By Trynia Merin
Disclaimer: KISS belongs to themselves, as do the terms of the Elder, and the likenesses of their makeup and persona. The concept of the Four who are One belongs to Psycho Circus. Mona, Elliott, Tyler and Jeannie are my own creations, and are my attempt to create a next generation of KISS. This means no harm to the organization or the band, and represents a tribute to a rock and roll legend. Note, this story takes place in the dream world Jeannie and Mona have visited in Nothing to Lose, but this story takes place after the events of that story. It can be thought of as a companion piece to it. Kelsey and Shandi are based on my KISSters at KISS girltalk. This story is dedicated to them!
It had started strangely enough with their first view of Blackwell's island. How they had come to be here on this desolate rock, Jeannie wondered. Slowly she came to, rubbing her splitting head. Someone was gently sponging her brow with a damp cloth.
"She's coming out of it…" came a female voice.
"Good, we'll need all the help we can get. Not that it will matter much," came the next voice.
"Christine, stop being so negative. She has the mark of the Demon!"
"So what? They're probably responsible for us being here!"
"Kelsey, that cannot be true!" protested a lighter more melodic voice.
Said the voice that was presumably Kelsey, "How else was I stuck here in this hell hole?"
"She's not responsible for you being here. And also if she has the Demon's markings, her powers will be more than a match for his!" came the first.
"We don't mean you guys any harm," Elliott's voice reiterated. "We're not even from this world!"
"Elliott…" Jeannie gasped, blinking up into his face.
He cradled her in his arms, slowly helping her to sit up. "Easy love, you were out like a light. I'm surprised you didn't come around at first.
"Where are we?" Jeannie asked. "Oh god, you're alive!"
"Yes, lover," he smiled. "Weird, isn't it?"
"But you're not Sean anymore… you're Elliott!" she gasped again.
"I'm real all right!"
"C'mere you," she grinned wickedly, pulling him down on top of her. Oblivious to anything else she buried her tongue between his ruby lips, savoring the groan of his throat. Deliciously she pulled him to straddle her, wrapping her armored arms around his muscular body tightly.
"Jeannie," he whispered against her lips. Tenderly he brushed a lock of hair from her face.
"I've missed you," she purred, hugging him close to her gladly.
"God knows I've missed you baby, but I don't think now's a good time to celebrate it!"
"Why not?" she growled, reaching for his belt. "Since when is now not a good time for you and me?"
"Since we have an audience, and they're starting to stare…" he whispered.
"Outlanders. See how openly they display their affections," the first voice said. Jeannie peered past Elliott's shoulder into an ebony completed face, platinum hair spilling from topknot over one shoulder.
"Domino, don't be so bitter," a younger voice sighed. "Just because you and I haven't seen any action…"
"I think it's sweet!"
"We are not here for sweet," Domino muttered.
"They are rutting like animals," the lighter voice giggled. "Aren't you the least bit curious?
"Shandi, enough!" came a commanding voice that silenced hers. Jeannie peered at the owner, her curls of copper hair framing a proud face. All she wore was a chainmail bikini, with a battledress hanging around her low shapely hips. What had been a sword belt was slung over her shoulders, empty of any weapon. An ornate collar circled her neck, gleaming with strange alien gems. Jeannie felt a similar collar around her neck, realizing that it crackled with energy.
"Inhibitors," Elliott sighed. "I've got one on too."
"Shit," Jeannie sighed, sitting up with Elliott still perched possessively on her hips. "Someone tell me who you gals are, and what the hell I'm doing here?"
"That proves they are outworlders," Shandi said triumphantly.
"Big deal," the red head snapped. "So they're captives like us. Can they pull their weight, now that they have heard our plans…"
"Excuse me?" Jeannie snarled.
"When I woke up I heard them talking about escaping this joint," Elliott said. "And they swore me to secrecy. We're on an Island… a prison island."
"A hell hole," Domino, the black faced Elf said. Her skin was dark as midnight, her hair white as snow.
"Allow me to introduce Kelsey, Domino, Shandi and Christine," he said, indicating the four women clustered around Jeannie's cot. It was a rough building, wind whistling through the cracks in the stones cemented with daub. Overhead she saw rafters and straw, smelling a musty animal smell mingled with a stench of blackness she recognized.
"This is Blackwell's island," Shandi sighed. "Hardly anyone who is sent here ever gets away…"
"Blackwell's island?" Jeanie asked. "Like in that lunatic asylum years ago that Nelly Bly exposed…"
"Who?" everyone asked.
"Jeannie this isn't Earth," Elliott sighed. "Blackwell's some major evil villain here."
"Prison camp, eh? So what are you all charged with?" Jeannie asked, resting her hands on her hips.
"Lying about my age to go to the Academy," Shandi hung her head.
"And you?" she asked Domino.
"Leading a Rebellion against the tyrant who controlled the Black Diamond mines," Domino hissed.
"And you two?" Jeannie pointed to Kelsey.
"Spurning the advances of the Major Domo," Kelsey snorted. "I wanted no one's slimy hands on my body!"
"And you?" she indicated the last female.
"Trying to protect my home from being chopped down," Christine sighed, stooping her hooves against the dirt floor. Yes, hooves, for she was a Centaur, bronze skin fading into musty blue gray. Shandi was the shortest, her blue robes hiding her small frame, young blue eyes fixing into Jeannie's with a look of wonder and fear. Elliott moved off Jeannie, and helped her to sit up as he sat next to her on the cot. She growled at Domino's eyes walking all over Elliott's shapely figure.
"Easy Domino, he's spoken for," Christine cautioned her.
"He's delicious, just as much so as the legendary Star Bearer."
"Well I am Star Bearer… in my world," he blushed.
"You bear the markings of the Elder, but your magic is not of this world," Shandi said, waving her hands over them both.
"I thought you said your powers were inhibited by these collars," Jeannie told her.
"Not my senses. Just the offensive spells I know. But Blackwell can't extinguish all my magic," Shandi giggled.
"Okay, who is Blackwell, and is he an Elder?" Elliott asked.
"Hell no!" Kelsey snorted. "But he might as well be."
"Blackwell is the personification of evil," Domino snorted. "He was banished here, to rule this scrap of rock. He keeps to himself, but his minions constantly bother us. These collars block all use of magic. But we still have our skills to fall back on."
"How is this magic controlled?" Jeannie wondered.
"The collars are enchanted. We tried to break them but… we cannot," Shandi sighed. "None of us is strong enough."
"Jeannie…" Elliott asked.
"You two aren't from this world. Perhaps they can succeed where we failed," Shandi asked.
"What can she do that we can't?" Kelsey asked. "Even if she is the Demon's daughter."
"I'm called Dragon Womyn," she corrected. "And why are you so pissed at these Elder?"
"Because they were the judges that sent us here," Domino said.
"Even though I was declared innocent," Kelsey corrected. "They did nothing to stop the Major Domo from sending us here anyway!"
"That's screwed up," Elliott snorted.
"I say we demand what the hell is going on," Jeannie nodded. Reaching up, she tugged at
her collar. Pain erupted from her neck into her very nerves.
"Jeannie don't!" came Shandi's warning.
"I don't like being a prisoner… anywhere!" Jeannie snarled, forcing her eyes shut. She pushed them away as she grasped her collar with both hands. Again the sharp needles of pain shot through her.
"What's she doing…" Christine asked.
"She's trying to break free, fool," Kelsey snorted. "And it looks like it hurts like hell!"
"She'll kill herself!" Shandi cried.
"She knows what she's doing," Domino cautioned them.
Elliott grabbed Jeannie's hand, holding it tightly, "Baby… it's not worth it!"
"I… will be free!" Jeannie snarled, fighting back he pain. She freed her hand from Elliott's, dropping off the cot. Angrily she tore at the metal, pain erupting down each nerve as rivers of fire. A sizzle of power jarred her fingers, sinking deep. Her loud cry was stifled by her tongue biting down. With a burst of power and sparks, the collar clattered to the floor in a twisted metal mess. Jeannie drew in a breath, clearing her head of the pain.
"By the Moon Bridge!" Shandi gasped.
"She did it," Kelsey muttered with newfound appreciation.
"Jeannie… baby are you okay?" Elliott asked, helping her up.
Eyes still watering with pain Jeannie grunted, "Yeah, I'll be better soon. You guys up to a little collar removal?"
"Count me in," Domino said, striding up to Jeannie.
"But the pain…" Christine warned.
"I can take it. No worse than being a slave," Domino nodded.
"Me next," Kelsey said. Blinding pain was followed by instant relief. It only lasted a few seconds, but it was worth it when they were all freed of the enchantments. Domino and Christine rubbed their neck gratefully. Carefully they picked up the pieces of the collars and held them up to Jeannie.
"Just weld here and there and they'll be good enough to fool the guards…" Domino told her.
"What," Elliott asked, puzzled.
"We're the rear guard," Christine explained.
"Since you two bear the markings of Demon and Star Bearer, you are the two most logical ones to go," Domino told them. Jeannie quickly melded the pieces of collar back together, now devoid of enchantments.
"Explain about this plan," Elliott said, scratching his head.
"We'd planned this escape for a long time," Kelsey sighed, peering out the window of the rude hut. "But I don't want to just leave you here, Domi…"
"You and Shandi will go with the Outworlders," Domino said firmly. "That is the way it must be."
"Did you see that in a dream?" Christine asked.
"We're the best fighters, and the best to survive here… and if this Star Bearer
has the power of the original, he can cover our escape," Domino pointed to Elliott.
"Well, I'll try," Elliott shook his head. "But since we're on an island, we're escaping by boat, right?"
"Exactly," Kelsey said. "A supply boat comes once a day, with fresh soldiers. They have it moored up at the pier, about two hundred leagues down from the camp. It's heavily guarded. But I figure the four of us, backed up by the other two can make a break for it. Then you Elliott will use your illusion powers to wipe the minds of the guards, so they won't remember anything."
"But the mages? What do we do about those?"
"Let's hope we don't attract their attention. If so, Shandi will take care of that," Domino said. "Now, are we all in agreement?"
"Wont you need weapons?" asked Jeannie.
"I have this," Domino reached for two poles, screwing them together. Christine picked up another stick, and bent it back to string, into a sizable longbow. Sharpened bits of iron made crude arrows.
"We'll get swords soon enough for the rest," Kelsey nodded. "Now… it's almost the evening hour… there are breakers around the island, and the tide should be just right."
"You're used to sailing?" Elliott asked.
"I came from a fishing village," she said slowly. "Before I came to live on this hell hole."
"How far to the mainland?" Elliott asked. "I've done some boating myself… back in my world."
"Good," Domino nodded. "Now… we must act quickly. Jeannie, you and I will create a diversion with Christine… while the others get through… Shandi, can you cast your spell now?"
"I think…" Shandi nodded.
"All right… get ready. Jeannie, follow my lead."
"Let's do it!" Kelsey nodded to Shandi. Slowly she waved her hands over a small wand she extracted from her blue robes, and began to chant. Shapes merged and blurred, Shandi fading from sight.
"Elliott?" Domino looked to him. "You next…"
Dark armored guards in ebony wandered past the lines of huts. Most of the prisoners would be sequestered there for the span of the evening, except for the hardened cases. These would be the most malleable, and perfect for the evening's entertainment. Unfortunately the sound of their cries had not gone unnoticed. As soon as they slipped out of the rude stone hut, eyes saw their exit, and the absence of their collars. Jeannie drew in her breath at the craggy rocks lining the beach. The high cone of an extinct volcano rose in the distance, large rills of rocky hills swathing its roots. Here and there were the ruined bits of castle, and the sea of rude stone huts festooning the camp. Others came and went, their clothes in rags, or in gleaming bits of metal.
"This, way," Kelsey hissed, indicating with her hand. She indicated the way down to the beach, covered in black sand.
"Aren't you coming?" Elliott asked Christine and Domino.
"We're watching your back."
"There," one said to another. The door flew open on the small hut.
"Where are the others!" the guard barked, noticing the absence of three prisoners where there should be six.
"She let them escape!" Domino shouted, pointing to Jeannie. "She's a troublemaker!"
"You liar!" Jeannie snarled. Before anyone could blink she hurled herself on Domino, black cloak flying behind her. Domino's boot flew up, pushing Jeannie up off herself and into the first guard. In a heap of amber and ebony he crashed under Jeannie's weight. Pressing her staff into the ground, Domino vaulted over them both.
"Get back here!" the second guard ordered, raising his crossbow. "Or I'll kill you!"
A sharp blow slammed into him from behind as Christine kicked him with her back hooves. Whirling about she leapt over Jeannie. The Dragon Womyn scrambled off her guard, knocking him out cold with a punch from her spiked glove. Grabbing the sword she slipped it into her belt. Christine grabbed the crossbow and bolts from the other guard.
"C'mon!" she shouted. Already Domino fell upon the relief guards, her staff whirling in the eerie mist. Crossbow bolts felled a guard to her left and right. A loud horn sounded low and ominous, and Jeannie leapt upon the trumpeter, knocking him down with a dragon booted foot to his chest.
"Kelsey!" Domino shouted, hurling a sword from a downed guard into the air. It vanished as it was caught for a moment, in a shimmer of air.
A blaze of light slammed into the guards that blocked their advance from the front. Jeannie could see the pier in the distance, jutting out from the curve of the harbor. Already guards covered their front and back. A light blazed out, felling a guard from the front line. Red slashes burst forth from the next two, rivers of blood staining the dirt path. Suddenly a fireball exploded, scattering them. Jeannie flew headlong, sword spinning as she flew over their heads in a mighty leap. Blood and fire were the last things at least four soldiers saw.
"Run!" Domino shouted, cannoning into the next advancing line from the camp. Christine's crossbow bolts sizzled into the air, felling many to their left and right
Down the stone path, past the fallen guards, Shandi and Kelsey materialized. "You cut it close," Kelsey muttered to Shandi, who looked apologetically at her. Guards by the pier rose, their swords rasping. Arrows flew from bows, sizzling past them. They fizzled into fire as a beam sizzled into them. Elliott stood nearby, rushing after the two women.
"Elliott, cast off!" Jeannie shouted, circling above. "I'll hold them off!"
A line of fire rose behind Kelsey, Elliott, and Shandi. They rushed down the docks, fighting and slashing their way as they went. Elliott reached the boat first, punching the first guard at the tiller. He toppled into the water. Glancing back, Kelsey saw Domino and Christine battling back the guards in the camp, assisted by Jeannie's fire blasts from above. They had never counted on such aerial assistance. Kelsey's sword sliced into the next guard, knocking him from the sail. Next, Shandi swept her hands, creating a stiff mist that began to fog the boat from all viewers.
"She'll be okay… she's almost here…" Elliott gasped, as Shandi nudged him. Walls of fire sprang up as Jeannie breathed her glittering streams from on wing. The guards were terrorized by the black winged shape that darted and swooped just over their heads.
"It can't be!" they cried, their arrows incinerated mere inches from hitting her body. Even their spears and javelins had no effect.
"Look out!" Shandi screamed. Jeanie felt a crackle of something familiar sizzle past her. She dipped skywards, circling higher on the island's thermals. Turning about she saw two figures in dark robes, their hands upraised. They had appeared from nowhere.
"Dark mages," Shandi gasped to Elliott, who was casting off the rope. Kelsey had just dispatched the last guard on the ship when she jolted to attention.
"That proves the Elder are in league with Blackwell! I knew there was dark magic! This proves it!"
"No it doesn't!" Shandi protested.
"But they're helping the guards!" Kelsey shouted back.
"Do something!" Elliott shouted to them both. Already a green mist seeped out, wrapping around the flying figure of Jeannie. Within his mind Elliott felt the drain of life sucking vital energies from her body. His mental perceptions reached out towards their chikara, hoping to scramble their brains. What did they fear? Suddenly he shouted, holding his head as darkness slammed behind his temples. His mental attack was rudely pushed back, lavender energy exploding around him. Kelsey caught him as he faltered.
"Do something, Shandi!" she shouted to her astonished friend. Desperately Shandi threw
back her hand and reached into the mist. Lightening flared from cloud to cloud, slamming toward the dark mages. Unfortunately a black sphere rose in a matter of seconds, blocking her lightening assault.
Kelsey sliced through the rope, and pushed off with one of the long poles in the floor of the boat. Jeannie felt he green mist evaporate, and flew clear, heading out over the water. Elliott shook the cobwebs from his head, and grabbed another oar to paddle out into the bay.
"She's coming…" Shandi said. "It was enough."
"Don't get the sail out yet," Elliott gasped to Kelsey. Both pulled their oars, letting
the tide drift under the small sailing craft.
Again the green mist reached out from the second mage towards the flying figure of Jeannie. She let loose a blast of fire, slamming into the first mage. Barely in time had he managed to erect his shield. The other leashed a hail of sharp spikes sizzling toward her into the air. Fire met earth magic in a blaze of pyrotechnics. Elliott knew he dare not try and mind lock them again, but hoped there was something he could do. "Damn it!"
Each guard to the left and right of the mages raised their bows, pointing their arrows toward the boat. Shafts whizzed quickly toward the drifting craft which had hardly cleared the harbor now.
"Shit… put out the sail!" Kelsey told him.
"Not till we clear!" Elliott shouted back.
"Look!" Shandi pointed. Suddenly the front line of guards fell, clutching their midriffs. Hooves thundered in a dust cloud as Christine thundered past them, scattering guards and mages. Astride her road Domino, her staff arching and swirling to cut a swath through to the pier.
"They can't hold them off," Shandi told Kelsey. "Not for long!"
Jeannie soared low over the boat. It reached the mouth of the harbor, not a moment too
soon. "Get in!" Kelsey shouted.
"We must help them," Elliott whispered. "But we're too far to use my power… and the mages."
"Our friends are taking care of that problem," Jeannie smiled. For he saw the mages spells rebuffed by domino's silver flashes of light. Somehow she was resistant to their assaults.
She grabbed Elliott under the arms on her next pass, conveying him across the gray water back toward shore. "Hit the guards!"
"All right…" he nodded. Closing his eyes he reached out again, feeling their chikara, which was not so different from human. What did they most fear, he wondered. Their eyes widened in terror as their worst nightmares were ripped from their minds and shoved into their faces.
Kelsey and Shandi reached the breakers, and unfurled their sail. Thankfully the volley of arrows had ceased with the death of the guards, or the fear of them in their cowardly escape from the terror circling above. Christine loosed an arrow toward one mage, hitting him neatly behind the shoulder blades. Domino leapt off her back, staff whacking the other neatly in the back of the hooded neck. Rearing, the Centauress let out a whinny of triumph. Despite herself Jeannie added a roar of victory from above.
"Yes! Whooo! All right!" Elliott shouted, in a whoop worthy of his father, Paul. Turning in her arms he pressed a kiss to her ebony lips.
"They did it!" Shandi and Kelsey cried, dancing around and hugging each other.
"Well met!" Domino shouted. "Now get out of here!"
Jeanie nodded, circling back out over the harbor with Elliott in her arms. They quickly caught up with the small sailboat wending its way out to open sea. Why did Elliott have the nagging suspicion that their troubles were not quite over?
"Not far to the barrier!" Kelsey shouted to him. "Just five hundred leagues and we're clear! Hurry up!"
Domino and Christine headed back toward the camp, slipping their collars back on. There would be much to do, and many to free now that the mages were down. They headed quickly to the prison huts, picking up as many weapons as they could.
Jeannie had almost caught up with the boat when a rapid wind swept up from the waves. Ahead she could glimpse what appeared to be a curtain of darkness rising from the sea. Was this the barrier of which Shandi spoke? Pinpricks of fear rose over Elliott, and he shifted in Jeannie's arms.
"Let's hurry," he urged.
"What's the rush? Besides, I kinda wanted you to myself for a little bit," she whispered into his ear. Turning him in her arms she pressed a deep kiss into his protesting mouth, burying her tongue between his lips. She wrapped his legs around her waist, holding him with her arms only.
"Jeannie…" came a warning voice in her head. "This isn't the time!"
Kelsey kept her place at the rudder as Shandi unfurled the map from below deck. She struggled to keep the parchment unfurled in the quickening wind.
"Why are they not joining us?" Shandi asked, glancing up at the shape of the Dragon Womyn and her mate, Star Bearer. They circled lazily above, keeping pace lazily with the boat.
"You really wanna know?" Kelsey nudged her.
"Oh man," Shandi groaned. "Some people have all the luck."
Back toward the smudge of land they glanced, Kelsey feeling the strange choking in her throat as she saw Blackwell's island fading into the dark mists. It wouldn't' be long till they reached the barrier that marked the perimeter of Blackwell's influence, and freedom into the outside world. The symmetrical cone of Mt. Blackwell rose from the center of the island, its large jagged crater showing the strange mount steaming at its heart. Like a decapitated shoulder it seemed a neck empty of a head. Was it her imagination or was steam or smoke rising from its crater?
"Shandi, what is that… it isn't going to blow is it?"
"No…" Shandi muttered, looking up from the map. Her eyes narrowed in the quickening wind to peer through the mist that separated them from the island, fast disappearing on the horizon. Sailcloth flapped and slatted in a quickening breeze, and it took Kelsey more effort to hold the tiller steady on course.
"Oh damn…" Kelsey got out when she realized the smoke began to drift like black ink into water, thicker now. It undulated and spilled with a mind of its own, and a rapid pace. Where there was none seconds before there was a whole black cloud creeping toward the circling shape of Jeannie and Elliott.
"Look out!" Kelsey screamed. "Dark Light!"
"Jeannie…" Elliott gasped, breaking his kiss with her.
"Getting nervous, lover boy?" she cooed. "Don't' worry, I won't bite… hard."
"What's going on… the clouds are closing around us!"
"Shit!" Jeannie got out when she realized the dark smoke that wreathed them. Her grip on Elliott tightened considerably. Ahead on the ocean below they saw the perimeter of the magic field, sun just before a black semicircle of odd mist.
"Jeannie, fly the hell out of here!" Elliott shouted. Black mist closed in, sucking the very life and light from his mind.
"Elliott!" Jeannie shouted, her cry choked off by the smoke. It seemed to cling to their very bodies, unrelenting, unyielding and as solid as a thing alive.
"Blackwell," Kelsey gritted, peering from the boat far below. "Shandi… you have to do something, quick!"
Desperately Shandi reached for her scroll of spells, struggling to find the right one. She pulled out her wand, and waved it in a fast semicircle. Lightening flared quickly from its tip, surging in a quick bolt of silver skywards. From cloud to cloud the bolt hopped, till it slammed into the dark mist. For a moment it seemed illuminated from within, the mist brushing back from the two figures imprisoned within.
"Jeannie!" Elliott screamed. She was torn from his grasp as the black mist rose around them once again. He felt himself plummeting seawards with her, hitting with a mighty splash. Waters closed over his head only to push him upwards like a shot. He surfaced near the craft, kicking mightily. It seemed the ocean itself was his ally, pushing him away in a current from the mist of black. Leaving Jeannie far behind him. A rope hit him in the face and he grabbed it automatically. Soon he was tugged up to the edge of the boat before he realized what he was doing.
"Jeannie!" he shouted. Kelsey reached down and grabbed his arm, trying to pull him into
"It's too late…" Kelsey grunted. "Don't struggle!"
"What… Jeannie!" he hollered, shaking water off his sopping curly locks. Shandi pulled as hard as she could at his leg.
Desperately Elliott glanced around him, noticing that there was no sign of the black
smoke, only a strange mist that surged around the boat. With a mighty tug they pulled him into the craft, sopping wet and miserable.
"Jeannie!' he shouted again, rushing to the side. Mist cleared, and sunlight shot through in a low burst that was most welcome. There had been no sun on the island, only a dim gray fog that seemed eternal twilight.
"It's too late…" Shandi told him, tears in her blue eyes. "The Dark Light… it got her!"
"No…" Elliott choked. "I have to go back, save her!"
"You can't… we can't lose you too!" Kelsey shouted, grabbing him and pinioning
an arm around his back.
"Turn this boat around!" he shouted. "I must get her! She's my… my MATE damnit!"
"Shut up!" Kelsey shouted. "She's lost to the dark light! She fought herself so we could escape!"
"Noo! Jeannie!" Elliott screamed, breaking free of Kelsey's hold, sending her backwards. Shandi rushed to grab him, but was pushed aside. Both girls recognized the problem: when dragons mate, they marked them. And would go insane if their breeding partner was taken from them. Likewise the mate of the dragon would also go insane during the initial phases of their bonding. She saw the telltale signs of two puncture wounds on Elliot's neck, telling the story. They had shared a blood bond, and it was going to be murder on them both.
"He's nuts…" Shandi gasped. "Should I use a spell?"
"We'll do this the hard way," Kelsey gritted, and moved up behind Elliott. He lifted one leg over the side of the boat in an effort to get out.
"I'm sorry, but I can't let you go back!" Kelsey said, grabbing his arm and pulling him back. The last thing Elliott saw at that moment was a fist flashing into his face, and blackness erupting into tiny stars.
Mona groaned, shaking her groggy head. Somehow the world didn't seem right when she blinked into blackness, feeling a soft fur rug pillowing her head and shoulders.
"Sweetheart, you okay?" asked a voice in a low mewling growl.
"Tyler?" she asked, blinking up into two green coals that blinked in the dim light.
"Yeah," he answered with a low yowl. "That's me."
A muzzle nosed her, licking her cheeks with a soft sandpapery tongue. For a moment she wondered why he was transformed, but guessed there must be a good reason for it. "Tyler… why are you like this… not that I mind… and where are we?"
"A dungeon, and it smells like we've been put in a place to be forgotten about," he snorted. "Something died recently."
"Yeah," he snorted. "I smelled the guards. Not human, but a hint of pigs and swine mingled in."
Mona shakily asked."How did we get here?"
"You started to teleport, and I grabbed you, and then we ended up here. Poof. The next thing I remember was being in this castle place, which looked a hell of a lot like what Jeannie described in her dream a while back…"
"When we fought Leader?"
"Yeah, and we first met our dads," he nodded.
"You mean we're in the place she dreamed? Like in that other world?" Mona stammered.
"Yes. Or else we're asleep and can't wake up, and are dreaming the same dream."
"Are you sure it's not a dream?"
"It's real. It smells real,” growled Tyler.
"You've changed… but can you change back?" asked Mona.
"I can't. I shifted to fight off some crazy goons, who attacked us, and then they put a collar on me, and I was whammed. I can't change…"
"Oh Tyler," she sighed. He sank down to the floor, resting his muzzle on his furry paws. Mona straightened up and sat down, shifting his head onto her lap. She scratched behind his ears, kissing the top of his head. There was a fizzle of green light before her eyes that faded into nothingness.
Sighing, Tyler lay exhausted against her. "Sorry. We're stuck. Unless you can teleport us out of here, baby."
Mona peered around them, and reached under her silver halter. She found a flashlight, clicking it on and beamed it around the small cell. Iron bars rose in all four directions except for the wall behind them. Light flashed off the slime covering it. Underfoot was straw.
"Okay, there's a hall," she whispered to Tyler, scratching his ears. He purred, despite his anger at being stuck in his lion form. Gathering his body close to hers, she concentrated, staring past the bars. Unfortunately the next second she saw the silver flash that fizzled nowhere, followed by a strange buzzing in her head. A sharp pain erupted in her neck, making her gasp.
"Ow!" she winced, and felt cold metal present.
"Shit," Tyler sighed. "I'm sorry…"
"Must be some king of dampening field…" she muttered.
"This isn't a science fiction setting," Tyler muttered. "More like a spell maybe."
"Someone or something doesn't want us using our powers," she sighed. "Which means
either they want to study us…"
"Or keep us here till they decided what to do with us…" Tyler growled. Protectively he moved closer to Mona, putting his paw on her shoulder.
"At least we're together," she whispered, kissing his muzzle. A soft meow sounded in her ear, followed by his rumbling purr.
"Yeah, and I'm gonna stick close to you, kitten," he whispered. "Very close."
"How close?" she joked, pressing a soft kiss on the tip of his muzzle that made him melt. He rolled over, pulling her to lie against him on the straw. His side heaved under her ear, his powerful flank warm am soft to her cheek. He draped a paw over her, pillowing her head on his side.
"Rmmmmm," he purred, as she scratched his belly. Soft licks passed over her cheeks with that sandpaper tongue, bathing her face with its sweet scent.
"I bet they're going to make us wait for a while…" she sighed.
"Yes, but I'll protect you, I promise," he whispered. "You're mine, and I won't let anyone else harm you… promise. My chosen mate. And Ferals mate for life. I've put my mark on your shoulder. And we've drank one another's blood. There will never be another man for you or another woman for me."
"I know…" she whispered, snuggling into his fur to wait as she hugged him to her. "And I love you no matter what shape you're in… you big puddy tat."
"Mmmm, you're too kind…" he sighed deeply, side heaving under her.
Elliott awakened to a star filled sky, stretching all around them as a dome. The sea rose in gentle swells all around them, wind puffing lightly through his dark hair. Shandi leaned over him, sponging his throbbing chin.
"Sorry but you were going hysterical. We had to knock some sense into you," Kelsey said firmly yet not unkindly.
"Jeannie… she's gone, isn't' she?" he sighed.
"Yeah. I'm so sorry," Shandi whispered, fingering his cheek. "But I don't think Blackwell will kill her."
"He'll try and play with her," Kelsey sighed, coming over. "I'm sorry I hit you... but you'd have endangered yourself as well as us. We need you to help us get into the Citadel."
"I know… I just,” Elliot stammered, shaking his head. His eyes squeezed tightly shut, terror twisting his gut.
"You love her, don't you?" Kelsey sighed. "I mean it's more than just a physical thing isn't it?"
"Big duh," Shandi rolled her eyes.
"Strange, how you speak in the slang of my world, and yet your minds are not of my world," Elliot observed. Making light conversation was the only method of keeping himself from going hysterical over separation from Jeannie. From his chosen mate.
"It's my language spell, working with your powers," Shandi blushed. "Translating what you say into our speech, and what I say into something you understand."
"If your powers were blocked before the collars were off, how could I understand you before?"
"I dunno," Shandi shrugged.
Elliott huddled miserably, hugging his platform booted knees to his bare chest. A cloak had been draped around his shoulders, and he felt his costume dry and cold in the night air. "Tell me about the Elder," he asked.
Kelsey moved back to the tiller again, and Shandi sat down next to him on the blanket. With a sigh she said, "Well, I only know what I've been told in school."
As they sailed on, Shandi told him about the Elder and Blackwell. It kept his mind occupied and his heart from aching for the loss of Jeannie. It seemed there were five heroes who were chosen by an immortal known as Morpheus, two millennium ago.
"He needed agents to join him in his great work of civilizing the Realm from the various scattered kingdoms that constantly vied for each other for supremacy. He granted each ancient power of the five elements, giving them the powers of demigods. Forever transformed they became more than men, but still less then Gods. Eventually they constructed the Citadel to house the ancient knowledge and magic they acquired on their journeys. Morpheus taught them all about the ancient ways of the cosmos. Eventually they gathered much of the ancient powers into one place, the Source, and became its guardians. One of the Elder, as they were called, grew tired of serving Morpheus and sought to overthrow him. The others fought him and cast him out into the World. Their terrific battle almost destroyed it. Sorry for their battle, they thought that such power should not be let loose again, and swore an Oath to stay inside their Citadel.
"It was said that they must stay to hold the Source. Morpheus used his great powers to imprison Blackwell finally in the throat of the volcano, on Blackwell's island. He cannot leave. Over the centuries criminals were sent there, because of the enchantment that binds Evil there and does not let it escape. However, there were charms that were later developed to cross that barrier and let good in, and out, but evil remains."
"It doesn't anymore…" Kelsey cut in.
"Why are people sent here if Blackwell is here?"
"Anyone who is seen to be the worst and unreformable criminals are sent here. The fear of Blackwell is strong," Shandi said. "All that are enemies of the Elder and the realm are kept here, where their enemy Blackwell is closest. The very misery of his proximity makes them malleable and reformable, or so the Monarchs say…"
"Supposedly the guards are Elder's employees. They don't go near the mountain. But I think some of them have been there. I know it."
"The realm is in danger of rotting from within," said Shandi with a sigh. "The Monarchs are becoming petty tyrants, and innocents are being sent to the Island… and being held in the dungeons for no reason. WE don't know why the Elder cannot see our plight… and why they don't' send us Champions to help."
"They pick Champions from time to time to right the wrongs. But there haven't been any champions to help save our asses this time round," Kelsey snorted. "There are Rebels who fight and plunder against the corrupt monarchs, but they have to hide with the Elven races."
"Who serve the Elder," said Shandi.
"I think the Elder don't give a damn," Kelsey said. "They sit there in the Citadel, doing nothing to help. While we're rotting away on an island for no good reason."
"Why did you get sent here?"
"I joined one of the Rebel bands against the count of my shire," Kelsey told him. "The captain of his guard captured and raped my sister. My father and brother were lost at sea, when they went to find her. When the guard came for my sister to take her to the Count, I got up and hit the man in the face. If it wasn't for Domino and her Elfish band of rebels I would have been slain. She was the Princess of a local forest tribe of Drau. She took me in, and my family. Trained me to fight. Unfortunately we were captured soon afterwards by the Count himself."
"Man," Elliott sighed. "What a drag…"
"He could not subjugate us, even though he tortured us. He took us to the Citadel when Domino swore a curse against his right to rule. He demanded they be brought before the Elder to judge. Unfortunately the Major Domo stepped in. he said the Elder could not be bothered with Rebels and had appointed him to judge our case. We were sentenced to life on Blackwell's island."
"Why were you sent there?" Elliott asked Shandi. The irony struck him for on Earth there was an insane asylum called Blackwell's island that a famed reporter had gone undercover to. Nellie Bly, he recalled from history class.
"I was a student in the Academy. I had lied about my age, because my family was poor, just a bunch of traveling performers who were mages, but wanted me to have the best education. They changed my age by three years so I could enter. I was a student there for most of my young years. But come my graduation from Novice to Witch, I had to put my hand in the Pool of Truth to find my discipline. The spell my parents had cast was dispelled, and I was shown to be only fifteen, instead of eighteen. I was kicked out, and I returned home in shame. My parents and I went back to traveling with an act from kingdom to kingdom. Eventually we were attacked by thieves. They killed my parents and sold me as a slave. I was too skinny at the time to be a concubine, and then they saw I had magical skills so they forced me to make their magical weapons and other spells. I was sold as a slave to the captain of Blackwell's island. When I refused to let him take me to his bed he clapped me in irons and tried to break my will. I met Domino and Kelsey, and Christine. They kept me alive… and sane… for the one year I was imprisoned there!"
"I rotted for five years in that hell hole," Kelsey sighed. "I beat the crap out of the men I could, but the others I kept away from Shandi… as did Domino and Christine."
"Were you prostitutes or whores to them?"
"Yes," she lowered her head. "Domino kept them happy. So did Christine. Luckily they didn't even want to try their luck with me. There were other women there too that they had every
night. They were keeping me especially for Blackwell."
"But wasn't he imprisoned?"
"He was. But then I overheard the guards talking about Mages. And how they were close to freeing him. I knew that they were working for him possibly… and the Elder didn't' do a damn thing about it,” reported Kelsey.
"Maybe they don't know…" Shandi pointed out. "Those Mages, their power spells are strong enough to simulate Good. That's how they cross the barriers to get out."
"Someone's pulling a fast one on the Elder then," Elliott nodded.
"Which is why we gotta get in there… and that's where you help us…"
"How?" Elliot wondered.
"C'mon. You have the mark of the star. You can command their servants to take us there!"
"What if they are like the mages?" he sighed back. "When I tried to reach their minds, their chikara, it hammered me!"
"Perhaps your magic is limited to only human minds," Shandi clicked her tongue.
"Star Bearer is the master of dreams and illusion. You can bluff your way past them…" Kelsey suggested.
"How far to the citadel?" Elliott asked.
"By morning we sail to the port of Coriaken. But the most direct way will be to get ourselves taken to the Citadel by their own guards," Kelsey said. "And that's where you come in."
"All right, what do I have to do?" Elliott asked, with a weary sigh.
Slowly the craft drifted up to the pier the next morning, mists rising off the crystal blue waters. In an ever expanding band of green and raspberry pink the sun greeted the sky. Guards moved quickly to intercept the boat in its morning arrival.
"Hail and well met," the Captain of the Rose said, striding up. His black armor was
worked with the spiral Rose design, the vines extending around the arms and back. Other guards had similar designs, from the massive casings of the Ogre guards to the human lieutenants.
"Hail and well met," came the answer. For a moment he could swear his eyes were playing tricks from the rising sun, but they quickly merged into the figure of a young Mage, his purple robes gathered about him. The black Star graced his eye, his dark gaze penetrating, captivating.
"We were not expecting a Champion," they whispered.
"His ship was downed as we were leaving Blackwell's Island," came the firm young voice of the first soldier, her spiral curls of copper protruding from the visored helmet. Tall horns graced each, those of the smaller figure only reaching the shoulder of the other.
"We have not seen this one before," the Captain apologized.
"I have just chosen my fate," he said slowly. "I was summoned by the Elder to bear the Mark of the Star, and seek their approval for entry into the Order of the Rose."
"Few have sought that honor. But you must be worthy of the Prophecy, Boy," the Captain
aid with a bit of a smile on his face. "And few wear their Marks, nowadays. They will be honored, but looks alone will not win you entry. I warn you there is a Quest ahead of all who seek to be Champions."
"I am prepared," he said serenely. "Will we sit and wait here, or go hence?"
"You would best not be impatient, young Boy," he said to the Candidate in purple. He looked impressive enough, the Captain thought. Few even came to the Citadel to embark on the Quest, to seek to become Champions. Only one in a Generation would become a Champion, but those that failed could still serve as Mages, Warriors, and others in the Service of the Elder. After all they did need their guards and mages for defense, since the Elder never left the Citadel. Many arms and eyes were needed for the great work.
The tenseness evaporated when they reached Coriaken, and the main out citadel. Then it was a tense few moments as the Novice was examined briefly by the Mages. Neither noticed the two guards that had returned from the island, their attention was fully focused on the Novice Boy. The round chamber was filled with guards and Mages coming and going, emerging from a round stepping disc in the middle of the stone worked floor. In a blaze of energy two would step onto the disc and vanish as the Transit Mage lifted his hands to command the portal energies. Crackling power surged, and the party would sink out of sight.
"That's a transit station, for the Citadel…" the one taller guard whispered to the Novice.
"Ah," he nodded. "Forgive me, but I thought the journey would be on horseback."
"Are you mad, it is much faster this way?" she whispered back. "We're in luck."
"So far so good," the shorter guard said, fighting the temptation to lift the visor on her helmet to scratch her itchy nose.
"Now, you realize, it might take some time for them to be able to grant you an audience, Boy. So you must learn the virtue of patience," the Captain reminded him. "Will you write a statement and we will deliver it hence.
"Indeed," the Novice answered. They handed him a sheet of parchment, and he froze momentarily, glancing at his guards.
The shorter of the two quickly took the scroll, and the quill to write a message much to the surprise of the guard. "His wrist is sore from the Castings," came the explanation from the taller guard to the Novice's left.
"Ah, then you are from the Academy then?" he asked.
"Yes," he nodded. "From the Outer province."
"Are you going to tire him with questions?" came the other's indignant voice. "He needs all his wits about him to face the Major Domo, Ethylrood."
"Indeed, forgive me," the Captain nodded. He took the flat sheet of parchment in silver ink, and slipped it into a slender case. Holding it out over the pool of Transit, he gestured to the Transit mage. A quick flick of the wrist and it descended.
"We shall have an answer to your Query in a turning of the glass," the Transit mage said. They took seats and waited for a time. Another pair suddenly rose out of the pool of seething power, almost as if stepping up an invisible flight of stairs into their dimension.
"Who is this?" the new Mage, arrayed in a green robe asked. His dark Drau features were topped by the fall of silver hair, and the graceful slope of his pointed ears.
"Tranador, Second Mage, this is a Novice. He claims he was called by the Elder," came the answer of the shorter guard.
"Indeed, I have the Declaration here. You are cleared to enter the Citadel. But the Major Domo will see you first. The Elder have many Cases to preside over this day. But you will be welcome… step forth, Boy."
The Novice was nudged by the taller guard toward the Transit pool. Tentatively he stepped in the center of the ring of stones, flanked by the two guards.
"I will ask for your report later," the Captain said to the two. They tipped their hands to their visors before joining the Novice. Slowly the Transit mage gathered his energies, and spanned wide his slender fingers. Ancient words of power came from the crystal under his hand. Energies surged and crackled into the small pool. Slowly the party sank out of sight, below the sea of change.
Novice blinked twice when he found himself standing in a ring of stones within a huge chamber. His breath drew in sharply as he regarded the surroundings. Rich tapestries hung from high walls, soaring to the heights of a banquet hall. Two large oak doors stood in the far chamber to his immediate ahead, while other passages lead to long lengths in a labyrinthine quadruple curve. Four points, four passages, he reflected.
The doors swung open in the distance, to reveal six willowy females, in varying complexions and hair colors striding out to meet the party. Two mages, males, followed, and split their ways around the small party. At the back strode a wizened human, his gray eyes fixing on the newcomers.
"Major Domo, this is a Novice. He wishes…"
"I know what he wishes. But I want to see if he's worth their time…" he sniffed mildly. "There are many that come here with the same Query, but many are not worthy."
"Indeed," the Novice said slowly, his dark eyes fixing into the Major Domo's. Beside him the taller guard struggled to stop her fists from clenching and unclenching. The Novice felt her skin crawling in the depths of his mind. Images of his hands and eyes walking all over a redhead's bare body entered into his thoughts, and the sharp sickening crack of her fist into his jaw.
"Are you aware of the risk you face? Loneliness will haunt you… Boy…" the Major Domo reminded him, moving his wrinkled face right before the smooth white-faced one of the Novice. A peculiar odor of myrrh sifted into his nostrils mingled with the smell of sweat. Not very attractive by any means. Was it his imagination, or did the Novice hear a low growl escape the throat of the guard to his left. Slowly the Major Domo glanced sidelong at the source.
"I don't recall you," he said slowly, hesitatingly. "When did you enter my service?"
"These two are from Blackwell's island," Tranador said.
"I personally interview all who are sent there," he sniffed. "And these two are not familiar."
Novice froze, glancing anxiously out of the corner of his eyes. Slowly they began to glow lavender. Like the ripples on a pond the chikara reached out to brush the minds of the Major Domo.
"Where is that Mind Touch coming from," Tranador asked.
"Shit," Novice cursed to himself.
"Did you do that, boy?" Tranador demanded. "Do you know how rude it is to probe someone's thoughts unbidden?"
"I… forgive me…"
"You insolent fool," Major Domo snapped. "Such behavior will not be tolerated!"
Just then a bright light fizzled over their heads. Their gazes wandered for a mere fraction of a second when they saw a bright laser beam blinked them both. Tranador and the Major Domo clamped their hands over their eyes in pain.
"Get them!" came a shout as the two guards fizzled into the figures of two young women. Steel slashed as Kelsey quickly dispatched the two guards. Instantly she was at the center of the six elfin maidens, in a flurry of steel.
Elliott threw a burst of light, leaping up to land behind them. His kick incapacitated one, while Shandi's lightening struck another. Kelsey's steel kissed the twin strokes of the two main female bodyguards. Suddenly Elliott felt a sickening crack to the back of his skull from a dark Drau warrior female, one of the six maidens. Blackness erupted, claiming his conscious mind as he slipped to the floor.
"Damn!" Kelsey shouted, flipping up over the two maidens and landing a sharp blow to the assailant's head. Shandi loosed a bolt of fire onto a nearby elfish warrior, knocking her away from Elliott. However, fresh warriors began to pour in from both sides.
"What now?" she cried.
"Get us the hell outta here!" Kelsey screamed. "Now!"
"All right…" Shandi gasped. Her hands spanned wide as she rapidly chanted a spell of Transit, and prayed.
She knew she had flunked basic Transit at first, but slowly on her own had managed a few disaparations. It was faulty at worst, and at best they would at least be out of range of the Mages and the guards.