Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Okay, everyone gather round and listen up. This is important if you want to survive." That gets attention. People gather around the tiny woman, intent on her next words. "After our people go through the Gate, I'm going to activate this." She points to a curved metal box placed maybe twenty feet from the Gate.

"This is an M18A1 Claymore mine. Anyone anywhere in front of this baby when it goes off is going to be very very unhappy. Therefore, do not run straight out of the Gate; do a dog-leg maybe twenty yards to the right or left. I'll wait till everyone's clear to fire it, and you'll oblige me by moving your ass with some alacrity. This little beauty fires steel ball bearings in a 60-degree arc." She shows us the shape with her hands. "Effective range is maybe fifty, fifty-five yards in front of the mine, and six and a half feet straight up; but it can spray up to two hundred and sixty yards, so don't get in front of it." Her grin is chilling. " You might think of it as the world's biggest sawed-off shotgun. I guarantee you, anything that doesn't like Cold Iron is going to have a Very Bad Day."

Tori's eyes focus inward. A small smile touches her lips. Keon waits quietly, watching the clearing until Tori closes her eyes.

 "If last time is anything to go by, Tannr could touch you in Underdark. It was weak, but he could. Your commitment to each other is stronger. You can touch much easier." He lays a gentle hand on her shoulder. "You will know if anything happens."

Tori nods. "I know." She smiles. "Stoney says i better get back. Tomas is ready to come get me."

Keon nods. "Guunnar and I will stay here. Pike, can you get Tori back to the clearing before Tomas decides to sneak off to follow us."

Pike grins. He takes Tori's hand and taps his staff to the ground. One moment they are standing next to Keon, the next just out of site of the clearing where everyone had met. Tori stumbles, catching her balance. Pike laughs and starts jogging down the trail. Tori shakes her head and follows. Moments later Tori finds herself stumbling, just barely catching her nephew as he wings himself into her arms.

"Tante Tori! Next time I go too! I keep you safe. I promised. Don't make me break a promise!"

Tannr nods and his smile starts to fade, the warrior coming to the surface. He runs his hand softly down the side of Toris face and sends to her...

I'm coming back, and I'm marrying you, nothing in this or any realm is going to stop me...

The men start moving through the gate. As Tannr approaches it with Marc he turns and looks at Tori, committing every detail to memory.

Tori takes a deep breath, trying to steady her emotions, not wanting to appear weak even to her sib.

Keon watches the men disappear through the gate. As Tannr passes by him he says, “We will be waiting. Watch your back, trust your instincts. We'll keep watch..”

Tannr nods and disappears behind Marc. The gate shimmers for a moment then starts to fade. In seconds it dissolves as if it were never there.

Tori hands Ob back his clothes and stalks across the clearing to Tannr. His hands slide over her shoulders, skimming over the dry smoothness of her scaled form. Her body presses against his and he can feel the plushness of the hair on her goat legs as she steps into his arms. She rests her head against his, forehead to forehead, and sighs.

He groans softly as she changes. His hands slide down her back, molding him to her as her chimeric form turns to lean muscled flesh. Her hair tickles as it softens from rigid scale. Her arms slide around his waist as Tannr's move even lower, finding bare ass. he raises a brow at her, knowing she doesn't do casual nudity, even though her clothes are sometimes just this side of indecent.

Everyone can see...

Tori gives him a small, wicked grin. Just my backside. I think I am glad, for the moment, that I am... less than endowed. She heads off the body lecture she can feel coming. Come back to me, Coppertop. Don't make me come there and go Chimeric on that Drow Bitch's ass. 

She closes her eyes and kisses him, gently at first, then fiercely. Breaking the kiss, Tori leans back a little to run her gaze over his face, as if committing it to memory. Small flames flicker in her green eyes as she cups his face in her slim hands. "I wish..."

"Red, you know why."

She nods. "Just make sure..."

There is a touch at her hip and Pike hands her Ob's oversized T-shirt. She steps back and pulls it over her head, noting those who stare openly, and those that try to hide their interest. Ob's hand falls on her shoulder and she turns to hug the stone dragon. He whispers something in her ear and she gives him a half smile. Tori nods.

Keon is talking to the Sprite. It is watching Tori and Tannr with interest. Moments later it turns and darts through the Veil. Ob grins at Tannr.

"Looks like it is time... Why does this suddenly feel like an episode of Stargate?"

He looks at the group, noting Pike and Keon standing nearer the Gate. "Well, brother to be... shall we?"

Pandora feels Ob's caress and his whispered.."I will miss you my Bruha"... and feels his change and the dragon in charge.

She has no real worries about Ob defending himself; but she knows he would put himself on the line for others... and prays to the Goddess it will not come to that.

She can feel Tori too, she knows that she wanted to be there till the last second to watch Tanner pass through into the Fae kingdom... and she knows Keon will make sure she goes no further.

Tannr had encouraged the women to try and get Tori involved in wedding planning to help her pass the time; and Pandora was really anxious to see what Tori was envisioning for her wedding attire... she knew it would be something off the wall and totally Tori.

If it was something that she needed custom made she knew Alise's flying fingers would make it special; especially now that Chiara was there to add her sewing expertise.

Pandora sighed, sewing was not her strong point; but she could crochet beautifully and it would be a good idea to start a shawl for Tori's wedding day... the affair was sure to stretch into the evening,and she had some beautiful cotton thread to make a special gift.

Pandora was in the garden, it was early... she had watched Ob soar into the air; and then couldn't bring herself to return to the house. Monty was up as well, the man slept very little... and he had just set a tray on the garden table and bowed and gave her a grin as he left. She lifted the teapot lid and smelled Earl Grey... how did he know that she was craving the aroma of the herbs that welled up to greet her nostrils...? she poured a cup and laced it with thick honey and wandered among her plants. Her roses were a favorite,and in particular one that started in the middle with delicate pink and ended up with almost magenta on its edges. The leaves were just greening up, and soon small buds would grace the plants.

Pandora stood near the roof edge and her mind played with ideas... she knew that Teri was going to love it up here; but she had no illusions that the word "NO" would stop him from getting in danger. She decided to talk with Obsidian when he returned about having a wrought iron fencing put around the garden's exterior to prevent the children from getting too near the edge.

Chloe was actually not a big worry now that her and Tomas were flying regularly; she could take to the air if she fell, but Teri showed no signs of developing wings like his sister. His bumps on his forehead did show signs of developing into horns; but with the shock of dark hair curly like his father he could easily keep them hidden from the view of most.

Pandora sat and watched the sun start its ascent... her teacup perched on her lips.

The blade Tannr offers Ob is exquisite. The Gargoyle examines the wide blade and swings it one handed, gauging its balance. Ob bows to Addley, then asks Tannr to hold it for a few moments.

Removing the band from his hair, Ob tugs his T-shirt over his head and shakes out his multihued locks. Tori folds his shirt and steps back as Ob begins to sing. The words are almost intelligible, yet somehow not. The tune dances up and down the scale, each note smoothly blending into the next. Heads turn to watch as the scar on his chest begins to glow. The light lifts from his chest, pulsing in time to the music. His large hands seem to wrap around the light and he pulls outward. The song continues, now punctuated by short breaks for breath. The glow intensifies and Ob sweeps his arms out in a wide arc. The song ends and he stands, head bowed, covered in a sheen of sweat. The light fades slowly, coalescing into the curved blade of a scimitar. Ob raises the blade to his lips. He kisses the blade's surface and lays it in Tannr's arms with the panga.

He again bows to Addley. "Allah's Light welcomes the company of your dark bladed machete. May they dance sweetly and sing in harmony."

Turning to his sister, Ob kicks off his sneakers and slides out of his jeans. At the sight of a few raised eyebrows, Ob gives a rakish grin and murmurs, "You should see my brother's sword. It's much bigger."

Tori rolls her eyes and folds his jeans as Ob concentrates on changing into another form. He kneels under the pain of a forced change but the Gargoyle is damned if he is going to be caught in flesh as he crosses the Veil. When he stretches out, his body is covered in glistening scales. Dragon wings snap out from his back and his wild mane has twisted and curled into multi-hued horns.

Moments later the Dragon Gargoyle has lost the vibrant coloring as his body continues to fade into the earthen tones of stone. Hands of gray and brown reach out and lift the blades from Tannr's arms. Ob concentrates, focusing on his form, and scaled loops shift to hold the blades. Scimitar and Machete secured, Ob relaxes as the others turn back to stowing their gear.

The group pauses in the clearing, Tannr telling the men to check weapons and equipment. “Make sure you have enough water and something to eat. You dont want to touch anything from Underdark. Everything there seems to be poisonous to one degree or another....”

Tannr quickly checks his own weapons and walks around the group to see what everyone is carrying. Noticing that Ob isnt armed in any way he approaches Addley, who is busy laying out his knives on the ground in front of him. Tannr watches for a few minutes as knives seem to appear from nowhere and are added to the growing pile in front of Addley.

Addley has a strange, almost loving expression on his face as he handles his knives. But Tannr knows that can change instantly. In less than a second the handsome face and startling blue eyes can change to something else, something very cold and frightening.

After emptying his belt and the knives hidden in his boots, Addley reaches around for his worn leather pack. Beat up and scruffy looking, the old brown bag he carries over his shoulder doesnt look like it would be holding an arsenal. He pulls out a few more knives, adding a tanto, a kriss and a couple of scalpels to the pile.

Tannr squats near the pile. “Are you sure thats all of them Addley? You seem to be missing a few since I last saw you...”

Addley laughs then, the sound odd and foreboding. Lily looks up from her pack and quickly back down to her neat piles and stacks of wire, plastic caps, detonators, batteries and odds and ends.

“I left a few of 'em in the back of some fat greedy barkeep near the UP...… Hugh and Harold One Eye were fighting, arguing over the whores. The fat old fucker tried to pin me to my chair to keep me from helping my buds. Cant have that, so I stabbed him....Then Hugh put a fist through the wall and they started arguing 'bout hows we owed 'em for damages to the building....but then Lily blew it up...”

“You're kidding?!” Tannr looks to Lily.

“Ended the argument.” Lily says matter of factly.

“But I lost three of my knives...” Addley sighs as if parted from a long lost lover.

“Wasnt that great of an explosion. You didnt miss much..” Lily resumes packing her gear.

Tannr grins, hoping no one else heard the conversation. He looks over to Ob, then back to Addley who nods and reaches into his pack, pulling out a wicked looking panga. The flared blade of the machete was razor sharp and Addley slowly caressed the blade with his thumb.

Tipping his head in Ob's direction, Addley hands it to Tannr. “For the big guy...”

When I get home from work, a new email awaits.

 Jack - 

I don't know how to tell you this, it happened like three days ago and I still don't know how to describe it. I have mixed feelings about it - it was amazing, it was terrifying, it was exhilarating - how do I sort that out? 

Well, being me, I guess I'll just spit it all out and hope to make some sense of it as I go. 

Three days ago, I'm working with Sibyl, just standard medium stuff - amazing how quickly this has become a matter of routine - and out of the blue, I get this really cold chill. I think I shivered, and then the next instant, the chill starts settling into me, like it's creeping into my bones. It got hard to think, like trying to slog upstream through cold molasses. 

Imagine the deepest sleep you've ever experienced, the hardest to wake up from, and then multiply that by ten and you might have some idea what this was like. I could barely move and I was freezing, inside and out. 

Thank God Sibyl realized what was going on. I heard her voice like from far away, telling me I could free myself from this, to concentrate my will and push him out. I didn't know what she meant, but I tried - more of that stuff I've learned to take for granted - and suddenly that numbing cold is gone; in fact, I'm sweating like I've been in a sauna for an hour. 

Sibyl got me up, got me into the shower and told me we'd talk about it later. So an hour later, freshly showered, coiffed and dressed, I asked her what the hell happened. 

I won't try to repeat what she said verbatim, but it seems that I'm more special than we knew - yay, me! Hang on for the lecture, I'll try to keep it quick. 

There are two basic types of mediumship. The first is called mental mediumship. It's the one most people are familiar with, where the spirit communicates with the medium and the medium relays the message; trance mediumship, the kind of thing that Sibyl and I do, is a form of mental mediumship. The trance, though, is typically a deeper form of communication with fewer distractions for the medium. Then there's physical mediumship; it involves things like objects moving by themselves, materializations, apports and physical sounds that can be heard by the other sitters. It was the kind of mediumship practiced by the early Spiritualists - some of whom, like the Fox sisters, were later exposed as fakes. Some poltergeist phenomena can now be attributed to unknowing physical mediumship. 

Then there's me. Sibyl tells me that only about one in every ten thousand mediums can do what I do. It's like a super deep-trance form of mediumship where I allow the spirit to physically possess my body and for a time, that spirit uses my body to commuicate. I know now that no spirit can use my body without my consent, and if I want them to go, there's no way that they can prevent me from expelling them. I know that now; I didn't know it that first time, but there's no way Sibyl could have known or even suspected that I had this ability. Since that day, Sibyl and I have been working on psychic self-defense, boosting my shielding and the like, and very carefully, very gradually practicing this new power. Fortunately, we have a "tame" spirit right here in the house; it's Sibyl's husband (ex-husband?) David. He was killed in the same car accident which was responsible for the loss of Sibyl's sight. He possesses me and I flex my psychic muscles and push him out. At first it was easy, but now he's resisting being expelled - all according to plan, don't worry - and I really have to strain to remove him. This is having the same effect as lifting weights - the more you exercise those psychic muscles, the stronger they become. Mind you, I can't see that this ability will ever be useful for anything, but (1) you never know and (2) I want to control my powers, not have them control me. 

 I've given you a lot to think about, so I'll start closing this out. I love you Jack, very much, and when you possess me, trust me, I won't push you away! 



The soft trill of panpipes echoes through the dimness. The tune is clear, yet melancholy. If one listens closely, they will recognize a beloved Irish ballad. The "Minstral Boy" seems to drift among the vegetation, wrapping around trees, slipping among the abundant leaves of the low growth. The tune beckons to darker man shaped wraiths gliding through the shadows.

A spark of light flicks to the center of a narrow path of space. The light flickers, dimming to reveal a small fae with beetle wings. The sprite hovers for a moment then touches lightly down. His dark trews and tunic ripple in the breeze of his furiously beating wings. Warily he watches as a tall shadows emerges from the trees. The Sprite relaxes slightly, wings slowing to a smooth fanning, as he watches the first light of dawn shimmer over darkness.

Taking in the pitch black hooded cloak, the Sprite asks in a quiet voice. "Dark Lord or Assassin?" The hood is slid back just enough to show dark eyes, pointed ears and a shimmer of blue among midnight hair. The lesser fae bends a knee, carefully lowering himself in a courtly bow, eyes locked on the face above him.

"My Lord Bla..."

Keon raises a finger to his lips and the Sprite stops speaking. Keon motions for the Sprite to rise and as he gains his feet, the hood is slid back into place. The music drifts away, becoming silence. The Sprite smiles as other shadows move closer.

"You do not come alone." Keon smiles. "I am not coming back, for now. I guard this side of the Crossing for another."

The Sprite nods. "Allies await just within the Veil. Others guard the Underdark side of the veil." He glances at the dark treeline, small head cocking, eartips flicking. "There are others acattered among the Peoples, hidden, watching." The eartips twitch again. "Your Piper.. I am reminded of home..." Tears glisten, wings buzz. "With your leave, I will abide in the shadowed pass this side of the Veil until you need me to summon those waiting."

At Keon's nod, the Sprite bows from the waist and carefully backs away. Moments later there is a rustle and he is gone from sight. Keon watches silently then turns as Tori lands gently beside him. Tannr and Marc slip from the shelter of the trees.  the others wait, just inside the safety of the trees. The Dark Lord raises a brow at the trio.

"Looks like we have inside help."

Tori watches the brush. "Any ideas?"

Keon nods. "Star's Archers."

Ob lays a hand on Tori's shoulder and nods toward Keon. The Dark Lord pulls the hood of his cloak up, hiding his face. From the darkness of the hood, he flashes a brilliant smile.

"Come when you hear the pipes. We'll make sure the crossing is clear."

Tannr nods, knowing the Gate seemed closer than it really was. he kisses Tori deeply, telling her watch her tail. She grins and shifts. There is a grunt from someone and Guunnar's laugh rumbles.

Tori looks back over her shoulder as the other disappear into the trees. Ob looks back raising a reptilian brow. Tori nods once and turns back to slip ahead of her brother, but not before she shakes her goat tail at Tannr.

Pike waits on the trail. "Scouted ahead. Trail is clear until the deeper trees. Demi's watch further on."

Keon nods. Without another word the foursome ghost along the path. All is clear, no sign of anyone, or anything. Ob steps into the last clearing before the gate. Once he gives the all clear, Tori launches herself into the branches of a thickly leafed tree. Ob drifts into the shadows, Keon merging with the areas that morning has yet to touch. Pike scrambles up a tree across the path from the gargoyle and smiles as he hears the first notes of a familiar ballad.

Stoney looks around at the warriors who have hefted their packs and weapons. He lays a hand on Tannr's shoulder. His voice is thick, his french accent making the words almost unintelligible. "Come back to her Tannr. If you don't, she will come after you. Gods help us if she goes berserker..."

The group begins to melt into the shadows of the trees, leaving the civillians in the slowly brightening clearing. Tomas is suddenly airborne, darting after Tannr's group. Stoney just catches him, snagging him out of the air.

"Non Tomas. We stay and protect those here. We are the Home Guard. Do you understand?"

The little boy pouts. His lip thrust out stubbornly. Alise nods solemnly and offers, "We need to keep Tante Tori safe here, and watch over Tante Star."

Still pouting, Tomas sighs. "But I wanna help!"

Wish drops from a tree on the far side of the clearing. "Aye, ye are. Tis why we are here, little warrior. Someone needs to watch this side of things." She winks at Tomas and scrambles up a tree. "Come sit here Tomas. We will wait until yer aunt returns, and accompany her back to the cabin."She pats the limb she is perched on. "We will be her escort."

Stoney hides a grin and lets Tomas fly up to Wish, knowing she would keep him out of mischief. Alise shakes her head at Stoney's thought. Chiot... you do know she is the one who taught him how to build a fire and hide in the attic.

Panther races into the clearing, Tomas flying just above the big cat, trying to keep up. Panther stops suddenly at the sight of strangers and Tomas stops just as suddenly and falls, landing on panther. Dust and dirt flies as the two wrestle and role, Tomas laughing, trying to yell at panther to stop but unable to get the words out.

Suddenly Stoney is there, lifting his son and brushing him off. “Your maman is going to choke us both....”

Alise is shaking her head when she joins Raina and Nick. “I dont know why I put him in clean clothes.... its hopeless...”

Her eyes widen at the sight of Lily and she looks to Raina who shakes her head slightly and says under her breath, “later...”

Stoney, this girl....she looks a little * fou...remember that beggar that was always near the cathedral? The one who claimed to be Marie Antoinette? She has that look in her eyes... 

Tannr trusts her Chaton, she has an important role in the raid... 

Alise, like Raina and Ky was not convinced. She watched Lily as her eyes darted around the group. Raina took Gracie from her, kissing the little girl on the cheek making her giggle.

“I wasnt sure if you were coming. Its awfully early...”

Alise nods, “It is. But Tomas would never have forgiven us if he couldnt be here. He worships Tannr... and Stoney wanted to be here for his sister. This will be hard for her, and knowing her, she will have a harder time admitting it and letting anyone try to help..”

Heads turn as Tannr and Tori approach the family. Good mornings are exchanged and Tannr asks if everyone is ready. He turns to Tori and kisses her, then whispers “I love you..”

“Just come back....” Tori tries to smile.

“I will. We have a date, you know...”

Tannr smiles at Tori's puzzled look. “for early summer, in the park...” Tori punches at his shoulder for his teasing, finally able to smile at him.

“Theres my girl...” Tannr traces the smile with a finger and gives her a quick hug. “See you soon, Red. I love you.”


Good old vamp hearing... I overhear Drai say "chaos imp" and then my eyes are drawn to the only person who might merit that description. She's dressed neatly enough in well-worn leathers, patched at the stress points and stained as if by caustic chemicals. Her hair is shaggy and untidy - not a rat's nest or anything, but more like she has more important things to worry about. Looks like she cuts it herself, and I'm guessing she uses a knife.

Just looking at her, I can feel the restlessness, like an explosion barely held in check. Her mannerisms show it, too - pacing, doing things with her hands, running her fingers through her hair... her dark eyes are in constant motion, like the antenna of an insect, darting here, darting there, missing nothing. They're brown, like hot cocoa, with tiny red flecks throughout - like someone lightly sprinkled the cocoa with cinnamon. Once in a while a smile breaks loose, like she's fighting a compulsion to giggle. It's not comforting, it just adds to the overall impression of madness bubbling to the surface.

It's like watching a Mexican jumping bean on a hotplate, and after awhile I get tired, just watching her, and I want to look away - but I'm afraid of what she might do if she's not being watched. She looks like she might set the dumpster on fire, just for the hell of it, or shove a Roman candle up someone's ass and light it.

And this is one of the good guys?

Drai and Ky edge a little away from the group. Ky looks more worried now than she did before, her forehead wrinkling in thought. She gives Drai a shove when he starts to tease.

“I'm worried about you......she....”, her head tips toward Lily, “might blow you all to smithereens and laugh her ass off about it.”

“Nah...Lily's cool. A little, I dont know, over zealous maybe. But she knows her stuff.”

“Do you know why she joined Tannrs group? Or where she comes from? She isnt fully human..” Ky asks quietly.

Drai grins, enjoying having information that his sister doesnt. “I'm not sure where she came from or how she came to join the mercs, but maybe I can find out.. Its rumored that her father was a chaos imp, not sure about the mother, but she doesnt look fae...”

Ky nods. “Thats explains the explosion thing, she would feed off that energy and the pandemonium afterwards...”

Early morning finds Raina sipping coffee on the front porch of the cabin with Star. Ky is pacing, not sure about this plan of Tannrs either, but not wanting to worry Raina or argue with her brother. When Drai joins the group Ky hands him a small leather pouch containing her darts.

“Dont stick yourself...” Ky teases and Drai rolls his eyes.

Raina looks up as two people pass through the gate and into the clearing. She watches as Marc greets Keon and Erik and introduces his companion.

Star steps out onto the porch carrying a squirming Ru and holding Mera by the hand. “Who is that?” She asks, looking to where Erik stands near the gate.

Drai looks up and smiles. “Oh ..thats Lily...”

“She doesnt look like a crazy person that enjoys blowing things up...” Raina muses out loud. She watches as Marc brings her towards the porch and starts to introduce her to the group. Raina senses that Lily is not fully human but cant pinpont what it is thats different about her. Exchanging a glace with Ky tells her she feels the 'otherness' too. Lily is a small woman by human standards but larger than most fae women. Her dark hair is shaggy and unkempt, her clothes torn in places, her leathers worn.

Not unexpected given she is living and working with a group of mercenaries. Where the hel did Tannr find her? Raina resolves to ask her brother when he returns. When she meets Lily she notices the notebook clutched in one hand. The page open to a drawing of the entrance to Underdark, a series of numbers in the margins of the page with arrows pointing to various points on the drawing.

Raina shakes Lily's hand and nods towards the notebook, “Plans?”

The grin Lily gives is chilling, causing the entire group to fall silent and motionless.

“Oh yes! It will be a glorious explosion..”

Rainas smile freezes in place.... Damn...maybe she is a little nuts....

Tannr pulls Tori into his arms. The darkness is just beginning to lift, shadows lightening. There was nothing left to say that had not been said between them. Tannr tips her face, taking in all the love he sees in her eyes and feels in her heart.

“This should only take a few days...”

Tori nods and lays her head on his chest, afraid to say anything, afraid the tears would start again and she didnt want Tannr to leave with the sight of her crying.

Tannr pulls her over towards the bed and shows her where a floor board had come lose. “This is where I keep a few things. Money and a few stones.. take what you want...”

“But I dont need...”

“I know you dont need it. But maybe the days will go by faster if you make some plans for the wedding, or take the little ones shopping. Maybe get something for the street kids that they need....”

Tori helps Tannr adjust the metal and leather vest, then hands him his sword. Once Tannr is ready, he takes Toris hand and kisses it. He silently leads her from the stables to the clearing and those assembled there.

Morning light filters through the draperies as Ob stretches. He rolls slightly away from Pandora, watching her breasts move with each breath. Kissing her cheek, the Gargoyle nuzzles her hair to breth deeply of her personal scent. The herbal/floral scent of her shampoo settles something in him as it travels to his lungs. He can feel his heart swell, astounded at what she still does to him after their years together.

He strokes her ebony waves away from her face and kisses her temple before rising carefully. Pulling on a pair of saroulles, Ob quietly leaves their room to visit the nursery. One of Miko's brothers salutes from the doorsill, then edges back into shadow. Chloe and Teri are awake, waiting as Daddy walks into the room.

Ob lifts Teri from his crib and settles on the edge of his daughter's bed. The Nanny wakes, and slips out when Ob nods to her.

"Pa'pa? Are you really going with Tannr?" Chloe's eyes are large, her arms hold her doll tight. Ob moves, shifting his son so he can take his daughter's hand.

"The person who took Tante Tori is not a good person. She won't give up, *Gitanilla."

Chloe pauses. Her father can feel her mind turning thoughts round and round. She blinks once, looking at Teri. Her eyes meet her father's. The door opens quietly and Pandora moves up behind her husband. She strokes a hand through his wild mane before laying her cheek against the top of his head.

"Pa'pa? You will come home? Si?"

Ob leans down and kisses his little one's forehead. "I make you a promise mi Gitanilla. I will come home. One way or another, I will come home."

Absynthe crawls down from the headboard and jumps to Ob's shoulder. The she-dragon hums in his ear. Ob laughs. Chloe scrambles into his lap, wrapping her arms around his body as best she can.

"You be stone pa'pa. Stone don't get hurt like skin do. Tomas showed me. You be stone."

Ob hugs his children to him, wondering just what Tomas and Choe had done. Unbidden came an image, a memory of Chloe throwing a fireball at Tomas in his stone form. it takes Ob a moment to realise the perspective was not from Chloe, but from her little brother.

The toddler gurgles and claps his hands. Ob sees the fire bounce harmlessly from Tomas and, with a wave of her hand, Chloe banishes the fire. The Gargoyle shares the image with his wife and he can feel her swallow hard. Chloe looks up at her parents. "But mama' Wish was there. She wouldn't let anything happen to us. And we needs to practice!"

Ob sighs, turning his head to kiss whatever he can reach of Pandora. "She has a point, Bruha."

He urges Chloe back under her covers, tucks Teri back in his crib, and bids the children a good rest. The Nanny slips back into the room and Ob strolls back to their room, arm snug around his wife. Once in the room, Ob slips off his saroulles and heads for the balcony. Pandora follows him and he pulls her close, relishing her warmth and willingness. His hands roam her body and he sighs deeply, knowing she can feel his regret.

"I must will myself to stone earlier than usual. mi amor. I need to sleep as much as I can."

He tips her head back, kissing her deeply. breaking the kiss, Ob lets his lips drift against her, whispering soft words of adoration. Forcing himself away, he lets the stone seep through him. His thoughts carress Pandora's as he forces himself towards lethargy. Just before she feels his mind tumble into a deep sleep, pandora feels the warm embrace of his mind around hers. Soft words linger as he drifts away.

^Te amo, mi amor... Te amo... now and forever more.

*Little Gypsy

^I love you, my love... I love you...

It's late, and I can't sleep - so I lie here and watch K'thyri sleep instead. She hasn't been herself of late... all quiet and introspective, almost withdrawn, except in bed. Then she's a little hellcat - as usual. Maybe I should talk to Nick and Raina, see if they've noticed it, too.

We've arrived at something approaching a regular playtime "schedule"... we each have three nights with our primary lover - Nick with Raina, Ky with me - then two nights with the alternate lover - and then the remaining two nights for same-sex fun. Once in a while one of us will go outside the group, and then we generally have a threesome. We arrange things so that the three nights aren't back-to-back - where would be the fun in that? - but that's how it usually breaks down.

Maybe in the course of their nights together my other roomies have noticed the change in Ky... or maybe I'm just paranoid. When she first moved in, she warned us that she couldn't live with us 24/7 - she'd have to go back to the Unformed Plane to keep from going stir-crazy. I thought, though, what with all the action in Exton, she'd have had less need to return home... maybe I was wrong, or maybe this just isn't working out for her. Could she be thinking of leavng us? Gods, I hope not; I love her, and I'll go where she goes - but I love Nick and Raina too, and I can't imagine a life without them in it.

I lie back down, spooning my front to her back. She squirms and moans a little and then lies still.

But it's a long time before I sleep.

Pandora lay in the crook of Obs arm, her body molded against his... they had made love with an eagerness that spoke of their need to hold fast to their memories during their time apart.

Obsidian had resolved to be gentle and tender with her tonight; but she needed the feeling of his power, his energy... and when he laid the first soft kiss on her lips she had responded with an ardor that made him pull back to look into her eyes as if he was burned... "Josephito, I want your strength, your power and energy..give me your true passion, my love"... Ob had obliged; taking her mouth with passion and soon their bodies were entwined in the dance of love as old as time it self. Pandora had cried out when they climaxed together; and now they lay in the still that needs no words; their minds caressing each other.

Ob spoke... "Tori has found Tannr again, its all okay"... Pandora kissed his neck... "I know, I feel it too."

She continued her kisses down his chest, across the solid muscles of his stomach... down into the thatch of hair that surrounded his imposing penis. Her mouth closed on the head of his cock and she heard his indrawn breath... his hand reached down to caress her hair as she moved to take more of him into her mouth..moving up and down the shaft, her hand caressing his balls as she moved her tongue against the hard surface as she sucked. Soon Ob was thrusting into her mouth and his hand felt for her breast... tweaking the nipple as she loomed over his rigid cock... she moaned in response....

Ob sat up and turned her over on the bed... his hands reached under her hips and brought her ass up... he positioned himself behind her and gripped her hips... shoving his cock into her pussy and began  pumping hard..Pandora was moaning with passion; he reached round and gripped her breasts,pinching the nipples as he thrust into her... she screamed, but it was not pain but pleasure she emitted.

He sat back... bringing her with him so she sat atop his cock and rode... he caressed her breasts with one hand... the other drifting down to tweak her clit... she bucked at his first touch; and he pinched it hard... thrusting up as he did and received the satisfaction of feeling her grip him hard in the throes of orgasm... he continued thrusting hard as she rode until he too felt the glory of cumming. Together they fell in an exhausted heap, Ob cradling her as she drifted to sleep.

Late that night, Tannr sits in the window of his room over the stables. He hadnt seen Tori since she stormed out of the tavern and took to the sky. He checked the gallery and her place before he went to the cabin. The street kids said they hadnt seen her, but Tannr was positive their loyalty was with her and not with himself so much. He came to the stables, not sure that she wanted him at her place or even wanted to see him. As he watched the crescent moon move across the sky his thoughts wandered. He could remember the first time he saw her as if it were yesterday. The way her face lit up when he gave her the serpent necklace. Her being speechless when he proposed to her. As he sighs, he hears a noise on the stairs. He holds his breath until he sees Tori, walking silently towards the bed. He watches as she looks at the empty bed and her shoulders slump realizing that he isnt in it. Tannr lets his breath out getting her attention. Their eyes meet and Tannr holds his arms out.

“Come here, Red.”

Tori climbs on the window sill and sits in Tannrs lap. She brings her knees up and curls into his chest as his arms wrap around her and hold her close.

“I'm sorry...” Toris voice chokes.

“Shhh....its all right Red. I understand. You're here now, thats all that matters.”

“Still love me?” She asks quietly.

“More than ever...always...”

Tori nods. “Okay...I cant make a promise to you when I dont know if I can keep it... I wouldnt know how to keep it if anything … went wrong...”

Tannr nods, trying to gather his thoughts. He knew that he would feel the same way if things were reversed. Nothing on earth or anywhere else for that matter would keep him from Tori if she needed him.

“But you do know Ardara would do anything to get you back? Even use me as bait if she caught me, which she wont, but I want you to realize this. She would stop at nothing...”

Tori leans back and looks into his eyes, her own still swimming with tears. She nods slowly.

“And what if you are pregnant? We havent been using anything for protection for how long?”

Toris eyes go wide, “I dont think I...”

Tannr interrupts her, “Just think... what if.... You know how bad she wants a gargoyle child.....And theres the street kids, they need you. And your nieces and nephews. And you know you have to help keep an eye on Tomas. If he were to get wind of the slightest thing not going according to plan I can just see him sneaking off the second he isnt being watched...”

Tori sighs, “He would. He loves you and he is very protective of those he cares about. He would want to help...”

“And we cant allow that. Ardara wants one of the kids. They have to be kept safe...You know what the Drow would do to him. It would be unbearable.. and Alise...” Tannr shakes his head.

"You've made your point. But promise me. Coppertop... Promise me. You won't do something that will put you in Her hands. I will come after you if that... bitch has you. If she gets her ... I'll come after you."

Raina sits back and takes a deep breath. When Tannr returns his face is stormy and he angrily pulls a chair out and sits down hard. She can feel his emotions, anger, confusion, but worry and a deep love over-riding all of it.

“Are you sure about this? Want to continue with the planning?” Raina asks.

“Yes...positive.” Tannr takes a deep breath and the discussion begins.

As Raina listens it dawns on her that she isnt included. “Hey! Wait a minute. Why am I not doing anything? We're family, you have to let me help...”

Shaking his head, Tannr responds. “No, not this time. If this all goes wrong, and I doubt if it will, but if it does, Ardara is going to come looking for what she wants and revenge. We have already insulted her with getting Tori out of there... if I dont come back you have to get all the kids to the manse and under the sorcerers protection. You know Star will be a handful, I can see her trying to make friends with the Drow....”

“I dont know Tannr. I think she is more realistic now, after helping you rescue Tori...” Raina thinks Tannr is making excuses, not wanting to place his family in jeopardy for something he feels the need to accomplish. If he wants to do this on his own for Tori I need to shut up and back out gracefully....just agree with his plan...let him run off and get killed....stop thinking like that...he isnt the clumsy boy you remember from childhood... 

Raina takes a deep ragged breath. “Okay.... so Keon, Gunnaar and Erik will wait at the cabin, opening the gate there and waiting for your return and making sure you arent followed. And if you dont come back, I am suppose to round up kids...all of them? Ru, Mera, Chloe, Teri... Alises kids...”

 Stoney takes a seat and grins. “Alise will get our brood to the manse. Ike or I will bring Obs children to you..”

“Okay...” Raina says but her thoughts take a different turn. If you dont come back, once the kids are safe at the manse, Ky and I are going hunting, no matter what anyone says... 

“Then you, Ob, Drai and only three of your men are going into Underdark? Thats not very many...” Raina is worried, thinking it would be better to include a few more.

“In and out quick. Too many will slow us down.”

Raina nods, worrying again about the three Tannr had chosen. She remembers what Tannr had told them earlier of his men. The first one he had picked was Addley, who Tannr said was slightly psychotic and loved his knives to the point of distraction....and he had lots of knives...

How does one get to be slightly psychotic? 

Andy, who was a handsome, charming, personable con artist who could sell ice to an Eskimo.....then slit his throat so he can sell it again. Quiet and stealthy, he could get close enough to cut throats before anyone realized what was happening.

And Hugh. Strong silent type... doesn't smile much... doesnt say much... utterly lethal on a battlefield, clumsy as fuck anywhere else... kind of a berserker type... you arm him, then get the fuck out of his way.

The men had laughed at this description and Tannr had continued. “They call him Hugh Bearskin... çause when they found him, he was wearing a bearskin... and not much else. He told the men he ate the bear... somehow, they didn't doubt him...”

Raina shakes her head, clearing it of her thoughts and looks at Drai. “What are you bringing for weapons?”

His smile was chilling, “Ky's darts.”

Tannr continues, telling how the six would get in after the guards were killed and replaced with his own men, the rest of the company hiding in the forest. Dark cloaks would allow them to sneak in and locate the initiates building, where they would steal robes and get into the temple. If it meant killing all the initiates, so be it.

“Once we are out and clear of the entrance, the rest of the men will take care of any that follow and Lily will take care of the entrance... that will buy us enough time to get away. By the time the Drow are able to follow, there wont be so much as a trail left. Should keep them from proving we had anything to do with it, definitely keeps Inari out of it and whatever treaties she needs to uphold....”

Rainas forehead wrinkles as she looks at Tannr. “Lily? Who the hel is Lily? The camp whore?”

Tannr grins. “Oh no. Lily is a tiny little woman, pretty in a way, a little crazy. She likes to blow things up. The bigger the explosion, the better...”

Raina returns the grin, “I think I like that part...”

Pandora only has eyes for Obsidian this night; she watches as he tucks the children in... giving each special attention, and  her heart swells again with her love for this man. He knows tomorrow when he wakens they will be heading out; there will be no time to share with the little ones as he does now... and he is imprinting a happy memory in his mind and theirs.

When they return to the tavern room it is only minutes before Tori and Tannr have an argument... everyone is on edge... and they rush from the room. Pandora and Ob both feel the emotions Tori is emitting... and Tannr knows her fear...

Ob looks into Pandora's eyes and draws her close, he knows she has her own fear... but he will return; and with any luck and the warriors supporting them...the Drow witch will be no more when they pass through the gate from the Fae kingdom.

Pandora whispers to him..."tonight, will you make love to me; I want to feel every inch of you as close to me as possible." Ob grins... "Bruha, thats no problem for me... I always want to jump your bones, you are my woman." Pandora blushes and smiles up at him.... "and you are my husband and beloved dragon."

Jeb stops by to go over some last minute instructions with Ob; and Pandora joins Roxi in raiding the kitchen to make the guys a snack.  Pandora glances back over her shoulder and finds Obsidian's eyes following her... the promise of much to come in their depths.

The gallery roof was quiet. The kids who watched from its vantage point faded into the shadows as soon as they caught an inkling of Tori's mood. The Crows perched on a wire, dark eyes blinking slowly. Tori drops down on edge of the roof, her visage locked in the image of a hissing viper. She stomps across the roof, hooves clicking up sparks. Crouching on the very edge of the roof, she stares out over the town's lights.

A hand gently lays on her thigh. Tori turns her head. Trusting eyes look into hers. The kid's head cocks. She blinks once.

"He loves you."
Tori nods. "I know." "It only hurts because he loves you." Tori nods again. Her scales seem to fade a little.

"Your street tough. Your one of us. He knows it. But you been shafted by those muckers. You got a cut deep in you that even he can't reach."

Her flesh softens, becoming more human, red scales on the top of her scalp rising and lengthening into spikes.

"He needs to do this. Just like you would if it was him."

Tori licks her lips, taking shallow breaths.

"Your not angry at him. You are angry that you are too scared to do it yourself. You feel like they took your guts, your strength. They did. But you got more inside. You got something they don't. You got love. You got hope." the girl pauses. "You got a warrior who loves you beyond life and death."

Tori closes her eyes. When she opens them, they are soft green, small flames flickering in their depths. An errent thought drifts by, what time is it?

"Momma Tori... go to him. He thinks you are angry with him. If you aren't you need to tell him before it is too late."

Tori pushes herself upwards, rising to her feet in a fluid movement. She looks at the little girl standing on the rooftop. "Who are you? You aren't one of my kids."

The girl smiles. Moonlight slips over the slight figure, bathing it in silver light. As a cloud drifts over the moon, she fades with the moonbeam.

A soft voice echoes in mind "No, I am not one of yours. But you are one of Mine."

Tori stares up at the moon as the cloud drifts away. Fully human in form, Tori spreads wide her reptilean wings and lifts into the the moon's light. Soon she is a dark spot lost in the night, winging her way to Tannr.

The Crows cock their heads. Long minutes after Tori took off, they stretch their wings and land on the rooftop itself. Their bodies shimmer and the Goth trio looks up at the moon. Others begin to filter from their hiding places among the shadows.

A whispered voice asks,"Who was that?"

Ebony featherlike hair swings as the trio shakes their heads. "Wish Miss Grace was here to tell us what she saw. She always saw what others didn't..."

A cloud drifts across the moon and darkness covers the group. When the moonlight again shines forth, the rooftop is empty, save for one small figure crouched on a ledge overlooking the street below.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The days passed quickly, too quickly for Tori, who was dreading having Tannr gone and in danger. Her siblings tried every angle to reassure her and only the fact that Ob was going with Tannr kept her sane about the whole thing. Star had sent a messenger fae to Tychus with a list of questions that her, Alise, Pandora and Chiara had come up with regarding the childrens schooling and to let him see what ideas they had. The children were excited about planning for the school, especially Tomas. If Chiara would move to where the school was to be he would get to see Ryan more often. Just the thought would make him giddy with happiness.

 Eira and Jack continued to text and email. Her days were busy, filled with reading, lessons and practice. But she always found time to at least let Jack know what she was doing and that he was never far from her thoughts. The taverners could tell whenever Jack received a text from her. He would look at his phone, eyes lighting up and a slow smile would spread across his face as he read the message. And when Alise would tease him, he would duck his head and grin, decidedly different behavior for her friend.

The day before the planned raid on UnderDark the tavern is quieter than usual, everyone lost in their own thoughts and worries. That is until a loud BANG on a table has everyone looking up and over the family table to see what has happened. “You have to promise you wont go there, no matter what happens...” Tannrs says, his expression deadly serious. “What?! NO! I cant promise that. If something happens to you ...” Tori is breathing fast and Ike can tell by the look in Toris eyes that an explosion is imminent. “Nothing is going to happen. Red, nothing. But just in case. You cant go there. Not to rescue me, not for anything. Promise me...” “NO!” “Damn it, Tori! I am not kidding about this..” “I said NO. You cant make me promise that... I wont..” Tori stands and Ike gets ready to duck, knowing that if she gets any angrier glasses might start flying. Tannrs face gets red and he stands. Before he can say another word Tori storms out the back door. As Tannr slams out the back door after her, she is leaping skyward, leaving Tannr earthbound. Ike follows, laying a hand on his shoulder. "She needs to cool off. Better a flight than a punch to the gut..."

Marc steps through the Gate and within minutes he's back in camp. The Ravens gather round, curious to hear about the mission. His eyes take them all in. It would be hard to find a tougher group of reprobates, he thinks, short of a prison. Some of them, indeed, are ex-cons - like Harold One-Eye, who fell afoul of an Unseelie lord. Pffft, Marc thinks, like the Fae place that high a value on virginity in the first place... It might have been better, though, if Harold hadn't organized an impromptu gang-bang, taking bets on how many guys the lady in question - who had been the lord's only daughter - could take before she could continue no longer. I seem to remember she made it to forty-seven before Daddy showed up....

Or Horace, who had been known to dismember and disembowel those unfortunate souls who thought to make fun of his name. At seven-foot-six and correspondingly beefy, Horace was someone you definitely wanted to keep on your good side - especially since he didn't seem to have one.

And is if to prove that size wasn't everything, there was Addley. Tall and lean, with the body weight of a pencil between two strips of bacon, Addley was just fuckin' scary. Addley loved knives, and you could tell - he practically sweated blades. Whenever you thought he couldn't possibly have another, he'd find another. Marc didn't want to think long at all about where it might have been concealed....

 "Gather round, mes amis," he began. "Listen well...." Half an hour later, everyone  - men and women, human and Others - knows what is expected of them. Not that it matters - no battle plan ever survives the first engagement, and especially when one-half of the combatants are The Raving Bitches....

Finished with work, kicking back at home, watching NCIS with half an eye while I check my email. Gotta love Abby... The computer belches at me - incoming email. I maximize the screen... it's from Eira. I set my drink down on the desk and open the message.  

Jack - 

Hi, babe, miss you like crazy... wish I was there now, in bed with you, doing all the things I've been thinking about while I've been here.  ;-) Not that I have a lot of time for fantasizing... Sibyl keeps me busy on my "lessons", if you can call it that. I never knew how totally exhausting psychic work could be - not that I ever exercised any psychic muscles before... I have some things to share with you when I see you again - stuff I've learned about myself, about this crazy thing that's happened to me... I don't fully understand it yet. Sybil says it's not something that can be explained, really, I just have to learn the techniques and take the rest on faith. You'd like her, I think... she's a real lady, but not stuffy at all. 

I want you, Jack. Some nights, tired as I am, I can't go right to sleep for thinking of you. I'll let your imagination fill in the blanks there... I love you, and I hope to see you again soon. 

Take care, lover. 


I read it through again and when I'm done I'm no closer to understandng the psychic bits than I was before. Reading her words, though - that makes me feel like a part of her is here with me, now - and I wish she really was here. It's a strange feeling and I tell myself for the thousandth time that I'm forty-seven kinds of a fool for taking this chance. I'm hooked, good and proper, and it seems I might as well admit it - to myself, and to Eira. I reach for the mouse, click "reply" and type just two lines.  

I love you too. Hurry back. 


Pandora is enjoying the evening; the gathering of family and friends is as boisterous as ever... and she forgets that part of the reason the men have gathered is to plan strategy to defeat the Drow witch. The appearance of Marc with Tanner is a grim reminder all is not as it should be, and her eyes search to make sure all the children are accounted for.

Pandora sighs..."I forget sometimes that our lives are not just normal"... Alise and the other women share her thoughts and for a moment all  eyes search for their children and loved ones. Pandora seeks to change the subject , so as not to dampen the mood... "Ike, I have been looking into Elemental magic for you; I think perhaps your skill may lie in raising fire, controlling the air and water... opening the earth to you... we should start some studies along that line. My mother had books in her collection; so we have only to read and see what you feel when you experiment with them. I can see that it would be useful in many cases to have someone who was strong in this field. Look how you used the air to thwart that spell gone wrong when Chloe got ahead of herself. " 

Ike seemed genuinely interested; and happy that Pandora had gone ahead and researched her request. The women returned to assorted subjects... watching the children play... and the men gather to talk. Pandora feels a little lurch in her stomach; she's having  a hard time dealing with the thought that Obsidian is going with the others, exposing himself to harm. She knows for the most part he bides his time and watches the home front... but this is for Tori... none of her kin will stand by and do nothing when she is so tortured by the fear that hids in the back of her mind. Ob was part of destroying the drow's sister... and he will see this through.

Drai watches the merc leave, a scowl on his face, wanting to throttle the larger man and not really knowing why. Ky throws a leg over her brothers. “Better think before you act. We are guests here and you dont want Chiara to think we are wild savages do you?” Her teasing tone just irritates Drai all the more and he roughly pushes her leg off of his. “We are savages as far as the other fae are concerned....and most of the humans too...” “Well you dont have to go out of your way to prove it.” Ky leans close and lowers her voice. “I doubt if he said anything that important or personal to her. She's been alone a long time the way it sounds, she probably blushes at a casual compliment.”

Drai takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “I dont know why I feel protective of her and her son. You're right, its pointless, she will never look twice at me, but I cant help the way I feel.” “She might if you'd get a haircut and clean up and stop acting like a randy throushke..” she says, referring to a creature from the Unformed Plane, infamous for its licentious behavior... It's said that a throushke deprived of a mate of its own species will attempt to mate with any other creature of a similar size; and lacking any other option, will then attempt to mate with itself. Thanks to an unusually flexible spine - and both male and female sex organs - it almost succeeds nine times out of ten.

Instead of teasing back as Ky expected, Drai is silent, thoughtful. He watches Chiara with the other women, then stands suddenly, pulling Ky up with him. “Lets go talk to Tannr and see what he has planned for the Drow.”

Tannr watches wide-eyed as Marc returns to the table with a second Guunnar-sized plate of food. "So," Marc says as he eats, "tell me, mon capitan, what is this plan you have that requires the services of The Raving Bitches, eh?"

Tannr grins at the familiar nom du guerre. Formally known as The Ravens, his company of hard-bitten mercs have been known as The Raving Bitches since time out of mind. Leaning close, he explains the outline of his plan. When he's done, the Gallic merc lets out a low whistle. "Are you certain, mon ami, that you would not wish to undertake something difficult? Perhaps you could attempt to castrate a kahligar with a rusty corkscrew." An ironic smile tugs at his lips. "Me, I would give you better odds for success. Invade Underdark, beard the Drow in their very lair, kill a Priestess' guard and slip back out undetected? Pah! It is, how you say, 'a walk in the park', no? Perhaps we could make it more challenging, yes?" The grin widens. "Bien, I have it! What you say - we shave this Priestess' *régions basses while she sleeps?"

"Stop!," Tannr begs, his whole body convulsed with laughter.

"Ah, mon frere, it is good to see you laugh. We will do this thing, you and me, and then we will come back here and drink this town dry. I go now to tell the men." Marc empties his mug at a draught - his plate is similarly empty - and stands, stretching hugely. He bows as he approaches Erik and Star. "M'sieu Erik, Mam'selle Star, much thanks for this so-splendid repast. I shall care for **les grande enfant while he is in Underdark and return him to you without so much as a scratch." He bows again, kissing Star's fingers and strides jauntily away, whistling Three German Officers Crossed the Rhine.

* nether regions

** the large child

Imp makes his way to the clearing. He has a brief message for Tannr from Inari which he needs to deliver and be on his way again. Mya sees Imp flying into the clearing and goes to greet him. They exchange a few words and she flits with him to where Tannr and Tori are seated visiting with Marc.

“Imp! Do you bring a message?” Tannr asks, surprised to see the Ambassadors private messenger so soon after she left.

Imp nods. “I do. The Ambassador asked me to deliver it to you personally. She says to tell you that the dark one you are seeking will be at the Festival of Fire. That temple is scarce 5 kilometers east from the entrance known to you. The festival is in 4 days time. The Ambassador regrets that this is as much assistance as she can offer in this matter.”

 Marc looks confused for a moment. “And what is this Festival of Fire? What kind of temple is it?” Clearing his throat Imp begins. “It is a minor initiation festival for the new priests. It doesnt have as much to do with fire as hot burning coals... and many do not survive it. The temple is a small one, located in a very rocky area near a cliff with a few scattered shrubs. It would afford some hiding places... Beware of the creatures that lurk there... many dark things hide in the caves and crevices of the cliff. That is all I know to tell you. I must return to the Ambassador...”

Tannr nods. “Thank you Imp. And give our thanks to the Ambassador. Mya, please see that our guest has eaten before he leaves..” Tori feels almost ill. Four days... Coppertop... .four days? Ob turns his head at the feeling of his sister's instant terror. He ambles over. "What is in four days?" He drops a hand on Tori's shoulder, his mind touching hers. I will have his back. I am not letting him go alone. I swear. Tori relaxes slightly under his touch, her eyes flickering in her anxiety.

Ramji grins, a sight that is no longer a rare occurrence. Laila smiles at Raina. "Keon and Stoney showed us a few videos. If you think about it, I am surprised none of us saw it earlier." At Raina's frown, Ramji continues.

"Alise and Stoney were so concerned that Gracie wasn't showing a gift, while the twins and Chloe's came early." Raina nods. "In the videos, it is Gracie who seems to know what everyone is saying. The others seem a little confused at first, Gracie doesn't. It is only after she gets that faraway look they all get when they merge minds, that the others seem to know what is being said."

Monty walks over, bouncing Teri on his hip while Pandora helps with the s'mores. "I speak to her in my native tongue as well. Speaking Spanish is well enough. She can pick up that listening to Ob and his family. But I use colloquial terms only Mamurr use... She knows exactly what I say."

He watches Gracie as she holds her s'more out of the reach of Lobo. She yips at the wolf and her tail droops. Teri gurgles and claps his hands. Gracie grabs a graham cracker from the pile and brings it over to her cousin. She shakes her head at him. "No, Teri. No choklit. But you can have a cracker." She lets him pick it from her sticky fingers and winks at him, then skips back to the fire. Teri looks after Gracie, then sticks the chocolate and marshmallow smeared cracker into his mouth. Ramji laughs. "That little *smrdljivac."


After a few songs most of the instruments disappear back into the pack. Ike keeps a guitar and Keon the pipes and the music is quieter, calming the children as Star brings the ingredients for smores. Raina sits near the fire, leaning back between Nicks legs. She keeps a close eye on the kids and Alise. She knows Alise is worried about her youngest and the 'gift' for languages she seems to have. She sees Gracie glance over at her and Raina motions her over.

*“Njóta þinn skemmtun lítill einn?”

**“Já Föðursystir Raina. Þess mjög góður. Gera þú vilja sumir?” Gracie replies, holding up a half eaten smore with sticky fingers.

***“Neitun , en þakka þú.” Raina watches as Gracie nods and moves back to her siblings. Her and Nick exchange a look. “Crazy. How can she learn a language so fast? And difficult ones. Her accent is perfect...”

Raina pauses, lost in thought as Ramji approaches with Laila. “And why did you start singing in Croatian? Does she know that too?” Raina wanted some answers, knowing that Alise was going to have the same questions. And if she knew anything about how Alise felt about her children, someone had better have some kind of an answer for her.

*Enjoying your treat little one?

**Yes Aunt Raina. Its very good. Do you want some?

***No, but thank you.

Stoney straps on the keyboard, adjusting the mini amp as he hooks it on his belt, as Keon digs in his bag again. He pulls out a synth keyboard and hands it to Tori. She grins and folds down its wire legs, setting it up and checking out the sound. Wish and Pike drop from the roof, curiosity getting the best of them. Stoney plays a few notes on the keyboard, getting the feel as Ob takes the ear mikes that Keon hands him and adjusts one on himself as the others do the same.

Stoney stares at Alise, giving her his shy smile before touching the keyboard for the first note. His voice is low, but the words are clear. Say my name like it's the last time, Live today like its the last night, Ob leans close to Pandora, singing softly as well. He strokes a finger along Teri's cheek as he sings. We want to cry but we know its alright, Cause I'm with you and your with me, Keon picks up his guitar, adding his pure tenor to the song. …..The memory of being here with you, Is one I'm gonna take my life through, Cause some days stay gold forever. The last chords echoes softly and Keon calls to Gracie. "Is this the song you wanted?"

The little girl bobs her head happily. "The Butterfly Song!"

Keon leans down and whispers to Mera. She runs back into the house, returning with a large leather bag. Her eyes widen as he reaches inside, eyes closed tight, lower lip caught between his teeth. The neck of his guitar emerges from the bag and as he slowly pulls it out she giggles. He sets it carefully aside and reaches in again, digging deeply. The other three girls scamper over to see what he is doing. Keon has the four hold open the bag so he can use both hands.

A set of bongos comes out next, followed by another guitar. He winks at Tara and pulls out a portable keyboard. The little girl squeals in delight. "Pa'pan! Oncle Keon has his Poppin's bag! Look!" She runs back to her father, pulling on his hand. Stoney laughs and follows, scooping up the boys. Tossing Ryan up on his shoulder, Tomas flies ahead. The little gargoyle tries to peek in the bag and Keon captures him. "Nope mate. No peeking in the magic bag." He laughs at Tomas' pout. "I promise, I will find what is needed."

Keon rummages in the bag and pulls out a penny whistle and pan pipes. Rhythm sticks and bells follow. He hands these out to the children, telling them to go think of a song they want to hear. Gracie looks around at all the others. She grins and starts bouncing on the balls of her feet. " *Papillons, papillons ..."

Keon raises a dark brow. Gracie purses her lips and tries again. "*Féileacáin, féileacáin ..." Keon shakes his head. "I do not know what you are singing Gracie. A song about butterflies? There are many songs about butterflies." The little girl stomps her foot. "Oncle Tannr told Tante Tori she is his *fiðrildi. He said this song is about her. It is about Butterflies!" Frustrated tears shimmer in her eyes and Keon calls to the couple where they are introducing his friend to the families. "Tori? Tannr? Gracie is asking for a song and I hae nae ken what she is askin' for..."

Guunnar scoops up the little girl, holding her up for all to see. "Any vun know vat song ist about *sommerfugle?"

Ramji grins, singing softly. "^Leptiri, leptiri .. Mi bili namijenjeni letjeti, Ti i ja, vi i ja. Boje na nebu, Mi smo mogli vladati svijetom jednog dana, nekako, ali mi nikada neće biti kao sjajna kao što smo sada." The redheaded Viper laughs. "That sounds like the song, but never heard it sung quite like that." A smile quirks Ramji's normally somber lips. "I think it is prettier in Croation." Laila smiles and kisses his cheek.

Tori laughs, "You really should smile more Ramji." He blushes and pulls Laila closer as Tori looks at her niece. "Is that the song Gracie." The little girl nods and sings the song in her sweet clear voice. Butterflies, butterflies... we were meant to fly, You and I, you and I... colors in the sky,

"See! The Butterfly song!"

Star smiles at the boys, wondering if Ru would be like them when he was older. She turns to Eite, sensing her sadness, “Can you give me the recipe for the salad? I love it and so does Mera...”

As the women visit Star watches as Tannr returns, a tall powerfully built man with him. They all watch as Tannr introduces the man to Tori first, then to Erik and the rest of the family. The children taking note of the stranger move closer to the adults, watching quietly. Tomas, ever the more curious of the bunch, climbs in his mothers lap.

“Maman.. who is that?” “I dont know... we will have to wait until Tannr introduces us.” Alise replies. Tomas fidgets then suddenly asks. “Can we make a fire?”

“A fire? You wish to roast the man?” Alise teases.

'Nooo, maman...” Tomas and Ryan are overcome with giggles. Gracie claps happily and says with a big smile “Smores!” Star stands with Ru, “I think Erik is looking for me. I will ask about the fire...” Star runs a hand over Tomas' head, “I am sure it will be fine.”

The children are wary of the stranger until Tannr brings him close. Tannr introduces each of them to Marc and gradually they relax and Tomas starts to ask questions until Alise hushes him. “But maman...”

“No buts Tomas. There will be time for all your questions later. Let Marc meet us all and get something to eat.”

“He talks like you do...” Tomas was referring to Marcs accent which Alise had wondered about too, but was too polite to ask right after being introduced to the man. Alise thought he looked foreboding, as large as Tannr but darker skinned with black hair and eyes. A dark scar that ran the length of his jaw made him look all the more dangerous. Chaton... Tannr trusts this man... more than trusts him if he was his second in command for so many years.... I dont think we have anything to worry about...

Alise smiles, knowing Stoney would pick up on her thoughts. I know. Its just that he looks... I dont know the right word....*menacer ?  

He does, but the children arent afraid, only hesitant and curious about Tannrs friend. And you know Tara picks up on anything as does Raina... As Alise looks up she sees Marc speaking to Chiara and the womans face blush a dark pink at whatever was said to her. Alise turns at a distinct strangling sound and sees Drai, his face redder than Chiaras and Ky smiling innocently after jamming an elbow into her brothers side.


I glide through the forest, one shadow among many - and just as quiet. I flatter myself that no human eye could follow my progress; then again, human eyes may not be what I have to contend with....

Tannr is right where he said he'd be, his hair as visible as a campfire. I ghost up to him on little cat feet and drop my dagger alongside his throat. "Peek-a-boo," I say sweetly. "You're getting old and fat, mon capitan. I could never have pulled this off in the old days."

Tannr turns to face me. "You think so?," he says with a smile - and then an arrow skims so close as to tickle my ass with the fletching. I grin and clap him on the back "Cést bon! An ambush for an ambush! Ah, I've missed you, Tannr. Tell me about this suicide mission you have in mind."

"Come on over and meet the people you'll be helping. It'll make more sense then."

 "Lead the way, oh ancient one."

Eite brings a bowl to the table, placing it near Star. She sets a small jar of dressing next to it. Blushing, the half Drow tugs at her oversized T-shirt, trying to pull it lower over her unaccustomed jeans. Clear membranes over her eyes flick once, twice, before she speaks.

"Keon told me you do not eat meat." She licks her lips nervously. "I find it hard to eat it also. My mother made this for us when we did not have to... when we could... eat as we pleased." She takes the cover off the bowl. Different colored strands of julienned seaweed glisten, mixed with carrot and celery shreds, apples, and mushrooms. She explains the sauce has an Asian flavor, or so Keon says, sweet and tangy. "I hope you like it." Taking some on her plate, Eite watches silently as the other women try the salad. Some push it around, picking out bits and pieces to try. She is just about to put some in her own mouth when a little hand tugs at her shirt. Mera's big eyes smile up at her. "Da says I can try too."

Eite gives her a taste from her own plate and Mera's eyes light up. She asks for more and Eite puts a small amount on her plate. When she comes back to the table the woman are smiling, some adding more dressing to the marinated salad. From the children's table comes an exaggerated sound of gagging. Both boys are holding their hands to their throats, Tomas pretending he is choking. Gracie is standing up, hands on her hips. "Tomi, you don't gots to eat it! It's Mera's. Sides..." She notices her mother watching and slowly sits down. Tomas realizes his sister is no longer scolding him and looks around. He taps Ryan and both boys climb back onto the bench seat. The women can just hear Gracie as she lowers her voice to scold Tomas. "Sides, Eite made this and you just hurted her feelings."

Eite's hand covers her mouth as she tries hard to hide a smile at the little girl's words. Alise leans over and murrmurrs softly. "*Je suis désolé... Boys can be... boys. This is very good. I don't think I have ever had anything quite like this."

There is a touch on her arm and Eite looks down into two very shamed faces. Tomas and Ryan stand side by side, waiting for her attention. Ryan's hands fly and he finally pokes Tomas. The Gargoyle shuffles his feet. "We are sorry Miss Eite. We was just foolin'. My sisters and Mer said we was... stupid heads. We really are sorry."

Eite smiles gently. "It is okay boys, not everyone likes everything." She pats their cheeks and the boys run back to their table. Tears well in her eyes and she blinks them quickly away, banishing them before anyone can see them.

Keon watches Trooper for a few minutes. The HellHound has a resigned expression in his eyes. The Dark Lord turns quickly away, trying not to laugh. Teri reaches up and grabs a handful of bristly hair to haul himself back up to his feet. The Hound whimpers, a sound rarely heard from the fearsome creatures. 'Zade moves from the shadows and snaps at Trooper. She nudges the little boy until he grabs onto her longer ruff. Once he has a good grip, she huffs at the prone HellHound and walks the boy back to Pandora. She keeps her pace slow, as if she does this all the time. Once Teri reaches for his mother, she turns and trots away. Pausing briefly, 'Zade growls softly at Trooper and glides back to the shadows of the woods, once again becoming invisible to most eyes.

Dmitri grins. "She is not going to let him live this down." Ob raises a brow and Keon laughs even harder. Dmitri picks up a platter of meat and carries it to the tables while Keon explains to Ob. "Trooper is a commander among the HellHounds. HellHounds are more than canines. They are a Race of their own, part Fae, part Deamonic... and Trooper just let a little boy best him." He grins. "While 'Zade took control of the boy and returned him to his mother." Dmitri returns, laughing. "With the way they communicate, his whole command will see the scene by tomorrow."

Ob returns to carving, trying not to smile. "It would be like Ramji actually laughing where others would hear." Dmitri grins. "*Vαί! Exactly."

The men laugh and Ramji turns a frown on them, making them laugh even harder. The Croatian Rider shakes his head at Trooper. "They are fools, Hound. We both know it is better to humor a child than to eat it."

Trooper raises his head, looks at the boy, then back at Ramji. He huffs once, twitches his ears, and stretches out, basking in the sun. Guunnar laughs. "Ist right. Ist voman's job to vatch over children." He grins as a roll hits him in the back of the head. Stoney shakes his hair forward to hide his smile. "Guunnar, Gods help you if you ever get a woman to bear you children."

The giant grins broadly, blowing through his mustache. "Ach, I vill find gut obedient voman to gib me kinder... Like Little Sister." Stoney pounds on Erik's back as Star's husband chokes on the bit of shark he had just put in his mouth.


Pandora is enjoying herself immensely, the boys are captivated with the new toys... and the girls with running in the wind, the beautiful scarves from Chiara blowing out behind them.... telling where they are with their different colors. Pandora has been getting to know Chiara a little better; she is not only talented with weaving and sewing... but she is as clever and knowledgeable as she is pretty. Pandora is thinking that Chloe would greatly benefit from schooling with the others and Jeb never can find enough to do with himself during the day while Roxi works, so she knows she could count on him to take Chloe to the Manse cottage. Alise concurred that the more participants there were the better they might get the lessons across... the children seemed to have such diverse ways of looking at things that it would be good to hear them give their own takes on the subjects. The young boys; Ru and Teri... could start off with some things the mothers might teach them... then graduate to sessions with Chiara, She had some good advise from the elder Fae the queen sent ,on the proper way to school them.

The men of course would have a hand in teaching the boys the warriors skills as they grew older...   although Tomas was ready to carry a sword now if they'd let him. Pandora chuckled; Teri was just starting a wobbly walking step...most of the time he held on to something for support... but he was fascinated with the ugly hellhounds; especially Trooper, as he was the one usually in closest proximity to the house. He let go of the bench he was close to and took off toward the hound... Trooper opened an eye and then played dead... hoping the child would lose interest. Teri squealed in delight as he ran full tilt into the hound, the animal looking at him as if trying to figure what you do with a boy child. Teri felt the rough bristly hair of the hounds face...  and looked right into Troopers seemed the two were locked in a gaze for quite awhile... and then to Pandora's surprise the great hulking animal nuzzled Teri and he slid down to perch between the hounds paws... leaning against the gruesome animal as if he were a household pet. Teri seemed content there between the animal's front paws; and stroked the grizzled muzzle as he watched the men working on the food carving. Ob glanced over... saw his son; and sent to Pandora... I think our daemon son has found a kindred spirit; the hound apparently feels the connection.

As Alise and Chiara were busy getting the childrens plates ready. Laila has the kids rounded up and is getting them seated at a childrens picnic table when the Shadowcat materializes right in front of Tomas and Ryan, startling them and causing them to fall over backwards off the bench and on the ground. The cat grins and settles himself on the tabletop amid the hysterical giggles coming from all the children.

Alise watches as Panther silently approaches the table and once within a foot of the smug looking feline on the table, she roars, startling the cat who jumps and hisses and with a 'popping' sound promptly disappears. At this point the kids are hysterical with laughter and the women have a hard time restoring order while laughing themselves. Tomas crawls back onto the bench and between giggles says, “Maman...Tante Stars cat farted...” Trying to keep a straight face and not even coming close, Alise gives up trying to scold Tomas and joins in the hilarity. The children all try to imitate the popping sound the cat makes when he appears and disappears.

As Star laughs and calls for her kitty she sees a demifae enter the clearing and flit around, obviously looking for someone. Mya takes it upon herself to intercept and find out who the newcomer is and what he wants. After a fast high pitched conversation Mya leads the demifae over to the fire pits, where several of the men, lead by Gunnaar are carving meat and loading up huge platters. They flit near the men for a few seconds and losing patience with not being noticed right away Mya whistles, long and loud.

Gunnaar grimaces. “Vat in all de gods names was dat racket? Mine ears... I tink dey are broken now...”

Tannr laughs and turns to the little fae. “Can we help you Mya?” Mya nods, “Message from Captain. Waiting for you. Not wanting to be supper for Hounds...” and she pushes the messenger fae closer to Tannr so he could get the details.

Grinning Tannr thanks the fae and offers a meal which Mya says she will see to. He finds Tori talking with her brothers and Raina. He explains that he is going to get Marc who is waiting nearby.

Tori steps into his arms, “Be careful Coppertop. Take one of the hounds with you..”

Raina whistles for Panther. “Take her with you, then maybe the kids will settle down...” Tannr laughs as he turns and heads into the woods, the black cat a shadow behind him...