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A bit of OOC...

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  • Anatol Rathbauer
    So, then, hello all, I m back ! :) I finally managed to get everything done that I wanted and now I m eager to jump in here again. I ll be posting a lot of IC
    Message 1 of 25 , Jun 1, 2001
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      So, then, hello all, I'm "back"! :)
       
      I finally managed to get everything done that I wanted and now I'm eager to jump in here again. I'll be posting a lot of IC and SM stuff now and in the near future, and as a sidenote I updated the Starshield Webportal.
       
      Esteban: You should find something from me regarding our SM in your mailbox - sorry for the delay, but I hope it paid off. :)
       
      Lowell: Likewise, I've already contacted you because of DITL.
       
      Robert: I have completed the BoSs page. If you could tell me whether you want me to upload it on my own site for you to link to or if I should send the whole stuff to you so you can put it up directly, that'd be nice. For me it doesn't make any difference, so whatever you prefer is fine with me.
       
      Oh, and hello to you, too, Jesse! I'm already looking forward to your contributions!
       
      So long,
       
      Anatol
    • Richard McKinley
      T Kara N Zal looked on with pride as the Dr owe prepared for their mission. They had discovered the location of Mirdath s shipyard, and this was the object of
      Message 2 of 25 , Jun 2, 2001
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        T'Kara N'Zal looked on with pride as the Dr'owe
        prepared for their mission. They had discovered the
        location of Mirdath's shipyard, and this was the
        object of the mission. They were to cripple as many of
        the Demari starships as possible. This would open a
        sizable chink in the enemy's defenses.

        After some cautious experimentation, T'Kara had
        discovered that the Breath of the Dragon held no
        threat to the Dr'owe. It was only mist, nothing more.
        If the mist contained hallucinogenic properties, they
        applied only to native Carthians, it would seem.
        However, to pacify their Tuathan friends, the Dr'owe
        traveled under a Shieldsong.

        This discovery led her to believe that the Demari were
        responsible for the mist. It was an effective screen
        for their movements, and served to prevent nocturnal
        retaliation. However, that had changed with the
        arrival of the Dr'owe.

        Nearly two pentirs, or ten days, had passed since they
        had left Queen Fiona's palace. During that time, they
        had launched several raids designed to weaken the
        Demari. This was to be the last before they moved to
        free the World-Tree. After accomplishing that
        objective, the Demari would be greatly weakened. Then,
        they would move upon Mirdath himself.

        T'Kara's thoughts turned to the Tuathan and their
        possible link to the Dr'owe. From what she had seen
        during her time among them, it seemed most likely that
        the two races had been enemies. There was a purity and
        innocence about the golden-skinned race that was not
        shared by the Dr'owe. But how could she reconcile this
        to the tales of the cruel Elven Overlords that she had
        been told throughout her childhood?

        The point was moot, anyway. Since her group had broken
        away from the Theocracy, they were now branded as
        enemies to the Spider-Queen. By association, the
        Tuathan would also be seen as such. She vowed to the
        Protector that she would do everything in her Power to
        keep her new family safe, even fight against the
        Theocracy if need be. She had no doubt that that day
        would come.

        A low whistle sounded, indicating that all was in
        readiness. T'Kara's thoughts focused on the task at
        hand, and after a careful last-minute inspection, she
        nodded in satisfaction. Her blood sang within her as
        she gave the order to move out.

        ********

        Queen Alyssa stared apprehensively at the great wall
        of lightning that loomed in the distance. They were
        approaching the Barrier, and memories of her previous
        passage through it flooded her mind. An image of the
        crippled Harmony's Light blazed to life, and she
        gripped the arms of her chair so tightly that the
        golden skin of her knuckles whitened.

        The Tuathan Queen fought down a surge of panic, and
        hummed a Song of Centering, stilling the turmoil
        within her. Her features relaxed as the shield
        generators were activated, and a golden nimbus of
        light surrounded the Harpsong. The crimson,
        crystalline hull sparkled, and Alyssa was struck by
        the beauty of the starship.

        Then, they were entering the Barrier. Light crystals
        flickered briefly, then settled into their normal
        luminescence. Queen Alyssa tingled from head to toe,
        but the sensation was not an unpleasant one. The
        shields were holding, and she let out her breath in a
        long, drawn-out sigh of relief.

        "What an amazing experience!" said Jen Arliss with
        profound wonder. The Dremani Healer looked around, her
        large, childlike eyes sparkling. "To think that we are
        traveling through the Barrier! We shall soon see what
        lies beyond! 'Tis a dream come true, my friends."

        "Aye," said Angus MacFirth with a smile. "Hold fast
        tae yer sense o' wonder, lass! Ye will doubtless see
        many wonders before our journey ends. Judging from the
        Omnet transmissions we have received, there is much
        tae be discovered beyond our little corner o' the
        universe!"

        Queen Alyssa smiled absently, her thoughts far away.
        She had left Carthis during a time of great need, to
        pursue a purely selfish course of action. What if the
        Tuathan she had left behind fell to the might of the
        Demari? She would know that she had deserted them when
        she could have made a difference in the outcome. Could
        she bear such a burden of guilt?

        Alyssa's mind shied away from the question, and her
        thoughts returned to the vision of Lorena's ship
        exploding. She reached out with her mind, seeking out
        the one true friend she had in the universe. There was
        no response, and a cold knot of fear twisted within
        her stomach.

        For the first time, she considered the possibility
        that Lorena Mereklar could be dead. Tears stung her
        eyes, and she whispered "Please be safe, Lorena.
        Please be safe, my friend."

        ********

        -To be continued


        =====
        "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
        ---------------------------------
        http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html

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      • Richard McKinley
        Two gigantic spiders moved swiftly through the misty night, silent predators within the golden forest. They closed rapidly upon a large clearing. As they
        Message 3 of 25 , Jun 4, 2001
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          Two gigantic spiders moved swiftly through the misty
          night, silent predators within the golden forest. They
          closed rapidly upon a large clearing. As they neared
          their goal, signs of Demari influence became apparent.
          Golden leaves had withered to a dull brown, and the
          normally hardy tapa grass hung limply from blighted
          stems. No birds sang, and an oppressive silence hung
          like a great weight over the forest.

          Inside one of the spider-ships, T'Kara N'Zal was
          struck by the emptiness that surrounded them. There
          was a wrongness, a Discordance about it all. Since
          entering the service of the Protector, she had become
          aware of her surroundings as never before. She felt
          defiled here, as if a stench clung to her, a stench
          that could not be washed away. Only the defeat of the
          Demari could cleanse her soul.

          T'Kara was surprised at the vehemence of her emotions,
          and hummed a Song of Focus to calm herself. When she
          felt capable of rational thought once more, she issued
          orders to the small contingent of Dr'owe under her
          command.

          The perimeter of the Demari shipyard was only
          nominally guarded, for the Demon-Folk expected no
          resistance during the hours of darkness. However, all
          that was about to change. T'Kara smiled at the
          thought.

          Several Dr'owe Warriors swarmed from the Black
          Widow-class spider-ships, hand crossbows and
          Black-Steel blades at the ready. The Demari patrol was
          caught completely by surprise. Those closest were cut
          down silently, throats slit by Black-Steel. The others
          fell to well-placed crossbow bolts, with no
          opportunity to cry out and alert their companions. The
          way to the Demari starships was clear.

          There were six Dreadnoughts in the clearing, each
          wedge-shaped, and having black hulls with blood-red
          veins criss-crossing its surface. Laser cannons,
          massive versions of Carthian Stingers, bristled from
          the ships.

          The Dr'owe would have time for only one attack before
          losing the element of surprise. Then, the battle would
          be joined in earnest. Swiftly, each of the
          spider-ships closed on two of the Dreadnoughts.
          Powerful legs grappled the enemy ships, and the hulls
          began to buckle under the pressure. Great fangs
          punctured the ships' plating, injecting noxious gases
          into them.

          Inside, the Demari gasped and retched, and their
          bodies were wracked by convulsions. Then, arachnidean
          legs finished what they had begun, crushing the Demari
          starships beyond repair. Within mere moments, all
          within had perished. Only twisted hunks of metal and
          crystal remained.

          A great shout arose from the other Demari vessels, and
          several shots were fired toward the gigantic spiders.
          T'Kara winced as a laser blast glanced off the
          protective shield around her spider-ship, but they
          sustained no damage. Now, the battle had truly begun.

          The four remaining Demari starships had raised their
          shields, and the hum of their engines filled the
          clearing. To the Dr'owe, it seemed as if they were
          encased in a cloak of darkness, blurring their
          outlines.

          T'Kara gave the order to concentrate Dr'owe fire upon
          one starship, for she wanted to knock out the enemy as
          quickly as possible. Fleet lasers blazed, and light
          danced across the darkshield of a Demari ship. The
          ship's outline wavered, then became distinct once
          again. Its shields had failed. One more barrage of
          laser fire ended its threat for all time. The
          explosion rocked the clearing, and the night sky was
          lit up for a brief moment.

          Only three Demari starships now remained. Agrav
          crystal hulls were activated, and they rose swiftly
          into the air. Laser cannons covered their retreat as
          they sought the advantage of height.

          Another laser blast struck T'Kara's spider-ship, and
          its shield wavered for a brief moment. Her Wizards
          worked feverishly, humming a Song of Strength, and
          willing that strength to the shields. Thus reinforced,
          the shield held.

          One of the Demari Dreadnoughts concentrated fire upon
          those Dr'owe who had left the safety of the
          spider-ships to deal with the guards. The Dr'owe
          Warriors scattered, trying for the cover of the trees.
          Three never made it. Their blasted, scorched bodies
          collapsed just short of the treeline.

          With a curse, T'Kara gave the order to take to the
          sky. They would have to return later to collect the
          survivors. The immediate threat of the Demari
          starships must be dealt with.

          Once again, the Dr'owe concentrated their fire upon a
          single vessel. When its shields fell, T'Kara's gunners
          utilized the ship's Necro-Phasers to devastating
          effect. Many Demari died within, and the spider-ship
          fed hungrily upon their stolen Essences. Their shield
          was at full strength within moments.

          Another barrage of laser fire, and the crippled ship
          crashed back to earth. There were no survivors. T'Kara
          gave a fierce whoop of joy, which was echoed by her
          crew members.

          Realizing that they were outgunned, the two remaining
          Demari starships fled. T'Kara ordered her spider-ships
          to give moderate chase, but she had no intention of
          capturing them. They had done enough damage for the
          time being. Next, the Tuathan and their allies would
          move to free the World-Tree. They had done well this
          day. The exultant Dr'owe rejoined Andurin and his
          group.

          -To be continued

          =====
          "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
          ---------------------------------
          http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html

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        • Richard McKinley
          Arendia Ravenna stared into the depths of the Seerstone, black anger smoldering in her flaming yellow eyes. A scowl of frustration twisted her jet-black
          Message 4 of 25 , Jun 5, 2001
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            Arendia Ravenna stared into the depths of the
            Seerstone, black anger smoldering in her flaming
            yellow eyes. A scowl of frustration twisted her
            jet-black features as she surveyed the scene that
            unfolded before her.

            Four starships had been lost in an attack by two
            spider-ships. Only two of the Black Wing fleet
            remained. This was intolerable. Six Dreadnoughts
            should have been more than a match for such a pitiful
            strike force. To be fair, the enemy ships had
            possessed a greater sophistication than any the Demari
            had encountered before, and the attack had come under
            cover of darkness. This new information must be
            carefully considered.

            The Witch summoned the two remaining commanders and
            their lieutenants. They were brought before her by an
            armed escort, fear evident in their expressions. Well
            they knew the punishment for failure.

            "The loss of four Dreadnoughts is inexcusable," she
            said without preamble. "We are fortunate to have other
            shipyards in other locations. Otherwise, our fleet
            would be decimated. As it is, the enemy has dealt us a
            serious blow. The punishment for failure is death."

            Arendia had risen to her feet, and now approached the
            unfortunate commanders. Her eyes burned with cold
            fire, and they trembled beneath that gaze. The Witch
            stood still for a moment, savoring their fear, drawing
            upon the Darkforce she held within.

            Her fingers thickened and elongated, forming great
            claws. Then, Arendia lashed out with that terrifying
            appendage. It entered the first commander's chest with
            a sickening rending sound, and black blood spurted
            around it. When she withdrew it once more, she held a
            still-beating heart in the palm of her hand. Her
            victim convulsed violently, then collapsed to the
            floor.

            With a disdainful grin, Arendia tossed the heart to
            the ground. Then, that awful, clawed hand swept toward
            the other commander, decapitating him in one powerful
            stroke. Seconds later, the claw was gone, replaced by
            the Witch's normal appendage.

            "Now, then," she said sweetly, eyeing the two
            remaining prisoners. "Commanders Aluset and Moriel,
            you will assume command of the Black Wing. Do not
            disappoint me. Guards, remove this carrion from my
            sight."

            So saying, Arendia returned to her throne, and sat
            down once more. The two newly-appointed commanders
            hurried from the throne room, grateful to have escaped
            with their lives. The guards picked up the grisly
            remains strewn on the floor and left, leaving their
            leader to her own dark thoughts.

            ********

            Andurin marched proudly at the head of the Army of
            Light. Tuathan marched alongside Dr'owe, Mordani,
            Dremani, and Humans. A small crew remained on
            Harmony's Light and the two Black Widows. They were a
            reserve force, and would enter battle only as a last
            resort. If the attack failed, they were to return to
            Tibarek with all speed.

            Thena Darkstone marched at his side, fierce joy
            evident in her expression. Andurin smiled as he
            recalled their first meeting, and the Honor Match that
            had resulted. He had won more than the Match that day;
            he had earned her respect and love.

            The ways of the Nine were mysterious, indeed! There
            had been a time in his life when he could not have
            imagined loving one of the Demon-Folk. It had been a
            revelation to discover that not all of the Demari were
            as evil as legends made them out to be. How many more
            were like Thena, he wondered? Probably very few.

            Demon-Maid no longer, he said to himself as he met the
            eyes of his Life-Mate. Thena had severed all ties with
            her past, and had been accepted as a citizen of the
            Tuathan Nation. Now, she would fight at his side
            against those who had been her people.

            The Power within Andurin sang now, eager for its
            release. It was as if it sensed that the time was
            near. He recognized many familiar landmarks as they
            neared the World-Tree. He wept to see what the
            presence of the Demari had wrought. Once-majestic
            trees stood bare of foliage, and festering sores
            dotted their trunks in many places. Golden, spongy
            tapa grass had lost its luster, and lay limply on the
            ground. An occasional animal skeleton served as a grim
            reminder of what they were up against.

            "By the Nine!" whispered Thena in revulsion as they
            traveled. "To think that I used to be a part of this
            destruction! How could I have been so blind? The
            Demari don't want to retake the surface world, but to
            destroy it!"

            Andurin placed a comforting arm around her shoulders,
            and said "Your eyes have been opened now, my love. You
            are no longer a part of this madness. Together, we
            will end this reign of terror!"

            One hour later, they encountered the first Demari
            patrol. Thena broke away from her companions with a
            glad cry, running toward the patrol as if eager to
            escape her tormentors. Their attention was drawn by
            this unexpected development, and the Tuathan were able
            to cut off any possible escape routes.

            Thena's Darksword flashed, and the Demari's leader
            fell before he realized that he had been betrayed. The
            battle was mercifully swift, with no losses on the
            part of the Army of Light. Not a single Demari escaped
            to warn his or her companions.

            Andurin focused his thoughts on Mithrandir, the
            World-Tree, and made contact. It still lived, although
            it was greatly weakened. The taint of Demari influence
            was strong, and Andurin broke off contact lest he be
            overwhelmed. His stomach lurched, and he retched.

            "There's no time to lose," said the Warrior when he
            was able to speak once more. "We must reach the
            World-Tree with all possible speed. We have waited too
            long, and I fear the Power that has been bestowed upon
            me will not be enough to free it."

            Abandoning all attempt at silence, the Army of Light
            redoubled their efforts to reach their goal. They were
            met halfway by an army of Demon-Folk.

            With a great war-cry, Andurin and Thena led the charge
            into battle. Stingers blazed, and swords clashed.
            Several fell on both sides as the battle raged on. The
            sheer ferocity of the attack worked to the advantage
            of those of the Light. Little by little, the Demari
            were driven back.

            There was Mithrandir, encircled by bands of darkness.
            Several tentacles stretched forth from the World-Tree,
            and their burdens struggled feebly against the dark
            Power that ensnared them. The dessicated, withered
            remains of previous victims lay piled around the base
            of the Sacred Tree.

            A fresh surge of rage flooded Andurin's being, a
            sentiment that was echoed by all the other Tuathan
            present. To see their beloved Tree so abused was more
            than they could bear.

            Tuathan Healers combined their Power into a Song of
            Ensnarement, directing the energy toward the Demari
            army. Mithrandir reached out with its failing Power,
            adding its strength to that of its children. Vines and
            creepers responded to the spellsong, growing at a
            fantastic rate. The golden serpents wove themselves
            among the Demari army, entangling them and holding
            them with great strength.

            A large part of the enemy army was thus immobilized,
            and a great cheer arose from the Army of Light. Then,
            a small knot of Tuathan and Mordani Warriors
            surrounded Andurin and Thena, forming a wedge-shaped
            defense. With a fierce cry, they drove into the Demari
            defensive line, seeking to break through to the
            World-Tree.

            -To be continued

            =====
            "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
            ---------------------------------
            http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html

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          • Richard McKinley
            OOC: Well, so much for five more installments! While the Demon War hasn t been completely wrapped up, I felt that this would be the perfect spot to end the
            Message 5 of 25 , Jun 7, 2001
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              OOC: Well, so much for five more installments! While
              the Demon War hasn't been completely wrapped up, I
              felt that this would be the perfect spot to end the
              storyline. There will be repercussions and further
              battles with the Demari, but this represents the
              climactic battle to win Shandar back from the
              Demon-Folk. Thanks for your patience in bearing with
              me, and for your votes of confidence in my
              storytelling ability. Enjoy!

              IC: A rain of darkness fell upon the Demari army,
              sharp daggers of force that severed the entangling
              vines and creepers. Several Demari fell to them as
              well, but Arendia saw that as a suitable sacrifice.
              Freed from their prison, the Demon-Folk renewed their
              attack upon the Army of Light.

              Andurin, Thena, and their small band fought savagely
              to reach the World-Tree as the rest of their army
              engaged the enemy forces. Much blood was shed, and
              still, they fought onward.

              Arendia Ravenna saw the small knot of attackers
              struggling toward the World-Tree, and realized their
              plan. A simple glamour made the Sacred Tree seem much
              farther away than it actually was. This tactic would
              serve to discourage the fools as she prepared a most
              Powerful spellsong.

              The small band of Tuathan and Mordani fought onward,
              but their goal seemed no closer than before. Thena
              cursed loudly as she laid about her with Stinger and
              Darksword, eyes fiercely alight with the blaze of
              battle.

              Andurin risked a glance at his Life-Mate, and pride
              shone in his eyes. She fought as one possessed, and
              exacted a heavy toll from the enemy. Then, he was
              forced to tear his gaze away from her as a Darksword
              whistled past his ear, barely missing it. Thus
              reminded to be on his guard at all times, he
              concentrated upon the battle at hand.

              Only one rank remained between them and the World-Tree
              when the darkness came to life. A huge shadow detached
              itself from the Tree as Andurin gasped in
              astonishment. The creature was fully ten ilars
              (meters) tall, with four arms that ended in
              razor-sharp claws. Those claws were twice as long as
              daggers, and capable of disemboweling an unfortunate
              victim. Crimson flames formed the creature's eyes, and
              a great mouth gaped open to reveal more of those
              flames.

              The illusion of distance faded as Arendia ceased
              concentrating upon it. Now, her entire attention was
              focused upon the creature she had summoned. It gave a
              great bellow of challenge as it advanced upon its
              intended victims.

              From the waist down, the body was that of a huge
              serpent. A great claw lashed out, cutting down the
              Demari closest to the small strike force. Gaping
              wounds sizzled and boiled, and the unfortunate ones
              withered and faded as the creature drew strength from
              their stolen Essences.

              "A Shadow-Beast!" cried Thena in revulsion. "Mirdath
              has grown Powerful, indeed! How can we defeat such a
              creature?"

              Cruel, feminine laughter erupted from the creature's
              mouth, and a familiar voice to Thena spoke. "Mirdath
              is no more, traitorous one! His Power was no match for
              my own. I, Arendia Ravenna, am Master now. You shall
              die a thousand deaths before I'm through with you!
              Such is the punishment for your betrayal."

              Andurin listened to this speech with interest. So,
              Mirdath had been betrayed not once, but twice! Who was
              this new foe? Her Power was great, but it must have
              its limits. Otherwise, the Balance would be disturbed.
              He resolved to test those limits.

              "Over my dead body, krenth!" he shouted, and fired his
              Stinger at the shadowy creature. It was a calculated
              insult. A krenth was a tiny, worm-like creature that
              lived in fallen logs. Although the energy weapon had
              no effect upon the Shadow-Beast, he hoped to provoke
              it into rash action.

              The insult had the desired effect, and the creature
              snarled in rage. Two clawed hands lashed out, and
              Andurin rolled beneath them, timing his somersault to
              bring him closer to the Harness that sapped the
              World-Tree's Power and that of its Tuathan captives.

              A soft, golden radiance came from within the
              courageous Warrior. If he could get close enough to
              the World-Tree, he could release the Power that was
              contained within his body. He tried to dodge another
              strike, but a claw caught him in the shoulder. Searing
              pain enveloped the wound, and the blood boiled within.
              Andurin winced, but hummed a Song of Focus to keep his
              head clear.

              Minda and Durgal, two Mordani Healers, sang a Song of
              Union, combining their Power to aid their companion.
              When the Union was complete, they began another
              spellsong. Rainbow-colored light pulsed around them,
              forming a protective sphere. Then, a brilliant shaft
              of white light streaked from the sphere to strike the
              Shadow-Beast.

              An unearthly howl of pain filled the air, and
              onlookers clutched their ears against the sound. The
              creature's attention shifted to the Healers, and a
              great clawed hand sliced through the rainbow sphere.
              Durgal threw himself between the claw and Minda, and
              the slash laid open the Morda's chest. He screamed as
              the wound bubbled and seethed, and collapsed at
              Minda's feet.

              Minda watched in horror as her lover's Essence was
              drawn into the Shadow-Beast's gaping maw. Soon, only a
              charred skeleton remained, rib cage shattered by the
              powerful blow.

              "No!" cried the Healer, tears streaming from her
              steel-gray eyes. "Monster!"

              Tuathan and Mordani shouted as she ran toward the
              Shadow-Beast. However, in her grief and rage, Minda
              was beyond hearing. She fired blast after blast of
              Stinger fire at the gaping maw, seeking to avenge
              Durgal's death. However, the creature merely laughed
              as it swung a huge claw at the tiny Morda. Minda was
              flung into a massive oak tree, and collapsed in a
              crumpled, broken heap at its base. Her Essence joined
              Durgal's within the creature.

              Andurin was saddened by the loss, and tears flowed
              down his golden cheeks. The Mordani Healers had been
              brave companions. However, he had no time to dwell on
              the loss; Mithrandir must be freed. Taking advantage
              of the distraction they had provided, the Warrior ran
              to the Harness.

              Two tentacles of darkness snaked toward him,
              enwrapping him in vise-like coils. A numbness spread
              throughout Andurin's limbs, but he remained Focused.
              It was time to release the Power he had hoarded.
              Smiling in contentment, he began to sing.

              It was a song of incredible beauty, a song of love and
              joy. The song contained the Essence of the Tuathan,
              the essence of nobility and justice. Andurin sang of
              freedom and release, of sacrifice and an end to hate.

              The numbness spread across the Warrior's body, but he
              barely noticed. Slowly, feeling returned once more as
              a warm glow suffused his physical form. Soon, Andurin
              was glowing like a small star, radiantly beautiful.
              Thena's heart ached to see him so, and she averted her
              gaze lest she be blinded.

              Another voice joined in the song, deep and mysterious,
              and infinitely sad. It was the voice of Mithrandir,
              and bespoke ancient wisdom and great love. The sounds
              of battle ceased, for all present were caught up in
              the beauty and wonder of the song. Even the Demari
              were affected by the song.

              A pillar of scintillating golden light emerged from
              the World-Tree, engulfing the dark bands of the
              Harness, freeing the captives. Then, it continued
              onward, healing all it touched. Flowers bloomed along
              its path, and tapa grass returned to its former
              luster.

              Finally, the pillar of light reached the Shadow-Beast,
              and the creature of the Dark roared in agony as it was
              consumed. Only a pile of scorched earth remained to
              mark the place where it had stood. Then, the pillar of
              light faded into memory.

              Andurin flared like a small nova, then the light faded
              from his countenance to reveal a look of rapture upon
              his face. The Power he had expended took its toll as
              the song ended. He collapsed to the ground, smoke
              rising in small columns from his body. Thena rushed to
              his side, and cradled his head in her lap.

              In the silence that followed, the Demari broke ranks
              and fled. The Army of Light gave chase, and many were
              cut down without remorse. Some few, Arendia Ravenna
              among them, escaped to their starships, which vanished
              into the distance.

              Shandar was free. However, recovery would be a slow
              and arduous process, for signs of the Demari
              occupation were still evident. Andurin's song had
              merely begun the healing process.

              Andurin stared up into Thena's flaming yellow eyes,
              now dim with tears. He squeezed her hand reassuringly,
              and smiled weakly. Blood trickled from the corner of
              his mouth.

              "Is Shandar safe?" he asked, his voice a harsh whisper
              once more. "Was my Power enough to end the Demari
              threat?"

              "Shandar is safe, Life-Mate," said Thena, brushing
              tears from her eyes. "Your song was magnificent."

              "MIthrandir sang, too," said Andurin with wonder. "It
              lent me some of its Power. What a ... wonderful
              experience."

              He looked around, his eyes bright. Then, his eyes
              focused upon Thena, and he said "This is how... it has
              to be. Do not weep... my love. Take care of... our
              child. I love you."

              Andurin smiled and stiffened, squeezing her hand once
              more. Then, with a final, drawn-out sigh, the light
              left his eyes forever. A look of peace was upon his
              face.

              A gentle breeze stirred the trees, singing a song of
              mourning for those who had fallen in Shandar's
              defense. However, mingled with the sadness was a
              melody of bright hope for a better tomorrow. So turns
              the Great Cycle.

              -The End


              =====
              "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
              ---------------------------------
              http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html

              __________________________________________________
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            • Franklin Vittoe
              not bad at all...very nice indeed... Frank ... _________________________________________________________________ Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at
              Message 6 of 25 , Jun 7, 2001
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                not bad at all...very nice indeed...

                Frank


                >From: Richard McKinley <angus_macfirth@...>
                >Reply-To: starshield-rpg@yahoogroups.com
                >To: starshield-rpg@yahoogroups.com
                >Subject: [Starshield] SM: Avalon: The Demon War, Conclusion
                >Date: Thu, 7 Jun 2001 08:36:51 -0700 (PDT)
                >
                >OOC: Well, so much for five more installments! While
                >the Demon War hasn't been completely wrapped up, I
                >felt that this would be the perfect spot to end the
                >storyline. There will be repercussions and further
                >battles with the Demari, but this represents the
                >climactic battle to win Shandar back from the
                >Demon-Folk. Thanks for your patience in bearing with
                >me, and for your votes of confidence in my
                >storytelling ability. Enjoy!
                >
                >IC: A rain of darkness fell upon the Demari army,
                >sharp daggers of force that severed the entangling
                >vines and creepers. Several Demari fell to them as
                >well, but Arendia saw that as a suitable sacrifice.
                >Freed from their prison, the Demon-Folk renewed their
                >attack upon the Army of Light.
                >
                >Andurin, Thena, and their small band fought savagely
                >to reach the World-Tree as the rest of their army
                >engaged the enemy forces. Much blood was shed, and
                >still, they fought onward.
                >
                >Arendia Ravenna saw the small knot of attackers
                >struggling toward the World-Tree, and realized their
                >plan. A simple glamour made the Sacred Tree seem much
                >farther away than it actually was. This tactic would
                >serve to discourage the fools as she prepared a most
                >Powerful spellsong.
                >
                >The small band of Tuathan and Mordani fought onward,
                >but their goal seemed no closer than before. Thena
                >cursed loudly as she laid about her with Stinger and
                >Darksword, eyes fiercely alight with the blaze of
                >battle.
                >
                >Andurin risked a glance at his Life-Mate, and pride
                >shone in his eyes. She fought as one possessed, and
                >exacted a heavy toll from the enemy. Then, he was
                >forced to tear his gaze away from her as a Darksword
                >whistled past his ear, barely missing it. Thus
                >reminded to be on his guard at all times, he
                >concentrated upon the battle at hand.
                >
                >Only one rank remained between them and the World-Tree
                >when the darkness came to life. A huge shadow detached
                >itself from the Tree as Andurin gasped in
                >astonishment. The creature was fully ten ilars
                >(meters) tall, with four arms that ended in
                >razor-sharp claws. Those claws were twice as long as
                >daggers, and capable of disemboweling an unfortunate
                >victim. Crimson flames formed the creature's eyes, and
                >a great mouth gaped open to reveal more of those
                >flames.
                >
                >The illusion of distance faded as Arendia ceased
                >concentrating upon it. Now, her entire attention was
                >focused upon the creature she had summoned. It gave a
                >great bellow of challenge as it advanced upon its
                >intended victims.
                >
                >From the waist down, the body was that of a huge
                >serpent. A great claw lashed out, cutting down the
                >Demari closest to the small strike force. Gaping
                >wounds sizzled and boiled, and the unfortunate ones
                >withered and faded as the creature drew strength from
                >their stolen Essences.
                >
                >"A Shadow-Beast!" cried Thena in revulsion. "Mirdath
                >has grown Powerful, indeed! How can we defeat such a
                >creature?"
                >
                >Cruel, feminine laughter erupted from the creature's
                >mouth, and a familiar voice to Thena spoke. "Mirdath
                >is no more, traitorous one! His Power was no match for
                >my own. I, Arendia Ravenna, am Master now. You shall
                >die a thousand deaths before I'm through with you!
                >Such is the punishment for your betrayal."
                >
                >Andurin listened to this speech with interest. So,
                >Mirdath had been betrayed not once, but twice! Who was
                >this new foe? Her Power was great, but it must have
                >its limits. Otherwise, the Balance would be disturbed.
                >He resolved to test those limits.
                >
                >"Over my dead body, krenth!" he shouted, and fired his
                >Stinger at the shadowy creature. It was a calculated
                >insult. A krenth was a tiny, worm-like creature that
                >lived in fallen logs. Although the energy weapon had
                >no effect upon the Shadow-Beast, he hoped to provoke
                >it into rash action.
                >
                >The insult had the desired effect, and the creature
                >snarled in rage. Two clawed hands lashed out, and
                >Andurin rolled beneath them, timing his somersault to
                >bring him closer to the Harness that sapped the
                >World-Tree's Power and that of its Tuathan captives.
                >
                >A soft, golden radiance came from within the
                >courageous Warrior. If he could get close enough to
                >the World-Tree, he could release the Power that was
                >contained within his body. He tried to dodge another
                >strike, but a claw caught him in the shoulder. Searing
                >pain enveloped the wound, and the blood boiled within.
                >Andurin winced, but hummed a Song of Focus to keep his
                >head clear.
                >
                >Minda and Durgal, two Mordani Healers, sang a Song of
                >Union, combining their Power to aid their companion.
                >When the Union was complete, they began another
                >spellsong. Rainbow-colored light pulsed around them,
                >forming a protective sphere. Then, a brilliant shaft
                >of white light streaked from the sphere to strike the
                >Shadow-Beast.
                >
                >An unearthly howl of pain filled the air, and
                >onlookers clutched their ears against the sound. The
                >creature's attention shifted to the Healers, and a
                >great clawed hand sliced through the rainbow sphere.
                >Durgal threw himself between the claw and Minda, and
                >the slash laid open the Morda's chest. He screamed as
                >the wound bubbled and seethed, and collapsed at
                >Minda's feet.
                >
                >Minda watched in horror as her lover's Essence was
                >drawn into the Shadow-Beast's gaping maw. Soon, only a
                >charred skeleton remained, rib cage shattered by the
                >powerful blow.
                >
                >"No!" cried the Healer, tears streaming from her
                >steel-gray eyes. "Monster!"
                >
                >Tuathan and Mordani shouted as she ran toward the
                >Shadow-Beast. However, in her grief and rage, Minda
                >was beyond hearing. She fired blast after blast of
                >Stinger fire at the gaping maw, seeking to avenge
                >Durgal's death. However, the creature merely laughed
                >as it swung a huge claw at the tiny Morda. Minda was
                >flung into a massive oak tree, and collapsed in a
                >crumpled, broken heap at its base. Her Essence joined
                >Durgal's within the creature.
                >
                >Andurin was saddened by the loss, and tears flowed
                >down his golden cheeks. The Mordani Healers had been
                >brave companions. However, he had no time to dwell on
                >the loss; Mithrandir must be freed. Taking advantage
                >of the distraction they had provided, the Warrior ran
                >to the Harness.
                >
                >Two tentacles of darkness snaked toward him,
                >enwrapping him in vise-like coils. A numbness spread
                >throughout Andurin's limbs, but he remained Focused.
                >It was time to release the Power he had hoarded.
                >Smiling in contentment, he began to sing.
                >
                >It was a song of incredible beauty, a song of love and
                >joy. The song contained the Essence of the Tuathan,
                >the essence of nobility and justice. Andurin sang of
                >freedom and release, of sacrifice and an end to hate.
                >
                >The numbness spread across the Warrior's body, but he
                >barely noticed. Slowly, feeling returned once more as
                >a warm glow suffused his physical form. Soon, Andurin
                >was glowing like a small star, radiantly beautiful.
                >Thena's heart ached to see him so, and she averted her
                >gaze lest she be blinded.
                >
                >Another voice joined in the song, deep and mysterious,
                >and infinitely sad. It was the voice of Mithrandir,
                >and bespoke ancient wisdom and great love. The sounds
                >of battle ceased, for all present were caught up in
                >the beauty and wonder of the song. Even the Demari
                >were affected by the song.
                >
                >A pillar of scintillating golden light emerged from
                >the World-Tree, engulfing the dark bands of the
                >Harness, freeing the captives. Then, it continued
                >onward, healing all it touched. Flowers bloomed along
                >its path, and tapa grass returned to its former
                >luster.
                >
                >Finally, the pillar of light reached the Shadow-Beast,
                >and the creature of the Dark roared in agony as it was
                >consumed. Only a pile of scorched earth remained to
                >mark the place where it had stood. Then, the pillar of
                >light faded into memory.
                >
                >Andurin flared like a small nova, then the light faded
                >from his countenance to reveal a look of rapture upon
                >his face. The Power he had expended took its toll as
                >the song ended. He collapsed to the ground, smoke
                >rising in small columns from his body. Thena rushed to
                >his side, and cradled his head in her lap.
                >
                >In the silence that followed, the Demari broke ranks
                >and fled. The Army of Light gave chase, and many were
                >cut down without remorse. Some few, Arendia Ravenna
                >among them, escaped to their starships, which vanished
                >into the distance.
                >
                >Shandar was free. However, recovery would be a slow
                >and arduous process, for signs of the Demari
                >occupation were still evident. Andurin's song had
                >merely begun the healing process.
                >
                >Andurin stared up into Thena's flaming yellow eyes,
                >now dim with tears. He squeezed her hand reassuringly,
                >and smiled weakly. Blood trickled from the corner of
                >his mouth.
                >
                >"Is Shandar safe?" he asked, his voice a harsh whisper
                >once more. "Was my Power enough to end the Demari
                >threat?"
                >
                >"Shandar is safe, Life-Mate," said Thena, brushing
                >tears from her eyes. "Your song was magnificent."
                >
                >"MIthrandir sang, too," said Andurin with wonder. "It
                >lent me some of its Power. What a ... wonderful
                >experience."
                >
                >He looked around, his eyes bright. Then, his eyes
                >focused upon Thena, and he said "This is how... it has
                >to be. Do not weep... my love. Take care of... our
                >child. I love you."
                >
                >Andurin smiled and stiffened, squeezing her hand once
                >more. Then, with a final, drawn-out sigh, the light
                >left his eyes forever. A look of peace was upon his
                >face.
                >
                >A gentle breeze stirred the trees, singing a song of
                >mourning for those who had fallen in Shandar's
                >defense. However, mingled with the sadness was a
                >melody of bright hope for a better tomorrow. So turns
                >the Great Cycle.
                >
                >-The End
                >
                >
                >=====
                >"May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you
                >until we meet again."
                >---------------------------------
                >http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html
                >
                >__________________________________________________
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                >Get personalized email addresses from Yahoo! Mail - only $35
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              • Andoria Sunok
                Richard: Great SM! I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure! Your characters come to life! Lady A. Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com
                Message 7 of 25 , Jun 7, 2001
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                  Richard:

                  Great SM!  I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure!  Your characters come to life!  

                  Lady A.



                  Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com
                • Lowell Boston & Linda Kardos
                  Richard, Great job. Sometimes the best endings are those that surprise even the writer. Lowell
                  Message 8 of 25 , Jun 7, 2001
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                    Richard,

                    Great job. Sometimes the best endings are those that surprise even the
                    writer.

                    Lowell
                  • Richard McKinley
                    The Sealg Allaidh? said Eilidh thoughtfully. Tis an ancient Dalriadan legend. Are ye saying that it truly exists? Aye, said Slanaigh with a smile. The
                    Message 9 of 25 , Jun 8, 2001
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                      "The Sealg Allaidh?" said Eilidh thoughtfully. "'Tis
                      an ancient Dalriadan legend. Are ye saying that it
                      truly exists?"

                      "Aye," said Slanaigh with a smile. "The Wild Hunt
                      serves the Balance. In times o' great need, it will
                      come when called. Now is one o' those times. It may be
                      that the Sealg Allaidh can contain the Daoidhe once
                      more."

                      "It may be?" said Eilidh. "Are ye not sure, then? What
                      if the Hunt cannae defeat the Daoidhe?"

                      "Wild Magic is unpredictable," said Aimsir honestly.
                      "Howe'er, the Daoidhe have disrupted the Balance. The
                      Hunt will seek to restore it. Once that has been
                      accomplished, the Sealg Allaidh will sleep once more."

                      "All right," said Eilidh. "I'll try. Must I go alone?
                      I fear that a mere lass willnae get very far. May I
                      take anyone else?"

                      "There will be nine in the Fellowship," said Slanaigh.
                      "They will be revealed to ye as ye search for the
                      Hunter's Horn. Each has been marked by the Arsaidh. Ye
                      will recognize them when ye see them."

                      The Healer's form began to fade as she spoke, as did
                      those of the other Arsaidh. Eilidh began to feel dizzy
                      once more, and she called out in desperation. "Wait!
                      Where can I find the Hunter's Horn? I dunnae ken where
                      to look. Tell me, please!"

                      "The Fellowship will be geas-bound," answered
                      Dealrach. The Power o' the geas will guide ye. Have
                      nae fear, Child o' the Earth. Ye will find that which
                      ye seek. Farewell, Eilidh nic Seumas."

                      Then, the Arsaidh were gone. The fog cleared, and
                      Eilidh found herself lying on the floor of the hut.
                      Eoin was staring anxiously into her eyes. Her twin
                      sighed in relief as she sat up.

                      "What happened, Eilidh?" he said in concern. "Are ye
                      all right? When ye swooned, I feared for ye."

                      "I'm fine, Eoin," she said reassuringly. "'Tis only
                      the storm. Ye ken what they do tae me. I'll be as good
                      as new after it passes. Dunnae fash yerself on my
                      account."

                      Something was different. It took Eilidh a moment to
                      figure out what. Eoin was wreathed in a golden glow,
                      and she knew that he was to be one of the Fellowship.
                      She would have to decide how best to approach him
                      about it.

                      The storm was abating, and with it went the sick
                      feeling in her stomach. She stood up, and squeezed
                      Eoin's hand briefly. However, the worry did not leave
                      his eyes. Had he sensed something of what had
                      occurred? She resolved to speak with him about it when
                      they were alone.

                      Seumas and Deirdre, her father and mother, must not
                      know, decided Eilidh. They would try to protect their
                      children by keeping them home. The geas that bound her
                      did not extend to her parents.

                      "We have to talk," whispered a voice in her ear. She
                      turned to see Angharad, the Cymru lass. With a start,
                      Eilidh saw that same golden glow surrounding her
                      foster sister. Now, they were three. She acknowledged
                      Angharad with a nod. They would talk later.

                      ********

                      Coinneach awoke with a start. He had been dreaming of
                      a jeweled hunting horn. The moment he laid eyes upon
                      it, he knew he must have it. A voice spoke to him,
                      promising the horn to him if he was strong and
                      courageous. However, possession of the Horn would have
                      its price. He must be willing to pay that price.

                      The storm had ended, and he judged that about two
                      hours had passed. There was still time for his Coming
                      of Age Ceremony. He felt a surge of elation as he
                      heard the drums beating, calling for a Gathering of
                      the Clan.

                      Coinneach knew that his father would come for him
                      soon, and began his preparations. Sine presented him
                      with a new set of clothing, which she had spent a
                      pentir (five days) working on. There was a knee-length
                      kilt in the Clan's colors, alternating yellow, green
                      and black plaid on a red background. Next, he donned a
                      black tunic with long sleeves, over which he wore a
                      shoulder-to-waist broad cloth band in the same pattern
                      as the kilt. A golden sash tied at the waist, and he
                      placed a red beret at a jaunty angle on his head.
                      Black woolen socks reached just below his knees, and
                      shoes of hard black leather completed the outfit.
                      Silver buckles glistened in the emerging sunlight.

                      Sine held him at arm's length, admiring the dashing
                      figure that was her son. Then, she drew him to her in
                      a firm embrace, saying "I'm proud o' ye, my son. 'Tis
                      a fine figure o' manhood ye hae become. Wear our
                      tartan wi' pride."

                      An embarrassed Coinneach, was relieved to hear the
                      door open, and Calum mac Iomhair shouted cheerfully to
                      him. It was time for the Gathering of the Clan, and
                      they mustn't be late.

                      Coinneach gently disengaged himself from his birth
                      mother's embrace, and joined Calum. Father and son
                      clasped hands briefly, then Calum clapped Coinneach on
                      the back. They left the cottage together, and made
                      their way to the Gathering Place.

                      Nestled in the hills was a circle of great standing
                      stones. Its origin was lost in antiquity, but the
                      Power here was evident. All events of great importance
                      were held here. The ascent of a youth into manhood was
                      one such occasion.

                      The drums sounded once more, a final call to any
                      stragglers. When it was judged that all the Clansmen
                      had arrived, the Council was begun. Clan Chief Diarmad
                      stepped to the center of the stone circle, and raised
                      his hands for silence. Conversation ceased as all eyes
                      turned to their leader.

                      Diarmad's hair and beard were white as snow, but his
                      face was as yet unblemished by age. He stood straight
                      and tall as he glanced around at those gathered. His
                      shoulders were broad, his arms and legs thick with
                      muscle. Emerald green eyes bespoke great wisdom, and a
                      hardness that came from years of battle experience.

                      "Welcome, men o' Clan Diarmad," he said at last. "The
                      year has been a prosperous one for our Clan, and the
                      Protector has blessed us wi' peace. The time o' the
                      Gathering is upon us. Is there any business that must
                      be brought before the Clan?"

                      Calum stepped forward, and waited to be acknowledged.
                      When Diarmad nodded in his direction, he spoke. "I am
                      Calum mac Iomhair, Commander o' the Clan. My son,
                      Coinneach, has reached his sixteenth summer. I wish
                      tae present him before the Clan, to take his place
                      among the adults o' the Clan."

                      "Step forward and be recognized, Coinneach mac Calum,"
                      stated Diarmad with a smile. The young man stepped
                      forward to stand beside his father, and the Clan Chief
                      continued. "Ye hae reached the age where ye may be
                      considered an adult o' the Clan. Do ye swear tae
                      uphold Clan Diarmad over all others, tae fight for the
                      Clan if need be, and tae act wi' honor in all that ye
                      do?"

                      "Aye," said Coinneach without hesitation. He met the
                      Chief's gaze squarely, and placed his right fist over
                      his heart. "I will honor and uphold Clan Diarmad, and
                      will fight to the death in the defense o' my Clan.
                      This I swear."

                      "Well spoken," said Diarmad in approval. "Calum mac
                      Iomhair, do ye hae the tokens o' Coinneach's ascent
                      into manhood?"

                      "I do," said Calum, motioning for his brother Owain to
                      step forward. Owain held a weapons belt in his arms.
                      Calum took it from him, and buckled it around
                      Coinneach's waist. "Coinneach mac Calum, wi' these
                      weapons, ye take yer place amang the men o' Clan
                      Diarmad. Wear them wi' honor, my son."

                      Coinneach fingered the weapons proudly. He now owned a
                      Power Sword and a Drach. The Power Sword was activated
                      by pressing a stud on a metal tube, releasing a blade
                      of shimmering light. The Drach gave forth a beam of
                      deadly light, with an effective range of ten ilars
                      (meters). It could be set for narrow, medium, or wide
                      beam, depending upon the target. However, the wider
                      the beam, the less damage that could be inflicted. The
                      sole advantage of a wide beam was that it could hit
                      multiple targets.

                      A great cheer arose from the Clansmen, and Coinneach's
                      heart sang within him. He had been accepted by his
                      Clan. He vowed to himself that he would bring honor to
                      Clan Diarmad.

                      Suddenly, lightning flared in the space between two of
                      the standing stones. It pulsed rapidly from side to
                      side, and a figure formed within. It was a tall man
                      with flaming golden hair. A radiance wreathed the man,
                      causing the assembled Clansmen to avert their gazes.

                      "I am Dealrach, the Shining One," said the radiant
                      being in a deep, majestic voice. The faint skirl of
                      pibrochs seemed to accompany his speech. "Coinneach
                      mac Calum o' Clan Diarmad, a quest lies before ye. Ye
                      must travel to the home o' yer foster family. There,
                      ye will be joined by the first o' the Fellowship.
                      Defend them wi' yer life. The fate o' Clan Diarmad,
                      and o' Clarsach, hangs in the Balance. Seek out the
                      Hunter's Horn. I can say nae mair."

                      Then, the Shining One vanished, and the standing
                      stones returned to normal. The Clansmen talked
                      excitedly among themselves. Never in the history of
                      the Clan had such an experience been recorded. There
                      was much speculation as to the significance of the
                      visitation.

                      Coinneach was oblivious to his fellow Clansmen, for he
                      was remembering thte dream he had experienced during
                      the storm. Now, he knew what it had meant. He must
                      seek out the Hunter's Horn, an artifact which legends
                      stated had the ability to awaken the Sealg Allaidh, or
                      Wild Hunt. Was that what was required? He had many
                      questions, but they would have to wait. The Gathering
                      of the Clan was dismissed, all other business
                      forgotten. The young Warrior returned to his home to
                      prepare for the journey to Seumas mac Greum's home.

                      -To be continued


                      =====
                      "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
                      ---------------------------------
                      http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html

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                    • Richard McKinley
                      Angharad ap Talerin was filled with apprehension as she listened to Eilidh s story. A flood of unfamiliar images filled her mind at the mention of the Arsaidh.
                      Message 10 of 25 , Jun 11, 2001
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                        Angharad ap Talerin was filled with apprehension as
                        she listened to Eilidh's story. A flood of unfamiliar
                        images filled her mind at the mention of the Arsaidh.
                        A huge wall of lightning swept over her, and Clarsach
                        dissintegrated all around her. This was followed by
                        inescapable darkness as she was swallowed by the
                        earth. She felt an intense sadness, as if she had lost
                        something of great importance.

                        Where had these images come from? In all her fifteen
                        years of existence, she had experienced none of these
                        things. Was she, then, having some vision of her
                        future? If so, she resolved, she would meet that
                        future head on. It was part of her destiny, and she
                        would not run from it. That was not the Cymru way.

                        Eoin and Eilidh were young, while she was nearly an
                        adult. She could not abandon them to the quest the
                        Arsaidh had laid before them. They would need her
                        Power to stand up to the Daoidhe, the Chaos-Bringers.
                        She prayed to the Nine that it would be enough.

                        Eoin's green eyes were troubled as he said "Why have
                        we been chosen by the Arsaidh? My training as a
                        Warrior hasnae even begun. How can I fight the
                        Daoidhe?"

                        "Ye hae other abilities, Eoin," said Eilidh gently,
                        placing a hand upon her twin's. "Perhaps they are what
                        is needed."

                        A slow flush crept across the lad's face as he
                        realized what she was referring to. At times, Eoin
                        seemed to be able to read others' minds. Then, there
                        was the time when he had fallen from a tree, and had
                        been knocked unconscious. No one had been able to find
                        him right away, even when they had passed right beside
                        him. It was Eilidh who had finally found him, through
                        the mental bond they shared. She swore that he had
                        simply appeared from nowhere at her feet when he
                        regained consciousness.

                        Eoin did not understand this strange Power, and so, he
                        feared it. The twins had told no one, but other
                        members of the Clan sensed something different about
                        the lad, and avoided him as much as possible. Touched
                        by the Sith, some said. So, Eoin was forced to keep
                        his distance, a fact which he resented.

                        "Dunnae speak o' such things," said the lad crossly,
                        glancing significantly at Angharad. He was angry at
                        Eilidh for compromising his secret, and to a
                        non-Dalriadan besides. What had she been thinking?

                        "Stop it, Eoin," said Eilidh, her own temper flaring.
                        "If we are tae be a part o' the Fellowship together,
                        we cannae keep such things secret! We must know each
                        of our strengths, including the Power we can call
                        upon."

                        Angharad was mystified by this exchange, and stared
                        expectantly at her foster brother and sister. Finally,
                        with an unhappy frown, Eoin nodded, and Eilidh
                        explained. The Cymru lass looked at him with new
                        interest.

                        "I never suspected," she said at last. "Well, one
                        confidence deserves another. I have learned to tap the
                        Power in music. Nothing spectacular, mind you. I can
                        use music to put someone to sleep, and in some cases,
                        to avert violence. What about you, Eilidh?"

                        Before Eilidh could answer, there was a commotion at
                        the front door. Seumas had returned from the
                        Gathering, and with him was Coinneach mac Calum, the
                        Clan Commander's son. Coinneach proudly wore a weapons
                        belt, and Eoin felt a slight twinge of envy at the
                        sight. More importantly, the young Warrior was
                        wreathed in a golden nimbus of light. He was to be the
                        fourth member of the Fellowship.

                        Seumas seemed strangely subdued as he hugged his wife
                        and children. It was as if he sensed that something
                        was afoot, and that it involved his children.

                        Coinneach stared at the twins and Angharad, and his
                        mouth dropped open briefly in surprise. He recovered
                        quickly, and moved to hug his foster mother and
                        siblings. He whispered briefly in Angharad's ear, and
                        she nodded imperceptibly. He straightened, then, and
                        spoke loudly to cover his surprise.

                        "'Tis good to see all o' ye once again! What do ye
                        think about these, Eoin? I'm now a Clansman,
                        recognized by Chief Diarmad himself! 'Twill be yer
                        turn in another four years, aye? We should talk for a
                        while."

                        The young Warrior patted the Power Sword and Drach on
                        his belt, then gave a signal they had often used as
                        children when they were plotting some mischief. Eoin
                        had picked up on the signal, and congratulated his
                        foster brother with a shy smile. They left the hut
                        together, leaving Eilidh and Angharad to follow when
                        they were able.

                        When the four were together once more, they went over
                        the events of the day. Coinneach told of the
                        visitation at the Gathering Place, and Eilidh repeated
                        the story of her experience. Then, they were silent
                        for a long moment.

                        "We're to be a team, then," said Angharad at last. "A
                        Fellowship. Glad I am to have you with us, Coinneach.
                        If we're to obtain the Hunter's Horn, we'll need a
                        strong Warrior on our side."

                        Coinneach swelled with pride as he met her eyes.
                        Angharad was nearly a woman, and lovely to look upon.
                        A warm glow suffused his being as the Cymru lass
                        smiled at him. She needed him, he thought in
                        contentment. An unfamiliar longing swept over him, and
                        he tore his gaze away from hers with great difficulty.

                        Angharad noticed his expression, and her cheeks
                        colored to bright rose. She turned her head
                        self-consciously, and grew silent once more. Her
                        blue-green eyes became shadowed. Once more, she was
                        the mysterious Cymru lass they had known.

                        "We cannae tell the folks," said Coinneach
                        thoughtfully, attempting to salvage the moment. "They
                        will ne'er agree to let ye leave. Then, there's the
                        matter o' figuring out where to go. Do any o' ye have
                        any idea where the Horn might be?"

                        "Nay," said Eilidh sadly. "The Arsaidh said the geas
                        would lead us tae the Horn. Howe'er, I dunnae ken how
                        that may be."

                        "Leave our escape to me," said Angharad suddenly. Her
                        expression was one of supreme confidence. "Once we've
                        left Dun Greum, we'll worry about where to find the
                        Horn."

                        Coinneach had a small pouch of golden aurils and
                        silver argyls, which had been given to him by his
                        father. After arranging a meeting place, the young
                        Warrior left to purchase what supplies he could. The
                        three youths went back inside to wait for darkness.
                        Then, they would make their move.

                        Seumas kept Eoin busy for the rest of the day. There
                        were sheep and chickens to be fed, and firewood to
                        chop. The roof of the chicken coop had been damaged in
                        the storm, so father and son worked to repair it. By
                        the time chores were done, the lad was bone-weary.

                        Meanwhile, Angharad and Eilidh assisted Deirdre with
                        the evening meal. Soon, a pot of cock-a-leekie was
                        simmering over the fire. Chicken, Dabronian leeks, and
                        dried Seren plums had been combined into a thick soup.
                        It was mildly spiced, and delicious. They finished
                        eating just as the orange sun disappeared over the
                        horizon.

                        Eoin and Eilidh retired early, citing exhaustion from
                        the day's events. Angharad remained awake a while
                        longer, and helped her foster mother wash the dinner
                        dishes. They talked quietly for a time, then Angharad
                        was ready to implement her escape plan.

                        The raven-haired lass sang a hauntingly beautiful
                        Cymru tune, and her foster parents listened in rapt
                        attention. As she sang, Angharad moved her hands
                        fluidly, manipulating the threads of Power she saw
                        there. She wove them with a simple spellsong, and cast
                        a sleep web over her listeners. Sparkling light danced
                        around them, and their eyes closed. Blissful smiles
                        crept across their faces. Soon, they were sleeping
                        soundly.

                        When she was certain Seumas and Deirdre were asleep,
                        Angharad awoke the two twins. The spellsong had not
                        affected them, and they were up in an instant, eager
                        to be on their way. They gathered a small supply of
                        food and equipment, and each took a filled waterskin.
                        Then, they made their way to meet Coinneach.

                        The young Warrior had managed to obtain a Rover, an
                        air-powered vehicle used for transportation on the
                        planet's surface. The vehicle rode on a cushion of
                        elemental air, and was propelled by releasing blasts
                        of air through its thrusters. Enchanted crystals
                        periodically opened a gate into the Realm of Air,
                        replenishing its power source.

                        "Do ye ken how to drive one o' these, Coinneach?"
                        asked Eoin teasingly. "If not, I would gladly
                        volunteer for the job."

                        "As if ye'd have any idea yerself!" scoffed Coinneach.
                        "For yer information, laddie, my Dad taught me how to
                        drive. I'll manage well enow, thank ye!"

                        They loaded their supplies in the Rover's storage
                        compartment, and Coinneach distributed them to
                        equalize the load. The air cushion held up to the
                        weight, and the Warrior nodded in satisfaction. Then,
                        driver and passengers climbed aboard, and the vehicle
                        sank slightly toward the ground. However, it should
                        ride smoothly enough.

                        Coinneach gave a thumbs-up sign, and activated the
                        thrusters. The Rover lurched and bucked before
                        settling into a smooth forward motion. Soon, they had
                        left the small village of Dun Greum far behind. No one
                        questioned their departure, for word of the visitation
                        at the Gathering Place had spread quickly. The four
                        travelers heaved a collective sigh of relief.

                        They traveled for three hours before stopping for the
                        night. Two dome tents were activated with a hiss and a
                        snap; one for Coinneach and Eoin, the other for Eilidh
                        and Angharad. The night was cool, so a heat stick was
                        placed in each tent. They activated at the touch of a
                        button, and the reflective surface inside the tents
                        distributed the heat equally throughout.

                        The howl of a wurg broke the stillness of the night,
                        and Eoin shivered. It sounded again, further away, and
                        he began to relax. Gradually, the normal sounds of the
                        night returned, and he slept.

                        -To be continued

                        =====
                        "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
                        ---------------------------------
                        http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html

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                      • Andoria Sunok
                        Richard: Thoroughly enjoying Creation s Song . Cant wait to read more. Lady A. ... Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com
                        Message 11 of 25 , Jun 11, 2001
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                          Richard: 

                          Thoroughly enjoying "Creation's Song".  Cant wait to read more. <smile>

                          Lady A.



                           

                          >From: Richard McKinley
                          >Reply-To: starshield-rpg@yahoogroups.com
                          >To: starshield-rpg@yahoogroups.com
                          >Subject: [Starshield] SM: Avalon: Creation's Song, Part 3
                          >Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2001 08:21:23 -0700 (PDT)
                          >
                          >Angharad ap Talerin was filled with apprehension as
                          >she listened to Eilidh's story. A flood of unfamiliar
                          >images filled her mind at the mention of the Arsaidh.
                          >A huge wall of lightning swept over her, and Clarsach
                          >dissintegrated all around her. This was followed by
                          >inescapable darkness as she was swallowed by the
                          >earth. She felt an intense sadness, as if she had lost
                          >something of great importance.
                          >
                          >Where had these images come from? In all her fifteen
                          >years of existence, she had experienced none of these
                          >things. Was she, then, having some vision of her
                          >future? If so, she resolved, she would meet that
                          >future head on. It was part of her destiny, and she
                          >would not run from it. That was not the Cymru way.
                          >
                          >Eoin and Eilidh were young, while she was nearly an
                          >adult. She could not abandon them to the quest the
                          >Arsaidh had laid before them. They would need her
                          >Power to stand up to the Daoidhe, the Chaos-Bringers.
                          >She prayed to the Nine that it would be enough.
                          >
                          >Eoin's green eyes were troubled as he said "Why have
                          >we been chosen by the Arsaidh? My training as a
                          >Warrior hasnae even begun. How can I fight the
                          >Daoidhe?"
                          >
                          >"Ye hae other abilities, Eoin," said Eilidh gently,
                          >placing a hand upon her twin's. "Perhaps they are what
                          >is needed."
                          >
                          >A slow flush crept across the lad's face as he
                          >realized what she was referring to. At times, Eoin
                          >seemed to be able to read others' minds. Then, there
                          >was the time when he had fallen from a tree, and had
                          >been knocked unconscious. No one had been able to find
                          >him right away, even when they had passed right beside
                          >him. It was Eilidh who had finally found him, through
                          >the mental bond they shared. She swore that he had
                          >simply appeared from nowhere at her feet when he
                          >regained consciousness.
                          >
                          >Eoin did not understand this strange Power, and so, he
                          >feared it. The twins had told no one, but other
                          >members of the Clan sensed something different about
                          >the lad, and avoided him as much as possible. Touched
                          >by the Sith, some said. So, Eoin was forced to keep
                          >his distance, a fact which he resented.
                          >
                          >"Dunnae speak o' such things," said the lad crossly,
                          >glancing significantly at Angharad. He was angry at
                          >Eilidh for compromising his secret, and to a
                          >non-Dalriadan besides. What had she been thinking?
                          >
                          >"Stop it, Eoin," said Eilidh, her own temper flaring.
                          >"If we are tae be a part o' the Fellowship together,
                          >we cannae keep such things secret! We must know each
                          >of our strengths, including the Power we can call
                          >upon."
                          >
                          >Angharad was mystified by this exchange, and stared
                          >expectantly at her foster brother and sister. Finally,
                          >with an unhappy frown, Eoin nodded, and Eilidh
                          >explained. The Cymru lass looked at him with new
                          >interest.
                          >
                          >"I never suspected," she said at last. "Well, one
                          >confidence deserves another. I have learned to tap the
                          >Power in music. Nothing spectacular, mind you. I can
                          >use music to put someone to sleep, and in some cases,
                          >to avert violence. What about you, Eilidh?"
                          >
                          >Before Eilidh could answer, there was a commotion at
                          >the front door. Seumas had returned from the
                          >Gathering, and with him was Coinneach mac Calum, the
                          >Clan Commander's son. Coinneach proudly wore a weapons
                          >belt, and Eoin felt a slight twinge of envy at the
                          >sight. More importantly, the young Warrior was
                          >wreathed in a golden nimbus of light. He was to be the
                          >fourth member of the Fellowship.
                          >
                          >Seumas seemed strangely subdued as he hugged his wife
                          >and children. It was as if he sensed that something
                          >was afoot, and that it involved his children.
                          >
                          >Coinneach stared at the twins and Angharad, and his
                          >mouth dropped open briefly in surprise. He recovered
                          >quickly, and moved to hug his foster mother and
                          >siblings. He whispered briefly in Angharad's ear, and
                          >she nodded imperceptibly. He straightened, then, and
                          >spoke loudly to cover his surprise.
                          >
                          >"'Tis good to see all o' ye once again! What do ye
                          >think about these, Eoin? I'm now a Clansman,
                          >recognized by Chief Diarmad himself! 'Twill be yer
                          >turn in another four years, aye? We should talk for a
                          >while."
                          >
                          >The young Warrior patted the Power Sword and Drach on
                          >his belt, then gave a signal they had often used as
                          >children when they were plotting some mischief. Eoin
                          >had picked up on the signal, and congratulated his
                          >foster brother with a shy smile. They left the hut
                          >together, leaving Eilidh and Angharad to follow when
                          >they were able.
                          >
                          >When the four were together once more, they went over
                          >the events of the day. Coinneach told of the
                          >visitation at the Gathering Place, and Eilidh repeated
                          >the story of her experience. Then, they were silent
                          >for a long moment.
                          >
                          >"We're to be a team, then," said Angharad at last. "A
                          >Fellowship. Glad I am to have you with us, Coinneach.
                          >If we're to obtain the Hunter's Horn, we'll need a
                          >strong Warrior on our side."
                          >
                          >Coinneach swelled with pride as he met her eyes.
                          >Angharad was nearly a woman, and lovely to look upon.
                          >A warm glow suffused his being as the Cymru lass
                          >smiled at him. She needed him, he thought in
                          >contentment. An unfamiliar longing swept over him, and
                          >he tore his gaze away from hers with great difficulty.
                          >
                          >Angharad noticed his expression, and her cheeks
                          >colored to bright rose. She turned her head
                          >self-consciously, and grew silent once more. Her
                          >blue-green eyes became shadowed. Once more, she was
                          >the mysterious Cymru lass they had known.
                          >
                          >"We cannae tell the folks," said Coinneach
                          >thoughtfully, attempting to salvage the moment. "They
                          >will ne'er agree to let ye leave. Then, there's the
                          >matter o' figuring out where to go. Do any o' ye have
                          >any idea where the Horn might be?"
                          >
                          >"Nay," said Eilidh sadly. "The Arsaidh said the geas
                          >would lead us tae the Horn. Howe'er, I dunnae ken how
                          >that may be."
                          >
                          >"Leave our escape to me," said Angharad suddenly. Her
                          >expression was one of supreme confidence. "Once we've
                          >left Dun Greum, we'll worry about where to find the
                          >Horn."
                          >
                          >Coinneach had a small pouch of golden aurils and
                          >silver argyls, which had been given to him by his
                          >father. After arranging a meeting place, the young
                          >Warrior left to purchase what supplies he could. The
                          >three youths went back inside to wait for darkness.
                          >Then, they would make their move.
                          >
                          >Seumas kept Eoin busy for the rest of the day. There
                          >were sheep and chickens to be fed, and firewood to
                          >chop. The roof of the chicken coop had been damaged in
                          >the storm, so father and son worked to repair it. By
                          >the time chores were done, the lad was bone-weary.
                          >
                          >Meanwhile, Angharad and Eilidh assisted Deirdre with
                          >the evening meal. Soon, a pot of cock-a-leekie was
                          >simmering over the fire. Chicken, Dabronian leeks, and
                          >dried Seren plums had been combined into a thick soup.
                          >It was mildly spiced, and delicious. They finished
                          >eating just as the orange sun disappeared over the
                          >horizon.
                          >
                          >Eoin and Eilidh retired early, citing exhaustion from
                          >the day's events. Angharad remained awake a while
                          >longer, and helped her foster mother wash the dinner
                          >dishes. They talked quietly for a time, then Angharad
                          >was ready to implement her escape plan.
                          >
                          >The raven-haired lass sang a hauntingly beautiful
                          >Cymru tune, and her foster parents listened in rapt
                          >attention. As she sang, Angharad moved her hands
                          >fluidly, manipulating the threads of Power she saw
                          >there. She wove them with a simple spellsong, and cast
                          >a sleep web over her listeners. Sparkling light danced
                          >around them, and their eyes closed. Blissful smiles
                          >crept across their faces. Soon, they were sleeping
                          >soundly.
                          >
                          >When she was certain Seumas and Deirdre were asleep,
                          >Angharad awoke the two twins. The spellsong had not
                          >affected them, and they were up in an instant, eager
                          >to be on their way. They gathered a small supply of
                          >food and equipment, and each took a filled waterskin.
                          >Then, they made their way to meet Coinneach.
                          >
                          >The young Warrior had managed to obtain a Rover, an
                          >air-powered vehicle used for transportation on the
                          >planet's surface. The vehicle rode on a cushion of
                          >elemental air, and was propelled by releasing blasts
                          >of air through its thrusters. Enchanted crystals
                          >periodically opened a gate into the Realm of Air,
                          >replenishing its power source.
                          >
                          >"Do ye ken how to drive one o' these, Coinneach?"
                          >asked Eoin teasingly. "If not, I would gladly
                          >volunteer for the job."
                          >
                          >"As if ye'd have any idea yerself!" scoffed Coinneach.
                          >"For yer information, laddie, my Dad taught me how to
                          >drive. I'll manage well enow, thank ye!"
                          >
                          >They loaded their supplies in the Rover's storage
                          >compartment, and Coinneach distributed them to
                          >equalize the load. The air cushion held up to the
                          >weight, and the Warrior nodded in satisfaction. Then,
                          >driver and passengers climbed aboard, and the vehicle
                          >sank slightly toward the ground. However, it should
                          >ride smoothly enough.
                          >
                          >Coinneach gave a thumbs-up sign, and activated the
                          >thrusters. The Rover lurched and bucked before
                          >settling into a smooth forward motion. Soon, they had
                          >left the small village of Dun Greum far behind. No one
                          >questioned their departure, for word of the visitation
                          >at the Gathering Place had spread quickly. The four
                          >travelers heaved a collective sigh of relief.
                          >
                          >They traveled for three hours before stopping for the
                          >night. Two dome tents were activated with a hiss and a
                          >snap; one for Coinneach and Eoin, the other for Eilidh
                          >and Angharad. The night was cool, so a heat stick was
                          >placed in each tent. They activated at the touch of a
                          >button, and the reflective surface inside the tents
                          >distributed the heat equally throughout.
                          >
                          >The howl of a wurg broke the stillness of the night,
                          >and Eoin shivered. It sounded again, further away, and
                          >he began to relax. Gradually, the normal sounds of the
                          >night returned, and he slept.
                          >
                          >-To be continued
                          >
                          >=====
                          >"May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
                          >---------------------------------
                          >http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html
                          >
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                        • Richard McKinley
                          Thanks, Lady A. I m thoroughly enjoying writing it too. ===== May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet
                          Message 12 of 25 , Jun 12, 2001
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                            Thanks, Lady A. I'm thoroughly enjoying writing it
                            too. <LOL>

                            =====
                            "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
                            ---------------------------------
                            http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html

                            __________________________________________________
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                          • Richard McKinley
                            OOC: The names in Creation s Song are mostly Scottish Gaelic or Welsh. For those interested, here is a brief pronunciation guide to help you enjoy the story
                            Message 13 of 25 , Jun 13, 2001
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                              OOC: The names in Creation's Song are mostly Scottish
                              Gaelic or Welsh. For those interested, here is a brief
                              pronunciation guide to help you enjoy the story more.

                              Aimsir: AIM-sheer.
                              Amhlaigh: ahv-LYE.
                              Angharad: AHNG-huh-rahd.
                              Arsaidh: AHR-say.
                              bean sith: bawn SHEE.
                              Cailidh: KAY-lee.
                              Clarsach: CLAR-sah.
                              Coinneach: COIN-nekh (ch as in Scottish loch).
                              Cymru: CUM-ree.
                              Daoidhe: dow-EE.
                              Daoine: dow-EE-nuh.
                              Dafyd: DAH-vid.
                              Dealrach: JEL-rah.
                              Diarmad: JAR-mud.
                              Dun Coen: dune coin.
                              Eilidh: EE-lee.
                              Eoin: AY-oh-in.
                              Fionval: FIN-vahl.
                              Iomhair: EYE-vair.
                              pentir: PEN-teer (Tuathan for "five day"); Avalon's
                              week.
                              Seumas: SHO0-muhs.
                              Sine: SHEE-nuh.
                              Sinnsear: SHIN-shawr.
                              Sith: shee.
                              Slanaigh: sluh-NYE.
                              Talerin: tuh-LAIR-in.

                              Hope this helps out my readers. Talk to ya later!


                              =====
                              "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
                              ---------------------------------
                              http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html

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                            • Richard McKinley
                              Stars blazed among the velvety black backdrop of the night sky as Coinneach stood watch over his young charges. The two dome tents were sharply silhouetted
                              Message 14 of 25 , Jun 15, 2001
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                                Stars blazed among the velvety black backdrop of the
                                night sky as Coinneach stood watch over his young
                                charges. The two dome tents were sharply silhouetted
                                against the dark forms of the hills they had just
                                left. Perhaps they should have brought camouflage nets
                                with them. The blue fabric stood out sharply against
                                the crimson blades of grass and the golden brown of
                                the hills. They were an easy target for hostile
                                creatures.

                                The young Warrior absently plucked a blade of grass,
                                and examined it more closely. A fine network of green
                                veins branched across the blade, enabling the plant to
                                draw nourishment from Dalriada, the sun. He marveled
                                at the intricate design, and imagined light starting
                                at the base of the stem to work its way along the
                                network of veins, until the blade shone with an inner
                                radiance.

                                "The Light o' the Arsaidh branches into all areas o'
                                life, nourishing and sustaining us," said Coinneach
                                softly, and smiled at his cleverness. Some day, he
                                would have to write that down. It could be the start
                                of a beautiful poem.

                                Now, his thoughts turned to Angharad. Had he only
                                imagined, or misinterpreted her interest in him? He
                                closed his eyes, and pictured the Cymru lass' face as
                                she spoke to him. Yes, he decided, there was something
                                there. Exploring a relationship with her could prove
                                very rewarding. He smiled again, allowing his mind to
                                fantasize about the outcome.

                                A small rock clattered down the hillside, interrupting
                                his pleasant dreams. Coinneach leaped to his feet in
                                an instant, and his sharp eyes scanned the area. His
                                Warrior instincts screamed a warning, and he drew and
                                activated his Power Sword just as a small shadow
                                detached itself from the hillside and hurtled toward
                                him. It was joined by other shapes, and he shouted to
                                awaken his companions.

                                The camp was under attack by golden brown, humanoid
                                creatures. They were the size of a ten-year-old child,
                                with muscles that spoke of many years of hard living.
                                Their eyes were huge and black, with vertically slit
                                yellow pupils. Sharp fangs filled their large mouths,
                                beneath bulbous noses.

                                "Bogles," he muttered as he swung the blade of light
                                back and forth in warning. The first of the creatures
                                fell to a chest slash, and the air was filled with the
                                odor of seared flesh. Then, Coinneach was surrounded
                                by the creatures.

                                Eoin, Eilidh, and Angharad came at a run to help the
                                Warrior. The boy was armed only with a dagger, which
                                he had never used as a weapon before. Each of the
                                girls was armed with a stout staff.

                                There were about a dozen bogles, armed with spears or
                                daggers. They called out insults in their crude
                                tongue, and cruel laughter greeted the words.

                                Eoin chose a dagger-wielding bogle for his first
                                opponent, since this would give him the advantage of
                                superior reach. The red-haired lad slashed with his
                                dagger, but the clumsy attack was easily blocked. His
                                opponent's dagger slashed out, and Eoin twisted
                                quickly, narrowly avoiding the attack.

                                The lad swayed for a momentas he fought to regain his
                                balance. The bogle seized the advantage. A gnarled
                                fist lashed out, catching Eoin solidly in the
                                shoulder. Eoin fell on his back, and rolled
                                instinctively to lessen the impact.

                                With a harsh laugh, the bogle was upon the lad. Now,
                                greater strength gave it the advantage. It pinned Eoin
                                to the ground, and its dagger began a gleaming arc
                                toward his chest.

                                A staff intercepted the blade in midstrike, rapping
                                sharply against the creature's fingers. The dagger
                                flew from the bogle's grasp, and Eoin heaved with
                                every ounce of strength he possessed. His opponent
                                flew into the air to land a short distance away.

                                Eoin glanced gratefully at Angharad as she leaped to
                                finish what she had begun. There was a sharp crack as
                                her staff connected with the creature's head, and its
                                tongue lolled out as its head sagged limply to the
                                ground. Just to be certain, the Cymru lass smashed the
                                end of her staff into the bridge of the creature's
                                nose, driving fragments of splintered bone into her
                                opponent's brain.

                                Rather than attack directly, Eilidh decided to try a
                                spellsong to even the odds somewhat. She concentrated
                                upon the bond she felt with the earth, and sang to
                                Clarsach, begging for help. In her mind's eye, she saw
                                the earth reach out to stop the creatures.

                                The crimson grass beneath the bogles' feet shimmered
                                with pale green light, and the creatures glanced at it
                                apprehensively. Then, the grass began to grow at a
                                fantastic rate, entangling four creatures who were not
                                quick enough to escape. They were immobilized,
                                effectively removed from the battle.

                                Suddenly, a great roar sounded from a hilltop, and a
                                huge boulder crashed into the trapped bogles. All eyes
                                turned in dismay, wondering what was happening. A
                                huge, green-haired man with a flowing beard pounded
                                his barrel-like chest with huge fists, and let out
                                another deafening roar. The newcomer was three ilars
                                in height!

                                "Begone, demon-spawn!" thundered the giant,
                                punctuating his speech with another thrown boulder.
                                "Begone, or face the wrath o' Rukh the Mighty!"

                                The bogles lost heart and fled, terrified by the
                                gigantic apparition. Coinneach turned to face the
                                Bolg, Power Sword held at the ready. To his amazement,
                                the giant was wreathed in a golden glow, marking him
                                one of the Fellowship!

                                "Are ye well, wee ones?" asked the Bolg. "Ye hae
                                nothing to fear frae me. Ye 'peared tae be in trouble,
                                so I thought tae help ye out. What brings ye so far
                                frae hame?"

                                Coinneach watched warily as the Bolg approached,
                                keeping his guard up. The giant kept his massive arms
                                at his sides, palms facing outward in a
                                non-threatening manner. Gold-flecked eyes twinkled at
                                the young Warrior's courage.

                                "If I had wished tae harm ye, those boulders would hae
                                crushed yer skulls instead o' yer opponents," said the
                                Bolg reassuringly. "I'm called Rukh. Each o' ye shines
                                like the stars. What glamrie surrounds ye? Are ye o'
                                the Sith?"

                                "Nay," said Coinneach, finding his tongue at last.
                                "'Tis a geas placed upon us by the Arsaidh. Ye have
                                the same look about ye, in our eyes. We are the
                                Fellowship o' the Horn. Will ye journey wi' us?"

                                Rukh stared skeptically at his huge hands, seeking the
                                golden glow that he saw in the wee ones. Finally,
                                almost casually, he said "Funny that ye should mention
                                the Horn. Are ye refering to Adharc Sealgair, the
                                Hunter's Horn?" (Pronunciation note: AH-thahrk
                                SHAWL-yair; th soft as in "then".)

                                "Aye," said the Warrior cautiously as he deactivated
                                his Power Sword and clipped it to his belt. "Do ye
                                know aught about it?"

                                "Per'aps," said the Bolg thoughtfully. "I ken that the
                                Horn has the Power tae wake the Wild Hunt. What do ye
                                ken o' the legend?"

                                In answer, Angharad recited an ancient Cymru rhyme.

                                "Should Balance e'er be overthrown,
                                The world we know will come undone.
                                Look to the Power of ages past;
                                The first will come, both hard and fast,
                                In answer to the Hunter's Horn,
                                In darkest night or brightest morn.
                                When rides the Hunt, let all beware,
                                Lest ye be caught in Hunter's snare."

                                "Aye, that's the way o' it, lass," said Rukh solemnly.
                                "Waking the Sealg Allaidh is nae light matter. The
                                Wild Hunt is a force o' neither light nor dark. It
                                exists only tae uphold the Balance. It may turn on ye
                                just as well."

                                "Regardless," said Coinneach just as solemnly, "We are
                                called to search for the Horn by the Arsaidh. Ye have
                                been chosen for the Fellowship as well. Will ye
                                journey wi' us?"

                                "Aye, Daoine," said the Bolg, and let out a loud
                                guffaw. "'Twill make a fine tale for the Bards. Let
                                the Daoidhe beware the Fellowship o' the Horn!"

                                -To be continued

                                =====
                                "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
                                ---------------------------------
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                              • Richard McKinley
                                Eoin was moody after the fight with the bogles. The red-haired lad resented the fact that he had been nearly useless in the fight. He would have been killed if
                                Message 15 of 25 , Jun 16, 2001
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                                  Eoin was moody after the fight with the bogles. The
                                  red-haired lad resented the fact that he had been
                                  nearly useless in the fight. He would have been killed
                                  if Angharad had not intervened. If he was to live up
                                  to his responibility as a member of the Fellowship, he
                                  would have to learn how to fight.

                                  He brought up this concern to Coinneach, who eyed him
                                  thoughtfully for a moment before replying. "I suppose
                                  ye're right, Eoin," he said at last. "We all must know
                                  how to fight if we're to succeed in our quest. E'en
                                  though ye havenae reached the age for bearing weapons,
                                  we shall have to make an exception for ye and Eilidh.
                                  I'll teach ye how to handle a dagger for now, until we
                                  obtain a suitable weapon for ye. Angharad can teach
                                  Eilidh how to use a staff."

                                  Drawing a dagger from his boot, Coinneach began with
                                  the basics. He demonstrated some defensive and
                                  offensive stances, along with simple blocks and
                                  strikes. Then, the Warrior moved onward to some
                                  evasive maneuvers. Eoin listened and watched intently,
                                  and mimicked his foster brother's moves. At first,
                                  they felt awkward, but as the session progressed, the
                                  lad executed them more smoothly.

                                  "Well done, for a novice, Eoin," said Coinneach
                                  encouragingly. "Keep this up, and ye'll soon be a
                                  first-class Warrior. Each time we stop to rest, we'll
                                  have another training session. Dunnae worry, lad.
                                  Ye'll do just fine."

                                  Eoin grinned happily, although his muscles ached from
                                  the exercise. He was making progress. After a hearty
                                  breakfast, they discussed their next move.

                                  "Well, Rukh," said Angharad with an appraising look at
                                  the massive Bolg. "So far, we have no idea where to
                                  look for the Horn. What about you? Any ideas?"

                                  The giant scratched his head for a moment, considering
                                  the question. He appeared to be deep in thought, and
                                  did not answer for some time. Finally, he said "'Tis
                                  said that the Horn is in the possession o' the Sith.
                                  The lands o' the Sith lie beyond the Glaumrie
                                  Mountains. 'Twill be quite a journey, my friends."

                                  Eilidh thought back to her lessons with the
                                  Lorekeepers. The Glaumrie Mountains, along with
                                  Drachen Fen, formed the eastern boundary of Dalriada.
                                  She shivered. Bardic tales wove a shroud of mystery
                                  about these areas. It was said that many bold
                                  adventurers had tried to cross the Glaumrie Mountains,
                                  but none had ever returned. The Sith did not take
                                  kindly to invaders in their realms.

                                  A bright, clear tone sounded in her mind, affirming
                                  Rukh's words. Very well; if that was where their quest
                                  would lead, she would face even the Sith bravely.

                                  "Then that is where we must go," she said firmly, her
                                  green eyes reflecting her determination. "The Arsaidh
                                  have confirmed it."

                                  With a definite goal in mind, the small band felt much
                                  better. They began to plan their route accordingly.
                                  First, they would travel to Lost End, a village near
                                  the center of Dalriada. This would be their last
                                  contact with civilization before reaching Tir Sithan
                                  (pronunciation: teer SHEE-uhn).

                                  That being decided, they deflated their tents, and
                                  made ready for departure. However, they ran into a
                                  problem almost immediately. The Rover would not hold
                                  the Bolg's weight. That meant that Rukh would have to
                                  walk. They would be forced to travel at his rate of
                                  speed, a mere thirty milars (kilometers) per day.

                                  "Might as well sell the Rover once we reach Lost End,"
                                  said Coinneach with a sigh. "We can buy kaelar
                                  (pronunciation: KYE-lahr) for riding instead. We'll
                                  make about the same time that way, but it willnae seem
                                  as slow."

                                  Kaelar were domesticated, lizard-like creatures native
                                  to the hills of Dalriada. They were trained to carry
                                  riders or supplies. They were two ilars in length, and
                                  heavily built. Soft scales of golden brown covered
                                  their hides, providing some protection against attack,
                                  and natural camouflage in the hills. Kaelar had
                                  vicious claws, and most were trained in combat as
                                  well. They could carry a Daoine with ease, and were
                                  fairly intelligent. They would be a welcome addition
                                  to the group.

                                  The orange sun was midway to its zenith when the
                                  Fellowship resumed its journey at last. A scattering
                                  of wispy clouds rolled lazily overhead, but held no
                                  threat of rain. A gentle breeze stirred the grassy
                                  plain, carrying with it the scent of wildflowers.
                                  Flowers in various shades and colors dotted the plain,
                                  providing relief from the otherwise constant sea of
                                  crimson.

                                  "'Tis a fine day, is it not?" said Angharad, breathing
                                  deeply of the perfumed air. Her blue-green eyes took
                                  on a dreamy expression, and she did not hear
                                  Coinneach's reply.

                                  Suddenly, an image superimposed itself over her
                                  surroundings, and she gasped in horror. She was in a
                                  field littered with dead bodies, and all was black
                                  desolation. Wisps of smoke rose from the scorched
                                  earth, and her eyes burned and stung. Then, the vision
                                  faded, and she was once more surrounded by beauty.

                                  Coinneach had stopped the Rover, and was staring at
                                  her in concern. "Are ye well, lass? Ye cried out as if
                                  the Deil himsel' were after ye. What ails ye?"

                                  Angharad was silent for a long moment as she tried to
                                  collect her thoughts. Had this been a vision of their
                                  future? If so, she should warn them. If not, what had
                                  she seen? Perhaps it was a threat to her alone. Why
                                  worry her companions needlessly?

                                  "'Twas nothing," she said at last. "I'm fine. 'Twas
                                  probably a reaction to our battle with the bogles.
                                  I've never killed before. Don't worry. I'm past it
                                  now."

                                  "Maybe so," said Coinneach, but he sounded
                                  unconvinced. "If ye have any more o' these spells, let
                                  us know. Perhaps we'll be able to do something to
                                  help. We need ye sound in mind and body."

                                  "I will," promised the Cymru lass. "But, truly, you've
                                  nothing to worry about. As I said, I'm fine now." She
                                  gave him her most radiant smile, and he melted beneath
                                  it. She was just beginning to discover the Power she
                                  held over men's hearts, but knew instinctively how to
                                  use it. This gave her great satisfaction.

                                  They traveled onward, covering about twenty milars
                                  that day. The trip to Lost End would take
                                  approximately two pentirs, or ten days, more. They
                                  would have to stock up on supplies, for there was no
                                  telling when they would next see civilization.

                                  Coinneach and Angharad conducted the twins' weapons'
                                  training before retiring for the night. Rukh watched
                                  with great amusement, occasionally offering a bit of
                                  his own wisdom.

                                  "Ye must learn how tae sense the Flow," said the Bolg.
                                  Blank stares met his comment, and he tried to explain.
                                  "Each living creature is connected by a current o'
                                  energy, or Essence, if ye prefer. Once ye become aware
                                  o' that energy, what my people call the Flow, ye can
                                  detect any changes that are about to occur. In this
                                  way, ye can anticipate an enemy's attack, and tak'
                                  action tae counter it."

                                  Eoin glanced at Eilidh, and his eyes brightened with
                                  comprehension. Excitedly, he said "I ken what ye mean
                                  by a connection. At times, Eilidh and I ken each
                                  other's thoughts. We can always find each other, and
                                  when Eilidh is hurt or in trouble, I feel it. Is that
                                  what ye mean by the Flow?"

                                  "Aye," said Rukh, pleased to have gotten through to
                                  someone. "The connection is very strong between twins.
                                  'Tis there between all o' us, as well, but much
                                  weaker. Wi' practice, ye can learn tae sense that
                                  connection."

                                  Now, the Bolg paired Eoin with Eilidh, and Coinneach
                                  with Angharad. This was because of their similar
                                  heights and ages, he explained. The Flow would be more
                                  easily detected.

                                  They were to take turns following one another's
                                  movements. One would push, and the other would yield.
                                  First, they would clasp hands as they did so. In this
                                  way, they could gain a feel for the physical sensation
                                  of the push. After they had done so for several
                                  minutes, Rukh told them to try it with their hands a
                                  centil (centimeter) or so apart. They were to try to
                                  sense the resistance, though it was no longer
                                  physical.

                                  After several minutes of this exercise, the Bolg
                                  instructed them to leave their arms at their sides.
                                  "Now, Angharad," he said with a smile. "Close yer
                                  eyes. Coinneach, when ye feel ready, tak' a swing at
                                  her."

                                  Angharad waited nervously, fighting the urge to open
                                  her eyes once more. Then, she felt a slight
                                  disturbance in the air, and her hands moved
                                  instinctively toward it. She caught Coinneach's fist
                                  and twisted her body slightly, directing the blow
                                  harmlessly to the side. Her eyes flew open, and a
                                  smile of delight spread across her face.

                                  "It worked!" she exclaimed. "I was able to sense the
                                  Flow! I can see how this can help in a battle.
                                  Amazing!"

                                  Each of the others was given a turn, and all were able
                                  to duplicate the feat. Then, the pairings were
                                  changed, and the process was repeated. The results
                                  were the same.

                                  "Ye see?" said Rukh when they had all finished.
                                  "Remember this well, Daoine. Next time, it may be a
                                  matter o' life or death. First, feel the connection.
                                  Then, act accordingly."

                                  The sun had long since disappeared beneath the western
                                  horizon. Clouds hid the stars within their soft
                                  embrace. Laneir's chariot shone feebly behind a cloud,
                                  but Kethir was hidden completely. The Guardian of Law
                                  ruled tonight. It was a good omen.

                                  Eilidh lay in the tent beside Angharad, and tried to
                                  sleep. However, her thoughts returned to the Flow, and
                                  the lessons she had learned that day.

                                  Since there was a connection between all living
                                  things, could it extend to other things as well? She
                                  had always felt a bond with the earth, and became sick
                                  whenever a storm arrived. Thus, it followed that she
                                  should be able to detect a storm before it arrived. A
                                  disturbance in the Flow should be noticed.

                                  The red-haired girl concentrated, trying to sense the
                                  Flow of Clarsach itself. A warm feeling of love and
                                  contentment swept over her, and she smiled in
                                  response. There was nothing to signify the approach of
                                  a storm. Reassured by her efforts, Eilidh slept.

                                  -To be continued


                                  =====
                                  "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
                                  ---------------------------------
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                                • Richard McKinley
                                  There had been a time when the grass had been green, Angharad reflected sadly. The thought had come from out of nowhere, and she was startled. All her life,
                                  Message 16 of 25 , Jun 18, 2001
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                                    There had been a time when the grass had been green,
                                    Angharad reflected sadly. The thought had come from
                                    out of nowhere, and she was startled. All her life,
                                    the grass had been crimson streaked with green. Try as
                                    she might, she could not remember a time when it had
                                    not been. Yet, when she closed her eyes, she could
                                    envision a world where the grass was a brilliant
                                    green, as were the leaves on the trees. She was struck
                                    by the beauty of the scene, and tears filled her eyes.

                                    What was happening to her? Where were these visions
                                    coming from? An indescribable sense of loss swept over
                                    her, and closed like a fist over her heart. Unable to
                                    contain the powerful emotions any longer, she wept.
                                    Her shoulders heaved, and great sobs were wrenched
                                    from the depths of her soul.

                                    A pair of strong arms encircled her, and she leaned
                                    into that embrace, desperate for comfort. She buried
                                    her face in a muscular shoulder, pouring out her
                                    anguish. Gentle hands moved upon her back, trying to
                                    lend her their strength.

                                    When the flood of tears finally abated, Angharad
                                    stared into a pair of deep blue eyes. Coinneach's
                                    expression was full of concern, and the Flow between
                                    them had changed. There was a soft, barely discernible
                                    melody underlying it, two streams of music that
                                    Harmonized beautifully. One look at the Warrior's face
                                    showed that he had sensed the change as well.

                                    The twins and Rukh had joined them, and gazed
                                    questioningly at Angharad. Her cheeks colored in
                                    embarrassment, and she pulled free of Coinneach's
                                    embrace.

                                    "Tell us what ye've been hiding, Angharad," said
                                    Coinneach at last. "Ye cannae deal wi' it alone. We're
                                    a Fellowship, remember?"

                                    "Aye," said the raven-haired lass. "That we are."
                                    Suddenly, she wanted to tell them everything. Words
                                    poured from her lips in a flood. She told them of the
                                    visions she had experienced, from the first to the
                                    most recent, and of her uncertainty about their
                                    origins. She told them about the sense of having lost
                                    something of great importance, and the emptiness that
                                    resulted. When she had finally finished her tale, her
                                    heart felt much lighter.

                                    "Ye're gifted wi' the Second Sight," said Rukh with
                                    conviction. "'Tis the past ye're seeing, lass. My
                                    people hae legends o' just such a warld as ye
                                    describe. In her youth, Clarsach was green and
                                    vibrant. Thro' the years, something has changed."

                                    The sun had risen in the east, casting an orange glow
                                    upon their surroundings. as they ate breakfast, they
                                    discussed the revelations that they had just received.

                                    "Something is changing the world we live in?" said
                                    Eoin doubtfully. "I dunnae ken how that can be. I
                                    dunnae remember seeing anything change. What Power,
                                    short o' the Arsaidh, can do such a thing? And why?"

                                    No one had any answers, and Eoin lapsed into an
                                    uncomfortable silence. Then, Eilidh felt it, a shift
                                    in the Flow. Nausea clutched at her stomach, and a
                                    stabbing pain shot through her head.

                                    "Storm!" she managed to gasp out. "Into the tents, all
                                    o' ye. 'Tis all the protection we have. Hurry!"

                                    The wind was building in strength, stirring the grassy
                                    plain into a frenzy. Seething clouds swept across the
                                    sky, masking the light of the sun. The five companions
                                    crowded into one tent, and the green-haired Borg
                                    shielded his smaller companions with his bulk. Then,
                                    the storm was upon them in all its fury.

                                    The heavens were rent by a thunderous crash. Lightning
                                    danced madly across the sky, and great hailstones
                                    drummed upon the tents. The wind shrieked and howled
                                    in malicious glee as it sought to rip the tents from
                                    their moorings.

                                    Eilidh clutched her stomach in agony, fighting down
                                    the gorge that sought for release. A bitter taste rose
                                    in her throat, and her head pounded madly. She closed
                                    her eyes tightly, and pressed a hand to her temple in
                                    an effort to ease the pain. Then, the red-haired lass
                                    could stand it no longer, and she sank into darkness.

                                    Eoin caught his twin as she sagged, and held her close
                                    to him. He reached out with his thoughts, panic
                                    threatening to overwhelm him. Her mind was a blank to
                                    him, and he bit his lower lip in frustration. He tried
                                    again, using all the Power he could muster, and made
                                    contact for a brief moment. It was the merest flash of
                                    acknowledgment, but it was enough. She lived, and
                                    tears of relief welled in his eyes.

                                    "Be safe, Eilidh," he murmured quietly. "Please be
                                    safe." A small sigh escaped her lips, and her weight
                                    shifted ever so slightly.

                                    The hail had changed to rain, and the wind had quieted
                                    somewhat. More and more time elapsed between lightning
                                    bolts, and eventually, they stopped altogether.
                                    Thunder receded into the distance, and the wind died
                                    out completely. Soon, the only sound was the pit-pat
                                    of raindrops upon the tent. One hour later, even that
                                    ceased. The storm had passed, and they had survived.

                                    Eilidh stirred in Eoin's arms, and looked around
                                    uncomprehendingly for a moment. Then, her eyes
                                    cleared, and she rubbed her forehead in an effort to
                                    alleviate the pain. She pulled hurriedly away from him
                                    as her stomach lurched, and headed for the entrance to
                                    the tent. She barely made it outside before she was
                                    violently sick.

                                    Eoin tried to reach her, but Angharad was quicker. The
                                    raven-haired lass placed an arm around her foster
                                    sister, supporting her, and whispered words of
                                    comfort.

                                    When Eilidh had finished, Angharad produced a
                                    handkerchief, wet it down, and wiped off the younger
                                    lass' face. Eilidh took the handkerchief and blew her
                                    nose, wincing at the acrid stench that burned her
                                    nostrils.

                                    "Rinse first," Angharad instructed, holding a water
                                    skin out to her. "Then drink." The younger lass did as
                                    directed, spitting out two mouthfuls before taking a
                                    long swallow. The cool liquid soothed her throat, and
                                    washed away the bitter taste of bile. When, she had
                                    drunk her fill, she handed the water skin back to
                                    Angharad and thanked her.

                                    Something was different about their surroundings.
                                    Twisted, stunted shrubs dotted the plain here and
                                    there. Wicked-looking thorns curved from the branches,
                                    thirsty for blood. There was a wrongness, a Discord,
                                    in the air.

                                    Coinneach cried out in astonishment, and sank to his
                                    knees. Plucking a blade of grass, he studied it
                                    closely, and his expression turned grim. He held out
                                    the blade of grass, inviting his companions to examine
                                    it as well.

                                    Eoin studied the grass blade, and slowly,
                                    comprehension dawned upon him. The blade was crimson,
                                    but unbroken by the familiar green network of veins.
                                    Clarsach had changed, indeed.

                                    "'Tis the storms," said Coinneach in shocked horror.
                                    "Somehow, they change the face o' our world. How is
                                    that possible?"

                                    Now, Eilidh remembered her conversation with the
                                    Arsaidh. Slanaigh had said that the Daoidhe were
                                    responsible for the storms. Somehow, they were able to
                                    create a wall of pure Chaos, and direct it across the
                                    land! Incredible as it seemed, that force was great
                                    enough to alter the face of the earth.

                                    The changes had been introduced gradually over the
                                    course of many centuries. That was why they had never
                                    noticed. But, what did the Daoidhe hope to accomplish?
                                    The answer to that question could be crucial to the
                                    world's survival.

                                    Angharad's expression changed to one of controlled
                                    fury as she realized the implications of what they
                                    were seeing. The Daoidhe were poisoning her world,
                                    seeking to remake it in their image. For a moment,
                                    Eilidh saw great Power reflected in the sea-blue eyes,
                                    and she was forced to avert her gaze, lest she be
                                    overwhelmed. Then, the fire left the Cymru lass' eyes,
                                    and she was just her foster sister again. What was
                                    going on?

                                    The other tent had been ripped from its moorings, and
                                    it lay a short distance away. A quick examination
                                    revealed many lacerations due to the thorny shrubs
                                    that had suddenly appeared. The tent was damaged
                                    beyond repair.

                                    "So much for sleeping in comfort," said Coinneach
                                    wryly. "We only have the one tent, now. Hope ye like
                                    our company, lassies! Ye'll have that pleasure until
                                    we can buy a new one."

                                    He winked at Angharad, and smiled lewdly. The Cymru
                                    lass' smile held the chill of winter as she replied
                                    "See that you keep to your side of the tent, Warrior.
                                    Else, your eyes will be looking out from another part
                                    of your anatomy!"

                                    Their eyes held one another's for a long moment, and
                                    Coinneach's smile vanished. His eyes were the first to
                                    drop. Perhaps he had seen something of what Eilidh had
                                    seen in Angharad.

                                    "'Twas only a jest," he mumbled dispiritedly. "I would
                                    ne'er force myself on a woman. I'm sorry if I offended
                                    ye."

                                    Angharad's gaze softened. She walked over to
                                    Coinneach, and took his chin in her hand. She tilted
                                    his head until their gazes met once more, and kissed
                                    him briefly on the lips. An electric tingle passed
                                    between them, pleasant and warm.

                                    "I know, Coinneach," she said softly. "You are a man
                                    of Honor. I'm sorry I hurt your feelings. Forgive me?"

                                    "O' course I do," he said. "I dunnae want to hurt ye
                                    in any way. Life's too precious to live out within the
                                    chains o' Hate. I would defend yer honor wi' my life,
                                    if need be. Do ye ken what I'm saying?"

                                    "I think I do," said Angharad wonderingly. The
                                    handsome Warrior was in love with her. But, how did
                                    she feel about him? Part of her was attracted to him,
                                    yet another part rebelled against such thoughts. Best
                                    not to give him too much encouragement. "Hold that
                                    thought for now. I have much to consider."

                                    She stepped away from him, the memory of their kiss
                                    still fresh in her mind. There were unfamiliar
                                    stirrings within her, and she was confused. Why had
                                    she done such a thing? Suddenly, life was very
                                    complicated. She traveled in silence that day, lost in
                                    her own thoughts.

                                    -To be continued


                                    =====
                                    "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
                                    ---------------------------------
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                                  • Richard McKinley
                                    They are beginning to understand, said Dealrach to his brothers and sisters. The Arsaidh nodded in agreement. Amhlaigh is becoming conscious o his Power.
                                    Message 17 of 25 , Jun 22, 2001
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                                      "They are beginning to understand," said Dealrach to
                                      his brothers and sisters. The Arsaidh nodded in
                                      agreement. "Amhlaigh is becoming conscious o' his
                                      Power. Already, Clarsach has changed much. Soon,
                                      conditions will be right for the Daoidhe to make their
                                      move. Will the Fellowship find the Horn in time to
                                      stop them?"

                                      "There are yet four to join the Fellowship," said
                                      Slanaigh. "Then, their Power will be complete. I hope
                                      it will be in time. Else, only the Silver Harp can
                                      save us."

                                      "The Silver Harp," said Aimsir softly, with reverence.
                                      "Amhlaigh alone can coax music from her. For all
                                      others, she remains silent. So much depends upon him.
                                      Shaper o' Worlds, First Bard o' Clarsach. I pray this
                                      current incarnation will prove equal to the task."

                                      ********

                                      Three days later, the grim band found themselves on
                                      the western bank of the River Lirin. A sturdy wooden
                                      bridge spanned the river, for which Coinneach was
                                      grateful. The crossing should present no problem.

                                      "Wait," said Eilidh as he was about to guide the Rover
                                      onto the bridge. She sensed Discord in the area, but
                                      couldn't pinpoint its source. Coinneach stopped the
                                      vehicle, and cast a questioning look at the red-haired
                                      lass.

                                      "There is something wrong, but I cannae tell what,"
                                      she elaborated. "I feel Discord emanating from the
                                      area o' the bridge. If we try to cross, I feel
                                      something terrible will happen."

                                      "I will cross first," volunteered Rukh. "If something
                                      happens, I stand a better chance o' surviving it. The
                                      rest o' ye can guard my back."

                                      Without waiting for a reply, the Bolg started across
                                      the bridge. He walked boldly, with no trace of fear.
                                      The bridge held his weight with ease, and he reached
                                      the halfway mark with no problems.

                                      Suddenly, the river to the right of the bridge churned
                                      and boiled, then exploded upward. A bestial face on a
                                      long, serpentine neck reared into the air to tower
                                      above even the giant. It appeared to be made entirely
                                      of water, with glassy, crystalline eyes.

                                      "I am the guardian of the river," it hissed in a voice
                                      like the roar of a waterfall. "You may not cross here.
                                      Trespassers will be executed."

                                      The great head surged toward the Bolg, who reacted
                                      instinctively to the threat. Rukh swung his studded
                                      club in a powerful attack, but the watery serpent
                                      merely flowed around the club to entrap the hands that
                                      wielded it. Then, it surged upward again, carrying the
                                      giant with it. Rukh kicked frantically, but could not
                                      break the enchanted creature's viselike grip.

                                      "Hold!" cried Eilidh in a commanding tone. "We mean
                                      the river nae harm. Put him down."

                                      The crystalline eyes fixed upon her intently,
                                      considering her words. With a sort of shrug, the
                                      creature's shape shifted, and Rukh was held in a pair
                                      of powerful arms. This freed the guardian to speak.

                                      "You have the feel of a Drasu, Human," it roared, a
                                      trace of doubt evident in its speech. "Why is it you
                                      have not performed the Rite of Passage? Surely you are
                                      not ignorant of such an important ceremony?"

                                      A distant memory, an echo of a time long past, stirred
                                      in Angharad's mind, and she spoke to Eilidh. "Each
                                      major land feature is protected by its own guardian.
                                      'Tis customary to entreat the guardian's favor in a
                                      Rite of Passage. There is a brief ceremony performed
                                      by the Druids in which they communicate with the
                                      guardian and offer a gift in exchange for safe
                                      passage. That is what is required here."

                                      "Such a simple thing," said Eilidh in wonder. Then,
                                      she turned to the guardian. "Forgive us, guardian. We
                                      are young, and nae well-versed in the customs o' the
                                      earth. I offer ye a gift in exchange for safe passage
                                      across the river. Will ye release my companion?"

                                      Reaching into her pack, she produced a dagger with a
                                      jeweled handle. It had once belonged to Moira, her
                                      grandmother, and as such, had great sentimental value.
                                      a pang of regret seized her as she held out the gift.

                                      A thin tendril of water snaked out to pluck the
                                      offering from Eilidh's hand. It caressed the dagger
                                      almost lovingly, as if tasting of its Essence. Then,
                                      the roaring voice spoke once more. "It is good, Human.
                                      I accept your gift, and in exchange, I offer safe
                                      passage to your group. You may cross."

                                      Rukh was deposited none too gently on the ground
                                      beside the Rover, but he appeared unharmed. Slowly,
                                      the massive serpent lowered itself back into the
                                      river, until only ripples remained to mark its
                                      passing.

                                      They started cautiously across the bridge, fearing
                                      another attack. However, the guardian kept its word,
                                      and they made the crossing without further incident.
                                      Eilidh breathed an explosive sigh of relief when the
                                      Rover hovered a short distance from the river.

                                      "Well, that was exciting," said Coinneach, in an
                                      attempt to make light of the situation. "That may be
                                      the first time in history that a Bolg has flown. How
                                      do ye feel about that, Rukh?"

                                      The giant growled playfully, grateful to have escaped
                                      with his life. "Watch yer mouth, laddie. Else, ye may
                                      find yersel' in a similar situation!" He reached out
                                      as if to grab Coinneach, who ducked down with comical
                                      exaggeration. The rest of the Fellowship laughed
                                      uproariously at their antics.

                                      Nightfall found them about ten milars from the River
                                      Lirin. They had covered nearly half the distance to
                                      Lost End. The crimson plain stretched out all around
                                      them, but the land was gradually rising in elevation.
                                      Soon, they would find themselves in hilly country once
                                      more.

                                      Another storm hit that evening, and Eilidh passed the
                                      night in misery. Her sensitivity was increasing, and
                                      the green-eyed lass wasn't sure she liked that idea.

                                      Eoin had an idea of how he could help his twin, and he
                                      outlined his suggestion to her. He was certain that he
                                      could use their mental bond to help her construct a
                                      psychic shield around herself. Desperate to be rid of
                                      the debilitating nausea, she agreed to the plan.

                                      Contact was established almost immediately, and the
                                      lad began to direct her thoughts. "Try to imagine a
                                      wall o' force enclosing ye, keeping yer mind free o'
                                      the storm's effects. See it as a permanent effect, and
                                      imagine yerself free o' the sickness that bothers ye."

                                      The session went on for some time, Eoin offering more
                                      images to his twin. He whispered words of comfort and
                                      reassurance, and stopped only when his Power had been
                                      nearly drained. He would recover it while he slept,
                                      and he smiled at her.

                                      Eilidh smiled in return, and said "Thank ye so much,
                                      Eoin. I feel better now. Truly, yer Power is a
                                      wonderful blessing! Ye shouldnae fear using it. 'Tis a
                                      part o' ye, and we cannae deny ourselves. I'll be able
                                      to rest, now."

                                      In truth, much of the nausea had been alleviated. Eoin
                                      swelled at the praise, and Eilidh was glad. It wasn't
                                      easy for him to live among Clansfolk who avoided him.
                                      If he could come to accept and control his Power, he
                                      would be much happier.

                                      Morning saw more changes in the world around them. Hot
                                      springs bubbled here and there, and the smell of
                                      sulfur hung heavy in the air. Temperatures seemed
                                      warmer than usual, and there was a decidedly red cast
                                      to the sky.

                                      "It appears that the changes are becoming more and
                                      more pronounced," commented Angharad. "That means the
                                      Daoidhe are getting closer to whatever they intend. We
                                      must stop them! If this continues, Clarsach may no
                                      longer support life as we know it."

                                      It was a sobering thought. The five members of the
                                      Fellowship exchanged worried glances, and resolved to
                                      redouble their efforts. It seemed the Daoidhe were
                                      attempting to bring about hell on earth.

                                      -To be continued

                                      =====
                                      "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
                                      ---------------------------------
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                                    • Andoria Sunok
                                      Richard: Really enjoying this SM!!! More! More! Andoria Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com
                                      Message 18 of 25 , Jun 22, 2001
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                                        Richard: 

                                        Really enjoying this SM!!! More!  More!  <grin>

                                        Andoria



                                        Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com
                                      • Richard McKinley
                                        Onward they traveled, through a landscape sprung from their worst imaginings. The next day saw the advent of a sickly yellow fog. It coiled around the
                                        Message 19 of 25 , Jun 23, 2001
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                                          Onward they traveled, through a landscape sprung from
                                          their worst imaginings. The next day saw the advent of
                                          a sickly yellow fog. It coiled around the travelers,
                                          and where it touched them, they felt fouled. Bare skin
                                          stung in protest to the mist's caress.

                                          Every now and then, Eoin fancied that he could hear
                                          mad shrieks and groans, underlaid by a constant,
                                          helpless sobbing. Perhaps the Daoidhe were present in
                                          the fog. He glanced around nervously, expecting cold
                                          hands to reach out and grab him at any time.

                                          To the east lay the crimson backdrop of the Shadrach
                                          Forest. Some distance to the north, the snow-covered
                                          peaks of the Central Mountains were visible. As they
                                          traveled, Rukh shared his knowledge of the area, and
                                          Eoin listened attentively. Although the general lay of
                                          the land had not changed, the changes brought about by
                                          the storms made navigation more difficult.

                                          Three days passed uneventfully, and the Fellowship
                                          found themselves in the Cairn Hills. They would reach
                                          Lost End in approximately one pentir. When the next
                                          storm hit, they were able to take shelter in a large
                                          cave. The wind howled and raged beyond their refuge,
                                          as if it were furious about being denied its prey.
                                          Great sheets of rain lashed the ground, and water ran
                                          in rivulets down the gentle hillside. Brief flashed of
                                          lightning illuminated the cave, and thunder
                                          reverberated around them.

                                          "A pox on these storms!" Angharad exclaimed moodily,
                                          breaking the silence at last. "May the Daoidhe rot in
                                          Tyr Annwn. What new deviltry will this storm leave in
                                          its wake? I like this not at all!"

                                          In answer, the wind shrieked the more loudly, mocking
                                          her words with cruel laughter. Whispering voices
                                          insinuated themselves into their thoughts, saying "All
                                          is lost, foolish ones. Your Power is not enough. Chaos
                                          reigns triumphant. Soon, Clarsach will be no more. You
                                          will all die!"

                                          The last word hung in the air, and Eoin fancied that a
                                          shadow hovered before them for an instant, threatening
                                          and grim. Then, it was gone, and the whispering voices
                                          ceased.

                                          A rock clattered behind them, and Coinneach whirled
                                          about, Drach held at the ready. His nerves jangled,
                                          and his entire body tensed. A small shadow emerged
                                          gradually from the darkness, and the Warrior fired in
                                          its direction.

                                          "Hellfire and damnation!" cried a voice as the shadow
                                          flung itself to the ground, narrowly avoiding the
                                          blast. "Hold yer fire, Daoine! Do ye always shoot
                                          first and ask questions later? 'Tis nae wonder ye have
                                          so few friends! Diandra and I mean ye nae harm."

                                          "Are ye hurt, Oisin?" said another voice, obviously
                                          female. "Ye should be ashamed o' yerself, Warrior! My
                                          brother and I come in peace. Please, put away yer
                                          weapon; do ye wish to bring the cave down around us?"

                                          "Advance slowly, both o' ye," Coinneach ordered, still
                                          holding the Drach. "I will put away my weapon when I'm
                                          certain o' yer intentions, and not before. Keep yer
                                          hands o'er yer heads!"

                                          "Aye, oh Great and Powerful Warlord," said Oisin
                                          sarcastically as he complied. Another shadow moved to
                                          join him, and soon, the newcomers stood revealed in
                                          the firelight.

                                          They were Mordani, shorter than Humans, but solidly
                                          built. Oisin's blue eyes glowered at Coinneach from
                                          beneath bushy eyebrows, and a long, blond beard
                                          reached to his chest. He was wearing force armor,
                                          lightweight but serviceable, and a Drach hung at his
                                          side. He also wore an unfamiliar weapon that resembled
                                          three curved blades attached to a central disk.

                                          Diandra was slightly shorter than her brother, but no
                                          less muscular. She wore no armor, but a simple light
                                          blue robe embroidered with the symbol of Slanaigh, the
                                          Great Healer. She was armed only with a short staff,
                                          and her blonde hair cascaded in tight waves to the
                                          middle of her back. Her eyes were the same deep blue
                                          as Oisin's. Both of the Mordani were wreathed in a
                                          golden light.

                                          Suddenly, for no apparent reason, Oisin burst into
                                          laughter. He doubled over from the force of his mirth,
                                          and clutched his sides at some private joke. Then,
                                          suddenly, he was holding his Drach to Coinneach's
                                          ribs. The action had been so swift that no one had
                                          seen it coming. The Morda smiled in delight, and
                                          winked at Coinneach as he replaced his weapon on his
                                          belt.

                                          "Why, ye're nae much more than bairns, wi' the
                                          exception o' yer large friend o'er there," said Oisin
                                          in pleasant good humor, indicating Rukh with a nod.
                                          "As I said, we mean ye nae harm. I am Oisin mac
                                          Cumhar, o' Clan Cumhar, and this is my sister,
                                          Diandra. The Cairn Hills are our home. So, what brings
                                          ye sae far from yer own homes?"(OY-shin), (COO-vahr),
                                          (dee-AHN-druh)

                                          Coinneach replaced his own weapon on his belt, and
                                          studied Oisin with interest. His good nature was
                                          infectious, and he found himself smiling in return,
                                          despite the fact that he had been upstaged a moment
                                          ago.

                                          "My apologies for firing upon ye unprovoked, Oisin mac
                                          Cumhar," he said at last. "The Daoidhe are afoot, and
                                          we're all on edge. I am Coinneach mac Calum o' Clan
                                          Diarmad, and we are the Fellowship o' the Horn."

                                          One by one, the others introduced themselves, and the
                                          Mordani bowed courteously to each of them. The storm
                                          had spent itself, and it seemed unnaturally quiet
                                          beyond the mouth of the cave.

                                          "Seek ye, then, the Hunter's Horn?" asked Diandra. "My
                                          brother and I were given a vision telling us to seek
                                          it as well. We were told to seek out others, and to
                                          join wi' them. Will ye have us, then?"

                                          "Aye, and welcome," said Coinneach with a smile. "Now,
                                          we are seven. Oisin, I'm curious about yer weapon.
                                          What does it do?"

                                          "'Tis called a catarang," said Oisin with a mysterious
                                          smile. "As for what it does, well, ye'll have tae
                                          witness it in battle some day. 'Tis quite unique,
                                          ye'll see."

                                          They spent the night in the cave, grateful to have
                                          shelter without having to inflate the tent. Further
                                          investigation revealed two chambers within the cave,
                                          so the males and females could sleep separately.

                                          "Thank the Nine!" exclaimed Angharad with an
                                          exaggerated expression of relief on her face. "We
                                          won't have to put up with your stench tonight."

                                          She took a deep breath, then wrinkled her nose wryly.
                                          Truth to tell, they all needed baths. They had been
                                          traveling for eight days, and to conserve water, they
                                          had used very little to wash up with. The Cymru lass
                                          thought about the hot springs that dotted the
                                          landscape. Perhaps they could be put to good use after
                                          all.

                                          The raven-haired lass left the shelter of the cave,
                                          and searched until she found a nearby spring. It was a
                                          warm night, and she was shocked to see that the night
                                          sky was a deep red in color. The air seemed thinner,
                                          but it was still breathable.

                                          Steeling her nerves, Angharad removed her clothing,
                                          and tested the water with a toe. It was comfortably
                                          warm, and she stepped into the spring. The warmth of
                                          the water caressed her aching bones, and she lowered
                                          the rest of her body into the spring with a blissful
                                          sigh.

                                          Sharp, yellow rocks dug painfully into her buttocks,
                                          and Angharad shifted until she found a fairly flat
                                          spot to sit. When she was comfortable at last, she wet
                                          down her long black hair, and carefully worked the
                                          kinks and snarls out of it. She took her time with the
                                          bath, luxuriating in the feel of warm water against
                                          her bare skin.

                                          Next, the Cymru lass washed out her clothing, freeing
                                          it of the dirt and grime it had accumulated during the
                                          journey. That done, she spread the clothing out on
                                          rocks to dry, and lay back in the spring, enjoying the
                                          feeling of floating free from her body for a time.

                                          Angharad felt a slight disturbance in the Flow, and
                                          she was instantly on the alert. She sat up and took
                                          her staff in her hands, holding it defensively before
                                          her breasts.

                                          A pair of gleaming yellow cat's eyes were regarding
                                          her intently, and Angharad felt another push, more
                                          insistent this time. Then, the animal moved closer,
                                          and she could see it clearly. It was a lynx, fully as
                                          large as a Human. The tufted ears were laid back in
                                          fear, and confusion was evident in the cat's gaze.
                                          There was another push, and Angharad realized that the
                                          spotted cat was trying to communicate with her.

                                          She closed her eyes, and concentrated upon the Flow
                                          between herself and the lynx. Reaching out, the
                                          raven-haired lass completed the channel, and a flood
                                          of images came.

                                          The lynx communicated in pictures and feelings, rather
                                          than words. It was confused, frightened, and hungry.
                                          Image of mice, birds, and other small animals being
                                          washed away in a flood. Pleading, an image of herself,
                                          radiant and tall, stretching forth her hands and
                                          bringing mice back into the world.

                                          Did the lynx, then, think she was a goddess?
                                          Concentrating, Angharad tried to see herself through
                                          the animal's eyes. The world became different shades
                                          of black, white, and gray, but came into focus more
                                          sharply than she had thought possible. There she was
                                          in the hot spring, staff held defensively before her.
                                          Angharad gasped at the image. Great spikes of radiance
                                          outlined her figure, much as one of the Arsaidh would
                                          appear in a Human's eyes. The light was so bright that
                                          she broke off contact, lest she be blinded.

                                          "By the Nine!" Angharad whispered as she hurriedly
                                          dressed. "What am I?" Suddenly, she knew without a
                                          doubt that the lynx's request was indeed within her
                                          Power. The thought frightened her, but she wanted to
                                          help the starving animal.

                                          Instinctively, she reached for her harp, and began to
                                          play a coaxing melody upon it. Her fingers swept
                                          across the strings, caressing them, and she felt the
                                          Power rise within her. She sang in a clear, soft alto,
                                          calling out to any small creatures within the range of
                                          her voice. Soft streamers of rainbow-colored light
                                          danced around her, and she reveled in their touch.

                                          Then, the rainbow-colored streamers of light joined
                                          together in a single, brilliant burst of white light.
                                          Angharad flared like a small star for a moment, then
                                          the light faded. She sank to her knees, exhausted by
                                          the Power she had expended.

                                          The area was suddenly crawling with snakes, lizards,
                                          and other small reptiles. The lynx pounced, bringing
                                          down three lizards and a snake before it stopped to
                                          feast. It ate its fill, then carried the remainder to
                                          its den for its mate and cubs. Its eyes met Angharad's
                                          briefly, and she caught its gratitude clearly. Then,
                                          it was gone.

                                          Angharad's thoughts were troubled as her strength
                                          slowly returned. Suddenly, she longed for the safety
                                          of the cave, and the comfort of Coinneach's embrace.
                                          She hurried back to the cave, wondering how much of
                                          what had just occurred she should reveal to the
                                          others.

                                          -To be continued


                                          =====
                                          "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
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                                        • Lowell Boston & Linda Kardos
                                          Richard, This is so good. I m really enjoying this story. I was wondering, would it be possible to put a link in each of your story post, taking the reader to
                                          Message 20 of 25 , Jun 23, 2001
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                                            Richard,

                                            This is so good. I'm really enjoying this story. I was wondering,
                                            would it be possible to put a link in each of your story post, taking
                                            the reader to your Pronunciation guide. I don't mind the pronunciation
                                            keys in parentheses, but if you have a lot it may slow down the flow of
                                            the story.

                                            Just a thought,

                                            Lowell
                                          • Richard McKinley
                                            Thanks, Lowell. I will research the link, and see if I can figure it out. I know that it s possible, but I m a little rusty on my HTML. Never fear, though. I
                                            Message 21 of 25 , Jun 25, 2001
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                                              Thanks, Lowell. I will research the link, and see if I
                                              can figure it out. I know that it's possible, but I'm
                                              a little rusty on my HTML. Never fear, though. I have
                                              a wonderful textbook that covers the subject in great
                                              detail. So, it's only a matter of time before I get it
                                              in order. Thanks for the suggestion!

                                              =====
                                              "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
                                              ---------------------------------
                                              http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html

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                                            • Richard McKinley
                                              Maire motioned to Tearlach, and together, they retrieved their mounts and supplies, which had been hidden in a small canyon. She eyed the kaelar with pride,
                                              Message 22 of 25 , Aug 13, 2001
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                                                Maire motioned to Tearlach, and together, they
                                                retrieved their mounts and supplies, which had been
                                                hidden in a small canyon. She eyed the kaelar with
                                                pride, for they were much more handsome than those of
                                                their companions. Their scales were an iridescent
                                                black, and captured all the colors of the rainbow.

                                                She stared again at her Life-Mate, and her love for
                                                him sang within her anew at the sight. Tearlach was
                                                armed with long bow and arrows, as well as an elegant
                                                power sword. His demeanor spoke of an easy and
                                                intimate familiarity with his chosen weapons. He wore
                                                chain mail fashioned of gleaming mithril, but did not
                                                seem hindered by it in any way. He was quite a dashing
                                                figure to behold!

                                                Maire, however, was a Soresu, or Sorceress, and wore
                                                no armor, for it would have hindered the flow of her
                                                magic. She was armed only with a staff and a sling,
                                                but was an expert with her chosen weapons.

                                                Coinneach seemed ill-suited to lead the Fellowship,
                                                for he was but recently come of age, to judge by the
                                                look of him. With a decade or so of experience, he
                                                might be ready to assume such a responsibility. Until
                                                then, it was best that she lead the group.

                                                When she brought this up, Coinneach looked at Maire
                                                with a frown. It was obvious that he did not like
                                                having his leadership questioned. So, she used all of
                                                her charm to try to persuade him that she would be the
                                                best choice.

                                                "You have done an admirable job as leader thus far, in
                                                familiar territory," she said with a dazzling smile.
                                                "However, from here on out, you know next to nothing
                                                about the land we travel. I am intimately acquainted
                                                with it, as is Tearlach. We stand a better chance of
                                                leading you safely to our destination. Particularly
                                                when we reach Danai. Knowledge and experience are the
                                                key. Here, I am far more qualified than you are. Will
                                                you trust my experience, Daoine?"

                                                Coinneach tried to think of a convincing counter
                                                argument, but there was none forthcoming. Finally,
                                                with an unhappy nod, he agreed. He told himself that
                                                it was just his ego that was in the way, and that it
                                                made sense to have the most experienced sentient as
                                                their leader. It was a blow to his pride. However, he
                                                put his pride aside in the interest of their quest,
                                                and listened as Maire gave her orders.

                                                Soon, they were on their way once more. Maire and
                                                Tearlach rode side by side at the head of their group,
                                                followed by Coinneach and Angharad. Next came Eoin and
                                                Eilidh, followed by Oisin and Diandra. Rukh brought up
                                                the rear, as he was the strongest member of the
                                                Fellowship. His task was to guard them against an
                                                attack from the rear.

                                                The day was 2 Broc 4220 S.A., the day of the Badger.
                                                Dark clouds covered the crimson sky, and early in the
                                                afternoon, a moderate rain fell. However, this was a
                                                normal storm, not one summoned by the Daoidhe. They
                                                continued onward, stopping only long enough to don
                                                rain cloaks. The kaelar didn't mind the weather, for
                                                the rain could not penetrate their scaly hides.

                                                "There is something soothing about a natural
                                                rainfall," said Maire, attempting to start up a
                                                conversation. "The land is badly in need of such
                                                healing. It disgusts me to see the Daoidhe torment our
                                                earth so."

                                                "Aye," said Diandra softly, for she could relate to
                                                such a sentiment. "The Chaos-Bringers must be stopped.
                                                Clarsach cannae go on like this. 'Twill be so
                                                wonderful to see her restored to what she once was!
                                                That in itself is reason enough for our quest."

                                                "That it is," said Eilidh with a nod. "Geas or nae,
                                                I'm glad we're on this quest. 'Tis good to be doing
                                                something to help our world. Glad I am for each o' ye.
                                                I couldnae have done this alone."

                                                The rain had ended when they stopped for the night.
                                                The fresh scent of wet grass hung in the air, mingled
                                                with the sweet fragrance of wildflowers. When she
                                                closed her eyes, Eilidh could almost imagine that
                                                Clarsach was as she remembered. Then, she opened her
                                                eyes once more, and the illusion was shattered. She
                                                stared sadly at the metamorphosed world.

                                                After a quick meal of greasy mutton and goat's milk
                                                cheese, the travelers retired for the night. They now
                                                had three dome tents: one for the males, one for the
                                                females, and a third for Maire and Tearlach. The
                                                Tuathan insisted upon their privacy, and no one
                                                argued. Watches were set up, and they slept.

                                                The night passed uneventfully, and they were on their
                                                way once more. A storm struck in mid-afternoon, and
                                                they were forced to take shelter in the tents once
                                                more. Eilidh listened to the wind howling, and it
                                                seemed to carry mocking laughter with it. She did not
                                                like the sound, and she shuddered.

                                                The rain was blood-red in color, and carried with it
                                                an odor of death and decay. Eilidh was certain that it
                                                boded ill for their quest. How could they hope to
                                                defeat such Power? Tears of frustration trickled down
                                                her cheeks.

                                                Eoin must have sensed her thoughts, for he sat beside
                                                her and put an arm around her shoulders. "We can do
                                                this, Eilidh," he said soothingly. "No matter how
                                                Powerful the Daoidhe are, we'll beat them. If we
                                                believe in ourselves, we can do anything! Dunnae give
                                                up, okay?"

                                                Eilidh forced herself to smile, and gave her twin a
                                                quick kiss on the cheek and a hug. He smiled in
                                                return, and she felt better. Eoin sounded so mature,
                                                now! This quest had been good for him. It was hard not
                                                to share his quiet confidence. She cast all negative
                                                thoughts to the wind.

                                                Three hours later, the storm had ended. Night was
                                                falling, so they decided to make this their campsite.
                                                With some trepidation, they left the tents to see what
                                                the storm had wrought.

                                                When the sun sank beneath the western horizon, the
                                                night was as black as pitch. No stars were visible,
                                                and neither of the Guardians' chariots blazed
                                                overhead. Only the light of their small campfire
                                                pierced the gloom.

                                                The travelers huddled by the fire, stomachs heavy with
                                                dread. They clung to the dim firelight as a drowning
                                                man might cling to a piece of driftwood. Beyond the
                                                firelight's meager three ilar radius was impenetrable
                                                darkness.

                                                A dreadful howl shattered the stillness, startlingly
                                                close. It was answered by several others. The howls
                                                sounded again, closer this time, and in unison. Then,
                                                several dark shapes moved into the circle of light.

                                                -To be continued

                                                =====
                                                "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
                                                ---------------------------------
                                                http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html

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                                              • Richard McKinley
                                                They appeared to be faol, fully two ilars in length, and standing as tall as a Morda at the shoulders. Their fur was jet-black in color, and crimson eyes
                                                Message 23 of 25 , Aug 17, 2001
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                                                  They appeared to be faol, fully two ilars in length,
                                                  and standing as tall as a Morda at the shoulders.
                                                  Their fur was jet-black in color, and crimson eyes
                                                  glimmered in the light from the fire. Two short horns
                                                  protruded from each forehead, and serpentine tongues
                                                  lolled from slavering jaws. Their snouts were
                                                  boar-like, and razor-sharp black teeth studded their
                                                  huge mouths. Rat-like tails twitched in anticipation.

                                                  The leader of the beasts gave a peculiar hyena-like
                                                  chuckle, and advanced toward their campfire. Its
                                                  nostrils flared and dilated as it sorted through the
                                                  odors it encountered. It was joined by five others,
                                                  and the air was rent by their hideous chuckling.

                                                  "Werren," said Tearlach, recognizing the beasts from
                                                  Tuathan legends. "Dire wolves. They are creatures from
                                                  the Realms of Chaos. Have a care, my friends. If a
                                                  werren wounds you, the wound will fester and boil.
                                                  Such a wound can be difficult to heal."

                                                  Having warned the others, Tearlach let fly with two
                                                  arrows, targeting the largest of the creatures. He
                                                  reasoned that if the leader were killed, the rest of
                                                  the pack would lose heart and flee.

                                                  At the last moment, the werren leader twisted,
                                                  avoiding the first arrow and taking the second in the
                                                  flank. Its tough hide blunted the impact, and it took
                                                  only minor damage.

                                                  Maire called upon her magical skills with a Song of
                                                  Striking. Her voice was a melodious soprano, rich and
                                                  beautiful. Sparkling golden light danced around her
                                                  fingertips, then coalesced into three projectiles.
                                                  They sped toward the werren leader, and struck
                                                  unerringly. The creature yelped in pain, and the odor
                                                  of burnt hair and flesh greeted their nostrils. After
                                                  shaking its head, the werren blinked its eyes and
                                                  continued to advance.

                                                  Coinneach readied his drach, setting it on narrow
                                                  beam. He wanted as much firepower as possible. Taking
                                                  careful aim, he fired at one of the werren. A
                                                  concentrated beam of elemental fire struck the
                                                  creature's chest, burning through flesh and bone into
                                                  its heart. It collapsed in midleap, and did not rise
                                                  again.

                                                  Eoin had been given a drach in Lost End, and followed
                                                  suit. His aim was off, and the beam of fire struck his
                                                  target in the shoulder instead. It still lived, and
                                                  growled in pain and anger. With a mighty leap, it went
                                                  for the lad's throat, but Eoin managed to somersault
                                                  away.

                                                  Oisin reacted instantly, drawing his catarang and
                                                  hurling it in the same motion. The three blades sliced
                                                  into the werren's neck, severing the jugular vein.
                                                  Then, the Morda pressed a button on his wrist band,
                                                  and the catarang returned, to hover over his open
                                                  palm. After a moment, it stopped spinning to drop into
                                                  Oisin's palm, ready to be used once more.

                                                  Eoin gaped in astonishment at the creatures as their
                                                  lifeblood spilled forth onto the ground. The crimson
                                                  grass drank greedily, and seemed to stand straighter
                                                  and taller after its feast. It grew at an astonishing
                                                  rate, until the werren were covered in grassy cocoons.

                                                  Within moments, the carcasses had been reduced to
                                                  skeletons. The grass withdrew, sated from its meal.
                                                  Eilidh recoiled, sickened by what they had just
                                                  witnessed. Then, there was no more time to think as
                                                  the remaining werren closed in to attack. She swung
                                                  her staff at one of the beasts, connecting with its
                                                  snout. The deadly jaws seized her weapon, seeking to
                                                  splinter the stout wooden staff.

                                                  Angharad moved to assist her foster sister, and jabbed
                                                  with her staff, seeking to distract the werren. It
                                                  growled in anger, and turned to snap at her weapon.
                                                  This freed Eilidh's staff, and the two of them
                                                  continued to worry the creature.

                                                  Rukh's great studded club lashed out, and struck the
                                                  pack leader solidly, smashing its skull. The impact
                                                  sent the beast flying, to crash into the ground a
                                                  short distance away. It did not rise again, and the
                                                  grass once again feasted.

                                                  With the death of the leader, the remaining werren
                                                  lost heart and fled, as Tearlach had predicted. Only
                                                  two of the beasts survived, for Angharad and Eilidh
                                                  had managed to deafeat their opponent. Its carcass
                                                  went the same route as its dead companions. The
                                                  Fellowship watched in horrified fascination.

                                                  "By the Nine!" cried Eilidh. "What have the Daoidhe
                                                  done to Clarsach? I've ne'er seen anything so
                                                  repulsive! Ye see? This is why we must have the
                                                  Hunter's Horn. The Balance must be restored."

                                                  "Carnivorous grass," said Maire softly. "Indeed, I do
                                                  see. Fear not, Daoine. My people will not deny you the
                                                  Horn. I pray that the Wild Magic will prove equal to
                                                  the task."

                                                  Fionval had watched the battle with interest, mindful
                                                  of the prohibitions the Arsaidh had placed upon him.
                                                  Now, he said "If the Wild Hunt cannot repair the
                                                  damage to our world, only the Silver Harp can. That
                                                  is, assuming that anyone can play her, since Amhlaigh
                                                  is no more. If not, all is lost."

                                                  Something within Angharad stirred at these words. It
                                                  was as if a jolt of electricity surged through her.
                                                  Suddenly, Power blazed in her eyes once more. Even
                                                  Fionval was taken aback by what he saw there.

                                                  "Aye, Master Bard, ye hae the right o' it," she said.
                                                  "The Silver Harp must be restored tae its rightful
                                                  owner. Amhlaigh lives. I'm surprised at ye, man. In
                                                  the Great Cycle, nobody is e'er lost for good. Life
                                                  leads to Death, Death to Rebirth, and Life begins
                                                  anew. Have ye forgotten yer lessons?"

                                                  Fionval's eyes widened, and his jaw dropped in
                                                  surprise. Then, he recovered himself, and closed his
                                                  mouth again. He dropped to his knees, and bowed his
                                                  head before her, saying "I have not forgotten, Lord.
                                                  Or is it Lady, now? Forgive me my confusion, please. I
                                                  mean no disrespect to ye. Welcome back, Amhlaigh."

                                                  A look of amusement crossed Angharad's face, and she
                                                  considered these words. Finally, she said "The name is
                                                  Angharad, now, and ye must use my other name nae mair.
                                                  If ye insist upon a title, I suppose it must be
                                                  'Lady'. My true nature must ne'er be revealed outside
                                                  o' the Fellowship o' the Horn. 'Twill give us an
                                                  advantage o'er the Daoidhe."

                                                  Then, the Power faded from her eyes, and she was
                                                  Angharad once more. However, she retained the memory
                                                  of who she was, and knew that she could call upon that
                                                  Power when needed. Gone was the confusion she had
                                                  felt, and she knew that her 'visions' had been
                                                  Amhlaigh's memories. She felt an intense relief with
                                                  this knowledge.

                                                  Coinneach looked at her with a mixture of awe and
                                                  sadness. How could he hope to love one such as she?
                                                  Yet, his heart ached for that very thing. Could one of
                                                  the Arsaidh return the love of a mere mortal?

                                                  She must have sensed something of his thoughts, for
                                                  she moved over to him and clasped his hand in both of
                                                  hers. He looked into her eyes, and saw his love
                                                  mirrored there. A song arose within his heart, and
                                                  within hers. The two melodies Harmonized beautifully,
                                                  bonding them in a way that could not be broken. In
                                                  that moment, they knew themselves to be Soul-Mates.

                                                  "Choinneich," she said softly, and smiled at the young
                                                  Warrior. "In this incarnation, I am fully mortal, and
                                                  will die, as all mortals must. I am also fully female,
                                                  and gladly give my love to you. When I reach the age
                                                  of womanhood, I would like to become your Life-Mate.
                                                  Will you accept me?"

                                                  "Wi' all my heart," he replied. "When our quest is
                                                  done, I will travel wi' ye to Cymru, and ask yer
                                                  father for yer hand in marriage. We must discuss yer
                                                  dowrie. I'm certain we can reach a fair agreement."

                                                  They kissed, to good-natured hoots and cheers from
                                                  their companions. Finally, they broke apart, flushing
                                                  with embarrassment and the warm glow of young love.

                                                  "What a touching scene," said Maire dryly. "If you're
                                                  done, now, I suggest we get some sleep. I don't know
                                                  about you, but I'm weary from the battle. Thank the
                                                  Nine that none of us were injured! You two have the
                                                  first watch. Mind that you engage in no distractions,
                                                  though."

                                                  With a wink and a smile, the Sorceress retired to her
                                                  tent. She was followed by Tearlach a moment later,
                                                  then the others. Coinneach and Angharad were left to
                                                  themselves by the fire. They talked quietly, remaining
                                                  alert all the while. Their watch passed uneventfully,
                                                  and they awakened Rukh for the next watch. They
                                                  retired to separate tents with a touch of regret, for
                                                  they were loath to part for even a short while.

                                                  Morning arrived, and the travelers ate a hearty
                                                  breakfast. Tents were deflated, folded, and replaced
                                                  on the kaelar. Then, they were on their way once more.

                                                  Tendrils of mist coiled around them as they rode,
                                                  prodding and goading. Whispered threats of death and
                                                  torture assailed them, and seemed more menacing due to
                                                  the almost physical nature of the mist. Eilidh felt an
                                                  icy touch whenever the mist coiled around her. Given
                                                  time, it was possible that it could carry out its
                                                  threats. They traveled onward in an uneasy silence.

                                                  -To be continued

                                                  =====
                                                  "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
                                                  ---------------------------------
                                                  http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html

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                                                • Lowell & Linda
                                                  Richard, This is excellent! and so well written! Your writing keeps getting better and better. I really loved your opening descriptions of the creatures in the
                                                  Message 24 of 25 , Aug 17, 2001
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                                                    Richard,

                                                    This is excellent! and so well written! Your writing keeps getting
                                                    better and better. I really loved your opening descriptions of the
                                                    creatures in the beginning of this chapter.

                                                    Great work,

                                                    Lowell
                                                  • Richard McKinley
                                                    Thanks. One does one s humble best. I ll try to keep your interest. Take care! ===== May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over
                                                    Message 25 of 25 , Aug 20, 2001
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                                                      Thanks. One does one's humble best. I'll try to keep
                                                      your interest. Take care!

                                                      =====
                                                      "May our relationship be a Harmonious one. May the Protector watch over you until we meet again."
                                                      ---------------------------------
                                                      http://members.xoom.com/Hielander/Protectorate.html

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