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Prologue: Cup Of Tears

Elves may live forever, but their memories did not. Every elfin child is taught that any special memory has to be polished bright and carefully stored away at the end of a day, else it will slip away and soon be forgotten.

Wolf Who Rules Wind, Viceroy of the Westernlands and the human city of Pittsburgh, thought about this as he settled before the altar of Nheoya, god of longevity. It was one more thing he would have to teach his new domi, Tinker. While clever beyond measure, she had spent her childhood as a human. He had only transformed her genetically into an elf; she lacked the hundred years of experience that all other adult elves lived through.

Wolf lit the candle of memory, clapped to call the god's attention to him and bestowed his gift of silver on the altar. Normally he would wait to reach perfect calmness before starting the ceremony, but he didn't have time. He'd spent most of the last two days rescuing his domi, fighting her oni captors and discovering how and why they had kidnapped her away. In truth, he should be focusing on his many responsibilities, but the fact that his domi had been restored to him on the eve of Memory made him feel as it was important to observe the ritual.

He picked up the cup of tears. As a child, he couldn't understand why anyone would want to cling to bad memories. It had taken the royal court, with all its petty betrayals, to teach him the importance of bitterness; you needed to remember your mistakes to learn from them. For the first time, however, he did not dwell on those affairs of the heart. They all seemed minor now. His assistant, Sparrow Lifted by Wind, had taught him the true meaning of treachery.

He replayed now all her betrayals, slowly drinking down the warm salt water. He did not know when she started working with the oni, perhaps as early as the first day the human's orbital hyperphase gate shifted Pittsburgh to Elfhome. He knew for sure that she'd spent the last few weeks subtly detouring him away from the oni compound. She arranged for his blade brother Little Horse to be alone, so the oni could kidnap him and use him as a whipping boy. So many lies and deceptions! Wolf remembered the blank look on her face as she talked on her cell phone on that last day. He knew now the call was from the oni noble, Lord Tomtom, alerting her that Tinker and Little Horse had escaped. What excuse had she used to slip away in order to intercept them? Oh yes, a member of the clan needed someone to mediate between them and the Pittsburgh Police. He had thanked her for sparing him from such small responsibilities so he could focus on finding the two people most important to him. Too bad Little Horse gave her such a clean death.

Dawn was breaking, and the cup of tears was drained, so he set aside his bitter memories. As light spilled into the temple, he lifted the cup of joys.

Normally he would dwell hours on his happy childhood in his parents household, and then, with a few exceptions, skip over all the lonely years he spent at court, and start again as he built his own household and settled the Westernlands. He did not have time today. In celebration of their safety, he thought only of Tinker and Little Horse.

Sipping his honeyed tea, he remembered Little Horse's birth and childhood, how he grew in leaps and bounds between Wolf's visits back home, until he was old enough to be part of Wolf's household. He brought with him the quiet affection that Wolf missed from his parent's home. Bitterness at Sparrow tried to crowd in, but Wolf ignored the temptation to dwell on those thoughts. He had only a short time left, and he wasn't going to waste it on her.

He turned his thoughts to Tinker. A human, raised on Elfhome, she was a delightful mix of human sensibility steeped in elfin culture. They had met once years ago, when she saved him from a saurus. She saved him again from a recent oni assassination attempt. The days afterwards, as she struggled to keep him alive, she proved her intelligence, leadership, compassion, and fortitude. Once he realized that she was everything that he wanted in a domi, it was as if floodgates had opened in his heart, letting loose a flood of emotions he hadn't suspected himself capable of. Never had he wanted so much to protect another person. The very humanity that he loved in her made her butterfly fragile. The only way to keep her brightness shining was to make her an elf. At the time, he regretted the necessity, but no longer. As a human, Tinker would have either been taken away from the home she loved by the NSA, or she wouldn't have survived Sparrow's betrayal. If he had any regrets it was trusting Sparrow and underestimating the oni.

Much as he'd like to continue dwelling on the good memories of his beloved, there was too much to do. Reluctantly, Wolf Who Rules blew out the candle, stood, and bowed to the god.

The oni had forced his domi into building a gateway between their world and the neighborhood of Turtle Creek. Since the oni were gaining access to Earth (and ultimately Elfhome) via the orbital hyperphase gate - Tinker used her gate to destroy the one in orbit. Unfortunately there were side effects not even his beloved could explain. Pittsburgh was now stuck on Elfhome. Turtle Creek had melted into liquid confusion. And something, most likely the orbital gate, had fallen from the sky like shooting stars. It left them with no way to return the humans to Earth, and an unknown number of oni among them.

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