Victims of Willun

Long, long ago, I ran a linear BBS called "The Disputed Borders of the NeverMind". I was the TaleTeller, and in one area the theme was: "You post messages here, maybe give me an idea of your character, and I'll write a story here with you in it." It's a little bit like a forum, only easier to read. Of course people tended to complain when their characters were killed off....

back to NeverMind

Templar Farm, Where Children Play, Madness, Planes and Memories, Snowy Park, I Know the Wind, A Question of How, Sleeping Dragons, I'll Still be Here, Wild Arhia, More Dragons, If I Need You, and For Power, For Love.


He walks through the foggy streets, looking for the sun. Tired and cold. Pausing beneath a hazily glimpsed street lamp, he stares up at the light, and wishes it were brighter.

From behind him there is a sound, the scrape of a boot on pavement. He turns to look, but sees nothing suspicious.

"Mad Hatchet," he murmurs to himself. "You're paranoid."

The buildings have a surreal quality in the dark and fog. Like if you go too close, they'll prove not to be there. He is tempted enough to try once, but it is solid and clammy to his touch. A flicker like disappointment crosses his features. The sound repeats.

He turns, and sees a figure in the fog, standing bravely as if nothing can touch it. Then it fades, and he is left with the impression that it was a ghost. Perhaps brought to his sight by loneliness.

"Is it lonely being dead?" he asks the fog. It swallows up his words and maybe, he thinks, considers them. Moving on down the street with reluctant steps, pausing to stare up, hopeful that the sun will suddenly appear. Feels like all the rest of humanity. Mark Twain said it:

"Never quite sane in the night,"

A woman joins him. Hers is the bootstep he had heard earlier. She is hooded and tall, stepping with a confidence he envies. He knows her, has known her for years. She often walks the streets with him in these moods.

"I thought you were a ghost," he tells her.

Friday smiles at him, a pleased expression. "Perhaps I am. Sometimes I don't feel quite alive,"

"Will you join me for breakfast?" he asks, glancing up again. "There's an all-night coffee shop around the block from here. I don't think we've ever been there,"

She shrugs and takes his arm. "Why not? Someone has to keep you attached to the world,"

Back to Titles


G.R. (or Galaxy Ranger) was lost. His map had led him off the main roads and onto tracks so heavily overgrown that he'd finally had to abandon his car and walk on foot.

"Now," he grumbled to himself. "if I've got it right, the farm should be over that next rise." Then with a wry smile: "If I don't have it right maybe I'll starve to death."

After all, the trail he was on was just too wide to be an animal trail. The farm was supposed to be abandoned, and it sure looked like it was. Unless there were other ways there that weren't on his map. He shoved his way through some underbrush, cursing when blackberry thorns cut him. As revenge he paused to eat some black-berries. Thus it was noon before he reached the top of the rise.

Panting with exertion, he stopped and rubbed his calves. When he glanced up, he was looking into the eyes of a lovely young girl who seemed to have just appeared from nowhere. Not too young, he corrected himself. Not all that younger than me, anyway. He flashed his most charming smile at her.

"Afternoon ma'am. Have I about reached Templar farm?"

"Y'have. Mr. Templar is out in the north field right now. Have y'some business with him?" she asked, seemingly unaffected by his smile.

He eyed her. "Mr. Templar is in the north field...I see. Well, and who are you?"

"I'm Silhy," (Silhouette)

Almost he made a joke about her name. But he realized that wouldn't be a bright idea, not when he had to find out if the farm was really on the market or not.

"Do y'have business w'my brother?" she asked, looking as if he bored her.

"I just might, Silhy. Would you be kind enough to lead me to him?"

She shrugged and walked off. He stared after her, non-plussed, and then followed quickly. She led him through tangled bushes, some looking as if they'd once been shaped like animals. He was just beginning to think she'd lied to him, when they stepped out of the woods into what was presumably the north field.

Fresh new growth, beautiful green and tiny white flowers covered the field. Two men stood a quarter its length inside, studying some stalks with great care. "Brother!" Silhy called. "This man says he has business w'you. Come here."

She's imperious. thought G.R., carefully not looking at the long legs peeking out from her skirt. Wouldn't do to offend her brother, especially not with that huge guy around.

They came, carefully not treading on many of the plants they walked through. Mr. Templar ignored G.R.'s stretched out hand, and looked at him, measuring him as he'd measured Silhy. He had the distinct feeling he'd been found wanting, as the other man turned away.

"Goliath, I think we shall need some of the new fertilizer when we seed the south field. You do numbers. How much shall I set the budget for?"

"I estimate a good six hundred, Sir," the big man replied.

Templar nodded, then turned back to G.R.. "What's your business?"

"Well, sir how long has it been since you folks have been in to town?"

A few raised eyebrows. "About a year."

He flushed at their steady gazes. "Well someone's played a nasty trick. They're trying to sell Templar farm. I...I came out to get a look at the place. They said it was abandoned."

"Who are you?" asked Silhy.

"M-my full name's Galaxy Ranger. Please just say G.R."

"As you can see, Galaxy Ranger, it has NOT been abandoned. Who is selling the farm?!" Goliath and Mr. Templar winced at the angry note in her voice. As she started to move aggressively toward him, her brother gently caught her arms and held her back.

"He's not responsible, can't you see? He's hardly older than you!" She glared ferociously at him, but allowed him to hold her.

"Meridian Co. is the one. Their representative gave me the map." He tried to shrug nonchalantly. "I've been looking for a place to live away from the city. It's just become too much to bear lately."

"You're a bit young to be weary enough to retreat," said Goliath. "What are you running from?"

Silhy looked curious suddenly and her brother released her. "If y'got a strong back and a willing temper, y'can stay here. We always need a few hands more than we have." She winked. "It's a curse; no matter what, there's always more work than we can comfortably handle."

Mr. Templar glared at her. Then shrugged as if accepting the inevitable. "Well, G.R.? It won't be your own, but you heard Silhy," with a roll of his eyes: "I can assure you she means it."

"I--I'd like that! Yes, if you'll have me. A little work will be good for me, I should think."

Goliath chuckled. "Oh, it won't be a little work, boy. But we'll try not to overload you. You don't look all that strong, but a few months out here'll take care of that." He turned to Mr. Templar. "Do you want me to go into town and take care of Meridian Co.?"

"Why not? I don't feel a need to do it myself."

"Hmm," Silhy muttered, "You'd go in and get in a fist fight w'the owners, y'would." She took G.R.'s hand. "They're busy out here, if y'come with me, I'll set y'up quarters at the main house. It's a bit of a walk from here," she added with a mischievous smile.

"If you will stop flirting and leave us to our work, little sister?" She thumbed her nose at him, and the two young people went off together.

Goliath looked after them with an almost-smirk. "You know she manipulated you into that," he said.

"My good man," Templar replied with a look of mock dignity. "I manipulated HER into it."

Back to Titles


Templar walked along one of the many overgrown paths on his farm. For the most part, pruning and weeding around here was only done on fragile domestic stock. The rest was allowed to run wild. He paused and shook his head ruefully. With the growing population here they would soon need to tame more of the land, and that was a kind of ugly thought. First you grew food on it, then you put buildings there. How many people ever dreamed of the cities that sprang up where there had once been Indian tribes?

This particular overgrown path he'd allowed to remain this way for so long, he was sure he'd forgotten how to get through it. But no, there was the arch for a child to go under, still shaped there after all these years of neglect. He stooped under it and into the still-open clearing.

Nestled as it was in a tiny valley, his parents had never known about it. It was one of the few things he and Silhy had kept secret from them. Perhaps the next generation would find this place too. The clear icy stream running through the middle... he reached down into the water and overturned a rock, sending minnows scattering everywhere, and crayfish threatened him with their little claws.

The willow tree bent over the other end of their valley and he went there, to look at the tree house.

It was still there. Oh, weather-worn. He'd best take it apart before the kids were old enough to find it. And on one of the walls, was the poem still there? He slipped a flashlight out of his pocket and went to check that some animal wasn't in there. Getting bit by a protective mother fox wasn't his idea of fun. Now, at least it was empty. He shone the light in and couldn't help but smile. Despite the dampness and mold, it was still the same. The little chair Silhy had made to sit in and read her lessons. A bit yellow with fungus, but still recognizable. Now to check for his poem.

He had carved it deep into the wood, and though it was hard to make out, the letters had been large enough that the fungus couldn't totally obscure them. He read it aloud.

I can't see the moon
And my sun will be shining soon.
Where am I?
Trees grow in my bedroom
and walls just hold me in
I long to toss them away
like Mom's old broom."

He paused to smile. As a poem it was awful, but the feelings were the same as they had always been.

I can't sleep at night
Stars give out a dancing light.
Did you see me here?
On a bridge across a river
I stood alone and called
But there's no one here to answer
And I cannot help but shiver.
I feel for you all
and when your voices call
Do you know I hear?
The winds call my name
In winter and spring
"Don't believe in them son,
Please don't be our shame."
"Oh my mother
father and sister
do you not hear
the sounds I hear
If they call me forever
I shall surely go mad
Please believe in me
Mom and Dad."

"They never did," he said softly. But his mother always had a secret smile on her face, and he thought maybe she did believe in him. After all, it wasn't that hard. He believed in him.

Now Templar left the little valley. He'd promised himself to come back the next week and take down the treehouse. The kids would just have to build their own. He paused at the arch and looked back with a smile. "Soon," he told the tree.

Back to Titles


The Goblin King smirked from his vantage point atop the garage. The magic rats cursed at him from below. "You'll not get away," hissed their leader. "We've covered all the exits, and you'll fall too far if you try to get off the roof." The rats laughed. Goblin was unimpressed.

"Oh Grendel!" he called to the leader-rat. "You imagine such as you can hold me?" laughing wildly he sprang into the air, and produced from his pocket a miniature hanglider which grew upon contact with the air.

Outside on the grass he dumped the hanglider and ran for it. Oh what a funny sight this little green clothed man with his wrinkly bearded face was! Of course, the hundred rats after him were not funny at all. Especially not the big brown and white one. Quarry raced into the garden next to the garage past a young high school student who was trying to study there. The boy didn't notice the little man, but all those rats were kind of hard to miss. He stared open mouthed as a furry tide hurtled past his seat.

The rats finally cornered Goblin against a huge tree. He pulled out a sword and swung it at every hairy thing that came close. There were now several bleeding rats among the hundred. Grendel however, he hadn't been able to touch, and he was beginning to feel frightened. "So, trickster!" hissed that worthy. "You poison our nests and think just to get away?! Our children could have died for your simple pleasure!"

Goblin looked around quickly, but he could see no way out. He smiled his wildest smile. "Oh Grendel!" he cried mockingly. "Did you think I would never take revenge for the trickery you pulled on me?"

"Knocking you into the water was no trick, boy. It was to teach you a lesson in manners you never learned."

"Teach me a lesson?" Goblin danced a wild jig. "It took away my mind, oh Grendel! And now no lesson will I ever learn again." The rats were unimpressed by this speech. As far as they had ever known, goblin children never had any sense, so if this one behaved any differently they couldn't tell.

"So be it, little Goblin," replied Grendel, and he signaled.


The sun looked down in amazement, minutes later. On that spot were no rats to be seen. But there was a tiny body, laid forlornly in the branches of the tree. For Grendel had shown some mercy to the damaged young Goblin, and used as his cairn, a comfortable nook so high up the tree, that no human would ever find it.

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Louis used to climb a lot of trees. He'd pick the highest one in the neighborhood, or the one he knew had the strongest limbs high up, just so he could get as far up as possible. Now he understood why his parents had always screamed at him to get down, because it was a long way to fall. He'd never fallen, of course. They couldn't realize that he wouldn't. It's common sense, he wanted to tell them. Don't climb on weak or cracked limbs, and they won't break. Quid pro quo, you won't fall.

But what'd made him realize about it being a long way to fall was that he'd lost his parents in a plane crash when he was twelve. He remembered sometimes at night how the plane had suddenly seemed to pull away from him down. How his belt had held him to the chair, as other people hit the ceiling screaming. How calm his mother had been.

"Dear, don't undo your belt, or you'll get hurt like those people," she told him gently. His father was asleep, and hadn't even noticed what was happening. "Sleeps like the dead," Mom said with a smile. And so he hadn't been frightened, even though he should've been. With Mom calm, and Dad asleep, how could he be scared?

Maybe if he'd been scared, it would've occurred to him to say goodbye to them. And that hurt sometimes. The loss, the lack of those words that day. "I love you Mom." Not even that to her. He'd not known his father very well. The man appeared in the evenings and stayed all night. His mother stayed home and cleaned the house and cooked. Oh, that was out of fashion these days, but he liked to think he hadn't made it too hard on her. She always was calm and brightly shining, in some ways like an angel. He still felt that she'd gone to Heaven after the crash. Heaven too was out of vogue these days, but his mother hadn't cared for vogue. She'd shown him where the water lilies grew in the pond where houses now stood. She'd let him grow small gardens in window plots. Now, that had been exciting.

So now he stood at their graves, many years after the crash. He bent to lay flowers on both of them. "I've missed you Mom. Pop." He paused, wondering at the need to speak aloud. "Where ever you are, someday I'll meet you there." He bent low and added in a whisper, "I've become an Aircraft Technician, and saved many lives because of it. Love you both." He blew a kiss at the gravestones and finally left. Behind him, a spot of sunlight pierced it's way through the clouds to land upon his parents' flowers.

Back to Titles


MH was out during the day for once. He'd decided to enjoy the winter snow and join TD in the park for a snowball fight. Until he was hit by a snowball when he opened the gate to the park.

Sitting in the snow with his trenchcoat getting soaked he cursed quietly. "I thought I'd beaten him here!"

"Beaten who here?" asked a bell-like voice.

MH looked around to see a girl leaning on a nearby tree, tossing a snowball from hand to hand. "You aren't exactly dressed for the weather, young lady."

The young lady was wearing a sweater and blue jeans, and snow boots too. She glared at him with quite thorough annoyance. "Y'sound just like m'big brother."

"I'm sorry." He paused to take better stock of her appearance.

Freckled and tanned (must've been to a tanning salon), with delicate cheekbones and wide set eyes of an indeterminate color, but very bright, and dancing now with mischief. Hair a sort of gold-ish brown trimmed neatly just past her shoulders. "Where do you come from, miss?"

She tossed her head, and glared defensively. "We live way out in the country, m'brother and I."

"Ah. You're used to snow?" he asked, getting up and brushing flakes off of his pants and coat.

"Sure." She considered the snowball she had. "Our snow isn't dirty as this, I even feel safe sucking on icicles. Bet y'don't."

"No, never have. Say, what's your name?"


"I beg your pardon?"

"Oh call me Silhy, everyone else does." She grumbled something under her breath about parents and, with quiet disdain, let the snowball drop and came over to MH. She stood a few feet away from him and looked him over.

To be fair, he wasn't a tall man, but he was long-limbed and fairly trim. Had a sort of squarish face and pale, like most city folk in winter. But he had very pleasant features, though she wouldn't call them heart-stopping, like some of those men in movies.

"D'ye come from this city?" she asked, knowing city folks moved a lot 'cause they didn't like their surroundings.

"Oh no. I come from a much less pleasant place!" She snorted. "No, it's true! I came here from New York!"

"Hmmmph. Y'watch the movies and know tha's not a nice place."

"Where did you get that accent?"

"Nowhere. Just a way I talk."

He shook his head and wondered what she was doing here. So he asked, and she looked quite indifferent. "M'brother is suing a local firm. They tried to sell our farm. I decided to come in with him, haven't been here since I was little, little. He's talking with some lawyer-man and I said I would come here." She paused and winked, "He didn't much like that."

"I imagine not."

"I don't think he'd much like me talking to you either."

"Over-protective, is he?"

She shrugged. "No, I dinna think so. Just over-concerned." She glanced at her watch. "Feh! The appointment 'tis almost over. Y'seem a nice fellow, will y'walk me there?" she asked, eyes dancing with pure mischief.

"You just want to worry your brother."

"Aye, not hard to do."

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The wind blew cold, carrying red leaves through the air. It raced itself down the park's pathways, tripping through the bare branches of winter trees, and ruffling a pond's surface in passing. Then it discovered a pair of bare legs and played tag with them, to the amusement of the young man to whom they belonged. It wasn't a particularly heavy wind, though it did its best to lift him off his feet. He tried not to laugh when it got bored and raced away to play more in the trees.

He was used to this sort of game. The hard part was not letting other people realize he knew some winds were conscious beings. After all, most people refused to believe in such things. They explained odd sights away with "Oh, it's a trick of the light." The ones who wanted to believe and deep inside didn't had the worst times of it, and sometimes they went insane. Contradictions were too much for some people.

T.D. glanced up at the sky and watched half-visible beings play wildly above him. The big ones could be troublesome, fortunately they seldom came to ground level. Planes had the most trouble with them. He'd known a young pilot once who had the Sight. He never hit turbulence or crashed, because he could see them coming, and avoided them. He said he would never take a job flying to Greece. There were air-spirits there whom you couldn't avoid, especially if they knew you could see them.

An exceptionally big one coasted about a hundred feet above him, peering around curiously. T.D. affected to be staring at a cloud, and the being's gaze passed him by. They could feel it when you saw them, so you had to be careful. Little ones like that breeze liked to play with you. Big ones got angry, feeling their privacy had been violated. It was no use trying to explain to them about accidents, they didn't understand the concept.

His hair was ruffled by a tiny breeze that quickly got itself caught. He pulled out a comb and straightened the tangles, thereby freeing the breeze without its ever realizing he knew it was there. Then he stumbled as a big wind hit his back. It danced around him, and then solidified.

It looked like a young boy, about five feet tall with loose brown hair. It had, for fun, let itself appear clothed in a black t-shirt and shorts. "You like?"

"Very funny. I'm at least wearing a jacket and shoes."

"Shoes?" the wind bent and peered at T.D.'s feet. "Ah! They look uncomfortable. Why are you wearing them?"

"Because they keep my toes on." He'd also learned not to try to explain about getting cold. "What are you calling yourself these days?"

"Athiest!" (says it like a-thy-st)

He raised an eyebrow, "Why Athiest?"

"I do not understand why. A little girl said that would be a good name. What does it mean?"

"I don't think I can explain. It sounds like she didn't know how to spell it."

"Is it a wizards' word?" Athiest peered curiously at a duck. He whispered to T.D., "They look different like this. "I haven't seen them sit before." The duck was floating on a pond.

T.D resisted the urge to giggle. It wouldn't do to anger Athiest, this wind wasn't a bad sort as far as they went. But it seemed to be the only one of its kind that ever bothered to take on solid forms and talk. "Have you ever eaten?" he asked.

"What is that?"

"C'mon, I'll take you to a coffee shop and you can try the experience." They left the park together.

Back to Titles


Icebreaker reached his right arm into the tiny cave. { back there } he thought, { just a little farther } His fingertips connected with a smooth surface, traced their way up until he could reach around it, and start pulling it towards him. He'd never get it out through the cave mouth, it was too big. But he damned well would get it where he could see it!

Finally he could move it no farther, and he let go to pull a flashlight from his pack. He shined it onto the object he'd found. { Well! What are you doing here? } he asked it silently. What he'd found looked like a statue of an Egyptian cat. It was solid black from what he could see, but the shape was right. { Maybe there's a back entrance to this little cave of yours, eh? } He studied the mouth of the cave. Well there had to be a back way, as far as he could tell the stones here had always been this close. He didn't have the patience to stand on this ledge and chip away at it, nor would he be able to use explosives for fear of endangering the statue. Even if it didn't get damaged in the explosion it'd probably get thrown down the cliff.

He slipped the flashlight back and pulled out his Polaroid. A picture, just to show Jim that he'd really found something worth looking into.

Jim Hack was absorbed in a bunch of rock samples he'd collected. He barely glanced up as the tall young man raced into camp and came to a sliding halt beside him. Ice placed a photo on Jim's rocks, and waited. Jim sat there, tapping his knees for a few moments. Then he looked up and met the bright blue eyes of the other man. "Where?" he asked.

"Up the cliff edge, in a little cave I can't get it out of."

The little man stood up, his young friend towering over him but keeping his distance because he didn't want Jim to be uncomfortable. He smiled a wicked smile, "What do you want to do?" he asked.

Ice started, { Well that was easy } "I want to look for another entrance to that cave!"

Jim looked at the cliff, amused. "That's a tall order. Look at the map. There are many caves around here." He bent and lifted said map. "These ones..," he indicated the caves marked in yellow, "go on and on, and haven't been explored. If that little cave of yours has another entrance, it could be through any of those. Or it could have been through one once, but maybe it was blocked off by a rockfall." He shook his head. "It could even have been made in that cave."

"No it couldn't. I can't get it out! The entrance is about a foot around!"

"A skinny person could get through an entrance a foot around. I've seen children do it many times. And escape artists."

"So you wouldn't suggest looking for the other entrance?"

Jim glanced over to see the tell-tale signs of a pout on Ice's fine face. He stifled a laugh. "I'd like to. Where would you care to start?" he held out the map.

Ice shifted uneasily. "We don't have the equipment for it, do we?"

"We can go get it. Do you want to?"

"I'm surprised you even asked."

Back to Titles


Dreams. They came in day and night, for he slept always. Dreams of fire and starlight, dreams of blood and victory. Then dreams of a trap, and time, all the time in the world passing...

"Light goes down

Stars go high

All the world can hear you cry," sang a voice. He flicked his ears towards the sound, knowing what it was and wondering where the little wind had learned this new song. "Hello!" called the wind. It whooshed into the cavern and coalesced into a human shape, grinning up at him with annoying little human teeth. He pretended he was asleep. The wind loped up to his face and pulled at his whiskers. He retaliated by tumbling it and making it lose the human shape. Laughing, it took the shape again. "I knew you were awake, big one!"

Dragon sighed a deep, heartfelt sigh, and ignored the wind again.

"Dragon! I have a name now!" One eye slitted open in the great head. "A human girl named me, and a human boy said it, my name is Atheist!" The snort bowled him over, but this time he kept his shape.

+Do you know what "cry" means, little one? + Dragon asked Atheist.

"Yes, it's when humans rain." This time the snort was aimed away from him and didn't bowl him over. "Hey, you know that statue of yours?" Atheist asked him. Again an eye slitted open to betray interest. "You know, the black diamond one of a cat?"

+ What about it? +

"There's a little entrance to that portion of your cave. A human is after it. They say they're going to look for another entrance through the caves around here."

Dragon raised his head and looked down upon the little wind. He considered this bit of information with interest. As he did, his tail coiled back within his cave, up into a little pocket where it twined about the cat statue and removed it to a safer location. + Do they have a chance of finding me? + he asked (of freeing me?).

"I don't know! Do you want me to ask them if they're coming this way?"

+No. Thank you little Atheist. It is a good name they have given you. Now, carry out the duty I created you for.+

Thus the wind Atheist sat for hours with the mighty dragon, and told him abut computers, and jet planes, and telephones, and pollution as well as movies and television. He told him about his human friends, Total Dude, Silhouette, and Templar. And when he was done, his maker thanked him, and said he would sleep for now. The little wind left the cave, thinking he might be back earlier than the every twenty-five years his creator asked of him.

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I have no hands. What are hands? Did I have them once, is that why I think of them now? I stir pebbles in the brook and watch little fish flash away from the movement. This is my home. The word I remember is "Val-ley." There, yes that's right. Valley. I frightened the hunter last fall who came here to kill my deer. Oh yes, they are mine, they live here and this place is mine, so they are as well.

The water sparkles me, it feels good and I splash and send spouts high up, almost out of the valley before they come falling back down to sparkle me more. The deer are not afraid of me, as the hunter's dogs were. They know me. The hunter was afraid. He couldn't see me, and he was afraid. I pause in my play to consider this. I had wanted him to see me. Yes, I had. Why?

A doe and fawn drink from the stream, then wheel and peer up the path, and then run. Who is here, who frightens mine?! I leave my play behind to see.

"I have everything! Florescent lines, pitons, trail-food, water..."

"Just how long do you plan to spend in this one cave?" Jim asked Icebreaker.

The tall young man whirled, grinning. "Oh, a few days. No more than that." He added with a frown, "Aren't you coming in with me?"

"Of course, but you're the leader of this expedition, Ice." Jim's eyes got their wickedest gleam. "After all, you're always getting lost."

"Huh! I suppose you'll never let me live down that ONE time." He glared as the other man shook his head. They topped the rise and both drew up in astonishment at the sight before them.

A small valley nestled here. They could see an old cabin mostly overgrown with vines, grass and even a small tree. A clear, wide stream ran through the valley past the cabin. Blackberry bushes and wild grapes, and roses in full bloom lined the banks. Poppies of orange and red covered the ground away from the stream, dappled by sunlight that streamed through the branches and leaves of huge trees evenly growing throughout the valley. It looked vaguely like dryads or nymphs might peer at them and wonder who they were.

Jim whistled softly. Ice echoed the sentiment. They didn't move for a little while, just stood, staring. "Ice, as long as we can appreciate beauty, we shouldn't want to die."

"I remember, that's what you said to the chem student we knew who wanted to kill himself."

"Worked, didn't it? It's true, anyway." All this was whispered softly. They were afraid it might all melt away if they weren't quiet. Finally, Jim stepped reverently onto the track into the valley. Ice followed right on his heels.

They are not hunters. Who are they? I follow along as they walk the trail towards... towards the house? I jump ahead of them, and wait in the doorway. I've never been able to go in here, maybe they will open the door, and I shall see inside!

Icebreaker saw Jim staring at the cabin. "What's up?" he asked.

"Nothing. I think we should go inside."

"Huh? But it's been abandoned!"

Jim gave him a strange look. "I see that too, but I think... we should see if there's anything inside."

Ice stopped and frowned. Jim was gazing distractedly towards the cabin. It had been a long time since he had last been evasive with Ice, and his being that way now meant something important. Ice looked at the cabin, but nothing sprang out to catch his eye.

Jim caught his friend's arm, "Come on. Let's see." He wished he could tell the younger man what he saw in the doorway, but he'd learned a long time ago that this sort of thing was beyond Ice's acceptance. The spirit was plainly hoping they'd go inside, and its not being able to do so troubled Jim. He had an innate sense of kindness long ago activated by his ability to see ghosts. Obviously the spirit's body was there. That gave him pause. This one didn't know what it was. Well, as long as he pretended he didn't see it, they should be safe from any tantrum it might throw.

I grip his hands as he reaches for the door-handle, and he shivers in response. He doesn't see me, and he doesn't really feel me! Mournfully I pull out of his way and he tries the door.

"It's bolted."

What an odd sound! I haven't heard anything like that before!

"How'll we get in?"

The taller one communicates the same way. I do something I have never once tried. I push a tiny bit of myself through the cracks in the door and undo the thing holding it shut. I have managed this, but something... pain, is it? I make myself small and huddle near their feet, this feeling will pass, it always has before.

"Hey! There's someone in there!"

Jim shook his head, standing back from the door. It was hard not to turn to the spirit and try and comfort it. "No," he lied. "It's the jar of our footsteps, something's been shaken loose. I'll try the door again." He put his shoulder into it this time, and the door opened a little. A damp, musty smell wafted out.

Ice put his hands on the door over Jim's head, adding his weight, and the door slid open. They gazed in. Light came through the door and a hole in the roof. Somehow it filled the whole cabin, reflecting off of a mirror and even onto the bed. "oh," Ice murmured.

Jim gave the room a cursory glance and went to the bed. The body that lay there had been dead for years. Mostly skeleton now, with dried bits of flesh here and there. But it wasn't a frightening or sick sight, just a sad one. "It's a man. He must've been very old, look around and see if you can find some sort of identifier." Ice searched carefully through the room, years of training with Jim making him careful, and gentle with the objects he found.

The spirit shyly looked over Jim's shoulder. He felt it there, and saw its glow in the corners of his eyes. He could not speak to it, or it might get angry for being ignored until now. Apparently it was a very gentle one. He watched as it reached towards the dead body and felt the bones. Then the spirit suddenly was shoving at the rotted pillow, unable to get enough solidity to move it. Jim casually reached and gently lifted the pillow, careful that he didn't jar the head off of its body. He looked and saw that hidden under the pillow was a book. The spirit forced enough solidity on itself to knock the book out onto the floor, and it hovered, flipping the pages.

"What in-"

Jim shushed Ice and waited. Soon the spirit ceased playing and evinced bewilderment. Jim reached down and tenderly lifted the book into his lap. Both Ice and the spirit peered over his shoulders as he opened and read: "Dear Daddy, this is for you to write your memories in. You always said you wanted to do that. I miss you. Love Anne."

I do not know how, but this thing belongs to me more than the valley, more even than the body I must have worn as these two wear theirs. I must have been "Daddy." When the man said "Anne" an image floated in me, of one of their kind, only a lovely sweet blonde haired... doe is the wrong word. Ah! The word is "woman." Yes. And dancing blue eyes, like the stream in my valley. I have never felt so full, even on the warmest summer days. This is why I've always wanted to get in the cabin. Now I know, and I can go now. I shall watch over my valley. The small man starts to put the book back, and I resist that. He should take the book, and read it. There are things within important to me. Somehow it seems he knows this, for he wraps the book in cloth, and puts it in his carrying pack. "Come on, Ice. This is what I hoped to find here. Let's go on, the cave entrance is supposed to be on the other side, you know."

"Are you sure you should take the book? It seems somehow wrong. Maybe we should bury the body?"

I don't need burying. What happens now doesn't matter, you Ice. I have nothing to disturb me here anymore, your friend has seen to that. I do not wait for the other man's answer, I leave to play in my stream. Whatever these men do, they will not harm my valley. And that is all that matters to me.

Back to Titles


The sun rising over the face of Earth pierced the higher clouds and lit them with beauty. Cyborg banked his Cessna 172 across the tops of the clouds, keeping a running commentary on its performance with Radar Air Traffic Control Center at base. The enlisted man running the checks with him suddenly said, "Cyborg, we're seeing something strange falling into the atmosphere, we need you to check it out. Cyborg take flight heading 210 it's currently in your eleven o'clock at 50 miles,"

"Roger. turning left heading 210 and looking." His plane responded smoothly and they covered the distance in no time. He stared wide-eyed at the sight that greeted him.

"Cyborg, you are on top of it. What is it?" came the base commander's voice.

"It's some sort of plane, sir. About forty feet long, all black, even the canopy,"

"Cyborg, are you certain?"

"Yes, Control,"

"All we're picking up is smoke!"

"The plane's suffered some damage on its left stern. There is a lot of smoke coming from there." He hesitated, then added, "It looks like something exploded or hit it."

"Sir!" called another voice in the background, "We can't pick up a plane on radar, just the smoke!"

"All right, Cyborg, you're going to have to do something for us. Where is that plane going to land?"

"Figuring now, sir." He matched headings with the other plane. He's doing a controlled crash, he noted. "Got it, sir. The plane should crash around latitude 40.5 North, longitude 87 West."

The silence drew out, then he heard someone say, "That's near Purdue University, in Lafayette, Indiana."

"Cyborg, follow it down, see if you can get them to change their heading to someplace less...public."

"I'll try, sir. But it doesn't look promising."

The black plane continued its controlled fall and Cyborg stayed with it even as they hit ten miles. They were still on the same course, and he was beginning to worry about what would happen when they landed. The plane hadn't put down any landing gear, why? Was it on auto-pilot?

"Cyborg, we've alerted Purdue, they're calling the students into the buildings and taking them down to the cellars. That's the best we can do for now."

"I hope it'll be fast enough, Control. He'll hit in five minutes." He heard a muttered curse on the other end.

It sure must've been some explosion, he thought, glancing towards the stern of the other ship. Smoke was still trailing behind it, and he could see an occasional flame.

Too soon he was gazing down at University buildings. The black plane had cut speed but was still going extremely fast. Far ahead and below he saw the University's football field, with a few tiny specks, people, on it. Shit! That's where he's going to have to land! There were buildings opposite, it was either there or he might not survive the landing. The plane cut speed again, and Cyborg was hard pressed to match it because his plane wasn't built to go that slow and still fly. But he was an excellent pilot, and managed to hold the Cessna up. He saw the rapidly growing specks on the football field running. Good, they're clear, and then he saw one speck that stumbled and when it stood it was right in the black plane's path, and if there was enough time to get out of the way, the student had frozen, and lost it. The plane was coasting at twenty feet, fifteen, ten...

Sheild up, smooth landing.

*life ahead*



Silhouette was waiting for Mad Hatchet and Galaxy Ranger to finish registering and come join her on the football field. Nearly half a year ago Goliath had dumped a package in front of the trio at dinner and said, "Fill these out and send them in, you three need it,"

They had, and won scholarships at Purdue. Mad Hatchet complained he'd been railroaded into it. He'd only come to spend a couple of weeks with her at Templar Farm, and here he was now, going to an agricultural university. However when he found out he'd been accepted he lost no time in leaving his apartment and quitting his job. When they asked him why he said, "I couldn't afford college, and this place has a pretty good Astronomy program,"

Galaxy Ranger was also smug. "Never thought I could get a scholarship, I always had rotten grades," he told them.

"Well y'don't have to go," said Silhy. He made a horrible face at her and threw a pile of buttercups over her head.

Voices shouting drew her out of her reverie. The students who'd been playing football were running off the field as fast as their legs could take them. She turned and saw two planes coming down. One had its landing gear out, the other didn't and was smoking. She realized suddenly that she was directly in their landing path, and dropped her stuff and ran. She only got a few feet before she tripped in the damaged plane's way. She raised her head and gazed at it, and wished herself a painless death.

The plane suddenly turned on its side, its left wing plunging into the turf, nose pointing down. Silhy stumbled as the ground rolled and twisted and the plane, with its wing buried up to its body in the ground and the nose plunging down as well, was almost pushed into a somersault by its own momentum. The left wing pulled halfway out of dirt and grass before it slid back in, and Silhy found herself staring at the plane's underside, with its left wing hidden in the ground beneath it, and the right one pointing at the clouds. It took a few moments for her to realize she was safe.

She cautiously went around the nose of the plane, intending to help the pilot out of the cockpit, but the hull was seamless, she couldn't see any sign of an opening. She touched the smooth, black surface and found it was warm, but not hot.

"Young lady! Hey!" She turned and saw a man in an air-force uniform standing about twenty feet away. His plane was halfway down the field. He was leaning against the air and waving at her. Leaning against the air? Beyond him people were running out onto the field, she saw Mad Hatchet and Galaxy Ranger among them. They hit the area twenty feet from her as if they'd run into a wall.

Mad Hatchet recovered first. "Silhy! Are you all right?" he shouted. Too astonished to speak, she nodded instead. "Could you come here please?" he called. She ran to him, and into his arms when no invisible wall stopped her. Galaxy Ranger gripped her shoulder affectionately and she hugged him too.

Cyborg reached out and found there still was some sort of wall in the air. He shoved against it, but it didn't yield. Frowning, he turned to the young girl who'd been inside the wall. "Miss, could you try this?" he asked her, leaning against it. She reached out her hand and encountered nothing. The boys who were with her reached out too, but they hit the wall. She pushed their hands, but nothing moved them. Then they held her hand and pushed at the wall. Her hand went through, but their's didn't. The boys whistled.

"Maybe we should get another woman to try it," said G.R. A cheerleader tried, but she couldn't reach through either.

"Well, young lady, it would appear to just be you." Cyborg stared thoughtfully at the black plane, lying on its side there, twenty feet out of reach.

"Does it go all 'round?" Silhy asked. A swift check showed that it did. Someone dragged a ladder over from the storage shed and they found that it went through if they laid it on its side, but standing straight up it leaned against the wall.

"Looks like it goes completely around over the top. Semi- permeable, it'll let the girl through, and things," one young student was saying.

Silhy picked up a rock and threw it at the wall. It bounced off. Then she leaned down and rolled it forward, and it went through. Similar tests were carried out by the other students and faculty. Cyborg groaned when he saw ABC and NBC camera units roll onto the field. Well there goes any secrecy we might have hoped for, he thought as they set up their cameras. That girl who can go through the wall, she may be in danger if the wrong people find out about it. How do I tell her not to mention it? "Miss?" he asked her, "May I speak to you for a moment?"

"Sure." She let herself be drawn aside.

"This plane came from space, miss, you may be in danger..,"

Suddenly a newsman shoved his way between them. "Is it true you've touched the space ship? What was it like? Are you under telepathic control by the alien?"

Silhy stared at him in complete astonishment and then burst out laughing. "I'm sorry!" she said when she could speak, "But that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" She turned back to her friends, still laughing.

"You, sir!" said the newsman to Cyborg. "Are you the hero who shot down the invading space fleet? What..?" he stopped as Cyborg made little "Sorry I'm deaf" motions, and cupped his hand over an ear and leaned forward inviting the man to ask his questions.

The ship's pilot came out the next morning. Silhy, MH and GR were in their classes but they came onto the field as soon as they got out. Cyborg was watching for them and had them let through.

The pilot knelt beside the damaged section of his ship. He was dressed in a black jumpsuit and helmet, so they couldn't see his face, or really much about him. Some sort of tool box was on his right, and there was a pile growing behind him of material he'd removed from the section. He stood and picked up the tool box, then sagged to his knees. "He's wounded," Cyborg told Silhy. "He barely made it from the cockpit to there this morning,"

They watched him pull himself up against his plane's hull and lean on it for a moment before taking a step towards the cockpit. Then he fell. Silhy shoved past Cyborg and walked through the shield. They shouted at her, but she ignored them. She approached slowly to where the pilot lay unmoving. He was about five feet tall, she guessed. She knelt beside him and laid a hand gently on his shoulder. He started, and lifted his head to look at her. She held out her hands and spoke gently, "Come on, I'll help you get back in." He took her hands and let her help him up, seeming not to care that she was some inches taller than him.

The plane's interior was dim. There was no light source that Silhy could identify. She could see the pilot's seat on her left, but no cockpit window. How does he see out in flight? Then she noticed the screens. Must use radar or sonar, or some such thing.

She heard a click behind her and turned to see the pilot opening an overhead compartment, except that it wasn't overhead right now, because the plane was on its side. Inside the compartment was bedding. A huge thick-layered blanket with a texture like softest down, a pillow, and what looked like trail-food, some sort of nut mixture. The pilot weakly removed his helmet and Silhy had to correct her earlier assumptions, for the pilot was a woman.

The woman turned fever-bright eyes on Silhy and indicated herself. "Arhia," she said softly.

"Silhouette," responded Silhy. The other woman nodded, then her eyes closed and she slid to the floor unconscious. Silhy gently turned her on her back and wished desperately that there was more light in here. She felt along Arhia's sides and stomach, and there was where her hands touched sticky blood. Silhy looked around to see if there were any other cabinets around that might hold medical supplies. She found them near the pilot's chair. "Shit," she muttered when she opened the box. It was just a first aide kit, a serious wound hadn't been provided for. Still, this might do. She could probably get the medics outside to help her. The force shield is to keep any threat out, she knew, but it also won't let help in. She could only go in and out because she'd been inside the field when it was activated, must be some sort of brand on me. I won't take you out of it, you'd probably be in more danger if they could get to you than you are now when they can't. She knew very well what governments were capable of. Her brother always talked about the news at dinner on the farm.

As she'd been thinking, the lighting over Arhia's wound brightened, and though she was startled Silhy carefully opened the jumpsuit and began cleaning the wound. I wish I knew a little more about the human body, but she's not human, so that wouldn't help anyway. For the wound had been deep, but it had stopped bleeding. Blood clots had formed over the damaged major arteries, and she could see slightly smaller vessels reaching where ever they must need to reach, to carry that particular blood where it must go. No, she corrected herself. It was still bleeding. The pilot's movements while she sought to repair her plane had pulled at the new vessels and opened the wound again. She had a feeling that immediately upon regaining consciousness Arhia would walk out and continue the repairs. I won't let her do that if I can stop her, until she's more healed.

The plane's interior lit up when Arhia awoke and, as Silhy had expected, immediately headed for the hatch. Silhy stepped in front of her and held her hands out in a "stop" gesture. Arhia turned and cocked her head quizzically. Silhy indicated the wound and the pilot seemed surprised, she hadn't noticed it. "It's a bit hard t'miss." Arhia turned as if reminded and took a handful of the trail mix and settled down to eat it, offering some to Silhy, who politely refused.

Arhia had long, dark blonde hair and bright, slightly slanted blue eyes. She might have been anyone Silhy would meet. She didn't look any different from a human except for her fingernails, which were thick and solid, and somewhat curved. Her skin felt thicker than human skin. She somehow seemed more curious about Silhy than the other woman was about her, reaching to investigate hands and hair and clothing with an absolute curiosity that was charming. "I bet your people don't have many enemies," Silhy told her. Arhia listened to the words with the same interest she paid to everything.

Silhy managed to keep the pilot at rest for several hours like this, but she had to go home to sleep, and to classes the next morning. When she left the plane she was assaulted with questions from the authorities which she answered as best she could until they let her go, making her promise to come back. At the co-ed dorm where She and GR and MH lived they had just settled down in her room to study when Templar and Goliath walked in. They had come all the way here to ask what was happening, because the army wasn't answering any questions the media asked and they'd seen her in the news.

"Have y'taken care o' where y're to stay?" she asked them.

They admitted they hadn't yet taken care of that. Mad Hatchet and Galaxy Ranger offered to put them up in their room though.

Brent was furious. Not because there was no radiation from the strange plane, but because there were so many people all around. "Why?" he demanded of the pilot Cyborg. "Why can't we make them go away?!"

"You know why," Cyborg replied, looking so amused that Brent had to glare to keep from shouting at him. "I don't know why you won't just let it go."

"They're messing up my calculations."

"There's no radiation that you can detect from the ship, Brent, therefore you haven't made any calculations."

This earned him a wonderfully foul glare. "It's the principle of the thing!" growled the young scientist, unable to think of a more scathing reply that he'd give to an old friend. "Do you have to be so damned reasonable?" he asked mournfully. Cyborg shrugged and grinned at him. "And that Silhouette Templar can walk in there and talk to the pilot. Do you believe the girl? Insisting that this is an alien simply because they don't speak the same language?!"

"You still think it's a Russian experimental plane that failed."

"Of course. They tried to make it spaceworthy and of course they failed."

"I don't know, Brent. Things're changing. They aren't our enemies now." Brent snorted. Cyborg was happily chewing on a piece of pizza a college student had given him five minutes earlier. Brent stomped over to him, grabbed the thing and took a huge bite, then stomped away to pace by the Cessna's wingtip. His friend shrugged and kept eating, glancing mischievously towards him every so often.

"So you think it's an alien too," Brent muttered despondently later.

"I think so. No plane could've done what she made hers do, and few pilots would have risked the damage to themselves and their plane for a stranger, let alone someone on a different political ground than them." Cyborg was staring off into the sky, looking so sad that Brent almost regretted starting this line of conversation. "Religion and politics kill more people than any disease ever will," the pilot said as he sipped from a cup of coffee that had also been given him by a student.

Brent had no reply for that.

Silhouette Templar spent several hours a day with Arhia. After class she'd go into the forcefield, and afterwards tell officials everything that had happened, or they hoped she did, anyway.

She had watched Arhia clean out the damaged area of her plane. She watched as the alien placed sheets of translucent black material into the hole left by the removed debris, and sprayed a clear white liquid over that. She shared some more solid food with Arhia when her trail food ran out (the alien got to sample some soups, and a hero sandwich once), and stared in wonder when she had the opportunity to check the rapidly healing wound. Arhia had a tendency to overwork herself, though, so Silhy would distract her, knowing that the alien was willing to be distracted by anything new. So Silhy brought a picture book on Yellowstone National Park once, and Arhia spent hours going through it, delighted by the pictures of animals, and geysers. She couldn't read the language, but she definitely knew that what she was looking at represented real things.

Then one day Silhy arrived from class to see Arhia standing on top of her plane, face lifted towards the east. "She's been standing like that for a few minutes, but no one knows what she's looking at," Cyborg told her when she asked.

So Silhy went in and to her surprise, Arhia urged her out. The pilot dived into her ship as soon as Silhy passed the border of the force field. Mad Hatchet had a telescope and pointed it towards where the pilot had been looking. Other people were doing the same thing with anything they had that was suitable. "Silhy," MH whispered to her, "look, there are ships coming this way,"

"Ships?" she whispered back. He nodded and handed her the telescope. Through it she could see three distant objects, shining like metal.

Cyborg had also seen them through his own telescope. He started calling to his commander, "Sir, you'd better clear the area."

"What? Why?"

"Whoever those people coming are, I think they're her enemies," he said, nodding towards the black plane.

The crowd was murmuring with excitement behind and around them. Cyborg's commander hid his uneasiness behind a blank mask. "There's no way we can get these people to leave in time if those ships are near enough to see," he said calmly. Reporters always listen for raised or lowered voices, a normal tone is instinctively ignored. "We'll just have to stay and see what happens."

The three ships hovered outside the forcefield.

Silhouette whispered to Templar, "These ships are made more like our technology would do than like Arhia's,"

People in the crowd were calling out to the ships above them. Cyborg and other soldiers spaced themselves out within the crowd, watching the new ships suspiciously. One ship dropped and settled on the ground. There were four people in it, and one of them was battered and in chains. Silhy started forward, only to be quickly grabbed by the Templar Farm men. "Don't you dare, little sister!" hissed her brother. These aliens looked quite human. They carried themselves with an unmistakable arrogance that put Silhy's teeth on edge. Templar had a death-grip on her arms as she pulled against his hold.

The leader turned to the man in chains and barked an order. The other man glared sullenly at him and didn't respond. He raised a gloved hand and struck him across the cheek, hard enough to cut into the skin. His prisoner swayed, eyes closed. When they opened, they were empty of all emotion. He spoke slowly, in an alien tongue, aiming his voice towards the forcefield.

"That's HER language," Silhy whispered at Cyborg and Templar. When they looked confused, she added, "No consonants, her language doesn't have consonants. They've kidnapped a translator!"

"Where the hell do you get that idea?!" snapped a young man who was with Cyborg. He shut up as the alien wheeled and looked towards them. The crowd had fallen silent at the sight of the aliens' chained prisoner. Silhy met his eyes and glared at him. He suddenly smiled a slow, dangerous smile. His hand curled around his prisoner's neck, and he spoke an order. His men turned a rather evil looking weapon upon the crowd.

The translator spoke again, his voice dead. The people who had shrunk against the forcefield fell as it went down instantly. "NO!" shouted Silhy. Mad Hatchet, Templar, and Galaxy Ranger tackled her as she wrenched free of her brother's grasp. Cyborg and Brent dropped beside them, the pilot hoping to keep from calling too much attention to the feisty young woman.

It didn't seem a danger. The alien leader was focused on Arhia as she emerged from her ship, wearing her helmet. She leaned on a stone-like staff and limped towards her captors. MH frowned and muttered, "I thought you said-"

"Shh!" Templar hushed him. "She's fooled them."

Arhia rapidly weakened, covering the remaining distance slowly. The leader of her enemies was grinning like a banshee as he stepped down from the ship, carrying chains and cuffs meant for her. She stood, making him come to her.

She didn't move until he reached the cuffs forward to put them on her, then the staff whirled and connected with his head. A wet, cracking sound was clearly audible before the man slumped. The other aliens had no time to react, she was among them striking everywhere. She grabbed the weapon they had trained on the crowd, and fired it at the tails of the other two ships. They tipped sideways and began a slow slide towards the ground, unable to hold themselves up.

Cyborg leaped onto the closest ship and knocked its crew away from their guns. Other soldiers did the same thing on the other ship.

Arhia was carefully removing the chains from the aliens' prisoner. He stretched trembling arms and sighed, then his knees buckled. Arhia caught him and eased him to the ground. Cyborg's commander appeared at their sides. "Damn," he muttered. "I wish you could tell us when to expect more of them."

The man looked up. "There will be no more," he said emptily. "These were sent on this mission with the knowledge that failure would mean permanent exile."

"What was their mission?" the commander asked, startled.

"To retrieve the Willun wild-ship they shot down." He smiled weakly and added, "they had to take me, because I know both Willun and this language."

"How do you come to know them both?"

"My mother was American, my father was a Willun hunter she met while riding in the hills. That's all I'm going to tell you."

Arhia pulled her helmet off and turned toward the pile of men where Silhouette was pinned. She was plainly amused. "Oh go ahead and laugh," Silhy said softly. "Y'aren't in this position where y'can't even hurt them." Sheepishly MH, GR and Templar let her up. She gave them a threatening glare. "What's yer name?" she asked the young translator.

He turned an exhausted look upon her. "Jame Christensen," he said in the same terrible empty tone he'd been using so long.

She knelt beside him, Arhia loping along beside her. "Can I help?" she asked gently.

He sat up and managed to bring a semblance of life into his tone. "No, my cousin will take me home. I don't think I want to leave again for a while," he finished softly. He lifted his head and murmured something in their tongue at Arhia. She nodded and loped to her ship. She was back quickly and handed Silhy something.


"It's for you," Jame said wearily.

Silhy held in her hands a delicate knecklace. A chain of silver links, and at the center a small black stone in a simple setting. Arhia brushed the stone with her finger and flicked her hand towards her ship. Same material. A piece of the ship, maybe?

Jame met the commander's eyes. "You can have them. They can't go home anyway. Except him," he indicated the unconscious leader of the enemy aliens coldly. "He's ours."

Cyborg and Brent helped Jame to his feet before their commander could say anything. "Hold on," said the pilot, "how are you going to get back home yourselves?"

A sliding, wrenching sound drew their attention to the ship. It pulled up and out of the ground in one movement, then shook itself clean. Hovering a few feet above the ground, it coasted over to its pilot and her cousin.

Templar, MH and GR lifted the enemy leader and followed the two Willun onto the wing of Arhia's ship and inside. They left him there and jumped down, aware that the ship was about to leave, and its pilot didn't seem to be in a mood for waiting. Arhia stepped out onto her ship's wings and held out her hands, palms up, to Silhy. The earth woman cupped her own hands over them, and grasped them gently. The farewell gesture accomplished, they released each other and Arhia dived back into the ship.

For a moment nothing happened, then the wild-ship dipped its wing and spun until its nose pointed up and north. And then it hurtled that way, no sign of propulsion, just up and go. "Must have some sort of anti-gravity drive," Brent told Cyborg. Cyborg shrugged and nodded.

"Sure beats using a runway," he replied.

Back to Titles


White wings across the clouds, gray clouds...storm clouds. A hot wind, anomaly, but pleasant and enjoyable. Curved flight, down towards the mountaintops. Down towards the valleys, towards Tyrillion's valley. Arch back the neck, and call him...*Tyrillion! Wind-Maker!* Feel the answer like that hot wind you rode upon just a few moments ago. No words, but a refusal, and warning.

*Come on, old friend,* Sri-amas flung the thought down. *You can't hide away!*

The answer returned on a bubble of annoyance, an image of him staggering from his broken egg and falling on his nose.

*Not flattering! But you never were,* Sri sent back. *Come out and fly with me, you can't stay cooped up in that cave forever.*

Why not? came at last a worded answer.

*There's a sky to fly in, stars to see! Do you even know it's night, and a bright-star is flaring in the north?!*

How long has it been flaring? came the bored-annoyed reply.

*I don't know, I just saw it.*

Six days.

Sri-amas landed on a mountain spire, and coiled his tail up to his white nose. *What does that matter?* he asked. To say anything else would be to cause Tyrillion to break off contact altogether.

It has meaning, came Ty's reply.

*To whom?*


Sri raised his head and stared up at the stars. They shone down in their many colors, so many fires in the night. He settled his long sinewy body and folded his wings tight against his ribs. Then he relayed what he saw and felt to Ty. The older dragon's sigh was broadcast with such feeling that for a moment the mountains seemed to be trembling.

Which way is that storm going? Ty asked.

*Away from here. Towards the ocean. Did you really fly all the way across that when you were young?*

It isn't so far, and I'm not that old, white one. Ty's awareness of time touched the younger dragon, the image he used to convey it a great river, slow in some spots, with sand bars and logs tumbling in the water. All right, if it'll get rid of you, I'll come fly with you tonight. He added, Even if you're only going to pick my brains for answers.

Sri un-coiled his wings and spread them to the winds. *Am not. I just love hearing your stories.*

The black dragon suddenly sailed past Sri and hovered on the wind above him. Coming then? asked the amused elder.

In answer, the white one spread his wings wider and launched himself after Tyrillion.

Back to Titles


The young wolf padded along, sniffing and pausing every so often to mark a bush. He bowed his head once over a neat smelling log only to get stung by bees. He ran away, mortified from all the stings.

Early evening, the sun ran low, pouncing on faraway great hills. He flushed a rabbit and chased it some way before losing interest. Then as he loped around a bend he came face-to-face with a human.

The human howled a war cry, and jumped onto it's horse. The wolf turned and ran, with hoofbeats bare inches behind him.

"Carel wants a fur. Not just any fur; a wolf's fur!" grumbled Brent. The young nobleman had been sent out by his father to find that fur for the man's new mistress. He'd gone to see his mother first, hoping she'd be angry and tell him he didn't have to.

"Your father asked it of you," she told him, "so be an honorable young man and go get it." She patted him on his head and smiled.

"But Mother!" he begged, "it's for that woman! Aren't you angry about that?!"

She looked surprised at the idea. "The lord leaves me alone, now. 'Tis a relief, a blessing, if you will."

"A blessing? I don't understand."

She frowned at him and leaned forward. "Your father is not a pleasant man, Brent, and it is my fervent wish that you do not become like him. I am married to him, and so I must stay here. He values his ties to my family too much to put me aside, much as I might wish it. He has mostly let me be since your birth sixteen years ago. Now go and find that wolf's fur." Then she touched his face gently and added, "You are being unfair to Carel. She mentioned a wolf's fur in jest to your father. On a whim, he decided she should have one."

Carel stepped into the room then. Her face was wet with tears, and she came to bury herself in his mother's arms. He blushed with shame then, remembering that she was only a year older than himself. His mother looked up and asked him with her eyes to leave.

So here he was, chasing a wolf on his horse through the forest. It was a beautiful beast too, all silver ruffed with black tips. Unusual markings, those. His father would be impressed. As the wolf led him a merry chase, he amended that. His father would be impressed if he got the slippery animal.

Gruff wasn't malicious. His whole pack would have sworn it, if any of them had still been alive to swear. But he was angry, and that's what made him allow the human on a horse to think he might catch his quarry. Gruff led them up a small incline, then darted off to his left too swiftly for the hunter to turn.

It took only a second to register, but by that time they'd already gone over the edge, Brent had only time for a choked cry as they fell.

Gruff padded into the small canyon and wound his way to where horse and human had fallen. The horse was dead, its neck bent under it. The human was still alive. Gruff's teeth hovered over the nasty thing's neck for a moment, before he withdrew and considered.

A decision made, for the first time in years Gruff worked the change. Fur rippled and faded, paws stretched into odd, spidery shapes. The head lost its elegant wolfish beauty and rounded out, until it was a human face. Or rather, almost a human face. He wound up sprawled beside the human, his breathing harsh and skin crawling. He hadn't worn this shape in so long...and it was not a pleasant thing to be doing it now. He rose to his paws, no...hands and knees. They buckled under him. *How do these ugly things ever learn to move?* he wondered through a wave of nausea.

When he was able to fathom the workings of this human shape, he separated the human from his horse and started to drag him away.

Pain snapped Brent awake. Pain crushing his heart and thoughts from him, coming from his left leg. Without volition he screamed, and his foot was released. The pain was too much for the young man's self control, he sobbed unashamedly into the grass he lay on.

A hand grasped his shoulder and turned him over. For a moment he stared speechlessly at the other man, a beautiful, dark haired, wolf-eyed man. Young as well, like a young wolf that had only just come into his strength. The face regarded him emotionlessly. Brent gazed for long moments at this stranger before him...

"You're a were..," he whispered, Horror took a firm hold on the remains of his strength and he lost consciousness.

There was a cave in the hill. It was wide and spacious, and full of strange, mysterious things, the most mysterious of which was its inhabitant, Venus Velvet. She was hard at work on a tapestry depicting a werewolf's shape-change from human to wolf, and then back again. She looked up when Gruff padded in. "So, young wolf, I need no more posing just now," He laid his head on her lap and looked up at her with deep chocolate eyes. She sighed, "Oh, very well. What have you brought me?"

A young human, sick and injured. Gruff gave her to understand that he was responsible. "He's only a puppy, Gruff. Not responsible," The wolf gave the equivalent of a shrug. The boy flinched away when Velvet knelt to examine his legs. She ignored that. In spite of her words she had little sympathy for a wolf-hunter. She glanced at his face. "Quite a break, how did he do it?"

"He tricked me into going off a low cliff. My horse died!" he yelled, anger and pain getting the better of discretion. She looked at him so sternly that he cringed back.

"You'd do better to be polite to a healer." He went pale. She smiled a mysterious, small smile at him. "Still, Gruff change, I'll need your help to carry him inside. I have an apt punishment for a wolf- hunter."

Gruff perked up at that, he had been afraid she might decide to let the pup get away with it. He transformed, and this time was steadier on his feet when they carried Brent into her cave.

She made him tell her his name. He had not wanted to, afraid that his name would give her power over him. Having gotten it, she brushed a hand over his fever-bright eyes and sent him to sleep.

Now she sat on a thick rug in the center of the magus symbol depicted on it. In her hands she held a clear stone. Or rather, a stone that should be clear, except that you could see nothing through it. Like looking into a distant fog bank. It glowed, a warm, golden glow and began pulsing in time with her heartbeat. She opened the locks of her mind, and reached out to feel the expanse of her world.

Seas tumbled, mountains pushed their way up through their own lava and ash... voices murmured in distant towns. Some of them were remarkably like hers--other beings with similar skills. They too lived alone, far from the haunts of humankind. The world felt just as it always did to her--rumbling on with powerful momentum towards an unseen end.

With a flick of her thoughts, she focused on the boy. Brent of Castle Shifton, son of Lord Stephen Shifton. She knew a little of that one. A corrupt man who, only through a lack of any magic sensitivity, did not serve devils. But this Brent was sensitive. He would have to be turned before his father had a chance to corrupt him, and Gruff was just the one to do it. She permitted herself a small smile and went to work.

It took three days, three long, hard days, and she was exhausted at the end of it. But where there had been a young male human, now was a young wolf with coppery-brown fur. Gruff nearly had a fit. He gave her to understand that this was hardly an apt punishment for a wolf hunter, giving him such a fine shape. She laughed.

"Gruff, he is your responsibility. You brought him here to give him a chance to live after nearly killing him." She leaned down and met the angry werewolf's eyes. "I suppose you were trying to foist him off on me, but I haven't time to rehabilitate a human pup. He's yours." She went to freshen up, leaving him staring at the human-turned-wolf in dismay.

And poor Brent! He woke up and inhaled a thousand smells. The surprise gave him a coughing fit. The coughing fit showed him his shape. He tried to jump to his feet and wound up sprawled on his back, tail between his legs. In sheer panic he twisted and scrambled onto his stomach and froze there, afraid to move any more.

He opened his eyes and could not make sense of what he saw. Everything was different! It took him a moment to identify the wolf sitting in front of him as the werewolf who'd tricked him. Oh gods! he thought; it bit me! I'm a werewolf too now.

Gruff heard that. Couched as it was in human language symbols it took him a bit of work to understand. He sent a pattern of response to Brent, which translated as: *No, you are just a wolf.*

The "boy's" startled scramble tumbled him onto his back again. Gruff nosed him upright. He stood on four, stiff legs, his body shaking. Gruff butted him, forcing him to take a step, and then another. In this way, the werewolf made him walk around the room a dozen times, during which he fell almost a hundred times.

Stagnation. Stagnation was wrong, wrong, wrong! In a rage it turned and tore at the trees holding it prisoner. How long? How long has it been? There was no way to measure time, trapped beneath the trees. They were silent beings, whose slow thoughts measured centuries, while it, for all its immortality, counted time by 100th seconds. "I am going insane," was clear amongst its muddled thoughts. "If I stay here I will be lost!" Lost like another of its kind who had forgotten itself, and become part of a mountain, a mysterious peak where sometimes it bestirred enough to feed on mortals who passed through. Lost like the one in deep water, which sometimes took over whales and attacked sea-going humans.

"But I wouldn't even have that much freedom!" It pulled together its scattering thoughts. The trees kept this pocket empty. Its own hunger had long since claimed the existences of plants and small animals that had grown and lived here. Imprisoned for a mistake! The wizard it had served had wanted to kill a dragon, but its error had left the dragon alive and out of reach. So the wizard took vengeance upon a mere demon for not knowing more than he had known. "Of course I didn't! You couldn't have controlled me had my power surpassed yours!", it remembered saying. The wizard had taken that as insult, and left the immortal being where it would starve and go mad from that starvation. If only some being which ignored or perhaps couldn't hear the trees' warning would stumble in here, and the demon could take the mortal over and escape. The trees wouldn't be able to hold it if it had a body.

It curled in the corner of its prison. And waited.

Don rode his horse with practiced ease. "Gamma, where are we going?"

"We're going to see Velvet," replied the young prince.

Don reigned his horse in, "WHAT?! You're still seeing that witch? After your father -"

"My father has nothing to do with this." Gamma turned his big bay around and leaned forward on the saddle. "Look, Don, LIEUTENANT Don... my father can force me to get married to some stranger, he can make me do many things, but he can't keep me from seeing Velvet. And she is NOT a witch. There's witches in town and they're nothing like her." He smiled mischievously, "And they're also ugly."

Don shook his head and then was forced to spur his horse as Gamma turned his own and let the stallion run. He shouted into the wind, "What if he sends someone after her?"

"To do what?" shouted the boy back. "Anyway, my father isn't a danger to her because I'm not going to try to marry her, though I'd much rather that than the Elasian princess they betrothed me to as a baby." He brought the stallion to a walk, making it easier to talk. "I know my duty as prince: to marry within the bloodlines. So you may as well stop worrying about it."

Don scowled, but that didn't help as Gamma wasn't looking at him. He muttered softly, "What if this woman you're supposed to marry doesn't want you to be keeping a woman on the side?" He barely stopped the blow, so fast did it come. He held Gamma's fist bare inches from his face, too startled to say anything. The boy's face was white with anger.

"I'm not keeping her. I haven't even HAD her, as you're so fond of calling it. But I DO love her." He jerked his hand back and once again took off at the stallion's best pace. Don swore and spurred his horse after them.

Gruff and Brent watched the two horses run by with some interest.

*Who's that?* Brent asked.

*The one in front is a male she prefers,* replied the werewolf. *Other one must be one of his packmates.*

Brent recognized the royal prince, Gamma, and his guardsman Lieutenant Don. They'd gotten along well enough when they'd met years ago. Gamma was supposed to be something special, to have inherited some great abilities. If that was true, he wondered what would happen if Gamma and the woods-sorceress were to have children. The thought was a nervous one.

*You're never going to get used to being a wolf,* Gruff interrupted his thoughts, *but you may as well learn while you are.*

It hadn't taken long really to learn to walk on four legs. The hardest part had been that everything was at different angles. And then there were the smells. He'd never dreamed that there were so many smells in the world! Every single thing had its own scent. Two deer would be different, Gruff had an extraordinary scent, totally different from that of a wolf.

That had been one of the first things they'd done after he'd learned to walk, gone to see some real wolves. Gruff wanted him to learn wolf- speech patterns. He'd followed the big handsome were to a wolf-den, and met the most amazing female he'd ever met aside from Venus Velvet, whom he didn't really count. She was an older wolf and her name was Ror. Her scent was rich and deep, and she was so intelligent! Though she couldn't really speak well, he could feel the knowledge behind her communications. And what he respected most was that where Gruff sent him back pictures of himself as a wolf, Ror had looked at him and sent instantly an image of himself, the human he really was.

He'd gone back there every day since, bringing a rabbit or bird with him for her. Gruff didn't mind much. Well, at all really. He had a feeling the were and bitch were close friends during the mating season.

*I do not know when I will be me again,* he told Ror during one visit. *What will make her change me back? Gruff said she would.* She nosed him kindly and gave him back a communication.

The image was a strange mix of human and wolf, shifting one from the other. He couldn't understand, so she made a more specific communication. *Know people. All.*

Gruff lifted his head and clarified, *When you know that we are ALL people.* He stretched out lazily before adding, *Even if we are not like you, we deserve respect.*

Respect. Brent thought about that, sitting under a big bush, watching a deer they planned to eat if they could ambush it. Respect a demon? And animals? He wanted to ask Gruff if he respected this deer they were about to kill. Gruff had cautioned him that deer would sometimes hear, in fact; that there was always SOMEone who could hear. So he saved the question for a later time, coiling up to leap out like a spring when the deer got close.

Gamma and Velvet walked down to the stream. They stopped, and she leaned her head against his shoulder, saying softly, "How long will it be 'til you won't be able to come?"

"Never." He said it with all the belief in his heart, and saw her smile a small, sad smile. "Listen!" Cradling her face in his hands - that beautiful face, with its rounded cheekbones, pointed chin, and large, sweet, dark eyes - he said earnestly, "Use your powers if you must, I won't let anything keep us apart forever! And -" he broke off, and suddenly held her tight.

"What is it?" she asked.

He bent his head to brush her lips, "I had a dream."

They waded across the stream to a large rock big enough for them both to lie on, and smoothed by the years. She rested her head on his chest and gazed into his blue eyes. "What was your dream about?"

"It was about you. And that werewolf you told me about. And - I don't know - some sort of monster." He looked terribly embarrassed, "I don't remember anything more, really."

She let herself relax some more, though she was worried. Dreams were tricky things. Sometimes the result of real talent (and she knew he had THAT) and sometimes the result of knowledge unconsciously absorbed. He could do both, that was what had brought him here now.

She idly stroked his hair back from his forehead. "You smell good, you know that?" she asked him. He caught her hand and kissed it tenderly.

"And you want to change the subject. Has Gruff been here?"

"Oh yes. Two seven-nights ago he brought me a hunter. I had to mend his leg, it was pretty bad off." Her smile warmed slightly. He knew better than to be jealous, but still that smile meant something had happened, or been done, to the hunter.

"Well, anyone foolish enough to hunt too close to here..," he murmured, closing his lips over hers as they temporarily lost themselves in the timelessness of a kiss.

Much later they were both thoroughly wet. Velvet had chosen abruptly to tumble them both into the icy stream. She'd jumped out quickly, gasping from the cold. He got out more slowly, his clothes even more in disarray than they'd been before falling in. He grinned at her, "You know, if I catch a cold from this, Velvet, you'll have to nurse me back to health! Don would be furious!"

She made a face, "You brought that old sourpuss with you again?"

"He got a good horse this time," he replied.

"Well he's not a bad sort, for the hating kind."

That statement dimmed his spirits. Everyone was the hating kind to her, except him and the crazy town-woman who had introduced them a few years ago. He wondered what had happened to her. It was so long ago, he couldn't even remember her face or name. He decided not to ask.

"Look at you!" he told her, "You're soaking wet! All I'd need would be a werewolf coming after me because I didn't keep you from falling in the water." She giggled, clapping both hands over her mouth. With seductive dignity he strolled to her side, laying both hands on the wet clothing she wore and idly beginning to unwrap it. She looked up into his eyes, the laughter having changed to something warmer.

And this is where your beloved narrator bows out, to continue this story later, and leave these two characters their private dignity.

Two weeks later:

The Elasian princess arrived one night, and the next they were beginning the pre-wedding celebration. Gamma refused to meet her before he had to. He and Don walked into the ballroom and looked at all the decorations being hung up there.

At last Don said, "Well it certainly looks . . . gaudy."

For the first time all week Gamma laughed. "Yes, it does, doesn't it?" He shrugged and said morbidly, "Maybe it's to make up for the fact that the groom won't have a happy face when he's married off."

"Well, you never kn--Prince Gamma!" Don caught the boy as his knees buckled and he slumped to the floor. He looked ghastly pale and his skin had gone cold. Don took both shoulders firmly between his hands and spoke in his strongest, most insistent voice, "Gamma, wake up." The blue eyes focused on his face, and they were full of pain.

"Something's happening. Don, I've got to get to Venus. Something is happening. Help me." This last was said in a desperate whisper. They heard, suddenly, the anxious murmuring of voices around them, and the king's voice shouting from another room, getting closer. Don made his decision. Hauling Gamma to his feet and half-carrying him out of there, he headed for the stables. In a few moments the prince regained his strength, though he was still pale. He ran ahead into the stable. Don caught up with him in time to keep him from leaping onto his just-bridled stallion's back.

"Put a saddle on; what use will you be if you break your neck?" To his relief Gamma was still sensible enough to listen to him. While Gamma saddled Morpheus, Don went to the horses that had been sent as a gift with Princess Heather of Elasia. One of the horses was a beautiful, strong-built roan mare, known as Friday, for some reason. He quickly bridled and saddled her with a light-weight training saddle. He was just barely fast enough to get out with the prince rather than behind him.

The two horses took huge ground-eating strides, running together as if they'd done it all their lives. Well, he was glad to see some good coming out of this marriage already. If it happened! Whatever had hit Gamma, had done it hard.

It had been a cry filled with pain, and he knew it hadn't been meant or intended to reach him. Venus was badly hurt, and the danger wasn't over yet. It felt like burning beneath his skin, this horrible echo of her pain. He pushed Morpheus to greater strides, noting with relief that Don on the mare was able to keep beside them. And then something blotted out Venus' pain. Something black, and evil, that obscured the sun. No, not the sun, it wasn't near him. But its presence blocked him from feeling her. He knew where it was, caught a glimpse before the silence settled over his mind. A great empty field, near her home.

And when they got there, Morpheus showed himself to be a good war-horse. Not even the presence of a huge catlike being, fifty-feet long, with spiked tail and slitted yellow eyes, jagged stripes to mark its hairless flesh could shake that horse out of his trained calm. It shook Gamma. The thing's claws, six on each of twelve feet, were all longer than his body. He made the mistake of looking into its huge eye.

Ah. Nothing was wrong. Venus wasn't hurt and wasn't this demon magnificent? Everything proportional, each move beauty touched. The huge clawed paw swinging at him was just there to remove an insect from his nose.

Don tackled him, throwing him off Morpheus. The claws scraped along Don's back, and sent Morpheus rolling. He got up quickly and started back to his rider.

The mesmerism was broken, but beyond the demon, whose body was only half-substantial, Gamma had seen three bodies. Velvet's, and two naked men's. His sole purpose became to get to her, and he dodged swinging paws and snapping teeth until he did. The demon had to let him go. It couldn't reach in that close to Velvet. Somehow she was holding it off. But Don and the two horses were not protected, and the demon tore them apart. "NOOOOOO!" screamed Gamma, seeing it happen, helpless to stop it.

"Gamma...," Velvet's voice was weak and hoarse. He knelt beside her, holding back a shout at the blood seeping from her ears, and nose and eyes. "Get... get the boy away. Demon needs... a host. It chose... the boy."

"What about you? What about that other man?" he asked, though he was gathering up Brent in his arms.

"It can't... take Gruff. Werewolf."

Water was supposed to be a potent block against demons. Gamma positioned Brent over his shoulder and ran for the lake. The demon tried to go after him, but he felt Venus holding it. He reached the water and plunged into it, only now realizing that she hadn't said anything about herself. He managed to stop long enough to take a good look at the body he'd hauled down here. Brent Shifton. "So you were the hunter," he said bitterly. All this time they hadn't known he was missing. Lord Shifton cared about his family SO much! Brent suddenly opened his eyes.

"Xyzyx," he said.


"Its name. Tell her, quickly! before it gets her too!"

Gamma let Brent go and pulled himself out of the water and ran for the battle. The demon snarled and took swipes toward the two people it couldn't quite reach. But each time, the swipe got closer. Then there was a third mortal there, and then the demon's name was called. Softly, strongly, firmly. It lost its hold on physical shape. The voice calling its name pulled at it, pulling it into herself. Xyzyx fought, suddenly realizing what was happening. She was dying, this sorceress, from the wounds it had inflicted upon her. The energy charge when it had taken over Brent's wolf body had forced the boy back to his human shape. Xyzyx had attacked Gruff, and Venus Velvet had come to defend him, and to force the demon to release Brent. In the battle, Xyzyx had burst most of her blood vessels, and she was bleeding to death quickly now. She sucked the demon into her dying mind. It fought, cajoled and threatened, but she didn't see it anymore. Just held it close, and talked silently to the mortal.

He held her for hours, before two pairs of hands unwrapped his arms from her body, and took it away from him. He followed them, numb, dead inside. Gruff and Brent buried her next to her stream.

"Gamma," Brent said softly, "we're taking you back home now." He met the other young man's desolate gaze without flinching. "Gruff's decided to come live with me. My father, well, he won't be allowed to interfere."

There was strength there that hadn't been the first time they'd met. He found, even through his pain, that he could approve. They took him home, and Brent took him to meet the Elasian princess. She seemed very disconcerted to meet a husband to be who looked as though he were dead. And then Brent went home to his mother and he told her and Carel all that had happened. His father had died in a hunting accident while he was away, they told him. And perhaps, they lived somewhat less unhappily, ever after.

Back to Titles


He held his hands over the flames, they leaped to lick his fingers and get all the blood off. He folded his hood back and watched the flames dance, shimmering blue on every line of his large pentagram. In its center sat the statue, a thick black stone shaped vaguely like a cat, with too many legs, but an elegant beauty he'd cursed the maker for putting into it. Everything was ready. Stage one had to be implemented, now.

The Maven turned and retrieved a tiny, sharp blade from the table. To summon a demon you fed its dreams with blood. To bind a demon to you, you added your own blood. He slashed his palm open and held it over the statue until he was no longer bleeding, and then he let the blue flames at the statue. They leaped into the circle on a rising song of hungry power and tried to feed, but the demon whose dreams he'd touched sensed them trying to take its sustenance and it unfolded itself from its sleep to bat them away.

He had it! There was a burst of blinding rage and the demon fought to free itself, but to no avail. It was a strong demon, though, and it took better than an hour for the thing to wear itself out. It finally took up residence in the statue he'd provided, and expanded itself until the shape it'd been given to wear could not expand beyond the edge of the pentagram. And then it waited to be commanded.

It clawed at the floor with all twelve feet, six long claws on each one. The spiked tail twisted and slashed within the confines of the pentagram; muscles rippled under black flesh touched by long strips of silver like lightning. It met his eyes with great yellow ones of its own, but the pentagram kept its powers at bay and he wasn't mesmerized.

"What is your name?" he demanded.

The sharply pointed ears flicked back, but it replied in a sibilant whisper, "Xyzyx."

He smiled. "I have a duty for you, Xyzyx."

It narrowed its eyes to slits and coiled its tail around, waiting.

"I want a dragon killed. But no one must know, especially not another wizard. Only I must be able to find it."

The ears flicked forward, and fanned out with interest. Xyzyx asked, "Is there a particular dragon, or will any one do?"

"There is a particular dragon." The Maven unfolded a map and lay it on the floor outside the pentagram. "Do you understand maps?" and at its nod, he pointed to two items, one a city, the other a small village some three-hundred miles away. "The city is where we are now. Now this village, there is a dragon who lives somewhere nearby. He's a lone one, so his kind won't know he's gone for a while."

"Can you tell me anything else that will help me locate him?"

"Yes, he visits a family that lives on the outside of the village. There was some trouble last year, the locals thought the family were practicing black magic, but an investigation proved that while there was some talent within their bloodline, they were all latents."

The Maven stood and looked calmly at Xyzyx. "That's what you have to work with, go now," and he opened the pentagram.

Xyzyx became immaterial and flowed through the wall, and Maven smiled a satisfied smile, and returned to his normal work.

"Mother! Mooooother!" shouted the little girl.

"Yes, yes, what is it now?" Priddy asked, turning from the well and bracing herself for the usual onslaught of her child running into her. Still, Apira nearly bowled her over in her excitement.

"He's here, mother! Will you take me with this time?!"

Priddy laughed and ruffled the child's hair. "You know he won't let you go, you're too small and he's afraid you'd fall down!"

"He could catch me!"

The mother rolled her eyes. "You are very small and he is VERY big, if you fell he might not see you to catch you."

"Oh, mother," Apira stomped her foot indignantly, "when will I ever be big enough?"

"At the rate you're growing, perhaps in your tenth year."

"REALLY?" for she was eight already. "HOOOOORAAAAY! I'm gonna tell Tegre!" and she dashed off at full speed for the pigpen. Penny rolled her eyes again as her eldest took a tumble and got right up, without any noticeable loss of speed.

For a moment her vision doubled, as Tyrillion looked through her eyes, and her mind filled with the dragon's laughter. She shook her head and said to that, *and I'm sure you were so amused when young dragons try to get themselves killed before they are old enough to fly!*

Young dragons have an instinct that tells them when they are ready, the amused dragon replied.


Now, when I've come all this way-

*down the mountain, such a LONG way for someone who flies-*

Is that any way to treat an old friend? he teased.

*if you were such a friend you'd find a way to shrink down to human size so you could help me carry this jug of water back to the cottage.* He snorted back at her, and she smiled at having won this time, bracing the heavy jug on her hip and starting up the trail.

Tegre and Apira were both waiting for her, lounging around on Ty's front claws. Both of them were covered in mud. "Oh, really!" scoffed Priddy, "What will the pigs think when they see you wearing their bed!"

"I asked them, mother!" Tegre answered her. At least, she thought it was Tegre, they were both thoroughly brown and muddy, and close to the same height.

"You're lucky Tyrillion doesn't mind mud!"

Privately, Ty commented, You can clean it off for me in the hot springs.

"Ah, Apira, can I trust you alone here for the night? No pranks, and no picking on Tegre?"

"Oh, mother! I'd much rather go with you!"

Tegre exploded with indignation, "If she goes I can go too!"

"Neither of you are going. Well?" She looked at each of them suspiciously. They nodded reluctantly, pouting. Priddy turned and bowed to Ty, and raced inside to put the water in the baths.

Xyzyx hid in the forest watching the dragon take off with a human mortal on his back. There was no understanding the ways of dragons, he'd tried before, centuries ago. Now, he considered, how to catch him? He settled down at his smallest size and dug his feet into the ground. Twelve cruelly clawed feet, he liked this form. First I need a place to trap the dragon. And where better than his own cave? Now to locate it. That wouldn't be too hard, the woman broadcast on wide band, the dragon's home was located up the mountain from here. He dug into the ground and once anchored, spread out up the mountain, his sentience fading to one brilliant flash of strength anchored near the village as his senses poured up the mountainside bare inches under rock and dirt.

He followed the twists and turns of underwater streams, veins of precious metal lacing through rock until he came upon, far up the mountain, caves. He then altered his search pattern and scanned for the bigger caverns, ones that could house a dragon the size of this one.

Two days later he finally found it, and laughed at himself for the difficulty. He had been searching for a cave hidden with magic, and all there was to find was a plain cave of strong rock, like so many other caves only larger than most, and no bats lived there. He only found it when he had detected the dragon's hoard, and that was even more startling. When last he had been in this world, all dragons hoarded gold, and for the most part, only gold. They liked to make their beds of the soft metal. This dragon hoarded many, many things. Xyzyx thought he would like to get a good look at them sometime. But not until after he caught the dragon.

He dug his way out of the ground and was delighted to find it raining. Convenient, weather was. You could bathe in it. He stretched and rolled on the pine needle-laden ground, enjoying the smell. Mind, the peace of his realm was nice but this was a great change. Still, he would not miss it when he went back. He had very good recall.

Clawing his way through the underbrush, the demon peered out at Priddy's college. They were inside, he sensed, because of the rain. Lightning stroked across the sky, and Xyzyx decided after all that being inside somewhere might be a good idea for him, too. He ran off to find some shelter.

Tyrillion coasted down through the increasingly damp morning air. Priddy might like to go up to the hot springs again, he mused. He took a slightly roundabout course so as not to disturb the villagers. Humans were insane (except Priddy) and they might attack her for associating with him. He backwinged in to settle in front of her cottage. A shriek split the air and a tiny body slammed into his nose. "CAN I GO WITH YOU TODAY?!" screamed the child. Ty flipped his horns back and narrowed an eye at the tiny mite. Little Apira (not a bad name if he did say so himself, never mind that he suggested it years ago) was not a bad child, just very energetic. Of course, Ty didn't know any other human children, so he could not tell if that was normal or not.

The breeze brought an unfamiliar scent to his nostrils and he raised his head high, but it was gone. Unfamiliar, but still identifiable... there was a demon lurking nearby. Ty stood up on his back claws and looked around. He saw nothing, but to his ears came the faintest whisper of mocking laughter.

A demon. He would not be able to take Priddy away, her children would be vulnerable without a strong adult presence nearby. As suddenly as he smelled it, the scent was gone.

Priddy stepped out into the damp morning air and stopped to stare in utter surprise at Ty. *what is wrong?* she called to him.

He came down hard and swung his head perilously close to her. An emergency, I have to go. He spread his wings and sat back to leap away. Watch your children, he added, then sprang up and once in flight, started skimming over the forest.

Xyzyx left a trail for the dragon to follow that would lead him around the mountain and keep him away for possibly three days. The demon had planned well, so he thought. Back at the human's cottage he waited for Priddy to do the usual ritual of going to the well, and stalked her when she did.

Priddy looked off the way Ty had gone, wondering. Apira and Tegre were inside the cottage, but she still needed to bring in water for the day. "What is it, Ty?" she wondered aloud.

"It," hissed a voice, "is his doom."

Priddy grabbed up her walking staff and spun to strike at the voice. Xyzyx caught the staff and smashed it, and then he caught Priddy's face between two paws and "smiled" at her.

"And it is yours," the demon added.

His eyes glowed like the sun and he reached into the human with his power and pulled, and pulled again. Priddy sank slowly down as her soul was drawn from her, and she stared mutely at its shimmery brightness captured by the demon's claws.

Her will was gone with her soul. The demon rended her in one long slash of claws and spread her entrails around the well. Laughing, it tucked her soul in a fold of its skin. "Now dragon, you will be so angry when you find this that you will come after me and not think to be wary," He turned and headed up the mountain, laughing all the way.

His song whispered through the central cave silvering the air with strains of sweet melody as Xyzyx worked, weaving strand after strand of multi-colored webbing into the walls. He brushed the webbing into hiding under stone and quartz. Two days non-stop work this spell. If it turned out not to hold the dragon, Xyzyx would be wiped out of existence by the furious beast. He toyed with the webbing and laughed. "Now for the last chore...." With the most careful of singing and gentle pulls, he stretched lines of web from the cave's ceiling to the floor, and then blew the lines up so they hung out of sight. Then he left the cave to wait outside.

Tyrillion came barreling in over Priddy's hut a day later, crest up and furiously worried because he had lost all traces of the demon's scent. He checked himself and hovered mid-air. Normally he picked up Priddy's broadcasts about a mile from the hut. Now, all was silent. Banking into a curve he came down.

The hut was empty of even the chaotic fields broadcast by the children. He peered in a window but that was no good. Eerily from behind a voice whispered to him, "Messenger am I from wizards."

Horns flattened against his neck, Ty turned to the little beast. It was a magician's engineered cat-person. "Speak thy message."

The cat-person, in a very cattish way had been hoping for a bribe, but Ty's expression made it reconsider. "The woman of this house was killed by a demon. 'Ware, sources indicate it is after you." Ty hissed, and the cat shrank back from him, as if it thought that would help were the dragon to get angry at it. "An investigator is being sent to analyze, something is strange about body, none here qualified to understand."

Both dragon and cat-being checked in startlement as a "voice" arrowed down from the mountain and spoke like shards of broken glass to Ty. *Thee wishes to catch me? I am near thy caves. I will rend thee to pieces as I did thy mortal pet!* The cat cowered away as Ty roared and then sprang into flight, following the voice.

Xyzyx powered up to the full size he could attain in this form. He was still much smaller than the dragon, but that wouldn't be a problem. The trap was set, it just waited on its victim.

Ty dove straight down on top of the demon and sank his claws deep into Xyzyx's flesh (gad, that's a hard name to type). The demon shrank quickly and ran into a cave, the furious dragon close behind.

The chase that followed provided Xyzyx with much entertainment. He ducked into small caves and Ty tore through the walls after him. He drew the dragon through an underground river until they both came close to drowning. This meant hours of swimming, but Ty had Xyzyx's telepathic signature now and was able to follow, gaining on him rapidly. Neither knew that outside over a day had passed, so intent were they.

Finally Xyzyx led Ty into a familiar section of the mountain. The dragon was closing on him, he knew he had to act fast but at least by now Ty would be so angry he wouldn't notice the trap until it was too late. Xyzyx led the dragon into his own cave.

Tyrillion flung himself full tilt at the demon, who evaded and made for the cavern entrance at best possible speed. Hurtling through it, Xyzyx spun about and brought the tunnel ceiling down. He was sure he had judged the dragon accurately, it would take a few minutes for the big one to tear through these stones. Xyzyx sat back on his haunches and unwove the trailing ends of shimmering light that clung to the roof here. Completing the bubble he had made in Tyrillion's cave, he crooned to it and whistled, pulling it to the surface of the stone he had hidden it in. Satisfied, Xyzyx left the caverns and headed back to The Maven.

Tyrillion was nearly through the stones when he finally noticed the glow behind him. He backed into the main cave and stared around, raising his head to the roof, to scent the glowing stuff. His tail lashed in agitation, and he turned back to the rock barrier and carefully cleared it away to find the glowing sheet beyond.

Oh it hurt... such a fragile barrier. He raised his head again and aimed the thought out, designed to reach the demon. WHY The pulse of energy started out, only to be caught in silvery shining splendor. Tyrillion recalled the pulse before it could burst through and destroy the barrier. It was no good. He had a larder stashed away here that he would have eaten after hibernating through the winter, but that would run out sometime. He would make it last as long as he could, he could sleep for centuries at a stretch and make his supplies last a thousand years. Ty bowed his head and rested it on his forepaws. Don't think about it now, he told himself. He curled up in his nest and closed his eyes, settling down for a long sleep. The demon had caged him quite effectively, in a cage he would have to sacrifice his heart to get out of.

The Maven returned to his laboratory late that evening. He sensed Xyzyx before he entered the room and hurried inside. The demon had draped himself smugly in the pentagram. "Report!" the Maven demanded.

Xyzyx stretched and yawned first. "I was unable to kill the dragon, master. But I have trapped it where you can find it."

The Maven laughed and moved quickly to set up a location spell. He worked for several minutes, then turned on the demon. "You LIE! I can find no trace of the dragon!"

Xyzyx opened one eye. "He is in his cave in the mountain."

"I scanned the mountain, there is no dragon there! You incompetent fool!"

"You could not control me if I was more knowledgeable than you," replied the demon contemptuously.

This was definitely the wrong comment to make. In a rage the wizard spat a Word of Power, and Xyzyx shrieked as his body condensed into the statue that hosted him. The Maven bound an iron wire four times around the statue. "I will leave you to the elements for a few days, and see if that doesn't improve your manners, demon," he hissed.

He took the statue out into the woods and buried it in a small grove of trees. Then he made a spell that caused the tree to broadcast a subconscious warning to anyone who came near.

They were waiting for him when he returned. Protocol, Samurai, and one he didn't recognize but who bore the badge of Investigator. As he stepped in the door they grabbed him and cuffed him with iron cuffs, cutting off his magic. "What-" he began.

The stranger stepped forward. "You are being detained pending an investigation into a murder caused by a demon whose aura has been traced to you. You are required to answer any questions put to you by the officer in charge of Investigation. I am Investigator Agressiva."

"This is absurd! I am not responsible for a demon that is no longer in my control!"

The officer, a bony young man with no eyebrows, ignored that. He turned to the other wizards. "I will take him to the cells now, sirs."

They nodded and Agressiva forced the Maven out. The soon-to-be- imprisoned wizard struggled and shouted, "I don't know anything about a murder! That demon is no longer in my control! Listen to me!!!"

Agressiva threw him into a prison cell specially designed for holding wizards, with iron lacing the walls and door. "Your hearing is tomorrow, you may explain yourself then."

He was one of the best. When they called him in to investigate the brutal slaying of Priddy he came quite willingly, for he had been trained by the wizards' council to analyze magic signatures and trace them to their source. Some might think that was a method of enforcing law and order, but it was really a way for the wizards to spy on each other.

When he was brought to Priddy's body, laid out in preparation for burial, he was able to identify what was setting everyone's teeth on edge. The woman's soul missing was, to any being with a soul, like... well, like the absence of half an orchestra only worse. It grated on their nerves and made them look for it even if they did not know what they were looking for. That was the easy part. Finding out what or who had took it would not be much harder, but the investigator sensed he would be doing a great deal of tracing. He settled down and started with the slayer.

He began by unfolding the area of his mind where knowledge was stored. A vast honeycombed image appeared in his inner eye. Then began the process of elimination. Who or what could take a soul out? The honeycomb moved and presented a different vast face to him. He chose his next search-code carefully. The violent cruelty of how it was done, drawn out the evidence said while the woman was alive. The honeycomb bent and a full half the massive data sloughed away leaving him tipping on the edge of falling. There was a risk of madness when he dealt with large sums of data, minds were not meant to rearrange themselves so.

Now for a more telling question. He stabilized himself before asking it. Six tearing holes down the woman's body that curved inwards and ended eight-inch deep at her pelvis. Curved and eight inches long. He teetered wearily as data slowly began to move and rearrange and then was ready to read. DEMON was the conclusion, then Agressiva was flung gasping onto the shore of physical reality. The world spun about him and firm paw-like hands rested on his shoulders. One of the wizards' servants they had made from cats. Despite their often-rough treatment the creatures were quite nice.

"Demon," he said aloud.

"Why?" the cat-servant asked curiously.

"A demon could do this, it would do this, and... and those are clawmarks down her body."

"Could the dragon have done it?"

The investigator froze and gaped at the servant. "WHAT DRAGON?" he said loudly.

Ears flicking nervously back the servant replied, "The one who always visited here. The one this human consorted with. He must be very big, they said he was bigger than the house."

Though still angry that he had not heard about this before, the investigator smiled. "Then he is much too big to leave THOSE claw marks, little one."

It was silent for a moment, gathering its thoughts. Then it pointed out quietly, "A demon required a host body or host shape in this world. I do not understand why you say it is a demon."

He was trying to figure that out too. Then he had it. "The claw marks. What did this had six claws at least eight inches long. There is nothing mortal that qualifies." He stood up, still shaky. "I've got to find out what the connection is."

The servant became absorbed in studying its handish paws. Agressiva stared at it for a long moment. Finally he knelt down beside the creature. "You know something. Tell me."

"I exist to serve, I know nothing."

Silence stretched around them as the investigator thought this out. "You are protecting someone." Ears flicking back again betrayed the servant. "Who are you protecting, and why? When they would have such a thing done?"

"Investigator, this was not anticipated." Realizing it had revealed its knowledge, the creature cringed back.

"No," Agressiva gripped it's frail shoulders firmly. "You must tell me EXACTLY what you know." His talents were specific, he couldn't delve into the servant's mind and pull out what it was hiding, but he could convince it, and he did, that he deserved to know.

"We do not involve ourselves in our masters' battles!" the creature assured him. "There is a balance of six wizards whose powers are nearly equal, and all wish to be strong enough to rule the others. One has... chosen to increase his power by killing a dragon and to that end he set a demon and told it not to let him be discovered."

"The demon has failed."

"Because of me."

"You don't like this wizard, do you?"

The servant was slow to answer. "None of them are any worse," it finally said. "They serve themselves, and keep each other in check. I warned the dragon, but I do not know if that will help, he was very angry and the demon taunted him."

Agressiva released the servant and inclined his head to it. "You've given me a good deal of help. The wizard will have to pay for what his demon has done."

They crippled The Maven and imprisoned him. They permitted him to continue his researches but not to use his own powers. And they searched for the dragon but had no idea where to look. Magic couldn't find him, and neither could search parties in the mountains. So the years passed by. The Maven and his five peers grew old and many young wizards took their places, vying for power and using Agressiva as their elders had done to keep each other in check.

The Maven summoned the investigator to him as he was dying.

"I want to know what happened to the dragon," he told Agressiva.

"Sir, I should think that you would know."

The dying wizard laughed. "Oh, but I don't. This is your field. My demon told me he had imprisoned the dragon in its own cave, yet I couldn't find a trace of him. Why?"

Agressiva stiffened and stared in sudden astonishment at the Maven. The words a cat-servant had spoken long ago came back to him. Words about the dragon being furious, and always visiting the house of the slain woman. After so many years the final piece of the puzzle had been given him. A dragon trapped within his own cave and not able to be found by any magic.

"Well?" The Maven asked impatiently. "Do you know?"

"Yes, I know."

"WELL?! I'm dying man, it can't hurt anything to tell me!"

"You didn't want anyone to know you had the dragon."

The wizard urged him on.

"All this time they've been searching for a dragon, but your demon hid him well. The dragon is trapped inside a human soul."

"Nonsense. That's an ethereal thing, it can't hold him he could just tear through it with no effort at all!"

Agressiva stared at The Maven for a long moment. Finally he agreed, "Yes, he could." He left then, not caring particularly where he went. The current generation of wizards was as bad as the last, best to leave the dragon where he was and hope for the future. "I'm getting old too, wizard," he said back toward The Maven's room. "I have no more will for cruelty."

He went to a house on the other side of town where lived a woman he had known when he was younger. They had two children together a long time ago. Perhaps if she was willing he could finish his life there with her, in peace.

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