Verron Sandervitch hated working the graveyard shift, especially on the night of the full moon. It had been less than two hours since he had arrived at the guard post that stood on the west side of the Atmospheric Purification Unit (APU), and he had already had to deal with three attempted charges against the structure. He stepped back into the guard shack, returning from the latest attempt at trespassing on government property, with a gun that had a half empty clip.
He hadn't wanted to shoot the man that was charging him. They had been friends once, schoolmates. Verron had a respectable job now, it was his job to keep the miscreants away from the machinery that kept the atmosphere pure and the air breathable over the town.
Talor had been in the charge. He had taken for granted the friendship that he had once shared with the young guard would keep him safe. He was furious when Verron had shot him in the leg, and swore loudly until the authorities had come to take him to the incarceration facility.
Verron hoped that the injury would dissuade any other would be trespassers.
Verron was young. At the age of eighteen he was the youngest guard to ever gain the important task of guarding the mammoth structure that kept them all breathing safely inside their city dome. He knew he had gotten the job by the merit of his father who had been a guard here previously, before the accident that had cost him his life. The thought didn't bother the young man as much as the memory of the day he and his sister had gotten the call. Money had been tight after that, their mother had died several years before, and their father was at work a great deal trying to make enough money to keep his small family alive. Many hours of alone time had caused him and his sister to become the best of friends.
He shook his head to clear the thought. And looked into the night sky. The protective bubble gave the moonlight a sickly green tinge. He never saw anything but the green light that he had grown up with. He often wondered what the sky had looked like before the war.
Verron had heard that the planet wasn't always like this. The domes were a somewhat recent addition to the major population centers of Danu, added within the last one hundred years or so. It was said that the air was once pure and breathable outside the cities. Beautiful birds used to soar in the skies. Game animals roamed the plains and mountains. That was all different now. The atmosphere had been destroyed during the Great War. If they had not already had the technology that created the dome and the APUs the planet would be completely unsuitable to support life. There were reports of savage mutant beasts that stalked the perimeter of the city bubbles. It was a well-documented fact that anyone that strayed from within the city bubble never returned. Whether the atmosphere had killed them, or the mutant beasts had made a meal out of them, was never known.
Several hours passed with no new attempts at a run on the facility. Verron smiled. "All looks good, I guess it's time to make sure that the facility is secure." He shook his head. "I don't see why they make us do this. There isn't any way to access the facility other than coming through this gate."
The APU was built in an alcove of a mountain and was surrounded on three sides by sheer cliffs. A high fence with a single gate was the only way that anyone could access the facility. Thus the reason that a single guard was able to keep the building secure.
He was reasonably sure that the rest of the night would be quiet at the gate, so he took his time checking the doors. He came to the first and paused long enough to watch the status lights on the lock panel: Green, Red, Green, Good. Satisfied he moved on to the next door: Green, Red, Green, Good. And so it went on for the next fifteen minutes as he checked all of the doors that lead into the massive structure.
He yawned as he approached the last door. Pausing briefly, he watched the lights. Red, Green, Green, Bad. Not believing what he was seeing, he watched the lights as they ran through the second test: Red, Green, Green, Bad.
Drawing his gun, he placed his hand on the handle to see if the door would open. Just as he was prepared to pull, he paused. He had never actually been inside the facility before. As far as he knew, nobody had. He briefly considered walking away and going for help. He quickly quashed this thought as whomever had been able to get in, would undoubtedly have a way out that he was unaware of. He quickly set his resolve and pulled on the door.
The ease with which the door swung open almost caused him to lose his footing. The sense of unease that had been gradually rising in his chest suddenly jumped into full dread as he realized that he had let someone enter the facility. He silently crept through the open portal to the forbidden room looking for the trespasser.
The interior of the facility was unlike anything he had ever imagined. The massive room was mostly empty. The only thing that occupied the space was a small cluster of shelves that held a number of white boxes. There were passageways on each wall, the door he had come through, and halls that led deeper into the facility extending from the center of each of the other walls. The floor looked to be grey concrete. The ceiling was almost invisible in the gloomy light that filled the room.
Verron moved quickly to the shelves in the middle of the room.
The boxes on the shelves were identical in shape and size with no markings. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of these identical nondescript boxes stacked on the shelves. He didn't think too much about the boxes, he was on a mission. He moved quickly up and down the isles in-between the shelves. Looking for signs of someone's passage through this area. It wasn't until he was pacing the through the last row of shelves. I number of the small boxes had been upset and fallen to the floor. I fine white powder floated in the air above the boxes. Small white foot prints led out of the shelves toward one of the hallways.
As he passed through the white powder, he succumbed to a momentary bout of vertigo. Kneeling down on one knee to keep from falling, he wondered what had caused the strange sensation. As quickly as it had occurred the dizziness passed. Without further delay, he hurried off in the direction the foot prints pointed.
Pausing briefly at the entrance to the hall, he looked to see where the hall would lead him. Dim lights in the ceiling, spaced about three feet apart cast an ethereal glow in the distance. The floor had a noticeable downward slope. Verron guessed that the end of the hall was outside of the walls that enclosed the upper levels. There were no other details worth noting about the hall.
Looking at the floor, he could make out light foot prints heading through the passageway. He could tell that the powder was wearing off the dainty feet, but that didn't matter. He already knew which way the trespasser had gone. Pausing a moment more, he checked again that his gun was indeed loaded, and ready for anything that he may face.
The descent of the floor made the footing slightly more treacherous than he would like, but not so that he would need to go slowly. He was moving at a good pace, and was completely unprepared when the whole world went black. It was as if someone had reached into his mind and switched his eyes and ears off. He quickly fought back the panic that was welling up. He knew what this was. His "friends" had gotten their hands on one a few years back and used it on him then. They were surprised when he had successfully gotten through without getting lost.
Sensory Deprivation Fields (SDF) were funny to those that were using them, but not for those that they were being used on.
He had soundly beaten the ringleader of the group after he had escaped the confines of the field. That was the one time that he had ever instigated a fight. After he had explained the situation, his father hadn't even punished him for it.
As with before, he found that closing his eyes helped. If you knew that you shouldn't be seeing anything, it help you keep calm. He began to hum the lullaby that his mother had often sung to him as a child. Once he was fully prepared, he began to put one foot in front of the other being very aware of the angle of his feet. If you turned even a little bit, you could become lost in one of these black zones forever.
Verron figured it took him about five minutes to get through the SDF. He was almost done with the second refrain of the song when he realized that he could hear the sound. He opened his eyes slowly, afraid that the time he had spent in the field may have caused his eyes to become sensitive to the light. When his eyes were fully open, he turned to see what was behind him. He was slightly unnerved when he could see all the way up to the warehouse.
He was not looking forward to coming back. The knowledge that the trap was there only increased the anxiety. Shaking his head at the thought, he turned back to the task at hand. He moved at a slightly slower pace, the SDF trap had opened his eyes to the predicament he was in. He didn't know what other traps might be waiting to spring on unwary passersby. He was greatly relieved when he reached the room at the end of the hall without further incident.
His relief was to be short lived, however.
The room was empty with a single halo lamp in the center of the ceiling offering the only illumination. The cement walls were scored with deep scars and scrapes. Verron didn't want to meet the creature, or creatures, that caused the marks. There was a door on the far side of the room with an observation window that was about eye level for the tall young man. Raising his gun, he walked over to look through the window.
A thick metal pole extended from ceiling to floor in the center of the room on the other side of the door. A man was chained to this pole. The man would have been handsome, if not for the look of pure terror that distorted his face. The fact that he was a very muscular man was easy to see, due to the fact that the man was completely nude.
The walls in the room were all mirrored, making it impossible to tell exactly how big the room really was. Dark stains that reminded Verron of blood could be seen all over the floor. This room was well lit, making it easy to make out every detail, including the smaller post that rose about three feet off the floor. A large metal ring with a chain secured to it sat atop the smaller pole.
An unseen door in one of the mirrored walls opened, and a man with a sterile white lab coat entered leading a large lion. It was clear that the large cat had been drugged by the glassy look in its eyes. This was probably done to keep the animal docile, or so Verron thought. The man secured the cat to the smaller post with the chain.
"Please," The chained man pleaded with the other. "I can pay you anything that you want."
The man in the lab coat laughed. The laugh caused the hair on the back of Verron's neck to stand on end.
"I assure you, sir, that you could not give me anything that I do not already have." The lab coat man's voice was monotonous as he spoke. "You should be happy. You are about to become part of one of the greatest experiments of all time."
The lab coat man didn't say anything more. He pulled a hypodermic needle from his lab coat and injected its contents into the lion. He then left the same way he had entered.
As the door closed, Verron noticed that the lion was becoming more active. The needle must have contained the antidote to the drug that was keeping it docile. The lion eyed the man that was secured to the larger pole hungrily. It lunged at the man, being stopped just feet from its intended target by the chain. The man just remained silent, watching the cat with terror in his eyes. The lion began to pace back and forth as if trying to figure out how to escape from the chain so it could get to the tender morsel that was set before its eyes.
A thick black mist began to fill the room through holes in the ceiling and the floor. Both man and cat began to scream as if they were both being torn limb from limb. Verron could no longer see either of the occupants in the room, but he thought that their screams were beginning to sound less unique and more uniform to each other. Within minutes the screams were indistinguishable from each other. Through the screams, he thought he could hear the sound of chains being broken, and a battle being waged. He didn't know what it was, but something kept him rooted to the spot.
When the mist cleared, Verron saw a scene that was drawn straight from one of his worst nightmares. Instead of a man and a cat, there were two identical hybrid creatures. They were both semi humanoid in appearance. They walked on two legs, with long arms that ended in massive hands tipped with claws. They had broad muscular chests. The head was that of a golden lion with a shaggy mane. One of them lay dead on the floor with a massive hole in its chest, as the other sat eating a large chunk of what looked like raw meat. Blood dripped from the survivors muzzle, mane, and several deep gashes on its body.
Verron couldn't watch anymore. He turned and ran back up the hall at a dead run. He was so frightened that he did not notice when he ran through the Sensory Deprivation Field. He did not slow down until he reached the warehouse. He couldn't believe what he had just seen. He was sure that he was not supposed to have seen it, so he headed toward the door to leave the nightmare behind him. He was halfway across the large room when he heard it:
"You saw it, didn't you?" It was a distinctly female voice that came from the vicinity of the shelves.
Verron spun around, pointing his gun at the source of the voice. Just as with everything else that he had witnessed since entering this accursed building, he was greatly unprepared for what he saw. It was a woman that stood before him with her hands in the air. She had long white hair, despite the fact that she looked like a young woman. A gold tiara with a single red gem adorned her brow. Her skin had a light tan hue to it, but still seemed pale compared to all of the other girls that he had known. Her blue eyes were filled with terrible knowledge that suggested untold stories of great hardship. Her clothes were a blue denim material adorned with a number of red gems of various sizes. Her top was a low cut tank design with shoulder guards that extended up to protect her neck. Just enough of a tattoo showed on her left breast for him to make out what it was: a gold dagger standing in a vertical manner. Her skirt wrapped around behind her, leaving the front open. A long wide swath of cloth extended down from just below her navel to almost the floor bisecting the frontal opening. The slits on either side was wide enough that he was able to see her legs. She wore cloth boots that matched the rest of her outfit.
Verron had never seen any woman like this before. She was stunningly beautiful. Her body was slender, almost too thin for as tall as she was. He figured that she must have been at least six feet tall. Her face had features that he had never seen on a person before. Her eyes were almond shaped. She had high cheek bones that gave her thin face an almost elongated look to it. Her white eyebrows angled up sharply to point at the tips of her ears. All of her features seemed foreign to him, but none were as strange as her ears themselves. The tops of her ears were longer than they should have been, extended well beyond her temples, and stopped in sharp points.
"You saw the transformation, did you not?" She asked again.
Her voice was as beautiful as she was. So intent was he at examining her, he didn't quite understand what she was saying. It wasn't until she took a step toward him that he snapped out of his trance.
"Freeze!" He yelled. He raised his gun to point at her again. Odd, he didn't even realize that he had lowered it. "I will shoot you if you come any closer."
A sad look crept across her lovely face. "You are so much like your father." The comment was very quiet, almost as if she were speaking to herself.
His trigger finger twitched a little at the mention of his father. "You knew my dad?" He was unhappy that he was unable to keep the quiver out of his voice.
She smiled sadly. "I knew of him."
This was impossible. There was no way that this strange woman knew about his father.
Looking at her, he noticed that she was several steps closer to him now then she had been. He didn't understand how that could be. He had been watching her, and hadn't seen her take any more steps.
"Don't come any closer. I'm warning you." He tried to sound serious, but this whole situation had seriously unnerved him.
Staring straight into his eyes, she took another step toward him.
Whatever spell had been holding him broke the instant she took that step, and his training kicked in. He squeezed the trigger. With a deafening noise, a molten hot projectile made of lead hurtled toward the strange woman.
"FRIEL!" She screamed as soon as he had pulled the trigger.
A new dread crept into Verron's heart as he beheld what had happened in the next instant. The bullet was suspended in midair, motionless. The woman walked calmly to where the bullet floated and plucked it out of the air.
"What... How... Who..." Verron thought he had been frightened by the image of the cat creature. Here was a woman that with a single word had stopped a bullet. He dropped the gun and turned toward the door that would lead him to the safety if outside.
"FRIEL!" The word echoed through the warehouse,
Verron suddenly found himself unable to move.
The strange woman stepped in front of him. "I need your help." She suddenly gasped in pain, bringing her hand to her left breast. As she pulled her hand away, Verron saw the dark stain on the fabric covering her breast, and the red blood on her hand. Without another word, she turned and was gone.
The sound of several sets of feet echoed around the room, making it difficult to determine exactly where they were coming from.
Verron would have laughed if he could have. Obviously, the man that had yelled that hadn't noticed that he was not moving.
"GET YOUR HANDS UP!"
Verron would have gladly complied with the man's request, had he been able to move.
"I SAID GET YOUR HANDS UP! THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING"
The situation was becoming ridiculous. Here was Verron, unable to move and being ordered around by a man that was either too unobservant or too stupid to realize that fact. He was able to ponder the situation for about ten seconds before he heard the gun shot and felt the searing pain in his back and shoulder.
He fell forward in a haze of pain. The last though that he had before the blackness overtook him was:
"Well, at least I moved."
Upon waking, Verron found himself in an extremely uncomfortable situation. Dim light shone in from a small window several yards above him. He was in a small room with round stone walls. Hanging from the walls were several sets of iron shackles, one of which secured his arms. His body was stiff and his wrists and ankles were chaffed, signifying that he had been here for some time. His upper back hurt, but not as bad as it should have after being shot. The dim light showed a barred door directly across from him, illuminating a small portion of the passageway beyond.
He shifted his weight a little to try and relieve the pressure on his chaffed wrists. The rattling of the rusty chains did little to muffle the moan of pain that involuntarily escaped him.
The area that contained the gunshot wound complained defiantly against the movements.
"Ah, you are awake." An entirely unpleasant voice commented. "I was beginning to think that you were not going to awaken at all."
A small man stepped into the pool of light that surrounded the door. The man was thin, with unnaturally white skin, even in the dim light. Age lines crisscrossed the small beady eyes, indicating that they had held that squint for many years. The man's shiny black hair was slicked back to reveal a deep widows peak. Verron had to reevaluate the man. When he heard the man's voice the first time, he had thought it was greasy. Now that he had seen the voices owner, he thought that the voice matched the man's appearance; that of a weasel.
The man held up an old fashioned brass key ring to unlock the door. The rusty iron hinges screeched in protest as they were forced to act in the function for which they had been designed. The sound echoed through the small room and down the hall as the weasel man limped into the room. An unpleasant smile spread across his face as he beheld his captive.
"I am going to release your arms and legs now so we can talk" The man's tone was conversational.
Verron glanced at the door way to assess the possibilities of escaping.
The weasel man let out a wheezy blast of laughter. "I see your mind, strong one. I would strongly suggest against it." Verron's eyes snapped to the little man. "This may look like an archaic cell, but it contains a state of the art anti-escape mechanism. You would be dead before you could reach the door." Verron looked around the tiny room skeptically. "If you were somehow able to escape you would find yourself deep in a labyrinthine series of halls that you would never be able to navigate your way out."
The lack of mirth in the man's tone told Verron that this was no joke, so he abandoned his escape plans at once.
Verron didn't trust this man. There was just something about him that was, just creepy. "Who are you?"
The man started in mock shock. "Oh... How rude of me." He bowed deeply, folding himself in half so that his long black hair brushed the ground. "I am Azriel. I will be your host for the remainder of your stay."
Chills ran down Verron's spine as Azriel's words sank in. "You mean you will be my jailor."
Azriel's smile faltered as he straightened his posture. "Semantics, my good sir." The greasy smile appeared again. "Actually," He pulled a vial of a bubbling black liquid from his coat pocket. "I will be your doctor."
Without another word the short man released Verron's wrists and ankles. Verron's muscles screamed as they were suddenly supporting his weight again. Slumping on the ground, he began to rub his wrists. He winced as his fingers made contact with the flesh that had been rubbed raw by the manacles.
Azriel removed the stopper from the vial and poured a drop on Verron's right wrist. The black liquid began to bubble harder as it came in contact with the sore area. The viscus substance wrapped around the wrist, as if with a life of its own.
Tears leaked from Verron's eyes as the pain in his wrist spiked. He knew that Azriel was enjoying this. He was not about to give this wicked man the satisfaction of seeing him scream.
He started to panic as black smoke began to start pouring from the bubbling liquid. He found it odd that the pain seemed to be diminishing. The smoke billowed darkly for an instant before it began to lighten to a light grey, then white, then disappeared altogether.
Verron held his arm up so he could examine it. Where the flesh had been raw, and the skin rubbed off previously, new skin had grown and the irritation was completely gone. The arm looked like the wound had never been there,
"How did you do that?" Verron looked past his arm, not bothering to lower his hand.
Azriel grabbed Verron's other arm and quickly put a drop on the wrist and each of his ankles. Blood filled Verron's mouth as he bit down on his tongue to keep from crying out. He hadn't really been prepared for the intensity of the simultaneous reactions of his wrist and ankles.
The pain had to have been more than three times worse than his one wrist had been.
"Oh you are strong," Azriel was nearly jumping up and down with joy. "Just like your father."
The reference to his father was not lost on Verron. The smoke from his three appendages had faded to pale white, and the pain was almost gone. "You knew my father?"
"Ah yes, it was a shame to have to transform him. He was the best guard we ever had."
There was a note of regret in the doctor's voice. "Like you he had seen too much. He had to be silence. Like you we faked his death."
"That's im... wait... Did you just say you faked my death?"
"Yes, you have been confirmed dead. Your personal affects have been delivered to your sister."
Verron's heart sank. His sister's greatest fears had been realized. She had lost her brother the same way that she had lost her father. "Wait... That means that dad is still alive? How is that possible? I saw his body."
"Ah yes, that is a great story. Proof that you can turn an abysmal failure into a great success. It is a story for another time, however, we need to make sure that you are completely healthy." He pulled a tiny bottle of a red liquid out of his coat pocket and offered it to Verron.
"Here, drink this."
Without thinking, Verron took the bottle and drank the fluid. Instantly, a warmth began to flow through his body. Strength flowed back into his muscles. He thought again of trying to escape, but thrust this aside as he heard the sound that he had missed in his exhaustion: The whine of electricity through the stone walls. He instantly knew that Azriel had not been lying. If he ran, he would not even make it the short distance to the door.
Azriel extended his hand to Verron. "Come, time grows short."
Verron ignored the hand, and climbed to his feet unassisted. There was no stiffness in his muscles as he rose to his feet. There was no pain in his shoulder where the bullet had pierced it.
He was, as Azriel had said, completely healthy.
Now that he was standing, Verron could fully appreciate how small the other man was.
The top of Azriel's head came to the young man's elbow.
Without a word, Azriel turned and left the cell. Verron followed him out into the stone corridor that looked identical either way that he looked. Again, he realized that the other man had been telling the truth about the maze of corridors that he would need to navigate through to escape. He shook his head and followed the doctor.
Every corridor that they turned into looked exactly as the last had. Verron was sure that he would not even be able to find his way back to the cell anymore. He was sure that Azriel knew exactly where they were. The doctor never even paused to consider which direction to go, he just went.
The monotony of the corridors confused him just as successfully as the Sensory Deprivation Field had. He had no idea how long they had been walking before he saw the difference in the wall.
As they turned one of the identical corners, there was an iron door several yards ahead. Up to this point there had been no doors of any kind, other than the one that led to the cell that had been home to an injured young man for several days.
They stopped in front of the door. "In you go. We want you clean for the procedure."
There was a tone in the words that made Verron think the 'good doctor' was not completely sane.
The door swung silently opened on well-oiled hinges allowing Verron to step in. The site that met his eyes was the last thing he had expected. The room was decorated with multi-colored pillows of various sizes on most horizontal surfaces. Here and there mis-matched sofas and chairs stood out in among the plumage of pillows. A large pool covered half of the large room.
Steam drifted from the surface of the clear water, indicated that the pool was somehow heated.
Another door on the far end of the room opened and several women filed out. The women were all different ages, shapes and sizes; Verron thought that they were displaying themselves to him. They were each dressed in skimpy clothing that accentuated certain assets that they possessed. The leader, an attractive red-head dressed in a green bra and panties, stopped and the remaining women lined up shoulder to shoulder. They began to shoot alluring glances toward him, obviously trying to catch his eye.
Verron may have been young, but he knew what was happening. He was being executed.
This was essentially his last meal.
The red-head stepped forward and bowed her head slightly. "We are here to assist you in any way that you may need us."
Verron smiled faintly. "I think I'll be fine, thank you."
The alluring looks that the women were giving, suddenly turned to looks of fear.
"You don't understand." The red-head spoke as if she were explaining something to a small child. "It is our job to pleasure you. If we do not do our job, we will be severely punished."
Verron did understand. He knew that if he partook in what these ladies were offering, it would be akin to rape. He had been raised to respect women, and this was just not something that he was going to be a part of. How could he get around it?
He looked at the terrified looks on the women. They were definitely afraid of what they were in for if Verron refused them. He glanced at the red-head, and was surprised to see that she didn't look scared. . . She looked bored. He stared at her thoughtfully until she began to stare back at him. Her green eyed stare made him feel extremely uncomfortable. If they had net under different circumstances, he thought that he may try to get to know her better. This situation however was going to take some real finesse. There had to be a way for him to keep his standards and to keep these women from being punished for his upbringing.
By the time he had formulated his plan, several of the women had begun to cry. This cause him greater discomfort. He hated seeing women cry.
The line of women straightened up as he took a step forward and cleared his throat. "Ladies, I appreciate your predicament, but nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be left alone"
The red-heads perfect mouth split into a wide grin. She began to herd the others back into the room that they had come from.
He watched until the last woman had entered the room, and the door was shut. When he was sure that he was alone, he stripped his clothes off and dove into the pool. The water was pleasantly warm on his skin after the cold hardness of the stone. He began to swim laps, letting his muscles work in ways that they had not been used in several years. The exercise felt good, and it allowed him to forget about, what he feared, was coming.
After several laps he turned over and just let himself float in the warm water. As he approached the pool edge closest to the door that the women disappeared through, he was embarrassed to find the red-head sitting next to the pool watching him.
"What are you doing?" He asked as he let himself sink into the water.
"She smiled shyly. A look that did much to accentuate her beautiful face. "I brought you some soap and towel." She gestured toward the items that were on the ground next to her.
"Thank you, now can you go?" He pleaded.
"No, I want to talk to you." She said matter-of-factly. "I will face the other way while you wash, if it would make you more comfortable." Without waiting for an answer she tossed him the soap and turned around.
She waited in silence as Verron washed himself. When he had finished, he carefully pulled himself out of the pool. Snatching the towel from the ground behind her, he wrapped the large piece of cloth around his waist before walking around the woman to sit in front of her.
They looked at each other for a moment before exchanging any words. She was dressed much more modestly than she had been when he had seen her previously. She had apparently donned a large brown shirt that fell to her mid thighs. The garment looked to me made of a single piece of cloth, as he could not see any seams.
Verron was the first to break the silence. "I am done. What can I do for you?"
The woman's eyes sparkled as she looked at him. "I just wanted to meet you." Verron felt the breath catch in his chest as the words reached his ears. He could not believe his luck. His reverie was cut short by her next words. "You reminded me of someone."
The breath rushed back into his lungs with great force as the words meaning sank in. She had not sought him out for him, but for this other person.
When he did not respond, she continued. "Two years ago, when I was new to this life, a man was brought here before his transformation." She seemed to lose her thoughts as her piercing green eyes stared into his. "You look much like he did. He said the exact same words that you did." Her eyes become unfocused as if she were visualizing the event. I remember sobbing in relief as I was herded back into the ante-chamber. Not only had I been spared the misfortune that fate had dealt me, for I hated it than just as much as I do now, but I had been spared the punishment that would surely have come had I been picked and refused this man. I did not seek him out as I did you, for I was frightened. I do not know what happened to him. I can only assume that he went through his transformation like the rest of them do. You did all of us a great service this night. I just wanted to thank you."
Verron couldn't believe what he was hearing. There was no doubt that the man this woman was referring to was his father. She had just corroborated Azriel's tale.
"He was my dad." Verron couldn't think of anything else to say.
A motherly smile spread across the beautiful face, rearranging the thin line of freckles splashed across her nose with dazzling affect. "I thought so." She offered her hand to him. "I am
He surprised at how firm her hand shake was when he accepted her outstretched hand. "I am Verron."
"So, Verron, tell me about yourself."
They talked for a long time telling each other's life stories and getting to know each other.
As the time wore on, Natasha grew ever more somber. Verron noticed the sadness creeping into the beautiful face, "What's wrong?"
A single tear slid down her cheek. "Where were you five years ago?"
Verron smiled. "I was thirteen, my mom had just died, and I was living at home."
A loud banging echoed through the large room.
Natasha started at the sound. Jumping to her feet, she pulled Verron up with her. "You have to go. Azriel is getting impatient. You don't want to give that evil man any reason to do anything more to you than he already has planned." She hurried into the ante-chamber, calling back just before the door closed. "Leave the towel, you won't be needing it any longer.
Verron puzzled at her words, but did as she bade. Dropping the towel where he stood, he quickly crossed the room to the door that he had entered.
As he stepped through, Azriel had a knowing look on his face. "I trust you enjoyed yourself, young sir."
Verron had decided that he was not going to engage this man in conversation, so he just stayed silent.
Azriel seemed disappointed that Verron was not going to play his little game. Without another word he turned and stalked down the hallway. Verron, remembering what Natasha had said, followed the small man.
After another series of turns through nondescript hallways, Verron found himself in front of another iron door. He began to feel nervous, not really knowing what to expect. Up until now he had been going through this in a kind of surrealistic expectation of what was to happen next.
He was unprepared when the truth of the situation hit him as Azriel opened the door.
A sheen of sweat covered his body as Verron walked into the room. This room was large, but not as large as the one that he had bathed in. In the center of the room were two large pillars; one with a set of manacles attached, and the other with a single loop. Attached to the single loop was a magnificent black panther that paced back and forth, watching the small group approaching. The room's walls were all mirrored.
So intent was Verron on watching the beast he didn't notice the large man, until his arms were being muscled into the manacles.
The look of glee was back on Azriel's face as he stood facing Verron. "I think I will especially enjoy watching your transformation." Without another word he turned and bounded out of the room.
Verron knew that he was about to experience the unfortunate event that he had witnessed before his little stay in the dungeon. The knowledge did nothing to lessen the fear that was coursing through his veins. It seemed like an eternity that he stood there waiting for what he knew was coming next.
He quickly inhaled and held his breath as the black mist poured into the room. He stayed that way until his lungs burned and stars exploded before his eyes from lack of oxygen and he just couldn't hold it any more. A loud rushing sound deafened his ears as he expelled the breath and inhaled deeply.
As he drew black mist into his lungs, his world ended.
It felt as if something had lit him on fire, ripped his chest open, and was tearing out his organs while shoving others into the empty space. He tried to not let the scream burst from his mouth, but the pain was so excruciating that he could not help it. His screams and the screams of the cat echoed through the room, a sickening harmony that quickly combined into an eerie unison.
The pain ended as suddenly as it began. Something was cutting into Verron's wrists. He tugged against the restraints, and felt them snap easily. He was surprised how easily he was able to break the manacles. His marveling was brought to an end when a black shaped launched itself at him through the dissipating blackness.
He was too late dodging the massive form, a fact that he became aware of as the sharp pain lanced through his arm and the wet warmth began to flow. The pain and the iron tinged smell of blood caused something inside him to snap. A red haze blurred his vision and he lost all control of himself.
When he came to himself, Verron found a dead abomination laying at his feet with a large hole in its chest. In his hand was a half-eaten hunk of meat that still pulsed slightly. When he realized what he was doing, he through the unfinished meat against the mirrored wall across from him, causing it to explode into a mess on the shiny surface.
Instinct took over again as he saw another of the abominations staring back at him from across the room. He crouched down and began to move to the right. The creature mimicked him.
They moved toward each other slowly until they were both within striking distance. Verron and the creature launched themselves at each other.
The result was not what he had been expecting at all. Rather than hitting moving flesh, he hit a cold hard surface, and the other creature shimmered slightly. This did not dissuade Verron in the least. He was obviously facing a cunning threat. He would just have to be smarter. As he paced to the side, the creature followed him. Every move that he made this annoying thing just copied him. He was beginning to think that this creature was trying to drive him mad when two thoughts came to his mind: mirror and reflection.
He moved his hand to see if the creature would follow, it did. He stuck out his tongue and touched his nose, the creature followed. Sudden comprehension came to him in a flood of memories: The strange girl, the gunshot, the red headed girl, Azriel...
The name didn't mean anything to him at first.
He was looking at himself in a mirror. The sight was something to behold. He was now over seven feet tall. His head was that of a large black cat. Long muscular arms rippled as he felt the feline power flow through him. Course black fur covered his entire body. His blue eyes were as vibrant as ever, with oval pupils.
A sudden memory brought everything back to him. He was staring into a room, just like this one, watching a scared man face a large yellow cat with a shaggy mane. A black mist filled the room... He jerked his thoughts away from the image as he remembered the name of his enemy.
"AZRIEL!" He screamed. His voice a horse roar. He knew that the small weasel man was watching, so he began to walk slowly around the perimeter of the room. As he reached the side directly across from where he had been chained, he heard it.
"What is he doing?" The voice wasn't Azriel's
"I am not sure. It seems the transformation may not have been complete." Azriel's greasy voice responded. "Extraordinary."
Verron walked over to the pillar that held the broken remains of the shackles that had held his arms, and ripped them out of the stone pillar. Spinning the chains as if they were a pair of bolas, he flung the makeshift weapon at the wall.
The iron hit the shiny surface with a loud shattering sound causing the wall to fall into millions of shards. A large control room was revealed behind the wall. In the control room were two men. A terrified man that Verron did not know and, looking scared for the first time since Verron had met him, was Azriel.
Verron ran forward at incredible speed and jumped from the ground into the control room. He snatched Azriel by the collar, pulling the tiny man up so they were looking into each other's faces.
"I am going to kill you." Verron growled.
He reached his powerful arm back to strike but was stopped by a familiar voice from below.
"Oh, no. I'm too late."
"You saw her didn't you?" He asked his assistant as he rewound the video again to see the image of the young woman that had saved his life.
His latest experiment had gone horribly wrong. The transformation had been incomplete. The creature had retained its memories and his power of speech. It had smashed the one way window through which Azriel had viewed the procedure, and had come very close to tearing the scientist limb from limb.
He was less than an inch from death when she had appeared. Her voice had cut through the fury that the creature had harbored, causing it to loosen its grip. Azriel found himself on the floor very suddenly, nursing a broken ankle (that would be easy to fix).
The creature had jumped down to confront the newcomer
"Who are you?" It growled at the woman.
"Not now," She replied. "We need to get you out of here.
It had left with her.
Azriel rewound the video yet again. "Do you see?" he asked again "She is just like the one that got away." He pointed toward the features individually. The almond shaped eyes, the high cheek bones, the slight build, and the sharply pointed ears. He had only ever seen on other like her.
It had been two years ago, just after the boy's father had been through the transformation. He had happened upon the strange woman in the market place and followed her home. Before she had reached her premises, he had abducted her. Oh the experiments that he had been able to perform on her. He had given results unlike any he had ever seen (and he had been doing this for over five hundred years).
He had elected to put her through the transformation, but she had escaped with her counterpart and he had never been able to find her. It was after this that he had decided to let the creatures prove who was the strongest by battling to the death. He also initiated the death contingency to make sure that no creature that escaped would survive for long.
Here was another one. Nothing like these had ever been seen before, and now there were two of them. Azriel bounced back and forth on the balls of his feet.
"Shouldn't we go after the creature?" The assistant asked.
"The creature will be dead by nightfall." He never took his eyes off the video."I want to find this girl."
He rewound the video to watch it again.
Verron followed the strange woman out of the APU in silence. Millions of questions burned to be vocalized, but he knew that this was not the time. He didn't know how she kept sneaking into the facility, but it was apparent that the first night they had met wasn't the first time she had been inside.
She stopped in the shadows of the building, holding her arm out to have him stop too. It was mid-day and the sun shone brightly, baking the land with its intense heat.
"This is where it gets difficult." As she turned to face him there was no hint of fear. "You will need to use your senses to follow me."
She didn't give any further explanation before she started muttering something in a language that he didn't recognize. Several seconds later a hot flash engulfed him and was gone just as quickly. He was surprised that, while he could smell and hear her, he could not see her. He was even more shocked when he looked down and found that he could not see himself.
"Come." She said and he heard her start moving toward the gate.
This had to be the weirdest thing that Verron had ever done. This was even worse than the couple of times that he had experienced the sensory depravation fields. He could still see and hear, he was just unable to see himself. It was an unsettling feeling to not see his hand as he waved it in front of his face.
He followed the strange woman. As they passed the guard station, with its oblivious occupant, he realized that this woman could have come in and out of the complex several times in the short time that he had worked there.
Sudden rage surged into him at the thought of her flitting past him this easily while he was trying to keep the delicate machinery, and more apparently, safe. The guard in the shack glanced out of the door nervously as the deep growl began to escape from his throat.
"What are you doing?" An urgent voice sounded in his ear.
"You," He snarled. "You did this to me?"
"No, I didn't." Her voice sounded a bit panicked. "Azriel did this to you."
The sound of Azriel's name acted like a bucket of ice water straight to the face. He flinched back involuntarily and the rage drained from him. He glanced at the guard shack, where the guard on duty was still looking for the source of the disturbance. They only had a few moments to get as far away from here as possible before the man came out to investigate further.
"We need to keep moving." The woman's voice seemed calmer now, but there was still an edge to her voice.
Verron did not need to be told twice. They both started towards the gate at a rather quick pace, more worried about getting away than getting caught, especially after Verron's little outbreak.
They made it out of the gate without further incident. It took them a few minutes to crest the hill. Verron found that he was out of breath so paused on the far side of the hill.
The woman removed the invisibility spell and Verron was once again taken by her unique beauty.
"Who are you?" He asked.
The woman smiled bitterly. "That depends on who you ask. If you ask my neighbors, I am the witch girl. If you ask Azriel, I am his next great experiment. If you ask Sareth, I am a mystical princess from a far off world."
This caused Verron to look up quickly. The movement made his head swim.
"If you ask me," she finished "I am Morganna."
"Princess?" He was curious about that. "From a different world?"
Morganna smiled stiffly. "I would rather not talk about it."
Verron shrugged. He climbed quickly to his feet and walked over to Morganna. He extended a large black hand. "I am Verron. Verron Sandervitch."
She rose gracefully and accepted the fuzzy hand. The fur was soft and warm. "I am Morganna Elloy." The way that she spoke the words, Verron could see how she was possibly a princess.
He was about to tell her so, when the world suddenly shifted. His eyesight went dark and he fell onto Morganna.
The impact of the large creature hitting her caused Morganna to fall backwards, hitting her head on the hard earth underneath. When she came too, memories of a very strange dream clung to her consciousness. She didn't know how long she was unconscious, but Verron was still asleep when she came too. His breaths were coming in short shallow bursts. Sweat poured from his fur, as if he were running a fever.
Morganna wasn't completely sure what was happening, but she did have some ideas.
After Sareth had escaped him, it was rumored the mad doctor had instigated new fail safe that would keep him from losing any more test subjects. If this was what was happening, she had very little time to get him to Sareth, she was his only hope.
She carefully cast a levitation spell before recasting the invisibility spell on him. She would have to be careful getting him home. She was not well liked in the slums, where she and Sareth had made their home since Sareth's grand escape. People did not care for the strange things that she was able to do. She was serious when she had said they called her the witch girl. When they saw her coming, most people turned the other way, but a few of the braver souls often attacked her. She hoped that she would not meet any of them today. She was tired from the exertion of all the spell casting she had done today, and maintaining the levitation and invisibility spells on this large creature was quickly draining her of any reserves that she may have had.
She turned down the hill, heading away from the APU, moving at as quick a pace as her throbbing head would let her. It was difficult for her to concentrate on the spells with the injury to her head. She hoped that Sareth was well enough to heal her. Sareth had been sick since her stay with the mad doctor. His experiments had shattered her health. Morganna would not be surprised if she died soon.
The thought of Sareth dying brought a panic to Morganna. Her concentration faltered, and the spells almost failed. What if Sareth was right? If she was some deposed princess from another world. How was she supposed to get home? Did she really want to go home? This was the only place that she had ever known. This other world would be more alien to her than the alien world that she had grown up on.
Without warning, the dream she had had when Verron fell on her forced itself to the front of her subconscious mind. This had been the weirdest dream she had ever had. It was like she was watching three different scenes at the same time, but they had each been distinct and easily discernable for her. There had been two young women that looked very much like she did, only different in style of dress and hair. The third had been a young man about her age. He had been lying unconscious on the grass with his wings outstretched. Wings... He had wings. This vision certainly corroborated Sareth's claims. She decided that she would like to meet these supposed siblings of hers.
"Hey witch girl, where are you headed?" The call brought her out of her reverie. She had just entered the slums and here was the last person she wanted to see.
"What do you want, Nalen?" She snarled. She knew that this would do nothing to frighten the boy. He was the ring leader of the group that always trying to hurt her.
He feigned a look of mock hurt. "Oh, what' the matter. Aren't you glad to see an old friend?"
Digging up as much sarcasm as she had energy for she answered. "We were never friends, you two faced son of a jackal's backside." She knew that she couldn't cast a spell to deter him, for several reasons. First, she didn't have the energy for it. Second, she knew that he was not afraid of her. Third, she didn't really know any offensive spells. Oh sure, she knew the freezing spell, but that was more defensive in nature. Sareth had not let her study the advanced offensive magic yet. So she couldn't cast a spell to stop him, but she did have a plan.
The fake look was replaced by genuine anger. He didn't say anything as he reached into the box that he had been standing next to and withdrew a large double edged knife.
Before he could take a step, she raised her hand. "I wouldn't do that if I were you."
He sneered at her. "What are you going to do, attack me with pretty lights?" He was referring to the first spell she had used on front of people.
It had been a dark night, and she had cast the spell so people could see better. She was sure that Sareth would have stopped her, but she had been in Azriel's clutches at that time.
"If you take one step, I will summon my familiar to deal with you." She was hoping that her bluff was going to work, but it was a long shot.
"You don't have a familiar." He faltered as he spoke. This was a good sign.
She just stood there watching the war inside of Nalens's head. He was pretty sure she was lying, but not completely sure.
His face suddenly became very serious. "Your lying." He said as he stepped forward..
Morganna just smiled as she dropped the invisibility spell on Verron. The large creature appearing behind her caused his courage to break. He didn't stay around long enough to see if the creature was alive or not. He just fled as fast as his legs would carry him.
She knew that she had bought herself a little time, but that time would be short lived.
Nalen was short on courage, but he had the insatiable curiosity to make up for it. She knew that he would be back soon, and he most likely would not be alone. Luckily her house was not far from here, and Nalen held a healthy fear for Sareth's beast. They would be safe once they were inside.
She didn't bother to try and reestablish the invisibility spell. She wasn't sure that she would have been able to accomplish it anyway. She had never exerted herself like this before.
She had never felt this exhausted before. She forced herself forward, out of sheer force of will.
Verron floated after her, still unconscious.
It took very little time for her to reach her home. She was glad that she had gotten there before Nalen had resurfaced. She quietly opened the door, and directed the prone form of Verron into the building, trying to be as silent as possible in case Sareth was resting.
A weak voice came from the other room. "Did you get him?"
Morganna did not answer until she and the creature were in the room with Sareth. "I was a little too late."
Sareth's eyes lit up in fear. "What have you done? Why did you bring it here?"
Morganna had been expecting this. "I don't think the transformation was complete. He can still talk; and he is still cognitive. He can be reasoned with." She looked away from her mentor. "I think he is dying."
"Put him in the chamber and load the powder." Sareth instructed. "I do not think the reversal will be complete, as we do not have both specimens, but I think the partial reversal will save his life, and make him passable as normal." She answered the questions that she knew would be whirling in Morganna's mind. She was surprised at how easily that still came to her. It seemed like a lifetime ago that she had worked in her clinic back on her own world.
Morganna did as she was bidden, and within minutes the chamber was filled with white mist, and echoing with the screams of the man within.
She did her best to block out the sounds coming from the chamber. She knew that he would be better off when he came out. She had never known Sareth to be wrong about things like this.
Sareth gestured to her. "Let me look at you, child."
Morganna grimaced. She hated being called a child. Based on the lore that she had read, she had already passed the threshold into womanhood. In these alien books, there were women here aged that were betrothed or even married. Apparently this was not uncommon among her people: the Elves.
She stood and presented herself to Sareth spinning slowly. Sareth pointed to her left breast. "It was a dangerous trip today?"
Morganna looked down and was surprised to see the dark black spot on her top where her life blood had partially been released. It was her warning sign. It happened when ever there was danger. It usually hurt, but she did not remember feeling it... A sudden realization came to her. It must have happened while she was unconscious. In her vision all of the others had been in some sort of danger. This must have triggered the reaction.
"No, there was no more danger than usual. There was this..."
Sareth raised her hand to stop her talking. "Get changed, then we can talk."
Moganna moved to the dresser that held her clothes. She pulled out a simple brown blouse with a matching brown skirt. Pulling her top off she paused to examine herself in the mirror. The gold blade of the dagger that adorned her left breast, stretching from her nipple to her collar bone, glimmered in the rooms light. There was no blood on her, just on her clothes, as usual. There was no uncommon redness or damage of any kind.
"It usually hurts so badly when the warning comes," She never looked away from her image in the mirror. "Like it's going to sever my nipple, but there is never any damage." She turned to Sareth. "Why is that?"
Sareth smiled sadly "I have no idea how this power of yours works. Until the first time it happened, I didn't believe that you had any powers at all. The more I time I spend with you the less certain I am that your father wasn't right."
The mention of her father brought her out of her wonderment. She quickly finished changing clothes. As she tied her belt around her waist she noticed that the screaming had stopped.
"Is it done?" She wondered aloud.
"It would appear so." Sareth replied. "Let's wait for him to come out."
Verron found himself in a large room with two pillars with rings in the middle. On one of the pillars was a beautiful white tiger that was pacing back and forth watching the person that was attached to the other pillar. The room quickly filled with a black mist, and the cat and the man both started to scream in pain. The transformation didn't seem to take as long as either the one he had seen or his own. The room quickly cleared showing two identical cat creatures. They were muscular white feline-esque creatures with black horizontal stripes. Both creatures moved toward Verron with unerring purpose. The thing on the left stepped forward.
"Verron, you have failed me."
"Dad?" Verron had had this dream before, but never with this much clarity.
The creature didn't answer. It just attacked, ripping into Verron's chest and tearing out his life force.
Verron found himself laying on an unfamiliar floor waiting to die.
The two women sat on Sareth's bed while they waited for Verron to emerge from the chamber.
"Something really strange happened." Morganna started. "When Verron fell, he knocked me over and I hit my head. The blow cause me to lose consciousness." A concerned look came across Sareth's face, but she let Morganna continue. "While I was unconscious I had some sort of dream or vision. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I could see three different scenes playing before me in complete clarity. I could see two girls and a boy with wings."
"Those would be your siblings." Sareth interjected.
"I thought they might be, based on what you have told me. They all looked like they were in trouble. The boy lay on grass, his wings were bloody. One of the girls lay among the ruins of what looked like concrete statues. The other girl lay unconscious in this weird wheeled machine that was careening through the forest."
"With twins, it is not uncommon for them to share a bond that lets one know when the other is in trouble. You and your siblings shared much time in the womb together. It is probable that this is the phenomenon that you experienced today." Sareth's voice began to weaken as she spoke.
"Sareth!" Morganna exclaimed.
"I am fine child." Sareth answered. "I suspect you have other questions to ask. My time is short, this is your time for answers."
"Why hasn't it happened before?" Morganna asked in a small voice.
Sareth smiled, the action doing little to dispel the sickly pallor. "If your siblings are as strong as you are, and I suspect they are, it is likely that your minds blocked each other. As unlikely as it sounds, it looks as if you all had a moment of weakness at the same moment in time. This allowed you all to contact each other."
Morganna guessed that was a valid explanation.
She was about to ask another question when the door opened and Verron stepped out. It was immediately apparent that he had not come out of this unscathed, just as Sareth had predicted. He was the same height that he had been before the transformation. His body was heavily muscled. He had shoulder length black hair the same color as his skin. The facial features were those of a human, with the exception of the eyes. His cold blue eyes had oval shaped pupils.
Morganna hurried to gather some clothes for him to wear. She grabbed a white shirt and a pair of grey pants that she thought might fit him.
"Here," She offered the clothes to him. "These should fit you."
"Thank you." He purred. His voice was deep and smooth as he spoke, much different than the youthful voice that he had spoken in before.
She turned to give him some privacy while he dressed.
He quickly donned the clothes. "Now, will somebody please explain what is going on?"
She thought he had been handsome before. He reminded her of the nice guard that had help her escape from Azriel all of those years ago.
"It is a very fantastic story that you will probably not believe." Sareth said in a weak voice.
Verron looked at the women. They were unlike anything that he had ever seen before. They were both very beautiful. Long white hair flowed down there backs, yet they did not look old. Deep intelligence shone in the older woman's eyes denoting many years that had passed in her life. Deep gentleness emanated from her, and Verron's concerns were quickly eased. "Try me."
Sareth smiled. "Sit down." She gestured weakly to a stool in the corner of the room.
Verron retrieved the stool from the corner and brought it closer to the bed. When he was seated and looked semi-comfortable, Sareth began her story.
"Our tale begins twelve years ago, when the dragon's attacked the castle."
Verron held up his hand to stop her. "Dragons?" He said incredulously. "They are just fairy-tales."
Morganna was the one that answered. "Do you remember what I said when you asked me who I was?"
Verron thought about it for a moment. That depends on who you ask. If you ask my neighbors, I am the witch girl. If you ask Azriel, I am his next great experiment. If you ask Sareth, I am a mystical princess from a far off world. "From a far off world. You were serious when you said that?"
Sareth smiled weakly. "My time grows short, we must continue." She paused as she watched the emotions race across Verron's face. She could tell that a war was raging in his head. "Why don't you sit down and listen to our tale, before you decide whether or not to believe us?"
Verron sat down on the end of the bed to listen in objective silence.
Morganna said a few words I the strange language from.
Sareth began again, her voice weak. As Sareth began to speak, colors began to detach themselves from all over the room. The colors coalesced in front of Verron, spinning and twisting until there a picture formed in front of him. "As I mentioned, our tail begins on the day that the dragon's attacked Morganna's father's castle..."
Paron Elloy sat on his throne watching his three daughters play on the floor in front of him. He marveled at how advanced they were, even for elf children. He wasn't bothered by it to much, look at who their parents were: Paron Elloy, the elf that had sat on the throne for ten thousand years and Ahlana T'Halan, high priestess of the last dark city.
Thoughts of his beloved wife caused a shadow to fall across his countenance. It had been exactly one year since the death of his companion of the past five thousand years. She had died giving birth to their four children.
"I have been alive far too long." He commented to himself. "Twelve thousand years is a long time."
He returned to watching his daughters play with each other. Another child toddled into the room. This was Taren, his only son. Taren was an anomaly. He was the final of the four children born exactly one year ago today. Multiple births were rare among the Elf people, and then there are never more than two. The second, and bigger, difference between the only son and youngest child of the king and the rest of the Elves were the blazing white wings that protruded from the child's back. Recently, Taren had proven that his wings were fully functional.
Paron watched as his son started flapping his wings and flew around the throne room.
"Oh child, I am sorry." He whispered to his son. "You will never be accepted among your own people."
He was watching as Taren was doing loops, amazed by the mastery that the child had achieved in such a short time, when the sound of the throne room door opening drew his attention away.
A dark eyed elf hurried into the room. He spoke quickly as he dropped to one knee. "Sire, the dragons are attacking."
"Is Silax with them?" The king asked.
"Aye, sire, she flies at the head."
On the night of his wife's death, a strange gypsy fortune teller had given the king a delightfully disturbing prediction:
"When next you meet the Mother Dragon in battle," she had said, "you will be reunited with your beloved Ahlana."
The words spurred Paron into action. He jumped down the steps that led up to his throne and gathered the girls in his arms. "Taren, come here." He called at the small boy that was still circling the throne room. He glanced at the blue sword hanging on the throne room wall. "Cyan, call my guards to me without delay."
The transparent blade pulsed as Cyan Iceblade issued the call. In less than a minute
Sareth Hope, Grathius Wolftracker, and Seth Silvermoon entered at a full run. Each of the guards had their weapons drawn, ready to follow their king into battle.
He waited for a moment for the final guard to arrive, when it was clear that she was not going to join them, He hugged each of the girls before handing them to his guards.
Morganna was the first one to be passed off to her guardian. Sareth Hope accepted the child with reservations. "Sire, I..."
Paron raised his hand to stop her. He hurried to his throne, where he grabbed a nondescript leather bag. He rummaged through the bag as he returned to the group. As if by magic, the king pulled a long crystal staff out of the bag.
"I made this just before the virus came." He explained. "Use it to keep my daughter safe."
He then scooped Tarea into his arms and handed her to Grathius. Rummaging through the bag again he pulled out two swords. A tear fell down his face as he handed the swords to the strange wolf-man. "Teach her to fight well."
Lastly he handed Saria to Seth. "I was not able to finish my gift to her." He seemed uncomfortable as he spoke. "Guard her well." He then addressed all three of them. "You will not follow me into battle this time. I need you to get my children to safety." He paused for a moment distinctly aware of the urgency required by the dragons' approach. "I do not care where you take them, as long as they are out of the Dark Lords' reach."
The three guardians ran out of the room. Paron watched his three daughters leave with the sad knowledge that he would never see them again. Looking around the room, he noticed that Taren was no longer visible. "TAREN!!" Ripping his transparent blue sword from the wall he ran out of the throne room in search of his son.
Thirty minutes later, Paron had still seen no sign of his son. He knew that the child could be anywhere at this point, so he decided that he should deal with the issue of the dragons. He hurried to the ramparts. Many of his soldiers were standing on the high wall that surrounded the king's palace watching in horrified fascination as the dragons laid waste to the surrounding town.
Several of the better soldiers had rushed out to defend the town. All but one had died rather quickly, and the one was now missing his right arm and half of his right leg.
Six dragons of various colors assaulted the town while the enormous form of Silax (The Mother Dragon) loomed in the background. He knew that she was toying with him. This was the finale of a game that she had been playing with her foe just over ten thousand years.
Tired of the usual charade, Paron jumped up on the low wall that kept the defenders rooted in place. Brandishing his icy sword he called out to the massive black beast.
"SILAX," He yelled "I KNOW WHY YOU ARE HERE! YOU WILL NOT HAVE THEM! THE DAGGER WILL SURVIVE THIS DAY!"
At the sound of the king's voice, the Mother Dragon began to advance. She moved silently past the city without a glance at the destruction that the other dragons were inflicting on the pitiful Elven populace. With a singleness of mind, she moved toward the castle. Her secondary target had just revealed itself.
The elves on the rampart with the king watched in dismay as their king challenged the mother dragon. They had all grown up listening to stories of the atrocities that the enormous black beast had performed. Now they found themselves facing her.
Silax increased speed as she advanced eager to be rid of the objects that had caused her much pain over the past ten millennia. "Paron Elloy, Elf king, prepare to meet thy doom."
She flapped harder causing her massive frame to begin to rise higher into the air.
The guards on the wall watched in horror as the dragon reached the apex of her climb and dove. She had fallen a considerable distance when the stream of flame issued from her open maw. The jet of fire extended in front of the dragon about 30 feet before it curled back on itself.
The blue sword in Paron's hands pulsed with a bright light, causing the flame to freeze. The soldiers on the ramparts were showered harmlessly by red shards of ice.
Silax screamed, rising into the air again. Tired of the typical charade that she played with the ice blade, she decided to change tactics. She chanted an ancient incantation as she rose, causing the air around her to shimmer. When she was satisfied with the status of her protective barrier, she pulled her wings close to her body.
The soldiers on the castle ramparts saw the form of the Mother Dragon hurtling toward them on a collision course. Many of them lost their nerve and fled what they thought would be certain death. The kings sword spewed forth a constant stream of ice in an attempt to cause the black beast to change her course.
Silax laughed maniacally as she dove towards the castle. She was delighted to see that the lesser beings were fleeing before her. She was equally pleased to see that the accursed king and his sword stayed rooted where they were.
Paron watched as the dragon sped toward him. Cyan was urging him to flee. The king knew that the time for the gypsy's fortune was at hand, he was about to join his beloved Ahlana in the halls of Naratha. The Mother Dragon's laughter did nothing to unnerve him. He was prepared to die. "Take care of them." He sent his quiet request to his guardians and friends.
The impact created a deafening sound that was heard for dozens of miles around. Stones from the castle were thrown hundreds of yards. The king and everyone that had been brave enough to stay with him were instantly killed.
The three guards ran out of the throne room with their charges tucked carefully under their arms (this was especially difficult for Seth, for he was short, even for a dwarf) heading toward the cave of the war birds. They each knew that the war birds would allow them to fulfill the wishes of their king and closest friend. They were loathe, however, to employ the use of the ancient machines. It was their arrival that had brought so much destruction. The visitors had unwittingly brought the virus that had infected the technology and almost destroyed the world.
Each of the Guards reflected on what they would be leaving behind. They all had spouses and children; some of them even had grandchildren. Each of them was certain that they would never see their families again.
Grathius and Seth stopped abruptly to keep from running into Sareth and the small child that she was holding. The healer was facing them, her face flushed and anger burning in her eyes. "This is stupid." She spat the words out like they left a foul taste in her mouth. "How do we even know the children will do what Paron thinks they will do?"
The two stared at her incredulously.
"This is not the place nor is it the time for this conversation." Seth said "The king has given his orders, and we will obey." A warning flashed in his pink eyes as a harsh redness stained his normally colorless cheeks.
A low growl sounded in Grathius throat. "You say: What if the king is wrong? I say:
What if the king is right? Either way, our dearest friend has asked us to protect his children. I am going." Without waiting for a response, Grathius clumsily walked past Sareth. Once he was past the elf, he bent down and started running on three legs, looking like a large brown dog with a hurt leg.
Seth bounded past her on his small legs, running flat out to keep up with the larger wolf creature that was Grathius.
Sareth Hope stood staring at the empty space where her two companions had stood, dumbfounded. They had never spoken to her thus before. Yes, she had her disagreements with the king's views, but the others had always remained neutral.
A horrifying sensation ran through her mind, causing her to snap out of her shocked state.
"Paron Elloy, Elf king, prepare to meet thy doom." The Mother Dragon's words slithered through her mind. Realization flooded her being. She knew of the gypsy's prophecy. She knew what Silax's presence here signified. That knowledge coupled with the knowledge that she possessed of Paron's unfailing loyalty to his family and friends spurred her into action. He had given his most treasured possessions to them to protect for one reason: He was preparing himself to die.
She ran silently down the hall towards the secret passage that would lead them to the cavern of the war birds. Her light elfin grace allowed her to quickly catch up with her friends.
Nobody said anything, no acknowledgment was made that she had rejoined the group, until they reached the tapestry that marked the doorway to the passage. Sareth quickly triggered the release mechanism and the door slid open.
Moments later the trio was dashing down the dimly lit hallway towards the only machines in the world that had been spared the fury of the Techno Virus. It was a matter of speculation as to why they had not been brought to life. By greater majority it was thought that they were immune due to the fact that most carriers are not affected by the illness that they carried. Apparently, this applied to electronics as well as biologics.
They paused briefly as the sound of a loud crash reached their ears. They didn't spend to much time trying to puzzle the meaning of the sound before they took the last few steps into the cavern of the war birds.
The cavern was enormous. Standing in the middle of cavern were four aero-space fighters that they had piloted during the techno war, when the high technology had been infected by an alien virus that had brought the various devices to life. The living machines were then transformed into insectoid shapes and given the insatiable drive to destroy all biological life on the planet. With the help of the war birds and the Crystal Blades the defenders were able to destroy the monster machines and literally save the world. Technology had been outlawed since, for the techno virus was still in the air (or so the crystal blades claim).
The sense of urgency that they had felt since the king gave his command continued unabated. They each hurried to the bird that they knew, leaving the largest for the last guardian whenever she chose to show up. They quickly flipped the switches that began the pre-flight checks, each hoping that the systems had not been damaged in the thousand years since the machines had last been employed. While the various systems went through their checks, the pilots turned to the navigation system to find habitable planets where they could take their charges and live until the time that they would be called to return. For each knew that the tiny girls that they had been entrusted into their care would one day be brought home.
An alarm sounded for all three war birds, letting the pilots know that the weapons ordinance was depleted and needed to be reloaded. The pilots had expected this, as they had used the last of the ammunition that last time that they had found the need to employ the alien crafts.
They would have to rely on speed to out run the dragons; they certainly would not be able to fight them.
A few seconds after the "all clear" sounded on the rest of the ancient systems, the navigation computers came back with suitable planets that they could reach in a relatively short time, based on the criteria that each pilot had input.
"Zzrrtt... Sareth, do you read me." It was Seth's voice.
Sareth Hope toggled the talk switch. "Yes, I hear you. Are we all ready to go?"
After an affirmative answer, the three birds began to inch forward. They gathered speed through the open expanse of the cavern, until they were going fast enough to obtain the necessary lift that would allow them to fly. They were about forty feet off the ground when they reached the passageway that lead out of the cavern.
It had been a thousand years since they had flown out of the cavern like this, but it seemed like it had only been a few days. They were sure that the enchantments were holding, so they wouldn't have to worry about cave-ins or other obstructions in the blackness outside of the small sphere of light that was cast by the vessels that they flew in.
The sound of rushing water let them know that they were approaching the cavern's exit. Light, diffused by the waterfall that they would soon be flying through, lent an otherworldly glow to their surroundings. They could see the gouges in the dirt where they had fought off the gallivanting mechanical hordes in the tech wars. The shadows cast by the light created images of demons lurking in the darkness, waiting to claim the unwary. They knew that these were unreasonable thoughts; the demons had been banished at the time the balance was created between darkness and light.
They didn't have much time to ponder the sinister shadows before they burst through the waterfall that covered the entrance to the cavern and into the light of day. By unspoken consent, they all turned their crafts toward the palace, curious to see what had happened.
The sight that met their eyes was disturbing. The beautiful castle had been totally destroyed. The surrounding town was totally engulfed in flame. In the remains of the Gardens of Night a large black beast was gnawing on the carcass of what looked like a large horse.
"Oh no." Sareth breathed "Not that."
Silax looked up at the war birds as she finished with her meal. Fire erupted in her eyes, and from her mouth, as she saw them. She had been led to believe that the accursed machines had been destroyed. She quickly jumped into the air to challenge the new threat that was bearing down on her.
Fire shot from the tail of the three war birds, sending them into the cold blackness of the cosmos. The pilots knew that they would be safe, at least temporarily.
Sareth's voice was very weak as she finished her tale. Verron could see that she would not be with them much longer. He watched as she closed her eyes, sweat dripping from her jaw from the exertion of telling the story. He was mildly surprised when she opened her eyes and looked at Morganna with a steady gaze.
"Bring me the staff, child." Sareth commanded.
Morganna jumped at the words. She had never been allowed to touch the staff before. Even when Sareth had been captured, somehow the staff had mysteriously disappeared until she had returned. She approached the staff slowly, examining the object as she had never been allowed to do before.
She thought that the make of the staff seemed silly. It was made out of a transparent material that reminded her of glass. The whole thing glowed with a deep purple light. The middle of the staff was wound with gold cord making a hand hold. A few purple gems were evenly spaced through the gold wrap, making it very apparent where the wielders hands were supposed to go. In the very center of the weapon was a large amethyst that seemed to pulse with a regular rhythm that reminded Morganna of a heartbeat.
Very slowly, she reached out and grabbed the weapon. An electric shock immediately shot through her arm, causing her fingers to contract around the cylindrical shaft. Immediately after, a warmth raced up her arm, through her shoulder and neck, and into her head. As quickly as the sensation had started, it was gone. She found herself in full control of her body once again.
She returned to Sareth's bed with the staff and offered it to her guardian. "Here is your staff."
Sareth smiled weakly. "No, it is your staff. Your father made it for you before he sent us away."
Morganna looked at the staff again. Its beauty was enhanced by the fact that it was created specifically for her by her father.
Sareth laid her head down on her pillow wearily. Weakly, she gestured for Verron. As he knelt down beside her, he was amazed at how quickly this strange woman's health had deteriorated as he watched.
"It is up to you to protect her now." Verron had to lean in so he could hear her. "You need to make sure that she on the summit of Talon Peak on the next Stasis Night."
Sareth closed her eyes, and so did the cat lying next to her. In unison both the woman and the cat stopped breathing. Sareth's skin went grey as the warmth faded from her body.
Morganna fell to her knees next to the only parent figure that she had ever known, tears streaming down her face.
Verron stood behind Morganna uncomfortably as she cried. He didn't know why he was still there, he certainly didn't owe either of these women anything. Yet, he found himself rooted to the spot as this strange young woman knelt by the side of her departed mentor. As the minutes wore on, he found himself looking at any place in the room except at the bed. The site that kept drawing his gaze was the strange glass staff. The brilliant purple glow seemed to have dimmed.
It was almost as if the staff itself were mourning the loss of Sareth.
Verron stepped forward and placed a hand gently on Morganna's shoulder. "Come, it is time to let the dead rest in peace." His voice sounded strange in his own ears, it was much deeper than it should have been.
Morganna stood up, her tear streaked face was pale in the dim lights that illuminated the room. She walked over to a small box on the dresser and removed several small objects, including a piece of chalk. She began outlining the room with the chalk.
"What are you doing?" Verron asked.
Morganna did not answer, she just continued to outline the edges of the room with the chalk. When she was done she gestured for Verron to leave the room. As soon as he crossed the threshold of the room, it exploded into flames.