In Serein


The Dragon Lords

A Novel by Silvia Hartmann

 

 

 

Part 1 - Arrival

1/1 - In The Rain

It was not every day that Mrs Delhany found a naked man in the driveway.

Indeed, this was the very first time it had happened.

She was about to leave her house in order to take her dogs for a walk, had loaded them into the back of her silver estate car, even though it was raining quite hard, and the day was misty, green.

She had pulled out of the garage and started cautiously down the pebble drive, fiddling with the windshield wipers, with the air conditioning, had looked up and saw something - what is that?

Mrs Delhany had squinted through the windshield at the pale bundle and put on the brakes just in time.

She had got out of the car, and even there, she had a very strange feeling that made her hesitate briefly before putting her hand on the bonnet and taking a closer look.

And there he was.

A naked man, curled up on his side, with curly brown hair that was wet from the rain, and rain rivulets running off his shoulders, off his back.

Mrs Delhany took a deep breath in through the nose and was glad of her steadying hand on the cool metal of the car. For a moment, she was unsure what to think or what to do, then reason established itself.

First of all, is he dead or alive?

She cautiously moved closer, crouched down, very aware that if he was to move all of a sudden, she would ...

She wasn't sure if she wanted to touch him, in case he was dead, and even more so, in case he was alive.

She bit her lip and reached out for his neck. It was very, very cold, fish cold and she could not feel a pulse; however, her touch caused a small movement. The man drew even tighter into himself and Mrs Delhany moved back immediately, stood up.

Alright, she said to herself, alright now, Sandra. Take a hold of yourself.

Get him covered up at least, he is so cold. And first of all, call an ambulance. And perhaps the police?

This was what she did.

Sandra Delhany did not call the police. She called the ambulance, and then brought forth a plastic tablecloth and a blanket for the man.

She put the car away and the disappointed dogs back into the house where they yelped and protested incessantly.

Then she sat in the rain by the side of the unknown man and waited for help to arrive.

 

 

1/2 - Abduction

When the ambulance men handled him in order to ascertain his condition, and then wrestled him onto a stretcher, as he did not seem to want to uncurl his position, fighting with his limbs and eventually tying him down, Sandra Delhany had an ever growing sense of wanting to step in, wanting to protect her foundling, feeling that she had made a mistake, perhaps she should have simply dragged him inside and made him a cup of tea or something.

She did not like the ambulance men touching him; she noted that she felt proprietory. She did realise however that these feelings were usual for her. She could never pass a stray dog by, or a stray cat, or any kind of bad luck story.

She owned a dog with three legs.

So she told the ambulance men what she knew, which was absolutely nothing, and wrapped her arms tightly about her own shoulders as the door closed, the flashing lights started up and the ambulance drew out of her drive.

 

1/3 - Right

It was just after lunch when Sandra Delhany gave up the fight, got in the car and drove down to the hospital where her man had been taken.

She was not a relative, so asking for information over the phone had proven fruitless. She had tried to occupy herself with telling a friend about her strange encounter, and then putting it from her mind, but had found it impossible to do.

As soon as she relaxed, the image of the strange man flashed back into her mind, and with it, that desire to touch him, to help him, which had near enough overwhelmed her when she had sat guard by his side in the rain.

She had held out for exactly seven hours and eleven minutes and now she was on her way.

At the reception, she lied and told the old lady there that the man was her brother; on the ward, and in person, she managed to convince the nurses on duty to let her look in on him by being completely honest with them.

"It's like ... he was put on my doorstep," she said to them, "Like fate."

The nurses, who were also human beings, had nodded and taken her to see him.

He was lying flat on his back under a sheet in a private room with the shades drawn against the rainy October day; he had a drip in his arm but otherwise no signs of medical intervention.

Sandra Delhany stood in the doorway and stared at him.

He was about 30, she thought, perhaps a little younger, perhaps a little older, it was difficult to say. He seemed of average height and weight, did not look particularly special. He was clean shaven with a blue beard shadow developing and had a pleasant enough face, relaxed, with his eyes closed, a little too still to just be sleeping.

He looked so ordinary, Sandra thought, just an ordinary man. A builder, or a farm labourer or a soldier perhaps. He could be anyone at all. He could be no-one. He is none of my business so why is my heart going out to him like that?

"Is it ok for me to ... sit with him for a while?" Sandra asked the nurse, a young man with thinnish blonde hair who had been very sweet and smiled at her a lot when she told the story of her foundling.

"Yes, dearie, I'm sure it'll be fine," the nurse said and smiled. "It's nice that he is not alone. Call though immediately if he wakes up."

"I will," said Mrs Delhany without looking at the nurse for her attention was on the man under the sheet, and her desire was to sit on the bed, not in the old fashioned arm chair on the other side of the room.

She sat on the bed carefully, uncomfortably, and when the blond nurse had left, the door was closed, took his hand very carefully in hers and held it, and finally, it felt as though she was doing something that was very, very right.

 

 

1/4 - Learning

Sandra sat in the darkened hospital room, holding the hand of the stranger who had fallen to Earth and landed on her driveway.

In the room, it was silent apart from their breathing which was happening at the same time; outside, there were voices, clattering, squeaking things, doors slamming, a universe of activity going on, a universe that was very much outside of this space and time right here.

Sandra sat and learned the man in the bed.

The connection she felt with him had grown ever stronger; it was as though there was a river of information flowing from his hand into hers; their skin seemed to be fused together and Sandra could not help thinking and feeling that they were sharing blood, and their lives experiences.

Who are you? she thought, Why have you come to me? And why now?

At the beginning, so long ago that it seemed an eon now, she had struggled with herself, called herself an old fool, having some kind of Florence Nightingale crisis, or simply reacting to the presence of a man, which had not been in her life for a very long time now.

At the beginning, she had tried to not feel so strongly about someone she knew nothing about.

He could be an idiot, a pervert, a serial killer.

Or he could be really boring, and when he woke up, his voice might sound like Kermit The Frog.

He could wake up, look at her and start to scream for help.

He could hate her.

Or pity her ...

But all of that had been at the beginning.

The longer she sat with him, and the more she breathed in time with him, the further and further away these thoughts had become.

Now, she was getting a sense of his time, of his life, and it was extraordinary.

There was something extraordinary about this man.

And with every deep breath that Sandra Delhany took in time with his, the sense of fate and destiny seemed to grow like a lifting wave.

She could feel this building, and wondered where it might lead.

Was she falling in love with him?

Sandra was unsure.

But in the end, it didn't matter.

Something was happening here, and something was unfolding, and she was not in a position to put a stop to it.

When she realised this, she sighed deeply and let it all go, and as it did, the wave lifted higher, joyfully, crested, and she cried out, "Yes! I will protect you."

He opened his eyes.

 

1/5 - Liquid

For a moment, the man stared straight at Sandra, a powerful, shocking presence that made her draw back reflexively, then his eyes rolled back, he tensed up and the pressure on Sandra's hand was so tight, she cried out and tried to pull her hand away, but he held her in a white knuckled grip as he convulsed. It lasted only for a moment until he went soft all over again and lay as before, but it was enough to really shock Sandra awake.

"Hey there," she said cautiously, "Can you hear me? Are you alright?"

A twitching of his hand told her that he could; he took a deep breath and slowly opened his eyes.

She could not make out the colour in the dim light; but they were not dark eyes, they were liquid, beautiful ...

He said something but it was not in a language she could understand. She squeezed his hand cautiously and he returned the gesture, said something else in a rough voice, the voice of an awakening sleeper. It was a question.

"Do you speak English?" she asked him, "Can you understand me?"

It took a moment, but then he nodded. He cleared his throat and said very carefully, "I think so." His pronunciation was strange, he was not a native English speaker.

"What's your name?" asked Sandra, quite aware that she was supposed to call the nurse if he woke up, but entirely unwilling to do so.

The man took a deep breath through flared nostrils, looked around the room, raised his head to look down himself, noting the hand being held, then startling at noticing the drip in his other arm. He moved his arm experimentally and frowned, shook his head.

"I ... don't know ..." he said slowly as he looked at Sandra.

Again, her heart went out to him, a real sensation of near pain in her chest, a sense of enfolding him somehow, if not in body, then in spirit.

"It's ok," she said and squeezed his hand again, "It's alright. You've had some kind of accident. I'm sure you remember when you feel better."

The man with the wavy brown hair that was at shoulder length and very untidy let himself sink back into the pillow, closed his eyes and sighed.

"I feel ... very tired ..." he said.

"That's alright," said Sandra and wanted so very much to stroke his hair, but gave the hand another reassuring gentle squeeze instead. "You rest now. You're safe here, and everything will be alright."

Without opening his eyes, the man said, "I am safe here? With you?"

"You are safe here. You are in a hospital."

"Will you stay?"

Sandra had to take a deep breath. She had a life. It was on hold for this emergency but ...

Work ...

The dogs ...

The appointments ...

"I will stay with you."

"Thank you."

She could feel him letting go and drifting away; his hand relaxed completely in hers, became very soft, very tender.

He was asleep.

 

1/6 - No Threat

"There is absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with him," the young lady doctor, of oriental descent with the short bob of straight black hair told Sandra. "In fact, he is healthier than almost anyone I've ever seen. There is no reason for him to stay here."

This conversation was taking place a day after the finding of the man, that day, day zero, as Sandra would come to call it, when her life had changed absolutely and in an instant.

By this time, it was all arranged.

Of course she would take him home with her.

She had known this all along; she had known this in her kitchen, when she had decided to go to the hospital. She had known she was going to retrieve him and bring him back here, where he belonged; she was just correcting the mistake she had made when she called the ambulance.

When will I ever learn to trust my own instincts, Sandra wondered as she stood and went through the motions with the doctor, with the admissions clerk, with the nurses.

A grey tracksuit had been procured for her man and apart from the fact that he was still tired, he was well co-ordinated and had no problems getting dressed. He did seem to struggle with the laces of the trainers; Sandra had knelt before him and laced them up, made nice little even bows on each one whilst he had looked down at her with the same curious interest that he showed to many things, if not all of them.

He had a lovely smile.

He was very trusting - of her, mostly. He would be clearly alarmed when the nurses did things to him, and would look to Sandra for re-assurance. A simple nod from her would suffice, and he would relax and allow blood to be taken, his stomach to be pressed, his mouth to be opened and lights to be shone into his eyes.

But he did not like to be left.

When Sandra had gone to find a place where she could make phone calls without being treated like a terrorist, she had found on her return that he had curled up into a ball again and was clearly hugely relieved that she had come back.

And she did believe that he had lost his memory.

He did not know his name or where he had come from. He did not remember anything at all other than waking up in the bed. The doctor had said that sometimes, memory would come back quickly, and sometimes slowly; and sometimes not at all, which had been not particularly helpful.

Sandra had wondered why she was not more concerned; but when it came to her man, she was quite aware that something unusual was going on, and that whatever it was, it was beyond her control.

He did not feel like a threat to her.

That was the most important thing and this was what she used to calm herself when thoughts came of the WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING YOU CRAZY OLD COW variety.

Sandra had held out her hand to him when he was dressed and ready to go; he had smiled at her and took it, but never let go of it again. So she led him through the many maze corridors of the District General Hospital and out into the bright light of day, where he stood and blinked and looked around curiously. She led him by the hand across the road and to the car park, and to her car.

Only then did he let go of her hand, and she had to instruct him how to put on a seat belt. This had resulted in Sandra leaning right over him and down; he had taken the opportunity to rub his cheek against hers, a sweet, very intimate gesture that made her heart skip a beat.

It made her flush too, and it made her hands go hot.

God help me, she thought.

I really, really like him ...

 

1/7 - Not Nigel

Sandra's home was a converted farmhouse with a huge kitchen and all the other rooms being very small indeed.

The kitchen was the centre of activity; Sandra's three dogs surrounded them both on their entrance.

They greeted Sandra with their usual boisterousness; she watched with great interest how they approached her man with care, sniffed him up and down, whilst he stood quite relaxed and looked at the animals with an expression of curiosity and without fear.

The dogs, a small terrier cross in white with reddish patches, the three legged poodle cross and the black labrador cross with the white star on his forehead, finished their investigation and all three moved backwards, as though they were curtseying to him and inviting him into their home.

It was a strange thing to observe; Sandra had never seen her dogs act quite like this before, but it made her glad to know that they didn't hate him.

Her friend Rosie arrived through the double door which separated the large kitchen space from the hallway and the main entrance to the building; nobody ever used that entrance though.

Rosie was a lovely lady, round as a rubber ball and as bouncy; down to her curly black hair, streaked with a little grey now, that bounced too as she filled the kitchen with her presence.

"So!" she cried, "That's your latest rescue ... ahm ... man!" Rosie laughed as she came forward and held out her hand to the stranger in the grey track suit who looked at her hand and then to Sandra.

Sandra smiled and nodded.

The man stepped forward, took the hand, went on one knee before the astonished lady and kissed it reverently.

From this position, he looked up at her and smiled.

Sandra could see her best friend's eyes widening and a softening going through the entire woman.

Rosie sighed and smiled.

The man stood up.

"We will have to give you a name," Sandra said. "What would you like us to call you?"

The man, who was taller than round Rosie by a head, smiled and said, "I don't know. Perhaps you could give me a name for now? Until I remember my own?"

"Please don't call him Nigel," said Rosie with a smile. She had just broken up with one Nigel and was still a little sore on the subject.

Sandra wanted to say something, but then she didn't. Instead, she said uncertainly, "How about ... Rix? Would you like that?"

The man turned his head to her and smiled. "Rix?" he said, "Yes. I like that. It sounds nice."

"Alright. Rix it is." Sandra smiled back at him and Rosie took a step towards her.

"What made you think of that?" she asked.

"I don't know," said Sandra. "It just ... came to me. So! Rosie, meet Rix, Rix, meet Rosie. Let's have a cup of tea and then we can make a plan what we want to do next."

 

 

1/8 - Facts

Some facts about Rix.

Sandra's ancient, bedraggled tom cat who hated everyone came into the lounge that night and lay under Rix's chair. It was heard to purr when this had never been known to happen before, not in 14 years of that cat's life.

Rix spoke English very well but did not seem to be able to read English.

He had unusually fast reflexes. Whilst washing up, Sandra had dropped a glass. Rix had caught it one inch off the ground before it could shatter on the flagstone floor and had crossed half the kitchen in order to do so.

He had absolutely no idea what toasters did, or microwaves, or electric kettles. Or the radio on the kitchen counter, or the blender. He was, however, very interested in these objects and would be curiously trying them out if left to his own devices.

Upon being served a steak for dinner, Rix had expressed dismay at the bluntness of the steak knives and had requested a sharpening stone. Sandra had provided him with a steel instead, and he had sharpened their steak knives before they were allowed to eat. After dinner, he had made her get every knife out of the drawers and holders on the wall and sharpened them all.

Rix did not like to sleep alone. Sandra had left him tucked in nicely in the spare bedroom and gone to bed herself, only to find that about ten minutes later, Rix came with his blanket and lay down on the rug before her bed, curled up and went to sleep there. She had been too astonished to argue.

He was a fast learner. When she woke up the next morning, he had made her a perfect cup of coffee. She asked him how he knew and he said he'd tasted a remnant last night and tried to match it as best he could.

And the first time he went for a walk in the gardens, closely shadowed by all three of Sandra's dogs and her old tom cat at a distance, he had found her engagement ring amongst the pebbles of the drive, which she had lost over ten years ago.

 

1/9 - RIX

"We should make a list of things," said Sandra to Rix over breakfast on the second day he had come to stay in her house.

"We could write down things you know and you don't know. Things you like and you don't like. Perhaps we can put an idea together where you came from and who you are."

Rix had listened to her with interest; he did that. He just listened. As though he was a microphone, recording everything she said without judgement or worrying about how he might or should respond.

At first, Sandra had found this somewhat disturbing, but as time had gone by, she became used to it and now found it rather interesting, soothing even.

If she wanted a response, she just had to tell him.

"How would you feel about that?" she therefore asked him.

Rix took a deep breath and rubbed his hand through his hair. "Yes," he said, "I think I'd like that. I would like to know who I am, or who I was."

"Alright," said Sandra and smiled lovingly at him, something she did a lot and now had stopped beating herself up for, "Let's do it. Let's make a list."

She got her notebook from the kitchen drawer and a black byro.

She opened the notebook, spiral bound, large size and found a fresh, new blank page.

Over the top, she wrote RIX in big letters.

He pulled his chair closer and leaned his elbows on the stout oak kitchen table.

"So. What do we know about you so far?"

Rix said softly, "I don't like blunt knives."

Sandra nodded and wrote: Doesn't like blunt knives as the first entry on the page.

"And you're not English. Or American."

"I don't even know what that means," said Rix, "What is that?"

Sandra said, "It's places where people come from. And you can tell they came from there because of the way they talk."

Rix nodded at that. "Yes, I know about that."

"When you first woke up in hospital, you spoke a different language," Sandra reflected. "Can you remember what that was? Can you speak it again?"

Rix thought about it then shook his head. "I only know this one ... I think ... I don't know." He sighed deeply and looked unhappy.

Sandra put her head to the side, then she closed the note book.

"Let's do something else instead," she said. "Let's go for a drive. We can drive into the village, take a walk around. Buy you some more clothes. Perhaps something will trigger your memory."

Rix said nothing, so she added, "Would you like that?"

He took his elbows off the table, folded his hands in his lap and smiled at her, happy again.

"Yes, I would like that very much," he said.

 

 

Part 2: Obsidian

2/1 - Penny

Rix was sitting in the car, looking out at the green countryside flashing by. Here and there, trees were turning yellow, golden; when they passed a farm or home, there were many more multi coloured shrubs and bushes.

He wondered at the world he was seeing, and wondered at the woman who was taking care of him so kindly, she who was steering his path at present, just as she was steering the chariot in which he found himself.

This place was very cold, he thought. It always felt cold. And wet. Always wet. This was not ... He shook his head. It was difficult to describe; he did not remember a before and yet had a sense that something was not as it was supposed to be.

He knew for a fact that knives were supposed to be sharp, and blunt knives invited danger, misfortune, bad luck. To have as many blunt knives in one single home as his kindly guardian did would account for all manner of tragedy, he thought.

Rix turned his head and looked at the woman beside him.

She was very beautiful, although she tried to cover this up with a strange clay on her face, and tribal marking on the eyes and around the mouth. Rix had found this very disturbing when he first encountered her; but he had become used now to see beyond that.

The lady was very kind. She had a kind heart and a gentle touch, and her breasts were not bad at all either, from what he could discern.

There seemed to be no men attached to her, or in service of her; only the round woman with the happy smile. Rix wondered why this was so. Perhaps she did not like men, he thought and sighed. This caused the woman to take her eyes off the road and cast a quick glance at him.

"Are you alright?" she asked him yet again.

Rix tried to know how to answer that question. As he did not know who he was, and how that one should be judging their own state, he was at a loss what to say to this.

He said nothing.

"Rix, are you ok? Do you want me to stop the car?"

The first part of the sentence again made no sense to him, the second part he could mercifully answer.

"No, I don't want you to stop the car until you have arrived where you are planning to go," he said and hoped it would suffice.

She nodded. "Penny for your thoughts," she said.

The hushing silence beyond the sound of the engine was punctuated by the indicator as Sandra Delhany turned into the main road leading to the village.

Traffic was very light today. She pulled the car out of the difficult junction, relaxed as she picked up speed and said, "It means I'd like to know what you are thinking about. Paying you a penny for your thoughts."

Rix wondered if a penny was made of gold, silver or copper, and what one might buy with it. He shuffled in the seat. "I was thinking about you," he said.

Sandra shot him a quick glance. "Oh? And what were you thinking about me?"

"I was wondering why you do not seem to have any men."

Sandra gave a short laugh in surprise. "I have you, now," she said and then wished she had not.

Rix nodded and they continued on in silence for quite a while. The day was darkening; it might soon be raining again.

In the summer, the little village of Stairwick was packed with tourists. It was picturesque and lay right on the edge of a National Park; as there was little else to do for families by the way of interesting attractions, the town was thronging with visitors and all the shops were designed with tourists in mind.

Today, there was plenty of space to park, and hardly a soul in sight.

It gave the village the appearance of a movie set.

Sandra felt strange again as she got out of the car and waited for Rix to struggle free from the seatbelt and likewise, clamber from the vehicle. He closed the door with great care, paying close attention to the sound, in that same way that he paid attention to almost everything around him.

She found it fascinating. It made her become more aware of her environment too. She locked the car and glanced at the empty high street with the highly restored, colourful old fashioned houses and shops with their exposed beams and shingles above the doors. She wondered what Rix would make of this, or why she had brought him here.

Rix stood and looked down the street also.

All things seemed similar but then one thing took his attention.

It was a shingle over a shop, halfway down the street, a round sign, dark green, and the emblem of a dragon in gold inscribed in a circle.

 

 

2/2 - No Friend

Sandra looked to Rix and saw him standing as frozen, only his lids flickered fast. She went around the car, put her hand on his arm and said, "What can you see? Are you remembering something? What is it?"

Rix turned to her in a ragged movement and said, "The sign. The sign of the dragon. I know that sign." He turned and pointed; Sandra squinted but could not make it out properly.

"Let's go and take a closer look," she said to Rix who nodded and immediately reached for her hand again. She took it and could feel him stabilising as his fingers flexed around hers and found a better, tighter grasp.

She smiled at him encouragingly and they set off together.

A little way into the village, a stout older woman with her hair piled on top of her head, carrying a large black umbrella even though it was not raining at this time, exited a shop.

"Ah!" the woman cried, looking briefly at Sandra Delhany and then spending some considerable time looking Rix up and down and up again, "Mrs Delhany! How lovely to meet you here ... and your son ...?"

Sandra blushed hot red at this; it was well known that she did not have any children. Why do people have to be so unkind, she wondered and was trying to formulate a response when Rix stepped forward and said, "Dear lady, you are mistaken. I am my lady Sandra's protégé and will be her lover soon.

"We are not related."

The woman, Mrs Durham, the wife of the local butcher, stared at him and Rix looked right back at her. The woman put her head back, sniffed, and pushed through between them, walking away without a backward glance.

Rix said, "I hope that was no friend of yours."

Sandra shook her head. "No. That was no friend."

Rix took her hand once more and they continued down the road together, without saying anything else.

The shop which had the round green wooden shingle with the golden dragon painted upon it was not a Chinese takeaway.

It was a magic shop.

Or, as the time will have it, a New Age shop.

It had crystals in the window; sun catchers which caught no sun on this day but still produced a white diamond sparkle; and figurines of angels, of dolphins, and of dragons.

Rix stood and looked at the display in the window, his hand tightening painfully around Sandra's once more.

She wanted very much to ask him again if he remembered anything, but she did not want to be a squeaking wheel. Perhaps ...

"Can we go inside?" asked Rix in his pleasant, slightly foreign voice.

"Of course."

He made no effort to move at all, so Sandra pulled him gently towards the entrance door, held it open for him and encouraged him to go inside. In order to pass her, he had to let go of her hand.

He stepped inside the shop.

 

 

2/3 - Artefact

The shop smelled strongly of incense and was dimly lit; however, good use was made of halogen spotlights which sparkled displays of crystals and druses.

As so many shops in the village, this was a very old fashioned original layout; old dark wooden cabinets from a bygone age and thick rounded glass display cases showed the wares. The shop itself was panelled floor to ceiling in dark wood and felt very intimate, very otherworldly.

There were no other customers, no other people to be seen.

Soft music featuring a harp was playing in the background.

Sandra stood by the door and watched Rix with his tousled hair move into the central space where a single tall square old display case stood which seemed to contain a mixture of objects on numerous tiers.

Very slowly, he reached out with his left hand and touched the glass at a level just beneath his collar bones.

Sandra had to move in closer to see what had caught his attraction.

It was a knife, made from black obsidian, with fine silverwork around the handle.

It looked very sharp.

Rix was staring at the object and Sandra noticed there was tremendous heat coming from him, she could feel it right through her clothes and in her own body, and she felt it before he actually broke out into fine beads of sweat.

"Good afternoon," said a high voice and startled them both badly.

A very pretty young girl with long, red hair was standing before the wall counter. She was wearing a dark green crushed velvet dress with copper coloured embroidery and she looked every inch the modern witch.

Sandra disliked the girl's attention on Rix intensively and disliked herself for feeling that way. He was not her property; she was just helping him out, and what he had said about soon to be her lover, well, that had just been a put you down for nasty Mrs Durham.

The pretty pale girl with the big brown eyes flowed up towards Rix and looked at the display case.

"Have you found something you like?" she asked Rix alone, "Would you like me to open the case and take a closer look?"

Rix nodded and pointed at the obsidian knife.

"Ah," said the girl, "Good choice! That is one of our very finest artefacts. It is said to have belonged to ancient druids who used it to cut out their victim's hearts."

Rix flashed up, fast. "Nonsense," he said quite loudly. "Utter nonsense. Give me the knife, serving wench, and be quick about it."

The girl's eyes widened and she took a step back, putting one hand before her square cleavage. Sandra stepped in.

"Forgive my friend," she said in what she hoped would be a smooth tone, "He is an actor and ... ahm .. a method actor. Doing a ... ahm ... medieval knight kind of thing at the moment. He forgets himself ..."

Thus having been given a modicum of an excuse to understand the situation, the pretty redhead nodded and came forward again.

"Do you still want to see the knife?" she asked uncertainly, "It is quite pricey though. It really is very old."

Before Rix had a chance to say anything else, Sandra placed her hand on his arm and said, "Yes please."

She had to drag him out of the way so that the girl could open the tall case; and Sandra had to physically restrain him as the girl picked up the knife with both hands and turned around to present it to Rix.

He swept it from her in such a fast and furious movement that the girl gave a little cry and stepped back rapidly; Sandra lost her hold of him.

He is fast, and really strong, she thought, I would not be able to control him if he didn't want me to. What is he doing?

Rix was holding the black knife, testing its sharpness.

It was a beautiful thing, beautifully shaped and balanced, running to a fine, fine tip and the starlights from the shop were flashing off the polished blue black blade.

He turned it carefully, reverently in his hands, turned to Sandra and said, "This is mine. It belongs to me."

Sandra found herself nodding before she had a chance to even think about it. His light eyes seemed dark grey and to reflect the shine of the blade. Sandra nodded again, stronger this time.

"I will buy it for you," she said.

"It is mine already. How can you buy for me what belongs to me?"

Sandra shook her head. "It belongs to the shop," she said carefully. "But it's alright. I'll buy it for you and then it will be yours."

Rix shook his head, grasped the knife by the handle, held it with the blade pointing forward and said, "It is mine. I earned this. It belongs to me now as it always has, and always will, until the day comes when I give it up."

Sandra looked past him and saw that the girl in the green dress was sliding along the display cabinets. She will call the police, Sandra thought, damn it. What is it with Rix and his knives?

"Alright, alright," she said, holding out both hands palm up before her. "Alright. It is yours and always will be yours. Why don't you just take it and wait over there for me? I want a word with ... the serving wench."

Rix, who had been very intense indeed, nodded and took a deep breath. He passed his free hand over his forehead and said, "Yes. Yes. I'll ... wait outside for you."

He walked past her and out of the shop; Sandra looked after him in alarm as did the girl in the green dress, but he did not go far. He stopped right outside the door on the pavement and looked at the knife.

Sandra let out a breath she had not realised she had been holding and turned to the girl.

"Quick," she said, "How much?"

The girl said, "£789."

Sandra felt heat rising again in her face. That was a lot of money.

She looked to Rix who was entirely absorbed, leaning against the corner of the shop, stroking his lethal black blade and just for a moment really saw, heard and felt two policemen wrestling with him, trying to get that knife off him ...

Sandra dug out her purse and found a credit card that might just allow this transaction to take place.

It took forever and eventually involved a telephone call from the processing centre; during this time, Sandra was painfully aware of the girl's eyes on her. The actor story was wearing thin.

But finally, it was done. Sandra was feeling shaky, nauseous; this man was more of a handful than she had anticipated. And he was clearly crazy. Mentally ill? Had he run away from some sort of asylum?

And yet, and yet again, when she stepped out of the shop, and he turned and looked at her, and a bright smile streaked fast across his face, she felt all of that receding, all of that drifting away, and all she could think was what she had said in the hospital.

I will protect you.



 

2/4 - Alert

 

Alert Issued

Artefact No. 117 was purchased October 17th, 2012, 14.12

Nexus Location Stairwick, England

Mrs Sandra Delhany

Spindlewood

Stairwick TS44 8PJ

Custodian Andrew DeVille

Standard procedure initiated.



 

2/5 - Carry It

Sandra and Rix were sitting in the wet autumn garden of the King & Crown pub which lay at the end of the village.

The landlord, a friendly middle aged man with thinning red hair had served them with a cup of coffee and a brandy for the lady, and a glass of water, to be on the safe side, for the gentleman in the grey tracksuit.

Rix was looking down at the knife he had placed on the old grey wooden table before him, and Sandra was looking at Rix.

When she had first watched him, in the rain on the drive, then in the hospital bed, she had thought he didn't look particularly special. Nice, simple, classic features, a good straight nose, a chin that matched the rest of his face. Shapely eyebrows and long dark lashes.

But that had been before whoever he was had come and live inside this body, had animated it and in doing so, transformed it entirely..

He had gone from a pretty statue or a plaything to a living being, she thought as she watched him put his head to the side and move in the seat to observe that knife yet again from a different angle.

He flowed, she thought, he flows. All his movements flow. He is so very alive, and so unconscious of what he does, what he looks like.

She became fascinated with his hands; like his feet, they were slim, quite small, elegant. He had not done any physical work or manual labour of any kind, not for a long time, perhaps not ever.

Rix became aware of her attention, broke his fascination with the otherworldly object before him and looked up at her. A fast smile flashed over his face; it always did when he looked at her, and it gave her a little electric thrill every time. Sandra sighed deeply and smiled back at him, a little sadly.

If only I was twenty years younger, she thought. Or fifteen years younger. Or ten ...

She poured the brandy into her coffee cup and added two bags of sugar. Rix watched her do this and asked, "Can I have some wine? I don't really like water."

Sandra was surprised. He did not make requests such as this, or had not, so far.

When she did not respond right away, Rix said, "This is an inn, is it not? And inns serve wine?"

"They do," said Sandra slowly, "But I wasn't sure ... what with your memory loss ..."

Rix smiled brightly and sat up straighter. "Wine might help!" he said cheerfully. A thought came to him, clearly so, because he wrinkled his brow, put a finger to his nose and said, "Is it a question of gold?"

It took Sandra a moment to understand that he meant money. She gave a small laugh. She had just spent £800 to buy the knife.

"No, it is not a question of gold. And yes, you can have a glass of wine. But only one."

"Why?" enquired Rix curiously.

Because you have a knife obsession. Because you're stronger than me. Because I don't know a damn thing about you, who you are or what you are doing. Because I am supposed to protect you ...

He glanced at his knife, then looked back to her.

His eyes widened.

"Oh ..." he said and swallowed. "Oh ... you are ... afraid? That I would ..."

He shook his head, sat back on the seat and put both his hands in front of him in a warding off gesture.

"No, you misunderstand," he said, "This knife ... it is not a weapon, not to be used against other people. You only use it on yourself."

Sandra had to swallow too now.

"You ... use it on ... yourself?!" she repeated, incredulously.

"Yes," said Rix, a sharp single line between his eyebrows, "Yes. You use it on yourself. I know that. I did that. That's why it's mine."

"What do you remember?" Sandra asked, "Tell me what you remember when you look at that knife."

Rix put his head back and took a deep breath through flared nostrils. He reached out with his right hand and cautiously touched the handle. The knife was made from a single piece of shaped obsidian, and the handle was encaged in fine silver filigree work, very fine strands of silver forming a complex web with many interlacements.

He said softly, "I remember ...

"I remember ... darkness ... blue lights playing ... I ... "

He put his hand to his head and shook it hard enough to set his hair flying.

"I can't ..." he said and hit his own temple hard with his hand.

Sandra reached across the old wooden table and touched him on the arm. "It's alright, shh, it's ok ... Don't worry, don't try so hard. It will come to you. You never remember anything if you try and force it ..." She stroked his arm which was hard as wood beneath the tracksuit jacket, tense, so tense ...

Slowly, Rix relaxed. He nodded and put his hand on hers. His hand was very warm, very warm indeed.

"Thank you," he said sincerely. "Thank you for ..."

Sandra just nodded and moved back, away. She took refuge in her coffee cup and told him, "Whatever you need. Whatever I can do to help. Just don't worry. And ... you need to put that knife away. In this ... country there is a law that you are not supposed to carry weapons such as this."

Rix nodded seriously. He picked up the knife and touched himself with the other hand, wondering clearly how to conceal the weapon.

Sandra said softly, "I'll carry it for you if you would let me."

The man on the other side of the table slowly raised his eyes to look at her. Just for a moment, there was nothing else at all - the sounds from the road had ceased, the clatter of dishes from the kitchen was gone, the voices of the other customers, even the wind had stopped.

Rix gave a minute bow and a closing of the lids and handed Sandra the knife.

She took it carefully and placed it in her bag.

When they left together, they did not speak, nor did they speak all the way back to Sandra's house.

 

{{Pause=3}}

Part 3 - Custodians

3/1 - Custodian

Mr Andrew DeVille looked at the terminal which had sent the alert that an artefact had been sold and was not in the least excited by this.

It meant nothing.

Artefacts were being bought and sold all over the world all the time; of course they were. They were always so interesting. And people who had a little bit of a sense of what was in front of them could tell the artefacts.

Still.

It was his job to initiate the first protocol, and Mr DeVille was a very tidy man who prided himself on doing things right.

He believed in efficiency, in having all things in their rightful place at all times, and if they were not, to engage in a course of action which would restore said things as quickly as possible.

The artefact would have to be returned to the shop as soon as possible.

Andrew DeVille called up the available network information about Mrs Sandra Delhany, a local housewife from the nexus village. It made boring reading too. Born in 1973, married to Mr Kenneth Delhany, deceased, no children. Her financial records were not good; DeVille could tell with a glance that her house would soon be sold and she would be left with not a lot after that.

He could not see any affiliations with mystical orders of any kind in her file, no matter how low level; not even an esoteric interest was flagged here.

"Well, well, Mrs Delhany," Andrew DeVille said softly to the screen before him, "Now why would you go and spend the last remaining credit on your card on an ancient artefact without provenance?"

The black screen reflected him and he used it for a mirror briefly. He liked to look at himself. He was fifty now but felt he looked smart, masterful. He liked his fitted suit and he liked his shirt and tie.

DeVille raised his right arm and flexed it a little so that his expensive Rolex watch could be seen and gave a little smile to his mirror man, looking fine my friend.

Perhaps, he thought, it was time for a little field trip.

Perhaps he'd like to meet Sandra Delhany. And recover the artefact for himself on this occasion.

Yes, he thought, I think I'd like a trip to England's green and pleasant land.

DeVille unbuttoned the jacket of his suit and sat down properly in front of the console.

He called up the information about artefact No. 117 and when the image flashed up on the screen, he raised his head a fraction and became still for a moment.

It had been a long time since he saw this one.

It had been a long time ago when first he had learned of these things. He had been young then, intense; he had been filled with enthusiasm, with dragonfire, as the joke would go.

The black obsidian knife.

DeVille stared at the screen and battled with himself to not feel a sense of hope, to not have a sense of rising excitement, of possibility.

He clenched his hands to fists and straightened them carefully out again, repeated this a number of times and told himself this was just a housewife who had bought 117 on a whim.

There could not possibly be a dragon lord in Stairwick.

 

 

3/2 - His Name

On their return from the village, Sandra had taken Rix into the third bedroom.

This was not something which was lightly done; it may have been eighteen months or more since last she opened that door.

Like all the doors in the old farmhouse, it was simple polished wood; a lovely reddish colour with natural swirls.

Sandra knew the swirls of this door particularly well because she had stood before it on so many occasions in the last three years and always paused here for some time.

She sighed deeply, hoped that it would not be too dusty and opened the door.

She switched on the light and went inside.

Rix followed her, looking around himself curiously but then settling to look at her instead of the piled up boxes and the clothes rails in this room.

Sandra tried to say something but found her voice was not working.

Rix, who was calmly observing her, stepped closer and held out his hand to her. She took it and this unlocked her throat.

She took a deep, deep breath and said, "My husband's clothes are in here. He was about the same size as you are. Most things should fit."

Rix said, "There is a lot of sadness in this room."

Sandra tried very hard not to start to cry. She found herself reflexively squeezing the man's hand in hers and it did give her something to hold on to.

Someone to hold onto, she thought and then burst out into tears. Rix moved forward swiftly and caught her in his arms, and Sandra put her forehead on his shoulder and cried and cried.

Rix said nothing, he stood still and breathed deeply. He did not do anything either; so they stood until Sandra had stopped sobbing and instead, tears were simply flowing down her face. It felt ... relieving, she thought, just letting the tears flow like that and it's ok. It's ok to be sad ...

She moved away from Rix and said through her tears, "My husband, he died. Three years ago."

The man with the brown hair and the kind face nodded seriously. "That is why you have no men," he said.

Sandra had to smile at that through the tears that were still flowing out of her eyes, flowing down her face and dripping off her jaw, running onto her throat.

"That is why I have no men," she said. "I had one man, and he died."

Rix nodded and replied, "It feels like that when that happens. Like the world has gone dark and will remain dark forever."

Sandra wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand, not caring if she smeared her mascara, not caring in the least.

"Have you lost someone too?" she asked him.

Rix gave a very small smile that was most unhappy and moved his head in a peculiar weaving motion. "I thought I had," he said and sighed. "I was in hell."

Sandra realised that he was telling her something about his past. He was remembering something. She held her breath for a moment as not to break the spell and asked, "What was her name?"

Rix shook his head slightly. "Not her name. His name. His name was ..." and there, he gave a groan of pain, doubled over, put his hands to his head and gasped, "I don't know ... I can't remember ..."

It was Sandra's turn to step up and provide the safety anchor. She embraced him carefully and sadly.

His name.

She held him close and he dropped his head on her shoulder. Such a lovely man, she thought and smiled into his hair. Such a lovely man. Dropped on my door step.

And he is gay.

Will my luck ever change?

 

3/3 - Not Ill

Rix was standing naked before the mirror in Sandra's bedroom and studied himself carefully, as did she.

He could see that the lady was interested; she was slightly flushed and her eyes were flicking here and there, trying to stay focused on his face in the mirror but failing to do so.

Rix smiled at her through the mirror and she flushed more deeply and stepped back.

Rix re-focused on the image of the man before him.

It was unfamiliar.

He stepped closer and touched his hand to the glass, but this did not allow him to touch the mirror man he was observing.

He turned his head, turned his shoulder, touched his shoulder.

He turned his body, trying to see his back.

He looked at his own dick and sighed.

Rix felt displaced, uncomfortable. Something was wrong but he could not say what it was; he touched himself again, trying to ascertain if this was indeed, his own body.

It felt like a body should feel. It shivered slightly now, there was pressure in his neck. It worked like a body should and yet ...

Rix sighed again.

The lady stepped forward and held out a bundle of clothes to him.

Dead man's clothes.

It seemed appropriate somehow.

Rix took the clothes and looked at them.

He understood the trousers, and the shirt.

He tried to put on the trousers, but the lady stopped him.

"You put on these first," she said, "They're called underpants."

Rix looked at the small white thing she was holding out to him, shook his head and wondered at the strange ways of this world.

Wherever he had been before, he was sure he had not been wearing ... underpants?

She assisted to have them be the right way around and pointed out that there was an opening through which he could reach his dick. He had to laugh at that. It seemed greatly over-engineered, one could surely just pull the pants down ...

He shared this thought with the lady and she laughed too.

She had a lovely laugh, melodic, and it was nice to hear her happy for a change. His lady was a very sad lady, thought Rix, and then, we'll see about that. Perhaps I can put a smile on her face ...

He could not quite work out if she liked him, or if she wanted him.

She had said that he was her man now, in the car. And she had not corrected him when he had identified himself as her lover to the ugly woman in the town.

She liked being held by him and she clearly liked seeing him naked, but she had not invited him to her bed. He had to ask to be near her at night.

Yet she did allow him to sleep in her room.

The lady was confusing, thought Rix, or perhaps she was just confused.

Perhaps she was still mourning for her dead man.

Perhaps putting me in his clothes will help her make up her mind.

Rix nodded to himself in the mirror and then could not help but sigh and raise an eyebrow. The white loin cloth like pants looked stupid.

He tried the blue, stiff trousers again she had given him, and this time found he was allowed to proceed. They were uncomfortably tight, especially around his thighs and buttocks, and had strange metal teeth set right where his most precious possessions resided.

"Ah!" cried Rix, "I understand! The under pants are to protect against the metal teeth!"

He turned to Sandra and added, "But why have metal teeth in the first place? If you didn't have those, you wouldn't have to wear the loincloth underneath?"

Sandra laughed aloud at that; she stepped forward and after a brief hesitation, reached out with both hands to work the metal teeth on his trousers. Rix looked down at her and gave a quick breath when he felt her hands on his dick. A flash of excitement went through him - how long had it been ...?

The lady had felt it too and had stepped back, straightened out. She was flushed again and holding her hands, palms up, at waist height.

"I'm sorry ..." she said.

Rix was confused. "Sorry about what? You did not hurt me?"

She shook her head and took another step back which caused her to collide with the bed behind her.

Rix turned away from the mirror, put his head to the side and said cautiously, "I liked it. I would like you to do it again."

The lady shook her head and sat down on the bed, her knees firmly pressed together, disappearing into the fabric of her skirt. Rix contemplated this and could feel himself starting to come to life.

Ah, he thought. It's like waking up. I'm waking up. And I would like to be a whole lot more awake. Perhaps if I was, I would remember something ...

To Sandra, he said, "Do you not like touching me?"

She nodded before she had a chance to stop herself, swallowed and said, "You are ... not well. It's not ... appropriate ..."

"Appro-pria-te? What does that mean?" Rix went to the bed and sat down beside her, in the jeans with the flies open and bare chest, his bare upper arm touching Sandra's shoulder.

She drew away and shuffled a little to the side, creating a space between them.

"In this country ..." she said, not looking at him directly nor through the mirror on the opposite side of the room, "... it is held to be not right to ... do sexual things ..." she cleared her throat, "... with people who are ill."

"I'm not ill," said Rix, "I feel very well. And started to feel even better when you touched me just then. In fact, I think if you touched me more, I would ... not be ill at all, afterwards." He smiled brightly at her, clearly pleased with his sentence and sentiment expressed.

Sandra shook her head. "You don't know who you are. You don't know what you want ..."

"Yes I do," said Rix and put his hand on her thigh. "I can tell what I like and what I don't like. I don't like drinking water. And I liked your touch on my dick."

Sandra got up rapidly and walked right around to the other side, putting the entire bed between them.

"Look," she said, "Look that's very ... sweet of you, but ... just get dressed. I'm sure you can work it out. I'll ... see you downstairs when you're ready."

With that, she fled the room.

Rix sat on the bed and listened to her feet on the old wooden stairs, listened to the door to the kitchen being shut with a bang.

He shook his head and sighed.

I will have to work a whole lot harder to convince my lady that I am worthy of her touch, he thought.

 

 

3/4 - Safe

Sandra noticed that her hands were shaking when she filled the kettle with fresh water under the tap.

I can't think straight, she thought, I can't think straight when I'm around him. She carried the kettle back to its base on the other side of the kitchen and turned it on.

Star, the black Labrador cross, came up to her and nudged her with his nose.

Sandra took a moment to crouch down and stroke him, look into his sincere brown eyes.

"Don't worry," she told Star, "It's alright. It's going to be alright. We'll find a way, we always do ..."

Star tried to climb on her and this made her smile.

She stroked his silky ears for a while longer and reflected on the fact that there was a lot of love in her life, even if people did not see it that way.

Sandra thought herself fortunate, because she could feel love from her dogs, most certainly. But she could also feel it from her garden, and from the sky. Even from the old bricks this building was made of.

She felt loved and supported here, and it was this which had helped her through the dark days of Ken's illness, and the even darker days after he had gone.

Whatever this was with Rix, it could never be as bad as that again.

She was watching and listening to the kettle as it heated up and thought, it is true though. I can't think straight when I'm around him. All I see is him and I go all ... instinctive.

I don't think of the consequences. I just ... act. I wonder what that is.

She put a tea bag into her mug as the kitchen door opened and Rix put his tousled head around the corner cautiously.

She could not help but smile at him; his face lit up in relief and he slipped the rest of his body into the kitchen, but stayed on the threshold.

He had managed to do up the jeans correctly and he was wearing Ken's check shirt, light blue and dark blue, but he had not buttoned it up. Now, he looked up and reached up to the lintel above the door, put his fingertips on it and let himself swing slightly from it.

He's doing that because he knows it looks sexy, thought Sandra, he's doing that deliberately. He really is trying to ...

She shook her head, went back to the tea making and asked him, "Do you want a drink?"

Rix let go off the door frame and she could feel him coming closer, then standing behind her. Damn but he is hot, she thought, he radiates. It made a cold shiver go down her back, how paradoxical, she thought and tried to focus on the tea and the act of stirring with a spoon.

"I'd rather have some wine," Rix said into her right ear and that made her jump. She turned around but he did not back away, and even though she leaned as far back on the kitchen counter as she could, he stayed exactly where he was.

"Look," Sandra said, "Stop it, please. Back up."

Rix took a deep sigh and did step back, one step, two. He hung his head and rubbed through his hair with his hand.

Sandra felt better, more in control again. That was a better distance between them.

"Button up your shirt," she said gently, "And sit down. You can have a cup of tea. No wine."

Rix looked up and his expression was nothing short of sorrowful.

"I don't like cupoftea," he said, pronouncing it all in one word. "And you do not want me to be your man?"

Sandra hesitated. She hesitated for a long time, in fact so long that Rix let out the breath he had been holding. His shoulders dropped, he nodded sadly and walked away, to the door that led into the garden.

He went outside and closed it softly behind him; Sandra went to the window by the kettle to see him walking out into the drive and standing before the large circular flower bed that was her pride and joy and which still, even though it was October, sported all manner of lovely flowers, foliage and colours, perfectly planned to rise up into a fountain.

He turned around and Sandra drew away from the window.

She took her tea, picked up her mobile phone and sat down at the old wooden kitchen table.

She wanted to ring her friend Rosie and discuss the situation.

She started to dial, cancelled, dialled, cancelled again.

What am I supposed to say to her?

That I have been lonely for a long time, and I have completely forgotten what it feels like to hold a man in your arms?

To smell him, to feel him, to have him want me?

That I feel like ... I'm 14 again, and I know nothing at all of what to do, what to think or even how to feel?

One thing was for sure. Rix was ... ill, under the definition of that he did not know what he was doing. He did not know who he was, and even though he did not remember it, he had said that his great love who died had been a man. A he. And he had been talking about romantic love, not a father or a brother or even a friend, Sandra had been in no doubt that she could have misunderstood him.

Sandra gave another deep sigh. She did not want him to think that she did not like him, for she did. She more than liked him. Her heart truly went out to him every single time she looked at him.

Then it came to her.

The answer to her problem.

Sandra nodded.

I'll protect you, she thought.

You'll be safe with me - and from me.

 

 

3/5 - Hope

Only a few miles as the crow flies, a chauffeured limousine was making its way towards Stairwick.

In the back were Mr Andrew DeVille and his personal assistant, a pretty, young, busty blonde who was also his lover.

This was an inconvenience as far as Andrew DeVille was concerned, but also an important item on the list of what a successful man has to show the world. Further, his affair with the girl Sindy was the perfect cover.

His predilections ran into quite some different areas.

It was these DeVille amused himself with as the limo made its way through the winding country roads on the way to the Crown, where a double room had been booked.

Sindy was well trained and knew not to interrupt him with giving voice to any thoughts or notions that might be flitting through her head; she was twittering on her mobile phone.

Every so often, she would give an unwelcome little squeal, a giggle or a moan; Andrew DeVille did his best to calm his annoyance by thinking of things which would have most likely made the lovely young lady quit her job, if she had had any inkling whatsoever of the nature of his thoughts.

A little pig like snort brought him up sharp; he shook his head and focused on the countryside as it flashed by instead.

Stairwick had been a known nexus for at least a thousand years.

Many strange things had happened here.

The very founding of the village was a point of contention between historians; as a custodian, DeVille had his own take on that history.

Long before Stairwick, there had been other settlements here.

In fact, if one was to dig a little deeper, one would find that the history of Stairwick went back at least ten thousand years, and DeVille had always thought it was far longer than that.

Far, far longer.

Try as he might, DeVille could not shake the strange feeling in his chest. It was very difficult to put a name to it; it wasn't exactly fear, it wasn't exactly excitement. He could not place it.

He knew that generations of custodians lived and died and none of them ever got to meet a dragon lord.

He knew some went insane with the hoping and the waiting and would declare to have met one, but they were hallucinating, or mistaking an extraordinary person, or even a random person because they were so desperate.

DeVille had shuddered at the case histories when they had been presented; he had looked down at the images and had felt disgusted with their weakness.

Today, for the first time, he had a sense of how that could happen.

He had been on so many of these missions, and of course, they had always ended in disappointment.

But still, he had hope.

He had not realised this until today.

How would he feel when once again, it would turn out that nothing was happening, the artefact purchase had been the usual thing, just someone sensing the power of the object and being irresistibly drawn to it. The hassle of having to wrestle the artefact away from them by any means necessary.

And the long drive home, empty handed.

Empty souled.

Questioning if they were all mad and there was no such thing as a dragon lord at all ...

Sindy squealed and DeVille laid his forehead against the cool smooth window briefly.

Let this journey be over, he thought wearily.

Let me know, one way or the other.

Just let me know ...



 

3/6 - Bury It

Rix was leaning with his elbows on the big wooden gate which guarded the entrance to Sandra Delhany's property and the large pebble drive with the flower fountain.

He was cold and miserable. And getting wet, not because it was raining but because the air itself seemed filled with mist and moisture.

Rix wondered whether he should ask his lady to be relieved of her service. He kept feeling that she did not really want him in her home, that she did not like him and even may have been afraid of him.

He sighed deeply and hung his head when a sensation came to his awareness. It was like the misty day around him, only denser; a sense of something coalescing, something becoming ...

Rix sought the source of this disturbance and found it lay to the west.

It was approaching fast.

Then he could hear the humming sound of a chariot, and then he could see it too. It was a big, black one with mirrors for windows and as it hushed by close enough so Rix could feel wetness being thrown up from the road with the wind it made, he saw a pale man's face, or he thought he did, perhaps the face had been his own.

Rix took a deep, shuddering breath and noticed that his hands on the wooden gate were white knuckled, painful the grip.

The sensation was receding, getting fainter until he could not tell it any longer.

The experience left him shaken and unsure. There was a fast trembling in his body and he very much wanted to find Sandra Delhany and put his head to her breast, listen to her steady heart beat and find a centre in her that was lacking in him entirely.

Rix stepped away from the gate, looked towards the house that was nestling between the shrubs and trees, being held by them lovingly, stroked by vines running up the side and to the roof's eves, trimmed around the windows.

He wished he could be inside, be a part of that, feel a little safe ...

Sandra found him about half an hour later, sitting on the front doorstep, his arms about his knees. The dogs found him first, of course, and moved around him but did not touch him or jump on him.

She was intrigued how respectful they were of him, yet clearly, they liked him and liked to be near him. Star, the black Labrador cross lay down at his feet, looking up at him, and the other two were taking up station either side of her foundling.

Sandra said, "What are you doing?"

Rix did not look at her. Instead, he touched the dog which was sitting on his left, the three legged poodle cross, with the back of his hand in the place where the lost front leg had been. The dog lowered its head a little but let him do this.

"I don't know," Rix eventually said. "For now, I am sitting here, wondering what I should do to please you more."

Sandra shook her head. She did not want to have another of the same conversations. "I wanted to ask you what you want to do with the knife," she said. "Where do you want to keep it?"

At this, Rix looked up to her. He seemed to wake up a little and nodded.

"Yes," he said, "Yes. We should bury it."

"Bury it?" Sandra wasn't sure she had heard him right.

Rix got up and straightened out, wiped at his backside with his hands. Sandra saw that the back of his jeans were black wet. He pointed at the flower fountain.

"We can bury it in there," he said, "It won't be found, at least not for a time."

Sandra had spent £800 which she did not have on the thing. She sighed deeply. "If that's what you want to do with it ..."

Rix did not turn to her and said, "Yes, for now. That way, the priests won't find it."

"The ... priests?"

Rix startled and did turn to Sandra now. His eyes were wide open, and this light, they seemed a misty grey. It struck her again that she could not make out what the real colour of his eyes were; they seemed to absorb and reflect the light in the environment. Indoors, she often thought they were a light hazel.

Rix blinked repeatedly, then he said, "I am sorry, my lady, I didn't hear what you just said."

"Ahm ... nothing. You said you want to bury the knife in the flower bed?" Sandra re-directed his attention. She did not want to give him another headache.

He nodded slowly. "Yes. Yes that's a good idea. Can we do it now?"

Sandra managed an encouraging smile and a nod. "Of course," she said and then thought if perhaps hypnosis might be the answer to finding out more about Rix. He did remember things. He knew - everything, she thought. But there's some kind of barrier that's kicking in every time. Some brain washing perhaps? Perhaps he has run away from some kind of cult?

As she thought it, a fast shiver streaked up her back. This was a feeling Sandra recognised; she called it her psychic kick. It was a joke, to be sure, but she used it to know when there was something important.

The idea that Rix had escaped from a cult had a resonance to it, a feeling as though that was in the right direction. It felt more right than him being a madman, or a criminal.

Or an ordinary man, she thought and sighed very, very deeply.

He is anything but that.

 

 

3/7 - Peculiar

Sandra was watching Rix carefully putting the soil back around the plants he had chosen to stand guard over his precious knife.

It had been wrapped in a nice towel, then in multiple layers of plastic bags, finally in a black garbage bag and secured with duct tape. It was quite a bundle by then, and the way he was holding it reminded Sandra of the body of a small child.

Rix had chosen a stand of pink lilies for his knife. Sandra had shaken her head, wondered at the ways of the world, and had not told him he had chosen Belladonna lilies, which were also known as the Naked Ladies.

It was a good choice; the bulbs were easily lifted from the fine, well worked earth. The hole had been easily dug and dug deep; the bundle placed inside and now, the Naked Ladies stood their guard and Rix was stroking the surrounding plants back into alignment with his dirty hands so that all would seem as before.

Nothing was even remotely as it had been before, thought Sandra. It might look the same but nothing is ever going to be the same again. Even if he leaves right now and I'll never see him again.

Rix stood up and wiped his face with his dirty hands, perfectly unconsciously, leaving a smear of dark earth across his cheek, across his forehead.

Sandra had to laugh at him and he looked disturbed, looked over his shoulder, then sighed and dropped his head.

I'm sorry, she thought. I wasn't laughing at you. My, but you are so ... sensitive? That sounds awful. Perhaps it's the wrong word too. Open. Vulnerable.

"Come inside and wash up," she said, "It's all good now. We can make something to eat. And you can have a glass of wine, if you like."

He nodded without smiling and looked down at his dirty hands.

Sandra was about to open the green kitchen entrance door when the beep beep of a horn startled her.

It was Rosie, outside the wooden gate, in her beaten up old Volvo estate car.

Rix, who was standing behind Sandra, looked at the gate and then questioning to her. She nodded and watched him sprint across the pebbled drive, he went to the wrong side of the gate first, worked it out, ran to the other side, struggled with the lock which needed to be raised slightly, and eventually he managed to draw the big wooden gate aside so that Rosie could drive in.

He was hot and flustered when he re-joined Sandra, and together, they awaited the bouncy, large lady who was wearing a deep blue very long shirt over plain beige trousers today.

Rosie Wyatt extracted a parcel and her bag from the car, slammed the door shut with some force and was smiling as she approached the two waiting by the kitchen door.

Sandra's dogs gathered to greet an old friend.

"My!" Rosie called out upon seeing Rix in his muddy condition, "What have you two been up to?"

"Nothing," said Rix and "Gardening!" said Sandra at the same time, which caused the stout lady with the curly hair to laugh and comment that they should get their stories straight.

Sandra said nothing and they went inside.

Once Rix had been dispatched with instructions to clean himself up, to find a fresh shirt in the third bedroom, and the kitchen door had been closed behind him, Rosie put the kettle on and the two women started to talk.

Yet the talk was not quite what it might have been if Sandra had been honest and forthcoming, as had been her habit with her best friend for all the many years they had known each other.

Sandra watched the older lady bounce around her kitchen with great fondness. The dogs and Rosie. And this house. Yes, there was a lot of love in her life.

Rosie was chattering.

"I've had phone calls from all sorts of people," she said. "Wanting to know if you've really taken in some kind of vagrant. I think it's Lizzy from the post office who's at the bottom of this. And it's my fault. I told her about your ... man."

Sandra thought it more likely that the source of the gossip was Mrs Durham. And after what Rix had said to her, the gossip would not be kind, that was for sure.

"I was thinking of a cover story, like it's a long lost cousin, but I'm afraid it's too late for that now," Rosie continued. "Have you found out more about him yet? And what on Earth were you doing when I arrived? Mud wrestling?"

Sandra sighed. "He was doing a bit of digging for me," she said and felt as limp as this sounded. She did not want to tell Rosie about the knife. Her friend would get very, very angry with her.

Rosie knew the intimate details of her financial affairs.

Sandra sighed heavily. "Perhaps I've bitten off more than I can chew ..." she added.

Rosie had finished making the tea and was bringing it to the kitchen table. She sat down and the dogs took this for a sign to retreat to their respective baskets which were dotted around the corners of the room.

"So, what makes you say that?" asked Rosie, looking at her friend with eyes narrowed. She was perceptive, sensible and good fun. But she could be a bully too. Which was a good thing, sometimes, thought Sandra.

"He is ... peculiar," she told her friend.

"What does that mean?" exclaimed Rosie. "Peculiar?"

"He says and does such peculiar things," Sandra sighed and took a sip of her tea. Rosie had chosen the mug with the big red poppies for her on this occasion, when she felt more like plain porcelain today, right here and now, in the fading light of this grey October day.

"Such as?" Rosie was not used to having to prod and probe. Their conversations, even on difficult topics, flowed freely, naturally - or had, in the past. Rosie also took a drink of tea and began to wonder if this man might not be more of a disturbance than she had first imagined.

"He calls me his lady. And he wants to sleep with me." It had just come out. Sandra put a hand before her mouth and shook her head.

Rosie leaned back in the chair and folded her arms over her ample bosoms. This highlighted the fact that she was wearing a lot of gold jewellery and diamond rings on both hands. She said nothing and waited.

Sandra said, "And he found my engagement ring. Do you remember? The one I lost ..."

This made Rosie sit up straight. "What, not THE engagement ring? Really? How?"

The engagement ring story had been a grand trauma at the time. Rosie and Sandra had turned the whole house upside down, crawled on their hands on knees all over the property for weeks upon weeks, every time Ken had left the building, until the final submission, the great capitulation - having to tell Ken that she had lost the ring he had spent two years saving up for when he had been nothing but a lowly clerk.

He had bought her another one and said it didn't matter but she knew that it did. It had mattered to him, and much more so, it had mattered to her.

She had sold the replacement ring a year ago to pay off the fuel bill from a bad winter.

"He found it on the drive," Sandra said tiredly. "The first time he walked around the garden. He washed it in the bird bath and brought it to me." She sighed deeply. "And he went down on one knee to give it to me."

Rosie stared at her. "You're joking."

Sandra shook her head. She could feel a hard pressure beginning to grow over her left temple. The first herald of a migraine. She had not had one of those for years ... not since ...

"He did. He went down on one knee and held it up to me. Said, I have something for you, my lady."

Rosie leaned her elbows on the table, moving closer into her friend, scrutinizing her intensively and asked, "And ... how did that feel? What did you think when you saw ... what it was?"

Sandra shook her head and rubbed her temple.

"I ... don't know ..." she said. "It was too surreal. I told him to get up. I don't think I've even thanked him properly. Or looked at the ring properly. It's over there ..." she indicated the random objects drawer beneath the microwave in the right corner behind the entrance door.

Rosie got up. She went to the drawer, peered inside it. She turned on the kitchen lights, a wine barrel chandelier with six yellow energy saving bulbs which instantly bathed the entire room in a sunny glow.

Now, the ring sparkled welcome - here I am!

Rosie picked it out from the melee of washing pegs, batteries and cable ties.

She remembered it on Sandra's hand. It was a lovely thing, a wide gold band with eleven diamonds in square settings. They were not very large each one, but flawless and beautiful. Eleven diamonds, because Sandra's birthday was the eleventh of January.

Ken had designed it himself and had it made specially.

Rosie held the ring up to the light and yes, there was the inscription.

It read, I will love you forever.

Rosie shook her head, closed her fist around the ring and held it to her heart for a moment. She pushed the drawer shut, returned to the table, sat down and placed the ring between them in the middle.

There it sat, and there it sparkled.

Sandra said, "I don't know how I can sell it. I really don't. I can't even touch it. It's too much."

Her friend reached out and placed her own bejewelled hand over Sandra's. "Is it that bad again? Has the new contract not come through?"

Sandra shook her head. "No. Recession. They're doing the editing in house now. And yes, it is that bad. In fact, it's all coming to a head. I'm out of money. And out of credit. I can't pay ... any bill, it's over.

"It is over, Rosie. I've tried, ..." Sandra turned her head away. She did not want to start to cry again. The house was too much. Way, way too much for what she could earn. She'd done her best with trying to make what was left last, she'd really tried to get work but there was nothing here. The few internet based jobs had dried up altogether.

She was three months in arrears with the mortgage.

It really was over.

She would have to sell Spindlewood.

In a strange way, it was a relief to finally admit it.

The diamond ring wouldn't make any difference. It would buy a month or two, that was all. She might as well call it a day now and keep the ring.

The thought gave her a strange sense of relief and it even made her smile.

She picked up the ring carefully, looked at it, gave it a small kiss and then slid it across her finger where it settled as though this was the place where it belonged.

"It's funny," she said to Rosie who had been watching her with intense attention, "It's funny, but I'm feeling better now. As though a great weight has been lifted.

"Thank you."

Rosie shook her head. "Don't thank me," she said, "I should do something more for you. You can't leave here. You can't give up this house, the garden, you can't. Not just not for you, but for me.

"If ... this isn't here, where do I go?"

Sandra took a breath to answer when the kitchen door opened and Rix came into the room. He blinked up against the bright light, then looked at the two women sitting in intimacy at the kitchen table.

Star got up to give him a respectful greeting and a small wag with the very tip of his tail.

Rix cleared his throat and said, "I am sorry, my ladies. I did not mean to disturb you." He turned and was about to leave the room when Sandra called out, "Don't go. You are not disturbing us. We were talking about the ring you found, and I haven't thanked you properly yet.

"Come and join us and I'll get you some wine."

Rix raised his head at this and his fast smile flashed over his face.

"Thank you, my lady," he said sincerely and came over right away, hesitating at the table, unsure as to where to sit.

Rosie looked at him, then she got up and moved one chair along.

"Sit down here, young man," she said, "Take the weight off."

"Thank you," said Rix, confused by that statement but took his place in her chair.

Sandra got up and said, "Wine coming. Finally. Would you like white or red?"

Rix looked at her in astonishment. "White? White wine? What is that?"

"See," said Sandra to Rosie, "I told you. He's peculiar."

 

 

3/8 - Mine

In the king's room at the King & Crown, where once indeed, kings had stayed on their journeys in the mists of time, Andrew DeVille was sitting on the grand old four poster bed, on the grand red and gold weave tapestry.

He was sitting in the dark, having dispatched a pouting Sindy to have dinner on her own, pushed out of the room, the door shut behind her.

He had turned out the lights.

DeVille was still trembling from his experience as they were closing in on the village and passing the house, the address, that was the house of the woman who had purchased the artefact.

He had felt it coming on, fast, furiously; a sensation described in the oldest scrolls, in all the old languages. It was unmistakable, they said.

It was like a storm coming; only it was happening both inside and outside at the same time.

Or like a vortex that would spin faster, the closer to the centre one might travel.

It was unmistakable, they said.

DeVille took a shuddering breath.

They were right.

It was unmistakable.

What they had not said was how powerful it was.

How powerful ... he ... must be ...

Andrew DeVille rubbed his face with his hands, trying to steady himself, trying to figure out what he should do next.

Of course, there was a protocol.

There was a protocol for everything. There was a protocol for breathing.

Breathing in through the nose for a count of three. Holding. Breathing out through the mouth for a count of five ...

Fuck that, thought Andrew.

This is mine now.

He ... is mine now.

He really is here, and I know where he is.

There is no more doubt left.

I can feel him, oh God! can I feel him.

I'm not an impostor. I passed all the tests. I found all the artefacts. I am real, and he is real.

And he is mine.

With that, a great lifting wave passed through the man and he sat up straighter, breathed more easily.

He was still trembling but it was now with an edge of excitement.

How long had it been?

Five hundred years since a confirmed meeting had taken place?

And could you trust all those old reports? They were all crazy as hell in the middle ages anyway, seeing demons and monsters behind every bush. But it did not matter.

It did not matter at all.

Andrew DeVille knew that he would not be sitting here much longer.

He could feel the energy gathering inside himself; it was shaky, yes, but it was gathering and he was beginning to move into a sense of not control, but to learn how to handle this better, how to handle himself.

They said that if you are a natural, then you would know what to do.

It would come to you, like a dog knows how to swim, even if it has never been near water before that moment when you throw it into a lake.

The man in the expensive suit on the bed got out his mobile phone and looked at the map. He tracked the road, winding around the boundaries of properties and fields, out of the village and to the woman's house.

The distance was just under five miles.

DeVille nodded to himself.

He would walk.



 

Part 4 - Convergence

4/1 - Home

"My mother said," Rosie Wyatt, a glass of red wine in her pink fat hand, "... that before you take on any man, ever, you have to make him drunk.

"Really, really drunk.

"And then you have to wind him up, make him jealous, make him angry.

"Then you know what's really inside, and what's really awaiting you."

Rix, who was slouching on his chair, legs stretched out before him and with his own glass of wine balanced on his stomach, said, "Your mother was a very wise woman, my lady of the roses."

Sandra, who was struggling to get the metal foil off the second bottle of red wine to be opened this evening, said, "So is this what we are going to do with Rix here? Make him drunk and wind him up? Do you think this is safe?"

Rosie and Rix laughed together, started to talk at the same time, stopped, started again, laughed some more and eventually clinked their glasses together and took another drink instead.

Sandra raised her eyebrows and looked at her best friend and her latest acquisition.

The two of them were getting on like a house on fire.

She was surprised at that.

Rosie was a very happy and positive lady but she was also deeply reserved. Under that friendly, bouncy exterior someone was hiding who did not make friends easily, or ever; and in all the years, Sandra had known her, she had never seen Rosie react to a man like this, or to flirt with a man as she was doing now.

There was a lot of touching going on, as well.

Rix had kissed Rosie's hand repeatedly; they would nudge their arms together when they were telling a joke, and they kept putting their glasses together, too.

Sandra wondered if Rix made offers to her best friend, would she refuse?

She shook her head and focused on getting into the second bottle of wine.

What the hell.

Soon, the house would be gone.

She would be in some tiny flat somewhere, trying to get some work to scrape by. Rix would be gone.

Enjoy the moment while it lasts ...

"Oh do come on," Rosie called, leaned forward on the table and held out her now empty glass, "Do get on with it. I'm thirsty!"

"Yes, me too," said Rix with a smile and copied Rosie's position, laying himself onto the table and tapping the wine bottle with his own glass.

"Fill yours first," Rosie advised, "Don't stand there being all ... mother hen. Let your hair down. Live a little."

Sandra shook her head but did as she was told. She filled her own glass first and took a deep drink of it. This was nice wine. Kept for a special occasion. It was time it was brought out and consumed, she thought. We wait way too much ...

She re-filled her glass, then the others too and sat down. Sandra also leaned across the table, which brought the three of them very close together.

"To good friends and special occasions," she said.

"To good friends and special occasions," Rosie and Rix repeated in perfect unison. They clinked their glasses together, sat back all at the same time and drank the wine.

It was very quiet in the room.

The dogs were sleeping in their baskets. The old tom was on the work surface, near the aga, pretending to be a bundle of rags, as always.

Outside, there was the wind in the trees and sometimes, the old house would give a creak or a groan somewhere, just to make its presence felt.

The refrigerator hummed in the corner.

Rix said, "These lights are too bright for drinking wine."

As he said it, there was a small flash and the lights went out.

All the lights went out on all the appliances too, and the refrigerator shuddered into silence.

"Shit," said Sandra succinctly. "Fuse is gone again."

But she did not get up and the other two said nothing, so they sat in the dark. Slowly, the small windows became revealed; outside it was not black, but a dark blue; slowly, their eyes adjusted to see more and more, small reflections of the stray light on the wine bottle, on the glasses, on each other's eyes.

Rix said, "This is better ..." and there was a smile in his voice.

It was quite amazing how the absence of the hum of the electric devices sharpened the senses and the sounds; now the wind was really speaking, the trees outside were really hushing.

"Shall I go and sort it out?" asked Sandra, the uncertainty she was feeling perfectly noticeable and both Rix and Rosie said in similarly quiet voices, "No."

Rosie added, "It's nice ... like this." Her voice sounded very young, very sweet.

Rix said softly into the silence, "This is like home, now."

Sandra sighed. She liked the sound of his voice. It had a quality in it that was nearly like a touch; it travelled across and into you, made you feel things.

"Is it dark where you are from?" she asked uncertainly.

She could see Rix shaking his head in silhouette.

"Not dark," he said. "Quiet. Open. I ... don't know ..." His sigh was so clearly perceived in the absence of all the distractions of background noise, both women sighed in return.

Rix said, "I ... meant, being here with you. That is what feels like home."

There was a long silence again before Rosie said softly, "Being amongst friends."

"Yes," said Rix, "Being amongst friends. And lovers."

Ah, thought Sandra, here you go again. Such a lovely moment, and you have to spoil it all again ... She sighed deeply.

"It's too dark," she said and stood up. "I'll get a candle."

The scraping of her chair on the flagstone floor was overly loud; the perfect sound of a moment being broken up, crushed, crunched.

Rix sighed and said to Rosie, "I do not please my lady."

"Don't worry about it," Rosie said and stroked his arm, his strong arm under the soft shirt, "Don't worry about it. You please me, plenty."

 

 

4/2 - Dark

Andrew DeVille admitted to himself that he had given in to a romantic delusion of his journey to Spindlewood.

Five miles did not seem a long way; and the idea to walk this distance to get familiar with moving close to a real dragon lord had seemed like a good idea at the time.

Now, and trudging down a wet black country lane in pitch dark, reality was a different story.

There were no street lights now; indeed, there were no lights at all. On the stretches where tall trees were overhanging the narrow road, it was so dark that he had to feel with his feet for where the next step should fall.

Every so often a car would approach and pelt him with wet; if he stepped back too much, his shoes would sink deeply into the muddy verge.

Andrew suspected that he looked a mess by now.

Indeed, he had thought repeatedly about turning around and abandoning this exercise in real country living, but each time he had stopped on the hunchbacked road, turning the other way was causing him pain. This was not figuratively speaking; even turning his head into the direction from which he had come was causing pressure in his stomach.

DeVille had tested this curious occurrence repeatedly by deliberately taking a few steps back towards the village and had found that the pressure soon turned to pain, then to stabbing pains.

He was no stranger to pain; indeed it might be said it was something of a hobby for Mr Andrew DeVille.

There were so many delicious flavours of pain one might choose to experience in so many different and multi-splendoured ways; this was not one of them.

This was just pain.

Raw, intense - and painful.

So it was simply forward or to hell.

As soon as he turned around and headed in the right direction once more, the pains would simply turn into little clouds of sensations that would disappear as though they had never been, and DeVille would feel good again and encouraged to continue making his way through the dark October night.

He mused on the intensity of his physical reactions as he inched his way through a particularly pitch black section of the road which also turned sharply here. A torch would have been good. A car even better.

Forward or to hell ...

DeVille was straining to see anything at all when he got caught in a pothole and fell face first to the road.

As he sat up, feeling the insides of his hands burning wildly but being unable to confirm visually that he lost the skin and was bleeding now as well, it started to rain.

Big, fat splats of rain exploding on his face, on his head.

"Perfect," said DeVille. He was given to sarcasm in moments of crisis.

 

 

4/3 - Friends

Time was streaming by and carrying along those who would bob and float on its tides like so much driftwood.

DeVille was making his way through time and space towards the old farm house; the house itself sailed as a ship through time, shuddering as gusts of wind and the heavy rain were hitting it squarely on.

Inside the ship, snug and happy, gathered around the golden glow of a single candle, three souls did not need saving at this time.

They had wine, they had each other and they had a lot to say to each other.

At some point, all their paths would intersect; this time was not yet here.

For now, DeVille was getting very, very wet and cold, as well as increasingly agitated with his environment, his physical condition and his mental and emotional responses to coming slowly, but surely, closer to the one he sought.

For now, Rix was beyond flirting heavily with Rosie Wyatt and was in fact, kissing her playfully, teasingly. He was not touching her other than that; his hands lay relaxed on the table, just his head was angled and this was much the same with the lady who was enjoying this evening very much.

Sandra sat on the other side of the table and found that she was not jealous. She did not feel left out, either, which was a strange state of affairs.

She was watching two friends have a conversation without words, for this was exactly what this was.

They were tasting each other in a friendly fashion.

Sandra tried to remember if she had ever seen her friend being kissed or indeed, engaged in any form of romantic endeavour, right down to holding hands.

There had been men, here and there, strewn far apart like lost ravens in a white winter field, in Rosie's life but Sandra had always thought Rosie was only going through the motions.

They had appeared like travel companions to Sandra.

Here, she saw her friend in a whole new light.

In soft candle light, thought Sandra and could not help but smile.

She was kissing Rix like a teenager would, a virgin who was trying this brand new game for the very first time ever and found it surprising and exciting.

And fun, thought Sandra.

How can kissing someone be ... fun?

The two on the other side of the table broke their kiss and smiled at each other, then both turned their heads to look at Sandra.

Rosie raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders; she was seeking forgiveness or perhaps permission.

Rix was gazing steadily at Sandra.

He was saying, clearly, now when is it your turn to join the game?

Sandra spread her fingers out wide before her on the table and looked at her engagement ring.

She shook her head.

"You should try him," said Rosie softly. "He ... kisses nicely."

"Thank you," said Rix sincerely.

Sandra had to smile and shake her head again. She said, "Rix, where you come from, it may be that different rules apply to ... this sort of thing."

Rix continued to gaze at her steadily, waiting for her to say more or tell him how to respond.

Rosie interjected. "Don't ... " She swallowed and made a gesture with her hand. "Don't ... stop him. Don't spoil him. He's ... wonderful the way he is." Rosie Wyatt sat up straighter and added, "And if you don't want him, don't mind if I do."

Rix said, "I would that you tell me the rules, my lady. Perhaps if I knew your rules, I would please you better. I could act according to the rules."

Rosie laughed at that, fished up the wine bottle by the neck and poured the remaining liquid into her glass. She pushed the empty bottle towards Sandra and said, "Yes, do tell. What are the rules? What is the recipe Rix has to follow to please you more, dear lady?" She giggled.

Sandra sighed. "I was talking about ... societal rules. That you can't just go round asking people you don't know to sleep with you."

Rix said, "I don't want to sleep with you. I want to have sex with you, my lady. Any kind you choose, really. And as soon as possible, please."

Rosie laughed so much at this, she nearly fell off her chair.

Sandra blushed but held her ground. "We call that ... sleeping with someone."

Rix put his elbows on the table and leaned forward. "That? Having sex? Wait, there is another word for it ..."

Rosie collapsed on the table, hooting helplessly, hitting the table with the flat hand repeatedly.

Sandra got up and said, "I see we need more wine for this conversation ..."

She got another candle from the hanging cupboard above the microwave, lit it on the one which sat in the centre of the table, stuck in the first bottle of wine of the evening, and left for the cellar.

"Bring more than one," Rosie called after her, "Then you'll have no more excuses to run away!"

For a moment, there was silence, punctuated by rushing gusts of hard rain against the window panes. Rosie shivered and Rix saw it and immediately put an arm about her, drawing her into himself.

Rosie sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder.

"You shouldn't play around with me if it is Sandra you want," she told him quietly.

Rix nuzzled his nose into her curly hair.

"It is Sandra you want, right?" Rosie said even more quietly.

"I want her too," said Rix into her hair, "I don't mind which one goes first. Is that a rule? How does it work? According to age? Or should I give preference to my lady as she is my owner and the owner of this house?"

Rosie laughed at that and shook her head against his shoulder.

"You are funny," she told him. "Seriously."

Sandra arrived with two more bottles of wine.

"This is all there is," she told the two at the table. "We'll have to make it last."

"Will you be more likely to be friendly once you have had more wine?" Rix enquired.

Sandra hung her head and then shook it.

She sat down and pushed the first of the new bottles towards Rosie.

"Let him go and make yourself useful," she said with a smile, then added, "I guess that's a rule around here. Make yourself drunk first and then it's not your fault."

Rix laughed out aloud at that and said, "Yes. That's the same rule where I come from. I am sure I have heard that before.

"So, my lady, by you drinking the wine, is that a yes then?"

It may have been the night; it may have been the wine already consumed. It may have been the fact that Sandra really did not want to take her eyes off him and that her hands were red hot with wanting to touch him.

It may have been the fact that she had not had the pleasure in years.

Whatever it was, the moment was here, and Sandra said, "Yes."




 

4/4 - Awaiting Rescue

Rix stood leaning against the entrance to the sitting room and watched the two women file by him.

The rounded older lady was flushed and had a smile on her face; she walked lightly on her feet and took a seat on the golden brown sofa underneath the window on the west wall.

Sandra, his lady, walked more slowly. Her shoulders were low, as was her head and she sighed as she sat down primly in one of the facing high backed arm chairs, her legs closed demurely and to one side.

Both looked at him now; one with a friendly, open expression that held excitement too, as Rosie touched the tip of her tongue to her upper lip and smiled at him.

It gave him a fleeting sense of deliciousness and helped him stand firm against the storm of everything that his own lady was throwing at him.

Rix put his head to the side and contemplated her.

She was caught in a storm.

Dark skies and churning, boiling clouds. Huge, roaring waves. Lightning striking the sea ...

Somewhere inside of that was a naked woman, vulnerable, lonely.

Awaiting rescue.

It was easy, really.

Rix crossed the space that lay between them, holding firm against the storm until he had reached the woman at the centre.

Here, he simply knelt before her, raised up his head and offered himself to her.

He moistened his lips and opened them slightly, making the invitation.

I am here, he thought. Now all you have to do is to take that final leap of faith and let go off that tiny cliff you've been clinging to.

Come.

Fall to me.

I will catch you ...

Sandra Delhany closed her eyes and with an expression of immense pain, bent to put her lips against his.

He moved immediately into her touch, lightly accepting and encouraging, yes, that's right ... now ... a little more ...

Sandra breathed in his kiss and then she crumbled. Her hands went to his shoulders, cupping them, drawing him in and up; not soon after that, her arms went around his neck and she was kissing Rix deeply, passionately.

Rosie was watching from the sofa, wondering if it was the wine which caused the strange sense of displacement, of being completely outside of ordinary reality she had noted building and building ever since the lights went out; but once again, she simply forgot about that and instead became entirely absorbed, watching the ebb and flow of movements that was building between the brown haired man and her best friend, who was holding on to him as though he was a life raft.

Rosie put her hand to her heart; she was feeling emotions that she could not remember ever having felt before. She felt like crying and at the same time, extremely sensual; she became very aware of her own hand on her chest and even as she did, it moved of its own accord until it was cupping her own breast, and her touch was red hot.

As if he was entirely aware of what was happening behind him, Rix broke the kiss and turned his head, looking directly at Rosie.

It took her breath away and shocked her.

I know you are there, he was saying to her, I know you are getting excited and I am aware of this. You are a part of this.

It was then that Rosie understood without her being here and adding something ... adding ... herself? to these proceedings, Rix could not do what he was doing with Sandra.

She nodded as she thought this, and Rix smiled, gave her a little bow and turned his attention back to the woman in the chair before him.

She was breathing deeply, her eyes were firmly closed and her lips had become red and flushed, moist, very inviting.

Rix watched the rise and fall of her perfectly defined collarbones, the rising sweep of her neck, the top of her breasts disappearing under the silky fabric of the blouse the lady was wearing.

He would very much like to see more of those, he thought, and reached forward to start unbuttoning the blouse.

The lady shivered under his touch but remained still otherwise.

Rix was disappointed to find that there were further barriers in the way. His lady was wearing some kind of harness that had her breasts trapped inside and which seemed to have no clasps or strings at all.

Was this some kind of chastity device, fitted by her long gone man?

Rix carefully brushed the top of her breasts with the back of his hand and watched in fascination as his lady's fair skin began to goose bump. He explored the fastenings of the harness and came to the conclusion that it may be slid off the shoulders, even if it could not be removed altogether.

He slipped the silky shirt off and his lady gave a sigh, turned her head away, her eyes still firmly closed. He kissed her perfect neck, open mouthed, wet, hot, letting her know that he wanted to taste her, wanted to know more of her.

She turned her head away even more and gave a small sigh but did not tense up or resist him; Rix took this for encouragement and turned his attention back to the harness problem.

It was very tight; when he slipped his finger under the shoulder strap and pushed it away and down, he could see deep red marks had been cut into his lady's shoulder.

He was appalled for a moment; then he decided to kiss this better.

Where his lips touched her skin, the redness disappeared immediately and without a trace. The sensations he was creating were so unusual that Sandra gave a little cry, opened her eyes and tried to see what he was doing.

She looked straight into his eyes; he smiled and rose to kiss her on the mouth immediately, delighted, welcome, you've woken up at last ...

Rix moved back a little and this time, Sandra was moving forward, chasing his lips, sitting forward more. He was delighted. Finally, finally she was responding to him as he knew she should. He reached out to deal with the other harness strap, the one that was remaining. Now, she watched his hand and now, he could tell that she was getting excited.

There was one more moment, when both the straps had slipped down her arms and Rix pulled on the middle bit, and Sandra's heavy white breasts finally sprang free, fell forward and down into their natural positions when she drew in her shoulders again, tried to cross her arms before her but it was too late for that, for Rix had already moved forward and put his face into them, radiating delight. His hands found them too, then his mouth fastened around her left teat ...

Sandra gasped out aloud and put her hands in his hair, drawing him closer to her; her head went back and there she saw her best friend, with her hand on the exact same breast as the one Rix was massaging with his mouth and tongue, looking straight at her.

The strangest sensation swept through Sandra, head to toe; for a moment, it was as though she could feel not just herself, but everyone in the room at the same time, all their sensations together and aligned; then a sharp small pain, an electric shock as Rix had given a bite on her breast entirely re-directed her attention, and her own sensations were all there was once more, and that was delicious.

When Rix stopped, drew away and sat back on his heels, looking up at her, the sense of bereavement was nearly overwhelming.

Don't .. she thought, don't ... don't stop ... don't ...

Don't leave me ...

Sandra put her hands before her face and started to cry in deep, bone wrenching sobs.

Rix nodded and so did Rosie on the sofa.

He got up with a smooth, fluid movement and leaned over the crying woman. Then he put his arms about her and raised her up from the chair, walked her carefully across, turned her and sat her down next to Rosie.

He took his seat next to her.

Rosie turned into her crying friend and started to stroke her bare upper arm. You poor, poor thing, she thought, oh how I have waited for this to finally happen. For something to come and wake you up. For something to break that awful state of nothing and nowhere ...

Rix, on the other side, was rubbing his cheek in her hair gently, leaning close to her, offering support and physical assurance. Slowly, slowly, the convulsive sobbing began to ebb away and only the occasional shuddering breath remained. Finally, Sandra, bare breasted and tear streaked, took her hands away from her face and let one be taken by Rosie, the other by Rix; both brought them to their lips and kissed the back of her hands at exactly the same time.

Sandra looked from one to the other.

Rix smiled at her and said, "You have very beautiful breasts, my lady."

She could feel a smile rising, a pressure which caused more tears to fall but that was alright, it was perfect.

She reached out to touch Rix on the cheek when his head went back, his face contorted and he gave a cry of pain.

"Out there," he said, "Out there, there's something out there."

 

 

4/5 - Moments

Sindy Horten was sitting on the lonely four poster bed and dialling her lord and master - and employer, as well as provider - for the twentieth time.

As before, it went to voice message.

Mr DeVille's voice.

"DeVille. Speak."

Sindy sighed and did not even bother to say again, "Hi ... it's me ... where are you? What do you want me to do ... now?"

She flicked the disconnect button with a very beautifully manicured pink fingernail which had a small diamond set right in the middle and let the phone drop on the bed beside her.

 

For a short time, Mr Andrew DeVille's beautiful black glossy Galaxy Sll android mobile illuminated the mud and rain around it, in that place where he had fallen and it had slipped from his pocket.

Then it too lay silent again.

 

The master and commander of flesh and technology alike was having a very hard time.

His stomach was in spasms of pain; he was freezing, but his head was so hot he thought it would explode and his brain would flow out of his ears like so much molten lava.

He was battling the double storm; the freezing rain driving straight into his face and the storm which took his breath away.

Yet that was nothing compared to the storm inside.

DeVille went to his knees again, putting his hands down even though it caused red flashes of agony to shoot up his arms and into his neck; a good distraction and something to focus on, something that was quite real and in its own way, a relief.

He hung his head and shut his eyes.

The only way I can ever describe it when it comes to it, he thought, is like I've eaten meals upon meals of iron, and there is a powerful magnet ahead, dragging it out of me in rusty shards, pulling it right out of my guts, through my skin.

They never said it hurts like this, they never said it fucking hurts like hell ...

Forward or to hell ...

How far was it to go?

Would he make it before he had a heart attack, or a stroke?

DeVille struggled to his feet.

Yeah, he thought, yeah let's find out ... why don't we ...

 

In the old farm house, Sandra and Rosie were struggling with Rix, trying to stop him from running out into the dark night, into the crazy storm that seemed to be getting ever worse and was bending the old trees by now.

"There's nothing outside," they kept telling him, "You're having some sort of fit ... Please calm down ..."

Rix really did not want to hurt his ladies but he heard them less and less, felt their hands on his body less and less, saw the walls and the green door less and less and became more and more fascinated with he who was out there, out there in the storm.

A slow smile spread over his face and he went very still for a moment.

Then he phased away so there was nothing to hold on any longer, moved through the closed door before him and was gone.



5: Movement

5/1 - Trajectory

Rix stood before the house in his phased state and observed.

Everything was perfectly silent, perfectly quiet.

He could see the trees bending in the storm, the sheeting, driving curtains of rain. It did not touch him.

He held his hand flat, palm down, before his eyes and observed how the rain drops rushed straight through it, creating a little tingle as they went.

He stepped out from under the porch and the little tingles were all throughout his body. Rix noted he was gently sinking into the pebble drive as well.

He made a small adjustment to raise himself and then began to look around for he who was approaching.

It was too dark; he could hardly make out the pale gate to the road from where he stood, suspended in this different state.

How will I find him, thought Rix, and there was a voice, hushed but so familiar.

"Use your eyes of night ..."

I don't know what that means, thought Rix sadly and focused forward, trying to use the feeling in his stomach and chest give him a location. But they only gave direction; a trajectory.

Rix nodded and moved out into the darkness. I'll follow it long enough, I will come upon him. It was inevitable.

He found that walking was very difficult in this state; it might need another form of forward movement. Again, there was this intense frustration of something just outside his reach; for a moment, Rix was spun out by it so much that his phasing faltered and the storm came back, and with it the cold night, the icy rain.

Rix re-materialised with the shock of it, tried to remember how to get back to that other place, could not, tried to focus on something ...

In all of that, there was still he who was approaching.

Rix shivered convulsively, wiped the water from his face and moved out into the darkness as behind him, the women opened the kitchen door, calling his name but it was swept away and he did not hear it.

He made it to the gate and climbed over it easily; once on the other side, on the slick surface of the road, Rix felt a sense of alignment clicking into place; he who Rix sought was straight ahead and not far.

Rix walked forward, steadily, following his trajectory.

And there was the moment when the road illuminated in a flash of lightning; and Rix saw a man on his knees ahead; a man kneeling right in the middle of the road. It was here that the strange trembling Rix had felt throughout his body came into harmony; when it did, it was replaced by excitement, and rightness.

Rix started to run to close the distance.

Another flash of lightning, followed almost immediately by a cracking thunderbolt so loud it split the night revealed that the man had raised his head and was looking straight at Rix, and then he was upon him.

 

5/2 - Hallowed

Later, DeVille would reflect that out of all the extraordinary moments in his life, the most extraordinary of them all was the moment when the dragon lord appeared in the rain and he thought he would die.

There was lightning and thunder; there was the pain, everywhere, and then ...

It simply stopped.

It was exactly like breaking through the eye wall of a hurricane.

The centre was perfect stillness.

Blue sky and sunshine.

A sense of being in a hallowed place.

A hallowed time ...

Here, it was still dark, it was still raining.

The lightning was still flashing but the thunder was moving away.

But DeVille, on his knees, was not in pain any longer.

He was not cold any longer.

He could not see the other; but he knew exactly what the other was doing. He knew that a hand was reaching out to him, and he took it.

Fire and ice, strength, youth and immense age flooded through him all at the same time and he rose easily, gracefully.

He could feel the dragon lord's smile in his entire body and perhaps DeVille would have cried, never having truly been welcomed by anyone at all in his entire life, but he was too happy, too ...

There wasn't even a word for it, and DeVille decided to stop trying for words, and simply being grateful.

The dragon lord held Andrew's hand and gently guided him along the road, back to the house, where it was warm, and dry.

 

 

5/3 - Worse

Rosie and Sandra awaited them at the gate.

They had dressed against the rain, fully expecting to have to search for Rix all night long. The dogs were there too, of course.

Sandra saw him first, and then the other man, and her relief was so great that her knees went weak and she had to hold on to the wooden post for a moment. This left Rosie to open the gate so that Rix could lead the strange man in the dark wet-black coat through and towards the house.

Rosie ran to overtake them so she could open the door for them; Sandra took a moment to steady herself.

She had thought that she would be alright if Rix just got up and left. She had thought she might wonder where he was, or what had happened to him.

Sandra had not expected that it would feel as though not just this world had come to an end, but any possible world that could ever exist, all at the same time, all at once.

He had only been gone for such a short time, she thought, ten minutes, five?

She really did not want to think it, she really did not, but it was there - these few minutes had been the worst minutes of her life.

Worse than when Ken had died ...

Sandra shook her head. No, she thought, no, that can't be. That can not be. I have just forgotten how much it hurt, I've just forgotten, that was then and this is now. I am over-reacting. It's the wine, it's the crazy evening ... Breathe, just breathe ...

Try and think.

Rix is not crazy, he really found a man out in the darkness. Perhaps the man was in an accident.

Rix is good at finding things, she thought. And the man looked as though he really needed to come in from the storm.

Sandra took a deep breath, straightened herself, finally let go off the fence post and went to join the others inside.

 

 

5/4 - Stranger

Assembled in the kitchen, in the light of the single candle which had nearly burned down, Rosie Wyatt realised that she was the only person in a fit state and needed to take control of the situation.

Sandra's make up had taken a severe beating, what with the kissing and the crying. Also, her blouse was buttoned up wrongly and she was still wearing her bra around her waist, which was clearly noticeable.

Rosie started with her best friend.

"Go and put the fuse back in," she told Sandra, "And take a moment to look in a mirror before you come back ..."

Sandra nodded wide eyed.

Oh dear, thought Rosie, sighed, and repeated one more time, "Fuse first, bathroom after. Alright?"

Sandra blinked and nodded more meaningfully this time. She kept nodding as she left for her tasks.

Rosie turned around and saw that the strange man was now sitting on a chair and audibly dripping onto the floor.

Rix stood before him, wet as if he had just stepped out from under the shower, his hands behind his back, looking at the man with what could only be described as a tender and loving expression.

Rosie turned her attention to the man himself.

He was tall, well built and clearly strong. His hair was grey, cut very short in military fashion; in fact, the way he sat reminded Rosie of a general or someone in very high authority.

The man was wearing a coat which seemed black but could possibly have started out as a dark blue; some kind of fine wool, and it was smeared and streaked with pale clay.

He must have fallen in the dark, thought Rosie; then she saw his hands.

They lay upturned on his knees, the fingers slightly flexed and were red raw. His shoes and legs up to the knees were completely caked in mud.

The strange man was sitting perfectly still, staring up at Rix.

He's looking at Rix as though he'd seen ... the second coming, thought Rosie and had to shiver.

At that very moment, the lights went back on, and all three moved their heads away and down; Rix brought up an arm to shield his eyes.

With the lights came the humming and buzzing of the electrical appliances. Rosie blinked her eyes, found she could see again, then had to sigh. The magic space described by the absence of these things was irretrievably gone.

Now, it was back to business.

She cleared her throat and said, "We need to get you both out of these wet clothes. You'll catch a cold. I'll put the kettle on and get you a hot drink."

At the sound of her voice, the man in the chair looked around and up at Rosie. Something flashed from him to her and Rosie took in a sharp breath, put her hand to her heart and took a step back.

As clear as anything, she heard her own voice saying loudly inside her head, I don't like you.

Stay away from me.

As though the man had heard her, he raised his chin a little and a small twist came to his pale, colourless lips. Very deliberately, he looked away from her and back to Rix, where his facial expression changed completely.

It softened and Rosie thought, my God, he looks like someone ... who is in love.

That's so crazy ...

Sandra came into the kitchen. She was wearing tracksuit trousers and a T-shirt, her hair was brushed out and all the make up scrubbed off. Sandra had opted to not put anything else on.

Wise choice, thought Rosie. I don't know what's going on here but this night is far, far from over ...

 

5/5 - Service

The two women sat side by side on the sofa in the sitting room, each holding a mug of tea.

They sighed individually and together every so often; looked across the open door to the hallway in the direction of the kitchen every so often, but did not talk.

Thus, they were not in a position to see that Rix was kneeling before the man on the wet, muddy flagstone floor, taking the man's left hand in his own, kissing the palm gently, and where he did, the skin moved as liquid beneath his lips and healed perfectly.

They were further not privy to the expression in DeVille's face as he watched the young man with the shimmering raindrops still caught in his brown hair do this; nor could they have any form of recognition or understanding of how this made DeVille feel.

Andrew DeVille had never really thought much about the concept of healing. He had never needed it and considered illness and infirmity to be a sign of weakness. Of course, he had read the reports and the tales of old.

If he had ever thought about it, he would have considered a healing such as this simply in terms of a repair; like one would sand down a table and French polish it to remove a stain.

Perhaps a reduction or removal of physical pain would be involved.

Andrew DeVille realised that he had been both misinformed as well as in error.

As the young man was kissing his injuries away, he was taking away more than that.

He was taking away a lifetime of ...

DeVille started shaking his head slightly. A lifetime of things these hands had done ... a lifetime of ... touching things he never wanted to touch ... shame ... sin ... DeVille gave a sharp breath and a convulsive shudder went through him; the man on his knees before him looked up and into his eyes.

Spinning, whirling, bright crystal blue, midnight blue, blue black ...

"My lord," DeVille found he whispered, "My lord ..."

The young man smiled at him and squeezed his freshly healed left hand gently. A pulse of pure life travelled up DeVille's arm, raced into his neck, across, down his spine.

All of the sudden, the lights in the kitchen were much brighter. All the colours were more clearly defined, the objects were more 3D.

DeVille found himself sitting up straighter, breathing more deeply, and without volition, his right hand moved forward and presented itself for healing to his lord.

The younger man smiled, caught DeVille's hand in his own, and this time, placed a single small kiss in the palm of DeVille's hand.

The sensation exploded and shook DeVille from head to foot; when it had passed, he could think clearly again.

"Thank you, my lord," he said to the young man who was smiling up at him.

DeVille's lord rose and bowed his head.

"I am so glad I found you," he said, "I am so glad you are here. Thank you for coming."

DeVille wanted to look at his hands which felt warm and so very sensuous but he could not take his eyes off the wet young man in the simple jeans and check shirt before him.

"My lord," was all he could think to say again.

His lord nodded, smiled and said, "We have instructions from the lady of the house. We should follow these."

"Of course, my lord," said DeVille with all his heart.

He stood up and found he could do so with perfect ease. There was not a trace of the madness of the dark night remaining, not a single pain, a tension or even a discomfort anywhere.

He had not felt so ... young, so strong, in years.

DeVille looked at the green tracksuit and the old black T-Shirt which told in washed out letters of a concert that had taken place in 1993.

He smiled.

All the torture in the world couldn't make me put that on, he thought.

But I will wear it for you, my lord.

 

 

5/6 - Collect

"What's taking them so long? What are they doing in there?" Rosie had run out of patience and had stood up from the sofa, looking out through the hallway and craning her neck.

Sandra shook her head and sighed again. She did not like that man in her house. He needed help, of course, and she was always ready to supply this but she was looking forward to him leaving.

Perhaps a taxi could be called right now.

It would take a while to arrive here ...

"I'm going to see what they're up to and hurry them along," said Rosie. Before Sandra had a chance to stop her, Rosie Wyatt had bounced from the room and was across the hall, knocking on the kitchen door loudly, saying, "I'm coming in, ready or not."

Sandra put a hand to her head, put her tea mug down and got up as well.

The scene in the kitchen was remarkable.

The strange man was standing naked before Rix, who was holding his Rolex watch in his hand, turning around at the hip at the intrusion. Around his feet on the floor, pale and water wrinkled, lay his clothes in soggy piles.

Sandra went bright red immediately and turned away, "Sorry ...."

Rosie, on the other hand, stepped forward and said, "Come on you two. Get it sorted out in here. It's cold, get dressed, I'll put on the fire in the sitting room."

She left the door open deliberately and re-joined her friend, who was sitting in the far right corner of the sofa, her feet drawn right up and her arms wrapped about them.

Rosie went to turn on the electric fire. It was a pretty thing, one of the few luxuries that she had been able to encourage Sandra to acquire since Ken's death. It had a flat black glass screen and strange make belief flames dancing behind it. It also chucked out a lot of heat, and that was a good thing on this night.

Rosie went to sit by the side of her friend and stroked Sandra's leg.

"What's the matter?"

Sandra looked in the direction of the kitchen and said, "I don't like that man. He makes me nervous."

Rosie nodded immediately. "Yes. I thought to myself, stay away from me, when I first saw him. Who the hell is he? What's going on?"

Sandra sat up straighter with a start. "Rix said something ... about priests. About having to hide from priests ..."

"Fuck," Rosie said softly. Not like a general. Like a priest ... A priest with a Rolex watch?

"Rix seems to like him though," Sandra said sadly and sighed again.

"There's something ..." Rosie had a flash of trying to hold on to Rix by the kitchen door, and he got away so quickly ... she never saw him open the door and close it again ... She shook her head. Too much wine. Too much wine ...

Rix walked into the room.

He was wearing a silky black pair of pyjamas, as Sandra's dead husband had now run out of track suits, which he did not approve of and never really liked wearing.

Rix was smiling brightly and looked extremely happy. And hot as hell in that thing, thought Rosie and could not help but smile back at him, longingly.

Then the other man came into the room also.

He was not smiling.

Indeed, he looked very strange in that frog green pair of sweat pants which were too short and too tight, and the too tight faded black T-Shirt bearing a silhouette of David Bowie.

In spite of this, he was very upright and the air of authority around him remained entirely unbroken. He did not look funny.

He must work out a lot, thought Rosie. He's old. You don't get muscles like that from sitting behind a desk all day.

Beside her, Sandra moved and put her feet to the floor. She cleared her throat and said to the strange man, "Welcome in my home." Sandra got up, stepped towards the man, holding out her hand to him and saying, "I'm Sandra, Sandra Delhany. This is my friend Rosie Wyatt."

The man, who was considerably taller than Rix, now looked down at the woman standing before him. His eyes were light and bright and he made Sandra feel uncomfortable, exposed with his stare; then he turned to look to Rix.

Rix had stopped smiling and gave a nod; the man nodded back, took Sandra's hand, squeezed it carefully, just enough to let her know that he could easily break her fingers if he chose to do so, and said in a true 1950s BBC radio presenter's voice, "Andrew DeVille, at your service, madam."

Sandra was pulling her hand away before the sentence had been completed and was fighting to not wipe it on her thigh. She had noticed how Rix's voice had a quality that made it feel like a touch; this man's voice, friendly enough, was like being slapped backhanded across the face.

Rix walked past them and sat down next to Rosie, putting his cheek to her shoulder and rubbing it lightly. He closed his eyes, clearly happy. Rosie reached across and stroked his still wet hair, then his face.

Sandra felt empowered by this sight; she turned back to Mr Andrew DeVille, who was clearly not at all at her service in any shape or form imaginable, and thus had lied to her at the very first introduction, lied to her by the way of introduction, and said clearly and precisely, "Take a seat, Mr DeVille, and do tell us what brings you to our home this night. Did you have a car accident? Would you like me to call the police?"

DeVille gave a small smile and an appreciative nod. He went to the armchair closest to the fire, sat down in a very controlled movement, put his hands on the arms of the chair and replied, "I have come to collect ... your visitor."

 

 

6: Service

6/1 - Assist

"I have come to collect your visitor."

The sentence stood in the room as Sandra got to her feet.

But it was Rix who answered it.

"Where will you take me?" he asked softly, sitting up straighter, his fingers playing with DeVille's wristwatch he was still holding.

Rosie shook her head, no, don't ... She tried to speak and found she could not; she looked to Sandra but her friend too did not say anything, just sank back down into the sofa, and continued sinking into herself until her head was on her knees.

Rosie put her hand on her friend's back and knew she would start to cry in a moment.

DeVille leaned forward in the chair, looking at the flashing watch, gold and silver, as Rix kept turning it in his hands. He said, "I ... don't know yet. I don't want to take you to headquarters, that's for sure."

Rix smiled at the older man. "Do you know who I am?"

DeVille took a deep breath. "I don't know who you are exactly," he admitted. "But I think I know what you are.

"In fact, I know what you are. There can be no mistake." DeVille held out both his hands, palms up.

Rosie stared at them for a moment before she remembered what she had seen in the kitchen. They had been red raw, bleeding, black gravel and dirt in the wounds.

Now, they were perfect. Completely healed, completely normal.

She shook her head. Perhaps she had seen wrong ... or imagined it ...

Rix stopped playing with the watch and placed it on his knee instead.

"So what am I?" he enquired. There was a touch of a vibration in his normally smooth voice and Sandra reacted to this by lifting her head, lifting herself and looking at him across Rosie's chest.

DeVille said, "You are a dragon lord."

At this, Rix's eyes widened; he took a sharp breath in, then put both his hands to his head. He convulsed, convulsed more; slipped off the sofa and curled up in a tight ball at Rosie's feet, still holding his head, his fingers digging into his scalp.

DeVille was out of his chair and on the floor by his side before either of the women had so much as a chance to react; he took hold of Rix's hands, held them tightly, pulled them up and away and only moments later, Rix had scrambled to him and DeVille was holding him in a tight embrace, stroking the younger man's hair and saying, "It's alright, I'm sorry, shh ... it's alright ... we can talk about that later ..."

Rix shuddered in the other man's arms and went limp.

Slowly and carefully, DeVille released him and laid him down on the carpet.

Two slow tracks of black blood were coming from Rix's nose, snaking down over his upper lip, running down his chin.

"Fuck," said DeVille softly and here it was that Rosie jumped up, pushed the surprised man so hard on the shoulder that he fell backwards. The woman with the curly black hair was furious.

"Get away from him!" she shouted into DeVille's face, "Get away from him you piece of SHIT! Don't you dare touch him! I'll tear you to pieces if you touch him!"

Andrew DeVille stared up at her and for a moment, their eyes locked. He gave a small nod and raised a hand.

"Easy now," he said to the furious woman, "Easy. I do not mean to hurt him. In the contrary. And ..." he looked down at Rix who was completely pale and hardly seemed to breathe at all, " ... he did ask. He did ask me outright. I'm sorry."

Rosie tried to keep her anger at him and her extreme fear for Rix alive; but the anger died and only the fear remained. She blew out a long breath and found herself saying, "Do you know about him? Is he hurt? How can we help him?"

Before DeVille had a chance to respond, Sandra stood up and said, "I was supposed to protect him ..." She walked around Rosie, stepped over DeVille's legs and knelt down next to Rix, carefully raising his head and sliding herself beneath him until he was cradled in her lap.

Sandra slowly stroked his hair, then kissed him on the forehead.

DeVille moved backwards until his back was up to his chair, but he remained on the floor. He sighed deeply and said, "Look, ladies, I'm sorry we got off on the wrong foot here. His ... kind ... tends to ... has been known to ... engender ... extreme emotions in those who meet them.

"It is well known.

"I don't hold it against you ... that you are ... very protective of him.

"But the fact is that you can't protect him. I don't know if I can.

"But I have a better chance than you do."

Rosie shook her head sharply. "Not in a million years," she said sincerely. She made no attempt to hide her dislike and distrust of DeVille. "Not in a million years are we going to hand him over to you.

"Try and take him and you'll have a fight to the death on your hands."

DeVille dropped his head to hide a small smile. The short, fat woman offering him a fight to the death was indeed, a novel and amusing experience.

He was about to respond when Sandra said softly, "No-one is fighting. We are not fighting over him. I am sworn to protect him and so I shall."

DeVille put his head in his hand and sighed. "Look," he said and made every effort to sound sincere; both ladies were quite aware that it was an effort, and that he was trying.

"Look, this ... situation, it's ... " Andrew DeVille shook his head, sighed again and started afresh.

"You really don't know what you have here. This ..." he nodded towards Rix, "This is not a man. Not at all. It just looks like a man. We call his kind the dragon lords.

"They ... visit here sometimes. We - that's the people I belong to, we call ourselves the custodians, the custodians of the great secret, as it were, we wait for them."

DeVille's voice became unsteady at this point and both women raised their heads and shifted the way they paid attention to him.

DeVille cleared his throat and continued.

"It is ... incredibly rare for anyone to meet a real dragon lord. Incredibly rare. Thousands of my ... kind live and die and pray and hope and it never happens.

"I don't even know what would happen, now, in this day and age, if news was to get out that ... one is here. I sincerely don't know.

"The last time this happened was five hundred years ago and it was a circus then. Now, with global flights and media?

"I shudder to think ..." And here, Andrew DeVille really did shudder, and that was quite real, and both women appreciated this and nodded at the same time.

Rosie sighed deeply and sat back down on the sofa.

Sandra asked, "What is wrong with him? Why does he ... bleed, now?"

Andrew DeVille rubbed his forehead and sighed deeply. "I am so sorry," he said again, "It's ... I've only got old tales and reports to go on. They .. it's ... " He was clearly struggling to find words and Sandra said, "Look, it's alright. You've had a rough night too. Just tell us what we need to do, and don't think of just taking him.

"We can't let you do that.

"I can't let you do that.

"I told you I am sworn to protect him, and I meant that."

DeVille knew that she did mean it, and he could feel it was absolutely real. It was also customary.

They always assembled a court for themselves, whenever and wherever they turned up. It happened naturally that people would become attracted to them. And the people always seemed ...

DeVille got to his feet, put his hands behind his back and stood as to attention. It looked most paradoxical in his ridiculous attire.

The women looked up at him as he said, formally and officially, "I recognise you as protectors of my lord. I will not and cannot bow to you but I will take your opinions into consideration.

"You should extend me the same courtesy.

"We are here to ... serve him."

Rosie swallowed hard at that but Sandra shook her head.

"No," she said quietly but with power and conviction.

"We are not here to serve him, you're wrong about that.

"We are here to assist him."



 

6/2 - Team

DeVille lay in the darkness, slowly allowing the bone heavy, iron heavy tiredness to take hold of him.

He was breathing steadily and opened and closed his eyes in time with this.

There had been little further talk; there was no need to explain to the two common women that DeVille had to sleep near him.

There was no need because they felt exactly the same as he did on the topic.

This was a strange state of affairs, DeVille reflected as he watched the gentle blue darkness of the room become replaced with crazy light flashes and fast whirling scenarios every time he let his lids close again.

It was a most unfamiliar sensation to be so ... in league with another human being, any other human being. Never mind with two, and women at that ...

Andrew DeVille adjusted himself minutely. As was everyone else in this room, he was lying on the floor, on the carpet, with a pillow under his head and a duvet to cover him.

The three of them, the dragon lord's assistance team, he smiled at his own thought, had near enough danced around the room with each other, deciding where to put down their respective base camps.

In the end, they had laid out he - they called Rix, what a preposterous name. If it had been up to DeVille, the dragon lord would now be called Azreal or such ...

They had laid him out before the sofa, removed the arm chairs and the small coffee table to the far sides of the room, and then laid out their blankets so each one was pointing with their heads towards him.

DeVille was closest to the door; the strongest and the guard. The woman Sandra was in the centre, and her side kick on the far right.

Andrew DeVille could feel a small smile coming to him at his remembrance of how the short, fat woman had threatened him. It was rather heartening to find such spirit in such an unlikely package.

He sighed and moved a little to relieve the pressure on his spine. He had to admit that he was impressed with the two his lord had chosen. They might appear ordinary enough, but the little fat one has spirit, he thought, and the other one ...

There was something about her.

She had corrected him and he had stood corrected.

DeVille tried to remember when last such a thing had happened but it escaped him, if ever it had.

He sighed and got himself mentally ready for the battle.

DeVille closed his eyes and entered into the realm of the crazy spinning flashes, the horrendous images, the terrible faces that awaited him there.

If he could hold himself steady, eventually there might be a chance of sleep ...

 

 

6/3 - Aware

Sandra was dreaming.

She was aware of this; in the real world, the horizon has a bend to it. It bends downward at the edges, telling you where you are, that you are on Earth.

In this place the horizon was absolutely horizontal and it stretched forever.

The sky above was a deep, rich royal purple, and there were bright, bright stars there, sparkling and twinkling as precious diamonds would, all the colours there, known and unknown, seen and unseen alike.

The ground on which she stood was soft, a very dark shade of purple too, so dark it was nearly black, and it had a strange pattern to it, as though it was woven.

It felt alive under her bare feet.

Sandra looked down at herself and noted she was wearing a silvery gown of fine, flowing material and nothing else beside.

It felt nice.

Being here felt ... nice.

Calming, soothing.

There was no wind, no sound at all, and nothing and no-one to be seen here on this infinite plane, yet she did not feel alone.

There were voices in the sky, many voices.

They were singing and telling stories.

The voices were harmonious, exciting.

So many new stories, so many different lives waiting to be explored.

With a sigh of pure happiness, Sandra slipped from her robes, then she slipped from her body too, which lay down and snuggled on the soft ground.

Yes, she thought as she rose into the sky.

Yes.

Take me home.

 

Rosie dreamed.

She was quite aware that she was dreaming because she could see her reflection in the still, deep turquoise lake before her, and it was the reflection of a beautiful young woman.

The young woman was familiar although Rosie knew that she had never looked like that, not even in her so called first blossom of youth.

Rosie had always been fat and ugly.

She reached out with a fair white hand to draw a circle in the water, to disturb and banish the image of who she was not and had never been, when she became aware of the fact that this hand did indeed belong to the beautiful young woman she had seen reflected.

Rosie stood up and looked down at herself.

She was wearing a pure white gown of silky, smooth material which transmitted her touch on this body perfectly.

She smiled as she stroked her perfect, perky breasts with their responsive, well defined nipples, her flat stomach, her own long, swan like neck.

Aaah, she thought, now, now I'm ready for you ...

Rix?

Where are you ...?

 

Andrew dreamed.

He was perfectly well aware of this fact because in physical reality, you cannot be trapped in a dead, rotting body, looking at the maggots feasting on your own skin, burrowing into his own exposed guts ...

He did not respond to this with fear or any kind of emotion other than some far away interest in details, such as the white rib bones sticking from his de-composing chest, where no heart was beating. It had been ripped out, leaving some black blood entrails in its wake.

He reflected how nice it was to be dead, as in this state, nothing hurt at all.

It was really rather comfortable ...

The only thing he found a little disturbing at first, then more so as time went by, were the sounds.

There was scratchings, little clicking sounds, scraping noises that seemed to grow louder and louder, until he began to fear them.

The sounds grew louder, louder and Andrew started to scream then, but he was dead and there was no voice.

The sounds grew into roaring, shaking, Earth shattering monsters, dancing around him, dancing on his grave and he screamed and screamed and screamed ...

"DeVille! DeVille! Fuck it, Andrew! ANDREW! ANDY! Can you hear me!!!"

He opened his eyes and saw straight into that woman's round face, surrounded by that curly hair, a moon rise in a stormy sky ...

It took another thirty seconds before finally, he could gasp in a breath.

One of these days, he thought wearily, even whilst he was still coughing and retching, one of these days I'll have a heart attack ...

 

 

 

6/4 - What Knife?

As dawn broke, it found the dragon lord's assistance team sitting in the kitchen, bleary eyed and weary to a man and a woman too, drinking coffee and talking in hushed whispers.

They had already established some basic conditions, such as that whatever DeVille knew about dragon lords and their business, it clearly could not be discussed in front of Rix.

"There are references to them turning up and not knowing who they are," DeVille had said, who had such shadows under his eyes, he looked as though he'd been boxing the night before. "It must be a part of their deal."

Sandra had nodded and said, "There's a block - he does remember things but as soon as he thinks about it, he gets a bad headache. I've stopped asking him and if he says something by accident, I just let it pass ..."

Rosie asked, "That was really bad, last night. What happens if it gets worse? Can he die ...?"

All three looked at each other and swallowed hard at that. It was a notion that none of them could even conceptualise.

DeVille said, "I don't know if they can die ... at all in our sense. But I think it is how they ..." he sighed so deeply, he spilled coffee from the blue mug he was holding, "It's how they go home."

The women stared at him. Sandra could not speak and Rosie repeated the statement in a whisper, "How they go home?"

Andrew DeVille stroked the rim of his mug with an outstretched fingertip. "Yes. When they've done what they wanted to do, that's how they go home. They kill themselves, or get someone else to do it for them." He gave a small tired laugh. "Sometimes it's really spectacular ..."

Sandra said, "The knife. He said it was only to use on yourself, not on anyone else."

At this, DeVille raised his head and sat up straighter.

"Yes, the knife," he said and his voice was more controlled too. "We need to return it, immediately. It's the trigger. How I found you here. I have to retrieve it, return it and report that it was a non-event. I must do this today, as soon as possible.

"Where is the artefact?"

Rosie was looking from one to the other and asked, "What knife? What artefact?"

Sandra shook her head and said, "You can't have it. He won't give it up. He says it's his and ... well, you can't take it."

At this, DeVille really straightened. With authority, he said to Sandra, "Look, this is crucial. It's not something we can argue about. If we don't want the world and his wife to come knocking on the door here, which I presume we do not want and we're agreed on that, then I absolutely must return the artefact within the next ..." he looked at his right wrist, which had a white band of skin marked clearly where his watch had been. He shook his head, cleared his throat and continued, "12 hours, at the most. If I don't, a new procedure will go into action and they will find him here."

Sandra was shaking her head, so DeVille added, "Understand this. You cannot hide him. Not from - my people. We are all deliberately trained to know when one of them is about, and the feeling is - undeniable.

"I knew immediately he was here, yesterday, in the car.

"So will everyone else who has had my ... training process, shall we say.

"You can't hide him in the cellar and hope they'll go away."

Sandra put her hand to her head, looked down at the table. "I would give it to you, I really would ... but he ... it belongs to him ... surely ..."

Rosie said, "If you don't tell me what you're talking about right now, I will slap the both of you."

Sandra and DeVille looked at each other for a moment; she gave him a tired precedence wave.

"We are talking about a ... an obsidian knife. A ritual object, what we call an artefact. Dragon lords are drawn to artefacts. They are ... like the bait we put out for them. Your friend bought one, I was informed of the purchase and that's why I am here."

"She did?" Rosie said and looked at her friend. To not know that, to not have been told about that, she was surprise just how much that hurt.

Sandra did not meet her eyes. Instead, she said to DeVille, "You have to take it up with him when he wakes up. It is his. I can't give it to you."

DeVille put his head to the side and said carefully, "It was you who said we are to assist him, rather than serve him.

"I put it to you that to have my entire organisation descend on this property in force and tear him to pieces does not assist in whatever it is he came here to do."

Sandra went pale at that. She put both hands around her coffee mug, white with big red spots, also known as the spotted cup of happiness, and replied, "I ... can't. I really can't. I ... promised him. But I wouldn't stop you if you ... found it and took it away."

DeVille narrowed his eyes. Now how could she possibly know about this? Or was it an accident? A guess?

He nodded slowly.

"I understand," he said. "And I ... ahm ... admire you for ..." he nodded, "... for your loyalty. I will find it and return it. That is the first step, that has to be the first step to at least buy us some time. Buy him some time." He got up from the chair, straightened and flexed his shoulders, rotated his neck.

"Alright," he said, "I'll find it if it's here."

With that, he briefly glanced around the kitchen, shook his head and went out through to the hallway.

Sandra got up too.

Without looking at her friend, she said to Rosie, "I am sorry for not telling you about the knife."

Then she sighed and left the room to sit guard with Rix once more, who was still deeply asleep.

 

 

6/5 - Shadows

DeVille stood in the hallway of the old farm house and looked around.

Finding artefacts was something of a speciality; he had been very good at it. Of course, he was his father's son, and it ran in the family. Nothing to be proud of, then. Nothing to do with him, then.

He put these old thoughts from his head and tried to concentrate. It was difficult for numerous reasons on this day. He was tired, that was a factor, but the main problem was in the presence of he they called Rix.

Rix was such a ...

DeVille smiled as he thought of a metaphor.

Rix was a sunrise in white fog - he lit all of it up and now, there was a white out and you couldn't see a thing any longer.

Still ...

DeVille tried again, and this time, he had something to help him make the distinctions in this new environment. There was one artefact here and it was the one he was the most familiar with of all.

The first one.

The watch his father had given him on his sixth birthday.

It was still sitting on the arm of the sofa before which Rix was lying on the floor.

DeVille extended himself and sought for the familiar pattern; he strained to perceive through the white mist and yes, there it was. It was not in and of itself visible but it cast a small shadow and he could track it back from there.

DeVille nodded to himself and smiled. Another problem solved. Now, find the shadows, he commanded himself.

Where are the shadows in this house?

As soon as he sorted in that way, another one became immediately apparent, very close to his watch. What was that?

DeVille physically stepped to the doorway into the sitting room and switched points of view a number of times until he realised it was on Sandra Delhany; a ring she was wearing.

This confused him for a moment. He decided to put that aside and keep looking.

As he raised his gaze up and away from her, he saw the flowers outside the house through the sitting room window and he had to laugh.

Those little shadows his watch and her ring created were nothing compared to what was virtually a black hole in the flowerbed outside.

Sandra had startled at his laugh and was now looking at him.

DeVille grinned and said, "You buried it in the flowerbed. How quaint."

She shook her head a little, then she too gave a small, tired smile.

"And if you want it, you'll have to dig it up," she responded.

DeVille stopped grinning. That was not something he was particularly keen to do. He looked down at his frog green pants that clearly showed his pale ankles, shook his head, sighed and said, "All in the service of the lord."



6/6 - Judas

Sindy Horten, who had fallen asleep in her clothes on the great bed in the king's room, was speaking into her mobile phone.

"He has been gone all night," she said, and her voice did not sound high or silly at all. Indeed, it was clean, her diction precise and her tone at least half an octave deeper than DeVille had ever had the privilege to hear.

"I strongly suggest to activate the Judas Protocol," Miss Horten said. "When we passed the property in question, there was definitely something there. DeVille reacted strongly to it and was entirely pre-occupied until he left without giving me any instructions.

"Yes, I do think there is a high probability that we have a rising on our hands."

She listened carefully for a moment longer, nodded to herself, said, "Absolutely, sir. You can rely on me," before ending the call.

On the other side of the United Kingdoms, a thin old man with extremely piercing bright blue eyes looked out of the windows of his ancestral castle, tiny ancient pieces of diamond shaped glass in old oak framing, across the unbroken, mirror flat calm surface of the blue loch and to the far horizons.

 

 

6/7 - Privilege

DeVille stood on the drive, looking down at No. 117 which lay across the palm of his hand.

It vibrated all through him; it was sending him information he did not know how to decode, how to unlock.

There had been times in his life when he had cried about that, screamed about it even. Once, he had put his head straight through a plate glass window because of it.

Today, it didn't matter any longer.

The only thing that mattered now was to stop his people from finding the dragon lord.

And the only way this could possibly be accomplished was by him leaving here with the artefact, and leaving the one he had waited a lifetime to encounter in the care of two hapless women.

The very thought caused DeVille to start trembling. The knife in his hand trembled in response, the perfect reflection of the sky and the tall trees behind him wavering, a water surface disturbed, bad things rising from the deep ...

If he stayed here for even another couple of hours, he was running the risk of triggering the Judas Protocol.

He did not know why it was named thus, or if it was meant to be a complex joke, or if it just denoted TRAITOR, and that was it.

It seemed that in the past, those who met a dragon lord would forget their allegiances to the order and instead of following their orders, would try to hide this fact from their superiors.

This was so common that the Judas Protocol ran automatically if certain conditions were in place.

The first condition was that a custodian should go off the grid for more than 48 hours after having gone to investigate an artefact.

This had been brought down from a month, then to a week; it was about to be brought down even further. As speed of travel and communication increased, so the protocols were tightened.

They were tightening the screws, more and more, all the time ...

Once a custodian was bonded to a dragon lord, they were no longer under control of the order and thus were deemed to be an enemy.

DeVille remembered well having been lectured at great length as to what would happen to a one who was deemed an enemy.

That was the highest classification; it was bad enough what could happen to a simple bystander.

The very best, finest and most long lasting, horrendous punishments were reserved for the enemies.

DeVille gave a small laugh and a shrug. He didn't care about that. He did not care about anything other now than that ... ah hell, he might as well get used to it and start calling him Rix as well ... He didn't care about anything any longer. Rix had to complete his mission, whatever it was.

It was the ultimate privilege to assist him in this.

In fact, DeVille could not quite conceive how he should be even allowed to experience this. It had to be an unconditional thing, he thought, for I don't deserve to serve. De-serve ...

He nodded to himself and made up his mind.

He would do it.

He would sacrifice himself, his life, all his hope for anything at all.

He would go to hell for the dragon lord.

With his decision having been made, DeVille went back into the house to speak with the remaining protectors.

He wished desperately that those two were someone else, stronger, more intelligent, better equipped, but they were it.

DeVille paused before the green kitchen door which must have been painted a hundred times or more. He had to will his hand to come forward, put it around the old black cast iron door knob, took a deep breath and went inside.

He found both women in the sitting room, of course, keeping guard over the sleeping man who looked so ... innocent, so ordinary.

DeVille felt the strangest sensation in his face, a burning pain under his eyes and a huge amount of pressure rising in his chest; it took him a moment to realise that he was just about to start crying. He shook his head at the preposterousness of that notion and focused in on the middle aged woman who still owned this house.

Softly, as not to disturb the sleeper, Andrew DeVille said, "I am going to leave. I am going to go back ... " he shook his head and took a moment to compose himself, "Back to where I came from. I am going to continue my previous routine as though nothing ever happened here.

"I cannot contact you. I cannot check in on you. I cannot be near you in any shape or form.

"All my communications and movements are monitored on every level."

Here, DeVille stopped again, raised his chin and took a couple of slow, long breaths.

The women stared at him. Rosie had wrung her hands together and was now holding them before her chest, and Sandra had started to cry softly. The man's emotions were enough to burn a hole in a piece of cast iron, thought Rosie, but he's trying to hold it together. She now too took a deep breath, deliberately straightened her hands and placed them on her knees, palms down.

You can do it, she thought strongly, here, I'll help you. We need to do what must be done, each one of us. And it seems, you, most of all. Be strong ... Andrew.

As though he had heard her perfectly, he looked directly into her eyes and gave the smallest of bows, a minute submission that was hardly more than a closing of the lids.

DeVille continued.

"I wish I had more time to tell you more, but I do not. I have to trust that you will do what you can, and that he ..." DeVille clearly struggled with himself not even to look in the direction of the sleeper, "... will find his way. He ... he is strong, stronger than he knows. He is ... magical ..." DeVille bit down hard on his own lip and turned his head to the wall for a moment.

Finally, he said, "I ... will do what I can to protect you all. That's nothing though. I have no real power. The only thing I can do is to ... pretend none of this ever happened, and not give into temptation to try and see ... him again."

Sandra said in a desolate whisper, "I don't know how you ... how will you .."

DeVille looked at her with his bright eyes and all three knew the answer to that. There was really, only one answer.

"I'll hold out for as long as I can," DeVille said and smiled. He felt better, knowing now what his fate would be, and that there would be a time limit on the suffering. Perhaps, he reflected, perhaps he was not as strong any longer as once he had been. Must be the advancing age ...

He nodded to the ladies and said, "I am going to call my assistant. You need to remove him, I saw a car in the drive. Put him in the back and drive away, ten miles or so should suffice.

"Once he is gone, she can come here and pick me up. She can meet Sandra, we will give her a story about the knife and her running me over in the village after dark, we can play at having had some kind of affair or something, and then we'll be gone.

"Wait for an hour or so after Sandra gives the all clear, then you can bring him back here and all should be well."

Rosie said, "That's not going to work. The same person who bought the knife running you over accidentally, I'd never believe that."

DeVille sat down on the arm of the second arm chair, the one closest to the door. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and said, "Yes, you are right. I'm tired. Confused. I can't think straight."

Sandra, who had stopped crying a while back, said, "How do you normally retrieve an artefact? Do you buy it back? Steal it?"

This focused DeVille and he sat up straighter. "Any means, really. Including killing the owner if they won't give it up."

Sandra and Rosie exchanged a glance and nodded.

Rosie said carefully, "Would your assistant know how you get it back? Do you have to file a report?"

"No and yes," said DeVille. He blew out a breath and added, "Perhaps it would be easier just to say I bought it back. That's the first choice, anyway." He gave a little laugh. "Your financial position is so ... untenable, it would make sense that you would have accepted a generous offer."

Rosie pursed her lips. "How generous?"

DeVille rubbed his face with both hands as though he was washing it. "To stay under the radar, under £35,000. That's the cut off point before I have to pass it on to the next level for approval."

Rosie asked, "And how much so it would be really safe and raise no flags?"

"£27,000." DeVille said it immediately and with conviction.

Rosie looked to Sandra who nodded and said slowly, "Yes. It's a deal."

 

 

6/8 - Gone

Just under two hours later, DeVille stood, perfectly dressed and quite immaculate as he had been the day before, by the gate with Sandra Delhany by his side.

Whilst Rix continued to sleep quietly, the three of them had scrubbed, washed and dried DeVille's clothes. The hardest part had been to restore the blue fine wool overcoat; but two hair dryers and three dog brushes later, and it was presentable once more.

DeVille had carried Rix in his arms and they had put him in the back of Rosie's car, snuggled in all the duvets, covered completely, and she had driven out, into the nature reserve where she would be spending the next few hours in the car park.

Then DeVille had called Sindy from Sandra's phone.

They had decided that the loss of his own phone was to be explained by being forced to go for a walk to discuss the price of the knife. Indeed, DeVille thought that perhaps it might be found by driving slowly down the road he had walked with the window open and calling it repeatedly. It might be heard if it had not drowned and the battery held up.

So now they stood together; all the flurry of activity was over and there was nothing now to do but to wait, and to think.

Sandra looked at the man, tall, strong and commanding as he appeared, a murderer probably, most likely, and did not know how he could find the strength to do what he was doing now.

When Rix had moved away in the car, Sandra had thought she was going to die. She had felt as though her heart was being ripped out of her chest, stretching further and further, the pain had become so bad, she had gone to her knees, and DeVille had picked her up and held her.

He had been trembling hard; it was not until later and the pain had subsided to a dull, throbbing ache that was filling her entire body now that she realised he felt the same.

The only difference was that she had to hold out for another hour or two, and he would have it for the rest of his life.

Was that enough punishment for him, she wondered, and then sighed deeply. She did not want DeVille to be punished. She had a notion that he had been punished quite enough already. He did not look like a three legged dog, but by God, thought Sandra, he is one. A dog without any legs whatsoever ...

He didn't want to hear it though.

He didn't need to hear it.

He did not need her compassion.

So they said nothing and just stood until the faint sound of an engine could be heard, and unlike the previous occurrences of this, DeVille turned to her, nodded and said, "Look happy. Really, really happy. And remember to wave when we drive away."

Sandra nodded.

The black limousine with the mirror windows purred to a stop in the lay-by before the closed gate.

Sandra dropped her head for a moment and forced her face into the shape of a smile, forced her feet to skip to the gate, raise it and wave to DeVille, who smiled at her likewise.

As he passed through, she touched him demonstratively on the upper arm and said loudly, "Thank you so much! You were sent by the heavens! Please, come again, any time you're in this part of the world!"

DeVille turned and held out his hand to her.

They shook it meaningfully and he walked to the car, opened the door and got inside.

Sandra bent forward to try and see, waving her hand in the air, shouting, "Bye! Bye now, Mr DeVille! And thank you again! Have a safe journey!"

The door closed with a soft thwack and the car pulled away.

Sandra went outside of the gate, stood by the road and continued smiling and waving until the limousine rounded the bend, and it was gone.

 

7: Too Much

7/1 - Car Park

Rosie Wyatt looked out at the autumnal, misty forest before her and shivered again. It was cold in the car. It was early, still, and she was tired. Her head felt heavy, unresponsive.

She sighed and expected to see white dragon's breath but there was none; perhaps it was not as cold as she felt.

She got out of the car again, drew her chin and mouth right under the collar of her coat, her hands pushing deeply into the pockets, and walked around the car yet again.

She had driven to the furthest end of the car park, closest to the road; people who walked their dogs here at this time of year would park on the other side, where the various routes started into the nature reserve.

Here, they were quite alone.

There were no other cars here at all this morning.

Rosie peered through the tailgate at the multi-coloured pile of quilts in the back of her estate.

There was no movement.

Rix must still be asleep.

I bet he's warm and snuggly under there, Rosie thought again and once more. Really comfortable ...

She shook her head and sat back in the driver's seat but did not close the door. It seemed warmer outside than inside the car.

She contemplated running the engine again but knew it would do no good. It didn't warm up if it wasn't driving, and the drive had not been far enough to get it more than lukewarm in the first place.

Rosie Wyatt found her eyes were watering and had the deep desire to close them, just for a moment.

She was so tired ...

Flash. DeVille, shrieking as though he was on fire.

Rosie shook her head, opened her eyes again. Damn it but that had been scary. She had been so fast asleep, such a pleasant dream ...

Flash. She is holding the man by the shoulders, shouting into his face, calling him by name. Andy.

It had worked. Wonder who called him that now, Rosie thought with a sigh. Wonder if his mother called him that ...

Flash. Looking into DeVille's bright eyes and becoming terrified that he would not take that breath and just die in her arms, right here and now ...

"Stop it," said Rosie out aloud to herself, then put her hand before her mouth. She didn't want to wake up young Rix. He would be confused and Sandra was not here to take care of him.

Alright, said Rosie to herself, now stop thinking of that man and think of something else.

Concentrate.

Think of something nice.

What might it be?

The instant she thought that, she had a very clear thought, no, more than a thought, more like a day dream, clear and perfectly steady, of getting out of the car. Walking around the car, carefully popping the lock on the tailgate and raising it slowly so it would not creak.

Oooh ... Rosie Wyatt, what are you doing? She could feel herself smile.

It's only a little fantasy ...

Go ahead ...

Ok.

So.

Take the jacket off, that's the first thing.

Kick off the wellies. Can't get in the back with those on.

Sit on the car's base, perched over the bumper, yes, there they go. Should I move them? In case it starts to rain, they would fill up with water ...

Rosie, it's a fantasy.

Those are fantasy boots. Nothing to worry about. Just leave them there.

Ok.

Well, that sweater is a bit tight. It would not be very comfortable to sleep in. Let's take that off as well.

That's better but ooh, it's really cold now.

Best get under those snuggly looking duvets ...

There were no less than five duvets in the back, and young Rix, still wearing the satin black night clothes, was sandwiched between them. Three beneath him and two on top.

Rosie carefully lifted and separated the layers, sliding her hand experimentally beneath them until she contacted with something hot, and soft.

A fast shiver ran up her arm, then she shivered all over again, being very cold and now really wanting to get somewhere nice and warm.

Rosie slipped herself into and under the duvet, crawling carefully on her hands and knees until all of her was in the back of the car; she lay down and cautiously inched a little closer.

Pulling the top duvets completely over her head, she started to move towards the source of the warmth that was becoming very noticeable now and more attractive by the minute, by the second; she edged closer until there was the shock of touching him, first experienced on her arm, then her cold feet found his leg as well.

He gave a little move, a deep breath.

Rosie went stock still and held hers until he breathed deeply again, then slid herself a little closer.

But my, he was so hot and delicious. He smelled wonderful, of summer somehow, of fields of freshly cut hay, sunshine ...

Rosie breathed him in and nuzzled his shoulder; she put her arm about him and laid her knee over his leg. She tried to be still but her body was moving to him, moving on him; her hand was stroking him and all of her kept pushing gently into him in soft, slow movements.

Very faintly at first yet immediately noticeable, he began to respond; small give and take movements, softly weaving with each other, into each other.

Rosie found that she could not resist it; her movements became bolder; her stroking hand was flexing, seeking a grasp; and her breasts were aching now, needing contact, needing touch ..

In a soft, smooth movement he turned into her, took her into his arms and kissed her. The sensation exploded all through her body, setting her on fire in an instant; every part of her awake and as hungry for him as her mouth ...

He slid from her mouth down and started to kiss her neck and she could not help herself, "Oh, Rix," she cried ...

"Yes, my lady?" His voice by her right ear made Rosie Wyatt jump up so hard that she hurt her thigh under the steering wheel.

She closed her eyes and shook her head.

Oh, honestly ... I can not look at you right now, not here ... Rosie had to laugh at herself and turned to Rix, who was leaning on the back of the passenger seat, his hair more tousled than ever and looking at her most innocently, eyes wide open.

"You called me, my lady?"

He was so close.

He was radiating sleep warmth.

And yes, he smelled of summer ...

She could not think of a single thing to say to him so instead, she managed a smile and a nod.

He smiled back immediately, brightly and most prettily.

 

7/2 - Let Me Watch

Miss Horten leaned forward, peered through the windscreen at DeVille's broad blue back, walking in front of the car as he was, creating a funeral procession back to that crappy village.

She had to admit to herself that her depth of feeling for DeVille continued to surprise her. Every time she thought she could not possibly hate him any more than she already did, a kind of threshold shift would occur and her feelings for him would take her into a whole new dimension.

Sindy Horten, which was not her name, lay back in the deep leather seats of the limousine and wound a strand of white blond hair, which was not her colour, around her finger.

She liked thinking about DeVille and feeling these sensations. It was like being filled with ice shards, she reflected; true blue and brilliant, and they illuminated everything, made her strong, made her think clearly and precisely.

She hated everything about him.

She hated his voice, his touch more; she hated how he smelled, how he talked, and his little mannerisms; looking at his watch every five minutes, just to make sure it was still there. The way he raised his eyebrow, how he twisted his lips.

The way he folded his pants when he got undressed.

Sindy giggled, making it sound nice and stupid.

She enjoyed that too; she loved making DeVille suffer. It was an art form to skate just below that place where he would throttle her with his bare hands, and just enough to drive stakes through his brain.

She giggled again, thinking about the pig snort she had cultivated. That really drove him crazy. It was perfect. She would have used it on him when they were in bed together; the only reason she didn't was that it would make it all last longer than it absolutely had to.

Ms Horten stopped giggling and shifted in the seat. At this rate, it would be an hour before they were back at the hotel. Of course, he would want to fuck her. It was not a problem, all a part of the job.

The best thing was, she reflected, that that fucking pervert FUCK thought he was so superior to her, when it was she who held his life in her hands.

And this was the chance she had been waiting for, so very patiently, for over a year and a half now.

She nodded and smiled to herself. This was her chance. There was probably nothing wrong here at all, DeVille was just being his usual self, but that didn't matter. The accusation was all that was needed, and the flimsiest evidence would suffice.

Aah, she thought, you shouldn't have fucked up last night.

You shouldn't have disappeared, shouldn't have lost your phone.

The Judas Protocol was now initiated.

They would be waiting for him the moment he set foot inside the London headquarters.

Sindy Horten could feel a wide smile spreading over her face. She dropped her head to hide it, just in case he turned around unexpectedly.

Oh God, she thought, I hope they let me watch ...

 

 

7/3 -Burning

Rix was screaming at Sandra in a language she did not understand.

He was absolutely furious and his anger nailed her right against the old stone wall by the kitchen door.

Sandra was not used to being screamed at.

She could not move, could not even bring up her hands to protect her face, her heart, her stomach against what Rix was throwing in her direction.

By the time Rosie had eventually slapped him in the face, hard and repeatedly, Sandra was shaking in body and in mind, far away.

Far back.

Observing the scene but there was no sound.

Rix was holding Rosie by the wrists and screaming at her instead now.

What was that language, Sandra wondered from far, far away. I would like to hear again.

As in response, the sounds faded back and with the sounds, so came the trembling and the sense that something was broken and she couldn't breathe properly, not just now, but never again.

Ken never screamed at me, she thought. Never. Not once. He would look at me if he was angry. His lips would come together in a sharp, perfectly horizontal line, then he would turn and walk away.

And I would feel it in the pit of my stomach, that he was angry with me, that I had done something wrong.

But this?

What is this?

Rosie was shouting at Rix, who was still wearing the black pyjamas, barefoot on the pebble drive, trying to keep a hold of the fat, short woman who was surprisingly strong.

"Get a hold of yourself," she kept shouting at him, "Rix, get a hold of yourself. Get control!"

That finally got through to him; he did struggle to gain control of himself and slowly succeeded in that endeavour.

He let her go with a fast backward shove and stepped back, further and further, until he turned and stood, staring at the flower bed.

DeVille had not been as kind or as careful with the Naked Ladies as Rix had been.

He had just pulled them up and thrown them behind himself on the drive where they still lay, then dug the earth over the plants around; now, there was a big, black hole in the flowerbed, as though a grenade had exploded.

Sandra could see him rubbing his hands through his hair repeatedly, shaking his head, making small steps forward, back, side to side, then he turned around and even though he didn't scream again, his voice rocked her right back against the wall.

"How could you have let this happen? How? I trusted you!"

Rosie looked to her friend and ascertained that Sandra was not in a position to say anything at all. It worried her.

"Rix," she said, "What were we supposed to do? Even if we had tried to stop him, what could we have done? He was stronger than both of us put together."

Rix kept shaking his head and approached.

Sandra tried reflexively to get away, back up further but she was stuck to the wall and there was nowhere left to go.

"It's wrong," he said with such ferocity and intensity that even Rosie took a step back, "This is all wrong. He should be here. I need him. Why isn't he here? Why did you let him leave? How do we find him again?" Rix shook his head hard and put his hands before his face. He shifted from anger to a different state, desperation perhaps, but it was more than enough to turn Sandra's stomach to the point she thought she was going to throw up, and for Rosie to go pale.

Rosie went to her friend and took her hand, turning to stand by her side. Sandra's hand was ice cold and limp; she did not squeeze back.

"You have got to calm down, first of all," Rosie said to Rix with urgency. "You have got to calm down and stop screaming. Can't you see you're frightening her? Upsetting her?"

Rix stared at her for a moment with eyes that seemed nearly white, crystal white, sparking ice fire, an extraordinary sensation that was not a pleasant one, then he turned away and made a sharp, slicing gesture with his right hand.

The pile of uprooted plants before the flower bed, tangled, broken, muddy and entirely soaked after the downpour in the night, went on flash fire in an instant and burned brightly with a flame that was orange in the middle and blue on the outside.

Rosie saw this, saw this happening, and as she did, a fast rush of events flashed through her mind.

She realised that she had tried to ignore the facts.

He had disappeared beneath her hands that night. He had not been fast. He had not opened the door, he had walked straight through it.

DeVille's hands were injured. They really were and then they were not.

DeVille saying, "They are not human."

On the drive, the flowers were burning.

That was not a fire she had ever seen before.

It was intensely hot, so hot that all the plants in the border began to wilt; so hot that she could feel it in her face all the way across to where she and Sandra were standing.

It was not burning like a normal fire; it was collapsing and inverting what it was feeding on, eradicating it altogether, really consuming it.

Rosie thought that if it was not put out in some way, that fire would not care if it had ran out of stalks, leaves and roots. It would feed on the pebbles, then the earth itself.

It would never stop.

The fire was shifting, moving like a living thing. Now the outer edges of the flames shifted through from blue into purple; Rosie just knew, somehow just knew that if it ever reached ultraviolet, very bad things could happen.

She struggled to find the breath.

"Put it out."

Rix, who was also staring at the fire, standing very close to it but not being affected by the intense heat at all, startled at the sound of her voice, as though he was waking up from a trance. He scrambled backwards and fell; he held out a protective hand to the fire and as he did, it froze.

Rosie let go of Sandra's hand and stepped forward.

The fire was still, entirely unmoving.

She looked up to see that the trees were still swaying, the leaves still dancing and rustling. Everything else was still in motion, only the fire stood still.

It was radiating heat as before, and Rosie walked around the perimeter of that intense radiation to get closer to Rix.

"You got to put it out," she said to him, trying to be calm, trying to impress the urgency upon him without spooking him. "Rix, put that fire out."

He was still holding his hand up, lying on the ground, propped up on one elbow as he had fallen. He was pale and shook his head.

"I don't know how," he said in a whisper and she could hear the fear in his voice.

Rosie swallowed hard and could feel her hands bunching into fists.

"Try," she said urgently, "Just try. Want it to go out. Really, really want it to go out, go away, stop. Think at it. Tell it to stop."

Rix tried to sit up; this caused the hand held up towards the fire to move. As his hand moved, so did the fire, in a perfect snake charming response.

Rix saw it too and experimentally tried to guide the fire here and there.

It followed his movements to perfection.

Rosie stared at the weaving flame of many colours; she felt the heat from it, no, not heat, this is radiance, she thought, radiation, this will burn you in a whole new way, drifting off with the great beauty of it, with the promise of it, this would be an experience like no other to be consumed in this way.

Rix stood up, rotated his shoulders and said, "Return."

The fire flexed and flowed; and like a fountain when the water is turned off, fell into itself, and then it was gone.

The absence of the fire was such that Rosie stumbled forward and had to fight to keep her balance.

She looked at the place where the broken flowers had been; there was now a tiny amount of fine, silvery ash that sparkled dusted over the pebbles of the drive.

Fairy dust, she thought then she turned to Rix.

He was very calm, very collected.

He looked like a normal man again, attractive. The light morning breeze was tousling his wavy brown hair and his eyes seemed blue green, nice eyes.

The alien who very nearly set the world on fire had a lovely smile.

 

 

7/4 - Shards

In the room which contained the dead man's clothes, Rix was struggling to button the clean if dusty smelling shirt of blue and green. His hands were trembling; his whole body was shaking as though there was something trying to get out.

One moment, he felt as though he was here, and then there; a tiny jump from one place to another which made him miss the small button holes over and over again.

Stop this, he thought desperately, not ... I can't ...

But it did not stop.

If anything, it was becoming worse.

This is all so wrong. Everything is wrong and I don't know what to do, how to make it right. Nothing is as it should be.

Where is my custodian?

How could he leave me here?

Then, what is a custodian?

I don't even know what that is.

Rix gave up trying to fasten the shirt and went downstairs, back to the kitchen, where Sandra was sitting at the table and did not look at him as he entered, and Rosie stood before her and turned around.

"You shouldn't have done that," the short fat woman attacked him immediately, "You should not have shouted at her like that. You have really upset her.

"Really ... hurt her.

"Shame on you."

Rix could not only feel but see red and black shards flying towards him; they struck him in the throat, in the chest, in the genitals and made the dislocating trembling even worse. It got harder and much faster, a painful oscillation that felt as though it would really tear him apart.

The scene before him began to de-stabilise too; it was becoming grainy, grey, displaced. He could just about make out that Sandra was raising herself, standing up, she was holding together better than anything else in the room, in this universe, but even she was fragmenting.

"Help me," Rix tried to say but the sound he produced was a phased wailing bouncing backwards and forwards fast and faster until it became a screech and there, it just happened.

Rix fell apart.

 

 

7/5 - Others

 

In a different time, a different space altogether, there was an assembling.

 

"He can't do it."

"It's too much for him."

"The time is wrong."

"It is too hard."

"He is too young."

"The divergence was too great."

"I knew he would fail."

"He was/is not ready."

"He is not enough."

"He does not have the resources."

"He does not have the experience."

“He has failed the mission.”

 

One voice rises above them all, clear, powerful, bright white.

 

"Cease.

"Believe.

"Trust.

"Love.

"This is my will."

 

There is silence for a time; then a gentle shifting, moving into a dance.

 

Submission.

 

"Your will shall be done."



 

7/6 - Now

Sindy Horten was kneeling on the floor of the hotel room, wearing a black push up bra, suspenders and black stockings, very high heels, shiny black shoes that ran to a long fine needle point, and a bag over her head.

There had been a time when DeVille had enjoyed seeing her like this in a fashion; at least she was quiet and he didn't have to see her face.

There had been a time when he was able to get over his intense dislike of the woman at this point and imagine she was someone else, a random prostitute with an interesting back story.

It had become harder and harder as time went on to keep it up, quite literally; today, there was no hope in hell.

DeVille was exhausted, drained to the extreme and did not know how much longer he could hold on before he would just throw himself to the floor or jump out of the window.

Crawl to the window, more likely. Get it open and crawl up and over and out like a slug ...

It had not helped that he had walked all the way back from Spindlewood earlier, ostensibly looking for his mobile phone which he never found.

The truth was that he had started to cry not long into that walk, and had cried all the way into the village. He had kept his shoulders square and straight, walked rhythmically so that the two in the limousine behind him just saw a man in a dark blue coat, walking.

But he had not been able to stop himself from crying.

It was just too much.

Everything was too much.

Sindy cleared her throat and moved her knees, the position with the thighs spread wide apart clearly becoming untenable.

DeVille thought, perhaps I should just kill you. Then I could lay down beside you and you would be still at last.

Quiet.

Eventually, someone would come and then they would take me away ...

Sindy's phone on the bedside table sprang into life.

In distorted tones, Madonna started to sing.

"Holiday ... Celebrate ..."

DeVille startled badly; the annoyance he felt from the song she had chosen for her phone was an assault on this day, in this moment when he really had nothing left to give.

I can start with her phone, he thought. I can start with her phone. I can kick the shit out of it, stomp it dead, and it will never, ever play that song again. It will never click under her fingernails again, she will never snort and giggle into it again ...

He got up from the arm chair in which he had been laying, crossed the room. Under her black bag, Sindy Horten turned her head to try and ascertain what he was up to, shuffling her burning thighs again.

DeVille picked up the phone.

On the lit screen, he saw the caller.

It was Sandra Delhany.

DeVille closed his eyes. The phone creaked as his hand closed around it hard. He tried and tried but ...

DeVille hit the answer button.

"Sandra," he said.

"Thank God," said Rosie Wyatt. "You have to come back. You have to. Now."





8: Mist

8/1 - Right Direction

DeVille was driving the limousine.

He was driving slowly, carefully.

Andrew DeVille was entirely aware of his condition, of his situation.

He was aware that all he wanted to do was to put his foot down, all the way down until the gas pedal would not go any further, and the great engine that was throbbing under the bonnet would roar into life, go into hyperdrive and he would be back there, back where there was no pain, no desolation, and all, everything he had long given up on, was to be found.

He was crying again.

This time, he was crying with the sheer relief of finally doing the right thing, moving in the right direction.

He had not cried in over four decades.

DeVille reflected as he carefully guided the huge black machine around the bends on the narrow road which was strewn with slippery brown leaves from the storm of the night before that he probably had a lot of crying stored up.

On this occasion, he therefore did not even try to stop himself; and as he was alone in the car, he could actually allow himself to sob out aloud.

Halfway along the journey, at the turn off to the road upon which Spindlewood lay, he stopped sobbing and started chuckling instead.

Sindy Horten would have some problems.

Her hands were tied behind her back, firmly at that, with a pair of handcuffs to which he had the only key. The bag on the head wouldn't help. She would have to try and get attention. Naked from the waist down, apart from the suspenders ...

Good riddance, he thought. Good fucking riddance. I don't care what happens now, at least I can breathe again. We'll find some way to make it work. We'll find some way ... We will, if we stick together ...

It was not just his mood that lifted; everything lifted. He started to feel his body again, he could actually feel the leather steering wheel under his hands, the vibrations of the smooth engine transmitting through the seat, into his buttocks.

Andrew DeVille sighed, a long, slow sigh of relief.

There was the lay by. There was the gate.

Thank the Gods, I'm here.

 

 

8/2 - Lake

It was Rosie Wyatt who lifted the gate and dragged it open so DeVille could drive in. He noted that Sandra Delhany's motley crew of dogs was stalking along the outside of the kitchen wall, all three in a line, crawling low along the ground, a very peculiar thing to see.

He parked the car and got out.

The flower bed still had the black crater in the middle.

There was something wrong.

Something ... what the hell?

DeVille snapped bright awake. He should feel him like he had done before but he did not. Instead, there was ...

Rosie Wyatt had closed the gate and was waving frantically at him.

"Thank god you're back," she cried as she ran towards him, "Thank god. You should never have left. He went absolutely berserk when he found out you had gone, and then ..."

DeVille had started already to walk towards the kitchen door but Rosie stayed him.

"No, you can't go in there, here, we have to go round here."

Andrew DeVille was looking at the dogs who had crawled along to one end of the kitchen wall; now they turned, each one, in a tight circle and the one that had been last now led the new crawl back the other way.

What the fuck ...

Rosie led the way to the normally unused front entrance; a porch with a triangular Greek temple top and columns either side which clearly had been added to the farm house at some later date.

She opened the large oak entrance door and they went inside.

DeVille felt a really strange sensation; a light, strange form of vibration.

"Where is he? Take me to him, immediately," he said to Rosie, commandingly.

The woman did not argue; she just nodded and pointed at the kitchen door across the hallway.

"He's in there ..." she whispered, but Andrew DeVille had already started to move.

He did not hesitate at the door; he put his hand around the door knob and opened it, softly and cautiously.

The large room was filled with an eerie green mist that was swirling on the floor. It was shifting as though being blown by a wind and there were tiny sparks of light inside of it. At its highest points, the mist reached just above the kitchen surfaces; the lowest point was in the middle, around the old wooden kitchen table which stood like an island in an alien sea.

As DeVille stood at the threshold, the green mist, forest green, lime green, soft spring green, all the greens in the world, very beautiful, very hypnotic ...

DeVille shook himself out of it.

The mist was flowing over the threshold, moving up his legs.

It felt cool and very comforting ...

"What the fuck!" DeVille said out aloud, very loud, to keep himself awake, aware, and took two steps back. He was afraid to close the door; he did not want to hurt the mist.

Hurt the mist ...

That can't be him. Can't be. I've never heard of such a thing. I know they can shape shift, of course they can, but ... what kind of shape is this?

Even as he stood, the mist moved out and flowed further into the hallway.

Rosie Wyatt said in a small voice, "I'm afraid we're losing him. I don't know what to do."

DeVille turned, tried to focus on her. The short woman continued in the same tone of voice, "And Sandra, she's in there. I can't ... get in there to get her out."

DeVille watched the beautiful green mist ... what does that smell of, he wondered, it's such a ... such a calming scent ... a little bit like ... wet trees perhaps ... pine ... or elm ...

"Andrew!!" Rosie's voice was high and scared. "We need to get out of here. You can't stay around this ... it puts you to sleep. We need to get out of here."

DeVille shook his head and rubbed his neck, hard. He looked through the open door and into the kitchen. The volume of mist there had not decreased at all. It is expanding, he thought, it is filling all the spaces it can fill ...

"Yes," he said with an effort, "Yes, we need to get out of here. Quick."

The two made for the front door and slid out just before the green mist could follow them.

DeVille closed the door most carefully behind him and leaned up against it with a heavy sigh.

"What the hell happened here?"

Rosie stood before him, looked up at him. She was white pale and looked clearly shaken. She was wringing her hands.

"He ... was terribly upset that you left. That you took the knife. He shouted at Sandra. And he made a fire. It was ... Then I shouted at him and he ... he just ... dissolved ..."

Rosie's voice broke, the whole woman broke, took a step forward and embraced DeVille, putting her head on his chest.

He was astonished by this and would have moved away; the door behind him precluded flight. So he stood for a moment with both hands held out palms up and to the side; then he sighed and very carefully, cautiously patted the woman on the shoulders.

"Please," he said uncomfortably, "Please, do ... ahm ... Yes. We ... ahm ... let me think. Let me ... ahm ... think."

Rosie knew full well that what he was really saying was, let me go but he was solid, and warm, and the very opposite to swirling green mists that smelled of old forests. So she held on for a while longer, just a couple of extra breaths, then she let him go and stepped back.

"I'm so glad you're here," she said to him, her eyes big and open wide, "I'm just so glad you are here."

DeVille shook his head slightly. He tried to remember when the last time had occurred someone had said that to him.

He could not find such an occasion.

He shook his head again, hard. That was immaterial. There was a dissolved dragon lord in the house behind him, a dragon lord who had lost the ability to keep his shape. There was certainly something very strange about this rising. Something very strange about this individual they had called Rix.

He ... did not match the descriptions, did not match what DeVille had learned in all the studies of the previous risings.

Had something gone fundamentally wrong with this one from the start?

Andrew DeVille could not help but give a little laugh.

That would be perfectly fitting for his life. His whole life was also wrong and had been, right from the start. It would stand to reason that even a rising would not, could not change that ...

He wished for a clearer head. That he wasn't so tired. That he had any kind of answer to this, or even any idea what could be done at all.

If you're a custodian, you will know what to do. That's what they had said. You'll know naturally, it will come to you naturally. Like throwing a dog into a lake. It knows how to swim ...

DeVille took a deep breath.

He stepped forward, turned around, focused beyond the door and towards that which lay behind it.

There's the lake. I'm the dog. What do I have to do to swim?

The answer was there.

It was simple and entirely incontrovertible.

"We need to throw the dog in the lake," he said softly.

Rosie stepped up close beside him and put her hand on his upper arm, then the other, holding on to him.

"What does that mean?" she whispered.

He looked down at her and smiled.

"We have to go inside."

 

8/3 - Lazarus

In his study, a room which had held a library for more than a thousand years, overlooking the Scottish highlands, John Addington VII looked at the screen before him.

He was not surprised that DeVille had gone rogue.

DeVille had always been flagged as unstable, always. Right from his very first assessment at age four.

Fantastic natural talent, terrible temperament.

DeVille's old paper file was enough to reach to the ceiling.

All the corrections that had been attempted.

All the extra attention and assignments.

He was, after all, the son of Jacob DeVille ...

Such great things had been expected of him.

The only real surprise here was that it had not happened a whole lot earlier. Fifty years was not bad by any standards, Addington thought. He is a tough son of a bitch.

Addington did not agree with his field operative that there was a rising.

The fact that DeVille had trussed up his so called personal assistant and left her naked in a hotel room before running off was most likely simply a nervous breakdown which had been waiting to happen for decades; waiting to happen since that bastard was born, Addington reflected.

He shook his head. He could not think of anyone in the entire order who was so globally disliked, hated even, as was DeVille.

The main reason for this was that people were just so jealous of his natural talents.

DeVille was the one and only custodian who had ever achieved an 88 rating on his final tests.

That was thirty points higher than the last high score; and that had been reported around 1675.

They had not told him this, of course not.

DeVille was an arrogant bastard, always had been.

With that level of talent, he should have easily risen to be the head of the order as his father had been before him.

But oh, no ...

As Addington scrolled through the endless lists of reports on DeVille, on and on and on, he was more and more convinced that this was not a Judas Protocol situation at all.

A different protocol would be called.

Lazarus.

Take him down by any means necessary and bring him back.

Dead or alive.

He nodded to himself and placed the order.

 

 

8/4 - Extreme

As Sindy Horten was sitting on her bed, looking down at the pink blanket which a lady from the hotel management had blushingly and very kindly wrapped around her waist, with a sweating, hairy man kneeling behind her, fiddling with the damned handcuffs, she reflected once again that hatred has so many levels, it may be that they could go on forever.

That she could spend an eternity with DeVille in some hell dimension and would never, ever cease to be able to hate him more ...

It was there, too, that she decided an end would have to be put to this.

She had thought that a long, exquisite experience with the interrogators down in the lowest basement level back at the headquarters in London would suffice to pay him back for all he had done to her.

Now, Sindy Horten realised that it just was not enough.

The only way to settle the balance was to kill DeVille.

Then he was no more, and she could return to ...

Living, she thought. Yes, living. He is all I think about. Extreme love, extreme hate ... what's the difference? They're with you always.

Everywhere.

All the time.

Ceaseless.

I dream of him ...

The man behind her wrenched at the cuffs. It hurt but Sindy did not even notice.

Her eyes were firmly fixed on her slim black fashion clutch which sat on a dresser right opposite the bed.

In that bag was a small hand gun.

She would have a nice, slow, long bath in the hot tub.

She would do her hair.

And then she would find DeVille and shoot the fucker dead.

 

 

 

8/5 - Protection

Rosie Wyatt sat on the steps up to the main entrance at Spindlewood and looked out into the quiet, wet day.

She had DeVille's blue coat over her knees, and his wristwatch in her hands.

Rosie very much wished that he had not gone.

She looked at the watch again, turned it so the inscription at the base of the dial could be seen, reflecting differently so it might be revealed.

It read, in simple capital letters, Andrew Jacob DeVille.

That's all. Nothing else.

Rosie thought of Sandra's ring, with the "I will love you forever" engraving.

She touched the letters on the back of the watch, trying to feel them under her fingertips.

Andrew Jacob DeVille, she thought, whatever you are, whoever you are, please, please do something and make this right. I don't understand this, not any of it, but please be right about going in there and letting that green stuff take you away as well.

And please, come back soon.

Sandra's dogs, which were now slowly circling the entire house, came into view behind the garage building. Rosie shook her head.

This was all crazy. Just ... what was that? Two days ago? Three? Everything had been as it had always been. Everything had been ... so very predictable.

You get born. Shit happens. You suffer. Then you get old. Then you die ...

And now?

Now, there was such a thing as an alien. And a secret society which hunted them, even as they purported to be their protectors.

Then, there was DeVille himself.

Rosie sighed again.

When she had first met him, she really did not like him. She had been - yes, repelled by him. But then there had been that moment when she had woken up in the night, had been awoken by his screams and he had been an entirely different person.

What was this, she wondered, was he - projecting something?

Engaging in some kind of fancy dress but it wasn't clothes that made it so?

She had tried to talk him out of going inside and letting himself be taken in the same way as Sandra was.

Then she had tried to convince him she should go too.

"Please," he had said, and his tiredness had washed over her so profoundly, "Please. We need someone to stay outside, to protect us all."

Her heart had gone out to him and it wasn't the logic of his argument that had caused her to say, "Yes, yes I will," but simply her intense desire to help him. To make something better ...

Rosie realised that she felt for him.

The cold from the stones upon which she was sitting transferred more deeply into her spine and made her shiver.

She got up, slowly and with difficulty.

She put the watch into the pocket of her own coat, then hugged DeVille's coat closely to herself and closed her eyes.

Please, come back soon, she thought, I am no protection.

I am ... really, nothing at all.

To her right, Sandra's dogs started to bark.

Rosie looked up to see that there was a taxi drawing into the lay by before the fence.

The back passenger door opened, and a blond woman wearing incredibly tight shiny black trousers and high heeled shoes got out. She had a leopard fur short jacket on and was carrying a small black clutch under her arm.

The blonde woman stared across the gate at Rosie Wyatt, who was still in position, holding DeVille's coat in a tight embrace.

 

9: Island

9/1 - Driftwood

Rix was floating face up and looking at the blue sky above. He was being buoyed and carried, soft rising waves, and his body was soft as well, simply moving with the rise and fall ...

He felt something touching his hair, then his head; this was soft too but insistent.

He turned in the water and found himself in a shallow sea, beautiful warm, sparkling turquoise water all around him, and a white sandy beach ahead.

He had no desire to change his state of being; no desire to rise up and out of the water. It was nice here.

Rix lay back and let the waiting water ripple and drift him for a very long time.

It was peaceful. There was no need to feel anything, to think of anything, to try and be anything other than ...

Driftwood.

When that thought came to him, the peace was shattered; time was broken apart and he was himself again.

Rix sat up on the beautiful beach, rubbed his wet sandy hair, looked down at his own thighs bare and white in the water and said out aloud, "I am driftwood."

He listened to the sound of his voice; it was familiar.

Rix shook his head and got up.

He stood up straight, flexed his shoulders, rotated his head on his neck.

He felt fine.

Very strong, very healthy.

There was no pain anywhere, no discomfort of any kind.

He looked around himself.

To the sea, there was the wide, shallow bay, fantastic shades of green merging into turquoise, then blue and deeper, deeper blue further out. White breakers revealed the presence of a reef at mid horizon.

To the land, there was the wide, white beach. Perfectly pristine, untouched, unwalked. Nothing here to disturb it.

Apart from me, thought Rix, apart from the driftwood.

There were trees and plants ahead; greens of many shades but all greens. It was pleasantly warm and very quiet; only the far away breakers against the reef gave hushes and whispers.

Rix looked to the left, to the right; both ways, the beach curved out of sight and the vegetation followed.

Which way to go?

Did it matter?

Rix looked down at his hands and spread his fingers out wide. Hands need something to do, he thought, they need something to touch, something to hold. I'll find something, something ...

He smiled.

Yes, he would find something to play with.

Which way?

Rix slowly turned on the spot, putting his head back, closing his eyes. He spun very slowly and soon enough, there was a resonance, a calling perhaps - this way.

He stopped, opened his eyes, and set off in that direction, to the right.

Rix walked lightly and easily on the soft sand; it sparkled delightfully in the sunlight. It made him feel light and happy, easy; the pace of walking was too slow. Rix started to skip and then to run along the beach, picking up speed, feeling the breeze in his hair, on his bare skin, just lightly touching the ground with his feet, skimming over the surface of this Earth as though there was no gravity at all.

The beach gently curved towards a land bridge that led to the reef; there were grey rocks rising behind it, and just there, there was something.

Someone.

A woman, sitting on a rounded grey rock that protruded into the beach and into the sea.

Rix nodded and slowed his pace; this is what he had felt.

Did he know her?

There was something familiar about her ...

The woman was sitting on the rock, her knees drawn up and her arms wrapped about them; her hair was long and flowing with the sea breeze. She was wearing no clothes, she was looking out to sea, she did not know that he was here.

Rix halted a few men's lengths before the rounded rock and looked up at her.

He knew her. What was her name?

"Sandra ..." he said in response, "Your name is Sandra."

His soft words were taken by the breeze and so she did not hear him; but as he simply remained where he was and contemplated how and why he knew her, the woman on the rock raised her head, broke her fascination with the sea and slowly turned around.

She unfolded, leaned in his direction, smiled and said, "There you are!"

 

 

9/2 - Garden

DeVille had sat for a short time with the little fat lady on the doorstep. He had wondered about his kindness; then dismissed questioning the fact that he wanted her not to cry.

He had taken his coat off and given it to her so she would stop holding on to him. It had worked; she had wrapped herself around the coat, put her cheek against it and stopped crying.

The final thing which needed to be done was to take off the watch.

He handed it to her and she took it, looked at it.

Rosie Wyatt sniffed and said, "You're left handed."

DeVille shook his head.

"No," he said, "I'm not left handed. But I pretended I was. It was funny. They tried to train me to use my right hand. Tied my left behind my back. It was a fine tussle that lasted for a couple of years until they gave it up for a lost cause and let me write with my left hand instead."

Rosie had stared at him and tried to track what he was saying, but failed to do so. She just nodded.

"I've never told anyone this," DeVille said to her. "You are the only person in the world who knows this now. Keep my secret?"

"Yes," she said. "Yes, of course I will."

DeVille stood up and Rosie followed suit.

"Don't worry," he said and looked down at her from his great height, looking every inch the well to do business man in his dark blue pin striped suit and fine dark red silk tie. "I will be back. We will all be back. It will be alright."

With that, he had given her a small, hesitant touch on the hair, turned and carefully opened the main entrance door, slid inside.

The green mist was radiant, alive.

DeVille breathed in deeply.

That beautiful scent, taste, fresh, old, green, so perfect, so ... untainted ...

All the tiredness went and was replaced by simply wanting now to rest a while, to just lie down right here, just ...

DeVille let himself fold and in so doing, slide beneath the surface of the green weaving strands, the tiny sparking lights, so perfect, the movements of the colours soothing, soothing to his burning, tired eyes ...

With a start, he shocked wide awake.

Brightness. Bright, so bright ...

DeVille narrowed his eyes and sat up.

Around was green, yes, but this was alive, this was ... a forest? A jungle?

He was somewhere.

Sand.

Wind.

Sea scent, sea taste ...

He got up and looked around, tried to find his bearings, yes, this was a tropical island beach, a shallow cove, and it was all perfectly real.

DeVille looked down at himself and brushed sand off his perfect suit.

He shook sand from his shoes and started to listen.

So this was being inside a dragon lord's dream.

He was surprised how real it all was.

DeVille looked at his hand and the small grains of fine white sand which were stuck to it. He put it to his lips; he tasted the sand, salty, and gently crunched it under his teeth.

Extraordinary.

And it was hot here. He could tell he would start to sweat soon.

DeVille took off his suit jacket, then after a short hesitation also his tie. He placed both on the sandy ground beside him, half expecting the items would disappear but they did not.

A very stable habitat, he thought and nodded.

So now, to find the dragon lord at the centre of his creation.

DeVille slowly turned around, listening carefully; at the same time as he felt something, he also heard something - a woman's laugh.

It was coming from the forest, and it was not far away.

DeVille set off in that direction.

At the edge of the beach, small trees grew and bushes; these became denser, older, closer together and more varied as he made his way inland.

Soon, he could hear the sound of voices; a man and a woman talking, laughing.

He could not see them yet but he could feel them; and if he shifted his point of view just a little, then he could tell the radiance of their existence also that was unmistakable and nothing like the soft hum of the vegetation, or the little sparks of other small existences.

As DeVille brushed his way through leaves and vines, the voices went quiet; he slowed and became more quiet in turn.

By the time DeVille arrived at the edge of a clearing where fine soft grass was growing, flowers too, he was moving with great stealth, and so it was that the two did not notice his arrival, altogether focused on each other, as they were.

Andrew DeVille stood quietly and saw ...

Adam and Eve, he thought.

This is Adam and Eve, primal existence, in the original garden of Eden, that's what this is and that is what they're doing.

Rix and Sandra were engaged in a mating dance as if they were the tall birds that will flock to the old lakes when autumn comes; they were moving to and with each other, weaving, full focus, creating movements of the moment, learning, asking questions in fleeting touches, receiving the answers and building upon these.

DeVille observed the man Rix bowing his head and lightly brushing the woman's breasts with his cheek, with his hair; she was turning into the contact and adding a small touch of her own, on his bare shoulder. He responded to this by moving closer and touching his hip to hers; and so they danced.

DeVille watched in fascination and with an ever growing sense of loss and sadness for his own condition; for the beauty of it and for the not ever having experienced a thing such as this; for the rightness of it and the wrongness of all he was and always had been ...

This became so intense that he grew afraid they would notice and he would succeed in destroying their moment too; this was so painful a notion that he broke, turned and ran, fast, far away, get away, stay away, you have no place in beauty, or in love.

DeVille found himself breathless and shaking from head to foot back on the beach, where he sat down, looked out to sea, looked out to the white breakers far out in the bay, and it was here that he remembered he had brought the knife.

Perhaps here was the right place to put an end to it finally, he thought. There is nothing I can do for him. There's nothing I can do right. I can't do anything right. He'll find another custodian, something will happen, it doesn't matter.

The world will go on and it'll be the better for it if I'm finally out of it and wherever I belong.

I hope they have room in hell for me ...

DeVille got up and was aware that behind his back, in the jungle, the radiance was rising. The dance was intensifying. He shook his head, determined to ignore it and made his way down the beach to where his jacket lay.

Such an incongruent object, a bad shadow on the white sand ...

As he walked, DeVille could not help but notice the radiance taking on a wave form now, there was a pulsation to it, an ebb and flow developing, concentric rings of power, and they were coming closer together, growing stronger, getting faster ...

They were beginning to move DeVille too.

He reached the jacket with the tie on top.

He picked it up.

The obsidian knife was in the inside pocket, wrapped in a single sheet of turquoise silk, a scarf that had the scent of a woman upon it.

DeVille recognised it as belonging to the woman Sandra, the one who was just there, over his shoulder, getting ready to ...

He shook his head.

What were they doing?

Could you call it fucking?

Making love?

What a preposterous term ...

DeVille tried to shut it out but the waves were getting stronger, faster, more urgent and they were taking on a different kind of power; not exactly aggression but ... just power ... power building ...

He tried to focus and unwrapped the knife.

It was electric in his hand, shimmering, vibrating.

It was responding to the pulses, rippling in response.

It was so ... alive ...

Even as he thought it, the next wave hit and it rocked DeVille; the knife leaped in his hand and slithered away, he tried to catch it but it had become as liquid. He could not hold on to it.

The next wave hit and caused DeVille to stagger this time; as it flashed over and across the thing that was no knife now, but was growing bigger, the wave rippled it, nourished it and made it grow ...

Fucking hell, thought DeVille, what is this ... I have brought the serpent into the garden of Eden ...

Crashing, the next wave rushed him off his feet and he fell; he tried to rise, get on his hands and knees but the next wave threw him bodily forward, towards the sea; the black blue creature that was writhing and twisting before him likewise was buffeted and thrown forward, and the next wave hit, harder this time, brutal, there was no time to even take a breath before the final wave arrived, and that was not a wave but a tsunami, a huge explosion ...

Just before DeVille lost consciousness, he saw the blue black thing, the creature which had been the knife, unfold, uncurl, draw the power of the explosion inside itself and rise, a blue black shiny dragon ...

 

 

9/3 - Dragon

Rix woke up slowly and deliciously.

There were too many sensations to be able to know or number; but each one was a small, soft delight in its own way. All together, they created a symphony that was soaring and raised him.

Scents, here and now; remembered. Touch ... He opened his eyes to look upon a landscape that was beautiful and new; it was the face of his lover.

She was asleep still, her long lashes lying on her fair cheeks, her eyes moving beneath the closed lids, dreaming ...

He lay and watched her breathe for a long time, matching her breath and tuning into any movement, no matter how minute; watching her lips, watching the rise and fall of her collarbones, her soft, rounded shoulder.

He felt very calm and aware that far away, there were thoughts gathering as so many storm clouds at the edge of a perfect summer's day. They would arrive in due course, and that was, as it was; for now, it was summer.

For now, the sun was shining on both of them and what they had done.

But by the Gods, Rix thought, I bet they heard us all across the Universe ...

He laughed to himself and thus, the moment was over.

With this, of course, a new moment was coming into being.

He looked down at the naked sleeping woman who was lying so open and vulnerable, on her back, her arms loosely by her side, one leg angled at the knee, in the soft green grass that was strewn with tiny little flowers, little stars of many colours.

Her hair was spread about her; she was a mermaid in an ocean green.

Rix smiled again for this thought produced a resonance; this was something he knew and he knew it well.

For now, the question was which part of her to choose to kiss her awake.

His attention wandered; from her lips to her breasts, to her smooth belly, to her white thighs.

He sighed.

So many choices ...

Just to sit here and enjoy these choices for a while was a ... something in its own right.

What might it be?

Rix was surprised that the hushed whisper which answered this question was, "A blessing ..."

That was a nice idea, Rix thought, yes, I think I need a blessing ... perhaps more than one ...

So he sat for a while longer and found more potential, more possibilities; more places as the lady was covered literally head to toe in this extraordinary skin, and all of it was radiant and alive, and all of it was awaiting his kiss.

It became enlivening, then exciting; then the sensations he was experiencing turned to heat, and pressure; not long now, and he would be in pain.

Delicious ...

Bowing in submission, Rix bent and let his hungry lips fasten to her breast; drawing it into his hungry mouth strongly and letting his hungry tongue stroke it, red hot ...

The fair lady beneath him rose from her sleep at the same time as she drew in a deep breath, arched her back and brought her arms about his head, drawing him to her strongly, holding him in a tight embrace.

I was your lover, Rix thought and let himself be taken by the sensation, and now, I am your child.

Nourish me.

Heal me.

Hold me.

This is the only safe place in all the worlds, in all the times spent ...

From above, high above in the sky, a cry startled them both.

They looked up to see a winged shape above them, deep dark blue, so dark it nearly seemed black, but it was reflecting light, it was shiny and beautiful, hypnotic as it flew above them and drew spirals in the sky, slow spirals, descending, descending ...

Sandra tightened her hold of the man in her arms, at her breast, reflexively.

"What is this?" she whispered.

Rix released the hold he had on her with his mouth and laid his head right back. A slow, great smile began to spread over his face as he whispered back, "This is ... me ..."

The lady held him tighter still and said urgently, "No, that's not you. You are right here, with me. Can't you feel it? Don't you know that?"

Rix did not respond to this; his eyes never left the flying shape above, circling slowly, coming in to land. He moved and for a moment, she tried to hold on to him but then, she let him go.

Rix got up and stretched both arms up high, high and wide; in response, the creature in the sky screamed, a fanfare call that made the fine grass tremble.

It came closer; lower, and as it did, its sheer size was being revealed. The huge, shiny wings easily spanned the entire clearing; the sweeping long neck was towering and its head and body huge. The creature's long, slender tail followed in its wake, swishing the air and now touching, here and there, the very tops of the tallest trees.

With grace and elegance, the blue black dragon landed before Rix and bowed its great head to him.

He stood quite still and received its devotion as his right; when it raised its head and looked at him with crystalline eyes, Rix smiled and moved forward to touch it, to love it.

The creature was water smooth, glass silk and cool to the touch; this was no skin, it was ... of course, Rix smiled to himself, just light, a little denser than is usual, but oh, it's so beautiful and right, what else would you be, my love?

Behind him, the woman slowly rose to her feet. She wrapped her arms about herself protectively and took a hesitant small step closer.

The dragon moved its head and gazed at her.

Rix, who was standing with one hand on the dragon's smooth neck, did not turn around; he could see what the creature was seeing.

It was an interesting point of view and really, quite familiar.

The woman was a fountain folding bright; so many river runs of light and trails of stars, moving and shifting, breathing out fields of radiant mist, and she was wearing a crown of lights.

"Beautiful," Rix whispered and sighed with pleasure.

He disengaged and turned around to see the woman with his eyes of day; she was clearly scared and confused.

"Come and say hello," he said to her with a smile but did not stop touching his dragon, stroking it lightly and gently, loving it with his touch but drawing love from it at the same time, letting it flow into his body, strengthening him and making him more alive, so much more alive, so much more powerful ...

The scared woman took another step closer; the dragon raised its head sharply and she shot back in fear.

Rix laughed out aloud.

"Now, now," he said to the dragon and gave it a little pat on the neck, "Don't you play your games with her. She is a friend."

The dragon wove its neck in response and stretched it towards Sandra.

"He won't hurt you," Rix told the woman. "He won't bite you." Rix laughed out aloud at that and added, "Well ..." but then curtailed the rest of that sentence.

The dragon's huge head was now on a level with Sandra's body and it seemed to be scenting her. A ripple went through it that transmitted like waves on a still, moonlit pond.

"It can smell your fear," Rix said, a clear note of amusement in his voice, "It thinks that makes you smell tasty."

The woman glanced towards Rix in alarm.

He shook his head, laughed out aloud and went to stand by her side, putting his arm about her, drawing her into himself. The dragon raised his head up high, higher, really stretching the huge neck up long, skywards, then raising its body too. It gave a loud scream and the woman threw her arms around Rix and held on to him, hiding her face on his shoulder.

"You know," Rix said conversationally, "The first time I ever saw one of these, I was amazed as well. It was white. It was my lover's, also. It was so beautiful ..."

The woman in his arms shook her head against his chest and said nothing.

"Come on," Rix said to her and gave her a little lift, just enough to raise her up on tip toes, "Come on now. Love me, love my dragon." He laughed out aloud at this again and spun her around on the spot.

The dragon watched from its great height and tracked their movements with its head.

Sandra Delhany, widow, dog owner and freelance editor, resident of Stairwick, United Kingdom, sighed deeply.

Then she nodded, took another deep breath to steady herself and stood up straight within the confines of his embrace.

She sought and found his eyes. They were green here, green as emeralds.

I have no idea who or what you are, she thought. I don't even know if I love you. I can't even begin to think about ... that ... whatever that was we did there ... did here ..

But I did swear that I would protect you.

You and your dragon.

"Alright," she said. "Alright. Tell me what I have to do."

Rix looked at her and sighed.

"What you have to do?" he asked her, "You don't have to do ... anything. Just ... don't be afraid of ... him. Of me."

"I am not afraid of you," Sandra said sincerely. She became aware of his warm skin beneath her hands and for a moment, there was no great black dragon at all looking down at her with its crazy huge spiralling eyes. She leaned her forehead up to Rix's lips to be kissed. He complied and drew her closer into his embrace.

"That's good," he said softly into her hair. "And that's all there is, really. If you are not afraid, then there is so much we can do ..."

Sandra smiled, then startled as the huge creature flexed its wings and produced an instant shock of cool air that made her goose bump all over.

She looked over her shoulder at the impossible being.

"What ... what do you do with it?" she wondered, "Do you ride on it?"

Rix laughed. "Ride on it?" He chuckled more and shook his head, turning Sandra out of his embrace and making her face the dragon. He moved closely behind her and put his arms around her. His body was very hot and it was very distracting, feeling him there and yet seeing the creature before her, and it was looking directly at her again, really taking an interest ...

"That is me," said Rix into her right ear, "That is me. Do you understand?"

Sandra stared up at the smooth creature who was weaving its head on its long neck, flexing its wings again. The tip of its tail had started to move, small swishing movements, producing swishing sounds as it contacted with low bushes and shrubs that grew at the edge of the clearing.

"No," she said, "I don't understand. You are you. That is ... there, it's that, how can it be you?"

Rix let go of her and stepped away. Her back felt forsaken, vulnerable all of a sudden.

"I'm not sure," he said and looked up at the dragon. "I ... don't know. I've never ... " He shook his head and rubbed his hair. "You are right. There's something wrong about this. I should not be ..."

The dragon raised itself high, raised its wings high, nearly touching the wing tips together at the top, and with a powerful gathering that shook the ground, launched itself straight up and into the air. The beating of its wings was such that Sandra staggered and would have fallen if Rix had not caught her in time.

The dragon screamed and banked sharply, gaining height fast with every down stroke of its massive, smooth wings.

Rix, with his head right back and his hand up to shelter his eyes against the bright sky, said, "It wants us to follow. It wants to show us something."

He held out his hand to Sandra who took it without reservation.

"I wish I ... was more," he said to her sincerely. "I wish I knew ... more. But," he took a deep sigh and raised Sandra's hand to his lips, "If you ... come with me, stay with me, I think we can make a ... we can ... we can make something right."

He kissed her hand and Sandra had no choice, no choice at all. We have to try, she thought, I have to try.

"Let's follow the dragon," she said and did her best to smile at him.

 

 

9/4 - Nothing

Sindy Horten, the small silver gun in her hand, was screaming at the top of her voice to get above the hysterical barking of the dogs at the gate, "Get rid of these fucking things or I'll shoot them, so help me God!"

Rosie Wyatt, who had never in her life even seen a real hand gun, never mind being at the barrel end of one, an experience quite unlike anything she had known before, dropped DeVille's coat on the drive and ran to try and control Sandra's dogs.

There were three and they were not taking any notice of her at all.

It took two trips to drag them physically into the garage and lock them in; this muffled their frantic barking which was turning to howls and screams only marginally.

"Now open the fucking gate and take me to DeVille," Ms Horten shouted across and Rosie did not know what else to do but to comply.

To undo the latch on the gate, Rosie had to move closer to the blond woman in the leopard fur jacket, and her gun. Rosie's hands were trembling hard; the woman noticed and took a small step back, balancing precariously on her super high heels in the mud and pebbles of the lay by.

Rosie noted this from the corner of her eye. She might fall over, the shorter, older woman thought, I might be able to get that gun off her ...

"I ... don't know who you are or what you want ..." Rosie said as she struggled to raise the heavy gate and pull it so the tall blonde woman could step inside, "I don't have any money ..."

"Oh shut up." Sindy Horten had no patience left and what good humour she once may have possessed had become seriously eroded during her year and a half in DeVille's service. "That's his coat you were holding. I know he's here. Take me to him. Now."

Sindy observed the fat old woman's eyes flashing towards the house, towards the main entrance. DeVille had to be in there. But why wasn't he coming out? He must know she was here.

The dogs in the garage were howling in unison now, long, drawn out wails that undoubtedly could be heard for miles.

Rosie Wyatt stood staring into the gun and shook her head.

"I don't know what you want ..."

Sindy Horten struck her hard across the face.

The cold metal cracked her nose, ripped open a gash in Rosie's skin and she staggered backwards, blood pouring from her nose, blood running from the cut across her cheek.

She went to her knees.

"I'll find him myself," said Sindy Horten and stalked past.

Rosie watched her high heels go and thought, I'm nothing ... I knew it ... as her blood flowed warm and unabating over and through her hands before her face.

She tried to get to her feet, struggled to get upright, get after that woman, stop her somehow ... Her head hurt so bad ... the dogs were screaming now, I've never heard anything like that ... I'm going to faint ... what is that sound ...?

Rosie tried to look up but lost consciousness just before she might have seen the helicopter which was hovering over Spindlewood.

 

 

 

9/5 - Lost

DeVille lay on his back on the sand and stared up into the sky.

He was crying again; whether this was because he would not close his eyes against the brightness for fear of not being able to see that which was slowly circling above him, or whether it was because his life's dream and only wish, only hope had been fulfilled, he could not say.

As he tracked the dragon drawing its spirals, his miserable life unfolded at the same time. He had always hated the order, always. Yet from as far back as he could ever remember he had also known he could never leave it, never really break away from it.

The order was the only path, the only hope to ever meet a dragon ...

One night, a very small, frightened child had awoken in a nightmare.

The sprawling old mansion had been very quiet, very dark.

The child had tried to find someone and crept out of his room, even though this was forbidden by pain of punishment, crept down the old dark wooden stairs, getting more and more afraid, wanting someone to find him.

And becoming more and more afraid that someone would.

The child had seen light and was drawn to this.

The child had been very cold by then, feet so cold he could not feel them any longer.

He had been shaking by the time he crept small and quiet as a mouse into the room, keeping to the shadows, keeping to the walls.

On a low table before the fire which was the only illumination in the room, there lay a book. It was a big old book, pages as big and wide as the child's reach, thick old paper.

The book was open and that was the first time the child had seen a dragon.

The child knelt before the table and placed both his cold, trembling hands on the book. On the drawing of a beautiful, smooth dragon which seemed to flow on the page, seemed to want to flow off the page ...

The instant the child's hands made contact with the drawing, a hot fire flashed through him; all the fear was gone. All the cold was gone. All the loneliness went away and the child knew he had found salvation.

He was found in the morning, asleep on the book, on the priceless book that was three thousand years old, and although the beating that resulted was enough to break his ribs and his jaw, it was all too late.

From that night and for all the days and nights that followed, Andrew Jacob DeVille had only one single hope. One single love. One thing that overrode it all.

Now, there it was.

He was here, and there was a dragon.

He was here to see it, and his father was not.

None of them were.

Only he.

For the briefest moment, Andrew wondered whether it was his childish faith which had rewarded him thus but he let it go.

None of that mattered now.

Nothing of the past mattered any longer.

It was all ... redeemed.

A shadow fell on him and then there was a man's face - no, get away, don't get in the way, I ...

Arms embraced him, lifted him.

"My custodian," he heard the man say and Andrew remembered that this was not a man. He was a dragon lord.

But how could he be here?

If he was here, then what was that in the sky?

DeVille pointed.

The arms around him tightened their embrace.

"Beautiful, isn't he ..." the dragon lord said softly.

Beautiful, yes, but so much more, thought DeVille, so much more ... You don't even know yourself how much more ...

This made him be able to turn his head, just for a moment, to glance at the man they had called Rix.

Not a man, DeVille reminded himself. I have to learn to think differently now. He's not a man. Don't let appearances fool you ...

Another disturbance, another person. DeVille was disconcerted for a moment that the woman Sandra, unclothed, breathing heavily and glistening with sweat, breasts heaving, had arrived and was kneeling by his side also now.

He looked to the sky again, finding intense relief and re-assurance that the dragon was still there, still circling above him, high above.

DeVille cautiously moved out and away from the embracing arms and sat up on the sand.

Rix, who had let him go with a lingering touch of regret, was smiling brightly at DeVille.

"I am so glad you came," he said, and that was the second time this sentiment had been expressed to DeVille in ... how long had it been?

How does time move here in relation to ... the other world?

Where we are ...

DeVille said carefully, "Do you know where we are?"

Rix, who had been kneeling, sat back into the sand also, stretching his legs before him and wriggling his toes. DeVille raised his eyes to the safety of the dragon in the skies once more.

"No," said Rix and shook his head, "But I like it here. It's warm and I finally got to have my lady." He smiled at the woman who blushed and looked down at her own hands. He added, "And my dragon is here. That's wonderful."

DeVille nodded and said in the same careful tone of voice, "I don't think we can stay here. It is ... a dream.

"Your dream."

Rix put his head to the side, looked at DeVille, looked around himself.

"I don't think so," he said. "I've never been here before. I got washed up on the shore. I think this is an island."

Sandra said softly, "It is my dream."

Both men looked at her; Rix nodded and smiled happily and DeVille stared at her.

"Your dream?" he asked incredulously.

She shrugged her bare shoulders. "When I first arrived here, I was alone for some time. I recognised the place. It's the island from Lost."

"Lost?" DeVille was confused.

"Yes," said Sandra, "It was a show on TV I used to love watching. About people stranded on this strange island." She laughed. "When I first arrived here, the crashed plane was on the beach. I made it disappear."

DeVille was staring at the woman as though he could not believe what he was hearing. "This is ... your dream? But ... how ..."

Sandra shrugged again. "I don't know. But I made the cove and the reef. Those were from a movie about a man who got stuck on a different island, I always really liked those."

DeVille shook his head. "Alright, if this is your dream, then put some clothes on."

Sandra looked down at herself, blushed and with a ripple, a sun dress appeared on her, white, with yellow flowers and light green leaves, small straps holding it up.

"Bloody hell," said DeVille softly and Rix clapped his hands and smiled. "I like this!" he cried, "You can do magic!"

Sandra smiled back at him and a shimmer went across Rix. White linen pants and a white shirt, open, appeared on him. He laughed in delight and stroked the clothing.

DeVille got up with care. He looked up at the dragon in the sky, brushed some sand off his shirt and said, "I do not understand this. There is something not quite right here. We should be in ... his dream. Not yours. And if he's here, then who is that?"

Rix got up too and went to stand next to DeVille, joining him in the watching of the circling dragon, high, high above.

"That's what I can't understand," Rix said, shaking his head. "I ... that's ... me. I know it is ..."

Sandra got up too and came to stand with them. Softly, she said, "So ... they don't own dragons ... they ... are dragons?"

"Yes," said DeVille, glancing at her for a moment. He admitted that he might have severely underestimated the importance of this woman in the greater scheme of things. She had created a habitat for him to be ... washed up upon?

He turned to Rix.

"What do you remember?" he asked. "What ... do you need to do? Why are you here?"

Rix, who had been relaxed and friendly, went still and narrowed his eyes.

Sandra stepped up and put a hand on his arm. To DeVille, she said, "Don't ask him directly. He doesn't know. And if you keep pushing, he has a fit. And you know that. The last time I thought he was going to die ..."

DeVille said, "He can't die," succinctly and authoritatively. He sighed and added, "But we can certainly lose him and that is not what any of us want."

Sandra looked into his bright eyes and both nodded at the same time.

DeVille turned to Rix and said, "Can you call your dragon? Can you ... bring it closer? I ..." he cleared his throat, "I always wanted to meet a dragon ..."

At this, Rix relaxed and smiled again. He nodded. "Yes, yes I can," he said and raised his hand. Above, the dragon screamed its fanfare call and immediately went into a sharp dive, hurtling straight down towards them at tremendous speed, growing larger, fast, at its approach.

Both DeVille and Sandra moved closer to Rix who stood, head thrown back, one arm up as though he was a lightning conductor, and then both held on to him, held their breath as the dragon did not slow, did not bank but simply descended at rushing speed, its huge black body entirely obliterating the blue sky above ...

 

 

9/6 - Something

Sindy could feel the thud-thud-thud of the helicopter above her, the powerful pressure of the down draft buffeting her. She could hear the crazy screaming of those fucking dogs in the outbuilding.

Most of all, she could feel something else.

And she could see something ...

There was a green glow coming from the small windows set either side of the entrance door to the building, and there were tiny wisps of a green gas escaping around the old wooden window frames, sliding out from under the door ...

Sindy Horten staggered and put her free hand to her stomach. She felt something ...

I feel something, she repeated the thought in her head and it stilled everything else around her, slowed down time, drew out everything in a hushed whisper around her.

Sindy Horten, whose name was not Sindy Horten, had shown talent as a child but the older she got, the further it went away and by the time puberty had struck, there was none left.

All the paths in the order had become closed to her, like so many doors slamming in her face, and only one had remained.

To become an outcast, a special operative, a spy, an investigator. That's where the likes of her would wash up, forever in the shadows, never able to aspire to even the lowest of ranks.

Yet Sindy remembered what it had been like to feel the artefacts in her body, to have that certainty, that excitement which only the objects of truth could bring.

As she stood and tried to retain her balance on her high heels, in her medusa hair, it all came back in a rush.

She stared at the door.

It was a rising.

This really was a rising.

And she was the first on the scene.

The history books would record her name.

Her real name.

Meghan Storm.

She slowly lowered the gun and turned around to face the black helicopter which bore the dragon sign of the order in gold on the doors.

A slow smile spread over her face as she raised it into the whipping wind.

Meghan Storm was in charge of the rising.

 

 

9/7 - Alert

All over the world, telephones started to ring, buzz, hum and sing.

All over the world, consoles that had lain dormant for decades sprang into life.

All over the world, priority email messages flashed, pinged and sparked.

Men and women of all ages, in castles and in hovels, in penthouse flats and river boats, cool churches and farmland cottages received the message, received the call.

 

DRAGON RISING

 

10: Turning Point

10/1 - Securer

Meghan Storm, previously known as Sindy Horten, stood with her back to the door behind which mysterious things had to be happening.

She still held her gun and her feet hurt so much by now that she had to focus on the excruciating back pain to try and blot it out.

It was getting very cold now; the sun had gone down which highlighted the lights that were everywhere now.

Lights from cars, lights from helicopters.

She was awaiting the arrival of the first securer from Scotland.

Until Addington got here, she was in charge.

Meghan tried to breathe as little as possible as every movement made her physical condition worse; she now very much wished she had worn different shoes when she had left the hotel in order to shoot DeVille.

She reflected wryly that her decision to wear the shoes he always made her wear for his stupid sex games had come back to haunt her.

Before her stood the extraction team Addington had sent, fanned outwards in a circle, all six of them, their machine guns at the ready.

And before those, the members of the order.

More and more came drifting in silently from where they had ditched their transports in the fields which lay around this house, and they stood in the gathering darkness, inching forward, pressing forward.

Every so often, one would break and try to run for the house. The extraction team would handle those.

Meghan wished for more lights, and most of all, for reinforcements. The darker it became and the more of them assembled, the more tenuous her situation here was becoming ...

The darker it became, the more the green glow from the windows of the house was becoming apparent.

More helicopters.

Bright lights in the sky, yes, at last. That must be Addington at last with the other securers.

Meghan Storm closed her eyes for a moment and concentrated on shifting her position minutely. It afforded no relief. She smiled because above and beyond all of this, there was that sense ... the feeling of truth, behind her, like a powerful waterfall, shoring her up, growing stronger all the while. She reflected that the worse she felt, the greater the support from the rising behind her had become, and this was the only reason she was still standing upright, her legs slightly apart, the gun held in the double handed grip, pointing to the floor before her, but ready to be deployed if the necessity should arise.

She was thinking of DeVille.

He was inside, in there with a dragon lord. She nearly shook her head but curtailed the movement; she had thought this a million times now, and every time, she could not understand how she had not known, how he had ...

Yes, he had bettered her.

She had not known when she picked him up from that house that he had met a dragon lord and had turned Judas. He had managed to conceal this from her. Meghan found this unbelievable; what she found even more unbelievable was that instead of making her hate DeVille even more, it was causing her to ... give him some credit. Meghan grimaced again. She did not like the fact that she was fairly certain now that she would not kill him at the first opportunity that presented itself.

It would be counterproductive.

To the rising, to her place in history.

She could not see it from here but she could hear the helicopters landing. There were many; Addington must have brought everyone, she thought.

The jammed lines of cars, trucks and vehicles, also just lights in the darkness, left and right, disappearing into the distance either way, were now at a complete standstill.

Finally, there was a movement in the ring of the silent assembly.

Addington, at the head of his column of black clad securers, was pushing through.

Thank God, thought Meghan. Thank God for that. Bad enough as this is, by tomorrow, it's going to be a circus.

 

 

10/2 - High

High above the Atlantic ocean, under the light of a bright white full moon, Catherine Goodeheart, the head of the order of dragons, was staring at the images on the screen before her.

Transmitted live from a nexus in England, she could clearly see a small old farm house with green glowing windows, so bright in the darkness that it threw huge haloes over the recording and nearly obliterated the female securer on the door step completely.

Again, she wiped her hands with the linen napkin. She was sweating and trembling from head to foot. She could not stop herself.

"Re-fill," she snapped at the cabin steward, a pretty dark haired young man she had chosen from the selection presented to her a year ago after her last one had been moved on to pastures new. Young Mark ran to it and procured more brandy for the lady.

As he carefully re-filled her glass, allowing for the small pulses and movements of the jet, he wondered if the lady would be requiring additional services soon. He had never seen her like this.

Lady Goodeheart was normally so very controlled, such a refined lady ...

He put the bottle away, aware that it cost more than he earned in a month in this his dream job, and hurried back to the lady.

She is so tense, he thought lovingly, this mission is so different from all the others. Wonder what it's about ...

He had glanced at the screen repeatedly but it kept showing the same thing. Some kind of Halloween party? Is she meeting someone special there perhaps?

Mark presented the glass and just for a moment, the immaculate middle aged woman with the stunning red hair turned away from the screen and looked at him.

Mark found himself caught in her amazing grey eyes yet again. I would do anything for you, he thought and hoped that she would hear him, that she would understand him.

That she would ... see him ...

She took the drink and returned immediately to staring at the screen, moving forward towards it, clearly wanting to slide through the screen and be there, not here.

Mark sighed. He hesitated for a moment longer, then he turned away, returned to his seat at the front end of the cabin, to await the next time she would call for him.

 

 

10/3 - Truth

Meghan Storm finished her transformation from sex kitten to securer by fastening the knee guard to her left leg. She sighed with pleasure as she straightened and found steadiness and a sense of self, regained, in standing up straight in the black uniform with the thick soled boots. Hair tied up in a tight pony tail and with the black cap on her head, she picked up her weapons.

Now the night can come all it wants, she thought, now I'm ready for anything.

She climbed from the helicopter and made her way back to the farm house, past the flattened fence, which was now bathed in bright lights from the portable generators.

Apart from the sounds of the cars on the road and more helicopters coming in to land, it was actually remarkably quiet. There were no voices to be heard.

The members of the order were standing and drifting as before; more and more were adding to their number. They stood staring at the house which now looked not quite as strange as it had done; the bright lights had obliterated the green glow from the windows.

The other securers were very quiet also, whispering into their radios rather than talking out aloud.

Addington was on the doorstep and as Meghan approached, in steady, ranging strides, she could not help but think he was a priest preparing an altar.

She took the three steps and joined him before the old wooden door where every scratch and drip of varnish was mercilessly highlighted on this night of nights.

The thin, intense man in civilian suit and coat gave her a look and Meghan Storm immediately went on her guard. He was not friendly; he was not at all pleased to see her.

She smiled brightly in return.

There was absolutely nothing her boss could do now. It was her name in the history books, her image above the articles and chapters. She had been the first to the scene. Lowly Meghan Storm. Not the great John Addington The Seventh.

She could not help herself. Her smile widened even more; Addington would have spat at her if he had not been in full view of what must have been at least a thousand other members of the order by now.

Addington. DeVille. Meghan Storm was bathing in the bright lights and felt elated. Yes, she thought, yes! I knew I would show you all one day ... I knew that I would get to dance on your graves, you fuckers ...

A movement behind the windows caught her attention and with it, the sensation she had felt when she had arrived returned also.

Meghan shook her head.

How can everything change so much in such a short time?

Just yesterday, no, probably today still, this morning ... she had been lying on the floor, banging her head against the door of the hotel room in rhythmic pulses, until finally a maid had unlocked the door and found her there.

From supreme humiliation to ... immortality.

From pain to joy.

And from being a hopeless failure, a useless tool to shovel up the shit that nobody else wanted to touch, to have the sensations back.

The sense of truth.

Meghan stared at the house, and from her very centre arose something she was not recognising. It was a hot, heavy pressure that moved up her chest, into her throat, and there, it released and all she could say was, "Thank you ..."

Securer Third Class Storm bit her lip as tears sprang into her eyes.

For the very first time, she began to understand what a rising was, what it meant.

What it could mean for her.

She tried to think, tried to figure it out, but all that came to her, over and over again, was simply, "Thank you.

"Thank you.

"Thank you."

 

 

10/4 - Unity

"Thank you ..." was the very last thought Andrew DeVille had before the dragon collided with him.

"Oh how I wish Rosie was here ..." was Sandra Delhany's final thought.

And Rix thought nothing at all.

He let himself dissolve in the dragon's whirling eyes, let the sheer beauty and breath taking complexity of the colours, patterns, shapes and flashes wash him away from himself, rush through him, restore him and re-unite him all the same.

As the dragon made of light entered into him, so he rose to it at the same time; and finally, finally that which had been broken for so long it might as well have been forever found its rightful place in time and space.

White birds where there had been the bleached bones of ancient driftwood.

Soaring mountains rising from the deep sea.

A flowering of the elder deserts.

Fountains rising, high and wide, sparking life, sparkling diamond bright.

My world.

My time.

My life.

Around the creature which was, once more and at long last, more than the sum of his parts, Sandra Delhany's fantasy island began to disintegrate, a vortex rushing of white and blue and green, drawing ever more power and precision into its very centre, into he who held it all, who remembered it all.

My mission, Rix thought lovingly, holding and enfolding the other two beneath his radiant wings, my mission and my friends ...

 

10/5 - Triumph

High above and far away, a great white dragon roared his joy and all the others gathered around him.

They too were filled with joy; the time was made right.

The child had triumphed.

Now, all would be well.

In delight, the dragons danced.

 

 

 

11: Spiral

11/1 - Bright

Sandra awoke and found herself lying on the flagstone floor of her kitchen.

It was ... very bright.

What a strange light, she thought, that's not ... morning ... or day ...

The strange light was streaming in through the windows, creating sharply defined moon beams, casting deep black shadows.

Sandra tried to move and found her body to be very stiff, cold, unresponsive.

Then she became aware of the sound.

Sandra stopped in mid movement and listened.

She had never heard anything like it; it was an eerie wailing, like an ocean of wailing and moaning, coming together in the strangest harmony.

Sandra turned herself carefully; as she did, she caught sight of a movement across and out in the hallway.

Andrew was likewise rising there.

But where was ...?

Sandra sat up with a start and brought her feet underneath her, stood up and braced herself against the wooden table.

The light pouring in through the window totally blinded her and she had to turn her head away.

What is this?

DeVille staggered, held himself up against the door frame.

"They're here," he said, his voice rough. "They are all here. I can feel them."

Sandra shook her head. The moaning sound that ebbed and crested made her nauseous. "What is this?" she whispered and put her hand to her head. "And where ... is he? Where is he?" Her voice rose strongly on the second repetition of that question.

DeVille, still holding on to the door frame, raised his head. He looked up and around, then nodded.

"He is here," he said and the moment he said it, Sandra could feel it too.

Rix was here in the house. Upstairs.

Thank God ...

Sandra let herself sink into the first chair and put her head on the table.

Drawing her hands over her head, she tried to find shelter from the incessant light, but the sounds did not stop.

"What are those sounds?" she asked, muffled but DeVille heard her. She could sense him too, so strongly. She could feel perfectly that he was coming closer and knew he was taking a seat on a chair directly opposite her.

I'm so glad you're here, she thought, I don't know what I would do without you ...

As in response, she felt a hesitant touch on the back of her hand. She allowed it to rise away from her own head and find the other.

They clasped hands strongly.

Sandra sighed, sat up and gave her other hand to DeVille too.

He took it across the table, and then both looked up and at the same time, looked into each other's eyes.

Don't be afraid. DeVille had not said a word.

I am ... not afraid. Just ... confused. And ... so very sad ...

DeVille nodded.

He is different now.

My Rix has gone ...

There was never such a person. DeVille was gentle and softly increased the pressure in his hands. Sandra sighed and accepted the stabilisation.

What happens next?

DeVille smiled. He will let us know.

What are those sounds outside? What is this light?

Here, Sandra received an impression of search lights, trained on a target, great, round, bright white lights, powered by portable generators ... and another one, a vision of many people, crying ...

With a shock, Sandra pulled her hands back and stared at DeVille.

"There are ... many people outside? And they are .. crying?"

DeVille looked down at his now empty hands on the table. Out aloud, he responded, "They can feel him. And the better they can feel him, the more it hurts." He smiled in the remembrance. "I was on my knees when he came close to me for the first time. I thought I was going to die ..."

"Who are those people?" Sandra whispered. She drew herself into herself, wrapping her hands around her own shoulders.

DeVille briefly looked towards the kitchen window, flinched into the light and turned away.

"On one level, they are all members of the order," he said softly and his voice seemed to have found a rhythm in the wailing outside, which he was matching perfectly.

"But on another level, they are ... all people, human beings, who can ... feel things."

Sandra found herself nodding even though she did not understand. She too could feel things. She was about to respond to DeVille when the wailing outside crested; at the same time, that sense with which she felt things too told her unmistakably that Rix was approaching.

She could feel him descending and closing in; it was a sensation like no other and it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

Then it sent shivers down her spine, and by the time Rix, bathed in the blinding lights from the windows, stepped into the kitchen, she felt so electric, she could no longer sit and had to stand up.

Rix was wearing her dead husband's favourite grey suit trousers and a white shirt; Sandra just stared at him, felt as she had never felt before in her life.

The thought that came to her was that she was in the presence of an angel.

Gone was the sweet, slightly confused young man he had been.

His shape had not changed; his face was ... Sandra shook her head.

The transformation beyond the physical was inexplicable, radical, overwhelming.

Your beauty is going to bring me to my knees, she thought, and as she thought it, she could see DeVille slowly sinking to his knees. Sandra steadied herself with one hand on the comforting, old, solid wooden table, her kitchen table, the heart of this house, the place where all things were put to rights, where love happened ...

Sandra remained standing.

Rix bowed his head to her and smiled.

He turned towards the window, into the streaming bright white light.

Sandra could barely make out that Rix moved his hands slightly to the side.

The light stopped dead.

For a moment, this was disorientating and even though the light was gone, Sandra could still see it, could see colours and shapes; this highlighted the moaning and wailing outside to an excruciating degree.

She took a deep breath, focused on her hand on the table and said, "Please can you stop them from making that sound?"

His attention as he turned and it fell upon her was as a soft breeze; his acquiescence a gentle stroking of her hair.

Rix turned and went to DeVille, bending and gently touching the kneeling man on the shoulder.

Sandra's eyes finally began to give some measure of impression once more; it appeared to her that there was a soft luminescence playing around Rix's hands, around his face, making him visible and that which he touched and would turn towards in response.

"Come," Rix said very gently. "Come, my friends. It is time we got this mission under way."

Sandra's hand left the anchor of the table and she stepped forward; DeVille got up, slowly and carefully. Both moved so they would stand shoulder to shoulder, facing the dragon lord.

Rix was smiling, looking from one to the other; he caught his lower lip between his teeth and smiled more, an entirely human thing to do.

I can not believe he is an alien, thought Sandra, for all that he is ... he is so very ...

Rix stepped forward, close, put his hands on both their shoulders, dropped his head so he touched them both. Sandra was still in a state of heightened awareness and the physical contact sent shock waves through her body; it unlocked something too and she remembered ...

She remembered the sunlight streaming down into her, filling her with gold, setting her skin on fire. The soft grass underfoot. The watching great trees and the warm wind.

Oh and Rix ... there, at her fingertips ... against her cheek ... in her arms ...

Beside her, DeVille started to tremble; before her, Rix moved closer and she realised that all three had shared the memory. There was a moment of uncertainty but then Sandra put her arms about the other two and felt so glad, so relieved, so ... deeply happy that she had been able to share this wonderful experience.

Now I am not the only one who knows, she thought, the gift has been shared and if something happens to me, they will remember, and thus the moment will stand.

That time will be remembered.

It will not be lost.

Rix gently unwove and the three moved apart a little way; still the sense of connection was so strong that Sandra thought she could see strands of gold, of blue and green between them.

Even as she thought it she felt something new, knew something new - she understood what Rix was going to do and what he would be doing next.

She turned to DeVille by her side at the same time as the tall man turned to her, and they smiled at each other.

He has heard him too.

Rix bowed and said out aloud in his beautiful, resonant voice that was a touch more than ever now, "Let us go and stop those people from crying."

 

11/2 - Different Light

Rix opened the door of his lady's house and stepped forward, out and towards the ocean of distress which existed on the other side.

The night air was cool and gentle, moist. Enlivening.

Rix glanced up and saw a great moon above, full and beautiful, racing clouds veiling it briefly, becoming illuminated, becoming known for a moment.

He thought about sending the clouds on to a different path so the night would be lighter; but then he admired the clouds too much and decided against it.

Rix sighed and let his gaze slowly move down towards the night garden before him, filled with people.

People on their knees. People holding their heads in their hands.

People with their arms wrapped about their middles, people with their hands on their hearts.

He shook his head.

Why are you in so much pain?

This is only ... a different kind of light.

All you have to do is to accept that, and to let it in. And then it won't hurt at all ...

Rix smiled to himself. He could feel his two friends, his guides behind him; the man on his right and the woman on his left, balancing him, keeping him steady and grounded, anchored in this reality.

He looked down and saw a woman lying at the bottom of the steps, curled up on the ground, a weapon lying beside her.

He did not recognise it but it clearly had death marked about it, and in no small measure.

As he contemplated her, he felt a curious desire to step upon her, hard.

For a moment, Rix was confused by this emotion, until he realised it wasn't one of his but that it belonged to his male friend.

The man on the right had tanglings with this woman.

Rix smiled more.

He made his way down the stairs and carefully as well as very deliberately, avoided stepping on the woman. Whatever his friend had going on with her, it was his business and not one that should concern Rix.

As Rix passed above Meghan Storm in close proximity, the blonde woman in the black uniform uncurled herself, gasped out aloud and rolled away to the side.

Rix gave her no heed and simply walked out and into the crowd.

 

 

11/3 - All Things

Sandra Delhany sat on the top step on the entrance to her beloved old farm house, next to DeVille and with that woman police officer by her side whose name she did not know.

The three watched as under the moonlight, the one they had called Rix walked amongst the assembled people, and where he went, their crying and moaning was stilled to silence.

Where he went, they would slowly get to their feet and turn in his direction.

Sometimes, he would stop and touch a one who was suffering more than the others and those too would then rise.

"It is amazing how they don't crowd him," said DeVille and startled Sandra into looking at him. He was very beautiful too, she thought, blue and black in the moonlight, his face relaxed, very smooth and fair, like a statue ...

DeVille noticed her intense attention but did not flinch from it; instead, he too fell to contemplating her and she could sense strongly that he in turn, approved of her this night.

We are having a moment, Sandra thought and it made her smile. DeVille smiled in return, and both then went back to watching Rix, moving amongst the people as if they were a field of grasses.

"Will they all feel about him as we do?" wondered Sandra out aloud.

"I would die for him," the woman on her right said unexpectedly.

Rix had made his way around half the perimeter now. He was prescribing a spiral, Sandra realised, and had to smile when she tracked it forward.

The people who had flattened her lovely fountain flower bed by standing on it and then rolling around on it all night long would be the very last to be released of their suffering.

Good, she thought and then felt bad for thinking that, and then started to chuckle to herself.

What did a flower bed matter?

What did it matter if they suffered for another half hour?

All things were different now.

All things.

It was really quite inconceivable how much change there would be.

This order, whatever it was, was only the beginning.

There were sounds in the sky. Another helicopter approaching.

Ah well, thought Sandra, there is enough room here. Fields to the left and behind, and to the right, the old lake and the quarry.

It will work out alright.

Sandra got up from the step and stretched.

To DeVille who was looking up at her she said, "Do you fancy a cup of tea? And I wonder what happened to Rosie. And where are my dogs?"

 

 

11/4 - Sorry

With Sandra gone, there was nothing remaining between Andrew DeVille and his former personal assistant.

Both were quite aware of this.

It was she who eventually said, "My name is Storm. Meghan Storm."

DeVille, with his eyes on the unfoldments before him, listened to the sound of her voice and found it quite pain free to be doing so. He nodded slightly and replied, "I know."

There was a movement in his periphery; he could feel she was surprised by this.

After some time had passed, he heard her say, "How long ... have you known?"

DeVille dropped his head and gave a small laugh. "The moment you walked through the door. I can smell a securer from a hundred yards against the wind. Starch, boot polish and gun smoke."

There was still the drifting wailing from those Rix had not touched as yet; and a little night breeze was picking up. The place was moving forward, towards the deepest point of night.

DeVille remembered looking through the graduation photographs of the young securers and finding Meghan Storm. Reading her file. Of course they would send him a dud, they had their uses. They were a kind of non-existence to those who had the sense of truth, made them not exactly difficult to read but simply immaterial, uninteresting.

He sighed at the memories of having to have sex with her. It had been hard work, very hard work indeed.

The woman sitting on his left, an arm's reach away, felt very different this night.

Fragile.

Real.

Alive.

And very, very young.

DeVille sighed again and shook his head. All that madness was over. He was even vaguely sorry it ever had to have been in the first place. He wondered whether there was any merit in expressing this sentiment to her.

"I came here to kill you," he heard her say, softly yet distinctly. "To save my life."

DeVille got up from the step and straightened himself, brushing down the seat of his pants. He turned to the blond securer in the black uniform who was staring up at him.

With her hair tied back and not wearing her usual mask of make up, Meghan Storm looked ... childlike, innocent.

"I am sorry," DeVille heard himself say.

He saw her put one hand to her heart, and he saw her eyes starting to glisten. More than that, he felt that she had received him and understood that he was being true.

He nodded. Rix really had awoken her, given her the most precious gift back. Meghan Storm could feel again. She was ... human, again. What a strange thought ...

DeVille sighed, hesitated briefly, then gathered his forces, gathered himself and gave her the age old sign of blessing, letting it rain upon her upturned face.

The young woman's eyes widened in shock and her mouth opened; now both her hands were held strongly over her heart.

He dropped his hand, gave a brief bow and followed Sandra Delhany's path back into the house.

DeVille hoped that the lady would be able to provide an alternative to a cup of tea.

 

 

11/5 - Human

Rix was prescribing his slow spiral through the crowd, touching people, causing the change to take place.

He was lightly buoyed and finely tuned aware; intrigued and fascinated by this process.

Rix knew that he could have done this so simply, with a single well aimed pulse of attention, all at the same time; letting it ripple as far and wide as forever.

That would have been easy.

This was a different thing, and it had its purpose.

Rix was learning.

He was learning about the dark places and the strange shards that these people were carrying inside their bodies, and these were what caused them the pain when they were confronted with the other light, as he had thought to think of it.

Where he touched them, these things would simply melt away, they would soften, then flow and the pain would be gone.

More, there would be a finer flow, an even flow which had never been known before; and the people felt joy, and gratitude, and whole new sensations and emotions, entirely unknowable, unexpected, never dreamed of, never prayed for ...

In the act of doing this, Rix was learning their times and their events.

He was learning their triumphs and their failures, their fascinations, their hopes and dreams.

All this information was needed.

He was very hungry for it, Rix realised.

Just quite how ferocious this hunger was, or quite how deep and wide it reached, was a surprise to him, however.

He vaguely wondered why this was the case, but then another would present himself, and there would be the strange constructs once more, the deep and profound injuries, the contortions and alien artefacts, and these would take all his attention, and he would resolve them, in a perfect order and sequence, and it felt good ... beautiful ...

Rix knew he was doing something right.

At last.

His confidence and joy gathered with each person he touched; he could feel his knowledge and wisdom deepen; he was learning.

He was learning lives ...

The more lives he was gathering and making part of his own structure, the more the structure became revealed; Rix could sense a tapestry coming into being, a map; and it was a map that was the same for him as it was for all these people here.

With every life he learned, with every one he touched, he could feel it strengthening.

Rix realised that he was becoming - human.

 

11/6 - Sacrifice

By the time Rix finally reached John Addington VII, said man had been in hell for a very long time.

Addington had been among those most profoundly afflicted by the presence of the dragon lord; the pain had been indescribable and overwhelmed his conscious faculties entirely.

Addington had writhed and grovelled in the finely worked earth of Sandra Delhany's flower bed for the better part of the night. Now, he was a creature of mud, not an inch of his body, face or hands not blackened, unrecognisable his suit, his shoes, his hair, his face.

By the time Rix finally reached John Addington VII, the creature had no more screams or wails in it, no more strength left, and was lying quite still, apart from a brief trembling here and there.

Being of the mud, it had been trampled into the ground.

It may have lain there forever, forgotten entirely, eventually covered over by the autumn leaves and then the soft caress of the snow when it would come; but Rix was seeing with his eyes of night entirely and the field of suffering was bright and lit on fire, illuminating those who had already been raised and were standing now, facing the core of the pain, the man at the heart of the spiral, the man who lay exactly now where once the obsidian knife had been buried beneath the Naked Ladies.

Rix observed this and reflected that extreme suffering has a beauty of its own; and certainly, an undeniable truth.

A clarity, a logic, and yes, even a love.

Rix was filled with ten thousand loves, with a hundred thousand heart breaks. With a thousand moments of triumph, and a hundred moments of true grace.

He had not yet achieved a clarity of all of this, it was too much and he knew he was too young, but standing here and looking down at the creature, he made a decision.

"It is alright," he said softly to the night and to the suffering. "All is well. You can go now."

The field of suffering began to ripple and flow, coalesce and shape itself to the centre, wavering this way and that, trying to assemble.

Rix smiled and lent a little gentle assistance, a little shoring up from all around and a soft message of support to allow Addington's spirit to gain a shape, and with that, a consciousness.

That which had been John once, then the creature of mud, tuned to Rix in questioning, in amazement, then, in pure joy and gratitude.

It became brighter as the joy took hold; brighter, brighter until it became a star that flashed for a moment, and it was gone.

Rix took a deep, deep breath in as though he wanted to taste the air which was thus blessed, and stepped back.

The field of suffering had gone; in its place, a field of blessing had arisen, a well spring of the other kind of light. Rix nodded and smiled. This was exactly what was needed here, here and in so many places. Here was the nexus, now restored.

A sacrifice, a gift of love. Rix did not know who John Addington had been in this life, but in his death, he would be bringing life and hope now for millennia.

Just as Rix reached out to touch the blessing fountain, a sharp pain sliced through him on all levels and he cried out in surprise.

Sandra ...

 

 

11/7 - No Excuse

"Oh no ... no, no ..."

In the garage, by the side of Sandra's silver estate car, on the old cobble stone floor, neatly arranged, lay the bodies of the three dogs and of Rosie Wyatt.

Before them, Securer Storm had gone to her knees when the shock of Sandra Delhany's emotions hit her from the back. Meghan Storm was now there, one hand resting on Rosie Wyatt's shoe, her face turned to those who stood behind her, tears streaming down her cheeks. She could not say just how sorry she was, how sorry she felt, or how this feeling she was having now was beyond anything she had ever experienced before.

Meghan Storm had ordered Addington's extraction team to shoot the dogs.

She had also ordered them to take care of the old fat woman on the drive.

When the headman had reported that the woman was dead, most likely of heart failure following a massive blood loss, she had felt absolutely nothing. She had been high on being the authority here, high on the green glow in the house, high on the rising, high on the fact that she had told Addington in person he had been wrong and she had been right all along.

The death of the irritating woman had been nothing at all and she had forgotten all about it then.

But that was before.

That was before the sense of truth had come back.

And with it, not only could Meghan Storm now feel in every fibre of her being what was happening to Sandra Delhany, she also gained a sense of the enormity of what she had done.

Meghan did not want to but she had to turn her head and look at the corpse of the woman, starting from her own hand which was still resting on the upturned shoe, a sensible leather shoe, well worn, dark brown, cool and moist.

"Oh no ..."

One voice, then many voices.

Then her own voice joined in.

No ...

But the truth was yes.

Yes, you did that.

Yes, this is your fault.

And no.

There can be no excuse for this.

None.

Not now, not ever, not in all times spent.

Meghan Storm felt herself vanishing, disappearing and she was glad for it. But just at the very edge, someone took a hold of her, strongly and commandingly, and pulled her back.

Someone ...

Amidst all of that, Meghan recognised him, of course she did, and a strand of inexplicable humour entered into the madness. DeVille. Her personal punishment, her nemesis, her master of hate. Well, she thought, do it then. I deserve it. I deserve everything you gave me, and much, much more besides.

I deserve you for infinity and it still wouldn't make up for this ...

Physical.

Physical pulling away and up.

Being enfolded in a strong embrace.

Being held tight and securely, safely.

It was him. His smell, his feel so familiar.

Meghan Storm let herself be taken by him and imploded entirely in his arms.

 

12: Afterlife

12/1 - Beacon

Rix stood in the half open door to the garage and surveyed the scene before him. Behind him, massed, silent and sad, stood the people.

They had moved apart for him as he made his way towards the source of his lady's pain but they had touched him as he went by, small gestures of love and support.

They could feel it too but not as profoundly as he did.

They were not connected to her as profoundly as he was.

And they had not known bouncy, friendly Rosie Wyatt.

Rix struggled with the onslaught of sadness that was his own.

Amidst this, there was his lady.

And his sadness was nothing in comparison to hers.

It gave him the strength and purpose to lay his own feelings aside, to step up to her and place his arms about her from the back, laying his head into her hair, and enfolding her not just in a physical embrace, but letting invisible wings surround her, hold her tight.

There was a movement which took his attention; the custodian was also holding a woman who was entirely dissolved in the most peculiar way.

It took Rix a moment to realise that she was the one who had ended their friend.

He tightened his embrace of his lady and closed his eyes; this did not help as now, he was simply seeing the scene on the other levels, and here, it was a most extraordinary sequence of events happening.

It was too much ...

Rix opened his eyes again.

Sandra laid her head back against his shoulder and said, "I think you can make this right. Can't you?"

The custodian heard her and looked up sharply. His eye contact was pure ice, pure cold information and it served to stabilise Rix.

I can raise the dead, he thought. Of course I can.

But will I?

Should I?

In his arms, Sandra turned and backed away slightly. She looked at him with her beautiful eyes, so much sadness, so much loss.

I would do anything for you, thought Rix. I know what it feels like, oh, but I do.

It was there he realised that this was not just about the death of the friendly lady.

It was not just about the death of his lady's one and only man.

This was about his own death.

Rix breathed deeply as the memories came back, fast, rushing, re-assembling.

Moving into orbit, moving into harmony and the breakthrough into uncompromising clarity.

It was hot.

It was night.

It was very dark.

And the pain was unbearable. He could not live with this. He had tried but it had grown steadily worse to the point where now he could only breathe in shallow breaths, now and then.

His lover had gone and left him.

His love.

And he knew that he could follow.

He could put an end to the pain of this existence and become ... freed.

Something glinted in the dark, something blue black.

On the bed of the empty cell lay a blade.

It was beautiful.

Too beautiful by far to put an end to one such as he was; he remembered thinking a rusty shard that would tear the flesh would be a better choice, far more fitting.

Rix remembered knowing he did not have the strength to find a better weapon, a worse weapon, and he remembered picking up the blade which was so cold, it was loving, and gave him the power he needed to open his shirt, place it against his own chest.

He remembered the soft kiss of the blade, a welcome touch of sanity; he remembered moving it until there was a silent command to stop, yes, this is the right place.

He could feel the handle beneath his hand; changing his grip, double handed.

That moment where time stood still absolutely; where the whole Universe held its breath, awaiting his decision.

Take me home, he had thought and his loving hands had delivered the blessing.

And then, there had been the aftermath.

From a high vantage point he had observed as those who loved him in that life had found his body, how they had cried.

How they took it to the shore and built a pyre made from driftwood.

How he had cried for a life that in truth, had been filled with love and opportunity, a life that had only just begun in so many different ways.

The things we will do in the name of love, Rix thought and sighed deeply. Was all that pain I caused that night worth it? Does it weigh up?

And here, what happened here?

Should this be undone?

He shook his head and felt himself doing it.

Of course it should not.

Her death had to stand.

It had to stand as an example, as a beacon, as a fact.

As one of the defining facts of this lady's life.

Not the only one, to be sure.

He looked into his lady's sad eyes and said softly, "She has gone. It would be wrong to bring her back. She has ... a path to travel. I can't stand in the way of that."

Softly spoken as his words were, he knew they would hit his lady hard, and they did.

The enormity of the loss fell upon her and there was nothing he could do to stop that from happening; this too had to be, it was the right thing to hurt so when one who loves leaves you behind.

For a time, he just held her close but even as he did, Rix became aware that there were so many people in flux here, everyone was in need of stabilisation. He had created a storm here in this place, a storm as it had never been before.

The thought made him smile.

Trust me to create insanity where ever I go. Trust me to never do anything right ...

Behind him, far away and above, he could sense something.

The others were stirring.

Especially he Rix had given his life to follow.

He has so much faith in me, Rix thought and sighed. I wish I had just a fraction of that faith ...

I have to take control of this situation.

I have to ... somehow ... figure out what to do with these people, with this time.

There is a mission here, a purpose, a challenge.

I need to solve this, for me, for them, for all of us.

I have to find faith that I can do this.

I have to remember that I am ... a dragon lord.

 

 

12/2 - Dead

DeVille stood with the young woman in his arms and thought about crime and punishment.

It was really quite unfair.

The crime had been committed by Sindy Horten.

The punishment was now being suffered by Meghan Storm.

He rested his chin on the woman's head, tightened his embrace of her and began to send an absolution in slow, steady pulses.

You are new born.

This was not your doing.

You could not have done this if you had wanted to ...

Then, it all came together in a single wave of thought.

Sindy is dead.

This was the new information; it was what would put the young woman back together and allow her to breathe on her own again.

Sindy is dead.

Sindy is dead.

Sindy is dead ...

He kept that up on its own level; when it became recurring and did no longer require his attention, he could drift up and away to survey the rest of the situation.

He heard Sandra ask of Rix if he could bring the jolly fat lady who was the only person in the world he had ever told about the first secret back to life.

DeVille could feel that Rix did not know; he took a moment to turn and transmit the required information.

Yes, you can raise the dead, he sent clearly and precisely.

It was the one skill that dragon lords possessed which made them so very valuable, so highly desirable to all those who throughout the ages had tried to track and trace them, to learn them, and yes, to capture them, to try and take that power from them, what those fools thought was the ultimate power, the ultimate answer to everything.

Rix received his message and DeVille knew instantly that he would not bring the jolly lady back.

He was surprised how this affected him; he had to struggle to keep the pulse going and only managed to raise a shield just in time as Rix informed Sandra Delhany of his decision.

Even so, Sandra's emotion rocked him on his feet when it came.

DeVille focused on the young woman in his arms to give himself an anchor in sanity and on repeating the pulse with full concentration, saying it in his mind, saying it out aloud, sending it on all levels at the same time, sending it through his hands, through his heart, through his entire being.

Sindy is dead ...

Finally, she heard him.

Finally, she received him.

And finally, she responded, at first with a hesitation, then by repeating his message as an echo, as a question, Sindy is dead?

He waited until she had found the rhythm and when he felt she could continue to ask this on her own, he switched into the space between the pulses and answered her question.

Profoundly, undeniably, ungainsayably.

Sindy is dead?

YES.

The threshold was breached; she catalysed and Meghan Storm came back to life.

Safe under his shielding from the shrieking storm that was Sandra Delhany on the outside of the circle of protection he was prescribing for them both, she opened her eyes.

DeVille gave a deep sigh.

He had never met this person before.

She had such innocence, such youth in her blue eyes, wide open as the sea in the morning and before the sun has risen.

"Welcome to the world," he said to the exquisite creature before him and then, he kissed her.

 

 

12/3 - DNR

"Do not resuscitate."

Those words had been written on Ken's chart in the hospital.

It meant that if he died, he would not be brought back to life again.

It meant that this next time, he would really die.

Sandra had thought she knew what it meant, that it was the right thing to do. They had talked about this in the few lucid moments Ken still had in these latter days.

Sandra had thought she was ready.

She did not want him to suffer any longer and she had quietly wished many times that it would be over, that he could finally be at peace.

It was not until the moment came that she realised how wrong she had been.

It had been going on for months by this time and Sandra had been so exhausted that sometimes, she really would fall asleep on her feet, waiting in the beige corridor outside, when she had been sent away because things were being done to her husband of which she was not a part.

She had thought he would slip away quietly and then she could finally rest too.

But there had been the night and in spite of her granite boulder weariness she had woken up on a level.

She had begun to listen, to look and feel.

There was something in the air.

There were shadows gathering in the room.

And she had been so afraid.

She had held on to his hand for dear life, oh what a phrase that was, his dear, dear life.

There was no gentle passing and relief.

He woke up and tried to breathe, his hand clenching around her so tightly. He had opened his eyes and he was there, and he had been terrified.

And she, she had cried out, don't leave me, please, please don't leave me ...

He had convulsed and gasped on the bed and she had not been able to hold on to his hand. She had stood and watched him die and it was no relief.

It had thrown her into hell.

It was Rosie who had come to her rescue; Rosie her knight in a wool coat and a green knitted hat.

Who was now lying on the garage floor, with DeVille's blue coat carelessly thrown over her head and shoulders.

Where was her chart that said "Do not resuscitate?"

Where were the nurses and the doctors with their machines, where was her personal angel, alien, who could raise the dead when you really, really needed them?

Sandra fought clear of his encircling arms and simply hated him.

I don't want to be here any more, she thought.

I can't take this any more.

Take me away.

Take me to the perfect place in time and space ...

Sandra felt herself lifting, fast and furiously, so fast it took her breath away; high, high, higher, up, spinning her around, now free falling, out of control, rushing downwards, fast ...

Sandra landed with a soft thump in the meadow with the flowers where she and Rix had ...

Oh God, thought Sandra and put her hands out to steady herself, push herself up into a sitting position.

The tiny twinkling flowers in the grass seemed to mock her.

The fine spring green blades of the silky grass seemed to laugh at her.

And what was it with that perfect blue sky above?

It should be raining.

Storming, pouring, howling winds shredding the leaves off those tropical trees, blowing the flowers away, great lightning strikes ripping up the ground ...

"My lady," she heard his soft voice and looked up to see Rix standing before her. He was wearing the same clothes, Ken's clothes, he had chosen on his last return, but now, he was also sporting wings, great wings, blue black.

He was waving the tips of his wings at her.

Sandra shook her head. "Why do you appear like this?" she asked him and her anger was clear in her voice. "You are no angel!"

He smiled sadly and unfolded his wings further. They had a wide reach and span.

"I know that," he said. "I know I am no angel. It is you who gave me those wings. This is your world, your lands, not mine." He hesitated and added, "I'd like you to remove them, if you would."

Sandra made a gesture with her hand, dismissive, and the wings disappeared. Rix gave a sigh of relief and came to sit next to her.

"I would do anything for you," he said sincerely, without looking at her.

"Anything?" Sandra's voice held a sarcastic undertone which surprised her. She was never sarcastic.

"Anything," said Rix. "Including doing wrong."

Sandra shook her head sharply. "What happened to Rosie is what was wrong. That was wrong doing. To ... bring her back, that is doing right."

Rix sighed and steepled his fingers under his chin. "What happened to Rosie is ... what happened. And what happens is always right."

Sandra stared at him. "Are you seriously sitting there, telling me that God moves in mysterious ways?! And that we just have to accept ... all that ... wrongness, that evil, without fighting back?!"

Rix still refused to look at her. He sighed again and said, "It's a complex tapestry. That is what I was told."

"A complex tapestry?" Sandra found herself nearly spluttering. "A complex tapestry? My one and only friend has just ... not died, no, not died. She has been killed. She has been murdered without thought, like a dog. Like my dogs. Put in a row with my dogs, for fuck's sake!

"And you DARE talk to me of ... a complex fucking tapestry?!"

Sandra got up and Rix looked up at her. He was near to crying and through all her anger and despair and pain, once more and yet again, her heart went out to him.

I am supposed to protect you ...

How am I supposed to protect you when I am ... all alone?

Without my knight in a green wool hat?

I can't ...

Sandra put her hands before her face and just sobbed.

It took her a moment to realise that the tears she was crying were not like ordinary tears, they were as lightwater, splashing bright light into her hands, cascading down onto the grass and the flowers, and where they fell, the flowers grew and blossomed, changed, rose, petals unfolding, beautiful, so beautiful ...

Sandra stopped crying.

Right before her, a single rose had arisen, larger than all the others, pink diffused with orange at the edges.

Rosie's favourite flower.

The rose her mother had named her in honour of.

What does that mean?

She heard a voice say softly, "It's a complex tapestry ..."

It was Rosie's voice.

She saw Rix stand up and straighten. He still looked so sorrowful, so very lost.

I can't make you do what you think is the wrong thing.

It would hurt you and I can't hurt you.

I don't know what I am supposed to do or how to stand up to this, but I have to find a way.

Somehow.

I am your protector.

 

 

12/4 - Born

DeVille was kneeling by the side of Rosie Wyatt's corpse, fishing in the pockets of his blue coat.

He found it.

He found the watch.

He pulled it out and looked at it.

It was destroyed.

Someone had ... he saw the high. high black stiletto heel come down on the upturned face of the watch on the gravel drive with lethal accuracy.

The glass was shattered, the face torn apart and parts of the intricate mechanism spilled forth, the silver guts of a mechanical being.

"Oh how very, very perfect," DeVille said softly.

He put the watch back into the pocket of the blue coat and then arranged it so it would cover the kind lady better.

It is a stupid thing to put a coat over a corpse, he thought, this is just a form, nothing more. A gesture ...

He made the sign of blessing over the form and stood up.

Meghan Storm was standing, her arms around her chest, holding herself and watching his every move as though he was the only thing that existed in the world.

Even though a real dragon lord is standing just six feet away from you ...

It gave DeVille a strange sensation, an unfamiliar feeling he did not care to deal with at this time.

He focused on Rix instead.

His dragon lord was not a happy ... camper. The thought made DeVille smile for a moment. He had always been taught that the dragon lords were aliens but having met Rix, and standing here right now with him, DeVille was no longer sure that this was true.

Rix was immensely human.

In every way. In every gesture. There was nothing remotely alien about him, apart from his ... DeVille shook his head. He did not even like to think in terms of powers. This was not what Rix was about. It was as though those things he could do were an afterthought, a side effect of something else altogether.

And right here and now, the very human Rix was clearly sad, confused and very, very lost.

That is unacceptable, thought DeVille and straightened himself further to his whole height, flexing on the balls of his feet and letting his fists bunch, powering up his physical body.

Rix is my dragon lord.

I am his custodian.

I have no idea what I am supposed to do or how I can help him, but I have to stop messing around and take some goddamned responsibility for him, for this whole circus.

It is what I was born to do.

I am the custodian.

 

 

12/5 - Release

Meghan stood with her former employer and found him to be immeasurably soothing.

His presence was strong, smooth, flowing.

He spoke, and the people who could hardly hear each other could hear him.

He got through to them.

He had the power to break through their fascination with the Lord Rix.

Meghan was curiously moved by the way DeVille took charge of the order.

There was something so beautifully right about it, as though something that had been wrong for a long time had finally clicked into place, and an old tension, old pain had been relieved at last.

Even when the existing head of the order, Lady Goodeheart, had arrived, or rather, had been carried in by a young man of stunning good looks, who was clearly entirely bemused by the situation, DeVille had taken charge.

It was he who touched Lady Goodeheart, not Lord Rix; it was DeVille who raised her.

In turn, she had bowed to him, taken off the ancient ruby ring she was wearing and handed it to him without a moment's hesitation.

Meghan Storm had done nothing but remained by his side, a little behind; every so often, this position and him doing something, a gesture, a tilt of the head, would cause a flash of the old times.

You should get yourself a new name, she thought. You are not who you were. I know that Sindy Horten is dead, and that is such a relief. That other Andrew Jacob DeVille, he is dead also. Whoever you are, you really should acknowledge that ...

Somehow ...

There had been a moment when he had addressed the section leaders when she had doubted him.

Meghan had held her breath as he told them to go home and take up their stations as before, to wait until they were called to action; she did not think they would obey him.

It had been on a knife's edge, to be sure; but he had stood strong in authority, and more than that, in absolute truth.

They had bowed to him and thus, the exodus had begun.

Meghan Storm wondered how they would be feeling as they made their way back to their respective lives.

In truth, everyone here had been ... born again this night. Meghan pursed her lips and made a slow hissing sound at the choice of her own words, but really ... What else had this been?

Another moment in this night, which now was giving way to the first lightening of the sky, a revealing of the trees black against a deep, dark grey that was no longer black itself, had come when DeVille organised the securers.

Addington was dead; for one moment, DeVille had looked at her and she had known he was wondering if as the first responder, he should order her to take over.

Oh Gods, please no, she had thought as a sharp shot of nausea struck her right in the very centre of her stomach.

I hated having to have been a securer ... I never, ever wanted that ...

He had smiled at her, gave the briefest bow and had passed the responsibility to another, a stern looking man who was much moved by his new office and responsibility.

Meghan felt a huge weight lifting that she had not realised she had been carrying. She was still wearing the uniform, but he had released her.

She was not a securer any longer and never now had to be again.

Meghan Storm was free.

 

13: Shift

13/1 - Spiral Staircase

 

Even as the members of the order were leaving, more were arriving.

It would never stop, Rix realised, standing on the doorstep and watching the sun come up, a beautiful day being born.

He could feel the ones he had touched, the ones DeVille had touched.

Each one was a small star, a node in a web that was expanding. Eventually, it would circle this entire world. Even though they did not know this yet, each one who had been touched would touch others in turn, and the web would strengthen over time.

The process was now, to all intents and purposes, quite unstoppable.

It would only take one of them to survive, and the whole web would be reborn.

Ah well, thought Rix and sighed, so that was that then.

Was that all?

It did not feel that way.

He looked around and wondered what was next.

One thing was for sure, he could not stay here.

They could not stay here.

But where should they go?

Rix stepped down and onto the pebble drive. It was wet from the night's dew and many of the small stones sparkled pure crystal in the sunlight. Before him lay the flower bed, the fountain of blessings. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensation of the fine rain of mercy on his face, on his skin; it was a beautiful thing in its own right and Rix found it soothing and enlivening both.

It helped him to focus on the question at hand.

Where do we go?

He turned slowly, east, south, west, north, east again.

No, that was not the way.

Up?

Down?

No.

What is left?

Where else is there?

Rix smiled to himself as the knowing came softly; a new direction, a shift forward and to the left, then up, as though one would step upon a spiral staircase ...

Rix gathered himself and made that movement; as he did, the drive, the people, the fence began to lose focus, became immaterial and by the time he had completed it, all that was gone and he stood quite alone in an untouched, virginal landscape, under the same sun.

The fresh morning breeze was the same too; it was the same place.

He was standing in a meadow and before him lay the beginnings of the forest; as he turned and surveyed the rest of the land, he could see a grassy plain stretching out to the faint blue hills in the distance, and to his right, the shimmer of a lake.

It attracted his attention.

That's where we should go, he decided and felt something that may have been a surge of joy flow through him.

We shall go to the lake.

We will be safe there, undisturbed, and they can help me figure out what else I have to do to complete this mission.

Rix's stomach growled loudly and this startled him, then it made him laugh.

A material being. So very perfect in all aspects.

Gods, I'm hungry, he thought.

I need something to eat.

Then he thought of Lady Sandra and his smile widened to a grin.

Physicality has its own charms.

Rix put his head back and re-created the movement in reverse that would take him back to Spindlewood.

 

 

13/2 - AJD

 

Before the old green kitchen door stood two securers in black.

Behind it and inside, Sandra Delhany was making tea for Lady Goodeheart.

It gave her something to do and something to focus on; Sandra did not really know what state she was in at this time but she did know that the only way was forward now.

In the sink sat the spotted cup of happiness.

Rosie and Sandra had taken turns on it, and sometimes talked about who needed it more on the day, and why.

Sandra looked at it for quite some time as the kettle warmed up and slowly started to move towards the point where it would sing.

Happiness?

What was that even?

She shook her head and made the decision. She turned on the tap and washed the cup so that the fine lady at her kitchen table could get a little happiness into her life, for she certainly looked as though she needed it.

All the other strange people milling about on the property and beyond seemed ... very happy indeed.

Very content. Surprised, awed and delighted.

The lady with the copper red hair and the nice, expensive beige suit was not happy.

She had arrived with a pretty young man who clearly adored her and was at least young enough to be her son; she had been very curt with him and sent him slinking off like a dog that had been kicked.

Sandra sighed.

Now there's something else I better not think about too much right now.

Happiness.

What is that even?

She chose for herself a bland little mug made from brown glass, the last survivor of a set of six she had bought when they were first married and money had been so very tight.

Sandra made the tea and took it over to the kitchen table.

She put the spotted cup of happiness down in front of the refined lady and sat opposite her.

The woman looked up.

Sandra was caught by her beautiful grey eyes. She had power but there was also an immense sadness there which felt raw and present, yet old, very, very old at the same time.

As had happened with DeVille, there seemed to be information exchanged but Sandra did not hear the woman speak.

What was it that broke your heart?

Who?

The woman gazed at her for another moment, then she slowly and carefully undid the cuff of her white blouse, slid this and the jacket up over her lower arm and turned it so Sandra could see.

On the woman's left arm was a home made tattoo. It was old and slightly faded, blue ink had been used and possibly razor blades.

Three letters.

A J D

Sandra stared at the untidy, deep carved letters for a time, then she picked up her glass mug in both hands and took a long, slow drink from the hot tea.

She wondered what to do, what to say to this woman.

Sandra put the cup back down on the table and as she did, the engagement ring flashed and caught her eye.

Not quite a tattoo, she thought.

This never cut my skin.

I never carved Ken's initials into my own skin with razor blades ...

She shook her head and asked, "How old were you?" A small nod indicated that she wanted to know when that night had come and it seemed the right thing, the only thing to do.

The woman on the other side of the table took a deep breath; the first time she had seemed to breathe at all since Sandra had found her standing lost and entirely alone in the company of her young boy outside on the drive.

"I was fourteen," she said in her precise, well schooled voice.

Sandra nodded and pushed the spotted cup of happiness a little closer to the arm on the table that still held the declaration, decades later. It had never been covered, never been tampered with, never been removed.

Catherine Goodeheart responded and finally picked up her mug, took a small sip.

Sandra thought it interesting that she kept wanting to ask questions but as soon as she thought of the question, she already knew the answer.

Does that stand for Andrew Jacob DeVille?

Of course it does.

Where you at school together?

Of course we were.

Did he know?

Of course he did.

Does he know now?

Of course, of course he does ... he touched me, he raised me, and it was too much ...

Have you ever been married?

Of course not ...

Sandra shook her head. It was unsettling to know this much about somebody, so quickly. And there was more. There was a whole lifetime of not living here, of not loving, of not being loved.

And what am I to do with all of that?

And here, and now, and being me, and having lost so much, all and everything I ever felt would hold me safe?

Everything, even the house?

What can I possibly do for you?

As she thought it, Catherine Goodeheart raised her head slightly and looked into Sandra's eyes again.

For a moment, Sandra struggled, caught in a loop between trying to find an answer and not even knowing what the question might be, then it came to her.

Alright, she thought. I will take your confession. You just need to tell someone. To have someone else know, that's all. Sandra took a deep, deep breath, let her hands drop in her lap and relaxed herself all over.

I am ready.

Give it to me.

Everything ...

A storm of autumn leaves, swirling, rushing, dancing, each one a day, a night, a moment, so many different colours, so many different shapes, each one unique and precious in its own right ...

Sandra was pushed back into her chair and found she could not breathe; it was exactly the same feeling when you step into the wind and it takes your breath away.

Breathe, she thought, just breathe ...

With that, the last resistance went and the whirling, dancing leaves rushed forward with joy, rushed into her, for just a moment, there was one last hesitation remaining but it was swept away and Sandra cried out as the storm swept through every part of her, fast, furious and bright, a lightning strike that changed the world in a heartbeat.

The woman on the other side, eyes wide in amazement and both hands braced flat against the table was fighting for breath; but this was also only a moment, and when it passed, both looked at each other and knew that something extraordinary had just happened.

Sandra looked down at her own hands; they were so electric, she thought for a moment she could see power sparking from her fingertips. All of her felt so ... unbelievably alive, as though she had woken up from a long, long dream, a slow nightmare but it was over now ...

Sandra looked at the sun streaming through the dirty kitchen window and from there to the red headed woman whose shiny hair seemed to be on fire and she realised that what all these strangers had been talking about had happened to her too now - she was reborn as well.

She focused on the woman before her and as she did, so did Lady Catherine.

Their thoughts cancelled each other out in an instance.

How can I ever thank you for this ...?

 

 

13/3 - Flame

Rix slowed the phasing in to that level where the people lived, drew it out so he could feel it unfold and ease into it.

The noise and disturbance was extraordinary.

He saw, heard and felt it building and building, levels and layers of confusion and confusing occurrences; he marvelled how anyone could ever think straight at all with all of this going on.

But with the fog of confusion, there also came the stars. The few who had found their way to a different state of being.

Their presence was soothing, stabilising, bringing order to the chaos.

Rix focused on the web of stars that had a lovely, logical structure even as it was shifting and unfolding and this made it much easier to complete the movement.

With a deep sigh, he came into harmony with that world and re-appeared on the drive, just before the steps.

He turned around to see a tall, thin man with long curly hair looking at him; he was sitting on the step with his arm around another, shorter man who appeared to be crying.

Rix remembered the tall man; he had touched many but each one was so unique and so precisely themselves, there could be no mistaking one for another.

Rix smiled at him in recognition which brightened the man noticeably, but even there, the man directed Rix's attention to the other, the crying one.

You are very kind, Rix thought, very caring. He could feel a small blessing taking wing which travelled across to the tall man and made his eyes widen, made him take a breath of surprise. Rix smiled and the tall man got up, bowed deeply and walked away.

This left Rix contemplating the other one, the younger, dark haired one on the step.

This one had his hands before his face and was sobbing, his shoulders shaking, drawn in tight.

This one was not a star.

How curious ...

Rix crossed the distance and sat down next to the young man, one step up.

He looked down upon the man's bent dark head and memories came to him of a time when he might have been disgusted with such a public show of weakness, of dissolution. Where he might have been repelled by it.

Until the day came and he himself had broken in that way. And cried just like that, only he had not been able to put his hands before his face to hide his shame. He had been in irons at the time ...

Rix had to smile at the remembrance. Oh but the things love will do to you ...

He reached out with his hand and carefully placed it on the top of the young man's head, started to stroke his hair lightly, as one would do to calm a scared dog, or a child.

Here, he thought. Let me stroke all those thoughts away that are spinning you into an abyss of suffering that is never real, never necessary. Not needed. You are just hurt, you are just heart broken.

That's all.

Just in pain.

And sometimes, it's a sign of healing.

Hearts need to be broken, once in a while.

They need to be cracked open, like a shell or the hard, wooden case around a seedling so it can grow and find its way to the light ...

Rix could sense that others were watching him, that movement had stopped, conversations stilled and more and more attention flowed towards him and the young man who was becoming calmer with every light stroking of his hair.

Rix tuned them all out and made the youngster who was physically not that much younger than Rix had been and how he presented here in this reality, and yet in other ways was just such a child, the centre of his undivided attention.

He sought for that light inside that he had caused to flare up in all those he had touched in the night, that light inside that transferred to others and which seemed to be missing in this youngster here.

There was so much chaos and disturbance again, so much swirling darkness and dissolution, but amidst all of that, Rix found the tiny flame.

He nodded to himself. This is what his lover had told him, such a long time ago, and he had not really believed him. Everyone has the flame inside them. Everyone. It can't be any other way. It's there, you just have to find it.

And when you have found it, be gentle with it.

Rix glanced up to the beautiful blue autumn sky which rested above them on this day, cloudless perfection, infinity incarnate, there for all to see.

Far away and high above, he could hear his lover laughing, and sense the others dancing. They were watching his every move, celebrating every moment of this his journey.

Rix shook his head even as he could feel himself rise to the power of that connection, that love. Would he ever get used to it? To really know and feel that he was loved, and that no matter what he did or did not do, it simply could not be any other way?

I hope I never will, he thought. I hope I'll remain amazed by it forever and ever. It truly is the most extraordinary blessing.

Beside him, the young man had stopped crying and was now looking up at Rix. The day was bright and the sun was shining, but Rix shone brighter than that still.

For the first time, Rix became aware of how powerful that was, of how his connection to the others empowered him.

He could feel his sense of self expanding and knew that he was learning what it really meant to be a dragon lord. In his physicality, he smiled and stretched all over, raised his arms and breathed the blue sky deeply.

Beside him, Mark Sean stopped being in pain as the tiny flame inside began to rise and come to life.

 

 

13/4 - Rose

"We need a miracle," DeVille said darkly behind Sandra's left shoulder.

Looking into her painfully empty fridge, she had to agree.

Two eggs, half a block of cheese, and whatever was left in the small tub of margarine would not suffice to make breakfast for them all.

Sandra shook her head and turned around.

Apart from DeVille and young Meghan Storm, there was Lady Catherine, Rix and Lady Catherine's boy. Six of them altogether. She put her hands up and said, "I'm sorry, I'm all out of food. Someone will have to go to the village, get some supplies."

As she said it, Sandra glanced at Rix. Thoughts of manna from heaven, feeding a multitude with a few fish flashed through her mind. Rix, who had been leaning against the work surface on the other side of the kitchen, caught the thought and straightened up.

He frowned and rubbed his hand through his tousled hair.

The other people all turned towards him and DeVille said slowly in his precisely modulated voice, "There are reports of your kind ... manifesting food in a moment of crisis, my lord."

Rix nodded slowly and looked down at his hands. For a moment, it appeared as though there was a fine shimmer playing around them but it died away. Rix closed his hands to fists and said, "I don't know how to do this." The frustration was vibrant in his voice and Sandra felt it perfectly in the pit of her stomach.

She closed the fridge door, turned her back on it and said, "It doesn't matter. Don't worry about it. There's a thousand people out there who adore you. I'm sure we can get someone to get you something to eat."

Rix shook his head and stepped forward towards DeVille. He looked up at the older, taller man and placed his hand on DeVille's chest, on the dark blue suit jacket DeVille was still wearing.

Andrew DeVille nodded, reached into his inside jacket pocket and produced a bundle in turquoise.

Sandra recognised her scarf and realised that DeVille still had Rix's knife. She watched DeVille unwrap the object, turn it and hold it out to Rix, by the blade.

Lady Catherine stood up at this. The scraping of her chair on the flag stone floor broke the moment and brought movement into the kitchen as DeVille stepped back, causing Meghan Storm to back away to give him room, and the young man whose name Sandra did not know slid behind Rix so he could take up station next to Lady Catherine.

Sandra herself noted that she was feeling tired. She went and sat down at the kitchen table and found that a little cold tea was remaining in the brown glass cup. She picked it up and drained it dry, wishing there was more, and more.

Rix was holding the knife across both flat hands and was looking at it with focused attention.

Into the silence, Lady Catherine said softly, "Number 117. It was always my favourite ..."

Sandra noted that DeVille gave her a glance. Mine too, he had thought, not wanting to say it out aloud, but Sandra had heard it, and so had Lady Catherine. She looked at DeVille who turned away sharply, his embarrassment and discomfort clear for all to feel and see.

Rix said, "This object was ... manifest. It was not made. It was created in a different way."

"Did you make it?" Sandra asked but even before the sentence was finished, she already knew that he had not.

It was not the kind of thing Rix would think to make, even though he had found it and used it.

Sandra looked at the man with the brown hair and felt a great fondness for him.

You would make something pleasant, she thought. You would make something that wasn't for yourself, you would make a gift to please another ...

Rix looked up from the black knife and smiled at her.

Such a lovely smile you have, Sandra thought and could not help but smile back at him. It really is like a sunrise. You should smile more often.

I should make it my business to have you smile more ...

Protecting you ...

Perhaps it means protecting your smile.

Your youth, and your innocence.

Rix's smile deepened and he took a deep breath, straightened out more, as though a burden had been lifted. In his hand, the blue black blade with the silver filigree mesh around the handle began to lose cohesion; it drew into itself at the same time as becoming misty, fluid and what seemed to be a small storm formed in the palm of his left hand.

The small hurricane span around the centre; tiny lightning strikes flashed as it changed colour, changed shape and solidified.

Rix took a deep breath and held out a red rose in the centre of his palm to Sandra.

She got up, moved towards him and took the flower head, placed it into the palm of her own left hand.

It seemed red hot, so hot it made her gasp; then it melted into her hand and was gone.

Red fire travelled up her arm, into her shoulder, neck and spine; it flowed down her other arm, setting her right hand on fire, then it moved through her whole body, flowing down her legs and out of the soles of her feet.

I'll be walking on roses, Sandra thought in amazement, looking down at herself, moving her hands, becoming fascinated by the feeling in her fingertips, in her palms.

I have roses in my hands ...

She looked up at Rix with a radiant smile.

"Thank you," she whispered, then she could no longer contain herself.

She flowed towards him, placed her rose hot hands either side of his face, drew him to herself and kissed him deeply.

 

 

13/5 - Flash

Andrew DeVille watched Sandra Delhany kiss Rix; he watched the response from his dragon lord which was instantaneous and incontrovertible, but more than that, he felt the hard flash of sexual excitement in his own testicles, most powerfully.

Fuck me, he thought, and had to take a deep breath in, find the work surface at his back with his hands to steady himself. It was quite extraordinary how electric the room had become all of a sudden.

DeVille was extremely aware of Meghan Storm's presence by his right hand side, then even more so of the far more powerful presence of Lady Catherine.

Fucking KittiKatti, he thought, oh no ... I have to get out of here ...

He pushed himself off the work surface, half rolled over and past Meghan, whose eyes were wide open, pupils wildly dilated and staring at him, another hard flash of sexual energy, damn it, not with her ...

DeVille stormed from the kitchen, through the hallway and out into the pretty bright morning, the pretty bright light and the fresh, springlike morning air.

Even from here, he could still feel it. And was still responding to it.

He started to walk out into the driveway, hard, putting his feet down hard, trying to discharge some of the built up of energy that was crackling throughout his own body.

DeVille made it to the fence, then to the gate and held on to it.

Bloody hell, he thought, bloody hell. And there I thought I had ... that ... so beautifully under control ...

He looked down at his hands which were white knuckled on the green brown wooden gate and could feel them shaking.

In return, he shook his head.

It did say in all the old books that there was a sexual aspect to the dragon lords, and that this was ... important, but then they never said any more about it. Vague hints, and a whole lot of metaphor.

DeVille had been very aware that Rix had wanted to do something with this Sandra woman, do something more than just that game they had played, being Adam and Eve on the lost island, but he realised he had had no idea what that some thing might have been.

He turned the knife into a rose, DeVille thought, and then he gave it to her. He gave her the ultimate lust potion! And she took it right inside herself ... Clever, clever boy ...

DeVille let out a deep, long breath and could find himself regaining a measure of control. He was feeling extremely vibrant still but now could manage to rise above that and actually use it to empower him.

He raised his head and looked around.

Everything was ... so intense.

The greens and autumn colours from the forest were so rich, he could taste them, reach out and touch them. When he put his head back he was entirely amazed how blue the sky was, such a blue as he had never seen before, not even dreamed about ...

"Wow ..." said Andrew DeVille reverently, and this may have been the first time in his life he would think to use an expression such as this. "Wow ..."

The simple primary sensory impressions where near enough overwhelming him and this was a good thing in a way, because the sense of truth was expanded, sharpened and so clear and strong as he had never known it before.

Deaf and blind, he would have been able to precisely navigate all this, recognise everything, know where everything was and touch it all, manipulate it ...

And all of that from a simple, sexual charge?

Good God, DeVille though and had to laugh, was Freud right all along?

He let go off the fence and turned towards the kitchen wing of the building.

It shone, it was a flare, no, a fountain.

He reached cautiously towards it and they were still only kissing in there.

He shook his head.

I am going to think OMG in a moment, DeVille thought and had to laugh again, there's probably no other word for it.

What the hell is going to happen if they go past kissing?

What the hell are the rest of us going to do then?

This thought brought him straight round to Lady Catherine. It sobered him, deflated him, and with a mixture of great relief and great sadness in equal measure he could feel the charge that had lifted him begin to drain away.

With it, the vibrancy of the colours went and gravity seemed to become a great deal heavier.

Of all the people on Earth, DeVille thought and grimaced, of all the people on Earth it had to be her.

KittiKatti.

His chosen breeding mare, his intended. She had been presented to him when they were both four years old and he had never seen anything so ugly or so unfortunate as the stick figure with the carrot top straggly hair and the big buck teeth sticking out of a triangular face that belonged to a cartoon character.

And those bloody eyes of hers ... the size of dinner plates, always staring at him, unblinking. He had had nightmares about those eyes for years and years.

When he was sent to Rosea, she was there and it got much worse. Wherever he went, there she was. She was his nemesis, and that wasn't even enough to describe the annoyance, the anger, the hatred he had for her.

Even as a boy, DeVille had been terrified he would just throttle her to put an end to it. He had done everything and anything to avoid her, but there had come that one night when she got hold of some scotch and came up to him, addressed him directly, wanted to talk about the wedding ...

He had grabbed hold of her and downloaded a lifetime's worth of hatred into her, really let her have it, all of it. He had screamed at her and finally, those fucking eyes blinked, rolled back and she had lost consciousness.

After that, she never troubled him again.

Not long after that, his father had died and with him, the whole idea that they should get married and produce highly talented offspring and the next generations upon generations of leaders of the order ...

He had thought himself well rid of her.

And here she was again.

In a time and a place that should have been nothing but joy, nothing but a triumph all around.

Finally a time for DeVille to ...

Oh fuck, he thought. He shook his head.

The only thing I can hope for is that she's past child bearing age now. She's got to be, at least close to it.

Will a bag over the head be enough for fucking KittiKatti?

DeVille realised that he was very hungry once more.

Funny how that had totally ceased to exist when that sexual charge had hit him.

Now it was back, the other was gone.

He turned towards the fields where many of the helicopters were still parked amidst the cars, trucks and lorries.

At the very least, the securers would have some rations.

He would go and find something to eat.

 

13/6 - Very Real

It was not until his lady had kissed him and sparked in him a desire that was fast and furious, entirely innocent and devoid of anything other than needing to find its own release, that Rix realised he had been asleep.

He might not have realised this if it had not been for the violent reaction of the custodian who had flared up in anger and broke the moment with his exit; but when he did, Rix became conscious of his actions and state and he knew that the woman in his arms had called him back to life.

Rix was not dead.

He was not dreaming.

He was not an immaterial thing, floating in an afterlife that may just have been an illusion or a resonance; he was very real, and he was here, and finally, he knew that.

All the sensations he was experiencing, all the desires, they were not an illusion.

He was alive.

When he thought this, a great joy rose up in him and with that, a great gratitude for his lady. She too became more than just any woman, she too became alive for him, became a real person and he was astonished by her as he beheld her for the first time.

She was precious, priceless beyond measure. Entirely unique in all times spent, all times to come, all levels and all layers. She was love personified and she was his healer, his saviour, his protector; she had raised him from the dead.

Joy then turned to gratitude, gratitude to submission and then the fervent desire to somehow balance the scales of justice, to give something back in return that was as precious and priceless, and the only thing he could think of that he might have to give was himself.

My lady, Rix thought and it was calm and clear, with not a doubt remaining, I am yours. For this one moment, and forever.

She received him just as calmly, matter of fact. Of course you are. I knew it from the first moment I saw you ...

I am not dead, thought Rix. I am alive. I have a path, I have a mission. I am loved and I am strong. I cannot know how this could be or why, but there it is.

He widened his field of perception to take in the others, his chosen ones, every one of whom was swirling in their own confusions, in the contortions of their simple lives, then widened out more and took in the dragon lords, his family, high above but yet so present and aware.

He remembered it all now.

What remained to be done was simple.

He would shape his group and then he would open the portal that had remained closed for a hundred thousand years.

And it would be easy.

And it would be fun.

 

 

14: Crew

14/1 - Right

DeVille was standing by the fence which bordered the kitchen garden on the eastern side of the property, looking out over empty autumn fields stretching out beneath the perfect blue sky, when he felt Rix approaching.

It prickled in his shoulder blades, made him tense up, made him grimace.

DeVille was very aware that he wasn't doing a good job of being his lord's custodian.

As always, when it came to it, it turned out that he was a disappointment ...

He sighed deeply and hoped that Rix was on his way somewhere else, but the increasing proximity told him otherwise.

DeVille hung his head for a moment, then he steeled himself and turned around.

Rix was buoyant, energetic. He seemed very sharply defined, very present. He was such a presence ...

DeVille bowed to the younger man and had to remind himself to keep breathing.

"My lord," he said, but his mouth was dry.

Rix had halted a man's length away and was studying the other with his bright eyes. He was enquiring into DeVille on many different levels at once; it made the other even more acutely uncomfortable.

Rix gave a small nod and went to the fence himself, looking out into the same direction as DeVille had been.

There were no cars in these fields, no helicopters. No people. No sheep. Everyone had congregated on the other side. If it wasn't for the noise behind them, one might imagine that it was peaceful here, and quiet.

Out there, in the mid distance, lay the nexus.

On the other plane, it was marked by a lake.

Here, it was invisible because it lay below the level of the land; there was an ancient quarry out there which one might not become aware of until one was right upon it. Then the edge of the field would give way and there it was.

And right at the bottom of it, there was a lake now also, a tiny reminder of what once there had been.

Rix wondered how much of this DeVille could see, how much he knew, how much he could read from the land.

He tuned in more closely but the man beside him was nothing short of a storm, so many displacements, so many inverted vortices draining his power and derailing his resolve, his understanding ...

I could take all that away, thought Rix. It would be easy. But what then? Who would you be, then?

I need you to be ... stronger.

I need you to be ...

Rix said softly, "I was once told that I know everything I need to know, I just don't know I know. I found it very disturbing at the time."

The older, taller man beside him moved and sighed. He did not say anything in return. Rix realised that DeVille was not used to talking. This man had spent a lifetime keeping everything inside, everything to himself. Never sharing his thoughts with another. Rix remembered what that had been like. He had been just the same before he met his own lord.

He tried to recall how his lord had started the process, started the communication. How it had been that his lord had become real to him, the only real person in his entire life.

There had to have been a moment when it all changed.

He needed such a moment now with this man here. A breakthrough of some kind. Into his mind flashed his lord's white dragon, such a sight, oh! Rix could not help but smile. DeVille loved the idea of the dragons. He was in love with dragons. It was the connection to something that was real to the man, perhaps the only thing.

Rix said, "You do know that you too have been chosen to become a dragon lord, right?"

Although he did not need to do this, he turned his head to look at DeVille who had simply stopped.

The older man in the pristine suit had stopped breathing. His eyes had stopped, as had his lids in mid-blink. Even his heart had stopped. When it started up again, DeVille gave a gasp and contracted around the middle, seemed to want to cough or gag, and then he burst out laughing.

Rix moved away a little to give the man some space, watching him go to his knees, laughing convulsively, trying to hold himself together with his arms wrapped tightly about him, then entirely falling into some low green herbs and rolling around in there, laughing so much, it turned to coughing and retching.

Eventually, DeVille ended up on his back, his hands before his face, shaking his head, over and over again, his knees drawn up. His suit was no longer pristine.

Rix leaned against the fence and smiled down at him.

DeVille took his hands away and looked up at his dragon lord. He kept shaking his head but at last, he let himself fall back into the greenery, relaxed all over, stretched out and said, "I bloody well knew it!" before starting to laugh yet again.

Of course you did, thought Rix. That's exactly it. We know these things, we just don't know we know them. It's the strangest thing. And when it finally comes, it isn't as though we learned anything new.

Not at all.

It's just ... some kind of madness, finally broken.

A spell, broken.

That's it, thought Rix, that's exactly right. All these people, and me included, yes, me too still, we're under a spell.

There is no misery.

There is no sadness.

And we know exactly what we need to do, every step of the way.

Rix shook his head and stepped up to DeVille, bent down and held out his hand to the other man.

"Come on," he said. "We've got things to do. And don't get ahead of yourself. You're not one of us just yet."

DeVille took the offered hand and grasped it strongly.

"I have to die first, right?" he said but he was smiling brightly and clearly, no longer afraid of what he was saying to the other.

"Right," said Rix and gave a hard pull which DeVille used to get his legs under himself.

They ended up very close together, the younger man looking up at DeVille, smiling at each other, their hands strongly clasped between their chests.

"Thank you," DeVille said softly, then he bent and kissed Rix very gently on the lips.

 

14/2 - Outside

Less than twenty feet and one brick wall away, Sandra Delhany felt DeVille's kiss as though it was her own experience.

It rocked her on her feet and when the sensation had passed, left her shaken and disturbed.

Shaken, because she could feel her physical response, which was undeniably sexual; and disturbed, because she wanted more.

More ... of DeVille?

She shook her head strongly and passed a hand over her forehead, as if to wipe the thought away.

It was there she realised that these were not necessarily her own feelings.

She had felt what Rix had felt.

And that was even more disturbing by far ...

Rix had repeatedly said that his own dragon lord had been a man. A man like DeVille?

She shook her head again and tried very hard not to make any judgements, come to any conclusions.

There was strangely, not a doubt that Rix had chosen her. Nor that she had chosen him.

I don't understand ...

She looked up to find that Catherine Goodeheart was looking directly at her. The elegant woman who had intimidated Sandra so when first she had seen her was offering questioning, and support.

Oh, if only Rosie was here, Sandra thought and saw that Lady Goodeheart moved back, then hung her head and dropped her shoulders, turned away.

Nobody ever wants me ... nobody ever ... wants ... me ...

Sandra felt her heart go out to the woman; even as it did, she thought to herself, how do we ever get anything done if we are all so aware of each other?

What we are feeling, what we are thinking?

I can't cope with my own feelings, and now I have hers as well?

And feel responsible for all of it?

It's too much. It's too much to ask.

Sandra distracted herself by looking at the other two, the youngsters, who were standing in the corner by the dog basket.

The blonde girl who belonged with DeVille had drifted across when he had left, sought the company of the only person in the room who was also by himself. The young man had hardly noticed her, for he had eyes for Catherine Goodeheart alone. His need of her was quite excruciating and it gave Sandra a painful twist each time she became aware of it.

Here, it was a good thing to feel that again, to focus in on his pain. It served as a lighthouse in the storm because it was easy. Clean. There was no confusion there.

Sandra looked from the handsome youngster to Lady Goodeheart.

It was inconceivable how the woman could be so convinced that nobody wanted her.

This young man did, heart and soul. And body, too.

As she watched the red haired woman, it was as though she could see there were layers and layers of protection around her, like cloaks and hoods of many subtle colours, holding her together, keeping her safe inside.

Yes, thought Sandra.

It must be lonely in there.

So very, very lonely.

She took a deep breath and out aloud she said, "Why don't we go outside and see what the ... others are up to? It's such a beautiful morning ..."

Lady Goodeheart raised her head sharply at this and her entire being changed; it was the possibility of seeing not Rix, but DeVille that did that. Sandra shook her head. It really was just crazy. Loving in a circle and nobody ever connects up, nobody gets what they need or who they want.

The other three were now all looking at her, clearly waiting for her to make the first move.

Sandra took a deep breath, straightened herself out and with a great deal more resolve than she actually felt, started walking towards the kitchen door.

She opened it wide.

The brilliant bright day outside rushed into the room, making Sandra aware of how stale it had become inside. It made her smile.

Outside, there lay a whole wide world of wonderful experiences.

"Come on," she said, "Let's go."

 

 

14/3 - Tarragon

Meghan had never seen her former employer quite like this before.

Mr DeVille must have fallen, she thought, mud and grass stains up his knees. He was in the process of taking off his jacket, laughing, a freedom of movement that was so unfamiliar, it made her question for just a moment whether it was really he she was observing. A Hitler strand of hair had escaped and he was not producing a comb to fix that, either.

As she followed the Sandra woman who was clearly the lover of the dragon lord across the drive and to the flower bed, where Rix and DeVille were standing, Meghan Storm became aware that she was avoiding looking at the other man.

It was not that she did not want to. It was just ... difficult. She found she could sneak a quick glance but then had to look away again, and to look away was a relief. To look at Mr DeVille was a relief.

She shook her head and could not fathom where all that emotion had gone she had used to sustain herself, to fortify herself and to make it through the days and nights with him. That hell which had lasted forever. Not just a year and a half, that's nothing when you say it like that, five hundred days, give or take, it doesn't sound so bad.

When they arrived and the two men noticed their group, and that strange man with the strange name she found difficult to wrap her mind around also had greeted the Sandra woman like he had not seen her in months, Meghan found she had to seek the safety of Mr DeVille and went to stand beside him and one step back, her old position.

DeVille was looking at the lovers and gave her no heed; but he was aware of her presence because he took his jacket and held it out, then simply let go off it. She managed to catch it just in time, which brought her closer to him.

Her former employer smelled strongly of ... Tarragon?

The jacket was muddy and crumpled. Meghan put it over her arm and stroked it down reflexively, trying to avoid it becoming creased although clearly, the jacket was beyond saving. It would have to be dry cleaned.

DeVille was taking off his tie and handed it over in the same fashion, simply pre-supposing that there would be a hand to take it when he dropped it without so much as glancing to the right.

Meghan was swift; she had excellent reflexes and although the red silk tie tried to slither from her hands, she managed to catch it.

She folded it carefully and put it in the pocket of the jacket, then stood back to attention. It was strange doing this in boots rather than high heels, but apart from the posture being wrong, she felt strangely right.

There was such safety in being here.

Mr DeVille would protect her. Shield her. Tell her what to do. Meghan Storm realised that even Sindy Horten had used him in that way. It was a surprising realisation; if Sindy had ever found out, she would have been so upset, so angry with herself.

Meghan watched thus from the shadow of DeVille's tall body as Rix informed Sandra that they were all going on a mission together, to a nexus, open a portal, on the elder plane, it was all quite incomprehensible and none of her business. She let the words drift over and around her and amused herself by looking at the head of the order instead.

Correction, former head of the order.

She had passed that on to DeVille.

There was definitely something between the two of them; Lady Catherine was stiff, stood on the other side of the loose circle and kept her eyes fixed on the dragon lord.

Yet every so often, Meghan could see clearly that the woman was casting a small glance in their direction, at Mr DeVille. Sometimes Lady Catherine completed that movement, but there were many more times when she managed to stop herself.

She was so tense, so tight. And there was cute little Mark. Her pet. Everyone knew she kept those in preference to having any other type of relationship; there were those who held it to be a sign of her deeply felt responsibility for the running of the order in these difficult times.

Back in Meghan's training days, people had laughed about it and said she gets a new poodle when the old one wears out, but they're always from the same breeder. On every photograph, every video Meghan had ever seen with Lady Catherine in it, there was always one of those black haired pretty boys by her side, and it was difficult to tell when they changed because they were always so much alike.

Little Mark was no clone though. He was a lovely boy, so serious, so sweet. So very devoted to Lady Catherine. Meghan sighed and wondered if she would ever experience what it might be like for someone to be so in love with her, and decided she probably wouldn't.

She had the looks but not much else.

Movement in the group brought Meghan out of her thoughts. Rix, with Sandra by the hand, was moving out towards the gate and DeVille fell in beside him, causing Meghan to hurry to keep her place by Mr DeVille's side.

From her periphery, she noted that the remaining members of the order were watching intently, from behind the fence, from outside the property. It gave her a strange sensation between the shoulder blades and she moved a little closer to Mr DeVille, a little closer into his ... field of protection?

She heard Rix say, "You've all have to hold hands. And stand closer together."

Shuffling ensued and brought Mr DeVille still to her left, Sandra Delhany to her right. Meghan was holding the jacket and did not know what to do with it. She looked to DeVille who turned and looked down at her at the same time, this stranger who smelled of fresh herbs with the untidy hair and the bright smile not just on his lips, but dancing in his eyes.

"You can leave it here," he said, and even his voice was new, lighter, gentler and altogether unrecognisable. "Hang it over the fence there."

She nodded with relief at having been given an instruction to follow, stepped forward and around Rix without looking directly at him and carefully, lovingly draped the expensive blue jacket over the old wet green wooden fence. She gave it one more pat then hurried back to her position of safety.

Meghan could feel the Sandra woman observing her. She was so unlike anyone Meghan had ever met before. There was a stillness about her, a clarity, she was like flowing water. Meghan turned into her place, eyes down, and saw that two hands were held out to her.

She took Mr DeVille's big hand first and gasped as his electric touch shot through her.

Everything is new. I am afraid. I am excited. I don't know what is going on here and I have no idea how I came to be a part of it. Help.

In response, his hand tightened around hers and now she could feel his strength. She thought she knew all about his physical strength, but this was different.

As long as I am under your protection, I will always be alright, Meghan Storm thought, it is true. She took a deep breath then and put her right hand in Sandra Delhany's.

This closed the circuit for the entire group, blew Meghan's mind and so she missed in consciousness as Rix took them all on that step forward and to the left, up and away, out of one reality and into the next.

 

 

14/4 - Necessary

Rix grimaced as he carefully and slowly lowered the unconscious body of his lady into the wild grass at his feet.

I should have done that shift a whole lot more slowly, he thought to himself, I should have been more aware ...

He sighed, shook his head, straightened out and rotated his shoulders.

His people were lying where they had fallen on arrival here; they were deeply unconscious. Even so, their presences on this otherwise entirely empty plane was more than just a disturbance.

Rix laughed a little. The whole universe would have heard that, would be aware now that they were here.

Indeed, in the great and expansive stillness which existed here, it was easy to sense a gathering, an interest rising like a great wave at the far horizon.

Rix looked up into the perfect blue sky and wondered just how many there were out there, keen and eager to come flooding in once the portal was re-opened and this world would no longer be alone.

It felt like a multitude, it would be ... overwhelming.

He brought his gaze back down to his companions.

Perhaps it was a good thing that they rested here for a while, he thought. Perhaps it is all exactly as it should be.

He knelt by the side of his lady and stroked her face. She was very beautiful, very relaxed. She would have no problem with this place. It was like her. She would feel at home here and appreciate the freedom, the clarity, the cleanliness.

What human footsteps had ever touched this earth had been washed away a long time ago, washed away by the rain that fell, tracks covered over by autumn leaves and then the snows of winter.

He began stroking her fine hair, light, loving movements to dispel the remnants of the shadows which still swirled about her; these were easy though and dissipated under his touch, dissolved and disappeared.

Rix settled himself down more comfortably, sighed with pleasure and stroked her face again, her shoulder. He placed a hand on her heart and sensed through his fingertips how strongly it did beat, how slowly, perfectly aligned with the beating of the heart of this land, of this earth.

Yes, it was good to have this time. He would take this opportunity to get to know each one much better and when they would awaken, it may as well have been as though no time had passed at all ...

There were places on his lady's body which needed to be kissed better; this was a pleasant endeavour which made Rix smile and excited him too; he realised he was feeding off her in a way, making himself stronger.

When he had finished up by stroking his lady's feet, Rix had come to accept that it was not so much his friends here who needed a time of adjustment, it was he himself who was in need of that.

With a lingering touch, he left his lady and went to the custodian next.

Rix stood and looked down at the man. He sighed, then had to laugh a little.

"You have just no idea who or what you are," he said out aloud to the unconscious DeVille. "What am I going to do with you?"

In direct response to that question, a vision arose of DeVille, dancing around Rix like a small puppy would, or a child, crying, "Can I die yet? Please can I die yet and become a dragon? Please, please?"

Rix felt a great fondness for the man and smiled as he knelt beside DeVille and picked up a limp, heavy hand. He turned it and put it to his own chest, where a heart of sorts was beating just as strongly as his lady's had.

"You don't need to die to be alive," he told the unconscious man, "You really don't. The life you have is extraordinary. I didn't know that. I didn't understand that. If I had, I would not have done what I did. And I regret it now, I really do. I would have liked to have known what it would be like to live and die like a man, all the way.

"Now, I never will.

"And I guess that's alright, it is as it is, and ..." Rix sighed deeply and tightened his hold of DeVille's hand, drawing it even closer to himself, "We would not even be here and could not do what we are doing if I had not done what I did do.

"But still, don't throw it away.

"There is an infinity of time to do all those other things.

"This, here, is precious, and once it has gone, it will never be again."

He took DeVille's hand and kissed it, long and fervently. You can live for both of us, Rix thought, and yes, this is my will.

So shall it be.

Rix felt light headed and shaken when he rose; he had to take a moment to steady himself. He did not want to leave the custodian, there was so much more he wanted to say, so much more he wanted to do with this man. Rix took a deep breath and blew it out long and slow. There will be time for all of that. If there's anything we have in abundance, it is time. And so freely given, so entirely owned ...

He shook his head to clear the thoughts away and forced himself to look at the others in his group.

His eyes were drawn to the red headed woman.

He walked across to her.

Even in unconsciousness, she presented elegance and refinement; but this was all a cocoon, a shell.

Inside, there was ... Rix grimaced. She was a mess. She was ... all times mixed up, and nothing working together as it should. She was neither a child nor a woman grown, she was lost.

Lost.

It made the connection.

That was something he could understand, something he could resonate with. He too had been so very lost, and he remembered what that felt like. What that was like.

Rix walked slowly around the woman in her beige linen suit, her elegant legs, one of her shoes with the fine heels had come off, exposing a slender foot with long, elegant toes.

He knelt down in the grass and took the other shoe off, holding it for a moment, marvelling at the construction. Why would there be such a spike to walk upon? Surely, it would just dig into the earth and make walking quite impossible?

He shook his head and put the shoe down, then picked up one of her feet. He moved forward so he could support it on his thigh.

There was a very fine, nearly invisible fabric encasing her foot; it felt strange, sensuous but in the wrong way.

Rix wished it did not exist, and as he wished it, the fabric disappeared without a trace.

He sat up straighter and then nodded to himself. Of course, here all things were empty and clear. A single thought would suffice to change the fabric of reality. It was good to know.

He focused back on the woman's pale foot in his hands. Now, he could touch her skin. It was cool and smooth, inviting.

He stroked her foot with his hot hands but there was no resonance. There was no life. It was not just that she was unconscious, this beautiful woman here had no life.

Rix sighed deeply and wondered what needed to be done. What he should do to help. He looked up and across the woman and his eyes were drawn to the custodian.

Ah, he thought as the realisation washed through him with relief.

Ah, it's not me. I can't help you. It's him. He has to do it. Rix let out a deep breath he did not know he had been holding and felt himself relax. Of course, of course. It was not just him. It was all of them together, we have to work together. I can't do this by myself and that's why you are here ...

Rix remembered that his own lord had said this, over and over again, but they had never believed him.

"I can't do this without you. I need you."

Rix looked up at the sky and smiled. Out aloud he said, "I'm sorry, my master. I get it now. I do. I ... we ... " he stroked the woman's foot with great gentleness, "We just can't understand how we can be important. Or necessary. To someone like you.

"To ... someone ... like me ..."

Rix felt himself shift sideways and a clear, fine energy filled his whole body.

I understand, he thought. He kissed the woman's foot and very gently, moved back, lowered it into the loving grass which took it from him.

Every one of these was for him as much as it was for them. Every one was a lesson, every one a lifting.

Rix smiled, excited.

He rubbed his hands together which created small sparks of blue light; this made him laugh out aloud.

His eyes fell on the handsome dark haired man. I'll have you next, he thought, and went to his task with great joy.

 

 

14/5 - Untouched

The first thing DeVille noticed when he awoke was the silence.

It was expansive, all encompassing and seemed to exist not just outside of him, but everywhere, in every atom of his being and all the spaces that lay between them, too.

The silence connected him to everything else, he was a part of it and no longer excluded.

DeVille allowed himself a moment to relax completely, to let the soft grass take the weight of his shoulders and neck, to let himself be held by the earth upon which he lay absolutely.

He breathed deeply of the bright, fresh air that too held the silence in its very structure and reflected that this silence was not an emptiness.

In the contrary.

This silence was alive with so many voices, filled with song and information, wonderment.

It was the difference between being in a city with all that noise, and standing in the countryside, listening to the wind in the trees and birdsong.

It was the absence of ... people?

No, DeVille thought, it is more than that.

It is the absence of humanity itself.

Not just all the ones who are wailing and writhing, here, right now, but all who wailed and writhed before them, layers and layers of insanity through the ages, and ages, and ages ...

This is what is not here, and this is what is ... the silence.

He opened his eyes to the bright blue sky above, it made them water and he had to blink but the happiness that suffused him was indescribable.

DeVille sat up, slowly and carefully, enjoying that he could sense himself.

He could know who he was; here, in this silence, it wasn't even difficult to know that exactly.

To his right, he saw Sandra lying in the grass, and a little way behind her, Rix was kneeling, holding the girl Meghan in his arms, in the perfect position of the prince who was about to kiss the sleeping beauty back to life.

Rix must have taken her hair band away, for her long blonde hair was flowing from her head which was supported on Rix's arm as so much silver water, very beautiful.

The dragon lord held her so lovingly, so gently.

It gave DeVille a twist and a sadness, a shadow memory of days past, nights past, in that other place where madness was the rule and he knew he had to forgive himself, and her, and all of that.

All of that could not be allowed to be here.

We can't bring our stains into this perfect world, DeVille thought and so he let it all go, flow away, and simply sat and watched as Rix kissed her lips so lightly, so very lightly, and yes, there was light, a small star of bright white light that travelled into the girl who took a deep breath and awoke into the dragon lord's waiting eyes.

A movement to the left drew his attention and DeVille saw that the young man whose hand he had held during the transit was waking up.

When DeVille had touched him, a great deal of information had been exchanged. A great deal of emotion, too. Meghan had messed around with his suit jacket, which had caused a delay, during which this information had become more and more acute, more and more painful.

DeVille had felt the young man's love and adoration for Lady Catherine in his own body.

We must not bring our stains into this world, DeVille recited in his head, loudly. It doesn't matter what we thought or felt. I must get over this. I must accept that she is here, that she is a part of this.

I don't know how but we must not bring our stains into this world ...

DeVille sighed deeply and got to his feet. It was easy. Gravity seemed lighter here although that was probably just another effect of the silence. He breathed it in deeply through flared nostrils, again and again, to give him strength and keep the clarity.

Lady Catherine had not yet awoken.

There was an opportunity here for him to take before she opened those eyes which had haunted his entire childhood ...

Even with the support of the silence, even with the joy remembered that Rix had told him he would be a dragon lord himself and rise upon his death, it was hard.

DeVille found himself trembling, a fine, fast oscillation that was everywhere and nowhere at the same time, as he cautiously stepped forward, one step, two, and another, just one more, breathe deeply, turn around, look at her ...

The woman on the green, green grass which made her hair seem more fiery red than ever and her skin more porcelain pale than ever, setting off her lips, shell pink and her perfect eyebrows, was a picture to behold, a painting waiting to happen.

This was not the monster creature that had frightened him so as a child.

This was not the gangly teenager who had stalked his youth and adolescence, a creepy existence that was always in the shadows, tainting every endeavour, every moment with its very presence.

DeVille knelt beside her.

Here, under this endless sky, with the lemon yellow sun on its way to the zenith of this brand new day, the old monsters started to dissipate, dissolve. They could not be here. They fled, one after the other, so many of them, armies of ghosts, legions, and the relief was such that DeVille nearly started to cry.

The last ghosts to disappear where those who looked from the outside the most like this woman here looked now, those awkward meetings in the latter days where the pain had dulled into a deep throbbing that would only go away when they were not in each other's presence any longer ...

The process slowed and now, there was only the final one remaining - that moment when she had knelt to him and offered him the leadership of the order, and he had taken it from her.

It had been his anyway all along.

She had given him the ring and then raised her eyes to him, and he had felt her without pity, without mercy.

DeVille smiled a little. I am a monster too, and we must not bring our stains into this world. Dissipate me also, make me new.

Before his eyes, the kneeling woman of his memory dissolved and so did the merciless man; they swirled for a moment, became one and disappeared.

The woman in the grass before him was very beautiful.

And in the strangest way, untouched by any man.

DeVille bent forward and very lightly stroked her cool, pale cheek with the backs of his fingers, an electric sensation that made the woman respond with a small shiver.

Her lids with the long dark lashes fluttered and she opened her eyes.

 

 

14/6 - Heroes

"Don't talk. Just touch," Rix had advised as he had started to lead the group towards the shimmering lake before the horizon.

This had made sense for the first few moments; they had walked in silence, carefully finding their feet in this new place, in this new state of being. They had listened, looked, sensed - the world and each other.

Rix was highly amused to notice that questions upon questions were bubbling up from each one in a steady stream; they danced and swirled, trying to find answers to mate with so they could become the next generation of questions.

Soon, this new world would be filled with as many nonsensical questions as the old one had been ...

Rix grinned to himself as he skipped more than he walked. He loved being here, being more than alive and knowing not all the answers, not at all, but simply that their questions were completely irrelevant.

They were based on the old; this was the new.

Perhaps, he thought, it might help to make this distinction clearer to them. Not by even more words, but by actions.

I should be leading by example. This made him laugh out aloud, for Rix was no leader. The notion itself was preposterous and a clear indication that he really was not yet that different from his new lovers, even though a major threshold shift divided them at this point still.

I wonder what it will be like when I am older, he thought. I wonder what missions I will be going on. What they will entail ...

And here, his own questions were added to those of his group and now, he really had to laugh.

We really have to learn not to do this, Rix admonished himself. I really have to learn to not do this. To ask these pointless questions that will lead into nothing but insanity.

You just can't know before you get there.

And in the meantime, the questions take you away from the reality of the journey.

The questions stop all of us from learning what we're supposed to learn.

Each other, that would be.

We are each in a world of our own. And so am I. Time to break free from that ...

Rix slowed a little with the intention of dropping back behind the group, but as he slowed, so did they, and eventually, all came to a standstill, much in the same relative alignment as they had set out on this short journey across the surface.

His lady was on his left, the custodian on his right.

The custodian had the blond girl magnetically attached to his side, and a little way behind, the red lady. The youngster in turn was magnetically attached to her and brought up the rear.

The group was extremely badly constructed and lopsided.

They would all need to get to know each other very much better.

Rix grinned to himself and rubbed his hands.

He was looking forward to that stage of the game.

But wait. Let's not be looking forward. This is yet another move that takes us away from the here and now.

Here and now, the custodian and the red lady had not yet resolved decades of sexual frustration with and through each other.

And until they did, they would not be capable of resolving the lesser times of sexual frustration with their youngsters.

His lady too had not begun to get to grips with the tremendous attraction she felt for his guardian, or the red lady.

And as to the pretty blonde girl ... Rix looked at her and his smile deepened. She had never even been properly kissed.

He felt himself drifting out of the now once more and had to pull himself back.

One thing his divergent group did share was that they were all ferociously hungry.

Rix knelt and stroked the green grass with a gentle hand, parting it, opening it up. He found a small mushroom with a long stalk and carefully picked it from the ground, held it up.

"There is all the food in the world here," he told them in re-assuring speech and tone. "You just need to find it."

The custodian laughed out aloud and said in his resonant voice, "Magic mushrooms? Really?"

Rix smiled at him. "Everything here is magic."

He could see the doubt, the shaking of the heads, the fear exuding from them as though shadows were spreading through the grass at their feet.

"Stop!" Rix commanded and held out a flat hand. The shadow stopped, but where it had fallen and reached, the grass began to wilt, as did the small flowers and all the other plants which sheltered within it.

The others looked down and saw this happening; they reacted with panic which made the effect much worse and within seconds, there was nothing but dust on which they were standing.

They looked shocked at each other and then to Rix.

The fear had brought them together, he realised. How interesting. They all have the same expression on their faces now. They are in the same place.

A barren place where their own fear destroyed what could have nourished them ...

Rix was outside the circle of dead earth; now he stepped forward and passed the small mushroom to his custodian.

The older man took it and without a moment's hesitation, put it into his mouth, chewed it and swallowed without breaking eye contact.

For a moment, nothing seemed to be happening; then the tall man began to soften, took a deep breath, followed by a long sigh of relief and he stepped out of the circle, turned and stood next to Rix.

"This is extraordinary," he said to Rix. "I can see so clearly ... I can understand ..."

Rix watched as his lady took a deep breath and stepped forward and out of the circle, joining him and the custodian at the edge. She smiled at Rix and said, "You don't need a mushroom."

He smiled back at her and kissed her lightly.

The red lady was next to take the leap of faith; her boy followed, which left only the blonde girl by herself in the circle of destruction.

She was near to tears, clearly not understanding what was happening. She was looking to the custodian, then to Rix, wringing her hands and moving from one foot to the other but unable to come forward and out.

Her distress was a physical experience for every one; but it was the dark haired youngster who broke first, walked back into the circle and took the girl by the hand.

"Come on," he said to her in a gentle, soft tone. "This is just some kind of test. Don't be afraid."

Her gratitude fell upon him like a great wave and made him take a deep breath, straightening and strengthening him, clearly so; he became far more radiant, smiled at her and she smiled back.

He led her out of the circle.

The custodian nodded appreciatively and Rix was quite moved.

Every man needs to be a hero, once in a while, he thought.

And this sad scar on the earth needs to be healed.

He transmitted the desire and intention carefully to the others; they heard him and agreed.

It was natural and obvious to spread out around the circle of destruction, to hold out the hands and transmit the wish to make this right.

It was a wonderful sensation when the earth responded and gave gratitude likewise for suffering alleviated, for life restored, making heroes out of them all.

The heroes continued to walk then, bending every so often to pick a flower from the grass, a tasty herb, or a mushroom.

 

14/7 - Behind

The closer they came to the lake, the more apparent it became that it was no lake.

The silver shimmer on the horizon which had appeared as water had become much stronger, as had the presence before them.

The presence was curious, alien.

Rix had been the first to become fascinated with it, intrigued and forward pointing; he no longer gave his companions any heed and picked up speed, imperceptibly at first but with gathering momentum.

One after the other were taken over by the fascination, until only Mark Sean remained alone and scared, trying to keep up, trying to catch up as in spite of his best efforts, the distance between him and the rest of the group seemed to grow and grow.

It was here and at long last that Mark finally broke and began to question whether he had made the right decision in following Lady Catherine to the ends of the earth and beyond. He did not understand how she could move that fast, nor how she could simply leave him behind like this.

For the last hour at least, nobody had spoken at all and that had been fine as far as Mark was concerned, for what they were saying to each other was entirely incomprehensible.

He had simply kept himself focused on Lady Catherine and that was soothing and so very right, as always; there were no thoughts and no pain when she was there to provide a centre that he lacked in himself entirely.

As the distance began to increase, both the thoughts and the pain began to return and when finally Mark realised that he could not keep up, it was as though the connection between them snapped, an umbilical chord being cut, and for the first time since he had seen Lady Catherine, Mark Sean found himself entirely alone.

It was too horrific; it could not be allowed to happen, or to continue, for by himself, he was nothing at all.

He was simply not enough.

Out of breath, his muscles in spasms and with sweat pouring from him, Mark had to stop and tried to cry out, "Lady Catherine! Please ... wait for me ..." but all he could produce where strangled gasps.

He tried to catch his breath, hung his head and tried to steady himself with his hands on his knees for a moment, but when he looked up, he could not even see the rest of the group any longer.

The shock of the realisation caused him to stop breathing entirely which made his condition worse; his heart was beating already so fast, it was shaking his body like a long drawn out buzzing and the thought that it should stop altogether added a whole new dimension to the terror of the experience, of finding himself here and really now, entirely alone.

This produced another shock; this time, it brought him to a level of clarity, above the physical condition, above his own body having a panic attack, or a heart attack and he thought very clearly, "I am going to die here."

Mark looked down at himself collapsing into the grass, convulsing, then lying very still.

It was a sorry sight.

A sad sight.

He tried to shake his head but in the absence of a body, this only caused a weaving sensation which shifted his point of view from here to there.

Oh well.

So I'm dead.

Good fucking riddance.

 

 

15: Mission

15/1 - Collapse

 

When the fragile, unstable web behind him stretched beyond breaking point and then finally collapsed, Rix was thrown sharply from his forward movement and came crashing down hard.

He fell, hard, and it hurt.

The sheer momentum caused him to crash and roll for some distance, spinning, disorientating and shocking him with the sensations of impact and explosion all around his body, leaving him face down in the grass when it finally stopped.

Rix groaned out in pain as he tried to push himself up; his left shoulder was on fire, his wrists felt as though they were broken.

Before him, not very far away at all now, lay what they had called the lake.

It was a shimmering disc of light, silver, bright white; it was huge and now extended from horizon to horizon.

It should have been all there was, but now it was not.

Now, there was pain, and confusion and it took Rix a moment to realise that it was not just his own pain and confusion. He rolled himself painfully around and looked back.

His group had disintegrated; all had fallen just as he had.

What the hell had happened here?

Rix saw the custodian getting up; he seemed relatively uninjured, flexing his shoulders and looking around. The blonde girl got to her feet and Rix could see that she was testing her limbs, then moving towards his lady who was confused and in pain also.

The worst affected was the red lady; she was sitting, looking at her legs which were bleeding, and was now beginning to cry, putting her bloody hands before her face.

Rix felt nauseous now; a powerful sensation which overrode his physical discomfort.

What ...? Why ...?

He shook his head and finally it came to him that there was someone missing.

That boy ... where is he?

Rix tried to get up but there was a shooting pain in his ankle; he cried out and collapsed back onto the grass.

It was then that he realised he had fucked up.

Fuck, he thought, fuck.

I've fucked the mission ...

I didn't ... we were not ...

Oh ... fuck ...

“My lord,” said the custodian, and his voice was unsteady even though he was trying to sound calm and authoritative, “My lord, are you alright?”

Rix shook his head, and even this caused more pain. No, I'm not alright. I'm ... I don't even know what I am. This should have been so easy, it was going so well, we are here, and now .... Where is that boy? I can't even remember his name ...

Rix let himself sink back into the grass, every movement a towering wave crashing against his resolve, all these different flavours of pain, attacks on his very existence ...

The custodian knelt by his side and put his hand on Rix's shoulder, the broken shoulder which caused the pain to flare up even higher and Rix to cry out and try to move away, which made everything so much worse ...

“My lord, please, be still. It's alright. I am sure we can heal this. Just breathe, breathe deeply.”

“The boy,” Rix whispered in return, “The boy. We've lost the boy. The mission ...”

“Shh,” said the custodian in return, very gently stroking the distraught dragon lord's shoulder, “Just relax if you can, just breathe, focus on healing yourself. My lord ...”

No, thought Rix, I'm no lord. I'm ... this is such a failure ... where is the boy?

“You need to find the boy,” he whispered and brought his other hand up, the one with the broken wrist, trying to get hold of the custodian, trying to impress the urgency of the situation.

“Find the boy ...”

The custodian locked eyes with Rix and the urgency transmitted; it was a huge relief and finally Rix found that he could breathe again. With that, the understanding came back. I don't even have a body any longer, thought Rix, what the hell am I doing ... this is only the memory of a body, and I am made of light ...

As he remembered this, a soft wave went through him, all the way, and the pain simply went away. There were no broken bones in his body, there was no torn, bruised skin, tendons, torn muscles.

Rix re-assembled the perfect memory of what once had been his body and in so doing, restored himself.

The custodian looked down on him in wonderment. His white shirt was streaked with grass stain and mud, and he had cuts on lower arms from the fall but otherwise he seemed in good working order.

Rix nodded and got to his feet.

Alright, alright, he thought. Alright so I fucked up. What is to be done? The boy, first of all. I must find the boy.

He closed his eyes and used the other perception to seek for him.

Far behind, there was something.

It was diffuse and not at all as it should have been.

For a moment, Rix did not know what to do until the thought came to him that this was where he had gone wrong.

He had simply assumed that the group would work; they had come together easily and clearly were the right ones for the task, and he should not have done that.

I am no leader, thought Rix and the thought made him sad. If I was a leader, I would have paid more attention. The weakest link in the chain. And there, it broke. And I still can't even remember his name.

Rix shook his head and sighed deeply.

What a stupid mistake to have made. Every one of them was precious, irreplaceable. And every one was needed as profoundly as every one.

I can't do this without you, he thought, and as he did, he remembered the boy was called Mark.

Mark.

X marks the spot.

Rix transferred himself without hesitation to that place where Mark had fallen.

 

 

15/2 - Mark

Standing over the body of the young man, Rix felt very sorry, and very sad indeed.

He should have taken the time to engage with this one, to get to know him better. He had awoken this boy and then abandoned him.

The boy had been fragile and scared, and Rix had known this, but he had just presumed it would be alright.

And I was wrong.

And I am very sorry.

Rix looked up as a gentle wave of forgiveness touched him as a light breeze would and with immense relief and gratitude, he realised that the boy was still here.

Mark, he corrected himself immediately.

Mark is still here. He is more than just a node in a web; he is more than just a faceless piece in a mosaic.

Rix sighed deeply and called him by name.

Come, he sent to that level where Mark's spirit was waiting.

Please come back. I am sorry and I promise to do better by you. I have learned my lesson.

The presence that was Mark Sean came closer, cautiously, hesitantly.

Rix realised that more needed to be done. There was a deep resistance to re-enter the body, to have it be like it was before, remembering the fear and uncertainty, the sadness and the ever present sense of being out of place, out of time and out of love.

Rix sighed deeply. Perhaps it was this which had caused him to overlook the boy, to touch him only at the periphery. This which was so very much a structural part of Mark's being was at the core of Rix as well.

This was the connection.

The red lady had been lost, and Rix had remembered that and he had been able to accept that.

This boy, Mark, he was unloved.

And that hurt cut too deep, was too old and too profound.

Rix sighed again, deeply.

We are the same.

Eternally unloved.

And it's not true.

Even if it feels that way.

Even if we always feel that way ...

Rix swallowed hard and forced himself to approach the body of the boy in the grass.

He knelt down slowly and noticed that his hands were shaking as he reached out to touch the pale, cool skin on the boy's face.

He was so beautiful.

He was so much more beautiful in death, entirely relaxed, his true beauty revealed, no, not his beauty, Rix corrected himself, the beauty of his body.

Please come back, Rix thought then with fervour.

Please come back and forgive me.

Forgive me and forgive all of us who did not love you as we should have done.

All of us. Every one you ever met, in your hard and in your dreams.

All of us who failed to adore you.

Please come back and give us another chance. We don't deserve it, to be sure, but you are of love. Show us, lead the way.

Please come back and teach us. We need to learn.

I need to learn ...

Rix bent over the young man and placed his own forehead to the boy's forehead; a great emotion rose in him and he allowed himself to cry, his tears falling on the dead boy's eyes.

Rix drew back slightly; it seemed the boy had been crying.

Of course you had been, and I didn't see it.

It was then that Rix gathered the boy in his arms and held him tightly, and it was in this embrace that Mark awoke; a sunrise flaring up and a first breath, then another.

“Thank the Gods,” Rix whispered into the boy's hair, rocking him in the deepest embrace he had ever held another, “Thank the Gods,” and finally, “Oh, how I love you. Thank you. Thank you for coming back ...”

 

 

15/3 - Leader

Rix was still holding the young man by the hand when they shimmered into existence in the centre of the rest of their group.

The others had taken the opportunity to heal themselves and each other; they were together and all six breathed a deep sigh of relief when they were re-united and in close proximity to each other once more.

All were extremely relieved that Mark had been recovered, and all in their own way offered their sincere apologies for failing to keep him safe.

Mark was tranquil and received this with calm friendliness; he felt very serene since he had experienced his own death and resurrection in the arms of the dragon lord. Even Lady Goodeheart's bow of submission did not ripple his calm. He gazed upon her and his love was as strong as it had always been, but it failed to cause the intense pain he once had been used to experience.

Mark Sean stood, his hand firmly clasped to Rix and thought, I will change your mind. I will make you mine and you will love me.

He might as well have screamed this out aloud; it was heard, received and understood by everyone. DeVille and Sandra smiled at him; Rix squeezed his hand a little, dropped his head and grinned, Meghan nodded encouragingly, and Lady Catherine herself took a deep breath, straightened out and said in return, “I already love you. But I will learn to love you more.”

Rix let go of the young man's hand. You can stand alone now, Rix thought, you'll be alright now. We'll all be alright now.

His group was still focused on Mark and Lady Catherine, and Rix found it interesting that they were each other's priority, when they were standing before an alien installation, a miracle, a wonder in this world.

We are more important than the mission. We are more than just this one mission. Rix stepped forward and rubbed his hands together. He had said that this would be easy, and it would be fun. And that was right, but it depended on all of them being together, working together. With that in place, the creation before them, as large and intimidating as it might appear, would not stand a chance.

Rix sensed the excitement in his own family far above and far away; he smiled. He had not a doubt that they would be the first to arrive here. Their connection with him was paramount and they were missing him as much as he was missing them, probably more so.

Behind him, the others had finished with each other now; they all had touched Mark and welcomed him back. In so doing, they had strengthened and re-arranged the connections between them and now the group was far more aligned, far more unified than it had been before.

There were still major dissonances but the underlying grid was strong, more than strong enough.

Rix felt his excitement rising.

He tuned closer to that what lay before them.

It was huge; this close it was covering the entire horizon. It was not flat but it was difficult to tell exactly where the surface lay as it was so bright; flowing silver light rippling and radiating.

The others were moving closer to him, physically as well as at the same time sharing his fascination with the lake that was no lake.

What is this? wondered Rix. What do I need to do?

Next to his left ear, DeVille said softly, “Throw the dog in the lake ...”

Rix knew exactly what that meant. It gave him a whole new rush of excitement; yes, the custodian was right.

Rix took a deep breath and turned around to face his group. They looked to him with expectation; there was no fear here. They trusted him; they were ready to do what he would choose to do.

They were ready to follow him into the unknown.

For a moment, Rix was unbalanced by this. I am no leader, he thought, but then the sense was incontrovertible.

Of course he was.

Of course he was.

Rix bowed to his people, turned around and lead them out and into the lake.

 

 

 

15/4 - Lightfall

 

Stepping into the white radiance threatened to dissolve Rix, who was not strictly physical any longer, and it forced him to battle to retain himself.

Paradoxically, he had to remember himself more and more specifically and precisely with every step he took and could feel the parts of himself disintegrating where he did not pay close enough attention, where he did not fully make that statement and wish that they should remain real, stable and manifest enough to hold together under the onslaught of the brightness.

My hands.

This is what my hands are, what they feel like ... I remember my hands touching my lover, immersing them in the cold fountain water ... smarting after a day's work that was too hard and too repetitive ...

My feet, my stomach, my heart ... The heart I pierced and it faltered and lay still ... I remember what that felt like ...

My back, my bones.

My blood.

It was here that he found the key; his blood was what held it all together, unified it all, had been missing ever since he spilled it on the cell floor that bitter night, that blessed night, the night of his ascendency ...

Rix breathed in the white light then and let it be transferred into his blood, and thus, into his whole being, and as he did this, the light no longer threatened to dissolve him but instead, it defined him more clearly, more powerfully and more sharply in every aspect, every smallest part and largest part.

Finally, Rix began to know himself.

Finally, Rix began to understand himself, first as a man, then as a dragon lord.

And finally, he began to understand his place in the greater scheme of things.

He understood that his journey here had been unique in all the times spent. Through a unique and never to be repeated series of circumstances, he had become a dragon lord, long before his time.

As he moved through the flowing, living light that now entirely immersed them all and with the youngsters at his back, living beings that gave him strength and a power he now no longer possessed, Rix understood that only someone like himself could have passed through the seal of protection unhindered, unnoticed.

He was still man enough to have made it through.

He still remembered clearly enough what it was to be a man and not a dragon lord; and that was why they had sent him on this mission.

Rix was the only who could accomplish it.

He was the youngest of them all by oh! so many lives.

A single life he'd lived, and that had ended before it was even a third of the way through ...

He was a child, and only a child could do what needed to be done here.

The thought no longer troubled him.

He was here, and the custodian had been right.

Rix would know what to do when the moment was here, and it was here, and he did know.

Before him, and in the very centre of this creation, this lens, this seal there was the nexus.

It had been sealed and the intention had been that it should remain sealed forever.

The seal itself was wonderful, a powerful creation; it had taken many, old and wise, to put it here, and Rix was quite delighted that it was a child, a nothing such as he who should undo this and put to rights a wrong that had existed here for a hundred thousand years or more, growing in power, growing in strength all the time.

Growing in size ...

The nexus lay ahead.

Rix could now discern a streaming in the light, a current, a strong flow towards the nexus.

It became ever stronger, the closer to the nexus he was moving but Rix was not afraid. With every breath of the light he took, and with more and more of his blood being replaced by light, the closer to the light he became, the more of its nature he understood, and the more his joy and excitement grew.

He could sense that the youngsters behind him were feeling his excitement, were feeding off it; he was taking the light and converting it into joy so they could share it too.

Now, Rix had to focus strongly as the current of the rushing light close to the very edge of the nexus became ever more powerful, ever more inevitable. There was no way back any longer.

Rix began to feel the transformation beginning. He could sense himself becoming smoother, more fluent; he could feel his neck raising, extending; his body was lengthening, his wings began to unfold and stretch with gratitude, flexing, finding the currents and the leverage.

The light would be the wind beneath his wings.

The silver dragon shimmered and revealed and halted at the edge of the enormous, circular lightfall that seemed to go on down, forever and forever, with his five human companions, who had its back.

There was not a doubt left as to what had to happen here.

The dragon leaped and rose on the beating of its enormous, powerful wings. It gained height swiftly, no longer influenced by the currents of the lightfall. Its friends were watching as it drew higher and higher spirals over the nexus, a giant iris which lay beneath it.

The dragon rose higher and higher still until it was just a single point of light; then it seemed to pause for a moment before it headed straight down in an arrow dive, faster and faster, gaining momentum until it was so fast, it seemed a lightning strike flashing by, straight into the heart of the nexus.

 

 

15/5 - Nexus

As he rushed straight down and into the heart of the nexus, Rix experienced himself becoming more and more tightly aligned, more and more focused, more and more intensified, all his force, all his power, all his will, all that he was, had ever been and would still become drawing together into a single point of consciousness that travelled faster and faster.

The faster it went, the more tightly it compacted until it occupied no space any longer at all; then it compacted into negative space and when it did, the threshold was breached and the reverberating explosion shook the very foundations of the universe.

The extraordinary power of the discharge radiated in a singular instance throughout; it shattered the shield around the nexus, smashed it into the finest particles of star dust and broke the boundaries between the levels and the layers, re-establishing the old corridors which had existed before they had been sealed.

And on the nexus plane, where five human beings had been thrown to the ground as the disc of light rose, finally freed to take its rightful place in time and space, rose higher, slowly began to turn from the horizontal, the portal opened wide and bright, a mirror in the sky.

Within seconds, the surface of the mirror rippled and a stream of dragons broke through, explosive, fast flight, long necks stretched out and wings held tight, as Rix's family arrived with a vengeance to reclaim their most beloved child.

They found the silver dragon drifting like a leaf on the breeze, surrounded it and supported it, held it safe and aloft, banking in a wide arc all together to take it to where the people were waiting, looking up into the sky towards the dragons.

Behind them, the first of the many began streaming through the portal; winged creatures, spirit ribbons, exiles old and new, who had been waiting for so long to finally return, to finally re-claim their lands of home, their songs of joy and recognition harmonising to the silence, filling it with life and magic had returned at last.

 

 

15/6 - Together

DeVille stood, one arm protectively placed around Meghan's shoulder and the other around Catherine's, looking up to sky in wonderment.

More and more beings were streaming in through the portal, and with every one who came, the sense of festival, of joy and celebration increased, more and more, until DeVille found himself shivering with the excitement of it, found it hard to stand still and eventually realised that he wanted to dance.

The dragon family, huge creatures of many subtle hues but all of that liquid light metallic shine, smooth as glass and as reflective, was drawing closer, still supporting their own and DeVille's one and only.

Rix was alright, just confused and disorientated, weakened by what he had achieved.

DeVille felt him perfectly and knew his lord was simply resting, indeed enjoying being carried by his family in this most loving way.

It would have been so easy, he reflected, to have thought that they are so huge, and we are so small.

They are so magical, and we are nothing but a bunch of hapless, hopeless material beings.

The truth is we all belong together.

It is not until we all find our rightful places in the greater scheme of things that the world will be as it was always meant to be - a pleasure and a privilege, a starry milky way of extraordinary experiences that all together, made your path, made your life.

If it wasn't for me, you could not be here, DeVille thought and this made him smile so much, it nearly hurt his face, unused to expressing emotions such as this as it was.

DeVille tightened his embrace of the two women. They were warm and vibrant, and they were his as much as he belonged to them.

So he watched with ever mounting joy and excitement as the dragon family grew closer, slowed more and more and began a gentle arc of descend which would land them all right before the waiting humans.

DeVille did not need to turn around to know that Sandra was stepping forward to greet the dragon friends on their behalf.

He could also sense young Mark, who was holding hands with Catherine; his presence was flowing through her to DeVille. It was bright and strong, filled with happiness, and it made DeVille feel glad.

This is new, he thought, I can layer all these different emotions, sensations ... I can be levels deep in joy all at the same time ... He kissed Meghan on the hair, Catherine on the temple and let them go.

He too wanted to go and meet the dragons.

Their sheer size was once again so very impressive; they looked large at the distance but the closer they came, the more their true size was revealed.

And the sensations of feeling them closing in ... It was so wonderful, so sensual, so entirely all over his body and inside of it as well that DeVille had to briefly close his eyes and breathe deeply to steady himself.

Dragons are so sexy, he thought. There is something about them that simply makes my neurology sing. It's no wonder that vanilla never appealed to me at all ...

The leader of the group of dragons which were carefully landing now with silver Rix at the centre was a shimmering opalescent white, a beautiful light, and even though DeVille had never met this one before, he knew it was Rix's lover, the connection between Rix and his family.

DeVille wondered who his lord would be.

It was not Rix; he belonged to Sandra.

DeVille laughed to himself and felt that additional strand of delight add to all the others he was already holding and experiencing, raising him even higher, lifting his mood in a way he had never known before.

Rix belonged to Sandra, not the other way around.

How funny was that ...

And now, and here, there were so many dragons to choose from ...

One of you will be mine, thought DeVille, I wonder who ...?

As he asked this question, he found his eyes wandering away from the landing dragons before him and raising to the skies.

The portal remained open and what seemed a truly endless stream of creatures of all kinds, wondrous and strange, alien and confusing, but delightful each and every one was continuing to enter this dimension.

His lover would come, DeVille realised and here the joy took a whole new shift into previously unknown dimensions.

His lover would come, and they would find each other.

Of course, it would be a dragon.

DeVille had consciously known this since he was four years old.

It seemed like only yesterday, and all the time past in between now had dissolved to nothing, nothing at all.

My love, DeVille said to the sky, I await you.

 

 

Post Script

 

In a small shack constructed from random pieces of rusty corrugated iron, mismatched wood and weathered plastic sheets of many colours flapping in the wind, and to the sounds of the rain drumming softly on the roof, a small dark skinned woman threw a mixture of sage and salt into her cooking fire, routinely asking for the blessings of her ancestors.

The fire sparked and on this rainy night, and for the first time ever, she saw the face of her mother in the fire.

 

In an ancient church built from grey stone, an old priest tiredly recited a prayer he had spoken a thousand times and where the words long ago had drifted away, lost their meaning, becoming a stream of sounds that might as well have been a sob, or a child crying softly.

It was halfway through the prayer that the words began to shift and shine, to sparkle and he could feel them on his tongue again. He could taste the words and as he shaped them, the prayer turned into an evocation and in the darkened church, a light began to silently unfold and finally, his guardian angel shimmered into being.

 

On a dry hillside in a barren land, a small child was far from home, on a quest to find the little people who were said to live out here and had the power to mend broken hearts, fill empty bellies and make dreams come true.

The child was looking for the flowers where the magic folk would congregate; the child knew where they grew. He had come to this place many times and had called to the magic people, had told them of his troubles and listened to the silence in return.

On this bright morning, where great white castle clouds majestically sailed across the deep blue summer sky, when he had finished speaking, and began the listening, he could hear the sounds of many tiny voices, and they were singing ...

 

In a concrete tower, one of many in the city, in her small apartment, a woman was lighting a candle with a long, silver electronic lighter. It had been a hard day at work where she pretended to be nothing more than a quiet, tidy person, well organised, reliable.

Here, in her home, decorated with coloured lights and bead curtains, soft furry cushions and pictures of wild animals on the wall, she was her true self and it was such a relief.

She settled herself down on the large orange cushion before her little altar, just her bedside table really, there wasn't much space for anything else, but it held her precious things.

She closed her eyes and as usual, entered into her fantasy world where she would swim with dolphins, be a mermaid, be a bird, fly free.

But as she closed her eyes, she found herself on an unfamiliar plane of wild grass, shivering in the cool evening breeze, feeling her own hands on her shoulders, breathing deeply in surprise and it was so real, and in the sky above, great dragons were circling and crying out in joy ...

 

In a hospital, the night shift nurse began his secret rounds. He would go to each patient, one at a time, and hold his hands over them as they slept, and give them a blessing and his best wishes for healing.

He had done this ever since he first arrived here; he found it stabilised him, made him feel as though he was a healer, that he could make a difference amongst the dying here.

On this night, the first patient he visited was an old lady who was close to death and had no visitors since she had arrived. Her contact was the social worker. As he contemplated her deeply lined face that even in the deep, drug induced sleep looked sad and lonely, and held out his hands over her body, he had the strangest sensation of a presence. He looked up and saw the woman standing, translucent, on the other side of the bed. She had both hands held to her heart and she was smiling at him.

 

In his luxurious bed, beneath the black pure silk sheets, an engineer slept and dreamed. He dreamed of perfect structures, pure, brilliant logic, connections reaching far and wide and in between, crossing spaces, crossing dimensions, creating a machine the world had never seen before and in doing so, finally finding not just the solution to a problem he had been working on for the better part of twenty years, but realising that the problem itself was on the other side of a paradigm shift, and he would know just what he had to do to bring about a revolution.

 

In a hotel room, with the soft, moist night air drifting into the room through the open window and the sounds of the nearby motorway as so many waves rushing against the universal shore, sitting at the dressing table with her lap top beneath a brilliantly clear mirror, a writer felt the strangest sensation. She looked up and met her own brown eyes in the mirror.

Oh yes, she thought and smiled.

All the stories in the world ...

All the stories in the universe ... in the multiverse ...

They've all come home now.

They are there, awaiting their writers, as the dragons await their lovers.

Come home.

Make it so.

 

 

Right here, right now,

there exist many worlds

and many foreign places.

 

Amidst these, some travel,

and the most renown amongst them

are the story tellers ...