lves! Elves on the Mountain Stairs!**
Staring westwards, Moth jiggled excitedly as the elves below her reacted to her words. **Of course I'm sure!** the young elf insisted, leaning against the rocky tip of Crooked Peak. **They're on the Mountain of Despair -- oh!** Gasping, Moth froze, not daring even to breathe. Moments later she relaxed, feeling as relieved as the other must surely be. **One of them slipped -- she's all right now.** Closing her eyes, the small elf remembered some of her own close calls, as she learned the art of mountain climbing under Cliffclimber's patient tutelage. Below her, excited thoughts rose in the chill air, as elves dashed outside to see for themselves. Elves on the Mountain Stairs! The fabled, legendary path of their ancestors, taken in a desperate gamble to escape the relentless humans. Other elves, following the path shaped by leader Vrayl and hunter Morthrek, the path that had seen the High Ones die --
Moth gasped as sudden, unreasoning fear swept through her. Blackness swirled -- an inchoate, mindless hatred! **No!** The denial screamed from the inner core of her being, as she crashed to her knees, clutching her head. **They'll be killed! We've got to go rescue them!**
Her mental outcry caused a momentary, shocked silence in the other elves, broken finally by the hunt leader. **What in the name of the Ten are you talking about, youngling?** Moth flinched from Nightblade's irritation, her huge, golden-brown eyes flying open. **We'd never be able to get to them before that storm hit. Besides, they'll be safe enough, on the Ledge.**
The Ledge! Moth searched for the massive outcrop, her blood running cold. Its physical presence was hidden by an intervening mountain. But it was not hidden from her inner vision. It was waiting, hungering! She could feel it -- the blackness, the dark hatred, and she knew what it was! Madness! **They mustn't stay on the Ledge! They'll be killed -- I know they'll be killed!!** No one sent anything, but she sensed their doubts. **Father!** Desperately, she reached for the one elf who would surely understand and believe her. **You must believe me -- I can feel it! It's like Redclaw, but worse! They'll be killed if they stay! They'll be killed!**
**Moth -- daughter.** Arrowrock's thoughts wrapped around her own, cutting off the half-sensed babble from below, lessening her sense of disaster. **Show me.** With a sob, Moth collapsed against the rock, opening herself to him, relieved beyond words that he was there to share the fear. **You have done well, daughter,** he reassured her. The strength of his sending lessened, as he spread his thought for all to hear.
**Moth fears truly -- the elves must be warned not to stay on the Ledge of Madness. Farseeker has sensed a wrongness for some years now. That is why we were sent out in this direction. I shall attempt to warn them.**
**Be careful, Father!** she sent, afraid anew. **It's dangerous!!**
**I will take care.**
**And you're supposed to be watching south and east, girl, that's why you're up there!**
Moth knew that, but she ignored Nightblade's caustic reminder. Pulling herself up, shivering inside her heavy furs, she resumed her westward watch of the trio of elves, now halted on a narrow outcropping. Surely, her father would succeed in warning them! But the dread was still within her. Only once before had she felt like this, and that had been the night her best friend and her almost-father had been killed, and nearly, her father. Nothing must happen to Arrowrock! Not to her father --!
A faint, glimmering image formed next to the three elves. Holding her breath, Moth watched them react to the projection, barely able to make out their astonishment and wonder. Heartbeats passed, each one with agonizing slowness. Then, between one and the next, the image winked out. Moth heard and felt the scream as her father's agonized spirit fled back to his body.
**Father!** Moth leapt out of the niche shaped into the peak and headed down. A foot slipped, and she sat down hard. **Father! Answer me! Father!**
**Be still!** Cliffclimber's thought, usually so calm and precise, lashed across her awareness. More gently, the old huntress continued. **He'll be all right, child. He made it back, and the Healer is with him.**
Staying where she was, Moth bowed her head, shaking. For years, she had argued to be allowed on the annual fall hunt, only this year succeeding. She had so looked forward to it -- and now it was turning into a nightmare. **Did he manage to warn the strangers, Cliffclimber?** she asked, **Did he manage to warn them?!**
There was a long pause. **He says that he told them not to stay on the Ledge, but was attacked before he could tell them why.** From the tone of her voice, Moth imagined the tall elf's oval face frowning in troubled worry. **He says that there is madness in the Ledge, and that we should make an effort to warn them.**
**But how? It's too far away to send, and I can't do what Father attempted -- I don't know how!**
Another pause ensued, this one broken by the raven-haired Nightblade as she sent to all the elves. **Arrowrock managed to warn them not to stay on the Ledge, even if he couldn't tell them why. We've done all we can -- I'm not risking sending elves out in that blizzard that's coming.**
Moth swallowed, feeling her fear rising again. **But we've got to warn them, Nightblade!** she protested. **They don't know what happened there, they might not feel the madness, they wouldn't know what it means! We've got to try!**
**I'm not risking elves' lives on a youngling's whim!** retorted Nightblade. **Now, come on down, Moth -- your father could use your presence. Deer's going up to relieve you.**
Moth climbed to her feet, looking down. The elves were milling outside the cave, some still looking towards the Mountain of Despair, but most standing with their backs to it, or drifting inside. Moth worried her lower lip, thinking. Nightblade was very rarely defied. The hulking clouds building over the western mountains were promising a threat that no sane elf would care to meet outside a snug shelter. Moth shivered. Blizzard--the first one of the season. They would be inured within the cave for days, before making the dash back to the Isle, skimming over the snow with snowshoes on their feet, and pulling the meat- and fur-loaded sleds. Meanwhile, the three elves -- innocent, ignorant strangers -- would be stranded on the magic-soaked Ledge of Madness. It wasn't fair. They would die if no one went to warn them! Turning, Moth trudged up the slope to collect her things, eyes stinging. They would die, and she would feel their dying, a helpless observer. They would die. Like Nightdancer. Nightdancer! -- she could see him so clearly in her mind, his bleeding, lifeless body, the spirit she had been too wayward to admit she loved, gone. They would die because of madness, a madness more ancient than the one that had killed Nightdancer, a madness less understandable, and far more powerful. Var. The mad High One. His madness somehow absorbed by the Ledge, tainting the other magic there, spoiling it, turning it to mindless fury. She didn't know how she knew. Only that she did.
**Moth?** At the touch on her arm, Moth whirled. Deer grinned uncertainly. **It can't be that bad, can it? If the Ledge does have a madness, won't they sense it, and decide not to stay? They've survived this far -- surely they know how to survive a blizzard.
She shook her head, blinking back the tears that had streamed down her face. **They won't leave. They won't realize the danger. Unless someone warns them.**
**Well, you heard what Nightblade said. We'll just have to sit tight, and hope.**
Moth stared at him, becoming aware that she had put on her backpack and picked up her spear. She stared into the dark-brown eyes that were only a half-hand above her own, feeling a numbness overtake her fear and dread. She knew what she was going to do. Nightdancer, her friend, her would-be lovemate, had given his life to prevent bloodshed between human and elf. She couldn't bear to sit around and wait for another elf -- even a stranger -- to be killed, not by madness. She couldn't -- wouldn't -- be less than the elf who had loved her.
**Moth? Are you all right?**
Without warning, she swung her spear at his head. It connected solidly, and she spun around and leapt before he slumped to the ground. Closing her mind to what the reaction would be, she flung herself down the steep, western slope, gliding barely a length above the ground, letting the downward pull of gravity increase her speed. There were shouts as several of the elves saw her. Her spear held before her to help balance her flight, she steeled herself for the reaction that would come.
Arrowrock was the first to realize what she was intending. His scream of terror reached her ears before his mind touched hers. **Daughter, you can't! Come back -- you could be killed!**
**You fool!** Moth could guess the rage blazing in Nightblade's amber eyes, and was glad she was far enough away to avoid the full force of that elf's anger. **I knew you shouldn't have been allowed to come on this trip! What have you done to Deer -- and where do you think you're going!**
Moth kept her eyes on the rough terrain, and her senses on the erratic wind. **Tell Deer I'm sorry, but I couldn't let him stop me! I'm not sitting around and letting three elves die because I'm too much a coward to risk my life! They're strangers, they're important, and I won't sit by and let Var's Madness kill! I will not!**
**You're the one who's mad! You'll never get to the Ledge, before it starts to snow!**
Moth found a smile on her lips. **Don't make wagers on it, Nightblade -- you'd lose.** After all, she was one of the fastest gliders in the Isle. Wasn't she?
The swirling wind forced her down half-way up the next slope. Concentrating on the treacherous ground, Moth half-ran, half-danced her way upwards, using her power to lessen her weight without losing contact with the ground. At the top of the mountain, she paused a moment to look back, panting. As she had guessed, Nightblade had started after her with a small group of elves. But they would never catch up to her, not until it was too late. Putting the rescue party out of her mind, Moth concentrated on her forward progress. It was a race against time, against the increasing wind and oncoming blizzard, and against the sluggishly-stirring darkness that would entrap the innocent travellers if they could not be warned away. It was a race she was determined to win.
he sun had long since hidden behind the clouds when Moth stumbled to a stop at the base of the huge Mountain of Despair. Breathing deeply, her lungs and throat on fire, her heated body soaked with sweat, she stared upwards at the massive, vaulting stone. She could see the lip of the jutting Ledge, and the faint, eroded stairs that led down from it. She had lost sight of the climbing elves, but her last glance had placed them almost to the Ledge. The wind had changed, strengthening, and the temperature was dropping. The first snow would come at any time, and she still had a third of the gigantic mountain to climb. Unless ... if the strangers' hearing were as acute as most elves ... Gulping air, Moth dropped her spear and cupped her hands around her mouth. "Elves! On the Ledge!" she shouted. "If you can hear me, come down from there, now! It's dangerous, it will kill you if you stay! You must leave the Ledge now!" She pulled her hood off, to hear better. And waited. After a while, she repeated her message. But only the moaning wind answered. Biting her lip, Moth realized that they probably hadn't heard her. Or, if they had, had not believed what they heard. After all, even with the sluggish stirring of magic beneath their feet, they might well decide it was only reasonable to stay in what would appear to be the best shelter around. They couldn't know what had happened there, countless years before. They wouldn't know that a High One, the most powerful of all the elves in that group, had gone mad from his grief for the one he loved and his aloneness, and from the despair all had felt as winter had swept in on them. They wouldn't know that he had tried to kill with his mind. They wouldn't know that the Ledge was more dangerous than the blizzard --
Moth jumped as a snowflake streaked past her nose. She flung her head back, staring upwards. Lowering, massive clouds, snow-laden, filled the sky. She had lost the race -- she could not get up to the Ledge before the blizzard hit. Common sense said she should search for a hollow out of the wind -- or at least head back to meet Nightblade's party. She had done all she could. Except that they would die! Moth stared at the Ledge again, suddenly afraid. She looked at the stairs, estimating the hand and foot holds that still might be in that eroded stone. The only chance to warn the elves, to save the strangers, was to climb the Stairs. In the wind. In the snow, and oncoming darkness. And without rockshaping powers. She might not be in time, might even be ensnared herself if the Ledge struck. The dangers of her reckless advance from Crooked Peak paled to insignificance. One slip, one mistake, and she would be dashed against the rocks and killed. Dead. As uselessly as Nightdancer. She could die, and the trio could still be trapped. She didn't want to try.
"I have to!" Moth jumped towards the base of the stairs, abandoning her spear. She had come this far -- she couldn't stop now! Grabbing her hood as she landed and ran, she refastened it, then slipped the outer mittens off her hands, leaving the thinner, leather gloves exposed. "Nightdancer, father's mother, help me! I must get to the Ledge! I must!" The mittens through her belt, she leapt for a likely outcropping, as more snowflakes zipped past. No one climbed a mountain-side in a blizzard. No one. But she had to try.
arkness descended, and still Moth climbed. Snow stung her eyes as the wind plucked at her body, but it was not possible to stop. She could not see save by the eldritch energy flickering from those once-shaped stones. She would have been terrified, had she allowed any thought in her mind, except for the need to climb. She also knew that her body and mind were nearly exhausted, but that again, was something she refused to let surface. There was only the mountain-side and the wind, the hand-holds and footholds to search for, some shaped, some natural, and each tested before trusting. Her lightened weight lessened the risk of a hold giving way, but it could not let her increase her speed.
Finally, her searching hand found levelness. Drawing herself up, Moth sensed the Ledge spread out before her, the curving wall forming a small cave at the northern end. Crawling onto the Ledge, the small elf stayed on her hands and knees, gulping air, her muscles trembling. She had done it! She had climbed the mountain, she was safe! Now, she could warn the strangers, and they could go down, escape the Ledge! Except ... how were they to get down? Dismayed, Moth lifted her head, staring into darkness. She hadn't thought about that! In the time she had watched them, there had been no indication that they could glide or shape rock. They'd never make it, now! Probably, they would refuse to even try. She had done her best, and it wasn't enough. The strangers would die. She collapsed to a seated position, despair sweeping over her. She was going to die, also. She had done all of that running, gliding, climbing, for nothing. She would die, the strangers would die, just as everyone had almost died, the other time, it was so simple, just to sit here, just to let it come --
Moth jerked her head up, fighting the despair, afraid. This was the Ledge! The Ledge was making her feel this! Scrambling to her feet, she faced the wind, aware now of the insidious nature of her foe. "I won't die!" Bracing herself, she stepped forward, feeling the drag at her feelings and will. I defy you! she thought to the Ledge. They didn't fail -- I won't fail! I will live! We will live! She moved towards the sheltered end. Magic swirled around her feet as she walked. With an effort, she ignored it, concentrating on not losing her balance, on making out the tiny tent huddling against the stone. Approaching it, Moth went to her knees. Loosening a flap, she wedged her head and shoulder into the small shelter. Three bodies were huddled tightly together, apparently asleep. Moth thought she heard a moan. Hesitating, she decided the only thing to do was to awaken them. If they could just stay alert, fighting off the despair, then they might have a chance.
Her hand groping, it was the boy's shoulder she found first. She shook it hard. He moaned, but did not wake up. Moth eased further into the shelter. She shook him again. Fruitlessly. Biting her lip, Moth thought a moment, then pulled off her glove. Locating his face with her fingers, she slapped him, at the same time yelling, "Wake up! You've got to wake up!"
He woke, snapping to a seated position. "Mother?" he called out in a hoarse voice. "Mother, where are you?" Moth searched for his shoulder. "She's beside you," she said, half-shouting to make sure she would be heard. "Listen to me -- everyone must wake up! It's too dangerous to sleep! Help me wake up the others!"
He did not seem to hear her. "Mother!" he called again. "Don't leave me! Please, please don't leave me!"
He must still be in a nightmare! She shook him. "Wake up! Listen to me! Wake up! Tell me your name!" But he called again, oblivious. Fighting off a wave of despair, Moth released him, intending to waken one of the others.
But as she let go, he cried out in terror and in a kind of fury. Lunging forward, he wrapped his arms around her. **I won't let you go!** he sent. Moth cried out as his mind touched hers, pain flaring. **You can't leave me!**
Black waves of pain seared into her mind. Panicking, Moth tried to free herself, but he was clinging to her with manic strength, and the power in his mind was not of his doing. She felt the Ledge magic moving, and knew that her fears had come true. The Ledge was attacking, using the boy's mind! "No!" With a convulsive effort, she threw the boy off of her, crawling backwards to get out of the shelter. He screamed in a mingling of terror and pain and hatred, his mind refusing to let go. She saw what he saw -- the dappled forest floor, strewn with blood, his mother's torn body staring sightlessly upwards, just beyond her the rabid wolf that had attacked, which she had barely managed to kill. He had felt her leave, and he hadn't understood and tried to make her stay --
"Let me go!" Moth tried to get to her feet, and then just her knees. Failing, she rolled onto her side, agony slicing down her body. "I am not her! I am Moth!" Somehow she managed to force a barrier between herself and the boy's sending. Shaking, she climbed to her hands and knees, starting back towards the tent. She had to wake the others. The boy had been taken by the Ledge's madness, but if the others could resist and help her, maybe they could win him back. They had to try, for she somehow knew that his mind and body could never withstand the flow of that tainted magic.
But the shoulder she touched was tensed. As she hesitated, uncertain, it twisted away as the elf sat up. Moth froze, "seeing" the energy that blazed through him, lighting his features, and twisting them. He was familiar -- from nightmares. From memories, told again and again by those who had been there, who would never forget, or allow that night to be forgotten. The madness, born of despair, overwhelming the one who should have been the strongest, his soul twisted and sickened by a hated exile. Var. Var's Madness.
He struck through her defenses. Moth screamed, flung away into the tide of overwhelming darkness ...
he should die. The other side, the existence without form, was good. Living brought only pain. Accept what was happening -- let the pain and darkness set her free.
She refused! Some part of her knew that she did not want to die! She wanted to live! Life was good, life had joy! But who was she, in this darkness, this hurting? How could she know which side was the truth? Who was she? Names floated within the darkness, but they were not hers. The names were of the past. Almost, she remembered who she was. It was there, within herself, struggling against the darkness, golden light, strong and serene, an innerness that she must seek as she had never done before, that she must acknowledge as never she had been willing to. It was there, ringing within her, the thing that was her truest self, she was ... she was ...
Arreen! Moth cried out, grasping the inner name that was hers. Arreen! Her soul-name became a barrier, a shield guarding the innermost reaches of herself. The blackness pressed against her, but she would not give way. Digging within herself for strength, Arreen advanced against the twisted magic, seeking the parts of herself that were connected with her senses.
he succeeded. Holding stubbornly to her barriers, Moth sat up and looked around. The night was black, but energy blazed from every stone. Out on the Ledge, exposed to the wind, stood two elves. One stood braced, arms lifted and hands clenched, sending a message of despairing death into the wind. The other, half-crawling, in one hand held a different messenger of death. Moth gasped, horrified, nearly losing control. Var and Haliil -- they were dead! What had happened could not repeat itself! But -- impossibly --it was: two strangers acting out the critical moment, as if the memory of that time had been impressed into the Ledge itself and was now released into their minds. And that would mean --
A knife sank deeply and an elf screamed, staggering backwards, blood flowing from a mortal wound. He would fall off the Ledge as Var had done, and die --
But he must not die! She would not let him die! With a scream of denial, Moth leapt to her feet, reaching for his body with her mind. Her own magic was exhausted, but there was a huge source under her feet. Linking to it, she fought it was it twisted, forcing it to her will. The unconscious elf hovered in midair, power blazing around him, and Moth willed his movement back to the Ledge.
Screaming, the other leapt to her feet, charging her, knife extended. Moth caught her and flung her against the wall. Controlling both bodies as the stranger slumped into unconsciousness, the young floated both into the tent, dropping them inside. Closing her eyes, the young elf forced her shoulders to relax, letting go of the link.
The magic swelled within her, darkly turgid. Gasping, Moth tried to force it away. Pain exploded within her. She fell to her knees, screaming, nearly losing her grasp on herself. High Ones help her, make the magic go away! But it would not! She could feel it, as she fell back, writhing, feel the tainted, twisted magic swirling within her body, seeking an outlet. It was magic tainted with madness, magic forced into this spot, then attracted, becoming stronger, ever stronger and more tainted, until it exploded into life. It was madness, and it would kill. Moth felt her hold slipping, even as her body twisted to face the tent. Madness laughed with her voice, as it clawed at her barriers, poisoning even her innermost self, driving her mad. It would be so easy, to give those three the nightmares they deserved, to drive them to their deaths. She was his daughter, no matter how many times removed. She who had always found gliding and sending so easy, she who had the potential to match the strongest elf in the Isle. Power as she had never known filled her; she could do anything. She would give these strangers despair and death.
Yet some core of her refused the mad laughter. Arreen! she reminded herself. I am not Var, I am Arreen! Moth pushed at the darkness with all of her will, losing touch with her physical self as she kept her inner self aware. She was not Var! And she must not touch the strangers. They would die if she touched them with this tainted power, and she did not want them to die. She had risked herself so that they would not die.
The blackened magic roared within her, gathering strength, refusing to be subdued. Moth whimpered as it stormed against her awareness, crushing her. What could she do?! She could not control it, she could not make it do as she willed. It wanted her, it wanted death, her death, everyone's death--and she didn't know how to stop it. If only she knew what to do!
The answer came, as if a silent voice had spoken. Moth hesitated a long moment. She had never done anything like this, had always refused to acknowledge the potential ability within her, refused to fully acknowledge her inner self, her Arreen. Now, untutored, unskilled, she must, if not control, then direct this enormous mass of magic that demanded release. Direct it to where it could do the least harm ...
Arreen. With a long sigh, Arreen touched the black magic and let it flow outwards. She went with it, enlarging, increasing in awareness. As if she were floating above and looking down, she sensed the small group of elves near the base of the mountain, unmoving, stricken by the earlier sending. She could sense the elves in their cave, uneasily stirring, or twisting in nightmares. And beyond that, far beyond what her other self could ever have reached, stood the Isle, her destination. The Isle glittered to her 'vision', filled with the magic born of life and living -- and unknowing of her presence. Within it were her targets, those who must have the strength to withstand what she would send. The ones her Moth-self had blamed for what had happened those few years previous, the ones that she had ever come close to hating. She thought on them, on those tall and stately beings, who had lived so long, seen so much, yet were not blessed with wisdom enough to prevent tragedy. She would seek them out, destroy them --
She sought them and attacked, feeling their minds stagger in shock, fear and pain. Madness seized her, and Arreen laughed at their pain. They sought to fend her off, but she broke through their defenses with ease. Fools -- ancient fools! They had escaped once, did they truly think they could escape again! She sent them her madness; the madness they had barely managed to survive when they were young, and had reasons to live. **Despair, Eldests! Remember those whom your stubbornness, you carelessness, your ignorance killed! Remember those who died, while you stayed safe inside! Remember those whom you watched be born, who lived, suffered, and died while you lived on! Why should they have died while you lived! Grieve, Eldests! Grieve, despair, die!**
**No!** The mental shout struck across her sending of madness, a blaze of concerned love and rage that deflected her away from those she hated. **To me, Eldests! Lock-send with me now!
Maddened rage roared through her as she recognized the single strongest mind in the Isle. **Stay away, Farseeker!** she screamed, striking at him. **Stay away, or I will destroy you as well as them! Stay away!**
The merging, three-way link wavered and began to dissolve as Farseeker recognized her. **Moth!** His terror made her dark self laugh. He 'reached' for her, instinctively, his love and fear making him heedless of the danger. Laughing, she let the magic swell within her, gathering it for a single thrust that would shatter that mind from within --
**Firetop, no!** An instant too late, Arreen launched her attack, only to have it break against the three-way link. Three minds, locked to each other, sharing thought and purpose and power. Enraged, she called upon all the power that was available to her, slamming it against that invisible shield. It shuddered, pain flaring within, but it did not give way. Screaming, Arreen attacked again and again, determined to destroy them, forgetting all else in the madness she had let herself absorb. Nothing else mattered -- she must destroy them! She was one with the Ledge, her awareness expanded far beyond the confines of her body. She was mad, laughing at the trio's efforts to thwart her and deny her will, yet angry that so far they had succeeded. They would fail! And yet, part of her was tempted to strike at other, easier targets. There were so many others, closer, more vulnerable. It would be so easy, to send them despair and drive them to their deaths. But she would not.
Yet the temptation would not die, but grew. They should all die! All should be set free of pain and misery, set free to join the High Ones, and all the others who had followed. But part of her insisted that all of the madness be directed at the one-which-was-three. They were the ones who had escaped before! They were the ones who deserved to die for all the mistakes they had made!
The flow of power bucked, resisting. She felt the unity tear, ripping her apart with searing pain. She was not one with the glorious madness, larger than life! She was only herself, an undersized, hurting self struggling to control something beyond her abilities. She was losing control! Fear boiled up from where she had hidden it, and her control lessened further. She would fail, and all her friends would die! Panic blossomed. **Farseeker, help me!** she sent down that black shaft of power that no longer was smooth, but twisting, searching for the other minds within and without the Isle. **Farseeker!**
But even as she screamed, she knew that there would be no help from him. The Eldests would never allow him to break the link to reach for her. If he did, she would kill him as the link shattered, kill them all! There was no one who could help her, she could not even help herself! She could not stop the attack, could not keep from feeling what was happening; elf after elf dropping in their tracks as the malevolent power swept through their minds. And the three were gathering power, readying themselves to strike back at the madness, at herself. She struggled to draw the focus back onto them, to stop them, but she was failing, the magic raging unchecked and unguided through nearly every part of her soul --
A touch, lighter than any feather, caressed her awareness. From nowhere it came. It was almost familiar. The touch eased her panic. From somewhere, new strength surged into her will. With fresh determination, she reached for the madness, struggling to refocus it. The power resisted, and more pain shot through her. She flinched, drawing back. Another touch came, unfamiliar but more powerful. The pain could not ease, yet the touch allowed her to accept the pain and its consequences. Calming, Arreen stretched herself about the massive malevolence, once again serene and knowing. Part of the panic had been caused by her body's will to live. But life was not so sweet, she knew, that she must cling to it, when doing so endangered others. Other touches came, almost a multitude, and she found the strength that was hers. Entirely apart from her body now, Arreen reached for the power and took hold, slapping its full force against the linkage, forcing them to use the gathered magic to protect themselves. No, she thought, focussing the madness upon them. This one loves and hates you. Do not risk yourselves now.
For the end was near. The Ledge had contained much power -- the energy expended that night by rock-shapers and sender, and by the energy it had absorbed over the intervening layers of time. But it was not infinite. Still controlling the madness, Arreen sensed the power beginning to wane. The strength of her attack against the linked elders faded, and then, she could not feel them at all. Her awareness shrank. But she did not give in to any temptation to relax her hold. Elves were unconscious, trapped within themselves, but she must not let herself worry about them. Only the madness mattered. Smaller and smaller herself and the Ledge became. The power faded, flickering, then was gone. She sought for it, but found nothing. She was alone, in the void.
Bewildered, the self 'looked' around. Who was she? Where was she? Her memories seemed to have drained away with the power. She remembered struggling with it. But why? She became aware that she was not alone. She concentrated, trying to 'see' or 'hear'. She saw and heard nothing, yet her awareness of something -- someone ? -- increased. Something like a touch caressed her again, and she thought she knew who it was. **Nightdancer?** Assent? She wasn't sure, and began to feel afraid. **Please, are you really him? Am I dead? Please, answer me -- I'm not sure I even know who I am -- help me!**
An answer came, but not from him. You are our daughter, many times removed. Your body lives, though its continuance depends on your desire. You can stay, or, you can return. You know who you are, and who we are.
As if the words swept back a drapery from a hidden room, she did know. Awe swept through her, and then longing. It would be so easy to go with them, to abandon her body forever. To join them. She felt herself drifting towards them, those whose names she knew. And yet ... life was sweet. There were those on that side who needed her, loved her. There were the strangers, with their fascinating stories, the tall one of the three, somehow so important, to her... **I ... I would live, in this time,** she told the waiting ones. **I would return to my body ... if, if I can find it.**
It is there. Arreen became aware of the slender ties that bound her to flesh. She drifted towards it, the essence of the others fading from her awareness. She hesitated, feeling regret, and yet, unable to change her mind. **I thank you for your help,** she thought to the unseen others. **I would have failed without you.**
We but showed you the way, bright child, came the response. Now, as you have decided, return to your self. We are with you, as we are with all of the Isle.
Reluctantly, Arreen groped for her body, the others fading to the very limit of her awareness. Her body was cold, in pain, and close to death. She sighed to herself, wondering why she had always been afraid of being apart from her physical self. And if she would retain this serenity, when she returned. Somehow, she doubted it. She was only her innermost self, stripped to essentials, Arreen. Moth was, after all, yet so young ...
he darkness was warm and comfortable. Moth protested when voices began to call her, begging her to return. She did not want to leave the silence, the unknowing. But they refused to go away, coaxing, cajoling, seeming as shafts of half-painful, half-comforting light stabbing into her peaceful retreat. Reluctant awareness grew, and she recognized the voices. Farseeker. Silvertree the Healer. And Father. And Mother.
It was not possible to resist. Moth became aware of her lungs moving air in and out, and her heart thrumming in steady cadence. Part of her trembled, fearing a terrible pain, but it was vanished.
Vision blurred, then steadied, as she opened oddly-heavy eyelids. Arrowrock's face hovered above her, jaw and cheek bones more prominent than she had ever remembered, as if he had not eaten in days. "Father?" she whispered, wanting to send had her mind not felt so very tired. "Are you ... all ... right?"
His hands shook as they found her face. "Moth ... oh, Moth ... I ... I --" Abruptly, she found herself swept up in his arms, held to him in a crushing embrace, dizziness assailing her from the sudden change. She wanted to return that hug, but her arms were leaden weights, unusable. She could only listen as he rocked with her, as he spoke her name over and over, as tearless sobs shook him. She sensed that his crying was for relief and joy, but she did not quite understand the reasons behind his emotions. It bothered her.
"Gently, good friend. Gently. She will be fine." From the corner of her eye, Moth saw a slender hand press against her father's forehead, and sensed the warmth spreading from it. The strength of his almost-crushing embrace eased, and then he lay her down. The hand slipped away, but then Dawnflower moved into her area of vision, slipping her arms around her blond-haired mate.
Moth's view of her parents' embrace became obscured as Silvertree sat down on the bed. Rather reluctantly, Moth focussed on the Healer's face. It, also, was drawn. Her puzzlement increased. "Silvertree?"
The Healer gave her a weary smile. "You do not remember?" Moth looked at her, still puzzled. "No? Well, it will return in time."
"What ... happened? Why ... am I ... so ... tired?"
Sadness darkened the green eyes, and the Healer swept her hand over Moth's brow. "We were on the Fall Hunt, you were with us..." Quickly, she spoke of Moth's efforts to get to the Ledge, and to control the released magic. "You saved the strangers, and more, perhaps, by controlling the magic. Unfortunately, some of it was shaping magic, and it ... damaged ... your body. Sunflower dragged you inside, when she recovered, and kept you alive until we could get there, but ..." She gave a faint shrug. "I Healed your body yesterday, but your spirit needed more rest."
Moth found her eyes wandering to the ceiling. She was in the Isle. That meant ... she swallowed, not wanting to think about what that meant. "I'll ... I'll be all right?" Silvertree smiled, and nodded, but seemed reluctant to say more.
"But not unchanged, Moth Farsender." Startled, Moth rolled her head over, to see Farseeker kneeling beside her. He touched her cheek with the back of his hand, and his smile was wry, and not free of pain. "I sensed there were good reasons for you going on the Hunt, but I never guessed what would happen. When I sensed you directing the attack on the Elders ..." For a moment, she sensed his fear recalled. Then he thrust it away. "You're the only one who could have kept that madness from killing. If I had known what would happen, I would have gone myself, but ..."
"But you couldn't have reached the Ledge in time," she whispered. Moth sensed the memories starting to return -- not yet there, but within her grasp when she was ready. And ... she was changed. "I'm not ... Moth flitter-flutter anymore. It ... hurt ... when Nightdancer died, but I didn't want anyone to know how much it hurt, how much I'd cared, and hadn't admitted I cared. But, when I sensed the strangers would die, without help ... I, I couldn't just stand by and do nothing. Nightdancer loved me ... I couldn't be unworthy of him, again ... the strangers are all right?"
"Firewalker was hurt worse than yourself, but Silvertree believes he will waken shortly." A smile crinkled the corners of his eyes. "Cliffclimber may regret her offer to foster the two youngsters--I've heard that so far, they seem to stop asking questions only long enough to eat and sleep.
Moth smiled in turn, feeling a warm, fuzzy happiness steal over her. She had saved the strangers. She'd be able to talk with them, learn all about them, and the unknown places they'd seen. She was sure she would like them, especially that tall one with only one eye. And Nightdancer would be pleased with her.