By Michele Elaine Wilson © 2006

The fierce storm hammered on the windows like a drum. For a change most of the family was in residence at the Rainbow Palace. Brendan was lying on a couch close to the fire. His mother Queen Niri was sitting with his head on her lap and she was softly stroking his cheek. The deep gouges that marred his handsome face grew less prominent with each stroke. Heads turned as the door opened and Sean came in with his maternal grandfather, King Brendan. Queen Niri was the daughter of the elder Brendan and the mother of the younger.

"Father it is good to see you back and you too, son," the Queen said.

"I'm glad to be back," King Brendan said.

"How did you find traveling with my big brother?" Brendan asked.

"An interesting experience I must say," the King replied with a chuckle.

King Brendan came close to the fire and sat in the chair next to his daughter. Even in traveling clothes he retained the regal look that marked him as royalty. He was tall and slender with silver hair and piercing blue eyes. "How are you doing grandson?" he asked his namesake.

"Healing," Brendan replied softly.

"Not nearly as fast as I would like," Queen Niri snapped.

"I'm much better then I was," Brendan told his mother.

"Don't fret so Niri," the King said, "your son will be fine."

The White Mage came into the room. He was a tall man with white hair. Like his father-in-law before him, he had spent many of his years outside of the Mystic Realm so he had aged and he and his father-in-law now looked similar in age. "Good evening everyone," he said. He gave a slight bow towards the King. "I hope my eldest behaved properly for you."

"Ah come on you guys ye act like I'm a hot headed red head or something," Sean said with a mock scowl.

"You are," came a chorus of voices. Sean just laughed.

"Well now that we have that straightened out," said the White Mage with a smile, "you are also a bard so make yourself useful, as well as ornamental, and tell us a story. This storm is making the children nervous."

The White Mage sat down and smiled as his youngest child, Bronwyn, climbed onto his lap. She spent most of her time in the Mystic Forest with her mother and disliked the storms that came with the world of time.

"I get to sit on Grandfather King's lap," Crystal said. The little blue eyed blonde tyke was Sean's adopted daughter. King Brendan laughed as he picked the child up and sat her on his lap.

Kira's youngest, Janos, declared that he got to sit on Uncle Sean's lap.

"Okay now if we have the laps sorted out and everyone is comfortable then this be a story about the two sides to power," Sean began.

It is a conceit of men to think that all intelligent beings took the humanoid form. In a far off land called Cataract there lived a race of beings who looked like a cross between a humanoid and the animal we call a cat. They were, for the most part, bipedal although they would occasionally get down on all fours, especially when they were preparing to leap or when running. Like our cats they were covered with thick fur pelts but they wore some clothes, more for practicality then anything else, since clothes allowed them to have weapons other then their claws available to use in a fight.

Cataract was divided into five prides and each was ruled by an alpha male. In many ways these prides were similar to the prides of an animal called a lion that you see on a planet named Earth. The ruler of each pride was the strongest male of the cats and he kept his rule by defeating other males who challenged him. Originally there was only one pride but when that pride became too large to handle a male was chosen who was equally strong as the leader at that time and the pride split in two. In the course of time those two prides had each split in two when the prides had again become too large. The fifth pride was the odd one out. That pride was formed out of a rebellion when a strong male objected to the way one of the prides was being run. This new leader had fought the pride's leader to a stand still and in order to prevent all out war the leaders of the other three prides forced a decision to let the challenger form his own pride. To keep the prides even in size those that chose to go with the challenger were joined by volunteers from the other three prides so that the fifth pride was of a similar size. 

The oldest pride was called Allend and was led by Malik. Malik was the oldest and wisest of the leaders. Second pride was called Bettand and was led by Norid, who was Malik's son. Third pride was Costa and its leader was Reign. Lewister ran the fourth pride Danulus and it was from this pride that the rebellion arose and produced the fifth pride Haugh run by Titus. There was a joint council made up of the pride leaders and their seconds as well as the head female from each pride.

Cataract was a difficult land to live in and the cats had several natural enemies. Fierce predators roamed the land. It was a place where survival of the fittest was very much the law of the land. The weather was harsh and the geography was even harsher. The weak rarely survived past early childhood. The planet’s livelihood consisted primarily of hunter and gatherer societies. There was little there in the way of natural resources to build a technology on and magic was not indigenous to the species on that planet.

It is not the habit of the Council of Magic Users to interfere in the running of another land unless that land showed signs of going over to the Dark One's side. The Council of Magic Users and the elfin Tuathan Council were the first line of defense against evil. The recent rebellion in Cataract had given the Council cause for concern. The lands to the east of Cataract had fallen under the sway of the Dark One and the Council needed to make sure that the prides of Cataract remained committed to keeping their lands free from the Dark One's influence. The forces of light were stretched thin trying to keep the Prince of Evil from trying to expand his power and the Council needed the help and cooperation of the inhabitants of many lands to keep their own countries clear of the Dark One’s domination.

The man and his brother had camped for the evening on a bluff over looking the pride lands. They had made their way up from the South to get to their destination. It was a longer route but it was the best way of avoiding the Dark One's agents. The two men were accompanied by a female blue-green dragon and a demon in humanoid form.

"Now tell me again my pretty lady," Cariben said with a grin to the dragon, "why was it I let you talk me into leaving my comfortable headquarters to accompany these two fighters of yours?"

"Because," Mei-Lin answered, "you were bored and wanted a change of scenery and you have always had a fondness for cats."

“Now just to be sure that we have things straight,” Cariben said, “you are sure that I won’t escape, why?”

Mei-Lin looked at the demon and said with a smile, “The boys will shish-kabob you with their swords and I’ll provide the flames to make sure you are extra crispy.”

Cariben just laughed.

"Of course there is also the pleasure you get," Brendan continued, "in aggravating the Dark One and continuing to keep Cataract on our side will really irk him."

The demon gave a hearty laugh, "Ah yes it is fun to have the ability to put a wrench in that one's plans. Besides this gives me a chance to see my favorite dragon."

"A dragon who can still outwit you every time," the man added.

"True," Cariben admitted with a sigh. "She is old Khigh's granddaughter after all.” The demon looked at the man with a smirk on his face,” It is worth the inconvenience of roughing it to see you have to dress up."

The man glared at the demon.

"He does have a point, bro," Brendan said. "You do manage to make yourself scarce on formal occasions."

"Yeah for a very good reason," the man said with a growl as he shoved his coronet back in place, "these things drive me nuts."

"Too much unruly hair," the dragon giggled.

The two men were princes in their home world and it had been decided before the trip started that their traveling attire should reflect their royal status. For Brendan this wasn't too much of a change because he spent more time with their mother, the Queen, at the elfin royal court then his brother did. The man was a bard and a traveler and spent more time doing surveillance jobs for their father, so he was more use to traveling clothes that hid his identity as royalty.

The demon Cariben at one time had quite a following among creatures drawn towards evil. After the rise of the Dark One he had retired with his ill gotten goods to a life of luxury. The dragon and the two elf princes had no delusions that Cariben was in this for the cause of the Source of Light. Cariben served one cause, and one cause only, himself.

The pretty dragon was named Mei-Lin and she was the favorite grandchild of the famous Master Khigh. He was one of the oldest of the dragons and was the closest thing the dragons had to a leader. While she was considered very young in dragon years, Mei-Lin was also considered to be the dragon most like her revered grandsire. The man and his brother had traveled before with her. She could be hot tempered and was fiercely opinionated but in the crunch she was an experienced fighter both physically and verbally. She had the mental agility of her revered grandfather. Mei-Lin gave a sigh and turned towards her elf companions.

“You know Brendan,” the dragon said, “sometimes I think it is a shame you were born an elf instead of a dragon. You and I would have made a formidable match.”

“Oh come on Lin,” the man said with a laugh, “you know you are considered beautiful by all dragon standards. Ye can’t tell me ye don’t have male dragons lusting after you.”

“It isn’t easy being me you know, Red,” Mei-Lin said with a sigh. “The intellectuals just want me for my mind. The rogues want me for my body. The ambitious want me because I’m Master Khigh’s granddaughter. I need someone who just wants all of me just because I’m me.”

“I understand Mei-Lin,” Brendan said with a gentle smile, “but you know the Council would never have let me permanently morph into a dragon.”

“Thank the Council for that,” Cariben said with a chuckle, “I shudder to think what an off- spring of you two would be like.”

“And just when did you start dating rogues?” the man asked with a frown.

“Well it was Grandfather’s idea,” Mei-Lin said. “He figured that I could get some valuable information from the rogues that his stuffy old dragons couldn’t get.”

“Stuffy?” Cariben asked with a wicked grin.

“If you had ever spent an evening listening to some of the old one’s philosophize you would understand,” Mei-Lin replied. “If it could be bottled I could corner the market on jewels selling it as an insomnia cure.”

As morning came the four made their way down towards the plain. The dragon checked her speed and flew directly above the three mounted males. The demon rode between the two elf princes since he figured in case of trouble they would be able to protect him. He had been among the prides many centuries ago when Malik’s great-great-great grandfather had been one of the leaders. He had tried to persuade the prides to come over to his side in his struggle against the growing power of the being now referred to as the Dark One. He had been unsuccessful mainly due to the influence of his traveling companions’ grandfather. He had a great deal of respect for the elfin King Brendan but he had not forgotten his frustration when every move he had made had been countered by the King. He had agreed to come with the King’s two grandsons mainly because they intrigued him. The older brother was a bard and he enjoyed listening to his tales. It was the King’s namesake who fascinated him however because he couldn’t figure him out. He knew Brendan was a fierce warrior and brilliant military strategist but he could sense there was much more to him then that. The demon enjoyed trying to figure out enigmas. The dragon was an added bonus because she amused him. From their first meeting he had liked the saucy dragon. He had been defeated by the girl’s grandfather Master Khigh but he didn’t hold that against her. In fact he kind of regretted that he wasn’t a dragon because she was a prize worth capturing.

## It looks like they have a greeting party, ## Mei-Lin said telepathically to the two elves.

## Thanks Mei-Lin, ## the man sent back. ## Have they seen you? ##

## I’ve made sure of that, ## the dragon chuckled.

## Great, why don’t you come on down and we will all come in on the ground together, ## the man said.

The dragon circled around and came in to land a short distance in front of the horses making sure she was far enough away to keep from startling them. She walked in front of the mounted men as they made their way towards the cats’ greeting party. When the expedition had been planned the White Mage had decided that his two sons would impress the pride leaders. Both men were warriors and the prides respected strength. In addition both had experience in negotiating with various species. The cats were in awe of the huge dragons and Mei-Lin was added to the group since she was a striking asset to her species. The only controversy had been sending the demon Cariben along. That had been heatedly debated and finally it was King Brendan who had convinced the Council that it would be an advantage to have the demon there. Cariben was capable of show off magic that could impress the cats and this would hopefully allow the elfin warriors to avoid doing real magic of their own. They wanted to keep that advantage in reserve in case of danger. King Brendan had also argued that Cariben would be remembered from the time of the rise of the Dark One and it would look impressive if the demon was shown to have been convinced to work for the side of the Source of Light.

The mounted party came at last to the representatives of the prides. The three males dismounted and the dragon gracefully reclined on the ground with her jeweled eyes sparkling in the sun.

“We bring greetings to the prides from the Council,” the man said to the waiting cats.

“Welcome to Cataract your highness,” Malik said with a bow. “We are honored by your presence. It has been many years since your kind have visited and we look forward to the renewed relations between our people.”

Malik looked over at the demon and for a moment a puzzled expression crossed his face. “If I am not mistaken you are the being known as Cariben,” he said to the demon.

“Yes I am,” Cariben said preening. “It has been a very long time since I have been here.”

“Cariben is working for us now, Malik,” Brendan said, “and you have our promise of his good behavior.”

Malik made a short bow towards Brendan, “As you wish your highness. If you say we have your promise of his good behavior then that is all the reassurance we need.”

“I am called Mei-Lin, daughter of Liang, granddaughter of Master Khigh,” the dragon said in a throaty purr.

“An impressive lineage my lady,” Malik said, “you are most welcome.”

Malik introduced the other four pride leaders and invited them to dine with them. The cats led their visitors towards a clearing where a feast had been set up. Malik fell into step with Cariben. Norid, Reign and Titus walked with the dragon who was doing a little judicious flirting. The man and his brother couldn’t help but notice that Lewister kept himself at a slight distance from the other four pride leaders.

“He is going to be trouble, big brother,” Brendan said to the man in a whisper.

“Dad says he is the most likely to defect,” the man whispered back.

The welcoming dinner took several hours and the visitors listened to the problems that the prides were facing. There had been battles along the northern borders of the pride lands. What was even more disturbing was the wanton destruction of some of the feed herds that the prides ate. Malik and some of the others believed that this was a deliberate attempt to try and starve the prides and force them into an alliance they didn’t want. Brendan promised the pride leaders that they would look into the situation and see if there was a way that the Council could help.

Late that night the man and Brendan sat close to the fire and talked. Cariben was engaged in a game of chess with Mei-Lin and both sides were cheating like crazy.

“I have to hand it to Grandfather, he knew what he was doing in insisting that we take Cariben with us,” the man said. “His displays of magic certainly have left the pride leaders a little on the leery side. It helps alliances if they are a little afraid of your powers.”

“I’m glad that we have Mei-Lin to distract Cariben,” Brendan replied. “It will make your and my job easier. The art of misdirection I believe.”

“I don’t fully understand what mother was saying about the stone circle though,” the man said. “I’m not sure who was supposed to have built it. I’m familiar with the ones back on the planet Earth but I didn’t think we had any migrations to this part of the universe.”

“Master Khigh has theorized,” Brendan answered, “that there was a group of wanderers that never made it back to answer the Tuathan Council’s call. He thinks they separated from one of the main groups in order to explore a phenomenon that was causing a disturbance and for some reason never made it back. Either they were wiped out or they were prevented from returning to the Mystic Lands.”

“What would they want with this backwater though?” the man asked.

“I don’t know,” Brendan answered. “As usual Master Khigh brings up questions and then refuses to answer them.”

“The story of our lives with the Ancients. Any theories little brother?” the man asked with a grin.

“No theories just a gut feeling that we will find an answer and it won’t be pretty,” Brendan replied.

“Why do you fawn over them?” Lewister demanded of Malik. “Their kind have no concern for us.”

“Sit down, Lewister,” Reign demanded with a growl. “They are elfin royalty and related to both the High Queen of the Elves and the White Mage. Between those two we can get the support and help we need to stop the border raids and the killing of our food.”

“Since when did we need to count on others to do our job?” Lewsiter hissed. “Are we no longer prides but just servants for the beautiful ones? What happened to our strength? This alliance has never done anything for us.”

“This alliance,” said Malik firmly, “has kept us alive for many generations. They have kept the man folk under control for us. You delude yourself if you think that we can go at it alone. The evil grows and only they know how to defeat this evil.”

“I am puzzled why they brought the demon, father,” Norid asked.

“According to the elder prince,” Malik replied, “they are using the demon to sniff out some strange evil. Because he has been here before he can tell them if something doesn’t smell right.”

“What doesn’t smell right is them you old fool,” Lewsiter growled. “I for one have no intention of allowing their kind to rule my pride.”

“They have no intention of ruling your pathetic little pride,” Titus snarled. “If you had bothered to listen to them tonight they are here to offer us assistance in securing our borders and in getting us the food we need to keep our people alive while we find and destroy the predators who are destroying our food herds.”

“I suppose you think they are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts,” Lewister sneered.

“No they are doing this so that they have one less place they need to fight the evil from,” Malik said. “They are not offering us charity. They need us strong enough to hold our borders secure and stop the encroaching spread of the Dark One.”

“There are others who offer us an alliance,” Lewister said, “why do you ignore those around us who can be of much more use to us?”

“We have always followed the White Mage and we always will,” Malik roared. “There will be no discussion of following anyone else.”

Lewsiter sat back with a sour expression on his face. He knew that no one else in the Council would support him.

It was very late when the man and Brendan silently made their way towards the standing stones. Cariben was safely asleep and Mei-Lin was on guard at their camp. They had waited until the prides had settled down for the night. They had politely declined the use of one of the pride caves and had made their camp far enough away to give them privacy. It was easy for them to slip past the cat guards who watched the perimeters. Their mother had given them the jewels of invisibility that cloaked them from all sight, sound and smell.

The standing stones were impressive. All of them were still standing upright in a circle that could be used to track the movement of the seasons using the stars as guides. Upon closer inspection the man and Brendan admired the workmanship. The stones were expertly made and were in perfect alignment for the star patterns in this part of the universe. The planet’s one moon would also come into conjunction with the stones placements as the solar year progressed.

“These stones may not be indigenous to this area,” the man said. “As far as I have seen this kind of rock doesn’t exist above ground and I haven’t seen any evidence of a quarry where these could have been dug up from.”

“Magic had to be used to cut these,” Brendan added. “There is no way they could have been chiseled this straight. These stones are so heavy that special equipment would have to have been used to place them and this planet has never had that kind of technology.”

“We know the ancients were able to do this type of work,” the man said, “the question is why would they want to do that here? I can see why they wanted the circles on Earth but why here? I’ve never heard of the Source having a conduit this far out. The three ancients certainly never had a presence here.”

“I’m not getting any sense that there is any sort of a conduit to the Source of Light here,” Brendan answered. “The dark One is making a presence here now so there may have been a time in history when he wanted something here. Maybe they needed a way to escape from his agents.”

“They could have just called on the Council,” the man said with a shake of his head. “This is almost an overkill.”

“It is a mystery, big brother,” Brendan said with an answering shake of his head.

As the two men talked they walked around the area that the stones enclosed. They could both feel the old magic that still permeated the ground. They extended their senses trying to see if there was a message that had been left by the ancients for someone to discover.

“Anything, bro?” the man asked.

“I’m getting faint sensations of hurry, fear, desperation,” Brendan said, “but no real answers. Whatever it was that caused them to build this isn’t making itself known.”

“If you want to probe deeper I’ll guard your back,” the man told his brother.

“Okay,” Brendan replied. 

The man took out his sword and stood facing towards the stones. Brendan sat on the ground and took out his life crystal. He held the pulsating crystal at eye level and slowed his breathing while concentrating on the flashing light. Slowly he let his consciousness drift towards the ground upon which he sat. He could see the stones as they stood now and as he concentrated he watched the seasons go back in time until he came to the point in time when the stones were new. He forced his will upon the scene and slowed down the vision. He watched as the stones suddenly disappeared. One moment they were there and the next moment they were gone. He replayed the moment over and over again to see if he could figure out what had happened. Finally he let go the vision and slowly shook the stiffness out of his body and rose to join his brother.

“This whole thing is weird,” Brendan said. “They made the stones from the molten lava in the depths of this planet and pulled them to the surface where they cooled rapidly and then they opened a gate and all went through it sealing the gate as they went.”

“Did you see any danger? What was the reason for their actions?” the man asked.

“I couldn’t see outside of the stones,” Brendan answered. “For some reason they have blocked the outside world from the visions.”

“Can you overcome the block?” the man asked.

“I can’t,” Brendan replied, “I’m not sure if anyone can. All of them poured their magic into this project. I can sense the fear but not what they were afraid of.”

“We better report this to the parents,” the man said with a sigh.

While the elfin princes were busy with the stone circle, a stealthy figure slipped out of the Danulus pride cave. Lewister had been very careful to make sure that their guard had not seen him. He knew this particular guard claimed to be his man but he didn’t trust him completely. In fact he trusted no one since Titus had come close to taking the leadership away from him. He continued his stealthy movement until he came to the hunting grounds and knew he was away from any prying eyes. Dropping to all fours he took off at a run towards the woodlands where he was to meet the agent.

Mei-Lin, blessed with the keen eyesight of dragon kind, saw the cat leave his lair. She woke the demon and told him to wait for the elves and let them know what was going on and warning the demon to stay put she silently took to the air and followed her prey. Lewister had run for quite a distance stopping only when he was in the safety of the trees. Slowly he got onto his back legs and made his way towards the center of the grove.

“You’re late,” the agent said quietly.

“The visitors over stayed their welcome,” Lewister snarled. “The old fool Malik then called a meeting that lasted too long. I got here as soon as I could.”

“Are you sure you weren’t followed?” the agent asked.

“Of course I wasn’t followed,” Lewister growled. “I am the top hunter of all the prides so I’ll tolerate no more of your insults.”

“Keep your fur on,” the agent said, “it is my job to make sure.”

“So what do you want now?” Lewister asked with bad grace.

“My Master grows impatient and wants to know when you are going to be able to give him what he asks for,” the agent said.

“I’ll deliver the prides as requested,” Lewister sneered. “They are so blind that they fail to see the obvious. The hunger is growing and if the other leaders don’t start delivering on the food rebellion will soon take place.”

“The Master doesn’t like the presence of the two elves,” the agent replied. 

“How could he possible know about them?” Lewister asked. “They just arrived and we didn’t even know of their arrival until yesterday. You said he lived far from here. There is no way you could have gotten information to him that fast.”

“My Master knows all,” the agent said with a cold smile. “You have no concept how powerful he is. He has heard of these visitors and you are instructed to kill them.”

Lewsiter stepped back and looked at the agent with startled eyes. “You must be kidding,” he hissed. “How am I supposed to kill magic users? I’d never get close to them. Besides they have a demon and dragon to protect them.”

“Dragons have a vulnerable spot on their breasts,” the agent answered. “This is a young inexperienced dragon so you can take him out too.”

“Her,” Lewister said, “the dragon is female.”

“Even better,” the agent laughed. “She should be quite helpless then. The elves are in the world of time now and can be killed like any mortal. You have bragged what a good hunter you are so prove it. Kill the elves.”

“How about the demon?” Lewister asked.

“My Master will deal with the demon,” the agent replied. “Rid him of those others and he will come over to our side. Don’t fail me and don’t even think about betraying me. My Master can be generous to those whom he favors but betrayal is dealt with by hideous death.”

“He then snuck back into the cave,” Mei-Lin said to the two elves. “Cariben was persuaded to sniff around and he came up with a human scent.”

“From the sulfur stink,” Cariben said lazily, “I would say that you have one of the heads down here.” He held up his hand to stop questions, “Don’t bother asking me what he wants here because I couldn’t tell you. Even I, at my height of power, wouldn’t have bothered with this place. The only fact I can give you is that it is one of his absorbed ones.”

“This is not good,” Brendan said. The Dark One was a large serpent in form and he surrounded his head with twelve stalks upon which appeared the heads of beings that he had absorbed into himself. The bodies of those beings became his generals and chief agents. They had direct access to their dreaded master which made them doubly dangerous. The deluded beings who accepted the absorption thought only of the power but the price of failure was eternal damnation and torture in the Well of Darkness. 

“We will deal with Lewister later. We have another problem. How about the stone circle?” the man asked. “Are you sure you can’t enter into it?”

The demon paled at the question. “I tried but I can’t deal with that amount of white magic,” Cariben said shakily. “You can’t imagine what it does to one such as I. I would be destroyed before I could even get to the middle.”

“He is right,” Brendan said, “there is raw magic there and his kind can not be around that magic without severe damage or even death.”

The man sighed. “I don’t trust ye one bit Cariben but I don’t want ye dead either. You do have your uses.”

Mei-Lin looked over at the demon and asked, “Could any of your kind enter the circle?”

“No demon could,” Cariben answered.

“I not asking about demons,” Mei-Lin replied, “could anyone who has gone towards evil enter the circle?”

“Hold that thought,” the man said. A moment later there was a soft “pop” and Queen Niri was standing there.

“Mother,” Brendan said with a smile, “I take it my big brother has filled you in as to what has been going on?”

“Yes,” the Queen said with a smile, “and the answer to your question Mei-Lin is a qualified yes. Demons and certain other creatures of darkness can not go into the circle but men can enter even if they have gone over to the darkness.”

“That circle is very strange. Was Cassie able to come up with anything Mother?” the man asked.

“It took a while but finally with your grandfather’s help,” the Queen answered, “she saw a slip stream that led to a stray conduit.”

“Not a conduit itself?” Mei-Lin asked.

“No, she saw a time warp,” said Cariben.

“Very good, my demon,” Queen Niri replied. “What else have you figured out?”

“Nothing other then the fact that I haven’t a prayer of using the knowledge to enrich myself, my lovely Queen,” Cariben said as he bowed. Cariben was a demon but he was a practical demon and knew that there was no way he would ever take on this ethereal beauty. The High Queen of the Elves was one of the most powerful creatures who ever lived. She was as dangerous as she was beautiful.

“Can we play the compliment game later,” Brendan said with a sigh. “Mother I sensed fear and desperation in those grounds. What were they afraid of?”

“They were afraid that the Dark One could get to a conduit from the Source of Light and try to corrupt it,” Queen Niri said. “He couldn’t twist it to his own use but he could prevent us from using certain aspects of it for a while and any interruption would give him an edge.”

“The grounds are sealed so what would his agents be doing here?” Brendan asked.

“I think I know,” Cariben said. He smirked as all eyes turned towards him. “Now I know none of you trust me which shows great wisdom on your part. I don’t even trust me. Oh I hate betraying evil like this but a bet is a bet.”

Mei-Lin started to laugh. “I bet him that I could out cheat him at chess. If he won I’d give him a jewel he has his eye on. If I won he was to give some knowledge to fight evil that only he had.”

“Oh all right my pretty one, you won with a cheating maneuver that was worthy of me,” Cariben said with a grin. “When your Tuathan Council issued the ‘come home order’ we creatures of evil knew that your people were split into several groups because you had wandered all over the multiverse. As you know one group took the Southern route through the Veil of Tears. Part of that group splintered to check on something that the White Mage needed checked on, and for this golden child you need to ask your Daddy,” Cariben said with a bow towards Queen Niri. “They came out this far,” he continued, “and since they were a small group, that thing sent agents after them. Not being large in numbers he felt he could safely take them on. Remember at this time he didn’t have the stronghold he has now and a lot of us were fighting him for dominance. He was looking for anything that would give him an edge. He wanted to know what had caught the eye of the White Mage and see if he could use it to his advantage. As you well know at that time period his main thrust was to try and destroy the King of the Elves any way he could. This is all I know.”

“Why was he targeting the elves?” the man asked. “The unicorns and dragons were fighting him also. The White Mage before Grandfather was a dragon.”

“At this point in time,” said Queen Niri, “that knowledge would be too dangerous for you to know. When the time comes you will be told all.”

“And in the meantime we continue to fight and risk our lives while you ancients keep things from us like we were little children,” Brendan snapped as he glared at his mother.

“Don’t be angry, Brendan,” the Queen said softly. “There will come a time when you will know all but now isn’t the time.”

“Who knows all besides you, Mother?” the man asked.

“Your father, your grandfather, Queen Maeve, Master Khigh, and Stefan,” Queen Niri answered. “It would mean death for anyone else to know at this time. Be patient my sons. You will be told all some day, just not now.”

“Do you know demon?” Mei-Lin asked.

“I once knew,” Cariben answered, “but that knowledge was taken from me.”

Queen Niri walked up to her son Brendan and placed her hand on his cheek. “Brendan please trust me on this,” she said. “I’m doing what any mother would do. I’m trying to protect my own. I am also acting as your Queen. I will tell you all in time. I promise.”

Brendan lifted his hand to his mother’s and took her hand and kissed it. “I trust you my Queen,” he said softly.

The Queen left before morning. After leaving fulsome compliments with the cats Cariben and Mei-Lin had departed. The demon had told them everything he could about the lands around them and the predators who were plaguing the cats. He was returning to his headquarters with some very fine new jewels courtesy of his favorite dragon. It had been decided that the two warriors should stay for a couple of more days to see if they could discover what Lewister was up to and for the time being nothing would be said to the other pride leaders regarding their suspicions. At the invitation of the pride leaders the man and Brendan visited the main caves and spoke to their citizens. The man and Brendan had been impressed with the efficient way the prides were run. Discipline was tight because of the dangers but the cats seemed content and with the knowledge of how to fight the predators that were decimating their feed herds there was a renewed hope for the future.

“Malik seems to have tight control over the council,” the man said to his brother as the walked towards the last of the prides to be visited.

“He is a good ally,” Brendan replied. “I get the feeling that he hopes Norid will succeed him as head of the council but I think the one to watch is Titus.”

“Titus is a very interesting being,” the man said. “I discovered that he didn’t challenge Lewister for the regular alpha male reasons. Something about the way he was running the pride stuck in his craw.”

“Well we will soon find out what the problem was since we are heading to Danulus now,” Brendan said.

Lewister and his second, Hart, greeted the two elves at the entrance to the main Danulus cave. The two brothers passed a look between them registering what they thought of the arrogance of the cat’s stance.

The two men walked through the main cave giving greetings to those whom Lewister deigned important enough to be introduced. They couldn’t help but notice the aura of fear that permeated the cave.

## Something is definitely not right here, ## the man projected telepathically to his brother.

## They are afraid of the stones so in case of problems we teleport there, ## Brendan thought back.

“I would like to meet your Healers,” the man told Lewister.

“What do you want to meet them for?” Lewister said haughtily.

“Our mother is a Healer,” Brendan said, “and she asked us to check and see if any medicinal herbs are needed here that we can supply.”

“Perhaps they should see Leone,” Hart said. “If their mother is a Healer then maybe they have some talent too.”

Lewister glared at his second and for a moment it looked like he was going to strike him. Finally he shrugged and ordered the two men to follow him. They went into an inner cave that held a foul odor. An elderly female was sitting next to a young male cat who was lying on a bed of reeds. The men could see that the youngster was covered with sweat-laden matted fur. He was obviously very ill.

“My son was attacked and foolishly suffered a gash on his leg,” Lewsiter said glaring down at the youngster. “These women have not been able to fix it.”

The woman started to say something but quickly stopped when Lewister rounded on her with fist raised. Brendan grabbed the cat’s wrist and staring him in the eye said firmly, “You touch her and you will answer to me. Healers are never to be harmed. That is the law of all lands, including this one.”

The man knelt down next to the Healer and was talking softly to her. Looking at the youngster’s leg he could tell that infection had set in. The wound oozed a sickly green pus and the child was running a dangerously high fever.

“Brendan,” the man said, “this is beyond our skills. I’m going to bring Kira through. We need a Master Healer if we are going to save him.”

Lewister had stepped back once Brendan had let go of his arm. The two elves ignored the scowl on his face. 

“Go ahead,” Brendan said, “I’ll keep guard.” Brendan pulled out his sword and stood facing the opening of the cave. The look in his eyes made Lewister keep his hands by his sides.

The man stood up and moved away from the youngster to give himself some room. He took out his life crystal and concentrated on it for several minutes. A flash of light lit up the cave and standing there beside the man was a petite red headed woman dressed in Healer’s blue. Her name was Kira and she was sister to Brendan and twin sister to the man.

Kira knelt down next to the youngster and with her life crystal’s light she probed the wound. She turned to the old woman and said, “I need plenty of water, a fire, and clean cloths. Isn’t there someplace cleaner then this cave where we can move the child?”

“I can have a place prepared for you my lady,” the old woman said softly.

“Do so,” Kira replied as she handed the woman a small bag. “Put this in clean water and use it to scrub everything. Once that is done wash all the cloths I will need and boil them in clean water. Make sure all of the containers that you use are also cleaned. In the meantime I need the coldest clean water you can get me and some clean cloths.”

A young female cat brought in a cauldron of cold water and some cloths. She placed them next to the Healer.

“What is your name child?” Kira asked.

“Leisha,” the girl replied.

“Okay Leisha,” Kira said, “we need to get his fever down. I want you to soak cloths in the cold water and help me wipe him down.”

The two women worked for almost an hour. They replaced cloths as soon as they heated up from the boy’s fever. The old woman finally came back and told Kira that the room she had asked for was ready. The man picked the boy up and carried him into the clean room.

Kira gave instructions to Leisha and the old woman to put hot compresses on the boy’s leg to draw the infection up to the surface. The Healers worked for several hours. The man and his brother kept watch outside of the cave to make sure that no one disturbed their sister while she worked.

Towards sundown an exhausted Kira came and stood by her twin. They watched the sunset for a while in silence.

“Will the boy be okay, Sis?” the man asked.

“He should be,” Kira replied. “It is amazing that he isn’t dead. Their stock of medicine is almost depleted and they haven’t been allowed to either hunt for the herbs or ask the other prides for some. To make matters worse, according to the old woman, Leisha has the Healer’s gift but the Leader refused to let her be sent to us for proper training. The old woman is the only other Healer in the pride. The others left and went with Titus when Hough was formed.”

“This must be taken up with our Council,” the man said. “It is against the agreement we have with these people to refuse Healer training to the gifted.”

“I know one unicorn who will be over here in a hurry when she finds out what is going on,” Kira said. Rhiannon was the head of the Healer’s Guild and nobody argued with her. The White Mage and her husband General Brand obeyed her when it came to healing. She could overrule anyone when it came to the matter of health and she had quite a temper when roused.

“Sis,” said the man, “I want you out of here. Is it safe to leave your patient?”

“He is out of danger,” Kira said slowly, “but I’m not sure I want to leave him just yet in case there are complications.”

“I don’t like you being here, Kira,” Brendan said as he walked up to his siblings.

“She isn’t going anywhere,” a voice snarled. Suddenly the three elves found themselves surrounded by armed cats. Lewsiter was standing with a weapon pointed at Brendan’s chest. Another had grabbed Kira’s arm. The next moment he was grasping air as she teleported away from him.

“Oh really?” Brendan said with a smile as he teleported behind Lewister. The cat found that a blade was held to his throat. “My sister is going home now to report your behavior.”

 “You do not tell Healer’s where they can or can not go,” Kira said, eyes flashing with temper. “You have violated the accord and the rights of the Healer’s Guild are sacrosanct. I’ll get reinforcements,” Kira said as she teleported away.

“Stone circle, bro?” the man said. Brendan nodded and the two teleported away.

“They are scared of this place,” the man said. “Their legends of living stone growing out of the ground and swallowing people are used as bogeymen to keep the children in line.”

“It may be enough to keep them away tonight and us safe,” Brendan said. “I wish the other leaders had been quicker and hadn’t let Lewister and his cronies get away. Come morning they plan to send warriors out to capture him but I fear it will be too late. I must admit it was a surprise though to find out that his second, Hart, was really a spy for Titus.”

“Titus accepted the new pride,” the man said, “but he really wanted to oust Lewister from Danulus. He knew Lewister was a bad ruler and used power for its own sake and he didn’t have the good of the pride at heart. He had persecuted the Healers as being useless so they all left with Titus, except for the old lady and Leisha. It turns out she is Hart’s mother and Leisha is his daughter. If it weren’t for those two there would be no Healers in Danulus. Lewister’s son was ashamed of his father’s behavior and he tried to do what his father would not. Leone was injured trying to get food for his people. Leisha and her grandmother didn’t have the herbs necessary to try and stop the infection in the boy’s leg and Lewister refused to let them ask the other prides. His ego was so great that he would let his son die before he would ask for help from anyone else.”

“I can’t imagine a father letting his son almost die rather then asking for help,” Brendan said. Brendan has a son and daughter who never left the Mystic Forest.

The Pride Council had met during the night and Hart was named head of the Danulus pride. Lewister had been named outlaw along with the two dozen cats who had followed him. Kira had reported to her father and the White Mage had ordered his troops to come in and help search for the renegades. The head of his army, General Brand, had sent his two sons Pwyl and Lyr to take charge of the troops. Caledonia was home to several species so the cats would find themselves fighting along side of unicorns, dragons, dwarves and men in addition to the contingent of elfin archers. Brendan and the man had been ordered to keep the stone circle secured.

It was Mei-Lin who first noticed the army coming towards the pride lands. She had returned during the night after seeing Cariben safely back to his headquarters.

“They appear to be coming towards the stone circle,” the dragon said. “They must have been massing in the East for quite a while. There are at least a thousand of them. I don’t think this was a sudden decision on someone’s part.”

A popping sound occurred as the White Mage, Queen Niri, and Kira teleported into the circle where Mei-Lin, Brendan and the man were.

“What are you doing here?” the man demanded. “There is an army coming this way.”

“I am well aware of that young man,” the White Mage said.

“We have a larger problem then the army,” Queen Niri said. “I know the reason for this stone circle. Father figured it out last night.”

“Why is it so important?” Brendan asked. “I can’t believe that the Tuathan Council would allow both of you to be here before a battle.”

“This is more important. Now listen carefully we have work to do. Back when the Council first issued the return call,” Queen Niri said, “there were many more conduits to the Source of Light. The conduits were eventually removed to Caledonia for the most part for safety reasons but some were inaccessible and could not be relocated. When slip streams became tangled with the conduits, as they do here, then those conduits had to be sealed off. The Dark One had come to the knowledge that one of those tangled places was here and he sent his army after our people. That group Cariben mentioned the other evening tore these stones from the bowels of this planet to form a fairy circle. They expended all of their magical energy in impregnating this circle with a spell to bar access to the slip stream that led to one of the tangled conduits.”

“So they are safe in the land of fairy now?” Kira asked.

“If any of them survived their efforts here, then yes,” the White Mage answered.

“So what’s the problem?” Brendan asked.

“The magic is starting to fray,” the Queen replied.

“What do we need to do?” the man asked.

“The four of us must do a permanent binding on this stone circle so that it can never be opened again,” Queen Niri answered.

“If any of them lived then they will never be able to come out or return home,” Kira said in dismay.

“Unfortunately that is true,” the White Mage said. “I think they knew that at the time. They expended all of their energies in sealing this place as tight as they could. They knew they didn’t have the power to do a permanent binding so they enforced this one with a pull spell that meant that as long as they remained in the land of fairy no one could enter. It was a brave thing for them to do because it is a spell that would mean they could never leave. We don’t have the time to open this up and try and reach them. We must make a permanent binding before that army gets here.”

“I take it you mean to do the binding wards,” Brendan said. “How do we get out of here or do we?”

“Father will get us out,” the Queen said.

“I just hope the army can buy us the time we need,” the White Mage said.

The man, Brendan, Kira and the White Mage took the four corners of the compass and the Queen took the center. The binding wards were among the most difficult wards to set. The spells could not be rushed for they needed to go deep into the planet and if they were not done correctly they could tear the planet apart rather then binding it together. Kira faced the East and said, “I thank you for the fire that warms the worlds” and the ward flared with a red light. The White Mage faced the South and said, “I thank you for the earth that nourishes the worlds” and the ward flared with a green light. The man faced the West and said, “I thank you for the metals that strengthen the worlds” and the ward flared with a yellow light. Brendan faced the North and said, “I thank you for the waters that give life to the worlds” and the ward flared with a blue light. Queen Niri pulled the energies of the wards towards her and poured them into a living flame. The ball of fire grew over her head and slowly started to expand. When it reached its full size it would cover the entire circle from the top of the standing stones to the ground. The beings inside the circle would not be harmed by the flames. It was high magic at its most powerful and this was a spell that had to be done in its proper time. There were no short cuts to be had.

Outside the stone circle the enemy troops attacked. The traitors had led the enemy troops from the East through the secret passes that put them in the heart of the pride lands. Pwyl and Lyr led the White Mages army and Malik led the cats. The prides united together to fight as one. They knew their very existence was at stake. If they lost this battle they would no longer have a free country of their own. They would be enslaved or killed.

The twin unicorns teleported in and out of the battles sending other unicorns to fight close up with hooves and horns. The dragons flamed and swooped down sending panic through the ranks of the enemy. Elves kept up a barrage of arrows and when it became too dangerous for their own troops they fought with swords. The battle was fierce and bloody.

The enemy launched their orcs at the forces of good. The orcs had thick skin and fought tenaciously. Their low intelligence ensured that they would never realize that for their Master they were no more then cannon fodder. The elves fought a furious battle slashing with knives and swords to keep the orcs away from the standing stones. The unicorns used their horns to poke and prod the dim witted orcs towards the warrior cats whose razor sharp claws slashed at the orcs tough hide. The dwarfs were masters of mining and their hammers smashed at the rock like trolls. 

It was a conceit on the Dark One’s part that he didn’t believe that the cats were much of a threat. He believed that they were dumb animals and as a result he sent only orcs and trolls to do battle with them. He didn’t bother sending the more intelligent of his men to fight. The White Mage’s army was smaller then the forces sent after them but their superior intelligence ensured that they would prevail in the battle. 

The circle of elves surrounding the outside of the standing stones were the elite of the Queen’s army. With their beloved Queen Niri inside they would fight to the last elf to save her. The ferocity of their attacks frightened even the dim witted orcs and the orcs kept trying to retreat. As far as Pwyl and Lyr could tell there was only one human in the Dark One’s army and he was having a rough time controlling his troops.

Inside the circle the four corners sent the energy of fire, water, earth and metal to the Queen who held down the center. Queen Niri pulled the elements to her and formed a living flame that expanded until it finally reached the stones. The circle of fire slowly sank into the ground and as the five elves held onto the power of their wards the living flame slowly descended towards the planet’s core. Above them Mei-Lin ensured that the area over the standing stones remained clear of enemy weapons. At the moment when the binding spell hit the planet’s core a brilliant flash of light illuminated the circle of the stones and King Brendan pulled his beloved daughter out along with her husband and two sons. He was, as far as it was known, the only being that had the magical strength to have attempted the rescue.

The flash of light sent a signal to the enemy that they had failed. The scream of the agent that Lewister had met showed that the Dark One would not tolerate that failure. Without their leader the Dark One’s army could no longer sustain the battle. The remaining orcs and trolls turned and ran trying to get to safety. To their dismay there was no place to run.

Late that evening the man and his brother stood on a hill overlooking the standing stones. There was a red flickering light that filled the space that made up the circle. No one would ever be able to enter the stone circle again. As they turned to walk back to where their horses were tethered a large shape suddenly leapt out of the darkness and Brandon was knocked to the ground. Lewister racked his claws across the elf’s face and throat. The man had his sword out in a flash and plunged it into the rebel cat’s back. Throwing the corpse off of his brother he sent a cry for help to his twin. Kira appeared instantly for the twin bond was one of the strongest bonds known. Together they brought their stricken brother back home and into the arms of the best Healer’s in the realm.

“So ye see,” said Sean, “power can be used for either good or evil. In the hands of some beings power is like a dangerous drug and it consumes them and eats away at their soul and power is all that they live for. In others power is a means to do good. When the heart is good, power will be used to rule wisely. When the core is rotten, power will corrupt and eventually betray that being to his death.”


Return to Stories