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Old Tue, 3rd Mar '09, 10:04pm   #1
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"May the gods be with you," Axel said to Aidan as the old fisherman oared away from the shore. Aidan looked at him with surprise, as the Carhatha hardly ever said anything to him other than commands for him to work. He didn't know what to reply, so merely nodded his head before turing towards the forest just over the dunes.

Aidan hiked for a good pace through the forest, occasionally seeing huts of farmers or herders. He didn't bother to ask them if they knew anything about the whereabouts of a unicorn staff or red bearded Norseman.

When the sun was high he took a meal of dried fish and apples, then he set back out. The path he had been following eventually turned into a track, complete with wagon ruts in it. It started to get hilly and the trees got larger. Coming over a ridge he first heard a commotion and then saw what was causing it. A few wagons were at the bottom of the hill. In the fading light he saw many figures engaged in a melee around them, screaming and yelling.

He strung his bow and loosened a few arrows, knocking one as he slipped from tree to tree to get a closer view of what was going on.
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Old Tue, 3rd Mar '09, 11:18pm   #2
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Vidar's legs were strong and sturdy. His trail was made by men of war, men of war he would kill. The trees were tall and dark leaved, and the underbrush was scarce. The sun shone like daggers through the canopy above, stabbing his eyes. His cloak was warm, and sweat trickled down his neck. Midday was near, and hunger now dimmed his rage. Turning off the trail he made a small meal of smoked venison and a Norse traveling bread called Vuir. The crumbs fell into his dark brown beard, and his red scarf. Vidar suddenly became aware of a chill in the wind, the wind had turned, there would be rain that night. He stood up, and shouldered his pack and shield. His back was bowed for a moment, he resembled a bent old man with many troubles, but his majesty returned and he stood proud and straight. The fleeting moment of grief and pain was passed. He returned to the trail.
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Old Wed, 4th Mar '09, 2:16pm   #3
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A flung axe slammed into the wooden wagon, just a few steps from where Mora stood, and she stumbled back, avoiding the worst of the fray that raged around her.

She regretted ever stepping on this wagon road. For days they had traveled through the forest and all was well, but Vaed insisted they travel by road and with a caravan. "For safety" - she nearly snarled at the memory.

Vaed was dead now, lying by her feet, and leaving her all alone in a fight that had nothing to do with her. She couldn't leave his body with no death rites performed, so she stayed by it, her dagger drawn. Scarlet wolves on the cape grimaced at the combatants.

The priestess took another step back, and the round wooden box on her hip hit the wagon side. It was empty, well padded with cloth and meant to receive a steel mirror, a symbol of Dabog's favour, from a chieftain who had changed his village's allegiance. One of many such rejections that the Howling Dusk had received in the past years, though the mirrors were not relinquished gladly. In time, they had become symbols of rule.

Mora could hear the soft clicking of a steel mirror in the false bottom of the box. No, not empty after all. A constant reminder of her duty.

"Bring back Ogen's mirror, or, if he won't give it to you, deliver this one to his brother, or to Ravan or Svarid, their uncle." - her superior had said, as she left the Nuaved lands all those weeks ago.
"A war, then?" - she asked and got a nod in return. There cannot be two symbols of rule in the same tribe and there was bad blood in Ogen's bloodline - enough of it to shame even a Nuaved.

Mora glanced at Vaed's body, then at the men fighting, all around her. Trapped.

The axe had made a crack in the wagon and some wheat was spilling out, in a thin streak, falling on the soil like a golden rain.
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Old Wed, 4th Mar '09, 10:34pm   #4
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As Aidan got closer to the melee, he could make out more details of the caravaners being attacked, but the attackers remained cloaked in shadow, even when light from a burning wagon should have illuminated them. The caravaners were a mixed lot, Celtic, Slavs, even a Norse or two.

Aidan had made up his mind to slip away into the dark and stay out of this fight involving people he did not know and who most likely new nothing of the staff he searched for, but when a shadow started sneaking up on a Slaw woman taking cover next to a wagon, he took five quick steps forward and ducked down next to a pile of spilled barrels. When the shadow raised a spear to plunge into the woman's back, he put an arrow into its lower back, then drew sword and dagger, crossed the short distance to the shrieking shadow, and put a hole in each of its lungs.

It's screams drew the attention of its fellows, and soon Aidan was facing five of them, coming at him and the woman next to the wagon. He hoped she would at least be able to keep his left flank secure as he crouched into a defensive stance.
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Old Thu, 5th Mar '09, 12:12am   #5
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Vidar's great shoulders sagged, and his limbs thudded heavily, his boots thrashing the ground below. His spear dragged along the dirt, a snaking trail running beside his prints. His hair was damp with sweat, and his helmet was removed. He sword bounced against his legs, and his axe prodded his side. All discomforts that was required to kill.

The trail was long, he was weary, but rage was stronger. He plodded on, countless miles lay behind him, ever passing by.

The wind was cool from the East, smoke was in the breeze. Vidar raised his dark eyes, under a heavy brow towards the sky. More smoke clung to the heavens, reaching for the sun. A low growl rumbled from Vidar's large mouth, blood would be shed.

Vidar was a man of Norse, a line of blacksmiths, and huge height. Large, and broad he turned towards the smoke. It's smell clung to his beard, and his nostrils flared. Red were his eyes, a battle ready giant of the North. The sound of battle reached his ears, weariness passed like sunset, and anger flowed through his veins. Soon battle reached his eyes, cautious to enter a fight in which he knew not the fighters, but shadows were there. Slaying and passing, men of death, he knew these men. A bellow that trembled the wind, and swayed the trees erupted from the giant man, he shook his spear and pounded his shield. His helm flashed, it's iron horns gleamed, a demon erupted amongst them.

His spear was flung, destroying the victim. His sword was drawn, broad and thick it came down like a club, crushing flesh, bone and life. His shield: a wall of wood that lashed out, bearing down enemies, swatting them away as flies. His boots crumpled life beneath him, and shadows crumpled like men. Shadows flew like men, shadows screamed like men, they also died like men. Blood had been spilt that day.
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Old Thu, 5th Mar '09, 11:26am   #6
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The scream of the shadow made Mora turn around, startled, just in time to see the young man finish it off.

She wished to thank her rescuer, but there was no time - the other shade-men attacked, and Mora begun chanting, calling upon the Wolf Shepherd.

The shadow closest to her was bleeding - barely a graze, but enough for what she had in mind - she latched her gifts on its blood, and sent blackened cords of magic into it, seeking to kill. It fell on the ground, screaming.

The Underworld of her deity blossomed around her, a looming presence that made the second shade recoil and fall back, disengaging. Mora moved closer to the young Celt. She held his flank secure, under the veil of the Wolf Shepherd's realm. It would keep the shades away, for a moment at least, and do no harm to her allies.

The shades on his right had attacked the Celt, and their blades blazed back and forth, breaking the shadows and retreating into them.
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Old Thu, 5th Mar '09, 4:00pm   #7
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New screaming drew Aidan's attention away for a second, and he saw a different darkness around the woman. It unnerved him at first, but then he realized it was similar, if not the same, as the aura surrounding the Ones Not Spoken Of who sometimes visited the Forest Lord's court in his dream world. They weren't to be trifled with, but this power was not seeking him out.

His instincts parried a spear thrust and he sidestepped an axe blow. This brought his full attention back to the people in front of him trying to kill him. Then his attackers' attention was distracted, as a huge Norse rammed into two of them, knocking them to the ground, simultaneously decapitating a third. Aidan took advantage of the remaining two's confusion with double thrusts to their throats. The dark cloud around the woman reached out, even blacker than the shadow men.

From the other side of the wagons a haunting keening arose. Total blackness took over the night for a long moment. When the firelight returned, the bodies of the shadow men were gone, leaving only darkened stains on the ground where they had lain. Whimpers and cries of a few survivors from the caravan could be heard.

Aidan felt a trickle of blood run down his face, then the sting of a slice close to his eye that he had not noticed in the fight. He sheathed his dagger, keeping his sword ready, and took a patch of moss out of a belt pouch, using it to staunch his bleeding.

He nodded at the two people he had just fought with, "Good work."
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Old Fri, 6th Mar '09, 1:44am   #8
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Vidar heeded not the Celt, bearing the collar of a slave, nor the Slav witch. He grabbed the nearest fallen shadow, and removed it's hood. So it was a man, brown skin, almond eyes, small nose and whispy mustaches. Nothing evil nor unnatural, only men, men of darkness who melted like shadows, but men nonetheless. He removed his spear from the shattered corpse of a man, and began to understand the things around him. Men lay dead, dying or unconscious everywhere, one would have to step cautiously if one were to fear trodding on the dead. Vidar searched for any surviving dark man, where were the others, this was merely a war band, this was not the army he hunted. But these men fought until death, would not bear capture. He could find none left alive, except one who killed himself when he regained consciousness. Vidar cursed every curse that was known to the Norse, and crumpled to a heap. He leaned against a large oak, and felt wearied. He felt drained of his self sustaining rage, now only pain was left.
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Old Fri, 6th Mar '09, 11:18am   #9
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Mora let the veil of Underworld slip away, and sheathed her useless dagger.

"Fair bladecraft is not difficult to follow." - she smiled a sad smile in answer to the Celt, glancing briefly at the torque on his neck. It meant nothing to her.

"Thank you for your aid. I am Mora." - she knelt by the body of her dead companion, arranged his limbs and begun cleaning the mud from his face and hair, preparing the body for the death rites. Throughout it all, she listened attentively, to reply should the Celt speak again.

The smell of burnt grain filled the air and made her think of bread offerings made to the dead, back in her homeland. There were many to partake of such offerings tonight, around the wagons. Vaed would not journey alone.

From the dead, Mora's eyes wandered back to the living and the giant Norse who had fought with such admirable fury. The Norse had rummaged through the battlefield and was sitting alone, some distance away. The bloodlust must have worn off. That one had come to the field already soaked in the frenzy of the slaughter, and fought till there was no more death to be dealt - while such acts pleased the Wolf Shepherd, Mora decided to leave the man alone to his mood - at least until she had finished the rites.
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Old Fri, 6th Mar '09, 3:50pm   #10
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"You're welcome. I am Aidan." The woman went about preparing a dead man. He left her to her work and went to the Norse, sheathing his sword, but leaving it loose. He stood a little bit to the front and left of the Norse.

"Norse man, I would speak with you, then I will leave you alone. I search a Norse warrior, about your size, who has a red beard and braids it in three strands. Do you know of such a man, or have you heard of him?"
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Old Fri, 6th Mar '09, 9:55pm   #11
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Vidar looked up from beneath his sorrowful brow, he saw the Celt who bore the collar of a slave. He looked at him long and hard, he seemed confident, respectful, a man of stature. Vidar liked him immediately, but the loosened sword at the man's side cautioned him.

"Aye, Celt, I do know of a man with three braids, there is no love between us." His voice rumbled like the mountains tall, and deep as the oceans wide. "But still he is Norse, from my land. Giving his name to a Celt would still feel wrong in my heart. What be your intent if ye' be finding him?"

Vidar knew the man, for it could be no other than UlmÓ. A fierce raider and a scoundrel. He braided his fierce red beard, and would not be seen without his vanity. Vidar knew the Celt sought revenge, for what other reason would he talk to him. His search for vengeance was probably much like his own, and it grieved him that there were many like him, searching vengeance. Killing in the name of revenge, he suddenly felt petty and lonely. A great sigh rushed from his lungs, and his dark face softened and lines of care and worry eased from his skin.

"His name is UlmÓ, the one you seek. He is marauder along the coast to the East, he must have done you some hurt to search him alone. I tell you this in hope for information in return." He paused, the image of his wife's remains melted into their stone floor screamed into his mind. He grunted, and shook his shaggy large head. He looked back at the Celt, his sad sea-grey eyes were hard and cold. "These... these men, black clad men. What do you know of them? Anything. Where they come from, from which direction did they attack?"
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Old Sat, 7th Mar '09, 10:31am   #12
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"Another comes to you, Herder of Wolves." - Mora recited, softly and slowly - "I bid thee welcome Vaed, sword taught and sword stricken. Let him pass your gates and serve you, or may thunder smite you, Proud One." - she finished the rite and rose to her feet.

From there, she wandered around, willing to mend wounds and escort the dead. Most surviving caravaners avoided her, one even drew his knife at her when she approached, but a few welcomed her step and she did her best for them.

So she came upon an aging Celt man with a broken lance stuck in his belly, that cursed and damned with all his waning breath. No healer could aid him and he knew it.

"Plague on Bevan Daray Donagh for this!... Curse on his blood! Crows devour him! Rot on Radav the Slav, hounds feast on his lungs!... On all their treacherous kind... curses!" - the man raved, sprouting insults and damnations, resentful, hateful, spiting all, indifferent to pain and approaching death.

"Pass me, witch, I've no words for you." - he mumbled at Mora, locking his feverish gaze on her, then cursed anew, in broken gasps.

The priestess left him be and approached Aidan and the Norse, with the thoughts of the cursing man still on her mind. Should a hound-soul be needed, she knew where to look for one.
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Old Sun, 8th Mar '09, 1:10am   #13
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"I wouldn't mind paying this UlmÓ back for this," Aidan told the Norse, pointing at the not year scarred over slice across his face, "but that is not the main reason I seek him. His group took something sacred to my master's tribe, and I have been bound to seek it out and return it."

"As to the black clad men, I can not help you. I have not yet slept a night on these shores, and came upon the fray when battle was already joined. Perhaps the woman here knows of where they came."
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Old Sun, 8th Mar '09, 8:33pm   #14
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Mora listened to the Celt speak, unsure if she wanted to get involved in the hunts of others. However, she had owed the man her life and whatever else she may be, Mora was not ungrateful.
Ogen's mirror would have to wait.

"I've joined this caravan a night ago, Aidan, and do not know who attacked it, nor why. However, should you wish to track the black clad men, I might give you a way." - Mora's eyes wandered back to the dying Celt cursing all gods and men. Death loomed over him - it would not be long now.

Her dark eyes returned to gaze at the giant, unsure if he believed her.

"Hatred is a powerful bond for a soul, master Norse, and not all black hounds are mere dogs. Stay here till the moon rises, and I'll give you a trail to follow, Wolf Lord willing."
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Old Mon, 9th Mar '09, 10:54pm   #15
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Vidar was a Norse, the Norse fought with steel and swords, and cursed magic. Vidar though was not a typical Norse, he had found magic useful in many ways, though he wasn't gifted. He looked back at the dying Celt, and wondered what the witch would do to him. Would it be painful, would he never be able to join his forefathers in Valhalla? He pondered a moment, then turned his large helmed head to the woman. His gray eyes of rolling waves and storms held her gaze hard.

"You seem eager to help, you are a Slav, and a woman at that. Should you not fear a raider of the North?" His voice was quiet and soft, but yet deep and powerful. "I am hesitant to follow someone who should fear me, instead of come to my sitting and offer help. Your request gladdens me like a south wind, yet uneasiness filled my heart when you spoke your words."
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Old Tue, 10th Mar '09, 1:47am   #16
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Aidan stood quietly by and pondered the Norse man's words for awhile. The long hike and the after effects of battle seemed to catch up with him, for his attention drifted off for a moment or two. A sudden shock delivered from his collar brought his attention back, along with the cries of the dying man.

"Water, will someone get me some water!" the man was calling out with his last strength. Had he wanted to, Aidan could not resist the compulsion to obey this man's command. Was he a Carhatha? He approached the man, taking out his water skin.

Yes, it was Finnagin, the trader, who hadn't been back to Manx in over a decade. Aidan helped him drink a little water. The man suddenly recognized Aidan.

"Aidan? The slave? Is that you? Why aren't you in the village? What about..." Water drooled out of his mouth and his eyes rolled up into his head. Then came the final death rattle, "eeeehhrrgh."

Aidan stood up and recorked his water skin. "I hope my last words will be better chosen than those," he said.
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Old Wed, 11th Mar '09, 1:02pm   #17
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An amused, tired smile crosses Mora's lips and she returns Vidar's gaze, unperturbed.
"Fear you, Norse? No, that I do not. Why should I? You are a man, like any other, and bleed and die like all do, Norse or Slav, warriors or women. I've seen men in blood-rage like yours. Harm only comes to those stupid enough to stand in the way of the weapon blows."
She sits down near the Norse, wrapping herself in the soft folds of her cloak.
"If you prove hostile, I'll defend myself. Not before."

Mora fishes through a leather bag and takes out some food - bread, cheese and a few honey cakes, wrapped in cloth. She spreads it on the grass before the Norse and herself.

"Master Celt," - she calls out to Aidan, though does not shout - "come dine with us. This day is spent."
The remaining caravaners are burning the dead and clearing out the battlefield - there is little left to be done.

As she offers a honey cake to the Norse, Mora glances at the sky:

"If we are to follow the soul-hound, then we should pay heed - once the moon rises, a black dog will appear there" *points to where the speared Celt lies, now dead* "It will dart on the trail of those that killed the man and has but this one night to hunt them, and we to follow it. If we lose it, we won't find it again."

With those words, she rests against the tree, waiting for the moon to rise.
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Old Wed, 11th Mar '09, 10:48pm   #18
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Vidar smiled as the woman sat beside him, but was not relieved.

"I care not, woman, be you afraid of nothing, but tell me why I should be the same?" He did not take the food offered, this woman was too strange for his liking. "Why are you offering me help, the help of your hounds. If it is a favor you ask, my path is already set and I will not stray."

He felt uneasy around the witch and the Celt, he did not want companions, but by the sound of her voice, she did.
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Old Thu, 12th Mar '09, 12:54pm   #19
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"The hound is not mine, Norse, and I need no favours of you. It was an offer fairly given, and given out of duty - for nothing quenches grief like foe-blood and foe-blood is sweet to my tribe. Whether you accept or refuse, it changes nothing for me. I've done my duty in offering." *she breaks the honey cake and eats some serenely, not offended by the refusal*

"I too have a path, but mine can stray freely, now that the dead have had their due." *her eyes wander to the pyre and back* "If I linger to offer aid to that Celt there, as fair payment for his own aid given, or to track a trail of a soul-hound, I'm within my right."

For a moment, Mora sounds like she is convincing herself, not the Norse. The weight of the steel mirror seems to have grown somewhat.
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Old Thu, 12th Mar '09, 8:00pm   #20
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"This thing you speak of sounds interesting," Aidan told the woman. "Let us make the necessary preparations."
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Old Thu, 12th Mar '09, 11:52pm   #21
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"Hold Celt," he raised his large hands, blood ringed his nail beds. "You seek to kill my clansmen, which I care not, but still it makes me uneasy. And you woman, you are strange and it alarms me. But if these "hounds" can find my quarry I would except, and since you ask no favor at the moment, none shall you ask later on." Vidar realized he had excepted them as companions, and he sighed. Vidar's mission was suicide, there was no need of any other death than him and his enemies.

"So be it, but when I find these men, I will go on alone. You, Celt, your quarry is a red bearded Norse, I doubt he is where we're going."
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Old Fri, 13th Mar '09, 12:47pm   #22
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Strange? Mora had been called far worse - this rather amused her.
She closed her eyes and fell silent, listening to the conversation, until the moon appeared over the forest, a dusty lump of silver.

With it, came the hound.

Huge, black and stepping softly, it roamed through the shadows, in utter silence. Once it reached the spot the Celt had died on, the beast stopped.
A quiet snarl escaped its throat, low and ominous. It lifted its head and sniffed the air, then leaped forward, going for the forest - a dark shadow against the grass.

Mora watched, holding her breath.

"There, do you see it?" - she whispered to her companions, almost proudly.
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Old Sat, 14th Mar '09, 8:50pm   #23
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"Yes, but we'll lose it soon if we don't hurry," Aidan said, already running. Soon he was in the forest, glimpsing the hound's feet sometimes but for the most part following its sound crashing through the undergrowth. The track zigged and zagged, sometimes along a game path, but more often through dense clumps of trees. They went up over a midsized mound and down through a creek. He came up out of it and almost stumbled upon the hound, sniffling around some rocks. It started to go on the chase again, but stopped a few feet later and came back to the rocks again, sniffing even more intently.

"I'll wager you two pails of maiden milk he can't find where they've gone off to," a small and familiar voice said into his ear."

Aidan turned and saw Svark, an acquaintance of his that he sometimes met in his dream world, flitting next to his head. He was about the size of a sparrow, with lace wings sprouting out of his back. This was strange, because when he usually met Svark, Svark was almost as big as he was.

"Svark! What are you doing here? And why are you so small?" Aidan asked as the hound continued sniffing with growing frustration.

"No, no, no, my dear Aidan lad." Svark answered, flying above Aidan's head to get a better view of the hound. "Your question should be what are YOU doing HERE? And you must have come in through a different Gate than usual, to be your own size, and to be sure to have made it this far in with all that iron you've got about yourself. Didn't the Watchers stop you?"

In all his time in his dream world, Aidan had never heard of the Watchers. He was going to ask Svark about them when noise of someone coming came from the path Aidan and the hound had come through. Aidan went to draw his sword, but it was too hot to hold.
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Old Mon, 16th Mar '09, 2:20am   #24
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The Celt was quick on his feet and Mora followed with difficulty, unused to running around blindly in the dark. She stumbled once and fell, stringing a line of rather unlady like curses as she got up again. Luckily, moon favoured their hunt and by keeping her eyes on Aidan far up front, she managed to follow, if barely.

So focused was she not to fall behind, that she saw nothing but the Celt's shadowy figure leading and never noticed when the woodland path shifted slightly, changing to one more beautiful and wild, nor when the gates of Fairyland closed behind her, leaving her in a world similar, yet different then the one she knew.
Mora knew nothing of this secluded realm of Celtic fae neighbours and literally wouldn't know it even if she tripped and fell right into it.

If the Norse was in front of her or behind, she was not sure, but the giant had a mighty stride and must have overtaken her in the chase.

She stopped, catching her breath, for Aidan had stopped as well, ahead. Her hand brushed against the box holding the steel mirror and she frowned, for the wood was warm, almost alive. She turned and looked back, down the path.
The sight puzzled her - she couldn't remember passing that old, gnarled tree with silver leaves, nor that field of white star shaped flowers... Yet, it was dark, she could have simply not seen it, and for some reason, Aidan had stopped in his hunt.

Mora moved that way, cutting across a soft, green meadow.

Then she saw the hound sniffing, and something small, a bird? flying around Aidan's shoulders. She sensed magic, wild, powerful and very, very, different from her own.

Mora quickened her step.
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Old Mon, 16th Mar '09, 8:04pm   #25
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Vidar was surprisingly graceful for his girth, as he ran through the underbrush. His shield bounced against his back with each step and his sword and axe slapped his thighs.

Vidar knew nothing of faeries and their realm. He did notice the changing landscape, but nature was always beautiful. He followed the sounds of the cursing woman, and the racing Celt. His strides were long and few, as he overtook the woman, but he was still unsure if he believed in this chase. He crashed through the boughs of an evergreen into a clearing. The Celt and the hound were there, and Vidar was about to ask "Where the hell are they?" when Aidan drew his sword.

Vidar's sword sprung to his hand, and he crouched as he stared into the darkness.
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