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  1. THE SKY VOYAGER Part 2: Away Mission I had sat quietly all through the briefing, occupying my usual corner of the conference room table and doodling on my PADD. By now I was used to my usual assignment: Before the mission, use the Federation database to compile a report on their relevant cultural and physiological specifications, if they existed in our data; accompany the away mission, taking field notes on any unique behaviors, speech patterns, phrases, mannerisms, and cultural preferences that I observed; then, after returning, compare my notes with the previous information and add my observations into the database. I was getting good at the routine and enjoyed getting to travel with the away crews, without having too much responsibility. “... and Ensign Elvenword, I want you to lead a second away team to the rural areas outside the capitol.” It took me nearly three seconds to realize that my name had been called. Wait - did she say lead an away mission? I sat up and blinked at Captain Janeway’s face, which wore just a shadow of a smile. “Captain?” “I want you to take a team into the rural areas and prepare a report,” the captain said, striding slowly across the room with her hands on her hips. “I want a report on the geology of the land and the people’s living conditions, housing, habits, political opinions - give me a nice overview of how rural people in this country live and what they think about their government. This is a post-warp civilization so you don’t have to be secretive with your technology. Give me tricorder readouts, written reports, holophotos - whatever you think we need to know. We’ll be here for three weeks if all goes well.” My heart fluttered like a malfunction in the deflector shield as my mind began to race through personnel lists, what equipment I would need, what sections I should include in the report - all while trying to compose my face as Captain Janeway stopped in front of me, her eyebrows raised and one corner of her mouth twisted upwards. “Think you can handle that, Ensign?” I felt the eyes of the bridge crew on the back of my head, so I sat up straight and folded my hands in my lap. “Yes ma’am!” Janeway nodded shortly and reached out to brush her fingers across my shoulder. “Excellent. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.”
  2. THE SILVER ARCHER: BOOK II Chapter 3: Boundary Defense Mistral was standing by the window, absorbed in reading a thick stack of documents, when I walked into her office and softly closed the door behind me. "I'm sorry to be a bit late, Mistral. I left my training as soon as I received your message." She glanced up and waved a hand at her desk. "It's all right. Sit down." As I sat down in the chair, she tossed the papers onto the desk in front of me. "Titus has let me know that there is some kind of infiltration campaign going on here in the Temple. It seems the Dark Elf is trying to recruit some of our archers and warriors into his forces, using a variety of seduction and coercion techniques. He is still incorporeal, as far as we know, so we don't know yet whether he is visiting them himself or sending agents, and we don't know whether he has infiltrated Temple Island or is contacting people out in the town. What we do know is that a small number of students and even teachers have already left, and others have reported considering leaving as well. None of them will say how they were contacted. We suspect they have been threatened." I frowned at the stack of papers, which were personnel files. "Are these the students who have left?" "Yes." Some of them were names I recognized, and my stomach sank. Why was the Dark Elf trying to build his army? What was he planning? A moment later, I realized why Mistral had summoned me, and I closed my eyes in a grimace just before she said, "I need your help to track him down and drive him away from the Island." I had not told Mistral or anyone else that the Dark Elf's presence had been very close with me for many weeks hence - usually he hovered just outside my consciousness, a chilly detachment from my tasks and a quiet apathy. But the week that Mistral had left to visit another training temple on the mainland, he had appeared in my room one night as I was sitting at my desk, catching up on some reading - I spun around with a gasp when I felt his icy fingers trail down my cheek, and he was standing behind me, gazing down at me with a face that filled me with revulsion at its mixture of hatred and desire. "Get away from me," I cried without thinking, bolting up so fast the chair hit the ground, hands raised to block my face. "Get out of my room!" He raised his eyebrows gracefully and took a step backward, the sweep of his frozen garments swishing like softly falling snow across the floor as he unfolded to his long, slender height. He wore a long sky-blue robe and white jewel-studded cape that swirled lightly across his thin shoulders and arms, and a simple, frosty circlet rested on his snowy white brow. He spread his palms in a defenseless gesture. "Now, Sky. Haven't you killed me enough times already? Won't you consent to talk for a change?" I reached behind me for the sword propped in the corner, but when my hand connected with the handle, a shock like ice water shot up my arm and I had to drop it. "Silly girl," he murmured, beginning to move across the floor. True panic burst in my stomach and I leaped onto my pallet, pressing my palms against the wall to be ready to leap off in any direction; but I could barely breathe as he paused on the other side of the room and looked steadily at me with a slightly injured air. "I'm here to protect you, Sky. You're in great danger and I'm here to help you escape." I stared at him as those foreign words jangled like alarms in my head. "You're what?" "I know things you don't, and I can see things that you can't. You are in terrible danger that I alone can see. You must come with me now. Your life is at stake." Why was I even listening to him? Why was I beginning to hesitate under the strangely earnest gaze of his blue eyes? "I - don't believe you," I spat, spinning to one side to snatch up my bow and quiver and fit an arrow to the bowstring in one swift movement. I aimed directly at his forehead and fired - but to my horror, the arrow passed right through his incorporeal frame and ricocheted off the wall behind him, narrowly missing my own head in its return flight. His face split in a wide, beautiful smile that stunned me so my hands went slack. His face almost shone, like the moon just rising on a wintry night. His eyes sparkled like starlight on a snowy path. "Ah, Eldarwen," he sighed, shaking his head, "how little you still know me. What could we be if you would only learn to trust me?" But with only one swift step, he had lunged across the room and his hand closed cruelly around my throat, slamming me so hard against the wall that I saw stars. Ice shot through my veins and he leaned close to my face, all the merriment replaced by deep, total hatred. I could feel his cool breath against my cheek as he leaned close and pressed his glassy forehead against mine - and a terror unlike any I had ever known spread from that contact point throughout my body, paralyzing me, convulsing me into a blind panic that screamed for escape and safety. "You will come with me," he breathed against my face. I gagged and clawed at his merciless iron hand on my throat. "You are mine, Eldarwen. The time is here at last. Together we will rise." Darkness was closing around the edges of my vision and I could see nothing but his blue eyes piercing mine, controlling me, forcing my consciousness of the room and any other thought out of my mind. He was here for me. He would carry me away where he would - away from whatever danger he saw. If I did what he said, he would release me from the terror exploding down my spine with every half-choked breath. I never heard the sound that made him spin to look over his shoulder and release his hold on my throat, but he heard something in the hall and turned quickly to look, letting me go. I collapsed onto the pallet bed, violently sucking in air and scrabbling off the other side to crash onto the floor. "Get out," I gagged, for the first time remembering that the injuries on my hands were probably healed enough that I could throw my powers again. Still gasping and retching, I got up on one knee and crossed my wrists in front of me, opening my scarred palms toward him and praying to summon up the white-hot light from deep within. I felt it begin to glow deep in my belly and I lifted my gaze to his, all his hatred replaced with dread - but when I tried to throw the heat across at him, it only exploded from one hand; and the blow glanced off his shoulder. He grabbed his wound with a cry and ran toward the window, where he threw one baleful, curled-lip gaze at me before melting away into the night, leaving a trail of silvery blood-drops behind. He was gone. But as I sagged against the bed, all the ice and panic still coursed through my veins, leaving me shivering and sobbing in pain on the floor. Yes, he was gone, but I did not feel victorious. I looked down at my palms - the left one still glowed with the residual heat of my healing powers; the right one, the more severely injured one, was cold, and blue frost filled the white scar across it. For a long moment, abject despair and helplessness swirled up in me. How could I ever become a Protector if I still couldn't defend myself against the Dark Elf's attacks? How could I be trusted to lead others and heal them when my own injuries still left me vulnerable? Was he right after all - was I doomed to be chained to him for the rest of my life, unable to predict when he would appear, unable to do anything but impotently try to ward off his increasingly aggressive attacks? But as I looked down at my two hands - the one glowing and warm, the other still bearing fresh scars, and now marred even more by the frost filling its lines - a vague inspiration struck me. Taking a deep breath, I pressed my two palms together. And sure enough, the healing warmth from my left hand flowed across into my right, and the frost began to melt. The Dark Elf is not part of me and he does not define me, I whispered to myself, breathing deeply as the power of the King circled slowly through my shivering body, relaxing my clenched muscles and slowly warming me to life again. I do not belong to him, and I did not give in to him. I am the Silver Archer, the Arrow-Healer. Those titles were given to me and I have claimed them. I was chosen to be a Protector, and I know that my King and my teachers will teach me how to be ready for that day when it comes. The Dark Elf cannot stop me from achieving my destiny, and I will not live in fear of him, because I learn each time he attacks how better to stop him. My scars make me stronger - someday when I am a leader, I will be ready to defend my followers from his attacks because I've seen them all. And I refuse to believe his lies that I am less worthy because I am doomed to fight him. Worthiness is irrelevant - excellence, faith, determination, hope, and love are essential. I will fight his lies with truth, I will defend myself from his anger and hatred with love and light, and I will protect others from his pride and greed with humility and hope. In Mistral's office, I slowly opened my eyes and looked up into her face, quietly nodding and taking up the task I knew was mine to complete. "I will do whatever it takes to defend this place and these walls. This is our home. He has no place here."
  3. Hello Rebels! @Starpuck, @Genevieve Fox, @IAmInfinite, and I are starting a project to read through the Bible book of Psalms, 7 chapters per week, and report to each other once a week on our favorite verses and what we learned. Anyone from any guild is welcome to join - in fact, we'd love to have you!! This week we're reading Psalm 1-7, and on a yet-to-be-chosen day next week (possibly Monday?), we will all check in here and write a little about what we have learned or been blessed by in our readings this week. Welcome to all who join us on our journey!!
  4. THE SILVER ARCHER Chapter 2: Through the Mists of Time (Photo credit: https://greecewithfriendstravel.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/greece-zakynthos-coast-beach.jpg) The thick green mist was hanging heavy and close to the earth in the bottom of the valley, just a little dip between two hills that seemed to hold more mist than it ought to be able to hold. Trees grew around and over the hollow like a canopy, but not an inviting one. The shadows were too dark for my taste, especially contrasted with the brilliant spring sun above. "Mistral," I called, breaking into a trot to keep up with my teacher up ahead, "are you sure we have to go down there? It looks strange!" Mistral glanced at me as I drew alongside her, and her face crinkled into a smile under her warm purple hood. "Don't worry, Sky, it's all right. I've been here many times. It will be strange at first, but you'll learn your way around." "Learn my way around?" I slowed my steps and waved my arms to keep from sliding down the slight, muddy incline. "How big is this valley, anyway?" Mistral laughed. "No no, Sky, not in the valley. We're going through the valley." As we moved into the valley and closer to the tree-canopy, the greenish mist began to swirl softly out from between the trees and toward us, almost as if it were gathering us into a silent embrace. I grimaced and jumped backward a few steps, keeping my hand on my Silver Bow - somehow, I could sense a presence in this mist, or a consciousness - almost as if it were somehow alive. Who or what was reaching out to us? Was it friendly? Could this be another trick from my enemy, the Dark Elf? Normally when his presence was near, I could feel it in the constellation of icy-white scars across my right arm; but I felt none of that chill as the mist approached, only a strange churning in my stomach and goosebumps running down the back of my neck. Mistral, however, continued calmly down the hill and in between the two curling tendrils of the mist that began to encircle her. She did not seem to acknowledge the presence, but she did lift her hands slightly, as if in a defenseless gesture, as she passed between the first trees and out of my sight. "Come along, Sky," her voice floated back to me, a bit high and tense. "Stay with me, please." Maybe if I ran, I would avoid the touch of the mist. Quickly, I gathered up my skirt and trotted between the two swirls, ducking in between the trees - and stopping short with a gasp. Inside the canopy, the branches and limbs of the trees wound together in spiraling, intricate patterns to form a beautiful woodland cathedral. The sun shone vividly through the bright green leaves like stained glass, shimmering and sparkling like a shower of diamonds across the flattened floor as the wind passed through and fluttered the leaves. In the center of the cathedral, a deep, clear blue pool was surrounded by a circular pavement of flat, smooth stones. One of the stones formed the top of a staircase that led curving down the sides of the pool, into the water and far, far beyond my sight. Sudden panic burst in my stomach and I reached out to rest my hand on Mistral's arm. "Mistral, we - we're not going down there, are we?" Mistral seemed not to notice how high-pitched my voice was. "Not today - another day," she said absently, freeing her arm and walking toward the right side of the pool. "Follow me." As she passed by the pool, she bent low to dip her left hand into the water, touched her wet fingertips to her forehead, and then walked straight ahead of her, disappearing into the green mist. I took a deep breath and did the same - I bent down to dip my fingers into the water, which was surprisingly warm, and touched them to my forehead. As I walked straight forward in the direction Mistral had gone, I felt the water on my forehead begin to tingle and grow warmer, almost hot. The mist grew thicker until I could not see what was ahead of me - I could no longer see the trees, and when I looked down, I could not see the ground or even my feet. Heart pounding, I twisted my head to look behind me, and sure enough, I couldn't see behind me, either. I was completely engulfed in the mist. I breathed deeply and clenched my jaw as I kept walking forward, faster now, fighting the temptation to call out for Mistral. I could do this. She wasn't afraid; I didn't need to be either. We were almost through the valley to the other side. At last, after a span of minutes I couldn't measure, the mist began to thin. I could see my feet, and I could see the hazy outline of the sun above my head. We must have made it through the tree-canopy and back out to the other side. Mistral was up ahead - I could see her shape, still walking forward, now with her hood pushed off to show her short-cropped gray hair. I hurried up to walk beside her - but when I reached her, I stared. "Mistral, your clothes!" Gone were my teacher's handspun, faded robes - before my eyes, she had transformed into a warrior queen, her graceful neck emerging from a luxurious amethyst robe fastened at each shoulder with glittering golden clasps. A wide, heavy leather belt tightly encircled her slim waist, golden bracelets shone on each wrist, and a delicate golden circlet rested on her head. Every flutter of her light, flowing gown shimmered with grace; yet, somehow, she was also bristling with weapons - two daggers and a sword were attached to her belt, and the straps that crossed the center of her chest held a quiver and a slim golden bow. "What -" I couldn't even formulate the question. "How -" "You look quite nice yourself," she laughed, and nodded at me. "It's much more comfortable for this Mediterranean climate, don't you agree?" I barely had time to glance down and gasp at my own wardrobe change - I wore a long, simple white robe with a silver cord tied around my waist, a light metal breastplate that fastened tightly but flexibly around my ribcage, and a heavy red cape - before snapping my gaze back up and staring in wonder at the landscape that unfolded in front of me. We were no longer on the northern plains, or anywhere that I had ever been in my short life. We were standing atop a high ridge that dropped sharply down into the brightest, clearest green-blue water I had ever seen, vast waters stretching far out to the deep blue horizon. No clouds marred the perfect bowl of the sky above us, but a fresh breeze chased around us and swept out to the rocky islets far below our feet, where bushes, scrubby trees and brilliant flowers grew between white houses of all shapes and sizes. We had indeed passed "through the valley." Wherever we were, we were no longer in Middle Earth.
  5. THE SILVER ARCHER Chapter 1 I pulled my quiver strap tighter with one hand so it wouldn't bounce against my body as I ran hard up the last hill, trying to disguise my heavy breathing. Mistral would be furious that I wasn't at the rendezvous point when she arrived, and I doubted that she would accept my excuse. The sun had long set and the roving bands of enemy elves and men would soon resume their nightly pursuit of our little Ranger band. It was not safe to be out in the woods alone. When I reached the crest of the hill, I looked down and saw Mistral's campfire already burning low. I sighed and began to run down toward her. At least I had shot two small rabbits and traded for some cornmeal in the last village - perhaps that would appease her frustration. I took a deer trail down the hill so I would make as little noise as possible hurrying toward the campsite, but despite my relatively quiet approach, she was already sitting up and poking the fire back to life when I arrived in the clearing. "You stayed longer than you said you would," she said simply. I sighed and dumped the sack at her feet. "I did." She glanced at the bag, didn't open it, and looked up at me out of the corner of her eye. "Why?" I took a deep breath. No sense in covering it up. "I healed three people this afternoon." "What!" She immediately sat up and pushed back her hood to look me full in the face, her eyebrows raised high over huge violet eyes. "I told you not to use your powers without one of your teachers around! You still have much learning to do before you're ready to use them on your own!" "I know ..." I unslung my bow and quiver and sat down heavily on the ground next to her, slowly pulling off my wristlets and unlacing my boots. "But ... I couldn't just leave them there, could I? One of the girls had been hurt ... one of them was a young mother who was very sick ... and then an old gentleman who was very confused and needed help. I was the only one around." "You went to town," Mistral shot back pointedly. "You were not the only one around. Someone else could have helped them." "But not like I could," I shot back without thinking. As soon as I said it, she closed her eyes and her shoulders sank in a deep sigh. Why had I said that? I turned away and pulled my boots off, cringing as I waited for her usual lecture. She threw her stick down on the ground and rubbed her slender hands over her face with another heavy sigh. "Sky, you bear an important responsibility as the Keeper of the Silver Bow, that's true. But you're carrying far more weight on your shoulders than you should - far more than you're ready to carry. No one expects you to fulfill every need or right every wrong that comes your way. You are not the only Healer in the world. There are others. Many others. If you stop to use your powers on every crying child or lonely old man you meet, you won't have any time left to concentrate on your training and get stronger and more prepared to help even more people, in even bigger ways. Your training is the most important thing for you to focus on right now. All these side quests of yours are good, yes, but your training is best. You have a great work ahead of you that you won't be able to do if you don't shut out the distractions and practice and learn." I sighed quietly as I half-listened to the speech she had already given me three or four times in the last week. I knew her reasoning was probably true, but I also knew I couldn't just close my eyes when people saw my Silver Bow in the villages and forest towns and came to me, asking for my help. It only took me a few minutes to hold onto someone's shaking hands and listen to them pour out their heart, or to fire an arrow discreetly into the center of a bickering throng, or to place my hands on the shoulders of a wounded soldier so the King's healing power could flow through his bruised body. The practice drills and dull old texts that Mistral assigned me did not and could not seem as important as real people sitting in front of me and asking for my help. Of course, I couldn't say any of that to my teacher. "You're right," I said meekly, and reached over to push the bag toward her. "I did bring back a couple of rabbits and some cornmeal, if that helps." She looked at the bag, then at me, then shook her head and chuckled. "Sky, I'm not so easily distracted. Thank you for the food. You fry the cornmeal while I prepare the rabbit, and we'll continue this discussion another time."
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