I placed another “x” on the calendar, bringing the day to a close. That made one month, three weeks, and two days since we’d returned. I thanked God every day my trip home included a ticket for Xavien. What would I have done if I’d had to start all over again, alone? Luckily, that was a question I didn’t have to answer. Ever.
Once upon a time my restless nights had been compliments of my obnoxious neighbors and their racket. Now, the moments awake included wondering what had become of Zafora, the Heradite, and my friends. At times, I yearned to go back to only having the racket to worry about. All I knew for certain was that if not for our friends’ help, Xavien and I would have never been able to return to Earth.
Those weren’t my only worries. I had left the people of Zafora before I knew if the Heradite cure eradicated the plague. Questions and concerns over the planet and its people still lingered in my mind. All because of one medallion and one full-body tattoo.
Even though the skin on my body was an almost empty slate these days, I still found myself checking to see if anything had changed on the tattoo. The only remnants were the tattooed form of the medallion on my palm and Xavien's bloom and leaf on my wrist. Looking down now, I stroked the images.
The medallion was still a brilliant gold color; its middle adorned with the brown-and-green figure of the Heradite tree. The flower and leaf on my wrist remained magnificent. The flower was a beautiful, dark-purple-red, and the leaves were varying shades of green.
Deep in thought, I jumped when Xavien seemingly snuck up behind me, put his arms around my waist, and kissed me on my neck.
“Thinking about them again?” he asked.
“I can't help myself. I have so many unanswered questions,” I said, sighing.
“Believe me, I know it's difficult. But, if I can move on, so can you.” He squeezed me once more before letting go, moving over to the table, and taking a seat.
“You're right,” I said. “It’s just a lot easier said than done.”
My gazed lingered for a moment on the gorgeous man I had the honor of calling my husband. He was toned, tanned, and his wavy black hair made me want to reach out and run my fingers through it. Peering into his deep, ocean blue eyes always took my breath away. He still sported his usual day-old beard, giving him a rugged GQ look.
The only thing marring this marble-worthy specimen was the scars. Along one side of his beautiful face, from the tip of his mouth up to the bottom of his ear, lay a thick line. The old wound looked as if a red-hot, jagged knife had sliced open his flesh before burning it shut again. This scar was compliments of a chemical shrapnel grenade that had exploded on him during the war on Zafora. His beard avoided the scar tissue right by his lip and ear.
He had matching marks on the front of his body. The other scars that decorated the front and back of his chest were more recent. These were compliments of a tiermor; a large, dragon-like beast. It had skewered Xavien with its claws during a battle. I remembered that event so vividly and it still made me tremble to think about it. I was sure I had lost him then.
“I still can’t believe all those months on Zafora only counted as a few weeks on Earth,” he mused.
“What…?” I blinked at him, my focus on the eye candy in front of me broken.
Xavien chuckled. “Earth to Kat! I said I still can’t believe all those months on Zafora only counted as a few weeks on Earth.”
“Crazy, right?” I headed over to the cupboards where I grabbed what I needed to make a cup of hot tea. “I’m lucky it had been such a minuscule amount of time. Right when I was scheduled to be gone for two weeks’ vacation.” I paused a moment, considering the coincidence of it all.
Could it have been pre-meditated by a higher power? Stranger things had happened. Like, oh, travelling to another planet and a magic medallion becoming a part of me. “I would’ve most definitely lost my job otherwise. Gertrude was mad enough about me being a ‘no call, no show’ for the one day.”
“Speaking of Gertrude, is she ever going to retire?”
I checked my watch. “Three days, nine hours, and twenty-seven minutes. Not that I’m keeping track or anything. We're having her going away party on Friday. The sooner she is gone the better.”
I picked up the teapot from the stove, moved over to the sink, and filled it with water. As I turned on the burner, I recalled the first time I saw Mia make a cube—Zafora's version of food. I may have become spoiled by the quick, smooth melt of the cubes and their layers of flavor. Since then, I sometimes found the normal chewing and swallowing of Earth food to be tiresome.
“Any luck getting me some kind of identification?” Xavien asked. “I got lucky the hospital didn't press me for any when I checked you in.”
I set the kettle on the stove. “Lisa said her brother should have your fake ID ready for you by the middle of next week. It may not get you too far, but, she swears they’re adequate enough to get her into clubs.”
When the tea kettle whistled on the stove, I grabbed it and poured the boiling water into my cup.
“I’m not sure where I would have turned if I didn't have a mischievous, adolescent co-worker to help us out. I wouldn’t have a clue how to get forged documents otherwise,” I said.
“We have a lot of details left to figure out, don't we?”
I turned and saw his brow lined with worry. I brought my steeping tea with me and joined him at the table. I sat and took his hand in mine. “We'll figure it out. Our finances are solid enough for us to have some wiggle room, my paycheck isn’t chump change, and we have enough savings to get by for a few—”
THUMP THUMP THUMP
I folded my hands together, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. My yoga-inspired calming down method. Which didn’t work, of course. I glowered up at the ceiling. Maybe I didn’t prefer the neighbors being my biggest worry after all.
“First order of business…” Xavien looked up and raised his voice, “…is to find a new damn apartment!”
I chuckled to myself, knowing the tips of his ears had turned red without even having to look.
My body radiated with pain. Why didn't I say yes to the drugs?
“You're doing excellent, Mia. Just a couple more pushes and it should be over,” Joico said from the edge of the bed, hands raised and at the ready.
“You can do it. I'm right here with you,” Caspian said.
Ohhh, that man can be so infuriatingly calm!
“Don't you dare tell me what I can or can't do!” I growled through clenched teeth, sweat dripping down me everywhere. “This is all your fault! Let's have a baby you said. It will be great, you said. But who is suffering now? And has been for the last six months? Me, that's who. I will make sure you pay for what you've done to me. You hear me, you son of a bitch?”
“I'm sure I will,” Caspian replied, as he took a rag in his free hand and dabbed away sweat from my brow and neck. Was he smiling? That bastard better not be smiling!
I screamed bloody murder when another contraction hit. They seemed to be endless.
“Take a deep breath and push!” Joico said.
I had already determined breathing exercises didn't do a damn thing to alleviate the pain. Regardless, on the next contraction I inhaled and exhaled as I had practiced so many times before. Using what strength I had left inside me, I pushed with all my might. One final moment of pain ripped through me before it was all over. My cries were replaced by the screams of a baby. My baby.
“It's a girl!” Joico announced happily as he positioned the newborn up onto my belly.
“A girl,” I repeated, staring at the tiny infant with exhausted wonder.
“Would you like to cut the cord?” Joico asked. He held a pair of scissors out to Caspian.
Caspian didn’t even hesitate. Just moved forward, took the implements, and cut the cord. Once done, he handed the scissors back. Then he returned to me, resuming his position at the head of the bed. He leaned forward and placed a kiss on my forehead.
When the baby cooed from her location on my belly, he reached his hand out and ran a finger over the baby's cheek. “You did it,” he said, his face beaming.
“No, we did it,” I replied, smiling up at him.
“What name would you like me to list on the birth certificate?” Joico asked from behind Caspian.
Caspian looked at me and I nodded.
“Mae Katiana Miller.”
Zach was the first visitor to brighten my doorway at the hospital. He came in carrying a light brown, teddy bear shaped pacifier in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other.
“How are momma and baby today?” he asked.
Zach placed the baby gift on the counter across from me then moved over to the sink and grabbed an empty vase from the shelf below it. He filled the vase with water before artfully arranging the flowers. Beautiful orange illelis decorated the vase. Tiny yellow dalls, white button blooms, and tall green grass filler complimented them.
“We're both doing well. They took Mae to the nursery a while ago so I could get some rest.”
“Do I need to come back later? I didn't mean to keep you from resting.”
“No, no.” I motioned for him to sit. “I just woke up, so I'm good. I’ll page the nurse and have her bring Mae back so you can see her.”
I grabbed the red button hanging beside my bed and pressed it. That should let them know I was ready to get Mae back.
Zach moved over and took a seat in the rocking chair situated beside my bed. “That would be great. How does it feel to be a mother?”
“Surreal. When Mae isn't in my arms, I actually have a hard time believing it’s true.”
Zach reached over and patted my hand. “Well, I’m certain you will be an excellent mom, and Caspian an excellent father.”
“Thank you. That is kind of you to say.” My gaze moved to the door when it swung open and the nurse came in, wheeling the bassinet.
“Good afternoon, mama. Someone’s here to see you.” The nurse positioned the bassinet beside my bed.
Mae looked like she, too, just woke up from a nap. Her little fists were rubbing her eyes and she opened her mouth into a wide yawn. I was still in awe of just how beautiful my daughter is.
“Zach, would you like to hold her?”
“I would love to!” he said. He stood up, moved over to the crib, and picked the tiny baby up.
I could tell by the way he held her he had experience in handling babies. Looking closer I saw that—although he was smiling—there was a touch of sorrow in his expression. I knew he missed his family more than words could ever say. I watched as he made his way back to the rocker and sat down.
I pressed the button on the bed railing to raise myself into a more comfortable seated position. “So, have you received enough data yet to make any conclusive findings?”
“Yes. I think we have collected all the relevant information.” Zach was gazing adoringly at little Mae as he rocked her, but updated me on the cure Kat had provided us all those months ago. “We have given the antidote to 92 percent of the population. Of that 92 percent, 85 percent under senior age have been completely cured.”
“And the rest over senior age?” I asked.
Zach gazed up at the ceiling. I could see the wheels turning in his mind as he recalled the data from memory all the while rocking Mae back and forth.
“Only two percent were successful. I’m uncertain why this is the case, but I can make a guess it has something to do with the life force left in a person. In seniors, there is an insufficient amount left to work with for the cure to fully repair the body. Most will continue to have health issues, but it does seem to at least prevent immediate death.”
“Well, I guess it’s at least beneficial that those saved are in the right range to repopulate. Speaking of pregnancies, how are those numbers going?”
“Everything appears to be on the uptrend. It will take time, but I have confidence things will return to a more uniform balance. Ever since we apprehended Gorah, the races appear to have altered their mindset. They are no longer worrying about who is the dominant species.”
“How is the magnificent Gorah doing these days?” I laughed to cover almost gagging on my own use of “magnificent” to describe him.
“Locked away still, as far as I know. I can't believe the vines left him. Even more, I can’t believe he survived that long mummified in them.”
“I know. It appears once Kat made the Heradite whole again, she had completed her objective. My guess is this eliminated the necessity for the vines to hold him because he was no longer considered a threat.”
“It’s as sound a theory as any. I bet he wishes he was dead instead serving a lifetime in prison,” Zach said.
“I wouldn't doubt it. I just wish Kat and Xavien could have stayed. But, I am sure Kat was happy to get home—and to have Xavien with her.”
Mae squirmed in Zach's arms, making a small gurgling sound. “I think she might be hungry. Would you like me to get her a cube?”
“Yes. That would be great.”
Zach stood up and carefully deposited Mae in my arms. He made his way over to the tiny fridge in the corner where he opened the door and removed a cube. After shutting the door, he came back to my bed, and handed me the cube.
I took it from him and placed it in Mae's mouth. Within an instant, and with no small amount of greediness, she began sucking on it.
Zach and I both turned at the sound of the door opening. Caspian walked in. I could tell by his wet hair, smooth face, and clean scent he had just showered and shaved.
My heart did a quick flip-flop looking at him; my exquisite, beautiful partner. Or, I guess if I was being accurate I would say Prince, instead of partner. He was real life royalty. However, since I preferred to keep his ego to a minimum, I used his title as sparingly as possible.
“Zach! How are you doing?” Caspian asked, reaching out his hand and patting Zach on the shoulder.
“I'm doing well; I appreciate your asking. You have a beautiful, baby girl,” he said smiling.
“I know. She gets it all from her mother,” Caspian said, turning to grin at me. “So, Zach, are things going well in the lab? Any problems?”
“So far so good. I was just giving Mia an update. All-in-all, the results appear to be progressing in an appropriate manner. Almost everything seems headed in a positive direction.
Anyway, I need to get back at it. It was great seeing and catching up with you both, and congratulations,” Zach said as he turned to go. He waved to us both as he headed out the door.
“Good seeing you, too. Don't be a stranger,” I said.
When the door shut, Caspian walked over to me and reached for Mae.
“How is our sweetheart doing today?” he asked as he lifted Mae and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
“She's good, or at least that is what they keep telling me. I’m told we should be able to leave tomorrow. Have you finished the list of to-do items I left you at home?”
“Yes, dear. I assembled all the baby items and the house has been baby proofed. The only thing missing now is the baby,” he said, rocking Mae in his arms. “And mommy, of course.”
“Do you mind returning her to the nursery? I'm still tired and would love to get another quick nap in while you are here.”
“Your wish is my command,” he said, making an exaggerated bowing motion with Mae still held tightly in his arms.
I laughed as I watched him walk away. Pressing the button again, I lowered the bed to a flat position. I fluffed my pillow and laid back, trying to get comfortable. As I was reaching for the button to turn the light off, the door to my room opened.
In walked a male nurse who was pulling a blood pressure machine behind him.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Miller. If you don't mind, I need to do a quick set of vitals before you take your nap.”
“Sure,” I sighed. Guess the nap would have to wait. “Whatever you need.”
I gave the nurse a once over to try and determine his exact race. Even as he got closer, I still had no clue. It was as if each time I could bring him into focus his features wavered and I had to focus again. I blinked, trying to clear my eyes. Whatever he was, it was unlike anything I had seen before.
As he approached, he reached back and grabbed a cuff from a small basket located under the machine. After applying the apparatus to my arm, he turned to the machine and punched a button. The cuff inflated.
He extracted a penlight from his pocket and aimed it toward me.
“Please look straight at me, then follow the light with your eyes,” he said with a smile.
Per his request, I looked straight into his eyes. As soon as I did a strange feeling slithered over me, as if a circuit had connected. I forced myself to ignore it and instead followed the now raised light with my eyes. After he clicked off the light, I looked back into his eyes. I swore his pupils were swirling around and around. I blinked and struggled to focus.
“Good.” His velvety soft voice seemed to float in the air around me. “Now, I just need to take your pulse.”
He reached forward and grasped my right wrist in his hand and fidgeted with it for several moments.
His face colored. “I'm sorry, but I can't seem to find a pulse. I must be having an off day. Let me try your other wrist.”
Not wanting to further his embarrassment, I gave him a gentle smile and raised my left arm to him. Without breaking eye contact, or releasing his grip on my right wrist, he seized my left with surprising strength. Immediately, I felt as if my head was spinning. I closed my eyes and shook my head to clear it.
When my eyes closed, a vision appeared in my mind. It was my last memory frozen in place. As I studied the image, it rewound and my previous memories went whizzing by. It was like watching a movie in reverse. They flew by faster and faster—until they slammed to a stop.
The new frozen image was the moment before Kat and Xavien disappeared. Caspian, Kat, Xavien, and I were standing in front of the Heradite tree after it had restored itself. As I focused on the new image, the memories once again rewound but slower this time.
The rewind stopped for a second time at the point where our small group was standing outside the SUV. We were looking at the rainbow which had been decorating the recently rain filled sky.
The movie started again, but this time it moved forward instead of back. I watched as we made our way around the lake, moved under the waterfall, and headed into the cavern. The image halted when we had finally stopped in front of the dying Heradite, seeing it for the first time.
As the picture sharpened, flames appeared in the middle and burned outward. I watched with a mix of wonder and horror as the picture turned to ash, leaving behind a white screen. As I looked on, I became overwhelmed with the need to sleep.
The rip of Velcro being wrenched apart jerked me from my slumber.
“My sincerest apologies, Mrs. Miller! I didn't mean to startle you. You dozed off while I was taking your pulse. I tried to be quiet as possible so as not to wake you. Are you all right?” The nameless male nurse looked at me with deep concern.
Confused, I blinked several times and shook my head back and forth. Maybe it had all been a dream?
“I'm fine. I didn't realize I was quite that exhausted. Did you get all you needed?” I asked, putting what I hoped to be a reassuring smile on my face. With the way I was feeling, it probably wasn’t all that convincing.
“Yes, I did. Just press the red call button if you need anything.”
I watched as he exited the room, pulling the cart behind him. I couldn't believe I was already this lethargic from lack of sleep. I could only imagine how dire things would be once my sleepless nights at home began. My eyelids still heavy, I once again closed them and allowed myself to drift off for a proper nap.
Finally, I had what I needed: the location of the Heradite tree. Now I could move forward and put my plans into action.
As I made my retreat from the hospital, I slipped into the cement enclosure just outside the back doors that held the trash dumpsters. I had scouted this area previously to ensure it had no video surveillance.
Moving quickly behind one of the metal bins I pulled the nurses uniform off, revealing a non-descript, plain white shirt and tan slacks. I balled up the scrubs and discarded them in the fullest trash receptacle; tucking them under the most accessible, ripest smelling bag of garbage.
Tilting my head, I listened for a moment to make sure no one was around. When I was certain the coast was clear—and with as much haste as possible without drawing attention to myself—I crossed the street and disappeared into the shadow of the trees.
I had gotten lucky with the location of the hospital the Pirste had chosen; which was just opposite of a large park surrounded by dense trees.
Once in the shadows of the trees, I proceeded towards my ride home. When I reached a small clearing, I moved forward and stroked the waiting tiermor on the nose. I'd always loved the feel of the shimmering red scales beneath my fingers. Her snort of acknowledgment left my hand moist with breath.
I grabbed the cloak I had left draped over her neck, swung it around my shoulders, and pulled up the hood. Then, I kicked off the dreadful suffocating shoes and wiggled my toes with relief. How did anyone live having their feet trapped like that?
Finally, I allowed the power I had been using to fade away. Anyone who saw me now would be able to see me clearly. When the last trickle had dissipated, I reflected on how hard it was to maintain the shifting face camouflage. I admonished myself for not practicing that more often. The trick was too advantageous to not have the skill honed to use it.
One thing I was not out of practice with was mind manipulation. I was confident I didn't need to fear the Pirste remembering anything. The veil of webs I’d left in her mind ensured she would not reflect on the moments before she fell asleep. Even if she somehow got the idea to try, the memories would be hazy at best.
Returning my attention to the task at hand, I moved forward. My beautiful girl then offered me a leg so I could step up and onto her back.
As I caressed her neck she took a few steps forward and was soon airborne.
While she took care of the flying, I released energy to create an invisible shield around us. Just as no one had seen us fly in, no one would see us fly out. I knew I would need several days rest after this adventure to regroup and restore my strength. I scowled and my fingers dug into my mount’s neck as I dwelled on how my gifts had atrophied so much.
Damn the races for making my kind hide in the shadows and smother our gifts! It soon will be their time to be slaves to us.
When I reached my lair beyond the Wickenburg mountains, I let my shield dissolve. Immediately, I felt better. I let out a breath, rolled my shoulders, and stretched my neck. My muscles were sore from the effort it took to hold the mirage in place.
For centuries, my home had been here; carved inside the tallest of the mountains found on the planet. The steep, slick, solid rock slope made it un-scalable from the sides. Unless the potential interloper had a flying creature, it was next to impossible to reach the nearly invisible ledge on the side of the mountain. The access ledge was three-quarters of the way up the mountain.
My tiermor glided down to land. Once she touched down, I slid off her back, and patted her shoulder as my own feet touched ground. I walked over to the bucket against the wall, grabbed a chunk of day-old beef, and pitched it towards her. She snatched the food out of the air and swallowed it in one gulp.
When she finished her treat, she turned toward me and flared her wings. She bent down on her front legs, lowered her head, and touched her nose to the ground—a tiermor version of a bow. I stroked her head in acknowledgment of the action. She stood straight, took a few steps backward, and shot back up into the sky. I watched until she disappeared from my sight.
I walked back over to the wall, positioned my hand just so, and directed a short burst of energy into the rock. After the door swung open, I stepped inside and used another burst of energy to shut it behind me. As I made my way through the entryway, I continued to stretch my limbs to get the kinks out from riding the massive beast.
“Did you get the location?”
“Yes, I did.” I smiled as I watched the beautiful woman make her way across the dining room to meet me. The light that shone from the windows—naturally formed holes in the sidewall of the mountain—gave her an angelic glow.
I still couldn't believe my luck in having found this flaming-red haired beauty. Someone had just locked her away in a tower. I shivered thinking of what could have become of her if I had not happened upon her location. They called us monsters, but we weren't the ones locking others in towers without any food. Had I not found her, she could have starved to death.
I watched as she sashayed forward, oozing sexuality. Surely no one—male or female—could help but react to her carnal movements, or the voluptuousness of her body. Everything about her, from the sway of her hips to her long slender legs, was pure sex. I trailed my gaze back up and locked eyes with her.
“How did you fair with your task?” she asked.
“I got exactly what I was after.”
“That’s wonderful,” she purred. “I also have good news. The Elder is only being watched by two guards; each taking turns with a shift. It should be easy enough to trick their minds into believing he is still there even after we remove him.”
“And the Elder himself? Is he sane enough to reach with your powers?” I asked.
“All indications point to yes. But, I won't be convinced until I can lay hands on him.” She trailed a finger down my chest as if to punctuate the need to touch the Elder for the task to be completed.
I smiled, satisfied with the news, then moved toward my chair at the head of the dining table. “Good. We will go after him at first light.”
She grabbed a strand of her waist length hair and twirled it around her finger. “What about Gorah? When can we save him from those disgusting pigs?”
“Soon. First, we must procure Mortmar. Without him, Gorah and his books are no good to us.”
I reached for my chalice and a bottle of gratas which was sitting in the middle of the table. Tilting the carafe, I watched as the purple liquid filled my cup.
“But... he is suffering. Can we not just—”
The table shook as I slammed down my cup. The liquid I had just poured sloshed out over the sides. “I said not now, Lilah! That is the end of the discussion. Unless, of course, you would like me to return you to where I found you?”
“No,” she murmured, bowing her head to avoid my gaze.
Seeing the change in Lilah's demeanor, I reminded myself I needed to use a more delicate hand with her. She was essential to my plan.
I took a deep breath and made a show of softening my demeanor. “We will rescue your beloved in due time. I promise you.”
Lilah nodded meekly, then turned to leave. “I will go prepare the items for our journey.”
“Thank you,” I replied.
With my powers currently diminished, I could only manipulate the guards' minds short-term. That would not do if I wished to succeed. The Elders could not find out that Mortmar was gone. Not until I was ready for them to know.
The only way to do that was using Lilah's gifts. For the time being, she had the ability to make the mind control stick more long-term.
The only way I got her to agree to help was to save her Gorah. The last thing I wanted to do was save that worthless Alfinian for her. Lucky for them both, he too was required for my plan to succeed.
The next morning, Safor—the mother of the young tiermor I rode yesterday—took Lilah and me on our journey. The child wouldn't have been strong enough to transport us both as far as we needed to go. Safor was a spectacular creature. Her scales were a deep crimson; almost black. Their texture was smooth as a baby’s bottom, the ridges flattened down and polished by the wind from so many years spent flying.
Her scales didn’t have the same sheen as her daughter’s, however. If not for that dullness, she would be the most exquisite non-neuro creature I had ever laid eyes on. I couldn't help but stroke her neck as we flew along.
It felt good to get out into the cool, crisp air and ride free with the wind. Lilah, more used to the luxuries inside a fortress—thanks to Gorah—shivered behind me.
It likely didn’t help I was also tapping into her energies. I added them to mine to create the invisibility illusion. With our combined powers, it was much easier and less taxing on me. Still, I had to keep my energy siphoning to a minimum. Lilah was going to need all the strength she could get.
Pulling off a permanent modification to a person’s mind was no easy task and I was demanding Lilah perform two, back-to-back. We needed to arrive just before the shift change. This would allow us to catch both guards within a short time of one another.
It had taken me years to find the location where the Elders had hidden Mortmar away after they had placed a memory loop in his mind. Mortmar had once been the most powerful of the Elders. That was of course until the black books poisoned his mind, causing him to go back and forth between lucid moments. Even when he was in the midst of a Mad Hatter moment, he would be a most powerful and useful tool.
Safor landed in the dense forest on the perimeter of the “home” where Mortmar was being held. A brown thatched roof covered a small, single-storied structure. The walls were made of multi-colored brick and a few small windows broke the pattern.
As Lilah had reported, there was one guard seated just outside the front door. All doors and windows were barred by wrought iron, making a simple escape next to impossible. If not for those added features, the cottage would have been lovely.
After we dismounted from the tiermor, Lilah made her way out of the forest toward the cottage. With her permission, I had attached a small shadow entity to her, so I could witness what she was seeing. With each step, she increased her powers.
I knew the moment she had control of the guard by the way his body stiffened. His pupils dilated and the rise and fall of his chest quickened. I avoided looking any further down his body. Based on the strength she was projecting, he would have an obvious masculine arousal.
When she reached him, she stretched her hands up and placed one on each of the guard’s temples. She leaned forward and kissed him, gentle as if she were his long-time lover. My entity could not feel anything she was doing, but I knew she was manipulating his mind. He would forever believe, when he looked into the cottage to check on his charge, he would see Mortmar moving about. Before breaking contact, she removed the memory of herself completely from his mind. He remained in a trance until she whistled once, when she was out of view.