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The Future...

From what I understand, most of the harassment and stalking attacks have been geared towards forcing me into a negative state of mind, which this cult symbolize by the shade black. They associate it with anything of that nature and tend to try to force their victims onto that side of the fence through constant verbal abuse and harassment. So any protest I make here to being treated like that has origins. I'm not a negative or conflict seeking person normally and when my rights are stomped on by an criminal cult that should be investigated by the way, I tend to get upset about it as I'm sure anyone would. Regardless I'm not like that at all and left to my own devices, I'm actually a very positive kind of person. One of the reasons that this harassment cult conducts itself this way is that they assume that I am trying to control everyone else. At some point the stalking and harassment cult dug its way into my private and personal life, especially with regard to my sexuali

Updated 24/01/2022 5:00 PM EST A Lady's Prerogative: SAPCHoP And The Lost Sanata (In Progress)

Most recent updates:

  • Lost In The Knot edited to include Bella, whose dialogue I forgot to publish previously (sorry Bella!).
  • Trapped In Orbit chapter added.
  • All's Well In Roswell chapter coming tomorrow (Wednesday January 24, 2023)
  • New art is coming soon...
  • New chapters for The Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons Act III coming soon...

Once again, I start out by saying truthfully that I don't own a guitar, I've never owned a guitar and I am not a guitar player, though they are truly remarkable instruments and I've known some truly remarkable people who play them.

I am not Jake N. and my name isn't Shane or Bob or Bobby. 

Brian Joseph Johns.

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I write. I play. I contemplate. I gripe. I rationalize. I ponder. I bash. I admire. I lust. I feel. I laugh. I live in the memory of an intensity I had when I was younger. An idealization of the energy and fearlessness of being alive. When you arrive at a certain point in life via time, no matter how vital you feel, you'll know exactly what I mean. That's when you need to pay the most attention, yet ply the most wisdom.

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I'd like to point out that it was the incredible Gary Sinese Foundation that brought the issue of Veteran's rights to my attention. I've always had little respect for those who'd forget the great contribution made by those who've risked life and limb to defend those values that so many of us espouse. Perhaps the true measure of one's principles are by that for which they'd risk their life.

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Because Barris told me to put it here. If I didn't, he said he'd walk. Geez. Stardom really gets to some people's heads. Maybe I could kill him and bury his heart beneath the floor boards! Or I could encase him in behind a brick and mortar wall, for shaming my family name of Amantillado

In all truth, there's a good chance that thanks to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Jonathan Swift, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Herbert George Wells, Jules Verne, Dr. Seuss, Stephen King, Clive Barker and Pierre Burton (for The Secret World Of Og and his ground breaking interview of Bruce Lee) that all of us are literate. Actually that goes back much farther to the Phoenecians and their first 22 character system of symbols. Literacy is important. Really it is. Literally. It allows us to approach our employer at the end of the week (with a big club) and ask: where my money?! Math important too. It help us count our thirteen fingers and toes.

The model for what may become the Encyclopedia Galactica, a complete reference and record of history, events and knowledge of humanity and its journey beyond. It is the encyclopedia of all that we know, what we surmise that we've known and will learn in the future. Yes, Wikipedia is a charitable organization of great importance. If you enjoy what I am doing here then please take the time to donate to Wikipedia. Surprisingly only 1% of Wikipedia's users donate yet the site serves pages to millions every day.

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Shhhh! Digital Media
Brian Joseph Johns

This story is actively being written and that should be indicated by the (In Progress) in the title of this post. If otherwise, you find written in the title: (Finished), that means that I've completed the first draft and will likely edit it discretely, nitpicking ever so slightly over the years to come.

This story picks up after the events of A Lady's Prerogative III: Singularity, a currently (as of December 8, 2022) unfinished book published online here at Shhhh! Digital Media. Barris is ever so present in this story which unfortunately gives away one of the biggest plot elements I had intended for Singularity, but I still have a few other tricks and treats in mind when I get back to completing it.

Its a seasonal holiday story and begins in a very similar fashion to my first ALP book: A Lady's Prerogative I: The Yearning And The Learning.

I sincerely hope you enjoy it!

Brian Joseph Johns


The portal flared slightly, steam and sparks emerging from its edges as the first of the guests arrived.

Jasmer stepped from the portal first, as early portal summoners had often mistakenly emerged in other dimensions and planes. Many of those planes full of danger.

As much so as it was considered chivalrous to walk curbside for a woman in the 17th century, or to sample the wine first in the case of a poisonous batch from as far back as the 3th century, so was it to step first through the portal. It was chivalry as much so a custom.

Jasmer turned and gave his hand to Yirfir as she followed him. Stepping safely onto the tiled floor of a room illuminated by a variety of coloured lights.

"Very impressive Mila," Yirfir said as she stepped into the room.

Mila Rendebelle
"It was Barris' idea really. I just embellished it with... the weave..." Mila responded to her mentor's compliment.

"Well you both have good taste. Are we the first?" asked Yirfir.

"Most graciously so," Mila replied.

"Somebody has to be first my dear," Jasmer responded.

"Well if there's music, there's so few to dance," Yirfir replied. 

"I'll dance with you, though my step might be slightly off..." Jasmer replied, wrapping his arm around his wife's waist.

"There's a buffet, bar and dance floor down stairs. Its yours for the taking if you wish, being the first," Mila informed them.

"We can't do wrong by that offer. Let's us go down there and warm up that dance floor," Yirfir pulled Jasmer toward the stairs.

"Why don't you come with us Mila?" asked Jasmer.

"I've got to greet guests, the RSVPs, and I won't be leaving this post until they're all here safely," Mila replied.

"We're holding you to at least one dance though. Barris too," Yirfir stopped long enough to address her former student.

"Go have fun you two! You don't need to worry about Barris and I having fun. We have..." Mila stopped as she heard the clolups of a horse's hooves.

A Gift Horse

A muscular Palomar horse emerged from the portal, running towards the far corner of the room, standing firm in the corner where her vision was cut off.

"Who would come through with a horse?" Mila asked, approaching the beast carefully.

"Are you in the company of Askuwheteau?" asked Mila, patting the beast's rump.

The beast remained silent, keeping its focus upon the corner.

"Caere do be thay for!" a voice exclaimed from behind Mila, barely understandable.

Mila turned to see a man clad in a red uniform, a large brimmed hat atop his head.

"I'm sorry, do I know you?" asked Mila standing ready to unleash a nightmare upon him should he prove hazardous.

"Mila thay do be? What is this unforsaken light? A day nought have I seen with this sun!" the man spoke to Mila.

"Caere should ye take!" the man spoke upon seeing Mila approaching the hind legs of the horse.

Mila turned to face the now corner blinded beast.

"She's a kicker! She'll send you and then some, bless that beast!" the man addressed Mila.

"Evan?" asked Mila, suddenly recognizing the man under his wide brimmed hat.

"...Mila? Then you must be with Shaela?" asked the man in response.

"She's downstairs getting the place ready. We're having a Chrrr... Seasonally Appropriate Politically Correct Holiday Party tonight..." Mila responded.

"You mean a Chr...?" Evan began before Mila cut him off.

"Yes, a Seasonally Appropriate Politically Correct Holiday Party. It should be lots of fun. We're having quite a few guests," Mila smiled, amazed to see her old friend from South Eastern Ontario circa 1654.

"So... how are things in West View?" asked Mila as she adjusted one of the decorations nearest Evan's horse.

"Prosperous and fruitful, especially given the trade between ourselves and the Haven Of The True, who are also in the midst of a prosperous time, thank the heavens," Evan said, removing his hat as he spoke in a lady's presence.

"That's good to hear. So what brings you through our portal and into our time that is so urgent?" asked Mila, giving her full attention to Evan as she stroked the horse's snout.

The horse chuckled with gratification.

"An urgent matter was brought to my attention by a short red fellow with a white beard..." Evan began.

" mean Santa Claus?" asked Mila.

"That name sounds similar to his, but I'm sorry Mila, my Spanish isn't quite up to snuff," Evan responded apologetically.

"Uhhhh... Saint Nicolas...? He's a... nevermind. Just my anachronism, that's all. So who was this fellow?" asked Mila again as Barris came up the stairs into the third floor reception area they'd set up.

"You know these stairs are a little steep, I mean considering that some of our guests are going to be half in the bag by the end of the night... whoah! A horse? Is Askuwheteau early again...? Evan?!" Barris stopped, nearly dropping the Egg Nog he'd prepared for Mila.

"Barris? You remember Evan, don't you? Oh and about the stairs, I cast a levitation dweomer on the them, so its literally impossible to fall. Not only that, but I put a great deal of effort into devising a drink and cocktail leveling alteration of the aether around or near the stairs. Nobody will be falling and nobody will spill their drink. Now let's get back to Evan," Mila reminded Barris of why she was such a good hostess.

"Good to greet you Barris," Evan nodded at Barris.

"Same here, though I never imagined I'd see a horse up here, and so early in the evening's festivities. Mila, perhaps we should ensure that Athandra isn't bringing her Elephant tonight?" Barris responded to Evan's greeting, handing Mila her drink.

"Well met nonetheless. So, as I was saying to Mila, the little red fellow's name wasn't Santa. It was Sanata. Sanata Claws I do believe he stated," Evan explained to Mila, who's jaw dropped upon the utterance of that name.

"Sanata Claws was a Tengu. A mischievous demon from the Temple Of Kami Bound Spirits in the Lost Realm. He or rather it, came to Sato's Shop to fulfil a vendetta against Barris. Yirfir, Shaela, Nelony and I happened to stumble upon this and foiled his plans to destroy Barris. We banished him to the Lost Realm, where his Mother, another Tengu of some power has kept him under a strict arrest," Mila explained to Evan and Barris.

"Honey, I thought this was going to be a quiet relaxing night of fun, festivities and booze with our friends? Every single time we've gone on one of these impromptu adventures, I've almost always started out in nothing but my knickers! I'm getting up there Mila, at the ripe old age of thirty one, I don't think my fragile heart can last through another adventure. Especially so near to Chr-" Barris pleaded with Mila before she cut him off.

"You were going to say Seasonally Appropriate Politically Correct Holiday weren't you, honey? Alright. If your heart's so fragile that it can't take the stress and excitement of our little adventures, then we'll just have to cut out sex for a few months," Mila folded her arms across her breasts, turning her back to Barris.

"If you'll pardon me for a moment," Evan's face flushed as he lead his horse aside so the two could talk.

"Not even our Thursday night costume role play testing the bed springs night?" Barris asked her in shock.

"We'll have to put that on hold too, and no more Geisha girl meets the itchy armour Knight," Mila said, raising her chin, her back still to him.

" more itchy armour Knight too? So when do we leave on this adventure, Mila?" Barris asked enthusiastically.

"That's better. If Evan or any of our good friends come to us needing help, we're going to give it," Mila turned around to face Barris, placing her arms on his shoulders, kissing him tenderly on the nose.

"Right then. So how can we help you dear Evan, my good man?" asked Barris, politely.

"Begging your pardon, I was tending to my horse and didn't hear a word of your conversation despite the fact that it occurred less than two yards abreast of my ears," Evan replied impeccably.

"So what did Sanata have to say to you?" asked Mila, turning to face Evan.

"My good lady, he said that his Fire-steeds and Helves..." Evan began.

"Don't you mean Reindeer and Elves?" corrected Barris.

"No. I assure you that he said Fire-steeds and Helves. Regardless, he said the bunch of them, were taken from him, while he was out for a sleigh ride in the country," Evan continued to explain.

"You mean slay as in to kill? He was roaming the country on a murder spree?!" Barris said in complete shock, already panicking.

"Where in the country were they taken?" asked Mila, quickly side stepping Barris' near panic attack.

"He said he did not know. Something to do with his kind," Evan told Mila.

"That's right. Tengu either know where they are or when they are, but never both at the same time..." Mila said, rubbing her chin thoughtfully.

"How were they taken?" asked Barris.

"He claimed that a light from the nine hells shone down upon him and his sleigh, and that his Fire-steeds and Helves were hefted to these hells, into a putrid light, in his own words," Evan said, referring to notes he'd retrieved from within his jacket.

"So he lost his Elves and Reindeer to hell. I mean that's what he said. Case solved. Rack another one up honey," Barris smiled snuggling up to Mila's ear.

"So when did Sanata Claws say this happened?" asked Mila astutely, brushing Barris' advances off playfully.

"He answered, but in verse," Evan replied.

"You mean he sang it, like a musical or something?" asked Barris.

"No, I mean he wrote a verse to explain it. Allow me to read it for you:" Evan stated, examining his notes for where he'd written the clue.

Like a Wytch, outpacing words within a broom,

A scourge took landfall, thousands found their doom.

One country gone, another gained,

Some Kings rose, yet royalty abstained.

Blues hunt reds, they're on the run,

Re-established is now the rising sun.

One did fall, it left a crater.

Another one too, though much, much later.

Mila had summoned a tiny paper pad and a her favourite writing quill, noting the verse down as Evan read it aloud.

"Did we get to the part as to why we should even help that little runt?!" Barris asked, foggily recalling that night years earlier.

"I find it difficult to believe that we are talking about the same person errr... demon," Evan responded, correcting himself.

"Tengu actually, but close enough. Barris does have a good point. The last time we saw Sanata, he tried to destroy us all," Mila said, her head craned slightly to the left.

"Mila, I would not have gone out of my way to use the portal gem Yirfir gave me before you left if it weren't so important. He seemed sincere, and certainly much different from the one you're describing," Evan replied.

Mila stood considering the facts.

"Shortly after he shared this account, he disappeared. I suspect he suspect he left, in search of his lost friends and fauna, though after a thorough search of the region, I did however find his hat," Evan pulled a folded Santa's hat from his jacket and handed it to Mila.

Mila held it in her hand, examining it closely before she spoke.

"Then consider it..." Mila barely finished her sentence, when she was pushed aside.

"Evan!" Shaela said, running for her mentor her arms open and welcoming.

The two collided in a warm embrace, as tears streamed down Shaela's face.

"I've never seen her cr..." Barris began.

"Don't finish that sentence, poet boy!" Shaela said as she sniffled.

"It is good to see you again Shaela. You have grown into a splendid, confident woman. You've certainly made me proud," Evan said to her, equal with her tall height.

"How is West View? What about the Law Offices? The Haven? I've missed you all so much," Shaela had completely softened much to Barris' surprise, though he was astute enough not to risk a second comment.

"They're all doing very well, thank you for asking. I shall bring forth your greetings for them and I'm sure they wish the very best for you and your friends," Evan smiled beneath his thick gray moustache.

"How's Lynda doing? What about Renard?" asked Shaela, stroking Lynda's nose.

Lynda whinnied, very obviously happy to see Shaela once again.

"Renard's doing light duty. Seems to have developed a problem with his right hip. He's living an early retirement. A horse's dream in the hands of a righteous keeper. If you give me something of yours, with your smell on it, I'll give him your tidings," Evan replied.

Shaela found a pair of scissors that Mila had been using for the decorations. With it she cut two equal sections from the cuffs of her dress, and handed them to Evan.

"That should do. I wish I could show you his joy upon knowing of your presence. I must be off now, Shaela, Mila, Barris. Season's tidings to you all," Evan put his hat against his chest and bowed for them.

"We'll do everything we can to help find Sanata, his Fire-steeds and his Helves," Mila promised Evan.

"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't think it was a legitimate concern," Evan responded, leading Lynda over to the portal.

"If you think learning how to ride was difficult Shaela, try coaxing a horse through one of these portals," Evan joked as he tried to convince Lynda to follow him through.

He held an apple out and that got Lynda's attention right away. The horse followed Evan into the swirling maelstrom of the portal. The air suddenly moved between the two sides, balancing the air pressure and then the portal sealed again, and Evan was gone.

"What's this I heard about helping Evan?" asked Shaela of Mila.

"I'm sorry Shaela, but he didn't have much time from his perspective. He asked us if we could find Sanata Claws..." Mila began only to be interrupted by the fiery red headed shadow lady in Goth's clothing.

"You mean that pesky little demon thing we evicted from Sato's shop years ago?!" Shaela exclaimed in disbelief that it was Mila making such a request.

"...and his Fire-steeds and Helves," Mila finished, having waited for Shaela's sudden eruption to cease.

"Oh, and them too? Well that just makes it all OK, doesn't it? I mean if it was just him, noooo. But throw in those fire breathing reindeer and his sick-kick imps, and its alright. Lets go save them all then," Shaela responded sarcastically.

"Either one of you needs a trip to the perfume factory or you had a horse in here?!" Nelony said as she arrived from the trip up the stairs.

Barris discretely attempted to sniff his under arms.

"Not me," he said proudly, looking to Shaela who smirked at him fiercly while an amused grin stretched across Mila's face.

"Alright. It was a horse," Mila admitted.

"I knew it! I knew it! I'm a Nature Wytch! You can't hide stuff like that from me," Nelony said, taking a sip from her wine glass.

"So what gives? Why'd you have horse in here?" she asked.

Shaela, Mila and Barris began explaining the situation to Nelony when Sato arrived from downstairs.

"I assume there's a reason you abandoned me to the newly weds downstairs?" asked Sato, referring to Yirfir and Jasmer.

After they'd explained the situation to him, they were all on the same page.

"So if we're going to leave the newly weds downstairs, we'd at least better let them know we left on an errand, rather than have them send out a search party for us," Sato suggested.

Ten minutes later, Yirfir arrived from downstairs, a glass of wine in one hand and an hors d'ouevre in the other.

"Mila? Shaela? Nelony? Sato? Barris? Where are you...?" Yirfir said aloud.

Upon seeing the reception room empty, she quickly realized there was a note stuck to the wall near the portal.

Gone out for ice, back in a bit.


I Didn't Mean To Make You Scry

In the midst of a little shop, with a wooden framed compact store front and display window, the holiday ruckus of the late evening was quieted by aputi. That term referring to a bed of snow already fallen to the ground and in its permanent resting place before melting.

Thankfully it had been kanevvluk (fine light snow), rather than qinu (the slush of snow found near bodies of thawing water or sleet) for if it had, the decidedly tiny woman who'd spent the better part of the day shoveling it would have not been willing or able to get ready for a party.

She could have hired some young entrepreneurial souls to do the job for her, however there happened to be few if any who possessed snow shovels or removal tools affordable on her modest budget. So instead, she did it all herself and all while the cold Niagara winds chilled her.

She'd already recovered, having had a cup of tea and a nap thereafter. When she awoke, she was ready and full of vigor for the night's events, which she anticipated would very enjoyable. For her, it was something important, for she hadn't seen her friends in years, but on this night, her friends would come to her.

While she dried her hair with an electric dryer in the bathroom upstairs, the air in the little shop began to spiral around a point in space, as a tear opened in roughly the center of an clear area in the store. A glowing sphere grew, writhing with energy and steam as space was twisted to allow the passage of five people.

Suddenly and without warning, the lights went out and the dryer abruptly stopped, leaving her in darkness and silence.

"Not that breaker again! I've got to call the power company about that! I mean I'm a valuable business and tourist draw here in Niagara!" she began to gripe as she lit a candle she'd stashed in the medicine cabinet.

She then carefully stepped down the stairs, hearing a crash from inside of the shop.

"Is there anyone there?" she asked as she rounded the corner into the dark shop, in search of the electrical box.

Her candle suddenly fell upon five dimly lit faces and she screamed.

"Bella?" asked Mila.

"Just a moment please!" the lady said as she opened the electrical box and flipped the master breaker.

The bulbs suddenly flickered to life, illuminating the room in a dim seasonal multi-coloured light and the lady immediately recognized the faces of her friends.

"Well I'll be! And to think I was just getting ready to come see these very people, and they come to me!" Bella opened her arms giving Mila a big hug first, and then making her way to each of the five in turn.

"The pleasure is ours really," Mila replied politely, happy to see her friend.

"What was that noise?" asked Bella.

"That would be Barris and his cat-like reflexes, stubbing his toe on your shelving unit here..." Sato was quick to point out.

"No thanks to you, having stopped to look around like a tourist after you exited the portal, leaving me to crash directly into you when I emerged!" Barris quickly responded, his toe still sore.

"What did you expect, sending an old man into the portal first?" asked Sato, folding his arms across his chest.

"Age before beauty!" Barris smiled coyly.

"Spry before slow!" Sato responded.

"No matter, you all got here safely and I need tourists. They're my entire business here, though I have some local regulars too. It is sooo good to see you all," Bella smiled, even amidst the competitive antics between Sato and Barris.

"Speaking of, if you want your fortune read, your tarot told, the crytal ball or tea leaves scryed, I'll give you an eighty percent discount, because you're my friends," Bella offered them.

"I'll take you up on that. Can you tell me the next time in the future that Sato is actually wrong, so I can invite everyone to be there for it!" Barris joked.

"...then do one for me, telling me the next time that Barris is right. I imagine we'll be many decades into the future before that one happens," Sato responded, drawing a bit of laughter from Nelony.

"Alright you two. Enough rivalry. You're not getting any extra attention from me for this. Bella, the reason we're here besides the joy of seeing you again is that we need your help," Mila told Bella.

"For you my friends, I'd give you the world. At eighty percent off! What can I do for you?" Bella asked, suddenly realizing that she was still in a pair of towels and slippers.

"Finish getting ready and we'll wait for you," Mila said, turning to Sato and Barris.

"I will be three minutes. No more," Bella said, quickly departing with her candle up the stairs and into the bathroom.

"Can you two get along for a change?" asked Mila of Sato and Barris.

"He started it! By stopping right outside of a portal knowing fully well that four other people were forthcoming through it!" Barris quickly reminded everyone.

"I'm sorry Barris, I was having a senior moment..." Sato responded sarcastically.

Mila raised her eyebrows at Barris, expecting him to accept Sato's answer.

"Sssss... ssss... sssssoooo... sssssoooorrrr... sssss... sss... SORRY Sato!," Barris finally spit it out.

"Apology accepted young man," Sato smiled deviously.

"That's better. So how do you suspect that Bella can help us find Sanata?" asked Nelony quickly so as to avert any snappy response by Barris.

"For one, she's a real Gypsy seer. They're known for having the strongest connection to the temporal elements of the aether," Mila explained her reasoning.

"And that will help us how in the case of a Tengu?" asked Shaela.

"A Kami Tengu in the case of Sanata, is a specific form of Tengu tied to places or times, but never both simulataneously," Mila explained to Shaela.

"So... Bella might be able to hone in on when Sanata's been rather than where?" asked Barris, piecing it together ever so slightly given his fondness and familiarity with his wife to be.

"Precisely! I knew I kept you around for more than just your pretty face," Mila said, kissing him on the cheek.

"I'm flattered... but that's exactly what I was going to say," Barris replied, rubbing his cheek gently.

"Sanata if I remember that night correctly despite my hindrances as a senior citizen, was a proponent of vengeance and war. He literally wanted to destroy Barris and rip him from this reality. How on Aerth could anyone think about doing such a thing to poor Barris?" Sato said just barely mocking Barris' intelligence and patience.

Mila literally saw the gears in Barris' head turning as he attempted to come up with a counter to Sato's well crafted statement.

"Sato..." Mila scolded him.

"My joints are getting sore. Must be the moisture making me cranky again," he quickly found his way out.

Bella returned from the upstairs and into the shop, leading them all over to her crystal ball.

"Barris my dear, could you bring three more chairs from the back room? They're under the stairs..." Bella asked Barris as Mila and Sato sat across from Bella at her crystal ball table.

"Sure thing..." Barris quickly retrieved the chairs, first for Shaela and Nelony and then the last one for himself.

"So I suppose I should tell you who we're..." Mila began.

"Please don't tell me anything about who you're trying to know. The less, the better," Bella said to Mila firmly.

"Fair enough," Mila responded.

"Now, I want you all to take the hand of the person next to you and concentrate on who you're trying to find, and what it is you'd like to know about them," Bella began, the only person at the table whose hands were free to fold the aether and weave it to peer into the temporal space in the midst of the crystal ball.

"Do I really have to think about that miserable little monster?!" Barris asked, opening one eye to look around as he did.

"Honey, no more scantily clad maiden hidden under the sheets meets the mattress inspector night if you don't help us," Mila quickly responded.

"Ow! I'm concentrating, honey. Sanata did have a warm disposition when he wasn't speaking or tormenting or eviscerating," Barris began trying to visualize the Kami Tengu.

"I think that was more as a result of the magma flowing through his veins," Shaela replied sarcastically.

"Or the free flowing air between Barris' ears..." Sato added.

"Shhhh! Quiet! Do what Bella says and concentrate!" Mila shushed her friends.

"Think without words... See without eyes... Your mind's eye guides... Your winter's nerves..." Bella spoke as the crystal ball began to shimmer and glow.

"I see a little man. He's very red. It's... It's... Mao Zedong?" Bella responded upon recognizing the figure.

Mila kicked Barris.

"Ow! It wasn't me!" Barris responded.

Nelony kicked Sato.

"Hai! Guilty as charged! I watched a documentary about China on Curiosity Stream last night," Sato responded, his eyes still closed.

"This is a mystery that our 1654 saviour and one of our best friends came to us from across time to request our help! Surely you can all do better for him?" asked Mila, looking to each of her friends.

"Please people! Hold hands and concentrate! This time, not on what you ate for dinner last night, or what colour of siding your neighour used to resurface their walls, or what you saw on Amazon last night, but on the person you're seeking! Clear your minds! ... or I'll have to reduce your eighty percent discount to sixty percent, plus a scrying brokerage fee!" Bella urged her friends.

"Hold your tongue, Sato!" Nelony urged the aging Japanese man.

"You too Barris!" Mila urged her fiance.

"Thank you. So where was I? Oh yes, you're all holding hands and contentrating on what you're seeking," Bella continued once again.

"Search within... search without... starlight brings the phantoms out..." Bella eloquated, her Romanian accent ever so prominent.

Once again, the crystal ball began to glow in a light that illuminated all of their faces amidst the seasonally appropriate decorations.

"I see... a little man... he's red. Quite red. Like you, he's searching for something... someone he's lost... its a Chateau in a forest... La Pied De La Noire... The foot of the dark," Bella described as she looked into the crystal ball.

"I also see a desert... and misty haze covered sands over which the stars loom ever so brightly!" Bella continued.

"...and ...and. No. It can't be!" Bella looked on in amazement.

"What do you see?!" Mila urged Bella, retaining her concentration.

"I see a... beer can! It's American. Tenessee. A lager," Bella described.

"American beer?! That's poppycock! A contradiction in terms! More like mineral water, with a sprinkle of real beer in it! Sprinkles beer! Sprinkles beer!" Barris responded, the Shepperton off the Thames in him coming out to bear its fruit.

"Barris!" Mila responded, though Barris wasn't quite clear if she was doing so in American beer's defense or for their own harmony as a couple.

"I'm sorry Mila, but this is one issue with which I have to side with Barris. Perhaps the only issue of that kind possible, my being a resident of Shepperton," Sato backed up Barris.

"Fine. Obviously we have some very pertinent clues that our beer drinking gluttons here have overlooked in their reaction to the mention of American beer," Shaela backed up Mila.

"I have to agree with Mila and Shaela on this. I think you two are missing the point," Nelony agreed.

"Thank you Shaela. Nelony. I don't think that beer is the point and I'm sure that Shepperton off the Thames would agree with me. There's something more to this mystery," Mila reasoned.

"Yes, exactly. They didn't even think to recall that we were in La Pied De La Noire together years ago!" Nelony reminded them.

"Lorr's Mansion!" Shaela responded.

"Oh. That place. I remember it well. Dark halls and long corridors populated by those nasty Norbids," Barris responded, recalling that night in the woods outside of a French villa as he and his newfound love searched for Yirfir.

"Lorr had property all over the Aerth. It was just a coincidence that he chose France to keep Yirfir captive. Yirfir is from France. She's Parisian. I suspect his motives on keeping her confined there were purposefully intended back then," Mila reminded her friends.

"I agree, there's more to Bella's reading than just that coincidence alone," Shaela added.

"A misty desert where the stars loom brightly?" Nelony asked her friends.

"That sounds like just about any desert, for where there isn't light pollution, there is only star and moonlight to guide," Sato remarked given the fact he'd traveled much of the globe.

"These things that jump out at me from the crystal ball are not coincidence my dear friends. They are the very essence of the magical winds that make up our essence. They speak in symbol, in language recognizable only to those listening and uniquely so. What I see and read, will be different from that of others," Bella described for them.

"Bella, you should really give us a ninety percent discount for that because that is almost what we had before we..." Mila stopped Barris before he finished his sentence.

"Barris honey, I'm not impressed when my man tries to rip off an honest vendor and friend for our benefit. Be the fair man I love," Mila reminded him.

Barris, looking down, quietly paid Bella for her reading.

"With this much, I can give you at least six more readings. Five if you go for the deep scry option," Bella told Barris.

"No Bella. That's for you. You really helped us. Then and now. Its from Mila and I. You saved us and our upcoming marriage, from that fellow in Transylvania with the pointy teeth and the one with the overgrowth of hair problem. Remember?" Barris smiled.

"How could I forget? Thank you Mila. Barris. So when I arrive at the party later tonight, are you going to be there to greet me?" asked Bella.

"Absolutely!" Mila nodded to Bella and then Barris.

"We'll be there. For sure. We've just got to get some ice first," Barris nodded.

"I'm an old man and I'm getting tired and cranky. Can we start this adventure yet?" Sato yawned.

"I have to admit I'm in agreement with Sato," Nelony said relunctantly.

"Me too. So when does the fun begin?" Shaela asked.

Karaoke Crutches

Oh, but he sees her so sadly -

How can he tell her he loves her?

Yes, he would give his heart gladly,

But each day when she walks to the sea,

She looks straight ahead – not at he…

Jasmer held the microphone, singing at the karaoke station they'd setup at Mila's and Barris' Seasonally Appropritate Politically Correct Holiday Party.

"Bravo, darling! A classic! Absolutely lovely!" Yirfir applauded his performance amidst an empty room with their being the only two guests, and completely absent of hosts.

"Thank you my love. I do so hope they're back soon with that ice," Jasmer responded.

"Yes, its rather quiet being the only two people at a party very obviously designed for a hundred or more..." Yirfir replied, examining the buffet that Mila had laid out.

Upstairs a loud sound emerged from the portal.

"Want me to check that honey?" Jasmer asked Yirfir.

"Would you? I'll get ready with the next song," Yirfir stood, taking the microphone from Jasmer and readying herself as she searched for a song to sing.

Jasmer ran up the stairs effortlessly thanks to Mila's weave.

"Surprise!" Kensei stepped forward, bowing for his gracious friend.

"Kensei!" Jasmer bowed for him.

Another body emerged from the portal, a large keg in his arms.

"Any space for me to put this down Kensei?" asked Sir Manfred.

"Right here will do," Jasmer advised him, pointing to the wall just aside of the portal.

"Good to see you Jasmer, as always," Sir Manfred greeted the ex-leader of the Sanctum.

"As always my old friend," Jasmer shook Sir Manfred's hand, in a display that neither had arms to bear against the other.

With a bright flash, another person emerged with a pair of bags.

"Athandra?" Jasmer smiled at his friend.

"I am so glad to see you, Jasmer!" Athandra dropped the bags cordially greeted Jasmer.

"Are by chance you up for some karaoke?" asked Jasmer.

"After you tell me where to put these toys I gathered according to Mila's RSVP for the local children's charity?" asked Athandra.

"There's a place downstairs for them," Jasmer replied.

"Kensei, could you help Athandra with the toys she's gathered for charity?" aske Sir Manfred.

"I'm there, but only if Athandra, Jasmer and you agree to karaoke tonight!" Kensei challenged them.

Athandra, Jasmer and Sir Manfred looked at each other before responding.

"Deal!" they all responded simultaneously.

When In France

A dilapidated manor stood, its front doors barred by a pair of wooden beams hammered directly into the surrounding frame. The windows were covered too, boarded up so as to prevent the residence from being used by all manner of living things in the surrounding forest from entry.

To the north, an old paved driveway stretched north into the distance. To the south, a path led into the dense brush, populated by varieties of deciduous and coniferous trees whose ranks were tightly scattered to block even the brightest of sunlight, even despite their lack of leaves.

The forest bed was thick with fallen foliage, which at the point where the front lawn of the manor met the forest, began to spin and spiral around a point in space roughly a meter above the ground.

An opening in the air emerged, and inhaled violently, sucking in bushells of leaves. This opening began to form a steaming cloud, and as it warped the space around it, the light was bent as if projected through a prism, leaving a spiraling rainbow impression in mid-air.

It suddenly coughed, spitting out the leaves it had earlier consumed, and a tall red headed woman clad in a long black gown stepped out, her boots finding purchase of the ground.

"Looks pretty dead to me," Shaela said blandly as Mila stepped out of the same opening in space.

"That it does, and rightly so given Lorr's fate," Mila recalled.

"Excuse me honey, but what would tiny angry man..." Barris began.

"Tengu, Barris. Sanata is a Tengu. There's a difference," Mila corrected him.

"Pardon my French, but what would a Tengu want with a dilapidated mansion?" asked Barris, purposefully accentuating the word Tengu, which drew a glimmer of a smile and frown from Mila.

"Why don't we ask the wildlife?" suggested Nelony, who'd just stepped out the writhing portal.

"I don't think we'll find much here and now, given the season, will we?" asked Sato who'd carefully stepped out of the portal, still continuing with his fragile elderly man routine.

There was an excited chirp from a nearby tree.

"Friends maybe?" asked Barris.

A gray feathered bird, flew down from the tree and landed on Nelony's shoulder, chirping happily in her ear.

"Yes! Of course! I remember you! How are you? How are the wife and kids? A new nest? Really? Noisy neighbours? Yes, I've heard Nighingales can a little loud at times..." Nelony continued her conversation with the bird for some time as her friends waited patiently.

"Ahem!" Shaela interrupted Nelony's social call.

"Sorry, he's a talkative little fellow. You remember him, don't you?" asked Nelony.

"No. Should we?" asked Barris.

"This is the same bird that helped guide us to the forest!" Nelony reminded them.

"You've got to be kidding! That can't be the same bird! It's been... three years since we liberated Yirfir from this Manor! That bird has kicked the bucket undoubtedly," Barris said, recalling the night as his first adventure with Mila.

The bird began tweeting and chirping angrily at Barris.

"What, I can't help it if I think you're an impostor!" Barris responded to the bird.

The bird quickly took to the air above Barris, circling several times before bombing his shoulder with bird guano.

Barris looked sideways at the tiny warm pile on him.

"Ohhhhh, that bird. Long time no see. Yes, how are you? Perhaps you can tell me after I wring your little neck!" Barris said reaching for the bird after it had landed on Nelony's shoulder.

The little bird stood its ground on Nelony's shoulder, chirping angrily at Barris, perhaps even mocking him.

"Don't you dare unless you want to spend a few weeks as one!" Nelony scolded Barris, who backed up behind Mila.

"Please, I can feel my hair growing all the while you bicker. Could we at least investigate this Manor. If you recall, I've never been here," Sato reminded them.

"That's right. He stayed back in the shop while I protected Mila," Barris showed Sato the bottom of his chin.

"Sato's right. Let's just take a look in the Manor. There will be plenty of time for bickering tonight when we get back to the party," Mila urged them.

Mila stepped ahead of them, walking towards the driveway, following it as it curved around an enormous water fountain coming to a circle at the front steps.

Shaela, Nelony, Sato and Barris followed her quick and impatient steps.

"Its boarded up," Nelony said, perturbed.

"So?" Shaela responded.

"Well we can't just go barging in," Nelony told them.

"We don't have to..." Mila replied as she began waving her arms, channeling the aether from the air around them.

She shaped it carefully with her hands, and then as if her arms had become paintbrushes, she ran her palms over the wooden barriers across the front door.

They watched as the barrier, doors and all were transformed into a sizeable painting of the interior of the mansion. The doorframe had become the picture frame, while the doors and barrier had become the canvas.

They looked at the painting, which was quite an impressive rendering of whatever lay within, but they still remained on this side of the door.

"Very nice indeed, Mila. Soooo... we're supposed to investigate by looking at that painting?" Nelony asked Mila somewhat sarcastically.

Mila, who'd been admiring it herself turned to them, perhaps absent mindedly.

"Sorry, I was admiring my work. I wasn't finished..." Mila responded as she began moving her palms once again over the painting.

She then quickly turned and cast her hands outwards towards the driveway and enormous front lawn, startling her friends.

They looked back to the painting, but this time it was a masterpiece rendition of the driveway, front lawn and the surrounding forest.

They then looked around themselves and realized that they were in the Manor, looking at the opposite side of Mila's same painting.

"Good show," Sato nodded once.

"You never cease to amaze me," Barris said to Mila standing beside her, rubbing her back affectionately with his hand as he admired her work.

"Still the same Brimstone burns here on the walls. When we were escaping all that time ago," Shaela observed a large burn in one of the wooden walls.

"Amazing the whole thing didn't just burn down," Mila remarked.

The bird on Nelony's shoulder chirped and tweeted several times.

"He says that sixteen full moons ago, there was a man fire here," Nelony translated the bird's chatter.

"A man fire? What's a man fire?" asked Barris, skeptically looking at the bird.

The bird chirped and cacked a few times.

"A blaze that was set by men and their tools," Nelony translated again.

"Did your friend say why?" asked Barris.

The bird chirped once.

"No," Nelony responded.

"I don't know if you recall, but that would be around the same time we were sent back to sixteen fifty-four," Sato remarked.

"Pretty good recall for an aging man in his senior years..." Shaela quipped.

"Ohhhh my hips are sooo sore," Sato added, clearly dramatizing something that just wasn't the case.

"This should help," Shaela handed Sato a finely lacquered eighteenth century crutch she'd found in a toppled cane holder.

Sato held it in his hands, sizing it up. Despite its utility, it appeared that it would be quite cumbersome and painful to use.

"I suppose the aging senior routine is getting a little old. I'd better retire it before it sticks permanently," Sato said, discarding the crutch and standing firmly upright.

"Oh good! How convenient!" Barris said, stepping forward to retrieve a silk kerchief that sat in front of a doorway just beyond the foyer.

As he leaned over to pick it up, he lost his balance and fell through the doorway. The sounds of him tumbling down a flight of old wooden stairs were then heard before he came to a stop in pitch black darkness.

"Barris!" Mila said, immediately illuminating her left hand as she ran for the doorway and the stairs.

By the time she got to the bottom of the creaky stairs, Barris was up and on his feet, brushing himself off.

"Oh thank goodness!" Mila looked him over to make sure he was alright.

"Just a scratch, which is probably a lot more than I gave the stairs in return," Barris replied, looking begrudgingly at the stairs in Mila's light.

"What is this place?" Nelony asked looking around as she arrived at the bottom of the stairs.

"This is what you'd call a wine cellar," Mila replied, seeing rows upon rows of bottled wine, most empty.

"There appears to be a storage area back here too. This isn't unlike the basement in my shop, though a tad bit bigger mind you," Sato said, immediately heading over to another room neighbouring the wine cellar.

"A bit bigger? I'd say you could fit ten of your shops down here," Barris remarked, as he noticed a can on the floor.

"What's this?" Barris leaned over to pick it up, bumping heads with Shaela who'd leaned over reaching for the same thing.

"Way to go, twit!" Shaela said, rubbing her head.

"I'm not the one wearing camouflage for a shadow party, Goth girl," Barris responded as Nelony picked up the can.

"Well look at this! Its American beer. Tennessee!" Nelony said, holding the can up to show them.

"Coincidence," Barris responded.

"Must be. I mean why wouldn't you find a can of American beer in the wine cellar of a Mansion located in rural France?" Sato responded to Barris' remark sarcastically.

"You have a point there. What's the significance?" Mila asked them.

"Not to mention, why here? In Lorr's old stomping grounds?" Barris added, quickly dropping the coincidence theory given the surmounting evidence.

"Maybe he liked America beer?" Nelony replied.

"Lorr didn't drink. He abhorred anything that tainted his connection to the weave," Mila reminded them.

"And look what it got him," Barris responded.

"That still doesn't answer why there's a can of Tennessee here," Shaela kept them on track, still rubbing her head.

Mila's eyes carefully combed the room for any other clues when Shaela's eyes fell upon something illuminated by Mila's hand.

"That symbol... That's... the symbol of the strangers... The same ones who sent us back to sixteen fifty-four," Shaela said, picking up an old dusty plaque.

"Yes, but their black goo didn't displace us in space. It only displaced us in time, meaning they can't be why the beer is here," Mila told them, recalling the experience herself.

"Yoohoo! Could I have the assistance of some Wytches over here?" Sato's voice came from the room connected to the wine cellar.

They immediately made their way over to find Sato standing before a curious mechanical device.

"What is this contraption?" asked Barris.

"You've got me there," Shaela responded.

"Whatever it is, it was crafted in the seventeenth century and dedicated to Margaret," Mila said, reading a stamped metal plate that was hammered to the device.

"That's a weaving machine. A very old one, but a weaving machine nonetheless," Nelony said, immediately recognizing it for what it was.

"So what does it weave?" Barris said, asking the obvious question.

"Quilts. Rugs. Tapestries," Nelony said, carefully examining it.

"But this is from London, not too far from your home Shaela," Mila said, reading the rest of the metal plate engravings.

"Maybe one of Lorr's Norbids liked American beer and had a thing for freshly weaved quilts," Barris suggested.

"Maybe some slippers too? And perhaps a dainty little housecoat as well? Barris, Lorr and the Norbids were out to rule over all of humanity, not lie around all day drinking American beer while keeping warm under fresh quilts," Sato responded.

"It seems they were collecting many things from across different times in history," Mila interrupted them as she examined the walls, which were lined with various trinkets.

"I have to admit its starting to feel a bit like home," Sato replied, looking at the walls and the various ornaments adorning it.

"But how does this lead us to Sanata?" asked Barris, keeping them on track for a change.

"The beer can..." Mila responded.

"How?" asked Nelony, the little bird tweeting several times as if to accent Nelony's question.

"Tennessee... Tennessee Williams. This poster. Its an original print from the broadway premiere of A Streetcar Named Desire..." Mila replied, holding her hand up to illuminate the poster.


Yirfir and Jasmer sat in the tiny lounge Mila had setup outside of the entry portal to the party. They sipped their wine, reminiscing about the years gone by while Athandra, Kenshi and Sir Manfred kept themselves amused with karaoke downstairs.

The portal suddenly brightened, as three more guests emerged from within.

Xenshi walked gracefully over to the lounge area, followed by Xushu, each bearing their bag of gifts.

Behind them, Thara Lansmore stepped out in a dark party gown not unlike Shaela's.

By that time, Yirfir and Jasmer had stood to greet their guests.

"So nice to see you all. So glad you could make it," Yirfir greeted Xenshi first.

"So happy to be here. I brought gifts for the charity as requested," Xenshi replied.

"Me too! They're so heavy they'll completely crush whoever opens them!" Xushu added.

"We've got a place for them downstairs, and you'll find Athandra, Kenshi and Sir Manfred down there too, probably getting into the buffet Mila prepared," Yirfir told them.

"Thara, glad to see you could make it," Jasmer greeted Thara.

"I don't usually attend social gatherings, but I thought it would be nice to make an exception in this case. I only wish I could have been at Mila, Nelony and Shaela's graduation party," Thara asserted gracefully.

"I'm sure Shaela would have loved that, but everything turned out regardless," Yirfir responded.

"Let's get you downstairs then, shall we?" Jasmer took the bags from Xenshi and Thara, and they proceeded down the stairs to join the growing party.

"Let the music roar and the cider flow!" Xushu declared as he arrived to greet his peers.

Backstreet Theatre

Within a quiet and cold alley, snowflakes that had navigated the building tops to find their way in from above settled on the ground, though there was only one person there to see such a spectacle.

Outside on the streets of the theatre district in New York, Broadway Avenue had piled up to nearly a foot and a half with the frozen water from the sky.

Few dared brave the streets for themselves, instead huddled up in their cosy and tiny New York apartments, perhaps close to a radiator or snuggled under a blanket on the sofa watching the latest episode of their favourite streaming show.

The wind howled occasionally, blowing the snow sideways at times, though the wind was only following the only path it had through the maze of New York buildings and skyscrapers to push it that far.

Ferghal sat atop a carefully stacked pile of cardboard, which sat on the floor of a wooden crate that had been carefully hollowed out to provide protection from the elements. He had several heavy blankets, more quilt-like than otherwise that kept his body warm as he watched his breath cloud in the night air.

The alley was the safest place on the streets, especially within a storm of this magnitude, though the local civic workers would have argued that it was a far cry from a nice warm bed in a city shelter. Ferghal would have fiercely argued that fact, as he'd had many bad experiences fitting in within such a predatory evironment.

He'd been labeled the crazy conspiracy theorist of the streets, which had unfortunately stigmatized him enough so that any attempts to defend himself verbally from cruel social batterings were often written off as just that: conspiracy nonsense.

At some point well into his stay in the shelters, he'd just given up and decided that sleeping on the streets was a far safer option, even if it meant giving up his position on the waiting list for housing. Life without peace of mind, was no life worth living at all no matter what other creature comforts one had. So Ferghal had given up his eventual opportunity for a permanent roof over his head, to protect his peace of mind and perhaps his fleeting sanity, leaving the predatory to battle it out amongst each other in the shelter, in search of their next prey.

It broke the hearts of some of the workers to see Ferghal set out on his own, for some of those workers really did care. They also knew that surviving in such conditions required one to navigate the labrynthine sociological and political challenges to survival amongst a group of people, each captive to their own issues as much as as Ferghal was himself.

Some people could play the game and to others it just didn't make sense. They were often sorted out between the people who stayed and danced the dirty dance, and those who abandoned such lunacy to live in a tent, or in Ferghal's case, a wooden crate.

When the snow stirred in the air, beginning to spiral around a point in space roughly three feet above the concrete, Ferghal had to shake his head to confirm that he wasn't simply seeing things. A small glowing light emerged from nowhere within that spiral, and inhaled a generous gulp of air, pulling the night air with it.

Ferghal looked to his left, and a pile of magazines he'd kept to exercise his mind. They were mostly conspiracy magazines about the paranormal and UFOs, Unidentified Flying Objects, which were now called UAPs or Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon.

On the cover of the magazine was a spiraling opening in space depicted by an artist, that appeared much like a cross between a black hole and a sink draining. Within the midst of the opening were several pairs of eyes looking out into our world. The magazine was captioned Visitors From Inner Space, are we being visited by multi-dimensional civilizations?

His eyes widened as he looked at the growing opening only a few yards away from him. He pulled the blankets up over his face, keeping them there until he heard footsteps that had obviously emerged from within. He shook beneath the blankets, terrified to see that his conspiracies were real and coming to life before him.

He kept dead still, as he listened to the footsteps. The feet that had produced them walked around, by Ferghal several times, and then back towards the portal opening. There was then a lound noise, and the sound of someone cursing under their breath. Then the sound of feet quickly and desperately trying to prevent their owner from falling backwards onto the pavement.

That was followed by the distinct sound of a thud and another series of curses.

"The coast is clear! Don't worry about watching your step at all, its completely not slippery or freezing in the slightest, and despite what you might think, there's no ice at all. None," Barris remarked sarcastically from his back on the pavement.

"Lying around on the job are you. I suspected as much from you," Sato emerged from the portal, offering his reluctant friend a hand up and onto his feet.

As he pulled Barris up, they both lost their balance on the ice, falling at the same time, Barris now on his front while Sato landed on his back.

Shaela emerged from the portal next, quickly seeing Sato and Barris on the ground. She turned back to the others to warn them.

"Its slippery here, watch your footing," Shaela advised Nelony and Mila who emerged shortly after.

"Oh Barris!" Mila responded upon seeing her fiance face down on the ice.

"Don't worry about me at all. I'm perfectly fine, all four-hundred and ninety-seven years of me," Sato said, laying still on his back not sure if he'd broken anything other than his sure footing.

"I've got this..." Mila said, her hands moving gracefully as she shaped the aether.

The snow and ice suddenly melted and evaporated from the pavement, while a colourful roof had formed over the alley, which had become more like the living room of a large family home, decorated with festive lights and boughs of holly. A fireplace burned in the far corner, not far from where Ferghal remained hiding beneath his blankets.

"Nice touch! Very seasonal too! Where'd you come up with it?" asked Nelony as she looked around admiring the warm scene.

"I was shopping for holiday cards the other day and found one with a wonderful scene..." Mila began explaining, entirely loving talking about shopping.

"Is it me or is the pavement warm and soft?" asked Sato.

"I highly doubt you to be warm and soft. More likely frigid and hair impaired, chrome dome," Barris responded, surprised to find that Sato's observation was as correct as his own.

The pavement had become a warm and dry carpet. Fluffy and soft, reaching into the alley before coming to a hardwood floor across which the far wall housed the fireplace.

"Barris, one day, your hairline will retreat, receding all the way back across your oblately flat skull to the back of your neck. When it does, I'll be in the cheering section," Sato responded as Barris got to his feet, offering a hand to Sato who accepted.

There was suddenly a sneeze from somewhere in the alley, and momentarily, Mila's illusion fizzled as the alley peeked through, only to be replaced by the illusion once more.

"Hello? Is someone here?" asked Nelony.

"Don't be afraid, we're not going to hurt you," Mila said compassionately, looking around for the source.

"I don't have anything for you to steal!" Ferghal exclaimed, keeping the blanket over his head.

"I can certainly tell you that we're not here to steal anything," Shaela assured the Ferghal, her voice slightly more menacing than that of the others.

"You've come to the wrong dimension! We have powerful weapons and are ready to defend ourselves from you!" Ferghal said defiantly, still shivering and cowering under the blanket.

"He's got a stout heart. I'll give him that," Shaela said, spying the pile of blankets beneath which Ferghal was hiding.

She nodded to Nelony, who took the other side of Ferghal's crate-house. They both reached in and removed the blanket from Ferghal, revealing a dirty and somewhat adversely aromatic elderly man whose years even appeared far beyond Sato's.

"Discarded by society, and you still stood up for them as the last line of defense from extra-dimensional invaders like us? You're a real treasure," Shaela observed of the cowering old man.

"If his words didn't scare us off, his scent certainly could. I'd be willing to bet its deadly at five paces," Barris added, plugging his nose.

"Barris! Have you no heart?! Eeeeew!" Nelony responded to Barris in Ferghal's defense, then getting a whiff of his air, struggling against her gag reflex.

"...I'm sorry. I don't have a shower here, so I can't keep clean," Ferghal admitted to them.

"I can help, but only as long as you give me permission to..." Mila offered Ferghal.

"You aren't from another dimension?" asked Ferghal, shocked to find that they were simply people like him, though much more clean and certainly better scented too.

"No. We're here looking for something. For someone, perhaps after we get you cleaned up, you might be able to help us, especially if you're familiar with where we are?" asked Mila.

"Of course I'm familiar with the area... I was born here seventy-five years ago in the back of an old Pontiac Stylemaster taxi on Broadway Avenue..." Ferghal told them.

Off Broadway

"Somewhere under all that filth, there's a man in severe hardship," Shaela said bluntly.

"A man who just told us that he can help us. Those words are signifant when coming from a man who has nothing to give but his help," Sato reminded Shaela.

"I'm Mila. These are my friends Shaela and Nelony. This is my friend Sato. And this dapper young man here is my fiance," Mila introduced them.

"I'm Ferghal James Walters and proud to make your acquaintance. Thank you for fixing up my living space here," Ferghal looked around, admiring the scene Mila had woven out of nothing but thin air.

"Now if ne could nust get to the nart about nixing your snell, we'd likely nake a gneat neal of nrogress..." Barris said impatiently, still pinching his nostrils tightly shut.

"We're not going to hurt you, but I can't help you in the area of cleanliness unless you give me permission to," Mila assured Ferghal softly.

"...sooo true. It always comes down to trust, doesn't it. When you've had that violated more than your fair share, its a little harder to give each time," Ferghal said honestly.

"There's no opportunity in life that comes without risk," Shaela responded, somewhat more dogmatically than Mila's perspective allowed for.

"And no guarantee of success either," Nelony added.

"But there are times when success is the true triumph of the heart in finding the ability to trust, even after years of receiving mostly adversity," Mila urged Ferghal.

"Truly that's the loss of the adverse, not the loss of those with the ability to trust," Mila continued.

"A man buys a dog. He feeds the dog and keeps a roof over its head, but the man hits the dog often. Sometimes beating the poor little fella to within an inch of consciousness," Ferghal explained.

"People notice, and take the dog from the man and put him somewhere they help dogs with nowhere to go. Every time they go to pet the dog and comfort it, the dog barks and bites at them because every time it trusted someone, the poor little fella was instead given a beating," Ferghal continued.

"The dog isn't biting at them because it wants to hurt them. Its biting at them because its anticipating that their kindness is going to cease and be replaced by a beating. That's because trust has a lifespan much shorter than the living," Ferghal looked down, recalling all the times he'd been that dog.

"I don't know whether to bite you or trust you," Ferghal looked back to Mila with a pair of eyes that had seen much adversity.

"Trust me. You can always bite me if you're wrong," Mila smiled.

"Alright. Can I have your help Mila?" asked Ferghal.

"I thought you'd never ask," Mila began moving her hands and shaping the reality around them.

A bright light appeared above Ferghal, growing evermore strong and focused until he could only feel a healing warmth passing over the entirety of his aging body.

It stripped away years of dirt and filth, as much so as it stripped away years of trauma and pain. He could see those whose adversity had so affected and bruised him, leaving scars throughout his soul.

One by one those scars disappeared, as Ferghal saw those who'd rendered them for what they truly were. As much as the dirt had disappeared and teeth had mended, so had disappeared the emotional baggage dropped onto him by those of such ire.

The light had completely enveloped him as he stood before them in front of his wooden-crate house. His home for the last thirty years. He saw time passing backwards, to his leaving the shelter in a storm of emotion as his tormentors laughed.

His struggle to survive in that system, backwards through time until he'd first arrived at the front door. Before that he'd slept in Central Park, unsure of where to turn having lost his job at the port unloading shipping containers, when the company went bankrupt.

Before that, he'd slowly risen to a supervisory position, anticipating a newborn child with his wife of four years until she died giving birth. His son lived a short six hours beyond her passing. How he buried himself in whiskey for a decade afterwards. He relived the moment they found a reasonably priced two bedroom apartment, as they made plans to raise a family together.

Of when he was first hired at the port, while his girlfriend finished her schooling. Of when they met at the school library, talking about their favourite authors, one of whom was Tennessee Williams.

He recalled growing up an only child in a poor family struggling to get on their feet a couple of years after World War II. About how he'd almost burned down the neighbours house playing with matches and then spending six weeks grounded, with nothing but homework to keep him company.

He'd his first encounter with a school bully, standing up bravely to him only to get beaten down by his friends. He recalled the fear he'd acquired of people from that point on. Especially predatory packs of such persons who were more like wolves than otherwise.

His first day in grade school, and then his first day in kindergarten. His first steps on his own legs, and his memories of crawling around the house to explore his tiny world.

Finally, the bright light of his first moment in the hospital where he was born.

Mila's light dimmed, eventually disappearing over Ferghal's head, and yet the man that stood before them appeared nothing like the Ferghal of moments ago.

He was clean, and clean shaven, wearing clean and somewhat fashionable clothes. A pair of round framed spectacles sat on his nose, correcting his undiagnosed hyperopia, giving him the short distance vision he'd struggled with for years.

The suit he wore could have come directly from the nineteen-forties, while his overcoat was lined with faux wool, warm and soft to the touch.

Ferghal felt his face with his hands, his nose suddenly bombarded by his smell absent of the filth he'd acrued over months of not bathing. He felt his face structure devoid of hair, and atop his head a thin matte of gray gave him a full head of hair even at seventy-five.

Mila waved her hands in front of her, and a purse appeared from thin air. She reached into it and pulled forth a small hand mirror.

"Here," Mila offered him the mirror, which he accepted gratefully.

He turned the mirror on himself, looking at a face he'd never seen before.

"My gosh, who is that looking back at me? Has it been that long?" he asked.

"Honey, can you give me one of those when we're done here?" Barris spoke enviously of Ferghal and playfully to Mila.

Mila smirked at him at first, and then smiled at his mischievous nature.

"We're here trying to find a friend, er... better put, an acquaintance," Nelony took the initiative this time.

"Yes, he's a short little fellow with a very long nose and somewhat red," Barris added.

"With a beard too and long whiskers," Shaela embellished their description.

"In all honesty, that describes a lot of people, especially during the holiday season if you know what I mean," Ferghal replied, still examining himself in the mirror.

"What's the significance of this alley?" asked Barris.

"We're right behind some of the biggest theatrical venues on Broadway. A short walk from here and you'll find them," Ferghal lowered the mirror, facing his saviours directly.

"But why here? Why did the portal open here in this very alley?" asked Barris, suddenly on a roll.

"...where Ferghal lives, having been born on...?" Mila asked Ferghal.

"December third, nineteen forty-seven. Why do you ask?" asked Ferghal, still in awe of what had transpired.

"The premiere date of A Streetcar Named Desire..." Mila continued, thinking carefully about what it could mean.

"A play by Tennessee Williams... and a somewhat shocking play for the times..." Sato observed, having recalled hearing about the controversy it stirred two years after the war in the Pacific.

"The play went on the road from December seventheenth, with stops at Philadelphia, Washington, Nashville, Dallas, Memphis and then... Roswell?" Ferghal suddenly recalled having read an article about that very topic in Conspiracy Quarterly, his favourite magazine.

Ferghal turned, rummaging through the stack of magazines in his wooden-crate house. He'd gotten through more than half the pile when he found the one for which he'd been looking.

"Here it is! The cast and crew toured the southern states, all the way across south central United States right through to Roswell," Ferghal handed Mila the magazine, which she began thumbing through with Barris reading over her shoulder.

"Why Roswell?" asked Nelony, her reasoning being that it was only a small town compared to the other venues.

"I mean they'd just played Memphis, why would they follow it up with a small backwoods town like Roswell?" Nelony elaborated.

"Because of the crash... when the airforce downed a flying saucer just outside of Roswell in the same year," Ferghal explained to them.

"When that crash happened, Roswell became a household name despite only having a population of just under two thousand," Ferghal continued.

"So why would a major theatrical company put on a show in a town with less than two thousand people?" asked Barris.

"Not only that, but why would that theatrical company follow the path that same flying saucer took to evade the Air Force interceptors? See? It was tracked on radar from New York, to Philadelphia, to Washington, then Nashville, then on to Dallas, and finally Memphis before it fled to Roswell where it crashed..." Mila pointed out from what she'd just read in the article.

"Their last big stop was in Memphis. Why then would they travel after a week of sold out performances to put on a show in Roswell for an audience of less than a fifty people?" Mila asked her friends.

Mila turned the page to read the last few paragraphs of the article, when Sato stopped her.

"I'm not usually one for noticing small details, but sometimes there are things that I just can't miss. On the previous page is one of them," Sato told Mila, who agreed and turned the page back to the one she'd just left.

"What are we looking for?" asked Nelony, who with Shaela had closed in around Mila, the four of them looking over her shoulders to take a look.

"That photograph," Sato pointed to a photo taken of Roswell on the day of the flying disk crash.

The photo depicted a military truck that was stopped while several soldiers were jumping out of the back and onto the streets of Roswell, while several citizens looked on.

"That photo," Sato said observantly, Mila immediately seeing that to which he was referring.

"Its just a bunch of soldiers and some people watching... So?" asked Nelony.

Sato pointed directly to a particular person in the photo.

"What, that child?" asked Nelony.

"Look closer," Mila encouraged her and Shaela.

Nelony squinted, taking in the black and white photo, suddenly realizing that it wasn't a child at all.

It was Sanata Claws.

Getting The Party Started

By now, there were well over fifty people at the party, with more arriving every minute through the upstairs portal. 

Yirfir and Jasmer did their best to take on the immense chore of hosting, getting help from Athandra, Xenshi and Xushu along the way.

From the outside, the large house in which this party was being hosted appeared quiet if colourful and decorated for the holidays. Inside and the party was becoming logistically challenging to say the least.

Thara had suggested opening another portal to a secondary space at another location where they could temporarily entertain others, yet even together none of them could come up with a suggestion as to where.

It wasn't until Morton Kayser and Benjamin Jones arrived that they were able to come up with an ample solution to their dilemma.

Morton had suggested that they take all of the prepatory elements of the party and move them to a space connected via portal, while utilizing the entirety of the building to house the guests themselves.

They could still manage bringing out the food and drink from one of the portals, while the guests would have more than enough space to enjoy themselves given the fact that no space within the house itself would be taken up for preparation.

Benjamin had also managed to get sponsorship for the party in the form of several breweries from the United States, who'd agreed so long as their good name was honoured in Toronto where the party was actually taking place.

Gallea, Morton's Golem extraordinaire had come along for the party, her astounding musculature and physique as imposing as it was perfect. It was complimented by her long blonde hair and the sculpted beauty of her cheeks and lips.

Those looking into her eyes would often wonder if there was something more to her being, even asking Morton if she had a soul. Morton would just look deeply into their eyes and ask them the same thing, after which nobody would question the validity of Gallea's being.

Gallea volunteered for the duty of hosting as a dedicated server seeing as she neither ate nor drank. She was also more than capable as an element of security as well, in her unblinking nature.

Xenshi and Xushu also volunteered for this duty, taking turns with Athandra in order to alleviate the workload put upon Gallea and to help make the party that much better for the guests.

"I have to say Jasmer that you and Yirfir put on quite a show here," Benjamin shook hands with Jasmer, taking a sip from his whiskey sour.

"Really this is mostly Mila's doing. We just happened along after Mila had done all of the preparations," Jasmer answered honestly.

"By the way, where are they? Haven't seen them tonight," Benjamin asked as Lady Naemi Soon and her husband Jeong arrived through the portal.

"Good evening and happy holidays to you all most graciously!" Lady Naemi Soon greeted Yirfir as Benjamin and Jasmer arrived.

"More gifts for charity," Lady Naemi soon handed over the bag to Yirfir, Benjamin instead accepting it.

"I'll take this for you. I've got to go check up Gallea and Morton," Benjamin assured Lady Soon and Jasmer.

They'd started storing the gifts in the same portal from where they were serving food and drinks. Benjamin stepped through the opening and the space on the other side, putting the bags down with the others and checking up on how they were doing for space.

"Have you seen Morton, Gallea?" asked Benjamin.

"He's in the lounge with Sir Manfred, Kensai and Lannay," Athandra told Benjamin.

"Oh, so he made it did he?" Benjamin asked.

"Apparently so. He arrived with Feyla. Apparently they've been become close friends, but don't tell them I told you," Athandra smiled and winked at Benjamin.

"Fair enough. Is there anything I can...?" Benjamin began when the lights suddenly went out.

Throughout the building, there was sudden darkness, everyone frozen in place as the enormous beam of light penetrated the roof. One by one, the guests were sucked up through the light shaft and into the sky, where a gigantic multi-coloured disk kilometers across spun above the house.

The lights flickered and then illuminated the party once again, the house completely devoid of guests, while none of the summoned Wytch portals remained.

Benjamin got to his feet, helping Athandra to hers.

"Are you alright?" asked Benjamin of Athandra.

"I am. You?" confirmed Athandra.

"I think this new ticker still has a few good years left in it," Benjamin replied, referring to the replacement heart he'd been given during the events of Singularity.

"Let's see if everyone else is..." Athandra said as she left the portal back to the party.

When she and Benjamin arrived, they were shocked to see that they were no longer in the house, but within some kind of metalic hallway, flashing lights traveling the length of the hi-tech cooridor.

"If you see Toto, tell her I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," Benjamin said to Athandra.

"Or Toronto for that matter," Athandra added as she looked down at her feet.

The floor became translucent, revealing that they indeed were nowhere near Kansas or Toronto anymore. They were in fact in high geostationary orbit above the Aerth. The great blue ball of honey and milk stared back at them in their place against the star filled holiday night sky.

Its All A Conspiracy

"Are you kidding me? Three years after getting back from sixteen fifty-four where I was nearly hanged to death for being a Wytch, you want to drag us back in time again?" Shaela responded to Mila's suggestion.

"That doesn't even begin to deal with the fact that I'm the only one of us that can weave temporal aether and I'm with Shaela on this one," Nelony added.

"Is that true, Mila?" asked Barris of his fiancé.

"...sort of. I've been working on it a little, between learning how to effectively construct spatial portals, but I still need a tad bit of practice..." Mila admitted.

"So you're telling me that Harold, our pet Trilobyte wasn't you intentionally summoning a dinosaur, but that he was just an accident?" Barris said in shock upon realizing the cretaceous invertebrate they'd been keeping in a terrarium as a pet had been part of one of Mila's blunders when playing with time altering weaves.

"Serendipity honey," Mila responded quickly, attempting to cover for her actions.

"What if you'd accidentally summoned a Tyrannosaur?" asked Barris, shocked by what he was hearing.

"I think the point is that I didn't. I was able to summon a tiny harmless crab-like thingy that grew quite fond of us both, don't you think?" Mila buttered Barris up, sucking up to him.

"Not to mention, your batting average for blunders would put you in the hall of fame, Barris," Sato backed up Mila in this instance.

"Ohhhh, so the other dinosaur is siding with the one who wants to actually mess with time travel! By the way, its hall of shame when and if you're referring to blunders," Barris corrected his friend.

"Look, Shaela's right. The last time we messed with time travel, we ended up in the middle of a Wytch hunt. Now in most circumstances, that wouldn't have posed a threat to us if not for the fact that we're Wytches," Nelony argued.

"We weren't messing with time travel. It was messing with us! This time will be different, because we're the ones in the driver's seat, not some bizarre Temporal Sect of the Norbids who use black petroleum jelly to send unwilling tourists on a trip through time," Mila defended her suggestion.

"Look, I've never been to Roswell, nevermind the fact that I wouldn't know how to shape the temporal aether leading there to nineteen forty-seven," Nelony admitted to them despite the fact that her ability with such portals surpassed Shaela's and Mila's.

"Can you get to Las Vegas?" asked Ferghal.

"What's in Las Vegas that we'd need?" asked Mila, suddenly drunk with curiosity.

"Honey, that question would be better put: what isn't in Las Vegas that we'd need," Barris quickly backed Ferghal's suggestion, suddenly siding with Mila again.

"Sound reasoning," Shaela and Sato looked at each other conclusively nodding, speaking those words at exactly the same time.

"Years ago, on Shore To Shore AM, they did an interview with someone who knew how to create wormholes through the dimension of time," Ferghal began, having lost them upon the utterance of the name of that fabled conspiracy show.

"Shore to Shore AM? Sounds like a courier business to me?" Barris replied sarcastically, almost clinically as if he were clinging desperately to his sanity.

"Or a cruise line," Mila added, somewhat more creatively and adventurously.

"Its a live radio show much like my Conspiracy Quarterly magazines. I can't remember the exact nature of what that time traveler explained during the interview, but I'd bet the hosts would know, not to mention they'd have it on archive..." Ferghal suggested.

Barris' face suddenly turned several shades of red, as he held his breath. He then gasped, hyperventilating, as he struggled to maintain his balance.

"Easy honey! Its alright! I've got you!" Mila told him, holding him up as he began muttering about aliens and flying disks and other dimensions.

"We're here Barris! Right here, now, fully alive. Just... breath slowly and relax deeply..." Mila guided him back from his panic attack.

Sato looked at Barris, completely shocked by this sudden display of trauma.

"I'm... I'm here... whew! I'm standing right here. Still, on the ground," Barris calmed himself with Mila's guidance.

"What was that, Barris!?" asked Sato, his face scrunched into an inquisitive frown.

"Barris had a... challenge shall we say. He's been getting professional help over his former obsession with conspiracies. That little stint in Ottawa didn't help matters either," Mila said, rubbing Barris' back helping him to calm down.

"There are no flying disks or log rolling aliens out to get us. We're just here living our lives happily and peacefully..." Barris' voice sounded unsure of itself, perhaps more trying to convince himself rather than believing what he was actually saying.

"It didn't help that Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny were there in Ottawa at that time either..." Mila continued.

"Right... the X-..." Nelony stopped herself realizing that she might inadvertently trigger Barris once again.

"Yes, from that show..." Mila showed Nelony a bit of gratitude for her quick thinking.

"Or that giant flying..." Sato began, oblivious to the harm of his words could have, Mila quickly stopping him mid-sentence before he pulled the carpet of stability from beneath Barris' feet.

"BIRD! Seagull you were going to say. Right Sato? Perhaps helping yourself to avert spending the next twenty-four hours as a tiny furry rodent with a pair of whiskers and a long tail!?" asked Mila, her face now fiercely protective of Barris.

"That's exactly what I was going to say. Seagull. As a matter of fact, Jonathan Livingston Seagull... just gliding gracefully through life..." Sato lied nearly undetectably, Mila's face relaxing considerably with his words.

"That's better," Mila watched Sato carefully as she rubbed Barris' back one last time, tweaking his cheek for good measure.

"I hate to break this to you Mila, but won't his... condition pose a slight obstacle seeing as we're about to risk time traveling directly into the proverbial eye of the storm when it comes to things of that nature..." Sato asked Mila, treading carefully.

"What nature?" asked Barris, speaking as if he'd completely forgotten the context of their previous conversation.

"Casinos, slot machines and good relaxing fun!" Mila quickly covered up.

"Yes I'm up for some relaxing time with a glass of wine and a one-armed bandit. If for no other reason, then to just give my concern for nature a bit of a break," Nelony had obviously been infected with Sato's lying bug.

"Let's just get on with it," Shaela the bold red-headed lady said impatiently, waving her arms and summoning forth a portal to the oasis in the desert known as Las Vegas.

One by one they stepped into the portal, Sato taking first place this time in order to ensure Barris had recovered his sanity by the time they arrived.

On the other end, they stepped out into the warm desert of a holiday night in Sin City.

Geostationary Orbit

"It looks so small and delicate from here..." Yirfir said, watching the Aerth through the nearly translucent walls of the prison cell they were confined within from an altitude of thirty-five thousand kilometers.

"I always imagined that from here, I'd be able to see the Aerth Mother herself," Feyla said, observing the Aerth from her own side of the same giant cell in which they were all imprisoned.

"Lyra isn't literal. She's a metaphor for the Milky Way galaxy. See how it looks like the long strands of white hair, dense in the center," Lannay said, whittling away at the beauty of Feyla's understanding of illusion.

"Has anyone been able to channel aether?" asked Jasmer.

"Nothing here," Sir Manfred responded.

"My Katana has a glimmer of aether, but its barely enough to make a candle flicker," Kensai added.

"Maybe we can transmute the matter of these walls?" asked Jeong Soon.

"If we had an alchemist with us, we might," Thara replied, considering their options carefully.

"Morton is a Grand Master Alchemist. He even crafted Gallea..." Lannay began, Feyla shaking her head urging him not to finish his sentence.

"Lannay, a great artist of renown once said that a masterpiece sculpture exists within every piece of marble. It is the master's task merely to uncover it," Morton responded in defense of Gallea appeared as an immensely astounding woman.

"Are you telling us that you can transmute the walls of this prison into aether to fuel our weave?" asked Jasmer of Morton.

"No. I can't," Morton answered honestly.

"Gallea, can you break through this material?" asked Yirfir of the illustrious Golem in the form of a perfectly impossible woman.

"I cannot. It is made of material that doesn't occur naturally upon the Aerth, and one can only find it in the depth of the Infinite Planes," Gallea explained to them.

"So it seems that we're all at our host's disposal," Lady Soon surmised.

"Pssst! Are you fools all so stuck that you can't merely pass through these solid walls?!" Xushu's form appeared, having passed through the matter of the walls that imprisoned them.

"Xushu, where's Xenshi? Can she do the same?" Yirfir's hope grew upon seeing the Spirit Warrior ghost from the Song Dynasty.

"Xenshi?! Bah! She could barely find her way out of a wet paper bag, let alone these walls!" Xushu scoffed at the thought.

"That's an encouraging yes," Lady Soon translated for them, though most of them already understood Xushu's dualistic connection to his sister Xenshi.

"Where is she?" asked Sir Manfred.

"She's probably loafing in the corridor with Athandra and Benjamin somewhere! It seems that when this wonderful host of ours picked us up, Athandra, Xenshi and Benjamin were hiding in one of the portals, the cowards!" Xushu exclaimed with a look of disgust.

"Can you go and find them. Let them know you've found us? Please be careful not to get caught!" Yirfir requested of the Spirit Warrior.

"Fine! If you want to spend your holiday in here, I'll just leave you and let them know that while they're lolly gagging in the halls of this glorious space boat, you're in here suffering immensely! Haha!" Xushu said, immediately setting off to carry out Yirfir's request of him.

"That's a step forward," Jasmer said, looking at his peers in the cell, and then finally back to Yirfir with the glimmer of a smile.

"I don't know if any of you caught this, but if Xenshi, Athandra and Benjamin were hiding in the portals, that can only mean one thing. That our host's method of transport, the beam of light that brought us here, must have captured the portals too!" Morton reasoned astutely.

"Meaning that the portals are still connected through the aether to Aerth," Thara realized.

"If we can get to even just one of the portals, we should be able to channel enough aether to power all of our weave together," Lady Soon caught on to Morton's and Thara's train of thought.

The mood in the cell went from the absence of hope, to the determined optimism of possibility.

Viva Sin City

"I'd like to come with you. I've already demonstrated my usefulness..." Ferghal offered, rather insistently.

"Ferghal, we could drop you off in a place where they could help you. Get you on the right track to getting off the streets and into a modest living space of your own to call home," Mila looked to him compassionately.

"However humble be it..." Nelony added.

"I survived for decades in a variety of wooden crates in this very alley, unwilling to return to that hopeless environment where I could neither dance nor play the social game," Ferghal explained.

"I'll come with you and render my assistance, now that I'm partway whole again, to show my gratitude for what you've done for me. If I decide not to find an agency in Sin City that can help, at least the streets are much warmer," Ferghal decided for himself.

"We can't force you to go, but your company and assistance is welcome as long as you're not at risk," Mila assured Ferghal, who turned and looked to the still transformed corner of the alley he'd lived in for more than thirty years.

He nodded his head a couple of times, remaining silent and then turned his back on his home of decades forever.

Shaela took up the honours of weaving the aether thick air of the alley into a portal destined for the late evening desert while Barris checked his wallet for cash.

"We could be heading for the big one!" he exlaimed excitedly.

"Honey, we're already well enough as it is," Mila told him modestly.

"...but that doesn't mean that we can't have fun!" she continued enthusiastically.

"I agree Mila. I mean what has more ever done to you that you'd be so offended by it?" asked Sato sarcastically.

"Its not the possibility of winning that I'm excited about. Its the fact that its another thing that both Barris and I are doing for our first time ever. And we're doing it together," Mila admitted as Shaela's portal amortized a six meter distance over the course of a couple thousand of kilometers.

"Besides, we're going there to solve the mystery of where that little red man... er.... Tengu went. We promised Evan," Shaela reminded them.

"Right. We did that alright. Vegas, ready or not here we come!" Barris exclaimed practically diving into the portal first.

"That's another first for you and Barris, Mila. The first time you didn't have to flip a coin to see which one of us was going in first," Sato remarked, after which he quickly stepped into the portal almost as excited as they were.

"I'll help Ferghal through. Its a bit rough the first time, no innuendo intended," Mila grabbed Ferghal's hand and guided him into the portal.

"Just take a deep breath and try not to panic in the dark between the two openings and whatever you do, if you feel sick on the other end, don't be vomit shy," Shaela said blandly, far removed from her first experience traversing a portal.

Ferghal disappeared into the portal.

"You have such a way with words Shaela," Nelony turned to address her friend, as Shaela practically pushed her into the portal.

"Nature girl always dilly-dallies when she's on the red carpet while someone else is holding the door," Shaela said, looking directly at the camera just before she stepped into the portal.

Ferghal emerged, stumbling as Mila held onto his hand firmly. He fell to the ground which at this point was a pool of water, grasping at his torso, heaving heavily as the last of his food emerged into the pond.

"So which one of us is going to break the news to Shaela that she channeled us all the way to Lake Tahoe?" Barris responded sarcastically, his feet already soaked through his shoes.

Sato took a look around, as his eyes adjusted to the bright lights and saw that much of the water wasn't falling from the sky. Instead. it was shooting straight up into the air in a large circle around them as multi-coloured lights danced around them.

"This isn't a pond..." Mila realized.

"Or a puddle," Nelony added.

"Eeerrrghawwrgh!" Ferghal added, bits of half digested food dripping from his mouth.

"Its a fountain," Shaela said, having heard them from inside of the portal.

"And then some," Sato agreed, taking the chance to run through the upward flying water.

On the other side, he met another wall of water, this time falling down from where it was arced some twenty meters in front of them. He trudged through the water taking high steps finally making it to the last wall as Barris guided Mila and Ferghal behind him.

"bloolp! bloolip!" a fish in the pond addressed Nelony.

She floated up into the air upon the fish's suggestion, as most of the fish had only seen birds this far in.

She floated above the jets of water, landing outside of the fountain, only her boots and lower pants dripping with water.

Shaela emerged looking very much like a drenched and humiliated cat, her hair matted down flat against the running foundation, eyeliner and lipstick of her face.

Thankfully it was late enough in the evening that most tourists were inside dispensing their holiday fortunes to one-armed bandits, roulette wheels and black jack tables.

Mila took a moment, her hand still clinging to Barris' to look around at the incredible structures and architecture of the casinos and hotels surrounding them.

"Caesar's Palace... What a romantic joy to behold," Mila said, sneaking in a quick kiss on Barris' nose.

"If our luck were a tad bit better, it would have been called Caligula's and we'd be naked together in a steam bath house showering each other in body spanning kisses," Barris responded, wasting no time to enjoy the moment.

"There's always tomorrow?" Mila responded invitingly, drawing circles on the center of Barris' chest with her finger nails.

Ferghal, who was now leaning on Sato's shoulder, leaned over sideways and projectile vomitted barely missing Shaela's boots.

"...sorry..." he said weakly.

"You would have been had it hit," Shaela responded, wiping dripping water and eyeliner from her face.

"I'm sorry, but I have no idea how you could ever get used to that..." Ferghal said, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, as Sato turned his head away in the other direction.

Mila giggled, looking at their state. Nelony followed suit, the only other one besides Barris who was enjoying themself.

"Alright. I can't bear to see them like this..." Mila said, turning away from Barris as she wove a strong and warm desert wind from the night sky. The charged air flowed around them, instantly drying their clothing and skin, almost to the bone.

Mila waved her hand, and Shaela's original make-up returned with a few additional artistic touches Mila had included.

"There is that better?" she asked them.

"Much," Sato thanked her.

Shaela laughed a bit herself.

"Seeing as you fixed the situation, I can share a laugh with you too," Shaela thanked Mila in her own way.

"So where are we going Ferghal?" asked Barris.

"The radio station is towards the downtown quarter, near the rest of the infrastructure. Its a bit of a walk from what I recall in the articles I've read about the place, but it shouldn't take us long as long as we go directly," Ferghal advised them, patting his stomach a few times to test its stability.

He gagged once aggressively, Sato jumping back nearly six feet away to avoid the spray.

"Just kidding," Ferghal smiled.

They began their trek along the Vegas strip, more taking in sights than watching where they were going.

"Certainly much more grand than that video game we played..." Barris remarked upon seeing another palace-like hotel.

"Certainly reminds me of a friend," Shaela said upon seeing the Sphinx statue outside of the Luxor Hotel And Casino.

"She has a thing for cats," Sato explained to Ferghal.

"My wife and I used to have several of them before she..." Ferghal cut himself off, still sensitive of the more painful memories.

"You lived with her in New York right? What was your favourite place to go together?" asked Mila, holding Barris' hand.

"Coney Island, especially the Ferris Wheel. We used to go there and share a hot dog, with real dijon moustard and sauer kraut. Then we'd take our ice cream on the Ferris Wheel, and one time when it wasn't it crowded, I paid the ride operator to stop it when we were at the top, and I got down on my one knee and proposed to her right there," Ferghal's mind drifted back thirty-five years to the mid nineteen-eighties.

"Wouldn't you know it but while she was holding both of our ice cream cones as I struggled to open the case, one of them fell right onto the ring when I'd gotten it opened," he smiled, laughing aloud.

"She leaned in towards the case and began eating the ice cream directly from it. Well, I couldn't help but laughing but I was certainly not going to let that moment go to waste, so I began eating it from the other side. When we finished it, we reached the ring together," Ferghal's smile only grew, as Mila's hand tightened around Barris'.

"She cleaned it with her mouth, careful not to swallow it of course, kissing me and depositing it with her tongue into my mouth. Then she looked me in the eyes and said yes," Ferghal's eyes misted over as he recalled the pinnacle of his life.

"Its been kind a hard to top that moment, but we certainly made a go of it... before she..." Ferghal looked down, his tears dripping silently to the sidewalk.

Mila looked at Barris as they walked. He remained silent out of respect for Ferghal and the memory he'd just shared. Then he looked to Mila, and appreciated the moment to its fullest. She looked to him, and their eyes remained fixed upon each other's, as they spoke volumes to each other in the language of romance.

Nelony had pulled a large stash of bio-degradable tissues from her jacket and began wiping her eyes.

"These are the moments in other people's lives that Nelony lives for," Shaela said sarcastically but lovingly in her own way.

"Don't we all?" asked Mila, still focused on Barris.

She then spied the sidewalk ahead, turning quickly to Barris, slapping her hand across his eyes, keeping them covered.

"That's it, isn't it?" asked Mila of Ferghal.

Ferghal saw the sign: Shore To Shore AM Radio, and nodded his head.

"That it would be," he replied, picking up the pace slightly despite his aging body.

"So what gives? Is it a surprise?" Barris responded, his subconscious already preparing to brace itself for the approaching trauma.

"Just a little bit more..." Mila continued to guide him.

Ferghal opened the door for them as Mila steered Barris blindly through the entryway and into the reception lobby where she sat him down in a chair, and quietly sang a tender lullabye.

A few moments later, he was snoozing, his head leaning forward slightly as he dozed.

"That takes care of that. So who do we talk to?" asked Mila of Ferghal, who was already approaching the reception desk with Sato, Nelony and Shaela.

"Hi, we'd like to talk to..." Ferghal began.

"Ferghal?" a tall moustachioed man stepped out from a door behind the reception desk, as the receptionist turned to face him.

"Hi George. How've you been?" asked Ferghal, his crow's feet easily visible with his friendly smile.

"It's been a while..." George responded, holding his hand out for a firm shake from his old friend.

Tripod Tribulation

Benjamin kept himself close to the walls of the corridor, Athandra just behind him as they did their best to remain concealed. On the other side of the corridor, Xenshi, now almost completely translucent, scouted ahead of them in the wide berth of halls within the craft.

"This is not unlike the halls of the Sanctum, albeit somewhat more technical than mystical," Benjamin said quietly to Athandra as they kept their cover moving forward.

"...or the interior of a tremendous Vimana, whose origins stem from both?" Athandra offered, drawing upon the ancient history of her culture.

"I think I can see the other portal!" Xenshi's whisper emerged louder than their banter.

Benjamin stopped their advance, Athandra peering out from behind his shoulder.

"I think I can see it... almost behind that automaton contraption!" Athandra directed Benjamin's eyesight to one of the branches of the corridor network some two hundred meters (or two hundred and twenty yards) away.

Benjamin's eyes did their best to converge on that distance, through his bespectacled eyes.

"Well I'll be. That's it, but what's that other... thing in front of it?" Benjamin relieved that his sight hadn't yet abandoned him.

"It seems to be studying the portal," Athandra suggested.

Benjamin looked to the other side of the corridor, now unable to find Xenshi.

"Where did she...?" Benjamin thought aloud, as he squinted in his attempt to find Xenshi.

"She's investigating!" Athandra spotted the glimmer of Xenshi's aura as she floated quickly towards the portal, and the automaton studying it.

Benjamin began advancing, more quickly and frantically than they had thus far, Athandra still clinging to his suit jacket as they did.

When they arrived at a 'Y' junction in the hall, they took the left corridor, continuing on towards the other portal, the automaton still oblivious to their advance.

They ceased their movement forward when they were within sixty-six meters, seeing that Xenshi had stopped at half that distance.

They watched the automaton for some time, as it circled the portal, which stood nearly in the center of the corridor. Occasionally, the automaton would get too close to the event horizon of the portal, where it would immediately back up several meters, a puzzled series of clicks emerging from it.

"Sounds like an old Telegraph station," Benjamin observed of its only audible quality.

The automaton itself had three legs, which emerged from a central spherical pod, atop which three smaller concentric spheres were perched. They revolved around a central axis atop of the sphere, appearing to function as sensory organs.

The automaton's legs where equipped with another sphere at the end point, where its feet would have been. These other spheres contained within the leg much like the ball in a ball point pen.

"I don't think it has a front or a back," Athandra reasoned.

"...and despite that fact, it still can't see the portal, in the same way we can't see a breeze but we can feel it," Benjamin concluded.

"We need to distract it, so we can get to the portal, get back to Aerth and find help from the Sanctum," Athandra urged Benjamin, who searched his pockets for anything he could use for such a purpose.

"In the day and age of electronic money, pocket change has become an extinct species..." Benjamin realized, coming up with nothing he could discard to distract the automaton.

He felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned slightly to face Athandra and she handed him a sizeable button.

"Where'd you get this?" Benjamin asked her.

"Your tailor. It seems she sewed one to the lower back of your jacket. An extra you could say," Athandra smiled, dropping the button into his hand.

"Thank you. Where some elements of our way of life disappear as we step forth into the future, others find their utility in remarkable new ways," Benjamin smiled, turning back to face the automaton once again.

He drew his arm back as if he were about to throw a football, aiming carefully for a point beyond the portal down the corridor from it. He then threw it as hard and far as he could.

The button bounced off the wall of the corridor, then rebounded as if it had picked up some energy, hitting the other side before its momentum was instantly expended as if some hidden force had intervened. From there it fell to the floor without a single bounce.

On the first impact, it had made a considerably loud sound, the automaton's three spheres spinning to focus on the source. It ignored the portal, rolling around it in the direction of the button, scanning the walls and floor for the source of noise.

Xenshi, Athandra and Benjamin immediately ran for the portal event horizon, the automaton suddenly stopping, its motion now on an intercept course with Benjamin.

Despite its size, which was a meter taller than Benjamin, it moved rapidly and precisely, and yet seemingly without acceleration or momentum. As if it instantly achieved its top speed upon needing it.

It stopped just short of them, blocking the way to the portal, clicking rapidly in a patterned emission of agitated sound.

Xenshi floated protectively between Athandra, Benjamin and the automaton, though it seemed not to notice her.

It advanced suddenly as it had before, passing through Xenshi as if she simply were not there, immediately grasping Benjamin by his hands with two of its arms, which emerged from the central pod of its torso. The third arm kept Athandra at bay, each arm clasping precisely with three prehensile fingers.

The excitement did little to sap his energy, as his new heart easily handled the task of keeping his circulation and metabolic rate at a peak level. He used this newfound energy that had somehow empowered his aging body to lift his legs and kick at the three spheres atop of the automaton's central pod.

The first kick did little to distract the tripod as it contended with Athandra. The second kick however set the tripod off balance enough that it had to let go of one of Benjamin's arms to maintain its stance.

Athandra had managed in that time to make it around the tripod and closer to the portal. With Benjamin's distraction, she leapt for the portal, only for the automaton to catch one of her feet with its now two free arms.

It dangled her nearly upside down as she clung to its arm, struggling to get her foot free.

Xenshi did everything she could to affect the tripod, but her body simply did not interact with any of the matter that made up the automaton's body, or the corridors of the craft. She might as well have been a beam of light or the shadow it cast, as she could only be seen and heard. She could not physically interfere.

Suddenly, the portal flared and sparked as another person emerged from it. A party guest with a bag of gifts in hand stepped out into the corridor.

"Sorry to be the source of a disposition to you, but in our current predicament, we could use a bit of intervention!" Benjamin exclaimed as he struggled to get his one hand free of the tripod's arm.

Ms. Hue Van dropped the bag of gifts, noticing that Xenshi was nearly intangible to the tripod as she struggled to free her friends.

Ms. Hue Van's hands began the dance of the weave, a stream of aether pouring out of the portal to fuel her craft. Xenshi began glowing, suddenly becoming solid and corporeal and consequently falling to the floor with a thud.

At the same time, the tripod had suddenly become intangible, Athandra's foot and Benjamin's hand immediately passing through its grip as they too joined Xenshi on the floor.

Meanwhile, without its solidity, the tripod suddenly passed through the floor of the corridor, and the one beneath that, eventually exiting the craft altogether and disappearing into the space of geostationary orbit, well beyond the grip of gravity or momentum.

"Well, that couldn't have been better timed," Benjamin spoke, breathing with a slight exertion as he helped Athandra and Xenshi to their feet.

"Is this your idea of a joke?" Ms. Hue Van responded, picking up the gifts that had spilled out of the bag she'd dropped.

"Hardly. These... tripods crashed Mila's Holiday party!" Athandra explained to Ms. Hue Van.

"I'm no longer a Spirit Lady!" Xenshi exclaimed, both joyed and shock over the sudden change.

"Yes you are. This is only temporary as it is for the tripod, who by the time it returns to its original state will have long since expired I assume..." Ms. Hue Van explained.

"...which brings me to my first question. Where are we?" asked Ms. Hue Van.

"We are as far as I can tell, on a space craft of some measure, though not one from NASA or the ESA..." Benjamin answered.

"Or India and Malaysia..." Athandra added.

"Or China either..." Xenshi revealed.

"If what you're saying is true, then who's craft is this vessel and how did we get here?" asked Ms. Hue Van.

"We don't know, and we were were inhaled into it through a beam of light," Athandra answered this time.

"Well... alright. Where should I put these gifts I gathered for charity?" asked Ms. Hue Van, somewhat inconvenienced by their answers as she picked up the bag of gifts.

"Bring them with you, we need to go find help..." Benjamin spoke as the portal began to spark and fizzle again.

"Oh do I have a surprise for... Mila? Barris?" Bella emerged from the portal as its death throes caused it to spew lightning as it shrank.

With a lound clap, the portal collapsed in on itself, disappearing altogether.

"Did I break something?" asked Bella in a classy Gypsy dress and cloak, turning around to see what had happened to the portal.

"Ms. Hue Van had to save us only moments ago from certain tragedy, and that must have used all of the aether that was maintaining that portal," Benjamin surmised given the evidence.

"Well I'll just summon another..." Ms. Hue Van said impatiently, dropping the bag of gifts once again as she attempted to weave a new spatial portal.

"There's no aether here to power the weave. This craft somehow blocks it..." Athandra explained to Ms. Hue Van, whose face became a frown of frustration.

"So how do we get back?" Ms. Hue Van asked them.

"The other portal. The one we emerged from," Benjamin suggested, only marginally aware of how thaumaturgy might be possible in the Prime Plane of existence.

"That portal was a temporary storage space for us to coordinate the logistics of keeping Mila's buffet filled with food and storing the wine," Xenshi reminded them.

"Well maybe we can repurpose it? Turn it into a passage between points rather than just a pocket of space in another plane?" Athandra suggested.

"If we alter it, we might use up the aether maintaining it and lose it too!" Xenshi warned them.

"We have to try something! At least to get help to rescue our friends!" Ms. Hue Van picked up the gifts, beginning to walk in the wrong direction.

"Its that way, Ms. Hue Van," Athandra pointed in the correct direction.

"Which way do I go, and who do I follow to get to the holiday party?" asked Bella.

Xenshi pointed to Benjamin, who in turn was pointing to Athandra, who pointed to Ms. Hue Van who'd turned and was now walking in the correct direction.

"Don't look at me, I'm just following this corridor!" Ms. Hue Van remarked as she strode off in the direction towards the only remaining portal.

George And The Recipe For Interdimensional Travel

Ferghal and George had talked for a time, catching up on each other's lives before George inquired about Mila, Shaela, Nelony and Sato.

"Well, you see George, my friends here are doing a bit of research for a new book about the possibility of time... portals, and we need to review an old episode of Shore To Shore AM. The one in which you interviewed a time traveller who'd shared detailed information about the energies involved with manipulating time," Ferghal explained to his old friend.

"Its going to be a short book..." Mila improvised.

"A pamphlet actually," Shaela added.

"More like a handout. You know, where we hang around on a busy street and hand out these flyers?" Nelony embellished.

"Yes, our investor agrees that there's a future in time travel," Sato joked, though it came out so dry that none of them could tell whether he was being truthful or sarcastic.

"You're doing a book, that's more like a pamphlet-" George was cut off.

"Flyer. A handout," Nelony cut in.

"...a flyer you're going to hand out on the streets. Alright. As it just so happens, a curious fellow with a grovely voice called me on the listener lines just a few days ago, asking about the very same thing," George told them.

"Oh really?" asked Mila, looking to Shaela and Nelony.

"Curious," Shaela remarked.

"Ferghal, because you're an old friend, I'm going to trust you and give you access to the archived episodes, mind you, you really outta get yourself a subscription to Shore To Shore AM... once you get on your feet again," George reminded Ferghal.

"Oh Thank you George!" Mila said, jumping up and giving George a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"Glad to be of assistance, but next time, you should really call and make an appointment," George said, being polite but professional.

"Anyway, I have to get ready for tonight's show, but I'll show you to one of our workstations here, where you can look up the information yourself. There's a printer nearby just in case you need a hard copy, and there's a coffee and drinks machine right there. Help yourselves," George led them to the computer they'd be using to review the archived episodes.

"Thank you ever so much!" Mila said once again, full of affection as another lady with a tablet came walking into the area.

"George, the receptionist says there's a strange man sitting in reception, fast asleep mumbling something about Santa..." the lady spoke in an assertive, business-like manner.

"This is my Program Director Arlene. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that would you?" asked George of Ferghal and his new friends.

"Oh, that funny and cute looking man? Oh he's with us. He likes to have afternoon naps, and he dreams a lot when he does. Speaks in his sleep too. Oh its the cutest thing..." Mila explained to them.

"So he's with you? Alright, I'll tell the receptionist not to call the cops on him to have him put out then. Oh, and George, when you've got a second, we need to go over the schedule for tonight's show?" Arlene said, looking to George for her question.

"I'll leave you to do your research. It was nice seeing you again Ferghal," with that, George left with Arlene.

"So who's driving?" asked Shaela, pointing to the computer.

"Ferghal?" Mila asked their new friend.

"So that's a computer! Wow, totally not like I thought it would be..." Ferghal said, immediately answering their question for them.

"Shaela? Nelony? Sato?" asked Mila.

"I'm all internet radio and Netflix. Unless you can find it on Google or Bing, I'm helpless," Shaela admitted.

"Pretty much the same for me, but I'm more a BBC Earth fan. When it comes to anything else on a computer, I'm lost," Nelony explained to them.

"I spend most of my internet time watching classic Japanese movies or reading haiku. I doubt I'd be much help," Sato shook his head.

"I guess that leaves me. Uh, I know a bit, but not as much as sleeping beauty out in the reception area. I'll give it a try," Mila sat down at the desk and grabbed the mouse.

As it turned out, the archives were all organized under a web page, and were searchable by keyword or date.

"Let's try searching time travel, from say around 1998," Ferghal suggested to Mila, already picking up on the computer as he examined the screen.

"Alright," Mila typed in the search criteria and hit the search button.

Less than a second later, the screen listed about ten entries with a time travel topic occurring before 1998.

"There it is!" Mila said, pointing at the screen upon seeing the name: *John Torti*.

"That's it. That's his name. He was definitely the one. He shared information with diagrams about the specific energies needed to accomplish time travel," Ferghal explained as Mila clicked the link to the archive.

The next page displayed a series of thumbnail images of his diagrams beneath the three audio streams that made up John Torti's part on the episode.

Mila clicked to start the first audio stream, and then on the first thumbnail. The first diagram indicated the basic concepts of dimensionality, with our three dimensions of space and a fouth dimension of time.

"I don't know the science of it, but that's essentially how our portals work," Nelony explained as she saw the diagram.

"Like you're the expert, having portaled us into a running waterfall once..." Shaela reminded Nelony of the early days.

"I seem to recall you as being the one who came up with those directions!" Nelony responded.

"Well, regardless, it took us a week to dry everything in our dorm as the room had become filled to the ceiling with water," Shaela shook her head recalling those times.

"So what's this about that he's saying about pleroma?" asked Mila.

"The pleroma is not the real pleroma... an old saying. Greek I think," Ferghal responded.

"And...?" asked Mila.

"The Tao is not the true Tao. An old Japanese man like myself recalling old Chinese texts..." responded Sato.

"Pleroma is a concept used to describe something beyond description. By trying to describe it, you're actually taking yourself further away from understanding it," Ferghal explained to them.

"Much like Tao then, I'd imagine. Something infinite cannot be fit into a finite description," Sato added.

"So in a way its like my paintings. My paintings represent what I see in my head, but they fall short by a long shot of what's in there. They're the best I can do to represent those images on a canvas," Mila agreed.

"According to this next image, we have to somehow twist this concept around so that the pleroma energy becomes its own representation and vice versa," Mila said, squinting at the screen as she thought about it.

"Between the two a harmony. Between that which can't be described and that description which can't be really made," Nelony grasped for a brief moment.

"Wait, that sounds a lot like the aether to me," Shaela reasoned.

"Its true. It seems to possess these qualities..." Nelony added.

"And potential! That's it. Its potential!" Mila suddenly realized.

"A harmony between what is and what isn't. What was and what will be..." Sato added his own piece.

"The key to time travel!" Ferghal's eyes shined with realization.

"This... potential. It could be woven just like any other weave. These spirals of motion he's pictured here could simply be motions of the hand during the weave!" Mila said, suddenly realizing that she'd be the only one of them who could actually do this.

The only problem being that she was struggling with her skills at weaving portals. A skill that was mandatory to any such attempt as this.

"We're going to have to do this portal together," Mila said boldly.

"What?! Are you insane? That's certain death!" Nelony said in amazement and disbelief.

"I'm with Nelony on that. Sheer madness," Shaela agreed.

"Its the only way! I don't have the skills that you two have with creating portals. I'm the only one of us that has the skills required to do this weave here. The time weave. We have to work together, or this is the end of our journey," Mila told them.

"Were you at the class where Yirfir told us never to ever attempting weaving a portal together. Ever. Were you?" asked Nelony.

"I think I was..." Mila recalled.

"You were sick for the entire two weeks of class we studied portals and how to correctly and safely, and I underline *safely* weave them," Shaela reminded Mila.

"I was working on my exam piece for school, a rendition of a plague stricken village when I accidentally channeled energies from the painting onto myself. That wasn't a walk in the park I might add!" Mila recalled.

"Three weeks in isolation, telling my own parents that I'd come down with the flu, while I concocted my own cure with another painting. All while I was deathly ill. The most sick I've ever been," Mila explained to them.

"So now after having missed the entire training on portal weaving you want to break every rule there is about weaving them, including the most important rule. Never combine!" Nelony scolded Mila.

"I seem to remember a lesson Yirfir taught us where we were challenged to question her authority, when what she'd asked of us was unfair. Unjust. Do you remember that? That was tantamount to our passing grade. In other words, without it, we'd have had to wait months to take another test. Do you?" asked Mila.

"How could we forget. That was at our graduation dinner. The night we had to rescue Yirfir..." Nelony thought back to that night.

"Well you two are very different from the young Wytches I seem to remember. The ones who liked to push the limits..." Mila said to them deviously.

"Are you saying we're becoming..." Shaela became defensive.

"Routine. Set in your ways. Unable to improvise. Unable to take risks," Mila said to them.

"How dare you!" Nelony responded, nearly on the edge of tears.

"That's low Mila. Especially for you," Shaela shook her head.

"So? Are you the adventurous Wytches I seem to remember, or are you just going to give up?" asked Mila, once again smiling deviously.

"Oh alright! I'll do it!" Nelony said angrily.

"I was already with you from the beginning. I just wanted to see Nelony sweat this one out," Shaela smiled at her friend, who hit the taller girl's shoulder.

"Now let's go get Barris, make our way out into the desert and summon ourselves a time portal! Shall we?" asked Mila.

Lost In The Knot

Ms. Hue Van trudged on purposefully, her gift bags still in hand as Xenshi, Athandra and Benjamin followed closely behind her. Her step was firm and pronounced by the frustration of having been detoured from the holiday party onto this mysterious vessel somewhere in space.

"Would you like me to carry those for you?" asked Benjamin politely, purely out of his concern for the elderly woman, but his words further agitated a woman who'd been used to hard work for most of her life.

She picked up her pace, her lips pursing tightly as she approached another junction.

"Its straight ahead... Isn't it?" asked Athandra, perplexed by the intersecting corridor that had presented this choice to them.

"I don't seem to remember passing this one," Benjamin suggested, looking over to Bella.

"Don't ask me. I've never been here. You think that because I'm a Gypsy that I might know?" asked Bella, slightly confrontationally never having met Benjamin.

"I'm sorry M'aam, but I don't know you. I was just trying to be polite," Benjamin told Bella.

"Then don't try. Be polite. I have a good feeling about this direction. I don't know if its right, but something tells me we should go this way," Bella corrected Benjamin.

"That's a good sign then, it means we're on the right track!" Ms. Hue Van trudged onward, seeing another slightly different junction just ahead.

"I don't remember any of this. Are you sure we're...?" Xenshi began, her words ceased when she realized Ms. Hue Van was not interested.

They arrived at the second junction, completely bewildered as to where they were by this point.

"Maybe if we back track?" Xenshi suggested.

Ms. Hue Van pushed her way between them back the way they'd came. She trudged on arriving at the same junction, only this time it appeared slightly different than it had last time, with the addition of another corridor making it a five way intersection.

"Wasn't this a four way intersection before?" asked Benjamin.

"Would you like to lead?!" Ms. Hue Van said, frustrated and agitated.

"I'm merely suggesting that something is different," Benjamin offered.

"He's right. We've obviously gone the correct route yet ended up in a different place," Athandra reasoned with Ms. Hue Van.

"Maybe we're seeing the same junction from a different angle?" asked Xenshi.

"A brilliant deduction, but I checked as we traversed it, and what I saw was only four possible different routes. This one clearly has five," Benjamin assured them.

From the fifth corridor, Xushu trudged into view, pointing at them and laughing cruelly.

"Ha! I knew you'd be lost! All of you fools!" Xushu said, bending over and slapping his knee as he laughed at them, Xenshi, his sister smiling at him.

"We're not lost. You found us," Xenshi offered.

"You're in the knot. The knot is a... bizarre place. You dig?" a strangely familiar voice asked them.

Athandra looked around for the source of the voice, but saw nothing. Ms. Hue Van, Xenshi, Benjamin and Xushu followed suit, finding no sign or any person or thing that had produced it.

"There's something familiar about it," Ms. Hue Van said, looking around.

"I can't help but agree. Its a strange feeling of deja vu," Benjamin agreed with Ms. Hue Van.

"Me too! I don't know where, but I've heard that voice before..." Bella added.

"It shakes me up too, but I still get through. Can you see where this party's goin?" asked the voice again from behind them.

They all turned slowly, recognizing the voice simultaneously.

They were greeted by a glowing and fluctuating visage. Ms. Hue Van's jaw dropped open first. Then Athandra's. Then Xenshi's. Certainly Bella's. Benjamin's too.

"You! No, it couldn't be! You're... you're..." Xushu began.

A Little Bit Of Love At Midnight In The Desert

Mila only an hour earlier had etched a night dome around them, and through it they could see the brilliance of the late evening twilight nearly as well as day and in the full palette colours of an artist's eyes.

They'd continued on by foot in their trek across the desert, shortly after having been dropped off by a taxi-van they'd asked to take them to wild.

The taxi driver had barely flinched when they'd made that request of him, which eased them all a great deal rather than having to explain why a group of six people would want to be dropped off at night in the middle of a desert.

Ferghal was the first to reason that it might be a bad sign, especially if many other people had made a similar trip as the one they were currently taking.

After walking in the night under Mila's dome, they eventually reasoned that such logic was probably unfounded and that he was merely a taxi driver who'd likely seen much in the night life of sin city.

"Its difficult to phase a man who has seen it all," Sato offered as they walked.

"So long as the majorify of what they've seen isn't traumatic," Ferghal added, his perspective coming from an area of familiarity that none of them had.

"What in sin city could be traumatizing about a group of six people wanting a fare to the middle of the desert at midnight?" asked Barris, almost sarcastically.

They stopped to marvel at a shooting star as it streaked across a night sky filled with stars, fully visible under Mila's dome.

"A lot a people probably come here... maybe on a soul searching journey?" Mila replied to her beau.

"There is something mystical about being in the desert. There's a remarkable amount of little critters around us right now," Nelony added, her ears well tuned to their chatter from around them.

"What do they say, Nelony?" asked Mila.

"What do you mean?" Nelony clarified with Mila.

"I mean the wildlife around here. All the things you can hear and understand that we can't. What do they say in their chatter?" asked Mila, honestly curious.

Nelony looked to Shaela, who looked back at her friend.

"Go on. I'd like to know too," Shaela nodded in agreement with Mila's question.

"Well. They mostly go about their own business, until we get close. When we're near enough that they perceive us, they begin chattering as you say," Nelony began.

"So what do they have to say about us?" asked Sato.

"Well, sometimes its warnings to their siblings. Other times, they bicker over whether we're a danger or not. Some of the more astute ones make fun of us, and sometimes its pretty funny and humbling. Others argue about whether we have food for them or not. Often birds or squirrels," Nelony paused.

"Go on," Barris said, pushing Mila and himself closer to Nelony as they walked.

"Some of them want to run out of fear. A sort of terror they have of anything and everything that isn't their kind. Its very disconcerting, but I understand its for their own survival. 

"Like Thawn... from the Watership Down?" said Barris.

"The Watership What?" asked Mila.

"The book. The Watership Down. About the rabbits," Barris explained.

"Oh you have to tell us about this," Nelony urged her friend.

"Alright. In the book the Watership Down, animals talk to each other and they have names for things that only they would understand. Like Thawn," Barris began.

"Alright, stop it with the dramatics, what is thawn?" asked Shaela.

"Are you sure you want to know? Even Stephen King was interested enough in it to write about it in one of his books," asked Barris.

"As long as J.K. Rowling is Queen, I'd like to know..." Nelony urged Barris.

"Alright, but don't say I didn't warn you," Barris shrugged casually as he began explaining it to them.

"Thawn, is the moment when a deer's eyes meet the headlights of an oncoming car. Like staring into the eyes of a monster, and it surrenders to its own demise, rooted, unable to move..." Barris said to them solemnly.

"There really is a Thawn then," Nelony nodded, knowing exactly to what Richard Adams and Barris were referring to because it really did exist in the lives of animals.

"That's dismal!" Shaela said to Barris, smiling somewhat flirtatiously, revealing the true goth within her.

"Not so much so, because Thawn also refers to the moment you meet your life mate. When your eyes become locked with theirs, and you just know," Barris added.

" the oncoming headlights of a tractor trailer before it pummels through your life..." Sato joked.

Mila burst out laughing, then Shaela ever so slightly. Meanwhile, Ferghal was amazed by the both descriptions of the word, having lived them both very thoroughly.

"So what else do animals have to say in their night chatter about us?" asked Shaela.

"Well. There are some, usually the bigger more predatorial ones who look at us and wonder whether we are food or not..." Nelony offered them.

"And what do you tell them?" asked Shaela.

"Those ones, who look at us and wonder if they can eat us? Nothing. Truth be told, they look at everything that way. When I hear them, I know why the ones who run from everything are the way that they are," asked Nelony of them.

"The Truth of all animals is, that some of them argue and bicker. Some of them are quite friendly. Some of them don't feel comfortable unless they're in a pack. Others don't feel right unless they're alone. Some of them are outright vicious, while others are outright friendly. They all have a reason for the way they are. All in all, I'd say they're remarkably like us," Nelony smiled, looking up into the night and taking in a great breath of desert air.

"Can you feel it?" asked Shaela of Mila.

"I can. This is it," Mila agreed.

"Its very thick here, the aether," Nelony instantly caught on to their line of thought.

"Then this is where we summon the portal," Mila stopped, looking around for land marks as a reference to their spatial centeredness.

"Do you mind if I sit down and watch? I had friends who were hippies. Genuinely nice people they were. I've never seen commune stuff before," Ferghal said, sitting down flat on the dry desert turf and watching as they prepared.

"Actually Ferghal, we need you for this to work," Mila told him.

"You do?" he said in amazement.

"We do," Mila nodded, shifting his position slightly.

"Now hold your arms out by your side, away from your body and try not to move. More so though, try to keep a clear mind," Mila instructed Ferghal.

"Barris, you're here. The same thing. Sato, you too but over here," Mila directed them to their positions as the Wytches prepared for their summoning ritual.

"Relax Mila. Yirfir always told us that being centered, especially before summoning any kind of portal was tantamount to success. Being at peace *is* being a true shaper of the weave. No matter the craft," Shaela told Mila, her hand on Mila's shoulder.

"You're about to get a lesson from two experts in portal summoning," Nelony smiled as she took her place in their mini-circle, Mila in their center.

"Alright then. Let's begin..." Mila began as Sato interrupted.

"Sorry... sorry, but I just couldn't help but wonder how Happiu~Isuka is faring without me," Sato admitted, showing some concern for his pet pug.

"Same here. I'm ever so curious about how Little Spec and and Big Spec, my two house cats are doing," Shaela admitted.

"Anyone else with the house pets before we get started here on this very serious and dangerous use of the weave?" asked Mila, suddenly experiencing stage fright.

"My pet budgie, Aura, always sings a tune around this time in the night. A quick one. A few notes, but I honestly can't sleep without having heard it," Nelony admitted to them.

"Are we alright?" asked Mila assuringly of her friends.

No answer came from them, and Mila's dome disappeared and the magnificence of the night sky hit them as the light of trillions of stars found its way to their circle.

"The air we breath, the light we see. Everything has a between," Mila began.

"The sky above, the ground beneath. The middle powers do bequeath," Mila continued as she moved her arms rapidly and fluently through the air, shaping an unseen energy.

"The body keeps the mind within. The two in grace of virtue's kin. Uphold them we do, yet both without name. We only know they're both the same," Mila continued her summoning as the air thickened with glowing energy.

"Space about us, distance frought. Time without us, distance nought. The two though different, are the same, like those two virtues we do claim," Mila's eyes both closed as she shaped a circular portal above them.

"Time is space, and space is time. The singularity's mystery is our rhyme," Mila felt the aether of time flowing through her hands, and it tingled in a way that spatial aether never had.

She nearly began laughing, it tickled her so much, and then it became hot as the sun, and she struggled to keep its fires at bay.

Ferghal opened his eyes, and saw an enormous fissure above them. An opening into time and space. A tunnel that spiraled into infinity through the stars of the night sky. 

Strangely enough, looking up at this wonder, he felt a sudden and unrelenting bout of vertigo. As if he were atop a tall building looking down. His stomach churned and he struggled to keep his stance.

Mila noticed that they were pushed to their very limits in the circle, and she pushed herself as she'd never done before. She grasped hold of the edges of the time and space portal, twisting it around vertically to the desert turf.

She then twisted it in a dimension that cannot be described, for she essentially turned it inside out through a measure we cannot perceive. The portal folded several times from eleven dimensions to become solidified in our three of space, and one of time.

The portal stabilized before them, sparkling with the light of the night sky, though it stood vertically facing them like a mirror.

It suddenly burped air outward at first, and then violently began inhaling the desert air around them.

Their hair began pouring towards the portal as its voracious appetite tried to consume the barometric pressure difference of nearly seventy years.

The air moved rapidly, as tumble weeds around them began pouring into the portal one by one. 

"We have to jump in and close it from the other side!" Shaela screamed at Mila as sand, dirt and stone flew, pummeling them on its way to the portal.

Barris opened one eye, struggling to maintain his stance. When he heard them say they had to go in, he just acted.

"Alright! I'm first!" he yelled as he dove into the portal, ignoring the women altogether, protectively.

Sato's one eye opened, and before anyone could say or do anything, he dove into the portal behind Barris.

Ferghal, suddenly the only man left, looked around quizzically.

"I guess that's my queue?" he said before running and jumping into the portal, which sucked him in readily.

"Mila, go next!" Shaela urged her friend as cacti and larger fauna began tumbling towards the growing opening in time and space.

Mila wasted no time and jumped into the portal, being readily sucked up, perfume fragrance and all.

"Go Nelony!" Shaela demanded as she kept the portal from growing, her knowledge of portal craft far in excess.

"Alright! But don't you forget we have a rummoli game next week!" Nelony said as she dove into the portal.

Finally, Shaela, staving off the energies of their tremendous portal, braced herself as she folded the portal downwards to encompass her, flat across ground. When it met the desert floor, the air flow was stopped like a plug in a drain.

On the other side of the portal, Shaela fell out into the 1947 Roswell desert air.

Trapped In Orbit

Yirfir sat with her back against the translucent wall behind her. Beside her, Jasmer kept her warm nuzzling up to her.

Kensai and Sir Manfred paced the other side of the, frustrated that neither could remedy the situation by means of their skill or experience.

Morton stood leaning against the wall as Gallea kept examing the walls around them for any means by which they might escape.

Lannay hummed quietly to himself, his voice wavering as the chill started to reach his bones.

Lady Naemi Soon and her husband, Jeong had done much the same as Yirfir and Jasmer. They huddled together to keep warm in the inadequately climate controlled room.

Lady Naemi Soon had become fascinated by the wall, and how when she'd place her hand against it, it would temporarily lose its translucence, as if some miracle of technology within were adjusting to her temperature in some way.

"They must be feeding air into this room, but how? There's no vents," Yirfir suddenly had a brainstorm.

"Osmosis. The walls are likely a semi-permeable membrane of some highly advanced form that allow air in, between the molecules that make up the wall, while the carbon dioxide we exhail exits by the same means," Morton replied, already having given the matter much thought.

"Are all alchemists proficiently fluid conversationalists like yourself?" asked Lannay somewhat sarcastically.

"Conversation is a two way road. I take it you're ready to accept at least half of the blame for what your sarcasm was indicating?" replied Morton without so much as blinking.

"He's got a point, Lannay," Yirfir responded.

"Look!" Lady Naemi pointed to the wall where she'd been plying her hands repeatedly.

Morton squinted from where he was propped against the wall, while Yirfir, Jasmer, Kensai and Sir Manfred moved closer to examine her discovery.

"Not to be rude, but all I see is a slight discolouration..." Kensai remarked.

"Wait, let me try it again!" Lady Naemi pressed her hand against the wall for three seconds, then withdrew it.

She waited a second and then pressed it three times in succession.

For a moment, the wall where she'd pressed her hand glowed and a stream of unrecognizable linguistic characters scrolled across the wall.

"That did it! You've found something! Maybe the pattern you were using?" asked Yirfir.

"If I do the same thing again immediately, it doesn't work. But if I wait for a minute or two, it works," Lady Naemi soon explained to her audience.

"It could be based upon temperature," Gallea said, suddenly turning to acknowledge their discovery.

"Gallea, do you think that you could help them with this?" Morton requested of her.

"As you wish," she replied, immediately directing her attention to the wall where Lady Naemi Soon had discovered the phenomenon.

Her eyes examined the wall in many different spectrums of light and radiation before she deduced what had happened.

"Their systems must operate with a temperature based interface, which would mean that they have the ability to alter their temperature. Both hot or cold," Gallea responded.

"As it would happen, so does Gallea. May I tell them Gallea?" Morton added, a coy smile on his face as he asked her.

"If that is what you wish, I have no foreseeable problems with it," Gallea responded.

"Thank you Gallea. My friend Gallea here is a Golem as some of you already know," Morton explained to them.

"You mean like from the Lord Of The Rings? That little thing scampering around in the dark squealing my precious - my precious..." asked Lannay in shock.

"No, not Gollum from Lord Of The Rings. Gallea is a Golem. An alchemically animated being via what the Sanctum would call Golemcraft," Morton continued his explanation.

"She's not a real person?" asked Lannay.

"Of course she is you buffoon! She's like my daughter! She just needs a little guidance every once in a while, as things that come easy to us, aren't as obvious to her," Morton corrected Lannay while addressing the group.

"Gallea, show them," Morton commanded her.

Gallea held her palm against the wall where Lady Naemi Soon had just discovered the strange writing. She remained still for a moment as her internal chemistry facilitated an alteration of the temperature of her palms.

After about two minutes of holding her hand firm against the wall, she removed it.

"I've made a connection with this space ship's internal intelligence. They seem to communicate via temperature interface. We are being held prisoner here until it is deemed that we are no longer a threat," Gallea explained.

"If only the walls could talk," Morton folded his arms smugly, satisfied by Gallea's discovery.

"They just did," Lady Naemi Soon reminded him.

"My point exactly. Very well done Lady Soon. Gallea," Morton commended them.

"Can you arrange for us to escape?" asked Yirfir.

"The ship's intelligence claims there is no compromise with our imprisonment on this craft. We must remain until we are deemed inert," Gallea told them.

"How long will that take?" asked Jasmer.

"Unknown," Gallea replied.

"Little Lady, I might have an answer to your question," a voice emerged from the air, seemingly from everywhere.

"Alright, now. This is definitely getting a little odd. I think I just heard the voice of..." Sir Manfred began, shaking his head a few times as he rapped it with his hand.

"I heard it too!" Yirfir added.

"Me too. Sounds suspiciously like an impersonator I used to go see with my parents as a child at Akihabara!" Kensai confirmed he'd also heard it.

"We all heard it, except for Gallea. Am I right Gallea?" asked Morton.

"Heard what?" she asked, oblivious about what they might be talking.

"Look, I don't want to step on your blue seude shoes, but we've gotta get movin' or you're gonna be in heartbreak hotel here for good!" the voice spoke again.

"Dancing the jailhouse rock I presume," Jasmer quipped back.

"I couldn't have put it better babe," the familiar voice responded to Jasmer.

A section of the wall suddenly slid open, without seams or hinges, revealing their friends in the corridor beyond.

"We've found you, now we need to find that portal!" Ms. Hue Van greeted them impatiently.

"Athandra!" Kensai smiled upon seeing his friend.

"I am very glad to see you! All of you," Athandra smiled.

"Morton, perhaps you'd like to convince them that our invisible friend here wasn't joking?" asked Benjamin.

"No need to convince us, we're all feet right about now. Isn't that right?" Yirfir looked to everyone in the room, who all nodded in agreement.

"Then follow us cause we know where to go!" Bella announced.

"And we can't go on with suspicious minds!" Xushu barked at them furiously.

"Don't be cruel, Xushu. We'll all leave together without suspicions of each other," Xenshi responded to her brother's remark.

"Gallea, could you take point seeing as you seem to be in possession of something we don't have about our adversaries here," Morton said as he picked up his pace, even without the use of his cane.

"I guess its my turn. Alright. We'll all follow the Hard headed woman," Yirfir agreed to Morton's suggestion.

"If any of you are confused, my dear friend Morton could be referring to Gallea or Ms. Hue Van," Benjamin said as Gallea attempted to pass Ms. Hue Van.

Surprisingly, Ms. Hue Van had little trouble keeping up with her, and instead kept pace beside Gallea.

All's Well In Roswell 

To be continued... 

...and I don't play or own a guitar and never have, but I did get a nice birthday card from my mother in November with a guitar on it for some reason.

Artwork: Amy WongWendy PuseyGhastly, Brian Joseph Johns, Daz3DUnreal Engine...

Tools: Daz3DCorel PainterAdobe PhotoshopLightwave 3DBlender, Borderline Obsession...

Written by Brian Joseph Johns

Special thanks to Humble Bundle and their August 2019 Deep Learning Bundle, which proved to be an immense research tool for the writing of The Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons and A Lady's Prerogative III: Singularity.

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Special thanks to CFNY The Edge Toronto RadioThe New Classical FM (also Toronto based radio), SOMA FM and iHeart Radio for the music that punctuated my efforts to write these books. 

Special thanks to TSR and Wizards Of The Coast, the people who created and developed all the pen and paper RPG elements every young creative mind needs. Their legacy can be experienced in every computer and console FRPG and MMOFRPG that has ever existed. Please note that RPG does not refer to Rocket Propelled Grenade or RePort Generator. It means Real Players are Good ;-)


The Canadian Encyclopedia - Inuit Terms For Snow And Ice

Readable Blog - Do Inuits Really Have 50 Words For Snow? (by writer Laura Kelly)

Wikipedia Entry On Tengu

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