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The Beginning

by P L Nunn

 

Part Two

 

The was a great sloping rubble where the north wall of the Meta-Rikan castle had stood. The black, dully shining armor of invaders seeped into the wound like parasites. Parasites? An apt term for the half-men who peopled a good portion of the army. Slavering, loathsome creatures with no more care for human life than for the grass they trod underfoot. They cared for the kill; for the chase; for the ultimate victory of blood in their mouths or a warm body to pillage. The body did not necessarily need to be alive, merely pliant enough to slack their lusts.

Kebi-Dabu used such beasts mercilessly. They needed a harsh hand, as all such things did, that were not wholly natural in their existence. The sorcerer's specialty was the taming of beasts. His fame and rank in the armies of the Four Lords of Havoc had grown mostly due to his particular talent. Ogre's from the cold mountains of the far north waded chest deep in the moat about the castle, hammering at it's walls with clubs the size of trees. They ignored, for the most part the arrows sticking out of their thick hides and the archers fell to the sweeps of the clubs as they razed the walk atop the walls. The hot oil was more a problem for them, they were particular about their hideous faces and tended to shy away when the great iron kettles were tipped into position. They were a distraction. Kebi-Dabu's most valued warrior, his most glorious achievement was the five headed hydra, Hittira, whose great body left a path of destruction when she waded through the town outside the castle, and whose heads, at the end of sinuous necks, topped the walls of the castle. She scorched defenders with her fiery breath, and created gaps in walls as thick as two men.

Kebi-Dabu rode upon her back, gripping a specially made leather harness that circled her upper torso, holding to straps to keep his balance when Hittira shifted. She was slow, for the most part, a ponderously moving leviathan that left nothing standing behind her. She snatched armored knights in her maw and broke them to bits -- those that she didn't swallow outright. She mostly spat the knights out, having a distaste for metal, but she had an affection for archers and men at arms who wore only leather defense.

Almost the city was his. The town about it was in flames, its people dead or captured. Mostly dead. The walls about the castle were crumbling and his beast-men were pouring into the grounds. They would praise him for this victory, his Four Masters. They would realize finally how powerful he was -- how invaluable, and perhaps even raise him to their own status and let him share in the glories to come when they woke the insatiable god of destruction, Ansasla. Only this pitiful castle in his path and the second seal hidden somewhere within it.

Hittira sensed it first. She shuddered in her approach to the walls, her heads swinging in unison and fixating upwards at the highest structure at the west end of the castle. First one, then another and another of her maws opened and she screamed out in distress- fury- challenge. Kebi-Dabu followed those rapt gazes and opened himself to the flow of nature about them all. He felt it then as well. It was certainly not a subtle or hidden aura that emanated from the tower. It was the cathedral - that he could tell by the great stone cross that perched at the apex of the roof. The cathedral, of course, would be where all of Meta-Rikan's priests would take shelter. They would be the only magical defense the city had -- if all the reports were correct.

But, this magic he sensed did not have the hallowed flavor of the church. It was raw and hungry and seethed with growing tension. A spell was being constructed and it had the hairs at the back of the sorcerer's neck standing on end. When it was released he felt it like a slap in the face and he gasped, holding tight to Hittira's harness when the hydra bucked and wailed in fury. She rose onto her hind legs and began scaling the walls of the cathedral.

 

* * * *

 

It was being played out again. Father stood half leaning against the alter, his broad face stern and unrelenting even though his hands shook. And the dark wizard who had so recently been thrust upon them, chanted the words to another spell and the air went crazy around him. Yoko could hardly breath the wind was so fierce inside the chapel. People huddled in frightened clusters against the walls. Energy formed before Schneider, building until she thought it would explode before he released it and solve their problem then and there by swallowing its caster. And he was grinning. Goddess, he actually looked so happy to be casting his spell and about to create such havoc.

Rather suddenly and brutally the spell was interrupted. All Yoko could recall seeing was her father's look of pure shock as he looked towards the outer wall, then a great geyser of flame that blew the wall inwards with a shower of stone projectiles. The Wizard was caught in the brunt of it, slammed backwards by the debris and flame. Yoko found herself blown off her feet and tossed some ten feet backwards to land gracelessly on the stone floor. Her vision grayed. Her head pounded. Someone called her name. Someone skidded to the floor beside her and hazily she thought it was Princess Sheela.

Something monstrous crawled into the gap in the wall. Great, reptilian heads emerged from the smoke, eyes glowing, saliva dripping from razor fangs. Its breath was a chorus of rasping hisses. Over that was the laughter of a man. A stocky, red robed man perched between the shoulder blades of the giant creature. He threw back his head and scanned the room as if he owned it.

"Bow down, people of Meta-Rikan. Bow down to the invincible sorcerer, Kebi-Dabu. Your pitiful magics are nothing against me."

Dark, piggish eyes passed over the huddled priests, the form of Geo Note who clung to the alter for support and fixed finally on the silver haired wizard in the center of the chapel. Schneider crouched, a knee and one hand on the floor, fingers gingerly touching his temple. A stain of red colored the pale hair and from under half lowered lashes he stared balefully up at the towering monster above him.

"You're the power I sensed?" The sorcerer atop the hydra accused. "What pitiful hedge wizard have the people of Meta-Rikan hired? Did you think you could stand against one such as I? Bow before me and beg for mercy and I will perhaps grant the lot of you swift deaths."

Kebi-Dabu seemed rather proud of this gesture of mercy on his part. A snakish smile crossed his flabby lips and he puffed out his chest, waiting to receive humble surrender. Schneider, however, seemed more interested in the blood on his fingers than the threat of the hissing hydra and her blustering master. He stared at the bright red as if he had never seen blood before in his life. It trailed down over one elegant cheek and down the line of his jaw. He rubbed his forefinger and thumb together, testing the slick feel of the stuff. His eyes drifted from his fingers until they found Yoko, who lay in Princess Sheela's arms, groggily blinking away the pain of the explosion.

Finally he looked up at Kebi-Dabu. "That hurt, you blathering idiot." He held out his hand to display the blood. "You drew blood. You actually made me bleed."

"I'll do more than that." Kebi-Dabu snarled, enraged that anyone might dare to call him an idiot to his face. "I'll tear off that pretty face and feed it to the hydra."

"Really? Why don't you come down here and try it. I'll give you first shot, before I blow you to pieces so small your - wife? - there can't even eat."

"Why you --- you lowborn nothing. Arrogant cur! I'll kill you. Hittira, destroy him. Rip him into a thousand pieces."

Five deafening screams and the gaping maws of the hydra descended upon their victim. The first head hit and a cloud of masonry dust and smoke rose from the impact. Blood spurted, even as the second and the third entered the fray with the frenzy of beasts eager to feed.

People screamed at the atrocity of it. Yoko stared in wide eyed terror, forgetting everything and everyone save the notion that somehow, that was Rushie being devoured by those horrible snarling heads and she was helpless to save him. She sobbed.

Lightening cracked not from above, but from the center of the floor and with it, catapulted a severed head the size of several bulls. It hit a column at the far wall and shattered it, causing even more debris to shower down from the abused roof. Then a second went flying before anyone could reasonably absorb the fact that the first had appeared. This one landed at the feet of a cluster of priests, showering them with a spray of blood. They screamed. Kebi-Dabu screamed. The remaining hydra heads screamed a split second before a visible explosion of power radiated out from where Schneider had been standing. At that point flesh splattered the room in gobs ranging from the size of a watermelon to that of a full grown hog. Five writhing necks, devoid of heads trashed about helplessly. The great body convulsed, throwing Kebi-Dabu from its back. He rolled awkwardly to the floor and crouched staring in horror at the remains of his creature. He was wailing and cursing incoherently by the time the body thumped lifeless to the floor.

"You killed her! You murdered her!" he cried accusingly, stabbing a finger at the dust covered and somewhat bloody Dark Schneider who stood in the exact spot he had before the hydra had attacked him, hands on hips, a rather cat-like expression of satisfaction on his face.

"You pissed me off." Schneider told him matter of factly. "This has been a day for mistakes for you. The first was drawing my blood. The second was interrupting me when I was about to incinerate the high priest -- oh and the third, the worst one --" And here his blue eyes narrowed vengefully. "Was almost killing Yoko during your grand entrance. For that you die."

On her hands and knees in the rubble, Yoko blinked in astonishment that he should care what happened to her. He wouldn't -- not unless there was more of Rushie within him that one would ever believe to listen or look at him. Goddess was her friend buried within that intimidating form? Could her friend have done the things Dark Schneider did -- or was about to do?

He began chanting. It was obviously something the other sorcerer was familiar with for he backed against the decapitated body of his beast in horror, holding up his hands in a desperate attempt to form a defensive ward.

"Burning in the depths of the pits of darkness. Let the fires of hell take you. Let the fires become my sword." He lifted one hand and blinding light slashed in an arc around him. Kebi-Dabu screamed, squinting his eyes against the glare. Everyone in the chapel was momentarily blinded. Schneider cried one last word. The key word of his spell and the room flared. It was more like an implosion than anything else at first. Kebi-Dabu was hit by a pounding pulse of sorcerous energy and his body seemed to fold in upon itself, like all the air was being sucked out of him. Then it snapped back, blowing outwards in a spasm that enveloped the massive mound of flesh behind him. The whole of it exploded in a wash of blood and flesh gone to pulp that geysered towards the alter and the cowering people behind it.

Geo Note gasped and lifted his hands, quickly muttering a spell of shielding. The tidal wave of blood and energy flowed over the shield and crashed through the outer wall, spilling down to the terrace below it and finally crashing down onto the main bridge leading into the castle. A hundred or more of Kebi-Dabu's troops who crowded that bridge were washed away in the torrent.

Dozens more who had climbed the walls in the hydra's wake peered in through the gaping hole she had made, their beastly faces twisted in shock at the blood covered remains of the chapel. Schneider glanced their way impatiently, spoke a word of magic and extended one hand, palm outwards. A flare of white energy burst forth, clearing the ragged hole of the vermin who crouched about it. He sniffed disdainfully afterwards, clenching his fingers, tossing his head to clear trailing tendrils of hair from his face. With a swirl of cape and cold grin he turned back to face Geo Note.

"And now, old man, it's your turn."

Geo Note did not have the power to hold him off. That was clear from the paleness of his face and the unsteadiness of his limbs. He had expended his strength in the two spells he had already cast, and yet the demon who faced him seemed tireless. Priests began to cry out in dismay, lamenting the creature they had released and their own foolishness for freeing him.

Yoko crouched, trembling so hard her muscles cramped, head pounding in pain from the blow she had taken, vision spinning. Her thoughts were a jumble of panic and flashes of images that she could not make order out of. Her breath came in gulps of too much air. She wished this morning had never happened. She wished she were still in bed, having a terrible nightmare and that Rushie were nothing more than Rushie; her sometimes annoying, but always well-meaning young friend. Not this --- not this --- not this ---!

"Rushie!" she screamed, tears and hysteria coming to a head, everything this awful morning had to offer finally breaking her rational -- her strength. "Stop it! Stop it!"

She pelted towards him, grasped his arm, the edge of his cloak and spun him around. He stared down at her in shock. Whether he was more offended by the treatment or the delirium in her eyes, she might never know. She threw her arms about his neck, because somehow if Rushie were behind those ice blue eyes, then he wouldn't cast her off.

"You can't be Rushie! You can't. He would never do something like this. He would never kill father. He's not a murderer. He's a good person. He loves puppies and gardening and doing stupid laundry and cherry tarts and --- even though I hit him -- he loves me. You can't kill father!! I'll hate you forever!!"

She pressed her face into his chest, her head barely topped his shoulders. There was blood and dust and the sweet smell of sweat to him. He stood there, not knowing what to do with his hands, eyes wide with something that could have been incomprehension. Slowly, as she babbled, he blinked. Put a hand hesitantly on her hair, on her shoulder and forced her to look up at him. He had gone pale and the blood stood out vibrantly against his smooth skin.

"Yoko. Yoko, shut up." He shook her and her head snapped back and forth, she gazed up at him, the hysteria momentarily dammed. "I am Rushie. I swear it."

"No. I want him back. Give me back Rushie. The real Rushie. I don't know what you are, but you're not him. You can't be him." She pulled out of his grasp, sobbing, biting her lip so hard it bled.

"I am. I may look different -- act differently -- but the Rushie you knew - - it's the same soul. Don't you see. If he were to die, then I would die. What he loves -- I love."

He said this and looked at her as if there were nothing else in the chapel but them two. She shook her head to deny it, suddenly chilled and wary. He bent over her, touched her chin, a feather's caress and brushed her lips with his.

Oh Goddess. This was not Dukkan or Rushie -- or it was Rushie, but not Rushie , oh she didn't know what he was, but the taste of his lips and the feel of his hand in her hair was like nothing she had ever known and she didn't want it to stop. But, as things seemed to be going these days, inevitably it did.

She felt a pull of power from within her, it flowed out and passed between her and him. He felt it a moment too late and pulled back in surprise, staring at her as if she had done it apurpose. "Noooo ---" he cried, reaching for her, before his hand spasmed and he crumpled to one knee, curled in upon himself. A flare of white magic. Yoko shielded her eyes and when she looked back there was a great amount of rumpled clothing, amidst which stood a slender boy, staring up at her with huge, astonished eyes.

"Yoko?"

"The spell can be reversed." She whispered. "Just by kissing him. Oh goddess, Rushie." She laughed and flung herself down to hug him tight against her.

They moved around them. She felt the presenses; the shadows that fell upon her. The eyes; and she did not at the moment care. Rushie was back and safe -- and his other self -- albeit an entirely intriguing, entirely handsome, entirely dangerous other self - had been imprisoned once more.

"So that was the Wizard of Fire." Princess Sheela was bruised and battered looking. Blood stained her fine robes.

"We may have need to summon him again." Geo Note intoned dourly. Then he lifted his hands and called all attention to himself. "What you've seen here today must not be spoken of. This child must be kept in safety. If you all care for your lives, then bide in silence."

"I don't understand, Yoko." Rushie was whimpering in her ear, clutching at her tunic.

"You don't have to." She murmured. "Not yet."

* * * * *

 

Somehow, Meta-Rikan rallied her forces and with the slaughter of their master and his hideous creature, the beast-men were driven off. Squadrons from the villages from the south and the forts along the western border drifted in during the next several days and their with their numbers, the city was able to purge itself and the battered town outside it of invaders. It was far from over. Scouts reported the skulking remnants of the enemy army to the south, sitting up camp - waiting it seemed for word from some higher power. Reinforcements, perhaps.

They sent out runners to find the King and alert him of the danger, but had low hopes of his timely arrival. Geo Note and his priest restored what wards they could, tirelessly casting spells of protection upon the town and city. Every able body left alive pitched in towards the rebuilding of the fortifications.

Yoko did her part, helping with the wounded, which she had a skill for, helping with the mixing of morter for the walls, along with dozens of other women. She dragged home each night, almost asleep on her feet, sore and dirty and scared that all their efforts wouldn't be enough. Rushie followed in her footsteps, helping with whatever task she set herself to, dark eyes haunted and frightened. He didn't ask her anymore what had happened in the cathedral. But he was sharp enough to realize that something dreadful had occurred that he had been a part of. Otherwise people wouldn't whisper and point at him when he passed. The talk behind his back, and Yoko's was fierce and superstitious. At least she knew why the folk of Meta-Rikan stared with such fearful eyes at such a harmless, slender boy. At least they would talk to her. To Rushie, they stared and backed away, preferring to work someplace other than where he was. It was crushing. He didn't understand it and half the time tears would well in his eyes at the snubbing of folk that mere days ago had cheerfully interacted with him.

"I don't understand why we can't tell him, father." She cornered Geo Note in his study while he was trying to take a much deserved dinner break. "He's miserable. People won't talk to him. They make the sign of evil right to his face. Ooohh, I just want to slap the next person that whispers behind his back."

"Do you think he would be less miserable knowing?"

"Well I would want to know?"

"You're a stronger person. He's an innocent - it's a part of the spell. As long as he wears that body -- that persona -- he's an innocent. He won't understand. Let it be, Yoko. People will adjust."

"You told them not to spread the tale. That didn't go over very well. I think the whole of Meta-Rikan knows."

"The whole of Meta-Rikan suspects something of a magical nature went on. I imagine some rumors got out. There were children present in the chapel and children are not as good at keeping mysterious goings on secret as adults."

Yoko collapsed in the stuffed chair across from his broad desk, wiping limp strands of hair from her face. She had been working at the wall today and had not had the chance to wipe he sweat and grime of her labors away. "Why didn't you tell me? All those years and I thought he was just a boy you adopted because his parents were killed in the war."

"And how would you have treated him had you known what he really was under the guise of innocence? Could you have accepted him as a younger brother if you'd known the truth? It was vital that you welcome him without reservation."

"Why? You didn't. I've always wondered why you treated him so --- distantly."

Father sighed, resting his elbows on his desk, his face weary from too much spell casting. He looked older and sadder than she could ever recall. "Daughter. I knew. I knew , what he was. What he is. Your mother died from a war of his making and I am afraid to admit that I was not a great enough man to forgive that. So I left it up to you. You did well with him. He loves you. He needed to love you if we had any hope of swaying him if we ever did have the necessity to call the wizard back."

Yoko chewed a ragged nail thoughtfully, thinking back to that frenzied morning in the cathedral. What had he said before he kissed her? He loved what Rushie loved. And Father had planned it all along. Had used her just like he would any vital ingredient to a casting. She was nothing more than honey to the bee. Something to use to control and uncontrollable element.

"All right." She said softly. "I understand." And halfway, she did. The world was a harsh place now. Fifteen years past, when the war had raged, it had been harsher. It made good, moral men do things out of necessity that they might not otherwise do. Father had no choice. He had been forced into it. She rose, bowing her head to him respectfully before she took her leave.

Goddess she was tired. Perhaps the world would humor her and cease its conflicts just long enough for her to rest.

 

* * * *

 

They slipped past the mulling army of beast-men without the creatures being any the wiser. Through the forests of pine that spotted the lands to the south of Meta-Rikan and wound their sinuous way to the cliffs overlooking the valley in which the city sat. They had left horses in the shelter of the woods, although they had other means of transport at their call. There were six of them, clad in grays and dark greens. No armor, but soft, supple clothing lined with pockets for weapons and looseness for ease of movement. They hardly stirred the grass when they moved.

Their leader crouched at the edge of the jutting cliff, looking down upon the city. Smoke still drifted in hazy trails from here and there in the town. Probably controlled fires to raze buildings too far destroyed to rebuild. The castle itself rose above the sprawling town, surrounding by a wide moat, three bridges leading into its guts. One of the bridges was visibly demolished. The other two were functional. One could almost see the gaping hole in one of the highest structures of the castle.

The Ninja Master could only guess what had transpired. He had only the gibberish that the officers of Kebi-Dabu's army reported. He had only the supposition of the other three lords of havoc that great magic had been performed in Meta-Rikan (he was not as sensitive as they to the tenuous threads of sorcery that traveled the eather), magic, which they assured him Kebi-Dabu was in no wise capable of performing. That meant Meta-Rikan had acquired the services of a sorcerer. And not a shabby one, if Kall-Su and Abigail were correct in their assumption that the spell Venom had been utilized during the invasion. Venom was beyond the capacity of most wizards. It was damned little used even by powerful ones. It had been a favorite of his old master. Kall-Su had looked almost spooked when he had mentioned that, before he left Judas to slip past the defenses here. Kall-Su could be superstitious and Abigail even more so. Gara was more interested in the here and now. He could accomplish with his ninjas, what a wizard might not with all his powerful magic.

He could slip into a city that had withheld an army and discover what new force the Four Lords of Havoc had to contend with.

 

* * **

 

There was quiet finally; and peace. A drifting, comfortable peace that could only be founds in the arms of sleep. The dreams tried to come, but she chased them away, one by one, preferring the solitude of void. The images were too confused and horrid to invite restful slumber. She was happy, until the presence slowly drifted into her subconscious. It was so subtle she was hardly aware of it all, until she began to take notice of her own body, draped in a silken sleeping gown that was by far finer than anything she had ever worn, floating along above what seemed a peaceful green valley. She looked down at her bare feet, some ten feet from the ground. She gasped, experiencing a sudden disorientation -- a fear of falling. Then the arms surrounded her. Strong and warm and holding her fast against a body that pulsed with heat.

She knew who it was, but she twisted around anyway, to peer up at the face beneath floating tendrils of long hair. He didn't let her go. Just ran his hands up and down her back, making her shiver.

"Rushie. How -- how did you break the seal?" she whispered. He merely smiled at her, half breathed her name and ran his lips along her temple. Oh, goddess. She felt herself falling -- not to the ground, but into his sensuous web. "This is a dream." She said it to convince herself. "This is just a dream."

"Is it?" His voice was like rough spun silk, sleek and soft on one side with grains when you rubbed it the wrong way. She shivered at his warm breath at her ear.

"You're not supposed to be here." She whimpered.

"Where else is left?" A hand leisurely drifted around her ribs to caress the underside of one breast.

"This is a dream." She insisted, trying to fight the pull -- the sensation.

"Then what are they?" He pointed and the ground was littered with bodies. Bodies of common people with swords and knives and arrows sticking from their flesh. And there, almost at her feet was the corpse of her father, his lifeless, glazed eyes staring up at her accusingly.

"Noooo." She wailed and sat up, blinking sleep and the tendrils of nightmare from her mind She was under the sheets, but there was a leg over her thighs. She panicked for a moment, until her eyes adjusted to the darkness and she realized it was just Rushie -- he Rushie, sprawled next to her. He must have snuck in while she slept. He had a tendency to do that when he was upset. Probably having nightmares of his own. Or invading hers -- she beetled her brows contemplating that . Could he dream on his own while the other personality within him did its own share of dream hopping? If Schneider was really Rushie's true form - his true character- then did they -- he -- even dream separately at all? It was so confusing. What had Father loosed on her?

 

* * * *

 

It is written that the god of destruction, Ansasla, is bound by four holy seals, but should the final seal ever be broken the evil god shall rise up from its state of near death and storm clouds as black as night shall rise up and blot out the sun . . . . . .

Geo Note ran his large fingers over the yellowed parchment of the scroll. One of the Seven codex's of Marslisax, an ancient prophet who had lived in the first generations after the Great Destruction. In those times when civilization had seemed all but lost and even sorcery was a thing barely beginning to surface and practiced by only a scant handful of men. That creature he had summoned to defend Meta-Rikan had been one. Dark Schneider. Ah, what a chance he had taken, risking all their lives on the whim of a wizard who had never shown a scrap of responsibility in all the years he had roamed the earth. At least none that Geo Note had ever come across by legend or written word. It had all rested upon his daughter. Sweet, strong, stubborn little Yoko -- who wasn't so little anymore. She had become a young woman when he wasn't looking. A beautiful young woman, who looked so much like her mother had in her youth. Youth. As if Kai Note had ever had the chance to grow old.

Geo Note rested his head in the palm of his hand, tired beyond his ability to focus anymore on the tiny, scrawled script of the codex. Judas had been taken. The first seal had lay hidden for 400 hundred years within the walls of Judas. 400 hundred years unmolested - secret, just as the other three had been devoutly guarded by blood lines chosen for their purity and their devotion to seeing the world protected against the devastation that had ruined the Old World.

The king was on his way back. The runner had come in not long past, having almost killed his mount, to report that soon, the king and his forces would reach the borders of Meta-Rikan. The city would have new, vital guardians. Goddess grant that they be enough, for he feared for them all should they have to revive that Wizard again.

 

* * * **

 

The peace of sleep was once more disturbed. This time by something not quite so substantial as a nightmare, but by a sense more intangible and fleeting. Yoko opened her eyes, her breath caught in her throat, heart hammering and lay for a moment wondering why. There was a body snuggled close against her side. Rushie.

A chill passed over her. There was a breeze wafting through the open window. It smelled of fresh cut pine and wood -- not for a change, of smoke and ash. For a few breaths she lay, staring at the moonlit gray cast of the ceiling. Something tickled her awareness. She had a gift of true sight. Of seeing people's hidden character, of sensing a lie of discerning a secret -- of knowing when there was a hint of danger. Father claimed it was the magic in her blood. She came of a line of holy priests all versed in magic. Slowly, she learned it herself -- at a rate Father felt it prudent to teach her.

There was something in the room. The window had not been open when she had gone to sleep - nor the last time she had woken. She sat up, trying to control the fear. Rushie shifted in his sleep but did not wake.

There. In the shadows of the far corner. Her eyes saw nothing, but her senses screamed at her that nothing that wished her well boded there. She swung her legs over the side of the bed, garnering courage. There was something there. If she concentrated hard enough she thought she could imagine the shape of a man. She moved to the window as if to close it. Turned her back on the corner as if in ignorance of what it hid. Then, she whirled and kicked from the side, slamming her bare foot into what might have been the crotch of the intruder. There was the satisfying impact of foot into cloth covered flesh. There was a grunt of pain and a large figure staggered a step into the room.

"Intruder!!" She screeched. "Get out!"

She made to kick him again, but before she could land the blow he had melted away and she staggered forward, off balance. She cried out as hands grabbed her from behind, covered her mouth to stop her screams. She was slammed backwards against a huge, hard body.

"Not bad, girl." She felt the heat of his breath against her ear as he whispered. "Not many detect me."

She stifled a moan, struggling uselessly. He was so strong.

"Yoko?" Rushie blinked at them groggily, a small, dim figure on the bed. She felt her captor shift, saw his hand draw out a flat, sharp-edged throwing star. She frantically pulled at his fingers about her mouth. He let her move them.

"It's a dream, Rushie. Go back to sleep."

He sighed, curling back into the covers.

"Smart girl." Her captor whispered in her ear. "Make a sound and you'll both die."

She nodded, terrified. He pushed her against the wall, one hand on her throat, the other drawing a stiletto. He rested it against her cheek, a clear threat. Her eyes were huge, staring at the craggy face of the man who made it. A scar ran down from his eye brow, just missed the socket of his eye and marred one broad cheek. Dark hair was cut short.

"I want information. Where is the wizard who cast the Venom spell a week past?"

If he had not been holding her throat, she would have gasped. The enemy sought Rushie? Oh, goddess, if only he knew how close he was. She shook her head as much as she was able and he snarled, squeezing his fingers.

"Answer me girl. Who cast that spell. One, perhaps two people alive could do it. I know where they are. Who does Meta-Rikan have that has that power?"

He loosened his fingers and she took a breath. "You said not to make a sound." She glared at him balefully.

"Don't play with me, little girl."

"How should I know. Do I look like someone that would know? You've got the wrong room, if you're looking for things wizardly."

"These are the chambers of the high priest Geo Note. Stands to reason you're his little girl. She would know such things."

"I'm not. I'm just a serving girl. The lady Tia Note's room is a couple of windows down."

He leaned close to her, lips pulled back into a humorless grin. "If that's the case, then you're a dead girl. Can't leave witnesses."

Yoko moaned miserably, following the blade as he waved it before her face. "I don't know." She whimpered. "I don't --"

The blade moved down, grazing her tummy and prodded at more sensitive areas. She gasped, squirming away.

"You will tell me what I wish to know." He promised her, using the blade to lift the flimsy material of her gown.

"No. Please no." She cried.

He laughed at her, holding her fast to the wall by his hand on her throat, while he moved the stiletto against her. She screamed, horrified, disgusted. And rather suddenly the cold air became sweltering and a concussive force that staggered her captor off his balance erupted from the location of the bed.

The once dark room was bathed in a eerie glow, which emanated mostly from about the figure of Rushie who stood by the edge of the bed, his night gown rippling about him. Both she and the intruder stared in outright shock. There was on the boy's face an expression totally foreign to him. It was the same face, but there was little of innocence there. The eyes were cold and calculating and the mouth sat in lines of rage.

"How dare you come and attack what is mine, Gara." The voice was as strange as the face. The voice of a man coming from the mouth of a boy. "You must have a death wish."

Her captor --Gara? -- blinked, letting go of her throat and reaching reflexively for the sheathed sword at his side. "I know that voice." He gasped.

"That's my woman." Rushie was continuing, oblivious to the dumfoundment he had created. "So back off, or I'll turn your blood to dirt."

"Dark Schneider!!" The intruder cried.

"But -- how?" Yoko couldn't take her eyes off Rushie.

The boy turned his head woodenly to look at her. "With the seal broken I'm not bound entirely by Rushie's body, as I was before. When Rushie sleeps I live -- and I regain my powers for a little while."

"All these years -- and he's been sealed in -- that boy." Gara's fingers tightened on the hilt of his sword. The door to Yoko's room slammed open and Father filled it, nightrobes and all. Two of the cathedral guard loomed behind him. She cried out his name a moment before Gara flung what appeared to be a handful of small rocks on the floor. They exploded on contact, filling the room with a sudden crack of light and sound and then an obscuring smoke. She started to dark towards Father, but an arm snaked about her waist and yanked her entirely off her feet. She started to struggle as he whisked her to the window. Apparently he didn't have the inclination to deal with a struggling captive, for he paused just long enough to press two fingers to her throat, after which she knew nothing at all.

 

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