I'm backing up a bit in this excerpt because some things have changed, namely the description of Morgan has been placed. So...
She sat under a mountain ash, wondering how in all the lands Morgan Brighteyes had come to be here. All the way from Earth? That was a hell of a journey. Was he insane? He was as far from his power source as a drop of water was from a pond! She thought that elves couldn't travel beyond their power source … was she mistaken, or was this some cruel joke?
She began to study Morgan Brighteyes. The fact that she knew Ryliegh Nightshadow gave her a base from which to start. She noticed that Morgan was a tallish elf with long red hair bright green eyes and a chiseled face that should have belonged on a statue and not on a living person. She could tell, even through his exhaustion that he was a handsome representative of his kind. she looked into his eyes and immediately dropped her gaze. There was pain, there, too much pain. How old was this elf? Had Ryliegh even mentioned him to her before? She thought not, but it had been years since she had seen Ryliegh, and she could have forgotten things in that span of time.
"I don't mean to be rude, Morgan, but how many years have you seen?" Her brother asked the question, she had nearly forgotten that Kyle had joined them for this gathering as well.
"I have seen four hundred years, young man. Four hundred years of joy, pain, laughter and tears."
Iliana had to visibly keep her mouth from gaping. Ryliegh wasn't even that old...she had known that elves could live for centuries, but until now she had only known one that were either 1 or 2 centuries old not four! She marveled at him. How in all the lands could someone live that long and still be sane? How could they not be bored it life, and wish to go elsewhere?
"I am pleased to meet you Morgan. I hope your …… uh …… journey wasn't too terribly hard on you."
Morgan smiled. "I'm exhausted, young runner, but that is tae be expected. I was told you wished to find out about a game that is being played with the lives of your fellow runners, is this true?"
"Yes, it is. It needs to be stopped before something horrible happens. Not that it hasn't already, we lose at least two runners every moon, and even more during Mead, Wort and Barley Moons. Blood, Snow and Oak Moons aren't too bad. Most of the time, anything between Wolf and Hare Moons we fair pretty good."
Morgan's eyes had gone wide at the mention of the moons. He had no idea that the people here followed the lunar calendar. He had thought that, here, they followed a sun based calendar, as most of the populous of Earth did. He sighed, "So basically what you're saying is anytime between Blood and Hare Moons, you are OK, and starting at Dyad Moon, things turn sore?"
Both Fawna and Pendle nodded agreement. Three sylphs, Shaydra, Shandene and Shaia sat in the Mountain ash above Iliana's silvery form. She was again in the half-human form, the one she preferred at night and sat at her ease. She was beginning to like this Morgan. Like him a great deal. She had seen his expression when she had mentioned the moons, and took it for the surprised shock it was. She smiled inwardly. It must give him great pleasure to know that others followed moon based cycles. There were ones here that did not, but they were far and few between.
"So in this game what are the basic rules?"
"All start points and end points of missions are safety areas. Once a runner leaves those safe areas, they are fair targets. Since start and end points are safe areas there are only a set number of circumstances that allow a runner to remain within the safe areas. Inland runners are excluded from the game, which doesn't please many people, but since they are naught but children, it makes sense. If you are pregnant, recovering from an injury, or helping to care for another injured runner, you are allowed to remain within the safe areas. They are trying to get a rule past that says that fathers may remain within the safe areas for their child's growing years, but we shall see how that goes. If a runner is hit and falls inside a safe area, the one who struck the runner is still charged for breaking a rule, however, if the runner dies outside the safe area, even if it is right in front of the gate, it is considered a fair hit. The severity of the punishment depends on the severity of the rule broken."
"Is there not a rule that says rookies are to be kept safe?" Shaia spoke in her whispery, airy voice.
"They are to be put under magics that keep them safe for their first two years of running. All inland runners are also put under these magics. It is up to the master, however, to remember to take that precaution. As you know, the master who didn't take those precautions has joined his two or more rookies."
Morgan smiled. He knew about the deaths of the rookies by indirect means and was very glad he was not there to see them die. Who ever was responsible for those deaths would have been dealt with, and dealt with a speed that would even surprise the young runner seated in front of him. Morgan was beginning to like the eighteen year old. She had apparently started her running at sixteen as in inland runner, for she did not have the look of a rookie runner about her. Lean, strong and statuesque looking, she must be at least two years into running. If not two, just beginning her third, for he remembered that two years was considered rookie status. He was beginning to wonder about this game himself. Who's idea was it to start the game? Had it always been this deadly? Who was in charge of making the rules, and how could he find them? He would definitely have to ask the dryads if he could tap into their power nexus for the duration of this stay. He had used a special gate to get here, and now that that gate was no longer operating, he would have to find another source of energy. This was one of the main reasons he did not make outworld trips. No two power sources were the same on any too worlds, and finding a balance between his needs and those of the world on which he found himself was not always easy, or simple. He was finding out rather quickly that finding a solution to the game puzzle wasn't going to be simple either. First off, where did one begin looking? Where did one find the game masters and the rule makers who ran this game? After finding them, how did one go about finding out which one of them was the greedy bastard who was lining his vest coats with the prophets? He was beginning to become exasperated at the whole nest of worms, and he hadn't
Even started to untangle it yet. This was not a good sign, not a good sign at all.
"do you know how long this game has been going on?"
Pendle surprised the other two runners by saying matter of factly, "Six hundred years, Morgen, but the geme didn't stert becoming a threat to lives until three hundred years ego. It sterted out es hermless betting, es with horses. Betting on the number of days it would teke a runner to go from stert to end of a mission. I cennot recall how the rules begen to chenge. It may heve been so gredual thet I may not heve thought enything of the chenges."
"That's how most things go, Pendle, that is how most things go. It is however, those little things that pile on top of one another until they make something larger. Many times by the time this is known it is too late to stop the pile from growing larger and larger, for the roots are too deeply placed, and those who remembered what it was like before the pile are either fled or dead."
"As is the case here, unfortunately. All except for the fay folk, that is. Those who did not like the game have fled to the unknown lands. Beyond our five lands. Iliana spoke with a wistfulness that surprised the others."
Morgan nodded. "I must find someone, then in these unknown lands to help in the turning out of the game and its rules. Or at least to bring it back to the harmless betting it was once."
"And what of the runners," Fawna asked, speaking for the first time, "How are they to be a part of this? It is there ranks, after all, that are the most heavily affected."
"Kyle and Iliana will be my team here. They are related, after all, and both of them are mages after a fashion. They will be the ones who keep our plan from being discovered. Kyle will be our messenger and our…" Should Morgan let them know that he knew of Kyle's secret? Did everyone here know?
"And our spy, of sorts?" This was Shaydra, All of the fay know of his secret and everyone here does as well."
"He will be our aerial messenger as well, then. Just as long as it doesn't put his secret in danger. I would not want it to get out that he is more powerful than those here think he is. This secret could be the key to the success of this whole endeavor."
"Agreed," A new voice entered the conversation causing all but Iliana to start with surprise.
"Good evening Ryliegh," said she, "How nice of you to drop in. I would like to introduce you to…"
"I know Morgan already, child, you need not make introductions."
Iliana couldn't stop her mouth this time. They knew each other? But how in all the world could they? Ryliegh had never mentioned making trips, and this was the first such trip, that she knew of, that Morgan had taken. She could tell that the pain in Morgan's eyes had not been caused by anyone on this world. What she didn't know for certain, was whether or not Morgan had taken other trips here, or for that matter if Ryliegh had left this world. This was getting more and more unbelievable by the moment. This was also becoming more and more complex by the same. Had she known it would be like this, she would never had begun this. But then again, did she have a choice? It was either get to the heart of the game, or watch as more and more runners fell prey to it, and sooner or later, she would be one of them. Then by the time the Kings found out what was happening to their network of trained messengers, it would be too late and there would be too few of them to keep the lands running smoothly. This would not do, it would not do at all.
"Poor child, daughter of my spirit," Ryliegh sighed, "You have fallen into something you never thought would consume you, and now you have more than you bargained for. This was indeed your idea, and because we are so close, I felt it necessary to enlist aid, I never thought it would go this far this fast."
"Nor did I, old friend, but it has and nothing in your world or mine can stop it now."
"How long before It truly becomes a danger to my children?"
"Your children, are not they mortal?"
"Runners can only be killed," Kyle explained, If they are pierced by arrows in fatal spots, or if we are injured and bleed to death, in short if we are injured seriously or mortally, we die. Otherwise they are like you. It comes with the gift we are granted. It is given us by your kind straight from your mother goddess."
Iliana knew this, but the implications hit her just then. She would live as long as Ryliegh, as long as Morgan. She was nearly immortal … this put a whole new spin on things. She knew the gift granted her longer than normal life, but this? This … this was beyond her wildest imaginings.
"Why then, are they your children?"
"Because I was the one who granted them their gifts, Morgan. From then on they are considered children of the one who granted them their abilities."
Iliana had to keep from crying. Her love for Ryliegh increased three fold in that short space in time, for him to choose her and her brother made it all the more special to her. For him to mean it when he said he loved her, and not just say it was all she needed to know. To have an elf as a father, alongside her mother made all the difference. She also considered her runner master a father, but that was to be expected. Even Ryliegh accepted that, as most runners considered their masters parents.
"Understood then, It is well, as the one who has the same sort of gift is my child as well. Instead of the human body, however, she is a two legged cat. A human-cat if you will."
It was time. Iliana warned Kyle before she made her decision with a nod of her head.
He gave her the thumbs up, it was time.
Both elves watched in astonishment as the human bodies disappeared and in their places stood two graceful felines. There, however is where the similarities stopped. They were standing up right, and their hands were a combination finger and paw configuration.
The female gripped the mountain ash with her hands and swung herself into it nearly blending with the tree itself. She sat there the three sylphs now perched below her. Ryliegh realized that they hadn't even moved.
Oh my lovely daughter, I wish you could see this. They are lovely, I wish you could have come with me. Ryliegh's thoughts were elsewhere now. He missed his daughter tremendously now, and the pain in his heart was sharp and full of longing.
"Father do you like? Or should we change and pretend our experiment was never wrought?"
"How in all the lands did you make this work? How in all the world did you pull off this form? Oh, and Kyle, does it work with your other?"
"No, not as well, this form is better for it. I guess because my other is so much like this one, that there wasn't much I could really change, except for the face which I can do to some extent, though it is a little painful, so I would prefer not. It was my idea to do this, I hope you don't mind. What we did was figure out how we changed from one form to the other. We figured out the trigger images for the change and modified them a bit. We asked assistance from our master so that if any internal thing was gone past stability he told us to stop. Between he and us, we figured out the modifications that work the best and incorporated them into our transspells. So now I have six and she has four."
"We can give you the modifications if you would like father, our master has them written down, and our progress reports as well."
"Please, children, do this. And no, I am not angry with you for performing experiments. If you would have done them without the assistance of your other father, then yes I would have been angry, however, I can see that you are not as brash as you were when you first came to the compound."
Both of them blushed and paled alternately. The trouble they used to get into was now legend in their compound. Some of those memories both would rather not recall. However, all memories had become stories and now they had to be reminded at every turn by both good and bad things. Some of which could have seriously injured or killed one or the other had they been alone.
Pendle had disappeared during his exchange and now returned with said master and his notebooks.
"Ah, good evening to you…" The master stared at Morgan, "You are not from here, who are you, and what is it you want here?"
"Easy, Jadreth, he is a friend. I was the one who actually sent for you. I would like your children's modifications and progress reports on their latest project."
"Oh, Ryliegh, I'm sorry, I did not see you there. Here you are, then," He pulled out several pages and handed them to Ryliegh. He kenned the pages with a swiftness that surprised only the master and checked them. I am missing the first five, he said.
"Hmmm…those were my own modifications as well as theirs, would you like them as well?"
"If you wouldn't mind, Jadreth, please?"
"Only because it's you, Ryliegh, and only because you said please Mostly the master's modification are kept only for the master and the master alone.."
Ryliegh kenned the pages and stacked them neatly. That will do, Master Jadreth, thank ye kindly."
The master nodded, but did not leave. Instead he made the change himself and joined his children in their tree.
"Are you willing, then Jadreth, to join our little group," Ryliegh wasn't at all surprised that the master had chosen to join Kyle and Iliana in their arboreal perch. In fact he was quite pleased that he did so. Both he and Jadreth would make a formidable force, and Jadreth had a range of useful talents that Ryliegh did not possess.
"I am here, am I not?"
"That you are, my good friend."
"Then my presence should make it obvious that I am quite willing to join our little group as is the lady's guardian mage, Devin, who's powers have been honed with practice. He is not all that powerful being just a step above a hedge wizard, but he makes uncannily good use of what skills he does possess."
"Where is this Devin, then Jadreth?"
" At Queen Andrien's palace. She is queen of Keeshaya."
"Since wen, Ryliegh?" Morgan was surprised at this turn of events. If Iliana's mother was Queen of Keeshaya, why was Iliana still here?
"Since about a week ago, Morgan, it has not been confirmed as of yet as Andrien is still recovering from mage shock. Her refusal to use her full potential until her children were threatened hurt her more than she will ever realize. The only reason she passed was because she did not misuse the anger it provoked in her."
Iliana nodded, "I can attest to this, she would never call on any of the elementals. Her view of them is, or was, that they were evil and had no consideration for those outside of their own kind."
"Why do you say is, or was, child," Morgan asked.
"Because, Morgan, I am not sure whether it has changed since the taking of the test. I have not been home in five years. I was not even aware that Clodene had stepped down from the thrown."
Ryliegh nodded, "She stepped down all right. Stepped down from the top most tower."
Iliana gasped in horror as did Morgan. Kyle nodded with a knowing look on his face. He often wished he had not been there that night. He had never seen such a distraught looking woman since the baroness, and hoped he never had to again.
Ryliegh was continuing, "Your brother was in time to save her from killing her self, but not before he found out who was behind it. He knew something was wrong some time back when Clodene wasn't making sound decisions. The former ruler is safe, now. However, she is no longer fit to rule as her mind is gone, or most of it anyway. We will be curing her in stages, as what was done to her is fixable, and those who did it, I now believe, are part and parcel of the gaming puzzle. You see, Clodene was trying to get rules passed that would cut down on the death of runners by making it impossible for archers to hide in trees and for snares to be placed on the runner's traces."
"So who was behind it then, brother?"
"I dare not speak, ears in the woods may hear, eyes…"
"There are ears and eyes, yes, said Fawna, "It would be wise to follow your instincts, Ryliegh and take this elsewhere or disband the meeting."
"I will do the latter then, and speak a while with Morgan."
The five faery beings melted into the woods, while the three runners changed to full form and ran free of the trees and raced each other to the compound. Ryliegh watched in astonishment as Jadreth beat both his children to the gates of the compound. He smiled with pleasure. Dear blessed Danaa, let nothing happen to those three.
"You had better be lucky I like you Young Ryliegh Nightshadow, damned lucky. You realize that I actually had to have assistance getting here? It is not usual for elves to travel beyond their own courts, let alone half way across three galaxies. The child is right. We do not travel beyond our power sources and at this moment I am running on empty and I am angry. If you didn't say it was an emergency, I would ne'er have come."
"Allow me," Ryliegh took both of Morgan's hands and placed them on the tree in which the six had been seated. The dryad poked her head out and looked inquisitively at Morgan.
"A guest, Raydriana, he is far from home and needs the use of a nexus for the duration of his stay here which may or may not be more than a moon."
"He certainly is far from home! Three galaxies and a quarter," Her way of speaking immediately put Morgan at ease, "Aye, I will assist him, and I will inform the sisters and others to do the same. There is a nexus not far…" She guided his power structure to it and, to Morgan's pleased surprise, actually helped him to gain an understanding of the planets needs. Armed with that understanding, he was able to make a smoother than usual transition to purely internal power which was nearly nonexistent, to a mix of both internal and external. Raydriana even helped bring both into a healthy balance, and recharged his reserves. This was by far the best and most thorough transition assistance he had gotten on any of his trips. He would be sure to honor this assistance with his own gifts.
"So now that you are feeling better, shall we discuss matters?"
"Your lands are out of balance, Ryliegh, You do realize this?"
"Yes, and the runner mage is the key to bringing those lands back into balance. She has grown immensely powerful and all four elements respect her. I have never seen that before. Usually it is only one group of elementals that will consent to work with a mage. With Iliana, however, it is different. Even as a child, the different elementals would speak highly of the child who treated them as friends."
"So you are saying that in addition to Iliana finding out the boards, she will also have to find out the players?"
"um…" Ryliegh took a moment to work through Morgan's crypticism, "Yes, that is the truth of the matter."
Morgan sighed, "It seems that we are in a bit of a complex state of business, then doesn't it? The boards are seemingly endless, for we do not know where the edges are, and the players are equally as evasive as we have no way of knowing which among them is the chief. In addition to this, the players may affect the board without even being aware they are doing so. And the less water flowing from one land to another, the more out of kilter the board falls."
"And the more players who are affected by the lack of water flowing from land to land. Soon even the smaller and younger streams will be broadened because of the lack of well established rivers."
"And then there will come a time when even those will not be enough, especially if one is cut off before it can grow into a river."
Ryliegh sighed, "That has already begun, the stream Kitreen was yet a rookie when it was cut off. That Is the main reason Jadreth wishes to join us. The master whom he dispatched was not one for precautions, and as a result many good streams were lost."
Morgan's green eyes blazed, "Be lucky he is dead, children…"
"Are precious to your kind, as they are to ours. Your kind and mine are alike that we cannot bare children as often or as many as humans, or even runners, though like us, the latter choose whether they wish to conceive, or not."
"Then it is time I go to find these unknown lands your daughter spoke of. Perhaps there is a creature there who will be willing to help in our cause."
"Good luck my friend, and be careful."
Devin sat in Queen Andrien's bedchamber wondering when the young Princess would return. He was hoping soon, it didn't seem that the queen would recover from the mage shock. In one way he felt bad for Andrien, but in another way he had no sympathy for the Queen. If only she had willingly called on the creatures instead of waiting on threat of family to do so, the mage shock would not have set in. He wondered, then if it was his job to call on the healing the queen would need, or whether this would be another part of the test the queen had to pass.
"I'm sorry," She said, "I'm sorry for the things I said about you. I'm sorry I said you were evil, and had no consideration for us. I'm sorry it took me this long to say it."
Devin watched a miracle. As soon as the queen had apologized, the mage shock lifted, and her beauty returned. Her strength with it, and her powers bloomed, blossomed and grew. They filled her, made her alive, made her very being sparkle. She had truly passed the rulership test now, fully, completely and without question. Now Devin was the one who could leave, He could leave and rejoin his young runner friend, his charge was done.
The tall guardsman stood and stretched. His long hair, black as a raven's wing, hung past his shoulders to the small of his back. His hard face made him look intimidating, but he was truly a kind man. Until you provoked his anger, then he was no longer kind, but cruel, often sadistic, and very very nasty. Those who made him angry seldom lived to recount the tale.
"Thank you Devin, you may leave me now."
"Thank you, your Majesty."
"Take care of my precious one, and tell her I am profoundly sorry for the way I treated her friends."
"Aye, madam, I shall." He smiled at the new queen, "Long live the queen," He said bowing.
He left then, left and never looked back. Something told him that Andrien would be a hard ruler, fair, yes, but hard. He hoped this would not be the case. Hard rulers, though fair, never tended to last long, even when they passed the test of rulership. He would now be allowed to return to the job he most enjoyed doing, that of guarding the lives of others