Ulysses – Chapter 1

Prologue ~

Dust clung to his coat and turned black to sable, mane tangled and spun through with debris; yet his eyes gleamed, amber-gold, and an his horn glinted brass and silver. When the moon broke the clouds he rose on his hinds and shook himself, his bugling cry loose and tumbling across the coal-coloured hills. It was a statement, a challenge; he called out again, twice, three times – ears swiveling to hark the reply. When nothing lingered but stillness he dropped to all fours again, jet hooves scoring the earth with intolerance.

He had been running forever. He had followed it here, or, had it followed him?

The night had come suddenly, light snuffed out in one harsh, cold whisper. As moon broke over the hills again he recognized this place, and it sent shivers through his being. Not here, he whispered to the darkness. Not now. Not again.

The stallion turned, casting his gaze from one ribbonous horizon to the next but only shadows greeted him, air hissed through his nostrils as he tasted the wind. If it was here, he would find it; he would find it and drive it back into the night from which it came. He would not concede, and it would not be allowed to claim this world. This he swore, and his cry echoed through the stars.

Clouds swirled again, an ever changing mosaic, scattered glimpses of a future divined. When they parted the sky was burnt copper-gold: heavy in the east the Winter Moon, the Dragon Moon, rose slowly to meet her sister in the sky and begin again her reign over Kalidore…

 

Chapter #1 ~

 

The Moon was bright overhead as the unicorns gathered in the grassy field, bright and full and brimming into the clear and star-filled sky. It was the Harvest Ball, a night of games and merriment, stories told and re-told, of times remembered and futures dreamed. The field had been lined with colorful poles, strung with dried wild flowers and softly glowing moon-orb which Rhaine and Lilaini had some of the other companions had been working on for half the day. A great bonfire crackled in the midst. Around the fire unicorns gathered – those noble beasts of Kalidore, the children of Kala and Kaedon. There were others too – creatures from the forest had drawn near to watch, silver-eyed wolves and griffons with pelts of amber and red; spotted goats and shy deer, birds of every feather and description that had stayed up far past the setting sun to snatch at fallen honey-biscuits and warm themselves beside the fire against autumn’s brisk night air.

Humans too, were there. Some were familiar to the Isle and others newly arrived; among them were the Guardians – the Keepers of the Isle and holder of Magic, and Companions – those bonded to unicorns. And there were others too, visitors, who had wandered through the Gates – those mystical portals between worlds – and found themselves haplessly on Kalidore. The harvest was a time for joy and celebration, all were welcomed at this feast and the visitors were no exception.

As the moon rose high a hush fell over the crowd and Acosua, the Bard of Kalidore, came to stand in a circle of gathered stones. She turned to the others, the stars dancing in her eyes and across her dusted ebony coat. She waited until every ear had turned her way, then turned her horn the sky, her voice lifting to greet the moon and she whistled brightly, heralding to all who had come to listen there that night:

“Welcome, guests, from isles afar
Who gather here in hollow’s heart,
To dance and play as time grows soon,
Beneath the gallant Harvest moon!
And share with us, this night of feasts
Tales of heroes, fools, and beasts,
So mothers, hold your Koré tight,
And I’ll tell the tale of Dragon’s Night!

’Twas in the age before this one when the heavens were open to all the worlds and the moons of Kalidore and Kylindreal hung like twins jewels in evening’s sky…. Kalidore, as you know, was spun from Kal’s pebble – a beautiful, shining world, at peace with itself and the Universe. Kylindreal, on the other hand, was a shard that broke free and spun away on it’s own accord. It grew into a strange world of fierce nights and harsh dawns; unsuited to a Unicorn’s liking perhaps, yet this jagged moon made the perfect home for that most great and powerful race, the Dragons.

It is said when the universe was made, the Dragon Aeon was the second creature to emerge from the chaos, after Kal. Kala had the power of Dawn – to create and make life abound, and we of Kalidore admire her work around us each day. Aeon, they say, had the power of Dusk – the power not only to create, but to destroy. Such a tremendous and terrible gift that was, and yet he accepted his lot wholeheartedly; he understood the breadth of that power, and with it, the great responsibility bestowed upon him. That was the lesson Aeon strove to teach his children, and for the millennia that followed, the Dragons remained Kal’s greatest alley.

But power corrupts, as we unicorns know. This is why we choose never to seek glory nor act to impose our will unto others; that is our creed. To Dragons, power was something that coursed through them like the blood in their veins, and from such great power, the fall from grace is a most fierce and torrid decent. That was to be the fate of Thaedor, Aeon’s own son.

Some say it was the gods themselves who first whispered to him, others, that he was driven crazy by dreams. All that is certain is that one day Thaedor challenged his father for the thrown. “Thaedor, you are my son,” Aeon said, “and the thrown was yours the day you were born.”

“Nay, father,” Thaedor spoke, “It is not your thrown I covet – it is the Thrown of Heaven…. For are we not the Greatest of all Creatures, the sons and daughters of the First Stars, the power to both create and destroy within our grasp? What are we then, if not akin to gods ourselves? Why limit ourselves to this small rock, this corner of the skies, this meager existence of fettled indolence? We should climb upon the backs of those gods that came before us and reach higher – see what is beyond this piece, seek and discover the very essence of the universe!”

“My son,” spoke Aeon gravely, “that of which you speak cannot be attained through mortal means. The universe is both around and within us, we are all a part of it, and no part is small. We cannot master the riddles of this universe any more than we can master those of our own souls. Forget this foolishness, and be at peace.”

At his words, Thaedor grew furious. He rose up like the first night, immense and consuming, and slew his father where he stood, for his father’s powers were his own, and his to do with as he wished. And Thaedor turned his gaze unto the universe, all glittering and gleaming beneath burning amber eyes, and proclaimed it his own. The universe trembled at triumph’s laugh, rippling and echoing across the heavens. Soon, he declared, the Thrown of Heaven would his, and no secrets of the universe would be beyond his ken.

Evil creeps upon us slowly, seductively like the promise of warmth at dawn. Drunk-sick on the keel of power, Thaedor’s followers came with him, ravishing and devouring everything in their path. It was the unicorns who felt full the brunt of his metal, for we children of Kal would take no part in his madness, and an eon’s tryst broke like a king’s body by ego’s hand. Many brave souls fell by those hands, many worlds were extinguished in the dark of Thaedor’s Night. The breath of war touched everyone and none of the universe was left unscathed, and night fell like ash that swallows the sun, taking with it the promise of light…

They say the darkest hour comes before dawn, the longest hour as we wait for the sun to rise. What happens if that night did not end? the sun never returned? so stood the universe on the edge of that dawn, teetering precariously towards eternal night.

One could not blame the forces for being weary, their hearts for being sore and dull, battle-scared of mind and body; but when Kal spoke about enlisting Mankind to their aid, the other clans laughed openly at her proposal. Yet Kal was undeterred, for she was keen and had felt in the human heart a kinship with her own – a soul striving for goodness, with the willingness to learn, and the capacity to reach beyond perceived limits and into the unknown; this was the boon of man.

All of us know the Daiga, great All-Mother, Gaurdian, and Keeper of the Isle; how she became Kal’s Companion that fated night, and by that union so a truce was formed – not only between equine and human met, but by the elements that bind us all. For alone we unicorns stand as Magic’s Hold, but with Companion that magic may endlessly flow – a magic strong and pure and untainted, unhampered and unbound; and magic sweet and true, keen enough to match a Dragon’s own.


So stood Daiga beside Kal, on the brunt of Thaedor’s dawn
And the heavens all around them burned with night’s unyielding song
And Thaedor rose to meet them, stars dying in his eyes
Madness driven, madness deep and drawing on the tide.

“Who are you to challenge me to what fate as made my own?
I am HE who sits astride the breast of Heaven’s Thrown!
All that is, and was, shall be, and shall be mine to reign,
And all will hail to Fate’s prevail that Dragons rule again!”

“Power,” spoke the Daiga, “is a sweet and quenching brew,
A madness, pulls the mind asunder, obscuring breadth and view.
What you seek cannot be owned, and was never yours to take
And mortal souls like ours shall never hone the will of Fate.”

At her words, Thaedor struck with all the fury of his soul,
And the universe was rippled, broken, keeling, to his goal,
But Kal, she stood at Daiga’s side and they rose to meet as one
And all that is and ever was then both ended and begun—

And magic bloomed with Kala’s gift and Daiga’s able hands
And the elements aligned that day to grant a savior’s stand
And Thaedor, downed by madness, by his thrown he was so was slayed
And the universe, by Destiny’s hand and magic then was saved.

So it was, sisters and brothers of Kalidore, the plight of all hung in a balance by single strand of Fate’s web, and how it was Companion met who strung the universe together once again.

Here me now, you Companions of Kalidore, and this challenge I present to you – embrace your magic, heed the call, and hone your heart; for only when all is in balance can good prevail, and the echoes of the past be put finally to rest. Know what came before you so that you might never trod that road again. Know your heart and everything it stands for. Know that Kal stands between you and the everlasting night, and know that your companion is ever by your side!

But what’s this? So serious? The night is young, the Harvest moon is rising high, and there is still much merriment to be had! For we are unicorns, and meant to be merry; as Kal watches us, let us sing to her skies, dance beneath her watchful moon-lit eyes, and let our hearts sore knowing well that even Dragons rest on this fine night. But not forget, sisters and brothers, never forget –

On Dragon’s Night, a breath’s darkmoon
after Harvest’s Ball has lost its bloom,
Keep close your babes, hold tight those dear,
For Thaedor’s ghost may then appear
to whisk you off to realms austere…!”

“Mare’s tale,” Xanthe snorted, perhaps a little too nonchalantly to convince anyone besides herself. “Everyone knows that. Dragon’s Night is told to scare silly koré close to their mother’s side… and, we all know that ghosts aren’t even real…”

She lay on the warm grass with long, feathered limbs tucked neatly under, her pale golden coat gleaming silver beneath the bright and heavy harvest moon. She was a young unicorn, not yet half-grown, and her features were quickly loosing their more juvenile qualities – gangly legs were slender and firm, unruly foal’s hair growing long and sleek. Her face was delicately chiseled, straight, and finely featured, set off with deep sky-blue eyes. Some might almost say she was elegant. Almost. Within those eyes lay a bright impish charm and honest impulsiveness.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” shrugged Rhaine, Guardian of Kalidore, who was lounging against the unicorn’s warm golden side, her head propped on her elbow. Her eyes were the darkest umber, second only to her hair, whose generous length was bound with brightly coloured ribbons and pulled back from her tanned face. “Who’s to say what’s real and what’s not? It’s quite the vast universe out there.”

Beside her Tyden grinned, his thick dark hair falling across his eyes as he cocked his head to the side, as if considering the possibilities most seriously. The eyes gave it away. Even in the dim twilight, lit orange and dancing from the bonfire, they were clear grey-blue and laughing. “Well, I for one think that the old tales hold much wisdom,” he began loudly, his voice keyed to draw in the attention of those nearby. On the other side of him sat Lilaini, the other Kalidore Guardian, her companion Gypsy resting in the grass just beyond. “The Bard has spoken, and her words are true; it would do us well to take those teachings to heart…. And…” his reserve broke, the grinning spreading infectiously, “particularly, that last bit. If anyone here requires holding tonight, I’m all over that.” With that he leaned back and scooped an arm around each guardian, drawing them in against the shrieking and peels of laughter.

Lilaini’s eyes danced as she listened to Acousa tell the story of Dragon’s Night. She loved listening to anything the bard of Kalidore had to tell, her voice drew you into her stories. The Guardian looked around and could not help being in a wonderful mood. The clearing was full of Unicorns and humans alike, and many of the humans were newly arrived to Kalidore. Many of them sat in wonder, taking in all the sights which the Harvest Ball presented them with. She enjoyed seeing them here, it brought back memories of her own wonderment upon her arrival to this lovely land.

When Xanthe spoke, Lilaini’s attention was drawn back to the group of friends she was sitting with, nodding when Tyden began to speak and then shrieked as he grabbed her around the waist. Laughing, she struggled for a moment and then allowed herself to go limp in his grip.  Turning her head, she spoke to him. “And what may I ask would you do with both of us this evening, now that we are in your grasp?” Her green eyes sparkled playfully as her hair fell across his lap. The aggravation the young woman normally felt towards Tyden’s antics was washed away by the mood that surrounded her. Everyone was having such a great time, it was infectious, even for her.

“Lilaini really, Xanthe is sitting right there,” Gypsy’s voice rang out beside as the mare pretended to chastise her companion. “You tease the poor man incessantly one way or another it would seem.” The mare was in no way angry as she was fairly certain Xanthe did not understand what the Guardian had been joking about, but it seemed her duty to always try and be the voice of reason. The mood all around had flooded into her as well and she felt almost 100 years younger. Bobbing her head slightly to tune someone was singing nearby, and urge struck her. Tucking her legs beneath her, she rolled onto her back, thrashing her legs about wildly. “Ahhhhh….” she sighed in contentment when she had finally righted herself. “Now, there is nothing that feels better than a good back rub.”

*

The merriment and music rung hollow in Pasiphae’s ears, as she stood on the opposite side of the clearing from the majority of the herd. She kept her eyes centered on the bonfire, letting the blazing flames burn themselves into her retinas until the brightness washed out all else. Forcibly keeping her mind blank, she simply let the heat play against her skin – hoping that with enough time, it could banish the chill that had settled in the middle of her chest.

“Hungry?” a voice at her shoulder asked, and Pasiphae turned to regard it’s owner. The light from the fire made it difficult to make out more than a vague smudge of a silhouette at first, but as her eyes began to adjust she found herself looking at the strong solid shape of a man. His hair was disheveled, and greying slightly at the temples – albeit barely noticeable due to it’s already sandy blonde coloration. His eyes were a clear blue and his face, while well-worn and weathered beyond it’s years, wore a light pleasant expression – the corners of his eyes crinkled slightly in a smile.

“Not really.” Pasiphae replied flatly, and turned back to regarding the fire.

“Hrm. Too bad.” Liam responded, punctuating his reply with a loud bite from an apple he had on hand. “Good food tonight, even if the surroundings are a bit odd.” he chuckled, soft and low. “Decent story though – that mare … Acasia, no … Acosua you said, definitely knows how to spin a proper tale.”

“Mmm.”

“Not much of a talker tonight, I see. Bit of a change from the journey on the way here – blistered my ear enough then.” Liam shook his head bemusedly. “Not that I didn’t deserve it … can’t see what I was thinking, assisting in an attack on a lot o’ lasses. Still though …” he frowned, “Don’t see what else I can do but beg their pardon – unless there is more that you’re not telling me. Damn this head of mine – if I could just remember!”

Pasiphae sighed heavily and turned towards Liam. “No – there’s nothing else. And you’re right – short of going back in time and stopping it from happening in the first place…”

Liam quirked an eyebrow at the bay mare. “Can you … do that?”

Phae, caught off guard, let loose a sharp laugh. “Me? Oh goodness no. I’m not much good for anything – couldn’t even patch up your sorry hide in the first place.”

“Don’t know about this mumblety-peg that your lot can apparently do – but I have to say you’re one of the finest talking horses I’ve ever known.” Liam replied, grinning hugely.

“Oh horse now, am I. Why you … !” Pasiphae mock-lunged at the man who scrambled nimbly to avoid her – managing to land a slightly stinging slap on her rump.

“Ha! Will have to do better than that to catch me, lass. And … oh sod it. Dropped my apple.” Liam stared mournfully down at the fruit that was now bespotted with leaves and dirt.

“Serves you right, miserable beast that you are.” Pasiphae returned, smugly – and lowered her head to snuffle at the dropped apple. “Don’t know what you’re complaining about though – it’s still good.” she said, and munched the remainder of the fruit whole.

“For you maybe …” Liam trailed off slightly as a blue mare approached the duo.

Hyacinthe had been standing moodily off to one side of the clearing, wondering why she had bothered coming in the first place. Everyone appeared to be having so much fun, and enjoying themselves. She snorted in disgust. Singing, dancing, storytelling…was this something that most unicorns never grew tired of? Her tail flicked rapidly back and forth, expressing her displeasure. Yet she had indeed decided to come, but she was now not able to remember why. As she scanned the group, she noticed many more humans amongst the group. This, she also disliked. She continued to scan the group until her gaze came to rest on Phae and a male human standing on the outskirts of the clearing. Her eyes narrowed at the sight of the young man and she immediately disliked him. Moving off in their direction she pulled up alongside the pair, the light dancing of her ice blue coat. “So sister, I see you have returned from your little journey to Earth. Your good friend Spirit returns with a new wonderful companion, and you return with this…….man? Interesting turn of luck it would seem,” She scoffed at the bay mare, but grinned inwardly.

“Hello Hyacinthe.” Phae replied to the icy blue mare, her tone brittle and scathing. “It’s true – I’ve no Companion this time around. But, strange or not, at least I’ve found someone who takes some small measure of enjoyment in my company. Which is more than I can say of some here tonight…”

*

The brilliant chestnut mare, the color of glorious orange and red fire, lay down on her belly, keeping her legs tucked delicately under. Her bodice was fit, strong and sturdy yet feminine to accentuate that she was a mare, one of the many daughters of Kal. Her companion, Ali, was laying leaning against the mare, holding tightly to a unikore weanling, Acheflow. The spotted unicorn was struggling madly to escape the human’s grasp, but was unsuccessful before relaxing in defeat. “Phooey,” she sneezed.

“Maybe if you’d stop squirming, I wouldn’t have to hold you so tight!” the girl chided, her eyes looking sternly into the filly’s green eyes.

“Hush you two. Acosua is speaking.” Fiera thrummed lightly, eager to hear one of the many tales she’d fallen in love with….

“Cute one, isn’t she?” Amaterasu inclined towards the kore quietly, standing close to the trio while they were lying down. Fiera rolled her eyes, but looked up at her sister. She was golden as the sun, yet her hair was the color of milk white jade. Amaterasu looks a lot like Muse.

Always did, thought Fiera, “So, you guys never told me. How did she come to be here? I didn’t think there would be any young ones around this time. Everyone else has grown a considerable amount.”

It was Amaterasu who answered after a few moments, “Ali wandered off for a few moments when she heard something. I let her go, but after awhile she didn’t return back to me or here, so I came looking for her. And what I find is that she’s found a weanling. Anyways, the girl wanted to take her home.” Ammy looked ahead, watching everyone enjoying themselves so far. Fiera snorted, musing over who Acheflow belonged too.

“Isn’t she adorable though?” Ali gushed happily. “Even though she’s gotten me running all over the place. Makes me wonder what you all looked like as little young ones.”

“Young ones? Are you trying to tell me something?” Ammy gaped, playfulness brimming in her voice and eyes before she leaned down to nuzzle Aceflow’s head affectionately. The kore suddenly struggled once more when she broke free, running off.

“Stay, she’ll be fine.” Fiera grabbed Ali’s shirt with her teeth, pulling her down before she went off after the filly.

“Oh, alright,” Ali relented, and stayed contently snuggled with flame-coloured mare.

*

Trinity stood there, watching the others that she had come to meet after her first arrival in Kalidore. There were times when she still thought it all just a dream, but then she remembered what she saw – the unicorns – and that it was no dream. The week had passed and she had started to communicate a bit with the unicorns that she came in contact with. Her dresses had been cleaned, the two that she had, and she didn’t really care that she only had the two. She was in a place where she felt she belonged. Then, Aurellie, a lovely mare, had found Trinity and begun to befriend her. It had not taken long till they were with each other each day since Trinity’s arrival.

The mare leaned over nudged her arm softly. When the girl turned she hugged her, and she nuzzled the girl fondly.

*

Strolling around the edges of those gathered around the fire two mares made their way from the array of food making for the less populated side where they could lounge and enjoy the sites and sounds of those around them. The bright red mare with the starry dapples, Luminista by name, carried an apple and a carrot both in her mouth making very pretty picture-if you like a smoking, stuffed unicorn, that is!

The other mare, Foehn Miri, shook her dark brown head slightly and stifled a giggle as she considered her friend’s appearance. “Lumi, you realize you look silly don’t you?”

“Mmph,” was the only reply as they reached a spot not far from a small group that included one of those humans that were becoming so numerous, this one male with hair a kinda flaxen color.

The two of them settled down, Luminista lying down with her legs tucked under while Foehn Miri stood hip-shot and broad side to the fire. Once settled Luminista set her goodies on the ground and began to nibble on her carrot. The fire reflected brightly on her red, red hide. Foehn Miri’s liver chestnut coat seemed to absorb the fire’s glow while her flaxen mane and tail reflected the light like a beacon.

They couldn’t help but overhear the exchange between the bay mare and the ice blue mare, but made no comment only exchanged a look and cast a questioning look toward the bay. This group is one they do not know, so they are unsure of the dynamics in play here. Their sympathies however are leaning strongly toward the bay.

*

Resting her back against a tree, Aislinn stretched her legs out in front of her. It had been a week since her arrival on Kalidore, but she already felt more at home here than she had thought possible. This was probably mainly to do with Persephone, her unicorn companion and one of the people she owed her life to. Persephone herself was stretched out beside her, resting her large head in Aislinn’s lap, a picture of contentment as they listened to Acosua’s story. Persephone’s daughter, Pandora was also with them, eyes bright with the attention she gave the master bard, she never tired of the mare’s tales, however many times she heard them. A slight breeze blew cool through the air, ruffling midnight manes and auburn hair alike, but it wasn’t chilly by the bonfire, and the mood was light and enjoyable.

As the tale came to a close, chatter ensued, the party atmosphere infectious. Aislinn wished she had her flute, but like the majority of her possessions, it had been lost when she had been arrested. Instead she started braiding her friend’s mane, conveniently placed well within the reach of her fingers. A friendly nose peered over her shoulder, watching her nimble fingers with curiosity.

“Do you believe ghosts exist?” Pan spoke softly, turning to her mother. Her amethyst eyes filled not with fear as some would expect, but rather excitement, she wanted there to be more to this world than what she saw before her, however wonderful and full of life and colour it was. In a way, she wanted to find it.

Persephone took a moment before answering her kore, her mind taking it’s time to pull itself out of the relaxed state she was in, her usual restless nature for once calmed. Breathing in the smell of the changing season, the smell of life preparing for it’s time of rest, she lifted her head and her emerald eyes met the questions pouring out from the amethyst depths before her.

“I believe life comes, and life goes as it must, for it needs to if it wants to come again. The old must invigorate the new. Perhaps ghosts are merely the impression that life that has gone has left on the life that has come?”

“That’s not an answer.”

“It’s merely not the answer you seek, Pan. There may not be an answer to be found.” Her eyes gentle as she watched Pan begin to fidget.

“What about you, Aislinn? Do you believe in ghosts?”

Smiling at the kore’s change in tactics, Aislinn untangled her fingers from her braiding.

“Not really. Even if there are ghosts, I’m sure they would have better things to do with their time. I hope so, anyway.” She sighed, her eyes seeing things her new friend’s could not. Returning from her memories, her mind turned back to time at hand. “I must confess I’m curious about the dragons mentioned in Acosua’s story. Do dragons really exist? Are there dragons in Kalidore?”

“If dragons exist, they haven’t been in Kalidore during my lifetime, but that time is short compared to some and I don’t have all the answers.” Resting her head back in her companion’s lap, Persephone sighed, enjoying the contact. “I hope you had no intention of moving for awhile, I know I don’t.”

Pan snorted, she couldn’t understand how her mother could leave questions unanswered! Surely there was an answer for every question, it would be incomplete without it, only half of itself. She decided she would always find an answer for whatever question she or anyone else had.

“No ‘Seph, no intention of moving, for now at least.” Giving Pan an apologetic glance, Aislinn turned back and started to re braid Persephone’s mane.

*

Acheflow’s thin, spindly legs sauntered over to a random group: Rhaine, Lilaini, Tyden and Xanthe. Her large green eyes peered at them curiously before she squeaked out, “Heh…ow! Me… bother?” What she meant was ‘My brother?’ to Tyden, since he was the only male there, but it would have to do. She then cocked her to the side, peering over at Xanthe.

*

There was a certain intensity to her eyes that made Tyden give pause, particularly with the way Lilaini had cornered him so neatly, baited and waiting. There was an edge to her playfulness, and he found his own rapier wit suddenly run blunt against it. “Er, well now,” he back-paddling slightly, maneuvering himself more squarely against Xanthe’s back. “I… it would, well, be presumed… as far as… that both… … would probably be more then what one man should…

Scooped against his other side, her head resting lightly on his shoulder, Rhaine’s eyes were half-closed and dreaming as she embraced the warmth the festival night in full. “Aye,” she turned languidly, listening to her friends with half an ear and her brows drew together in practical observation. “A stallion tends to his entire herd, so surely, a small feat is to be made of but two…?”

The silence that followed made her turn to meet them in full. Lilaini had sat bolt upright and Tyden had a look on his face she’d not sure she’d seen. Curiosity was written innocently across her features, her eyes a question.

Tyden swallowed and cleared his throat. “I… have to go now,” he announced abruptly, turning eagerly to the black appaloosa foal who had just bounded into their midst. “Greeting, small sister!” he was already on his feet, offering the Kore a brief rustle behind the ears as he passed. “Isn’t it a lovely night for the Harvest Ball! And look – there’s Phae – way over there. Hullo, Phae!” he called brightly as he headed in that general direction.

Lilaini was desperately attempting to restraint the laughter which was welling up inside her. She looked at Rhaine to see if her comment had been intentional, but she knew from the innocent, questioning look on her friends face, that it had been completely chance. This made the situation all the more amusing, and as Tyden jumped up, she succumbed to a fit of giggles. “Oh Rhaine,” she gasped as she tried to regain control over herself. “You really are too cute, I love you dearly!” Wiping a tear from her eye, she grasped her friend’s hand.

Acheflow had closed her eyes, outstretching her neck to relish in the scratch behind her ears eagerly as Tyden was giving her the rustle. But he made off too soon, leaving the kore looking after him in a questioning, wordless look. She swiveled her ears and scrunched up her nose in dissatisfaction. The black appy kore wanted someone to play with, yet everyone here seemed to be off on their own!

Turning to the closest thing or unicorn her age, Acheflow maneuvered herself around the guardians to Xanthe, who seemed to be happy and since she was already hunkered down, there wasn’t a possible escape route away from her. And as a plus, the almost-adult-to-be didn’t look like she would bite! Acheflow took her slender foreleg, raising it to lightly touch Xanthe on the shoulder, just enough to catch her attention. “Play with meeee?” she shrilled out joyously.

Not to far away, Amaterasu looked on the playful kore with bright eyes, but also wary at the fact that she was sticking her nose too far and too deep into trouble. “Eh, watch out for her they said. I guess. Just hope she doesn’t make herself too much of a nuisance….”

*

Hyacinthe was grinning at Pasiphae. Her comments were obviously having the effect she had hopped. “Who needs company?” She replied icily, casting her gaze back towards Spirit and Lana. “It’s funny isn’t it? How unicorns become once they have companions….didn’t you and Spirit used to be rather good friends? Doesn’t seem like she has much time for you nowadays. How unfortunate.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you need none, Hyacinthe – for you’ll find none should you go looking.” Pasiphae raised her voice in a parting shot at the prickly mare, glaring at her hindquarters as she sauntered away.

Hyacinthe continued to completely ignore Liam despite the fact he was standing less than three feet away from her, with the exception of occasionally cast him nasty glances. It was during one of these nasty glances that she noticed Tyden was heading in their direction. Great, she mumbled to herself. Unlike everyone else that was present, she did not have any affinity for Tyden either, and she flattened her ears slightly. Looking in the opposite direction she saw a small group staring in their direction. Flattening her ears completely she gave them a very nasty look and turned right around again.

Gypsy, who had been sitting off to one side only shook her head at the three companions’ antics; standing up, she decided she would go and mingle for a bit. Casting her gaze around she noticed Luminista and Foehn Miri and headed in their direction. She caught the exchange of looks from the icy blue mare, but ignored them. “Why hello there,” she said to the group. How are you enjoying the festival so far?” The bronze mare bobbed her head in greetings to them both.

Luminista had started to her feet in a surge of temper at Hyacinthe’s foul glare, but was nudged back down with a bump from Foehn Miri’s nose.

“You gonna eat that apple?” Foehn Miri asked quickly. She knew if she didn’t act quickly to distract Luminista the red mare would storm over to the icy mare and make a scene. Thankfully, another voice was heard from an approaching dark mare. It was just the distraction needed. Luminista might have a quick temper, but she preferred to bestow it upon those who were responsible for stirring it up.

“The Bard tells the legends well,” Luminista replied in a friendly, welcoming tone at odds with the temper of just moments before. “And the food is fabulous,” she added. Nudging the apple over to Foehn Miri she muttered, “You may have it, I have suddenly lost my appetite,” casting a glare along with a curled lip and a snort at the icy mare.

“There are so many here we have never seen before,” Foehn Miri put in, “and peoples as well. Please, pardon Luminsta’s display of temper, it will pass soon. How about you? Have you been enjoying yourself?”

Before the dark mare could reply Luminista cut in, “May I get up now, or must I continue to be rude to our visitor by lying here?”

“Oh, feel free. Arise, fair Princess Luminsta,” Foehn Miri answered with a chuckle. To their visitor she said, “As you have no doubt figured out this is Luminista and I am Foehn Miri.” She stepped aside allowing her friend room to get on her feet.

“By the way, she is no princess, she just sometimes acts like one.” Foehn Miri whispered to Gypsy in a teasing tone.

Gypsy bobbed her head in greeting. “Yes I am having a very enjoyable time, I like seeing everyone gathered together. “ The bronze mare replied to Luminista casting her gaze towards the group who were nearby. She caught the irritation in the voice of Foehn Miri. “Pay no mind to Hyacinthe. She enjoys getting on the nerves of others, and shes rather good at it. Don’t allow her to spoil your fun.”

*

Arieon walked majestically through the grasslands on his way to the Harvest Ball. The warm evening air ran through is mane as he neared his destination, and he tossed his head to one side, enjoying the scenery around him. It had been a long time since he had left his sunny shores to see the other areas of Kalidore, and he was eager to arrive at the Ball. Sounds of laughter and merriment reached his ears, and he quickly stopped at a nearby pond to examine himself in the water reflection. Arching his neck this way and that, he attempted to see himself from each possible angle. Sounds of laughter and merriment reached his ears, and once he was satisfied that he appeared equally good for all angles, he continued on his way, following the sounds of laughter.

It didn’t take him long before he found what he was seeking. Stepping out into view, the stallion stood still and watched those around him. There were many new faces present, and many more humans than he was used to seeing. Word had come to him of the Guardian’s adventure, so he knew that more humans had crossed back through the gates into Kalidore. He was glad to see them. The stallion stood where he was and decided to watch the festivities for awhile.

Nearby, Trinity finally drew back from the mare she had come close to since she had been on Kalidore. She looked around at the gathering. “So many are ‘ere already,” she said to Aurellie, her hand resting on the mare’s side.

Aurellie shifted a little, but didn’t move from her spot beside Trinity. She nodded though as she looked at the gathered as well. “Indeed. The Harvest Ball is well underway. Come, we should join them and not seem aloof,” the mare said, and looking around again, her eyes spotted Arieon. “Ah, here’s someone you haven’t met yet, come child.”

The mare started along, Trinity blinking but moving to keep up with the mare. When they reached Arieon, Aurellie bowed her head softly towards him. “Hello Arieon. I see you’ve come to join the Ball,” she said and canted her head a little, then nodded towards Trinity. “This is Trinity, new to Kalidore. Trinity, this is Arieon.”

Trinity stood beside the mare and looked at the stallion. She had seen stallions before, but a unicorn stallion was even grander. As she was introduced, she nodded her head towards him. “Greetin’s sir. T’is a pleasure te meet ye.”

Arieon, standing where he had first entered the clearing, the moonlight casting a silver glow onto his luxurious coat so that and it seemed to shimmer as he stood there motionless. He noticed a pair break away from the others and head in his direction. They stopped in front of him and spoke, and he returned their greeting. “Nice to meet you Trinity,” he replied with a bow of his majestic head. “And nice to see you again Aurellie.” He paused before continuing, bending to scratch his leg with his horn. “Yes, I’ve come to join the Ball, I think nearly everyone will be coming. Have either of my brothers arrived yet? I do not see them.”

Trinity smiled as he spoke. “I’ve nay seen them yet an’ if they are ‘ere, they are most likely hidden among the others tha’ ‘ave joined,” she said.

Aurellie nickered softly, shifting a bit on her hooves. “I’m sure they will make themselves known sooner or later if they are here, and if not, then I’m sure they will come in time,” she said with a slight nod.

*

Brona had been dreaming for so long that she almost didn’t recognize that what was around her was no dream. How could she think otherwise? She was as ephemeral, as not-here, as a ghost; she was completely transparent. She’d been drifting here for almost a week – it seemed a peaceful, idyllic world. Definitely a world of dreams; the ‘horses’ here had horns standing proudly from their foreheads; they spoke with humans confidently, and humans practiced magic. It had to be a dream – and yet, over her week dreaming – she assumed it was a week, but time was as ephemeral to a dreamer – yet she’d seen the sun rise, sun set, seven times.

She’d gone past the vague pleasure of a peaceful dream to a slow interest in these people, these unicorns. They seemed to have lives and hopes more complex than mere dreaming could conjure. Past and future dreams, fears. And then there was this ball – she had hidden herself in shadows, but when Acosua had begun her tale, the words hung in the air for Brona, like silvery strands of a web that caught and snared her, and drew her inexorably closer, hanging on every word, until she left her shadows and drifted into the group of humans and unicorns mingling and celebrating.

Vaguely, in the back of her head, she thought it would be a fun thing, to celebrate, and just as quickly suppressed the thought. People without a functional body couldn’t celebrate; she was less than useless. All she could do was dream, and at that, this dream seemed to be under no control of hers.

But it was that feature that made this dream so very vivid. When she looked down, the grass wasn’t a vague blur; the blades were separately defined, waving in a breeze she couldn’t feel. When she looked down, there were small mounds of dirt, faded and layered impressions of hooves, even a small insect. No, no dream of hers had aver had such clarity or detail.

For the first time since the accident, she felt no pang of resentment to see the unicorns – their equine bodies triggered no flashbacks of falling, of her horse landing on her, of the excruciating pain that suddenly left her reft of feeling and movement altogether – these weren’t horses, after all. They were unicorns. And she had no body to hurt anymore. No body that could feel any hurt, at least.

She let herself drift among them, letting their separate conversations wash over her, wondering if she were only to be a passive observer in this strange dream, or if her subconscious had scripted her a role in this. She slowed near Xanthe and Rhaine and Lilaini, hovering really right over the kore’s head. Her attention kept being pulled one way and that.

She found herself scowling at the rude, scathing icy-blue mare – she wasn’t sure herself of the new Liam’s position or history – but she did find herself liking Pasiphae-she liked the sarcastic prickly humor she used – so she felt angry at the blue mare for speaking to Phae so. If she knew she was supposed to BE in this dream, she would have marched over and planted – well, floated over and hovered – near Phae and declared herself Phae’s friend. She wondered how the mare would respond to such a revelation from a ghost-like human, then laughed at herself; it was a dream. Phae would respond as her subconscious dictated, she supposed.

She looked around, too, for Lana and Spirit; the human newcomer to Kalidore also intrigued her. Like her, Lana was handicapped – and yet, with the help of a unicorn, she was learning to overcome that handicap. Even before then, she was learning. But still; someone who knew what it was like to lack something taken for granted by everyone else. If she were to tell Lana what it was like to have no control of her arms and legs, to fell as if you had no body at all, would she understand?

It had been so long since she’d had a conversation with someone – she suppressed the fierce wave of loneliness, thinking of her twin, her other half. Lucid dream or not – could it hurt to believe she could be friends with the manifestations of her own subconsciousness?

And even further back in her head, a vague idea forming, a what-if:

 

What if this isn’t a dream?

*

“Ah, the night is perfect,” Falling Star let out a hearty sigh, his eyes bright and dancing as he watched over the meadow, sprawled with unicorn and their kor, companions and other visitors, all having a wonderful time beneath the great glowing moon. “And ’Cos gets better each year. You know I still recall when I first heard her speak, all those years ago on the plains land… she was newly arrived on Kalidore, and Kal said I was to keep close an eye – at first I thought it was because I was meant to mind her, playing nurse-mother to the fledgling Korè, and I nearly balked on principal; but nay – that gift our sister possesses is a thing seen only once, maybe twice a lifetime? If we are by the stars granted so lucky… and who are we to try and impose on Fate? …which reminds me of the tale of the Shadow’s Foil; another good one. Maybe ’Cos will sing it next… certainly would set the mood…. Say you, brother?” he cocked his head, glancing at the silver stallion to his side.

Odin hadn’t said a word, content to let his brother ramble unkept and free like blowing sage. He was, after all, a fine singer of tales himself, a very sure second to the Bard, and his gift was well suited to his station; Falling Star was both Guide and Teacher, spreading the learning of the Old Tales far and wide across the Isle. Young Korè and Koros would often spend several years in his keep, taking in the great wealth of knowledge that the spotted stallion so generously offered. Perhaps… a little too generously, at times; he could really run the ear off, once he got going… Odin in practice said quite little, which was probably why the two brothers got along so amicably. Now the silver dun only shifted to shoo a late-seasoned mosquito, offering his head a small nod in passing.

“Seems to me, these events get grander each year,” the appaloosa continued heartily. “I like that. I hardly remember what we did before the Daiga started holding them…. And the little ones – they enjoy it so! Could hardly keep my class together this week, leading up… And the companions… ’tis quite incredible really, to see so many. Almost… has me a bit worried, what fate might be making of such a scene…. But… no place for gloomy thoughts, not on such a night – and ho, look! ’Tis Arieon… and dolled himself up for the event. Always one for such show… has he gone and shined himself with bees’ wax again? the silly peacock! Mayhap we go rescue Aurellie before he starts into one of those self-indulgent soliloquies he’s so fond of? Yes, lets – we’ve been standing too long anyways. I need to run!”

Odin chuckled, giving the shorter chestnut stallion a small shouldering nudge. “You go; I must tend to my boy.” The other gave a curt toss of his horn and went bounding down the rise, his spotted coat looking like streaming stars in the moonlight.

*

Rhaine had smiled at her friend’s laughter, although she was still puzzled as to what was so funny, compounded by Tyden’s abrupt and fleeting departure. At least Lilaini had applauded her, so whatever she’d managed wrong certainly couldn’t be that bad… she frowned, a flush covering her cheeks, hidden by the fire’s rosy glow. So she changed the topic, turning back to Lilaini and clearing her throat loudly in a painful attempt at feigning indifference. “I hope the Daiga is feeling better; she looked so tired when Muse offered to take her to the temple. I think these functions take more out of her these days the she likes us to catch on.”

Beside her Xanthe had snuck another honey-biscuit and was munching quietly, taking advantage of Rhaine’s distraction. She’d been enjoying the evening’s antics, even if she hadn’t a clue what was going on (humans were simply strange sometimes, at least from what she’d come to understand through her recent adventures earth-side). Just the same she hoped Tyden would hurry back soon; things were generally more interesting when he was at hand.

Around her horn this evening hung a thin band of entwined gold, shaped by elven hands and set with a single jewel of pale amethyst. Her mother had let her wear it especially for the occasion, and she was doing her dandiest not to loose it, even if it meant carrying her head an awkwardly upright angle. When little Acheflow scampered up, eager to play, it was the first thing she took into consideration. The second was that she wanted more honey biscuits, and if Rhaine saw her fetching them again she was going to get a scolding. The confliction worked itself out quickly.

“Sure, let’s go!” she bounded to her feet, upsetting Rhaine and Lilaini who had been using her as a couch. “I’ll be right back, we’re just going… to see Fiera and Ali!” she exclaimed, giving the little Kore a nudge in the direction as she went. “Race you!” she grinned encouragingly, already bounding brightly in place to give the small one the head start she needed to win.

*

The night air was refreshingly cool away from the fire, and Tyden welcomed it. The walk was doing him good, too, and he felt his head clear, the flush leaving him, deciding that was quite enough wine for one evening.

As annoyed as Pasipahe was with Hycinthe, when Tyden’s address caught her attention the mare’s gaze shifted, and she regarded the man warily as he wandered closer. “I don’t suppose you’ve come to give me an earful of how-could-yous and what-were-you-thinkings too, did you?” she asked the man, her ears flattening slightly as she glanced almost involuntarily at a wheaten bay and young woman lounging on the other side of the fire.

Liam, seeing a small window opportunity to shift the attention away from Pasiphae’s perpetually bad mood of the night – moved ’round the mare to approach the man himself – his face open and smiling and a hand held out in greeting. “How d’ye do, then – the name’s Liam.”

While Phae had been his destination, Tyden had but forgotten about her by the time he got there, actually didn’t realize she was talking to him, or much of anything until Liam was standing in his path with his arm out stretched. Tyden pulled back his focus, taking stock of himself, and glanced at Phae without any real recollection of what she’d said; the flattened ears were enough of a reason not to peruse it further either.

Instead he turned and returned the firm handshake briskly. “Good evening, I am Tyden. Liam, was it? Right – Odin mentioned you. Bit of a rough start as I hear,” he began genially, “I’m glad to see neither of you look the worse for wear. And… that was certainly a bright streak of noble courage on your part, Phae,” he broached carefully, “from what Odin tells me.”

“Now what I have I been telling?” a deep chuckle sounded from behind. The great stallion slipped from the night like the moon, coming to champ his teeth lightly on the back of the tall man’s collar and giving a tug. It was an endearing gesture, and Tyden laughed in spite of himself, feeling Odin’s unyielding presence wash over him; he cupped his arm over the great head as it came to rest on his shoulder. “Indeed, you seemed to have fared well your journey here,” he nodded greeting to Liam and Phae. “I trust Kalidore has been treating you well?”

Liam chuckled at the exchange between the silver stallion and his Companion. “Aye, Liam it is – and it’s good to see ye again, sir.” He touched his forehead respectfully at Odin before continuing. “She’s a fine lass, it’s true. Took right good care o’ me on the way here. Well, mostly anyways.” He smirked a bit, and nudged Pasiphae with an elbow. “I ‘accidentally’ landed in only a handful of mud puddles.” The bay mare coughed slightly, and looked away, barely having the courtesy to look the tiniest bit abashed. “And ye’ve a right fine countryside here – haven’t seen anything this rich and green in … well …” he knitted his eyebrows in a thoughtful frown, “Well, I can’t remember when. A long time then, I’d wager.” He smiled, his expression clearing.

“Goodness!” Tyden turned to Liam in full, “My manners – you should really come and meet the girls, they’ll be eager to see you. And you’re probably starved; there’s plenty of honey buns and good wine… so long as Lilani hasn’t downed the bottle while I’ve been gone… And truly, welcome to Kalidore.”

At Tyden’s mention of introduction, his grin gave an uncertain hitch. “Ahrm – lasses y’say – hrm?” he asked, his voice troubled, “We’ve not these met before then, eh?” His eyes flicked to ‘Phae questioningly – he had no wish to repeat the occurrence of a day or so past – when the wheatened bay and her young rider had confronted them on the path – the mare all flying accusations and snarls, while the girl sat silent upon her back – her face white and pinched around the edges with fear.  He hesitated a moment before barreling forward, “I err … I understand that not all your womenfolk might be interested in my company. I’d hate to ruin such a festive occasion for them …”

*

Bending her head down, Gypsy nudged the uneaten apple back in the red mare’s direction. “So tell me, I have not seen you two in many many years, perhaps not since you were Kore. How have things been with both?”

“Sometimes it seems only yesterday that we were kore,” Foehn Miri commented. “Life was so simple then. Not that it has become complicated for us since. We have been keeping pretty much to ourselves of late, not doing much of anything. As for Hyacinthe,” she chuckled, “she won’t spoil my fun. To be honest I can’t help but feel a little sorry for her when I consider the things she must have been through to get to this point.”

“It is quite a crowd we have here,” Foehn Miri continued as she looked out over the rest of the crowd. “I always like watching the antics of the kore when they are together. The yearlings can be especially amusing as they shift back and forth between acting like the children they really are and the adults they want to be considered.”

Luminista reached down and retrieved the rest of her snack, crunching on it as she listened to the exchange. Gazing about she couldn’t help but chuckle over the antics of the various little ones frolicking about.

“Don’t forget the chance to stare dreamy-eyed at Odin,” Luminista teased Foehn Miri. In an aside to Gypsy she whispered, “Foehn Miri has had a crush on him for the longest.”

“Hmmm.”

Gypsy chuckled at the two mares. “Ah yes, Odin is certainly a good strong, level headed stallion. He takes very good care of his herd.”

Luminista eyes caught something and she motioned to the group beside them and asked Gypsy, “What do you make or know of the transparent one?”

*

Kyndrienn paused momentarily in his frolicking, legs akimbo and panting heavily, at the edge of the Harvest Festival clearing. The warm light of the bonfire played prettily on his coat – warming his muted foal colors into the golden promise of his adulthood.

As he stood still, trying to catch his breath, his ears flicked back and forth – trying to catch all of the stray remarks and laughter in the happy murmur of voices that wafted through the air. Unable to stand still for long, Kyn took a few deep breathes and flung himself up in a sort of half reared pose, his head arched and legs dramatically pawing at the air before him.

He landed with a small huff, and surreptitiously glanced about, hoping someone had noticed his theatrical posing. Unfortunately however, all of the other kore seemed otherwise engaged (snatching honey-buns and playing tag) and most of the adults were busy chatting. Only a single a pair of mares, practically ancient by Kyndrienn’s standards, paid him any mind – and they only raised an eyebrow and tittered – hardly the admiring attention for which Kyn had been striving.

Refusing to let their amusement bother him, he gave a small buck amd kick, and pranced off – his small ears pricked and tail waggling jovially.

As he rounded the bonfire, his small stomach rumbled, so he took a moment to snatch a honey-bun of his own. All in all, Kyn mused as he snacked, he was having a grand old time. There were so many PERSONS here – not to mention mares and kore – that he could scarce contain his excitement. He had, of course, heard stories about the Daiga and even met a couple of the Guardians once or twice, during his impromptu classes in the pastures with the other kore, but there were at least four or five other humans here tonight! New companions even!

He had heard, through the gossiping of kore and eavesdropped snippets of conversation from the mares, that they had even gone on adventures to get them! That there had been sword fightings* and magics and all kinds of dangerous, exciting things. Kyn fair trembled with the rapture at the idea of it all. Like any young boy, two legged or four, he yearned for adventure – drinking in all the stories of strange and difficult quests, impossible capers and magical happens.

One day, he daydreamed wistfully, one day it would be HIM telling the stories – but it wouldn’t be just make-believe and silly kore imaginings, no – it would’ve been real. Kyn released a heavy, heartfelt sigh – his inner sights filled with large toothy beasts, damsels (or fillies) in distress, and distant lands.

Suddenly the shrill squeal of a young kore broke him from his reverie. He blinked, as the visions dissolved, and he cast about looking for the origin of the sound. His tail waggled happily as he finally spotted the kore, a small prettily spotted filly on the opposite side of the bonfire. She looked to be readying herself to play a game of tag with a much older yearling, a gorgeous golden dun filly that Kyn didn’t recall meeting before. Kyn hastily swallowed the rest of his bun, and began to bound towards the pair – hoping to join in their play.

As he gamboled about, however, he soon caught sight of something wispy and strange over near a small knot of humans and mares. He would’ve paid it no mind, content in losing himself in whatever game the other kore had planned, except that in that moment the transparent thing turned and seemed to look right at him. His bright blue eyes went wide, his knees and legs locked, and he came to a stilted and very sudden stop – only his locked limbs saving him from collapsing in a heap upon the ground. His brain suddenly awhirl with the promise of doom and ghost’s from Acosua’s story of barely an hour before – he found himself bolting for nearest safe-haven he could find, under the belly of a bay mare and behind one of the new humans.

“Ghooooooooost!” he shrilled at the top of his lungs. “It’s Thaedor! He’s come to EAT US ALL!”

Pasiphae and Liam, both taken aback and extremely confused at this sudden turn of events, simply stared at each other, and then the foal blankly … having no idea what was going on.

((*A sword, an imperious unikore filly had once told Kyn, was a human’s sad attempting at having a horn of their own. It was made of metal, or other hard things, and they wore it on a belt. Kyn thought this very odd – but then, he couldn’t imagine NOT having a horn – so he couldn’t exactly fault someone who didn’t have one from wanting one. Although, he thought that wearing it around one’s waist, instead of one’s head, seemed very strange.))

When Xanthe agreed to play, Acheflow made a few steps back, a broad excited look creasing onto her little features. She turned herself around, ready to make the first leap and run, until her playmate suggested to race to – “Fiewa and Ayee? Why?” She squirmed at the thought of the much older and bigger human girl trying to settler her down again. “Okay…”

Just when she was about to go, some unikoro, much older than she was, yelled “Ghost!” But what exactly was a ghost, Ache didn’t know or even understand for that matter. She tilted her head in Kyn’s direction, her emerald eyes baring down into him with a question look. The spotted kore looked over to Xanthe, hoping for an answer when she saw the transparent figure looming around. “Uhh… ghost?”

Quickly, she darted over to the floating thing to check it out. She tried biting it, but it seemed beyond her reach.

“I think one unicorn had his fill of honey biscuits for the night. How do you suppose a ghost can eat us, if it was transparent and could walk through trees…” Fiera questioned aloud to herself or anyone else, maybe. Flicking her ears towards the commotion, she looked at Kyn with a ‘you must be crazy, but quite the entertainer’ look.

Ali felt a jolt of surprise at the declaration of being eaten. It didn’t seem like ghost actually inhabited Kalidore, let alone eat them, although she was still pretty new her. “Umm… is that possible?”

“Not likely,” Amaterasu called back, still keeping a good watch on Acheflow.

When the squeal of terror broke through the merriment and drowned out the words the red mare had spoken, Gypsy swung her head around, looked for the source of the distress. Her ears and eyes flicked around quickly, and at first didn’t see anything. Then as she continued to look more slowly, she saw the transparent figure of a young human woman. The bronze mare stared for several seconds in the direction of the figure, and then moved in her direction. Being old even by most unicorn standards, something of familiarity was gnawing at the back of Gypsy’s mind as she regarded the young woman. Pulling to a stop near her, she called out to the Kore that were nearby. “All of you, please be calm. I don’t think you have anything to fear.”

Turning her green eyes upon the woman, she addressed her trying not to loose sight of where she was standing as the firelight danced hungrily. “Greetings, I am Gypsy. You do not need to watch from the sidelines, if you mean us no harm come and join the festivities.” The mare watched to see what the figures response would be. She had a look of longing on her face that gave the mare the impression of great distances. But she wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. She reached out with her mind, and let Lilaini know of their new visitor.

*

Trinity and Aurellie stood waiting for Arieon’s brothers, though it was Aurellie that spotted Odin, and then Falling Star. A slight toss of her head and a point had Trinity looking as well.

“I’m guessin’ t’would be them?” she asked and placed a hand on Aurellie’s side.

“Aye little one, the grey dun is Odin and the other is Falling Star, both of them, and Arieon, great stallions to know,” Aurellie said with a nod.

Trinity looked about the scene before her and let out a slight breath, she was remembering times when Samhain came around, and the scene before her reminded her of that. She wasn’t sad she had left home, no, she was glad, because now she found this place and friends.

Arieon too had been looking amongst the crowd to see if he could locate where his brothers were. A flash of chestnut brown caught his eye, and he saw where his two siblings were standing. It looked as though Falling Star was heading in this direction so he was content to allow his brother to come to him. Bending down to scratch his leg with is muzzle, he became rather alarmed as he noticed that mud had coated both of his front hooves. “Bah,” he scoffed, trying to hide the distress his messy hooves were causing him. And he began to non-nonchalantly rub his hooves in the grass. “Hello brother!” he hollered out as redoubled his efforts. “Glad to see you could finally make it. I was worried I was going to have to entertain all the ladies myself this evening.”

Falling Star’s eyes lit with amusement as he watched the ivory stallion shuffle, blustering to an abrupt stop beside him that sent a small whirl of dust into the air. “Hardly need to worry about entertaining, what with that fancy foot-work of yours!” he laughed mirthfully. “And hello, Aurellie, little friend,” he turned to the pair obligingly. “Enjoying the festivities, I hope? Let us all go by the fire and warm ourselves – and I must get this brother of mine shuffled off before he chips a hoof on some rough stone out in this rogue wilderness, for then we’ll never hear the end of it! And, I plan to hail Acosua before she slips off again – perhaps even convince her to spin us another yarn while the night is still young!” The spotted stallion breathed in the night with a heart-filled sigh; it was sublime.

Arieon could not miss the fact that Falling Star was teasing him, but despite being rather narcissistic he took these types of comments in stride. “Ah brother,” be replied, lifting his head to address him but also attempting to tilt it enough to look at the cleanliness of his hooves without being detected. “I don’t know what you are implying. I have not taken any extra cares with my appearance this evening. I generally always ensure to have myself….gleaming in this way.” He paused, carefully choosing the compliment he was going to bestow upon himself. Grinning, he nudged his brother in an affectionate but stallion type of manner. They did not often leave their areas of Kalidore and therefore the brothers did not get to see one another other than on infrequent occasions. “And yes, come, lets go closer to the fire. I too desire to speak with Acosua and someone most assuredly needs to sing us a song!” The pale stallion did indeed want to speak with his sister, and hoped also to see Odin but he also felt fairly certain that the flickering flames could only enhance the way his coat appeared to the others nearby. Now that he was fairly certain he was dust and mud free, he picked up trot and headed towards the firelight with his brother.

*

Hyacinthe lost interest in the unicorns and humans she was standing near. Tyden rather annoyed her so she moved off and went to find another spot to stand. Moving through the crowd, she ignored all the commotion that was occurring around her and moodily stood a few feet away from Persephone and her companions. The icy blue mare stood there for awhile, ensuring to glare at those around her as much as possible if they happened to cast a look in her direction. She didn’t want to loose an opportunity to ensure everyone around her knew that she was NOT enjoying herself, and that she felt most of there antics were boring and annoying.

When she was sure had shot nasty looks with nearly everyone in a twenty foot radius, she cast her gaze behind her and watched as the human continued to fuss over Persephone. “You went and brought one of those back to eh?” She retorted in the bay mares general direction. “Kalidore is going to be overrun by these two legged creatures. Pretty soon there wont be any room for us unicorns anymore.”

Raising her head towards Hyacinthe, Persephone flattened her ears as she listened to the blue mare’s comments. She’d never had much to do with her before, and couldn’t understand what could drive a unicorn to such a bad temper. Rising to her feet, she closed the last of the distance between herself and Hyacinthe, Aislinn getting up behind her, brushing the grass from her skirt as she followed Persephone, then kept her had on her friend’s shoulder.

“Hello, Hyacinthe. Yes, it’s true that I found my companion when the guardians opened the gates.” Turning her head, she nudged Aislinn gently. ‘This is my Aislinn, and I’m sure that all our new guests and residents, even if their numbers were twice as large, would never over populate Kalidore.”

Unsure of how to take blue mare, Aislinn searched for a change of topic, and went with the first thing that came to mind.

“So Hyacinthe, have you been enjoying the festivities?”

Bored with the grownup talk and turning away from her mother and Aislinn, Pan decided to go see what else was happening around the bonfire. Trotting around, she looked at the groupings with interest until Tyden, Phae, another human (Liam) and a young koros (Kyn), caught her attention and she sauntered over to the small group.

Coming to stand next to Tyden, Pan lowered her head to peer at the young koros, still underneath Phae.

“What are you doing down there?” Genuine curiosity in her voice and expression as she looked him and then at each member of the group.

When the colt came barreling out of nowhere, screaming about ghosts at the top of his lungs, diving into a wailing heap underneath Pasiphae’s belly – she and Liam exchanged confused glances before scanning their surroundings – looking for whatever had spooked the poor thing. When Liam’s eyes finally settled upon Brona, they widened momentarily and then narrowed, something dark stirring in the back of his mind at her appearance. His hand moved automatically to his hip, cursing under his breath as he found his sword missing again.**

Liam moved himself closer to the head of the mare, but kept his movements slow and deliberate, hoping to not draw attention to himself. He pitched his voice low, intending for it only for the ears of the bay mare that stood before him – her ears pricked towards the unexpected guest. “Is this work of your kin, lass?” he asked, eyeing Gyspy’s approach and unstilted conversation with the ghost. Pasiphae shook her head and he frowned. “I’ve no sword – but if you think yon thing could be some sort of threat, I imagine between the two of us and your friends there, we can at least make enough of a distraction that at least the little’uns can escape. Possibly even better than distraction if you’ve knowledge of a counter to the witchcraft.” His eyes narrowed in thought as he took stock of the surroundings in more detail.

At the mention of witches, however – Pasiphae’s ears pinned themselves flat against her head and she angled her head slightly to give the man a nasty look. “What is it with you and witches, anyways? Will you just wait a moment and see what the rest of them have to say before you start laying about with sword and fist willy-nilly?” she hissed at him. “Wait until those more knowledgeable,” she stressed the word sharply and Liam winced, “… about these sort of things take stock. And if I need you to hit something, I’ll let you know.” With that she refocused her attention back on the little scene before them.

Liam gritted his teeth, his soldier’s nature (only partially remembered as it was) so ingrained that it was almost physically uncomfortable to stand gamely around with a potential threat on the loose. He eyed the ghost with an unfriendly stare. While it didn’t LOOK particularly aggressive or dangerous – something about it stirred niggling and uncomfortable thoughts in the corners of his brain. When he tried to pin it down the exact thoughts however, they slipped away – leaving sharp, spiny shards of emotion in their wake.

However, as the little scene continued to play out in front of him – he began to relax somewhat. No one else around him seemed particularly ill at ease, so perhaps the occurrence was less troubling than he thought. Finally as a young kore launched itself through the spectre with no adverse effects, he shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. All in all, perhaps it was nothing … young girl or not, he had already offended at least a handful of these people, and was in no hurry to add more to the list. He released a sigh, and glanced about for a way to distract himself. As his eyes settled on the koros – still glancing at the ghost as if it could at any moment turn into a dragon and eat him – and he hunkered down to the ground and reached out a hand, palm up.

“Here now, lad – there’s no need to be so afeared. This fine lady here an’ myself won’t be letting any harm come te as a fine lil’ lad as yourself.”

Kyn blinked wide-eyed at the man. “But … but what about the dragon?”

Liam repressed a chuckle. “Look closer, laddie – it’s just a wee girl there. Bit spooky to be sure, I’ll admit, but tisn’t a dragon by and stretch o’ the imagination.”

Kyn glanced back at Brona and had to admit that yes, she did look much more girl-like than dragonlike – or at least, he assumed so, not exactly having a wide range of experience identifying dragons. Around this time a lovely little spotted foal trotted up, stopping to glance under Pasiphae’s belly at the colt and inquire as to what he was doing. Kyn’s eyes darted from side to side, not wanting to admit to the kore that he was still in hiding – not when even a weanling apparently had a more heroic sense of bravery than he did. He huffed and clamored out from under the mare, and tried to draw himself up taller.

“I was uhm … was play hide’n’seek. Yes. You found me tho.” He replied to the little filly, nodding excessively, willing with every fiber of his being that she’d not think him a coward. “Did you … uhm … did you want to play maybe? You could hide next …”he trailed off slightly, his expression woeful.

Liam chuckled and ruffled his scrubby foalish mane, and Kyn sneezed and glared.

 

((**Honestly this had been a fairly often occurrence at first – despite the fact that Pasiphae had made it quite clear early on that it was gone, and there was no going back for it. Even after a week of false starts, it was still inherently nature to reach for it first and think of the lack second.))

*

Lilaini had grinned at the puzzled look on her friends face, and more so at her attempt at diversion. “Hrmm? Oh the Daiga yes I agree completely, but I’m sure she’s fine.”

Releasing Rhaine’s hand she turned and realized their goblets were empty stood up to go and refill them. She swooned slightly as gravity took hold, and stood steadying herself momentarily. Once she had regained control of her equilibrium, the guardian filled their goblets and hastened back to Rhaine’s side. “Here we go, we wouldn’t want to became parched I figure.” Casting an amused grin to Rhaine, she felt Gypsy’s mind brush up against her own. She became quiet for a second as she conversed with her companion telepathically. When they were finished she again spoke to her fellow Guardian. “Gypsy has just told me there is an apparition present. She says she recalls this happening perhaps once or twice before, but I personally do not remember anything like that.” Lifting her goblet she savoured the sweet taste.

“An apparition? I haven’t come across the likes either,” Rhaine glanced to where the commotion had unfolded, wondering if she should see to the matter directory. But Gypsy did seem to have a handle on things, and somehow the act of just sitting seemed far too consuming right now anyways. Even though it had been a week since her great summoning of Gates, sometimes the exhaustion lingered even still. At least it did what I asked of it and we were all saved, she sighed as the events played themselves out again in her mind; it did however remain a telling lesson about the dangers of potent magic, and a reminder about her own relative inexperience.

Lilaini had looked in towards her companion instinctively when Gypsy had contacted her and now she allowed her gaze to wash over the crowd. It stopped as she noticed Tyden standing with his back towards them, talking to Phae and Liam. Turning her head on an angle slightly she studied them before she began speaking again. Nudging Rhaine, she nodded in the groups general direction. “That’s a new outfit Tyden has on isn’t it? Those pants are rather flattering from this angle don’t you agree?” She grinned and took another drink from her goblet.

Rhaine had taken the offered goblet as it was pressed into her hands, feeling the tannins tingle her nose as she inhaled. She brought it to her lips and drank solemnly, forgetting to sip in her eagerness to move the conversation ahead, Lilaini’s nudged comment cementing the deal. “I… hadn’t noticed,” she muffled to the cup. She coughed, lightly, the flush returned as the potent brew settled on its way down, the tepid buzz spreading to her head and filling her ears.

*

Xanthe’s eyes widened as the Koros’ shouts brought her attention abruptly from thoughts of sticky honey-buns to visions of fire-breathed dragons and dawn-less night. She swung her head up in surprise, but what met her was not nearly as frightening as the pictures she’d conjured – no sinuous wings or tapered body that writhed across the mind’s eye, no pronged horns and claws sickle’d down like early moon… in fact… the apparition looked… well, human. She planted herself, nostrils widening to see if this creature had sent, since it seemed so lacking in other parts, daring whether or not she wanted to get any close then she already was. As Acheflow went bonding over, apparently no bone of caution in her body (the silly Kore, Xanthe shook her head with bemusement), Xanthe cocked her own head as Gypsy began to speak. When she was done, the golden dun approached the wisp. “You’re… not a ghost… are you? Because… ghosts don’t exist. And… you’re… there. Mostly. So what are you?”

Brona felt like her mind was underwater; time seemed to have little meaning in a dream, such that things could happen in the blink of an eye or over the span of an eon, but never faster than you could follow. But lately, this dream of ‘Kalidore’, while peaceful, seemed less like a dream, and more like a fantastic alternate reality. But if she let herself care, and she woke up, or the dream ended, wouldn’t it hurt all the more to have the illusion shattered, if she let herself hope it more than mere illusion?

Even so, another side of her mind argued, if it’s a dream, your dream, why can’t you participate in it? Can a dream hurt you?

A memory of a dream – one where she thought she was healed, could feel her legs and arms, could walk, before the dream ended and plunged her into a well of despair – surfaced, but she ruthlessly shoved it down. Better to have no hope, then to hope and have it torn from you. Like the use of her body, of sensation, had been torn from her.

She didn’t even know if she was to participate in this dream, or to be merely an observer, as some dreams were.

When she hovered over the foal Xanthe, and the foal didn’t notice her, bounding off to play, and the humans, Rhaine and Lilaini, didn’t blink either (though that could have been fatigue and drink dulling their senses), she acknowledged with a pang of regret that this dream was going to be one of the latter. Perhaps that was for the best, she consoled herself, it would only be dangerous to emotionally invest in this dream –

And then the dynamic was shattered, a new pattern set into place. a colt in muted colors – Kyndrienn, she remembered him being called, vaguely – had charged around, in high spirits, flagged tail high in his young exuberance. He would have made the human photographers fight to capture him for their calendars and motivational posters had he been on earth. Even more amazing – he saw Brona.

At first, Brona thought the colt meant someone or something else – after all, she hardly resembled a dragon – and at Kyn’s first cry of fear she whirled around (nice thing about having no body – no need to worry about things like balance) – but no spectre was in sight.

Just herself. Fewmets. The foal meant her, for some reason. He didn’t just see her, he was afraid of her. She was an apparition in her own dream, and a foal in her dream thought she was terrifying. Didn’t that just figure?

Worse, the terrified foal fled for Pasiphae and Liam. Well, there went her hopes of befriending prickly Phae – if Phae felt protective of Kyn, she’d be blamed for scaring him, wouldn’t she?

But then more took notice of her. A foal even younger than Kyndrienn, spindle-legged Acheflow, bounded up to her – and tried to bite her. Reflexively, she tried to jerk away, but failed – not that it mattered, for the foal’s nipping teeth swept through her incorporeal form without a hint of resistance. And of course, Brona felt nothing. It had been years since she’d felt anything.

She opened her mouth to answer, hearing Kore and humans speaking around her, not knowing who to answer first, but then another was approaching her, a liver chestnut with four white stockings and friendly eyes. Gypsy, she recalled, from her week of watching and drifting. And the mare took charge comfortably, calling for calm.

And then Xanthe, the golden dun filly, returned and saw her, too, so she directed her entreaty to both foals and Gypsy.

“I am Brona,” she answered, feeling a sense of relief at being seen and spoken to, and speaking finally. “I didn’t mean to scare anyone. I didn’t know if this was a dream I was to participate in, or just watch. I’m not a ghost because I’m not dead. I’m dreaming. This is a wonderful place to dream of, though. I’ve never had a dream so vivid before.” She couldn’t hide the yearning and wistfulness, nor the fear that soon this dream would be wrenched from her, to be replaced by another. “I don’t mean any harm. I can’t harm anyone; I can’t touch or change anything.” Years of dreaming hadn’t lessened the bitterness or grievous loss shadowing her words. She wasn’t really sure anything could. Certainly nothing in the waking world, where her twin sister was a reminder of what she had been, what she should be. A constant reminder of everything she’d lost. Even here, where the unicorns were a reminder of the mundane horses of earth, the cause of her loss.

Uncertainly, her eyes flickered over to Pasiphae and Liam and the frightened Kyndrienn.

Fiera gave another look that stated ‘obviously’ to Brona, the transparent and, from what the spotted kore experimented on, non-edible human. The orange mare swiftly got to her legs and walked over, ignoring everyone else and leaving Ali tipped over then scrambling to catch up. “You can think it’s a dream dear, but really, it’s not. I’m as real as you or me or everyone else, that is, if you are real. And it’s alright, nothing to be afraid of. You, or me,” Fiera gave a quick nod of reassurance, hoping that Brona would understand.

“So, where did you come from? Oh and apologies that Acheflow tried to bite you. She’s rather young and frisky to begin with,” said Ali, grimacing with an apologetic smile while her eyes darted to the kore and back at Brona.

Acheflow scrunched up her nose, getting into running position once more. But this time, she was going to aim for the spirit like human, just because. She gave a little flick of her tail before giving a little half rear and charging at Brona at full speed. Her spindly legs ran recklessly towards the human and propelled her off the ground in a big leap (for her that was) but she went right through and landed with a thump on the other side. Shocked, she shook her head from the fall and looked down at the ground. “Bleh. Missed!” She pouted, unhappy that her attempt had failed in a miserable defeat. She sneezed when the dust rose up from the grass and into her nose.

“And that too,” Ali added after the kore’s stunt. She let her eyes roam around to find Kyn with Phae and also found that she was nice, safe and sound but with some unexpected company – Liam… *Wait, when did he get here?* the girl asked her companion in alarm, but with was subdued by the fact that Phae seemed comfortable around him.

 

*I’m not all that sure dear, but if he’s not causing trouble then we all will be quite fine. I think.* Fiera thought back, turning around to give a quick wink before shifting her attention back to the ‘ghost’ human.

Gypsy stood studying the young woman who introduced herself as Brona. A sense of relief filled her voice and she appeared to be very anxious and tense. This woman’s presence was something that the Daiga would need to be informed about. But she had left with Muse and now did not seem the time to bother her with that information.

As several of the others nearby spoke to Brona, the bronze mare waited until they were finished before speaking again. “I’m sure no alarm on your part was intentional,” she said once Brona had also finished her introduction. “Transparent figures are a very rare occurrence on Kalidore. I am old even by Unicorn standards and I only vaguely remember any in my lifetime. The Kore have been listening to Acosua tell ghost stories of old so you’re appearance was simply very timely.” She paused before continuing and ensured she had been projecting what she was saying to Lilaini at the same time she was speaking. The young woman’s comment of this entire experience being a dream struck Gypsy and she wondered what it all meant but felt that she was not the person with whom that subject could be tackled. It seemed as that was something reserved for the Daiga’s knowledge. So she choose to ignore it for now, until it could be properly addressed later. “But please, come and join the festivities there are many with whom you may wish to converse on your own. Or if there is anyone you would like me to introduce you to I would be more than willing.” She nodded her head slightly in the form of a bow.

Foehn Miri nosed the seemingly forgotten apple. She took a bite and chewed thoughtfully as she watched and listened with great interest to the discussion with Brona nodding her head in agreement to Gypsy’s words.

*

Hyacinthe had taken little interest in Persephone’s introduction of Aislinn. Her eyes nearly rolled when the human actually spoke to her. “What’s to enjoy about the festivities human? Everyone gathered together acting foolishly, listening to silly stories we’ve all heard hundreds of times. You’d think with animals that live as long as us that we could come up with a few new stories so that every time we were forced to gather together it wouldn’t be the same handful of stories we were subjected to.” She snorted in annoyance, and she pretended not to have heard Aislinn’s name during Persephone’s introduction and continued to call her by her species instead. At this point another unicorn wandered up and began monopolizing the conversation. Hyacinthe laid her eyes flat against her head and stood there moodily and silent once more.

Abigail was looking upon all the commotion that was happening before her. The dark dapple bay walked cautiously up to Persephone who looked rather interesting though her company Hyacinthe did not look happy to be there.

“Hi Persephone! Aren’t the festivities lovely?”

Turning her head as she heard her name called, Persephone returned Abigail’s greeting with a nicker of joy at seeing more familiar faces at the Harvest ball.

“Abigail! You made it! I was starting to think you weren’t coming this time.” Shifting to face her friend fully, Aislinn turned as well, casting a glance in Hyacinthe’s direction. The mare was still glaring at those present.

“Yes, the festivities are lovely, I couldn’t agree with you more. I swear Acusua gets better every year, if that’s even possible. This is Aislinn’s first time at the Harvest Ball, so I am truly glad it is going so well.”

Wanting to join in all the fun, Abigail gazed around at all. Then she turned back to Persephone, “Yes I’m sorry it took me so long to get here but I couldn’t miss all the fun!” Abigail grinned.

The conversation caught Aislinn’s full attention at the sound of her name, she managed to catch up on what was being said easily enough and relaxed against Persephone’s side.

“Greetings, Abigail. It does seem to be a nice night for these festivities too. Will you be staying? You’re more than welcome to stay with us.”

It wasn’t just a polite invitation either. In the week she had been here, she had met Abigail once if only briefly, but she still held an affection for Persephone’s friend. She hoped to get to know the unicorn better throughout the evening.

As Abigail was finished speaking to Persphone, she was delight to see Aislinn. “Very nice to meet you! I would love to stay with you if that’s alright.” Abigail, a little overwhelmed by all the sights was happy to have some new friends to stay with. Her calm nature sometimes kept her away but she was going to stride to go out and meet as many unicorns and humans as possible.

*

Lilaini laughed heartily again at her friend’s avoidance of the question. “Oh come now Rhaine. He’s the only man on Kalidore and you’ve never noticed? Well come on,” she began and moved next to her friend. Wrapping her arm around her shoulders she turned her squarely in his direction. “Now that you are looking in the most advantageous position, what do you think?”

At this movement, it was brought to the Guardian’s attention that perhaps she should slow down on how fast she was emptying her goblet. It felt as though her brains were swimming about and it took them a moment to settle back into position every time she moved. She was about to continue the questioning of her friend when Gypsy’s thoughts rubbed up against her own again and she had to sit attentively. Normally she could carry on other functions while conversing mentally with Gypsy. This evening it was requiring her full undivided attention to unfog her thoughts and understand everything the mare was telling her.

Relaxing her grip on her friend, she again relayed what her companion had told her about the apparition and expressed her own desire for the Daiga to be informed once she was feeling better. Forgetting what it was they had been speaking about previously, she shuffled over a bit to give Rhaine some space, and refilled there goblets (also forgetting her decision a few moments earlier to not empty and refill the goblets so quickly). “Someone needs to sing us a song,” she said to her friend. “Don’t you think? Dancing and singing is what this party is lacking!” She nodded resolutely, thinking this was the way the conversation was turning.

*

Long grasses swirled around his legs like lapping waves, and Falling Star tossed his head gleefully as he felt the wind roar past his ears as he gained speed. What started as a light trot was now a race, and the shorter stallion’s mottled legs gobbled the green with spirit and drive. Every now and then he’d glance over his shoulder to see how is brother was fairing, catching sight of him out of the corner of his eye.  Arieon took up his brother’s challenge and raced him towards the fire. Despite the spotted stallion’s shorter stature, he was unable to make up the distance that stood between them. The stallion’s mane streamed out behind him, his hooves rapidly covered the ground that lay between him and the fire but never allowed him any closer to his elder brother.

They arrived at the fire together however, scattering a cluster of mares and kors in their wake, breathing hard but laughing. The spotted stallion rearing up to box the air lightly in front of Arieon as if they were colts; in truth, Falling Star was quite his bother’s elder, but perhaps it was all the time he spent with the youth of Kalidore that kept the appaloosa so young at heart. Arieon felt like a koros himself this evening, and playfully turned and shot a fake kick with his back legs as his brother reared up.

Landing neatly again Falling Star turned, giving a small bow towards the others to gently appease their theatrical entrance. “How are you tonight, young sisters and brothers of Kalidore?” he lifted his voice to the group. “Full with apples, laughter, and song! Come, let us dance beneath Kal’s Moon, for the night is young and we unicorns were meant to be merry!”

Dance, ye child of Kal’s delight
As stars unfold o’r Kaedon’s night
Lift your hearts and hooves as one
And dance, until we wake the sun!

Sing, ye child of Kal’s adore
As kor asleep and dreams a-soar
Lift your voice to share the call
That stirs us body, mind, and all!

Dream, ye child of Kal’s esteem
With souls that dance and hearts that gleam
For even if stars fall a-sleep
In our dreams does magic keep!

All around him, the air rang with his song, his rich voice lifting to the stars and Kal’s shining moon, inviting everyone to sway with the eternal rhythm of the world. It was infection, and Falling Star himself could not help but prance as he sang….

Shuffling his feet to the tune, the Arieon looked about at all the mares standing out. Certainly, if there was singing, their needed to be dancing. His eyes locked on one mare in particular and he headed over in her direction.

He moved into the group she was standing with, which consisted of several others he knew well. “Hello brother!” he called out when he saw Odin, “Come now, singing is a time for dancing. Don’t be shy, I know for a fact you are very light on your hooves.” He bobbed his head in greeting to Tyden and Liam. “You two, I’m sure there are many lovely human ladies around here that will be hoping you will go and ask them to dance. Don’t disappoint them,” he added with a grin. Turning his attention back to the mare that had brought him he was about to speak when he noticed a young koros standing underneath of her. “Well there! What are you doing hiding under there my boy?” He lowered his head to get a better view of the koros. “What a handsome young stallion, that is certainly my son I see under there. Must be, look at his colouring and fine bone structure. I know my genes when I see them. Come now, since you are my son that means you are also a lovely dancer. Look at all the young kors out there, you should go and find a dance partner.” He gave the koros a nip on the rump and sent him off in that direction.

“Now,” he replied, looking up at the bay mare he had yet to address. “I was looking around trying to find the most beautiful mare in the clearing with which to dance, and I was having a hard time deciding. But then my eyes fell upon you, and the decision suddenly became an easy one.” Lifting his one front leg, he dropped himself to a bow. “Would you give me the honour of this dance?” Raising himself up he looked at the bay mare (Phae) and awaited her response.

*

Luminista took the few steps necessary to bring her up to the little spotted filly. Nuzzling her behind the ear she softly complimented, “That was one fine leap, little one, and would have brought the desired results had the target been a little more substantial.” Luminista has a soft spot for foals. She will often go out of her way to encourage them believing self-confidence to be vital. “I am curious as to why you felt such action necessary though.” Self confidence is one thing, she thought to herself with an inner chuckle, manners to a guest another entirely.

Acheflow continued to pout, still quite upset at the fact that she missed. Bah! That was when she felt a soft muzzle on her head, snuffling her short mane and heard someone’s voice. The black kore didn’t understand everything the pretty red mare said, but a sense of pride bubbled in her little chest. Ache quickly stood up to reply to the bigger mare, “Weally?!” She cocked her head, squaring herself up to portray her happiness and pride. Until Luminista questioned her antics, which somewhat killed her joy a bit.

“Becauze… I wanna see wut it taste like.” In a tone that sounded like ‘obviously’.

However, after that being said, the big mare displayed what she took as a threat and a coming stallion, she squealed in fear. Lunging ahead and out of the way into safety quickly, she still fea\lt terrified after a moment or two. She moved closer to Luminista, hiding in somewhat comfort.

“What the..?” Ali and Fiera looked wide eyed at Falling Star as he raced his way, sending everyone in all directions. The orange mare stumbled back a few steps. Fiera retorted, “We were just looking at the girl… and questioning her. No need to put on such a dashing display,” she finished, giving the appaloosa stud a bemused look. Her temper didn’t flare tonight, not when there were such festivities about. But they were still without answer, which irked her a bit.

“Didn’t you tell me patience was good?” Ali breathed, feeling the unanswered question getting to her companion a bit. She too had stumbled a few steps backward, a little away from Brona and Falling Stars.

“Not when you’ve got a personality and temper like me, no.”

“Sure.” The girl rolled her eyes sarcastically, all the while letting her hand wander and twisting through Fiera’s silky mane.

In the meanwhile, Acheflow calmed down enough to face the stallion who scared her but to find that he was singing now. A look of anger flashed on her face, then it turned to confusion and familiarity. Finally, it turned into genuine glee when she cried out, “Daddy!” The kore couldn’t mistake her own father, he was the only one who looked like her a the very least in spots. Admiration boiled off her when she bounded over to Falling Stars.

Trinity had found herself in wonder once more as she watched the stallion; she couldn’t help but chuckle in watching Arieon in his preening, like a fine bird he was.  They joined the others near the fire as Falling Star began to sing, and Aurellie raised her voice to join with the stallion’s. Trinity found that she had started to hum the tune as well, but also that she had started to dance a little in place.

“Don’t be shy child. I’m sure you’re a wonderful dancer,” Aurellie said, giving Trinity soft nudge.

“Thank ye Aurellie. Been a while since I’ve really danced at a festival or ball.” she said.

* * *

 

Beep….Beep…..Beep….

 

Another day had come and gone, days where Neela worked during the day and spent her evenings in the hospital, chattering to her comatose twin about the news, gossip, latest breakthroughs, and her own day. She shared her dreams, complained about the hospital food, and fretted about the bills, while manipulating her sister’s limbs, trying to keep the muscles from wasting. She assisted the nurses and doctors and aides and gossiped with them as well; this was her sister’s life, even if Brona was unaware of it; and she refused to allow herself the luxury of walking away from it – not when her sister had no choice in the matter.

 

It was lonely, of course – Brona never answered, never gave any sign she heard or was aware of anything – but they were twins. They were family. Until the accident, they had been closer than any two people had a right to be, finishing each other’s sentences, sharing dreams, working together – until the accident. It had become the cut-off point between NOW and THEN: Before The Accident.

 

Neely had thought she’d grown up before, working to put her twin through college, but when she’d been deferred to for Brona’s medical care – and bills – she’d had a crash course in cold, harsh reality. She worked long hours with few friends (not many could understand her devotion to a sister who’d been comatose for years), keeping a rigid control over her spending – most of her income was eaten by Brona’s medical bills. After her long hours working, she spent her evenings at Brona’s side, helping in any way she could, before crawling home for a few hours rest before repeating her schedule. But even so, she’d never once given a moment’s thought that she could ‘pull the plug’ on Brona.

 

Because she never once wavered in her conviction that, somewhere in there, Brona was alive. And someday, she could wake up. And she’d do everything in her power to give her that chance. And then, if she DID wake up, then Neely would do everything possible to help her get the use of her arms and legs back – and if that failed, too, then she’d devote herself to being her sister’s arms and legs.

 

Because they were twins, two halves of one whole. No matter how grown-up and responsible and got-it-together she appeared to everyone else, she still felt that half of her was asleep with Brona. No, she couldn’t give up on Brona without giving up on herself.

 

Alone in the hospital room, surrounded by noisy, intrusive hospital equipment, she clasped her sister’s limp hand, held it to her forehead. “Brona,” she whispered, struggling to hold back tears, “Where are you? What are you dreaming?”

 

Beep….Beep…..Beep….

 

Briefly, unnoticed by man or machine, Brona’s eyes moved beneath her lids, caught in a dream that reached through to reality.

Brona’s eyes met the fiery mare’s, and she felt a wry lift of humor at Fiera’s assertiveness. “I’m sure it seems that way to you, such as you are. But it’d also make sense that my dreaming subconscious would want to rewrite reality – or at least, call a dream reality – if the reality itself was too awful to endure. As for being real – I’m not sure what I really know is ‘real’ anymore. Ghosts, unicorns, magic – none of that is real. Or it isn’t, in the reality I know,” she said, and reached out a transparent hand to Fiera, as if to stroke along her nose, but her hand passed through with no resistance. “Now I can move, but not feel; touch, but not change, I’m here and not-here. Magical, mythical beings are telling me they’re real. If they’re real and I’m not, then I must be dreamed up by one of you. If I’m real, then I’m dreaming you. Either way, how can I possibly know what’s real? I can’t believe in both. I’d go mad. I’d never wake up, even if I wanted to.” She wasn’t sure why she argued so much, except that she felt that the unicorns were so assured, but she had no tangible evidence to base her belief or disbelief on – and that was the problem, wasn’t it?

Most would use their senses to judge reality, but if one did not, COULD not? If one had to rely on eyes and ears which could deceive, and logic that said magic and unicorns didn’t exist, wouldn’t one naturally conclude they were dreaming?

And if that dream were more pleasant, still, than reality, where she –

Where she was paralysed, would never walk, or feel, where Neely –

Where Neely, her other half was –

For a moment, she could hear faintly in the background the beep, beep, beep of hospital machinery and hear Neely’s exhausted voice, low and rough, begging her to wake up, to come back to her.

 

Come back? To what? A lifetime of nothingness, to be a doll resembling my other half, unable to do a single thing for myself, always relying on others? Resolutely she closed her mind to that place; she focused herself and her will on this dream, locking away her guilt.

Unnoticed to her, her transparency had flickered, fading from ghostly to invisible and back again, as she wavered. With an effort, she wrenched her attention back to those around her. She even managed a smile for the rambunctious Acheflow, though she answered Ali first.

“I’m from New York – where I am now, I’ve no idea. I’ve been unconscious for some time now. And I don’t mind Acheflow; even had she been able to bite me, I’m in no position to resent what I can’t feel.” The tone of her voice however said that she would rather feel the bite than feel nothing at all, though.

She turned to look at Acheflow, who chose just then to launch herself at Brona. She coughed, before turning to cheer the discouraged foal. “Acheflow, you didn’t miss me – you just went through me! That was, er – good aim?” She was a little awkward. What DID one say to a foal who was a unicorn, shouldn’t be talking, and who’d just run right through you with no harm to either?

She turned back to Gypsy; something in those calm eyes made her want to fidget like an errant school girl, like there was something she SHOULD have learned and hadn’t. Irritably, she stifled those feelings, and nodded to Gypsy’s words. “So it’s not really me they’re afraid of, just that I appeared at an inopportune time. But…” she said, puzzled, “I’ve been here a week, or in this dream a week, and no one’s seen me til now. I was sure that meant I was supposed to just watch this dream. Er – it’s a very nice dream,” she added hastily, in case Gypsy felt she was insulting Kalidore by calling it a dream (though why a dream would be insulted by being called a dream, she hadn’t the foggiest, no pun intended). “As for those to meet – well, I would – I mean, I’ve seen – ” she floundered to a halt. She couldn’t say she was ‘watching’ them – it’d make her seem like a stalker. Do they even have stalkers in Kalidore? She wondered, idly.

Instead of giving a proper answer, she turned to watch Acheflow again, who was being gently teased by Luminista.

But then when a thunder of hooves came rushing at them, and Brona forgot she was incorporeal, forgot this was Kalidore, forgot she was incapable of feeling. For a moment, under the sheer weight of memory and old, ingrained habit, she imagined she was flesh and blood, felt her heart pounding in her chest, pounding loud in her ears, her breath stuttering in her throat and felt thrust back in time – there was a horse underneath her, and then they slipped going over a hazard, and she was falling – hitting wrong, and landing on top of her, thrashing, and searing, excruciating pain followed by a snap, and then feeling nothing, even though she knew she should be struggling to breathe, should be feeling the agony of a fall gone bad. Distantly, in her memory, she could hear above the blood pounding in her ears and the roar of a crowd watching a sensational fall – Neely was screaming her name, over and over, fighting through the crowd to get to her –

Those around her scattered, passing through her like smoke; she emerged from her terrifying flashback tremulously; had she a body she would have been shaking. As it was, she flickered in and out, blurring around the edges. They can’t hurt me, she reminded herself furiously, it’s a dream, a nightmare, a fantasy. She shook her head and looked around her, noting the newcomers who had so frightened her – Falling Star and Arieon – hoping they hadn’t noticed her moment of terror.

In truth, it wasn’t THAT surprising she was so frightened. While she had been unconscious for years, time flows differently for dreaming – to her it had just been weeks or months ago she’d fallen and been paralysed. But riding was no longer an option for her. Not much was, outside of dreaming.

Why did her dreams have to bring her to a world full of unicorns, so like and yet unlike horses???

She managed to compose herself and turned to muster a shaky smile for Acheflow again – but the foal was crying ‘Daddy!’ and charging off for Falling Star. So instead her eyes wandered looking for Pasiphae – well, anyone away from the center of attention, really.

*

The music tugged at Liam’s feet, and soon got them to tapping – and when the other meandered over and stood imperiously before Phae and asked her dance – a full-blown grin tugged itself right out and onto his face.

Pasiphae balked at Arieon’s address – obviously taken by surprise by the unexpected attention. She blinked several times, her mouth opened and shut – but no words came out. Liam choked on a guffaw at her flustered fidgeting, and elbowed her slightly.

“I … I … Dance?” she fairly squeaked in reply, her voice small and hesitant. “I hadn’t thought … I mean I wasn’t …. I don’t really know if …”

Liam rolled his eyes, and slapped her lightly on the shoulder. “Oh, go on you silly lass – you need a bit o’ fun after takin’ care of an auld blighter like me for a week. Don’t worry – I’ll keep an eye on the wee ones here. An’ meself – of course.” He winked at Phae.

Pasiphae still at a loss, saw little else to do but charge on forward. “Well then … yes. I’d be honored, sir.”

Kyn, his tail a’waggle with joy at the sight of his father, piped up from behind. “I’ll dance, too!” He turned to the bespotted filly beside him and pranced merrily in place. “D’ye wanna dance then? I’ll bet it’s even BETTER than hide’n’seek!” he crowed happily.

The cremello stallion grinned with delight at the mare’s acceptance. Stepping forward, he moved so that he was standing next to ]Phae, his luxurious pale coat rubbing up against hers. “Come now, don’t call me sir. Makes me sound old,” he replied to her previous address in a joking manner as he led her towards the firelight. As they reached their destination, he slowed to a stop but ensured to keep the contact that he felt was necessary for good, fun dancing. Tossing his mane, he arched his neck gracefully, the strong muscles flexed and taunt. He began to move to the music, lifting his right front and back left leg simultaneously and then dropping them so as to lift the other two. He bobbed his head to the rhythm of his brother’s song and his mane and forelock cast firelight dancing all around them. Reaching up he ran his muzzle along Phae’s neck and nudged her to their left, so that their dancing might cease to be stationary. It was the stallion’s job to lead after all.

As they moved, their bodies stayed in a constant rhythm, despite when the dancing foot work evolved and began new dance moves entirely. Looking up, Arieon saw the young koros dancing with a pretty little bay blanket appy kore. “Look at that footwork!” he replied in an amused voice. “You can always tell which kors are mine by their wonderful footwork. Although you have wonderful footwork as well, so it was a given I suppose he would wind up talented.” The stallion was caring and fun loving, but not entirely attentive to how many mares had come and gone from his harem. So since the young koros had been first scene by him standing underneath of Phae he assumed that they had at some point recently made this young stallion. The two unicorns continued to sway and dance as they waited for others to join them.

Falling Star’s eyes lit with delight as he heard the young voice calling out to him. Even as he finished his verse the star-spattered stallion was turning in place, his feet conscious of the rhythm and following brightly, even though he was not as poised nor graceful his ivory-hued brother. He brought himself around to where the spotted foal had bounded forward, bringing his head down to nuzzle her as he did, the tattered feathers tied in his hair falling forward to tickle the kore’s nose.

“Little Acheflow – goodness, how you have grown! You must be keeping your mother busy these days,” he grinned. Also unlike his brother, Falling Star was quite the doting father and knew each of his children by name. Actually, he pretty much knew of everyone and everything on Kalidore, made it his business to know, and it was long suspected by the kors under his care that the Plains Winds did their share in keeping him well-informed.

The appaloosa’s teeth moved gently to work out some tangled weeds from the dark fluffy foal’s mane, and when he was done tilted his head down so he could again address her at her level. “What say you now that we sing these fine people another tune? Will you sing with me, little one?” And he started softly, slowly, so that she might keep up –

‘Twas in the early days of yore
A particularly nosy kor
Hap’ed upon a sphinx’s hold
And being neither wise nor old
Asked the creature why he squawked
When unicorns so sweetly talked
And why no horn upon his head
Why those tasseled wings instead
And how was life upon a tree
While other creatures wandered free
nd wouldn’t he from Kala borne
Rather be a unicorn?

It was a nursery rhyme, but the tune was merry, and his eyes had not failed to notice the other kors who had come to dance alongside the adults. Falling Star chuckled, and gave Ache an encouraging nudge and began to sing again.

*

The events had unfolded very quickly, and then resolved themselves again before Tyden could intervene –  either with the appearance of the strange ghost-girl, or the commotion that ensued moments after. Beside him Odin had stayed motionless, as if he’d known the eventual outcome all along, his solidarity working to quell the surge of impulsiveness that generally triggered his companion’s involvement into any given situation. Instead Tyden’s gaze had turned to those around him, noting most interestingly the way Liam’s hand had grabbed for a non-existent sword. A soldier, Odin had told him. He had briefly balked at the idea, his most recent memory filled thick with the pungency of battle. He remembers little of what happened, the stallion had continued, and he is here now. As our guest. That was the truth of it, and so Tyden had conceded. Kal’s isle was a haven for all, no matter what journey had brought them there; as he stood beside the man now he considered this again, wondering what Kal’s plan could possibly be.

Actually, in the here and now, he found he rather liked the guy: he was forth-coming and direct, yet tempered that with a gentle humour; he posed no obvious threat, was doing his best to fit in amicably, and he could understood the warrior’s instinct and drive. And if his mind was broken, perhaps Rhaine could put it back together again… his thoughts wandered, briefly, and he pulled them back. Now that the commotion had settled and both Phae and Kyn had moved off to dance, he returned to answer Liam’s original question in full.

“These woman are none that you have met before, but the fault is ours, entirely – Rhaine and Lilaini are caretakers of this isle, and as such have been lately busy with settling our new companions. The Guardians are without any such malice towards you, and you ought to be formally introduced.” He paused, debating if it were still too soon to head back there, when Odin gave a firm nudge to the square of his back.

“Indeed,” Odin gave him another bump. “The moon is high still, or were you waiting for it to set and review under cover of darkness?” he snatched playfully at Tyden’s hair. Turning, he rested his gaze on the visitor with full assurance. “Come Liam, I will take you, as my boy is at odds with himself tonight.”

“Am… not,” Tyden protested, falling in step behind. “I assure you I am free of any conflict and my head is quite clear…. not, that I can say the same for some other parties…” he tipped his chin towards the girls so that Odin might at least note what he was about to walk into. To his dismay, Odin didn’t even pause, and the trio wove their way through the whirling dancers in silence.

Liam found himself relaxing further in Odin’s and Tyden’s easy company. It wasn’t that he hadn’t grown to appreciate ‘Phae, quite the contrary in fact, but rather was simply appreciation the fellowship and natural resonance of a similar mind, or at least a similar set of hormones. “Well then,” Liam said, grinning, “Lead on, sir! I’d be honored to meet both your wine, and your women – although not necessarily in that order!”

He gamely followed the pair as they wove neatly in to and out of the intricate pattern dance that was forming around the bonfire. The cheer and high emotions were almost palpable – and radiated as warmly from the crowd as the fire itself; Liam breathed deep and reveled in the brightness of it all. At a time like this, it was easy to push the strangeness of the journey so far, or the troubling gaps that riddled his memory.

And then –

“You! You… fiend!”

A sharp cry pierced the night, catching a break in the song. Xanthe stood before them, her face drawn in abject shock, and as the music started back up again she pawed the ground, trying to make sense of scene before her. Her eyes held Liam, and her voice cracked. “What—what is hedoing here? With us! Here! The scoundrel! Deceiver! Beas—” and Odin shouldered himself between the two, gently but firmly taking his daughter aside.

“Sooth, child, what is this you brandish before our guest, unannounced and unprovoked?”

“Unprovoked?!” Xanthe cried aghast, the day having played itself over again in her mind, growing in colour and intensity with each revisit. “He’s the one! The one who lured me with apples, then tied the rope around my neck! Sweetness, and then deceit! Rogue!”

Odin asked, “What did you then?”

“I – I escaped,” she stamped, somewhat cockily. “I tripped him – wrapped the rope right around him and pulled free. Like he could ever hope to catch a unicorn!”

“And so what came of this?”

Xanthe paused, the question presenting no direct link from the angst she was feeling to what her father wanted to know. She frowned, peering around to slowly regard the man again. “I hate apples,” she said.

“A pity,” the great stallion stooped to nibble between her ears.

It seemed to Liam that those moments when he felt most glade were always ended swiftly, those troubles crashing around his ears again, this time in the form of a golden dun filly who caught sight of him and began raving. He winced at the verbal onslaught, it was obvious that here was another creature that he had somehow offended with his unknown past actions – and his scrubbed a hand through his short hair, his expression pained.

“I don’t suppose an apology would do much good there, eh?” He addressed Tyden wryly, nodding a head at Xanthe as Odin angled her away from the pair. He sighed, and smiled ruefully at the other man, but his mind whirled unhappily.

“Xanthe,” Tyden inclined his head toward the suddenly subdued soldier, “can be a little overwhelming at times. But she’s a sweet thing, and she will get over it. You’ll see.” He put his best smile forward on Liam’s behalf, not sure if he was convinced himself or not, but as Odin had the kore momentarily sated, he decided it was the best carry forward before Xanthe got a second wind. “Besides, I believe there’s still wine. And,” he inclined his arm out to guide Liam’s attention to the figures seated on the green, “The Guardians of Kalidore,” he announced.

*

Rhaine sighed. Despite her friend’s good humour, something had sucked the joyfulness from the night. It had happened slowly, nibbling so gently around the edges of her mood she didn’t notice, mulled with wine and tangling with her own worries and doubt. Then it began to press, seeping softly into her being, filling the whole with a sudden swell of hopeless and loss. She inhaled deeply, and it abated a minute, but once she let it out it returned again like the tide. Had she been more aware of the moment, she might have realized this flush of consciousness what not her own, but in her compromised state it was all somewhat murky. The wine wasn’t helping much either.

Despite trying to ignore Lilaini, her head had lifted upon her friend’s insistence, if simply to mollify her. Truthfully, she didn’t see what the big deal was about and just felt silly. And I said nothing… unusual, her brows furrowed again, perplexed. I’ll simply ask Tyden when he returns, and he will put it straight, she finally decided.

As Lilaini’s request for music and dancing was timely granted by the arrival of the stallions, she was released to her own thoughts again, but after a moment of wading through her wine-infused conscious she gave up and returned her gaze outwards. The commotion around the phantasm seemed to have passed as the dancing began in earnest, and the air filled with the spotted stallion’s uplifting song. She was almost starting to feel her spirits lift again when Xanthe’s cry rattled her to attention. By the time she had turned and gathered her barings, the kore was quiet and Tyden and guest had landed in her field of view.

Lilaini was half dancing in place as Falling Star began to sing his song. She clapped happily, as if his arrival had been somehow at her bidding. Turning back to Rhaine, she frowned slightly as she noticed her friend seemed to be enjoying the night less and less as it went on. She was about to ask her what was on her mind when Tyden and another young man were before them.

“Ladies,” Tyden began, “this is Liam—”

“Is Xanthe okay?” Rhaine frowned up at them.

“Er, yes, Odin is tending to her,” he nodded. “Liam—”

“And the ghostly visitor? I heard Gypsy say—”

“Gypsy has stock of it. Liam—”

“And what did I say that—”

“Dancing!” Tyden cut her off. “We need wine, and dancing! ‘Tis the only proper introduction to Kalidore…. Come, Lily,” he yanked Lilaini to her feet with one fluid motion, barely waiting for her to catch her balance, “let’s see if your feet can keep up with your wit tonight!” and pulled in the direction the others were dancing.

As the other had began his introduction, Liam schooled his expression into something more pleasantly neutral, and started to make a slight bow at the waist (unsure if a simple brow touch was respect enough for two such obviously high ranking individuals of this world). At the young lady’s continual interruptions, however, he found himself caught in the half-bow, undecided as to whether he should simply complete it now or wait until Tyden actually finished the introduction.

At long last he was finally saved at Tyden’s sudden appropriation of one of the ladies of the pair, and a declaration for wine and dancing. Liam straightened, and soon found himself in another quandary as the younger man scurried off with his lovely prize. He debated briefly before offering his hand, and assistance, to the dark haired girl who sat upon the ground, flushed and frowning slightly, should she wish to stand.

“Lady?” Liam spoke, his voice soft and respectful. “I am at your service. Command me as you will.” He said, punctuating the slightly archaic phrase with a slow smile.

*

Pasiphae was fair dizzy with the grand stallion’s attention and the whirling of the music and the dance. She found herself moving as if someone else drew her forward, and it weren’t her own hooves that traveled across the ground. Her legs moved, and body swayed with Arieon’s gentle direction – and as the moments passed she found herself awash with a sort of pleasant golden glow – a heat that seemed to stem from some other than the mighty bonfire that they circled.

As she let herself be pulled along, murmuring appreciatively at his neat footwork and the pleasant tingle that the feel of his velveted coat made against her own, her mind slowly began to catch up with the conversation – and as the implications of his last few comments finally clicked in her brain, it brought all the other warm fuzzy feelings to a screeching halt.

“What? You think that … oh now THAT’s flattering.” Pasiphae snorted and gave the stallion a side-long glare. “I’ll have you know that, talented or not, that young koros in not of my get – and had he been, he certainly wouldn’t have been of yours. Why of all the …” she gave an inarticulate growl, no longer caring if she upset the pattern of the dance. “If he HAD been of yours and mine… well, you’d certainly remember more than my FOOTWORK.”

Areion turned as he heard Phae’s sing song voice permeate the night air. The more he listened though he realized that less and less the voice was being sing song, it seemed to have a more of an angry tone to it. He slowed his dancing and regarded the mare and realized his offense. Listening while she angrily explained that the koros was indeed NOT hers, he paused and then grinned slightly. “I apologize for any offense, because I’m very sure you’re right….” he began, and then moved closer to her once more rubbing his muzzle along the length of her back. “So that would mean…neither of us have had the pleasure then? Hrmm….that seems like something that really….really should be rectified.”

He paused and then locked his blue eyes on hers. “But, I understand if you’d prefer to find another dance partner due to my unintentional insult. For being as beautiful as you are, I’m sure everyone would be falling all over themselves to have the chance to dance with you.” Again he paused allowing himself a slightly downcast look at the thought of loosing his dancing partner. But he knew this was only right, because she should not have to continue dancing with him if she was no longer enjoying herself. He moved away from her slightly to give her some room and then finished his thought. “But if you would accept my most sincere apologies I would love to continue this dance, and ….anything else you’ve got your mind to show me your talents in.” Locking eyes with her he smiled again in his most annoyingly handsome way and waited.

*

Before she knew it, Tyden had grabbed her hand and pulled her out towards the dancing. Lilaini laughed and reached out quickly to grabbed her full goblet of wine before it was entirely out of reach, calling to Rhaine and Liam she implored them to come and join the dancing. Turning to her dancing partner she swayed slightly and spoke, “I can assure you, my feet can almost always keep up with my wit,” and the young woman began to move to the rhythm of Falling Star’s song. This had not been a cocky comment on her part, although those types of comments were certainly not above her. She had been schooled in dance at length before she had come to Kalidore, and it had been one of the few instructions she received that she had actually enjoyed. She offered Tyden some of the wine from her goblet with an apologetic look that showed this was all she was able to grab before they got onto the dance floor. And once he had taken it from her she moved close to him and continue to sway in time to the music.

*

Cheri poked around the edges of the festivities, observing. Since she had slipped through that funky portal she’d been trying desperately not to be noticed, while at the same time hoping any one of the friendly-seeming people or – she was still trying to wrap her head around this one – Unicorns would approach and befriend her. She really wanted to dance and drink and nibble some of the snacks set out, make some friends, but she was terrified someone would yell at her, tell her that she didn’t belong. That was probably completely irrational, but all the same she couldn’t bring herself to join in the fun uninvited.

Tonight Cheri felt distracted. Well, more distracted than usual. She did have a tendency to zone out. But tonight she’d almost blundered into the middle of things twice. Fortunately everyone else seemed pretty distracted by the transparent girl and the dancing. She charted her wandering mind up to not quite being over the Unicorn thing yet. Plus, now there were ghosts and dragons… the whole situation was amazing, but there was no denying its reality. She shook her head and continued scoping out the party, looking for someone who seemed friendly, approachable, and – most of all – not surrounded by others.

As Cheri stood there she felt something warm and soft on her neck. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew she should be startled, but instead she felt an incredible calm rush over her. She shut her eyes and reached her hand up to stroke the muzzle by her ear.

*Poor thing, you look so lonely.*

Cheri sighed and looked up to see a beautiful sky blue mare looking at her. “Thanks. I guess I am.” Was it possible for an equine to raise an eyebrow? If it were, this pretty thing was certainly doing so.

 

*You can hear me? The Guardians are the only humans who are telepathic. Why can you hear me?*

“Telepathic? I’m not telepathic.” Cheri looked around, confused. Only then did she realize that the mare was not in fact talking, but simply nudging her mind with her thoughts. “I don’t know. Look, I’m Cheri.”

 

*Alcyone. Maybe… maybe I was drawn to you for a reason. Would you like me to take you around? I could introduce you to some friends.*

Cheri smiled for the first time in a while. “Yeah, I think I’d like that.”

*

Foehn Miri after settling down from the interruption of the running stallions listened to the music of Falling Star. It didn’t take long for the music to settle into her making her hooves move with the rhythm. Quietly she added her voice to his with an alto harmony. Music has always been a favorite for her and something she could never resist.

Luminista watched with a unicorn smile as the spotted filly ran off to greet her father. Her gaze moved easily over the fire-lit clearing and the various occupants, all enjoying themselves. Well, all but that ice blue mare. Luminista gave a soft humph as she purposely turned her back on that one. She was moving over closer to Foehn Miri when she noticed the transparent one fading in and out. Redirecting her steps she went instead toward Gypsy and Fiera. “What make you of that one?” she asks, nodding toward Brona. “She seems to be hurting on many levels besides the obvious ones.”

*

The night was crisp, encompassing, lit both silver and gold by moon and fire, but even their caressing glow did not catch the expression that flushed Rhaine’s face. Her eyes were very bright before she pinched them shut, not seeing the figures sweep away into the darkness or call her name. For that instant she was perfectly still, her conscious drawn inward, sinking deep, drawing from something ancient and unanswered until it brushed against the bottom of the well and held there, unabated. Teeth grit against it, forced to swallow, but just as it felt she might loose herself to this a new awareness began to form. And as enveloping as the darkness might have been, she knew in that instant she was stronger then it all. She drew in her breath, aware again of her surrounds and the steady pulse of the earth beneath her, around her, within her. The world fell back into place. She opened her eyes.

The fire danced bright and merry and Falling Star’s song touched her ears. She turned, slightly, realizing the presence beside her in full for the first time, and the offered hand extended towards her. At the end of the other end of the hand the rest of the man was still looking down, and Rhaine suddenly wasn’t sure how much time had just past, whether her strangled sob had been out loud, and if he’d been there the whole time. Time reworked itself as she took stock of the last thing he said, turning to consider the hand again. That, and as a Guardian of Kalidore, how this was probably not the way a formal introduction to the isle was supposed to go. Bollocks, she frowned abjectly, and took the hand.

“Liam?” she began considerately as he helped her to her feet. “Well met, and welcome. I am known as Rhiane, my friend is Lilaini. Please excuse our most informal of decorum if you will, and blame it on the wine.” She smiled apologetically, her eyes sincere. “We are pleased to have you with us on the Isle, regardless of what path brought you here. Kalidore is a haven for all, and you are most welcomed to it. And truly,” she squeezed the hand warmly, “as stewardess of this Isle, and you my guest, it is you who is most certainly to command me, and my duty to service you.”

*

Tyden was not a bad dancer by any means, but it was hard to be light on your feet with a sloshing wine goblet balanced in one hand and Lilaini – who, despite her extensive training and indisputable skill, was somewhat passed the point of being light on hers – was balanced in the other. He still had to grin, all things considered, cocked his head to the side and replied, “perhaps the question posed should have been, can your feet keep up with your drink?” And he had to swing the goblet out of reach again, as upon mention it re-entered Lilaini’s recollection along with the fact she was thirsty.

Foehn Miri was lost in the music. Eyes closed she continued her harmony with Falling Star, her hooves moving in rhythm mostly in place but not entirely. Suddenly she feels contact. Opening her eyes she is embarrassed to discover she has bumped one of the humans. To make it worse she has pushed the female into the male who in turn sloshed wine from the goblet in his extended hand.

“Oh, please! Pardon me,” Foehn Miri rushes to apologize. Then she recognizes who she had bumped. “Oh, Tyden, Lilaini, I am so sorry. How foal-footed of me! What can I…How can I…umm. I am most sorry.”

*

Acheflow remained quiet, relishing in her father’s attention under a euphoric mood. Nothing could ruin this moment, at least, not for her. She felt teeth all along her mane, right between her ears too. Before a little while, the kore leaned forward, stretching her neck a bit further incase Falling Star could get a certain itch on her whither, closer down to the end of fluffy mane.

“I ran away from mommy,” she said, not really sad or excited about the thought. “But that okay! I found a new home.” Acheflow offered a little smile, her emerald eyes peering up from under.

But he started to sing again, so she let that slide away. The black kore let the rhyme go on for a while, just so she could get the feel of the tune. However, singing seemed like a daunting thing if she thought about it. Instead, Acheflow began with pride. Though she stumbled a few times from the lack of singing experience, she tried again. This time, her voice came out strong, thought still holding the very essences of her youth and age in the mix. The world faded away, line by line, word by word, step by step… until they finished.

At Ache’s small reply, Falling Star had almost swallowed his song, but his outward expression didn’t change, and his eyes on the foal stayed fixed and soft. And when he was done the first verse, he leaned down to nuzzle her again, no hint that anything was amiss, as the young thing had moved passed the moment and we happily singing. “Well done, little one! A finer singer, such a strong voice! Shall we carry on?” And he began again –

Well, all accounts are vari’ed,
But all agree the wise sphinx said,
“You think I squawk? Ah, you are young –
You just need to learn my tongue.
And I have ‘horns’ – they count twice ten –
Wings bear me far, and back again.
And as for life high in a tree –
Perhaps there’s more that I can see?
Youngling kor, all life from Kala springs;
Those with hooves and horns – those with claws and wings.
And so I ask you, silly minx,
Oughtn’t you wish you were a sphinx?”

And they sung the song until it ended, their voices illuminating the night until even the echo finally fell away. Falling Star stooped down again, and gave the foal a final nudge. “Keep singing, little daughter. I must converse with thine uncle, and you are happy here with your friends. I shall return.” He pulled from the kore with gentle grace, turning to catch Arieon’s ear as he passed him by. “Sing on, brother – I must away, but let us not deprive these people of their music!”

The spotted stallion turned without waiting for an answer and stole through the flickering shadows in search of Odin.

*

Arieon had been waiting for his dancing partners response to his apology when his brother’s urgent voice caught his attention. Before he could answer the spotted stallion was off again, and Arieon had no choice but to assent. He pondered a few seconds, wondering what it was he should sing. The cremello stallions talent was more towards the dancing aspect of music, but like any good stallion he had been schooled in the area of singing. He lacked the mesmerizing quality of his brother’s voice, but was well taught enough that his song was still enjoyable. The tune would have been all that more engaging had it not been a follow up to such a marvelous singer, but this was unavoidable.

Looking back to Phae, the stallion decided upon a song and sought to use this moment to further entice his partner to continue to dance with him. Clearing his throat, Arieon began to sing his tune. His voice was much deeper than those around would have expected if they had not yet heard him sing, and it rose up through the night air like a rhythmic drumming.

Sing, wild wind, of untamed hair
And untamed hearts of star-born mares
Who traverse through our mind’s desire
Alight our souls with catching fire
Lift our hooves and hearts to dance
Our lips to sing, our souls to prance
And dream of nights both long and sweet
Where under starry’d skies we meet
And dance together, souls as one
Betwix Kal’s moon and Kaedon’s sun
As swept away, the wind, our cares
Who sings the song of star-born mares ~

He directed the tune towards the bay mare, and continued to dance to the rhythm of his own song.

*

It would figure, wouldn’t it?

Rah’wen arrived, just as Falling Star’s song came to a close and Aireon picked up. It was difficult for her to admit that both stallions had a way with song and their voices, but it did not make it less true. Even to her. Though it would be as tough as pulling out her teeth to get her to admit that little bit of truth.

Snorting softly to herself as she closed in on those gathered in the clearing. Hoofing her way around the main event (Aireon seemingly fixing his attentions on a mare, Enough to roll her eyes at…) she nosed about for something interesting. Anything, really. Though what did catch her sharp blue eyes that man(Tyden), quickly with a narrowed gaze she pinned him. Oh, no. No, surely not. There was not another. Wait. Step, step, step. OH! There was another man (Liam)! Invading. Multiplying, even!

Someone ought to have raised some alarm, it wasn’t too late. A bell, or even a really loud whinny would have been enough, for someone to have let everyone, or at least her, know. But now she was left to be surprised at another man’s entrance into their world. Cockroaches! They would… uh.. breed! And make more! They’d never be rid of them! Woe for their world!

But nevertheless, from her several hoofy-paces away, she moved that not-so-friendly stare to him(Liam) and gave a ruffled snort, whispering as it was. Well, if that wasn’t enough to make her want to… well, eat something. Oh, yes. Eat something. That would help her cope. Maybe. Probably not. But at least she could eye them from a distance without looking like she was just… dumbstruck and staring alone.

Ooo~ Honey buns. Perfect. Sticky and sweet enough to make even her forget, for a moment, that men were attempting to take over.

*

Closing her eyes, Ali drank in the music with her ears. His voice is lovely, she seemed to gawk in her mind. She opened her eyes again to see Liam, the soldier, talking to the guardians. They seemed to get along well, whether it was from getting a bit tipsy from all the wine and especially Tyden, who didn’t mind. The girl shot him a warm smile, any earlier traces of hatred melting away. But she said nothing more, not quite interested in getting near… them, she thought, with an amusing smile.

“Hey, Fiera, I’m going to be gone for awhile ok? I’m going to meet some of the others,” Ali said, letting her voice physically drift away but kept her mental link in connection. It wasn’t like she could run away from it anyways. It was a part of her now, something she would have to get chillingly used to.

Fiera nodded once, understanding when a red mare, who was with the black appy youngling earlier, came nearer. She let her forelock fall over of her eye, revealing one to look on. A sly grim came at the other mare’s question, which she answered with interest.

“I think Brona is interesting. But I don’t think she belongs here as in physically. And her body must be somewhere. That place I know not.” Her voice drifted off at the possibilities, but it wasn’t her place to speak about that or offer empty statements. “She possibly could, only she would know. But if you thought about it, she probably has a remedy to it all. Face the problem at hand, I’m sure we’d help.” Fiera made her last words a little in Brona’s ear shot – hinting at the hospitality she was offering on this fine night.

*

When Brona’s eyes located Pasiphae, it was while she and Liam were trying to deal with Kyn. She was shocked to see that the man was staring at her with animosity. Why? What had she done to him, or anyone? Well, if it was a dream, maybe it was someone her subconscious remembered. Maybe someone she’d hurt, and regretted, and her subconscious was blaming her for not making up? But she was pretty sure she’d never met someone with an accent like his….

She began to drift over their way – maybe speaking to him would help?

But then he was speaking to the kore – Kyn, the one who’d run from her – hopefully not joining sides against her, she’d seen the man reach for a sword. And incorporeal state aside, she wasn’t eager to have enemies here, dream or not. At least, currently, the dream wasn’t a nightmare!

But there was too much to pay attention to – she couldn’t understand how her subconscious was suddenly so very active! Falling Star and Acheflow were singing what sounded like a children’s song – Brona tilted her head and listened, feeling a faint nostalgia – were Neely here, she’d no doubt make up a second stanza or two, the Sphinx teaching the young kor to see things from a different perspective. Keely had always been more clever with words – the only thing Brona had cared about was horses. And it had been her ruin.

She shook off the melancholy that suffused her when she thought of her sister – nothing she could do, was there? – and redirected her attention around her. Pasiphae was dancing with Arieon, and Tyden and Odin had made Liam’s acquaintance, and then Liam was meeting Rhaine – well, reason enough to procrastinate on meeting him, wasn’t it? Or meeting any of the humans, anyway. And why did she want to talk to unicorns? They looked and moved like horses – and it was a horse that had taken away her life and left her only with hollow dreams.

She ‘sat’ down near the fire (hovering nearly in the flames, rather – she couldn’t feel the heat, and it couldn’t burn her, but she had come to love surrounding herself with the dancing flames), and let her mind wander in memory. The dancing unicorns around her and the singing let her lapse into almost a trance, where she could push all her feelings aside and really just drift, like a proper dream. When she closed her eyes, and no talking dancing unicorns filled her field of vision, she could pretend they were people surrounding her.

When she had opened them, she was still facing the fire and those dancing, but like a cloud blown on the wind, she’d drifted off a bit. Not too far – she could still seeing the slightly sloshed Lilaini and Tyden dancing (or trying to dance), and she couldn’t suppress a smile at the two Guardians.

And then words caught her ear – not hard, since she’d drifted almost right into Fiera and Luminista – who were, apparently, interested in her. “….don’t think she belongs here,” she caught, and once caught, her ears heard the rest. Resigned, she turned to face them and drifted closer.

“I don’t think it’s possible for someone to not ‘belong’ in a dream,” she said flatly, “Since dreams aren’t exactly ruled by logic or physics. As for me and why I am dreaming, it’s because I was in an – accident,” she said, glossing over the type, “and it left me unable to move, paralysed from the neck down. Now my body is unconscious.” She shrugged, the movement halfhearted. “Even if I were to wake up someday, there’s nothing worth waking up for. I can’t do anything, I can’t even feel anything.” Her face twisted with pain she couldn’t hide, and unaware she spoke aloud, “Neely’s better off if I’m not there, she’d feel like she had to be with me all the time if I was awake.” She let her words fade, letting her mind swirl into memories.

Her eyes had gone vague and distant, seeing memories the unicorns couldn’t see. “Chance,” she whispered, seeing again the flashing hooves, the white-and-chestnut coat, in her mind. She didn’t even know what had happened to Chance, the horse she’d been riding when they’d slipped on a water-bank combo in a XC event.

Then she shook off her thoughts and suppressed them ruthlessly again. She wasn’t going to worry about Chance, or think about Neely – she wasn’t, darnit! She mustered a smile for Fiera and Luminista. “So, ah….why do you think I don’t belong here, then?Do I belong less than, say – ” she nodded towards Liam, where he seemed to be getting on better with the Guardians. Better than he had with some of them before, from stories she’d heard in her first week here. “him? He has a body, but a chunk of his memories are gone. I have all my memories,” wanted or not, “but no body.”

Cocking her head to one side as she considered the confused apparition, Luminista said with a glance toward the other mare, “Correct me if I am wrong Fiera, but I think, Brona, that Fiera simply means that you are in a sense straddling the fence. Or perhaps you are at a cross-roads. Regardless, you have not committed yourself to one place, but instead you stand undecided.” Considering possibilities she added, “Like maybe if you were committed to being here your form would be solid? The solution seems to rest with you.” Luminista tries working it out in her head, but the possibilities overwhelm her. She tosses her head. “Really, the problem is beyond me.”

*

Lana leaned against Spirit’s velveted side, rising and falling slightly with every breath the mare took. It was a soothing rocking motion, and combined with the heat of the fire, and a full stomach – she felt a warm drowsiness creeping slowly upon her. The lights of the fire and movement had kept her awake at first, and Acosua’s story had been particularly riveting (as relayed by Spirit, of course), but now that the party had moved into singing and dancing she had paid attention for a while – but soon lost track, as even Spirit’s dedicated attempts at translating left her a bit lagged at best.

She smiled up at the mare, and let her head loll against her shoulder, pillowed on the warm muscle. The wheatened mare whuffled softly into the girls hair in reply. *Tired so soon, dearheart? Shall we make our way back to the temple, to bed?*

*You don’t think they’d mind, awfully, do you?* Lana sent in reply, yawning. *It’s just … I’m so very tired. It’s all so lovely and all … I’m still not used to staying up late, I think.* She blinked sleepily at the mare.

 

*Not at all, it’s all sort of free form anyways. Just climb aboard, sweetling – and we’ll be off.* Spirit replied, nuzzling the girl as she gradually brought herself to her feet and pulled herself onto the warm back of the unicorn. Slowly, taking great care to not to jostle her passenger, Spirit stood up. Arching her head around, she took stock of Lana (who, in her tiredness, was making poor show of her riding skills – sprawled out along the mare’s back as she was) before making her way towards the edge of the clearing and the beginning of the path that would take her towards the temple. Their early leave-taking garnered a few raised eyebrows, but Spirit simply smiled and wished them a happy festival-night, and the owners of the eyebrows simply shrugged and soon return their focus back to the festivities at hand.

 

*Mmm. I think I could fall asleep, just like this.* Lana sent as Spirit walked up the wooded path, enjoying the cool night air as it caressed her fire heated skin.

 

*Perhaps.* replied Spirit, all amusement at the remark. *But I’d wager you’d wake up tomorrow too sore to sit straight.*

 

*T’would be worth it.* she sent, and even Lana’s mental tone came across as a contentedly drowsy as a cat’s purr.

*

Pasiphae’s open mouth snapped shut at Arieon’s … well, she wouldn’t call it an apology exactly. She huffed, hating to admit to herself that she actually ENJOYED the attention from the obviously puffed up loon of a stallion*. Actually, the fact that she enjoyed it irritated her further – when it seemed obvious to herself that it was nothing real, nothing lasting. For all his compliments, he couldn’t recall if they had … ? Surely if he were actually enamored in any way, she would have had a more lasting impact than THAT.

Although, she glanced across the fire, a sharp pang lancing through her chest as she noted the absence of the wheaten mare and her Companion. A quick scan of the rest of the crowd left her with no other conclusion – gone without a word then, or even a nod goodbye. After scarcely putting two words together since the incident with Liam on the road the day before, and now this. Well, then – perhaps a more “lasting” impact was outside of her reach – joined at the shoulder for seasons, years even, and then it all disappears in a moment.

She shook her head, willing herself dash the moisture that threatened to collect in the wells of her eyes. No then – if there was to be no longer future, then living in the moment she would do. She flicked her tail, and moved closer to the cream stallion again – rubbing her coat against his side in as flirtatious a fashion (unpracticed as she was) as she could manage. Pressed up beside him, she moved along with his dance, and raised her voice in harmony with the final verse of his song.

*

As things seemed to calm down, Gypsy moved away from the spirit named Brona and headed back towards where the Guardians had been. Her mind was somewhat troubled by the apparitions appearance but pushed it from her mind as something to be dealt with by someone more knowledgeable then herself. Weaving her way throw the crowd of humans and unicorns alike, she came back to where she had last left the young woman. Looking around she saw Lilaini and Tyden dancing, and when she rubbed up against her companions mind she felt a distinct fogginess to her thoughts. Turning her gaze in the other direction she saw a young man speaking with Rhaine. Her ears pricked as she heard the gentlemen introduce himself as Liam and she found his manners and nature very agreeable. Not wanting to intrude she was about to wander off in search of other company when Rhaine’s voice reached her ears. The mare paused and snorted in laughter at what she heard. That child really does not understand how things sound sometimes, the mare thought in amusement. My duty is to service you indeed.

 

 Deciding it was best to continue her course, she moved off but relayed the amusing comment to Lilaini, which took her several attempts. The Guardians thought process was not nearly as sharp and receptive so it took a moment to ensure she had actually received the message.

*

“I mean you no dishonor, Lady – but I would be a poor guest indeed if I were to do anything but await aught but your OWN pleasure.” Liam said, quirking a smile at the dark-haired woman. “Can I fetch you a drink, more wine if you’d wish – or spring water? Juice? Or food if you’d rather – some of the fruit, a honey biscuit?” He peered at the young lady, hoping to catch a glimpse of interest in one of the offers. Perhaps then, he thought, he might distract her from whatever had put such a pained expression on her lovely face moments ago.

He debated momentarily whether or not he should ask her dance, but decided against it – figuring that it would be too free a gesture with such an obviously high ranking individual on the island. Liam had little wish to offend anyone ELSE if possible.

*

Ignorant of the fact that her dancing was not quite as graceful as normal, the young woman continued to twirl about. Eighty percent of the time the movements were fluid with lovely lines, but then occasionally her body became cognizant of the amount of gravity pushing on it and she would sway unsteadily. None of this tempered her spirit, in fact it only seemed to encourage it.

Moving in close to Tyden again, the wine goblet flitted through her peripheral vision and her hand went out instinctively after it as she was suddenly overcome with thirst. As she was attempting to pluck the goblet from her dancing partner’s hand, she felt contact from behind her and was sent sprawling forward into Tyden. To her immediate dismay the wine began to slosh everywhere, but as she was mourning the loss of goblets contents Gypsy’s thoughts rubbed against her own. After a few seconds of silence she burst out laughing.

*

Arieon was ignorant to the thoughts that were clouding his dancing partners thoughts. Too distracted was he by trying to accomplish his best singing voice to notice any fleeting expressions that crossed the mares face. Normally, a stallion’s ego might inflate when their advances worked and the mare’s anger tempered, but as the cremello stallion’s ego was already vastly larger than any other stallions it was only what he had expected to happen. He was glad when the mare moved back in close to him and even picked up the final verse of the song with him, her voice complimenting his own very nicely. The pair continued to move and sing for the enjoyment of the rest of the crowd.

*

Xanthe was doing her best to frown despite Odin’s attention, but found it was a loosing battle. Her father had a way of making his point, not so much by winning it as simply by showing it to be true; she’d never won an augment with him, and in retrospect, she probably didn’t want to try. She did, however, grumbled slightly with resistance, just to prove her point, until finally submitting to enjoy the grooming.

The soft the rhythm of hooves on turf made her look up to see Falling Star approach them, bobbing his head genially to everyone he passed, but even the Kore could tell something was wrong by the hurried gait to his walk and the way is eyes cast back to some point behind him. He slid to a stop alongside, a small bow to her as he turned to Odin.

“Forgive my intrusion, brother, but I have something I must discuss with you. And apologies to you, wee Xanthe, to deprive you of your company.”

It was a dismissal, however elegantly stated, and one that Xanthe realized with a quick glance was expected to be upheld. “I’m not that little,” she retorted, a little harsher then she intended, and realizing how it must have sounded to her elders added, “I am growing as fast as I can.”

The spotted stallion’s green eyes lit with a certain mirthfulness that relayed nothing had be took to heart. “Aye, I see that,” he reached out to bump her affectionately with his nose. “But there’s no need to grow up too quickly on us, hear?”

 

Easy for you to say, Xanthe thought. They take you seriously. But she simply bobbed her in a tidy bow of her own, and took her leave.

Back into the cool night she trotted briskly, her eye wandering over the party in search of someone she knew. Her eyes had found Rhaine first, and a small stab of betrayal struck her chest as she saw her mother’s companion conversing with that horrid man. She turned abruptly and headed the other way, seeking out Ali and Fiera, but the seemed engaged with the odd hovering wisp. And Phae… was dancing, and seemed to be quite involved with her partner… Xanthe sighed. Even the other kors her age had begun to frolic around the fire as well, but her heart wasn’t quite into dancing, not now.

At the edge of the fire, she spotted a new face, a young woman whom she’d not noticed before, speaking with a sky blue mare. The woman looked a bit unsure of herself, but upon the arrival of the mare her face had lit up, glowing bright even in the fire’s uneasy light. New companions? her nose quivered. Curiosity got the better of her and she wandered over to the pair. “Hello!” she greeted. “I’m Xanthe. You’re new here too, I don’t think I remember you…”

*

Tyden managed to hold the goblet out of reach, just barely, and rightened his partner’s momentum as she reached for it. “I see this is a loosing battle, so long as there’s wine involved,” he feigned disappointment, “and here I thought you were here to dance with me.” Lilaini grinned at his mock distress, and moved in close, slipping her arms around his waist. She was about to speak, her eyes narrowing in a most put on seductive manner when Foehn Miri slammed into them from behind. That was more then enough to overcome the woman’s equilibrium, but luckily Tyden was in a slightly better state and held his balance, and her, losing a few feet backwards and he regained control. Tottering perilously as they were, he lost the goblet. “Well,” he frowned, blinking as some of the wine splashed upwards towards them. “I guess that takes care of the competition. Sort of by the powers of deduction then, that leaves me.” And in response, Lilaini burst out laughing.

The Guardian needed several seconds in which to regain control over herself, and wiping a tear that had began to pool at the corner of her eyes she regarded Tyden who was still locked between her arms. A slightly deflated and crushed look now covered his face, and the young woman was quick to reassure him. “I’m not laughing at you silly,” she began while contemplating why it was that male’s had such incredibly delicate egos. “Gypsy just relayed me a rather amusing comment of Rhaine’s, and I’m beginning to wonder what it is we are going to do with her.”

Noticing that this quickly made the crushing look leave the young man’s face, she rested her head on his chest in amusement and proceeded to giggle to herself. When they didn’t resume dancing right away she finally relented to the questing gaze and leaned in to whisper—

“She did WHAT?” Tyden’s expression blanked. He also lost his footing, or the awareness that he had feet, and they went down with thud.

*

Rhaine, still oblivious of her blunder, was gracefully kept that way by Liam’s tidy response, so survived it with grace intact. She watched him carefully as he talked, considering the man before her with what she already knew of him – a soldier, one who had perused the unicorns and companions, sworn against the very idea of them, and who had only scattered bits of those memories left. It was a curious, she reflected, for even without them they pained him, as he was obviously taking great care not offend anyone while he was here. Would he want them back? or would that possibility be even worse? Her brows knit together again softly as she pondered, until his insistence drew her back into the here and now: here they were, and again, herself playing at best the distracted hostess, now, how could she fix this?

“Wine, I should think not,” she allowed a small grin as shook her head. “I’ve had my fill of it this evening, but do not let that stop you from enjoying some yourself. Here, a glass; the vintage is quite good, I’m told, though I’ve never had the sense to tell the difference.” She pressed the goblet into his hand, and poured off the last of the bottle, stopping to catch the dregs. “Please, enjoy Liam, I insist.”

Arieon’s deep baritone and replaced Falling Star’s lively tune, and the dancers around the fire shifted to sway in time with the stallion’s ballad. The night filled her again with infectious harmony, as one by one the unicorns joined in to dance.

“I forgot how lovely the Festival night was,” she sighed. “You have certainly chosen the best time to arrive,” she inclined towards Liam. “Really, ’tis almost sad tomorrow we go back to our daily routines… ah well, might as well enjoy it while we can. Did you want to join the dance? I cannot promise to be as graceful as Lilaini, despite how hard she’s tried to teach me, but I shan’t step on your feet, I promise that much,” she grinned.

*

As the dancing continued to spread amongst the unicorns and companions present at the festival, Persephone nudged Aislinn and Abigail with her velvet nose.

“This is a festival and we should be dancing! Arieon is giving us a wonderful performance and I am of a mind to take advantage of it!” With that, she lead the way into the midst of the dancing and started falling into step with those around her, beckoning to her companion and her friend to join her.

With a laugh, Aislinn turned back to Abigail and Hyacinth. “I suppose the songs and stories of Kalidore might seem repetitive after awhile, but they are new to many still, human and unicorn alike. Persephone is right though. This is a festival and we should be dancing! So come and join us if you wish, you’re both welcome too.” With that Aislinn turned and followed her unicorn companion, joining in with the dancers.

Pan was also enjoying this dancing caper, prancing and jumping around with Kyn. He was fun (for a koros) and she was enjoying his company almost as much as the dancing. As Falling Star’s singing came to a conclusion, she found herself a little disappointed, she always enjoyed listening to her father’s voice. The silence didn’t linger however, as Arieon started singing, and the dancing around her didn’t miss a beat.

“I’m Pan, by the way. My dad just finished singing, that’s your dad singing now, right?” she asked Kyn as she started to try and mimic the steps of those around her, without an overabundance of success.

Nearby, Pasiphae let herself fall into a mesmerized glow – the warmth of the fire and the heat that radiated from the stallion beside her leaving her heavily flushed and the skin all a-tingle. She left off thinking about her footwork, and soon her hooves were flashing prettily with minds of their own – executing small syncopated steps alongside Arieon’s own. The result wasn’t jarring at all, instead proving to rub their two sides together in an even more suggestive fashion. Had the Pasiphae of a half an hour been there to watch, she probably would have been highly embarrassed at her provocative behaviour, but in her current state she thought nothing of it – and simply threw herself head-long into the music, all the while clinging to the small pleasure of their contact with a single-minded fervor that should have frightened her.

*

Masquerade stood in the dappled shadows of the woods that ringed the festival clearing. It was a strange night that brought her out of her solitary ramblings and so close to such a bright and bubbling collection of persons. But tonight was the Harvest festival, and even as lonely and quiet a soul as her own graviated towards the warmth and cheer that pulsed with such lively heat in the heart of Kalidore. Her quiet stillness belied her tense concentration on the scenes that played out before her – her ears pricked forward, and muscles so tense they quivered. When the brightness and movement became too much (so used to stillness and solitude was she, the twirling dance made her dizzy), she let her eyes slip close, and let her ears drink in the song and the drumming percussion of a hundred hooves that danced in time.

*

Liam graciously accepted the proffered goblet, and took a long drink – appreciating the cool smooth texture as it slid down his throat. “I’ve little experience m’self Lady, as I’m generally more of a beer man, but this is as fine a wine as any I can recall tasting.” He replied, smiling cheerily at the lovely brunette before tipping back his head and finishing the off the glass. As the wine collected in the pit of his stomach, it radiated a faint and pleasant heat that paired nicely with the external warmth the from bonfire.

As his companion reflected on the night and the festival, he found himself nodding and smiling still – and he wondered briefly at such a place, and such people that could dispel his worries with such ease. However, as Rhaine remarked on the dance, he ceased his internal musings and placed his glass down upon a nearby table. “You honor me, Lady – and I shall strive to do you credit, should you wish to take the floor. I’m no stranger to a rousing reel*, but I fear my knowledge may not overlap with your own.” He peered down at the woman, his expression a picture of careful concern, although the thoughts of garnering some sort of offense at his admission worried at the edges of his composure.

“Nonsense,” said Rhaine gleefully, taking him firmly by the hand once his drink was set down. “There are few formal dances here – mostly, it’s about rhythm, for in music are we so sweetly reminded of that that eternal rhythm that flows through us all. To dance is a celebration of that notion, a gift from Kal, and how is there a wrong way to celebrate?”

Her eyes were laughing as she could see Liam was really working hard to sort through his reservations, and in truth this fed into her own innate nature to comfort and nurture whomever might be in need; plus, there was too much to be joyous about and waste on worry now. She pulled along side the dancing unicorns, who moved easily to give them room. “You see?” she spoke to him, “it’s all within the rhythm. So do not worry what your head is telling you to do, let you feet find it on their own, and you might be surprised to discover what you already know!”

 

((*In fact, Liam had been a favorite of the dancing master of his parish before he had grown too old for such full-time pursuits, and had enlisted. As it was, he still had been often called on as a partner during a rousing night at the local tavern. His skills had rusted, t’was certain, but his feet often had a mind of their own once Liam started a’tapping.))

*

Foehn Miri’s head popped back up at the sound of laughter. Confused, she watched the couple for a moment. When they landed in a heap at her feet she couldn’t help but laugh at Tyden’s startled expression. Still chuckling she lowers her head and offers, “Here, grab my mane and I will help you up.”

Lilaini had barely finished her sentence before her companion lost his footing and they both went down. “Oof!” the noise escaped her lips as their downward spiral came to a crashing halt. Her landing was much softer then his though as she had the good fortune to land on top of Tyden, where as he landed on the unforgiving ground. Brushing the hair out of her face, the Guardian blinked a few times to try and get her eyes to refocus.

Taking note of the position they were currently in she grinned seductively and raised her head off his chest. “Well now, I’m beginning to see what you were getting at about eliminating the competition so I would pay attention to you. If you really wanted us to wind up in this position all you had to do……..” the young woman’s voice trailed off as she noticed that young man’s gaze was not meeting her own but looking past her. She turned her head instinctively to see what had caught his attention.

The wind had been knocked out of him quite effectively and all Tyden could do at first was gasp. Lilaini, though not particularly heavy, was not at her most graceful and the landing had been hard. Possibly there were a few stars, or actually, those might have been real ones, and he was staring up at them. Lilaini was peering down too, as was Fohen Miri a step behind. Brute consciousness came roaring back to him. He blinked. “She said….. what did she say?” he scrambled upwards, perhaps only noticing Lilaini was there when he looked for a reason why it was so difficult to do so, or with the small exclamation when she made when she tumbled off. He almost achieved sitting, his gaze drawn across the the field. “She’s… she…”

Lilaini made another loud “Oof!” noise as Tyden sent her sprawling. A look of momentary annoyance quickly passed over her face as she began to dust herself off. “Oh Tyden really, it’s Rhaine. You know she didn’t mean it that way at all, she’s a pure innocent person. Unlike you or I….Especially you,” she said tartly.

Looking over she pinched him hard on the arm to get his attention. “She’s dancing is all. Perhaps you should keep a better eye on your harem then if you don’t want them dancing with other stallions.” Her annoyed mood quickly passed and she shoved him playfully.

*

Liam smiled, allowing himself to be drawn along by the young winsome woman and her charming smile. As they nestled in amongst the swaying bodies of the press of unicorns that circled the fire, he found himself relaxing just a bit more – whether it was as a result of his amiable company, or because the glass of wine was finally working to loosen him up, he wasn’t quite sure. Against his better judgment he soon found his large hands encircling her waist, and moving alongside her lithe, twirling form with footwork that seemed to increase exponentially in speed and complexity.

As the minutes passed, and the pounding of his heart raced to match the pounding of their feet, he threw back his head and laughed – unable to contain the heady joy that began bubbling from deep within. He flashed a grin at his partner, and in his exhilaration found himself urging the dance on ever faster, until finally he grew to be too much – and he had to pause, panting heavily, all the while grinning hugely.

“Lady …” he gasped between enormous gulping breaths, practically doubled over, “You must be some sort o’ sylph … you do yourself too little credit.” He waved a finger, indicating that he meant to go on as soon as he could catch his breath, “In my years … and they have been several … I’ve never come across a lass with as light o’ feet as your’n.”

Rhaine shrieked with laughter as they swirled, the unicorns flashing around them with increasing speed and gaiety. The wine’s moodiness had left her completely, and she was filled brimming instead with the near euphoric quality of merry the night; now that her dance partner was also enjoying himself, her duty to her guest was absolute, and she laughed with the sheer delight of it.

So she followed when he pulled her close, fell beside him in easy comradeship and encouraged him to match her pace, which he did increasingly well with each passing verse. His animation fed hers, and faster and faster they went until the speed was not sustainable. It was with another burst of laughter that they fell apart, and she reached out to steady him as he stooped for his breath, in case the effects of the late-season wine had taken hold.

“Oh, nay,” she she shook her head, her own breath short as she answered him. “Not I… or at least, not alone.” She smiled happily while he worked to catch his wind, feeling her own heart grow steady in her chest. “The rhythm may sway our feet, but it takes two to bring harmony into this worldly dance.”

*

Fiera hummed quietly to herself, passing the time of Brona’s come back of sorts. Not that what she said really bothered her, nothing ever did really, except for some things. She was closing her eyes, to be lost deep in thought, but leaving them just barely open. Her ears flickered to catch the flat words that Brona was saying, drawing them deep into her thoughts. When she was done, Fiera took the pleasure of returning her site back to this land, where they turned to Brona. They peired into the transparent girl’s with such a direct gaze, it was hard not to make anyone flinch.

“I said, child, that you can believe this to be a dream or reality. However you wish. Run and deny, or face and accept. It won’t change much, at least, not for me.” She paused a moment, contemplating on whether to speak further or not. “You should listen more carefully dear. I also said that you don’t belong here as in physically. You’re body isn’t here, probably somewhere on old Earth. But it’s just my guess. No reason to get so rash. And Luminista speaks true.”

“Everyone has their place.” Was the second to final thing Fiera was going to offer to the girl, ignoring most of everything she said. including the question about Liam or the guardians.

The chestnut mare gave a little wink to Brona, hoping she wouldn’t turn this into a moping fest. After all, it was a night of festivities. Just look at the guardians!

*

Acheflow had been relishing in her father’s attention, but as he moved away to talk with Uncle Odin, she felt herself drop. However, the kore kept at it and gave a look of understanding (even if it was just barely) and turned around to head for a random group of unicorns. She was going to try to avoid the humans tonight, especially the one that tried to hold her down.

Her spindle-legs careened through the knee high grass and over to Brona, hoping that the girl would have sometime to romp around or play for that matter. The big unicorn was somewhere else now, and she didn’t feel like finding her. At least, not right now.

“Hiii!” The spotted kore shrilled in such a jovial tone, a broad look on her little features. “What your name?”

Fiera laughed with amusement, wondering how the others would react before bending down to nuzzle Acheflow before nudging her off towards Luminista. Which, the kore took a happy leap towards the red mare.

Ali sat down to hold a honey bun in her mouth before pulling her arms and hands back to support herself. She lay down with a casual ‘thump’ in the grass. “Mmm… I seem to always make such trouble every time,” she said to herself, enjoying the amusement and honey bun. She wasn’t too far away from everyone else, though far enough to hear the sound of music and laughter on faintly in the background. She stared up into the starry night sky, her eyes wondering around to find those constellations and compare them to Earth’s. But a few seemed alike. “Must share the same sky,” said Ali, finishing her honey bun while at it.

The wind breezed by, gently swaying the grass but billowing her long hair into her face. The girl got up to pull the hair back before noticing something that landing on her stomach. She looked down to pick it up, examining it a bit closer. In her hands were sweet smelling flowers; pink in the inside while it’s soft milky petals extended from the core. The flower’s leaves were of a fresh green, and the petals scented of sweet honey dew. “Pretty, I think I’ll keep this,” said Ali, who laid back down with a small grin and placed the flowers on her stomach again.

“Reminds of me of Odette.” Amaterasu suggested lightly, coming to stand by the girl on the ground. “Greeting again.”

“Shouldn’t you be at with the others?” Ali looked up, inquiring softly. “And who’s Odette? Sounds like a swan to me.”

“Well, let’s just say I like to keep my distance at such large festivities. And Odette is a lovely young mare, she smells delightful like those flowers you got there.” Amaterasu laughed, which chimed somewhat like bells. “I believe she’s around her somewhere. The girl’s shy as ever and refuses to go anywhere, much.”

*

“Hal! Hal! Look!! It’s started already!!” The bay pinto mare was practically prancing in excitement, she’d been looking forward to this day with an almost childlike glee, and not even the less than thrilled attitude of her friend, Halcyone, could dampen her spirits. Tossing her head, she started to weave back and forwards, waiting for Halcyone to catch up.

“Yes, Kin. It’s started. Wow. Big Party, lots of unicorns. Great.” Not a lot of unicorns understood why Kinoren, always bouncing out of her skin in excitement, even when the circumstances where more mundane, could usually be found in the company of Halcyone, who tended to be apathetic to what was happening around her, considering to duo to be an odd pairing indeed. When she reached her friend’s side, the purple mare took in the scene before her, the fire, unicorns, either dancing or generally socializing, and an increased number of humans since the Guardians had returned to Kalidore a week ago. In all honesty, she didn’t see what all the fuss was about, but Kinoren was adamant when her mind was made up. They were going to the Harvest Ball.

“Oh, c’mon Hal, it’ll be great! Singing, dancing, honey buns, not to mention meeting all the new faces! And catching up with the others of course! Look! So many new humans! Maybe they will know some new songs? Hal? Hal?? Are you listening to me?!?”

“Hmmrph? Listening? Of course,” Halcyone replied in a distant tone, she hadn’t really been listening and Kinoren new it. Stamping her foot at the purple mare, Kin repeated herself, words spilling out so fast in her haste that they were almost slurred.

“No time to waste Hal! Hopefully there will be some honey buns left for us! Wonder if there will be…” Kinoren in her exuberance started down towards the party at a canter, her voice being lost in the breeze as she went, thinking Halcyone had kept up. With a mild sigh, Halcyone started to follow her friend, a good distance already between them again as her steps weren’t nearly as frequent.

Glancing towards the stars as she walked, she caught sight of a shooting star, and paused to make a wish before continuing down to the midst of all the dancing and music that was their destination.

*

Alcyone scanned the festival, wondering to whom she should introduce her new companion… if indeed that’s who this anxious little human was. It was the only explanation for their mind link. Alcyone’s presence seemed to have soothed Cheri some, but she was still biting her lip and fiddling with her finger rings. Alcyone supposed she could introduce her to the Guardians.

She looked across the fire and saw Lilaini dancing with Tyden. Well, she could introduce them, but it looked like Lilaini might not remember the encounter in the morning. Rhaine looked distracted by a strange man she’d never seen before. Maybe her sire would like to meet Cheri… but no, Arieon was leading the song. Besides, it was never a good idea to bother him when he was trying to impress a mare.

As she pondered, a lovely dun kore wandered their direction. She was older than the other kors that frolicked around the bonfire, but not quite a mare. Alcyone knew Xanthe only by reputation. She’d heard tales of her impetuosity, so her polite introduction surprised the mare and her lip quirked in approval. She nudged Cheri closer toward Xanthe to let her know she was okay.

“Oh! Um, hi, Xanthe.” Cheri stammered. She put on her best smile for the filly, even though she was shaking inside. From the way Alcyone had pushed her forward, she knew there was no hiding behind her new friend. Frikkin anxiety. She’d been working hard to improve, though, which is why she could face the newcomer with something approaching welcome on her face. “Um, nice to meet you. My name’s Cheri. Yeah, i haven’t been here long, but it’s… it’s really nice here. I like it.” She gazed over the party, knowing it was true. Her home wasn’t bad at all, but there was really nothing holding her there, either. And there were Unicorns here. And they could dance! It was one of the most beautiful spectacles she’d ever seen. She couldn’t help shaking her head. “It’s all so much to take in. I mean, I’ve never seen a horse dance before…” Suddenly she remembered who she was talking to. “I mean, that is, not that you’re horses, by any means, I totally didn’t mean that. It’s just that your bodies are like horses, except that you’re completely not and i so didn’t mean to offend you guys… I just… I meant…”

 

Crap.

Xanthe had a curious feeling in her head. It started like a small buzz, gentle even, and grew in volume and intensity until it there was a whole swarm of bees harrowing around inside. On the outside, she merely regarded Alcyone platonically, and attend to Cheri with polite grace. “Horses?”

She even stared graciously as Cheri stammered apologies, working her back molars every so slightly. When the girl was done, she took a deep breath… and let out before she began. “Well yes. I can see were you might have some confusion on that matter; at times I myself can mistake a human for heron. It’s… the long legs that always get me.” She pondered the notion a moment longer, wondering if she needed to embellish it for believability, shrugged mentally and then continued. “Where you went wrong though, is simply this – horses don’t dance. So… next time you see the dancing… you know it’s going to be a unicorn.”

Her treatise complete she smiled brightly, hoping the girl had warmed to the notion, please as punch her temper hadn’t got the better of her and impressed she had pulled the whole thing together with such guile and tact. Plus, she’d just educated a human. And that was really a terrific feeling. She couldn’t wait to tell Rhaine about it!

She glanced over her shoulder to see what had become of the Guardian before she remembered she was with… that person. The bees had started buzzing again…

*

Trinity had come to listen to the song, though with the commotion that unfolded she had taken to watching. She was silent as she watched, her attention on to those who were dancing and singing. She let the tune carry her away, taking in the words, lost in them until she felt a soft nudge to her arm. She looked to see Aurellie grinning softly.

“You seem rather in tune with the song child. I’m sure you’re a wonderful dancer as well,” the mare said and whickered softly.

“Dancer? I ‘ave na danced for a long time. B’sides, I normally wound up dancin’ alone,” Trinity said and shrugged softly.

“Alone? well that’s no good,” Aurellie said and shook her head, mane tossing slightly.

Trinity chuckled at this and though of those times at festivals she did wind up dancing alone. Shaking her head, she reached  for her tin whistle, which was kept close to her. Having caught the beat of the tune being sung, she began to play the melody on the tin whistle.

*

Liam was finally able to straighten, taking a last long breath of sweet night air. He grinned at Rhaine, finding what was left of his reservation had dwindled to mere afterthought, the ghost of some previous worry that in this light seemed insignificant. “M’lady,” he began, “truly then, if there is some enchantment to this place, you must be in part accountable of it, for I surely have never danced as I have this night.”

“’Tis Kalidore!” she said blithely with a small shake of head, “It awakens you!”

The music lulled briefly as Arieon change songs and began with something new, a lively ditty about A Koré-Went-A-Wandering. The unicorns picked up their tempo, relishing the bright rhythm, and Rhaine sighed deeply as she felt their happiness flow through the gathering. Her body had begun to sway with the others, and she looked to her partner to see if we would like to dance again. Liam still looked rather flushed, and her brows knitted slightly, hoping that the event had not been too much on his recovering health. “I’m sorry – I should have asked, did you want some more wine? while we catch our breath? Pardon my manners for not offering sooner…” she touched his arm gently, her head inclined in repentance.

“Nay, you are not to serve me,” Liam rebuffed, hastily bringing himself to full baring. “It would be most improper for the Lady to be fetching drinks! My manners are the ones in question, for not seeing to the Lady first.”

“Aye, but you’re my guest.”

“And I am in your service; it is what comes naturally to men of my station in the presence of a woman in yours.” He took the hand she placed and held it softly, touching his forehead to it with a small bow. “Please, allow me to fulfill what my duty is expected.”

“Very well,” she proffered a wry smile, “but I will go with you; that you won’t have a say in the matter. Besides… do you even know where to find the wine?”

The Lady had a point, and Liam conceded with giddy appreciation. He offered her his arm regardless, and they made there way through the dancing beasts with grace.

The last of the wine had been stashed in the crook of large broad-leafed tree. The trunk was nearly twice the thickness of a unicorn’s length, and a knot of branches made a convenient nest from which Rhaine pulled forth two final bottles. “Have to keep it here,” she explained, “else Epione would have drunk them all by now, given half a chance; she does have a certain failing for the brew…. I guess this should do us?”

“Plenty,” Liam took the bottles from her. He tried to read the vintage on the bottle but it proved futile in the casting light, and by the time he turned Rhaine had already retrieved the goblets and the screw. He uncorked the bottle expertly from years of honing, and cleanly filled the glasses. “Cheers, M’lady,” he brought the cups to touch. “To Kaliore… to all this isle has offered, and all that has been awakened…”

“Cheers,” Rhaine toasted gaily, and scarlet wine glinted black in moonlight.

“Ah, now that is good,” he marked approvingly after a rather generous swallow. “Very fine – and even better, after it has had a chance to breath. I would be pleased to make acquaintances with your brew master one day.”

“Tyden gets them,” she shrugged. “There are no breweries on Kalidore.” She saw his expression falter, and rushed to assure him, “but we do trade outside our boundaries for supplies. If there is ever something you’d be needing – it can be fetched for you; Tyden is ever so good at finding them. And, look here… we have more then enough here to fill our glasses,” she appeased.

He couldn’t bare to have her upset on his behalf, and chided his own shortcomings for being the cause. “Nay,” he replied quickly, “more then enough; and certainly, I have all that I could want right here.”

As Arieon’s voice died down again, a new sound touched their ears, a sweet, lively trill wafted towards them on the breeze. The melody caught Liam’s ears and harkened, turning to find the source. “I know that one,” he mused. “My mother used to sing it to me when I was a boy.”

“Trinity,” Rhaine said after a moment’s questing, her eyes falling on the maiden and golden unicorn, standing to the edge of the gathering a short distance away. “She arrived here just recently too. I didn’t know she played…. and it’s quite lovely. Will you sing it for me?” she turned back to Liam with appeal.

“I fear I don’t recall all the words,” he fumbled, partly at the loss of his memory and his inability to grant her what she asked for. “It has been a while, and my chorus of late has been a more… uncivilized following…”

“Well then, sing something you do know,” she shrugged simply, no distress.

Trinity’s whistle flowed into another familiar tune, and Liam sipped again at his wine. At last he nodded. “The Lady must have music, she who so gamely has put up with the likes of me… what guest would I be if I did not repay her in song?” and he followed the flute’s fluid verse to end, and then began –

“Her eyes, the shone like diamonds

They thought she was queen of the land

And her hair hung over her shoulder

Tied up in a black velvet band…”

Aurellie listened as the tune was played, her head swaying softly to the tune and soon she moved with the beat of it in a dance of her own.

Trinity played on; ‘The Black Velvet Band’ was one of her favorites. As she played, she watched Aurellie begin to dance, thinking of how graceful unicorns were when they moved. She looked up though as she heard singing, not thinking there would have been anyone else here that knew it. Her eyes spotted Liam for a moment and she continued to play, smile on her lips.

*

Tyden was confused.

He was sitting on the ground, Fohen Miri staring down at him, Lilaini prodding at him from a side. He couldn’t quite put together how this had happened, or why Liliani kept pinching him, or what he was supposed to do with myriad of conflicting notions that were swimming through his head, none of which were making much sense, at least not with what his current understanding of the world upheld.

His eyes had caught the dancers and held them until the image threatened to ingrain itself onto his retina if not another well-aimed jab came at him from left field. He pouted, posed as he was to wallow in the yawning depths of misfortune but instead having to turn and rub the arm where it stung instead. “Ouch.” He refocused on the more pressing issue, if simply by reason of its proximity and insistence on pinching him. He put on his most wounded look. “Really, Lilaini – harem? What do you take me for? Besides…” he propped himself into sitting properly beside her, “I think a harem would suggest a little more compliance from the mares…?”

The Guardian was pleased to see the attention had again turned upon her. Being from the culture and time period she was, she was used to having the attention of those around her when she wanted it and in times like these her annoyance at being ignored would occasionally break out. She ran her hand through her hair and attempted to shake the dust that was desperately clinging there out. “What do I take you for?” she replied to his question, restraining the giggle she felt at his put on wounded look. “I take you for a man and don’t all men deep down want a harem of their own?” She kicked her legs out in front of her and leaned back, putting her arms behind her as support. “And really, what fun is there in compliance? Trying to convince and coerce is the thrill of the chase isn’t it?”

Tyden couldn’t help but notice there was very little “chase” implied by her daring, field-green eyes, or in the way the silken material of her dress pulled tightly across her chest as she leaned back. He grinned lopsidedly, welcoming the warming flush that worked to dull his other frustrations and awaken him to the moment. “I believe I was trying to say that any man’s a fool who thinks he can handle more then one.” He leaned over, his hair falling forward with the movement so that it brushed against her face as he spoke. “And,” he paused, sliding a hand around the small of her back and securing it there, firmly, “as thrilling as the chase may be… there’s still something to be said about the catch.”

She flashed a grin, her eyes narrowing slightly at his approach. And as he leaned in, balancing her between his arms, she shifted her weight and unlocked her elbows, and down they went, tumbling down into the green—

 

*Guardians, I have news. You presences is required at once*

The hail came as a sharp and clear as a light through the dim, and even in their compromised state it was a summons that was impossible to ignore. Tyden jerked his head back from the unfamiliar intensity of it, wincing slightly as it reverberated through his brain. “Sweet Kal, did you get that,” he gasped, struck by the urgency of it and already aware that Odin was making haste towards them, Gypsy a step behind. “What’s it mean?”

*

The summons reached Rhaine with similar clarity, causing her to jump slightly from the seat she had taken on the edge of the table. She managed not to spill her glass, poised as it was between her fingers while she had been listening to Liam sing. He turned when she started, question written on his face, but she shook her head. “I am afraid I have been summoned.” She saw the puzzled look remain on his face, and tapped her head lightly. “The Daiga calls to me. It’s important, so I must go. I am terribly sorry to be leaving so early in the evening.”

He nodded slowly and offered his hand as she slipped down; sad as he was to see his company go, he imagined that the Daiga must be a most important person, who’s mysterious summons were meant to be heeded immediately. “I will wait for your return then,” he offered a smile. “Or, if not this evening, then that I might see you again soon.”

“I’m sure you will,” she laughed. “Kalidore is not such a huge place. In the meantime, I do insist you keep singing. And Trinity can surely play – let the merriment carry forth, and by all means enjoy the wine.”

There was movement as Falling Star pressed through the crowd towards them, and came to stand beside the Guardian, bobbing his head curtly to her guest in greeting. “A lift, my dear, seeing as Muse has left you here tonight?” the spotted stallion bumped her gently with his nose. “As unmannerly as our abrupt retreat might be, I fear it is something best done with haste.”

Rhaine nodded seriously, and grabbed a handful of his amber and straw coloured mane, hoisting herself expertly onto his back before Liam had a chance to offer his assistance. The stallion turned gracefully in place, his tail sweeping the table top without so much as upsetting a honey bun. He tossed his head, calling out over the crowd,

“Good night to you all, ye children of Kal,

And dance long beneath her blooming moon,

And sing songs high unto Kaedon’s sky,

Until we shall be together again soon!

 

*

Arieon had enjoyed being able to take a break from singing as others took over. He continued to dance with the bay mare, and enjoyed where things were going. Looking up at her he was about to speak when the summons broke through into his mind. His mouth clamped such as he was shocked at the intensity with which it was sent. Jerking his head up his hooves ceased to move any longer and she scanned the crowd for his brothers. Catching sight of them he turned and regretfully informed the mare he had to leave. “I am so sorry,” be began. “But a summons has just come through that I am obligated not to ignore. I must go but I certainly hope to see you again soon, I thank you for having this dance with me.” Lifting up his left front leg he bowed low to the mare and then dashed off in the direction of his brother’s and the Guardian’s, his long pale tail flowing out behind him. He quickly reached his nearest brother which was Falling Star just as Rhaine clambered onto his back. Slackening his pace to match his brother’s he looked at him with a hint of worry in his eye. “What does all this mean brother? Let us make haste”.

*

Lilaini reached for her temples instinctively when the summons came crashing through her muddled thoughts. The hail was so strong it hurt her head given the state she was in but once she was recovered she was more concerned then anything. Looking up at Tyden, she had a confused expression on her face. “I don’t know….” She began, her voice trailing off as she saw Gypsy and Odin approaching, and then a short distance behind them was Falling Star, Arieon, and Rhaine.  Realizing that Tyden was still basically laying on top of her she gave him a look of urgency and then a slight push. “Come on, we must be going.”

She quickly got to her feet, much of the effects of the drink seemed to have worn off by the suddenness with which the summons had hit her. Grabbing her gown she shook it attempting to get some of the grass and dirt off it before presenting herself to the Daiga. At this point Gypsy pulled up beside her and the young woman wound her fingers into the mare’s mane and with a slight amount of effort, swung herself onto the mares back.

Tyden had scrambled to his feet, following Lilaini’s example. He gave a tug to straighten his clothing as Odin came towards him, bumping him with his nose. “Come boy, there is work to be done.”

“What’s happened?” his hand traced up the mute grey shoulder and hooked the withers, pulling himself astride with practiced ease. The stallion slipped through the night, away from the warmth of the fire and into the woods. Falling Star was waiting there with Rhaine, Areion a step behind and looking perplexed; as Gypsy pulled up the dawn stallion spoke, “It is unquiet in Kalidore tonight. Let us go quickly, so not to disturb the others; there is no need to unsettle them until we know the breadth in full. ” With that the small group disappeared among the trees…

*

*You are far too serious-looking, dear Bryn.* The star-mottled mare’s large blue eyes were turned onto the girl with a huff of breath that fluttered the wispy strands of white-blonde hair of her companion’s head. *Such seriousness is not condusive for a gathering of merriment and kinship, it is folly. They will not treat you as your own have in the past, this I promise to you again. Believe me, my Brynja.* The mare nodded as they reached the edge of the forest and the opening of the plains. The festivities were easily heard from their vantage point, easily watched at a safe distance without being watched themselves.

Her nerves had left her palms sweaty, though the fur and layers meant for cold weather climate were not helping in the least. Mis-matched eyes darted to the clearing before returning to Thora. “They are dressed so finely, Thora. I cannot help but feel buttflies. I am wearing but armor; men have bled upon it. This… this is not finery meant for a gathering.” She explained to the mare in a hushed tone, feeling not only nervous but slightly discouraged.

The mare simply watched her, with silent knowledge. A knowledge that it would pass soon and that Bryn would adapt and find her footing, after a little time. “True, my dear. You have fought battles.” She gave her companion only enough to spark a thought to lead to the solution.

Bryn’s eyes had moved away from the gathering, as she heard the mare’s words and allowed them to seep into her for further thought. Looking out over the scape, they hit home and Bryn’s bi-colored eyes flicked back to the gathering, then to Thora. Platinum brows lifted and her lips parted, and slowly she nodded. “Yes. Yes, I have.”

Thora’s eyes twinkled in motherly triumph as she watched Bryn spin away on her heel and march back further into the forest.

Upon Bryn’s return, it seemed to the mare that she had shed all her armor. Now, she wore only a thin linen sheath covered loosely by a silk one, both of which were dyed a vibrant blue and held in place at the shoulders by broaches with Thor’s hammer embossed on them, between the two were strings of beats, both metal and other. The loose set of her garb had the mare’s head nodded, though she stepped off into the woods from where Bryn had returned, upon her own return she offered her companion a beaded cord that Bryn had left behind.

“Wrap it around your waste and pull it to close, so that it gathers te material there.” Thora nodded again. “And do not forget your cloak.” She added with eagerness and proud eyes.

Finally, with all said and done, Brynn stood before the mare cloaked and ready. Even, by this time, her hair had been rewoven into a single solid braid that had been slung over her shoulder. There was one object, however, that she did not leave behind, and that was her sword. It was a small precaution, really. Not like she was running in their with it blazing and ready to fight, at any rate.

The hood of her cloak was pulled down; Thora had informed her that if she planned to stay armed, she could not expect the others to accept both sword and Bryn acting shady with her hood drawn and hiding in the shadows. Bryn conceded and they set to foot their way to the gathering, side by side. Her fair colored but slightly marred hand allowed it’s fingers to twine within the white mane of the mare.

They were closing the space and quickly approaching the others and the festivities, but Thora paused. Those who she had thought to introduce Bryn to were leaving, together. With a unicorn brow-furrow, she followed thier movements. “No matter, come dear one.”

That statement, alone, was enough to make Bryn want to flee for the second time in her life. But strapping down that instinct, she continued on with the mare at her side, into the fray of entertainment.

*

When she no longer heard the singer’s voice, Trinity paused her playing to note what was going on; she was too shy to simply ask.  Instead, she moved towards the table and considered the wine for a moment. She was not quite old enough to have wine yet, but who was really to stop her. She wouldn’t have that much, she decided, just half a glass if anything. She reached for one and sipped softly, looking around to see who still remained.

*

Cheri still couldn’t believe her complete lack of tact. It just wasn’t like her to put her foot so firmly in her mouth. She watched Xanthe go and immediately get swarmed by loving friends. If she had kept her mouth shut she might have been introduced and made friends of her own, but now the filly would tell them abut the rude human and she would be shunned. Sure, Xanthe had been nice about it, but people were always nice to your face. They’d probaby kick her right back out to Chicago before sunrise.

Alcyone was highly impressed with Xanthe’s grace, but before she could send her a grateful compliment there was a veritable stampede out of the circle. Alcyone watched them go, eyes and nostrils wide. They had been called away during the festivities? She was willing to bet something was deadly wrong.

She turned back to Cheri to see her leaving. The girl’s head was down and her face red as she moved away from the party, trying to slip into the shadows. Alcyone willed herself not to roll her eyes and caught up to her, pressing her muzzle to her neck as she had before.

 

*It was a mistake. You will be forgiven, though you may be called ‘Madame Heron’ from hereon.*

“You… you want me to stay? You’re not angry with me?” Cheri asked, eyes sparkling with hope and suppressed tears. Alcyone snorted.

 

*Mayhap ‘Little Monkey.’ Stay. Drink. Sing,* Alycone admonished, nudging her back toward the party. She saw Thora arrive and she nodded to her, noticing that she had a new companion as well. It’s a good thing, she thought, glancing toward where the others had disappeared. We might need them now.

*

Upon arrival, Kinoren had thrown herself into the midst of the dancing unicorns, entirely enjoying herself while still trying to coax Halcyone to join her. Halcyone was stubbornly refusing, more inclined to watch what was happening around them. Of the two of them, it was Hal who noticed the Guardians begin to leave, Kin only noticed when Falling Star called out, much too caught up in the dance to notice anything more subtle. Her attention now on the leaving Guardians and unicorns, Kinoren came and stood with Halcyone, who briefly looked at her before turning her gaze back to the departing group.

“What do you think they’re doing? Do you think something could be wrong?” Kin nudged Hal’s shoulder as she asked this.

“Wrong? This is Kalidore, it couldn’t be anything serious.” However, Hal’s tone wasn’t as confident as her statement. The sudden departure confused her, this was a night of celebration, and she couldn’t think of anything that would make them leave like that. “I’m not sure what they’re doing.”

“You’re right of course, I’m sure if it is anything we need to worry about, they will tell us all they know. In the meantime… More dancing! This time I will not allow you to be a wallflower!” Pushing and shoving as best she could, Kinoren managed to drag Halcyone over to where the others were dancing.

*

Aislinn had to stop dancing long before Persephone did, her stamina was not up to the unicorns, irrelevant of how much she tried. Removing herself from anywhere she could end up being underfoot, she landed on the grass in more of a sprawl than anything that resembled sitting. She was here when the Guardians left, and watched with curious eye’s as the group of unicorns and humans left the festivities.

“What do you think is going on?”

“Hmm?” Persephone’s reply was full of confusion, she hadn’t had the vantage point that Aislinn had, but looked over when Falling Star called out. Coming out of the crowd towards her companion, Persephone stood next to Aislinn, her eyes still following the group as they left.

“I’m not sure. The Daiga is the only one I know who could call them all away like that, but I have no idea why.”

Her eyes went in a different direction, seeking Pan. After locating her still dancing with a slightly younger kor’, she became more relaxed. Although she might deny it when asked, Persephone always had to check where all she cared about were when something was out of place. Now there were two she cared for deeply, her companion and her kore, with both accounted for, Persphone regained her festive mood, but she stayed with Aislinn while she caught her breath.

*  *  *

Moonlight lit the pool and set it aglow, pulling her gaze deeper and deeper within its spiraling depth. But even with the conditions ideal, that wandering spark of consciousness – a shiny fleck of obsidian among pearls – kept just out of reach. She sighed, at last, and closed her eyes.

Beside her Muse stood quietly, her coat like sun-and-moon entwined muted in the dim so that she was only traced in silver. She was watching the Daiga as she worked, her head tipped towards her so that her tapered horn focused on the centre of the pool; intention, magic, thought; all these were focused here, and with the moon in apex the elements were at their strongest. And yet – “No luck?”

The Daiga shook her head, but she smiled yieldingly. “That which wishes to remain unseen has a great capacity for remaining that way, even from a would-be ally; I can admire the fortitude, nonetheless,” she shrugged simply, using the unicorn’s sturdy presence to draw old bones together and rise from her seat. “The others will be here shortly; let us meet them in the garden – more room, and it is comfortable there.”

Muse nodded gently, keeping a slow pace beside the woman, should she need assistance. The Daiga was three thousand years old after all, but truly didn’t look a day over ninety. She still walked unassisted (though sometime did use her staff) and her head its high carriage, her face telling the story of those many years with a wrinkled creased there for each in passing. Her hair, loose around her shoulders had been once ebony, now the spun silver of new moon, and while her step had slowed in recent years, her eyes were clear and dark as jet, every bit as sharp and lively.

They passed through the narrow hall that ran alongside the central courtyard. Here peeked windows broke the rock and measured intervals, making the ceiling appear to float above them; the carved lattice was grown thick with wisteria and ivy, and the skill of the elves who had formed it never failed to give Muse pause, even though she had lived in this temple almost exclusively since she had left her dam’s side. Headed one way, the hall led to the great library, where all the books of Kalidore were stored; the other wound its way past the hot springs and into the garden proper. This was their destination, and as they stepped fully into the fall night, the sound of hooves on worn cobble told of the others’ approach.

“Ah, they here already,” the Diaga remarked with gentle laughter, “I suppose I am getting slow in my old age.”

 

All but Imbri, Muse sighed inwardly, watching her brothers and sisters as they filed into a semi-circle around the old woman. But she had little time to think on that for Rhaine had slipped from the speckled stallion’s back and come to her, pressing her face against the mares’ sleek neck and she dipped her head down to nuzzle her. “Is something the matter?” Rhaine asked with concern, as much to the Diaga as to Muse. Behind her, Tyden and Lilaini had also dismounted, coming to stand beside their companions, matching her look of expectancy.

“Ayi, child, you were always one to worry,” she chuckled softly, touching the young woman’s cheek with fond regard. “It was news I called you here for, and news in it self is neither good nor bad.”

“It must be rather spectacular news to have called us all away from the festivities,” Arieon pronounced with complete sincerity, although a part of him may have still wished to be attending the dance.

“Indeed,” she nodded swiftly. “Ulysses has returned.”

There were looks of surprise passed between the unicorns, and even Muse angled herself to regard the Daiga better. “Are you sure?”

“Aye; his mind first brushed against mine two nights forth; he has been here for sometime longer.”

“But… but I’ve heard nothing,” Gypsy protested. “And surely, if he were back…”

“Who,” said Tyden, stepping forward to remind the unicorns that there were indeed other persons present at this gathering, “is Ulysses?”

There was silence for moment, before Odin answered. “Ulysses is our brother.”

“Another Son of Kaedon, come to Kalidore then,” Lilaini bemused, meeting the long faces around her in turn. Maybe it was still the effect of the wine, but surely this news shouldn’t result in the look of sadness and worry she saw in those faces? She turned back to her companion for further explanation. “That is a good thing, isn’t it? I thought all unicorns were welcomed here–”

“Ulysses has nothing but our welcome,” Gyspy assured her, absently nibbling at some grass caught in the girl’s smooth hair. “Our brother is a fierce and noble soul; so much like our father, but also…” her voice trailed away, and she sighed.

“What happened to him?” Rhaine asked quietly.

“It was the war,” Odin said.

A hush fell over the circle, and the companions looked at one another, and then to the unicorns. It was Odin who spoke again at last. “Ulysses was but a kor when the war first broke, a suckling babe at our great dam’s side. And while Kal did her best to protect him from it, war is fierce; as he grew his own daring and drive demanded that he not be left apart from it all, and as soon as he could take his own leave he was determined to join the fight. I do not need to tell you about the battle; many were lost, on all sides, but the unicorn’s toll was the heaviest of them all. Thaedor blamed us for his father’s refusal of power, and after Aeon’s death it was upon us that he sought revenge. Ulysses was caught between a universe torn asunder, and though he survived with body intact, inside that body rests a broken soul.”

“He was always welcomed on Kalidore, aye, we begged him to stay, but he would have nothing of it,” Gypsy stepped forward. “He felt this was no place for him, and that he had no place among the peaceful unicorn.”

“Nonsense!” Arieon scoffed. “It was his pride – too proud of his battle-scared hide he was, thus he despised us who he said were untempered—”

“Peace, brother,” Muse interjected. “We were young then, those arguments have long been laid to rest…”

“And maybe too, within Ulysses, if he has returned,” Gypsy said.

The night was quiet again, as they stood there in a circle beneath the moon. It was Tyden who spoke first. “Perhaps… we should go and seek him.”

Alight with stars, the Daiga smiled. “Aye, seek him and find him, and offer him solace. His place is here, for he needs Kalidore as much as Kalidore needs him.”

“Needs him?” Areion began tersely, but a look from a brother on each side and he was silent.

Muse spoke next, her voice thoughtful. “But how to seek something that wishes to remain unfound?” She recalled the Daiga’s trouble at the divining pool, and was about to speak further when Falling Star stepped forward, raising his voice for the first time.

“I have been watching the stars nightly, and strange omens I have seen written there as of late. At first I gave them little credence, for stars are mischievous; the like to tell stories and embellish them, and a many far-seerer has been tricked to follow falsely at the ploy of their games. But as these events come to pass, I feel I can ignore them no longer. Ulysses is returned, and a mare is missing – her korè found wandering through the woods; the stars bind them atwain, and I fear the mesh of that thread.”

“Truth, brother?” Muse looked alarmed, and Odin moved to take the floor again.

“There are many things that remain unknown to us this night, but one thing is true – Ulysses is returned. And weather or not he plans to stay among us, what would we be if we did not extend to him that which Kalidore grant each and every beast who make this isle home? So seek him we will; the rest will come to pass, and fall where they lie.”

“So… we’re going?” Tyden looked from the stallion to the others and back again, quiet surprise on his face that his suggestion had actually been agreed upon. “Then, when do we start – and where? Kalidore is an awfully big place.”

“I dreamt of him last night among the ruins,” the Daiga told, closing her eyes to draw the vision into clarity once more. “There Kylindreal rises to the east, with Luna at his back, before him he gazes through darkness with a thousand eyes; six stars burn and fall like snow, thick black snow falling, falling to cover the ground…”

She turned to face them. “You leave tomorrow. Muse and I have prepared everything you will need.”

* * *

A rush of hooves through the long grass and they were gone; Xanthe watched them go, her eyes perplexed, nostrils flared slightly with indignation. Now Exanthea, her mother had said, very primly before leaving the field with the Daiga. You may indeed stay longer at the ball, so long as you keep yourself and mind Rhaine; and when she says it is time to come home, then there’s to be not fussing. And don’t eat too many honey-buns… The golden-dun Kore looked from the trees to the dancing bonfire and the prancing unicorns, and then back to the trees where the elders had disappeared, Rhaine among. “They forgot me,” she sighed. “Oh horseradish.”

Two thoughts were at war with each other as they tumbled through her brain. The first was the indignation at being left behind. Foremost, because obviously they were off to talk about Most Important Things, and she was never privy to that kind of excitement. Second, that she was now at the ball alone, unsupervised and unescorted. She did considered herself an intelligent unicorn, quite capable of caring for her own person so really, the notion that she would require either was an aggravation; yet now that both were gone, she wasn’t sure what to do with the freedom, once she had it. And truth be told, now that her friends had left, a little bit of that overt confidence was nibbled away too. Plus the notion that she could be forgotten so swiftly still irked her. A lot.

She let out a heavy sigh and nibbled at an itch on her neck. Where Liam’s rope had once wrapped so tightly the burn had healed, both through Rhaine’s gentle touch and Lilaini’s balms. The hair too had begun to grow in again remarkably fast, but she couldn’t help but noticed a few white flecks that edged along the gold. She gave the spot a hurried pass and straightened up again. Well, if she was here and here alone, she was going to make the best of it, she resolved. And the first step in that required more honey buns…

Foehn Miri was also gazing longingly after the retreating forms of the Guardians and their companions. Be honest, at least with yourself, she chastised, there was only one among them you really regret seeing go. Okay, well, she would miss Falling Star’s and Arieon’s singing, but with that whistle she had heard earlier that could be replaced. Still, she blew out a deep sigh and turned to see what Luminista was up to then wondered over to join her.

“Well, hello, Beautiful,” she said to Acheflow with a gentle nudge behind an ear. “Where did you come from?”

Watching her friend approach, Luminista couldn’t quite hold back a chuckle. She recognized that woe-begone look on Foehn Miri’s face. “Done dancing already?” she asked instead.

“The music kinda got carried away for now,” was the reply as Foehn Miri cast another glance over her shoulder in the direction the others had gone. “Perhaps those other two will pick things back up, but until then I may have spotted me some more fun.” With that Foehn Miri gave Acheflow a playful tug on the tail then leaped aside as though in mortal fear of the repercussions.

Luminista groaned at the poor puns and cast an apologetic look at Fiera.

*

The songs were sung and, while that was not an unusual aspect of celebration, in any place or culture it seemed, she was more use to chant-like songs that the whole tribe would join than a singular person singing. But that did not make the experience any less pleasant, and on the contrary; made it something exotic and beautiful, and that had her longing to know the words herself. In it’s stead, however, she opted for a soft hum only privy to her ears. Well, of course, not her ears alone… a certain motherly unicorn’s as well.

“Do you sing or dance, Thora?” The words came as Bryn and the gray mare slowly made their way around the others dancing and singing, toward refreshments.

“I do not sing, no. Though, I have been known to step gracefully a time or two.” The mare’s blue eyes on her companion, her neck stretching to the side to allow her that sight. Bryn could almost hear the smile that lit the mare’s voice.

Bryn nodded with her own smile, her rough fingers finally able to make purchase of a goblet filled with wine. Before she drank, however, it was lifted and the scent was breathed deep and enjoyed. Her eyes closing in a silent appreciation and finally she tasted.

“Do you, dear Brynja?” The smile in the mare’s eyes grew as she continued to watch her companion, her belly quivering with the start of laughter at the sight of Bryn’s blatant appreciation.

“Dance and sing? Dancing, no. Well, I… I have seen it done; I could probably do a fine job at a poor mockery, if made.” She chuckled into the goblet just before she set to taking a long drink.

“And what of song?” Thora asked lightly, through her own laughter.

Platinum brows arched over mismatched eyes and landed on the mare. “Ah, well. That.” Bryn sighed softly, still clinging to her cup… as if Thora might toss her out into the center of things and demand a song. “I suppose I could hold a tune. But I am not so talented in that area as some of these fine people. Most songs I know are battle hymns, praise to the gods, or about drink and women. And all are wrote by somewhat… crude men. Not exactly fitting, here, I think.” Still, her voice was filled with good-humor while she drew the cup back to her lips.

The mare, too, found humor and offered another soft chuff of a laugh. “Well then, Bryn, will you reach over there and gather one of those honey buns for me. Actually.” She paused in her thoughtfulness. “Make that three.”

That hadn’t been exactly what Bryn had thought would come from the mare, even so with a shake of her head she still gathered the first one for offering to the gray unicorn. When it was within range of the mare’s mouth, she happily nibbled at it. Bryn found herself, after the first had been consumed, rubbing her calloused fingers together to observe the sticky substance, she tasted. “Oh. Oh, that’s good.” She sent a surprised look to Thora.

“What? You thought I would eat something that didn’t taste good?” Thora’s question hung on the air for only a second, before she nudged her companion’s shoulder. “Now, get me another.” She chuckled, too.

Again, with a shake of her head, she offered the bun to Thora. But what caught her eye was an approaching Kore, She knew that was what they called their foals… Thora had made certain to tell her some basics. Di-colored eyes swept over the kore. She smiled at her, if only because it was a young unicorn . And, truthfully, what woman could resist a young… any sort of animal, talking or otherwise?

Though the Kore was still a little ways away yet, she offered her the next honey bun meant for Thora, in hope of luring her closer. After all, she did look somewhat… down. Perhaps, just a little? Bryn mused, glancing back to Thora for a small hopeful bit of approval, which she received with a nod.

Warm smile in place on pale pink lips, she tried to make her second friend here… armed with a sticky bun.

*

Pasiphae drowned all conscious thought in the music, letting the rhythmic percussion break over her in waves. So lost was she in the quick succession of steps as they moved, that it was a sudden shock to feel the night air on her side that had, moments before, been pressed close to the warm velveted coat of the cremello stallion. Phae’s first thought was that she had somehow miss-stepped, and she turned towards him to apologize – but kept silent as she noticed his ears pricked and his gaze focused elsewhere. A few words and fewer moments later he was gone.

Standing still and alone amidst the prancing bodies that eddied and flowed around her, the light of the bonfire seemed to dim, and the glorious music of moments before seemed shrill and tinny in her ears. Pasiphae drooped, and myriad of worries and self-flaggelations of before crushed back down around her. She cast about desperately – looking for some other way to distract herself from gloom that threatened to smother any inkling of joy in the night so far.

Her gaze soon settled on the golden dun filly across the clearing, the warmth of the fire’s light burnishing the gold in her coat into an almost beacon-like glow. Pasiphae’s mind lit at the recognition, and found herself moving quickly towards her – hoping to rekindle a pleasant conversation with the kore and so keep her mind off darker matters.

Pasiphae wasn’t the only one who had eyes for Xanthe that night it seemed. Kyndrienn, having had a joyful time gamboling and prancing with his new spotted friend, was momentarily distracted by the sudden leave-taking of the stallions and the Guardians. He watched them with rapt attention as they gracefully made their exit – and was about to return to his twirling and prancing when he noticed Xanthe standing on her own. His coltish heart skipped a beat, and he found himself scrambling towards the filly – unfortunately ditching his playmate of moments before in the process (such an uncouth act that, had his mother been there to see, she would have scolded him roundly and heaped a half a dozen punishments on him at least!).

His little heart aflutter, and butterflies multiplying rapidly in his stomach, Kyn bounded towards the unikore – hoping desperately to make it towards his hero’s side before some other more important creature claimed her attention. He could scarcely decide what he would ask her first – what it was REALLY like to go on and adventure? Or perhaps instead if she had really escaped from over a score of soldiers after stealing all of the apples from their lunch? (The tale had grown in size and consequence as it had traveled through the mouthes of the many Kalidore kores). Or how had she managed to be so BRAVE to jump through that gate in the first place?

So caught up in his potential questions that he barely paid attention to how fast he was going – and was surprised to finally find himself only a few feet away from the unikore, and still moving at a fast pace. He gasped in dismay, trying to slow his speed in a hurry, but somehow his legs got themselves all in a tangle – and before he knew it he found himself flipping, head over hoof, to land in a heap at Xanthe’s feet.

 

 

Forgotten. Her. Xanthe… forgotten! The more she thought about it, the less she was finding anything really good about it. And besides, what more could she find to do here that she hadn’t done already? Dancing seemed silly to her, nor had she a signing voice to speak of, and most of the kore her age tended to think her a bit odd. The grown-ups still didn’t take her seriously, and the ones who did had seemed busy with other duties. She cast a glance longingly to the woods, wondering what business could have called them away in such hurry. She could have followed, she decided meekly, yet somehow even the thought of snooping off into the night held no real excitement in her current moody state. That, and Acosua’s ghostly tale was still tugging thoughtfully at the back of her mind…

Honey buns were the only real solution, absolutely. She had begun to drift in that general direction, absentmindedly picking her way through the unicorns who were still dancing. Beside the table was another new face, the companion of dappled Thora, if she recalled; both of them had noted her approach, and the woman had raised a bun to her in greeting. Her stomach made wanting noises, or maybe it was in contemplation of the number she’d already eaten (truthfully, she was beginning to loose count). Her ears perked on principal, until she remembered why she was giving such an intentionally wide berth to the other table, the one the soldier had occupied.

The last time she’d accepted treats from strangers hadn’t gone well at all. True, that person hadn’t been someone’s companion; she watched him, discreetly, stealing a side-long looks at the man as she passed. What was he doing here anyway, if he wasn’t companion to a unicorn? Surely Phae hadn’t thought to make him hers. No, that didn’t make sense… It was just, unnatural, she decided. He didn’t belong. He was freeloader, conspirator, and unbonded… Not that any unicorn would want him, she thought with a smirk. Deplorable little human being, devoid of any redeeming quality and utterly uninteresting—

Still in forward momentum towards the honey buns, and fixated as she was on Liam, Xanthe didn’t notice the bounding koros until he was directly in front of her – make that, underneath—

“Great Kal, where did you come from?!” Xanthe exclaimed, throwing out her legs and managing to miss the koros just barely with each one. “What on earth are you trying to do?!”

*

Brona felt a prickle of dread when Luminista mentioned her straddling the fence – memories flashed, she was airborn and the fence was underneath them and then Chance had slipped and –

She severed that thought ruthlessly, and snapped, “What would you know of fences? Oh, right, you’re a unicorn – unicorns never make mistakes or missteps, do they?” She regretted it once the words left her mouth – the words hung in the air, ugly and laced with anger and bitterness. She looked away, unable to meet the mare’s eyes. “How can you say the solution rests with me? What can I possibly do, possibly accomplish? Were I to wake up, I would spend the rest of my miserable life staring at a hospital ceiling. How can you possibly understand that?”

She spun and looked at Fiera instead, daring her; had she been able to, tears would be running down her face. But the despair and loss in her eyes showed her anguish clearly. “Dream or reality, what is there? If I commit to this dream, as you say, who’s to say anything will change? Can you give me feeling back? A body? My sister? My life? My hopes and dreams? Run or deny – some choice that is! Fancy running when you have no legs, or worse, have legs but they belong to some stranger, just happen to be attached to you, dead weight you can’t use?” Her raw anguish burbled over into a burst of hysterical laughter that snapped Brona out of it, and abruptly she clamped her lips shut and closed her eyes, taking a moment to ‘breathe’, to pull the walls back up around her, lock away the emotion. It’s a dream, it’s a dream. It’s my subconscious trying to get me to accept real life, but nothing can hurt me here unless I let it. And I won’t. It’s just a dream. Nothing CAN hurt me. She repeated the words over and over to herself, slowly calming, but also withdrawing.

So that when little Acheflow came bounding over to meet her, she was all but invisible, a faint whisp of mist in moonlight.

She knew it was rude, but she felt inadequate, unable, to deal with Acheflow, the kore’s exuberance chafing against the raw edges of her memories. So mentally she withdrew – it’s a dream, it’s a dream, it’s a dream – until she was the invisible spirit that had drifted Kalidore unseen for a week prior.

And when she saw the Guardians and some of the Unicorns leaving, responding to a summons no-one else heard, she followed them, drifting silently in their stead.

She wasn’t sure what she expected, but the wrinkled old woman they met up with wasn’t it. And she didn’t see what was so momentous or important about this ‘Ulysses’ unicorn. She narrowed her eyes and drifted closer, eyes intent on the old woman’s face – she seemed to know more than the rest. Though if the poetry was any indication, she could also be senile. Heh.

With the decision made, there was little other talk around the circle. “Tonight, we prepare,” Odin spoke as Tyden re-mounted, Lilaini following suit on Gypsy and preparing for the brisk ride home. “We meet in the clearing on the morrow. Until then, brothers and sisters, I bid you good night.”

The unicorns inclined their horns kindly as they filed passed the Diaga, she laying a hand on each wide brow as they went by. “Peace, and may Kal guide us,” she said in turn. Soon the gentle rhythm of hooves died away and only she remained in the garden with Rhaine and Muse; the young woman bowed her head and sighed, slipping indoors as she went to pack. Yet instead of following, the Daiga paused holding a hand up for Muse to do the same. “We have one more guest among us tonight.” she explained, and tilting her head upwards slightly intoned, “providing she is ready to come out.”

Brona blinked; she hadn’t thought anyone could see her – she held up her hands – nope, still invisible. How, then? For a moment she debated waiting to call Daiga’s bluff, maybe she’d heard a noise Brona made. But looking at the keen authorative air around Daiga, she realised it wasn’t a bluff. Somehow Daiga had known she was there. And if it’s a dream, why WOULDN’T she know? She sighed at the twisted logic, but drifted forward to ‘stand’ in front of the old woman, unconsciously regaining a wisp of visibility.

Now she was called out, though, she felt slightly abashed. What if she thinks I was deliberately eavesdropping? I wanted to know what was going on, but I didn’t mean to be eavedropping. Not really. I mean – not in a kid-hiding-behind-closed doors. But she suddenly couldn’t meet the Daiga’s eyes, and looked away, into the starlit night. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” she

“To eavesdrop, it would imply you were somewhere you didn’t belong,” the Daiga said simply. She turned to pull something small from the pouch she had slung around her waist, giving the wisp no more nor no less regard then any of the others she had shortly addressed.

Incredulously, Brona’s eyes flitted to meet the Daiga’s, sure she was the brunt of some joke and any minute she’d be soundly castigated for listening in. Then her eyes narrowed. “You can’t possibly mean I belong here?”

“And why wouldn’t you?” The question was honest, open, and without any hint of the mockery that Brona seemed so certain to find. “People come to Kalidore for one of two reasons – because they need Kalidore, or because Kalidore needs them. You have come too far, been here too long to be merely passing through; were that the case you and I would not be here and talking this night as we both are. So the question is not so much whether you belong, but rather, why have you come?”

Again, Brona blinked; had she a body, she might have felt a need to suddenly sit down. She’d been able to argue with everyone else. So why did Daiga’s words ring with truth? “I don’t know,” she said, shocked into blunt honestly. “I think maybe I need Kalidore. Kalidore can’t need me.” She looked at her transparent hands, held them out to Daiga. “What good could I possibly be to Kalidore? I can’t DO anything. And I – ” she broke off abruptly; she’d already ranted once, at Luminista and Fiera. Chances were good Daiga already knew, or suspected her arguments.

So she stared back at the Daiga, challenging her to give her an answer she could accept. “How do I know this isn’t just a dream? Something my head’s come up with because I don’t wa- can’t wake up? How do I even know I’m something human anymore?”

The old woman met her gaze, her eyes clear and dark as night above and lit with as many stars. “Dream, or not – what difference? Both have heart, mind and soul… One we see with our eyes but do not partake, the other we partake but may not see. Which is truth? The only difference between sleep and wake is intention.” She watched the girl’s face as it flickered, whether caught by moods or act of the light as it passed through her lucent form. The anger there was fierce, but in response to it she merely shrugged, “Perhaps, if I’m not giving you the answers you’d like to hear, you’re not asking the right questions.”

“What difference, indeed?” she muttered, and then something DID click: What would make a difference? “No, you’re…..right, I’m asking the wrong thing,” she said slowly, reluctantly. “Maybe the right question is – how can I make a difference? She shrugged briefly, abortively, a clear dismissal of herself, of any ability she might have. “What use am I like this? Beyond haunting naughty kore?”

A whisper of a smile passed the Daiga’s lips, as much at the image of little Ache trying to seize the “ghost” as for Brona’s own small revelation. “You’ve already begun making a difference,” she replied. “You are here. Of course,” she regarded the girl thoughtfully, noting the look of longing and loss that still lingered there. The cause, she knew rested within; the cure lay there also, but in this moment she knew the girl would not accept so simple a truth. Instead, she addressed the focus where it lay, gently, but with a sharp twinkle. “The body is a curious thing, is it not? So cumbersome, yet comfortably grounding at the same time…. I cannot give you your body, for that power is beyond me, but if it is a body you so strongly desire, I can perhaps offer something in it’s place.”

She opened her hand to reveal a small dark object, smooth and warm. “Lodestone. It symbolizes direction, but also the ability to both draw and repel things from itself in turn. It can be a powerful talisman,” she explained. She motioned to Muse, who had been standing quietly with a look of quiet wonder on her face. “I might require some help,” she smiled.

She sunk down onto her knees, scooping the loose earth towards her and began working it around the stone.

Brona stared at the rock and then the old woman scooping earth around it. “What, what? What good is a talisman for? And why are you burying it? And – what can a unicorn do to help? Not,” she said hastily to Muse, with a jerky nod in her direction, “that I mean any insult. Just, there isn’t really anything you CAN do, is there?”

Muse chuckled mirthfully, and had the spirit a body she would have nuzzled it. “Not everything is as it seems, nor can you judge something by appearance alone; were my daughter here, I’m sure she would say you have mistaken me for a horse.” She regarded the girl thoughtfully and continued. “There is strong magic on a night like this; a great many things can be made possible. Look closely,” and she nodded her head towards the earth.

The Daiga had begun to hum softly to herself, smoothing the earth with her hands. She traced a shape into the soft dust, and as she worked, the earth seemed to move into place on its own accord. It swelled in the middle and flowed along its length, shivering softly like the surface of the lake; like branches they unfurled, a flower in bloom, eager tendrils shooting forth and building upon the whole. The figure lay, sleeping, ashen in the moonlight and wrought in dust, and the Daiga’s voice grew and swelled with song —

From the oldest coldest time
When Kala’s foot struck stone
From her hoof a pebble flew
From it, a planet grew

Kalidore, you’re quiet now,
But deep within your grains
Where fire stirs your molten core<
You recall your birthing pains

Lend your bones, ground fine to dust,
That Kala’s child may stand;
Lend your breath to give her form,
So this spirit will have hands.

Shape a stone to point the way
from fires deep within,
Cull away the crumbling spalls
In lieu of heart and skin.
Til flesh and blood with spirit meet,
And heart has found its home,
Her only heart a lodestone be,
And all her flesh but loam!

Brona tried to fight the surreality of the night. “Magic isn’t real,” she said dismissively, ignoring the part of her brain that said, But what about the unicorns, who ARE magic? She drew her disbelief around her like a shield, protecting herself from the strength – and vulnerability – that was hope. But she couldn’t help drifting closer, hearing the non-words of the song. There was something bracing and fortifying in the song; for a moment, she could remember when her mother was alive –

“Mommy, is magic real?”

 

“Some people would say no, some people say yes. Some people will spend their whole lives trying to prove one thing or the other. But I’ll tell you what I think –” She pulled the child Brona and Neely close, and whispered to their ears, “I think if you believe in it, for you, magic will be real.”

 

But I think, Brona thought slowly, I want to believe in magic sometimes, almost as much as I want to make a difference.

She struggled to keep from reaching out and touching the dust shadow of herself, but refrained, unwilling to touch, just to have her hand pass through. And yet she could not look away from the shifting dust – it drew her in, mesmerizing her, holding her within itself; there was something familiar about it, something that seemed to fill an emptiness she hadn’t realized had been so deep. As she watched the figure grow, a curious thing occurred – each time her eyes tried to focus on it, the image seemed to shift away. She had to concentrate, drawing ever closer, so close, her breath could have stirred the dust, had she had breath. And now my eyes are playing tricks on me, she remarked ruefully. I think it has my face… It was like looking into the reflective surface of a pool. Brona hovered there a moment, contemplating the face. And then, she began… to… slip…

…falling…

…no…

 

… too late…

Brona opened her eyes. She was staring up at the stars, and the Daiga and Muse were looking down at her. The old woman smiled warmly, and took her firmly by the hand. “Welcome to Kalidore, Brona,” the Daiga said.

*

Acheflow scruncthed up her nose, giving off a rather strange nazeled giggle of delight at the attention. She seemed to drown in it, yet everytime devouring it with such enthusiasm, as if it was a rich as water from a fountain of youth. Although, one wouldn’t think to find a fountain of youth here on Kalidore, because it was trully not needed.

Acheflow leapt after Foehn Miri joyously, her atticts not really in a certain direction. She chased the mare, as far as her spindle legs could take her, while thing sikly bushy tail swishing about when she kicked her legs high enough into the air. She didn’t seem to notice that the music had stopped, and daddy and uncle all went away for the time being.

Until she was tired, Acheflow continued on her youthful chase after the bigger mare. A little leaps here and there when her legs began to tire. That’s when she stopped to take a rest, but ended up yawning, then falling over to snuggle herself into the warm night and soft bed of grass. However didn’t quite fall alseep yet…

Fiera gave a low chuckle at the younger mare’s puns. True that they weren’t the best, but the effort put into it was quite amusing as itself. Her body weighted shifted around to find a comfortable position when she turned to reply to Luminista, “It’s alright, I’ve gotten my laugh for the night as it is deary.” She gave the red mare a bemused wink.

Ali yawned quietly, leaning her head down on Amaterasu’s shoulder while the mare had decided to lay down and share a moment of star gazing with the girl. Her eyes fluttered from the empty yet peaceful silence that surrounded them, and adding the faint sound of a song persuaded her to be taken into the land of dreams…

“Good night, I’m getting tire…” Allison closed her eyes and slumped into the bittersweet world she’d lived with all her life on Earth..

Amaterasu hummed a low melody, intentionally to calm herself but she decided to wait awhile when the human girl was actually asleep until she’d leave her lying in her dreams.

*

Trinity and Aurellie kept close to each other as they watched the others. Trinity had stopped playing, though that was only because she had heard the singer become silent. She saw that there were a few that seemed to bedding down as well.

“Come child. How about a song to ease our minds for the night,” Aurellie said and gave Trinity’s arm a soft nudge.

“A song? If ye like an’ I’m nay a child,” Trinity said wit ha chuckle.

“Dear, I am older than you by many years, you are still a child compared to me,” the mare nickered and would then settle in a soft patch. “Settle with me and sing.”

Trinity couldn’t help but chuckle, she had no retort to go with what the mare had said. She settled near her and then lifting her head a little, her voice would ring out, clear as crystal, though gentle as a night’s soft breeze.

 

Toora loora loora, toora loora lie

Toora loora loora, hush now don’t ye cry.

Toora loora loora, toora loora lie

toora loora loora, it’s an Irish lullaby…

 

Aurellie’s eyes closed slightly, her head swaying softly from side to side as she let a gentle hum accompany the song that Trinity sang sweetly. Trinity’s eyes remained on the other festival-goers, though now and then moved to watch Liam as she continued her song.

Epione giggled as she wove through the unicorns that pranced and twirled in complex patterns around the flickering bonfire. Well, not so much wove as bumbled, she admitted to herself with another giggle. She had, at first, attempted to join in the revelry as well – but after stepping on no less than a dozen hooves, a handful of tails and bumping into at LEAST half of the dancers, she decided that perhaps dancing wasn’t the best idea after a half a bushel of windblown apples. Not that it hadn’t been FUN, of course.

She smacked her lips, and wondered if it might not be time for another of those apples … or three. Of course, that meant trying to work her way back to the basket – and with the world swimming and swirling, it seemed like it might be more effort than it was worth. For now, anyways. She stumbled a few more steps forward – narrowly missing knocking one of the new human guests into her blue palomino Companion. (Cheri & Alcyone)

“Oopsh!” she snerked allowed, and hiccupped. “Schorry. Just … going o’er this…. this a’way.” Epione goggled at the pair for a few moments and gave a cheerful horsey* grin before stumbling onwards. The apples, tasty as they were, had left her stomach a bit grumbly for something a bit more solid. When she had seen some of the other guests munching on what looked like some rather savory oatcakes, her stomach had declared their appropriation to be of vital importance. Schnockered as she was, Epione decided that her stomach probably had a better idea of what was important than the rest of her, so she gamely followed it’s directions.

After a long and eventful walk towards the second** table full of food, Epione happily busied herself with consuming her weight in oatcakes and the occasional honeybun from the lavish repast that had been laid out. Her ears and tail flicked merrily as she munched, and she hummed along with the current song (albeit horrendously off-key). However, halfway through an enormous vanilla creme trifle, her nose twitched.

Raising her head, muzzle well-coated in powdered sugar and cream, she snuffed at the air again. “Hrmgfh.” she grunted, and took a step to the left before taking another long breath. “Ish … def’nly Bordeaux … ” Epione mumbled, and closed her eyes as she huffed the air. “…. Oak. … … shome almondsh. … ” She took a few more knock-kneed steps forward. “An’ …. an’ …. cherriesh….” she breathed at last – and her eyes popped back open, a crazy gleam glittering in their depths. She raked her gaze over the audience that watched the dance before finally settling on the small trio that seemed to be providing the music – Epione’s ears pricked and another giggle burst forth as she stumbled determinedly towards them.

Liam felt a small pang of loss at the departure of his engaging hostess, but suffered the deprivation with good grace, her conversation and playful attitude having already put him at ease with the rest of his surroundings. He took a long draught of his wine – singing along with the accompaniment of the young lady when he knew the words, humming and tapping his foot when he did not. When she eventually moved closer and took a glass of her own, he made sure to smile at her broadly and touch his forehead, hoping to indicate his great pleasure in the gift of her song.

After a few more verses and songs, he opened his mouth to request a particular tune – when a great milk-chocolate beast seemed to come barrelling out of nowhere. Having already drank more than a handful of glasses, Liam’s reaction times were slowed to the point that he was able to do little more than register the mare’s approach before he found himself (and his lovely goblet of wine) knocked to the ground, and staring dazedly upwards at Epione who was staring (seemingly just as bemused) down at him. The mare blinked, first one eye and then the other, and cocked her head as she regarded his now wine-soaked person – reminding Liam of some sort of great wall-eyed bird.

He blinked back, something in the back of his head beginning to whisper uncomfortably – something about the situation seemed to trigger rememberences of … something that he couldn’t quite grasp – when Epione lowered her head towards him and gave his face a long, sticky lick.

“I’ll shay …. mmm …. Fifteen hundredsh. Give’er take a hundred or show.” Epione burbled happily, and smacked her lips. “Yush. Defin’ly. Frensh Bordeaux.” And then she burped.

Liam stared up at her for a few moments longer, and then as the warmth of the wine he had already drank bubbled through him, he collapsed back onto the ground with a roar of laughter.

 

((**The travel to the first table was actually fairly short – but unfortunately once THERE she managed to knock the table over and into the mud, much to the dismay of the others waiting their turn behind her.))

Kyn’s mind emptied of any cohesive though as he stared up at Xanthe – his mouth opened and closed several times, but any words he tried to force out simply stuck in his throat. He simply stared, eyes wide and unblinking, for several very long moments before he finally began to register the many eyes that were staring right back at HIM. At the realization, he flushed hotly with embarrassment, ducking his head to break eye-contact.

He tried to stand, and managed to get his front feet to work a’rights, but as he leveraged himself up his back legs wouldn’t quite come untangled. Kyn gave them a tug, once, twice – three times, the final yank containing so much force that, while his legs did indeed become untangled, they flew apart with such momentum that he found himself toppling again – and did. Landing in a splayed heap, again, at Xanthe’s feet.

… he kept his eyes closed, hoping beyond hope that perhaps if he just sat still for a FEW moments longer, that his heroine would either forget he was there (or think him dead – as he very much wished to be at this moment), or perhaps a magical sinkhole would appear and swallow him into the ground whole. He wished VERY HARD.

Pasiphae made it over to the small knot of individuals just in time to see Kyn fall over for the second time. A laugh threatened to work it’s way up her throat, but she managed to channel it into a rather wheezy cough … … she hoped he didn’t notice the similarity.

“Having a bit of trouble there again, little one?” ‘Phae quipped, a smile tugging at the edges of her voice. “I don’t suppose you snuck a few of Epione’s apples, did you? You’re a bit young for that sort of thing, I think … ” she said, leaning down to nibble, fondly, at the scrubby mane between his ears.

*~*~*~

Deep in the forest Tiponi stretched out her long legs and settled herself beside her small campfire. She had been roaming this strange forest for days. Long enough that she had lost track of time, but then again time had never meant much to her. For all the similarities in the world around her there were many differences too.

If only she could remember how she came to be here. She remembered standing on a mountainside looking out over a valley contemplating venturing into the town below for a meal she had not caught/gathered herself and cooked. And maybe a bed, but truth be told she wasn’t really comfortable with four walls around her. She liked being able to hear the approach of others without walls to muffle their approach. She had started down the hill when she tripped over something which in itself was strange. Survival often depended upon being sure-footed especially in the wilds where she tended to stay. Anyway, when she stood she looked across the valley only it wasn’t the same valley. The town was gone, the hillside less steep, the clearing below nearer and smaller with a small pond at one end, and some bear-like creature was rooting around in the meadow. Now as she leaned against a handy log and stared up at the stars that looked the same as the ones she had always had above her, she wondered over it all.

*

Back at the celebration with the fire burning down, Foehn Miri settled in standing hip-shot next to Acheflow where the young kore had collapsed in youthful exhaustion. Contentment settled around her as she began to doze.

Luminista again found herself gazing off into the distance. She was catching herself doing so more and more in the past days. She shifted restlessly then caught herself. Glancing around self-consciously hoping no one had noticed either her near nervousness or her wondering gaze. So far it seemed she had been successful for Foehn Miri hadn’t noticed. At least she hadn’t said anything if she had. Luminista worried and wondered over what was the matter with her. Why was her gaze always drawn these days to the distance? Why did that distance pull at her more and more?

In irritation with herself she stamped her foot as though to dislodge a pesky fly. Only when she heard the sound did she register what the action gave away. Again she cast a guilty look around and tried to settle herself for some sleep.

*

Trinity caught Liam’s gesture and nodded softly, a smile crossing her lips. She brought up her flute, and began a new song. Aurellie continued to hum softly in the background.

Now over in Kilarney, many years ago

Me mother sang this song to me in tones so sweet and low.

T’was just a simple ditty, in her good ol’ Irish ways

an’ I’d give the world if I could hear her sing this song again…

 

As the sound of the laughter caught her ears, Trinity looked around to find Liam on the ground, and when she saw the cause she couldn’t help but giggle herself. She stood there a moment before walking over to Liam, holding out an (albeit small) towel, one that had been in her satchel, packed away on her first trip which now seemed like ages ago.

“Kin I offer ye a towel? Ye look a li’l wet,” she said and kneeled beside him.

*

Bryn stood quiet with the sticky bun extended toward Xanthe’s arrival. Although, with a twist of her lips and a knit of her brow she noticed just how distracted the Kore was. Still she held herself stalwart and friendly, what is until she noticed the bounding Koro herself. She’d only manage to get out a strangled shout of “Watch out!” and an almost flailing gesture with the hand that held the honey bun.

Grimacing at the end result of the Koro on the floor. A small flutter of alarm streaked through her, uneasy with it; she shifted from one furry booted foot to another in a small shuffle. Finally, when she’d been about to launch off in their direction… she felt a gentle nudge at her side.

Platinum brows lifted as she turned, but found that Thora stood there watching her expectantly. Pale lips pulled into a light smile as she offered the sticky treat back to the gray mare.

While the wintry-haired Bryn moved with swift purpose and a flourish of cloak, to aide the Koro in what way she could, her star-mottled Thora caught the nod that Alcyone had made in their direction. She perked, nodding a small greeting with slightly widened blue eyes that glanced back to where Bryn had gone. Hopeful that Alcyone would catch her meaning, she nodded again. Thora wanted badly for Bryn to meet new people, no matter her reluctance, and another companion would be ideal.

Even if the evening was coming to a close, Thora felt that if Alcyone had understood, then the idea had been planted and things would work themselves out. Try as she might, she didn’t want to worry over what the guardians had been called away for, either… but the thought was a nagging one.

Bryn had managed to make it to the side of the kore, with koro on the floor before her, in time to see him attempt his recovery, only to flounder a bit before falling again. She wondered, for a moment, how one such as her could aide a baby unicorn in standing and getting their feet right. Of course, there was always lifting them up outright, and while it was a feat that would possibly be fun to watch and she did not want to believe it one she couldn’t manage. But she did feel with the way he was laying there, without a second attempt, that he was either hurt or humiliated. She hadn’t seen him hit his head on anything, so she was betting it was the ladder.

She opened her mouth to say something comforting, but second guessed herself, and remained silent… leaving her lips parted just a tad and a look of concern mixed with a little frustration for herself. She turned pages through her mind, trying to find something a warrior could comfort with and found something. Well, not perfect, perhaps, but decent enough. It was something her father had told her, when she was younger.

“The greatest glory a hero has is not with never falling; but rising every time they fall.” As she said them, her voice was confident, even if it didn’t fit… hopefully it would give him the inspiration it had given her.

Xanthe stared at the Koros blankly another moment, before a sound gurgled in her throat. It started way at the back and worked its way forward, and by the time it reached her lips she was laughing in in earnest. But not cruel laughter at Kyn’s unfortunate antics – rather, the sweet, joyful kind that came so easily to her, finding delight in the small things and relishing in the moment. For the first time that evening she felt truly gleeful and it was a bit again before she could speak, burying her face against Phae as she leaned over the nuzzled the fallen koros. Bryn’s words added to mood with strength and propose, and at last she managed to catch her breath. “Mark that, little Koros, and up with you,” she nudged him too. “There’s too much night left to spend it brooding on the ground!”

She lifted her head for another swallow of fresh night air and saw to the east Kylindreal rose to join her sister in the sky. The clearing illuminated silver with double moons, aloft in the heavens and surround by a harmony of stars, each dancing with laughter. The night, she thought with happy sigh, was glorious….

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

A week’s time passed, and still there had been no word.

From his perch atop the citadel, the night above was huge and heartless, taunting with a thousand sharp and star-lit eyes. “Nary a whisper,” he said.

In the shadows the two forms stood motionless, piously yielding, heads bowed in solidarity while he spoke. His gaze moved from one to the other, not that he expected them to answer, not that either of them would. Disgust brimmed but he swallowed it down, for they weren’t the cause. That had happened a week ago, and since that time he had been scrying, seeking, prying deep into the sprawling night, yet each query he’d flung to the wind had come back unrequited, each yearning probe had vested unknown. Across a thousand sharp and callous stars his mind and flown, but each had answered in same. Silence.

And he knew that was impossible.

It had lasted only a moment, but in that breath the universe changed.

A heartbeat long and it had taken everything known about the world and stripped it bare, lost and mewling like a blind whelp, and dawn was cold. That it had happened now, like this…. he closed his eyes. The moment bloomed again and again across his memory and he relived it each time with growing exigency.

It was magic – old magic, magic both eloquent and omnipotent, of the same quality that spilled forth when the universe first hatched; yet, it was magic sprung from some unnamed source. The ripple had echoed through the astral tides and for anyone intuned it shone a brilliant beacon through grey fabric of the world. Then it had faded, gone as quickly as it had come and leaving no a trace. That in itself seemed impossible, but again his scouts had returned empty-handed. As he stood before them now, he grew restless, his gold eyes glinted like two waning moons.

“Go,” he told them, his voice sinuous and fierce. “Enough time has wasted, enough energies scattered and efforts lost; ye of magic’s blood born yet wallow in ignorance… I shall not be disappointed again. Seek it, find it, and bring it home…”

At his words the figures stooped and bowed, melting into the night as silent and shadows. When they were gone he turned, casting his gaze upwards and brunt upon the twinning moons. There was power in a night like this, and it was written all across sky, yet every star in turn jeered down and mocked him, their eternal laughter ringing through his ears. Soon enough, he baited them, soon enough. He had been waiting for what seemed eons but would not rush to haste and have it lost for folly now. Nay, he bid his time, and it would come.

And he had all the time in the universe…

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