The Kitten, the Witches and the Bad Wardrobe - Willow & Tara Forever

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated august 25)
PostPosted: Mon Aug 25, 2008 11:19 am 
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Dibs.

Wow!

What an action-packed update.

The battle scene felt like something from Braveheart with all those shouts of Freedom.

You set that scene well with the description of the men, and even children, waiting on the hill. You could feel their bravery and their pride despite the overwhelming odds.

Inspired by their belief in their cause they always had a chance. But at what cost now that TBK is hurtling towards ground.

I only hope the tide is in.

Willow, too, is in desperate danger. I don't suppose Ren will have a change of heart, will he?

I loved the opening scene with Willow and Tara wiping away all the hurt and pain of the past eight years. There was such longing from them to comfort the other and be stong for each other. But, the strenght they showed is just an example of the strenght they are going to need to continue their battle against all the evil that pervades this land.

As usual, I can barely wait for the next installment.

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People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built. Eleanor Roosevelt


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated august 25)
PostPosted: Mon Aug 25, 2008 1:14 pm 
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Yay for great update-y goodness.... It's very good that both Willow and Tara told the other how they feel... I hope Ren doesn't cause too much irreplacable damage before his destiny is fulfilled... I truly hope that Tinari's excistence has come to an end...

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated august 25)
PostPosted: Mon Aug 25, 2008 1:21 pm 
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This is such a great story and you always leave us wanting more.

Update soon please.

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Nadie debe decidir por mí a quién debo amar, con quién debo acostarme.

Hector Avellan.


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated august 25)
PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2008 1:23 am 
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Sadly i am still behind and currently reading chapter 26.. but i am loving the fact that i can keep on reading and not having to wait for updates.
Keep this great story up.

I just discovered that Ren is working with the queen.. how could he.. and the plot around the dark knight thickens too..

when will Tara be back? or should i just catch up lol.

Renate

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***I will make me a cabin at your gate and call upon my soul within the house... I rush into the secret house. Rage More***


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated august 25)
PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2008 7:15 am 
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wow. what a cliffhanger -- somewhat literally. you throw out more clues regarding Tara's transformation, and yet I still have no idea how she did it -- at the time and for all these years.

with all these struggles, who's going to die? eek. well, I assume not Tara and Willow, but...things don't look great at this point. I trust in the sanctity of the kb, naturally.

on my last hike I was accompanied by a small wiener dog. she didn't say much, but then I was too breathless to pose any Raven-related questions. we made it to the top of Sleeping Beauty, in the Mt. Adams ranger district of Washington. my usual haunts lie within the Columbia Gorge.

thanks for all your amazing updates. ooh, and I'm excited for the reappearance of Reza, too. that's a good sign. and of course, the kiss.

-she


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated august 25)
PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2008 8:04 am 
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Hello,

That was a great update!

The battle strategy was a good one, lets hope things won't change too much.

I don't know how Willow will do with Ren but I can't wait for her to do anything she can.

Thanks again for this wonderful fiction.

Friendly,

Julia.

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"Joie est mon caractère, C'est la faute à Voltaire; Misère est mon trousseau, C'est la faute à Rousseau." Gavroche. Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (chap. XV)


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated august 25)
PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 9:55 pm 
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Wow!! What a great story. I found this story last night and just caught up to the last chapter so far. Fabulous, very original AU....intense, very well done. I look forward to more.


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated august 25)
PostPosted: Sun Sep 07, 2008 3:11 pm 
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Before I post the next chapter, I'll respond to some of the wonderful feedback you've all left me.


PTS-

You know how I love to write action! It's very challenging to write so many things happening at once, and that's what's been slowing down the posting of the next installment. I hope you'll be pleased with the results.

While the rebels and gypsies are definitely fighting a losing battle, I did want you to see how brave they have become. I didn't originally make the connection to Braveheart, but I see the similarities. I think this is a common theme we've probably seen a hundred times, but it never gets old. Who doesn't love the little guy in a fight against the bad guy?

Ren is such a complex character. I like him. I can't stand him. I waffle on the subject sometimes. Ultimately, he's got a very big role in this entire story, and you won't see it all until the end. Again, I hope you enjoy that journey.

As for TBK, tide or no, things are not going to get better. It was only a matter of time, I'm sure. Tragedies make for the best romances, too.



Zampsa-

You've despised Tinari for a long time! Perhaps you'll enjoy the next chapter then...



ceridwen-

Thank you for the kind words. I wish I had more time to write, but I'm pleased I got #29 done this soon. Enjoy!



Renatecs-

By now I'm sure you've caught up. Have you liked everything so far?

Ren has had a rough time of things. I think you may come to understand his motives much better after this next chapter.

Thanks again for keeping up with things!



mishki-

If I gave away all of Tara's mysteries, what would keep you coming back?? Death is inevitable in this story. Sadly, there will be more than some of us realize at this point. Fear not, the sanctity of the Kitten Board overrules whatever horrid things my creativity come up with!

Small wiener dog hiking? Too fun! My girlfriend and I are hoping to make another trek to Mt Rainier next weekend. We never get enough hiking and outdoor time these days, so it's time to see some trees.



JujuDeRoussie-

I'm glad you like my strategies! Surely you knew the circus freaks would come in handy sooner or later... Willow and Ren have much to sort out, and it's all going to happen soon. Thanks for the friendly words!



Animism-

You caught up on 28 chapters that fast? Wow, indeed! Thanks for being so kind about my work. I appreciate it greatly.




Thanks again to everyone for leaving such great comments. I'll be posting the next chapter shortly!!

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated august 25)
PostPosted: Sun Sep 07, 2008 3:19 pm 
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Chapter 29



Willow mumbled under her breath, repeating the story of the Ancients, hoping and praying that it would unlock the secret she needed the answer to. Her body was folded in on itself, doubled over on the edge of what remained of the castle by the sea. Cold wind and ice stole what little heat remained in her thin arms and legs, and she braced herself at each crash of the surf. "The wind blew and the trees bowed, for the Ancients walked among them. They came from the South, with eyes of water, bluer than the ocean waves. Flowers blossomed in their footsteps, for the earth was their charge, its very life their one hope.

"Their skin was the early frost, their tears the dew upon the grasslands. Their footsteps carved stone, hills bowed in respect to their passage. Their hands shifted the river current, and their gaze lit the sun and moon.

"This land was birthed to them, and theirs it shall remain, until the Keeper of Fire returns. Snakes on wing and a tide of smoke, the left hand of Blackness brings an end and a beginning. One with voice, one without, their cries will wake the dead, and the Ancients will walk again." The foundations of stone below her reverberated with a low rumble.

"I cannot allow this," a weak voice from the shadows called out. Willow spun in place and searched the darkness for the owner of the words. As she squinted, the figure of a young man emerged. In his hand was a long dagger. "No one will come for you," he explained softly. His speech was laced with regret, and his sad eyes took in the visage of the woman he had loved so strongly. "Try to understand, I never wanted this, Willow. I only wanted to love you."

"Instead you come to kill me," she spoke evenly, slowly moving to her left, away from the edge.

"I come to save another. Your death…" he looked away briefly, "your death cannot be prevented."

"Ren," she tried to regain his trust, "I am here to save everyone in the Known Lands. This is a task only I can complete. Try to understand-"

"No!" he shouted, his grip tensing on the blade. "For once you must understand me!" Willow backed away from his violence, fearing that no amount of negotiation could save her. "There is no place for magic in this world now. It is over. A new age will begin after tonight."

"And what then for Wake?" Willow countered, finally beginning to understand her former friend's motives. She glanced ever so briefly to the cavern wall, and the slightest movement caught her eye. "Will you also sacrifice him to banish magic in its entirety?"

The conflict in Ren's face twisted his brow and made him press his eyelids shut in pain. "It is for him that I stand here now. His magic-" the gypsy stopped short, unable to bear the thought of the boy who he had raised as his own son.

"Father," following Willow's slight nod, a third figure stepped from the shadows. Wake placed himself between his father and the sorceress. "She's one of us."

"Wake?" Ren fell to his knees, grasping the boy with both hands. "You've been here all along?"

"Magic brought him here." Willow held her place just a few paces from the reunited family. "Magic brought you here as well."

Father and son stared up at the redhead. Still holding the knife, Ren weakened his grip and softened his eyes. "They will kill him, Willow. They will hunt him to the ends of the earth, just as they have done to you, to me, to us all. It must end."

"It will," she reassured him. "It will end here and now." Her eyes began to blaze in the darkness, and a fire within her was lit. The rumbling in the earth which had begun as a low growl now erupted into waves of rolling motion, and the sea echoed back with vicious, tumbling waves. Anger filled her mind, and Willow pressed on, calling up her power from every vein, every pore, every muscle in her body. No one deserved to run in fear for their own existence. Magic was not to blame for the state of this world, and destroying those who possessed it was futile. Willow mumbled and pushed the power from her belly into her voice, praying that she had the strength to perform the spell. It had to work. It had to be enough.

"Can I help?" the little boy asked from behind, but his father held him tightly, terrified at the display of magic coming from the woman standing on the rocks.

Fire and heat surged through her chilled body, and Willow began to sweat from the flames which licked at her flesh. She did not burn, but the saltwater around her sizzled as it splashed on the rocks. Into the stone and mortar flowed every ounce of power she could summon, and yet the rumbling did not change. Hot air began to swirl and gust around the isolated gypsies. Ren hugged Wake close to his chest, shielding the boy's face with his free hand. Frustrated and feeling her magic wane, Willow pushed the fire away from her slight frame and called out into the air, "I call you to walk the Known Lands once more!" Her voice cracked in the thunderous noise. "Wake from your slumber!"

With steady arms and solid steps, Wake pushed aside his father's protective grasp and walked up to the edge of the cavern. He took a deep breath, inhaling the heat and fumes of Willow's fire, then yelled with all the strength he could muster. His wordless voice leapt from the shattered stone and out across the ocean, and its power spread over all they could see, lighting the waves with a sudden flash. Willow watched his command and saw a faint figure in the water before any other eyes beheld it. It slid from between the fallen stones which rested on the shore, noiselessly pushing itself up to stand. Though faint and flickering in and out of vision, it was soon clearly the shape of a man. He was tall and broad, twice the size of a normal man, and he moved with deliberate steps. Willow saw the pain in his eyes as he neared, and her heart leapt out to him. Something had gone wrong. Her spell had not worked. Perhaps Wake did not possess enough power. The man's form faded in the low light, translucent and pale as he struggled to remain in their presence. An outstretched arm shook with weakness, and Willow found herself reaching toward him with her own hand.

She would have caught him had the wind not shifted. She would never have known that anyone else existed in the world at that very moment, but her attention was pulled off course by a loud crash and a violent ripple of sea water. It was followed by another and another, and the grunts and cries of pain were so loud that all other sound faded into the darkness. Willow turned to face the splashing, colliding bodies which tumbled and fell and landed in the surf. The last to join them was a wyvern, and his rider was thrown clear by the impact.

She ran without thinking. "Phidi!" she cried. "Phidi!" The boy did not answer. He was nowhere to be seen. She searched the wreckage of armor and bodies, pushing and throwing as she looked for the scaly boy. The winged beast struggled and called out as it pulled its huge body from the water, dragging with it seaweed and leather. "Where is he?" she shouted angrily at it, storming up the rocky beach to confront the animal. It backed away in fear, sensing the flames beneath her skin. Willow tripped suddenly, and her eyes were brought down to a limp body, twisted and broken on the sandy shore. Blackness stared back at her. "Tara?"

The others had followed. Ren turned over one body after another, finding nothing but death. The third body stared at him with cold, familiar eyes. "Birch?" he whispered. Still and lifeless, the young man stared back, and Ren felt the loss of one more member of the Circle. Slowly, steadily, they were all being wiped out of this existence. Willow's cries carried over the wind, and Ren left Birch to run to her side. She had knelt on the shore beside the Black Knight. “Willow, stop!”

“Stop?!” she screamed, whipping her tear soaked face toward him. “Look what has happened!” With that, flames danced upon her fingertips and lit the hollows her feet had left in the sand. Blind though she was, two things caught her gaze. The first was the shadow of the Ancient, growing stronger and more solid as he climbed the rocks to the shore. He looked upon Willow and smiled faintly.

The second thing she saw was Wake, running at full speed toward them. Wet sand flew all around them as he crashed to his knees beside the Black Knight. His hands reached for the dark figure, but stopped short of touching. He turned to find his father’s face, and asked a simple question. “Will you forbid me, father?”

Ren felt the weight of years of anger and pain threaten to overtake him. He fought back his own tears, and took Wake’s hand. “I will not forbid you. You were brought here for this.” The boy nodded, and his other hand pressed down on the Black Knight’s chest.

Willow's fire died back, and she watched in awe as the child began to pull Tara from the edge of death, but a shadow fell over them all. She lifted her eyes and saw the infuriated Ancient bearing down upon them with great strides. He shouted at them, but his words were lost on the wind. Another threat grew in her mind, and it must have triggered something in Ren’s mind as well, for they both turned simultaneously to look over their shoulders toward the precipice from whence the men and beasts had fallen. Far from the wreckage of broken soldiers and discarded weapons, a lone figure lifted himself from the sand and began to storm down the coastline. Though diminutive compared to the Ancient, his steps were no less threatening, no less terrifying.

“Tinari,” Willow whispered. Below her hands, the limp body on the beach began to breathe, and her attention was once again brought back to the company at her side and to the woman her heart cried out for. Wake released his hand and nodded to Willow. “You brought her back?” She looked at the masked figure. “Tara?”

Shaking, gloved hands reached up to the gypsy and held her close. Willow removed the wet mask and was shocked by the color and life in the face of the Southlander. “Willow?” Her voice was confused. “I fell.”

“We caught you,” Wake answered with a half smile.

Breaking from her momentary joy, Willow addressed the two men. “Wake, Ren, we have to get back up to the others.” In her voice was a warning they both understood. “This is not what I thought it would be, but I’m beginning to understand.” She glanced at the infuriated Ancient, his form once more flickering and wavering in the moonlight. “Can you help me carry her?”

Ren reached under Tara’s shoulders to help her up, but was surprised when the warrior leapt from her resting place and spun over the rocks, deftly avoiding a killing blow from Tinari. “So,” the Prince drawled, “a few little mysteries have been revealed.” The sword in his hand was curved, and its sharp edge nearly glowed in the light. “I feel quite the fool for never having guessed your secret, Black Knight,” he grinned maliciously. Unarmed, Tara crouched and stepped sideways, always facing Tinari. “Your actions indicate that you understand the weight of your own crime. You have deceived the Queen. You have deceived the people. Perhaps you have even deceived your own friends.” He smirked, jerking his head toward Willow and the others.

“I love her,” Willow said simply, standing behind the Prince. “My heart was never deceived.” He swung around to see her, still keeping Tara in his sight. “Your ideals are the reason she was forced to hide. The Known Lands have never seen a woman with true power because of you. But that time is over.”

“Your words are folly,” he sneered. “You cannot save her every time I kill her.” His cold eyes turned toward Wake. “My sword is quicker than your spells.” Fury burned in the pit of Ren’s stomach as the evil man glared at his son. He fingered the dagger at his side, slowly grasping it in his steady hand. “What little magic is left in this world shall be mine,” Tinari boasted, “and Avinash will be the most powerful nation known to men. Do not be mistaken, Willow. I know what you are. I know what power you possess.” He licked his lips. “I know how it will taste when it passes into my flesh at the moment of your death.”

Willow stepped forward, closing the space between herself and the Prince. “The power of an Ancient cannot pass to another,” she stated with confidence.

“Ah,” Tinari laughed, “there is so much you do not know, little gypsy. There is power in this world you have never even heard of. Ancients are more frail than they wish to tell in their legends.” He swung his sword in a slow arc. “They cry and feel pain. They hide when they are afraid. They can be imprisoned and tortured, and they wither and die just like men if the right weapons are used.” He raised his eyebrows and spoke so softly that Willow had to strain to hear his words. “Jesse cried like an infant after I tortured him for those long weeks in the dungeon. He begged for death at the end, and I gave it to him. I am, after all, merciful.”

“Jesse?” Willow whispered, her face and mind twisting with the name of her old friend, one whom she had always thought to be human. Could he truly have been an Ancient? The pain of his death reverberated through her chest, stealing the breath from her lungs. “You killed Jesse?”

Tinari closed his eyes, remembering. “He had seen so much. The memories from his father and grandfather were in his own mind as well. The things he chose not to share with me, I took from him.” Black eyes opened and bored into Willow’s heart, chilling her body to its core. “You were such a beautiful child,” he crooned. “Hepsebah never wanted you to know your own legacy. She tried to keep you from me, but fate brought you directly into my arms.”

The earth below Willow’s feet began to spin and heave. She let her eyes find Tara, and in her was a comfort that steadied her pounding heart. The warrior woman crept over the sand, always keeping herself ready to intervene. “You will not have her,” Tara warned the Prince. “This place strengthens her magic, and I will not see harm come to her. You are outmatched.”

Throwing his dark head back to howl with laughter, Tinari’s fangs glinted in the moonlight. “Outmatched?” he howled. “I made this place what it is! It was by my hand that these Ancients were confined and destroyed,” he threw his arm wide, pointing at the frail, fading body of the man still fighting the surging tide. Though immense, what little strength ran through his translucent body was clearly failing. Willow looked at him, and conflict raged through her veins. She knew that much of the story of this place was unknown, but nothing she knew seemed to match what was happening here and now. “You are but the last in a long line of conquests,” he spat at Willow. “It is time you faced the end of your race.” Cold power flickered in his black eyes, and the sword in his right hand was raised up before his face.

Tinari charged at Willow, but Tara leapt between them before he could complete three steps. She knocked the sword from his grasp, sending them both sprawling to the earth. Fists and knees thrashed and struck out at whatever was near, and the grunts of their struggles echoed over the sharp rocks. A hard blow to the Prince’s jaw separated them, and Tara’s powerful fist returned to her side, ready to strike again. She jumped to her feet, bracing for another series of punches. Wiping the blood from his lips, Tinari grimaced and growled, the voice of a wolf overtaking his ability to speak. He crouched and sprang at her, claws bursting from his gloved hands. Tara stepped aside to avoid him, but he was faster than she could prepare for. Tumbling into the surf in a splash, his claws sank into her arms. She knocked him off deftly, flipping him under her and forcing his head under the water. There she held him, her whole body tense with the effort of restraining him. When at last his struggles diminished, she spared a quick glance at Willow, making sure the young woman was safely out of the way. From the depths of the black water, a hand holding a small knife thrust upward, catching Tara just under her last rib. Her body was lifted by the blow, then hurled sideways into the sea.

“No!” Willow screamed, her feet carrying her into the fray. “Tara!”

Ren caught her, spinning them both to the ground. “No, Willow!” he cried through gritted teeth. She strained against him, desperate to get to the wounded warrior. “He will kill you!”

Tinari stood and shook water from his body. The bloody knife was still in his hand, and a look of pure hatred burned in his eyes. “I will,” he spoke, his voice still growling like a wolf, “and I will have your power.”

“You will have no such thing,” a new voice called out over the crashing of the tide. All eyes turned to the cavern from whence Willow and Ren had come. A broad-shouldered man stepped into the last of the moonlight, brandishing a long handled battle axe. “I have cropped your tail before, cur,” Merl warned him boldly as he came to stand by the gypsies. Though he bore the cuts and bruises of the battle far above, the barkeep was still stronger than anyone could have guessed.

Stunned as they were by the sudden appearance of a man they knew little about, Ren and Willow took the opportunity to creep out of the direct line of the Prince. Crawling on hands and knees in the wet sand, Willow sank down beside the wounded woman. “Tara?” she whispered.

The pale face of the warrior turned toward her, and blue eyes blinked rapidly in the darkness before the earliest light of morning. “Willow,” she muttered. “I tried to save you from him.”

“You did,” the redhead answered, tears resting on her eyelids. “You did save me.”

“This world isn’t ready for us, is it...” her question faded on her lips, and her breathing grew shallow.

Willow placed a hand over the bloody wound on Tara’s stomach. She pressed into it firmly, holding on through the woman’s writhing at the immense pain. “We will make our place in it together,” she answered, desperately fighting back the sobs in her chest. “Stay with me, Tara,” she begged. “Stay with me.”

A weak hand reached up and stroked Willow’s face, taking in her beauty with every sense she could use. Tara had never felt so much love, so much regret. “Someone is calling to me,” her eyes turned in an awkward way. “That voice...”

“It’s me,” Willow cried. “I am calling you. Stay here, Tara! Stay!”

“No,” Tara answered softly, “it’s something else. It calls.”

Willow grabbed Tara’s hand with her free one and gripped it tightly. “No, Tara! Don’t listen to it! Don’t leave me!”

Blue eyes turned back to Willow. “I can’t stop it,” she mumbled. Her eyelids fluttered. “I love you, Willow. Remember my name.”

“Tara?” the gypsy leaned forward, shouting into the suddenly pale face of her true love. “Tara? No!” She shook the woman, praying that it was only weakness which had overtaken her. “Wake up, Tara!”

Beside them both, a large hand reached out and rested on Tara’s forehead. Willow followed the fingers up a long arm and found herself looking into the golden eyes of the Ancient. His body lit up from within, and all that had once been hollow was suddenly solid and vibrant. He inhaled, and Tara’s body went limp.

“What have you done?” Willow accused. “What have you done to her?”

“She is in me now,” he spoke slowly, his words forming from wind and the crash of water against stone. “I have returned.”


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 7)
PostPosted: Sun Sep 07, 2008 9:34 pm 
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stolen dibs - cos i'll be late for work if i read this now It will be the first thing i read when I get home!

Wow! I'm totally speechless.

I can't believe you brought Tara back from the brink of death and let her go again.

God, I hate Tinari

PTS wrote:
All I have to say about Tinari is beware the wolf in Princely clothing.

That's my speculation for the day if you get my drift.


I left that in feedback on 3rd June, and now you prove me right. It's probably the only damn piece of speculation that paid off - lol.

Although I wasn't far off with 'absorbing magic' theory. I just didn't reckon on our lovely prince being the beneficiary.

Just how old is Tinari if he built city lost and quelled the ancients by trapping them in it?

I'm also curious about Hepsebah's warning again. The ancient raised by Willow and Wake needed something more than just magic, and Tara's soul/life-force completed the resurrection. Does this mean that the ancients are not so benevolent? In trying to save the Known Lands, has Willow inadvertently condemmed them?

Damn, this fic never gives me an easy ride. Everytime I think I know what is going on, you fill me full of doubt and just give me a new set of questions to ponder.

No wonder I love this story!

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People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built. Eleanor Roosevelt


Last edited by Paint the Sky on Mon Jul 16, 2012 8:23 am, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 7)
PostPosted: Sun Sep 07, 2008 9:42 pm 
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Wow...great update........lots of angst though..........I definitely need more :pray


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 7)
PostPosted: Mon Sep 08, 2008 2:28 am 
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Yay for great update-y goodness.... I hope the Ancient will kick ass but I also hope for Tara's return to her old body... Good that Ren wasn't such a bad guy after all...

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 7)
PostPosted: Mon Sep 08, 2008 6:25 am 
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Sadly no.. still not caught up yet.. sorry.. i am so busy at the moment it's not funny anymore.. i am keeping track of updates so what when i get a chance i'll have bunches to read..

Renate

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 7)
PostPosted: Mon Sep 08, 2008 9:01 am 
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Wow so Tinari seems to know a hell of a lot more than i would have thought and its very worrying that he has the ability to perform magic.

Where did Phidi go though? I don't want him to be dead.


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 7)
PostPosted: Sun Sep 14, 2008 12:02 am 
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Hello :)

Sorry to not have let a feedback earlier.

Wow! I mean wow! there was a lot to take in in the last chapter! So Tinari's a bastard for a long long long time? But how old is he? And who is really Merl?

I am also worried about the ancient and their wake up... I mean we can be grumpy when waking up, especially after so long but to kill everybody? No!
But I remember the warning, that Tara must not go to City Lost with her, is that why? speaking of Tara, I can't believe she died three times already! The first time being when she decided to become Raven of course.

And wake, who is wake? Is he an ancient too? Or just a powerful gypsie? What is the link between him and Willow?

All of this just got me hanging there waiting for a new chapter, it i sso great.

Thank you very much for this still wonderful fic.

Friendly,

Julia

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Broken Dolls |The Stadium's Goddesses | Seeds Of Beauty

"Joie est mon caractère, C'est la faute à Voltaire; Misère est mon trousseau, C'est la faute à Rousseau." Gavroche. Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (chap. XV)


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 7)
PostPosted: Tue Sep 30, 2008 11:34 am 
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As usual, I'll give a few replies to the feedback you've all so kindly left for me. I apologize for the long wait between chapters. Thanks for being patient.


PTS-

So.... Wolf in Princely clothing was indeed right on the money. His evil knows no bounds! You should enjoy the next chapter, as it may answer a few of your burning questions. I figured it was about time to clue everyone in on some history.

Tara's death will have its own consequences, and it will surely guide Willow's actions from here on. While I'm sure everyone wants her to do what's best for the Known Lands, she must have her own motivations.



Animism-

Chapter 30 has come to the rescue!



Zampsa-

I think we're all relieved that Ren couldn't go through with his naughty plan. There's plenty more in store, though.



Renatecs-

The chapters will wait for you when you have time. I'm slow to update these days anyway.



WWDIS-

Hmm... I'll get back to Phidi soon. Have some faith. I won't kill everyone you like.



JuJu-

Hepsebah had the ability to catch glimpses of the future, and yes, her warning about Tara and City Lost was for this very reason. Too bad Willow didn't catch on. Perhaps it was inevitable. And I realize I've killed Tara enough. I'll try to keep her remaining future death-free.

Wake's destiny will be revealed in the following chapter, but we won't get into it much until later.

Thanks for always leaving such kind words!

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 7)
PostPosted: Tue Sep 30, 2008 11:43 am 
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*Before I present this next thrilling installment, I'd like to briefly mention the style of writing toward the end. I typically separate the different aspects of each chapter with long lines, ________, and such division allows me to keep multiple plot lines running in parallel to one another. Here, we have the same story being told by two people to two audiences. While the points of view are very different, the content is identical. Note that the lines diminish in length as the stories come together, and at the end, though still separated by distance, the two conversations are combined into one. Hopefully you won't find it too confusing. No, they are not all together in the same tunnel or room, but they are all talking about the same people and things and ideas. If it works for you, awesome. If not, feel free to let me know. I'm always trying new styles, and I'd love feedback on this.







Chapter 30




Merl had known in his bones that his place was in the caverns below Torrent. He had held the line for as long as he was able, but his men knew what to do without his presence. His confident footsteps had led him down paths he had trod as a much younger man. The dark passage felt smaller, more confined, and he smiled briefly. Too much good food and ale had changed him from the soldier he had once been. His mind had never forgotten, but his body had softened. There had been shouting, blood, death and fear the last time he had taken these same steps, just as there was now. But she had been here, he let his mind drift. Merl gripped his long handled axe until his knuckles whitened. He would not allow history to repeat itself.

At first, the sea were too much for him to bear. The salt and mist were an affront to his nostrils, and his breath caught in his throat. Her memory was so near, and yet he knew she was beyond his grasp. As if time echoed itself, he heard her screams once more, and he turned to see Willow, her forward motion toward the water suddenly halted by a man he did not recognize. Merl narrowed the gap between himself and the girl, and his eyes instantly focused on Tinari. “I have cropped your tail before, cur,” he spat. "I should have finished you decades ago."

The Prince curled his lips into a hideous smile. "Alas, old friend, age has worn heavily on you," he mocked.

Merl stole a glance at the red-haired girl. Something had gone terribly wrong, and the barkeep suddenly realized that control of the situation was spiraling out of everyone's hands. Desperate to prevent Tinari from obtaining what Merl knew he wanted, the rugged captain charged at him with full strength. He roared as he swung his axe high, bearing down on the dark Prince with the pent-up fury of a lifetime of regret.

"No!" Willow howled at them, leaping from her resting place in the shallow water. Tara's limp body slumped onto the rocks, and the Ancient stood to his full height. "You cannot! Stop, Merl!" Heedless, the old man fought on, pushing Tinari back further up the beach with each strike. "You don't understand!" she chased after them.

"They obey my will now, Willow," a soft voice brushed her hot skin from behind. She stopped dead in her tracks and turned, finding herself once more facing the hulking body of the Ancient. Warm eyes and a wrinkled smile welcomed her, but a warning in her heart would not allow her to take comfort in his gaze. "You have struggled for so long," he soothed. "Are we truly so different?" His white robe flowed gracefully in the wind, which Willow suddenly noticed was warmer. The sun would rise soon. "He is an evil man," the Ancient went on. "He confined me here, and he took away the one thing I held dear in this world." He looked out over the sea. "His death will bring her back to me."

"Like Tara's death brought you back?" Willow said through gritted teeth.

He faced her again and smiled in a fatherly way. "You are angry. That is natural. In time you will come to understand our ways. You are one of us, Willow."

"I will never be one of you." She stared hard at him, and flames once more danced over the curves of her skin. The fight behind her clashed loudly, and she heard Merl cry out. Tinari had drawn blood and now stood victoriously over the barkeep, his curved sword held high for the killing blow. Before she could say a word, before she could intervene or prevent what she knew would be tragic, Ren soared from a rocky outcrop above the two men, landing on Tinari with a thud. They tumbled into the sand, and his dagger, the same one which had been meant for Willow, now found purchase between the Prince's ribs. Tinari howled in pain, and the sound of his cries carried out over the turbulent water, cutting through the darkness as the first rays of pure sunlight broke free from the clouds.

Willow fell to her knees and screamed in vain. Her voice was lost in the wave of change which swept over the Known Lands. From within the depths of the ocean, a new figure arose. Her lithe body shed seaweed and water as she stepped gracefully into the other Ancient's arms. Together, they cast their eyes over their domain, and it answered the call of their minds and hearts. Spring overtook winter, the tide receded, and a warm wind cleared the air of its heavy scent of blood. Willow stood and looked around herself. The landscape was hardly familiar to her anymore. Fear crept into her veins and throbbed in her head. Tara was gone. Ren had killed Tinari. And now, defying everything she had come to understand in the night, two Ancients had been awakened and now stood mere paces from her in the sand.

"You took her from me," she whispered. "You took Tara from me."

“Willow?” a thin voice found its way through the mist of confusion in her mind. She dropped her chin and saw Wake. He held a small hand out to her. She clasped it with a firm grip and looked about the beach in search of the others. “It’s not safe here.”

“No,” she agreed, “it isn’t. We need to find your father and Merl.” Stunned and bewildered, the odd pair found their way through sand and rock as untamed magic swept over the land. Willow refused to look behind herself, knowing full well that the Ancients were winding their way toward the higher footings of the crumbled castle. Everything changed in their footsteps. High mountain flowers sprang from the wet sand, and the sun moved higher in the sky than winter should have permitted. The bitter taste of imbalance made the handmaiden choke on each breath. “This is all wrong.”

“We must set it right.”

“Right?” Willow halted and fell to her knees, grabbing the boy by his shoulders. “How are we to make anything right, Wake? Tara is-” her words ceased, and she turned her eyes to the limp body in the receding surf.

“Kousa,” he answered. Willow’s face lost its color as she turned back to him. “You and I-”

“You are a child!” she yelled. “There is no you and I. And that woman is not to be trusted. She is evil.”

“Evil she may be,” Merl interrupted, “but my sister is no fool.” Willow stood and looked him over, concerned that the battle above and on the shore had wounded the barkeep beyond recovery. “The boy is right, Willow. We cannot stay here, and you especially are not safe in this place. Let me-” he reached for her arm, but the young woman stepped back.

“Don’t touch me,” she growled.

“I only wish to help.”

Her eyes wandered over the sand, finding countless dead bodies. She had not expected this. Her mind reeled at the sight of so much death and destruction. And Tara, she blinked slowly, wishing tears would soothe her. How could this have happened? Hepsebah warned me, she remembered. She told me not to bring her here, and I did it without realizing what she meant. Though the tears would not come, Willow rubbed her face with her hands. She thought hard, and she shoved her tender emotions deep within herself. There was a way, though she could not know what the outcome would be. Death had followed her from birth and had found its way into every crevice, every moment of her life. “If death is to be my partner, then I shall be the one to choose the steps of this dance,” she whispered.

“You intend to bring her back,” Merl replied. The girl’s face, sad beyond what his own heart could bear to look upon, changed into a mask of anger and purpose.

“I intend to fix this world. I intend to bring about an end to this age, whether by death or life I cannot say.” Her lips trembled. “Am I not an Ancient, after all?”

“You are more than an Ancient,” Merl took a careful step closer. Behind him, Ren walked slowly, the bloody dagger still in his hand. “You have spent so long believing that you were less, and yet those of us who have watched over you have always known the truth.”

“Hepsebah tried to explain it to me once,” Ren came to stand beside his son. “I couldn’t understand then, but now I see what it was all along. The legend...” his voice softened, and he dropped his gaze to Wake at his side. “This world has waited for change for too long.”


“What do you mean?” she nearly shouted at him. “That legend is clearly about Tara.... about me...” Her voice caught in her throat, and the tears she so desired sprang forth.

“No,” Merl finally reached her, taking both her trembling shoulders in his strong hands. “Listen to him. He speaks the truth.”

“It is Wake,” Ren went on. “Wake is the one the tale speaks of, Willow. He is the champion. He is the one the people have awaited for so long.”

“But Tara-”

Merl shook her slightly. “Tara was nothing more than a masked woman. She was no Ancient, nor was she an Animarus.” He glanced at the still body of Tinari. “Her place in this is done.”

Willow turned her head toward the Ancients who now slowly climbed the sheer cliff overlooking the changing tide of the sea. “He took her.” She glanced back at the older man. “He took her, Merl. I have to get her back.”

“There is time,” he soothed. “Let us begin our journey. I’ll tell you a story along the way.”



__________________________________________________________________




“Long ago, before the floods which shaped the history we now see about us, others walked these lands. Some were merciful and kind, but some were not so.” Reza shut his eyelids again as more stone broke free from the turrets of the castle far behind them. Having taken cover in the shattered remnants of Merl’s old tavern, though none of them knew it was his, Aelish, River, Trace, Jinna and Mara huddled together and listened to Reza’s story. “The first were the Ancients. Tall and proud, they cared for this world as though it were their child. Some believe they created it. Others think they were simply the first to inherit it from the wilds of time before man. But as benevolent as they wished to be, some fell victim to the corruption of desire.

“Second were the Animari, powerful beasts whose magic once balanced that of the Ancients. They were meant to live in peace together. Such things, however, rarely work as they are intended. The Ancients refused to bow to the needs of humankind when their numbers grew. They believed that they were kings and queens, and that man should bow down to them. Some fought amongst themselves, and all fought with the Animari. Magic scarred the land and wiped out entire tribes of uncivilized men and women. The Animari were driven back into the wild, and their powers were diminished. Mankind bound itself together to fight the tremendous power of the Ancients, and so began a war which would not end for nearly a hundred years.

“As humans grew smarter, stronger and more organized, they pushed the Ancients further and further from their cities and villages. One by one, the gods-to-be were eliminated. Some were killed, others were imprisoned. The last two, the most powerful of their kind, were imprisoned within Torrent.”

“But Torrent was crushed by the great floods,” Aelish argued.

A wry smile curled Reza’s lips. “True. And therein lies another story. Someday I will tell you all of it. For now, you need only know this. That was the work of gypsies, and that is how the gypsies came to be exiled for all of their generations to come.” A look of sorrow overcame his tired face, and he breathed heavily. “Humankind will never know the sacrifice which was made by my people.”

“Then those two Ancients were dangerous together?” Jinna asked. Reza nodded. “So the gypsies broke them apart...”

“And that’s how the floods came,” River finished the little girl’s thought. “It’s no wonder your people were exiled. They were blamed for the destruction of Torrent and all that was lost in the floods.”

Reza continued his story. “A few Ancients survived, however, and never gave up protecting the Known Lands. They were vastly outnumbered, and men would have killed them had they known their true identities, so the Ancients hid among them, pretending to be farmers, tradesmen and commoners. Though different than normal men, they still had hearts and felt love, and over the years Ancients and humans became intertwined. Their magic, though diluted, was passed down into generations of mankind. Little of it is left these days, and only one true child of an Ancient remains.”

“Willow,” River whispered.

“But what of the Animari?” Aelish shifted uncomfortably in the cramped space.

Reza stole a glance back at the castle. “Most died out, and some bred with other animals. Giant wolves and wyverns were a few of the results. Others were captured and treated as servants. Far below the castle of this kingdom, the last of them has been awakened. It is he who has brought about this destruction.”

“Then he is evil. We must destroy him,” Aelish concluded.

“No,” Reza jumped in alarm, “you shall do no such thing!” His companions were stunned to silence at his reaction. “You misunderstand, as did those who confined him. In the end, he allowed himself to be captured, he submitted to the dark magic which tied him to that horrible stone prison, and in doing so he saved the people of this city. It is only by his loss of control that the evil of mankind has been released. If you must blame someone for this, then blame those who cast the dark magic to confine him.” Confused, no one could respond. Reza sighed in frustration. “Dark magic changes people. It allows them to do that which no man with a conscience would permit. This place,” he looked around with disgust, “was built stone by stone with dark magic. The animarus within has been the only thing protecting us from it over the last hundred years.”

“Then why is everything falling apart?” the Princess demanded.

“Good magic, pure magic awoke him from his slumber.” Everyone knew what he meant. “He must be freed, and this city must be destroyed.”

“Fine,” Trace interjected for the first time since they took up their hiding place. “We let this animal out of its cage. How do we know it won’t kill us?”

“We don’t,” he answered simply.



_______________________________________________________________



“You have the power to control it.” Merl continued.

“Me?” Willow stopped and turned to the aging barkeep. “You must be out of your mind. I can barely control my own magic.”

“Please, Willow, trust me in this.”

“And why should I trust you?” she began walking once more. Ren and Wake stumbled along behind them by several paces.

He turned his head toward her, and the limp body in his arms swayed gently with the movement. “What does your heart tell you?”

Willow pushed her sadness down with each breath. Tara’s death seemed more real the further they walked, and her lifeless body made the gypsy ache every time she glanced at it. Merl carried her like a sleeping child to its bed. She wondered briefly if he had been a father, if some child, grown or young, was thinking of him now, even as the world changed about them. “Very well,” she nodded slightly. “We wake it, and I will control it.”

“It is not truly an animal. It has intelligence we cannot fathom.”

“It spoke to me in the castle,” Willow thought back to the terrifying episodes in the corridors of the keep, her magic being drained from her body any time she mistakenly used it within those walls. “It was not a benevolent voice.”

“Torture,” Merl answered through gritted teeth, “changed it. Beneath its anger lies a selflessness I cannot expect you to see.”

“Who did all of this?”



__________________________________________________________



“Tinari,” Reza replied, anger coloring his flesh.

“The Prince,” River whispered, letting her eyes fall to her own shaking hands. “My betrothed.” Aelish stiffened at the mention of his enemy, of the one who stood between him and the woman he loved.

“A Prince to his nation, perhaps,” the storyteller went on, “but an enemy to this land since he took his first steps here a hundred years ago.” Shocked gasps came from every mouth, and Reza waited for silence before he explained. “Tinari and his kind are magic thieves. They steal power with a touch, and the giant wolves have been a part of their society for decades. Tinari is the worst of them. His command over his own power grows by the day, and he lusts for more. He has become part Animarus, and he seeks the power of the Ancients. Three already have fallen under his blade, but the last will provide him with the power of a true god. He needs her because she is partly human.”




________________________________________________




“It was he who imprisoned the two Ancients here, then?”

Merl nodded. “Though he wished to kill them for their power, he was no match for them combined. Imprisoning them was his only alternative.”

“He’s dead, Merl,” Willow shook her head in disbelief at all she was learning. “None of his deeds matter now.”

“Ah,” the old man smiled, “but the same could be said for the Black Knight.”

Willow turned on him in anger, “I will find a way to bring her back! I will release her from him!”

“And so shall Tinari find a way,” he warned gently. Willow calmed herself and thought about Merl’s words. If what he spoke was true, then Tinari would only grow stronger in the body of the Ancient. “Now do you see why we must wake him?”

“He is the only one strong enough,” Willow concluded. “Merl,” she began, “how have you come to know these things?”

His steps slowed, and his shoulders suddenly dropped in weakness. Willow watched a shadow cross his face. “I was young once, though I’m sure that’s difficult for you to believe.”



_______________________________________



“He was a captain of free men. They fought tyranny and evil, they liberated villages from cruel lords, and they defied the King when he formed this very city. Tinari played his own role in that battle. Magic was banned within the city gates, gypsies became the hunted, and any rumor of an Ancient was quickly responded to with force.” Thin tears formed in Reza’s eyes. “One who had been in hiding for a short time believed that she could help the army of free men. Though her allies warned her that she should let mankind sort itself out, she felt driven to follow her heart. It led her straight to the captain.”



_______________________________



“The first time I saw her I knew that the world would not be the same without her beside me. I let my heart lead us to her death.” Merl sat abruptly on a rocky ledge, still cradling Tara in his strong arms.



_________________________



“They fell in love, and he tried to lead her to safety. He knew what Tinari was capable of, and he knew the Prince would kill her for her magic.”



_________________



“I tried to convince her to hide, to run back to the gypsies she had claimed as her own family. She wouldn’t listen.” Merl gazed into Willow’s eyes. “You have her same stubbornness.”

“They ran,” Reza went on, “and Tinari followed. Thinking they could hide in City Lost, the abandoned castle by the sea, they fled to its walls, and they took shelter in its ruins.”

“He found us,” Merl’s eyes misted over with the memory. “I fought him with ten times the strength I have now, but he was too powerful. He took her magic and left her to die.”

“But she lived,” Reza’s voice lifted. “Though on the very brink of death, she survived the journey to the gypsy camp in the captain’s arms. There he was forced to leave her in the care of her people.”

“Hepsebah took her from me,” tears washed over Merl’s scarred face. “She said Rowan would be at peace in the forest. I saw her draw her last breath...” He looked up into Willow’s face. “How could I have known there was a child?” he pleaded.

“Hepsebah had to keep Willow from him. It was the only way to protect her, to protect all that would come when she became an adult,” Reza finished his tale with an exhausted look.

Willow touched him with trembling fingers. Her hand rested on his shoulder, and she let loose her own tears. “You loved my mother,” her voice was so soft, so quiet, that Merl had to follow her lips to understand the words. “Sippa did what she thought was best.”

“You’re alive. She was right to keep you from me.”

“Perhaps she was right,” Willow knelt, still touching him, “but we are together now. Surely she meant for this to happen as well. Tinari would have killed me had it not been for you and Ren,” she glanced at the other gypsy. He held Wake close and watched them from afar. “Now that I understand what I must do, you know that I must continue on my own.”

“Willow,” Merl bravely placed a hand on her arm, “this is not something you must do alone.”

Green eyes stared up at him, and something between them connected. “My mother is still here, you know. The trees-” she stopped, and thoughts blurred her mind with their speed. Merl watched her think. “I won’t be alone,” she finally said.

“Then what is our part in all of this?” River asked.

Reza watched another turret crumble and fall from the top of the castle. All around them people fought and ran, cried and screamed. The city was falling apart. “She must lose herself, you see. One age is ending, and another is beginning. Ancients and mankind cannot coexist. Though she may not yet understand, a sacrifice must be made. We must be the ones to catch her when she falls.”


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 30)
PostPosted: Tue Sep 30, 2008 4:51 pm 
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I like it, I love it, I want some more of it! :pinky

~mixxie

P.S. I didn't mind the parallelism at all. It was interesting and very well done. :)


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 30)
PostPosted: Tue Sep 30, 2008 10:48 pm 
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Yay for great update-y goodness... I hope Willow's reward for giving up her Ancienthood is Tara...

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 30)
PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2008 11:29 am 
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Dear Taylorgirl6,

This is really well. I did love the way you made the narrative. Well two narratives in one.

It was not confusing and really enjoyable. For me anyway. :)

Now I'm all confused abotu Wake though. And well, I wonder how they'll bring back our dear Tara, and how they'll defeat once and for all Tinari.
You gave some answers, but I get it won't be simple at all.

plus Tara's horse is gone to the war horses' heaven. *sniffles*

Thanks for this great update :)

friendly

Julia

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 30)
PostPosted: Wed Oct 01, 2008 12:39 pm 
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Nice chapter and the narration is easy to follow, I liked it.


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 30)
PostPosted: Sat Oct 04, 2008 4:34 am 
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I liked the style you employed to merge all the narratives. There was a nice flow to it, as it skillfully went from Merl to Reza and back again.

It was a nice way of packing in all that exposition without detracting from the story itself.

I still find this tale so fascinating. There are no absolutes in it, and like Willow finds imbalance in her world, you are still keeping that same feeling with your storytelling. A nice parallel, indeed.

I'm champing at the bit to know what Willow intends to do, and if the Animarus under the castle can be trusted? Will Tinari find a way back, and what will happen to Tara?

Fantastic update - thank you.

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 30)
PostPosted: Tue Oct 21, 2008 5:23 pm 
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mixxie-

Sorry for the delay. Here you go!


Zampsa-

We'll see what Willow gives up and what she gains for her trouble...


Julia-

I'm glad the writing style worked well for you (and most everyone else). Poor little Wake is probably worried about himself at this point! So much rides on his shoulders, and Ren won't be happy to let him take on the world by himself.

Clearly, as this is the kitten board, you know that Tara will return. I can't say how, just yet, but sit tight. As for Darkwood, he may not be as gone as you think... *wink*

Thank you for the kind words.


Animism-

Thanks! I may try some other "artistic" approaches in the following chapters, but I'll try to keep the main style as is.


PTS-

This story is a movie in my head, and I routinely struggle to describe it as clearly as I see it. I'm glad the narration went off without a hitch for chap 30.

Sadly, there's always a lot of back-story to plow through so that the moments of intense action make sense. This is both the benefit and drawback of creating and involving so many characters in one tale. Over the years, I've come to enjoy books and films which have loose ends. While a tidy beginning and ending make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, that's hardly real life. Chapter 31 follows that concept, and, while little actually "happens" in it, there's a lot of important information contained therein.

Willow, at this point, knows what must be done. Her only hesitation is the lack of knowledge of her own powers and abilities. I'm also hoping that it becomes evident that there are a few discordant points of view as we narrow in on the end of this story. Are the Ancients truly bad? Weren't they supposed to be the good guys? And didn't that evil monster in the castle try to kill Willow several times? Who do we trust? Who do we believe?

I'm glad to see you're as caught up in this as I am. Thanks again for such kind words.

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated september 30)
PostPosted: Tue Oct 21, 2008 5:26 pm 
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Chapter 31



Phidi watched them climb the crumbling walls from the sea, and every eye rested upon them. Their eyes were blue as water, their flesh shone like the pale new moon in spring. Though Phidi himself was captivated by the sight of them, the young boy could not understand the change which swept over the land and through the hearts of the men on the battlefield around him. One moment they slaughtered one another mercilessly, the next they held hands and clasped each other in loving embraces. Weapons were dropped onto the snowy field, and throngs of wildflowers sprouted up around them, shrouding blades and arrows with blossoms and vines. The Ancients walked amongst the adoring crowd of men, occasionally bowing low to touch one or comfort another, and their sweet words flowed over the valley and low hills like a summer breeze.

“We have returned, my children,” the giant of a man whispered. Hundreds of men fell to their knees and bowed to the pair, tears of joy flowing freely over the bloodied field. “Long have we slumbered at the edge of the world, but the time has come once again for us to rule mankind with fairness and compassion. Your God-King and his Queen have returned.”

“Let your hearts feel naught but joy,” crooned the woman by his side. “You are in our care now.” All around them fell to the ground and humbled themselves.

“I don’t understand,” Phidi whispered to himself as he watched. His fingertips were numb from gripping the rough edge of stone he had hidden behind when he fell from the wyvern’s back during the battle. The man who had thrown him had the face of a beast, and the memory sent shivers up the boy’s spine. The Black Knight’s plan had indeed involved pushing the attacking troops over the precipice, but things had not turned out as any of them could have predicted. Phidi turned and gazed at the cliff. The edge where he now stood was silent. Those who had not fallen had pushed the line back, and slowly the two divided groups of men were reunited in the valley below the crumbled castle. All would have been lost for the rebels had it not been for the sudden presence of the Ancients. Still, it left Phidi’s stomach feeling decidedly nervous. “This isn’t right. I’ve got to find Penna.”

“Too late,” a voice behind startled the boy, and he spun quickly. Penna smiled in victory. “Sorry,” she said insincerely. They had taken turns in their own little game of sneak-and-startle since Phidi was barely old enough to walk, and it still made them smile. Relieved to see her, the boy ran to his big sister’s arms and gripped her tightly. Grim prowled around their feet as they stood together, his long, blue tail curling around their legs as he crept low to the ground. “It’s alright now,” Penna stroked her brother’s hair.

“Say it. Please, Penna?” he asked. She could hear the tears in his eyes even though his face was buried in her cloak.


“How old was he?” Willow had asked as she and Penna sat by the fire late into the evening.

“Six,” came the reply, though Penna couldn’t look into her friend’s eyes. “I was sixteen. I thought...” her voice faded as she gripped the mug of tea in her hands. “I didn’t know how hard it would be. Not leaving,” she looked up sharply. “That part was easy.” Her anger was still heavy in the air around them and Willow began to see a side of the young woman she never would have guessed could have existed. “Phidi cried, but I was relieved. I’d always taken care of him when we were younger, but it was different after we ran.”

“You had to be a sister and a mother,” Willow encouraged her.

Penna nodded. “Life without a real home is hard enough,” her brown eyes glowed with the firelight as she went on, “but we had to run. We had to hide.” The two stared at each other for a breath, each knowing that the other understood. Memories overwhelmed them both as they sipped their tea. When Penna spoke again, her voice was laced with a heaviness Willow had never heard from her before. "We couldn't get out of the city. We tried everything, but the Royal Guard at the time was merciless, and our kind was to be slaughtered on sight. Some days we got close to making it past the gates, but I would panic and pull us back into a hiding place. Phidi was so young… He couldn't understand." She brushed the long hair back from her ears, revealing their fur-lined tips. "It was easy enough for me to hide, but his scales were so green!" She laughed despite herself, and a self-conscious hand flew to cover her mouth.

Willow giggled along with her, silently affording the permission Penna so desperately needed. "He was a bit… alarming when I first met him," the gypsy reluctantly admitted. Her thoughts drifted to the enormous crate in the forest, to Phidi's trust in her, and she held his secret close to her chest as Penna continued.

“A week passed, and then another,” her eyes grew dark, “and I thought we wouldn’t make it. I went in search of food for us, and something happened. Phidi... He was hungry, and he didn’t understand why people reacted to him they way they did... A man caught him and began to call for the guards. When I returned,” she glanced up, and tears clung to her lower eyelids, “they were dragging him off to the gallows.” Penna sniffed and brushed the back of her hand over her face. “That was when I met her.” Silence and understanding passed between the two women as the constellations overhead crept through the night sky. If no sleep was to be had, then it was better to spend it in the company of a friend. “Even in the panic of losing my baby brother, I still saw something in her that made my breath catch. Faith was-” Penna stopped abruptly, and her wide eyes scanned the darkness beyond the firelight around where they sat.

Raising her eyebrows in comprehension, Willow spoke gently. “Trace was what?” Penna’s chest was still tight with fear at the slip of her tongue. “Go on,” Willow said.

“She was,” Penna thought for a moment, “she was the bravest person I had ever seen.” A faint smile lit behind her eyes as she retold the story of their escape from the kingdom. “She attacked the guard. Killed him on the spot. I grabbed Phidi and we ran. We ran so fast that the world was a blur. I still don’t know how we made it out. Trace was covered in cuts and bruises from.... from before she found us.” There was more behind her words, and Willow sensed that it was not for her to question. “Others came over the months that followed, and we became what you see now. Every one of us has run from something,” she stared pointedly at the gypsy. “That’s what makes us a family. We hide each other. We take care of each other. Nothing comes before family.” Willow’s face darkened as she let her mind return to the forest of her childhood, to the kind faces of the clan that had sheltered her and raised her in the absence of her own mother. “Phidi and I would tell each other little promises when times got hard,” Penna fidgeted with her mug, tracing the fine details along the border of the rim. “So long as there are stars in the night sky, I’ll always find you.” Willow sat back and cast her eyes to the darkness above them. “So long as the sun rises each day, I’ll always find you.”



“Until the rivers run dry and the wind no longer blows, you are mine and I am yours,” Penna whispered into the boy’s hair. “I’ll always find you.” He gripped tighter to her, letting her warmth spread through him.


__________________________________________________________________



“You weren’t meant to live, you know.”

“I was a marked man.”

“And yet here you stand, now, with me.” Her voice was soft, only audible a mere breath from her lips.

“Here I stand,” he agreed. “You realize that the world we know will end on this day.”

“I suppose,” her eyes drifted away from the darkness and looked out over what remained of the kingdom. “Still, I feel as though I am frozen.”

“No, my lady,” he ducked his head in the darkness, and a ripple of regret passed through them both. “What cruel twist of fate it may have been to place us together in such a fashion, I would not trade this path for any other.” A warm hand reached out to her in the blackness, and their fingers intertwined. “If I was not meant to live, and I survived despite my destiny, then surely we know not what lies ahead.”

“Aelish-” she began, but a gentle finger found her lips and quieted her.

“Shh,” he whispered. “It will be decided by every footstep that follows this moment. And in this moment, I wish for you to remember what I would give to honor your heart. I have seen it in your eyes, River. You love this city. You love these people.” Her back still turned to him as it had been throughout their secret conversation, the Princess felt his grip tighten. “We are the last hope for this place, and I will not see it fall under your leadership. What strength I possess,” she felt his face rest against the back of her head, and his breath warmed her neck as he spoke, “and what love there is in my heart, I give it freely here and now. I will defend this place from its end with my life.”


__________________________________________________________________



Willow walked slightly ahead of the rest, her head held high, her eyes sparkling in the bright sunlight, her hands outstretched beside her lithe body. There was no need to speak, no need to chant, no words which could grant her more power than the depths of her magic now showed. A fiery glow trailed behind her as each stride grew in length. Her footsteps began to shake the ground.

“What’s happening?” Wake called out to his father over the rumble.

Merl, still carrying Tara’s lifeless body, turned his head toward the boy as they walked. “She’s summoning her powers.” Ren stepped closer to the boy as they traveled, ever vigilant. “She can get to the castle faster then we can,” he went on, his eyes following her body as it hovered above the field beyond Hillmarch. They had followed the tunnels as far as was needed, and now they walked above ground.

“It will be safer this way,” Willow had reasoned with them before they left the relative safety of the caverns.

“This is hardly safe,” Merl argued. “What you propose-”

“What I propose,” the young woman cut him off, “is the only way it can be done.” The men were silenced by her anger.

“Dammit, Willow,” Merl stood, “you cannot simply take them on yourself. I only just found you,” he pleaded. “I will not let you endanger your life like this.” His tone was fatherly and commanding.

Staring into him with a temper to match, Willow fired back. “And where have you been?” she demanded. “Where were you when my clan was slaughtered in the forest? Where were you when I was hunted day and night by the Royal Guard?” Her voice cracked as she screamed at him, poring out a lifetime of anger and fear with each biting word. “They burned everything,” she cried, “every time they came for me, they came with fire. They burned the trees, they burned our homes, they burned Hepsebah,” she wailed. “And you!” she pointed a finger at Merl’s chest, driving all of her pain into him with her words, “You sat in your tavern and mourned over all you had lost while I struggled to live!” Merl shrank as she forced him back one step at a time. “When do I get to mourn? When do I get to sit down and cry over what I’ve lost?” The tears washed over Willow’s reddened face and dripped from her chin. Her eyes fell to Tara’s pale face. “When do I get to feel the loss of everything I’ve ever loved,” her voice weakened, and she looked back up into her father’s eyes. “I had nothing left. I didn’t even have her. Do you even know how many have been taken from me?”

“Willow,” Merl tried to calm her, but the words would not come.

“That animal killed her, Merl,” she went on through gritted teeth, “and they took her soul. That... thing,” she said the word with contempt dripping from her lips, “he took her.”

“Then we get her back,” Ren spoke for the first time. He stood and placed a hand on Willow’s shoulder. “Together.” They had agreed in the awkward discussion which followed to separate after they found their way aboveground. Willow would continue east to the Drylands castle, and Merl, Ren and Wake would look for the others. Now, watching her shimmering body fade into the spring sunlight, Ren wondered aloud if they had done the right thing. “I always knew she was something more than the rest of us, but I never imagined...”

“No one imagined this,” Merl murmured back. “Rowan and Hepsebah wanted to prevent it, but a power like that cannot be contained forever.” They both glanced at the boy between them. “You cannot keep him safe, Ren.”

“I know.”

“This world needs him.”

Wake continued to stare into the distance where Willow had disappeared. “Perhaps it is selfish, but so do I,” Ren placed a protective hand on the boy’s head.

“There comes a time when every father must place the life of his child before his own.” The two men regarded each other in the silence of their journey. Together they walked the long road to the city gates. No more words passed between them.


__________________________________________________________________



“You know her,” the littler girl gazed up at the older one.

“Yes,” Jinna answered. Her eyes never strayed from the doorway they watched. Trace had given her very specific orders, and she intended to carry them out flawlessly.

“Is she kind?”

The little maid considered the question for a long time before she bothered to answer. “She saved my life once.”

“Will you tell me about it?”

Jinna sighed heavily, her eyes still fixed on the passageway. “Why do you want to know?”

Mara leaned forward, resting her chin in her hands. She was used to hiding, but Reza had always made the long hours more bearable by telling her stories. Every one of them from Sanjer’s house had lived day by day on the details of the Red Sorceress’ adventures. Some had said she wasn’t real, but Mara paid them no attention. She believed Reza, and she knew that one day Willow would come to save them all. “Because she’s magical. She can fix all of this.”

“Right, kid,” a voice behind them startled the girls and made them jump. Trace had snuck up on them and now stared at the door from the secluded spot below the stairs. “I suppose that means no one else can be a hero.” She would have scowled at them, but the door was more important.

“Reza always said Willow would save us from Sanjer.” Mara looked up at Trace and began to memorize the details of her face. Dark brown eyes blinked only when necessary, perfect skin refused to show the marks of the last dozen scuffles they had been involved in as they fought their way back into the castle, and long strands of wavy, chestnut hair fell over her ears as she trained her focus on the door to Kousa’s chamber with a stoic intensity.

“Sorry I beat her to it. Next time I’ll let you wait for Red.”

“Thank you,” the tiny voice answered.

Trace blinked and let her eyes fall to the tiny child who sat next to her in the shadows. “What did you say?”

“Thank you,” Mara repeated herself.

Unable to look the child in the eye, Trace turned back to the door. “I didn’t do it for you.”

“You killed him. You did what no one else could. You saved Reza. You saved me.”

“Listen, kid,” Trace turned her attention back to Mara, her brow furrowed with anger. “Sanjer had it coming from a long time ago. Someone should have slit his throat back when I...” She bit her lip, and a drop of blood sank into her tongue. “I didn’t save anyone.” Her hair fell across her face as she turned back to the door. Before Mara could say more, she felt a hand pressing on the top of her head. Trace pushed both of the little girls down into the darkness as the door opened. From within the chamber emerged a cloaked figure, the folds of its disguise lit intermittently by blue, red, and green light.


__________________________________________________________________



Silently, carefully, the slim figure of a man crept through the corridors and stairways of the castle, always staying near to the walls, though never touching them. His lips moved, but no words were heard as his soft feet took two steps at a time. Reza closed his eyes when he pushed open the last enormous oak door. Blazing sunlight poured into the corridor and bathed him in an unnatural spring warmth. He stepped into the golden rays and slowly opened his eyes, wary at all that he saw. “So it is true,” he muttered. All around the turret upon which he stood the kingdom lay in disarray. Blood and stone blocked the streets, many of the buildings had collapsed, bodies were strewn about in the dust and damp, but the colors of renewal and growth tinted everything a disconcerting yellow. Death and rebirth were at war, and the latter would not save what remained of the city.

“When they are awakened, they will regain control of this land,” he had told them only an hour before. “They did not choose to slumber, and they will take revenge upon this world for how it wronged them long ago. Under the guise of benevolent gods, they will tear the Known Lands into pieces, and mankind will be the first to suffer their wrath.” His words had shaken the others to their core.

“But the Ancients are kind. Willow is one of them,” River had argued.

Reza shook his head. “She is half human, Princess. They are nothing like her. And they will not stop until their imprisonment has been avenged, until those who bound them to that broken city are bought to their knees in pain.” Now, as he set his eyes upon the land the Princess held so dear, Reza saw the beginning of the end. “We will all die if they are not stopped. It will begin with small changes. Your heart will tell you what is true and what is false,” he warned.

“How do we stop them?” Trace stepped out of the shadow and faced the gypsy. Her right hand rested on the hilt of a long dagger she kept at her belt. “How do I kill a god?”

“You cannot kill them!” Aelish shouted, standing in between Reza and Trace. “They are the Ancients,” he spat. “We owe them our existence.”

“Haven’t you heard Reza’s words? They want to kill us,” she bore down on him, muscles tense and ready to spring. Her eyes blazed in the dim light.

“And what if he is wrong?” Aelish charged. “What if they are not the enemy he proclaims?”

“Stop!” Reza pleaded, his delicate voice piercing the others’ argument with its purity. “Can’t you see?” His eyes held unshed tears as he placed a tender hand on the arm of Trace and Aelish. “This is what I spoke of. This is the evil of this place, the anger which will overtake our senses if we allow it.” Unwilling to let their matched gaze falter, both relaxed slightly and listened. “His grip on this place is slipping. He cannot contain the anger that permeates the stone and earth in this city. We are all vulnerable to it. Everything is falling out of balance. Everything,” he whispered.

“Then we shall set it right,” Trace declared through her clenched jaw.

Aelish breathed deeply, then turned to the storyteller. “What of Raven?” he asked simply. “What role has he in all of this?”

Still at a loss for an answer, the gypsy looked up into the blue sky. He had not had the heart to tell the warrior what had become of his friend, nor what his friend truly was beneath leather and mask. Reza’s gift was not sight of the future, nor was it to see the past. Stories came to him from one moment to the next through the course of each day, and his visions were of the present, of what was already decided by fate. Calling up his other gift, Reza closed his eyes and searched the Known Lands for the one who could answer all of their questions, the one who could set the balance right once more in these damaged times, the one whose fate was not set, but still undecided. When at last he found her, her power took his breath away. There was no need to call to her. Willow was coming.


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated October 21st)
PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2008 12:39 am 
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DIBS.. finally :) sadly i'm still nog caught up but i do check for updates so no slacking!!!

Renate

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated October 21st)
PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2008 12:50 am 
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Yay for good update-y goodness... So final battle is closing... I really hope Willow is up to the challenge and kicks some ass...

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated October 21st)
PostPosted: Wed Oct 22, 2008 11:45 am 
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Hello :-D

Wow you made me smile twice today! I'm so happy to see an update!!!

Willow's kinda frightening me, I have to admit. But at the same time, I want her to revenge Tara. Even though she'll come back, she has died too many times in this story already. Lol.

And I'm so pleased to "hear" that we will see Darkwood again.. Love him. :)

Oh and the relationship Aelish / River is cute too.

Thanks for the chapter... But I must tell you, I can't wait for you to bring Tara back.

:)

Friendly,

Julia.

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated October 21st)
PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 8:13 am 
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Just like Phidi, I’m left uneasy about the true nature of the Ancients, and Reza’s warning that their renewal and continued existence will divide opinion can only add to the difficulties already faced by the resistance as the Animarius’s hold on the evil is weakening.

I’m still curious as to how that element will pan out when Willow arrives at the castle. I can’t help but wonder if this event is what Hepsabah wanted to avoid. Perhaps the warning about taking Tara to city lost was to prevent this very thing. See – I’m still trying to second guess even though I should know not to by now. I can’t help but do it as I’m so involved in all the machinations of your plot.

There were just many things in this chapter that added more depth to your storytelling. Faith/Trace in particular – no wonder she killed Sanjer. I loved how you integrated elements of cannon into her character without taking away the originality your own writing gives her.

I’m also impressed by how you have turned Ren around. Knowing about Wake, I can almost forgive him his previous actions – almost!

I’m looking forward to the next instalment, and as I’m late on the feedback trail this time around - my apologies for that - I hope I don’t have too long to wait.

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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated October 21st)
PostPosted: Tue Nov 04, 2008 6:27 pm 
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Excellent update! I cannot wait to see how this resolves. :)

~mixxie


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 Post subject: Re: Raven (updated October 21st)
PostPosted: Thu Nov 20, 2008 9:40 am 
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First, apologies for not updating sooner! Though this next chapter is shorter than I'd like, I couldn't bear the thought of making you all wait longer. With the holidays approaching I'm sure everyone will be busy, and I am no exception. So happy holidays, and hopefully I'll post again before the new year begins.

Second, thanks to all for the fantastic feedback!


Renatecs-


No slacking here! My employer keeps giving me students on all of my shifts, so time has been short for everything. We also just brought home another puppy to add to the mix. Thank god he sleeps plenty! Now get crackin' on catching up!


Zampsa-

Is Wil ever not up to the challenge?? I've done what I can to give her loads of friendly support. Let's hope everyone pulls through when she needs them most.


Julia-

I want Willow to be powerful, so I'm glad she's a little scary! All this dark magic is serious stuff. I think you'll see some of the old Willow in the following chapter, though.

Tara is not far off. Right now I'm battling with how she will return. The outline is vague in my head, and the details are fuzzy. Scary monsters and underworld travels are close at hand...


PTS-

Gods are frightening. We trust them without thinking about the inherent power of magic, creation, reverence... But do we ever think about the forces behind them? Who created the gods anyway??

Poor Hepsebah. Her time ended all too soon to be of any truly good use to Willow and those near her. I thought about keeping her around, bringing her back... But then I decided that the job of any parental figure is to teach values to their children which will outlast life itself. She didn't fight death. She never denied Willow's power. But there must have been a part of her which wanted to spare the girl from all of this pain. Surely she knew that Tara would die in Torrent. However, she probably also knew that it was inevitable.

Trace is a fave of mine. I'm hoping to get more in-depth with her in the future, possibly in another story. Ditto for Penna. I've always pegged Faith (Trace) as a protector, even if she's reluctant to admit that she gets attached to people. And you can't beat her for realism. She brings the grit back into the midst of elegance in any story.

Ren's a bit of a jerk. I never liked him in the beginning of this tale. That's why I had to pair him up with someone who would change his personality just enough to keep us from wanting to strangle him.

No worries about lateness. You're far from alone. Thanks again for the intricate feedback. It always makes me think.


mixxie-

Resolution is tricky. How about some more details along the way?

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