Fan Fiction

Angels and Demons
by Mawgan Dell
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8 / Part 9 / Part 10 / Part 11 / Part 12 / Part 13 / Part 14 / Part 15 / Part 16 / Part 17 / Part 18 / Part 19 / Part 20 / Part 21 / Part 22 / Part 23 / Part 24 / Epilogue
-Art by Joe.-

Sandra woke up in a cold sweat. She knew this because she felt very very cold, and after a second or two, she felt the sheets sizzling underneath her hands. She grunted in frustration, swung her legs off the bed, and stood up, her hooves clunking loudly on the hardwood floor. Some parts of being a demon were tolerable, she thought. The acidic bodily fluid was bearable, as were the horns, the third eye, the sharp, elongated fingers, the black and white skin. The tail was actually quite fun. But one thing that Sandra never got used to, was the nightmares. She wondered briefly if other demons had such nightmares. She stretched and donned her shirt and jeans, as the bed stopped hissing and steaming. Dissolving her sheets every night was getting rather tiresome, but there was nothing she could do at present. Her pillows too, if they weren't dissolved by her tears or sweat, they were torn apart by her horns as she tossed and turned. Sandra stopped that train of thought before it could continue and depress her again, and made her way downstairs. As she passed Crystal's room, she glimpsed Crystal asleep in her bed through the barely closed door, and the snoring from Jack's room meant he was either sleeping, or meditating AND sleeping. Sandra was tempted to set him on fire again, to wake him up, but thought better of it. It was too early to listen to Jack screaming. Once downstairs, she started making coffee. She didn't bother with food for breakfast anymore. She didn't bother with food at all actually. Since she'd been turned into a demon, she hadn't eaten at all. Nothing had any flavour. Except coffee. Admittedly the lack of food had done wonders for her figure, but it was a relatively small consolation. After going through the awkward motions to make the coffee, for she still hadn't quite gotten used to her long fingers, she sat down at the table, and drank deeply. Mmmmmmmm, good coffee.
"I think, for the sake of my sanity, we should get some carpeting done on the stairs. Your trotting around wakes me up every damn time."
Sandra turned, it was Sam. He had emerged from the living room, where he slept on the couch. His eyes were bleary his fur ruffled, and his long fluffy ears were at odd angles. He'd obviously just woken up, and very reluctantly by the look of things.
"Morning, Sam." Sandra muttered over her coffee cup, she had long ago given up on engaging him in conversation just after he'd woken up. He just grunted and helped himself to some leftover coffee from Sandra's batch. Sandra looked at him. Even today, whenever she looked at him, she still saw Sam Sprinkles, the character from her favourite childhood cartoon show, cheerful, happy-go-lucky, enthusiastic. But that image of him faded every day. Most of the time right after he spoke.
Sandra mused as she sipped her coffee. Sitting opposite her was a creature from another dimension, a large talking rabbit. They were connected by their soul. They way Sandra understood from how Jack explained it, if Sandra had been born in Sam's dimension, she would have BEEN Sam, just as Sam would have been Sandra had he been born in her dimension. But that's not the only connection they shared. Neither of them could leave the house on account of how they looked. They were sequestered in their own home. Well, there was that time when Sam went to the bar for a couple of drinks, completely disregarding the fact he was a giant talking rabbit in a world of humans, and everyone around him convinced themselves that he didn't exist. He couldn't exist. Whenever Sandra went out in public in her custom made overcoat, people still stared, muttering things about 'fashion rejects' and 'that goth chick'. It really got on her nerves.
That thought seemed to spark another in her mind, and she got up to get her overcoat. Sam didn't look up as she put it on, but said,
"Venturing forth into the world once again?" Sandra finished putting on the coat and paused, thinking about what to say. The truth was that she just wanted buy something to read, she'd read everything else in the house out of sheer boredom. She even risked a look at one of Jack's subscription magazines when she got really desperate, and afterwards vowed never to be that desperate again. But it wasn't as easy as just going out to buy a book. It was never as easy as that. When she was outside, while people stared, glanced nervously, and whispered behind her back, it was the closest she could get to other people. She couldn't say she could block out the burning desire to be normal again, the frustration, the sorrow. Instead, she indulged in it, secretly knowing that it was those emotions that let her know that she was still human on the inside, rather than just a demon. And no demon could ever feel anything. Demons didn't have souls. In that small way, going outside made her feel better about her situation. However, all she said was,
"Just going out to buy something to read." She had opened the door and was already heading outside when she heard him say,
"Be careful." She looked at him then. He was twisted around in his chair to face her, is arm resting on the back of the chair. Seeing his face, she could see he meant what he said. There were very few times when Sam said something that wasn't pessimistic, moody, or sarcastic. And in those few times, he looked like the old Sam Sprinkles again, the one she'd grown up with, and had always loved.
"Thanks. I will." She left.

In the street around the newspaper stand, people went about their daily lives. Gordo stood behind the counter of the stand, leaning on it with one hand, the other hand in his back pocket to keep warm. He stood idly, watching everyone pass by through his misted breath. He didn't really care if anyone bought anything from him or not, all he could think about is the warm bed he left behind. He stood for a while longer, then switched hands, when the other got too cold. Then, after a while, he changed tactics. He stood up with both his hands in his back pockets. He was just about to help himself to a magazine to pass the time, when a shadow crept over him. He looked up, and groaned. It was that weird girl in that oversized raincoat he'd seen now and again loitering by the stand. Gordo would be the first to admit that business was never very good this early in the morning, but when she was hanging around, NO ONE ever bought anything. This time the girl did something unexpected. She pointed to a magazine, with her sleeves so long that they were covering her hands, and said in a voice that made Gordo's spine tingle,
"One of those please."
Gordo was stunned. She was actually buying something. Maybe, Gordo thought to himself hopefully, once she buys the magazine, she'll go away! He picked out the one she'd pointed to, and showed it to her, keeping it well out of her reach.
"$9.95." he said simply. The girl held out her hand and from the sleeve a crumpled $10 note fell onto the counter. Gordo picked it up, and dutifully placed a nickel on the counter in its place. The girl just stared at it for a moment.
"Keep the change." she said hurriedly and snatched the magazine from his hand. Gordo recoiled, nursing his hand as he watched her leave. Then he looked down at his hand, there was a long cut across the back of it. Thinking back on what had just happened, Gordo was pretty sure that the weird girl hadn't meant to cut him like that. And, after thinking a little more, he just assumed it was from a piercing she must've had on her hand. Those damn goth kids'll skewer themselves anywhere.

The sound of Sandra's hooves on the pavement were drowned by the din of the people around her, so she felt comfortable going at a steady jog. Or trot, as the case may be she thought to herself bitterly. That slimeball at the newspaper stand didn't have to look at her like that. All she wanted was to get home as soon as possible, and read the damned magazine, for what it was worth. She stopped running at the cafe nearby, and sat down to catch her breath. She looked up to see if she was attracting any attention, when she saw him. There, sitting at a table at the cafe, was the only man other that Jack and Sam that she'd actually talked to since she became a demon. Mike. She'd thought about him a lot since halloween. She'd even dreamed about him once or twice. Ever since he found out the truth about Sandra, she'd been thinking about him, wondering about her feelings towards him. Was she in love with him? Or did she just badly want someone else to talk to, that she didn't have to hide from. Many a night she would imagine Mike confessing to her that he was really a demon too. Or sometimes she would imagine Jack finding a way to turn her back and her running to tell Mike. She scolded herself then, sitting at the cafe, for entertaining such a notion. Thinking of such things would only make her more miserable, she reasoned.
She looked up again, and saw that Mike was talking to someone. Not the usual band of friends that he usually talked with. This was someone new. A man, with blonde hair, tied back in a ponytail. He wore a black overcoat, similar to hers, but without a hood, that reached down to his ankles. Sandra was immediately suspicious of him. In her experiences with her coat, she learned that no one ever wore them because they wanted to. Therefor this guy had something to hide, just like her. At once she scolded herself mentally again. What was she saying? This man was a demon? Of course not, he wasn't even hiding his face. No Sandra, she told herself, you're just being paranoid.
She got up and left before they had a chance to look over and spot her, and was about to head home when she heard something that made her stop. Something that Mike suddenly yelled at the blonde guy.
"I'm telling you she transformed! Right before my eyes!!"
That was all she heard before the other guy shushed him. Mike was talking about her? Why? Why would he think anyone would believe him? Sandra remembered at Halloween when she was able to assume human form for one night. She'd run into Mike, dressed up as a demon, and they'd talked through the night. Sandra had tried, rather tactlessly when she thought about it, to find out if Mike liked her at all for her mind, as opposed to the novelty of her being a demon. However, before she could find out, Mike had guessed who she really was, and Sandra, in her frustration, transformed back into a demon and flew away. She hadn't seen or spoken with him since then. Until now. Now the first time she sees him he's talking to someone about the last time they met!
She moved as close as she dared, taking care to keep behind Mike, so that he wouldn't see her, and sat down at a table to listen.

Mike realized he was starting to talk too loudly, and unconsciously hunched lower and spoke in hushed tones,
"Look, Abe, I know you believe me, but I wish you'd just take this more seriously."
The blonde haired man's expression didn't change as Mike said this, in fact there was no hesitation as he answered,
"What makes you think I'm not taking this seriously?"
"Because, I don't know, you should be excited or something. Or angry, afraid. Something, ANYTHING, other than just sitting there and taking it all in."
At that Abe looked a little hurt.
"You want me to get excited, to jump to conclusions, to act rashly on something as delicate as this?"
Abe's blue eyes turned cold, drilling into Mike's so hard that he flinched.
"Ok, I'm sorry. It's just that I really want her to let me in, instead of just pretending I never existed."
Abe cut him off by holding up his finger.
"Before you continue, I have some questions for you. Why didn't you tell me of this earlier?"
Mike was obviously on edge. He kept running his hands through his dark hair, looking this way and that. He continued like this for a while before answering.
"Don't think that it's because I didn't think you'd believe me. That's not it, I knew you'd believe me, I mean, how could you not? It's just, when I first found out, after we'd been talking for a little while, I could've told everyone else the truth. I could've tried to convince them about what she really was, not that I would've had to try all that hard, they were all too ready to believe she was some alien or nutcase or something."
He let his hands fall into his lap and balled them into fists as he said this. He kept them clenched for a while longer, then let forced them to relax. "But I didn't tell you because I thought you'd assume she was evil, and..." his voice trailed off. Abe's eyes softened, as he looked at Mike looking down at his hands, as if in shame. He put a hand on Mike's shoulder,
"How many times have I told you about using the word 'evil'?" he said. Mike laughed a nervous kind of laugh, the kind that sounded like it had tears in it, but Mike's eyes were dry. "Ok, now my second question. Did she actually transform in front of you? Did she stand in front of you and completely transform?" Mike shook his head and looked up.
"Not really. As she stood in front of me, she only sprouted wings from her back, but they were enormous wings, Abe. They couldn't possibly have been strapped to her back and folded up. She flew away then, and I saw her transform in the air." Mike stopped short, and looked behind him. He thought he'd heard something, like a horse walking on the street or something. But there was nothing there. Strange, he thought, as though for an instant he thought there should have been something there. He turned back. Abe appeared not to have noticed, and was taking a sip of his coffee. He put it down and turned back to Mike, waiting for him to finish.
"I don't know," he shrugged, "I'm just sorry that on both times I was with her, that I didn't get a chance to tell her that she didn't have to feel so alone. That there other people, similar to herself."

There were tears in Sandra's eyes as she ran home. She dared not wipe her eyes until she had something disposable to wipe them with, she had enough holes in the sleeves of her coat as it was. People looked at her and whispered to themselves a lot more than usual as she ran past. They paid particular attention to the noise her hooves were making on the pavement. But she didn't care, she just wanted to get home as quickly as possible. Hearing about how much Mike cared about her was bad enough, but reliving what happened on Halloween was unbearable, especially when she heard it from someone else. In her own mind she was able to rationalize what she'd done, to justify her actions. But hearing it from the lips of someone other than herself, she heard it for what it really was. It was an act of cowardice, the path of least resistance.
By now Jack and Crystal were up. Crystal was watching TV with Sam, and Jack was sitting at the kitchen table with Tomie, Jack's supposedly intelligent book of magic, hovering open in front of him over the table. Everyone jumped when the front door slammed, and watched as Sandra rushed past them and upstairs to her room, and jumped again when they heard her bedroom door slam. Jack immediately got up, raising his hand to Tomie as he did so, the magic book obediently closing and placing itself in Jack's hand. As he made his way to the stairs, he was intercepted by Crystal. She stood between him and the stairs, her arms spread wide.
"Wait, Jack, I don't want you going up those stairs."
"Why not?" he asked impatiently. Crystal looked away. Whenever Sandra got upset, no matter what it was about, she would go to her room, and sob into her pillow, and blame whatever was wrong on her being a demon. And of course the reason for her being a demon was because of Jack. So every time she got upset, the same thing happened. Crystal looked back at Jack.
"Because I don't want you ruining the carpet."
Jack was opening his mouth to question her, when it happened. It wasn't really a sound, more of a sensation. But if a sound had to be put to it, it'd be 'woof'. Jack went 'woof'. Suddenly he burst into flames, from head to toe he was engulfed, and screaming like a 10 year old girl. He ran outside, singeing the floor with black footprints as he went, to get the hose. Crystal shook her head and went to get some towels and Jack's burn ointment.
Sandra was Pyrokinetic. In laymen's terms it meant 'to create fire by thinking hard about it.' Strangely though, the only time she was ever able to summon fire, was when she was particularly angry at Jack, and suddenly he'd be engulfed in flames. It had happened in the first couple of minutes of her being a demon. He was adamantly saying that it wasn't his fault, and Sandra reared herself up as tall as she could, and was about to throw a barrage of venomous insults at him, when he burst into flames. Sandra had never laughed so hard in her life. It had happened quite frequently since then, and Jack, now being a warlock (or so he claims, Crystal thought, rolling her eyes), had developed a high tolerance for pain, and he healed up in a couple of minutes anyway, with hardly any scarring.
The screams subsided, and Crystal placed a towel on the floor in front of the front door. Jack entered, still black, and dripping, and stood on the towel. Crystal wordlessly handed him his ointment, and he wordlessly took it, and started rubbing it into the exceptionally painful parts. Sam, meanwhile, hadn't taken his eyes off the TV. When no one said anything, he broke the silence.
"I think she's upset."
Jack said nothing, but continued rubbing in his ointment with a wooden expression, albeit a char-grilled wooden expression. Crystal was already heading upstairs. As she passed the cupboard, she took out a pillow and continued to Sandra's room. She opened the door to find what she expected to find, Sandra curled up into a ball, clutching her torn pillow with her razor sharp talons, sobbing into it. The room was dominated by a chemical smell and in the background Crystal could hear the pillow sizzling softly. Crystal sat down on the edge of the bed in front of Sandra, and placed the pillow near Sandra's feet.
"This is for when that one gets too small." she said, and she heard Sandra giggle. Crystal started to stroke Sandra's soft purple hair. "Do you want to tell me what happened?" she asked. Crystal liked to stroke Sandra's hair. It was silky soft and smooth, but when she took her hand away, it just sprang right back to the way it was before. In that way Crystal was jealous, to have hair like that meant never having to brush it. However she would never ever tell Sandra that. She knew how Sandra hated being a demon.
"I saw Mike today." Sandra said from behind the pillow. Immediately Crystal understood. You didn't need to be a genius to figure out the rest. "He was talking to someone about Halloween, and I only realized I was crying when I heard the table I was sitting at hissing."
Sandra sat up now and leaned back against the headboard of the bed.
"Well, why did you go out in the first place?"
"Didn't Sam tell you?"
"Pfh! We're talking about Sam here, since when has he volunteered any information? We thought you were still in bed, and Jack didn't want to wake you because he thought you might set him on fire again." Sandra laughed bitterly.
"Hmm, look where that got him." she muttered. She stared into space for a while, looking at nothing. "I wanted something to read, so I went out and bought a magazine. I saw him sitting at the cafe on the way back, talking with some guy."
"Talking about Halloween?"
This surprised Crystal, it seemed strange from what she'd heard of Mike, that he would tell anyone what happened. After all, the first time he saw Sandra's face, he told his friends that she was just horribly scarred, like she was always telling everyone. There's not much I can say, Crystal thought, all she really needs is to have a soak in the bathtub and a nap, that always makes me feel better.
"Maybe I just need take a bath and take a nap." Sandra muttered. Crystal grinned.
"You read my mind."

The hot water poured into the bath in a loud torrent, while Sandra got undressed. She'd already poured in some bubble mix for a bubble bath, and the bubbles crept higher with the level of the water. She was about to step into the tub when she saw her reflection out of the corner of her eye, and she turned to the mirror. She hadn't had much of a chance to examine her naked body since the first time when Jack rushed in, and she didn't really have a huge desire to either. But looking now she was impressed with the pattern of the black and white stripes on her chest and torso. The only colour there was to see below her neck in the mirror was her nipple ring, glittering gold against the starch white and jet black. She stared at the ring in the mirror, to this day she did not know why she ever got it in the first place. When the tub was full, she turned off the water, stepped in, and sank gratefully back, until the bubbles reached her chin. Yes, she thought, nothing is more relaxing than a nice hot bath. She lay idly for a while, toying with the bubbles with her finger, listening to the rhythms of her body, and the quiet watery sounds of the bath. But not much time passed before she fell asleep.

Crystal came back down the stairs to find Sam hadn't moved, and Jack was sitting back down at the table with Tomie open in front of him again. He'd completely healed now, every time he was set on fire he healed faster and faster. He hadn't bothered changing though, his plaid shirt was undamaged, but his 'PERV' T-shirt and jeans were ruined.
"Aren't you gonna change?" Crystal asked, Jack didn't even turn to face her.
"It's too early in the morning. Chances are she'll find another some other reason to get mad at me later on anyway."
He sounded a little miffed, but Crystal knew that he wasn't nearly as angry as he sounded. He knew Sandra better than that. After Crystal had sat back down with Sam, Jack gave a sigh and got up, heading for the stairs. "I'm gonna go and meditate for a while, try and see what else there is to see." Sam and Crystal had long ago given up trying to understand what he meant by that, the only explanation they ever got was 'perception is different in the spectral plane.' So Crystal just said,
"Have fun!" she said to his retreating back. Sam said nothing. When Jack had disappeared up the stairs, Crystal turned to Sam. "You're very quite today." Sam glanced at her, then turned back to the TV, there was some sitcom playing.
"It's not like anything out of the ordinary has happened so far." he said. Crystal had to agree. She watched the show for a while, but got bored.
"Well, I'm gonna go upstairs and read or something. Sure you're not gonna be bored?" Sam chuckled
"More bored than I already am? Not much chance." Satisfied, Crystal went upstairs, leaving Sam on his own.
Sam waited for a while, then looked around to make doubly sure that he was alone. Then he picked up the remote and pressed play. He'd found the tape while doing some exploring around the house, whenever he'd had the chance. It was in a box in Crystal's room. He wasn't actually going through her things, but he had looked in her room to see if she was there, the cupboard door was ajar, and he happened to see the label of the tape in the box. He wasn't exactly sure why he liked watching it. Maybe he was just homesick. He sighed and smiled sadly as he watched Ed Elephant, Tawny Tiger and an all too familiar talking rabbit in another episode of 'Meet Sam Sprinkles.'

Sandra was flying again in her dreams. The landscape underneath her undulated and changed, transforming into various landscapes of her memories. In the back of her mind, she knew she was asleep, and she was also hoping that Mr. Chalk didn't make another appearance. He'd invaded her dreams a few times now, and each time he did something bad happened, either in her dreams or when she woke up afterwards. The landscape morphed into her school playground, then into the sewers that she walked with Sam in when they were in his dimension. After a few random changes, her memory changed it into the street with the cafe. She landed as gracefully as her clumsy hooves would allow, and looked around. She saw herself, sitting at one of the tables, and her other self was watching people at another table. When Sandra looked, she immediately recognized them, and was hardly surprised. It was Mike and Abe. She wasn't paying attention to what they were saying, she'd already thought about what they'd said too much anyway. No, she was looking at Abe. Everything in her dream was slightly distorted, like she was looking at everything through bendy glass. But Abe, as Mike called him, wasn't distorted at all. Every detail about his was perfect, as if he was really there. Except for his eyes. Sandra couldn't quite put her finger on it, but there was something wrong with his eyes. They weren't the right colour. Sandra couldn't remember what colour they were, but she knew that the eyes she was looking at now weren't the right colour. They seemed almost blurry, nondescript. Then Abe turned his head, after putting his coffee down, and looked straight at her. Not at her sitting down wearing the hooded coat, but the REAL her, standing watching everything. And suddenly she saw the colour of his eyes. They were turquoise, like the sky just as it starts to turn colour when the sun goes down. They were looking straight at her. She felt her heart miss a beat.

Jack felt his heart miss a beat. He had just relaxed his body, sitting cross-legged in the circle of candles, and was just about to enter the spectral realm, when he felt it. It was very similar to when he'd read Crystal's mind, and when she'd read his, but this was different. Much more powerful. He concentrated, and tried to pinpoint where it was coming from. He gave up shortly, he seemed to be too far away, but it was still there. He concentrated harder. Where it was coming from he had no idea, but where it was going to was very very close by. He let his eyes become the sensors of this strange force, so that whatever it was would represent itself visually. The room melted away before his eyes, to be replaced by empty blackness, his plaid shirt, which seemed normal in the house, grew and was now flowing and moving like ink in water. Then he saw it. It was like a river, rushing from the distant void, and came circling around a point some feet away from him. He drifted closer, to get a better look. He paled at what he saw. It was Sandra, laying back in a large bubble bath, the strange force curved and was enveloping her, swallowing her whole body. She was moving restlessly. Jack thought madly for something he could do. Maybe he could block it.

Abe stood up, and stepped towards Sandra. She took a step back, fearful that he might attack her. He stood almost regally, with is long coat an inch above the ground. The world around him seemed to fade, very slowly, until everything except he and Sandra had changed. Now they stood on a vast field of grass. There were trees in the distance, sporadically placed in all directions, and the faint sound of birdsong could be heard. Sandra took a moment to take in her new surroundings, and the Abe phantom appeared to wait patiently, watching her. When her eyes returned to him, he slowly walked towards her. He was moving with deliberate slowness, which Sandra couldn't help but interpret as like a predator, knowing full well that he'd caught his prey, and was in no hurry. Sandra wanted to run, but her legs wouldn't work. She wanted to fly away, but her wings were gone, and she couldn't bring them back. When he was just inches away from her, he stopped, and stared at her face for the longest time, his expression unreadable. He moved his hand as though to touch her face, and she flinched. He paused, as though confused by her reaction, and made to reach again. Then he, and the green landscape around them, faded to blackness, and she woke up.

With one more effort of will, Jack managed to force his barrier between Sandra and the strange force, and sure enough the force was cut off, and the visage of Sandra disappeared. Jack knew that she'd woken up, and was no longer visible in the spectral realm. He had let out a small cry of triumph, and was about to examine the strange power more closely when it moved. Until that moment, it had been flowing in the same direction, hitting Jack's barrier and flying it all directions, like a torrent of water hitting a spoon. Now it stopped flowing and writhed like a long thin snake, rearing up to face him. The end of the thing was blunt and featureless, but Jack was under the strange impression that it was looking straight at him. With cobra speed it whipped forward and was a hair's breadth away from Jack's face. Jack stayed where he was, eyes wide with shock. The thing moved a little, as though it were some kind of animal, looking at him inquisitively. The tail end of it still stretched away into the darkness, and after what seemed like an eternity to Jack, the thing dissolved right in front of Jack's face. The thing kept dissolving along its entire length, like a really big fuse, burning into oblivion. As it got further away, it dissolved faster, and eventually burned all the way to the point where Jack could no longer see it. It was then that Jack remembered to breath. Then he remembered Sandra.
Once Jack had returned himself to his body, and had put all the candles out, he rushed across the hall to the bathroom. It was obvious to Jack that she hadn't moved much since she'd woken up. She was sitting up, staring into space, with a mixed expression on her face. If Jack had to hazard a guess, he would say that her expression was a mix of disbelief and blind terror. He knelt beside the bath, and touched her gingerly on the arm.
"Are you alright." he said. Sandra didn't react for a while, then she seemed to snap out of whatever reverie she was in, and looked looked at him. Her face was still blank, but then she became aware of the situation. She was naked, in the bath, and Jack was in the room. Her blood boiled, her cheeks flushed purple in anger and her breathing became heavy and labored. Jack realized only too late what he had done. Then he went 'woof', and started to scream. Instantly Sandra cooled down, and after the initial shock, came up with an idea. In one movement, she leapt out of the bath, and grabbed her towel off the rack. She quickly wrapped herself up in it, and holding it up with one hand, used her other hand to grab Jack's arm, and pull him into the bathtub. Jack stopped screaming and was quietly hissing under the water.
Crystal ran into the room, and at a single glance knew what must have happened. There was Sandra, standing with a towel wrapped around her, torn in places where she'd been in a hurry with her sharp fingers, and Jack's tuft of hair sticking out of the mountain of bubbles. She shook her head sadly.
"Jack, you should have known better."

An hour later, everyone was sitting around the dining room table. Jack had explained himself, and had almost completely healed. He explained about the strange force he detected, and what it was doing to Sandra, as well as its behavior after he'd stopped it. Then Sandra described her dream to everyone present.
"But when he looked at me, it's as if he became more real." she said, "Not like a person in my dream but like... " Sandra stopped. She hadn't told anyone about Mr. Chalk. She didn't want to worry them, didn't want them to worry about her. After Mr. Broadshoulders, Tool, and even Lord Incubus, she didn't want to concern them more with this. It wouldn't help anything for them to worry any more.
"Like what?" Jack urged.
"He just became more real. I don't know how else to describe it."
It wasn't exactly lying, but it wasn't exactly honest either. She avoided their eyes.
"Well, what does Abe want?" Crystal mused.
"What makes you think that Abe is responsible?" Jack asked, "Maybe whatever it was simply chose a person she was dreaming about at the time, and exploited that. Using it as a vessel to enter her dreams."
"Regardless of whether or not it really was Abe, we're not going to find out from what we know now." Sam said. Sandra looked at him.
"What makes you say that?" she said.
"I'm just saying that we don't have enough information to go on. It'd be like trying to solve a puzzle with only half the pieces." Everyone reluctantly agreed.
"Well, whatever it is, what does it want?" Crystal asked again. "I mean, you were there, Sandra. Sort of. Can't you guess what it was after?"
Sandra frowned. It was strange now, when she thought about it, he didn't seem as hostile as she had assumed.
"It's different when I think about it." she said.
"It's like that with all dreams." Jack said. "What did it feel like while you were dreaming?"
"In the field, I felt threatened, like he wanted to hurt me. But when I think back on it, he didn't make any threatening gestures. If anything his actions were... cautious. And when he reached for my face, he seemed curious."
Jack scoffed.
"Well, whatever that thing was, it was not cautious." he said, "Curious perhaps, but not cautious. It came right up to me and looked at me like some sort of bug, as if I was no threat to it whatsoever."
Nobody spoke for a while, everyone lost in their own thoughts. Eventually, Sandra broke the silence.
"Well, I agree with Sam. We won't be able to figure anything out now, not until we have more information to go on." She sounded like she wasn't the least bit pleased with what she was saying. "There's nothing we can do right now."
Sandra's spirits were at an all time low. When she wasn't being attacked by fearsome monsters and demon hunters, she was being tortured in her dreams by the likes of Mr. Chalk and alien forces. The life of a demon was a hard one, she thought to herself. A single tear rolled down her cheek, and landed on the table with a soft hiss. Everyone pretended not to notice.

Jack was back in his room. He was sitting cross legged on the floor, with Tomie levitating wide open over his open palm. He remained completely still, occasionally making a vague gesture with his other hand, and a page would turn. All this talk about Halloween had made him think, and when he tried to remember the details of that night, a thought struck him. It was so obvious that he wondered why he didn't think of it before. He hadn't told Sandra yet. He didn't want to get her hopes up. After a long silence, he heard Tomie's voice inside his head.
"I'm sorry I didn't bring it up before, but I'd assumed that you'd already thought of it and had dismissed it as a bad idea."
Jack didn't stop reading, but muttered back,
"Don't worry, Tomie, these things happen."
Silence. A few more pages turned.
"You still blame yourself for Sandra's condition don't you?" Tomie asked. This made Jack pause. It was such a random change of subject, almost a non sequitur, that Jack had to stop reading so his mind could catch up with what Tomie had said.
"Of course I do." He said eventually, "It is directly because of me that she is the way she is. If it hadn't been for me, she would still be human."
His voice was calm and quiet, but Tomie could detect the passion and anger behind his words. Jack managed to settle his emotions, and pressed on reading.
"I may not be able to turn her back yet, but at least now there's a hope of giving her the next best thing." he said.
"But she'll still be a demon." Tomie replied.
"Maybe. But at least she'll be able to have some semblance of a life again."

"You're going to WHAT!!??"
Sandra had been sitting up in bed reading her magazine when Jack had knocked on the door and come in. He said that he'd found a way for her to go out in public again. Then he told her.
"You remember on Halloween you were able to assume human form for the night?" he said, trying to elaborate. She nodded. "Well, that was because for that one night, the night of demons, devils and monsters, you were endowed with more power, power that you were able to use to change the way you looked."
"Yes, yes, I remember you telling me." she said, waving him on and hiding her face with her other hand. The memory was still painful.
"Well, if I were to give you more power, not a lot, but the same amount that you were given on Halloween, then you'll be able to assume whatever shape you want, whenever you want... including human."
Sandra considered it. It did make sense, if she thought about it, but there were still some doubts in her mind.
"Wouldn't that make me more dangerous that I already am?" she asked, "If you made me more powerful, then the next time I set you on fire it could kill you!"
That thought had already crossed Jack's mind, but he'd thought about it long and hard, and he was sure he'd found a solution.
"It won't make you THAT strong, just enough to let you change the way you look. That's all there is to it, I promise you."
Jack could see that she was still hesitant. He sat down on the edge of the bed, holding her gaze for a while.
"If this works," he said, "then you won't have to hide anymore. You'll be able to go out and talk to people again. Be able to have a life again."
For the longest time Sandra didn't say anything. She just sat there, clenching and unclenching her hands, staring at them. Jack sat there, watching her, and let her be. He knew that ultimately it was up to her, and he would abide by her decision.
"Alright." she said eventually, "Let's do it."

Everyone's reaction to Jack's suggestion was similar to Sandra's. First they were shocked, then incredulous, thoughtful, and finally enthusiastic. Crystal, naturally seemed more excited than Sam, who didn't seem excited at all, he was just smiling. But to everyone who knew him the mere fact that he was smiling told them he was as excited as he'd ever been. Soon everyone was eager to start. Jack gave them all instructions, which they carried out while he got prepared. Sam and Sandra cleared all of the furniture in the living room to the walls, leaving a wide space in the middle of the room, while Crystal locked the door, drew the curtains and left the phone off the hook. Soon enough Jack came down from his room carrying his candles that he used for meditating, and a blanket, with Tomie floating in front of him diligently. He set the candles up in a circle in the centre of the room, instructed Sandra to stand in the middle of them, and got the others to turn off all the lights when he'd lit the candles. Sam and Crystal were standing in the corners, as far away as they could, as per Jack's instructions, out of the light of the candles. Sandra stood in the centre of the candles, fully illuminated, and Jack stood just outside the circle, the ghostly under-lighting giving his face an eerie look, the blanket folded on the floor by his feet. His hand was open palm upwards in front of him, with Tomie levitating open just above it. It struck Sandra that he looked quite majestic and dignified.
"Alright," he said, once everything was ready, "is everyone ready?" Sam and Crystal replied positive from the darkness, Sandra nodded. Jack looked down at Tomie's open pages, and took several deep breaths. As he did this, his plaid shirt began to move, as though it were being toyed with by a gentle breeze, despite the fact there was no breeze. Then it began to grow, and billow around him, while still remaining relentlessly plaid. After the ninth or tenth breath, he began to chant. His voice became very deep, and he was chanting in a strange tongue that none had heard before. It was quite harsh and guttural, laying heavy emphasis on the back of the throat. After several minutes of this, Jack started to slowly pace around the circle, his shirt growing longer and trailing behind him like the tail of a kite, and he started chanting something else. As he did this, everyone present could now hear TWO voices, one still chanting in the first language, seeming to come from where Jack was first standing, and Jack's new chant, which was more melodic, and seemed to be made entirely of vowels. It was a different rhythm to the first chant, but they still seemed to blend together into one chant. Once Jack had made a complete circuit of the circle, he started on a new chant, this one all one note, and seemed a continuous stream of what sounded like latin. The three chants all mixed together to create a throbbing sensation of sound. Jack was now walking in the wake of his own shirt, which surrounded the circle of candles, and Sandra, turning to watch Jack as he continued to pace steadily around her. The chanting was slowly building in intensity, and the candles started to burn brighter. Jack, who's eyes hadn't left the book since he'd started, was almost shouting now, alternating from one chant to another, keeping it going. Finally the chanting was so loud that the walls were shaking with the intensity of it, and the flames from the candles leaped up to the ceiling, roaring like a furnace. Sandra suddenly stiffened, not out of fear of the candles, but from something she felt. It was as if she were on fire on the inside, burning with a heat she'd never felt before. She looked at her arm, where her skin was white, she was glowing white hot, where she was black, she glowed a very, very deep red. Then her shirt caught on fire. If she hadn't seen it, she wouldn't have known, she couldn't feel it. Her pants too were in flames, but she didn't care, the heat was unbearable.
An eternity later, the chant finished the last beat so intensely that it was like a drumbeat, and suddenly every flame winked out, and the room was cast into darkness. There was a faint rustling noise, and then the lights came on. Jack stood by the lightswitch, looking at Sandra. She was laying in a crumpled heap on the floor, covered over with the blanket to hide her naked body. When he'd stirred the others out of their trance, he told them to take Sandra to her room to rest, seeming unflustered with what just happened. When they were gone, and he could hear muffled grunts, footsteps and words, he knew that for now he was alone. He slumped to one knee, trembling violently. He tried to get up again, but after a few attempts he collapsed altogether and passed out.

Sam hammered on the door again, and yelled at it.
"Dammit Sandra, get the hell out of the bathroom!" A pained look crossed his face, "I really really need to use it!"
Sandra, as soon as she'd come around, had rushed straight to the bathroom and locked herself in. Crystal suggested that it was probably so she could see herself in human form. Jack's idea had supposedly worked, because they hadn't heard any sounds of disappointment or frustration. They hadn't heard anything, in fact. She'd kept herself in the bathroom for several hours, and Sam was beginning to show signs of the strain.
"Open up! Please... "
Sandra, meanwhile, was ignoring the racket he was making. She was staring transfixed in the mirror. She ran her pink, blunt fingers through her dark hair. She lightly touched her forehead where her third eye used to be. She relished in simple mundane things like picking up the soap WITHOUT turning it into something that looked like swiss cheese. But most of all she closed her eyes and simply enjoyed flexing her toes. She hadn't been aware how much she'd missed them. Sure, hooves looked kinda cool, but they were numb, she hadn't been able to enjoy walking barefoot in the grass on a hot summer day. Running through the mud in the rain. Standing on tip-toe. All of the things that people don't even notice, she'd missed them all, and she didn't even know that she had until now. She could almost fool herself that she was fully human again, or that her being a demon never happened, but unfortunately she had her shadow to remind her.
Her shadow was the only thing that she couldn't change about her form. She could look like anyone she liked, she'd been experimenting for the past couple of hours. She'd turned into Crystal, Jack, and then Sam. It seemed like a cool and nifty super power for two seconds, but Sandra just couldn't see the point. What would she do with it? No, she only had one purpose in mind for her new shape-shifting powers, and that was looking like her old self again. But no matter who she looked like on the outside, her shadow always remained the same. The shadow of a horned demon with long fingers, her true form, she thought sadly. But that didn't really matter did it? I mean, when does anyone really notice anyone's shadow? And even if someone saw her shadow with horns, they wouldn't believe it. Just a trick of the light kind of thing.
Her train of thought continued on like this for a while, before the noise of Sam banging on the bathroom door slowly bled into her conscious thoughts. She rolled her eyes, unlocked the door, and quickly got out of the way. Sam, without saying a word, rushed passed her, and slammed the door to the toilet after him. What followed was what Sandra could only describe as a contented silence. She made her way downstairs, and the others stopped talking to turn to look at her. They stared open jawed at her pink skin, dark hair, and the overall humanesque quality of her. She drank it all in. For the first time in a long, long time, she was proud to have people staring at her.
Crystal suddenly rushed up out of her seat and over to Sandra, and wrapped her arms around her in a fierce and relentless hug. Sandra gladly hugged her back, but was surprised to hear Crystal quietly sobbing over her shoulder.
"I'm... s-so... so glad." Crystal said softly, so that only Sandra could hear, and Sandra suddenly realized how hard it must have been for her. Sure Sandra had been turned into a demon and had her life turned upside down, but Crystal had always kept her from sinking into a pit of depression by being constantly cheerful and loving. Sandra couldn't imagine how hard that would have been to constantly keep that up, to always be the cheerful one, always be everyone's anchor on sanity. Even in the most dark and depressing circumstances, Crystal was always there with a cheerful comment, a loving hug, and every now and again, a friendly word of advice. Suddenly Crystal became a stronger person in Sandra's eyes. They drew apart, and Sandra looked at her. Only two tears marred her glowing face, the only telltale sign that she was anything less than purely ecstatic. Sandra took her friend's face in her hands and wiped the tears away.
"Thank you, Crystal. For everything." she whispered. Crystal smiled and giggled, and took Sandra's face in her hands too, still admiring the human beauty of it.
Finally Sandra turned to Jack, who had risen from his seat, but stayed where he was. Sandra slowly made her was towards him. Maybe it was the fact that she didn't have her high-heeled legs anymore, but he seemed taller than she remembered when she was human. She stopped in front of him, and looked him in the eye. He did likewise.
"I don't have the words to express the way I feel." she said, "You turned me into a demon, and now you've given me back the life that that took away."
"Don't thank me yet." he said, "I still haven't turned you human again, and I fully intend to. This is just a temporary fix."
"Regardless, you gave me back my life. Thank you, Jack."
Jack opened his mouth to say something else, but gave up and ended up just blushing. Crystal, who had been watching, came rushing up behind them, jumping up and down in excitement.
"Hey! Let's go out to dinner to celebrate! Now that you're human looking again we can all go!"
"Yea, that's a great idea!" Sandra said, but then frowned as a thought crossed her mind. "But what about Sam?"
Crystal stopped jumping up and down, and the smile vanished from her face. They both turned to Jack, who just looked back and shrugged apologetically.
"There's nothing I can do. He comes from another universe, with a set of physical laws different from ours. I can't just change the way he looks like I did with you." he said, nodding to Crystal, referring to the 'costume' that he'd arranged for her, the fox woman. They were all silent, thinking about what to do.

The restaurant was filled with the sounds of people talking, knives and forks on plates, and background music. It wasn't a very fancy restaurant, but very big. There were a lot of people who were paying to be fed, and therefor there had to be a lot of waiters. Two of these waiters were making their way to behind the bar. Once there, they started talking, safe in the knowledge that no one could hear them.
"Pretty busy tonight, Ren" said one.
"Yea it is." said Ren. "Mind you, everyone came at once, and ordered all at once too, which is why it's so busy right now. Give it another hour, and there'll be nothing for us to do." He started to work the espresso machine.
"Not if table 5 keeps going the way they're going." said the first. "I mean, ordering a coffee to start isn't that bad, but she just keeps ordering it, again and again. She hasn't EATEN anything yet, and everyone else is on the main course!" He realized that he was starting to talk too loudly, and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Besides, there's something about the way she looks at me whenever she orders a black coffee."
Ren looked at him,
"Are you saying that you think it's because you're black, Morris?"
Morris' face clearly showed that he'd missed the sarcasm.
"It's the only logical explanation!"
Ren shook his head as he finished making the coffee.
"I swear, each day I think you can't get any more weird. Go take care of table 10, while I go give this to table 5."

Sandra sat with her elbows on the table, holding her coffee in both hands. She was having a great time, not only with simply chatting with everyone, but with being able to hold a coffee cup without chipping it. She was enjoying every little thing that regular people didn't notice. The only problem so far is that once or twice she'd started to dissolve the coffee cup with her saliva. She had gotten out of the potentially awkward situation by 'accidentally' dropping and breaking the cup and getting a new one. After that she'd been careful not to do it again.
"This is great!" Jack said between mouthfuls, and was met with similar sounds of appreciation from Crystal. She swallowed and said,
"I can't believe that in the whole time we've all known each other, this is the first time we've gone out together."
"Yeah," said Jack, "I think this is just what everyone needed. What do you think Sam?"
They all looked at Sam, who was staring moodily at his dinner from the shrouded darkness of Sandra's hooded coat.
"I hate you." he muttered. "I hate you all, very very much."
"Aw c'mon," said Crystal through a mouthful of mashed potato, "The coat isn't that bad."
"I don't think that's it." said Sandra from behind her cup. "I think it has more to do with the fact that they only let him in dressed like that because we told them that he was mentally handicapped and was still refusing to take off his evil bunny halloween costume."
Sam groaned and put his head in his hands.
Soon everyone, including Sam, finished eating, and simply talked. They didn't talk about anything in particular, just little things that didn't require much effort to talk about. Sandra said something here and there, but mostly just sipped her coffee and listened to the others. It was good to see them relaxed, and for lack of a better word, normal. She'd missed it. She'd missed a lot of things, the list just went on. After a while, even Sam seemed to be enjoying himself.

The four of them were in the car, with Jack at the wheel. Sam and Crystal were in the back seat, she had fallen asleep on Sam's shoulder, and Sam had fallen asleep with his head against her head. Sandra thought it was the cutest thing she'd ever seen. She was staring out of the window, watching all of the houses and streetlights go by. Jack glanced at her.
"You OK? you're a little quiet." Sandra looked at him, and smiled.
"I'm fine, just basking in the afterglow of a wonderful evening."
"I know what you mean. I think tonight was good for everyone, to just not have to worry about anything. Now that you can go out in public again, we can do this more often." He looked at her, and his smile faded when he saw her expression. "Uh oh, what did I say?"
She shook her head and looked out of the window again.
"It's OK Jack, you didn't say anything wrong." she sighed. "It's just, tonight I was thinking about all these things I can do now. Thinking 'Now that I'm human'. But I'm not. I'm not human yet, and I shouldn't be thinking that I am. If I keep thinking like that, then I'll forget that I'm still a demon, and something will happen. Something terrible." She closed her eyes, blocking the tears. She'd been ashamed to discover that she'd been picturing a life with Mike. Maybe it was love she felt, or perhaps it was her grasping at the only hope of a relationship she had at the moment. But she'd been imagining being with Mike. It'd been a beautiful life. She would go with him to the movies, to the cafe, to all sorts of places. They could hold each other, and they would kiss. And his mouth would burn and dissolve as it came in contact with her saliva. That thought abruptly woke her out of her reverie, and nearly made her drop her coffee at dinner. Even though she looked human now, she'd realized, she was still a demon, no matter what. She opened her eyes when she heard a hissing sound. Her tears had fallen on the seat-belt and were making it hiss. She hated that sound.
"You were right, Jack." She said, in almost a whisper. "You haven't turned me human yet."
Jack kept looking at the road, and said nothing. There was nothing to say.

Jack unlocked the front door and everyone tumbled inside. They were all very tired, and were going through the motions of settling home on automatic. Jack put the keys on the table while taking off his jacket. Sam hung Sandra's coat up on the front door where it normally stayed. Crystal simply made her way drowsily up the stairs to bed. Sandra, who was nowhere near tired after all that coffee, settled down on the couch to watch some TV. She flopped down the soft cushions and put her human feet on the table in front of her as Jack and Sam followed Crystal's lead and went upstairs. As she reached for the remote, she noticed a video sitting on top of the VCR. She could read the label from the couch: 'Meet Sam Sprinkles.' Sandra was a little surprised, Crystal only ever watched that show anymore when she was sad and wanted to cheer herself up. Maybe I should talk to her to find out what's wrong, Sandra thought to herself.
The instant she started to flip the channels, she realized that she was still thirsty. After all that coffee, she thought ruefully, it must be my body's only source of fuel. She pushed herself off the couch, and walked lazily over to the kitchen. When she rounded the corner she stopped dead, and gasped. There was a man standing there, leaning casually against the counter with his arms folded across his chest, looking for all the world like it was his kitchen. A thought crossed Sandra's mind: He's still wearing the same clothes as when I last saw him! When she thought back later, she realized that it was a fairly strange thing to think at the time. He stood there, watching her, not making a move. Finally Sandra caught her breath.
"What the hell are you doing here??" she demanded. He took his weight off the counter to stand up straight, his blonde ponytail falling off his shoulders to hang behind his back. His long coat barely reached his ankles, and he was quite tall. All this, and the way he stood, made him look like some divine being. A trace of a grin was resting on his face, giving Sandra a knowing look that said 'I know a secret, I am superior.' He spoke, his voice smooth and deep.
"I was curious. I didn't get a chance to examine you properly last time, so I came for a closer look."
Instantly Sandra remembered the dream she'd had when she fell asleep in the bath. The colour of his eyes, the pure turquoise blue that had pierced through her soul in her dream were doing the same thing now. Suddenly she realized that she was in danger, and opened her mouth wide at him in a catlike hiss of rage, then leapt at him. As she flew through the air, she wasn't human anymore, she became Sandra the demon, in all her furious glory. Her talons sliced at his neck, but he dodged at the last moment, sending her tumbling into the side of the counter, and he thrust his palm into her back, forcing her face into the countertop. With a strength that came naturally, she heaved herself away from the counter and twisted around to claw at his face. Her anger grew and grew as each time she swiped at his face, he dodged again and again, moving at the waist to avoid her claws. He did it with his grin still in place, moving with such ease and speed that infuriated Sandra. Her blood began to boil. In an attempt to wipe the grin from his face, Sandra placed her hand on the edge of the counter behind her and jumped, supporting her weight with it, then kicked with both of her hooves at his smug face. He moved to the side, and caught both her feet with his hands, and before Sandra could think, swung her around, through the doorway of the kitchen and against the opposite wall. Sandra hit the wall with her back, and landed in a heap on the floor. When she struggled to her feet, she saw red. Her teeth were clenched and her breath labored, and her purple irises were now glowing. Abe burst into flames. Sandra grinned in carnal satisfaction, watching the flames consume him. Her smile faded however, when she noticed that he wasn't screaming. Unlike Jack, who always ran around when he was set on fire, Abe just stood there, completely silent. Sandra squinted to see past the flames, and saw that he was still grinning. The elastic holding back his hair had been incinerated though, although his clothes still remained intact, and his hair was being toyed with by the flames, without actually being burnt. What disturbed her the most was the fact that he was just standing there, as though he wasn't on fire at all. He looked as though she'd done nothing more than throw a feather at him.
"My my my," He said, in the same deep voice. "You are indeed powerful. I can see that Mike wasn't exaggerating when he described your demonic beauty."
Sandra staggered backwards and gasped, shocked. Several thoughts ran through her mind: 'Fire doesn't hurt him, he must be a demon too.'; 'What does he want with me?'. But deep down, in the innermost private part of her mind, she thought: 'Mike thinks I'm beautiful.'
Abe made a vague hand gesture, as though to wave away a fly buzzing by his head, and the flames vanished. He slowly started to walk towards her, not taking his eyes off her. Sandra just stood there, all will to fight drained from her, leaving her paralyzed with stark terror in the face of this being. He came closer. Suddenly she remembered her dream, and how similar these two scenarios were. Soon he was just a few feet away from her, and she could make no move to back away.
There was a sound. One would be hard pressed to describe what it sounded like, but the nearest description would be the sound of a large, thick piece of cardboard being shaken once. Suddenly everything in front of Sandra became slightly out of focus, and strangely blue. Abe seemed to stop, a look of bewilderment crossing his face. Then there was a voice.
"Stay away from her, or you'll find out what it's like to be turned inside out." Both Abe and Sandra turned to see Jack standing at the bottom of the stairs, his plaid shirt moving and merging with itself like oil on the surface of water, and his arm outstretched in front of him. He'd clearly just gotten out of bed when he'd heard the noise, his hair was ruffled and his face bore the crease marks of the wrinkles from the pillow. It was then that Sandra saw the wall of fuzzy blue pigment for what it was. Jack had created a shield to protect her. Abe didn't seem that impressed with it though. He just smiled as he looked at Jack.
"Ah, I remember you. You're the one that tried to stop me from looking at her in her dreams." Jack's face clouded for a moment, struggling to work out what he'd meant. Then his expression cleared.
"That was you?!" The image of the large snake shape of power he'd seen in the spectral realm leapt at him in his mind. He recalled how it had been doing something to Sandra, before he'd stopped it. Now it seemed they'd found the source of both the strange force and Sandra's frightening dream. It was the man before them, the one who's name Sandra had said was Abe.
Abe simply stayed where he was, looking at Jack. Jack remained where he was with his arm outstretched, looking right back at him. Finally Abe spoke.
"You needn't worry about me hurting her, I was only curious. After all, it was her that attacked me." When neither of them moved or said anything, he sighed and rolled his eyes. "It seems to me that we've all gotten off on the wrong foot. Let's just start this again properly. My name is Abryl, and I merely wanted to get a closer look at your demonic friend here." He gestured to Sandra as he said this, but otherwise made no move. Abryl smiled knowingly. "You have doubts, questions. I can see that you do. I want you to know that I wish no bad blood between us, so ask, and I will answer." Jack was silent for a while, then he simply asked,
"Who are you?" The shield between Sandra and Abryl disappeared with the same sound of shaken cardboard, but he didn't lower his arm, letting Abryl know that he was still ready to use magic if he stepped out of line. Abryl chuckled, and took a step back from Sandra, to show his goodwill.
"There are many answers to that question, but I believe I know what you mean." He then held his arms out as if to say 'Ta-Da'. "I am an angel."

Once again, everyone found themselves gathered around the table. Crystal was yawning and rubbing her eyes, despite the avid curiosity she felt towards their new guest. Sam, however was his usual surly self. "Why am I always the last to know about anything?" he complained in the world in general. No one paid him particular attention. Jack was still wary of Abryl, and always kept Tomie clutched in his hand like he was a medallion of protection. Sandra, once she had recovered from the ordeal, couldn't take her eyes off of the blonde man. Mostly Abryl was asked questions about the dream that Sandra had, where he admitted that it was indeed him that had been the cause of it.
"It's called telepathy, the process of reading a person's thoughts. Of course it's not as simple as that, there's far more to it. Seeing what a person is thinking is more difficult than people realize. People think at such high speeds and on so many things at once it's a wonder that anyone knows what they're thinking half the time."
The questions carried on along this vein for a while, until Sandra could no longer hold back the one question she'd been dying to ask.
"What are you doing here? Did God send you to me?" Abryl merely chuckled, as he did so often.
"I'm sorry to say that I may have mislead you on that subject. I've lived a long time, and I've never met God, nor heard anything from him. I only used the word 'Angel' because it is the most fitting word to describe me, just as you have chosen the word 'Demon' to describe you, Sandra." Sandra's brow creased in mild frustration at this, and she asked her next question before anyone else could beat her to it.
"Well, if you aren't an angel, what are you?"
Abryl seemed to consider this for a while. Then he seemed to come to a decision.
"I am like you, I've become what I am through magic. Although in your case it was a randomized burst of magic. As for me, I guess you could say that I only have myself to blame."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Sam asked, asking his first question. Abryl shrugged.
"I sought power, I found it. Now here I am."
"That's pretty vague." Jack said
"Well it was a very personal question." Abryl replied, with a touch of hurt in his voice.
"Well, at least tell us what you're doing here, bothering us." Said Sam. Abryl chuckled again.
"Am I bothering you?" His question was only met by silence. He carried on. "When I sensed the power emissions of your pyrokenesis, I thought to myself, 'Interesting, someone like me to talk to'. However, because for most of the time you weren't using your powers, I couldn't find you. I'd pick up another burst of pyrokenesis every now and again, but it was always very brief and only gave me a general direction of where it was coming from. It was only by sheer fortune that my dear friend Michael decided to confide in me his secret about his demon crush."
Sandra's face turned bright purple. It was a human reaction, but the demon equivalent. She was blushing. Demon crush? Did Mike actually say that? Or was Abryl just putting a label on everything that Mike said? She noticed that everyone was starting to stare at her, so she forced her face into a neutral expression and asked another question.
"But you still haven't answered the question of why you're here." Abryl looked at her and a wide smile spread across his face.
"Indeed I haven't. Very good. I came to find you because, quite simply, I was lonely. I wanted another supernatural being to talk to. I tried sending you telepathic messages once or twice, but you seemed to be ignoring them."
Sandra blinked.
"What makes you think I could receive telepathic messages?"
"Sandra, anyone, human or otherwise, can receive telepathic messages. I was only commenting that you weren't responding to my messages."
"But what makes you think that I'm capable of doing anything like that?"
Now it was Abryl's turn to blink.
"Why, because you're a demon. All demons and angels alike are telepathic." Sandra merely gaped, and Abryl had a look of confusion on his face as he leaned towards her.
"You mean you didn't KNOW?"
"Know what?" Jack asked suspiciously. Sandra was still gaping at Abryl, completely shocked at the revelation. Abryl ignored him.
"What other powers have you discovered about yourself besides pyrokenesis?"
Sandra shut her mouth and pulled herself together. At last she could answer this question.
"I can climb up walls, and I can fly." She grinned smugly, glad that she'd shown him that she wasn't completely ignorant. But Abryl just looked incredulous.
"And nothing else?"
Sandra's grin faded. There was more? Abryl reached over the table and grabbed Sandra's hand urgently.
"Sandra, you... " He never finished what he was going to say. Jack saw him grab Sandra, and didn't think beyond that, he only saw a potentially aggressive gesture. With a single word of a simple but powerful incantation, Abryl was hurled with tremendous force in the direction of the door. Before he got there, he twisted in the air, until he landed on his feet while he was still moving, and skidded backwards, and stopped just in the doorway. Abryl looked up at Jack, his face a picture of rage.
"That wasn't very nice." he said simply. "Let's see how you like it."
Unlike Jack, Abryl didn't speak any incantations, but simply thrust his arm in the direction of Jack, and he was thrown back and against the back wall with the same force that he'd used on Abryl.
"I'm impressed, Jack." He told him as he walked over to him. "It normally takes a lot longer for me to take a dislike to someone." Sam tried to run at Abryl to stop him, but Crystal grabbed his arm and held him back. Abryl was nearly upon Jack with an arm raised back as if to shove him, when Sandra stood between them, her arms out, blocking him. She didn't wait for Abryl to act or speak before telling him.
"I want you to teach me."
Abryl stopped and stared at her, clearly unprepared for the either the interruption or the comment. He lowered his arm.
"And what is it that you want me to teach you?"
"About my powers that you say I have. I want you to teach me how to use them."
"But what about your friend? You want me to help you discover your powers after I've just tried to hurt your friend?"
"He deserved it." Sandra replied coldly. Jack groaned. Abryl just continued to stared at her, before lowering his arm.
"And why do you want me to do this?"
That was a very good question, and the truth was, Sandra didn't know why. It just seemed very very important that she actually do something to learn about herself. Also, judging by her past history, chances were that some freak, weirdo or monster would come trying to kill her again, and she wanted to be prepared. After a long pause she settle for a half truth.
"I've been attacked by some very powerful things intent on killing me. I want to be prepared for when it happens again."
Abryl looked at Sandra for a while. Then he looked at Sam, standing up and ready to rush at him at the least provocation. He saw Crystal still holding onto Sam's arm and whispering to him, trying to calm him down. He looked at Jack, sitting up against the wall on the floor, looking up at him with hate in his eyes. Then he looked back at Sandra, looking back at him with steely gaze. His weighed his options while looking, then came to a decision.
"Alright. I'll do it."

The next day was a beautiful sunny day, so Abryl suggested that he and Sandra go out for a walk while they discuss the task ahead of them. Sandra happily donned her human guise and eventually dug up her shoes, which she hadn't needed for quite some time. It was fun tying laces again. As she came back down the stairs, Abryl was waiting by the front door, still wearing his solid boots and large coat. She wondered why he never seemed to take it off. She didn't bother with a coat and walked past him out the door. He followed, shutting the door after him.
Once they'd gone, Sam moved to the front window, and watched them through a crack in the curtains as they ambled down the path and across the road. When he could no longer see them, he let out an audible sigh of relief. Crystal, who had been preparing breakfast, looked over to him.
"What's the matter, Sam?" she said as she walked over to him and gave him a bowl of cereal. He took it and idly stirred the cereal with the spoon. He looked down at it, and smiled wryly when he saw it. It was a brand of cereal that he'd once sponsored, back home.
"It's him." he said, "I don't like him."
"Aw c'mon, he seems nice enough. I'm sure we can trust him." she said. She led him down to the couch, and sat him down, then went to the TV to turn it on.
"I never said I didn't trust him." said Sam defensively, "I'm sure we can trust him to keep his word and behave. I only said I didn't like him. He's too arrogant, thinks he's better than everyone else. If there's one thing I hate about people, it's arrogance."
Crystal didn't know what to say, so she settled for saying nothing. She pressed eject on the VCR, and took out the tape that was in there. As she put it on top of the VCR, she noticed the label. 'Meet Sam Sprinkles'. Crystal frowned. She didn't remember bringing this down here.
"Are you OK Sam?" she asked over her shoulder. Sam had gone into a sudden coughing fit.
"No I'm *cough* fine. Just *hack hack* something went down the *gak* wrong way." he managed, eyeing the tape that Crystal was looking at. He seemed to relax though when she shrugged and carried on with putting in a new tape.
Jack came rushing down the stairs and twisted his head this way and that as though he were looking for something. He didn't seem to find it, and looked to Crystal.
"Where are they?" he demanded. Crystal turned to look at him, and uncertainty clouded her face.
"They just left, to take a walk."
Jack cursed and raced to the door, Tomie in hand, and rushed through it without bothering to close it. Crystal could only look from the doorway in surprise and confusion, before quietly closing the door.
"Well I wonder what he's so agitated about." she said to herself. She heard a rustling noise, and turned towards the TV to face it. It stopped just as she turned, nothing was moving. She frowned, but carried on towards the TV to turn it on. When she was putting in the tape she wanted to watch, she glanced up at the top of the VCR. It was bare. Strange, she thought to herself, I could have sworn that I left that other tape there. She heard the rustling noise again, this time coming from behind her. She whirled around, and saw Sam sitting on the couch, eating his cereal as though it were the most interesting thing in the world. Crystal noticed that there was a definite scruffy look to him that hadn't been there before.
She shook her head as she realized that this train of thought was going nowhere. I must be crazy, she thought. She turned back to the TV, while Sam finished his cereal, placed the bowl on the table in front of him, and folded his arms to hide the bulge in his shirt that the tape was making.

"I can't say that I'm surprised that Pyrokinesis was the first of your powers to surface." Abryl commented to Sandra as the two of them walked along the sidewalk. "Fire is a highly volatile element, and as powerful and uncontrollable as a person's anger. Anyone can see that the two concepts: Anger and Fire, are a metaphor for each other."
Sandra nodded. It made sense, though the subject brought up a question that she should've thought of before.
"Why didn't you burn when I set you on fire?" she asked.
"Simple: I am also Pyrokinetic. I can control the element of Fire, and therefore fire doesn't hurt me. It works the other way too, I can withstand extreme cold too. I could pick up boiling eggs right from the pot with my bare hands without hurting myself. I could also take a bath in liquid oxygen without being turned into a popsicle. You'll be pleased to know that it's the same with you. If I had set YOU on fire, then you wouldn't have burned. You'd have been on fire, and you'd have felt the change in temperature, but you wouldn't have been burned."
Sandra listened in awe. It was strange hearing such incredible things about yourself from someone else whom you barely know. Another question arose in her mind.
"Pyrokinesis isn't the only think I can do?"
Abryl chuckled, as he often did.
"No. In order for Life to exist in any form, it needs certain elements. Four such elements are Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Life needs each of these elements in some way, and cannot exist without any of them. Each of these elements I can manipulate with my mind, as can you."
"Manipulate?" Sandra asked, looking at him.
"Yes. For example, there is more to Pyrokinesis than just setting people on fire." Abryl demonstrated his point by holding his hand in front of him, palm up. Before Sandra's eyes a flame burst into existence, nestled in the palm of his hand. Sandra stared wide eyed at it. It looked like a soap bubble on fire. Abryl quickly closed his hand and the flame winked out, replaced by a puff of smoke.
"Fire is the easiest element to invoke, all you need is focus, and something to focus on. Take for instance, your friend Jack. Whenever he makes you angry, you think things like 'Jack did this on purpose! I can't believe he did that! Jack's such a jerk! Jack! Jack! Jack!!' Your attention is focused completely on Jack. Now, as I said before, Fire is symbolically linked to Anger, and the anger became your focus. So you had the focus, and something to focus on. You invoked fire. It's as simple as that."
They walked on through the busy shops, past all of the rushing people. Sandra barely even noticed, she was too wrapped up in what she was hearing.
"However," Abryl continued, "These elements are a rather complex form of mental power, and not all demons possess them. At least not all of them."
At that Sandra felt a small twinge of panic. Did that mean that she couldn't do all those things? She didn't know how anyone could manipulate Earth with their mind, or any of those other ones, but she would have liked to know how. Abryl continued with his lecture, completely ignoring the bustling people around them.
"There are two powers of the mind that all demons that I've come across have possessed however. From what I've learned through my life I've discovered that these two are the most basic of mental powers. I'm sure you'll know of them, books have been written about them, movies have been made about them. They are: Telepathy and Telekinesis. I'm fairly certain that you know what they are." He looked at her with another smile on his face. Not the same superior smile as last time, this one was more like he was saying 'I know you know the answer, but I want you to tell me anyway'.
"Well, Telekinesis is moving things with your mind." She was certain about that one, she'd learned if from the movie 'Matilda'. Abryl nodded. "And Telepathy is reading people's minds."
"Not quite." he said, holding up a finger. "Hearing and seeing a person's thoughts is only one part of it. There are many other things that can be seen and done with the human mind. You can see what they're feeling, examine their memories. Not only that, but the really powerful telepaths can CHANGE what a person feeling, and alter their memories. Of course demons I've met that could do this used it to their own advantage. I used to do it. Quite a lot in fact, but... I don't anymore." Something in his voice made Sandra look at him. His eyes were downcast, looking at the pavement. He was clearly lost in some memory of long ago. Sandra wondered what had happened to him to make him sound so sad.
Nothing was said for a while, so Sandra decided to break the silence with another question.
"So does that mean I can do all those things?"
Abryl, startled out of his reverie, looked at her.
"Absolutely. Although you may have used your telepathy before, without realizing it. Sometimes a person can feel a single emotion really strongly, so strongly that it radiates off them like heat, and a nearby telepath can feel what that person is feeling without even trying. Sometimes it happens with conscious thoughts too, but very rarely. For that to happen a person must be totally focused on that one thought."
Sandra considered this. She supposed that maybe sometimes she'd been able to tell that Crystal wasn't feeling too happy sometimes, even though you couldn't tell to look at her. But she'd just put that down to being her best friend. Who knows if I even was reading her mind, she thought.
"Come, Sandra, let's see if you can hear the thoughts of the people around you. Believe me, once you get the hang of it, you'll hardly have to try." Abryl led the hesitant Sandra by the arm to a bench by the park, and sat down, motioning for her to sit down next to him. Sandra sat down quite rigidly, with her hands in her lap, whereas Abryl was quite relaxed, with one arm resting on the back of the bench, his legs straight out in front of him, one foot crossed over the other. Sandra turned to him, waiting for him to continue, but Abryl just looked back at her expectantly, and eventually gestured with his free hand towards the busy people.

Sandra gulped, and looked at all of the people. She wouldn't know where to start. Abryl certainly wasn't about to volunteer any more advice, so she supposed he must think that she ought to be able to figure it out on her own. Sandra picked out one guy in the crowd, and stared at him, tensing up and holding her breath, as though she were trying to find a muscle in her brain to pull to make her see what he was thinking. She eventually let out her breath, and relaxed. All that did was give her a headache. She looked again at Abryl, but he was just looking at her, clearly waiting for her to carry on. It kind of made her uncomfortable to have him watching her like that, but there wasn't anything that she could do about it. So she picked out another person, this time a woman, and this time she tried to guess what she was thinking by the way she was walking. Hmm, she thought, she's walking quite fast, stiffly, and keeping her eyes down. She's definitely in a hurry, but why? She was late for work maybe? No, not quite. Today's her day off and she's been called into work at the last minute. Yea, she'd had plans to spend the day with her boyfriend, but that asshole boss called her up just as she was getting ready to leave and said to get to work immediately. I mean, who does he think he is? He got plenty of time to get someone else to work today. It's not like he's short on staff or anything. Huh, he's doing this on purpose, I know it. Maybe I should quit! Yea, I've always hated this job anyway, I'll just walk right into his office and tell him. I'll lean over that desk, grab him by the necktie, pull him up, and tell him right to his face that he's a nothing but a fu...
Sandra gasped and the thoughts stopped. She realized that she'd been seeing images that she couldn't remember seeing anywhere else. Images of a short, sweaty man in a suit, sitting behind a large desk, looking at her like Sandra's old boss had once done. Sandra realized that these images were memories. Not hers, but those of the woman she'd picked out. Sandra looked to Abryl in amazement, to see that he was smiling. Clearly he'd been able to tell what had happened. He spoke, but his voice seemed to come from all around her.
"Very good. Again."
Sandra noticed that his lips weren't moving. Somehow she got an enormous thrill, realizing that he had communicated telepathically, and that she was also actually capable of all the things he'd been talking about. Her skin began to tingle in childish excitement, as though she'd been given new toys on Christmas to play with.
She turned again to the crowd, this time picking out a young man. He was all hunched in on himself, with his hands in his pockets, and his collar up so that Sandra couldn't see his face properly. The way he was walking wasn't giving anything away about what he was thinking or feeling, so she was at a bit of a loss as to what he might be thinking. She tried anyway, the same way as before, by guessing. His girlfriend perhaps? Probably. A young woman with long, straight blonde hair most likely. Sandra frowned as an image came into her head. No, not blonde, black. Her hair was as black as hair can be. She was Japanese, with hair down past her shoulders, framing her narrow face. She was a little taller than him, Sandra knew this because she could see through his eyes in a memory of looking into her eyes. Those big brown eyes. Her name was Judy. She held him close and whispered in his ear.
"I've got a surprise for you when you get home tonight. Don't get anything to eat on your way home, I don't want you spoiling your surprise with cheap takeaway food."
Sandra blinked, the memory faded, and the man walked away. A shiver ran through her body, and it wasn't from the cold. She felt, excited, electrified! Suddenly she felt so powerful, like she could do whatever she wanted.
"Careful." Abryl said suddenly. Sandra jerked her head in his direction, her train of thought crashing to a halt. "The thoughts you are thinking now are the same thoughts that came to me when I first discovered my telepathy. I can tell you now that acting on those impulses will only add to your suffering, not relieve it."
Briefly, before memory could react, Sandra wondered how he knew. Abryl saw the thought flit through her mind, and leaned close to her.
"Remember," he said, "You may have only just become a telepath, but I've had a lifetime of experience. You will never be able to fully hide your thoughts from me."
Sandra didn't have any reason to believe him, yet somehow she did. Something told her that Abryl was being completely honest when he said he had a lifetime of experience. Maybe it was his eyes that told her, or maybe his voice. Whatever it was, she didn't doubt it for a second. She gulped.
Abryl leaned back again, looking out to the crowd.
"OK, this time try to see through another person's eyes, to see what they see."
Sandra felt as though she'd just been taught an important lesson from Abryl. The message was loud and clear: Don't mess with me. She shivered. If Abryl noticed he made no indication that he did.
For the next half hour, Abryl taught Sandra learned to 'see' through the eyes of the people around her. She looked through people's memories to find out their names, how old they were, and relationships they had with other people. It wasn't just seeing and hearing their memories, she noticed. It was something more, like she could feel what the person could remember feeling. All the while, Abryl simply sat back, watching over what Sandra was doing. Soon, as she was moving from one person's mind to another, she came to one person's eyes that were focused on a park bench, with two people, man and woman, sitting on it. It took Sandra several seconds for Sandra to realize that she was looking at herself. Someone was watching her. With her mind she listened to the person's thoughts. Sandra had discovered that it was almost impossible to hear what a person was thinking. There are so many voices chattering constantly at any given time, talking about all sorts of different things at once. It seemed remarkable to Sandra that anyone could know what they're thinking at all. Abryl taught her that sometimes one can glean some information from a person's thoughts, but it's their emotions and intentions that give the most information. The mind behind the eyes looking at her was full of suspicion, and driven by the single intention: Protect Sandra. After glimpsing at some memories, Sandra discovered something, although not unpredictable, quite surprising. It was Jack. Jack was watching over her.
"He really cares about you, doesn't he?"
Sandra gave a start, then struggled to bring her mind back to her own head. Then she looked up at Abryl. He was looking at her, and it vexed her that he was able to see what she was doing with her mind. After a moment she let her eyes drop.
"He feels responsible for what I am, and he feels an obligation to change me back."
"If you can change back." Abryl said suddenly. Sandra looked up at him again, open-mouthed. She tried to say something once or twice, her mouth opening and closing like a fish, but Abryl kept talking before she could start.
"Sandra, there is only one solid, irrevocable rule of the universe, and that is 'Everything Changes'. You see it all the time, seeds turn to trees; caterpillars turn to butterflies; babies turn into adults. These you know. What you can't see but you can recognize, are the way a relationship changes; the way a person changes. Things change. They change constantly. But you need to remember, Sandra." He leaned in close to her, "The things that change can never change back." He paused, letting the comment sink in, while Sandra's heart sank. "It works the same with magic. I've used magic to change something from one thing into another, but no matter how hard I try, I've never been able to change it back to what it was."
Abryl's expression grim, but Sandra could see a softness in his eyes that told her that he wasn't completely without sympathy. But she still had to say what was on her mind.
"B... but there's still hope. Hope can help a person accomplish impossible tasks."
Abryl shrugged.
"True, Hope can carry people through the impossible. But so can resolution."
Sandra couldn't think of anything else to say. She hung her head, her hands laying limp in her lap. She felt like she wanted to cry. She felt Abryl rest his hand on her shoulder.
"I know it's not the most comforting thing to learn, but for what it's worth, I felt the same way when I learned it. The only difference between you and me is that I had to learn it on my own, the hard way."
Sandra smiled, and was able to hold back the tears. Abryl stood up, and held his hand out for her.
"Come on, let's go home. You've learned enough for today."
Sandra wiped her eyes, and took his hand.

Life for Sandra in the following weeks was busier and more hectic than she'd grown used to, but she couldn't honestly say that it was for the worse. Life as a demon was, bluntly put, boring. She'd never been able to go out anywhere without the hooded coat that Crystal had made for her. Now she could not only go out, but she was kept busy with Abryl teaching her all sorts of things that she'd never thought possible. After learning about Telepathy they'd focused on Telekinesis, which had turned out to be a source of boundless amusement for both Crystal and Sandra, first by making Crystal's teddy bear dance in the air, and then by allowing Crystal to 'fly' through the air around the living room. With the curtains drawn of course.
When Sandra appeared to have mastered that, Abryl moved on to Pyrokinesis, much to Sandra's foreboding horror. It didn't turn out nearly as bad as she had feared. Abryl had taken her to the back yard, sat down in the grass with her, and gave her some twigs to hold and concentrate on until they caught fire. The simple exercise empowered Sandra, not just over the Pyrokinesis itself, but over the fear of it that she'd been harboring since she realized that Jack was in danger of getting killed each time she set him on fire. Soon she was able to hold a flame in her hand, like Abryl had shown her the first day of their lessons.
By far it was an easier time for everyone. It was easier for Sandra because she was keeping her mind and body busy with learning and practicing. It was easier on Crystal and Sam, who didn't have to fret as much about Sandra's well being. The only person who seemed ill at ease was Jack. He'd made it clear that he still didn't trust Abryl, and would watch them as they sat on the grass talking and practicing. He was looking out the window at them one day when Sam approached him.
"Hey, Jack."
Jack turned, waiting for Sam to continue, but he seemed a little hesitant. Eventually Jack got impatient.
"Yes, what is it?"
"I was just wondering if you'd made any progress with finding a way back to my dimension."
Jack was at a loss for words. The question was out of the blue, and didn't quite make sense, coming from Sam. Jack studied Sam's face, to see if he was serious. He looked a little apprehensive, and something else that Jack couldn't quite guess, but he was definitely serious.
"No, I'm afraid not, Sam." Jack said at length. "It's a lot harder than it sounds, because with magic you can't do something that big the same way twice. Besides, doing something like that takes up a lot of power, and I'm still recovering from giving Sandra more power to make her appear human."
Sam just nodded, and walked away.
Jack thought a little about what just happened, but noticed that Abryl and Sandra were still outside, and he turned back to the window. Soon his conversation with Sam was forgotten.

The sun was hot and not a single cloud interfered as it shone mercilessly onto the the world. Abryl had suggested a break in their lessons as Sandra had been doing so well. They sat down on the grass, next to the large pile of burnt twigs. Sandra lay down, and covered her eyes with her arm. Abryl just leaned back against his hands with his legs crossed out in front of him. For a long time neither of them spoke, but soon Sandra asked a question that had been foremost in her mind for a long time.
"How do you know Mike?" She asked simply. The question didn't unexpected, so Abryl didn't hesitate very long before answering.
"I met him in the course of my work and we soon became friends."
"Were you two friends before he met me?"
Abryl nodded.
"Then why didn't he tell me about you?"
"Well, according to what he told me about you, you didn't give him much of a chance. He told me that when you first revealed that you were a demon, he barely had time to think at all let alone about telling you about me. And last Halloween he didn't know it was you he was talking to all night until the last second, when you flew away without another word."
Sandra was silent, her guilt making her heart swell up into her throat, and tears tickle behind her eyes. If Abryl noticed he didn't show it. Sandra decided to change the subject.
"Where do you work?"
"What makes you think I work anywhere?" he asked, Sandra frowned.
"You said that you met Mike through work. What do you do?"
"I don't work, as you call it, it's more like something that I need to do."
"What is it?"
"I can't tell you." He wouldn't say anything more about it, no matter how much Sandra pressed, so she just gave up.
"Well, should we keep going?" she asked.
"No, I think we've done enough for one day, besides, I think you've mastered Fire now."
"Yes. But don't get too excited, you have after all had a lot of practice with it."
Sandra punched him in the shoulder. Abryl smiled. Soon they both went back inside.

The sun had just set, the colour started to fade from the western sky. Sandra morphed to her human form. She liked to remain in demon form in the house, partly because looking human took a little bit of effort, but mainly so that she didn't forget that she wasn't human yet. She put her shoes on and made her way downstairs to the front door. She was just putting on her jacket when she heard a sound coming from the stairs. She turned to see Abryl, looking almost ordinary without his long coat, halfway down the stairs, watching her.
"Going out?" He asked. Sandra sighed. She had hoped to leave without having to explain herself, the explanation seemed silly even to herself. But somehow she felt that Abryl would sympathize.
"It's been a while, but I miss flying." she said, getting straight to the point. "For me flying makes me feel free and relaxed, and I haven't had a chance to fly for a long time. I don't expect you to fully understand... "
"Oh no, I understand. I understand entirely." Abryl said, coming to the bottom of the stairs. Sandra looked incredulous.
"You do?"
"Oh yes. In fact, I think I might join you." He walked to the front door as he spoke, and donned his long coat before opening the door.
"Actually I prefer to be alone, I don't like it when... "
"I insist." Abryl said quietly. It didn't need to be loud, it had an authority and power to it that left no room for discussion. Sandra pulled on her jacket and stomped out the door.

Sandra parked the car and got out, slamming the door. Abryl got out of the passenger side and calmly closed his door. They were at a large remote hill next to the forrest near town. To the west they saw the town, far away, the sky just above it showing the last hint of the receding day. Sandra stormed up the hill, and threw her jacket onto the grass. She glowered at Abryl, making his way calmly up the hill.
"I seriously don't need to be supervised. Just because you're more powerful than I am doesn't mean that you need to be with me all the time."
Abryl reached the top of the hill, and was standing next to her.
"I didn't come here to supervise you." he said simply.
"Then what the hell are you doing here!?"
Abryl didn't reply, but just took off his coat, and placed it next to Sandra's jacket. Then he took a few steps backwards towards Sandra.
"What are you... ?" before she could finish, Abryl started running. He was very fast, and reached the other edge of the hill in a matter of seconds. When he reached the edge he leaped into the air, higher than was humanly possible. Sandra's eyes followed him, and she gasped at what she saw. When he'd reached the height of his jump, the back of Abryl's shirt tore, and a pair of wings erupted from his back. Sandra stared at them, they were nothing like her own wings. Sandra's wings conformed to the demonic bat motif, whereas Abryl's wings seemed to be those of a true angel. They were covered in pure white feathers, that seemed to glow in the starlight. Their span was great, Sandra couldn't be sure if they were as wide as hers or not. As she watched Abryl flapped his wings once and soared up, he tilted slightly and glided around in a wide circle. Once he'd gone in a complete circuit he folded his wings and he plummeted back down towards the hill. When it seemed he was about to hit the hill, he spread his wings wide, and flapped them once as hard as he could. He stopped falling instantly a few inches from the grass, the resulting gust of wind from his wings almost sending Sandra falling backwards off her feet. With a rustle of feathers Abryl folded his wings neatly behind his back. Sandra could only stare.
"You shouldn't be so surprised. After all, we're so similar in many other ways, what makes you think that this would be any exception?"
Sandra was silent for several moments as she struggled to find her words.
"Why did you have to show me like this?" she managed.
"You think I came all the way out here with you just to show you this? Do you think that everything I do has some kind of hidden agenda? I'm here for the same reason you are. Neither of us has flown for a while, to be able to shed ourselves of the mundane worries of everyday life. From the stress of trying to hide what we've become and just be what we are now!"
Sandra suddenly became very angry.
"You say all this as if being a demon is a GOOD thing!" She closed the distance between them until her face was less than a inch away from his, her expression a blatant and silent challenge. Abryl didn't step back, but raised himself up to his full height.
"From the moment you changed you've thought of nothing other than all of the negative aspects of being a demon. You've been so preoccupied with your own misery that you haven't left room to consider the POSITIVE aspects, the good that you can do."
Sandra was becoming more and more angry by the second, her human form began to slip. Her eyes bled from blue to purple, and her horns slithered from her hair. She grew taller as her feet grew longer and she was lifted up, standing on her hooves. She was now only just taller than Abryl, but he didn't show any signs on backing down. She spoke through her clenched teeth.
"Good? What good? How can I do any good?? LOOK AT ME!!!" Now she was completely transformed and looked once more like the powerful demon that she was. Abryl did not move, but kept his gaze fixed on her face. He spoke very quietly.
"I'm talking about the good you did in fighting those monstrous machines to protect crystal while you were stuck in Sam's dimension. The good you did in fighting Tool, with little or no thought to your own safety. Do you honestly think those are the actions of an evil creature?"
This took Sandra quite by surprise.
"How... how do you know about that?" she whispered. Abryl ruffled his feathers in annoyance.
"The others think about it often. Crystal in particular. Do you have any idea how much she admires you? You, the 'demonically evil Sandra', are a hero in her eyes. Do you believe that she would think that about someone who was incapable of doing good?"
Sandra was shaking now. She suddenly felt very vulnerable. Abryl stared at her for a few moments, then his voice softened.
"You may have the body of a demon, but that doesn't make you evil. Nothing, not even magic, can change who you are inside." He heaved a heavy sigh, and eventually his wings dissolved into his back.
"I'm sorry." he said. "I didn't mean for anything like this to happen tonight. I'm sorry I didn't let you fly on your own. I can easily forget how important it is for people to be on their own sometimes."
Sandra didn't say anything, she couldn't think of anything appropriate to say. This was the first time she'd seen Abryl embarrassed.
Eventually Abryl left. He walked home, leaving her with the car. When Sandra was alone, she just stood on the crest of the hill for a long time, looking down at the grass, or sometimes up at the stars. She did fly a little, but her heart wasn't really in it. Finally, at about midnight, she got into the car, and drove home.

The next morning Crystal was the first up. She padded downstairs in her rumpled PJs, her hair going in every direction. She rubbed her eyes and ran her tongue over the roof of her mouth, trying to get the stale taste out of her mouth. She reached the kitchen and poured herself a glass of orange juice from the fridge. She heard Jack make his way down the stairs as she took the first sip. Jack was in a similar state as Crystal, except that he had slept in his clothes. Crystal couldn't help but notice that he had dark circles under his eyes.
"Didn't you sleep well?" she asked. Jack shook his head as he tried to smooth his hair back with his hand.
"No, I kept having a recurring nightmare. All I remember is there was a huge portal, swirling and turning. I don't know why. Anyway I kept dreaming about it again and again and it tired me out. I feel like I haven't slept at all."
Crystal patted him on the back.
"Maybe you should go back to bed and try again."
Jack just grunted, and slouched his way back upstairs.
Crystal finished her orange juice, then she showered and dressed. After that she sat down at the table, reading her book. She'd only read another chapter when Sandra came downstairs to join her. Crystal looked up at her. Sandra was in her demon form, but Crystal just smiled at her all the same, and greeted her pleasantly. A somewhat sad look came across Sandra's face, but she didn't say anything. It seemed to Crystal that she wanted to say something, but she ended up just sitting down. Crystal didn't say anything about it. She knew that if Sandra wanted to talk about anything, then she was always there. She went back to reading her book. After a while the silence distracted Crystal from reading, and she decided to stop for a while.
"Sleep well?" she asked innocently. Sandra rested her chin in her hand.
"I guess. I didn't actually get to bed until after midnight. I went out flying last night."
"Oh I see." Crystal said, pushing her book to the side, and resting her arms on the table.
"Yea, only this time Abryl wanted to come with me. I tried to tell him I wanted to be alone, but he came anyway."
Crystal frowned.
"Well, when we got to the place I usually go to fly, it turned out that he wanted to fly as well." Sandra saw Crystal's expression as she said this. "He has wings too."
Crystal gasped in amazement.
"Wow! Are they the same as yours?"
Sandra smiled, caught up in Crystal's childish enthusiasm.
"No, silly. Think about it, he's an angel, he has angel wings. They were beautiful. They were the purest white I've ever seen."
Crystal could only gape.
"What was he like to fly with?"
"Oh, no I didn't fly with him." Sandra said hurriedly. "He flew for a few minutes, then he left."
Crystal knew that Sandra wasn't telling her everything, but she didn't say anything. Instead they moved on to a different, topic. They chatted for a long time about all sorts of things, including Sandra's progress with her elemental powers.
" ...And Abryl says that I've mastered Fire now." Sandra said excitedly.
"Really? Well, let's see! C'mon, do something."
Sandra was grinning broadly as she held her hand over the table, palm up, and a small flame burst into being a few inches above. Crystal cooed appropriately, before Sandra put it out.
"Hey, speaking of Abryl, where is he?" Crystal said. "He should be up by now."
"Oh, he's not here. When I got home early this morning, he was just leaving. He said that he had to take care of something to do with his work. He wouldn't tell me anything else about it."
"That's pretty strange, to leave all of a sudden. Did he say if he was coming back?"
Sandra nodded.
"Yea, but he said that he'll be a couple of days."
At that moment Jack came back downstairs, looking much more refreshed, and passed the girls on his way to the kitchen to make himself breakfast, even though the clock on the wall said it was half past one in the afternoon.
"Hey, where is everyone? It's awfully quiet around here."
"Well, Abryl left early this morning to... " Sandra didn't quite finish because Crystal interrupted her.
"What do you mean everyone?"
Jack stopped what he was doing and turned to face them.
"I mean Abryl and Sam, so you know where they are?"
"Sam should still be sleeping. He was up late last night." Crystal said, frowning. Sandra sighed and rose from her seat, and clomped around to the front of the sofa.
"He's not here, where else would he be?"
Crystal, rather hurriedly, got up and went upstairs. The others heard her moving all around for a while, before she came back down.
"He's not upstairs either."
All at once, three pairs of eyes were drawn to the coat rack by the front door. Much to their surprise, Sandra's old hooded coat was still there.
"He wouldn't have gone without it would he?" Jack asked. They all remembered what happened when Sam had first arrived in this dimension. He'd gone to a bar. Without a coat. In full few of the public. Fortunately everyone convinced themselves that they couldn't possibly have seen a five foot talking rabbit, so nothing bad had come of it. Afterwards he'd promised everyone that he would never do that again.
Before long the three of them were frantically searching the house.

An hour later Jack went to his room and picked up Tomie. As he was flipping through the pages, Tomie spoke to him.
"Jack! Where've you been? I've been meaning to tell you since this morning that I felt a strong magical surge in the house."
Jack immediately froze. It was true that when he got up Tomie was trying to get his attention, but he'd waved him off because he was really tired. Jack cursed silently to himself.
"What kind of surge, Tomie?"
"I couldn't tell, it was highly focused and localized. If I were nearer the actual place that it happened then I could tell you."
"Good, so where was it."
" ...I don't know."
Jack sighed like a deflating balloon and slumped.
"But the magical residue from whatever it was has been getting stronger as we've been getting closer to the stairs."
Without a moments hesitation Jack ran down the stairs and into the living room. At once Tomie found it.
"There, right there!"
Jack looked around frantically. Crystal and Sandra, who were sitting on the sofa turned to watch him.
"Are you ok?" Sandra asked, a little worried to see Jack spinning around in large jerky movements. "Tomie's found something, evidence that powerful magic took place early this morning. I can't see it Tomie!"
"Not with your eyes, stupid! Try to SEE the magic."
At once Jack understood, and closed his eyes. With his mind he concentrated, and he could now see darkness, but with the house and his surroundings outlined with fine spidery threads. Then he saw it. In the middle of the living room there was a big blob. It was the only way that Jack could possibly describe its shape. It seemed to be half there and half not, like the afterimage of a camera flash.
"I see it, Tomie." he said. "What is it?"
"Now that I'm right next to it, I can tell that it was a rift. A pathway between dimensions."
"What's he saying?" Crystal said earnestly. Sometimes forgot that the others couldn't hear it when his magic book spoke to him. Jack opened his eyes slowly, realization hitting him.
"A portal." he said quietly. Suddenly the memory of his nightmare came back to him. It wasn't a dream, it was his magical senses interpretation of what it was detecting.
"A portal to where?" Sandra asked
"We don't know." Jack seemed to come to his senses and started furiously flipping through Tomie's pages. "But we're gonna find out."

A lot of time went by as Jack tried a number of spells to reopen the portal. He stood right next to it, his jacket billowing eerily as he concentrated his power. Sandra and Crystal stayed in the living room, watching from various positions. Eventually Jack started to show signs of fatigue. Beads of sweat ran down his face, and his breath became laboured. After a final attempt, Jack's knees buckled. Crystal ran to him, and stopped him falling. He was panting, fighting to get his breath back.
"It's... no good." he said between gasps. "Opening a portal... is easy, but re-opening it... is a lot... harder."
"What do you mean 'harder'?" Sandra asked from where she stood, leaning against the wall.
"I mean... using... powerful magic the... same way... twice is more... difficult."
"You're saying you need more power?"
Jack nodded. Sandra was silent for a while. Crystal led Jack to the sofa where he could sit down. Eventually Sandra spoke.
"I have an idea."
Sandra quickly explained, and although Crystal had a little difficulty following what she had said, Jack immediately understood and was eager to try it. After he had recovered enough, he stood once more next to the portal, and Sandra stood behind him with her hands on his shoulders. She was careful not to grip too much and have her long fingers cut him. Jack repeated the spell, and this time both of them felt the transfer of power. Sandra felt as though she were falling very fast, even though she wasn't moving at all, and Jack felt as if he were in the centre of a whirlpool, with the water pulling at him from every direction. He intoned the last words of the spell, and with a loud crack and a flash, the portal opened. They all stood and stared in relative silence. The only sound was like a desolate wind. Sandra let go of Jack. She felt a little drained, and a little out of breath, but otherwise she was fine.
None of them could see what was through the portal, instead all they could see was darkness, with the occasional streak of pure white light moving from the sides of it to the centre.
"Are you sure that this leads to the same place as the last portal?" Sandra asked in a whisper.
"Yes, the spell was for the for the same portal to reopen. The door was left ajar, I just pushed it open again."
There was a palpable feeling of apprehension surrounding all of them. Now that they had done it, they were unsure of what to do next. But it was Sandra who swallowed hard, and made the bold first step forward. She walked up to the portal, and when she was inches away, she looked back at both Jack and Crystal. Then she stepped into the portal and disappeared.

Sandra was thrown from the portal, and she landed face down on the solid concrete. She raised herself on her arms and looked down to see her own blood, eating away at the concrete with a loud hissing noise. The pain on her face soon gave way to a tingling sensation, and Sandra knew that she was healing. Then something happened that made Sandra's heart stop. She heard something, or rather, she stopped hearing something that had been there and suddenly wasn't. She looked behind her. The portal had closed. If she had been capable of going pale, she would have. She was now stuck in whatever dimension this was. How could she have not considered that this would happen? This happen last time, what made her think that it wouldn't this time? She remained on all fours, and hung her head. A groan escaped her lips, her demonic voice making it sound like the death rattle of a tiger. She was stuck. Trapped in a new dimension. She was so stupid. Sandra spent some time knocking her head against the cold, damp concrete. She wasn't normally this stupid. How could she not think of this?
Sandra went along on this vein for quite a while, it wasn't until she heard footsteps that she actually looked up. She was in an alley, an alley with a dumpster. Ok, this was good, we're making progress here. Alley with a dumpster, and a poster on the wall. Yeah, we're on a roll here. The footsteps were louder, and Sandra immediately flung herself up and onto the wall several feet up, and clung to it as though she were crouching on the floor. She kept all three of her eyes on the entrance to the alley. The footsteps got louder still as a person walked by. Sandra's heart missed a beat. The person was an ox. Literally an ox. With horns and everything. The ox passed and Sandra let herself drop to the ground. She just saw an ox walking on its hind legs, and wearing clothes, walk past her alley. This could only mean one thing. She was back in Sam's dimension. Well at least she wasn't stuck in completely alien dimension. At least she knew a few people.
That thought led to another. This is where Sam went. Sam went home. Sandra's heart sank as she realized what she and the others had tried to do. They'd tried to rescue Sam from his home dimension. How sad is that. After trying to find a way to send him back, when he does get sent back they try to get him out again. And look where that brought me, Sandra thought. Oh well, I might as well find him and see if I can stay with him... at least until Jack can summon enough power to re-open the portal for the second time. She shuddered to think how much power that would be.
Sandra knew that she had to change the way she looked for this dimension. Here, everyone was an animal, the same animals that were in her dimension, but here they acted like people. There weren't any demon animals in her dimension, so she'd have to use her morphing ability to look like the natives. She concentrated a little, and she felt her body change shape. Then she looked down at herself. She grinned at how apt the transformation was. She was a rabbit. Just like Sam, the alternate her from another dimension. She smoothed her clothes a little, flicked her long fluffy ears back, and strode out into the street, looking for Sam.

The sound of an empty glass hitting the bar is the most depressing sound in the universe. Sam was depressed. He'd heard that sound a lot in the past couple of hours. He looked at his now empty glass in frustration. Wasn't this full just a moment ago? Now how did that happen? Something must have happened to it. Hmm, let's see, what could have happened to it? I'll have another drink and think about it.
Sam had been home for about 6 hours. He hadn't actually gone home yet, but he was in the right dimension, which was a damn sight closer to home than 6 hours ago. For the first couple of hours Sam had just wandered around in a state of mild disbelief. The time he'd spent in Sandra's dimension, staying in her house and not able to leave, had made him accustomed to not being out in public. Now he was in full view of everyone, and no one seemed to mind. Then Sam had stumbled upon the bar, and moved towards it like a stone moves toward the ground. He hadn't left since.
After the first couple of drinks he thought about Tawny. Tawny was the co-star of the TV show 'Meet Sam Sprinkles', and his best friend. She was also the alternate Crystal, just as Sam was the alternate Sandra. After the next couple of drinks Sam couldn't exactly remember her face, or what she looked like, only her name. Then the next couple of drinks, and even her name was forgotten. All the layers of thought and mental activity were peeled away, leaving only raw emotion, with nothing to distill or filter it, or even give it form. All of the emotions that he had associated with Tawny dominated him in this drunken state. He couldn't remember her face, and he couldn't remember her name, all he could remember, was the way she'd made him feel, and the way he'd felt since she had gone.
Sam was depressed.

Sandra had been wandering around for just over an hour, and nothing looked familiar. She wished that she'd paid more attention to her surroundings last time she was here. Every now and again she'd sniff the air, and keep on walking. She tried to block out the actual smells that were all around her, and concentrate on what her demonic senses were telling her. As a demon Sandra was able to smell the souls of others. Or at least, she was able to detect souls through a way that she'd become accustomed to while human. She guessed that since people relied on smell the least of all their senses, there was room there for her demonic senses. Or not, she couldn't be sure.
Sniffing out Sam's soul was a little more difficult because, technically, it was hers too, and it was almost impossible to smell your own soul. She could still smell Sam's soul, albeit vaguely, because they weren't actually the same person. So she wandered the streets, with her nose in the air and looking all around. She was about to cross the street when someone pulled her roughly into an alley. Before she could struggle she was thrust hard against the wall, and all the wind got knocked out of her. She felt breath next to her face, and she heard a greasy voice whispering.
"Don't you scream, honey." Sandra felt something sharp touch her belly. "You don't want me to have to use this."
Sandra turned her head. She saw a fox, with dirty, matted fur and a stench that made Sandra gag. The fox backed away a little, without taking the knife away from her belly, and she saw his face. The first thing Sandra noticed was the scar. Someone had slashed at his eye once upon a time, leaving a large leathery scar, and his eye white and glassy. His teeth weren't in too good a shape either, they were dirty and broken.
He leered at her.
"Give me your money now, sweetums."
Sandra didn't have time for this. She grabbed his knife arm and twisted hard, giving him an open mouthed shocked expression, and making him squeal in an amusingly high pitched way. Then she pushed him away from her, and with a small effort of concentration she used her telekinesis to propel him down to the end of the alley, where he violently struck the wall, and slid down in a heap on the ground. A long grown escaped his mouth, and Sandra could tell that she hadn't done any major damage.
Sandra fought to catch her breath as the adrenaline started to dissipate in her veins. For the first few moments, Sandra had been afraid. Then she realized that she didn't have to be. She had power, and strength to stop him. Her first reaction had been human. The human inside her was afraid of being hurt. But the demon in her couldn't be hurt. She was fearless. Then Sandra realized that if she wanted to be human again, she'd have to give up the power, the strength, and be afraid again.
She shook her head as though to clear it and strode out of the alley back into the street. She didn't need this now. She needed to find Sam.

Sam tugged his coat tighter around him as he stepped out onto the street. The wind had picked up, and the night had gotten colder. He heard the doors of the bar close and lock behind him. He thrust his hands into his coat pockets, hunched down and started walking down the street. He didn't pay any attention to what was ahead of him, he just kept his eyes down, making sure he didn't walk into anyone by watching for passing feet. He didn't know where he was going, and at that moment in time, he didn't really care. Cruel memories were slowly trickling back to him now as the alcohol started to wear off. He knew now that he needed to find a place to stay. Just for a while, a couple of nights maybe, while he looked for... for... He didn't seem to be sober enough to remember who he was looking for. Oh well, it'll come sooner or later.
His furry feet slowly led him up a wide set of stairs. He looked up, it seemed to be some kind of public monument. It had a greek look to it. Tall pillars held it up around the outside. Sam shrugged, maybe he could sleep here for the night, at least it's sheltered. He climbed the stairs until he was inside. He was about to try the door when something caught his eye. It was a bust, a statuette of someone's head. It was a very familiar head. He walked slowly towards it, the details becoming clearer with each step. Sam saw the little tuft of hair curling over the forehead. He saw the radiant grin. The bright cheerful eyes. The unmistakable long fluffy ears. Underneath the bust was an inscription. It read: "To bring joy is a wonderful thing."
He had said that. He'd said it to Tawny whenever she was down. This was Sam's head. They'd made him a monument. They thought he was dead. Sam's knees weakened and he slumped, kneeling to the ground. This changed so much. If he found Tawny, how would she react? Would she be pleased or frightened? Would she scream for joy or out of fear? Sam looked up at himself. From this angle it looked to him as though the statue was royal, majestic, regal. Would she take him back?
Sam slumped, his whole body relaxed, and he slowly tilted forward until his forehead hit the pedestal of the bust in front of him. He stayed like that for a while, weeping.

Sandra shivered as the wind picked up some more. She wasn't going to find Sam tonight, she accepted that. Right now she needed to find a place to stay warm. It didn't take her long to find a hotel, and she scurried through the doors and shut them behind her. Inside it was much warmer, and she felt the heat seep into her skin and flood her body. Turning she saw the counter, with the clerk behind reading a newspaper. The clerk was a weasel. Sandra fronted up at the counter and told the clerk that she needed a room for the night. The clerk said it was $25 per night. Sandra went to get her wallet from her pocket. She froze when she realized that she didn't have her wallet in her pocket. She didn't bring her wallet to this dimension. Crap.
Sandra remained frozen while she searched for a way to pay. A couple of ways presented themselves but she pushed them away instantly, disgusted with herself. Then she thought of something else. She placed both her hands on the counter, and squinted at the weasel. He looked back at her, a little confused and wondering what she was doing. Sandra concentrated on seeing his thoughts. Suddenly she saw herself, squinting. She was seeing through the weasel's eyes. Then she concentrated some more. She saw herself put some money on the counter, although she couldn't feel herself move. She saw the weasel's hands move and pick up the money, and count it. $25. He opened the money drawer and put it in. Sandra relaxed her mind, and was able to see through her own eyes again. She saw the weasel wasn't holding anything in his hand, but clearly he thought he did. The clerk put his imaginary money in the drawer and close it, then he took down a key from behind him and placed it on the counted in front of Sandra. She picked it up and walked quickly to the stairs just in case he changed his mind. Abryl was right, Sandra thought, it is easy to become addicted to exploiting others.
She entered her room, and locked the door behind her. It was small, but comfortable. She flopped onto the bed and crawled under the covers. After a while, wrapped up in her warm blankets, Sandra closed her eyes, and fell asleep.
And somewhere not very far away, Sam sat hunched up against a wall, a small distance away from the bust of himself, and pulling his coat tighter around him, slowly fell asleep.

Sandra was floating high above the city. This didn't seem to bother her much, in fact she giggled. She giggled one of those little giggles that children make they were seeing something funny. Right now, looking down at the city from several miles above, Sandra knew from somewhere deep down inside her that the sight shouldn't amuse her, but somehow it did. She felt warm and cosy, as though she were wrapped in an invisible blanket. Once again, deep down, a part of her was thinking that being this high up in the air would really be very cold, instead of the comfortable warmth she was feeling. But this thought seemed to be coming from far, far away, as though she had to concentrate very hard on it for it to register. But Sandra wasn't concentrating. She couldn't concentrate when she was feeling this warm and happy. Then she started to move. Through no will of her own, her body twisted slowly in the air, until she was upside down, still in her own happy, warm, giggly little world. Then she fell, but it wasn't really like falling, she didn't start slow and speed up, she started falling fast. Sandra looked up, which was actually down, and giggled again. Somehow she knew that she couldn't be hurt, she could hear the wind whistling and howling around her, but it couldn't touch her, it couldn't penetrate her invisible blanket. Just as she had fallen past the roofs if the tallest buildings, her fall suddenly became horizontal. Now she was moving very fast parallel to the ground, with tall buildings whizzing past either side of her, smaller buildings and tiny, tiny people creeping past underneath her. She looked around her dreamily, smiling at the people underneath her, and at the buildings that were racing past her. Then something happened. Suddenly the wind hit her and became a deafening roaring in her ears. The cold blast woke her from her dreamy reverie, and she gasped at the shock of the transition. She wasn't moving horizontally anymore, now she was just a demon girl moving through the air very very fast, and like all such things, she started to curve slowly downwards. She tried to summon her wings to fly away, but they wouldn't respond. She strained until she was purple in the face, but still nothing happened. She looked ahead now to see what remained of her inevitably short future. It looked like she was going to fall into quite a small building. As she got closer she was able to read the large sign above the door. 'The Lucky Duck Inn'. Then she hit the wall. Then she was through the wall. But she didn't fall through the wall like most large falling objects do, when she fell through it, the wall remained intact, and she passed directly through it with a sound that could only be described as 'fzph'. For a brief moment she could see inside the Inn, all the people. One person stood out, sitting at the bar. Sandra was falling very fast, and so she only had the briefest of seconds to register who it was. It was Sam. Then she hit the bar.
Sandra awoke with a gasp, sweat dripping from her face. She jerked her head around rapidly, trying to see where she was. Panic started to rise within her before she remembered everything that had happened. The portal, the streets, the hotel, and everything in between. She could feel the sheets underneath her, and steadily her mind started to re-attach itself to reality. She curled herself up into a ball and hid her face in her arms. The feelings of the dream were still there, the fear, and the sense of urgency. She waited for them to go away. When she felt that it was safe to get out of bed, she did, and walked toward the bathroom. Once there she moved to turn on the shower, but she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Her first reaction was to scream, which she did. Since becoming a demon, she had grown accustomed to seeing a demon looking back at her in a mirror, but this time there was a large bunny looking back at her. She suddenly felt silly as she remembered morphing into a bunny in order to fit in in this dimension. She looked closer at herself. Staring into the mirror, she noticed two things. The first was that she looked quite a lot like Sam, only obviously female. The second thing was that she was naked. She looked down at herself and sure enough she wasn't wearing a scrap of clothing. That can't be right, she thought, she clearly remembered not taking anything off when she went to bed, in fact she virtually fell into bed the moment she closed the door. She stepped out of the bathroom to look at the bed. Her heart sank. The bed was sizzling. She moved closer, and could discern very small, very charred scraps of her clothes. Sandra hung her head, then went back to the bathroom to have a shower, deciding the world would be easier to deal with once she'd had one.

Sam left the Inn at high speed. This was because the bartender had thrown him out. Sam landed heavily on the road. He lay there for a while, just in case more bad things wanted to happen to him. When nothing did he very carefully lifted himself to his feet. He didn't seem to be too badly hurt, with the exception of his face, which had been the first part of him to hit the ground. Sam now felt absolutely miserable. He had just spent the last of his money on getting drunk; he'd skipped breakfast so he could get straight to the drinking, so he felt nauseous; he'd kept drinking even after he'd run out of money, telling the bartender to put it on his tab. The ensuing argument between Sam and the bartender had been long and loud, during which Sam had sobered up some. Yup, Sam thought, this day is turning out to be a bit of a bummer. Fortunately he had thought of something just before the argument with the bartender, an idea. He'd thought of a place to look for Tawny. It was the only good thing going for him at the moment, so he made himself concentrate on that. He ran into the middle of the road and, to anyone who would have been watching, disappeared from sight.

Sandra emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her. She'd been wondering what to do about the clothes situation. All that she actually owned in this dimension she had been wearing when she went to bed. After a brief search of the drawers in the room, she found a set of pink cotton pyjamas, nothing else. She stared at the pyjamas for a second, then shrugged, it was better than nothing. As she dressed, she considered the dream that she'd had last night. It wasn't like most dreams that she had. This one wasn't about flying, or at least not in the way that she normally flew, and more importantly, she hadn't been in control. In all of her dreams, as a human and demon alike, she'd always been in control of what happened. If even a small part of her were to think that it was supposed to be cold, then it would then be cold. Last night's dream had been different. It was like she'd been shown where Sam was. After considering the problem, she put it down to her demonic powers reacting to her desire to find Sam. Maybe being asleep made it easier, she thought.
She stood in front of the dresser mirror to look at herself. There wasn't much to say about it. She was a large walking bunny wearing pink pyjamas. Crystal would probably though she'd gone to heaven if she saw this. Sandra had rolled up the legs of the pyjamas, so that they didn't interfere with her new high heeled feet, even so, she felt stupid. But, it was that or nothing, and if she wanted to go out and find Sam, she didn't have a choice. She picked up her room key, and put it in her breast pocket. As she left, she decided that there couldn't be any harm in at least checking out the Lucky Duck Inn.

Sam trudged through raw sewage, more depressed than he'd ever been. The shelter had been deserted. Just before Sam had ever met Sandra, Tawny had encouraged people of the city who'd had their homes destroyed to come underground to the shelter that she'd organized. But when Sam and Sandra had left the dimension together, so had the one that had destroyed their homes. Tool. Now that he was gone, there was no need for the shelter. Sam would have thought of that, or at least the sober Sam would have thought of that. But Sam had been drunk when he'd thought of it, and even when he'd sobered up, he was too excited to have thought of a place to look to realize that it was a dead end. He reached a ladder and made his way up. He pushed aside the cover, and whimpered as the sunlight stabbed his eyes. He climbed out of the sewers and replaced the cover, then he shoved his hands into his pockets and skulked off down the road. He wasn't going anywhere in particular, he was just walking, not really caring where he was going. His wandering feet eventually led him to the park.

Sandra was quite flustered when she left the Inn. Not only was Sam not there, but there had been stares and giggles at her and her pink pyjamas. The bartender in particular had briefly been very rude. He didn't laugh very long, on account of being on fire. That was the main reason for Sandra's frustration, she hadn't been able to control her temper again. She lifted her head and sniffed the air, trying to catch the scent of Sam's soul. There was a faint trace. She walked slowly, turning a little from side to side every now and again, constantly sniffing the air. Then she stopped, and looked down. She was standing on a manhole cover. The scent ended here. Sandra's heart sank. There was no way that she could follow the scent of Sam's soul down there. Even without her sensitive nose, she would gag. She sniffed around a few feet in all directions, with little hope of finding anything. She didn't find anything. Sandra swore loudly. She could tell by the scent that it was less than an hour old, she was so close. Why would he go into the sewers? Who would do such a crazy thing? Was he intentionally trying to lose her? Sandra continued on this train of though for a while, before exhausting herself and slumping against the wall off the Inn. Why did this have to be so damn hard?
Then she thought of something. An idea formed in her head, coming from nowhere. She didn't think too hard about it, she knew that if she thought about it too fast it would dissolve. Instead she stood up, leaned back against the wall, concentrated on the first thing she needed to do. She closed her eyes and cleared her mind. Then she thought of Sam. She didn't only think of what Sam looked like, she tried to remember his smell, the way his fur felt, his attitude, the shape she held of Sam in her memory. She concentrated solely on the essence of Sam, until her mind was simply a vessel that contained nothing but Sam. Then she reached out with her telepathy, to the people around her, standing around, walking up and down the street, looking for a match. Sandra was dimly aware of people, aware of their minds, but once she'd established that there wasn't a match anywhere in their minds, she paid them no attention. She remained in this state for a few minutes, or a few hours, or it could have been years and Sandra wouldn't have noticed. Then she found a match. She slowly focused on it, it was a memory of a badger, walking down the street. Sandra examined the memory. She saw an empty street. A manhole cover slid open and a bunny emerged from the sewers. He looked like crap. He replaced the cover and started walking down the street. That's when the memory stopped being Sam related as the badger continued on his way.
Sandra returned to herself and opened her eyes. She immediately started running up the street. She ran and ran, looking from side to side to see if any of the buildings looked familiar from the memory. Once she'd found a building that looked similar to the one that she'd seen, she looked around for a manhole. Her heart jumped when she laid eyes on it, and ran towards it. She stood next to it and sniffed the air. It stank. But in there, lingering within the stench, was a familiar smell. The scent of a soul. Sandra ran, her heart racing and her blood singing in her veins. At last she was close, almost close enough to find him.

The grass was a pleasant change from the concrete. Sam's padded feet felt much better treading on the soft sun-warmed grass. Sam suddenly felt very tired, even though it wasn't even noon. He was mentally exhausted, unable to cope anymore with the raw emotions inside him. He started wandering around the park, looking for a bench to sit down on, maybe rest a little, take a nap. Yes, Sam thought with a smile, This is a nice place to take a nap, shady trees, birdsong, not so crowded. That would be nice. Soon he found a bench, but there was already someone sitting on it. He was about to walk over to her to ask her if she wouldn't mind moving, when he saw her face, and stopped dead. It was her. It was Tawny. After all this time, he'd found Tawny. Sam couldn't stop staring. Tawny was pregnant.

Sam's brain had fused. All of his emotions, all of his intentions, just stopped in the face of this ugly fact. Tawny was sitting there on the park bench, stroking her swollen belly with a contented look on her face. A thought filled Sam's mind, with a force that made his eyes sting, and he blinked to hold back the tears. Tawny found someone else. He'd lost her, she'd moved on. Sam looked at her face, there was nothing there to suggest that anything at all was wrong with the world. Then someone else sat down next to her. A large lion with a wavy blonde mane of hair. Tawny looked at him and smiled, then she lay her head on his shoulder. A sound reached Sam's ears that stabbed straight at his heart. Tawny was purring. Tawny had never purred at Sam, never once in the whole time they had known each other. Slowly every muscle in Sam's body tensed as the sadness inside him gave way to the anger. This lion, this man, had stepped in to take Sam's place the moment he was gone, then went beyond to where Sam had only dreamed of. He'd taken the only thing Sam had in this world, this dimension. The only thing he'd thought about since he'd left. This man had stolen from him. Sam leapt out of the bushes.
Something stopped him, and Sam was pulled back into the bushes. He rolled onto the grass, and struggled to get back up, to see what had stopped him. He was thrust back into the grass by a hand on his chest. A white furry hand. Sam felt a heavy weight sitting on top of him. He let his eyes travel up the arm that was holding him down. Behind the arm was another bunny. Sam blinked. The bunny looked just like him, only this one was female. Sam suddenly became inexplicably creeped out. The bunny spoke.
"Don't. She thinks you're dead, showing yourself would do more harm than good."
"The hell do you know!?"
"Because," The bunny leaned down close to Sam, and as she did, she changed. In that moment Sam saw everything with absolute clarity. He saw the fur on the woman's face retract into her skin, and bizarre patterns slither across her face and arms. Her long ears shrank back into her head, and she simultaneously grew four horns and spiky purple hair.
"Because," Sandra repeated. "I know you too well to think any good could come from this."

Sandra got off of Sam, letting him get up. His face was the perfect picture of shock and surprise.
"Sandra?" he said. Then his face slowly changed to one of anger and fury. "Let me past."
Sandra put her hands on her hips and shook her head, her long thin tail curling in the air behind her and moving through the air with a sharp swish. Sam visibly got more angry.
"Let me past!"
Sandra was getting angry now.
"What do you think will happen? You think it will all be ok? She thinks that you're dead! Seeing you will scare her out of her mind."
Sam started to shake out of pure fury, his hands balled into fists at his sides, and his teeth clenched. Then it was as though someone had cut his strings. He sagged and fell to his knees. Tears now started to roll down his face.
"But... She's all I've thought about since I left."
Sandra's expression softened, and she knelt in front of him. She put her hands on his shoulders, and looked him in the eyes. Sam looked back. Then, all of the energy that had been driving him, pushing him on looking for Tawny, suddenly left him. He slumped, and the huge emotional dam that had been holding back the tears suddenly burst. Sam wept. Sandra pulled him to her and held him tightly. She gently rocked him back and forth, hushing him softly in his ear for the best part of half an hour, during which time, Sandra noticed, Tawny and her new man got up and left. Secretly Sandra was grateful that they were gone, it would make things easier. Even when Sam stopped crying, Sandra continued to hold him and rock him gently. Then Sandra decided to break the silence.
"She still thinks of you, you know." she whispered. "I can see you there, in her mind, and in her heart. She thinks of you often when life is hard, and she wants to cry. She remembers your smile, and your laugh, and suddenly she doesn't feel so sad. That's why she can't see you now. It would confuse and scare her. It will never go back to the way it was."
"That's just it." Sam croaked. "I want things to just go back to the way they were."
"The things that change, can't change back." The words had left Sandra without her thinking. Then she realized that they weren't her words. They were Abryl's words, said a lifetime ago back in the park, in her home dimension. Only now did she really know how true those words were.
After a few more minutes, Sandra let go of Sam, and looked at him.
"C'mon." she said. "Let's go home."
The two bunnies made their way to Sandra's hotel. Sandra paid the weasel for a few more nights, although Sam was confused that no money actually changed hands. The first thing Sandra did once back in her room, was run a bath and gently urge Sam into the bathroom. She knew from experience that baths heal almost all wounds. Once she left Sam to soak, she left the hotel to do some shopping. Although Sandra was a little worried about what Sam might think about her priorities, she needed clothes to wear other than her pyjamas. All the clothes that she had owned she was wearing when she went to bed last night. She still blushed in frustration when she remembered what happened to them.
She returned after about half an hour, laden with shopping bags full of clothes for both her and Sam, after all, he was in the same situation as her as far as clothes went. She knocked on the bathroom door to make sure that Sam was alright, quickly changed, put away the clothes, and made herself some coffee. She sat down at the oversized stool that passed for a dining table. We'll have to get a bigger place to stay until...
Until when? Until they can get back home? Technically Sam was already home, but what about her? How was she going to get back? Jack had needed to draw power from her to open the portal a second time. Now she wasn't there to do it a third time. There was no way that Jack could open it without killing himself. Tears started to well up in Sandra's eyes. She let her head fall into her arms, and wept. She lost track of time as she just let the tears come, feeling them roll harmlessly over her fur and fall onto the table, instantly hissing and steaming. She cried for Crystal, her best friend that she'd never see again. She cried for Jack, whom she had watched mature from a teenage pervert into a powerful warlock. She cried for Mike, and the love that they never shared. She even cried for herself, for many reasons. Being turned into a demon, having to put up with her new body, living as a prisoner in her own house, watching her future go down the toilet, and having to accept the fact that her old life was shattered. Now she was stuck in a strange dimension, separated from all she ever knew.
And, surprisingly enough, she cried for Abryl, the one who had taught her so much about herself that she'd never had found out on her own. For the support he'd given as someone who KNEW what she was going through, as someone who had been in the same situation himself. She cried and cried until she had no tears left. Until she simply lay there, her face hidden in her arms, and her coffee slowly cooling in front of her. Then she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up. Sam was standing there, dressed in the clothes that Sandra had bought for him. He looked much better now that he'd bathed, much more human, despite the fact he was a bunny. Looking up at him, Sandra realized that he also knew what she was going through, because he was in the same situation. He was the only person in this dimension who could possibly know what she was feeling. She took his hand in hers, and they stayed like that for a while, simply being there for each other. Two people, one soul. Soul mates.

The next day was spent planning. Most of the day the two of them wandered around town, looking for a nicer and bigger place to stay. They ambled along, not in a hurry, after all there wasn't any rush.
"We'll need to get jobs too." Sandra said as they walked down a boring street.
"What for?" Sam asked, "You can just to what you did to the guy behind the counter last night. We'll never need any actual money. Ever."
"No." Sandra replied instantly. "No, I'm not going to live like that. I don't want to spend my life lying to people at a subconscious level, stealing from people on a whim. I don't want to become some greedy, selfish demon. Don't say it."
Sam promptly shut his mouth, looking at the sky as though it was the most interesting thing in the world.
"I wasn't going to say anything." He said innocently.
"Yes you were, and I don't want you stating the obvious. I know I'm a demon, but I have a human soul, and I can choose not to behave like a demon."
Sam frowned.
"What do you mean?"
Sandra scratched behind her long fluffy ear absent-mindedly.
"Something Abryl told me. He said that there's a difference between a decision and a choice. A decision is selecting an alternative based on facts. People everywhere make hundreds of decisions daily. A choice is simply selecting an alternative. No facts, no reasons, no logic. Very few people make more than a handful of choices in their entire lives."
Sandra raised her head and, at that moment, Sam noticed that she seemed taller.
"I choose not to be a demon. There may be logic and reasons behind this, but I'm not choosing because of them. It's a choice, not a decision."
They walked in silence for a while, until eventually Sam spoke.
"From now on, I choose to be content with Tawny's new life, and the face that I'm not a part of it anymore." Sandra could hear the sadness in his voice as he said this, and she could see it with her mind, gently coming off him like steam. But there was a glow deep inside the murky blue mist of his sadness, she could see. There was a core, inside him, shining with a pure light, that only her mind could see. She smiled and took his hand. They spent the rest of the daylight wandering around town, occasionally commenting on a certain hotel or apartment, or even prospective jobs that looked interesting.
Soon the sky faded from azure blue to velvet purple, the light turned to golden treacle on the buildings and landscape. Soon the sun vanished behind the horizon, the clouds high in the sky still holding the light from the day and turning it a bright orange. Sam and Sandra found their way home, Sandra 'payed' for another night's stay, and they both went to their room. Sandra locked the door behind her, and when she turned around she froze. There was someone sitting there, at the tiny dining table, with their legs crossed and their arms folded. A wave of understanding and fury washed over her, as she recognized who it was.
"You!" she exclaimed.

There was not a single cloud in the night sky, nothing between the distant stars and the earth. The universe was opened up to the world, naked and bare. To Abryl's sensitive eyes, the distant stars became blazing giant explosions. He could see all that was between the stars, the nebulae, the comets, the debris drifting aimlessly through space. He'd spent years learning how to look up at the sky like this, seeing all that there was to see. He sighed. Now it seemed to come naturally.
He stood on the roof of a supermarket, still looking up. A very old, and very familiar sadness filled him. He felt pity for the poor people all around him. They couldn't see what he could see. They couldn't even if they tried. They were trapped within their own bodies, limited by their five senses. Abryl would have felt better if he'd gained these talents through magic, but he hadn't. If he had, then the people of the world would have some hope of experiencing the sheer wonder and awe that Abryl was filled with every day. Poor things, he though to himself, they don't live long enough to see.
He looked down at the street below him, and crouched on one knee. Across the street there was a man leaning against the wall, reading a newspaper while waiting for the bus. He was a fairly ordinary looking man, brown eyes, brown hair that always seemed be in a perpetual state of scruffiness. He shivered in the night air, he'd forgotten his coat at home because he hadn't expected to be working so late. Abryl collected the man's thoughts with well practiced ease.
Abryl looked to his right, down the street. Far down the road, a woman was running to get to the bus stop. Abryl's sensitive ears heard the bus coming from his left. The man looked up to see the bus coming, and folded up his newspaper and signalled to the driver. The bus stopped, and the man was about to step on. Abryl sent out a subtle telepathic hint to the mind of the man, who then stopped and looked up to the sound of running feet, and saw a woman, red in the face, running to catch the bus that she was about to miss. The man smiled and waited with one foot in the bus, and eventually allowed the woman to get on first. Soon the bus started moving again, and the two people sat down together, and started talking. Abryl smiled from his perch above the street, watching the bus leave. He could see their future. They would become friends, then lovers, move in with each other, and eventually become happily married. Abryl knew all this would come to pass. He'd seen it happen already.
Abryl stood up and stepped off the roof. He landed gracefully, his long black coat billowing out behind him. He stood up and started to walk away when the newspaper stand just outside the supermarket caught his eye. The stand held copies of The New Zealand Herald, and the headlines claimed that there were sightings of a winged man flying over Auckland. Abryl smirked to himself. He liked to give at least a little hope to the people that there was something beyond what was known, that there were still some things out there that were undiscovered. After briefly reading through the first few lines of the article, Abryl put his hands in his pockets, and strode down the quiet road, surrounded by houses and trees.

Jack wasn't really with himself, as it were. More accurately he wasn't in himself. He'd left his body at the house, and his soul was speeding to and fro within the underlying universe outside the conventional dimensions of time and space.
In aeons past, when the world was young, wizards, witches and warlocks had ruled the planet. Magic was commonly used and through it power was sought. Wizards and the like didn't live very long, because in the long struggle for power, there will always be competition, and everyone else that used magic was considered competition. Most of the wizards in their impenetrable towers and magic shields, the witches with their potions and spells, and the warlocks with their summoned demons and magical creatures, sooner or later they all realized that power wasn't defined by a tall tower, or what you could summon, or what potions you knew. In the world of magic, truly knowledge was power. So the magical practitioners had tapped into this kind of null space, where the normal four dimensions or length, depth, width and time threatened to flip on their side. This wasn't much different from the universe humans are familiar with, except you might be thinner than paper, age in inches and constantly be moving sideways. It was a place where the abstract concepts such as good, evil, kindness, happiness, and the like had physical form. So, the practitioners found, did knowledge. It was the perfect place to give their knowledge a physical form, and store it to leave room in their heads for more knowledge. Even after the death of each wizard, witch, and warlock, their deposited knowledge remained. Jack referred to these deposits of knowledge as nodes. It seemed as good a word as any. They appeared to him as nebulae of brilliant colour in the celestial void of the spiritual realm. To Jack, it was like flying through space, the many countless nodes appearing as stars in the distance.
He'd been wandering around from node to node for a long time. He couldn't be sure exactly how long, time here seemed to be different. It could be hours, or it could be days. He knew for certain that his body was prone and vulnerable in the physical realm, and if it had been sitting there for days, then that means that he hasn't been eating, which would mean real problems when he got back. So he wandered from node to node, searching frantically for any information on reopening the portal, always saying to himself the mantra said by many faced with mounting problems, which was:
"Just one more, just one more then I'll go back."
The anger, frustration, and fear was physically rising off him like steam as he flitted through the void to the next node. When he reached it, he thrust both his hands into the swirling cloud. The whole thing was absorbed into his hands. A whole lifetime of memories zipped past his eyes in a fraction of a second. After they'd stopped, his eyes remained glazed for a moment as he tried to 'remember' how to reopen a portal for the third time. When nothing registered, he grunted with agitation, and the cloud spewed from his hands. He flew quickly toward the next node. Tomie followed, watching Jack's every move, wisely saying nothing.

Despite the situation, Crystal wasn't really all that sad. Her best friend was lost god knows where, along with Sam. Jack had been meditating for 2 days straight, and was getting noticeably thin. But she wasn't sad. She could feel the sad, deep down, but she wasn't letting it out, blinding her thinking. There were a few things that she knew for certain. One was that Sandra was almost invincible. She'd seen Sandra shot clean through the torso with a large section of it missing, and she'd regenerated and come back to normal... eventually. Another thing that she knew was that wherever Sam had gone, Sandra was in the same place, so they had each other at least. As for Jack, well, she was on her way upstairs now to fix that.
Once upstairs, she walked past Sandra's bedroom. The door was open, and Crystal glanced in. Crystal had re-made Sandra's bed since what happened, because she knew in her bones that Sandra was coming back, no matter what it took, and no one wanted to come home to a messy bedroom. Especially in Sandra's case, who tore up bed sheets and pillowcases on a nightly basis.
Crystal stepped timidly into the room. She and Sandra had always been the best of friends, and they'd never kept secrets from each other. Sure they didn't tell each other EVERYTHING, because there were some things that just didn't need to be said, they knew already. So even though that this room was Sandra's room, with her posters, clothes, and toys, what few there were, to Crystal, it was also her room. And right now, she had a feeling, that was very subtle, but all the more noticeable for that, that the room was incomplete. Something was missing. She knew of course that it was Sandra, but the feeling was still there. Crystal smoothed down some wrinkles in the blankets, and wanted to curl up on the bed and cry, let the sadness out and weep for her friend. But no, she wouldn't let it. She had to be strong, not for herself, but for her brother. Jack was working himself to exhaustion finding a way to get Sandra back, it would be selfish of her to make him worry about his sobbing little sister too. Remembering Jack, she got back up and out of the room.
Jack was as she left him last time. The food that she'd left in front of him in case he came out of his meditation lay untouched on the floor. Crystal looked at Jack in dismay. His skin was pallid, and almost white. There were dark shadows under his eyes, and his skin looked drawn tight over his skull. His normally spiky and poofy hair lay limp and lifeless around his face. Crystal noticed that his clothes seemed very big for him. This had gone on far enough, she knew she had to wake him up. She walked up behind him, and placed her hands on either side of his head. She'd done something similar before, when she'd wanted to find out what had happened to him in the past by searching his memory. She still flinched and blushed whenever she remembered, Jack had not been happy when he'd found out. It was a very basic form of magic that she had found out quite to her own surprise that she could perform. Now though, she planned something different. Now she wanted to communicate with him, in a way that went beyond dimensions. She closed her eyes, and concentrated.

Jack was still far away from the next node. Tomie followed beside him, still a book even in this place. He'd been silent the entire time Jack had been searching, until now.
"Jack, It's time to take a break. We've been here for days."
"How would you know?" Jack said, not looking anywhere other than the node far in front of him. Tomie sighed audibly, it wasn't very book like to sigh, or talk for that matter, but being handled by humans and magic together gave Tomie a personality of his own, something from everyone who had ever handled him. Tomie didn't have a face as such, just the markings on the cover, but there was something in his sigh that suggested that he was rolling his eyes.
"I know because I have experience of being in this plane. I know exactly how long we've been gone in the real world based on how long we've been searching. It may seem like a day or two to you, but in actual fact, it's been three days. Three!"
There was silence, punctuated only by the movement of Jack's jacket as it flapped, billowed and floated behind him.
"Your body's dying, Jack." Tomie went on, softly, "I can see it, even if you can't. You may feel fine now, here where the body can't find you, but it's happening. You need to go back and rest."
"And what then." Jack stopped and turned to face Tomie, his face a mask of anger. His jacket clouded up around him, flickering and twitching in the fumes of his rage.
"What good will it do Sandra if I stop looking for a way to bring her back? First I turn her into a demon, then I lose her in some god knows where dimension. If I don't take responsibility for my mistakes, then what kind of warlock am I? What kind of person am I!?" Tomie blazed with a white light, and Jack flinched as though he'd been struck. The light faded, and Jack's anger had faded. He looked at Tomie, shocked, and afraid.
"When are you going to stop blaming yourself for Sandra's condition!?" Tomie bellowed at him, his voice seeming to fill the universe.
"When are you going to accept that accidents happen all the time, no matter what lengths people go to avoid them. You didn't do it on purpose. You didn't do it out of malice, out of mischief, or boredom, or even to see if you could. It was a simple mistake. Yes it is admirable for you to search for a way to change her back, but you need to accept that it was a simple mistake."
Tomie settled down, speaking now in normal tones.
"Look at all the things you've done for her since what happened. You gave her acceptance, treating her as the human she was, instead of the monster she appeared. You gave her a place to stay, and protection from the world outside. You gave her new hope, a way to mimic the life she left behind. You've done more than enough to justify your actions, all you need now is to stop... blaming... yourself."
Jack simply said nothing. He just looked down at his feet, feeling ashamed. Eventually the silence was broken by a voice.
"Jack? Jack?"
Jack looked up, trying to find where it was coming from.
"Crystal??" he gasped in shock.
"Jack," Crystal's voice went on, "You need to come back, you're getting worse."
Suddenly there was an image in Jack's mind of his body, as seen through Crystal's eyes. Jack winced, he looked horrible. He hung his head.
"Alright, I'm coming."
Then, with a minute amount of concentration, both Jack and Tomie disappeared.
Jack opened his eyes and immediately collapsed, his weakened muscles refusing to work. He was dimly aware of being lifted up and placed in bed, and a short while later a hot mug was thrust to his lips. He swallowed as much of the scalding liquid as he could. Then he passed out.

Crystal slumped down the stairs, across the empty living room, and sprawled face down on the sofa. She swung her arm around and onto the coffee table, grabbed the remote, and switched on the TV. Less than a minute later she turned it back off, having reconfirmed her belief that daytime TV sucks. She rolled over on her back and covered her eyes with her hand. The entire time that Jack had been away in the spirit world Crystal had been in a state of constant stress.
Crystal, by nature, was a very cheerful person. Every moment in her life, she'd had reason to be cheerful. If ever she started to feel depressed, something would happen to remind her of what to be cheerful for. The foremost example in Crystals mind was on her first day of school, the boys teased her because of her hair. She had been crying in a corner when another girl came over to her, and asked her what was wrong. That girl's name was Sandra.
Now that Jack was out of immediate danger, Crystal could now focus on the loss of her most beloved friend. With her eyes covered, and making as little sound as possible out of habit, Crystal started to cry. She cried for a long time. When she finally stopped, she let her whole body relax. Her arm covering her face fell over the side of the sofa and hung there.
"Don't cry Crystal, it doesn't suit you."
The voice took her completely by surprise, and she jumped up, giving a little scream. Spinning around, she gasped at who she saw standing there.
"Abryl?!" She gasped. Her fear then gave way to relief, then anxiety as all the different things that she needed to tell him jostled in her mind to be spoken first. One of them quickly won.
"Sandra! She's trapped in another dimension. We found a portal that... " but Abryl stopped her by holding up his hand.
"I know." he said calmly. Crystal blinked.
"You know??!" she said, shocked and incredulous. Abryl nodded. "Then why haven't you brought her back?" she demanded.
"Because," he said quietly "I'm the one who opened the portal in the first place, and sent her there."

"You WHAT??!!" Sandra screamed. Sam flinched away from her, knowing what happened when Sandra got mad. Abryl simply remained sitting at the table, unmoving. Then he shrugged.
"Well, I didn't exactly send you here, more of indirectly sent you here. I opened the portal for Sam, because I knew that once you found him gone, and Jack found the portal, you would not hesitate to chase after Sam. I knew you would follow him"
Sandra's face showed the interior struggle of the many different things that she wanted to say, when suddenly she spun around to face Sam, who flinched again.
"You never said that it was HIM that opened the portal!" she yelled.
"You never asked. I mean, you came through too, and you didn't say anything, so I just assumed that he'd let you through too."
Sandra opened her mouth to object when she realized that he was right. Never once had she asked how the portal had opened in the first place. But she wasn't about to a little thing like that stop her from being right. She whirled around again to face Abryl. She tried several times to say something, but she never got further than the first letter before stopping and trying to say something else. Then she gave up and threw a chair at him. Sandra didn't notice that it was a large armchair, nor that Sam had retreated to the far wall, pressing himself against it, trying to dig through with his shoulder blades in an effort to get even further back. Abryl however, didn't move at all, and let the armchair hit him. Only it didn't. It passed straight through him, and crashed loudly behind him.
This made Sandra more angry than shocked, but there was a small part of her mind that pointed out something that she had previously overlooked. Abryl was sitting down, but there was no chair. He was sitting on the air. A small wrinkle of confusion creased her face.
"What... ?" she started to say.
"Nope." he said casually "I'm not really here. I'm communicating telepathically, and this" he indicated to himself "is an illusion. The whole disembodied voice thing can be a little disturbing."
"Where are you communicating from?" Sandra demanded.
"From the other dimension. Your home dimension."
"Come to taunt me?" she said menacingly, her voice dripping with acid.
"No. To tell you why I sent you here in the first place."
"Oh, let me guess." Sandra said hotly "You're going to tell me that this is all some extravagant lesson, to emphasise your point about the universe. Or maybe it's just to make me in awe of you, you of such power and wisdom Oh Mighty Asshole!"
Sandra stopped to breath.
"No." Abryl said quietly. "It was to protect you."
"I DON'T NEED YOUR PROTECTION!!!" Sandra screamed. Tears of anger and frustration were building up behind her eyes, but she refused to let him see them. She needed to stay angry at him, keep the anger there in her heart, because otherwise she would see his point of view, it would all be alright, and he would be RIGHT again, smiling that smug smile of his that said that he knew he was smarter than her. She couldn't take it.
"From most things, no, you don't need my protection, but from this you do." He said, standing up and walking up to her.
"Someone is after you. Someone powerful. Someone who has studied magic for a very, very long time. You've met him before, I don't know where or when or how, but you know him, because I can sense the joy and anticipation he feels about toying with you. He won't have told you his real name, but he'll have given you a name that had something to do with 'white'. Think. Think of someone you know who's name means white."
Despite her anger, Sandra did think. She thought hard of any name at all that could mean white, but nothing came to mind. She shook her head, then frowned.
"Wait, how does me being here protect me from him?"
"As long as you're not in your home dimension, he can't find you. He can't toy with you, tease or taunt you. He's planning something big, soon. I felt it."
Sandra's anger was fading, and against her better judgement, she started to see his point of view. He was right... again. Dammit.

Abryl opened his eyes to see Crystal sitting on the sofa, staring at him. He didn't often leave his body for any long period of time, but he could if he needed to. Crystal had made it clear that this was one of those times.
"Well?" Crystal asked as soon as she saw his eyes open. Her face was uncharacteristically stern. Abryl, having gotten used to Crystal's chirpy nature, had noticed the change in her, and wisely did what she said. He'd made contact with Sandra to let her know that she was coming back soon. Crystal had wanted him to bring Sandra back straight away, but even in the face of an angry Crystal, Abryl couldn't bring Sandra back too soon. This was a situation that needed to be handled very delicately.
"She and Sam are alright. They've found each other and are staying at a hotel for the time being."
"Why can't they come back right now?" Crystal asked, her voice had sharp edges in it. Abryl was beginning to admire her.
"I told you, I can't tell you. I will though, when the time is right."
"And when is that?" said Crystal, not missing a beat.
"When new information presents itself and I've decided on a course of action."
Crystal got up off the sofa and walked over to him, and lowered her face to his.
"What makes you think you're any judge of what should and shouldn't be done?"
Abryl had quite a high tolerance for rudeness and the knack of all humans to say quite the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time, but Crystal was taking it just one step too far. He stood up, and let some the weight of his experience and knowledge show in his voice.
"And who is to judge? You?"
Abryl felt a sliver of satisfaction at seeing Crystal move back from him, her expression suddenly one of fear. But mostly he felt ashamed of himself, Crystal was only scared for her friend, he could see the fear in her mind, he didn't need to scare her any more. He let his expression soften, and made his voice sound normal again.
"Crystal, please. You must appreciate that you don't have all the information on the situation. Even if I told you everything that was going on, you wouldn't even understand the information I would have to give you."
There were tears in Crystals eyes now, but they weren't tears of fear or panic, Abryl could see they were tears of frustration, of helplessness. She approached him and grabbed his coat by the lapels.
"Try me." She said. "I may be able to help."
"If you could help, I would tell you everything. Believe me, I don't want to leave you in the dark, but telling you would do more harm than good."
Crystal gave him the most pathetic look Abryl had ever seen, even from her. She suddenly felt weak and rested her head on his chest, utterly defeated.
"I just... I just care about her so much."
"I know you do, so do I. But I have seen. This is the best way to help her, difficult as it may be."
Crystal could hear the sincerity behind his words. She couldn't hear any pity. Crystal was glad. If he'd pitied her, she would never have forgiven him.
"How's Jack?" Abryl asked. Even though no one could see her face, Crystal rolled her eyes.
"The same." she said.

Jack was beyond exhausted. He was in a whole new realm of fatigue that needed new words invented to describe how mind numbingly tired he was. Every time he closed his eyes, his whole world became this warm fuzzy place that could never ever hurt him and promised sanctuary from the hard prickly world. It was a huge example of laudable character that he was able to open his eyes again and keep reading.
He wasn't looking for anything on getting Sandra back anymore. Abryl had said that opening the portal again required an enormous amount of energy that Jack just didn't have. Jack believed him, even thought he didn't trust him. No, he was looking for something about Abryl. It had never occurred to Jack before that anything about Abryl would be within Tomie's pages, because the only people or creatures described there were either dead, lost in some distant dimension, or extinct. Abryl was clearly none of those things, but Jack had seen displays of power that rivalled many of the most powerful of wizards. What if he was much older than he let on?
He finished reading the page, nothing. He went through the complicated motions involved in turning the page, concentrating on each muscle movement so he didn't get it completely wrong and inadvertently send his hand careening into his face. He didn't remember seeing the next page. Sleep got the better of him and consumed him.
His dream was different from the usual parade of naked women that normally occupied his dreams. Needless to say, Jack liked that dream. It was familiar. This was much different. He was seeing a series of images flash before him, as though someone had taken a single second from each of their favourite movies and put them all together to play one after the other. The images were short, but they seemed to go on forever with their whirling connotations and contexts. There were no words, lots of sounds, but no words. Instead, Jack could feel emotions associated with the images.
First he could see a huge city, the kind seen by sci-fi fans and people on bad acid. It was in ruins. Jack felt pain, in every sense of the word. Both his body and his heart were in agony. Next he saw an overwhelming figure, looking down on him. Jack felt boundless, barely controlled anger, and pain. Then he saw an impossibly long tunnel, disappearing to the vanishing point. He could tell that the tunnel was no more wide than a heartbeat, yet was bigger than the universe. Jack felt fear, more pain, and the sensation that he was moving faster than a body should be moving. Then there was a shape that Jack recognized, and even in the realms of sleep was surprised that he was seeing it now. It was a pyramid. At its base, Jack could see the temples, the sand... the river. Jack was looking at ancient Egypt. He felt more pain, confusion, and fear. The dream ended, the naked girls returned. Jack promptly forgot the dream.

The wind had picked up, and the two bunnies pulled their coats tighter. Neither of them talked as they stood there. Sandra in particular couldn't find anything to say.
"It's... very nice."
"It's just the right size too, not too small, or too big either."
"Sure is." Silence.
"They even got the quirky grin and floppy ears."
"I mean... Sam they build a freakin' statue of you!"
"Technically it's not a statue, it's a bust."
"Whatever, the point is that they built SOMETHING in your honour, for everyone to see. Typically people only ever do that if you're dead."
"That's not true, Sandra."
"Don't give me that. You and I both know that more statues are built for dead people than people who are still alive."
"What's your point?"
"Just that... it's... wow." Sam smirked.
"Yea, I know." They turned around and started walking back down the stairs in front of the monument. The place was pretty crowded, people coming and going through the building. Sandra was quite amused to see Sam trying to hide his face.
"Oh stop it. Like they'd make the connection anyway. Even if someone saw that you looked like the statue... "
"Monument," Sandra continued, unabashed "no one would actually think that you WERE the guy it's supposed to be, just that you looked like him."
"Yea, well, I'd still like to avoid it happening, however small a chance it may be."
Sandra chuckled, and they kept walking.
They ambled onto the main street, and followed it purely because it was the easiest place to walk. They weren't going anywhere in particular, they were simply going. It was Sunday, so the city was relatively quiet, and the two bunnies were enjoying the busy and complicated silence of the world around them. Suddenly, Sam spoke.
"Why do you hate him so much?"
Sandra knew who he was talking about, of course, but she was surprised that he was bringing it up at all.
"I don't hate him." she said. "He just makes me so angry."
Sandra realized what he was doing, and was grateful. Sam was letting her use him as a soundboard for all the things on her mind, allowing all the thoughts and feelings that were festering inside her to be released. She sighed.
"It's just... he has to be RIGHT all the time. He says something, and you don't agree with it, but it doesn't matter, because he'll be right. He does all these things, comes into our home, interfere with our lives, and just expects us all to take it, like he's doing us a favour!"
"But you asked him to teach you about the powers of being a demon. If you hadn't asked him, he probably would have left straight away."
Sandra hesitated. This wasn't how it was supposed to go.
"Maybe. But he's just so infuriating. I don't know what it is exactly. He never apologizes for anything. If something bad happens, he doesn't even say 'I'm sorry about that but... ' y'know? It would be nice if he could show a little sympathy every now and again, instead of just being a pompous ass."
"This from the person who doesn't pay the guy at the hotel, just makes him think she's paying him."
"Oh shut up. You and I both know that that's because neither of us have any money."
"We could get jobs."
"Ha. This from the person who's never really had a job." said Sandra, mimicking him.
"Acting's a real job, the same as any other."
"Nuh uh, actors get paid directly disproportionately to the amount of work they do."
"Do you always hide behind big words?" Sandra laughed.
"Do you always hide behind a wall of indifferent boredom?"
"Like I have a choice," said Sam, grinning, "otherwise you'd be talking to me all the time, using all those big words on me."
Sam and Sandra spent the day swapping jibes and insults while wandering around the city. Sandra couldn't remember a day when she'd enjoyed herself more.
Jack awoke with a start. At least, he thought he'd woken up. Actually his mind had woken up but his body was still asleep. Now he was floating in the spirit world.

Jack sighed and relaxed his body, the one currently occupying the spirit world. It wasn't that bad really, just floating around, with no urgent needs pressing down on him at the moment. He gazed out at the distant nodes that, even now, he couldn't help referring to as stars. That's what it was like, floating in space, surrounded by all of the constellations. His gaze happened upon a shooting star. Ooh, he thought, I can make a wish.
Then his brain caught up with what his eyes were seeing. I'm not actually in space, he reminded himself, so why is one of the nodes moving?
It was getting bigger. Jack suddenly became quite scared.
The node started to slowly reveal its shape, which proved to Jack that it wasn't a node. Nodes didn't have shapes, they were just clouds of knowledge. This thing had a definite shape, it was sort of like a squashed circle, not that that helped at discerning what it was.
As it got closer, Jack suddenly realized it had a head. In the middle, was a face, looking at him. He realized further that the squashed circle could be the shape of a man viewed from above, looking straight up. Someone was flying towards him. Jack was too numb with fear to react.
Soon the man, for indeed it was a man, stopped in front of Jack and put himself upright compared to Jack.
He was about Jack's height, and was much older. There were many wrinkles on his face, but they didn't exactly make him look old. The word that would apply to a face like that would be 'Wise'.
'Stern' would be another good word to apply to that face.
So would 'Prune'. He was... white. That was the only possible to described how he looked. His clothes were all white, his hair was as white as the sun at midday. Even his eyes were a very light shade of grey that compared to anyone else's eyes were... well white.
"Who are you?" he asked in a kind voice. Jack's fear got the best of him and he said the thing that was most prominently on his mind.
"What do you want." A small part of him was ashamed of himself that he sounded so pathetic. The man shrugged.
"I was only curious. It's not very often that I meet anyone here in the spirit realm." He saw Jack's fear on his face, and smiled. A kindly smile.
"My name is Albin. What's yours?"
Jack's fear dissolved a little.
"Jack... Jack." Albin said softly, almost to himself. "Have we met before?"
"No, never. I'd remember."
"Hmm. It seems I knew a Jack once, long ago. But my memory isn't what it was."
Albin looked sad, letting his head hang, looking down and the void below him. Jack felt sorry for him, and changed the subject.
"What are you doing here?"
"Looking for something. Something that got lost."
"What is it?"
"A demon. I need to destroy it, it's my job as a wizard."
Jack gasped.
"You're a wizard?"
"Yes. The last wizard." The sadness came back to Albin's face, and Jack hurriedly changed the subject again.
"Perhaps you can help me, I'm looking for something too, information on a guy named Abryl."
The change of the man's expression was disturbing. Anger and hatred were etched onto every line on his face. His eyes were wide and almost popping out of his head.
"You... know... Abryl?" he asked in a choked voice, barely able to get the words out.
The anger in Jack receded, but his old friend, fear, was coming back quite quickly.
"Yes." he said, "I know him."
"Are you with him??" the man asked heatedly, almost desperately.
"Of course not!!" Jack yelled, surprised by the bile that was in his words. It was then that Jack realized that he hated Abryl. Not just disliked or distrusted, but hated.
The man relaxed.
"Good. Because he's an evil creature, the devil himself posing as an angel."
Jack felt relief flood through him. He'd been right about Abryl. He was the only one that hadn't been fooled by him.
"I know." Jack said. "You won't believe what he's been doing to me and my friends."
"Tell me." said Albin.

Crystal was asleep. It was very cute. Even babies couldn't sleep cuter than Crystal. She was curled up, hugging on one of her pillows, and resting her head on the other. Her thumb wasn't in her mouth, however. She managed to be cute without it.
Abryl was sitting on the floor right beside the bed, leaning on the edge of the bed and resting his head on his arms, his face barely inches from Crystals. He was just watching her.
After a while Crystal rolled onto her back, flopping one of her arms up over her head on the pillow and made a sound that went something like 'wstfgl'. Abryl smiled.
Then he got up and left. He checked in on Jack briefly, making sure that he was still asleep. He'd gone in every now and again to give Jack's body a little of his energy so that he would recover faster. It looked like it was working, Jack was looking much better than before.
Once he'd checked on Jack, Abryl left.
He walked down the street, turning the corner, and kept walking until he could feel grass under his shoes. As he approached the park, he could see that it was quite crowded, filled with children running around a screaming, in the way that children were prone to do. Several people were out with their dogs, throwing sticks and frisbees and all those things that no one ever thinks people really do with their dogs. Abryl smiled, it was a happy place. For the moment. When he got to where he was going, he laughed. It was the same bench that he and Sandra had sat at when he'd taught her about telepathy. She'd been so nervous, so anxious. But once she'd started to practice, all that nervousness just vanished. He hadn't realized that it was the same place when he set out. It had looked different in his mind earlier.
He sat down and stared out into the park. He watched all the people pass him by, talking, smiling, but sometimes frowning. Abryl watched all these things, without actually seeing them. He was counting in his head.
When he'd counted down to zero, he looked to his left, and sure enough, there was the young couple he was looking for. She was walking briskly, her expression one of angry determination and resolution. He was running to catch her up, begging her to listen, to understand. She spun around to face him, and he stopped suddenly.
Just as Abryl had expected, they were standing directly in front of him, just 6 feet away.
"What is there to understand?" she told him. "You went and, despite everything we have together, slept with her. I don't see what more there is to understand."
"There's this." he said. "I was drunk!"
He said this as though it was the most obvious thing in the world, and was confused that she hadn't grasped the concept.
"Yes, you told me that already, and every time you tell me how many drinks you had, the number always gets bigger.
"Look, just try to see this from my point of view." He paused.
Abryl had long ago learned that the human mind is a complex thing. But the whole thing can be summed up into three different parts. There's the part that thinks all the thoughts that we hear inside our head, and is responsible for absolutely everything a person ever thinks, even the naughty uncivilized ones. There's the part that watches everything we think, and makes sure that a person doesn't react on the more basic, primal thoughts and instincts. This part can most of the time be so efficient that a person won't even KNOW that they're thinking any naughty thoughts at all. Then there's the part that watches the world around it, noticing things about other people and such, although this certain part isn't used very much by most people.
No real name can be applied to these parts of the mind, none exists to embody the full meaning of what they are. But there are names that come pretty close, even if they don't match exactly. They are, consecutively, the Unconscious mind, the Conscious mind, and Empathy.
All Abryl needed to do, is simply inhibit the man's Conscious mind, not for very long, but just long enough. In that time, the man would act however he REALLY wanted to act, deep down inside. There are some people who do this all the time, and tend not to be very sociable people at all, for various reasons. Abryl reached into the man's mind, and exerted that little bit of mental pressure, and momentarily set the man's Unconscious mind free. He smiled and shrugged.
"It was the first opportunity I've had for a long time to have some great sex." he said. The woman's jaw dropped in shock.
Abryl released the pressure and withdrew from his mind, and the man's Conscious mind came back online and sprang into overtime. His face became a picture of shock and surprise, adopting the expression made by most people, mainly while they were remembering all the stupid things they'd done last night at that guy's house after a couple of drinks.
The woman slapped him. Hard. He nearly fell over from the force of the blow. She turned and practically ran away, to wherever she had intended to go. The man stood there for a few seconds, rubbing his cheek, utterly confused, then started running after her.
Abryl smiled to himself. Another job well done. He got up and turned to leave, but stopped. There in front of him, stood Crystal, with her arms crossed and her face showing he barely controlled rage.
"You'd better have a damn good reason for what I just saw you do." she said. Abryl closed his eyes and sighed. He'd known that there was a small possibility of her finding out like this, and he'd taken that chance. He'd lost. Now he'd have to explain, at least a little. He opened his eyes.
"Alright, come and sit down." He indicated to the bench and sat down. Crystal was hesitant, wondering if sitting down would be a sign of weakness, but eventually decided to sit down.
Neither of them spoke for a while. Meanwhile sticks were thrown, balls were kicked, children screamed in delight, and parents chatted. The general business of the park evened out to create a sort of calm around the bench. Crystal's mind was filled with possible ways to start the conversation, but none of them seemed to lead anywhere nice. Abryl's mind however, was calm and patient. He wasn't actually watching Crystal's mind, but at this point in Abryl's life, he didn't need to be psychic to know the state of her mind.
"OK, how about this. You ask questions, and if I can answer them, I'll answer completely truthfully and completely honestly."
"If?" asked Crystal, catching the operative word.
"Yes, if. I say that because some answers to your questions you wouldn't understand."
"This is the same excuse as last time."
"Well it continues to be true."
There was silence between them, while around them the park was noisy and loud.
"Do you cook at all, Crystal." Abryl asked suddenly. Crystal was a little confused by this change of subject, and tried to figure out where he was going with this. She gave up.
"Not really, just using the microwave and the oven to cook pre-made stuff. I can make scrambled eggs without burning them too much. Why?"
"Do you know why dough needs to rest before it goes in the oven?" Abryl said suddenly. Crystal rolled her eyes.
"So that it makes lighter bread."
There was a pause. Somewhere nearby a kid fell over and scraped his knee, and started to cry for his mommy. Neither of them took any notice.
"Was that a joke?"
"Abryl, telling me that doesn't make any sense, I don't underst... " Crystal's face suddenly went blank. Abryl's intent just became ridiculously clear.
"You don't understand. I could talk to you for hours about the properties of yeast and gluten and chemical reactions, but by the end of it, you still wouldn't understand. You'd have a pretty good idea of what I'd be talking about, but you wouldn't understand."
"You're saying I need to learn how to cook?" Abryl sighed.
"Crystal, I'm telling you that you can't comprehend just by listening to someone tell you about it. I'm not saying that you need to have experienced the exact thing, as such, but something similar that would allow you to comprehend it."
Crystal shook her head.
"That's a little hard to follow."
"Yea, I was going to tell you that you wouldn't understand why you wouldn't understand, but I thought that would be a little redundant. So I gave it a shot."
"Any chance of giving anything else a shot?"
Neither of them spoke for a while. Abryl caught a frisbee that was about to hit his head, and threw it again for the excited puppy that wanted to catch it. Crystal noticed that it went all the way to the other side of the park. No one should be able to throw it that far.
"How strong are you?"
Abryl nodded.
"That one I can answer. Something along the lines of a fifty times stronger than the average man."
Crystal was at a loss of what to say.
"That's strong." was all she could come up with.
"It is."
There was more silence. A ball rolled over to a stop by Abryl's feet
"Why did you do what you did to those people just now?"
"I can only give you part of the answer."
"Alright." said Crystal, it was better than nothing. Abryl took a deep breath.
"Has Sandra told you about the elements of magic that I taught her?"
"Sure. Earth, Air, Fire and Water."
"Well, I haven't gotten to the others yet."
Crystal looked at him.
"What others."
"Earth, Air, Fire and Water are the first four elements. They're the ones that people think 'oh yea, that makes sense, I can see how that works.' The other two need a little more mental power to comprehend. You wouldn't think that the last two elements could be considered elements, but they, like the first four, can be influence by magic."
"What are they?" asked Crystal, desperate to know what they were.
"They are called Space, and Time."
There was silence again as Crystal took this in.
"Well Time sort of makes sense, but Space? Magic can influence outer space?"
"Not outer space, that's just nothing, vacuum, void. Magic needs something, anything, to focus on, it can't focus on nothing. I mean Space as in the dimension of space." Abryl picked up the ball that had rolled up to him, and held it in front of him in one hand, and the other hand beside it.
"Take this ball for example. It exists in three dimensions. It has height, width, and depth. Now, because it exists in all three of those dimensions, it can move within them, It can move higher," he lifted the ball higher, "it can move sideways," he moved the ball to the side, "and it can move deeper." he moved the ball away from him.
"What does this have to do with the element of Space?"
"I'm getting to that. Space is just a word to describe those three dimensions. To influence Space with magic is to influence those three dimensions. Look."
Abryl tossed the ball from one hand to the other.
"The ball travelled through the Space to get from one point to the other. A magician who had mastered the element of space would be able to manipulate the dimensions so that the ball had ALREADY arrived at the second point."
As Crystal watched, the ball went back to the other hand with a faint 'pop'. It hadn't moved, at least Crystal hadn't seen it move, it had just gone from one hand to the other with a minimum of fuss. Crystal was a little disappointed that there wasn't a flash of light, or a glittery display of some kind. Something more glamorous than just 'pop'.
"The pop is caused by the air rushing to fill the space once occupied by the ball." said Abryl as if he'd read her mind, which in all probability, Crystal realized, he was. Crystal felt even more disappointed.
"Well, what does that have to do with what you did to that couple?"
"That's where Time comes in." said Abryl. He threw the ball into the park. It was a normal throw, the ball went no further than if anyone else had thrown it. Crystal wondered if Abryl had thrown the frisbee on purpose just so she would notice and ask about his strength.
"There are several different schools of thought about Time. Some say that it stays the same no matter what, even if you knew what happened in the future, anything you did to try and prevent it would only help the thing you're trying to prevent. You understand?"
Crystal nodded.
"Others think that every decision any person makes, no matter how small, changes the future. Any wizard or any other practitioner of magic will tell you that the second one is correct. For every single decision that's made by absolutely everyone, two futures then come into existence, in one of them, one outcome is played out, and in the other, is the alternative. Some decisions have several different outcomes, and each one comes with a future.
Not every decision makes a completely different future. Say a man has to decide between a turkey or a ham sandwich. There is a POSSIBILTY that he could choke on the turkey and die, but if he eats the ham, he doesn't, he has children, who have children, who themselves have children, and one of them discovers a cure for cancer. But then again, there's a possibility that the man could eat the turkey and suffer no ill effects, and the same with the ham, and those to futures would be completely the same until the end of time, the only difference between them being that one man, somewhere, sometime, had a ham sandwich in one timeline, and a turkey in the other."
Crystal's mouth hung open, barely understanding what she was being told.
"Those were only the two extremes of the example." said Abryl, continuing. "There are billions of possible outcomes in between. There are by far countless timelines, some of them are so unlikely that it can't even be measured with the most powerful microscope, but it's still possible. A sheer googolplex of timelines lay before us.
That's why most of the powerful wizards went mad, trying to come to terms with the utter chaos that is Time."
Crystal still said nothing, her mouth still open.
"Are you ok?" Abryl asked.
"I thought you couldn't tell me stuff I couldn't understand. I hardly understood anything you said."
"Yea, well good luck experiencing something similar to that. I thought that since you'd never be able to come close to experiencing it, I might as well try and tell you."
"Well, how can you manipulate Time with magic."
"I can't travel through time, like most people believe. That's impossible. It's like a snow globe, you can look at it, see every detail, see the little snowflakes fall, just like using magic to see Time, but travelling through time would be like trying to get INSIDE the snow globe. It can't be done."
"Well how can you manipulate Time with magic?"
"Like this."
Abryl waved his hand, and Crystal gasped by the sudden lack of noise. The sound of life all around her had been put to the back of her mind, so that she didn't notice that. But now that it was gone, she was suddenly painfully aware of its absence. She looked around. No one was moving. Frisbees hung in the air, completely still. Dogs were frozen in mid leap. All around her people were stuck standing on one foot, or both feet, or no feet if they'd been caught running. Others looked like they were just holding very still.
"You can stop time?" she asked in a whisper, the absolute silence around her made even that seemed deafening in her ears.
"Not stop, but I can slow it down, even so much that it looks like it's stopped."
He waved his hand again and the world around them resumed. Frisbees flew, dogs landed, people continued running, all of them unaware that anything had happened.
"I can also freeze a particular object or person in time, so that time stops for them, and the world carries on around them."
"B... But what about the couple?" said Crystal, desperate for something familiar to hang onto. "What has that got to do with them?"
Abryl sighed.
"That's the part I can't answer."
Crystal thumped him in the shoulder.

Sandra concentrated. She focused her mind completely and utterly for the task ahead. Everything, absolutely everything in the world hung in the balance, hinged on this one crucial decision.
"Go fish." she said eventually. Sam picked up a card. Sandra tried to read his face. Ooh, he was a sly one, not letting anything show in his expression, pretending that the card he'd picked up was just any old card. But Sandra could tell, she could tell that he'd picked up an important card.
"Do you have any 3s?" she asked, completely nonchalant.
"Go fish."
Sandra slowly, almost lazily, picked up a card. And froze. It was a 3. She put it with the other 3s with the 3 remaining cards in her hand, which were all 3s. She put them genteelly on the table, along with all her other little piles of cards, and in her most polite and smug way possible, said:
"I win."
"You suck." said Sam, throwing down his cards.
"Maybe, maybe not, but I still win."
"You still suck."
Sandra got up, grinning broadly, to get some more coffee. Sam shook his head when she offered some, and just went to lay down on the bed to watch some TV. Once Sandra had made her coffee, she joined him.
"So," she said. "today we should go out to look for a job."
"Why bother? You can just do your Jedi mind trick and we'll never have to worry about money again."
"I already told you that that isn't going to happen."
"Alright, how about you get a job and I can stay at home and mooch off you."
"You've been doing that the entire time you've been in our dimension anyway."
"No I didn't, you never had a job the entire time I've known you."
"The entire time you've known me, I've been a demon."
"Well you can't say that I mooched off you then, if you never had a job while I was there."
"Oh shut up. You're flogging a dead horse."
"Well, if it's not dead, it's very near expiring."
There was absolutely no reason why Sandra should have found this funny. None whatsoever. But she still laughed. She laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and laughed. She eventually stopped laughing, but it gave way to a fit of coughing.
"Ooh, I feel dizzy." she said in a raspy voice. She clutched her head. "Really dizzy. I think I'll get a drink of water."
Clumsily she got up and staggered and clunked her way to the kitchen. Sam continued to watch TV. Sam would be the first person to admit that he was cynical, but when it came to TV, he always held that optimistic hope that if he watched long enough, some good would eventually come on. It hadn't worked so far, but it was bound to work eventually. There was a crash in the kitchen. Sam had never gone from horizontal and inert to vertical and running so rapidly in his life. When he got to the kitchen, he found Sandra on the floor, unconscious.
Sandra opened her eyes. Her first thought was 'oh, I've woken up', but looking around, she could see that it wasn't the case. No landscape looking like that could possibly exist in reality, she was dreaming. It was like one of Tim Burton's nightmares. All curly, spiky rocks, all in black and white. She was standing on a tall, narrow column of rock, all around which were deep cracks and fissures. Staring into them, she saw, not pitch blackness, but oddly, stark whiteness. The sky was a dark forbidding brownish black, although she could see the sun, glowing black in the sky. Everything was like a photo negative. It chilled Sandra to the bone.
Suddenly she sensed a presence. She spun around and gasped at what she saw, something that she'd thought would never see again, or hoped she'd never see again.
It was Mr. Chalk.
Only here, he wasn't white, he was black. A solid silhouette, marred only by the white zigzag line across his mouth. He stepped closer.
"Ah. I've found you."
Sandra took a step back.
"Keep away from me!" her voice was little more than a shrivelled pathetic whisper. Fear squeezed every part of her body, every muscle tensed, reacting to an ancient instinct left over when humans were just monkeys. An instinct that screamed 'FLEE! ESCAPE!' Sandra was still human enough to hear this instinct. And she was in no position to argue.
She turned on her hoof, and ran the two steps to the edge of the plateau she was on. She leapt from the edge, spread her enormous, glorious wings, and flew away.
Sandra had precious little time to feel any feelings of relief, before she felt a horrible, painful sensation on her back. It was accompanied by a disgustingly wet ripping sound. She fell. Her wings drifted after her.
She smacked hard against the ground with a sharp thud. Soon hands were grabbing her by the shoulder and thrusting her onto her back. A black head faded in and out of her vision.
"I've had enough with toying with you." said Mr. Chalk. "Time to finish the job."

Jack woke up. He sat up in bed and swung his legs over the side. A broad grin spread across his face from ear to ear. The conversation with Albin had left Jack with a glowing feeling of well being. Everything was going to be alright now, he knew. Albin had agreed to help him expose Abryl, to help Jack make the others see him for what he really was.
Abryl had fooled them all so easily, making them believe that he was there to help them, even when it was clear that he was not. Once Albin had been told about what Abryl had done to Sandra, he immediately agreed to keep an eye on her, which relieved Jack immensely. Now all he needed to do was get Crystal safely away from him.
He rushed down the stairs and looked around. They weren't home. Damn. He rushed back up to his room, and grabbed Tomie, then he stumbled down the stairs and ran out the door.
"I need you to find him for me, Tomie." he said
"Whatever, Jack." said Tomie. He'd given up trying to dissuade him.

It was starting to get dark, and the park was quickly emptying itself of people. Crystal looked at Abryl.
"Shouldn't we go too?" she asked.
"No, I think we should stay here a little longer."
"Please, Crystal."
Crystal crossed her arms, glowering, and waited.

Fear and panic ran amok through Sandra's mind. Immediately after Mr. Chalk had shown up in her dream, she'd woken up. But it was as if she'd been pushed, forced to wake up. After some thought, she came to the conclusion that it was because Mr. Chalk wanted her to wake up. This did not bode well for things to come, it meant that he had something planned. Sandra paced back and forth across the room, Sam watched her, anxiously, from a distance. Her fear was growing, ever since she'd woken up, she'd had the distinct feeling that something, or someone, was coming, gaining on her. She was trying to think of something, anything that she could do. She'd grown in power since Mr. Chalk had last haunted her, but the simple truth was, he terrified her. Not just simple fear, but pure, stark terror. No, she couldn't take him on alone, she needed help. There was no one she knew that could help her, at least no one HERE she thought to herself, remembering Abryl.
She stamped her foot in anger at the thought of Abryl, causing Sam to jump back several feet. Everything he did infuriated her. He invaded their lives, he looked at everyone with that haughty expression of his, and he was always right DAMMIT! No matter what he'd say, he'd always be right. You could never prove him wrong. That's what was so aggravating about him, he was never humble, he never made mistakes. He could just do whatever he wanted and be completely justified in it.
Sandra was eventually startled out of her reverie by Sam, who had finally worked up the nerve to get within arms reach of her.
"What!?" she snapped.
"Sandra," Sam said quietly, "look."
He pointed to the centre of the room. Sandra turned. It was just like the portal that Jack had opened before, the same in every way, except one. It had the yawning darkness in the centre, occasionally flashed with streaks of white. The only difference was, instead of the nondescript edges of the portal, this one was ringed with fire. Sandra very carefully decided not to contemplate too hard on that particular detail. Instead she stepped closer, and peered into the inky blackness. If she squinted her eyes just right, then she could just make out shapes in the distance. There were people, two of them, and trees, and possibly grass. The two people were sitting on a bench. She could just barely make out a movement, one of the people turned their head. Then, for an instant, she saw two sharp pinpoints of light, shining from the person's head. They were the purest of blue. Turquoise, the colour of Abryl's eyes. Abryl was on the other side of this portal. Sandra bristled, grabbed Sam by the shirt, and strode through the portal.

Crystal had grown used to the silence of the night hours ago, but to her it was even deeper due the fact that she Wasn't Talking to Abryl. It wasn't merely the absence of conversation, or the fact that neither of them happened to be talking, but ugly oppressive silence that occurs when people Aren't Talking.
The silence was broken however, by a violent thunder crack and Crystal was blinded by a bright flash of light. While her eyesight returned, all she could see was red. Even after her eyesight had returned, all she could see was red. She soon saw why. A portal had been opened in front of them. And it was on fire. She turned to Abryl, to ask him what was going on, and screamed. He was on fire too. She leapt away from him and scrambled several feet away.
She turned around again just in time to see Sandra stride through the portal, dragging Sam behind her. Sandra suffered no ill effects from walking through a ring of fire, but Sam, who was being literally dragged, was instantly consumed in flame. His fur and his clothes being eaten by the greedy flames.
Unfortunately Sandra didn't notice the pain Sam was going through, but fortunately she let him go shortly after getting through the portal. The moment he was down, Crystal ran to him to help him. Through much flapping and flailing on both their parts, most of the fire was put out, and Sam rolled desperately on the ground to extinguish the remainder of the flames, and curled himself into a tight little ball, trembling and whimpering. Crystal comforted him as best she could. Sandra's eyes had never left Abryl this entire time.
"You!" she said. Abryl stood up, made a banishing movement with his hand, and the flames licking his hair and clothes evaporated.
"Stop toying with me!" she yelled. Abryl rolled his eyes.
"What did I do now?"
"Don't give me that! you opened the portal to get me out, only you can do that!"
"I didn't open it, you did."
"What?! How could I? I don't even know how."
"Sandra, I sent you to Sam's dimension to protect you, yes, but I left you there so that you could learn to open the portal yourself. It's just a pity that it had to be opened with such anger."
"That's why it's on fire." Abryl said simply. Sandra waved her hands irritably.
"No not that. You... you were playing with me?" she asked, her voice going from the angry tones of very loud to dangerously quiet. Abryl shook his head, as though watching a baby trying to put a triangle into a square hole.
"The best lessons are the ones you learn on your own."
Sandra clenched her fists. She could have hit him. She could have scratched away his face. Torn out his throat, watched him bleed to death while she screamed her anger at him.
Before she could act on any of these fantasies however, she heard the portal close behind her, but something was wrong. Abryl was no longer looking at her, but frowning over her shoulder. It was then that she felt the presence. The presence that had always sent her mind into a gibbering wreck. The presence that always made her feel as though she were being hunted, stalked.
She turned.
Mr. Chalk was standing there. She knew it was Mr. Chalk, it was the same shape, his silhouette was the same, the stance was the same, the aura was the same. Only now he wasn't white. He was a man. She could see his face. This didn't make him any less scary, quite the opposite, now she could see the expression of malice in his features. Sandra trembled.
"I know you, don't I." said Abryl. It wasn't a question, but a flat statement.
"Yes Abryl, you do."
"Normally I'm quiet good with faces, but you'll have to remind me. Who are you?"
"You can call me... Mr. Chalk."
At this, Abryl threw his head back and laughed. He laughed the jolly laugh of someone who had just heard a very funny joke. This seemed to visibly anger Mr. Chalk. Crystal, watching from the still stricken Sam, quickly saw how the future might very well turn out. She started trying to pull Sam further away. Sandra was still standing in between the two men, staring at Mr. Chalk like a deer in the headlights. Crystal would make sure that Sam was safe before trying to get Sandra away. She only hoped she could. Finally Abryl stopped laughing.
"Ha Ha! Oh I see, I see now. Hehe, that hasn't got very much to do with white, does it."
This brought Sandra back to reality. It made her remember something that Abryl had said to her before, and she put two and two together. So Abryl had been trying to protect her from Mr. Chalk. Sandra's anger towards Abryl faded slightly. Whatever Abryl was, however angry he made her, Sandra could forgive him just a little for doing that one thing for her.
Mr. Chalk was clearly about to say something back, when they all heard someone coming. As one, they all turned. A panting figure came pelting over the grass towards them, and stopped when he saw everyone. It was Jack.
He looked from person to person, his frown becoming more and more pronounced as he recognized everyone that was there. His confusion increased when he looked at Mr. Chalk.
" ...Albin?"
Abryl looked at Mr. Chalk and smiled a knowing smile.
"Yes, that makes sense. Your name is Albin."

Crystal was many things. She was amiable, friendly, cute, sometimes annoying, and not at all a bad person. But one thing that she was above all else, was a people person. Crystal knew people. This didn't mean that she knew absolutely everyone or knew everything about them, but she knew how to read faces and body reactions. Looking at Albin, right then, Crystal could see well in advance what was going to happen. Albin's face was distorted by anger, and his whole body was tensing up even more. The subtle nuances of stance and posture combined to give Crystal a vivid picture of Albin's intentions. He was about to attack Abryl in some way, although she couldn't be sure how. All she knew, was that Sandra was standing right between them, and if Albin was going to attack, he would have to go right through Sandra.
All this processing took less than a second, and Crystal was already on her feet, over Sam and pelting towards Sandra. Albin took a step back and pulled his arm back, palm facing up. Crystal's body slammed against Sandra's and they both tumbled to the ground. Albin thrust his hand forward and flipped his hand the other way, and inches before it, a beam of energy formed, and shot through where Sandra had been, and towards Abryl. Abryl Caught it with both hands, and was sent back several feet, his feet tearing up the turf as he was pushed back. When he stopped, the energy was now in the form of a ball, glowing and pulsing, struggling to earth itself somehow. Abryl wound up and threw it at Albin. He tried to do the same as Abryl, but instead, the ball exploded when it came into contact with his hands, and was thrown into the ground, burrowing a deep trench with his body.
"Why are you fighting me?" asked Abryl, almost casually. Albin pulled himself to his feet, and started to vainly brush the dirt off his clothes.
"Like you care." he replied.
"What reason is there? You've never met me before."
"Don't insult me with your lies. I remember you. I remember your arrogance, your complete disregard the wellbeing for everyone around you."
"Then your memory is failing you. I've always considered the well being of everyone the highest importance."
"Liar! I remember you!" Albin looked to see Sandra on the ground with Crystal. "And I remember her. I know that both of you are evil and must be destroyed. That is my duty as a white wizard."
Abryl took a step towards him.
"You remember me, and you remember her. But that's all you remember isn't it?"
Albin was taken aback.
"Of course that's not all I remember."
"Then tell me something, anything. Something that doesn't involve either me or Sandra."
"Stop trying to make me second guess myself. You're trying to make me uncertain, exploit any possible weaknesses."
"Well, prove me wrong, thing of something you remember, right now."
Albin snorted, and tried to think.
"I remember sitting at home, thinking about how best to torment Sandra, what I would say to her, and how I would say it. I remember what I had for dinner that night. It was chicken, chicken kiev." Albin gave Abryl a smile of satisfaction.
"Before that, something that doesn't involve either me or Sandra in any way."
Albin rolled his eyes, and thought some more. There was a pause.
"I've always thought about Sandra, always concentrated on destroying her. Ever since..."
"Yes?" said Abryl.
"Ever since I became a white wizard." he said quietly.
Abryl looked to Jack, who was still standing there, with Tomie in his hands and both Sandra and Crystal at his feet. Abryl saw his face. Jack was looking very worried. Without even trying, Abryl could see the emotions and thoughts coming from him. Jack had a plan, and it wasn't working. Something was going very wrong. He looked back to Albin.
"Go back further, to before you were a white wizard." Another pause.
"I remember... a dream. Yes, a dream. It was a painful dream. And a book... with a face."
A frown started to appear on Albin's face, and it grew more and more pronounced with each passing second. Soon his expression started to become one of panic.
"I... can't." He fell to his knees. "I ... can't... re... member. Why can't I remember?" Albin clutched his head with his hands. Abryl started to move closer.
"The transition from one level of magic to another is always disorienting, and a few memories are sometimes lost. In your case, the transition was so powerful that all of your memories were lost, except for one or two, and even those were warped and vague."
Albin was trembling now, his head still in his hands. Sandra and Crystal were on their feet now, and making their way towards the sad old man. Jack pushed his way past them, trying to get to him first. There were tears in his eyes. For some reason, he couldn't stand to see this man, this powerful person lose his dignity like this. He couldn't figure out why.
Sam however simply sat on the grass and watched from a distance. He didn't want to get any closer than he had to. Abryl continued talking.
"All you knew when you regained a sense of space-time, deciding where and when you were, was the fact that you had ascended to the level of White. You knew nothing else, except Sandra and myself. You couldn't even remember your own name."
Abryl had reached Albin now, and was standing right in front of him. The others watched in a small group, a little further away.
"So you decided on a name for yourself; Albin. A name which in Scandinavia means 'white'. You didn't know anything, so you cobbled together the facts as best you could. You're not even a wizard, but a warlock. A white warlock."
Abryl reached down and put a hand on Albin's cheek. Albin looked up at him. His face was wet with tears, and his eyes red. Sandra gasped when she saw him. Now that she wasn't frozen with fear, she recognized his face.
"You knew of Sandra before you had ascended, and the anger and hatred associated with her. But the anger you felt wasn't directed at her, it was directed at yourself. Thinking of Sandra made you angry, but you were always angry at yourself, not her."
Albin's lip trembled as he struggled to speak.
"How do you know this?" he asked in a choked, tiny voice. Abryl looked kindly at him.
"Because your memories are still in your head, even though you can't get to them. I've seen your past, and I know who you are. I even know what your real name is."
The angel leaned forward and moved his face closer to the warlock's, and smiled a kind, loving smile.
"Your name is Jack."

Albin and Jack had been weeping for several minutes, and Sandra had had time to tend to Sam, healing the wounds that he'd suffered because of her. Sandra mumbled her apologies all the while, and Sam just grinned at her and told her he understood.
The moment Albin had remembered his real name, all of his other memories came flooding back to him too, and he wept. Jack also wept, later on he couldn't really say why, but he just suddenly felt so sad, he just had to cry.
Eventually both of them had stopped, and Sandra approached both of them.
"Jack?" she asked tentatively. Both of them looked up at her. She looked to Albin, and knelt down in front of him. She looked hard into his face. It was a face that she'd seen many times throughout her life. In fact, if it hadn't been for the hair colour, and the wrinkles, she'd have sworn that it was her best friend's brother, Jack, her other best friend.
"What happened to you?" she asked. Albin's lip still trembled a little, and his eyes were still swollen from crying.
"It was just as Abryl said. When I transcended, I was momentarily lost to all time and space, and had to find my way back. Unfortunately my memories were gone, and I only had an image of you to guide me. When I thought of you, I got angry, but I didn't know why. I guessed that I was angry at you for some reason, but now I see that the anger was at myself. That memory took me to a time when I was most angry at myself for turning you into a demon, and I... became, here."
"Became here?" Sandra asked, perplexed.
"It's the best way I can describe it. When a person of magic moves to the next level, their entire being is shattered by the power they receive. Most of the time that person has enough of themselves intact that they will eventually reassemble again, pulling the smaller pieces of themselves together, like gravity. When they are complete, they are born again, they 'become' a whole new entity. But for me it was different. I'd moved two levels at once, going straight from red to white, completely missing grey, in between. That amount of power was too much for me."
Crystal, who had been by Jack the entire time he'd been crying, looked up at Abryl.
"But I thought you said that it was impossible for anyone to travel through time."
Abryl shook his head.
"This isn't the same thing. He didn't use his powers to manipulate time. In a way, he was manipulated by his powers." he looked sadly at Albin. "It shouldn't have happened."
"But what about Abryl." Jack said to Albin. "You told me that he was evil, the devil incarnate."
Albin shook his head.
"No. I only had one memory of him, and it was from when I was angry with him. Blindingly angry. Now I can remember him clearly, everything he did before... and after this moment in time." he hung his head sadly. "My whole life since the transcendence has been built around hatred and anger."
Sandra took his hand.
"But it doesn't have to any more. You're not the same person you were a few moments ago. You're whole again."
The tears were still wet on Albin's cheek, and fresh ones started rolling down alongside them.
"Whole again." he whispered, smiling.
"I don't buy it." Sam said.
Everyone had done what they'd always done in situations like this: They'd regrouped at the house, and were discussing what to do next. Sam was at his usual place, leaning against the wall, where he could easily see everyone. He was looking at Albin. Crystal was sitting next to Albin, who was still feeling weak and drained. Crystal looked at Sam.
"And what is it exactly that you don't get, Sam?"
"Look, from what Sandra's told us about 'Mr. Chalk', this man, he was an evil, sadistic bastard. Now he's supposed to be sensitive and caring? I don't buy it."
Sandra, who had changed into her human form for Albin's sake, pointed to Albin's face.
"Look at him, Sam. Look at his face. This is Jack. The same Jack that we all know and love."
"Hey, I'm not saying that this isn't a future version of Jack, I'm just saying that something could have happened to him at some point in time that caused him to become a vicious criminal. A person doesn't just change personalities all at once."
Sandra stood up and faced Sam. She didn't look angry, just frustrated. She could never be truly angry at Sam.
"You're forgetting about his memories. What makes a personality is the sum of their memories and experiences. Absolutely everything that we hear, see, feel, we react to, and is stored inside our heads as a point of reference. A personality is simply a way of reacting to certain situations based on what we remember." She pointed to Albin, who the entire time had been slumped over the table. "When he became a white warlock, he only had two memories left, both of them were angry, painful memories. So he became Albin, or Mr. Chalk. He became anger and pain. Now ALL of his memories have returned, and he is the same Jack we all know, only older, more experienced. There's nothing dangerous about him."
She remained standing in front of Sam, staring at him. Sam stared right back. Eventually Sam looked away and put his hands up.
"Alright, alright, I've changed my mind. I buy it."
Sandra grinned, Sam grinned back.
"Good." she said.
Crystal looked at the both of them, then said,
"Besides, even if Albin were still evil, he wouldn't have been able to travel through time just because he wanted to. Abryl said that time travel would be like getting inside the snow globe."
This resulted in everyone in the room turning to look at her. Even Albin had lifted his head slightly to look at her.
"Pardon?" Jack asked. Crystal shook her head irritably.
"Oh, it's just something he explained to me that I can't remember properly, but it made sense at the time. Basically he told me that deliberate time travel was impossible."
"Speaking of Abryl, where is he?" Sam asked. Sandra turned her head this way and that, noticing for the first time that Abryl wasn't with them.
"Dammit!" she cursed. Sam involuntarily took a step back.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"It's just like him to slip out without us noticing. He's always doing that, doing his own damn thing without even including us unless it suits him."
There was a pause while Sandra caught her breath.
Everyone jumped and looked at Jack, who was holding Tomie out at arms length and staring at it in shocked incredulousness. There was silence,
"Since when have you known about him?!" Jack yelled again, completely oblivious to the fact that he was the focus of everyone's attention. There was more silence.
" ...He's what?"
Sandra stepped in.
"Jack, what the hell's going on?"
Jack looked up at her suddenly, as though seeing her for the first time, and looked confused.
"What do you... oh. Tomie's telling me something about Abryl."
"Right." said Sam, who never really believed that Tomie could talk at all.
"He says that there's something about Abryl written inside him, but I've looked through him several times, and I've never come across anything about him."
"Something's written about Abryl, but he isn't mentioned by name." said Tomie, in a voice that only Jack could hear.
"Well how do you know it's him?"
"Just listen."
"During the time of the 4th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, under the rule of Pharaoh Radjedef, life was prosperous." Tomie spoke in slightly different voice. It was with slightly more authority and poise. Jack supposed that it had been the voice of one of Tomie's previous owners. Still, Jack dictated what Tomie said to him so everyone else could hear too. "There was no war and the Egyptians had an opportunity to cultivate their arts to their highest forms. The reason for their prosperity at this time, was a gift from the gods, sent to protect them. A new god was born, and appeared from the sky. He appeared as a man, but he had the wings of a dove. He said his name was Rawhan, and that he would protect the Pharaoh. For many, many years he watched and protected the Pharaohs, and the people gave him a new name. They called him their protective angel."
Silence permeated the room once Jack had stopped talking. All of them were lost in their own minds, digesting what they'd just been told. Eventually Sam spoke.
"How do we know that that's Abryl?"
"He has wings." Sandra said quietly.
"So? The Egyptians were big on half human half animal gods, who's to say that they didn't just make him up? His name was Rawan, that doesn't even sound like Abryl."
Jack, who had been paying attention to Sam, tilted his head, listening.
"Tomie says that he checked up on the name Abryl."
Sandra turned to him.
"He says... he says that the name Abryl means... Angel of protection."
This was met with another stunned silence. Crystal started to shake.
"How long ago was the 4th dynasty?" she asked in a tiny voice. Jack listened again.
"It began in 2575 B.C."
Silence again, so loud and close that Crystal was sure that time had been stopped around her again.
"Almost 4600 years ago." Sandra whispered. Jack was listening again, but instead of telling everyone what he heard, his eyes glazed over, and his face went limp. He dropped Tomie on the table, and Albin rushed to catch him. A word escaped from Jack's lips, it wasn't even a whisper, just barely a breath, but because of the intense silence, everyone heard it clearly.
" ...Pyramid... "
Albin looked at Tomie for a while.
"He says that the rule of Radjedef began in 2582 B.C., right after the pyramid of Giza had been finished." he said.
" ...a pyramid... "
Sandra looked at Albin.
"How can you understand Tomie?" she asked.
"Only Jack can hear Tomie, and I am Jack. Technically I'm Tomie's master too."
" ...dream... " Jack breathed, but everyone was focused on their own thoughts now. Eventually Sam spoke again.
"Maybe he's not really that old. Maybe he's not the same guy in Egypt."
"Oh c'mon Sam, you heard what the book said. Angle of protection."
"No, think about it. The Abryl we know, at some point, hears about this mythical creature from ancient Egypt, and either feels a connection with him because of his wings, or he admires him so much, he gets wings, just like him. So he changes his name to something that means 'angel of protection', and tries to become the great protector."
"But protecting who, and from what?" Albin asked.
Sam shrugged.
"Who knows."
"Don't you know about him?" Sandra asked Albin. "After all, you have your memories back, so you should remember everything about him after this moment."
Albin shook his head.
"Things are different now. I don't remember ever meeting myself when I was... Jack's age. I don't remember this conversation, or anything like it. And Abryl certainly wasn't hated this much, he'd always helped us, and then he simply vanished. We never saw him again."
"What do you mean 'helped us'." Sandra said, her voice dripping with acid. Crystal interrupted.
"Why would you remember things differently?" she asked. Albin shrugged.
"I guess when I reassembled as a white warlock, I moved a couple of alternate universes over." Everyone stared blankly at him, except Jack, who was still staring into space. "Do you know what I mean by alternate universes?" he asked.
"I do, Abryl told me about them."
"He did?? When did he tell you that??" Sandra demanded, but Crystal waved her into silence, not taking her eyes off of Albin. Sandra crossed her arms and sulked.
"He told me that every choice that someone makes, the two choices are played out in different possible futures."
"Precisely." Albin said. "I think I moved to a different 'future', only further in the past."
"That's a redundant statement." said Sam, who knew it to be true, but secretly relished the excuse to use the word 'redundant' in everyday conversation. Sandra looked up at Albin.
"So you don't know anything about THIS Abryl?" she asked. Albin shook his head.
"No, I don't."
Sandra nodded.
"Well I'm going to find out."
And with that she turned around and strode out the door.
" ...dream... " breathed Jack again.

It was just past midnight, and Abryl was laying on his back in the park. The grass was cool, and the breeze played with his hair and tickled his face. Here, where the trees blocked all the street lamps and night lights of the world, the stars shone brilliantly. There was no moon, just the stars. They twinkled, they sparkled. It was at moments like this, that if Abryl looked long enough, he could imagine he was back home, before... all this, happened. Abryl remembered the stretches of desert, the cold, and the gardens. Oh yes, Abryl remembered the gardens. They were beautiful. Emerald gems set into the harsh, unforgiving desert. Each one had flowers of every colour, size, and shape, fruits and vegetables to feed the people. Abryl loved the gardens, especially the symbiotic relationship they had with the people. 'Take care of the garden, and the garden will take care of you', they'd taught him, and he'd remembered that ever since. He could remember laying in the gardens, late at night, much like he was doing now. Just laying there, looking at the stars, not thinking anything at all, just looking at the stars.
"Abryl!" came a faraway shout, startling Abryl out of his reverie. He sat up. There was no one anywhere near him, but his powerful ears could hear fast, heavy footsteps, coming towards him. He could hear rasped breathing, and could even hear the fabric of their shirt rubbing against their arms.
"Abryl!" came the shout again, closer this time. Abryl recognized the voice. He groaned, and stood up. Sandra came bursting through the trees. She froze when she saw him.
"What is it?" he asked. Sandra paused to catch her breath, and Abryl waited patiently.
"How old are you?" she said at last. Abryl was taken aback.
"Why do you ask?"
"It's just I realized that I've never even asked how old you are?"
"Does it matter?"
"Well, before no, but now I'm curious. How old are you?"
"Look, what does it matter how old I am. It wouldn't change anything if you knew."
"Then you won't have any problem telling me."
Abryl shook his head, and rubbed his eyes. He was getting tired of this.
"Just tell me why you want to know." he said. Sandra opened her mouth to speak, but stopped. Eventually she decided meet him halfway. After all, there was no harm in that.
"Tomie found something about you." she said. Abryl looked confused.
"Tomie... the book?"
Sandra nodded.
"Yes. He said that 4600 years ago, a new god was sent to the ancient Egyptians, a god named Rawhan. He protected the pharaohs and the people. The called him their protective angel."
Abryl shrugged.
Sandra stepped forward, her face imploring.
"He had the wings of a dove. He looked just like a man, but had the wings of a dove."
Abryl laughed, shaking his head again.
"That doesn't prove it was me."
"No, you're right it doesn't." Sandra said "But then Tomie said that the name Abryl means 'angel of protection'."
Abryl hung his head. The truth was out. He couldn't avoid it anymore.
"I guess, knowing you, you had to find out sooner or later." he said, chuckling. Sandra stepped closer still.
"How old are you?" she repeated quietly. Abryl closed his eyes, and mumbled a little to himself. Eventually he looked up.
"I turn... 4597 this year."
Sandra shivered, she knew the truth, but still, hearing it directly from him seemed to make it real. She was standing next to possibly the oldest creature on the face of the planet.
"How?" she asked in a tiny voice. "How can you be that old?"
"Quite simply, it's because of magic. The more a person is influenced with magic, they longer they are able to live."
"Does... does that mean... ?"
"Yes." Abryl said, taking a step closer to her. "That means that you too will live a long life, possibly even as long as mine."
Sandra suddenly felt very small, and was shivering. Abryl opened his arms, and she sank into them gratefully.
"Rawhan, I... "
"Ugh. Please don't call me that."
Sandra looked up at him.
"But isn't that your name?"
"Not quite." Abryl replied, shaking his head. "The Egyptians had a rich and intricate language, but had difficulty pronouncing anything other than their mother tongue. When I told them my name, they pronounced it horribly, no matter how much I tried to teach them how to say it properly."
"So, what is your name?"
"My name... my real name... is Rowan."
Sandra smiled.
"It's a nice name. What does it mean?"
"Does it have to mean anything?" Abryl asked, amused.
"No, I was just curious."
Abryl sighed.
"It means 'little red one'. When I was young I had flaming red hair, but my constant exposure to magic eventually turned it blonde."
Sandra considered this.
"Just like Albin."
"Yup. Just like Albin."
"So maybe that's why the highest level of magic is called 'white', because magic always turns hair white."
"That could be."
There was silence between them. Around them the subtle sounds of the night carried on. There was hardly any traffic, and the occasional car that did pass briefly lit up the trees, and the lights filtered through the leaves to make strange patterns move across the ground.
Eventually Abryl broke the silence.
"Look Sandra, I can see the anger inside you. You have much anger. It's an unfortunate result of being a demon. But I also see how you hold it at bay most of the time, which demonstrates a strong will and good character. Is something in particular making you angry at this moment?"
Sandra pulled away from him.
"Yes, yes there is. It's something that Crystal saw you doing. She saw you manipulating the minds of other people."
"She told you?"
Sandra shook her head.
"No. But it was on her mind a lot since I got back. It wasn't hard to see what she saw." She looked hard at him, studying his face for any signs of... anything. Remorse, guilt, glee, something to indicate his feelings and intentions. But there was nothing.
"Why do you do that?" She asked him. "I may not be as powerful as you, but I can see in your mind that it's not the first time that you've done something like this. Not by a long shot. Tell me why."
Abryl shook his head and shrugged.
"Sandra, you already know what I'm going to say."
"That I wouldn't understand." said Sandra blankly.
"Not just that, but it's complicated, so very complicated. But it's not just that you'd find it hard to understand, but you'd find it hard to even believe. Sometimes, even I find it hard to believe."
Sandra stared at him. She stared for a very long time. Abryl just stared right back.
"Y'know," she said eventually, "most things in life that seem complicated, are really quite simple."
This shocked Abryl. For a moment, Sandra was more than what she seemed. She suddenly displayed wisdom that betrayed her sparse years.
"Wh... what makes you say that?"
"Oh, I dare say you'd say something similar in the right circumstances. It sounds like the kind of thing you like to say."
She turned away from him, and started to walk away.
"When you're ready to tell me, I'll be waiting."
Then she was gone. Abryl was alone again. He looked up at the stars, but felt no joy. Only fear, and confusion.

"So, you remember things differently?" Crystal asked. Albin nodded.
"Yes. I don't know exactly how this timeline differs from my own, but I never met myself like you have." he said, indicating towards Jack. Jack was sitting opposite Albin, resting his chin on his arms and not quite sure how he should be feeling right now. Before, he'd KNOWN that Abryl was evil, that what he was doing was wrong. He'd been certain that he was right and that everyone else was blind to his obvious malicious intent. Now he was being told by a future version of himself that Abryl was really an all-round nice guy. Not only that, but in a sense, he'd been causing Sandra, his dear friend, severe pain and anguish. Even though it wasn't actually physically him, he still felt wretched and filthy. He changed the subject.
"So. When do I become a white warlock?" he asked.
"I don't know." Albin replied. Jack looked up at this, and frowned.
"You don't know? You mean you don't remember?"
"Oh, no no. I remember when I became a white warlock, but that doesn't mean that you will at the same time."
"Well, when did you turn white?"
Albin looked into his coffee and pondered for a moment.
"I'd say 28 years from now. Well... you know what I mean."
Crystal, sitting down between them, leaned closer to Albin.
"Albin... Jack. I think the question that's most important, but everyone's avoiding, is what will you do now?"
She looked over at Sam on the couch. The TV was blaring, but she saw his ears twitch at her words, and she knew that he was listening. She turned back to Albin, who was thinking.
"From what I can see, I have two options." he said eventually. "First, I can stay with you guys for a while. Or second, I can leave, and lead my own life, somewhere."
He looked into his coffee again, thinking. Then he felt a hand on his. It was Crystal's.
"You don't seem too attached to the second option." she said, and grinned. Albin grinned back.
"No. No I don't."

It was still night, and the stars still shone brightly. But the stars still didn't bring any joy to Abryl's heart. He flew amongst them, swishing and swerving through the air. Because there was no moon, the only sign of life below him was the lights from street lamps and windows. Abryl could almost feel that he was flying through the emptiness of space.
Despite his efforts to forget, his mind kept coming back to Sandra, and what she'd said. Abryl had led a long and relatively happy life, secure in the knowledge that what he was doing was RIGHT, that there was no other course of action. But what Sandra had said deeply disturbed Abryl. For the first time, he felt doubt.
In the past, every now and again, someone found out what Abryl was doing, manipulating certain things from a distance, meddling. He'd never been able to tell them exactly why he did it, because it was complicated. They'd never understand. So he'd told them that he was doing things for reasons beyond what they could see. This was, of course, entirely true, and seemed to satisfy most people that asked. He never lied about it, he just didn't elaborate. It had always been so... easy.
But Sandra's words still haunted him.
"Most things in life that seem complicated, are really quite simple."
And Abryl knew it was true, he'd said it to people for centuries. Always when they told him their problems, and claimed that they could do nothing because the situation was 'complicated', Abryl had said exactly the same thing, practically word for word.
Yet Abryl had used the same excuse himself. He never told anyone about his past because it was 'complicated'. That little fact had given Abryl a certain strength of purpose, it let him stay confident. Now his own advice was backfiring on him. Now he wasn't sure.
Abryl growled in frustration, it was a deep, guttural, animal growl. He was confident by nature, and to not be sure of something this far into it made him angry. He knew without a doubt that what he was doing needed to be done, but the way was carrying it out, he knew, from the outside made him look arrogant. But the ends justify the means. No matter what Abryl had to do in order to get the job done, if it worked, it would all be worth it. All of it. But now it all depended on one person. Sandra. He needed her in order for all of his past efforts to mean anything. The whole plan hinged on her. And now she didn't even trust him.
Abryl folded his wings back, pressing them straight out against each other, and he felt himself start to fall. As he neared the ground he snapped them forward to suspend his descent, and he landed neatly on the pavement. Slowly, he retracted his wings back into himself, until they weren't there any more. Absent-mindedly running his hands through his hair, he considered his options. He needed Sandra's cooperation, but he needed it willingly. She didn't trust him, right now. No, Abryl thought suddenly. It's not that she doesn't trust me, it's that she won't take my word that my actions are benevolent. How can I change her mind? How can I fool her into trusting me again?
He pressed the sides of his fists against his temples.
"No, no." he mumbled. That was exactly why she didn't trust his word anymore. He fooled people, tricked them all the time. That's all he's ever done, throughout his life. He could remember, a long, long time ago, that he'd decided that the best course of action at the time was to just manipulate people into doing what he needed them to do, and since then it'd been his first resort. He rarely needed anything else.
He looked up, and broke into a run, heading for the nearest payphone. He got inside, and rummaged in his pockets, then cursed when he found that he didn't have any change. Instead he concentrated on the inside of the payphone, and made a small effort of will. Some coins appeared just over his hand and landed jingling into it.
There was only one option left open to him if he was to get Sandra to help him, but there was no guarantee that she would. However, Abryl had been around a long time, and knew a thing or two about having a backup plan. The best insurance was the kind that you never needed to use, but somehow Abryl had the feeling that he would be needing this insurance either way.
He dialled. He waited. Then he spoke.
"Hello. It's Abe. I have a little problem that I think you can help me with."

The door opened, and a second later it closed. Then there was a sound. It was a very strange sound, almost wet and organic, with definite graphically disturbing overtones. Normally, any person to hear that sound without knowing what it was would become subject to terrible nightmares beyond imagining. But this was not a normal house. It was a house that magic made its nest, and the impossible happened on a regular basis.
Sam turned at the sound, and saw Sandra changing her shape back into a demon. The transformation always made that awful sound, even though it was quiet. It was just creepy. Sandra slumped down on the couch next to Sam. He was watching TV, but it didn't seem like anything in particular was on. Nothing happened for several minutes, until...
"Aren't you going to ask me how it went?" Sandra asked eventually.
"No." Sam replied instantly. Sandra frowned, an incredulous smile on her face.
"Why not?"
"Because then you'd tell me, and I'd have to sit here and listen to you."
"Well, is that so wrong?"
"I'm not in the mood for angst. It depresses me."
"Sam, no offence, but you're always depressed."
"Which means that you taking your angst out on me makes me REALLY depressed."
Sandra thumped him on the shoulder, and he just swayed to the side and back once, his expression not changing in the least.
At that moment Jack poked his head around the corner.
"Oh, you're back. Y'want some coffee?"
"Sure." Sandra replied without looking. Jack's head disappeared and both Sam and Sandra returned to watching TV. After a while, Crystal and Albin came down the stairs. Crystal sat down on the floor at Sandra's feet, and Albin sat next to Sandra. More time passed. Jack came back holding two cups of steaming hot coffee. He came up from behind the couch, and leaned over to pass Sandra her coffee. He accidentally leaned too far, and the coffee sloshed around too much, and most of landed with a splash all over Sandra.
Sandra may have been a demon, but deep, deep down inside, she was still human, and was still prone to human reactions. As a demon, she wasn't in any way hurt by the sudden change in temperature caused by the coffee, but the human part immediately reacted with human emotions.
"AAAAAGH!! Jack! You goddamn stupid little bastard!!" Jack backed off slightly.
"Uh oh." he whimpered. Sandra clenched her fists in rage, and screamed. Jack went 'woof'. Then they were both screaming. Jack flailed his arms around a little before running for the door. Sandra stopped screaming, and looked down at herself in disgust.
"I guess it doesn't hurt." she said in a tone that suggested that she was making a huge concession. "But it still ruined my shirt."
Jack's blackened, flaking arm reached in through the front door from somewhere near the ground.
"I... hurt."
"I mean, you know what it's like to get coffee stains out, it's impossible!"
She got up and went upstairs. Jack eventually came inside once he was healed enough, his face resolutely blank, and went to get fresh coffee. Sandra came back down, pulling on a new shirt, and sat back down. Jack rounded the corner again, carrying another two steaming cups. This time he carefully handed one to Sandra, then sat down next to her. They watched TV for a while. Nothing in particular was on, but that didn't really matter. They were all together, and nothing bad was happening to them. It's moments like this that you have to treasure, thought Sandra as she sipped at her coffee, because lord knows they don't last long.

After some time, no one could be sure how long, the front door opened. Everyone turned to see who it was. Sandra grinned. The others didn't.
Abryl stepped inside and closed the door behind him, looking preoccupied and tense. Sam got up and disappeared around the corner into the kitchen. Everyone heard the fridge open. There was a moment of tense silence, where Sandra was looking for something appropriate to say, but Abryl spoke before anything presented itself.
"I now realize that I owe everyone here an apology."
This was greeted with silence from everyone else in the room. They were all staring at him. Even Sam in the kitchen leaned backwards to peer around the corner.
"I've taken certain... liberties with you all, and I had no right to. I kept you all in the dark, left your questions unanswered. I didn't involve any of you in what was going on. Instead I got you all involved."
He looked over at Sam, still leaning back around the corner.
"Sam, I'm sorry for sending you back to your home dimension, and for causing you to have an emotional breakdown."
Sam was still staring. Eventually he lifted up the beer bottle in his hand as a kind of wave.
"S'okay. S'alright." He looked blankly at his beer, and then disappeared around the corner again. Abryl turned to Jack.
"Jack, I'm sorry that I left you so much in the dark, that you could no longer trust me."
Jack just rested his head on his thumb and finger, with his elbow on his knee, and nodded.
"Crystal. I'm sorry that I put you through so much stress. I know it hasn't been easy having a demon for a best friend, and having to keep such terrible secrets from the world outside, and all I did was make it worse for you. I'm terribly sorry."
Crystal simply hugged her knees tighter, and looked squarely at the carpet in front of her, and nodded. Sandra placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Albin," Abryl frowned, "Or should I call you Jack?"
"I'm going to stick with Albin." he said. "Two identical Jacks in the house would just confuse everyone."
"Well, Albin, I'm sorry for, well... I'm just sorry."
"No problem." Said Albin, running a hand through his white hair, only to have it spring right back to where it was.
"And Sandra, I want to apologize to you most of all. I know it's hard to adjust to what you've become. I know it was for me. In some ways I made it easier for you, but in other ways I didn't. I'm sorry, Sandra."
Abryl then seemed to be very uncomfortable. Sandra just smiled.
"I've, uh, thought a lot about what you said, Sandra, and I want you all to know that although you may not agree with my methods, my reasons are doing these things are... legitimate."
Abryl could tell by the change in everyone's breathing that not everyone agreed with this statement.
"That's why," he continued hurriedly, "I've decided that you should know why I've done all that I've done. Maybe then, once I've told you, you'd understand."
Right then Jack wanted to inform Abryl that he'd used their lack of understanding as an excuse the entire time they'd known him, that it was the very reason why he HADN'T told them. But he held his tongue when he saw how uncomfortable Abryl really was. It was obvious that he was already aware of this.
"Why don't you start from the beginning." Sandra suggested. Abryl just shook his head.
"No, it would take to long to fully explain everything with words. That's why I'm going to show you."
"Show us?" Sandra frowned. "How?"
Then they all felt it, a sort of intrusion in all their minds. Sandra, Jack, Crystal and Albin knew what it was. Only Sam was unaware of what was happening, and gave a short startled scream, which was followed by the sound of glass breaking. Abryl was moving into all their minds, inserting images in front of their eyes, making them all feel somehow crowded and dizzy. But all feelings of discomfort and dizziness faded as they lost themselves in what they were seeing.

Rowan sprinted across the desert, kicking up small clouds of sand in his wake. In the pre-dawn light, he could just make out the garden on the horizon. He ran faster, and then he stopped. Why am I running? He thought to himself. He opened his mind to the air around him, and saw the wind currents, moving lazily in the still air. With his mind, he picked out several of them, one by one, and twisted them together into one big gust of wind, then threw it as hard as he could towards the garden. Once that was done, he flexed muscles that, until recently, he'd never had to worry about before. Wings sprouted from his back, flowing smoothly and fluently like a liquid, shaping themselves as they grew. Soon they were fully grown, and flanked Rowan on either side, partially folded, and still taller than him by a head. Even now, he couldn't believe how white they were. They seemed to glow in the growing light blossoming over the horizon. With a childish grin, he jumped up into the air, and flapped his glorious wings once. He rocketed five feet into the air, and he rested his wings on the wind current he'd created, and it carried him towards his home.
As he neared the garden, he reached toward it with his mind.
"Mother?" he called mentally, searching for the mind of his mother.
"What is it dear?" he heard her respond in the same way. There was a trace of annoyance in the mental voice.
"I have a surprise for you, look at the sky!"
The shape of her mind at the time suggested that she sighed and looked up, seeing no reason to not do it. At that moment, Rowan soared over the garden, over the houses and fields. He could feel his mother's shock and surprise.
"Rowan?! What in the world... ?"
He spotted her, right outside their house. He folded his wings and aimed straight for her. His wings were folded on either side of him, shaping him like a bullet and making him fall faster. When he was close enough, he threw his enormous wings open, slowing him down, then snapped them down, pushing himself up. He stopped falling two feet above the ground, then landed neatly on his feet.
I love doing that! He thought to himself. Naida, his mother, was standing there with a hand over her mouth, too shocked to speak.
"Mom!" he said, using his voice instead of his mind. "Isn't it wonderful?"
Naida shook her head in disbelief, as though she were trying to convince herself that what she was seeing wasn't real. Eventually she found her voice.
"But... wh... how is this possible??"
"I don't know, but isn't it great? It's just like I've always dreamed!"
"But Rowan, this is physically impossible! How did this happen?"
So he told her everything that had happened to him since he'd left.
He'd been back to the mountains, looking for an isolated place to practice his air magic. He'd stumbled upon a valley that was protected from the harsh winds. It was like a paradise. Lush and green, it was mostly grass, but with a large cluster of trees at one end. There was also a river, and a water fall! Rowan had only ever heard of waterfalls, but never seen one.
He told his mother about throwing himself off of the rocky cliff and into the valley, and grabbing the currents of air with his mind to form a column of air around him, then using it to carry him along the ground, instead of into it.
He'd flown the whole length of the valley, and landed near the trees at the other end. Before he'd been able to congratulate himself on doing his first serious magic, he'd been consumed in spine-shattering pain. There was no one else there, so he wasn't being attacked, but the pain was so intense that he was force onto his hands and knees. Eventually the pain faded, and he could feel something slowly growing out of his back. With his mind, he detached himself from his body, and looked at himself. At first he didn't know what he was looking at. The things growing out of his back were just long thin things. It was only when they stopped growing and started to form skin and sprout feathers that he knew what they were.
Once they were fully formed the pain was completely gone, and he rejoiced in his new wings. He'd spend the rest of the day flying all over the valley, until the sun had set and the stars provided the only light.
When he'd finished, his mother was shaking her head.
"But that doesn't explain why you got WINGS, Rowan. Other Air Mages have done what you've done, but nothing ever happened to them."
Rowan shrugged, making his wings rustle.
"Come." Said Naida. "We're going to see the Matriarch."

It was called a garden, but that was only an honorary name, from the time when any settlement of people needed to have a garden of some kind to sustain them. Over time more and more people congregated at these gardens, becoming more like towns and villages. They still called them gardens though, so they wouldn't forget why the gardens were necessary in the first place. Everyone knew that it was important to remember the mistakes of the past.
Every garden all over the world had at least one temple, to allow people to study the power that they were born with. Some temples specialized in one of the four elements, but most were neutral, teaching any of the four to anyone who needed to learn.
Naida and Rowan arrived at the temple, and quickly walked up the stone steps that led to the tall arched doorway. As they walked through the arch, the casual noise of life in the garden died down, as though it were far away, even though a very large open door was all that stood between them and the garden. A serene calm seemed to emanate from the very walls of the large room with its vaulted ceiling and hanging tapestries. This temple was neutral, so the tapestries on the walls depicted symbols of all four elements. Earth was shown with bright green cloth embroidered with patterns in brown. Fire was a red cloth, with patterns in yellow. Water was in blue, and held patterns of green. Finally, Air showed patterns of white, set on a blue cloth. All four tapestries lined the foyer, and moved ever so slightly in the light breeze that came wafting in through the arch.
Naida was practically dragging Rowan through the large foyer. At the back were a set of stone stairs that led up and curved sharply to the left. Naida stormed up the steps, Rowan in tow, until they reached the hall on the second floor. From there they could see outside, as there was no wall separating them from the fresh air. It was more like a balcony that circled the temple than a hallway, with small pillars that helped support the stone ceiling set evenly at every few feet. Naida continued down the hall, passing by several doors set into the inside wall to their left. Eventually she found the one that she was looking for, and opened it without knocking. The room that Rowan found himself in was warm compared to the rest of the temple. Everything in the temple was made of stone, and while this helped to keep out the heat of summer, it could still be a little chilly. This room was all wood. It made a nice change from the hard, cold stone, always amplifying the sound of a person's footsteps. There were large chairs and sofas all around the room, which made it clear that this was a room that people were allowed to relax.
"Matriarch?" Naida called out softly, and the two of them could hear movement coming from the other room. An old woman entered from the door in one side of the room, a woman that both of them recognized. She smiled kindly at the sight of them.
"Please, Naida. You don't have to call me that here. Emese will do nicely."
Naida bowed her head to the Matriarch, Rowan did the same. The woman waved dismissively with her small hands.
"Please, please, none of that. Come into my study, tell me what is on your mind."
The kind smile never left the Matriarch's face the entire time. As both Rowan and Naida followed Emese's outstretched hand into her study, the Matriarch patted the loose bun of silver grey hair behind her head, and took a moment to straighten her dress, a simple affair, made of cheap linen and the colour of ripe peaches. She closed the door behind her as she joined the two of them.
"Now, what can I do for you, Naida?" she said, retreating behind her small desk at one end of the room, and sitting down, making herself comfortable. Naida helped herself to one of the two chairs in front of the desk, but Rowan chose to stand.
There was a long silence as Naida carefully chose what to say. Rowan stood patiently by her side, allowing his mother to be the first to broach the subject. Emese simply sat at her desk, watching Naida with a faint smile on her lips. The Matriarch always encouraged people to come and speak with her if ever they needed someone to talk to, and she never rushed people when they were having trouble thinking what to say next. She was a very comfortable woman to be around, the kind that you can trust completely within minutes of meeting her for the first time.
Eventually Naida spoke.
"Something's happened with Rowan that I think you should see." She said. At this Emese glanced at Rowan, running her eyes briefly over him, and looked back at Naida, raising her eyebrow.
"What happened?" she asked. Naida looked at her son, and Rowan promptly started to tell the Matriarch his story of falling from the cliff, and catching himself with the wind, right up to the point when he landed. Rowan hesitated for a moment, but before he could continue, Emese rose and walked quickly around her desk towards him. She wrapped her arms around him and gently squeezed him.
"I'm so proud of you." She said, resting her chin on his shoulder. "Your training has finally paid off, and you've proven yourself worthy of your apprenticeship."
Rowan grinned, despite himself.
"Thank you, Matriarch."
She stepped back, and looked smilingly at both of them.
"But this is wonderful news! You led me to believe that something bad had happened."
"Matriarch, that's not all that happened." Naida said hurriedly. She looked at Rowan. "Tell her what happened then."
With a sigh, Rowan continued his story. As he did so he started to describe everything in much more vivid detail than when he'd told his mother earlier. Particularly the part about the pain. He got more and more absorbed in reliving the story that he forgot that he was even telling the story, and remembered everything with crystal clarity. He remembered falling to his knees as the first wave of pain hit. He remembered screaming as the long thin bones literally tore through his skin, covered with his own blood. He remembered the raw, scraped feeling that he felt as they grew longer and longer, and that horrible, wet, organic sound that was his flesh sliding against the bone.
But then he could remember after the pain, after his wings had finished growing. His pain no longer existed to him, once he knew that he had his own pair of wings, just like in his secret dreams, in his deepest sleep. Stretching them out to their full length had felt like stretching muscles that had been clenched his entire life. He'd felt complete, whole, and free.
It wasn't until after he'd finished remembering that he realized that he'd been speaking the entire time, and became aware of himself and where he was. He looked up to see Emese looking at him in a strange way. She'd backed up against her desk, her hand to her mouth and her eyes wide. There was something unsettling about her expression, and it took only a moment for Rowan to realize what it was. She wasn't looking at him, but at something behind him, over his shoulder. He turned his head. His wings were there. Unlike the Matriarch, Rowan was only mildly surprised, he hadn't intended to let his wings grow out like that. He must have accidentally released them while re-living what had happened, re-living the excitement that he'd felt. He looked back to the Matriarch, and shrugged sheepishly.
"This is absolutely incredible." She said slowly, taking a tentative step forward. "I've never seen anything like it."
Naida ran a hand through her hair, a sure sign that she was nervous, and looked to the Matriarch imploringly.
"I've never even heard of such a thing. Nothing like it has ever happened before."
The Matriarch took another few steps closer, a look of wonder and awe on her face.
"That's true. Many, many people have done what Rowan has, carried themselves on the winds, and many things much more powerful than that. But none of them have ever even hinted at anything like this."
She stopped, a small frown crossing her brow as she thought.
"But then Rowan isn't like any other Air Mage, is he." She said. Both Rowan and his mother looked confused at this comment, not knowing what to make of it. The Matriarch smiled and continued, oblivious to their confusion.
"Unlike other Mages and Masters, Rowan has shown an uncanny proficiency in more than one element. Other people, no matter how much they try, can never manage more than an inkling of an attempt at elements other than the one they're born with."
"Matriarch." Rowan interrupted. "I wouldn't say that I'm proficient in other elements... "
"No, Rowan. Don't you remember? That day we visited the Earth temple in Naruha garden?"
Hesitating, uncertain, Rowan nodded his head obediently.
"I remember. There was a draught, and the temple had caught fire."
The Matriarch's eyes were alight with excitement.
"Yes! And you cried and cried so much that you could barely walk. You told me then that it felt like you were the one on fire." She cupped Rowan's cheek with her right hand. "The Earth temple was made of wood, of living trees growing in and around each other. You could feel their pain as they burned. You showed such intense empathy towards the plants that you could feel their pain."
"Emese." Rowan burst out, turning red with embarrassment. "I don't think that one little display of sadness is enough to constitute... "
"But then do you remember what happened next?" Said the Matriarch, cutting him off. Rowan said nothing.
"Before long the flames vanished. Gone, all at once, as though they had never been. The black, charred wood of the temple wasn't even warm with the flames that everyone had seen. When I picked you up off the ground afterwards, your skin was so hot that it nearly burned through my clothes. You'd done what many Fire Masters had tried and failed. You banished fire. You took all of its energy into yourself, leaving nothing for the flames. I've known Mages much older than you that destroyed themselves attempting exactly that, because they couldn't hold all that energy inside their bodies."
"No." Rowan protested. "I... I was just too close to the fire, that's all. It wasn't me. One of the Fire Masters put it out."
"No they didn't, Rowan. I know this because they didn't arrive until after the fire had gone. I talked to them myself, and not one of them could explain why the fire had gone the way it did."
Rowan was glowing red with embarrassment. He knew every Mage and every master in the garden, and they had all worked hard to be where they are. Suddenly it turned out that he was able to rival them in their own elements. They wouldn't like that. But that wasn't something that Rowan was about to say to the two women in front of him. Instead he spoke about the other thing that was on his mind.
"But why wings? It doesn't make any sense. Even if I were unique to all other Mages, why would I sprout wings?"
The Matriarch shrugged, and took a step back.
"I don't know. It could be a whole number of things. Perhaps when you flew on the winds in the valley, you became a Master of Air. After all there's no real way to determine whether anyone becomes a Master, other than their teacher telling them that they have. Maybe your wings are a symbol, of the element that you mastered."
"Or maybe I'm starting to change completely! Maybe I'm turning into an enormous and majestic bird!" Rowan said excitedly. Both Naida and the Matriarch stared at him.
"Or not." He said awkwardly, turning a deeper red.

The sun was just sinking below the horizon, painting the temple and the landscape a golden bronze. The fresh air and cool breeze made Rowan feel so much better after being in the Matriarch's study for so long. He stood at the edge of the second floor of the temple leaning against one of the pillars, watching the sunset. After a while, Naida joined him, and together they stood and watched the sun disappear over the distant mountains, winking out one last ray of light, as though saying goodbye for another day. After that the world was softened by the gentle hues of dusk.
"So what do you think?" Naida asked after a while, her eyes not leaving the view.
"About what?" Rowan asked.
"About you, about this. About having such potential in all the elements of magic."
Rowan sighed.
"Mom, I think that the Matriarch got carried away with that particular point. I think she was making something up out of nothing."
Naida finally turned to him.
"But won't you at least accept the possibility?"
"I don't even know if it is a possibility. I mean, it's never happened before. Never. If it was possible, then we'd have at least heard of it happening to someone else by now."
"Rowan, why are you fighting this so much?" Naida said suddenly, making Rowan hesitate. "I would have imagined you being excited about such a thing, not denying its existence. What is it that's so wrong about who you are?"
"Because it's not fair, mom." Rowan said, finally turning to her. "It's not fair. There are people out there that have worked, trained, and studied harder than anyone else just to become a Mage, and some of them can never hope to become a Master in their lifetime. How is it fair that I'm just handed all this power, when those people have so little?"
Naida looked away, and rubbed her eyes. Rowan thought it was because she was tired, but when she looked back up at him, he saw tears in her eyes.
"Life isn't fair, Rowan. Do you think it was fair, what happened to your father?"
At her words, Rowan looked down at his feet, shamefaced. Naida went on.
"Do you think it's fair that he was taken from us, that I was left to raise you on my own? Or what about Tacy? Do you think it's fair that your brother's now crippled for life, simply because he ate something he shouldn't have and got sick? What about the Disaster, Rowan?" Naida was raising her voice now, her anger starting to get the better of her "What about the Disaster that nearly destroyed the human race, and made the gardens necessary in the first place? Do you think that was fair? All those millions of people dead, for no reason?"
Rowan looked up at his mother, and saw her face was red with anger, and wet with tears.
"Mom, I... " he said sheepishly, but she interrupted him.
"Life isn't fair, Rowan! It is completely unfair. Some people get more, some people get less, that's the way it is. You should know that if you were to go around expecting things to be fair, to be ordered and neat, you'd never be happy, because things don't turn out that way. You should know, because you told me that. So I will not stand here, and have you deny your true power, your true potential, deny who you are, simply because you think it isn't fair."
She stormed off, turning and strode away before he could say anything. Rowan watched helplessly as she disappeared down the stairs, leaving him standing alone on the balcony.
At least, he thought he was alone. A voice came softly from behind him.
"She's right you know, you should be grateful."
Rowan didn't need to turn around. He knew who it was.
"I know, Emese. I know."
"There are much worse ways to get such power, you know. They've been tried before. Like drawing energy straight from the earth, and destroying the lives of any and all plants in the surrounding area in exchange for that energy."
"Or killing other people, and taking their power before they die."
"Emese! Don't you think I feel bad enough as it is?"
He turned to look at her, to see a wry grin on her face.
"My mother always told me, 'there's no such thing as too much humility.'"
Rowan put his face in his hands.
"Ok, ok, I'm humble now, so can we please stop?"
The Matriarch patted him on the shoulder.
"Come on, go home. You've had a big day."
Rowan nodded, and turned to go. By now it was dark, and he couldn't clearly see where he was going. He headed for where he could remember the stairs were, and very nearly ran into someone.
"Um, excuse me?" said the person in a tiny voice. Rowan stopped and looked around.
"Oh, how silly of me. I got so carried away with one thing and another that I forgot to light the lamps."
Sudden light flared, and Rowan turned to face the Matriarch. She was holding a ball of flame in her hands. The fire made the inside of the balcony appear in pristine detail, but the world outside was shrouded in darkness. The Matriarch pointed to each of the pillars, and sparks flew from the flame in her hand to the top of each one. The pillars were all bulged at the very top, and the bulges were all made of glass. Once a spark touched it, the whole bulb lit up with a translucent light, illuminating everything around it clearly. As she did this, Rowan turned back to look at who he'd nearly walked into. It was a young boy, with jet black hair and dark eyes, and skin so pale that in the glowing light of the lamps, it looked a ghostly white. As Rowan looked at him, it seemed that the boy was painfully aware of his gaze, and cringed under it. Rowan, not wanted to scare this boy, backed away, giving him some room.
"Oh, Angra. What are you doing out here?" The Matriarch had finished lighting the lamps all around the temple, and was now coming towards them, extinguishing the flame in her hands. She put an arm around the boy's shoulders.
"Rowan, this is Angra. His parents put him in my care because of his condition."
"They didn't want me." Angra said quietly, looking down at the ground.
"Angra, you know that's not true." The Matriarch said soothingly. "They care about you a great deal, and wanted you to be taken care of properly. That's why they asked me... "
"No!" He screamed, and pushed himself away from her. "They didn't want me! They sent me away! They don't want a son who doesn't have any magic! They'd be happier if I was never born!"
"Angra!" The Matriarch said. "That is not true. Your parents love you very much, and they sent you here because they love you."
Angra looked angrily at her, and looked away sharply, staring fixedly at the ground. She looked up at Rowan.
"Angra was born without magic of any kind." The Matriarch explained. "He's been placed under my care until he is able to take care of himself."
She looked at Rowan meaningfully, and he knew what that look meant. She wanted him to say something to this boy, as a powerful Mage, to encourage him to be hopeful for the future, to help take him out of this deep depression that he had sunk into. But Rowan's ego was still sore from the outburst from his mother, and the calmly delivered pearl of wisdom from the Matriarch, and wasn't in any kind of mood to be nice at that moment in time. However, he did try.
"Tough break, kid." He said gruffly, and walked down the stairs. He realized that he perhaps should have made a bit more of an effort, but somehow that fact didn't seem that important. What did seem important was getting home and getting a good night's sleep. He hadn't slept since the night before last, and he felt drained.

Rowan eventually arrived home, his head and heart heavy with tumbling thoughts and emotions. Everything that had happened in the past couple of days was finally catching up to him, and the reality was finally setting in. Not all of it was nice to think about.
The house was dark, so he silently opened the door, and closed it silently behind him. Slowly he made his way to his room, taking care to make as little noise as possible. No doubt Naida was asleep by now, and Rowan knew that she had a busy morning ahead of her, checking the whole garden's drinking water supply. He wanted to apologize to her, to let her know that he was sorry for what had been said at the temple, but he knew that it could wait until she got back tomorrow.
He reached his room, and wrinkled his nose at the slightly stale smell that comes with a room that was slightly messy, and a bed that hadn't been slept in for two days. Within moments he grew accustomed to the smell, and ignored it. Then, feeling for his sheets in the dark, Rowan fell gratefully into bed, and promptly fell asleep.

Fitful dreams permeated Rowan's mind in his sleep. There were unsettling and disturbing images of people running frantically, in a huge panic. They were screaming in sheer, blind terror. Occasionally they were running from fires. Sometimes from large clumps of trees that seemed to move to squeeze the life out of anyone slow enough to be caught. Some drowned. And others were thrown violently against walls and the ground.
The whole thing was... unsettling in its movement too. All the people running, they looked like Rowan was looking at a series of still pictures being moved rapidly. It added an eerie quality to the dream, and it made Rowan's skin crawl.
He sat up suddenly, wide awake, and sweating horribly. The rosy red light of the dawn flowed delicately onto the wall. The feelings of panic and fear still lingered in his blood, and he was trembling. But instead of slowly fading, like most bad dreams, the feelings grew more intense. Rowan struggled for a moment to think. Why was he feeling more afraid now than in his dream? Something was wrong. Rowan sniffed. He could smell smoke.
He twisted his head to look out the window. The red light he'd thought was sunlight was flickering. It was much redder than sunlight should be.
There was a fire.
Rowan sprang out of bed and raced to Naida's bedroom, to wake her up and get her out, but she was already gone, her bed empty. That's right, he thought, the water supply.
Without wasting a moment with hesitation, he raced out the front door to see where the fire was, to see if he could help. What he saw made his heart stop and his blood freeze. The garden was unrecognizable. There were very large trees, clumped together in various spots. They were burning. Everything was burning. There was not a building in sight that was not on fire, and the devastation of the fires was everywhere.
The entire garden wasn't silent, the crack and sizzle of the fire all around him was nearly deafening, but it was very quiet. No one was yelling, no one was running. Everyone lay dead. Rowan slowly turned around in horror, looking at the death, destruction and chaos that surrounded him. There wasn't a single living soul in sight. Most were face down in the dirt, but some faces could be seen, and Rowan wished that they couldn't. They were twisted and gnarled in the grim, silent scream of fear and horror.
What happened? He asked himself silently. What could have happened here?
He ran from body to body, feeling that he ought to be sure that there wasn't someone that wasn't simply hurt or injured. But he found only corpse after corpse, each one with the open mouth in their eternal scream for mercy. Rowan reached for the next body, laying face down in the dirt. He turned it over onto its back.
Rowan's world dropped away from under him, and whatever hold he'd managed to keep on his emotions gave way. Naida lay in the dirt in front of him, her body rigid, and her face the same mask of terror as everyone else.
Rowan couldn't remember his father, but what he'd been told gave him the impression that he'd been a good man, a good husband. He died before Rowan was born, and sometimes it had been hard, knowing that everyone had a father except you. All he'd ever had was Naida. Sometimes he would make other people angry, or sad, or frustrated. But not Naida. He somehow always made her smile at him, always made her proud. She comforted him when he cried, holding him close to her and soothing him with her voice. When he was angry, she would listen to him talk about what it was that angered him for hours, until the anger was gone.
Now she was gone. She wouldn't hold him anymore. She wouldn't hear him, feel him, or see him anymore. She was gone, and all that was left was a corpse with that awful, awful face.
Rowan felt as though his heart had turned into icy water. He couldn't breath.
Then he felt something, far away. He could feel a Master's power, somewhere a long way away. He looked for it with his mind, finding it a fair distance from the garden, across the desert. It was slowly moving away from the garden. Whoever it was they were walking away from the garden. Even from this distance, Rowan could see the mind that held the power. It was radiating joy, and grim satisfaction. Random thoughts flashed in front of Rowan, thoughts of death. Thoughts of people dying, burning, being crushed.
This was the mind of the person who had done this. This was Naida's killer.
Rowan ran. He ran as fast as he could. Around him the world blurred.

The sand flew up behind Rowan as he ran, faster than he'd ever run before. The garden was a dull glow over the horizon now, clearly visible in the velvet darkness of night. The stars twinkled coldly, matching the air pressing against Rowan's face as he ran, chilling him to the bone.
He was empty inside. His mind was free from all thought, all consideration, and logic. In his heart there was nothing, except for a dark, smoldering anger that festered within his chest. It filled his whole body with a violent energy, making him want to exert as much energy and muscle as possible.
And still he ran. He was getting closer.
Someone was coming into view. Rowan sped up, desperate to get to them quickly. Once he was close enough, he screamed. It was a scream from deep within the feral pits of the mind, before man was even man. It wasn't a scream of anything in particular, no purpose or meaning. If anything it was a lament at the inability to cause enough pain.
The figure turned around. Rowan jumped. He jumped high in the air, grabbing the air around him with his mind as he soared up. As he reached the apex of his jump, and started to fall back down, he drew all of his collected air around him, and plummeted straight towards the person watching him. He fell faster and faster, until he was nearly upon the person. He thrust all of his air at them at once. Rowan was thrown back by the force of air being squeezed and contracted into one spot, and then released again. It was like an explosion. Before he could hit the ground, Rowan released his wings, and flapped them several times to stabilize himself. He landed gracefully on the sand several feet away, and waited for the cloud of sand to clear. Soon the person was visible, and much to Rowan's surprise, was standing upright. A clear, shimmering sphere surrounded the boy, for a boy it was, with jet black hair, and skin as pale as the moonlight. A name popped up in Rowan's memory.
"Angra?" he said, shocked. Angra smiled broadly, and the sphere disappeared with a fizzing noise.
"I'm glad that you remember me, Rowan." He said. "I'm also happy that I didn't kill you back at the garden. Did you know that you tend to hide your power when you're asleep? No one else could, and I found them all." His smile became one of evil satisfaction.
"And I killed them all."
"YOU killed them? Why?" Rowan asked, barely able to speak much less able to sort out the barrage of questions collecting in his mind.
"Why? So I could take their power. I took their magic, and not only that, all of it came with their memories on how to use it! I'm as powerful as all of them put together. Now I'm no longer half a person, a genetic throw-back, a retard!" He spat. He really spat. Foam and spittle was beginning to form around his mouth.
"My parents tried to get rid of me. They tried to rid themselves of some problem by passing it on to someone else. Well, I showed them. I showed them what they had thrown away right before I killed them. I squeezed their throats so hard that I broke their necks, one at a time, and took their power." His face then switched between livid anger to serene cheerfulness with no apparent transition in between. "As for how, well the first time wasn't that easy, because I had no magic of my own. After I first heard that stupid cow of a woman saying that it was possible to steal someone's power if you killed them, I knew that that was what I had to do. Once you left, I snuck up behind the bitch, and slit her throat. She fought me as she squirted blood from the gash in her neck, but I stayed behind her, didn't let her see me. When she died, I could feel the power fill me up like wine. It felt so good, it was like being drunk. I ran and used my new power to set fire to the first house I came across. When people ran out I set fire to them too. I got their power as well. Now I want yours, Rowan. I want your power, I want all the power."
Rowan wasn't listening anymore. He was aware of muffled sounds that could have been words, but he wasn't listening. He couldn't listen anymore, the noise of the blood rushing in his ears was too loud. He screamed again, and with his mind, pulled hard. With a 'whump', the air around Angra burst into motion, twisting and rushing around him. Rowan had created a tornado around Angra, in absolutely no time at all. Even the strongest Air Master needed time to let the air get up to speed, but Rowan didn't know that then, he didn't know anything, except that Angra needed to die. The boy was lifted off his feet, and was about to be thrown up into the heart of the tornado, but with a pinched look of concentration he stabilized himself, holding himself steady a few feet in the air.
Rowan's anger amplified. He was throwing all of his power into this whirlwind, and the boy seemed only mildly annoyed. He wasn't using his own power, but power that he'd stolen. He stole it all from everyone I ever knew. He stole it from my mother.
The image of his mother's corpse, with the tortured face looking at him, filled his mind. The fear, sadness, and most of all anger, boiled and tumbled around inside him. He was shaking, shaking with barely controlled rage. It was anger at the boy, at his arrogance, at the fact that he did something wrong and expected to get away with it. He was angry at the Matriarch, for giving him the idea in the first place. He was angry that this... child killed his mother. But most of all, he was angry at himself, that he hadn't apologized to his mother before she died, before she was taken away from him.
Anger filled his entire being. Inside he was filled with a white hot anger that burned and shone, desperate to escape. Rowan didn't try to hold it back, he let it out. He felt it flow into his power.
He was still forcing the wind to move faster and faster around Angra, and he could feel the anger flow into it, into the wind. The whirlwind was moving faster now, and it started to glow red. Then something terrible, and at the same time wonderful happened. The entire whirlwind burst into flames, becoming a flaming tempest. The whole world was bathed in its angry light, and Angra was instantly consumed in flames.
Unfortunately, Angra was still smiling.
He put a hand in front of him, palm up, and the flames were forced to a spot just above it. All of the flames. The entire tempest was pulled inward, drawn into a single point, just above Angra's hand. Soon there was nothing left, and Rowan felt the sudden absence of his creation like punch in the gut. All of the energy he'd put into his wind and flame was suddenly ripped out of him, leaving him breathless and stunned. He fell to his knees, struggling to breathe. He looked up at Angra. He was still floating, standing on air. He stood tall, looming over Rowan, and holding the concentrated fire in his hand.
With a speed that defied description, Angra drew his arm back, and threw the ball of fire at Rowan. Rowan dipped into his remaining power and defended himself. Maybe it was instinct, or sheer accident, but he found something within himself that he never even knew existed. A hidden power. A new element.
The fire slowed, or so it seemed to Rowan. It moved sluggishly through the air, almost drifting. Angra was still in his throwing position, leaning forward with one hand outstretched in front of him. Rowan could see that the boy had put a lot of power behind the throw, it trailed the fireball like the tail of a comet.
However slow everything had become, Rowan was still too weak to move and dodge the fireball. It struck his chest, and consumed his entire body, all in slow motion. He strained his mind to make it slow down more. Clenching his teeth both in pain and in concentration, he pushed as hard as he could with his mind. It all slowed down more. But not enough. The power that Angra had thrown after the fireball consumed him too.
Something within Rowan's mind went 'snap'. Then he was gone. Only an empty patch of sand with the imprint of his knees.

He had fallen, or was it pulled? He couldn't be sure. But somehow he'd come to this place. He was being pulled, or perhaps he was falling, down a long, long tunnel. In his fevered mind, Rowan couldn't quite tell what it was made of. It didn't look like it was made of anything. Light perhaps. Or maybe darkness. Whatever it was, it stretched on into the impossible distance, forever and ever.
It was quiet here. There wasn't even the rushing of wind in his ears. But it wasn't exactly silent. Silence is, after all, only the absence of sound. What Rowan was hearing was what lay on the other side of silence. The opposite of sound. Anti-noise. It sounded almost like a wet finger drawn over the rim of a wineglass. It was pleasant, soothing.
So that was how Rowan felt as he fell, plummeted down this long, long tunnel. As though he was wrapped in a blanket of warmth, and all of his pain taken away from him, at least for the time being. The tunnel was singing to him. Or maybe it was just that Rowan was just delirious from exhaustion and overexertion. He started to drift off, and he felt something slip.
There was a flash, and the rush of warm air buffeting his body. Sharp light stabbed at his eyes, making him blink. Now he was really falling. That much he was sure of, mainly because of the ground that was rushing up to meet him. He released his wings again, and tried to flap them, tried to fly. But he was still weak, and he didn't have the strength to fly. So still he fell. Azure blue sky and golden sand spun around and around in front of him as he fell.
He struck the ground.
He continued to strike the ground. He was being pushed into the ground at an angle, making him skid into the sand, digging a grove with his body. After a while he slowed, and started to roll across the sand. He couldn't even shield his face from the ground, so he just rolled over and over, like a discarded rag doll. Eventually he came to a stop.
Pain, exhaustion, and more pain filled his being from edge to edge. More than anything, Rowan just wanted to lie there, to never move ever again. But he knew that he needed to, to stay alive.
He struggled to raise his head, and he saw something looming in the distance. It was a familiar shape. He knew it from somewhere. A memory surfaced. It was a pyramid. A large, stone pyramid.
But they were destroyed in the Disaster weren't they? They haven't existed for thousands of years.
That was the last thought that ran through his head before he passed out.

They could all feel the images and sounds withdrawing from their minds. The whole thing had seemed to be several days long, but in reality, it had taken less time that it took for Sam to fall to the floor. Which he did.
"You... bastard." He said from the kitchen floor, out of sight, through clenched teeth.
"Sorry, Sam." Said Abryl, looking in the direction of the kitchen. "I didn't think you'd react so badly to it."
" ...bastard." Was the only response.
" ...dream." Said Jack to himself, raising his hand to his forehead.
"You..." Sandra said, getting shakily to her feet. "You gave us some of your memories?"
Abryl nodded. Sandra stared into space, frowning slightly, trying to think. She felt as though she'd just woken from a wonderful dream that had told her everything that she'd ever wanted to know about absolutely anything. The only thing with dreams like that was she had to keep all that knowledge there in the front of her brain where she could see it, before it all dripped out of her grasp.
A final piece of information clicked into place. Sandra gasped in sudden comprehension.
"You're not from the past." She breathed. "You're from the future!"
Again Abryl nodded, a little sheepishly.
"But how? How could you travel so far into the past?" she asked.
"Yes, how?"
Crystal stood up and came up next to Sandra, looking at Abryl. Her expression was the same as Sandra's, filled with awe, and a little fear.
"You told me it was impossible to travel through time."
"Well, what I meant was, it wasn't humanly possible. There was no way that anyone could use their own magic to push themselves through time. What happened to me was a freak occurrence. Angra had stolen the magic of several hundred people. No one person was ever meant to hold that much power, they end up exploding, or imploding, or maybe simply disappearing altogether. When I'd been trying to stretch time, all of Angra's power entered me as he tried to destroy me. Since time was stretched so far that a single second lasted four days, in the nanosecond between touching me and destroying me, it was there. All that concentrated power, right at the focal point of my concentration, trying to slow time even further. That much power made me not only slow time to an absolute standstill, but push right through to rewinding it."
"That doesn't make any sense." Said Jack, looking up. "If you'd rewound time, you'd have been rewound with it, getting younger as time went backward."
"You misunderstand exactly how much power Angra put into destroying me. All of it. All the magic of several hundred powerful, highly trained Mages and Masters. People who reach a level of magical competence five times that of what Jack is now by age twelve."
"Ouch." Said Jack, both at the image being illustrated, and the blow to his pride.
"It was enough to push me right through time, and out the other side. I was outside time, zipping right past it in a kind of..." He failed to find the right word to describe it. Then he thought of something else.
"You know a soap bubble, when it's hung around for a while, you can see all the swirls and lines of colour on the surface?"
Everyone nodded, except for Sam, still on the floor, who merely grunted.
"Well if all of time is the air inside the bubble, I was in the thin layer of soap on the outside, swirling and twisting around. I fell back inside at a random point."
"Almost like a snow globe." Said Crystal, showing a hint of a grin. Everyone looked at her.
"Not really." Said Abryl. "There's no perfect analogy with things like this."
Sam finally emerged from the kitchen, looking a little scruffy.
"I'd like to get to the point, if no one else minds." He said. "Which is why you put us through that in the first place."
"Yea, you were going to tell us why you were changing things and interfering with people's lives." Said Crystal. Abryl through up his hands in front of him, practically shielding himself from the sting of her words.
"Ok, ok. Here's why. I wanted to change things, not too much, but just enough so that everything that I had would be there, but would also continue to be there. I was trying to create a future where my garden didn't burn to the ground, and no one got killed by a power hungry madman."
Sandra gasped.
"You were trying to remove Angra!"
"NO! God, no. Nothing so crass as that. I was trying to omit the genetic abnormality that caused Angra to do what he did."
"Oh." Said Sandra, sounding almost disappointed. She'd grown so accustomed to thinking of Abryl as someone who wouldn't hesitate to do something that was considered morally wrong if he felt he was doing it for the greater good. Technically he still was, but it would have been more so if he'd been trying to erase a whole person.
Abryl continued, oblivious to Sandra's astonishment.
"It took centuries of planning. I spent many, many years in meditation, examining the timelines to discover which one existed in which everything was exactly the same, but the genetic imperfection didn't exist. Then, once I'd found it, it took several more years to figure out what changes I needed to make in order to make it a reality, instead of just a possibility."
Sandra folded her arms and sat down.
"What kind of changes did you make?" she asked.
Abryl shrugged, his face impassive. It seemed now that he'd stopped hiding his past from everyone, he'd reached an area of static calm, and no emotion showed on his face. Like his emotions have been eroded away by time, thought Sandra, looking at him.
"Mostly it's been couples. Separating some couples, and encouraging others. But mainly it's been... controlling births."
There was a pregnant silence, filled with the noise of everyone's imaginations getting the better of them. Sam was the only one who was brave enough to ask.
"...What do you mean, control births?"
Abryl took a deep breath.
"Well, you know when a man and a woman... "
Sam put his hands over his ears.
"No, wait, I think I know where this is going."
"You do?"
"Yes. You're talking about afterwards, when there's all that... stuff swimming around."
Crystal turned.
"Stuff?" she asked.
"Yea, you know... inside." Sam said, indicating to his own belly. Crystal's eyes misted over.
"Ahh." she said distantly.
"Why would you ever want to meddle with that?" Sandra asked coldly.
"Well, in that situation, only one of them makes it, and the others die. If a different one were to make it instead, then a whole new person would be born."
"And how do you do that?" Jack asked, still staring at the wall.
"Well, I go into a meditative state, where my mind separates from my body, and I travel into the womb and push one of them forward, and the rest back."
The room was still filled with the awkward silence of everyone, very carefully, thinking their own private thoughts.
"That's disgusting." Said Sam feelingly. Abryl nodded.
"How can you possibly justify doing... " Sandra began, but Abryl stopped her.
"Don't even start. No matter how much you try, you won't inspire guilt in me. I already went through my own guilt trip before I started this whole thing. Do you have any idea what it's like to argue and debate with yourself, trying to decide whether something is wrong or right? For five hundred years?" he asked her. His voice was like his face, bland and emotionless, which somehow was much worse than shouting. I wish he'd shout, Sandra thought, it would show that he's human.
"So there's no way that you're going to make me feel guilty, not about this." He said.
"Well, you should feel guilty." Said Crystal, staring fixedly at the wall, her arms crossed and her expression deadly. "It's wrong."
Abryl looked at her.
"It is? What of it? Right and wrong are just ideas. They don't really exist. People made them up, just like they made up the idea of love, honour, friendship, hate, glory, or responsibility. They don't really exist! If you were to destroy the universe, grind it down to the smallest possible granules, and put it through the finest possible sieve, you wouldn't find a single iota of love, hate, right, wrong, honour, or anything else. All of them are just ideas, created by humans to keep themselves sane. They aren't really there, they're all in here." He said, pointing to his temple.
"Well, I guess that lets you sleep at night." Said Crystal, still not looking at him.
"No, but their presence inside your head helps you sleep at night."
Crystal sprang up and turned on him.
"Well I don't know HOW you sleep at night then, if can think like that."
"Quite simple." Said Abryl, his voice still eerily neutral. "I don't sleep."
Crystal didn't move. Her body and her face stayed in exactly the same positions.
"What?" She said through a jaw that barely moved.
"I haven't slept for thousands of years." Abryl said blandly. Everyone stared at him.
"Why not?" asked Jack.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Said Abryl. Sandra rolled her eyes in exasperation.
"For God's sake, Abryl, not that again. Just say it!"
Abryl regarded her briefly, then shrugged.
"Fine. Because I'm afraid." He stated in the same bland voice. Everyone continued to stare at him. They all tried to wrap their minds around the apparent change in direction in the conversation.
"I'm afraid," he continued, "because if I do go to sleep, I'll see them all. Every single one that died that night, see them all lying stiff on the ground, screaming for all eternity. I'd have to see my mother again, as I wish I'd never seen her. And not only that, I'd have to see absolutely every single one of the lives that I've... erased. They'd all come back to haunt me, to look at me, and judge me... and hate me."
He hung his head, and in his eyes everyone could see the first sign of emotion since their communal dream ended.
"So you see, you can't make me feel guilty about this, because I already feel as guilty as I can about it."
He looked up at Crystal with glistening, wet eyes. She had now lost the anger that she'd had moments before, and her face was one of shock, and pity.
"I have lived with this guilt for thousands of years, for every single one of those lives that now have never been. You can see now, if I have done that, that nothing you could ever say will convince me that what I have done is wrong. Besides, can you honestly say that you wouldn't do exactly the same thing, in my place? You can't imagine what it is to lose... everything."
Sandra came up beside him, and placed a black and white hand on his shoulder.
"Abryl, we were there, remember?"
"Yea," said Sam, "I know what it's like, because you showed me. I'll never forget the look on my... your mother's face for as long as I live. You bastard."
There was more silence. No one seemed to know quite what to say.
"Sandra, there's something that I want to ask of you." Abryl said suddenly. "In a way, I showed you all that on purpose, so you would feel inclined to say yes, so I manipulated you again. For that, I'm sorry."
Sandra didn't know what to say.
"What is it?" she asked, choosing to be direct.
"Of all the changes I've made, this next one is the most important. It is the last one, the one that will carry out all of the ramifications and small ripples of possibility."
He took a big breath, and looked at her.
"It's you." He said. She was taken aback, and she desperately tried to think of what it could be that he wanted her to do. Nothing came to mind.
"What is it?" she repeated, morbidly curious.
"As I said, everything I've done so far has led up to this point, and if you do this one thing for me, then everything will be done, and it will be finished. It hinges entirely on you, but you need to do it willingly, that is the only way that it will definitely work."
"Do what?" she demanded. Abryl took a deep breath, and told her. When he did, her heart nearly stopped.
"Sandra, I ask you, please, don't change back into a human. I want you to remain a demon... forever."

He made his way down the streets, pre-dawn light permeating the world. He'd been very surprised to get Abe's call. He hardly ever made calls. But then it was nearly impossible to contact Abe unless it suited him. But what was more surprising was the fact that Abe needed his help. It was unprecedented. After all, you didn't help Abe, he helped you.
This was his line of thought as he trudged along the empty streets, hands in his pockets and head tucked in close to keep warm. He occupied his mind with the sudden phone call, and what it was that Abe had in mind for him. His instructions had been mysterious enough:
"Come to this address. You'll know what to do once you get there."
Oh well, he trusted Abe. If he said that he'd know what to do, then he probably would.
He slowed when he looked up and read the street sign coming up. It read 'Miscellaneous St.' He seriously wondered about that name. The guys that came up with the street names must be getting desperate. He turned onto the street. Then he kept walking until he found the address that Abe gave him, and walked slowly to the front door. There were muffled voices coming from inside. One of them was Abe's, and there were others, one of which seemed familiar, but he couldn't quite place it.
Eventually, he reached up to knock.

"What makes you think you can ask me something like that?" Sandra asked Abryl.
"Sandra, please. I'm not trying to force you to do this, because in order for all the work I've done in the past three thousand years to actually take effect, you need to make this decision willingly. It would take too long to explain exactly how, but normally the timelines are erratic and complicated, the slightest thing splitting a timeline in two. But I've changed things over the past three thousand years, changes that have brought it all to this point."
Abryl started to pace around now. Everyone's eyes followed his progress.
"Right here, right now, there are two possibilities in front of us. In one, you decide to become a human once again, eventually. Exactly when depends on the many changes in the future in that direction. In that particular decision, it is possible that the genetic flaw could be successfully erased from existence, but it's only marginally possible. However, if you were to decide, right now, to remain a demon forever, then because of your very existence, there would be a one hundred percent chance of erasing the flaw! No matter what subsequent future we arrive in, your presence will subtly alter things all the way down the road, omitting the flaw entirely. This is what I've been working towards all this time. Such a thing would normally be completely impossible! But I've made it possible."
He stopped pacing now, and looked at Sandra again, with wide, sad eyes.
"So I ask you please, to do this thing for me, and I can repay you with what you've wanted more than anything else in the world since you became a demon."
Sandra snorted.
"You have nothing that I want."
Abryl raised his eyebrow.
"Don't I?" he said.
Then they all heard it. Someone was knocking at the door, and Abryl called for whoever it was to come in. The door opened, and to Sandra, it seemed to open in slow motion. She didn't have to be told that whoever it was that was behind the door was connected to what Abryl was talking about. In that moment she wasn't certain whether or not she wanted to know.
The door opened, and he stepped inside. Sandra's heart stopped. It was him. It was the man that she'd thought about on sleepless nights, and who haunted her dreams in fitful sleep. She knew those eyes, which were hard and strong, yet held a softness that Sandra had always secretly wanted to know, to unlock.
Just inside the door, there was Mike.
His face was creased with the frown of confusion as he saw Sandra. He turned and saw Abryl, and everyone else.
"Abe?" he said, vaguely.
"Yes, Mike?"
"There's a big rabbit in the room."
Sam looked at him stubbornly.
"Yes I know, Mike. That's normal."
"Is it?" Mike looked at Sam a moment more, and then turned back to Sandra.
It seemed in that moment, that there were two universes. There was the big one, in which everything existed, and then there was the one consisting entirely of both Sandra and Mike. They stared at each other, both struggling for something appropriate to say. In Mike's mind several things came together at once, all clamouring to be said:
'I'd never thought I'd see you again.' 'So this is where you live.' 'You know there's like a whole notebook at home full of drawings of you?' 'I think I'm in love with you.' 'Please don't leave again.' 'Can we move in together?'
But none of them could get any further than the first letter before the next one pushed it out of the way. Sandra's mind was no less congested.
'Get out!' 'I don't want you to see me like this.' 'Is that really you?' 'Please don't hate me.' 'I love you.' 'Hold me, please.'
"Mike." Was all she could manage.
Crystal looked from one to the other.
"So that's Mike." She said, to no one in particular.
"Yes it is." Said Albin and Jack together. They both smiled. Crystal looked at Mike again, and smiled as well.
"He's cute."
Eventually, the spell seemed to break, and Mike approached Sandra, almost running.
"Sandra!" He gasped, holding her hands. "Please don't leave again."
Timidly Sandra withdrew her hands, taking care not to scratch him with her sharp fingers.
"I have to Mike. I'm dangerous. I'll hurt you."
As she said this, tears flooded her eyes, and she blinked, causing them to cascade down her face and hiss on the carpet. Mike's eyes were drawn the hissing at his feet.
"Yes, as a result of being a demon, Sandra's bodily fluids are a highly caustic acid." Said Abryl, approaching the both of them. "But for you, Mike, I can fix that."
"What do you mean?" Both Mike and Sandra said at once.
"Mike, I can give you some Magic. Not a lot, but just a little, and very specifically placed. If you promise me that you'll be good to Sandra, true to her, and be there for her, then I will bless you Mike, as only an angel can. I'll give you invulnerability against any attack of a demon, whether it be acidic blood, tears, or saliva. Or their razor sharp fingers."
Abryl hesitated as he thought back on all relationships he'd witnessed throughout his life.
"And even protection from being set on fire." He added. Sandra's heart was doing flips inside her chest. She desperately, desperately wanted what Abryl was offering, but her mind kept betraying her, reminding her who it was that was doing the offering. She was deeply conflicted, and didn't know what she should do. She felt, however that she should put up some kind of fight against this, just to show Abryl that she objected to being manipulated.
"Abryl... " she started
"Do you promise, Mike?" Abryl asked, completely ignoring her.
Mike squared his shoulders and looked straight at Abryl.
"I promise."
Abryl smiled.
Abryl raised a hand, and all of a sudden he was holding something that glowed with a pure white light. It was small, and no one could see clearly what it was because it glowed too brightly. He slowly extended his arm, and laid his hand against Mike's chest. The glowing thing was absorbed into Mike, and it trickled over him, giving his whole body a subtle glow. He closed his eyes and trembled as the power nestled solidly into place in his soul. He stopped glowing, and opened his eyes.
He turned to Sandra, who was still crying, and he raised a cautious hand to her face. Gently, and with infinite care, he brushed a tear away with a finger.
Nothing happened. The tear sat on his skin, glistening, and slightly green, before dropping onto the carpet, and hissed quietly. They both looked at each other. Slowly, Mike moved closer to Sandra, and made to kiss her.
"At least let me change my form." She said feebly. Mike smiled.
"You're beautiful the way you are." He whispered. He gently put his hand on her neck, and slid his fingers through her hair. Sandra's body trembled at the touch. She hadn't been touched like that in a long time. Slowly, Mike moved closer still. Their lips met, and this time, they both trembled at the intimate softness of each other's lips.
They stayed like that for a long time.
After a while, the spell was broken, and they both opened their eyes. They stood there for some time, staring into each others eyes, when they heard the sound of someone quietly sobbing.
"Thank you." Came a soft voice. Everyone's attention shifted to who had spoken. It was Abryl, but something was different. He was now transparent, and fading quickly. There were tears in his eyes, and yet he smiled, a big, happy smile of euphoria.
"Thank you Sandra." He said. His voice was very soft, as though it was fading as well. Everyone watched, stunned. Abryl sighed, closed his eyes, and spoke one more word before he disappeared completely. The word, barely a shadow of a whisper, hung in the minds of all of them, who were still staring at the empty air in front of them.

It was several days later, and Mike and Sandra had spent all of their time in Sandra's room. This fact worried Jack, and he spent a lot of the time pacing around in his own room. Crystal didn't worry as much, and pottered around the house with a wide grin that wouldn't go away. Sam, however, had much better ears than the two of them, and knew precisely what was going on in Sandra's room. But he felt that, somehow, telling the others would spoil something, so he kept it to himself. After all, it wasn't as though there was anything wrong with what they were doing, he thought, I mean it's only talking.
He sat down next to Albin, who was watching TV.
"Anything good on?"
And so they sat, watching TV. After a while Crystal came up and asked if either of them wanted something from the supermarket. Sam asked for beer, and Albin said that he didn't want anything. Then she left.
After some time, Sam became aware of a sound that he'd been hearing all along, but his attention became drawn to it because it suddenly stopped. Jack had stopped pacing. Curious he got up and made his way upstairs. He cautiously peeked into Jack's room, and smiled. He'd finally settled down to meditate. It was about time.
Deep in the distant realms outside space and time, Jack floated aimlessly, with his arms behind his head, gazing at the star like nodes. Tomie was there as well, but like Jack's jacket, he was only barely real in this place, and moved and warped like a solid cloud.
"Obviously it must be possible, because he's done it. But how is it possible?" He muttered. "What exactly happened?"
"Well, as far as I can tell, he created a time paradox. The reason that he was sent back in time in the first place was, indirectly, the genetic mutation that he spoke of." Said Tomie. "And then he made many little changes to eradicate the entire existence of the mutation, and thus he never came back in time in the first place."
"But we still remember him," Jack argued. "All of the changes he made are still there. If he never came into the past, how could any of the changes still exist?"
"Now that I can't answer. The closest hypothesis that I can come up with is that it had something to do with him being a Master of Time magic. Either he made changes in a certain way, or he cast a small spell to shield that event in history from the space-time continuum from wiping it out."
Jack looked up at Tomie.
"Well if the answer is magic, wouldn't you know for sure?"
"Not exactly." Said Tomie. If he'd had a head, he would have shaken it. "If I try hard enough, I can look back along the timeline, to all the changes that he made. There are so many of them. And if I look at them just right, I can make out the outline of what may be a spell, but it could be anything."
"But you should be able to see all magic. I mean, you're a magical book, it should be second nature to you."
"But Time magic is so obscure. The powerful wizards of old never even imagined that it could ever exist, so I wasn't actually designed to have anything to do with Time magic."
Jack leaned back again, and looked out into the glittering blackness swirling above him.
"Well, maybe we'll never know. Maybe we don't need to know. Either way, however he managed it, I'm grateful."
At this, Tomie looked at Jack.
"Grateful? But you hated him so much."
"I know, and I can't really say why. Call it testosterone; call it jealousy, or childishness. Now that he's gone, I can see what it is he's done. I can see what he did for Sandra."
"You mean Mike?"
"I'm talking about her life. When I accidentally turned her into a demon, I took away the life that she had. Gradually, bit by bit, I've been able to give some kind of a life back in return, like the extra power to shape-shift. But there was always the problem of someone... special to make things easier. I'd never have been able to help her with that. I would have screwed it up somehow. But Abryl, after everything that he did, he made up for all of it by give her Mike. Because of that, whatever else he's done, he's alright by me."
"But Sandra still doesn't have her life back." Tomie pointed out. "She's still a human trapped in a demon's body."
Jack shrugged.
"That doesn't really matter anymore, what with what she has now. She can disguise herself as a human, so that she can interact with people. She has friends that understand her, who can help her with whatever occasional problems that being a demon can bring. And now she has someone special to be close to. Something that I know she's been missing all this time."
The distant nodes continued to slowly spin and dance in the inky blackness of the magical realm. Jack smiled.
"She has a life now. It may not be the one she had before, but now she has a new life, one that we all helped her create."
Jack's smile broadened as he leaned further back and closed his eyes.
"I don't have to keep my promise anymore, because I don't need to. You have no idea how good that feels, to feel the weight of the whole world lifted off your shoulders. I feel free, Tomie. For the first time that I can remember, I'm free."
Tomie looked at Jack, laying there in the pool of his jacket floating around him. He could felt he contentment emanating from him. And Tomie could feel all the worry and anxiety that he didn't even know was there fading from within him. If he'd had a mouth, he would have smiled.
"I'm glad." He said eventually.


Rowan sat up suddenly, wide awake, and sweating horribly. The rosy red light of the dawn flowed delicately onto the wall. The feelings of panic and fear still lingered in his blood, and he was trembling. He looked down at the light pouring onto the wall. It was very red; it looked like it may even be light from a fire. He ran to the window, somehow expecting everything to be ablaze. But there was no fire. Only the light from the sun which had not yet fully risen above the horizon. Everything was still and calm, the air crisp as a playful breeze tickled his face. Still, he was having difficulty shaking the horrible foreboding feeling from his nightmare. It had been so... vivid, and real. He shrugged it off, and went to go make breakfast.

The sun was now high in the sky, and Rowan was sitting on the grass, wearing a broad straw hat. He watched Angra work in the field, helping his parents bring in the harvest. He didn't know why, but he'd felt an unexplainable desire to check on him. He couldn't see why, he was just as he'd always been. He'd been working hard on developing his Earth magic recently, that was probably it. He was just worried that he'd been overexerting himself.
Rowan stood up and let the breeze cool his skin, then turned to leave. He stopped when he saw a figure approaching him. He couldn't make out who it was; it must be someone new, from another garden. He called out tentatively.
"Hello." The figure responded in a deep, feminine voice. "I've been wandering in the desert for weeks, and I was wondering if there was anywhere here that I could stay for a while."
Slowly the figure approached, and Rowan could gradually make out some features to her face. Her hair was cropped short, and a strange shade of black, so dark that it was almost blue. Her eyes were as green as the sun shining through a leaf. She had a long face, with a long nose, and an odd series of scars running in a straight line diagonally across her face. There was one just above her left cheek, one on the bridge of her nose, and another just above her right eyebrow. It gave the impression that, long ago, someone had cut her across the face with a knife. Rowan could tell that although this woman looked quite young, she had seen a lot, and been through her fair share of hardship. It showed not only in her face, but in her eyes. They were hard, like emeralds, those eyes of hers. There was a fairly large bag slung over one shoulder, it looked quite travel worn.
Rowan smiled at her, not wanting her to feel unwelcome, and shrugged.
"Well, there's no inn here in this garden, but you're more than welcome to stay here with me. My mother and I are always willing to take in a weary traveler."
The woman smiled.
"Thank you, young man. I'm very grateful for your hospitality. What's your name?" She asked as they both made their way to Rowan's house.
"Rowan. And yours?"
"Oh, I've been known by many names over the years. But most people call me Alex."
"If you don't mind my asking, what's your real name?"
Alex looked at him oddly.
"Why do you want to know that?" she asked. Rowan shrugged.
"I'm just curious. It's alright if you don't want to tell me, I don't mind."
She was silent for a while, looking hard at him.
"There's been a scant few that have ever known me by my real name." Her voice trailed off and her eyes seemed to glaze slightly as she lost herself in a small private moment. To Rowan, watching her face, she looked very, very sad.
"There are none alive today that know it." She shook her head slightly, and looked back at him.
"Are you sure you want to know?" she said after a while.
"Well, to be honest, I want to know even more now that you've told me that."
Alex laughed.
"But I don't mind if you don't tell me." Rowan assured her. "I don't want you to feel like you're dishonouring those who've known it before by telling me."
"No, no." she said, patting him on the back. "I think that they would have liked you very much, and they would have wanted me to tell you. I'll even tell you about them later if you wish to hear my stories."
Rowan's eyes widened and his body filled with a nervous anticipation of hearing such stories.
"I'd like that very much." He told her. She smiled and together they entered Rowan's house.
"You see, the name 'Alex' is short for 'Alexandra'. This name is also a long version of what my parents named me when I was born. My name, young Rowan, is Sandra."