Andaren stirred slightly, frowning as the bright light streaming in through the open window played on her face. Yoli's tuneful chirping broke through the foggy haze still clouding her mind and, slowly, she opened her eyes.

She gasped. Sitting bolt upright in the plush, soft bed she gazed around her in wide-eyed disbelief at the warm, well furnished room. The Lunar Mage's quarters! She was in the Lunar Mage's quarters! Who had brought her here? The last thing she remembered was being before the Mentrians, reviving a plant to prove her powers. Had she succeeded then, to be here now?

Yoli crooned affectionately and rubbed her head against Andaren's face. Andaren reached up to scratch the alundi behind the ears, then reluctantly swung herself off the bed. She didn't know where to look first; with it's colourful, expensive drapes, tapestries, statuettes of gold and silver and an alter decorated with expensive, jewelled athame, chalice and other magical essentials, this was the most opulent room Andaren had ever seen.

She crossed the room to the altar, picked up the bejewelled athame carefully and felt the power pulsing through it - so these tools had been charged by her already, without her being aware of it, when the Lady's power had filled her and given her the title of the Lunar Mage. Reverently she replaced the tool, bowed to the statuette representing the Goddess, then went to the window and gazed out over the city, still lying in sleepy silence, illuminated by the fresh, early morning sunshine. It had rained at some point during the night, although not heavily, and bright facets of colour shimmered on raindrops clinging to tree branches, windows and on the white-painted benches in the gardens directly below Andaren's tower-room window.

The sky, cleansed by the night's fitful showers, was a clear turquoise hung here and there with feather-soft wisps of downy-white cloud.

Andaren braced her hands against the windowsill, closed her eyes and allowed a pleasantly cool breeze caress her face and tug at wisps of her fine, dark hair that had escaped overnight from her braid. The same breeze carried the sound of birdsong and the /whoop-yak/ call of Molbens to her ears, as well as the first stirrings of human activity in the city streets as market-stall owners prepared for a new day of trading.

"My Lady?"

Andaren jumped at the loud knock on the door and the strange, enthusiastic girl's voice from the hallway beyond it. Then, recovering her composure, she called back:

"What is it?"

"I've been sent to help you get ready, My Lady..."

Andaren's heart thudded in her chest as she wondered what the Mentrians had in store for her that day - she had heard rumours only of the rituals involved in initiating the Luna Mage. Even L'endrin had not told her what happened, besides the parade and festivities that followed - and those were common knowledge anyway.

Yoli yipped a warning at her and Andaren took a few deep breaths, afraid, as the young alundi obviously was, that her panic would bring on one of her turns. Then she approached the door, grasped the handle and pulled it open.

She stared, for a moment forgetting her manners when her gaze fell on the student standing in the hallway, clutching a bundle of finely died and spun clothing. The girl was tall, had very fine, delicate facial features; skin the colour of acorns and eyes the deep red colour of the sunset that matched her vibrant, curly hair. Her fingers were long and thin, tipped with perfect white nails, on which were painted runic symbols. She was wearing, like every other student, a simple linen shift with a green girdle that marked her as being in her second year of training.

The girl, in turn, was staring at Andaren.

"You're part Krugle!" she blurted, forgetting to be polite to the newly discovered Luna Mage. Flustered, Andaren ushered her into the room and closed the door. She felt her face redden - to think, she'd been staring like a babe with no training in manners at all.

"You are, aren't you?" the girl pressed, her mouth hanging open, displaying small, perfectly white teeth.

"I am descended from the Krugle race, yes .... but many generations ago now," Andaren replied, "And you.."

"Half Krugle," the girl grinned, "My dad's from one of the old tribes."

"I didn't think there were many left ..... oh!" Andaren exclaimed, aghast at her own thoughtlessness,

"Forgive me!"

The girl most probably did not want to be reminded that her kin were on the decline. Tribes were small and scarce; part of the reason that Andaren had stared was because she had not seen a Krugle - or even a half-Krugle - in years, certainly not in the Hall. The girl, however, didn't seem too distressed at Andaren's slip of the tongue.

"No matter, My Lady, it's true, there aren't many of my father's people left - but things will pick up for them; there were three new babes in the tribe when last I visited."

"Oh....." said Andaren, still flustered, ".....Good."

"Anyway, My Lady..." the girl began.

"Call me Andaren, please ..... I've not had anyone call me 'My Lady' before and I fear I shall never get used to it!"

"Ok ..... Andaren. I'm Skell ..... anyway, I was told to give you this.."

She shook out the garment she had been carrying and Andaren gasped in surprise. A light blue gown, woven from some fine material that she couldn't identify, but was as soft as bird down and rippled like the water of a clear lake, was spread out on the bed before her. It was followed by a long, fine, thin veil that wound surely fall straight to Andaren's ankles, despite her height. Skell laid silky ribbons of a slightly deeper blue than the gown and a pair of finely crafted, blue sandals on top of the rest of the outfit and grinned at the expression on Andaren's face.

"I cannot wear clothing like this!" Andaren protested, causing Skell to chuckle.

"Oh aye you can," she said, forgetting all propriety and slipping into her natural way of talking, "Yah living in da lap o' luxury now."

Andaren ran a finger over the gown, feeling a thrill of terror. This cloth must be expensive - how could she be expected to wear this? She would surely ruin it!"

"Yah gonna put it on?" Skell said, her eyes twinkling, "Or do ah 'ave tah put it on yah meself?"

Still very much overawed, Andaren took the fine clothes behind a screen in the corner of the room and carefully changed into them. The gown fitted like a glove - almost as if it had been made for her. Still afraid of ruining the cloth, Andaren gingerly emerged from behind the screen and, sitting on the bed, allowed Skell to brush and re-braid her hair using the new ribbons.

"There," Skell readjusted Andaren's veil and stood back to admire the effect, "Ah reckon yah look right well off now!"

Andaren gazed at a full length mirror that Skell turned towards her and, instead of seeing her own reflection, she saw a well dressed stranger, tall and imposing - as if the outfit had turned her into someone else altogether.

'Right well off', Skell had put it - Andaren certainly looked like a well bred lady now - no trace of the girl that had been brought up in a grotty little house with four brothers, a violent father and a mother that couldn't care less about the youngest, weakest member of her brood. No trace of the girl that had roamed the streets at all hours, trying to avoid having to go back to that grotty home. No trace of the girl that had sat in street corners, listening to her youngest brother playing on a broken guitar or a flute he had crudely whittled out himself. No trace of the girl that had cried herself to sleep every night after that same brother was ushered off by a passing tradesman who had heard him playing and wished to train him as an apprentice. No trace of the girl who tore her feet open by running, shoeless, into the street to throw herself on that brother when he returned following his master's death.

/What have I become?/ She wondered, /I know I gave up some part of myself when I accepted the Luna Magic - but am I still me? Am I still Andaren or someone else entirely? My childhood was never ideal - but I used to be happy, as long as Luin was around. Luin! He's leaving! /

Silvery tears formed in Andaren's eyes, trickling down her cheeks and she was grateful that her veil hid them from Skell, who was chattering away merrily, unaware that Andaren was not listening. Luin was leaving, and she couldn't go with him ..... not now that she had been accepted as Luna Mage. Would he be angry with her for deciding to stay?

/Luin,/ she thought desperately, /Luin, I'm sorry. If things had been different - if L'endrin hadn't brought me to the Hall, if I hadn't absorbed the Luna Magic - you know I would have loved nothing better but to come with you. But not now .. now I have responsibilities, duties to perform. Please, Luin, please understand!/

"And'ren!" Skell yelled, so loudly that Andaren suspected, guiltily, that it wasn't the first time she had said it.

"Sorry Skell....."

"Yah were miles away! Yah comin' or wot?" Andaren nodded and gracefully glided out into the hall, noting gloomily that, somehow, she seemed hold herself as elegantly as any well-groomed lady. Skell moved behind her, grabbing the trailing end of her veil and carrying it for her.

/Like any Lady with her servant! /Andaren thought, not at all sure she liked the idea.

Sunlight was gilding the hallway; dust glittered in golden bands falling through the open windows and bathing the polished stone floor in light. Yoli let out a squeal of protest when she swooped out of the Lunar Mage's quarters in Andaren and Skell's wake, landed on her mistresses' shoulder and burrowed into Andaren's veil, trying to evade the brightness. Andaren was about to order her out again, then paused; she wasn't sure if the Mentrians would permit the alundi to be at the ceremony and she couldn't bear the thought of facing whatever it was the day had in store for her without her oldest and closest friend.

"Ya gonna let her stay with ya?" Skell asked incredulously.

"Yes," said Andaren firmly, "And Skell.."

"Yer?"

"Don't talk like that in front of the Mentrians."

Skell's face turned crimson when she realised that she had elapsed into her own tongue.

"My apologies, Ma'am....."

"I don't mind," Andaren reassured her quickly, "But somehow I don't think the Mentrian's will be as lenient ..... it's best to watch your step around them. Hello, who's this?"

They had reached the end of the corridor and a figure was waiting by the winding staircase. Andaren narrowed her eyes; the light in the hallway was so blinding that she couldn't make out more than a silhouette and the gilding of light on fair hair. Obligingly a cloud drifted lazily in the path of the sunlight outside and the glare dimmed enough for Andaren to make out a white tunic and cloak, both offset at hem, neck and sleeves with gold embroidery. She was trying to figure out where she had seen the man before when he smiled, catching the light - returning as the cloud shifted out of the sun's path - with perfect white teeth.

"Hello Lunar Mage," he said, his voice as warm as the sunlight that was bathing him in its radiance, "It's a pleasure to meet you again; that outfit looks most becoming on you!"

He bowed, then extended a hand that Andaren, after a moment's hesitation, took in her own. "I don't believe we have met, though your face is familiar," she said, her tone apologetic. The young man laughed.

"How impolite of me! Begging your pardon, My Lady - I was at the meeting last night."

"You're a Mentrian?" Andaren was astounded, he seemed to young to have such status and, by his accent, he was country-bred too; it was unusual for those outside the city to be recruited for the Hall.

"Aye," the young man smiled, his eyes sparkling with humour at her reaction, "A bit of a shock to everyone, myself not least of all!" He chuckled, "And Parg was as pleased then as he was last night."

Andaren's stomach lurched at the mention of Parg's name; she was certain that he hated her and fervently hoped that it was not him who had been chosen to lead her in her initiation and the ceremonies that came before it.

"May I know who is to lead the proceedings today My Lord..." she paused, realising she still did not know his name. Again, the young man laughed.

"Apologies again - my name is Olun Deosil, the Mentrian honoured with the duty of performing the initiation of the Lunar Mage," he bowed again, still grinning.

"You?" Andaren did not mean to sound rude, but she was astounded that the youngest member of the council would be chosen for such an important event.

"Me!" he replied, his eyes twinkling more than ever, "A request from your tutor, L'endrin, who thought that Parg's choice of - ah - /himself /would be most unwise considering his obvious feelings towards you."

"A lucky escape indeed," said Andaren, unable to hide her relief. The knot in her stomach seemed to have loosened and some of her misgivings had evaporated; already she was warming to Olun.

"And so I was delighted to accept this duty," said Olun, "Which will be my first real ritual since my own initiation," he offered her his arm and, when she had placed her slim hand on it, led her on the long descent down the spiral staircase. "A first for both of us, Lunar Mage - let's make it a day that everyone will remember!"

*

The white-furred molben let out a bark of protest and shifted uneasily from one long, small-footed leg to the other as the young bard tried to wrestle a halter over its head.

"Spirits damn you, you insufferable beast!" Luin cursed, bringing his hand instinctively to his mouth when the creature's short and long-clawed forelimbs shot out and raked across his fingers, leaving lines of crimson in the human's dark flesh. The Molben hissed and shook its head irritably, causing its floppy white ears and beard-like facial hair to flap. It's long, counterbalancing tail thrashed the ground, a sure sign that it was in a foul temper - but Luin had a temper to match, and little time to waste. Swearing, he grabbed the animal by the long fur around its muzzle, yanked its head down and forced on the halter. The Molben thrashed its tail again, gave several /whoop-yak/ cries of angry protest, then, realising its protestations were getting it nowhere, settled down and dropped its head to crop the grass, still regarding the bard malevolently.

Luin ignored it and checked that the saddle and pack-baskets were securely fastened - Molbens might sometimes be intolerably grumpy creatures, but there was no other beast that could match them in speed or strength. Molbens had long, straight and powerful hind legs; each equipped with three hard-horned toes. Their forefeet were small in comparison, held close to the body and used for stripping branches, bringing food up to the mouth and discouraging predators. They were rugged creatures that, thanks to their long, thick, insulating fur could survive in very cold climates, run over a long distance and intelligent enough to be capable of learning to respond to human signals - most of the time.

Luin satisfied himself that the pack-baskets and the small wagon he would live in during his journey were properly fastened to the animal, then busied himself carefully securing his instruments into special holders on the inside of the wagon. If they got thrown about over rough country they could be badly damaged, broken beyond repair, and he couldn't afford to replace them. Indeed, the harp and guitar had been his master's, passed onto him when the old bard had passed away.

Luin closed his eyes and tried to swallow the lump in his throat that rose when he thought of the old man with the failing eyes and gnarled fingers that could pluck out a better tune than many a youthful hand. The old bard had been the only one that had any faith in him, the only one willing to give him a chance - besides Andaren. Andaren, Luin remembered, was the only one who had welcomed him when he had returned home, broken hearted with all hopes of fulfilling his ambitions of becoming a musician dashed by his master's death.

Casting a glance at the Mage's Hall, its white walls dazzling in the bright sunlight, Luin noticed that a blue flag with a white moon embellished on it had been raised on the pinnacle of the tallest tower. His heart plummeted; he'd heard rumours already that the Lunar Mage had been found and passed by the Mentrians, but hadn't let himself believe it. The flag, however, confirmed his worst fears. Andaren was about to become the most powerful mage in the world; she would not want to travel with him now.

With a sigh he hauled himself up into the saddle and grasped the molben's reigns. The animal threw its head and snorted, but responded to Luin's impatient instructions and began to move off, straining momentarily against the wagon before it gained momentum and rolled smoothly.

"Surely you're not leaving without saying goodbye!" said a familiar voice behind him. Luin jumped and reigned in the molben, much to the animal's evident disgust. Ignoring the molben's angry yaps, Luin spun around to see L'endrin standing just behind him, leaning heavily on a stick and looking years older than he had when last they had met.

"Merry Meet," L'endrin said, "Or should it be Merry Part?"

"I wouldn't have thought you would have been surprised, or even bothered, to see me go," Luin responded bitterly, sliding out of the saddle once more. L'endrin chuckled.

"No, indeed I am astonished you stayed in the city so long, Luin. However, I am bothered deeply that you would consider leaving without talking to Andaren."

"I said all that I needed to say yesterday; she has chosen to stay."

"No," said L'endrin softly, "She has no choice, you know that. There is only one Lunar Mage, Luin - she can't just drop that responsibility."

"She's in this position because of you!" Luin yelled, his temper flaring quickly as he rounded on Andaren's mentor, "You, always pushing her! Convincing her to try to absorb the Lady's magic, you...!"

"She is who she is," L'endrin's voice remained calm, as if he was unaffected by Luin's anger, "What I did, or didn't do, couldn't have altered her destiny. Andaren was meant to absorb the Lady's magic - she's the Lunar Mage; the one and only. I did not make her so; it has been so since her birth."

"There have been other Lunar Mages....."

"They were Andaren," L'endrin said gently, "Andaren in her previous lives, for no matter how many times she is reincarnated or who she is reincarnated as, the power remains with her."

Luin's eyes, much to L'endrin's surprise, suddenly overflowed with tears; Luin did not usually cry or display his emotions so clearly.

"I ..... I can't loose her, L'endrin," he choked, "Don't you understand? She's the only one who was ever there for me, the only one who cared when I left, the only one....."

"The only one you ever loved," L'endrin said gently, "The love between a brother and sister is special and can never be broken - you'll never loose Andaren, as long as the love between you remains strong." The old Mage shuffled closer to Luin, reaching out one dry-skinned and arthritic hand to grasp the bard's. Luin looked down into L'endrin's troubled eyes and suddenly realised how small and frail he was, how withered with age he had become even in the one year since he had taken Andaren up to the Hall for the first time.

"She can't loose you, Luin," L'endrin said urgently, "She needs you, now more than ever. The powers of the Lunar Mage are not an easy burden to bear, Andaren needs your support, she needs you to stick by her." Luin tore himself away, busying himself with straightening the molben's pack baskets.

"I can't stay in this city, L'endrin ..... it's suffocating me; every day I feel as though the buildings are closing in on me, seeking to enclose me in a world of darkness, trapping me forever. I need to travel, see other places ... go somewhere where I can look out over the horizon and not see buildings always blocking the view!"

"I understand," L'endrin responded, "And one day you will make that journey, head for that boundless horizon, but not today. Today you have to go and support your sister in what will be the most traumatic day of her life." Again the mage's hand grabbed the bard's and Luin was surprised to see fear creep into L'endrin's eyes.

"There is something amiss, isn't there?" Luin's heart jumped horribly, "Oh Great Goddess! It's her heart, isn't it? You've Seen that this day will be too much for her!" "Her heart.." A strange expression passed over L'endrin's face and he sighed, "Her heart, yes ... yes, it will be affected today, but ... Luin? LUIN!"

Luin had turned, disencumbered the molben from the wagon and leaped into the animal's saddle. Before L'endrin had time to finish what he was saying, the young bard had disappeared in the dust created by the speeding molben, heading straight for the Hall.

L'endrin sighed and leaned heavily on his walking stick, feeling now, more than ever, the burden of his age. How long had it been since he had been able to move like that? How long since he would have gone racing off to aid someone he loved? It seemed like a lifetime ago; how was it he had never appreciated a strong, young, healthy body when he had had it?

/Once I was young,/ he thought wearily /and ignorant to the wisdom that age and time bring. How long has it been since I knew not that the heart could be more severely affected than by physical pain?/

He looked up at the Hall, narrowing his eyes against the glare of sunlight on white stone, then closed them and turned away, feeling a heavy weight descend on his heart.

/Ah, Andaren ... you're as good as a daughter to me and no father could be prouder - but although I can glimpse into your future, I won't be there to see it in the flesh ..... at least not in this body. I only hope that you can cope with what you are destined to face - I only hope that you can overcome the problems that will trouble your heart - both physically ...... and emotionally!/