Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Lady's Prerogative Book II: Wounded Aerth - Part XII

Hidden Allies


Shaela woke up in a tiny cell with a bucket beside her for a toilet. Her head pounding as she rubbed the back of her neck feeling the lump that her attackers had left her as a parting gift. She winced in pain as she touched it.


Her mind suddenly shot back to her moments with her lover before death had arrived to take him. He'd valiantly fought to protect her even with his handicap only to be killed in the thunderclap of their crude firearms. He was now dead and Shaela was entirely alone for the first time since she'd arrived. She was in the hands of the enemy and it would not be long before they started to question her. To torture her. In the throes of her pain she might confess for crimes she'd n'yer seen nor of which heard tell. Then they would execute her.


The cell was too small to summon her shadowy protector and ultimately she decided against piercing the bars before knowing her surroundings and circumstances. There were two other cells, both looked much better than the one she occupied. Through her cell door down the hall from her there was what appeared to be a desk or a guard station. She thought about speaking and then ruled against it. Silence was the key as the night set in.


"You're awake. What a waste. You'd best enjoy it. You're on your last hours Wytch." the voice spoke to her obviously savouring her helplessness from inside the cell.


She remained silent feeling a rage grow inside of her.


"The township has something special in store for you. A public execution. Your anguish will be certain as the stench of the stables." Shaela remained silent as the guard spoke.


Shaela's mind recalled her conversation with Thara on the night before she was absconded by her temporal kidnappers. Stealth and the silence of the night. Those are your allies. Even when you are outnumbered and out powered by day, you will prevail by night." Thara's words echoed through her head and she was thrust back to the moment after her test.


"You will see what they do not and they will not see what you do. Sometimes opportunity will present itself in the absence of their senses." Thara's words continued in the echo of her memories.


Shaela waited as the guard finished his cruel droll, already having decided his fate. She would just wait for the correct time for she was a much different lady than she'd been before the death of her Reginald. The Magistrate. Her lover. He much like Evan had softened her up enough to appreciate and feel the importance of companionship and affection. Things she'd tread over in her past with contempt for them as if they were weaknesses in that thick shell around her heart. Evan had gotten through it first, with his guidance and the kindness of his wife. Then when Shaela had met the Magistrate, she became enticed by his way with words and his passion for life. He'd managed to keep his direction in spite of the overwhelming forces working against him, thanks to his tightly knit group of allies and his sense of determination. Yet he shared himself with her and she felt powerless to do anything but the same. Like she'd found the one person in the planes of existence with whom she was completely at peace. She'd never connected to anyone as she had him and she felt like they had their own little secret in their blossoming relationship. Something to live for. Something for which she'd die.


Shaela had often felt pain in her life as a result of tragedy and loss, but the loss of her love had deeply scarred her. Her feelings were numbed and her sense of compassion non-existent. Her mind was rife with a growing plan to put a stop to the threat of these Wytch hunters once and for all. Deal with them as they should have been dealt with from the very beginning. There was no more sense in holding back though she needed to get ready to execute her plan. Most of all, she needed to effectively use the night as her ally. She would become their worst nightmare. A Night Wytch scorned.


Just as she was about to silently melt the bars with a little plasma and brimstone spell, she heard a large bolt on a door open somewhere in the distance. Footsteps followed as someone walked down the stairs into the guard station. Then a voice:


"Fine night and a good one for the capture of this vile creature. I have orders by way of this writ to take the prisoner to the Hunter's building for questioning." the stranger passed the guard a parchment.


"That won't do any good. I can't read anyhow. It's got the seal and that's all I'll be needin'. I'd like a lock of her hair afore you leave with her." he said eying the wax seal carefully to make sure it wasn't a forgery.


A moment passed silently and the guard handed the writ back to the stranger and then grabbed the key ring from the wall and proceeded down the hall to her cell.


"Looks like yer going to be a screamin' after all. Come on. Up with ya, and don't make any trouble!" the guard unlocked the cell as the other guard watched her, keeping his arquebus directed towards her in case of attack.


Shaela was already on her feet and feeling a little better. She walked slowly out of the cell careful not to make any sudden movements. The two guards led her down the hall and the station guard returned to his desk. The other led Shaela to the stairs, up and out of the jailers. Before she was beyond the grasp of the first guard, he grabbed and yanked a locket of her fiery red hair ripping it from her skull.


"I'll take your pitiful life with that piece of my hair before the night is done." Shaela showed all intensity and little emotion.


"Nay will you do. I've 'eard threats of the like afore, yet I've n'yer seen a wytch leave her grave to 'ave them done." the guard responded fearlessly examining the chunk of hair he'd plucked from her head.


"Don't move too suddenly. I'd not like the idea of making such a mess of the dead Magistrate's lover." the other guard said sounding a little menacing but Shaela sensed a delicate touch to his voice.


She held her focus for a moment upon the guard who'd plucked her hair before she realized that the second guard was secretly communicating with her.


He unlatched the big bolt and stepped up into an alcove where two more guards were stationed. Shaela continued ahead of her captor and out onto the streets of West View.


"You'll want to turn to the direction of your good hand." the guard instructed her.


She assumed he meant to the right, as most people were right handed. As it turned out Shaela was left handed and few had known that much of her. In fact while in school during her childhood she'd been scolded not to write with her left hand but instead to favour her right. She'd practiced and practiced until she could use her right hand nearly as deftly as her left. From that point on she'd only use her left hand in the presence of people in whom she had trust. There were few who had known this of her, something of which Mila may not have been aware. She thought back to recent events realizing that when she'd assisted Evan and his Wife in their home or at Evan's Office and while with the Magistrate, she'd used her left hand. In the presence of everyone else she'd used her right. She turned left and continued their walk towards the Hunter's building. As soon as they were out of eye shot of the two guards outside of the jail the guard told her to stop.


"I'm sorry I had to mistreat you as such. I miss him no doubt nearly as much as do you. He was a great and dear friend and they'll not go unpunished for this travesty." the guard addressed her.


"You knew him?" Shaela turned to him looking a bit more relieved.


"Yes, of course. Now Evan and myself are the only members of this colony who secretly stand against the activities of the Hunters." the guard addressed her.


"Evan's gone. He's doing a service tour with the Cavalry to help maintain control of the colony. So that only leaves you and me." Shaela told him.


"I guess it does then. I am Russell. Russell Halden." Russell nodded slightly to her.


"Shaela. Shaela Sheowellyn." Shaela nodded back.


"He left me instructions two days ago detailing what to do if either you or the Magistrate became incarcerated. Always thinking well ahead he was. A good leader and and even greater man. He would have been a great Mayor if his life hadn't been taken so tragically." Russell explained quietly.


"I am going to make them pay for what they did." Shaela told him, a taste of ire on her tongue.


"How? By force? You?" Russell asked looking surprised.


"Yes. By more force than they've ever seen in their soon to be ceased lives." Shaela's eyes tightened.


"Then you'll be confirming their arguments against Wytch kind. You'll be the monsters they make you out to be and we'll lose the support of the people for certain. Don't you see? They knew about you. They knew that if they killed him, that it would fill you with rage. He knew. That's why he left this parchment for you." Russell reached into his belt pouch and produced a small letter stamped with the Magistrate's seal.


She opened it finding enough moon light to read it under the stars:


My Dearest Shaela,

If you are reading these words then I am surely ceased to be. Take my love with you even from my current place of rest for it is as timeless as the night itself and as ceaseless as my love for you. Know that you are never alone should I remain one with your memories.

When you feel the hatred that they are undoubtedly trying to raise in you, do not give in to it. That is precisely what they want and possibly the reason that they killed me and not the both of us. They knew that it would likely throw you into a wrath against the entire township.

If you walk that path, then you will only increase the support against Wytch kind by confirming the fears of many in regard to the danger you pose. To win the colony, this must remain a legal battle and we must earn the trust of those who share our stance against the hunters. Many support us but fear being labeled as one of the Wytch kind. A fate that has befallen many of our supporters and has consolidated theirs.

Their ways are to manipulate others by the extremity of their emotions. If they can make you appear hateful or demonic, that is all they need to sell the public on the lie that you are evil or an instrument of the devil. This is a game of public opinion, not truth but you must stick to your virtues and truth despite how they play the public against you. They will use you to achieve their goals by deception and trickery. They will always use your weaknesses against you.
  
You must prove my death as a crime and reveal their connection to it. This will break the public's trust in the Hunters and release the colony from their grasp.

My love will be with you always,

Magistrate Reginald McCavrew
Shaela paused though no tears flowed from her eyes. She had no tears left to cry and she'd not be hiding amongst her tears on this night.


"Who were the hunters that were dispatched to deal with him. To deal with us." Shaela looked to Russell.


"It wasn't handled through the law offices, so I did not see any formal writ come down from the Mayor to execute the action. I suspect that it came directly from the Hunters and their headquarters down the end of the main strip of West View. I do know that a man by the name of Horace was one of the men dispatched to deal with you. He was the one who turned you in." Russell explained.


"And where can I find him?" Shaela asked him without waiting.


"He has a small home near the East Road out of West View. He stays there with two other Hunters. There's a sign with his family name: Belthew. If you go there, you'll need my help." Russell offered.


"No. I won't." Shaela told him as she started walking in the direction he'd indicated.


"Yes you will, if you want this to remain legal." he reminded her.


She stopped.


"I don't plan on being very nice to them." she told him.


"There's to be no killing. We cannot afford to lose this as the last bastion of public opinion." Russell told her firmly.


Shaela turned to face him pulling him into the shadows with her. She paused a moment to concentrate drawing in a breath of the night air. Her tattered house robe, the same one she'd been wearing when she was taken, slowly transformed into a long black dress, of a shadowy essence. It clung to her body as the transformation continued across her supple skin and renewing the vibrant redness of her hair, and lips across her pale face. She appeared much differently to him now and he watched her intensely with a tinge of fear. She put a finger to her lips and allowed herself a slight smile, though he could see a great and distant pain in her eyes.


"The public have no real opinion that they are free to express. They're too scared for their property, their means of support and their lives. They know they have more to fear from the Hunters than us, and that is why most of them are sitting by idly waiting to see who wins this. If they side with us, there's a good chance they'll become labeled as a Wytch and have a bounty placed upon them, which creates business for the Hunters and their supporters. The Hunters then have another person to sell as the dumping grounds for the transgressions of their supporters. They actually make coin from that. Selling the Wytches as an investment opportunity to be used as a vessel for the transgressions of others. Did you know that? After they've been burned at the stake, or sunk into the drink for an hour or two, all of their property and the record of their efforts in the colony are given out to their investors or to the townsfolk of their choosing. These so called Wytches who are nothing more than the framed innocent are completely removed from existence. If we don't win this, the real records of what happened here and what happens in times that have yet to be will be gone and their version of truth will prevail. Nobody will even know that we were here and died or why. Nobody will know what they did. Don't you see? There's no peaceful way to deal with this. If we succeed in protecting ourselves and the public and breaking down this lucrative investment opportunity they've created to clean themselves and their supporters of their transgressions, then the public will come to our support in the open, not just in secret. Even Reginald knew this. They'd attempted to paint him publicly in a way to discredit him to the people in spite of his virtues and his efforts to stop the Hunters. They did this all with illusion. The Hunters wanted me to set him up in a publicly discrediting situation. They'd left it to be my choice. Rape. Illegitimate pregnancy. Abuse and brutality. What ever would have been the most effective at nullifying him as a threat to the Hunters and their efforts to take over the power of the colony." Shaela paused a moment and confirmed that Russell was hearing this.


"Evan wanted me to investigate the Hunters, and I did. They hired me to discredit Reginald. I let Reginald know about this effort and we fell for each other. My hopes were to get the proof that I needed in the presence of another representative of the law offices. The proof that this conspiracy involved the Hunters and some of the public officials of the colony. They must have found out I'd been working for Evan and arranged Reginald's murder. If they turn this around, using Reginald as a martyr for the Hunters, claiming he was killed by me, then all is done and truth is lost. Don't you see? This is the hour of our victory or the day they cast us asunder! I will make no promises to you that I cannot keep." Shaela's eyes glared with intensity and driven purpose that Russell could not deny.

Shaela had truly become Shaela of the Order Of The Night Wytch. This night would be the night of her true test. A test of which no other member of the Order Of The Night Wytch could have conceived.


His face seemed anguished for a moment as if he'd struggled against the fact that he could not accept what was really happening. He and many of the others were just waiting. She was right. They were waiting to see which side would win for their own safety and that of their families and their individual histories within the colony. If they let them win, then what was to stop them from later enacting similar plans in the future against others in the colony? Or elsewhere in the land? When would this madness stop?


"I am going to go to the house of this Horace to find out where he got his orders from. If you'd like to accompany me, you may and I would prefer the assistance of the Constabulary and Law Office and your support as a representative of the colony. I will make no promises though that someone won't die tonight. I will however promise you that nobody will die by my hands." Shaela told him honestly.


Russell remained silent, still deeply impacted by what she'd revealed to him.


"I will assist you, though I want to find this information out for myself and for the law offices." Russell told her, still brandishing his arquebus.


"Very well. Let's go. If you lose sight of me, I will meet you are the front of the house." Shaela disappeared into the darkness as Russell tried to keep up.


A ways down the West View strip, three men stood and observed their departure.


"Its starting. Go. Inform Mr. Exeter that they've just left." one of the men ordered another.


He adjusted the loop on his trousers and began a quiet sprint to find Mr. Exeter.


Itanicarum


Thara found her way up and onto the the Sanctum walls and took a strategic position behind the wall face.


The Itanicarum, the tremendous mechanical beast the practitioners of Golemcraft had constructed to do battle against those who laid siege to the Sanctum had stepped out into the battlefield and had already started laying waste to the combined forces of the Power lords and the Norbids.


Its eighty foot height towered over the catapults and every other opposer on the battlefield. It had stepped out into the battlefield with its tremendous stride sending the Norbids scattering to avoid being crushed. It's first goal was to destroy any of the heavier equipment that might be used to breach the walls of the Sanctum itself. Most of the equipment used for such purposes were much like cannons and could be fired over a short distance for a high degree of impact damage.


"We're going to take out a line of kinetic cannons there, do you see them?" Jon asked his spell casters.


"Yes. I see them. A line of... twenty. Twenty of them." Natalia replied from the first spell caster station in the Itanicarum.


"I can see them too. They should be within spell reach in a few steps." Diamand acknowledged from the second station.


Jon put his hands onto the enormous orbs that controlled the golem and channeled his energy through them. The gigantic golem strode forth shaking the earth under its feet as it did. One of the Norbid mages was bold enough to attempt a transmution spell, trying to turn the golem's hull into liquid. He stood before it and began his casting rite. The spell flew forth and hit the protective armour of the Itanicarum right near its upper thigh, just right of its groin. The spell rebounded back at the Norbid hitting it directly in his midsection. He screamed as his entire body was liquefied falling to the ground in a large puddle.


"No transmution. Hold the transmution casting!" one of the other Norbids screamed to the others in warning.


A line of beast norbids had moved to the front in attempt to scale the Itanicarum in order to find a means of entry. Many of them were now skewered on the spikes that covered its feet and shin armour. Ten were currently climbing the mechanical beast prying at any opening hoping at least for a means to put a spell into its interior.


One pried at what appeared to be a vent of some form only to be shot off by a blast of energy cast by one of the three internal defensive spell casters.


"Cleared one. Still eight... wait, nine left that I can see." Sareean informed the other occupants of the Itanicarum.


"Can you get that Natalia?" Jon asked her.


"I'm on it." she replied immediately putting her hands on two steel plates mounted to the interior.


She let forth a burst of elemental energy into the plates. Outside on the exterior of the hull and armour, this energy was amplified, sending enough electrical energy through the beast Norbids to cook them thoroughly in half a second. Their steaming carcasses fell lifeless from the hull to the ground below.


"Done." Natalia replied.


"Thanks honey." Jon said with a bit of affection.


"Save it for later." she said with an edge of enticement.


The Itanicarum took one more step forward and both its arms came to life in front of it. It held its hands outward in front of it directing a stream of searing hot molten metal towards the kinetic cannons. One by one they were covered in the molten metal as the crews ran for cover. The metal quickly cooled leaving them encased in an impenetrable mass.


"Excellent! Alright. On to the remaining catapults. If we can clear them all, the Sanctum has a much better chance." Jon spoke through the tubing that carried the voice talk throughout the golem.


Outside in the landscape of the Midspace, Lorr's barge floated closer to the Sanctum. He spied the Itanicarum before beckoning to one of his aides.


"Why have they not brought it down yet? Tell them to use high energy spells for their attacks. Cast them towards its shoulders. Try to knock it off balance. Once's its off its feet, it is finished." Lorr ordered.


"Right away." the aide disappeared to deliver the message.


On the Sanctum itself, a line of casters amongst which was Thara, were in the middle of a battle with a battalion of Norbid Sappers and some of the Culdar Rath Chameleons.


"Look! They're about to breach!" screamed one of the defenders, pointing to a group of the Sappers who'd managed to get past the defenses for the outer wall.


"Slifickta!" Thara screamed and let forth a great patch of black energy.


A cloud formed around the area where the some of the Sappers had started their attempt to penetrate the walls of the Sanctum. They were consumed in its darkness and from within, screams could be heard as they were quickly dispatched by something within it.


A bit farther down, another group had already melted a section of stone away from the exterior wall and was working its way to the innards of the Sanctum.


"Send word to the interior defenses that we've got a south west wall penetration. Go! Now!" Thara yelled to one of the messengers.


The messenger disappeared into phase space suddenly reappearing inside of the armoury to find Kyoshin.


"Sir, we have need of your assistance to defend the outer wall. Immediately!" the messenger informed Kyoshin.


Kyoshin turned and shouted a series of orders to his fellow Kenshin and Samurai causing a flurry of activity amongst them. They split off into six teams each leaving through a different exit from the amoury.


Kyoshin then turned to the messenger and gave him instructions.


"Go to Sir Manfred, have him meet our teams for reinforcements in the outer wall interiors. Keep checking and feeding us reinforcements. We must hold the walls against them though we're leaving ourselves undefended in the interiors. If even a few get through the damage they could cause could bring us down." Kyoshin disappeared sprinting towards the area of the breach.


The messenger once again phased out of the Midspace folding the distance between himself and Sir Manfred several hundred times until it was only a step away.


He reappeared in front of Sir Manfred who held the command center of the Sanctum with Jexelen and Lannay.


"Sir, Kyoshin requested that you feed his men reinforcements for internal defense. The Culdar Rath have begun their breach of the outer walls to the south west and Kyoshin suspects there to be fierce fighting there." the messenger paused to wait for acknowledgement from Sir Manfred.


"Then it has started. It will be done as Kyoshin has requested. Notify the remaining members of the Order Of The Well to be ready to heal on the fly and in the midst of combat. We need them to be able to stay this battle for the duration. That will be all." Sir Manfred informed the messenger who disappeared once again through phase space.


Sir Manfred turned to a small congregation of his Knights and told them of the situation. They began running towards the exits of the command center towards the outer walls. They gathered other Knights as they proceeded leaving the interior of the Sanctum all but empty.


"There are a great deal of residents of the Sanctum whom I suspect will be returning shortly. Those who'd gone into the Prime Plane to look for Mila, Shaela and Nelony as well as those who'd gone to collect intel on the activities of the Twins." Jexelen told Sir Manfred.


"We'll be needing reinforcements and soon. If they get through those walls with a large enough force, there will be no Sanctum to receive them." Sir Manfred reminded her.


Several Kenshin approached the site of the first breach by the Culdar Rath.


"I see no sign of them here." one said, brandishing his katana before him like an angry spirit.


"I can smell them. They're here for certain." another replied as a group of Culdar Rath leapt from the walls where they'd concealed themselves.


"Chameleons!" one of the Kenshin caught the spell before it struck, deflecting it with the perfection of the katana's blade.


The energy from the spell rebounded and struck the Culdar Rath Chameleon between its eyes where it fell dead to the floor of the Sanctum.


Another Chameleon swung its ceremonial daggers towards another one of the Kenshin, who deflected the blows simultaneously bringing the blade to bear, delivering a low cut effectively disemboweling the Chameleon which staid its space for a moment unaware that it had already died.


Another Chameleon dropped from the ceiling above catching the Kenshin off guard. He attempted to roll from the Chameleon's grip and draw it into the blade of another only finding himself rooted to the spot. He struggled with each foot as if they'd grown roots into the stone work of the floors, while the Chameleon raised its daggers high to piece his neck.


A tremendous red spark jumped from seemingly empty space turning the Chameleon's knives into a morass or liquid metal which dripped harmlessly to the stone floor. Another bolt caught the feet of the Kenshin freeing him from the stone roots the Chameleon had cast upon him. The Kenshin turned all of his blade's fury to deliver the final cut to the doomed creature.


It fell in two parts to the stone floor before it dematerialized to nothing.


"Show yourself! At once!" the Kenshin yelled to the air.


"Xenshi here. Of the spirit folk?" the voice came back.


"Xushxu here. Of the mist maidens. We're of the Order Of The East Moon Heavens." a gentle female voice spoke.


A man with long hair held in a pony tail appeared from thin air. He was suspended from mid air and upside down. A lady materialized beside him, though she was right side up. Her bright red lips and pale white skin jumped out at them from the darkness.


"Order Of The East Moon Heavens? Are you a bumbling fool not to recognize friends?" Xenshi asked the Kenshin.


"You both have my thanks." the Kenshin nodded just slightly.


"It is good to see a blade bearing friendly face." Xushxu replied clasping her hands together in greeting.


Another two Chameleons leapt from the shadows towards Xenshi's floating form. One of them was caught by the sword of Kyoshin himself and the other felled just as quickly by one of the Knights Of Undying Virtue.


"At your service." the Knight cast the fallen enemy aside.


"You could have been here sooner! I'll be close by. Don't bump into me buffoon!" Xenshi said again before disappearing.


"We'll be defending." Kyoshin nodded to the Knight in thanks.


The Knight returned the nod with a deep respect that only warriors of their kind could fathom.


"Alright! Look for the entry point at once! We must keep this point covered at all costs until it can be repaired or covered again by spell." Kyoshin ordered the Kenshin and Samurai under his charge.


Outside on the walls Thara had began summoning a small pack of Shadow Assassins. They immediately climbed in the first opening the Culdar Rath had secured for themselves and hid themselves in the shadows in wait for any prey foolish enough to attempt entry.


"We've got this covered. I hope." Thara said as a barrage of energy projectiles impacted the Itanicarum.


It stumbled backwards struggling to maintain its stance. Just as it had regained its balance, another shot impacted sending it stepping backwards losing precious ground against the assaulting forces.


"We're going to need a tail!" Jon shouted through the communication pipes in the interior of the Itanicarum.


"I'm on it." Natalia replied as she turned and yelled to the two casters under her guidance.


"Quick, we need to get this happening. You two, your hands on those orbs there. Quickly!" the two casters floated over to a group of four spherical orbs.


They placed their hands upon them and channeled their aetheric energy. A tremendous jointed tail emerged from the lower spine of the Itanicarum, finding its purchase on the ground just as the Itanicarum was pushed backwards. The tail halted the Itanicarum's back step as it gained its center of gravity. It leveled off enough to once again lean forward and proceed against the oncoming forces ahead.


Utilizing its prehensile tail, it perched itself in balance extending its hands and casting a gigantic net of interwoven gelatin strands, that struck the Norbid casters pulling them to the ground and holding them there despite their efforts to get free.


The Itanicarum then continued its progression through the forces of the Culdar Rath and the Norbids in search of its next targets: the catapults.


Lorr had withdrawn them and sent them in different directions all in order to maximize the exposure of the Itanicarum to the battle spell ready forces of the Culdar Rath.


"We're going to need to drop some decoys and some of the mites. We'll do a battle clone now, so we can maximize damage against the catapults. We don't want any more holes in the walls of the Sanctum. Everyone clear?" Jon informed the crew of the Itanicarum.


"Got it. Working on the clone now." Sareean informed him.


"Sending out the mites and the decoys." Natalia responded.


Momentarily the gleaming armour of the Itanicarum suddenly illuminated with the intensity of the sun. The surrounding forces of the Culdar Rath screamed, shielding their eyes though already blinded. Even those defending on the wall of the Sanctum had to cover their eyes to preserve their own sight as the battle thickened.


Once the illumination had subsided the Culdar Rath once again focused on the Sanctum, though barely able to see it.


An opening in the upper arms of the Itanicarum let forth a small platoon of dog sized crawling mites, each with four insect-like legs. They scrambled across the battlefield, each towards a different catapult. They bowled Norbids over as they proceeded towards their goals. Upon reaching their targets they climbed into the ammunition reservoir where they exploded. The ground shook as two of the catapults exploded sending fire and debris for hundreds of feet around them. Some of the Norbids managed to escape the flying carnage while others were quickly crushed under the parts of the destroyed siege engines.


Back at the Itanicarum, a sphere dropped from from its chest then exploded in a brilliant flash of light, once again blinding the Culdar Rath forces of the battlefield.


"Any orders Sir?" one of the relay messengers asked Lorr.


Lorr's hand shot out from under his cloak pointing to the messenger, and immediately crushing every bone in his body. Lorr motioned with his hand sending the dead messenger into the air and off into the distance like discarded refuse.


Another one immediately stepped up to replace him.


"I want you to organize the aerial outcasts. I want all of them to work on bringing down the Itanicarum. All of them. Put the mimics and the aerial gas bags on the task of the removal of the defense forces of the Sanctum exteriors. I want those wall tops cleared of protection. Do it!" Lorr screamed.


"At once." the messenger disappeared and made Lorr's orders happen.


A large group of dark winged creatures appeared in flight heading towards the Itanicarum in packs of ten. Each creature was ten times the size of a bird of prey, making them about three times the size of a human being.


Another group of winged avians flew somewhat more slowly towards the upper walls of the Sanctum, in attempt to remove the forces from the upper walls still defending it.


"This is a dark day. If you do not have protection for your air or breathing, leave to the interiors now!" Thara ordered the defenders of the walls.


A great many of the defending spell casters and healers made their way inside as the avians flew closer to the Sanctum.


Thara stayed and prepared herself for what might be her last stand.


A Plan To Stand


Mila stood leaving Father Wilsen's side. He had started his journey to much better pastures, absolved of the lie that the hunters had used to cage him to their cause. Kathryn was free in the knowledge that the man that she had once loved was innocent and redeemed. This weight hefted from her put her at great ease, though the impending doom the force outside of the walls represented still cast shadows over any possible hope of seeing another day.


"They're still regrouping. Honey, we have to come up with a plan or get out of here." Barris pleaded with his wife to be.


Mila paced for a moment trying to think of some way that she could use her completely new school of the craft to deal with a situation even as futile as this.


Nelony Theearin looked around at the few forces there were remaining in the Haven. They came to about forty troops she could muster. They wouldn't last but five minutes should the Commander's forces attempt to breach their wooden timber walls.


"Honey..." Barris continued.


"I'm thinking! I'm thinking.,," Mila said pacing in circles trying to rationalize what could be done.


"It has to be effective against what they know for this time. Any suggestions?" Yirfir asked them.


"What about phobias and superstitions?" Sato asked.


"You mean like Wytches?" Yirfir conferred with him.


"No. I mean like uhhh. Walking under ladders. Other really deep rooted superstitions from this time. Who's history of this time is good? Mine is just a little bit sketchy." Sato looked around.


"Broomsticks?" Barris blurted out.


"This isn't curling you know. Its a battle!" Sato replied.


"Well maybe I was thinking of a sweeping victory..." Barris replied in his own defense.


"Nice try. Its related to Wytches though. We need something... more creative." Yirfir replied.


"Black cats! A lot of people don't like them for that reason. Superstition." Barris blurted out once again.


"That's nonsense. They're just little cats. What could a little cat do?" Sato asked.


"I'm sorry Barris, I'm with Sato on that one." Yirfir backed up Sato.


"Wait!" Mila screamed.


"What honey? I know you're thinking of your smookie at home aren't..." Barris responded using the pet name for her cat.


She grabbed Barris by the collar and pulled him close giving him a passionate and deeply wet kiss.


"You my husband are brilliant! Brilliant!" she smiled having found the solution.


"I am?..." he said somewhat confused.


"Yes. You are." Mila turned and walked towards the gates.


"I am." Barris smiled at Sato who smirked.


"Here's our plan. We need a few of you to stand up on the walls and keep watch. Let me know when the smoke from the fireworks has cleared. Its almost night now, they'll be setting up some lights.


They could attack us but they don't know what's beyond these walls, so they won't risk it. We on the other hand know their territory inside and out. They're in the dark and I know something they fear more than Wytches. I just need someone to open the gates when I say." Mila told them.


"We've the gate guards. They're perfect for that sort of thing. Experience you know." Barris replied.


"You're such a sweetie. Don't push it!" Mila smiled at him though a bit put off by his patronizing.

All the same she pecked him once again on the cheek.


"Get up on the walls. I need to know when they're in the clear and how this works." Mila asked once again.


"Alright. We'll spot for you. This had better be worth it." Yirfir said accepting that her student was confident that she had the right plan.


"Let's hope this works." Yirfir said aloud.


"Let's." Mila said feeling a little unsure of herself.


The Hunter's Cavalry


Evan had been riding for days with the Commander of the West View Cavalry. He'd been picked by the hunters and this was a political move on their part. Evan knew what was happening now and only hoped that Shaela was having better fortune in readying the hunters in West View for the day they'd answer in court for the injustice they'd visited upon the peaceful members of the colony and the aboriginal owners of the land.


He was only third gun here and not even, because the leadership did not even acknowledge his authority. It was held tightly by ten men in the Cavalry who were all pawns of the hunters and Exeter himself. Evan had ridden with the Cavalry for years before these men had even sat on a horse. He knew this outfit and had even served directly under the Royal Guard on one occasion. He'd received a letter from The King Of All England for his services and in recognition of his past career and record. This was valuable to him, though what really mattered to him was that his men were not following his lead, but that of the enemy. This just as they approached to join the forces of the hired army the hunters had built themselves. They would ride beside men whose only loyalty was to the coins they were paid and to those that had kept them free of the burdens of their murderous conduct by putting it onto their victims.


He kept his tongue about these issues and had been caught within his own silence at times. His former men paid little attention to him as they approached the break point in the last stretch before they would join the forces of the hunters, and lay siege to the Haven under the executive orders of Exeter whose authority was not legally recognized by the colony at all, though he currently had more pull here than even the Mayor of West View or any town they'd pass through.


Sharlesbury was one such town and they'd encountered a mess there. Procuring the security of the town was not too hard for a force of this size. They'd found the law offices in shambles, a murder that apparently happened in public though nobody could identify the suspect. They had to piece it together based upon paper work. The criminals responsible had fled and were operating under the leadership of a Father of the Church. One Elias Wilsen, who had been at the spear head of the Wytch hunt from the start. He had apparently taken a different path and was now a wanted man. Evan did his own investigation and found that a bounty had been placed upon him prior to his attempted arrest. The guards charged with the arrest had claimed they'd been transmuted to the form of small dogs for a period of twenty two hours. They claimed that the criminals, a Wytch like they'd never seen before and a man from England had kidnapped Darben, one of the guards and left with the Father and Melinda, the Apothecare. Probably another kidnapping.

The Commander of the Cavalry had thought that the Father of the Church had planned and plotted the whole scheme, but Evan had another theory based upon the evidence he'd found.


There was little sign of a scuffle at the Church, and therefore the Father had likely eluded the arresting guards somehow and they were too embarrassed to explain. The story of the Wytch was likely a cover story to hide some other activity in which they were involved or their botched arrest attempt of the Father. The guard in the law office was knocked unconscious by an unarmed man whom he said moved faster than he'd seen anybody move before. It was an elderly man, shorter with thinning hair on his head wearing the clothes of a monk. He said that he'd just shot an assailant at the end of the hall in the building, when he was attacked by the older man who singlehandedly dispatched him (a trained soldier, fully armed).


The Commander's explanation had been that the Wytch had impersonated the guise of an old man to take the guard out and escape with another captive who had been shot in the conflict. Evan's theory was that it was the kidnapped guard, Darben who'd been shot and that the shooter was the guard who'd been taken down by another unknown assailant. The guard would not admit to shooting Darben, a member of the same town guard.

Evan's explanation was closer to the truth than the Commander's but he had no way of confirming it. It was just experience and a strong hunch telling him he was right. Hunches were not enough upon which to try a man. He needed evidence. The fact that the first guard's arquebus had been fired into a dark building from the end of the hall to the exterior of the building had been enough to confirm Evan's explanation. It was difficult to see an assailant and easy to misfire at an unknown target. There was burnt powder on the floor in the building at that point and the guncloth, a piece of fire proof cloth that was used to pack the powder in behind the projectile. So the guard's arquebus had been fired right there. The guard had claimed he'd fired it from outside and hit the target at the end of the hallway as it exited. That he entered the building to take out the Wytch and was jumped by this fast moving elderly man who rendered him unconscious with one shot.


Evan kept his investigation to himself not wanting to risk the hunters getting some piece of key information from him that might result in them killing another on the grounds of Wytch craft or Sorcercraft or just to cover up their already thick trail of murder.


The next day they'd continued their journey leaving the town with a ten man detachment to uphold the law and to protect the town from any of the Wytch kind should they return. Evan only thought about Shaela and hoped she or the Magistrate had not been caught victim to the same kind of madness and treachery that he was seeing the colony over. He secretly hoped for a sign of sanity beyond the borders of his own town in another settlement in the colony, but upon his arrival at Sharlesbury, his hopes were completely dashed. The hunters and strangers had managed to infiltrate nearly the whole colony. It was only a matter of time before they took hold of the reigns of power and cut ties to the Crown altogether, whether it be England or any of the Crowned heads of Europe. This was a joint expedition, and had the interests of France and even Spain, in the hopes of having a colony where those of such a mixed empire could actually live in peace. It did not seem to be working for nobody wanted to have anything to do with the old world, or with their ways of sorting out the laws, the Church and legality. They only wanted to cleanse themselves of the blood they'd taken by putting it onto the backs of the very innocents they'd killed in the first place.


If Evan died, he'd be swallowed up by this history and likely have it all remembered differently from reality. His only hope was that Shaela was having more success than was he. He was quite proud of her and her accomplishments as a deputized agent of his office. She was like a daughter to him and he'd come to cherish the times they'd had both in the field and at home amongst his family. He missed Lylara and had thought about her every day since he'd left. Besides the Magistrate, they were his only two friends in the world. He wondered if he'd ever see them again.


The trip after Sharlesbury was quiet, as if the wilds themselves had calmed the storm enough for peace to settle in and take hold of the hunters themselves. They'd arrived at Alivale only a day and a half ago, and had stayed for a short time. They'd received word that a prisoner had been taken to the hunter's army to serve as an on site advisor after having successfully been interrogated by the hunter's interrogation program. So one of them had turned coat on the Wytches and Evan wondered what the truth of the story was. The hunters were crude and definitely possessed some methods of interrogation that went beyond the rights of the captured, but this was almost a time of war, and there were few constraints that kept those involved in check, never mind virtue or humanity. The town was well kept and they resupplied for the trip south, which would take nearly two days, at which point they'd rendezvous with the hunter's army, who had been ordered to secure the Haven under the leadership of the colony. The colony had been absconded with in the same way and Evan wondered if his real allies might now be the Haven. Maybe their only allies.

When they'd not reached the army camp by night fall, they decided to set up camp and rendezvous in the morning. They set up a hasty camp for the night, taking care of the horses making sure they were fed, watered and washed before feeding themselves.


"Commander" one of Evan's former men approached.


"Yes son?" he replied ignoring the misuse of that rank against his current rank of Captain.


"I'd suggest you eat well tonight and plenty. There's still a good hike tomorrow and we might not rendezvous as planned." the Cavalier informed Evan.


"Thanks son. Dismissed." Evan nodded as they never saluted in the field.


"Sir." the Cavalier left to continue making camp.


Evan took his advice and ate heartily a good fill of food and water, though trying not to over gorge himself. He kept to himself though the Commander approached him to speak.


"Evan, I'm concerned about how to best handle this situation if the Haven does not surrender?" the Commander asked him.


"What do you mean, deal with? Your orders are clear are they not?" Evan gave little information.


"Yes they are. But what if there's a sizeable force of Wytches there. I've never fought Wytch kind before. I was told that you have experience in those grounds of battle?" the Commander asked.


Evan thought hard about how to answer before speaking.


"That is a myth more than anything brought from the tree by those who wished to see me a horse shoe or two higher than I actually am. I've never fought the Wytch kind anywhere. I've only seen those who break the law, and those who twist it, and those who fall victim to either one." Evan said honestly.


"You are a stubborn one. Harder to pick than a prize rooster." the Commander told him.


"Yes, just don't expect me to yell at you when the sun comes up." Evan replied to the Commander.


"You sleep well." the Commander left him to his lonesome obviously put off by his lack of sharing.


As the night got darker and the stars peered at them from above, Evan moved off to tend to his horse one more time before bed. That was when he'd been taken by surprise.


Two of his men came up behind him, one gagged him and the other held his hands behind his back. They quickly moved him and his horse away from the camp. The Commander and his men had already gone to sleep, so Evan was alone and captive to these two men who bound his hands behind him, then tied his horse to theirs. They put him on his horse and took theirs and together they rode for an hour before dismounting.


One of them whistled twice quickly in succession, then waited two seconds and whistled once again. Evan was startled when he saw the shadows of the forest come to life. A group of men had emerged from the darkness of the trees. As they got closer, he recognized them as his men.

"Sir, we have taken under the authority of the Crown to seek a change in command. We have selected you as the rightful authority of the Cavalry." the man exclaimed.


"Do you always keep the Commanding Officer of your Cavalry bound and tied?! Untie me at once and brief me!" Evan commanded a smile creeping across his face.


"Right away Sir! There are an enemy armed force occupying the grounds outside of a peaceful settlement outside of the colony's jurisdiction. This peaceful colony is under the threat of attack by the armed forces that we, as the rightful appointed Cavalry and guard of the colony do not recognize as being legal or in authority." the Cavalier briefed Evan on the situation as another untied Evan.


"Then we are to act in protection of this settlement in order to prevent any act of aggression or prompt the declaration of war by other inhabitants of this land. This would be in breach to the New Colonies Act as declared by the reigning representative of the Crown. We are not authorized to declare war upon a civilization that has not attacked our settlements. Therefore the armed forces of the hunters are acting in contravention to this Act. We will reconnoiter the situation for the night and should any fighting break out, we shall take the forces of the hunters and place them under arrest. Should you be fired upon during this action, you are authorized to return fire, but only after they've been informed of their legal position by me." Evan ordered.


The men gave Evan three cheers as they rode in the direction of the rendezvous point using the stars for their orientation. They arrived just west of the hunter's armed forces. They remained out of sight and sent a scout to reconnoiter the situation for them.


The scout returned a half an hour later with a report.


"Sir, they appear to be cleaning up after a battle. Cleaning some of their equipment and other gear that appears to have been burned or damaged. They are at better than half their numbers in strength. They outnumber us by about four to one." the scout reported to Evan.


"I need an archer, trained to deliver this message." Evan waited for the archer to reveal himself from the group.


"I want this message put on a flaming arrow and delivered to that post they've set up in their camp. It has all the instructions they'll ever need." Evan explained to the archer.


He took the message and dashed off into the darkness. When he was within range, he lit the arrow
and fired it, hitting the target nearly in the center. He then snuck back to the line behind Evan.


Someone from the hunter's army immediately retrieved the message and brought it to the Commander, who was still recovering after having been knocked unconscious by Aikika Uasa according to his daily journal account.


He read the message and then stood very arrogantly and shouted:


"You can just turn your self around and go to hell! I'll not surrender this force to any authority other than Exeter hisself!" he called a group of his men who spread word as the camp came back to life.


"There you have it men. That is a man without reason or virtue, willing to kill innocents. What do you suggest for disabling their force before anyone gets hurt?" Evan asked the scout.


"Sir, I suggest we attack with an arrowhead formation charge to their right flank while sending a clean up team to pick up the stragglers through their rear flank, diamond formation in case we get cased by the remainders of our prior Commanding Officer's force. We don't want to be blind sided." the scout suggested.


"That sounds like a sound plan. May save a few lives too which is what we're here to do." Evan approved of the battle plan.


"I'll be charging with the attack upon the right flank. I'll take point." Evan mounted his horse.


It took a about six minutes before the Cavaliers had broken off into two forces, with the arrowhead force being contained of two thirds of their total force.


"Sir." the Cavaliers acknowledged as they finished forming up.


"On your word Sir." the Cavaliers signaled their readiness.


"In the name of those who've died needlessly at the hands of these hunters and those brave souls who fought in protection of the innocents." Evan waited a moment in peace to honour those who'd died in the name of this bloody hunt over years since it started.


"Cavaliers charge!" Evan screamed as the thunder of hooves crescendoed behind him like a force with which to be reckoned.


The two forces split off, one taking the right flank of the encampment and the other taking the rear guard. Evan both cursed and praised Cromwell as the adrenaline of battle found him.


Mila's Charge


Mila had painted an elaborate mural that almost looked lifelike to the unaided eye. She had painstakingly drawn in shadows and shading highlights to balance against the curvature of each log in the gate. Looking at it was nearly impossible to tell that one was not looking into a window or even a mirror. The painting was an incredible work of colour, lighting and balance.


The rest of the camp had left her alone and kept quiet while she painted it upon the open doors of the gate. Barris, Nelony Theearin. Nelony Ardbloem and Yirfir had kept watch while she did so, making sure that none of the enemy forces snuck up on them while she painted. She had made the paints herself with a few of the Apothecares' supplies, and a bit of her magical talent. The scene was quite horrific and beyond description. It depicted destruction of a kind that she'd hoped she'd never see in her life, but now she was about to unleash upon an unsuspecting group of people who truly understood what it had meant. It was stored in their unconscious memories without even knowing it for it had been the most notorious killer of ages afore the one they now upon dared.


She looked it over carefully before peering to the guards of the gate.


"Close the gates. I'm done. The first part that is." Mila stepped out of the way and away from the gates.


Barris jumped down from the wall and greeted her.


"Just what I needed... Mmmmm..." she smiled meeting his lips gently with a kiss.


He rubbed her tired shoulders working his hand down while hers found his back and rump. They pulled away ever so slowly and he nodded to her. She kissed his nose as he backed up and made his way to the wall again.


"Alright honey. I think they're still cleaning up. That really cost them a bit of time." Barris said of her fireworks show.


"Good. Wait until they see this." she said to them.


"I can hardly wait." Nelony Theearin said somewhat sarcastically.


"Excellent. I don't know what you're up to, but I trust you." Yirfir gave her approval.


"So do I." their Nelony said.


Mila accepted Nelony's vote of confidence and it would go a long way to repairing their already damaged friendship.


Mila stood behind the gate from inside the Haven and began casting her weave. She spanned the gate back and forth getting each part of the gate evenly applied with her magical aether painting the very fabric of her art with a new reality, drawing upon a very old one.


It was Barris who heard the sounds first. They made him cringe.


"Is that?..." he said quietly.


Then Nelony Theearin heard and she knew right away.


"Have mercy..." Nelony Theearin spoke.


The gates themselves started to shake as the sound grew in extremity and the sheer sound of shrieks and squawking could be heard. They grew as some incredibly massive force approached from an imaginary point in space that Mila now occupied.


Then all at once they burst their bonds and broke free into reality.


Scurrying and squeaking, some as large as small dogs but smelling much worse, these were the real thing. The thought even terrified Barris as he saw them leaving the surface of the gate in a continuous wretched onslaught of death itself.


They cannot be real. She wouldn't. He thought to himself without confirming with her.


They approached the camp charging with their little bodies, seeking food or anything upon which to clamp their jaws. The fleas alone were enough to drive someone insane, but that was only the beginning. These beasts would not devour the flesh of the living, but only the dead people and they were no killers of humankind themselves. They were only the carriers for the real killers.


The guards set to watch the Haven from their camp were startled to life as the ground in front of the Haven came to life. A million crawling mammals moved like a giant rug across the face of the plains, stinking vile and wretched. If death had a smell they were it as many had known a few generations before. As children they used to sing rhymes that they'd been taught to keep the story of the plagues fresh in their minds.


Ring Around The Rosie,
Pocket Full Of Posies,
Husha,
Husha,
We All Fall Down!


And tales of the cooties, which would send them running and screaming away from anyone who had it, as it was communicated by touch. A game taught to children to protect them from communicable disease or perhaps the children were mirroring the plight they'd witnessed in the form of a game and rhyme.


One of the men tried to scream but only whispers came out.


"Cooties. Cooties." his first two attempts were as air passing through a wooden fence.


"Cooties! Cooties!" his voice returned as he screamed.


He turned to run unable to make it before he was completely overrun by rats.


His last screams of terror were heard by everyone in the camp.


The others began shooting with their fire arms, not even enough time to reload before they were set upon by the army of rats.


That was when the Cavalry set upon them from the flank. Something had them spooked but Evan could not see what it was. He charged into their midst with little resistance. They were in fear of some unseen terror.


"Honey you didn't?" Barris jumped down from the wall unable to watch any further.


"No. I didn't. They only believe it. Its not real." Mila smiled to him.


"I knew it! I knew that you wouldn't do something like that!" Barris told her grabbing hold of her.


"But its working wonderfully." he said to her.


"I know. It was your idea." she told him.


"You said black cats." she told him.


"Well I was thinking of Wytches you know." Barris told her.


"Well black cats have a much different significance in this time. If you saw one during the plague,
chances are you were infected. That's what they used to think until they found out that the cats were immune to the plague. The cats saved humanity from it because they are natural predators of rats.


They even imported a bunch to deal with rats in areas where they feared the spread of the plague. You could be put to death for killing a cat during those times because they saved us. They saved the human race from going extinct by disease. If they'd had just one cat, the rats would have avoided that cat like the plague, forgive the pun." Mila told Barris.


Barris paused a moment.


"I knew that." Barris said very much exaggerating the truth.


"I know." Mila said playing along with his exaggeration.


"I knew that you knew." Barris kept his face serious while her serious look broke into a smile for him.


His eyes told her that he was just as enamored of her before their moment was interrupted.


"There's men on horses! Another force has attacked the hunters! Professional soldiers of some kind!" Yirfir yelled to Mila and Barris who quickly scaled the walls.


Yirfir handed the looking glass to Mila who spied the situation. She saw the Cavaliers still working their way through the ranks of hunters who were mostly on the ground screaming and writhing.


"Its working like a charm!" Mila told them.


"Maybe they'll be up for peace more so than war?" Barris asked.


"Wait! Jasmer!" Yirfir screamed immediately casting a spell which grabbed her by her innards and pulled her three hundred yards through space in less than a second.


She held her hand in front, casting a floating compass into existence which she followed to seek her lover.


She fell on the ground avoiding the horrors around her, though she could no longer see the rats. Only the hunters seemed to have a sensitivity to their existence at all.


She stood as the Cavaliers encircled the camp ensuring no parties left the camp. She ran about the camp looking for Jasmer without the fortune of finding him.


Had he fled earlier during the last of the light to rejoin his captors once again?


She was walking through a nightmare that she could not see but that hundreds of men were writhing on the ground as she followed her aetherial compass in search of him.


That was when she saw Jasmer. He was unconscious on the ground and appeared to have a gash upon his head. She ran to his side and began tending to his wounds.


"My love!" she spoke into his ear.


He groaned attempting to communicate.


"I'll get you back to the Haven." Yirfir told him and in a moment they were both back, cast to the ground by the force of her spell.


"I do believe that this is over." Nelony told them as she watched through the sight a flight of bats she'd called and asked to spy for her.


They'd arrived silently, one of them even perched carefully from her extended finger. She nuzzled its snout and it pushed back lovingly. She spoke to it quietly and it was off and into the air looking into the night as few could. She watched in mystique as the Cavaliers began cordoning off their prisoners and securing them in groups.


The Cavaliers had rounded up and careened the hunters into a tight circle. The Commanding Officer was in the custody of the Cavaliers and had fired one shot before being apprehended. They were now a headless force with little training to maintain their cohesion. Evan had won the battle of the Haven and with more than a little help from Mila, there were no casualties except the Commander's damaged ego.


For the first time in a long time, Mila and Barris were able to sleep peacefully while the two Nelonys stayed awake to keep watch. Yirfir and Jasmer slept together, as he healed and she loved him. The Haven had survived and Nelony And The True were once again not those chosen by blood but by their virtue and honest sincerity.


Tomorrow would be the last time either of the twin Nelonys saw the Haven again, for they had become the Twins of the legend of Lyra, and were destined to change the fate of this battle, ultimately by their death.


After they'd done, a group of ten Cavaliers approached the front gates of the Haven. One horse rode further ahead before the rider announced himself.


"I am Evan Edwards Of The Royal Colonial Cavalry and the Constabulary of West View. I seek audience with your leader or an appropriate representative that you've selected." Evan spoke confidently.


A moment later, Nelony Theearin, Mila, Barris and Sato stepped out to greet their guest. Yirfir attended to Jasmer who was still unconscious and delirious.


"I am Nelony Theearin Of The True, and Leader of the Haven, this settlement. How is it that I may assist you?" Nelony spoke proudly.


"We have come in peace to force a legally binding alliance and to share word of our good intent towards your settlement and its in inhabitants. As an official representative of the colony and of the Royal Crown, I would offer my humblest apologies for the actions of the ones that you call the hunters, a scourge who've wreaked havoc amongst the peace loving in habitants of our initially peaceful colony. Please be advised that the actions of the hunters do not represent our interests as officials of the colony or the interests of the Royal Crown. We recognize the sovereignty of your people and this settlement. Should you enter into alliance with us, your interests as a people will be protected by our laws, while your ways will be respected within your borders. This day begins the day which will see the hunters brought to justice for their actions against the like of innocents. It will start here, sweep north to Alivale, then to Sharlesbury. Finally West View will be liberated from the hold of the hunters, and the strangers who made an illegal business of cleaning their ills onto the backs of the innocent, most of whom were put to death unjustly and without fair trial or representation. This is our offer to you and our acknowledgement of your loss and the loss of those who dwell within the Haven. Be it here known that the colony of West View and the Royal Crown comes in peace and in defense of the very virtues that you have fought to protect with regard to life and freedom and law." Evan made the intent of the colony clear.


Nelony Theearin stood boldly in front and approached Evan's horse as he dismounted.


The two stood before each other looking intensely into one another's eyes searching for flaw in sincerity or virtue.


"We of the Haven accept your offer conditionally. There shall be no occupation by your forces without my prior written consent each time that there is such a requirement. We are to be compensated with food, supplies and medicine and medical care for the young as needed until we have agreed that we are independent as a settlement. Any soldier or resident of your colony who while here breaks one of our laws, is to be removed to your colony and stand before a court for their actions. We are to be notified of any resident of the Haven being apprehended or taken into custody by your laws, that they might have a fair and swift trial with fair representation. Any breach of these terms may upon review by the leadership of the Haven result in the forfeiture of this agreement at any time in the future thereafter. Are we in agreement?" Nelony Theearin asked Evan holding out her hand.


Evan paused for a moment keeping his face blank of expression but appearing deep in consideration.


"We the colony of West View accept your terms. These terms are effective immediately. We shall sign and make this official in one week's time, on the morning of the Moonday." Evan shook her hand.


"Accepted." Nelony Theearin nodded to Evan as he turned and signaled the other mounts.


"I want you to get the medical section of the Cavalry. Take half of those servicing the men of the encampment and have them come at once. They may have wounded in here that need attending." Evan ordered the Cavalier.


"We have no supplies that we can spare in terms of food, but we can spare medical expertise right this moment and into the future. My medical unit is the finest in the land. They are at your disposal. We will meet again just after sunrise. Let us rest for the remainder of the evening so that we may discuss our plans in full." Evan mounted his horse and returned to the encampment.


Nelony Theearin sent word to the storage caves that the threat was no longer of concern and that the Haven was safe and sound. With that, the refugees of the caves began their journey back to the Haven and by the morning, most had settled back into their residences.


Evan returned in the morning to tour the Haven, with Nelony Theearin showing him around. After he'd seen what they'd set up and the quality of living conditions he was satisfied that the hunters had manipulated the courts into drafting the Writ against its existence. They had arranged for the illegal dismantling of property outside of the colony's jurisdiction. There were no grounds of inhumane treatment of residents nor were the residents kept here against their will.


The Haven was once again bustling with activity as the entire populace had returned. After Evan had finished inspecting the Haven, he sat down for a meeting with those whom he'd spoken with in the hours of the morn.


"There is one remaining force. A small Cavalry section that may be coming the direction of the Haven today. Once they are dealt with, we are free to continue our mission as planned and move north to liberate Alivale, then westward through Sharlesbury and finally all the way to West View." Evan indicated the plan to others whom sat at the table.


"What sort of resistance are you expecting at each of these points?" Barris asked him.


"Alivale was the headquarters for the hunter groups until they set up in West View. I think that West View is now the throne of the hunters. We know little of their structure but we do know their politics. We have the allegiance of the Magistrate, though many others remain silent out of fear of drawing the wrath of the hunters. Sharlesbury is all under colonial leadership as of the last census less than two days ago. Alivale still has a strong hunter presence." Evan declared.


"We've been looking for one more of our friends. A red haired lady. Dresses in black. Very... lets just say she gets things done." Yirfir asked as she stroked Jasmer's hair.


Evan's face seemed to draw back defensively for a moment. He then looked to Yirfir and spoke carefully.


"There are many red haired women in the colony. Many dress in black." Evan said protecting Shaela's secrets.


"Let us just say that she has a love for cats. Big cats." Mila interjected holding her hands apart to indicate a big cat.


"Yes. I think I might have known a lady who was into big cats. What might her name have been?" Evan asked.


"Shaela" Mila, Yirfir, Nelony and Barris answered at once.


Evan leaned in closer to those with whom he spoke.


"Yes, I know a lady by that name. She's indisposed at West View as I believe. What her business and what she is up to I do not know. I can however tell you that she is there." Evan offered them extending a modicum of trust.


"That is the last of us. We must leave at once and make the trip in haste." Mila spoke to the rest of the table.


"I agree, but we still haven't settled how we are going to get back. To the Sanctum. Then there's the issue of Lyra's prophecy." Yirfir reminded them.


"I can get us back to the Sanctum. I can get us whenever we need to go." Jasmer told them barely able to speak.


"The Sanctum operates in the mid space plane. It operates on common time, not local time. That means that despite where we are in time, it is the same time at the Sanctum for anyone who has ever been there. That is how the Sanctum was able to hold history together despite the differences across the vastness of time. The battle of the Sanctum is going on now, not in three hundred and fifty years from now. The twins' assault upon the Aerth will happen in three hundred and fifty years. If we lose the Sanctum, all is lost." Nelony tried to explain to them the mechanics of temporal and planar spaces.


"We need to get our Twins into the correct time to do battle with Lorr's Twins. If Lorr's Twins return to the Sanctum, they can aid in taking it down and we cannot stop that unless we stop them while they are attempting to use the Aerth Mother powers to cast judgement upon the Aerth. Our Twins must go to that time and stop them. We must send a few of us to help Shaela wherever she is. The remainder of us have to return and ensure the Sanctum survives!" Yirfir stood as she punctuated her words.


"Then leave we shall." Nelony Theearin spoke.


"We must make contact with the indigenous peoples of the Aerth. We need their support and the fauna of the Aerth to defeat Lorr's Twins. Together we may be enough to stop them." Nelony rose to her feet, beginning to look much like Nelony Theearin.


"It is decided. Now who will stay and help Shaela to get back to the Sanctum?" Yirfir asked.


"I will." Mila offered.


"You know if she's staying so am I." Barris stated.


"That means I stay too." Sato told them.


"I must stay to deliver us to the Sanctum. You must go to the Sanctum now." Jasmer told Yirfir though he could barely move.


"No! I cannot leave without you." Yirfir panicked though she knew that what he was saying was true.


"It must be this way. I will be with you again." Jasmer struggled.


"Alright. I'll go. But don't you dare leave me alone for long." Yirfir replied with tears in her eyes.


"I won't. Now we must prepare. Be ready in one half hour. I will send the three of you to your destination in the correct time and space. Mila, Sato, Barris and I will just have to travel by horseback to find Shaela." Jasmer told them.


"I will be joining you for that ride. I will divide my Cavalry into two forces. A smaller one to go directly to West View thereupon to deal with the threat there. Another with which to deal with the threat at Alivale. If we leave by horseback in one hour, we should be able to make it to West View in one day's time. Let us hope your friend is safe in such stride." Evan spoke still protecting Shaela.


"We meet here in one half hour. Our Twins and Yirfir will leave then. The rest of us will make haste to West View to retrieve Shaela." Jasmer spoke looking more pale by the minute.


For the short time they had left, the two Nelonys cleaned and prepared themselves for their greatest challenge ever. The last two of the Order Of The Aerth Mother working together to stop the end of civilization and to buy human kind another chance. Nelony would have scoffed at such an idea but with what she'd seen in the last three days, it had changed her much in her views towards human goodness and perseverance. Maybe there was still hope after all. They were rescued by a virtuous group of Cavaliers from this time who sought to bring the Wytch hunters to justice. That meant that there were people everywhere who likely felt the same but were just too afraid to act.


Yirfir cleaned and prepared herself as best she could, though the last week had taken its toll upon her. She was tired and sore but still had much to do.


"Honey. When we get back, I'm going to spend two days at the spa." Yirfir pecked Jasmer's cheek.


"We both will. We both will." Jasmer replied.


"Does that mean you'll do a mask with me?" she said delighted.


"Yes. Alright. I'll do a mask with you. You win." Jasmer told her forcing a smile.


She'd tried so many times when they spent their leisure time together to get him to do a mask with her. He was livid about doing any such thing as he had an aversion to mud and sludgy things. It had become her personal challenge to get him into it with her. Just another experience to share together she thought. She was right because that was all that people in love really had. Each other and their shared experiences and memories. The greatest treasures of all.


The time had come to send them to their respective points in time. Jasmer had been given a satchel containing the temporal fluid that the Culdar Rath had used to transport others to different regions of space or time.


The two Nelonys said their goodbyes to their friends. Mila spoke to Nelony first.


"I know that we got off on the wrong foot with regard to Barris. I know that you loved him and I forgive, I mean, how can I fault you for something of which I am guilty? All is forgiven. Just get back to us safe and alive." Mila told Nelony grabbing hold of her and hugging her tenderly.

Nelony returned the hug her eyes tearing up.


"Thank you Mila. You don't know how much that means to me." Nelony's eyes brimmed over with the water of her tears.


"Nelony. I have to be honest with you. You caught my attention at first and I thought to myself: there's a beautiful woman. Like the kind you'd see in a painting by Van Gogh, or Monet. That classical beauty that stays with you. No matter, you always have that and you need to believe in yourself. I fell for Mila because she was the first woman whom I'd seen in my life that I instantly knew: I'm going to marry her and live the rest of my life with her. There's a guy out there that will see the same in you. I forgive you, but no more intrusions in my body or my dreams." Barris told her giving her a hug.


She returned it laughing a little.


"You're more like my brother than my beau." Nelony kissed his cheek.


"When you face what you are going to face, you need to remember that you are part of a vast collection of life. That you are not alone. Especially when you face Lorr's Twins. Use that knowledge to your advantage." Sato offered her his best advice.


"Thanks Sato." Nelony gave him a hug taking his advice to heart.


"Nelony. I still remember when you first joined the ranks of our school. You showed up with that pet weasel. How he got stuck in the air vent one time and we had to shrink big Kalbor down small enough to go in after him." Yirfir started the story.


Nelony burst out laughing as she remembered barely able to contain herself enough to retell it.


"Yes I remember. Big Kalbor. We shrunk him down to a size of just under a foot. So he could fit in the air vents and find Frisky, my pet weasel. Kalbor is the biggest and meanest guy that you've ever seen. So we thought he could handle himself. Well he is in there for about five minutes, when he rounds a bend in the air vents and there's Frisky, who is of course twice Kalbor's size at this point. All that we heard was Kalbor screaming as he ran: Help! Get me out! Help! So Yirfir thought she'd try to hit Frisky with the reduction craft spell in order to shrink him. So she waits for Frisky to get close enough. Just as she has Frisky in sight and tries to cast it, Kalbor accidentally jumps in front and gets hit again. So now he's like only an inch tall, with a little squeeky voice running and screaming for help. We finally caught Frisky, but Kalbor didn't believe us and didn't come out of the vents and his hiding place there for three hours." Nelony laughed with Mila as they remembered that.


"Those were the days." Mila said wiping a tear from her eye reminiscing as Yirfir broke out giggling uncontrollably.


"Nelony. You come back to us. We will see you soon." Yirfir hugged her.


Jasmer approached Nelony.


"Do your best. I know you'll come back." Jasmer said weakly but determinately.


"I will." Nelony rubbed his back.


"Let's go and get this over with." Nelony Theearin told them.


"Yes. Lets." Nelony said.


Jasmer pulled the satchel from his belt and took a small amount, rubbing it between his thumb and index finger. He then put a dab of it on the lady's foreheads.


They suddenly remembered the sensation from the night that brought them here. The patch of the salve grew across all of their whole body enveloping it and covering them.


Mila, Yirfir, Sato and Jasmer watched as they disappeared into the twentieth century in search of Lorr's Twins.


"Now it is your turn." Jasmer approached Yirfir and embraced her with a kiss.


"You don't forget about me. I won't be happy if you do." Yirfir kissed his forehead.


"I won't. Ever." Jasmer dabbed his finger in the temporal salve.


He dabbed a bit on her forehead and spoke a word.


They watched as the salve covered her body and before a minute had passed, she had disappeared into the realm of the Midspace and the Sanctum.


A moment of silence had passed between them and they stood quietly for a moment. The silence did not last long before it was consumed.


"We'd best be on our way to our destiny." Jasmer spoke though his voice did not carry its usual heft or assertion.


"Something has changed." said Barris who stood rubbing Mila's shoulders.


She shuddered for a moment thinking of her times with Yirfir and then looked over to Jasmer, taking in what he'd become.


"We've changed. This has changed all of us." Mila looked into his eyes desperate to find him.


To find a face that she knew.


Barris looked back at her with his familiar eyes, though just barely. She relaxed upon feeling his being peering back at her.


"We've got to get to Shaela now. She needs us." Mila said to Barris with all of her compassion.


"No. She does not need us." Jasmer said, his vision a cold scar in her direction.


Mila paused a moment holding her head in pain.


"You're right." she clasped at her temples.


She paused rubbing them before speaking.


"They need us. To protect them from her!" Mila exclaimed before she fell to the ground.


Continued in A Lady's Prerogative Book II: Wounded Aerth - Part XIII


Copyright © 2018 Brian Joseph Johns