Cullen raced around the clearing in frustration. He was not ready to stop killing, but there was nothing left to fight. Dead things were no challenge. He flopped on the ground, beating his tail in anger, scales beginning to change back to fur. Unless the danger returned he would soon look less like a gore-covered avenger than a large, annoyed golden panther.
Aithne permitted herself a small smile as a wave of relief washed over her. The Thing was gone, for the moment. She had not failed her friend, even though she could take little credit for the victory; such victory as it was. How much time, she wondered, did they have before the Thing, or other hunters, returned? She stepped from her cave into the night, looked sadly at the broken body of the gryphon, and approached Shandriel and the Dwarf. She watched the crying girl clinging to the grim Dwarf and spoke softly.
"My valiant Dwarf I grieve with you for the loss of your companion, but I thank you for our lives. I see you know my young friend. I am Aithne."
As she spoke, Aithne's breath formed a cloud of sparkling crystals in the night air. Cullen, who had come to lie at her feet, stopped scanning the darkness for movement and swatted at them in a bored way, since there was nothing else to fight. Aithne pulled her cloak more tightly around herself. She looked into the darkness at the edge of the clearing, searching for any movement. The darkness was quiet, but she still felt uneasy.
She forced herself to stop searching, and turned back to her companions. Future dangers would have to wait. They had more immediate concerns.
"The night is dark, and cold and we need warmth and safety. Please come back into my home with me. I can provide at least warmth. And you Shandriel, and you sir Dwarf, can perhaps provide me with answers. There is much I do not know."
Aithne turned and walked back to her cave, followed by Cullen.
She paused at the entrance to look at the tatters that had once been the spellspun door of her cave. As her hand stroked the fabric the tatters melted together till once again there was a shield to draw against the night. A moment of soft chants and the fabric glowed. Not a barrier like the one destroyed by the Thing, but not an easy entrance to penetrate either.
She bent to stir the embers of the fire as she walked past, placed the kettle back in the coals and added new, fresh herbs. The fragrance that re-filled the cave still comforted but now into the mix there was added a tang. Something to spark minds and help with making plans. A few drops of honey added to the pot would soothe those who drank.
As she sat on the bed and waited to see if the others would join her, Aithne absentmindedly rubbed Cullen and thought about the two people outside. She barely knew Shandriel. She knew a fresh young face, remarkable indigo eyes. A few words they'd exchanged in the past. A smile in passing. She felt kindly toward the girl...but what did she really know of her?
And the Dwarf. Grim-faced...a fighter. Where had he come from? How did he know of the danger? What else did he know?
She wondered what they saw when they looked at her? Did they see the core of power in her? Did they see the lines of magick emanating from her, and wrapped around her? Or did they see only her outer shell? Only a woman no longer young, but not yet old. Tall, straight, not yet bowed with years. The silver in her long auburn hair scarce so far. Wrinkles around her eyes more from amusement at the world that from the age that slowly, slowly but inexorably moved in on her. In another 500, 600 years, if she remained in this world, a fight like tonight's might be impossible. She thanked the Goddess and the Shadow for the training that had brought her strength. Laughing to herself she though, "That was a few hundred well-spent years."