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Her thin cotton dress clung to her body and swirled in all the hues of the ocean around her legs, then swayed gently as the wind dissipated. The last of the dust her arrival had raised swept down off the hill on a breeze. Ceridwen touched the bottom of her rowan staff to the ground, and the traveling wind was gone. The top of the staff was a sphere of ice, within which danced a ball of fire.
All around her were gathered the women who called themselves Daughters of Ceridwen. Sniegoski compared to many of the Fey, the sorceress had been alive for centuries. Still, how strange it was for her to have women who appeared far older than she to call themselves her daughters. And as she regarded the faces of the dozens of women gathered around her atop that hill, she felt full of love and adoration, both that which they gave her and that which she returned to them.
Some of them were unfamiliar to her—women who had devoted themselves to her but whom she had neither met in person nor seen in a scrying pool. Others she had known for many years, and they were precious to her. The tiny redhaired Moya, from Edinburgh; the Canadians, Emmy and Kiera, who had met because of their devotion to her, and recently had become lovers; young, willowy Seraph, from Norwich, England; voluptuous Arielle, from Phoenix; Katie Matthews, the bookseller from Boston.
There were more than ninety of them, all together, beautiful women of varied age and shape and race. Their faces glowed with benevolent feeling, and they watched her expectantly. Off to the left, behind two older women from Vermont, stood a woman with dark ringlets of hair and freckles splashed across her deeply tanned face. Unlike most of the others, she seemed almost too shy to look up. The psychic raised her eyes and smiled sheepishly. She had become such an asset in a short amount of time.
Sensitive as she was—both to the human heart and to the elements— Ceridwen had understood immediately how valuable she could be. They had not met in person, but through scrying pools and candle flames they had looked upon one another and talked of magic and love and the future. Conan Doyle had even forced Ceridwen to use the phone to call her several times, though the lack of any spiritual connection in this mode of communication had troubled her. Ceridwen walked over to Guinivere. Ceridwen brushed several dark ringlets away from her face and bent to kiss Guinivere on the forehead.
If all of your sisters truly wish to be of assistance to me—and to this world—in the difficult times to come, then you will have a significant role to play in that effort. Moya stepped toward Ceridwen and bowed her head. Katie opened her hands and spread her arms. For the earth and the air, for the water and the flame. She glanced beyond the women at the thousands of people gathered on the land that spread out at the bottom of the hill for the Equinox Festival. Among the scrub brush they had created a tribe on the red earth, in front of the face of the red rock cliffs. Their flags fluttered in the breeze, and their songs filled the sky.
These people were the heart of the world.
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It filled her with joy to have the company of these women, but there was darkness on the horizon, and the news she carried was not at all pleasant. Knowing that you would all be gathered here today, I felt compelled to come and speak with you. I wish I had come only to see and touch you, to share with you the hope and beauty of the equinox.
But as many of you already know, even as we speak, 30 Christopher Golden and Thomas E.
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Sniegoski whispers travel, and the worlds tremble with dreadful anticipation. Ceridwen tried to avoid using the term with these good women. They were among those who wished to alter the Earth for the better. Kiera put an arm around her and held her close. Ceridwen nodded. Some of you are already aware of this and know what that could mean. Others are perhaps hearing the name for the very first time.
Suffice it to say that the Demogorgon is called by many names, one of which is the Great Devourer. It exists, and it has turned its horrid attention upon this world. I am no different from any of you in that respect. I have my hopes for the future, just as you do. I love, and am loved in return. I have everything to lose.
That would mean a catastrophic loss of faith. Instead, I want you to hold that hope close to your hearts in the coming days and months. It may be years before the Demogorgon arrives, but I fear we do not have that kind of time.
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When the Devourer comes, I and my allies will stand against it. Some of the most powerful mages and monsters in this world will defy the Demogorgon. You know we will. The benevolent smiles had gone from their faces, and the women nodded grimly. Ceridwen turned to Guinivere, whose gaze seemed to be searching for something. Will you stand with me? What can we do against something like the Demogorgon? I can barely wrap my mind around the idea of something so terrible. Among you there are those with the potential for real magic.
I will not say that you can perform the kind of sorcery that is possible in my world, but you can tap the power that is here. And with that magic, and the valiant hearts I know that you all possess, you can fight. Their shadows stretched across the red earth of the hill, merging into one, all of those women standing together. And you will all have to help one another to nurture whatever touch of magic you can find within yourselves. Guinivere is going to be my voice among you. You can feel the hearts and thoughts of others, and you sense the other worlds that exist so close to your own.
You can see into those worlds if you focus enough.
But there are other threats to be combated, and I will not always be able to be with you. Guinivere will guide you. She is the axis upon which all of our efforts must turn. Learn what skills you can.
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Love one another and share what you learn. If there is any way to turn the Devourer away before it reaches this world, it will be done. And if there is no way, then I will stand with you all on our darkest of days. Sniegoski Ceridwen fell silent. For long moments none of them spoke.
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