Yet another rewrite of YGT1: 1st Person Perspective

Lady Adellandra’s

The Inner Realm Chronicles


Young Guardian and the Dominionites

 

  1. The Dream Realm Crusaders

(blurb)

Ariana Moon has always been different. The night she turns seven, Lord Guardian O’Dell of the Mystic Realms visits her, telling of her Destiny. In time, she will be his successor, the Young Guardian.

Living in an orphanage with her twin friends, Aaron Theodore and Amethyst Theresa, she learns what magic she holds and to count on her growing powers to protect them.

Soon, she finds herself unable to stay at the orphanage, so she runs away in search of a new life. Along the way, she meets various people who would bond together as her friends, comrades and family.

There’s trouble in the Mystic’s Realm of Dreams, and it’s up to Ariana and her friends, the Dream Realm Crusaders, to put an end to it and ensure peace for future Dreamers. Will the Young Guardian learn her Destiny in time to fight an evil not even Lord Guardian O’Dell has been able to vanquish?

Young Guardian and the Dominionites

    Part One: Lord O’Dell’s Successor

        Chapter One: The Awakening

        Chapter Two: The Blood-Pact

        Chapter Three: The Unicorn Statuette

        Chapter Four: The Maiden and Other Nightmares

        Chapter Five: The Enchanted Child

    Part Two: Young Guardian’s Circle

        Chapter Six: The Path of Destiny

        Chapter Seven: The Circle of Hate

        Chapter Eight: Imaginary Romeo

        Chapter Nine: Love of an Earthly Protector

    Part Three: Project Dream Realm Crusader

        Chapter Ten: A System Agency Welcome

        Chapter Eleven: Promise of a Perfect World

        Chapter Twelve: The Countess of Monarch’s Glenn

        Chapter Thirteen: Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen!

        Chapter Fourteen: The Healing Project

        Chapter Fifteen: The Blood-Lust

        Chapter Sixteen: The Truth is Out!

Book Two: Back to Reality

    Part One: Harsh Beginnings
        Chapter Seventeen: Torn From Paradise

        Chapter Eighteen: Worlds Apart

        Chapter Nineteen: Return of Madam Pain (????)

    Chapter Fifteen: A Perfect Fantasia

        Chapter Sixteen: A New Family, a New Friend

        Chapter Seventeen: Mixed Feelings

        Chapter Eighteen: Sabrina’s Arrival

    Part 2: The Dominion Quest

        Chapter Nineteen: Ariana’s Demise

        Chapter Twenty: Young Guardian Fallen

        Chapter Twenty-One: Dark Tower Terror

        Chapter Twenty-Two: A Cry for Help

        Chapter Twenty-Three: Derrick’s Message

    Part 3: The Sinister Plan

        Chapter Twenty-Four: Sabrina’s New Power

        Chapter Twenty-Five: Katherine’s Story

        Chapter Twenty-Six: Aaron’s Return

        Chapter Twenty-Seven: Sabrina Meets Her Match

        Chapter Twenty-Eight: Cruel-Hearts

    Chapter Twenty-Nine: The End: The Rescue

 

  1. Book One:

  2. Birth of the Young Guardian

  3. Part One:

  4. Lord O’Dell’s Successor

Prologue:

The Awakening

 

Dear Diary,

They call me Ariana Moon. My new friend from another realm suggested I write in you, to see if I could recall any memories of before.

All I know of before I awoke in a strange car that stopped at a peculiar building was a blissful memory of an angel that faded into oblivion once I saw where we were. Once staring at the building for a brief moment, I found I could literally “feel” the negative emotions permeating from inside. Before I knew what was going on, I was alone, staring into the eyes of an elder woman I would come to know as Mrs. Helen Gertrude, proprietor and owner of the Shore Point Home for Children.

I know nothing of what came before that moment. I did not even know my name until a raven-haired woman told me. As for my age, my new friends, Aaron Theodore and his twin Amethyst Theresa believed I was the same age they were: five-years-old. Since I knew nothing of my date of birth, they said I could share theirs, which was October Thirtieth. I am seven now and terribly confused of my identity.

I knew nothing of the strange gifts I learned I had. Where did they come from and why did I have them? Were it not for the twins secretly helping me, I would not know how to control them.

The gift to “feel” emotions we learned was Empathy. I could sense how people felt, and if I touched them, I could read their inner fears and secrets. Empathy soon became my strongest gift, as well as a guide. I also learned of another gift I had, called Telepathy. I could speak to the twins in my mind, reading their thoughts in return. It became our little secret, for it was safer to think to them than to speak aloud and get into trouble.

One night, I was so angry at the way Mrs. Gertrude was treating the children; beating them senseless until they bruised and bled — myself included — that I used my mind to throw a vase at her head to knock her unconscious. The twins and I learned that gift was Telekinesis. That same night, I learned I could Heal. My body healed itself overnight if I wished it. In secret, I used my healing gift often on the twins’ more-serious bruises and broken bones.

Once the other children found out what I could do, they called me names like Freak and Weirdo. They shunned me and kept their distance whenever I was around; as if afraid I would give them some disease should I look at them. Pretty soon, only the twins would stand beside me. They became my best friends and only family.


Ariana Moon yawned, closing the journal and hiding it under her pillow.

All was quiet now. The other girls slept and her almost-sister Amethyst snored in the bunk below. It made Ariana smile, knowing that for one more night, she and the other children were safe.

She cuddled under the covers, linking her hands behind her head as she stared at the ceiling. She reached out her empathy to the boys’ room, where Amethyst’s twin brother Aaron was awake, worried.

Aaron? She sent using telepathy. Once she was certain she had his attention, she continued. Are you okay?

Yeah Ari, He sent back, using her nickname and following the link made between them. The three figured out, if the twins thought about her, they were linked in her mind. His inner voice sighed. I’m fine.

You do not sound fine, my friend. Ariana pressed gently. I am here if you need me.

I know. With another inner sigh, his thoughts and emotions disappeared.

Now she sighed, shaking her head in worry over her best friend.

Ariana closed her eyes to sleep, but sensed someone watching her. She froze where she lay, letting her empathy guide her thoughts.

“Hello, Young Guardian.”

It was the voice of an older male, nervous and shaky. Somehow, she knew he would not hurt her.

Curious, she sat up, looked to the air above her. Who is there?

She felt someone gently caress her hair, so she reached up to touch his hand. It was warm, and the feeling of genuine love and concern passed through her sensors. She closed her eyes; her mind coming up with the vision of the perfect grandfather figure: kind, generous, caring, trustworthy and honest. When she opened her eyes, she was able to see him in the place she Felt him. She stared at him quietly as the tall male with dark eyes and long grey-almost-white hair smiled back at her. An almost-blinding white light shimmered around him, giving him the vision of an angel and wizard at the same time. Somehow, it comforted her.

“I am called Lord Guardian of the Mystic Realms, and you will be my successor.” Lord Guardian told her, squeezing her hand gently before releasing it.

His voice echoed like an angel’s, his tone the feeling of authority.

Why did you call me, “Young Guardian”? She could still see him. My name is Ariana Moon.

He smiled and explained. “You are a very special girl, Ariana Moon, doing things most cannot. You know this already, or I would not be here.”

I know not why. I just can. Ariana relaxed. She wrapped her arms around her knees, sensing his joy as she smiled in the darkness. I can read thoughts, feel people’s emotions, move things with my mind, heal people and tell futures. I do not know if I can do anything else.

“Ah, but you can; all you have to do is summon the courage and try. You can do anything your heart desires.” Lord Guardian closed his hands, opening them a moment later to reveal a necklace. “I come from a place called the Dream Realm, and you can go there anytime to escape.”

Ariana looked away for a moment, staring at the necklace in her hands and gathering her thoughts. It seems so unreal! Is this kind man a dream? She thought of her Mistress, Helen Gertrude. Each day, the children of the orphanage were beaten. It seemed Ariana and her twin friends were Mrs. Gertrude’s favorites, so escape would be perfect. She only hoped the twins would be able to join her. Would he really help me escape this wretched world, or is he another breaker of promises like all the others who wanted me for slavery?

She took a deep breath and accepted the trinket he offered. Right away, she could feel the warm magic coming from it. It was a silver locket shaped like a crescent moon with a star-shaped jewel hanging from the tip. The opalescent jewel was made of a kind of crystal she’d never seen before. The crescent moon itself was surrounded by a dream catcher’s webbing. It was beautiful in a dreamlike way as it hung from its silver chain.

Can anyone else see or hear you? Ariana thought to him, looking up from it. The warmth of his gift gave her some hope for the future ahead.

Lord Guardian shook his head. “Others will join you when the time comes.”

Ariana smiled. I can go to the Dream Realm any time I want?

He nodded, smiling. “Come. I will take you now.” He pointed to the necklace. “Close your eyes and I will do the rest. I will teach you a special chant that will take you there on your own.”

Ariana Moon placed the locket around her neck and clutched it as she lay down.

As he promised, Lord Guardian took her to the Dream Realm and showed her things she never experienced before.

Finally, she thought to herself as she rode on the back of his Unipeg form in the Realm of Dreams. I am safe.

 

II

They touched down in front of the Dominion’s Garden Gate where a Balinese feline Companion met them. Ariana was afraid, yet curious.

The Balinese feline had black and white-spotted fur covering an almost-human looking body. Her black-tufted tail playfully swayed behind her; feline-shaped ears poked out of her long black-and-white striped hair. Once she caught Ariana staring, she smiled and purred gently. There was kindness in the feline’s emerald eyes and heart; Ariana could Feel it.

“Ariana, I would like you to meet Mistress Katherine Hawk.” Lord Guardian knelt so she could hop down and he could shift to Immortal form. “She will be your guide to the Mystic Realms.”

“A pleasure Young Dreamer,” Katherine purred, bowing.

Ariana blinked, unable to say a word.

“Do not be afraid,” Lord Guardian whispered in her ear after he shifted. “She will not hurt you.”

She jumped, amazed. He was no longer the Unipeg but an Immortal Wizard. Lord Guardian?

He smiled, wrapping a caring arm around her shoulders. “You may speak aloud without fear.”

Ariana felt her throat and spoke to the smiling Katherine, who was awaiting her response. “P-P-Pleasure to meet you, Mistress Katherine.”

The shaky voice sounded foreign, even to her ears.

“I welcome you to the Dominion’s Garden. You are just in time to join our party.” Katherine announced, nodding at Ariana before turning to Lord Guardian. “Would you need anything more from me, my Lord Guardian?”

“Watch over her, teach her the Mystic ways.” He told her. “Never let her out of your sight, for she is your Dreamer charge. Is that understood, Katherine Hawk?”

Katherine bowed again, “Aye, Lord Guardian.”

“I trust you will not let me down.” He shifted his form again, taking flight as a Unipeg. “Pleasant Journeys, ladies!”

Katherine waved up at him, but Ariana stood speechless.

“You are safe, Young Ariana.” Katherine told her gently when he was out of sight.

Ariana relaxed, walking closer to the feline. “I have never seen beings like you before. You look like a furry human.”

Katherine smiled, playfully twitching her tail and wiggling her feline ears. “I am called a Companion. Companions come in many different shapes and sizes, species and forms. They all have one thing in common: they can shape-shift from their species – such as in my case, a Balinese cat – to a half-species, half-Immortal form. Immortal is what you would call those of your world that live forever.” She dared reach her hand out for Ariana to take. “I am special, even from the Companions, for I am a Mystic, too.”

Ariana smiled, staring at Katherine’s out-stretched paw. “You will teach me?”

“That is my duty, and it will be a pleasure.” Katherine winked, curtseying as Ariana took her hand.

The act made Ariana giggle. She would certainly like it here! She already liked Katherine, for there was something else about the Balinese that told her they would be close friends.

With a wink, Katherine took her through the hedge maze to meet more Companions.

Her new feline friend introduced her to many Companions; some feline, others canine, and even different species of birds – all half-Companion, half-Immortal in form. Ariana felt safe enough to relax around them, as they were nothing but friendly toward her. For the remainder of the night, she had fun, almost feeling at home in the Dream Realm.

Later, in a secret part of the Garden, Katherine taught her how to juggle using magical balls of colored light. After many tries, she was able to without dropping them.

Without warning, her head pounded and empathy kicked in. She made the balls of light disappear before standing from the boulder and moving toward what she Felt.

“What is it?” Katherine purred, worried.

Ariana was in a trance as her eyes stared at the brush ahead of her. “There is something out there. He is in great pain; I can feel it.”

Katherine was interested, so she followed. Ariana stopped in her tracks, keeping her gaze on the brush.

“What do you sense?”

“He is cradling his arm; from what I can sense, it is broken.” Ariana tilted her head to the side and closed her eyes, as if telling a story of what she Felt ahead. “The creature was beaten, abused for sticking up for himself and his brethren.”

Katherine purred sadly. “Creature? Is he Companion or Dominionite?”

“Both, yet more Companion.” Ariana opened her eyes and went to the brush.

“Be careful.”

“Always.” Ariana assured before separating the bushes. Her eyes met those of the Companion. He was shaking, scared, and a low growl rumbled from his throat. “Be still, Companion.” She smiled, reaching out an opalescent-glowing hand. “I will not harm you. You are wounded, and I only wish to help.”

It was a Timber Wolf and it was dressed in Dominionite Warrior leathers. There was a long scar going from his snout to his cheek.

“Wolf!” Ariana heard Katherine’s voice exclaim as she pushed by Ariana’s side to help him out of hiding. “What happened to you?”

Ariana stepped back and watched their greeting.

“Master beat me.” His voice was rough, eyes still fixed on Ariana’s.

“Come, sit on the rock.” Katherine put her arm around him and helped him walk. She addressed Ariana. “Can you heal him?”

Ariana nodded. “Only if he will let me.”

Wolf raised his good hand to ask. “Who are you?”

Ariana kept her smile. “I am the Young Guardian, and a friend of Katherine’s.” She explained. “My name is Ariana Moon and I am an Ancient Mystic.”

“Mystic?!” He growled, straightening only to fall back on the boulder, feeling his bruises.

The pain also shot through Ariana’s system.

“She is my Dreamer Charge.” Katherine stopped him, cupping the side of his canine face. They met eyes and her purr calmed him. “She is Lord Guardian’s successor and one of the good Mystics; like me.”

Wolf took Katherine’s hand and gently kissed it.

“She can heal your wounds, Wolfram Stargazer, if you let her.” Katherine went on once she had his attention.

“I apologize for my insolence.” Wolf stared at Ariana in a new light. “I would bow if I could, Young Guardian.”

“You need not bow to me yet, sir.” Ariana smiled. “I am only a mere child in my world, though still a healer.”

“All right already!” Wolf laughed only to flinch and hold his arm. “I am – was – Wolfram Stargazer, one of the Master’s Dominionite Warriors.”

“Not by choice, I take it?” Ariana asked sadly. He shook his head. She stepped closer. “Will you let me heal you now?”

Wolf smiled, nodding. His hand was still in Katherine’s as Ariana closed her eyes and placed her hands on his wounds.

“Try not to make a sound.” Katherine told him. “Havens forbid my uncle hear you.”

Wolfram took a breath and nodded.

First, the broken bones in his left arm and wrist stung as they returned to their places. The flog marks on his back were soothed by warm magic and in no time, they nearly disappeared within his russet fur. Ariana was careful with his cheek, as they both winced when the long gash closed up. When she was finished, there was only a scar on his snout to show for the severe beating he received from Orthos.

“I apologize if I cannot make the scars completely disappear,” Ariana whispered once she opened her eyes and surveyed her work. She blinked her eyes, dizzy. It seemed the healing took a lot out of her. She would have to ask Katherine about that later.

“It is all right, Young Guardian.” Wolf nodded, hugging her. “I thank you for healing me.” He turned to Katherine and stood. “I should be going back to the camp, before they send a search party for me.”

He gently kissed Katherine’s cheek before shifting to his full-Timber Wolf form.

“Wolf,” Ariana stopped him before he could lope away. She knelt to his level and waited until he padded over to her open arms. She hugged his neck and whispered in his ear. “You may call me Ariana, anytime.”

And you may call me friend. Wolf let her hug his neck before disappearing back to his hiding spot.

Thank you, Friend. Ariana stood and smiled after him.

Katherine nudged her, purring. “What did you think of him?”

“He is much too sincere to be a Dominionite.” Ariana replied. “I like him.”

“Good, because so do I.” Katherine blushed.

The girls giggled and continued to play in the Garden until morning came in the Outer Realm and Ariana had to leave.

 

II

Ariana awoke to find the necklace was still there. Hiding it underneath her shirt, she ran to show her best friends, Amethyst Theresa and Aaron Theodore.

She found them at one of the dining tables and headed over to them.

Ariana heard someone clearing her throat, looking up to see Mrs. Gertrude frowning at her. “You’re late.”

“Sorry, Mrs. Gertrude.” She mumbled, taking her seat next to Amethyst.

Once Mrs. Gertrude was out of sight, Ariana told the twins all about the Dream Realm, including the Companions she met there and magic she was able to do.

I wish you could join me. She thought to them telepathically.

“You’re not the only one.” Aaron grumbled.

Amethyst, whose nickname was Aimee, let out a wistful sigh, daydreaming as she picked at her food. “What if we could?” She asked softly. “Wouldn’t it be great?”

How? Ariana asked, touching the hidden necklace. I doubt Lord Guardian would let you.

“He’s not a good Lord if he won’t let his successor bring her friends along.” Aaron remarked.

I will ask him the next time I see him. Ariana told her friends.

“Thank you.” Aaron whispered, taking her hand.

You are welcome. Ariana told him. You need the escape more than I do.

 

III

Later that afternoon, Ariana and the twins played in the backyard.

“You can’t catch me, Ari!” Aaron cried, hands in the air as he ran. “I’m Superman!”

“Let’s get him!” Aimee whispered to a smiling Ariana.

The two ran after him until he disappeared around the shed. As they turned the corner, Mrs. Gertrude appeared.

“What is going on here?” She yelled fiercely, hands on her hips and scowl on her face that made her look like a bulldog.

Aaron ran to take Ariana’s hand, hoping to shield her from abuse. “We’re just having a little fun, Mrs. Gertrude.”

Aimee, run! Ariana cried in her mind, her eyes focused on Mrs. Gertrude’s.

She was scared, her heart pounding, just thinking of what her mistress might do to them. I wish she would just go away!

The Locket around her neck grew warm under her shirt. She used its warmth as strength.

Sure enough, as the wish was finished, the mistress was frozen in fear, widening her eyes as she stared at the necklace. Hands off her hips and face going blank, she turned around and walked away.

With shaky hands, her knees gave out, forcing her to the ground. She could hear her heart pounding in her chest as she relived the scene in her mind. Where did that come from?

“Ari?” Aaron knelt down to her level.

Ariana just stared ahead, amazed. I just wished, and it happened.

Aaron met her eyes and hugged her. “Are you okay?”

She nodded absently, still in a daze.

“I don’t know how you did it, but I’m glad you did.” Aaron whispered in her ear.

She agreed.

“Race you to the attic!”

 

Soon after, the twins were on kitchen duty, leaving Ariana alone in their tree house. She sat with her legs crossed and Dream Locket in hand.

How was I able to do what I did to Mrs. Gertrude? What about speaking in my mind to the twins, and feeling others’ emotions? Why did I have those special abilities when the twins did not?

She dared take the Locket off, examining it in her hands. Tired of thinking and asking herself questions she had yet to know the answers to, she closed her eyes. She concentrated on the mental image of the necklace’s special jewel.

She could faintly hear Mrs. Gertrude’s voice from afar, arguing with an older woman in her office.

“What do you want with me, Dixilynne Ryan?” Mrs. Gertrude demanded.

“I want to see her, Helen.” The woman’s voice was gentle and kind.

Ariana could sense Dixilynne’s sincerity from the tree house, and the magical aura in her tone was almost like that of the counselor that brought her there two years ago.

“Susan told me not to have any of you see or talk to her.”

Who was she talking about? Ariana listened in.

“She is an Ancient Mystic now, and must be brought up as one, regardless of what my daughter has told you.” Dixilynne countered. “Now where is she?”

“I don’t know; probably running around with her bratty twin friends somewhere.” Mrs. Gertrude huffed. There was a rustle of papers, and Ariana thought she was trying to avoid the subject. “You search for her. I have work to do.”

“I know she used her powers on you, even if she did not realize it.” Dixilynne said seriously. Mrs. Gertrude stopped rustling papers to stare. “I only want to see how she is doing, nothing more.”

“Why care now, Dixilynne?” Mrs. Gertrude asked. “Why drop her on my doorstep two years ago without a by-your-leave and not visit until now?”

Dixilynne pondered her next words. “For fear of her overhearing, let us just say it is Destiny.”

“Destiny.” Mrs. Gertrude spat. “What do I care for your destiny?”

Dixilynne was patient. “You do not have to care, only watch over her until she is ready.”

Mrs. Gertrude was silenced. “Go find her for yourself.”

“Thank you, Helen.” Dixilynne said, closing the door behind her.

 

Ariana opened her eyes and stared at the necklace.

Who was Dixilynne talking about? Why do I feel so close to someone I never met?

She shook her head in wonder, replacing the necklace securely around her neck and under her shirt.

“Ariana Moon, come to me.” Dixilynne’s musical voice whispered just loud enough for her to hear it.

Ariana stood and poked her head out the open door frame to see a beautiful elder woman with long black hair and silver-blue eyes.

She has my eye color! Could she be a relative, come to take me home?

Dixilynne smiled. “There you are, Young One.” She said softly. “Will you come down to greet me or should I come up?”

After a moment of thought, Ariana gestured for Dixilynne to come up. Dixilynne winked, looking to either side before closing her eyes and disappearing.

Ariana had to rub her own eyes to make sure she was not seeing things. She felt a hand on her shoulder, turning to meet Dixilynne’s smile.

Dixilynne laughed softly. “I do not mean to scare you, Ariana Moon. I only came to see how you were.”

I am okay. Ariana told her with telepathy. Aaron and Aimee are my best friends. They protect me, and I protect them.

“I do not doubt it.” Dixilynne laughed gently, sitting on a makeshift chair in the corner. “Come, sit on my lap. We have much to speak about.”

Ariana still feared strangers, so she used her empathy to sense Dixilynne’s kindness.

“Appeased I will not harm you?” Dixilynne asked.

Ariana nodded, approaching her and sitting on her lap.

Who are you?

“I am a friend; that is all I can tell you for now.” Dixilynne stroked her cheek, noticing the necklace. “So, Lord Guardian has finally given it to you.”

Ariana smiled. You know him?

Dixilynne nodded. “It is good to see you smile.” She said. “My husband tells me, ‘Darling, smile, and the whole world smiles with you.’” She hugged Ariana’s shoulders. “Why do you not speak aloud?”

I am afraid. Ariana looked down. I sensed bad things when I first came here. Every time I try to speak, I am punished for it.

“That’s awful!” Dixilynne whispered. “You must be allowed to speak, no matter who wishes to harm you for your words.”

Why are you here?

“I sensed your magic awakening and have come to check up on you.” Dixilynne explained.

Ariana looked back up at her with interest. Those things I can do – it is magic?

Dixilynne nodded. “Ever notice when you are beaten, the bruises disappear overnight?” Ariana nodded. “That is magic as well, Ariana Moon. The ability to sense the feelings of those around you is called –”

Empathy. Ariana said in her mind. The counselor told me to shut it off, but I felt safer with it on.

“As very well you should.” Dixilynne smiled. “Empathy is a very powerful gift. It can warn you of danger before you get yourself into it. Now telepathy, however, is what you have used with your twin friends and me. Telepathy is conveying messages through one mind to another.”

Do you know what else I can do?

“Let me think.” She said. “Along with Empathy and Telepathy, you can bring objects to you with only a thought – that is called Telekinesis; you heal yourself automatically – a very rare ability; and travel to the Inner Realms with only a Chant. Anything I am missing?”

Ariana shook her head, wrapping her arms around Dixilynne’s neck. Please take me home with you.

Dixilynne was afraid of this. “I am sorry, Ariana Moon, but it is not yet time.” She rose and Ariana rose with her, her eyes filled with disappointment. “We must each live our own destinies.”

With those final words, Dixilynne hugged her, kissing her cheek before she disappeared.

  1. Chapter Two:

  2. The Blood-Pact

 

For the next four years, with Katherine Hawk’s help, Ariana was able to learn more of her magic. She still hardly spoke around Mrs. Gertrude, preferring to speak in Aaron’s and Aimee’s minds. She also learned she had more powers, such as premonition, the ability to see into the future, and clairvoyance, the ability to see into the past based on a magical aura left on items she touched. She learned all about healing and had the ability to talk to animals, both powers of what Lord Guardian called “Unicorn Magic.”

She also learned how to shift her Dream Realm form with Wolf’s help, when he could get away from the Master, enabling herself freedom to either fly with wings or race through the forests unseen with the cunning of the wolf. She learned each day; both in the Outer Realm with the twins, and the Realm of Dreams with Lord Guardian, Wolfram Stargazer and Katherine Hawk. It seemed Lord Guardian was right; she was able to do anything she wished in the Realm of Dreams, if only she put her heart and imagination to it.

She was almost afraid of the answer when she asked Lord Guardian one night if the twins would be able to join her. He put her at ease when he nodded, telling her to give the twins the Dream Chant when he gave them each a Dream Locket identical to hers.

One day in the Outer Realm, Ariana noticed Aimee’s attention was to the house across the street from the orphanage.

“Why don’t we go over there?” Aaron asked, inching closer to the girls.

“What, are you crazy?” Aimee cried, tucking a small clump of hair behind her ear. “We’ll get caught!”

Not if I use my powers. Ariana felt the pull from across the street as well, looking from the house to the twins. She walked toward it, something in her gut pulling her there. I cannot explain it, but we must go over there. Now.

Aaron raced to her side since she was walking fast. “Did you have a vision?”

She stopped in her tracks just short of stepping into the road. Something like that.

Ariana also learned to call the images in her mind caused by premonitions ‘Visions’, as they happened often, ultimately coming true shortly after.

She walked again, determined.

Across the street, a boy with black hair stopped bouncing a basketball long enough to glance in their direction. The boy next to him paused as well, wondering what the other was looking at. That one was shorter than the first, and wore eyeglasses.

His aura was wild and the magical pulse from it familiar, yet very different from hers. Could he be a Mystic as well? If so, could he help her?

Knowing silent observation would give her more answers than talking; she walked over to the boy and tested him with her empathy.

He Feels funny. Ariana thought to herself, frowning. The Dream Locket pulsed as if questioning, agreeing with her. Not like a Mortal at all, yet not like a Companion. I will have to ask Lord Guardian about that.

“Wait up!” Aaron cried behind her.

Once she was safely across the four-lane road, she stopped in her tracks again, turning around to find Aaron and Aimee running to catch up with her.

She pasted on a smile. Sorry guys.

Aimee caught up and smiled back. “It’s okay.” She turned to the boys and waved, smiling at them. “Hi there!”

The shorter one with glasses smiled back at Aimee shyly.

“Hey,” The other one nodded at Aaron. “You three live at the orphanage?”

They nodded.

“I’m Aaron, and this is my twin Aimee,” Aaron introduced.

“Hey,” the shorter one eyed Aimee, smiling when she blushed away.

“What’s your name?” The taller boy nodded at Ariana, rolling his eyes at his brother.

Aaron looked to her, taking her hand. “That’s Ariana; she’s a little shy.”

I know you can hear me. The shorter one’s voice echoed gently in her mind.

You are a telepath? Ariana gasped, tensing.

“What is it?” Aaron felt her fingers move in his palm. “Are you okay?”

Ariana looked at him, nodding.

“She tenses because I sent her a telepathic message.” The shorter one smiled.

“Right,” Aaron huffed, disbelieving. “Who are you guys anyway, if you can do that?”

“I can’t read minds.” The taller one shook his head. “Only Scott can do that.”

The shorter one raised his hand. “That’s me.” He said. “I’m Scott Archer and that’s my older brother Seth.” He pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Would you like to play some basketball?”

Seth bounced the ball from one hand to the other, “We’re going for the team this year and need the practice.”

“We’ve never played before.” Aimee said. “Can you show us how?”

Scott lit up. “Sure!”

Aaron turned to Ariana, his eyes asking her. Is it okay?

Ariana nodded, smiling. She did not say a word as they played, preferring to watch in silence from the grass. Aimee and Scott sat beside her, caught in conversation as if neither of them were there. One didn’t need empathy to tell they were more than friends from the first moment their eyes met.

It was refreshing, in a way. Ariana bet that Scott would fall for Aimee, perhaps even love her someday? The thought made her smile at him.

Scott? She dared ask him in his mind. He turned to meet her silver-blue eyes. How are you telepathic?

I don’t know, honestly. Scott answered, smiling at her. I just started hearing others’ thoughts last year.

Are you a Mystic, too?

No; I’m Mortal enough. Scott told her. I know what you are, and you can rest assured I won’t tell anyone.

Ariana smiled at that, nodding. Thank you, Scott Archer.

You are very welcome, Ariana. Scott sent to her before speaking aloud. “I know what your mistress does to you and the other children. Consider our home your safe haven, for as long as you’re here.” He shook his head and frowned. “I’m just sorry I can’t do anything to stop it.”

“We appreciate your friendship, Scott.” Aimee said softly, placing a hand on his lap to assure him. “The other kids shun us because of what she can do.”

“What can you do?” Scott asked Ariana.

“Don’t tell him, Ari.” Aaron called from across the half-court.

Ariana frowned, sensing the jealousy in his voice. She closed her mind to him, opening it for Scott. I still do not know for sure.

“Is it all right if we tell him what we know?” Aimee wondered.

Ariana nodded, placing her index finger to her lips.

“Yes, I know; secret.” Aimee smiled. She turned to Scott. “Telepathy, Empathy, Clairvoyance, Premonition, Healing, and Telekinesis. In the Dream Realm, she can shift her form.”

Scott smiled. “With the exceptions of Healing and Shifting, I would say the five basic Mystic powers.”

“How do you know about them?” Aimee asked, sharing an astonished look with Ariana.

“A woman by the name of Dixilynne came to us four years ago, giving me a job to do.” Scott explained.

Ariana’s memory clicked at the name. Long black hair with silver-blue eyes, tall and speaks as I do?

“So you know of her?” Scott asked, nodding. “Why aren’t you with her instead? I thought she would’ve wanted you home with her.”

Ariana shook her head. She said it was not yet time. I must first live my destiny.

Lord Guardian O’Dell’s successor? Scott asked in her mind.

She confirmed it. Dixilynne explained?

Scott nodded.

“Okay, you two.” Aimee spoke up. “Don’t you know it’s rude to keep someone out of your mental conversation?”

Ariana closed her eyes and reopened her mind to Aaron. Sorry, Aimee. I forgot you were linked to him.

“Why shut us out, anyway?” Aimee asked.

Aaron’s being rude.

“I’ll talk to him later, okay?” Aimee promised.

Ariana nodded and turned her attention back to the half-court where Seth and Aaron were still playing.

What job did she give you? Ariana wondered.

Scott looked to Aimee before taking Ariana’s hand. A familiar buzz of warm magic passed through her. When she looked, she could see the aura was unlike her own. Instead of silver or opalescent, it was burgundy. Oddly enough, it comforted her. I was to watch over you until you met your destiny.

What do you mean? Ariana blinked, taking her hand back and shoving it in the pocket of her shorts. Embarrassed, yet secretly glad she had a new friend looking out for her, she turned her attention back to the scene.

I’m not sure what you know or how much I’m allowed to tell you. Scott cleared his throat, his own attention to his brother and Aaron playing. Let’s leave it at “you’ll just know,” okay?

Ariana sighed, reluctantly closing her mind from Scott as she lost herself in thoughts of what he could mean.

They visited with the Archer brothers until near-sunset, before heading back across the street.

Aaron was not happy, both girls could sense it.

Aaron? Ariana was worried. He was acting peculiar, even for him.

He was holding Ariana’s hand so tight, she winced, yanking it away. He stopped in his tracks and them in the middle of the road.

“You were flirting with him.” Aaron accused.

“So?” Aimee defended, wrapping her arm around Ariana’s shoulders. “I’m allowed, aren’t I?”

“Not you,” Aaron frowned, nodding to Ariana, “her.”

Ariana shook her head. I was not! He was being nice.

“‘Being nice,’ she says.” Aaron scoffed, shaking his head and turning back to the house ahead of them. “Ari, he was holding your hand and you were eating out of it.”

“What are you talking about?” Aimee asked. “Scott is more interested in me than he is in her.”

I am ashamed of you, Aaron Theodore. Ariana frowned, hands on her hips as she sent her disappointment to him in an empathic wave. Dixilynne gave him a job to do.

Aaron turned back around. “A job?”

Ariana and Aimee both nodded. “Dixilynne trusted him with watching over her until she meets her destiny.”

Whenever that may be. Ariana sighed. She looked straight ahead, breaking from Aimee’s embrace. We better go. Matthew Steven is waiting for us and he looks more than happy to catch us breaking the rules.

“Let’s get this over with.” Aaron’s jealousy and anger melted away as he took both his sister’s and Ariana’s hands in his own, marching to the front door.

Matthew Steven was Mrs. Gertrude’s nephew and biggest spy. Just as Ariana predicted, his arms were folded and a snide smile was on his lips, green eyes laughing at them. “Boy, are you three in trouble?”

Matthew Steven thumbed in the direction of Mrs. Gertrude’s office.

She was scowling when they arrived, as expected. “What do you think you’re doing, going across the street without permission?”

Ariana inched closer to Aaron, afraid.

“We only wanted to play with them, Mrs. Gertrude.” Aaron interjected. “No one else will play with us.”

“Huh.” She harrumphed. “There will be no playing of any kind for either of you for a week.” She stated. “As of this moment, you’re to pull double duties and return to your bunks each night.”

Ariana, Aimee and Aaron stood tall, even though they were scared. “Now go!” She yelled, pointing to the door.

“Yes, Mrs. Gertrude.” The twins chorused.

That night, Aimee remarked. “At least she didn’t beat us this time.”

Ariana nodded, fingering the Dream Locket around her neck. “We will escape to the Dream Realm.” She whispered “That is one place she can never reach us.”

Aimee smiled at that. “I’m glad you finally trust us.”

“You are the only ones I do trust.”

“What about the Archers?”

“We just met them today.” Ariana whispered. “I do not know much about Seth, but I do trust his brother. I just do not know why.”

“Have you used your empathy on him?”

Ariana nodded. “Nothing but sincerity, but there is something more. I cannot tell what just yet. It might have something to do with his job for Dixilynne.”

Aimee sighed. Ariana hugged her goodnight and climbed up to the top bunk, snuggling into her sheets.

“What if we could do what you can?” Aimee wondered as she lay awake an hour later.

Ariana was still awake, thinking. What do you mean?

“I mean, what if Aaron and I could do magic, too?” Aimee asked. “We could learn together, and you wouldn’t feel so alone.”

My magic is in my blood, so I guess that would be one way. Ariana thought.

“A blood pact of some kind should do it.” Aimee supplied.

Something clicked in Ariana’s mind, her interest piqued. Blood pact?

“I read about it in one of Challandra’s spell books a few weeks ago.” Aimee yawned. “Speaking of, we’d better head to the Dream Realm before Lord Guardian searches for us. Good night, Ariana.”

Good night, Amethyst. Ariana grasped the Dream Locket in her hand and called the Chant as she fell asleep.

 

II

Instead of arriving at the Mystic Palace with her friends, Ariana was stuck in a nightmare.

She witnessed the fight from the sidelines. An older version of her was fighting, defending the good side with her powerful magic. She studied the woman in front of her – the same reddish-blond hair, silver-blue eyes, but different Dream Locket around her neck. It was glowing, as was the wand in her hands, a stone-laden stick of bamboo with a quartz crystal glowing at one end while the quartz at the other end was dark and cloudy. Upon her back was a sword with three different crystals aglow at the end, red, green and blue. The magic that flowed from the older one’s hands glowed silver, shot at the nearest beast in front of her, which turned out to be a large demonic version of a mutated Companion ram.

“Little help here, guys!” She yelled, shooting another burst of silver-colored magic from her hand to the oncoming beasts. The bursts managed to knock out a pair of oversized wolves and a rather large rat. Another large wolf with glowing red eyes and sharp fangs attacked her from behind, knocking her down. She was able to roll away and shoot another burst of silver magic at it, rendering it immobile and whimpering before turning her attention to the other beasts that attacked. “It would be appreciated!”

“On my way, Young Guardian!” A male cried, coming to her rescue with a golden blade. “Let me give you a hand!

Ariana gasped, peeking out from hand-covered eyes as she watched the male slice an arm off of a rather large jungle cat that was in mid-pounce. It landed feet in front of him, growling as it limped away, red eyes no longer glowing.

Ariana let out the breath she was holding, glad the cat didn’t make its kill on her older self.

The older version of herself groaned at her male friend, pausing to look in Ariana’s direction.

Impossible. Ariana shook her head, disbelieving her own eyes. Was the older self able to see her?

The Young Guardian in her vision nodded at her.

From the corner of her vision, Ariana could see three more mutated monsters racing behind her. She gasped, pointing. The older version of herself turned around, unsheathing the blade, twisting the hilt in her hand to make it glow before hacking their heads off.

What are those things? Ariana wondered, scared.

They are called Dominionites; evil versions of Companions. The older version of herself echoed in her mind. Her inner voice was different, hardened from years of fighting. Watch and learn.

Other fighters with Dream Lockets and magic ran to her side. Ariana could not see their faces, only the glowing Dream Lockets around their necks.

As Ariana watched, the older version of herself fought alongside the fighters against all manner of monsters, all grotesque and mutated versions of the Companions.

A great roar was heard from above, and all stopped fighting to look up.

It was an evil black dragon with yellow eyes, flapping its wings and blowing blue-white flame from its nostrils to a white-coated, white-feathered Unipeg with rainbow colored hair and golden horn. The jewel beneath his horn was no longer swirling with bright color, but dulled, as if the magic in it was no longer potent or the Unipeg was losing hope.

Ariana and the fighters below watched as the Unipeg was thrown to the ground below them, left wing ripped off and horn broken from his head.

The Unipeg lost his shifting form; a man lay to the ground in his place. The jewel that had been beneath his horn on a coronet was covered with blood.

“No!” Ariana cried from her place.

 

That’s when she disappeared, eyes snapping open and heart racing as her conscious and body returned to her bunk.

She turned her head and saw the evening stars twinkling above her.

Was that for real, or another premonition?

Not wanting to believe it a Vision of the future, she grasped the Dream Locket around her neck, called the Chant and thought of her new friend and mentor, Katherine Hawk.

 

The next afternoon, once they were safe, Ariana told the twins about her nightmare.

“Sounds scary,” Aimee supplied. “Are you sure it’s not a vision?”

I hope not. Ariana shrugged, still shaking in fear at the image of Lord Guardian’s body lying lifeless. I am nowhere near ready to succeed Lord Guardian.

“We might be able to help you with that.” Aimee smiled.

Aaron and Ariana were both curious.

“I thought of the Blood Pact today.” Aimee smiled at her brother.

Ariana nodded, smiling.

“What’s a Blood Pact?” Aaron asked, looking from his sister to Ariana.

Where I give you some of my blood. Ariana took his hand. It will also give you some of my magic.

Aaron was enthused. “We’ll be able to help you learn! Great idea, Ari.”

It was Aimee’s idea, not mine. Ariana shook her head. She studied him for a moment, not needing to use empathy to sense he was excited about the idea. Are you sure you want to do it?

“Sure, why not?” Aaron shrugged, squeezing her hand.

Aimee told him. “It’ll be hard on us, you know.”

“As she learns, so will we.” Aaron pointed out forcefully. “It’s perfect.” He kissed Ariana’s cheek, making her blush. “When do you want to do it?”

The girls looked at each other.

Aimee looked to Ariana. “Tonight?”

Ariana closed her eyes for a moment and grasped her Dream Locket.

 

She saw a vision of herself stealing a knife from the kitchen before another vision of the three of them sitting in a circle in the dark came into view.

 

Ariana opened her eyes and nodded. “Tonight; I will think of a spell before then.”

The twins nodded, confident she would.

After dinner, the three of them volunteered for dish duty. When Mrs. Gertrude gave them an apprehensive look, Ariana sent a telepathic message to her mind. Nothing suspicious here. With a shrug, Mrs. Gertrude was sent on her way and they were able to continue with their plan.

Lights-out came faster than they thought. The girls stayed awake as their room mentor, Sandy, did her final patrols of the night before heading to bed. As soon as Sandy’s little lamp was out, Aimee and Ariana uncovered themselves, replacing their pillows for their bodies, just in case, before heading out the window. They climbed to the tree just outside the window and jumped down from a limb; all without making a sound.

“Got the knife?” Aimee whispered.

Ariana reached behind her and tapped her back, nodding. We meet Aaron in the passage, aye?

Aimee nodded, running as quietly as she could to the barn and through a secret passageway behind a rotted wood panel in the far wall.

A single candle was on a makeshift table, gently lighting the small room. Aaron was waiting there, legs crossed and clasping his arm.

“Aaron,” Ariana said softly. “Are you nervous?”

“Of course I’m nervous Ari, but in a good way.” Aaron pasted on a smile. “I’ll be okay, you’ll see.”

“Good.” Aimee chided, sitting down beside him.

“There’s still time to back out.” Ariana eyed him. He was nervous, his toes tapping the floor. “I will not make you do anything you do not want to do.”

Aaron looked up at her and snapped. “I said I’d do it, didn’t I?”

Ariana was shocked, blinking. Without another word, she sat on Aaron’s other side and pulled out the knife.

It was a small steak knife, but it was clean and would do the job.

“Have you figured out a spell, yet?” Aimee asked. Ariana nodded. “So who will go first?”

“I will.” Aaron held his arm out. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Ariana took a deep breath, closed her eyes and chanted as she held the knife, “May the scars made from this ritual knife heal clean.”

She opened her eyes, took his hand and sliced a three-inch line down his forearm. He winced in pain, holding his breath and tongue, not wanting to cry out. Using the same knife, she sliced her arm as well. Oddly enough, it did not hurt. She clasped his hand and rubbed their wounds together, chanting,

 

“What’s mine is yours and yours is mine.

“Part of mine now yours until the end of time.”

 

She heard him gasp, Felt him wanting to scream. He was hurting; she could Feel it as well. She met Aaron’s eyes, saw the fear in them and held on tighter. He was in pain; she had to say something to reassure him. Fear not, my Aaron Theodore, for I am with you.

Aaron nodded, not saying a word.

Aimee was nervous as she sat across from them, watching in silence.

Ariana unclasped his hand to place it under his forearm. The blood pooled at the surface, leaving a strong line down his arm to his wrist. She dared place her free hand on it and close her eyes, using the little Healing ability she learned to clean the wound and close the scar. In moments, the blood was gone and so were any feelings of pain he had. In its place was a scar that ran from his wrist halfway up his arm.

“Are you okay now?” Ariana asked.

I am as long as you’re here. His voice in her mind startled her, making her smile.

The two of them looked at Aimee. Aimee was biting her lip, looking from one to the other.

“Your turn,” Aaron croaked. “It’ll only hurt for a minute; I promise.”

“I hope you’re right, Big Brother.” Closing her eyes, Aimee threw her arm out.

Ariana blessed the blade again, repeating on Aimee what she had done to her twin Aaron.

Aimee reached her hand out to Aaron, who took it and squeezed. She winced and Ariana felt bad for her sister-friend. There were tears coming from Aimee’s eyes.

As Ariana took Aimee’s arm, she thought telepathically, Relax, Amethyst Theresa. Feel the warmth of my Healing touch. Watch the wound disappear, along with any pain felt by it.

Aimee met her eyes and nodded, her attention going to the wound. As promised, the wound closed up, blood disappeared and a long scar identical to Ariana’s and Aaron’s appeared in its place.

Aaron released his twin’s hand. “How do you feel?”

Aimee blinked, confused.

Ariana could almost ‘see’ the path her blood was making in the twins’ systems. There was a bright green glow coming from each of their scars, and the magic settled in their bodies.

Spiffy. Aimee’s voice was loud and clear in both their minds.

“Now we’re the Three Musketeers.” Aimee said aloud. A spasm hit her as the magic met her temples. “Darn if it doesn’t hurt!”

“Relax, Aimee.” Ariana told her gently, turning to her brother. Aaron was pretending he was fine, but in fact, he was in great pain as well as the magic settled in his system. The magic mixed with their bloodstreams, causing pain, but Aaron remained strong.

You are in pain. Ariana frowned at him. Relax; please. She turned to Aimee. Both of you.

I do this for you, Ariana Moon.

Ariana pasted on a smile. I know you do, but you must relax to avoid suspicion of what we did tonight.

I can feel your emotions.” Aimee was holding her temples. “I can hear your thoughts.”

Ariana placed a hand on Aimee’s. “Remember what the Sisters taught me? Block everyone else out; only let in those emotions you feel comfortable sensing. Control will take time.”

“You’ve always known how to do that.” Aaron argued.

“It will take time. I will be here to help you, as you have always been there for me.” Ariana supplied. “For now, we need to return to our beds for the night, before someone catches us.”

The twins nodded, agreeing. Aaron blew out the candlelight and headed out of the passageway just ahead of the girls.

Once out of the barn, Ariana took each of the twins’ hands and raced them back to the building, undetected.

Aaron hugged Aimee first, then Ariana, kissing her cheek. Pleasant Journeys, my Ariana Moon.

Ariana smiled. Meet you at the Palace, my Aaron Theodore.

The girls headed back to their bunks. Sandy was still asleep and the girls were grateful. The half-moon outside shone with just enough light to see by.

Unknowing how she did it, Ariana used her mind magic to send them to the Dream Realm as soon as their heads hit their pillows. They needed it as much as she did; all three were exhausted, magically and physically.

As she lay in bed, fingering the new scar on her arm, she had a feeling the twins would go through thick and thin with her and for her.

She counted on it for the future.

  1. Chapter Three:

  2. The Unicorn Statuette

 

That night, Lord Guardian was not impressed when he found out what they did, but he did understand. Enchantra approved, smiling as she welcomed the twins to the Palace. Challandra foresaw something special about Aimee, introducing her to different herbs, plants and their magical uses. They learned the twins had Unicorn Magic; power to hear and understand animals, control over the element of Earth: which included healing with their hands with and without special herbs and spells, and sensing others’ emotions. So far, the twins were only telepathic with Ariana and various animals surrounding the Orphanage.

The nightmare of her older self fighting the oversized Dominionite monsters with her friends continued, growing ever stronger and clearer. She could see two more faces, those belonging to the older versions of the twins. She sensed the bond they had with one another as they fought with green-colored magic; Aimee dressed as a purple-winged fairy and Aaron as a wizard clad in brown leather. They worked in harmony with the four shadowy figures against the Dominionites.

The older version of herself told her what to learn in the present to change the future. Ariana remembered everything, even telling Katherine, Lord Guardian and the Sisters what she dreamed. Each time the nightmare became more intense, Ariana was scared out of her wits for three days, worrying for Lord Guardian’s life.

Back in the Outer Realm, the week flew quickly, just as Ariana had wished. During the day, the three of them would stick together, as always. They called themselves the Three Musketeers. When they finished with their evening chores, they worked in secret on learning and controlling the Unicorn Magic.

Once the week was over, they secreted away across the street.

“I’m sorry we got you in trouble.” Scott apologized the first time they visited.

“That’s okay,” Aaron said, shrugging an hour into their visit. “I’m just sorry I jumped to conclusions.”

Scott was confused, laughing. “Excuse me?”

“I thought you liked Ariana, but you really like Aimee.” Aaron said with a smile.

“Aaron!” Aimee hid her blush in her hands. “I’m sorry, Scott. He’s an idiot.”

“He’s not. He’s telling the truth.” Scott smiled, taking her hand. “May I?”

Use the empathy, as you learned. Ariana sent to Aaron, eyeing Scott and Aimee.

Aaron took her hand for confidence and relaxed his sensors enough to use his new empathy power on Scott. True enough, Scott was legit; he would not hurt Aimee.

Aaron smiled after a moment and nodded. “Have her back before dark, okay?”

Scott bowed. “That I will, my friend.” he said. “Thank you for trusting me.”

Aaron nodded. “You’re welcome.” He looked to Ariana. “Besides, I want some time alone with Ari.”

Ariana gawked, which made Scott chuckle.

Aaron smiled at her. “Race you!”

Ariana smiled back, racing ahead of him.

He managed to race ahead of her, leading them to a small room in the corner of the attic. Ariana sat on the makeshift cot-of-a-bed they used when they practiced too much and needed rest.

“What are we doing here?” Ariana whispered, looking out the small window to the children playing in the yard below.

Aaron grinned. “You’ll see.”

Ariana was suspicious, yet anxious. He Felt happier each day since they made the Blood Pact. Also since then, her feelings for him were growing. She knew he Felt the same way. They spent more time together, exploring their feelings for each other.

She watched as he moved dusty boxes away from the wall, revealing a piece of wood whose color did not match the rest of the attic. He slid it to the right and reached behind it, coming out with an oblong package covered in newspaper.

Aaron sat next to her on the cot, handing it to her before kissing her cheek. “Go ahead, open it.”

“Aaron,” Ariana started, picking at the clear tape holding the newspaper together. “I know not what to say.”

“Say nothing until you open it.” Aaron clapped his hands, excited.

Ariana giggled, ripping the tape off.

Under the first layer of newspaper was a card. She read it out loud. “To my Ariana Moon. May all your dreams come true. My Love, your Aaron Theodore.”

Her heart thumped. “Aaron,” she whispered.

“You’re not done yet, Ari.” He quickly kissed her cheek. “Open it!”

She shook her head and laughed, unwrapping the remaining three layers of newspaper and tape to discover a white porcelain unicorn with white wings and a golden horn upon its head. There was even an opalescent jewel glued underneath the horn.

“It’s Lord Guardian!” Ariana cried just above a whisper. She hugged him. “Oh, Aaron, wherever did you get it?”

“Does it matter?” He asked, kissing her cheek. “All that matters is that you’re happy.”

Ariana blushed. “It’s beautiful. I love it.”

“I thought you would.” Aaron kissed her lips.

Ariana felt the zing from his kiss. Sure, he had kissed her several times before, but it was always on the cheek, never on the lips.

The porcelain unicorn dropped from her hands. He wrapped his arms around her and deepened the kiss, pulling her closer to his chest. She did not object, enjoying both actions, especially the kiss.

When they parted a moment later, they stared at each other.

She sensed he wished more than just a simple kiss from her. She stood from the cot and stepped away from him.

“What’s wrong?”

She shook her head. “I know what you wish of me. I apologize, but I am not ready.”

“I only want a chance to love you, as a man loves a woman.”

“Aaron Theodore, we are children.” Ariana pointed out. “Not even the age of puberty yet. What you wish from me must wait.”

He stood and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Ari.” He stepped closer to her, reaching his hand out. “Forgive me for wanting you so soon.”

“You will have me, Aaron Theodore.” Ariana announced softly, taking it and wrapping her arms around his neck. “I have Seen it. I will let you know when I am ready for such an adult step in our relationship.”

She kissed him, a tear running down her cheek to their joined lips.

Aaron ended the kiss this time and held her close. Please don’t cry, my Ariana Moon.

They are not tears of pain, my Aaron Theodore. Ariana sent back, burying her face in his chest.

They are of love. Aaron thought to her, kissing the top of her head.

“What do we know of love?” She said aloud. “Brought together by painful upbringing and forced by a magical bond.”

“I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to the Pact, Ari.” Aaron pointed out. “I do it for you, for us. Aimee, you, and I.”

“What do you do, Aaron?”

“I protect you in any way I can.” He told her, kissing her lips again. “I love you, and my twin, with all my heart and soul, magic and mind. You both mean the world to me.”

“As you mean the world to me,” Ariana smiled. “I would be lonely and lost without you.”

“I feel the same about you, Ariana Moon.” He let go, pacing to the cot and laying down. Taking the unicorn in his hands, he told her. “That’s why I gave this to you.”

Ariana sat next to him, taking the unicorn in her hands and pressing it to her heart. “I am glad you did.”

He sat up, not meeting her eyes. They sat in silence for a few moments. Ariana took his hand, immediately sensing the link between them was blocked. After a minute, he winced, holding his temple.

“Whatever is wrong, please tell me.” Ariana whispered in his ear, kissing his cheek. “Why hurt yourself so needlessly?”

She felt his hand relax against hers, as did their link and his mind.

They were quiet, with her laying her head on his arm. They stared at the ceiling, gathering their thoughts.

Ariana waited for him to tell her what was on his mind, rather than getting it from him with telepathy. She promised herself and him she would never betray his trust in that way.

After what felt like an hour, he spoke up. “I’ve had a premonition.”

She was alert, listening. No one told them premonition was part of the Unicorn Magic. “What did you See?”

“You were leaving us soon.” Aaron said.

“Do you See when?”

“No; only that you will, and we’ll be here all alone.” Aaron kissed her nose. “I wanted you to keep the unicorn as a reminder of me, and our love.”

“Somehow, I could never forget you.” Ariana whispered, wrapping her arms around his neck. “No matter what happens in our future, you will always be my best friend.”

Ariana kissed him.

They fell asleep holding each other on that cot, waking up later to Aimee’s nudge and the full moon’s glow above.

 

A year later, they returned to the attic, out of breath and shaking from running.

Aaron plopped on the cot to catch his breath. “Are you okay?”

Ariana huffed, nodding. “I am glad Aimee got away in time.”

“Me, too.” Aaron huffed. She sat next to him. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Ariana tucked her hair behind her ear and nodded again. “Of course I am okay, for now.”

Aaron tucked a clump of hair behind her other ear and kissed her cheek. “You’re so beautiful.”

Ariana turned to him with a start. “No one told me that before.”

Aaron took her hands. “I know.” He grinned. “That’s why I’m telling you now; so you know.”

“Thank you.” Ariana blushed away.

“You’re welcome.” Aaron breathed as he kissed her.

It was time. She knew it, he knew it.

Aaron Theodore, Her mind-voice moaned. Love me.

He stopped kissing her for a moment and looked into her eyes. “Are you sure?”

She nodded. “I am more than ready.”

His heart thumped nervously in his chest, taking her mouth with his and savoring her flavor as she savored his.

I will always love you, my Ariana Moon. He sent to her mind, his hands lazily exploring her body. His lips moved to her neck, hands slowly lifting her shirt up to gently kiss her budding breasts. He managed to slip her shirt over her head, lips kissing their way down her stomach and hips. Once he unzipped her shorts and pushed them down with her help, she spread her legs, allowing him access to her innocence.

He just stared in wonder. “Are you sure you want this as much as I do?”

Ariana nodded.

Aaron quickly stripped, kissing her again. His hands caressed her body from her breasts to squeeze them. She let out a small moan, urging him to go on. Kissing his way down her stomach, he cupped the sex in between her legs, separating the labia to expose her core. Ariana felt his tongue licking inside her, taking the nub of her clitoris in his mouth and gently sucking on it.

Oh, my Aaron Theodore, She moaned to him, shaking in his embrace as he licked faster. Do not stop! It feels so good.

Only for you, my Ariana Moon. He returned. Once her body shook with her first orgasm, he lifted himself over her, meeting her eyes. I love you.

Ariana wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down for a kiss. I love you, too, my Aaron Theodore.

Driven by those words, he breached her maidenhood. She gasped in pain, holding her breath and wincing, lips breaking the kiss. He stopped and stared into her eyes. “Relax.”

Ariana took deep breaths and closed her eyes, nodding her head.

He kissed her again, filling her to the hilt and beginning a soothing rhythm that took both their minds away from the orphanage. There was only pleasure as they made love in that attic. I promise, we’ll be safe. He assured in his mind. As one.

The words warmed her heart, and she believed them.

  1. Chapter Four:

  2. The Maiden and Other Nightmares

 

Ariana didn’t recognize the place she arrived in the Dream Realm that night. It didn’t feel safe, only frightening. Images shimmered around her, each more terrifying then the previous. A chilling wind blew, whipping her hair around her face as she walked. She tried calling the Dream Chant again, or turning around and walking through her aura trace to wake up, but nothing would work. A foul-smelling wind gently whipped her hair in front of her eyes, stinging her nose and blowing her aura trace away.

“No!” Ariana cried, holding onto her Locket and reaching out. How will she get home now?

She saw a figure in the distance, covered in shadows. As a precaution, she used her Empathy. Right away, she perceived the same feelings as she did in her Dominionite nightmares: death, destruction, hatred, and chaos. She sensed pure, relentless evil in the being ahead of her.

She took a deep breath and swallowed her fear.

It is only a dream, right? She mused. Nothing could hurt me here, was that not what Lord O’Dell and Katherine promised?

Speaking of Katherine, where was she anyway? Should she not have met me here, or was she busy with duties around her uncle’s Dark Tower home?

“‘Welcome to my parlor,’ said the spider to the fly,” the figure moved toward her, chuckling under her breath.

As it came closer, Ariana saw it was a woman: evil smile on blackened lips, black hair, red-glowing eyes and pert breasts nearly-bursting out of a thick black chainmail corset. The woman wore black leather pants, smiling as she slapped an English-style horse riding crop against a black gloved hand. Ariana’s attention was drawn to the wild contrast of the woman’s pale skin against all that black.

“What are you?” Ariana whispered, meeting the woman’s eyes. Now that they were no longer glowing red, she was pulled into the twin pools of black ember, frozen in place.

Ariana’s question was ignored.

“My, my, what do we have here?” The woman crooned, tracing Ariana’s shoulders with the rider’s crop as she circled her. “A young Dreamer, lost in Witches Grove.”

“I am no ordinary Dreamer.” Ariana spoke up, gaining confidence. “I am an Ancient Mystic.”

The woman stopped in front of her and laughed. She snapped the rider’s crop against Ariana’s shoulder, making her jump. The woman looked her square in the eyes and studied her for a moment. “I have never seen a Mystic Dreamer with strawberry hair. You even smell different than any Mystic I have ever encountered.” The woman paused. “What is your name, Mystic Dreamer, and those of your parents?”

“My name is Ariana Moon.” She said confidently, standing at attention, eyes daring the woman to do something. “I am alone; I have no parents.”

“I see.”

“I told you my name; now tell me yours, before I zap you into eternal agony.”

Where did that come from? Whatever it was, she thought, it sounded good.

“I highly doubt you have that much power.” The woman scoffed. “You look no more than twelve Mortal years of age.”

“You are observant, for a demoness.” Ariana was on a roll, though she did not know where the words or the confidence to say them came from.

The woman studied her with a grin. “Do you not know who or what I am, Ariana Moon?” Ariana shook her head and the woman stepped back. “Surely you know of the Dominionite Armies?”

A picture of an oversized mutated Dominionite from her nightmares popped in her head.

“All too well, thank you.” Ariana supplied, frowning. “They have haunted my nightmares since I was seven. Dominionites are oversized, mutated, grotesque creatures with no minds of their own, all bent on destroying everything in their path. I was told they used to be Companions; stolen from their families, stripped of their powers and controlled by the Dominionite Master.”

The woman was silenced for a few moments, staring into Ariana’s eyes with a scowl and arms crossed under her breasts.

“Who told you such tales?” The woman asked.

Might as well tell the truth.

“Katherine Hawk told me, and so did Lord Guardian.” Ariana stated.

“That explains it.” She scoffed. “You are Lord Guardian’s successor. Titled the Young Guardian?”

Ariana nodded. “I am always training to fight the Master’s Dominionite Armies.”

“I see.”

“You still did not tell me who you are.” Ariana frowned. She tried using compulsion on the woman. “You will tell me your name, or die a horrible death.”

The woman’s face went blank, lips losing their sneer. Her hands went limp at her side, riding crop dropped to the ground. Ariana smiled, knowing that magic had worked.

The woman smiled and chuckled under her breath. “Is that the best you can do?” She whispered. She raised her voice to normal octave. “That was a brilliant try though. You see, Ariana Moon, Young Guardian, whoever you are, while that was a strong use of compulsion, it was nowhere near strong enough to penetrate my mental defenses.” The woman picked up the crop and slapped it against Ariana’s shoulder again.

“Will you quit that?” Ariana cried, irritated. She used telekinesis to pull the crop from the woman’s hand and throw out of reach.

The woman shrugged, unmoved by the display of power. “Did Katherine ever tell you about the Master’s offspring?”

It only took a moment to dawn on her. “You are Sabrina?”

Sabrina nodded. “In the flesh.”

Ariana gulped, for Katherine told her all about Sabrina, the Dominionite Maiden. Along with terribly spoiled rotten, she was mean, evil, and downright awful to her personal armies of Dominionites. She treated them like slaves for her own desires, training them to destroy everything that got in her way.

“What are you going to do with me?” Ariana asked. “As you see, I am stuck here, my aura trace disappearing with the wind.”

Sabrina laughed. “Silly girl.” She gestured around. “You are deep in Witches Grove. This place is one of illusions.”

She waved her arm behind her. Another wind blew for a moment, and Ariana’s aura trace reappeared.

Ariana took a step toward it but Sabrina grabbed her arm, pulling her back.

“I will let you leave now, but beware. I will be watching you, my pet.” Sabrina released her.

Ariana frowned, meeting Sabrina’s black pools with her own. She felt the heat in her system, a kind of angry heat that told her she would see the Maiden again. The heated magic made its way to her eyes, and she could swear they glowed as she growled. “I am nobody’s pet, Sabrina.”

She turned on her heel and made it to her aura trace. The last thing she saw before waking up was Sabrina’s look of astonishment and fear.

 

Ariana opened her eyes and held her pounding temple.

What was that? She thought to herself in awe. I have never been that confident before. Her head continued to pound, even when she tried using her Healing Magic to will it away. Why does my head hurt so much?

She heard Aimee groan in her sleep. She poked her head to see Aimee had her hands linked under her head, brown eyes wide open, the Blood Pact scar pulsing dark green and a frown on her lips.

Ariana pulled the covers from her body and went down to sit by her.

Okay, Ariana Moon. What’s up?

That is what I would like to know. Ariana took her almost-sister’s hand. It helped Aimee to hear and send telepathic messages without pain. I was lost in a place called Witches Grove, met Katherine’s cousin the Maiden named Sabrina, and gained confidence I never knew I had.

Why did you end up there? Aimee asked. According to the Sisters, Witches Grove is in the Dominion.

I do not know. Ariana shrugged. I returned with a massive headache. Think you can take it away?

Aimee sat up, felt her scar and took a deep breath. I could try.

Ariana nodded as Aimee placed her hands on her temples and closed her eyes. She could feel the warmth coming from Aimee’s hands, soothing her headache. In moments, it was gone and Ariana yawned.

Thank you, Aimee. Ariana stood and went back up to her bunk. Pleasant Journeys.

Within moments, both girls were sleeping.

 

The nightmare continued. Dominionites were attacking, the older version of herself and the twins were attacking back. When the Dominionites were knocked out, the older version of herself huddled her friends together. She recognized the twins but still did not know who the four shadowy figures were. In moments, all but her older self and the man with the golden blade disappeared.

To her surprise, Ariana’s future self saw her watching and walked over to her.

“Remember the rules, Young Guardian!” The man with the golden blade shouted, sheathing it on his back.

Young Guardian, rather, the older version of herself, stopped for a moment and turned to him. “Yes, Protector. I remember. Please, just trust me?”

The man nodded. “Always, my lady. Meet you back home.”

Young Guardian waved goodbye as he disappeared through his aura trace. She turned back to Ariana.

“Sulheya and greetings, Ariana Moon.” Young Guardian smiled. “May I sit next to you?”

Ariana was in shock, but nodded.

“Thanks. As you could see, I needed a rest.” Young Guardian sat next to her. “So tell me, how long has it been since I first saw you watching us battle those things?”

“A few years,” she managed to croak. “Are you really an older version of me?”

Young Guardian nodded. “Aye, I am.” She looked ahead, frowning. “How old are you now? Twelve? Thirteen?”

“Twelve, ma’am.” Ariana whispered. “I will not ask your age, for it is impolite.”

“Aye, it is.” Young Guardian said. “How long has it been since you and Aaron made love?”

Ariana’s eyes widened. “How do you know about that?”

“I know everything about you, because I am you.” Young Guardian supplied. “Only, quite a few years older, of course.”

“How do I know you are not a Dominionite in disguise?” Ariana was suspicious, crossing her arms. “Prove it.”

“Fine.” Young Guardian rolled up the sleeve on her right arm. “Here’s the proof. The Blood-Pact scar, shared by all three Musketeers, made by me – you – when we were eleven. We wanted Amethyst and Aaron to help us with our magic, only to find they had the Unicorn Magic of their own. The details from there are fuddled, but it’s all I have for you that proves my identity.”

Ariana believed her. “Thank you, and I apologize.”

“It’s okay.” Young Guardian smiled. “Now will you tell me how long it’s been?”

Ariana thought for a moment before nodding. “It has been a fortnight, ma’am.”

Young Guardian smiled. “A fortnight meaning two weeks?” Ariana nodded. “It’s just about time then.” She sighed under her breath. “Your Mystic Studies?”

“Going well, but without Katherine.” Ariana told her. “She has somehow disappeared from my empathic sensors. Not even Lord Guardian can sense her.”

Young Guardian smiled. “Fear not, she’s not far. I promise you that.”

Ariana was suspicious. “Do you know something I do not, other than what happens between our time frames?”

“I know a lot, including you had your first nightmare with Sabrina.” Young Guardian frowned. “Try not to fight her just yet; you are neither powerful enough nor trained right.”

“I thought Lord Guardian and the Sisters were training me to fight?”

Young Guardian shook her head. “He is training you to be his successor. In time, even a long time from my present, you will take his place.”

“I know this, ma’am.” Ariana supplied.

Young Guardian smiled. “Drop the ‘ma’am’ bit, okay? No one talks like that anymore.”

“They are no longer polite in your time?”

“Yes, and no.” Young Guardian sighed, shaking her head in thought. “You will learn when you leave the orphanage.”

As soon as she said it, Young Guardian’s eyes widened and she clasped her hand on her mouth.

Ariana stared at her in shock. “Leave? How would I leave?”

Removing it, she whispered. “I apologize; you were not supposed to know that.”

Ariana stood. “It is too late. You already said it. Now, tell me the details, please!”

Young Guardian stood as well, holding her hands up in surrender. “I cannot. It’s against the rules.”

“Rules.” Ariana scoffed. “I do not know of any rules.”

“Well, I do!” Young Guardian cried, making Ariana step back, afraid. “I took a vow not to break them.” She calmed before sighing again. “You will learn, in time.”

“It is always ‘in time,’” Ariana complained. “I am learning my magic in secret, with help from the twins, always hoping that one day, I will have the opportunity to use it to destroy the Master. I cannot do that until I learn how to use my magic for fighting, as I see you do.”

Young Guardian was quiet. “I am sorry, Ariana Moon. I cannot tell you when or how. I can only guide you on your path until we become one.”

On that statement, Young Guardian grasped the different-looking Locket around her neck, closed her eyes, whispered in another language and disappeared.

Ariana was left in confusion, finding her aura trace and returning to her bunk.

 

She awoke, hot, sticky and troubled. The windows were open to the muggy summer night, but there was no cool breeze to take away the humidity. She was bathed in her own sweat, her covers tangled around her. A quick thought to both Aaron and Aimee’s minds told her they were safe in the Dream Realm somewhere.

She just wished she could join them. No matter how many times she called the Locket’s spell, she would not budge. There had to be a reason all this was happening to her.

Ariana sat up, pushed the sweat-drenched hair out of her eyes and looked out the window.

Why is this happening to me now? First I met Katherine Hawk’s cousin in Witches Grove, wherever that is. I still have no idea how I got there if I have never heard of the place before. After a burst of confidence that left my head aching, the nightmare continued. Each time, I meet my future self who only speaks in riddles. She claims she cannot tell me about the future, only lead me down my path. What path is she talking about and what did she mean by “until we become one”?

She wrapped her arms around her legs and sighed.

Forgive the intrusion, but that statement means when you grow to become her.

Ariana blinked in the darkness. That voice, it sounded like Katherine Hawk!

Katherine?

Her feline friend purred her answer. Ariana was glad for the company, but confused. How are you, my friend, and how did you find me from so far?

Katherine purred sadly. Uncle Orthos Banished me here once I found about his laboratory.

How awful? Ariana looked up at the moon feeling bad for her friend.

I sensed my twin Kitten’s Claw in trouble, racing to her side. When I found her, Uncle was throwing her whiskers into a large cauldron. I was too late. She was already gone. Katherine paused, tears choking her words. He killed her for his selfish plans!

Calm down, Katherine. Ariana closed her eyes and pictured the two of them in her mind. Katherine was just as surprised to see herself in front of Ariana’s form as Ariana was that the imagery magic worked. Ariana hugged her. You are okay now. Safe, with me.

Katherine nodded, sniffing before continuing her story. I was so shocked to see my sister unconscious on the laboratory floor, I moved. He found me, called a spell and Banished me.

How did you know how to find me?

Katherine smiled. I just thought of you.

I have missed you, my friend. Ariana smiled, opening her eyes and laying back down on her bunk.

As I have missed you. Katherine purred. Do not believe we are finished with your lessons, just because I am Banished to you.

Ariana chuckled softly to herself. A quick empathic sweep around the room confirmed her roommates were still deep in sleep. She hoped they would stay that way.

Ariana closed her eyes, once again using imagery magic to stand beside her friend, deep in her mind.

I was hoping to talk to you about that, Katherine Hawk. Ariana told her friend about her previous nightmares, including the one starring her cousin Sabrina. I wish to learn how to fight with my magic.

Be careful what you wish for, my young friend. Katherine answered. As your older self told you, it will happen in time. Now is definitely not it.

I must do something! Ariana cried in her mind. All those Companions deserve some kind of vengeance, do they not?

Aye, they do, but your destiny leads you somewhere else for now. Katherine purred as her mentor. Ariana knew to listen. You are not yet powerful enough to fight my Uncle, cousins and their Dominionites.

The Companion feline was right, and Ariana knew it.

Must I only stand aside while Companions die as Dominionites, homes destroyed, and families separated? Ariana whispered, her heart pounding, just thinking about the Realm of Dreams’ Companions she called friends. The Realm was peaceful until the Master ordered his Dominionites to wreak havoc and chaos. Do I smile while the Master and your cousins demolish the Realm of Dreams in their bitterness and fight for revenge?

Katherine’s arms went around her image in a hug that sent tears down Ariana’s cheeks. There is naught either of us can do but prepare. Learn, live, love and most importantly, grow. You are but a child to them, in mind, body and magic. I know your heart believes you are much older than your twelve summers. Keep the faith, learn what you can, both in your magic and, when you are ready, in the fighting arts.

Ariana nodded, sniffing back her tears. It just hurts so much, Katherine. I can no longer stand aside while our friends and your home is taken over by the Master and his Dominionites.

Katherine rubbed her back. In time, you will be ready to fight. As I said, your destiny leads you elsewhere for now. Know that until then, I will be there with you, for you, helping you as much as I am able.

Ariana nodded again. The four of us will work together, learn together, and grow together.

Katherine hesitated for a moment before agreeing.


Chapter Five:

The Enchanted Child

 

Two weeks later, Ariana found out exactly what Katherine meant by “your destiny leads you elsewhere for now.”

She figured it out when she was eating everything in sight, only to throw it up later. She was always sick. Mrs. Gertrude thought it was a summer bug, excusing her from chores. Aaron and Aimee more than made up for her absence, especially when her moods were unpredictable.

Just to be sure it was only the summer flu, she went to the library down in the orphanage’s basement. Searching out medical books and studying them under the dim light until the evening meal, she pieced it together.

She was pregnant with Aaron’s baby.

She quietly put the books back before racing out of there, determined to find the twins and tell them.

Aaron and Aimee were practicing their Unicorn Magic with a squirrel in the tree-house; the same tree house Ariana met Dixilynne. She climbed the trunk as fast as she could. When Aaron met her eyes, Aaron’s were concerned.

“Ari?”

“I have to tell you something.” Ariana huffed. “It’s about that day in the attic.”

“So tell us.” Aimee pushed. “You look a little flushed. Come in, sit down and relax.”

“Aimee, I cannot relax. Not now, not ever.” Ariana hurried, holding her stomach.

“Sure you can. Do you have a stomachache?” Aimee asked, placing a hand over Ariana’s and closing her eyes. The other reached out to Aaron after a moment.

“Not exactly.” Ariana mumbled. “Feel deeper than that.”

It took only a moment before Aimee squeaked, yanking her hands away and covering her mouth. The twins looked at one another before meeting Ariana’s anxious eyes.

You’re pregnant! Aaron sent to both of them, eyes wide in fear.

Ariana closed her eyes and nodded. I do not know when, or how, but I must to run away to save her.

Feels like you’re only a month along. Aimee hugged her. We’ll help.

“Pretty soon, the summer bug will run into autumn, then winter.” Aaron spoke up. Not to mention she’ll show soon. How are we going to explain it?

“We’ll work our magic; all of us.” Aimee rubbed Ariana’s shaking shoulders. “All for one and one for all, right?”

Aaron and Ariana held hands and nodded. “Three Musketeers!”

 

Four months into her pregnancy, Ariana had a nightmare.

She was sitting in a chair, eyes closed and hand protective over her enlarged belly. Mrs. Gertrude was over her, calling her names and yelling at her. She was afraid as she sat there and listened.

Without warning, Mrs. Gertrude grabbed her wrist and glared at her.

Please, do not hurt me…Her mind begged, but the words wouldn’t come out.

Pulling her along, Mrs. Gertrude went to her desk and pulled out a long wooden cane.

Goddess, please! Help me! She silently begged, her mind going blank as she was beaten to a pulp. She screamed as blood spurt from between her legs, and the half-formed child was stillborn. She cried, ignoring the screams from Mrs. Gertrude, the names she was being called – tramp, whore, Jezebel.

Exhaustion beat at her mind and her body was in terrible pain. All she could think of was the dead baby lying on the floor in front of her.

“Never disobey me again.” Mrs. Gertrude growled, letting go and leaving the room.

She was able to rest, staring at what was left of her hope and chance for freedom. She curled up in a ball, never realizing when Aaron raced in to hold her.

Gods, no. She heard him plea in both their minds.

“How dare she do this to us?” Ariana whispered between gasps of tears. Her body shook in his embrace but she was glad he was there. “Our baby…dead.”

She cried again and Aaron held her tighter. “I’m sorry.”

She awoke with tears in her eyes, curled in a ball and shaking. Aimee woke with her, climbing to her bunk and holding her.

“It’s only a dream.” Aimee whispered, kissing her temple.

Ariana could feel the tear run down Aimee’s face. Something told her both twins had witnessed the nightmare as well.

I only hope so. Ariana whispered in Aimee’s mind, cuddling closer and grasping her almost-sister’s free hand.

She and the twins were quiet for a week after the nightmare, secretly plotting. Aaron feared both his premonition and the shared nightmare would come true. Ariana could sense he was helpless to stop it.

 

Soon, Ariana could no longer fit into any of the hand-me-down clothes brought in by numerous charities or given to her by the Archer family. They never knew, of course; the Archers were all too happy to do anything in their power to put smiles on the faces of those abused children in Shore Point Orphanage.

Six months into her pregnancy, Ariana began to show, and could hardly walk without wincing in pain. Sure, she was able to soothe the pain with magic, but it quickly tired her out. The twins often found her fainted on the ground outside, the attic in their hiding place, or the floor of any number of rooms. To avoid suspicion, one of the twins would always be with her, ready to lend a helping hand when she needed it.

Thinking of the nightmare that played in her mind for the past two months, she had to do it; she had to run away. The only problem was, she did not know how, or where she would go. She just knew in her heart of hearts that she had to run away. She wouldn’t give the nightmare of her baby’s death a chance to come true.

In a flash of an idea, Ariana headed across the street to the Archers. They always helped her and the twins now, whenever they needed it. It was time for one more small favor.

Okay, so borrowing money to live on was not a ‘small’ favor. She thought, knocking on the door. But I must try.

Seth Archer, the older, taller brother with dark brown almost-black hair still wet from showering answered the door. “Ariana!” He looked from one side to the other, and glanced across the street as he ushered her inside and closed the door behind them. “If Madam Pain catches you, she’ll beat you to a pulp.”

Ariana sat on the couch, took a deep breath and opened her mouth. “I have come for two reasons. One was to say goodbye.”

“You’re leaving.” It wasn’t a question; rather, a statement. He stood over her, arms crossed. “When are you due?”

“I know not, for I have not visited a physician.” Ariana explained. “The twins and I have researched it. According to the Medical Journals we found in the downstairs library, she will be born soon. Hence my second reason for coming. I need a favor from you.”

“What’s the favor?”

Ariana looked up at him, a protective hand on her enlarged stomach. “Could you loan me some money to live on until I establish myself?” She asked. “I will pay you back in no more than thirteen years.”

He blinked. “Thirteen years?”

“That should more than enough time, should it not?” Ariana asked him. “Please, Seth. I really need this favor. I must leave the orphanage and venture on my own. Otherwise, neither of us will live to see the future.”

“What will I get in return?” He asked. “Why should I? You got yourself into this; shouldn’t you get yourself out of it?”

Ariana shook her head, tears coming to her eyes. “Seth, please! You must understand; it is a matter of life or death. I would not ask for such unless I was in dire need, which I am!”

Seth’s face softened. After a moment of thought, he whispered, “Wait here,” before leaving the room.

He returned a few minutes later with a stack of bills in his hands. “I was saving up for a computer, but you’re more important.” Reluctantly, he handed it to her. She gingerly took it. “Scott told me about what you call Destiny. You can’t live that destiny while you’re still in that dump here in Shore Point, now, can you?”

She counted it. It was two-hundred dollars in mixed bills. “Thank you very much, Seth.” She hugged him once pocketing the money. “You will never regret this.”

“I hope not.” Seth kissed her cheek and hugged her. “You’re worth it, Ariana Moon. You and the twins have long lives ahead of you. This assures me I’ll see you again in the future.”

Ariana nodded happily, pulling away from the embrace. “You do not know how much those words mean to me.”

Seth winked. “Oh, I think I do.”

“May I ask one more, much smaller favor then?”

“Scott and I will look after the twins for you.” Seth smiled as if reading her mind.

That was a relief. “And here we thought Scott was the Telepathic one.” She smiled. “Again, thank you.”

“Again, you’re welcome.” Seth nodded. He kissed her cheek again, hugging her once more. “Take good care of yourself, Ariana Moon. May you have pleasant journeys on your path, wherever it may lead.”

The familiar blessing from the Inner Realms comforted her as she headed across the street and back to the orphanage. As if the Goddess herself was watching over her, she returned to her bunk undetected.

A few days later, she was ready to go. Before she left, she wove magical bracelets of three different-colored yarns for the twins to wear. She placed a protective charm on the bracelets, promising to always watch over them in their dreams, and their hearts. She would try to be there, whenever they needed her. They would remain safe from harm until their destinies intertwined once more.

With the money in her pocket, a small pillowcase of clothes and the Unicorn Statuette wrapped in one of Aaron’s old sweatshirts, she headed out the door to the girls’ room.

Ari. The simple word came from Aaron’s mind.

She turned to see him leaning against the boys’ room door. He took her hand, pulled her in a tight embrace and kissed her lips. Ariana felt a tear run down his cheek to their joined lips.

Remember always; I love you, my darling Ariana Moon.

I love you too, my wonderful Aaron Theodore.

They broke the kiss. One swift moment, Aaron pushed her away and returned to his bunk without a glance. She sensed the hurt in his heart, and it tore through hers like a bullet to the brain. Swallowing the tears and gathering her confidence, she headed out the door.

They were going to miss each other dearly.

 

A few hours later, she was on the streets of an unfamiliar town that night. She did not want to be there, but knew she had no choice. She was scared, holding her stomach and wishing with all her magic she would find a place to stay before she gave birth.

A sharp pain went through her abdomen, forcing her to cry out.

No…She denied, trying to control her breathing. Not yet. Please Goddess. Not now.

Patience, Young One. A goddess-like voice echoed in her mind. Warmth flooded her body, instantly signaling the Goddess was there, angelic arms wrapped around her. I have sent one of my own to help you.

I am ever grateful, Goddess.

We are grateful to you, Young One. The Goddess purred. Your path is difficult, long and winding, but you will prevail. We have Seen it.

She Felt the Goddess leave, trusting in the entity’s words. Why would a goddess lie?

Another sharp pain pulsed through her body; this time, her lower back and kidneys.

She had to sit down, and quickly.

Looking around, she sat on the nearest bench and closed her eyes. Using as much Healing Power as she could without fainting, she soothed the pains to dull aches and waited.

“Ariana Moon?” She heard a gentleman call her name. Opening her eyes, she nodded. “I am a friend, sent by the Goddess.”

He had black hair and silver-blue eyes that matched hers. She smiled, whispering. “You are a Mystic as well?”

“A Wizard, but yes. I am also a Mystic.” He reached his hand out to her. “My name is Stephen Ryan. Do you trust me?”

Despite the magical exhaustion beating at her, she used her empathy on him. Her mind accepted him; her magic welcomed him. Smiling, she took his hand. He led her to a car, opening the door for her.

“I’ll take you to Shore Point General a few miles away.”

She nodded again. Thank you, sir.

He opened the driver’s side and climbed in. Before starting the engine, he turned to her. “Save your energy, Ariana. You’ll need it in the coming hours.”

Ariana nodded again.

“Right.” Stephen Ryan cleared his throat and turned the key in the ignition. “Buckle up.”

Once they were buckled in, he put the car into gear and drove to the hospital a few miles away.

Before she knew it, she was in the back room, being poked and prodded, asked questions she could only squeak the answers to, and caught up in chaos. She did not know when, but sometime in the chaos, she was hooked to an IV, relaxed, and could no longer feel her body from the waist down.

Stephen Ryan was there, answering doctors’ questions, filling out paperwork for her. He was also there when the doctor cried out, “It’s a girl!” an hour later.

One of the nurses handed the bundled baby into Ariana’s arms once she was cleaned up.

A small tuft of rust colored hair curled at the top of her head, silver-blue eyes identical to Ariana’s own blinked, focusing on her new mother’s face.

Kelina Erin.

The name came from nowhere, but it seemed to fit.

“What’s her name?” Stephen asked for the awaiting nurse.

“Kelina Erin.” Ariana whispered with a yawn.

“She’s beautiful, Ariana.” Stephen whispered, touching her head. And so to rest go your weary soul.

The nurse took the baby from her. She felt the compulsive spell on her mind, but could do nothing to fight it. The next thing she knew, the world around her faded into blankness and she was dreaming.

Part Three:

Young Guardian’s Circle

Chapter Six:

The Path of Destiny

 

Ariana Moon awoke in a hospital bed, confused. Where was she? What was she doing here? Placing a hand on her now-flat abdomen, she remembered the short trip to the hospital by a kind man to give birth to a baby girl.

She thought of her and smiled, closing her eyes.

Slowly, she imagined her baby daughter lying in a lone crib and herself peering inside. Little Kelina Erin wasn’t crying. She was exploring her hands with magical silver-blue eyes that matched her mother’s. Ariana could even see a faint silver-aquamarine magic aura surrounding her. The tuft of rust-colored hair was darker, as if wet.

Kissing her fingers, she touched the baby’s head. Kelina Erin blinked and smiled, reaching her hands out. Momma.

Ariana picked her up and held her. What a magical child you are! She sent to the baby’s mind.

Kelina Erin cooed, sucking her thumb and cuddling against Ariana’s chest.

Ariana was glad her baby was healthy.

Kissing her newborn daughter’s head, she thought back to Aaron and Aimee. The images changed. The baby and lone crib disappeared, replaced by the image of her beloved Aaron Theodore.

Her heart skipped a beat, worried about him.

Aaron Theodore’s brown eyes were gentle, despite his orphanage upbringing. She could sense they were mind-to-mind once again, sending him the message:

Oh, Aaron. I miss you already!

Aaron nodded in her mind. I miss you, too, my Ariana Moon.

Their two images molded in her mind, linking their thoughts. His hugged her, kissing her lips gently. She kissed him back, holding on tight. When their lips parted, he showed her the bracelet tightly woven at his wrist.

You still wear it! Ariana was surprised, and hugged him happily.

I’ll never take it off, and neither will Aimee. Aaron thought back to her. I don’t want to lose you.

Ariana’s image shook her head. No matter what, my Aaron Theodore, you will never lose me.

Ariana opened her eyes when a sharp pain gripped her side, severing the link between them. Once again, she was alone. She took a deep breath and wished the discomfort away. She felt her hand warm with her Healing magic as the pain went away.

At least that part of the Magic is growing! Ariana thought to herself with a grin.

Her looming thoughts went to O’Dell, Lord Guardian of the Mystic Realms. The kind Unipeg Lord showed her, and her twin friends, the Dream Realm and the magic they held within.

O’Dell gave her a special Dream Locket when she was seven, shaped like a crescent moon with a star at the tip. The Locket still hung on its silver chain as a protective talisman around her neck. It gave her hope for the unknown future ahead.

Her eyes fell to it as she fingered the opalescent stone. My Lord Guardian, why did you foretell this to me? She asked in her mind. Why must I endure this to become your successor?

The path you will travel is full of hardships. Lord O’Dell’s gentle voice echoed in her mind. Have faith and stay strong. You will prevail.

How? I am but a child! She cried in her mind. I am unable to care for a newborn.

As I said, Young Guardian; have faith. Lord O’Dell left her mind then, just in time.

Someone was opeing the door beside her, and she turned to see a tall young doctor walking in the room. He was smiling, carrying a clipboard. He had sandy blond hair and did not look a day over thirty. As he came closer, she could see his bright green eyes.

“How is our young mother doing today?” He asked, moving the sheets away from her stomach to examine her.

I could be better, Ariana thought to herself with a sigh. She nodded, whispering aloud, “Okay.”

“That’s good to hear.” He smiled, checking her pulse. His tag said, “Dr. Eric Mathews.”

She watched him glance at a long scar that stretched from one side of her stomach to the other. It was stapled shut and covered with strips of gauze.

Dr. Mathews caught her staring and replied with a gentle smile. “I’m just checking the incision, to make sure it’s healing properly. Looks like it is.”

Ariana nodded, watching him. “Why do I have an incision? Did you have to perform a Cesarean Section on me?”

“Bright girl.” He looked at her and smiled.

“Thank you. I learned in Medical Journals.”

“Fantastic.” The doctor responded, replacing the tape over the gauze strips and covering her back up. “The baby was in what we call the Breech Position. That is, her feet were where her head should have been. Don’t worry, the pain will subside in time, and the scar will seem to disappear.”

Ariana smiled. “Where am I?”

“Shore Point Mercy General in Shore Point, California.”

“What of the black-haired gentleman who brought me in?” She asked. “Where is he?”

“Oh, he just left. Wanted to wish you pleasant journeys?” Dr. Mathews shook his head, shrugging his shoulders at the last two words.

She smiled, understanding. Stephen Ryan was definitely a Mystic sent by the Goddess, for it was rare to hear the Inner Realms’ blessing in the Outer Realm.

“Any more questions?” Dr. Mathews’ attention was now to the clipboard in his hands, flipping pages and writing notes.

“No. Thank you, Dr. Mathews.” Ariana replied. “You have been very kind.”

He left then, leaving her with her thoughts.

The medication from the delivery were still in her system, so she closed her eyes and thought of the Dream Realm. She drifted off, her world spinning and her dream self searching.

 

The next night, Ariana was frightened at first, watching her private Dream World form around her. She heard a voice, but didn’t believe it. She was comforted once recognizing the Unipeg figure in front of her.

“The time has come, dear Ariana.” The Unicorn-Pegasus replied softly, shaking his mane of rainbow-colored hair. “You will now be trained as my successor with the Enchanted Child.”

It was the Lord Guardian of the Dream Realm, O’Dell. The stone on his head beneath the horn sparkled, and his feathery white wings bounced as he trotted over to her.

Suddenly, she wasn’t so afraid. In this form, she could tell him anything, confiding in his comforting guidance. She smiled at her Lord Guardian friend and embraced him.

Lord Guardian nodded his head. “Hop on my back and we will fly to the Mystic Palace.”

Ariana was scared until she remembered he would do her no harm. She grasped tufts of his mane and held on for dear life.

“You will be safe here,” O’Dell replied gently.

“I know that, my Lord Guardian.” Ariana smiled, letting the wind catch her strawberry-blond hair. She rode with her eyes closed until they reached the Palace of the Mystic Sisters, Enchantra and Challandra.

O’Dell touched down and Ariana jumped off his back like a seasoned rider.

Even after six years, the sight still marveled her. It really was a palace, with different dazzling jewels lining the window frames and doorways. A hanging chime just above the door sang a romantic tune when pulled; a tune that always put her at ease, no matter what came before the visit.

She stood watching O’Dell change to an Immortal form before pulling on it. Each time she watched him shift after being beat to sleep by Mrs. Gertrude, she was frightened. This time, it calmed her.

A beautiful belle opened the door after a few pulls. She had long hair the same color as the night, and a bright, magical smile. “Hello, O’Dell. Come in.”

Ariana was shy, hiding behind his human legs. It was a game she and the woman, the Mystic Sister Enchantra, played.

“Who do we have here?” The woman teased, staring at her with a kind smile.

“Only our Ariana Moon.” O’Dell explained proudly. “She just gave birth to the Enchanted Child.”

“Excellent!” The woman turned to Ariana. “Welcome back to the Palace, Ariana Moon.” Enchantra held her hand out as a gesture of sincerity and kindness.

Ariana took it, knowing the game was over and it was safe again. She let Enchantra lead her to another room. O’Dell followed.

They talked, with Enchantra explaining what an Ancient Mystic was, and what it was like in the Dream Realm. “Remember always. You can do anything your imagination will let you.”

“In this world, dreams are merely detours to the soul.” O’Dell replied. “Whatever you dream will come true, so be careful.”

“Yes, my Lord Guardian.” Ariana’s small voice squeaked. Her soft smile turned to a sad frown when she thought of her Banished friend-mentor Katherine Hawk.

“What bothers you, Young One?” O’Dell asked.

Ariana took a deep breath before speaking. “Katherine was Banished to me. I apologize for not telling you sooner, but I could not betray her trust. I hope I am not too late in saving her.”

“Katherine Hawk?” Enchantra replied, and Ariana nodded.

“You are not too late; only, too soon.” O’Dell was serious.

“Do not feel you betrayed her; you are right in telling us.” Enchantra said softly. “With Orthos’ attention now on you, it would be too dangerous for us to act.”

“Is there any way I can help her return home?” Ariana asked, interested. “Call a spell, Un-Banish her here? She misses the Dream Realm and wants to find her sister Kitten’s Claw, believing Orthos Banished her as well.”

“I apologize, but not right now.”

Ariana stood. “It is never when I wish it!” She cried, stomping her foot like a spoiled child not getting her way. The magic bubbled through her system, its silvery glow making O’Dell and Enchantra blink in surprise. “Do you remember what he has done to your Companion followers?”

They slowly nodded, scared of the thirteen-summers-old young woman.

“So do I!” Ariana looked from one to the other. She closed her eyes and calmed herself, the silver glow dissipating. Her voice softened. “I apologize for my insolence, Lord Guardian, but I grow weary of waiting.”

The duo studied each other before turning back to her.

“Have her help you with your growing power.” Enchantra replied in a whisper.

O’Dell closed his eyes and chanted something in a language Ariana still did not understand. He reached into the empty air and pulled a parchment of paper, handing it to her. “Together, mind-in-mind, call this spell. It will bring her here only with you, until we decide it is safe for her return.”

Ariana took it from his hands, feeling a burst of energy as she touched the rolled-up parchment. “Yes, my Lord. Thank you both.”

Enchantra smiled. “Familiarize yourself with the Dream Realm, and learn whatever you can.”

“This will be your world soon, too, Young Guardian.” O’Dell replied with a sigh.

She didn’t know what to say. Instead, she thanked them, returning to her world.

 

Lying in her hospital bed, Ariana stared out the window, secretly sad. She cried in her sleep, thinking about her daughter.

What will become of little Kelina Erin? Ariana thought to herself. Where would the little baby go?

Her thoughts halted on two words: Kelina Erin.

She dried her tears and took a deep breath. She had the feeling her baby would be more than just cared for by a loving family, she would be fine. Maybe Ariana would be reunited with her someday.

Speaking of Kelina Erin, where was Aaron Theodore right now? It was Mrs. Gertrude’s plan to sell the older children to rich families, and Ariana knew Aaron wanted to escape the hell-hole as much as she had. Had he escaped and made it?

Ariana closed her eyes and thought of his face.

 

Soon, she found herself with Aaron and his twin Amethyst Theresa, Aimee for short. One name popped into her head: Schmidt. The twins were dressed well, and both were happy. At least, Aimee was. Aaron seemed distant, longing for his best friend’s companionship.

He seemed to sense her and smiled; glad he was still in her thoughts. His image clasped the bracelet around his right wrist.

Ariana gasped. So my predictions were true! How surprising? She thought with a grin. We thought it was just a game!

Ariana smiled, happy for them, and came back from daydreaming. She looked to her wrist for the friendship bracelet she made before she left. Aimee and Aaron had one as well. They were like the Three Musketeers: All for one, and one for all. The twins were sorry to see her go, yet happy that she was getting out of the orphanage. Not many children escaped and lived to tell about it.

She thought of her best friend again. Aaron had been the one most affected.

Ariana closed her eyes and snuggled into the pillow, memories putting her to a somber sleep.

 

This time, she awoke in another hospital room. She sensed another girl there, about her age, and listened in. Ariana felt like she was being watched, opening her eyes to reveal herself.

“How ya feeling?”

The female voice belonged to a girl with matted curly brown hair. Her brown eyes were tired and she was dressed not in a hospital gown but a frilly pink nightgown.

Ariana tried her voice. It was tired, strained from disuse, but she had to use it sometime. She was no longer in the Orphanage with only her twin friends to relay telepathic messages. “Could be better.”

“The name’s Michelle Lambert-Sheridan.” The girl introduced with a lilt of Southern drawl. “You can call me Shelly.”

“I am Ariana Moon.” Ariana pasted on a smile. “Call me Ariana.”

“Moon?” Shelly asked, scrunching her nose in distaste. “What kind of last name is Moon?”

“It is my middle name.” She looked at her lap sadly, her eyes glancing at the necklace. “I do not have a surname.”

“What’s a surname?”

Ariana sighed and explained. “A surname is your last name, coming from your father. I do not have a father, nor a surname.”

“Really?” Shelly was interested. “Where’s your daddy?”

“I grew up in an orphanage.” Ariana could feel the tears wanting to escape.

“Don’tcha cry none, Ariana.” Shelly said. “I’ll talk to my daddy. He’ll want to adopt you.”

“You really believe so?” Ariana was skeptic.

“Sure, sugah.” Shelly told her with a grin, waving her hand. “No sweat. I always get what I want.”

Ariana sensed the spoiled rotten in her, but kept her tongue.

The door opened beside them. A couple walked in; an older version of Shelly with brown hair in a sophisticated bun, brown eyes and business clothes came behind an elder man with salt-and-pepper hair, mustache and leisure suit. The man was taller than the woman by at least a foot.

Neither smiled until they saw Shelly.

“Darling!” The woman raced to her daughter, cupped her hands on Shelly’s cheeks and kissed her forehead. “I hope they’re treatin’ you right.”

“They are, Mother.” Shelly looked over to Ariana. “Meet m’roomy, Ariana Moon. She ain’t got no home. Can we keep her?”

“Can we keep her?” Ariana thought, watching without expressing her thoughts. Makes me sound like some stray dog.

“You don’t say.” Her mother said, walking over to Ariana’s bedside.

Ariana watched as the woman studied her, pursed lips and hands clasped. “Strong cheekbones,” took one of her hands, “fingernails trimmed,” flipped it over, grinning, “calloused hands. Very good. Not afraid to work for your supper, are you?”

What was she doing, looking me over as if I were a mare? Ariana asked.

Be polite. Katherine purred. Or you will be back with Madam Pain.

“No ma’am. I grew up in an orphanage not far from here.” Ariana explained softly. “Each of us had our share of chores.”

“You don’t say.” Shelly’s mother smiled. Somehow, Ariana didn’t like that smile. “How would you like to stay with us?”

A little too eager, She thought to Katherine. “Yes Ma’am. I would like that very much.”

“Oh,” Her mother said. “She has manners. Lovely, dear.”

They visited for an hour, talking about the adoption.

 

The next day, she was healthy enough to see her baby. With help from one of the nurses on duty, she was led to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where they kept the newborns that were born too early.

Ariana found her out of many look-alike babies. Her rust-colored hair stood out, as did the silver-blue eyes. She is so beautiful!

As if hearing her thoughts, Kelina Erin turned to meet her eyes. Ariana smiled.

She felt a hand on her shoulder, and Dr. Mathew’s voice whispered. “Kelina Erin is a very special child, Ariana. She’s not yet five pounds, the recommended weight for healthy infants. We’ll keep her here until she is.”

Ariana nodded. “What of payment, and what will happen to her once she is healthy enough to leave?”

“Mr. Ryan took care of everything before he left, instructing us to place her in foster care.” Dr. Mathew’s voice told her, squeezing her shoulder. “The Sheridans – your new adopted parents – filled out the required paperwork so when you’re healthy enough, you can live with them. Isn’t that great?”

Ariana nodded again. “Yes, thank you very much.” She turned back to her daughter’s face, just feet away from the glass. She was hooked up to monitors and lying under a plastic cover that she guessed would keep her safe from outside germs.

“You’re welcome, Ariana.” Another tap to her shoulder and he was gone.

Kelina Erin, my beautiful daughter, you are more special than either of us could ever imagine. Ariana thought to her, once she had the baby’s attention. I have a feeling once we are reunited, we will be happy once again. You may not remember me then, but the next time I see you, it will not be for a long time.

I had a dream. You would have a much better life than I had ever had. You would have the best life could offer, and still stay as sweet as honey.

Be careful who you trust, little one. Ariana stopped there, wiping the fresh tears from her eyes. There are a lot of vicious people out there. As you develop your powers, always sense people with Empathy. See people for what they really are.

Ariana pressed a hand to the pane, sending a wave of protective magic her daughter’s way. I promise you this, my darling Kelina Erin. Once I establish a wonderful life for myself, I will search with my heart and soul to find you. Then we will become a family and both be home.

Chapter Seven:

The Circle of Hate

 

She was released with Shelly and her parents a few days later. Her empathy was working overtime as she rode in the back of their gray limousine.

At least I will not be living in poverty. Ariana mused, listening to Shelly ramble on. All she speaks of is shopping, money and her friends.

Shelly may have been excited at the prospect of having a sister to gossip with, but the talk of it all bored Ariana to death. She was not interested in shopping, money or gossip of the latest fashions and movie stars. As to not break Shelly’s heart, Ariana smiled, nodding as she pretended to listen.

Their parents sat across from them, each on separate cell phones. Mrs. Sheridan was talking about fashion trends, investing money in the new maid they hired, and all the things she was going to buy the next she was in the Big City. Mr. Sheridan was on his, arguing with someone about an upcoming merger. Shelly ignored them as she continued to speak, holding Ariana’s arm.

Why do I not have a good feeling about this arrangement? Katherine purred, speaking in her mind for the first time in a week. The girls met in the Dream Realm since O’Dell gave them the spell.

Perhaps because I do not, either? Ariana responded in her mind, watching out the window.

Best be cautious then, my friend. Katherine responded.

I will, count on that. Ariana noticed the street they turned on was filled with identical houses, each big enough to fit several families. Although they were adorned with different colors, they were carbon copies of each other with large windows, two or three stories, garages big enough to fit two cars, at least, and winding asphalt driveways leading up to the front door and back to the road. She was getting dizzy just glancing at them, blinking her eyes as she looked away.

They pulled into the biggest of those houses, driving under a large, wrought iron gate that reminded her of those at cemeteries in the movies. When the limousine finally stopped in front of the house, she unbuckled her seatbelt and reached for the door handle.

It opened to reveal a tall elderly gentleman with thinning gray hair and trimmed mustache, patiently waiting for her. Pulling the bag over her shoulder, she took a deep breath and stepped out.

Her eyes met the reproving eyes of Mrs. Sheridan. The woman shook her head, placing a hand on Ariana’s back and gently pushing her forward. “Don’t dawdle, child.”

She led Ariana through the doors, her heels click-clacking on the marble floor as she walked in. The foyer was large, with two winding staircases; one on the left and one on the right, each meeting just feet in front of the oak doors.

“Where did Michelle run off to?” Mrs. Sheridan stopped in her tracks and surveyed the foyer. “Oh well, it doesn’t matter. Come with me, Ariana.”

Mrs. Sheridan hurried to the left. Ariana followed behind, paying close attention to their path so she wouldn’t get lost in this massive mansion. She was curious when Mrs. Sheridan led her out the side doors and down a layered brick path to a large greenhouse.

“Miss Abbey!” Mrs. Sheridan called.

An older woman, younger than the man who opened the limousine door, stood from her gardening and turned to meet her eyes. Her graying red hair was pulled up into a tight bun, her green eyes spying Ariana’s silver-blues.

Empathy told Ariana this woman was hard-working but strict.

She gulped, suddenly afraid.

“There you are, Miss Abbey.”

“What can I do for ye, Mum?” Miss Abbey spoke with an Irish lilt as she clasped her hands at her waist and lowered her eyes.

“Miss Abbey, this is our new young mistress, Ariana.” Mrs. Sheridan introduced.

“Pleasure to meet you, Miss Abbey.” Ariana curtseyed, despite her nerves.

“Pleasure is all mine,” Miss Abbey smiled. Ariana could tell it was fake, but said nothing. She turned back to Mrs. Sheridan. “Ye be wantin’ me to show her the ropes?”

They talked about her as if she wasn’t there.

Invisible, I guess. Ariana thought to herself, sensing the grounds surrounding the mansion. Time to give my empathy a good workout. Gardeners, Groundskeepers, maids, servants, butlers, housekeepers, cooks; there were hundreds of servants, each keeping to themselves as they worked, not bothering to look up when someone passed them.

Masks and shells. Katherine told her. Masks and shells.

Ariana was unable to answer, so she tuned her ears in to the conversation.

Mrs. Sheridan supplied. “She’ll be Shelly’s personal servant, so her room will be the one adjoining hers.” Mrs. Sheridan was saying, ignoring the scowl Ariana gave her. “She’s from an orphanage, so she knows the value of hard work.”

Ariana’s eyes widened. So that is what we so madly sensed! I am not to be their child, but their spoiled daughter’s servant!

“I mean no disrespect, but will my time be my own while she is in school?” Ariana asked, looking from one to the other.

“Heavens no, child.” Miss Abbey laughed. Mrs. Sheridan’s phone rang and she walked off. “I’ll take it from here, Mum. Good day to ye.” As soon as Mrs. Sheridan was out of earshot and eyesight, Miss Abbey muttered. “Ye rotten cow.” She turned to Ariana’s giggle and smile. She wrapped a caring arm around her shoulder, tapping it. Ariana felt the empathic wave of kindness in Miss Abbey’s touch, now that Mrs. Sheridan was gone. “Come along now, lass. Best get right to work.”

Ariana just nodded.

 

So it went for six months. She learned household chores from the housekeepers, how to cook from the kitchen staff, and how to keep her chin up when life got her down. Miss Abbey was the only member of the staff who was nice to her; the rest treated her like dirt, smacking her when she slipped up or did something wrong.

During the day, she would work around the mansion and the grounds, making sure everything was spotless and tidy. At night, once her last chores were done and Shelly was asleep, her time was truly her own.

Miss Abbey found her practicing magic in her room one night, only smiling and crooking a finger for her to follow. Above the large toolshed was a secret room, perfect for practicing and learning her magic. Miss Abbey told her she was a Daughter of the Celtic Goddess Brigid and a witch who specialized in the art of herbology; the study of plants for magical and medicinal purposes. Miss Abbey taught her everything she knew about the magic from her Mother Country of Ireland. That was the only highlight of her agonizing day.

Nine months into her stay at the Sheridans as their youngest maid, Ariana dreamed of the future again. This time, there was someone with her, and the older version of herself wasn’t there.

“That is odd.” Ariana mumbled to herself, watching the scene below her.

Dominionites of all shapes and sizes were attacking again. This time, it was different. Instead of her older self leading the older versions of the twins and four other shadowed fighters, the fighters were joined by Companion-sized dragons: half dragon, half men and women. A tall woman with black hair, amber eyes and half-sized leathery wings at her back led them, using a dark-red colored magic to fight the Dominionites.

Something was familiar about the woman, and the jewel-encrusted necklace she wore; only, Ariana didn’t know what.

“What’s odd?” A male voice asked beside her.

She was frightened, yet kept calm as she turned to him. His eyes were chocolate brown, his hair was the color of mahogany wood, a deep brown, almost-black. He was taller than her by at least a foot and wore eyeglasses. There was just something about him that made her heart skip a beat.

His attention was to the scene below. “What are those things attacking?”

“They are called Dominionites.” She explained. “Mutated monstrous versions of the half-Immortal, half-animal creatures that live here in the Dream Realm.”

“Where are we?”

Ariana rolled her eyes. “We are in the Mystic’s Realm of Dreams. Do you not listen?”

He held his hands up. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean anything by it.” He apologized with a grin. “I know this is the Dream Realm, but the Mystics? Are they the ones controlling those things?”

She frowned. “Nay. The Dominionite Master, a beast I have sworn to destroy, controls the Dominionites.” She turned back to the battle, which only showed the twins’ older versions working with an olive-colored half-dragon man against a large sea monster with two heads. “The Mystics fight against the Master and his Armies.”

He pointed. “Hey, look! Is that me down there, with a gold sword? That’s awesome!”

Curious, her eyes shifted to follow his finger. Sure enough, the male with the golden sword from before no longer had a shadowed face. Dressed in gold attire, this young man was the one her older self had called “Protector.”

She would definitely have to ask O’Dell about him.

“It would seem, aye.” She mumbled, not wanting to tell him more.

The older version of him slashed his sword with a grunt, looking up at her. After a moment, he smiled, shaking his head and laughing as he went back to hacking at attacking Dominionites.

Ariana turned back to the young man, but he was gone, and it was time for her to wake up for the day.

After weeks of such dreams, she softened, confiding in him as well. He told her about his torn family; brothers, sister, parents; and she told him about her work as a maid at the Sheridans. They became close and soon, she found herself falling in love with him. He was too young, even in soul, to know what that was; so they remained close friends.

“I would love to meet you in the waking world.” He announced one day.

“Perhaps one day, but not yet.” Ariana supplied.

She couldn’t tell him who she was; as O’Dell told her many times over the months of training, he was only a Dreamer and would forget as soon as he woke, dismissing her and their time together as only a dream.

“What if you ran away from home, just like you did the orphanage?” He wondered, holding her hands and looking into her eyes.

“That was different.” She told him, never explaining the true reason why she left. “I cannot just run.”

“You’re always telling me how much you’re abused by the other staff members.” He said. “Do you want to live your life like that?”

He was right. She didn’t want to live like that forever.

“It is my decision.” She explained, unclasping her hands from his and stepping away from him. “I must go now.”

“Will I see you again?”

Ariana smiled. “Count on it.”

She walked through her aura trace and was back in the waking world, her eyes opening from the trance to meet Miss Abbey’s.

“Well? What did the Sight tell ye?”

Ariana thought for a moment before speaking. Her eyes adjusted to the candlelight that circled her, seeing only a shadow of Miss Abbey’s concern just inside the protective circle.

“It is time I am on my way.” Ariana told her quietly, standing from her sitting position. “Destiny waits for no Mystic.”

“I knew it.” Miss Abbey whispered, helping her up when she began to sway. “Let us cleanse our circle and open it. The ritual is finished. The Goddess is satisfied one more moon.”

Ariana smiled, helping her clean up.

“I’ll fix ye a snack and bring it up to ye.”

Ariana nodded, feeling ready to drop. “Escort me there?”

“Certainly, my Young Guardian.” Miss Abbey smiled back, bowing.

Trust Miss Abbey to make her feel better after the strange Vision of her Imaginary Romeo.

 

II

 

Once speaking with O’Dell and the Sisters, she left the next night with her clothes in one of Shelly’s old backpacks. She was careful to avoid suspicion and stay with the crowds and traffic. She shut her empathy off to the vagrants around her until she felt safe enough to turn it back on.

Using the money from Seth she had yet to spend, she found a bookstore, buying a small clothbound notebook and a pen with unicorns on it that reminded her of Lord Guardian O’Dell. Next, she went to the nearest restaurant and quietly sat at one of the small tables.

The waitress took her order and walked back to the cashier area, where she talked to a gentleman, pointing in her direction.

It is suspicious for a fourteen-year-old to travel on her own? Katherine purred in her mind.

Do we want to listen in? Ariana asked back, pretending to write in her new journal.

Focus your hearing on their conversation only, blocking everyone else out. Katherine gave her permission.

Ariana bent her head to her journal, poised her pen over it and pretended to write as she focused her hearing on their conversation.

“Should we call the authorities?” The waitress was asking.

“Not yet; she could be here with her family.” The man told her.

“I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“Fine, fine. Serve her her order and wait.” The man said. “Should she run without paying, we’ll have a reason to call the cops.”

Ariana, Katherine purred. You do have enough money to pay for your meal?

Ariana’s mental head nodded.

The waitress served her food and drink a few minutes later.

She felt someone watching her as she ate, so she ate as fast as she could. As she was waiting for the check to arrive, someone came to her table.

“Excuse me, Miss.” It was the man her waitress was talking to. “You look a little young to be on your own. Are you here with your family?”

“I am old enough to eat and pay for a decent meal.” Ariana announced, pushing the statement in the man’s mind. She tried to act haughty, just as she’d seen Shelly do so many times. It usually brought instant respect. She just hoped it would work for her. “My mother is meeting me across the street in an hour. We are to go shopping together in the district.”

The man didn’t believe her. “Who is your mother?”

“You would know her as Mrs. Sheridan.” That was the only name she knew, and just hoped the man would buy her white lie.

He studied her for a moment, blinked and nodded. “My apologies miss. Tell your mother I said hello.”

Ariana nodded. “I will. Thank you for checking on me.”

She heaved a mental sigh when he left. That was close!

Indeed. Katherine chuckled.

After she paid the check, she went across the street, just in case he was still watching her. She practically shrieked in happiness when a large group of people walked in her direction. She waited until they passed in front of her before losing herself in the crowd and ducking in a nearby alley.

Ariana breathed a sigh of relief.

Maybe this running away thing was not the best idea. Ariana thought to her feline friend. It is dangerous out here!

Peeking her head around the corner to see if the coast was clear, she glanced across the street. The large windows showed the waitress still tending to tables and the gentleman talking to a customer.

Ariana smiled, turning back around to find a policeman staring down at her.

“Are you lost, young lady?” He asked, arms crossed.

Her heart was pounding nervously in her chest. What should she say, or do?

She gulped, nodding.

He smiled, reaching a hand out to her. “Let me take you down to the station; we’ll find out who you are.”

She nodded again, taking it.

I am not so sure about this, Ariana thought to Katherine.

He is an authority figure; use your empathy.

I know that, Katherine. Ariana told her. I am just worried he will take me back to the Sheridans once he finds out who I am.

You have the power to change that, you know. Katherine purred mischievously.

That gave Ariana an idea.

Within the hour, the Sheridans were called. She was frightened into silence, so no one knew anything about her but her name and previous employer. Thanks to her lessons in long-distance telepathy and compulsion, the officer reported they denied her existence. From there, a woman from Child Services took her away to Shore Point’s Juvenile Detention Center.

When she was being interviewed and investigated by the counselors there, she managed to hide the Dream Locket. By some odd miracle of the Goddess, she was able to keep her backpack, which included a couple pairs of clothes, her money, unicorn statuette from Aaron and the new notebook she bought.

It was dark by the time they showed her to her room, a small cell big enough for one person. It supported a thin mattress, single thinning blanket and worn pillow with a near see-through pillowcase. The walls were gray and dull, and the barred window only showed the few stars shining down on her. As soon as the door was slammed shut, the single overhead light went out.

It would seem she came too late for supper, so she went to bed hungry.

 

The nightmare didn’t return that night, but her Imaginary Romeo did.

“Why do you haunt my dreams?” He asked her, following as she walked along the path through one of the many forests.

“I was to ask you the same thing.” She teased. “You came to mine first; though, I know not why.”

“Aren’t you glad I’m here?”

Ariana nodded. “That I am; you give me someone to speak with on my escapes.”

He looked at her curiously, stopping in his tracks. “Why do you talk like that?”

She blinked, confused. “Talk like what?”

“Without contractions, like can’t, don’t, I’ll and I’m.” He replied. “Instead, you say cannot, do not, I will and I am. Didn’t you go to school?”

She shook her head. “If there is something wrong with the way I speak, I will try to remedy it.”

“You sound old-fashioned when you talk like a Companion.” He smiled. “While I don’t mind it, others may.”

“I do receive many strange glances from adults.” Ariana reasoned.

“Told you.” He chuckled. “I can teach you, if you like.”

She took his hand. “I would like that very much; thank you.”

They continued on the path. After a few moments of silence, she said. “I took your advice.”

He was surprised. “Really?”

She nodded.

Before she could say anything else, she heard hoof beats behind them. Stopping for a moment, she unclasped his hand and placed both the ground. She used her Unicorn Magic to sense where the hoof beats were going. She shook her head after a few seconds, opened her eyes and took his hand, racing further ahead into the forest.

“Where are we going?” He yelled. “What’s going on?”

“No time to explain.” She yelled back without turning her head. “Warriors are on our trail. We must hurry and find shelter.”

“Warriors?”

“Later!” She yanked his hand. “This way; the Garden is nearby.”

“Won’t they just follow us through it?”

“It is neutral ground; more good than evil.” She hurried. “Silence, or they will find us by your big mouth alone.”

The Garden was straight ahead; she could see the entrance. If she could get them to safety, the Warriors on horseback would be forced back to their Master.

They heard a pair of horse cries close behind them. She felt him tug at her hand, looking back, but she didn’t stop running to see how close they were.

She could hear them running at full-speed, coming toward them until her Romeo’s hand was yanked from her own. A rather large arm wrapped itself around her from the side, throwing her in front of him on the speeding horse. She tried to move but the arm tightened around her waist.

She thought of her Romeo, quickly glancing behind her and seeing another speeding horse; this one had Romeo in the lead and a Jungle Tiger Companion’s arm wrapped around his waist. The rest of him was wrapped in a tattered shroud, face hidden.

She turned back around to see her assailant. It was a Timber wolf Companion, also covered in a tattered shroud. She could vaguely see his snout, recognizing him immediately from the scar she healed when they first met.

“Wolf!” She whispered, recognizing Warrior Wolf, one of the good Dominionite Warriors. With her support and help, he and a few of his Warrior brethren were secretly plotting against their Master.

“Sulheya, Young Guardian.” He growled softly in her ear. “Pleasantries later; we must ride to safety.”

She nodded, trusting him. This was the good friend of her Companion, Katherine Hawk! The other horse-rider must have been his Warrior brother, Tobias the Tiger Companion.

“May I ask what is going on?”

“Sabrina sent the Searchers after you.” Wolf told her. “Should they find either of you, you will be killed on-site.”

“I will make sure they do not find us.” Ariana whispered just loud enough for him to hear. She held her Locket in her hands and closed her eyes, chanting a spell that turned them invisible. “We can slow down now.” She told him.

“What? Why?” Wolf was confused. “Do you want to get caught?”

She shook her head, turning to give him a smile. “Trust in me, Wolfram Stargazer.”

After a moment, he slowed the horse, signaling to Tobias to follow his lead.

Tobias rode beside him. “What is the meaning of this, Wolf? Why do we slow to a stop when the Searchers are close behind us?” Ariana cleared her throat and frowned, meeting his angry yellow eyes. Her Romeo was confused yet smart enough to stay silent. “My apologies, Young Guardian, but we must hurry.”

“As I told Wolf, you must trust in me.” Ariana smiled.

“What did you do?” Her Romeo asked, curious.

“We are invisible just long enough to find safety in the Garden.” Ariana nodded.

Tobias removed the hood of his cloak, smiling. “Brilliant.”

Once they found safety in the Dominion’s Garden maze, Ariana felt the pull of morning.

 

She was silent during breakfast, ignoring the teenagers gossiping around her as she ate. They were talking about her, the new girl they quickly dubbed “Little Miss Goody Two Shoes.” Some called her weird, for her eye color or the way she spoke. Some called her dummy because she hardly spoke and when they teased her, she would only smile. She cared less about that, and more about finding ways to help them.

 

III

 

A week later, she was called to a private office, where a Court Counselor interviewed her. She had to talk now; she no longer had the choice of staying silent.

“Let me get this straight.” The counselor sifted through a portfolio of papers. “You grew up in the Shore Point Home for Children, which is owned by Mrs. Helen Gertrude. You claim she beat you constantly, just for acting like a child.”

“That is right.” Ariana confirmed.

“Don’t interrupt.” She chastised, frowning at Ariana. Clearing her throat, she continued. “Going on, you had sex with one of your orphanage siblings, one Aaron Theodore, and had his baby last year.”

She felt her flat abdomen, nodding.

“To top it all off, you recently ran from your parents, the Sherdians.”

Again, Ariana nodded.

“Why?”

“I was their servant, not their daughter.” She explained. “Rather, I was the teenage daughter’s personal servant. Most of the staff treated me poorly, beating me when I did something they did not approve of.”

The counselor glared as if she didn’t believe her.

With a sigh, Ariana went on. “I could stand it no more, so I ran away.”

“Running away from your problems doesn’t solve them.” The counselor explained.

“When you have been through what I have, it helps.” Ariana announced. “Knowing that, were you in my shoes, would you not have done the same?”

The woman sighed, rubbing her temples. “I find this all very hard to believe.”

“Please believe it, because it is true.” Ariana pressed.

“Do you honestly believe in the Guardian of an alternate society called the Dream Realm?” The counselor asked, gesturing to her Locket. “What about that silly necklace you insist on wearing? Do you think it gives you magical powers?”

“I am an Ancient Mystic.” Ariana explained simply. “My powers are my own, not from a necklace. The Dream Locket only aids in my travels to the Dream Realm.”

The counselor shook her head, pretending to look down at the portfolio and read the papers in front of her.

So what if it sounded absurd to her, Ariana thought to Katherine. I know it as truth; that is all that matters.

Katherine’s mental head nodded as she purred in agreement.

“I give up.” The Counselor huffed, looking over her glasses at Ariana’s patient look. “A court-approved foster couple has expressed personal interest in your case.” She began, looking at her watch. “They should be waiting outside in a few minutes, just enough time for you to gather your things from your room.”

“What if I do not want to go?”

The Counselor shook her head. “I’m afraid you have no choice in the matter. You’re still a minor in the court’s eyes. Now go get your things and meet me at the front doors.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Ariana nodded, taking that as her cue to stand and leave.

The other teenagers were happy to see her go; and for once, she agreed with them. With only her dreams to warm the cold nights, she only endured the teasing until it was time for bed. She wouldn’t miss them.

The counselor met her at the front doors. Ariana looked out the window and saw a stretch limousine waiting, a driver dressed in black smoking a cigarette as he leaned against one of the doors.

“Ah, there you are.” The counselor smiled as she approached. “Come along and meet your new parents, Richard and Rhonda Doll.”

Doll? That did not sound so bad. Ariana thought to Katherine. She was a little interested. “Are they nice?”

The counselor nodded. “As nice as their name suggests.”

She led Ariana to a waiting room adjacent to the front doors. A young couple stood to greet her when the counselor cleared her throat.

“Mr. and Mrs. Doll,” She reached a hand to shake Mr. Doll’s. “So glad you could make it. This is Ariana Moon, the teenager I told you about.” She turned to Ariana. “Say hello.”

Each looked in their late twenties. Ariana’s empathy briefly told her about them. She sensed their role in society, matching or even surpassing the Sheridans in financial matters, according to the clean-cut suit Mr. Doll was wearing. Mrs. Doll was scowling at her in disapproval; Ariana sensed she was the real head of the family, in charge of many business matters. She sensed sincerity in Mr. Doll, though he was timid and didn’t speak.

“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Doll.” She managed to croak, curtsying.

Mrs. Doll rolled her eyes. “Wonderful,” she groaned sarcastically. “Everything is in order, Mrs. Billows?”

The counselor nodded.

“Come along then,” Mrs. Doll sighed, glancing at her husband. He reached his hand out and smiled as she took it. “We don’t want to be late.”

As soon as they were out of the building and Mrs. Billows was out of sight, Mrs. Doll demanded. “Get in already. We don’t have all day, you know.”

The driver gave Ariana a sorrowful glance as he opened the door, closing it for her.

She was awed by the vast space inside.

Impressive, she thought with a grin. Young and rich.

Ariana giggled to herself, her mind reeling with images of fancy clothes and shining jewelry.

Mrs. Doll cleared her throat, her eyes frowning once Ariana met them.

She looked down at her lap, suddenly ashamed.

The car ride was silent, which was good. It gave Ariana time to think.

Mr. Doll sat silently across from her. She wondered why he didn’t speak or dare meet her eyes. After all, the empathic feelings from him were sincere. Why wouldn’t he talk to her?

It was a short ride to their large house; one that wasn’t as large as the Sheridans, though the grounds rivaled in beauty. The driver opened her door for her and a butler came out to greet her.

“Take her to her room, Christoph.” Mrs. Doll demanded, waving them off.

“Yes, Madam.” Christoph bowed his head and turned to Ariana. “Follow me.”

She looked back at Mrs. Doll, but she was already gone; Mr. Doll pasted on a shy smile and nodded.

They climbed winding staircase to the second room on the left. Christoph gestured for her to enter, closing the door behind her with a soft click.

She dropped her backpack and tried the door. It was locked. “How did I know?” She murmured to herself.

Might as well make myself at home, Ariana mused, looking around. Looks nice enough.

She thought of her Warrior friends, Wolf Stargazer and Tobias White-Snow. Then again, I learned that looks can be deceiving.

There is a covered mirror across the room. Katherine hoped to change the subject.

Ariana knew what her friend was thinking. She wanted her to see both their reflections.

Sure enough, her friend was right. The mirror was covered in a sheer violet sheet. There was a chair at the vanity. Once reaching to take off the sheet, she sat and stared into it.

It took a moment, but she was able to see Katherine’s soul reflected in the mirror alongside her own. They were different, yet the same. Katherine had long black-and-white striped hair, black and white patched fur, a feline face and emerald colored eyes. Her Companion magic was purple, with a hint of silver when she was angry. Ariana’s strawberry hair paled in comparison, silver-blue eyes twinkled when Katherine met her smile, and the Mystic’s magic aura that flowed from her was silver-blue to match.

I see you have almost perfected the Mirror Magic, Katherine purred, her lips moving in the reflection. You have come so far since we first met at the Garden Gate.

Ariana nodded, yawning. This magic still tires me.

Aye, it is understandable. Katherine told her, the reflection of feline hands caressed Ariana’s strawberry hair.

Ariana closed her eyes, enjoying it. I will call the spell and meet you at the Palace. I can no longer keep my eyes open.

There is a large bed just behind you. Katherine purred, laughing lightly. You have had a rough day. Rest for now, and regain what energy you lost.

Ariana could do nothing but agree, yawning once more.

As her head hit the oversized pillows, she was drifted away to the Realm of Dreams.

 

Ariana was in front of the Mystic’s Palace door, reaching to tug on the hanging bell. She heard the lovely tune of what she now knew as Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

She heard a purr beside her, turning to smile at her Balinese Companion friend. She noticed the fluffy black-and-white tail gently twitching. Katherine’s eyes were closed and a smile was on her feline face.

“I always loved that melody!” Katherine purred with a wistful sigh.

Ariana giggled and Enchantra answered the door.

“Welcome home, Katherine Hawk!” Enchantra hugged her before Ariana. “And our Ariana Moon; welcome back. Make yourselves at home.”

“Thank you, Mistress.” Katherine and Ariana chorused, walking in.

Enchantra closed it behind them. “Are you home to stay, my dear?”

Katherine shook her head. “Lord Guardian tells us it is still unsafe, so I search for Kitten’s Claw with Ariana’s help.”

“No luck so far, unfortunately.” Ariana shook her head. “The Dominionite nightmares of the future continue.”

“Oh?” Enchantra asked, interested. “Do tell.”

The girls sat on the couch while Enchantra sat on the throne-sized chair. Ariana explained everything from the last time they saw each other until recently.

“It would seem the Master has sent a group of Warriors called the Searchers after me.” Ariana told her. “Were it not for two friendly Dominionites, both my Romeo and I would have been found, and likely killed.”

Enchantra was interested. “Friendly Dominionites?”

“Those who secretly plot against Uncle Orthos.” Katherine explained. “We call them the Rebels, for they have minds of their own and fight to destroy those who stole their powers.”

“How many do you know of?” Enchantra wondered.

“I only know of two.” Ariana told her. “Wolf and Tobias.”

Katherine gasped, holding her heart. “Warrior Wolf, as in, Wolfram Stargazer?”

Ariana nodded, immediately sensing Katherine’s heart skipping a beat. “Do you like him, Katherine?”

Katherine closed her eyes and nodded. She took a deep breath and shook her head. “We care not about the rules of our society. I know we must keep our love a secret, but it is a true love.”

“Calm down, Katherine.” Enchantra supplied, smiling. “You will see him again soon that is a promise. In the meantime, continue tutoring our Young Guardian in the ways of our Realm. Teach her; show her as much as you can.”

Katherine nodded. “Aye, Mistress.” She held her head with a paw and looked to Ariana. “I fear someone is pounding on the outer door.”

“I will return tonight for my first patrols.” Ariana took a deep breath. “Tell Lord Guardian I will meet him at his Castle.”

Enchantra nodded as the girls stood, racing out the door to meet Ariana’s aura trace. “Pleasant Journeys!”

 

Ariana took a deep breath and woke from her nap. As her mind readjusted to the Realm change, someone knocked on the door and she found her voice. “Who is it?”

“It’s Marion, Miss. I am ze maid.” A French-accented voice came from the other side of the door. “Monsieur and Madam Doll wish to see you in ze dining hall for dinner.”

Ariana stretched, a small yawn escaping her lips. “I will be there in a moment.” She went to the door but found it was still locked. “If I could get out that is.”

“Zere iz no need to be impolite, Miss. I waz trying to be nice.”

After Marion unlocked the door and let her out, she showed Ariana to the table and left.

“Nice of you to join us.” Mrs. Doll was curt, refusing to meet her glance. She gestured to a chair. “Sit.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Ariana whispered, squatting in the chair as she looked down at her lap. Mr. Doll was on one end of the long table and Mrs. Doll was on the other.

Dinner was served to the three of them, and they ate in silence. Ariana knew her manners, but it seemed that every time she tried to impress the Dolls with them, they grunted and returned to their own meals.

Ariana quickly learned nothing pleased this couple, or at least not Mrs. Doll. Mrs. Doll was the head of this beautiful house, while her husband was silenced by her icy stares. Ariana obeyed by doing her chores every night, but Mrs. Doll never thanked her or treated her as a loving daughter.

“You must earn your keep.” Mrs. Doll repeated, almost on a daily basis.

 

Three months into her stay at the Doll’s, Ariana slept, and dreamed.

She was in the Dream Realm, following Lord Guardian’s smaller unicorn form as he showed her how to watch over Dreamers and their Worlds.

He stopped them in their tracks, deep in the middle of a forest. “I sense a child ahead. Wait here, and hide yourself behind the tree. I shall return.”

Ariana nodded, watching him trot over to a child. It was a girl, and she had red-brown hair tied in a pretty ponytail. She sensed the girl was different than other Dreamers she met before, her aura familiar.

“Welcome, young Dreamer.” Lord Guardian’s voice was gentle.

The girl turned and smiled timidly, blinking at the twinkling jewel upon O’Dell’s head.

“That’s pretty.” She said, her hands reaching for it, her silver-blue eyes twinkling in delight as it sparkled at her touch.

“Thank you, Young One.” Lord Guardian smiled. “What is your name?”

“Kelina Erin.” She said softly, walking toward him. She reached to pet his multi-colored mane. “What’s yours?”

This was her daughter! Ariana held her excitement and watched the scene. She wanted to move, but Lord Guardian told her to wait.

She is so pretty, she thought wistfully.

“They call me O’Dell, but you may call me Lord Guardian.” He pronounced, lowering his head. “I am Lord Guardian of all you see before you.”

Kelina looked around her. “Where am I? Am I dreaming?”

“You are in the Dream Realm, Enchanted Child.” O’Dell replied, nodding his head and stepping his hoofs into the ground.

Kelly was intrigued. “What does that mean?”

“Come, I will show you.” O’Dell’s voice didn’t answer her question, but playfully demanded, nodding his head.

She hopped on his back, and felt him grow wings. Amazed, she reached down to touch them.

Before she could say anything, he whinnied. “Magic, Young One.”

He took flight, and both disappeared.

Ariana sighed, turning around and walking deeper into the forest. On her way, something ruffled in the wind and she held her breath, suddenly afraid. She hugged herself, whispering in the air. “Anybody here?”

She sensed someone in the shadows, stopping when she heard a familiar voice purr. “The Perilous Forest is no place for you, my friend.”

Ariana took a breath when she saw the Balinese-Companion form of her good friend Katherine Hawk. “Katherine!”

The Balinese feline came out to hug her. “Ariana Moon? Is that really you?”

Ariana nodded. “I had another vision, Katherine. This one was of my daughter.”

“Please, tell me what troubles you.” Katherine Hawk was eager, taking her hand and leading them both out of the forest.

Ariana relayed what just happened with O’Dell, and the girl named the Enchanted Child.

“Very interesting, indeed,” Katherine thought aloud. “Does this mean both your powers are getting stronger?”

“I do not know.” Ariana regretted sadly. “All I know is that I miss her.”

“Aye, it is understandable.” Katherine agreed. “The Enchanted Child has been away from your womb for two Outer Realm years. I would feel the same if I was in your position.”

Now that they were safely out of the forest, Ariana sat on the grass and picked a flower, playing with its petals. “I wish I could see her again; in the flesh, and not just dreams.”

“I fear dreams are all you have for now.” Katherine purred sadly. “Be thankful of that.”

Ariana looked at her Balinese friend. “What do you mean?”

“How should I explain this?” Katherine asked softly. “To put it kindly my friend, you are not old enough to be a mother yet. You have a lot of growing up to do.”

Ariana stared up at her friend. Sometimes, Katherine acted as a mentor; other times, as her closest Companion friend. It was hard to tell just how old she was.

“I wonder about you, Katherine Hawk.” Ariana grinned, knowing in her heart that her feline friend was right. “Come to think of it, how old are you?”

Katherine paused, thinking of how to explain. “I have no definite age, for the Mystic Realms have a different concept of time than the Outer Realm. All I can tell you is that I am at my full growth, but still a kitten in most Companions’ eyes.”

“I never thought of time being different here than in my Realm.” Ariana said.

She sensed something above them. Both girls looked and saw a white Pegasus and a red dragon fighting in the sky.

“I told you to leave the Province!” The Pegasus yelled to the dragon that was circling him.

“Since when do I listen to you? I do what I wish!” The dragon blew fire from his snout, just missing the Pegasus.

“Not while I am the Lord Guardian of the Mystic Realms, you will not!” The Pegasus was able to block with a rainbow-colored beam from the jewel on his forehead.

The flame was extinguished and the dragon screamed, disappearing.

Noticing he had spectators, the Pegasus swooped to greet them.

Katherine bowed when the Pegasus shifted to an Immortal male as his hooves touched ground. Ariana stared, bowing as well when she recognized her Lord Guardian friend.

“My Lord Guardian,” Katherine purred.

“Rise, Katherine Hawk.” O’Dell grinned at the girls. He nodded to Ariana, his successor. “Good day, Young Guardian. How are you?”

Ariana nodded. “For now, good. Who was that?”

“That was the dragon form of my brother, the Master Orthos.”

The girls exchanged scared looks. “What was he doing here, my Lord?” Katherine asked. “I thought he was bound to Dark Tower and the Dominion?”

“Look around you, Katherine.” O’Dell gestured. “The Perilous Forest is on the Province’s borderline. I was making sure he stayed behind that line.”

Ariana accepted the explanation. “What of Kelina Erin? Why did you have me wait? I could have met her.”

Her arm gently touched her abdomen, her expression dismayed. Katherine purred, sharing a worried look with O’Dell.

He wrapped a caring arm around her shoulders. “You carry such a heavy burden for one so young.”

“Will I ever see her in my world again?” Ariana’s eyes began to tear. “I miss her so much.”

O’Dell nodded, knowing. “In time, you will. I promise.” He stepped back and changed into a Unipeg in front of them. “I know just the thing to cheer you up, Young Guardian.” She watched as his unicorn form sprouted white feathery wings. “Care for a ride?”

Ariana was hesitant. She usually loved riding upon his back when he was a horse, or unicorn, or even a Unicorn-Pegasus. She looked to Katherine.

“Come on, Ariana.” Katherine prodded, hugging her shoulders. “It will be fun.”

Ariana’s eyes danced now. “Okay, but not so fast this time; please, my Lord?”

“No problem,” O’Dell laughed. “For you, I will pace myself.”

Ariana hopped on his back before helping Katherine up behind her.

They were right, Ariana thought, hiding her face in O’Dell’s colorful mane and letting the sun warm her. Any escape from my life in the Outer Realm is a good one.

The girls rode until morning came in her world, and Ariana woke to an alarm clock with a wistful sigh.

So begins another lonely day. Ariana thought, pulling the covers from her and getting dressed. The circle of hate has to stop sometime; but for now, I must listen and obey.

 

Nine months later, though it felt like years, Ariana was washing the dinner dishes, her mind reeling with thoughts.

Am I just another servant? Ariana asked Katherine, who listened. It sure feels like it sometimes.

Why did the Dolls never treat her with love and kindness? She kept to her chores, still not saying but a few words. She obeyed without complaint, keeping her mouth shut.

How could she complain when there were clothes to wash, dishes to clean, things to do? Besides, she never did mind the hard work. It was good for her; she began to think after a while. She learned to do things on her own. She was grateful for the roof over her head, food in her stomach and clothes on her back.

She was even happy when she was left alone at night to practice more of her magic. They never knew she was a Mystic; and if it were up to her, they would never find out.

She smiled at that, her ears perking when she overheard Mrs. Doll talking on the phone in the hall.

“Yes, I’ll have her ready to go in the morning, Mrs. Gertrude, or should I say, Aunt Helen?”

Ariana gasped softly to herself, dropping the silverware back in the dishwater. She stood silent and listened in, her heart thumping in her chest so loudly she could hear it in her ears. She took a deep breath to calm it and focused her hearing on the conversation instead.

“Of course. It’s all set.” Mrs. Doll chuckled. “Fine. We’ll see you in the morning. Send my regards to Uncle Gerald!”

Her new mother was going to send her back to the orphanage! Well, she wasn’t about to let that happen, no matter how much Mrs. Doll was being paid!

It wasn’t right.

Ariana silently ran to her bedroom and shut the door.

Katherine! Help! Ariana clutched the necklace.

What is it, my friend? Katherine replied.

Ariana explained what she had overheard. What am I going to do?

The time has come once again. Katherine instructed. Bring nothing but your old belongings.

Ariana nodded and hurried to pack. She reached for the unicorn statuette Aaron had given her years ago as a gift. She remembered her best friend. How caring he had been in her times of need, shielding her from all pain.

Ariana touched the horn and made a wish, as Aaron told her to do when she was lonely. A single tear dropped to the muzzle of the unicorn and she wiped it off.

She took a deep breath and wrapped it in an old sweater of his that he had given her on her last day at the orphanage. Ariana grabbed her notebook, favorite unicorn pen, and journal. Within moments, she was ready to go.

Ariana tried not to let on that she knew what was going on. She acted as she usually would, minding her chores and not saying a word. An hour after lights out, she made her move. It was a long shot, but it would be worth it. Strapping her backpack over her shoulder, and slipping through an old passage-way, she made her way outside.

“Where are you going?”

She gasped, turning. Her eyes widened when they met those of Mr. Doll.

“Don’t be afraid of me, Ariana.” Mr. Doll whispered. “I was the one that wanted you, not Rhonda. I didn’t mean for it to turn out like this.”

“Why did you never speak?” She whispered, sensing nothing but sincerity in him.

“I’m afraid of her, just as you were.” He released her, looking to the ground. “She used to be the most loving, caring person I knew, but the money changed her.”

Empathy told her he was telling the truth. “Will you tell her?”

“She won’t hear it from me.” Mr. Doll winked as he planted a kiss on her head. “Good luck, Ariana. You’ll need it in this world.”

“Thank you, Mr. Doll.” Ariana turned and ran away from the Doll Mansion.

Not once did she look back, nor did she regret it.

Chapter Eight:

Imaginary Romeo

 

Here we go again! Ariana thought to herself as she entered the Shore Point Juvenile Detention Center. She was tired and hungry.

“Back again, eh Missy?” A guard teased hoarsely, coughing on his cigarette when he laughed. “Can’t seem to get enough of this place, can you?”

She ignored him. Instead, she followed him to her ‘cell’ to settle in for the night.

“I guess the food will have to wait.” Ariana whispered to herself, now that she knew no one was listening.

She covered herself in the one blanket they gave her and fell to sleep quickly.

A week later, Ariana Moon covered herself in the blanket, still aching from endless beatings the guards gave her. She knew they would disappear by morning; any bruises, scrapes or scratches always did, ever since she was in the Orphanage.

As soon as the lights were out, she quietly took out a small notebook from underneath the mattress and found a pen in the corner of her pillowcase. She conjured a small light in her palm, using telekinesis to make it float in the air so she could see.

Opening the journal, she began to write.

 

Dear J,

The circle of hate goes around once more.

How do I get myself into such desolate situations?

Only Katherine seems to understand me.

I do not even understand me.

She seems to know me more than I know myself, which

I am still debating whether or not that is a good thing.

 

Ariana stopped writing and slammed the book closed when she sensed someone over her. She looked to the ceiling, smiling when the vision of her Imaginary Romeo came to mind. Enchantra was standing beside him.

Closer still, my Love, she thought to him with telepathy.

It was the first time she called him that. By the shy smile on his face, he heard it.

Ariana clutched her Dream Locket, knowing she would be fine.

Watching her Imaginary Romeo’s face as he stared at her, she sent one final message to ease his mind. Soon, we will meet. Have patience.

The next day, Ariana was told she had a visitor in the waiting room.

I have a feeling about this one, Ariana. You will be fine, Katherine peeped up after a long silence.

I hope you are right. Ariana teased. I would be lost without your feline instincts.

Katherine purred a giggle. Then you sense the visitor’s compassion as well?

Aye. Ariana agreed. Since I awoke this morning, I have felt the Goddess’s Hand on me.

Ariana turned the knob and opened the door, facing an attractive woman wearing a stylish blouse with blue-jeans. She looked chic, yet mature and dressed to impress. The young woman’s hair was pulled up into a thick ponytail, with dark-brown strands hanging down from each side, making her look even more spectacular.

Ariana smiled and the young woman smiled back. The young woman wasn’t much older than she was. She relaxed.

“Hello, Ariana Moon. My name is Bridget Guy.” The woman introduced herself, holding her hand out.

At first, Ariana was hesitant. When she used her Empathy on Bridget Guy, she sensed nothing but kindness and sincerity.

“Am I legit?” Bridget Guy grinned.

Ariana nodded, curious of the newcomer. She didn’t act like a Court counselor, or even look like one. “Nice to meet you, Miss Guy.”

“I’m from a teen detecting agency called the System.” Bridget quickly shook her hand and released it. “I came to take you home.”

I knew it! Katherine cried inside Ariana’s head.

Katherine! Ariana scolded her with an inner giggle. Can I handle it?

Aye. Sorry. Katherine apologized.

Ariana cleared her throat and sat down.

“The System?” Ariana was skeptic. “How do I know you speak the truth?”

Bridget leaned in and looked her in the eyes. Her dark brown eyes were serious. “Trust your instincts. What does your empathy tell you about me?”

Ariana blinked, studying her. Sure enough, she was telling the truth. She nodded. “You are sincere and honest. I believe you.”

Bridget laughed. “Thought so. Come on, kid. Let’s go.” As Ariana stood, Bridget paused. “By the way, call me Big Guy. That’s my codename.”

“Codename?” Ariana stared, puzzled.

“You’ll see soon enough.” Big Guy replied. “Trust me.”

“If you insist.” Ariana shrugged. “Anything to stop the circle of hate.”

It was Big Guy’s turn to be confused. “Huh?”

Ariana smiled, echoing. “Trust me.”

Big Guy laughed again.

Ariana followed her outside to an awaiting limo after she picked up her backpack from her room.

Destiny’s ride, I presume? Ariana thought to Katherine, who giggled at the pun.

Big Guy noticed Ariana’s silence and smiled, teasing her. “You’re a quiet one, aren’t you?”

Ariana shrugged, smiling back. “One must always practice silent observation.”

Big Guy blinked at that one, shaking her head in confusion.

Perhaps you should refrain from statements like that. Katherine teased.

Ariana rolled her eyes and smiled.

“Let’s roll, Landry.” Big Guy told the driver as she buckled in.

“Away we go,” Landry chuckled and were on their way in silence.

Well, not total silence. Ariana thought as she watched Big Guy flip through an old magazine as she tapped her heel to the music in her headphones, snapping her gum.

Ariana’s eyes wandered to the window and her mind followed.

Did I not tell you? Katherine replied with a purr.

Stop being a braggart, Ariana teased.

Her gaze returned to the window, the limo carrying them hurried its way down the road.

Ariana thought of her Imaginary Romeo’s kind brown eyes the last she saw him looking over her. He was just as in love with her as she was with him. The thought gave her heart an extra beat. Just for fun, she closed her eyes and thought of him.

 

She pictured them overlooking an ocean, holding each other in a romantic embrace. Ariana’s heart skipped, just thinking about him.

He had his arms around her waist so she was able to look into his eyes. Dark brown eyes, like Aaron, she noted, but bigger, brighter, loving. He had a pair of black-rimmed frames covering them, but that didn’t change the feelings of infatuation he had for her. Her Imaginary Romeo was content just to hold her, soothing whatever anxious thoughts she had of him.

Who was he? Why did he seek her guidance, offering it in return if she needed it? He wanted to help her with her hidden demons, as she wanted to help him with his.

Whoever he was, his intentions were sincere.

 

She smiled at the image.

“What are you smiling about?” Big Guy teased, watching her.

Ariana shrugged out of her daydream, blushing as she opened her eyes. “A little fantasy.”

Big Guy was confused. “What’s that, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“My Imaginary Romeo.” Ariana replied. “I know he is only a dream, but the thoughts of him keep me warm at night.”

When her gaze went back to the window, her eyes closed.

 

Ariana awoke from a nap nearly an hour later when the limo stopped.

“We’re here.” Big Guy announced as Ariana followed her out of the limo.

Ariana shivered when the wind blew through her hair as she followed Big Guy.

There was something about this place that gave her a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. She could sense Mystic magic behind those walls.

She watched as her escort turned to the driver. “Thanks again, Landry. That’ll be all.”

The driver lit a cigarette, his eyes wide as he asked. “See you later, Big Guy?”

“You bet. I’ll win my twenty bucks back tonight.” Big Guy nodded with a wink, turning to lead Ariana inside.

Landry laughed, pulling away.

“Where are we?” Ariana yawned, stretching her aching muscles.

Big Guy took a deep breath, saying. “Welcome to the System, Ariana Moon. Your new home.”

Ariana paused, hesitant. She held her breath, taking hold of her backpack. With her other hand, she secretly touched the bracelet.

As she surveyed the campus, she noticed shadows of letters spelling out Shore Point University on the front of the building.

Must have been a college in its day? She mused. Maybe someday, I will look into it more. She felt a tap on her shoulder, bringing her out of her daydream. Meeting the cheerful, teasing eyes of Big Guy, Ariana blushed.

“Come on, follow me.” Big Guy remarked.

Ariana followed, watching as Big Guy tapped a sequence of numbers into the security panel. As the door clicked open, she continued. “You have to meet the boss, Shannon Ryan.”

Ariana shrugged, not knowing what to think.

When the girls stopped at a pair of double-doors, Big Guy spoke up.

“Go through those doors and you’ll see her name on another door.”

“Will you come with me?” Ariana wondered.

“Sorry girl.” Big Guy shook her head and regretted before she left. “I’d go with you, but I have to finish work.”

Ariana’s face fell, and she frowned.

“See you around, ‘k?” Big Guy hoped, tapping her shoulder gently.

Ariana laughed. “I guess. Sure.”

Slowly, she walked across the room, clutching her pack. She was nervous until she got the image of Enchantra in her mind. The Mistress was smiling, her silver eyes sparkling mysteriously.

Ariana shook her head when she reached the door with Shannon’s name on it.

Somehow, I already know this Shannon Ryan. Ariana thought to herself when she touched the door. She felt the same tingle of magic behind it as she had when she sensed Stephen Ryan two years ago. Could they be related? Ariana asked herself.

Shaking her head and taking a deep breath, she knocked.

“Come right in, Ariana.” A college-aged woman with brown hair smiled at her, eyes blinking from brown to silver-blue and back. “My name is Shannon Ryan. I’m the Chief of Detectives here at the System.”

She had to ask. “Are you related to Stephen Ryan?”

Shannon smiled, nodding. “He’s my cousin. I heard he helped you in the hospital.”

Ariana smiled. “He was very nice to me. I hope to thank him someday.”

“You’ll get your chance.” Shannon explained, gesturing to a chair. “Take a seat. Your partner will be here any minute.”

“How do you know about me?” Ariana decided to ask Shannon as she sat.

Ariana used her Empathy once again, sensing kindness and sincerity.

Just like Big Guy, she thought.

“Truth is; you’re already one of us.” Shannon said with a gentle smile.

Ariana was confused. What did that mean?

“It basically means you’re an Ancient Mystic.” Shannon said, and Ariana took a breath. “I’m one too, in case you couldn’t figure it out for yourself.”

“Is that how you were able to change your eye color?” Ariana asked.

Shannon nodded. “A simple changing task. You’ll learn more once you settle in.”

“I am unsure I want to learn, Miss Ryan.” Ariana supplied softly. “I do not wish trouble upon myself should something go wrong with my magic.”

“For one, I insist you call me Shannon.” Shannon smiled. “Two: relax. No one here knows you’re an Ancient Mystic yet, and won’t unless you tell them.” Shannon decided to take a chance at statement. “We’re here to help you, not harm you.”

Ariana found the bracelet once again, sensing Aaron’s love for her. She closed her eyes, thinking about him. It gave her confidence to go on. “How did you know about my being an Ancient Mystic?”

“Lord Guardian told me.” Shannon said seriously, looking to the door. Ariana sensed something in the air but stayed silent. “I’ll explain later. For now, I sense Agent Redding coming this way. He’ll be your partner.”

“Okay, I guess.” All that had transpired in a matter of hours overwhelmed her. It was all too quick for her to understand. She took Shannon’s advice and stayed silent for the time being.

How did she know about Lord Guardian?

She did say she was an Ancient Mystic as well. Katherine answered.

Ariana shook her head in amazement and total confusion, her thoughts spinning.

There was a knock on the door and a young man poked his head through the open door. “You wanted to see me, Shannon?”

He sounded familiar. Without moving, she used her empathy. Sure enough, he Felt the same as the Imaginary Romeo in her dreams. The young man that was so kind and generous with his heart. Feeling his stare made her cheeks blanch.

“Agent Redding, I want you to meet Agent Ariana Sister.” Shannon introduced them.

She turned to see his apprehensive smile. His eyes were dark brown, as was his hair, and he had black-rimmed glasses on his face. They were so close, she could even see dimple under his bottom lip as he smiled.

Shannon continued, once seeing she was eyeing him. “Ariana, this is Derrick Redding, your partner.”

Shannon smiled, turning to Derrick. “Why don’t you take her to Fourth Floor and get her settled, then come back? I’ll be waiting.”

Ariana stood and sent a quick message to Shannon, unknowing if she would hear it. Where did the surname ‘Sister’ come from?

It’s a cover, for now. Shannon sent back. That’s who you’ll be from now on: Ariana Moon Sister.

Sounds better than no name at all. Ariana thought to her as she followed Derrick to a room four floors up.

I’ll explain everything later, I promise. Shannon supplied. Welcome home.

Home. It sounded right, for once. The thought of it made her smile.

Her attention returned to her Romeo, the young man Shannon had named Derrick Redding. She watched him quickly slip his card through a slot and punch a series of numbers, covering the console with one hand so she wouldn’t be able to read it.

He sure is clever. Katherine thought to Ariana.

I agree. Ariana smiled, following him once he opened the door.

You have been through a lot. Katherine purred gently. Find a bed and sleep; you have had a hard day. I will meet you at the Garden once you call the spell.

Ariana smiled.

“Take the bed by the balcony.” He told her roughly, leaving.

She walked to the bed, set her pack down beside it and lay down. Drifting off into a deep sleep, she allowed for the peace and serenity of the Dream Realm to welcome her, taking her away from a once painful, cruel world she had known.

Chapter Nine:

Love of an Earthly Protector

 

Ariana awoke a few hours later in a strange place. Where am I this time?

She yawned, stretching her muscles. Her glance went to a nearby clock, squinting to see the digits.

Had she never noticed before how blurry the world was around her? She shook her head, rubbing her eyes. According to the glowing red digits, three hours passed since she arrived in a limo with Bridget “Big Guy” Guy and met a fellow Ancient Mystic named Shannon Ryan.

She looked around and saw a young man with dark brown hair, chocolate brown eyes, and black-rimmed glasses. The events of a few hours came rushing back to her, and she blushed red-hot.

This young man’s name was Derrick Redding. He was the Imaginary Romeo who haunted her dreams, sharing her adventures in the Dream Realm. He was real.

She smiled at him, nodding her head. “Hi.”

He only scowled at her.

“In case you forgot, the name is Redding. You can call me Derrick.” He said as he stared at her eyes.

Silver-blue and gorgeously familiar! He thought to himself.

Being so near to him now, she heard his thoughts; gasping as she looked away.

“Don’t even try it!” He playfully scolded her.

“Try what?” She asked innocently, listening in his monotone for some clue to his identity. Why was he being wary of her? Did he not believe her the girl in his dreams?

“Reading my mind.” He stammered, looking away from her.

Why is he hiding his kindness? Katherine asked. Does he not remember you?

I do not believe so, my friend. She sighed sadly, standing and looking around the room.

She saw the balcony and headed outside. Derrick followed close behind.

“I would not do so without your permission.” Ariana told him, staring to the sky’s purple haze. It was as mysterious as he was. “For some reason, it would be invading your privacy.”

“I was only teasing anyway.” He stammered, nervous. She stared into the California sky, leaning over the wooden rail. “This is the perfect spot for thinking you know. It’s so quiet and peaceful.”

Derrick sat on one of the chairs, but she continued to stand. A light breeze made Ariana shiver, her long reddish-blond hair dance. She heard him stand beside her. He felt so warm, yet was acting so cold. He was staring at her. She met his eyes to see they were to her Dream Locket.

“That necklace is pretty.” He complimented softly, reaching for it. “Where did you find such an unusual gem?”

Ariana’s hand brushed against his, but he pulled away. The familiar zing from his touch brought back the memory of their first meeting. He is definitely my Romeo. She thought, clearing her throat. “From a dear friend.”

Her stomach growled, and she clutched it instead.

Derrick smiled. “Hungry?”

She timidly smiled back. “Famished.”

He kept his smile. “We’ve got a place to eat here that has everything. Want to join me?”

Ariana looked into his eyes. “Lead the way.”

Derrick closed the door behind them. Ariana was silent as she followed, watching the path so she wouldn’t get lost later. The place was enormous, and she could sense a lot of people living here. Most of them were teenagers their age, some older, like Shannon.

She tried sensing Derrick, but for some reason, her empathy was blocked. She stared at his hand, remembering her dream when it held hers.

What would it take for him to remember me? She sighed.

“Hey,” She heard Derrick’s voice interrupt her thoughts and turned to him. “What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing; I was just thinking.”

“What about, or is it none of my business?” He asked as he sat down at one of the booths. She sat across from him.

Had she been in such a daze that she hadn’t realized her surroundings?

“I was thinking of a dear friend I met last year.” Ariana tried, looking at him.

She frowned when her eyes ached from trying to focus.

“You can’t really see me, can you?” He frowned as he watched her rub her eyes. “I’ll have to talk to Shannon about getting you fitted for eyeglasses.”

Ariana nodded. “I would like that; thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” He studied her for a moment. “You know; you sound like someone I know.”

“Really?” She asked, excited. “How so?”

“The way you talk.” Derrick said. “It reminds me of…” He paused, shaking his head. “No. It’s impossible.”

She thought with a smile. Do you remember me?

“Nothing is impossible, my Imaginary Romeo.” She whispered, winking at him.

“It is you!” Derrick cried, pointing at her. Other restaurant patrons stopped their meals and stared, so he leaned in and whispered. “You’re my Dream Girl, aren’t you? The girl who visits my dreams and takes me on adventures in the Dream Realm.”

Ariana nodded. “Aye.” She said. “Officially, I am Ariana Moon. Shannon gave me the name of ‘Sister’ and called you my partner.”

“That’s right.” Derrick smiled, taking her hands. “Goddess, you even feel the same.”

“I should, because I am the same.” She giggled. “How much do you remember of our adventures?”

“Everything,” he laughed. “The last I saw, you were writing in a journal at the Detention Center, a magical ball of light hovering over your shoulder so you could see.”

“That was just last week.” She grinned.

They ordered their food and ate it when it came.

Derrick led her back to Shannon’s office afterward. Within a few hours, she was examined for eyeglasses and a pair of silver frames accented her silver-blue eyes.

“I think they look good on you,” Derrick replied softly as they walked back to their quarters afterward. He walked closer to her, reaching to hold her hand.

“Thanks, and I can see perfectly.” Ariana blushed, automatically taking it. “How did they know?”

“A little bird told them.” Derrick teased with a grin, playfully nudging her.

“I bet that little bird was you?” She giggled.

Derrick shrugged. “You could say that.”

Her smile’s so enchanting, he thought to himself.

She heard it and smiled.

“Thank you.” Ariana replied.

“For what?”

“You said my smile is enchanting.” Ariana explained.

He shook his head, embarrassed.

“You should really learn how to block your thoughts.” Ariana teased him. “Between your big mouth and your open mind, you could get yourself in trouble.”

Derrick looked up at her with a sheepish grin, “I suppose you’ll teach me?”

“As long as you teach me what you know,” Ariana grinned. “Deal?”

Derrick smiled. “Deal.” Clearing his throat, he asked her. “So, how do you like the System so far?”

“I have not been here long enough to establish an opinion.” Ariana told him. “Nor can I judge an old building’s past based on letters left long-imprinted by the sun.”

“You saw them, too?” Derrick asked, squeezing her hand. “Maybe when you settle in, we can investigate together?”

“Maybe.” She smiled, looking at him. Oh, how she wanted to kiss those lips!

Nervous, she looked away. They continued hand in hand, taking the staircase up to their room instead of using the elevator.

“Do you know why you’re here?” Derrick asked after a moment.

“Destiny led me here.” Ariana whispered. “Other than that, no. The Goddess rarely tells her Children why.”

He chuckled, stopping at their room door. He slid the card through its slot and punched in a five-digit code. He didn’t bother to cover it this time, trusting her.

“I’m here because of you.” He spoke up. “Shannon told me you’re the Young Guardian of the Dream Realm. Lord Guardian told me I was your Earthly Protector, whatever that is.”

Protector. She thought. That is what my older self called his.

“Perhaps you are my Protector, as a bodyguard protects a celebrity?” She tried, shrugging her shoulders.

“I’m sure we’ll find out sooner or later,” Derrick told her. “For now, it’s late. I’m tired, and am sure you are, too.”

“Exhausted.” She confirmed, smiling.

“The bathroom’s on our right, so you can take a shower if you want.” He pointed.

“Derrick.” Ariana stopped him before he could walk away.

She reached up and placed a hand on his cheek, forcing him to look at her. After a brief hesitation, he bent down and kissed her lips gently.

Complete me, Earthly Protector.

She didn’t know where the words came from, but they were there. Embarrassed, she hurried to the bathroom and took a long, hot shower.

It was late, and she was exhausted. She thought back on the day’s adventurous events as the hot water and steam relaxed her throbbing muscles. It was so refreshing to be clean. It was almost like starting over in a new place, a new world, a new life.

When she left the bathroom after cleaning up after herself, Ariana noticed Derrick was already fast asleep. She smiled, taking his lenses off and setting them on the night stand beside the bed. Reaching down, she kissed his cheek.

“Pleasant Journeys, my Romeo.” She whispered, heading to her own bed for the night.

So far, she liked the System. Sure, it was confusing, but she would figure it out. It was a worthy challenge, her detective’s instincts waking up for the first time in several years.

Her new partner Derrick Redding was also a challenge. She would have fun figuring out the many secrets of the System with him, along with exploring their relationship.

Both she and Katherine Hawk knew how much she loved a challenge.

 

That night, a new nightmare began. She was in the Abyss, the Realm between the Realms, as Lord Guardian explained. It was drafty, cold, and scary. She stood on a single boulder that floated in the abysmal air. Sudden fear crept in her soul, and she could sense danger coming from a mile away.

Confused, she yelled into the air. “Hello! Is anybody here?”

An echo of her voice bounced off the barriers, slowly followed by an array of ghostly voices. This signaled trouble and Ariana did not know how to react. She did all she could to stop the voices, and ran.

Ariana heard a broad monotone as she ran.

“Be Banished from the Dream Realm for all eternity, Katherine and Kitten’s Claw Hawk! The Master will have his revenge!”

The Master! Ariana cried in her mind as she stopped in her tracks and bent down. She covered her ears and shut her eyes. She could still hear the voice, loud and clear.

“No-no-no-no-no-no-no! Leave them alone!” Ariana screamed repeatedly. She tried running as fast as her legs would carry her, but she could still feel someone, or something, following her. The quicker she ran, the quicker they followed; the eerie feeling never went away. “Go away!”

She looked ahead as she ran and found her aura trace.

I see a light. She thought to herself. I must make it through.

She ran toward the light and passed through.

 

No!” Ariana woke up in a cold sweat, screaming. She kept trying to convince herself it had been all just a dream, but it was not. Somehow, she feared for her feline friend and her missing sister Kitten’s Claw.

She looked over to Derrick’s bed. Thankfully, he was still asleep, his back facing her. Grasping the Dream Locket and calling its spell in her mind, she found herself back in the Dream Realm.

Safe at last.

 

Part Four:

Project: Dream Realm Crusader

Chapter Ten:

A System Agency Welcome

 

The next morning, Ariana opened her eyes to find Derrick was already gone. She quietly made her bed and dressed, ready to explore her new home. Before she could leave the room, the phone rang from between the beds.

As soon as she touched the receiver, she knew who it was. “Good Morning, Shannon.”

Shannon Ryan chuckled from the other end. “Mornin’, Ariana. How’d you sleep?”

“Like a babe.” Ariana told her, sitting on her bed. She did not want to alarm Shannon about the nightmares. They were her problem; not Shannon’s, or even Derrick’s. “Was there something you needed?”

“Your orientation is this afternoon in the Commons Room.” Shannon told her. “That will get you officially set up as an Agent. After that, we’ll see what we can do about, well, you know.”

No, Ariana thought with a yawn. I do not know.

“Anyway, have Derrick show you the way there, okay?” Shannon rushed. “I’ll see you this afternoon.”

“Okay,” Ariana stammered. “See you then.”

“Later!”

Shannon hung up.

Ariana stared, shaking her head in confusion.

Might as well start my day. She thought to herself, heading out the door.

She ran into an agent coming out of the room across the hall. His hair was dark, and so were his eyes. He wore mostly black and brown: black jeans with a dark brown T-Shirt and a black sleeveless leather overcoat that reached his ankles.

“Hello; you must be new.” The agent smiled at her.

“That’s right.” Ariana paused, smiling back. He sure was charming! She thought to herself. Do I sense a hint of magic in him, too? “I just arrived last night. My name is-”

“Ariana Moon.” The agent interrupted before she could say it. “Yeah, Shannon told me about you. I’m Shane Morehouse, but you can call me Shadow.”

He held his hand out for her to shake.

After staring at it, she took it. She froze, closing her eyes and tensing as an eerie feeling went through her system. The vision of a girl identical to herself came to mind and she gasped, the empathic feeling of the girl stirring her curiosity. He let go of her hand quickly and studied her when she reopened her eyes. He was apprehensive, quick to change the subject when she opened her mouth to ask questions about the vision.

“I see you have Derrick for a partner.” Shadow cleared his throat and interrupted her confused thoughts. “I feel sorry for you.”

Ariana blinked. “I am sorry?”

Shadow laughed nervously. “Never mind.” He asked. “Where’re you headed?”

“To the Café for some breakfast.” And to find my new partner, Ariana thought to herself. “I do not remember the path. Would you be willing to show me?”

Shadow smiled. “Certainly, madam.” He crooked his arm out for her. “It just so happens I’m going that way m’self.”

With a giggle, she took it and they were on their way.

This “Shadow” man was not that much older than her, she noted. The empathic feeling she got from him was dark, mysterious, and clever. She would have to watch herself around him.

“It would seem I have lost my new partner this morning.” She tried to joke. “When I awoke, he was gone.”

“He’s probably at the Café, getting his morning cup of coffee.” Shadow told her. “Usually, nothing can get him up this early in the morning.”

“Perhaps he could not sleep well, or was anxious to begin his day?”

Shadow smiled. “You think?”

Ariana nodded and they stopped at the doors.

“Well, what do you know?” Shadow asked, gesturing across the Café to a single table. “Case of the Missing Partner is solved.” Ariana giggled. He opened the door for her. “M’Lady?”

She curtseyed. “Why thank thee, M’Lord.” She replied with a giggle. “Thou art ever so kind.”

“Anything for a beautiful lady,” Shadow supplied with a laugh. “Have a good day, Ariana Moon. Try not to kill him, okay? See you around.”

Before she could ask what he meant, he saluted and disappeared into the crowd of hungry agents.

She breathed a sigh, walking over to Derrick. Just as Shadow had said, he was staring into a coffee cup. There were worry lines on his face, and his eyes looked like they had not slept in hours.

“Good morning, Derrick.” She said softly, making him turn to her.

He pasted on a smile. “Morning.”

“You woke before me.” Ariana sat across from him.

“Yeah, sorry about that.” He blushed, rubbing the back of his neck. “I, uh, couldn’t sleep.”

“You could have left me a note.” Ariana told him gently, reaching for a menu and ordering her breakfast when the waitress came. “I was worried about you.”

Derrick gave her a skeptical look. “Why worry about me? You don’t even know me.”

She smiled. “Sure I do. You are my Imaginary Romeo.”

Derrick finally smiled. “As you’re my Dream Girl.” He said. “I remember, but it’s your fault I’m up this early.”

Ariana blinked. Had he heard her screams in the night? If so, why did he not wake her, or come to comfort her? “Really?” She dared to ask. “How so?”

“You happen to snore.” He made a snoring noise.

She relaxed at his smile.

 

In the afternoon, Derrick showed her to the Commons Room, a room large enough for two classrooms full of students. On the west wall was a line of lockers, just as she imagined a school would have. Across from that were rows of long tables with chairs and a blackboard on the east wall.

Shannon was already waiting for her, feet up on an oversized desk in between the blackboard and the first row of tables. “Welcome to the System Agency Orientation, Ariana Sister.”

Derrick smiled, nudging her cheek with a kiss for confidence. “I’m needed with Chips Deneson. I’ll see you later, okay?”

Dazed, she muttered. “Okay.”

He was gone and she was alone with Shannon.

“Have a seat.” Shannon smiled. “The instructor will be here soon.”

“You are not it?”

Shannon shook her head. “Nope. I just run the place.” She stood. “Do you remember how to get to my office from here?”

Ariana shook her head. “Uh, no.”

“That’s okay. I’ll send Big Guy after you if she’s not busy.” Shannon winked, her silver-blue eyes changing back to brown.

The act made her smile. “Big Guy is the one who picked me up yesterday?” Shannon nodded.

“The Orientation should take an hour; physical and psychological evaluations afterward will take another hour.” Shannon explained. “Now, Forester is in charge of Orientation, Doc Swanson will take over your physical and Aurora will take care of your psych eval.”

“Sounds like I have a busy day ahead of me.” Ariana laughed off her nervousness.

“It’s for our records, and your own good.” Shannon explained. “When you’re done with all that, Big Guy will find me and the two of us will go over what you know.”

“What I know?” Ariana asked.

About the Ancient Mystics, and the magic you have. Shannon thought to her. “For now, I need to get back to work. I have a big meeting with the Chief of Detectives at our rival Agency, the Network.”

“Oh. Okay.” Ariana stammered. “Thank you.”

Shannon tapped her on the back. “You’re welcome.”

Ariana sat at one of the tables, her mind reeling with thought.

Overwhelmed yet, my friend? Katherine teased her.

Ha-ha, very funny. Ariana teased back. I am glad you are okay. After last night’s dream, I was worried.

I heard you were stuck in the Abyss, reliving the past. Katherine said.

That was in the past? Ariana asked her friend, looking around the room. In one corner were people playing a game; in another, older agents were teaching trios of younger ones from textbooks.

Aye. From when I was first Banished. Katherine supplied softly.

Now Ariana felt bad. I apologize for reminding you.

You are forgiven. Katherine said. We must learn from the past, or be doomed to repeat it.

I agree with you. Ariana sighed. I will meet you later in the Canine Wood. For now, the instructor is coming this way, and I must pay attention.

Other new agents were lingering in, confused as they took their seats. The instructor, a male older than Shannon, with blond hair and crooked eyeglasses sifted through the file folders on the desk. He never bothered to sit down.

“Attention!” He cried, looking over his glasses at them. The room was silenced, all talking ceased and he had everyone’s eyes on him. “I am James Forester, the Curricular Coordinator here at the System Agency. I am in charge of educating you in the basics: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, you get the point. I’ll be the one you come to should you have a problem with anything education-wise.” He looked down to the files again, then back up at them. “I’m going to call your names, so I know who I’m talking to.” The first file. “Francis Cooper?”

“Here, boss.”

Mr. Forester rolled his eyes. “I’m not the boss, Shannon Ryan is.” He cleared his throat. “How old are you and what’s your specialty?”

“I’m fifteen and my specialty is engineering.” Francis Cooper said proudly.

“You’ll be trained under Senior Detective Agent Jammins.”

“Sure thing, boss.”

Mr. Forester rolled his eyes again, calling each name and asking the same questions, placing the six other young agents with their respective Trainers. Ariana learned names and specialties of seven trainers, which she kept in mind for future reference.

She was the last to be called. “Ariana Sister?”

“Aye.” Ariana croaked, standing. “I am fifteen and do not believe I have a specialty.”

“You’ll learn.” Mr. Forester smiled at her. “Your trainer is none other than the boss herself, Shannon.”

“Thank you, sir.” Ariana nodded with a smile and sat back down.

“You’re welcome.” Mr. Forester supplied. “Welcome to the System Agency everyone.” He reached for a stack of papers and passed them around the room. “This is the standardized test for the State of California. It tells us where you are in your education, and prepares you for your High School Diploma. You have an hour to finish the test. Once you are finished, bring it up to me and go on to your next item on your agenda; Physical Examination by Doc Swanson.”

Forester sat down and nodded to the small group. “You may begin.”

Using the pencil she found on the table, she took the test. The questions were easy for her, some in math, some English, Social Studies, all basic subjects she learned in the Orphanage Library. She was able to finish within half an hour, standing to give it to him.

“Done already?” Mr. Forester asked, skeptical as he took it from her. He quickly looked through it. “I don’t believe it.” He whispered as he turned each page. “Based on your answers, young lady, I would say you have the IQ of a college student!”

Ariana blushed. “Thank you, sir. May I go to Doc Swanson’s office now? I believe Big Guy is waiting for me.” She looked to the doors and caught Big Guy’s eyes. She waved, smiling.

“Yes, yes, certainly.” Forester looked back up at her, waving her off. “Welcome to the System Ariana.”

Ariana smiled, nodding before she left.

 

“I thought I’d never see the day!” Big Guy cried as the girls met eyes. “Forester is dumbfounded! How’d you do it?”

Ariana told her. “The test he gave me was easy, that is all.”

“You’re kidding!” Big Guy said. “It was pretty tough for me. Then again,” She started, walking ahead. “I was only twelve, and my brother fourteen when we first got here. Still, it’s pretty impressive, Ariana.”

Ariana giggled. “Thank you, I guess.”

“Oh, stop being so modest.” Big Guy told her. “Learn to take a compliment.”

“I will, when I receive one.”

Big Guy shook her head. “Anyway, let’s hurry to the Doc’s office. I want to see if you can confuse him.”

“Based on my physical history, I do believe I can.” Ariana teased.

It felt good finally having fun and joking around. She liked not always being on the lookout, or worried she would get caught and beaten.

Big Guy knocked on the door when they arrived. On it were letters spelling out, “Alan ‘Doc’ Swanson, M.D.” with the name, “Dana Swanson, J.M.D.” underneath.

An elder man, older than Mr. Forester, opened the door. His graying brown hair was balding in front, leaving him with a large forehead. He was wearing a white coat over a pair of jeans and a crisp shirt. A stethoscope hung over his neck.

“Bridget, welcome back.” Doc Swanson gestured them in. “Who might this be?”

“This is Ariana Sister, one of our newest recruits.” Big Guy supplied.

Doc Swanson turned to her. “Welcome to the System, Ariana. I suppose you’re here for your physical?”

“Yes, sir.” Ariana nodded.

“Well, come on in and take a seat on the white sheet over there.” Doc Swanson smiled. “Bridget, why don’t you wait out here until we’re finished?”

“Gotcha, Doc.” Big Guy grinned, grabbing a magazine and flipping it open. “I’ll be waitin’!”

Within the hour, Ariana managed to confuse the fun doctor with stories. From the way she was never sick until she was pregnant, to the way her body seemed to self-heal overnight, and finally to the way she was able to heal herself and others. When he saw the scar on her arm, she explained the Blood-Pact and that it did not hurt to do it.

“You are a curious case, Ariana.” Doc Swanson shook his head and laughed. “I’ll be here should you or your partners need healing the professional way.”

“I am sure they would appreciate it.” Ariana grinned, jumping off the table and rejoining Big Guy in the waiting room.

“I’ll return for my monthly checkup, Doc.” Big Guy winked.

“Either Dana or I will be here.” Doc Swanson winked back, waving goodbye.

The door closed behind them and Ariana asked. “Where to next?”

“That would be to the counselor, Aurora Jessup.” Big Guy told her as she walked. “Her offices are on the third floor, so we’ll have to take the elevator.”

Ariana nodded. “I do not mind.”

“Good.” Big Guy said. They found the nearest elevator, with Big Guy pressing the number ’3′ on the keypad.

Ariana was curious about the counselor. Something told her to watch her words around Aurora.

“I should warn you; Aurora is unorthodox about her evaluations.” Big Guy remarked. “She’s kinda like you, but she calls it E.S.P.”

“Extra Sensory Perception.” Ariana repeated. “What does she believe she can do?”

“She thinks she can read minds and has premonitions.” Big Guy explained. “It’s all guesswork, based on your answers to her questions.”

“I see. She is a fake psychic.” Ariana smiled. “Should I be serious, or have fun with her?”

“Try to stay on track; we need the psych eval for your records.”

“Who will see these records?” Ariana asked curiously.

“Only Shannon and the Top Senior Officers have access, should they need it.” Big Guy explained. The elevator door opened.

Big Guy led her to the right until they stopped at a door with an eyeball symbol on it. The eyeball symbol reminded Ariana of the old Private Eye stories she used to read. It made her giggle.

“Told you she was unorthodox,” Big Guy shrugged, knocking on it.

“Come in! Come in!” A tall, thin woman with long, wild-purple hair with a yellow streak down the middle gestured them in.

“Not me this time, Aurora.” Big Guy raised her hands and stepped out of the counselor’s reach. “A new recruit, Ariana Sister.”

Before Ariana could say anything, her arm was grabbed, yanked, and the door shut behind her.

“Welcome to the System, Ariana!” Aurora cried. “Sit down, have a cup of coffee and relax!”

Ariana found the nearest chair, an oversized multicolored beanbag.

“I believe in total comfort in my sessions.” Aurora explained as Ariana sat down. She grabbed a pad and a large pen with a fuzzball at the tip.

Ariana marveled at all the bright colors around this room. It was enough to make her dizzy.

“I admit; this is not normal.” Ariana whispered.

“Who wants normal when you can be groovy?” Aurora grinned, plopping herself down on a beanbag chair across from Ariana. “Now then, tell me your life story. I want to know everything.”

“Of course you do.” Ariana mumbled. “Not even you will believe it, I promise you.”

Aurora gave her a wicked grin. “Try me.”

“You cannot say I did not warn you.” Ariana smiled.

By the time the session was done, and Aurora had all she needed from her, Ariana was giggling.

“Okay, okay, you got me there.” Aurora stood to open the door for her. “Sounds so unreal.”

Ariana touched her necklace. “That it is.”

“So, I’ll see you next month for a follow-up?” Aurora asked. “Just to see how you’re adjusting here.”

Ariana nodded. “Certainly. Next month.”

Big Guy was waiting for her on the other side of the door.

“Well?”

Ariana nodded, giggling. “I told her what she wanted to know, and even blocked her so-called ‘E.S.P’.”

“How’re you able to do that?” Big Guy followed her to the elevator.

Ariana winked. “Magic.”

Big Guy laughed at that. “You’ll make a great Agent, Sister.”

Ariana could only smile.

 

“No one, I mean, no one, has ever baffled Forester before.” Big Guy told Shannon when she dropped Ariana off. “Even Doc was confused.”

“He called me ‘curious,’ as I have never been ill a day in my life.” Ariana grinned.

Except when you were pregnant. Shannon thought to her, eyes on her best friend Big Guy.

Ariana blinked, surprised.

“What about Aurora?” Shannon spoke up before Ariana could say anything.

“She was the best one.” Big Guy giggled. “According to her,” she thumbed Ariana, “‘something’ was blocking her so-called E.S.P., so she couldn’t read her.”

Shannon grinned. “I bet I know what that certain ‘something’ was.” She winked at Ariana before glaring at Big Guy. “You’re excused. She’ll be fine in my hands until Chips is done with Redding.”

Big Guy clicked her heels together and mock-saluted, winking. “Gotcha, boss. I’m outta here.”

“See you.” Shannon laughed, rolling her eyes and closing the door behind her. “Finally!” She gasped as a silent Ariana took a seat on the chair in front of a large mahogany desk. “I thought she’d never leave!”

Ariana smiled. “You seem close.”

“Well, we’ve been best friends since we were very young, so yeah.” Shannon told her, sitting in the chair behind the desk. “I guess you’d say Big Guy and I are close.”

Ariana cleared her throat, wanting to get back on track. “Am I here for something other than conversation?”

“Sure are.” Shannon grinned. “You must know our story, and more about what you’re up against.”

“Our?”

“Yes, our.” Shannon confirmed. “It started with Enchantra visited my Aunt Dixilynne almost ten years ago.”

“Dixilynne?” Ariana interrupted. “Her surname would not be the same as yours, would it?”

Shannon smiled. “It was, yeah. She adopted me when my mom died.”

“I am sorry for your loss.” Ariana felt saddened by the news.

“It’s okay.” Shannon told her gently. “I was only a baby when she died; I never knew her. Dixie took me in and raised me as her own, giving me my surname of Ryan. She died three years ago.”

“According to my calculations,” Ariana thought aloud. “She was your aunt and Stephen is your cousin?” Shannon nodded. “Would that not make him her son?”

“You’re quick.” Shannon grinned. “You must be developing the Photographic Memory.”

“Which brings me to the following query: how did you know I was an Ancient Mystic?”

“Enchantra sensed your powers awakening ten years ago.” Shannon grinned. “Anyway, she told Dixie that the Master Orthos sought to destroy all the Mystics, starting with Lord Guardian’s successor, and take over the Mystic Realms.”

“I have witnessed his destruction and want to help my Companion friends seek revenge.”

“I know you do; which is why you’re here.” Shannon said. “Normally, we wouldn’t start weapons training until you settled in. I know you want to fight using your magic, but in order to do that, you must first learn without it.”

“I see.” Ariana was depressed.

“Don’t be sad; you’ll learn.” Shannon told her. “Onto another subject: How long have you known about your magic?”

“Since I was young, though most was accidental.” She explained. “I have always known how to read minds, sense emotions and heal. It was later I learned what Enchantra called the other three basic powers: Premonition, Clairvoyance, and Telekinesis.”

“So with Enchantra’s, Lord Guardian’s and Katherine Hawk’s help, you learned control?”

Ariana nodded. “How did you know about Katherine?”

“The same way I know how to change my eye color.” Shannon blinked, her eyes changing from brown to silver-blue and back. “Want to learn?”

“Perhaps later?” Ariana asked. Does she ever stay on one subject for long?

Shannon bit her lip. “I’m rambling again, aren’t I?”

Ariana nodded, smiling.

“Okay, back on track.” Shannon clapped her hands. “You’ve known about your special abilities since you were young, though you thought it was accidental.”

Ariana nodded. “Before I left the orphanage, I told a future to my friend Aaron Theodore. Later, when I thought about him, I found it came true.”

“Aaron Theodore’s the one who fathered the Enchanted Child?” Shannon asked gently.

Ariana’s hand went to her stomach and eyes to her Blood-Pact scar. “How did you know?”

“Everyone in the Dream Realm knows about the Enchanted Child.” Shannon told her, “Just as we know all about you being the Young Guardian.”

Ariana thought of Derrick and gasped. “Does he know about Kelina Erin, yet?”

Shannon shook her head. “It’s your story to tell, not ours.”

Ariana let out a thankful sigh.

“I guess Kelina Erin would make you an official Elder Ancient Mystic, instead of just a Daughter.”

Ariana shrugged. “How do you figure?”

“You had her when you were thirteen, right?” Ariana nodded. “According to the Ancient Mystics, you’re an Elder. The rules state, and I quote, ‘Mystic Sisters are Young Ones until they conceive their first child, or turn twenty-one. Then, and only then, are they considered Elders.’” She paused. “Of course, it’s different for Mystic Wizards, the males of our family.”

Ariana gasped. “So that is what Stephen meant when he said he was a Wizard!”

Shannon nodded. “You’ll learn more, later. Going on, from any Ancient Mystic’s birth, the five basic powers evolve in the mind, the most powerful awakening first.”

“Such as my Empathy?” Ariana asked.

Shannon nodded. “When a live birth occurs from a Mystic Sister, such as in your case, your powers are heightened to unlimited proportions. It’s up to you to learn how to use them to your utmost advantage.” She thought for a moment. “You’re a special Ancient Mystic, for which I’m envious. Unlike us, you heal overnight.”

“I can also heal others.” Ariana supplied. “That is uncommon?”

“Not really, but most of us aren’t that strong at the Healing Magic.” She supplied. “We just learn the basics and hope it works, but you, Ariana Moon; you surprise even Enchantra. Perhaps that’s why Lord Guardian chose you as his successor?”

“Perhaps.” Ariana supplied. “What about you? Are you an Elder?”

Shannon shook her head sadly. “Unfortunately, no. I’m twenty-one now, but I’ll remain a Sister until I become a mother.”

Ariana didn’t have to use Empathy to know when Shannon wanted to be alone. The conversation was over, so she quietly excused herself.

Shannon Ryan was lonely and not even Ariana could help her.

 

She took the elevator back to Fourth-Floor. She was in a daze and didn’t notice when the doors opened on the third floor. Derrick walked in, so she pasted a smile.

He kissed her cheek, noticing her faraway look. “What’s wrong?”

She shook her head. “It is nothing.”

“Why don’t I believe you?” He whispered in her ear.

Ariana sighed. Guess I can hide nothing from him.

Well, he is your Earthly Protector. Katherine purred. Trust in him as he will trust in you.

“Shannon told me the Mystic’s story.” Ariana explained. “I am thinking it reminded her of those she lost; first her mother, then her Aunt Dixilynne. She is lonely, and I could do nothing to help her.”

“Sometimes you have to let people handle their own problems.” Derrick shrugged.

The elevator opened again with a ding. The couple stepped out and he took her hand before heading down the hallway to their room.

“Tell you what; we’ll go to the Café tonight. It’ll be my treat.” Derrick grinned. “What do you say?”

Ariana grinned. “The Café is free.”

He shrugged, kissing her nose. “Still my treat.”

She giggled. “Fine, but this time, I pick the table.”

“No problem, Love.” Derrick kissed her lips.

The familiar zing made her blush. All thoughts of Shannon’s loneliness disappeared as those of love for Derrick ruled supreme.

He was definitely her Imaginary Romeo; he knew how to make her smile.

Chapter Eleven:

Promise of a Perfect World

 

That night, before she met Katherine in the Canine Wood, the Dominionite Nightmare continued. She was closer this time, hiding herself high in a tree above the battle. From above, she recognized the older versions of Derrick, the twins, and herself. One of the other shadowed faces she saw below was an older version of Shadow, the agent she met that day. That just left two more shadowed faces to reveal themselves in time.

She watched the way Shadow moved, as if he knew what he was doing more than the others. He fought with a pair of daggers shaped like mini pitchforks. Once he fought closer to her hiding spot, she could see the Dream Locket around his neck; it was glowing copper.

No wonder he felt magical. She thought to herself.

He was fighting against a single Dominionite Warrior wolf, his eyes glowing before he jumped in the air, disappeared and reappeared above the Warrior. The Warrior was quick enough to block, his own eyes glowing red before meeting Shadow’s attack, throwing him off.

“You give up yet, Red?” Shadow was out of breath, but continued to bounce from one foot to the other, ready to attack.

Ariana had never seen a Warrior quite like this one. He was a wolf, like her Timberwolf friend, but his fur was the color of rust. His eyes glowed red and the aura around him felt dark, but not dark.

“A Warrior never surrenders.” The one Shadow had named Red answered in a growl, his fingers twitching, long fingernails extending.

Usually, Dominionites were incapable of audible speech, but it would seem this one was. Was he a friend of Tobias and Wolf?

Shadow laughed at him. “Prepare yourself then, because neither does a Crusader.”

What is a Crusader? Ariana asked, watching the scene.

“I believe we have company.” Red announced, placing his paw up.

Shadow looked up and saw Ariana standing there.

“We’ll finish this later, Red.” Shadow frowned at her.

She bit her lip. Could he see her? If so, was she in trouble?

“Agreed.” Red shifted his shape to a full wolf and loped away into the wood.

“Come on down, Young Guardian.” Shadow announced, beckoning her to his side. “There’s no need to be afraid.”

“I am not afraid; merely curious.” Ariana told him, jumping down from her tree. “How do you know me as Young Guardian? Who was that Warrior? Why did he feel different from the others I have witnessed? What is a Crusader?”

Shadow laughed, holding his hands up. “I can’t answer all your questions, but I can tell you some.” He said, taking a seat on a nearby boulder. “I’m a Senior Officer, for one. Shannon told us about you, which is how I knew who you were when we first met.”

“What about that Warrior?”

“Who? Red?” Shadow asked, thumbing in the direction Red had disappeared. “His name is Red-Wolf Moondancer. He’s confused; not knowing which side’s the right one to fight on. You know Wolf and Tobias, right?” Ariana nodded. “He’s like them, but different from them at the same time. I can’t explain now, but you’ll learn.”

“I know, in time.” Ariana rolled her eyes. “He was able to speak.”

“All Warriors can talk, Ariana.” Shadow told her. “Most just don’t have control over their words.” He paused. “Not like him.”

“How different is he from the other Warriors?”

Shadow shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you about that just yet.”

Ariana looked down. “You do not trust me. I understand.”

“No, it’s not that.” Shadow sighed. “Let’s back up for a minute here. I’ve seen you watching us battle the Dominionites for years now. You’re at the System now; I can tell that by your aura.”

“My aura?” Ariana looked at her body, confused. “You can see it?”

Shadow nodded. “You haven’t learned how to control your Mystic’s Wind, yet.” By the blank look on her face, he could tell she didn’t even know what that was. “You’ll learn that, too.” He stood. “For now, morning’s here and I’m pretty sure Shannon will be, too.”

Ariana stood. “One more query, if I may?”

Shadow looked over his shoulder and nodded. “Shoot.”

“Will I ever learn how to fight using my magic?”

Shadow smiled. “You’ve watched an older version of yourself fight?” Ariana nodded; he winked. “There’s your answer. Pleasant Journeys, Young Guardian.”

With a bow, he turned to a dark cloud and disappeared.

 

During her first week at the System, she was put through various tests; physical, mental, and magical. Ariana and Derrick were instructed to start self-defense classes, as well as weapon’s training. To Master Kwan’s surprise, they both learned quickly and excelled.

The nightmares continued, but this time, Ariana wasn’t alone. She and Derrick began training with Lord Guardian and Enchantra on how to patrol Dreamer’s worlds, using what they learned about weaponry and self-defense in the Outer Realm.

One morning, Derrick was quiet and Ariana was curious as to why.

“Derrick, what is wrong?”

“I’m still wondering what we’re doing here.” He spoke up. “I know I’m your Earthly Protector; whatever that is, and you’re the Young Guardian. That’s the easy part. What I’m wondering is why here? Why now? When I arrived last year, Shannon told me about some Dream Realm Crusader Project we were going to be on.”

Crusader.

“Do you know what a Crusader is?” Ariana asked him. He shrugged and shook his head. “Neither do I.” She debated telling him about her dream with Shadow.

Trust he will not be angry. Katherine purred in her mind. If he is your Romeo, he will understand.

Very well, I will tell him. Ariana cleared her throat and spoke up. “Do you know an agent named Shadow?”

“He’s a Senior Officer. Kind of mysterious and secretive, yet the best at whatever it is he does.” Derrick nodded. “What about him?”

She told him her dream with him in it, how he was yet another of the shadowed figures that fought the Dominionites with their older selves. “In it, he is older as well. I do not understand how people from the future are able to see me watching them. I do not understand how I am able to see the future in my dreams.”

“Perhaps a certain Shannon Ryan will be able to answer our questions?” Derrick stood. “Let’s go.”

They raced to the Computer Room and on to Shannon’s office.

“She’s kinda busy, guys.” Big Guy warned them from her computer station with a mischievous grin. “She’s on the phone with the Network’s Chief, Nick.”

They looked at each other. “What’s wrong with Nick?” Derrick asked.

Big Guy couldn’t hold her giggle in. “You’ll see.” She stood from her computer station and knocked on the door.

“Enter,” They heard Shannon’s voice from the other side of the door.

Big Guy peeked her head in, asked something out of their hearing range and laughed a minute later. “If you insist!” She closed the door and turned to them. “Go right in.”

“Uh, thanks, Big Guy.” Derrick smiled at a giggling Ariana.

Big Guy winked. “No problem, Redding.”

Before either could say or do anything, Shannon opened the door and cried excitedly. “Sorry you had to wait, team. Come right in!”

Ariana grinned.

“So, what’s going on?”

“You are excited.” Ariana noted with a grin. “Good news about Nick?”

“Yep, but that’s not all.” Shannon shared a smile with Big Guy before shutting the door behind the three of them. “It’s time for your first Project assignment.”

“Oh?” Derrick asked. “You mean, the whole reason we’re here?”

“You’re gonna love me for this,” Shannon promised. “It has to do with the Dream Realm.”

“What about it?” Ariana was curious.

“The Project is called ‘Dream Realm Crusader’.” Shannon started. “You’ll Crusade to the Dream Realm and fight the Master’s Dominionites, gathering as much information as you can about the Master and his children, the Maiden and the Merchant.”

“I know all about them.” Ariana frowned. “I want to fight them using my magic, but it seems no one will train me in doing so.”

Shannon winked. “Not to worry, you will.” She cleared her throat. “Now, where was I?” She whispered. “Oh yeah, using the Dream Locket and a special device called a Life-Line I’m having Chips make you, you’ll Crusade to the Dream Realm each night.” She reached in her desk drawer and came out with a Dream Locket, throwing it at Derrick. “Here you go. She’ll teach you the Chant so you can use it.”

Derrick caught it, placing it around his neck. “Feels kinda weird.”

“It will, and you can’t take it off, ever.” Shannon instructed. “Or you won’t be able to travel as a Crusader.”

“That’s comforting.” Derrick cleared his throat. “So when do we start?”

“I believe you already have, in a way.” Shannon said. “Remember when you first got here? I told you about the Young Guardian of Dreams and how you were her Earthly Protector?”

“Yeah,” Derrick said. “What does that mean, anyway? Just what is an Earthly Protector?”

“An Earthly Protector is someone who is bound by the Fates to protect a certain Ancient Mystic.” Shannon explained. “You literally dream of that Mystic in your mind for at least two years before you actually meet; that way, you know them on-site.”

“We have dreamed about each other for at least that long.” Ariana confirmed. “He joins me in my adventures in the Dream Realm, which includes my nightmares.”

“Nightmares?” Shannon was curious. “Tell me about them.”

“I have had them for many years.” Ariana explained. “Usually, they would only be of my older self fighting with her friends against Dominionites. For a while, hers was the only face I could see.”

“What do you mean, ‘only face you could see’?”

“There have always been at least six shadowed figures fighting beside her.” Ariana explained. “When I bound the twins to me with the Blood-Pact, I saw their faces as well. I met him,” she thumbed Derrick, “and I began to see his. Just last week, another revealed himself to me: Shadow.”

“You don’t say?” Shannon smiled. “How many more are still shadowed?”

Ariana thought for a moment. “Two are left: A female with indigo-colored magic and a male with gray. All of them fight against Dominionites in the future, though I know not how far.”

“Very interesting indeed,” Shannon remarked.

“Which brings me to one inquiry: why do they want me dead?”

“Easy; you’re the Young Guardian, destined to succeed Lord Guardian O’Dell should he perish.” Shannon explained. “With all the magic you carry in your blood, you’re also a very powerful threat.” She turned to Derrick. “I hate to do this to you, Derrick, but see Chips for the Life-Lines. I need to talk to her privately.”

“You’ll explain later, won’t you?” Derrick wondered.

Shannon nodded. “Thanks for understanding.”

As soon as he closed the door behind him, Shannon waved her hand at it, muttered a spell and turned back to her.

“What did you just do?”

“It’s a protective barrier.” Shannon said. “I need to know what you can do, and how much control you have over your abilities.”

“You already know what I can do.” Ariana supplied. “I told you.”

“Now you need to show me.”

Fine. I am telepathic, for one. Ariana grinned as she sent the message. You learned that first-hand my first day here.

“Good, strong link,” Shannon grinned, nodding. “What about Empathy?”

“My strongest.” Ariana supplied. “I am even learning how to combine the two.”

“Combine the two?”

“Yes. Combining Telepathy and Empathy; that is, sending telepathic messages with empathic waves, such as love, comfort, and strength.” Ariana explained. “I am still a bit shaky at it, but Katherine believes I will get it.”

“Gotcha.” Shannon stood, pacing. “Tell me what I’m feeling.”

Ariana relaxed her sensors, allowing her to receive the emotions. “You are in love with someone, but he does not know how he feels about you.” She began. “You are anxious, even frightened that the feelings will never be returned.”

Shannon stopped pacing, clearing her throat. Ariana could see Shannon’s cheeks reddening at the admission. “Clairvoyance.”

Ariana shook her head. “No, I am certain I am only using Empathy to read you.” She shrugged. “Though I wonder why that would come through so strongly.”

Shannon waved her off. “Never mind for now. What about Clairvoyance?” She searched around the room for an every-day object, a pen, handing it to her. “What do you read on this?”

Ariana took the pen and closed her eyes. At first, all she saw were clouds. Once she grasped her Dream Locket, she was able to see a vision. She whispered aloud, trying to explain what she saw. “You were carrying this with you when you went to Big Guy for a favor. I cannot hear you talking, but I can see she is interested in what you say. I can read her lips: ‘Shore Point Detention Center.’” Ariana broke the connection, dropping her hand from her locket, instantly knowing. “You wanted her to pick me up from there!”

Shannon grinned, nodding. “Impressive.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Shannon supplied. “Now, what about the Premonition? Had any visions that came true lately?”

Ariana shrugged. “I cannot call it on command. I usually See things shortly before they are meant to happen.”

“Would you say it gets stronger until you do something about it?” Shannon asked. Ariana nodded. “When was your last Vision?”

“It was in the form of a nightmare.” Ariana told her. “I had a Vision that Mrs. Gertrude was going to beat me so badly, the baby growing in my womb would die, and I would be forced to stay as one of her slaves.”

Shannon blinked, unknowing of what to say. “When did you have that Vision?”

“Shortly after Aaron and I found out I was pregnant.” Ariana looked down.

Shannon took a deep breath and hugged her. “It’s okay now; that Vision never happened. You ran from the orphanage, were rescued by my cousin Stephen, and had the Enchanted Child. There’s no need to fear. It’s over.”

Ariana felt the empathic wave of love from Shannon and was comforted.

When she pulled back from the hug, Shannon smiled. “Time for my favorite; Telekinesis.” She walked over to her desk and grabbed her mug. “Show me.”

“Are you certain of this?” Ariana asked, looking at the lone mug in Shannon’s hands. “The last time I tried Telekinesis, I broke one of Mrs. Gertrude’s favorite vases.”

“Trust in your abilities, Ariana.” Shannon urged with a knowing grin. “You can do it.”

“How?”

Shannon put the mug down on the desk. “Don’t ask how, just do it.”

“Okay, here goes.” Ariana took a deep breath and stared at the mug. Her mind focused on it, her eyes squinting as they watched it hover in midair. Her index finger beckoned it to her, and it started to move.

You are doing it! Katherine’s voice cheered in her mind.

Not now! Ariana scolded her.

She lost her concentration, dropping it to the ground. Before it could hit the linoleum and smash, Ariana quickly focused, stopping it with a palm and the silent word Stop!

She shook her finger at the mug, raising her hand once more to try again. It rose from its position and floated to her hand. When she grasped it, showing it to Shannon, she asked. “How was that?”

“Excellent.” Shannon clapped. “I like that; telling an inanimate object whose boss.”

“Really?” Her confidence soared. “Any more?”

“You’ve done enough for today, I think.” Shannon regretted. “I like your enthusiasm, though. I’ll tell you what. Next week, after your first official Crusade for the System, I’ll show you more, okay?”

Ariana nodded. “Speaking of Crusading; I wonder where my Romeo Redding wandered off.”

“Sense him and find out.”

Ariana shook her head. “For some reason, my powers are blocked for him.” She shrugged. “Guess I will have to find out the hard way.”

With a wave, she was gone.

 

She went to the nearest elevator, pressing the “4″ button. As it moved, her head began to pound.

What is going on? She asked. Nobody answered; not even Katherine.

She touched her temple, massaging it as she tried wishing the pain away. The pounding in her mind only got louder and more intense.

The elevator door opened on the fourth floor and she stumbled out, forced to her knees as her world went black.

 

Tap-tap-tap.

In her mind, she searched for the source of the pounding noise. There was a bright colored light in the depths of her soul, tapping at her. She conjured her imagery self in her mind, reaching out with silver-colored arms.

Tap-tap-tap.

There it was again; with each tap, she watched the light pulsate. It Called to her soul, its opalescent rainbow swirling as she took it. Once her fingers touched it, another bright light the color of silver enveloped her.

The sensation of magic and energy pulsing in her system soothed her.

“Do you know what I am?” A voice echoed in her mind; feminine and light.

“You are magic, you are energy,” Ariana whispered in the same voice, different from her own. It was airy and light, many voices at once like a Goddess.

“I am you, as you are me.” The voice echoed. “We are One.”

“One are We.” She echoed.

The pulsing stopped; her mind and soul accepting the magic within.

 

Ariana’s eyes flickered open then, and she began to sit up.

“Whoa,” Derrick breathed as he caught her before she could fall. “Careful, Love.”

Ariana shook the cobwebs from her head. “What happened?”

“You fainted, I believe.” Doc told her. “If you remember, I am Doc Swanson, the Chief Medical Officer here at the System.”

Ariana remembered. She had seen him for her physical on her first day at the System, and recalled meeting his daughter Dana. The short, but smart doctor knew all there was to know about treating any of the human body’s ailments.

Ariana nodded. “I remember. Nice to see you again, Doctor Swanson.”

“Yes, and the name’s Doc Swanson, or just Doc. I’ll need to see you in a couple of days, just to make sure you’re okay.”

“Thanks, Doc.” Derrick said as he helped Ariana stand.

“You’re welcome, Redding and Sister. Redding, get her straight to bed to rest, got that?” Doc commanded, smiling.

Both of them nodded, and left the office. Derrick led Ariana by the arm to Fourth Floor and their room.

“Thank you, Derrick.” Ariana’s voice was barely above a whisper.

“Don’t try to talk. Wait until after your nap.” Derrick advised, kissing her tenderly on the lips.

She didn’t object.

When they reached their room, he sat her on the bed. After he slipped her glasses off her face, she immediately fell into a deep sleep as her head hit the pillow.

She believed they were finally where they both belonged: In a more perfect world.

Chapter Twelve:

The Countess of Monarch’s Glenn

 

Three weeks of Crusades, helping Dreamers, and chronicling their adventures, the couple was in a strong routine. They learned the fighting arts together, as well as the beginnings of how to use her magic with weapons. Ariana learned more from Shannon about the Ancient Mystics, and even taught her how to do many magical things she never thought possible before.

One night, another nightmare came to her mind, and she was scared shiftless.

A large black dragon flew overhead, spewing a magical fire over a land Ariana had never been to before. She ran to safety in the closest cave, finally noticing her dream-self was different than her usual Young Guardian. She looked at her hands that now resembled wolf’s paws, with long claws. She was in awe as she saw her entire body was that of a black wolf. She felt her wolf ears, nearly cutting herself on tiny horns that stuck between them.

Just what is going on? She asked. What am I doing here? Where is ‘here’?

A loud roar echoed from outside her safe haven, hurting her ears.

I know you’re here, my beloved Empress. A voice rumbled in her mind. Come out, wherever you are!

The voice frightened her, making her wings cover her face.

Wait – wings? A wolf with wings? Now she was definitely confused.

She dared open them and walk outside. She had to see who sent the message.

Who are you?

The large black dragon flew down, his scales blinding her as he landed. He shifted form to an Immortal with dragon’s wings, walking up to her.

She was frightened, asking again in her mind. Who are you?

“Come now, darling.” The dragon purred, his black eyes turning yellow. The smile disappeared. “Speak.”

She held her breath, shaking her head. Her entire body was shaking; even her wolf’s tail.

“Do you not remember me?”

She shook her head again. “You destroyed that city.”

How did I know that?

“That I did; do you know why?” The dragon asked.

She shook her head. He smiled as he answered. “Because I could.”

He laughed and she closed her eyes, waking up in the System’s Fourth-Floor in the middle of the night.

She pulled the sheet from her legs and headed to the balcony, closing her eyes as the California night breeze cooled her thoughts.

Katherine? Are you there?

Ariana waited a moment, but heard silence. It didn’t bode well.

“What are you doing up so late?” She heard Derrick’s voice whisper from behind as she felt him wrap an arm around her waist and gently kiss the nape of her neck.

“I had a strange nightmare. One where not even I knew where I was or what I was doing there.” Ariana whispered. “I even had another form; that of a wolf with dragon’s wings. I was running from a large black dragon that destroyed an entire city, just because he could.”

“That sounds, well, interesting.” Derrick did not know what to think. “We’ll talk about it more in the morning, okay? For now, let’s get back to sleep, and return to our patrols.”

Ariana knew she had no choice but to do just that.

 

In the morning, the dragon nightmare plagued her mind. By lunch, it would not go away. It had taken over her thoughts like a bad vision.

Was it a Premonition? Or was it something more, like a Clairvoyant Vision?

She shook her head as she walked back to Fourth-Floor to take a nap. Derrick was teaching his three math students Algebra, so she knew she would be alone.

She was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.

 

Instead of the Realm of Dreams, she landed somewhere she never been to before.

Scratch that. She looked around. I have been here before.

She arrived in front of a pair of gates to a city. Walking, she found she was perusing a marketplace. It reminded her of those stories from desert lands, but the ground was lush and green. It was familiar; although, she couldn’t place why.

A sparkling of the sun on metal caught her eye. She walked over to a jeweler and asked him. “Where might I find the monarch of these lands?”

Might as well act like the Young Guardian. She thought to herself, even if I am alone in a strange land.

He bore his teeth at her in a wide grin, showing a pair of fangs. His eyes were red and she sensed, if she didn’t get out of there fast enough, she would become his snack.

“Vampire.” She whispered, turning on her heel and running as fast as she could.

“Capture her!” She heard a male voice shout.

She didn’t stop running as she quickly looked behind her. Several men like the jeweler-vampire were chasing after her. She wasn’t fast enough; they gained on her trail.

She kept her eyes forward as she ran, trying to find a place to hide, or at least somewhere she could gather enough magic to fight them.

From overhead, they all saw a brilliant black dragon with silver scales hovering over her in the sky. With one loud roar, those that were chasing her were ash.

She stopped in her tracks, awed by the dragon. Before she knew what was going on, it swooped down and caught her in his talons.

“Relax; you’re safe now.” His voice was velvet, and the last thing she saw or heard before exhaustion took over, forcing her to sleep.

 

II

 

The next she woke, she was in a darkened room. The prison was dark and cold, with no windows. The thick iron door showed no light but the shadows of torches that peppered the hallway outside it.

Gaining her senses, Ariana stood and felt the door for weak points before readying herself and her magic enough to escape. Once she escaped, she followed the hallway to a Main Hall. She lingered at the doors and listened in.

“The Young One has a certain magical quality the Empress was known for.” A male voice remarked. “Could it be her, after all these years?”

“Could she have survived after all?” A woman asked.

“I would not be surprised.” Another woman announced. She sounded like royalty. “It’s possible she survived in the Outer Realm.”

“That was what, ten years ago?” Another male asked, incredulous. “She would be about the same age the prisoner is now, a Young One of fifteen summers.”

“Just in case; Elspeth, have Fiona and Darkov prepare the guest quarters for her. I will deal with her when she is ready.”

“Aye, Countess.” The first woman agreed.

After a moment, the Countess called. “Stop.”

Ariana heard the clicking of heels before the Countess spoke again. “Come out of the shadows and into the light. Introduce yourself.”

Ariana was wary as she walked in the room. Once she saw the woman who sounded like royalty, she bowed at the Throne. It is the same dragon-woman I saw in a future-nightmare. She even wears the same necklace!

“I am a Dreamer, lost in this world.” She lied, acting the part. “Can you tell me how to get back?”

The Countess looked at her curiously. “To know of Dreamers is to know of the Realm of Dreams.” She pointed out, standing. “Dreamers themselves know nothing of their status as such amongst the many Realms of Companions and creatures. They believe their adventures as mere dreams.” She walked up to a still-kneeling Ariana and smiled. “Rise, and tell me who you are, Young One, or prepare to die in this Realm.”

Ariana gulped, standing. Something was familiar about the woman with dark hair tied in a bun and braids snaking a silver coronet. That same something told her to trust the woman, whatever her name was.

“I am called Ariana Moon; that is all.” She introduced herself. “I came from the Outer Realm.”

“Have you special abilities that allow you to travel the Inner Realms?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Ariana nodded, touching her Dream Locket. “I am an Ancient Mystic.”

“I feared as much.” The Countess sighed. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dracora Dratianos, Countess of the Dragon Nations and Queen of the Dweller-kin.”

“The Dragon Nations is a Realm of Dragons?” She asked, her eyes widened in recognition.

Dracora nodded. “Aye. This Realm houses the Dweller-kin at rest as well as my Draconian people.”

Ariana was confused. “What is a Dweller-kin?”

“To save for a lengthy explanation, let us say we are similar to vampires.”

Ariana held her breath, frozen and staring at Dracora in fear.

Dracora turned to a tall male dressed in warrior gear. “Leave us.”

“Aye, Countess.” The male saluted and left, trailed by a lovely woman with black as pitch hair and gentle black eyes.

The Countess smiled. “You may relax now, Young One.”

Ariana exhaled.

“Do you fear me?” Dracora asked.

Echoed somewhere in the back of Ariana’s mind, a male dragon was purring the same thing. It was reminiscent of a long-gone memory of another time and place.

She nodded. “Yes, Countess. I fear you.”

“You need not fear me, Young One.” Dracora purred, reaching out with a graceful hand and stroking her cheek. “I will not Feed unless I have need.”

Ariana gulped, stepping away and holding her throat. “Let us hope you do not have the need anytime soon.” She cleared her throat. “Please, Countess Dracora, can you tell me how to get back to the Realm of Dreams? I must –”

She almost gave herself away to the Countess’ trusting eyes.

“Return and patrol; is that it?” Dracora smiled as if reading the information directly from Ariana’s mind. “Just what does a Young One like you need to patrol?”

Ariana’s heart pounded as she used her empathy, unknowing why she didn’t use it when she first walked in. The Countess was a true monarch; gentle to her subjects and harsh to those who crossed her.

She stood tall and proud. “I am the Young Guardian of Dreams; Lord Guardian O’Dell’s successor.” She explained. “I am also a Dream Realm Crusader; one of many chosen by Lord Guardian himself to see Dreamers’ safety when they sleep.”

Dracora was skeptic. “Never heard of you.”

“Have you heard of Lord Guardian?” Ariana asked her.

Dracora nodded. “Of course. The Nations have always had dealings with O’Dell and his Mystics in the past.” She explained. “My father and he were close since the time they Originated the Mystic Realms.”

Ariana was awed. “You were there?”

“Young Guardian, the Mystic Realms is part of the Dragon Nations.” Dracora wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Walk with me to the Dining Hall.”

Dracora led her down the Main Hall.

“Pardon my confusion, but I thought vampires only drank blood.”

Dracora shook her head. “I only said we were like vampires. Dweller-kin are more Immortal than most in the Outer Realm. Unlike vampires, we are born as babes and grow to adulthood. We can eat normal foods and live somewhat-normal lives, just like you.” She supplied. “Now then, what else do you think you know of us?”

“You can be destroyed by stake to the heart, or beheading.”

Dracora laughed. “So can you.”

Ariana smiled, relaxing. “Fair enough. What about this, then? You drain your victims of their blood and kill them.”

“Aye and nay.” Dracora was apprehensive. “It is true we drink blood, but only for sustenance. Dweller-kin never drain their victims, else their souls would be lost and they would Turn Stalker.”

“Stalker?”

“The real vampires of legend.” Dracora said sadly. They were silent until she stopped them in front of a large door. Dracora stared at the door in deep thought, releasing Ariana’s shoulders. “You wish to return to the Dream Realm?”

“Yes, Countess.”

“Help me and I will help you in return.” Dracora looked at her. “Show me you are who and what you say you are.”

Ariana thought for a moment, contemplating the offer. “I am listening.”

“I’m in the middle of delegations between the Nations and the self-proclaimed master of the Vampire Hunters, King Yorn.” She explained. “As Young Guardian, you would be my advisor during the delegations, using your empathic abilities to sense his true intentions and relay what you sense to me with telepathy.”

Ariana contemplated it. If she agreed, the Countess would help her return to the Dream Realm, and she would return to her patrols of it. If she didn’t, she would be stuck in the Dragon Nations, perhaps as some Draconian’s snack?

“How long will it take?” Ariana bit her lip.

“That would be up to you, Young Guardian, Ariana Moon.” Dracora smiled, opening the doors. “I will explain more as we eat. Do you like mutton stew?”

Ariana blinked. “I have never had it,” she told the Countess truthfully. “I am willing to try anything at least once.”

Dracora clapped her back. “By all means then, the feast waits.”

Ariana’s beating heart betrayed her confidence. As much as she liked to pretend she was sure of herself and her abilities, she had no idea how it would work out during delegations.

After the meal, Dracora led her back to the Main Hall. The maiden Ariana saw before was waiting for them.

“Ah, there you are Elspeth.” Dracora grinned. “Maiden Elspeth, this is the Young Guardian named Ariana Moon. Why don’t you show her to the guest quarters?”

With a nod, Elspeth supplied. “Aye, Countess.” She turned to Ariana. “Follow me, my Lady.”

Ariana followed the maiden with small dragon’s wings on her back and a whip-like tail. The corridors were dark, the path illuminated only by candlelight. The walk was a silent one until Elspeth stopped at a door.

“My Lady, this will be your room.” Elspeth announced quietly, opening the door for her.

“Thank you, and please; call me Ariana.” She smiled.

The empathic feelings she was getting about Elspeth were warm and astute. Elspeth was a loyal subject to Dracora, as well as a close friend. “I am merely an Earthbound helping your Countess in return for safe passage back to the Realm of Dreams.”

“As you wish, Lady Ariana.” Elspeth bowed. “Rest for now. You will need your strength.”

“I agree.” Ariana kept her smile. “Again; thank you, Elspeth.”

“Kateea, Lady Ariana.” Elspeth nodded and left her alone.

 

III

 

It felt strange; sleeping and not going to the Realm of Dreams, or even the Mortal Realm. She missed everyone at the System and in the Mystic Province. There were no kind words or playful banter in her mind from Katherine; her feline friend was nowhere to be found. No Derrick to keep her upbeat and confident, joking around with her when she was down. No Lord Guardian to keep her on her toes with lessons on how to patrol the Mystic Realms and Dreamers’ Worlds. The trinket around her neck was the only reminder of her life in the System and duties in the Dream Realm.

A month into delegations told her and Dracora that King Yorn was not only planning to destroy her Dweller-kin who visited the Nations, but take over Dracora’s small monarchy. He wanted her as his queen, which was the only way he would spare all her people. He was a treacherous beast, but Dracora admitted to Ariana one night that she had no choice. The Draconians were her responsibility, Monarch’s Glenn was her inheritance; she wouldn’t let her people or monarchy die.

In that admission, Ariana grew close to Dracora, almost as sisters. She understood the pain the Countess went through, the pride she held for her people and the entire Dragon Nations. Of course, in front of King Yorn, Ariana was the silent observer.

In private, Dracora told her many things about the Dragon Nations. How, long ago, her oldest brother Draconis turned chaotic, appropriately naming himself Kaos, destroying nearly all the Nations in one blow. He destroyed their father, Brakkon, who had turned into his own chaotic form named Thorn and worked with the Dominionite Master Orthos. Once Thorn was destroyed, Draconis erected a wall of fire between the Nations and the borderline of the Realm of Dreams before disappearing.

Ariana was reminded of the nightmare she had the night before she appeared in Monarch’s Glenn, telling Dracora about it once they were alone. She also told Dracora about the large black dragon with silvery scales that destroyed what she thought were vampires, saving her in a single swoop. The Countess was silent, excusing herself for the evening with a wistful look in her eyes. Confused, she looked at Elspeth, the dragon-maiden who always stood over her. Elspeth shook her head sadly, following the Countess.

One morning, two weeks after she told the Countess about her nightmare, she abruptly awoke to a serious pain in her neck and a coppery taste in her mouth. Going to her private bathroom, she saw two tiny pinpricks at her jugular. There was a small line of rust-colored blood dripping from one of the pinpricks, and to her astonishment, from her lips. The area felt hot, almost reminiscent of when she did the Blood Pact with the twins.

Using her empathy to locate Dracora and confront her, she dressed and raced to the Dining Hall.

The Countess was seated at her place at the head of the table. Alone.

“You Fed from me.” She accused. “Without my consent or knowledge.”

“I Fed; aye, I admit it.” Dracora supplied without emotion. “I also replenished you, therefore binding you to me as my blood-sister.”

Ariana’s lips were pursed, angry. “May I ask why?”

“I suffered from the Hunger, so I Fed.” Dracora pointed out softly, pausing to gather her next words. “In time, you may see it as a blessing, rather than a curse.”

“You Turned me into one of you.” Ariana argued.

Dracora finally looked at her. “I did no such thing. I only bound you to me through our blood, so when you are in need of me, you may call for me in your mind.”

“Lord Guardian will be livid once he senses what you have done.” Ariana folded her arms.

“I would believe so, aye.” Dracora supplied, again without emotion. “I will tell him, though.”

“When you feel like it, I take it?” Ariana sneered.

Dracora merely smiled. “Do you not need to be returning? I am sure you are sorely missed.”

“Show me how to get back to the Mystic Realms, as you promised, and I will gladly leave your company, Countess.” Ariana could feel the magic bubbling in her system, coating her aura and hands in bright silver.

Dracora kept her smile. You see that silvery glow? Ariana heard Dracora’s voice in her mind for the first time. That is your anger, and a great, powerful magic I don’t believe you’re ready for quite yet. She turned to Elspeth, who stood above her. “Fetch the Dragon’s Claw dagger for me, please.”

Elspeth nodded, bowing. “Aye, Countess.”

Ariana harrumphed.

“While we wait, I do believe you should learn to control that magic; otherwise, it will control you.” Dracora explained. She stood and went over to Ariana. “I do apologize for Feeding on you, but you were the only Earthbound here. I could not leave you here alone as I went to the Dweller Kin-Clans in Romania for a proper, uh, bite.”

Ariana smiled at that, the silvery glow fading with her anger.

“There we are.” The Countess looked up and said as Elspeth returned, handing her a dagger, hilt-first. “Thank you, Elspeth.”

“You’re welcome, Countess.”

“Now then, Ariana; do you see this?” Ariana nodded. “This is the very dagger I used to bind you to me through our blood. Infused with both our blood, it is a very powerful weapon. I’m gifting it to you, as a reminder of me and what we accomplished.”

Ariana took it, examining it. A pewter dragon’s tail snaked the hilt, meeting with the guard, which were two separate dragon’s heads. In the middle was a round onyx stone. It Felt powerful, in its own right.

“Thank you, Dracora.” Ariana said, placing it in her calf-high boot. “I apologize for my blatant disrespect.”

“Accepted; though your anger was properly placed,” Dracora told her with a smile, looking up. She addressed a guard she’d named Trenor. “Trenor, show her the way to the Borderline. The weak point in the FireWall should be near the Dream Realm’s Province Wood, if I’m not mistaken.”

“You’re not mistaken, Countess.” Trenor grinned. “Come, Young Guardian. It is time I helped you home.”

Ariana hugged Dracora. “I will never forget you.”

“Nor I, you, Blood-sister.” Dracora returned in her ear, pulling back from it. “Thank you for your help with King Yorn. Suffice to say, the delegations were a success.”

“You are welcome.” Ariana nodded with a grin. “I will try to visit, if I can.”

“Should you have need of me, I will always be a thought away.” Dracora tapped her temple, winking. “Pleasant Journeys, Young Guardian Ariana.”

Trenor led her outside before he shifted his form to a large olive-colored dragon and told her to climb on. They flew the skies until she could barely see the Province Wood below them. Sure enough, there was a giant wall of fire blocking their path.

“Watch this.” Trenor chuckled, flying over the FireWall and landing just inside the Borderline. Once she jumped off his back, he shifted form to what Dracora had called a Demi-form, one that was similar to a Companion: half-dragon, half-Immortal. With a bow, he announced. “Pleasant Journeys, wherever your path may lead you.”

“Pleasant Journeys to you as well, and thank you for the ride.” Ariana supplied.

After he shifted to a great dragon once again, he flew away.

She reached into her boot and took out the Dragon’s Claw dagger. With her other hand, she touched the Dream Locket and closed her eyes.

 

Derrick was waiting on the bed for her when she reopened them.

“Have a nice nap?” He asked, kissing her lips.

She sat up, put on her eyeglasses and read the time. It was only seven o’clock at night.

“How long was I sleeping?” She asked, eyes focusing on his.

“Since lunch, I’d say.” Derrick answered.

She debated telling him. “Impossible.” She breathed, feeling something in her left hand. She reached and took out the very dagger Dracora had used to bind them.

“Where did you get that?” He asked, reaching for it.

She pulled it away. “You would not believe me, even if I told you.”

“Try me.” He said after a minute, his eyes serious.

She told him everything; from the first time she appeared in Monarch’s Glenn, being chased by blood-thirsty vampires, to the very moment she awoke. He was silent for a moment in deep thought.

“You’re right; I don’t believe you.” Derrick told her. “But since you have that dagger, it’s more than enough proof for me.”

Ariana’s stomach growled. “How about if I convince you over dinner?”

Derrick kissed her again. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

She hid the dagger in a safe place before going to the bathroom and taking a quick shower to clear her thoughts. Somehow, even with the dagger in the Mortal Realm with her as proof, she didn’t half believe it, either.

 

 

Chapter Thirteen:

Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen

 

“When is your birthday, Ariana?” Shannon asked one day as they were practicing her magic.

Ariana shrugged, “I never really thought of it.”

“How did you know how old you were?” Shannon was curious. “You had to have celebrated it sometime, right?”

Ariana shook her head sadly. “The twins and I always went by their birthday, October thirtieth. That way, I would not feel bad.”

Shannon smiled. “You loved the twins, didn’t you?”

Ariana nodded. “They were my brother and sister, with Aaron later becoming my lover.” She thought for a moment, touching the Blood-Pact scar and the bracelet on her wrist. “I miss them.”

Shannon winked. “You’ll see ‘em again someday, I bet.” She smiled, as if knowing something. “Tell you what; we’ll keep to that tradition. October thirtieth is only a week away. We’ll have a System-wide celebration. What do you say?”

Shannon was so excited about the idea; Ariana couldn’t help being excited about it, too.

“Okay.” Ariana grinned. “In that case, next week, I will be sixteen summers.”

Shannon looked at her curiously. “Sixteen summers? Don’t you mean years?”

You must have picked up the term from Dracora, Katherine surmised.

“Yes. Sorry.” Ariana blushed. “Years.”

Shannon smiled. “Can’t say you were sweet sixteen and never been kissed.” It was her turn to give Shannon a curious look. “It’s an old saying; I don’t even know where it came from.”

“Ah.” Ariana smiled. “So, are we finished for the day? I am meeting Derrick in King’s Court so he can teach me how to play tennis.”

“Sounds fun.” Shannon winked. “Go ahead; we’ll continue tomorrow, okay?”

Ariana left then, returning to Fourth-Floor.

 

II

 

For the following week, Ariana noticed Derrick and her other agent friends were acting strange. She tried using Empathy to find out what was going on, but she could not sense anything out of the ordinary.

October thirtieth came, and even Derrick was excited. “Come on, we’re going to be late.”

“It is only a small celebration in the Common’s Room.” Ariana remarked, brushing her hair, fixing it into small braids before pinning it in the back of her head. She was in the bathroom, dressing for the evening.

When she came out, she took Derrick’s outstretched hand and twirled.

“You look breathtaking, Love.” Derrick pulled her to him and kissed her lips. “May I be the first to wish you happy sweet sixteen, sweetheart?”

Ariana melted in his arms. In the three months since her visit to the Dragon Nations, she and Derrick spent a lot of time together, strengthening their relationship. He was the perfect boyfriend and partner; protective, loving and fair. He listened to her every tale, helping her as she helped him. They had a lot of fun together when they were alone. He really knew how to make her feel loved.

“I’d love to stay in this position, Ariana, but we really have to go.” Derrick whispered in her ear with a light chuckle, kissing it.

Ariana blushed, pulling away and taking his hand. He led her out the door and they were on their way.

The Common’s Room was dark when they came up to the double doors.

She stopped and smiled. “They are waiting to surprise me.”

“Can you act surprised?” Derrick teased. “Just for the fun of it?”

“Certainly.” Ariana nodded, grinning. “I will even act impressed.”

Derrick laughed, opening the door for her.

“Happy Birthday, Ariana!”

The lights turned themselves on and her agent friends rushed to greet her. A deejay started to play music; and before long, the party was in full swing. She was having fun, laughing and joking with her fellow agents. It seemed the entire Agency was there, just for her.

She took a break from dancing an hour in. Derrick left her side for the first time that night to get them something to drink. Despite the excitement and fun, she could not help feeling sad.

Happy birthday, Aaron and Aimee. She thought to the twins, touching her Blood-Pact scar.

Happy birthday, Ari. The twins relayed, making her smile. It felt good knowing that she was never far from their thoughts, as they were never far from hers.

“Are you okay?” Derrick tapped her shoulder.

She opened her eyes and smiled, taking the offered drink. “I am now. Thank you.”

“May I ask what’s wrong?”

She sipped, thinking of her next words. “It was nothing; I was just thinking about the twins, that is all.”

“The twins?” Derrick asked. “What twins?”

“Aaron and Amethyst, the twins I grew up with in the orphanage.” She told him. “They share the same birthday. I was just wishing they were here, so we could celebrate it together.”

He didn’t know what to say, so he led her to the dance floor. During a slow song, she laid her head on his chest and closed her eyes as he held her close. His heartbeat nearly matched hers. In moments, it was as if they were the only ones there; she was lost in his embrace.

Happy birthday, Ariana Moon. She heard a female voice in her mind that sounded like her. She tried picturing the sender but her mind-sight was cloudy.

She shook her head, dismissing it until she could figure it out.

“Now what’s wrong?” Derrick whispered.

“I thought I heard someone in my mind, wishing me happy birthday.” Ariana whispered back, opening her eyes once the song was over.

Derrick led her away from the dance floor so they could talk in private. “Tell me about it.”

“Definitely female. Telepathic. Her voice sounds like mine.” Ariana explained.

Derrick took a breath, acting as if he wanted to say something.

“Do you know who it may be?” Ariana asked.

He looked away, shaking his head. “Not a clue.”

Somehow, she didn’t believe him. Rather than letting it ruin a perfectly good night, she put it to the back of her mind.

When he didn’t look back at her, she followed his gaze. Shannon was beckoning him from across the room. She let him go, turning to mingle at her own party.

She sensed someone in the corner, hiding in the shadows, depressed. As she walked over to him, she saw the dark brown hair and sad brown eyes of Shane “The Shadow” Morehouse. She sensed his depression went deeper than the cup he was staring into.

“Hey Shadow.” She called out, smiling. He looked up at her with a smile, frowning when their eyes met. “Care to dance?”

Shadow shrugged, mumbling something under his breath. She had to strain her ears to hear it. “Excuse me?”

He leaned in and whispered. “I can’t dance.”

Ariana smiled. “Nonsense. It is not that hard; come on.”

She stretched her hand out for him to take. He stared at it. “What about Derrick?”

“What about him?” Ariana countered. “It is just one dance, Shadow. I am not asking you to go out with me.”

Shadow smiled, taking her hand and leading her to the dance floor. “You’re gonna regret this, Ariana.”

Ariana winked. “Try me.”

To her surprise, a slow song began to play, and he pulled her closer, wrapping his arms around her waist. Kissing her cheek, he whispered in her ear. “Oh, how I’ve missed you, Luna Star.”

Ariana stepped back, shaking her head and staring at him. “Shadow.”

Once looking into her eyes, he quickly apologized, pulling away from her. “I’m so sorry, Ariana. I just, I’m so, so, sorry.”

He sprinted back to his place in the shadows. Feeling bad for him, she followed, taking a seat next to him. “It is okay, Shadow. I forgive you.” She tried whispering. After a moment, she asked. “Is Luna Star your girlfriend?”

He nodded. “She’s another agent here. Her codename is Lu-Lu and she’s the most wonderful girl I’ve ever met.”

The codename whispered in her mind like a forgotten memory, but she could not think why. Not wanting to dwell on it, she dared ask. “What happened to her?”

“She was sent away a few weeks ago.” Shadow explained. “I miss her so much.”

Ariana reached to take his hand. “I understand.” She told him. “I miss my twin siblings Aimee and Aaron. They share my birthday; or rather, I share theirs.”

Shadow gave her the same curious look Shannon had. “What do you mean?”

“I grew up in the Shore Point Home for Children.” Ariana explained. “The first memory I have is when I arrived there at five years old. I had no idea when my birthday was, for no one told me. When I met the twins, they said I could share theirs with them. I have celebrated it with them since.”

Why did she tell him all that? She hardly knew him!

“Have you ever met Lu-Lu?” Shadow asked, returning to the subject.

She shook her head. “Never. However,” She continued with a grin. “I still want to be your friend. Friends are there for you when you are in trouble.”

Shadow smiled. “So, you think I’m in trouble?”

Ariana smiled back. “No, I know you are.”

Shadow laughed. “Maybe that’s why Shannon wants us to be partners?”

It was a new one on her; the statement caught her by surprise. “Partners?” She frowned, crossing her arms. “Explain.”

“Didn’t they tell you?” Shadow asked. “We’re going to be on our own project together.”

Ariana abruptly stood. “No! I am still on the Crusader project!”

“Thanks to your patrols, the Dream Realm is in peace, so there’s no need to Crusade.”

“I am still the Young Guardian; what about that?”

“Shannon assured us our project wouldn’t interfere with your duties.”

“Us?” Ariana asked. “Just how many people are involved?”

“Just Shannon, Derrick and me.” Shadow raised his hands in surrender. He looked away for a moment before looking back at her. “Why don’t you ask her for yourself? She’s coming this way.”

“Maybe I will.” Ariana frowned. Sure enough, she saw Shannon and Derrick heading toward them. Hands on her hips, she demanded. “What is the meaning of this? How could you split us up?”

“So much for secrecy,” Shannon sighed, frowning at Shadow. “What did you tell her?”

“Just that we were going to be on our own project together.” Shadow shrugged. “That’s all.”

“Answer me.” Ariana demanded.

“I’ve been offered the chance of a lifetime,” Derrick took her hands and met her angry eyes. “I’ll be training side-by-side with an actual police detective.”

Ariana relaxed. Far be it for her to come between his dreams of becoming a police detective. “How long?”

“Two weeks.” Derrick supplied.

“Meet me here first thing tomorrow morning, you three.” Shannon instructed. “We’ll discuss it in more detail then.” She took a deep breath and pasted on a smile. “Besides, this is your party, Ariana. Enjoy it.”

Turning on her heel, she walked away, leaving the three of them staring at each other.

 

III

 

When the party was over, Derrick and Ariana went back to Fourth-Floor to change into their swimsuits. He led her to a place on the beach where the ocean met the shore.

It was just as it had been in her favorite daydream. He stopped them in their tracks and just held her close to him, turning to watch the sun disappear behind the mountains. The gentle October breeze lapped the sea against their feet.

They stood there, staring into each other’s eyes with love. Derrick finally reached down and kissed her lips passionately.

Ariana’s empathy opened up on its own, sensing he wanted more than just to kiss her lips and hold her close. She felt his hand gently circling her lower back, relaxing her.

“Gods, Ariana,” Derrick breathed, unable to take his eyes off hers. “I love you so much; I just wish I could show you.”

“You can show me, Derrick James.” Ariana whispered.

Derrick sat them down on the grass under a large oak tree by the sand. She could sense his anxiety; it made her smile.

“Do not be afraid.” Ariana wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling them both to a lying position on the grass. Taking a chance, she gingerly snaked one of her hands down his thin shirt to his growing manhood. Derrick moaned when her fingers barely touched the pulsing bulge in his swim trunks. “Know in your heart of hearts we are meant to be.”

“Gods, Love.” He gasped in a whisper, moving his hand to experiment with gently caressing her breast. “You don’t know what you do to me.”

“I am pretty sure I do.” Ariana breathed seductively, kissing him again.

When the kiss was broken, he asked. “Have you ever, you know, done it before?”

She didn’t want to tell him about Aaron, so she asked. “Have you?”

Derrick shook his head.

“Then we will learn together.” Ariana whispered, kissing him. In her mind, she sent. As one.

They made love on the beach. She knew he could feel the power wrapping around them, tying them closer together. He was more than her Earthly Protector, boyfriend and partner. He was her true love. They even climaxed at the same time, the bonds of love tightening, sending each of them into their own worlds of bliss. They wrapped themselves around each other, staring at the stars until the air around them cooled. In the wee hours of the night, after making love one more time in their quarters, they fell asleep together in her bed by the balcony.

 

IV

 

The next morning, she took a deep breath, opening her silver-blue eyes to meet his dark brown. “Morning.”

Derrick smiled back, kissing her lips. “Morning to you, too.” He sighed. “Ready to see me off?”

“Not really.” She frowned, not really liking the reminder, especially after their time together last night. “What time is it?”

“It’s only seven.” Derrick told her, checking his Life-Line watch. “Shan called. We don’t have to report for a couple hours yet, so I’m all yours until then.”

“Good.” She took his hand and pulled him to the bathroom.

Ariana was out of the shared shower before him, dressing and pulling her hair up into a long playful plait. She headed to the balcony to sort out her thoughts.

What they shared last night felt right; her heart thumped just thinking about it. Her soul shared with Derrick what it had never shared with Aaron, confirming she and Derrick were made for each other.

It also meant she would miss him terribly in the two weeks they were apart.

Perhaps that was why she rushed them? She always knew she wanted to make love to him, sharing with him her heart, soul and mind as she did, but she always left it for him to decide when.

Until last night.

Ariana sighed, staring into the morning shore. The waves sparkled in the sunlight, giving the view a romantic glow.

Now she felt guilty.

She felt his arms wrap around her waist and a gentle kiss against the nape of her neck.

“I love you, Ariana Moon.” Derrick moaned in her ear as he pulled her for a hug.

Ariana didn’t answer right away, thoughts still on her guilt. Her arms gently traced his, mind searching for the right words.

“Love, what’s wrong?” He asked, kissing her ear.

She turned in his embrace and met his eyes. After a moment, she voiced her thoughts. “Do you think we are taking it too fast, too soon?”

Derrick blinked at the question. “Why would you ask that?” He wondered. “What we did was right, and we both knew going into it.”

She tried another tactic. “I did not pressure you into losing your innocence?”

“I wanted to make love to you as much as you did to me.” Derrick searched her eyes, kissing her again and caressing her cheek with the back of his hand. “I felt only pleasure.”

“You did not mind losing it to me?”

He was shocked into silence for a moment. “Ariana, Love, you’re the only one I have ever wanted, or will ever want.” He hugged her, laughing lightly. “Why are you asking all these silly questions?”

“To me, they are not silly.” Ariana broke away from his embrace, shaking her head and turning back to the view. “There is a lot you do not know about me, or my past.”

“Like why you never told me I wasn’t your first?” Derrick coaxed.

“Exactly.” She said, thinking of Aaron.

“Were you forced?” Derrick was concerned, looking into her eyes.

Ariana smiled. “Goddess, no. Aaron and I only did it to feel safe from Mrs. Gertrude.”

He thought for a moment. “One of the twins you told me about last night?”

Ariana nodded. “He is elder by five minutes, thinking himself Aimee’s and my ultimate protector. Were it not for Aaron, I would not be here.”

“What do you mean?”

“He gave me the courage to run away from the orphanage.” Ariana explained. “He fell in love with me, and I first thought myself in love with him.”

Derrick stepped away. “What changed?”

“Meeting you in the Dream Realm; then here.” Ariana wrapped her arms around him. “I fell in love with you from the moment I laid eyes on you. I can never feel anything for Aaron now, other than best friendship or kinship.”

“That’s good to know,” Derrick smiled, kissing her lips and holding each other. They were lost to the world around them until both their Life-Line watches beeped the time.

He looked at his. “Eight o’clock. We used up a lot of energy in that shower.” He broke from the embrace and grasped her hand. “Let’s eat before I have to go.”

Chapter Fourteen:

The Healing Project

 

An hour and a half later, they walked into the Commons Room, laughing and sharing loving smiles. Their glances met those of a very patient, yet smiling Shannon Ryan and Shadow, chuckling to himself under his breath, arms folded and head shaking.

“Sorry we are late.” Ariana shared a teasing look with Derrick.

“We, uh, slept in.” Derrick cleared his throat.

“Yeah, I’ll bet you did.” Shadow teased him, winking.

Shannon handed them each separate folders. “All right, team. Those folders hold your instructions and itineraries for the next two weeks.”

Ariana caught Shadow’s “she’s crazy” look.

Shannon went on. “Redding, everything you’ll need to know is in that folder. Where you’ll stay, who you’ll report to each day, and so on. I’ve given you a money card with enough to get you by until you return, if you use it wisely.”

Derrick swallowed, staring at the folder in his hands. “Right, Shannon.”

Ariana glanced at Shadow, who shoved his folder under his arm. She then stared sadly at Shannon, waiting her next instructions.

“Sister, you’ll be in the Ginger Room with Shadow. He’ll be your partner until Derrick returns. It will give you guys the perfect chance to get to know one another, given you don’t already. Follow him on any case that comes up, just as he will with you.”

“What about my duties as Young Guardian?” Ariana asked. “Surely, they are not on-hold until Derrick returns?”

“Of course not.” Shannon grinned. “He’ll be with you in Derrick’s place.”

“No offense, Shadow, but can I trust him to help on my nightly patrols?”

“It’ll be fine,” She paused, studying Ariana’s questioning eyes. “Wherever you go, he goes and vice versa. Is that clear?”

Ariana took a deep breath. “Crystal.”

Shannon turned to Shadow. “Shadow?”

“It’s clear.” Shadow nodded. “Can we go already?”

“In a hurry, are you?”

Shadow stared at Shannon, who stared back. “You could say that, yeah.”

“Good.” Shannon nodded. “You are dismissed. I still have a few things to talk to Redding about before I send him on his way.”

Ariana nodded, kissing him goodbye. “Take care, Redding.” She whispered, staring into his eyes. “I do not want to lose you now that we found each other.”

“Likewise, Sister.” Derrick agreed, hugging her.

 

II

 

Within the hour, Shadow and Ariana were set up in the room across from Fourth-Floor. Shadow had been in silent thought as he watched her pack. Once he let them in his room, he closed the door and she sat on one of the beds.

Her empathy wouldn’t let it go. Something told her his depression was deeper now, and she felt she was the only one able to help him. Question was, how? She knew he missed his girlfriend, Luna; how else would he make the mistake of calling her by the wrong name as they danced the night before?

Lu-Lu must be pretty special to him. Ariana thought to herself. Probably as special as Derrick is to me.

He sighed, slapping the folder with their itinerary on the bed next to hers before sitting. He opened a laptop computer and drowned himself in work.

She shook her head. This will not do.

“You are awfully quiet, Shane.” She reverted to his given name.

That got his attention. He turned to her and frowned. “I’m Shadow to you, not Shane. Got it?”

Ariana nodded. “Sorry.” She whispered. “I thought that since we were partnered together, we would not have to hide behind codenames.”

“You thought wrong.” He said grumpily, turning back to his laptop.

The empathic push of aggravation was enough to give her a headache. She held her head, rubbing her temples.

After a moment, Shadow spoke again. “Sorry; I forgot you were an Open Empath.”

Ariana looked at him. “It is okay.”

“No, it’s not.” Shadow argued. “You shouldn’t be subjected to feelings like that here. The System is our home; we’re a family.”

She smiled. “Just the thought of a true family makes me smile.”

Shadow smiled back. “Me, too.”

Nervous, he went back to his laptop. She watched him, her empathy unable to read him.

He must have felt her watching. “What?” He licked his palm and wiped his face. “Do I have dirt on my face or something?”

Ariana smiled, shaking her head. “Nay. You are very secretive and interesting. Just watching you intrigues me to no end.”

Shadow laughed. “I intrigue you, do I?”

Ariana grinned. “Thought you would like that.” She teased.

Shadow shut the laptop and turned to her, clearing his throat. “You know, I’ve been the Shadow for so long, it’s not just a codename for me. It’s become who I am.”

“I understand.” Ariana said. “I have not been the Young Guardian for long, but I am growing to become her.”

Shadow looked at his hands, then back at her. When she didn’t say anything for a minute, he asked. “Are you mad?”

She pasted on a smile and shook her head. “Why would I be?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” He sighed. “Separated from the one you love for two weeks. Must be hard. Am I close?”

She held up her finger and thumb with half-inch in between. “This close.”

“I’m used to Lu-Lu going away.” Shadow shrugged.

She frowned at him. “How could you dismiss her like that? Being away from them does not take away the pain, Shadow.” She explained. “Do not tell me it does not burn you inside not being with her? Do not pretend you do not yearn for her touch in her absence.” She sighed, gathering her thoughts and trying not to cry. Already, she missed Derrick. “I will not replace her, you know. I will not even try, for my heart’s true love is Derrick’s.”

Ariana took a deep breath, continuing when he didn’t answer. “We can be friends, Shadow. We might turn out to be best friends once this is over.”

“We might,” Shadow whispered, still thinking. “Lu and Derrick are best friends; no reason for us not to be.”

Ariana blinked. “They are? Why has he never spoken of her, or introduced us?”

“It’s supposed to be a secret.” Shadow responded. “Since you arrived, you’re all that Derrick talks or thinks about. I should know; I’ve tried teaching him weaponry, but his mind’s never on it.”

“That is sweet, but why is it supposed to be a secret?” Ariana didn’t want him trailing off the subject, as Shannon was so prone to doing. She wanted to know what he did about Lu-Lu.

“You can’t tell anyone, mainly Derrick that I told you this, but Lu-Lu was his first partner here.” Shadow began. “It was several months ago, when Lu and I were first dating. I picked him up from his hometown and brought him here.”

She nodded, scowling as she crossed her arms and listened to his tale. “He told me the last part. Now tell me the rest.”

Shadow shrugged. “I guess he fell in love with her, but she loved me. Not knowing what to do, she came to me for advice. I didn’t have any to give her, so we separated for a while.” He continued. “I saw them together, laughing and having fun wherever they went. They worked so well on cases, and I became insanely jealous of them. It nearly tore me apart, seeing the girl I love with another guy.”

“Did you ever confront her?”

If Derrick never got over her, Ariana mused sadly, not finishing the thought.

“Yeah.” He grinned at a memory. “I disguised it as inviting her to a game of volleyball in King’s Court.” He confessed. “I took her to a special place only we knew of and talked about it. She felt awful, telling me how every time she kissed him, she thought of me. She didn’t want to hurt the poor guy, so she let him have his illusion of returning his love.”

“How long did it last after that?” Ariana drilled. “Their relationship, I mean.”

“Not long,” He assured. “She put an end to the charade and told him the truth. Luna loved me, and could never love him the same way. They declared a best friendship, she was sent away a week later, he met you, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Ariana looked down in thought. “Why had he never told me about her?”

“You’re not supposed to know, so keep it between us, okay?” Shadow looked serious. “For now, we’ll leave it at this: Derrick loves you; you love him. Luna loves me; I love her. Derrick and Luna are best friends, and I want us to be, too. That is, if you don’t mind?”

Ariana grinned, standing up and hugging him. “I would not mind it one bit.” She sat next to him. “After all, we are stuck with one another for two weeks. Might as well have some fun with it.”

“We’re partners now.” Shadow laughed, wrapping an arm around her and playfully touching her nose. “We’ll share things with each other we won’t even share with our loves.”

Ariana felt better about the whole thing, initiating a quick kiss to his lips. The Empathic zing she felt only confirmed their words. They would become close in ways they’d never be able to describe. In time, that true friendship would help them through any obstacle in their lives.

She only hoped Derrick felt the same way about Luna; he needed a true friend as much as she did. If the four of them formed a tight enough bond, it would get them through anything in their lives; even Dominionites and the Master Orthos.

Now all she had to do was meet Lu-Lu.

 

III

 

Shadow treated her to lunch at the Café that afternoon, swapping stories. Him from the time he arrived; her from her youth. When they were finished, they returned to the Ginger Room, laughing like old friends.

“Never underestimate the power of a Mystic.” Shadow was telling her, concluding a story about Shannon.

“I know her as well, so I never do.” Ariana grinned, sitting on the bed with her hands crossed behind her head. “I am still fascinated by you, Shadow.”

“Little ol’ me?” Shadow sat on his bed beside hers. “Why me?”

“You are the best of the best here, so mysterious and secretive.” Ariana teased. “I want to know how you got that way. I mean, what is your story? When and how did you get here?”

Shadow shook his head. “It’s not pretty; sure you wanna hear it?”

Ariana stared at him seriously. “You tell me yours; I will tell you mine.”

“I already know your story.” Shadow told her. “Big Guy picked you up from the Juvenile Detention Center nearby. Shannon told me you were an orphan.”

“Is that all she told you about me?”

“That, and you were an Ancient Mystic like her.” Shadow grinned. “Of course, she warned me of your being the Young Guardian.” He shrugged. “What did she tell you about me?”

“Not much. Just that you were a shy loner, not trusting many people.” Ariana explained. “Do you trust me enough to tell me your story?”

Shadow shook his head and chuckled, noticing the patient smile on her face. “When I was nine, my parents died in a car crash.”

Her smile faded. “I am sorry to hear that.”

Shadow shrugged, continuing his story. “Shannon’s aunt Dixilynne Ryan picked me up from a foster home a month later, bringing me here.”

Dixilynne sure was a good woman before she passed. Katherine purred. Ariana agreed. From visiting you, to giving Scott Archer the job of watching over you, and now this?

I really wish we could have met her again. Ariana sighed.

Back to the present. “How did you react to your parents’ deaths?”

“I was devastated, depressed, and my dreams were haunted by the story.” Shadow explained softly. “Soon, they turned into nightmares.”

Ariana gasped softly, the empathy opening and telling her he was losing himself in memories. His heart wanted him to cry, but he was determined not to around her. While he may have thought it was admirable, she could sense he needed to get it off his chest.

Quietly, she stood and wrapped her arms around him. “It is okay to cry, Shane.” She whispered in his ear. “I will not tell anyone; I promise.”

He slowly wrapped his arms around her and held her as the tears shook him. She rubbed his back, sitting beside him on the bed when he finally released her. She handed him a tissue and waited for him to gather his thoughts.

I bet he is just like me. Ariana thought to her feline friend, who agreed.

Only way to know is to ask. Katherine told her.

“You do not always have to be strong, Shadow.” She told him, rubbing his back. “I think, over the years, you have learned to keep your emotions inside, believing it would show weakness.”

Shadow turned to her. “How can you know something that deep about me?” He managed to croak. “Did you read my mind?”

Ariana shook her head. “I read your emotions, which sometimes mirror my own. I took from my own experiences growing up and applied it to you.”

After a moment, he asked. “You don’t hate me for it?”

“Why would I hate you?” Ariana countered. “Just because you cried on me does not make you weak, or me hate you for showing emotion.”

He hugged her again. “Thank you, Sister.”

Somehow, the word sounded right. He felt like an older brother, and she his younger sister.

“You are welcome, brother.” She returned, kissing his cheek. “You can call me Ariana anytime.”

“Brother?” Shadow was surprised. “Really? I was just calling you by your codename.”

Ariana shook her head. “I prefer Ariana, or Ariana Moon. ‘Sister’ was just something Shannon came up with for me, since I did not have a surname of my own.”

“But ‘brother’?” Shadow asked again. “Do you really mean it?”

“I mean what I say, Shadow.” Ariana told him. “Always. Just as I never break a promise.”

“Will you tell your story now?” Shadow asked with a grin.

Ariana took a deep breath and told her story. From the day she woke up in the orphanage at five years old, to receiving the Dream Locket at seven, meeting Dixilynne the next day and her bond with the twins Aimee and Aaron. She explained Aimee’s idea of the Blood-Pact when they were eleven, so the twins would learn magic right along with her. Ariana told him of her time at the Sheridans after she ran away, then the Juvenile Detention Center, and finally the Dolls.

“The circle of hate, as I began to call it, continued for another year before I ran away yet once again.” She concluded. “I ended up in the Juvenile Detention Center again, where Big Guy found me a week later. I have been here since.”

He studied her for a moment. “The circle has ended for you, hasn’t it?” He asked, kissing her head.

“Yes.” She whispered. “Finally.”

They sat together for awhile, lost in thought.

“You don’t think I’m taking advantage of you, do you?” Shadow asked timidly.

“I thought that is what you thought I was doing.” Ariana giggled. “Oh, Shadow. Are we not a pair?”

“A pair of what, I may ask?” Shadow teased.

“A pair of good friends, I believe.” She joked back. “That is, if you still consider me one, after I told you my unbelievable tale.”

Shadow hugged her, kissing her lips. Sure enough, it was a friendship-love she received, not that of true-love.

“You expect me to drop you like a hot potato, simply because you told me your past?” Shadow kissed her head. “I wouldn’t dream of it.” She giggled at the pun. Shadow continued. “I consider you a true friend. It’s like we understand each other, thanks to our near-forgotten pasts.”

Near-forgotten pasts? Ariana thought, standing with a gasp as it dawned on her.

“What?” He asked. “What is it?”

“I am going to kill Shannon Ryan!” She laughed. Shadow was confused, so she went on, gesturing around her. “This! She wanted us to help each other heal so we could get on with our lives. That is why she put us together. That is why she sent Lu-Lu and Derrick away! So we could do it without distractions.” She paced. “Wait until I get my hands on her; she is going to get it!”

“You know what I think?” Shadow asked, following her train of thought as he watched her pace.

“Dare I ask?” She stopped pacing for a moment.

“I think it worked.” He grinned, pausing. “I even think she had help.”

Ariana’s eyes narrowed. “Now that I think about it, not even Shannon could do this alone. Are you thinking your girlfriend had a hand in this as well?”

“Luna may be loving, but she’s also scheming.” Shadow grinned. “There’s none better than her, other than me, to pull off something this big.”

“Why would she care?” Ariana asked.

“Besides the obvious fact I just happen to be her boyfriend?” Shadow countered. “Perhaps she saw something about you in a vision, and wanted to help us both?”

“Vision?” Ariana asked.

“Luna’s known for her clairvoyant visions.” Shadow tried to explain. “They’re not always on the money, so we don’t really pay attention to them.”

“There is no way she could be an Ancient Mystic then?” Ariana sat on her bed and sighed. “Just a hit-or-miss Clairvoyant, like Aurora?”

Shadow shrugged. “I honestly don’t know.”

For the remainder of the night, they were silent. He hid himself in his laptop. She was thinking about the prospect of having a family, perhaps in Lu-Lu and Shadow.

 

 

Chapter Fifteen:

The Blood-Lust

 

That night, Ariana called O’Dell’s spell and took Shadow with her on her patrols. Katherine met them at the Garden gate.

“Sulheya and Greetings, Young Guardian and Young Shadow!” Katherine waved, a smile appearing on a face that was frowning a moment ago.

Ariana blinked, turning to Shadow. “You know each other?”

Shadow smiled. “Of course.” He turned to Katherine. “How goes it, Kat?”

Katherine shook her head. “Not well; Sabrina’s Searchers are on the alert for her and Young Derrick.” She turned back to Ariana. “We must hide quickly; they are on their way.”

“How many?” Ariana asked her.

“Four on this watch.” Katherine told her.

Ariana nodded in thought, turning to Shadow. “Ever fought Dominionites before?”

Shadow’s mouth thinned to a straight line. “I’m a Crusader who fought in the Wars for Power.”

Ariana grinned. “So that is why Shannon assured I would be fine without Derrick.”

“You did not know he was a Dream Realm Crusader?” Katherine asked.

Ariana shook her head. “No one told me.”

“For good reason.” Shadow supplied. “After our Crusade was over, Shannon made us vow to keep it secret.”

“You can count on me to keep it.” Ariana smiled. She turned back to Katherine. “Let them find us.”

“But Young Guardian,” Katherine interjected, sharing a worried look with Shadow.

“I tire of running.” Ariana told her. “I have been running from them for too long. Now that I have the Dragon Claw Dagger, I have something to fight them with.”

Shadow smiled. “You have a weapon now?”

Ariana nodded, showing him by drawing it from its leather sheath at her belt. “I received it from the Countess of the Dragon Nations.” She stopped herself from telling him about the Blood-binding. She sheathed it. “I have been using it since.”

“Great.” Shadow winked. “Wanna see somethin’ cool?”

He reached behind his back and unsheathed a long sword. The handle was all black, as was the hilt. The blade itself wasn’t silver steel, but hard obsidian. Ariana was awed as she watched something at his throat glow silver, a magic wind wrapping itself from the necklace to the blade.

“That is cool.” Ariana whispered.

“Thanks.” Shadow grinned. “It’s my Shadowblade. I earned it in the Wars, fighting against the Master’s Dominionites.”

Katherine shrieked, turning when she heard the loud caws of giant birds from above. Shadow and Ariana were on the alert, standing at attention and weapons ready to attack.

There were four of them; two giant crows, a dark-colored macaw and an oversized raven. All had glowing red eyes as they circled Shadow and Ariana.

Shadow chuckled. “You don’t scare me.”

He swung his Shadowblade, hacking the raven in half.

Ariana thought it high time she used the Dragon’s Claw. She had some weapon’s training, but it was for the sword, not a dagger. Swallowing her fear, she summoned her courage and stabbed one of the crows, wounding it.

She stepped back, leaving the Dragon’s Claw in its body as she was frozen in an emotionless state, staring at it. It writhed and screamed, screeched and squealed as it tried to take the Dagger out. Each time the crow’s wing touched the Dagger, it would squeal louder.

Ariana continued to stare, not only in awe at her actions, but at the amount of blood oozing from the wound, which grew larger with every movement.

Shadow rushed to her rescue, taking care of it and the other two before they could attack. Katherine cowered behind a tree until the Dominionites were destroyed and he sheathed his Shadowblade.

Ariana could feel them staring at her, but she was in a trance.

The sight of blood made her heart pound. She couldn’t stop staring at it. She wasn’t scared, only intrigued, and had no idea why. Ariana’s breath wavered, she could hear her own blood flowing in her body. It pulsed in her eardrums loud enough to give her a headache. She fell to her knees, covering her ears. She licked her lips, feeling sharp incisors peeking out of her gums. The blood dripping from the crow’s carcass tempted her like nothing else. It smelled like chocolate, strange as that sounded, and she wanted it. Close enough to touch it, she reached.

“Ariana – no!” Shadow slapped her hand and pulled her away from the scene. “Katherine, go for the Sisters. I’ll help her.”

Katherine took a deep breath and nodded, shifting to a full cheetah form and racing as fast as her paws could take her.

Meanwhile, Ariana was dizzy. “Dracora.”

Shadow listened, wrapping her arms around her. “It’s okay; she’s not here.”

“Dragon’s… Claw…” She whispered, pulling away from him to search for it. Her eyes refused to focus.

Shadow found it still wedged in the Dominionite. “Want me to get it?”

Ariana shook her head. “Show me.”

Shadow pointed and she used her telekinesis to bring it to her hands. She stared at it for a long time, her eyes dancing as they examined the streaks of blood left on it.

“You’ve got the Dweller-kin Blood Lust, don’t you?” He dared to whisper after a moment, shocked to learn just how powerful the scent of blood was to her. “You can’t look away.”

Ariana shook her head slowly. “I cannot resist it, and I know not why.”

“I can see it in your eyes, Ariana. They’re red and full of Blood Lust.” Shadow pushed the dagger away from her sight. “Sheath it.”

Ariana nodded weakly, sheathing the dagger back on her belt. She watched as he rolled up a sleeve, took a small knife from his boot and cut a line an inch-long in his palm.

He didn’t even flinch.

“Take what I freely offer, Ariana Moon.” His voice was low, the words awakening something in her she couldn’t deny.

“How?”

“Please,” He insisted. “We’ll talk about it later. Just, please, Drink from me.”

He cupped his hand to her mouth. She could smell the magic in his blood, questions left unanswered in her mind as she closed her eyes and drank.

That’s it, Blood-Sister. She heard Dracora’s voice purr in her mind. Drink. Let it flow down your throat to nourish you.

Why is this happening to me?

The Countess’ voice wavered. I will explain everything in due time. For now, once you feel yourself replenished, use your tongue to close the wound.

Ariana obeyed, trusting in the Countess’ words. “Thank you both.” She whispered as she felt herself slump against him.

 

II

 

Her mind was in darkest oblivions, her soul-self searching for a way out.

There was nothing she could do; she could move, but she wasn’t going anywhere. Looking up, she willed herself to fly, but there was nowhere to go.

I reach to you from beyond the veil. A deep male voice echoed around her.

“Who are you?” She found herself asking. “What’s going on? Where am I?”

I am your true-mate, The male responded lovingly.

She felt shadowed dragon’s wings wrap around her, and a soft kiss from cool lips was placed on her temple.

I apologize, but I had to see you. The male continued. I brought you to a place only we know about to assure myself that you still live.

“Of course I still live.” She told him, finding comfort in his embrace. “I am only sixteen summers.”

The male chuckled. You are far older than that, trust me.

The admission confused her, but he interrupted her thoughts.

Worry not about it now; the Countess is healing you in Monarch’s Glenn as we speak. The male gave her a hug before releasing her, kissing her hands. She is calling you back, but I will see you again; I promise.

As he walked away, Ariana called out to him. “Wait! What is your name?”

The male turned around and bowed, a golden glow to his onyx eyes. You may call me Draconai.

As mysteriously as he’d arrived, Draconai disappeared and she was returned to consciousness.

III

 

“Ariana,” The first voice she heard was indeed Dracora’s. She opened her eyes to see the Countess sitting on the bed next to her, a scaled hand caressing her cheek. “Ah, there you are. Welcome back from Oblivion.”

Ariana forced a smile, the scene running through her mind as she tried to sit up. “What happened?”

“You fainted.” That voice was Shadow’s. He was standing over Dracora with his arms crossed. “You never told anyone you were a Dweller-kin.”

Ariana listened to the conversation as Dracora stood and faced him.

“That is because she is not.” Dracora scowled at him. “She is Ancient Mystic, as you well know.”

“I mean no disrespect, but I’ve never, ever, in my entire career as a Crusader seen an Ancient Mystic with the Blood Lust.” Shadow huffed. “She called your name before passing out, so I brought her here.”

“I felt no disrespect.” Dracora smiled. “You were right to bring her here, as it was my fault she had the Blood Lust.”

What were they talking about? Ariana thought, clearing her throat and speaking up. “What did you do to the Dragon’s Claw, Dracora? Why did it make me feel like that?”

Dracora turned back to her and shook her head. “I fear the Dragon’s Claw channeled your Silver Magic, as well as the power you received from me.” She paused. “I warned you, Blood-sister, you must learn to control that magic, or it will control you.”

“It already did.” Shadow huffed sarcastically, nodding to Ariana. “After you thrust your dagger in that Dominionite crow, your entire body glowed silver. You were so into the Blood Lust that you didn’t even notice.”

Dracora held her breath at the admission, but stayed silent.

“What about the Blood Lust?” Ariana asked, looking from one to the other. “How did you know what to do, Shadow?”

Shadow shared a look with Dracora, who nodded, before explaining in a quiet voice. “In the Wars for Power, I was Healed by a Dweller-kin named Celeste. If it hadn’t been for her, I would have died before my tenth birthday.”

“That was very kind of her.” Ariana said.

“I was sick with the Blood Lust for a week.” Shadow continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “She was the only one able to bring me out of it by Feeding me. Thanks to Celeste, I learned I had a magic all my own, which I’ve named Shadow Magic.”

“That explains the weird magical feelings I sensed from you from the first day we met.” She nodded. “Does Lu-Lu know about that?”

Shadow shook his head. “It was part of our Crusade, and the vow of secrecy I made with Shannon.” He showed her his silver necklace, which Ariana recognized as a Dream Locket. “She doesn’t even know I’m a Crusader.”

“I made you a promise, Shadow, and I intend to keep it.” Ariana remarked, reaching out her hand. “The Young Guardian never breaks her promises.”

“I appreciate it, Ariana.” Shadow said softly with a smile, taking it and giving it a gentle squeeze as he kissed.

Ariana was silent in thought, the scene in the Oblivion running through her mind.

“What is on your mind, Blood-sister?” Dracora whispered. “You look troubled.”

Ariana explained what had happened in the Oblivion. “Do you know of a man calling himself Draconai?”

Dracora stood, covering her gasp with her hand.

“What? What is it?” Ariana pressed. “Do you know or not?”

Dracora stared, slowly nodding. “The God of Darkness has returned.”

“What would he want with me?” Ariana wondered.

She turned to Shadow. “I fear for her, Young Shadow. Return to the Realm of Dreams and tell O’Dell what happened here.”

“What about her, and the God of Darkness?” Shadow asked. “I have to stay with her; Shannon’s orders.”

“I will take care of her.” Dracora assured. She looked to the maiden who stood above Ariana’s bed. “Elspeth, take him to Terrantis at the FireWall.”

“Aye, Countess.” Elspeth quickly nodded, bowed and left the room with Shadow.

Dracora looked back at her, shaking her head and mumbling under her breath. “I fear the spell was nowhere near strong enough.”

“What spell?” Ariana fought to sit up. “Will you kindly explain just what is going on with me? First the Blood Lust with the Dragon’s Claw, the God of Darkness wants me and you tell me some spell was not strong enough? What are you talking about?”

“I can only tell you what I know until O’Dell arrives.” She shook her head again, standing and pacing in front of the bed.

“Please, do.” Ariana said softly, grasping her Dream Locket. It gave her courage. “I am terribly confused.”

“Oh, but where to begin?” Dracora exasperated, hands holding her head. She stopped in her tracks after a moment. “Ah, I know. Do you remember your first visit here, when you were my adviser in delegations against King Yorn?”

Ariana rolled her eyes; remembering that awful self-proclaimed King of the Vampire Hunters gave her a bad taste in her mouth. “Clearly.”

“Good. How about when I bound you to me? Do you remember that?”

“Dracora, I remember everything from my first time here.” Ariana insisted. “Please get to the point.”

“Did I ever tell you about the Four Pillars of Existence?” Dracora was patient, keeping her eye on her reaction.

Ariana shook her head. “What would that have to do with me?”

“The man you met in the Oblivion, naming himself Draconai, is the Pillar of Darkness, and one of the four Creator Gods.” Dracora began. She sat again on the chair beside the bed, taking Ariana’s hand. Ariana felt a tingle of Dracora’s magic; it helped her relax. “Long ago, before the concept of Time, there was Nothing. The God of Darkness lived within the Nothing for eons. He was very lonely, so he Created the Goddess, Light, and gave her a name: A’isha. From the first moment he laid eyes on her, he was in love. With Darkness and Light, they were Balance. After awhile, Draconai grew bored and Created two more Gods; the Goddess of Life he named Brigid, and the God of Death and Rebirth he named Brakkon.”

Dracora paused in her tale when Ariana’s hand tensed. “What is it?”

“Could I be A’isha?” Ariana’s eyes were wide when she looked at the Countess. “Is that why he reached for me from across the veil, and I felt comfortable in his embrace?”

Dracora bit her lip, letting go of Ariana’s hand. “I wouldn’t know for sure, but Draconai is a dangerous God. We must strengthen that control over your Silver Magic, before he takes you unawares to a place not even I can go.”

Ariana was afraid now, gulping. She looked around the room, finally seeing the Dagger on a table next to her. Dracora saw her gaze and shook her head.

“That will be returned to you later. For now, you must Rest.” Dracora announced softly, taking it from the table and sheathing it in her belt.

“What about–?”

Dracora touched her forehead with a single claw. “All will be explained later, I promise you. Rest, Blood-sister. You will need your strength.”

Ariana felt the compulsion in her mind. Just as Stephen Ryan’s simple spell three years ago, it put her to sleep.

 

IV

 

She was returned to Oblivion, her mind searching.

“Hello!” She called.

It was dark, and she sensed someone there, yet she couldn’t see them.

“Draconai?” She yelled into the air. “Am I A’isha? Is that why you want me?”

A male chuckle echoed in her mind; suddenly, a wind that was nonexistent before whipped around her body, giving her chills. Her eyes closed and she breathed it in, smiling when the chill solidified, turning into shadowy dragon’s wings that wrapped around her.

“It is true.” Ariana whispered in a light and airy voice. It reminded her of when she passed out at the System, accepting great magic into her system.

The male purred against her neck. Aye, you are my dearest A’isha.

Her heart skipped a beat as she took a deep breath. “Did you want me to return to you?”

While it would be nice, I fear you cannot; not yet.

She turned to face his onyx eyes. He pulled her closer. “Why not?”

Draconai purred. I’m sorry, dearheart, but you must figure it out for yourself. In the meantime, he continued, placing a kiss upon her forehead and caressing her hair. Live the destiny you were given. We will be together soon enough.

Ariana smiled. “I know not why, but I would like that.”

Draconai kissed her lips this time, disappearing just as quickly as he’d arrived.

She closed her eyes, reached to the Dream Locket and wished herself awake.

 

V

 

Before opening her eyes, she sensed those around her. Shadow was pacing, worried for her. Dracora was talking to O’Dell in a language she didn’t understand, and even Katherine was there, sitting beside her. Silent purrs of worry vibrated in her throat as the Balinese Companion touched Ariana’s hair.

Ariana opened her eyes and turned her head toward her feline friend. “Katherine.”

Katherine smiled, placing a claw on her lips before pointing it toward Dracora and O’Dell.

Can you understand what they are saying? Ariana sent to Katherine.

Katherine purred sadly, nodding. They are speaking in a mixture of Draconian and Ancient Wolf-Speak; the two languages spoken in the Dragon Nations. I am surprised Lord Guardian remembers the tongues.

Ariana smiled. What are they saying?

They are arguing about you; although a lot of it is in Ancient Draconian and I cannot understand.

Ariana’s smile disappeared. Can you tell me anything? Am I in trouble?

Katherine shook her head and smiled. Nay, my Young Guardian friend. It would seem the Countess is in trouble.

That is good to know, I guess. Ariana turned away, watching Shadow pace.

“No disrespect, my Lord Guardian, but I wish you would speak Northern.” Shadow stopped in his tracks. “At least then, I’d understand and not feel so left out.”

O’Dell and Dracora turned to him. “I suppose you are right, Young Shadow.”

“Forgive us for being rude.” Dracora nodded. She turned to see Ariana watching and went to her bedside. “You’re awake! How are you, Blood-Sister?”

O’Dell followed sporting a frown.

“A bit confused as of late.” Ariana sat up with Katherine’s help.

“Is she well enough to make the trip back to the Mystic Realms?” O’Dell kept his eye on Ariana.

Dracora looked into Ariana’s eyes and frowned. “She still suffers from the Blood-lust, I’m afraid. She’ll have to stay here for a bit longer.”

“She’s not in her dream-form, Countess.” Shadow pointed out. “When I go back to the System, her body won’t be there waiting.”

“I know, and I apologize, but she cannot leave until she’s over it.” Dracora shook her head.

“How long will it take?” Katherine whispered, speaking up for the first time.

“That would be up to her.” Dracora supplied. “How long did it take you once Celeste Fed you, Shane?”

Shadow cringed at the name, shrugging. “A week, Outer Realm time.”

“Then it should take no more than two days, Dragon’s time.”

“I have to stay with her.” Shadow supplied, catching Lord Guardian’s stare. “Right? Shannon’s orders.”

“Aye, and nay, Young Shadow.” O’Dell cleared his throat. “Trust in the Countess. She is more than capable of taking care of our Young Guardian.”

Ariana had enough of them talking about her as if she weren’t there. Not knowing where the foreign word came from, she cried, “Silencia!

She swore everyone blinked in her direction. “I am still here, you know.”

“Sorry, sister.” Shadow whispered.

“They are right, Shadow.” She reached her hand out for him to take. “Please, return to the System without me.”

“But we’re partners!” Shadow insisted. “I have to stay.”

Ariana shook her head. “No, you do not. Tell Shannon where I am and what is going on. I am certain she will understand.”

“If you’re sure?” Shadow’s eyes darted in Dracora’s direction.

“Very.” Ariana nodded, kissing his hand. “I trust Dracora with my life; I will be fine.”

Shadow blinked, hesitant. His eyes seemed to say Are you sure?

Ariana only smiled and sent to his mind. I promise.

He leaned down and kissed her cheek before bowing to both Dracora and O’Dell. “I’ll take my leave then, my Lord. Countess.”

He disappeared out the double-doors.

“Katherine, I believe it is time for us to leave as well.” O’Dell supplied.

“Certainly, my Lord Guardian.” Katherine squeezed Ariana’s hand one more time before standing.

“You, I will speak to later, Dracora.” O’Dell frowned in the Countess’ direction.

“I’m counting on it, O’Dell.” Dracora said without emotion.

With a grunt, he and Katherine left.

Images of her short battle with the crow and the conversations she heard ran through her mind. Instead of concentrating on them, she sighed. “I apologize if I got you in trouble, Dracora.”

Dracora only smiled, sending an empathic wave of love through their blood-link. “I fear I got myself in trouble by Feeding on you, Ariana.” She admitted. “O’Dell argued some fine points in our,” she cleared her throat, “discussion. You are too young, and too untrained in handling facets of the Inner Realms. Your magic is still weak, and the Silver Magic within is too much for you to handle right now.”

Ariana nodded, agreeing. “Is there any way to stop it?”

Dracora was silent, saddened. “There is only one way, but I must have your permission to do it.”

Ariana sat up in the bed, interested. “You have it.”

Dracora forced a smile. “You agree, without knowledge of what I must do?”

Ariana nodded. “I trust you, Dracora. I know you will not hurt me.”

“That is good to know, Blood-Sister.” Dracora’s smile met her eyes. “I’ll set a powerful compulsion spell in your mind, so when your mind, body, soul and magic are ready, it will be lifted.”

“What about Draconai?” Ariana whispered.

“He’ll be blocked from your mind, and you’ll be safe from him.” Dracora explained. “As for the knowledge of Dweller-kin and the Nations themselves, that will stay with you.”

“Will I still have the Blood-lust?”

Dracora shook her head. “I will monitor you from time to time, just in case.”

“That is good to know.” Ariana echoed, making the Countess chuckle.

“Now then; shall we begin?”

Ariana lay back down on the bed, closed her eyes and felt Dracora’s scaled hands gently touching her temples. She listened to the Countess chant under her breath; it sounded like the same language she’d used when arguing with O’Dell. The chant lulled her mind and took her away.

The last she heard Dracora whisper in Northern was, “Pleasant Journeys, Ariana Moon, Young Guardian of Dreams.”

 

VI

 

When she woke up, she was back in the Outer Realm. She put her glasses on her face when she sat up. She was still in the Ginger Room; which meant, she was still on the so-called Healing Project with Shadow.

Ariana smiled when her eyes caught his watching her from his bed beside hers.

“Welcome back.” Shadow stood only to sit beside her. “How do you feel?”

Ariana took his hand and kissed his cheek. “Glad to be home.”

“Is that right?” Shadow teased.

To show him, she gave him a tight hug that made him laugh. “I guess so!”

Ariana giggled when they parted. She looked at the clock on the wall. “What day is it?”

Shadow looked at his Life-Line watch. “November first.”

She grinned. “That means all that happened in the Dragon Nations occurred in two days!”

Shadow nodded. “I talked to Shannon when I woke up.”

“Oh?” Ariana was interested. “What did she say?”

“What could she say?” Shadow asked with a sneaky grin. “The Dragon Nations isn’t the Mystic’s jurisdiction, it’s the Countess Dracora’s, and so Shannon could do nothing but listen to my report.”

There was something he wasn’t saying; she could sense it.

“She feels responsible for me?”

Shadow nodded. “Yeah. It’s understandable, too.”

“How so?”

“Well, for one, you’re an Ancient Mystic and so is she.” Shadow explained, ticking off his fingers. “She knows your past more than I do, and only wishes your happiness here.”

“I am happy here, Shane.” She pointed out, covering her mouth when she realized what she called him.

Shadow only grinned. “It’s okay. I don’t mind your calling me by my given name.” He hugged her, kissing her cheek. “It’s like you said; we’re partners, why hide behind code-names?”

Ariana shook her head and laughed.

“Besides,” Shadow squeezed her shoulders. “I can be myself around you; I don’t have to be ‘the elusive Shadow’.”

“I am glad.” Ariana said.

The uncomfortable, awkward silence was interrupted by Ariana’s rumbling stomach.

“Let’s hit the Café.” Shadow suggested, standing. “It’s nearly lunch-time.”

Ariana stood. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

Chapter Sixteen:

The Truth is Out!

 

Time seemed to fly for Ariana. She was happy living in the System, learning more about her magic from Shannon, how to be a detective from the other agents, and even fighting Dominionites on the Crusader Project with Derrick, once he returned. Before she knew it, two years passed and she was almost eighteen.

One day, she woke in their quarters of Fourth-Floor to the ringing telephone between the beds. She was excited, sensing whatever Shannon had to say would change their lives. She reached for the phone but Derrick already picked it up.

“Redding.” He said into the line, sticking his tongue out at her playfully when they met eyes. “Hey, boss; what’s up?”

Ariana listened anxiously, waiting to hear what Shannon had to say. She even tried using telepathy, but was blocked. Derrick’s smile faded as he listened, which worried her.

“We’ll be there in a bit. Redding out.” Derrick placed the receiver back on the hook.

“Well?” Ariana asked. “What did she have to say?”

“She wants us to meet her in her office, Asap.”

Ariana frowned. “That serious?”

Derrick nodded, wrapping his arms around her and kissing her lips. “That serious.” He pulled away. “So get dressed while I take a quick shower and shave.”

A quick peck on the lips and he was gone to the bathroom.

What could possibly be so serious, it triggers my empathy? She thought to herself as she dressed in a pair of black jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. He was still in the bathroom when she finished dressing, so she headed to the balcony and leaned over the railing.

Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath of the early-autumn air. The chilling breeze felt good against her cheeks, making her smile. Before she could control it, she was thrown in a gripping Clairvoyant Vision.

She didn’t sense anything bad about the Vision, so rather than fight it, she let it play in her mind.

Two identical young girls with long strawberry-blond hair played a game of chase with each other. Each wore identical pink dresses, though one twin’s was covered with dirt.

“Don’t go too far, girls!” An elder female voice called from a distance.

The twins stopped in their tracks and raced back.

The Vision turned on the female voice once the twins made it back to her. It was a lady with short-cropped black hair and silver-blue eyes. As a witness, Ariana could see the opalescent aura surrounding her. She focused the Vision on the twins: one had an indigo-colored magical aura with silver-blue eyes while the other had silver-colored aura with silver eyes to match.

Ariana heard Derrick’s voice in her ear, pulling her out of it before she could lose herself. “Come back to me, Love.”

She took a deep breath and opened her eyes. Turning to meet his gentle smile, she joked. “That was quick.”

He was wearing a pair of loose-fitting jeans and a sweatshirt that read: Hill View Hawks. She couldn’t resist touching his clean-shaven face.

“What did you See?” He asked, his wrapped arms pulling her tighter against him.

Ariana shook her head, kissing him. “Nothing to worry about. I will work it out later.”

“Do you think that Vision has anything to do with what Shannon wants us for?” He mused.

She shrugged. “I would not know. In the meantime, are you ready to go?”

“As I will ever be.” He gulped, taking her hand.

 

II

 

They were silent as they walked the halls leading to Shannon’s office. He opened the Computer Room door for her. When they stepped in, they noticed all six of the computers were unoccupied. The room was quiet but for the sounds of their footsteps on the linoleum.

Derrick shared a suspicious look with her before knocking on the door.

“Come in!” A trio of voices; two female and one male answered.

Shrugging, yet curious as to what Shannon was up to so early, they went inside.

Ariana blinked when her eyes met a young woman with her face, her strawberry-blond hair and silver-blue eyes. The young woman was smiling – her smile, she noticed. The two were identical; much so, no one could tell them apart from a distance.

She heard Derrick take a breath behind her. Looking around her, she saw Shannon’s excited smile, Shadow’s mischievous grin, and Derrick’s stare.

“Who are you?” She dared to whisper, taking in the shining silver crescent moon necklace around the stranger’s neck. “How?”

The stranger shared a look with Shannon before returning her attention to her.

I am the voice in your mind that wished you happy birthday. The stranger sent with a smile. Aloud, she said. “My name is Aluna Star, and I am your twin.”

“I see that.” Ariana cleared her throat. She looked at Shadow. “This is Luna?”

Shadow smiled, stepping to Aluna’s side, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind and pecking her on the cheek.

“Code-named Lu-Lu.” Aluna spoke up. The twins stared at each other, though Aluna addressed Shannon. “Get the box.”

Ariana broke eye contact with her twin to watch Shannon retrieve a small wooden box from the small mahogany closet which matched her desk. When Shannon came closer, she could see the inscription of “AM” etched in the wood.

Shannon held it out, opening the box so all could see what was inside. Ariana watched as Aluna reached into it and pulled out a small black-velvet ring box.

“Reach out your right hand.” Aluna instructed.

Ariana obeyed, interested in what was in the ring box as much as she was about her new twin. Her heart skipped a beat when she felt a hand on her shoulder. It was Derrick, and he was smiling.

She felt the familiar tingle of Mystic Magic as Aluna slid a ring on the third finger. Heat radiated from it when she looked at the opalescent stone. It was changing colors as she watched; pink to red, and on through the color spectrum.

“That is called the Mystic Ring.” Aluna whispered, continuing to hold her hand. “It’s a symbol of our power; a gift from Enchantra to all Earthbound Ancient Mystics.”

“I will have to thank her sometime.” Ariana breathed, watching the spectrum of color finally slow to a stop. It was now a peaceful-feeling pink of a rose quartz.

Aluna smiled, reaching into the box to take out two identical necklaces. Instead of the crescent-moons of their Dream Lockets, the charm was a triangle made of pewter with an eye in the middle. In the iris were the same opalescent jewels that matched those in the girls’ rings. It reminded Ariana of an Egyptian Eye of Ra dangling from a thick silver chain.

“These are for our Earthly Protectors.” Aluna told them, reaching over Derrick’s head to place one around his neck before turning and placing the other around Shadow’s. “They are called the Protector’s Pendants. With them, you gentlemen will have telepathy to us when you touch us or meet our eyes. You will also be able to sense us in danger.”

“That’s good to know.” Shadow spoke up.

“Yeah,” Derrick was at a loss for words.

Aluna looked at her twin and smiled. “If you do guys do not mind, I need some time alone with her. Come with me, Ariana Moon. We will talk in the Commons Room.”

“Oh, okay.” Ariana stammered.

Aluna wrapped an arm through hers and led her away. Once the twins were in the Commons Room, they found a quiet place to talk. Heads from other agents did double-takes. Ariana could sense their amazement at their identical faces and could barely hear them whispering.

“I want to tell you how sorry I am for not introducing myself sooner.” Aluna said once the girls sat down.

She snapped out of her daze and smiled at her new-found twin. “It is okay. How long have you been here?”

“Almost thirteen years now.” Aluna said with a grin. “Gramere raised Shannon and I like sisters.”

Ariana was confused at the word. “‘Gramere’?”

“It’s Inner Realm-Speak for Grandmother.” Aluna explained.

“Does she still live?”

Aluna shook her head. “She died shortly before Shannon turned eighteen.”

It took a moment of thought, but Ariana understood. “Dixilynne Ryan was our Gramere?”

Aluna grinned. “You met her once, I believe.”

“Yes, when I was seven.” Ariana confirmed. “How did you know?”

“That’s when I Felt your powers awakening.” Aluna told her. “Mine were, too, of course. I had my first Clairvoyant vision of you. It was when Lord Guardian gave you the Dream Locket and your Destiny as his successor. I also had a Clairvoyant vision of a dark-haired male, similar yet different from us in magic, growing up right across the street from you.”

“Scott Archer!” Ariana smiled. “Dixilynne sent him to look after me until Destiny sent me elsewhere.” Aluna nodded, returning the identical smile.

It felt strange, yet comforting to know she had a family somewhere. Aluna was the key to her mysterious past.

“So you are an Ancient Mystic as well?”

“Since we are twins, and Shannon’s cousins, yes.” Aluna nodded.

Ariana was curious. “Who is older?”

“That would be you, by five minutes.” Aluna answered. “You were right to celebrate our birthday on October thirtieth. Anything else?”

“What can you do, Magically speaking?”

“I suppose my strongest power is Clairvoyance, though I have all five Basic Mystic powers.” Aluna told her. “The one thing I envy you for is your self-healing ability. Not even I can do that.”

“I know not how I do it,” Ariana stammered. “Do you know anything about our parents?”

Aluna bit her lip. “I don’t know much about them, sorry.”

Ariana looked down, sad. She felt her sister take her hand and squeeze. “We’ll find out together, okay?”

Ariana looked back at her twin and smiled. “Okay.”

“For now, let’s rejoin the guys and have our first double-date.” Aluna jumped up, yanking Ariana along since they were still holding hands.

Ariana couldn’t help laughing at her new twin’s enthusiasm.

 

III

 

That night, Ariana called the Dream Chant, as she always had, only to find herself watching her older self training against Aluna’s. Aluna was wearing indigo-colored robes that were worn at the sleeves and her feet. She trained with a long mage’s staff that had a large chunk of quartz crystal at the top. Ariana’s older self was countering Ariana’s indigo-colored magical bursts of light with silver ones of her own from an elongated diamond-shaped sword. At the pommel, Ariana noticed three quartz crystals: rose, smoky and clear.

“See the auras of magic around us?” Her twin asked in a whisper, startling her.

“Yours are different from mine.” Ariana pointed out, looking at her. Aluna was crouched beside her, wearing a newer, less-tattered version of the robes. She carried a long wand in her hand, placing it in a pouch that hung off her belt-cord. “Why is that? If we are twins, would we not have the same colored magical auras?”

Aluna shook her head, taking her from the scene so their older versions wouldn’t see or hear them. “Not necessarily. It’s all very hard to explain, as I’m still learning, too. That aura is called our Mystic Wind.”

“I heard about them from Shadow when I was first able to see his older self.”

Aluna nodded. “He was fighting Red Wolf Moondancer, a Dominionite Warrior, right?”

Ariana narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms. “You were not there; how did you know?”

Aluna tapped her head. “As I told you, my strongest power is Clairvoyance.” She explained. “When it comes to you, we’re linked, so whatever you see future-wise, at some point, so do I.” She shook her head. “Back to Mystic Winds. They’re all based on the strength of your magic and the amount you’re able to control. Now, I don’t know why mine’s indigo, when yours is pure silver. Not even Gramere understood that about us. Usually, an Ancient Mystic’s magical aura would be opalescent, like the ring.”

Ariana frowned in thought, her hand touching the Dragon’s Claw Dagger at her hip, a finger gently caressing the onyx stone on the hilt.

“Whoa.” Aluna breathed after a moment, touching her out of her thoughts.

Ariana looked up. “What?”

“Look at your hand.”

She did, unsheathing the Dagger and showing it to her. “I got it from –.”

“Countess Dracora of the Dragon Nations.” Aluna finished. “Yeah, I know.”

“What is so ‘whoa’ about that?” Ariana was confused, sheathing it.

“The moment you touched it, your hand, and the Dagger turned a wicked color of blood-red and silver.” Aluna’s silver-blue eyes were wide in amazement.

Ariana stared at her hands. “The Silver Magic.”

Aluna shrugged. “I guess so, but what would the red be?”

Ariana hesitated before telling her twin about her short adventure in the Dragon Nations three years ago.

“Ah,” Aluna smiled. “That explains it.”

The twins walked the Province Wood in the direction of the Ancient Mystic Palace.

“Do you have a Dream Realm Persona?” Ariana asked. “I am the Young Guardian.”

“I’m the Grand Magus. That is, the Great Magician.” Aluna told her proudly. “It’s not official yet, since I haven’t finished my Journeyman’s lessons, and we haven’t turned eighteen.”

“I see.” Ariana grinned. “So, Aluna Star, have you any inquiries for me?”

“Yeah; why do you talk like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like a Companion.” Aluna stated.

Ariana grinned. “I have done it all my life; it has become somewhat of a habit, I guess.” She paused, thinking back to the previous days’ events. “What about you? You spoke to me like that as well, but once we were out of Shannon’s office, you spoke differently.”

“I was trying to make you comfortable.” Aluna told her. “It had to have been a shock, meeting me like that. So to relax you, I reverted to my old speech patterns.”

“So you were born speaking like me?” Ariana asked. “That is a relief, I guess.”

“A relief; that’s it.” Aluna teased with a grin. “No, what’s a relief is not having to hide from you anymore. I’m finally able to show myself to my own twin.”

“Why did you have to hide from me?”

Aluna took a deep breath and let it out. “Lord Guardian and the Sisters told me to stay away. They feared if we reunited too soon, the Dominionite Master would find and destroy us.”

Ariana gasped. “Is Sabrina after you, too?”

Aluna nodded. “I can handle her, somewhat.” She said. “The one who gets me the most is her brother Damian.”

“I have yet to meet him.”

“Pray to the Goddess you never do.” Aluna sighed. “Damian calls himself the Dominionite Merchant. He’s the worst sort of man, if you could call him that. He’s a seducer of women, leader of their Warrior armies and a manipulative jerk. Should you ever meet him, beware.”

“I will keep that in mind, thank you.” Ariana gulped. “As I see it, we have three main enemies, not including the Dominionites themselves.”

“Sabrina, Damian, and their good-ol’ dad Orthos.” Aluna finished the thought. “I don’t know about you, sister dear, but I don’t think we’re strong enough to beat them, yet.”

“In time, we will be; I have Seen it myself in future-dreams.” Ariana told her. “Seven of us will band together and defeat them.”

“Seven?”

“It is very complicated,” Ariana started, shaking her head as she thought of the words to explain. “I began to have future-dreams when I was very young. Every time, I watched from afar as those with Dream Lockets and powerful magic fought Warriors. At first, the older version of me was the only face I could see; all the others were obscured or covered in shadows. With each dream, new faces were revealed.”

“Who did you see first?” Aluna dared interrupt her story.

“After myself? Aaron Theodore and Amethyst Theresa, the pair of twins I grew up with in the orphanage.” Ariana told her, showing her the Blood Pact scar. “It was the night I bound them to me through blood and we became the Three Musketeers. Next, once I met him here, was Derrick. Third, or should I say fourth, was Shadow, when I first met him at the System.”

“Now, you see me?” Aluna asked. She counted on her fingers. “Derrick, Shane, Aaron, Amethyst, me and you. That’s only six. Who’s the other one?”

Ariana shrugged. “The only thing I know is that he has a gray-colored magic.”

“A man you haven’t met yet?” Aluna guessed.

Ariana nodded.

Her sister looked ahead with a smile. “You will, soon enough.”

Ariana shook her head and sighed, walking ahead. The forest was peaceful; birds chirping, creatures running to and fro, playing in the trees. It was enough to make her smile.

“Peaceful, isn’t it?” Aluna caught up to her.

Ariana nodded.

“Well, don’t be fooled.” Aluna scoffed. “Looks can be deceiving.” She paused. “Do you know where we are?”

Ariana stopped and felt a tree with one hand. “Are we not in the Province Wood?”

Aluna shook her head.

“Canine Valley?”

Aluna shook her head again.

Ariana frowned at her. “Then, where are we?”

“Perilous Forest.” her twin answered softly. “Let’s find the Garden Gate before-”

Aluna stopped, grabbed her wand and watched the trees. Ariana sensed danger ahead, so she took out her Dragon’s Claw and stood with her back against her sister’s.

The bushes ahead of her moved.

Gathering as much courage as she could, she pointed the Claw at it and shouted. “Reveal yourself!”

Without warning, it struck. A large black bear with yellow eyes jumped out at them.

“Look out!” Aluna screamed, turning and firing indigo-colored wind to wound it.

Ariana was already in the air by that time, Claw in hand to jab it between the eyes. Like a cat, she used her legs to kick away from the screaming bear, flipping herself in the air and landing effortlessly on one knee close-by.

Aluna was unable to say anything as she watched the black bear fall. Once it was dead, she used telekinesis to retrieve the Claw. It floated in midair above her as she whispered a spell under her breath. The bear glowed indigo as it slowly turned to ash. With a wave of a hand, the ashes were carried away.

The Claw dropped from midair with a low clang, forcing the twins to meet eyes. Still out of breath, Ariana smiled.

“That was amazing.” Aluna whispered, smile on her face as she replaced her wand in its pouch. She reached to pick up the Dragon’s Claw, but Ariana stopped her.

“No!” Ariana yelled, beckoning it to her with her own telekinetic powers. She sheathed it before standing. “No one but me touches this Dragon’s Claw.” She warned her sister, her eyes burning. “Do you understand?”

Aluna nodded, too shocked from the scene to answer. “How did you do that?” Aluna asked once she found her voice. “You just disappeared, reappearing in midair to strike. Why, I didn’t even see you!”

Ariana shrugged. “It is what I do. I learned a few tricks from Shadow, as well as Master Kwan.” She pat her dagger sheath. “If only I had something a little longer, like a sword. Then I would be able to keep it on-hand after I strike.”

“In time, you will.” Aluna nodded. “Let’s get out of here before anything else attacks us.”

Ariana sighed. “I could not agree more.”

 

Book Two:

Back to Reality

Part One

Harsh Beginnings

Chapter Seventeen:

Torn From Paradise

 

Four months later, the twins’ eighteenth birthday passed. With every day they spent together, they felt as if they’d never been apart. They quickly found their differences; Ariana was serious while Aluna liked to have fun. Aluna thought herself the smarter twin in the Mystic Magic, going on to study the other world magics. Ariana patrolled the Dream Realm every night; most times showing her dear sister a thing or two.

Their Earthly Protectors were happy the twins spent so much time together. It gave them a chance to bond as best friends. Derrick and Shane relaxed around one another, and soon, became like brothers. Shane taught Derrick some of his ‘tricks’ when it came to detective work while Derrick taught Shane what it meant to be family.

Not all was fun and games, though. The Dominionites attacked more often now, and the four of them were there to fight back. Orthos, Sabrina and Damian made personal appearances in Ariana’s dreams. They could do nothing but taunt her, for she always outsmarted them.

Shannon called on them more and more to fight them, even going as far as training them in advanced sword-work. Shane’s Shadowblade became stronger once imbibed with his special Shadow Magic and Derrick received his Golden Sword, which rivaled Ariana’s new Guardian’s Blade, a short-sword made of lightweight but strong steel. It had three quartz crystals at the end of the hilt that glowed when she used her magic. All three blades worked with or without their magic within, not that Derrick was able to control his Protector’s magic yet. Aluna’s wand was soon upgraded to a long-staff that collapsed at the push of a button.

Ariana could feel something coming in the near-future; something that would take them away from their perfect home. Visions of the future put her in a somber mood for two weeks, a mood neither her twin nor their Earthly Protectors could change.

In an effort to lighten her mood and get her out of her depressive slump, Aluna suggested the twins play a game of tennis in King’s Court before the guys met them for a special dinner in the Café. Not wanting to break her sister’s heart by saying no, Ariana agreed.

Two hours into their game, Aluna gave up.

“Cheer up, will you? Please?” Aluna asked as they dressed in the locker room. “Just watching you depresses me. What’s goin’ on in that head of yours, anyway?” She faced her twin after they changed to their street clothes. Ariana was silent as she tied her tennis shoes. “I mean, we’re in paradise. What’s so depressing about that?”

“Ever thought that someday, we would be torn from here to live life on our own?” Ariana finally spoke. Her silver-blue eyes turned silver as Aluna sat beside her on a bench.

“Sure, but where would we go?” Aluna shrugged.

Ariana’s eyes closed and she spoke the Vision aloud in a voice not her own, “Hearts return to whence they came; through sun, wind, snow and rain. Torn apart but soon reunited, from different worlds divided. Three separate while one remains, to save them all from certain pain. To live, to love, to learn and grow, four paths into one you will know.”

Ariana shook her head and opened her eyes, continuing to tie her shoes as if she hadn’t said a word.

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Aluna finally whispered, standing.

As if on cue, Big Guy greeted them at the locker room door with a frown. “Shannon needs you in her office.”

On that, she disappeared and the twins looked at each other.

“You don’t suppose?” Aluna asked.

Ariana shrugged, unknowing of what to think. She was quiet as they walked the halls.

“Do you always do that?” Aluna wondered quietly.

“Do what?”

“Stare into space and speak in riddles.” Aluna explained.

“When did I do that?” Ariana was confused, the pounding in her head intensifying the nearer they got to Shannon’s office.

“Shortly before Big Guy summoned us.” Aluna replied. The twins stopped in their tracks. “Don’t you remember?”

Ariana closed her eyes, rubbed her temples with a touch of her Healer’s Magic to take away the headache. After a moment, the pounding lessened and she was able to respond. “No. Sorry. What did I say?”

“For one thing, it wasn’t your voice.” Aluna told her, walking once again. She kept her voice low. “It sounded like many female voices at once, like some kind of Goddess Voice.”

Ariana blinked, thinking back two years ago, when the God of Darkness, Draconai was after her. “Like a Goddess?” Aluna nodded. “Are you certain?”

“On my honor as a Mystic.” Aluna touched her Dream Locket as she nodded again. “You spoke in a long riddle, something I don’t understand.”

“Do you remember my exact words?”

The twins stopped in front of the Computer Room doors. “I only remember the last line: ‘Live, love, learn and grow; four paths into one you’ll know.’ The rest is a blur.”

Ariana reached for the door handles in thought. “Do you suppose it was a premonition of what is to come?”

“Guess we’ll find out sometime, won’t we?” Aluna shrugged, walking in after her.

Ariana paused in front of Shannon’s office door, frowning. She felt Aluna take her hand and squeeze. When she looked, her twin was frowning as well.

The reason for your recent melancholy lies in that room. Aluna took a deep breath.

Ariana could do nothing but nod as she followed her twin inside.

As soon as they walked in, they saw Shannon leaning against her desk with her arms crossed. She wasn’t smiling when she looked up at them.

“Come on in, ladies.” She told them softly.

Ariana closed the door behind them before seeing Derrick sitting in one of the chairs. She touched his shoulder to get his attention, but he only sighed as his eyes sadly glanced into hers.

“So, what’s the emergency?” Aluna asked, taking a seat in the other chair.

Derrick’s toe tapped the floor impatiently. Shannon cleared her throat and scowled at him before addressing the twins.

“In two hours, three different cars are going to take you to three different destinations.” She began somberly. “It’s come time for you to live on your own.”

The twins gasped, sharing a startled look.

Derrick shot out of his seat, knocking it to the floor with a loud clang. “You can’t do this to us!”

Shannon faced him. “I can because I’m the boss, or have you forgotten that, Agent Redding?”

Derrick frowned at her, took a deep breath and said. “No; I haven’t forgotten.” He picked up the chair and sat back down.

“Good.” Shannon stated with a tight nod. “Lu-Lu, I know we grew up together, and you’re like a sister to me, but I have to do it.”

Aluna scoffed, her arms crossed. “Let me guess: Destiny?”

“You could say that, yeah.” Shannon sighed. “Lord Guardian came to me the other night, telling me to separate the three of you.”

“The three of us?” Ariana shook out of her daze to ask. “Derrick, Aluna and myself?” Shannon silently nodded. “In that case, why not Shadow as well?”

“Because Shane has nowhere else to go.” Shannon supplied. “You three do. Derrick, you’ll be going home, and so will Luna.”

“But I will not be joining her,” Ariana understood what Shannon didn’t want to say aloud.

Confirming, Shannon shook her head. “Not right now.”

“Where?” Ariana whispered.

“There’s not enough time to discuss it.” Shannon rushed. “You’ll each be driven to the place you once called home.”

“This is my home, Shannon.” Ariana supplied. “I have never been happier.”

Shannon could see the tears wanting to break free from Ariana’s silver-blue eyes. “I know, but look how much you’ve grown in three years. You’re more energetic, more relaxed and one of my best Junior Detectives.”

“Then why separate us now?” Aluna interrupted. “She’s known nothing but hate out there; why shove her out on her own?”

“You know the answer better than either of us, Aluna Star.” Shannon said. “The wonderful thing we Mystics like to call ‘Destiny.’”

Aluna huffed again, crossing her arms. “I’ll not do it. I’ll not go home without Ariana.”

“Neither will I.” Derrick stood to wrap his arms around each twin.

“I’m afraid you have no choice in the matter.” Shannon told them. “For now, I’ll dismiss you to your quarters. You’re to pack your things and get ready to leave in two hours. Three different agents will escort you when it’s time, so make the best of it until then.”

They were silent; Aluna still had her arms crossed, Derrick placed his hands in his pockets and Ariana held her head, her eyes closed.

“Do I make myself clear, Agent Lu-Lu?” Shannon asked.

“Yeah.” Aluna growled at her defiantly.

Shannon rolled her eyes. “Agent Redding?”

Derrick cleared his throat. “Yes, Shannon.”

Shannon touched Ariana’s hand to gently get her attention. Once Ariana’s sad eyes met hers, she continued. “Agent Sister?”

Ariana nodded after a moment.

Shannon stepped away from them. “You’re excused.”

The three of them left without saying another word.

Once Shannon’s office door was closed, they stopped.

“Luna?” Derrick asked, taking Ariana’s hand.

Aluna turned to him and hugged them both, her eyes already filling with tears.

“I’ll never forget you guys.” She managed to sob, kissing Derrick’s cheek and squeezing his other hand before turning and racing away.

“Come on, Love.” Derrick wrapped an arm around her, urging her to walk. “Let’s go.”

Without saying a word, they walked to their own quarters of Fourth-Floor.

 

II

 

“How are you supposed to be my Earthly Protector if you are nowhere near me?” Ariana asked him as they packed. She was at her bed while he was at his next to her.

“We’ll always be together, Love, no matter where we are.” Derrick dropped a sweatshirt into his knapsack before moving to hold her. “Love knows no boundaries.”

She turned to meet his eyes. Just as her empathy told her, he was sincere. His heart was breaking at the thought of their separation, just as hers was. “I love you so much, Derrick; it will be hard to imagine my life without you near.”

“I will always be with you, sweetheart.” Derrick whispered, kissing her passionately. In our hearts, souls and minds. We are a part of one another.

Ariana’s heart skipped a beat as their emotions meshed into one. Love me, Derrick, please? Give me something to remember you by.

As if to answer, they made love on her bed by the balcony with only the birds of spring chirping outside their window. When they were spent, they dressed and continued packing.

Just as they finished, someone knocked on the door.

Ariana used her empathy to sense Loraine “Love Joy” Joyce on the other side. She opened the door to find the petite blonde nurse forcing to smile.

Love Joy cleared her throat before her tightened voice squeaked out. “Ariana.”

“Let me say goodbye first; please, Love Joy?” Ariana pleaded.

Love Joy glanced from Ariana to Derrick and back. “Make it quick.” She said softly in her Southern accent. “We leave in ten minutes.”

Ariana went to Derrick’s side at his bed, a tear wanting to escape her eye. Will you miss me, my Romeo?

Derrick wiped the tear away with his finger before kissing her once more. More than you’ll ever know, my Love.

They parted and she rose, quietly grasping her backpack over one shoulder.

“Take good care of yourself, Ariana Moon.” Derrick spoke up.

She turned and pasted on a smile. “You as well, Derrick James.”

Ariana nodded at Love Joy before closing the door behind her.

Whenever you need me, you need only dream of me. She sent to Derrick as she followed the Senior Detective down the long corridor.

She hoped it would bring a smile to his face.

Ariana heaved a sad sigh as they walked. Love Joy was leading her to the garage, where a black sedan was waiting.

Love Joy touched her arm. “Shannon wanted you to have this.”

Ariana turned to take the offered credit card.

“She loaded it with enough money to get you by.” Love Joy explained.

“Tell her thank you for me.” Ariana shoved it in the back pocket of her jeans. “Did she happen to tell you where I was going?”

Love Joy shook her head. “You know her; if she wants something secret, it stays one.”

Ariana smiled. “That is her, all right.”

She reached for the door handle and paused in thought.

“It’ll be fine, shoog.” Love Joy responded, shortening the Southern pet-name of ‘Sugar’. “Destiny always has a way of working itself out.”

Ariana nodded, pasting on a smile as she climbed in.

 

III

 

Ariana watched the scenery for three hours before falling asleep. She neither called the Dream Chant nor did she wander into Oblivion.

She found herself in a silver-clad form; long silver hair in numerous braids down her back, silver magical aura surrounding her, even silvery-white feathered wings adorning her back. She was wearing a silvery-white gown that matched her wings.

She sensed someone ahead of her: a female dressed entirely in ocean-blue. Her aura illuminated the colors of bluest waters as she walked toward Ariana. Her blue-white hair was flowing behind her, a single band of coral keeping it from her face. As she moved closer, Ariana could see the bright turquoise eyes shining.

“Who are you?” Ariana dared to ask in a voice that sounded so different than her own. She realized it must have been what Aluna called ‘the Goddess’ voice.

“Greetings, Sister.” The woman laughed lightly, her voice like the winds. “To the Mystics, I am known as Brianna, Goddess of the Waters.”

“Why call me Sister and what do you wish from me?”

“You are my Sister-Pillar, stuck in an Earthbound form.” Brianna answered. “I have watched you all along, A’isha.”

The name clicked in Ariana’s mind, her memory conjuring up the image of Draconai. At the thought, her heart skipped a beat. “So it is true!”

Brianna nodded. “Aye; Draconai has backed off for now. The Countess convinced him to let you live your Earthbound Destiny.”

Ariana let out a breath of relief, though her heart dropped.

Brianna continued. “I know you must miss him, though you know nothing about him.”

“According to Dracora’s teachings, he is the God of Darkness, the first Pillar of Existence.”

“She is correct; As A’isha, you are the Pillar of Light and his very salvation.”

Ariana held her heart. “Will I ever know more about him?”

Brianna smiled. “You know all you need to know, at this time.” She explained. “For now, I felt your first Goddess Vision. That is why I am here.”

“Goddess Vision?”

“Aye,” Brianna nodded. “You do not remember, of course. It is part of being an Earthbound Goddess.”

“Spewing prophesies from my tongue in a voice that is not my own, only to have no idea afterward?” Ariana asked her, hands on hips and frowning. The Goddess merely smiled. “My twin was there; she heard me, though does not remember most of my words.”

“I know full well of Aluna,” Brianna sighed, rolling her eyes. “You will find out why you had it, and when it comes to pass, you will remember it to the letter.”

Ariana asked. “How do I know you are not playing a cruel prank on me?”

“In telling you of your Goddess status?” Brianna asked and Ariana nodded. “Think about it. Why would a Goddess lie?”

Ariana lowered her eyes at her and crossed her arms. “Prove it.”

“How else could you heal yourself overnight?” Brianna asked. She saw Ariana relax at the admission, so she continued. “How else could you be plagued by Draconai, or have many forms when you travel to the Inner Realms nightly? What about your strange Silver Magic, which makes your body glow when you are angered?”

Ariana gave it great thought. The Goddess was telling the truth; how else would she know such intricate things about her?

“I am a Goddess.” She whispered to herself.

“Not just ‘a’ Goddess; you are the Pillar of Light, the second-oldest Ancient Goddess there is.” Brianna stepped up to her and reached for her hand. “I am the third, known to you as Brigid, the Pillar of Life.”

Ariana looked down at her hands. As she suspected, the nails were painted aquamarine. “How did you become the Mystic’s Goddess of the Waters?”

“An interesting story indeed.” Brianna told her. “Our Lesser-Gods were jealous of our tight bond, so they condemned three of you Realmbound and me Havenbound to watch over you.”

“That was mean of them.” Ariana frowned. “What are Realmbound and Havenbound?”

“Realmbound means your spirit and body are bound to the Inner Realms, also known as the Dragon Nations.” Brianna explained. “Havenbound means you are bound to the Havens, the Realm of the Ancients in other words.”

“I am bound to the earth; am I Earthbound?”

Brianna nodded, smiling. “You learn quickly.” She squeezed Ariana’s hands. “Going on, not all Lesser-Gods were jealous of us. The Ancient Mystic Goddesses: Dana of the Earth, Hestia of the Fires, and Aura of the Winds welcomed me as their missing Sister-Goddess, Brianna of the Waters. That is how I come to you now.”

“You are my Sister-Pillar?” Ariana looked up into Brianna-Brigid’s eyes. They were no longer oceanic blue, but bright white and glowing.

“Aye, I am your Sister-Pillar.” She announced. “Why do you think Dracora told you of Us to begin with?”

“So I would realize what I was to Draconai?” Brianna nodded. “So she knew before I did?”

Brianna nodded again. “I will tell you a secret: the only reason Dracora knows is because her brother Draconis is Draconai. She is the only one of his five Royal Siblings who figured it out.”

Ariana gasped, holding her mouth; her head was swimming with the information.

“It will all become clear in time.” Brianna sighed sadly. “However, I will continue to watch over you as you grow and live your Earthbound Mystic’s Destiny.”

Brianna-Brigid hugged her. “Fare-thee-well, Sister. We will meet again.”

Ariana closed her eyes and took a deep breath, disappearing from where she stood.

She opened her eyes to a knocking on the car window.

“Sorry to bother ya, Agent Sister, but we’re here.” The driver announced, opening the door for her.

Ariana grasped her backpack and threw it over her shoulder as she stepped out of the car. “Thank you, I guess.”

“Yer welcome,” the driver winked, closing the door behind her and climbing back in the driver’s seat. “Take good care of yerself, hear me?”

Ariana nodded, her eyes on the nearby excitement. There was a carnival in the distance, a Ferris wheel lit with bright colors as it moved. Snapping out of her reverie, she turned, opening her mouth to answer the driver.

It was too late; he, and the car, was already long gone.

Chapter Eighteen:

Worlds Apart

 

And so it begins. Ariana thought to herself. Torn from all I loved, only to be dropped off in a place I know nothing about and left for dead.

I would not say that, Young Guardian. Katherine’s voice purred in her ear.

Ariana smiled, her heart thumping at the thought of her feline friend. I guess I am feeling sorry for myself again.

You are weary from the ride. Katherine assured with a patient purr. I suggest you use the card Love Joy gave you to get something to eat.

The thought of food made her stomach growl. Both giggled at that.

Ariana saw the “Hill View Mall” sign in the distance, so she headed there. It was still open by the time she walked through the doors.

The first store she saw was a bookstore, Read-More Books.

Clever name. Katherine commented.

It was there Ariana bought a blank journal notebook and a pen on a cord she could hang around her neck. The journal had no specific dates or anything on its pages besides lines to write on. The hard leather-bound journal was perfect for what she had in mind. The pen itself had the picture of a rearing Unipeg that reminded her of Lord Guardian O’Dell.

To chronicle your life away from the Crusaders, I presume?

Ariana ignored Katherine’s inner comments as she paid for it and shoved it into one of the many pockets in her backpack.

She followed her nose, soon finding the Food Court. All the vendors were bustling with business, so she went to the shortest line and ordered.

As she ate, she Felt someone staring at her. Without moving, she used her Empathy to sense their intentions. She received nothing in return, as if her Empathy bounced off some barrier and back to her.

That was strange. Ariana mused, returning to her meal.

From the corner of her eye, she saw a figure standing across the food court from her. He was staring at her and she wondered why. She used Empathy on the figure, only to have her power bounce back.

That’s it; time to find out what he wants. Ariana huffed.

Dropping her plastic fork to her plate, she stood and met him.

“Why are you staring at me?” She asked him with a frown.

The man wasn’t that much older than her, with gray eyes and shaggy black hair.

“You piqued my curiosity, but I swear I wasn’t staring at you.” The young man raised his hands in surrender. “Not on purpose, mind you.”

Only then could she sense his sincerity with her Empathy.

“Than why were you staring at me?” She continued the conversation. “What about me piqued your curiosity?”

The young man smiled, letting out a light chuckle. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

“If you ask because of my speech patterns, than no. I am not from around here.” Ariana frowned. “Do not answer my question with another.”

“Okay, okay, I give.” The young man smiled at her, pointing across the Court. “See that red-haired girl over there with the mini-skirt over black lace tights?”

Ariana looked where he was pointing. Sure enough, there was a girl with bushy red hair and a tight mini-skirt over ankle-length black lace tights. Her breasts just about popped out of a halter top that was two sizes too small.

“What about her, besides her obvious lack of fashion sense?” Ariana asked, sticking out her tongue.

“That’s my adopted sister.” The young man told her. “I’m her chosen chauffeur for the day.”

“What does she have to do with me?”

“I was with her when I saw you sit down.” The young man explained. “I could tell you weren’t from around here.”

Ariana was skeptic but smiled. “Let me guess: you were confused by my sudden appearance and decided to watch over me?”

The young man blinked. “You could say that, yeah.”

Ariana smiled. “I thank you for your hospitality, young man.”

“Mark.” He choked, nervously shoving his hands into his pockets. “My name is Mark.”

“Well, Mark. It was a pleasure, but I must be going.” Ariana smiled and turned to leave.

She gave him a final wave after she threw away the forgotten part of her late meal and shouldered her backpack. She could sense him still watching her as she left the building.

Somehow, the thought made her smile.

Now to find somewhere to sleep before dark. Ariana thought to Katherine.

So now you are speaking to me? Katherine teased.

I had to concentrate. Ariana told her. She followed the road until it met a sidewalk. I still find that incident rather confusing.

As do I. Katherine purred. That has never happened before, has it?

Ariana shook her mental head. I have never encountered someone in this realm that can block my empathic probes. I wonder what was so special about him?

Are you really that worried about it? Katherine asked. Or were you charmed by him?

Ariana felt herself blush. Neither. She cleared her throat. Let’s find somewhere safe to rest for the night.

Katherine giggled, which made Ariana blush even more. If you are not that worried about it, my friend, why are you blushing?

Ariana stopped in her tracks, abruptly turning left and disappearing into an alleyway between two abandoned buildings. Once finding a milk crate to sit on, she surveyed the area with her Empathy. Sure enough, the only living things around were a family of rats.

She conjured a small ball of light to hover just over her shoulder. It gave her enough light in the dark alley to see. Quickly, she reached into her pack and pulled out her new journal notebook and Unipeg pen.

Opening it up to the first page, she wrote:

 

Dear Journal,

I bought you to chronicle my life; from beginning to end and all that is in between.

My name is Ariana Moon…

 

From there, she wrote her story, being certain to add everything her heart told her. She wrote about Aaron and Aimee, Derrick, Shannon, Shadow and Aluna the most. Toward the end of her first entry, she added a short message to her daughter:

 

Though Destiny has parted us, it will again reunite us. Only then will we be a family. Until then, I make it my solemn vow to search the ends of this Realm for you.

 

Ariana yawned, and closed the journal. She had just enough energy left in her to put it away, extinguish the tiny light and make herself comfortable in an empty box behind a dumpster. Sleep finally claimed her.

 

II

 

The rustling in the bushes met her at the Garden gate once she called the spell. She froze in her spot, her heart beating a mile a minute.

Was it one of Sabrina’s Dominionites, finally come to abduct her?

One hand on her Dragon’s Claw, she raced to the nearest hiding place in the hedges and scanned the area. Her fingers twitched on the Claw, waiting for the attack to come. She sensed three figures coming around the corner; each cloaked from her Empathic probes.

She frowned, grabbing the Claw firmly in her hand.

First the young man in the mall and now this? What is going on? Are my sensors on the fritz or something?

She poised herself to attack the three figures coming at her. While her attention was fully on her oncoming attackers, she didn’t hear or sense when an arm came from the bushes to wrap itself around her waist, pinning her arms to her sides. Another arm reached out to clamp over her mouth. The way her attacker held her, she couldn’t move to unsheathe the Claw.

“You’re dead.” A familiar male voice whispered in her ear.

Ariana relaxed, suddenly realizing what happened. She’d been tricked by her own Earthly Protector.

Derrick released her, kissing her lips when she turned to meet him.

“What was that all about?” Ariana asked, shoving him backward onto a boulder. “You know better than to do that to me!”

Derrick only laughed. “I’m sorry, Love. I just couldn’t resist.”

“Besides,” another male voice she recognized as Shadow echoed as he sauntered out of the darkness. “You needed training.”

“Training?!” Ariana gasped, eyes turning colors. She was angry, reaching for the Guardian’s Blade on her back and pointing it at him. She left the magic untapped. “You call him coming from behind and nearly scaring me out of my wits training?”

Shadow put his hands up in surrender; a smoke-covered force-field covered him. Aluna in her indigo-colored Grand Magus robes appeared to cover her Earthly Protector, pointing her wand tip to tip with her sister’s blade. “Attack him and I attack you back, sister.”

With a huff at being tricked by the three of them, she frowned at Aluna, sheathing her sword and sitting beside Derrick on the boulder. Aluna put her wand away and joined them.

“What are you three doing here, anyway?” Ariana asked after a moment.

“For one, I’m your Earthly Protector and your partner.” Derrick wrapped an arm around her.

“For another, I’m your twin.” Aluna responded. “The four of us are a team.”

Ariana smiled. “The only thing that would make this any weirder would be if Aaron and Aimee showed up.”

“Well, we would have the six in your future-dreams.” Aluna grinned, shrugging. “Perhaps we’ll find our seventh member soon?”

“I am unsure, but I think I already have.” Ariana told them about her day, including the strange incident with the young man named Mark. “He does bear an uncanny resemblance to the gray-eyed shadow man in my future-dreams. I thought I met him today; though, I cannot be sure until I have more contact with him, or I have another future-dream.”

“That explains everything.” Aluna huffed sarcastically. “Meanwhile, let’s patrol.”

“Derrick and I will patrol, sister.” Ariana grinned, standing. “After all, I am still the Young Guardian.”

Aluna shook her head and smiled back. “I’m serious. Why patrol alone when you have your own personal band of Crusaders to help?”

Shadow wrapped an arm around Ariana’s shoulders. “Besides, neither of us needs to be alone right now; don’t you agree?”

Ariana grinned and disappeared out of sight, happy they hadn’t totally deserted her. She reappeared in midair, silvery-white wings keeping her afloat above him. She stuck her tongue out at them.

Derrick and Aluna were amazed at the sight while she shared a knowing smile with Shadow.

“How’d you do that?” Aluna asked, staring at her.

“You are the Grand Magus; you tell me.” Ariana laughed, flying toward the Mystic’s Palace.

Once they were finished with patrolling and fighting off any Dominionites that came along, they returned to the Garden. Katherine met them at the Gate. The Companion looked sad and worried; her attention far from helping Ariana with her magical studies.

“What’s wrong, Kat?” Shadow was the one to ask.

Katherine looked at him. “I miss Wolf,” she purred, twirling a clump of hair in her long feline claws.

“I am sure he’s around here somewhere.” Derrick smiled, patting her shoulder.

Ariana closed her eyes and touched her Dream Locket, trying to sense their Timberwolf Companion friend. After a moment, she frowned, shaking her head. “He shares your fate, my friend,” Ariana gasped, opening her eyes to face Katherine. “The Master has Banished him to the Outer Realm.”

“What did he do to deserve such a punishment?” Katherine wondered. “You do not suppose Uncle found out who healed him years ago?”

“It would explain his absence, but no.” Ariana told her, looking to her twin and their Protectors. “He was Banished as a traitor.”

“Hold up.” Aluna held her head, confused. “Is – was – this Wolf a Dominionite Warrior?”

“Aye and nay,” Katherine replied. “He started out as a Companion cub, taken from his parents and home like every other at the time. Control over his mind and Companion magic was taken from him before he was trained as a Dominionite Warrior. Recently, he and a few other Warriors began to see exactly what was being done as their magic and souls returned to their control.”

“According to Tobias, a jungle tiger Companion who was also a fellow Warrior, Wolf was leading them in a rebellion against the Master and his Armies.” Ariana explained. “I have not seen the Rebels for so long, I thought the cause was lost.”

“It almost was.” Katherine supplied. “The twins were helping when they could escape. Now that they are in their own home, they feel safe enough to learn what they can and ready themselves for battle.”

Just the thought of Aaron made Ariana’s heart flutter, her left hand fingering the Blood Pact scar on her right arm. If only she could see him again! The six of them just might be able to stop Orthos’ destruction sooner.

“I know what you are thinking, but it is not yet time.” Katherine supplied softly.

Ariana sighed. “You are right, my friend. It would complicate matters if we reunited now.”

“Focus on your magical studies if you can’t meet up with them, yet.” Shadow told her. “The four of us will meet you here in the Garden each night after our patrols.”

“My patrols, Shadow.” Ariana teased with a straight face.

Aluna spoke up. “We’re your team of Crusaders; where you go, we go.”

“So, when you patrol, we’ll be there with you, fighting Dominionites and helping Dreamers.” Derrick wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed the nape of her neck. “That’s what we’re here for.”

“It’s our job as Crusaders, as your friends Ariana.” Shadow was serious. “Let us do our jobs and help you out.”

Ariana felt as if a huge weight had been lifted. She had a good feeling about ‘her personal band of Crusaders,’ and hoped that one day, the twins would join them. With the twins, Derrick, Aluna, Shadow and Katherine by her side, she felt nearly-indestructible.

“Thanks, guys. I just wish we could be together in the Outer Realm.”

“Dreams are all we have for now, love.” Derrick squeezed her from behind. “Be grateful we have them.”

“Believe me – I am.” Ariana whispered.

 

III

She awoke from the dream, wiping a sad tear from her eye.

You will see them again, my friend. Katherine comforted her.

I know I will; I just wish, you know?

Katherine purred. Careful what you wish for.

Aye, aye. Ariana sat up from her makeshift bed and gathered her pack. I just might get it.

In your case, you will get it. Katherine joked. It made Ariana smile.

She headed to the nearest restaurant to quickly wash up and change clothes before buying breakfast.

You do not suppose I will meet up with that boy from last night, do you? Ariana asked as she ate.

You never know. Katherine told her. If he is the seventh one in your future-dreams, you will, but if he is not, it was good to meet a kind face your first day in a strange city.

He was more than kind, my friend. Ariana responded. There was something about him that was a little – off. You were there; it was as if my Empathy was bounced off a barrier in his mind and returned to me.

Yet the moment you met eyes, that barrier was removed? Katherine guessed.

Right. Ariana sighed, mentally shrugging. No use dwelling over it now. We will let Destiny decide if we meet up again.

She paid for her meal and left, mind deep in thought as her body wandered the streets. She closed her Empathy to street vagrants; their emotions more than overwhelmed her.

Not even Katherine sensed someone coming behind her. She only heard a rough male voice whisper “Now!” as the bat made contact with her skull.

She dropped to her knees, the world around her going dark.

 

Chapter Nineteen

Return of Madam Pain

 

She found herself floating in midair, her midsection tugged by a long, silver-glowing string like a balloon. That string was attached to her body below her.

What was going on? Was she dead, her spirit waiting to move on?

She heard a tinkling voice over her shoulder. “Not yet, A’isha,” It was the voice of her Goddess-Sister, Brigid. “What you are doing is simple astral projection.”

Ariana turned at the statement and stared. “Astral Projection?”

Brigid nodded, smiling.

“Can anyone hear or see my body in this form?” Ariana asked, watching below. Her physical body was tied with hands behind her back and a gag over her mouth.

“Being you are in two different places at once, no.” Brigid answered. Before Ariana could ask, the Goddess responded. “The magic in your soul and your physical body are split in two. Since they are both in the same Realm, O’Dell would call it Astral Projecting. If you were in two different Realms; say, if you were stuck in Magical form in the Abyss while your Physical form was still here, you would be called an Invisibite.”

Ariana shook her head, the information whirling in her mind.

The Goddess chuckled. “I know; it is a lot for you to digest, but the more you do it, the more you will understand.” She pointed down to Ariana’s body, which was being driven away in a van. “Watch and learn for yourself.”

“How will I get back to my body?” Ariana asked.

“Float back to it, close your eyes, and hold on tight.” Brigid winked before disappearing.

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