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The Gatekeeper

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Shandriel dreamt of the ocean.

It had been too long since she had been there.  This dream, like the others was startlingly vivid.  She was swimming in the azure waters of the Eastern Sea, near her hometown of Lennix.  She could feel the warmth from the noonday sun on her tan skin as she cut thru the water effortlessly with long easy strokes.  Gulls wheeled and darted above, diving for the ocean's bounty.  A smile spread across Shandriel's face.

Beneath her, unseen by her, shadows stirred to life.  Slowly, deathly silent, they kicked their way to the surface, towards her not disturbing the water around them save for the schools of fish that fled from their approach.  Shandriel swam on...oblivious.

Closer the predatory figures drew, closing the gap.  The spread out so their quarry could not escape.  They attacked in unison, striking with fang and claw.  Shandriel's smile was replaced by a look of horror as she was pulled beneath the surface by a force too powerful for her to fight.  She breathed in saltwater, gagged, eyes wide with fear as she plummeted, drawn quickly away from the sun's glow into liquid terror.  She...


The vibration hurled her attackers backwards into the wall behind them cracking plaster and revealing masonry beneath. The stained glass window to the right side of her bed shattered into thousands of pieces.  Three more attackers flowed thru the open door of her bedroom.

How did they get by the wards?

Fully awake but still gripped with horror Shandriel kicked frantically at the three new attackers who were trying to grab her.  The four who had been thrown back by her scream were wandering about groggily pawing at blood coming from their ears and noses.  The long knife jumped from beneath her pillow into her hand and she swung with wild abandon at the men closing in on her, drawing blood.  She didn't have time to be thankful that her foes appeared mortal as she jumped thru the remains of her window clad only in her sleeping clothes.

Tree branches barely slowed her descent and if not for the snow twenty feet below she would have done more than turn her ankle.  She ran pell mell into the adjacent woods, the sound of her wildly beating heart drowning out all else. 

If she could only make it to town...

Aithne leaned back against a pile of cushions, closed her eyes and listened to the night.  It was all there... the song of the wind, the quiet murmmurs of the snow, the purposeful rustling of the small creatures of winter.  But there was more. There were voices in the wind; troubled, troubling voices.  Sounds of combat and the echo of a scream melted into the wind.

Aithne, shook her head as if to clear away the sounds, opened her eyes and pulled her cloak tighter.  She looked around her cave. The fire cast its warm glow, the light from the flames making the walls seem to move and dance.  Usually she would have found this picture soothing, but tonight she could not make her mind quiet. 

At her feet Cullen, her pet and companion, watched her with unblinking golden eyes.  Aithne loved it when Cullen chose his cat form.  It was so pleasant to pet him and hear his unearthly purr.  But tonight even Cullen, the impreturbable, seemed ill at ease.  There were things in this storm that had no business here in her woods, or even in her world.

As Aithne contemplated looking for her scrying mirror to attempt to find the cause of the disquiet, the cause came running toward her cave.  It was crashing through underbrush, falling into snowdrifts, panting, and practically broadcasting fear to any sensitive  receptor.  Then suddenly it pulled back the curtain blocking out the night, and collapsed on the floor at her feet.

Words came from Shandriel's mouth that would have made a seasoned sailor blush. She cursed her ankle for being twisted as if it had done so to spite her.  Her breath sparkled frostily but she was too angry to shiver.  Her heart was still hammering as she half limped half dragged herself into the cave.

"Aunty, I bring danger with me this night!" Eyes the color indigo that can be seen on cloudy nights when the moons are bright were still wide with fear.  Shandriel had run nearly a league through the woods barefoot and in her nightclothes fearing pursuit.  Part of her, the larger part, wished that she were still dreaming but she knew this not to be so. 

Aithne was not a blood relative but a lady who had been kind to Shandriel in the past.  Town would have been too far to run too but Aithne's cave was but half the distance.  Words tumbling out and crashing into each other like stampeding cows Shandriel related the events that had just transpired.

Only when she finished did she begin to shiver.

Eyes liquid she searched Aithne's face imploringly, "What should I do?"

Aithne's green eyes were no longer half closed like the drowsy cat she had resembled only a moment before.  They were open wide, and if such a thing had been possible, might have held a touch of worry.  In one fluid motion she stood, grabbed a warm blanket from her bed, and crossed the cave to pull shut the curtain.  She then turned, helped Shandriel to her feet, half carried her to the pile of pillows and blankets that served as bed, couch, and nest and wrapped the blanket around the shivering girl.  A quick smile flitted across her face as she said, "You are never boring, my dear. should warm yourself while Cullen and I ensure our privacy.  Then we shall talk, and plan."

While Shandriel huddled in the bed, still shivering, but but less and less from cold, Aithne and Cullen stood at the entrance to the cave.  The green eyes and the gold began to glow as Aithne chanted softly and Cullen wound about her legs tracing a pattern on the floor. Aithne's long red hair moved in a breeze that wasn't there.  The firelight threw glints off the streaks of silver mixed with the red gold.  A mist the color of sunlight through spring leaves rose up from the floor until the opening was completely obscured.  Aithne laughed and rubbed Cullen's soft ears.  "There my dear.  I think we will not be disturbed for tonight at least."

Aithne settled an iron kettle in the embers at the edge of the fire, threw a handful of herbs into the pot,  retrieved two cups from a hidden recess, and came back to sit by Shandriel.  Comforting, calming aromas began the fill the cave.  "Let's look at that treacherous ankle while we wait for our tea.  We won't speak of your  'visitors' just yet."  By the time the ankle was bathed and firmly wrapped, it was time to sit with a warm cup of tea and finally speak of the terrors of the night.

Gently Aithne brushed the hair out of  Shandriel's eyes, put a finger under her chin and raised the girl's head.  The still-glowing green eyes looked deeply into the indigo ones.  "Alright my dear.  It's time to tell your Aunty what you have been doing to attract such unwelcome attentions."

Dolgin heard Shandriel's scream 30 leagues away.

It shoved the thoughts in his head roughly aside like a rude unwelcome guest.  Like a physical assault it rocked the sturdy dwarf back on his heels causing him to stagger as if drunk.  His stomach knotted with worry.  He lowered the parchment he had been reading and blew out the candles a drip with wax on the old scarred desk.  Shadow rushed in to replace the fleeing light, but it bothered Dolgin naught as he picked up his bags and slung them over his shoulder   He had to get home.  He could only hope that the others had heard the sending.

Stealthily the ebon clad figures materialized in the wood. Eyeing the glow coming from the cave like a pack of ravenous wolves, they circled closer.  Hand on the hilts of wicked looking blades, they communicated thru hand gestures, briefly before rushing towards the entrance of the cave.

OOC: Shandriel's eyes aren't blue they're indigo.


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