And at last I see the light
And it's like the fog has lifted
And at last I see the light
And it's like the sky is new
And it's warm and real and bright
And the world has somehow shifted
All at once everything looks different
Now that I see you
Mandy More and Zachery Levi, I See the Light
October 10th, 2007
The Astral Realm, just outside the Whateley Academy Warding
Coyote sat with his tail curled around his paws as he watched the humans just on the other side of the warding. Distance meant nothing in the Astral Realm and even though on their side of reality the watching spirit was just outside the Crystal Hall, well inside the ward line of the school, in the Astral Realm he was still outside it, peering over the fence at a celestial neighbor as it were. The Spirit growled and in the real world the wind abated somewhat and he could better see the two girls he had been watching for some time. They lay on the floor, their souls shining in their hallows as their bodies slept and regenerated themselves.
The blonde had burrowed her head into the hollow of the red head's neck and their arms were wrapped around each other. Coyote smiled at the simple signs of affection and love without care or thought of consequence which was the right of youth. For tens of thousands of years Coyote had come to humanity, teaching, testing, bringing wisdom and knowledge and sometimes heart ache and bitter tears. He sighed as his intense gold eyes watched his latest students sleep, feeling anew the reason and sureness of why he had taken on this burden so long ago.
Cousin Wolf had chosen to split himself, half becoming Dog to guide man as a faithful companion, teaching love and duty. Half would remain Wolf and would predate on man and his sheltered animals, through hardship and loss teaching patience and dedication. Coyote had taken the hard road, the road of the spirit guide, to stalk dreams and teach lessons beyond example; to keep and whisper secrets of the world and the Astral Realm that lay beside it. To walk in both, belonging to neither, despised of the spirits for sharing their power and feared by men who could not understand the world he opened their eyes to.
It was a lonely, thankless task, but every once in a while, Coyote would sit and watch his pupils, as he did now and marvel at the simple pleasure of love conquering all. He blew softly and his breath whispered through the warding and the dense, strong crystalline wall to lightly rustle the hair of Tansy Walcutt and Elaine Nalley and gently allow their souls safe passage through the raging storm to the March of Dreams. He could only wool gather for so long, indulge in the joy of watching his students before he had to return to the task at hand.
It was time for the lesson to begin.
March 10th, 774CE
The March of Dreams
Elaine awoke as if her mind was far away from her body and had had to travel to it. Her eyes were thick with sand and everything felt odd and strange. Thinking was as hard as it had been when she had woken up in the hospital after her case of alcohol poisoning from forcing herself to drink eight ounces of whiskey. She was wearing a night shirt, something like the oversized T shirts she favored for sleeping in, but was certain she had gone to sleep in her school uniform. The shirt was not any of her Jersey cottons, it was nowhere near as soft, but neither was it terribly coarse.
The blanket was actually a very heavy fur of some kind and for a panicked moment she thought she was sleeping in the fox fur coat Tansy had bought her. She brought a hand up to her face to rub her eyes and cried out in pain as something hard and rough drug across her eye. Switching to the heel of her thumb, she got her eye clear and was able to focus on her hand. What had hurt her was that there were large, hard calluses on her index and middle fingers that had evidently grown in overnight.
She sat up, realizing she was in a bed and looked around her. The room was lit by the dieing embers of a fire in a stone fireplace that was also heating it. The bed was a wood framed affair that had knots of rope like little florets around the outer edges. She realized there was something like a rope cargo net that was holding the frame together and on that was something that was more pillow than mattress. It was essentially a stitched bag stuffed with what felt like down and feathers. While the wood was beautifully worked, it had obviously been fashioned by hand tools.
Also in the room was a small table or desk and a stool with it and in one corner there was a large wardrobe, also hand made and adorned with ornate carvings she couldn't make out. From the ceiling hung an oil lamp that was out and in one corner nearest the bed was a bucket whose smell made it obvious its function. Finally her brain clicked and she realized where she was. “This is Laneth's room,” she told herself, her voice sounding odd in her ears and she began to become worried.
Usually when she dreamed of her ancestress it was like watching a movie from her point of view, but this was different in a way she could not explain. She reached up and pinched the back of her hand and felt the pain. “Oh, shit,” she whispered and became aware of a bell that was ringing; identifying it as the sound that had woken her. By the bed on the stool was a pair of leather trousers that she pulled on. The leather was neither soft, nor particularly supple; it was thick for pants, but well worn and let her move. She noted there were larger patches of leather that had been sewn together to make crude plates and then attached to the pants. There was a belt under the pants from which hung two pouches and the dagger she had earned by becoming a Banshee. Clicking her teeth at the lack of socks, she pulled on the leather boots near the bed and was surprised to find them lined in fur and remarkably comfortable.
The 'night shirt' was a woolen tunic made of undyed twill and had some other fabric, linen perhaps, that was a mustard yellow as a decoration around the collar and the cuffs of the sleeve. Seeing no other top, she kept it on and belted the tunic against the pants before she opened the door. Outside was a stone corridor that was also lit by oil lamps and she saw Laneth's father just arriving at the junction. “Fetch your bow and come lass!” he ordered and was around the corner. Lanie picked up the bow, finding it unstrung with the string wrapped around the handle and the quiver of arrows. She buckled the quiver to her belt as she followed the direction the village chief had gone and then the press of several dozen others as the corridor led to a circular stair and down into the main room.
She had not realized in the previous dreams just how large the long house had been. The crowd went outside and the air was cold, but not frigid, but no one seemed to mind it. Lanie lamented that the Medieval Warm Period was two hundred years away. The sun was already turning the sea and sky golden, but was not yet above the horizon as the crowd clustered around their chief as he shouted up to the watchman in the bell tower. “What do you see?”
The man pointed to the south, towards the mouth of the bay. “A ship on fire is beached below!”
“How many still at sea?” Galan shouted back.
“The sea is clear, Chieftain! I see only the beached longboat burning!”
“Follow me!” Galan told his men and they set off at a trot into the predawn. Now that she was trotting through Morlock, it surprised Elaine how much stonework was in the village. It commanded a hill top, overlooking the bay and through a series of walls went down all the way to the sea, with gates at each wall to stymie invaders. It wasn't technically a castle, but it wasn't so far off from one either.
The lower most gate was opened just enough for the little crowd of rough men and their somewhat reluctant Banshee to exit and then was thrown fast again when they were clear of it in case this was some kind of trap. The beached long boat was ablaze, which was a pity as it had been a magnificent craft, thirty-five or forty meters long with a dragon's head at her bow and a twisted spade tail astern. A mast rose up amidships, easily the length of the boat and was rigged with a massive square sail that was burning. There were people jumping from the wreck, crying out in a strange language.
It was quickly apparent there would not be a battle and the men from the village and the sailors quickly worked together with buckets to try and save the craft. The sun had risen before the fire was out and while she could likely be salvaged, the mast, rigging and sail were gone. It took several tries before the two groups found a language both spoke and Elaine watched her ancestress's father speak at length with what appeared to be the captain and a thin man in a cloak and hood that stood near him as well as a larger man in a leather jerkin over a tunic all in black.
At her father's call, Elaine stood and walked over to him as he gestured to the captain. He was a hulk of a man, with straw colored hair and icy blue eyes, but he was clean shaven, and his hair was in a bowl cut. “Grímr Laggsson, my daughter, Laneth, Bean Sith.”
The big man put his hand over his heart and bowed. “I am honored,” he declared just a bit haltingly. Not knowing what else to do, Elaine curtseyed as best as she could with the tunic.
“Jarl Grímr is on his way to Neustria to the court of King Pepin in hopes of marrying his daughter well,” Galan went on with a gesture to the thin man in the cloak with his, now obviously her hood up. “I have offered you as chaperone of his daughter until they can repair their ship.” Lanie nodded and again curtseyed to the big man.
The Jarl turned to the hooded girl and said, “My daughter, Astrid.” The hooded girl started, then reached up and threw back the hood to reveal the hopelessly beautiful face of Tansy Walcutt. In an instant, Elaine realized that this was not some doppelganger or distant relation of Tansy's with an uncanny resemblance to her far future friend. By the expression on her face, and the light behind her eyes Elaine knew this was the presence of her twenty first century lover who was about to blurt out something that would not be advantageous here in the late Iron Age.
Before she had the chance, Lanie quickly declared, “Well met, Astrid Grímsdóttir! I am Laneth mac Joan, Bean Sith.” Fortunately, Tansy was quick on the uptake and bowed her head.
“We...Well met,” she said after a moment of thought. “It is a distinct pleasure to meet you!”
Grímr beamed. “Astrid, you've studied well your Latin! I am proud!”
Before there could be further complication or awkwardness, Galan clapped an arm around the shoulders of Grímr and made a gesture up to the village he was chief of. “Come, let us break our fast and you can tell us how you came to be so far off your course!” The crew of the boat fell in with the Chief's guard and they made their way up to the village.
Tansy fell in step with Elaine and the two girls made a show of getting a bag of hers from the boat to justify falling behind. When they were alone enough, Tansy hesitantly asked, “Lanie?” When Elaine nodded, the blonde gave a huge sigh of relief. “Oh, thank God! What is going on?”
Elaine shrugged as she unstrung the bow and wrapped it around the handle. “I don't know,” she admitted. “I sometimes dream of parts of Laneth's life, but this is different. It's normally like watching a movie and I have no agency to change anything, but this is more...real?” she asked with a shrug. “It's like we're here almost. I even pinched myself and felt it.” She walked in silence for a few steps and returned the wave of the Gate Keeper as they passed through it. “Dream Space, maybe?”
The blonde shook her head. “I woke up on that boat to find it on fire and the men had just fought off, something. I tried every trick I could think of or that Mustang had ever shown me to change it to something more pleasant and I couldn't. You try.” Elaine concentrated for a moment, then shook her head. “See? It's not Dream Space. Do...do you think we are here. I mean, like, have we been transported back through time or something...?”
“It's possible, theoretically, to go into the future through time dilation at near light speed,” Lanie replied, “but it's a one way trip. Time travel backwards is impossible; and every physics book I've ever read agrees on that. Even Mrs Carson said in that spirit realm class Kayda and I took that you can't go back in time.”
“What does Grizzly say?”
After a moment, Lanie said, “She was never 'here' when I had these dreams or past life incursions as she called them, and I don't feel her now. What about Mustang?” Tansy shook her head.
“If he's here, he's not feeling talkative.”
“I have a bad feeling about this...”
October 10th, 2007
The Nations Teepee, North of Holbrook Arena
The big senior sighed and gave up trying to pretend to be asleep. He opened his eyes to find the fire still going, and still having the same amount of meager fuel, although now it seemed to be consuming it. Whatever Guardian Angel had kept it going through the night, without consuming the meager fuel supply, evidently was spent. “What's up, Kayda?”
“The fire is burning the wood again.”
Wyatt sighed. The little fire had done yeoman's work in the teepee, and it was almost comfortable under the furs. “I see that,” he replied, trying to sound nonchalant. “I bet the storm is about over,” he said brightly. “When the sun comes up we...”
“Listen,” she interrupted. He paused and heard the wind howling, but it seemed muffled somehow and far away. There was also a strange scraping noise of something up against the leather. Intrigued, he rolled over and got out from under the fur as carefully as he could so as to let as little heat as possible escape. The amount of warmth in the teepee surprised him, it wouldn't be comfortable by any stretch, but it felt like it was above freezing. And being trapped in a refrigerator was much preferable than being trapped in a freezer.
He crept over to the leather flap covering the opening of the tent and opened it to find a white wall that nearly filled the opening. “Jesus,” he swore. “There's close to two feet of snow here. It must be insulating the...My God...”
“What?” Kayda called from the furs.
Any hope of the storm abating was quickly dashed as visibility was even worse now than it had been yesterday and the wind was bitterly cold. Wyatt reached out and began to struggle with something. “You won't believe it! A pair of trees fell on either side of the teepee!” His words were drowned out by snaps and cracks of breaking wood, then he began to haul some smaller, broken dead and dried branches into the tent, shaking as much snow off as he could. Soon their store of sticks was better stocked and the fire was going merrily again.
Wyatt brushed the snow out of his fur as his stomach rolled in protest. He could smell breakfast cooking on the wind. He even thought wistfully of the jerky soup they had made last night, but the storm was still howling, though they were more sheltered with the trees around the teepee, and they could replenish their formerly-meager fuel supply without getting lost in the storm, which meant their survival chances had gone up tremendously. Or so he hoped.
He got back under the furs and was surprised when Kayda immediately snuggled against him. He watched the fire for a few minutes and just when he was certain she had fallen asleep her voice drifted up from the furs. “What...what is it like, Wyatt? Being so popular, I mean.”
“I...I don't know that I would consider myself...” He stopped when she blew a raspberry between her lips.
“Come on, Wyatt, don't play me!” she protested. “You were Alpha Male last year, you would have been this year if you had run for it! How many girls have you scored with? Lanie and Tansy, and there's two of the prettiest girls in school! If you were to bag Nikki you could complete the set! Hell, MY girlfriend almost slept with you just to see what it's like! If anybody is popular at this school it's you!” She sighed. “Can't you tell me what it's like?”
He snorted in dismissal. “You probably have more friends, real friends, than I do. Sure, I have a lot of buddies, but real, solid friends? Ok, Pendragon and I settled things and Art is staying in touch, so that's one. And Aries had my back, so two.”
“And all those girls?” she asked archly.
Wyatt chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. “So I enjoy the company of women, so what?” Kayda dug into his chest with her elbow. “Ow! Hey, play nice! My player days are behind me. Lanie and I are engaged and...”
“And you're both 'playing' with Tansy,” she shot back, her tone dripping with sarcasm.
Cody sniffed as if trying to use scent to find what he wanted to say. “Nobody was more surprised than me when they sprung that on me,” he admitted finally. “And macho BS about threesomes aside, I gotta say it's a bit humbling to try and keep up with them.” For a long time he said nothing, just thought in his mind and remembering, then something made him add, “Watching them together is a privilege. There is something poetic about it, it's beautiful. And they include me and cuddle with me...I don't deserve that. I never will, but I'll spend the rest of my life trying I guess.”
After a long moment, he thought she had fallen asleep again, then from the growing twilight her voice drifted, small and frightened. “Wyatt, I'm scared.”
It was a subconscious thing, but he put his arm around her and hugged her. “Hey, take it easy now. We've got a fire, and plenty of fuel and the snow is actually working for us now, the more it comes down, the more insulated the teepee will get. We'll be out of here in no time. You'll see.” He was stretching the truth about the wood supply; there weren't a lot of dead branches on the downed trees, and the fresh wood wouldn't burn nearly as well.
“OK,” she whispered, not at all convinced. “OK.”
October 10th, 2007
The Crystal Hall
“Good morning, students!” Mrs Carson called from the top tier and the faculty dais. Despite having spent the night in her office and not having had a shower she was still coiffed and professional. It hardly seemed fair. “If you can conduct yourselves accordingly, after breakfast we will have open study and club meeting time until the storm breaks and we can return to some semblance of normalcy. If you prove you cannot be adult in this, we will arrange for classes here. The choice is yours. Enjoy your breakfast.”
She walked back over to the main faculty table that the facilities crew had set up as a kind of command center. “Mike, how are we doing?”
The harried head of operations yawned and took a sip of coffee to try and bolster himself. “It's not as bad as it could be, Liz. We've got power and thank God the Trust decided to run the lines through the tunnel system which makes us immune to outages. The reactor is fine, and our usage water reserve tank was actually topped just before the storm hit.”
“Lucky break there,” Mrs Carson agreed, her eyes sweeping the pile of blue prints that were scattered all over the table. “Do we need to worry about the system freezing?”
“The tunnels are down to fifty degrees without the steam plant, but they're stable there. We would have to have weeks of sub zero conditions to start worrying about the water plant failing. With nobody showering, it will get ripe, but we have two weeks of water at the current usage rate.”
“And we're well stocked food wise,” Mrs. Hotchkiss the head of Food Services added from getting herself a new cup of coffee. “Even if we miss this weeks delivery, we can fall back to the restricted menu and have enough for a month; bland, but nobody will go hungry.”
The Headmistress nodded and crossed her arms. “Good, so tell me about recovery. Do we have any idea when water service will be restored?”
Mike shook his head. “The water board has the fire at the pumping station out and the leak capped, but they said the hut is a loss. Once the storm breaks they can get some guys to repair the damage and get a shelter up while they rebuild the shed, but it could be a week until...”
Mrs Carson shook her head. “No, I can't have these kids living on the floor for a week. When the storm breaks, get in touch with the water board and take whoever you need to assist them in getting service restored with some kind of temporary shelter. Once the kids are back in their cottages we can worry about a permanent structure.”
Mr Duncan nodded, knowing well there was no arguing with Liz Carson when she used that tone. “Yes, ma'am,” he started and would have said more, but paused as Ms. Hartford had walked up quickly.
“Liz, can I pull you away for a moment?”
“Mike?” Duncan nodded and the facilities team lowered their voices as the two headmistresses walked off. “What's wrong, Amelia?”
“I can't wake Tansy or Elaine,” the younger woman said. “I thought they were just soundly asleep at first, but...” Liz Carson's stride lengthened and she was over at the two girls, asleep in each others arms in seconds. Squatting down she took a hold of Tansy's shoulder and shook her to a level no one could sleep through.
“Miss Walcutt?” she commanded sharply, but when she let go, the girls just cuddled back together. A whispered spell told her they were both well, their vital signs were strong and regular and their souls were tied firmly to their hallows. She started to cast a different spell to force them awake and realized her essence reserve had not replenished itself over night as she was used to and she was still dangerously low of essence. Grizzly appeared in her human form at the head of the girls, dressed in Nurses scrubs, but transparent. “Grizzly?” Mrs Carson asked, surprised.
“I can't spare much...” the spirit replied, sounding as if on a bad telephone line, distant and echoed. “Elaine is drawn...” Grizzly faded away, still trying to give her message. Liz stood, a feeling of cold dread down her spine. “Amelia, get Ms Grimes and Circe here five minutes ago...!”
“On it,” Hartford replied, stepping away sharply to the headquarters to commandeer one of the radios.
“Now what?” Carson asked of the air, looking down on her two sleeping trouble makers, feeling very fearful of their safety.
Danica woke stiff and sore, finding herself framed protectively by Marty on one side and Hippolyta on the other. The rest of the FSA were nearby in little clumps of people rising and folding up the blankets and pillows in preparation of the housekeeping staff that were slowly coming around to collect them. The morning was promptly ruined by the rush of memories from the night previous and the feeling of dried tears in her fur.
She cautiously looked around, certain everyone would be pointing and laughing at her, but most of the kids seemed more concerned about the lines forming for the restrooms and getting breakfast. Drawing her knees up, she laid her arms over them and stared at the floor. The feeling of being so utterly humiliated weighed on her, causing her mind to spin in countless directions. How would she ever recover from such an experience, in front of the entire student body?
For a moment she wished she had never been born, and with the shock of such a thought the fleeting notion of suicide raced through her mind and she recoiled from it. She felt the sympathy from her spirit and a contrite feelings of apology for being the cause of her distress. It wasn't much, but for the first time she felt that her spirit genuinely cared about what happened to her.
It made the fleeing thought of self harm even less attractive than it was.
“Danny?” She looked up to find Marty Penn looking at her, her beautiful face painted with concern and worry. “I'm so sorry for what happened last night, and I want you to know, I know what you're going through. I was outed too and my freshman year sucked because of it. But it does get better, and if you need somebody to talk to, I'm here for you, ok?”
“Did you get outed in front of the whole school?” Danica asked with more venom than she meant to. Marty didn't take offense and just shook her head.
“No, sweetie, I didn't. The first time was in BMA when I got knocked out and David Archer spread it over the whole school. Then him and group of homophobes took to ambushing me to knock me out and take pictures of me as a boy. They would post them all over school...” She trailed off and sighed, forcing a smile she obviously didn't feel. “But Art...Pendragon, he stood up for me. And he gave me a place where no one cared that Martin was inside me. Steve and I, we're going to stand up for you, and if you need a place where no one cares, you're welcome here.”
“I didn't ask for this,” Franks said softly. “None of it. Not Wihinape, not powers, I just wanted to get through high school, maybe go to college, find a girl, do stupid shit, maybe even make my folks proud of me.” She sighed, her voice trembling. “Now I'm the brother of 'the chosen one', and it wasn't even supposed to be Kayda! And she had a chance to make it right! To undo all of this, and she didn't!” Danica wasn't sure when she had started shouting, but suddenly she was on her feet, nose to nose with Marty, whose eyes were sad and full of tears. “God damn it! Why did she have to be so selfish? Why, Marty? WHY?”
The blonde's arms encircled Danica and pulled her close into a hug as Danica's rage turned into an over whelming grief and shouts became sobs. “It will be alright,” Marty soothed her as Danica poured out her heart ache and clung to the other girl like a drowning woman. “It will be alright.”
Stronghold pulled up his trousers and flushed the toilet with a sigh of relief. He still had a bit of mental cobwebs that he was working through, but the thought of a good breakfast and a day spent being close to Marty without the bother of classes was a good day and there was a spring in his step as he opened the door to the stall, on his way to the sink to wash his hands. “Lock the door,” someone said, and Steve turned to see David Archer between him and the sinks and Matt Thatcher and Ernie Schuler by the door behind him, all wearing evil looking grins. “Not so tough now, are you?” sneered Archer. “I told you...”
Archer couldn't continue as Stronghold leaped over and grabbed him by the throat and hauled him off his feet, denying David any leverage. “You are as dumb as you look,” Steve laughed as he cocked back an arm and yelled, “Hold it!” before Dump Truck and Dozer could move. “You boys might want to think this through some more, attacking me in here, with the whole school just outside?”
“You think we care?” Archer wheezed, but Steve's smile became dark and menacing.
“You misunderstand,” Stronghold replied softly. “You think I care. I don't. See, I meant what I said last night, David., I will spend this whole year in detention if it means I can beat the fuck out of you and your bitch boys.”
“There's three of us...” Matt started, but David looked into Stronghold's eyes and what he saw scared him, badly.
“They might get me in a rush,” Stronghold admitted, “But not before I beat your head in, got it? You die first.”
“He's bluffing...” Ernie started but David shook his head.
“No, no, he...he means it. He'll kill me...!”
“And I'll sleep like a baby in jail,” Stronghold promised him. “Unlock that fucking door and get the hell out of my way,” he ordered.
“Open the fucking door!” Archer hissed. The bolt was thrown and Dozer opened the door to the surprise of the boys past it as they watched Steve put David down. Straightening the other boys shirt, the red head leaned in to put a little salt on the wound.
“Come at me, bro, whenever you think you're ready. Come. At. Me. See what happens.” He turned, putting his back to the Junior and strolled past Dump Truck and Dozer, then stopped. “Almost forgot!” Then he casually walked back to the sink, deliberately washed his hands and left, whistling a merry tune.
“Hey,” a wit in the line remarked. “You pussys are in the wrong room, the girls bathroom is over there!” The line roared with laughter and David's face flushed with suppressed rage.
March 10th, 774CE
The March of Dreams
“I'm sorry I can't offer better fare,” Galan was saying from the high table as one of the serving wenches put a bowl of some kind of porridge in front of Tansy and held up a clay pitcher as she asked something in a language the blonde didn't speak. “It is Lent and we are fasting, but I will feast you all come Oculi mei three days hence!”
Lanie leaned in and whispered, “She wants to know if you want milk?”
“Please,” Tansy replied, nodding. The woman splashed a remarkably thick looking cream into the bowl of boiled oats, this was joined with a small, dome shaped loaf of a course bread for the girls to share and a dish of berries. “No butter?” asked Tansy, but Lanie shook her head.
“Lent.” They pulled the loaf apart carefully as it was hot and fresh from the oven and each sprinkled berries into the porridge. “I'd kill for some coffee,” she murmured around a mouthful of the thick bread.
“What year is it?” Tansy asked.
“It is the Year of Our Lord Seven Hundred, Seventy Four,” said a round faced man with a smile. He wore a brown mantled monks habit, belted with rope, that was more than a little thread bare and his sandy blonde hair was in a tonsure, thinning on the top front and a rosary was hanging from his rope belt. He bowed to Elaine, and then to Tansy. “Forgive my intrusion, ladies, young Laneth has been an apt pupil, but I so rarely get a new face to converse with. I am Brother Rupertus Calvert, of the Society of Benedict, your humble servant, young lady.”
Tansy quickly cleared her mouth. “Astrid Grímsdóttir, brother, I am pleased to meet you.”
The monk beamed, obviously pleased. “I must say, my lady, your Latin is flawless! And so unexpected in a North Woman!”
“Latin?” Tansy asked, with a confused glance at Lanie before she realized and made a great act of being embarrassed. “Oh, of course, we're speaking Latin! My father was so concerned I learn the language I forget some times!”
Brother Calvert didn't seem to notice. “Marvelous is the working of our Lord. And is it is ante diem quartum Idus, of the month of March, I have this,” he said, laying a small box before Lanie. “Happy Birthday, Maid Laneth, and many more for you.”
Lanie blushed as she wiped her hands and picked up the box. “Oh, Brother Calvert, you shouldn't have.”
“Nonsense,” the priest replied. “How can I not celebrate the birth of an apt pupil?”
Elaine opened the box to find a rosary strung on heavy yarn, with polished Agate, a local stone, for the Decades and ruddy garnets for each mystery and the center. From it hung a Celtic cross in cast pewter expertly carved with knot work such that it took Elaine's breath. “Brother Calvert, this is too much! It must have been an awful price!”
“Nonsense,” the Monk replied. “And what is money weighted against a soul?” He took the rosary and laid it around her neck. Placing a hand on her head, he intoned, “May Andrew, Patron Saint of Maidens watch over and keep you, Laneth, Daughter of Joan.”
“Amen,” the girl whispered as she crossed herself. The monk smiled and walked on towards the high table and his place at the left hand of the Chief's wife. Tansy counted on her fingers and leaned in.
“Weren't you born on March tenth?”
“I was,” Lanie replied. “Who knows when Laneth...”
“Today,” Tansy replied. “Ante diem quartum Idus, that's the day before the fourth day before the Ides of March. The Ides is the fifteenth and five days before that is the tenth. You and Laneth were born on the same day?”
The red head blinked in astonishment. “That...is a remarkable...”
“If you say 'coincidence' I swear I'll hit you,” Tansy told her as she spooned up a mouthful and chewed thoughtfully. “Nothing about this is coincidental.” She saw her father rise from the table and bow to Galan. “Sssh, I think Grímr is about to tell us what happened.”
“My Host,” he toasted with a bow as he stood before the high table that Galan returned by raising his cup. “Well met new friends all, know that full moon last I raised my sail and departed my home of Rogaland in search of friends, trade and to see my daughter Astrid well married at the court of Pepin, King of the Franks. Five days at sea we were beset by a storm as though Ran had cast her net around Thor and both did battle for the drowning of the Thunderer. Two days without sun and nights of lightening as the gods did battle and my ship was tossed in the tempest and then in the deep of the watch the sky was rent and a frost giant was pitched from the battle!”
A gasp ran through the hall and a few chuckles and cat calls of encouragement of the tale. “It was the like of nothing I had heard of any tale or prose, twice again the size of a man and covered, like a dog in white fur with claws like swords and a mouth full of daggers. Ten loyal shield men went to Valhalla as we fought the beast, whose breath was like the north wind in the depths of winter as though the entire world is frozen. It laughed at our swords and splintered shields with its massive fists. With a single blow it crushed men until their blood and entrails stained its fur. One man it froze solid with its breath and then with the back of its hand shattered the corpse like a child's snow ball! But, as with all of its kin, fire was its bane! I lit a torch and did battle with the monster, the flame giving it pain our spears and swords could not. My men rallied to my lead, and seizing torches, we drove the giant over board, down to feast with Ran in her hall below the waves, but our victory was hollow for our ship was set ablaze in the battle!
“But yet Thor saw our victory and with a mighty throw of Mjölnir sent a wind that drifted us to your shore and thus we were saved to tell you our tale!” The rafters on the roof shook as the hall was filled with shouts of praise and congratulations of the tale.
Lanie rolled her eyes and leaned over to Tansy. “That's a very flowery way to say we got lost in a storm, accidentally set our boat on fire and washed up here,” she whispered, but immediately Tansy shook her head.
“No, baby, I saw that thing they were fighting, like some kind of nightmarish Yeti or something! And it was killing them with a swipe and still they fought it! The fire was the only thing that seemed to hurt it! If we hadn't been so close to land...”
“You saw them fight a frost giant?”
“I have no idea what it was, but I saw them fight something.” She shuddered, and looked round, drawing her cloak closer. “And I have a terrible feeling they didn't kill it.”
October 10th, 2007
The Crystal Hall
“Well, they're alive,” Circe declared as she stood from kneeling over the sleeping forms of Elaine and Tansy. The ancient sorceress shook her head and looked at her employer. “On a guess, I would say both of their spirits are being held in the March of Dreams.”
“Why?” demanded Ms Hartford with concern in her voice. “And what kind of being could do that?”
“There are many creatures that can pull someone into Astral space, or the March of Dreams,” Elisabeth told her. “It's what I was trying to impress on them about the dangers of dealing with spirits!” She took off the eyeglasses she didn't need and rubbed her eyes. “Any ideas, Circe?”
“The list is uncomfortably long,” Circe agreed as she cupped her chin in thought. “Even narrowing down something that would have the ability to thwart the wards around the school, it's...”
“Coyote,” Elisabeth declared suddenly. “Just last month he took an interest in Elaine and Kayda, and his machinations nearly caused irreparable damage.” Ms Grimes nodded grimly.
“It's certainly within the Tricksters nature,” she agreed. “But why this storm?”
“That isn't like the Coyote I've read about,” Circe mused. “They could be unrelated, but this storm is a mana storm, it's playing hell with the flow of essence. Despite that something or someone is maintaining a tunnel between their hallows and the March of Dreams,” she finished with a gesture at the sleeping girls.
“Could we collapse the tunnel?” Amelia asked. “Force them awake that way...?”
Liz shook her head. “No, that would kill them, separating their spirits from their hallows. I don't have the essence to force my way to the March of Dreams, what about you, Elyzia?”
“Let me consult with Raven,” she replied as she moved off a bit to sit down in one of the chairs and closed her eyes.
“Archer is going to be a problem,” Stronghold declared as he sat his tray down on the table the FSA had staked out as theirs on the middle tier. It was isolated, a single long table between the beverage station and the waterfall on the girl's bathroom side. It was also out of direct line of sight of the teachers on their dais directly above them, but that was just a coincidence Saladin always replied when asked about it.
As he sat down, Erin looked up from her corned beef hash and eggs. “What makes you say that?” she asked as she passed him the salt shaker for his eggs. The rest of the club looked up from their various conversations to hear the answer.
Steve took a deep breath and a sip of his orange juice. “Eruption, Dump Truck and Dozer ambushed me in the boys room before I went to get breakfast.”
Anosha snorted and added a bit of sugar to her coffee. “You look like you got out of it ok,”
Nalley's smile was telling. “Oh yeah, I jacked up David and pulled a Tombstone on him.”
“Tombstone?” demanded Sayyid from the head of the table. “Didn't you use that gag yesterday?”
With a chuckle, the red head shook his head and worked to swallow his mouthful. “Tombstone,the movie? Kurt Russel as Wyatt Earp?” he asked, seeing several blank faces around the table. “Gun fight at the OK Corral? Ok, so, anyway, it's a western, and Kurt Russel has just arrested this bad guy for shooting the town sheriff while he was drunk. The bad guy's gang takes issue with it, but Kurt draws his pistol and puts it right against Stephen Lang's forehead, who was one of the bad guys, and says, “They might all get me in a rush, but not before I turn your head into a canoe, got it? You die first.”
Sayyid pulled at his chin, wishing he had a beard to stroke the way Pendragon had. “Interesting! You pulled this and David backed down?”
Stephen's laugh was a bit cruel to be a hero's laugh. “Damn near pissed himself,” he affirmed, smearing butter on his toast. “Of course, I had him in the air by his shirt one handed. Still, that was likely just pouring gas on a fire.”
Erin rolled her eyes. “Men and their frail little egos!”
“Speak for yourself, Manly” jeered Powerhouse, from across the table, emphasizing Boudacia's ironic last name. The ardent feminist flipped him the bird.
“Fuck off, Johnny” she snapped back. Hippolyta's hand came down hard on the table, bouncing it slightly and bringing the silence she desired.
“Knock it off,” she growled, giving Powerhouse the evil eye. “Stronghold is right, showing him up like that will probably make him enraged and reckless.”
“And now is not the time for us to fracture,” Sayyid continued with a nod at Anosha. “We have thrown down the gauntlet to the entire school, we can expect some push back from that. We must remain cohesive and a unit.”
“Sorry,” Stephen managed around his mouthful as he stood at Marty's approach to take her tray and hold her chair so she could sit.
Erin cracked a sideways smile through a confused look on her face; as though she disapproved and yet was touched by his gesture. Wallflower turned to Sayyid from her conversation with Hank. “Sayyid, you think they'll try something while we're all stuck in here?”
“They did with Stephen,” he replied reasonably. “We're likely safe out here in the open, but we should be careful in the restrooms and more so on our guard once things return to normal.” He paused for a moment before he turned his gaze to the two odd men out of the group. “What about you two?” Sayyid asked of G-Force and Iron Star.
“What about us?” demanded Bobby. “You won the vote, Sayyid, and the motion carried. I don't have to like it, I just have to do my part. And I'm here, aren't I?”
“I need to be able to count on everyone...” Sayyid started, but Iron Star made a dismissive gesture.
“Name one time I haven't been there for this team?” he demanded. “You can't, because everyone here knows they can count on me. Do I like the way you live your life? No, but so what? Hippy over there hates me because I've got a cock. You gonna go lecture her? I'm a cape. I've got her back, and yours so long as you have mine. You live your life however you want, just don't demand my approval. We're on the same team, so get over it.”
Sayyid sighed and nodded. “That's fair enough, I suppose. What about you, LeShawn?”
The big African American brick shrugged and jerked a thumb in Bobby's direction. “I'm with Mighty Whitey,” he said with a crooked smile. “Don't hit on me and we're cool.”
“Black power,” Bobby replied as he and G-Force bumped fists.
Sayyid rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Cats,” he muttered. “It's like herding cats.”
October 10th, 2007
The Nations Teepee, North of Holbrook Arena
“Well, that's it,” Wyatt declared as he dumped the armload of sticks, twigs mostly, he had pulled off the trees. “That's all I can reach from the Teepee. When this gets low I guess I'll go out...”
“Y-y-you w-w-will n-n-not,” Kayda managed around her chattering teeth. Even with the little fire and the insulating snow fall, the teepee was cold, well below freezing as their breath smoked before them. She clenched her teeth to stop them chattering and when she had control of herself, fixed her gaze and declared, “You said it yourself, Wyatt. Going out there would cost you more body heat that you would get back from burning those green branches.”
Grimly, he nodded and selected the last true log they had and put it on the fire to help the green twigs stay lit. The air warmed up only a little. “They'll be coming for us soon,” he said brightly. “Once the storm breaks...”
“Don't lie to me,” she said morosely as she stared at the fire. “We're going to die here. Maybe from hunger, maybe from cold, but...”
“Oh come on!” he interrupted gruffly. “It takes weeks to die from hunger!”
“Dead is still dead,” she replied.
“Let's talk about something else,” he declared, sitting down beside her and accepting the fur she offered. He picked her up and set her in his lap and drew the furs tight around them. “Ok?” he asked, looking down at the vulnerable young woman in his arms. Her eyes were huge and she smelled so wonderful... To his horror, he felt his manhood respond to having a young, healthy girl, just becoming fertile in his lap.
He tried to shift himself discretely but her sense of balance was off and she grabbed at his leg to steady herself. “Oh...my...God...!” she exclaimed.
Wyatt forced a laugh. “Uh, would you mind unhanding...?” She snatched her hand back like it was burned. “Sorry,” he said, feeling awkward and embarrassed for the first time around a girl in a long time. Dimly, long ago and far away the memory of giving his virginity to Poise laughed at him.
“You...I...” she stuttered, her eyes traveling down, then shooting back up in embarrassment. “I didn't believe it when I heard, but...” her voice closed off as she realized she had spoken aloud and her cheeks burned.
Wyatts eyebrow ascended his forehead in his very best Dwayne Johnson impression. “Excuse me?” he drawled. “Heard...?”
She played with her fingers in a gesture so much like Elaine when she was embarrassed it was eerie. “I...um...you don't know how Lanie and I met, do you?”
“What has that got to do with rumors of my John Henry?” he demanded with a generous dollop of sarcasm.
She swallowed her discomfort. “Well...Um...you know she's Bi and I am Gay, and uh, well, last spring there was this, uh, social event...”
He laughed out loud, an odd sound in the tent over the wind considering their situation. “You met Lanie at the Lesbian Hot Tub Social?” Her face shot up with her eyes as big as saucers.
“How did you...?”
Again he laughed and actually gave her a little hug of encouragement that set her heart to beating as she was pulled against his chest. The muscles were so hard and yet, it felt so comfortable. “Kayda, that is the biggest open secret on this campus! Are you kidding? There are legends about where this thing takes place and every boy that isn't a switch hitter fantasizing about a massive hot tub somewhere full of naked, beautiful, lesbians!” He looked down at her crooked. “So...where does it...?”
“Like I'd tell you!” she snapped, trying to sound angry and only managing petulant which got him chuckling again.
“Ok, ok,” he laughed. “I know I'm not privy to the deep, dark secrets of the Sisterhood. But what does where you met Lanie have to do with...?”
Kayda blushed again. “You...you two were split up at the time and some of the other Bi girls asked Lanie...if...if you...if you were as...big...as they'd heard...”
“Ah well, strike another blow against the 'size doesn't matter' guys,” he said good naturedly. She leaned against him and his arms encircled her and for the first time since the ordeal began, Kayda felt warm and safe.
“Does...does it...bother...you that I used to be...a...”
“If you still were this might be a little awkward,” he admitted in good humor. “But, as you're not, we can leave the past in the past.” He felt her head come down against his chest, just below his shoulder and within seconds her breathing slowed and she was asleep. “Sweet dreams,” he whispered as he held her against him and stared into the fire.
October 10th, 2007
The Endless Graveyard Of The Astral Realm
With great difficulty, Elyzia Grimes was able to make her way from her body, through the spirit wards of the school and into the higher planes of the Astral Realm. She was buffeted and battered from all sides by the mana storm as it swirled like a hurricane around the Schools mystic space. Finally the blinding snow cleared and the teacher found herself in the Endless Graveyard, the domain of her teacher and spirit guide, Raven.
It was perpetual night as she walked among the tombstones, mist like fog hugging the ground and trees in an ethereal nightmare of death images. Names rose up on tombstones without dates indicating those in peril of their lives, while blank, faceless grave diggers, like something from a Dickens novel, would arrive with picks and shovels to dig the graves of the newly departed even as the current date appeared on their stones.
It was as if every cliché about death had been poured down a drain to pool into this disturbing place. Mausoleums dotted the landscape while dead trees raised skeletal branches to a dreary, overcast sky that had just enough breaks in the clouds to reveal a baleful moon. Owls hooted, crows cawed and wolves howled up to the dead moon.
A few hundred steps brought her to a wrought iron fence that closed off an area from the rest of the graveyard. It's gate stood open and over it an arch proclaimed Whateley Academy. The teacher walked cautiously through, the tight black dress her astral form was always garbed in hampering her movements a bit. She walked through the graves, trying not to look at them, some names she didn't recognize from before she had been alive back when the school was quite normal. But most of the graves had names she did recognize.
Jamie 'Heyoka' Carson
May 9th, 1993 – May 5th, 2007
The grave no longer looked fresh, grass was growing over the slight mound of settled earth and a bronze urn stood at the base of the stone filled with white roses, slowly wilting. Elyzia stopped for a moment to contemplate the grave of the murdered student, wondering again if there was anything she personally could have done differently that would have changed the outcome for her. Some lesson she could learn from the student's death.
She shook her head and continued on to the statue of Noah Whateley in the center of the garden, mirroring the statue on the quad of the campus, but some how seeming older and more decayed. She turned by the statue and continued on into the area that was filled with tombstones showing the names of her peers, the faculty of the school. There were still blank stones, but most were just like the stone she stopped in front of, noting the pick and shovel that lay close by, ready to be put to work.
As she had every time she had come here, the stone she stopped before had her own name carved in it, and while the month and day were still blank, the year, 2008 was still boldly carved in it. Above the stone, glossy as midnight itself, sat the monstrous form of Raven. He appeared as he always did as a physically perfect form of the carrion eating animal he exemplified, save for his size, that of a large cat or a small dog, double or triple the size of any natural bird. He stared at her one eyed and cackled ominously. “Student,” he greeted in his throaty, off tenor.
Elyzia bowed. “Teacher, I come seeking wisdom.”
“What secrets would you ply from me, student?” the gigantic bird demanded. “Have I not slated your thirst for the unseen with this very warning I rest upon? Take heed human that you do not seek more than you can grasp and meet your undoing.”
Elyzia nodded, her eyes settling on the spirit's feet as she could neither meet its gaze, nor stare at the carving of her own name on the grave marker. “I always take heed of your teachings, master, and well have I profited from it. Is my master not happy with the progress his student has made? Nor that I should return for more of the sage council and wise words I have received?”
“Flattery will not sway the Grim Reaper when he taps you on the shoulder, Elyzia Grimes,” the bird replied with a cackling chuckle. “A viper, more venomous than you can know curls in your bosom, preparing to strike. But it is not your own doom you seek to conquer, is it?”
“Two of my students, children in my care are trapped in the March of Dreams, Teacher. I seek your wisdom in how to free them.”
“Your students have the misfortune to have attracted the attention of Coyote,” Raven replied. “Even now they learn at the paws of the trickster a deadly lesson. They are safe enough; I cannot interfere.”
“Cannot?” the teacher demanded. “Or will not?”
“Cannot,” Raven returned evenly. “And if I could, would not. The lesson they learn they must master if they would save the Ptesanwi from the cold death that clutches for her. And you, my student, have greater cares that should dwell your thoughts on. Your doom grows closer and yet you have not unmasked the monster who roams the halls of your school, scheming old schemes and sharpening the knife to bleed you and yours.”
“We are doing all we can, master...”
His head cocked to one side. “Then perhaps I should have Coyote play school master for you as well, Elyzia Grimes if this is the best you can do. Your time grows short, and my grave diggers will be busy digging fresh graves for the children in your care if you do not act. For in the shadow of the Enemy of Life lurks an old fugitive from Death. Take heed lest he offer up your soul against the black debt he owes on his own, my student. Take heed!”
Elyzia woke with a start, her Spirit's voice echoing in her mind. She found Mrs. Carson and Ms Hartford waiting close by, obviously keeping watch over her and the two sleeping girls. Walking over, the Headmistress asked, “Did Raven have anything useful to say?”
“It's all useful,” Elyzia replied. “Some is just more useful than others.” Mrs. Carson smirked and looked at her friend side long. “You were right,” Elyzia continued. “Coyote is behind it and he is teaching them a lesson they 'must master if they would save the Ptesanwi from the cold death that clutches for her.'”
Elisabeth held her chin in thought. “No, that's not cryptic,” she complained with a roll of her eyes. “I have to wonder if spirits speak in riddles just to sound as if they know more than they actually do, or if they just love being frustrating and mysterious?”
“This is exactly why I try to stay out of that mystic mumbo-jumbo crap,” Amelia teased her.
“It gets better,” Grimes warned the other two women. “Raven also said 'in the shadow of the Enemy of Life lurks an old fugitive from Death.' And that he would offer up our souls against 'the black debt he owes on his own.'”
“What is that supposed to mean?” demanded Hartford.
Mrs Carson shrugged her own ignorance. “Amelia, have someone keep an eye on Tansy and Elaine...” She trailed off as her assistant pulled out a chair from the table next to them and sat down. “Alright, I'll have Michi come over here. I need the two of you to pull my slack with keeping the school on track.”
“Where are you going to be?” she asked, obviously worried.
“Busy with Mystic Mumbo-Jumbo crap,” the headmistress returned with a smile. “Back as soon as I can.”
October 10th, 2007
The Crystal Hall
“Excuse me, might I have a word with you?”
Danica looked up from the steam table where she was trying to decide between pancakes or french toast for breakfast to find herself face to face with an incredibly beautiful girl with black skin. Not the cafe au lait to dark brown of African Americans, this girl's skin was midnight black, which would be remarkable enough without the milk white hair she was wearing in an unflattering pony tail and the matching white eyebrows, lavender eyes and hot pink lips. “Do I know you?” she asked.
“No,” the other girl replied, extending her hand. “Jobe Wilkins, Crown Prince of Karedonia.”
“Uh, Danica Franks,” she replied, taking the girls hand and getting a pretty firm handshake in return. “What can I do for you?”
“Nothing,” the black skinned girl replied. “I, however, can be of great assistance to you. Despite the feminine perfection you see before you, I am just as male, mentally at least, as you are. This,” and she made a gesture at her impressive physique, currently being displayed in a skin tight gray jumper with a utility belt. “Was the result of a lab accident.”
Danica couldn't contain a whistle of appreciation. “Damn, if that is one of your mistakes, you must be pretty sharp when you get it right. What can you do for me?”
The girl actually smiled at his reaction and nodded. “Thank you. I couldn't help but overhear what happened last evening between you and one of the uni-brow neanderthals this campus is infested with. I wanted to let you know, you are not alone. I along with Marty Penn and Harley Sawyer suffer with you, and I have begun to think that perhaps we should form something of a self help association. My father, Emperor Wilkins, did something similar when he was here.”
“Well, thanks,” Danica replied with something of a shy smile. “Uh, Tansy Walcutt is teaching a make up, fashion and deportment class Tuesday nights, maybe you'd like to come by?”
“Really?” Jobe asked, cupping her chin in thought. “I begin to think it was odd I wasn't invited, but likely my manly personality and steeled mental acuity disqualified me. However, there could be times when being able to 'pass' as a complete female might be advantageous.” She looked up. “I may join you, however, if you are free, perhaps after breakfast, you would not mind meeting with me, Harley and Marty?”
Danica shrugged. “Sure, I guess. Thanks for thinking of me.”
March 10th, 774CE
The March of Dreams
“And this is my room,” Lanie said as she opened the door and held it so Tansy could join her. The sun was up and the window shutters were open to let light and fresh air in, but the fire was burning merrily to keep the room warm. Tansy looked about the stone room, which was quite small to her mind, and sparely furnished. What surprised her was the small desk or table by the bed with a stool and next to it, a little cupboard that held three dozen parchment scrolls and two actual books that were about coffee table sized.
“What's with these?” she asked as Elaine closed the door and joined her by the desk.
She took the scroll sitting on the desk and unrolled it, showing it to be a simple text in 'pages' of two columns. “I know, cool right? I never really think about Laneth being a 'scholar' but she was, as much as this day and age allowed her to be. This is her diary.”
“I wonder if any of this survived to the present?” Tansy asked, genuinely curious.
“Probably not,” Elaine replied sadly. “The Pict language is actually dead, we don't have any record of it, and this is written in Latin. It probably didn't survive the...” she trailed off and sat down on the bed.
“The what?” Tansy asked. She turned and looked at her lover sitting on the bed. She was staring into the fire in the fire place and sighed.
“Today is Laneth's seventeenth birthday,” she said quietly. Then smiled a crooked smile that didn't last. “She's actually becoming something of an old maid in this time.” The red head shook her head and sighed again. “Ten years from now, when she's twenty seven, Vikings, maybe even relatives of yours, Astrid, will raid Morlock and burn the village to the ground. I...she...Laneth will be killed in that raid,” she whispered.
“That's horrible!” Tansy declared, holding her hand over her mouth.
Elaine shrugged and stared into the fire. “That's life,” she replied in a monotone. “It ends, violently, peacefully, never saw it coming or suffered for months, but it ends. I never really thought about it until now, but sitting in her room, wearing her clothes, I can't stop thinking about how horrible it was.”
“You talk like...”
“I saw it?” she asked, looking up at the blonde. Tansy walked over and sank onto the bed next to her. It was more of a big pillow than a mattress and she felt the ropes underneath it. “I have, baby. I dreamed it, woke up sicker than I ever had been before, still feeling that cold steel in my stomach.” She lifted the tunic up, revealing her navel and the intricate Celtic knot work tattoo around it, pointing to a spot over her large intestine, just below her stomach. “Right there,” she said listlessly. “Front to back, misses my spine, so I stay upright. He was going to gut me across my stomach, like this, but I...she...grabbed his wrist and pulled the sword through her body so she could get close enough.”
Tansy's alabaster complexion turned slightly green. “Close enough to do what?”
From the scabbard hanging from her belt, Elaine pulled the dagger. It was cast iron and showed the scars of being honed with a stone by hand, with a single fuller than ran the blade's length. It was rounded rather than coming to a point, but the edge gleamed razor sharp and it was obvious it would make a horrific wound. A Quillion curved in towards the blade before a leather wrapped handle and a round bronze pommel. It was closer to a short sword than a dagger and two and a half feet end to end. “She stabbed the Viking who killed her in the eye with this, right through his brain and drove the tip into the back of his skull.”
Tansy reached over and traced a scar on the other side of her stomach, healed, but visible against her peaches and cream skin, even as it ran under the knotwork abstract form of a tattoo that was mirrored on both of her flanks. “Looks like it wasn't the first time she was stabbed.”
Elaine flinched and giggled, her mood a bit lighter than it had been. “Tickles,” she said, returning the dagger to it's sheath. “She was a Banshee. War was her business and in the Iron Age, business was good.”
“How many tattoos does she have?” asked Tansy, intrigued by the designs and the way the light shimmered across them as though the ink shined somehow.
“More than I will ever have,” Elaine replied, as she pulled the tunic over her head. Topless, Tansy could now see how the designs on her flanks cupped around her full breasts and down her rib cage to just above her waist. In addition to the crown around her navel, a pair of tribal knots encircled both biceps. “She has another set of these around her thighs, and these weren't actually tattoos, they were brands.”
“My God!” Tansy whispered.
“They were anchors for spells. These made her stronger, these down her sides gave her endurance and this one warned her of magic being used on her and protected her from it. Going through this was the rite of passage to become a Banshee.” Elaine turned around and pulled her leather trousers down a bit. In addition to the 'half moon' Tansy could see an Encircled Triquetra in the small of her back. “That is a tattoo.”
“It's pretty,” Tansy admired, looking up at Elaine's eye staring at her over her shoulder. “You should get this to honor Laneth's memory when we get home.”
“I can't imagine getting a tramp stamp,” Elaine replied, pulling up the trousers and reaching for her tunic. “Call me weird, but I'm just not really into it. Is it just me or is it getting colder?” Both girls started when they realized they could see their breath.
Tansy stood and looked at the window. “It is getting colder,” she replied as the village bell began to ring. “Oh, shit,” she whispered. Elaine snatched the wardrobe open and pulled out a bundle of metal that fell out into the shape of a shirt and pulled the chain-mail on over her head.
“Stay here,” she ordered, reaching for her bow.
Can you hear this? Asked Tansy's voice in her mind. She turned to find the blonde staring at her, eyes wide.
“Yes, I heard you,” she admitted as she strung the bow with an easy motion and quickly buckled the quiver of arrows to her belt.
“Then I'm not staying here,” Tansy replied as both girls rushed out the door to answer the alarm.
From Oath Hill, next to the crucifix Laneth had suffered and sworn her oaths on, Coyote sat and watched the demon finish climbing from the sea, cold and snow radiating from it as the Pictish village swarmed like an overturned ant hill as men rushed to grab weapons to defend the village and women herded children to the Long House of the Banshees, the safest building in the wall.
His tail curled around his paws, Coyote's endless eyes saw a Banshee and a Viking maid burst from the fort and begin running towards the Town Gate. “Now, my students,” he whispered. “Show me what you've learned.”