away and the half Drow clears her throat. "Thank you." She takes Tori's hand in a firm grip, then quickly slips her hands out of sight under her cloak.

Mera tugs at Tannr's jacket, lifting her arms to Tori to be picked up. The little girl giggles as Tannr scoops her up and tosses her in the air. He tickles her and whispers, just loud enough for everyone to hear, "You better remember everything, little miss! Your cousins will not be happy if you can't tell them everything you see. I think they are jealous that you are going to see the land your daddy grew up in..."

Mera stares at Tannr, eyes wide. She nods solemnly. "I will Unca Tannr. And evera thing I hears. I tol' Gracie promises."

Keon glances at Tannr. Their eyes meet as Keon collects his daughter. The little one wraps her arms around her father's neck, hugging tight. "Da? Chloe gots a dragon. Absynny's cool..."

Her gills are fluttering in excitement. Keon smiles gently and kisses her nose. "We will discuss it Mera. We also need to discuss things with Mama Star and Da Erik. With all the creatures here already, a dragon may not be a good idea." Mera sighs, pouting. "After this trip, we will discuss it, okay?"

Her dark blue eyes brighten. Looking over her father's shoulder  Mera spies Eite. The little girl waves at her. Eite waves back, quickly hiding her hand back under the cloak. Mera grins and turns her attention to Pike and Wish among the trees.

There is the soft sound of humming coming from the galley as Keon steps onto the deck. The sound fades away as the Dark Lord eases open the door. He knows she is listening to the sound of his step. Keon hides a smile. The whisper of her steps betrays her position, but this time it is so silent he has barely heard it. He spies her reflection in the dark windows of the small livingroom. In her hands are a pair of his kitchen knives, held in a warrior's grip. He smiles and softly calls her name.

"Eite. Still Water, little one."

One knife lowers, the other remains held at ready. "What walks in the shadows?"

Keon smirks. Eite was the one to demand the code. "Blackthorns and Lost Dreams."

Eite smiles and moves back into the galley. "Welcome home Keon. I made cookies."

He breathes deep, taking in the sweet scent of chocolate and cinnamon. Eite pours them each a cup of coffee, handing him the cups before taking a plate of the cookies into the living room. He settles in a chair as she curls up on the couch.

"Eite, it looks like I am going to be away for a couple of days. Star has planned a trip into Faery to honor Ghaunt's memory."

The cookie pauses halfway to Eite's mouth. "Ghaunt? Adara's servant?"

Keon nods. "He was the Drow who helped us fight free from Underdark."

Tears well in Eite's eyes. She blinks quickly, trying to banish them, but a thin stream wends its way down her cheeks. "Ghaunt is gone?"

Keon sets his mug down and moves to kneel beside Eite. He takes the cookie from her fingers, engulfing her now empty hand in his. "I take it you knew him."

She nods slowly. "Ghaunt hid his true thoughts, but he watched out for the ones that were... nothing." She raises her eys to Keon. "He made sure I had food when my mother died. I never saw him without his hood raised. I never saw his face." She wipes at her tear streaked face with her free hand. "What will happen to those left behind?"

"Another will rise to take his place. One that no one would suspect."

Worry suddenly widens her eyes and she covers her mouth. "What about his woman? I heard Ghaunt found a mate. Did she make it out too?"

Keon smiles gently. "The woman who posed as his intended is safe. Do not fear for her. It is better if we do not speak of her part in the rescue."

She shakes her head. "I can't believe he is gone. Is it possible... do you think I could... tag?... along?"

He squeezes her hand gently. "I can but ask, lass. Let me call my brother and check with them. I warn you though, it is bound to attract attention. We will have to disguise you."

Eite raises a slim, pale blue-grey hand, touching her shorn locks. A faint smile crosses her lips. "For Ghaunt, I would dye my hair and bleach my skin."

Keon flips open his cell and places the call.

Erik answers on the first ring. Erik assures them Star has no problem with Eite joining the trip. Star is busy going over her daily routine for the animals, even though Tannr already knows it well. Keon smiles. They are her babies, he well understands. When he hangs up, the Dark Lord leads Eite to his room.

"Let's see what can be done to disguise you."

Pandora rocked Teri as he nursed, surprised at his gentleness in suckling; as if he knew biting down would hurt her... so he held back his eagerness for her gift.She was near the hearth of the small fireplace in their room... and watched Ob playing with Chloe on the floor.Their laughter was soothing and her mind slipped back to the afternoon; to the time she and Chloe had gone for a walk......

Pandora wrapped the soft mohair scarf around her neck as she got ready to go out; she was feeling house bound and was going to visit her father, and then down to Tori's shop. She touched the scarf at her neck... it was one of Chiara's... it was woven of the most beautiful shades of green,Ob said it matched her eyes. Pandora wanted to buy another if Tori had a new supply; they were really sought after by the area women. Chloe was bundled up... she insisted she was tired of home too; so Pandora had wrapped her tight in coat and gloves.

Monty had volunteered to watch Teri... the child was in a walker and could make his way around the tavern floors at incredible speed. He only nursed from his mother at night now; learning quickly how to handle a sippy cup and finger foods. Ob had been right on about him growing at incredible speed until he was self sufficient... he had begun to slow now; he was within a couple months size of Ruarc, and seemed to be winding down... she imagined his instincts told him he still needed his mother's milk for awhile yet; and it seemed the quiet moments together every evening really bonded them.

"You ladies ready to go?" Jeb was slipping a leather jacket on as he came down the stairs. 'I feel so bad about bothering you on your time off ,Jeb"... Pandora said. "Hey, no one goes out without an escort till we have this town back to normal... besides, your husband is not someone I want on my ass for disobeying him." He grinned and Pandora smiled back; Jeb scooped up Chloe,and they stepped out... waving to Monty holding his little charge Teri as they left. "Hope you don't mind Roxi joining us, told her we were stopping by and your dad insisted she join us. Pandora said... "the more the merrier," as she turned round enjoying the gusty wind... Chloe holding a hand up to catch it in her fingers.....

The time was fun, and full of laughter... Roxi had a way with Chloe and she seldom let go of her hand; until they stopped on the way home for ice cream cones... then Chloe was all engrossed in the bright blue cone she licked voraciously. Jeb saw them through the tavern door, then walked Roxi home... while Monty set about wiping the blue stains off Chloe's face as she told him all about their walk.

All the children were chasing after Tannr, trying to bring him to the floor. Tori shook her head, laughing. It was a good thing to see, to feel. All too often her thoughts have been somber and hidden from the others. Her eyes met Stoney's and she grinned.

"He is such a kid at times. Sometimes I thi..." Her words are broken off abruptly as the twins change tactics and tackle her instead. The fiery redhead lands on her back, and as limber as she is, finds herself covered with children before she can move. Little fingers tickle, only to find themselves tickled in turn. As she starts to extricate herself, Tannr holds her shoulders down. Her first reaction is to go still. Tannr's mind touches hers, easing the fear of being held, reminding her that it is only playtime with the kids. She mentally breathes deep. Her eyes meet his and the small flames of panic subside, leaving her eyes shining emeralds.

Stoney puts an arm around Alise and pulls her close. His thoughts touch hers, rich with the tears he closes off from his sister. He has given her back herself... Tannr is her hope, just as you are mine. Alise's smile is answer enough and Stoney sends the vision of the children's attack on Tori to Ike, Ob, and Pandora.

It takes a moment for Stoney to realize Grace has disappeared from the squirming group of children. He reaches out to touch her thoughts. Touching lightly, he listens to her crooning softly.

Shhh, it's ok... they is playing. She pauses as if listening to something. Tomi gots wings, yep he flies. Tara feels peeples feelings. Ru's part elf, so's Mer. But her momma was a...a... water lady. She pauses again and Stoney feels the sensation of soft fur under her fingers.

Looking around, he spies his youngest sitting in a corner of a chair with a dark ball of fur in her lap. Keon is right behind her, watching without obviously watching. The Fae nods, barely, in his direction.Star is watching also. A small smile curves her dainty lips.

Lobo leaves off romping with the others to investigate what occupies Grace. As her nose moves closer to sniff, a small set of claws lashes out. Instead of making contact, Grace's tiny hand has caught the paw. no no... Lobo is friend. Tante Star took you in. Lobo too. You make friends. The tiny claws disappear, slipping back into their sheaths. Lobo pauses, watching carefully. Grace lifts the kitten and places her close to Lobo. The two regard each other carefully. The kitten backs up when Lobo nudges closer, but doesn't become vicious. A few moments later it touches its nose to the wolf's. The wolf snorts and the kitten shakes from the sneeze. Lobo lopes off to join the others and Grace pets the dark fur. Good Kitty. See Lobo is... Lobo. There is a sigh. You needs a name. Stoney breaks off listening, never hearing his daughter's next question. You gots one? If you don't Tante Star can think of one, she's good at that. If you gots one, tell her so she knows, 'kay?

The kitten purrs softly, a rumble of sound, and climbs carefully back on the child's lap for more stroking. Stoney watches Grace smile and nod when the kitten bumps her hand with its tiny head. Her fingers stroke over glistening fur, finding the perfect spot between the little cat's ears.

Inari gone, Keon watches the darkness lost in thought. He smiles as he feels a familiar presence in the area of the porch.

"Come to tell me to go after her?"

A gravelly chuckle blends with the peace of the night. "Nope. You Fae are... *exaspérant. I have enough problems understanding mon Chaton and ^mes soeurs. Actually, I want to ask you about something brought to my attention."

The gargoyle moves silently, not surprising when you consider he has been hiding among humans for over two centuries. Keon falls into step beside him and the two men walk a bit in silence.

Long minutes pass before either speak, and then only when they are far enough from the house that none would overhear. Stoney pauses, looking up at the moon. "You gifted mes enfants in Fae tradition. I see them growing into their gifts. Except Grace." He turns to face the Dark Lord, expression somber. "Is something wrong with ~mon plus jeune, Keon? Or is she going to be... will she be human?"

The Dark Fae smiles. "There is nothing wrong with being human, Re'mi." He holds up a hand to stop Stoney before he speaks. "But, no. I think she has a gift. Erik and Tannr noticed something in the way she responds to others." He taps a finger against his lips, then asks an odd question. "Does Grace make up languages when she plays?"

Stoney grins. "All the children do. Tomas and Tara often sing odd syllables to make Grace laugh. Why?"

"Do me a favor. Tape them next time. I just want to listen to the little ones. Don't worry Stoney. Your child is a bonnie bit of joy. Her name fits her well. Even at such a tender age, hardened warriors cannot resist her sweetness. I have seen some of my most grim men soften at the flash of her smile or the sound of her laughter."

He claps a hand on Stoney's shoulder, 'Fear not mate. I think her gift is a bit more subtle than the other children. Let's get back before someone comes looking for us."

The Gargoyle's focus drifts and Keon smiles, knowing he must have touched his wife's mind. "C'mon mate. Let's go back inside."

The Fae Lord whistles and Trooper lopes out of the darkness. As the trio mounts the porch steps, Keon taps the edge of the roof. Pike flips down, dropping onto the railing as Wish peeks over the edge. Moments later the two are gone from sight, leaving behind nothing but their merry laughter. Stoney and Keon share a grin and open the door to the sound of children screeching.

^my sisters
~my youngest

Later that same evening, Tannr is helping Tori close her shop for the evening. He can sense her thoughts, making mental lists of things that need to get done, people she wants to talk to and wondering if Star knew how to get hold of Chiara. The scarves she had made for the shop sold out in a couple of days and several local women had been in to ask about them.

Tannr grins, then his thoughts turn more serious, and he tries to cover his tentative plans to go to Underdark and kill a certain Drow guard. He is worried about Tori and how she would react to that news and wonders if Ike would be able to keep her distracted with wedding plans or something so she doesnt worry so much.

“Why does Ike need to distract me?” Tori lifts her head from the books wondering what Tannr was thinking of. She gets a quick glimpse of Underdark before Tannr can chase the image from his mind.

“Underdark? Tannr, whats going on?” Tori lays her pen down carefully and Tannr can detect the slight edge of fear to her voice. Not many others would have noticed it, but the memories of what happened there still cause some very real fear for Tori. “Tell me, you arent doing a very good job at hiding it....”

Tannr sighs and drags a chair close to Toris. “I think I need to go there. That guard needs to die for what he did to you and I doubt if he will come here, not after the ass kicking we gave them...”

“No! I dont want you to go... Tannr... please... That race is evil.. I know Star thinks there has to be some good ones, but really Ghaunt was the only one. The rest are.... “ Tori shudders and closes her eyes and Tannr sees some of what she is so frightened of.

“Tori... Red... come here...” Tannr lifts her easily and carries to the sofa and sits with her on his lap, scarlet spiky hair resting on his chest.

Knowing they have to talk but not wanting to upset her Tannr is content to just hold her, the sound of heart close to his comforting. “Have you given any thought to the wedding? Do you even want one?”

Tori smiles softly knowing Tannr is trying to distract her by changing the subject. This would irritate her to no end if it were anyone else. “Just a little. If we wait until spring or summer and do something outside, all the street kids would come...”

Tannr nods and grins, knowing how important they were to Tori. “Sounds fine to me. I told you to do whatever you wanted.... but Red? We do need to talk about something. I am going to Underdark... I have to... “ He raises a hand to Toris face as she starts to say something. “Shh... hear me out, please.”

Tori lowers her head and slowly nods.

“I want to be with you forever... I plan on being with you forever. I want you to feel safe and happy, I want children, a long and loving relationship with the woman I love. I dont want this between us... I cant bear to see the fear in your eyes, in your thoughts at times. Some of this is normal after what you went through. Stoney says Alise still has nightmares on occasion. I understand as a warrior how this kind of experience makes you doubt yourself, your decisions. You start to second-guess yourself, you see enemies in every shadow... it happens to all of us, Red.” Tannr wipes a tear making its way down Toris cheek. “Ask my sister, your brothers. It doesnt mean you are weak or somehow less strong because you are a woman. Next to my sister you are the strongest person I know, I love and respect that about you... but I dont want us to start our life together with this unresolved. I want it taken care of, over and done with before it festers any longer, in either of our minds...”

Tori can hear her brothers, both in agreement. Listen to your man, chica, he does this from love for you...and the family he wants with you....

Tori nods slowly, knowing and understanding where Tannr was coming from, just not very happy about the fact that he would be gone and she wouldnt be able to go with him. Not with that bitch Ardara just waiting to get her hands on a gargoyle.

“When?” she asks.

“Soon... I have to talk to my brother and Keon and get a message to my men. If they arent fighting on the borders I am sure they would be willing to help. A few of them have their own grudges against the Drow that they might want to settle..”

Inari nods as Star goes over a list with her. Keon and Erik are sitting at the table with them, the kids playing quietly in front of the fireplace.

“Good choices all, sound reasoning... You must have put some thought into this...” Inari looks to Star who suddenly turns shy and looks at the table.

Erik exchanges a glance with Keon and clears his throat. “Princess... you could have asked one of us to help you with the planning...”

Star shrugs and almost whispers, “I thought I should take care of it.” She looks up, a worried expression on her face, “Is there something I should change?”

“No, not at all. Like Inari said, you must have put a lot of thought into this.” Erik quickly scans the list, realizing how much time and care his wife must have put into it. There is a look of quiet pride on his face; is this the same woman he met when he came to Exton? No, unquestionably she has grown and matured - though he sometimes despairs of ever getting her to think before acting on impulse. Perhaps it is the responsibility she bears now for Ruarc, even more than Mera; for Mera, gods grant, will never have the terrible task that awaits their son.

“I..I havent talked to anyone yet... I have to ask Tannr if he and Tori can stay here and watch the animals. So we need to go and get back before he goes back to Underdark.” Star falls silent at the thought. She gets a bad feeling from the whole idea of Tannrs revenge, but she knows he wont listen to her. If Tori cant convince him not to go back then no one could.

Keon looks at the list Star had painstakingly made. A list of who was to accompany them to the Grove of Tears, what their position was in the group and notes in the margins as to why and why not. Keon smiles, There is a lot more to this lass, maybe more than we will ever truly know.... She has Pike and Wish in charge of the kids, Pike with Ru and Wish with Mera, thinking Mera would be more content with her company. And a note to the side, “ask Keon about Mera”.

Keon lays the lists on the table in front of him where Erik can see it plainly. “Have ye nae talked to her about strategy, brother?”

Erik shakes his head, “No, I didnt think that was something I needed to teach her...”

“To answer your question that you have written here, of course Mera can come. And as to the planning, I couldna done a better job myself.”

Erik looks at the list again. Inari riding point, Nick in the air, watching from above for any sign of trouble. Dimitri and Ramji behind Inari, then he and Star and right behind them Ru and Mera with Wish and Pike. Then Raina and Ky right behind the kids. The rearguard consisting of Gunnaar, Keon and Gareth. The kids were as well protected as they could possibly be.

After some minor discussion about what was needed in the way of supplies and how long it would take Star rose from the table.

“Is something wrong Princess?” Erik asks.

Star shakes her head, “Raina and her family are coming over. I called her earlier....”

As Star steps out onto the deck a car can be heard and doors slamming. It was still a walk to the cabin from the end of the road unless you had a truck or a jeep and Erik mentally makes a note to talk to Star about changing that. Last time he tried she adamantly refused, saying the cars would scare her animals.

A short time later Tannr and Tori arrive. After plans are explained and finalized, Inari excuses herself. Telling Star and Erik she would be back on the appointed day she says goodbye and disappears into the night, taking the sapling with her. She would drop it off on her way to the Queen and return to offer escort to Star and her group. Keon follows her out and watches admiringly as she easily mounts her horse.

“Will this be as quick a journey as the others are thinkin'?”

Inari grins and shakes her head, “No, it wont be.”

“Aye, thats what I was afraid of. We'll be arriving with a full escort from all the races of Faerie...”

“I imagine they are all curious about her... and the little one. But I dont think it will hold us up by more than a few hours... a day at the most...”

Keon nods, “We'll be seein' ya soon then. And I will try to explain to Erik....”

Under the temple, under the dungeons, in the deepest darkest part of Underdark, a dank odorous chamber exists. No light of any kind can penetrate the thick walls and the light of a candle seems to be swallowed in the inky blackness. The smell of death and decay permeate the damp place and creatures of the night scuttle away from the dim light of the candle to hide in the shadows, red eyes glowing.

Ardara sits at a small table, her scrying bowl in front of her. The murky water starts to move, almost shimmering with a life of its own. Dim figures start to take shape, blurry and indistinct at first, slowly becoming clearer and more defined.

Ardara chants, an age old prayer, filled with evil and ill intent, asking her spider goddess for guidance. Her voice is hoarse, the words ancient, a language long since dead, syllables so twisted and convoluted it seems impossible they could ever have arisen from a human throat. The few creatures remaining slink away to their hiding places. She starts to rock, lost in trance and the images being played out in front of her.

Suddenly she stands and laughs, her chair falling over backwards, the sound deafening in the small chamber. In her bowl she sees two little girls, one with bouncing curls, the other dark haired and violet eyed, following a golden haired boy as he lifts himself with his wings....

Children? There are gargoyle children...

And near the entrance to the chamber, high in the ceiling and clinging to a bit of root in the darkness, the tiniest of demifae watches closely. Its eyes huge and frightened, wings stilled so not to attract attention, the scene played out in the scrying bowl is committed to memory. Then turning silently, he makes his way back up towards the dungeons...

A few days after the new year Star and Pike make their way through the woods to the Willow tree where Ghaunt use to wait for her. The sight of the large graceful tree for the first time since Ghaunts passing made Star cry. She dropped the burlap bag she was carrying and wiped her eyes.

Turning large gray eyes to Pike she says, “I miss him...”

Pike nods and smiles sadly. Ghaunt had given his life for people he barely knew. He did it for the people Star cared about. Few were so selfless in this world or any other.

“We have to pick a good strong sapling. Inari said the Keepers of the Grove would see to it after we plant it and make sure it grows.” Star ducks under the long whip thin branches, bare of leaves this time of year. She takes a deep breath to steady her emotions and looks around. On the other side of the trunk she sees a sapling that looks right to her. Good and strong but not too big yet. She motions to Pike who brings the shovel and the burlap and he sets to digging. Star listens to his soft chanting, then he thanks the main tree for its young one.

Once the small willow is dug up Star sets to binding the roots in the burlap. As she works she hears a scratching noise and looks around, ever on guard to those evil goblins that knocked her down the day Ruarc was born.

A slight mewing noise has her on her feet and looking amongst the dead fallen leaves and long bare branches hanging on the ground.

Pike hears “Oh! You poor thing..” and smiles. Star was always tending to some animal or another and from the sounds of it had found another that needed her attention.

Star emerges through the branches, something dark grey and silky in her arms and purring loudly. Pikes eyes widen as the kitten turns its red eyes to him. He knows it is a Shadowcat from Underdark, and he also knows there is nothing he can possibly say to make Star leave the kitten behind in the woods.

Returning to the cabin Star sees Erik and Keon waiting for her on the deck. Ru is sitting on a blanket with Mera, both enjoying the unusually mild winter day.

“We have the tree. Inari will be here tomorrow, she can take it to the Grove and then we can get ready to go...”

Keon nods but his attention is transfixed by the creature in Stars arms. Erik starts to argue and stops with a loud sigh at the look on her face. He knows she will go without him if he doesnt agree to go along.

Looking to Pike then back to Star, Keon asks, “Pike, lad, did ya not see that was a Shadowcat? Should the lady be bringin' that home, do ya think?”

Erik noticed the creature in Stars arms for the first time, half hidden in her jacket.

“Shadowcat? As in from Underdark? You brought it home?”

“Of course I brought her home. Ghaunt sent her to me and she's staying.” Stars expression became even more stubborn if that were possible.

Lobo comes bounding from the stables and stops dead at Stars feet, sniffing, trying to figure out what the new animal is. Suddenly the cat gives a small hiss and turns its red eyes on Lobo. The young wolfs howling brings Wolf off the porch to see whats wrong. Ru starts to squeal wanting to see and before Mera can try to pick him up on her own, Erik bends down and takes a child in each arm. “What am I going to do with your mama? We will have a zoo here before much longer...”

It was late when they reached the tavern; and Ob put Chloe to bed while Pandora tucked Teri in his crib; he had suckled on their way home, so would sleep until dawn.

Pandora reached the bedroom first and slipped into a soft gown of gauzy fabric that molded to her body and was almost transparent... she had made preparations in advance and had a cobalt bowl of still water sitting on a table at the terrace door. Advancing across the room she lit the candles on the table; throwing a soft light on the table with its bowl and greenery of holly and pine. The room smelled of Yule and the nights festivities swam in her mind.

Obsidian had made this place his home with his fellow gargoyles, and his love for her and their children; but she knew there were times when he missed the desert and the tribe where he had spent his childhood. Tonight she hoped to bring some memories to life for his gift.

Ob had slipped in soundlessly as he often did,and he slid his hands around her waist... surprised at how quickly she had regained her shape after Teri's birth.

Pandora turned beneath his hands murmuring.."I have a gift for you,and then I want you to make love to me, my husband". She led him to the table and he stood behind her as she began murmuring a spell; taking  needles from the pine to drop onto one of the burning candles... its pungent smell filling the air....

Pandora bent now over the bowl,her hands fanned out as she moved them over the surface of the water... and the water seemed to ripple... and then stilled... and she glanced on a desert scene within the water; and slipping her hand into Obs, she drew him forward and stepped aside,that he might look into the bowl's depths. Ob was still for moments, just staring; then he looked up briefly into her eyes... "Bruha, I could ask for no better gift than this glimpse of the rest of my family" ...he turned back to stare into the bowl, and as he was immersed in memories, Pandora saw tears at the corners of his eyes... she pretended not to notice, for Josephito would never admit to that weakness... but she knew she had truly touched his heart.
Ob stood for long minutes looking... then when he knew it was time, he took a finger and moved it through the water... erasing the scene from the bowl; although she knew it would burn in his mind long after.

"Pandora, my bruha... you knew that family was on the minds of all tonight; and already you planned this for me." She smiled up at him tenderly and he read the love in her eyes... and brought his lips down to kiss her, a kiss tender, and then increasingly demanding... a kiss of possession, for he loved her fiercely; and times such as this made him aware how in tune to each other they truly were.

Ob's hands went around her and he lifted her into his arms; Pandora threading a hand into his long locks of multi-colored hair as he carried her to the bed... their kisses increasing in ardor as he stroked her through the thin gown. Pandora lay upon the bed looking up at Ob,his strong build; the fire in his eyes as he removed his clothing... his manhood springing up, already wanting her. "Tonight I give you a gift too, my love"... and he lifted her gown off her and stroked his large hands over her body, he was incredibly tender tonight; kissing the paths his hands had stroked until he reached her breasts... he cupped them gently; stroking the nipples with his thumbs... until they were so erect small drops of milk welled on their tips... he bent and licked them from the tips, then took one in his mouth and suckled gently while kneading the other... until Pandora began to squirm beneath his touch... her hips lifting toward him with a will of their own.

Ob chuckled,and began to kiss his way down her body... his hands trailing sensations behind them as he moved ever down toward her hips... and his hands slipped between her thighs and parted them... stroking along the insides of her legs, ever closer to her nether lips... and then one large hand pressed upon her mound; the thumb stroking circles round her clit... eliciting a moan from Pandora that told him she was excited... and he slid a finger in her cunt, then another... working them in and out, curving his fingertips to rub against that most tender of spots inside her vagina. Ob liked watching her face,the ecstasy that flitted across the surface of her features as he pleasured her....

He kept his hand on her mound, pressure on the throbbing clit... while with his other hand he slid beneath her buttocks and lifted her off the bed and closer to his bending face... he thrust his tongue into her hole, moist with her juices... and shoved it farther... drawing it out to thrust again ... while the thumb of the hand balancing her buttocks began to press against her anus... she squirmed at this, and moaned again... he knew this made her hotter. Ob's thrusts with his tongue grew faster and harder as she began to toss her head on the pillow... she was ready to cum... and he pushed harder until his thumb moved into her anus... and she climaxed... juices filling his mouth and chin as he licked her cunt dry... listening to her soft mewling sounds of ecstasy....