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I haven't had chance to read it yet...with being sick I wasn't up to focusing on reading large amounts of text. I'm hoping to get chance to read it this weekend. I should be writing my work program at the minute but I'm procrastinating...
In the distant, gathering darkness I heard a faint voice whisper to me "You may know your destination, but not your path. Wander carefully the forest of lost dreams, and become a dream lost in the forest."
"What happened? Where are we?" "The chanting has gone amiss!" "This place has not been seen by my mind's eye before."
"The others were dazed by this mislocation, and it seemed unaware of the grave danger we were in. Our energy was spent from the dance of worlds, all of us, and battle was unexpected. We were in unfamiliar lands, unarmed, and nearly exhausted. Even as I staggered to my feet and looked around I could see Bormo helping Nott to her feet - her complexion pale and waxy as I had never seen before - normally a dazzling and exotic dark tone with just the hints of a golden sunrise. Moirai, already on her feet, was strangely calm - which perhaps made me even more unnerved as it was strange as a hurricane without wind. In one of her milky white hands she held forth a crooked stick, almost as if presenting it to me, before turning her back to me. For the briefest of moments I caught a flash of green from beneath her hood, and so wished I could see her face once more...it had been long, and the memory of her beauty was a dim echo.
"We are not alone, something moves in the shadows" Oneroi warned as he pulled himself from the forest floor, bringing me back from my wandering thoughts.
I could hear it now, closer, heavy panting, moving to one side, then turning back the other way as it drew closer, as a great beast herding it's prey might do. My hands slid across the ground, through the grass and underbrush, feeling about in the dew and the mist, until within my grip I could feel a branch. It was gnarled and crooked, but still had the slight spring of life recently fallen from the tree - it would have to do.
"A bough, a branch, or a stave" I exclaimed in a softer tone, hoping not to be heard by our enemy. The others nodded, and they too quickly fumbled about in the dark and the mist, gathering up crooked and bent branches of varying thickness and lengths as staves. Each in turn drawing it to their lips and whispering ancient rhymes and rhythms, breathing into the branch a portion of life, and drawing forth a measure of spirit.
"Another low, rasping growl rolled through the night.
"I reached out, touching each of my four companions minds lightly "We must form a barrier, and quickly. Follow my lead." I heard the quaternary echo of consent and began my movements quickly. I planted my makeshift staff in the soils and began to whisper in ancient tongues, my movements and tones echoed four times over as we arranged ourselves back to back. With my free hand I made subtle tracings and symbols in the air, my feet tracing out patterns of their own in the soft earth, almost as if a fast dance. As the steps and motions unfolded, we each in turn took steps to one side and back, and repeated it over again, dragging the staffs in the dirt, marking out a boundary beyond the spiral designs traced by our feet. Over, and over, and over again, until the lines drawn by each connected to those started by the companion to our left...and an unbroken circle and mosaic took form on the earth around us. Each in turn grasped our staves in two hands, raising them above our heads, and driving them firmly into the ground with our final chant.
"It was just in time we finished the chant and closed the circle, as the noise acquired shape and form to go with it. Bestial swirls of black and violet, not quite cat, not quite bear, but a little bit of both, though as a shadow given form, lunged from the black of the forest with a roar. Eyes were ablaze and teeth almost seemed as neon lights against it's unnatural black body whose shape seemed to be changing ad shifting even as I watched it. It plunged headlong at me, rearing up, forelegs and claws extended, and smashed against our barrier. It almost seemed to break apart into mist and smoke as it fell backward, twisting along it's body, and landing on newly formed paws with an annoyed snarl. It's shoulders arched, it's gaze fixed on me, and it began to walk in a slow, predatory crawl along the perimeter of the circle.
"With Me, I must keep it's gaze," I whispered to my companions, as we slowly turned in unison, back to back. The beast gave a snort that almost seemed like amusement, then stopped suddenly and shifted direction. We, too, changed direction, so I could keep the creatures gaze, my staff held firmly before me, still churning the dirt where it dug into the ground of the circle. I could sense a malign intellect behind this beast, trying to shield itself from detection, wanting to seem savage and undirected, but with a definite purpose and pattern to it.
"Name yourself!" I shouted at the black form, and it froze in mid-step, lowering it's head slightly. For the briefest of moments I dared to hope I had startled whoever was controlling it, or whatever force was behind it. It became all to clear the shock was more that I recognized more to it that it wanted, as it regained it's prowling, a vicious smile overtaking it's muzzle. I must confess I was taken aback a heartbeat later when it's own voice coalesced, not bestial, or feral, but a voice I felt I should have recognized but could not.
"So, you managed a barrier. How long can you maintain it? An hour? Two? All Night?" it spoke in casual and measured tones. "I must say, I was sure you would be too weak to mount any defense at all Dreamwalker, but you merely delay the inevitable. You are on borrowed time, using borrowed spirit to hold me at bay, but I will have you."
"It was so confident, so sure...and worst of all, it was right. We could not maintain this barrier long, even pooling our energy and drawing from that around us. We certainly did not have the essence of reverie needed for a battle of any sort. The timing, urgency, and coincidence of this encounter was not lost on me - it had unfolded to some grand and careful design...but who's?
"The beast continued to pace, and circle, studying the barrier, probing for weaknesses. Black mist swirled about it, from it, within it, as it moved. I could feel it's strength growing, taking in the shadows and darkness around it... or perhaps it was our strength, my comrades and I, weakening.
"Think fast you old fool!" I cursed to myself...
"You are only delaying the inevitable," the shadow beast snarled, "While your futile resistance is delicious it is also annoying. I do have other things I could be doing, so why waste all of our time? I will breach this barrier. I promise you, if you simply surrender, I will make all of your deaths quick and painless. Far more merciful than you deserve, Usurper!"
"I knew know, without a doubt, this was personal. Why was still a question lost in shadow. Usurper? Userper of what? I am not king, or chieftain. My mind reeled and screamed for answers, despite more pressing issues at hand. Still, as long as I kept him talking, I could keep him from noticing the cracks beginning to form in the barrier. On the down side, the longer I kept talking, the longer I was distracted from finding some thing, some trick, some shred of energy, some ally to aide us.
"You have me at a loss, shade - obviously you have some personal vexation with me, but I do not know you. Why not show yourself?"
The shadowcat paused momentarily and sneered, before shifting direction again, "I think not. Not yet. Perhaps, when the last moments of breath are escaping you, then I will let you see me, old friend."
"Are you afraid?" it was a rhetorical question really, I already knew his answer, but I also knew the truth...I could sense it...ever so faintly. This grand masquerade, the deceptions, the elaborate plans, whoever it was feared me yet, and feared... what... retaliation? revenge? No... I something more subtle...but it danced just out of reach of reasoning. Old friend was perhaps another important clue, despite the dripping sarcasm it was spat with... puzzles in darkness, all of it.
"Fear?!" it roared, lunging at the barrier again, and I could feel an ever so slight give before the beast reeled off of it in pain...at least it was hurt.
"Drop your barrier and I will teach you fear!"
"Perhaps you should not taunt the beast, given our situation" Oneroi chastised in a rasping whisper, and was seconded by Nott.
"I am open to suggestions," I sent to their minds, hoping this shade did not have the ability to eavesdrop on our commune of musing. While not surprised by the lack of immediate responses, it still made my heart sink. Surely the five of us had escaped far more dangerous and dreadful predicaments, hadn't we... or was that perhaps only in dreams within dreams?
"It was Moira's uneasily calm voice that broke the silence in all of our minds, "The nature of the beast is not as it appears. The behavior is as much a mask as is it's form."
"Her voice came again, and I thought I sensed the slightest hint of frustration at my lack of understanding, "Even in darkness, embers of light flicker, if you know where to look."
"I watched the shadow beast more closely now, tuning out it's mocking banter and calls for my surrender. Carefully I followed it's moves as it paced the ground, and stopped suddenly, turning... I thought, for the briefest moment I could almost see it wince in pain, as if stung or stepping on a thorn, causing it to suddenly shift direction. This drew my focus even more intently now, as it strode the dirt, I watched each paw rise and fall with unwavering seriousness. There, as it was making a step, a brief flash of orange in the grass as the smokey, swirling shadow of form came down...and almost appeared to burn away at the flickering ember of a casual firefly! Yes, Fireflies, allies did indeed exist in this overcast and darkness choked forest after all. Perhaps one firefly was a mere annoyance, a sting of a bee or bite of a mosquito, but a swarm might just bring enough light to dispel this shade.
It is so hard to believe I started this so many years ago - how my life has been derailed in that time. I had so much more planned, and some written, I will need to find those passages and return to this. I hate that I have left you all hanging. I am just unsure if my writing skills are still up to snuff.