The deserted, ancient, run-down, foreboding house at the end of the long, twisting street may indeed have been ancient, run-down and foreboding, but in no sense of the word could it be called deserted. Because contained within were a diverse collection of monsters, ghosts, ghouls, witches, vampires, and spectres, all living together under one roof and the watchful eye of the spirit known as Carpathian. It was an impressive edifice, with twin turrets on either side of the main entryway, and a widow's walk circling a center tower above the main living room. A huge garden filled with roses nestled the rear right corner, and a wrought iron gate swung with every errant breeze drifting past the stone-walled walkway.

Some time ago… quite some time ago, Carpathian had held sway over another household, one that broke apart under the wicked machinations of a witch named Jastin. He had taken to wandering for a time before he had been given this house by another ghost in gratitude for a kindness offered. Carpathian had set up the residence as a home, and a sanctuary, for any night creature in need, and the offer had been taken up in spades.

When he had taken possession, Carpathian had thought the structure much too large for his own purposes.

He needn't have worried.



The first occupants were the witch Haggatha, who helped Carpathian run the household in a comfortable, matronly way, and her daughter Cobweb. The ghost Elmo had come crashing in next; a former member of Carpathian's previous ménage, he arrived with chains rattling, music blaring, and raucous laughter that echoed through the eaves. The vampires made their way inside, and though many of them enjoyed the dank comfort of the basement, Miss Scarlett, a saucy young lady Carpathian had taken a liking to, staked out (if you'll pardon the expression) her territory in the cozy attic rafters.

Others came; some directed by sympathetic souls, others by accident or happenstance. One of the latest was the young devil Kuzibah, who had caused quite a stir upon her advent but who had quickly been taken under Carpathian's tutelage to become not only his student but his closest confidant. And when the Grim Reaper, Carpathian's erstwhile cousin (in name alone…but that is another tale) arrived with his family – his lovely wife Azrael, herself an Angel of Death, their daughter Tiffany, their youngest son Grim Junior, and his apprentice Belle, a mischievous young lass – and moved into the Master Bedroom, the house had reached near capacity.

And so it was that these diverse phantoms reigned in the crowded halls with what passed for the closest thing to peace and harmony that the structure could hold. And although at times the arrangement approached chaotic, the House of Carpathian was run with a combination of gentle discipline, quiet reproachment, loving compassion, good –humored bemusement and occasional head-shaking exasperation.

Yet, with so many souls jostled together, Carpathian remained alone. Certainly not lonely, for he was surrounded by a makeshift family for which he felt much affection; but still alone. Despite all the friendships formed, he never let anyone touch his ectoplasmic heart completely. Oh, he loved all dearly, and many returned his affections; most notably Kuzibah, who had a not-so-secret crush on her teacher. But in many ways Carpathian was still the lone wanderer he had been. He kept his own council, and at night closed the door to his study to dwell with his own thoughts.

Whether it was in pain or in shyness no one could ascertain, but there were times when other members of the household would softly discuss their friend, and all agreed that he would remain separate from them. Although he moved many, no one would ever claim Carpathian for their own.

Many believed it had always been so.

They were mistaken.

 

It was a beautiful spring day, and the church was bedecked with flowers, balloons and banners of every possible color. The people congregating were also quite colorful in their formal dress and gowns, and the room was bathed in the rainbow glow of the bright sunlight streaming through the large stained-glass windows on either side of the room, making the chapel swim with light like the bottom of an aquarium. But with all the brilliance surrounding them, the assembled's attention was captured by the woman wearing only white: the long lace and white-rosed bride standing beside the beaming, nervous young man in the black tuxedo.

In the back sat a trio of oddly attired guests. If they had been less discrete, the congregation would surely have been commenting on the interlopers in their midst. As it was, anyone looking directly at them would only see the lazy, swirling hues that flooded the wooden pew. Someone staring intently might possibly see the outline of a white-robed spectre, a small child in a black cloak, and a devil in a bright scarlet coat.

But because Carpathian, Kuzibah and Belle were “dimmed”, the watcher would have concluding that his eyes were playing tricks on him and turned his concentration back to the ceremony at hand. “Dimming” was a helpful gift in a spirit's repertoire, and Carpathian found it made moving through the human population more convenient.

In the front was a lovely young woman in red, standing by the altar and singing in a quiet contralto. Her voice drifted through the oak-paneled room, and the three listened in various stages of notice. Carpathian sat quietly, eyes closed, listening to the soft melody. Belle fidgeted in her seat as a girl with a short attention span would. Kuzibah squirmed and glanced around, restless for an entirely different reason: being a devil, even a reformed one, she still wasn't entirely comfortable in a church.

After a moment she snorted. “She's flat.”

Carpathian listened, then shook his head. “No, she isn't.”

“Well, she's not particularly good.”

Carpathian opened his eyes and looked at her. “She's fine. What's the matter?”

“I don't like it in here. I don't feel like I belong.”

Carpathian smiled, understanding. “All are welcome.” He nudged Kuzibah playfully. “Even the enemy .”

Kuzibah rolled her eyes. “Ha. Ha. Ha.”

Belle spoke up. “Can we go to the playground?”

“I second that,” said Kuzibah. “Can we leave soon?”

“I want to spend a few moments enjoying some fine music. Is it too much to ask for a respite from our rushing about?”

‘I'm bored ,” said Kuzibah. She leaned forward excitedly. “Besides… SURVIVOR is on tonight. I don't want to miss it.”

Carpathian shook his head. “Oh good . Just what the household needs…more misfits trapped in isolation together….”

Kuzibah had to giggle. “OK…good point…but…”

“What is she singing about?” asked Belle.

“It's a song of love, and promise,” explained Carpathian. “She's telling a story about True Love.”

Belle listened, then said, “I like yours better. Can you tell The Black Velvet Band?”

Carpathian's tone was final. “Indulge me, both of you. We'll leave momentarily.”

“All right,” said Kuzibah reluctantly. She brightened. “Maybe on the way home we can…”

Kuzibah continued to speak, but Carpathian wasn't listening. He had stiffened noticeably, straining to hear something under the soloist. There was another voice, almost subliminal, singing another song, and it wafted through Carpathian's thoughts like a gentle, insistent breeze blowing vagrant fragrance and promise, warning and portent.

“Grey eyes that grow sadder than sunset or rain;
Fond heart that is ever more true…
Firm faith that grows firmer for watching in vain;
She waits by the sliprails for you…”

The music caressed like a physical touch, a light hand on his brow, soothing his worry and beckoning him back…

How far? So long ago…he had known the voice…

The whisper came unbidden. “Iasai?” One word, but Carpathian spoke it with ferverance.

If you ever need me, call. I will hear you. And I will come to you from wherever I am, to be with you.

I love you.

And I will always love you; in this or any other world; in this or any other time…

Carpathian rose suddenly, startling Kuzibah and Belle. “We must go.”

Belle leaped to her feet, clapping her hands together. “Are we going to the playground?”

“Not now, Belle. We're going home.”

Kuzibah stared. There was something in Carpathian's voice; hard, cool, determined. He started out of the church quickly, forcing her and Belle to practically run after him to catch up.

Belle called out. “But...”

But Carpathian's answer was short and inarguable. “Not now, Belle.”

The three stepped quickly through the door into the sunlight beyond.

 

The world was shades of gray; gray trees on a gray landscape that stretched to a gray horizon against a pale gray sky. It wasn't dark; rather, it was washed like a watercolor, with hues of gray shading and sculpting the details of a somber canvas. There were other colors too; the blacks of the deep shadows, and the white of the stars and the setting pale sun. There were hints of blues and purples, but it was mostly illusion; the world was gray as the fading day at twilight. That was most appropriate, for this world was Twilight; it existed on the fringe of our Temporal Plane and the color and light were constant.

The people that dotted the landscape were gray also; tall figures in ragged robes collected in the manicured courtyard of a crumbling cathedral. They hovered in the square, spectral and silent, like ghosts haunting a scene of past tragedy; spirits of a dark realm.

Which is precisely what they were.

They were gaunt, handsome in a stark way, skin like pale ash, shadows under their eyes and cheekbones. The stood in a loose group a distance from another seated on a huge, ornate throne in the center of the yard. He was not gaunt; his huge, powerful frame was cloaked in midnight charcoal. His large gloved hands gripped the arms of the throne, and his features were hidden under a hood that held only a black void.



Beside him, sitting on the ground next to the throne, was a small child; a boy. His clothes were very different from the apparitions around him; he wore dark pants and sneakers, and a light sweater. His hair and eyes were fair, and his face was haunted, somber and fearful. He looked down at the ground and drew his shoulders, arms and legs around himself, as if trying to make himself smaller to shrink into nothingness.

There was one final player in the tableau. A lone female spirit stood in front of the giant. She was beautiful, with black flowing hair that freely hung to her shoulders, and a curvaceous frame her robes could not hide. Her hands were long and delicate, her lips dark, and her eyes were startlingly clear, white with a hint of arctic blue flame. Her back was straight and her shoulders squared, and she carried herself with a commanding self-assurance.

Her name was Iasai, and she listened as the phantom before her spoke.

“The boy remains here , “ he said, in a voice that sounded like iron grating against iron. “The boy remains with me. That will not change.”

She sighed softly. She bit back the quick response, bowed her head slightly, and drew her words out carefully, measured and calm, trying to keep her tone respectful. “My Lord Thorn…surely you must understand that I would never challenge you. All I desire is to see your glory and honor affirmed.”

She gestured to the child. “My concern was that the boy seems to be…dismayed by his place in your scheme. I merely wished to…” Be careful! “… amuse him…to allow his will to serve yours better.”

There. That's was easy…stay calm, Iasai.



Thorn spoke mildly as well. He didn't raise his voice one decibel, but the menace in it was as clear as if he shouted. “Your wishes have no effect on me whatsoever, Iasai. Your challenges are couched in platitudes and praise, but I am neither fooled nor dissuaded. You seek to remove the boy from my influence. You…fail…

So. It had not been easy after all. She sighed again, less softly. Deception came difficult to her. She preferred honesty, even in abhorrence. She didn't like Thorn; she hated what he was and how he behaved. More so, he knew it too well. Better to drop all pretenses, and proceed with candor. If it cost her, so be it. Everything was out in the open anyway.

He had always been a bully, Thorn had. But he had kept his animosity to himself for much of the time, afraid to display it openly. The others, especially Iasai, kept his arrogance and hunger in check, and the world was peaceful, if not serene.

But now his powers had grown tenfold, almost overnight, and he no longer had to hide his malevolence and repugnance. He flouted his cruelty freely, and everyone crept silently past him, hoping not to draw his attention and ire.

Everyone except her, of course.

Softly, she said, “My Lord…the child is unhappy and frightened. He is confused. He is lonely. I merely wanted to alleviate this.” She was watching the boy, and her heart was breaking. He never raised his eyes, even though he could clearly hear them talking about her.

When he had first arrived, he had been comforted by her presence. No longer. His expression was one of utter hopelessness, to sad to even shed tears.

Thorn's voice brought her back to attention. His tone was anything by loving, belying the words spoken. “The boy need not be afraid. He is always with me. How could he be better protected? He has no reason to fear.” He leaned forward. “ You, Iasai… you may have reason to fear. Do you fear me?”

And that was more than enough. Her words were chosen carefully, as usual, but her tone crackled with blunted fury. “ I fear…that your… influence …is not enough to comfort the child. There have been so few comforted here lately.”

The others spectres tensed, turned away, drew in quiet breaths. She was staring right at Thorn, eyes level, back straight. Thorn sat a moment, then leaned back in his throne and raised his hands slowly, his index fingers pointed skyward. Iasai watched and tensed, but didn't move otherwise. The other spectres backed away several paces, their eyes never leaving Thorn's hands.

As they watched, small points of white energy began to flicker and dance about Thorn's fingers, like errant fireflies. They traced random patterns in the air before Thorn, and he spoke as though almost bored. “Brave words. I find your baiting to be most…tiresome…”

Without warning a bolt of white energy ripped from the firefly patterns, aimed straight at Iasai. She caught the energy squarely between her shoulders, and the air echoed with the crack of a rifle shot. His eyes clenched shut and she staggered back, swaying but staying on her feet as the force whiplashed over her.

The others winced and averted their eyes, although one seemed almost ready to step forward to her aid. After a moment, he faded back into the group.

Thorn was speaking in a quiet singsong. “I find comfort to be unnecessary; only for the weak. The boy is not weak. Neither am I, although you seek to weaken me.”

His tone hardened perceptively. “It is very simple. I will not be weakened. I will not be separated from the boy. I rule. Everything else is irrelevant.”

Iasai tried to catch her breath, and the words came out ragged. “Surely a…ruler …” She drew out the word, emphasizing her contempt. “…as glorious as…yourself…would not begrudge the weak…their vice of comfort…”

Care , spirit…!” snapped Thorn, and another bolt of power shot forth. It struck Iasai again, but her eyes were closed in concentration, and as the bolt reached her it passed completely through her, her body suddenly transparent and ghostly. Her ectoplasmic form rippled, like a pond that someone had thrown a stone into. The ripples slowly faded, and she returned to substance, opening her eyes and glaring at Thorn.

He lowered his hands, and the energy patterns disappeared. “Clever,” he said, his tone grudging admiration. “You were always a clever thing, Iasai. Sometimes too clever. I worry that I shall regret sparing you to counsel me.” He rose from the throne and towered over her. “ I do not wish to find myself with any regrets. Don't force me to reconsider.”

He held out a large hand and called simply. “Boy.” Without a sound, without hesitation, without taking his eyes from the floor and with complete resignation the child stood and stepped over towards Thorn, standing beside him. Thorn continued. “I'm bored with you now.” It was clearly a dismissal, and he turned and started to go, the boy following.

“Thorn!” Iasai's tone was pleading. He stopped and considered her. She continued softly. “Let me take the child off your hands while you rest. You have my word I'll not leave here.”

Thorn spoke flatly. “No. You will not.” He turned again and walked a distance away. As he walked, he began to fade into nothingness, and the boy, still following close behind, did the same. In a moment they were gone.

Iasai stared at the empty place for a long time, not seeming aware that the others spectres had approached and were standing around her. The one who had wanted to help her whispered angrily, “That was foolish! Do you want to be destroyed?”

She turned, speaking at normal volume, her tone dripping sarcasm. “How pleased I am to find you haven't totally lost your voice, Aaron.”

“What was I supposed to do? Risk my existence like you?”

She spoke out fiercely, all the frustrations of her encounter with Thorn coming to bear. “No, Aaron, your revolution must remain bloodless! It's much neater that way!”

Aaron jumped, and whispered urgently, “Iasai!” He and the others looked around nervously.

Iasai threw up her hands and shouted, “Oh, stop it! Thorn is absolutely right! He's not a fool. He knows how we all feel. He knows you plot against him.”

Aaron looked at the others self-consciously and blustered on. “If he knows, why does he allow it?”

“Because he knows you're ineffective!” Iasai angrily stood nose to nose with him. “He knows he's not the least bit threatened by you! You'll talk and plot and plan and make speeches, and he has absolutely nothing to fear from it because when he speaks you tremble and bow and scurry into your dark corners to shiver!”

That stung, and Aaron stepped back, hurt and annoyed. The others glanced at each other and lowered their eyes, confused and more than a little ashamed. Iasai sighed like a mother scolding her children, and softened her voice. “Revolution is risking your existence. Until you realize that; until you're prepared to do instead of talk, Thorn's place is assured.”

She turned and began to walk away. After a moment, still smarting from her lecture, Aaron followed. “I don't see the Great Iasai doing much of anything except caring for the well being of a foundling.”

She wouldn't be baited. “So? We all have our causes, Aaron.”

“And he's yours?”

“He has to be someone's” Her voice broke slightly, and she whispered, “He's so afraid and alone.”

Aaron ignored her sorrow. “He's the source of Thorn's power. You realize that, don't you?”

Iasai spun on him and snapped, “Oh, brilliant , Aaron! With a mind like yours, why don't you find a revolution to lead? I understand they could use some direction!”

He continued, unyielding. “As long as the boy exists, he is a threat to us!”

“No!” Iasai's tone was hard. “As long as the boy is with Thorn, Thorn is a threat. If we can get the boy to talk, if we can find a way for him to go home, Thorn would be helpless.” She glared around at the gray landscape, as if searching for the phantom. “He knows that as well.”

Aaron spread his arms wide in exasperation. “The boy remembers nothing. He speaks to no one. How can we talk to him?”

Iasai looked at the ground. She closed her eyes and again saw the haunted expression on the child's face. “Poor thing,” she whispered. “Trapped in a world not his.” She looked at Aaron. “Why should he speak? Why should he trust us any more than Thorn?”

She stepped in closer. “But I've seen his eyes when he looks at me. He knows I want to help. He's too afraid of Thorn to reach out, but his eyes beg for me to keep reaching, to keep smiling and make everything all right for him.” Her eyes narrowed, and her voice grew firm. “And that's what I will do, Aaron. No matter what it costs me, or your revolution.” She started walking again, and she spoke confidently. “When he comes…we'll reach him.”

Aaron fell in step beside her. “How do you know he'll come?

She smiled shyly. “Because I called to him. He will always hear me.” She stopped and looked at Aaron, and he saw a fierce devotion in her eyes that hadn't been there a moment before. “He's marvelous with children. If anyone can reach him, he can.”

Aaron shook his head. “If anyone can reach him…”

She cut him off. “ He can! ” She turned to go, and Aaron spoke again, low and dangerous, with a terrible suggestive tone in his words. “There is another way to handle the situation.” Iasai stopped, looking straight ahead, listening. Aaron swallowed, then went on, quiet, “Thorn can't use the boy if he's…”

Iasai whirled and pinned Aaron with a cold, deadly glare, one finger stabbing into his chest. “Don't.” she whispered, her words ice. “Don't even dare to finish that thought, Aaron. If your cause needs a martyr, volunteer yourself. He will not be touched; by Thorn, or by you!” she finished, shouting.

Aaron pressed on. “He is as dangerous to us as Thorn, while he is here!”

Iasai pushed forward, and Aaron blanched at the violence in her eyes. “Not nearly as dangerous as I am! I promise you, Aaron, and consider this a sacrament: harm any part of that boy, in any way, and your cause will finally have blood spilt. Yours , Aaron!”

He swallowed hard. “You're…threatening me?”

“In a Banshee's heartbeat! Don't try to impress me with your ferocity and fearlessness. I know your kind, Aaron. The weak are an easy target. Thorn is too much for you. In that , you're both much alike.” Her words stung like razored daggers, and she was unrelenting. “But trust me, Aaron; if you think Thorn is the greatest threat you've ever encountered…you haven't imagined me as your mortal enemy.

“Think. Carefully!

Aaron flushed, angry and more than a little fearful. He started to speak, then looked deeply into her eyes and realized it might be the single biggest mistake he could ever make in his existence. He backed away, then turned and stalked fiercely off.

Iasai watched him go, then closed her eyes and sighed, letting the tension flow from her. It's all too much. Thorn, Aaron, that poor child…I am so alone against the world.

Her eyes were still closed, when suddenly another image filled her thoughts. A tall figure in a white cloak with a black cape, hooded, a walking staff in one hand. His face was bone white, with a red streak that ran from his forehead to beneath one eye, his face set in a permanent smile that his eyes made warm and wise and inviting. He was elegant, princely, and confident, and she watched him raise his hand to beckon to her, and unconsciously her lips parted into a shy, loving smile.

She sighed deeply, and opened her eyes, looking up into the slate gray sky. “Soon, my Darling,” she whispered. “Please come soon…”

 

When the three had returned to the house, Carpathian had sent Belle into the kitchen to help Haggatha prepare dinner. He headed upstairs, and though Kuzibah wanted to speak to him about his unusual behavior, he dismissed her curtly, hurting her feelings and causing her even more confusion. She followed Belle to the kitchen, as Carpathian raced to his study.

In the hallway, he passed Grim, who called out to him, "Cousin, I was wondering…"

Carpathian brushed passed. "Not now, Cousin," he said, and hurried into his room, shutting the door tight behind him.

Grim stared at Carpathian's door for a long moment, his eyes wide in astonishment. He had never known his Cousin to speak so abruptly before, and for a moment considered knocking and demanding an explanation. But, hesitating, he realized that Carpathian never did anything without a good reason, and he decided to wait until it was revealed in time. He turned and started down the stairs.

 

Inside his room, Carpathian hurried over to his antique desk. He reached into a small cubbyhole and withdrew a long, gold skeleton key. He bent low, to the lowest drawer, and slipped the key into the lock. It turned easily, and Carpathian laid it on the desk, opening the drawer with his free hand.

He reached inside and withdrew a small folded cloth. It was a multicolored scarf, rainbowed and silken. He held it in his hand a moment; then carefully placed it on the desk next to the key. He unwrapped the cloth, and laid it aside, revealing a plain black velvet box with tiny silver hinges. Slowly, deliberately, he opened the box.

To anyone watching, it would have seemed as if a small swarm of lightning bugs had entered the room, but these fireflies were dolled up in their Sunday best. They danced around the box, but instead of simple yellow lights, a prism of reds, greens, blues, purples, aquas, magenta, silvers, golds, and, yes, warm honey yellows flitted and floated and flirted around the spectre's gentle hands. Inside the box gave off a magnificent glow, and as Carpathian removed the small object nestled there the glow filled every dark corner of the room. He carefully laid the object on the desk next to the box and key, forming a triumvirate.




There lay a small, smooth pale stone, swimming with all the colors that even now sparked and escaped their imprisonment, dancing freely around their mineral home.

Carpathian watched the colors, watched the iridescent stone, and smiled sadly. In the distance, as though carried by the wind, he again heard the song sung by the lovely voice earlier.

"Grey eyes that grow sadder than sunset or rain;
Fond heart that is evermore true;
Firm faith that grows firmer for watching in vain;
She waits by the sliprails for you…"

A dreamy expression crossed his white features, and he remembered…

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tones, hues, shades of gray and gray and gray. The trees, the sky, the land, the ruins, and the beautiful creature standing before him…

"I have a present for you! Close your eyes!"

"What is it?" he asked.

"Close your eyes," she said, in a tone that brooked no argument. He did so. "Now hold out your hand…"

He smiled, and extended his hand out, palm down. She laughed sweetly and slapped his hand lightly and, laughing himself, he turned the hand over, palm up. He felt an object placed in its center, and shyly she said, "O. K. Open them."

He looked at his palm, and resting in it was a smooth, white stone. There was nothing fancy about it, yet the texture and richness of the white was extraordinary. "It's lovely. What is it?" he asked again.

"It's a Moonstone. A little piece of magic and moonlight."

"It's quite beautiful."

"It's even more beautiful. Concentrate on it with me, and watch!"

The two stared intently at the stone, and softly it began to glow, a deep, pure light. It radiated out in all directions, and around it danced smaller lights, flitting in the air before them.

"My goodness…!"

"It will glow like that whenever you think of me, or I of you. It will be a small reminder of…us."

He looked at her and smiled tenderly. "Thank you."

"It should be even more spectacular in your world. There you should see dozens of colors!"  

"We could see the colors now, if you wish. Let me show you…"

"No!" She almost shouted, and put her arms around him. She spoke again, less urgently. "No. The more you draw on your connection to your world, the less hold you have on this one. You might lose your station, and slip away, back to where you belong." She hugged him fiercely, burying her face in his shoulder so her words were muffled. “And I'm not ready to lose you; not quite yet."

He nuzzled her hair, chuckling. "You're not going to lose me; ever." He gently raised her head with his hand. "I'll always be right here," he said, touching her heart, then indicating his own. "And you'll always be here. And I'm only a short world away. Right next door! I'll be back with you before you know."

Her eyes were yearning, searching and wistful. "Promise?"

"I promise." He leaned against her, touching his forehead to hers and closing his eyes as she did the same. "If you ever need me, call me. I will hear. And I will come to you from wherever I am, to be with you."

She whispered, "I love you."

"And I will always love you, in this world or any other world; in this or any other time."

Her arms went around him again, and for a very long time they stood there like that, silent, lost in the glow of the moonstone and each other's hearts...

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

He blinked once, then again, and then looked down at the desk. The moonstone still shone with all its glorious spectrum. He closed his hand over it, dampening the light, and placed it in the folds of his robe. He picked up his staff and looked around the room once, checking to see everything in its place. Then another expression replaced the look of love and longing. It was a forbidding determination, one that would not be argued with or stood against.

He strode through the door, shutting it tightly and loudly behind him.

 

Grim was in the living room, and heard Carpathian hurry down the stairs. He glanced over as his Cousin approached at a breakneck speed. "Listen carefully," said Carpathian. "If for some reason I should not return, you must promise to care for the House."

Grim stared, shocked and bewildered. "Cousin..."

Carpathian cut him off, his words adamant and pleading. “Just promise me , Grim! I can't explain any more right now!"

For the second time that evening, Grim hesitated. Then he looked deeply into the spirit's eyes, and made a decision. He nodded and spoke slowly. "You…have my word, Cousin."

Carpathian smiled gratefully, and gripped Grim's hand. He spun and was out the front door, leaving Grim standing alone. He stood that way a long time, searching the questions pouring through his eternal mind. Then he sighed wearily, and carefully stepped into the dining room.

Haggatha and Belle were seated at the large table, Belle in Haggatha's lap, a Chinese Checkers game before them. Grim's wife Azrael was standing behind them, while Kuzibah occupied the seat across the table. All were smiling brightly, except for Kuzibah, who had her eyes on the table cloth, her mouth set in a somber line. Grim approached and sat in his customary spot at the head of the table.

Belle was speaking excitedly as she looked at her colored marbles. "And then this lady got up to sing. Kuzibah thought she was flat, but Carpathian said she wasn't. I couldn't tell."

"It sounds like you all had a lovely time," said Haggatha.

"Yeah, but we didn't go to the playground. We had to hurry back here."

"Was the bride beautiful?" asked Azrael.

"Brides are always beautiful," said Haggatha.

"Yeah," nodded Belle. "Hey! Why doesn't Carpathian get married?"

All laughed, except for Kuzibah. "You mean today?" asked Azrael.

Belle giggled. "No! I mean ever !"

"Well…," said Haggatha, "you should probably ask him . There has certainly been interest."

Grim nodded. "Cousin was always popular with the ladies."

"Well, why not?" asked Haggatha. "He's sweet and gentle and kind. He'd make a wonderful husband."

Azrael nodded. "Perhaps to someone special. Someday."

Kuzibah had been listening, an idea forming. She took a deep breath and asked. "Who's Iasai?"

The effect was immediate.

Grim sat up straighter. Haggatha inhaled sharply. Azrael's mouth dropped open, staying that way until she deliberately closed it. Only Belle continued to play with the game.

After a long moment, Grim spoke, hushed. "Where did you hear that name?"

"Carpathian said it. When we were in the church."

The other adults looked at each other, and Belle spoke up, oblivious to the apprehension around her. "Yeah. We were sitting there, and all of a sudden Carpathian started acting funny, and he said 'Iasai' , real soft and strange, and then we had to leave real fast. That's why we didn't go to the playground." She moved a red marble and looked up triumphantly.

Grim looked at the tabletop and nodded, speaking to himself. "That would explain much."

Kuzibah had been watching the others with a mixture of dread and exasperation. Now she said sharply, "Well? Who is it? What's going on? Is Carpathian in trouble?"

Grim considered for a moment that seemed endless to her. Everyone knew how devoted Kuzibah was to her mentor. Yet…

He looked at his wife, who nodded. "Go ahead. He wouldn't mind. I think Kuzibah should know." Haggatha murmured an agreement.

Grim looked at Kuzibah, took a deep breath, and began speak. "Iasai is an earth spirit, much like my Cousin. A very beautiful one. Funny, wise, caring…she is very much like Carpathian. She has a lovely singing voice. What he is to the word, she is to music. She met Cousin many, many years ago, far too many to count. They came to care for each other very deeply."

Grim hesitated. He knew of Kuzibah's affections for Carpathian, and didn't want to hurt her feelings. Still, he wanted to be honest, and tell her the entire story. "I think…of all the souls that he has touched…or those that have touched him…none have as strongly as she."

Belle was listening now, eyes wide. "Carpathian had a girlfriend ?!"

Haggatha chuckled. "Yes, Dear." She glanced as Kuzibah, who was not smiling. If anything, she looked more distressed than before.

"When was this? What happened?" She lowered her voice, realizing how she sounded. "Why aren't they together if she means so much to him?"

Azrael sighed. "Things were…complicated."

Grim leaned forward. "To understand you have to know the nature of spirits, understand what they truly are, including my Cousin. Spirits have very distinctive properties, depending on their genus. Many are creatures of the night, as are most we encounter. A few belong to the daylight. Fewer still, like Carpathian, are bound to the earth, instead of an hour, and are equally at home anytime."

He paused again. "But Iasai…Iasai was a spirit of the Twilight; that brief time between dusk and night, sunrise and dawn. Her entire world exists in that small span. In those moments she can join our world, and what will only be moments to us can be hours, weeks, even years to her."

"There is a legend," said Haggatha, "of a town in Scotland called Brigadoon. Each day the people go about their business, and each night they turn in to sleep after a full day. But that night lasts one hundred years ! The town disappears into the mist. And when the townspeople awake the next morning, only one night has passed…but the world has passed by a century…"

Grim nodded. "Because she is of the Twilight, she cannot cross over to our world easily. But Cousin could move between the worlds, and he went to her. For a long time they were quite happy." He leaned forward, and his words broke the hearts of the others, ever-so-slightly. "But because he was not from that place…because he was still part of this world…after a time, he would lose his hold there, and begin to slip. Any stray thought of home, any reminder of where he was from, and suddenly her world would start to melt and flow around him, until he was here again."

Belle whispered, "That's so sad," and Azrael stroked her hair.

Hushed, Kuzibah said, "Couldn't he have stayed there for good?"

"Not easily," said Haggatha. "And only by completely renouncing all traces of this world."

"And he wouldn't?"

"No. He had a house filled with spirits that needed him, and others scattered throughout the world that he cared for. It was too much to leave. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to never see him, and never know him."

"Me too!" said Belle.

"But twilight is twice a day! Couldn't they continue to see each other then?"

"You forget, for Carpathian it was only hours," said Azrael. "For Iasai, it could be years. To be separated from your love for so long, to live out your life while he has changed not at all…that was very, very hard on her."

"And Cousin knew," said Grim. He sighed. "They tried as best they could for a time. When the heartbreak became too much, they agreed to go their own ways. Both still very much in love with each other. I believe Cousin thinks of her more often than he would admit…"

"Still…" said Haggatha, "They loved each other, and for a time found great happiness. I don't think either would have changed that for the world."

Azrael shook her head. "No. And they remained loyal. Carpathian told her that if she ever needed him, all she would have to do is call, and he would be with her."

After a long moment, Kuzibah spoke. "And that's what she's done?"

Grim nodded again. "I would assume so."

"Why?" No one said anything, but Kuzibah watched their faces fall into shadows of doubt and concern. She leaned forward. "Because there's trouble?" Still no one answered. She spoke more urgently. "Is Carpathian in danger?"

Grim shook his head. "I don't know."

There was the longest silence of all, broken only by Kuzibah's whisper. "Is he coming back?"

Grim shrugged slightly. Azrael put her arms around Belle, who hugged her tightly, suddenly afraid. Haggatha stared at the tablecloth. No one answered Kuzibah, and even if they had, and young devil doubted she'd believe anything they said.

 

There was a hill outside of town, as tall as any in the area, which nestled the thick woods. Already the setting sun was drawing dark, angles shadows on the ground, and the sky's canvas was splashed with bright oranges, reds and yellows than ran like watercolor into deep hues of blue and gold and green and violet. Day was ending, and night was approaching.

Coming up the path, something else was approaching as well; a tall figure in white and black, a walking staff guiding his way over the rough ground.

When he reached the summit, Carpathian glanced around to make certain he was alone. Satisfied, he looked towards the sunset, nodded to himself, and reached into the folds of his robe.

The moonstone was glowing brightly now, the light streaming through the clenched fingers, its beams darting across the grass and weeds. The area around him seemed lit theatrically, as though several spotlights were focused solely on him.

All the world's a stage, and we are merely players…

The song came upon him suddenly, rising above the soft buzz of the crickets and other night dwellers. Sad, soft and simple, it went straight into the spectre's heart and beckoned him forward…

"The lonely young wife in her dreaming discerns
a lily-decked pool and a garden of ferns;
And the beautiful child with butterfly wings
Steps out to the edge of the water and sings;
'Come, Mama, Come; Quick follow me;
Step out on the leaves of the water lily…'"

The song seemed to excite the moonstone, and the colors began to burst around him like a mad aurora. Carpathian was looking around quickly now, searching for something just beyond his senses, and…

 


There!

The air was shimmering in the distance, and the colors seemed to flock to display like swallows returning home in the spring. The shimmering seemed to form a whirlpool effect, spinning deeper into itself, although it raised vertical above the ground.

In the center of the light pool, a woman's face appeared; dark-haired, pale-eyed, as beautiful and haunting as the voice that sang louder to him. Indeed, the voice came from the pool, and the woman. Carpathian stood transfixed for a moment, then permitted himself a broad smile of delight.

Quickly the smile faded as he began to concentrate. The light pool was spinning faster now; the colors of the moonstone leaping into it like ghostly salmon, and the stone itself seemed to want to pull free of the spirit's grasp and plunge ahead.

Careful, now! Almost…!

The daylight was fading, fading, down, down into dark blues and greens and grays and purples and deep rich blacks, and the shadows seemed to reach for the spectre, cupping him in phantom hands and drawing him in with nightshade arms. The pool was spinning, spinning faster, the moonstone colors bouncing around the vortex, caught in a cosmic undertow, and…

Twilight fell, an almost physical sensation of God's hand drawing down the window shade of evening, and quickly and surely Carpathian strode forward, stepped into the light pool, letting it carry him deep into the whirling colors…

 

…into the other side.

Into Twilight.

Into the arms of the slender, beautiful woman who pulled him closely to her, wrapping her arms around his ectoplasmic shoulders and burying her face into his chest, breathing deeply the scent of her Beloved.

He stood a moment, catching his breath, letting the last of his world's rip tide seep away, concentrating on the warm, inviting figure entwined around him. Then he put his arms around her and held her so tightly he swore he'd never release her, never tire, never relinquish his hold on this enchantress.

"You came…!" Iasai whispered. "I knew you would!"

 

 

"I promised." His words were hushed, filled with love and longing.

He pulled back, laughing. She took his face in her hands and began to kiss him, over and over, his eyes, his nose, his cheeks, his hair. "It is so good to see you again, to have you here with me!"

He couldn't contain himself, and joined her laughter. "Have I changed?"

"Never!" She shook her head. "You are a constant! Wise and strong and warm and so beautiful…" She stopped kissing him and hugged once more. "I've missed you. I've missed your voice and your laugh and your hands…" She looked up at him, "…and your stories !"

"They're all still the same. Except for the stories; I know a few new ones." He looked at her for a long time. "You are as wonderful as when I last saw you."

A dark expression came over her. "Things aren't so wonderful here now. I was so afraid to call you…"

"Why?"

"Because here you're in danger." He voice broke ever-so-slightly. "I would not have you harmed for the world; for the galaxy ! But I didn't know where else to turn."

He placed a hand on her shoulder. "We've been in danger before. No doubt we will be again. But don't you understand? There's no danger that could ever keep me from your side?" He began stroking her hair and face. "I'm so glad you called." She smiled and leaned up to kiss him again.

"I sensed …"

 

The two of them turned, startling. Thorn stood a short distance away, the boy by his side.

"My senses are rarely wrong," he continued. "I sensed a disturbance. I find a disturbance." He regarded Carpathian. "A stranger?"

Before he could answer, Iasai stepped towards Thorn, putting herself between Carpathian and the giant. "No, my Lord," she said, and her voice was calm and measured. "Not a stranger. A very old friend. A friend who does me the honor of his company."

"I sense no honor in his company," said Thorn. He continued to face Carpathian, and if he'd possessed eyes, they would have stared daggers through the white form.

He sighed. "You amuse me less all the time, Iasai. Am I supposed to believe his appearance now to be a coincidence?"

"I assure you, Most Glorious One, that is precisely what this is."

Carpathian stepped forward smoothly, head bowed slightly. "If I may be so bold as to interject, my Lord…"

He knows , thought Iasai. He's as clever as always…

"You have not been deigned to speak, spirit…" Thorn tone was mild, but he hadn't moved.

Carpathian spread his hands wide and bowed further. "No, of course not. I do most humbly beg the pardon of Your Glory. However, I would not have an injustice done to my fellow spirits because of my inopportune arrival.

"Iasai and I are acquaintances from a long, long time past. I am a Wanderer, my Lord, as your keen sense has already detected. My wanderings have brought me back to this place, and I thought I would spend a time or two with a dear one. I most profusely apologize if my presence here has come at a bad time and caused an inconvenience…"

Iasai held her breath. It was a remarkable speech, and Thorn seems completely taken aback. Carpathian remained bowed, awaiting Thorn's response, the perfect picture of quiet submission.

Thorn shook his head, as if emerging from a daze. "I would know your name, Wanderer…"

"Most certainly, my Lord. I am simply Carpathian." He straightened and turned to Iasai. "Iasai, I'm afraid you've left me at a disadvantage with His Glory. You had not told me of him."

Iasai gestured. "This is our Lord Thorn. He has ruled our domain firmly and wisely for some time."

Carpathian nodded slightly, and Iasai's heart leapt. He does understand! Oh, my Darling… He turned and bowed again. "The honor is entirely mine, Your Glory. I would do my utmost to please you while I am here…"

Thorn's tone cut like a keen blade. "The platitudes roll from your tongues like wearying rainfall. I am not simple, Little Spirit! Your friend exists at my whim. I know her hatred of me." He stepped forward, towering over them. " I care not. I know her desire to see me gone. I care not of that, either. I am not loved or honored. I am feared . Because I am strong. Because I am merciless. Because all who exist under me do so at my whim."

He raised a larger hand and pointed at them. "You both exist only at my whim. It is as changeable as the weather, and just as unpredictable. Do not presume to flatter me into complacency. Do not presume that your time is longer than what it amuses me to be." He lowered his hand, and his voice dropped with it. "Have I made myself understood, Little Spirit?"

Iasai's eyes flashed silent rage, but Carpathian continued as though nothing whatsoever were amiss. "Understood well, my Lord." He also lowered his voice, and the effect was again almost hypnotic. "Is it by your whim then, that I am…welcome?"

 

 

Thorn found himself leaning forward, almost against his will. He straightened again, and Iasai realized at once that Thorn's shell or arrogance had cracked, just a little. He was unnerved by the white spectre in front of him that spoke deferentially, with no sign of fear.

He thought a moment, then shrugged his heavy shoulders. " All are welcome, Spirit. This is a free land."

Carpathian bowed very low. "My thanks to you, Your Glory." Still bowing, he raised his head and looked beyond Thorn. Iasai looked also, and it took all of her control to avoid shouting and clapping her hands to her face.

Behind Thorn, the Boy had stepped forward. He still shuffled with the burden of despair, but he was now looking at the strange white creature before him. He watched the long elegant fingers gesture, he listened to the still, gentle voice, and most of all, he looked into the merry, dancing eyes and wondered about this figure so different from the others; the one individual in this grey, sad world that didn't seem afraid or anxious.

He wasn't smiling, but Iasai could see the curiosity there, and she could feel the electric pull of the stare the child was giving to Carpathian. Her heart was racing, and she forced back the glee threatening to burst through.

Carpathian also regarded the Boy. He stared at him for a long moment; then, without warning, he wriggled his nose and closed one eye in a sly wink.

The effect was immediate. The corners of the Boy's mouth turned up ever-so-slightly, and his eyes shone briefly with bright humor. In response, Carpathian tilted his head to the left and wriggled his nose again, a smile spreading over his skeletal features.

He reached out his hand, beckoning, and chuckled. "And am I to assume, My Lord, that this handsome young man is the Crown Prince?"

The movement was quick, violent, and unexpected. A large hand reached down and grabbed Carpathian by the shoulder of his robes. With little effort Thorn lifted the spirit into the air until he was dangling like a puppet with tangled strings. Thorn's voice rose to a grating roar, and he bellowed, "The Boy is nothing to you! You will not notice him! You will not speak to him!"

The Boy jumped back behind Thorn, his hands clasped to his ears, his eyes squinched tight, and his face again a mask of misery. Iasai gasped, feeling the terror rise within her.

Carpathian hung in space, and Thorn pulled him closer, taking a deep breath and speaking softer. "This is another of my whims. Disobey and your existence ends here and now!" The last was a rasping whisper, rusted iron against stone.

But Carpathian spoke, and his tone was so matter-of-fact that Iasai jumped and the Boy opened his eyes in surprise. "My Lord. My apologies again. I did not mean to offend. Of course your whims…are my command…"

Again Thorn was speechless. This spectre hung in his grip like a rag doll, yet his dignity, his manner, his soul was intact. He spoke as if it were the most common event in the world to be hoisted about by a mad giant, and the utter lack of concern pierced Thorn like a rapier.

He set Carpathian down roughly, and the spirit carefully arranged his robes. Thorn stepped back one, two, three steps, and he raised his hands, both index fingers pointed skyward and even with each other. As he did, traces of white firefly energies began to circle them, spinning and swirling in the air before him.

Iasai's mouth opened, and she shut it and her eyes quickly, saying a prayer to whatever gods might be listening. The Boy stepped back and covered his eyes, tears beginning to form. Carpathian simply stood still, his gaze never leaving the energy patterns at Thorn's fingers. As he watched, they began to circle faster.

Thorn's whisper was stone menace. "Little Spirit…you require a lesson in my…whims…"

A bolt of energy burst from the patterns, headed directly at Carpathian. Iasai let out a yelp and clapped her hands over her mouth. Carpathian stood stock still, unmoving.

And the energy bolt passed directly through him!

He had simply become transparent, as Iasai had done previously, but there was no ripple effect over his ectoplasmic form. He simply faded, and the bolt never touched him. He stood calmly as it exploded behind him, bursting into a bright flame and then disappearing, leaving only a charred mark on the ground.

 

 

Iasai was astonished; the Boy stared in amazement; but Thorn was absolutely frozen, his hands grasping at the empty air, the firefly traceries vanishing. His hands clasped into fists, and his arms shook in their rigidity.

Carpathian simply looked at the burnt patch behind him; then he turned back and stared at Thorn coolly. There were no further false courtesies; Carpathian's voice was chill as an Arctic Midnight, and harder than diamond.

"With all due respect and civility, Your Glory…that was utterly uncalled for…"

Thorn stood a silence longer; then he took the Boy's hand and strode away. The Boy had to run to keep up with him, but he went without hesitation, his eyes fixed on the ground.

After he had walks a few paces, Thorn stopped and turned back towards the two. "Little Spirit…we will meet again very soon."

Carpathian nodded. "My Lord…I believe that you may be most assured of that."

Thorn stared, then continued off, the Boy in tow. As they walked they slowly vanished, fading away into nothingness.

 

Iasai, wonder in her eyes, stepped over to Carpathian, who murmured, "The arrogance…"

"Are you all right?"

Carpathian turned to her. "Hmm? Oh…yes. I'm tingling slightly from that bolt. But I wasn't going to let him know that."

"You've mastered your skills. I cannot dissolve so thoroughly."

His eyes widened. "He's done that to you ?" He looked off in Thorn's direction, his voice like flint. "We'll see if that happens again…"

Iasai smiled and stepped closer to Carpathian, putting her head on his shoulder. "I'm fine. I was so frightened for you ."

"Does he hear us?" Carpathian asked suddenly, looking around.

"What?"

"Does he know what we're saying? Is there any point in being circumspect?"

"Not really."

"Good." Carpathian nodded, satisfied. "I prefer everything to be out in the open."

He began walking away. Iasai remained where she stood, looking at the ground. Carpathian turned back. "What is it, my Love?"

After a long moment, Iasai whispered, "I was wrong to bring you here."

"Why?"

"I love you more than my own existence, and now I've put you in terrible danger, and I'm so, so sorry."

Carpathian smiled and stepped towards her, reaching out and cupping her face with gentle hands. "If I am to be in danger, I would not be any place but beside you. If I were to risk my being for anything, it would not be for any more than you. You are this or any other world to me, and there is nothing I would not do, no risk I would not take, than for you."

She looked at him, then slowly smiled. She took his hand and kissed it, then reached up and kissed him tenderly, holding him. He ran his fingers down her hair; then his eyes grew serious and determined. "Come. We must talk…"

Iasai nodded, and the two of them walked off into the gray landscape.

 

Even in the Twilight World, there is a darkening time when spirits rest for another day's activities. To call it night would be misleading, for it is always shades of Twilight on this landscape. But for now, night will have to do, and as night crept along the gray, misty ground, Carpathian and Iasai sat close together, speaking in soft murmurs.

Those who knew the two specters would conclude that they were sharing whispered devotions of love and caring; and they would be right, in their own way, for the two sat inches apart, their hands and shoulders touching, and their eyes starred with affection for the other.

But Thorn had no thoughts of love and tenderness, and he would have concluded that the two were plotting his demise, and to overthrow his tenuous command of this realm.

He would have been correct, also.

For now, though, the conversation was on each other, and Iasai laid her head on her dearest's shoulder. "I'm so glad you are here."

"As glad as I am to be here."

'At times…at times I wasn't certain if you would hear me."

Carpathian slipped his arm around her. "I would always hear you. You are my one love. Long ago I promised I would always hear you. I heard your song, and I came as soon as I was able."

"I know." She buried her face in his robes and inhaled deeply, her next words muffled. "Thank you. But you might not have been able to cross over…"

Carpathian shook his head. "No, crossing over is the simple part. Staying is difficult. I have to keep concentrating so I don't slip into my homeworld." He chuckled, and held up one hand, clenched loosely. "But I had some help…"

He opened his hand, and nestled in the palm was the moonstone, its surface pale and milk-soft. Iasai's eyes went wide with delight. "You used my gift," she said shyly.

"It was very easy to concentrate on you, using it. It's tuned to you."

She shook her head. "It's tuned to us . Can you make it glow?"

In response, Carpathian looked down hard at the stone, his gaze unwavering. For a moment, nothing happened. Then a soft hum began to emanate from the mineral. It began to pulse and glow, the light coming from deep in the center of the stone. As Iasai watched the light grew brighter, until it was a ball of amorphous energy in Carpathian's hand. White tendrils began to shoot from it at odd angles, streaming out across the ground, lighting miniature paths through the gloom.

After a moment the hum began to fade, the light began to dim, and soon the stone was simply a beautiful gem sitting in the spectre's palm. "I wish you could see the colors. It was a literal rainbow when I crossed over. Perhaps, before I leave, I'll bring them here for you."

She put her head on his shoulder yet again, her voice mournful. "Please don't talk of leaving," she sighed. "Not now."

"As you wish."

Iasai sat up and laughed, shaking off her sadness. "How is everyone? Grim?"

"Very well."

"Is he as fierce as ever?"

"He likes to think he is."

Iasai laughed. "And Azrael?"

"Still running things with an iron hand in a velvet glove. They've taken on a young girl as apprentice. Her name is Belle; short for Belladonna, of course."

"Of course. And you? Have you an apprentice?"

"Not actually an apprentice. I have a student, a young devil named Kuzibah who assists me. She has a literary bent; she wants to be a writer. She's a bit derivative at times, but she'll come along, I'm sure."

Iasai hesitated, then spoke softly. "Are you still…alone?"

He smiled. "Hardly alone. I have a huge house filled with monsters, spirits, devils, eternals; creatures of every shape and size and hunger." He paused. "But…yes. I suppose so. Although their companionship mean so much to me. It's simply that…" He paused again, looking deep into her eyes, studying her loveliness; then he shook his head. "At times it's all I can do to get them to behave!"

Iasai laughed. "It seems like a full house."

"And you, my Love? Is your house as full?"

"Perhaps. I don't have a family as you do. More a committee. I'm asked for council and opinion. It would be nice if on occasion my words were heeded, but I can't do anything about that." Her expression grew darker now as she spoke. "Especially recently. Thorn rules through intimidation and punishment. He blights this place. In a way, he's achieved total victory; every thought is of him, every action is the direct result of his being, every conversation turns to him. This is his realm now, and we're worse for it. Everyone fears."

"You don't seem to."

She shook her head, smiling ruefully. "I hide it well. And I've always spoken my mind; you know that. I can't seem to change, even if it's to my detriment." She tossed her long hair carelessly. "Besides…I've existed for generations. I've seen suffering and sadness; death, disease and war. I've seen all that Darkness and Hell have to offer. Next to that, Thorn is a lightweight." Carpathian laughed, a bark of delight and admiration. She shrugged. "But it isn't easy."

"Are you in danger?"

"Probably. But I stay aware of how close to the line I can come. I've watched Thorn for a long time. I know when to speak loudly, and when to whisper." Her eyes were a treacherous shade of grey. "Besides…Thorn values my wisdom. You know the adage, "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer?" Thorn understands that all too well. If he were to destroy me, the others might finally be pushed into action."

"But they won't rise up now against him? Surely their numbers…"

"…mean nothing when discussing the individuals. They don't understand how strong they can be, but they know well how weak they are." Her voice dripped disappointment. "Revolution is the current trend for the season. There is always talk in the air. But that's all it is. And talk and more talk." She sighed. "If I was truly certain they would stand together; if I knew they would follow through after I was gone, I would confront him. But right now, I have other concerns."

Carpathian nodded. "The child."

"Yes. I won't leave him to Thorn's mercies."

"Tell me of him."

Iasai's voice filled with compassion, rage and sorrow. "He came some time ago. Without any warning. He simply appeared here. We sensed his presence immediately. His life force was so…vibrant. You could feel it as almost physical.

"He was terrified, unable to speak. Unable to remember his home world. A child thrust down a rabbit hole into a land far from wonderful. It broke my heart. I tried to speak to him, but he was closed up too tight. He wouldn't let anyone near."

Her eyes flashed. "Thorn found him soon after. Then no one could go near him. He's kept the Boy a prisoner, never far from his side from that day. He draws his powers from the child's life force, so much so he's almost invulnerable. Now, no one can reach the Boy. He's lost in a place where he does not belong, with a creature that cannot love him, but only wants to feed off him."

Her voice steeled, and Carpathian felt a chill in spite of himself. "I won't let him be lost, or suffer! Everyone implores me to think about our world. They preach rebellion and freedom. Well, until that child is free and home, the cause can go to Hell for all I care! I want him out of Thorn's grasp, and I want Thorn to choke on his own terror when it happens…!"

She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. When she spoke again, she was calmer. "But I couldn't. He's too afraid of Thorn to trust anyone." She suddenly threw her arms tightly around Carpathian, and hugged him ferociously. "And then I thought of my True One. I knew how you talked to children; how they loved you. And when he saw you, my heart leapt! He smiled at you! You reached him, if only for a moment. I knew, my Love. I knew you could save him!"

Carpathian hugged her a long time, then leaned away, his eyes and voice cold. "Tell me about our friend Thorn."

"A bully. A petty tyrant. Not stupid, though. Arrogant and ruthless, but not stupid. Don't underestimate him."

"Oh, I don't intend to. Did he rule before?"

"He tried. He was cruel and thoughtless, but he was always kept in check. He was the strongest, but with the others against him, he was cowed. Controled."

"Until the Boy came."

"Yes. After that, those that spoke against him ceased to exist. The others learned their lesson well, and quickly. Stay silent."

Carpathian was silent a long moment. Finally he said, "I think you're correct. Thorn is drawing power from the child. I felt his life force too. Quite powerful. He must come from a place of much love and warmth. I wonder how he arrived?"

Iasai shrugged. "An accident, I suppose. If he were brought deliberately, we would have sensed the spell. Perhaps he just…fell through a doorway."

"Yes…" Carpathian spoke softly. He straightened. "Still…once he is home, everything is solved."

Iasai clutched his robe. "Can we send him back?"

"Oh, yes. If he came, he can return."

"We don't know where he's from."

"We don't have to. He does." Carpathian tapped a finger against his forehead. "It's locked inside his memory. All we have to do is release it."

"You have a plan?"

"Yes." Carpathian hesitated. "But…"

Iasai nodded. "But?"

"There is danger. To you, my Darling, and this place. If I should fail, or if I should lose my hold on this place, I'll slip back into my own realm, leaving you and the Boy and whoever else might assist us to face Thorn by yourselves. I would not ask you to consider that lightly."

Iasai smiled and reached up, taking his face in her hands and caressing him. "My Love, I trust you as I trust no other. I would face one thousand dangers knowing you were by my side. I'm not afraid."

"Good. I'll be afraid enough for both of us."

 

She sat against him, her head on his shoulder. After a moment, she asked, "Do you still tell stories?"

"Of course."

"Tell me one…please?"

Carpathian closed his eyes a moment; then he smiled and began speaking in low tones.

 

 

"A long time ago, when all the creatures of the world were made, the Creator of All Things came to the animals and said, 'What colors would you choose to wear? You may pick any of the colors of the rainbow for your own.'

"The animals were overjoyed to hear this. The Cardinal said, 'I want to wear bright red; brighter than the sun.' And the Creator said, 'Very well. That is your color.' And the Cardinal was painted in the brightest red.

"The Tiger said, 'I want to be painted in dusty yellow with black stripes.' And the Creator said, Very well. That is your color.' And the Tiger was painted dusty yellow with black stripes.

"One by one, all the animals picked their colors. The Peacock picked blue and gold for its tail and feathers; the Horse picked fine hues of black and brown and red; the fish in the ocean, the birds in the sky, the beasts of the field… all picked their special colors, and they were as bright and varied as the rainbow itself.

"But the Jackal was watching, and he was a greedy creature. When he saw all the varied colors to choose from, and how splendid the others looked in their coats, he decided he wanted all the colors for himself. So when the Creator asked, 'What color would you choose to wear?' the Jackal, thinking himself very clever, said, "My Creator, you said we could choose any colors we want?'

"'That is true,' said the Creator. 'Then,' said the Jackal, 'I choose to have all the colors of the rainbow, every single one , to wear for my coat.'

The Creator said, 'Are you certain, you greedy creature?'

"'Yes!' cried the Jackal. And the Creator laughed and said, 'Very well. You have chosen all the colors, and that is what you shall wear!'

" But …when you mix all the colors of the rainbow together, all you have in the end is a very dirty, muddy gray . So that is the color the Jackal received. And because of his greed, that is the color the Jackals of each generation have worn to this very day!"

 

Iasai giggled. "And the story's moral?"

"The Jackals of the world will always outsmart themselves with their own weaknesses." Iasai laughed louder. "Now, my Love… your turn. Sing me one of your stories…"

Iasai snuggled deeper against Carpathian, and quietly began to sing, the same lovely alto that had breached the barriers of the two worlds and called to her spectre.

'My young love said to me, 'My Father won't mind;
And my Mother won't chide you for your lack of kind…'
Then she stepped over to me, and this she did say;
'It will not be long, Love, 'til our wedding day…'

 

The days in Twilight, which normal pass silently, were silent no longer.

Now there were furtive whispers, subtle gestures, anxious meetings, portent looks crossing between nervous strangers...these were the sounds marking time on the pale landscape, buzzing through the empty corridors and shadowed courtyards.

In one such courtyard a covert band of spectres stood in a circle, listening to urgent, whispered debate between two who stood center. Aaron glared at Iasai, who faced him squarely, as she had several times before. The group was clustered loosely around him, while Carpathian stood silently at his Beloved's side, listening.

"Why now?" demanded Aaron.

"Why not now?" countered Iasai. "If not now, when?"

"When we're stronger."

"We'll never be stronger than now! When the Child is freed..."

" If the child is freed..."

Carpathian spoke for the first time. "The Child will be free. I guarantee it."

Aaron turned to face him, annoyance deepening across his features. "I don't know you, or your guarantees..."

Iasai stepped in front of him, nose to nose, her voice and face set in granite. "But you know me. And I tell you can trust his word."

Aaron smiled sarcastically. "I'd be betting my life on it, wouldn't I?"

"Yes, and there are probably things far more certain to bet your existence on." Carpathian stepped to the center of the circle, facing Aaron, and all attention was turned to him. He spoke again, gently. "But Aaron, you will have to bet on it. Sooner or later, you'll have to decide that it's time. You've had enough. That time may as well be now."

Aaron tried to meet Carpathian's stare, but couldn't. His eyes dropped to the ground, and when he looked up again there was an agonized pleading behind his anger. "It's dangerous..."

"Of course it's dangerous. Living is dangerous. Living freely even more so." He smiled and shook his head. "I don't know how you conceived the idea that you can have rebellion without risk, but you're wrong. Risk is involved in every step of the way, not the least in the final ones, where you must decide if it has been worth it."

The others were listening intently; Iasai with a shy, proud smile on her lips. "Loosing an order is easy; building a new one is hard. I believe that's what men of vision fear most: not that they'll fail, but that they may succeed . It's an honest fear, Aaron. I understand how that may stay your hand." Aaron turned away again, but snapped back quickly as Carpathian approached and stood inches from him, his voice dropping to a murmur.

"But it's time to swallow that fear. Caution will not help us now. Only action. And we're about to take action. I believe you're up to it." He nodded. "Iasai has told me of your passion. Now it's time to show us your courage."

Aaron's eyes flared briefly, his old self returning. "I'm not a coward."

"No...I never thought you were."

Another voice spoke. "I'm ready." Aaron turned, startled by the small spectre at his right shoulder. "I'm with them, Aaron. I've had enough of living under Thorn's boot."

Aaron reached out and grabbed the spirit by his shoulders, his words an urgent hiss. "We could lose everything...!"

The spectre returned his gaze calmly and shook himself loose. "Better that than to live in fear." The others were speaking softly, words of agreement. Aaron spun and took them all in, astonished by the determination in their soft, gray eyes. After a long moment, Iasai stepped over to him and placed her hand on his shoulder. Her tone was kind, but there was an element of finality, and Aaron knew his arguments were lost for good.

"We want you with us, Aaron. The choice is yours, and we want you with us. But whatever your decision, for us, the time is now, and we are taking it. We want you by our side, but with us or not, we are taking it. And if you cannot join us, Aaron...then don't hinder us. Don't hold us back. And above all else...don't get in our way."

There were more murmurs, and Carpathian was nodding his head. Aaron stood silently a moment, longer, and realized there was nothing left to say. He closed his eyes, squared his shoulders, and took a long, deep, ragged breath.

 

Thorn sat brooding on his throne, the Boy sitting silently beside him.

The whispers that were running rampant through the Twilight had not escaped his notice. Of course, there were always whispers; that was the price one paid for being a ruler. But these were different. And although he was far too arrogant to feel fear, far too confident in his cruel brutality, Thorn did feel...concern.

It was clear that the sudden activity was the direct result of the treacherous Iasai bringing the strange spectre. No doubt the populace had decided that a savior was in their midst.

Thorn chuckled darkly. The little spirit was no savior. True, he would admit the spectre was clever, and somewhat skilled. But the stranger's powers would never match his own. If the whispers continued they would be dealt with, and the source of this new beacon of hope would be extinguished with little effort, along with his treacherous companion Iasai, whose usefulness was fast wearing thin. Of that, Thorn had no doubt.

Still...if he possessed any foresight, or any true ability of self-examination, Thorn would have concluded that he felt...troubled. Something was not as it should be. Alien doubts were tapping at the windows of Thorn's omnipotence, and he was unfamiliar with these strange sensations.

He looked down at the Boy next to him. He sat as he always did; head bowed, eyes downcast, shoulders slumped. Thorn sighed.

Sometimes being a supreme power is hardly worth the effort.

"Iasai believes me cruel to you. I don't understand." The Boy said nothing. "I allow you to remain with me. I do not abuse you. Still you fear me."

The Boy's feet tapped out a sudden, nervous rhythm on the ground. Thorn shook his head. "Your silence mocks me. Have I been too lenient?" A cold pulse of fury flared inside him, and Thorn's voice became coldly quiet.

"Perhaps I should give you a reason to fear me..."

And then, as expected, almost on schedule, what Thorn had been waiting for obliged him.

A crowd of spectres, all silent, moved across the landscape towards him. Aaron led the way, and all had the tiredly determined expressions that Thorn found both amusing and wearying. He smiled inwardly, pleased at this latest distraction, then turned back to the Boy. "Did you sense them too, Small One?"

The Boy didn't look up as the mob came to stop several feet from Thorn's throne. Thorn leaned back comfortably and regarded them. They didn't speak, waiting for his reaction, and in turn he said nothing for a long while, letting their nervousness grow more prevalent.

Finally, he said calmly, "You have not been summoned."

Aaron spoke, and Thorn was impressed that he managed to get the words our without his voice quavering too terribly. "We ask for no audience. We do not require one. We are free spirits; we go and do as we wish."

"Aaron, you've found your voice at last. Excellent. Your whispers were growing wearisome."

Aaron took a deep breath, and Thorn frowned to himself as the spirit stepped forward closer, drawing up on reserves of courage Thorn had not known he possessed. "I speak for those who cannot. For those silenced by your tyranny. For those banished to distant, empty planes. For those gone; tortured into non-existence by your hand. No more, Thorn."

The others had begun muttering to themselves; murmurs of assent as Aaron spoke. Now another spirit stepped forward. "You restrict our speech and crush those who would disagree with you. No more!" The crowd grew louder, and a female stepped up.


"You toy with us like wind-up amusements, then cause pain when you become bored. No more!"

The others were beginning to chant softly: "No more! No more!"

Time to put an end to this. Thorn's whisper cut through the others' voices. "All of you will also be no more."

To Thorn's astonishment, the spirits voices grew louder, and Aaron actually took another few steps towards him - towards him! - and began shouting. "We're not afraid of you! You can do nothing but kill us, and then we'll be free of you! No more, Thorn! No more!" The others picked up their cries of "No more! No more!" and began to advance.

 

Thorn had been searching the area, trying to sense the presence of his enemies. There was a smother spell cast, making their exact location difficult to determine. He'd had enough, and rose to his feet, starting into the crowd with fists clenched, traces of white energy circling the air around him.

"Where is your beloved Iasai?!" he roared. "Where is her stranger?!"

The spirits paid no heed to his cries but circled the monarch, pressing as close as the energy traces would allow, shouting as loudly as possible. The Boy sat back, watching the angry crowd, his back pressed against the throne.

Thorn turned one way, then the other, fury overtaking him and dulling his senses. This, along with the shouting and the mass, angry psyche swirling about him, plus his channeling over the killing energies, made it difficult to concentrate.

So when Carpathian and Iasai appeared out of the air beside the throne and the Boy, Thorn barely sensed them. He was too busy fighting his temper and the emotional buffeting around him. The Boy startled at their arrival, eyes wide. He almost cried out, but both held their fingers to their lips, imploring silence.

Carpathian was speaking low and as quickly as possible. "Repeat after me, my young friend: 'He thrusts his fists against the post and still insists he sees the ghost!'"

Iasai was trying to smooth the Child's hair; she was touching his arm, trying to keep him calm. "It's a game, you see. We won't hurt you. We want to help. But you have to say it."

Thorn was raging now, backhanding and battering any spirit that pressed within reach. Gathering their bravery, whenever one spirit crumpled, another would step forward to take his place, and the shouts grew even louder. Thorn bellowed in fury.

"It's a very good game," said Carpathian. "It's a game to take you home. You must say it, now! 'He thrusts his fists against the post and still insists he sees the ghost!'"

Something was tickling the back of Thorns consciousness. Something under the din was warning him that his time was growing sort, and he stood still in the chaos, trying to listen further.

"Please won't you say it?" whispered Iasai. "Please say it for us. 'He thrusts his fists against the post and still insists he sees the ghost!' Say it with us, and everything will be all right. Please?"

The Boy looked from one to the other, licked his lips, and carefully began: "He thrusts...his fists...against...the post...and...and..."

"' ...and still insists he sees the ghost!' Excellent my young friend!" said Carpathian.


"and...still...insists he sees...the ghost..."

"Again, please! Say it again, and think only of those words..."

The warning whispers were growing louder, and with a sudden slam of realization Thorn felt Carpathian's calm authority very close by. He turned back towards his throne.

"He thrusts his fists...against the post and...still insists he sees the...ghost..."

"Wonderful!" cried Iasai. "Say it again. Say it over and over. 'He thrusts his fists...'"

"...against the post and still..."

"...insists he sees the ghost..." Carpathian repeated the words with Iasai and the Boy. As he did, he reached out and took Iasai's hand, and the two of them wrapped their arms around the Boy.

Thorn stared at the three by the throne, and his anger and rage was replaced by a new sensation, one which he did not recognize.

Were he more humble, he would have felt the first growing strains of panic.

He pushed his way back through the crowd of spirits, leaving crumpled bodies in his wake, his energies flaring wildly and carelessly. He had nearly broken through the pack when Aaron stepped in front of him, wrapping his long, strong arms around the tyrant.

"He thrusts his fists against the post and still insists he sees the ghost he thrusts his fists against the post and still insists he sees the ghost he thrusts his fist against the post..."

Thorn brought his glowing fists down full on Aaron's shoulders and pummeled him to the ground. He strode over to the enemy at his throne, with their arms wrapped around the Boy, His Boy, and as he raised both hands, white with blinding energy cascading from his fingers, a soft white glow began to permeate the trio, and a gentle fog seemed to envelope them. It wrapped its tendrils protectively about them, and as Thorn brought both beams of energy to bear...

...they were gone. They drifted into nothingness as silently as departing mist in a summer sun.

Behind him, the chanting still continued, weaker and wounded, but still sounding defiantly. Thorn's energy burned into the empty ground where the three had been a moment before, and as the smoke cleared Thorn stood, trembling and seething over the bare, scarred ground.

 

In a particularly desolate spot of Twilight, landscaped sparsely by a crop of bare, twisted trees, a soft glow began to form from out of empty air. It grew into three separate shapes, and as the light faded Carpathian, Iasai, and the Boy stood quietly, the only sound the wind rustling in the trees' branches.

Carpathian looked around quickly, then nodded, satisfied. " Very good. Very good indeed."

Iasai stepped over to him, the child clinging tightly to her. "We haven't much time…" she murmured.

Carpathian smiled and patted her shoulder. "All the time in the world, my Love. Plenty of time to talk to our young friend." He ran his hand over the Boy's hair, and the Boy jumped and flinched, looking around wildly.

"Thorn…" he whispered, terror filling his eyes.

Carpathian's hand returned to the child's hair and remained, his fingers gentling tousling the curls. "What of him?"

"He'll hurt us…!"

Iasai dropped to her knees and put her arms around the Boy, feeling his shoulders stiffen. "No…no, he won't. We won't let him."

Carpathian bent down and smiled. "You're quite safe, Young Sir. We are far from Thorn, and because of your cleverness, he will not be able to find us."

The Boy looked at Iasai, puzzled. "The rhyme," she said. "Those words you spoke over and over again. They covered our tracks."

She could feel him relax, just a little, in her embrace. His voice was steadier as he said, "But he always hurts. He knows everything , and he always finds, and he always hurts…"

"Not anymore," said Carpathian, and slowly the child looked up into the kind, pale face. "Shall I tell you what Mr. Thorn is to me? Thunder. Loud and frightening, but with no substance at all!" He leaned down close to the Boy and whispered, "My friend Iasai and I; we're Lightning . We're not as loud, but we can knock Mr. Thorn for a loop that he can't even imagine! Perhaps," he said casually, standing up and looking off into the distance, "perhaps when we're through here, we shall form a circus, and we'll let Mr. Thorn be our elephant, we'll ride him around the ring and make him do tricks for us! He's certainly big enough, and probably smart enough, although I'm really not sure…"

The Boy's eyes had been growing wide as Carpathian spoke, and on this last he let out an involuntary giggle, excited and surprising, even to himself. Carpathian turned back to him and winked. "You think that's funny, hmmmm?"

The Boy was grinning now. "Yeah."

"Look at you!" said Iasai. "Such a handsome smile!"

"He'll smile more very soon," said Carpathian. "Once he's home again, he'll be smiling all the time."

The smile left the Boy's face like a candle flame being snuffed. He looked at the ground, and after a moment said, "I can't go home."

"Why not? Are you a master criminal being hunted by the Secret Police?"

Again the Boy laughed suddenly, but this time he quieted immediately. He shook his head. "I don't remember."

"You don't remember how to get home?"

The Boy's eyes were tearing up. "I don't remember my home."

"Nonsense," said Carpathian firmly.

The Boy started to cry, and looked up at him. "I don't …"

Carpathian stepped back and sat on an old fallen trunk. He beckoned to the Boy and, hesitant, the Boy started over to him, Iasai following.

"Listen to me," said Carpathian. "Do you want to go home more than anything else in the world?" The Boy nodded. "Why?"

The Boy looked surprised. He looked at the spectre, then at Iasai, then finally the ground and shrugged. Carpathian leaned in. "Because you love it?" The Boy nodded again. "More than any other place you know? You love your mother, and your father, and sisters and brothers more than anything?"

"I don't have a brother," the Boy said, and Iasai's hand flew to her mouth, smothering the exclamation trying to escape. A split second later the Boy looked up at Carpathian, eyes and mouth open wide. "HEY!"

Only Carpathian continued to sit calmly. He smiled. "You see? Nothing loved that much is ever lost for good. Sometimes we just misplace it for a moment, and need help finding it again."

The excitement on the Boy's face dimmed, and tears formed again. "But I don't remember my name, or my Mom's name, or where I live…"

Carpathian held up his hand and shook his head vigorously. "No! Those aren't memories! Those are just words! Memories are sights, sounds, smells! The smell of your favorite breakfast as your mother cooks it for you. The sound of the insects outside your window on a warm summer night. And colors …! Colors as bright as your eyes can stand!"


He looked around at the bleak landscape and sighed. "Of course you can't remember here. There's nothing to remind you." He turned back to the Boy and held out his hand. "Why don't we get a little help?"

The Boy looked, and Iasai smiled. Nestled in Carpathian's palm was the Moonstone, soft pale white against the stark white of his hand.

The Boy looked up, intrigued in spite of himself. "What is it?"

"A gift. From a beautiful lady." He winked at Iasai, who blushed grey. Carpathian motioned for the Boy to sit, and as the child moved beside him, he whispered, "Now… watch …!"

For a moment nothing happened. Then the stone began to glow as before, with a pale halo. The Boy leaned back into Iasai, fearful. She wrapped her arms around him and whispered, "It's all right. It's another game. Watch what it can do."

Carpathian nodded to the stone. "Now. Do you like watching the sunsets at your home?" After a second the Boy nodded. "Do you remember the colors of the sunsets?" Again the Boy nodded.

Carpathian's eyes narrowed in concentration. "Are they yellow? Like this?"

Then, in the cold light of that dismal arena of grey, the stone began to glow with a warm, soft yellow light. It reflected of the expressions of wonder gathered around it. The glow began to grow brighter under Carpathian's stare, and misty tendrils of yellow embers flew off in disparate directions. The Boy watched, wide-eyed.

"And as it sets?" continued Carpathian. "Does it glow with a bright red that lights up the whole sky?"

And now the color red was mixing and swirling around the yellow. It shot off in firework sparks that arched into the air around them. The Boy began to laugh, and even Iasai, although she had seen the colors before, sat transfixed by the display.

Carpathian waved his fingers over the stone. "And, of course, as the sun sets further, the sky turns a deep blue, with some purple on the horizon."

And blue and purple arcs shot from the stone, flying over the Boy's head, leaving vapor trails of energy that fell around them as a multicolored blizzard, settling onto the ground and bursting brightly and silently into other myriad colors. The tendrils fired off in all directions, some colliding with each other, and when this happened they exploded into waterfall tracings of their primary colors, lighting up the arena even brighter.

Carpathian spoke again. "But it's even better after a rain storm. Because then…when the light is just right …you have…a rainbow …!"

And the stone's energies burst wide, sending whistling rainbow hues across the three, cool and downy soft as feather lint, shooting high, pouring down, the multicolored fireflies dancing around their heads and hands and shoulders and eyes: red, blue, green, aqua, maroon, gold, sea green, emerald, violet, orange, tan, burgundy, rose, sepia, asphalt, denim, turquoise; colors that ran and ran and multiplied more.

If the Twilight world celebrated the Fourth of July, any firework display would pale to the magic fountains of luminosity leaping from Carpathian's bone-white hand. The Boy stared deeper and deeper into the colors, and the fear that had been such a huge part of him melted like a stubborn frost in a hot August sun. He was free, and Iasai felt his shoulders leaning forward, hunched in wonder and excitement instead of terror, and her eyes were damp from the joy bursting inside.

The Boy was reaching out, letting the rainbow fireworks dance through his fingers. Carpathian watched him and casually, too casually, he spoke. "When you watch the rainbow after it rains…when the ground smells of sweet grass and the air is clear…what does your mother say to you?"

Seeing only the colors before him, the Boy answered without any thought. "She says, 'Peter, make sure your sister doesn't get her feet wet. Don't let her go splashing through those puddles.'"

Iasai pushed her hand into her mouth to muffle her cries, and her tears flowed freely. She grasped the sleeve of Carpathian's robe, but he only smiled and nodded, closing his eyes.

The Boy continued talking, still unaware of what he was saying. "'And if it starts to rain again, bring her in…'" His mouth dropped open and stayed, and his sight was suddenly focused inward. His lips moved a few times without sound, until finally he shouted in a voice that belied his size.

"HEY! Hey! I'm Peter! My name is Peter! "

"A fine name, Young Sir." Carpathian's eyes were still closed tight, and a confident, knowing smile spread across his features. Behind Peter, the air began to shimmer in a rainbow pattern much like the doorway Carpathian opened to enter the Twilight Realm.

The Boy was bouncing up and down, and it was hard for Iasai to hold on to him. "My name is Peter! And my sister's name is Becca! She's four! And we live in the old farmhouse on Wiccan Road !"

Iasai leaned forward and kissed him gently on the cheek. "Goodbye, Peter," she murmured. Behind them the whirlpool doorway was opening wider, and Peter had begun to glow a soft Saint Elmo's Fire.

"Mom works in town most days, but on Thursdays she stays home with us!" Peter's voice now had an odd echo to it, as if listening inside an auditorium. As he continued to speak, the colors embraced him, filling in his features while the soft pastels were erasing them. He grew transparent, and then wavered like morning fog. "Sometimes we'll go out to the fields and watch the horses runnn …" His voice faded with the rest of him, and the whirlpool gathered the mist that had once been a small Boy and carried it deep into its orbit, washing away down a phantom storm drain.

And then…Peter was gone, and the two spirits sat alone.

 

Iasai threw her arms around her Beloved, smothering him with kisses. "You did it! Oh, my Love! I knew you could do it…"

She stopped speaking as she felt Carpathian slump against her. His head came to rest on her shoulder, and she struggled to keep him from slipping to the ground. He raised a trembling hand and placed it on her arm, holding as tight as his grip would allow. " We …did it…my Dearest…"

"What's wrong?" Iasai cried. "Are you all right?"

Carpathian's breathing was labored. "I'm…tired…trying to concentrate…"

Iasai gasped as she saw the Saint Elmo's light dance across Carpathian's features. She locked her arms around him and rocked him, burying her face in his cloak. "No… no …not yet…"

"No," nodded Carpathian. "Not yet. I'm losing…my hold on this world. Hang…on to…me. Tightly. Don't let me slip…away…not yet. There's still…much to do…" His voice was sounding stronger and steadier, and his shivering slowly calmed.

Then there was a brilliant beacon of light, and Thorn stood among them, with several other spectres following close behind. In his clenched hands he held the battered, beaten form of Aaron.

"Clever things," hissed the giant. He tossed Aaron's body towards them. It landed hard, and a groan escaped him. Instantly they were at his side, and Iasai cradled him in her arms. The other specters winced and turned away, and Carpathian noted briefly they too were battered and abused.

Thorn continued. "Very clever…using a mnemonic loop to cover your escape. I had some difficulty tracking you. But your small talents do not compare to mine."

Aaron smiled up at them. He spoke so softly that they had to lean in to catch each word. "I…did not…betray you. He…found you on…his own. I...was… strong… " He closed his eyes, and Iasai kissed him, weeping.

"Of course you were," she said. "You are as strong and courageous as a man of vision can be."

Aaron sighed deeply, and was still. His body began to fade, until it was one with the mist drifting across the grey soil. Iasai covered her face with her hands and began to sob.

Carpathian looked at the place where Aaron had been; then he turned his face to Thorn, and in shock the giant took an involuntary step backward. There was a terrible fire in the spectre's eyes that belied the calm voice speaking. But the words were hard and deadly as the poised blade of an executioner.

"No, Thorn. We do not compare. I do not abuse my fellows, or bully a small child. I do not exercise my over-developed ego through tyranny, nor compensate for my insignificance with brutality. In truth, you aren't anywhere near my equal, so do not insult me by equating your pathetic, meager abilities with my own."

Iasai stopped crying, and was looking at him, as were every other spectre. Where just a moment ago despair hung in the air, Carpathian's words cut through the misery with surgical precision, and hope was very much present again.

Thorn drew in his breath slowly, and with a mixture of astonishment and fury, whispered, "Little Spirit, I will tear you limb from limb with my own hands…"

Carpathian rose to his feet, his eyes never leaving Thorn's face, and after a moment Iasai stood beside him. "I think not. You're a joke , Thorn, and the punchline is well overdue. And my name is Carpathian... I suggest you remember it, and speak it with respect; it's the name of the one about to crush you…!"

Iasai spat through gritted teeth. "Don't go away mad, Thorn; just go away. Forever."

Thorn words climbed to a dull roar. "You cannot imagine the pain I will inflict on your beings…" And before he could go on, incredibly, Carpathian stepped forward; palm raised.

"Enough!" The single word hammered Thorn, and he fell silent. Once again that odd sensation gripped him, and although he didn't recognize fear, it held Thorn in its icy embrace. "Save your words. You tire me. The child is returned to his home, safe and happy. You will never find him."

Thorn glanced around, reaching out with his mind to detect the Boy's presence and dispel the spirit's lies. When he found no trace of the child, the cold feeling increased, and the damned creature in the white cloak continued. "Your power is gone, and your threats are no more than worthless pittance. You have nothing more for us. But I …I have something for you …"

All the specters gathered watched Carpathian in fascination as he held up his other hand clenched tightly in a fist. Thorn took another step back, his hands up and ready to defend himself.

Carpathian smiled a humorless grin and spoke with finality. "A proper honor. A gift worthy of your rule. A true token for the great and mighty Thorn." He bent over; his eyes still fixed on Thorn, and lowered his fist to the ground. "To your glory …from myself. A final tribute… !"

He opened his hand, and a small object rolled from it, skittering across the rocky ground, rolling to a stop before Thorn, ready to leap away from the mysterious trinket. He stood over, looking down in disbelief.

There, on the ground before him, lay the Moonstone, pale and silent.

The tension broke, and Thorn, who had been prepared for almost any kind of attack save this, began to laugh. A stone! His laughter grew, and he almost had to hold his sides contain it. A stone! What harm can a stone do a giant?!

For Thorn had lived his entire existence in the world of Twilight, and had never heard the tale of David and Goliath…

But Carpathian stood rigid at the giant's laughter, and closed his eyes, concentrating. After a moment, Iasai followed, and all the other specters began to collect themselves behind the two.

Thorn was still laughing at Carpathian's foolishness. Then he glanced down at the Moonstone again, and the laughter choked in his throat.


The stone was beginning to glow, and once again the rainbow colors swirled in a mystic whirlpool on the ground before the tyrant.

Thorn stared, hypnotized by the depth of the colors, colors he had only heard about before this, colors that flashed and mirrored and bathed him in visual splendor. Carpathian and Iasai reached for each other and grasped each other's hands.

The whirlpool was swirling faster now, and colored tendrils were firing off like errant skyrockets, colliding in the air before Thorn and leaving firefly ash to drift earthward. For his final moments Thorn stood engaged by the wondrous display.

And then, with a horrible shriek of grinding metal, a colored tendril of light fired from the whirlpool. It struck Thorn's wrist like the cord of a whip, wrapping tightly around it in a steel grip. Thorn roared in surprise and tried to pull away, but the tendril held fast.

Now there was another beam whipping from the colors, this time lashing firmly around Thorn's throat. He bellowed and tried to pull himself free as yet another tendril reared up like the arm of a hungry octopus, wrapping around Thorn's waist.

Thorn twisted about, shouting and trying to raise his free fist as tendril after tendril wrapped itself around his arm, his other wrist, his legs, and his face. He fought hard as they lassoed and clutched fiercely, keeping him prisoner against his threats and curses.

Behind Carpathian and Iasai, spectre after spectre were taking each others' hands, closing their eyes and concentrating, joining their forces against Thorn's tirade, as the whirlpool now began to move faster, circling and emptying away.

The tendrils whipped out, snapping into place, and Thorn was cocooned in a rainbow of light and fury. His cries were now simple animal sounds of hatred and anger and blind, growing panic. He stretched out useless fingers against his enemies, and more energy lashes wrapped around each, snaking close to each other and reinforcing their hold. There were joined in a plasma mass of living light, an electric Venus Flytrap with Thorn securely in the center, and as they drew in on themselves he no longer threatened, no longer cursed, no longer raged; he simply screamed in terror.

The whirlpool continued to widen, and in the center could be seen an ink-black darkness; cold and inhospitable. With a firm tug and purpose the energy began to draw Thorn down towards the blackness, and Thorn screamed one final time as he recognized his approaching exile.

The whirlpool spun faster and had begun to emit a roar of its own, like a hungry dragon preparing to feed. Firespark energies were spinning out of sight. With the snapping of ectoplasmic muscle and bone, Thorn was slowly, inexorably pulled into the light pool, his form bending and stretching to it like newsprint on Silly Putty. The tendrils tightened a last time, and with the rushing sound of a river emptying into the ocean the whirlpool spiraled in on itself, taking Thorn and all the remaining energies with it.

There was an echoing cry from Thorn; the energies drew into a sphere of light brighter than a star, and then it disappeared into itself. There was silence, and where the giant had stood a pale stone now lay on the ground, surrounded by wondering, watching spirits.

Iasai opened her eyes and threw herself into Carpathian's arms, laughing in triumph. After a shocked moment the other specters joined in, growing louder as the realization dawned that the reign of Thorn the Merciless had come to an abrupt end.

But Carpathian slumped to the ground, and the Saint Elmo's Fire again burned along his robe. He put his arms around Iasai as the cries of exhilaration turned to shouts of alarm. The specters crowded around him as he slid into her embrace.

"I'm…slipping free, my Love…"

Her eyes went wide. "No! So soon?"

"We…knew…the risk…my Darling…"

She nuzzled her face against his hair, feeling it grow lighter against her. "You saved us," she said, sobbing once more. "You saved us all. Peter, and our world…"

"Thorn…should not return. He…should…not find his way…back from the void. But…you must…stay strong. Heal this world. You…know the…way…"

"I can never thank you, my Darling. Never!"

He laughed, and it echoed oddly in the grey morning air. "I would do anything for you, my own Love. We…will see each other…again…I promise. And…if you ever need me…"

She finished his thought. "I'll call you, and you'll hear me, and you'll come to me…"

"…From wherever I am…however far…to be here with you…"

He was fading from sight now, and Iasai could no more hold him than she could cradle smoke. She cried out, "I will always love you! In this or any other world…"

"…In this or any other time…"

"Goodbye, my Dearest!" Iasai bent to kiss him, and he was gone. She felt the tears flowing down her beautiful face; she felt the touch of her fellow specters trying to comfort her, and she felt her Beloved slip away from her world into the next; and then she felt her loss, and cried all the more.

 

Carpathian opened his eyes, and he was looking at the night sky above the trees surrounding him. The stars shone down and the air was crisp and clear. He could see, almost subliminally, the myriad colors that make up the evening and he knew immediately that he was home. He felt his heart ache, and he closed his eyes against the hurt.

After a moment he opened them again, and climbed to his feet. His body ached from the transitition and the battle, but he was otherwise intact. He used his staff to steady himself until he felt stronger, and then looked around at the world.

The sun was just disappearing on the horizon. In truth, perhaps as little as ten or twenty minutes had passed from when he had first left his world to travel into the Twilight. He watched as a sliver of color haloed the hills beyond, and marveled at its brilliance. He thought of Peter, and hoped he was watching a similar sunset on his world, wrapped in the arms of his family.

Then he thought of his own Beloved, and for a moment the sorrow seemed too much to bear. He took a deep breath and sighed, then shook his head and turned to walk back to the house.

He stopped suddenly. There, just below the whisper of the wind, he thought he could hear the singing of a beautiful, mourning voice. He looked back towards the sunset, and his heart leapt.

Shimmering in the night sky, just as she had first appeared, Iasai looked towards him. She pressed her fingers to her lips and gently blew him a kiss, and her mouth soundless formed precious words.

I love you.

Then she was gone, as the sun fell below the horizon and night came completely.

Carpathian stood a long moment, watching the empty spot where she had stood. Then he started home.

 

Carpathian was sitting in his study when there was a knock on the door. "Come in."

Grim entered and shut the door behind him. "I don't mean to intrude, Cousin."

"No, it's quite all right." He waved the Reaper to an empty chair, and Grim sat.

"Are you ? All right, that is?"

After a moment, Carpathian nodded. "Yes. I believe so. Peter is home and happy. The world will be healed." He smiled almost to himself. "She loves me dearly, and I, her. We are not together; she has her place, and I have mine. It's not perfect, but whatever is? I'll see her again."

Grim spoke softly. "You could have stayed."

Carpathian chuckled. "No. Not really. There's too much here for me in this world."

Grim nodded, then stood. "We're all quite glad you made that choice, Cousin." Carpathian nodded. "Will you be joining us downstairs?"

Carpathian shook his head. "Not quite yet, Cousin. I…prefer to be by myself for a while."

"Of course. Good night, Cousin."

"Good night."

Grim left the study and shut the door. Carpathian sat there a moment longer, thinking to himself. He looked down and raised his right hand, palm upward.

Nestled there in the center was the Moonstone. Another spectre, perhaps his Beloved, had placed it there before he had left the Twilight. He was grateful for that, for this meant more to him than he could ever have told anyone.

He gazed at it for a long time, feeling its good weight. He closed his hand and brought it to his heart, leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes. He could see her loveliness against the darkness; feel her velvet kiss and caress. He smiled, and the images filled him with sad joy; a quiet melancholy that suited him and made him smile more.

He sighed and watched her in his dreaming. He could hear the refrain of a beautiful old song being sung from her pale lips, and the longing warmed him as he listened.

"It was down by the Sally Gardens, my love and I would meet;
She passed the Sally Gardens on little snow white feet;
She bade me take love easy, as the leaves grew on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her did not agree…"

 
THE END

 

 

© 2012 Patient Creatures Ltd.