Shadow World

As Moira fell into her trance, the reality of the Galaxy class starship USS Eclipse fell away. Now she was in the Shadow World... the spirits who walked here were those of dreamers, of seekers, of the shaman and the witch and the priestess. Often they appeared as wraiths, more often they came in the form of their totem animals.

Moira found herself surrounded by trees, impossibly tall, and the blackness of night. When the scents of the forest reached her nostrils, she realized that her human form was gone, replaced by that of a great she-wolf. She was surprised, but not terribly so. Ahead of her, as if standing guard over the forest, was a massive gray wolf, peering out across a blackened field... Kahallan. Behind her, she could feel her crewmates; if she looked, she might see flickering images of Lucara... and Akira... a few others... more substantially, Emerald and Padraig. A fierce determination rose within her. They were her pack, she would defend them.

She'd been here only once before, with Seanmháthair, her grandmother. Then she had been the student; now she was the Teacher and Guardian. She was here to protect Kahallan... that much she knew. She also knew enough to fear the alien that was about to materialize, not only on the physical plane where he could destroy her ship, not only on the psychic plane where he could destroy the minds of her crewmates, but here in the Shadow World where he could destroy souls... hers among them.

On silent feet she padded to Kahallan. He's out there, isn't he? she said to him, knowing that, on this plane at least, he could hear her. You feel him, too. A deep growl rose from her throat as she pressed her body close to his. (Careful. Wolves mate for life, you know.) In the distance, a form was taking shape, rumbling toward them. With her sharp eyes, she saw it as a huge grizzly bear... lumbering angrily toward them. Fighting the urge and losing, her teeth snapped on the nothingness of air.

So, Kahallan... do you want to fight in the trees or on the plain?

He answered her question by pushing her back, deeper into the darkness of the trees. He wants us out there fighting him... and so that's precisely what we're not going to do.

Winding through the blackness, following Kahallan, Moira had to wonder how he could manage navigating the paths so easily. For her, each of the trees had a spark of life, and she simply avoided them. But this darkness... it was total and it seemed unusual. Hadn't Seanmháthair said the Shadow World was like walking in a dense fog? This was certainly not that bright. A thought worried at the back of her mind... the darkness was for Kahallan's benefit. Had she altered the normal landscape of the Shadow World? It was possible, she knew. Or was the Goddess simply watching out for her companion? (Protect Kahallan.) (Aye, m'Lady.)

Suddenly, he turned to face her, nose to nose. She felt his breath ruffling the fur on her muzzle. Listen, he said, there's a danger here... sharp, rusted metal. But the image she saw in his mind did not make sense in the context of the present reality. Broken starships? Stay away! Don't get close. Well, do you take me for a fool, Kahallan? But his voice held desperation, verging on panic. Promise me! A beat... then another. Please. But then another image erupted in her mind... the gaping maws of steel traps... sharp, rusty, lethal. Moira shuddered.

All right, Duffy. I promise. She rubbed her head along his shoulder. Stopped. Shook her head. Fighting her internal urges. (Mustn't fall in love with Kahallan. Tsk, tsk.) Oh, Lady bless us... I’ll be fightin’ myself as well as the alien. Tucking the feelings away, out of sight... Kahallan's too dangerous for your tender heart anyway. Oh, but it hurts so to hide away the feelings. And Lady, how can I protect Kahallan if I don't love him? (Dangerous, child...) Aye, Mother. But it matters not if yon alien kills us all.

Another shake of the head, then Moira raises her head to look into Kahallan's eyes... polished wood – liquid, warm, compelling. She sees the danger there, for Kahallan has his own demons. But there is something else... it draws her closer to the fire.

Now what? I'm not much of a strategist... but I can follow orders. A flash in her mind... a woman, tall and noble, from another time and place... Athena. No, that isn't her name. It's... Lucara. Well, unless I see an opening for a better strike. Wolves don't grin with much humor, which suits Moira's mood perfectly.

Kahallan led them deeper and deeper into the forest of the Shadow World... away from the familiar-seeming trees that housed the spirits of their crewmates. Moira could still hear the sounds of the alien stalking them, but the clamor seemed to grow fainter as Kahallan pursued a Path that was strewn with his personal demons. He called back over his shoulder, almost in answer to her unspoken question, They must have come from somewhere... and that's where we're going.

Moira growled in response. It made sense. It was unorthodox and crazy, but it made sense. Draw the alien away from the rest of the crew. Of course, that left the two of them alone as targets for the alien's rage; but it would give Lucara a chance... to what? She hoped Kahallan knew what he was doing.

Flickering phantoms danced among the trees, just out of reach. She knew that these were Kahallan's devils. Something about them... something Moira felt she should understand, but didn't. (Protect Kahallan.) It was barely a breathy whisper in her mind, but the urgency of the command gave her pause. Protect him from what? From the demons? But they're staying well back from us, from him.

Suddenly then, like an icy blast of air from an open door in midwinter, realization dawned on her. She knew, oh yes, she knew what those demons were... Blessed Goddess! I'm supposed to protect Kahallan from his past??!? From his memories?? You flatter me, O Great Mother, with your confidence in me.

Did he know what he was doing? The Wolf was the only one who was going to be able to stop that alien following them, or so it seemed. What was going on in his mind?

Duffy... talk to me. He didn't hear her, or was ignoring her. She increased her pace until they were shoulder to shoulder. Damn it, Kahallan, I need to know what's going on inside your head. Talk to me!

The demons stalked Kahallan as he crept through the trees... a dozen, perhaps more, perhaps less. It was hard to tell in the shadows. They moved closer and closer to him. Moira felt a rage burning in her heart. Knowing that her emotions acted as a beacon for the alien, the huge rumbling bear that followed them, she tried containing them. He's coming, Duffy. But Duffy couldn't hear her. He was listening to the demons.

Suddenly, radiantly, Moira's fury erupted. She growled, a frightening, threatening sound, and leapt at the demon nearest Duffy. Her considerable weight landing square on its chest, she could feel the bones crack and break – heart crushed, lungs punctured – heard the last rush of air escape before unseeing eyes stared toward the tops of the trees. Such weak, pathetic things. Growling and angry, her only thoughts now were for Duffy... Protect Kahallan. She launched herself at another demon. Teeth tearing out a throat, shredding muscle and cartilage, severing artery and vein. Another. And another. Through the bloodlust, Moira knew that these demons could be manipulated by the alien; she had seen firsthand what unresolved feelings had done to Emerald and Padraig. She was not going to let that happen to Duffy. No. Not to her Duffy.

A whispered thought... what's that Duffy? Don't kill them? Oh, no! No, that's not the way it works. The Goddess commands me... the same Goddess who guided Boudica against the Romans in pre-history. A rather blood-thirsty wench she was, that Boudica. Of course, she had reason. As do I. And the Goddess commands me to protect you; so I shall. But to cripple them? So they can heal, and return? So they can be used against you by HIM? Oh, no, Duffy. It just isn't going to work that way.

And then there was only one demon left. Moira stood between her and Duffy. You're Kat, she said to the strangely beautiful, golden haired, blue eyed woman-child before her. I don't want to hurt you, child... but you've got to go. Kat shook her head. You've got to, Moira insisted. It's too dangerous for Duffy if you stay. Kat continued to refuse; Moira growled and moved closer.


Moira sensed Kahallan behind her, moving slowly, softly toward Kat. From the corner of her eye, she saw another demon. Oh, no... not another one. But this one was moving toward Kat, not Kahallan. A glance at Kahallan. No, he didn't want to let go of the demon. And in the distance, the alien crashed through the trees.

As the second demon moved to Kat's side, Moira gasped. Padraig??? Gently, lovingly, Padraig touched Kat's shoulder.


Padraig tilted his head to one side, and spoke softly to Kat. Ekaterina... little sister. A hand stretched out. It is time for us both to go.


Kahallan moved closer and closer to Kat, although Moira stayed between them. Padraig?

Her brother turned toward her. Yes, my dear one. It truly is time for me to go. I understand now that I only stayed this long so that I could help Ekaterina.

Her rage completely gone, Moira felt only grief now. First a whimper, then a howl tore from her throat. Oh, Padraig! I can't lose you again!

He was there beside her... one last hug, one last kiss. Remember me, and I'll never be gone, Moira. Take care of Mhari for me. And tell Emerald I'm sorry we didn't have more time to get to know one another. He turned to Duffy. Be well, Donovan Kahallan, and may God and Goddess bless you. Don't worry... I'll take good care of Kat. She's my own little sister now, and I'll not let anyone harm her.

Padraig walked over to Kat, emerald eyes staring into frightened sapphire eyes. Gently, gallantly, he took one trembling hand between his. And they were gone.

© Kelly Cunningham