Fiction: A Lady's Prerogative Book I: The Yearning And The Learning Book IV by Brian Joseph Johns

[Minor updates and edits on April 22, 2024 at 11 PM EST. Its been a long time since I've tended to this one. - Brian Joseph Johns]

Warning: This story deals with some mature situations. Reader discretion is advised.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Part IV

Where Two Roads Meet

Yirfir and Mila had made their way by foot along the road from the horse tressel into town. The trip itself was uneventful and mostly silent each in their own deep thought. During their walk they had failed to take notice of the early morning sun and the lack of activity around them. The road itself was old and in a state of disrepair. It lead through rolling hills pocked by farms and land plots and very few disturbances to their current train of thought. 

Upon reaching the main street at the top of the Alivale strip Mila stopped momentarily losing her balance and reaching out to Yirfir to steady her. Yirfir reacted startled back to life hanging on to Mila.

"What's the matter?" Yirfir spoke hanging on while she steadied herself.

"I just had a deja vu." Mila answered still half bent over.

"I hate to break it to you my dear, but we've never walked this stretch of road before." Yirfir replied trying with all of her effort to muster a bit of levity but only striking allegory.

Mila took pause and when Yirfir spied a sarcastic smirk on Mila's face she was relieved.

"That's not what I meant. We need to be careful from here. There's something wrong here. I saw it in a dream." Mila responded scanning the area with a new found alertness.

"You need to let your guard down sometimes. You might miss something if you don't." Yirfir stated, trying to reduce her tension.

Despite Yirfir's attempt to ease her Mila's senses were heightened and she remained alert.

The two continued down the main street Mila keeping her eyes to her immediate surroundings waiting for the events in her dream to unfold. She approached the store display window where she was expecting to see the mannequins clothed in farming wear and upon reaching the window sighed when she saw it empty. She covered her mouth almost ready to laugh with joy.

"My gosh. I guess it was just a..." she stopped her eyes catching a clump of hay on the floor of the display window.

"Take it easy Mila." Mila heard Yirfir's voice and felt a hand on her shoulder.

She turned to face Yirfir screaming when she instead saw the two mannequins from the store window of her dream.

She pushed the male mannequin which was wearing a baseball cap and coveralls and peered back at her expressionless. It stumbled backwards falling to the ground. The other wearing a wig and spring dress grabbed at Mila's arm getting a firm hold upon it. Mila winced as it tightened its grip its featureless eyes looking back at her as she struggled. Mila took her free hand and gestured before placing it smack dab on the mannequin's forehead. A tremendous surge of gray energy flowed through the mannequin and its arms disappeared leaving to smooth stumps giving it the appearance of the Venus De Milo which Mila had certainly intended.

"Thank you Michelangelo. I always knew there was a good reason for that. Let's hope the future and society gives Women back the ability to affect their destinies." She said frantically drawing on an interpretation she'd given in an art thesis she'd written on the subject.

She wasted no time with her new found freedom turning to run down the street towards the intersection still a good jog away. The display windows of Alivale's strip began shattering one by one mannequins stepping forth from each and charging towards her silently and listlessly. She did her best to avoid them running at full tilt towards the intersection. She knew that was the key to this mystery.

The mannequins followed in full sprint a few feet behind her while more emerged ahead of her. She flew past them as quickly as she could without losing her balance when she was side tackled by one from her right. Unable to stop it's momentum the mannequin flew into a wall where it fell motionless to the sidewalk a pile of parts and clothing. Mila stumbled managing to stay on her feet and turned to face a small crowd of them.

"Did you think it was going to be easy?" Yirfir's voice spoke to her from one of the mannequins.

Mila ignored the attempt to rile her into losing her focus. Instead she waved her hands in front of her in a gesture summoning as much energy as she could. A mannequin grabbed her arms from behind preventing her from finishing. She refocused the energy directing it to a neon sign above the store front beside them. It sprang to life like a glowing neon snake stretching and reaching out wrapping itself around the mannequin. The mannequin struggled against the neon snake but it held. Mila looked for a way out sighting a music store.

The crowd of mannequins approached her, reaching for her while she gestured wildly directing an arc of energy towards the music store. A grand piano sitting in the store front immediately sprang to life by the hands of an invisible player followed by a pair of cellos, violas, a trombone, french horn and trumpet. Each joined in turn and grew in volume playing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and before long, was joined by an overwhelming orchestra of music and sound.

The music store windows exploded, the music pushing with incredible force. Mila clasped her hands to her ears struggling to stay on her feet. The mannequins were having much less fortune in their effort and one by one they began to fall some returning to their feet while others remained still.

"Here comes the finale!" Mila yelled, bracing herself.

The remaining mannequins began marching forward precariously one at a time, Mila standing her ground bracing herself when it happened.

The cannon fire, a volley coming from the music store piled into the crowd of mannequins before her. They were instantly crushed sending mannequin parts flying everywhere. Another group of mannequins stumbled forward to take their place, one of them close enough to touch Mila's arm. She withdrew before it too along with the others were blown to bits by another cannon volley from the store accenting the finale. Some mannequins approached the music store from the sides possibly trying to thwart the music and the cannons. They peeked around from the sides only to be blown apart by a final blast, their parts falling before Mila on the other side of the street in the decrescendoed silence.

"I wish Pyotr was here to see that." She said aloud looking for a clearing in the approaching mannequins. 

She proceeded towards the intersection bracing herself for what she knew she'd find. As she approached the curb she saw the road itself begin to flow as it liquified taking the form of water. The store on the other side of the street appeared just as it did in her dream derelict and closed. She backed up towards the approaching mannequins enough to take a run at the street in an attempt to jump across the river. She sprinted top speed towards the street jumping into the air nearly covering the entire distance but ultimately falling short. She plunged into the watery street momentarily going under and re-emerging a body length down current grabbing onto the curb to secure herself.

Some of the other mannequins had followed suit as they did in her dream. One of them attempting the jump from where it was standing. It squatted first before propelling itself like a coiled spring. It fell into the water less than half way across bobbing downstream in the rushing current before disappearing beneath it. Another wearing a track suit and runners had backed up taking a run at it before jumping. It leapt through the air and fell into the water just inches behind Mila as she pulled herself out and onto the sidewalk. The mannequin grabbed a hold of Mila's ankle nearly pulling her in again. She kicked at the mannequin with her free foot before the mannequin lost purchase of it tumbling downstream and disappearing into the distance.

Mila stood dripping wet on the sidewalk while the mannequins paced the other side of the street looking towards her without losing sight of her: not once. She fell against the wall beside the store from her dream the one to which she needed entry. When she had caught her breath she stood once again and approached the door to the store.

A group of mannequins approached her from either side and she hurriedly grabbed for the door handle and cringed upon finding it locked.

"Open up! Its me! I know you're in there!" Mila shouted banging on the door frantically and pulling the handle.

When the mannequins were within grabbing distance she stopped and began gesturing with her hands. She waved them wildly pointing them at a store where she had sold a few of her paintings. The energy struck a print and a moment later a small pack of wolves poured out of the store running for the mannequins on her one side. The mannequins turned trying to shield themselves from the wolves only to get torn to pieces by the pack. A pair of wolves growled furiously fighting over one of the mannequin's arms.

On the other side of her the remaining mannequins grabbed hold of her and quickly overwhelmed her pushing her to the ground. She screamed kicking and punching at them struggling to get away. A large lynx leapt out of the store behind the wolves and flew over her. It's paws and claws a blur quickly bringing down the remaining three mannequins. The last moving mannequin crawled furiously in an attempt to get away the lynx trouncing and toying with it until it was motionless. Mila sighed with relief.

"I must have hit one of the Bateman prints." She said aloud.

The remaining mannequins on the other side of the street from her had lost their motivation or courage or maybe both and stood watching her. The wolves and the lynx disappeared back into the store leaving a scattered mess of mannequin parts around her. She examined herself for wounds noticing her blouse was torn. She looked to one of the mannequins seeing it wearing a blouse of her tastes.

"Yes please, I'll take that one." She said as she picked it up putting it on over the torn one.

Mila got to her feet once again and reached for the door handle to the store. Surprisingly it was unlocked and the latch clicked as she opened the door with a creaking sound echoing forth from the hinges. The store was no longer a store but merely a derelict with an empty storefront and a door leading back into a warehouse. She knew that this was where it ended and the person that she needed to face was in there with her. Gathering herself she opened the door to the warehouse.

The darkness quickly enveloped her, as did the musty odor and she stepped further into it towards the figure facing her from the other end.

"Well, well. You finally made it." Yirfir's voice echoed from the rear of the chamber.

"I never suspected that you would be the one responsible." Mila kept walking forward.

"Sometimes things aren't quite like they appear to be." Yirfir's voice slowly faded getting deeper and darker.

Mila stopped and peered at her foe recognizing the Power Lord from the estate.

Deception Revealed

Jasmer struggled to his feet recovering as quickly as possible. The Power Lord laughed furiously and the halls of the estate rumbled to their foundations.

"I knew that I couldn't trust you. You are in the lure of that woman. Yirfir did you call her?" The Power Lord's hands still cooling from his last spell.

"I never mentioned her name to you. You scryed it with the help of one of your underlings." Jasmer stood his ground advancing a few steps to get into position.

"You always were weak Jasmer. A fool. Easy to manipulate and easy to turn against your own allies." The Power Lord spoke consumed by his lust for treachery.

"Your deception knew no bounds then as it does now. You have played too many of us against one another and seeded much malice and hate from which you reaped your so called power. That is about to be your downfall." Jasmer kept his emotions in check and mired his focus.

They watched each other carefully, both directly and peripherally. They both had much experience with the arts and looked for an opening in the other. The Power Lord saw the opening he needed and prepared for the kill.

Jasmer maintained his magical barrier leaving a gap between himself and the corridor wall. The Power Lord cast himself forward by folding the distance several times between himself and Jasmer's back. The Power Lord disappeared momentarily, reappearing behind Jasmer and with a brimstone ready for the casting. Jasmer had left the opening purposely using an illusion of himself and his own back so to lure the Power Lord to that point. Jasmer was already facing the Power Lord when he re-materialized from his space folding spell.

Jasmer opened a vacuum of space behind the Power Lord followed by another above him, followed by another and one more for good measure. The Power Lord was drawn back to the vacuum of space then upwards following each in succession until he impacted the ceiling of the foyer. Jasmer watched him, waiting for him to fall but he merely stayed flat on the ceiling. The Power Lord's laughter echoed throughout the estate and he got to his feet; on the ceiling.

"Gravity is one of those forces I do so love to play with. Have a try." The Power Lord spoke looking at Jasmer from the ceiling, his cloak dangling towards the ceiling as if gravity had always been that in that direction. He gestured and Jasmer began falling towards the ceiling. Jasmer slapped his hands to his stomach and his ascent towards the ceiling stopped, the Power Lord falling towards Jasmer.

"Haven't you felt the sense of gravity between us? Why don't we just settle down and get cozy instead." Jasmer quiffed as the Power Lord fell at him as if he had become the center of gravity. 

Jasmer grabbed the center of gravity from his body and threw it. The Power Lord followed it through the air and toward to the marble floor of the foyer. The Power Lord impacted with a wallop sliding across the floor coming to a stop at the wall. Jasmer fell back to the floor slowing enough to land gracefully.

The Power Lord once again was on his feet just as Jasmer threw a powerful windwall spell. It sped towards the Power Lord who vanished and was replaced by Yirfir.

She instinctively raised a barrier around herself just before the windwall's impact. The walls around her cracked as the force impacted dust and concrete showering the ground around her.

"Yirfir!" Jasmer ran to his love as she dropped the barrier.

"Jasmer! You're alive!" They both collided in an tender kiss and embrace.

"No time! We have to get to Alivale! Mila's there alone with him." Yirfir exclaimed conjuring a portal to the only place that she could remember.

"The old store. The collector's store. He sent me there in search of the artifact. I bought some paintings. Some from the great hunt. Some of Mila's too." Jasmer responded cursing under his breath before collecting himself.

"I'll go. You find the others and bring them." Jasmer moved towards the portal.

"No, I'll go. You get the others there's no time to argue about this my love." She said hurriedly giving him a peck on the cheek before she was consumed by her portal which disappeared after her.

Ten seconds later and Jasmer was on his way to the hidden Sanctum in search of the others.

The Sanctum

The Sanctum's halls gave wide birth to those who walked within. There were few dwellers of the Sanctum at this time, though they had once been many for the Sanctum was the seat of their leadership and the place where they as the keepers of the magic and the Librum Universalis Codex would protect the world of mortals. Those who knew of the ills that the netherverse kept hidden from the senses of mortals and the holders of the weave alike. It occupied a mysterious point in the planar existence, one that was temporally accessible to all times and dimensional spaces. The plane of its occupation was called the Midspace.

The Midspace overlapped every plane and every time simultaneously. Therefore it could be traveled to from any time and whomever did, would then be a part of Midspace time which was universal to all planes. Its time occurred simultaneously everywhere. When one returned to the plane they arrived from, they would return to the time from which they departed unless they used a temporal alteration of course. When one was an occupant of Midspace, time did not pass for them at all and as a result they'd not age. It was the perfect place for their base of operations and their school. For some it was their life and home and for centuries it had been the home of Jasmer and Yirfir. It was also the target of numerous incursions by the Power Lords who'd attempted to overthrow it as the seat of power for the magical forces of Lyra.

Lorr and Lyra were the originators of the weave back in the beginnings of civiliation on the mortal worlds. They were once lovers who'd had two children. Lyra had wanted to expand their family to mix with other mortals while Lorr wanted to preserve their blood in a closed lineage. The divide between Lyra and Lorr grew and they separated. Lorr used magic to breed every successive generation of his twins in order to preserve their original children and keep the power of the weave while Lyra had fallen in love with a mortal and married, having her own children. The families of Lorr and Lyra battled one another for centuries. Lorr's family attempting to rule over humankind while Lyra's family attempted to liberate them. She taught them the secret of the weave and from those teachings the first orders of the Weave and Thaumaturgy were formed. The Sanctum's history was only one of recent time relative to the lives of Lyra and Lorr. Lorr eventually became only known as the Power Lord. Lyra became known as the Lost Mistress Of The Weave. She'd become lost to the passage of history and one of the most sought after secrets of the Sanctum next to that of the Librum Universalis Codex.

As fate would have it Thara, the Matron of the Order of the Night Wytch walked with Feylachar, one of the newly entered members of the Order Of The Well.  A healer's order within the Sanctum. Thara had been Shaela's instructor, which would have weighed heavily on any teacher of the weave. Shaela had been a natural when it came to the magics of the Shadow Plane. In fact she'd been the first Night Wytch to summon the most deadly predator of the Shadow Plane during her ritual of the Shadow Protector. In doing so she'd rocked the foundations of the order as they'd all been taught that the Shadow Cat was unsummonable and impossible with which to bind. Shaela's Shadow Cat had not been fully mature but was still an adolescent with another three hundred years to go before it would reach its full size and maturity. Thara had often cautioned Shaela about the risks of binding with a Shadow Cat, as they had been unknown to the Order before Shaela's arrival. Shaela had taken Thara's advice personally and it had forged a void between them ever since.

"Shaela thinks you're funny. Sometimes ridiculous but very funny too. Perhaps good qualities to be found in a healer. Good at what you do and that's high praise coming from Shaela. Don't get on her bad side because when you do... Ask Lannay about that scar on the tip of his nose." Thara said to her as they walked the halls towards the Chamber of the Codex.

"Perhaps now that I've earned some trust, you'll send me into the field? I've learned so much but I'd really like to apply my skills..." Feylachar's speech was interrupted mid sentence as a portal broke air just behind them.

It cackled and spattered as the air rushed to balance the pressure between the two planes. An elderly man, a handsome one at that emerged from the portal and confronted the two with a defensive stance. Thara immediately stepped in front of Feylachar protectively casting a spell of her own. Two enormous Shadow Vulge Spiders emerged from the darkness beside her as Jasmer stepped towards them.

"Hold your space and your tongue traitor! You have some nerve setting foot in these halls after what you pulled!" Thara yelled at Jasmer still shielding Feylachar from any possible retaliation he might throw at them.

Jasmer was one of the most powerful sorcerers and practitioners of knowledge-craft the Sanctum had known. He'd not returned since he'd betrayed his long forgotten allies in favor of a space beside the Power Lords.

"Easy Thara. I return as an honest and changed man seeking only Yirfir's love and the acceptance of the Sanctum. You have to believe me! Yirfir and Mila need our help! Now!" he shouted as Thara kept the Shadow Vulge Spiders at bay.

The large ten legged creatures exposed their razor sharp fangs. They writhed shrinking down readying themselves leap should they be commanded to by Thara. Instead Thara scryed Jasmer's aura with her own intense senses and magical abilities drawn from the shadow plane. His aura had no minute discolorations or modulations indicating hidden motives or intent though she was hardly an expert in aura interpretation. Her senses were sharp but not so nearly as those of Shaela's Shadow Cat.

"If you are as you say, you'll let me take you into custody where you will be brought before the others in the Grand Hall for judgement. I cannot promise your safety or ensure your fate in any way! Do you understand?" Thara demanded as Feylachar shrunk behind her.

Jasmer looked at the Spiders, both of whom were sheer terror on ten legs. Confident of his own intent and virtues he replied:

"I will allow such a thing Thara but you must assure me that help will be sent to Yirfir and Mila at once for they need us and now!" Jasmer replied as he stood down once again withdrawing his immense energy to take a passive stance.

Thara nodded to each of the Shadow Vulge Spiders and they in turn took up guard on either side of Jasmer, quietly and eerily.

Thara held her intensity before him still not able to trust him until she'd bound his hands behind his back with a spell.

"Am I proven trustworthy Thara, or do you want another test? Please I bid you to send the help I requested." Jasmer challenged her.

"You have kept your word but we still need to evaluate your true purpose here. Your relinquishing yourself into my custody is a good start, though I cannot say that you are so welcome here. We've suffered a great deal since you left and because of such. It has been a long time and to see you in these halls brings both great joy and sadness." Thara told him calmly.

Feylachar stepped out from behind Thara looking to the newly arrived gentlemen with interest.

"Who is he?" she asked Thara.

"That is..." Thara began.

"Forgive me Thara, but I must introduce myself. It is rude to withhold as such. My good lady, I am Jasmer McCavanaugh at your service. I am the beloved of Yirfir and have been for many an era." Jasmer accepted her hand, making her blush.

"I'm Serene Feylachar. Healer Of The Well at you and yours, kind Sir." she replied behind her cheerful eyes and beautiful smile.

From around them a group of others suddenly appeared, emerging from magically gated portals in the walls.

"Who is this intruder I see before me?" Sir Manfred of the Knights Of The Undying Virtue stepped forward drawing his sword.

"Could it be that honor-less pig, Jasmer?!" the legendary Kenshin rolled out from the gate materializing before Jasmer brandishing a perfectly crafted katana against his neck.

"Jasmer? You dare return here? It is as Kenshin said you swine!" Xenshi the blade spoke wielding two short blade tantos in Jasmer's direction.

From directly above him and upside down appeared a beautiful mistress clad in the ancient ceremonial attire of the Pagoda of Peking.

"You returned finally just in time for us to slice you to bits and line the walls with your insides!" Xushxu said to him with a tiny voice that did not sound like it could make such a threat.

"His intent is as Thara said. He's true as his word, and though we've lost much, we need him and to trust him. Remember, he's also removed much of our opposition." Athandra emerged from a point just beyond Feylachar, her hear head sparkled with beaded jewelry centered from her third eye where Ganesh's symbol shone.

"With this I do agree. What if this is a trap?" Jeong Soon, one of the powerful Elementalist leaders of the Sanctum asked him from behind.

"It has been a long time and none of you trust me. I know. But I can assure you that this is not..." Jasmer's hands lit up with energy as he let forth a blast in the direction Jeong Soon.

Jeong Soon ducked and the energy flew past him hitting something behind him.

A group of Norbids emerged from Jasmer's exit portal, the one he'd used to transport himself to the Sanctum only moments ago. He was one of the few who knew the Sanctum's location at any one time as it's connection to the material plane of the world would relocate every three days. Nobody knew where it connected to our world because that portal was always in motion. Jasmer was one of the few who could transport directly to the Sanctum. The Power Lord knew that Jasmer would betray him and return to his allies. The Power Lord had in fact used him to find the location of and get into the Sanctum.

"I fear that you are right. This is a trap! But it was not set by me!" Jasmer blocked an incoming barrage of brimstone from one of the Mage Norbids.

Jeong Soon spun back onto his feet, throwing a spinning kick at the head of the first Norbid who'd passed through the portal just as it had aimed a shot at Jasmer.

The Shadow Vulge Spiders leapt into action as Thara screamed towards the enemy. They each landed on a Beast Norbid, the first Spider slamming it into the wall, the second Spider flinging the Norbid helplessly into the air where it was impaled on a ceiling torch. 

"This appears to be a bigger problem than we anticipated." Sir Manfred charged his sword drawn.

"And what do you propose, Sir Manfred? That we stop for tea to talk about this?" the Kenshin threw at him sarcastically as he charged behind the armor clad Knight.

"Some obstacles are better removed by force. Bigger, heavier force." Athandra said as she gestured in the direction of the open portal.

A tremendous Elephant appeared, it too clad in a gem encrusted golden suit of plate armor. It proceeded forth towards the newly emerged Norbids, impaling them with its tusks and stomping the ones who'd gotten under foot. The Spiders jumped onto its back and waited for the opportune moment to launch themselves at any prey they saw. When a group of Mage Norbids had appeared and cast an electrical barrier before themselves, the Elephant backed away. The two Spiders launched themselves through it. They dug their fangs through the cloaks of the Mage Norbids, poisoning them with a light devouring poising. They slowly disappeared into a pocket of blackness, completely disappearing with a hollow scream. The battle thickened as more arrived to take the place of the fallen and they could no longer fell them quickly enough in the space permitted.

"They've got us here! We have to get to Alivale and help Mila! She's battling Lorr himself! Alone!" Jasmer yelled to Thara.

"We have to stop them here and now!" Thara yelled back to him.

"Its a bottle neck! We don't have the room to stop them here! They're coming faster than we can fell them!" Jasmer told her.

"I can get to the other side of the passage and cast a stone wall right up to the ceiling. Get the Spiders and the Elephant out of there and do the same on this side. Then their entry portal will be trapped between the two walls and we'll have time to fill the interior between the walls with magma. That should keep them from coming through."  Jeong Soon said as he ran in the direction looking for a point from which to cast the wall extension.

"I'll cover you. Just go!" Sir Manfred said to him.

"Xushxu can get the wall on this side, can't you?" Xenshi suggested asking her.

"Of course I can do it brother! You think yourself better and more capable?!!!" she said harshly as she floated still upside down towards the place where they would deploy the other wall.

"Wait for Jeong Soon, the Spiders and the Elephant to get free!" Kenshin yelled keeping his position with Feylachar, Thara and Jasmer.

"What about me you buffoon! Would you just leave me here?" Sir Manfred yelled back at Kenshin as he swung his heavy sword, bringing down the Norbids before they could get at Jeong Soon.

Jeong Soon began his spell just as the Elephant got past him. The two Spiders had jumped onto its back once again keeping vigil over their retreat. They watched the Norbids from their perch, cleaning their fangs with their mandibles as they passed Sir Manfred and Jeong Soon. Sir Manfred gave the Elephant its berth as they passed. Jeong's spell took hold of the ground on the other side of the Norbids and the stone floor began to grow into several spines which merged as they rose to the ceiling making an air tight wall on the far end.

A line of seven Beast Norbids leapt to the front at Sir Manfred quickly overwhelming him and throwing him to the stone floor of the Sanctum. From near the back of the fray, Feylachar let forth a well aimed spell sending a vine between the Norbids, connecting all seven of them together. Thorns grew from the vine digging into the Norbids cloaks and skin underneath.

"Hit one of them with your sword! Any one of them!" she yelled at Sir Manfred who'd fallen to the stone floor as they reached his position. He swung his sword, slicing into one of them. All of the other Norbids reacted as if they'd been hit by the sword too. They all fell together in unison from the single blow he'd landed with the help from Feylachar's spell.

"Thank you Missy! It appears I'm in your debt." Sir Manfred yelled as he was helped to his feet by Jeong Soon.

"And me too unless you just want me to throw you a can opener so you can get out of that armor of yours to get up." Jeong Soon remarked sarcastically.

"What? Is this pick on the Knight day?" Sir Manfred joked as he backed away from the position they'd held.

"I don't suppose that was your silly attempt at a joke?" Jeong Soon responded to Sir Manfred.

Together they retreated to back to Thara and Jasmer's position. Meanwhile, Xenshi and Xushxu started their attempt to build the second wall to contain the Norbid advance. 

Xenshi's blades moved like lightning as he sliced away at the advancing Norbids. The others stopped advancing as Xenshi's dance of blades continued to bring them down. Xushxu, atop of Xenshi and still inverted cast her spell and the second wall emerged from above them at the ceiling and grew downwards. She concentrated as the wall extended itself towards their position.

"Brother! We need to go! But if you'd like you could just stay here with the rest of these beasts. Then I'd have some peace and quiet from you!" Xushxu said sarcastically and with an edge in her small voice.

"No sister. It is quite alright. I'd like it much better out here making a nuisance out of myself and annoying you!" he said to her as he backed away from the descending wall. As the last of the wall reached the floor, a Norbid attempted to cross the boundary grasping at Xenshi's foot, only to find itself crushed between the wall and the floor. Its lifeless arm hung onto Xenshi's foot.

"Whew! That was... ...Arrrrrghhhhh!" Xenshi screamed as he saw the arm grasping at his foot, kicking at it to get it away from him.

"Sissy!" Xushxu said to him.

"Are you two finished?" asked Jeong Soon somewhat sarcastically.

"I just need a little more time to catch my breath." Sir Manfred said as he caught his wind.

Thara stepped forward to check the wall and then placed both of her hands upon it. A swaft of energy channeled through her arms and into the walls themselves. There was a bit of a commotion from inside beyond the barrier of the two walls they'd create and a moment later all was still.

"That's a relief. Now what should we do with this... traitor?" posed Xenshi.

"He helped to protect the Sanctum. I think he speaks the truth. With the Norbids making such a bold move as that we could use all of the help we can get." Jeong Soon spoke.

"We'll convene to the meeting chamber before Jexelen and Lannay where we can all discuss this matter and make a vote of it." Thara asserted and the decision was made.

"I don't like it!" Xushxu responded.

"I agree with you for once in my life, my haggard Sister." Xenshi replied wiping a bead of sweat from his brow.

"The decision has been made and it is final! We will discuss this and vote upon it as we've always done!" Thara asserted herself and there was no more discussion.

Uneven Ground

Mila looked around the warehouse looking for anything she could use to her advantage. The walls were bare as was the floor and the edges and corners of the room were as black as a moonless night. Though she was adept with her abilities and talented in creating a new and unique school of the craft she knew she was in over her head.

"Why the dream? Why did you use the dream to contact me?" Mila asked in an attempt to buy herself some time.

"That is the way I choose to contact all prospects for our path. I wanted you to see a demonstration of what we can do." The Power Lord spoke with adversarial confidence.

"Why involve the town? They're innocent and have nothing to do with our conflict." Mila said defensively.

"Oh but Mila, that is where you are wrong. They do have much to do with our conflict. Ask Nelony, she knows all too well. You see, many generations ago the folk here used to hunt your kind, and burn them alive often without fair trial." The Power Lord maintained his vigil from under the shadows of his cloak a faint glow emanating from beneath it.

"I don't believe that. There is nobody in this town that would do such a thing." Mila responded in their defense a bit of emotion creeping in.

"There you are wrong. None of them know you the way that I do. The way that we do. Even to this day they still hunt your kind. You were just well protected by us that is until now." The Power Lord explained it to her carefully and concisely.

"We work with those and others like them all over. We protected you as long as we would need to in order to gain your acceptance of us until Yirfir stepped in with this yearly party of hers." He continued the story for her while she listened skeptically.

"We have others of your kind in our employ. Some knowingly and some not so knowingly. We wanted you to be a part of our side either willingly or otherwise. Yirfir knew of our plans and setup the yearly parties and tests to thwart our efforts and keep the town at bay and unaware." His story continued.

"That is nonsense. She's not with you nor would she ever be." Mila spoke in reaction her emotions taking hold while her doubt fueled her fears.

"Mila. Who do you think paid the money for your first painting? It was the only way to ensure that you ended up on the path that we wanted for you." The Power Lord explained to her.

"You couldn't have. That would mean..." Mila's eyes teared as the pain hit her.

"Yes it would. Your parents' accident. All arranged. By us. *By me*." he proclaimed scathingly, opening a wound deep in Mila's heart.

Her tears came first and nearly as hard as her rage and contempt for the Power Lord.

"Why? Why us?" Mila pleaded with him the tears streaming down her face.

"It was our purpose to get to you. To lure you onto the path and to gain your allegiance. But you've already chosen your path and there's no turning back now. Even my coming here has a purpose today as will your demise and that of your friends." He stated confidently perched atop her crushed spirits.

"You asked about why I came to Alivale on this day? Because I needed something they used in their fight against your kind. An artifact of great power they used to kill many of you millennia ago that I shall use to finish their work today and put things back to the way they should be. Should have been ages ago." The Power Lord reached beneath his cloak and pulled an amulet that adorned his neck from beneath. 

It glowed a random static of speckled colors much like the static of an old television.

"And now it is time for your end." He said conjuring a Magi Norbid on each side of him.

Mila backed up a step in attempt to buy time for a difficult conjuration while the Magis stepped forward each firing an elemental bolt at her. She dodged each just barely while still building the energy needed for her spell.

"Well perhaps you can use your amulet to help you against this." Mila let her spell go which impacted the cement floor of the warehouse. 

A portion of the floor immediately liquified bubbling momentarily and gradually taking the form of a large object before the Power Lord. A statuesque form of a muscular male seated with his chin perched on his hand elbow perched upon his knee apparently in deep thought.

"What's it going to do? Ponder a way out?" one of the Magi exclaimed laughing as the other approached it.

The hand used to prop the statue's immense head immediately struck out at the approaching Magi hitting him and sending him spiraling high speed at the warehouse wall. He hit the wall the bricks taking an imprint of his body before he dropped to the floor unmoving.

"I'm sure you'll figure it out after you've had time to think about it." Mila said sarcastically to the fallen Magi as the statue stepped off of its pedestal obviously having thought long enough.

It stood about twelve feet tall under the twenty foot ceilings of the warehouse walking slowly to the other Magi. He turned and looked to the Power Lord who nodded to him before speaking.

"Destroy it as it should have been long ago." The Power Lord said confidently.

The statue arrived before the Magi who had began casting a fiery spell at the monstrosity. The statue shielded itself against the flames bracing its arms against the fire which rebounded harmlessly off of them and back onto the caster. He began screaming running to the back recesses of the warehouse yelling. Flames poured from him as he ran before hitting a wall, bouncing backwards onto the floor and remaining silent therein while smoke rose from his carcass.

The statue turned to the Power Lord who stood peering at it unmoved by it.

"Amusing. Very amusing. I could use that." he said pointing a hand at the statue while bracing one hand to the amulet.

A speckled beam shot out at the statue impacting it, drawing all of the energy from it and back into the Power Lord. His cloak had changed in color and took on the appearance of stone as did the rest of his body. The statue stood still momentarily before crumbling to powder before him under the force of a his breath.

"Now its my turn." He said pointing hands at each of the walls on either side of her.

The walls shook momentarily before one of the bricks shot out from its place at high speed at her. She dodged it quickly before another brick from the other wall caught her side. She winced in pain maintaining her focus as another one flew by just inches from her head followed by another just behind her. She managed to dodge all of the others just barely, one grazing the skin of her right arm leaving a scrape on her soft skin.

"Hmmm. Much better than I thought you'd fare. Where's your art now?" The Power Lord asked her.

"How about a helping of surrealism?" she responded with intensity both her hands glowing colorfully.

She fanned her hands out in front of her spanning the arc of her view. The energy sprayed across the expanse of the warehouse brightening the walls and floors and filling it all with oddly shaped tiles each unique. Even the shape of the room had become obscured in some way as the viewpoint perspective became skewed by the shapes.

The Power Lord turned his head looking around:

"Interesting. Very interesting but ultimately wrong." he said taking a step onto one of the tiles.

Upon the pressure of his foot his entire body was twisted stretched and corkscrewed to another tile on one of the walls where his body took form once again. Gravity took hold pulling him to the floor where he hit yet another tile beside the wall. Upon impact he disappeared momentarily reappearing on the ceiling in another part of the warehouse where his foot touched yet another tile. His entire body turned to liquid and fell like rain onto another tile where he reformed each of his extremities off scale from what it had been. Unable to keep his stance with one leg much smaller than the other and all supporting a head more than three times its natural size and two oddly sized arms he collapsed sideways onto another tile. Once again his body instantly vanished each of his body parts reappearing on a different tile and each triggering another change in him. As each tile affected the Power Lord that tile disappeared revealing the warehouse beneath. After a long moment of inactivity his body reformed where he lay still for a moment. Mila stepped forward in the off chance that she might have defeated him only to see him fly onto his feet once again.

"That is going to be your last piece of art." The Power Lord said furiously.

"There's lots more where that came from." Mila said undaunted by the anger of the Power Lord.

The Power Lord fired a bolt of aetherial energy at her catching her off guard and out of defenses. The energy impacted throwing her backwards through the air impacting with the wall of the warehouse where she fell flat on her face. 

The energy still enshrouded her body draining her strength before sputtering out. Mila shook her head pushing herself up and onto her feet, stumbling backwards against the wall struggling to conjure a final spell. A bolt of brimstone shot out from the hands of the Power Lord impacting her abdomen. She fell to the floor winded and out of breath from the impact while the brimstone's magical disease worked its way into her body and through her tissue.

"I think we are done here Mila. I expected more from you." The Power Lord said wiping his hands confidently.

A bolt of energy impacted the Power Lord throwing him across the warehouse again where he landed on the floor sliding to a stop. 

"But there's plenty more for you." Yirfir glared at the Power Lord while walking confidently into the room through the front door.

The Power Lord shot to his feet again charging at Yirfir with blinding speed. She fired another blast at him throwing him across the room once again where he tumbled to his feet only to fall backwards once again onto the floor. Yirfir approached Mila whom lay still and unmoving.

"Mila... My dear." She spoke softly.

The blast of brimstone impacted Yirfir under her left arm stinging with pain and spinning her completely around and to the floor. She wasted no time and effort and before she was up from the floor had already conjured a tall glowing figure clad in armor bearing a sword and shield.

It marched towards the Power Lord who stepped forward to meet it. A large long sword arced over the Power Lord's head as he ducked the sword just narrowly missing him. The Power Lord fired a blast of energy at the Knight who used the shield to block the blast of energy. The Knight spun leveling its sword mid height and backhanding its arm around at the Power Lord. The blade impacted his body making him scream while he reflexively fired a brimstone blast at the Knight's head. The Knight fell backwards onto its back laying still momentarily then propping itself to its feet.

Yirfir checked Mila's condition with the time she had bought and though Mila was still breathing her breaths were very shallow. Yirfir conjured what little healing magic she'd known as a means of slowing the deterioration of Mila's condition. There was little that she could do now except to keep the Power Lord from causing her further harm.

The Knight was back on its feet but had lost its shield and resorted to using the sword to block an energy attack from the Power Lord effectively. It attempted a riposte thrusting at the Power Lord quickly. The Power Lord side stepped the incoming blade grabbing hold of the amulet and projecting a beam at the Knight. The Knight stood still held in place by the beam of energy while the Power Lord drained the Knight completely of any magical essence. The armor fell to floor in parts and the Power Lord stretched out clenching his fists.

"Much better. I was actually starting to feel tired. Now where were we before we were rudely interrupted?" The Power Lord said looking to Yirfir, who had just gotten to her feet from Mila's side.

"We were about to dance. Shall we?" Yirfir asked scornfully.

"Why dance alone when we could have a party?" The Power Lord summoned a group of Norbids. 

Six Beast and six Magi Norbids materialized around the Power Lord. The Beast Norbids immediately took their larger beast form gaining an extra foot of height a layer of muscle and claws and fangs to match.

"I agree, lets have a party." Jasmer's voice broke through the commotion from beside Yirfir.

"Yes. Let's. Looks like there's plenty of partners too." Nelony and Shaela continued the role call, stepping into the warehouse.

"I like to dance." Sato said calmly stepping into form legs shoulder width apart already channeling his energy.

Barris entered the room running over to Mila followed by the healer who immediately began checking her wounds.

"Let's get you back to good health love." the healer spoke to Mila, who could barely make her out beyond her brilliant aura.

"Mila, I'm right beside you honey." Barris said holding her hand, stroking it gently. 

Dance For Times Past

The Beast Norbids lead the charge while the Magis and the Power Lord prepped their spells. The first Beast Norbid collided with Jasmer, throwing him back onto the floor and landing on top of him, trying to take a bite out of his face. Yirfir fired a pair of sharpened ice bolts from each hand which flew at high speed towards the advancing Beasts. One impacted the left arm of a Beast the other sank into another's abdomen. It howled in pain but maintained its momentum.

"Oh dear." Yirfir said calmly as the Beast Norbid's fury peaked.

A blur passed over her head and Sato landed before her.

"I beg your pardon." Sato said calmly thrusting his right fist directly at the abdomen embedded ice bolt, hitting it and driving it deeper into the wound. Sato then climbed the front of the Beast like a ladder as it howled in anguish, leaping from its shoulders to the other Beast. The first Beast Norbid fell to floor succumbing to its wound while Sato grabbed hold of the ice bolt embedded in the second one's arm and began twisting. The Beast clawed at Sato with its healthy arm as Sato blocked with agility that the Beast could not match.

Sato rolled backwards against the wall and the Beast Norbid charged. Sato side stepped the Beasts onslaught and it slammed into the wall with enough force to render itself unconscious. One of the other Beasts had charged to attack Sato who narrowly avoided it, falling backwards and rolling back onto his feet. A dark form streaked before him and landed atop the attacking Beast. Shaela's cat beast now twice its usual size held the Beast Norbid down as its jaws wrapped around its mid section. The cat beast flung the Norbid from side to side like a plush toy before throwing it the length of the warehouse. The Beast Norbid landed but did not get up nor did it move.

"Oooh. Nice kitty." Sato said respectfully.

The cat beast roared in reply and leapt at the next Beast Norbid.

Jasmer struggled with the Beast Norbid on top of him dodging its jaws barely. Jasmer's hands built an energy charge which he released blasting the Norbid into the air above him. He quickly rolled over before it landed and was back on his feet when it landed. It coiled and readied itself for its next strike. At that moment Nelony tossed something tiny onto the floor beside it, shouting: "Xcetzax! Shriat'lac!".

A large shelled beetle grew to monstrous proportions beside the Beast Norbid, its mandibles wrapping around the Beast before it was able to leap. The beetle bit down, a crunching noise audible and the beast immediately fell still.

"Thank you my fair lady. I always was a fan of the Beatles." Jasmer offered, throwing Nelony a wink as she blushed.

A blast of energy flew through the air just barely missing Nelony.

"Who threw that?" She asked angrily looking towards its source without missing a beat.

She noticed the Magi Norbids finishing their casting for the first line of spells against the group. She spoke to the beetle and pointed towards the group of Magi Norbids.

"Leklic tkan tkut!" She shouted.

The beetle began lumbering towards the Magi Norbids. Shaela's cat beast dropped the Beast Norbid it was toying with to the warehouse floor leaping at the Magi Norbids with Sato following closely behind it.

Shaela had taken shadow-form herself and advanced towards the Power Lord in attempt to avoid his detection. 

"Good idea!" Nelony acknowledged Shaela's initiative, dematerializing herself taking on the appearance of a fine mist following Shaela. Both were barely visible.

Jasmer ran to Yirfir's side as she stepped forward to take on the next line of Norbids and the Power Lord himself.

Yirfir summoned her Giant from the shadow plane, the one she had tested the ladies with at the party. It grew to a mammoth height of eighteen feet, just two feet short of the ceiling. It's glowing eyes immediately caught sight of the Power Lord and began its advance towards him as Jasmer arrived by Yirfir's side.

"Let's do this together as we should have long ago, my dear." Jasmer grabbed Yirfir's hand.

"Yes. Let's, my love." Yirfir squeezed his hand in confirmation.

The energy channeled between them amplifying their abilities as long as they kept their hands together. They strode forward at the Power Lord to finish business that should have ended decades ago.

The healer's hands glowed with warm energy on Mila's forehead and cooling energy on Mila's wound towards her abdomen. Mila groaned, still unconscious and breathing weakly making little progress on recovery.

"Honey, I'm right beside you." Barris spoke softly into Mila's ear.

The beetle arrived at the line of Magis flanking one as it fired a spell. The spell flew towards Yirfir's Giant, impacting sending flares in all directions and knocking it back a step. The beetle snuck in wrapping it's mandibles around the waist of the Magi as it screamed. The Magi flailed pounding on the carapace of the beetle ineffectually. The beetle clamped its mandibles tightly, crushing the Magi and dropping him motionless to the floor.

Shaela's cat beast pounced, trapping two Magi at once under its tremendous paws. One lost its spell altogether and began trying pry his way out. The other fired its spell at the cat beast's shoulder where it impacted burning the cat's shoulder. It hissed in pain, snatching up the second Magi under from under its paws in its mouth, flinging him the entire length of the warehouse. It impacted the wall near the ceiling falling seventeen feet to the floor stopped dead. The cat beast swiped the other Magi with its tremendous paw sending him tumbling a distance away. The Magi got to his feet and threw a quick blast of aetherial energy at the cat beast whose eyes flared with intensity. It sprang at the Magi with the entirety of its weight pounding down on the Magi's frame. The Magi remained motionless on the floor as the cat beast devoured him whole.

The Power Lord had for the duration of the onslaught been drawing upon the powers contained in the mighty artifact around his neck. His body began emanating the same static flickering as the artifact itself as its energy of the ages streamed through his body. The energy of every spell it devoured streamed through the body of the Power Lord.

"Yes! I've achieved the power! Soon you will be no more!" he spoke aloud at the approaching group.

He directed his attention around him seeing that most of the Magi had been vanquished. In his frustration of the immediacy of the situation he held his hands in front of him, drawing in and absorbing the energy from each the remaining Magis. They each slowly withered and shrunk to the floor, their cloaks empty tufts of smoke rising from each.

"This power was not meant to be yours!" he said defiantly, his voice booming throughout the warehouse, shaking the entire building.

"That is where you're wrong. The yearning and learning was meant for us all. It is who and what we are. It is not for your power, it is but for the sake of life!" Yirfir proclaimed confidently to the Power Lord, Jasmer and her students by her side.

The Power Lord grew furious with their defiance, his rage reaching a climax.

"This power wasn't meant for you!" he bellowed violently at her, his eyes a pair of storms.

The energy around him started to condense into droplets and space itself folded inwards toward him. Yirfir's Giant was pulled apart by the forces and fell into the energy well centered at the Power Lord's eyes as his sinister laughter filled their ears. Shaela's cat beast struggled against the tremendous force, digging its claws deep into the cement floor and gaining hold to avoid the same fate as Yirfir's Giant. Shaela and Nelony too were drawn towards the Power Lord while in their aetherial form. They adjusted their plans accordingly materializing before him, each with a powerful incantation ready.

"Hit him now!" Yirfir screamed and the four of them, Shaela, Nelony Yirfir and Jasmer let go with a steady stream of energy all directed at the Power Lord's center of mass. The pressure drawing the energy inward towards him collided with the energy that had accumulated in his proverbial event horizon and much faster than he could absorb it. There was a moment of silence as time itself stood still. It was infinitely bright and ultimately dark at the same time and shadows were as pronounced as the light itself. A tremendous shock wave burst from the Power Lord's center and expanded outward from him warping the space around him in the opposite direction.

Shaela and Nelony were caught in it first and picked up by its force and carried through the air. It next caught Yirfir and Jasmer and they too were caught in the shock wave. The scattered debris and bricks from the earlier battle too were picked up and became projectiles, each flying at tremendous speed to the front of the warehouse. Barris threw himself in front of the oncoming storm in protection of Mila and the healer.

Sato now on the other side of the warehouse was picked up and carried towards the far wall a part of the mass of expanding air. When the shock wave hit the walls and ceiling there was an infinitely loud thunderclap and then blackness and silence as the warehouse flew apart and its interior was exposed to midday.

When she awoke she was startled to see the sky. At first she had trouble remembering who or where she was. It all came back to her as she got onto her feet. She searched her surroundings finding the healer, who was lying on her side her breaths as shallow as Mila's had been twenty minutes ago. Mila went to her side and checked her for injuries. When she was sure that most of them were superficial she attempted to lift the healer into a sitting position.

"Thank the heavens you're alive. Where are the others?" were the healer's first words.

"We have to find them. Can you move?" Mila asked her.

"Yes, I should be fine. How about you? Are you OK to search?" The healer asked Mila.

"Yes. I am much better. Thanks to you." Mila responded gratefully.

"My name is Feylachar and you're Mila I take it? Your friend Barris, he had a lot to say about you." Feylachar offered to console Mila with a compassionate smile and a playful wink to top it off.

"Mila!" Yirfir spoke aloud, Jasmer helping her to her feet before planting a kiss on her cheek.

"Where's..." Mila could not finish her sentence.

"Right here. We're right here, love." Nelony replied standing to her feet.

Shaela stood up brushing the dust out of her hair.

"Don't worry about me. I'm OK." Sato's voice caught them from the other end of the remains of the warehouse.

They stumbled through the rubble to each other offering a round of hugs, and warm greetings. When their reunion was done, Mila spoke addressed Shaela, Nelony and Sato.

"Where's Barris?" She asked them.

The group spread out searching the rubble for Barris, turning over bricks and looking under the ceiling paneling that littered the area.

Mila caught sight of the Power Lord's amulet, but there was no sign of the Power Lord. She carefully retrieved the amulet, pocketing it and then continuing the search for Barris. As she made her way back towards the area where she first woke up, she noticed a hand from beneath a pile of rubble.

"Over here! Here he is." She shouted dashing to the area immediately clearing his body of rubble.

She had gotten him uncovered as the rest of the group arrived. Feylachar stepped over to his side examining him carefully.

"He's not breathing... no pulse either." She said softly, clasping her hands and rubbing them together.

A warm glow emanated from them and she placed one hand on his forehead and the other on his chest. There was a slight twitch in his body as her hands made contact, but no regular breathing or movement followed. She concentrated, straining and pushing herself to her limit before falling silent. They watched the healer, waiting patiently as their hope dwindled.

"He's gone." She said solemnly.

"No. He can't be." Mila cried, her tears renewed once again on this painful day.

She pounded his chest, screaming at him.

"You can't go yet! I wanted to tell you..." She collapsed forward onto his chest, where she lay for a long time.

"There must be something we can do! We could take him to the Sanctum again and you could heal him there!" Yirfir spoke, more commanding than suggesting.

"You don't understand. He is gone. There is nothing that I or anyone can do for him now." Feylachar spoke intensely and with compassion.

"What about..." Nelony started.

"You don't understand. He has gone. He is no longer here with us now." She tried explaining once again patiently.

Only Mila's muffled crying could be heard. Nelony eyed them each in turn searching for a sign of hope. The tears beaded in her eyes when she found none.

Sato's head hung low and he spoke.

"Goodbye my friend. Your good has etched itself onto the world around you." He said quietly.

Yirfir knelt beside Mila, rubbing her hair and consoling her, but nothing could heal her pain on this day.


Tears and rain drops intertwined and ran down Mila's cheeks as they cast the dirt onto the casket. Another piece of her gone. The only part that had remained after the death of her parents was her trust that she could open up to someone. Trust someone that wouldn't leave her and someone that would not leave her when she had given that trust.

Yirfir, Shaela, Nelony and Jasmer all looked to Mila, asking her if she wanted some company. Mila shook her head no, looking down at her lap. She remained as the last of the people left.

Sato approached her quietly waiting a moment before speaking.

"He would have wanted you to have this." He extended his hand, clasped within it a book.

She accepted the book pocketing it without looking at it as she nodded to Sato. He strode off quietly, long knowing that there are some things in life that must be resolved within oneself.

Weeks had passed and she had spent most of her time alone at the house as she consumed her loneliness and forgave life for what it had taken from her and was once again grateful for what she had. That night she'd retrieved the book from her night table, the amulet still on top of it. It was a collection of poetic works that Barris had been reading when they'd first arrived in the shop seeking clues to Yirfir's whereabouts. Before long she was smiling about the moments she'd had with Barris that made her laugh and smile. The ripples and waves he'd left behind for her and others to remember him by, each one of them a treasure and a testament to his effect upon life. His effect upon her. Barris had lived up to Sato's words: "be gentle with that brush, for she is very delicate and beautiful. Protect her".

She too had triumphed over her past and her fears and had grown in ways that she had not foreseen against obstacles she had not understood. She felt ready to take her place in the world and more importantly, to shape it. The world was her canvas and she was ready to paint upon the complex tapestry that we call life. She had indeed graduated.

That night she drifted off with the timeless words of a great poet still on her lips and her lost love on her mind.

When she was fully asleep it was he, Barris that finished the poem for her.

"All that we see or seems, is but a dream within a dream..."

That's when it began. She had been walking in the night through the orchard, an autumn wind barely enough to raise goose bumps on her skin. The moon was out, full and ripe as the night itself casting its dim radiance upon the tree tops and filtering down in beams through the leaves. She was wearing a night gown that hung loosely from her body accenting her form in a moon lit silhouette. She had no idea where she was going and that did not matter, she was just going there without destination.

"This isn't over you realize. You're becoming comfortable with closure are you?" a familiar voice emanating from the night air broke the silence.

"I didn't think that it was over, but I am done with you." Mila spoke to the Power Lord, unable to see him.

"Oh, I can most certainly assure you that we will meet again in the flesh." he responded with uncanny confidence.

"We'll be ready for you when you crawl out from whatever rock you're hiding under." She responded, feeling a stinging in her heart and the return of bitterness over their loss.

"This isn't about you, or your lost friend. There are forces here at work that diminish the importance of the loss of one person. Don't you see? What you wield has been a problem from the beginning of time itself. From our first calendars and from the point that we really started to understand it all. You wanted to learn it, understand it and share it. You weren't ready then and you aren't ready now." the Power Lord's voice stopped and Mila considered that he might be drawing her in before responding.

"You mean curiosity? You mean wonder? Our birth right? How can you look up at the stars and say that none of us should be able to see them? How can you say that we can see the beauty of the world and yet not paint what we see and share it with others? Say that we cannot teach others to read so we can share it with them in writing? Our feeling of this need is wrong to you! Something so natural that you've made vile! You hid behind many institutions that are held sacred by society and some that had our goals, playing them against us and one another. For centuries you persecuted us for our abilities. You burned us at the stake or drowned us. You preyed upon the fear that you created in others about us. You even employ others with our abilities to find us and harm us. That is how you started the first hunt!" Mila felt her heart beating faster and she paused long enough to catch herself.

"There, you're sounding more and more like Nelony. If you only knew her as well as I did." the Power Lord laughed and it echoed throughout the orchard.

"She has our love and our trust. Something that you'll never understand." Mila shot back at him.

"Nelony's purpose in all of this will soon become clear. Just like the loss of your beloved, what was his name. Oh yes. Barris." the Power Lord horded knowledge for its power, sharing as little of it as he could.

"You took him from us you bastard!" Mila screamed at the night, her hands illuminating the air around her, defiling the ambient darkness.

"That I didn't. No, I tried. Believe me I tried. Someone or something else got him before I did. He screamed before he was drawn into the depths of the abyss that you call nihilism. Just like your parents." he savored every word in his last sentence to sooth his disdain with his first.

Mila's tears streamed down her face and put out the fires of her rage. The darkness dissipated and she fell forward to her knees, weeping and crushed while the Power Lord's laughter filled the air.

When she awoke the next day her face was salty with her dried tears. During the night she had curled into a fetal position on her bed, her arms tightly clasped the amulet and the book, holding them closely to her chest. She vaguely remembered her dream but she did recall her anger, bitterness and pain but something was different.

She got up to wash her face and noticed that she had overslept by many hours. She washed up quickly and prepared to salvage the rest of her day with what little of it was left.

When she got downstairs she was surprised to find that the stereo was on in the den and that the front door was open, the daylight streaming in through the glass screen door.

She closed and locked the front door and shut the stereo off and proceeded to the kitchen to prepare herself some breakfast. When she arrived in the kitchen, she found that there were dishes out and a pot of boiling water was on the stove, with several ingredients sitting on the counter.

"Shaela? Nelony?" Mila inquired aloud.

"Stop this you two, this isn't funny." She continued, putting the ingredients away, but keeping the pot on.

She paused momentarily when she heard a knock at the door asking herself if Shaela or Nelony would use the door if they were playing a joke on her.

She made her way cautiously to the front of the house and unlocked the door, only to see a face that she did not recognize. An elderly lady slightly hunched over, thick glasses covering her eyes and magnifying them at the same time.

"I'm sorry, can I help you?" Mila asked the stranger.

"Mila. You locked me out on the veranda. Did you get the stove? I left..." the lady didn't quite get her sentence finished.

"No. This can't be. You're gone. You and dad are..." tears rained down from her eyes as she backed up.

"Is this you! Are you playing with me again?" she screamed out loud scanning the room wildly.

"Mila, who in the world are you talking to?" the elderly lady asked Mila calmly.

Mila felt dizzy and the room began to spin. She struggled to stay on her feet and found it simple as she had become weightless and floated into the clouds in a haze. She had dreamt of her lost mother, who had come to carry her off into the clouds. Everything was alright.

She awoke expecting to find herself in bed but was flat out on the floor with the elderly lady, her mother tending to her.

"Have you been ill recently angel?" Mila's mother asked her.

"No mom. I'm fine really. I guess I just didn't expect you." she wrapped her hands around her mother and didn't let go.

Mila heard the screen door open and saw two figures enter the house, her head still perched on her mother's shoulder.

"What happened? Are you alright sweetie?" her father walked over quickly, putting the grocery bag on the floor beside them.

"I'm OK dad. Mom is too. Are you OK Mom?" Mila asked her mother as they stood together.

She wrapped her arms around the both of them and held on.

"Oh, fine. Leave me out of the group hug moment. Should I leave?" Mila heard his familiar accent and began laughing.

"No! Don't leave." Mila said as Barris stepped out from behind her parents.

"Well you looked like, you know. You were having one of your family moments." he said anxiously.

Mila grabbed him by his side and pulled him in close, kissing him tenderly and lovingly and he returned it. When her parents tried to sneak away she reached for them both.

"I'm not ever letting any of you get away again. Ever." She said smiling with tearful eyes as she and Barris wrapped their arms them, making it an embrace for four.

Her parents returned the embrace and together they had once again become family.

While Mila, once again, had Barris.

It was in that moment that she understood his favorite poet's words.

"All that we have seen or seems,
is but a dream within a dream..."

(The words of Edgar Allen Poe's Dream Within A Dream and more recently his words voiced by Propaganda)