Sabledrake Magazine

November, 2002

 

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     The Birth of the Tuatha De Danaan

     Point on No Return

     CTF 2187: Choices, Changes, Challenges

     Sollarin's Tentacular Palm

     GURPS Harry Potter, Pt. 3

     Trial by Fire and Stone

 

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     Vecna's Eye

     Off the Shelf

     The Play's the Thing

 

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The Birth of the Tuatha De Danaan

An excerpt from the upcoming novel, 
Tomorrow's Memories

Copyright © 2002 by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

 

Shrouding themselves with starlight and mist two fair figures struggled to elude death's relentless pursuit. The faithful wind whipped behind them, blurring the signs of their passage...their frantic flight through the tall grasses of the plain, and in its newness the moon betrayed them not to their enemy. In all else, the sisters were on their own.

Graceful even in their panic Anu and Danu locked their grief deep within themselves and did not allow even one thought to form on how unbearable their heartache was without adding the fear of one losing the other as well. Anu faltered, tangled by the tall, wind-plaited grass. Locks of her iridescent, pale gold hair escaped from her travel braids. The tresses mingled with the grass, giving the illusion that Anu was being pulled under, consumed by the very prairie.

Danu frantically reached back for the reassurance of her sister's hand; Anu could not fall behind. From the very womb they had gone through life with their fingers intertwined and if they were to leave this life she wanted it to be in the same way.

As their hands clasped Danu nearly faltered. Something was very wrong. Drawing her focus away from what stalked them, she settled her senses on her sister. Anu's bright, cerulean-blue eyes were filled to brimming with determination, resignation, and love as they met hers. The pain and despair was enough to bring Danu down, stealing the hope and focus from her own vibrant green gaze. Death did not follow in their footsteps; it ran in stride beside them: Her sister was already dying.

"Do'na do it, Lhiannon, we'll be needin' our strength for the tasks b'fore us, the worse for you an' ye make me waste one bit o' what I have left tryin' to comfort ye." Anu gently but forcefully admonished her twin as the pair of them stumbled through the tall grasses. "Ye must away with ye an' na trouble yer heart o'er what canna be helped." As if to lend force to her words, she wrenched her hand free.

Danu trembled violently, both with fatigue and horror. She wanted to cry out, to deny the truth, but she could not. The fading of her sister's life was too sure a thing. By the faint shimmer of the stars she could see the wound that would carry her twin across the Veil, a horrid rent across Anu's perfect ivory breast from which her heart's blood brimmed and seeped. A muted sparkle of power kept the blood from flowing freely, but as her sister's strength waned, the stream would gain force. Danu's grief-and her fear-held her silent. Anu was her strength...the completion of her heart. The void left behind at her passing would leave Danu a hollow shell, alone and weak.

"No! There is'na time for that. Now listen hard, ye must flee from here. Falias, Finias, an' Gorias are but scorched rubble now, an' Murias...Murias has fallen into shadow, the gates forever closed to the Daoine Maith," Anu cast a haunted glance toward they way they had come and Danu's eye could not help but follow hers.

All was silent, with no great stirrings of pursuit, at least for the moment. The grasses of the plain swayed in the moonlight with a deceptively peaceful air that clashed horribly with the image in her mind, the memories of the carnage and destruction, of city streets painted with crimson blood and lit by the fiery glow of ancient homes that had been reduced to the status of pyres. The bloody, ravaged remains of some number of their people had been strewn about the cobbles in cruelly crumbled heaps, left to lie where they had fallen in their attempt to defend their kin and homes. The corpses were few, though no hope lay in this, for Anu had told her the Sight revealed that the others had not fled to freedom; rather they had been rounded up like livestock to meet their fate at the convenience...and leisure, of the enemy. Only the sisters had escaped, having been between cities in their travel at the time of attack.

There was no doubt, however, that they would share that doom if they were caught. Already the Namhaid knew the sisters had evaded them and were relentless in their pursuit.

Such thoughts only delivered her deeper into the grief's madness. She drew her attention back to Anu's words, eerily echoing her own mind. "E'en now the Namhaid Conairt follow us as sure as hounds an' soon there will be more on our trail. They must'na find ye, they canna be allowed to drag ye down like the rest o' us or the Daoine Maith will be dust fore'er."

Her good hand clutched painfully at Danu's shoulder for but an instant before her strength faltered, but it was enough to loosen grief's hold.

"Ye do'na understand, then, do ye?" Anu demanded. Her breath was thready and it was a moment before she continued. "'Tis only for now ye'll stand alone, an' ye survive the hunt 'tis yerself that'll see the Daoine Maith rise again from the very depth o' ye." Anu's hand came to rest on Danu's smooth, flat belly and along with understanding, strength and love was shared between them. "I'll na be lost to ye forever, then. Now away with ye! I canna last much longer an' I've one more task to see to."

Danu clasped her sister to her and barely suppressed the keen of grief that welled up in her throat. Without even a thought she sent a penetrating stream of power across the link that bound them and mingled her very being with Anu's, deeper even than the constant bond they had shared since the womb. Her heart was laid bare and nothing was kept aside. Every ounce of herself was shared for that instant in time before Anu ripped herself away with a burst of love and regret.

"Ye wee fool, ye have'na strength to squander." Anu struggled a moment as her throat grew thick and tears pricked her eyes. "Now away with ye, an' let me do as I may to see ye safely free."

 

***

 

As Danu fled into the dark, Anu kept watch to see her well away before the conflict began. Only when she could neither see nor sense her sister's fleeing form did Anu release the barest trickle of her own power; as good as shouting out loud into the night. Already she could hear on the wind the snarls and shouts of their pursuers. The Conairt would soon be upon her and she had best be prepared, but first to muddle the trail that would betray her beloved Danu.

Tearing a bloody scrap from her tunic, Anu exerted all of her will to keep her hand steady as she probed the open wound in her side, a gift from the single Ard Namhaid who'd discovered them and set the Conairt upon their trail. Her teeth clenched and sweat glittering on her brow as she ruthlessly grasped a sliver of bone from the wreckage of her ribs and snapped it free. Not even the ridged control acquired over centuries of life could hold back the scream of agony the act tore from her throat. Triumphant howls mockingly echoed her wail; she even thought she could hear their hurried breathing creep about her, chilling her further to her very core.

Damn! They would be upon her even sooner now, drawn as they were by pain and weakness nearly as much as they were drawn by power. She would have to work quickly if Danu were to escape to freedom. Gathering all she could spare of her dwindling power, Anu prepared her bundle with careful haste, wrapping the bone in the fragment of cloth and tying it fast with a braid severed from her hair with her eating knife. She held it in the now free-flowing stream of blood spilling from her side, all the while chanting fervently in the ancient tongue. Uncontrolled by her fevered mind, all manner of images began to form, fantastic creatures both fair and foul, with jeweled wings and needle-like teeth, fey eyes and fickle manner, leviathans of the deep and wispy spirits; all that was darkness and light filled her thoughts, interwoven with her memories of joy and fear and grief. Her imagination was now peopled with legions of faeryfolk never before seen upon the earth. Their sole purpose was to confuse and distracted the Namhaid Conairt with their tantalizing whiffs of borrowed power, giving Danu time to flee.

Anu was fading as she held her crude fetish to her face and blew upon it, guiding the creations of her fertile mind with all the magic at her disposal-both her personal capacity and the wilder magics that surrounded her-willing them into being. They would serve well.

A growing mist, one that sparkled with power, enshrouded Anu as she sank to her knees, arms raised above her head in entreaty. Her delirious eyes were dazzled further as the vapors took on her imagined shapes and one by one she released her only children to the world, feeling as if her soul drained away with each one she sent off. With her mind she whispered their names: pooka, sprite, fairy, redcap, yeti, leprechaun, ki-lin, selkie, lamai, and so on until each of them knew themselves.

Out loud, a breathless moan was all Anu could manage as she crumbled the rest of the way to the ground. She could not even muster a sense of satisfaction, as she lay there among the grasses of the plain, vaguely aware of the approaching sounds of her pursuers.

And then she could see them, the Conairt, and for a brief moment she truly knew despair. Their red eyes glowed in the pitch-black night and their short, pale white pelts shimmered like crushed velvet. Thick manes of fiery red hair whipped about their bare shoulders and breasts, while razor-like fangs were almost dainty in their open mouths...open to allow the dragging breaths that would taste the scent of the sisters on the air. Their own musk was heavy and cloying, leaving Anu longing for one last breath of crisp, clean air. How could they possibly filter through enough of their own scent to track anything less potent than them? She would never know the answer.

They were upon her and yet apathy was all that was left, she could not even gather the motivation to cross the Veil by her own hand, rather than allow them the satisfaction of taking her. She just laid there, eyes raised to the stars, as they circled and baited her. Vicious in their frustration, cheated as they were by her passiveness, they sought to draw from her a more gratifying reaction; they lashed out with raking claws and taunted her with flicked licks from their rasping tongues, as if she were a bit of candied fruit. They went on to howl their chilling cries. Moans of rapacious anticipation and growls of battle-lust filled her ears and yet the only thought in her mind was to wonder where Danu would find herself when finally she stopped running.

And then she found her peace sparkling in the evening sky-a vision of a strange, vast island of green rolling hills and impressive granite cliffs surrounded by seas trimmed in white, lacy froth as they broke upon the rocky shore. Danu thriving there among the ancient groves and moors, surrounded by the Clan that were her children-and the only thing Anu felt after was vague warmth for the face that floated before her mind's eye. She muttered a curse at that familiar face, and the name Danu was on her lips as they dragged her away to Murias, there to die with the rest of her people.

 

***

 

"Imeacht gan teacht ort, A chuisle mo chroí!" It was but a whisper on the wind at her back, but Danu knew Anu's love had turned that common curse into a cherished anchor to help her remain steadfast in the time to come. May she leave without returning, in deed; Danu had no doubt that it would be a blessing to never see this cursed shore ever again. She shared her sister's mortal agony, felt the hand of death upon her own shoulder, but she'd also brought away with her the surety of hope. It was time to take that elsewhere and fulfill the unspoken promise she had just made to resurrect their people, to be the vessel through which their souls would once again enter the earth.

Seeking to put the darkness from her mind she focused on what her beloved twin had called her: A chuisle mo chroí!, o pulse of my heart! The phrase was more usually shared between lovers, but in using it Anu had given her a gift, for now Danu could not dwell on the heartache without knowing that each time her wounded heart beat within her aching breast her twin remain with her still. For Anu's sacrifice, they all now had a future. Danu would find a new home; there to bear her children...and the Daoine Maith would once again lift their faces to the sun and moon and wind.

 

The End

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