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I don't feel like writing. This section will just have to stand by itself.

Well, when the little girl came home, her father was aware something was up.  He took his hiking staff and decided to visit the mountain top and chat with the oread about what she had gotten his daughter into.

Now an ancient oread is an interesting creature.  (Roll up a greater gnome, 10d6 POW, 10d6 STR, the other characteristics as a human, APP +20, with 3d6+12 points of rune magic and 10+2d6 levels of investment in the Nature Spirit track).  But Ariel's father was an interesting person, and a bit concerned about how his daughter had been sent up the sky gates.

On the other hand, his children had always been precocious, though with his son at college the boy had quit hunting the scorpion men for sport (they've trickled through a breach in the sky gates, two chaos taints each, fixed INT at 7, otherwise as scorpion men).  His son seemed to lean more towards the shidhe friends he had obtained, but was getting more integrated into human life.

When he got to the mountain top, he and his daughter out for a hike, the oread recognized him.  He had freed her from where she had been frozen into a glacier near the mountain top, and he was the one who had worked out the compromise that gave her the mountain meadow. The dwarves had wanted to mine it, the coastal shidhe had wanted to exploit the sky gate and there was an armed conflict brewing.  As a young man (very young, scarcely twelve years old), he had managed to release the oread and bring about a negotiated settlement between the two sides.

She was embarrassed to see him, though she gave him an interesting look as well.  He had grown some as he left his teenage years behind, though he resisted her as he had before.

Before he could say anything, she made them welcome.  She was embarrassed to realize that she had propelled a twelve year old human child onto the hero plane.  Not that she wasn't the type who would do that to meet her immediate needs (such as anchoring the star path from the sky gate, protecting the meadow as the shrine did with its presence, and obtaining a guardian for the shrine -- it now pulled in random scorpion men, and when that supply ran out, she would probably have one of the scorpiods or the sun's guards whom she could count on to be even more of a guardian).  But she didn't usually expect to be called to account for her fecklessness.

She may have been ancient, thousands of years old, but she still lived in the present and was pretty irresponsible with the lives of others, in her way -- though she was kind as well -- the same way she was kind to a wounded rabbit or an injured bird.

Her father just shook his head.  He knew what to expect from oreads, though many matured with age, this one sometimes had and sometimes had not, though getting stuck in that glacier had made her a little more cautious.  Not to mention, her mindless storm state when she was bound by the Couranth was something she was still recovered from.  Give her a couple more years, he thought.

On the other hand, she had used the child and had not amended the balance.  There was a debt owed.  Facing a man who sometimes embodied the equity rune kind of had an effect on one, even someone as old and powerful as she was, especially since she still felt the debt of gratitude..

They didn't speak much.  All it really took him was seeing her to realize that there wasn't much to say.

"So, tell me about the changes you've made" he began.

She was relieved.  She talked about the star shrine, and how it warded the meadow now.  How she was disposing of scorpion men by the way the gate sucked them in every time someone wanted to use it.  If they prepared properly, the scorpion man suffered the hostile effects of breaching a star shrine's walls before the combat.  Several of the shidhe had already walked the path, seeking the power that could be obtained.

She was pleased that the trickster was limited even more.  Those who gave him coins were pretty much safe to pass him by -- it froze his paint brush and if he tried anything, they invariably were able to steal his hat.

The grove was protected from thieves as well.  Any who entered could only progress by giving any fruit they found to the Dawn spirit.  

And the path had real pitfalls for anyone who wasn't prepared and didn't know the story.  The holes in the path still required the ability to fly and freezing over weak spots.  The trickster had to be paid in dimes and quarters or the person had to be prepared to be painted or engaged in riddles that didn't have a winning pattern.  And on return, the mountain was slowly emptying out whatever left over evils still lurked in its seams or area as they were sucked into the path and consumed by the Trickster -- something the oread was very pleased with.

Not to mention, the oread owed the man's son a favor and saw the path as exactly what would fit the bill.  She would pay the price in power that the gift's pattern would cost to re-enact (only the one who opened the path escaped that burden) and in return for being taught how to be more responsible, would teach the little girl in return -- to balance things out.

It was funny, in a way, to think of a creature thousands of years old learning maturity from a girl about to turn thirteen, but appropriate too.  The little girl in return was learning more of the way of animals.

And so they continued, while the father rested until his son showed up.  He was back on spring break and had read the note of where they were and ...

That finished the lesson and they talked over how he would reach the end of the path.  He had a pocket full of change, and they checked to make sure he had the right amount to give the trickster.  He had his snowboard (which would let him cross the weakened areas) and his sylph poncho which would bear him up (it has a medium sized sylph bound into it) over the places where he would fall.  The little girl also gave him the star's secret name to speak back to the star in the grove and he gave her a secret name for his star, though he warned her that it might have side effects.

So he left, to gain true healing (and the oread put up six points of power, so that he could keep healing up to six points, regenerate six points each round, heal others at 30% chance per melee round he touched them).

The little girl had learned how to turn around three times at the gate and enter a different path, this one to Starry Quickness. Some of the oread's impulsiveness had rubbed off on her (just as some of her maturity had rubbed off on that ancient one) and before her father could tell her to wait, she turned around three times and was off.

This star path the Oread paid for as well (six point cost).  +3d6 to DEX, -3 to SR (so whatever you do, you do with the strike rank coming faster because of better DEX, and then 3 SR faster on top of that, costs 2 points of POW per 1d6 DEX/-1 to SR).  The rune skill is defense.

When the path opened up, she had to run for the gate before it closed.  Only someone who can run faster than is humanly possible (or, perhaps, someone who moves like lightening flashes) could make it through the gate in time.  She did, and past the entrance quickly before the falling blades of the inner gate would have sliced her in two.  This was no place for one to stop and think or to move slowly.

She was then enveloped by a chilling slowness, but she overcame it by her inherent bond with frost, stepping out of the binding and binding it in turn (though leaving the elemental behind).  

She then faced the maze the chilling slowness had created in the path, knowing that it would begin to melt and that if not crossed quickly, she would fall to earth through the clouds as the solidified fog turned to mist.  With a knowledge of the path and the star's pattern, she made it through.  Then she faced the maze's guardian, the star's ancient enemy, the greater saturlina feline [cf Call of Cthulhu's Cat from Saturn, only with size of 4d6+12 -- see Petersen's Guide to the Dreamlands].

It was chaos tainted (she was beginning to think that everything that she was going to have to face that was hostile would be chaos tainted -- not true, but a common feature of many of the twisted things that oppose the light).

Saturlina Feline

INT 2d6+3
POW 2d6+12
CON 2d6+12
STR 2d6+12
SIZ 4d6+12
APP 2d6+12

DEX 3d6+6

She was prepared, having cast her spells as she finished the maze, and being protected by ice and magic before she faced the creature.  Still, it was a deadly duel, and but for her ability to regenerate, she would have been lost.  From it she gained a reflection spell for her truestone talisman, to be saved against a great need.

Then she entered the grove of the star, and faced the final test, as it began to grow closed with frost barring the way.  She spoke a word and then used her last leg of lightening to reach the center before the way was closed.  There she poured out the white salts her brother had given her and from them took the star rune that she needed.  As she took it, she grew slightly and her hair turned white and the light of the star enveloped her.  She gave the star back its name and found that the light had taken her back to the mountain top.

There she and her father had quite the discussion about impulsiveness while they waited to head back down the mountain side.

Then her mother arrived, and the pattern completed itself as they tried to leave together.

Copyright 2001-2003, 2005 Stephen R. Marsh and Heather N. Marsh
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