Art: Written Word

2003 : The Shaper War

Here is the full text for my 2003 NaNoWriMo story. The word count is 66,931 words in total. Much larger than last years effort. This year I had a different approach though, instead of reaching just 50,000 words I wanted to finished the story. With that goal in mind I had better output and a little more direction. I also decided to use the same characters from last year. Holly and Millileth once again take center stage, more or less. There's less of Holly in this one as it's mostly Millileth's story between the two of them. Also is Thalia Nightshade. She had a lot of names and is a concept I've had for a long time in a character but didn't really formalize a full character for her until about a year and a half ago. She showed up briefly in the 2002 NaNoWriMo story, but even then wasn't a "full" character. This year I explored her much more, as a person. Absent this year, on the other hand, is Thissle. Millileth's little pixie companion. At Millileth's conception the pixie was an integral part of her character, sinec Holly kind of took over that roll and because she'd cause some plot issues I didn't wish to get into with this tale she is absent. Of course that means I'll have to go back and write why she isn't with Millileth anymore .. maybe in next years NaNoWriMo .. I also have ideas on the next step to take Thalia to. As well as all of the old ideas I had for Holly originally, those will involve her distant past however. Any way, this is the unedited final output. It does need some heavy editing in places though. Will I ever get to that? Who knows. The future is a long way ahead of me. Enjoy.

//00000 An Explanation//

Creation is a big place. It takes up all of reality as a matter of fact. Every dimension, every world, every plane of existence is part of Creation. Most beings don't even know how big it is, stuck on small things like an infinite universe full of a lot of empty space. Creation is the some total of all universes. And some beings learn to move between them. Of those some learn to shape and create them. These are Gods. And even fewer still understand the concept of The Flow Of Creation, these are Shapers. The most powerful of the powerful. Their dreams determine the direction of the flow. It is also known as the Circle to some, a never ending change from order to chaos and around again.

The Shaper's make sure that the flow keeps moving, that the circle keeps turning. They are very long lived beings coming from all parts of Creation, elevated to such status by Creation itself for they are as much a part as anything else is.

But sometimes the Flow of Creation does not go as it should. Sometimes it stops in places, and sometimes it goes far off course in one direction or another, losing balance.

When that happens somebody has to put it back or all of Creation could end in oblivion and cease to be. Creation has made contingencies to make sure this does not happen. But nothing is ever set, things can change. There is always the chance of failure.

//00001 Valhalla//

The Elder walked across the battlefield, the scrub brush eternally drenched in blood, the bodies of the fallen lay only to rise again and do battle once more. Presently they lay as corpses strewn about, weapons lay scattered. On a rock She sat, sword point down into the ground and her hand on the pommel. She wore knee high boots drenched in the blood of the fallen. Her black armor was dull in the orange of the setting sun. She smiled at his approach.

"What brings The Elder?" She asked.

"The Lady Nightshade, always I find you here."

She shrugged, "This is my place."

"What do you call it again? Valhein?"

"Valhalla, Valhein, Skelgrakt." She said, "Choose a name, it does not matter. The fighting dead come from all realities to here."

"What do you need with such a place?"

She laughed, "It is part of the circle as much as your place is. You, of all the Shaper's should know why any part is there."

"May the circle turn." He said.

She nodded, "And what brings The Elder to me?"

"You have felt it no doubt, a shifting."

"I have," She stood and the armor was gone, replaced instead with a silk shirt, the leggings became leather pants. "Walk with me." She started across the field, he walked beside her.

"Does it concern you much?"

"Some, it always concerns me when the Wheel moves differently."

"Some say it has stopped in places, or skips. Others report the flow being interupted altogether going backwards and forwards."

"Why have you come?" She had long ago grown tired of the power plays the Shapers involved themselves in.

"Of all the Great Ancients you are the only one left."

"That is not true."

"You are the only one left who makes themselves known."

"That may be true."

"No one can remember when such a disturbance occurred on a scale as this. All of the realities are affected."

"It has been a long time since something of this magnitude occurred." She said, folding her hands behind her back. "Last time caused the Shaper War."

"None of us still in power know the details of the Shaper War, only that it was." He said gravely.

"We call it the first war, when all the Shapers, we were the first you see, came to divide up the realities, make the rules based on the laws we had before us. The Wheel itself made us, brought us together. But The Wheel is no more a voice than nothing itself. What came about after aeons of struggle was epic in scale. Whole dimensions were swallowed by those who wished the power to conquer another Shaper. It was then we learned that we could in fact die. I had always suspected but nothing had proven it to me. Few of us survived that, those that did most went into hiding, locking themselves inside private realities." She stopped and turned, "So The Wheel worked on creating new Shapers. Many of which knew nothing of the First War until a small number of the First came into contact with them, There are maybe two dozen out there, including myself."

"How many more locked away."

She shook her head, "That's a secret."

"You don't know."

"Maybe." She shrugged. "What do you want with me Elder?"

"I'm afraid another war will be started over this. Some of them see this as the perfect opportunity to gain more power."

"They have all the power they need at hand and yet they seek more." She frowned, "I have a plan in place, but it requires a rather elaborate execution."

"Whatever for?"

"Personal amusement?" she smiled, "Because if it were simple then someone would be able to easily stop me once I start. I've spent aeon upon aeon making this plan just in case the Wheel stopped moving as it should. Sometime we forget why we exist." She said gravely, suddenly they were no longer standing on the battlefield of Valhalla. Instead they stood in the middle of space, no ground or sky could be seen. Only blackness forever. A second later millions upon millions of simple grey rectangles came into existence in a near order, row up row going up and down and out and back and left and right.

The Elder looked around, he had never seen such a dimension. "Where are we?"

"Nowhere, Everywhere, In between. Doesn't matter."

"What is it for?"

"These doors go everywhere, all places. Call it the Hub of the Wheel. Doesn't matter. Infinity made real."

Elder took it in, "What is this for?"

"I'm gonna save your ass. Or at least the asses of that little council you belong to. More importantly I'm going to keep the Wheel Turning."

"How?"

"Prophecies."

"Prophecies?"

"Naturally, every time the power alters in a dimension it affects those around it, moving the balance around, move enough of them and you can create enormous vortexes of power, or vacuums."

"How many would you have to move?"

"Thousands, millions, two, depends on which ones."

"That kind of planning would take..."

"A long time, it's also very delicate and complicated. I don't expect any one person on the council could pull it off, you don't think on the right scale."

"Large enough?"

"Small enough." She said flatly. "There's a reason I'm one of the oldest active Shapers."

He nodded, "I shall report this to the council.

"Go, do whatever plans you had in place, remember that nothing is predictable." She motion and one of the doors shifted from opaque grey to show an image of a massive marble hall that held at least a hundred beings of various shape and size.

"Does this mean you may fail?"

"Of course. It'd be no fun without a little bit of chance." She smirked. "Who is the councils greatest opponent?"

"Malpheous."

"Move against him if you can."

"The council will not be happy with that option."

"Then do whatever the council votes on, it really doesn't matter to me, but keeping Malpheous busy will give me more time."

The Elder stepped through the door, which turned opaque grey again.

Lady Nightshade stretched and smiled, "Time to gather the kids up and save everything again." She sighed, "Wish those idiots would learn to take care of themselves."

//00010 Council//

The Elder stepped into the archway of a side entrance to the council hall. None had seen him come through the grey door. He took a few steps forward before a paige noticed him, the young angel came up.

"Elder," He bowed low, "No one knew of your return." He seemed ashamed.

"Do not worry, I've been to see Her."

The angel had a worried look on his face, Her could only mean one being in all of existence. "I shall let the council know you have returned." He ran into the main hall, The Elder walked after him at his own pace.

The council hall was buzzing with noise, passing on the information the paige had brought in of the The Elder's return. He walked across the massive hall and into the center.

The hall silenced as he stopped in the middle of the giant marble expanse.

"What news then Elder?" Zaen, a massive man with huge blue-black raven wings.

"I have been to see Lady Nightshade," His voice boomed, "She says she has a plan in place and has gone to execute it."

"A plan?" Another yelled, a woman with alabaster skin and coals for eyes.

He nodded, "She did not let me in on the details, only that she had to alter the power directions of several realities and dimensions."

"That could take millennia!" Zaen yelled.

"She mentioned she had been planning for this for aeons past." He said, "She asked we move against Malpheous."

"Suicide." Someone said.

"Is she insane, tell her to move against Malpheous." Another call came.

"Quiet!" The Elder boomed, quieting the sudden murmur that had arisen. "I have decided we will take our previous course of action, whatever it is that Lady Nightshade has planned may not be in our best interests. But I do trust that her plan will return the balance." He didn't add that he was thinking if she succeeds.

//00011 Dark Riders//

Algaroth watched the gathering army from his position on the keep wall. The various Orcs and Trolls forming their barely there ranks and makeshift camps. Fires burned on the plains from their cooking pits. He shifted in his plate mail uneasily, it would be a tough fight today. A cold wind blew from the south, bringing with it a promise of rain. He wasn't sure where to count that news yet, with the good or the bad.

Jael, his advisor, came striding up, chain mail clinking, "My liege." He bowed, "It does not look good."

"Any word from Calaine?" Algaroth hadn't moved from his stance, facing the fields in front of him.

"None my liege."

Algaroth frowned. "I have doubts Jael."

"The prophecy spoke of this day my liege." Jael seemed unsure for a moment, "The heroes will return with the Darkbanish Spear." He said resolutely.

"For our sake I hope so." He moved to decsend to the courtyard where men assembled for the coming fight. Some sharpened swords, others strung bows and gathered arrows. Some were already mounting the walls and parapets.

It wasn't long before someone yelled down from the walls, "Riders!"

Jael and Algaroth looked at each other then ran up the wall. The looked out of the plains and one of the camp fires was loose in the camp, figures could be seen running to and fro, four riders had broken through the line and were coming in fast on the keep.

They watched as a second set of riders broke from another camp to the south, Death Riders of the March were now approaching the heros as they made their way to safety.

"They'll never make it." Jael said, "We have to go meet them." He grabbed Algaroth's arm.

"It's to late, we can only pray that they can outrun the Riders of the March." He said heavily.

They watched as the two groups converged on the keep over the passing minutes.

"Once they get within range we can provide archer cover." Jael commented.

"Prepare to open the gate and shut it right quick." Algaroth said to the captain of the gate. The man nodded and ran over to make preparations.

Suddenly a green fire of a mages spell lit the hooves of three of the hero's horses. Those three sped on at an increased rate. The fourth stopped their horse and turned to face the oncoming Dark Riders. The rider dismounted and sent the horse running off, which ran for the keep. They watched the dismounted hero draw their sword and take a stance.

"My liege!" Jael said, "They'll be cut down without a thought."

"What is that fool doing!" Algaroth yelled.

The hero's weapon swung as the front Dark Rider came down on them, the force of the blow was heard as it echoed through the morning air. The Dark Rider was blasted to pieces from it's saddle, the empty husk of it's cursed armor clanking to the ground. The other three drew up short on their undead mounts and backed away from the warrior.

"Did you see that Algaroth, they must have found some hefty artifacts. Surely we will win now." Jael yelled.

"The gates!" Algaroth yelled as he bounded down the steps to the courtyard. The riders had already reached the get with the speed magic.

The gates rolled open with the clanking of metal, the three riders entered the courtyard, as they did so the greenish flames from their horses hooves disappeared.

A young man with blonde hair dismounted, followed by another young man with brown hair. The third stayed mounted, a hood over their head.

"Algaroth!" young Alain said as he hugged his old mentor. "I have brought the Darkbanisher Spear." He produced a short spear from his pouch, no longer than his forearm. "Not much to look at, but packs a punch." He smiled. "This is Ormal," he put a hand on the other man's shoulder, who bowed his head in respect. "That is Holly." He said, and the one of the horse drew back her hood to reveal the face of a young woman with deep red hair.

"Greetings Algaroth." She said, "I cannot stay Alain, I must go now. She said and looked out on the field. The fourth hero had destroyed all three Dark Riders as they talked and was standing in the middle of the plain, waiting it seemed.

"Who is that out there?" Alagaroth motioned.

"Her name is Millileth," Algaroth said, "An elf, or more."

"Elf!?" He seemed shocked.

"She fights like a demon as you can see and brandishes magic far greater than I have ever seen. She may be something other than mortal altogether."

Holly jumped off her horse and removed her cloak to reveal she wore no armor of any kind. "I have to go Alain, be well."

"You will not help us fight off that army?"

She laughed, "Alain you know what to do." She winked at him, smiled at Algaroth and ran out the gate gaining a supernatural speed.

"Alain?!" Algaroth was taken aback.

"Trust me Algaroth, She knows what she is doing." The gate suddenly slammed shut, "To the wall." He yelled and was quickly followed by Ormal then Algaroth and Jael. The ran to the wall only to find that the two now stood in the middle of the plains together.

"What next?"

"When they open the circle we point the spear skyward and the Light Of Heaven will appear and lay waste to the army before the spears wielder."

"Let us hope it works." Jael said.

"Have faith Jael, have faith." Algaroth said.

On the plains Millileth and Holly stood, Millileth was removing her weapons and throwing them to the ground. Holly looked back at the keep.

"I kind of feel bad for them." She sighed.

"Can' be helped, good can't win everywhere." Millileth shrugged.

"But.."

"Look, they didn't read the full prophecy anyway. There's always a way out, another alternative." Millileth said, tossing a dagger into the ground.

"I know. But we could have told them, I mean, we knew!" She said.

"Not our place, remember the rules."

"You'd think we'd be above silly things like rules." She said, removing her own small sword and tossing it to the side.

"We are the rules Holly." Millileth removed her leather armor and tossed it to the ground next to the pile of weapons, "If it's any consolation they'll give the dark army one hell of a fight with that spear, more than they would have otherwise."

"But they wouldn't need to fight if the spear had been returned to the right spot."

"They made the decision, what are we going to do? Take that thing from them and put in place ourselves?"

"We could."

"Thalia would be more than a little pissed. You know how she gets with these things. Everything has to turn out just right."

"I know, I know." The red head said looking at the ground, she sighed heavily. "Always sucks when we help the bad guys win."

Millileth laughed, "I stopped believing in good and bad a long time ago. You know it's not quite like that."

"On the small scale it is, maybe not in the whole big picture." She spread her arms out wide, "Alright, alright, let's open that stupid gate and go wherever next."

"I hope we get a break this time."

"We just had a break nine centuries ago, sheesh." Holly rolled her eyes.

"I see we're over the helping the evil horde win."

Holly finally shrugged, "Let's just say that I have a bad feeling altering the requested outcome would bring about some bad things."

"Oh?"

"A feeling in the Flow." She said.

"You were always much better at feeling that than I," Millileth said, "So what's it feel like right now?"

"Off a little." Holly said.

"Off?"

"In this place it feels like it should, but overall something's wrong."

"I suppose we'll have to ask Thalia about that."

"Probably." Holly looked at the sky and the army that was mounting an attack, they were being ignored by both sides as they stood in the middle of the open field. "Ready?"

"I love this part."

"Showoff." Holly said as Millileth gathered in power.

Millileth pulled inward, taking strength from the dimension around her, she spread her hands out and then spread her arms wide. Massive deep purple markings etched themselves into the ground, running outward from her in four directions. They reached a hundred yard and then turned to arc toward each other, forming a circle made of the runes. The earth below them trembled as the energy cut itself out of the dirt and rock, the ground shook slightly.

From the walls the men cheered, holding aloft the artifact they had spent many months retrieving. The orc and troll army cringed as the light poured out of the ground.

Holly added her own power now, an eerie green light permeated the purple etchings and the circle drew closed in a solid wall of purple and green. Then shifted clockwise, spinning quickly and shrunk. It took less than a minute for the circle to go from two hundred yards in diameter to a thin line reaching twenty feet in the air, then disappeared altogether.

On the wall the men waited for the promised bolt from heaven. It did not come. Alain looked at the spear, it started to glow with an light blue light, "Something is happening." He said.

Algaroth looked at it, "The Darkbanisher Spear shall bring forth from it the light of Heavens Above." He recited the prophecy.

"From it." Alain said, "The Spear itself is the deliverer of the bolt. We are saved yet!" He shouted. On the battle field the coming army charged.

A handful of humans numbering no more than four hundred took a third of the army out before being overrun and slaughtered, fully twice their number. The Spear was lost in the mud that came when the rains fell for most of the day, lost for three thousand years yet to come.

//00011 Malpheous :: Master Plans//

Hell is a massive collection of dimensions, called that by those who don't live there and don't wish to go. Hell is a large place that no being, save one, knows all of. Hell isn't so much a place as a state of mind, but sometimes states of mind take form and become a place. Malpheous terms himself a ruler of a large part of this collection of realities. Places of nightmare, of darkness and of other assorted states of mind made real. Malpheous has no idea how bad it can get, but he is a Shaper. He is one of the most powerful single Shapers in existence. And his generals control armies that seek to subvert, conquer and otherwise destroy other realms. Malpheous is a very spiteful being.

Currently Malpheous is in the shape of a ninety foot beast with ten foor horns jutting from his head like antlers on a buck. Teeth dripping with saliva made from acid. His eyes are massive red things with no pupil. Skin a dark grey, black in some places, scaled and rough. Claws stretch sixteen inches out from his fingers. He is a beast to be reconed with, if one fought by the rules of physical combat. Most of his subjects do.

"Bring me," He began, voice a deep bass trembling for miles out, "The Chosen." His voice rumbles after a breath.

Two other beasts, not as big but just as ugly, bowed low and disappeared off to their own subdomains within Malpheouses sphere of control. They had a task set forth, and a guideline on what to look for. Mostly because someone gave it to them, Malpheous to be exact. Malpheous had it in his head that there would be born on a world somewhere, anywhere, a Chosen who would destroy him. When a Shaper dreams the dream become prophecy and then it becomes fact and most of the time it becomes history. Even if the dream is fabricated completely from their own paranoia. Malpheous knows that the Chosen will be born from a mortal and an immortal beings mating. He knows this because he dreamt it. When a Shaper decides something is fact Creation complies. That is their purpose.

Malpheous, his subjects gone, took on a smaller form. A man with two small black horns on his forehead and deep red skin. He had cloven hooves for feet and fangs in his mouth. He sat up a thrown made of bones and beckoned one of his harem over. A winged succubus with yellow orange skin came over and knelt before her lord, she looked up at him once before beginning to pleasure him with her mouth. Malpheous was a creature of the physical world. Decadence seemed to be his stock and trade. Though he fancied himself a Lord of Chaos and Destruction.

--

On another world, a place much more nightmarish than any hell Malpheous could imagine, Lady Nightshade walked through a sea of shifting chaos. Nothing stayed the same for more than an instant. First she was in a forest, then on the bottom of the ocean, then a city. She walked calmly through the shifting reality until she came to the only solid thing there. A stone perfectly round, ten feet thick and a hundred feet in diameter. She could find it because she knew how to walked the chaos. In the middle of the stone was a pillar, on the pillar sat a man who's skin was black, the kind of black that acts more like nothing than something occupied the space. His eyes were pure white. And he sat, hands on his knees, apparently waiting.

"I see Death has paid me a visit." The man spoke without moving his lips. He was one of the first Shapers, and had long since learned that his will simply was. The body he kept only out of convenience of interacting with other beings.

She shrugged, "I go by many names. Why do you always use that one?"

A laughed rumbled through the dimension, a softly laugh made of velvet. "Let me see you're First Form." He said, "Then I will talk."

She complied. Her clothes disappeared leaving her body exposed, her skin had a slight crimson tint to it. Out of her back massive seven foot wings formed, leathery wings stretched themselves out wide before folding back to a more relaxed position. Her eyes turned to normal, with whites, pupil and a bright blue iris. She smiled showing the faintest hint of fang, "Better?"

She got the impression the unmoving figure in front of you nodded. "What is it that you wish of me?"

"You wish to move again, Lucianera?"

"Define move."

"Leave this place you are in?"

"I like it here, here is home."

"But maybe you wish to expand home?"

"Always, that is my purpose."

"Then, that door," She pointed off to one side and a single grey rectangle formed itself, "Shall let you full fill that purpose."

"Am I to assume that, as in times past, this will lead to a closed place yet once more?"

"You could." She shrugged.

"And also this trick will bring me in conflict with Miklavaen?"

"It may."

"You are cunning, you dance the same dance always. Let us out of our prisons only to rend a place to pieces, or not."

"Prison?" She feigned shock.

He laughed again, the same velvety laugh the indicated he found the joke both humorous and base. "Do not play ignorant. You and I both know you are the one who controls us. We are simply pawns in your own game."

"Since we're not beating around the bush, fine." She stretched her arms and wings wide, "Here's the deal, go through the door, fight your brother, rend the world to pieces, plot against me either alone or with him. That choice is yours. If you get free of me you get free, if not then you know you end up back here."

"I accept, it will be a brief reprieve at best, but better than none at all."

"You truly are chaos, lat time I believe you went kicking and fighting, screaming bloody murder the whole time."

"Indeed."

"Whenever you're ready." She said and stepped backwards off the stone circle. She was immediately swallowed by the shifting chaos of the realm outside the circle, a massive dragon like thing having appeared from behind a summer sky where it's edge met a swirling mass of green and black and swallowing her before fading away within fifty feet.

Slowly Chaos stood and the humanoid form, not in any hurry, walked patiently towards the door at the edge of it's circle of solitude inside the roiling chaos of a non-reality.

--

Lady Nightshade, as she had called herself in recent aeons, at least since the formation of the Council of Shapers some time ago, reappeared in a realm devoid of any change. A perfect white background with nothing moving. Pure order. If you looked at the starkness close enough you would see that it formed a perfect crystal shape with no variation and no change in color of any kind. Nothing here was out of place. Except Her, who hovered on her wings and drifted forward slowly. It wasn't long before she came upon a square of similar dimensions the stone circle she just left. Stepping onto it she walked forward, bare feet making no noise on the stone as she did so. In the center on a pedestal sat a man who was pure white, even whiter than the surrounding area. The kind of white that gives the impression that something is There.

"Hello Death." A voice said, this one a steady monotone, no variation beyond the single pitch.

"Miklavaen." She said, acting coy this time, hands folded behind her back and a slight smile on her lips.

"You have set my brother free, or he has managed to break free, yet again."

She nodded, "He has a door." She said softly.

"Then I shall go a bring him under control again." The white man stood.

"You never fight me." She said, pouting just a little.

"This is the order of things." He said, the monotone coming from all places equally. "These are the rules we play the Door Game by, these are the rules that give order to Creation."

"If only everyone saw it as you do." She said, dropping the girlish act and standing strait, hands on hips. She nodded to one side, "There's the door. Go fight your brother and bring the world to complete order. Unless by some chance you break free and see yourself fit to roam at will you come back here."

"I agree." He said, giving the impression that he nodded. He walked towards the door and into the waiting world.

She stepped off the stone square and simply vanished.

--

Lady Nightshade, Death to the oldest of the old beings left in existence, stepped onto the road that led to the great city of Du'Alaine. City of Shapers and their ilk. A city who's inhabitants were entirely made of immortals and Gods and Shapers and other such beings of extreme power. A place that so resembled the principles that mortals in countless realities on even more worlds shaped their short lives on Death found it mildly amusing.

"No matter how you explain the rules and lack of rule to them they always return to the familiar." She said to no one. She still had the wings and was still without any sort of clothing at all, she contemplated changing back to the form the council was most familiar with. Which meant losing the wings, normal looking eyes, red skin and adding clothing of some kind. But for the moment decided against it and simply walked down the cobbled road towards the city. She felt she'd let the council stir itself up before adding more wood to their fire.

She had full confidence in her ability to restore the correct order of things to all Creation in her own time. After all, as long as something lived she still had a job title.

She approached the gates of the city but before she could enter they shut suddenly as beams of white light crossed the opening.

"Halt Demon!" A shout came from atop the walls.

She glanced up and several beings that called themselves Angels of various types stood there. Weapons drawn and fight in their eyes.

She's forgotten her current shape was usually associated with demons, who were always evil things of destruction and chaos of course. She remembered a time when a being was judged for their actions not their species. It was this kind of thinking that led to the First War, and it was this kind of thinking that pervaded Creation at this time.

Nightshade shook her head, "Perhaps this form you'll know better." She said and the wings folded, then swirled about her as they turned to shadow and became a cloak around her body, a hood came up and covered her head in deep shadows that no light could hope to penetrate.

"You will not fool us by taking that guise!" He shouted, but already there was doubt in the ranks.

She floated in the air now, the cloak having become longer than she was tall to completely conceal her form underneath. The spectre drifted forward and passed unscathed through the beams of pure white light, they had no choice but to let her in. The four guards at the base of the fate simply let her pass without question. She passed the Purity Gate after all, and only those pure of heart could do so.

The Captain simply watched the form of Death go on it's way. He was a mighty Angel, with centuries of experience behind him. And all those years said that Death goes wherever the hell Death wants.

The citizens of Du'Alaine stopped to watch the spectre make it's way up to the council hall. A perfect realm who's daily business had suddenly been stopped momentarily as the massive cloak of black shadow floated through it's streets. And when it passed they breathed relief that the spectre had no personal business with them and went back to the business at hand.

--

The council was in heated debate at this moment over how to restore Creation's Flow to it's correct and normal path. They weren't even sure how to start moving it, which was the topic of the current debate. Some argued to find it's source and destroy it. Many argued that the balance was off and that they must quickly work to restore it by making sure as many dimensions were Good and there were currently Evil. Mostly they served as a never ending source of annoyance or amusement, depending on her mood, for Death.

The eighty foot double doors made from magic made solid burst open with a heavy thud like they were kicked. Which was a trick since they weren't movable by solid force at all. Death floated in, giving the impression that were she currently using legs and feet to move that she would be strutting in after kicking open doors of pure thought and magic.

The hall went silent as they watched what appeared to be a massive black cloak floating ten feet off the ground move to the center of the circle known as the Council Room.

"So," The voice of a small girl emanated from the cloak, "What's the plan?" It inquired. Currently the council would provide amusement.

"Which plan?" Elder said from his normal seat on the bottom tier.

"For dealing with Malpheous." She said, still using the voice of an eight year old.

"We decided another course of action would be best." He said, "He is too strong for us to fight."

"To strong? You are a hundred, he is one."

"But his realm is much larger than ours, his influence as draw of power is larger than all of us can come up with." There seemed to be some general agreement amongst the crowd.

Death sighed, "Ok, so what are you doing?" She went back to using her normal voice, which was that of a grown woman with cold patience in it.

"We will work to realign the spheres to their proper order and restore the balance." He said.

"If that fails?"

"We have confidence it will not." He said resolutely.

"Very well." She disappeared with a pop, the council let out its breath collectively, and then went back to arguing.

//00100 Holly :: Landing//

Holly landed with a soft thump and sunk another foot into the snow bank. She looked up into the featureless grey sky. She sat up and looked around, snow was falling slowly down onto the featureless landscape.

She stood up and brushed the snow off her clothes then climbed out of the hole she had made landing. "Huh, must've started pretty high up." She commented to the air as she stood on the top of the snow and sunk only an inch in.

She etched a few runes into the sky with her finger, they glowed green and faded slowly away. "A dead world?" The posed the question to the sky. She etched a few more runes and waited a second. "Ok fine be that way." She threw her hands up and looked around, then picked a direction and started walking.

Several hours later and she found a piece of landscape that wasn't flat snow. A tall thin stone made of grey stone jutted up into the sky fifty feet above the snows level.

"A standing stone, here?" She shrugged and examined it, the surface was smooth, completely unmarred. She etched some runes into the sky and then a matching set across the surface of the stone. A minute passed before the surface of the stone began to change. The etchings began to appear on the side of the stone. "Aha, a world marker." She examined the stone and the etchings. She stood back and looked puzzled. "This can't be right." She took another look around her and found only snow, "Something is very very wrong here."

She took to the air and flew southward, trailing a green light behind her. She reached the world's equator in less than nine hours from its pole. She landed on a beach overlooking a crystal blue ocean of water.

She focused her energy and searched, "underwater? naturally." She pulled her shirt off and kicked off her boots and pants. She waded into the water and swam out beyond the waves. She dove deep underwater and shifted forms to a mermaid. She moved much quicker now with the fish tail. Several miles out from land she dove to the bottom and found the second stone.

Like the first it was tall and thin, only this one was made from a light green stone. No algae or any other form of plant life had grown on it in the ages it had stood there. Holly brushed some of her hair out of the way, trying to get it to float backwards instead of into her face. After a few minutes she grabbed a piece of kelp and tied it off into a ponytail. She etched her runes in the water and then on the stone.

She waited and then the markings in the stone appeared. She read them and frowned. Going back to the surface she gained speed, adding momentum. As she burst through the surface of the water and into the sky she grew wings from her back, massive black feathered wings, the fish tail disappeared. She reached the clouds up in the blue sky and looked around. "Where the hell is the last one?" She flew east, creating sonic booms behind her as she went.

She reached a mountain range and stopped suddenly and looked down. She dropped out of the sky and into a valley deep in the mountain range. Green grass covered the small flat area. A single tall stone of white stone stood next to a small wooden shack. "Now that's interesting." She commented as she walked across the grass, her wings folded into her back and were gone. She created some clothes as she walked, a simple skirt and a white blouse. She walked barefoot through the grass and up to the hut.

She looked around, at the standing stone to it's side and then knocked on the door. She waited patiently for several minutes, contemplated knocking again but waited a few more just in case it was big inside.

The door opened slowly, creaking as it went, revealing the face of an old man. His sunken eyes looked at Holly, her bent frame bringing him down to eye level with her five foot stature.

"Hi," She said in a cheerful tone, "May I borrow your stone for a minute or two?" She indicated to the standing stone.

He cackled loudly and smiled a mostly toothless grin. "You may little one," His voice was like twigs snapping, "But it doesn't work."

She cocked her head to one side, "Doesn't work?"

"Come in, lunch is nearly ready." He opened the door the rest of the way and motioned her in. Holly shrugged and followed him into the hut. Inside it was a single small room that would fit within the confines of the walls that appeared on the outside. Holly shut the door behind her. The walls were lined with shelves full of jars of various sizes. Some clear, some opaque. The clear ones had a odd glow to them. A subtle light inside the jar.

"So, where are we?" She said sitting in one of the two small wooden chairs at the table.

"Nowhere." He said.

"Ah, that explains it." She smiled.

"You're much more resigned to your situation than most." He said, standing over a large iron pot that sat over the fire.

"I've always wondered where Nowhere was." She said matter of factly.

He laughed again. "It isn't anywhere child, that's the problem."

She cocked her head to one side and gave a look of inquiry.

"That's why the third stone doesn't work. It's the map stone and since we aren't on the map it has no way of opening a door to somewhere."

"Not sure I follow."

"No point of reference." He said matter of factly. And turned around to grab a bowl from the table, he filled it with the brown stew from the pot with a worn wooden ladell. He put it back on the table in front of Holly and filled his own bowl then sat across from her.

He began eating, Holly followed suit.

"Makes sense." Holly said, "Can't get you anywhere without knowing where it is." She said between bites.

"That's it in a nutshell."

They ate the rest of the meal in silence. Holly hopped up to help clear when the old man waved her off. He dumped the bowls in a bucket that he picked up and carried around to the back of the shed where a small well stood. Holly followed him for lack of anything better to do.

"Those jars in the shack." Holly began, "What are they?"

"O-ho, now we get on with the questions." He cackled, "You have no idea why you're here do you?"

"Um, well. Got nothing better to do." She smiled.

"They are no more than things in jars." He said washing the bowls out in the well.

"Do you have a name?"

"Klikall." He said standing up as much as his bent form would allow.

Holly thought about that for a second and a memory from long ago resurfaced. "Klikall the Medicine Man?"

"That is a title of mine." He said

"Then that means we are on Kel Sindal!" She nearly shouted. "But, that world died already." She had a hint of regret in her voice.

"Shows what you know." He laughed and walked back around to the front. "Make yourself at home missy, you're going to be here a while."

Holly followed him inside and scrunched her face up, "That means those jars are the souls of men foolish enough to ask for your help."

"Yes yes, still add to the collection, care for a favor?" He laughed evilly.

"No, not at that price."

"Your soul isn't mine to take Shaper," He suddenly grew serious, "I meddle not in the affairs of your kin." His eyes held a kind of fear in them for a brief moment before they went back to their usual mischief.

"I'll find my own way off." She said and walked out of the hut onto the mountain valley. She looked around and sighed. "I'm not supposed to be able to go home." She marched off towards the west. Instead of marching down the mountain range she simply wished herself to the base and found herself standing on a hill overlooking the plains beyond. She sense no living thing beyond the plants for miles. She wondered briefly if some cosmic joke was being played on her. She walked off towards the coast she knew to be some miles to the west.

--

Nightshade walked into the hut an hour after Holly left. She was dressed in all black again, leather boots, black leather pants and a black silk shirt open down the middle to her stomach.

"Hello Klikall."

"You, what is it you wish?" He said, venom tipped his tongue.

"Where did she go?"

"West I assume. She is your kin." He said dismissing her with a wave of his hand.

"Soul Keeper, I shall be leaving your realm soon enough."

"I only help in order to restore the flow." He commented.

"You and I, we are not so different you know."

"That is my problem with you."

She laughed, "You have fear that your soul may fall into my collection?"

"You should fear yours ends up in mine, with all these favors you ask."

"You wouldn't charge little old me." She smiled coyly.

"I should, but I know better than to make a deal with you. To many end up trapped in realms they cannot leave or control." He said.

"Did she try the stone?"

"Of course not, only a fool magician or some other idiot would. She's a smart one, I can see her mother in her." He smiled.

"Of course." Nightshade bowed low, "I shall gather her up and we will be gone shortly."

"Good, I have several customers waiting for me." He went about cleaning his hut with a broom made from twigs.

--

Holly reached the edge in three days, a craggy coastline with more rocks than beach. She sat down at the edge and watched the ocean for a while. As the sun set she stood up and walked south for a while. She came upon a tall bluff and began the climb to the top. When she reached it she sat on the small rock at its summit and watched the horizon where sky and ocean met. It was a view she hadn't seen for thirteen thousand years and had never expected to see it again. As she sat and watched the moon rise over the water, and then set and the dawn came. She stood up and stretched and marched back down the bluff to the bottom and along a trail she remembered being there, a trail that did not exist in this place and time.

She stopped in the middle of the plain and looked around. As she did so she could almost hear the village that would sit in this spot. The noise of a barking dog. A laugh from the tavern that sat forty feet to her right. She could almost imagine the buildings still standing. She tasted the dust that hung in the air and remembered herself as she was when she was seventeen and leaving this village to make her own name in the world.

The bitter taste of tears brought her back to the present place. An empty plain on a world called Nowhere that you couldn't leave. And the Soul Taker was the only one you had to talk to. She hoped that Thalia would come looking for her and take her back to wherever everywhere else was from here.

Holly started walking south along a road she remembered that wasn't really there anymore. She simply walked for seven days through the open plains and rolling hills. Occasionally crossing a stream or river she came to. And finally she came to where the gates of the city of her birth once stood, or rather stood in a place different from this but similar.

She passed through them, almost imagining the guard waving her past. She walked down streets she drew from memory as if in a dream. And then stopped, almost hearing the hustle of everything behind her. She was in an alley now, looking at the door that lead to her Uncle's tannery. She stepped through it, not knowing what to expect. There was noise upstairs, shouting and movement. A midwife came running down the stairs and went into the kitchen, she came back out moving as quickly as the bowl of water she was carrying would allow. Holly followed her upstairs and into a room that held three other women, one was on the bed in obvious pain. She was giving birth and there was a complication of some kind. The women moved about the room, ignoring Holly who stood in the doorway. They even passed through her once or twice proving that she wasn't really there.

The baby came, screaming at the world, as was wrapped in a blanket and held up for the mother to see.

"A fine girl." Commented the midwife holding her. The woman on the bed looked up and locked eyes with Holly, who didn't know she could be seen.

"You're a beautiful woman Holly." The woman on the bed whispered and closed her eyes for the last time.

"Oh!" The other midwife exclaimed and rushed to the woman's side. "She's..." she couldn't complete the sentence just yet.

The senior midwife frowned and looked down at the screaming child in her arms. "Poor child, not a parent in the world left." And she walked out of the room with the baby.

Holly simply stood in the doorway and stared. What she had just seen, was it dream? memory? prophecy? or lie? She turned to leave.

Holly found herself staring down her uncle then, in the back of the tannery some several years later. A girl of no more than eight with red hair and pointed ears. Her uncle yelled some series of profanities at her and raised his fist. Holly cringed from a memory long gone and fell backwards into the alley before jumping up and running, it wasn't for a while that she realized a crude wooden flute was clutched in her left hand.

Holly stopped and reorganized her thoughts, shaking her head to clear it a bit. She looked down at the flute and then around at the world around her. It had returned to the empty plain she walked on to get here. Nothing but grass for miles in every direction. She sat down on the ground and cried.

Nightshade came upon her in the late afternoon lying in the grass, curled up with the flute held close. She kneeled down in the grass and brushed the hair from Holly's face, "Wake up." She whispered.

Holly stirred and blinked the sleep out of her eyes. She rolled over and looked up at Nightshade, the sun formed a halo around her head. "I.."

Nightshade shook her head and silenced Holly with a finger. "Think on it a bit."

Holly sat up, "So, what happened?"

"Hard to explain. The wheel isn't turning right. The Flow of things is sort of muddled right now."

"My mother could see me."

"Yeah, she could."

"And she.."

Nightshade changed the subject, "We need to find Millileth."

"How do we get out of here."

"I know the way." Nightshade stood up, "And there's a few things we have to do first."

"How did I end up here?"

"The last portal you opened got caught in an twist in the flow. You both were thrown separate ways. I managed to catch you and direct the stream here. Millileth ended up... I don't know where yet." She looked around.

"So here is Nowhere. Which is a lot like Kel Sindal."

"Nowhere is a collection of memories. The Soul Keeper holds sway over them."

"KliKall? Soul Keeper?" Holly was all questions.

"Yes. My nemesis, partner, adversary and co-conspirator."

"Ummm." Holly looked confused. "You're supposed to be Death in the larger sense and he is the Soul Keeper, so he must be Life then?"

"No, not really. The Flow is life. Life just is. We..." She thought for a second, "We make sure life keeps going."

"By taking it?"

"Incentive for propagation." She said with a hint of a smile.

"I see."

"He acts more like Temptation with his promises, some of which he fulfills, some of which he doesn't. But as long as there is hope he will people will keep trying. And as long as they are aware of Death, they try harder."

"Seems awfully base."

"We go down to the lowest denominator sometimes. There are other factors that help in keeping the wheel turning."

"Like?"

"Order and Chaos constantly fight each other, struggle is good."

"Good and Evil?"

"In a more abstract sense sure. Or at least on a smaller scale."

Holly nodded, "I get it."

"I knew you would." Nightshade started to walk west to the sea, "This way." She motioned. Holly bounced to her feet and walked after her, still holding onto the ancient wooden flute.

Well after sundown Holly spoke again, she had spent the last eight hours thinking things over, "This world did die right?"

"It was collected by Klikall, its essence is in a jar on his shelf. Someday it will be remade again and will go through another cycle." Nightshade said.

"So, we're in a memory?"

"Something like that."

"But.." She stopped walking, "Ok, just tell me how a memory could see me, talk to me and why the hell did she look like you?" Holly looked up a Nightshade.

"To disrupt the flow takes a long time, and a lot of work. Fourteen thousand years ago, give or take a century, things started to shift. The flow shifted, a prophecy of fairly epic proportions had started." Nightshades looked back at Holly, "Can we walk while we do this, the door is a ways out." She motioned to the west.

"How much further can it be? We're almost at the Sea Of Madness."

"About seventy miles off the coast."

"Oh."

"Walking on water helps." Nightshade waited for Holly to take a few steps before going on. "So I needed to move some plans along. I've been spending a long time making sure things are running smoothly through creation. Difficult task that. Most who try to look at the big picture and handle the details at the same time go insane after a while."

"You didn't?"

"Mostly, more or less, some would say I started that way, some would say I'm just immune to that affliction."

"And what do you say?" Holly had long ago gotten used to the long version of stories from Death and had learned to make sense of things early on in them.

"I just am." She continued, "I had to find the source of the ebb, which was here." She motioned at the world around them, "Then I had to find out what exactly it was. It was Millileth. Through some research I discovered she was part of a prophecy that had nothing to do with this world. Seems a certain Shaper dreamed his own demise and since Shapers dreams become reality Creation complied and gave us Millileth. A young elfin girl set upon the world to be the mother to a destructor of this Shaper."

They reached the coast quickly, Holly noticed they were walking at a rather astounding rate. She followed the steps for a few minutes and realized the world was also turning underneath them quickly, almost tripling their speed or more without causing them to walk any faster. Nightshade simply walked out onto the water and the waves parted around her, creating a path out to sea. Holly followed suit, exerting only a little power to walk across the water, Nightshade appeared to do it as effortlessly as walking on the ground.

"Millileth is going to be a mom?"

"At some point." Nightshade nodded.

"Ok, I'm assuming you're rambling on towards my questions then?" Holly realized she was still holding the flute and made a belt around her waist to put it in.

"Yes, the back story will help." Nightshade answered, "I made some preparations, caused her advent as a Goddess and then needed a reason to bring her up as a Shaper. By this point the flow was bending more, though very few could feel it. I'd say maybe half a dozen and most of them can't affect creation. The eddies in the flow caused some odd things to occur more frequently. You always have eddies, but mostly they're localized and very small. The one I'm talking about was a fairly large curve, mostly centered around Millileth. I came to this world needing to straiten the curve out a little, I had to find a nulling effect to put on her so the powers that watched wouldn't notice her until it was to late. So I became mortal for a short while and had a daughter." Nightshade stopped walking and stood an inch above the lapping waves. "During the birth the eddie peaked and we saw each other, my mortal forms have no real idea what they are until they die. In fact I become very mortal, open to every affliction out there. Before I came down I added a power to you, made you a Shaper from the start. But I reversed most of the energy flow, a sort of Anti-Shaper if you will. My mortal body died giving birth and I went back to being me, Death, Lady Nightshade, Thalia, whichever name you wish to go by."

Holly stood looking up at her, saying nothing.

"As you grew the powers inside you realigned themselves to match Millileth's, but in the other direction. You canceled each other out in a sense. Not your actual powers but the aura you gave off. Whenever together you don't register as being a Shaper, or even a being of great power. So you could say I was destined to catch you midstream at some point, direct you here so I could see you and then tell you all this."

"Prophecy made by whom?"

"Sometimes creation makes its own, sometimes they are a result of someone elses prophecy without them knowing. A prophecy finds life of its own and does what it needs to make the end result come true."

"I see." Holly hadn't moved.

"So I went back to being Death and back to making sure things were set up right, I knew this was coming and had to make sure I could make it right again."

"You knew all about it right after your body died? Why didn't.." Holly's eyes teared slightly, a lone tear slid down her cheek.

"Had to let you go on your way. If I was supposed to raise you my body wouldn't have died."

"You could have changed it."

"No, I couldn't."

"Yes."

Nightshade cut her off by putting her hand on Holly's mouth, "It's past Holly, I couldn't, I didn't. We need to move forward." Holly put her hand on Nightshade's and slowly pushed it down, Nightshade let her do so.

"I always have and still mean those words I spoke, and I'm glad that she got to see you through her eyes instead of only mine."

"I spent my mortal life looking for my father. When I found him he proved to be the womanizing bastard everyone made him out to be. I got over that quickly. But I've spent my entire lifetime, thirteen thousand years, wondering what my mother was like." Holly wiped tears from her cheeks with the cuff of her shirt, "And she's standing in front of me, and I don't know what to do." Holly sniffed, "Do you have any idea how many nights I spent just thinking about what I would say?"

"Hundreds." Nightshade said, "Thousands even, too many to count. I couldn't tell you until now though, I had to let the prophecy take its course. Were it not for that glimpse of you in the eddie I probably would have told you much sooner."

"Really?"

Nightshade nodded.

"Do you want me?"

"Of course."

"No, not need me to help stifle some prophecy." He eyes were hard now, "Do you want me around. Do you.." She paused, words getting stuck in her throat.

"Yes, I love you. Yes I want you. And yes I'm very proud of you." Nightshade said softly.

Holly stood there just staring up at Nightshade, trying to come to terms with this new revelation. She reached forward and then hugged Nightshade tightly, trying unsuccessfully to stifle tears. Nightshade put her arms around Holly and returned the hug. She opened the door underneath them, a flat grey rectangle unmoving on the water around them. She sank them slowly through it and into the next world.

//00101 Millileth :: Arrival//

Millileth stumbled forward from the end of the alley and nearly tripped over a cardboard box full of garbage. She steadied herself on the brick wall to her left. Falling sideways into a place always disoriented her for a second. She shook her head to clear it and got her bearings. The look of the place told her that she was in a moderately advanced world, maybe late industrial or information age type technology. She looked around to make sure no one was watching just in case and etched her magic into the air, purple runes glowing faintly.

"Almost no magic here, but it borders a fey realm so some must break through. Hmm, late information age." She mused and stood up strait. She changed her clothing from the clothe tunic and britches to something more fitting.

Millileth walked out of the alley in a leather skirt, red silk blouse, black hose and two inch heels. "Much better." She shook her wrist and a pair of silver bracelets were there. A pair of diamond stud earings appeared as she adjusted the small purse hanging from her left shoulder. "No sign of Holly, can't feel her either." She shrugged, "Something went wrong with that last door. Better find out what's needed here." It wasn't the first time she and Holly had been split up by Thalia, but it was a rare occurence. Or maybe whatever happened in the last portal had something to do with it, she mused as she walked down the street. She was currently looking for a bank, she had an identity to set up before doing business here.

She found a bank quickly enough, setting up an account with more money than she should ever need was easy enough. A little magic and charm went a long way on this world. Especially since this world was almost completely void of such things.

Next, she had no idea what was next. Usually they entered a dimension and knew immediately what to do, or a vague idea of where to go. A direction at least. Here she had nothing. Maybe she got some time off from the whole prophecy thing. She got a room at an expensive hotel, taking the suite and waited a night. Sometimes it took a dream. No dreams came to her. The next day she wandered the city she was in.

Tall skyscrapers, cars. The newspaper said is was 1998 in this place. What they based that on she didn't know or much care. Currently it was spring. The city she was in was called Denver, in the country known globally as the United States, which meant she'd found an Earth Dimension variant. The place had plenty of mostly modern conveniences you'd expect out of an information age society. Some time in the library gave her a bit of history to go on. The rest she'd have to make up as she went along. Deciding that she was in fact on vacation and her time was her own she figured on settling down for a few years here. First stop was a bar, she could use a drink.

--

In a subrealm of the hell possessed by Malpheous an ancient hag with yellowing skin and bloodshot eyes bent over a scrying pool, staring at a pitch blackness. The creature smiled an evil grin with missing teeth and rotting gums. "I have found it." she said.

She hobbled off towards the throne room of Gazbal and up to seat at the top of a dais. "I have sensed the power of the Chosen," The old witch cackled.

"Ah good, where is it."

"I am looking now, it will take some time." She said.

"How much time?" Gazbal was the patient kind of overlord, the one that knew some plans just took a while to manifest if you wanted it done right. He had destroyed many an opponent by making them believe they were winning while he slowly engineered their downfall. Gazbal was a very dangerous creature. One of the more likely candidates to take Malpheous' position should he fall.

"I'm not sure, not long at all I don't think." She said.

"Let me know when you have the place." He said. She hobbled out of the court. Off to the side, unnoticed by those in the throne room a tiny imp heard the conversation. It fly quickly out of the palace, into the realm beyond and through a Silent Door to Malpheous' own place. He quickly related the news to the Shaper Demon and then returned to his place in Gazbal's realm to spy some more. Malpheous trusted no one.

//00110 Nightshade :: Mountain House//

Holly woke up, she was in a bed somewhere. She sat up and looked around. A small room with a single window and a single door. She got out of bed and took a look out the window. She was on the first floor and overlooking a small garden that was surrounded by a four foot stone wall. Beyond that was a field, a glance to either side showed some more buildings to the left and right. They were all made of stone, none more than a single story.

She turned back to the room and found some clothes folded neatly in a pile no the small chest at the foot of the bed. She pulled them out, leather pants, green silk blouse, tall boots with heavy rubber soles and black leather gloves. The pile also contained a rapier with an ornately carved basket and hilt.

Holly looked about the room again, the only lamp in the corner was an electric one, the heater was a metal duct in the floor, which was hard wood. She wasn't sure what kind of dimension she was in yet. Pulling out the clothes she noticed they used underwear here, which was good if she were expected to use the sword. A bra always kept things under control in the tumbling fights that using rapier's usually involved. She put on most of the clothes, but left off the sword and boots for now, and walked out into the small hallway. The hall only had two other doors going from it, one to a bathroom, the other to a bedroom only a little larger than hers. she followed it to a main room that contained all the amenities of modern living. A television, stereo, large comfortable couch. This part of the house was made from wood instead of stone. It had a very comfortable log cabin feel about it. The room she stood in was the main room, going to the front of the house it exited on one side to a porch and the other to the front door. To her left was an archway that led to the dining area, which also faced the front of the house but was only half as wide as the living area. She walked into that room and found that it had an arch in the back that led to the kitchen. She wandered that way. She checked the refrigerator and found it was mostly full, but not very. She pulled out a small bottle of milk and grabbed an apple that lay in a bowl on the counter. She walked back out to the front room, sat on the couch and grabbed the remote to the television. She examined it, no matter where she went remotes always seemed to work the same. Must be a good design. She turned the Television on and searched for some news, or at least a weather channel to tell her where she was in relation to the rest of the planet.

She found what she was looking for in short order. She was in Italy, so it was an Earth dimension. Some dimensions had a certain way of propagating themselves, there were maybe four dozen that had managed to copy themselves several hundred thousand times over. Each one just a little different from the others in some way, some drastically different. Earth was one of them. The year, according to the guy on the news, was 2003. And the main method of resolving issues seemed to be a duel. She flipped through the channels to gather some intel. Seems Houses rather than Corporations ran most of the business and had very much kept alive the one on one combat of a duel with rapiers as a sound way to resolve some issues. Fair enough, she could use the sword but hoped it didn't come down to that. She wasn't much for combat personally.

Nightshade walked in about two hours later, carrying a pair of brown paper bags, she had a sword around her waist. "Hey Holly." She said and went on towards the kitchen with the bags, "There's a few more in the car if you want to get them." She yelled from the kitchen area.

Holly stood up and went out the door, the front lawn was small, a path led to one side where a red jeep sat in a gravel driveway. Holly took a good look at the outside, they were apparently in a mountain village in Italy somewhere. They had no one immediately around them, the other two buildings in sight seemed to belong to the same grounds as the house. She walked over the jeep and grabbed the remaining two bags out of the back seat and took them inside. She put them on the counter and looked at Nightshade, who was doing the very domestic thing of putting away groceries. "Ummm..."

"Don't picture me doing this often do you?"

"No, not really."

"Well, While we're here I do. Betcha didn't know I liked to cook."

Holly shook her head with a look of slight amazement in her eyes. "Do I get a history of this place?"

"Sure, pull up a seat," Nightshade motioned to a stool sitting to one side of the kitchen. Holly pulled it up the small island near the middle of the room and rested her chin on her hands.

"The Duel is a time honored tradition here, very important thing. House Fighters are trained from youth to fight with the Rapier, sometimes one will use another sabre of some sort though. Mostly the sword is the same basic shape throughout the world. The Houses rule, almost more important than governments. Also on this planet are Talents. Duelists who have a special power, these usually end up House Champions. Some of them are very long lived, living hundreds of years or more."

"So, how much time do you spend on this world?"

"It's one of my favorite places. I do like a good sword fight." Nightshade smiled.

"You're name here?"

"I keep it simple, Thalia Nightshade."

"And I get to be?"

"My daughter of course."

"Naturally."

"What's your talent."

"Touch of the Dead. Cold mostly, and I can touch non corporeal beings." She started putting away the third bag of groceries.

"So what are we supposed to do here?"

"Kill one of the talents."

Holly sighed, "And that does what?"

"Shifts the power of this dimension to a more desired direction."

"I don't think I get how it all works."

"Dimensions have a power balance, certain actions shift the balance one way or another. Creation has certain lines of power across it, when the dimension on a line all face a certain direction you can create either a power vortex or a power nova. If you know how you can take advantage of it."

"And you're going to use the shift to get rid of the Shaper causing all the problems?"

"Yes."

Holly shook her head, "So, do we know who it is yet?"

"No, we'll find out when Millileth does her part."

Holly looked at her, "Wait a minute, you split us up so Millileth could be left out there for whoever to find her?"

Nightshade nodded.

"I don't like that idea. Besides, you have no assurance she'll do whatever it is she needs to do for the prophecy."

"No, but I have a feeling she will. The time seems about right."

"How do you figure?"

"Feel the flow for a bit, you'll notice it's getting more and more out of place. Chance is being awfully nice right now." She finished putting away the food, and started to pull out some utensils for making dinner, "I'm a champion for House Vetilucci, our mortal enemy of Agrenon. Vetilucci has one other Champion, Mikkael Vetilucci. Agrenon has three champions currently, Gaven their master champion. Thomas and Jenail their minor champions. Vetilucci is the only house with two master champions by the way. Makes for tricky internal politics."

"What other kind of power is on the world?"

"None. Only Champions have power of any kind, and then it can only be concentrated through the swords. So don't use power unless you're in a duel." Holly nodded, "Now, you get to have my personal pesto sauce recipe." She started to boil some water for the pasta.

Holly sat in silence as she watched Nightshade make dinner, an act she thought she'd never see.

It was over dinner that she started asking more questions. "So, we're in the mountains in Italy, seems to me that'd be a silly place for a house to rule from."

"Vetilucci's patron lives in New York City. This is my personal home. Most believe I grew up in this village."

"Ah. So, did I grow up here?"

"More or less."

"I don't even get to make up my own story." Holly stuck her tongue out.

"Nope, I like this place to much to go messing with it more than I have to."

"I can see that, you even cook." Holly smirked, "Death Cooks. And she isn't half bad at it."

"Half bad?"

Holly shrugged. "I've had better."

"Excuse me?"

"Well, I've been a lot of places right.."

"That recipe is over a hundred thousand years old, don't tell me you've had better."

"I'm just saying, it's good and all."

"Just see if I ever cook for you again." Nightshade scolded her.

Holly felt the sudden need to change the subject, the object being to avoid getting stuck with cooking duty. "So, what are the other buildings?"

"The one up the hill is the training hall, the one down the hill is a guest house and entertainment house. It's larger than this one, I throw all my parties there." She winked.

"Parties? How often do you get visitors?" Holly looked excited for a moment, there wasn't much more she enjoyed than a good party.

"Almost never, but it helps keep up my image." She said, "I'm rich, from the Italian country side and have lived most of my long life alone. On a chance visit to New York where I had, at the time, purchases an apartment there managed to join the vetilucci house. It didn't take long for me to become a Champion for them."

"So what do we tell people about my dad?"

"Keep it basic and not far off from the truth. He passed through, I had a fling, you're the end result. I've been out of contact for twenty five years at this point so it's a very plausible story since you're only twenty now."

"I can't even drink."

Nightshade shook her head, "Drinking age is nineteen here."

"An upside. When do we leave?"

"In a week maybe. I have to call out there and let them know I'm coming out of hiding. They're sort of used to it. If the political climate looks good for what we need done I may come out as a special service to finish things off. If not we're looking at an extended stay as I go about the tricky business of making things unstable again so we can kill Gaven."

"Nice how we need to kill an enemy."

"Like I said, Chance seems to be working in my favor at the moment, I plan on taking advantage of it as much as possible."

"Chance huh? I thought you didn't believe in chance?"

"The Flow tends to try and right itself. When things get this far out of alignment the flor often resorts to what seems like random chance to bring events favorably towards whomever is the most likely in recreating the balance of the flow."

"I see, so since Creation thinks you're the one to put it back in place it might as well help you along."

"Correct."

"Does this mean it's working against the one bringing it out of balance?"

"Only in as much as it helps me does it hurt them. Creation doesn't actively work against people directly most times. Creation doesn't like to interfere with it's own prophecies. If it did there wouldn't be a problem to begin with."

"So it helps with the solution instead of just solving it, I keep getting the feeling Creation is a being somewhere."

"Creation is all beings everywhere, and all things. Creation Is. We're a part of it." Nightshade corrected her.

"Ah. Well, you cooked so I guess that means I'm on dish duty?"

"Damn strait, I didn't raise a slacker." Nightshade smiled.

Holly frowned, "Barely raised me at all." She said and began to clear the table.

Nightshade watched her for a minute, "Wish I could've." She said and stood up to make a phone call. It would be a good time to contact Mikkael. The phone rang a few times on the other end before someone picked up, "Is Mikkael available?" She asked the person of the other end of the line.

Holly listened in on the conversation as she put the dishes in the dishwasher, the other end must has told her he wasn't around.

"Ok, tell him Thalia called, I'll be available at my home." She hung up. "I suspect I'll hear from him with the next six hours." She said. "Care to do anything this evening?"

"What's there to do up here?"

"The other house has a billiards table, among other things."

Holly thought about it for a minute, "Why not, what about something to drink."

"I'm assuming you mean something like beer?"

"Wine if you have it." Holly said.

"Of course, a full cellar." Nightshade walked out of the kitchen, Holly followed her out the front door, and down a path to the other building. It was almost three times the size of the house Nightshade occupied. Inside were two large rooms that dominated it, one had a billiards table, the other was more open and had a bar. Holly noted the steps that led down into a cellar and a hallway that led off to some bedrooms. She looked out a back window onto the garden than ran behind all the buildings, she noticed one small stone building about the size of the house.

"Who lives up there?" She asked as Nightshade racked the table.

"George The Prophet." She said as she poured them each a glass of wine from a bottle she had retrieved from the basement while Holly looked around.

"George the Prophet?"

"My grounds keeper, maintains the place when I'm gone."

"Oh, he knows you're back?"

"Yes. You slept through most of yesterday you know."

Holly picked out a pool cue, "What are the chances I can beat you?"

"I've seen you play, I'd say better than average."

"Damn, you've watched."

"Of course, I also know almost everyone underestimates you seeing as you can't reach most of the table."

"The bridge is a very useful tool." Holly conceded. "So why's he called The Prophet?"

"You'll see when you meet him."

It was well after midnight when they called it quits and walked back to the main house. The phone rang as Nightshade was undressing for bed, Holly had retired to her own room already. "Ciao."

"Hello Thalia." The voice on the line was friendly.

"Mikkael, how are you?" She walked into the living room and sat down on the couch, stretching her legs out.

"I'm good, and you?"

"Not so bad."

"Funny you should suddenly decide to reappear." He had a hint of amusement in his voice.

"Do tell."

"Things are escalating between us and House Agrenon, unfortunately they seem to be gaining the upper hand in some of their ventures."

"I see. Have things broken down to open hostilities?"

"Almost," His voice had a rough edge to it that Nightshade didn't like.

"Almost?"

"We can't afford it, I don't know if you follow the news when you're hiding up there in the mountains."

"Not this time around, I was a little busy."

He laughed, "I can only imagine what could keep you busy."

"You'll find out if you want me back in New York."

"We almost need you back. About five years ago we had a short but rather bloody war with several houses. Agrenon led four houses against us, we had the support of only two minor houses. There we heavy losses on our side. Including House Sabattini's champion."

"Sounds bad."

"Well, we made peace, but it's tentative at best. The city forced us into it, said we were causing to much bloodshed in the streets."

"That bad?"

"That bad. So we've been wavering on the edge of war, a skirmish here, a business loss there, very little gain for us recently."

"I think I may come in just in time."

"Maybe, depends on how rusty you are."

"Rusty? I assure that I am not."

"It would do good for our moral to have Thalia the Dance back. That I won't lie about."

"I'll be there within a week."

"I'll make preparations."

"Nothing to big I hope."

Mikkael laughed again, "When a champion of your nature comes out of hiding it's hard to make it small."

Nightshade smiled. "I suppose it wouldn't be all that bad. I do have announcement to make in that case."

"Curious."

"Good news."

"I can't wait."

"I'm going to sleep now Mikkael, I'll not sit here while you talk the news out of me."

"Five days then?"

"Five it is. Maybe four."

"Just call when you get in." He hung up the line.

She tossed the phone headset on the couch, "Well, this should be easy."

//00111 Millileth :: Settling In//

Millileth looked out over the city from her suite on the thirteenth floor of the hotel. She sighed, over a week and nothing had happened. She was beginning to believe she might be stuck here. If things weren't right with the Flow as Holly said maybe she'd been thrown off track. It would explain why she and Holly weren't together right now. It might also explain why she wasn't able to open a portal out or that Thalia hadn't come in to get her out.

She had no idea how long it might be before she could get out of this dimension. She turned and walked out of the room, she had a meeting with a real estate agent. As long as she was here she might as well do something with her time.

--

"Hello Miss Sarray, I'm glad we could finally meet." The man extended his hand, he was trim, greying on the sides and in his mid-forties. A picture of his family sat on his desk, plump wife and two kids in their teens.

Millileth took his hand from across the desk and gave a strong shake, she wore a red business suit and heels that made her barely an inch taller than the agent across the desk, "Thank you." She said.

"Would you like to see the property in question first, or go over the papers?"

"I think I'd like to see it first before committing." She smiled, she had adopted a slight accent from a country that was on the other side of an ocean from her current residence. She figured any social points she missed could be easily covered by that.

"Of course, mind if I drive?"

"I don't drive, so I hope you do." She smiled, it's easier to do business when everyone is friendly.

He smiled back and walked around the desk, leading her to his car. They drove halfway across town to a residential area two blocks off a main street. There were only a few businesses in the area, most of them in the two blocks around a large supermarket. The building she was looking at was just at the edge of it's zone, a single story building that occupied a corner. It had a very small parking lot behind it that could hold six cars maybe. An alley separated it from the house that was next door.

They parked the car and got out, "Well, this is it." Mark, who had spent the card ride over telling Millileth what a great location the small storefront occupied.

"I think this might do." She said looking around, "Can we look inside?"

"Of course," He produced a key and unlocked the front door. The previous tenant had run a small deli, eating counters lined the outside windows and a country occupied most of one side that had a kitchen just behind it. Most of the shelves were still intact.

"As you can see, it's already prepared for a food service, which you were interested in I believe." He smiled.

"A coffee shop yes." She said, "This looks like it will do nicely." She took a quick tour of the place and found nothing immediately wrong with it.

"Excellent."

It took only another hour for them to complete the sales contract and she now owned a small building in a quiet neighborhood. The day before she had purchases house in the same neighborhood, about a half mile from her new coffee shop to be. That was her next stop.

She got off the bus and walked through the neighborhood, it had a city feel to it without actually being near the bustling downtown area. Blocks of houses with alleys between them on the back sides. Her own house was halfway down a block line with maple and sycamore trees. A two story building with a mid sized backyards. Three bedrooms on the upstairs, four rooms downstairs, two with fireplaces, and a finished basement with three more rooms. She whistled a tune to herself as she walked through the empty house, she had yet to purchase furniture for it, but that would come soon.

//01000 Holly :: Country Girl//

"Morning kiddo." Nightshade was busy cooking eggs and bacon in her kitchen when Holly walked in, freshly showered and wearing only her shirt.

"Hello." She stretched. "I hate this hour of the day." She climbed up onto the stool.

"Then why are you up?" Nightshade deftly flipped an egg over.

"I always wake up when I smell breakfast, it's a curse."

"I see."

Holly nodded, "Let's see, bacon, eggs, toast," She looked around the counter and stove, "No pancakes?" She raised an eyebrow.

Nightshade glanced over her shoulder, "You slave over a hot stove all morning and all she can say is 'no pancakes'."

Holly stuck out her tongue, "Yeah, you need pancakes, biscuits, muffins, fruit and maybe some oatmeal."

"Is that your idea of a full breakfast?"

Holly smiled, "Of course."

"It's a wonder you managed to stay so small."

"Hey!"

"Hey nothing, you want all that you get up and cook it. Fruit I have, it's in the fridge, fresh orange juice." She moved the eggs from the frying pan to a plate, "And put some pants on George is coming down to meet you."

"Yes mother." Holly jumped off the stool and skipped back to her room where she rummaged about, she finally found something other than leather pants. She pulled a pair of sweat pants on and padded back out to the kitchen where Nightshade was starting to set the table. "Thank you for remembering to get something other than leather pants."

"I prepare well," Nightshade answered as she brought out a plate full of still sizzling bacon, "You have a pretty wide choice of clothes."

"I noticed, most of them I like."

"Black leather not your style?"

"Not really."

"Well, best get used to it, that's pretty standard for duelists."

"What about blue jeans?"

"Not as common, but doable in informal occasions." She continued to set the table with Holly's help. The front door opened as Holly brought the large pitcher of orange juice out and set it down.

A thin man in his late fifties came striding in. He was energetic and all bones in his loose fitting clothes. He had a mostly neat grey beard and was balding on top. "Welcome back Lady." He smiled at Nightshade. He voice was a little rough, but not to bad. He looked at Holly with quick brown eyes for a minute, his gaze seemed to penetrate her, "So Death has a daughter then!" He exclaimed, "If that ain't the damndest thing." He laughed.

Nightshade sat at the head of the table, Holly simply cocked her head and stared at him for a moment. "I told you he's a prophet. He saw me for exactly what I was, Death." Nightshade said by way of explanation as George took his seat at the table. "Which is why he's in my employ and lives way out here in the middle of the mountains."

"Hardly nobody bothers me up here, which is good. I hated it when I was nothin' but a seer for them folks." He indicated the outside world with a sweep of his arm.

Holly sat down at the table, "So, you know..." She wasn't sure where to go with the statement just yet.

"Plenty. I can see people's souls and you have an old soul compared to most. Course not as old as the Lady." He said indicating Nightshade, "And yer soul looks very much like hers, though not as..." He seemed to search for the word, "Heavy." He said finally.

"Heavy?"

"Hard to explain," He was busy serving himself some bacon from the plate, "My guess is your more likely to bounce through a room than madame gravestone over here." He motioned to Nightshade with his chin, she rolled her eyes.

"You'll be lucky to make another year with that attitude mister." She cautioned him with her fork.

"Then you'll have no one to tend your garden when ye skip out to some other place for years on end." He scoffed.

"Um, How old are you George?"

"Going on three hundred I'd suspect, never did keep track." He shrugged, "Be livin' as long as the Lady feels to let me I 'spose. Within reason."

"I see."

"Long as I don't go gettin' myself dead," He continued between bites of egg and bacon, "I 'spose I'll live as long as she wants."

Nightshade smiled, "Or as long as you want old man, you know that."

"Can't complain so far. I enjoy watching the world go by as much as the next hermit." He laughed.

Holly shook her head, Nightshade usually surrounded herself with the insane when taking mortal companions for whatever reason.

They ate the rest of the meal in silence, it wasn't until Holly was mostly done clearing the table that she spoke next, yelling at Nightshade who was in the living room at a desk going over some papers of some nature.

"Is he for real?"

"George the Prophet?"

"Yes."

"As much as anyone, he can see souls if that's what you're asking." She yelled back.

"I thought you said this place didn't have power of any kind."

"It doesn't really, but every place has the potential for anomalies, and exceptions to the rule."

"I see. So even on a world completely void of any power some could exist?"

"Potentially."

Holly finished the dishes and came out, "I see. You know I've never put much thought into the nature of things."

"You will with time. I spent a couple thousand years just thinking about it once."

"Just thinking? That's all? I don't think I could sit still for a thousand years to just think about something." Holly dropped onto the couch and curled her feet under her.

"I was nailed to a stone at the time, couldn't do much else." She finally looked up from her books and reached into a draw in the desk.

"Nailed to a stone?"

"Tied technically, and it was a very very long time ago. Before I was a Shaper."

"Wow. At what point do you stop feeling old?"

"About the time you realize you've watched several universes go from birth to death you discovered you're as old as you think you are."

"And how old are you?"

"Old enough." She pulled out a small leather book and tossed it at Holly who caught it. "Read that, it's the duelists code and book of honor. You'll need to know everything in there before we leave for New York."

"Which is when?"

"Three or four days from now."

"I'm your protege as well as your daughter I take it?"

"It makes sense I would teach you everything I know about dueling, keep it in the family and all."

"Makes sense. Have a particular style I should know about?"

"I'm called the Dancer."

Holly looked at her, "Ok." She sounded slightly incredulous.

"I move about like a dancer, gracefully and always in motion."

"Do you actually do some dance moves?"

"I fought a duel to a tango once."

Holly laughed, "You'll have to demonstrate once so I can get a good enough image to imitate if I was taught with that style.

"Actually," Nightshade said, "I learned it from you watching you fight over the years. You're very graceful on your feet."

"I spend most fights dodging the enemy you know."

"I shifted the dodge to parrying blows instead and striking very quickly and precisely."

"Aha, so I become more aggressive with my own style?"

"Something like that. Read the book though, most duels are only to first blood, which makes it easy to fight defensively until opportunity presents itself."

"Good, I hate fighting to the death."

"You'll get your share of that too."

"Shoosh, let me read." Holly had opened that small leather book and began reading it. Nightshade smiled and stood up. She went to shower and dress herself for the day. Holly read the book as asked, Nightshade had taken to doing chores around the house, from repairing a break in the stone wall that George hadn't been able to fix on his own to gathering fresh herbs from the property to cook with at dinner. Holly was on her own for lunch and had eaten several apples through the course of the afternoon.

By sundown Holly had finished the book, a rather pretentious stand on the nature of the Duelist and the rules of the duel itself. Talents could only honorbly use a talent in a duel with another talent, unless the duel involved many people in a brawl situation, in which case a talent was free to do as they wanted to end the fight quickly. The focus was definitely on the one on one duel. Death duels were extremely serious as well. Then there was the whole hierarchy within a house. Two chapters had been dedicated to it, she slogged through those with several groans and rolling her eyes. She never was one for titles and levels and ranking.

It was the smell of dinner cooking that made her rush to finish the last chapter regarding the death of a duelist and the type of funerals they should be given, which she mostly ignored. She walked in and watching Nightshade cook, it was a new experience for her.

"Something I can help you with?" Nightshade asked after a few minutes of being scrutinized, her back was currently to Holly.

"Nope." Holly answered.

Nightshade continued cooking, counting slowly in her mind, at two minutes she smiled.

"What's that for?"

"Flavor." She had tossed a bay leaf into the pot of sauce.

"What goes into that?"

"Family secret."

"I'm family, what goes into that?" Holly had her curious voice on.

Nightshade turned and faced her, placing her hands on the counter of the island in the kitchen, she was standing opposite Holly now. "I know that voice, and I know what comes with it. You know how to cook." She pointed an inquisitive finger at Holly.

"I've got to make up for a some missed years of mother daughter bonding." Holly said matter of factly. "And it's your duty to pass on that recipe before you die."

"I see." Nightshade stood up strait and crossed her arms, "In that case I suppose I better share the recipe."

After dinner they sat in the living room and played at Tall Tales, trying to out do each other in telling the most outrageous story. Both of them were drawing from personal experience instead of the usual making things up. So far Holly was winning, Nightshade was learning just how far Holly would go for a good time, a near polar opposite to her own level of caution. Holly also had a fondness for being convoluted about getting results, as if she were always looking to do something outrageous. Nightshade was much more direct in her approach to things.

Near the end Nightshade simply sat and watched as Holly told story after story, often feeling the need to act out certain scenes by jumping about the room.

--

The next day they both went up to Nigtshade's training hall after lunch. The building was one large room, the entrance was at ground level. A short flight of stairs went down about five feet giving the center area a fifteen foot ceiling. The back had another set of stairs going up to another area at ground level. It had two rooms, one on either side of the building. One was open to the building and held a large hot tub, the other was closed off and was intended for changing into and out of work out clothes. The hot tub was turned on and warming up as Holly got into the outfit of a dueler. She came out in her knee high boots, black leather pants, green silk shirt with slightly flared arms and no collar. Her hair was tied in a long braid that reached her mid back. She put on the gloves and stood in the middle of the arena.

"I feel kind of silly in this."

"You look great." Nightshade stood opposite her in a similar outfit, her shirt was a deep crimson red, and her hair was in a long leather sheath instead of braided that reached just below her waist.

Holly took a stance and drew her sword. "You think?"

Nightshade drew her own sword, "Would I lie to you?"

"Yes." Holly decided defend and held off attacking first. Nightshade didn't wait.

She took several quick steps in and a side step when Holly went to defend and strike. Holly took a simple defensive position, turning to face Nightshade, in order to get an idea of her opponents style. She smiled, Nightshade was indeed dancing about the hall as Holly parred her strikes. Holly, with a quick two step, followed suit. They were moving about the hall using every square inch it had to provide. Ducking, tumbling and the occasional summersault around each other trying to get in a single hit. It was Nightshade who won the first duel with a slash to Holly's arm as she attempted to twist away from Nightshade's blade.

"You're arms a too damn long." Holly inspected the wound.

"Heal it." Nightshade had wiped her brow with a nearby towl.

"What about power?"

"Didn't the book go into it?"

"Um, defensive and offensive talents, most people have one of each." Holly said.

"Right."

"So..."

"My talents are ice and healing, as long as the wound isn't to bad."

"Doesn't do much for my shirt." Holly closed the wound with a thought.

"So, chosen a talent yet?"

"Maybe."

"It'd be nice to know it, I am your mother and all."

Holly smiled and lunged, the blow was parried. They began to dance again, moving a little faster this time. It was Holly who won the next duel when she caused her sword to spark against Nightshades and went in with three quick jabs, one of which stabbed Nightshade's thigh.

"Lightning, and a nice touch with that jab." Nightshade let the wound close.

"Thank you." Holly saluted with her rapier.

They spent the next four hours practicing, Holly and Nightshade learning to match their technique so it appeared that Holly had learned directly from her own mother and no one else, and Nightshade improving her own skill against someone who had learned the same style she had.

Nightshade opened the panels that covered the side walls about the pit area, making the building an open space, it had no windows. Holly had stripped her clothes off, and left them in a pile at the foot of the hot tub. She was already soaking when Nightshade came up to undress.

"Not worried about George?"

"He's not a people person, or a people watcher. I suspect he's up in his house connected to the internet reading things." Nightshade said tossing her boots to one side.

"I see." Holly settled back and watched the sky through one of the open windows from her seat in the hot tub. She was facing the front of the building.

"Move over," Nightshade got in next to her and occupied the corner of the hot tub that was to the back, also facing the front. Holly was forced out of the middle space and into the corner to her left. Nightshade stretched her six foot figure out and put her head back, she let out a slow breath and closed her eyes, "This always feels good." She remarked.

Holly simply watched the sun set from their view perched in the mountains. "How far away is the village?"

"Ten minute drive downhill."

"How small is it?"

"Couple thousand maybe."

"And I've never been out of it?"

"Rarely."

"So I get to play Country Girl."

"I'm about to put a fox in the hen house aren't I?" Nightshade sighed. She didn't have to look to see Holly's smug grin on her face, "Silence is one of the best parts of soaking in a hot tub you know."

"I take it you aren't cooking tonight?"

"No, you're on you're own tonight."

Holly stood up, "Well, I'm hungry so I'm going to find some food, any towls around?"

Nightshade lifted one arm and pointed across the way to the dressing room and went back to soaking. She heard Holly get out and pad across the changing room, pull out a towl and then pad across the hall to the door on the other side. She went over the days activity, Holly would fit in nicely once she actually got to fighting.

An hour later Nightshade came down from the training room, having closed it up for the night. She carried her boots, walking barefoot through the grass. She stopped at the low stone wall at the front of the property, edging the driveway, and sat down on it. She felt the cool night air blowing over her, it blew against her skin through the mostly open shirt, which was slightly damp from her wet skin. She watched the last of the suns rays disappear over the horizon below her and watched as the stars came out completely.

Holly went to the front door and turned the lights on to the outside of the house. She looked outside and saw Nightshade sitting on the small stone wall near the edge of the driveway where the mountain side dropped off. She decided to join her outside.

"Hey mom." Holly sat on the wall next to Nightshade, "Penny for your thoughts."

"Just looking at the stars."

"Any life out there."

"Somewhere, far away. Nothing of consequence." She said.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

"Does it bother you I've known the whole time?" Nightshade was the first to break the silence.

"A little." Holly answered, "I can see why and all, but still." She looked up at her mothers face, "I never expected to meet my mother, so in some way I'm glad it's you." She finally said.

Nightshade reached out and put an arm around Holly's shoulder but said nothing.

"You have any other kids?"

"I had three sons once." She said.

"Once?"

"They.. They all died a long time ago."

"Oh." Holly put her arm around Nightshade's waist, "Sorry."

"It's OK. They turned on me in the end any way. It was a nasty situation all around. I learned a lot from them."

"Yeah?"

"I'm not the best mother Holly, it's probably just as well I wasn't around to raise you."

"I think you would have been good. Better than what I got at least."

"Sorry about him, I had no control over that. But Talaine was a good mentor."

"I miss him sometimes."

"He'd laugh at you for that."

"Yeah well, he had a funny way of looking at life."

"I approve of it."

Holly gave a short laugh, "Death approves." She announced and shook her head. "How'd you get that name anyway?"

"What Death?"

"Yeah?"

"Longevity."

"Come again."

"I've been around a lone time right."

"Right."

"Oldest Shaper still active is only about a hundred thousand years old measured in base time. Most of them barely break fifty thousand. Young pups. I've been around so long I actually call them the fourteenth generation."

"Fourteenth..."

"Don't add, not all generations of Shapers last the same amount of time. I'm not so sure I'm from the first, but it's very likely. There aren't many of us left who are that old. Most of the Great Ancients as they are called are barely a couple million years old. I can count back some billions."

"My head is spinning thinking of numbers in that size."

"Let me put it this way, I know what eternity looks like."

"Yeah, I've seen those eyes. Very creepy."

"So I'm called Death because around about the fifth generation they gave us names. We were known then as simply The First Children. That's a name you'll only find reference to in the oldest of the old texts kept in the Library Of Ages. They named the First Children after their own idea of what we were, or are. We didn't care and before we knew it the names stuck usually at the expense of our original names."

"So who are the other First Children still alive?"

"Chaos, Order, Matter, The Forsaken One, Librarian, The Sight and Soul Keeper." She said, "There are others out there I bet. I haven't looked in a long time."

"So why are you Death?"

"I was the first Shaper who figured out how to kill another Shaper. And I once demonstrated that my powers of destruction knew no bounds."

"I see."

"I tore three dimensions apart with little effort once. I also figured out how to trap Shapers. Which is just another way of killing them."

"Imprisonment?"

"Is something I know very well. And when you trap a being as powerful as a Shaper irrevocably then even they fear you. I also found where all the doors are."

"you mean portals?"

"No, the Doors are a place that can travel between all places, that's how I got in and out of Klikall's place, I know where the Doors are."

"So why not name you after those?"

"Because to find them I had to kill and take the knowledge from another Shaper, the one who put them there."

"I see. You're a nasty being."

"I can be. I set about putting some sort of order into the flow once, but not absolute order, that was the ambition of someone else."

"Death, in a grand sense is the great equalizer then?"

"I can even out a playing field fairly nicely yes. But I can only do what I do if life keeps going, otherwise I'll run out of customers, so Death is also Life. If I'm to be Death in the greatest sense of the idea then I feel responsible for making sure the Flow and life in general keep on going."

"The good answers are never simple."

"Not really."

"I'm ready for bed," Holly stretched and stood, "I'll see you in the morning."

"I'll wake you with breakfast I'm sure."

"I'm sure you will." Holly winked and walked on up the path to the house. Nightshade stood and watched the sky for another minute, "We're coming Mill, stay out of trouble for a bit would ya." She said to the sky and turned to go into the house.

--

Three days later they were on a plane to New York, the week had gone quickly for both of them as they practiced sword fighting most of the time. Nightshade had given her some more details regarding the House and what to expect, Holly had expressed interest in the large ballroom dances and masquerade parties that the Houses often threw. Nightshade only smiled at this, she would enjoy her time here more than previous visits. They arrived unannounced, taking a cab to Nightshade's penthouse suite overlooking Central Park from forty seven stories up, forty eight if you counted her roof top patio.

Holly was busy inspecting the entire place while Nightshade called up Mikkael.

"Mikkael please, this is Thalia." She said to the answering secretary. She was put on hold for a moment.

"Thalia, so you are in New York then?" He sounded happy over the phone.

"Arrived two hours ago, I'm at my place right now."

"Good, good. It is not yet to late in the day, care for dinner?"

"No thank you, I have a few things left to do before going before our Patriarch, I assume Alfonse still runs things."

"He is the family head still yes, but Antonio has taken much interest in running many things at the street level. Joseph runs most of the family businesses though, you should make an appointment to see him as well sometime tomorrow before the welcome back party."

"It's going to be big I assume?"

"Alfonse has not forgotten your last visit and the circumstances that led to you leaving to save us face. He welcomes you back with open arms now that the incident has passed completely. Antonio still hates you with a passion I would assume and Joseph only has a mind for business. He also will welcome you back into the family, if for no other reason than your sword."

"That is the reason I have returned."

"So tell me, the big announcement, what is it?"

"Can't say. But I will give you an idea by letting you know I shall be bringing a guest."

"A guest? Sounds intriguing, what is the nature of this guest?" He was probing for information.

"Oh no you don't, I know you. I say one word and the entire family will know before I can surprise them."

"Very well, we shall impatiently await tomorrow's dinner." Mikkael feigned being hurt and rejected.

"Just give me Joseph's number." She laughed.

Holly bounced back into the room as Nightshade was dialing Jospeh. Nightshade put a finger to her own lips to silence Holly before she could speak. Holly took that opportunity to climb onto the back of the couch, press her forehead against the massive bay window and stare down to the street below. Nightshade rolled her eyes.

"Joseph Vetlucci please." A very official sounded secratary had answered, unlike Mikkael's who doubled as his girlfriend on weekends. "Thalia Nightshade." She answered the first question of what could possibly be many. The woman on the other side of the phone soudned skilled at getting people off the phone without getting them to Joseph. "It's upon Mikkael's request." She answered the next question. That seemed to work as Nightshade was now on hold waiting for the woman to check with Joseph himself. During that short moment Holly bounced off the couch and into the kitchen, she came back out with a glass of water and sat down in a chair.

"Hello Thalia." Joseph sounded much older than Nightshade remembered, "Welcome back to New York."

"Joseph." Nightshade smiled, "It's good to be back."

"From Mikkael I understand you wish to rejoin the family again?"

"If it's not to inconvenient. I was hoping the past issues had blown over by now."

"Indeed, they have. I'm sure some scars will remain so I'd be careful around Antonio." He said.

"I take it that means I'm back."

"Of course. I have fond memories of you, and I know full well what went on all those years ago. How about lunch tomorrow and we can catch up."

"Sounds good to me, I have someone I want you to meet."

"Oh? Did the infamous Thalia find someone to settle with?"

"Not exactly, you'll just have to wait until tomorrow and I'll introduce you."

"I look forward to the date. Does Luciano's sound good?"

"I see you plan on starting the political pull already."

"The whole family has heard of your return. There are many new faces who were not around before. I need to quickly establish you are not only here with my blessing but to show you off a bit to the other houses."

Nightshade smiled, "I do love the politics of power."

"And your guest, I must welcome them as well. They are a duelist yes?"

"Of course. One of the very best."

"it is set then. If you'll excuse me I have much to attend to before tomorrow night."

"Of course, tomorrow, noon sharp." She said, "Ciao." And she closed the line. She turned to Holly who had an expectant look on her face. "We have lunch with Joseph tomorrow, he runs the family now."

"Ok, sounds good to me." Holly said.

"And we have to do some shopping as well tomorrow."

"Shopping?"

"A formal dinner tomorrow night requires the appropriate outfit."

"You're going to wear a formal dress?" Holly had a look of disbelief.

"After a fashion. I am still a duelist and I have had to fight in a dress at one of these things before. I know a taylor, if they're still around, who custom makes dresses for women duelists. Elegent and cut to fight in."

"Sounds like fun." Holly said.

--

Ten in the morning and Holly was standing on a small pedestal being measured by a pair of girls in their early twenties. They were in a downtown shop, nestled down a flight of stairs so it was just below street level, underneath a tower of offices. The sign on the outside said Juliano Brothers Fine Clothing, which caught her as off since the only man in the place was an aging gentleman who greeted them at the door. He immediately recognized Thalia, as Holly was now being told call her if not using 'mom'. He was all smiles and welcomed them into the shop. Thalia introduced Holly, without any titles, and requested a dress made for both of them. He brought Holly to a back room where an older plump woman told her to strip down for proper measurements. So Holly was standing here in her underwear glad she decided against the lace.

Since they had almost no time to make a dress from scratch Holly had to settle for something altered. And they had plenty of dresses for such occasions, it seemed to her that they were more prepared with a series of mostly premade dresses that could be altered to fit. Unfortunately for her there was very little demand for someone five feet tall. She had two dresses to choose from. She chose the one slit only from the mid thigh down, it was a dark grey in color with a deep red sash, she managed to get that changed out for a green one. The back was a series of criss crossing straps giving her the imrepssion it had been shredded by design. No straps came over her shoulder, and it had no sleeves, giving her complete freedom of movement in her arms, which was good since her legs didn't have that freedom, and a tumble was strait out of the question. The dress had no flare to it, and no extra parts that might get in the way, the sash itself made allowances for a sword belt. Thalia wasn't kidding when she said they tailored to duelists. It came with a pair of gloves that reached to just below her elbow. Right off the rack was a good fit, but Holly discovered she wasn't has large in the bust as the off the rack models seemed to be. Which wasn't so bad since the dress didn't feel the need to accentuate or create cleavage of any kind. It did seem to draw attention to her legs though, with the cut in the hips and the sash drawing attention to the slit up either side of the legs. She was advised to wear a low cut boot, maybe something to her ankle, to show off her legs. Holly had a sudden feeling of self concious doubt at her height. At five feet short legs were the last thing she'd have shown off. But she figured as long as everyone would be able to see them, why not.

Lunch next, Holly had no idea what Thalia was wearing and was told she'd have to wait like everyone else when she asked.

"You're getting far to into the role of pretentious rich." Holly said in the cab ride to the restaurant.

"Shush you." Thalia smiled, "I'm supposed to be a person of mystery, a little dangerous, never give out information unless you have to. You know, the cunning type."

"Pain in the ass more like it." Holly took to street watching.

The restaurant took up two floors of a rather tall building, most everything in New York belonged to a tall building in some way or another. The front was red brick, which was a nice trick since the rest of the building above it was steel and glass. She could tell it didn't got the whole length of the building it occupied, but did go most of the way back. The bottom was full of business types in suits having lunch. the Matre De greeted them at the door. He was told to expect them and when Thalia gave her name immediately led them upstairs, which meant they had to go through most of the bottom floor to get to the stairs located in the middle of it. Holly noticed several people stare, mostly much older business men who might remember Thalia from her last visit twenty five years ago.

They were led upstairs where the much more important business men ate, as well as the duelists and high ranking members of the various houses. Many of them did stop and stare openly at the two women as they were led to a table near the corner of the room. a large booth sat there and at the head in the corner sat Joseph vetilucci.

He was a tall, thin man in his mid forties, black hair slicked back, in a dark suit. He had features that reminded Holly of a hawk, beak nose and small sharp blue eyes. He stood as Thalia and Holly approached, the two duelists he had at his side simply watched the two women as them came up.

"Thalia, you don't appear to have aged a day. I'm jealous of you Talents some days for that." He smiled, it was intended to be warm I'm sure but Holly got the distinct impression she was looking at a shark ready to go into a feeding frenzy.

"It comes with it's own burdens." Thalia returned the smile, Holly figured hers was better only because she had so much more time to practice it. "Before we get down to business I'd like to introduce Holly, my daughter." She put a hand on Holly's shoulder who immediately stepped forward to be level with Thalia.

Jospeh raised an eyebrow, "Well this is certainly a surprise." She extended a hand to Holly, noting the sword at her side, "Let me be the first to welcome you to House vetilucci." He smiled again, this one was a little warmer. He turned back to Thalia, "You are married?"

She shook her head, "Unfortunately no." She shrugged ever so slightly. He seemed to understand because he quickly changed the subject.

"Sit, we must have a toast to celebrate your return." He motioned for the waiter who came over, Joseph ordered a bottle wine for them.

"First lunch, then business." He said, "No good business came of an empty stomach."

It didn't take long for them to come to a decision and order lunch. It wasn't until they were half done that Joseph spoke of business again.

"So, I'm sure Mikkael told you some of what is going on?"

Thalia nodded, "I have a basic idea."

"Things are not so well for us at the moment. House Agrenon seems bent on breaking us entirely. So far we have made a show of a stron front but we have our own internal problems."

"Do tell."

"First, some questions I have for you." He said, "You are prepared to return as a Vetilucci Champion yes?"

"Of course."

"Good, again we will be the only house with two Champions, it will go far to make us look stroner in the eyes of the other houses." Thalia only nodded, "And your daughter, Holly, I not she wears a sword. Will she be joining our ranks?"

"You can ask her." Thalia motioned to Holly who had simply taken to watching the restaurant. She brought her attention back to the table at the mention of her name.

Jospeh turned to Holly, "If you so wish House Vetilucci would have you amongst its ranks."

"I'd be honored." Holly said.

"You have Talent I assume?"

Holly nodded, "I have."

Joseph's eyes seemed to sparkle just a tiny bit more, "Good, since you are new however I would have to introduce you only as a member of the House in General." He said.

"I understand." Holly answered.

He turned back to Thalia, "Then we have two more swords, both Talents. This is good news. Now onto the bad." He paused a moment, "Antonio is reckless at times, he commands great respect from the House Fighters, do not get me wrong. And he is my brother, I love him very much. But he is to hot headed. Many of the lesser houses are unhapy with his methods. He is to eager for the fight, ready to charge down the doors of Agrenon itself."

"I see he has changed none over the years."

"I am truly sorry the only solution was for you to leave. But now things are different."

"Different?"

"Should he fall in battle," Joseph let the thought complete itself.

Thalia smiled, this time she did nothing to hide the predator underneath, "It would be a tragedy."

"A very unfortunate one." Jospeh sipped his wine, "He is very unhappy with your return, it would not surprise me if he tried something tonight."

"Tonight may be bad politics."

"Unlike my father who chose his son instead of repairing the damage to his house I wish nothing more than the strength of Vetilucci to return. We have grown weak over the years. It is time to trim, lest the grapes die on the vine."

They finished lunch over small talk about the family. Holly didn't pay much attention to it, feigning fascination with the room at large.

After lunch they went shopping for appropriate foot wear. Holly spending the better part of three hours looking for just the right boot. she had settled on a pair of black boots with a three inch heel that came up to her ankly in soft folds of suede. Thalia had found a pair of boots that went up to mid thigh with lacing all the way up, hers had only a two inch heel. Thalia's already statuesque six foor figure needed very little help but she decided on them over the flat heel anyway.

By four they were back at the taylor's for a final fitting and adjustments. Holly once again stood on the short pedastal, surrounded by a large mirror on one side and the two girls as they made sure everything was in place. She looked at herself in the mirrors and smiled, she didn't look half bad she thought. The older girl stepped back and looked at her.

"Very pretty." She said, "Now, on with the sword," She handed Holly her weapon belt. "Make sure you can draw it with no problem."

Holly did as she was told, putting on the belt and making sure he could draw the sword. The woman adjusted the sash a little bit so it covered up a bit of the belt and didn't bunch. "Now walk around a bit." She said.

Holly stepped off the pedestal and took a quick walk around the room, the new boots were a bit stiff. The woman smiled and nodded approvingly to her partner. Holly smiled herself, she couldn't help but enjoy the attention and the new dress a little bit.

She walked out to the main store and saw Thalia talking to the older gentleman from before. She stopped short and just stared for a minute. Thalia's dress was solid black on the bottom half underneath her swords belt and a gold belt that wrapped around her waist. The belt was no more than several wraps of a thin chain, it looped over and under her swords belt. One loop hung several inches lower to stop where the slit up her left leg started, which was just above mid thigh. The right leg had a slit going up to nearly her waist, stopping a half inch below the sword belt. Between the slit and boot not much actual flesh was showing. The lacing the on the boots from above her knee did show some of her leg as the boot itself didn't go all the way closed, allowing for the knee to bend without dragging the top of the boot down her thigh. The dress reached nearly to her ankles, which were clear of the ground thanks to the heels. The top half of the dress was a crimson red, the back was solid up to her shoulder blades, and strapless. The front open from just above her stomach to her collar bone. Lacing held it together, much like the back of Holly's, and was tight enough to keep everything in place. A gold chinese style dragon design in thread went down the right side of the dress. Her hair was in a loose pony tail at the moment in a strait line down her spine. She had on a pair of gloves that stopped at her wrist.

Thalia turned as Holly walked out, "You look beautiful."

Holly collected her thoughts, "You're. Stunning." She said after a moment.

"Thank you. Ready? We have one last stop."

"Oh?"

"Jewelery." Thalia said, "As soon as the limousine comes." She turned back to the man behind the counter, "We'll wear these out, if you could pack our street clothes."

He nodded, "Of course." And went into the back to have their other clothes boxed for them.

"We have an hour before the party, so no running all over the place."

"What's the supposed to mean?"

"It means no repeat of the boots." Thalia pointed an accusing finger at her.

Holly simply stuck her tongue out as the limousine pulled up.

Before they got out at a rather expensive looking jewelry store Holly turned to Thalia, "So, what's my limit?"

"There isn't one, I'm what they call stupid rich. Just look tasteful." Thalia said and got out, putting her sword back in its scabbard as she did so.

Holly got out behind her, "I'm always tasteful." She said very seriously.

Inside the store they treated Thalia very similar to royalty, she must have called ahead because not only did the manager greet them at the door but he had laid out several trays of necklaces that he immdiately brough Thalia to. His assitant immediately stepped in to attend to Holly's needs.

"What are you interested in Madame," He said as politely as possible.

Holly thought for a second, "A pair of teardrop emerald earings if you have them, for a start." She said.

He nodded, seemed to think for a second, "I might have something that would do nicely." He said and disappeared into the back room area. He came out a few minutes later with a small tray containing six pairs of earings. Two of them were a pair of very small emerald earings that Holly didn't like very much. Another pair was a set of gold earing with a short chain to emerald tear drops. The next two were similar, a small square emeral in a gold diamond with a pair of crystals dangling from one and saphires from the other. The last two were variants on the tear drops in white gold with the last one also holding a pair of diamonds. Holly stopped there, picked up the whote gold earings and tried them on, she smiled, "These work."

"Very good." The assistant made a note on a pad, "Would madame like to try on some necklaces?"

Holly nodded, taking an extra second to admire the earings, "Yes please."

She found a delicate silver chain with a lead motif in it, no gemstone where set into however. It looped itself just below her collar bone, she matched it was a thin black choker that held a small diamond suroind at the four points by emeralds. She opted against any bracelets.

Thalia looked as the displayed piece in front of her and picked up a diamond stud she put into her left ear. The right she picked up a loop with a gold chain on it to an earing piece that had several gold strands hanging from it going from one to four inches each. The earing peice had a ruby set into it. She put the loop in her earlobe as it curved in the back near the top and hung the chain down to insert the earing piece in the usual spot. She looked in the mirror and nodded. Next she looked over a series of necklaces. It didn't take her long to pick up a black onyx flanked by a pair of rubies on a gold chain, it hung over her breast bone, just below her collar bone. She also picked out a bracelet that was a delicate gold chain, it matched the belt on the dress almost exactly.

"If I didn't know better I'd say this bracelet was made to go with this outfit." She said.

"Madame may be correct." The gentleman smiled, "I take it everything meets the lady's approval?"

"More than." She said, "You came highly recommended and you have more than surpassed my expectations." She said.

"Then if madame is ready." He motioned her towards the front.

"Ah yes, the bill. Both of us will be on the same tab." She said following him up to the counter with the register. The young lady behind it began to draw up the needed papers. Thalia pulled a card out of a small pocket on her sword belt just big enough to hold a card or two. "This should do it." She winked at the girl.

Holly came up next to her, "Well?"

Thalia looked her over, "Elegent, very you."

"Thanks," She insepcted Thalia, "And I still can't outdo you no matter how hard I try."

"I just have the touch." The smiled wickedly. Holly rolled her eyes.

They arrived sometime after five for the party. It took place at a mansion in one of the richest parts of New York. There were a few people there already, but most wouldn't arrive until around six.

"We're early," Thalia said as she got out of the limousine, "We have some political maneuvering to do."

"I thought that was lunch."

"Joseph may run the family, but Alfonse is still the patriarch. I have to gauge his feelings on the nature of things." She said. Several duelists, most of them young men in their early twenties, noted their swords as they entered the front hall. There was a massive ballroom that could be seen off to one side.

Another duelist was approaching them from the receiving hall just ahead. He was as tall as Thalia with black hair, though greying slightly at the temples. He wore all black accented with silver. He was smiling from ear to ear as he approached them.

"Thalia!" He exclaimed loudly as he approached, many of the younger duelists who had taken an interest in the women seemed to back off a step. "I'm so glad you could join us." He extended his hand as he reached them.

"Mikkael," she grasped his hand firmly in a shake, "It's good to be back." She was now smiling from ear to ear as well.

"And your guest?" He looked down at Holly. "She is the great secret?"

"Mikkael this is my daughter Holly." She introduced Holly.

Mikkael raised an eyebrow and extended his hand. Holly took it and gave him a firm handshake, "Well Holly, welcome to House Vetilucci." He smiled, "You definately have your mothers grip."

"Thank you." Holly answered.

"And her sense of wit." He stepped behind them and put an arm around each woman, "Come, Alfonse is looking forward to meeting you." He led them through the receiving hall and up the main stairs.

Alfonse was an large old man, sitting in a massive leather chair. To his side his wife Loretta stood, she was a thin woman of sixty with piercing eyes and a near perpetual frown. Alfonse brightened up as Mikkael led Thalia and Holly into the spacious office.

"Lady Nightshade." He stood and greeted her.

"Lord Vetilucci." She bowed slightly, "May I introduce my daughter Holly." She said standing.

Holly followed her mothers lead and bowed slightly, "My lord."

"No need for such titles." He laughed and sat back down. "Daughter is it then?" He turned to look at Holly, "That is indeed a surprise."

"Life is full of them." Thalia answered.

"Indeed." He took on a slightly graver tone and Mikkael shut the office door, "Your return is indeed a surprise. And it may be a fortunate one just in time."

"Do tell." Thalia remained standing in the middle, Holly to her right and Mikkael to her left.

"You have talked to Joseph?"

"I have."

"No doubt he has told you of our problems with Antonio?"

"I have heard of some issues."

"Thalia," Matriarch Vetilucci spoke, "I wish to avoid the usual politics and on your last tenence with this family I could count on you to cut through the bullshit."

Thalia nodded slightly.

"I do not say this lightly, but Antonio is causing more problems then solving. No mother wishes to move against their son, and with your own daughter I'm sure you could understand the gravity with which I speak." She was stiff and solemn, "I do not wish to see my son die, I would like to avoid it at all costs. But at some point you must put the family ahead of person feelings."

"I understand."

"I hope so. We will not ask you to be the aggressor. We cannot for the sake of the family itself. We would fall apart at the seems were you to do such a thing. However Antonio is the kind of child who would challenge first."

"I understand."

"Do not underestimate him however. His talent has grown in the past years, and he may be one of the long lived Talents as he has not aged much." Thalia said nothing.

"Thalia, if you do not wish this," Alfonse began.

Thalia put up a hand to stop him, "Say no more. It must be a burden to say much less think these thoughts. I will do nothing to provoke. However it seems news of my return may have sparked an old hatred in Antonio, there is no love loss between us. However if we can avoid unnecessary bloodshed then I shall do my best to do so."

"That is all we ask." Alfonse said. "Now please, go downstairs and enjoy yourself. This party is in your, and your daughters, honor." He stood and bowed his head.

Thalia bowed hers, along with Holly and Mikkael, then turned to leave the room. The three of them walked downstairs slowly.

"What are the chances he will challenge me tonight Mikkael?"

"Highly likely I'm afraid. Many of the houses high ranking members would be glad to see him gone. But they would also question your presence if you were to challenge him. They might see you as a threat, come to clean house so to speak."

"Corruption a problem?" She asked as the walked down the stairs.

"No more than at any other time, but the corrupt are ever fearful of being expelled."

"Paranoia, I understand this." She said, "But now," She said as they reached the bottom of the stairs, "There is much dancing to be done." She said, "If you don't mind I'd like you to escort Holly." She said with a wink, "I've a mind to mingle a bit." She moved off towards the main hall.

Mikkael turned to Holly and offered his arm, "My lady."

"Thank you." She took his arm and followed his lead, "So, tell me all about everyone." She said.

"Does madame dance?"

"Of course." She answered.

"Then if I may have the first dance I shall tell you all you want and more."

Holly giggled, "I'm not sure I need the more part from a rogue such as you." She smiled, "And the first dance is definately more if you can dance as well as my mother says you can."

"Oh? I'm dying to hear what stories have been told about me."

"I bet you would." She winked.

Antonio arrived a little after seven with five of his closest men in tow. He looked to be in his late twenties and still acted it, though he wasn't a day under forty two. He entered the house with purpose. Most of the party goers had gathered in the main ballroom. He could hear that his father Alfonse had called for silence and a toast. He walked to the entrance of the ballroom and stopped.

Alfonse was on the stage where the live band had been playing, a glass of wine in one hand. His mother could be seen on the left, his older brother on the right.

"Honored guests, I'm glad you could join us tonight." He started, "We have had a rough time in the recent past, a time I hope will stay in the past." He smiled, "Many years ago this house had two Champions. Our own venerated Mikkael Firebrand and Thalia the Dancer." He paused for some dramatic effect. "It with great honor I announce that Thalia the Dancer has returned to us, her talent once again graces the house Vetilucci." There was some clapping before he silenced them all, "That is not all," He boomed, "She brings with her Holly Nightshade, her daughter. Anoth talent that will grace the halls of this house. May our future be prosperous." He yelled and drank from the glass. There was much clapping. Thalia stood at the base of the stage and bowed low, Holly next to her.

"Come up here." Alfonse said into the microphone.

Thalia smiled, she walked around and stood next to Alfonse on the stage, motioning for Holly to join her. Alfonse indicated she should say something for the house, mostly by putting the mircophone in front of her.

She smiled and took the hint, "It is with great honoro that the Vetilucci Family has welcomed me back into its house." She said, at which point she noticed a commotion near the back. The crowd has started to split, letting a passge form. Six men came down the newly formed isle.

"What would you know of honor!" Antonio shouted from the middle of the room as he and his men approached. "You left, coward!" He stood now on the dance floor, the crowd had moved well back. His five henchmen had taken up position behind him. All six had their arms crossed.

It was then that Matriach Vetilucci took the microphone from Thalia, "Antonio, this is foolish. She left to save your honor." She spat, "Which you look to besmirch at every turn." Her eyes had turn hard.

Anontio merely snarled, "I challenge Thalia the Dancer to a duel." He shouted, "She will not dishonor this house by staying in it. I want no cowards amongst our ranks of fighters."

Thalia's eyes narrowed. Holly looked from one to the other, but said nothing. She'd seen that look in Thalia before.

"That goes for your so called daughter as well." Holly looked a little surprised.

Thalia simply walked down off stage and around to the dance floor where she faced Antonio, "I accept." She said calmly.

"I challenge to the death!" He shouted, upping the stakes.

There was a sharp collective intak of breath from everyone. Holly simply looked a little angry at the situation.

"Fool!" Matriach Vetilucci said, "Stop this madness at once!"

Antonio drew his sword, "What say you coward!"

Thalia drew her own sword, a signal that she had accepted the challenge of death duel. She circled to be parrallel with the stage, Antonio moved to be opposite her, they were now longwise on the dance floor. Holly ran down to the side her mother was on and nearly ran into Mikkael who stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.

"Do nothing." He whispered into her ear.

She tensed but didn't move forward any more. Alfonse and his wife remained on stage, Joseph had moved off to talk amongst some of the higher ranking Vetilucci members.

On the dance floor Antonio smiled wickedly, "You beat me once, you shall not escape this hall alive." He snarled, his sword burst to life with a black electric spark.

Opposite him Thalia was no longer smiling, she had relaxed, her mouth a line of non-emotion. Her eyes on the other hand were shifting. They went from their normal pitch black to an ice blue. When she exhaled a cloud of ice formed, she seemed to eminate cold air. Her sword took on a sheen to it, becoming almost translucent. She held the weapon point down, diagonally across and just a few inches in front of her, a defensive stance.

Antonio took a classic pose, point out, one arm back for balance, sword raised to chest level with Thalia. He closed quickly, moving with an almost unnatural speed.

Thalia side stepped, turned and parrying his first blow easily. She made no counter strike, backing up a step instead.

Antonio kept on with his push, attacking her ferociously and with great skill. Thalia simply led him around, backing up herself and parrying every blow he struck out with. She side stepped, back stepped and spun once. With each contact of their swords black sparks momentarily engulfed Thalia's sword, few noticed that Antonio's sword had a bit of a sheen to it as the seconds passed in the fight. Holly noticed first, his sword was slowly freezing.

Suddenly Thalia struck out. Her sword came down quickly as Antonio made a thrust for her throat. Her weapon smached into the base of his as she stepped sideways. His weapon snapped, then shattered, falling to the ground in so many crystaline shards. Thalia's emtpy hand lashed out and slapped his cheek with a loud clap.

"Child!" She shouted, "I will not let you tear this house apart. Yield!" Her voice sounded like ice on cold steel.

Antonio looked at the hilt of his now broken weapon, enraged. He looked over at his henchmen. The middle one unsheathed his sword and quickly threw it to Antonio, who jumped and caught it, coming down in an arc to strike Thalia. She simply half turned, tossing her weapon to the hand nearest him and blocked the feeble blow. His weapon once again lit with black sparks of electricity.

"Antonio!" Alfonse shouted, his voice held anger in it.

"I've had enough of your cowardice old man!" He shouted at his father and charged Thalia with redoubled efforts. She deftly danced around the floor, dodging and parrying every blow.

Suddenly the duel stopped. Thalia's arm was extended with in a thrust, she was crouched to duck one of his wild slashes so her blade pointed upwards. It was buried six inches into his abdomen. Antonio had a stunned look on his face as he stared down at Thalia. She pushed up and stood at the same time, her sword slipped free and he staggered backwards, blood spilled from the wound as the sword came out, and then his shirt started to soak it up. He dropped his weapon and then fell backwards, dead.

The duelist who threw Antonio his swrod came forward as Thalia knelt and cleaned her blade on with a hankerchief she pulled from a belt. She resheathed the sword and turned to face Alfonse on the stage.

Alfonse and his wife looked down at her and their late son.

Thalia bowed and stood back up strait again, "I am sorry for your loss." She said to both of them. Alfonse merely nodded.

Matriarch Vetilucci stood still, her mouth a thin line and a tear escape her eye. Joseph came out of the crowd with three men behind them. Two of them were carrying a stretcher. They placed Antonion on it while the third proceeded to clean the blood on the floor. Joseph came up next to Thalia.

"I'm sorry it came to this." He whispered.

She turned to him, "Don't console me." She said quietly, "Console her." She motioned with her head to Joseph's mother, "Call me when you need me." She turned to leave. Holly came up beside her as they left through the same part in the crowd that Antonio entered.

Joseph looked up at his parents, then down at his brothers body. He walked up to the stage and put an arm around his mother, "I'm sorry this had to happen." He said softly to her.

She simply turned to look at him and saw the sadness in his eyes, she nodded and walked off stage, Joseph at her side.

Alfonse looked at the crowd, "An unfortunate turn of events." He said, "Antonio will be dearly missed by everyone I'm sure." He said gravely.

Outside Thalia and Holly waited for their car to pull up when Mikkael came outside, "Leaving so soon?"

"It'd be awkward if we hung around for desert." Thalia said.

"He will not be missed by anyone but his family. There were many plots in place to dispose of him. Many were merely looking for a politically advantegeous, or at least not disadvantageous, way of removing him."

"Of course. He was an arrogant asshole." Thalia said.

"Why did you come back?" Mikkael looked her in the eye.

The limousine pulled up, Holly got into the back quickly. Thalia turned just before getting in herself, "I'm here to kill Gaven Agrenon. No other reason." She said coldly and got into the car.

Mikkael watched the limousine drive away, "If I were Gaven I'd start fearing for my life I think." He said to himself and went back inside to the party.

--

Holly sat in silence for a while then looked over at Thalia.

"Why don't we just go kill Gaven and skip all this?"

"I told you I like this place, I'd like to see it stay near something resembling intact."

"And killing Gaven without all this wouldn't do that?"

"It would violate my own sense of asthetic." She answered.

"Aha, now we get down to it. Not your style to swoop in, cut him down and then disappear." Holly said.

Thalia nodded, "And time."

"Time?"

"I need to find Millileth."

"How are we going to do that from here? Is she on this world?"

"No, I would have felt her immediately. The flow is currently off enough to prevent me from looking easily through all the dimensions. In some places it's nearly stopped it's going to slow. In some it's going to fast that the universes around it may die relatively quickly."

"What about the people in those places?"

"To them nothing has changed, time is a relative thing between realities, but once inside it always acts like it should, one second at a time."

"Confusing."

"The only thing constant about time is that it's always there. It just does different things in different places on the flow when taken relative to the surrounding areas."

Holly sunk into the seat, "I'm not even going to comtemplate that for the moment. I mean," She looked across the seat to Thalia, "I've known that a week in one place may mean a day in another, I've just never stepped far enough back to realize that a second passes the same inside each place."

"You got it." Thalia smiled.

"Ok, so is that all then?"

"No."

"I'm dying to know, let me in on some of this stuff already!" Holly said, "I never get to know what's going on, just do this and do that." She was starting to talk with her hands as much as her voice now.

"Ok," Thalia said, "I need to find out who's behind the shift in the Flow. Chances are it's the same person trying to get to Millileth."

"How do you do that?"

"Make them nervous."

"Oh." Holly sounded unconvinced.

"I brought out some very nasty things to go hunting with." Thalia explained, "A pair of beings that are naturally drawn to eddies in the Flow."

"Which beings?"

"Order and Chaos. Absolutes I like to call them. They've gone so far to extremes that they have become the embodiment of those concepts just as I have become Death over all things."

"I see, so what do they do?"

"Fight naturally. But they seem attracted to Eddies, so I let them loose on Creation. I'm gambling that Millileth will be the center of a very large twist in the Flow, if not the largest."

"Odds on that?"

"Better than average." Thalia shrugged. "I watched you two a you split. The cut in the portal that you were in was explosive enough to destroy a nearby reality, poof gone." She added with a bit of dramatic flair.

Holly knit her brow, "Is that why you could only redirect me?"

"Some of it, but mostly because I couldn't even get near Millileth, she was the center of the explosion. I sort of collected you as you flew out like a piece of shrapnel."

"I'm touched."

"No need to thank me, who knows where you would've ended up without that bit of guidance I did give."

"Probably be stuck in the portals." She said.

"Maybe."

"Ok, so we can't just go around popping off this schmuck we need to kill," Holly said, "How long before you dispatch him to fit your own personal sense of style?"

"Week or so, maybe. Depends on some things. I've dispatched Antonio, so Vetilucci's enemies may expect them to kick me right back out. If I'm not they might suspect I was brought in to kill him outright. And then they'll question why, coming to the quick conclusion that Vetilucci finally saw that his own son was the reason he was so bad off. At that point they'll do one of two things, back off and form a truce, or attack thinking Vetilucci either week or nearly broken from within, acting to late to save his own house."

"If the first?"

"We go out and make war, we've got several years of losses to make up for and restore Vetilucci's good name."

"Naturally. And after he's dead?"

"I'll think of something."

"I bet you will, you probably have already and just aren't telling me." Holly stuck out her tongue.

Thalia just shook her head.

//01001 Millileth :: Normal Life//

Millileth walked to work every morning at exactly four. She liked the predawn hours, it was still quiet. She had figured a few things out since being trapped on this world. First she couldn't see outside it's sphere of influence, which meant she didn't know how things were in Creation in general. Second was that this world bordered on a fey reality, often crossing it. Which meant what little source of power this place did have came from the fey folk. And that had created almost all their myths and folklore. Very few tales of ghosts and vampires and werewolves. Many references to goblins and faerie and other such ilk. Some good, many bad. Lastly she found she rather enjoyed a mundane life of day to day existance.

At four thirty she arrived at the shop, opened it and went inside. At five she saw light creeping up in the sky as the false dawn came. She spent an hour preparing her barrista, The Coffee Mill as she had named it. Only a few managed to get the humor in the title, mostly her regulars who actually knew her name. She didn't mind, it was her own private joke for the most part.

By five thirty she turned on her OPEN sign, unlocked the door and poured herself a cup of her own coffee, a private pot in the back of the bar of her best stock. She had also learned that this world had two Gods to it, the standard good guy and bad guy arrangement. She mostly ignored the theology, and hadn't bothered to try and contact the two God Beings that pervaded over this reality, assuming she could open a portal to their plane. It was her experience that sometimes they couldn't even visit the worlds they presided over. Whether or not they even knew about the crossing with the Fey world was another matter altogether.

Her first customer arrive at five fifty every morning. "Hello Janice." Millileth said to the young woman who entered.

"Mill." She was greeted back with a warm smile. Janice took a seat at the bar. Millileth had assumed an age of twenty five, which put here almost even with Janice.

Millileth brewed her the usual latte with extra shot of espresso, "So, how'd it go?" Millileth asked as she steamed the milk.

"Not bad I suppose." Janice answered, They had know each other almost a year now and Millileth considered Janice a very close friend.

"Not bad? That's a good start from the last one." Millileth put the cup in front of her on the counter.

"Tell me about it," Janice rolled her eyes, "So I suppose you want details?"

"Of course."

"First, dinner wasn't so bad. Decent place, took me to Hannover's over on twentieth in downtown." She started. "No movie, thank god." She rolled her eyes, "Nothing worse than a movie for a first date. trying to get to know someone in a dark room is impossible."

"Oh I don't know, there are ways to get to know someone in a dark room." Millileth said with a laugh.

Janice rolled her eyes, "Leave you to go that direction."

"So what after dinner?"

"Jazz club. I need to learn to dance!" She exclaimed.

"It's easy."

Janice looked at her, "East she says, miss I-Can-Do-That."

"I'll teach you, what're you up to tonight?"

"Nothing, why?"

"Know where that club is?"

"I'm not sure I like where this is going. Don't you have a coffee shop to run?"

"Alice closes, I'm free after four." She said.

Janice gave in, "Fine, I'll be by your place at five to get you. But dinner is on you for this torture." Janice stood up, "And now I must go off to work, have fun today." She waved behind her as she went out the door.

Millileth shook her head, life had a certain kind of fun to it when disaster wasn't impending. Julius, her morning help showed up a little after six, running in the door as usual. He dumped his coat in the back room and came out tying on a black apron.

"Sorry I'm late."

"No worries," Millileth said, "I'm not busy yet."

"Wait fifteen minutes he said."

She smiled, "How'd the test go yesterday?"

He groaned, "I'm pretty sure I passed."

"All that studying and you're only pretty sure?" She scolded him. Julius was nineteen and trying to get his way through college to a chemistry degree of some nature.

"Ok ok," He conceded, "I passed."

"That's more like it, positive attitude." She said.

"Positivity at six in the morning is impossible you know." He turned to serve the first customer.

"Six already?" She said, "Seemed like only a moment ago it was four." He rolled his eyes at her. The only way he could describe Millileth was more optimistic than should be legally allowed.

It was an average day, busy from seven until nine, then quiet most of the morning. Julius got off at eleven for school, Karen came in at the same time to help cover the lunch hours, Cameron showed up at twelve thirty in the middle of the lunch rush. Millileth left at four, Alice showed up as she was going out the door. Karen left between six and seven, Cameron went his way at nine. Tammetha came in at seven to help Alice close the shop.

Millileth walked home and into her house. The front room had aquired a large leather couch and a stereo system. Her CD collection spanned most of one wall. The rest of the house didn't fair much better, the bedroom had a large bed and a dresser but nothing else. The only reason the top half was carpeted was because it came that way, the first floor was all bare wood. She had finished the basement though, putting in a rug, a couch, and bookshelves. Her kitchen was a disaster on the other hand. It was clean but constantly full of the remains of a cooking attempt or some other meal. Her friends all said she was the best cook they knew, on the other hand she was trying to live up to Holly's cooking, which was the best she had ever had.

She had managed to meet a few friends in the last year, mostly through Janice. Janice was her first real regular at the coffee shop. The friendship started a few months after she started frequenting the shop. Millileth hadn't much help at that time, opening and closing the store herself. Two others had helped her in the middle of the day when she stepped out, to get rest as she told them. Truth be told she only slept four hours a night, not out of need so much as to form a semblance of normal life. Janice had come in late one night with two of her other friends after a night out on the town. Millileth was dead and thinking of closing early and walking around the city for a few hours when they came in. She served them coffee and decided to clean the place up a little as the three women took a table and started talking. It was Janice who came over first, under the guise of asking when Millileth planned on closing. She was instead invited to join them at the table, if she wanted. After that Millileth actively looked for someone to close the store on occasion as she was finding her self invited to the evening excursions.

Millileth cleaned up her kitchen a bit waiting for Janice to arrive, who knocked on the door a little after five. The knock was courtesy as she let herself in and followed the noise of clanking pots to the kitchen.

"Hey." Millileth said.

"He, not even dressed!" Janice said, who was still in her business clothes of skirt and short sleeved blouse.

Millileth shook her head, "Give me ten minutes." She ran upstairs, Janice wandered up to the stereo and turned it on to see what the music of the week was. A driving techno beat filled the downstairs.

Millileth came down fifteen minutes later in her own skirt and a sleeveless pullover shirt. "This good?"

"Works for me."

"Ok then," Millileth grabbed an old brown leather jacket from the hall closet and held the door for Janice, "Since I'm forcing you into dancing you choose dinner."

"How nice of you." Janice said as the walked out. Millileth locked the door behind them and the left in Janice's car, "Some day you're going to learn how to drive you know."

"No need." Millileth answered.

They ate chinese while sitting on a bench people watching downtown, Janice had confessed that she enjoyed just sitting and watching the crowds go by. Millileth had to agree, it was kind of fun and interesting at the same time. It reminded her of Holly who would people watch for hours on end.

They tossed the empty containers into a garbage can and walked arm in arm to the jazz club. It only took Janice a few tries to get it. They spent several hours dancing, once Janice got the hang of it she didn't want to leave. Finally the place kicked them out at two with everyone else and they were forced to go home.

"Ok, so that was fun." Janice confessed as she drove Millileth home.

"Told you. Next time you and Derrick can dance now."

"Can't wait."

"Does that mean there is a next time?"

"If he calls."

"Don't give me that, call him first."

"What if he doesn't want a next time?" She said.

"Then hope he has the brains to say no thanks, now call him. Or I'll call him."

"You don't have his number," Janice poked an accusing finger at Millileth, "Miss Meddler."

"I'll hunt him down."

"You would to wouldn't you?"

Millileth just looked over at Janice with a sly grin on her face.

"Ok I'll call him tomorrow."

"Before noon?"

"Yes," She said, "Before noon."

"Good." Millileth said.

"Now out of my car before you cause me any more trouble!" Janice said as she pulled up to Millileth's house.

"Me? Trouble?"

"Yes, it should be your middle name."

"See you in the morning?"

"If I get up that early." Janice said, "I'm getting four hours as it is."

"Nothing wrong with that." Millileth winked and shut the car door. She bounced up to her door and went inside, waving once as Janice pulled away from the curb to go to her own house.

The next morning Millileth rose at the usual time, showered and went to work. At five forty five Janice came in, running late. She grabbed her coffee, and said her hello's.

"Don't forget." Millileth shook a finger at her as she went out the door.

"I know!" She shouted back and went on her way.

"What was that all about?" Julius asked.

"Girl talk." Millileth said, and continued on with the day.

Around three Janice called the shop, "Coffee Mill." Millileth answered the phone.

"Ok," Janice was bubbling with excitement, "I told him I wanted to go to that Jazz club again, under the condition he would dance with me. He said yes."

"Great," Millileth was catching her excitement.

"Thurdsay." She said, "Just one catch."

"Catch?" Millileth had raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah, I told him you taught me how to dance and now he wants to set you up with a friend of his."

"Set me up?"

"Come on, he'll be there on Thursday. Dutch. That way if you hate the guy you're not stuck with him all night. We arrive together and leave together."

"I'm not sure..."

"Come on, I've never seen you even look at a guy. I mean." She stopped, "You're not gay are you?" She asked suddenly.

"What?"

"I mean," She became flustered, "It's that, oh shit, no way out of this one."

"I'm not." Millileth said, "I'll be there Thursday, just come pick me up Miss Matchmaker." She smiled.

"Oh good, thought I'd stuck my foot in my mouth for a minute there." Janice said, "Gotta go, see ya."

Millileth shook her head as she hung up the phone, she wasn't sure what she'd do if a relationship started with anyone. She'd had them in the past, but that was when she could escape to another reality if things went wrong. Here there wasn't much of an option for running away from emotions. But, she said she'd lead a normal life for at least one lifespan, and that meant everything that came with it. She'd just have to deal with the consequences later. It was tuesday, that meant she had two days to back out.

Which didn't explain why wednesday afternoon she caught a bus to the closest mall and spent the day looking for an outfit. She suddenly found herself thrilled with the idea of dating. Thursday morning had her in high spirits, practically dancing through the day. It was Karen who finally stopped her.

"Ok, spill it," Karen looked her dead in the eye.

"What?" Millileth asked.

"Did you manage to get laid last night?"

Millileth raised an eyebrow, "No."

"Then what's with all the dancing?"

"Nothing." Millileth said, and moved on to continue filling her large coffee machine.

"Nothing doesn't dance through the day like that." Karen pointed out.

"If you must know, I have a date tonight."

"A date?"

"Yes."

"Damn." She pulled out a five dollar bill and handed it to Cameron, "You win, but you get to work next to her once she actually does get some." He laughed as he took the money.

Millileth turned and put her hands on her hips, "Did you just bet on whether or not I had sex last night?"

"Yes," Cameron said, He rang up the next customer as Karen made their drink, "If you must know." He turned back around. "Well, Karen was. You aren't glowing though so I figured you just had a date or something."

"Glowing?"

"Yeah." Cameron said.

Millileth just rolled her eyes. "Glowing huh... I'll keep that in mind." She said and went back to work.

Derrick and Johnathan sat in the Jazz club at a round table near one window. "Ok, so what's she like?" Johnathan asked, a bit nervous.

"From what Jan said she's the next best thing to perfect." Derrick said, "But I've never met her myself."

"She didn't use the words nice personality did she?"

"Not that I remember, why?"

"I'm just done getting set up with loser, crazies and other assorted loonies."

"I've never set you up with a loony."

"Harriet?"

"Ok, once." Derrick said, motioning the waiter for another drink.

"So where are they?"

"It's only eight man, relax. They'll be here." Derrick looked up, "In fact there's Janice. I can only assume the one with her is Millileth." He said and raised a hand up and waved it to get Janice's attention.

Johnathan just stared, Janice was abuut five and a half feet with honey blonde hair. She wore a red dress with no sleeves and a very low neckline, showing as much cleavage as the woman could muster, which wasn't bad. Millileth on the other hand nearly caused he jaw to drop. She was a dirty blonde, maybe a very light brown. She stood at about five eight and wore a black dress that came off of one shoulder and while it didn't accentuate her cleavage quite like Janice's did it definately drew your eyes across her entire body forcing you to acknowledge every curve she had. The women approached then table after Jan waved that she saw Derrick.

Millileth and Jan entered the club, Jan scanning the crowd for Derrick, she saw his arm go up and gave a wave. Millileth saw it as well and took the moment to assess the two men. The one that waved must have been Derrick, he was about five ten, maybe an inch shorter, with short curly black hair. Derrick was about six feet with shoulder length strait brown hair, a wide build and was currently picking his jaw up off the floor. She assumed he found her attractive.

Jan pecked Derrick on the cheek once they got to the table, "Derrick, this is Millileth." She introduced her friend.

Millileth put out her hand and gave Derrick a good shake.

"This is Johnathan." He introduced her friend who shook hands with both women.

"Nice to meet you." Millileth winked at Johnathan, "Hope I meet expectations." She smiled.

Johnathan seemed caught off guard for a moment, "Um, yes. More than." He smiled back. He liked her bold nature.

"Ok, Come on," Jan pulled Derrick off his stool, "Let them talk I've got to make sure I remember all those moves I learned two days ago." She pulled him out onto the dance floor.

"Well," Millileth watched them for a second, "That's leaves us." She took Derrick's empty seat and waved the waiter over. "What you drink?"

"Ummm..." He didn't come to a decision by the time the waiter had arrived, so she orderd for them,

"White Russian for me, and another of what he's having." She said to the waiter who nodded and went off. "What do you do?"

"For a living?"

"Or hobby, your choice."

"I'm a system's analyst by trade, gym junkie by hobby." He said

"Both, good choice." She smiled.

"So what do you do?"

"I own and run a coffee shop by trade and do whatever sounds interesting as a hobby."

"Entrepreneur then?"

"Hardly, I've no interest in making a chain and I'm not in it to get rich." She smiled, "I just like working for myself and I really like coffee." She said as the waiter delivered their drinks. She took a sip of hers, "Good drink." She said approvingly.

"So, you're accent sounds a bit... european somewhere." He said.

"If you were looking to sound suave, you didn't. But you are cute so I'll give you the points anyway." She waved a finger at him, "Russian as it so happens." She said.

"Sorry, didn't mean to come off as just another guy." He looked suitably embarrased.

"Don't worry." She said, "Dance?"

"I really," He looked even more nervous now, "I'm not very good, not really sure if..." He didn't get to finish as Millileth tugged him off the stool he was perched on.

"Then I'll teach." She said, "Mind if I call you John?"

"No, Millileth was it?"

"Mill works." She informed as she positioned him to dance and went through the basic moves. "Tell me when you're ready to lead." She said.

They danced and talked through the next four hours, leaving around midnight. Only Millileth didn't seem tired or worried about it being late.

"Ok so what do you think?" Janice asked her on the ride home.

"He's cute, can't dance though." She said thoughtfully.

"Did you get his number?"

"Of course."

"Does that mean there'll be a second?"

"Maybe." Millileth had a coy smile on her lips. "Depends."

"Depends?"

"Yeah."

"Depends on what?" Janice said slightly exasperated.

"Depends on whether or not he has next Saturday open."

"That's my girl." Janice smiled.

"And you?"

"Oh there will definitely be a third." She said, "So far he's great."

"Good." Millileth said.

"Ok, now out, some of us sleep!" She had pulled up to Millileth's house. Millileth hopped out, waved and skipped up to her front door.

--

Millileth still closed the shop on Saturday's, giving Alice that night off. She also kept it open until around one, business was fairly steady through the night usually, if she really wanted she could probably keep it open later. Sunday's she didn't open it at all, keeping that day for herself entirely. Around eleven thirty Johnathan walked in and looked around. He spotted Millileth behind her counter serving up a few drinks and took a seat at her bar area near the door.

She noticed him and bounced over, "Hey, didn't expect to see you here." She smiled.

"I had to wrestle the name of the place out of Derrick, you never told me what it was." He said.

"You never asked." She relpied, "What'll you have?"

"Recommendations?"

"You a coffee drinker?"

"I'm a computer guy, what do you think."

"I have just the thing." She said and went to the back, pouring a cup from her private pot in the back. She came out with a mug in her hand instead of the normal paper cups. "Try this."

"From the back no less." He sipped the coffee. "Good. Very good."

She nodded, "Private stash." She said.

"How do you brew it?"

"French press." She said, "Hold on." She let him to serve a customer who had walked in. Coming back she pulled a stool out from under her side of the counter, "So, what brings you into my humble shop at this hour?"

"I was scouring the city for a decent cup of coffee." He said.

"Good answer." She smiled, "And the real reason?"

"I haven't been able to get you out of my mind since Thursday." He said a little sheepishly.

"That bad is it?"

"You believe in love at first sight?"

She shook her head, "Not really." He looked a little rejected, "Relax, that doesn't mean I don't want to see you anymore. Just means I'm not in love yet." She said.

"Yet?"

"Yet, as in not currently without leaving out the possibility of future conditions."

"Yet, usually mean possible at some time." He said, his blue eyes almost sparkled.

"Yes, very possible." She answered, "What're you doing in an hour and a half?"

"I don't know."

She shook her head, "The correct answer is giving me a ride home."

He just looked at her as she turned to serve another pair of customers that came in the door. She winked at him from the register as she rung up their total and turned to make the drinks.

Millileth set the alarm and went outside, locked the door behind her and turned to Johnathan, "Ready." She smiled.

"My car's just up the block," He said motioning up the street a little. They walked in silence to the car and got in. He drove what Millileth usually called the average guy car, a two door that looked fairly sporty in black. "Ok, so where do we go?"

"Up the street ten blocks, then left and down another seven." She said.

"You don't live very far."

She nodded, "Don't have to buy a car if you can walk to work in less than thirty minutes." She said.

"I noticed there's a grocery store between you and work as well, I bet that's nice."

"It helps. So where do you live?"

"I an far more expensive than it should be condo near downtown."

"Sounds cozy."

"I like the area." He said. It only took them a few minutes for him to get to the block her house was on. "Which house?"

"That one," She pointed at a white house near the middle of the block on the east side.

"Ok, there we go." He pulled up to the curb opposite it, the houses on the street had no driveways, using the alley behind them instead to get to garages built in the back if they had any.

"Come in for a nightcap?" She said, trying not to sound to hopefull.

He thought for a second, "Sounds good." He answered.

Inside he inspected her living room, as she hung up their coats.

"What'll you have?" She said walking back towards her kitchen.

"What've you got?" He followed her.

"Not a lot I don't think." She said checking a cabinet that might contain a bottle of liquor. Then the fridge in case a bottle of beer might be hiding there. Nothing. "Nothing at all actually, unless you want coffee." She turned to face him.

He smiled at the irony of being offered a cup of coffee after leaving a coffee shop, "Sounds good."

She almost turned to make a pot and stopped, "Ok, you know." She looked up at him, "We both know I asked you in so I could cook breakfast." She said.

"Breakfast?"

"After sunrise." She stepped forward and reached up to kiss him, he leaned down into her and returned the kiss. "Way after sunrise." She whispered.

"Don't have to work tomorrow?"

"Shops closed." She was slowly walking forward, backing him towards the stairs, "C'mon." She grabbed his hand and almost ran upstairs.

She woke up at seven thirty in the morning, still finding it hard to get more than four hours of sleep. Johnathan lay next to her on the bed, sleeping heavily. She propped herself on one elbow and watched him for a minute, smiling to herself. She quietly got out of bed and snuck downstairs to make a pot of coffee. She took her cup into the front room and curled up on the couch looking at nothing in particular, simply focusing on the very good feeling her body had this morning. She had almost forgotten just how good sex made her feel, very few things were better.

She wasn't sure how long it was before John came dowstairs wearing his pants, belt still undone, "I smell coffee." He leaning against the wall between the stairs and the front room.

She got up off the couch, a smile from ear to ear, and went into the kitchen to get him a cup, she came out and handed it to him, "Fresh." She smiled.

"You always wander around naked?"

She thought for a second, "Not always, but it is a habit."

"I like that habit." He said, there was a bit of mischief in his eyes.

Millileth put her cup down on top of her entertainment center and walked over to him, took the cup from his hands and put it down on the third step behind him. She ran her fingers over his chest, down his stomach and to his pants. She undid the button, unpened his zipper and looked up at him coily.

He was standing with his back to the couch at this point and she simply pushed him backwards a step until he was against the arm. Then she pushed him over, he complied and fell backwards.

She tugged his pants off and went around to the front of the couch and kneeled down in front of him, he was about to say something when she shook her head and kissed him, her hand stroking his cock lightly. He did turn so he faced her, sitting on the couch now. She was still on her knees in front of him, now between his legs. He looked down into her green eyes, almost emerald, she smiled and leaned forward. He sighed and lay back as her tongue carressed the head of his cock, the he felt her lips touch him. He closed his eyes and moaned in pleasure as she sucked him off. She swallowed when he came and sat up after a few more moments of tender kisses, "What did you want for breakfast?" She asked softly.

"Doesn't matter." He said, sitting on the couch completely relaxed.

One corner of her mouth curled up in a smile, "Something easy then." She stood up and handed him his cup of coffee back, "You relax, I'll make us something." She said and padded off to the kitchen.

Breakfast was scrambled eggs, toast and orange juice. She was hoping she had bacon but there was no such luck, and a run to the store was out of the question.

"This is good." John said as they sat at the table.

"Thank you." She smiled back at him.

"So, you have anything planned for today?"

She shook her head, "I make things up as I go along on my day off." She answered. "You?"

"Nothing really, I usually clean my apartment on sunday's."

"Wouldn't want to keep you off track then." She said.

"Didn't say I had to clean the place." He defended.

"And I didn't say you wouldn't have help if you did." She pointed her fork at him, "Unless of course you'd rather do something else."

"You like football?"

"Never really paid attention, I never got around to buying a television." She said.

"I put it on while I'm cleaning, the less interesting the game the more cleaning I get done."

"I see. Since I'm dying to see your place, sounds like a plan." She said.

He took a few more bites of breakfast, "That's a nice trick you've got."

"What?"

"That whole conversation. I was ready to toss the afternoon away doing whatever you wanted and somehow I'm back at my original plan."

"With added bonus, and only one catch."

"Catch?"

"Dinner is one you." She said.

"I hope you like pasta, it's about the only thing I can cook without ruining it." He laughed.

She laughed with him, "I think I can do with that."

It was about midnight when he drove her home, "Sure you can't stay the night?" She said.

"I've got to work in the morning, and so do you." He said, trying to sound like a responsible man.

She pouted a little, "So when do we get to try this again?"

"Friday?"

"Sure, just remember I leave at four to open the shop." She said.

"I'll try." He smiled a bit wickedly.

"You do that." She winked, shut his door and skipped up to her own front door, turned once more and waved again. She let herself in and watched him drive away through her front window. "Ok, so I'm falling for him." She said to herself as she went upstairs to sleep.

Janice came into the coffee shop at the usual time on Monday morning and sat at the counter for a few minutes as normal.

"Ok, so," She started, eyeing Millileth who was humming gently, "What happened over the weekend that's got you so happy?"

"Nothing much" She answered.

"Nothing, huh? You're practically a light bulb you're glowing so much and you keep humming happy little tunes, I've never heard you hum."

"Glowing huh?" She said, "Ok, I'll talk." She said under Janice's glare. "John stopped by saturday night." She said.

"Oh? I think I know where this is going." Janice started to grin.

"All I'm saying is we didn't say goodbye until midnight last night." She said.

Janice's eyebrows went up, "Really now?"

"Really." Millileth nodded.

"Ok, so spill it, is he any good?"

Millileth leaned in close, "He's great." She said.

"That good huh?"

"Better." Millileth nodded in confermation.

"Is he the one?"

"One what?"

"Oh don't you do that."

"Maybe." Millileth blushed slightly.

"Aha, you blushed. You're falling for him!" Janice pointed a finger.

"No!" Millileth defended, Maybe a little." She held out her hand, finger and thumb an inch apart to indicate a little.

"Right." Janice stood up, "Just a little bit, I'll see you later Mill." She waved as she walked out the door, "But I've got to get to work."

Millileth waved back, "Have fun at your desk all day!" She called as the door clanged shut. She went on humming.

Later in the day Karen confronted her again when no customers were around.

"So."

"So..." Millileth could already tell where this was going, Cameron was over near the registers watching with a bemused smile on her lips.

"You got some?"

She rolled her eyes and decided to spill the beans, "Some? No. A lot, yes." She confirmed and squeezed past Karen to wash out an empty pot.

"I told she'd glow." Cameron said from his post at the cash register.

"I didn't disagree." Karen shrugged, "It's about time you know!" She called to Millileth who had disappeared to the back where the sinks were.

"Don't you have work to do that doesn't involve harrassing your boss?" Millileth called out.

Karen only grinned, "Yeah but this is more fun." She said to Cameron.

"I heard that!" Millileth yelled. Cameron laughed as Karen proceeded to wipe down the counter.

//01010 Thalia & Holly :: Book Of Mal//

Holly wiped the sweat from her brow and took the stance on the training floor again, her opponent was a young man around twenty with mouse brown hair cut short and a solid physique. The training room had to be around a hundred she figured from the way they were sweating so much. Especially since he had no shirt on and she had stripped down to a halter top, which was so sweat covered it's grey fabric was almost see through.

He came in with a side slash that she parryed and stepped sideways to try and get behind his defense. He countered with a quick hop backwards and brought his sword up to bat hers away.

It had been a week and a half since the party and she was settling into things happily enough. Gregory, her current sparring partner, had become one her better acquaintances. He was built much wider than Holly and nearly a foor taller, he relied on strength more than speed as Holly did, but had a definite finesse with the rapier. It was very much an extension of his arm when he wielded it, one of the few in the Vetilucci rank and file who could match Holly in a duel.

The rounded tip of her sparring sword touched his shoulder, "Gotcha." She said with a wicked smile.

His muscled shoulders sagged, "Damn, I'm zero for three this morning." He shook his head in dismay.

She smiled, "That last one went fast." She said, some of their matches went nearly ten minutes, "How about we break for a bit."

"I can stand for that." He walked over to the bench near the wall and picked up a towl, "You thirsty?"

"Yes." She answered walking over to him and picking up her own towl.

"Good, let's go get something then."

"Juice bar?"

"Sounds good." He said, pulling a t-shirt over his head, Holly did the same. They walked out of the training room of the gym and out towards the small juice bar near the entrance. They ordered one of the many fruit juice smoothie combinations available and sat at a small table overlooking the raquetball courts.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, drinking their smoothies and watching the two older men play a game below them.

"So what've you got planned for tonight?" Gregory asked, trying to act casual.

"Nothing really." Holly shook her head, not looking up.

There was a short pause on his side, "I don't suppose you would join me for dinner? I know this great Thai place." He asked.

Holly looked up at him suddenly and cocked her head, "Are you asking me out?"

"Um, maybe." He said, obviously a little nervous.

She smiled, "I'd love to join you for dinner."

He looked relieved, "How's seven sound?"

"Sounds good to me. Want me to drop by your place then?"

He nodded, "We can do that, if you want."

"Yeah, I have no idea how my mom would react to me going on a date," She said, playing up the country girl from Italy bit, she'd been trying to do a convincing act of it since they arrived. So far she seemed to be doing a good job as no one acted odd about it to her.

"I hope it won't be a problem." He suddenly had concern in his eyes, every duelist in the city knew of Thalia the Dancer, and every Vetilucci duelist knew she was Holly's mother.

"Nah, just need to break it to her slowly." Holly said with a wave of her hand.

"She won't kill me if she finds out?" He asked, only half joking.

"No no." Holly said shaking her head, "Just maim a bit." She laughed.

"Maim?"

"I'm kidding, she'll be fine with it once I tell her. I'll just tell her afterwards so she can't stop me." Holly explained, "And don't worry you'll be fine."

"If you say so."

"Trust me." She said.

Holly almost ran into Thalia's room and up to the jewelry box on her bureau.

"What're you all dressed up for?" Holly had on a dress, black stockings and a blue blouse, she had also added a little bit of makeup and was in the proccess of looking for a pair of earings.

"I've a date." She said by way of explanation.

"A date?" Thalia looked up from her desk where she was busy making notes from a book she had open in front of her. "I don't remember giving you permission for that."

"Ha. I'm supposed to be twenty for one thing, which is well beyond the asking permission stage. And beyond that you can't stop me anyway." She said picking up a simple pair of diamon studs and putting them on.

"Be that way." Thalia smiled, "Be home by eleven."

Holly turned and put a hand on her hip, "Excuse me?"

"You heard me."

"Curfew? I don't believe that. I'll be home by one." She said and walked out of the room. Thalia was smiling to herself.

"A week and a half, that took longer than I thought." She said softly to no one.

Holly skipped to the front entrance, trying to put on a pair of heels as she went. Stopped, got the second one on and grabbed her sword and stepping into the elevator that would take her to the buildings front entrance. She strapped the weapon on during the ride down, trying to keep her purse from getting in the way, finally tossing it to the ground as she tightened the belt. She picked her purse back up, slung is crosswise over her shoulder so it wouldn't keep falling off and exhaled.

"Ok, so what the hell am I so nervous about?" She said to the elevator at large. The empty walls made no answer. As she walked out of the lobby the doorman hailed one of the few cabs that hung around, at least one or two could be seen waiting in front of the building, the residents tended to tip nicely and they'd learned to wait for a ride.

She gave the address of Gregory's not quite near downtown apartment and took that cab ride as an opportunity to relax and get her heart rate down to normal.

Thalia looked up from her book and stared into thin air for a minute. A grey rectangle seemed to unfold into the air standing in the middle of the room. The door shimmered as something was dragged through it, a short man stood there blinking for a second. He was dressed in fine clothes, a long black cape and had slicked back black hair. He was a little to pale for the living.

"What do you want?" He said, his accent being something close to Austrian.

"Book of Mal, tell me about it." She said to the figure who now stood in front of her.

"Who asks?" He said scowling.

"Death, now tell me before I beat it out of you." The last week had been a roller coaster of politics. The war was escalating to the point where she might be able to easily kill her target soon, but she wanted it to speed up, things weren't going good elsewhere in reality.

"I don't think I like your attitude." He said incredulously. He was an old vampire, and possibly one of the most powerful creatures native to this world.

Thalia narrowed her eyes, a slash appeared on his cheek, the blood trickled slowly. "I don't like yours either. A good predator will always recgonize when a bigger fish just entered their feeding area." She said coldly.

He brushed his cheek and examined the blood, "You have a point." He said as the wound healed itself, "Book of Mal is a two thousand year old text, the church has kept it hidden from public view, I'm surprised you could find reference to it."

"What's so important about the book?"

"It contains a prophecy regarding the end times, two versions."

"Two?"

"One where everything ends, one where everyone lives."

"Where can I get a copy?"

"I don't know."

"You're sure?"

"Yes." He said, only a little nervous.

"Any suggestions?"

"It's said it can also be found under the name of The Diary Of Mephistopheles." He answered.

"Thank you, you may go." She said, pointing at the door behind him.

"One question for you." He hadn't moved yet.

"What?"

"Is it the apacolypse?"

"We're aiming for the everyone lives version." She answered and turned back to the text she had in front of her. He stepped backwards and was taken through the door back to his castle in what used to be Moldavia.

She stood up and stretched, it was close to seven now. Mikkael had asked to meet with her around eight. She walked over to her closet and pulled out a pair of business suits, she tossed them on the bed and examined them for a second. Both were a charcoal grey, one was slacks the other an ankle length skirt.

She picked up the skirt version and put it back in the closet, tonight was supposed to be a busines meeting with the heads of the Vetilucci families allies. Business meetings required busines attire, not fighting attire. She pulled off her leather pants, and tossed them in a pile, followed by her shirt. The business suit had a white blouse instead of her normal black silk shirt. She pulled out a pair of hose and tossed her socks off to one side as well. Five minutes later she was dressed again, and taking the leather wrap off her hair so it hung loose instead of in a tight tail. She slipped into falt dress shoes and walked out to the elevator to leave, Mikkael would probably be waiting downstairs already. She had no purse, prefering a wallet instead. She put the sword on in the front hall as the elevator came up to take her down.

She walked out to the front lobby and Mikkael was indeed waiting patiently for her, he looked a pocket watch and then at her, "Two minutes late." He said.

"Elevator was slow." She answered as they walked out the front door together. He was dressed similarly, thought his suit was a deep navy instead of a charcoal grey. He had a tie on as well.

"The sword and tie don't go together." Thalia pointed out as she removed her sword to get into the waiting car, he drove your average big square car like most members of the family, a cadillac if Thalia remebered correctly. He removed his own weapon, putting in the back next to Thalia's, in a ceiling rack deisgned for the weapons, and got in.

"Tell me about it. And you look out of place with lipstick on."

She made a kissing noise, "Thanks sweetheart."

"Don't mention it." He pulled into traffic.

"So what's the agenda tonight?"

"I'm not sure, but I believe it has to do with a plan of attack."

"We're moving to a full scale war?"

"It'd be difficult."

"Not to mention that the city might get involved, open bloodshed in the streets only works in small doses." She said.

"I know. But many are impatient. They were hoping for a swift resolution after Antonio was killed."

"Swift? We're days away from bringing the bastards to their knees, just how much faster are we supposed to work?"

"I know. I know." He said defensively. "They don't quite realize that one person, no matter how good, can't make up for the loss of manpower we had in the last five years. Most of our veteran fighters are gone."

"We're working with children, yes." She nodded in agreement. "What does Jospeh have to say about it all?"

"He's acting strangely reserved. Even for him."

"Not good."

Mikkael nodded. "So what do you suggest we do?"

"I'm all for going strait after Gaven."

"How do you propose that?"

"We hold a tournament duel. House versus house, winner gets control."

"One of those hasn't been held in over a hundred years."

"I realize that."

"You and I may be old enough to remember those, Gaven as well, but the rest of the houses? doubtful they have any of the Talents who're that old."

"How many in the world?"

"Most of us are in Europe with the old families. They look down on us who live in the US."

"Most of them are to obsessed with their own protocol to remember what real honor is." She said.

"With the exception of the Italians I'd imagine." He smirked.

"Of course." She said.

"Suppose they go for this tournament, how do plan on killing Gaven?"

"Death Challenges are legal."

"Only in the final rounds."

"You don't think I can't make it?"

"There's always a chance." He said, "Luck is as much a part of the duel as skill." He pointed out.

"One of us has to make it, and one of us will have to kill him." She said matter of factly.

"And if they don't go for the duel?"

"I'm afraid we may end up in a bloodbath in the streets." She said with a sigh.

"Bad PR."

"I know, but the houses are impatient, the tension is almost palpable." She said. "Things may spiral out of our control. Several of the lesser houses are already going on rogue strikes of the enemy at hand."

He nodded, "We could be in over our heads with trying to control this."

"Sadly enough."

"So, Holly staying home tonight?"

"She has a date." Thalia said a the conversation topic switched.

"A date?" He looked at her.

"Indeed."

"With whom?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know, sounds suspicious."

"Suspicious?" She raised an eyebrow. They were currently stuck in traffic and moving slowly through the city.

"Where's she been hanging out for the last week and a half?"

"I'm not entirely sure, I'm trying to let her roam about on her own. She doesn't need to be under her mothers shadow anymore."

"I see."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I just hope we don't a Romeo and Juliet story on our hands." He said.

"She knows better than that." Nightshade scowled, "At least she had better."

He laughed, "I do believe you're riled a bit."

"Riled? Me?"

"Yes, very cute."

"Cute?" She said with a bit of shock, "Ok buddy, one more insult and you and I will have to cross swords."

"Who's insulting?" He looked hurt.

"Is that a bit of grey hair I see at the temples?" She jibed him.

"Oh now you're just playing dirty." He answered. "Music?" He decided to change the subject.

"Sure." She said.

He turned on the stereo and found a hard rock station. "Nothing quite like rock and roll he said, "We needed this at the turned of the last century he answered.

"You were what? fifteen?"

"Yeah, and damn did we need rock and roll." He said tapping the stereo to the beat.

Thalia laughed, "I'll agree with that."

They arrived at the destination a few minutes early. The valet came out and took the keys from Mikkael as he resheathed his sword. Thalia had done the same and waitid for Mikkael to walk around the car and join her. They were at a Japanese style restaurant, one of the smaller families owned it, taking pride in the fact they had hired a Japanese family to run it and give it that authentic touch. On nights with meetings like this they took the entire restaurant for their own use. Mikkael and Thalia entered the resataurant and were greeted by the doorman.

The inside was usually divided into several smaller dining areas, divided off by traditional paper walls of Japanese architecture, currently all the sliding walls had been removed and were stacked in an unused room. Leave the place mostly open with several table around and the supports for the walls showing where they would go normally. Most of the tables had men in suits and women in evening gowns talking amongst themselves. Their personal bodygaurds were in another room, the one closest to the door, all with their swords strapped on, talking quietly if at all. The bodyguards turned to see who had entered, upon seeing Thalia and Mikkael each gave a nod of acknowledgement and went back to their own conversations. The rest of the group mostly ignored them, with the exception of Joseph who was a the table strait ahead of the door, facing them. He waved them over to him. There were two places to either side of his that were reserved for them.

Thalia and Mikkael nodded and walked over to him. Mikkael sat on Joseph's right, Thalia his left. They kneeled and sat on the pillows at the low table, their sword belts they removed and placed behind themselves, within easy reach should they needed them. A young woman dressed in a traditional kimono came by and filled up their cups with tea, both turning down the sake. Fighters always remained sober at these events. They were served a plate of Sushi each that Thalia smiled at, Mikkael hated most sushi but was too formal and polite to turn it down.

It was nearly an hour, and most of the way through the meal, when Joseph finally spoke.

"Ladies and Gentlemen." He started, his voice carrying easily over the din. "I'd like to start by thanking you all for coming." They had all turned to look at him. Mikkael and Thalia simply stared out at the crowd instead of up at Joseph. "We have a grave matter in front of us regarding out futures." His face was void of emotion, "In the last week since Thalia has rejoined the family and my brother has passed we have seen a steady increase in our influence. And increase brought on by the selective removal of several house champions coupled with new partnerships that have weakened House Agrenon.

"For most of you this has been good for business. But I understand many of you still think we are doing too little too late." He frowned, "I assure you that it will take some time for us to make up for such a loss as we have seen in the last five years. Market projections aside I assure House Vetilucci will make a strong recovery." Many in the crowd applauded his speech. A few did not. "Are there any items that we should table and discuss further?" He asked after sitting back down to let them know he was now back at their level and things were open to discussion.

"What does Vetilucci plan on doing about the continued slaughter of our warriors by Agrenon and that devil Gaven?" Marcus of House Alleon asked.

"We are about ready to go after Agrenon fighters directly now that many of their lesser houses are no longer in a position to lend them fighters."

"About ready? How long away is about ready?" Marcus continued, he was a large man fond of expensive jewelery if one went by the collection of rings on his fingers.

Mikkael spoke up next, "We're ready to move in on Agrenon directly within the next day or two." He answered, his voice passive.

"And how long before you cripple them as they have crippled us?" Horacio of House Reyes asked.

"We're not sure." Thalia answered this question, "It all depends on how subtle we are." Her voice was also passive.

"Subtle? Aren't we past subtlety?" Marcus spoke up again.

"We are trying to avoid the sactions that the city placed on us several years ago." Joseph said, "It was not be good if the loca government bodies became involved in our affairs."

"Again I ask," Horacio spoke again, a thin old man with little hair on his hed and a woman half his age or less at his side. "How long before they are crippled?"

"I guess a week." Thalia said, throwing a number at them. She could always come up with an excuse if it took longer and she was hoping it would take less. She needed to move on quickly in the larger scheme of things.

"Then in a week I say we reassess the situation." Horacio said, satisfied with the answer. Marcus said nothing, so must have been satisified himself.

"Are there any other matters to discuss at large?" Joseph asked, he waited a minute and no one spoke up, "Then I suggest we enjoy our meal." He raised his sake glass in salute and drank it. The rest of the room followed suit, and went back to private conversations.

It was another hour before Mikkael and Thalia had managed to escape. Outside Mikkael handed his ticket to the valet who went to get his car.

"Any plans this evening?" He asked Thalia.

"I could use a drink." She said, "Shall we retire to O'Dunnings?" She asked.

"Sounds like a plan." He answered as the car was pulled up. He tipped the valet, and they got in and drove off. The rest of the party seemed to be breaking up slowly after them.

"You think it will take a week?"

"If we do it right and get the right people." She said.

"That's the trick though isn't it? The right people all stand behind the little people."

"I think we can flush them out, we just have to use words and swords."

"I do believe you plan on insulting our esteemed enemy." Mikkael said with a grin.

"I'll slap the bastards if that's what it takes to provoke a fight."

"Provoke to many and you break the law."

"I'll have to make some of them start it then I suppose." She sighed, under city law a single fighter was only allowed to start a certain number of fights within a month. After that they were deemed to dangerous and charged with disturbing the peace. They also had their right to carry a sword revoked for the next thirty days. A very dangerous place to be when houses were at war.

O'Dunnings was an old bar, the floor boards had that look of being walked on for decades. The bar and tables and chairs in the place were all made from a hard wood, worn to a honey brown color in most places. Mikkael and Thalia took a seat at a small table near one wall. Mikkael politely took the outside chair putting his back to the crowd, Thalia in turn spent most of her time scanning behind him instead of looking directly at him as they talked.

They'd each ordered a stout to drink and decided to share a basket of onion rings, Mikkael still grumbling about the sushi from earlier. He was eat most of the rings.

"Taven?" Mikkael was asking as the waitress delivered their second round of Guiness. They were playing the age old game of how to start a fight without starting the fight. They'd name off an opponent known by both of them and the other would have to name their enraging weakness.

"Insult his dog." Thalia responded after a minute of thought. She had spent a good portion of her free time in the last week studying their enemy and their fighters habits.

"Cat." He said triumphantly.

"Shit!" Thalia scowled, "Practically the same thing."

"Not even close."

"Ok ok, fine. Insult his cat." She took a drink, "You're up one." The night managed to pass by them. At one Mikkael looked at his pocket watch.

"Ok, I'm done." He said singalling for the check.

"Old man." Thalia winked.

"Old maid." Mikkael responded, "And you lost so it's your tab."

"I was handicapped." She protested.

"You lost by two, you did better than half our fighters."

"I could've caught up." She said, taking the check from the waitress, putting her card on the small plastic tray and handing it back.

"We ran out of people."

"Only because we have to stick to living people." She said. It only took a minute for the card to come back. They stood, thanked the waitress and left.

Thalia unbuckled her belt as the elevator rose to her penthouse apartment. When the door opened she draped it over the bar specifically there for the purpose and noted Holly's sword was there already. She walked into the main room and was greated by a passed out Holly on the couch.

She tapped Holly on the shoulder, who turned over and looked up into Thalia's eyes, "Bed's that way kiddo." Thalia said pointing towards Holly's room.

"I was waiting up." Holly said sitting up in bed. "I thought you said be home by one?"

"I did, and were you?"

"Twelve thirty, not that'd you know miss out until nearly two." Holly stood up, rubbed her eyes and looked up at Thalia.

"I don't have the curfew." Thalia answered.

Holly answered by sticking her tognue out, yawning and going off towards her room.

"Have fun?"

"Yes, I can't wait to do it again."

"When do I get to meet him."

"Later" Holly waved her hand as she opened her door.

"Do I get his name?"

"No." Holly closed the door behind her.

Thalia stared after her for a moment and shook her head. She went off to her own room and undressed, she threw herself onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling for a while, falling asleep on top of the covers as was her normal habit.

--

Thalia stood back to back with Ellen, one of House Janus' fighters, a long time ally of Vetilucci. They faced down seven Agrenon fighters currently. In an effort to draw out the enemy Thalia and Mikkael had taken to seperating and wandering around with fighters from lesser houses that were favorite targets of Agrenon and her allies. Ellen, a capable fighter herself, welcomed the company and the added bonus of being with one of Vetilucci's champions. The houses themselves were happy that Vetilucci had decided to send out their best fighters to help protect their interests.

Ellen normally spent her day checking on various warehouses and loading docks her family owned, they were mostly in distribution through the city. Agrenon had decided to cut off some of Vetilucci's supply lines recently, a strike and House Janus was a good start.

"Which ones did you want?" Thalia asked over her shoulder, she was in a casual stance, sword not yet up.

"I know you're a champion and all, but do you have to act to cocky when were outnumbered three to one?" Ellen answered, she had her sword up in a defensive posture.

"It's in the job description." Thalia answered, "And they're making us late for lunch." She smiled.

The men surrounding them laughed, "Is the little kitten late for her bowl of milk?" One of them said, a thin roguish man, Thalia decided to kill him first. Agrenon had a bad habit of refering to women fighters as kittens. Agrenon itself had few women fighters in its ranks.

Thalia felt Ellen tense a little behind her, "Relax," She said. And charged forward in a jump that brought her down onto one of the fighters, but her sword struck to the right, taking the recent insultor in the throat. He fell back with a gurle, grasping his throat as the blood spilled out.

Thalia wasted no motions, pushing the man she'd landed on down to the ground hard as she pushed off to engage another fighter. He managed to bring his sword up to block the first blow but didn't anticipate her sudden spinning tiwst that brought her to his side, the side without the sword. A slash in the belly put him down. The rest of the group exploded into motion suddenly. Ellen found herself doing all she could to parry back two incoming duelists.

Thalia ran past the man she'd knocked down, sticking her weapon into his chest and pulling it free, he yelped, then gurgled as his lung filled with blood. She kept her run up and jumped onto the loading dock a few feet away, the other two duelists had caughter up to her and each took a swipe at her legs. The swords missed as she jumped backwards off the dock and did a tidy flip in mid air, she spun as she landed and put her weapon into the kidney of one of the would be attackers. He fell trying to stem the bleeding in his back, dying shortly aftwards.

The other attacker turned and went on the offense, Thalia parryed his blows backing up several steps to draw him into the open away from the dock. A quick series of slashed, dodges and pushes forward and he found himself with two cuts to his body, one on either side. They weren't deep but the more he moved the more they bled, and the stinging was quickly getting to him. A slip up in his defense and he took a sword to the belly and fell to bleed to death.

Thalia looked over at Thalia, who was attempting to fend off both fighters, she had a slash on her left arm and was staggering from a wound in her right thigh. One of the enemy fighters had a good cut across his own leg, but they were flanking her now. Thalia saw the death blow coming in and charged. The blow never landed, Thalia's sword had put itself in the way.

Ellen stared up through the mess of blades, her own held up nearly ineffectually, the two attackers blades stopped on Thalia's own. Thalia's blade eminated cold air and shined with a peculiar inner light. They all looked over at her, she exhaled a cloud of cold air and pushed their weapons up and out of the way. The injured man tried to run but was slashed across his back and fell with a sream as the flesh was seared from the cold blade. The other man had a chance to run, Thalia let him go for now.

"You Ok?" Thalia asked, wiping the blood from her sword, which had returned to its normal steel again.

"Not really." Ellen pulled herself up and leaned on the loading dock. She put her sword down next to her and tried to examine her wounds.

Thalia looked up at the few dock workers who had ventured outside now that the sound of the swordfight had stopped, "Ambulance." She said to one of them and resheathed her sword.

"I'm not that bad off." Ellen said, wincing.

"Not you, them." Thalia motioned to the ground where two of the men lay still breathing. A police siren could be heard coming towards them.

"Shit, now I'll end up in the hospital for sure." Ellen said.

"Maybe," Thalia said, "Mind if I take a look?"

"You a medic?" Ellen looked at her.

"Of sorts, I can stop the bleeding."

"Torniquettes work." Ellen nodded.

Thalia smikred, "Yeah, I suppose they do." Thalia grabbed the sleeve of the womans shirt and pulled it off, the job made easier by the slash, "I owe you a shirt." She said and tore it in half again. One she wrapped around Ellen's arm, the other around her leg. The police car pulled up as she finished, getting out of their car they looke around.

One of them, a young man around twenty, whistled as he seemed impressed at the number of people on the ground. The older man only counted them and walked up to the obvious survivors.

"Names, Houses?" He said, pulled a form out of his metal clipboard and clicking his pen open.

"Ellen Janus, House Janus." Ellen said.

"Thalia Nightshade, House Vetilucci." Thalia answered.

"Any other survivors?"

"A House Agrenon duelist ran off." Thalia said.

"How many are from your sword." He pointed his pen at Ellen.

"None." She said softly.

"How many from yours?" He pointed it at Thalia.

"Six." She answered, leaning against the dock now.

"No others from your houses here?" He looked a little doubtful.

"Nope." Thalia said, "Seven came at us, six went down, one ran away."

"You got six?" The younger officer said, Thalia nodded.

"That one has a peculiar scar." The older officer was still all business.

"Cold, I had to use talent in the end." Thalia said.

"ID's please." He held out his hand, Thalia pulled her from her belt, Ellen reached into a pocket and pulled out a slim wallet for cards and pulled hers out. They handed them to the officer who walked back to his car to scan them. "Get statements from them," He told his partner who had just stood around so far.

The younger officer walked up to the top of the dock and pulled out his own form, taking statements fromt he dock workers around.

In the car the older officer ran their identification through his computer and waited for the return. They checked out as being from Janus and Vetilucci. Ellen he noted had no recent fights on record, her last public engagement being five months ago, no dead, just minor injuries. He stopped and had to read Thalia's record twice. Eight fights in the last two weeks, totalling twenty seven dead. No provocations on her part so far, only defensive fights. He'd seen this before, usually from a rogue who came in from nowhere. They'd never start the fight but they sure as hell were the reason the fight managed to start in the first place some way or another. He looked up at the sign over the loading dock, Janus Distribution. "Shit." He said to himself, there was no way she could have started this fight at all, they were on Janus property and she was with a House Janus duelist. He sighed, maybe she was just one of the unlucky. The Vetilucci probably figured she was attracting to much trouble, but she was obviously to good to let go with that many deaths on her record. That meant they kept moving her around areas, trying to find a nice quiet spot where they could still use her. Warehouse patrol semed quiet enough. The younger officer got back into the car, "Well?" The older one asked.

He shrugged, "Everyone says these seven guys come over and start harrassing and insulting them." He started, "Finally circling them and then the fight broke out."

"Can anyone verify the claims of number taken?"

"Yeah, one guy watched the whole thing through a window, he said that Thalia woman moved more like the wind than a person and fought like a demon."

"She's trouble." He said shaking his head. "Nothing to it though, clean cut case of self defense here. Call in a wagon for the dead." He said, "Better check for living." He got out of the car and walked over to each man on the ground in turn, he spoke into the radio on his shoulder, "Ambulance in route?" He called to his dispatcher, his experience was that the standing fighters after a duel had the good sense to call for one.

"ETA two minutes." He heard the answer come in, he stood and listened for a moment, then heard the siren.

"Thanks. Need transport for five DOA." He said into the radio, and got the affirmative response. He walked over to the two fighters. "You need a ride into the hospital?" He asked Ellen.

She shook her head, "House doctor will tend to it." She answered.

"Sign here your refusing transport." He held out his form and pointed to a line near the middle. She signed it and handed his pen back to him.

"Okay, you have twenty seven on your count including today." He said to Thalia, "I suggest you take a day or so off, stay indoors."

"I'll make a note of that." She said in answer.

He shrugged, there was nothing he could really do, she wouldn't listen without a court order to lay down arms. "Sign here." He pointed at a line on the bottom, "This is to verify your number today, that I've talked to you and that you admit to being in this fight, it will go on your official." He explained in a monotone as Thalia signed the line and dated it. She nodded absently, it was a routine both knew. He did the same for Ellen who also signed and dated it. "A copy will be sent to your Houses." He said and walked back to the car, the ambulance was pulling up now. Two medics jumped out and ran to the guy that the officer pointed at, it was the one with a slash to his stomach. They did their duty and checked the rest of the men on the ground, then loaded the still living one into the ambulance, they talked briefly with the officer, who signed one of their forms, they signed one of his and then the ambulance took off.

The supervisor for the dock came over to the waiting fighters, he crouched down to be closer to eye level with Thalia who was still standing on the ground. "I can call a House Escort to take Ellen to the doctor he said.

"I'll drive her, if she'll let me." Thalia said pushing away from the dock to turn and face the supervisor. Ellen nodded and pulled her car keys off of a loop on her belt, "The sooner the better, this hurts." She handed them to Thalia.

"I've already called for another patrol to take over for the day." The supervisor said, "Thanks for the help." He stood up.

Thalia picked up Ellen's sword and waited for the girl to get off the dock and onto her own feet. She wobbled a bit, Thalia caught her by the arm as Ellen put all her weight on her left leg. "Don't suppose you can help me?"

"Of course," Thalia put Ellen's right arm around her shoulder and helped Ellen get to the car at the end of the dock. Ellen drove a simple four door sedan.

"There's a sheet in the trunk so blood doesn't get on the seats." Ellen said leaning on the car now.

"Prepared."

"Always." She said. Thalia placed a plastic sheet on the passenger seat, helped Ellen in and walked around to the drivers side herself. She adjusted the seat back a bit, Ellen was half a foot shorter than her, and drove off to House Janus' doctor.

At eight Thalia was sitting in a rather sterile bar by herself. Joseph had called her midafternoon wanting to meet her. She could tell by his tone of voice it wasn't the best news he had to relate. Holly had called an hour ago saying she was going out with soem friends, Holly made friends faster than anyone Thalia knew. She was kind of surprised Holly didn't have another date, since she'd seen her mystery man almost every night for a week now. Her excuse was he said he was busy. So here she sat, being served by a bartender in a tux minues the jacket, probably paying to much for the drink.

She still dressed as a duelist who came in off the streets. Nice, but you could tell she was more than prepared to actually fight. Unlike during most social occasions where you simply wore the sword. Her hair was still in the leather wrap, gloves still on, if you looked closely you could see a bit of dried blood on her boots, she'd washed it off her pants from earlier today. Leather was cooperative that way, it could wash off a little more easily than clothe.

Joseph entered the bar and saw her, he was flanked by his two personal fighters, not house champions, but nearly just as good. They kept their distance, taking a seat at a small round table near the bar, within ten feet of them. Joseph sat next to Thalia at the bar. The bartender knew him and brough his usual over after a brief moment.

"What's up?" Thalia asked, not turning to look at Joseph, they watched each other through the mirror behind the bar, between the rows of bottles.

"We have a small problem."

"We?"

"Two actually."

"I think I see where this is going."

"The houses are thrilled with your accomplishments recently, Mikkaels as well. Both of you seem to be waging a near two man war on Agrenon. You have over fifty deaths between the two of you in the last two weeks."

"But the city is noticing?"

"Yes, they have put two and two together finally." He sighed, "I've asked Mikkael the same thing, now I'll ask you. I need to you law low for several days."

"Take a day or so off, stay indoors." She offered.

"In so many words." Joseph conceded.

"Doesn't sound very fun."

"I can get you everything you need, men, women, entertainment, name it."

"No thanks." Thalia said, "But I can lay low for a bit, I think Agrenon gets the point." She smiled. "So what's this other bit?"

"We think we have a traitor amongst our ranks. Suddenly Agrenon knows who is where in patrols around the city. With the exception of you and Mikkael who are going about almost randomly."

"There's a reason we didn't tell anyone where or when we'd show up." Thalia said.

"It's going to become very serious soon."

"What am I supposed to do by laying low?" Thalia asked.

"Holly."

"What?"

"Holly seems to know everyone, very outgoing girl you have there."

"Are you saying she's the intruder?" Thalia said, a little defensively and a tiny bit of anger creeping into her voice.

"Not by any means." Joseph said, ignoring her burst of emotion. "I trust you implicity, and her by extension. But she is in the perfect place to find out who might be the mole."

"I see. So you want me to ask her to try and find out."

"If at all possible."

"I'll ask." Thalia said. "But if something happens to her because of this I'm coming out of hiding with blood on my mind." She warned him.

"I would expect no less." Joseph said with a slight frown, "Let us hope she can find the spy with little trouble." He stood and finished off his drink, "I'll call you when it's quieted down a bit." He said and walked out, his bodyguards apeapring at his side within ten steps of walking away from the bar.

Thalia sighed, she was officially under wraps, and Holly would get to have all the fun flushing out an enemy spy. "I need to get laid." She said and stood up, motioing for the bartender to pay her tab.

He came over, "It's on Joseph's tab." He said. Apparently he'd arranged for it before she arrived, probably why it had to be at this bar.

She dropped a ten on the bar, "Thanks." She said and walked out.

--

Holly got up around nine, it was a thursday if she remembered correctly. Last night left her head full of cotton. They were out until three carousing, six of them. They'd left swords behind and went civilian for the evening as well. Between the numerous shots regarding a bet she didn't quite remember and the beer she put back her hangover was a doozy. She didn't care what kind of power wasn't supposed to be here, she held her head for a moment, concentrated hard and willed her system clean. The ringing in her ears subsided after a second, her vision cleared and the headache went away.

"Oh that's much better." She said climbing out of bed. She grabbed a giant sweatshirt off the floor of her room, which looked as if your average teenager lived there. Clothes strewn about haphazardly, and various records and CDs mixed in. A laptop sat near one wall on the floor, her desk having been turned into a place to put her radio and television. "Place is a mess." She commented and walked out into the living room. Thalia's sword belt lay where she'd found it when she came in last night, stumbled mostly, over the back of the couch. Which was unlike her. Holly shrugged, maybe she'd had a bad day. Holly padded over to the kitchen and opened the fridge, pulled out a carton of milk and drank from it, thankful that Thalia bought only quarts so she could actually hold it in one hand, yet another disadvantage to being small. She looked at the clock, nine fifteen, she'd be late for practice with Gregory at this rate. "Damn."

She was about to run back to her room when she heard a noise from Thalia's room, she hadn't had much chance to talk to her in the last few days though. Since they were both actually there at the moment Holly decided that Gregory could wait a bit and was going to ask Thalia if she wanted to catch some breakfast.

"Hey mom!" Holly opened the door, saw she wasn't alone in bed and started to close it, "I'm.." She stopped and stared.

Thalia was out of bed, walking towards the bathroom, sitting up in bed was a man who was obviously getting ready to follow her. "Holly," Thalia said stopping mid step, "This is.." She motioned to the bed.

"Gregory." Holly finished, almost choking on the word. Thalia faced Holly, looked at Gregory and then back at Thalia.

"I take it you've met." She said. Gregory hadn't said anything yet.

"Yeah." Holly sniffed and wiped her eyes with her sleeve, "You could say that." She turned and ran out of the room. Thalia jumped to the conclusion quickly.

"You're the mystery man?" She said coldly to Gregory.

"Just.."

"Just nothing, get out before I run you through." She pointed to her door. Thalia stalked over to the door to her bathroom, grabbed her silk robe and put it on as she went out the door, "Move it asshole." She said over he shoulder. Gergory had jumped out of bed and was quickly getting his pants on. Thalia listened for a second in her living room, Holly had run up to her roof top garden. She went to the stairs that led up to it.

Thalia found Holly sitting on her grassy spot, hugging her knees to her chest, staring out at the sky beyond the edge of the building. Thalia sat crosslegged next to her.

"Hey kid."

Holly said nothing and didn't move.

"I didn't know." Thalia said softly, "I really didn't." She looked at Holly who turned to her head to meet Thalia's gaze.

"Promise?"

"I was going for a night of meaningless sex, I found the first pretty boy I came across and took him home." She said.

"Fucking bastard." Holly whispered.

"Me?" Thalia said, looking a little shocked.

"No." Holly sounded exasperated, "Him, the fucking bastard knew who you were. He should have said no."

Thalia put her arm around Holly, "I suppose the only good thing about this is that you found out he's the cheating kind quickly."

"I suppose." Holly sniffed, "I was going in there to ask if you wanted to go to breakfast." She said.

"I'd love to, but I'm grounded." Thalia answered.

"Up the street, there's this great diner. Just wear blue jeans or something, leave the sword behind." She was nearly pleading.

"You sure?"

"Yeah." Holly wiped her eyes clear, the tears had stopped, "Stupid mortals. I should've known better."

Thalia shrugged, "That's my girl." She scuffed Holly's hair, "Let's go." Thalia stood and pulled Holly to her feet. "Give me a minute to get dressed though." When they got downstairs there was no sign of Gregory in the place.

Holly went into her room and pulled a pair of jeans on and found a pair of sneakers to wear. She waited in the living room for Thalia to join her. Thalia, she could hear, had taken a moment to shower, she came out after a very quick shower wearing a pair of jeans herself and pulling a tshirt on. She was wearing a pair of dress shoes that were out already instead of searching for her own sneakers. "Holly, Gregory knew you lived here right?"

Holly looked perplexed, "Yeah?"

"Then why would he come home with me instead of trying to take me back to his place?"

"Good question." Holly said, she'd decided short living beings weren't worth more than five minutes of distress.

"Something isn't right." Thalia said, following Holly out of the room towards the elevator.

"He's just stupid maybe." Holly offered.

"No," Thalia stopped, "Something else isn't right." She looked around, "Can you feel that?"

"What?" Holly knit her eyebrows and looked perplexed.

"Listen to the flow." Thalia said, and put a hand on her forehead, she'd suddenly developed a splitting headache, "Fuck." She said wincing in pain.

"Thalia?" Holly went to her side, she concentrated and cocked her head. If you listened right you could hear the flow of creation moving past, something was rushing towards them through it. Something big.

"Step away from me." Thalia said gritting her teeth.

Holly did as she was told, whenever someone like Thalia told you to step back you did.

"Find out what Gregory is, kill Gavin, do it quickly." Thalia fell to her knees but held an arm out letting Holly know not to get close, "Forget the rules." She said gasping for air, her body was starting to fail on her. "Shit, physical forms can suck." She said. Her skin began to crack, a black beam of what could only be anti-light shot out, "All bets are off, this is worse than I thought." She was no longer talking with her mouth, the voice came from all around. Another crack in her body formed and a beam of pure white light shot out. "Take this." The dying figure of Thalia's physical form looked up and her eyes were the black empty of eternity, "Find Millileth, ask for help from Demogauth."

Holly staggered back a moment as she looked into Thalia's eyes before the body collapsed down again, she blinked herself back and shook her head to clear it. She was given the keys to the doors, that much she knew.

There was a scream, then Thalia's body melted and folded at the same time as something rushed through it and then everything was quiet suddenly.

Holly stood in the hall with a look of disbelief. All the thousands of years she'd known Thalia she had never seen her lose a physical form like that, and she had never heard the bit of worry or panic that she heard that time. She listened to the flow again, it was starting to waver around the edges she thought, whatever had just happened only increased it's rate of decay. Things were going to go from bad to worse very quickly.

"Well fuck." She said. She looked around for a moment, contemplated the sword and decided against it. She took a run and launched herself through the window at the end of the hall, out the side of the building.

She felt the wind rush past her, she saw the city, she closed her eyes and felt the city instead. Her mind expanded to check the entire of New York. Every being was scanned in a matter of moments as she fell. For purposes of asthetics, and because she was all about style being a bard deep down in her soul she shifted her clothes. Four anamolous figures stood out in the city that she coudl tell. Gregory was easy to find, Gavin was the largest anamoly, the other two she could tell meant nothing in the current situation. She hit the ground with a thud that was anti climactic for her fall. She was in a black leather jacket, black jeans, combat boots and a black tshirt. On the back of her jacket a Jolly Roger was painted in stark white airbrush. Her hair hung loose over the collar, "Let's kick some ass shall we." She nodded at the street and a motorcycle appeared, a small fast looking machine. She got on, looked at the doorman who had witnessed her fall, "Welcome to the apocalypse." She winked and put a pair of wrap around sunglasses on that she pulled out of thing air. She sped off in a squeel of tire towards where Gregory was. He wasn't to far, in a car with two other people. She caught up to them by breaking every traffic law that you could apply. She was up on the sidewalk when she popped the front wheel up and drove up the front of a ferrari that happened to be in the lane of on coming traffic she was about to travel over. Her bike launched itself into the air doing about two hundred, the speed boost helped with a little power as she crushed the front of the expensive sports car behind her. It flew threw the intersection, over traffic, and smashed into the trunk of the car Gregory was riding in. Holly herself had jumped as the bike came down off the peak of its arc and landed to the side of the vehicle. The thing came to a screeching halt ten feet later, not moving that fast to begin with. The three men inside looked stunned as Holly ran up and grabbed the door next to Gregory's seat. She punched into the metal and ripped the door off the car, tossing it aside she looked inside, "Hello Gregory." She smiled, "Spy for house Agrenon are you? I'm not surprised." She had indicated the two men in the car, both high ranking members of the Agrenon family. She grabbed his collar and pulled him out of the car, tossing his body into the brick wall the building behind her.

Holly stalked across the sidewalk to him where he was getting to his feet. "Being a traitor I can forgive. Cheating on me I can forget." She was standing inches from him, "Whatever the fuck you did to my mother, on the other hand, you will pay for." Her fist slammed into his stomach, "So what pray tell me are you?" She said grabbing his hair and pulling his head up.

"Fuck you you worthless Shaper." He said.

"Thought so." Her fist hit his stomach again, "Demon? Angel?" She grabbed his throat, "Get out of that stupid shell." She crushed the throat in her hands easily enough.

The body shuddered and then a white translucent form seemed to escape from it, rising up, "You will never win." It said in a echoing voice, and faded away to nothing. She thought it had gained feathered wings in the lat moment before disappearing. She dropped the dead corpse in front of her. The other two men had gotten out and just stared.

"What?" She said to them. They started to back away, not sure they saw what just happened. "Thought so." She grabbed her bike, which repaired itself and got back on. She sped off towards where Gavin was, cutting traffic and running reds all the way.

Gavin, a tall blond man with sparkling blue eyes was sitting having brunch at an expensive sidewalk cafe with several of his friends and brothers. They were all fighters, and all of them built wide. One of them was busy harrassing the waitress who was unlucky enough to serve them this morning when Holly came to a screeching halt in front of the place. To judge by the black strip down the road she'd hit the brakes half a block up. She got off and just let the bike drop to the ground.

"HEY!" She yelled as she walked to the group of men who had stopped the laughing and merriment to stare at her. They couldn't really believe their eyes, a five foot tall woman with dark red hair dressed like a Hell's Angel was coming at them, and she looked pissed. She raised her arms, a large pistol was in her hands. They were about to move when she fired, the loud crack ending the silence as Gavin's head flew back and exploded.

Holly let her arms drop, the gun at her side, one hand on her hip, "Now just fucking die would you?" She said.

The body fell over into it's eggs and lay still. Holly watched it for a moment, waiting for the soul to leave the corpse. It didn't. "Shit." She said and the pistol disappeared. The body stood, the head reformed and it looked at Holly, it looked pissed.

"Heart then?" She said as it jumped the iron railing between them and ran at her as she stood in the street. "I was thinking to physical I bet." She said as it reached her. In one swift move she moved her body out of the space it occupied, into a temporary space just outside this reality and back again, two inches to the left, her left fist coming up into the gut of Gavin who stopped with a sudden groan as his target wasn't exactly where he thought it would be. Holly took her right hand and clapped it onto the back of his head, with on hand over his heart and the other over his skull she felt his soul in her grasp. She suddenly pulled to one side and an exact duplicate of Gavin, on this one translucent, was pulled out of the body. The body itself fell over as Holly held onto the soul which started to thrash in her grip. She spread her arms out, tearing the soul a little as she did. Her body started to glow a light green color. She burst into green flames suddenly, the soul in her hands caught fire and burned with her. Within moments it was consumed and gone. Holly stood in the street and put out the flames on her body. She listened to the flow, in this area it was starting to stabalize just slightly, but over all things were still falling apart.

She looked to her left and saw the outline of the grey door she needed, it was the one way door to the Realm of Doors she knew. The Hallway is what she decided to call it. She ran through it and into the place beyond. What those at the restaurant saw was Holly get charged, Gavin fall over and then she turned and ran to disappear into thing air twenty yards down the road after a seconds pause.

They looked at each other, then out at Gavin's body, then back at each other. No one moved.

//01011 Millileth :: Calm Before The Storm//

Millileth hummed her way through the work day, it had been a mostly quiet afternoon. Jacob had come in to close the store for her at four, she was helping him while waiting for Jan to arrive. She had done nothing but get worse in her timing as Michael got older.

The bells above the door chimed as she entered, holding it with her foot as she pushe the stroller through. "Sorry I'm late." She said, looking more than a little exhausted. She had stopped carrying the two year old in her second trimester with her new baby, her stomach making is a bit uncomfortable.

"It's ok." Millileth smiled as she looked down at Michael's beaming face, "What ya got there sport?" She asked, crouching in front of him, legs spread to distrubute the weight from her own very pregnant stomach.

"It's Maltron!" He held out the toy robot for her to inspect.

"Scary." She said, "He's the bad guy right?"

"Yeah." Michael said, "Bad guy." He grinned, his idea of a grin was to twist one side of his mouth up into almost a smirk.

"Ready?" Janice said, she sounded like she'd been running around all day. Which she had.

"Yep." Millileth stood, grabbed her coat from the counter, "I'll see you tomorrow Jacob." She waved goodbye.

"Have a good evening." He said from his post behind the counter as he prepared to brew some more coffee.

"So how's Paul doing?" Millileth asked as they loaded Michael, his stroller and themselves into Janice's minivan.

"He has a meeting in Minnesota next week, so he's keeping busy." She said starting the car. Paul was her second husband of only a year. She and Derrick went through a divorce shortly after Michael was born. Paul seemed to step and save the day less than a year after that. Michael called Paul dad, Derrick had made himself scarce soon after the split. "How's John?"

"Wonderful." Millileth grinned.

Janice smikred, "I was like that with my first." She said, Now I'm.."

"Just happy with reliable." Millileth said with a practiced voice, "I know. As long as he makes you happy."

"Yeah," She said, "He does most of the time. Michael stop that." She said to her child in the carseat behind her, he had proceeded to smack the back of her chair with his robot. He promptly stopped.

"You got everything already?" Millileth asked as they drove past the grocery store.

"Yep."

"And you were supposed to wait, no wonder you're all tired out." Millileth scolded.

"Nothing about it, I had to run by the store this morning anyway." She said, "Besides now we can get back to my house and I can sit, it's your turn to cook." She said.

"I can live with that."

"You still get up at three in the morning?"

"Three thirty, yes."

"How do you do that pregnant?"

Millileth shrugged, "I'm out like a light by ten most nights, I get sleep."

"I remember when you got by on less than four." Janice smiled.

"Oh to be young again."

"Please, we're only twenty-nine. Not even thirty yet, we're still young."

"Remember sixteen? A twenty minute power nap and a candy bar later we're good for a week."

"I remember." Janice said.

Janice sat at the table in her dining room, Michael in her lap. Millileth had taken over the kitchen and was busy cutting up vegetables when Paul and Johnathan walked in together.

"Hey there!" Johnathan said walking into the kitchen and kissing Millileth, "How was your day?"

"Good. Yours?" She said, scowling as he stole a piece of carrot.

"Not bad, the Kayman Project is getting stuck in red tape though."

"Out of my kitchen vegie thief." Millileth brandished the knife at him mockingly.

"No sympathy even."

"Veggie thieves get no symapthy in these parts." She waved him out as he turned to leave.

"Right." He said winking back at her, "So Paul, what's the problem with the network." The two men went off to talk computers, disappearing into the basement after Paul said hello to Janice and grabbed a pair of beers out of the fridge.

"Men." Janice smiled and shook her head.

"They're cute." Millileth said smiling.

"Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn't have been better off if I had gone the other way." Janice said.

"Never too late." Millileth said.

--

The Fey-King had a dilema on his hands. Some five years ago a being of great power entered the Earth Realm that touched his own lands. That might not have been a problem if either of the Gods that looked over that realm had cared to notice. He was anxious because she was seeping into the Fey world, after a manner. Five years had passed and he watched her closely, his attendants making sure nothing was up around her. And so far nothing he could see as a problem had arisen. Except that slowly he saw her shift.

She split, unknowingly if he judged her right, between the two realms. On the earth realm she was slowly becoming more solid to that world, losing her power with it. Which was a good thing in his eyes. But that kind of power had to go somewhere, it couldn't leech into the realm itself, that would cause chaos at an unprecedented level.

It seeped into his realm, and then became a solid thing. A statue grew in the great forest garden beyond his lands. Between his court within the Fey Realm the Wild Lands and the Unseelie Court. It was a place of neutral territory, and everyone respected that. A place that was barren, overgrown and well tended all at once, depending on what mood you caught it in is what you got to see.

In the dead center a statue of purple stone, translucent in parts, solid in others. It was in the shape of the woman currently on the earth realm. He knew this stone, it was an unwelcome stone. They called it Memory Stone. It held the memories that were cast off by someone of great power who wished to forget, either in concious or unconcious mind. The problem was what happened when they wanted those memories back, it saddened him to think about it. Because he knew of only one way to become part of your memory stone and get those back. That way was to die.

Both the Seelie and UnSeelie courts kept an eye on this stone, for it radiated pure power. It had in it a potential power that was immense, greater than even the Gods of the Earth Realm in it. A few Fey who had learned the secrets to travel to other Relams beyond the ones they knew spoke of these beings. Shapers, great things of immense power who guided the course of all creation. They spoke in hushed tones of them, even these, the most powerful of Fey, feared them. And that troubled the courts.

//01100 Thalia Nightshade :: Even Death Can Die//

Thalia walked a barren land, void of anything but brown rock. Two suns shined down from the sky, one a pure white the other a deep orange. Her clothes had been stripped from her body when she'd been dropped here. She spread her wings wide, massive leathery wings twelve feet in length each. She was trapped in what the Shapers called First Form. Her eyes were a deep black, with no whites, sharp fangs had returned with the old form. As well as a long black tail with a hard wide tip at the end, the tail was perhaps fifteen feet long. She tried just once to shift out of this form, it failed. She instead walked the land, wings out wide, tail aimlessy going from wrapped around her body to trailing behind her. Her skin was a pale white, slowly tanning under the constant heat from the sun. She at least felt no need for food or water yet. Which led her to believe they had merely locked her into a shape, which was fine with her.

She'd spent hundreds of years in this shape and found it comfortable. She took it often, more often than some might guess, as it felt like home sometimes. When the place you had come from was long turned to dust and memories your only home became the physical form you took as a reminder of what you were originally. And she was a very old being, and she remembered well what she once was.

She recognized the land as she walked through it's barren landscape. She knew this place well, every inch of it, not a single rock, just hard orange clay beat dry by suns that circled endlessly never giving night. It had been six days she'd walked this place, counting time by the white sun as she had done aeons ago.

Finally she came to it, the stone. A hundred feet into the air it stood. A rock as orange as the landscape that it came from, strait up. Forty feet around all the way up to the flat top. She crouched and jumped strait up, her wings giving extra lift with a single push. She rose to the top of the stone and landed softly on it's flat top.

She knelt and looked down at it then stood and around at the land before her. She spent ten thousand years here, strapped to the side of this stone staring at the suns constantly rising over the horizon in front of her. Alone with only her own thoughts. And now she stood here again, free to move about the world this time.

A figure came over the horizon, slowly. She watched it approach from her perch on the stone. It lumbered forward, almost creeped it was moving so slowly. She crouched, resting her hands on her knees and waited. If this was what death was for her she had the time. There were worse ways to spend eternity.

She saw the shape as it came. It took a day for it to get that far. It was a bipedal thing, twenty feet tall or so. It had a massive figure, wide at the shoulder, trunks for legs, a wide head with a row of horns on its crown. The jaw had a massive underbit to it, the lower part jutting out six or so inches. Another day passed, she hadn't moved and it came lumbering on in the same slow pace. It reached the stone about halfway into the next day. As it did so she stood finally, and looked down.

It stopped at the stone, "You have returned then?" It said finally to the stone in front of it.

Thalia jumped off and dropped down to the ground, she landed with a cloud of dust and stood up, "The Oralang." She said.

"Succubus." It said turning to face her. "You have questions I suppose."

"Where are we really."

"You don't know."

She shook her head, "This place is gone, so I'm either dead or I should get angry really quickly for this little side trip." She put her hands on her hips.

"Which do you think?" The creature said, tilting it's head down to look at her.

She smiled crookedly, "Side trip." She said and before the Oralang had a chance to move she jumped and kicked him in the head. The force of the blow knocked the large thing backwards several steps. She stayed airborn, grabbing a pair of horns on his head and snapping them off at the base. The Oralang yelled in pain and anger and swung at her, she did a flip in mid air to escape his grasp and came back around shoving the points of the horns into his eyes.

She drove them deep using strength augmented with power. The tips burst out of the back of his skull with sickening crack. She swooped her wings forward to propel herself backwards as the Oralang fell over onto its back and then melted into the ground.

"Stupid assholes can't even get it right." She looked around the world. "Gotcha." She launched upwards, increasing her velocity as she went up. She was doing a significant portion of the speed of light when she left the atmosphere, which mostly seemed to burst when she exited. The two suns that revolved around the orange ball were gone, she looked down from her place in the nothingness, the blast out of the atmosphere taking away almost all her momentum. She slowed and stopped, the two suns were no more than flat discs of light spaced evenly around the sphere of rock shining down onto it. She smirked, "This place I know." Her voice penetrated like a boom through the blackness coming from everywhere at once.

She was in the place known as nothing. Only a few beings knew of it. Many of them forgot where it was, of those that remembered they would never use it for such base purposes as to trap a creature. But here she was.

The problem with the space known as nothing was that it was very easy to get in, and not so easy to get out. She would have to play through all the traps and games that whomever it was that put her here had laid out to trace it backwards to the door. This was the only door not in the corridor, the door from something to nothing. And this being the place it was, she would have to play through a few tricks of her own inner psyche as well. Those were the most dangerous, she had very few emotions and mental trappings left for her to get hung up on. But there was always one you forgot about, that much she knew. She picked a direction, using Holly's tried and true method for picking a random direction. The first place you look is the way you go. So she went to her left. Moving through nothing had a trick to it. You couldn't do it physically, for there was nothing to move through if you tried it that way. Instead you willed the nothing to move past you while you, being something, simply remained perfectly still. So sat crosslegged, crossed her arms in front of her, spread her wings as wide as they would go and the tail she let hang strait down to swich about as it wanted. Nothing moved past her at an incredible rate until something else appeared.

A spec in the distance. Then a glow. A sphere. No, a cube. It grew larger as it came. A massive cube of polished metal. No visible marking on the surface facing her. She waited, as it came. It stopped coming when she was within a few icnhes of her. She looked it up and down. A mile tall, a mile wide and most likely a mile deep. She reached out a touched it and then there was a flash of light in her vision. The shape of things moved and changed. She was inside a garden now.

She remembered this place, it was her place of birth. A lush garden with an old growth forest to the north, full of tall trees and deep shadows. To the south a field lay, golden grass swayed in the bright summer sky. To the east were the hills that led to the mountains called forever. The the west was the swap, a place teeming with so much life it almost overflowed. But right here, in the center was a small garden. A circle of deep soft grass ten feet in diameter was the very center. A path of red brick went around it, with branches leading off to the for directions on the compass, each one marked with a grey brick that had a word on it, the first words that meant direction from a language no one but the oldest knew even existed. Between each one was a carefully tended garden of flowers and vegetables and vines with fruit and trees. She pointed to the north-east one, "Faeries." She said as she noticed the small winged creatures move about tending to their portion. "Kempas." She looked at the Northwest portion and saw the little hopping creatures moving about in their space, "Brownies." As she turned Southwest and saw the little men running through their garden, riding butterflies to get up higher. "Lilpids." Was the Southeast portion, small spheres with spikes and tendrils floated about, using the tentacles to push off an object to change direction. "Home." She said sitting down on the grass.

"To exact." She mused lying back to look up into the pure blue sky, "Has to be from in me." Feeling the grass against her backs, the back of her wings. Her tail swung up from between her legs and she stared into the end of the tip, turning it about to examing each side of the wide falt part. "So, I miss home sometimes." She mused, "It's nice here." She giggled. "Yeah, I could spend a long time climbing the trees of the Sleeping Forest, maybe swim in the bog, climb the mountains forever?" She mused to the tip of her tail as she flipped it around, "Run through the fields of dreams?" She sat up, "Soar the skies then." She stood, "I've not time for this. Stay here in happiness until the end." She laughed once, "Yeah right. Eternity only works if it's actually that long." She looked around, "Stupid fond memories." She shook her head, "Memories are great an all but really." She shrugged, "You can come out now because I'm not going to do anything of those things. Once I fix things I can fly through any skies I want, climb all the mountains in creation." She had amusement in her eyes.

The air down each path seemed to shimmer and through it stepped a figure each. Four exact copies of her came walking down each path. She turned around once getting a good look at each one.

"Yeah, this is gonna be fun." She punched her open left hand with her right fist and licked her lips. She ran down the path at the figure to the north, and just as she figured the opponent took a defensive nature.

Thalia knew her duplicate would anticipate almost all possible moves she would make with this tactic. A flip over to hit the back of her head, a strait charge down, a side move to flank. But she had a fair bet they wouldn't think of what she was really going to do. She felt all her power well up in here, she knew the layout immediately.

Two feet from the North Opponent she shifted, teleporting to just behind the East Opponent, momentum intact. They hit with a thud and Thalia simply reached out and ripped the wings off her enemy then jumped strait up to take to the sky. Up here she now had three enemies instead of four.

She watched as the other three jumped up to attack her, she had her moment of surprise and used it well.

Thalia hovered for a second then lashed out with energy, sending blue lightning through the sky in all directions, arcs fed off of arcs, a dance of electricity began as she continued to feed it, the tips of her wings generating a new bolt every few seconds. She took to dodging through the electricity, going to close in on one of the duplicates.

As she reached the enemy opened up with a blast of fire from its mouth, a blast that Thalia stopped by holding on hand out to stop it as she continued forward. As long as they insisted on being physical beings she could treat them as such. Her first crushed the fire spitters rib cage with a sickening crunch, her other fist, free now that the fire had stopped spewing forth, smashed into the face of the duplicate. Thalia pulled her fist out of the now mostly hollow head and watched the thing spiral down, getting shocked several times by lightning before crashing into the ground. The other two had coordinated and came charging up behind her now, deftly dodging the lightning bolts in the air. Thalia looked over her shoulder as they were nearly on her and disappeared, they passed through thin air. She reappeared in the same spot, grabbing each of them by the tail, thanking her subconcious for making very accurate duplicates, and began to spin. The two duplicates quickly caught on and turned to simply charge into her despite the fact their tails were being held onto. Unfortunately the bolts of lightning took that moment to arc inwards and concentrate on the spinning figures that were quickly electrocuted to death by more than a dozen blasts each.

Thalia let the charred bodies drop to the ground as the lightning storm ended and looked down at the one opponent left. The wingless duplicate was on the ground below her, staring up, rage on its face.

"Stupid." She said and charged downwards, the thing must have expected her to teleport because it hadn't yet moved when she hit it, driving it into the ground with a snap of bone. Thalia stood up from the wreckage that was now a divot in the ground and brushed herself off, "Yeah, that felt good." She said and stepped out of the pile of goop. She walked back to the center of the grass, stretched and yawned. "NEXT!" She yelled at the top of her lungs. The air seemed to reverberate with the word, the ground shook and then it all imploded, leaving her standing in the middle of nothing again.

She turned to make things go right, as she did so something very small and very hard smashed into her stomach. She doubled over with a gasp and blinked.

--

Thalia shook her head clear and tried to figure out just where she was. Inside something she had to pilot by her guess. The instrument panel in front of her and the harness keeping her in place on the large leather seat were a good indication.

"MI05X, What is the problem?" Someone's voice crackled inside the cockpit. She looked down at the radio's speaker.

"Nothing, minor issue with the control board." She said, she had no idea what the point of this was. But she looked at the view screen and found an answer to what was happening immediately at least. MI must have stood for Mechanized Infantry, the 051X her designation. The screen showed a battlefield full of massive robots. She looked down at the schematic for her own mech, back up at the screen and scowled. The status screen was generic enough it couldn't tell her exactly what the mechs on her side were supposed to look like. All were a mostly generic humanoid shape, with some variance in them to indicate one design from another, or rather one faction from another.

"MI051X, repeat, what is the problem?"

"Targeting malfunction." She said, quickly finding what should be the autotarget system and smashing it with her fist. "Going to manual." She said, not quite sure if this thing had manual targeting.

"MI051X, do not switch to manual, retreat back to rear line, you will endanger our own MI." The voice said with some urgency. Obviously they didn't believe in manual targeting, but it did exist.

"Excuse me?" She said into the radio, "As long as you're going to tell me I can't aim, which ones are ours?"

There was a moment of silence, a long enough pause for one of the mechs in the field to appear in front of her sensors. It was a dusty brown in color, which meant the blue ones were on her side.

"Nevermind." She said into the radio making the mech back up a few paces and raising it's rifle. The enemy machine had it's weapon up already, she simply willed the weapon to jam so she didn't become kibble and fired her mechs own rifle. The head of the mech in front of her exploded, then she aimed lower to the cockpit and fired again, the thing became a smoking hole.

She smiled, "There ya go." She ran off to wreck havoc on the battlefield. "I'll figure some shit out later, this looks like fun." She said.

In the command center there was a bit of commotion going on.

"What the hell?" The senior tactical officer said looking at the real-time tracking grid.

"We don't know." Said one of the junio tactical officers. "It just appeared, it had a valid designation." He said shrugging.

"We only have fifty out there." Another junior tactical officer said, trying to get her system give some data on the pilot in the now rogue Mech Infrantry member.

"Well it came from somwhere." The senior tactical officer said coming up behind her, "I need some data here Kelly."

"I'm working on it sir." She replied, though she wasn't having much success at the moment.

"We've got something strange going on out there." The other junion tactical officer said.

"What is it Lawrence?" The senior tactical office appeared next to him.

"It's on manual and doing better than our auto tracking systems, who ever is in that thing is one hell of a pilot." He said with a bit of admiration.

"Bring up the 051X tactical systems, I want to see this." The senior officer said.

Behind him Kelly brought them up onto her machine and transfered them over to the larger screens above the tactical map. What was displayed were the sensor systems from the mech, the mech's own status and the pilot's status. The mech showed it's targeting system was down, but everything thing else was at full, including the hull. The pilot's vitals on the other hand were dead completely.

"I need an explanation." The senior officer said, he really wasn't believing what he saw.

"We don't have one." Lawrence said after looking at Kelly who shrugged her shoulders, "The targeting system may be down to internal electrical problems, which might explain why the pilot's vitals are coming back zero."

"And the behavior?" He watched as the mech's scanners brought a pair of the enemies mechs into view and fired deftly into each of their cockpit points. The two enemy dropped, one exploding as the ammo cache was punctured.

"We've never seen anything like it." He said, they watched as the pilot switched the weapon to full automatic and simply fired into another mech, tearing it to pieces.

"The accuracy of that fire is not human." Kelly said getting out of her seat.

"Enemy Forces down forty five percent." Came a voice from another junior tactical officer.

"Compare data from all mechs up to 050X, I want an estimate on what percentage the rogue is responsible for." The senior officer said to Kelly.

Thalia moved her mech into a position to cover most of the battle field, on top of a hill. She stood there firing at any enemy that came within her sites. They quickly caught on to her tactics and threw several ballistic missles her way. She kicked on the mechs secondary weapons and used them to take down the incoming rockets, missles and other projectiles. Using her own enhanced senses and power she tracked them with greater effeciency than the mech would allow. She moved from hill to hill when it was clear they wouldn't come near her. She was making it known this was her battlefield, an no one elses.

The command bucker looked on in shock, the mech had gone from improbable to the supernatural quickly. The senior tactical officer had his mechs withdraw from the battlefield. Any mech that came near the rogue quickly complied, the pilots had a bad feeling as they watched it single handedly take out most of the enemy. Inside the command center the mech continued to relay its data to them, the ammo counter had gone to zero ten minutes ago and it was still firing like it had a full count. They simply stood and watched, the enemy finally retreated from the slaughter it was stuck in.

finally the rogue mech stopped, it had no opponents left to kill. It turned and came towards their current position, weapons system turned off. The senior tectical officer watched as it approached, regained his composure and turned to his staff, "Keep your eye on that thing, and get me a contingent of ground soldiers." He said and left the command room to personally great the pilot of that mech.

Thalia stopped in front of the hangar, where the other mechs had all docked and were being unloaded. Most activity stopped to regard her mech with some apprehension. She opened the cockpit, noting most mechs docked so that the cockpit sat next to a scaffold that was ten feet off the ground. She checked to see if she'd been given clothes when forced into this dimension. She had, in fact, a grey single piece jumpsuit, tactical boots, gloves, the whole nine yards. She dropped the ear piece from her radio onto the console and climbed up. As she did so about two dozen armed men came running out and took up position around her mech, most of them pointing weapons at her open door. She rolled her eyes and climbed out.

What had to be an officer, probably the officer in charge of the entire group, came out behind them. She looked down at them and simply dropped to the ground. The watched her fall and land, the barrels of their guns following her down.

"Love to chat boys, but I'm in a bit of a hurry." She said, she had wasted enough time with this distraction, and was a little unhappy with herself for getting lost in the moment. She had more important things to do.

"I'd like an explanation please." The officer in front of her said.

"For what?" She said, cocked her head and smiled, "Look, I'll make it easy on you. Just accept the fact that you had a massive success, because I'm about to leave."

"And how do you plan on getting out?" He said.

"There's a door about three feet above your head I plan on jumping through." She said, noting the grey shimmer of a door appear. It was a silver shimmer instead of the normal dull grey, which meant it probably led to the Nowhere instead of the Hallway.

He stared at her for a moment, wondering if she was insane or something beyond his control. He contemplated not getting in her way, if she was going to leave who was he to stop her? She moved, to fast for anyone to react, he saw her coming and at the last moment jump. She seemed to do a dive through the air above him, disappearing into some invisble door, because she didn't come down behind him but seemed to disappear into the thin air.

He just looked at his men after she left, up at the mech she used and frowned, "I don't think this needs to be recorded." He said, no one disagreed.

Thalia landed softly on a field of grass, and looking to her left and right she sighed. On each side stood an army of about twenty thousand. One side was all manner of undead things, the other monsters of every sort. She shook her head, "I really don't have time to play." She crossed her arms. A rainbow colored nova burst out from her body, expanding as it went along a flat plain three feet above the ground. It impacted both armies and kept expanding. Anything it touch simply vanished in a blast of multicolored light. A few seconds later there was no one on the battlefield but her. She looked up and saw a silver door three feet above her head.

A short jump strait up and she grabbed the bottom ledge and flipped herself up to pass through the door onto the next time wasting distraction, she'd have to speed things up if she wanted to get back to Creation before it collapsed in on itself.

--

Elder looked into the trapping cube and smiled, his plan was working perfectly so far. He had only a few things to do before he took control of everything. And that was destroy the council.

He opened a door and stepped from his lab high in a white tower above the city of Du'Alaine and into the realm of Malpheous, the very center of hell itself.

He walked along the burning stone up to Malpheous' throne, his beard concealing his smile.

Malpheous sat on the throne fucking a succubus in his lap, his view of the Edler approached obscured by her more than ample chest. A guard to his side caught his attention and pointed to the walkway in front of his throne. He stopped his motion the succubus stopped bobbing up and down and looked down at him, then over her shoulder. She slid off her master and sat on her knees to his left. Malpheous waited for the Elder to reach his dais.

"Elder." He said in a voice full of venom.

"Malpheous." The Edler said as he approached, "I bring news."

"Oh?"

"The council has seen fit to move against you soon, as a whole. But first they must cast the final vote." He said.

"And when will this vote occur?" Malpheous leaned forward, the council would be a nuisance at the moment. He was so close to finding the Chosen that would destroy him. He needed his resources focused else where.

"In five days time." The Edler said.

"Five days to come up with an army to kill the council in their own place?" Malpheous said doubtfully.

"I will provide a door you can use to bypass the city proper." The Edler said with confidence. "Just remember our deal."

Malpheous nodded and smiled wickedly, "I will Elder, I will." He stood and went off to gather his generals. The Edler smiled and stepped sideways into a portal of his making back to his tower. He appeared through the same door he left out of.

//01101 Holly :: History Lesson//

Holly stood in the Hallway Of Doors. Grey doors as far as the eye could see, with the promise they continued on into forever. They went everywhere, Holly knew that. But how to figure out which door went where? That she didn't know. She was told to seek out Demogauth. She had no idea who or what that was. But she knew who might. Finding the door to Du'Alaine would be a trick. She looked in a few doors, finding nothing she wanted to deal with. One held a battle scene, men in green uniforms firing at men in green uniforms with crude excuses for machine guns. Another held a wedding scene, she smiled at that one. Another simply went in the bathroom of what had to be a roadside bar if the condition of the place had anything to do with it. She stepped into the middle of the row she was in. If she were going to find the correct door before creation ended she needed a different method.

She concetrated and reached out to examine the place she was in, each door had a label. A she had to do was read the labels. Easy, mostly. There were still a lot of doors to go through. There had to be a method to the labeling that would help her home in on the correct door. She search through a few, coming up with no discernable pattern. She sighed, a bit frustrated. It had taken her an hour to get this far and she hadn't done much but figure out how to read the doors. She kept reading, scanning, and finally she found a bit of interest. She discovered which direction the older doors were in. She figured Du'Alaine had to be an old place. She scanned that way, it was taking hours though.

Without knowing an approximate age for the place, or at least when it got a door, it was still problematic to find it. It didn't take long for curiosity to get the better of her, she looked for the oldest door. She soon ran into labels she couldn't read, they were in some language not known to her, but she could feel the age in them. She kept going back through them, scanning as fast as she could.

Suddenly she found it, the first door. The door from that brought this place into being. She wondered briefly how to get to it. She suddenly realized it was in front of her already. The proccess of looking must have brought her to the door, or the door to her. She wasn't sure, and it didn't matter. She was here.

She looked at it, it revealed nothing beyond itself dull grey color. "Only one way to find out." She said and stepped into it.

She found herself on a stone ground. The same dull grey in color as the doors, beyond the grey stone, which was maybe a hundred yards wide, existed only blackness. Behind her the door stood at the edge of the stone, in the middle. She had only one way to go, so she went that way.

Hours passed as she walked along, she pulled a flute out of nowhere and skipped along to a tune instead of the deafening silence that choked the place. The notes of the flute carried far and clear, as she played on she listened intently. After a while she heard the notes come back around to her, either in echo or because they traveled off one side and back on the other. She changed the tune slightly to match and compliment the song she'd played earlier. She skipped along and played against her own music.

She had lost track of the time when she finally arrived at the end of the stone path. It widened into a massive platform miles across, the edges of which she could see were irregular. She stopped her music and peered over on edge, it looked like a chunk of rock hovering in the darkness.

"Wow." She said, looking down at it, she couldn't see the bottom of it. It appeared to be an upside down mountain miles tall.

"Wow, indeed." A deep rumbling voice said above her.

She looked up, and up, into the face of what she could only describe as a massive dragon. The head must have been fifty yards across. "Hi." She said, trying to sound friendly in the hopes it would hesitate long enough from eating her for her to come up with a plan.

"Hello." It said, bringing it's face down to her level to she wasn't straining to look up.

"I have to warn you that I don't taste very good." She said.

A deep rumbling laugh echoed, "I will not eat you." It said, "You're a very small meal, hardly worth swallowing." It finished.

Holly could feel the bass in it's voice as much as hear it. "Yeah." She agreed.

"Why have you come hear?" It asked.

"Umm.." She thought about it for a second, "Curiosity mostly."

"How did you find the door?" It said, she got the impression it cocked an eyebrow.

"I found the door," She said, "In the hallway," She was a bit nervous suddenly, "Thalia gave me the key." She said quickly.

"Thalia?" It asked her.

"Yes, told me to find someone called Demogauth."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, only I don't know who that is, or where."

"What is your name?"

"Holly." She said.

"And why do you seek Demogauth?"

"Well, I'm not sure. I'm hoping they can help me."

"In what way?"

"Creation is ending, and well, I need to find a friend who might be a part of the reason why."

"Go on." It's voice had the kind of infinite patience you only found in very old beings. Holly had heard the tone in Thalia before.

"Ok, there's this Shaper out there called Malpheous who dreamed up the prophecy of his own demise," She was going on the assumption that the dragon knew what a Shaper was, "So his destroyer is supposed to be the daughter of a Shaper, only no one knows when or where this Shaper will be born. About 15000 or so years ago the Shaper was born on a world. Thalia saw them first, as they progressed towards power, she knew of this whole prophecy from th begining somehow," Holly had gone into story mode but was making it quick since she had been reminded the end of Creation was approaching and she needed to hurry things up a bit. The dragon was listening patiently. "Anyway, Thalia needs a way of hiding this Shaper, Millileth is her name, until she has things a bit more prepared. So she becomes mortal and has a kid with a power signature that dampens Millileth's. That's me by the way, and then she goes off and does stuff. After a long while Millileth and I meet, we go on our way to becoming shapers and stuff. Well, ten thousand or so years pass and here we are. I don't know where Millileth is, I have to find her. Thalia is.." She paused, "I don't know." She said very softly, "I think she's dead." She sniffed, "So," She looked up at the dragon again, "I need to find this Demogauth to save everything." She'd run out of words.

"I see." The dragon said.

Holly just looked at him, "You're huge." She said after several minutes. "Got a name?"

It appeared to smile, rows of massive teeth showed, "Demogauth." It said with resolve.

Holly blinked, "Really? You're not just saying that because of my story?" She peered at him.

It laughed again, "No little one. I am indeed the one Thalia told you to seek out."

"So.. why?" Holly said.

"To teach I suppose." It said.

"Teach me what?"

"History is a long thing. Why is it important to restore the balance?"

"So creation will go on.. well, being." Holly answered.

Demogauth laughed his deep rumble, "No little one, Creation will always be in some form or another."

"Ok, so, I have no idea." Holly said.

"The Flow keeps things different."

"Different?"

"Diverse, the Flow is inifinty made real."

"If it stops then creation becomes one thing?"

"Yes."

"What one thing?"

"Who knows, anything, something, it doesn't matter. But it becomes only one thing." It said.

"Sounds boring." Holly replied almost absent midedly.

"It is." Demogauth replied.

"Ok, so how did all this start, or more to the point, how do we fix it?"

"We?"

"Ok, me. Unless you want to get off your butt and help me so you don't go on living in a place you might not like." She pointed an accusing finger at her.

His head pushed forward and twisted to the side on its massive neck. Holly found herself staring directly into a very large reptilian eye. "Are you threatening me?"

Holly swallowed hard, "Well, um, maybe just trying to coerce you into action." She said.

"You have no idea what I can or cannot do." He pointed out.

"Well, seeing as you were behind the first door and this is probably a very old place, then you're also probably very old." She said.

"And age means what?"

"A possibility you can do more than me." She said, folding her hands behind her back, "I'm pretty young all things considered and, well, in over my head a bit."

"Ah, I see." The eye in front of her blinked. "I am indeed old, and I am powerful by some standards." He said. "But I may not be able to help you much." He seemed to sigh.

"Why not?"

"I have a different sort of power than what you're used to." He said, "And I have forgotten much in the ages since someone last visited me."

"Who was the last person to visit?"

"Only Thalia ever visits me, all the first are gone, or trapped."

"Trapped? First? Ok, give me the history lesson and maybe an idea will pop into my head."

He chuckled slightly, which reminded Holly of a rock avalanche more than anything, "Very well. I shall tell you a story little bard. I shall tell you the story of the begining." His head rose high in the air, "In the begining there was Nowhere and Nothing." He looked down at Holly who had lay on the ground and looked up at him.

"It's easier then bending my neck." She said, Demogauth merely smiled his big grin and continued.

"Then, Something came, and called itself Creation. Now there were four words in existance. Nowhere and Nothing paid no mind to Something and Creation, for they could both exist within and around each other since one was and one was not. Creation made itself and then it made more of itself. On these bits things began to live and grow. It was not very ordered, sometimes things became out of thin air, sometimes they followed a progression, and sometimes these things simply disappeared. Creation was unhappy, so it made laws to operate itself, this is known now as The Flow. The Flow took over making creation, and Creation simply gave suggestions, or occasionally made something beause it wanted to. But mostly The Flow caused everything.

"Creation became larger and larger, beings went about in whatever way they wanted, living and dying were not yet concepts so things were and then they were not and sometimes they were again. The Flow wanted a little more order, or at least a progression. So it made Miklavaen, which is a very old word in a language that only a very few forgotten beings speak. It means Order in modern speaking. But The Flow soon discovered that making an Absolute had consequences, Miklavaen was doing exactly what it was supposed to, making an order out of disorder. The Flow was discovering that soon it would be all one thing, perfect order, unchanging in it's makeup because change meant something wanted to be something else. And that is not ordered, according to the Miklavaen. So Creation stepped in and made Lucianera, which you know as Chaos. And the two fought mighty battles, The Flow locked them in a corner until it could figure out how to control them. And they never noticed and they only held sway over a small portion of Creation, not for many aeons. Next The Flow wanted help shaping itself, it thought long and hard about making what is called Gauth, or Shapers as you call them. It made the World Shaper first, Demogauth. Demogauth took to making worlds, realities, different permutations of things.

"Demogauth was another absolute, but an open ended one with no set result in place, just to make different places inside Creation. So it went, things came and went as The Flow dictated, but The Flow was finding itself running out of ideas, out of plans to make, repeating itself even in an infinite permutation. The Flow wanted something to come up with new ideas. So it made Silengauth, The Soul Shaper, and Julleen, also known as The Sight. The Sight saw a need for an end, it decided that once something stopped being then it could not come back, it wished for Death. The Flow took this request and made Thalia, but Thalia was not Death, Thalia was Life and Death both. Thalia is the absolute of beginings and endings. In order for things to die Thalia quickly saw that things must first be born. The best word for Thalia in your modern speaking is Circle. But Silengauth saw residue when something died, and he became corrupted as he collected this residue known as Silen, souls." Demogauth paused to tilt it's head and look down at Holly, making sure she hadn't dozed off. She was far from sleeping, in fact she was staring intently up at him as he told the story. He continued.

"The Soul Keeper collected his souls as things died, and Thalia soon saw that he was taking material away from Creation, and not giving it back. She sought to stop him, or at least come to an agreement, thus the second conflict of great importance started. Thalia collected the souls as things died now, and she would let them back out to relive another life in another place, many of them never remembered the first life, but some did. She carefully set about a method by which they cycled through, working also with the new souls the Creation made as it went along. Soon the conflict between the two for the souls of beings throughout the realities came to a head as each faced off against each other.

"Thalia found and unleashed Miklavaen and Lucianera on Creation. What no one knew was that Thalia had come to Demogauth and asked for some very special realities to be made. The Demogauth agreed and made what Thalia called Binding Places for the Absolutes. And there she bound beings, one by one, unleashing them at her own whim to work her own ways."

"Wait, wait," Holly held up her hands, "Just stop a second." She looked up at the dragon. "The speaking in the third person helps, but is weird. But what I want to know two things. First is time frames, are talking thousands of years, millions? more? And second why did The Flow let this go on with the trapping and the manipulating and all that."

"It takes place over several billions of years I'd reckon, time has little meaning to Demogauth. A large amount of time is involved either way." He said, "As to why Creation let things go and The Flow did not stop Thalia, that's simple." He said. "Of all the beings made in all of Creation, and there were a lot even then and many of them very very powerful, Thalia was the closest to the embodiment of The Flow itself."

"Ok, so, she's The Flow made manifest?"

"In a way. She is Death, and in order for there to be death there must be life, so she is also Life. Continuation, a constant flow in a set direction."

"Aha, I got it, she made sure things kept running along."

"Yes."

"Ok, so, I'm not sure any of that is going to help me. I'm guessing someone is doing something somewhere that is causing The Flow to stop and has found a way to get Thalia out of the picture."

"Indeed, I do not feel her soul anywhere."

"You don't feel her soul anywhere..." Holly mused on that, "Can you feel souls anywhere in Creation?"

The dragon seemed to nod, "I can, I am all worlds afterall."

"Well, that's something I can work with then." She hopped to her feet, "I'm looking for someone named Millileth." She said.

"There are no less than eight million by that name."

Holly scowled, "You'd think it'd be a little more unique than that." She said, Demogauth laughed.

"I like your sense of humor little one." It said, bringing its head back down to her level, "You are her energy opposite yes?"

"If you mean I make her power signature null, then yes."

"I will find that which is opposite you." He said and paused for a moment, "I have found it, but there may be a problem."

"A problem?"

"It seems that Miklavaen and Lucianera have taken up their fight around the set of dimensions in the reality she is in."

"Oh, that bad?"

"It makes travel hard." He said.

"Is there a door to it?"

"Possibly."

"Can the doors bypass their little war?"

"Possible."

"Worth a try." She said, "Ok, so where is it."

"It is in this door." He said and his eye blinked, when it opened a label was on it, it blinked again and his eye was back to normal.

"Ok, I guess I'm off."

"There is something else Holly." He said as she turned, "Her soul has split, she may not be exactly the same as you knew her when you last parted."

"In what way?" Holly had a little bit of worry in her voice.

"Part of her is in a Memory Stone, the part that still moves will have no idea of what she was, only what she is."

"How do I fix that?"

"Ask the Fey of that reality." He said, "May luck be with you." He said as Holly waved and started back down the path to the door.

She stopped and turned back around, "Where is Thalia?" She asked, she really didn't want the answer but asked anyway.

"She is Nowhere." He answered raising his head back up, "Worry not about your mother little one, worry first about The Flow." He said, his voice seeming to fade away. Holly looked up to where he was and found only blackness.

"Easy to say." She said and walked back to the door, the journey back seemed much quicker than the journey out, she at the door in a matter of minutes. She looked back down the path and saw it stretched into the blackness beyond her. She shrugged and stepped on through the door back into the Hallway.

She went through the routine of finding the door, forgetting to ask how they were labeled was a problem. She searched for the better part of two hours when finally she found a section with similar labels, she began to search through it for the sepcific door, finding it easily enough. She peered into it, the grey door shifted to show the world beyond, but the picture was a bit fuzzy. A kind of white noise seemed to cover the image, parts of it a solid white and inert, parts of it a rolling mass of images unrelated to the picture as a whole, but most of it was a combination of both. Like a television showing static.

Holly took a deep breath, braced herself and jumped through the door, hoping to aim in the reality somewhere if not the specific place the door was supposed to go. She felt herself being tugged in several directions, disoriented and spinning. She whirled around, trying to find the picture of the reality, instead finding only dead white space or constantly moving places of disjointed imagery and sounds. She watcher her arm twist and poke through her stomach, her lungs had slid out of her eyesockets while the eyes were busy trying to focus. She found the picture, and ignored everything else as she concentrated on it.

Suddenly she was out and on a grassy field, her body intact and back to normal. Her head was still spinning a bit, she tried to get to her knees and the world whirled around her at impossible speeds. She fell forward, instinct kicking in so she caught herself with her hands. On hands and knees on a field of grass now, she looked down at the blades and saw them both at the subatomic level, and the overall level and every level in between. She threw up, white bile spitting onto the ground, covering the grass.

She spat the last of it out and sat up, taking big gulps of air in. "ouchie." She said very softly.

"I'd imagine so." Something near her said.

She had her eyes closed at the moment, the voice seemed to be from to her left, "If you want to eat me I taste terrible, otherwise, just tell me where the fuck I am." She said, she hugged herself as her body shuddered in pain.

"You are in the Fey realm." The voice said, "And tell me, who are you?"

"Holly." She answered trying to get her nervous system under control.

"Holly, I know not that name. You must be from beyond this world." It said.

"Way beyond, and the ride in was a bit of a shake up." She said.

"I can see that."

"Fey Realm..." She thought for a second, and remembered as her brain seemed to reassemble itself in the proper order. "Got a kind?"

"There are two, one for each court, but not here in the Wild Lands." The voice chuckled. "Do you really taste bad?" There seemed to be a tint of hunger in that question.

Holly ventured to open one eye and peer to her left, sitting next to her was a six legged beast mostly in the shape of a cat with large fangs, "Terrible." She said as it licked it's lips.

"That's too bad, I was hoping for some lunch." It seemed almost disappointed.

"Sorry." She said and ventured to open the other eye. The world seemed stable enough, her body was under her control again. She stood up slowly and stretched, "Got a name?" She looked at the cat beast.

"Kindra." It said, "But you look so tasty." The cat cocked its head.

Holly sighed, "Normally I'd cower and beg for my life or something, or barter my way out. Or any number of awfully cute and highly effective tricks to not be eaten by you." She turned to face it, "But right now I need to know where one of these kings is and I need to know fairly quickly."

"And why would I give that information to you." Its claws came out.

"Because if you don't very bad things happen to you." She said, golden brown eyes fixing the cat with a stare that could be interpreted as dangerous.

"The Seelie court is that way, the UnSeelie court the other way." It had pointed by looking off in one directio then that other.

"Thank you." She said and willed a large deer into existance a hundred yards away, "That's all for you, now go eat something with some meat on it, I'm all bones." She said as the cat licked its lips and bounded off after the animal. Holly started off towards the Seelie courts direction.

//01110 Millileth :: Holly :: Thalia :: Convergence//

Millileth opened her shop at the usual time, she was a little tired this morning. She made herself an extra strong pot of coffee to wake up. She pulle the chairs off the tables while it brewed, she was about to go pour her cup when someone tapped the front window, she looked over to see Janice standing there. She walked over and opened the door, "You're early." She said.

Janice came in from the brisk morning as Millileth shut the door behind her, "Yeah." She said.

Millileth went back and poured herself a cup as Janice pulled the stools off the bar and lay them on the floor, she sat at one of them and pulled her jacket off.

Millileth brought them each a mug of coffee, "So what's up?"

"Just things. The usual." She said.

"Problems with Paul again last night?"

"He didn't get home until one, and when he did spent on hour on that fucking computer playing games before even crawling into bed."

"I see."

"He didn't even pop in to see if I might have been awake, waiting for him or something."

"And this morning?"

"I got up and showered, when I came back there he was in bed, trying to convince me to have sex."

"And?" Millileth sipped her coffee.

"I left, I couldn't tell you why but I wanted out of there."

"Weren't you the one complaining you didn't have sex often enough just last week?"

"Yeah," Janice sighed, "He's just not appealing." She looked down at her coffee, "We've been talking about seperating for a while now." She said.

"Really?" Millileth raised an eyebrow, "How long?"

"Four or five months. He says he's going to get an apartment closer to work next week."

"Now hold on." Millileth said.

"Mill, the only time we have anything close to a relationship is when he's half asleep and wants to fuck." Janice said, "We don't even see each other anymore."

"What about Michael and Susan?"

"I don't know." Janice leaned on her elbow, a look of near defeat on her face, "They know what's going on, mostly. Michael is on Paul's side with everything, he hardly talks to me anymore. Susan doesn't talk to anyone by Andrea."

"I'll ask Andrea what she feels like then."

"I can't ask that Mill. I have to try and work it out with my daughter face to face. I'd feel like a coward using your family to try and mend mine."

"How long have we been friends Jan?"

"I don't know, got to be near twenty years now."

"When have I ever not tried to help you?"

"Never."

"So why would I sit back now?"

"This just seems to different. I'm losing everything around me Mill. They all slipped away and I don't even know when it happened."

Millileth put her hands on Janice's, "It'll work out." She said trying to comfort her friend.

Janice just sat there for a minute, "I don't know Mill. Everything seems so wrong all of a sudden. I need a change I think."

"What about a vacation?"

"To where, more to the point with who?" Janice said, "The last thing I want is to go off alone so I've got time to wallow in misery." She laughed, or tried at least.

Millileth smiled, "John is taking Andrea to his mom's next week, why don't we just take the time off and go sight seeing or something." She suggested.

"And your shop?"

"I can get Robert to open for." She said, "How's that sound?"

"I could sure as hell use a bit of time off." Janice said, taking a sip of her coffee, "It might be good, it'll be weird with Paul trying to move out. Getting out of the house might be a good thing." She said.

"Its settled then, we won't have to go far, maybe some day trips up into the mountains." Millileth smiled, "And now I must open this place."

"I got the sign." Janice said, "And I've got to get going." She put her coat on, "Thanks Mill."

"Anytime." Millileth said with a smile, "I'm always here for you, you know that."

"I know." Janice hit the switch to turn the open sign on, "I'll see you around." She waved and walked out the door.

Holly had found the junction of the Fey realsm, a nice rose garden full of butterflies and the occasional pixie. She was walking towards the Seelie courts lands, which were pretty evident from where she stood at the jucntion. In the middle she stopped and stared at the purple statue of Millileth.

"I'm guessing this is Memory Stone." She said to herself circling the statue, "Odd." She shrugged, "Better find one of these kings and figure out how to get Millileth back into one place." She walked off towards the castle she could just barely see in the distance.

After an hour she sat down on a rock and rested, "How do you travel faster through a Fey realm?" She mused out loud. "Wings." She smiled and pulled off her leather jacket, it disappeared as she tossed it to the ground. Next she pulled her shirt over head head and off, tossing it to the ground as she did the jacket. She thought for a second and decided on just the kind of wings she wanted, a pair of large butterfly wings. She smiled, unhooked her bra so it didn't get in the way and tossed it away. A pair of large butterfly wings grew out of her back, along either side of her spine, out to a twelve foor wing span, each wing was longer than she was tall.

She flapped them a bit, testing them and nodded with approval. She stood and jumped off the rock into the air. She fluttered on the air for a moment, then went strait forward at a good clip. She was very unbutterfly like in her flight pattern, being mostly a strait line, but she didn't really care.

Several of the airborn kind of Fey with various kinds of wings themselves watched her pass, some had curiosity on their minds and followed, a few just ignored her. As she approached the castle in which the Seelie Court kept itself she glanced backwards and noticed the trail of Fey she had attracted, she shook her head and smiled, she couldn't really blame them for being curious.

As she approached she slowed and came to a gentle landing in front of the gates, "Hey," She called up to the gaurds at the gate, "I need to see the King, or Queen, or whatever. Right now." She added a bit of emphasis on the last part.

They looked down at her with a bit of contempt and none moved.

"Look, the world is getting ready to end, I'm going to try and stop it, but first I have to ask someone a few questions." She said, switching tacts to reasoning with them. If that didn't work she blat the doors open.

"Who requests the audience?" One of them said, by his manner of dress she'd guess him the captain of the guard.

"Holly." She said, wondering if adding a title of some kind might be helpful. But she liked being just Holly and not Holly With Other Stuff After It.

"Who sent you?"

Tricky question that, who did send her? Creation? Thalia? Demogauth? "I did." She said coming to a quick decision.

"And who are you to request an audience of the Great Fey King Ullauren?"

She sighed, "I'm Holly." She repeated, "You probably haven't heard of me, so let's get past the who part and just get on with the meeting part."

"You can't just come here and ask to see the King."

Figures, "Ok fairy boy, last fucking chance, let me in or I kick the door down." She said, flaring a bit with anger. Green fire danced across her wings and disappeared.

Another figure, dressed like high royalty had come to the top of the wall. The others bowed low, that was a good sign.

"I am King Ullauren." The figure said, Holly couldn't quite tell if it was indeed a man, the gender was a bit ambiguous.

"Ah good, Ok, question for you." She said, looking up at him, "How do I get the Memory Stone and the person it belongs to back into one thing?"

He frowned, "They must ask for it, and complete a task."

"That's it? Ok." Holly was about to leave.

"Wait." Holly turned back, "The task is they must die."

"Die?" She said, he nodded. Her shoulders sagged, "Well fuck. Any other ways? Divine intervention? Impending end of all Creation?"

He looked down at her with that same frown on his face, "None that I know of."

"Ok, I'll just figure something else out. There's always another way." She said, "Do me a favor, stay away from the Earth Realm you're connected to." She asked, "At least for the next couple of days."

He nodded, "We shall do as you ask. But first I have a question for you, what manner of being are you?"

"Shaper." she said "And if you don't know what that is you're probably better off for the moment." She turned and looked at the crown behind her then up at the sky which was a little less full than the ground. "Fastest way to Earth?" She looked at the crowd. In response many of them came forth and quickly constructed a wooden door from their collective magics and opened it.

"Thank you." She said, "I'll be back for that Memory Stone." She said and walked into the door.

--

Millileth hopped into the passenger side of Janice's car, "Ok, let's go." She said.

"Go where exactly?" Janice looked at her, it was seven in the morning on a Monday. They had a week of unplanned activity ahead of them.

"Breakfast." Millileth said, "Pick a place." She smiled.

"One of these days you're going to learn to drive." Janice said driving off.

"What for?" Millileth said.

"So I'm stuck with it all the time." Janice joked.

"Oh you like it and you know it."

"What, shuffling you all over the place all the time?"

"Yeah, good exercise."

Janice only shook her head, "Ok, breakfast will be Joe's Place. Then what?"

"Ooh, good choice, I could use some biscuits and gravy." Millileth nodded. "How about up into the mountains somewhere?"

"Works for me." Janice said, she wasn't sure this was an entirely good idea. When she had told Paul about it over the weekend he only shook his head and told her to make sure the kids still got dinner every night. On the other hand, she wasn't sure it wasn't an entirely bad idea either.

Lunch was at a small little place in a sleepy little town somewhere in the mountains, Millileth kept directing them in mostly random directions in search of something very specific, what it was she wouldn't say. Janice was under suspicion that it was nothing and she was simply being led around at Millileth's whim.

About mid afternoon Janice looked at her watch. "Shit, we gotta get back Mill." She said to her friend.

Millileth was currently staring down into a glass container full of fudge, apparently trying to decide exactly which flavor she wanted. "What for?" She asked without looking up.

"I have to get dinner ready for the kids." Janice said, remembering Paul's words.

"What about Paul?"

"He probably won't be home until the usual time." Janice said.

Millileth pulled a cell phone from her jacket pocket and dialed a number, "Hey Sue, it's Mill. Your mom and I are up in the mountains, we may not be home in time to get you guys dinner." She nodded, "Thought so, see ya." She hung up, "Problem solved, she was going to skip out and go to a movie with friends anyway. She'll tell Michael, he can fend for himself." Millileth looked back at the display, "What's your favorite flavor?"

"Mint." Janice said quietly.

"Pound of the mint." Millileth said pointing to the large black of chocolate laced with green. She looked over at Janice, "It'll be ok Jan." She winked.

Janice waited for Mill to collect the fudge and pay and then followed her out the door. "You realize she talks to you more than she does to me?" Janice said.

Millileth reached into her bag and broke a piece of the fudge off, "And I talk to your daughter more than to my own." She offered it to her friend, "They're fifteen and the last thing they want is anything to do with us." She said.

Janice to the piece of fudge and bit a small piece off. "I suppose, it just seems like everyone knows more about my kids than I do."

"Not true. I have no idea what Andrea's favorite color is for example." Millileth offered, "What say we spend the night up here?"

"What?" Janice just looked at her.

"There's a hotel." Millileth pointed to a large wooden building with the words Mountain Lodge on it. It looked like it had been there as long as the town had.

"Ok, we have no change of clothes." Janice said.

"Always the practical one." Millileth refectively left a piece of fudge melt on her tongue, "We'll have to find a clothing shop I guess." She shrugged.

"You and your umilimted funds." Janice said, "Makes it hard to argue with you."

"Inheretence can be a good thing sometimes." She said, "And good investment choices help." She was busy looking around, "There we go," She grabbed Janice's hand and marched them down the street and into a clothing store, mostly full of western style articles.

Half an hour later they came out with a bag each, Janice smiling a little more than she had when they went in.

"Ok, we get a room, find dinner and waste the evening some how." Millileth said as they walked back to the car. "It'll be good for you to get away from eveyone for a while."

"Everyone but you it seems." Janice said.

"I can't help it if I'm so popular." Millileth came back.

The room was small, cozy and had a working fireplace complete with a basket of wood. Unforetunately the hotel had only three rooms left, all of them with one bed in it, Millileth shrugged and took it anyway, Janice had slight reservations.

Currently Millileth was looking out the window at the view of the mountains behind the hotel, "This is cozy."

"Yeah." Janice said softly, sitting in one of the rooms big comfy chairs.

"Guess we'll have to share the bed." Millileth turned back to the room, "You've slept with worse I'm sure." She winked and laughed.

Janice blushed just slightly, "What about dinner?" She changed the subject, "That's on me, sicne you seem to have paid for the whole day before I even noticed."

"You got gas for the car." Millileth said.

"Only because I got the pump first to slide my card." Janice said.

"Right then. Dinner." Millileth picked up the brochure on the table that outlined local color. "How about this place?" She pointed to a restaurant on the menu offering local cuisine and showed it to Janice.

"I'm up for it." Janice said, "But we have two hours before they even open."

"Hour and a half." Millileth corrected, "Gee, does that mean we have to go do some more window shopping?" She looked taken aback for all of two seconds before breaking into laughter, "C'mon, let's go waste some time." She grabbed Janice by the arm and nearly pulled her out of the room.

During dinner Millileth had stolen the check and payed that bill to, Janice just scowled at her and stole two bites her Millileth's desert as revenge.

Once back in the room Millileth had started up a fire, the temperature dropping a bit sharply as the sun set, that and she liked the idea of a working fireplace in a hotel. Janice sat crosslegged on the bed and watched her light it.

"Got any ideas on how to wasre the evening?" Janice asked, noting the lack of television in the room.

"Nope." Millileth said, "I'm sure we'll find something to talk about." She stood up and stretched. The room had reached a comfortably warm temperature fairly quickly between the hotels internal heating and the fireplace. "You usually do." She said in a joking tone.

"Me?" Janice feigned being insulted, "You're the one who has a never ending supply of words." She pointed an accusing finger.

Millileth stuck her tongue out. "Bit hot." She said.

"You're still standing next to the fire." Janice pointed out.

Millileth responded by pulling her shirt off and tossing it on one of the chairs, then sitting down against the mantle, proping herself up on her elbows, "I like the fire." She said.

Janice had blushed slightly, "Hey Mill." She said, trying to look only into her friends eyes.

"Yeah?" Millileth sensed the sudden discomfort, but wasn't sure what it was about.

"You know how I said I wasn't attracted to Paul anymore?"

"Yeah."

"It's not just Paul." She paused, "How do I say this." She looked up at the ceiling, "I've only been moderately attraced to guys for a long time." She said finally.

"Moderately?"

"Well, it's what I'm supposed to do, right? Find a guy, settle down and have a family." She sighed, "I mean." She paused again. "Ever wonder what it might be like to, you know, be with a woman?"

Millileth stood and walked to the bed, "Want to find out?" She leaned in close to Janice, faces only inches apart.

Janice opened her mouth to say something and instead found herself leaning forward and kissing Millileth gently on the lips. Millileth returned the kiss, it was several seconds before they parted.

"Yes." Janice whispered very quietly.

Millileth walked around to the side of the bed, discarding her bra as she did so and kicked off her shoes. She climbed up onto the bed next to Janice. Janice ran her hands up Millileth's side, her left hand pausing on Millileth's breast. They kissed again, this time with less gentleness and more passion.

Millileth woke up first in the morning, Janice was still asleep next to her, she got up out of bed quietly and went to the window, she pulled up the ottoman from one of the large chairs and sat on it. She rested her chin on her arms which were folded on the windowsill. She sat and watched the mountain side in front of her. When they did finally fall asleep her dreams were a bit to lucid than normal. She tried to sort through them, it seemed as if they were less dream and something more real. Something like a memory, but she'd never experienced anything like her dreams last night. She heard Janice stir on the bed behind her and she turned around.

"Morning." She said.

Janice sat up in bed and nodded, "What time is it?"

"Seven or so."

"How long have you been up?"

"Half an hour." Millileth shrugged.

"Do you ever sleep more than five hours?"

"Sometimes." Millileth looked a little sheepish.

Janice only rolled her eyes and got out of bed and went to the bathroom. A few minutes later she came back out, climbed back into bed and lay down, "Wake me when it's much later." She said, taking an opportunity to sleep late.

Millileth climbed back into the bed and slid up next to her, "How badly did you want to sleep in?" She whispered softly, one hand sliding down Janice's side, over the curve of her hip. Janice half rolled over and looked up at Millileth who was now leaning over her.

"I can delay." She said as they kissed. They spent an hour lost in each others bodies before dozing back off for the rest of the morning. It was around eleven when they checked out of the hotel and headed home. They managed to stop for lunch on the way down. It wasn't until they were back in the city before Janice spoke.

"So," She said, "What, um, well. What happens next?"

"Not sure." Millileth said, "Whatever we want I suppose."

"What about John?"

"I don't know. I think I should tell him." Millileth answered. They were both looking forward at the road.

"Do you.."

"Regret last night? Not for a moment." She sighed, "I enjoyed it."

"Would you ever do that again?"

Millileth thought for a second, "Yeah," Then smiled a little wickedly, "We have a whole week before John even gets back." She said.

"I have to spend some of that week here." Janice pointed out.

"Come over to my place, we can have sex all day and sleep all night." Millileth offered, "It's not like anyone would find it unusual for us to hang out."

"Why not." Janice said, a smile on her lips.

The first afternoon was a wednesday. Janie showed up at Millileth's house around eleven. They made lunch and talked the usual talk of kids, school activities they had been finagled into, house work and other assorted bits.

At one Janice ran out of new things to say and simply stared into Millileth's eyes with something very close to pure lust. Millileth herself simply pulled the sundress she was wearing over her head and stood naked in front of Janice, who pulled her own shirt off and removed her shorts, both women had forgone underwear today, seeing as it would probably get in the way. Janice pushed Millileth down onto one of the dining room chairs and kneeled in front of her. Millileth spread her legs and closed her eyes with a sigh as Janice leaned in and slid her tongue over Millileth's pussy.

Sex went from kitchen to the living room couch and finally ended up with them in the shower and relaxing on Millileth's bed.

"Are you sure it's ok for us to be here?"

"What, in bed? Little late for that."

"I mean, on this bed. The rest of the house.. but the bed where.."

"It's just a bed Janice." She said, mostly ignoring the issue at hand. Janice didn't say anymore on the subject.

Janice rolled onto her side and rested her head on Millileth's shoulder, "Thank you." She said, "I don't think I would have had the courage to do this with anyone else."

"Me either." Millileth said staring at the ceiling, she couldn't shake a vision of what appeared to be a young woman with hair the same color as leaves turning a dark red in the autumn, it danced just behind her eyes as she fell into a quiet slumber, Janice had already dozed off on top of her.

Thalia stood in the middle of Nowhere, feet resting on Nothing. She assumed it was the middle at least. Her hands were in the pockets of a pair of dress slacks, she tapped one heel as she thought, willing a click out of the boot as she did so. If you really thought about everywhere was the middle of nowhere in this place. She smiled, whereever she went it would be Nowhere, so why not stay in the middle? That way you really were the center of attention.

She had been through hundreds of scenarios and dreams and traps. Each one she saw through only because she knew that if she'd left Nowhere she'd be Somewhere and would feel the Flow again, here she had no such feeling.

Which was a problem. The only consolation she had was that every moment that passed in this place without time didn't really exist. Maybe. She wasn't sure what would happen timewise when she got out. It was a problem.

She scowled, not being able to feel the Flow agitated her, she had things to do and you can only do them when connected to everything. Here she was connected to nothing at all. She had that feeling once, strapped to a stone waiting for anything to happen.

"So, this is just another kind of binding place." She said finally. "Now I have to figure out the how." She made a wind to blow her hair out of her face and into place behind her, it fell as it should behind her back and hung in a strait cascade to her waist.

She looked down at her feet and tried to create a platform to stand on, nothing happened. She scowled and tried again. Nothing appeared.

She spent a long time trying various tricks to create matter and realized she couldn't even go so far as to change her clothes. The slacks were the last thing she was in when the last trick was tossed at her. Slacks, low cut boots with two inch heels, a short sleeve blouse and a man's dinner jacket. It could have been worse she figured.

"Tangibles seem to be a little out of reach." She said finally. And thought about a different plan of attack to the problem.

After some time a figure came walking across the Nothing, she watched it approach and cocked her head, she'd seen this act before. She waited patiently for it to approach, spending the time working on her present problem. She had decided to start small, working to create a simply gold band on one of her fingers.

The figure reached her and stopped several yards away, waiting for her to look up, she stopped working on the ring and put her hand back in her pocket and looked at the person in front of her. It was George The Prophet.

"George." She said, nodding hello. He stood across from her in the same pose, hands in pockets, legs slightly apart.

"Hello Thalia." He said.

She studied him for a second, "You're real, I mean, you're not part of the Nothing." She said finally.

"I am." He nodded.

"I thought the line was supposed to be Not Yet." She smirked.

"Excuse me?" He looked inquisitive.

"Maybe not." She said, "Want to hear a story?"

"Sure." He replied.

"Once there was an evil little demon that got herself trapped, tied to a giant stone on a world with two suns. At the time she didn't very much care for sunlight, having forgotten where she came from really. So she burned there all alone for ten thousand years, a very pissed off little girl she was. Along came this thing, called itself The Oralang. The first time the Oralang came it looked up at her tied to that rock and said 'Not Yet' and walked away past her. She was righteously pissed now. Not only had it only said two words but walked away. A hundred years passed and he came walking the same way he did before and stopped when he got to her, and said 'Not Yet'." She paused, "You can see where this goes, the usual bit about inner reflection, living in memories between visits from the Oralang, counted the years waiting for his return hoping the thing would say it was time and let her down so she could escape. After a time she stopped counting the years, only the visits, and learned a few things about herself and the world and everything in it. On the four hundred and third visit The Oralang came and looked up at her, and she down at him and said 'I am The Oralang, you are ready' and she dropped from the stone onto the dirt and said 'ready for what, that's what i don't know yet' and he looked down at her for he was much larger and said 'everything and nothing'." She looked at George. "Now, I've been inside Everything, now I'm inside Nothing. You don't think he was that literal do you?"

"I don't know." George replied, "As long as we're sharing stories I have one for you."

"Ok." She said cheerfully.

"There once was a scholar, he spent his years in a tower locked away from the world and he wrote down his dreams. He had many dreams, all the time. Some while he was still awake. The writing would eventually become known as The Predictions of Pallanaes. Some of them were even accurate. But the story is more concerned with Pallanaes, for when he died his soul was collected by a great being known only as Death. Death had an advesary who also collected souls. These two collected their souls, trying to outdo each other for control of a place called Creation. But Death had an idea, what if Death could make her souls more powerful than her enemies souls? How do you do that? She came up with the idea of letting the souls go back and live more lives. Sometimes the souls remembered previous lives and sometimes they didn't. But each time a souls life ended as a tangible she collected it again and kept it for a while until she found a good home for it and let it out to live again. Collecting experience and power. Her souls grew very powerful indeed. One of these souls was Pallanaes, well, that was his first name. He has had many many names throughout the ages, and lived many places. Usually his soul gravitates towards that of a scholar, for his soul had always been one of those that could easily read the possible futures. His last name was George, and he found himself in the company of Death very literally. And he liked Death because George remembered all the other lives he had lived, which is unusual, but not unheard of. And now George, or Pallanaes or any other number of names, would like to thank you for letting him live so many rich lives full of so many experiences."

Thalia looked at him for a moment, "You're welcome."

"You won the war with the Soul Keeper a long time ago, why still let the souls out? You can keep them as he does his?"

"I won because I didn't covet such things." She said, "I won because I have a little bit of myself in each soul and those souls cycle through now without my help. I have let the Flow have them back, as they grow so do I." She said.

"So you are, in a sense, everything?"

"If you want to look at it that way."

"You are also Life and Death?"

"I've been accused." She smiled.

"Life is the souls collected and set free to live their lives. Some die, new ones are born from the old, keeping that little piece of you. Possibly when you let them go into the Flow again you let some of you go with it and you are now connected to everything."

"I follow." She nodded.

"So the other half, Death. That must be nothing right? Because it can't be when the mortal shell dies, the soul gets to go on and live another life, it is not dead."

Thalia smiled, "Let's go with that. So now that I'm Everything, I get to be Nothing for a while?"

"Maybe."

"But I'm still here, as much as you can be in this place." She said, "And so are you."

"Oh, I'm just visiting." He smiled, "I'm not really here, Demogauth found me and sent me mindquesting to talk to you. He says he talked to your daughter, giving her a brief history lesson in hopes she might be able to go on and save Creation from itself before everything implodes and becomes, well, this." He swept his arms out.

"So you're only the subconcious George, and I'm all here." She said and crossed her arms, "Presents an issue."

"Issue?"

"You can get out by waking up, I can't."

"But you can." He said.

"I'm not on a mindquest." She pointed out.

"You are The Flow." He said.

"I'm part of it." She pointed out.

He shook his head, "Hopefully you get a better understanding quickly. Things are falling apart rather quickly now that you're not there anymore. Creation has gone to long without The Flow, it does not remember how to hold itself together. Especially since it is now to big for it to hold its own weight." He said gravely.

"Understand what?" She said, riddle games usually annoyed her. She played them as infrequently as possible.

"Understand Nothing." He said, "I must go now, I've been here a little to long and may not be able to wake up if I stay anymore."

"What about time?"

"Time is still passing in Creation, you aren't in it anymore so you probably can't feel it." He said and turned to leave. "Start with Holly, she's your strongest connection." He said and took two steps away before blinking out of existence.

Thalia stood for a moment and contemplated. Death, Life, Everything, Nothing. Seeming polar opposites. She closed her eyes and when they opened she had nothing in them, only the look of eternity that brought even the most powerful of beings to their knees. She saw eternity once, tied to a rock waiting for the Oralang to tell her it was time. She saw it and knew there was no End. Things would change, some things we cease to be, but there would always be Something because Nothing can't exist without something else being Something to show it was Nothing. It was sometime right before his last visit when she fell back to the ground and was free. Eternity and Forever burned into her soul, she learned to use it as a weapon. She could make the idea of Forever manifest in her eyes, and as others looked at them and saw their souls and minds tried to contemplate, many died that way. Why she was able to contemplate and understand where others couldn't made no difference.

Standing here in the Middle of Nowhere realization hit. She could understand because she was Eternity.

And through her eyes, the eyes of Forever she looked into the Eternity of the total sum and sought what she was looking for. She was looking for her own daughter, Holly was the door she would use to go from Nowhere to Everywhere.

--

Holly felt a or three rib crack with the impact of the demons fist as she flew backwards into the stone wall ten feet behind her. She coughed up blood for the hundreth time and fell to her knees again, right hand clutching her broken rib cage. She had no idea how long she'd been here, but the door from the Fey realm had been hijacked and now she stood in front of this realities incarnation of evil, Nazthule. Nazthule himself was using her as a punching bag. He was indeed a powerful being, opposed only by Jalus in the heaven realm for this place. Both were equal in power, and both were very poerful indeed.

Holly tried to overcome him but failed. She was now spending her energy in order to prevent her own demise, she had to get to Millileth. How she had no idea, but she had to try. For the moment she had engaged in a running fight through the hells, trying to find a door to Earth.

Her body had been broken dozens of times, each time she healed herself and kept going, but her resolve was running low, as was her reserve of power. She was powerful but had limits. She could only keep something like this up for so long before her energy finally gave out and she would die. And she feared that if she died Creation would follow closely behind.

Pushing herself up onto her knees, still clutching her ribs she felt a resonance deep down in her. Power was starting to flow outwards from deep within the recesses of her soul, and it was an angry power. She was paralyzed as it seized her being, gripping her soul.

--

Thalia looked, and Thalia found. And Thalia watched Creation rush forward to her, all of it through the Nothing was suddenly in front of her. She reached out and a barrier stopped her. She concentrated some more to find Holly.

Creation spun and twisted about as it complied to her will and brought Holly from where she was to where Thalia could see.

The Reality that contained Holly came spinning towards her where she stood at the edge of Creation, unable to get in yet. She saw Chaos and Order battling it out around it, creating a protective barrier of sorts, keeping out the powers that searched for Millileth, she hoped at least. They stopped and looked at her as her vision passed through, and they stopped. They acknowledge her presence and let her pass through their war unmolested, and they knew the time for them to be of a greater service to their mistress was nearing.

She passed and saw the realms tied together, a Fey world tied in with an Earth world, with them a heaven and hell loomed. She passed through heaven, the angels perched there noticed, the God watched as her presence passed on by.

Through the Fey and Earth worlds she flew, the powerful on those realities feeling a chill as she went. And into Hell where she found Holly, weak and broken.

She was currently trying to escape a massive demon, this world's Anti-God. It was, amazingly enough, more powerful than she was. Her presence touched Holly's and she felt Holly's pain.

Pain was a long foreign idea to Thalia, she merely ignored a broken body and made it whole again as fast as it was shattered. To her pain was the indication she needed to take a moment to repair a body. But Holly felt real pain, a kind of pain that let you know death was near for you in this life.

Thalia grew angry, her daughter would not die to the likes of a foul reality trapped immortal such as that demon. At the barrier she forced her own body, the container for her soul into the barrier, and it stopped. Her fist impacted the barrier with a force greater than a sun exploding. Her face contorted into a snarl as she hit it again.

And her efforts came to naught, impact of will against will and fist against physical came to nothing. She was stuck just outside the Somewhere. She screamed in anger. She screamed in terror. She screamed in pain. She screamed in hate.

She watched a felt as Holly was battered again, ribs broken and thrown into a wall. She watched has Holly coughed up blood and clutched her rib cage, kneeling trying to catch her breath with one failing lung.

Thalia stopped screaming and reached into her being. She felt her soul unfold itself, she felt all the power she could command come to the surface, power long left untapped. A power that she never needed because she never had a reason to prove she was in fact the biggest thing around.

Now she needed it. And she brought it out and she opened herself up.

Creation was going to get a taste of Eternity, and it was going to hurt.

At first it was a trickle as she poured it all into her thin connection from her soul to Holly's soul. She felt herself enter Holly. She felt it as Holly stopped and felt the resonating power come from Thalia and into her own soul, and she felt Holly's body freeze with the flood. She kept pushing, filling Holly up with her own being.

//01111 Thalia :: Holly :: Back In Black//

Holly's hands were numb to her, the power was a rushing wind in her ears, and the power was nearly overwhelming. Her vision was blurring at the edges. Finally she felt the source of the power. Thalia was coming into this world through her.

Nazthule was standing over the creature he had trapped in his realm. Whatever it was he did not like it, it smelled of Fey and of something outside his knowledge, and he hated all those things. His fist was coming down with all the force he could muster, he would smashed her skull this time. Evertime he got her near death she healed and kept running. Not this time.

His fist stopped dead above its target. He looked closely and his eyes went wide.

Below was the creature, still doubled over from his last hit, seemingly coming from it was a ghostly figure of someone else. A woman with white skin and black hair had reached up and had stopped his fist with one hand reaching up.

She ghostly woman stood and his fist seemed stuck in her hand, a grip that started to burn. She brought his hand down now, a full ghostly form stepped from the creature he had been chasing this whole time. His will started to falter as he looked into the eyes of the ghost woman and saw absolutely nothing within them.

Holly felt her body move again, the nerves started to tingle as feeling came back to them, she felt a part of Thalia step from her and she looked up. A ghostly form of Thalia stood there, the demons fist clenched in her hand, she matched him in size now.

"Holly." She felt Thalia's voice from within her. "Go get Millileth and rejoin her souls." A grey door opened below her, "You have to kill her Holly, make her body believe she is dead. Make her soul believe the body is dead." Thalia said and Holly fell into the door. Thalia looked at the demon in front of her, now that she had a foothold in Creation she no longer needed to pass through Holly.

"This is for my daughter." She said and her free fist lashed out, shattering the demons skull into a million broken shards. She let go of the limp fist as the beast staggered backwards and fell dead, she took his soul as her own.

"My turn." She smiled wickedly.

--

High in a white tower in Du'Alaine a small white cube shattered with a noisy pop. No one noticed.

--

The council stood in vote, they were going to move against Malpheous the Destroyer who they deemed responsible for the current fluctuations in the flow.

The Elder stood at his position at the base of the teirs of seats the Council sat on. He was the oldest of the Council Of Shapers and given the honor of being the first speaker, their leader as it were. He stood from his position in the center of the half circle of the councils seats. He raised his hands to speak when a cracking sound came from the center of the open floor in the middle of the room.

They all turned to see what the noice was. In the middle of the air, ten feet above the floor a crack had appeared in the air. A disjointed piece of rainbow coloring spreading like a crack in a piece of glass. It spread with the same creaking sound glass might make. And then it shattered with a screech. The pieces fell to the floor leaving a jagged hole of black against the air.

The black seemed to pour through it onto the floor below, acting like a liquid in some respects. It didn't spread beyond a ten foot wide circle as it poured out. It slowed, and in one last push a pale figured dropped into the liquid standing an inch deep on the floor now. the hole disappeared completely in the blink of an eye. The figure stood, becoming a female humanoid shape.

Thalia opened her eyes and looked at the council around her as the black liquid rushed inwards and up over her nude body suddenly.

"I have found the Elder guilty of crimes against Creation." Her voice echoed through the chamber, the figures lips hadn't moved from their tiwsted smile. The black liquid ran up and out, forming massive black leather wings behind her, each twelve feet in length, a long black tail fifteen feet long trailed out behind her. "The sentence is Death."

Thalia rushed forward with blinding speed and slammed into the Elder's body, even as he raised his hands to do something. Her tail wrapped around his neck and lifted him up off the ground as she rose herself, they hung in the air five feet over the floor. His hands tried to remove the tail that was depriving him of air and power both as it tightened around his neck. Her hands came up and split open his rib cage with a ripping crack, expsing his heart to the world. She then grabbed his arms and splayed them wide to get them out of the way of his chest, he tail raised him a little higher. She leaned forward and sharp teeth bit into his heart, tearing it to pieces as she chewed the flesh.

His soul tried to escape the shell that was now dead, only to be held fast by the tail snaked around the neck. The body dropped to the floor as the soul spread wide, a massive angelic form with wings of pure light. A Massive fist raised itself and came down on Thalia's shoulder, she didn't seem to notice.

The doors to the council chamber boomed as something from the outside hit it. It had to be something massive from the way they bent inwards. A second hit caused a crack to appear down the center of one of them. A third hit caused them to burst open, one skittering off the hinge and falling twenty feet from the entrance. The council turned as one to see what could do such a thing.

Thalia walked in, dressed in hip high black boots that clicked hard on the marble floor as she walked forward, black leather pants and a black shirt on. One gloved hand was a fist, the other dragged the body of Malpeous across the floor behind her, all eighty five feet of his mountrous body, with seemingly no effort, as if he were made of air. She had him by one of his horns. The look was completed by black shades over her eyes and long strait hair loose.

"You," She pointed to the Elder still cluctched in midair by Thalia's Succubus form, "In this." She tossed the body of Malpeous onto the marble floor, the force of his landing cracked the marble. The succubus flew backwards and as she dragged the soul form of the Elder over the body of Malpheous he was drawn into it. The two Thalia's impacted and became one again.

The body of Malpheous began to scream in pain as it came back to life. The Greater Council members of the first row stood to protest when Thalia simply motioned forward and they fell back into their seats.

"Don't delay me, I'm in a hurry to fix the mess this power mad asshole started." She stepped forward and forced the beasts jaw shut. "Much better she said. "I'll be back, sit tight." She told the council and she disappeared with the Malpehous-Elder form through a grey rectangle that had formed underneath them.

//10000 Millileth :: Janice :: What You Are//

Millileth sat at her kitchen table sunday evening, Janice had gone home midafternoon. They had a long talk about the past week, while neither of them regretted the actions they were now preparing to face the consequences. Janice's marriage had fully disintegrated on thursday when had a screaming match with Paul regarding the past seventeen years of the life together. It ended with Janice being consoled by a cup of hot tea in Millileth's kitchen and her spending the night, no sex that night, just the two of them sleeping next to each other for comfort.

Janice had called a lawyer the next day to start divorce proceedings with Paul. Michael had stormed out of the house, and Susan simply avoided her mother all weekend, spending it with various friends. Millileth now sat waiting for Johnathan and Andrea to return from their trip so she could tell him about the past week.

She still loved him very much and was caught between the immediate act of betrayal to him and the distant thought that it really didn't matter in the long run anyway. Something deep inside her, a tiny voice almost unheard, was telling her that this life didn't matter, only what she got out of it.

Michael walked in the door, with Andrea in tow, and broke her of the trance she was in. She looked up at them and smiled as they came in. Andrea had her looks mostly, soft blonde hair a little lighter, but the same green eyes that sparkled when they were overjoyed. She stood almost the same height, side by side you might think they were sisters instead of mother and daughter.

"Hey mom!" Andrea ran in and hugged her mother before Millileth had a chance to stand up.

"Hey sweety, how was the trip?" Millileth asked.

"Great!" Andrea stood and smiled down at her mother, then ran off to the kitchen and pulled out the carton of milk. Millileth smiled and shook her head.

Johnanthan walked in and saw her sitting at the table. He sat down across from her, "What's up?" He could tell by the look on her face something was up.

"I have something I need to share." Millileth said softly, turning to face him.

"Sure." He said.

"I don't really know how to start so I'll just say it I guess." She took a deep breath and glanced over at Andrea who was in the kitchen pouring herself a glass of milk. She'd decided somewhere over the course of the afternoon that Andrea needed to hear it as well. "While you were away," she paused again, "I had an affair." She said, almost too quickly.

"Affair?" Johnathan looked at her "Anyone I know?" He said, calmly. Andrea had put the milk carton down and simply stared at her parents.

"Janice." Millileth said, her fingers fumbling with the salt shaker on the table in front of her.

"Janice?" Michael's eyes lit up with laughter, "No shit." He laughed, "You had an affair with another woman?" He looked at her in near disbelief.

Millileth shook her head, no words came to mind, a look of puzzlement over came her.

"Didn't anyone tell you I'm supposed to sleep with your best friend?" He stood up and laughed, "I guess if we're sharing secrets I could let you know I fucked my secretary from two years ago every day for six months before she moved away to California and I got that new guy in." He laughed and simply walked upstairs.

Millileth blinked at that last statement and looked at Andrea.

"You and Aunt Jan?" She said to her mother.

Millileth nodded again, "Woah." Andrea said and ran upstairs, forgetting the milk, "I gotta tell Suse this." Was the last thing Millileth heard.

"That didn't go as expected." Millileth said to herself, "And he did what?" She sounded angry for a moment, the little voice in her head screamed now, becoming a loud whisper, that it didn't matter, she had to wake up. And it was a real voice this time, not some intangible thought.

She sat up strait with that, listening closely the air around her. an almost familiar voice seemed to come out of thin air, 'you left yourself behind, time to wake up from the dream again' it said.

She blinked and woke up in her bed, Johnathan lying next to her, back towards her. She sat up and looked around, the clock said three fifteen.

She got out of bed and woke herself up under a hot shower, it was Monday morning right? The evening seemed to have been a blur, she had gone upstairs after sitting at the table for some time. Michael seemed especially ready last night, she hadn't particularly wanted to be with him. After nearly an hour of him tryign to get her in the mood she simply sucked him off and let him roll over after orgasm.

She dressed while in autopilot, only a little distrubed by John's reaction to her actions over the last week. She walked to work as normal, only vaguely wondering if Jan would stop in that morning. Probably. She opened her store and waited, the first person to walk in her door was not Janice.

--

Holly found herself leaning against a brick wall, her ribs still broken and a trickle of blood had run out the corner of her mouth, her breathing was wet. She gathered strength and mended her lung. The rib cage was beyond her control right now but at least she could breath more or less normally. She used the wall to get to her feet and stood, one hand against it for support. She still had on the black combat boots, black jeans and silver chain belt. She wore a torn black tshirt now, and the leather jacket looked the worse for wear, but the Jolly Roger emblazoned on the back was still intact. She winced as she stepped forward, ribs shifting slightly.

She staggered forward a bit, wondering if Thalia could have at least healed her some before telling her to go kill Millileth. Make her soul believe she was dead. Well, that was fairly clear, Millileth need to appear to die. Holly knew enough that the Memory Stone in the Fey world was where Millileth was really, or mostly, when her body here died she'd be rejoined with that part. After that Holly simply had to trust her mother knew what she was doing. It wasn't to much of a leap of faith, Thalia was Death after all. And that meant she had some say in who really died and who really didn't, overall.

She looked up at the sign above the building she was leanign against, she had worked her way to the front. "The Coffee Mill." She read out loud and smiled, "At least I don't have far to go, Mill always was a sucker for a pun like that." She staggered inside and walked up to the bar, wincing as she went with every step.

Millileth watched her as she approached. black leather jacket, one hand inside it, probably covering some wound if the way she winced as she walked was any indication. Heavy boots on her hard wood floor, black jeans. Dark red hair, the color of autumn leaves as they turn. She'd seen that face several times in dreams over the last few days.

"Millileth." Holly nodded in greeting as she stood there in front of her friend, even knowing the consquences wouldn't make it easier. At least this world had guns, guns were easier than something like a sword might have been.

"Who are you?" Millileth said, fear suddenly in her voice.

"Holly." Holly answered, she concentrated her power into her empty hand, a pistol appeared, slowly fading into existence.

"Do I know you?"

Holly nodded, "We're old friends, very old friends." She said, the pistol still wasn't real. "I'm sorry about this, I really am." Holly said apologetically.

"Sorry?" Millileth said, her brows knit in concern and confusion.

Holly raised the run up as it finally became solid, "Sorry." She pulled the trigger, wincing as the kick from the gun jerked her ribs.

Janice walked downstairs at a little after five, she had showered and thrown on some clothes to go to work in, she'd cut her hair shorter saturday afternoon, it barely reached her shoulders now. She ran her hand through the still damp hair and pulled her shoes on at the bottom of the steps. She went into her kitchen and pulled a box from the cupboards, pulling out a pair of breakfast bars she went to leave for the day. Michael was standing at the front door staring at her, menace in his eyes.

"Michael." She stopped suddenly, the look in his eyes making her a bit nervous, he was nearly snarling.

Physically much bigger than her he took a step forward, "Morning." He almost growled.

"What's up?" She said, Michael had always made her nervous the way he seemed to actually hate her. Not the I Hate You teenagers usually say to their parents, in fact he never said it, he just had that feeling about him

"I'm tired of you." He said taking another step forward.

"Get out of the way Michael." She said, trying to put command into her voice, trying to assert the fact that she was still the parent.

"No, you have to leave now." He said with another step.

"I'm trying to leave."

"Not that way, I mean permanantly." He said and charged.

Janice fell backwards suddenly as her son charged her and body slammed her. They fell to the ground and he pinned her arms there.

She cried out in pain as he brought both her arms over her head and held them at the wrist with one hand.

"Ok you bitch, you'll fuck that whore Millileth, time to get some payback for dad." He hissed into her ear and grabbed her breast with his free hand.

"Ouch! Michael!" She cried out as he groped her and twisted with the intent to cause pain, tears were at her eyes.

"Shut up!" He yelled at her.

The front slammed open suddenly, Thalia strode in as Michael turned to see what the noise behind him was. Before he could do anything Thalia was at them and grabbed him by the back of his neck and belt. She simply tossed him into the wall to the side.

"Sorry I'm a bit late." Thalia said, "Traffic on the way in was chaotic." She smirked, amusing herself with the joke.

Janice just stared up at the woman standing over her. Black everything including a massive black coat reaching the floor that seemed to actually flow around her.

Michael stood up and growled low, like an animal. His eyes glowed a dull red and black horns had grown from his forehead. "Who are you?" The demon Michael said.

"Excuse me one second." Thalia held a finger up indicating that Janice should wait a moment. In her other hand a scythe appeared, double bladed, one blade on each side. She held it out for Michael to see. "I'm Death, best stand back son, I'm in no mood to fuck with worms like you." She said.

Michael roared and jumped at her. One quick movement from Thalia that caused hte blade to swing around in a circle later and Michael landed in three parts around the room.

Thalia looked down at Janice who simply stared up with an open mouth. Thalia put her hand out as an offer to help her up. Janice just stared at her.

"C'mon girl. The others will have sensed that and be back soon, and I don't have time to start killing these things.

Janice took Thalia's hand and climbed to her feet.

Thalia threw the scythe away with a wave of her hand, it disappeared into thin air. "Ok, since I know the question is on your mind. Michael is, and was, a demon. His whole life. So is Paul and Susan and Johnathan. Andrea isn't so don't ask, Millileth isn't either. You got caught up in something so much bigger than yourself I couldn't even describe it. Well I can but you wouldn't get it." Thalia said flatly, "Now we have to go." She said.

"Where?" Janice whispered as she looked about the room, now covered in blood.

In repsonse Thalia leaned forward and kissed Janice on the lips. Janice fell into the embrace and then leaned back, wrapping her own arms around Thalia.

The kiss was a gentle breeze on a summer day. It brought with it memories of happiness, little bursts of joy that sparkled in the air around her vision as each was remembered. A childhood whimsy, adult desire. The kiss was warm and soft and welcoming.

Paul came running into the house, Susan right behind. They arrived just in time to see Thalia's large coat wrap the two bodies up and then fade away.

"Shit!" He yelled in a low growling voice.

"Michael's dead." Susan said in her own deep growl of a voice.

"We have to find Millileth, get to her before the others do." He said and they ran out the door.

Minutes later they reached the coffee shop. It was crawling with police at the moment. Several police cars had pulled up outside. The officers were busy closing off the area, the coffee shop in particular. Two could be seen inside, looking down at something.

"I think we're too late." Susan said, her skin had taken on a red tint to it as they morphed into their demonic shapes.

"Then we have to find Andrea." Paul answered, they got back into his car and drove off to Millileth's house.

--

Millileth felt the bullet hit. Then the second. Then the third. Everything grew quit and distant and she let go, her heart torn and broken. Her left lung ripped and deflated, the last had simply shattered her left shoulder. She felt her body sink and she felt the memories approach.

Millileth was in darkness now, only the feeling of remembering who she was came into mind. She had forgotten. She slowly let the memories seep away as she settled into a normal life. Janice was her grounding rod. Her memories of Janice were recent, were comforting, Janice was her only real friend in the last two decades. She had gone so long with Holly by her side she forgot the idea of being lonely. Janice filled the hole and let her settle into Janice's world.

"Millileth, welcome back." Thalia's voice pierced the darkness, "I hope you had a good vacation, but now I have some bad news. Paul, Johnathan, Susan and Michael were sent by Malpheous to stop you. Michael is dead, but the other three are still there. Be careful, you may not be able to handle them alone. Find Holly quickly, I believe she is in some dire need of healing and rejuvination. Protect Andrea." Thalia's voice faded into a whisper and finally into nothing as she spoke.

Millileth opened her eyes at the sudden thought of Andrea and Holly. She stared up into a blue sky with a few white clouds floating through it. Holly was hurt and needed help. She remembered now, Holly came into her coffee shop, blood at her lips and holding her side like something was hurt, pain on her face. Andrea, Andrea was alone.

She pulled herself off the ground and stared at her surroundings, a garden soemwhere. She felt power flow back into her, her soul lit with fire at her thoughts of something bad happening to Andrea and Holly. And Janice, where was Janice, why wasn't she mentioned? She had to save them.

Her mind reached out and read the world, Fey world, attached to the Earth world. She dispensed with the usual antics of a neat door and simply reached out and ripped a hole between the two worlds. She ran through it and out into the streets of her home city. She recognized this area, downtown.

She scanned the area, looking for anyone. She found Holly first, near her house. She ran there, as fast as she could run, ignoring walls and simply passing through them in her desperation.

She reached Holly quickly, who was slumped against a wall a mile from her coffee shop, tired and hurt. Holly looked up at Millileth standing over her.

"Apology accepted?" Holly asked.

Millileth kneeled down and opened Holly's jacket, "Of course." She said softly, "Open wound?"

"Broken rib cage." Holly said.

"You took a beating, I thought fighting wasn't your style."

Holly nodded, "Which is why I look like shit, I lost the fight." Holly tried to smile.

"Well, hold on, I've got plenty of untapped power, looks like you could use some."

"Desperately." Holly concented.

Millileth placed her hands on Holly and concentrated, purple fire lit across her arms, down them and over Holly. Holly felt the cooling flames over her body, welcoming them in. She took what little power she had left and opened herself up to Millileth's energy. The two mingled and sparked each other.

Moments later Millileth stood up, the purple flame died off and she looked down at her friend. "Welcome back." She said.

Holly stood, good as new, and smiled up at Millileth, "Welcome back yourself. What next?"

"We have to save my daughter." Millileth said.

"Daughter?" Holly looked slightly surprised, "Wow, so you fulfilled the prophecy." She said.

"What?" Millileth turned sharply around to stare at Holly.

"Explain after we save Creation." Holly said, "Find her and then we get her."

"Right." Millileth searched for Andrea, finding her daughter at her house, not yet gone for the day.

"Just rememeber, I'm not up to my full strength, try not to go crazy." Holly reminded her as they ran down the street.

"Can you fly?"

"Birds got wings?"

"Then let's move shall we?" Millileth jumped to the air with the next step and cut across the city over the roof tops. Holly followed shortly after her.

Millileth landed on the sidewalk across from her house, Holly right behind her and stopped. "Ok, what can we expect out of this?"

"A lot of trouble." Holly said, "Fair bet that Malpheous sent something strong enough to give us a good fight."

"And there are how many?"

"Three I think."

"Can more join them?"

"No, I don't think so. Thalia has set up some kind of barrier around this world using some guys called Order and Chaos." Holly explained.

"What?"

"Ask her, I just work here." Holly said, "Which house?"

"That one." Millileth stepped into the street and crossed over to her side of it. She took a deep breath as she approached her house and went inside with Holly right behind her.

"Mom? What're you doing home?" Andrea said standing in the front room, apparently ready to go out the door.

"Long story, first, where's your father?" Millileth asked.

"Upstairs I think." She said, "Something wrong?"

"In a word, yes." Millileth said.

Andrea looked from her to Holly who was still in her all black motif, "What's going on?" She said with a worried look on her face.

Millileth looked at Holly for some help, she had no idea how to handle the situation.

"Armeggedon." Holly said matter of factly, "In a big way." She held her hands out and apart to indicate a large amount.

"What?" Andrea said.

Michael walked down the stairs as Andrea looked for an explenation, he was smiling a little to widely for Millileth's liking.

"Hello Mill." He said as reached the bottom of the steps.

The front door opened as Paul and Susan burst in, mostly back to normal, though Susan looked a little to red for a normal person. "Hope we're not late." Paul said stepping into the living area. Holly half turned to see everyone.

Millileth did the same, circling to get herself closer to Andrea, "Whatever happens next sweetie," She looked at Andrea, "Remember that I love you."

--

Janice felt the woman disengage the kiss and her dream faded, the edges of her vision took a moment to come back into focus. She was pressed in close to the woman's body, the massive cloak still around them. It unfolded and seem to move away from them, allowing her to take a step back.

"Who? What?" She said blinking the light out of her eyes that had suddenly appeared. She was standing on a stone passage that seemed to be floating in the sky. High arches were every twenty feet covered in vines of ivy the went over the pathway.

Thalia stepped away from her and the cloak folded itself around her once again looking like a simple massive overcoat. "Heaven." She said simply.

"Are.." Janice's voice seemed to have left her, "Are you God?" She managed to whisper after a minute.

"No." Thalia shook her head, "I'm much bigger than that." She smiled, "God's inside that place." She pointed to a massive stone buidling that was at the end of one of the passages that twisted itself through the clouds.

"What's going on?" Janice said, finding some resolve.

"You, for better or worse, have been dragged into a game of power amongst some very poweful creatures." Thalia explained, motioning they should walk towards the building, Thalia simply stepped out onto the air, "Take my hand, you won't fall." She held her hand out.

Janice took a moment, and since no better choice presented itselg she took Thalia's hand and stepped off the stone walkway. She stood on open air now and refrained from looking down.

"Only look down if you don't succumb to vertigo." Thalia said and led her off towards the building. "I'm going to ask something of you now, since you're already in this mess." Thalia continued her story, "Millileth, Michael, Paul, Susan, Johnathan, none of these people are what they seem to be. Andrea is also something more, but a little closer to you. You're so called family was always distant to you because they simply used you and your body to get within striking distance of Millileth. I'm sorry you've been used, if it were up to me I would have done it differently." Thalia sounded sympathetic, "But now I need you for a greater purpose."

"What?" Janice said, she had been keeping her head strait, not looking down at all.

"I need you to watch Andrea, and her decendants, for a while to come yet."

"You need what?" Janice stopped walking, Thalia turned to face her.

"I'm asking you to become a Guardian Angel for Millileth's family, she won't be in this place much longer." Thalia said.

"In this place?"

"Your world, and this heaven, are but a small part of the great massive whole of things. There are more worlds with similarities, and differences." Thalia said, "Millileth is from one of them, she was only here because I needed to hide her for a while. But her daughter and family to come is still important to the fabric of reality, and I need someone to protect them." Thalia said.

"I don't know." Janice said softly, "Sounds like an awful big task."

"It is." Thalia said, "I have faith you can do it though." She said. "Come on, just step into this building with me."

"What does becoming an angel mean?"

"It means you'll have the power to overcome many weaknesses." Thalia said, "Beyond that it means whatever you want it to, angels are just another kind of being."

"Ok," Janice said softly, "I have nothing else left for me." She started walking again, and went with Thalia into the stone building.

--

Holly swung the couch into Susan and put both of them through the front wall and into the yard beyond. Paul had grown several barbed tails and was whipping them about the room, trying to get to Andrea. Millileth was fending them off with a blade that crackled with purple flames, trying to protect Andrea. Andrea had gone into a kind of shock, simply watching the fight that had exploded moments after everyone arrived. Johnanathan was in the corner, pulling the banister out of his stomach so he could rejoin the fight.

Johnanathan simply took the piece of wood and swung it around into Millileth. It never reached as Holly inserted herself into its path and took the brunt of the hit.

For the second time that day she felt her rib cage collapse. She hit with wall with a thud, denting it nicely and slumped to the ground. The banister had shatter in its impact with her, Johnathan was left holding a short piece of wood that wouldn't do him much good.

In the yard Susan stood up and shook her head to clear it, the couch managed to pack a good punch, her right arm was broken and hanging limp. She growled and charged back inside to finish off the work Johnanathan had started with the banister.

Holly got to her feet, healing her ribs enough to move around, only to duck back down as Susan's fist slammed into the wall where her head was. Holly struck out with her own hand, flaring green flames as she went and slashed into Susan's leg. The demon sidestepped but was still clipped, a deep gash in her leg.

Millileth had managed to cut loose two of the four tails Paul had manifested when Johnathan spat out a burst of flame that engulfed her uppder body. Millileth ignored the feeble fire and created a line of ice through the air, using the fire as a guide, and into Johnathan's face. He growled and staggered to get the ice coating off his head. Paul took the momentary distraction to slash Millileth with one of his barbs, catching her on the left arm.

Susan's retaliation to Holly's strike was a double fisted blow downwards into Holly. Holly took in to the shoulder and felt the shoulder dislocate, standing up she forced it back into place with a shrug and punched Susan in the guy with her right fist, ignoring the burning pain in her chest for the moment. Susan fell to one knee, winded. Holly concentrated everythign she had left into a single blade and brought it across Susan's neck, the thin blade sliced clean through and Holly jumped foward and to one side to get out of the way as a fountain of blood covered the wall behind her.

Holly landed and the blade shimmered and disappeared, she fell to the ground and tried to catch her breath.

Millileth was now having trouble protecting Andrea and fending off both Paul and Johnathan.

"It's hopeless now." Johnathan said, circling Millileth so he flanked her opposite Paul, "Why not just hand her over to us, we might go easy on you." He was smiling wickedly, he mouth full of sharp teeth now.

"Fuck off." Millileth said, trying to put herself between them and Andrea, she was in a losing position and she knew it.

"I'm going to enjoy tearing you apart." Johnathan growled.

He was ready to strike when a bright light appeared from the front door, Janice stepped through the glimmer and into the living room. She had large white feathered wings, armore made of a silver material reflection the light and a sword so white it stung the eyes to look at it. She stepped to one side, circling into the room, "Odds are a little more even now." She said. "I've got a bone to pick with you Paul." She had a snarl on her face.

Paul turned to Janice and growled deep, they charged to each other and engaged in battle.

Millileth wasted no time and turned to attack Johnathan. She pulled two blades out of the air, ignoring the burning sting on her left arm, and slashed at Johnathan with both weapons. He jumped back twice, being pushed towards the kitchen. Millileth's attack was relentless, she kept slashing at him, the blades arcing through the air as she spun and charged at him, trying to get him from every possible angle she could. Moments later they crashed through the back wall into the yard. Millileth fell on Johnathan who had been able to do little but fend off the suddenly ferocious attack. Millileth's blades came up and down again, into Johnathan's chest, she flared her energy into them, purple electricity ran down her arms and into his body. Seconds later it was smoking ruin of a corpse. She stood and ran back into the living room to check on Janice and Paul.

Janice had Paul pinned to a wall four feet off the ground, her arm extended upwards to hold the sword in place as Paul writhed on it. His eyes were smoking now as the blade of white light filled him with energy. He slumped down, dead, moments later, body smoking. Janice removed the blade and shifted from the angelic form to a more human form as she turned to face Millileth. Millileth was holding her cut arm now, stemming the bleeding a little, she worked energy to repair the wound.

They could hear police sirens coming down the street, apparently the battle had attracted attention.

Janice and Millileth looked at each other then at Andrea.

"Are you ok?" Millileth asked her daughter.

Andrea just stared for a moment, "I..."

"She'll be fine with a little bit of time." Thalia said stepping into the house through the shattered wall, "But first we need to retire to a less conspicuous place." She said.

"Where's Holly?" Millileth said with a bit of panic.

"Here." Holly said putting an arm up to indicate her position behind the entertainment center. "Ouch." Was the next thing she whispered.

Thalia walked over and stared down at Holly. "You look terrible." She said.

"I've had a long day." Holly agreed.

Thalia kneeled and placed one hand on Holly's stomach and flowed power into her. Holly blinked and then she could breath normally again, her body healed once more. "Better?"

Holly stood up and wobbled a bit, "Mostly." She said, "Couldn't have made it any sooner?" She asked.

"Sorry kiddo, had some business to take care of."

"Sure," Holly leaned on Thalia for a bit of support, "Care to explain a few things."

"First." Thalia snapped her fingers and they were no longer in Millileth's living room. Instead they were in a house completely unfamiliar to them. "A change of scenery."

"Ok, where?" Millileth said looking around.

"Seattle." Thalia answered and took a seat on the couch next to her. "First things first. Who needs an explenation?" She looked around the room. Andrea's hand went up slowly, she still had a slightly shocked look on her face.

"Thought so," Thalia smiled down at the girl who was kneeling on the carpet. "You mom is what's called a Shaper, I won't go into all the details but she's one of my helpers. I am, for the simplest terms, Death. I make this place tick for the most part. In that aspect I need Millileth to leave here and come with me, possibly for a very long time to come yet."

Millileth say down heavily in a chair, "I don't know if I can." She said softly.

"I still have armageddon to stop Mill. And I need your help, you know what you are. Do you really think you can stay?" Thalia looked at her.

Janice came over and put an arm our Millileth, "She asked me to watch over Andrea." Janice said, "She made me an angel to do it too. Millileth, I don't know what's out there but it has to be important. I promise you I'll take good care of her."

Millileth looked up at Janice, "I trust you. But.." She looked at Andrea, "I'm sorry, I really am, this.. wasn't supposed to happen."

"Actually it was." Thalia said, "But we don't need to go into the philosophy behind prophecies and how creation ticks." She said.

"You forgot to stock the fridge there mom." Holly said wandering back into the living room.

"Mom?" Millileth looked at Holly then and Thalia.

"Oh yeah, Holly is my daughter. So I know what you're going through here." Thalia snapped her fingers, "There." She said looking up and Holly. "In the arena of us leaving and Janice taking care of Andrea." Thalia stood, "I've changed all of Millileth's assests over to Janice's name, no one will notice unless they really go snooping, but that shouldn't happen. Janice, one last change, do you want this?"

Janice nodded without hesitation, "I would want nothing else considering the circumstances.

"Ok then," Thalia opened a grey door, "We gotta go." She pointed at the door, Holly stepped into it. Millileth stood and looked down at Andrea.

"I'll come back, I promise." She said and stepped into the door.

Thalia walked to the door, "You have a gift handed down from your mother Andrea, you'll discover it over time. But most of all, live a normal life as much as you can." She stepped into the door.

Janice knelt next to Andrea, "Just you and me left." She said, "I suppose you need a bit of an explenation on some things?" She asked. "I don't have all teh answers, but I can try.

Andrea just looked at Janice, she put her arms around Janice started to cry softly. Janice hugged her back, they were the only family they had now.

//10001 The Shaper War //

Thalia, Holly and Millileth landed on a large stone slab floating in the middle of a colorshifting skyscape. Clouds of grey floated by.

"Where the hell is this?" Holly asked.

"New dimension." Thalia said, "A Binding World."

In the middle of the stone the body of Malpheous lay chain, still screaming from the fusion of Elder's soul to Malpheous' body. Thalia walked over to him and slapped his cheek.

"Shut up for a second." She said, The thing went quiet, "Welcome home. I shall call you The Betrayer. You betrayed me, and yourself, and your creation and more importantly you betrayed what you were supposed to be." She stood back up. "Ambition is a wonderful thing. Make sure you realize when you get to the top of the ladder." She walked back to where Millileth and Holly waited.

Out of the clouds two figures walked, one of pure white, the other pure black. No variance in their color could be seen, as if they were holes in the constantly morphing sky of color around them.

"Ready?" She looked at them, they seemed to nod in unison. She turned to Holly and Millileth, "You girls ready to wage a little war?"

Holly shook her head negative, "I've had about as much as I can take for this kind of action." She said, "I'm tired."

Thalia looked at her, "This is it, you get to the final battle and you stop?"

"Just level whatever you have to." She sighed, "I can't anymore." She soudned tired.

Thalia nodded, "Mill?"

"I'm ready to do what it takes." She said.

"Du'Alaine and that council has to fall. It was that environment that allowed this to happen." She said.

"That's a lot of Shapers," Millileth said, "How do you plan on killing them all?"

"I probably won't, I'm sure many will escape. Once the immediate threat is gone and everything seems to right itself properly we'll be able to take care of the rest at our leisure."

"I'll help with cleanup." Holly said.

"This will be the third Shaper War." Thalia said opening a door, the grey rectangle formed in mid air.

"What about him?" Holly said.

"The chains will loose once we leave and he'll be stuck in this place until I see fit to release him." She said.

They jumped into the door, Thalia going last. The door closed, the chains loosened and the thing known as Betrayal jumped up and tried to escape the stone. It failed, and would continue to fail.

Du'Alaine. The Golden City of Power. It sits on a world occupied by nothing. It is the only place on that world. The gates go out for a while, but they lead only to portals that leave for other dimensions. Inside the city it is a maze of places that lead to portals to other dimensions. Du'Alaine is one of the Portal Cities that exist throughout the realms. It is the home to the Council of Shapers. A group of beings so powerful they twist the very fabric of creation itself to their whim.

Right now the council sat debating loudly what to do since the Elder had been destroyed, and Malpheous with it. Most were advocating they immediately combine and move again The Lady Nightshade. It was a vote that was quickly gaining ground. But without the head the Council was mostly flailing about trying to get a grip back in its tenatious hold on power.

They heard it first deep in their hall. A thunder from somewhere deep below and above at the same time. They all went quiet and waited.

An old man appeared in the middle of the great hall, all skin and bones and rags. He stood strait, bald head shining with sweat. He cackled evilly and stomped his foot. "It start. It starts." He said dancing about. "Oh how I love the pain of souls screaming for mercy." He cackled again and looked at the council, "You will, as I once did, meet the wrath of the One True Shaper." He smiled a mostly toothless grin, "Death will not have the mercy on you she had on me." And he disappeared.

Outside, above the city, a crack appeared in the sky. A long slice of black that seemed to cut across the sky as if it were no more than a painting on a wall. The inhabitants looked up as the crack spread to a chasm. And out of the chasm a massive creature of indistinct shape seemed to drop and ooze. It came, it hit the ground, sloshing about as if water, folding back on itself as if gelatinous and alive. And it folded inwards, and inwards again.

They watched as a man a hundred feet tall made of a pure white so blinding he was a hole against the sky walked forward out of nothing. The black thing finally managed to rise to the same height as the man, a massive thing. A creature with five huge legs, vaguely elephant shaped, roared forth, even as it roared the head did not keep a single shape. Going from something canine, to something feline, to somethin equine, and on and on. It bellowed just the same, a horrible rending noise like metal being torn apart.

They then moved together at Du'Alaine. The Angelic gaurd tried to put up a fight, but the things smashed the walls and started in on the city with near abandon. Where the black beast stomped chaos sewed itself, fires started spontaneously, building shattered as if made from glass, everything seemed to break down around it. Where the white man went the reality seemed to melt away, it went from city to ruins, to dust, to grass again. A field was growing from him as he made his way towards the center, the city fading behind him.

On the other side of the city many started to flee only to be knocked to the ground by a great rumbling. A massive dragon came bursting out of the ground at the rear gates. It rose into the air seven hundred feet before looking back down at the city, and even then its body was not seen. It plunged down and began to wind through the city, causing plain old simply devastation as it went.

The city went into panic as it was destroyed.

Thalia and Millileth ran through the center of the city, ignoring the destruction as they went. Thalia weilded her massive double scythe as she went. jumping over rubble she killed everything unlucky enough to be in her path as she ran through. Millileth was just behind her, a pair of long thin blades in hand, travelling unchallenged along Thalia's wake of death.

A dispatch of angelic warriors appeared and before they could even bring up protection barriers Thalia had cut through half their number. As the other half reacted with magic and raw power Thalia danced through them cutting them down one at a time, and then continued her race of the center lane of the city to the Council Chamber.

Thalia ran into the main chamber, doors still broken from her last visit and stopped in the center. Every Shaper in there was standing and ready. As one they sent their raw power in arcs of fire, light, energy, every imaginable force, at her. She simply stood and waited for the attack to reach her.

When it did she took it all, full force, and gathered every stream into her open hand held out before her. As the streams danced over her body looking to do damage they were drawn to her hand, the scythe held back, but at the ready. Once she had them all in on place she closed her fist.

The attack stopped. There was silence as she stood there, fist out in front of her. The Shapers looked at their own hands which had once commanded power beyond imagination and felt nothing. She had taken it all. They looked at her.

Millileth came into the hall and waited. Holly came running up then, behind them all, she carried a bow in one hand, firing arrows of green fire behind her and she stopped in the chambers.

"Sorry I'm late, but I need to see this," She straitened up as Millileth looked at her, "I'm still a bard." She smiled.

Thalia looked at the council, and smiled a wicked smile. A smile full of poison. She opened her eyes, black pits and utterly emotionless.

The council panicked and ran.

Thalia opened her fist and great balls of shimmering light shot out, homing in on the council members. Some were smart and dodged, some put up barrier to stop or reflect the bolts. Many were simply blasted into non-existance. The hall became a series of explosions, flying bodies, and fleeing council members.

Holly merely sat and watched the destruction being done. Millileth didn't feel like running into the fray just in case an errant bolt caught her. By now almost a hundred at a time were in the air as Thalia's hand became no more than a rapid strobe of light. They shattered the stones, broke bodies and burned anything that would catch.

Tapestries fluttered to the ground, wooden tables burst into flames. stone became rubble.

And it was done. Thalia stood up strait again and looked about the room, she blinked and her eyes returned to a more natural state of black, whith whites this time.

"Woah." Holly said.

"How many do you suppose got away?"

"Ninety Seven." Thalia said, "Two hundred and five are no more."

"What now?" Holly looked at Thalia

"We hunt them all down." Millileth said, looking at Holly.

Thalia turned to face them, "Care to be my personal assassin's?"

"I'm prepared." Millileth answered without hesitation.

Holly took a minute to think, "If preventing any of them will delay something like this every happening again," She shrugged, "I'm in."

"Prevent hopefully." Thalia said, "Though it will definitely take a lot of work."

"All that talk about aligning dimensions along power lines or whatever?" Holly asked.

"Is what allowed me to do what I just did. I can tap into the power lines of Creation itself. The more realities that are aligned in a path the stronger the path becomes."

"I see." Holly said, "Any idea how to start?"

Thalia gave them each a small metal card, on the card was written a name. "These contain the names of all the escape Shapers. The one that appears is the one I reccomend going after first. It will go down the list as each one is destroyed."

Holly looked at her card, by concentrating she got it to cycle through the list, "Don't suppose they'll tell us if we're near a Shaper on the list?"

"It will, bringing up the name of the Shaper and where on the list I put it, if given a choice please go after the name higher up."

"We will." Millileth said. "How are we supposed to travel?"

"However you want." Thalia answered, "From here on out it's all about your agenda to complete the task, not mine. You travel as you see fit."

"Time limit?" Holly asked.

"The faster the better, but we all know how relative time can be." She looked at Millileth, "Several years have already passed for Andrea." Thalia said.

Millileth looked at Holly, "Mind if we make a stop first?"

"I know a few short cuts." Holly said, "Mind if I use the Hallway?"

"By all means, any edge you have over them use." Thalia answered, "Now, I have some mending to do around creation. Not to mention I have to put Order and Chaos away out there." She said and walked out of the hall to the city outside, which was a ruin in every sense of the word.

//10010 Wandering Again//

Millileth sat in the coffee shop, hands around a hot mug as the rain came down outside. Holly say across from her, watching the people in the small shop.

Janice walked in, running her hand through her short hair to get most of the water out of it, she looked around and spotted Millileth and Holly. She'd sensed their power as they came into the dimension and waited for them to stop in one place before going to them. They had stopped in Seattle, the last place they were all together. It had been eleven years for her and Andrea. She had, through conversations with various beings of power in this world, discovered that time passes differently relative to each reality. It may have only been hours or weeks for them, or it could have been hundreds of years since they left her.

Janice ordered her own cup of coffee and walked over to their table, taking a seat at the third chair.

"Hi." Holly said.

Millileth looked at Janice, "You look good in short hair." She said.

"Thanks," She smiled, "So, what happened?"

"We won." Holly said.

"How long ago?"

"A while I guess. Time can be funny." Holly answered, "Only about a day after we left here, but we stopped and spent a couple of years on a beach somewhere while Mill over there got up the courage to visit." Holly remarked and took a sip of her coffee.

Millileth scowled, "I just.." She sighed, "I didn't know what to say." She said after a moment, "I still don't, but I figured I'd better say something." She looked down at her coffee.

"She grew up, went to college, works as an editor for books now." Janice said, "She has a boyfriend, it's becoming serious."

"Where is she?"

"San Fransisco." Janice said, "She comes up for Holidays. I'm trying to figure out how to age normally and then fade back to watch from a distance." Janice said.

"You don't quite look fifty something." Millileth remarked.

"I didn't look like I was approaching forty when we parted either." Janice countered, she smiled and lines showing just a bit of age appeared.

"Yeah. I guess not." Millileth smiled back. "Do you think she'd mind a visit from me?"

"Probably not, I can tell you that deep down she's always hoped she'll see you again, but the prospect scares her." Janice said.

"Scares me to." Millileth said into her coffee.

"Well, she'll be leaving for Paris in a week or two, if you want to run down the coast to see her can, otherwise we'll have to chase her around the world." Janice offered. "Learn to drive yet?"

Millileth smiled, "That, forgot about that. I can drive just fine. I just forgot how for a while."

Janice turned to Holly, "I never did get a chance to talk to you."

"Oh? Well," Holly got a mischevious grin, "I've got plenty of tales, some of them about Mill over there." She motioned, "I'll tell you on the drive down." She said with a twinkle in her eye.

"I'd try and stop you but I know better." Millileth said with a sigh.

--

Janice and Holly stood at the railing looking at San Fransisco bay. Millileth and Andrea had spent the last few days together, what they talked about Janice and Holly didn't know. They'd been left to their own devices and decided to run about the city taking in the local life.

They did know that Andrea had explained Millileth to her boyfriend, soon to be fiance, as a friend of her moms. Janice had always played the roll of foster parent to Andrea.

"So," Janice said, "How long before they're done you think?"

"Another day or so." Holly said, she'd turned around and began to people watch.

"What's it like outside this reality?"

Holly shrugged, "The same, different," She looked up at Janice, "It just is, only on a larger scale."

"I've got my hands full at this scale for now." Janice said.

"Oh?"

"Yeah, well when you guys passed through you created quite a disturbance. Seems you killed the leader of Hell and know there's this big demon war going on and the Fey are all up in arms for some reason about it as well. Everything but the humans are fighting over the Earth and control of it."

"They don't see the bigger picture do they?"

"Sort of." Janice said, "Though they think to get out they have to control the Earth. It's a mess really. And little old me stuck in the middle. I finally found out what Power Andrea has within her."

"Oh?"

"She's like you guys, I can sense it. I can sense Shapers when they come near, I think that's a gift from Death."

"Ah yes, Thalia. My mother can't decide if she's wants to be helpful or a pain in the ass sometimes."

"Helpful in this case it seems." Janice said.

Holly laughed, "Not feeling cursed with a power beyond your control?"

"I'll get angsty over immortality in a few generations. Right now I'm still figuring this whole thing out." Janice countered.

"Yeah, it takes a little bit of time to realize just how long you live and just how long everyone else doesn't." Holly looked down at the sidewalk.

"Is it hard?"

"Yes." Holly said, "For me it was around the second generation I outlived completely that things got tough. But you deal with it." She said.

Millileth came walking up then, alone.

"Where's Andrea?" Janice asked.

"Out with Ken." She said, "We said our goodbyes I guess." She looked down, "It's a hard thing Jan. Saying goodbye and meaning it."

Janice nodded, "I can imagine."

Holly stood up strait and stretched, "Ok Mill, we got a job to do."

Janice looked at them, "Job?"

"Clean up after the armageddon bit." Holly said, "Gonna take us a long while to finish off all the stragglers." She smiled, "Take care Jan, we'll see each other again some day." She said and walked towards a door on the side of a building, she'd produced one of the grey doors in it, only they could see it.

Janice looked at Millileth, "I'll make sure nothing happens to her, or anyone after." She said.

"Thanks." Millileth started to walk away, "You know, the normal mortal life wasn't so bad for a while. Thank you for being a part of it." She smiled and followed Holly through the door.

Janice watched them disappear and then down at the water below, she saw her reflection in the soft waves, in it she had the massive white wings of an angel and was surrounded by a nimbus of light, "Thanks for everything." She said and turned to walk back to her car and drive home.

--

Holly and Millileth sat in a bar occupied by any manner of beings, "What the hell did you call this place again?" Millileth asked.

"Krek Lija." Holly answered, "Thalia told me it was a good place to start, cross roads of the dimensions. Everyone who travels between realities eventually learns about this plae." Holly said, "It's like the Hallway, only for normals." She winked, "So, it's a good place to start looking for these assholes." She said.

"As good a place as any." Millileth agreed.

//Ende//