Author Archives: Lady Adellandra
Chronicles of the Dragon Nations
#1: Young Guardian and the Dominionites
Part One: Dream Realm Crusaders
Prologue: Dream Memory
The Young Guardian of Dreams
Dream Realm Crusaders
I was stuck in a dream, paralyzed by a magical spell, yet I could hear every word. The magic that wrapped itself around me was warm and tingly, a gentle touch of freesia mixed in. I could not move, speak or open my eyes, so I listened.
“Well?” A woman asked. It sounded like my Countess Sita – sister – Dracora Dratianos. “Who was at the door, O’Dell?”
“Chase Moondancer with my successor,” that voice was the one of a fellow ruler, Lord Guardian O’Dell of the Mystic Realms. “Enchantra took Chase to rest in another room. He may need to Feed, Dracora.”
The Dragon Nations have always had warm relations with those of the Mystic Realms, as those Realms signed a peace treaty with us a century ago. Brakkon, the former Emperor of the Dragon Nations and my mate’s father, was like a brother to O’Dell.
“Aye; thank you.” Dracora sighed.
They left the room, closing the door behind them.
I continued to listen as conversations intrigued me. Perhaps I would gain a clue as to why I was there, paralyzed with magic?
O’Dell lowered his voice. “Does Dixie know what must be done?”
Dixie? Does he mean his eldest daughter, Dixilynne? Last I knew, she was a mere child when she and her two sisters were exiled to the Mortal Realm for their own safety. What did she have to do with anything?
“Aye, she knows and will follow your lead, as always.” The eldest Mystic Sister Enchantra announced. She was Dixilynne’s mother as O’Dell was Dixilynne’s father.
“The Empress is resting and under deep enchantments to stay that way.” O’Dell supplied.
A third voice cleared their throat. “So, what do we do next, my Lord? Just sit and wait?”
I knew that voice, and did not like it. That was Challandra, Enchantra’s twin who was haughty, thinking she was better than anyone else.
O’Dell sighed. “There is naught much we can do, Challandra. Destiny will take care of its own when it is good and ready.”
“Destiny is such a strong word.” Dracora announced as if bored when she walked in. I could sense as my Sita’s emotions turn to fear as she mumbled. “Uh oh.”
“Countess?” Enchantra asked.
The room was quiet until I heard a thump and the sound of a male voice moan desperately. “Don’t die on me now, Adarramena. I need you.”
That was Drakkar Dratianos, my mate’s twin brother and my own twin’s mate. I tried sensing my twin. She was currently knocked out with the same type of spell I was under, magic worn to the near-ends and mind exhausted. My heart raced to get to my twin, and I was at a loss of what to do. I tried telepathy.
Adarra? Her mind was fuzzy; I could barely feel the twin link between us. Now I was concerned. Please, awaken your mind. Break through the bindings and speak to me!
I received no answer, so I tuned my ears again to the conversation outside my door.
“What can we do for you, Prince?” Enchantra asked the question.
“It’s my mate, Lord Guardian.” Drakkar supplied.
“She overexerted both herself and her duo.” Enchantra surmised.
That explained the fuzzy mind-path. Not to mention why I felt magically drained when I had not used magic since terrifying visions forced me to leave my mate.
“Now you know why I took some of our people to the Mortal Realm.” Dracora explained. “Your duo has gone chaotic, and there is no end to his destruction.”
“There has to be a way to save Adarra from him.” Drakkar agreed.
“I believe we can help with that.” Enchantra looked to O’Dell. “My love?”
O’Dell took a moment before responding. “Challandra, please bring her in and set her beside her sister.”
They continued to talk as if I could not hear them. I heard the door open and felt myself rising from my position. I was floating in air, my DragonWolf wings useless.
Dracora gasped. “Adellandra is your successor?”
I must have been in the main room now, because I felt myself gently landing on a soft surface. I sensed my sister Adarra, my very twin, lying beside me in a binding quite like my own.
“I told you of my vision, Countess.” O’Dell supplied.
Dracora huffed. “Very well; carry on.”
I could tell my Sita was exhausted of O’Dell already. She and the Lord of the Mystic Realms never got along.
“There is something about those girls, O’Dell.” I could feel Enchantra staring at me. “Something that screams magic.”
“They are Draconian.” Drakkar said, hoping that would explain it. “They have great power.”
“Nay, it is something else.” Enchantra supplied. “They are worth saving. They must live, but not here. Not now. Not while many wars are being fought.”
I agreed; too many wars, between the Demon Realms and those of the Fire Nations south of the Dragon Nations. I fled to my childhood home to get away from them.
“For once, I agree.” Dracora’s voice broke my thoughts. “But what are you going to do with them?”
Enchantra smiled. “Give them another destiny.” She looked up to O’Dell. “Find Susan and bring her here.”
Susan. Why did that name seem familiar?
“Who is Susan?” Dracora asked for me.
“My Grankana, as you would call her.”
“Your Earthbound Granddaughter?”
“Aye,” Enchantra was proud of herself for remembering the Draconian word for Granddaughter. “She has five children already and more than enough room in her home and heart for three more.”
“Three?” Dracora asked.
That could only mean one thing.
Anton! I thought to myself, my mind trying to seek his. My satil – brother — was near; I could sense him.
“Do you mean Anton as well?” Drakkar inquired. It seemed even he read into my thoughts.
“We found him unconscious in a trench and decided to bring him here as well.” Enchantra nodded. “He is resting in the other room. I had to put him under a spell in order for him to stay that way.”
What was with these Mystics and their spells?
“He is a fighter.” Dracora told her. “I mean, neither of the Dranna siblings are dead; just weakened and under your wretched spells. How are you going to give them another destiny?”
“They will be reborn as Earthbound Ancient Mystics.” Enchantra said simply. Footsteps were followed by a touch to my cheek. “This one is different; even from her twin and brother. I cannot place it.”
If she only knew, I thought to myself.
“Adellandra has always been different.” Dracora remarked. She knew my secret. “She has always been kind, loving, gentle and good; yet a fierce fighter and an honorable Empress.”
I tried using telepathy with Dracora. Thank you for the compliment.
You’re welcome, Sita. Dracora said in my mind. I’m just sorry it has to be this way.
“Only she knows why she left our bratton.” Drakkar said, using the Draconian word for ‘brother.’
“It was to save the children from destruction.” Dracora replied simply, and I could feel both my siblings-by-mating staring at me.
Take the Royal Crest for me, please? I asked Dracora; for she was the only one I could trust with such a precious pendant. I will not need it where I am going.
Certainly. Aloud, she cleared her throat and took the Royal Crest of the Dragon Nations from around my neck. It was the only piece of royal jewelry I had left, and it belonged in her hands now. I wish you luck on your new Destiny, until it brings us back together.
That was an odd thing for her to say. Before I could think anymore, she spoke up to the Mystics. “I will keep the Royal Crest until she is ready once more.”
“What about me?” Drakkar demanded. “I’m the next in line, not you.”
“As I recall, Draconis is still Emperor and I’m a Countess.”
“Yeah, of Monarch’s Glenn.” Drakkar sneered.
“Enough!” Challandra cried out. “You can bicker and fight later.”
Before either one could say anymore, a young woman’s voice broke the tension. “Gramere? What’s going on? Why did you send Granpere for me?”
“Fetch the DragonWolf male for me from the other room, Susan. “Enchantra instructed automatically. “Set him down beside his sisters.” Enchantra instructed.
“Yes, Gramere,” Susan was confused, but obeyed, leaving to fetch my brother Anton.
I sensed his condition, besides the spell he was under. He was war-warn, and wounded. There was a hole in his heart and soul that was there since his own mate of Alexia, Dracora’s sister, fled. I felt so bad for him, and wished I could get out of this spell to heal him. Darn the Mystics!
It took a moment for her to stare at us once she placed Anton next to me on the couch. She gasped. “I know who they are now! She is the Lost Empress of Mal’estar, Lady Adellandra, and that’s her twin, Princess Adarramena. The male is their younger brother Sir Anton Dranna.”
This Susan was a very bright Mystic. Now I knew why her name was familiar; she was Enchantra’s grandonan who single-handedly destroyed five demons, saving several dragon pups from death.
Enchantra confirmed. “Do you know what I wish you to do with them?”
“I-I-I don’t know.” Susan whispered.
“Keep them safe.”
I felt Susan staring at us. “I understand.”
“No, I do not think you do.” Enchantra shook her head. “Your Grand-Uncle is at it again. We must keep their existences a secret in order for them to survive long enough to destroy him.”
“How are you going to do that?” Susan asked. “They are already fully-grown and in a form our Realm has never seen.”
“The time rift between Realms is different.” Enchantra began. “We wish to use the Ancient Mystic chants to blood them as our own.”
Blood us! What was she talking about?
“‘Blood’ them?” Drakkar asked, speaking up. “I mean no disrespect Mistress, but, surely there must be another way?”
Enchantra shook her head. “Not if you want them alive to see Mal’estar once again.”
“But blooding them as Ancient Mystics will –” Dracora began but was cut off.
She was about to say, “Blooding them as Ancient Mystics would take the memories away of who they truly are.”
“I know what it will do, Countess.” Enchantra supplied. “I assure you, there is no other way around it. They must be blooded as Ancient Mystics in order to survive your brother’s chaos and Orthos’ reign of destruction.”
Draconis was still chaotic? I was sorry to hear it. My mate had not been himself since before the war he raged with the Demon Lord Archimonde, O’Dell’s duo Orthos, and Brakkon’s own Chaotic form of Thorn. All that pent up negative energy turned him and forced terrifying visions in my mind.
I could feel Drakkar’s anger at being separated from his mate when he growled. “If you hurt her, I will know of it!”
“No, you will not.” O’Dell confirmed. “Once the ritual is done, the three of them will have no memory of who they once were.”
“They will have their powers,” Dracora pointed out, “and their forms. The Mortal Realm is not ready for DragonWolves. Mortals still believe the Nations – the very worlds in which they live — are myth!”
She was right, it was not ready. Neither was I ready to forget her, my beloved Empire, or my once-loving mate.
“She’s right.” Susan pointed out. “Only those with the Magical Eye know the truth.”
“All will be well.” O’Dell said sternly. “They will assume Immortal Ancient Mystic form and be taught of whatever magic their minds believe they are ready for.”
My siblings – Draconis’ twin and his younger sister – could say nothing to the statement. Susan broke the silence.
“Shall we begin?” She said quietly.
Chanting in the Ancient Mystic language, they spun a wild magical spell around the three of us. We were each already in their binding and sleeping spells, so why not add one more?
I felt dizzy just lying there, still unable to speak or move. My head hurt as my Wolfkin ears and Dragon horns were pulled inside my head. My back hurt, wings forcefully returning inside my body. My arms and legs hurt, as my body was changing to a strange Immortal human form. My wolf features diminished, fur retreating and hands instead of paws and nails instead of claws. I felt a multitude of winds wrap around me, one entering my body. That one caused me great pain, but I could not cry out. I felt my external body shrinking. Instead, my form was not my own, but of a young girl.
It was a powerful spell that would change my existence.
Breaking my thoughts was the whimpering sound of an infant.
“Shush, shush. There there.” Susan picked him up and held him. “I know what I must do next, Granpere.”
“Rename them and protect them.” O’Dell responded.
“What will you name them?” Drakkar could not stop staring at my twin. I still knew how hard it was to be parted – magical or otherwise – from your true mate.
Susan sat next to my sister. “You will be Aluna Star Woods.” She placed a hand on my cheek. It felt warm with love. “You will be Ariana Moon Woods, and you, my dearest baby, will be Antony Gregory Woods.”
“Great names, Susan.” Dracora complimented.
“Thank you, Countess.”
“The time will come when they are Called to this Realm once again.” O’Dell responded. “Until then, their true-names and lives must remain a secret.”
“Yes, Granpere,” Susan agreed.
That was the last I heard of the very interesting conversation. When the spell and ritual was done, I felt….different. My mind was the same as it was, but the memory of my life before that moment faded into near-nothingness. I only remember it now as a dream memory, with a little help from one of my closest Draconian friends: The Countess Dracora of Monarch’s Glenn.
Ten Years Later
My name is Ariana Moon. I am fifteen today, almost sweet-sixteen. I reside at the Shore Point Juvenile Detention Center, a ward of the State of California. I grew up in an orphanage not far from here. No one wanted to adopt me. It was probably because of the things I could do, or the way I spoke, or the color of my eyes. Any number of reasons was points against my being adopted into a loving home. Instead, I was “loaned” out to couples who needed a compliant servant.
My first “family” was the Sheridans, whom I met when I was in the hospital two years ago. They wanted me to be their daughter’s keeper; keeping an eye on her and obeying her every whim. Michelle Lambert-Sheridan was a Class A spoiled brat. She would throw fits if she did not get what she wanted, when she wanted it. Of course, her mother and father would comply, encouraging her behavior. I just kept my comments to myself; hoping that one day, Michelle would see the error of her ways and straighten up, before something bad happened to her. So far, there was no such luck.
The second “family” was the one I just ran from: the Dolls. Richard and Rhonda Doll were rich, even more so than the Sheridans. They had no other children to fill their home or help spend their money. Only me, and I was used as a servant even though they lavished me with everything under the sun. Of course, that was a ruse for Child Services. On a normal day, I overheard Mrs. Doll talking on the phone to an elder woman I once knew as Mrs. Gertrude. Turned out, Mrs. Doll was Mrs. Gertrude’s niece, and she was going to sell me back to my old orphanage master. Thinking of the abusive past I left behind, I packed my bag. Once the moon shone bright enough to see by, I ran as fast as I could away from the Doll mansion.
Only to be caught and brought back here: The Shore Point Juvenile Detention Center.
I have been here a week and suffered bruises and scrapes at the hands of bullies. On my first night, they thought it was funny to put ice in a sock and hit me with it. To their surprise and my delight, all bruises and scrapes were healed by morning.
That is one thing the other teenagers hated about me. Another would be the way I spoke. One girl told me I sounded funny, as if I did not know how to speak. I have always spoken like this, as those friendly adults I speak to would call “without using contractions,” such as “can’t,” “won’t,” or “I’m.” Another girl said my eyes looked weird. At a brilliant silver-blue, I would have said the same thing myself had I not been the owner.
There were a few more things I could do that alienated me from the other girls there. One of which was feeling their emotions with something I learned was called Empathy. I sensed one of the girls was in trouble with the warden. I confronted her about it, trying to cheer her up, but she denied it, calling me “freak” and pushing me away. The Center found I could read minds when I was in a group therapy session. The four of us were given a test where the counselor would ask the questions and we would answer them. Somehow, I took the questions out of her mind and answered them, even before she asked them aloud! Even the counselor eyed me as if I were a freak of nature.
Was I a freak of nature?
Nay; you are an Ancient Mystic. A female voice purred in my mind. It was the voice of my good friend Katherine Hawk.
Katherine was a Companion from the Mystic’s Realm of Dreams. According to her, I was a powerful Ancient Mystic that could do anything I wanted in the Realm of Dreams. Guardian O’Dell, Lord of the Mystic Realms, named me his successor when I was seven. He gave me a special necklace that represented my Mystic status and helped me learn to control my abilities.
I know, my friend. I told her sadly. I just want to get out of here and find my family.
Before she could respond, a knock on the door brought me out of my reverie.
“You got a visitor, Moon.” It was Greg, one of the nicer guards.
I stood. “Thank you, Mr. Greg.”
I quietly followed behind him.
My Companion friend peeped up with I have a good feeling about this one, Ariana. You will be fine.
I hope you are right. I teased her. I would be lost without your feline instincts.
No you would not. Katherine purred a giggle. Do you sense the visitor’s compassion as well?
Aye. I answered, agreeing. I have also felt the Goddess’s Hand on me.
He stopped at one of the counseling rooms, turning the knob and opening the door.
I stood facing an attractive teenage girl wearing a stylish blouse with a tweed skirt. She was about five inches taller than my sixty, wore sunglasses on her head and snapped her chewing gum when she saw me. Her legs were crossed as she sat at the table; designer high-heel boots half-way up her calves. I sensed she was no more than six years older than I, yet looked as if she were older. I could tell it was meant to be very deceptive and smart. Her hair was pulled up into a thick ponytail with dark-brown strands hanging down.
Mr. Greg stayed by the door, listening in.
The teenager stood, holding her hand out for me to shake. “Hello, Ariana Moon. My name is Bridget Guy. I’ve come to take you home.”
I politely smiled, hesitating before taking her hand. I was not convinced and stared at her eyes before reading her. “Really.”
“Yes, really.” Bridget supplied, pulling her hand back and shoving it in her pocket. “Read me. Am I legit?”
I used my empathy, sensing nothing but kindness and sincerity. There was no deception in her dark brown eyes. That was a relief. “Yes, and it is nice to meet you, Miss Guy.” I told her simply. “What can I do for you?”
She quickly glanced at Mr. Greg before responding. “Will you please excuse us, sir?”
Mr. Greg shook his head. “Sorry Miss Guy,” he told her. “She is my charge and must be watched over.”
Now I looked at him. “Have I ever caused any undue stress or trouble around here, Mr. Greg?”
He had to think for a moment. “No, Ariana.”
“Then you can trust I will be okay in her capable hands.” I continued my argument. It took him only a moment to nod. “If it makes you feel any better, you may stay at your post outside the door. That way, there is no way I can escape without your knowledge. Agreed?”
His glance went to a smiling Bridget to me before he finally said. “Make it quick.”
I nodded, smiling. “Thank you.”
Almost as soon as the metal door closed behind him, I heard Bridget shriek into her hands. “That was awesome! How did you learn how to do that? I can’t even talk my way out of a paper bag, but you! You basically controlled that guard.”
“Not control.” I told her. “For some reason, I always know what to say.”
“That’s so cool.”
“Thank you.” I said. “Now then, why are you here? You said you were going to take me home?”
“Ah, yes, right.” Bridget cleared her throat. “I’m from a teen detecting agency called the System.”
I knew it! Katherine cried inside my mind.
Katherine! I playfully scolded her, staring at Bridget, who was patiently waiting as I carried on the conversation in my mind. Am I allowed to handle it?
I cleared my throat and sat down. “How do I know you speak the truth?”
Bridget leaned in and looked into my eyes. “What does your empathy tell you about me?”
She knew that about me? But, how? I blinked, studying her. Sure enough, she was telling the truth. “You are sincere and honest, although a bit flighty at times.”
Bridget laughed. “Thought so. Come on, kid. Let’s get out of here.” She paused as her hand hit the knob. Not looking at me, she supplied seriously, “By the way, call me Big Guy. That’s my codename.”
“Codename?” I was puzzled.
Big Guy sighed. “You’ll see soon enough. Trust me.”
“If you insist,” I shrugged. “Anything to stop the circle of hate.”
It was her turn to be confused. “Huh?”
I smiled, echoing. “Trust me.”
Big Guy rolled her eyes and led us out the door. Sure enough, Mr. Greg was still waiting at his post.
“Hurry and get your things.” Big Guy instructed me. “I’ll take care of the legalities.”
I nodded. “Sure thing.”
Going back to the room I stayed was going to be hard. If anyone was there waiting, they were certain to bully me, just like always. If not, and I somehow got away with my belongings without anyone seeing me, I would be grateful.
Turned out, the Goddess was smiling on me today. No one was in the room, so I was able to grab my backpack and hurry back to Big Guy’s side.
I came upon the end of a conversation, with Big Guy saying. “I am an adult, and I have signed the proper papers for her immediate release from this institution and into the care of Shannon Ryan at Shore Point Academy.”
She pulled a manila folder out of her shoulder bag, handing it to him. Mr. Greg glanced through the pages with wide eyes. After closing the folder, he looked back at her. “Miss Guy, I apologize. Had I known –”
Bridget winked at him. “You didn’t know, and it’s okay.”
“I thought the Academy closed down years ago because the owner died during renovations?”
“Oh, it was, for a while.” Bridget shrugged, “The owner’s niece opened it back up on her eighteenth birthday and we’ve been prosperous since.”
They spoke as if I were not there. Usually that is a good thing; I could learn more that way, but this was idle chatter. I cleared my throat and crossed my arms.
They turned to my scowl. “As interesting as it is to hear all about this Academy I will be attending; would it be too impatient of me to suggest we leave?”
“Oh! Oh, right,” Bridget laughed nervously. “I almost forgot.” She turned back to Mr. Greg. “Now that the papers are in order, we’ll be on our way.” She wrapped her arm through one of mine and smiled at him one last time before shoving past him.
Once we were in the hallway, she broke into a run toward the door that led outside.
“Wait!” I cried, yanking away and rubbing my arm so it no longer hurt. “What is the rush? Why are we in such a hurry?
“I’ll explain later,” Big Guy harried. “We need to go, like now.”
I took a deep breath and ran behind her. I did my best to keep up with her, but she was fast. She stopped at a long black limo and opened the door for us.
Once we were both in and the limo was racing away, I had to know. “What is going on? Why were we running?”
“It’s hard to explain,” Bridget said, nearly out of breath.
“Please try, because I am terribly confused.” I told her. “Is there someone after you?”
“Not me.” She shook her head. “You.”
I blinked. “Me? Who would want to chase me?”
“Does the name Helen Gertrude ring a bell?” Bridget asked.
She would have to say that name.
“I should have known,” I groaned. “She used me as a compliant slave to any family that would pay handsomely for my services.”
“Right,” Bridget agreed. “Unfortunately, Mrs. Gertrude isn’t done with your so-called “services.” Now that they somehow found out where you were, we had to butt in. Fortunately for you, we got here first.”
“For which, I am grateful.” I supplied. “I am to understand they are right behind us?”
“Not yet, but they will be if we don’t high-tail it out of here.” Bridget turned and knocked on the tinted window that separated the cab from the driver. “Book it, Landry.”
I felt the limousine lurch forward and speed on the freeway. Appalled by his driving skills – he would be cited for more than three violations should he get pulled over – I closed my eyes and hung on tight.
“Crud! They’re gaining on us!” I heard Bridget yelp. “Take the secret route. It’s the only way.”
I heard Landry chuckle from the driver’s seat. What was he laughing about? We were being chased and he was laughing!
“I would appreciate arriving safely at our destination.” I forced out, opening my eyes. I was being tossed from one side of the seat to another. “Preferably with my lunch intact and body in one piece, sir.”
“Relax, Ariana Moon.” Landry said. “Trust me.”
“He knows what he’s doing; just let him do it, okay?” Bridget asked.
I huffed, keeping my mouth shut. The winding roads buzzed by me, making me dizzy.
“We’re almost there anyway, so you can relax.” Bridget tried.
“Please stop telling me to relax when it is my life on the line.” I ordered.
Soon, the limousine slowed to the speed limit and I looked out the window. There was nothing to look at but farms with cattle, horses, sheep and pigs. I opened the window to close my eyes and take a whiff. It smelled of peace, harmony and very earthy. For some reason, it smelled right; like home, but better. It was like I owned the land, and I was home. Was this Academy in the country?
More importantly, was there a country gal hiding in me somewhere?
I let the sights fly by, soon falling into a daydream.
I pictured myself and a young man overlooking the ocean, holding hands and walking along the shore. My heart skipped just thinking about him.
He snaked his arm around my waist so we stopped in our tracks and I was able to look into his eyes.
Mahogany-brown eyes, black-rimmed frames covering them and the feelings of infatuation for me growing with each moment we were together. He was taller by a couple of inches; perfect in every way. I had searched for him – or someone like him – all my life, and found him in a dream. The more time we spent together in the Dream Realm, the more I was pulled to him as the Young Guardian to heal his inner demons. At the same time, he was somehow pulled to me to do the same.
Unlike most of the people in my life so far, his intentions were sincere.
I smiled at the image.
“What are you smiling about?” Big Guy teased, watching me.
I shrugged out of my daydream, blushing as I opened my eyes. “A little fantasy.”
Big Guy was interested, if not confused. “What’s that, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I call him my Imaginary Romeo.” I supplied. “I see him only in my dreams, but the thoughts of him keep me warm at night.”
My gaze went back to the window and I fell asleep as soon as my eyes closed. My mind and magic was exhausted.
I awoke from my nap nearly an hour later when I was tapped on the shoulder. Blinking back to life, I found the limo stopped. “Where are we?”
“We’re here!” Big Guy announced as I followed her out of the limo.
I shivered when the wind tickled my hair and the smell of warm magic welcomed me from inside. “Where is here?”
My question would be answered as we drove up an elongated driveway that led to a huge mansion-like building. Sure enough, as we reached the building, I could see echoes of letters spelling out “Shore Point Academy.”
Echoes of letters on a building usually meant it was no longer what it said. This, of course, meant Bridget lied to me.
I watched as my escort turned to the driver. “Thanks again, Landry. That’ll be all.”
The driver lit a cigarette, his eyes wide as he asked. “See you later Big Guy?”
“You bet.” Big Guy nodded with a playful wink. “I’ll win my twenty bucks back tonight.”
I stood by her when we watched him drive away. After a moment, I spoke up, crossing my arms. “You lied to me.”
Bridget sighed. “Only about the Academy part and I’m sorry.”
“There’s someone else here who will be able to explain it to you better.” Bridget walked, tapping a number into a security keypad and sliding a card through the slot. “Her name is Shannon Ryan, and she’s the owner slash boss of this place. Follow me; I’ll take you to her office.”
Tugging the backpack tighter on my back, I could do nothing but obey. There was something special about this place.
Perhaps this Shannon Ryan woman will be able to tell me why.
The Imaginary Romeo
Bridget was quiet as she walked me down the many confusing halls of this academy-like building. It was set up like an old college dorm, so she told me the truth about that. We stopped at a set of double-doors.
“Go through those doors and past the rows of computers to another door with her name on it.” Bridget instructed me, pointing.
“You are not going in with me?” I queried.
“Sorry Ariana,” She shook her head. “I have work to do, but I’ll see you later. Okay?”
I nodded. “Aye.”
Slowly, I opened the double-doors and could sense the amount of power in the room ahead of me. There was a spell here – a protection spell; I could smell it. Someone wanted to remain secretive. I closed my eyes and opened my empathy.
Somehow, I already know this Shannon Ryan. I thought both to myself and Katherine, if she was still around. I touched the door, immediately feeling the same tingle of magic behind it as I had when I sensed a man with the same surname two years ago. He had silver-blue eyes and dark-as-night hair and called himself a Mystic Wizard. Could they be related?
Before I could say or think anything, I heard a woman say, “Come right in, Ariana. My name is Shannon Ryan and I’m the Chief here at the System.”
I opened my eyes to meet the silver-blue – no wait – brown – no, they were definitely silver-blue eyes of a college-aged woman with long, wavy black hair and a bright smile.
I had to ask, since it was on my mind. “Are you related to Stephen Ryan?”
She smiled, nodding. “Yep. He’s my cousin. I heard he helped you in the hospital.”
I smiled. “He was very nice to me, but he disappeared before I could thank him.”
“You’ll get your chance.” Shannon explained, gesturing to a chair. “Take a seat. Your partner will be here any minute.”
“Wait – partner?” I asked, confused. The questions were going a mile a minute; such as, “What is this place, anyway?”
“Thought you’d never ask.” Shannon sat at a large oak desk and explained what the System was all about.
Originally, it was an Academy, owned by the county, but it closed down due to the Great Depression. Her uncle Theodore Ryan, aunt Dixilynne and uncle’s best friend Mikhail McNathaniels thought of the perfect idea: renovate the worn-down place and disguise it as an Academy and Home for the children no one wanted. (This made me wonder why I was not sent there) Anyway, Theodore Ryan died during renovations and Dixilynne was left to mourn, with Mikhail to comfort her. After a while, mourning was over and it was time to restart fresh. By that time, Mikhail – Mick, as he was known – and Dixilynne had totally different ideas for the buildings, so they went their separate ways. Along the way, her younger sister Sarabeth dying shortly after giving birth to Shannon, and a new arrival in Susan’s daughter had Dixilynne pretty busy. More children came along as she made calls and set everything up for her vision: still disguised as an Academy, yet funded by the county and private money (mostly Theodore’s). She turned the Academy into a place called The System Agency – a teen detecting agency, where teenagers and older children would be trained detectives first, and in specialties second.
“That all sounds good, but what am I doing here?” I asked her. “How did Big Guy know I could Read her?”
Shannon shrugged. “I told her so, as I sent her on the assignment myself.”
“How did you know about me?”
She smiled, blinking. “Come on, Ariana Moon.” She teased. “You can figure that out for yourself.”
The eyes. She could change her eye color. That could only mean one thing.
“You are an Ancient Mystic as well.” I surmised. “Does anyone else here know that about me?”
Shannon shook her head. “Not if you don’t want them to.”
Wow…it’s been WAY too long for me. A year without internet while being pregnant, and now raising a 7 month old son! Where has the time gone?
That’s the main reason I’ve not been online for so long. Being a full-time mom and housewife is tough when one is trying to get her writing career back on track. *cough*cough*(yeah, right). I have, however, been working hard on rewriting my first novel — again — for the ten thousandth time.
Eshon Draconis Dratianos-DeRose (that’s his legal name) is now 7 months and “almost” crawling. He’s on a set tentative schedule, so I know when to do what and how. He actually sleeps through the night, listening to music to fall asleep. He’s eating baby food three times a day, bottles 3-4 times a day, and is pretty normal with everything else. We call him “Monkey” because he likes to climb, use his arms to hang onto Daddy’s arm as well as using his legs as hands to grasp. It’s cute, but annoying when I’m trying to feed him.
BTW — I no longer have a Twitter or Facebook, nor do I have a MySpace account anymore. It got too tough to handle. Oh, and I don’t play AE Games anymore, so don’t ask. This, and MSN Messenger are the only places to find me anymore. Sorry.
The Update for the Day: Besides what I wrote above, I’m working on my first novel — again. Young Guardian Saga #1: Young Guardian and the Dominionites. YGS1 is now in Young Guardian’s perspective, with add-ins from the Draconian-side of the story. You’ll be surprised when I finally get it posted, just how much has changed from the original (still available from iUniverse.com: Young Guardian Saga #1: Welcome to Your Destiny! by Adella DragonStar). Some of the beginning of YGS1 is already in YGS1 Experimental ReWrite.
Gotta go; Eshon needs his dinner!
LadyAdellandra, mom of Eshon and wife of Draconis.
The Inner Realm Chronicles
Young Guardian and the Dominionites
The Dream Realm Crusaders
Ariana Moon has always been different, even from her Mystic family. At seven, her strange powers awaken. Lord Guardian O’Dell of the Mystic Realms visits her, telling of her Destiny: she is to be his successor, named Young Guardian.
Raised in an orphanage with her twin friends, Aaron Theodore and Amethyst Theresa, she learns what magic she holds inside. From the beginning, her most potent is Empathy; the power to sense peoples’ feelings and emotions, which would serve her well as she grows. The twins help her hone her other powers of Telepathy, Telekinesis, Premonition, Clairvoyance and Healing. She learns to count on her growing powers to protect them.
Soon, she finds herself unable to stay at the orphanage, so she runs away in search of a new life. Along the way, she meets various people who would bond together as her friends: Her twin Aluna Star, Imaginary Romeo Derrick Reading, adopted brother Mark Grey, and two Dream Realm Companions named Katherine Hawk and Wolfram Stargazer.
There’s trouble in the Mystic’s Realm of Dreams, and it’s up to Ariana and her friends, the Dream Realm Crusaders, to put an end to it and ensure peace for future Dreamers. Will the Young Guardian learn her Destiny in time to fight an evil not even Lord Guardian O’Dell has been able to vanquish?
Life in the Outer Realm
O’Dell went to the Outer Realm in his Immortal Wizard form that closely resembled what he called an Earthbound, a Mortal human.
He was silent as he watched the young Earthbound form of the one he named his successor. It took two of the Outer Realm’s years to gather what was needed and prepare his great plan against Orthos. It was complicated, but the girl who lay in tears below his floating form, along with her twin sister and younger brother, were now Immortal children. He and the Sisters used a magical spell to blood them as Ancient Mystics. Their combined Mystic powers would be the only way they would eventually win against Orthos and his offspring.
When they were blooded, all three DragonWolf bodies lost their dragon-like and wolf-like qualities. Since time flowed differently between the two realms, they were now younger. The twin girls were five Outer Realm years old and the brother was an infant. The Royal Crest that had hung around the Empress’ neck was given to the Countess of the Dragon Nations for safekeeping until the day the girl grew into a woman and remembered her true-self. O’Dell assigned them to his granddaughter Susan Woods to parent, but it was not for long.
Orthos struck again, as O’Dell had seen in his Sphere. There was going to be another battle. Somehow, Orthos knew of the DragonWolf children and the plan to defeat him.
His newest target was laying below O’Dell now. O’Dell told Susan to separate the girls and use a special potion to wipe their memories clean of one another and their short year in her care. The next morning, Susan sent the one she named Ariana Moon to an orphanage and her twin Aluna Star to her mother, O’Dell’s own daughter Dixilynne Ryan. The baby Antony, the twins’ brother, was a mere infant, and saved from harm.
O’Dell turned his attention back to the girl below him, his thoughts returning to the present. Ariana Moon was still beautiful as a seven-year-old Ancient Mystic child living in an orphanage. Her silver-blue eyes were red and puffy, but they still held magic and hope for the future. Her reddish-blond hair was cut short against the nape of her neck, but it still shone in the moonlight. The magical aura that surrounded her body was losing its beauty as it sadly pulsed around her.
A glint of blood from a cut on her cheek told him the sad story. Her orphanage master had beaten her again for being a kid and playing around. The bruises would disappear by morning, thanks to her special self-healing ability, but the memory would take years to fade away.
He watched her many times within the past two years, staying in the shadows and off her empathic radar. There were many times she curled up in a ball and fell asleep by the sound of her own tears. That night was no exception, and it saddened him.
Summoning up his courage, he spoke softly so she would not be afraid. “Hello, Young Guardian.”
The girl sat up, wiped the wetness from her cheeks with the arm of her sleeve and looked up, saying nothing aloud. Since she knew how to send telepathic messages, she timidly asked in her mind. Who is there?
She could not see him, floating like a spirit over her bed? He touched her hair and revealed himself to her mind and magic.
Ariana Moon did not see anyone for a moment, but she Felt someone there with her Empathy. When she stared at the spot she Felt him, the vision of a tall male with silver eyes and long silver-almost-white hair smiled at her. There was a glowing white light around him, almost magical. Somehow, it comforted her.
“I am called the Lord Guardian of the Mystic Realms, and you will be my successor.” O’Dell told her.
Why did you call me, “Young Guardian”? She asked in her mind so she would not awaken the sleeping girls around her. My name is Ariana Moon.
O’Dell smiled and explained. “You are a very special girl, Ariana Moon, doing things most cannot. You know this already, or I would not be here.”
Using what little Empathy she felt comfortable with, she opened her mind to sense his intentions. She smiled when she Felt his endearing sincerity, and O’Dell’s very words soothed her.
I do not know why. I just can. Ariana reflected, relaxing. She wrapped her arms around her knees, sensing his joy as she smiled in the darkness. I can read minds, feel people’s emotions and tell futures. I do not know if I can do anything else.
“Ah, but you can; all you have to do is summon the courage and try. You can do anything your heart desires.” O’Dell closed his hands, opening them again to reveal a necklace. “I come from a place called the Dream Realm, and you can go there anytime to escape.”
Ariana looked away for a moment, staring at the necklace in her hands and gathering her thoughts. It seems so unreal! Is this kind man a dream? She thought of her Mistress, Helen Gertrude. Each day, the children of the orphanage would be beaten. It seemed Ariana and her twin friends were Mrs. Gertrude’s favorites, so escape from this hell would be perfect. She only hoped Aaron Theodore and Amethyst Theresa would be able to join her. Would he really help me escape this wretched world, or is he another breaker of promises like all the others who wanted me for slavery?
She took a deep breath and accepted the trinket he offered. It was a silver locket shaped like a crescent moon with a star-shaped jewel hanging from the tip. The opalescent jewel was made of a kind of crystal she’d never seen before. The crescent moon itself was surrounded by a dream catcher’s webbing. It was beautiful in a magical way as it hung from its silver chain.
Can anyone else see or hear you? Ariana thought to him, looking up from it. The warmth of his gift gave her some hope for the future ahead.
O’Dell shook his head. “For now, only you can see and hear me in your mind and heart. Others will join you when the time comes.”
Ariana smiled. I can go to the Dream Realm any time I want?
O’Dell nodded, smiling. “Come. I will take you now.” He pointed to the necklace. “Close your eyes and I will do the rest. I will teach you a special chant that will take you there on your own.”
Ariana Moon placed the locket around her neck and clutched it as she lay down.
As he promised, O’Dell took her to the Dream Realm and showed her things she never experienced before.
Finally, she thought to herself as she rode on the back of his Unicorn-Pegasus form in the Realm of Dreams. I am safe.
They touched down in front of the Dominion’s Garden Gate where they were met by a Balinese feline Companion. Ariana was afraid, yet curious.
The Balinese feline had black and white-spotted fur covering an almost-human looking body. Her black-tufted tail playfully swayed behind her; feline-shaped ears poked out of her long black-and-white striped hair. Once she caught Ariana staring, she smiled and purred gently. There was kindness in the feline’s emerald eyes and heart; Ariana could Feel it.
“Ariana, I would like you to meet Mistress Katherine Hawk.” O’Dell knelt so she could hop down and he could shift to Immortal form. “She will be your guide to the Mystic Realms.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Young Dreamer.” Katherine purred, bowing.
Ariana blinked, unable to say a word.
“Do not be afraid,” O’Dell whispered in her ear after he shifted. “She will not hurt you.”
She jumped, amazed. He was no longer the Uni-Peg but an Immortal Wizard. Lord Guardian?
O’Dell smiled, wrapping a caring arm around her shoulders. “You may speak aloud without fear.”
Ariana felt her throat and spoke to the smiling Katherine, who was awaiting her response. “P-P-Pleasure to meet you, Mistress Katherine.”
The voice sounded foreign, even to her ears.
“I welcome you to the Dominion’s Garden. You are just in time to join our party.” Katherine announced, nodding at Ariana before turning to O’Dell. “Would you need anything more from me, my Lord Guardian?”
“Watch over her, teach her the Mystic ways.” O’Dell told her. “Never let her out of your sight, for she is your Dreamer charge. Is that understood, Katherine Hawk?”
Katherine bowed again, “Aye, Lord Guardian.”
“I trust you will not let me down.” O’Dell shifted his form again, taking flight as a Uni-Peg. “Pleasant Journeys, ladies!”
Katherine waved up at him, but Ariana stood speechless.
“You are safe, Young Ariana.” Katherine told her gently when he was out of sight. “Lord Guardian told me about you.”
Ariana looked into Katherine’s eyes and timidly smiled. “What did he tell you?”
“You will be his successor in time, you have great Ancient Mystic Magic within you, and are very lonely.” Katherine explained.
Ariana relaxed, walking closer to the feline. “I have never seen beings like you before. You look like a furry human.”
Katherine smiled, playfully twitching her tail and wiggling her feline ears. “I am called a Companion. As you can see, I am half Balinese feline, half Immortal. Immortal is what you would call those of your world. There are many Companions in the Realm of Dreams, all of different species, shapes and sizes.” She dared reach her hand out for Ariana to take.
Ariana stared at it for a moment, contemplating. Should she take it?
Katherine pulled her hand away and looked into Ariana’s silver-blue eyes. “I understand if you do not trust me, Young One.” She said. “Use your Mystic’s Empathy to sense my intentions.”
“Empathy?” Ariana whispered.
A memory from two years ago echoed in her mind.
“Come along, Ariana Moon.” The unknown raven-haired woman said softly, tugging at her hand. “This is for your own good.”
Right away, Ariana could sense something wrong with the house. It was an orphanage, full of pain, hurt, anger, despair, distress and fear. There were no feelings of love, hope, or home. No feelings of family, just hate.
She shook her head, reddish-blond curls whipping in her face. Her temple hurt with the overflow of negative emotions coming from inside.
“I do not want to go.” Ariana told the woman softly, holding onto her comforting hand. In that woman’s hand was warmth and love, the exact opposite of what was waiting inside the house ahead of her. “It does not feel right.”
“Shut your empathy off, child.” The woman said softly. “You won’t need it here.”
“I remember coming to the orphanage two years ago.” Ariana told her tale in a low whisper. “I could feel the negative emotions from inside the house. The counselor who took me there told me to turn it off, but I did not dare.”
“The Mystic’s Empathy is a very powerful, and useful gift, once trained right.” Katherine told her. “I can help you hone your abilities.”
Ariana looked into her emerald eyes. “You can?”
Katherine nodded, reaching her hand out once again. “Will you trust me, Young One?”
Ariana smiled, taking it. “I am Ariana.”
“Aye,” Katherine chuckled. “I am Katherine, or Kat.”
With a wink, Katherine took her through the hedge maze to meet more Companions.
Her new feline friend introduced her to many Companions; some feline, others canine, and even a few avians. Ariana felt safe enough to relax around them, as they were nothing but friendly toward her. For the remainder of the night, she had fun, almost feeling at home in the Dream Realm.
Later, in a secret part of the Garden, Katherine taught her how to juggle using magical balls of colored light. After many tries, she was able to without dropping them.
Without warning, her head pounded and empathy kicked in. She made the balls of light disappear before standing from the boulder and moving toward what she Felt.
“Ariana? What is it?” Katherine purred, worried.
Ariana’s eyes met those of an injured Companion hiding in the brush ahead of her. “There is something out there. He is in great pain; I can feel it.”
Katherine was interested, so she followed. Ariana stopped in her tracks, keeping her gaze on the injured Companion.
“What do you sense?”
“He is cradling his arm; from what I can sense, it is broken.” Ariana tilted her head to the side and closed her eyes. “The creature was beaten, abused for sticking up for himself and his brethren.”
Katherine purred sadly. “Creature? Is he Companion or Dominionite?”
“Both, yet more Companion.” Ariana opened her eyes and went to the brush.
“Always.” Ariana assured with a smile before separating the bushes. Her eyes met those of the Companion. He was shaking, scared, and a low growl rumbled from his throat. “Be still, Companion.” She smiled. “I will not hurt you.”
It was a Timber Wolf and it was dressed in Dominionite Warrior leathers. There was a long scar going from his snout to his cheek.
“Wolf!” Ariana heard Katherine’s voice exclaim as she pushed by Ariana’s side to help him out of hiding. “What happened to you?”
“Master beat me.” His voice was rough, eyes still fixed on Ariana’s.
“Come, sit on the rock.” Katherine put her arm around him and helped him walk. She addressed Ariana. “Can you heal him?”
Ariana nodded. “If he will let me.”
Wolf raised his good hand to ask. “Who are you?”
Ariana kept her smile. “I am the Young Guardian, and a friend of Katherine’s.” She explained. “My name is Ariana Moon and I am an Ancient Mystic.”
“Mystic?!” He growled, straightening only to fall back on the boulder, feeling his bruises.
The pain also shot through Ariana’s system.
“She is my Dreamer Charge.” Katherine stopped him, cupping the side of his canine face. They met eyes and her purr calmed him. “She is Lord Guardian’s successor.”
Wolf took Katherine’s hand and gently kissed it.
“She can heal your wounds, Wolfram Stargazer, if you let her.” Katherine went on once she had his attention.
Wolf stared at Ariana in a new light. “I would bow if I could, Young Guardian.” He told her. “I apologize for my insolence.”
“You need not bow to me yet, sir.” Ariana told him. “I am only a mere child in my world, though still a powerful healer.” She looked to Katherine. “At least, that is what Katherine tells me.”
“Than it must be true.” Wolf laughed. “I am – was – Wolfram Stargazer, one of the Master’s Dominionite Warriors.”
“Not by choice, I take it?” Ariana asked sadly. He shook his head. She stepped closer. “Can I heal you now?”
Wolf smiled, nodding. His hand was still in Katherine’s as she closed her eyes and placed her hands on his wounds. First, the broken bones in his left arm and wrist; next, the flog marks on his back and last, his cheek. When she was finished, there was only a scar on his snout to show for the severe beating he received from Orthos.
“I apologize if I cannot make them disappear completely,” Ariana whispered once she opened her eyes and surveyed her work.
“It is all right, Young Guardian.” Wolf told her. “I thank you for healing me.” He turned to Katherine and stood. “I should be going back to the camp, before they send a search party for me.”
He gently kissed her cheek before shifting to his full-Timber Wolf form.
“Wolf,” Ariana stopped him before he could lope away. She knelt to him and hugged him. “You may call me Ariana, anytime.”
And you may call me friend. Wolf let her hug his neck before disappearing back to his hiding spot.
Thank you, Friend. Ariana stood and smiled after him.
Katherine nudged her, purring. “What did you think of him?”
“He is much too sincere to be a Dominionite.” Ariana replied. “I like him.”
“Good, because so do I.” Katherine blushed.
The girls giggled and continued to play in the Garden until morning came in the Outer Realm and Ariana had to leave.
The next morning, Ariana awoke to find the necklace was still there. For the first time in two years, she had hope for her future. Hiding it underneath her shirt, she ran to show her best friends, Amethyst Theresa and Aaron Theodore.
She found them at one of the dining tables and headed over to them.
Ariana heard someone clearing their throat, looking up to see Mrs. Gertrude frowning at her. “You’re late.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Gertrude.” She mumbled, taking her seat next to Amethyst.
Once Mrs. Gertrude was out of sight, Ariana told the twins all about the Dream Realm, including the Companions she met there and magic she was able to do.
I wish you could join me. She thought to them telepathically.
“You’re not the only one.” Aaron agreed.
Amethyst, whose nickname was Aimee, let out a wistful sigh, daydreaming as she picked at her food. “What if we could?” She asked softly. “Wouldn’t it be great?”
How? Ariana asked, touching the hidden necklace. I doubt Lord Guardian would let you.
“He’s not a good Lord if he doesn’t let his successor bring her friends along.” Aaron remarked.
I will ask him the next time I see him. Ariana told her friends.
“Thank you.” Aaron whispered, taking her hand.
You are welcome. Ariana told him. You need the escape more than I do.
Later that afternoon, Ariana and the twins played in the backyard, pretending they were somewhere else.
“You can’t catch me, Ari!” Aaron cried, hands in the air as he ran. “I’m Superman!”
“Let’s get him!” Aimee whispered to a smiling Ariana.
The two ran after him until he disappeared around the shed. As they turned the corner, Mrs. Gertrude appeared.
“What is going on here?” She yelled fiercely, hands on her hips and scowl on her face that made her look like a bulldog.
Aaron ran to take Ariana’s hand, hoping to shield her from abuse. “We’re just having a little fun, Mrs. Gertrude.”
Aimee, run! Ariana cried in her mind, her eyes focused on Mrs. Gertrude’s.
She was scared, her heart pounding, just thinking of what her mistress might do to them. I wish she would just go away!
The Locket around her neck grew warm under her shirt. She used its warmth as strength.
Sure enough, as the wish was finished, the mistress was frozen in fear, widening her eyes as she stared at the necklace. Hands off her hips and face going blank, she turned around and walked away.
With shaky hands, her knees gave out, forcing her to the ground.
“Ari?” Aaron knelt down to her level.
Ariana just stared, amazed. I just wished, and it happened.
Aaron met her eyes and hugged her. “Are you okay?”
She nodded absently.
“I don’t know how you did it, but I’m glad you did.” Aaron whispered in her ear.
“Race you to the attic!”
Soon after, Aaron and Aimee were on kitchen duty, leaving Ariana alone in their tree house. She sat with her legs crossed, the Dream Locket in hand.
How was I able to do what I did to Mrs. Gertrude? What about speaking in my mind to the twins, and feeling others’ emotions? Why did I have those special abilities when the twins did not?
She dared take the Locket off, examining it in her hands. Tired of thinking and asking herself questions she had yet to know the answers to, she closed her eyes. She concentrated on the mental image of the necklace’s special jewel.
She could faintly hear Mrs. Gertrude’s voice from afar, arguing with an older woman in her office.
“What do you want with me, Dixilynne Ryan?” Mrs. Gertrude demanded.
“I want to see her, Helen.” The woman’s voice was gentle and kind.
Ariana could sense Dixilynne’s sincerity from the tree house, and the magical aura in her tone was almost like that of the counselor that brought her there two years ago.
“Susan told me not to have any of you see or talk to her.”
Who was she talking about? Ariana listened in.
“She is an Ancient Mystic now, and must be brought up as one, regardless of what my daughter has told you.” Dixilynne countered. “Now where is she?”
“Probably running around with her bratty twin friends somewhere.” Mrs. Gertrude huffed. There was a rustle of papers, and Ariana thought she was trying to avoid the subject. “You search for her. I have work to do.”
“I know she used her powers on you, even if she did not realize it.” Dixilynne said seriously. Mrs. Gertrude stopped rustling papers to stare. “I only want to see how she is doing, nothing more.”
“Why care now, Dixilynne?” Mrs. Gertrude asked. “Why drop her on my doorstep two years ago without a by-your-leave and not visit until now?”
Dixilynne pondered her next words. “For fear of her overhearing, let us just say it is Destiny.”
“Destiny.” Mrs. Gertrude spat. “What do I care for your destiny?”
Dixilynne was patient. “You do not have to care, only watch over her until she is ready.”
Mrs. Gertrude was silenced. “Go find her for yourself.”
“Thank you, Helen.” Dixilynne said, closing the door behind her.
Ariana opened her eyes and stared at the necklace.
Who was Dixilynne talking about? Why do I feel so close to someone I never met?
She shook her head in wonder, replacing the necklace securely around her neck and under her shirt.
“Ariana Moon, come to me.” Dixilynne’s musical voice whispered just loud enough for her to hear it.
Ariana stood and poked her head out the open door frame to see a beautiful elder woman with long black hair and silver-blue eyes.
She has my eye color! Could she be a relative, come to take me home?
Dixilynne smiled. “There you are, Young One.” She said softly. “Will you come down to greet me or should I come up?”
After a moment of thought, Ariana gestured for Dixilynne to come up. Dixilynne winked, looking to either side before closing her eyes and disappearing.
Ariana had to rub her own eyes to make sure she was not seeing things. She felt a hand on her shoulder, turning to meet Dixilynne’s smile.
Dixilynne laughed softly. “I do not mean to scare you, Ariana Moon. I only came to see how you were.”
I am okay. Ariana told her with telepathy. Aaron and Aimee are my best friends. They protect me, and I protect them.
“I do not doubt it.” Dixilynne laughed gently, sitting on a makeshift chair in the corner. “Come, sit on my lap. We have much to speak about.”
Ariana still feared strangers, so she used her empathy to sense Dixilynne’s kindness.
“Appeased I will not harm you?” Dixilynne asked.
Ariana nodded, approaching her and sitting on her lap.
Who are you?
“I am a friend; that is all I can tell you for now.” Dixilynne stroked her cheek, noticing the necklace. “So, Lord Guardian has finally given it to you.”
Ariana smiled. You know him?
Dixilynne nodded. “It is good to see you smile.” She said. “My husband tells me, ‘Darling, smile, and the whole world smiles with you.’” She hugged Ariana’s shoulders. “Why do you not speak aloud?”
I am afraid. Ariana looked down. I sensed bad things when I first came here. Every time I try to speak, I am punished for it.
“That’s awful!” Dixilynne whispered. “You must be allowed to speak, no matter who wishes to harm you for your words.”
Why are you here?
“I sensed your magic awakening and have come to check up on you.” Dixilynne explained.
Ariana looked back up at her with interest. Those things I can do – it is magic?
Dixilynne nodded. “Ever notice when you are beaten, the bruises disappear overnight?” Ariana nodded. “That is magic as well, Ariana Moon. The ability to sense the feelings of those around you is called –“
Empathy. Ariana said in her mind. The counselor told me to shut it off, but I felt safer with it on.
“As you very well should.” Dixilynne smiled. “Empathy is a very powerful gift. It can warn you of danger before you get yourself into it. Now telepathy, however, is what you have used with me and your twin friends. Telepathy is conveying messages through one mind to another.”
Do you know what else I can do?
“Let me think.” She said. “Along with Empathy and Telepathy, you can bring objects to you with only a thought – that is called Telekinesis; you heal yourself automatically – a very rare yet useful ability, once trained right; and travel to the Inner Realms with only a Chant. Anything I am missing?”
Ariana shook her head, wrapping her arms around Dixilynne’s neck. Please take me home with you.
Dixilynne was afraid of this. “I am sorry, Ariana Moon, but it is not yet time.” She rose and Ariana rose with her, her eyes filled with disappointment. “We must each live our own destinies.”
With those final words, Dixilynne hugged her, kissing her cheek before she disappeared.
For the next four years, with Katherine Hawk’s help, Ariana was able to learn more of her magic. She still hardly spoke around Mrs. Gertrude, preferring to speak in Aaron’s and Aimee’s minds. She also learned she had more powers, such as premonition, the ability to see into the future, and clairvoyance, the ability to see into the past based on a magical aura left on items she touched. She learned all about healing and had the ability to talk to animals, both powers of what Lord Guardian called “Unicorn Magic.”
She also learned how to shift her Dream Realm form with Wolf’s help, when he could get away from the Master, enabling herself freedom to either fly with wings or race through the forests unseen with the cunning of the wolf. She learned each day; both in the Outer Realm with the twins, and the Realm of Dreams with Lord Guardian, Wolfram Stargazer and Katherine Hawk. It seemed Lord Guardian was right; she was able to do anything she wished in the Realm of Dreams, if only she put her heart and imagination to it.
She was almost afraid of the answer when she asked Lord Guardian one night if the twins would be able to join her. He put her at ease when he nodded, telling her to give the twins the Dream Chant when he gave them each a Dream Locket identical to hers.
One day in the Outer Realm, Ariana noticed Aimee’s attention was to the house across the street from the orphanage.
“Why don’t we go over there?” Aaron asked, inching closer to the girls.
“What, are you crazy?” Aimee cried, tucking a small clump of hair behind her ear. “We’ll get caught!”
Not if I use my powers. Ariana felt the pull from across the street as well, looking from the house to the twins. She walked toward it, something in her gut pulling her there. I cannot explain it, but we must go over there. Now.
Aaron raced to her side since she was walking fast. “Did you have a vision?”
She stopped in her tracks just short of stepping into the road. Something like that.
Ariana also learned to call the images in her mind caused by premonitions ‘Visions’, as they happened often, ultimately coming true shortly after.
She walked again, determined.
Across the street, a boy with black hair stopped bouncing a basketball long enough to glance in their direction. The boy next to him paused as well, wondering what the other was looking at. That one was shorter than the first, and wore eyeglasses.
His aura was wild and the magical pulse from it familiar, yet very different from hers. Could he be a Mystic as well? If so, could he help her?
Knowing silent observation would give her more answers than talking; she walked over to the boy and tested him with her empathy.
He Feels funny. Ariana thought to herself, frowning. The Dream Locket pulsed as if questioning, agreeing with her. Not like a Mortal at all, yet not like a Companion. I will have to ask Lord Guardian about that.
“Wait up!” Aaron cried behind her.
Once she was safely across the four-lane road, she stopped in her tracks again, turning around to find Aaron and Aimee running to catch up with her.
She pasted on a smile. Sorry guys.
Aimee caught up and smiled back. “It’s okay.” She turned to the boys and waved, smiling at them. “Hi there!”
The shorter one with glasses smiled back at Aimee shyly.
“Hey,” The other one nodded at Aaron. “You three live at the orphanage?”
“I’m Aaron, and this is my twin Aimee,” Aaron introduced.
“Hey,” the shorter one eyed Aimee, smiling when she blushed away.
“What’s your name?” The taller boy nodded at Ariana, rolling his eyes at his brother.
Aaron looked to her, taking her hand. “That’s Ariana; she’s a little shy.”
I know you can hear me. The shorter one’s voice echoed gently in her mind.
You are a telepath? Ariana gasped, tensing.
“What is it?” Aaron felt her fingers move in his palm. “Are you okay?”
Ariana looked at him, nodding.
“She tenses because I sent her a telepathic message.” The shorter one smiled.
“Telepathic. Right.” Aaron huffed. “Who are you guys anyway, if you can do that?”
“I can’t read minds.” The taller one shook his head. “Only Scott can do that.”
The shorter one raised his hand. “That’s me.” He said. “I’m Scott Archer and that’s my older brother Seth.” He pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Would you like to play some basketball?”
Seth bounced the ball from one hand to the other, “We’re going for the team this year and need the practice.”
“We’ve never played before.” Aimee said. “Can you show us how?”
Scott lit up. “Sure!”
Aaron turned to Ariana, his eyes asking her. Is it okay?
Ariana nodded, smiling. She did not say a word as they played, preferring to watch in silence from the grass. Aimee and Scott sat beside her, caught in conversation as if neither of them were there. One didn’t need empathy to tell they were more than friends from the first moment their eyes met.
It was refreshing, in a way. Ariana bet that Scott would fall for Aimee, perhaps even love her someday? The thought made her smile at him.
Scott? She dared ask him in his mind. He turned to meet her silver-blue eyes. How are you telepathic?
I don’t know, honestly. Scott answered, smiling at her. I just started hearing others’ thoughts last year.
Are you a Mystic, too?
No; I’m Mortal enough. Scott told her. I know what you are, and you can rest assured neither of us will tell anyone.
Ariana smiled at that, nodding. Thank you, Scott Archer.
You are very welcome, Ariana. Scott sent to her before speaking aloud. “I know what your mistress does to you and the other children. Consider our home your safe haven, for as long as you’re here.” He shook his head and frowned. “I’m just sorry I can’t do anything to stop it.”
“We appreciate your friendship, Scott.” Aimee said softly, placing a hand on his lap to assure him. “The other kids shun us because of what she can do.”
“What can you do?” Scott asked Ariana.
“Don’t tell him, Ari.” Aaron called from across the half-court.
Ariana frowned, sensing the jealousy in his voice. She closed her mind to him, opening it for Scott. I still do not know for sure.
“Is it all right if we tell him what we know?” Aimee wondered.
Ariana nodded, placing her index finger to her lips.
“Yes, I know; secret.” Aimee smiled. She turned to Scott. “Telepathy, Empathy, Clairvoyance, Premonition, Healing, and Telekinesis. In the Dream Realm, she can shift her form.”
Scott smiled. “With the exceptions of Healing and Shifting, I would say the five basic Mystic powers.”
“How do you know about them?” Aimee asked, sharing an astonished look with Ariana.
“A woman by the name of Dixilynne came to us four years ago, giving me a job to do.” Scott explained.
Ariana’s memory clicked at the name. Long black hair with silver-blue eyes, tall and speaks as I do?
“So you know of her?” Scott asked, nodding. “Why aren’t you with her instead? I thought she would’ve wanted you home with her.”
Ariana shook her head. She said it was not yet time. I must first live my destiny.
Lord Guardian O’Dell’s successor? Scott asked in her mind.
She confirmed it. Dixilynne explained?
“Okay, you two.” Aimee spoke up. “Don’t you know it’s rude to keep someone out of your mental conversation?”
Ariana closed her eyes and reopened her mind to Aaron. Sorry, Aimee. I forgot you were linked to him.
“Why shut us out, anyway?” Aimee asked.
Aaron’s being rude.
“I’ll talk to him later, okay?” Aimee promised.
Ariana nodded, her attention back to the half-court where Seth and Aaron were still playing one-on-one.
What job did she give you? Ariana wondered.
Scott looked to Aimee before taking Ariana’s hand. A familiar buzz of warm magic passed through her. When she looked, she could see the aura was unlike her own. Instead of silver or opalescent, it was burgundy. Oddly enough, it comforted her. I was to watch over you until you met your destiny.
My destiny? What do you mean? Ariana blinked, taking her hand back and shoving it in the pocket of her shorts. Embarrassed, yet secretly glad she had a new friend looking out for her, she turned her attention back to the scene.
I’m not sure what you know or how much I’m allowed to tell you. Scott cleared his throat, his own attention to his brother and Aaron playing. Let’s leave it at “you’ll just know,” okay?
Ariana sighed, reluctantly closing her mind from Scott as she lost herself in thoughts of what he could mean.
They visited with the Archer brothers until near-sunset, before heading back across the street.
Aaron was not happy, both girls could sense it.
Aaron? Ariana was worried. He was acting peculiar, even for him.
He was holding Ariana’s hand so tight, she winced, yanking it away. He stopped in his tracks, and them in the middle of the road.
“You were flirting with him.” Aaron accused.
“So?” Aimee defended, wrapping her arm around Ariana’s shoulders. “I’m allowed, aren’t I?”
“Not you,” Aaron frowned, nodding to Ariana, “her.”
Ariana shook her head. I was not! He was being nice.
“‘Being nice,’ she says.” Aaron scoffed, shaking his head and turning back to the house ahead of them. “Ari, he was holding your hand and you were eating out of it.”
“What are you talking about?” Aimee asked. “Scott is more interested in me than he is in her.”
I am ashamed of you, Aaron Theodore. Ariana frowned, hands on her hips as she sent her disappointment to him in an empathic wave. Dixilynne gave him a job to do.
Aaron turned back around. “A job?”
Ariana and Aimee both nodded. “Dixilynne trusted him with watching over her until she meets her destiny.”
Whenever that may be. Ariana sighed. She looked straight ahead, breaking from Aimee’s embrace. We better go. Matthew Steven is waiting for us and he looks more than happy to catch us breaking the rules.
“Let’s get this over with.” Aaron’s jealousy and anger melted away as he took both his sister’s and Ariana’s hands in his own, marching to the front door.
Matthew Steven was Mrs. Gertrude’s nephew and biggest spy. Just as Ariana predicted, his arms were folded and a snide smile was on his lips, green eyes laughing at them. “Boy, are you three in trouble?”
Matthew Steven thumbed in the direction of Mrs. Gertrude’s office.
She was scowling when they arrived, as expected. “What do you think you’re doing, going across the street without permission?”
Ariana inched closer to Aaron, afraid.
“We only wanted to play with them, Mrs. Gertrude.” Aaron interjected. “No one else will play with us.”
“Huh.” She harrumphed. “There will be no playing of any kind for either of you for a week.” She stated. “As of this moment, you’re to pull double duties and return to your bunks each night.”
Ariana, Aimee and Aaron stood tall, even though they were scared. “Now go!” She yelled, pointing to the door.
“Yes, Mrs. Gertrude.” The twins chorused.
That night, Aimee remarked. “At least she didn’t beat us this time.”
Ariana nodded, fingering the Dream Locket around her neck. “We will escape to the Dream Realm.” She said aloud in a whisper. “That is one place she can never reach us.”
Aimee smiled at that. “I’m glad you finally trust us.”
“You are the only ones I do trust.”
“What about the Archers?”
“We just met them today.” Ariana whispered. “I do not know much about Seth, but I do trust his brother. I just do not know why.”
“Have you used your empathy on him?”
Ariana nodded. “Nothing but sincerity, but there is something more. I cannot tell what just yet. Something that might have something to do with his job for Dixilynne.”
Aimee sighed. Ariana hugged her goodnight and climbed up to the top bunk, snuggling into her sheets.
“What if we could do what you can?” Aimee wondered as she lay awake an hour later.
Ariana was still awake, thinking. What do you mean?
“I mean, what if Aaron and I could do magic, too?” Aimee asked. “We could learn together, and you wouldn’t feel so alone.”
My magic is in my blood, so I guess that would be one way. Ariana thought.
“A blood pact of some kind should do it.” Aimee supplied.
Something clicked in Ariana’s mind, her interest piqued. Blood pact?
“I read about it in one of Challandra’s spell books a few weeks ago.” Aimee yawned. “Speaking of, we’d better head to the Dream Realm before Lord Guardian searches for us. Good night, Ariana.”
Good night, Amethyst. Ariana grasped the Dream Locket in her hand and called the Chant as she fell asleep.
Instead of arriving at the Mystic Palace with her friends, Ariana was stuck in a nightmare.
She witnessed the fight from the sidelines. An older version of herself was fighting, defending the good side with her powerful magic. She studied the woman in front of her – the same reddish-blond hair, silver-blue eyes, but different Dream Locket around her neck. It was glowing, as was the wand in her hands, a stone-laden stick of bamboo with a quartz crystal glowing at one end while the quartz at the other end was dark and cloudy. Upon her back was a sword with three different crystals aglow at the end, red, green and blue. The magic that flowed from the older one’s hands glowed silver, shot at the nearest beast in front of her, which turned out to be a large demonic version of a mutated Companion ram.
“Little help here, guys!” She yelled, shooting another burst of silver-colored magic from her hand to the oncoming beasts. The bursts managed to knock out a pair of oversized wolves and a rather large rat. Another large wolf with glowing red eyes and sharp fangs attacked her from behind, knocking her down. She was able to roll away and shoot another burst of silver magic at it, rendering it immobile and whimpering before turning her attention to the other beasts that attacked. “It would be appreciated!”
“On my way, Young Guardian!” A male cried, coming to her rescue with a golden blade. “Let me give you a hand!”
Ariana gasped, peeking out from hand-covered eyes as she watched the male slice an arm off of a rather large jungle cat that was in mid-pounce. It landed feet in front of him, growling as it limped away, red eyes no longer glowing.
Ariana let out the breath she was holding, glad the cat didn’t make its kill on her older self.
The older version of herself groaned at her male friend, pausing to look in Ariana’s direction.
Impossible. Ariana shook her head, disbelieving her own eyes. Was the older self able to see her?
The Young Guardian in her vision nodded at her.
From the corner of her vision, Ariana could see three more mutated monsters racing behind her. She gasped, pointing. The older version of herself turned around, unsheathing the blade, twisting the hilt in her hand to make it glow before hacking their heads off.
What are those things? Ariana wondered, scared.
They are called Dominionites; evil versions of Companions. The older version of herself echoed in her mind. Her inner voice was different, hardened from years of fighting. Watch and learn.
Other fighters with Dream Lockets and magic ran to her side. Ariana could not see their faces, only the glowing Dream Lockets around their necks.
As Ariana watched, the older version of herself fought alongside the fighters against all manner of monsters, all grotesque and mutated versions of the Companions.
A great roar was heard from above, and all stopped fighting to look up.
It was an evil black dragon with yellow eyes, flapping its wings and blowing blue-white flame from its nostrils to a white-coated, white-feathered Uni-Peg with rainbow colored hair and golden horn. The jewel beneath his horn was no longer swirling with bright color, but dulled, as if the magic in it was no longer potent or the Uni-Peg was losing hope.
Ariana and the fighters below watched as the Uni-Peg was thrown to the ground below them, left wing ripped off and horn broken from his head.
The Uni-Peg lost his shifting form; a man lay to the ground in his place. The jewel that had been beneath his horn on a coronet was covered with blood.
“No!” Ariana cried from her place.
That’s when she disappeared, eyes snapping open and heart racing as her conscious and body returned to her bunk.
She turned her head and saw the evening stars twinkling above her.
Was that for real, or another premonition?
Not wanting to believe it a Vision of the future, she grasped the Dream Locket around her neck, called the Chant and thought of her new friend and mentor, Katherine Hawk.
The next afternoon, once they were safe, Ariana told the twins about her nightmare.
“Sounds scary,” Aimee supplied. “Are you sure it’s not a vision?”
I hope not. Ariana shrugged, still shaking in fear at the image of Lord Guardian’s body lying lifeless. I am nowhere near ready to succeed Lord Guardian.
“We might be able to help you with that.” Aimee smiled.
Aaron and Ariana were both curious.
“I thought of the Blood Pact today.” Aimee smiled at her brother.
Ariana nodded, smiling.
“What’s a Blood Pact?” Aaron asked, looking from his sister to Ariana.
Where I give you some of my blood. Ariana took his hand. It will also give you some of my magic.
Aaron was enthused. “We’ll be able to help you learn! Great idea, Ari.”
It was Aimee’s idea, not mine. Ariana shook her head. She studied him for a moment, not needing to use empathy to sense he was excited about the idea. Are you sure you want to do it?
“Sure, why not?” Aaron shrugged, squeezing her hand.
Aimee told him. “It’ll be hard on us, you know.”
“As she learns, so will we.” Aaron pointed out forcefully. “It’s perfect.” He kissed Ariana’s cheek, making her blush. “When do you want to do it?”
The girls looked at each other.
Aimee looked to Ariana. “Tonight?”
Ariana closed her eyes for a moment and grasped her Dream Locket.
She saw a vision of herself stealing a knife from the kitchen before another vision of the three of them sitting in a circle in the dark came into view.
Ariana opened her eyes and nodded. “Tonight; I will think of a spell before then.”
The twins nodded, confident she would.
After dinner, the three of them volunteered for dish duty. When Mrs. Gertrude gave them an apprehensive look, Ariana sent a telepathic message to her mind. Nothing suspicious here. With a shrug, Mrs. Gertrude was sent on her way and they were able to continue with their plan.
Lights-out came faster than they thought. The girls stayed awake as their room mentor, Sandy, did her final patrols of the night before heading to bed. As soon as Sandy’s little lamp was out, Aimee and Ariana uncovered themselves, replacing their pillows for their bodies, just in case, before heading out the window. They climbed to the tree just outside the window and jumped down from a limb; all without making a sound.
“Got the knife?” Aimee whispered.
Ariana reached behind her and tapped her back, nodding. We meet Aaron in the passage, aye?
Aimee nodded, running as quietly as she could to the barn and through a secret passageway behind a rotted wood panel in the far wall.
A single candle was on a makeshift table, gently lighting the small room. Aaron was waiting there, legs crossed and clasping his arm.
“Aaron,” Ariana said softly. “Are you nervous?”
“Of course I’m nervous Ari, but in a good way.” Aaron pasted on a smile. “I’ll be okay, you’ll see.”
“Good.” Aimee chided, sitting down beside him.
“There’s still time to back out.” Ariana eyed him. He was nervous, his toes tapping the floor. “I will not make you do anything you do not want to do.”
Aaron looked up at her and snapped. “I said I’d do it, didn’t I?”
Ariana was shocked, blinking. Without another word, she sat on Aaron’s other side and pulled out the knife.
It was a small steak knife, but it was clean and would do the job.
“Have you figured out a spell, yet?” Aimee asked. Ariana nodded. “So who will go first?”
“I will.” Aaron held his arm out. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Ariana took a deep breath, closed her eyes and chanted as she held the knife, “May the scars made from this ritual knife heal clean.”
She opened her eyes, took his hand and sliced a three-inch line down his forearm. He winced in pain, holding his breath and tongue, not wanting to cry out. Using the same knife, she sliced her arm as well. Oddly enough, it did not hurt. She clasped his hand and rubbed their wounds together, chanting,
“What’s mine is yours and yours is mine.
“Part of mine now yours until the end of time.”
She heard him gasp, Felt him wanting to scream. He was hurting; she could Feel it as well. She met Aaron’s eyes, saw the fear in them and held on tighter. He was in pain; she had to say something to reassure him. Fear not, my Aaron Theodore, for I am with you.
Aaron nodded, not saying a word.
Aimee was nervous as she sat across from them, watching in silence.
Ariana unclasped his hand to place it under his forearm. The blood pooled at the surface, leaving a strong line down his arm to his wrist. She dared place her free hand on it and close her eyes, using the little Healing ability she learned to clean the wound and close the scar. In moments, the blood was gone and so were any feelings of pain he had. In its place was a scar that ran from his wrist halfway up his arm.
“Are you okay now?” Ariana asked.
I am as long as you’re here. His voice in her mind startled her, making her smile.
The two of them looked at Aimee. Aimee was biting her lip, looking from one to the other.
“Your turn,” Aaron croaked. “It’ll only hurt for a minute; I promise.”
“I hope you’re right, Big Brother.” Closing her eyes, Aimee threw her arm out.
Ariana blessed the blade again, repeating on Aimee what she had done to her twin Aaron.
Aimee reached her hand out to Aaron, who took it and squeezed. She winced and Ariana felt bad for her sister-friend. There were tears coming from Aimee’s eyes.
As Ariana took Aimee’s arm, she thought telepathically, Relax, Amethyst Theresa. Feel the warmth of my Healing touch. Watch the wound disappear, along with any pain felt by it.
Aimee met her eyes and nodded, her attention going to the wound. As promised, the wound closed up, blood disappeared and a long scar identical to Ariana’s and Aaron’s appeared in its place.
Aaron released his twin’s hand. “How do you feel?”
Aimee blinked, confused.
Ariana could almost ‘see’ the path her blood was making in the twins’ systems. There was a bright green glow coming from each of their scars, and the magic settled in their bodies.
Spiffy. Aimee’s voice was loud and clear in both their minds.
“Now we’re the Three Musketeers.” Aimee said aloud. A spasm hit her as the magic met her temples. “Darn if it doesn’t hurt!”
“Relax, Aimee.” Ariana told her gently, turning to her brother. Aaron was pretending he was fine, but in fact, he was in great pain as well as the magic settled in his system. The magic mixed with their bloodstreams, causing pain, but Aaron remained strong.
You are in pain. Ariana frowned at him. Relax; please. She turned to Aimee. Both of you.
I do this for you, Ariana Moon.
Ariana pasted on a smile. I know you do, but you must relax to avoid suspicion of what we did tonight.
“I can feel your emotions.” Aimee was holding her temples. “I can hear your thoughts.”
Ariana placed a hand on Aimee’s. “Remember what the Sisters taught me? Block everyone else out; only let in those emotions you feel comfortable sensing. Control will take time.”
“You’ve always known how to do that.” Aaron argued.
“It will take time. I will be here to help you, as you have always been there for me.” Ariana supplied. “For now, we need to return to our beds for the night, before someone catches us.”
The twins nodded, agreeing. Aaron blew out the candlelight and headed out of the passageway just ahead of the girls.
Once out of the barn, Ariana took each of the twins’ hands and raced them back to the building, undetected.
Aaron hugged Aimee first, then Ariana, kissing her cheek. Pleasant Journeys, my Ariana Moon.
Ariana smiled. Meet you at the Palace, my Aaron Theodore.
The girls headed back to their bunks. Sandy was still asleep and the girls were grateful. The half-moon outside shone with just enough light to see by.
Unknowing how she did it, Ariana used her mind magic to send them to the Dream Realm as soon as their heads hit their pillows. They needed it as much as she did; all three were exhausted, magically and physically.
As she lay in bed, fingering the new scar on her arm, she had a feeling the twins would go through thick and thin with her and for her.
She counted on it for the future.
The Unicorn Statuette
That night, Lord Guardian was not impressed when he found out what they did, but he did understand. Enchantra approved, smiling as she welcomed the twins to the Palace. Challandra foresaw something special about Aimee, introducing her to different herbs, plants and their magical uses. They learned the twins had Unicorn Magic; power to hear and understand animals, control over the element of Earth: which included healing with their hands with and without special herbs and spells, and sensing others’ emotions. So far, the twins were only telepathic with Ariana and various animals surrounding the Orphanage.
The nightmare of her older self fighting the oversized Dominionite monsters with her friends continued, growing ever stronger and clearer. She could see two more faces, those belonging to the older versions of the twins. She sensed the bond they had with one another as they fought with green-colored magic; Aimee dressed as a purple-winged fairy and Aaron as a wizard clad in brown leather. They worked in harmony with the four shadowy figures against the Dominionites.
The older version of herself told her what to learn in the present to change the future. Ariana remembered everything, even telling Katherine, Lord Guardian and the Sisters what she dreamed. Each time the nightmare became more intense, Ariana was scared out of her wits for three days, worrying for Lord Guardian’s life.
Back in the Outer Realm, the week flew quickly, just as Ariana had wished. During the day, the three of them would stick together, as always. They called themselves the Three Musketeers. When they finished with their evening chores, they worked in secret on learning and controlling the Unicorn Magic.
Once the week was over, they secreted away across the street.
“I’m sorry we got you in trouble.” Scott apologized the first time they visited.
“That’s okay,” Aaron said, shrugging an hour into their visit. “I’m just sorry I jumped to conclusions.”
Scott was confused, laughing. “Excuse me?”
“I thought you liked Ariana, but you really like Aimee.” Aaron said with a smile.
“Aaron!” Aimee hid her blush in her hands. “I’m sorry, Scott. He’s an idiot.”
“He’s not. He’s telling the truth.” Scott smiled, taking her hand. “May I?”
Use the empathy, as you learned. Ariana sent to Aaron, eyeing Scott and Aimee.
Aaron took her hand for confidence and relaxed his sensors enough to use his new empathy power on Scott. True enough, Scott was legit; he would not hurt Aimee.
Aaron smiled after a moment and nodded. “Have her back before dark, okay?”
Scott bowed. “That I will, my friend.” he said. “Thank you for trusting me.”
Aaron nodded. “You’re welcome.” He looked to Ariana. “Besides, I want some time alone with Ari.”
Ariana gawked, which made Scott chuckle.
Aaron smiled at her. “Race you!”
Ariana smiled back, racing ahead of him.
He managed to race ahead of her, leading them to a small room in the corner of the attic. Ariana sat on the makeshift cot-of-a-bed they used when they practiced too much and needed rest.
“What are we doing here?” Ariana whispered, looking out the small window to the children playing in the yard below.
Aaron grinned. “You’ll see.”
Ariana was suspicious, yet anxious. He Felt happier each day since they made the Blood Pact. Also since then, her feelings for him were growing. She knew he Felt the same way. They spent more time together, exploring their feelings for each other.
She watched as he moved dusty boxes away from the wall, revealing a piece of wood whose color did not match the rest of the attic. He slid it to the right and reached behind it, coming out with an oblong package covered in newspaper.
Aaron sat next to her on the cot, handing it to her before kissing her cheek. “Go ahead, open it.”
“Aaron,” Ariana started, picking at the clear tape holding the newspaper together. “I know not what to say.”
“Say nothing until you open it.” Aaron clapped his hands, excited.
Ariana giggled, ripping the tape off.
Under the first layer of newspaper was a card. She read it out loud. “To my Ariana Moon. May all your dreams come true. My Love, your Aaron Theodore.”
Her heart thumped. “Aaron,” she whispered.
“You’re not done yet, Ari.” He quickly kissed her cheek. “Open it!”
She shook her head and laughed, unwrapping the remaining three layers of newspaper and tape to discover a white porcelain unicorn with white wings and a golden horn upon its head. There was even an opalescent jewel glued underneath the horn.
“It’s Lord Guardian!” Ariana cried just above a whisper. She hugged him. “Oh, Aaron, wherever did you get it?”
“Does it matter?” He asked, kissing her cheek. “All that matters is that you’re happy.”
Ariana blushed. “It’s beautiful. I love it.”
“I thought you would.” Aaron kissed her lips.
Ariana felt the zing from his kiss. Sure, he had kissed her several times before, but it was always on the cheek, never on the lips.
The porcelain unicorn dropped from her hands. He wrapped his arms around her and deepened the kiss, pulling her closer to his chest. She did not object, enjoying both actions, especially the kiss.
When they parted a moment later, they stared at each other.
She sensed he wished more than just a simple kiss from her. She stood from the cot and stepped away from him.
She shook her head. “I know what you wish of me. I apologize, but I am not ready.”
“I only want a chance to love you, as a man loves a woman.”
“Aaron Theodore, we are children.” Ariana pointed out. “Not even the age of puberty yet. What you wish from me must wait.”
He stood and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Ari.” He stepped closer to her, reaching his hand out. “Forgive me for wanting you so soon.”
“You will have me, Aaron Theodore.” Ariana announced softly, taking it and wrapping her arms around his neck. “I have Seen it. I will let you know when I am ready for such an adult step in our relationship.”
She kissed him, a tear running down her cheek to their joined lips.
Aaron ended the kiss this time and held her close. Please don’t cry, my Ariana Moon.
They are not tears of pain, my Aaron Theodore. Ariana sent back, burying her face in his chest.
They are of love. Aaron thought to her, kissing the top of her head.
“What do we know of love?” She said aloud. “Brought together by painful upbringing, forced by a magical bond.”
“I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to the Pact, Ari.” Aaron pointed out. “I do it for you, for us. Aimee, you, and I.”
“What do you do, Aaron?”
“I protect you in any way I can.” He told her, kissing her lips again. “I love you, and my twin, with all my heart and soul, magic and mind. You both mean the world to me.”
“As you mean the world to me.” Ariana smiled. “I would be lonely and lost without you.”
“I feel the same about you, Ariana Moon.” He let go, pacing to the cot and laying down. Taking the unicorn in his hands, he told her. “That’s why I gave this to you.”
Ariana sat next to him, taking the unicorn in her hands and pressing it to her heart. “I am glad you did.”
He sat up, not meeting her eyes. They sat in silence for a few moments. Ariana took his hand, immediately sensing the link between them was blocked. After a minute, he winced, holding his temple.
“Whatever is wrong, please tell me.” Ariana whispered in his ear, kissing his cheek. “Why hurt yourself so needlessly?”
She felt his hand relax against hers, as did their link and his mind.
They were quiet, laying down on the cot and holding one another as they gathered their thoughts. Ariana waited for him to tell her what was on his mind, rather than getting it from him with telepathy. She promised herself and him she would never betray his trust in that way.
After what felt like an hour, he spoke up. “I’ve had a premonition.”
She was alert, listening. No one told them premonition was part of the Unicorn Magic. “What did you See?”
“You were going to leave us soon.” Aaron said.
“Do you See when?”
“No; only that you will, and we’ll be here all alone.” Aaron kissed her nose. “I wanted you to keep the unicorn as a reminder of me, and our love.”
“Somehow, I could never forget you.” Ariana whispered, wrapping her arms around his neck. “No matter what happens in our future, you will always be my best friend.”
Ariana kissed him.
They fell asleep holding each other on that cot, waking up later to Aimee’s nudge and the full moon’s glow above.
A year later, they returned to the attic, out of breath and shaking from running.
Aaron plopped on the cot to catch his breath. “Are you okay?”
Ariana huffed, nodding. “I am glad Aimee got away in time.”
“Me, too.” Aaron huffed. She sat next to him. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Ariana tucked her hair behind her ear and nodded again. “Of course I am okay, for now.”
Aaron tucked a clump of hair behind her other ear and kissed her cheek. “You’re so beautiful.”
Ariana turned to him with a start. “No one told me that before.”
Aaron took her hands. “I know.” He grinned. “That’s why I’m telling you now; so you know.”
“Thank you.” Ariana blushed away.
“You’re welcome.” Aaron breathed as he kissed her.
It was time. She knew it, he knew it.
Aaron Theodore, Her mind-voice moaned. Love me.
He stopped kissing her for a moment and looked into her eyes. “Are you sure?”
She nodded. “I am more than ready.”
His heart thumped nervously in his chest, taking her mouth with his and savoring her flavor as she savored his.
I will always love you, my Ariana Moon. He sent to her mind, his hands lazily exploring her body. His lips moved to her neck, hands slowly lifting her shirt up to gently kiss her budding breasts. He managed to slip her shirt over her head, lips kissing their way down her stomach and hips. Once he unzipped her shorts and pushed them down with her help, she spread her legs, allowing him access to her innocence.
He just stared in wonder. “Are you sure you want this as much as I do?”
Aaron quickly stripped, kissing her again. His hands caressed her body from her breasts to squeeze them. She let out a small moan, urging him to go on. Kissing his way down her stomach, he cupped the sex in between her legs, separating the labia to expose her core. Ariana felt his tongue licking inside her, taking the nub of her clitoris in his mouth and gently sucking on it.
Oh, my Aaron Theodore, She moaned to him, shaking in his embrace as he licked faster. Do not stop! It feels so good.
Only for you, my Ariana Moon. He returned. Once her body shook with her first orgasm, he lifted himself over her, meeting her eyes. I love you.
Ariana wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down for a kiss. I love you, too, my Aaron Theodore.
Driven by those words, he breached her maidenhood. She gasped in pain, holding her breath and wincing, lips breaking the kiss. He stopped and stared into her eyes. “Relax.”
Ariana took deep breaths and closed her eyes, nodding her head.
He kissed her again, filling her to the hilt and beginning a soothing rhythm that took both their minds away from the orphanage. There was only pleasure as they made love in that attic. I promise, we’ll be safe. He assured in his mind. As one.
The words warmed her heart, and she believed them.
The Maiden and Other Nightmares
Ariana didn’t recognize the place she arrived in the Dream Realm that night. It didn’t feel safe, only frightening. Images shimmered around her, each more terrifying then the previous. A chilling wind blew, whipping her hair around her face as she walked. She tried calling the Dream Chant again, or turning around and walking through her aura trace to wake up, but nothing would work. A foul-smelling wind gently whipped her hair in front of her eyes, stinging her nose and blowing her aura trace away.
“No!” Ariana cried, holding onto her Locket and reaching out. How will she get home now?
She saw a figure in the distance, covered in shadows. As a precaution, she used her Empathy. Right away, she perceived the same feelings as she did in her Dominionite nightmares. Death, destruction, hatred, and chaos. She sensed pure, relentless evil in the being ahead of her.
She took a deep breath and swallowed her fear.
It is only a dream, right? She mused. Nothing could hurt me here, was that not what Lord O’Dell and Katherine promised?
Speaking of Katherine, where was she anyway? Should she not have met me here, or was she busy with duties around her uncle’s Dark Tower home?
“‘Welcome to my parlor,’ said the spider to the fly,” the figure moved toward her, chuckling under her breath.
As it came closer, Ariana saw it was a woman: evil smile on blackened lips, black hair, red-glowing eyes and pert breasts nearly-bursting out of a thick black chainmail corset. The woman wore black leather pants, smiling as she slapped an English-style horse riding crop against a black gloved hand.
She recognized the riding crop from her studies in the library, when she could get away with it. Putting that knowledge in the back of her mind, Ariana’s attention was drawn to the wild contrast of the woman’s pale skin against all that black.
“What are you?” Ariana whispered, meeting the woman’s eyes. Now that they were no longer glowing red, she was pulled into the twin pools of black ember, frozen in place.
Ariana’s question was ignored.
“My, my, what do we have here?” The woman crooned, tracing Ariana’s shoulders with the rider’s crop as she circled her. “A young Dreamer, lost in Witches Grove.”
“I am no ordinary Dreamer.” Ariana spoke up, gaining confidence. “I am an Ancient Mystic.”
The woman stopped in front of her and laughed. She snapped the rider’s crop against Ariana’s shoulder, making her jump. The woman looked her square in the eyes and studied her for a moment. “I have never seen a Mystic Dreamer with strawberry hair. You even smell different than any Mystic I have ever encountered.” The woman paused. “What is your name, Mystic Dreamer, and those of your parents?”
“My name is Ariana Moon.” She said confidently, standing at attention, eyes daring the woman to do something. “I am alone; I have no parents.”
“I told you my name; now tell me yours, before I zap you into eternal agony.”
Where did that come from? Whatever it was, she thought, it sounded good.
“I highly doubt you have that much power.” The woman scoffed. “You look no more than twelve Mortal years of age.”
“You are observant, for a demoness.” Ariana was on a roll, though she did not know where the words or the confidence to say them came from.
The woman studied her with a grin. “Do you not know who or what I am, Ariana Moon?” Ariana shook her head and the woman stepped back. “Surely you know of the Dominionite Armies?”
A picture of an oversized mutated Dominionite from her nightmares popped in her head.
“All too well, thank you.” Ariana supplied, frowning. “They have haunted my nightmares since I was seven. Dominionites are oversized, mutated, grotesque creatures with no minds of their own, all bent on destroying everything in their path. I was told they used to be Companions; stolen from their families, stripped of their powers and controlled by the Dominionite Master.”
The woman was silenced for a few moments, staring into Ariana’s eyes with a scowl and arms crossed under her breasts.
“Who told you such tales?” The woman asked.
Might as well tell the truth.
“Katherine Hawk told me, and so did Lord Guardian.” Ariana stated.
“That explains it.” She scoffed. “You are Lord Guardian’s successor. Titled the Young Guardian?”
Ariana nodded. “I am always training to fight the Master’s Dominionite Armies.”
“You still did not tell me who you are.” Ariana frowned. She tried using compulsion on the woman. “You will tell me your name, or die a horrible death.”
The woman’s face went blank, lips losing their sneer. Her hands went limp at her side, riding crop dropped to the ground. Ariana smiled, knowing that magic had worked.
The woman smiled and chuckled under her breath. “Is that the best you can do?” She whispered. She raised her voice to normal octave. “That was a brilliant try though. You see, Ariana Moon, Young Guardian, whoever you are, while that was a strong use of compulsion, it was nowhere near strong enough to penetrate my mental defenses.” The woman picked up the crop and slapped it against Ariana’s shoulder again.
“Will you quit that?” Ariana cried, irritated. She used telekinesis to pull the crop from the woman’s hand and thrown out of reach.
The woman shrugged, unmoved by the display of power. “Did Katherine ever tell you about the Master’s offspring?”
It only took a moment to dawn on her. “You are Sabrina?”
Sabrina nodded. “In the flesh.”
Ariana gulped, for Katherine told her all about Sabrina, the Dominionite Maiden. Along with being terribly spoiled rotten, she was mean, evil, and downright awful to her personal armies of Dominionites. She treated them like slaves for her own desires, training them to destroy everything that got in her way.
“What are you going to do with me?” Ariana asked. “As you see, I am stuck here, my aura trace disappearing with the wind.”
Sabrina laughed. “Silly girl.” She gestured around. “You are deep in Witches Grove. This place is one of illusions.”
She waved her arm behind her. Another wind blew for a moment, and Ariana’s aura trace reappeared.
Ariana took a step toward it but Sabrina grabbed her arm, pulling her back.
“I will let you leave now, but beware. I will be watching you, my pet.” Sabrina released her.
Ariana frowned, meeting Sabrina’s black pools with her own. She felt the heat in her system, a kind of angry heat that told her she would see the Maiden again. The heated magic made its way to her eyes, and she could swear they glowed as she growled. “I am nobody’s pet, Sabrina.”
She turned on her heel and made it to her aura trace. The last thing she saw before waking up was Sabrina’s look of astonishment and fear.
Ariana opened her eyes and held her pounding temple.
What was that? She thought to herself in awe. I have never been that confident before. Her head continued to pound, even when she tried using her Healing Magic to will it away. Why does my head hurt so much?
She heard Aimee groan in her sleep. She poked her head to see Aimee had her hands linked under her head, brown eyes wide open, the Blood Pact scar pulsing dark green and a frown on her lips.
Ariana pulled the covers from her body and went down to sit by her.
Okay, Ariana Moon. What’s up?
That is what I would like to know. Ariana took her almost-sister’s hand. It helped Aimee to hear and send telepathic messages without pain. I was lost in the Dream Realm, a place called Witches Grove, met Katherine’s cousin the Maiden named Sabrina, and gained confidence I never knew I had.
Why did you end up there? Aimee asked. According to the Sisters, Witches Grove is in the Dominion.
I do not know. Ariana shrugged. I returned with a massive headache. Think you can take it away?
Aimee sat up, felt her scar and took a deep breath. I could try.
Ariana nodded as Aimee placed her hands on her temples and closed her eyes. She could feel the warmth coming from Aimee’s hands, soothing her headache. In moments, it was gone and Ariana yawned.
Thank you, Aimee. Ariana stood and went back up to her bunk. Pleasant Journeys.
Within moments, both girls were sleeping.
The nightmare continued. Dominionites were attacking, the older version of herself and the twins were attacking back. When the Dominionites were knocked out, the older version of herself huddled her friends together. She recognized the twins but still did not know who the four shadowy figures were. In moments, all but her older self and the man with the golden blade disappeared.
To her surprise, Ariana’s older self found her watching and walked over to her.
“Remember the rules, Young Guardian!” The man with the golden blade shouted, sheathing it on his back.
Young Guardian, rather, the older version of herself, stopped for a moment and turned to him. “Yes, Protector. I remember. Please, just trust me?”
The man nodded. “Always, my lady. Meet you back home.”
Young Guardian waved goodbye as he disappeared through his aura trace. She turned back to Ariana.
“Sulheya and greetings, Ariana Moon.” Young Guardian smiled. “May I sit next to you?”
Ariana was in shock, but nodded.
“Thanks. As you could see, I needed a rest.” Young Guardian sat next to her. “So tell me, how long has it been since I first saw you watching us battle those things?”
“A few years,” she managed to croak. “Are you really an older version of me?”
Young Guardian nodded. “Aye, I am.” She looked ahead, frowning. “How old are you now? Twelve? Thirteen?”
“Twelve, ma’am.” Ariana whispered. “I will not ask your age, for it is impolite.”
“Aye, it is.” Young Guardian said. “How long has it been since you and Aaron made love?”
Ariana’s eyes widened. “How do you know about that?”
“I know everything about you, because I am you.” Young Guardian supplied. “Only, quite a few years older, of course.”
“How do I know you are not a Dominionite in disguise?” Ariana was suspicious, crossing her arms. “Prove it.”
“Fine.” Young Guardian rolled up the sleeve on her right arm. “Here’s the proof. The Blood-Pact scar, shared by all three Musketeers, made by me – you – when we were eleven. We wanted Amethyst and Aaron to help us with our magic, only to find they had the Unicorn Magic of their own. The details from there are fuddled, but it’s all I have for you that proves my identity.”
Ariana believed her. “Thank you, and I apologize.”
“It’s okay.” Young Guardian smiled. “Now will you tell me how long it’s been?”
Ariana thought for a moment before nodding. “It has been a fortnight, ma’am.”
Young Guardian smiled. “A fortnight meaning two weeks?” Ariana nodded. “It’s just about time then.” She sighed under her breath. “Your Mystic Studies?”
“Going well, but without Katherine.” Ariana told her. “She has somehow disappeared from my empathic sensors. Not even Lord Guardian can sense her.”
Young Guardian smiled. “Fear not, she’s not far. I promise you that.”
Ariana was suspicious. “Do you know something I do not, other than what happens between our time frames?”
“I know a lot, including you had your first nightmare with Sabrina.” Young Guardian frowned. “Try not to fight her just yet, you are neither powerful enough nor trained right.”
“I thought Lord Guardian and the Sisters were training me to fight?”
Young Guardian shook her head. “He is training you to be his successor. In time, even a long time from my present, you will take his place.”
“I know this, ma’am.” Ariana supplied.
Young Guardian smiled. “Drop the ‘ma’am’ bit, okay? No one talks like that anymore.”
“They are no longer polite in your time?”
“Yes, and no.” Young Guardian sighed, shaking her head in thought. “You will learn when you leave the orphanage.”
As soon as she said it, Young Guardian’s eyes widened and she clasped her hand on her mouth.
Ariana stared at her in shock. “Leave? How would I leave?”
Removing it, she whispered. “I apologize; you were not supposed to know that.”
Ariana stood. “It is too late. You already said it. Now, tell me the details, please!”
Young Guardian stood as well, holding her hands up in surrender. “I cannot. It’s against the rules.”
“Rules.” Ariana scoffed. “I do not know of any rules.”
“Well, I do!” Young Guardian cried, making Ariana step back, afraid. “I took a vow not to break them.” She calmed before sighing again. “You will learn, in time.”
“It is always ‘in time,’” Ariana complained. “I am learning my magic in secret, with help from the twins, always hoping that one day, I will have the opportunity to use it to destroy the Master. I cannot do that until I learn how to use my magic for fighting, as I see you do.”
Young Guardian was quiet. “I am sorry, Ariana Moon. I cannot tell you when or how. I can only guide you on your path until we become one.”
On that statement, Young Guardian grasped the different-looking Locket around her neck, closed her eyes, whispered in another language and disappeared.
Ariana was left in confusion, finding her aura trace and returning to her bunk.
She awoke, hot, sticky and troubled. The windows were open to the muggy summer night, but there was no cool breeze to take away the humidity. She was bathed in her own sweat, her covers tangled around her. A quick thought to both Aaron and Aimee’s minds told her they were safe in the Dream Realm somewhere.
She just wished she could join them. No matter how many times she called the Locket’s spell, she would not budge. There had to be a reason all this was happening to her.
Ariana sat up, pushed the sweat-drenched hair out of her eyes and looked out the window.
Why is this happening to me now? First I met Katherine Hawk’s cousin in Witches Grove, wherever that is. I still have no idea how I got there if I have never heard of the place before. After a burst of confidence that left my head aching, the nightmare continued. Each time, I meet my future self who only speaks in riddles. She claims she cannot tell me about the future, only lead me down my path. What path is she talking about and what did she mean by “until we become one”?
She wrapped her arms around her legs and sighed.
Forgive the intrusion, but that statement means when you grow to become her.
Ariana blinked in the darkness. That voice, it sounded like Katherine Hawk!
Her feline friend purred her answer. Ariana was glad for the company, but confused. How are you, my friend, and how did you find me from so far?
Katherine purred sadly. Uncle Orthos Banished me here once I found about his laboratory.
How awful? Ariana looked up at the moon feeling bad for her friend.
I sensed my twin Kitten’s Claw in trouble, racing to her side. When I found her, Uncle was throwing her whiskers into a large cauldron. I was too late. She was already gone. Katherine paused, tears choking her words. He killed her for his selfish plans!
Calm down, Katherine. Ariana closed her eyes and pictured the two of them in her mind. Katherine was just as surprised to see herself in front of Ariana’s form as Ariana was that the imagery magic worked. Ariana hugged her. You are okay now. Safe, with me.
Katherine nodded, sniffing before continuing her story. I was so shocked to see my sister unconscious on the laboratory floor, I moved. He found me, called a spell and Banished me.
How did you know how to find me?
Katherine smiled. I just thought of you.
I have missed you, my friend. Ariana smiled, opening her eyes and laying back down on her bunk.
As I have missed you. Katherine purred. Do not believe we are finished with your lessons, just because I am Banished to you.
Ariana chuckled softly to herself. A quick empathic sweep around the room confirmed her roommates were still deep in sleep. She hoped they would stay that way.
Ariana closed her eyes, once again using imagery magic to stand beside her friend, deep in her mind.
I was hoping to talk to you about that, Katherine Hawk. Ariana told her friend about her previous nightmares, including the one starring her cousin Sabrina. I wish to learn how to fight with my magic.
Be careful what you wish for, my young friend. Katherine answered. As your older self told you, it will happen in time. Now is definitely not it.
I must do something! Ariana cried in her mind. All those Companions deserve some kind of revenge, do they not?
Aye, they do, but your destiny leads you somewhere else for now. Katherine purred as her mentor. Ariana knew to listen. You are not yet powerful enough to fight my Uncle, cousins and their Dominionites.
The Companion feline was right, and Ariana knew it.
Must I only stand aside while Companions die as Dominionites, homes destroyed, and families separated? Ariana whispered, her heart pounding, just thinking about the Realm of Dreams’ Companions she called friends. The Realm was peaceful until the Master ordered his Dominionites to wreak havoc and chaos. Do I smile while the Master and your cousins demolish the Realm of Dreams in their bitterness and fight for revenge?
Katherine’s arms went around her image in a hug that sent tears down Ariana’s cheeks. There is naught either of us can do but prepare. Learn, live, love and most importantly, grow. You are but a child to them, in mind, body and magic. I know your heart believes you are much older than your twelve summers. Keep the faith, learn what you can, both in your magic and, when you are ready, in the fighting arts.
Ariana nodded, sniffing back her tears. It just hurts so much, Katherine. I can no longer stand aside while our friends and your home is taken over by the Master and his Dominionites.
Katherine rubbed her back. In time, you will be ready to fight. As I said, your destiny leads you elsewhere for now. Know that until then, I will be there with you, for you, helping you as much as I am able.
Ariana nodded again. The four of us will work together, learn together, and grow together.
Katherine hesitated for a moment before agreeing.
The Enchanted Child
Two weeks later, Ariana found out exactly what Katherine meant by “your destiny leads you elsewhere for now.”
She figured it out when she was eating everything in sight, only to throw it up later. She was always sick. Mrs. Gertrude thought it was a summer bug, excusing her from chores. Aaron and Aimee more than made up for her absence, especially when her moods were unpredictable.
Just to be sure it was only a summer flu, she went to the library down in the orphanage’s basement. Searching out medical books and studying them under the dim light until the evening meal, she pieced it together.
She was pregnant with Aaron’s baby.
She quietly put the books back before racing out of there, determined to find the twins and tell them.
Aaron and Aimee were practicing their Unicorn Magic with a squirrel in the tree-house; the same tree house Ariana met Dixilynne. She climbed the trunk as fast as she could. When Aaron met her eyes, Aaron’s were concerned.
“I have to tell you something.” Ariana huffed. “It’s about that day in the attic.”
“So tell us.” Aimee pushed. “You look a little flushed. Come in, sit down and relax.”
“Aimee, I cannot relax. Not now, not ever.” Ariana hurried, holding her stomach.
“Sure you can. Do you have a stomachache?” Aimee asked, placing a hand over Ariana’s and closing her eyes. The other reached out to Aaron after a moment.
“Not exactly.” Ariana mumbled. “Feel deeper than that.”
It took only a moment before Aimee squeaked, yanking her hands away and covering her mouth. The twins looked at one another before meeting Ariana’s anxious eyes.
You’re pregnant! Aaron sent to both of them, eyes wide in fear.
Ariana closed her eyes and nodded. I do not know when, or how, but I must to run away to save her.
Feels like you’re only a month along. Aimee hugged her. We’ll help.
“Pretty soon, the summer bug will run into autumn, then winter.” Aaron spoke up. Not to mention she’ll show soon. How are we going to explain it?
“We’ll work our magic; all of us.” Aimee rubbed Ariana’s shaking shoulders. “All for one and one for all, right?”
Aaron and Ariana held hands and nodded. “Three Musketeers!”
Four months into her pregnancy, Ariana had a nightmare.
She was sitting in a chair, eyes closed and hand protective over her enlarged belly. Mrs. Gertrude was over her, calling her names and yelling at her. She was afraid as she sat there and listened.
Without warning, Mrs. Gertrude grabbed her wrist and glared at her.
Please, do not hurt me…Her mind begged, but the words wouldn’t come out.
Pulling her along, Mrs. Gertrude went to her desk and pulled out a long wooden cane.
Goddess, please! Help me! She silently begged, her mind going blank as she was beaten to a pulp. She screamed as blood spurt from between her legs, and the half-formed child was stillborn. She cried, ignoring the screams from Mrs. Gertrude, the names she was being called – tramp, whore, Jezebel.
Exhaustion beat at her mind and her body was in terrible pain. All she could think of was the dead baby lying on the floor in front of her.
“Never disobey me again.” Mrs. Gertrude growled, letting go and leaving the room.
She was able to rest, staring at what was left of her hope and chance for freedom. She curled up in a ball, never realizing when Aaron raced in to hold her.
Gods, no. She heard him plea in both their minds.
“How dare she do this to us?” Ariana whispered between gasps of tears. Her body shook in his embrace but she was glad he was there. “Our baby…dead.”
She cried again and Aaron held her tighter. “I’m sorry.”
She awoke with tears in her eyes, curled in a ball and shaking. Aimee woke with her, climbing to her bunk and holding her.
“It’s only a dream.” Aimee whispered, kissing her temple.
Ariana could feel the tear run down Aimee’s face. Something told her both twins had witnessed the nightmare as well.
I only hope so. Ariana whispered in Aimee’s mind, cuddling closer and grasping her almost-sister’s free hand.
She and the twins were quiet for a week after the nightmare, secretly plotting. Aaron feared both his premonition and the shared nightmare would come true. Ariana could sense he was helpless to stop it.
Soon, Ariana could no longer fit into any of the hand-me-down clothes brought in by numerous charities or given to her by the Archer family. They never knew, of course; the Archers were all too happy to do anything in their power to put smiles on the faces of those abused children in Shore Point Orphanage.
Six months into her pregnancy, Ariana began to show, and could hardly walk without wincing in pain. Sure, she was able to soothe the pain with magic, but it quickly tired her out. The twins often found her fainted on the ground outside, the attic in their hiding place, or the floor of any number of rooms. To avoid suspicion, one of the twins would always be with her, ready to lend a helping hand when she needed it.
Thinking of the nightmare that played in her mind for the past two months, she had to do it; she had to run away. The only problem was, she did not know how, or where she would go. She just knew in her heart of hearts that she had to run away. She wouldn’t give the nightmare of her baby’s death a chance to come true.
In a flash of an idea, Ariana headed across the street to the Archers. They had always helped her and the twins now, whenever they needed it. It was time for one more small favor.
Okay, so borrowing money to live on was not a ‘small’ favor. She thought, knocking on the door. But I must try.
Seth Archer, the older, taller brother with dark brown almost-black hair still wet from showering answered the door. “Ariana!” He looked from one side to the other, and glanced across the street as he ushered her inside and closed the door behind them. “If Madam Pain catches you, she’ll beat you to a pulp.”
Ariana sat on the couch, took a deep breath and opened her mouth. “I have come for two reasons. One was to say goodbye.”
“You’re leaving.” It wasn’t a question; rather, a statement. He stood over her, arms crossed. “When are you due?”
“I know not, for I have not visited a physician.” Ariana explained. “The twins and I have researched it. According to the Medical Journals we found in the downstairs library, she will be born soon. Hence my second reason for coming. I need a favor from you.”
“What’s the favor?”
Ariana looked up at him, a protective hand on her enlarged stomach. “Could you loan me some money to live on until I establish myself?” She asked. “I will pay you back in no more than thirteen years.”
He blinked. “Thirteen years?”
“That should more than enough time, should it not?” Ariana asked him. “Please, Seth. I really need this favor. I must leave the orphanage and venture on my own. Otherwise, neither of us will live to see the future.”
“What will I get in return?” He asked. “Why should I? You got yourself into this; shouldn’t you get yourself out of it?”
Ariana shook her head, tears coming to her eyes. “Seth, please! You must understand; it is a matter of life or death. I would not ask for such unless I was in dire need, which I am!”
Seth’s face softened. After a moment of thought, he whispered, “Wait here,” before leaving the room.
He returned a few minutes later with a stack of bills in his hands. “I was saving up for a computer, but you’re more important.” Reluctantly, he handed it to her. She gingerly took it. “Scott told me about what you call Destiny. You can’t live that destiny while you’re still in that dump here in Shore Point, now, can you?”
She counted it. It was two-hundred dollars in mixed bills. “Thank you very much, Seth.” She hugged him once pocketing the money. “You will never regret this.”
“I hope not.” Seth kissed her cheek and hugged her. “You’re worth it, Ariana Moon. You and the twins have long lives ahead of you. This assures me I’ll see you again in the future.”
Ariana nodded happily, pulling away from the embrace. “You do not know how much those words mean to me.”
Seth winked. “Oh, I think I do.”
“May I ask one more, much smaller favor then?”
“Scott and I will look after the twins for you.” Seth smiled as if reading her mind.
That was a relief. “And here we thought Scott was the Telepathic one.” She smiled. “Again, thank you.”
“Again, you’re welcome.” Seth nodded. He kissed her cheek again, hugging her once more. “Take good care of yourself, Ariana Moon. May you have pleasant journeys on your path, wherever it may lead.”
The familiar blessing from the Inner Realms comforted her as she headed across the street and back to the orphanage. As if the Goddess herself was watching over her, she returned to her bunk undetected.
A few days later, she was ready to go. Before she left, she wove magical bracelets of three different-colored yarns for the twins to wear. She placed a protective charm on the bracelets, promising to always watch over them in their dreams, and their hearts. She would try to be there, whenever they needed her. They would remain safe from harm until their destinies intertwined once more.
With the money in her pocket, a small pillowcase of clothes and the Unicorn Statuette wrapped in one of Aaron’s old sweatshirts, she headed out the door to the girls’ room.
Ari. The simple word came from Aaron’s mind.
She turned to see him leaning against the boys’ room door. He took her hand, pulled her in a tight embrace and kissed her lips. Ariana felt a tear run down his cheek to their joined lips.
Remember always; I love you, my darling Ariana Moon.
I love you too, my wonderful Aaron Theodore.
They broke the kiss. One swift moment, Aaron pushed her away and returned to his bunk without a glance. She sensed the hurt in his heart, and it tore through hers like a bullet to the brain. Swallowing the tears and gathering her confidence, she headed out the door.
They were going to miss each other dearly.
A few hours later, she was on the streets of an unfamiliar town that night. She did not want to be there, but knew she had no choice. She was scared, holding her stomach and wishing with all her magic she would find a place to stay before she gave birth.
A sharp pain went through her abdomen, forcing her to cry out.
No…She denied, trying to control her breathing. Not yet. Please Goddess. Not now.
Patience, Young One. A goddess-like voice echoed in her mind. Warmth flooded her body, instantly signaling the Goddess was there, angelic arms wrapped around her. I have sent one of my own to help you.
I am ever grateful, Goddess.
We are grateful to you, Young One. The Goddess purred. Your path is difficult, long and winding, but you will prevail. We have Seen it.
She Felt the Goddess leave, trusting in the entity’s words. Why would a goddess lie?
Another sharp pain pulsed through her body; this time, her lower back and kidneys.
She had to sit down, and quickly.
Looking around, she sat on the nearest bench and closed her eyes. Using as much Healing Power as she could without fainting, she soothed the pains to dull aches and waited.
“Ariana Moon?” She heard an elder gentleman call her name. Opening her eyes, she nodded. “I am a friend, sent by the Goddess.”
He had black hair and silver-blue eyes that matched hers. She smiled, whispering. “You are a Mystic as well?”
“A Wizard, but yes. I am also a Mystic.” He reached his hand out to her. “My name is Stephen Ryan. Do you trust me?”
Despite the magical exhaustion beating at her, she used her empathy on him. Her mind accepted him; her magic welcomed him. Smiling, she took his hand. He led her to a car, opening the door for her.
“I’ll take you to Shore Point General a few miles away.”
She nodded again. Thank you, sir.
He opened the driver’s side and climbed in. Before starting the engine, he turned to her. “Save your energy, Ariana. You’ll need it in the coming hours.”
Ariana nodded again.
“Right.” Stephen Ryan cleared his throat and turned the key in the ignition. “Buckle up.”
She watched when he showed her how, since they both knew she never rode in a car before. Once they were buckled in, he put the car into gear and drove to the hospital a few miles away.
Before she knew it, she was in the back room, being poked and prodded, asked questions she could only squeak the answers to, and caught up in chaos. She did not know when, but sometime in the few moments of chaos, she was hooked to an IV, relaxed, and could no longer feel her body from the waist down.
Stephen Ryan was there, answering doctors’ questions, filling out paperwork for her. He was also there when the doctor cried out, “It’s a girl!” an hour later.
One of the nurses handed the bundled baby into Ariana’s arms once she was cleaned up.
A small tuft of rust colored hair curled at the top of her head, silver-blue eyes identical to Ariana’s own blinked, focusing on her new mother’s face.
The name came from nowhere, but it seemed to fit.
“What’s her name?” Stephen asked for the awaiting nurse.
“Kelina Erin.” Ariana whispered with a yawn.
“She’s beautiful, Ariana.” Stephen whispered, touching her head. And so to rest go your weary soul.
The nurse took the baby from her. She felt the compulsive spell on her mind, but could do nothing to fight it. The next thing she knew, the world around her faded into blankness and she was dreaming.
Young Guardian’s Circle
The Path of Destiny
Ariana Moon awoke in a hospital bed, confused. Where was she? What was she doing here? Placing a hand on her now-flat abdomen, she remembered the short trip to the hospital by a kind man to give birth to a baby girl.
She thought of her and smiled, closing her eyes.
Slowly, she imagined her baby daughter lying in a lone crib and herself peering inside. Little Kelina Erin wasn’t crying. She was exploring her hands with magical silver-blue eyes that matched her mother’s. Ariana could even see a faint silver-aquamarine magic aura surrounding her. The tuft of rust-colored hair was darker, as if wet.
Kissing her fingers, she touched the baby’s head. Kelina Erin blinked and smiled, reaching her hands out. Momma.
Ariana picked her up and held her. What a magical child you are! She sent to the baby’s mind.
Kelina Erin cooed, sucking her thumb and cuddling against Ariana’s chest.
Ariana was glad her baby was healthy.
Kissing her newborn daughter’s head, she thought back to Aaron and Aimee. The images changed. The baby and lone crib disappeared, replaced by the image of her beloved Aaron Theodore.
Her heart skipped a beat, worried about him.
A boy with dark brown hair and a loving smile entered her mind. Aaron Theodore’s brown eyes were gentle, despite his orphanage upbringing. She could sense they were mind-to-mind once again, sending him the message:
Oh, Aaron. I miss you already!
Aaron nodded in her mind. I miss you, too, my Ariana Moon.
Their two images molded in her mind, linking their thoughts. His hugged her, kissing her lips gently. She kissed him back, holding on tight. When their lips parted, he showed her the bracelet tightly woven at his wrist.
You still wear it! Ariana was surprised, and hugged him happily.
I’ll never take it off, and neither will Aimee. Aaron thought back to her. I don’t want to lose you.
Ariana’s image shook her head. No matter what, my Aaron Theodore, you will never lose me.
Ariana opened her eyes when a sharp pain gripped her side, severing the link between them. Once again, she was alone. She took a deep breath and wished the discomfort away. She felt her hand warm with her Healing magic as the pain went away.
At least that part of the Magic is growing! Ariana thought to herself with a grin.
Her looming thoughts went to O’Dell, Lord Guardian of the Mystic Realms. The kind Uni-Peg Lord showed her, and her twin friends, the Dream Realm and the magic they held within.
O’Dell gave her a special Dream Locket when she was seven, shaped like a crescent moon with a star at the tip. The Locket still hung on its silver chain as a protective talisman around her neck. It gave her hope for the unknown future ahead.
Her eyes fell to it as she fingered the opalescent stone. My Lord Guardian, why did you foretell this to me? She asked in her mind. Why must I endure this to become your successor?
The path you will travel is full of hardships. Lord O’Dell’s gentle voice echoed in her mind. Have faith and stay strong. You will prevail.
How? I am but a child! She cried in her mind. I am unable to care for a newborn.
As I said, Young Guardian; have faith. Lord O’Dell left her mind then, just in time.
Someone was opening the door beside her, and she turned to see a tall young doctor walking in the room. He was smiling, carrying a clipboard. He had sandy blond hair and did not look a day over thirty. As he came closer, she could see his bright green eyes.
“How is our young mother doing today?” He asked, moving the sheets away from her stomach to examine her.
I could be better, Ariana thought to herself with a sigh. She nodded, whispering aloud, “Okay.”
“That’s good to hear.” He smiled, checking her pulse. His tag said, “Dr. Eric Mathews.”
She watched him glance at a long scar that stretched from one side of her stomach to the other. It was stapled shut and covered with strips of gauze.
Dr. Mathews caught her staring and replied with a gentle smile. “I’m just checking the incision, to make sure it’s healing properly. Looks like it is.”
Ariana nodded, watching him. “Why do I have an incision? Did you have to perform a Cesarean Section on me?”
“Bright girl.” He looked at her and smiled.
“Thank you. I learned in Medical Journals.”
“Fantastic.” The doctor responded, replacing the tape over the gauze strips and covering her back up. “The baby was in what we call the Breech Position. That is, her feet were where her head should have been. Don’t worry, the pain will subside in time, and the scar will seem to disappear.”
Ariana smiled. “Where am I?”
“Shore Point Mercy General in Shore Point, California.”
“What of the black-haired gentleman who brought me in?” She asked. “Where is he?”
“Oh, he just left. Wanted to wish you pleasant journeys?” Dr. Mathews shook his head, shrugging his shoulders at the last two words.
She smiled, understanding. Stephen Ryan was definitely a Mystic sent by the Goddess, for it was rare to hear the Inner Realms’ blessing in the Outer Realm.
“Any more questions?” Dr. Mathews’ attention was now to the clipboard in his hands, flipping pages and writing notes.
“No. Thank you, Dr. Mathews.” Ariana replied. “You have been very kind.”
He left then, leaving her with her thoughts.
The medication from the delivery were still in her system, so she closed her eyes and thought of the Dream Realm. She drifted off, her world spinning and her dream self searching.
The next night, Ariana was frightened at first, watching her private Dream World form around her. She heard a voice, but didn’t believe it. She was comforted once recognizing the Unicorn-Pegasus figure in front of her.
“The time has come, dear Ariana.” The Unicorn-Pegasus replied softly, shaking his mane of rainbow-colored hair. “You will now be trained as my successor with the Enchanted Child.”
It was the Lord Guardian of the Dream Realm, O’Dell. The stone on his head beneath the horn sparkled, and his feathery white wings bounced as he trotted over to her.
Suddenly, she wasn’t so afraid. In this form, she could tell him anything, confiding in his comforting guidance. She smiled at her Lord Guardian friend and embraced him.
Lord Guardian nodded his head. “Hop on my back and we will fly to the Mystic Palace.”
Ariana was scared until she remembered he would do her no harm. She grasped tufts of his mane and held on for dear life.
“You will be safe here,” O’Dell replied gently.
“I know that, my Lord Guardian.” Ariana smiled, letting the wind catch her strawberry-blond hair. She rode with her eyes closed until they reached the Palace of the Mystic Sisters, Enchantra and Challandra.
O’Dell touched down and Ariana jumped off his back like a seasoned rider.
Even after six years, the sight still marveled her. It really was a palace, with different dazzling jewels lining the window frames and doorways. A hanging chime just above the door sang a romantic tune when pulled; a tune that always put her at ease, no matter what came before the visit.
She stood watching O’Dell change to an Immortal form before pulling on it. Each time she watched him shift after being beat to sleep by Mrs. Gertrude, she was frightened. This time, it calmed her.
A beautiful belle opened the door after a few pulls. She had long hair the same color as the night, and a bright, magical smile. “Hello, O’Dell. Come in.”
Ariana was shy, hiding behind his human legs. It was a game she and the woman, the Mystic Sister Enchantra, played.
“Who do we have here?” The woman teased, staring at her with a kind smile.
“Only our Ariana Moon.” O’Dell explained proudly. “She just gave birth to the Enchanted Child.”
“Excellent!” The woman turned to Ariana. “Welcome back to the Palace, Ariana Moon.” Enchantra held her hand out as a gesture of sincerity and kindness.
Ariana took it, knowing the game was over and it was safe again. She let Enchantra lead her to another room. O’Dell followed.
They talked, with Enchantra explaining what an Ancient Mystic was, and what it was like in the Dream Realm. “Remember always. You can do anything your imagination will let you.”
“In this world, dreams are merely detours to the soul.” O’Dell replied. “Whatever you dream will come true, so be careful.”
“Yes, my Lord Guardian.” Ariana’s small voice squeaked. Her soft smile turned to a sad frown when she thought of her Banished friend-mentor Katherine Hawk.
“What bothers you, Young One?” O’Dell asked.
Ariana took a deep breath before speaking. “Katherine was Banished to me. I apologize for not telling you sooner, but I could not betray her trust. I hope I am not too late in saving her.”
“Katherine Hawk?” Enchantra replied, and Ariana nodded.
“You are not too late; only, too soon.” O’Dell was serious.
“Do not feel you betrayed her; you are right in telling us.” Enchantra said softly. “With Orthos’ attention now on you, it would be too dangerous for us to act.”
“Is there any way I can help her return home?” Ariana asked, interested. “Call a spell, Un-Banish her here? She misses the Dream Realm and wants to find her sister Kitten’s Claw, believing Orthos Banished her as well.”
“I apologize, but not right now.”
Ariana stood. “It is never when I wish it!” She cried, stomping her foot like a spoiled child not getting her way. The magic bubbled through her system, its silvery glow making O’Dell and Enchantra blink in surprise. “Do you remember what he has done to your Companion followers?”
They slowly nodded, scared of the thirteen-summers-old young woman.
“So do I!” Ariana looked from one to the other. She closed her eyes and calmed herself, the silver glow dissipating. Her voice softened. “I apologize for my insolence, Lord Guardian, but I grow weary of waiting.”
The duo studied each other before turning back to her.
“Have her help you with your growing power.” Enchantra replied in a whisper.
O’Dell closed his eyes and chanted something in a language Ariana still did not understand. He reached into the empty air and pulled a parchment of paper, handing it to her. “Together, mind-in-mind, call this spell. It will bring her here only with you, until we decide it is safe for her return.”
Ariana took it from his hands, feeling a burst of energy as she touched the rolled-up parchment. “Yes, my Lord. Thank you both.”
Enchantra smiled. “Familiarize yourself with the Dream Realm, and learn whatever you can.”
“This will be your world soon, too, Young Guardian.” O’Dell replied with a sigh.
She didn’t know what to say. Instead, she thanked them, returning to her world.
Lying in her hospital bed, Ariana stared out the window, secretly sad. She cried in her sleep, thinking about her daughter.
What will become of little Kelina Erin? Ariana thought to herself. Where would the little baby go?
Her thoughts halted on two words: Kelina Erin.
She dried her tears and took a deep breath. She had the feeling her baby would be more than just cared for by a loving family, she would be fine. Maybe Ariana would be reunited with her someday.
Speaking of Kelina Erin, where was Aaron Theodore right now? It was Mrs. Gertrude’s plan to sell the older children to rich families, and Ariana knew Aaron wanted to escape the hell-hole as much as she had. Had he escaped and made it?
Ariana closed her eyes and thought of his face.
Soon, she found herself with Aaron and his twin Amethyst Theresa, Aimee for short. One name popped into her head: Schmidt. The twins were dressed well, and both were happy. At least, Aimee was. Aaron seemed distant, longing for his best friend’s companionship.
He seemed to sense her and smiled; glad he was still in her thoughts. His image clasped the bracelet around his right wrist.
Ariana gasped. So my predictions were true! How surprising? She thought with a grin. We thought it was just a game!
Ariana smiled, happy for them, and came back from daydreaming. She looked to her wrist for the friendship bracelet she made before she left. Aimee and Aaron had one as well. They were like the Three Musketeers: All for one, and one for all. The twins were sorry to see her go, yet happy that she was getting out of the orphanage. Not many children escaped and lived to tell about it.
She thought of her best friend again. Aaron had been the one most affected.
Ariana closed her eyes and snuggled into the pillow, memories putting her to a somber sleep.
This time, she awoke in another hospital room. She sensed another girl there, about her age, and listened in. Ariana felt like she was being watched, opening her eyes to reveal herself.
“How ya feeling?”
The female voice belonged to a girl with matted curly brown hair. Her brown eyes were tired and she was dressed not in a hospital gown but a frilly pink nightgown.
Ariana tried her voice. It was tired, strained from disuse, but she had to use it sometime. She was no longer in the Orphanage with only her twin friends to relay telepathic messages. “Could be better.”
“The name’s Michelle Lambert-Sheridan.” The girl introduced, her voice with a lilt of Southern drawl. “You can call me Shelly.”
“I am Ariana Moon.” Ariana pasted on a smile. “Call me Ariana.”
“Moon?” Shelly asked, scrunching her nose in distaste. “What kind of last name is Moon?”
“It is my middle name.” She looked at her lap sadly, her eyes glancing at the necklace. “I do not have a surname.”
“What’s a surname?”
Ariana sighed and explained. “A surname is your last name, coming from your father. I do not have a father, nor a surname.”
“Really?” Shelly was interested. “Where’s your daddy?”
“I grew up in an orphanage.” Ariana could feel the tears wanting to escape.
“Don’tcha cry none, Ariana.” Shelly said. “I’ll talk to my daddy. He’ll want to adopt you.”
“You really believe so?” Ariana was skeptic.
“Sure, sugah.” Shelly told her with a grin, waving her hand. “No sweat. I always get what I want.”
Ariana sensed the spoiled rotten in her, but kept her tongue.
The door opened beside them. A couple walked in; an older version of Shelly with brown hair in a sophisticated bun, brown eyes and business clothes came behind an elder man with salt-and-pepper hair, mustache and leisure suit. The man was taller than the woman by at least a foot.
Neither smiled until they saw Shelly.
“Darling!” The woman raced to her daughter, cupped her hands on Shelly’s cheeks and kissed her forehead. “I hope they’re treatin’ you right.”
“They are, Mother.” Shelly looked over to Ariana. “Meet m’roomy, Ariana Moon. She ain’t got no home. Can we keep her?”
“Can we keep her?” Ariana thought, watching without expressing her thoughts. Makes me sound like some stray dog.
“You don’t say.” Her mother said, walking over to Ariana’s bedside.
Ariana watched as the woman studied her, pursed lips and hands clasped. “Strong cheekbones,” took one of her hands, “fingernails trimmed,” flipped it over, grinning, “calloused hands. Very good. Not afraid to work for your supper, are you?”
What was she doing, looking me over as if I were a mare? Ariana asked.
Be polite. Katherine purred. Or you will be back with Madam Pain.
“No ma’am. I grew up in an orphanage not far from here.” Ariana explained softly. “Each of us had our share of chores.”
“You don’t say.” Shelly’s mother smiled. Somehow, Ariana didn’t like that smile. “How would you like to stay with us?”
A little too eager, She thought to Katherine. “Yes Ma’am. I would like that very much.”
“Oh,” Her mother said. “She has manners. Lovely, dear.”
They visited for an hour, talking about the adoption.
The next day, she was healthy enough to see her baby. With help from one of the nurses on duty, she was led to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where they kept the newborns that were born too early.
Ariana found her out of many look-alike babies. Her rust-colored hair stood out, as did the silver-blue eyes. She is so beautiful!
As if hearing her thoughts, Kelina Erin turned to meet her eyes. Ariana smiled.
She felt a hand on her shoulder, and Dr. Mathew’s voice whispered. “Kelina Erin is a very special child, Ariana. She’s not yet five pounds, the recommended weight for healthy infants. We’ll keep her here until she is.”
Ariana nodded. “What of payment, and what will happen to her once she is healthy enough to leave?”
“Mr. Ryan took care of everything before he left, instructing us to place her in foster care.” Dr. Mathew’s voice told her, squeezing her shoulder. “The Sheridans – your new adopted parents – filled out the required paperwork so when you’re healthy enough, you can live with them. Isn’t that great?”
Ariana nodded again. “Yes, thank you very much.” She turned back to her daughter’s face, just feet away from the glass. She was hooked up to monitors and lying under a plastic cover that she guessed would keep her safe from outside germs.
“You’re welcome, Ariana.” Another tap to her shoulder and he was gone.
Kelina Erin, my beautiful daughter, you are more special than either of us could ever imagine. Ariana thought to her, once she had the baby’s attention. I have a feeling once we are reunited, we will be happy once again. You may not remember me then, but the next time I see you, it will not be for a long time.
I had a dream. You would have a much better life than I had ever had. You would have the best life could offer, and still stay as sweet as honey.
Be careful who you trust, little one. Ariana stopped there, wiping the fresh tears from her eyes. There are a lot of vicious people out there. As you develop your powers, always sense people with Empathy. See people for what they really are.
Ariana pressed a hand to the pane, sending a wave of protective magic her daughter’s way. I promise you this, my darling Kelina Erin. Once I establish a wonderful life for myself, I will search with my heart and soul to find you. Then we will become a family and both be home.
The Circle of Hate
She was released with Shelly and her parents a few days later. Her empathy was working overtime as she rode in the back of their gray limousine.
At least I will not be living in poverty. Ariana mused, listening to Shelly ramble on. All she speaks of is shopping, money and her friends.
Shelly may have been excited at the prospect of having a sister to gossip with, but the talk of it all bored Ariana to death. She was not interested in shopping, money or gossip of the latest fashions and movie stars. So not to break Shelly’s heart, Ariana smiled, nodding as she pretended to listen.
Their parents sat across from them, each on separate cell phones. Mrs. Sheridan was talking about fashion trends, investing money in the new maid they hired, and all the things she was going to buy the next she was in the Big City. Mr. Sheridan was on his, arguing with someone about an upcoming merger. Shelly ignored them as she continued to speak, holding Ariana’s arm.
Why do I not have a good feeling about this arrangement? Katherine purred, speaking in her mind for the first time in a week. The girls met in the Dream Realm since O’Dell gave them the spell.
Perhaps because I do not, either? Ariana responded in her mind, watching out the window.
Best be cautious then, my friend. Katherine responded.
I will, count on that. Ariana noticed the street they turned on was filled with identical houses, each big enough to fit several families. Although they were adorned with different colors, they were carbon copies of each other with large windows, two or three stories, garages big enough to fit two cars, at least, and winding asphalt driveways leading up to the front door and back to the road. She was getting dizzy just glancing at them, blinking her eyes as she looked away.
They pulled into the biggest of those houses, driving under a large, wrought iron gate that reminded her of those at cemeteries in the movies. When the limousine finally stopped in front of the house, she unbuckled her seatbelt and reached for the door handle.
It opened to reveal a tall elderly gentleman with thinning gray hair and trimmed mustache, patiently waiting for her. Pulling the bag over her shoulder, she took a deep breath and stepped out.
Her eyes met the reproving eyes of Mrs. Sheridan. The woman shook her head, placing a hand on Ariana’s back and gently pushing her forward. “Don’t dawdle, child.”
She led Ariana through the doors, her heels click-clacking on the marble floor as she walked in. The foyer was large, with two winding staircases; one on the left and one on the right, each meeting just feet in front of the oak doors.
“Where did Michelle run off to?” Mrs. Sheridan stopped in her tracks and surveyed the foyer. “Oh well, doesn’t matter. Come with me, Ariana.”
Mrs. Sheridan hurried to the left. Ariana followed behind. paying close attention to their path so she wouldn’t get lost in this massive mansion. She was curious when Mrs. Sheridan led her out the side doors and down a layered brick path to a large greenhouse.
“Miss Abbey!” Mrs. Sheridan called.
An older woman, younger than the man who opened the limousine door, stood from her gardening and turned to meet her eyes. Her graying red hair was pulled up into a tight bun, her green eyes spying Ariana’s silver-blues.
Empathy told Ariana this woman was hard-working but strict.
She gulped, suddenly afraid.
“There you are, Miss Abbey.”
“What can I do for ye, Mum?” Miss Abbey spoke with an Irish lilt as she clasped her hands at her waist and lowered her eyes.
“Miss Abbey, this is our new young mistress, Ariana.” Mrs. Sheridan introduced.
“Pleasure to meet you, Miss Abbey.” Ariana curtseyed, despite her nerves.
“Pleasure is all mine,” Miss Abbey smiled. Ariana could tell it was fake, but said nothing. She turned back to Mrs. Sheridan. “Ye be wantin’ me to show her the ropes?”
They talked about her as if she wasn’t there.
Invisible, I guess. Ariana thought to herself, sensing the grounds surrounding the mansion. Time to give my empathy a good workout. Gardeners, Groundskeepers, maids, servants, butlers, housekeepers, cooks; there were hundreds of servants, each keeping to themselves as they worked, not bothering to look up when someone passed them.
Masks and shells. Katherine told her. Masks and shells.
Ariana was unable to answer, so she tuned her ears in to the conversation.
Mrs. Sheridan supplied. “She’ll be Shelly’s personal servant, so her room will be the one adjoining hers.” Mrs. Sheridan was saying, ignoring the scowl Ariana gave her. “She’s from an orphanage, so she knows the value of hard work.”
Ariana’s eyes widened. So that is what we so madly sensed! I am not to be their child, but their spoiled daughter’s servant!
“I mean no disrespect, but will my time be my own while she is in school?” Ariana asked, looking from one to the other.
“Heavens no, child.” Miss Abbey laughed. Mrs. Sheridan’s phone rang and she walked off. “I’ll take it from here, Mum. Good day to ye.” As soon as Mrs. Sheridan was out of earshot and eyesight, Miss Abbey muttered. “Ye rotten cow.” She turned to Ariana’s giggle and smile. She wrapped a caring arm around her shoulder, tapping it. Ariana felt the empathic wave of kindness in Miss Abbey’s touch, now that Mrs. Sheridan was gone. “Come along now, lass. Best get right to work.”
Ariana just nodded.
So it went for six months. She learned household chores from the housekeepers, how to cook from the kitchen staff, and how to keep her chin up when life got her down. Miss Abbey was the only member of the staff who was nice to her; the rest treated her like dirt, smacking her when she slipped up or did something wrong.
During the day, she would work around the mansion and the grounds, making sure everything was spotless and tidy. At night, once her last chores were done and Shelly was asleep, her time was truly her own.
Miss Abbey found her practicing magic in her room one night, only smiling and crooking a finger for her to follow. Above the large toolshed was a secret room, perfect for practicing and learning her magic. Miss Abbey told her she was a Daughter of the Celtic Goddess Brigid and a witch who specialized in the art of herbology; the study of plants for magical and medicinal purposes. Miss Abbey taught her everything she knew about the magic from her Mother Country of Ireland. That was the only highlight of her agonizing day.
Nine months into her stay at the Sheridans as their youngest maid, Ariana dreamed of the future again. This time, there was someone with her, and the older version of herself wasn’t there.
“That is odd.” Ariana mumbled to herself, watching the scene below her.
Dominionites of all shapes and sizes were attacking again. This time, it was different. Instead of her older self leading the older versions of the twins and four other shadowed fighters, the fighters were joined by Companion-sized dragons: half dragon, half men and women. A tall woman with black hair, amber eyes and half-sized leathery wings at her back led them, using a dark-red colored magic to fight the Dominionites.
Something was familiar about the woman, and the jewel-encrusted necklace she wore; only, Ariana didn’t know what.
“What’s odd?” A male voice asked beside her.
She was frightened, yet kept calm as she turned to him. His eyes were chocolate brown, his hair was the color of mahogany wood, a deep brown, almost-black. He was taller than her by at least a foot and wore eyeglasses. There was just something about him that made her heart skip a beat.
His attention was to the scene below. “What are those things attacking?”
“They are called Dominionites.” She explained. “Mutated monstrous versions of the half-Immortal, half-animal creatures that live here in the Dream Realm.”
“Where are we?”
Ariana rolled her eyes. “We are in the Mystic’s Realm of Dreams. Do you not listen?”
He held his hands up. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean anything by it.” He apologized with a grin. “I know this is the Dream Realm, but the Mystics? Are they the ones controlling those things?”
She frowned. “Nay. The Dominionite Master, a beast I have sworn to destroy, controls the Dominionites.” She turned back to the battle, which only showed the twins’ older versions working with an olive-colored half-dragon man against a large sea monster with two heads. “The Mystics fight against the Master and his Armies.”
He pointed. “Hey, look! Is that me down there, with a gold sword? That’s awesome!”
Curious, her eyes shifted to follow his finger. Sure enough, the male with the golden sword from before no longer had a shadowed face. Dressed in gold attire, this young man was the one her older self had called “Protector.”
She would definitely have to ask O’Dell about him.
“It would seem, aye.” She mumbled, not wanting to tell him more.
The older version of him slashed his sword with a grunt, looking up at her. After a moment, he smiled, shaking his head and laughing as he went back to hacking at attacking Dominionites.
Ariana turned back to the young man, but he was gone, and it was time for her to wake up for the day.
After weeks of such dreams, she softened, confiding in him as well. He told her about his torn family; brothers, sister, parents; and she told him about her work as a maid at the Sheridans. They became close and soon, she found herself falling in love with him. He was too young, even in soul, to know what that was; so they remained close friends.
“I would love to meet you in the waking world.” He announced one day.
“Perhaps one day, but not yet.” Ariana supplied.
She couldn’t tell him who she was; as O’Dell told her many times over the months of training, he was only a Dreamer and would forget as soon as he woke, dismissing her and their time together as only a dream.
“What if you ran away from home, just like you did the orphanage?” He wondered, holding her hands and looking into her eyes.
“That was different.” She told him, never explaining the true reason why she left. “I cannot just run.”
“You’re always telling me how much you’re abused by the other staff members.” He said. “Do you want to live your life like that?”
He was right. She didn’t want to live like that forever.
“It is my decision.” She explained, unclasping her hands from his and stepping away from him. “I must go now.”
“Will I see you again?”
Ariana smiled. “Count on it.”
She walked through her aura trace and was back in the waking world, her eyes opening from the trance to meet Miss Abbey’s.
“Well? What did the Sight tell ye?”
Ariana thought for a moment before speaking. Her eyes adjusted to the candlelight that circled her, seeing only a shadow of Miss Abbey’s concern just inside the protective circle.
“It is time I am on my way.” Ariana told her quietly, standing from her sitting position. “Destiny waits for no Mystic.”
“I knew it.” Miss Abbey whispered, helping her up when she began to sway. “Let us cleanse our circle and open it. The ritual is finished. The Goddess is satisfied one more moon.”
Ariana smiled, helping her clean up.
“I’ll fix ye a snack and bring it up to ye.”
Ariana nodded, feeling ready to drop. “Escort me there?”
“Certainly, my Young Guardian.” Miss Abbey smiled back, bowing.
Trust Miss Abbey to make her feel better after the strange Vision of her Imaginary Romeo.
Once speaking with O’Dell and the Sisters, she left the next night with her clothes in one of Shelly’s old backpacks. She was careful to avoid suspicion and stay with the crowds and traffic. She shut her empathy off to the vagrants around her until she felt safe enough to turn it back on.
Using the money from Seth she had yet to spend, she found a bookstore, buying a small clothbound notebook and a pen with unicorns on it that reminded her of Lord Guardian O’Dell. Next, she went to the nearest restaurant and quietly sat at one of the small tables.
The waitress took her order and walked back to the cashier area, where she talked to a gentleman, pointing in her direction.
It is suspicious for a fourteen-year-old to travel on her own? Katherine purred in her mind.
Do we want to listen in? Ariana asked back, pretending to write in her new journal.
Focus your hearing on their conversation only, blocking everyone else out. Katherine gave her permission.
Ariana bent her head to her journal, poised her pen over it and pretended to write as she focused her hearing on their conversation.
“Should we call the authorities?” The waitress was asking.
“Not yet; she could be here with her family.” The man told her.
“I’ll keep an eye on her.”
“Fine, fine. Serve her her order and wait.” The man said. “Should she run without paying, we’ll have a reason to call the cops.”
Ariana, Katherine purred. You do have enough money to pay for your meal?
Ariana’s mental head nodded.
The waitress served her food and drink a few minutes later.
She felt someone watching her as she ate, so she ate as fast as she could. As she was waiting for the check to arrive, someone came to her table.
“Excuse me, Miss.” It was the man her waitress was talking to. “You look a little young to be on your own. Are you here with your family?”
“I am old enough to eat and pay for a decent meal.” Ariana announced, pushing the statement in the man’s mind. She tried to act haughty, just as she’d seen Shelly do so many times. It usually brought instant respect. She just hoped it would work for her. “My mother is meeting me across the street in an hour. We are to go shopping together in the district.”
The man didn’t believe her. “Who is your mother?”
“You would know her as Mrs. Sheridan.” That was the only name she knew, and just hoped the man would buy her white lie.
He studied her for a moment, blinked and nodded. “My apologies miss. Tell your mother I said hello.”
Ariana nodded. “I will. Thank you for checking on me.”
She heaved a mental sigh when he left. That was close!
Indeed. Katherine chuckled.
After she paid the check, she went across the street, just in case he was still watching her. She practically shrieked in happiness when a large group of people walked in her direction. She waited until they passed in front of her before losing herself in the crowd and ducking in a nearby alley.
Ariana breathed a sigh of relief.
Maybe this running away thing was not the best idea. Ariana thought to her feline friend. It is dangerous out here!
Peeking her head around the corner to see if the coast was clear, she glanced across the street. The large windows showed the waitress still tending to tables and the gentleman talking to a customer.
Ariana smiled, turning back around to find a policeman staring down at her.
“Are you lost, young lady?” He asked, arms crossed.
Her heart was pounding nervously in her chest. What should she say, or do?
She gulped, nodding.
He smiled, reaching a hand out to her. “Let me take you down to the station; we’ll find out who you are.”
She nodded again, taking it.
I am not so sure about this, Ariana thought to Katherine.
He is an authority figure; use your empathy.
I know that, Katherine. Ariana told her. I am just worried he will take me back to the Sheridans once he finds out who I am.
You have the power to change that, you know. Katherine purred mischievously.
That gave Ariana an idea.
Within the hour, the Sheridans were called. She was frightened into silence, so no one knew anything about her but her name and previous employer. Thanks to her lessons in long-distance telepathy and compulsion, the officer reported they denied her existence. From there, a woman from Child Services took her away to Shore Point’s Juvenile Detention Center.
When she was being interviewed and investigated by the counselors there, she managed to hide the Dream Locket. By some odd miracle of the Goddess, she was able to keep her backpack, which included a couple pairs of clothes, her money, unicorn statuette from Aaron and the new notebook she bought.
It was dark by the time they showed her to her room, a small cell big enough for one person. It supported a thin mattress, single thinning blanket and worn pillow with a near see-through pillowcase. The walls were gray and dull, and the barred window only showed the few stars shining down on her. As soon as the door was slammed shut, the single overhead light went out.
It would seem she came too late for supper, so she went to bed hungry.
The nightmare didn’t return that night, but her Imaginary Romeo did.
“Why do you haunt my dreams?” He asked her, following as she walked along the path through one of the many forests.
“I was to ask you the same thing.” She teased. “You came to mine first; though, I do not know why.”
“Aren’t you glad I’m here?”
Ariana nodded. “That I am; you give me someone to speak with on my escapes.”
He looked at her curiously, stopping in his tracks. “Why do you talk like that?”
She blinked, confused. “Talk like what?”
“Without contractions, like can’t, don’t, I’ll and I’m.” He replied. “Instead, you say cannot, do not, I will and I am. Didn’t you go to school?”
She shook her head. “If there is something wrong with the way I speak, I will try to remedy it.”
“You sound old-fashioned when you talk like a Companion.” He smiled. “While I don’t mind it, others may.”
“I do receive many strange glances from adults.” Ariana reasoned.
“Told you.” He chuckled. “I can teach you, if you like.”
She took his hand. “I would like that very much; thank you.”
They continued on the path. After a few moments of silence, she said. “I took your advice.”
He was surprised. “Really?”
Before she could say anything else, she heard hoof beats behind them. Stopping for a moment, she unclasped his hand and placed both the ground. She used her Unicorn Magic to sense where the hoof beats were going. She shook her head after a few seconds, opened her eyes and took his hand, racing further ahead into the forest.
“Where are we going?” He yelled. “What’s going on?”
“No time to explain.” She yelled back without turning her head. “Warriors are on our trail. We must hurry and find shelter.”
“Later!” She yanked his hand. “This way; the Garden is nearby.”
“Won’t they just follow us through it?”
“It is neutral ground; more good than evil.” She hurried. “Silence, or they will find us by your big mouth alone.”
The Garden was straight ahead; she could see the entrance. If she could get them to safety, the Warriors on horseback would be forced back to their Master.
They heard a pair of horse cries close behind them. She felt him tug at her hand, looking back, but she didn’t stop running to see how close they were.
She could hear them running at full-speed, coming toward them until her Romeo’s hand was yanked from her own. A rather large arm wrapped itself around her from the side, throwing her in front of him on the speeding horse. She tried to move but the arm tightened around her waist.
She thought of her Romeo, quickly glancing behind her and seeing another speeding horse; this one had Romeo in the lead and a Jungle Tiger Companion’s arm wrapped around his waist. The rest of him was wrapped in a tattered shroud, face hidden.
She turned back around to see her assailant. It was a Timber wolf Companion, also covered in a tattered shroud. She could vaguely see his snout, recognizing him immediately from the scar she healed when they first met.
“Wolf!” She whispered, recognizing Warrior Wolf, one of the good Dominionite Warriors. With her support and help, he and a few of his Warrior brethren were secretly plotting against their Master.
“Sulheya, Young Guardian.” He growled softly in her ear. “Pleasantries later; we must ride to safety.”
She nodded, trusting him. This was the good friend of her Companion, Katherine Hawk! The other horse-rider must have been his Warrior brother, Tobias the Tiger Companion.
“May I ask what is going on?”
“Sabrina sent the Searchers after you.” Wolf told her. “Should they find either of you, you will be killed on-site.”
“I will make sure they do not find us.” Ariana whispered just loud enough for him to hear. She held her Locket in her hands and closed her eyes, chanting a spell that turned them invisible. “We can slow down now.” She told him.
“What? Why?” Wolf was confused. “Do you want to get caught?”
She shook her head, turning to give him a smile. “Trust in me, Wolfram Stargazer.”
After a moment, he slowed the horse, signaling to Tobias to follow his lead.
Tobias rode beside him. “What is the meaning of this, Wolf? Why do we slow to a stop when the Searchers are close behind us?” Ariana cleared her throat and frowned, meeting his angry yellow eyes. Her Romeo was confused yet smart enough to stay silent. “My apologies, Young Guardian, but we must hurry.”
“As I told Wolf, you must trust in me.” Ariana smiled.
“What did you do?” Her Romeo asked, curious.
“We are invisible just long enough to find safety in the Garden.” Ariana nodded.
Tobias removed the hood of his cloak, smiling. “Brilliant.”
Once they found safety in the Dominion’s Garden maze, Ariana felt the pull of morning.
She was silent during breakfast, ignoring the teenagers gossiping around her as she ate. They were talking about her, the new girl they quickly dubbed “Little Miss Goody Two Shoes.” Some called her weird, for her eye color or the way she spoke. Some called her dummy because she hardly spoke and when they teased her, she would only smile. She cared less about that, and more about finding ways to help them.
A week later, she was called to a private office, where a Court Counselor interviewed her. She had to talk now; she no longer had the choice of staying silent.
“Let me get this straight.” The counselor sifted through a portfolio of papers. “You grew up in the Shore Point Home for Children, which is owned by Mrs. Helen Gertrude. You claim she beat you constantly, just for acting like a child.”
“That is right.” Ariana confirmed.
“Don’t interrupt.” She chastised, frowning at Ariana. Clearing her throat, she continued. “Going on, you had sex with one of your orphanage siblings, one Aaron Theodore, and had his baby last year.”
She felt her flat abdomen, nodding.
“To top it all off, you recently ran from your parents, the Sherdians.”
Again, Ariana nodded.
“I was their servant, not their daughter.” She explained. “Rather, I was the teenage daughter’s personal servant. Most of the staff treated me poorly, beating me when I did something they did not approve of.”
The counselor glared as if she didn’t believe her.
With a sigh, Ariana went on. “I could stand it no more, so I ran away.”
“Running away from your problems doesn’t solve them.” The counselor explained.
“When you have been through what I have, it helps.” Ariana announced. “Knowing that, were you in my shoes, would you have not done the same?”
The woman sighed, rubbing her temples. “I find this all very hard to believe.”
“Please believe it, because it is true.” Ariana pressed.
“Do you honestly believe in the Guardian of an alternate society called the Dream Realm?” The counselor asked, gesturing to her Locket. “What about that silly necklace you insist on wearing? Do you think it gives you magical powers?”
“I am an Ancient Mystic.” Ariana explained simply. “My powers are my own, not from a necklace. The Dream Locket only aids in my travels to the Dream Realm.”
The counselor shook her head, pretending to look down at the portfolio and read the papers in front of her.
So what if it sounded absurd to her, Ariana thought to Katherine. I know it as truth; that is all that matters.
Katherine’s mental head nodded as she purred in agreement.
“I give up.” The Counselor huffed, looking over her glasses at Ariana’s patient look. “A court-approved foster couple has expressed personal interest in your case.” She began, looking at her watch. “They should be waiting outside in a few minutes, just enough time for you to gather your things from your room.”
“What if I do not want to go?”
The Counselor shook her head. “I’m afraid you have no choice in the matter. You’re still a minor in the court’s eyes. Now go get your things and meet me at the front doors.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Ariana nodded, taking that as her cue to stand and leave.
The other teenagers were happy to see her go; and for once, she agreed with them. With only her dreams to warm the cold nights, she only endured the teasing until it was time for bed. She wouldn’t miss them.
The counselor met her at the front doors. Ariana looked out the window and saw a stretch limousine waiting, a driver dressed in black smoking a cigarette as he leaned against one of the doors.
“Ah, there you are.” The counselor smiled as she approached. “Come along and meet your new parents, Richard and Rhonda Doll.”
Doll? That did not sound so bad. Ariana thought to Katherine. She was a little interested. “Are they nice?”
The counselor nodded. “As nice as their name suggests.”
She led Ariana to a waiting room adjacent to the front doors. A young couple stood to greet her when the counselor cleared her throat.
“Mr and Mrs. Doll,” She reached a hand to shake Mr. Doll’s. “So glad you could make it. This is Ariana Moon, the teenager I told you about.” She turned to Ariana. “Say hello.”
Each looked in their late twenties. Ariana’s empathy briefly told her about them. She sensed their role in society, matching or even surpassing the Sheridans in financial matters, according to the clean-cut suit Mr. Doll was wearing. Mrs. Doll was scowling at her in disapproval; Ariana sensed she was the real head of the family, in charge of many business matters. She sensed sincerity in Mr. Doll, though he was timid and didn’t speak.
“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Doll.” She managed to croak, curtsying.
Mrs. Doll rolled her eyes. “Wonderful,” she groaned sarcastically. “Everything is in order, Mrs. Billows?”
The counselor nodded.
“Come along then,” Mrs. Doll sighed, glancing at her husband. He reached his hand out and smiled as she took it. “We don’t want to be late.”
As soon as they were out of the building and Mrs. Billows was out of sight, Mrs. Doll demanded. “Get in already. We don’t have all day, you know.”
The driver gave Ariana a sorrowful glance as he opened the door, closing it for her.
She was awed by the vast space inside.
Impressive, she thought with a grin. Young and rich.
Ariana giggled to herself, her mind reeling with images of fancy clothes and shining jewelry.
Mrs. Doll cleared her throat, her eyes frowning once Ariana met them.
She looked down at her lap, suddenly ashamed.
The car ride was silent, which was good. It gave Ariana time to think.
Mr. Doll sat silently across from her. She wondered why he didn’t speak or dare meet her eyes. After all, the empathic feelings from him were sincere. Why wouldn’t he talk to her?
It was a short ride to their large house; one that wasn’t as large as the Sheridans, though the grounds rivaled in beauty. The driver opened her door for her and a butler came out to greet her.
“Take her to her room, Christoph.” Mrs. Doll demanded, waving them off.
“Yes, Madam.” Christoph bowed his head and turned to Ariana. “Follow me.”
She looked back at Mrs. Doll, but she was already gone; Mr. Doll pasted on a shy smile and nodded.
They climbed winding staircase to the second room on the left. Christoph gestured for her to enter, closing the door behind her with a soft click.
She dropped her backpack and tried the door. It was locked. “How did I know?” She murmured to herself.
Might as well make myself at home, Ariana mused, looking around. Looks nice enough; She thought of her Warrior friends, Wolf Stargazer and Tobias White-Snow. Then again, I learned long ago that looks can be deceiving.
There is a covered mirror across the room. Katherine hoped to change the subject.
Ariana knew what her friend was thinking. She wanted her to see both their reflections.
Sure enough, her friend was right. The mirror was covered in a sheer violet sheet. There was a chair at the vanity. Once reaching to take off the sheet, she sat and stared into it.
It took a moment, but she was able to see Katherine’s soul reflected in the mirror alongside her own. They were different, yet the same. Katherine had long black-and-white striped hair, black and white patched fur, a feline face and emerald colored eyes. Her Companion magic was purple, with a hint of silver when she was angry. Ariana’s strawberry hair paled in comparison, silver-blue eyes twinkled when Katherine met her smile, and the Mystic’s magic aura that flowed from her was silver-blue to match.
I see you have almost perfected the Mirror Magic, Katherine purred, her lips moving in the reflection. You have come so far since we first met at the Garden Gate.
Ariana nodded, yawning. This magic still tires me.
Aye, it is understandable. Katherine told her, the reflection of feline hands caressed Ariana’s strawberry hair.
Ariana closed her eyes, enjoying it. I will call the spell and meet you at the Palace. I can no longer keep my eyes open.
Katherine purred, laughing lightly. Also understandable. You have had a rough day. She looked over Ariana’s shoulder and nodded. There is a large bed just behind you. Rest for now, and regain what energy you lost.
Ariana could do nothing but agree, yawning once more.
As her head hit the oversized pillows, she was drifted away to the Realm of Dreams.
Ariana was in front of the Mystic’s Palace door, reaching to tug on the hanging bell. She heard the lovely tune of what she now knew as Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
She heard a purr beside her, turning to smile at her Balinese Companion friend. She noticed the fluffy black-and-white tail gently twitching. Katherine’s eyes were closed and a smile was on her feline face.
“I always loved that melody!” Katherine purred with a wistful sigh.
Ariana giggled and Enchantra answered the door.
“Welcome home, Katherine Hawk!” Enchantra hugged her before Ariana. “And our Ariana Moon; welcome back. Make yourselves at home.”
“Thank you, Mistress.” Katherine and Ariana chorused, walking in.
Enchantra closed it behind them. “Are you home to stay, my dear?”
Katherine shook her head. “Lord Guardian tells us it is still unsafe, so I search for Kitten’s Claw with Ariana’s help.”
“No luck so far, unfortunately.” Ariana shook her head. “The Dominionite nightmares of the future continue.”
“Oh?” Enchantra asked, interested. “Do tell.”
The girls sat on the couch while Enchantra sat on the throne-sized chair. Ariana explained everything from the last time they saw each other until recently.
“It would seem the Master has sent a group of Warriors called the Searchers after me.” Ariana told her. “Were it not for two friendly Dominionites, both my Romeo and I would have been found, and likely killed.”
Enchantra was interested. “Friendly Dominionites?”
“Those who secretly plot against Uncle Orthos.” Katherine explained. “We call them the Rebels, for they have minds of their own and fight to destroy those who stole their powers.”
“How many do you know of?” Enchantra wondered.
“I only know of two.” Ariana told her. “Wolf and Tobias.”
Katherine gasped, holding her heart. “Warrior Wolf, as in, Wolf Stargazer?”
Ariana nodded, immediately sensing Katherine’s heart skipping a beat. “Do you like him, Katherine?”
Katherine closed her eyes and nodded. She took a deep breath and shook her head. “We care not about the rules of our society. I know we must keep our love a secret, but it is true.”
“Calm down, Katherine.” Enchantra supplied, smiling. “You will see him again soon, that is a promise. In the meantime, continue tutoring our Young Guardian in the ways of our Realm. Teach her, show her as much as you can.”
Katherine nodded. “Aye, Mistress.” She held her head with a paw and looked to Ariana. “I fear someone is pounding on the outer door.”
“I will return tonight for my first patrols.” Ariana took a deep breath. “Tell Lord Guardian I will meet him at his Castle.”
Enchantra nodded as the girls stood, racing out the door to meet Ariana’s aura trace. “Pleasant Journeys!”
Ariana took a deep breath and woke from her nap. As her mind readjusted to the Realm change, someone knocked on the door and she found her voice. “Who is it?”
“It’s Marion, Miss. I am ze maid.” A French-accented voice came from the other side of the door. “Monsieur and Madam Doll wish to see you in ze dining hall for dinner.”
Ariana stretched, a small yawn escaping her lips. “I will be there in a moment.” She went to the door but found it was still locked. “If I could get out that is.”
“Zere iz no need to be impolite, Miss. I waz trying to be nice.”
After Marion unlocked the door and let her out, she showed Ariana to the table and left.
“Nice of you to join us.” Mrs. Doll was curt, refusing to meet her glance. She gestured to a chair. “Sit.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Ariana whispered, squatting in the chair as she looked down at her lap. Mr. Doll was on one end of the long table and Mrs. Doll was on the other.
Dinner was served to the three of them, and they ate in silence. Ariana knew her manners, but it seemed that every time she tried to impress the Dolls with them, they grunted and returned to their own meals.
Ariana quickly learned nothing pleased this couple, or at least not Mrs. Doll. Mrs. Doll was the head of this beautiful house, while her husband was silenced by her icy stares. Ariana obeyed by doing her chores every night, but Mrs. Doll never thanked her or treated her as a loving daughter.
“You must earn your keep.” Mrs. Doll repeated, almost on a daily basis.
Three months into her stay at the Doll’s, Ariana slept, and dreamed.
She was in the Dream Realm, following Lord Guardian’s smaller unicorn form as he showed her how to watch over Dreamers and their Worlds.
He stopped them in their tracks, deep in the middle of a forest. “I sense a child ahead. Wait here, and hide yourself behind the tree. I shall return.”
Ariana nodded, watching him trot over to a child. It was a girl, and she had red-brown hair tied in a pretty ponytail. She sensed the girl was different than other Dreamers she met before, her aura familiar.
“Welcome, young Dreamer.” Lord Guardian’s voice was gentle.
The girl turned and smiled timidly, blinking at the twinkling jewel upon O’Dell’s head.
“That’s pretty.” She said, her hands reaching for it, her silver-blue eyes twinkling in delight as it sparkled at her touch.
“Thank you, Young One.” Lord Guardian smiled. “What is your name?”
“Kelina Erin.” She said softly, walking toward him. She reached to pet his multi-colored mane. “What’s yours?”
This was her daughter! Ariana held her excitement and watched the scene. She wanted to move, but Lord Guardian told her to wait.
She is so pretty, she thought wistfully.
“They call me O’Dell, but you may call me Lord Guardian.” He pronounced, lowering his head. “I am Lord Guardian of all you see before you.”
Kelina looked around her. “Where am I? Am I dreaming?”
“You are in the Dream Realm, Enchanted Child.” O’Dell replied, nodding his head and stepping his hoofs into the ground.
Kelly was intrigued. “What does that mean?”
“Come, I will show you.” O’Dell’s voice didn’t answer her question, but playfully demanded, nodding his head.
She hopped on his back, and felt him grow wings. Amazed, she reached down to touch them.
Before she could say anything, he whinnied. “Magic, Young One.”
He took flight, and both disappeared.
Ariana sighed, turning around and walking deeper into the forest. On her way, something ruffled in the wind and she held her breath, suddenly afraid. She hugged herself, whispering in the air. “Anybody here?”
She sensed someone in the shadows, stopping when she heard a familiar voice purr. “The Perilous Forest is no place for you, my friend.”
Ariana took a breath when she saw the Balinese-Companion form of her good friend Katherine Hawk. “Katherine!”
The Balinese feline came out to hug her. “Ariana Moon? Is that really you?”
Ariana nodded. “I had another vision, Katherine. This one was of my daughter.”
“Please, tell me what troubles you.” Katherine Hawk was eager, taking her hand and leading them both out of the forest.
Ariana relayed what just happened with O’Dell, and the girl named the Enchanted Child.
“Very interesting, indeed,” Katherine thought aloud. “Does this mean both your powers are getting stronger?”
“I do not know.” Ariana regretted sadly. “All I know is that I miss her.”
“Aye, it is understandable.” Katherine agreed. “The Enchanted Child has been away from your womb for two Outer Realm years. I would feel the same if I was in your position.”
Now that they were safely out of the forest, Ariana sat on the grass and picked a flower, playing with its petals. “I wish I could see her again; in the flesh, and not just dreams.”
“I fear dreams are all you have for now.” Katherine purred sadly. “Be thankful of that.”
Ariana looked at her Balinese friend. “What do you mean?”
“How should I explain this?” Katherine asked softly. “To put it kindly my friend, you are not old enough to be a mother yet. You have a lot of growing up to do.”
Ariana stared up at her friend. Sometimes, Katherine acted as a mentor; other times, as her closest Companion friend. It was hard to tell just how old she was.
“I wonder about you, Katherine Hawk.” Ariana grinned, knowing in her heart that her feline friend was right. “Come to think of it, how old are you?”
Katherine paused, thinking of how to explain. “I have no definite age, for the Mystic Realms have a different concept of time than the Outer Realm. All I can tell you is that I am at my full growth, but still a kitten in most Companions’ eyes.”
“I never thought of time being different here than in my Realm.” Ariana said.
She sensed something above them. Both girls looked and saw a white Pegasus and a red dragon fighting in the sky.
“I told you to leave the Province!” The Pegasus yelled to the dragon that was circling him.
“Since when do I listen to you? I do what I wish!” The dragon blew fire from his snout, just missing the Pegasus.
“Not while I am the Lord Guardian of the Mystic Realms, you will not!” The Pegasus was able to block with a rainbow-colored beam from the jewel on his forehead.
The flame was extinguished and the dragon screamed, disappearing.
Noticing he had spectators, the Pegasus swooped to greet them.
Katherine bowed when the Pegasus shifted to an Immortal male as his hooves touched ground. Ariana stared, bowing as well when she recognized her Lord Guardian friend.
“My Lord Guardian,” Katherine purred.
“Rise, Katherine Hawk.” O’Dell grinned at the girls. He nodded to Ariana, his successor. “Good day, Young Guardian. How are you?”
Ariana nodded. “For now, good. Who was that?”
“That was the dragon form of my brother, the Master Orthos.”
The girls exchanged scared looks. “What was he doing here, my Lord?” Katherine asked. “I thought he was bound to Dark Tower and the Dominion?”
“Look around you, Katherine.” O’Dell gestured. “The Perilous Forest is on the Province’s borderline. I was making sure he stayed behind that line.”
Ariana accepted the explanation. “What of Kelina Erin? Why did you have me wait? I could have met her.”
Her arm gently touched her abdomen, her expression dismayed. Katherine purred, sharing a worried look with O’Dell.
He wrapped a caring arm around her shoulders. “You carry such a heavy burden for one so young.”
“Will I ever see her in my world again?” Ariana’s eyes began to tear. “I miss her so much.”
O’Dell nodded, knowing. “In time, you will. I promise.” He stepped back and changed into a Uni-Peg in front of them. “I know just the thing to cheer you up, Young Guardian.” She watched as his unicorn form sprouted white feathery wings. “Care for a ride?”
Ariana was hesitant. She usually loved riding upon his back when he was a horse, or unicorn, or even a Unicorn-Pegasus. She looked to Katherine.
“Come on, Ariana.” Katherine prodded, hugging her shoulders. “It will be fun.”
Ariana’s eyes danced now. “Okay, but not so fast this time; please, my Lord?”
“No problem,” O’Dell laughed. “For you, I will pace myself.”
Ariana hopped on his back before helping Katherine up behind her.
They were right, Ariana thought, hiding her face in O’Dell’s colorful mane and letting the sun warm her. Any escape from my life in the Outer Realm is a good one.
The girls rode until morning came in her world, and Ariana woke to an alarm clock with a wistful sigh.
So begins another lonely day. Ariana thought, pulling the covers from her and getting dressed. The circle of hate has to stop sometime; but for now, I must listen and obey.
Nine months later, though it felt like years, Ariana was washing the dinner dishes, her mind reeling with thoughts.
Am I just another servant? Ariana asked Katherine, who listened. It sure feels like it sometimes.
Why did the Dolls never treat her with love and kindness? She kept to her chores, still not saying but a few words. She obeyed without complaint, keeping her mouth shut.
How could she complain when there were clothes to wash, dishes to clean, things to do? Besides, she never did mind the hard work. It was good for her, she began to think after a while. She learned to do things on her own. She was grateful for the roof over her head, food in her stomach and clothes on her back.
She was even happy when she was left alone at night to practice more of her magic. They never knew she was a Mystic; and if it were up to her, they would never find out.
She smiled at that, her ears perking when she overheard Mrs. Doll talking on the phone in the hall.
“Yes, I’ll have her ready to go in the morning, Mrs. Gertrude, or should I say, Aunt Helen?”
Ariana gasped softly to herself, dropping the silverware back in the dishwater. She stood silent and listened in, her heart thumping in her chest so loudly she could hear it in her ears. She took a deep breath to calm it and focused her hearing on the conversation instead.
“Of course. It’s all set.” Mrs. Doll chuckled. “Fine. We’ll see you in the morning. Send my regards to Uncle Gerald!”
Her new mother was going to send her back to the orphanage! Well, she wasn’t about to let that happen, no matter how much Mrs. Doll was being paid!
It wasn’t right.
Ariana silently ran to her bedroom and shut the door.
Katherine! Help! Ariana clutched the necklace.
What is it, my friend? Katherine replied.
Ariana explained what she had overheard. What am I going to do?
The time has come once again. Katherine instructed. Bring nothing but your old belongings.
Ariana nodded and hurried to pack. She reached for the unicorn statuette Aaron had given her years ago as a gift. She remembered her best friend. How caring he had been in her times of need, shielding her from all pain.
Ariana touched the horn and made a wish, as Aaron told her to do when she was lonely. A single tear dropped to the muzzle of the unicorn and she wiped it off.
She took a deep breath and wrapped it in an old sweater of his that he had given her on her last day at the orphanage. Ariana grabbed her notebook, favorite unicorn pen, and journal. Within moments, she was ready to go.
Ariana tried not to let on that she knew what was going on. She acted as she usually would, minding her chores and not saying a word. An hour after lights out, she made her move. It was a long shot, but it would be worth it. Strapping her backpack over her shoulder, and slipping through an old passage-way, she made her way outside.
“Where are you going?”
She gasped, turning. Her eyes widened when they met those of Mr. Doll.
“Don’t be afraid of me, Ariana.” Mr. Doll whispered. “I was the one that wanted you, not Rhonda. I didn’t mean for it to turn out like this.”
“Why did you never speak?” She whispered, sensing nothing but sincerity in him.
“I’m afraid of her, just as you were.” He released her, looking to the ground. “She used to be the most loving, caring person I knew, but the money changed her.”
Empathy told her he was telling the truth. “Will you tell her?”
“She won’t hear it from me.” Mr. Doll winked as he planted a kiss on her head. “Good luck, Ariana. You’ll need it in this world.”
“Thank you, Mr. Doll.” Ariana turned and ran away from the Doll Mansion.
Not once did she look back, nor did she regret it.
Here we go again! Ariana thought to herself as she entered the Shore Point Juvenile Detention Center. She was tired and hungry.
“Back again, eh Missy?” A guard teased hoarsely, coughing on his cigarette when he laughed. “Can’t seem to get enough of this place, can you?”
She ignored him. Instead, she followed him to her ‘cell’ to settle in for the night.
“I guess the food will have to wait.” Ariana whispered to herself, now that she knew no one was listening.
She covered herself in the one blanket they gave her and fell to sleep quickly.
A week later, Ariana Moon covered herself in the blanket, still aching from endless beatings the guards gave her. She knew they would disappear by morning; any bruises, scrapes or scratches always did, ever since she was in the Orphanage.
As soon as the lights were out, she quietly took out a small notebook from underneath the mattress and found a pen in the corner of her pillowcase. She conjured a small light in her palm, using telekinesis to make it float in the air so she could see.
Opening the journal, she began to write.
The circle of hate goes around once more.
How do I get myself into such desolate situations?
Only Katherine seems to understand me.
I do not even understand me.
She seems to know me more than I know myself, which
I am still debating whether or not that is a good thing.
Ariana stopped writing and slammed the book closed when she sensed someone over her. She looked to the ceiling, smiling when the vision of her Imaginary Romeo came to mind. Enchantra was standing beside him.
Closer still, my Love, she thought to him with telepathy.
It was the first time she called him that. By the shy smile on his face, he heard it.
Ariana clutched her Dream Locket, knowing she would be fine.
Watching her Imaginary Romeo’s face as he stared at her, she sent one final message to ease his mind. Soon, we will meet. Have patience.
The next day, Ariana was told she had a visitor in the waiting room.
I have a feeling about this one, Ariana. You will be fine, Katherine peeped up after a long silence.
I hope you are right. Ariana teased. I would be lost without your feline instincts.
Katherine purred a giggle. Then you sense the visitor’s compassion as well?
Aye. Ariana agreed. Since I awoke this morning, I have felt the Goddess’s Hand on me.
Ariana turned the knob and opened the door, facing an attractive woman wearing a stylish blouse with blue-jeans. She looked chic, yet mature and dressed to impress. The young woman’s hair was pulled up into a thick ponytail, with dark-brown strands hanging down from each side, making her look even more spectacular.
Ariana smiled and the young woman smiled back. The young woman wasn’t much older than she was. She relaxed.
“Hello, Ariana Moon. My name is Bridget Guy.” The woman introduced herself, holding her hand out.
At first, Ariana was hesitant. When she used her Empathy on Bridget Guy, she sensed nothing but kindness and sincerity.
“Am I legit?” Bridget Guy grinned.
Ariana nodded, curious of the newcomer. She didn’t act like a Court counselor, or even look like one. “Nice to meet you, Miss Guy.”
“I’m from a teen detecting agency called the System.” Bridget quickly shook her hand and released it. “I came to take you home.”
I knew it! Katherine cried inside Ariana’s head.
Katherine! Ariana scolded her with an inner giggle. Can I handle it?
Aye. Sorry. Katherine apologized.
Ariana cleared her throat and sat down.
“The System?” Ariana was skeptic. “How do I know you speak the truth?”
Bridget leaned in and looked her in the eyes. Her dark brown eyes were serious. “Trust your instincts. What does your empathy tell you about me?”
Ariana blinked, studying her. Sure enough, she was telling the truth. She nodded. “You are sincere and honest. I believe you.”
Bridget laughed. “Thought so. Come on, kid. Let’s go.” As Ariana stood, Bridget paused. “By the way, call me Big Guy. That’s my codename.”
“Codename?” Ariana stared, puzzled.
“You’ll see soon enough.” Big Guy replied. “Trust me.”
“If you insist.” Ariana shrugged. “Anything to stop the circle of hate.”
It was Big Guy’s turn to be confused. “Huh?”
Ariana smiled, echoing. “Trust me.”
Big Guy laughed again.
Ariana followed her outside to an awaiting limo after she picked up her backpack from her room.
Destiny’s ride, I presume? Ariana thought to Katherine, who giggled at the pun.
Big Guy noticed Ariana’s silence and smiled, teasing her. “You’re a quiet one, aren’t you?”
Ariana shrugged, smiling back. “One must always practice silent observation.”
Big Guy blinked at that one, shaking her head in confusion.
Perhaps you should refrain from statements like that. Katherine teased.
Ariana rolled her eyes and smiled.
“Let’s roll, Landry.” Big Guy told the driver as she buckled in.
“Away we go,” Landry chuckled and were on their way in silence.
Well, not total silence. Ariana thought as she watched Big Guy flip through an old magazine as she tapped her heel to the music in her headphones, snapping her gum.
Ariana’s eyes wandered to the window and her mind followed.
Did I not tell you? Katherine replied with a purr.
Stop being a braggart, Ariana teased.
Her gaze returned to the window, the limo carrying them hurried its way down the road.
Ariana thought of her Imaginary Romeo’s kind brown eyes the last she saw him looking over her. He was just as in love with her as she was with him. The thought gave her heart an extra beat. Just for fun, she closed her eyes and thought of him.
She pictured them overlooking an ocean, holding each other in a romantic embrace. Ariana’s heart skipped, just thinking about him.
He had his arms around her waist so she was able to look into his eyes. Dark brown eyes, like Aaron, she noted, but bigger, brighter, loving. He had a pair of black-rimmed frames covering them, but that didn’t change the feelings of infatuation he had for her. Her Imaginary Romeo was content just to hold her, soothing whatever anxious thoughts she had of him.
Who was he? Why did he seek her guidance, offering it in return if she needed it? He wanted to help her with her hidden demons, as she wanted to help him with his.
Whoever he was, his intentions were sincere.
She smiled at the image.
“What are you smiling about?” Big Guy teased, watching her.
Ariana shrugged out of her daydream, blushing as she opened her eyes. “A little fantasy.”
Big Guy was confused. “What’s that, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“My Imaginary Romeo.” Ariana replied. “I know he is only a dream, but the thoughts of him keep me warm at night.”
When her gaze went back to the window, her eyes closed.
Ariana awoke from a nap nearly an hour later when the limo stopped.
“We’re here.” Big Guy announced as Ariana followed her out of the limo.
Ariana shivered when the wind blew through her hair as she followed Big Guy.
There was something about this place that gave her a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. She could sense Mystic magic behind those walls.
She watched as her escort turned to the driver. “Thanks again, Landry. That’ll be all.”
The driver lit a cigarette, his eyes wide as he asked. “See you later, Big Guy?”
“You bet. I’ll win my twenty bucks back tonight.” Big Guy nodded with a wink, turning to lead Ariana inside.
Landry laughed, pulling away.
“Where are we?” Ariana yawned, stretching her aching muscles.
Big Guy took a deep breath, saying. “Welcome to the System, Ariana Moon. Your new home.”
Ariana paused, hesitant. She held her breath, taking hold of her backpack. With her other hand, she secretly touched the bracelet.
As she surveyed the campus, she noticed shadows of letters spelling out Shore Point University on the front of the building.
Must have been a college in its day? She mused. Maybe someday, I will look into it more. She felt a tap on her shoulder, bringing her out of her daydream. Meeting the cheerful, teasing eyes of Big Guy, Ariana blushed.
“Come on, follow me.” Big Guy remarked.
Ariana followed, watching as Big Guy tapped a sequence of numbers into the security panel. As the door clicked open, she continued. “You have to meet the boss, Shannon Ryan.”
Ariana shrugged, not knowing what to think.
When the girls stopped at a pair of double-doors, Big Guy spoke up.
“Go through those doors and you’ll see her name on another door.”
“Will you come with me?” Ariana wondered.
“Sorry girl.” Big Guy shook her head and regretted before she left. “I’d go with you, but I have work to finish.”
Ariana’s face fell, and she frowned.
“See you around, ‘k?” Big Guy hoped, tapping her shoulder gently.
Ariana laughed. “I guess. Sure.”
Slowly, she walked across the room, clutching her pack. She was nervous until she got the image of Enchantra in her mind. The Mistress was smiling, her silver eyes sparkling mysteriously.
Ariana shook her head when she reached the door with Shannon’s name on it.
Somehow, I already know this Shannon Ryan. Ariana thought to herself when she touched the door. She felt the same tingle of magic behind it as she had when she sensed Stephen Ryan two years ago. Could they be related? Ariana asked herself.
Shaking her head and taking a deep breath, she knocked.
“Come right in, Ariana.” A college-aged woman with brown hair smiled at her, eyes blinking from brown to silver-blue and back. “My name is Shannon Ryan. I’m the Chief of Detectives here at the System.”
She had to ask. “Are you related to Stephen Ryan?”
Shannon smiled, nodding. “He’s my cousin. I heard he helped you in the hospital.”
Ariana smiled. “He was very nice to me. I hope to thank him someday.”
“You’ll get your chance.” Shannon explained, gesturing to a chair. “Take a seat. Your partner will be here any minute.”
“How do you know about me?” Ariana decided to ask Shannon as she sat.
Ariana used her Empathy once again, sensing kindness and sincerity.
Just like Big Guy, she thought.
“Truth is; you’re already one of us.” Shannon said with a gentle smile.
Ariana was confused. What did that mean?
“It basically means you’re an Ancient Mystic.” Shannon said, and Ariana took a breath. “I’m one too, in case you couldn’t figure it out for yourself.”
“Is that how you were able to change your eye color?” Ariana asked.
Shannon nodded. “A simple changing task. You’ll learn more once you settle in.”
“I am unsure I want to learn, Miss Ryan.” Ariana supplied softly. “I do not wish trouble upon myself should something go wrong with my magic.”
“For one, I insist you call me Shannon.” Shannon smiled. “Two: relax. No one here knows about your being an Ancient Mystic yet, and won’t unless you tell them.” Shannon decided to take a chance at one statement. “We’re here to help you, not harm you.”
Ariana found the bracelet once again, sensing Aaron’s love for her. She closed her eyes, thinking about him. It gave her confidence to go on. “How did you know about my being an Ancient Mystic?”
“Lord Guardian told me.” Shannon said seriously, looking to the door. Ariana sensed something in the air but stayed silent. “I’ll explain later. For now, I sense Agent Reading coming this way. He’ll be your partner.”
“Okay, I guess.” All that had transpired in a matter of hours overwhelmed her. It was all too quick for her to understand. She took Shannon’s advice and stayed silent for the time being.
How did she know about Lord Guardian?
She did say she was an Ancient Mystic as well. Katherine answered.
Ariana shook her head in amazement and total confusion, her thoughts spinning.
There was a knock on the door and a young man poked his head through the open door. “You wanted to see me, Shannon?”
He sounded familiar. Without moving, she used her empathy. Sure enough, he Felt the same as the Imaginary Romeo in her dreams. The young man that was so kind and generous with his heart. Feeling his stare made her cheeks blanch.
“Agent Reading, I want you to meet Agent Ariana Sister.” Shannon introduced them.
She turned to see his apprehensive smile. His eyes were dark brown, as was his hair, and he had black-rimmed glasses on his face. They were so close, she could even see dimple under his bottom lip as he smiled.
Shannon continued, once seeing she was eyeing him. “Ariana, this is Derrick Reading, your partner.”
Shannon smiled, turning to Derrick. “Why don’t you take her to Fourth Floor and get her settled, then come back? I’ll be waiting.”
Ariana stood and sent a quick message to Shannon, unknowing if she would hear it. Where did the surname ‘Sister’ come from?
It’s a cover, for now. Shannon sent back. That’s who you’ll be from now on: Ariana Moon Sister.
Sounds better than no name at all. Ariana thought to her as she followed Derrick to a room four floors up.
I’ll explain everything later, I promise. Shannon supplied. Welcome home.
Home. It sounded right, for once. The thought of it made her smile.
Her attention returned to her Romeo, the young man Shannon had named Derrick Reading. She watched him quickly slip his card through a slot and punch a series of numbers, covering the console with one hand so she wouldn’t be able to read it.
He sure is clever. Katherine thought to Ariana.
I agree. Ariana smiled, following him once he opened the door.
You have been through a lot. Katherine purred gently. Find a bed and sleep; you have had a hard day. I will meet you at the Garden once you call the spell.
“Take the bed by the balcony.” He told her roughly, leaving.
She walked to the bed, set her pack down beside it and lay down. Drifting off into a deep sleep, she allowed for the peace and serenity of the Dream Realm to welcome her, taking her away from a once painful, cruel world she had known.
Love of an Earthly Protector
Ariana awoke a few hours later in a strange place. Where am I this time?
She yawned, stretching her muscles. Her glance went to a nearby clock, squinting to see the digits.
Had she never noticed before how blurry the world was around her? She shook her head, rubbing her eyes. According to the glowing red digits, three hours passed since she arrived in a limo with Bridget “Big Guy” Guy and met a fellow Ancient Mystic named Shannon Ryan.
She looked around and saw a young man with dark brown hair, chocolate brown eyes, and black-rimmed glasses. The events of a few hours came rushing back to her, and she blushed red-hot.
This young man’s name was Derrick Reading. He was the Imaginary Romeo who haunted her dreams, sharing her adventures in the Dream Realm. He was real.
She smiled at him, nodding her head. “Hi.”
He only scowled at her.
“In case you forgot, the name is Reading. You can call me Derrick.” He said as he stared at her eyes.
Silver-blue and gorgeously familiar! He thought to himself.
Being so near to him now, she heard his thoughts; gasping as she looked away.
“Don’t even try it!” He playfully scolded her.
“Try what?” She asked innocently, listening in his monotone for some clue to his identity. Why was he being wary of her? Did he not believe her the girl in his dreams?
“Reading my mind.” He stammered, looking away from her.
Why is he hiding his kindness? Katherine asked. Does he not remember you?
I do not believe so, my friend. She sighed sadly, standing and looking around the room.
She saw the balcony and headed outside. Derrick followed close behind.
“I would not do so without your permission.” Ariana told him, staring to the sky’s purple haze. It was as mysterious as he was. “For some reason, it would be invading your privacy.”
“I was only teasing anyway.” He stammered, nervous. She stared into the California sky, leaning over the wooden rail. “This is the perfect spot for thinking you know. It’s so quiet and peaceful.”
Derrick sat on one of the chairs, but she continued to stand. A light breeze made Ariana shiver, her long reddish-blond hair dance. She heard him stand beside her. He felt so warm, yet was acting so cold. He was staring at her. She met his eyes to see they were to her Dream Locket.
“That necklace is pretty.” He complimented softly, reaching for it. “Where did you find such an unusual gem?”
Ariana’s hand brushed against his, but he pulled away. The familiar zing from his touch brought back the memory of their first meeting. He is definitely my Romeo. She thought, clearing her throat. “From a dear friend.”
Her stomach growled, and she clutched it instead.
Derrick smiled. “Hungry?”
She timidly smiled back. “Famished.”
He kept his smile. “We’ve got a place to eat here that has everything. Want to join me?”
Ariana looked into his eyes. “Lead the way.”
Derrick closed the door behind them. Ariana was silent as she followed, watching the path so she wouldn’t get lost later. The place was enormous, and she could sense a lot of people living here. Most of them were teenagers their age, some older, like Shannon.
She tried sensing Derrick, but for some reason, her empathy was blocked. She stared at his hand, remembering her dream when it held hers.
What would it take for him to remember me? She sighed.
“Hey,” She heard Derrick’s voice interrupt her thoughts and turned to him. “What’s on your mind?”
“Nothing; I was just thinking.”
“What about, or is it none of my business?” He asked as he sat down at one of the booths. She sat across from him.
Had she been in such a daze that she hadn’t realized her surroundings?
“I was thinking of a dear friend I met last year.” Ariana tried, looking at him.
She frowned when her eyes ached from trying to focus.
“You can’t really see me, can you?” He frowned as he watched her rub her eyes. “I’ll have to talk to Shannon about getting you fitted for eyeglasses.”
Ariana nodded. “I would like that; thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He studied her for a moment. “You know; you sound like someone I know.”
“Really?” She asked, excited. “How so?”
“The way you talk.” Derrick said. “It reminds me of…” He paused, shaking his head. “No. It’s impossible.”
She thought with a smile. Do you remember me?
“Nothing is impossible, my Imaginary Romeo.” She whispered, winking at him.
“It is you!” Derrick cried, pointing at her. Other restaurant patrons stopped their meals and stared, so he leaned in and whispered. “You’re my Dream Girl, aren’t you? The one who keeps visiting my dreams, taking me on adventures in the Dream Realm.”
Ariana nodded. “Aye.” She said. “Officially, I am Ariana Moon. Shannon gave me the name of ‘Sister’ and called you my partner.”
“That’s right.” Derrick smiled, taking her hands. “Goddess, you even feel the same.”
“I should, because I am the same.” She giggled. “How much do you remember of our adventures?”
“Everything,” he laughed. “The last I saw, you were writing in a journal at the Detention Center, a magical ball of light hovering over your shoulder so you could see.”
“That was just last week.” She grinned.
They ordered their food and ate it when it came.
Derrick led her back to Shannon’s office afterward. Within a few hours, she was examined for eyeglasses and a pair of silver frames accented her silver-blue eyes.
“I think they look good on you,” Derrick replied softly as they walked back to their quarters afterward. He walked closer to her, reaching to hold her hand.
“Thanks, and I can see perfectly.” Ariana blushed, automatically taking it. “How did they know?”
“A little bird told them.” Derrick teased with a grin, playfully nudging her.
“I bet that little bird was you?” She giggled.
Derrick shrugged. “You could say that.”
Her smile’s so enchanting, he thought to himself.
She heard it and smiled.
“Thank you.” Ariana replied.
“You said my smile is enchanting.” Ariana explained.
He shook his head, embarrassed.
“You should really learn how to block your thoughts.” Ariana teased him. “Between your big mouth and your open mind, you could get yourself in trouble.”
Derrick looked up at her with a sheepish grin, “I suppose you’ll teach me?”
“As long as you teach me what you know,” Ariana grinned. “Deal?”
Derrick smiled. “Deal.” Clearing his throat, he asked her. “So, how do you like the System so far?”
“I have not been here long enough to establish an opinion.” Ariana told him. “Nor can I judge an old building’s past based on letters left long-imprinted by the sun.”
“You saw them, too, did you?” Derrick asked, squeezing her hand. “Maybe when you settle in, we can investigate together?”
“Maybe.” She smiled, looking at him. Oh, how she wanted to kiss those lips!
Nervous, she looked away. They continued hand in hand, taking the staircase up to their room instead of using the elevator.
“Do you know why you’re here?” Derrick asked after a moment.
“Destiny led me here.” Ariana whispered. “Other than that, no. The Goddess rarely tells her Children why.”
He chuckled, stopping at their room door. He slid the card through its slot and punched in a five-digit code. He didn’t bother to cover it this time, trusting her.
“I’m here because of you.” He spoke up. “Shannon told me you’re the Young Guardian of the Dream Realm. Lord Guardian told me I was your Earthly Protector, whatever that is.”
Protector. She thought. That is what my older self called his.
“Perhaps you are my Protector, as a bodyguard protects a celebrity?” She tried, shrugging her shoulders.
“I’m sure we’ll find out sooner or later,” Derrick told her. “For now, it’s late. I’m tired, and am sure you are, too.”
“Exhausted.” She confirmed, smiling.
“The bathroom’s on our right, so you can take a shower if you want.” He pointed.
“Derrick.” Ariana stopped him before he could walk away.
She reached up and placed a hand on his cheek, forcing him to look at her. After a brief hesitation, he bent down and kissed her lips gently.
Complete me, Earthly Protector.
She didn’t know where the words came from, but they were there. Embarrassed, she hurried to the bathroom and took a long, hot shower.
It was late, and she was exhausted. She thought back on the day’s adventurous events as the hot water and steam relaxed her throbbing muscles. It was so refreshing to be clean. It was almost like starting over in a new place, a new world, a new life.
When she left the bathroom after cleaning up after herself, Ariana noticed Derrick was already fast asleep. She smiled, taking his lenses off and setting them on the night stand beside the bed. Reaching down, she kissed his cheek.
“Pleasant Journeys, my Romeo.” She whispered, heading to her own bed for the night.
So far, she liked the System. Sure, it was confusing, but she would figure it out. It was a worthy challenge, her detective’s instincts waking up for the first time in several years.
Her new partner Derrick Reading was also a challenge. She would have fun figuring out the many secrets of the System with him, along with exploring their relationship.
Both she and Katherine Hawk knew how much she loved a challenge.
That night, a new nightmare began. She was in the Abyss, the Realm between the Realms, as Lord Guardian explained. It was drafty, cold, and scary. She stood on a single boulder that floated in the abysmal air. Sudden fear crept in her soul, and she could sense danger coming from a mile away.
Confused, she yelled into the air. “Hello! Is anybody here?”
An echo of her voice bounced off the barriers, slowly followed an array of ghostly voices. This signaled trouble and Ariana did not know how to react. She did all she could to stop the voices, and ran.
Ariana heard a broad monotone as she ran.
“Be Banished from the Dream Realm for all eternity, Katherine and Kitten’s Claw Hawk! The Master will have his revenge!”
The Master! Ariana cried in her mind as she stopped in her tracks and bent down. She covered her ears and shut her eyes. She could still hear the voice, loud and clear.
“No-no-no-no-no-no-no! Leave them alone!” Ariana screamed repeatedly. She tried running as fast as her legs would carry her, but she could still feel someone, or something, following her. The quicker she ran, the quicker they followed; the eerie feeling never went away. “Go away!”
She looked ahead as she ran and found her aura trace.
I see a light. She thought to herself. I must make it through.
She ran toward the light and passed through.
“No!” Ariana woke up in a cold sweat, screaming. She kept trying to convince herself it had been all just a dream, but it was not. Somehow, she feared for her feline friend and her missing sister Kitten’s Claw.
She looked over to Derrick’s bed. Thankfully, he was still asleep, his back facing her. Grasping the Dream Locket and calling its spell in her mind, she found herself back in the Dream Realm.
Safe at last.
Project: Dream Realm Crusader
A System Agency Welcome
The next morning, Ariana opened her eyes to find Derrick was already gone. She quietly made her bed and dressed, ready to explore her new home. Before she could leave the room, the phone rang from between the beds.
As soon as she touched the receiver, she knew who it was. “Good Morning, Shannon.”
Shannon Ryan chuckled from the other end. “Mornin’, Ariana. How’d you sleep?”
“Like a babe.” Ariana told her, sitting on her bed. She did not want to alarm Shannon about the nightmares. They were her problem; not Shannon’s, or even Derrick’s. “Was there something you needed?”
“Your orientation is this afternoon in the Commons Room.” Shannon told her. “That will get you officially set up as an Agent. After that, we’ll see what we can do about, well, you know.”
No, Ariana thought with a yawn. I do not know.
“Anyway, have Derrick show you the way there, okay?” Shannon rushed. “I’ll see you this afternoon.”
“Okay,” Ariana stammered. “See you then.”
Shannon hung up.
Ariana stared, shaking her head in confusion.
Might as well start my day. She thought to herself, heading out the door.
She ran into an agent coming out of the room across the hall. His hair was dark, and so were his eyes. He wore mostly black and brown: black jeans with a dark brown T-Shirt and a black sleeveless leather overcoat that reached his ankles.
“Hello; you must be new.” The agent smiled at her.
“That’s right.” Ariana paused, smiling back. He sure was charming! She thought to herself. Do I sense a hint of magic in him, too? “I just arrived last night. My name is-”
“Ariana Moon.” The agent interrupted before she could say it. “Yeah, Shannon told me about you. I’m Shane Morehouse, but you can call me Shadow.”
He held his hand out for her to shake.
After staring at it, she took it. She froze, closing her eyes and tensing as an eerie feeling went through her system. The vision of a girl identical to herself came to mind and she gasped, the empathic feeling of the girl stirring her curiosity. He let go of her hand quickly and studied her when she reopened her eyes. He was apprehensive, quick to change the subject when she opened her mouth to ask questions about the vision.
“I see you have Derrick for a partner.” Shadow cleared his throat and interrupted her confused thoughts. “I feel sorry for you.”
Ariana blinked. “I am sorry?”
Shadow laughed nervously. “Never mind.” He asked. “Where’re you headed?”
“To the Café for some breakfast.” And to find my new partner, Ariana thought to herself. “I do not remember the path. Would you be willing to show me?”
Shadow smiled. “Certainly, madam.” He crooked his arm out for her. “It just so happens I’m going that way m’self.”
With a giggle, she took it and they were on their way.
This “Shadow” man was not that much older than her, she noted. The empathic feeling she got from him was dark, mysterious, and smart. She would have to watch herself around him.
“It would seem I have lost my new partner this morning.” She tried to joke. “When I awoke, he was gone.”
“He’s probably at the Café, getting his morning cup of coffee.” Shadow told her. “Usually, nothing can get him up this early in the morning.”
“Perhaps he could not sleep well, or was anxious to begin his day?”
Shadow smiled. “You think?”
Ariana nodded and they stopped at the doors.
“Well, what do you know?” Shadow asked, gesturing across the Café to a single table. “Case of the Missing Partner is solved.” Ariana giggled. He opened the door for her. “M’Lady?”
She curtseyed. “Why thank thee, M’Lord.” She replied with a giggle. “Thou art ever so kind.”
“Anything for a beautiful lady,” Shadow supplied with a laugh. “Have a good day, Ariana Moon. Try not to kill him, okay? See you around.”
Before she could ask what he meant, he saluted and disappeared into the crowd of hungry agents.
She breathed a sigh, walking over to Derrick. Just as Shadow had said, he was staring into a coffee cup. There were worry lines on his face, and his eyes looked like they had not slept in hours.
“Good morning, Derrick.” She said softly, making him turn to her.
He pasted on a smile. “Morning.”
“You woke before me.” Ariana sat across from him.
“Yeah, sorry about that.” He blushed, rubbing the back of his neck. “I, uh, couldn’t sleep.”
“You could have left me a note.” Ariana told him gently, reaching for a menu and ordering her breakfast when the waitress came. “I was worried about you.”
Derrick gave her a skeptical look. “Why worry about me? You don’t even know me.”
She smiled. “Sure I do. You are my Imaginary Romeo.”
Derrick finally smiled. “As you’re my Dream Girl.” He said. “I remember, but it’s all your fault I’m up this early.”
Ariana blinked. Had he heard her screams in the night? If so, why did he not wake her, or come to comfort her? “Really?” She dared to ask. “How so?”
“You happen to snore.” He made a snoring noise.
She relaxed at his smile.
In the afternoon, Derrick showed her to the Commons Room, a room large enough for two classrooms full of students. On the west wall were a line of lockers, just like she imagined a school would have. Across from that were rows of long tables with chairs and a blackboard on the east wall.
Shannon was already waiting for her, feet up on an oversized desk in between the blackboard and the first row of tables. “Welcome to the System Agency Orientation, Ariana Sister.”
Derrick smiled, nudging her cheek with a kiss for confidence. “I’m needed with Chips Deneson. I’ll see you later, okay?”
Dazed, she muttered. “Okay.”
He was gone and she was alone with Shannon.
“Have a seat.” Shannon smiled. “The instructor will be here soon.”
“You are not it?”
Shannon shook her head. “Nope. I just run the place.” She stood. “Do you remember how to get to my office from here?”
Ariana shook her head. “Uh, no.”
“That’s okay. I’ll send Big Guy after you if she’s not busy.” Shannon winked, her silver-blue eyes changing back to brown.
The act made her smile. “Big Guy is the one who picked me up yesterday?” Shannon nodded.
“The Orientation should take an hour; physical and psychological evaluations afterward will take another hour.” Shannon explained. “Now, Forester is in charge of Orientation, Doc Swanson will take over your physical and Aurora will take care of your psych eval.”
“Seems like I have a busy day ahead of me.” Ariana laughed off her nervousness.
“It’s for our records, and your own good.” Shannon explained. “When you’re done with all that, Big Guy will find me and the two of us will go over what you know.”
“What I know?” Ariana asked.
About the Ancient Mystics, and the magic you have. Shannon thought to her. “For now, I need to get back to work. I have a big meeting with the Chief of Detectives at our rival Agency, the Network.”
“Oh. Okay.” Ariana stammered. “Thank you.”
Shannon pat her on the back. “You’re welcome.”
Ariana sat at one of the tables, her mind reeling with thought.
Overwhelmed yet, my friend? Katherine teased her.
Ha-ha, very funny. Ariana teased back. I am glad you are okay. After last night’s dream, I was worried.
I heard you were stuck in the Abyss, reliving the past. Katherine said.
That was in the past? Ariana asked her friend, looking around the room. In one corner were people playing a game; in another, older agents were teaching trios of younger ones from textbooks.
Aye. From when I was first Banished. Katherine supplied softly.
Now Ariana felt bad. I am sorry for reminding you.
You are forgiven. Katherine said. We must learn from the past, or be doomed to repeat it.
I agree with you. Ariana sighed. I will meet you later in the Canine Wood. For now, the instructor is coming this way, and I must pay attention.
Other new agents were lingering in, confused as they took their seats. The instructor, a male older than Shannon, with blond hair and crooked eyeglasses sifted through the file folders on the desk. So her eventful afternoon had begun.
By the time it was over, she baffled and confused Forester (for her high scores on the test he gave them), Doc Swanson (with her curious ability to self-heal and going through life without being sick), and Aurora (who claimed had E.S.P., yet couldn’t “read” her.) Big Guy escorted her to Shannon’s office doubled over in laughter.
“No one, I mean, no one, has ever baffled Forester before.” Big Guy told Shannon when she dropped Ariana off. “Even Doc was confused.”
“He called me ‘curious,’ as I have never been ill a day in my life.” Ariana grinned.
Except when you were pregnant. Shannon thought to her, eyes on her best friend Big Guy.
Ariana blinked, surprised.
“What about Aurora?” Shannon spoke up before Ariana could say anything.
“She was the best one.” Big Guy giggled. “According to her,” she thumbed Ariana, “’something’ was blocking her so-called E.S.P., so she couldn’t read her.”
Shannon grinned. “I bet I know what that certain ‘something’ was.” She winked at Ariana before glaring at Big Guy. “You’re excused. She’ll be fine in my hands until Chips is done with Reading.”
Big Guy clicked her heels together and mock-saluted, winking. “Gotcha, boss. I’m outta here.”
“See you.” Shannon laughed, rolling her eyes and closing the door behind her. “Finally!” She gasped as a silent Ariana took a seat on the chair in front of a large mahogany desk. “I thought she’d never leave!”
Ariana smiled. “You seem close.”
“Well, we’ve been best friends since we were very young, so yeah.” Shannon told her, sitting in the chair behind the desk. “I guess you’d say Big Guy and I are close.”
Ariana cleared her throat, wanting to get back on track. “Am I here for something other than conversation?”
“Sure are.” Shannon grinned. “You must know our story, and more about what you’re up against.”
“Yes, our.” Shannon confirmed. “It started with Enchantra visited my Aunt Dixilynne almost ten years ago.”
“Dixilynne?” Ariana interrupted. “Her surname would not be the same as yours, would it?”
Shannon smiled. “It was, yeah. She adopted me when my mom died.”
“I am sorry for your loss.” Ariana felt saddened by the news.
“It’s okay.” Shannon told her gently. “I was only a baby when she died; I never knew her. Dixie took me in and raised me as her own, giving me my surname of Ryan. She died three years ago.”
“According to my calculations,” Ariana thought aloud. “She was your aunt and Stephen is your cousin?” Shannon nodded. “Would that not make him her son?”
“You’re quick.” Shannon grinned. “You must be developing the Photographic Memory.”
“Which brings me to the following query: how did you know I was an Ancient Mystic?”
“Enchantra sensed your powers awakening ten years ago.” Shannon grinned. “Anyway, she told Dixie that the Master Orthos sought to destroy all the Mystics, starting with Lord Guardian’s successor, and take over the Mystic Realms.”
“I have witnessed his destruction and want to help my Companion friends seek revenge.”
“I know you do; which is why you’re here.” Shannon said. “Normally, we wouldn’t start weapons training until you settled in. I know you want to fight using your magic, but in order to do that, you must first learn without it.”
“I see.” Ariana was depressed.
“Don’t be sad; you’ll learn.” Shannon told her. “Onto another subject: How long have you known about your magic?”
“Since I was young, though most was accidental.” She explained. “I have always known how to read minds, sense emotions and heal. It was later I learned what Enchantra called the other three basic powers: Premonition, Clairvoyance, and Telekinesis.”
“So with Enchantra’s, Lord Guardian’s and Katherine Hawk’s help, you learned control?”
Ariana nodded. “How did you know about Katherine?”
“The same way I know how to change my eye color.” Shannon blinked, her eyes changing from brown to silver-blue and back. “Want to learn?”
“Perhaps later?” Ariana asked. Does she ever stay on one subject for long?
Shannon bit her lip. “I’m rambling again, aren’t I?”
Ariana nodded, smiling.
“Okay, back on track.” Shannon clapped her hands. “You’ve known about your special abilities since you were young, though you thought it was accidental.”
Ariana nodded. “Before I left the orphanage, I told a future to my friend Aaron Theodore. Later, when I thought about him, I found it came true.”
“Aaron Theodore’s the one who fathered the Enchanted Child?” Shannon asked gently.
Ariana’s hand went to her stomach and eyes to her Blood-Pact scar. “How did you know?”
“Everyone in the Dream Realm knows about the Enchanted Child.” Shannon told her. “Just as we know all about you being the Young Guardian.”
Ariana thought of Derrick and gasped. “Does he know about Kelina Erin, yet?”
Shannon shook her head. “It’s your story to tell, not ours.”
Ariana let out a thankful sigh.
“I guess Kelina Erin would make you an official Elder Ancient Mystic, instead of just a Daughter.”
Ariana shrugged. “How do you figure?”
“You had her when you were thirteen, right?” Ariana nodded. “According to the Ancient Mystics, you’re an Elder. The rules state, and I quote, ‘Mystic Sisters are Young Ones until they conceive their first child, or turn twenty-one. Then, and only then, are they considered Elders.’” She paused. “Of course, it’s different for Mystic Wizards, the males of our family.”
Ariana gasped. “So that is what Stephen meant when he said he was a Wizard!”
Shannon nodded. “You’ll learn more, later. Going on, from any Ancient Mystic’s birth, the five basic powers evolve in the mind, the most powerful awakening first.”
“Such as me with my Empathy?” Ariana asked.
Shannon nodded. “When a live birth occurs from a Mystic Sister such as in your case, your powers are heightened to unlimited proportions. It’s up to you to learn how to use them to your utmost advantage.” She thought for a moment. “You’re a special Ancient Mystic, for which I’m envious. Unlike us, you heal overnight.”
“I can also heal others.” Ariana supplied. “That is uncommon?”
“Not really, but most of us aren’t that strong at the Healing Magic.” She supplied. “We just learn the basics and hope it works, but you, Ariana Moon; you astound even Enchantra. Perhaps that’s why Lord Guardian chose you as his successor?”
“Perhaps.” Ariana supplied. “What about you? Are you an Elder?”
Shannon shook her head sadly. “Unfortunately, no. I’m twenty-one now, but I’ll remain a Sister until I become a mother.”
Ariana didn’t have to use Empathy to know when Shannon wanted to be alone. The conversation was over, so she quietly excused herself.
Shannon Ryan was lonely and not even Ariana could help her.
She took the elevator back to Fourth-Floor. She was in a daze and didn’t notice when the doors opened on the third floor. Derrick walked in, so she pasted a smile.
He kissed her cheek, noticing her faraway look. “What’s wrong?”
She shook her head. “It is nothing.”
“Why don’t I believe you?” He whispered in her ear.
Ariana sighed. Guess I can hide nothing from him.
Well, he is your Earthly Protector. Katherine purred. Trust in him as he will trust in you.
“Shannon told me the Mystic’s story.” Ariana explained. “I am thinking it reminded her of those she lost; first her mother, then her Aunt Dixilynne. She is lonely, and I could do nothing to help her.”
“Sometimes you have to let people handle their own problems.” Derrick shrugged.
The elevator opened again with a ding. The couple stepped out and he took her hand before heading down the hallway to their room.
“Tell you what; we’ll go to the Café tonight. It’ll be my treat.” Derrick grinned. “What do you say?”
Ariana grinned. “The Café is free.”
He shrugged, kissing her nose. “Still my treat.”
She giggled. “Fine, but this time, I pick the table.”
“No problem, Love.” Derrick kissed her lips.
The familiar zing made her blush. All thoughts of Shannon’s loneliness were blown away as those of love for Derrick reined supreme.
He was definitely her Imaginary Romeo; he knew how to make her smile.
Promise of a Perfect World
That night, before she met Katherine in the Canine Wood, the Dominionite Nightmare continued. She was closer this time, hiding herself high in a tree above the battle. From above, she recognized the older versions of Derrick, the twins, and herself. One of the other shadowed faces she saw below was an older version of Shadow, the agent she met that day. That just left two more shadowed faces to reveal themselves in time.
She watched the way Shadow moved, as if he knew what he was doing more than the others. He fought with a pair of daggers shaped like mini pitchforks. Once he fought closer to her hiding spot, she could see the Dream Locket around his neck; it was glowing copper.
No wonder he felt magical. She thought to herself.
He was fighting against a single Dominionite Warrior wolf, his eyes glowing before he jumped in the air, disappeared and reappeared above the Warrior. The Warrior was quick enough to block, his own eyes glowing red before meeting Shadow’s attack, throwing him off.
“You gonna give up yet, Red?” Shadow was out of breath, but continued to bounce from one foot to the other, ready to attack.
Ariana had never seen a Warrior quite like this one. He was a wolf, like her Timberwolf friend, but his fur was the color of rust. His eyes glowed red and the aura around him felt dark, but not dark.
“A Warrior never surrenders.” The one Shadow had named Red answered in a growl, his fingers twitching, long fingernails extending.
Usually, Dominionites were incapable of audible speech, but it would seem this one was. Was he a friend of Tobias and Wolf?
Shadow laughed at him. “Prepare yourself then, because neither does a Crusader.”
What is a Crusader? Ariana asked, watching the scene.
“I believe we have company.” Red announced, placing his paw up.
Shadow looked up and saw Ariana standing there.
“We’ll finish this later, Red.” Shadow frowned at her.
She bit her lip. Could he see her? If so, was she in trouble?
“Agreed.” Red shifted his shape to a full wolf and loped away into the wood.
“Come on down, Young Guardian.” Shadow announced, beckoning her to his side. “There’s no need to be afraid.”
“I am not afraid; merely curious.” Ariana told him, jumping down from her tree. “How do you know me as Young Guardian? Who was that Warrior? Why did he feel different from the others I have witnessed? What is a Crusader?”
Shadow laughed, holding his hands up. “I can’t answer all your questions, but I can tell you some.” He said, taking a seat on a nearby boulder. “I’m a Senior Officer, for one. Shannon told us about you, which is how I knew who you were when we first met.”
“What about that Warrior?”
“Who? Red?” Shadow asked, thumbing in the direction Red had disappeared. “His name is Red-Wolf Moondancer. He’s confused; not knowing which side’s the right one to fight on. You know Wolf and Tobias, right?” Ariana nodded. “He’s like them, but different from them at the same time. I can’t explain now, but you’ll learn.”
“I know, in time.” Ariana rolled her eyes. “He was able to speak.”
“All Warriors can talk, Ariana.” Shadow told her. “Most just don’t have control over their words.” He paused. “Not like him.”
“How different is he from the other Warriors?”
Shadow shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you about that just yet.”
Ariana looked down. “You do not trust me. I understand.”
“No, it’s not that.” Shadow sighed. “Let’s back up for a minute here. I’ve seen you watching us battle the Dominionites for years now. You’re at the System now; I can tell that by your aura.”
“My aura?” Ariana looked at her body, confused. “You can see it?”
Shadow nodded. “You haven’t learned how to control your Mystic’s Wind, yet.” By the blank look on her face, he could tell she didn’t even know what that was. “You’ll learn that, too.” He stood. “For now, morning’s here and I’m pretty sure Shannon will be, too.”
Ariana stood. “One more query, if I may?”
Shadow looked over his shoulder and nodded. “Shoot.”
“Will I ever learn how to fight using my magic?”
Shadow smiled. “You’ve watched an older version of yourself fight?” Ariana nodded; he winked. “There’s your answer. Pleasant Journeys, Young Guardian.”
With a bow, he turned to a dark cloud and disappeared.
During her first week at the System, she was put through various tests; physical, mental, and magical. Ariana and Derrick were instructed to start self-defense classes, as well as weapon’s training. To Master Kwan’s surprise, they both learned quickly and excelled.
The nightmares continued, but this time, Ariana wasn’t alone. She and Derrick began training with Lord Guardian and Enchantra on how to patrol Dreamer’s worlds, using what they learned about weaponry and self-defense in the Outer Realm.
One morning, Derrick was quiet and Ariana was curious as to why.
“Derrick, what is wrong?”
“I’m still wondering what we’re doing here.” He spoke up. “I know I’m your Earthly Protector; whatever that is, and you’re the Young Guardian. That’s the easy part. What I’m wondering is why here? Why now? When I arrived last year, Shannon told me about some Dream Realm Crusader Project we were going to be on.”
“Do you know what a Crusader is?” Ariana asked him. He shrugged and shook his head. “Neither do I.” She debated telling him about her dream with Shadow.
Trust he will not be angry. Katherine purred in her mind. If he is your Romeo, he will understand.
Very well, I will tell him. Ariana cleared her throat and spoke up. “Do you know an agent named Shadow?”
“He’s a Senior Officer. Kind of mysterious and secretive, yet the best at whatever it is he does.” Derrick nodded. “What about him?”
She told him her dream with him in it, how he was yet another of the shadowed figures that fought the Dominionites with their older selves. “In it, he is older as well. I do not understand how people from the future are able to see me watching them. I do not understand how I am able to see the future in my dreams.”
“Perhaps a certain Shannon Ryan will be able to answer our questions?” Derrick stood. “Let’s go.”
They raced to the Computer Room and on to Shannon’s office.
“She’s kinda busy, guys.” Big Guy warned them from her computer station with a mischievous grin. “She’s on the phone with the Network’s Chief, Nick.”
They looked at each other. “What’s wrong with Nick?” Derrick asked.
Big Guy couldn’t hold her giggle in. “You’ll see.” She stood from her computer station and knocked on the door.
“Enter,” They heard Shannon’s voice from the other side of the door.
Big Guy peeked her head in, asked something out of their hearing range and laughed a minute later. “If you insist!” She closed the door and turned to them. “Go right in.”
“Uh, thanks, Big Guy.” Derrick smiled at a giggling Ariana.
Big Guy winked. “No problem, Reading.”
Before either could say or do anything, Shannon opened the door and cried excitedly. “Sorry you had to wait, team. Come right in!”
“So, what’s going on?”
“You are excited.” Ariana noted with a grin. “Good news about Nick?”
“Yep, but that’s not all.” Shannon shared a smile with Big Guy before shutting the door behind the three of them. “It’s time for your first Project assignment.”
“Oh?” Derrick asked. “You mean, the whole reason we’re here?”
“You’re gonna love me for this,” Shannon promised. “It has to do with the Dream Realm.”
“What about it?” Ariana was curious.
“The Project is called ‘Dream Realm Crusader’.” Shannon started. “You’ll Crusade to the Dream Realm and fight the Master’s Dominionites, gathering as much information as you can about the Master and his children, the Maiden and the Merchant.”
“I know all about them.” Ariana frowned. “I want to fight them using my magic, but it seems no one will train me in doing so.”
Shannon winked. “Not to worry, you will.” She cleared her throat. “Now, where was I?” She whispered. “Oh yeah, using the Dream Locket and a special device called a Life-Line I’m having Chips make you, you’ll Crusade to the Dream Realm each night.” She reached in her desk drawer and came out with a Dream Locket, throwing it at Derrick. “Here you go. She’ll teach you the Chant so you can use it.”
Derrick caught it, placing it around his neck. “Feels kinda weird.”
“It will, and you can’t take it off, ever.” Shannon instructed. “Or you won’t be able to travel to the Dream Realm.”
“That’s comforting.” Derrick cleared his throat. “So when do we start?”
“I believe you already have, in a way.” Shannon said. “Remember when you first got here? I told you about the Young Guardian of Dreams and how you were her Earthly Protector?”
“Yeah,” Derrick said. “What does that mean, anyway? Just what is an Earthly Protector?”
“An Earthly Protector is someone who is bound by the Fates to protect a certain Ancient Mystic.” Shannon explained. “You literally dream of that Mystic in your mind for at least two years before you actually meet; that way, you know them on-site.”
“We have dreamed about each other for at least that long.” Ariana confirmed. “He joins me in my adventures in the Dream Realm, which includes my nightmares.”
“Nightmares?” Shannon was curious. “Tell me about them.”
“They are strange, and I have had them for many years.” Ariana explained. “Usually, they would only be of my older self fighting with her friends against Dominionites. For awhile, hers was the only face I could see.”
“What do you mean, ‘only face you could see’?”
“There have always been at least six shadowed figures fighting beside her.” Ariana explained. “When I bound the twins to me with the Blood-Pact, I saw their faces as well. I met him,” she thumbed Derrick, “and I began to see his. Just last week, another revealed himself to me: Shadow.”
“You don’t say?” Shannon smiled. “How many more are still shadowed?”
Ariana thought for a moment. “Two are left: A female with indigo-colored magic and a male with gray. All of them fight against Dominionites in the future, though I know not how far.”
“Very interesting, indeed.” Shannon remarked.
“Which brings me to one inquiry: why do they want me dead?”
“Easy; you’re the Young Guardian, destined to succeed Lord Guardian O’Dell should he perish.” Shannon explained. “With all the magic you carry in your blood, you’re also a very powerful threat.” She turned to Derrick. “I hate to do this to you, Derrick, but see Chips for the Life-Lines. I need to talk to her privately.”
“You’ll explain later, won’t you?” Derrick wondered.
Shannon nodded. “Thanks for understanding.”
As soon as he closed the door behind him, Shannon waved her hand at it, muttered a spell and turned back to her.
“What did you just do?”
“It’s a protective barrier.” Shannon said. “I need to know what you can do, and how much control you have over your abilities.”
“You already know what I can do.” Ariana supplied. “I told you.”
“Now you need to show me.”
Fine. I am telepathic, for one. Ariana grinned as she sent the message. You learned that first-hand my first day here.
“Good, strong link,” Shannon grinned, nodding. “What about Empathy?”
“My strongest.” Ariana supplied. “I am even learning how to combine the two.”
“Combine the two?”
“Yes. Combining Telepathy and Empathy; that is, sending telepathic messages with empathic waves, such as love, comfort, and strength.” Ariana explained. “I am still a bit shaky at it, but Katherine believes I will get it.”
“Gotcha.” Shannon stood, pacing. “Tell me what I’m feeling.”
Ariana relaxed her sensors, allowing her to receive the emotions. “You are in love with someone, but he does not know how he feels about you.” She began. “You are anxious, even frightened that the feelings will never be returned.”
Shannon stopped pacing, clearing her throat. Ariana could see Shannon’s cheeks reddening at the admission. “Clairvoyance.”
Ariana shook her head. “No, I am certain I am only using Empathy to read you.” She shrugged. “Though I wonder why that would come through so strongly.”
Shannon waved her off. “Never mind for now. What about your Clairvoyance?” She searched around the room for an every-day object, a pen, handing it to her. “What do you read on this?”
Ariana took the pen and closed her eyes. At first, all she saw were clouds. Once she grasped her Dream Locket, she was able to see a vision. She whispered aloud, trying to explain what she saw. “You were carrying this with you when you went to Big Guy for a favor. I cannot hear you talking, but I can see she is interested in what you say. I can read her lips: ‘Shore Point Detention Center.’” Ariana broke the connection, dropping her hand from her locket, instantly knowing. “You wanted her to pick me up from there!”
Shannon grinned, nodding. “Impressive.”
“You’re welcome.” Shannon supplied. “Now, what about the Premonition? Had any visions that came true lately?”
Ariana shrugged. “I cannot call it on command. I usually See things shortly before they are meant to happen.”
“Would you say it gets stronger until you do something about it?” Shannon asked. Ariana nodded. “When was your last Vision?”
“It was in the form of a nightmare.” Ariana told her. “I had a Vision that Mrs. Gertrude was going to beat me so badly, the baby growing in my womb would die, and I would be forced to stay as one of her slaves.”
Shannon blinked, unknowing of what to say. “When did you have that Vision?”
“Shortly after Aaron and I found out I was pregnant.” Ariana looked down.
Shannon took a deep breath and hugged her. “It’s okay now; that Vision never happened. You ran from the orphanage, were rescued by my cousin Stephen, and had the Enchanted Child. There’s no need to fear. It’s over.”
Ariana felt the empathic wave of love from Shannon and was comforted.
When she pulled back from the hug, Shannon smiled. “Time for my favorite; Telekinesis.” She walked over to her desk and grabbed her mug. “Show me.”
“Are you certain of this?” Ariana asked, looking at the lone mug in Shannon’s hands. “The last time I tried Telekinesis, I broke one of Mrs. Gertrude’s favorite vases.”
“Trust in your abilities, Ariana.” Shannon urged with a knowing grin. “You can do it.”
Shannon put the mug down on the desk. “Don’t ask how, just do it.”
“Okay, here goes.” Ariana took a deep breath and stared at the mug. Her mind focused on it, her eyes squinting as they watched it hover in midair. Her index finger beckoned it to her, and it started to move.
You are doing it! Katherine’s voice cheered in her mind.
Not now! Ariana scolded her.
She lost her concentration, dropping it to the ground. Before it could hit the linoleum and smash, Ariana quickly focused, stopping it with a palm and the silent word Stop!
She shook her finger at the mug, raising her hand once more to try again. It rose from its position and floated to her hand. When she grasped it, showing it to Shannon, she asked. “How was that?”
“Excellent.” Shannon clapped. “I like that; telling an inanimate object whose boss.”
“Really?” Her confidence soared. “Any more?”
“You’ve done enough for today, I think.” Shannon regretted. “I like your enthusiasm, though. I’ll tell you what. Next week, after your first official Crusade for the System, I’ll show you more, okay?”
Ariana nodded. “Speaking of Crusading; I wonder where my Romeo Reading wandered off.”
“Sense him and find out.”
Ariana shook her head. “For some reason, my powers are blocked for him.” She shrugged. “Guess I will have to find out the hard way.”
With a wave, she was gone.
She went to the nearest elevator, pressing the “4” button. As it moved, her head began to pound.
What is going on? She asked. Nobody answered; not even Katherine.
She touched her temple, massaging it as she tried wishing the pain away. The pounding in her mind only got louder and more intense.
The elevator door opened on the fourth floor and she stumbled out, forced to her knees as her world went black.
In her mind, she searched for the source of the pounding noise. There was a bright colored light in the depths of her soul, tapping at her. She conjured her imagery self in her mind, reaching out with silver-colored arms.
There it was again; with each tap, she watched the light pulsate. It Called to her soul, its opalescent rainbow swirling as she took it. Once her fingers touched it, another bright light the color of silver enveloped her.
The sensation of magic and energy pulsing in her system soothed her.
“Do you know what I am?” A voice echoed in her mind; feminine and light.
“You are magic, you are energy,” Ariana whispered in the same voice, different from her own. It was airy and light, many voices at once like a Goddess.
“I am you, as you are me.” The voice echoed. “We are One.”
“One are We.” She echoed.
The pulsing stopped; her mind and soul accepting the magic within.
Ariana’s eyes flickered open then, and she began to sit up.
“Whoa,” Derrick breathed as he caught her before she could fall. “Careful, Love.”
Ariana shook the cobwebs from her head. “What happened?”
“You fainted, I believe.” Doc told her. “If you remember, I am Doc Swanson, the Chief Medical Officer here at the System.”
Ariana remembered. She had seen him for her physical on her first day at the System, and recalled meeting his daughter Dana. The short, but smart doctor knew all there was to know about treating any of the human body’s ailments.
Ariana nodded. “I remember. Nice to see you again, Doctor Swanson.”
“Yes, and the name’s Doc Swanson, or just Doc. I’ll need to see you in a couple of days, just to make sure you’re okay.”
“Thanks, Doc.” Derrick said as he helped Ariana stand.
“You’re welcome, Reading and Sister. Reading, get her straight to bed to rest, got that?” Doc commanded, smiling.
Both of them nodded, and left the office. Derrick led Ariana by the arm to Fourth Floor and their room.
“Thank you, Derrick.” Ariana’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“Don’t try to talk. Wait until after your nap.” Derrick advised, kissing her tenderly on the lips.
She didn’t object.
When they reached their room, he sat her on the bed. After he slipped her glasses off her face, she immediately fell into a deep sleep as her head hit the pillow.
She believed they were finally where they both belonged: In a more perfect world.
The Countess of Monarch’s Glenn
Three weeks of Crusades, helping Dreamers, and Chronicling their adventures, the couple were in a strong routine. They learned the fighting arts together, as well as the beginnings of how to use her magic with weapons. Ariana learned more from Shannon about the Ancient Mystics, and even taught her how to do many magical things she never thought possible before.
One night, another nightmare came to her mind, and she was scared shiftless.
A large black dragon flew overhead, spewing a magical fire over a land Ariana had never been to before. She ran to safety in the closest cave, finally noticing her dream-self was different than her usual Young Guardian. She looked at her hands that now resembled wolf’s paws, with long claws. She was in awe as she saw her entire body was that of a black wolf. She felt her wolf ears, nearly cutting herself on tiny horns that stuck between them.
Just what is going on? She asked. What am I doing here? Where is ‘here’?
A loud roar echoed from outside her safe haven, hurting her ears.
I know you’re here, my beloved Empress. A voice rumbled in her mind. Come out, wherever you are!
The voice frightened her, making her wings cover her face.
Wait – wings? A wolf with wings? Now she was definitely confused.
She dared open them and walk outside. She had to see who sent the message.
Who are you?
The large black dragon flew down, his scales blinding her as he landed. He shifted form to an Immortal with dragon’s wings, walking up to her.
She was frightened, asking again in her mind. Who are you?
“Come now, darling.” The dragon purred, his black eyes turning yellow. The smile disappeared. “Speak.”
She held her breath, shaking her head. Her entire body was shaking; even her wolf’s tail.
“Do you not remember me?”
She shook her head again. “You destroyed that city.”
How did I know that?
“That I did; do you know why?” The dragon asked.
She shook her head. He smiled as he answered. “Because I could.”
He laughed and she closed her eyes, waking up in the System’s Fourth-Floor in the middle of the night.
She pulled the sheet from her legs and headed to the balcony, closing her eyes as the California night breeze cooled her thoughts.
Katherine? Are you there?
Ariana waited a moment, but heard silence. It didn’t bode well.
“What are you doing up so late?” She heard Derrick’s voice whisper from behind as she felt him wrap an arm around her waist and gently kiss the nape of her neck.
“I had a strange nightmare. One where not even I knew where I was or what I was doing there.” Ariana whispered. “I even had another form; that of a wolf with dragon’s wings. I was running from a large black dragon that destroyed an entire city, just because he could.”
“That sounds, well, interesting.” Derrick did not know what to think. “We’ll talk about it more in the morning, okay? For now, let’s get back to sleep, and return to our patrols.”
Ariana knew she had no choice but to do just that.
In the morning, the dragon nightmare plagued her mind. By lunch, it would not go away. It had taken over her thoughts like a bad vision.
Was it a Premonition? Or was it something more, like a Clairvoyant Vision?
She shook her head as she walked back to Fourth-Floor to take a nap. Derrick was teaching his three math students Algebra, so she knew she would be alone.
She was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Instead of the Realm of Dreams, she landed somewhere she never been to before.
Scratch that. She looked around. I have been here before.
She arrived in front of a pair of gates to a city. Walking, she found she was perusing a marketplace. It reminded her of those stories from desert lands, but the ground was lush and green. It was familiar; although, she couldn’t place why.
A sparkling of the sun on metal caught her eye. She walked over to a jeweler and asked him. “Where might I find the monarch of these lands?”
Might as well act like the Young Guardian. She thought to herself, even if I am alone in a strange land.
He bore his teeth at her in a wide grin, showing a pair of fangs. His eyes were red and she sensed, if she didn’t get out of there fast enough, she would become his snack.
“Vampire.” She whispered, turning on her heel and running as fast as she could.
“Capture her!” She heard a male voice shout.
She didn’t stop running as she quickly looked behind her. Several men like the jeweler-vampire were chasing after her. She wasn’t fast enough; they gained on her trail.
She kept her eyes forward as she ran, trying to find a place to hide, or at least somewhere she could gather enough magic to fight them.
From overhead, they all saw a brilliant black dragon with silver scales hovering over her in the sky. With one loud roar, those that were chasing her were ash.
She stopped in her tracks, awed by the dragon. Before she knew what was going on, it swooped down and caught her in his talons.
“Relax; you’re safe now.” His voice was velvet, and the last thing she saw or heard before exhaustion took over, forcing her to sleep.
The next she woke, she was in a darkened room. The prison was dark and cold, with no windows. The thick iron door showed no light but the shadows of torches that peppered the hallway outside it.
Gaining her senses, Ariana stood and felt the door for weak points before readying herself and her magic enough to escape. Once she escaped, she followed the hallway to a Main Hall. She lingered at the doors and listened in.
“The Young One has a certain magical quality the Empress was known for.” A male voice remarked. “Could it be her, after all these years?”
“Could she have survived after all?” A woman asked.
“I would not be surprised.” Another woman announced. She sounded like royalty. “It’s possible she survived in the Outer Realm.”
“That was what, ten years ago?” Another male asked, incredulous. “She would be about the same age the prisoner is now, a Young One of fifteen summers.”
“Just in case; Elspeth, have Fiona and Darkov prepare the guest quarters for her. I will deal with her when she is ready.”
“Aye, Countess.” The first woman agreed.
After a moment, the Countess called. “Stop.”
Ariana heard the clicking of heels before the Countess spoke again. “Come out of the shadows and into the light. Introduce yourself.”
Ariana was wary as she walked in the room. Once she saw the woman who sounded like royalty, she bowed at the Throne. It is the same dragon-woman I saw in a future-nightmare. She even wears the same necklace!
“I am a Dreamer, lost in this world.” She lied, acting the part. “Can you tell me how to get back?”
The Countess looked at her curiously. “To know of Dreamers is to know of the Realm of Dreams.” She pointed out, standing. “Dreamers themselves do not know their status as such amongst the many Realms of Companions and creatures. They believe their adventures as mere dreams.” She walked up to a still-kneeling Ariana and smiled. “Rise, and tell me who you are, Young One, or prepare to die in this Realm.”
Ariana gulped, standing. Something was familiar about the woman with dark hair tied in a bun and braids snaking a silver coronet. That same something told her to trust the woman, whatever her name was.
“I am called Ariana Moon; that is all.” She introduced herself. “I came from the Outer Realm.”
“Have you special abilities that allow you to travel the Inner Realms?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Ariana nodded, touching her Dream Locket. “I am an Ancient Mystic.”
“I feared as much.” The Countess sighed. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dracora Dratianos, Countess of the Dragon Nations and Queen of the Dweller-kin.”
“The Dragon Nations is a Realm of Dragons?” She asked, her eyes widened in recognition.
Dracora nodded. “Aye. This Realm houses the Dweller-kin at rest as well as my Draconian people.”
Ariana was confused. “What is a Dweller-kin?”
“To save for a lengthy explanation, let us say we are similar to vampires.”
Ariana held her breath, frozen and staring at Dracora in fear.
Dracora turned to a tall male dressed in warrior gear. “Leave us.”
“Aye, Countess.” The male saluted and left, trailed by a lovely woman with black as pitch hair and gentle black eyes.
The Countess smiled. “You may relax now, Young One.”
“Do you fear me?” Dracora asked.
Echoed somewhere in the back of Ariana’s mind, a male dragon was purring the same thing. It was reminiscent of a long-gone memory of another time and place.
She nodded. “Yes, Countess. I fear you.”
“You need not fear me, Young One.” Dracora purred, reaching out with a graceful hand and stroking her cheek. “I will not Feed unless I have need.”
Ariana gulped, stepping away and holding her throat. “Let us hope you do not have the need anytime soon.” She cleared her throat. “Please, Countess Dracora, can you tell me how to get back to the Realm of Dreams? I must –”
She almost gave herself away to the Countess’ trusting eyes.
“Return and patrol; is that it?” Dracora smiled as if reading the information directly from Ariana’s mind. “Just what does a Young One like you need to patrol?”
Ariana’s heart pounded as she used her empathy, unknowing why she didn’t use it when she first walked in. The Countess was a true monarch; gentle to her subjects and harsh to those who crossed her.
She stood tall and proud. “I am the Young Guardian of Dreams; Lord Guardian O’Dell’s successor.” She explained. “I am also a Dream Realm Crusader; one of many chosen by Lord Guardian himself to see Dreamers’ safety when they sleep.”
Dracora was skeptic. “Never heard of you.”
“Have you heard of Lord Guardian?” Ariana asked her.
Dracora nodded. “Of course. The Nations have always had dealings with O’Dell and his Mystics in the past.” She explained. “My father and he were close since the time they Originated the Mystic Realms.”
Ariana was awed. “You were there?”
“Young Guardian, the Mystic Realms is part of the Dragon Nations.” Dracora wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Walk with me to the Dining Hall.”
Dracora led her down the Main Hall.
“Pardon my confusion, but do vampires only drink blood?”
Dracora shook her head. “I only said we were like vampires. Dweller-kin are more Immortal than most in the Outer Realm. Unlike vampires, we are born as babes and grow to adulthood. We can eat normal foods and live somewhat-normal lives, just like you.” She supplied. “Now then, what else do you think you know of us?”
“You can be destroyed by stake to the heart, or beheading.”
Dracora laughed. “So can you.”
Ariana smiled, relaxing. “Fair enough. What about this, then? You drain your victims of their blood and kill them.”
“Aye and nay.” Dracora was apprehensive. “It is true we drink blood, but it is only for sustenance. Dweller-kin never drain their victims, else their souls would be lost and they would Turn Stalker.”
“The real vampires of legend.” Dracora said sadly. They were silent until she stopped them in front of a large door. Dracora stared at the door in deep thought, releasing Ariana’s shoulders. “You wish to return to the Dream Realm?”
“Help me and I will help you in return.” Dracora looked at her. “Show me you are who and what you say you are.”
Ariana thought for a moment, contemplating the offer. “I am listening.”
“I’m in the middle of delegations between the Nations and the master of the Vampire Hunters, King Yorn.” She explained. “As Young Guardian, you would be my advisor during the delegations, using your empathic abilities to sense his true intentions and relay what you sense to me with telepathy.”
Ariana contemplated it. If she did it, the Countess would help her return to the Dream Realm, and she would return to her patrols of it. If she didn’t, she would be stuck in the Dragon Nations, perhaps as some Draconian’s snack?
“How long will it take?” Ariana bit her lip.
“That would be up to you, Young Guardian, Ariana Moon.” Dracora smiled, opening the doors. “I will explain more as we eat. Do you like mutton stew?”
Ariana blinked. “I have never had it,” she told the Countess truthfully. “I am willing to try anything at least once.”
Dracora clapped her back. “By all means then, the feast awaits.”
Ariana’s beating heart betrayed her confidence. As much as she liked to pretend she was sure of herself and her abilities, she had no idea how it would work out during delegations.
After the meal, Dracora led her back to the Main Hall. The maiden Ariana saw before was waiting for them.
“Ah, there you are Elspeth.” Dracora grinned. “Maiden Elspeth, this is the Young Guardian named Ariana Moon. Why don’t you show her to the guest quarters?”
With a nod, Elspeth supplied. “Aye, Countess.” She turned to Ariana. “Follow me, my Lady.”
Ariana followed the maiden with small dragon’s wings on her back and a whip-like tail. The corridors were dark, the path illuminated only by candlelight. The walk was a silent one until Elspeth stopped at a door.
“My Lady, this will be your room.” Elspeth announced quietly, opening the door for her.
“Thank you, and please; call me Ariana.” She smiled.
The empathic feelings she was getting about Elspeth were warm and astute. Elspeth was a loyal subject to Dracora, as well as a close friend. “I am merely an Earthbound helping your Countess in return for safe passage back to the Realm of Dreams.”
“As you wish, Lady Ariana.” Elspeth bowed. “Rest for now. You will need your strength.”
“I agree.” Ariana kept her smile. “Again; thank you, Elspeth.”
“Kateea, Lady Ariana.” Elspeth nodded and left her alone.
It felt strange; sleeping and not going to the Realm of Dreams, or even the Mortal Realm. She missed everyone at the System and in the Mystic Province. There were no kind words or playful banter in her mind from Katherine; her feline friend was nowhere to be found. No Derrick to keep her upbeat and confident, joking around with her when she was down. No Lord Guardian to keep her on her toes with lessons on how to patrol the Mystic Realms and Dreamers’ Worlds. The trinket around her neck was the only reminder of her life in the System and duties in the Dream Realm.
A month into delegations told her and Dracora that King Yorn was not only planning to destroy her Dweller-kin who visited the Nations, but take over Dracora’s small monarchy. He wanted her as his queen, which was the only way he would spare all her people. He was a treacherous beast, but Dracora admitted to Ariana one night that she had no choice. The Draconians were her responsibility, Monarch’s Glenn was her inheritance; she wouldn’t let her people or monarchy die.
In that admission, Ariana grew close to Dracora, almost as sisters. She understood the pain the Countess went through, the pride she held for her people and the entire Dragon Nations. Of course, in front of King Yorn, Ariana was the silent observer.
In private, Dracora told her many things about the Dragon Nations. How, long ago, her oldest brother Draconis turned chaotic, appropriately naming himself Kaos, destroying nearly all the Nations in one blow. He destroyed their father, Brakkon, who had turned into his own chaotic form named Thorn and worked with the Dominionite Master Orthos. Once Thorn was destroyed, Draconis erected a wall of fire between the Nations and the borderline of the Realm of Dreams before disappearing.
Ariana was reminded of the nightmare she had the night before she appeared in Monarch’s Glenn, telling Dracora about it once they were alone. She also told Dracora about the large black dragon with silvery scales that destroyed what she thought were vampires, saving her in a single swoop. The Countess was silent, excusing herself for the evening with an wistful look in her eyes. Confused, she looked at Elspeth, the dragon-maiden who always stood over her. Elspeth shook her head sadly, following the Countess.
One morning, two weeks after she told the Countess about her nightmare, she abruptly awoke to a serious pain in her neck and a coppery taste in her mouth. Going to her private bathroom, she saw two tiny pinpricks at her jugular. There was a small line of rust-colored blood dripping from one of the pinpricks, and to her astonishment, from her lips. The area felt hot, almost reminiscent of when she did the Blood Pact with the twins.
Using her empathy to locate Dracora and confront her, she dressed and raced to the Dining Hall.
The Countess was seated at her place at the head of the table. Alone.
“You Fed from me.” She accused. “Without my consent or knowledge.”
“I Fed; aye, I admit it.” Dracora supplied without emotion. “I also replenished you, therefore binding you to me as my blood-sister.”
Ariana’s lips were pursed, angry. “May I ask why?”
“I suffered from the Hunger.” Dracora pointed out softly. “So I fed, and made sure you were replenished.” She paused. “In time, you may see it as a blessing, rather than a curse.”
“You Turned me into one of you.” Ariana argued.
Dracora finally looked at her. “I did no such thing. I only bound you to me through our blood, so when you are in need of me, you may call for me in your mind.”
“Lord Guardian will be livid once he senses what you have done.” Ariana folded her arms.
“I would believe so, aye.” Dracora supplied, again without emotion. “I will tell him, though.”
“When you feel like it, I take it?” Ariana sneered.
Dracora merely smiled. “Do you not need to be returning? I am sure you are sorely missed.”
“Show me how to get back to the Mystic Realms, as you promised, and I will gladly leave your company, Countess.” Ariana could feel the magic bubbling in her system, coating her aura and hands in bright silver.
Dracora kept her smile. You see that silvery glow? Ariana heard Dracora’s voice in her mind for the first time. That is your anger, and a great, powerful magic I don’t believe you’re ready for quite yet. She turned to Elspeth, who stood above her. “Fetch the Dragon’s Claw dagger for me, please.”
Elspeth nodded, bowing. “Aye, Countess.”
“While we wait, I do believe you should learn to control that magic; otherwise, it will control you.” Dracora explained. She stood and went over to Ariana. “I do apologize for Feeding on you, but you were the only Earthbound here. I could not leave you here alone as I went to the Dweller Kin-Clans in Romania for a proper, uh, bite.”
Ariana smiled at that, the silvery glow fading with her anger.
“There we are.” The Countess looked up and said as Elspeth returned, handing her a dagger, hilt-first. “Thank you, Elspeth.”
“You’re welcome, Countess.”
“Now then, Ariana; do you see this?” Ariana nodded. “This is the very dagger I used to bind you to me through our blood. Infused with both our blood, it is a very powerful weapon. I’m gifting it to you, as a reminder of what happened here.”
Ariana took it, examining it. A pewter dragon’s tail snaked the hilt, meeting with the guard, which were two separate dragon’s heads. In the middle was a round onyx stone. It Felt powerful, in its own right.
“Thank you, Dracora.” Ariana said, placing it in her calf-high boot. “I apologize as well, for my blatant disrespect.”
“Accepted; though your anger was properly placed,” Dracora told her with a smile, looking up. She addressed a guard she’d named Trenor. “Trenor, show her the way to the Borderline. The weak point in the FireWall should be near the Dream Realm’s Province Wood, if I’m not mistaken.”
“You’re not mistaken, Countess.” Trenor grinned. “Come, Young Guardian. It is time I helped you home.”
Ariana hugged Dracora. “I will never forget you.”
“Nor I, you, Blood-sister.” Dracora returned in her ear, pulling back from it. “Thank you for your help with King Yorn. Suffice to say, the delegations were a success.”
“You are welcome.” Ariana nodded with a grin. “I will try to visit, if I can.”
“Should you have need of me, I will always be a thought away.” Dracora tapped her temple, winking. “Pleasant Journeys, Young Guardian Ariana.”
Trenor led her outside before he shifted his form to a large olive-colored dragon and told her to climb on. They flew the skies until she could barely see the Province Wood below them. Sure enough, there was a giant wall of fire blocking their path.
“Watch this.” Trenor chuckled, flying over the FireWall and landing just inside the Borderline. Once she jumped off his back, he shifted form to what Dracora had called a Demi-form, one that was similar to a Companion: half-dragon, half-Immortal. With a bow, he announced. “Pleasant Journeys, wherever your path may lead you.”
“Pleasant Journeys to you as well, and thank you for the ride.” Ariana supplied.
After he shifted to a great dragon once again, he flew away.
She reached into her boot and took out the Dragon’s Claw dagger. With her other hand, she touched the Dream Locket and closed her eyes.
Derrick was waiting on the bed for her when she reopened them.
“Have a nice nap?” He asked, kissing her lips.
She sat up, put on her eyeglasses and read the time. It was only seven o’clock at night.
“How long was I sleeping?” She asked, eyes focusing on his.
“Since lunch, I’d say.” Derrick answered.
She debated telling him. “Impossible.” She breathed, feeling something in her left hand. She reached and took out the very dagger Dracora had used to bind them.
“Where did you get that?” He asked, reaching for it.
She pulled it away. “You would not believe me, even if I told you.”
“Try me.” He said after a minute, his eyes serious.
She told him everything; from the first time she appeared in Monarch’s Glenn, being chased by blood-thirsty vampires, to the very moment she awoke. He was silent for a moment in deep thought.
“You’re right; I don’t believe you.” Derrick told her. “But since you have that dagger, it’s more than enough proof for me.”
Ariana’s stomach growled. “How about if I convince you over dinner?”
Derrick kissed her again. “Sounds like a plan to me.”
She hid the dagger in a safe place before going to the bathroom and taking a quick shower to clear her thoughts. Somehow, even with the dagger in the Mortal Realm with her as proof, she didn’t half believe it, either.
Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen
“When is your birthday, Ariana?” Shannon asked one day as they were practicing her magic.
Ariana shrugged, “I never really thought of it.”
“How did you know how old you were?” Shannon was curious. “You had to have celebrated it sometime, right?”
Ariana shook her head sadly. “Unfortunately, no. The twins and I always went by their birthday, October thirtieth. That way, I would not feel bad.”
Shannon smiled. “You loved the twins, didn’t you?”
Ariana nodded. “They were my brother and sister, with Aaron later becoming my lover.” She thought for a moment, touching the Blood-Pact scar and the bracelet on her wrist. “I miss them.”
Shannon winked. “You’ll see ’em again someday, I bet.” She smiled, as if knowing something. “Tell you what; we’ll keep to that tradition. October thirtieth is only a week away. We’ll have a System-wide celebration. What do you say?”
Shannon was so excited about the idea, Ariana couldn’t help being excited about it, too.
“Okay.” Ariana grinned. “In that case, next week, I will be sixteen summers.”
Shannon looked at her curiously. “Sixteen summers? Don’t you mean years?”
You must have picked up the term from Dracora, Katherine surmised.
“Yes. Sorry.” Ariana blushed. “Years.”
Shannon smiled. “Can’t say you were sweet sixteen and never been kissed.” It was her turn to give Shannon a curious look. “It’s an old saying; I don’t even know where it came from.”
“Ah.” Ariana smiled. “So, are we finished for the day? I am meeting Derrick in King’s Court so he can teach me how to play tennis.”
“Sounds fun.” Shannon winked. “Go ahead; we’ll continue tomorrow, okay?”
Ariana left then, returning to their quarters of Fourth-Floor.
For the following week, Ariana noticed Derrick and her other agent friends were acting strange. She tried using Empathy to find out what was going on, but she could not sense anything out of the ordinary.
October thirtieth came, and even Derrick was excited. “Come on, we’re going to be late.”
“It is only a small celebration in the Common’s Room.” Ariana remarked, brushing her hair, fixing it into small braids before pinning it in the back of her head. She was in the bathroom, dressing for the evening.
When she came out, she took Derrick’s outstretched hand and twirled.
“You look breathtaking, Love.” Derrick pulled her to him and kissed her lips. “May I be the first to wish you happy sweet sixteen, sweetheart.”
Ariana melted in his arms. In the three months since her visit to the Dragon Nations, she and Derrick spent a lot of time together, strengthening their relationship. He was the perfect boyfriend and partner; protective, loving and fair. He listened to her every tale, helping her as she helped him. They had a lot of fun together when they were alone. He really knew how to make her feel loved.
“I’d love to stay in this position, Ariana, but we really have to go.” Derrick whispered in her ear with a light chuckle, kissing it.
Ariana blushed, pulling away and taking his hand. He led her out the door and they were on their way.
The Common’s Room was dark when they came up to the double doors.
She stopped and smiled. “They are waiting to surprise me.”
“Can you act surprised?” Derrick teased. “Just for the fun of it?”
“Certainly.” Ariana nodded, grinning. “I will even act impressed.”
Derrick laughed, opening the door for her.
“Happy Birthday, Ariana!”
The lights turned themselves on and her agent friends rushed to greet her. A deejay started to play music; and before long, the party was in full swing. She was having fun, laughing and joking with her fellow agents. It seemed the entire Agency was there, just for her.
She took a break from dancing an hour in. Derrick left her side for the first time that night to get them something to drink. Despite the excitement and fun, she could not help feeling sad.
Happy birthday, Aaron and Aimee. She thought to the twins, touching her Blood-Pact scar.
Happy birthday, Ari. The twins relayed, making her smile. It felt good knowing that she was never far from their thoughts, as they were never far from hers.
“Are you okay?” Derrick tapped her shoulder.
She opened her eyes and smiled, taking the offered drink. “I am now. Thank you.”
“May I ask what’s wrong?”
She sipped, thinking of her next words. “It was nothing; I was just thinking about the twins, that is all.”
“The twins?” Derrick asked. “What twins?”
“Aaron and Amethyst, the twins I grew up with in the orphanage.” She told him. “They share the same birthday. I was just wishing they were here, so we could celebrate it together.”
He didn’t know what to say, so he led her to the dance floor. During a slow song, she lay her head on his chest and closed her eyes as he held her close. His heartbeat nearly matched her own. In moments, it was as if they were the only ones there; she was lost in his embrace.
Happy birthday, Ariana Moon. She heard a female voice in her mind. It sounded exactly like her own. She tried picturing the sender but her mind-sight was cloudy.
She shook her head, dismissing it until she could figure it out.
“Now what’s wrong?” Derrick whispered.
“I thought I heard someone in my mind, wishing me happy birthday.” Ariana whispered back, opening her eyes once the song was over.
Derrick led her away from the dance floor so they could talk in private. “Tell me about it.”
“Definitely female. Telepathic. Her voice sounds like mine.” Ariana explained.
Derrick took a breath, acting as if he wanted to say something.
“Do you know who it may be?” Ariana asked.
He looked away, shaking his head. “Not a clue.”
Somehow, she didn’t believe him. Rather than letting it ruin a perfectly good night, she put it to the back of her mind.
When he didn’t look back at her, she followed his gaze. Shannon was beckoning him from across the room. She let him go, turning to mingle at her own party.
She sensed someone in the corner, hiding in the shadows, depressed. As she walked over to him, she saw the dark brown hair and sad brown eyes of Shane “The Shadow” Morehouse. She sensed his depression went deeper than the cup he was staring into.
“Hey Shadow.” She called out, smiling. He looked up at her with a smile, frowning when their eyes met. “Care to dance?”
Shadow shrugged, mumbling something under his breath. She had to strain her ears to hear it. “Excuse me?”
He leaned in and whispered. “I can’t dance.”
Ariana smiled. “Nonsense. It is not that hard; come on.”
She stretched her hand out for him to take. He stared at it. “What about Derrick?”
“What about him?” Ariana countered. “It is just one dance, Shadow. I am not asking you to go out with me.”
Shadow smiled, taking her hand and leading her to the dance floor. “You’re gonna regret this, Ariana.”
Ariana winked. “Try me.”
To her surprise, a slow song began to play, and he pulled her closer, wrapping his arms around her waist. Kissing her cheek, he whispered in her ear. “Oh, how I’ve missed you, Luna Star.”
Ariana stepped back, shaking her head and staring at him. “Shadow.”
Once looking into her eyes, he quickly apologized, pulling away from her. “I’m so sorry, Ariana. I just, I’m so, so, sorry.”
He sprinted back to his place in the shadows. Feeling bad for him, she followed, taking a seat next to him. “It is okay, Shadow. I forgive you.” She tried whispering. After a moment, she asked. “Is Luna Star your girlfriend?”
He nodded. “She’s another agent here. Her codename is Lu-Lu and she’s the most wonderful girl I’ve ever met.”
The codename whispered in her mind like a forgotten memory, but she couldn’t think of why. Not wanting to dwell on it, she dared ask. “What happened to her?”
“She was sent away a few weeks ago.” Shadow explained. “I miss her so much.”
Ariana reached to take his hand. “I understand.” She told him. “I miss my twin siblings Aimee and Aaron. They share my birthday; or rather, I share theirs.”
Shadow gave her the same curious look Shannon had. “What do you mean?”
“I grew up in the Shore Point Home for Children.” Ariana explained. “The first memory I have is when I arrived there at five years old. I had no idea when my birthday was, for no one told me. When I met the twins, they said I could share theirs with them. I have celebrated it with them since.”
Why did she tell him all that? She hardly knew him, yet she nearly told him her life story!
“Have you ever met Lu-Lu?” Shadow asked, returning to the subject.
She shook her head. “Never. However,” She continued with a grin. “I still want to be your friend. Friends are there for you when you are in trouble.”
Shadow smiled. “So, you think I’m in trouble?”
Ariana smiled back. “No, I know you are.”
Shadow laughed. “Maybe that’s why Shannon wants us to be partners?”
It was a new one on her; the statement caught her by surprise. “Partners?” She frowned, crossing her arms. “Explain.”
“Didn’t they tell you?” Shadow asked. “We’re going to be on our own project together.”
Ariana abruptly stood. “No! I am still on the Crusader project!”
“Thanks to your patrols, the Dream Realm is in peace, so there’s no need to Crusade.”
“I am still the Young Guardian; what about that?”
“Shannon assured us our project wouldn’t interfere with your duties.”
“Us?” Ariana asked. “Just how many people are involved?”
“Just Shannon, Derrick and me.” Shadow raised his hands in surrender. He looked away for a moment before looking back at her. “Why don’t you ask her for yourself? She’s coming this way.”
“Maybe I will.” Ariana frowned. Sure enough, she saw Shannon and Derrick heading toward them. Hands on her hips, she demanded. “What is the meaning of this? How could you split us up?”
“So much for secrecy,” Shannon sighed, frowning at Shadow. “What did you tell her?”
“Just that we were going to be on our own project together.” Shadow shrugged. “That’s all.”
“Answer me.” Ariana demanded.
“I’ve been offered the chance of a lifetime,” Derrick took her hands and met her angry eyes. “I’ll be training side-by-side with an actual police detective.”
Ariana softened. Far be it for her to come between his dream of becoming a police detective. She sighed. “How long?”
“Two weeks.” Derrick supplied.
“Meet me here first thing tomorrow morning, you three.” Shannon instructed. “We’ll discuss it in more detail then.” She took a deep breath and pasted on a smile. “Besides, this is your party, Ariana. Enjoy it.”
Turning on her heel, she walked away, leaving the three of them staring at each other.
When the party was over, they went back to Fourth-Floor to change into their swim suits. Derrick led Ariana to a place on the beach where the ocean met the shore.
It was just as it had been in her favorite daydream. He stopped them in their tracks and just held her close to him, turning to watch the sun disappear behind the mountains. The gentle October breeze lapped the sea against their feet.
They stood there, staring into each other’s eyes with love. Derrick finally reached down and kissed her lips passionately.
Ariana’s empathy opened up on its own, sensing he wanted more than just to kiss her lips and hold her close. She felt his hand gently circling her lower back, relaxing her.
“Gods, Ariana,” Derrick breathed, unable to take his eyes off hers. “I love you so much; I just wish I could show you.”
“You can show me, Derrick James.” Ariana whispered.
Derrick sat them down on the grass under a large palm tree by the sand. She could sense his anxiety; it made her smile.
“Do not be afraid.” Ariana wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling them both to a lying position on the grass. Taking a chance, she gingerly snaked one of her hands down his thin shirt to his growing manhood. Derrick moaned when her fingers barely touched the pulsing bulge in his swim trunks. “Know in your heart of hearts we are meant to be.”
“Gods, Love.” He gasped in a whisper, moving his hand to experiment with gently caressing her breast. “You don’t know what you do to me.”
“I am pretty sure I do.” Ariana breathed seductively, kissing him again.
When the kiss was broken, he asked. “Have you ever, you know, done it before?”
She didn’t want to tell him about Aaron, so she asked. “Have you?”
Derrick shook his head.
“Then we will learn together.” Ariana whispered, kissing him. In her mind, she sent. As one.
They made love on the beach. She knew he could feel the power wrap around them, tying them closer together. He was more than her Earthly Protector, boyfriend and partner. He was her soulmate and true love. They even climaxed at the same time, the bonds of love tightening, sending each of them into their own worlds of bliss. Until the air around them grew cold, they wrapped themselves around each other, staring at the stars. In the wee hours of the night, after making love one more time, they fell asleep together in her bed by the balcony.
The next morning, she took a deep breath, opening her silver-blue eyes to meet his dark brown. “Morning.”
Derrick smiled back, kissing her lips. “Morning to you, too.” He sighed. “Ready to see me off?”
“Not really.” She frowned, not really liking the reminder, especially after their time together last night. “What time is it?”
“It’s only seven.” Derrick told her, checking his Life-Line watch. “We don’t have to report for a couple hours yet, so I’m all yours until then.”
“Good.” She took his hand and pulled him to the bathroom for a shower.
Ariana was out of the shared shower before him, dressing and pulling her hair up into a long playful plait. She headed to the balcony to sort out her thoughts.
What they shared last night felt right; her heart thumped just thinking about it. Her soul shared with Derrick what it had never shared with Aaron, confirming she and Derrick were made for each other.
It also meant she would miss him terribly in the two weeks they were apart.
Perhaps that was why she rushed them? She always knew she wanted to make love to him, sharing with him her heart, soul and mind as she did, but she always left it for him to decide when.
Until last night.
Now she felt guilty.
Ariana sighed, staring into the morning shore. The waves sparkled in the sunlight, giving the view a romantic glow.
She felt his arms wrap around her waist and a gentle kiss against the nape of her neck.
“I love you, Ariana Moon.” Derrick moaned in her ear as he pulled her for a hug.
Ariana didn’t answer right away, thoughts still on her guilt. Her arms gently traced his, mind searching for the right words.
“Love, what’s wrong?” He asked, kissing her ear.
She turned in his embrace and met his eyes. After a moment, she voiced her thoughts. “Do you think we are taking it too fast, too soon?”
Derrick blinked at the question. “Why would you ask that?” He wondered. “What we did was right, and we both knew going into it.”
She tried another tactic. “I did not pressure you into losing your innocence?”
“I wanted to make love to you as much as you did to me.” Derrick searched her eyes, kissing her again and caressing her cheek with the back of his hand. “I felt only pleasure.”
“You did not mind losing it to me?”
He was shocked into silence for a moment. “Ariana, Love, you’re the only one I have ever wanted, or will ever want.” He hugged her, laughing lightly. “Why are you asking all these silly questions?”
“To me, they are not silly.” Ariana broke away from his embrace, shaking her head and turning back to the view. “There is a lot you do not know about me, or my past.”
“Like why you never told me I wasn’t your first?” Derrick coaxed.
“Exactly.” She said, thinking of Aaron.
“Were you forced?” Derrick was concerned, looking into her eyes.
Ariana smiled. “Goddess, no. Aaron and I only did it to feel safe from Mrs. Gertrude.”
He thought for a moment. “One of the twins you told me about last night?”
Ariana nodded. “He is elder by five minutes, thinking himself Aimee’s and my ultimate protector. Were it not for Aaron, I would not be here.”
“What do you mean?”
“He gave me the courage to run away from the orphanage.” Ariana explained. “He fell in love with me, and I first thought myself in love with him.”
Derrick stepped away. “What changed?”
“Meeting you in the Dream Realm, then here.” Ariana wrapped her arms around him. “I fell in love with you from the moment I laid eyes on you. I can never feel anything for Aaron now, other than best friendship.”
“That’s good to know,” Derrick smiled, kissing her lips and holding each other. They were lost to the world around them until both their Life-Line watches beeped the time.
He looked at his. “Eight o’clock. We used up a lot of energy in that shower.” He broke from the embrace and grasped her hand. “Let’s eat before I have to go.”
The Healing Project
An hour and a half later, they walked into the Commons Room, laughing and sharing loving smiles. Their glances met those of a very patient, yet smiling Shannon Ryan and Shadow, chuckling to himself under his breath, arms folded and head shaking.
“Sorry we are late.” Ariana shared a teasing look with Derrick.
“We, uh, slept in.” Derrick cleared his throat.
“Yeah, I’ll bet you did.” Shadow teased him, winking.
Shannon handed them each separate folders. “All right, team. Those folders hold your instructions and itineraries for the next two weeks.”
Ariana caught Shadow’s “she’s crazy” look.
Shannon went on. “Reading, everything you’ll need to know is in that folder. Where you’ll stay, who you’ll report to each day, that kind of thing. I’ve given you a money card with enough to get you by until you return, if you use it wisely.”
Derrick swallowed, staring at the folder in his hands. “Right, Shannon.”
Ariana glanced at Shadow, who shoved his folder under his arm. She then stared sadly at Shannon, waiting her next instructions.
“Sister, you’ll be in the Ginger Room with Shadow. He’ll be your partner until Derrick returns. It will give you guys the perfect chance to get to know one another, given you don’t already. You’re to follow him on any case that comes up, just as he will with you.”
“What about my duties as Young Guardian?” Ariana asked. “Surely, they are not on-hold until Derrick returns?”
“Of course not.” Shannon grinned. “He’ll be with you in Derrick’s place.”
“No offense, Shadow, but can I trust him to help on my nightly patrols?”
“It’ll be fine,” She paused, studying Ariana’s questioning eyes. “Wherever you go, he goes and vice versa. Is that clear?”
Ariana took a deep breath. “Crystal.”
Shannon turned to Shadow. “Shadow?”
“It’s clear.” Shadow nodded. “Can we go already?”
“In a hurry, are you?”
Shadow stared at Shannon, who stared back. “You could say that, yeah.”
“Good.” Shannon nodded. “You are dismissed. I still have a few things to talk to Reading about before I send him on his way.”
Ariana nodded, kissing him goodbye. “Take care, Reading.” She whispered, staring into his eyes. “I do not want to lose you now that we found each other.”
“Likewise, Sister.” Derrick agreed, hugging her.
Within the hour, Shadow and Ariana were set up in the room across from Fourth-Floor. Shadow had been in silent thought as he watched her pack. Once he let them in his room, he closed the door and she sat on one of the beds.
Her empathy wouldn’t let it go. Something told her his depression was deeper now, and she felt she was the only one able to help him. Question was, how? She knew he missed his girlfriend, Luna; how else would he make the mistake of calling her by the wrong name as they danced the night before?
Lu-Lu must be pretty special to him. Ariana thought to herself. Probably as special as Derrick was to me.
He sighed, slapping the folder with their itinerary on the bed next to hers before sitting. He opened a laptop computer and drowned himself in work.
She shook her head. This will not do.
“You are awfully quiet, Shane.” She reverted to his given name.
That got his attention. He turned to her and frowned. “I’m Shadow to you, not Shane. Got it?”
Ariana nodded. “Sorry.” She whispered. “I thought that since we were partnered together, we would not have to hide behind codenames.”
“You thought wrong.” He said grumpily, turning back to his laptop.
The empathic push of aggravation was enough to give her a headache. She held her head, rubbing her temples.
After a moment, Shadow spoke again. “Sorry; I forgot you were an Open Empath.”
Ariana looked at him. “It is okay.”
“No, it’s not.” Shadow argued. “You shouldn’t be subjected to feelings like that here. The System is our home; we’re a family.”
She smiled. “Just the thought of a true family makes me smile.”
Shadow smiled back. “Me, too.”
Nervous, he went back to his laptop. She watched him, her empathy unable to read him.
He must have felt her watching. “What?” He licked his palm and wiped his face. “Do I have dirt on my face or something?”
Ariana smiled, shaking her head. “Nay. You are very secretive and interesting. Just watching you intrigues me to no end.”
Shadow laughed. “I intrigue you, do I?”
Ariana grinned. “Thought you would like that.” She teased.
Shadow shut the laptop and turned to her, clearing his throat. “You know, I’ve been the Shadow for so long, it’s not just a codename for me. It’s become who I am.”
“I understand.” Ariana said. “I have not been the Young Guardian for long, but I am growing to become her.”
Shadow looked at his hands, then back at her. When she didn’t say anything for a minute, he asked. “Are you mad?”
She pasted on a smile and shook her head. “Why would I be?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” He sighed. “Separated from the one you love for two weeks. Must be hard. Am I close?”
She held up her finger and thumb with half-inch in between. “This close.”
“I’m used to Lu-Lu going away.” Shadow shrugged.
She frowned at him. “How could you dismiss her like that? Being away from them does not take away the pain, Shadow.” She explained. “Do not tell me it does not burn you inside not being with her? Do not pretend you do not yearn for her touch in her absence.” She sighed, gathering her thoughts and trying not to cry. Already, she missed Derrick. “I will not replace her, you know. I will not even try, for my heart’s true love is Derrick’s.”
Ariana took a deep breath, continuing when he didn’t answer. “We can be friends, Shadow. We might turn out to be best friends once this is over.”
“We might,” Shadow whispered, still thinking. “Lu and Derrick are best friends; no reason for us not to be.”
Ariana blinked. “They are? Why has he never spoken of her, or introduced us?”
“Because it’s supposed to be a secret.” Shadow responded. “Since you arrived, you’re all that Derrick talks or thinks about. I should know; I’ve tried teaching him weaponry, but his mind’s never on it.”
“That is sweet, but why is it supposed to be a secret?” Ariana didn’t want him trailing off the subject, as Shannon was so prone to doing. She wanted to know what he did about Lu-Lu.
“You can’t tell anyone, mainly Derrick that I told you this, but Lu-Lu was his first partner here.” Shadow began. “It was several months ago, when we were first dating. I picked him up from his hometown and brought him here.”
She nodded, scowling as she crossed her arms and listened to his tale. “He told me the last part. Now tell me the rest.”
Shadow shrugged. “I guess he fell in love with her, but she loved me. Not knowing what to do, she came to me for advice. I didn’t have any to give her, so we separated for awhile.” He continued. “I saw them together, laughing and having fun wherever they went. They worked so well on cases, and I became insanely jealous of them. It nearly tore me apart, seeing the girl I love with another guy.”
“Did you ever confront her?”
If Derrick never got over her, Ariana mused sadly, not finishing the thought.
“Yeah.” He grinned at a memory. “I disguised it as inviting her to a game of volleyball in King’s Court.” He confessed. “I took her to a special place only we knew of and talked about it. She felt awful, telling me how every time she kissed him, she thought of me. She didn’t want to hurt the poor guy, so she let him have his illusion of returning his love.”
“How long did it last after that?” Ariana drilled. “Their relationship, I mean.”
“Not long,” He assured. “She put an end to the charade and told him the truth. Luna loved me, and could never love him the same way. They declared a best friendship, she was sent away a week later, he met you, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Ariana looked down in thought. “Why had he never told me about her?”
“You’re not supposed to know, so keep it between us, okay?” Shadow looked serious. “For now, we’ll leave it at this: Derrick loves you; you love him. Luna loves me; I love her. Derrick and Luna are best friends, and I want us to be, too. That is, if you don’t mind?”
Ariana grinned, standing up and hugging him. “I would not mind it one bit.” She sat next to him. “After all, we are stuck with one another for two weeks. Might as well have some fun with it.”
“We’re partners now.” Shadow laughed, wrapping an arm around her and playfully touching her nose. “We’ll share things with each other we won’t even share with our loves.”
Ariana felt better about the whole thing, initiating a quick kiss to his lips. The Empathic zing she felt only confirmed their words. They would become close in ways they’d never be able to describe. In time, that true friendship would help them through any obstacle in their lives.
She only hoped Derrick felt the same way about Luna; he needed a true friend as much as she did. If the four of them formed a tight enough bond, it would get them through anything in their lives; even Dominionites and the Master Orthos.
Now all she had to do was meet Lu-Lu.
Shadow treated her to lunch at the Café that afternoon, swapping stories. Him from the time he arrived; her from her youth. When they were finished, they returned to the Ginger Room, laughing like old friends.
“Never underestimate the power of a Mystic.” Shadow was telling her, concluding a story about Shannon.
“I know her as well, so I never do.” Ariana grinned, sitting on the bed with her hands crossed behind her head. “I am still fascinated by you, Shadow.”
“Little ol’ me?” Shadow sat on his bed beside hers. “Why me?”
“You are the best of the best here, so mysterious and secretive.” Ariana teased. “I want to know how you got that way. I mean, what is your story? When and how did you get here?”
Shadow shook his head. “It’s not pretty; sure you wanna hear it?”
Ariana stared at him seriously. “You tell me yours; I will tell you mine.”
“I already know your story.” Shadow told her. “Big Guy picked you up from the Juvenile Detention Center nearby. Shannon told me you were an orphan.”
“Is that all she told you about me?”
“That, and you were an Ancient Mystic like her.” Shadow grinned. “Of course, she warned me of your being the Young Guardian.” He shrugged. “What did she tell you about me?”
“Not much. Just that you were a shy loner, not trusting many people.” Ariana explained. “Do you trust me enough to tell me your story?”
Shadow shook his head and chuckled, noticing the patient smile on her face. “When I was nine, my parents died in a car crash.”
Her smile faded. “I am sorry to hear that.”
Shadow shrugged, continuing his story. “Shannon’s aunt Dixilynne Ryan picked me up from a foster home a month later, bringing me here.”
Dixilynne sure was a good woman before she passed. Katherine purred. Ariana agreed. From visiting you, to giving Scott Archer the job of watching over you, and now this?
I really wish we could have met her again. Ariana sighed.
Back to the present. “How did you react to your parents’ deaths?”
“I was devastated, depressed, and my dreams were haunted by the story.” Shadow explained softly. “Soon, they turned into nightmares.”
Ariana gasped softly, the empathy opening and telling her he was losing himself in memories. His heart wanted him to cry, but he was determined not to around her. While he may have thought it was admirable, she could sense he needed to get it off his chest.
Quietly, she stood and wrapped her arms around him. “It is okay to cry, Shane.” She whispered in his ear. “I will not tell anyone; I promise.”
He slowly wrapped his arms around her and held her as the tears shook him. She rubbed his back, sitting beside him on the bed when he finally released her. She handed him a tissue and waited for him to gather his thoughts.
I bet he is just like me. Ariana thought to her feline friend, who agreed.
Only way to know is to ask. Katherine told her.
“You do not always have to be strong, Shadow.” She told him, rubbing his back. “I think, over the years, you have learned to keep your emotions inside, believing it would show weakness.”
Shadow turned to her. “How can you know something that deep about me?” He managed to croak. “Did you read my mind?”
Ariana shook her head. “I read your emotions, which sometimes mirror my own. I took from my own experiences growing up and applied it to you.”
After a moment, he asked. “You don’t hate me for it?”
“Why would I hate you?” Ariana countered. “Just because you cried on me does not make you weak, nor me hate you for showing emotion.”
He hugged her again. “Thank you, Sister.”
Somehow, the word sounded right. He felt like an older brother, and she his younger sister.
“You are welcome, brother.” She returned, kissing his cheek. “You can call me Ariana anytime.”
“Brother?” Shadow was surprised. “Really? I was just calling you by your codename.”
Ariana shook her head. “I prefer Ariana, or Ariana Moon. ‘Sister’ was just something Shannon came up with for me, since I did not have a surname of my own.”
“But ‘brother’?” Shadow asked again. “Do you really mean it?”
“I mean what I say, Shadow.” Ariana told him. “Always. Just as I never break a promise.”
“Will you tell your story now?” Shadow asked with a grin.
Ariana took a deep breath and told her story. From the day she woke up in the orphanage at five years old, to receiving the Dream Locket at seven, meeting Dixilynne the next day and her bond with the twins Aimee and Aaron. She explained Aimee’s idea of the Blood-Pact when they were eleven, so the twins would learn magic right along with her. Ariana told him of her time at the Sheridans after she ran away, then the Juvenile Detention Center, and finally the Dolls.
“The circle of hate, as I began to call it, continued for another year before I ran away yet once again.” She concluded. “I ended up in the Juvenile Detention Center again, where Big Guy found me a week later. I have been here since.”
He studied her for a moment. “The circle has ended for you, hasn’t it?” He asked, kissing her head.
“Yes.” She whispered. “Finally.”
They sat together for awhile, lost in thought.
“You don’t think I’m taking advantage of you, do you?” Shadow asked timidly.
“I thought that is what you thought I was doing.” Ariana giggled. “Oh, Shadow. Are we not a pair?”
“A pair of what, I may ask?” Shadow teased.
“A pair of good friends, I believe.” She joked back. “That is, if you still consider me one, after I told you my unbelievable tale.”
Shadow hugged her, kissing her lips. Sure enough, it was a friendship-love she received, not that of true-love.
“You expect me to drop you like a hot potato, simply because you told me your past?” Shadow kissed her head. “I wouldn’t dream of it.” She giggled at the pun. Shadow continued. “I consider you a true friend. It’s like we understand each other, thanks to our near-forgotten pasts.”
Near-forgotten pasts? Ariana thought, standing with a gasp as it dawned on her.
“What?” He asked. “What is it?”
“I am going to kill Shannon Ryan!” She laughed. Shadow was confused, so she went on, gesturing around her. “This! She wanted us to help each other heal so we could get on with our lives. That is why she put us together. That is why she sent Lu-Lu and Derrick away! So we could do it without distractions.” She paced. “Wait until I get my hands on her; she is going to get it!”
“You know what I think?” Shadow asked, following her train of thought as he watched her pace.
“Dare I ask?” She stopped pacing for a moment.
“I think it worked.” He grinned, pausing. “I even think she had help.”
Ariana’s eyes narrowed. “Now that I think about it, not even Shannon could do this alone. Are you thinking your girlfriend had a hand in this as well?”
“Luna may be loving, but she’s also scheming.” Shadow grinned. “There’s none better than her, other than me, to pull off something this big.”
“Why would she care?” Ariana asked.
“Besides the obvious fact I just happen to be her boyfriend?” Shadow countered. “Perhaps she saw something about you in a vision, and wanted to help us both?”
“Vision?” Ariana asked.
“Luna’s known for her clairvoyant visions.” Shadow tried to explain. “They’re not always on the money, so we don’t really pay attention to them.”
“There is no way she could be an Ancient Mystic then?” Ariana sat on her bed and sighed. “Just a hit-or-miss Clairvoyant, like Aurora?”
Shadow shrugged. “I honestly don’t know.”
For the remainder of the night, they were silent. He hid himself in his laptop. She was thinking about the prospect of having a family, perhaps in Lu-Lu and Shadow.
That night, Ariana called O’Dell’s spell and took Shadow with her on her patrols. Katherine met them at the Garden gate.
“Sulheya and Greetings, Young Guardian and Young Shadow!” Katherine waved, a smile appearing on a face that was frowning a moment ago.
Ariana blinked, turning to Shadow. “You know each other?”
Shadow smiled. “Of course.” He turned to Katherine. “How goes it, Kat?”
Katherine shook her head. “Not well; Sabrina’s Searchers are on the alert for her and Young Derrick.” She turned back to Ariana. “We must hide quickly; they are on their way.”
“How many?” Ariana asked her.
“Four on this watch.” Katherine told her.
Ariana nodded in thought, turning to Shadow. “Ever fought Dominionites before?”
Shadow’s mouth thinned to a straight line. “I’m a Crusader who fought in the Wars for Power.”
Ariana grinned. “So that is why Shannon assured I would be fine without Derrick.”
“You did not know he was a Dream Realm Crusader?” Katherine asked.
Ariana shook her head. “No one told me.”
“For good reason.” Shadow supplied. “After our Crusade was over, Shannon made us vow to keep it secret.”
“You can count on me to keep it.” Ariana smiled. She turned back to Katherine. “Let them find us.”
“But Young Guardian,” Katherine interjected, sharing a worried look with Shadow.
“I tire of running.” Ariana told her. “I have been running from them for too long. Now that I have the Dragon Claw Dagger, I have something to fight them with.”
Shadow smiled. “You have a weapon now?”
Ariana nodded, showing him by drawing it from its leather sheath at her belt. “I received it from the Countess of the Dragon Nations.” She stopped herself from telling him about the Blood-binding. She sheathed it. “I have been using it since.”
“Great.” Shadow winked. “Wanna see somethin’ cool?”
He reached behind his back and unsheathed a long sword. The handle was all black, as was the hilt. The blade itself wasn’t silver steel, but hard obsidian. Ariana was awed as she watched something at his throat glow silver, a magic wind wrapping itself from the necklace to the blade.
“That is cool.” Ariana whispered.
“Thanks.” Shadow grinned. “It’s my Shadowblade. I earned it in the Wars, fighting against the Master’s Dominionites.”
Katherine shrieked, turning when she heard the loud caws of giant birds from above. Shadow and Ariana were on the alert, standing at attention and weapons ready to attack.
There were four of them; two giant crows, a dark-colored macaw and an oversized raven. All had glowing red eyes as they circled Shadow and Ariana.
Shadow chuckled. “You don’t scare me.”
He swung his Shadowblade, hacking the raven in half.
Ariana thought it high time she used the Dragon’s Claw. She had some weapon’s training, but it was for the sword, not a dagger. Swallowing her fear, she summoned her courage and stabbed one of the crows, wounding it.
She stepped back, leaving the Dragon’s Claw in its body as she was frozen in an emotionless state, staring at it. It writhed and screamed, screeched and squealed as it tried to take the Dagger out. Each time the crow’s wing touched the Dagger, it would squeal louder.
Ariana continued to stare, not only in awe at her actions, but at the amount of blood oozing from the wound, which grew larger with every movement.
Shadow rushed to her rescue, taking care of it and the other two before they could attack. Katherine cowered behind a tree until the Dominionites were destroyed and he sheathed his Shadowblade.
Ariana could feel them staring at her, but she was in a trance.
The sight of blood made her heart pound. She couldn’t stop staring at it. She wasn’t scared, only intrigued, and had no idea why. Ariana’s breath wavered, she could hear her own blood flowing in her body. It pulsed in her eardrums loud enough to give her a headache. She fell to her knees, covering her ears. She licked her lips, feeling sharp incisors peeking out of her gums. The blood dripping from the crow’s carcass tempted her like nothing else. It smelled like chocolate, strange as that sounded, and she wanted it. Close enough to touch it, she reached.
“Ariana – no!” Shadow slapped her hand and pulled her away from the scene. “Katherine, go for the Sisters. I’ll help her.”
Katherine took a deep breath and nodded, shifting to a full cheetah form and racing as fast as her paws could take her.
Meanwhile, Ariana was dizzy. “Dracora.”
Shadow listened, wrapping her arms around her. “It’s okay; she’s not here.”
“Dragon’s… Claw…” She whispered, pulling away from him to search for it. Her eyes refused to focus.
Shadow found it still wedged in the Dominionite. “Want me to get it?”
Ariana shook her head. “Show me.”
Shadow pointed and she used her telekinesis to bring it to her hands. She stared at it for a long time, her eyes dancing as they examined the streaks of blood left on it.
“You’ve got the Dweller-kin Blood Lust, don’t you?” He dared to whisper after a moment, shocked to learn just how powerful the scent of blood was to her. “You can’t look away.”
Ariana shook her head slowly. “I cannot resist it, and I do not know why.”
“I can see it in your eyes, Ariana. They’re red and full of Blood Lust.” Shadow pushed the dagger away from her sight. “Sheath it.”
Ariana nodded weakly, sheathing the dagger back on her belt. She watched as he rolled up a sleeve, took a small knife from his boot and cut a line an inch-long in his palm.
He didn’t even flinch.
“Take what I freely offer, Ariana Moon.” His voice was low, the words awakening something in her she couldn’t deny.
“Please,” He insisted. “We’ll talk about it later. Just, please, Drink from me.”
He cupped his hand to her mouth. She could smell the magic in his blood, questions left unanswered in her mind as she closed her eyes and drank.
That’s it, Blood-Sister. She heard Dracora’s voice purr in her mind. Drink. Let it flow down your throat to nourish you.
Why is this happening to me?
The Countess’ voice wavered. I will explain everything in due time. For now, once you feel yourself replenished, use your tongue to close the wound.
Ariana obeyed, trusting in the Countess’ words. “Thank you both.” She whispered as she felt herself slump against him.
Her mind was in darkest oblivions, her soul-self searching for a way out.
There was nothing she could do; she could move, but she wasn’t going anywhere. Looking up, she willed herself to fly, but there was nowhere to go.
I reach to you from beyond the veil. A deep male voice echoed around her.
“Who are you?” She found herself asking. “What’s going on? Where am I?”
I am your true-mate, The male responded lovingly.
She felt shadowed dragon’s wings wrap around her, and a soft kiss from cool lips was placed on her temple.
I apologize, but I had to see you. The male continued. I brought you to a place only we know about to assure myself that you still live.
“Of course I still live.” She told him, finding comfort in his embrace. “I am only sixteen summers.”
The male chuckled. You are far older than that, trust me.
The admission confused her, but he interrupted her thoughts.
Worry not about it now; the Countess is healing you in Monarch’s Glenn as we speak. The male gave her a hug before releasing her, kissing her hands. She is calling you back, but I will see you again; I promise.
As he walked away, Ariana called out to him. “Wait! What is your name?”
The male turned around and bowed, a golden glow to his onyx eyes. You may call me Draconai.
As mysteriously as he’d arrived, Draconai disappeared and she was returned to consciousness.
“Ariana,” The first voice she heard was indeed Dracora’s. She opened her eyes to see the Countess sitting on the bed next to her, a scaled hand caressing her cheek. “Ah, there you are. Welcome back from Oblivion.”
Ariana forced a smile, the scene running through her mind as she tried to sit up. “What happened?”
“You fainted.” That voice was Shadow’s. He was standing over Dracora with his arms crossed. “You never told anyone you were a Dweller-kin.”
Ariana listened to the conversation as Dracora stood and faced him.
“That is because she is not.” Dracora scowled at him. “She is Ancient Mystic, as you well know.”
“I mean no disrespect, but I’ve never, ever, in my entire career as a Crusader seen an Ancient Mystic with the Blood Lust.” Shadow huffed. “She called your name before passing out, so I brought her here.”
“I felt no disrespect.” Dracora smiled. “You were right to bring her here, as it was my fault she had the Blood Lust.”
What were they talking about? Ariana thought, clearing her throat and speaking up. “What did you do to the Dragon’s Claw, Dracora? Why did it make me feel like that?”
Dracora turned back to her and shook her head. “I fear the Dragon’s Claw channeled your Silver Magic, as well as the power you received from me.” She paused. “I warned you, Blood-sister, you must learn to control that magic, or it will control you.”
“It already did.” Shadow huffed sarcastically, nodding to Ariana. “After you thrust your dagger in that Dominionite crow, your entire body glowed silver. You were so into the Blood Lust that you didn’t even notice.”
Dracora held her breath at the admission, but stayed silent.
“What about the Blood Lust?” Ariana asked, looking from one to the other. “How did you know what to do, Shadow?”
Shadow shared a look with Dracora, who nodded, before explaining in a quiet voice. “In the Wars for Power, I was Healed by a Dweller-kin named Celeste. If it hadn’t been for her, I would have died before my tenth birthday.”
“That was very kind of her.” Ariana said.
“I was sick with the Blood Lust for a week.” Shadow continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “She was the only one able to bring me out of it by Feeding me. Thanks to Celeste, I learned I had a magic all my own, which I’ve named Shadow Magic.”
“That explains the weird magical feelings I sensed from you from the first day we met.” She nodded. “Does Lu-Lu know about that?”
Shadow shook his head. “It was part of our Crusade, and the vow of secrecy I made with Shannon.” He showed her his silver necklace, which Ariana recognized as a Dream Locket. “She doesn’t even know I’m a Crusader.”
“I made you a promise, Shadow, and I intend to keep it.” Ariana remarked, reaching out her hand. “The Young Guardian never breaks her promises.”
“I appreciate it, Ariana.” Shadow said softly with a smile, taking it and giving it a gentle squeeze as he kissed.
Ariana was silent in thought, the scene in the Oblivion running through her mind.
“What is on your mind, Blood-sister?” Dracora whispered. “You look troubled.”
Ariana explained what had happened in the Oblivion. “Do you know of a man calling himself Draconai?”
Dracora stood, covering her gasp with her hand.
“What? What is it?” Ariana pressed. “Do you know or not?”
Dracora stared, slowly nodding. “The God of Darkness has returned.”
“What would he want with me?” Ariana wondered.
She turned to Shadow. “I fear for her, Young Shadow. Return to the Realm of Dreams and tell O’Dell what happened here.”
“What about her, and the God of Darkness?” Shadow asked. “I have to stay with her; Shannon’s orders.”
“I will take care of her.” Dracora assured. She looked to the maiden who stood above Ariana’s bed. “Elspeth, take him to Terrantis at the FireWall.”
“Aye, Countess.” Elspeth quickly nodded, bowed and left the room with Shadow.
Dracora looked back at her, shaking her head and mumbling under her breath. “I fear the spell was nowhere near strong enough.”
“What spell?” Ariana fought to sit up. “Will you kindly explain just what is going on with me? First the Blood Lust with the Dragon’s Claw, the God of Darkness wants me and you tell me some spell was not strong enough? What are you talking about?”
“I can only tell you what I know until O’Dell arrives.” She shook her head again, standing and pacing in front of the bed.
“Please, do.” Ariana said softly, grasping her Dream Locket. It gave her courage. “I am terribly confused.”
“Oh, but where to begin?” Dracora exasperated, hands holding her head. She stopped in her tracks after a moment. “Ah, I know. Do you remember your first visit here, when you were my adviser in delegations against King Yorn?”
Ariana rolled her eyes; remembering that awful self-proclaimed King of the Vampire Hunters gave her a bad taste in her mouth. “Clearly.”
“Good. How about when I bound you to me? Do you remember that?”
“Dracora, I remember everything from my first time here.” Ariana insisted. “Please get to the point.”
“Did I ever tell you about the Four Pillars of Existence?” Dracora was patient, keeping her eye on her reaction.
Ariana shook her head. “What would that have to do with me?”
“The man you met in the Oblivion, naming himself Draconai, is the Pillar of Darkness, and one of the four Creator Gods.” Dracora began. She sat again on the chair beside the bed, taking Ariana’s hand. Ariana felt a tingle of Dracora’s magic; it helped her relax. “Long ago, before the concept of Time, there was Nothing. The God of Darkness lived within the Nothing for eons. He was very lonely, so he Created the Goddess, Light, and gave her a name: A’isha. From the first moment he laid eyes on her, he was in love. With Darkness and Light, they were Balance. After awhile, Draconai grew bored and Created two more Gods; the Goddess of Life he named Brigid, and the God of Death and Rebirth he named Brakkon.”
Dracora paused in her tale when Ariana’s hand tensed. “What is it?”
“Could I be A’isha?” Ariana’s eyes were wide when she looked at the Countess. “Is that why he reached for me from across the veil, and I felt comfortable in his embrace?”
Dracora bit her lip, letting go of Ariana’s hand. “I wouldn’t know for sure, but Draconai is a dangerous God. We must strengthen that control over your Silver Magic, before he takes you unawares to a place not even I can go.”
Ariana was afraid now, gulping. She looked around the room, finally seeing the Dagger on a table next to her. Dracora saw her gaze and shook her head.
“That will be returned to you later. For now, you must Rest.” Dracora announced softly, taking it from the table and sheathing it in her belt.
Dracora touched her forehead with a single claw. “All will be explained later, I promise you. Rest, Blood-sister. You will need your strength.”
Ariana felt the compulsion in her mind. Just as Stephen Ryan’s simple spell three years ago, it put her to sleep.
She was returned to Oblivion, her mind searching.
“Hello!” She called.
It was dark, and she sensed someone there, yet she couldn’t see them.
“Draconai?” She yelled into the air. “Am I A’isha? Is that why you want me?”
A male chuckle echoed in her mind; suddenly, a wind that was nonexistent before whipped around her body, giving her chills. Her eyes closed and she breathed it in, smiling when the chill solidified, turning into shadowy dragon’s wings that wrapped around her.
“It is true.” Ariana whispered in a light and airy voice. It reminded her of when she passed out at the System, accepting great magic into her system.
The male purred against her neck. Aye, you are my dearest A’isha.
Her heart skipped a beat as she took a deep breath. “Did you want me to return to you?”
While it would be nice, I fear you cannot; not yet.
She turned to face his onyx eyes. He pulled her closer. “Why not?”
Draconai purred. I’m sorry, dearheart, but you must figure it out for yourself. In the meantime, he continued, placing a kiss upon her forehead and caressing her hair. Live the destiny you were given. We will be together soon enough.
Ariana smiled. “I know not why, but I would like that.”
Draconai kissed her lips this time, disappearing just as quickly as he’d arrived.
She closed her eyes, reached to the Dream Locket and wished herself awake.
Before opening her eyes, she sensed those around her. Shadow was pacing, worried for her. Dracora was talking to O’Dell in a language she didn’t understand, and even Katherine was there, sitting beside her. Silent purrs of worry vibrated in her throat as the Balinese Companion touched Ariana’s hair.
Ariana opened her eyes and turned her head toward her feline friend. “Katherine.”
Katherine smiled, placing a claw on her lips before pointing it toward Dracora and O’Dell.
Can you understand what they are saying? Ariana sent to Katherine.
Katherine purred sadly, nodding. They are speaking in a mixture of Draconian and Ancient Wolf-Speak; the two languages spoken in the Dragon Nations. I am surprised Lord Guardian remembers the tongues.
Ariana smiled. What are they saying?
They are arguing about you; although a lot of it is in Ancient Draconian and I cannot understand.
Ariana’s smile disappeared. Can you tell me anything? Am I in trouble?
Katherine shook her head and smiled. Nay, my Young Guardian friend. It would seem the Countess is in trouble.
That is good to know, I guess. Ariana turned away, watching Shadow pace.
“No disrespect, my Lord Guardian, but I wish you would speak Northern.” Shadow stopped in his tracks. “At least then, I’d understand and not feel so left out.”
O’Dell and Dracora turned to him. “I suppose you are right, Young Shadow.”
“Forgive us for being rude.” Dracora nodded. She turned to see Ariana watching and went to her bedside. “You’re awake! How are you, Blood-Sister?”
O’Dell followed sporting a frown.
“A bit confused as of late.” Ariana sat up with Katherine’s help.
“Is she well enough to make the trip back to the Mystic Realms?” O’Dell kept his eye on Ariana.
Dracora looked into Ariana’s eyes and frowned. “She still suffers from the Blood-lust, I’m afraid. She’ll have to stay here for a bit longer.”
“She’s not in her dream-form, Countess.” Shadow pointed out. “When I go back to the System, her body won’t be there waiting.”
“I know, and I apologize, but she cannot leave until she’s over it.” Dracora shook her head.
“How long will it take?” Katherine whispered, speaking up for the first time.
“That would be up to her.” Dracora supplied. “How long did it take you once Celeste Fed you, Shane?”
Shadow cringed at the name, shrugging. “A week, Outer Realm time.”
“Then it should take no more than two days, Dragon’s time.”
“I have to stay with her.” Shadow supplied, catching Lord Guardian’s stare. “Right? Shannon’s orders.”
“Aye, and nay, Young Shadow.” O’Dell cleared his throat. “Trust in the Countess. She is more than capable of taking care of our Young Guardian.”
Ariana had enough of them talking about her as if she weren’t there. Not knowing where the foreign word came from, she cried, “Silencia!”
She swore everyone blinked in her direction. “I am still here, you know.”
“Sorry, sister.” Shadow whispered.
“They are right, Shadow.” She reached her hand out for him to take. “Please, return to the System without me.”
“But we’re partners!” Shadow insisted. “I have to stay.”
Ariana shook her head. “No, you do not. Tell Shannon where I am and what is going on. I am certain she will understand.”
“If you’re sure?” Shadow’s eyes darted in Dracora’s direction.
“Very.” Ariana nodded, kissing his hand. “I trust Dracora with my life; I will be fine.”
Shadow blinked, hesitant. His eyes seemed to say Are you sure?
Ariana only smiled and sent to his mind. I promise.
He leaned down and kissed her cheek before bowing to both Dracora and O’Dell. “I’ll take my leave then, my Lord. Countess.”
He disappeared out the double-doors.
“Katherine, I believe it is time for us to leave as well.” O’Dell supplied.
“Certainly, my Lord Guardian.” Katherine squeezed Ariana’s hand one more time before standing.
“You, I will speak to later, Dracora.” O’Dell frowned in the Countess’ direction.
“I’m counting on it, O’Dell.” Dracora said without emotion.
With a grunt, he and Katherine left.
Images of her short battle with the crow and the conversations she heard ran through her mind. Instead of concentrating on them, she sighed. “I apologize if I got you in trouble, Dracora.”
Dracora only smiled, sending an empathic wave of love through their blood-link. “I fear I got myself in trouble by Feeding on you, Ariana.” She admitted. “O’Dell argued some fine points in our,” she cleared her throat, “discussion. You are too young, and too untrained in handling facets of the Inner Realms. Your magic is still weak, and the Silver Magic within is too much for you to handle right now.”
Ariana nodded, agreeing. “Is there any way to stop it?”
Dracora was silent, saddened. “There is only one way, but I must have your permission to do it.”
Ariana sat up in the bed, interested. “You have it.”
Dracora forced a smile. “You agree, without knowledge of what I must do?”
Ariana nodded. “I trust you, Dracora. I know you will not hurt me.”
“That is good to know, Blood-Sister.” Dracora’s smile met her eyes. “I’ll set a powerful compulsion spell in your mind, so when your mind, body, soul and magic are ready, it will be lifted.”
“What about Draconai?” Ariana whispered.
“He’ll be blocked from your mind, and you’ll be safe from him.” Dracora explained. “As for the knowledge of Dweller-kin and the Nations themselves, that will stay with you.”
“Will I still have the Blood-lust?”
Dracora shook her head. “I will monitor you from time to time, just in case.”
“That is good to know.” Ariana echoed, making the Countess chuckle.
“Now then; shall we begin?”
Ariana laid back down on the bed, closed her eyes and felt Dracora’s scaled hands gently touching her temples. She listened to the Countess chant under her breath; it sounded like the same language she’d used when arguing with O’Dell. The chant lulled her mind and took her away.
The last she heard Dracora whisper in Northern was, “Pleasant Journeys, Ariana Moon, Young Guardian of Dreams.”
When she woke up, she was back in the Outer Realm. She put her glasses on her face when she sat up. She was still in the Ginger Room; which meant, she was still on the so-called Healing Project with Shadow.
Ariana smiled when her eyes caught his watching her from his bed beside hers.
“Welcome back.” Shadow stood only to sit beside her. “How do you feel?”
Ariana took his hand and kissed his cheek. “Glad to be home.”
“Is that right?” Shadow teased.
To show him, she gave him a tight hug that made him laugh. “I guess so!”
Ariana giggled when they parted. She looked at the clock on the wall. “What day is it?”
Shadow looked at his Life-Line watch. “November first.”
She grinned. “That means all that happened in the Dragon Nations occurred in two days!”
Shadow nodded. “I talked to Shannon when I woke up.”
“Oh?” Ariana was interested. “What did she say?”
“What could she say?” Shadow asked with a sneaky grin. “The Dragon Nations isn’t the Mystic’s jurisdiction, it’s the Countess Dracora’s, so Shannon could do nothing but listen to my report.”
There was something he wasn’t saying; she could sense it.
“She feels responsible for me?”
Shadow nodded. “Yeah. It’s understandable, too.”
“Well, for one, you’re an Ancient Mystic and so is she.” Shadow explained, ticking off his fingers. “She knows your past more than I do, and only wishes your happiness here.”
“I am happy here, Shane.” She pointed out, covering her mouth when she realized what she called him.
Shadow only grinned. “It’s okay. I don’t mind your calling me by my given name.” He hugged her, kissing her cheek. “It’s like you said; we’re partners, why hide behind code-names?”
Ariana shook her head and laughed.
“Besides,” Shadow squeezed her shoulders. “I can be myself around you; I don’t have to be ‘the elusive Shadow’.”
“I am glad.” Ariana said.
The uncomfortable, awkward silence was interrupted by Ariana’s rumbling stomach.
“Let’s hit the Café.” Shadow suggested, standing. “It’s nearly lunch-time.”
Ariana stood. “Sounds like a plan to me.”
The Truth is Out!
Time seemed to fly for Ariana. She was happy living in the System, learning more about her magic from Shannon, how to be a detective from the other agents, and even fighting Dominionites on the Crusader Project with Derrick, once he returned. Before she knew it, two years passed and she was almost eighteen.
One day, she woke in their quarters of Fourth-Floor to the ringing telephone between the beds. She was excited, sensing whatever Shannon had to say would change their lives. She reached for the phone but Derrick already picked it up.
“Reading.” He said into the line, sticking his tongue out at her playfully when they met eyes. “Hey, boss; what’s up?”
Ariana listened anxiously, waiting to hear what Shannon had to say. She even tried using telepathy, but was blocked. Derrick’s smile faded as he listened, which worried her.
“We’ll be there in a bit. Reading out.” Derrick placed the receiver back on the hook.
“Well?” Ariana asked. “What did she have to say?”
“She wants us to meet her in her office, Asap.”
Ariana frowned. “That serious?”
Derrick nodded, wrapping his arms around her and kissing her lips. “That serious.” He pulled away. “So get dressed while I take a quick shower and shave.”
A quick peck on the lips and he was gone to the bathroom.
What could possibly be so serious, it triggers my empathy? She thought to herself as she dressed in a pair of black jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. He was still in the bathroom when she finished dressing, so she headed to the balcony and leaned over the railing.
Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath of the early-autumn air. The chilling breeze felt good against her cheeks, making her smile. Before she could control it, she was thrown in a gripping Clairvoyant Vision.
She didn’t sense anything bad about the Vision, so rather than fight it, she let it play in her mind.
Two identical young girls with long strawberry-blond hair played a game of chase with each other. Each wore identical pink dresses, though one twin’s was covered with dirt.
“Don’t go too far, girls!” An elder female voice called from a distance.
The twins stopped in their tracks and raced back.
The Vision turned on the female voice once the twins made it back to her. It was a lady with short-cropped black hair and silver-blue eyes. As a witness, Ariana could see the opalescent aura surrounding her. She focused the Vision on the twins: one had an indigo-colored magical aura with silver-blue eyes while the other had silver-colored aura with silver eyes to match.
Ariana heard Derrick’s voice in her ear, pulling her out of it before she could lose herself. “Come back to me, Love.”
She took a deep breath and opened her eyes. Turning to meet his gentle smile, she joked. “That was quick.”
He was wearing a pair of loose-fitting jeans and a sweatshirt that read: Hill View Hawks. She couldn’t resist touching his clean-shaven face.
“What did you See?” He asked, his wrapped arms pulling her tighter against him.
Ariana shook her head, kissing him. “Nothing to worry about. I will work it out later.”
“Do you think that Vision has anything to do with what Shannon wants us for?” He mused.
She shrugged. “I would not know. In the meantime, are you ready to go?”
“As I will ever be.” He gulped, taking her hand.
They were silent as they walked the halls leading to Shannon’s office. He opened the Computer Room door for her. When they stepped in, they noticed all six of the computers were unoccupied. The room was quiet but for the sounds of their footsteps on the linoleum.
Derrick shared a suspicious look with her before knocking on the door.
“Come in!” A trio of voices; two female and one male answered.
Shrugging, yet curious as to what Shannon was up to so early, they went inside.
Ariana blinked when her eyes met a young woman with her face, her strawberry-blond hair and silver-blue eyes. The young woman was smiling – her smile, she noticed. The two were identical; much so, no one could tell them apart from a distance.
She heard Derrick take a breath behind her. Looking around her, she saw Shannon’s excited smile, Shadow’s mischievous grin, and Derrick’s stare.
“Who are you?” She dared to whisper, taking in the shining silver crescent moon necklace around the stranger’s neck. “How?”
The stranger shared a look with Shannon before returning her attention to her.
I am the voice in your mind that wished you happy birthday. The stranger sent with a smile. Aloud, she said. “My name is Aluna Star, and I am your twin.”
“I see that.” Ariana cleared her throat. She looked at Shadow. “This is Luna?”
Shadow smiled, stepping to Aluna’s side, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind and pecking her on the cheek.
“Code-named Lu-Lu.” Aluna spoke up. The twins stared at each other, though Aluna addressed Shannon. “Get the box.”
Ariana broke eye contact with her twin to watch Shannon retrieve a small wooden box from the small mahogany closet which matched her desk. When Shannon came closer, she could see the inscription of “AM” etched in the wood.
Shannon held it out, opening the box so all could see what was inside. Ariana watched as Aluna reached into it and pulled out a small black-velvet ring box.
“Reach out your right hand.” Aluna instructed.
Ariana, interested in what was in the ring box as much as she was about her new twin, obeyed. Her heart skipped a beat when she felt a hand on her shoulder. It was Derrick, and he was smiling.
She felt the familiar tingle of Mystic Magic as Aluna slid a ring on the third finger. Heat radiated from it when she looked at the opalescent stone. It was changing colors as she watched; pink to red, and on through the color spectrum.
“That is called the Mystic Ring.” Aluna whispered, continuing to hold her hand. “It’s a symbol of our power; a gift from Enchantra to all Earthbound Ancient Mystics.”
“I will have to thank her sometime.” Ariana breathed, watching the spectrum of color finally slow to a stop. It was now a peaceful-feeling pink of a rose quartz.
Aluna smiled, reaching into the box to take out two identical necklaces. Instead of the crescent-moons of their Dream Lockets, the charm was a triangle made of pewter with an eye in the middle. In the iris were the same opalescent jewels that matched those in the girls’ rings. It reminded Ariana of an Egyptian Eye of Ra dangling from a thick silver chain.
“These are for our Earthly Protectors.” Aluna told them, reaching over Derrick’s head to place one around his neck before turning and placing the other around Shadow’s. “They are called the Protector’s Pendants. With them, you gentlemen will have telepathy to us when you touch us or meet our eyes. You will also be able to sense us in danger.”
“That’s good to know.” Shadow spoke up.
“Yeah,” Derrick was at a loss for words.
Aluna looked at her twin and smiled. “If you do guys do not mind, I need some time alone with her. Come with me, Ariana Moon. We will talk in the Commons Room.”
“Oh, okay.” Ariana stammered.
Aluna wrapped an arm through hers and led her away. Once the twins were in the Commons Room, they found a quiet place to talk. Heads from other agents did double-takes. Ariana could sense their amazement at their identical faces and could barely hear them whispering.
“I want to tell you how sorry I am for not introducing myself sooner.” Aluna said once the girls sat down.
She snapped out of her daze and smiled at her new-found twin. “It is okay. How long have you been here?”
“Almost thirteen years now.” Aluna said with a grin. “Gramere raised Shannon and I like sisters.”
Ariana was confused at the word. “’Gramere’?”
“It’s Inner Realm-Speak for Grandmother.” Aluna explained.
“Does she still live?”
Aluna shook her head. “She died shortly before Shannon turned eighteen.”
It took a moment of thought, but Ariana understood. “Dixilynne Ryan was our Gramere?”
Aluna grinned. “You met her once, I believe.”
“Yes, when I was seven.” Ariana confirmed. “How did you know?”
“That’s when I Felt your powers awakening.” Aluna told her. “Mine were, too, of course. I had my first Clairvoyant vision of you. It was when Lord Guardian gave you the Dream Locket and your Destiny as his successor. I also had a Clairvoyant vision of a dark-haired male, similar yet different from us in magic, growing up right across the street from you.”
“Scott Archer!” Ariana smiled. “Dixilynne sent him to to look after me until Destiny sent me elsewhere.” Aluna nodded, returning the identical smile.
It felt strange, yet comforting to know she had a family somewhere. Aluna was the key to her mysterious past.
“So you are an Ancient Mystic as well?”
“Since we are twins, and Shannon’s cousins, yes.” Aluna nodded.
Ariana was curious. “Who is older?”
“That would be you, by five minutes.” Aluna answered. “You were right to celebrate our birthday on October thirtieth. Anything else?”
“What can you do, Magically speaking?”
“I suppose my strongest power is Clairvoyance, though I have all five Basic Mystic powers.” Aluna told her. “The one thing I envy you for is your self-healing ability. Not even I can do that.”
“I do not even know how I do it,” Ariana stammered. “Do you know anything about our parents?”
Aluna bit her lip. “I don’t know much about them, sorry.”
Ariana looked down, sad. She felt her sister take her hand and squeeze. “We’ll find out together, okay?”
Ariana looked back at her twin and smiled. “Okay.”
“For now, let’s rejoin the guys and have our first double-date.” Aluna jumped up, yanking Ariana along since they were still holding hands.
Ariana couldn’t help laughing at her new twin’s enthusiasm.
That night, Ariana called the Dream Chant, as she always had, only to find herself watching her older self training against Aluna’s. Aluna was wearing indigo-colored robes that were worn at the sleeves and her feet. She trained with a long mage’s staff that had a large chunk of quartz crystal at the top. Ariana’s older self was countering Ariana’s indigo-colored magical bursts of light with silver ones of her own from an elongated diamond-shaped sword. At the pommel, Ariana noticed three quartz crystals: rose, smokey and clear.
“See the auras of magic around us?” Her twin asked in a whisper, startling her.
“Yours are different from mine.” Ariana pointed out, looking at her. Aluna was crouched beside her, wearing a newer, less-tattered version of the robes. She carried a long wand in her hand, placing it in a pouch that hung off her belt-cord. “Why is that? If we are twins, would we not have the same colored magical auras?”
Aluna shook her head, taking her from the scene so their older versions wouldn’t see or hear them. “Not necessarily. It’s all very hard to explain, as I’m still learning, too. That aura is called our Mystic Wind.”
“I heard about them from Shadow when I was first able to see his older self.”
Aluna nodded. “He was fighting Red Wolf Moondancer, a Dominionite Warrior, right?”
Ariana narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms. “You were not there; how did you know?”
Aluna tapped her head. “As I told you, my strongest power is Clairvoyance.” She explained. “When it comes to you, we’re linked, so whatever you see future-wise, at some point, so do I.” She shook her head. “Back to Mystic Winds. They’re all based on the strength of your magic and the amount you’re able to control. Now, I don’t know why mine’s indigo, when yours is pure silver. Not even Gramere understood that about us. Usually, an Ancient Mystic’s magical aura would be opalescent, like the ring.”
Ariana frowned in thought, her hand touching the Dragon’s Claw Dagger at her hip, a finger gently caressing the onyx stone on the hilt.
“Whoa.” Aluna breathed after a moment, touching her out of her thoughts.
Ariana looked up. “What?”
“Look at your hand.”
She did, unsheathing the Dagger and showing it to her. “I got it from –.”
“Countess Dracora of the Dragon Nations.” Aluna finished. “Yeah, I know.”
“What is so ‘whoa’ about that?” Ariana was confused, sheathing it.
“The moment you touched it, your hand, and the Dagger turned a wicked color of blood-red and silver.” Aluna’s silver-blue eyes were wide in amazement.
Ariana stared at her hands. “The Silver Magic.”
Aluna shrugged. “I guess so, but what would the red be?”
Ariana hesitated before telling her twin about her short adventure in the Dragon Nations three years ago.
“Ah,” Aluna smiled. “That explains it.”
The twins walked the Province Wood in the direction of the Ancient Mystic Palace.
“Do you have a Dream Realm Persona?” Ariana asked. “I am the Young Guardian.”
“I’m the Grand Magus. That is, the Great Magician.” Aluna told her proudly. “It’s not official yet, since I haven’t finished my Journeyman’s lessons, and we haven’t turned eighteen.”
“I see.” Ariana grinned. “So, Aluna Star, have you any inquiries for me?”
“Yeah; why do you talk like that?”
“Like a Companion.” Aluna stated.
Ariana grinned. “I have done it all my life; it has become somewhat of a habit, I guess.” She paused, thinking back to the previous days’ events. “What about you? You spoke to me like that as well, but once we were out of Shannon’s office, you spoke differently.”
“I was trying to make you comfortable.” Aluna told her. “It had to have been a shock, meeting me like that. So to relax you, I reverted to my old speech patterns.”
“So you were born speaking like me?” Ariana asked. “That is a relief, I guess.”
“A relief; that’s it.” Aluna teased with a grin. “No, what’s a relief is not having to hide from you anymore. I’m finally able to show myself to my own twin.”
“Why did you have to hide from me?”
Aluna took a deep breath and let it out. “Lord Guardian and the Sisters told me to stay away. They feared if we reunited too soon, the Dominionite Master would find and destroy us.”
Ariana gasped. “Is Sabrina after you, too?”
Aluna nodded. “I can handle her, somewhat.” She said. “The one who gets me the most is her brother Damian.”
“I have yet to meet him.”
“Pray to the Goddess you never do.” Aluna sighed. “Damian calls himself the Dominionite Merchant. He’s the worst sort of man, if you could call him that. He’s a seducer of women, leader of their Warrior armies and a manipulative jerk. Should you ever meet him, beware.”
“I will keep that in mind, thank you.” Ariana gulped. “As I see it, we have three main enemies, not including the Dominionites themselves.”
“Sabrina, Damian and their good-ol’ dad Orthos.” Aluna finished the thought. “I don’t know about you, sister dear, but I don’t think we’re strong enough to beat them, yet.”
“In time, we will be; I have Seen it myself in future-dreams.” Ariana told her. “Seven of us will band together and defeat them.”
“It is very complicated,” Ariana started, shaking her head as she thought of the words to explain. “I began to have future-dreams when I was very young. Every time, I watched from afar as those with Dream Lockets and powerful magic fought their Warriors. At first, the older version of me was the only face I could see; all the others were obscured or covered in shadows. With each dream, a new face, or faces, were revealed.”
“Who did you see first?” Aluna dared interrupt her story.
“After myself? Aaron Theodore and Amethyst Theresa, the pair of twins I grew up with in the orphanage.” Ariana told her, showing her the Blood Pact scar. “It was the night I bound them to me through blood and we became the Three Musketeers. Next, once I met him here, was Derrick. Third, or should I say fourth, was Shadow, when I first met him at the System.”
“Now, you saw me?” Aluna asked. She counted on her fingers. “Derrick, Shane, Aaron, Amethyst, me and you. That’s only six. Who’s the other one?”
Ariana shrugged. “The only thing I know is that he has a gray-colored magic.”
“A man you haven’t met yet?” Aluna guessed.
Her sister looked ahead with a smile. “You will, soon enough.”
Ariana shook her head and sighed, walking ahead. The forest was peaceful; birds chirping, creatures running to and fro, playing in the trees. It was enough to make her smile.
“Peaceful, isn’t it?” Aluna caught up to her.
“Well, don’t be fooled.” Aluna scoffed. “Looks can be deceiving.” She paused. “Do you know where we are?”
Ariana stopped and felt a tree with one hand. “Are we not in the Province Wood?”
Aluna shook her head.
Aluna shook her head again.
Ariana frowned at her. “Then, where are we?”
“Perilous Forest.” her twin answered softly. “Let’s find the Garden Gate before-”
Aluna stopped, grabbed her wand and watched the trees. Ariana sensed danger ahead, so she took out her Dragon’s Claw and stood with her back against her sister’s.
The bushes ahead of her moved.
Gathering as much courage as she could, she pointed the Claw at it and shouted. “Reveal yourself!”
Without warning, it struck. A large black bear with yellow eyes jumped out at them.
“Look out!” Aluna screamed, turning and firing indigo-colored wind to wound it.
Ariana was already in the air by that time, Claw in hand to jab it between the eyes. Like a cat, she used her legs to kick away from the screaming bear, flipping herself in the air and landing effortlessly on one knee close-by.
Aluna was unable to say anything as she watched the black bear fall. Once it was dead, she used telekinesis to retrieve the Claw. It floated in midair above her as she whispered a spell under her breath. The bear glowed indigo as it slowly turned to ash. With a wave of a hand, the ashes were carried away.
The Claw dropped from midair with a low clang, forcing the twins to meet eyes. Still out of breath, Ariana smiled.
“That was amazing.” Aluna whispered, smile on her face as she replaced her wand in its pouch. She reached to pick up the Dragon’s Claw, but Ariana stopped her.
“No!” Ariana yelled, beckoning it to her with her own telekinetic powers. She sheathed it before standing. “No one but me touches this Dragon’s Claw.” She warned her sister, her eyes burning. “Do you understand?”
Aluna nodded, too shocked from the scene to answer. “How did you do that?” Aluna asked once she found her voice. “You just disappeared, reappearing in midair to strike. Why, I didn’t even see you!”
Ariana shrugged. “It is what I do. I learned a few tricks from Shadow, as well as Master Kwan.” She pat her dagger sheath. “If only I had something a little longer, like a sword. Then I would be able to keep it on-hand after I strike.”
“In time, you will.” Aluna nodded. “Let’s get out of here before anything else attacks us.”
Ariana sighed. “I could not agree more.”
Back to Reality
Torn From Paradise
Four months later, the twins’ eighteenth birthday passed. With every day they spent together, they felt as if they’d never been apart. They quickly found their differences; Ariana was serious while Aluna liked to have fun. Aluna thought herself the smarter twin in the Mystic Magic, going on to study the other world magics. Ariana patrolled the Dream Realm every night; most times showing her dear sister a thing or two.
Their Earthly Protectors were happy the twins spent so much time together. It gave them a chance to bond as best friends. Derrick and Shane relaxed around one another, and soon, became like brothers. Shane taught Derrick some of his ‘tricks’ when it came to detective work while Derrick taught Shane what it meant to be family.
Not all was fun and games, though. The Dominionites attacked more often now, and the four of them were there to fight back. Orthos, Sabrina and Damian made personal appearances in Ariana’s dreams. They could do nothing but taunt her, for she always outsmarted them.
Shannon called on them more and more to fight them, even going as far as training them in advanced sword-work. Shane’s Shadowblade became stronger once imbibed with his special Shadow Magic and Derrick received his Golden Sword, which rivaled Ariana’s new Guardian’s Blade, a short-sword made of lightweight but strong steel. It had three quartz crystals at the end of the hilt that glowed when she used her magic. All three blades worked with or without their magic within, not that Derrick was able to control his Protector’s magic yet. Aluna’s wand was soon upgraded to a long-staff that collapsed at the push of a button.
Ariana could feel something coming in the near-future; something that would take them away from their perfect home. Visions of the future put her in a somber mood for two weeks, a mood neither her twin nor their Earthly Protectors could change.
In an effort to lighten her mood and get her out of her depressive slump, Aluna suggested the twins play a game of tennis in King’s Court before the guys met them for a special dinner in the Café. Not wanting to break her sister’s heart by saying no, Ariana agreed.
Two hours into their game, Aluna gave up.
“Cheer up, will you? Please?” Aluna asked as they dressed in the locker room. “Just watching you depresses me. What’s goin’ on in that head of yours, anyway?” She faced her twin after they changed to their street clothes. Ariana was silent as she retied her tennis shoes. “I mean, we’re in paradise. What’s so depressing about that?”
“Ever thought that someday, we would be torn from here to live life on our own?” Ariana finally spoke. Her silver-blue eyes turned silver as Aluna sat beside her on a bench.
“Sure, but where would we go?” Aluna shrugged.
Ariana’s eyes closed and she spoke the Vision aloud in a voice not her own, “Hearts return to whence they came; through sun, wind, snow and rain. Torn apart but soon reunited, from different worlds divided. Three separate while one remains, to save them all from certain pain. To live, to love, to learn and grow, four paths into one you will know.”
Ariana shook her head and opened her eyes, continuing to tie her shoes as if she hadn’t said a word.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Aluna finally whispered, standing.
As if on cue, Big Guy greeted them at the locker room door with a frown. “Shannon needs you in her office.”
On that, she disappeared and the twins looked at each other.
“You don’t suppose?” Aluna asked.
Ariana shrugged, unknowing of what to think. She was quiet as they walked the halls.
“Do you always do that?” Aluna wondered quietly.
“Stare into space and speak in riddles.” Aluna explained.
“When did I do that?” Ariana was confused, the pounding in her head intensifying the nearer they got to Shannon’s office.
“Shortly before Big Guy summoned us.” Aluna replied. The twins stopped in their tracks. “Don’t you remember?”
Ariana closed her eyes, rubbed her temples with a touch of her Healer’s Magic to take away the headache. After a moment, the pounding lessened and she was able to respond. “No. Sorry. What did I say?”
“For one thing, it wasn’t your voice.” Aluna told her, walking once again. She kept her voice low. “It sounded like many female voices at once, like some kind of Goddess Voice.”
Ariana blinked, thinking back two years ago, when the God of Darkness, Draconai was after her. “Like a Goddess?” Aluna nodded. “Are you certain?”
“On my honor as a Mystic.” Aluna touched her Dream Locket as she nodded again. “You spoke in a long riddle, something I don’t understand.”
“Do you remember my exact words?”
The twins stopped in front of the Computer Room doors. “I only remember the last line: ‘Live, love, learn and grow; four paths into one you’ll know.’ The rest is a blur.”
Ariana reached for the door handles in thought. “Do you suppose it was a premonition of what is to come?”
“Guess we’ll find out sometime, won’t we?” Aluna shrugged, walking in after her.
Ariana paused in front of Shannon’s office door, frowning. She felt Aluna take her hand and squeeze. When she looked, her twin was frowning as well.
The reason for your recent melancholy lies in that room. Aluna took a deep breath.
Ariana could do nothing but nod as she followed her twin inside.
As soon as they walked in, they saw Shannon leaning against her desk with her arms crossed. She wasn’t smiling when she looked up at them.
“Come on in, ladies.” She told them softly.
Ariana closed the door behind them before seeing Derrick sitting in one of the chairs. She touched his shoulder to get his attention, but he only sighed as his eyes sadly glanced into hers.
“So, what’s the emergency?” Aluna asked, taking a seat in the other chair.
Derrick’s toe tapped the floor impatiently. Shannon cleared her throat and scowled at him before addressing the twins.
“In two hours, three different cars are going to take you to three different destinations.” She began somberly. “It’s come time for you to live on your own.”
The twins gasped, sharing a startled look.
Derrick shot out of his seat, knocking it to the floor with a loud clang. “You can’t do this to us!”
Shannon faced him. “I can because I’m the boss, or have you forgotten that, Agent Reading?”
Derrick frowned at her, took a deep breath and said. “No; I haven’t forgotten.” He picked up the chair and sat back down.
“Good.” Shannon stated with a tight nod. “Lu-Lu, I know we grew up together, and you’re like a sister to me, but I have to do it.”
Aluna scoffed, her arms crossed. “Let me guess: Destiny?”
“You could say that, yeah.” Shannon sighed. “Lord Guardian came to me the other night, telling me to separate the three of you.”
“The three of us?” Ariana shook out of her daze to ask. “Derrick, Aluna and myself?” Shannon silently nodded. “In that case, why not Shadow as well?”
“Because Shane has nowhere else to go.” Shannon supplied. “You three do. Derrick, you’ll be going home, and so will Luna.”
“But I will not be joining her,” Ariana understood what Shannon didn’t want to say aloud.
Confirming, Shannon shook her head. “Not right now.”
“Where?” Ariana whispered.
“There’s not enough time to discuss it.” Shannon rushed. “You’ll each be driven to the place you once called home.”
“This is my home, Shannon.” Ariana supplied. “I have never been happier.”
Shannon could see the tears wanting to break free from Ariana’s silver-blue eyes. “I know, but look how much you’ve grown in three years. You’re more energetic, more relaxed and one of my best Junior Detectives.”
“Than why separate us now?” Aluna interrupted. “She’s known nothing but hate out there; why shove her out on her own?”
“You know the answer better than either of us, Aluna Star.” Shannon said. “The wonderful thing we Mystics like to call ‘Destiny.’”
Aluna huffed again, crossing her arms. “I’ll not do it. I’ll not go home without Ariana.”
“Neither will I.” Derrick stood to wrap his arms around each twin.
“I’m afraid you have no choice in the matter.” Shannon told them. “For now, I’ll dismiss you to your quarters. You’re to pack your things and get ready to leave in two hours. Three different agents will escort you when it’s time, so make the best of it until then.”
They were silent; Aluna still had her arms crossed, Derrick placed his hands in his pockets and Ariana held her head, her eyes closed.
“Do I make myself clear, Agent Lu-Lu?” Shannon asked.
“Yeah.” Aluna growled at her defiantly.
Shannon rolled her eyes. “Agent Reading?”
Derrick cleared his throat. “Yes, Shannon.”
Shannon touched Ariana’s hand to gently get her attention. Once Ariana’s sad eyes met hers, she continued. “Agent Sister?”
Ariana nodded after a moment.
Shannon stepped away from them. “You’re excused.”
The three of them left without saying another word.
Once Shannon’s office door was closed, they stopped.
“Luna?” Derrick asked, taking Ariana’s hand.
Aluna turned to him and hugged them both, her eyes already filling with tears.
“I’ll never forget you guys.” She managed to sob, kissing Derrick’s cheek and squeezing his other hand before turning and racing away.
“Come on, Love.” Derrick wrapped an arm around her, urging her to walk. “Let’s go.”
Without saying a word, they walked to their own quarters of Fourth-Floor.
“How are you supposed to be my Earthly Protector if you are nowhere near me?” Ariana asked him as they packed. She was at her bed while he was at his next to her.
“We’ll always be together, Love, no matter where we are.” Derrick dropped a sweatshirt into his knapsack before moving to hold her. “Love knows no boundaries.”
She turned to meet his eyes. Just as her empathy told her, he was sincere. His heart was breaking at the thought of their separation, just as hers was. “I love you so much, Derrick; It will be hard to imagine my life without you near.”
“I will always be with you, sweetheart.” Derrick whispered, kissing her passionately. In our hearts, souls and minds. We are a part of one another.
Ariana’s heart skipped a beat as their emotions meshed into one. Love me, Derrick, please? Give me something to remember you by.
As if to answer, they made love on her bed by the balcony with only the birds of spring chirping outside their window. When they were spent, they dressed and continued packing.
Just as they finished, someone knocked on the door.
Ariana used her empathy to sense Loraine “Love Joy” Joyce on the other side. She opened the door to find the petite blonde nurse forcing to smile.
Love Joy cleared her throat before her tightened voice squeaked out. “Ariana.”
“Let me say goodbye first; please, Love Joy?” Ariana pleaded.
Love Joy glanced from Ariana to Derrick and back. “Make it quick.” She said softly in her Southern accent. “We leave in ten minutes.”
Ariana went to Derrick’s side at his bed, a tear wanting to escape her eye. Will you miss me, my Romeo?
Derrick wiped the tear away with his finger before kissing her once more. More than you’ll ever know, my Love.
They parted and she rose, quietly grasping her backpack over one shoulder.
“Take good care of yourself, Ariana Moon.” Derrick spoke up.
She turned and pasted on a smile. “You as well, Derrick James.”
Ariana nodded at Love Joy before closing the door behind her.
Whenever you need me, you need only dream of me. She sent to Derrick as she followed the Senior Detective down the long corridor.
She hoped it would bring a smile to his face.
Ariana heaved a sad sigh as they walked. She noticed Love Joy was leading her to the garage, where a black sedan was waiting.
Love Joy touched her arm. “Shannon wanted you to have this.”
Ariana turned to take the offered credit card.
“She loaded it with enough money to get you by.” Love Joy explained.
“Tell her thank you for me.” Ariana shoved it in the back pocket of her jeans. “Did she happen to tell you where I was going?”
Love Joy shook her head. “You know her; if she wants something secret, it stays one.”
Ariana smiled. “That is her, all right.”
She reached for the door handle and paused in thought.
“It’ll be fine, shoog.” Love Joy responded, shortening the Southern pet-name of ‘Sugar’. “Destiny always has a way of working itself out.”
Ariana nodded, pasting on a smile as she climbed in.
Ariana watched the scenery for three hours before falling asleep. She neither called the Dream Chant nor did she wander into Oblivion.
She found herself in a silver-clad form; long silver hair in numerous braids down her back, silver magical aura surrounding her, even silvery-white feathered wings adorning her back. She was wearing a silvery-white gown that matched her wings.
She sensed someone ahead of her: a female dressed entirely in ocean-blue. Her aura illuminated the colors of bluest waters as she walked toward Ariana. Her blue-white hair was flowing behind her, a single band of coral keeping it from her face. As she moved closer, Ariana could see the bright turquoise eyes shining.
“Who are you?” Ariana dared to ask in a voice that sounded so different than her own. She realized it must have been what Aluna called ‘the Goddess’ voice.
“Greetings, Sister.” The woman laughed lightly, her voice like the winds. “To the Mystics, I am known as Brianna, Goddess of the Waters.”
“Why call me Sister and what do you wish from me?”
“You are my Sister-Pillar, stuck in an Earthbound form.” Brianna answered. “I have watched you all along, A’isha.”
The name clicked in Ariana’s mind, her memory conjuring up the image of Draconai. At the thought, her heart skipped a beat. “So it is true!”
Brianna nodded. “Aye; Draconai has backed off for now. The Countess convinced him to let you live your Earthbound Destiny.”
Ariana let out a breath of relief, though her heart dropped.
Brianna continued. “I know, you must miss him, though you know nothing about him.”
“According to Dracora, he is the God of Darkness, the first Pillar of Existence.”
“She is correct; As A’isha, you are the Pillar of Light, and his very salvation.”
Ariana held her heart. “Will I ever know more about him?”
Brianna smiled. “You know all you need to know, at this time.” She explained. “For now, I felt your first Goddess Vision. That is why I am here.”
“Aye,” Brianna nodded. “You do not remember, of course. It is part of being an Earthbound Goddess.”
“Spewing prophesies from my tongue in a voice that is not my own, only to have no idea afterward?” Ariana asked her, hands on hips and frowning. The Goddess merely smiled. “My twin was there; she heard me, though does not remember most of my words.”
“I know full well of Aluna,” Brianna sighed, rolling her eyes. “You will find out why you had it, and when it comes to pass, you will remember it to the letter.”
Ariana asked. “How do I know you are not playing a cruel prank on me?”
“In telling you of your Goddess status?” Brianna asked and Ariana nodded. “Think about it. Why would a Goddess lie?”
Ariana lowered her eyes at her and crossed her arms. “I am listening.”
“How else could you heal yourself overnight?” Brianna asked. She saw Ariana relax at the admission, so she continued. “How else could you be plagued by Draconai, or have many forms when you travel to the Inner Realms nightly? What about your strange Silver Magic, which makes your body glow when you are angered?”
Ariana gave it great thought. The Goddess was telling the truth; how else would she know such intricate things about her?
“I am a Goddess.” She whispered to herself.
“Not just ‘a’ Goddess; you are the Pillar of Light, the second-oldest Ancient Goddess there is.” Brianna stepped up to her and reached for her hand. “I am the third, known to you as Brigid, the Pillar of Life.”
Ariana looked down at her hands. As she suspected, the nails were painted aquamarine. “How did you become the Mystic’s Goddess of the Waters?”
“An interesting story indeed.” Brianna told her. “Our Lesser-Gods were jealous of our tight bond, so they condemned three of you Realmbound and myself Havenbound to watch over you.”
“That was mean of them.” Ariana frowned. “What is Realmbound and Havenbound?”
“Realmbound means your spirit and body are bound to the Inner Realms.” Brianna explained. “Havenbound means you are bound to the Havens, the Realm of the Gods in other words.”
“I am bound to the earth; am I Earthbound?”
Brianna nodded, smiling. “You learn quick.” She squeezed Ariana’s hands. “Going on, not all Lesser-Gods were jealous of us. The Ancient Mystic Goddesses: Dana of the Earth, Hestia of the Fires, and Aura of the Winds welcomed me as their missing Sister-Goddess, Brianna of the Waters. That is how I come to you now.”
“You are my Sister-Pillar?” Ariana looked up into Brianna-Brigid’s eyes. They were no longer oceanic blue, but bright white and glowing.
“Aye, I am your Sister-Pillar.” She announced. “Why do you think Dracora told you of Us to begin with?”
“So I would realize what I was to Draconai?” Brianna nodded. “So she knew before I did?”
Brianna nodded again. “I will tell you a secret: the only reason Dracora knows is because her brother Draconis is Draconai. She is the only one of her five Royal Siblings who figured it out.”
Ariana gasped, holding her mouth; her head was swimming with the information.
“Unfortunately, when you return to the Outer Realm, you will remember very little of this conversation.” Brianna sighed sadly. “However, I will continue to watch over you as you grow and live your Earthbound Mystic’s Destiny.”
Brianna-Brigid hugged her. “Fare-thee-well, Sister. We will meet again.”
Ariana closed her eyes and took a deep breath, disappearing from where she stood.
She opened her eyes to a knocking on the car window.
“Sorry to bother ya, Agent Sister, but we’re here.” The driver announced, opening the door for her.
Ariana grasped her backpack and threw it over her shoulder as she stepped out of the car. “Thank you, I guess.”
“Yer welcome,” the driver winked, closing the door behind her and climbing back in the driver’s seat. “Take good care of yerself, hear me?”
Ariana nodded, her eyes on the nearby excitement. There was a carnival in the distance, a ferris wheel lit with bright colors as it moved. Snapping out of her reverie, she turned, opening her mouth to answer the driver.
It was too late; he, and the car, was already long gone.
And so it begins. Ariana thought to herself. Torn from all I loved, only to be dropped off in a place I know nothing about and left for dead.
I would not say that, Young Guardian. Katherine’s voice purred in her ear.
Ariana smiled, her heart thumping at the thought of her feline friend. I guess I am feeling sorry for myself again.
You are weary from the ride. Katherine assured with a patient purr. I suggest you use the card Love Joy gave you to get something to eat.
The thought of food made her stomach growl. Both giggled at that.
Ariana saw the “Hill View Mall” sign in the distance, so she headed there. It was still open by the time she walked through the doors.
The first store she saw was a bookstore, Read-More Books.
Clever name. Katherine commented.
It was there Ariana bought a blank journal notebook. It had no specific dates, nor anything on its pages besides lines to write on. The hard leather-bound journal was perfect for what she had in mind.
To chronicle your life away from the Crusaders, I presume?
Ariana ignored Katherine’s inner comments as she paid for it and shoved it into one of the many pockets in her backpack.
She followed her nose, soon finding the Food Court. All the vendors were bustling with business, so she went to the shortest line and ordered.
As she ate, she Felt someone staring at her. Without moving, she used her Empathy to sense their intentions. She received nothing in return, as if her Empathy bounced off some barrier and back to her.
That was strange. Ariana mused, returning to her meal.
From the corner of her eye, she saw a figure standing by her. She used Empathy on the figure, only to have her power bounce back.
That’s it; time to find out what he wants. Ariana huffed.
Dropping her plastic fork to her plate, she stood and met him.
“Why are you following me?” She asked him with a frown.
The man wasn’t that much older than her, with gray eyes and shaggy black hair.
“You piqued my curiosity, but I swear I wasn’t following you.” The young man raised his hands in surrender.
Only then could she sense his sincerity with her Empathy.
“How so?” She continued the conversation.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” He asked.
Ariana frowned. “Do not answer my question with another.”
“Okay, okay, I give.” The young man smiled at her, pointing across the Court. “See that red-haired girl over there? The one with the mini-skirt over black lace tights?”
Ariana looked where he was pointing. Sure enough, there was a girl with bushy red hair and a tight mini-skirt over ankle-length black lace tights. Her breasts just about popped out of a halter top that was two sizes too small.
“What about her, besides her lack of fashion sense?” Ariana asked, sticking out her tongue.
“That’s my adopted sister.” The young man told her. “I’m her chosen chauffeur for the day.”
“What does she have to do with me?”
“I was with her when I saw you sit down.” The young man explained. “I could tell by your clothes, and that tattered backpack, you weren’t from around here.”
“So my tattered backpack piqued your interest in me?” Ariana was skeptic but smiled. “Let me guess: you were confused by my sudden appearance and decided to watch over me?”
The young man blinked. “You could say that, yeah.”
Ariana smiled. “I thank you for your hospitality, young man.”
“Mark.” He choked, nervously shoving his hands into his pockets. “My name is Mark.”
“Well, Mark. It was a pleasure, but I must be going.” Ariana smiled and turned to leave.
She gave him a final wave after she threw away the forgotten part of her late meal and shouldered her backpack. She could sense him still watching her as she left the building.
Somehow, the thought made her smile.
Now to find somewhere to sleep before dark. Ariana thought to Katherine.
So now you are speaking to me? Katherine teased.
I had to concentrate. Ariana told her. She followed the road until it met a sidewalk. I still find that incident rather confusing.
As do I. Katherine purred. That has never happened before, has it?
Ariana shook her mental head. I have never encountered someone in this realm that can block my empathic probes. I wonder what was so special about him?
Are you really that worried about it? Katherine asked. Or were you charmed by him?
Ariana felt herself blush. Neither. She cleared her throat. Let’s find somewhere safe to rest for the night.
Katherine giggled, which made Ariana blush even more. If you are not that worried about it, my friend, why are you blushing?
Ariana stopped in her tracks, abruptly turning left and disappearing into an alleyway between two abandoned buildings. Once finding a milk crate to sit on, she surveyed the area with her Empathy. Sure enough, the only living things around were a family of rats.
She conjured a small ball of light to hover just over her shoulder. It gave her enough light in the dark alley to see. Quickly, she reached into her pack and pulled out her new journal notebook and her favorite unicorn pen.
Opening it up to the first page, she wrote:
I bought you to chronicle my life, from beginning to end and all that is in between.
My name is Ariana Moon…
From there, she wrote her story, being certain to add everything her heart told her. She wrote about Aaron and Aimee, Derrick, Shannon, Shadow and Aluna the most. Toward the end of her first entry, she added a short message to her daughter:
Though Destiny has parted us, it will again reunite us. Only then will we be a family. Until then, I make it my solemn vow to search the ends of this Realm for you.
Ariana yawned, and closed the journal. She had just enough energy left in her to put it away, extinguish the tiny light and make herself comfortable in an empty box behind a dumpster. Sleep finally claimed her.
The rustling in the bushes met her at the Garden gate once she called the spell. She froze in her spot, her heart beating a mile a minute.
Was it one of Sabrina’s Dominionites, finally come to abduct her?
One hand on her Dragon’s Claw, she raced to the nearest hiding place in the hedges and scanned the area. Her fingers twitched on the Claw, waiting for the attack to come. She sensed four figures coming around the corner; each cloaked from her Empathic probes.
She frowned, grabbing the Claw firmly in her hand.
First the young man in the mall and now this? What is going on? Are my sensors on the fritz or something?
She poised herself to attack the three figures coming at her. While her attention was fully on her oncoming attackers, she didn’t hear or sense when an arm came from the bushes to wrap itself around her waist, pinning her arms to her sides. Another arm reached out to clamp over her mouth. The way her attacker held her, she couldn’t move to unsheathe the Claw.
“You’re dead.” A familiar male voice whispered in her ear.
Ariana relaxed, suddenly realizing what happened. She’d been tricked by her own Earthly Protector.
The male released her, kissing her lips when she turned to meet him.
“What was that all about?” Ariana asked, shoving him backward onto a boulder. “You know better than to do that to me!”
Derrick only laughed. “I’m sorry, Love. I just couldn’t resist.”
“Besides,” another male voice she recognized as Shadow echoed as he came out of the darkness. “You needed training.”
“Training?!” Ariana gasped, eyes turning colors. She was angry, reaching for the Guardian’s Blade on her back and pointing it at him. She left the magic untapped. “You call him coming from behind and nearly scaring me out of my wits training?”
Shadow put his hands up in surrender and Aluna in her indigo-colored Grand Magus robes appeared in front of him.
“Attack him and I attack you back, sister.” Aluna wasn’t happy as she pointed her wand in Ariana’s direction.
With a huff at being tricked by the three of them, she sheathed her sword and sat beside Derrick on the boulder. Aluna put her wand away and joined them.
“What are you three doing here, anyway?” Ariana asked after a moment.
“For one, I’m your Earthly Protector and your partner.” Derrick wrapped an arm around her.
“For another, I’m your twin.” Aluna responded. “The four of us are a team.”
Ariana smiled. “The only thing that would make this any weirder would be if Aaron and Aimee showed up.”
“Well, we would have the six in your future-dreams.” Aluna grinned, shrugging. “Perhaps we’ll find our seventh member soon?”
“I am unsure, but I think I already have.” Ariana told them about her day, including the strange incident with the young man named Mark. “He does bear an uncanny resemblance to the gray-eyed shadow man in my future-dreams. I thought I met him today; though, I cannot be sure until I have more contact with him, or I have another future-dream.”
“That explains everything.” Aluna huffed sarcastically. “Meanwhile, let’s patrol.”
“Derrick and I will patrol, sister.” Ariana grinned, standing. “After all, I am still the Young Guardian.”
Aluna shook her head and smiled back. “I’m serious. Why patrol alone when you have your own personal band of Crusaders to help?”
Shadow wrapped an arm around Ariana’s shoulders. “Besides, neither of us needs to be alone right now; don’t you agree?”
Ariana grinned and disappeared out of sight, happy they hadn’t totally deserted her. She reappeared in midair, silvery-white wings keeping her afloat above him. She stuck her tongue out at them.
Derrick and Aluna were amazed at the sight while she shared a knowing smile with Shadow.
“How’d you do that?” Aluna asked, staring at her.
“You are the Grand Magus; you tell me.” Ariana laughed, flying toward the Mystic’s Palace.
Once they were finished with patrolling, fighting off any Dominionites that came along, they returned to the Garden. Katherine met them at the Gate. The Companion looked sad and worried, her attention far from helping Ariana with her magical studies.
“What’s wrong, Kat?” Shadow was the one to ask.
Katherine looked at him. “I miss Wolf,” she purred, twirling a clump of hair in her long feline claws.
“I am sure he’s around here somewhere.” Derrick smiled, patting her shoulder.
Ariana closed her eyes and touched her Dream Locket, trying to sense their Timberwolf Companion friend. After a moment, she frowned, shaking her head. “He shares your fate, my friend,” Ariana gasped, opening her eyes to face Katherine. “The Master has Banished him to the Outer Realm.”
“What did he do to deserve such a punishment?” Katherine wondered. “You do not suppose Uncle found out who healed him years ago?”
“It would explain his absence, but no.” Ariana told her, looking to her twin and their Protectors. “He was Banished as a traitor.”
“Hold up.” Aluna held her head, confused. “Is – was – this Wolf a Dominionite Warrior?”
“Aye and nay,” Katherine replied. “He started out as a Companion cub, taken from his parents and home like every other at the time. Control over his mind and Companion magic was taken from him before he was trained as a Dominionite Warrior. Recently, he and a few other Warriors began to see exactly what was being done as their magic and souls returned to their control.”
“According to Tobias, a jungle tiger Companion who was also a fellow Warrior, Wolf was leading them in a rebellion against the Master and his Armies.” Ariana explained. “I have not seen the Rebels for so long, I thought the cause was lost.”
“It almost was.” Katherine supplied. “The twins were helping when they could escape. Now that they are in their own home, they feel safe enough to learn what they can and ready themselves for battle.”
Just the thought of Aaron made Ariana’s heart beat, her left hand fingering the Blood Pact scar on her right arm. If only she could see him again! The six of them just might be able to stop Orthos’ destruction sooner.
“I know what you are thinking, but it is not yet time.” Katherine supplied softly.
Ariana sighed. “You are right, my friend. It would complicate matters if we reunited now.”
“Focus on your magical studies if you can’t meet up with them, yet.” Shadow told her. “The four of us will meet you here in the Garden each night after our patrols.”
“My patrols, Shadow.” Ariana teased with a straight face.
Aluna spoke up. “We’re your team of Crusaders; where you go, we go.”
“So, when you patrol, we’ll be there with you, fighting Dominionites and helping Dreamers.” Derrick wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed the nape of her neck. “That’s what we’re here for.”
“It’s our job as Crusaders, as your friends Ariana.” Shadow was serious. “Let us do our jobs and help you out.”
Ariana felt as if a huge weight had been lifted. She had a good feeling about ‘her personal band of Crusaders,’ and hoped that one day, the twins would join them. With the twins, Derrick, Aluna, Shadow and Katherine by her side, she felt nearly-indestructible.
“Thanks, guys. I just wish we could be together in the Outer Realm.”
“Dreams are all we have for now, love.” Derrick squeezed her from behind. “Be grateful we have them.”
“Believe me – I am.” Ariana whispered.
She awoke from the dream, wiping a sad tear from her eye.
You will see them again, my friend. Katherine comforted her.
I know I will; I just wish, you know?
Katherine purred. Careful what you wish for.
Aye, aye. Ariana sat up from her makeshift bed and gathered her pack. I just might get it.
In your case, you will get it. Katherine joked. It made Ariana smile.
She headed to the nearest restaurant to quickly wash up and change clothes before buying herself breakfast.
You do not suppose I will meet up with that boy from last night, do you? Ariana asked as she ate.
You never know. Katherine told her. If he is the seventh one in your future-dreams, you will, but if he is not, it was good to meet a kind face your first day in a strange city.
He was more than kind, my friend. Ariana responded. There was something about him that was a little – off. You were there; it was as if my Empathy was bounced off a barrier in his mind and returned to me.
Yet the moment you met eyes, that barrier was removed? Katherine guessed.
Right. Ariana sighed, mentally shrugging. No use dwelling over it now. We will let Destiny decide if we meet up again.
She paid for her meal and left, mind deep in thought as her body wandered the streets. She closed her Empathy to street vagrants; their emotions more than overwhelmed her.
Not even Katherine sensed someone coming behind her. She only heard a rough male voice whisper “Now!” as the bat made contact with her skull.
She dropped to her knees, the world around her going dark.
Return of Madam Pain
She found herself floating in midair, her midsection tugged by a long, silver-glowing string like a balloon. That string was attached to her body below her.
What was going on? Was she dead, her spirit waiting to move on?
She heard a tinkling voice over her shoulder. “Not yet, A’isha,” It was the voice of her Goddess-Sister, Brigid. “What you are doing is simple astral projection.”
Ariana turned at the statement and stared. “Astral Projection?”
Brigid nodded, smiling. “O’Dell and the Mystics call the split either an advanced form of their Magic or an Invisibite.”
“Can anyone hear or see my body in this form?” Ariana asked, watching below. Her physical body was tied with hands behind her back and a gag over her mouth.
“Being you are in two different places at once, no.” Brigid answered. Before Ariana could ask what an Invisibite was, the Goddess responded. “The magic in your soul and your physical body are split in two. Since they are both in the same Realm, O’Dell would call it Astral Projecting. If you were in two different Realms; say, if you were stuck in Magical form in the Abyss while your Physical form was still here, you would be called an Invisibite.”
Ariana shook her head, the information whirling in her mind.
The Goddess chuckled. “I know; it is a lot for you to digest, but the more you do it, the more you will understand.” She pointed down to Ariana’s body, which was being driven away in a van. “Watch and learn for yourself.”
“How will I get back to my body?” Ariana asked.
“Float back to it, close your eyes, and hold on tight.” Brigid winked before disappearing.
Beneath the Silver Moon
A Draconian Heritage Short-Story
Lady Adellandra Dratianos
Lord Emperor of the Dragon Nations, Draconis Dratianos, doesn’t know what to do about his daughter Ravena. She broods in the Wood in her Demon-Wolf form, depressed and sad. He’s tried talking to her, but she’s not responding. He goes to his mate for advice and believes it’s finally time to tell them both the painful truth.
Between her lives of being Lady Adellandra and the Ancient Mystic Ariana, she was reborn as the Moon Goddess and Queen of the Illunae, Silver Moon Cobrianos. Silver was his lover that taught him how to love again, staying with him to produce two children: Ravena and the now-missing Prince of the Illunian Throne, Andros.
Once Draconis tells them the truth, Lady Adellandra starts acting like a detective once again, searching for answers of the Illunae’s History. She takes Ravena with her, not only to learn answers for herself and spend time with the girl, but to see if being with Ravena will trigger memories.
Before long, Andros is found in the Outer Realm by the Apprentice-kin Daniel and his Bondmate, the Ancient Mystic Dweller-kin cousin Simone Martiya. Daniel explains he was pulled to the Forest Region of the Northlands. Sensing an injured Immortal soul, Simone and Daniel both race to find a Dragon-winged panther downed by a storm, unconscious and glowing bright yellow. When Lady Adellandra tries to heal him, the vision of who he is and what happened to him flashes in her mind.
From being a Panther-Drake raised by the surrounding Panther Tribes to the ritual of his own coming-of-age that caused a storm that nearly destroyed him, Andros, named Skethn’rae by his tribe, must regain his sanity and control his wild magic. Feeling the kinship between them, Lady Adellandra enlists the help of Ravena and Draconis to help him, for he must do so before he can ever fully become a true Prince of the Dragon Nations.
Chapter One: The Journey Begins
Chapter Two: A Curious Find
Chapter Three: A Dragon’s Heart
Chapter Four: Castle Illuminata
Chapter Five: Silver’s Reunions
Lord Emperor’s Secret
Lord Draconis Dratianos, Emperor of the Dragon Nations and Guardian of the Mystic Realms watched his younger brother Dranus as he soaked in the freesia-scented bathwater. He sensed his Branno had a disturbing dream the night before, and it was apparent he had to do something about it.
Especially since his early-morning visitor interrupted his own sleep just hours ago.
Dranus growled lowly once he sensed his presence. “What do you wish, Drake? Can you not see I’m bathing?”
Draconis hovered over him, asking in a worried tone. “Dreams of the Illunae again?”
Dranus nodded, raising himself out of the water and grabbing a nearby towel to dry off. “They’re returning, brother.”
Draconis pasted on a smile. “They never left.”
Dranus growled under his breath, leaving to dry and suit up in his best Training Armor. Draconis took a seat on the armchair and waited in silent thought.
“My question is, why are they so intense?” Dranus asked as soon as he was finished.
Draconis was patient. “That is what I want to know. What was the latest?”
Dranus shared his dream. “Ichiane; only, we couldn’t reach each other. It was like something swallowed her in mist and took her away.”
“That only confirms my fears.” Draconis mumbled, standing. He led them out Dranus’ chamber door and to the Throne room. Their younger sister, Dranus’ twin Alexia, was at her post next to an empty Empress’ Throne.
“What do you fear?” Dranus asked. “And where is Adellandra?”
“She had last-minute business in the Mortal Realm, so I let her rest.” Draconis told him. “No; I have it on good word the Illunae are under a social upheaval.”
“Will we be leaving for the Illunae then?”
Draconis sat in his Throne and Dranus took his post to his right.
“There is something else on my mind first.” Draconis stated. “Silver Moon will be needed to help repair the damage there.”
Dranus blinked, unknowing of what to say. He turned and curtly nodded to his sister as he took his place behind Draconis’ Throne. After a moment, Draconis felt a tap on his shoulder.
“Zinc Cobrianos was here and you did not summon me?”
Zinc was the Arch Druid Priest in the Realm of the Illunae, a teacher of their religions and the youngest Prince of the Cobrianos family.
Draconis spoke without turning. “I apologize, Branno. I thought you hated him.” He turned his head to Alexia and cleared his throat. “Go wake Adellandra, please.”
Alexia was startled, but nodded, “Yes, m’Lord.” She quickly bowed and rushed away.
Draconis looked to the courtyard clock tower just outside of the Throne Room. “We still have time before Court. I’ll explain the best I can.”
He stood and headed out and Dranus followed. Once they were outside and walking the trail, he spoke up. “Copper has gone mad and Ginia is at her wits’ end, all while being several months pregnant with their third attempt at producing an Heir.”
Copper was the Priest-Lord leader of the Illunian Realm, oldest Cobrianos son and Zinc’s brother while Ginia was Copper’s Priestess-Consort and mate.
“You mean, after all this time, the High Priest and Priestess haven’t borne any children to succeed them?” Dranus was shocked.
Draconis shook his head sadly. “Zinc tells me Copper believes the Goddess has deserted them. The Castle is in near-ruins, people are poor and suffering, believing whatever Copper tells them, and Zinc is at a loss for solutions.”
“How is Ginia holding up under the pressure?” Dranus asked.
“She has lost two children to stress and miscarriage.” Draconis explained. “She was the Princess of Valona; she knows nothing about ruling on her own, for she was never taught.”
“Valona itself being a small Kingdom and still new to the Illunae treaty, so she never needed to be,” Dranus added, his brother nodding. “Why did Zinc come to Mal’estar?”
“Hoping to find me,” Draconis smiled, stopping in his tracks. “You see, I made quite an impression on him, so he asked the Goddess to give him a vision of where I was.”
Draconis looked down, sighed and continued on the path. After a few steps, he stopped again, and pointed ahead of him. Dranus looked to see his niece Ravena in her Demon-Wolf form sitting quietly in the Garden. He nodded, knowing his place, and disappeared into the trees to keep watch as his brother spoke to the young woman.
“Kana, why do you brood around the Castle grounds?” Draconis asked her, walking up to her in his own Demi-form of Half-dragon, half-Immortal.
“There is naught for me to do, Dratyr.” Ravena supplied, playing with a flower she’d picked from the Garden.
“Did your Matéré not give you duties?” Draconis asked.
“Not much to do when the children are full-grown.” Ravena supplied. “Adrian has disappeared with Harmony, Arianna flits around the Outer Realm with Melody and Adora, Theo is off brooding somewhere, Andrew and Mark-Antony have their separate lessons, and the maidens treat me with such respect, they never let me help them!”
Draconis took a seat next to her. “What about mentoring the Young ones?”
“What do I know of mentoring, Dratyr?” Ravena gave him a look that said ‘you’re crazy.’ “I’m useless and you know it.”
“I would say not.” Draconis supplied.
I wish you patience, Bratton. He heard Dranus’ voice in his mind. She’s changed since returning to you; you’d do well to remember that.
Only you would be so bold as to tell the Emperor of the Nations what to do. Draconis sent back with a sigh, returning his attention to his daughter’s Demon-Wolf form.
“I give up.” He stood. “Your behavior is unbecoming of a Priestess of the Moon, Ravena Dratianos. Even Tristan found his niche when the Mystic’s Elemental Towers were destroyed. I want you to either find something to do, or I will find a hard task for you myself.”
Ravena looked to her lap, gulping. “Aye, Dratyr.” She stood and flew off.
“That is one child I am glad is not my own.” Dranus responded from the shadows. “There’s always been something different about her; I just haven’t figured out what.”
“I’ve noticed that, too, Branno.” Draconis sighed. “But what am I to do about it? She does nothing but brood around here as if the past will return to destroy her, and she wants to be destroyed. I don’t understand.” The brothers headed back to the castle. “Do I not give her whatever she wishes? Is she not happy here in Mal’estar and the Nations? I don’t know what happened to her, but it changed her.”
Dranus thought for a moment, staring into space. “Maybe she needs her mother?”
“Adellandra tried talking to her, but it does no good.”
Dranus stopped and shook his head. “Bratton, I mean her real mother, Silver Moon.”
“She has Silver Moon – in Adellandra.”
“What she sees is Lady Adellandra, the DragonWolf.” Dranus pointed out. “Does either know the truth about themselves? How Silver Moon was another incarnation of Adellandra who bore Ravena and Andros?”
Sadly, Draconis shook his head and sighed. “I think it’s time to tell them. We don’t have much of it left.”
Dranus nodded and agreed.
It was later that morning Draconis was able to tell Adellandra the long-kept secret about herself and Ravena. Adellandra was reading over her notes on another Volume of the Chronicles, a series of collected stories and information she prided in gathering from the Inner Realms.
Draconis took a deep breath and supplied. “Darling.”
Her thoughts were only half on him, he could tell. She was reading and writing furiously, shifting through pages and muttering under her breath in Wolf-Speak and Draconian. While he smiled at her determination, he took the papers away from her and received a scowl in return.
“Drake!” She cried, using his Earthbound name as she stood and tried to take them back. She scowled at him, hands on her hips when he made them disappear. “I was working on those!”
“I know, but it’s unimportant right now.”
“How could you say our family histories are unimportant?” Adellandra folded her arms.
“They aren’t, lanta, but I have something to tell you.” Draconis took a deep breath and looked her in the eye, watching her reaction.
“I am listening.” Her voice flattened and her lips pursed.
“Ravena is your daughter.”
“I know she is,” Adellandra said, nodding and uncrossing her arms. “She may be my kanata but she’s still my daughter. Just like my children with Karrath and the Unicorn are yours as well.”
Draconis shook his head. “No, I mean Ravena is your birth daughter.”
“Birth daughter?” Adellandra stared at him, skeptic. “How do you figure? All I know is that I slept for two-hundred years and woke as an Ancient Mystic child. How do you suppose I was to have her while I was sleeping?”
“You didn’t.” Draconis supplied simply.
“I did not what?”
“Sleep for two-hundred years.” Draconis told her.
She was staring at him suspiciously. “Explain.”
“Your soul was reborn not long after the Fall ended. Dranus and I were frantic to find you, so you could bring back the light to my dark soul. On the way, I met with the Lady-Priestess of the Illunae, Silver Moon Cobrianos.”
“Cobrianos?” Adellandra asked. “Was that not Locarra’s maiden name?”
Draconis shook his head. “Mutyr’s maiden name was Ophagus-Hannah. It’s true the two families knew each other, the Ophagus-Hannahs were Priestesses of the Moon Goddess, also named Silver Moon. Silver Moon was the Head-Priestess and the next in line for the Illunian Throne.”
“Supposedly, I am this Silver Moon?” Adellandra asked, curious. He nodded. “Why did you not share those memories with me when we first reunited?”
Draconis shrugged. “They were unimportant at the time, for we were living in peace.”
“Okay, so I am Silver Moon Cobrianos.” Adellandra surmised, believing him. “How did I get back to the Hutch-Cave to be found by Chase Moondancer for Lord O’Dell?”
“Toward the end of our courtship, and your life, you felt a pull to that Hutch-Cave.” Draconis replied. “I knew it was futile to stop you from leaving, so I let you go.”
She was silent for a moment, thinking over his words. One question prevailed in her mind. “Were we happy?”
“Blissfully, but the Visions were racking your brain then as well.” Draconis held her, kissing her lips. “When Ravena was seven summers, your Gramere Serenade of the Wolf Packs came to see you. Now, I don’t know what happened after she left, but you weren’t the same.”
“Sounding awfully familiar.” Adellandra remarked softly.
“It was your destiny, lanta.” Draconis supplied, caressing her cheek. “Just as it was mine to lose you once again.”
Adellandra looked at him and waited. “There is more; I can sense it.”
“Ravena has an older brother named Andros.” Draconis supplied. “He went mad one day before his tenth summer and disappeared. No one has seen him since.”
Adellandra was in shock, staring into space now. She abruptly stood and announced. “I must find out what happened to him, and fill in the blanks of my memory.” She looked at him. “I will take Ravena with me. Maybe being with her will trigger some memories?”
“Maybe.” He supplied. “Do you even know where the Illunian Realm is?”
She shook her head, looking into his eyes and practically begging. “Can you show me what I am looking for and how to get to it?”
She was excited and he smiled at her enthusiasm. Trust his mate to jump at the thought of another adventure to a Realm she never visited before. “Kiss me.”
Adellandra smiled back, kissing him. When the kiss ended, she nodded her head. “Kateea, darling. I will tell Ravena we are to leave in the morning.”
“You can’t let anyone in the Outer Realm know what you’re up to.” Draconis warned. “Mortals can’t handle us, let alone Priestesses of another Realm they know nothing about.”
“No need to worry about me, lover.” Adellandra touched his nose with a claw. “I have been at this for a long time now. I think I know how to handle myself this late in the game.”
Draconis shook his head and chuckled. “Very well. You tell Ravena, and then join me for a hot bath before we have to Crusade.”
Adellandra grinned. “‘Bout time you use that word.” She supplied, teasing him. “Sounds a lot better than Jumping the Realms or Hopping, aye?”
“Since that’s basically what we’re doing when we Rest here and wake up there.” Draconis shrugged. “Based on your definition of it, of course.”
“Of course.” Adellandra quickly kissed him and was on her way.
Don’t tell her the truth yet, dearest. Draconis sent to her mind a few minutes later. Let her find out on her own.
No problem; I will treat it like an investigation. Adellandra said. The way she broods around here, she acts bored out of her skull.
You’ve noticed that as well? Draconis asked with a light chuckle. Sounds like a plan to me, fridishda. Just keep me informed.
As usual, I will. No need to worry about that.
At the last thought, she closed the mental conversation.
Adellandra found her daughter Ravena in the Garden, where she usually was about this time of day.
“Ravena,” She tried getting her attention.
“Aye, Matéré?” She asked. Her voice sounded cross. “Come to give me something to do? Dratyr snapped at me earlier, did you know that?”
Adellandra saw the girl’s usually dark eyes turning indigo and glowing. “No.” She replied, watching those eyes. “I did not come to give you some chore to do.”
“That’s good.” Ravena returned to what she was doing. “Why have you come? Another lecture?”
Adellandra sighed. “No, Ravena. Not a lecture. We will be leaving on a quest tomorrow morning.”
“We?” Ravena asked, “As in?”
“As in you and I.” Adellandra supplied. “We are going to investigate a crisis in the Illunian Realm, or at least its House, Illuminata.”
The girl looked interested, once hearing ‘Illuminata’.
“Why me?” Ravena asked.
Adellandra put a hand on Ravena’s shoulder, silently reminding herself to keep her temper. “I want to spend some quality time with you. I know we have not done a lot of it lately, with me in two Realms. I just thought I could make it up to you by bringing you along.”
“You want me to tag along?” Ravena looked interested, her dark eyes now bright with curiosity.
Adellandra smiled. Ravena was softening. She wanted something to do outside of Mal’estar’s gates, and Adellandra thought this the perfect opportunity.
“Exactly.” She hugged her kanata tight. “Listen sweetheart, get some sleep tonight and pack in the morning. I will come to you when it’s time to go, okay? It’s going to be a long journey to the Illunian Realm.”
Ravena nodded. “I love you, Matéré.”
“I love you, too, Ravena.”
She couldn’t get it out of her mind. Draconis’ revelation stirred her detective’s curiosity. So much, she had to know more about her previous incarnation as Silver Moon Cobrianos before she left in the morning.
It was early afternoon, usually a time for them to act as Monarchs of the Realms and speak to their Peoples. Once seeing she was inattentive, Draconis had excused her to investigate, replacing her with both their Monarch’s Own Elspeth and their kano Kronin.
Three hours of searching the combined Draconian and Ancient Mystic Libraries was a bust. There was nothing about Silver Moon Cobrianos or the Illunae, short of the Illunian Realms’ inception as one of the Thirteen Original Draconian Colonies brought on by Ishanar.
Giving up, she slammed the book shut with a loud sigh and shoved it back in its place on the shelves. After closing the Library door behind her, she tried sensing her mate. His mind was closed to her, which meant he was in conference and needed to concentrate.
Adellandra rushed the long corridor to the Conference Room, meeting her Branno Dranus as he was closing the door behind him.
“Where is he?”
“With Demarian.” Dranus told her. “You do not want to go in there right now, my Lady.”
“Ugh.” She stuck out her tongue, never really liking the Demon King’s personality. “Sorry, but no.”
“What did you need him for?”
“I was hoping he would be able to tell me more of the Illunian Realm’s history, so I know what I am up against.” She grinned, turning and heading away from the Conference Room.
“Perhaps I can answer your questions, Brattonata?” Dranus suggested, following her back to the living quarters. “After all, I was there with him.”
She stopped in her tracks and hugged him. “Great! I need to know whatever you do before I leave in the morning.”
“Well, that knowledge would fill more than a library of volumes in your Chronicles.” Dranus said seriously, but smiled.
“Oh, you!” Adellandra lightly punched him, to which he playfully winced and rubbed his arm, pouting. It made her giggle.
“I try.” Dranus kept his grin.
After a few moments of silence, Adellandra asked first. “Who was she?”
Dranus looked at her. “She was a beautiful maiden who was chosen to be the Goddess’ Avatar. Silver hair the maidens always put in numerous luxurious braids down her back, silver matching eyes that twinkled in both the day and night, and a heart of gold that rivals your own.”
Adellandra sighed. “That only tells me what she looks like, Branno.” She said. “I guess I will soon find out.”
Dranus smiled at her. “Not soon enough, I gather?”
Adellandra smiled again. “Stay out of my head!” She laughed.
“A man could get lost in there.” Dranus kidded back, frowning after a moment of silence.
She stopped them in her tracks once her Empathy told her he was depressed.
“Dranus,” Adellandra kissed his cheek and placed a hand over the spot. It made him look at her. “Whatever is on your mind, I promise; it will be okay.”
He took her hand and kissed the top of it in response. “Of course, m’Lady.” He released it, forcing a smile. “Time will tell, now will it not?”
Glad he was feeling a little better, Adellandra winked and ran ahead of him toward the outside courtyard.
The Journey Begins
The next morning, fully rested from the Outer Realm life, Adellandra awoke to find herself still wrapped in her beloved’s arms; only, they had returned to wings.
She smiled, turning to meet his closed eyes. He snuggled her closer, murmuring in a lilt that sounded a lot like a mixture of Draconian and Ancient Wolf-Speak. She tried to translate, but couldn’t; the dialect was too thick, even for his half-asleep tongue.
She looked over his shoulder to her fey-bound mate, Elspeth. The dragon-maiden was smiling at them with sleepy reptilian black eyes.
Adellandra raised her own claws to his face and traced the line of his cheek, purring. “Fridishda…”
At the word, his eyes slowly blinked open. When they met hers, he smiled, kissing her lips. “Mina!” He whispered, snuggling her closer to his body.
“Aye, I am yours.” Adellandra whispered, sharing a smile with Elspeth, who gently traced his earlobe with her forked tongue. It caused Draconis to roll over and grab her. “As much I love playing this game every morning, I must part.”
Draconis’ eyes were wide open now, and he was scowling. She was used to his grouchiness first thing in the mornings. He wrapped the other arm around her and mumbled, “Where do you think you’re going, Adellandra?”
“I will be taking Ravena to the Illunian Realm, dearest.” Adellandra stayed calm. She closed her eyes and turned to mist as a way of escaping his embrace. She solidified beside him, just out of reach.
Draconis’ yawn sounded like a low roar, which always made her smile. “Must you go now?” He asked, reaching for her as he pulled Elspeth close to his body so he could kiss her.
“I promised her, and myself, we would leave first thing in the morning.” Adellandra responded, going to their wardrobe and packing supplies in a rough sack. “Since you told me about another incarnation of mine, I have had an urge to find out the truth.”
“You already know the truth.” Draconis supplied, releasing Elspeth as he sat up and stretched. Elspeth headed to the bathroom and he continued. “I told you yesterday.”
“Aye, I know you did.” Adellandra said.
“You just want another history for the Chronicles.” Draconis teased, pulling the covers from his naked form and going to her.
Adellandra smiled, shrugging. “So be it.”
Elspeth back out to embrace them. “Must you bicker so early in the morning?”
“We’re not bickering, lovey.” Draconis kissed her lips.
“Liar,” Elspeth purred with a grin, kissing Adellandra now. “The bath is ready for you.”
“Morning to you, too, sit’ca,” Adellandra purred, using the Ancient Wolf-Speak word for female lover. “Go see if Ravena is awake, pleska? Once she is ready, both of you will meet me in the Garden. We will leave from there.”
“My pleasure, Lady-love.” Elspeth kissed her before quickly dressing and leaving.
Once their Monarch’s Own was gone, Adellandra stripped and headed to the bath. Draconis followed. When they were clean and dry, she dressed in her Fighter’s Gear and packed her weapons in their places on her belt. She shifted to her Immortal form and threw a black velvet cloak around her shoulders, pinning it on her neck with the Dream Amulet she was given by Lord O’Dell many years ago.
Draconis whistled, standing to wrap his wings around her. “Can’t I have my way with you one more time, mia lanta? Something about that form makes me hard as a rock.”
“You already had your way with me in the bath!” Adellandra purred, turning to give him a kiss. She halfheartedly pushed him away. He didn’t budge. “I really must go, fridishda.”
He rubbed himself against her stomach, pretending to pout.
Feeling the wetness between her legs and heat rising in her body, she knew she couldn’t resist him. “Oh Havens.” She breathed, wrapping her arms around his thick Demi-dragon neck. “I will send word to Ravena that we leave in two hours.”
“I knew you’d see it my way,” he playfully growled, picking her up and placing her on the bed.
Ravena Dratianos had been awake for hours, wondering why her stepmother would need her help.
Sure, an investigation to the Illunian Realm. That, I understand. What I don’t understand is why me? I am nobody special; just Dratyr’s daughter. Until Matéré said the word ‘Illuminata,’ I didn’t even remember who I was. Now I can’t stop thinking about the Illunae; once my home, now my bane.
Ravena sat up in her Immortal form, wrapping her arms around her legs and sighing. I guess we’ll soon find out. It is morning and I have to get ready, or Elspeth will come in here and wake me.
I hate it when she does that; she’s so rough.
Ravena shook her head and climbed out of her nest of blankets, leaving it messy behind her. She shifted to her Demon Wolf form and began to pack her own bag of supplies.
What would we need for such a long journey? Ravena asked herself. I haven’t been there in at least a century, and I’m pretty sure Matéré never has.
There was a knock on the door just as she zipped her bag closed.
Ravena groaned to herself. Great. Lady Elspeth.
“My Lady wishes your attendance, Princess.” Elspeth continued from the other side of the door.
“Yes, Lady Elspeth.” Ravena spoke up. She threw her bag over her shoulder and opened the door. “I am awake and ready to leave.”
Her eyes met those of Elspeth’s own dragon-maiden form; long black hair twisted in a braided bun and held together by a silver coronet that noted her rank of Monarch’s Own. Small dragon’s wings were folded at her back and a whip-like tail moved behind her.
“My Lady wishes you hurry.” Elspeth announced. “There is much to do and not much time in which to do it.”
Ravena rolled her eyes and shoved past her. “Where is she?”
“She awaits you in the Garden.” Elspeth told her. “I have been instructed to escort you there.”
Ravena stopped in her tracks and growled. “I am grown and need no escort.”
“Mind your manners, Princess.” Elspeth stated regally.
“Cut the act, Elspeth.” Ravena spat, frowning. “I’m well aware of your fey-binding Matéré and being their Monarch’s Own. You don’t need to treat me as if I were a child.”
Elspeth’s smile faded and a frown took its place. “Our Binding has nothing to do with you, Ravena. If you wish to be treated like an adult, I suggest you act like one.”
Ravena blinked, wishing to retaliate, but it was too late. With a nod of the head, Elspeth disappeared, taking Ravena along for the ride.
When they reappeared, Ravena opened her eyes to see her Matéré frowning at her in impatience.
“So glad you could join me, Ravena.” The Lady responded. She turned to her fey-bound mate Elspeth. “Will you join me or stay?”
Elspeth grinned, looking from the Lady to Ravena and back. “I believe I will join you. Based on what the Lord has told me of your journey, it should be quite an interesting trip.”
“By all means, let us begin.” Lady Adellandra grinned back.
Ravena shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes. Great. I’m going to be stuck with the fey-birds. Just perfect.
“How do you know where you’re going, Matéré?” Ravena asked aloud an hour into their journey.
“Your Dratyr showed me the way using his memories.” Adellandra replied.
“Would you care to share them with me, just in case we are separated?” Ravena asked. And I just ‘happen’ to ‘wander off’ on my own?
“That will not be necessary, Ravena.” Lady Adellandra caught the thought and its silent hint. “You will not wander on your own, will you?”
Ravena huffed and mumbled. “Nay, Matéré.”
“Be respectful, Kanata.” Elspeth warned her with a frown.
“I am not your Kanata, dragon-maiden.” Ravena scowled. “You will remember your place.”
Lady Adellandra heard the comment and took Ravena’s arm, glaring into her eyes with anger in her own silver-colored eyes. “Her place is by my our side,” meaning herself and Draconis. “You will remember your place as my kanata and keep your mouth still of further comments. Is that understood?”
Ravena gulped but kept the defiance in her eyes. “Aye, Mutyr.”
Lady Adellandra released her. “Very well. Let’s continue.”
A Curious Find
The Apprentice-kin Dweller Daniel, second-man to the Dweller-kin leader Ramon, followed behind his Bondmate, Ramon’s daughter Simone. They were on her first Hunt in the Outer Realm in two decades. Deep in the forests of the European country of Scotland, Simone flew in her favorite shifting form, that of the black falcon. Daniel flew paces behind her.
Simone quickly descended to the ground, shifting back to her Immortal Dweller form when her feet touched the soft grass.
“Something is not right here.” Simone stated, taking a fallen tree branch in her hands and looking it over.
Daniel was at her side in moments. He took it from her hand. “I agree; it looks unnaturally charred.”
“A burn that unnatural can only be made by one source.” Simone eyed him. “Magic. By what magic, though? It does not smell, look, or even feel like that of the Mystics or anything this Realm has seen before.”
“Something must have come through one of the nearby Realm Portals.” Daniel agreed. “Can you sense it from here?”
“The Realm Portal?” Simone asked. Daniel nodded and she stood. Closing her eyes, she reached her sensors outward to search the area. “There is one near Stonehenge, but it has been distorted by the same magic that burned our fallen tree branch.”
She opened her eyes and frowned. “Can you sense anything I cannot?”
Daniel walked around the area, his attentions toward the forest. Once he stopped, she went to his side.
“Do you sense that? In the east?”
Daniel only nodded. “That I do. It is the same strange magic, and the smell is leading somewhere.” He took her hand. “I fear I know nothing of this magic, so say you will stay close, Simone?”
Simone nodded. “Gladly, Beloved.”
Daniel took the chance to kiss her lips. “Let us be on our way.”
Simone nodded, smiled and followed where he led.
The magic trail led them to a hidden area of the forest that was wet, as if attacked from a storm.
“That’s peculiar.” Simone responded. “It would seem the rainfall only effected a circular area.” She turned to her Bondmate. “Certainly an act of magic.”
“Weather Magic?” Daniel asked of her. “Do you think?”
“If that were so, would the entire area be surrounded in the effects of the same storm?” Simone asked. “No, I believe this is from one of the Inner Realms. Of which, I could not tell you.”
Daniel thought for a moment before leading her to what seemed to be the center of the damage. Hidden in wet brush and layers of storm damage was a large, breathing mass.
“Simone.” Daniel supplied as he reached to uncover the mass. She raced to his side to help him.
When they had uncovered it completely, Simone gasped.
It was a large black panther, about the size of an Immortal from the Inner Realms and it had mud-covered golden wings wrapping around his body.
“A dragon cat?” Simone whispered, reaching to touch it.
Daniel smacked her hand away and pulled her from the winged-panther’s reach should it awaken. “Whatever it is, it is out of our league.” He told her. “I will Call one of the Monarchs to investigate.”
Simone closed her eyes and frowned. “The Lord is still in Mal’estar and the Lady is on a journey with her stepdaughter.”
“Where is the Lady?”
“On her way to the Illunian Realm.” Simone told him. “Shall I Call her here, using the link made by the Mystics?”
Daniel looked to the dragon winged panther and sighed. “Aye. Let us hope she answers and arrives soon. I do not know how long it has been here, or what else it destroyed in its wake with whatever magic it used.”