A Lady's Prerogative III: Singularity - Work In Progress

 Note: This book is in the process of a rewrite. So the chapters with which you've already become familiar will be phased into the rewrite as the story progresses. If the older existing chapter does not fit into the new story line, which has changed, while keeping the same plot elements, the offending chapter will be rejected and at the very least, rewritten to fit.


All of the new characters will remain, though their individual circumstances might change drastically. This is especially the case with Shaela's plot arc, which unlike the previous version won't find her challenge mostly resolved by both the fate of Mianamor Selembrosi and Shaela's own Shadow Cat. I'd suggest re-reading the new story to become familiar with what's changed. The biggest change is that the story arc for the Sanctum will not suddenly hit a dead-end, as it had in the old version. The same characters will be present for an even greater challenge, which might find them having to cooperate or even work with former enemies. 


I cannot say more.


One thing that I can state that I discussed in an earlier post was the fact that I am not game for the idea of being published by a large corporate publisher, such as DC. (Warner Brothers) or Disney.


First let me explain that what I meant is that I don't ever want to lose control of my own creative properties and the limits to which I am allowed to explore story telling. This is a very powerful medium despite its antiquated nature (reading I mean). Especially in the face of other more visual media.


I grew up with Disney, Marvel and DC from the 1970s, with many comic collections in my possession from both comic publishers, and being an avid fan of Disney's television offerings at the time. Remember those CRT based electron tubes that used to receive television signals via wireless transmission called UHF? Yes, I'm that old. I was speculating the other day about the fact that I've got far fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me behind. Life's been an interesting struggle and at times breathtaking beyond fathoming. Positively, negatively and everything in between. I look forward to more, but I have no fear of my final curtain.


In a sense, I consider myself and many others to be a part of the superhero and fantasy movement made possible by DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Macfarlane Publishing (referring to Todd, the artist that did the artwork for the black costumed Spectacular Spiderman shortly after the original Secret Wars comic series, both I and II gave him the suit originally drawn by John Romita in the 1980s and 1990s).


I remember reading many comics, such as Kung-Fu Master (Shang-Chi) back in his first appearances. I read team-ups with him and Spiderman. The Punisher. Daredevil. He was even involved in a story tie-in with X-Men heavy hitter Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike that took place in both Japan and China. An awesome series from what I recall. Teamups between Moon Knight and Spiderman. The Lizard and Spiderman (yes, Lizard even teamed up as a good guy). Fantastic Four and The Hulk. Fantastic Four when She Hulk joined them (another one of my favourite superheroes). I've read and remember a lot of comic book history. I never take anything from comics, but I have put easter eggs in some of my books specifically as a handshake or bow to other comic books and movies. Sometimes as a sarcastic poke at them. Sometimes as a real heartfelt hug. 


When Disney took over the Marvel portfolio and began churning out movies, I'd actually hoped that we might see a movie that put Reed Richards and Tony Stark onscreen together. It would be pure cinematic gold as they're both genius level creators, though at two very different places in terms of their fame and ego not to mention that they're both the head of corporations in competition with one another. Also both of them essentially having hearts of gold, with the key players in their respective teams being women, like their romantic counterparts, Susan Storm and Pepper Potts. A Galactus, Fanatastic Four, Avengers, X-Men tie in would have been awesome. I'm sure that what Marvel have up their sleeve for the next chapter will be mind blowing. How about the Zak Snyder cut of Justice League?


Alright, I'll get back to my point.


With the exception of business minded artists like Todd Macfarlane and a few others, things don't generally turn out well for the original creators of content and characters, as most artists and designers don't have an appetite for business and their own legal protection or the protection of their creative properties.


In that regard history shows that many have been preyed upon by other fish in the pond (such as Superman's creators: Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel for instance, who were literally rescued from poverty by Warner Communications who gave them a pension and health coverage during the final years of their life after having been literally screwed out of their creative property and royalties by others). Just because you create something and bring it to maturity, doesn't mean that you'll be recognized or rewarded for it before someone else steals it from you and tries to make it their own. 


Walt Disney himself was very protective of his artists and creative properties back in the days when film based animation was an emerging art form. A lot goes into making a creative property a success that has nothing to do with the visuals, the characters and the stories and for some people, that ability is their art form. The art of business and growing a creative or intellectual property. It pays for artists and creative designers to have people like that on their side, despite the fact that sensitive personalities don't always mingle well with the confident types found in entrepreneurship. Learn from people like Todd Macfarlane's example.


My statements about avoiding publishing in that regard weren't a stab at Disney or Marvel at all, and Warner Brothers are and have been historically honourable when it comes to protecting artists and creators from creative property theft. We live in an age where when someone creates something, there are many others who attempt to find ways to steal those creations for their own credit and benefit.


When you hope for something, like a lifelong wish of being published or having your creative properties take-off and become part of the mass media, perhaps allowing you to make a living for your effort, you're as vulnerable as you are when you let fear govern you, and there are people who will play you based upon your hopes and your fears. Creating a veritable emotional see-saw through which to manipulate you between those two extremes.


When you're younger, hope and fear are healthy, but as you get older, if you cling onto those ideas, there's a chance that they'll be the tools of your manipulation by others whose interests don't include you or your rights, or even your creative material. The kind of people who do those kinds of things, aim for the money of big publishers. So they might try to steal someone's creative work, and then shop it to big publishers for quick money. The more popular your property, the more susceptible it is to such scams. So as a creator and artist, you have to be responsibly wary and protective of what you create, and be creative in doing so. Especially when you don't have the budget for copyright or publishing rights registration. Have a responsibly business savvy person on your side.


So my statements in that regard were in support of big publishers, though I really don't care if they ever are interested or not in what I produce here. I'm confident in my creative properties. I just know they're good. Not perfect and certainly not beyond improvement. They're modestly good. Regardless, I'd much rather have the final say about my characters and stories, and I won't let myself be manipulated by a fulcrum poised as a see-saw of hope and fear. I'd recommend that any other content creators harden themselves against the same thing. Sometimes what I have to say is more important than how much money I'll make from saying it. I wish that I could have both, but for whatever reason beyond my control, this is what I have and I'd rather make a difference earning little, than make no difference earning a lot. Some heroes find success financially. Some don't, and I hold nothing against the ones who do.


I'd recommend that younger artists and content producers take precautions to protect themselves. There are people who will illegally spy on your creative process with illegal computer technology, using it to steal your creative property. The sooner that you're aware of this, the better. Don't worry though. If you're honest and someone tries to take your creative property from you, when they get caught, they'll be ruined more so than will you. You'll likely have another shot. They'll never have any shot at anything ever again.


If this book was one of Gabe Asnon's MindSpice projects, he'd have called it A Lady's Prerogative III: Singularity (version 0.1.2.189). That translates to meaning: 0.1 progressing in the overall story arc, the 2nd public release, and the 189th time that this story was attended to by an author (myself) for additions or revisions.


Brian Joseph Johns October 8, 2020


"And I have heard, in a certain and explicit way, from several respectable persons that one man close to our time, whose name is R. Eliyahu, the master of the name, who made a creature out of matter and form and it performed hard work for him, for a long period, and the name of emet was hanging upon his neck until he finally removed it for a certain reason, the name from his neck and it turned to dust."

Observations Of A Polish Kabbalist about the creation of the Golem

...


"Like one who, on a lonely road, 

Doth walk in fear and dread,

And, having turn'd round, walks on,

And turns no more his head;

Because he knows a frightful fiend,

Doth close behind him tread."

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; Or; The Modern Prometheus

...


The dead govern the living.

August Comte

...


The living govern the future.

Gabe Asnon

...


Danton's Inferno


Shaela stumbled through an unfamiliar darkened corridor. She couldn't remember how she'd come to be where she was nor could she recall her previous whereabouts. All of it was a blur. Like an abstract painting, the colours smeared across the canvas atop one another. Past, present and future become one.


The hall itself was narrow, allowing only for one to proceed, though it widened as it progressed in the direction of her travel. Shaela spoke quietly, eliciting the verbal elements of a spell. The walls of the corridor suddenly emerged, becoming apparent far into the distance, as if the contrast between darkness and light had suddenly been cranked.


"That sorts things out a bit..." she said to herself.


She continued her trek forward, picking up her pace with her new awareness. Somewhere in the distance ahead she heard a thrumping sound. It was low and loud, sounding very much like the pounding music of a dance club. The hall continued to widen and before long, it was big enough for her to summon an ally.


The spiraling portal appeared twenty steps ahead of her, exhaling plumes of gaseous air as the pressure balanced between the corridor and the shadow realm. A pair of glowing eyes emerged from the portal as the great beast stepped forward in heed of Shaela's call. A reddened spark of static electricity, arced between the portal and the four legged beast, illuminating it enough to reveal its form. It was a large shadowy feline, bigger than a horse yet smaller than an elephant. Just approaching adolescence, decades into the future it would be three times its current size.


Shaela had already been its best friend for years and the two had formed a strong bond. Their senses were as one. Their predatory instinct was as one. Their sense of justice and leniency was as one. With the help of the great cat's special sensory organ, they could both smell intent and motive the same as a cat could smell and recognize any threats.


The great shadow cat exposed its teeth, shimmering in the darkness and barely visible to all but Shaela.


"I have need of you good friend," Shaela greeted her shadow cat.


The great cat growled, turning in the direction of the grinding thump. As the portal shrank, air hissed as it rushed to escape before the fissure disappeared with a subsonic thunderclap. The great cat proceeded in the direction Shaela had indicated as she took its right flank.


Proceeding for a time, the corridor ahead came to an end at a pair of wooden double doors. Behind them, through the cracks at the top and bottom, Shaela could see flickering light, synchronized with the now apparent pumping music.


"We need to get through these doors..." Shaela spoke into the great cat's right ear.


It struck the doors with one of its paws, throwing them both open revealing a scene of surreal cacophony beyond.


It was very obviously a bedroom, an elaborately furnished master suite. Exquisite furnishings, large screen monitors and a full featured stereo system lined the walls. The monitors displayed colourful visualizations, all following the sound of the inorganic digital music.


On the far wall, a large canopied bed held a single occupant, who was bound to it by sinewy ropes. He struggled against the bonds that held him as a darkly clad woman with brightly coloured Chelsea hair stood at the end of the bed. She was laughing at him.


Shaela extended her arm and bolt of shadow matter struck the stereo system, destroying it leaving them all in a sudden silence. The man's inaudible struggling suddenly became the only sound they could hear.


"Please... Miana... let me free..." the man pleaded.


Upon hearing the name, Shaela immediately recognized the woman. It was Miana. Mianamor Selembrosi. Fellow Night Wytch and former member of the Sanctum Of The New.


"It's not too late Mianamor. You can still release him. Don't do this. It won't bring him back..." Shaela implored of Miana suddenly understanding the breadth of the situation.


"You think me still fraught with grief over my loss of Clygan? He is but a faded memory. You know so little of me Shaela. I was always the underling Night Wytch to you. Even in the eyes of Thara." Miana spoke, masking her pain.


"I know who he is. This is Danton, your boyfriend. Why make this man suffer?" Shaela tried to keep her occupied.


"You are part of a dying structure Shaela. The Sanctum has lost its way and you know that. There needs to be a new beginning for the users of the weave, built on a new foundation. Not the stagnant ancestry of Lyra and Lorr. There are issues which you'll never understand. Issues foreign to those who came from the old order. The Aerth is changing and technology is nearly at pace with the powers of the weave. Your bureaucracy is too burdened to handle the problems facing us now. Men like Danton must die." Mianamor's piercing eyes found Shaela's, and then turned their attention to Shaela's enormous Shadow Cat.


Miana extended her arms, directing her hands toward the end of the bed. A stream of speckled blackness flowed from her fingertips, forming a growing quilt of darkness on the mattress.


Danton screamed, struggling with futility as the onslaught of darkness crept upon him. The crawling death of thousands of shadow insects, slowly covered his body like a dark cloud. They devoured Danton's flesh and bone until nothing of him remained. Not even his screams.


As Miana directed the insects, Shaela used her distraction to close the distance to her nemesis, but by that time it was too late. Danton was already gone.


"What have you done?!..." Shaela pleaded with Miana.


Shaela's immense Cat roared, leaping at Miana as she attempted to dodge. Miana's shadow insect army suddenly turned its attention towards the much larger feline predator. The top predator of the shadow realm, the giant Shadow Cat had quickly been reduced to prey. It furiously scratched and chewed at the insects as they covered its body, slowly consuming it. 


Miana focused herself, attacking Shaela. The palms of Miana's hands suddenly sprouted poisonous mandibles and she attempted to strike Shaela's bare flesh. Shaela caught her by the wrists, struggling against the younger woman's strength of body and ferocity.


Miana forced Shaela down onto the floor, landing atop of her still struggling against Shaela's clasp of her wrists.


"I've longed for this moment. To see you perish and leave me the opening that I need to remove Thara from this existence. The Sanctum has grown weak and worse, it has lost the passion of a sure direction. You're part of a dying order. Yield now and I promise to make your passing painless and I shall ensure that your memory is preserved in the Universalis Codex as it should be." Miana insisted, leaning with her full body weight upon Shaela's tiring arms.


"Never. Should I fall today stopping you, it will be a worthy sacrifice." Shaela forced the final bit of strength from her arms before they gave out.


Miana's poisonous mandible palms drove towards Shaela's face. As Shaela saw what she believed to be her last moment, a giant claw pierced Miana's breastplate as she struggled. Miana's expression became one of complete and utter shock.


"...how?..." Miana pleaded as she was dragged backwards by what remained of the Shadow Cat.


Miana resisted the shadow cat's clasp as best she could, conjuring her own shadow portal between this world and the shadow realm with her last bit of strength as the Shadow Cat struggled against the devouring army of shadow insects.


Miana freed herself from the giant claw and dove through the portal, completely disappearing into the black nether of the shadow abyss, while Shaela's Shadow Cat protector struggled against its dying breath.


Shaela cast forth a breath of pure shadow, giving up half of her life to the dying Cat. It was slightly reinvigorated but still succumbing to the insect army. As its final act, it too cast out a breath of shadow essence and then disappeared into Miana's portal, bringing Miana's shadow insect army with it.


Moments later, Miana and Shaela's Shadow Cat protector were gone into the dark abyss of the Shadow Realm.


Nothing remained of Danton but the chains that had previously bound him.


Shaela brushed at imaginary insects upon her body falling to her knees as she did suddenly feeling the tremendous pain her Cat had endured before it fell. She stood there in shock, barely able to move or breathe.


She shivered and then gasped, inhaling a volume of air. Shaela then fell to her knees pounding the floor with her bare hands.


"No! This can't be... I..." Shaela struggled to remain conscious, failing as her eyes closed.


Then, she awoke drenched in sweat, laying on her back in bedroom, upon her own bed. 


"Mreow." She heard a tiny voice from atop her breast.


She wiped the sweat from her forehead and then peered down to her breasts.


There, between her breasts was perched comfortably a small adolescent cat. Purring quietly. Upon meeting her gaze it lay itself, chin down upon the center of her breastplate and closed its eyes, perhaps amused by her previous state of stress.


"Yes my little dear, another nightmare. Mianamor was there again. In all her mirth." she spoke in a grovely voice.


"Rmmewr." the tiny cat opened its eyes and spoke briefly then tried to fall asleep comfortably upon her, as if to protest her earlier angst.


"Not today my love. There's so much to do before I get back to the Sanctum. I mean I've still got to setup your wish-want. I mean how are you ever going to get fed without one?" Shaela groaned, grasping the tiny cat in her hands and placing it gingerly on the bed beside her.


"Mmrrrroooeew." it mewled back at her its eyes still half closed.


"Yes, even such a good kitten of the mommy kitty that saved me from the Dezrulard has to sleep on the cold mattress without me every once in a while." Shaela stroked the tiny kitten's head and it fell asleep quickly leaving her to ponder her nightmare.


Shaela sat on the side of her bed, rubbing her face as she slowly awoke. 


She then stood and proceeded to stairs in her two level, attached home on the Queen's Gate Mews of London.


She heard her cellular phone suddenly come to life, ringing from atop her night table back in her bedroom. She immediately sprinted back up the stairs, cursing as she did.


She dove onto the bed grasping at her phone and then holding it ritually to her face.


"Hello?" she answered and was greeted with silence.


She held the phone before her eyes, squinting at the technology in disgust. 


"Darned technology. Why can't you just read my mind!" she cursed as she pressed the answer button on the touchscreen and once again held the phone up to her ear.


"Hello again?" she answered.


"Shaela?" asked a timid voice on the other end of the connection.


"Yes Mila!?" Shaela answered sounding very impatient and flustered.


"Are you awake?" Mila asked her enthusiastically.


"Yes. Much more so than your call last night at three in the AM." Shaela responded.


"I'm sorry about that. But it really was him. I... I... I mean he really did try to contact me. I heard him. His voice. It was quiet... but it was him." Mila spoke frantically, even desperately.


"Mila. Mila. He's gone. That's it. He's gone. There's no getting him back from the grasp of death. You know that as well as do I. We live by that rule in the Sanctum. Death is death. No Wytch can ever overstep that boundary. Even a Wytch of the Order Of Aetherial Artistry such as yourself. One who is gone can never be ungone." Shaela explained as patiently as she could for the ninth time.


"But I heard him. I did. Really, I did." Mila pleaded with Shaela.


"I know you did. You told Nelony the same thing for months, until she could take it no more. Now I'm shouldering your pain and you're not healing. You're not progressing, Mila." Shaela spoke confidently and as carefully as she could.


"But he's still out there... He's not... gone." Mila pleaded with her.


"Mila, you're our best friend whether Nelony will admit it or not. She's... well she's Nelony. She's a different Nelony than the one we knew, especially since our ordeal. She's the sole Aerth Mother Wytch and she's alone. She ran out of patience for you because she's found herself. I took over because you're my friend. Our friend, and friends don't turn their back on each other, even when that means talking some sense into them." Shaela spoke convincingly, though inside she'd questioned her own sense of confidence similarly.


"No. No. You don't understand. He's still alive. He's trying to contact me. I'm not imagining this. He's not gone and this doesn't break the rule. The rule." Mila pleaded with her.


"You alienated Nelony and you're doing the same to me. I'm your only friend left and I'm asking you - no - wait - I'm pleading with you to let this go. For your sake. For our sake." Shaela reasoned with her.


"Do you know what a promise is Shaela? A real promise?" Mila posed to her.


"Of course I do. I made a promise when I became a Night Wytch. A dedication few can understand-" Shaela was interrupted.


"-except those who've also made promises." Mila reminded her.


What's your point, Mila?" Shaela asked.


"Well. You see. I made a promise to Barris. The same promise he made to me. If either one of us were to go... to be gone... we'd contact the other. We'd do everything possible there was to contact the other. No matter the obstacle." Mila poured her heart out to Shaela.


"I know. That's what it is to love someone. To promise that you'll break any boundary to get to them again. To be with them! I know that feeling Mila. I lost mine and can never have him back. I learned to accept that. Why can't you?" Shaela posed to Mila.


"Because he's not gone! He's been trying to contact me!" Mila cried into her phone.


"I'm sorry Mila, but we all have to deal with loss. Why can't you? You didn't even ask how I'm doing. It's always about Barris. Well you'd better start tending to your living friendships before you lose everyone in your life!" Shaela's edgy voice pierced the phone.


"Mila!? Mila?!" Shaela exclaimed into her phone only to find the line dead.


Mila had hung up.


Shaela put her phone down on the night table.


"I'm sorry Mila, but we're so busy at the Sanctum. Even more so without you to help us. Speaking of which I've got to get ready. I'm expected there within the next hour, not to mention that I'd better setup that wish-want or when I'm gone, my cats will start eating the each other." Shaela stood once again and began taking care of her household responsibilities in preparation of her departure still deeply exhausted by her nightmare and her lack of healthy sleep.


Rainforest Wytch


Dandelbraden sat atop a tree branch, high amidst the jungle canopy, his pinkish-reddish burned skin standing out like a sore thumb amidst branch and brush alike. Dandelbraden was a nineteen year old Scandinavian student who'd traveled to Denmark to study at the University Of Copenhagen. 


During his summer vacation he'd been volunteering for PEN, Protect the Environment Now, an activist group protecting rainforests in Brazil. His body wiry and fit enough for such an ascent into the tree tops, which he'd made an hour earlier with the benefit of specialized climbing gear and training. One would think that with his messy punk style spiked hair that he'd stand out like a sore thumb, but in this environment, he actually fit in better than most.


From sixty feet in the air, upon a tree limb, he observed the movements of a Pathfinder SAVS, a semi-autonomous tracked scout that led numerous large tree scouring vehicles through the rainforests of Brazil.


"I've got eyes on a Pathfinder. About a hundred meters north of your position, Treetop 2. Over" Dandelbraden advised one of his team mates.


The Pathfinder paused, examining a tightly packed grove of hundred-year-old trees, examining them before moving towards a less dense and newly grown batch of jungle greens. The pathfinder paused as it sampled the CO2 levels in order to determine the age of its target batch.


"Treetop 1, it looks like they're heading for these younger trees, though I'd bet they'll go for the old agers. The hundred and over grove. Over." Athelbra replied, responding to Dandelbraden's earlier signal.


At eighteen years old, Athelbra was a second-year student herself, though she studied at the University Of Jordan. Much like her counterpart, Dandelbraden, she too was fit, though shorter and more curvaceous. Her long hair she kept wrapped in a bun atop her head to keep it from getting in the way. Her tanned face housed two deep brown eyes, a tiny nose and naturally pinkish-red lips. Though certainly very attractive, her interests were more geared towards academia than romance. Being firm and confident, she was very good at brushing off the noble or devious attempts of any men to bed her, and there had been many. Dandelbraden had been one of her first real male friends, a bond they'd formed early on as he was the first man she'd met that hadn't tried to pick her up within five minutes of meeting her.


"Copy that. Wait. It's changing direction. It's headed towards your location Treetop 2. Over." Dandelbraden watched as the Pathfinder turned in its tracks and started heading directly towards the grove of trees in which Athelbra was perched.


It continued moving, sniffing the air as it did through a filtered snorkel atop its chassis. It paused once again and a small flying drone emerged from a shuttered alcove atop its chassis. The drone flew into the grove of trees, sampling the air taking measurements via chemical chromoscopy camera. The drone quickly flew back to the Pathfinder and landed back in its alcove.


The Pathfinder's horn and sirens signalling three times, the sound of the air horn echoing through the jungle.


"That's it. That's their signal. It just called in the tree shredders on your grove, you have to get down. Now!" Dandelbraden blared into his headset.


"Already working on it!" Athelbra started the precarious descent back to the jungle floor, a task which could easily take twenty minutes.


She vowed to herself that she'd do it in under two minutes.


She checked her pitons first and then leaned off of the supporting limb, allowing the climbing tether to bear her full weight. She began inching her way down, using the release grip on her swiss chair to feed more tether. If she descended too fast, there was the risk that her pitons atop the tree might give, in which case she'd fall the full sixty feet likely to her death. The tension grip of the swiss chair could break, in which case it would either sieze and prevent the feeding of any tether stopping her descent altogether, or it simply wouldn't stop feeding tether in which case she'd fall.


The tree shredders suddenly appeared, there were three of them. Large blue vehicles with a pair of multi-toothed grinders in front and an arm atop which would hold the tree as the grinders did their work. The arm would then cut the tree into twenty-foot lengths and lay them into the pail on the back of the machine.


The shredders were heading directly for the grove of trees where Athelbra struggled to descend. She felt the ground rumbling at their approach and knew that at this height, the drivers would never see her. She'd be as good as dead once they set upon the grove. She only had minutes to get down and she was still up fifty feet.


In an effect to pick up her pace, she clamped her hand around the tension grip for the swiss chair, and she suddenly plummeted towards the ground at nine point eight meters per second squared. Gravity had taken the driver's seat in her descent. Suddenly the swiss chair locked, and she was violently flipped upside down, dangling from the tree at a height of thirty feet. A negligible height. If she had to cut the cable, she could survive the fall, possibly escaping with minor contusions and a broken limb. Nonetheless, she'd still have her life.


She struggled, searching for her vest pocket in which a utility knife resided. She unclipped the pocket and the knife tumbled out, falling to the jungle floor beneath her.


"Treetop 1, this is Treetop 2. I'm not going to make it down. I'm at the thirty-foot mark. I'm behind the tree from the perspective of the tree shredders. They're not going to see me in time. I just lost my knife so I can't cut my line either. I'm done for. Any suggestions? Over." Athelbra steadied herself against the tree as the pressure swelled within her head.


"I'm at the twenty-foot mark myself. I'm coming to get you. Just hold on! Over!" Dandelbraden made his way down the remaining twenty feet and fell the jungle floor as he landed.


He mucked about with his climbing gear trying to free himself, leaving the swiss chair and his climbing vest behind. He ran for Athelbra's position some three hundred and fifty meters away. The tree shredders had arrived and were already devouring the first line of trees. Another two minutes and they'd be at Athelbra's tree.


Dandelbraden ran, tripping over a large root, sliding to the ground with a thud, scraping his knee against the root as he did. He struggled to his feet and found that he could no longer run.


"Just hang in there, I'm nearly there." he lied.


"That's exactly what I'll do. After all, I have no choice in that matter." she replied to him jokingly.


He cursed his leg and he struggled to sprint, only falling once again. He got to his feet once again and pushed himself to his limits.


Athelbra's consciousness slowly escaped her as the blood rushed to her head. So much so that she began to hallucinate. There floating before her was a pretty blonde haired lady, certainly not clothed for this environment. She wore a long, light coloured coat, wore green jeans and a reddish blouse and two low heeled boots.


"You're in a bit of a predicament aren't you?" asked Nelony as she hovered before Athelbra like a guardian angel.


"I think so. I'm close to passing out. I'm assuming that you're a hallucination?" Athelbra asked the angel.


"Well, yes and no. I'm a friend and certainly an ally. It's a pretty courageous thing you're doing here. It would be a shame to lose your life doing so. However, that's not going to happen." Nelony replied as she gestured with her hands shaping the weave before Athelbra.


The tree suddenly came to life, animated in every way. One of its limbs reached for Athelbra, branches opening like a hand to grasp her.


Another couple of limbs grasped the line holding her in place and snapped it, free her from her predicament. Then, the tree passed her safely from limb to limb until she was planted upon the jungle floor.


"Now to deal with those machines..." Nelony floated towards the oncoming tree shredders.


The driver of the first shredder caught sight of Nelony first, as she floated a meter away from the cab of his machine.


"O que? Quem é Você? O que você está fazendo aqui! Isso é perigoso para você, senhora. É melhor você ir embora. Você pode se machucar com esta máquina." the driver spoke through a loudspeaker on his shredder.

[Translation: What? Who are you? What are you doing here! This is dangerous for you lady. You'd better leave. You could get hurt by this machine.]


"Não se preocupe comigo, estou perfeitamente seguro. É com você que eu estou preocupado. Veja bem, as pessoas para quem você trabalha enviaram você e sua equipe para cá ilegalmente. Você está violando os termos de um tratado mundial ratificado pelas Nações Unidas para proteger essa região de selva, mas aposto que você não sabia disso." Nelony spoke in perfect Porteguese.

[Translation: Don't worry about me, I'm perfectly safe. It's you that I'm worried about. You see, the people that you're working for sent you and your team here illegally. You're violating the terms of a world treaty ratified by the United Nations to protect this region of jungle, but I'd bet that you didn't know that.]


"Quem é Você? A natureza Polícia?" asked the driver.

[Translation: Who are you? The nature Police?]


"Não, sou muito pior. Eu sou a bruxa da selva." Nelony replied as the forest surrounding the shredders came to life.

[Translation: No. I'm much worse. I'm the Nature Wytch.]


Suddenly the day became and night and the jungle darkened to an eerie blackness. From every direction, there was the sound of snapping branches as the trees were no longer trees, but sixty-foot tall giant behemoths, with multiple arms, and long sharp claws and teeth. Their eyes glowed with fire and their mouths frothed. Every tree in the grove they'd been cutting came to life in this way and started to advance upon the machines.


The driver screamed his lungs dry as he put his shredder in reverse, dropping the tree he'd been devouring. The other shredders followed suit, quickly speeding back in the direction from whence they'd come.


Dandelbraden arrived and quickly found Athelbra laying on the ground, recovering from her earlier plight.


"Thank goodness you're alright. I mean it really would have been a drag to have to look for another mate for my team you know." Dandelbraden joked as he lay down cowering beside Athelbra at the giant horrors currently about them.


"We're not out of this yet. We still have to deal with her." Athelbra advised him.


"Who?" Dandelbraden asked her, still cowering beside her.


"The nature lady. My guardian angel." Athelbra told him.


"She means me." Nelony startled them both as they huddled together.


Nelony Ardbloem

Nelony descended to the ground to join them, sitting just beside them as the jungle slowly returned to normal. The night returned to day and there was peace in the jungle once again.


"Who are you? What are you?" Athelbra asked the blonde haired lady.


"That depends upon who you ask. If you ask them, the drivers of those shredders, I'd say that I'm a bad day. I'd hope that if someone asked you the same question about me, that you two would regard me in a much better light, or even better, not regard me at all. Just pretend none of this ever happened. Besides, if you ever tried to describe this to anyone else, you'd be labelled as being insane, or a conspiracy theorist, which to many people is essentially the same thing." Nelony advised them.


"How did you do those things? I mean, you can fly. You can animate the trees to come to life. I'm guessing by your British accent that you're not from Brazil, but you just spoke impeccable Porteguese. Is there anything that you can't do?" Athelbra asked Nelony.


"Well, surprisingly enough with me being from Britain and all, I can't quite get the hang of cooking bubble and squeak, one of my favourite dishes. Also for some reason, my begonias never seem to turn out. There's a lot of other things too, so yes, there are many things I can't do." Nelony answered them.


"Do you live here? Do you protect this jungle?" Athelbra asked her, pressing her further for answers.


"No. I don't live in here. I do protect jungles, habitats and their fauna all over the world. Not just jungles, just about everything to do with nature that can be interfered with by humankind." Nelony answered her question.


"You're an activist aren't you? Are you with Greenpeace? PETA?..." Athelbra became excited and began asking a barrage of questions.


"That takes a lot of courage to do those things. I support them for sure and keep tabs on them too. That's what led me to find you in this predicament. Just keep up the good work, but don't ignore your schooling either. Focus on that and find a good career when you graduate. If you don't graduate, don't be too hard upon yourself. You can still do anything you put your heart and mind to. You're safe from here. Your friends will be here to pick you up soon. In another half hour, I'd say. I must be going, there's still much to do." Nelony stood and began summoning a portal for herself thirty feet in the air for security's sake.


"Can we join you? You know, become your secret apprentices?" asked Athelbra.


Nelony paused at that question. Something about which she'd recently been giving much thought. After all, since the death of Nelony Theearin, she was the last of her Order, the Order Of The Aerth Mother. The last Aerth Wytch and she wasn't getting any younger, even with the Sanctum's anti-ageing effect. Taking on apprentices was something very important if she'd intended to carry on the tradition of her Order.


Hundreds of years earlier, in the 1600s, the Aerth Wytches were hunted nearly to complete extinction, leaving Nelony Theearin, the last of the Aerth Wytches as the carrier of the knowledge of the Aerth Mother, a powerful deity derived from the combined magical energies of the Aerth. She often appeared in the form of a beautiful woman, with long silvery hair. In fact in ancient myths, they believed the Milky Way galaxy to be her hair and that she held and nurtured the Aerth in her bosom. She was the sum force and manifestation of their magical energy, which they referred to as the weave, though the weave is infinite and extends beyond our universe into many other worlds and planes in all of existence. All of this knowledge would be lost if Nelony were never to take on an apprentice.


"I'll be watching. I will return one day to answer that question. For now, continue with your lives as if you'd never have met me. Please don't force me to make you forget our encounter." Nelony floated into the air and into the whirling blackness of her summoned portal.


A moment later she was gone.


"We've got to keep this secret." Athelbra advised Dandelbraden.


"I know. I know." Dandelbraden kissed her forehead gently, intending compassion more so than passion, and she understood.


They lay together for another forty five minutes until the utility vehicle arrived to pick them up. They slept for the rest of the four hour trip back to Alta Floresta.


Ancient And Alone


Barris walked the length of a long roughly dug trench-way, grasping tightly a flaming torch. The shadows danced amidst the extremities of light, leaving spots of blackness in his vision as he strode forward. His sandaled foot struck a stone and he winced in pain, cursing his conditions.


His anger wasn't so much focused at the loneliness that he was experiencing as it was at the lack of Sato's presence through which he could deal with such loneliness through humour. Quite often at Sato's expense and as much so the target of Sato's far wiser sense of wit.


Something that had kept Barris humble enough not to take himself too seriously. Often less seriously than he'd be taken by others. All except for Mila of course, whose presence he'd felt since finding himself in this predicament. Her form and voice were her only absence.


"Well, it looks like you're not even here for that...!" Barris cursed, stumbling once again, this time into a pothole.


He grasped at the walls of the trench which gave easily as he fell forward, kissing the ground roughly with his left cheekbone.


Oddly enough the torch landed as if it had been purposely driven into the dirt, there the flames standing a foot and a half above the ground, still dancing their hypnotic randomness.


"Well, how do you like this Doctor Alicia Westin? Only moments ago I was talking with you through a gaping hole in the ground, and now I'm getting intimate and cozy with the underside of a trench." Barris lay still as he spoke.


"I mean I decided to speak through a hole in this underground cavity and who do I get? Doctor Alicia Westin. Doctor of nothing useful at all. Doctor of public speaking. Doctor of show and tell. Hello peoples. Look at me, the pretty girl with the Doctor prefix on her name. I'm a Doctor of holes in the ground!" he mocked the futility of his situation suddenly thinking that he may have inadvertently been speaking to an open grave.


"No. That can't be. I mean it just can't. She clearly was delivering some kind of lecture. I mean the dead simply don't attend lectures, though some may drift close to it during the course of their delivery." Barris thought aloud.


At that moment, the torch which had been stable in the ground now teetered over just barely missing his hair. The flames sizzled as they hit the clay dirt, with Barris rolling to his trench far wall to avert becoming a human torch himself. He quickly grabbed the handle of the torch, righting it before it could douse its own flame.


"Haha! I even bested my own torch, which apparently considered mutiny upon me." Barris got to his feet and began following the length of the seemingly endless trench.


"So where was I? Oh yes. Complaining about that Doctor of makeup and mascara, Alicia Westin. Now of course, of all the people that I was hoping for in speaking through a hole in the ground in a mysterious underground pit, I'd have at least expected... Doctor, you know Who. Even the more recent female one. But nooooo. I don't even get Tom Baker or Mary Jane Watson. I mean, with the number of times that Mila and I role-played the Doctor and Mary Jane in the bedroom, Tardis, Daleks and all, you'd have at least thought that I'd get the real Doctor upon beckoning for help through a hole in a mysterious cave-pit, after dying to protect Mila's family, upon finding out that the amulet she'd worn around her neck since the battle of Alivale, was nothing more than a fancy gem to protect a lie in the midst of an altered reality in which I wasn't supposed to exist, wouldn't you?" Barris stopped for a moment and considered the fact that he might be going in the direction from whence he was coming before he fell.


"Where am I? Am I even going in the right direction? How long have I been here? I can't even tell if time is passing? It must be, or all my words and actions would just be one big pile. Wouldn't they? Maybe I should ask Doctor Westin?" Barris looked to either direction and then eventually picked one and continued.


"You know what? Maybe I need some new heroes. Maybe this whole thing of Edgar Allen Poe, the Doctor and Benny Hill isn't working out for me? Maybe I should start following different heroes. Different role models. Like how about... Christopher Lee? Peter Cushing? I mean they did a lot of things together and stopped a lot of bad people. Maybe even more than the Doctor? Certainly more than Poe." Barris instinctively stopped as if to test whether his new reality was selectively punishing him for his less than flattering statements.


"Alright. I've ruled that out. There is NO conspiracy by reality to undermine my complaining... errr... rather my protest against seemingly diabolical and unfair circumstances." Barris said examining both the ground and ceiling ahead to ensure no further traps lay in wait for him concealed by the veil of darkness.


"Wait. How about... Spike Jones? He was a walking foley studio! I mean, when I saw that hole in the ground of this cave, I could have just made the sound of unwinding rope, and then grabbed onto it, making the sound of it fastening itself to the exterior of this cave and then climbed out of this hole in the ground! Ha! Take that Doctor... I mean Benny Hill never ever escaped from a dark entrenched cave. Nor did Edgar Allen Poe! But Spike Jones could have done it with nothing more than sound effects!" Barris cringed at his sudden mental state and then broke down crying.


"I'm going completely and utterly insane. In fact, I'm now the poster child for the utterly and completely insane, looking to promote themselves to the world of insanity. Now you too can leave behind the world of utter and complete insanity, to become just insane. Imagine your friends' envy when you arrive at the party, people calling you completely or utterly insane! You can now just smile back at them and say: I'm sorry, but I'm no longer utter or complete. I'm only insane and damned proud of it. Is that a mute cantaloupe in your drink or are you happy to see me?  Excuse me while I dig these grubs out of my sandals." Barris fell to the ground within the trench, ripping the sandals from his feet.


He then began rubbing his feet, perhaps trying to urge some feeling from them. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time that he'd felt anything in his current body. He didn't feel hungry nor did he feel the need to defecate or urinate. He didn't feel hot or cold at all. In fact, he didn't feel a thing. As if his nerves simply did not exist.


He pressed at his feet trying to imbue some form of soreness, a trophy for all of the walking he'd done.


Nothing.


Yet, his emotions were ever-present and just as intense as they were in his former mortal life.


I can laugh and cry, but I'm completely impervious to any bodily pain. Or pleasure.


"This is a lesson." he rationalized.


"Did I try hard enough to ensure Mila enjoyed our... times together? That I was pleasing to her? Did she? Ever? Was she.... No. She couldn't have. She wouldn't have. Maybe this is some kind of punishment in the afterlife? For not being pleasing to a woman that you love?" Barris was suddenly paranoid and shocked by realization.


"Now I've lost all feeling in my body! I have eternity to feel the emotional pain of knowing that I never really turned her on. She was just pretending the whole time. What kind of man am I? I couldn't even be pleasing to her...!!! She was doing it all just to spare my ego! How worthless a man am I that I'd be unable to please the woman who'd spare her own pleasure just to protect my fragile ego and pretend that I was so pleasing to her...?" Barris struggled against the weight of immense emotions.


"How could fate be so cruel to take the love of such a perfect woman away?" Barris fought a seemingly impossible battle of intensity.


"But at least I'm only insane." he laughed momentarily and uneasily.


At that moment in the distance along the direction he'd been travelling, he spied something he'd nought seen during his prior travels. He shook his head as if to clear an impossible vision from his mind. When he looked again, it was still there.


"That's a light... at the end of the tunnel... trench... tunnel...   There's a way out of here!" Barris was once again upon his feet, and this time sprinting.


"Ha. Thank you Doctor! Thank you Benny! Edgar, I was with you the whole time! You were testing me! I knew it! I bet I had you convinced I'd given up? Ha ha! Never. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing hold nothing against you! Spike Jones? He's an amateur compared to you three! Mila...? Mila? Did she really...?" Barris ran full tilt towards the light.


"Mila! It's me! I'm coming home!" Barris yelled at the top of his lungs as he ran through the blinding light at the end of the tunnel.


Outside, on a grassy and flattened hill, several columns of men wearing leather piece-mail fittings and dull brass armour, held vigil as their battalion commander joined a group of experts examining a  large circular stone structure amidst concentric circles of other similar stone structures.


[Corbus, what is the length of that shadow?]

"Corbus, quanta longitudo umbra?" asked a man garbed in a toga, directing his inquiry towards another man in brass armour.


[Three cubits. Approximately.]

"Tribus cubitum. Proximus." answered the man in the armour.


[Excellent. With the time nearly being noon, that would give us an error term of less than a quarter cubit.]

"Optimum. In tempore meridie prope esse, ut det nobis errorem esse terminus, minus quarta cubiti virilis manus." responded the man in the toga, perhaps speaking more to himself.


[You're a fool to trust this to Greek calculation methods, let alone those of Euclid. Aristotle's methods are more sound for measuring real estate. He was an imperial thinker.]

"Tu es stultus, ut hoc speramus calculation modi Graeca, et illi soli Euclidis. Aristoteles modi in pluribus es sonus mensuræ in verus praedium.Et erat imperatoria amicitie." Corbus responded though not entirely hearing the man's private mutterings.


[To deal in the sciences is to deal in truth. The truth belongs to God. To deal in God is to appease the Emporer. Corbus, I advise you to know your place.]

"Ad agam in scientiis ea una est cui gratior usus in veritate. Quod vero pertinet ad Deum. Ad agam in hoc capite placemus deum principem molliret. Corbus, ut monere te locum tuum novi." the man in the toga glared at Corbus, nearly piercing his brass armour.


[Anima Petasum, your way with words are your only power. The Emperor's power is kept not by words but by force.]

"Anima Petasum tuus viam per verba tua potentia tantum. Imperatore potestate servanda est, non verba, sed vi." Corbus placed his hand carefully upon the pommel of his Gladius.


[Then let us celebrate for we've discovered that this Druid monument is an antiquated calendar. The Roman Calendar lives on and the Druids wither to progress. So says this measurement.]

"Et hoc agamus ut nos reperta est obsoletis fastis druidae monumentum. Druides atque siccabitur proficere Calendarii Romani vivit. Dicit ergo Mensuratio- nem hanc." Anima Petasum grinned at the marvel he'd uncovered without Gladius.


[Your next duty of measure should be Roman integration of this Welsh monument and its population into the surrounding lands.]

"Deinde hoc munere Walensium titulum mensura et populum Romanum in integratione terrarum." Corbus rubbed the pommel of his Gladius, as if it attested to the size of his manhood.


[We know nothing of the Druids or their Gods. Mercury may been born of Hermes, much as Mars was born of Ares. That however, does not mean that this Deism of trees will ever give birth to Acorns in the Roman Pantheon of Gods.]

"Scimus nihil de bello abesse consuerunt, aut suam Deorum. Mercurium Mercurio est primogenitus, Mars natus Ares tria. Quamvis non semper id deismus arborum glandem pariunt Pantheon Deorum Romanorum." Anima Petasum assured Corbus.


A quarter naked man suddenly burst forth from within the underground caves of the Druid structure. He pushed through a line of armed soldiers and then beyond into a circle of men protecting Corbus and Anima Petasum.


The strange man sprinted through their lines, passing between the two senior men of the Roman Empire and continued running, muttering some form of barely linguistic insanity as he ran.


A column of soldiers began running after the fellow, causing Anima Petasum to stand and challenge them.


[Wait! This could be a real Druid! Hold your weapons fast! Stay yourselves. There will be no blood drawn today. Catch him, yet let there be no death.]

"Manere! Et hoc esse verum Druias eunti! Apprehende arma ieiunium Obstupescite. Non erit ultra in sanguine instructa est hodie. Iamque sed nulla sit." Anima Petasum commanded, drawing a scornful gaze from Corbus.


"Ha! You see! Even Benny Hill can best you all! I think I just outwitted a Roman Orgy. I should be safe so long as I keep running and they don't mistake me for Caligula. Or Caligula's girlfriend. Or Caligula's horse... Or perhaps even Caligula's girlfriend's horse..." Barris kept his sprint in full form, taking advantage of the fact that he could not feel any pain within his body.


Barris had covered the distance of a football field and one half, imagining himself to be a star player of his favourite team, the Greenwich Borough Football Club.


"Yes! I'm on a breakaway! I'm going to score!" Barris yelled as he ran towards the enormous stone goal post some fifty meters from him.


He reasoned that in order to win, he only needed to somehow run through an opening in the enormous stone structure and come out the other side.


Behind him, a collection of the five fittest men from Corbus Carius' battalion paced Barris carefully, even keeping speed with him in full armour.


"I'm almost there Mila!" Barris yelled as he pushed his pain absent body to it's fullest.


The first of the armoured soldiers dove, crashing into the field, just missing Barris.


The second caught Barris' ankle with his hand. Barris struggled against the soldier's grip, breaking free and continuing his sprint.


The third soldier used a whip to catch Barris' leg. Barris fell to the field, tumbling several times as he fell. The remaining two soliders jumped him, quickly overwhelming him. Together they held him down.


[Corbus, the Druid is stopped.]

"Corbus. The Priest meus intercluditur." the senior soldier advised Corbus as he and Mindhat arrived to inspect Barris.


"Yesss! Yesss! Greenwich Football Club scores on its home field of... Stonehenge...? ...to win the game and finals! Barris Windsor: 1  Ugly Roman Soldiers That Desperately Need Deodorant And Hair Removal Surgery: 0!" Barris screamed, writhing in joy on the grass.


[I've never heard that language. Tell your men to backup, quickly! It's a spell!]

"Ego numquam audivi, quod lingua. Amen dico vobis homines ad tergum, Celeriter! Est fascinavit!" Anima Petasum warned Corbus who then signalled to the rest of his troops to keep their distance.


Barris continued to cheer and then eventually stopped. He then started giggling uncontrollably and then stopped that too somewhat uneasily.


"Alright. Running into the light might not have been such a great idea. I mean I've always heard that when you die, that you should go for the light, except that in those shows and books, there's never any mention of hairy, smelly Roman soldiers being on the other side of that light. Unless of course it's a Monty Python skit in which case it would be entirely normal." Barris reasoned to himself aloud.


"WAIT! I'm in a living PYTHON Skit! It must be the one about the..." one of the soldiers punched Barris hard enough to knock him unconscious.


If Barris could have communicated with the soldier who'd affronted him, sending him into the land of nod, he'd have thanked him profusely, for waiting for Barris in his dreamland was Mila, scantily clad and wearing his favourite outfit of her's.


She did little talking, but what she did say told him all he needed to hear.


"Believe" she said as she emulsified him in her love.


Meanwhile, back on the field Corbus addressed his soldiers.


[Take this heathen Druid from this *Roman* field and hold him for interrogation.]

"Ego numquam audivi, quod lingua. Amen dico vobis homines ad tergum, Celeriter! Est fascinavit!" demanded Corbus Carius.


Resolve And Promise


Mila hung up her phone and placed it on the bottom tray of her easel, beside her dry brush set. She sat in front of the empty canvas staring into its white abyss. She'd been looking at it for two hours during which time she'd consumed a bottle and a half of her favourite Merlot. In her half drunken state, she'd decided to call the only friend she'd not alienated. Shaela.


Mila had tried to explain to Shaela how Barris had been attempting to contact her. In her dreams and several times during her scattered waking hours, Mila had been interrupted by thoughts, and sometimes even a voice. The voice of her beloved Barris.


The thoughts that corresponded with the sound of his voice, were erratic and sometimes even warm and humourous but ultimately very familiar. It was Barris and he was isolated, much like her, though his way of dealing with it extended so far as sarcasm. Sometimes even mania. She'd feel what he was experiencing and it warmed enough to make her both cry and laugh simultaneously.


She'd started having these experiences months after Barris was gone. She'd taken leave from the Sanctum Of The New and during the six years that had since passed, Barris' presence had interrupted her presence at home at least once a week at first. Over time, this fell to once a month and finally it had been months since the last time she'd experienced it. His presence in her thoughts. His voice within her mind's ears.


She'd held fast to that last experience, reliving it several times during her drunken loneliness. She'd often call Nelony, who'd at first lent her ear, entertaining Mila's delusions until she could bear no more. In an angry fluster, Nelony fumed at Mila for her inability to heal from her loss. Nelony told her that she was living in the past and that she was holding back everyone of her friends from their own life progression. Mila had asked her why her progression in life depended upon ignoring Mila's loneliness. When Nelony couldn't answer that question, she'd hung up the phone and never called or received calls from Mila again.


Mila had remained alone for a long time beyond that point, until Nelony, who had been speaking with Shaela told her she'd broken ties with Mila. That she could no longer bear the weight of her depressing state. Nelony had changed much since the loss of her sister in time, Nelony Theearin to become the only remaining Wytch in the Aerth Mother Order. The old Nelony was lost to time, replaced by a much more confident and bold Nelony. She'd become purpose driven, prioritizing her duties to the Aerth above all else, much like her fallen ancestor and those responsibilities did not often include time for maintaining her old friendships. She'd changed enough that some considered her to be a different Nelony. One whose attention to the needs of the Aerth outweighed the needs of her most beloved friends. In a way, Shaela considered, Nelony had become much like Yirfir, when Mila needed a friend still familiar with their friendships of past. Time changes all and often change leaves others behind. Mila had been left behind by Nelony's change.


So Shaela had decided to take over. A difficult decision, for Shaela's guarded heart made her much less sensitive to Mila's needs as a friend. Hence why Mila and Nelony had always been closer than Mila and Shaela. Between the three women, Nelony had always been the medium connecting the other two and this relationship had become stressed when Nelony had fallen for Barris, harbouring secret fantasies about him of which Mila became aware. The tension between the two had only grown from there until they'd had a confrontation that left them both very changed.


The final curtain in their connection came when Nelony had become the only remaining Wytch of the Order Of The Aerth Mother. Growing into a responsibility that had no room for the friendships and grievances of old. Shaela on the other hand had experienced loss during the same time. She'd fallen for an older man, a Magistrate from the township of West View with whom she'd had a passionate affair. The only man with whom Shaela had ever fallen in love. A short time into their passionate affair, his life would be taken by the very Wytch hunters seeking to eradicate all of Wytch-kind.


Shaela before her loss of true love had been a mysterious soul. As secretive as she was fiery. She'd kept her heart in an impenetrable fortress, through which the Magistrate had managed to navigate with his worldliness, sense of fairness and justice and tender affection for her. With his loss, Shaela had become an unchained fury and with the help of her ancient Shadow Cat, she was able to fell nearly a hundred hunters in that had come to take her in the night.


Her display of rage did not bring the Magistrate back and had only served to thicken the walls leaving her emotionally impenetrable. While Nelony had risen to a role of immense responsibility, Shaela had recessed inward into her own darkness. Deeply resentful of the cruel nature of being and the way of things. A way she'd vow to oppose at every turn. Though Shaela was ill equipped to deal with Mila's need of a friend, she still knew in her heart that deny such dedication would be to let that which she opposed win. Shaela was all Mila had left from the days their adventures began and she would not lose another friend to time.


Shaela gave her shoulder to Mila many times, and she'd cried often and spoke of Barris. Of their personal moments in love and time, and Shaela suddenly realized that she was not as alone as she'd deluded herself into feeling. That her and Mila shared more in common than Nelony could likely ever understand. The heavier the burden of friendship became, the more dedicated Shaela had become to it.


When Shaela started to notice that Mila was not progressing in her healing, Shaela started to question whether how she was helping her friend was truly the kind of help she needed. Mila was reliving her past and experiences with Barris without taking steps to a future without him. From Shaela's point of view, Mila was hanging onto a life, much like the life of her own true love, that could not be retrieved from the clutches of death. In all of Wytch-kind and the rule of the Sanctum, the one most binding rule was never to return the dead. Honour them in death as one would in life, but never attempt any alteration of the weave to restore their life having been taken by any natural circumstances. The gone were to remain gone. The fallen, felled. Life was a gift whose wick had finite length. Though it was alright the slow the burning of the candle, it was not right to restore it or renew it.


Within the Sanctum there were many different beliefs, all hailing from many different sources the Aerth and the Planes over. All of the Wytch-kind and Sorcerers had come together at the Sanctum and lived under a common set of ideals. During its time there had been bickering and feuds where differences could not be resolved with the agreement to simply disagree, however, all of those who wielded the weave knew that death was the line. It was not the end, but it was a boundary about which no knowledge should ever pass from one side to the other except by the faint echoes in the aether through which the voices of the deceased often spoke to the living. A point of obsession for many who wielded the power of the arts, yet one often heeded as being the boundary that none should cross. An idea upon which a foundation of unity was hinged. To contest or break this idea was the was to shatter the foundations upon which the Sanctum and allegiance within was built.


Shaela being a rebellious heart, had much more patience for questioning the way of things than did her peers, and this allowed her to bear a great deal of weight on Mila's behalf, for Mila's obsession with Barris and returning him was a direct affront to the foundations of the Sanctum. She'd already broken a covenant by binding an alteration of reality to the secret of her pendant. A secret which Lorr, the last Power Lord had negotiated Barris' death, using the Sanctum's own laws to bring this to pass. That alternative being that Mila's parents would die in his stead. To Barris, the sacrifice was obvious and despite his reservations about belief and religion, he never believed that he'd be permanently parted from Mila, even in death. 


After all, Sato during their many conversations had reminded Barris that every single cell in his body from his childhood was already dead. They were instead replaced with new cells. Sato had explained that death was an essential aspect of life. Hence, their being and ability to experience reality was not as simple as most would have them believe. If the body upon which a mind is built is in a constant state of death and rebirth, how can that mind be?


Barris would often counter with some form of logic, questioning the concept and despite his lack of a scientific background, his sense of metaphor and reasoning often made up for it. Once in a dash of sheer brilliance, when discussing this subject of the mind, Barris postulated that consciousness is like the moire pattern one could see when lines were close to convergence, but never met. The moire pattern was something difficult to describe and most often not intended by those whose art presented it, yet there it was. It emerged as a side effect of sharply contrasting spectrums.


Sato considered this point for more than a year before responding with his own answer.


"The cells of the body might appear to create the mind, like the moire pattern you used as an analogy some time ago but that does not explain much about the nature of our mind. The cells don't create the mind, they're merely the parts of a receiver of the mind. Like a radio, but certainly not one that uses radio waves. The mind is there, on some other level or dimension, independently of other minds. If it weren't, and our minds emerged from a collective, we'd all be exactly the same. There would be no individuality. You and I would never talk because you'd already know what I was going to say, and for that matter, what I was thinking. There would be no need for communication between us. Or anyone. We would behave just like the parts of a machine, each of us going about performing our daily function, already knowing the greater plan or at least as much as we needed to know to perform our tasks. Kind of like the cells in our body. Yet, we clearly possess individuality and the ability to defy pragma." Sato posited after much consideration.


"If cells are the parts of a mind receiver as you say, then how does this mind communicate with the mind receiver faster than the speed of light? Doesn't everything experience the speed of light as a limit? Wouldn't our mind receivers have to be faster than light? Instantaneous?" Barris stretched himself to his limits trying to comprehend Sato's assertion.


"That, is a question for minds much closer and more brilliant than our own about which to find the answer. I'm staying with the idea that we are much more than the sum of our parts, and that our physical parts are in fact not us at all." was Sato's only response.


"What about ESP? Psychics?" Barris asked Sato, a little perplexed by the fact that he didn't have the answers to these questions.


"When I trained as a co-pilot and gunner during the war, we received radio training and were taught how to service the simple radios employed by the Japanese Imperial Navy at the time. During that course, I learned that electricity that flows through a conductive medium also produces a magnetic field. That's precisely how radios broadcast. They do the opposite to receive a signal. That is, a radio signal passes through the antenna and creates electricity. That electricity contains all the same information as the radio signal contains. A few weeks prior, I'd trained as a medic as part of my basic training. In Japan and even during those times, Reiki was a small part of the medic training as much so as was modern medical training. Tradition is very important in Japan, especially at that time. In my family, Reiki had been as much a part of our history as had been Aiki-jutsu and before that Ken-jutsu. So I was already very familiar with the concepts of body energy, which we call Ki or in some cases, Kiai in Japan. The best way to describe body energy is as a magnetic or electrical field. An aura that surrounds our body and that can be detected by scientific instruments. This field might come from our body through our nerves and brain and all people have it. When I trained as a radio engineer, I learned that all of our communications could be intercepted by the enemy. Whatever we talked about through our radios could be listened to by anyone else with a similarly tuned radio. So Japan developed a piece of electrical circuitry that was connected to the broadcaster and the receiver of all radios, that would scramble and descramble the signal as need be. If we were about to be captured, we were required to destroy that piece of hardware. Now if a radio can be intercepted, decoded and heard by others to whom the information was not sent, what's stopping the body energy of one person from being intercepted by the body of another. If the second body could descramble that signal, wouldn't that explain ESP and Psychic phenomenon, because you could literally hear what someone else is hearing, seeing or thinking?" Sato once again amazed Barris with his wisdom.


Their conversation had resolved an important concept to Barris with regard to mortality, especially with his distrust of religion, which in his experience most people wielded in order to have power over others by way of oppressive rules. Not all rules were oppressive and not all religions were oppressive, but in his experience, most of humankind simply could not wield religion without attempting to oppress others and exploit it for power.


Both Mila and Barris had spent many nights in bed, especially post sex talking about this very subject. Their own mortality and how they'd cope with the possibility that when this all ended, they might not have each other. Through their passion for one another and their own independent beliefs, they somehow weathered the concept coming to their own conclusions. During that time Barris had promised Mila that if he should pass away before her, that he'd do everything in his power to communicate with her and to assure her that they'd be together again. A promise that Mila had taken into her heart and had kept it safely there since. When she'd first heard his voice after his demise, that had only confirmed her faith in his love for her. From that moment on, she dedicated herself to the fact that they'd be together again. Either she'd come to him when her time was naturally up, but preferably that she'd bring him to her.



Bottle, Brush And Stroke


Mila appeared haggardly and unkempt for she'd fallen into a state of social isolation. A depression since Barris' departure from the land of the living. He'd sacrificed himself so that Mila's parents could live on. The deal made by Lorr, The Last Power Lord, for it was he that had recognized and revealed that Mila's pendant contained the secret covenant made by Mila in a warehouse in Alivale. A deal she'd made after defeating Lorr in the weave powered combat of magic that would allow her parents to be returned from death so long as she'd kept that secret and protected the pendant. For with the pendant, she'd completely rewritten her original path of time, hence breaking the most fundamental law of the Sanctum. The preservation of the true objective history begat by the combined subjective unconscious memories of all who'd lived it. Living and dead alike. This was the very essence of the Librum Universalis Codex, that which gave the Sanctum its purpose. The universal book of the true memory of time.


When in 1664, in the European colonial townships of West View, Alivale and Sharlesbury there had been a great cleansing of the population, the Codex cried out to the Sanctum, for it had fallen out of synch with truth, and when that had happened, the burden was that to bear of the Sanctum. Each and every one of them could feel it to the depths of their soul. This had been their primary function for scrying injustice upon the Aerth and before the eyes of the Aerth Mother, who watched over all life on her beloved world with an ever-loving gaze. Never interfering but always hoping for our best.


When the great Wytch Hunt of the 1600s had begun, and so many had become erased from the annals of history, it had been the Sanctum that had dealt with the problem, never realizing that they'd been drawn into a much bigger and far more deadly game. The age-old plans of Lorr, to dominate the world and to subjugate everyone to the power of his bloodline. A bloodline within which the secret of the weave would remain, with every Wytch who violated this covenant put to death.


Lorr had kept the secret of magic from humankind, instead, keeping it within the confines of his bloodline and family. He'd been the husband of Lyra, who'd broken his will to keep the secret of the weave hidden from the rest of humankind. Instead, she taught it freely to others based upon the value of their sense of honour and merit more so than their bloodline or subservience to Lorr. Of course, this all happened thousands of years prior to our time and in a much different age.


The two split apart with Lorr taking their children, a girl and boy. A pair of twins. Lyra departed with her magical trainees and founded what would become the first Sanctum. While Lyra cultivated honour, goodness, peacefulness and vigilance, Lorr cultivated the power of their bloodline through the interbreeding of their children, the twins. With every successive generation, the twins had become exponentially more powerful until thousands of years later and perhaps a hundred generations past, they were nearly as powerful as the gods of old themselves.


Lorr's plan had been to wipe out the Sanctum and to gain hold of the Librum Universalis Codex, hence giving him the power to completely rewrite the memory of the history of time in his favour. Giving him complete control over the Aerth which would only become the launching point of his conquest of the Grand Universal Planes Of Existence. Worlds that existed beyond our own, not only in distant places or times but in different dimensions as well.


Ultimately though it had all come down to one secret covenant sworn by Mila to revive the man who would become her lover, Barris Windsor. In the end and due to the covenant, she also gained her parents, who'd been lost during a fatal accident years earlier. With this secret of a twisted and untruthful history, she built her love with Barris, and upon their final confrontation with Lorr, like some malevolent card trick he'd kept up his sleeve, he revealed her covenant. If not for Barris' sacrifice, time would have been restored and Mila's parents would now be deceased. Instead, Barris gave up his own life with the hope that one day he would figure out a way to return to Mila.


It had been six years since his death and during that time Mila had sunken into an ever growing depression. Isolation which had known no bounds. She had in fact lost a part of herself as much so as she'd lost someone that she'd loved. Certainly as much so as Barris had lost the same in losing her.


So here she was six years later. A professional artist whose time had come and gone with that of her lover. She sat as she had so many nights before in front an empty canvas. Much as she mostly suspected the canvas would remain by the end of the night, especially after her failed conversation with Shaela.


She eyed the clock, an old grandfather clock. In fact, Barris' favourite indicated precisely, three in the ante meridiem. The wee hours of a Sunday morning. Time had somehow escaped her over the years and her temporal awareness had diminished. She no longer cared as to whether it was Friday or Monday. After all, every day was the same. The sun rose and lit the land for some time before it proceeded onward around the world. Eventually shrinking and hiding behind the horizon, giving rise to darkness. The day that followed was the same as the day that preceded it and only the passage of time was the harbinger of change.


In fact, she'd often regarded her time with Barris as being the only thing that had brought randomness into her life. The act of working together to accommodate each other had brought the element of surprise to her. And Barris was oh so good at surprises. She'd spent many surprise romantic nights with him. Impromptu vacations from life he'd called them. He'd decorate the house with candles before she awoke on a Saturday morning, and have her breakfast ready for her on the table. From there they'd enjoy a Champagne Spritzer, dancing to Glory Box and Kiri. Beyond that point, I'd be hard-pressed to speak of what went on in the bedroom between them. Suffice it to say that it was their treasure, and any pirates ready to loot the booty of theirs or the romantic secrets of others may they be eternally damned. There are some secret treasures that one simply should never plunder.


Mila was not so much dependent upon Barris as much as they had become a part of one another since their initial meeting. Losing such an integral piece of one's life was never easy, and for Mila, it had become tantamount to near ruin. A ruin that was currently looking her in the eye. Laughing at her absence of spark by way of an empty canvas. For Mila was a professional artist by trade, who'd not produced a work of any kind in six years since the loss of her one true love.


Instead in her growing frustration, she grabbed the entire palette of paint she'd prepared and threw it at the canvas. Then she began to cry. Weeping gently at first and then in a torrential downpour of tears and wine. There was some pain that scarred the soul and took years to emerge. All at once it came out, spilling onto the canvas.


She pitched the remainder of her bottle of Merlot at the spoilt canvas and wine smeared the dripping colour pattern of oil that had marred her canvas. The colours dripped until they merged, a rainbow of hue and wine. Mila's tears broke and she struggled for her breath, wiping her face dry.


It was at that moment that she'd spied something peculiar about the canvas. She shook her head and returned her gaze to the same space on the canvas.


"It can't be... No. It can't be..." she shook as she spied a familiar yet accidental iconography upon her impromptu painting.


It was a glyph. One that she recognized.


She suddenly leapt to her feet, stumbling in her drunkenness and falling to the floor. She got to her feet still rubbing her thigh and hip as she leapt up the basement stairs to the main floor where she ran towards the study.


There she arrived and found her way to a tall oak cabinet. She opened the doors and filtered through the drawers beyond, looking for something very particular. When she happened upon it, she paused halfway between wonder and terror as she opened the first love letter Barris had written for her. She read the letter slowly, savouring every memory once again as fresh as the moment she'd first read it. When she arrived at the bottom of the page, she was greeted by the very same glyph she'd spied upon the palette, for the glyph in all actuality was Barris' signature. The B and the W intermingled to form a new icon unique unto itself.


She took the letter and the envelope that contained it and ran down the stairs to her basement studio. Narrowly avoiding another fall, she found her way to the stool before the same canvas where she compared what she'd observed with Barris' own signature. Side by side, they appeared almost exactly one and the same. It was then that Mila's heart nearly stopped, but in fact, it had only skipped a beat.


"I can't... This can't be... Oh honey... please... something..." she plead with the canvas.


This time she was up and on her feet again running towards a toolbox on a table holding a stockpile of her paint supplies. She ripped the toolbox open drawing forth from it a spying glass, which she wielded ever so gently as she returned to the canvas. She used it to examine the rainbow of colours that followed what she'd deemed to be Barris' signature. She squinted carefully as she examined a section of splattered paint, suddenly seeing Barris' own cursive writing in the boundaries between colours. She began shaking as the tears began to flow again, for she was more in fear that she might be imagining this. The investment in faith was far too great for her spirits. She needed proof. So it was that she tried to read what appeared to be Barris' scrawl amidst the colours of a random paint splatter.


Pendant  not lost   I'm safe for now   I'll find you   you find me   Snuggles   Sato's cooking   call me nobody   fallen kingdom found   they're watching   If I say they know   love is for you


At the end of what she was able to discern she found another copy of his signature. She quickly pulled her cellular phone from her pocket and snapped a shot of the canvas, still shaking.


"I've got to show someone... who?" Mila pondered aloud.


Then it came to her.


"Sato? Sato. I've got to get to Sato." she insisted to herself.


She ran down to the far end of her studio and opened a door there. Beyond was her wine cellar. A climate controlled section of the basement that had stored a collection of her favourite wines. She grabbed two more bottles of Merlot and a bottle of Sake for Sato, and then returned to the canvas.


"Ok. How do I create a spatial portal?" Mila asked herself never having channelled her own teleportation portals before.


In fact, it was part of the curriculum she'd never studied at the Sanctum. Nelony had studied it. Shaela had studied it. Yirfir and Jasmir too. Mila had never deemed it to be personally useful until now and this very situation, as she'd always had someone by her side that could summon the means to instantaneous travel.


"Dammit, I'm a Master of Aetherial Artistry. The only one of my school and the only school of its kind in all of the Planes. I'm an innovator. I'll figure it out!" she urged herself.


How hard could it be to travel so far? She'd only need to get to Shepperton off the Thames, a district in London where Sato's Shop had been for the last forty years. After all it was only a mere five and a half thousand kilometres to London from Alivale.


She thought of the world as a canvas and then considered how she might magically travel that distance.


A few feet away, one of her cats, meowed loudly. It sat still looking at her confidently.


"Come on Snuggles. Come here... tsk tsk tsk" she urged her cat over to her.


After several tries the cat remained where it sat. Her pet Beagle, Muggielump began barking at Snuggles the cat perhaps urging the cat to go to Mila as she'd insisted.


Mila instead stood and went over the Snuggles, who stepped backwards, further away where she began meowing again.


"What has gotten into you Snuggles?" Mila said as once again followed the cat.


It was then that she realized that Snuggles was trying to tell her something.


"Wait. You mean that I shouldn't be asking how I get to London. I should be asking how I get London to come to me, you little sneak? You mean that I should bend the canvas so that London and Alivale are so close together that I can just make one step to get to London?" Mila looked in amazement to her cat.


Snuggles looked up at her and meowed again as Muggielump's tail waved happily. Muggielump then went over the Snuggles and licked her head several times. 


"Point illustrated. You're brilliant Snuggles! You too Muggielimp. I'll give it a try." Mila responded returning to the canvas still slightly drunk.


Mila concentrated, conjuring the weave first then shaping it before she applied it to reality. From there, she began to shape reality itself and more specifically time and space. She first tried bending it, the space between London and Alivale, only to find that she'd actually brought the star Alpha Centauri to within fifty parsecs of Aerth. She quickly returned that portion of time space back to normal and then continued working on bringing London to her.


She moulded the Aerth a few times like a sculpture, becoming familiar with its density and form before she pressed them together into one. Time and space. From there she bridged the two in their relationship to London and Alivale. Suddenly an oddly shaped portal spiraled opened within her studio. It exhaled drastically, blowing air in an attempt to balance the air pressure between Alivale and London.


"Well Snuggles, I think that it worked. There's a lot of food in your bowl and the water feeder is full. I'll be back soon." Mila said as she stepped through the portal with two bottles of Merlot and a bottle of Sake, thinking that portal travel would be as easy as a short walk. She was of course gravely mistaken.


In a sense, portal travel was much like walking if your leg span was two thousand kilometres and you were shaped like a six-dimensional Mobius strip. Of course with Mila being neither, her trip was quite bumpy. Add to that the fact that she was already mostly intoxicated on Merlot wine and the trip wasn't very pleasant at all. A moment after the portal had swallowed her, she was belched out onto a familiar wooden floor in the middle of a knick-knack shop in Shepperton by the Thames.


"What in the blazes was that? Is that you again Happīu~isuka?" Sato said stepping out into his shop.


Sato had just finished his breakfast and was preparing to open the shop for the day. He approached the front door of his shop, where he flipped the light switch to the right of the door. He then turned the latch on the door, unlocking it with a loud click.


"Sato?!" Mila gasped.


Sato suddenly startled by her voice, turned to face a lady in her late twenties laying on his shop floor.


"How may I ask did you get in my shhhh...   Mila? Is that you?" Sato asked her, in complete amazement.


Mila rolled over onto her bum and proceeded to speak.


"Yes... I don't feel too well. I just travelled five and a half thousand miles... in like half a second after having a bottle of Merlot. I can't even remember how I cast that darn weave. Have you got a corkscrew?" she handed him the two bottles of Merlot and a bottle of Sake.


"Didn't anyone tell you that you shouldn't drink and teleport?" Sato advised her.


"Sato, I'd never drink and drive and after this experience, I'll never drink and teleport ever again." Mila assured Sato as she struggled to keep the contents of her stomach from his floor.


"None of us have seen you for a long time but you're always welcome nonetheless. Please, come in and relax. Would you like something to eat?" Sato offered her his hand and she accepted.


"No thank you. Well, maybe a snack if you have something to offer. Chips? Snacks?" Mila suggested.


"You're in luck, I just started carrying snacks as well and even installed a small three table bubble tea cafe out front. It took a bit of effort to get the licenses but it was worth it." Sato replied sarcastically.


"I've got something you need to see." Mila urged him still rubbing her stomach.


"Mila, as much as you are my friend and even in a sense, my step-daughter to have been, I'd prefer not to see the contents of your stomach." Sato replied sarcastically.


"I completely agree with you, but I wasn't talking about my stomach." Mila responded, still rubbing her abdomen.


"Then what do you have to show me?" Sato asked her.


"Can we just get the corkscrew and a wine glass. We need to talk. I suggest you get a Sake glass for yourself. You're going to need it." Mila advised the much more senior Sato.


"Mila. Just for you. I'll bring a wine glass. A corkscrew too. I'll also bring two Ochoko though I plan not to drink at this time. Even a glass of fine Sake. Its too early for me and I've got a day's work ahead." Sato gave Mila his back, just as she addressed his departure.


"If you'd watch me drink myself into a drunken state alone, then what kind of friend are you?" demanded Mila.


Mila made her way to his apartment dining table, sitting traditionally on the floor next to it.


"The kind of friend that would urge you to show some constraint. There is no occasion that justifies such reckless consumption I assure you. I only bring Ochoko for Barris and myself. It is tradition Mila. Let me remind you that you are in MY shop. You play by my rules." Sato turned his back to her and proceeded in the direction of his dining ware.


"Then bring your second Ochoko, for it is in Barris honour..." Mila scourged him.


"What are you getting at?" Sato stopped, dumbfounded.


"I have something to show you about Barris..." Mila proposed.


To be continued...



Brian Joseph Johns

https://www.shhhhdigital.ca

https://twitter.com/MediaShhhh




References



Amazon Rainforest Ecology - Yale School Of The Environment


Strangler Figs - Backyard Nature


Wikipedia


Jacamar

Gaius Seutonius Paulinus




This story is A Lady's Prerogative III: Singularity by Brian Joseph Johns. It is being written by myself, Brian in 200 Sherbourne Street in apartment 701 where I live.


Copyright © 2020 Brian Joseph Johns

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