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The Beast called Nightmare

Night’s Angel

Ages have passed and the Bregold sisters have passed on to the next world leaving their beloved Nightmare alone once again. With his heart broken he did the only thing he could take as a keepsake of their book of spells. He returned to his stone slumber and waited till he would be summoned once more. He had made himself a small shrine with the book atop his black stone in the barn they had summoned him in. 

The outside world had changed as the beast slept. The book had been taken from him as well that he had been moved. The mortal size stone he slept as, had been moved to a warehouse far from the home he once knew. The summoning circle had been rewritten fresh. The males and females around his stone stood with darkness, hatred and sin in their souls. But only one, a young girl dressed in red robes, was clean and kind.

No more than twelve years of age she was the child of a wolf and a fox. She held in her hand a bright red apple. She kneed outside the rings praying for help. One of the males stood over her with a gun in hand. “She’s useless,” the male said, cocking the gun. 

“DO IT AGAIN” one female shouted. She cried to herself begging for help. “Please someone help me, I don’t want to die” she said to herself. “We have been at this for hours,” one of the other males said “give her a break.” 

The first female looked over the child and bared her fangs in disgust. “You have five minutes to get her ready Alex” she said and walked away. Alex the young rat ran to the child. The girl went to ball up away from the rat. “Sheba, it's ok I’m not going to hurt you” he said slowly getting closer. The girl watched the rat and the hawk that stood over her. 

“Mitch, please back up, you’re scaring her” Alex said waving the hawk away. “She is useless, we should just get rid of her and find someone better” Mitch spoke, tapping the girl on the head with the tip of his gun. “Then give me a minute to talk to her,” Alex begged. 

The Hawk rolled his eyes and moved away. “It’s ok Sheba” he said “it’s going to be ok.” “Alex, I can’t do it, the book said I need a gold apple to use the spell” Sheba cried. Alex took the girl’s hand with his. “Sheba, I will be here for you no matter what happens” he said, meaning every word.

“Promise” the girl asked. “Promise” he said. “Promise saved, promise kept,” he added. The girl smiled at the words and repeated them in kind.His promise made a bond with the girl simple but strong. The apple glowed in their hands. The apple turned to gold and was shown with a soft light. 

“See you did it Sheba” the rat smiled at her. She smiled back to only one she could call a brother. “Alex time’s up if you can’t make her get this stupid thing to work” the female barked “then you’ll be joining her in the next life.”

“She’s got this Ma’am” he said and helped the girl to her feet. The girl nodded shyly before turning to the stone. Alex stood with her, his hand on her shoulder “I of light and love call to thee, Beast of darkness” she sang “come forth to make a covenant with me.” She sang the words as the book had said too. 

“I of the Bloodgold tree call forth the Beast of Darkest Heart” her voice called out to the stone as the circle began to glow. The girl closed her eyes in hope the beast would answer. Then with all her might and will in her voice she cried out “COME TO LIGHT BEFORE ME NOW. COME FORTH FROM THE DARKEST COLD. FROM HEART OF DARKNESS COME TO ME NOW. ORTYON COLMEA ORUIS TOBIEAL” and almost smashed the apple into the circle’s glass like wall. For moment nothing happen. The others watched and waited for something to move. Both Sheba and Alex stood frozen in time.

“Please” she whispered to the stone. A fearful tear rolled off her cheek.  “Where is the beast Alex?” the female demanded. Alex looked to the stone and back to the female. “All I see is a black rock, Alex” she said “Where is my demon Alex?” 

She drew her gun and aimed it at the rat’s head. The female focused on the rat to the point she missed the stone growing in size. The stone opened slowly letting its form take shape. As the beast took shape its head turned to see there was no blackened fruit.

“Who has summoned me and was rude to not offer me food” the beast said, turning to the voice it heard. The female fox looked up at the beast. A smile broke across her muzzle. “She did it,” the vixen said to herself. The beast’s ears folded and twitched. 

“WHO HAS SUMMONED ME FROM MY SLUMBER” the beast commanded. “I did” the girl spoke just above a whisper. “A child has summoned me” the beast spat. 

“I’m sorry I don’t have any food for you,” Sheba said, shying away from the beast. “Stay where you are, child” the beast spoke but did not look at her. The vixen spoke up “Tell me your name, demon.” “I do not answer to those of blackened hearts and hardened souls” it said grinning at the smell. 

“I told you to give me your name,” the vixen commanded.  The beast roared and slashed at the barrier. “I WILL ONLY TELL THE ONE WHO HAS SUMMONED ME” the beast roared. Sheba dropped to her knees covering her ears. 

She was scared. She didn’t know which monster was worse. “KNOCK IT OFF YOU’RE SCARING HER” Alex shouted trying to hug the child. The beast’s head turned to Alex. Its eyes were still close but Alex could feel the beast stare. “I apologize for my outburst and who would you be, young knight” the beast said respectfully. The rat looked between the beast and the vixen. 

“My name is Alex,” he said. “Would that be short for Alexander,” the demon asked, hiding a small grin. “Brave of you young Alex to stand against the likes of me” the beast spoke to the rat almost as it would to an equal. “Tell the little bitch to get me its name” the vixen demanded. 

The beast turned its head slowly back to the first voice it heard. “My name will not be given so easily, wicked child” it said and barked out a rich laugh. “I’ll send you back to hell if you don’t” the vixen said.

“Only if you come with me Jessica” the beast said with the most lewd of grins. “You think I’m playing games, things have changed, demon” the vixen said, taking a step back from the beast. “I know, all but the child have sword metal that smells of burnt wood” it said turning to each of them. 

“Then you know you don’t stand a chance,” Jessica said. “Ha ha, you think a weapon I have not seen before makes the likes of me run and hide” the beast laughed. “Child of gold with your young knight, which of us, do you fear more” it turned, speaking softly to her. 

She held the apple tighter hoping to just run away. “She’s not in control here I am,” Jessica said, commanding the beast's attention. “Jessica the things you do not know will unmake you” it said without turning to her. “All I want is your name,” she demanded. “If a name is all you want then you may call me Nightmare as I was once known” it said closed eyes still on the child. 

“Good,” she said. The vixen looked at Alex and Sheba, hiding her pride she added “once she releases you deal with them.” The beast smiled and watched the two closely. Jessica and the others turned to leave so he could clean up the mess. The beast listened as the door shut behind them. “Child, come closer and listen well” it said to her. 

Alex saw the look the beast had and reassured the girl. The beast spoke its true name to her so she could remember it well. “Now say it once and for the time being I will be at your command” it said gently opening its eyes. Just as Sheba said the name their eyes met and they knew each other. 

“They want you to kill us,” Alex said, not seeing the beast plan. “Young knight I am not one to fight in times like this” it said “now please break the seal and we will leave.” “And just let you take her always, she’s like a sister to me” Alex said. The rat’s words hit a pain the beast slept through. “I said WE, did I not” it said. 

“Nightmare I release you” Sheba said and touched the apple to the barrier. They walk across the open floor. Alex and Sheba had gotten their first real look at the Nightmare. The beast was a mix of many breeds from land, air and sea. The back of its wings looked like they were on fire but burning a black flame the same with the tip of the tail. 

“Nightmare, why are those two still alive?” Jessica shouted from the far end of the room. “I told you to kill them,” she said. “I told you I do not answer to those of blackened hearts” the beast said drawing in power. Clouds of black mist flooded the beast as it fed. 

“I FEED ON THE DARKEST OF SOULS” Nightmare roared. Jessica and the others took aim with their guns. “Sheba, get behind me” Alex said, taking aim with his own. “Flee, I will deal with them” Nightmare said its tail whipping around. “This isn’t the dark ages Nightmare” Alex said, letting out a warning shot at Jessica.

The group of attackers returned fire. Before Alex could blink each shot was broken off. “They’re not going to stop till someone is dead,” Alex said, firing another round. “Then save your attack,” Nightmare said. “Alex, I'm scared,” Sheba said, hiding behind the rat. “Give the command and I will do as you wish,” Nightmare said. 

“You can’t fight them from here” Alex pointed out. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Sheba said. The rounds of bullets Nightmare didn’t block rebound off its scales or were caught in its fur. “Please Sheba command me to stop them,” Nightmare said. 

“No good she’s too scared” Alex said, getting a lucky shot and hitting one of them in the shoulder. “Do you serve as her guard?” Nightmare asked. “I don’t know, I guess,” the rat answered, trying to think in the middle of the fire fight. “Just yes or no,” it said. “YES” the rat shouted. 

“Then her guard commanded me to fight,” it said. “Can you take them out without killing them?” he asked. “Foolish but yes I have such power” it said. “Then do it” Alex yelled. “Take a feather from under my wing, it will lead me back to you” it said, shielding them with the back of its wing.

Blindly he plucked a white feather from the open wing and picked up the girl. “Good luck Nightmare” he said, taking off with the girl. “Never mind luck just flee you fool” it said as they took off.  With its charges safely out of the way the beast turned to its prey. 

Its tail split ten times and lashed out at each attacker. “I was commanded not to kill this time but the next time you may not be so lucky” it said and each tail sliced each gun to pieces.  With guns done away with, the tails turned and batted the group away leaving Jessica standing alone. 

The beast walked toward her on all fours like an animal. “You failed to understand, I am not made to fight for the dark” it said “I feed off it.” it took her head with one clawed hand. “Jessica, you were not meant for the dark, I see it in your heart” it said. For a moment she saw something in his closed eyes, the pain of lost love that would break anyone. 

“Do not seek us or I will be forced to end you” Nightmare said. Nightmare turned and took off after its charges. Its feathered bat-like wings beat the air hard as it took to the night sky. It saw the light of the feather moving across the ground. It flipped into a dive aiming to meet with the light. 

“Is she Hurt?” Nightmare asked flying over their heads. Alex stopped and set Sheba down. Nightmare set down just out of sight. “She's fine, just scared out of her wits,” Alex said looking for the beast. “You did well, young knight” it said, still in hiding. “Yeah well thanks but I don’t think we’re going to get far with the way you look” Alex said looking around. 

“My size can change,” it said. “What about your face?” he asked. The beast laughed. The laugh started as a boom and boiled down to a soft chuckle. “Mortals never seem to think” the voice of a male not much older than Alex came from behind a nearby tree. 

Stepping into the light the form of a soft gray fox cat moved closer. “Nightmare” Alex asked, questioning the male. “Yes,” he said, “I took the form she had chosen for Me.” He looked between them before he held out his arms. “Let me take her, you have done enough young knight” he said. Alex looked over at the male a question on his mind. 

“She said something about a covenant,” he said. “Yes but she is too young,” Nightmare said, setting his arms down. “What would she have to do” Alex said. “As I said she is not of age to wed and so I will not make that bond with her. “Bond” Alex asked “what bond?” the young rat started back away. 

“You will hear it and run from me,” Nightmare said, nodding his head slowly. “Depends” Alex said “what are you going to do to her?” “Nothing till she is of age or till the pack we have is done” he said. “What happens when the pack is over?” Alex questioned. 

“Leave,” he answered “leave and return to my slumber till I am called upon again.” “You said till she is of age” Alex thought it out “you mean to say the only way she can make a covenant with you is if you sleep with her?” “I do not understand what sleep has to do with bonding,” Nightmare asked. 

“Oh right you’re out of date” Alex said shaking his head “I guess you can say sleeping with someone means the same as having sex with them.” “Then yes, by your words I would have to sleep with her to make the bond but she must be of age and willing of her own free will” Nightmare said and waited for the rat to over react. 

“Normally I would run and get a cop but I don’t know. just something about this feeling I have, says to trust you” Alex said. “Trust me or not,” Nightmare said, “I cannot harm her and we must not stay here much longer.” Alex looked to Sheba to see what she thought. 

But she was out cold and barely breathing. “Sheba, Sheba” the young rat shook the girl. “She is weak, she used most of her power. If we cannot find a place for her to rest and eat she will not last long” Nightmare said, lifting the child into his own arms. He pulled his robes around the child. “Come I think I know someone who can help” Alex said leading the way. The two walked quickly a few blocks down the street. 

“You’re not out of place being from another time” Alex asked, seeing the focus Nightmare had. “I will see what this world has done after I tend to my charge.” He answered, then sniffed the air “I know that smell.” “What is it?” Alex asked. “It’s a brew to help a man recover from war” he said “I taught them how to make it but I did not think many would still use it.” 

“Then maybe she knows we’re coming” Alex said right as a shop door opened into his face. On the other side of the door a little old owl female had opened the door. “Oh, You’re right time my lord” she said “oh and Alex you’re here too.” She said turning to the poor rat who hit the ground. “Please Tell me that Brew is ready, she is in need of its aid” Nightmare said walking past the old female. 

“Like I said, you are right on time” the old owl said. “Hey Mrs. Hoots,” Alex said, pulling himself up. “Oh, Hey yourself” she said before letting the door shut in his face. Alex slipped into the little shop and followed the gray hybrid. 

“Ma’am may we have a bed for her to rest and restore her strength. “Yes, I thought you might need one” the owl said “and Alex you know where the kitchen is, but don’t touch the apples.” “Thank you Mrs. Hoots,” Alex answered, turning down the hall. “He’s a good boy” she said “he’d be a saint if he learned some manners.” “I know,” Nightmare said.

“You have been gone for a very long time,” she said, leading the way to a guest room. “I know, I thought few if any still used the old ways” Nightmare said, setting the child in the bed. Like a father he tucked her in and laid a gentle kiss on her forehead. “By chance have you fed” she asked, taking charge of the girl. “Little to any ma’am” he answered. “I may not be as skilled as the sisters but I think my apples should fill you,” she said, pushing the beast out of the room. 

She led him to the kitchen to find Alex staring at the black apples left on the counter. “Lad those will kill you in the first bite” Nightmare said, shaking the younger rat back to the world. “What are they?” he asked, trying to look away. “Oh Apples casted to take in dark energy” the old female said “not something any moral should play with.” 

As the owl spoke she took note of Alex’s right hand and the glow it was giving off. “Alex, where did you get that casting?” she pointed a feather finger at his hand. “What casting, what are you talking about” he asked looking at his hand. He looked at Mrs. Hoots and then to Nightmare. “What did you do to me?” he asked, holding up his hand. 

His brown fur had turned white as the feather he had taken. Nightmare smiled before checking to see if he had room. “I told you to take a feather from under my wing, '' he said, opening his robe and releasing his wings. The undersides of the wings were covered in feathers burning in every color. The young rat eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. 

“You chose a white feather, even a blind choice reflects the chooser” The older male said. “You gave him a shield of light, '' the old owl said, turning to the young male. Alex shook his head dropping into the chair. “No, no, I can’t be part of this,” he said, clasping his head, “I’m just a thief, and a killer.”

“Lad, look at me,” Nightmare said, kneeling in front of Alex. Alex shook his head trying to keep from meeting Nightmare’s eyes. “I do not see the evil you think you are” The beast spoke “I cannot feed on the darkness that is not there.” “I’m not a knight” Alex said “I don’t know anything about magic.” 

“Give it time,” he said standing and taking one of the black apples “but for now eat and rest, I will stay the watch.” “Sheba is safe here Alex, you don’t have to worry” the old widow said, giving a slice of apple pie “here this has healthy apples for you.” Mrs. Hoots left to take care of Sheba so the two males could eat. 

“So who are the sisters Mrs. Hoots mentioned?” Alex quietly asked. Nightmare looked down and away before he spoke “the Bregold sisters, the last to summon me before this night.” “They were real,” Alex asked, his eyes wide and tail flicking about. 

Nightmare cocked his brow. “A story I was told as a kid” he said “The Bregold sisters were so powerful they could control the Dream Eater.” “That they were. highly caring females and lovers” Nightmare said thinking back on days long gone by. Alex shifted in his seat. 

“You made the bond with Sheba that let her awaken me” Nightmare said, picking out another apple. “How all I did was promise to be there for her no matter what” he said picking up the crust of his pie. “In the time of the Bregold sisters, words were powerful things,” Nightmare said, “and to a child no casting is as powerful as a promise.” Alex looked at his right hand. 

“I don’t know if I can help her anymore” he said as his mind raced through the things he had done. “Till she is of age I am to serve her” Nightmare said “but you are her knight and champion and that will never change.” The young rat shook his head “I think your head still has some rocks in it.”

Nightmare broke out into a deep rich laugh. “Lad if you chose to walk with her and be who she needs,” Nightmare spoke “I will be there for the both of you, and on that you have my word.” “Nightmare you are way out of date for this world” Alex said, holding out his white hand. Nightmare thought for a moment and said “sounds like it will be fun” and took the Rat’s outstretched hand. “The world won’t be the same.” 

Chapter 2

Sheba woke up to bits of sunlight in her face. “Alex,” she said, voicing her first thought. “Shh, you’ll wake him” the male standing by the window said “he hasn’t slept in three days and he just passed out.” “Who are you?” she asked “why do I know you?” 

“Do you still remember my name?” the male asked. Her nightmares flood back to her in the wake of his voice. Everything she had thought a dream was real and was talking to her. “Nightmare” she whispered. In her hand was the golden apple she had used to summon him. 

She looked to a chair sitting next to the bed and the young rat sleeping soundly. In his right hand was a book. The very book she had studied to become a witch, the Bregold book of spells. But it wasn’t the book that kept her light brown eyes, it was the male’s right hand. It had turned whiter than snow. “I…, is he ok? '' she asked.

“He will live but for now he just needs to sleep” Nightmare answered “if you feel well enough to walk we will get you something to eat.” She got out of the bed slowly, still feeling a bit lightheaded. She kissed the rat on the nose and went over to the other male. 

They walked slowly to the kitchen of Mrs. Hoots’ building. “I’m too young to make the bond” she said “and our pack is almost over.” “There is still time and no one said you cannot make another before it ends” Nightmare said opening the door for her.

“And if you choose not to make another you still have your knight to guard you.” “Alex is like my brother” she said in a dull voice “I mean we grew up together and all but it’s not like the stories about you and the sisters.” The beast blushed. “I think you might be too young to be reading those stories,” Nightmare said, turning to the fridge. “Let us see what is in the cold maker,” Nightmare said, opening the door.

Sheba sat herself down at the table and found the black apples. “SHA-DE TOO BELFOR CON” the fox wolf said as she picked up an apple. The apple changed to a bright red as the black poison moved to another apple making it darker. She smiled and took a bite. “You know how to undo a casting” Nightmare smiled at the child’s skill. 

“No, even the book said no casting can ever be undone,” she said “but it can be moved to another.” Nightmare thought for a moment touching his finger to his nose.  “If I were to break the table in half, which spell would repair it best?” he asked. 

“If all the pieces are accounted for then a simple transmutation would work best” Sheba said “but if not then next best would have to be the …'' she was stuck on the answer but she knew what it was. “Time turner spell, backtrack and undo the damage by moving the table through time.”

“Well done” he said “if this house caught fire, how would you put it out?” “Easy, the Hydro rain spell or for speed the Hydro flash spell” the girl answered. “Nicely done” he said thinking of the question. “Can I ask you a question?” she asked. “By all means,” he said, nodding. “Were they beautiful?” she asked. 

“Like the dawn over the snow covered mountains of their home land” he said recalling the Bregold sisters in his mind. “Nightmare,” she asked shyly “if I was older would you have made a covenant with me?” “You are young and should not think of such things” he answered. “Oh, Sheba you’re awake” the old owl said walking into the kitchen. 

“Alright potions” Nightmare said “how would you make a potion to take ten years off Mrs. Hoots’ age?” “First I would start with boiling a mix of pig’s fat, milk and wartwood sap till it turned clear. Then I would grid up fifteen rose buds and three lily blooms in honey before adding it to the pot but after taking it off the fire. 

If done right the mix will turn red. Then let stand in the pot for three days or till it turns white. Add a pinch of salt and the mix will turn gold.” She said “the book said it works best if drunk with unsweetened tea.” “You read the book cover to cover and can recall almost any of its contents” added Nightmare touching his finger to his lips.

“Oh such a clever little thing,” Mrs. Hoots said, moving closer to the girl. Nightmare’s nose picked up the scent of blood on the old female. “SHEBA, NIGHTMARE” Alex yelled from down the hall. “Sheba, Nightmare” Alex yelled as he ran down the hallway “Mrs. Hoots is dead, someone killed her.” Nightmare was fast enough to get between the fake and the girl. 

“DREAMCATCHER,” the rat yelled when he saw the fake “REPEL!” His right hand had flashed as he held it up. A bolt of white light shot out from his hand and threw the fake Mrs. Hoots out the window. He stopped in the doorway, his gun in his left and his right hand glowing. “Sheba, are you ok?” Alex asked, turning to watch the front door. 

“I’m fine, Alex,” she said. Nightmare turned to the broken window. Sheba gasped and backed away from the beast. The fake Mrs. Hoots got Nightmare in the side with a black steel dagger. Sliver fluid dripped from the wound. The drops that hit the ground burned the floor and ate away at it. Nightmare looked to his side and saw the handle. 

“Lucky bastard,” he said, pulling the dagger out. The blade was gone before he dropped the handle. Nightmare held his side till the wound closed. “What is that stuff?” the girl asked, still backing away from him. “My blood” he answered “also called nightmare’s revenge.” 

“Alex, where is the book?” Nightmare asked. “I have it on me,” the rat answered. “Good then we are leaving” Nightmare said “and before you fight me on this think about it.” “That’s why I packed it in my bag and some clothes as well,” he said, showing them the bag. Nightmare packed all the black apples and what food he could fit in the other bags. 

With the bags packed and his wound healed, Nightmare stopped and sniffed the air. “Alex, we're not alone,” he said, pushing Sheba next to the rat. “Dreamcatcher” he said “Avalon.” The two were enclosed by a white light that turned to a glass shell. 

“The boyhood knight casts his spells as the little witch hides, the beast is weakened but still stands this must be a great day for us” the sounds of a thousand voices called out all at once. “Pack, show yourself” Nightmare commanded. “Nightmare, nightmare, nightmare, still thinks you’re so scary” the voices played on. 

A ghastly white cloud poured in the window. Pooling into the form of a girl half Sheba’s age. “Nightmare, who is she?” Alex asked. “That isn't she that is the Pack” he answered “a creature much like myself.”  The ghostly child was a minx of a cat with fur to cloud she was dressed in. 

“The child is lucky, our master only wishes us to greet only to say” the twisted souls sang “if the last of the gold blood makes the token packed with you she will be first on the list.” Nightmare looked through the ghost. “It is her right to pack with any of us she likes,” the beast said, taking on his monstrous form. 

“Then you know the mortals seek the king” the ghost sang in key “to see whose demon has such power.” Nightmare shook his head as his ear twitched. He heard something outside the window. “Pack, you know something” Nightmare said “You really need to clear your head, that many voices, makes it so hard to hear.” 

The beast leaned to one side to judge his aim. “What game do you think you would play on us?” The ghost retorted. “Hide and seek” he said “we’ll hide and they can seek you.” “What do you mean” the ghost whined. “I mean goodbye” the beast said and threw himself at the glass ball growing in size.

Holding the ball best he could he threw himself out the shop’s front window. Once outside a rain of gun fire came about. Nightmare took hold of the ball with Sheba and Alex inside and beat his wings to leave the ground. Once they were safely in the sky, Nightmare turned to the rat and hybrid.

“We have much to discuss,” he said, “but given fear of falling to one’s death would tighten one’s lips. ”Alex said nothing and held Sheba close. “Nightmare, please don’t be mad at him” Sheba said holding Alex tighter. Nightmare tightened his face and looked back to the sky. 

With his power he cloaked them from sight. They flew over a forest just outside the city. It was there that Nightmare set down and stood the ball upright. His back and sides were covered in his sliver blood. He sighed before falling to the ground.

“Dreamcatcher” Alex said “release.” The shield was gone in a flash of light. The rat had to hold the girl back from the wounded beast. “Shebs, I don’t think there is anything we can do for him now, '' Alex said, hanging his head. “But He is Nightmare the beast older than the mountains” the girl cried. “And he was stabbed and shot trying to protect you” Alex spoke coldly. 

“Then let me help him,” she cried. “Will the both of you quiet down” the beast spoke in heavy breathes, “I just need to rest and feed.” “All the food is still at the shop” Alex said “even the apples.” The beast chuckled and said “I do not need the apples to feed. Just let me rest for now.” 

“Hey Shebs, this place isn’t too far from where I took you camping” Alex said to the child. Her eyes lit up as she nodded. “Think you can find that cave we stayed in when that storm hit?” he asked. And the girl nodded her head as her tail beat side to side. He stopped and thought for a moment. 

“And when I find it I’ll come back for you” she said. “And if you get lost” the rat asked. The young fox wolf pulled the golden apple from her robe. “I can find you with this,” she said before skipping off. He watched the girl run off into the woods. 

Once she was gone he turned back to Nightmare who sat himself up. “We both know we’re not saints” Alex said “and we both know you lied to her.” Nightmare looked down. “Your pack with her ended the minute she woke up” the young male said. “And I thought you knew nothing of the old ways” Nightmare shot back. “Who do you think taught her the spells?” he answered. 

“You want to know why I stayed,” the beast answered. “Yeah, that and some other things,” the rat said. “She reminds me of them when they were her age,” the beast said, “so carefree and loving.” “I stayed because I am alone,” the beast said, wincing from pain. “The city was picked to hold this thing called the king of demons. 

The criminal leaders have gotten in on the act and everyone is summoning demons. Jessica needed a witch to summon you because she doesn’t have any power. And the deal I made with her was. I get her a powerful demon and she would take care of Sheba for the rest of her life” Alex said, laying all his cards out. 

“But there is something you have missed,” Nightmare said, “the demon is just a servant, not a champion.” This took Alex by surprise. “The demon is the shield and the champion is the sword and the caster is the power” Nightmare said, his closed eye caught by the fang hanging around Alex’s neck. “What” the young male asked “shield sword power what are you talking about?” 

“If Jessica knew the old ways she would know that she needed the three of us, not just me” the beast said checking his wounds. “Ok, what about the token thing the creepy kid was talking about?” Alex asked, seeing what was weakening the beast. “When the caster, the champion and the servant make a covenant to a master the token is formed. But it stays with the caster” Nightmare answered.

“Like a game” Alex said “hang on you still have that knife in your side.” Without a thought Alex grabbed the blade with his right hand and pulled as hard as he could. Nightmare cried out and slammed his massive claw hand in Alex’s chest, in response. Alex was thrown back and landed in a mound of dead leaves with the dagger's blade in his hand. 

“Are you hurt?” Nightmare asked fearfully he killed the lad. With a cough and a deep breath Alex sat up. “I’m lucky you didn’t slice me up” he said looking at his shredded coat. “Please forgive me,” Nightmare said. “Why?” Alex said, holding up the melting blade.

Nightmare looked to his side and to the lad’s hand. “How are you holding that with my blood coating it” the beast asked. “Dreamcatcher,” the lad answered. “That blade has dark magic within it,” Nightmare said. Alex looked at the beast. 

“Can we do anything about it” Alex asked. The beast shook his head. “Dreamcatcher, repel” he said and shot the blade far away. Alex checked his twenty-two. “I got half a clip left,” he said, putting the weapon away. Nightmare looked at the gun before Alex put it away. 

“It launches burning metal bolts?” he asked. “Yeah I guess you could put it that way” Alex said “but I’m almost out of rounds.” “Repel and Avalon are not the only commands your shield has” Nightmare said. “What? Like sit, stay, roll over” Alex joked. Nightmare evened his look. “Make a fist and punch the tree behind you” Nightmare said “but command it to break the tree.” “This is going to hurt,” Alex said, getting to his feet.

He turned to the tree and balled up his fist. He showed it to the beast and turned back to the tree. “Dreamcatcher” he said pulling back his fist “break it.” his hand didn’t light up and the rat hit the tree and screamed. “It is powered by faith.” the beast said “Think about having Avalon around your hand and strike the tree.” 

“Avalon in my hand” Alex said “sounds more like a jaw breaker than anything.” Alex thought it would be funny to try it anyway. He balled up his fist again and pulled it back. “DREAMCATCHER” he yelled “BREAKER!” he let loose with everything he had. His hand lit up into a comet as his first flew. He hit the tree as hard as he could. 

But when he opened his eyes the tree had broken and started falling away from them. “We have found your third command,” the beast said, rising to his feet. Alex knew Nightmare was big. But what he didn’t know was that Nightmare could stand on his hind legs and was almost as tall as a small house. The rat felt smaller next to the beast before it dropped down to all fours. 

“I still can’t believe you can do that,” he said looking around. Nightmare sniffed the air. “Shebs should have been back by now” Alex said. “She is fine,” Nightmare said, following his nose. “How can you tell?” the lad asked following the beast. 

“I can smell her,” the beast answered. “I think I need to go find her,” Alex said. “We will find her,” Nightmare said. “You don’t have to do anything, remember” Alex said. “And you would have me leave a child alone in the wood” Nightmare turned and growled at Alex. 

“Listen well young knight, I don’t take orders unless compelled to do so” Nightmare growled “and I will be damned, to let a child like you to tell me what I can or cannot do with my time.” Alex fell back fearful of the beast. “Ok, ok, ok I’m sorry” he said, holding his arms up. 

Nightmare’s tail flicked out and grabbed Alex by the arm. With next to no force the beast lifted the rat back to his feet. The beast turned back to the path and followed the girl’s scent again. Alex followed him quietly. “The fang around your neck, where did you find it?” Nightmare asked. “Same place Shebs went to go find” he answered. 

Alex was getting a bad feeling something wasn’t right, it had been too quiet. His hand went to the gun and started to follow his gut more than the beast. “Lad, what troubles you?” Nightmare asked, turning his head. “Listen,” he said. “I hear nothing,” the beast said. 

“Case in point” Alex said, drawing the gun and cocking it “no birds, no bugs, nothing.” Nightmare’s tail caught Alex around the waist and lifted the rat over his back. Alex was dropped on the beast’s back just above his wings. “Hold tight” Nightmare said, breaking out into a run.

The beast tore through the brush like it was nothing and smashed through branches and small trees like they were not even there. Alex held on the best he could with one hand, his gun in his free hand. “SHEBA '' he called out fearing the worst. Nightmare picked up the scent of a male with Sheba and commanded his legs to move faster.

“What’s a sweet thing like you doing all the way out here where no one can hear you” the male’s voice could be heard as Nightmare slowed. The male was a large gray wolf dress in just faded blue jeans. The male wolf was easily twice Alex’s size. “I’m not alone” Sheba said fearlessly “and I don’t need or want your help.” 

“Oh my sure you will be fine but I just thought you would want someone to play with” the male said pulling a hunting knife from his belt. “Come on now girlie” he said, turning the blade in his hand “Play with me and I’ll let you go.” “I said no” the child answered, drawing her power. 

Alex took aim with his gun. One clean shot would do the trick. “Doesn’t matter you’re alone right now and who knows your friends might find you sooner or later” the wolf said, grabbing the girl. Alex took the shot and everything froze. Sheba had closed her eyes just as she heard the shot. 

“That was a warning;” Alex said, his tone much deeper “next one goes through your eye.” His shot broke the knife and the wolf stood there frozen. “Now get away from my sister,” the young rat said, holding up his right hand.

 “Make me boy,” the wolf snarled. Nightmare smiled, baring his fangs. “Foolish mortal” he said, his tail lashing out. The tail grabbed the girl and pulled her free of the wolf. “DREAMCATCHER,” Alex commanded “REPEL!”

Chapter 3

They found the cave and stood outside it. Nightmare let Sheba and Alex off his back before dropping the wolf who tried to attack the girl. The male woke up when his back hit the ground. His arms and legs tied so all he could do was inch around. The last thing the wolf recalled was the rat saying something and getting hit with a wall. 

“Untie me you little” the wolf said when his eyes met with the beast’s closed gaze. “Mind yourself, there is a child present” Nightmare said standing over the male. “Just let me go” the wolf quietly begged. “I may have use of you, if for nothing more than to feed from” the beast said turning to the young two “we should check the cave to see if it will be safe for the time being.” 

They both nodded. The beast turned back to the male a growled low and deep before heading to the mouth of the cave. Just the three entered the cave. Nightmare hit something hard like a wall. It was much like the shield Alex had and as the beast turned his head he saw a mark on the wall.

 “Could it be,” he said to himself “brother I understand.” “Nightmare, are you coming?” Alex asked. “No, this place is safe for the time being,” he answered, “and I still need to feed.” The young rat shook his head and turned back to the fox-wolf next to him.

“Come on we might find more of those teeth” he said, taking her mind off of the demon. They thought the cave was going to get darker but unlike before there was a light coming from a deeper part of the cave. “Hello” Alex called his gun in hand. They could hear the chime of metal hitting metal and the roar of a fire. 

They followed the sound till they found a wall of heat. Alex told Sheba to stay where she was. “Hello” he asked again. “Blacken steel melted red,” a voice sang “hammer to place in the forge’s hearth.” It was a male singing. The male himself was standing over something beating with a gold hammer. The male had metal like scales and glowed in a silver light that mixed with the fire he worked.

“Mortals in the forge,” something hissed. “Mortals have found the forge!” “If mortals are here then they were to find it, my little friend” the male said “but seeing as one bears a casting born of my brother means he too is not far from here.” 

“Nightmare has a brother,” Alex said. The male hammered away as if the rat was never there. “A young witch and her knight, what would have me do” hissed the smaller voice. “Drake, if you think as to whom the casting came from means your master waits for you.” The metal male spoke. Alex couldn’t help but stare. 

“What are you?” he asked. “The same as my brother, young knight” the male said “but as you call him Nightmare you may call me Daydream.” “Next you’re going to tell me you have a sister name fantasy” the young rat jokingly said with a nervous laugh. “No, our other brother is called Wishmaker” Daydream answered “but all the same, if you have found me then you are here for more than chit chat.”

“I don’t even know how we got here,” Alex said. He looked around only to see the stone of the cave. “Boy knight don’t you have a name” the small voice hissed. “Alex” he answered “and you would be?” a small black creature flew across the open floor of the cave and landed on the younger male’s shoulder. 

It looked like a snake with webbed arms that looked like wings. “I am Drake the Beast, the Black Blade of Chaos” the creature answered with a small croak. The metal lizard set the piece of metal into fires of the forge before closing its gate. The air cooled and drew dark without the flames.

“And before you ask, yes he is a weapon made by our father” the metal lizard said, turning to face the young rat. Alex’s eyes jumped when he saw the front of Daydream’s head. He had no face, no mouth or eyes, not even a nose. All he had was a black cross where his right eye would be. “Child witch, child witch” the small winged snake called “it is safe for you now.” 

“Alex” the young hybrid called. “It’s ok Sheba,” he called “you can come closer.” Daydream’s body glowed even without the light from the fire. Sheba came into the opening and stared at the faceless male. He turned his head so the black cross was looking at her. “I bid you good day of days, keeper of the star forge” she said dipping into a small curtsy. 

“Honor and grace be blessed to you young caster” he answered bowing his head and chest. “Star forge,” Alex said “like the one from the bedtime story?” “You know of the forge my father has left to me” Daydream asked turning to the younger male. “Only the stories I used to read to Sheba when she was little” he answered “just that it had this magic that would bring life to anything it made.”

“I see,” the faceless Daydream said, “even to this day my father’s legacy stands.” “Then that means you’re one of the sons of the Caretaker” Alex said, turning to Sheba. The young girl looked to her brother. “Sheba, this is Nightmare’s brother,” he said. “MEEP” another hiss joined them. 

“Yes Toot-tun” Daydream said, holding up the hammer as it slid down his arm. The hammer had morphed into a small golden snake and coiled itself around Daydream’s arm. “He likes you,” Daydream said, letting his arm down. Daydream was tall and wide. He looked more like a metal wall than a male. 

“Before you ask any question I am not as wise as my brothers and I stay more to the forge than speak to others,” Daydream said. “We have no Questions to ask except, how did we find you? '' Sheba said, taking out a small notebook. “Easy you found me for your token” he answered and handed her a gold medallion.

 “Wait we can’t take that” Alex protested “We’re not part of this game.” Daydream threw his head back and laughed. “No, then who’s mark is on the token? '' the metal male asked, pointing a long thin finger at the medallion. On the face of the medallion were three markings. 

The Blood Gold crest, a dream catcher and a broken star. Alex shook his head. “Lad you must face the dark truth” Daydream said resting a lager hand on the young rat’s shoulder “you are part of this just as much as she.” “No, no, no'' Alex said, pushing the male away and raising the gun “I won’t let her be part of this she should never have to see bloodshed.” 

“Alex, listen to me,” Daydream said softly, his deep voice kind and gentle “this is the way of things.” “No, this is whatever devil spat you out idea of a good time” Alex shouted. “If it were up to me I would not have to give her or any other such things” the metal lizard said. 

“Then take it away from her” Alex demanded. “I cannot,” the other answered. Alex took the piece of gold and threw it down to the floor of the cave. “There, just pick it up and we’re gone,” he said, taking Sheba’s hand. “It is not mine to take,” Daydream answered, “nor do I have the power to remove its marks.” 

Alex turned the gun to the coin and shot at it. He fired a round into each mark then another and another. Each round left not even a scratch on the metal. Soon the gun clicked and clicked hoping for one more shot. “Heavens be damned,” Alex shouted and threw the gun across the cave. Daydream stood there resting his hands on his hips. 

“Lad, your gun can’t do anything to it” Daydream said “Fate has dealt you your hand.” The metal lizard turned and pulled out two small eggs of some kind. One was colored in hues of flame and the other black with swirls of red. 

“I cannot change what fate has done but I can help change what can be done” he said “but I cannot just give them to you.” “Give what” Alex said, turning his eyes to the eggs “colored eggs.” “No,” Drake said “they are children of the forge, powerful tools to aid those who bare them.” “Like you, a snake with wings,” Alex spat. “I am a Dragon I will have you know” the small snake spat back small flames following his hiss. 

“Besides, we don't have any money,” Alex said. “I don’t have much,” Sheba said, digging in her pockets. “Money means nothing to me” Daydream said “but that fang may have some use to me.” “This” Alex said pointing at the fang hanging around his neck “Sheba found it in this cave.” 

“The one you have will do just fine,” Daydream answered. “It was a gift, I'm not going to give it up,” the young rat said. The black cross turned to the young male, studying him. “I offer power in exchange for a trinket” the lizard said “and you say no to me.” Alex turned to Sheba and back to the lizard.

 “I don’t want power,” he said “I just want to protect my sister.” There was no way to tell what the male was thinking given he had no face to speak of. The cross turned to Sheba and he asked “what would you be willing to give for the power I offer?” she shook her head. “Alex is right,” she said, pulling her coat tighter “I have nothing that can equal this power and I know it will undo me if I take it.” 

“Wise beyond your years” the metal one said, withdrawing the eggs “a test passed by so few.” “I’m sorry we took up your time sir” Alex said putting his arm around the young hybrid. Daydream held out the eggs one more time. “You may have them,” he said. The two looked to each other and back to the male. 

“A gift from one brother to another,” Daydream said putting the black egg in Alex’s hand “use this to protect those you love.” The egg was hot and cold at the same time. The egg quaked in the rat’s hand. The small snake dragon smiled and chirped. The demon turned to the child and handed her the flame red egg.

“With this light your way in the dark and it will keep to you” he said ruffled the fur of her head. A tendril reached from Daydream’s back and plucked the gold coin from the ground. “I do not have the answers you want but know this” he said as the tendril set the coin in the rat’s free hand “till a pack is made she does not need to hold the token.” 

Unwilling Alex put the coin in his pocket and looked at his egg and the male who had given it to him. “There is work to be done and so this is where we part,” Daydream said, turning back to his forge. Alex and Sheba both bowed and left the demon to his work. As they left the cave they could hear the demon singing again “Blacken steel melted red hammered to place the forge’s hearth.” 

The cave had gotten darker and they couldn’t see. “We need a light” Alex said. “You have light in your hand” the snake dragon hissed. Alex looked at his hand asking “Dreamcatcher?” “Daydream was glowing in the dark,” Sheba said. Alex thought about it. “Dreamcatcher” he said holding up his hand “Day…” before he finished his thought his hand lit up with a bright glow. “Wow” he mouthed as he led the way out of the cave.

 Something the size of Nightmare would stand out in the woods. But as Sheba, Alex and the small serpent dragon exit the cave, they found, both the demon and wolf missing. Alex raised his hand again and waved it around. “Nightmare” Sheba called. “I am over here, little one,” the beast answered.

They found the beast lying next to a tree cleaning his tail with his tongue. The light gray wolf lying limp next to the demon. Alex put his arm between the fox-wolf child and the blacked coat demon. “He lives,” Nightmare answered, “just sleeping off the effects of my feeding.” “Master” the small dragon hissed leaping from the rat’s shoulder. 

“Drake” the demon asked as the smaller creature landed on its master’s head. The dragon chirped and growled playfully on the demon’s head. “Nightmare, why did you untie him?” Alex asked, pointing to the sleeping wolf. “Because he is no threat” the demon answered. A small flick of the demon’s tail woke the wolf. 

“What, I’m not ready to go again,” the wolf said “my back hurts.” “Master, you have powerful friends at such young ages” the dragon hissed. Alex shook his head from what the wolf said and turned back to the demon. “I’m not his friend” the rat said “I don’t even know what to make of him.” 

“Boy Knight, my master doesn’t give such powerful castings to those he doesn't see as friends” Drake hissed. “It’s ok Alex,” Sheba said, pulling on the rat’s sleeve “if he was evil then he would have killed me the second I set him free.” “He was under contract to keep you alive” Alex said “a contract that had been broken when you woke up this morning.” 

“No it’s not Alex” Sheba said “if it was then why is his mark on the coin?” “I don’t know,” he answered. “Alex, Nightmare is a good person” the child said “he is loving and kind.” “Sheba, he's a demon” Alex retorted. 

“And what about his brother Daydream” the fox-wolf shot. “He’s a demon too,” the rat chided. “Alex,” the child said. “He gave me his true name, and there is nothing more important to a demon than their name.”

 “All the more reason to kill you” Alex said. “Will you shut up?” the wolf said, rolling over. “If you knew the stories about Nightmare you would know he can’t hurt children and can’t kill anyone who is pure and if anything he would be taking care of her like she was his own child.” 

“Who asked you anyway?” Alex spat at the wolf “dirty piece of trash.” “Look kid I don’t give a damn about what’s going on” the wolf said standing up “but if the kid trusts this beast then maybe you should do the same.”

Alex shook it off, rubbing his head. The grip on the egg had gotten tighter. “Louis, they’re hungry and tired” Nightmare said “By chance would you have food and a place to rest?” the wolf nodded. “Yeah, my place isn’t far from here,” he said, getting his bearings. 

“It’s about an hour’s walk from here” Louis said pointing into the woods “that way.” “Then let us make way” Nightmare said rising to his feet. He lowered back down so Sheba could sit on his back.  “Louis, I know that name from somewhere” Alex said.

 “Well if you’re this Alex guy I heard about then you should know me” the wolf said. “I don’t think so,” the young rat answered. “You’re Alex Greenvolt, right?” the wolf asked. “Yeah, how did you know my name?” he asked. “Jessica called me the other day and told me to find you,” the wolf answered. “I told her not to seek us out,” Nightmare said, shaking his head slowly. 

“She said something about hiding you from someone” Louis went on “didn’t tell me much else.” “Sorry I acted that way back there” he added “being out here all the time makes one lose their mind.” “Wait you’re Louis Wilds, Jessica’s top hit man” the Rat shouted.

 “Was, I’m retired” the wolf said, jumping over a downed tree. Alex had to work his way over the thick tree, as Nightmare just stepped over it. 

“Now she has me babysitting her pet theft and some brat,” Louis went on “by the way kid you got some skill with a gun.” “It was just luck.” The rat said.  “Luck has nothing to do with it” the older wolf said as he led the way “I know a marksman when I see one.” 

“Wait, her pet theft” Alex asked after it clicked in his head. “I’ll tell you about it later,” Louis answered. Alex had to do a double take before the wolf answered “later.” “That does answer a few questions I had,” the beast remarked. The other three look at the beast. “I have my reasons,” the beast answered.

“I mean not to draw you deeper into my world but he would do better with a bow or sword” the demon said, walking easily through the brush.  “Jess, told me about him” the wolf said “he’s better with a gun than anything else.”

They came to a small road that led back to the city. “Well, if you go that way you’ll find a gas station about four miles down the road” the wolf said pointing to one end of the road and began to walk the other way. “Where are you going?" Alex asked. “I’m going home” Louis said “I’m not babysitting a freak show.” “Whatever” Alex said and turned to walk the other way. “Alex,” Sheba said looking at her rat brother. 

“Shebs, we are in over our heads here” Alex said “and I don’t think we can trust him.” “I know but” the young hybrid said “just have a bad feeling.” The young rat turned and walked over to his sister and patted her on the knee. “It’s ok kiddo, I’m still here” he said and gave a reassuring smile. 

The wolf stopped a few yards away. Nightmare’s ears turned and head twisted. Something in Alex’s gut was telling him to run. “Nightmare” he said, turning around holding up his right hand. “I know” the demon answered. “I hate Mondays” the wolf said taking a few steps back. “Neltatel” The demon spoke, flaring his wings.

 “Norcontol” a voice hissed and crackled. “Nightmare what’s going on” the young rat asked turning his head and hand to every sound he heard. The beast spoke to the hiss in a tongue no mortal could understand. 

The hiss answered the beast the same way. “Alex, Nightmare I’m scared” Sheba said, holding onto the beast tighter. The shrill of a thousand voices crying out all at once echoed down the road. “Doratyl cor to vel” the hissed asked.

 “Con ko vin toa bie” Nightmare answered. “Come little children, come and play” the voices sang “come little children, come and play, we can have fun tearing you apart limb from limb. “Not her again” Alex cursed. Nightmare’s head whipped back and forth. Out of nowhere something almost as big as Nightmare landed next to Alex. 

It was big black and armored. The two monsters regarded each other. “Kona, kona, tel ba toa bea doka” the giant crab hissed. “Tol kae war to vye ortha” Nightmare answered. “If he’s telling us to get out of here I agree” Alex said, holding out his hand like a gun. 

Nightmare looked at the rat then to the crab. The crab nodded, it's armored head pointed away from the voices. Nightmare shook his head and said “wayto boe tel ba too too aino.” “I don’t think we can go that way either,” the wolf said, backing up till he was next to the beast.

 “Day of days,” Nightmare said. It was too late to run. The small ghost cat had found them. “It’s the pack” Alex said. “Alex, do not move” Nightmare said “No one move.” “Nightmare we see you still live” the child sang “what a shame.”

Chapter 4

The ghostly cat stopped walking and sang her little song. Meanwhile at the other end of the road a small army marched unevenly down the road. The smell of rotten flesh filled the air and was thick with decay. In the lead of this force was what looked to be a rat whose face was half melted away. 

With a wave of its hand the flanks of death came to a halt. “What a sight” it said, taking in the scene. “Leanch” Nightmare spat. “Friend of yours,” Louis asked. “Hardly” the beast answered “he’s a soul sucking corpse that never seems to die fully.” “Nightmare, get Sheba out of here” Alex said.

“Neltatel, What did you find?” a female voice could be heard from the woods across the road. “Tel fo woqu felyo” the crab demon answered. A female bear the size of the wolf stepped out of the brush holding a battle ax in one hand and a shotgun in the other. 

“Aw, shit” the brown bear said, turning her head to see the number of demons on the road. The bear’s eyes locked on the little hybrid who was trying to hide deep within her cloak. “I take it she’s with you” Alex asked the crab demon, who nodded yes. “She is friendly,” the young rat asked. The crab held up his pincer claw and gave it a “so-so” shake. 

The standoff wouldn’t last much longer. “Give us the child” Pack sang “and you may all leave.” “I don’t think so, Pack” the undead rat said “the child witch is coming with me.” “OVER MY DEAD BODY” Alex yelled. Both demons smiled. 

“I like the way you think kid” the undead rat said waving his hand “kill them and bring me the girl alive.” “Dreamcatcher” Alex commanded “repel.” His white hand lit up as a beam of white light shot from his finger at the ghost cat. But in that same moment three ghostly beams shot back at him from the ghost cat. 

One got the young rat in the shoulder, chest and leg. “Hay why did the demon cross the road?” the bear yelled before firing her gun at the corpse army. The crab demon turned to the rat knowing the young male was hurt. It ducked down and scooped him up, cutting him free from the beams that held him, with the tail that grew from the back of its head. 

“To get the hell out of here” the bear yelled, lopping off one of the zombie heads with the ax. The three of them ran for and past the bear as she followed suit. They ran past a group of trees well marked with ruins that formed a line. “MICHAEL, CLOSE IT” the bear yelled.

 Just as the bear’s foot crossed the line a bright light flashed. “Thank you ma’am” Nightmare and Sheba said at the same time. “Neltatel how is he?” the bear asked, knowing the crab was caring for the young rat. “Lea coe wif noc toa lefor” the demon answered.

“Think he can make it to the camp?” she asked. The crab nodded and added “gota focon.” “Nightmare what is he saying?” Sheba asked fearfully for her brother. “Alex is hurt but he is still alive but we must make haste” the beast answered. Short of running the group moved quickly to reach the campsite. 

“Alice you’re back” a white weasel spoke, wearing an odd set of clothes with a tall top hat on his head. “Yes, Michael we’re back and thank you for the barrier sexy” the bear answered and gave the smaller weasel a kiss on the cheek. The weasel blushed dark enough that it could be seen through his fur. 

“Neltatel” the weasel asked “who are your friends?” “Talk later, one of the kids is hurt badly” Alice answered digging through one of their packs. “Neltatel could you lay him in the tent please” Michael asked, leading the crab demon into the tent.

Sheba jumped off of Nightmare’s back and ran for the tent. Nightmare’s long black tail followed quickly after. She was about to reach the tent when the tail caught her and pulled her away. “Sheba, leave this to them, they will care for Alex” Nightmare said, pulling the girl under his wing. 

“I won’t leave him” She protested “He would be there for me.” “But he would also know not to get in the way,” Nightmare retorted. The young hybrid continued to struggle till she found a deep feather with her hand. 

“I’m sorry Nightmare but I can’t just sit here and do nothing” she said and yanked on the feather as hard as she could. The beast roared in pain as one of his flight feathers was ripped out forcing him to open his wing. Once free she ran from the beast, the feather still in her left hand. Nightmare was about to give chase till he saw the feather and what color it was.

“Sheba,” he called after her, “be careful.” The hybrid didn’t look back and ran past the crab demon sitting next to the tent. “Alice I can’t stop the bleeding” Michael said pressing down on the rat’s shoulder. “I think his lung collapsed,” the bear answered, trying to get the rat to breathe. 

“Alex” Sheba gasped, dropping next to her older brother. The weasel stopped thoughtlessly and stared at the child’s hand. All but forgetting what he was doing. “MICHAEL” the bear growled. “White hand, blue hand, white hand, blue hand” he said over and over again. “Michael focus,” the bear chided again.

 “Blue hand heal, heal, heal, healer, healer, heal her, heal him” the weasel’s mind overloaded itself. “Shit we’re going to lose both of them” the bear said. “Cast, cast caster child, rain falls drowns the flames of pain bring life renewed” the weasel said before his mind clapped and returned him. 

“You, repeat after me” he said pointing at the hybrid. “Michael we don’t have time for this” the bear said trying to hold all three wounds closed by herself. “Repeat after me” he said again “Rainfall restores.” “Damnit, kid just do what he said so he’ll knock it off and help” Alice roared. Sheba picked up Alex’s hand and held it close to her heart. “Rainfall” she said tears rolling down her cheeks “Restore.” 

Before Alice could say anything the young rat’s body glowed with a clear blue light. Michael pulled Alice off the rat. The weasel smiled as they watched the small witch use a powerful magic that had been lost for ages. “He who was born of the night sky will walk on the earth” the weasel said. 

He shook his head and turned to the young rat lying on the ground. With a sharp gasp Alex shot up gripping at his chest with his free hand. “WHERE’S NIGHTMARE” he hissed. “Alex, it’s ok,” Sheba said, putting her hand on his shoulder. 

“No, I have to talk to Nightmare” Alex said trying to get his feet under him. Alice turned and with little more force than needed pushed the younger rat back down on the sleeping bag. “You almost died and the kid here just saved your ass” the bear said with a death stare into the rat’s soul “you need to rest, so stay there.” 

“But I need to talk to Nightmare” the rat begged. “Then we will get him for you,” the weasel said, tipping his hat. “Alex, you’re scaring me,” the hybrid said. “Alex, what happened?” Nightmare questioned as he entered the tent in his own hybrid form. “I don’t know,” the rat said, shaking his head.

“This voice kept saying ‘find the hunted vixen’ over and over again.” “Hunted vixen” the demon mused the words rubbing his jaw. “Michael said something about he who was born of the night sky walking the Earth” the youngest of the three said. “We will think more on this another time” the demon said “but first you both need to rest.” 

“Sheba, what happened to your hand?” the rat asked, looking at the hybrid’s watercolor hand. “I pulled on one of Nightmare’s feathers and then my hand turned blue. Michael called it Rainfall '' she answered. “Nor con vintelo” the crab demon asked from outside the tent. “What,” Alex asked. “Nor con vintelo” the demon answered but louder.

“That didn’t help,” Alex remarked. “He asked ‘num thy hunger” Nightmare rephrased “or are you hungry?” “Ok if this, king of demons thing sets teams against each then why are they being so nice to us” Alex asked. “Because your team hasn’t started yet,” Alice answered, opening the tent. “Started yet” the rat asked. 

“I don’t know we’ll have to ask Michael when he gets back,” she answered. Nightmare pulled the young rat to his feet and led them from the tent. The weasel was sitting in front of a fire blankly staring into the flames. “You said he left” Alex asked pointing to the entranced weasel. 

“Yeah, well he does that he might not be back for an hour or so” the bear answered as she sat next to the smaller weasel. Alex still couldn’t wrap his mind around what she said. “His mind is elsewhere” another voice added “finding answers again, young knight.” 

Sheba looked around to see where this new voice came from leaving only the crab demon to be the only other one there. “If you could speak our language then why wait till now to use it” Alex asked. “Own reasons” it answered. “Never mind that, food’s ready, eat before it gets cold” Alice cut in, handing each a cup a stew. 

Nightmare wasted no time on manors before engulfing his meal in one gulp. “Your friend there is a weird one” Alice remarked to Sheba about the demon before spooning hers with cooling breaths. “He has death for blood, boiled water won’t harm him” the crab spoke, dipping his tail into his cup.

“I take it you two know each other” Alex asked. “I know of him but we have never met before this day” the crab answered. “My father knew his father long before we were around” Nightmare said, setting the cup aside. The demons regarded each other again. 

Before more questions about the demon’s past could be asked the weasel gasped as he woke from his trance.  Alice grabbed the weasel to keep him from falling and whispered in his ear. He blinked and nodded. When he relaxed the bear released him. His hands shifted as he pointed around.

“You call, three minutes,” he said and pointed to the rat “list, list, list, make a list check it twice.” “Michael, slow down,” Alice said, putting one of her arms around the weasel and holding him close. “He’s a seer” Sheba said “but his visions cost a lot of his mind.” 

“Yeah, but I’m hoping that one day I can have him back for good” Alice answered with a sad smile “sometimes they’re kind to him.” The weasel started shaking. He seemed to be trying to get his thoughts together. “Mother worries, children lost, darkness guards, stand alone, he is on the march” Michael said holding his head. 

“Michael, stay with me” Alice whispered, holding him closer “please stay with me.” Nightmare frowned and looked away. “If Wishmaker was here he could help ease your lover’s pain” the demon said. Sheba looked at each of them.

“I don’t know if it would work but maybe I can help,” she said, holding up her left hand. The bear shook her head “he is too far gone for your tricks.” “Nightmare, can you feed off him?” Alex asked, seeing what the hybrid was thinking. The demon mused the idea before shaking his head. 

“It would kill him if I tried. “Only Wishmaker would know how to help him,” the demon answered. “I call bull shit on that” the rat spat. The group turned to look at the young rat. “I trust Sheba to know what she is doing,” Alex went on “and you know how deep this thing goes, and I think we have everything we need.” 

The weasel was still shaking, it was painful to watch. Alex dug in his bag and pulled out a small book. He scanned through it till he found what he was looking for. “We met a soldier today, he was in a great deal of pain” he read aloud “Nightmare said the soldier was being attacked by a demon from inside. 

He walked us through expelling it and healing the soldier as he faced the demon.” Nightmare frowned “They had far more training then Sheba and their bodies could handle that much power.” “I can’t ask you to do this” Alice said “as much as I want him back I won’t ask anyone to risk themselves for us.” 

“I know that’s why we’re not going to risk anything” Alex said with a grin across his face. They all look at him again. He held up the egg he had. “Like I said, we have everything we need,” he smiled.

Chapter 5

Moments later Alex had set up a full ritual circle with the help of the two demons. “If I read it right, we can use this circle like a grounding wire for any overload” Alex said finishing the last of the markings. “Alex, where did you learn about this ring?” Nightmare asked, “I had never seen it in the book.”

 “I’m not sure I just know this is the one to use,” the rat answered. Michael was balled up next to the fire crying with Sheba sitting next to him. “I don’t think this is going to work” Alice digressed as she watched the young rat work. Alex stopped, looked around and up at the sky. 

“Ok places everyone” he said. Blinks and odd looks came from everyone with eyes. “Nightmare you stand here facing this way” he said moving the demon into place. Sheba helped Michael over to them. “Neltatel, you’re over here” he said, leading the crab to his spot. 

In all honesty Alex had no clue what he was doing; he just knew how it all fit. “Michael, can I use your hat please?” he asked. The weasel took the top hat off and handed it to the rat. He took the gold coin from his pocket and dropped it into the hat. Thoughtlessly the weasel did the same. 

“Your rings, and Sheba, we need the apple,” he said. They each added to the hat. “Alice you’re right here” Alex said and motioned for her to kneel. “Michael, you’re here” he said, having the weasel lay down with his head in Alice’s lap.

He set the top hat on Michael’s chest and set the black and red egg in the weasel’s hand. He motions for Sheba to do the same. Sheba mirrored her brother as they knelt down and set one hand on the weasel’s shoulders and the over on the top hat. “I still don’t see what your plan is,” Alice said, petting Michael’s head to help keep him calm. 

“I’m not sure how I know this but if I’m right,” the rat answered “we can draw out the backlog of energy he has and feed it to the eggs and if there is something else hiding in there we can flush it out.” “That’s nice and all but how do you plan on getting this thing to work” the bear asked. Nightmare’s voice came softly in song. 

Each note put all of them at ease. The lines and markings of the circle began to glow. Sheba repeated each note joining the demon in song. Alex did the same as well and Alice. Michael’s body stiffened as his eyes went blank and his jaw hung open. 

One by one gaseous clouds poured from the weasel maw. Soon twelve gaseous forms stood over them. The eggs glowed as the thirteenth cloud spent its way from the weasel. Nightmare nodded to Alice who closed the weasel’s mouth. “Who are you to summon us?” one of the clouds spoke its voice deep and dark. 

“You are bringing harm to a gentle soul and that I cannot allow” Nightmare said. “He had made his choice long ago” the cloud answered “Now be gone dream eater.” “What pack has he made with the likes of you,” Nightmare asked, “that needs thirteen of you?” “He threw his life to us as payment for his lover” it answered. 

The dark cloud turned to the rat and said, “Knight of child, lift his shirt.” Alex pulled the weasel’s shirt as high as he could. “As you can see he had been shot thirteen times in the heart” the cloud said. The bald scars counted thirteen bullet wounds. “He willfully challenged death to protect her.”

“He lives solely because you will it,” Nightmare asked. “No, he lives only because we became bond to him” it answered. “How has this come to be?” Nightmare asked. “We are what made the wounds in his heart” it answered. “Does not mean you cannot make peace with him” the beast growled.

“Now why would we do that? He was not meant to bear us but he stepped into our path of his own free will.” “But why do you make him suffer?” the beast asked. “To see it pain her to watch knowing there is nothing she can do to ease his pain.” “Why do you hate her?” 

“Do you not see what she has done to us?” “And what is it that she has done to you?” “She killed us as mortals and now we have a chance to make her pay for her crime '' one of the lighter clouds spoke with a soft motherly voice. “You are not so bound that I cannot kill you without killing him” the beast said, bearing his fangs. 

“You see that is where you’re wrong, we are bound to his very life” the dark cloud spoke. Alice petted the weasel’s head, quiet tears rolling down her cheeks. “I can see the darkness in each of you and she is as pure as your host” Nightmare said “you blame her for your death when she was the one who was wronged by you.” 

“You would not understand, demon, what she has taken from us cannot be returned.” “No, I understand all too well. You want something she has that you would have had she die when you had planned but no. A gentle clown saved her once from your trap.” “Yes he did and we became victims of the blast.” 

Alex looked at one of the clouds. “Wait, was this about ten years ago?” he asked “yes it was” the cloud answered. “The Underland board massacre that calmed the lives of thirteen board members, only Alice Underland survived the blast thanks to a street performer” Alex said.

“It is true we did try to kill her but thank the Heavens we failed.” One of the other clouds spoke. “So after you die you cast yourselves to kill her anyway” Nightmare said. “No, after she killed us, we plan on taking her body and keeping what she stole from us.” 

“But now because the fool stepped in the way we plan on making her suffer by making her watch him lose his mind and drag him between life and death for the rest of his days.” “That is why we agreed to take part in the games, to win and free him of them” Alice said “but it seems they plan on just to keep us alive to break him. Michael, I'm so sorry.” 

“That’s the funny thing if I thought this out right” Alex spoke up “there is a way to save him.” “What, remove us and let a little girl try to save his worthless life?” “Yeah, something like that,” Alex said, “she did summon him.” “You are a fool boy” the dark cloud drew closer to the rat. “You do that, all you will do is kill him and give us full control of his body.”

“NO, no more of this, our greed put us here we need to stop” one of the clouds said. The clouds began to bicker. “Stop, if one of us dies, we all die.” “I read about this curse and the funny thing is if he can live after one of you dies then we can remove you one at a time” Sheba said. “I will kill him if you try,” the darkest cloud said.

 “We’ll see about that,” Alex said. The rat and the little hybrid called to the castings and commanded them to act. One of the clouds faded away as the eggs glowed with power. “I told you, I will kill him if you tried.” “No Wane it’s over, the only one of us that wants to keep living like this is you, so just give it up.” 

Each of the clouds moved to keep the darkest one away from the weasel. Alex and Sheba repeated the action again releasing another cloud. The dark cloud hissed as it shrank. The scars over the weasel’s heart faded away as new fur grew in their place.

“You are a dark caster, you find joy in making others suffer” the beast said as black mists flowed around him. More commands were given as another cloud was freed and more of the dark cloud weakened. “You think less of those around you because you see them as weak” Nightmare went on “your hunger for power and glory has twisted your soul leaving a monster in its stead.” 

Another cloud was saved. “You used them, you killed them, you imprisoned them, you made them do unspeakable acts to a gentle soul and that is unforgivable” Nightmare said. “Like you are one to talk, demon” the cloud spoke, hissing away power “you don’t know what it is like to lose all you hold dear.” 

“That is where you are wrong, I too have lost but to a foe whom none can run from” the beast said. “And what is it that you have lost demon” “Everyone I had ever cared for, every lover I have had, every gentle soul I have befriended, even my own family broken and divided by time” Nightmare spoke “I am older than the mountains and still I feel the pain of the loss of my first love.”

“I lost the world to this bitch and her clown” clouds hissed as more of the others clouds faded and were set free. “No one, not even I can own the world, we are all meant to share it and share in it” the beast retorted. 

“Why” Alice asked “why did you have to do this to us if you had asked I would have turned it all over to you, you cared for me when I lost my parents, you showed me you taught me everything I know I would have given it all to you if you had only asked.”

“You stupid girl, your parents could have given me what I wanted, but no they gave it to you, and died before they could stop me from getting to you.” “You killed them” the bear said “you killed them because they knew what you were planning, they were going to stop you and you had them killed.” 

“Yes, because I had to work for everything I had and they didn’t even have to lift a finger.” The bear closed her eyes, shutting away the pain. “I have every right to hate you,” she smiled as she spoke “I should feed you to these demons.” Sheba looked over to the bear. “But, that won’t change any of this,” Alice said with a wave of her hand. The beast smiled. 

“I forgive you.” “What?!” “I forgive you.” “No you have no right to say such things, you did this to me, you made me a monster, this is all your fault!” Alice took off her coat and folded it. She set it under the weasel’s head as she stood up. 

The last of the clouds broke free as the hybrid child healed the weasel from their release. “Wane you were someone I looked up to, and if you taught me one thing it is that no matter what happens everyone must do what they think is right for themselves and everyone around them” she said stepping around her lover and walking over to the last cloud that had changed form to a brown fur lab. 

“And this is what I feel is right for all of us” she said, pulling the male close into a gentle hug “I forgive you.” The male howled as he faded away without having to be released. The beast bowed to the bear as he broke the circle as the black mist faded into his flesh. “That was very brave of you, child” he said “I hope it has only made your heart stronger.” 

“What funny looking eggs, do you think they are still good to eat” the weasel asked as he came too. Alice started crying when she heard his voice. “Hey, those are magic eggs don’t break them” Alex yelled, grabbing for the eggs but the weasel was too quick for the rat. After a few minutes of being chased Michael stopped dead. 

“Company” he said just as Alex caught him. “Oh, hello I’m Michael, who are you?” he asked the younger rat. “Alex, we already met,” he said. “Oh, I thought that was a dream I’m sorry” the weasel handed the rat the two eggs. “You’re the knight of the child witch” he said “powerful spirits protect you.” 

“Alex, don’t hurt him, '' Sheba yelled, catching up to them.  The wild eye weasel looked at the hybrid and took a deep bow. “Child caster of the old blood, it is my honor to meet you in person” he said, lips twisting into a playful smile. Sheba gasped. “You’re the Top Hat Trickster'' she said “I watched your show all the time.'' 

The little hybrid hugged her hero who was only happy to return the same to her. “I didn’t think anyone remembered me from those days, and from someone who was too young to have seen it live” he said tilting his head “reruns must be to blame.” Nightmare turned to the bear with an inquisitive look. 

“Michael use to star in a kid’s show, back then he was called the Top Hat Trickster, and kids loved him” she said “but when Michael refused to let Wane change his show, Wane had him taken off the air, the show still runs but only in reruns, now those who know the old ways as he put it know him as the Mad Sage.”

The weasel froze in place when his eyes turned white. “Keeper of dreams, Driver of the flames, Scholar of days, the brightest star of night wakes, in promise of gold sleeps the key, wake, wake the hunter, the protector, awaken the woodsman whom cares for the one cloaked in flames” he said “in his wake evil foes shall fall, knight of the child, make the pack, she calls to you and you alone, aid her so she may be freed from trades and betrayers.” 

Then collapsed to his knees as his eyes returned to their golden huge. He blinked and looked around. “Sorry did I miss something, I think I tripped on a rock or stick, why is everyone staring at me?” he said. Everyone was staring at the weasel because of his behavior and clear tone he spoke in. “the elder soul spoke again didn’t he” Michael asked all the joy draining from his face. 

“Elder soul” Alex asked looking at Nightmare for answers. “When he speaks it means someone is going to die” Michael said “last time he spoke was before Alice was attacked by Wane.” Alex’s mind went to work understanding what the elder soul had said. “Haunted vixen, calling me, betrayers, SHIT” Alex jumps to his feet pulling Sheba along with “Nightmare we need to get out of here.” 

“Alex, what’s wrong, what has gotten into you” the child asked. “Jessica is in danger,” he said. “But she tried to kill you,” Nightmare pointed out. “Think about it, Nightmare, Jessica is a great shot and could have put me down with one bullet” Alex said. “No, she kept the weapon aimed at me all but one of them was attacking me alone” Nightmare said recalling the Vixen’s men. 

“And he was the only one who wanted us dead,” Alex added. The rat’s grip on the egg tightened, and cracked the shell. Louis came, running holding Alice’s shotgun in his hands. “We got a problem,” He said. “Something has broken my barrier” Michael answered “take the girl and run.” 

A quiet sound came from the trees. A melody of a song danced in the air. “Give us the child and you might live” the scream of thousand voices called. “Not them again” Alex swore and called back “You can’t have her.” The egg in his closing fist cracked and chipped. Alice picked up her ax and a pistol.


“We just want the child, boy” the pack’s voices screamed. “I WILL DIE BEFORE I LET YOU LAY ONE FINGER ON HER” Alex yelled. “So be it” Leanch’s voice flowed. The following cries came from the poor undead creatures Leanch made. Gunfire rang out as bullets flew pass them. Sheba ran for her life. Louis took off after her. 

Alex called on Dreamcatcher but he didn’t call for Avalon, he called for Breaker. The first of the undead forces rushed them. She ran. She didn’t know why. She knew they would protect her. She knew they would save her. But she ran. 

The trees closed in around her. She could hear the monsters howling, and the guns barking. The branches reached for her. It was dark. She was alone. The monsters were coming for her. A tree root grabbed her foot. She screamed as she fell. 

The gold apple and the red egg flew out of her hands. She cried. The child balled up under her cloak and cried. Her leg hurt. She couldn’t see what was around her. She heard the monsters moving around her. Fear was choking her. She cried out for help. 

But none would come. She ran. She was a coward. She left her brother alone to face the monsters. Her thoughts hammered her soul. The creatures drew closer. One slashed her. She rolled away. She felt something under her hand. It was smooth. It was warm. The egg! Was it her only chance? 

She had to take it. She lifted the egg. A creature lunged for her. She swung. The egg met the side of the creature’s head. The egg shattered. The creature pulled back. Light! Bright flames dance from where bits of the egg had landed. Another monster? It was big. It was burning. It was scary. The creatures backed away from the flames. The burning beast was between them and their prize. It growled and barked. 

The beast’s form was a wolf. A wolf with seven tails, tails that looked like they were fox tails. The child gazed at the beast. It kept its back to her. It kept its eyes on the creatures around them. It must protect the child at all costs. It will protect the child at all costs. It must protect its master. 

An enemy attacked. It bared its fangs and countered. The enemy fell, flames consumed it.  Another went to strike. Counter, must protect the master. Voices? No, one voice. Name? The voice was calling a name. “Sheba,” the voice called. “Alex” the master called back. 

Alex is friend. It will protect master and Alex. The beast howled to Alex. The Alex must find master. The enemy held back. Fear of its flames kept them at bay. It must hold the enemy back. It must protect the master. The enemy’s numbers grew. Too many enemies to fend off, no she will fail.

A bolt of fire broke the darkness. The flame struck one of the creatures in the head. The creature fell and was consumed by the flame. “Sheba” Alex called again after he had shot one of the zombie creatures in the head. The black metal of his bow bent to his will as he drew back, breaking it once more. A flame arched from the line to the stock. An arrow born of flames was set as the young rat took aim.

Alex cleared a down tree in one leap. He found Sheba with her back to a tree. A burning wolf with seven fanned out fox tails stood between her and the undead. The young rat landed and released the next burning bolt. The creature it struck fell back onto another and both were fed to its flames. 

One of the creatures leaped from a tree. Alex held up his hand just in time to catch the creature in the chest “Dreamcatcher, repel” he commanded. A blast of white light shot the creature back up into the tree. Only for it to come crashing down breaking whatever was left of its body. “Ranger, sword” Alex commanded to the bow. 

The bow withdrew into a ball of metal before shifting into a handle with a wolf’s head as a guard. The wolf’s mouth opened to release a two and half foot long blade edged in flames. “Dreamcatcher, Breaker” he called. His arm lit up with a white light. 

The child looked to her brother, but he was not the same. No, he had changed. He was not the boy she grew up with. He was a warrior. The monsters turned to attack him. But his white fist and burning black blade were too much for the monsters. 

They fell one by one. But the flames they had used turned against them. The flames began to consume the trees and dry leafs that were around them. The burning beast came to her master’s side. “Sheba, are you ok?” Alex asked, setting his weapon aside. The sword shifted and grew. Within seconds a second wolf was standing next to the rat. 

Ranger was a black wolf with red marking across its body. Even with the demonic red coloring of its eyes they were only loving and kind. “Yes, I’m fine Alex,” the caster said, hugging her brother “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I was scared, I’m sorry.” Alex hugged her back just happy that she was safe.

“Don’t worry about it Sheba, I’m scared too” he said. She looked up at him. She had never heard him say those words before. But just hearing them somehow put her at ease. The heat from the flames around them was rising and the flames themselves had grown wild. Seeing her master trapped in a sea of fire the flame fox wolf knew she had to do something. A shared look between her and the other wolf answered her.

She must protect them. She must protect her master and Alex. She leapt onto them, enclosing them in her gift. Blinking at the rapid change in temperature, Alex and Sheba found themselves covered with a red cloth blocking the oncoming flames from consuming them. 

Ranger barked till the two noticed it. Its tail wagged and barked some more. “I think Ranger wants us to follow her,” Alex said. “What happened to the one that was protecting me from the monsters?” the hybrid asked. 

“The other one will be fine, Shebs” Alex answered and picked her up. Ranger led them as fast as Alex could run, always keeping insight and never being out of reach. Ranger would stop and look back to her master asking if she should lead on.

 In no time Ranger had led them back to the camp safe and sound. As safe and sound as walking onto a battlefield could be. “Sheba I want you to find a place to hide but stay close” he said “and do not take this off no matter what.” The child nodded as the older rat stepped out of the flame cloth. 

Sheba quickly ran for cover as Alex turned back to the battle raging behind him. “Ranger, we have work to do,” he said, holding out his hand. The wolf jump shifting forms again.  The young rat caught a long handled ax with a red hot edge. 

“Ranger I have a promise to keep, I hated to break it, on her” he said. The ax shook in his hand as flames raged along her edge. “Good girl, let’s go” he said and charged into battle once more. 

Chapter 6

Sheba found cover behind a down tree and was watching as her brother ripped monsters apart with his weapon. “All around the mulberry bush the zombie chased the weasel” Michael said, jumping over undead and throwing others out of his way “the zombie fell down.” Michael leapt into the air, flicking a storm of small rockets from his hands singing “pop goes the weasel.”  

The toys hit home taking several monsters with them. “Come on, sage, show some backbone and stop playing around” one of the demons shouted. The weasel stopped when he heard the challenge. “Oh shit” Alice yelled “EVERYONE TAKE COVER!'' The weasel was singing softly. 

The gentle trickster’s eyes grew dark with blood lust. “I become the devil to save a saint” he said as black energy collected in his hands. Michael lost all signs of the man he was. Only a demon remained. 

The weasel spun around letting black rings form around him. Sheba gasped in horror as her hero became a monster. The rings pulsated out killing all in its wake. Before Alex could blink as death raced to him a small white rabbit stood in its way. 

“Keep still child” a gentle voice spoke to the hybrid as a slim fox stood between her and the evil ring. Three other ghosts stood guard before the others protecting them from Michael. All of the undead were swept away in the wake of the unholy power. Michael fell to his knees. “There is no way you could have done that sage” The undead demon rat yelled. 

“The sage was a fool in releasing me and now I am free to do as I wish” the new demon spoke. “He’s a demon trapper,” Sheba gasped to herself. “You Boy, where is the child?” the new demon asked. “She’s safe” Alex answered “you can’t have her either.” 

“No, funny how I still owe a debt to another” the demon said. “NO, you have done what I asked now, return to your cell” Michael spoke over the demon. “I will not,” the demon answered. “Serve him and your debt is paid” Nightmare said around his ghost who was just a small mouse. “Damn you, both of you” the demon said as it retreated. the beast shrugged in answer to the look on Alex’s face.

With the new demon gone Michael sat on his heels breathing hard. “Your plan is taking too long, we don’t care if you can use them after death, we just want the girl” Pack said standing above a large stone. “I did not get to live this long by charging blindly, '' Leanch answered. 

“Never leave killing to the dead, they take too long,” Pack said, jumping from the stone. “Peter, play, '' the undead rat said, waving his hand.  The small minx skipped playfully onto the battlefield stopping in front of the weakened weasel.

“The mad sage, keeper of a thousand demons” the child sang “you hear all their voices all the time.” “They know when they must be silent,” the weasel answered, forcing himself back to his feet. “To use just one takes a lot of power from you doesn’t it” the child sang “means you must rest for some time, even your magic is weak after every use.” 

Gentle music danced in the air, it was a calling to someone. The music seemed to shake the Pack, drawing the child to its source. Sheba was being pulled by the music. She knew she shouldn’t go. But the music called to her. Her body moved on its own. Each step was a fight for control. 

“Damn that fool” the minx child spat. “Guess we’ll just have to kill you now, and we so much wanted to play with you some more. A beam of white light shot from the child’s hand heading right for the heart of the weasel.

“NOT TODAY” a playful voice said. The beam stopped two feet away from the weasel. It was like the beam was caught in something. The loose form of a light brown hare stood between the beam and its target. “Now I see why they say payback’s a bitch” the hare said. 

Sheba was drawn from her hiding place following the sweet music. Even Alex’s voice seemed lost to her. “Sheba, no get back” he called, running to her. Nightmare and the others were powerless to help. Waves of undead rose again and again, keeping the two demons fighting them off. 

Alice ran to her lover’s side but was hit hard by something big. “Mr. Wilds, you’re late,” Leanch said. The gray wolf stood over the bear loaded shotgun aimed right at her face. “Think I care,” the wolf said. “Me and my boy are getting paid well to help you, so keep in mind who runs the show.”

“Peter’s song already got the girl and it looks like the little one over there will be under his spell soon enough” the wolf said “I never knew his mother was one of those casters everyone keeps talking about.” “Louis, how could you?” Alex asked, trying to hold Sheba. 

“I like you kid” The wolf said “but this is just business.” The beam died away as the ghost cat covered her ears. “We’ll be back,” she said, taking off. Michael fell to his knees holding his chest. “So much for friends,” Leanch said, his smile never breaking. “Please, help me” Alex said “you need to protect her, they're going to hurt her.” 

The flame red cloak wrapped around the hybrid to the point she couldn’t move. Alex laid her down and stood over her. “Give me the child, boy,” Leanch said, “or watch your friends die.” Alex stood still, his hand and weapon glowing brightly in the darkness.

“I’ve done the wrong thing all of my life,” he said “but I never once let her see the things I’ve done.” “That's sweet and all but I don’t have time for this,” Leanch said, snapping his boney fingers. “And I will not let her see me fail to keep my promise” the young rat said, raising his weapon “Ranger.” 

The ax shifted to its bow state ready to use. The young rat broke the bow back. “I will say this once” Alex said “LEAVE MY SISTER ALONE!” White flames arched across the bow. In the light of the flames to any who could see. The young, tired, and weakened rat glowed with an angel’s light. 

From Sheba layed, she could see the light and shadows dance across Alex’s face. For a moment just before the bolt was fired, sheba could see two forms standing as one holding the bow. she could see her brother, and him gain but older and bigger.

Leanch was blinded by the light and was forced to cover his eyes. “NOW BEGONE FOUL DEMON” the warriors commanded, releasing the bolt. “No, I killed you years ago” the undead rat spoke looking up in time to see his death rip through his face. 

In a flash of light the demon was gone. Louis looked to where the demon had stood and then down at the bear and back to where the demon was standing. The demon’s army returned to earth to sleep once more. 

“Well I guess that ends this job” the wolf said, taking his foot off the bear and backing into the woods. “Please don’t take it personally” he said throwing a bag at Alex’s feet “good work kid.” The music stopped as Sheba’s body stopped moving. 

The sound of a coin bouncing off a rock caught their ears. “No, that couldn’t have been him,” Nightmare said, returning to his mortal form. “Who?” Alice asked, picking herself up.  “Never mind that we must see to them first” he said and rushed over to his charge. 

“What happened?” the girl asked, as her cloak opened for her. “Are you hurt?” the demon asked. “No, I’m fine,” she answered. “Then nothing else matters as of now” the demon said and hugged the child.

Alex was still frozen in shock of his actions. He had felt someone guiding his hand. The power he felt was overwhelming. When he released the bow as it shifted back to the wolf form. Her tail beating as the feral wolf sat at her master’s feet. “I killed him” Alex said “I didn’t think I could but I did.” 

“Easy kiddo,” Alice said, patting the young rat on the shoulder. “Woodsman be ready for he was the first you shall face,” Michael said “your charge is the key in his return, if others get hold of her they will find limitless power in their hands.”

“I won’t fail her” Alex answered “and tell your friends out there that they will never get their hands on my sister.”  The elder soul laughed leaving once more “he speaks to you; he will guide you, just listen.” 

The ghost was gone as Michael jumped to his feet. “I will take you all on,” the weasel said, bouncing around his fists bobbing in front of him “I challenge you to fisticuffs.” The weasel paused and spun around.

“Where did everybody go?” he asked, letting his fists drop. Alice almost fell over laughing. “Michael, the fights over we won,” she said, pulling the weasel close to her. “I’m just so happy to have you back my love” she said kissing her weasel. 

“Are you hungry my dear Alice” the weasel asked “because I think we may find better logging far from here.”  “He is right, it would be best that we find ourselves elsewhere and post haste” Nightmare said, helping the young fox-wolf to her feet. 

“Yeah, we should get going,” Alex said pointing with his thumb “those fires are bound to get someone’s attention.” “Agreed” Nightmare nodded and followed his charge. “Yes, this way, follow me” the weasel said and turned to walk off.  

After a few steps Alice spoke up. “Michael, we’re parked the other way,” she said, picking her pack up. “Oh, right,” he said, “better idea, follow her.” a few minutes into the walk Alex asked “do you have a phone I can use?”

“Yeah, why?” Alice asked, tossing the young rat her cell phone. “Just have to call someone,” he answered, catching the phone. Michael and Sheba were lost in their own little world. Talking about his show and things only casters could understand. 

The demons hung back discussing demon things and what not. He sighed looking at the phone. His heart raced thinking about what to say. Dialing a number Alex held the phone to his ear. The phone rang three times before he was answered. 

“If you’re the one calling me that means the both of you are alive and well” a soft female voice said. “No thanks to you, '' he answered. “Good, we need to meet” the voice said “tomorrow noon out in the open some place public.” “Sounds good to me, we’ll meet alone,” he said. 

“Yes, carry I trust you more right now more than you do me” the vixen said, setting her revolver down on the desk of her study. The vixen turned to face the portrait window and watched wildfires burning off at the base of the mountain. 

“Yes, that will do find,” she said, lifting a barrel glass to her muzzle. “I’ll get you whatever you need, I owe you that much.” She turned back to her study, sky blue eyes scanned the room coming to rest on the male that sat across the desk from her. 

“I will deal with them as the time comes” she said “you three be careful, and thank you Alex you did save my life.” The vixen hung up the phone and set it on the desk. “Mitch” she said with a smile “you failed me and betrayed me, you’re fired.” 

The red feathered hawk gave no answer as a small trail of blood dripped from the freshly open hole between his eyes. “The kid has better luck then any of us” the vixen said gulping back her drink “and a better shot than you ever were.” She laughed to herself. “I think this is the first time we have ever really talked, '' she said, setting the glass down.

“But then again if that boy didn’t clip your wing we wouldn’t be having this talk” she said and stepped around the desk. “If he hadn’t, you would have put a round in my head and left without a word” she sighed “then again you never did talk much. Hell I didn’t even know you had faith in anything.” 

She thought about the only thing he said before she put a bullet between the hawk’s eyes. “The Night can never rise” she said and picked up the hawk’s gun. “The sad part of all of this, Mitch” she said sitting on the edge of the desk “all you had to do was talk to me about it.” The vixen paused for a response but continued anyway. 

“Yeah, if you never said it you cared about him, like he was your own son” she recalled “hell, you had gone in behind him and killed someone for him, leaving the poor boy to shoot a corpse.” “It’s funny, every job that boy was sent to do you went and did all the work for him” she added “but I know why, he’s a good kid, he shouldn’t have blood on his hands.”

“Those kids shouldn’t be part of this” she said “Hell, that boy should be in school and go into law enforcement not breaking them.” She sighed, thinking about the young rat. His smooth brown fur, soft green eyes, even his light hearted smile always did a number on her insides. 

She had always been openly cruel to him and the little hybrid girl he calmed as his sister. He had always cared for that little girl, even risking his own neck to keep her safe. “Yes I know Mitch,” she said “I keep calling him a kid when I’m just a few years older than him.” 

The vixen smiled at the corpse. “No, I wouldn’t say that, more like jealous of her” she said “she has one of the sweetest guys in the world bending over backwards for her and she doesn’t even know how far he’ll go for her.” 

“Good lord, any girl would sell her soul for a guy like that” the vixens paused realizing what she had just said “yeah, I guess I would too.” “Oh don’t you start with that” she said to the corpse “like you didn’t go out of your way for him.” “Great, I’m fighting with a corpse” she said “Jessica, girl, you’re in over your head on this one, and the last thing you need is to fall head over heels over a kid.”

Jessica shook her head and poured herself another drink. Getting her mind back on business the vixen sat behind the desk in the thorn of an office chair. “Mitch, I wish I could have asked one thing before all of this,” she said, pulling out a notepad and a pen. 

Scratching the page the vixen listed a number of things as she spoke “why, why did you of all people try to kill Alex?” “Ma’am is everything alright?” Jessica’s maid asked, limping into the study. The otter had bad dealings with Jessica’s father years ago ending up with one of her legs being broken leaving her forced to wear a brace on her leg. 

“Yes Meg, everything is fine” the vixen answered both knowing it was a lie. “I thought you had a long day so I drew you a nice hot bath” Meg said hoping to cheer her employer. “Thank you Meg” the vixen answered. Jessica had made it part of her life’s work to try and undo her and her father’s deeds. 

“How are you feeling Meg?” the vixen asked. “I’m doing just fine ma’am” the otter lied. “Meg, we both know you’re really bad at lying and you should know by now it never helps you in the end” Jessica said. “So let’s try this again” she said “how are you feeling Meg?” 

“The pain is getting worse and the doctor said that they may have to amputate it if it gets infected again” Meg answered “but that aside I’m still alive and well.” “There’s something else on your mind” the vixen asked, finishing her list and tarring it from the pad. 

“It’s not my place to say…” Meg started before the vixen interjected. “It is when I say it is, now spit it out.” “It’s about the kids,” the otter said. “What about them?” “I just have this feeling that something big is coming and it may end up killing them when it gets here.” “I feel the same way” Jessica answered “but they have an angel watching over them.” 

The vixen turned on an intercom and ordered the one who answered to deal with the mess in the study and to do some shopping for her. “Now, then Meg, about that bath” the vixen said rising from her throne “care to join me, I could use some help getting those hard to reach places.” 

The vixen smiled as she passed the blushing otter. “Come on Meg, I don’t bite'' the vixen said “much.” Meg followed the vixen into the bathroom where steam had filled the room and coated the glass. Jessica started to undress when she turned to the otter. 

Meg was standing off to the side waiting to aid her employer when called upon. “Come on you have been standing all day,” Jessica said “I think you need this as much as I do.” “Ma’am it is nice of you to offer but I don’t think I should” the otter said shifting her weight off her bad leg. 

“I’m sober this time Meg'' Jessica answered “and to be honest I don’t want to be alone right now.” The otter bit her tongue. The vixen folded and set her clothes aside before turning to the otter. Standing in just her fur Jessica turned to the otter who had been caring for her for the past twelve years. “Meg, please don’t fight with me on this, '' she asked.

The otter closed her eyes and thought it over. Meg was all but undressed when the vixen stopped her. “Here let me help you with that” she said before undoing the brace on Meg’s leg. The otter winced from the loose feeling in her leg before the vixen took some of the weight off. 

“Come on, let’s get you settled in here” Jessica said half carrying the otter. After both females had settled into the tub they let the steamy water ease their day away. “Meg, do you think I can still do right by those two?” Jessica asked gently, rubbing the otter’s leg. “I don’t understand Ma'am,” Meg answered.

 “One we’re naked in a tub,” the vixen answered, “I think we’re past the point where you have to call me Ma’am.” “Oh, I’m sorry Jessie I forgot” the otter said and started rubbing knots from the vixen’s shoulders. 

The vixen sighed with a small smile curled on the corners of her lips. “You were always too good for me,” she said. “You were asking about the kids” Meg asked to change topics. “Oh, right, do you think I can still do the right thing for them?” Jessica asked, relaxing into the otter’s hands. 

“If I may,” Meg asked, “but I know how you feel about him, and how much it hurt you to do the things you did to him.” “What are you getting at Meg” the vixen asked, turning her head. “He’s turning eighteen next week” the Otter said “and we both watched him grow into a man.” 

“Meg, that has nothing to do with what I asked,” Jessica said. “Jessie, I know what you’re really asking,” the otter said “and the answer you want to hear is there is always a chance.” “I hate when you do that” 

“I know, but as far as the two of them,” the otter said, shaking her head “they have only seen one side of you and it’s not the side I get to see.” The vixen thought about what the otter said. “I would ask you to go with me to meet them tomorrow but they might think it was a trick or something” she said.

“I only did the shotgun thing one time and even then it was hard to cover the butt on that thing, '' Meg said. “No, I’m not asking you to carry,” Jessica said “I just want someone there with me. I don’t think I can face them alone.” “Him” Meg said, letting the warm water relax her demeanor. “What was that, Meg?” Jessie asked. 

“You’re afraid to face him alone,” Meg answered “you love him, and you think he hates you.'' The vixen sank into the tub. “You’re stronger than you think” the otter said “but as my employer I will do anything you ask.” “Meg, I’m not asking you as a boss” Jessica said “I’m asking you as my closest friend.”

“Tell you what” Meg said, pulling the vixen into a hug “I’ll go with you as a friend but only if you tell him the whole truth.” “Thank you” Jessica said shifting around in the water. “I think someone needs some other knots worked out,” the otter said, tightening her grip on the younger vixen. “Oh no, last time you did that I couldn’t sit right for a week” Jessica said knowing it was too late. The otter’s hands were quick to squeeze the vixen just right.

Chapter 7

“Nightmare, you need clothes' ' Alex said as they entered a mall shop. “What is wrong with what I have? '' the demon asked. “People are going to think you’re a flasher dressed like that” the young rat said, pointing at the demon with his hand. “So let them think what they want '' Nightmare answered. 

Sheba started giggling at the two. “Cops get called when it comes to flashers'' Alex said “they arrest them and there’s a whole mess that follows that.” “Let’s just get him a lot of sweatpants and t-shirts' ' the little hybrid said. “Fine, but I am not the only one who needs a change of attire” the demon answered pointing his own claw up. 

“Yeah well I’m not the one running around in a bathrobe and a loincloth” Alex said walking up to one of the employees. “No shirt no shoes no service” the hare behind the counter said. “Dude,” Alex said. “Those are the rules man” the hare said and went back to what he was doing. “Crap,” Alex said, turning to the others, “I'll buy a few things while you two wait outside.” 

Alex’s dismissal of Sheba and her demon was due to the stress built up over the past week. And the sad look on her face when he told her to wait outside didn’t make things any easier for him. Rubbing his face the young rat did some checking around and bought the cheapest clothes he could find that he hoped were in the demon’s size. 

Spotting the two sitting on a bench across the way Alex watched as the demon laughed and played the same way he did. “I guess the stories are true about him,” Alex said to himself.  Sheba had tied Nightmare’s fingers into a knot using some string she found. And Nightmare was playfully trying to break free. 

Alex handed the demon the bag and patted the little hybrid on the head. “I’m sorry Shebs” he said “I didn’t mean to snap at you.” “Alex, will you teach me how to fight?” she asked, looking up at him from under his paw. “Not right now but I’ll try,” he said. 

Alex had told Nightmare where he was meeting Jessica and the demon was watching the shop and more or less the whole mall. Alex looked down at the shop and watched as two women found a seat just outside a coffee shop. A red fur vixen and a light brown otter with a brace on her leg.

It was just past eleven-thirty and the meeting wasn’t till noon. “Thinking what, I’m thinking,” the rat asked the demon. “Depends, will there be cake?” he asked. The joke took Alex off guard. “I didn’t say anything about cake,” he answered. “So the cake is a lie,” the demon asked. 

Alex smacked himself in the head. “Relax lad, they are just sitting there” the demon said, losing his playful tone “Thou, one of them did ask about cake.” “Wait, you can hear them,” the rat asked. Nightmare nodded. “You’re not the only one not looking forward to this meeting” he said “I wonder if they have custard?” 

Sheba giggled. Alex sighed, thoughts racing his mind. “You have Ranger and Dreamcatcher with you, both are unarmed aside from the sack sitting next to the lovely lady with the brace on her leg” Nightmare said “and I think Jessica just ordered you a coffee.” “Well, I’d better not keep them waiting, '' he said. “Sheba, listen to Nightmare, and if he says run you run.” The child nodded. 

“You should eat something Jessica,” Meg said, rubbing a sore spot on her leg. “I can't,” the vixen answered “I’m not even sure if I should talk to him.” “Then I’ll talk to him till you’re ready,” the otter said. “No he’ll think it is a trap and run” the vixen said. “I already think it’s a trap” the young brown fur rat said as he walked up to the table. 

“Then why did you come?” the vixen asked, forcing herself not to smile. “Because this is bigger than we thought” he answered “and we’re not the only ones with a hit out on them.” “I know, I was lucky last night and the one they got for me was hurt and didn’t pull his gun fast enough” Jessica said “but then again getting shot in the shoulder does slow even the fastest of gunners down.” 

“Alex,” the otter spoke up “Where's my hug? I haven’t seen you in days and you’ve had me worried sick.” Alex carefully leaned over and gave the otter a hug. “You need to eat more” she said “you’re nothing but skin and bone.”

“I’ll try Miss. Meg” he answered. “Please have a seat Alex” the vixen asked “you look like you haven’t slept in days.” He shook his head. “Alex, don’t be rude, sit” the otter said and pointed to an open chair. The young rat sat quickly. “I’m sorry” the vixen said, turning her head away from the rat. 

If it wasn’t from a lack of sleep and all the stress beating at his young mind, Alex’s jaw would have been on the floor after hearing her say those words. Instead, just short of yelling, he said “you threaten to kill me and Sheba, you try to order a demon to eat us, you get a hit man working for somebody else to watch us, and your own men tried to shoot me, and all you can say is I’m sorry.” 

“What do you want me to say?” Jessica said, turning to face him. Despite how little he had eaten and what little sleep he had, the vixen saw him, not as the weak little kid playing gangster but as a man who spent too much time on a battlefield being bomb left and right.

Despite what he had seen, Jessica could still see the gentle boy in his gentle soft green eyes. For the first time in her life Jessica couldn’t find the words she wanted and stammered over herself. “Alex,” Meg said. “No, he’s right, I put them in this mess,” she said, turning away from him. “Just tell me why you sent us to die,” he said. 

It was curl words from him. “I don’t know I trust you” she said “because I’m greedy and selfish I was only thinking about myself and what I could get out of it.” She shook her head after she spoke knowing that wasn’t what she wanted to say. “That’s it” he asked “you sent us into hell because you were being selfish?” 

Alex sat back in the chair crossing his arms over his chest. “After everything I have done for you and that is the best you got” he said feeling bitter by his own words. They were quiet for what felt like hours. “I can’t believe, there was a point in time I thought I could have ever loved you.” Meg choked on her coffee. Jessica’s face twisted in pain. 

“Sheba wasn’t the first caster I used to try to summon Nightmare” the vixen answered “that caster went mad and killed himself, Mitch was going to be the champion but he was too righteous, then I found out about what Sheba could do, and how much you care about her, that’s when I knew it had to be you two.” She kept her head down as she spoke.

“I had a dream a long time ago,” she said “in this dream there was a man in silver armor with large golden wings and next to him was a knight in black armor fighting next to him. This knight had an ax that was black with flame along the edges. The knight had brown fur with one of his hands pure white. The wing knight called him Greenvolt. 

Sometime later I studied the name and found old stories about a demon hunter that was called Greenvolt, some of the stories said he was part dragon and could throw men three times his size like they weighed nothing.” “So what you heard my name, and fairy tales about some guy with the same name” Alex said. 

“That’s the thing I had forgotten all about that dream till just now” the vixen said “But one has nothing to do with the other.” Alex rolled his eyes. “So yeah, I’m going to go do some window shopping,” Meg said, easing herself to her feet. The otter limped off before ether could say anything. “There is nothing we can do about what has happened,” Jessica said. 

Alex knew Nightmare was still listening and was staying where he was. “Nightmare, do you think we should trust her?” Sheba asked, the demon checking his new clothes. “Do you trust Alex?” Nightmare asked to unfold a pair of blue jeans. “I trust him, but I don’t trust her,” the child answered, “she was always mean to us.” The demon slid the pants under his cloak fixing his legs through them.

“She pushes Alex around like his life means nothing,” Sheba said, turning to watch her brother. “Are you sure about that,” the demon asked, standing up fixing the pants around his hips, “these have little room to move in.” “Well, most people don’t run around on all fours, and as far as the way she treats us,” Sheba said thinking more about it “is like she’s hiding something.” 

“How so?” the demon asked, pulling out the shirt. The polo shirt was dark green and looked a size too small. “I recall a time where my cloak was all I ever needed to pass as a mortal,” he said, turning the shirt around. 

“It was the first time I had to stay with Meg” she said “I remember seeing Mitch hand Alex a gun and said ‘wake him and you’re dead.” “I know, if done right a blow to the head could kill a man painlessly” the demon said “this will not fit over my wings.” “Wait, what?” the child asked. 

“The shirt is too small to fit over my wings,” the demon answered. “No before that” Sheba said. “Oh, if done the right way one could kill a man painlessly with a blow to the head” he answered. “Is killing all you know how to do?” she asked “because that sounds like a sad way to live.” “No, I hate killing, but if it means I could protect one child I will kill a thousand men” he said. 

“I wouldn’t want you to kill anyone because of me” she said “I’ve seen too many people get hurt and die.” “I know I have seen too many die needlessly as well, but that is the way of the world” he said “I still don’t see how I’m going to fit this thing over my wings.” “We could just cut it for you,” she said, letting the darker topic slip away. 

“That might do,” he said, “but this is not the place for such things, and what in the world are these?” Sheba turned to see what the demon was talking about. In his hands was a pair of flip-flops. “Flip-flops, they’re a type of shoe” she said “you put them on your feet.” The demon set the foot wear down and slipped a large foot in each. “Like this” he asked. 

The child nodded and curled her eyebrows. She had only seen the demon's eyes once, now that she thought about it. He had always kept his eyes closed. “Nightmare, are you blind” she asked. “No, why do you ask?” he answered. “You always have your eyes closed,” she said “I just thought about it and I’ve only seen your eyes once.” 

“My father had many gifts and my brothers and I have all been given them” he said “and an eye of truth is one of them.” “And with it nothing may hide, not even in darkness” she said. The demon nodded. “I think we have been spotted,” the demon said and smiled. “Are we about to be attacked?” the child asked, pulling her cloak tighter around her. 

“I don’t think you have anything to fear from an otter with a limp” he said “I believe her name is Meg.” “Sheba, who is your friend and how does he know my name?” the otter asked, hopping over to the child. “MEG” the hybrid yelled and charged the female arms out for a hug. 

“By the Heavens, Sheba you have got so big” the otter said hugging the young hybrid. Meg looked the child over. “That boy will never change, he makes sure you're well fed and forgets to eat himself” she said “and this coat it’s beautiful.” 

“Thank you, Meg,” Sheba said, “oh, this is my friend Nightmare.” “You’re friend” Meg asked “what kind of friend goes by the name Nightmare?” “Nickolas Nightmare, Sheba and Alex hired me as a bodyguard” the demon answered. “If that’s your cover story you might want to work on it Nick” the otter said “or are all demons bad at lying?” 

A sudden jolt of noise cut them all off as they turned their eyes down on the café. The vixen and the rat both jumped to their feet. The vixen was around the table and grabbed the rat by the shirt before he could blink. The bystanders around the two, backed away thinking there was going to be a fight.

Nightmare’s smile never left his face. “Sheba, do you think you can trust a woman in love?” he asked. “What,” she asked, watching the vixen pull the rat closer, kissing him heavily on the lips. The young hybrid’s jaw dropped as she watched the vixen kiss her brother. “She has no right to touch him,” Sheba growled.

“NO, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU” Alex yelled. “Sheba, I know it means nothing coming from me but Jessica does care about the both of you” Meg said. “If she did then why did she tell Nightmare to kill us, or threaten to kill us herself” the child asked coldly. Meg shook her head. 

“I don’t know Sheba, but she had never wanted to hurt you or Alex,” the otter said “she did those things to protect you, the both of you.” “How is hurting us protecting us?” the child asked. “There are a lot of people who don’t like Jessica, and the way she does things” Meg answered “and if those people knew there are people she cares for they will take them and hurt them just to hurt her.”

Sheba’s growl darkened. “You heard him say he has killed people before right?” Meg said. The child nodded. “Well he only thinks he has killed someone,” the otter said “but the worst he did was shoot a corps in the head.” 

“What?” She asked. “Alex never had blood on his hands,” Nightmare agreed. “And the people he robbed were other bosses who owed her money,” the otter said, “so if you think about it, Alex really has never done anything bad in his life.” 

“She could have told us, she could have asked us,” tears rolled down the hybrid’s face as she spoke “she could have done something.” There was nothing the otter or the demon could say or do. “Alex has gone days without eating just so I could have a full stomach. 

There were times he would go days without sleep. He spent so much time and money on me, never once did he ever think about himself. And I just let him. I’m no better than she is. And yet she just kissed him.” the child folded herself into her cloak hiding her tears. “I hate her.” Nightmare gulped from a bitter taste. “I wish she was dead.”

“Sheba,” Meg spoke up “she may have gone the wrong way of doing things but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about you.” “I don’t care, I hate her. She did this to us. She has no right to touch him. Not after everything she did to us. Not after everything she did to Alex.” “Sheba please, Jessica” Meg begged and was cut off. 

“NO, he’s mine. Alex is mine. I won’t let her hurt him anymore.” The child pulled herself up and turned to where the vixen was and began to chant. By nature Nightmare would never hurt a child, or any he called master. But Sheba was about to turn down a dark road that had no way back. 

The demon opened his hand and with a loud whack, smacked the child upside the back of her head. “Sheba,” he said, his voice cold and heartless, “would you break the promise you made to Alex.” The child looked up at the demon, holding the back of her head. The gentle beast was gone, all that stood before her was a monster ready and willing to kill her.

“Alex has never once in his life asked anything of you” he said “he has given you everything you ever needed or wanted. All he wanted was for you to have a better life, and you would willingly take the life of another out of spite.” Sheba dropped into a ball backing away from the demon. Meg stepped in between the two. 

“Nick, that's enough you’re scaring her” the otter said. “She should be” he answered “if she finished that spell she would have killed Jessica and murder is a path that none can ever return from.” “She’s just a child,” the otter said. “Not if she finished that spell” he chided “she knew what she was doing, she knew what would happen. 

Children do not willingly kill others, and had she not been stopped she would have. Would you still call her a child if she had blood on her hands? Would you still treat her as if she was innocent after watching her take the life of another?” “Like you’re one to talk about having blood on their hands,” the otter said “how many lives did you take, how many lives did you hurt?”

“TOO MANY, AND MORE THAN ENOUGH FOR ME TO KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO HER” he said. As much as her leg hurt Meg stood her ground “that is still no reason to scare her.” “No, he’s right” Sheba spoke from deep within her cloak “I was being selfish, I was becoming a monster, just because I was being selfish.”  

“Tell me something Meg,” the demon asked. “why did you scold me for scaring her yet you did nothing to stop her yourself. “I don’t know,” the otter answered, shaking her head. “Maybe some part of me wanted Jessica to be set free. She’s haunted by the things her and her father have done and she spent most of her life trying to undo what she can.” 

“I’m sorry,” Sheba said, crying deeply. The demon slipped past the otter and pulled the child into a hug. “It is ok child,” he said, his voice gentle and kind once more “your darkness has passed, and all you can do is pray that you may become stronger and better the next time it comes.”

Meg sat on the bench and waited for Sheba to calm down. “Jessica was watching when your leg was broken” the demon asked. “Yeah, the piece of trash her father had my leg broken after I lied to him about money I used to pay some bills and told him I was mugged,” the otter said, rubbing her leg.

“Jessica was peeking through the door when one of her father’s men almost ripped my leg off. I screamed and begged him to stop.” “He wasn’t going to kill me, he just wanted his pound of flesh. As a joke he told me if I could walk to the front door he would have someone take me to the hospital. I got as far as to stand up on my own.” 

Sheba drew her hood back a little. “Jessica cheered me on till I somehow got to the door. And with her father watching and everything she opened the door, took my weight off my leg and walked me to the front door.” “Because of the damage to the bone and muscle my leg never healed right and for the past twelve years she has cared for me as I do her.” 

Meg could see one of the child’s golden brown eyes peek out from under the hood. “She was about your age when my leg was broken, Sheba” the otter said “I don’t know if you remember but she did show you and Alex kindness once.”

Chapter 8

“Alright Sheba, remember if anything goes wrong you run and hide” the young brown rat said “and as soon as you can go to old Mrs. Hoots.” “But Brother I can help” the seven year old folf said with a stomp of her foot. “Please Sheba” the rat asked. “Fine, be careful Alex” she squeaked. 

“Good, now stay right here” the twelve year old rat set off down the alley hoping his plan would work. His stomach turned with a mix of emotions. The only tool he had for his plan was a small dull knife. Attacking anyone was not his best idea but Sheba hadn’t eaten in three days and he himself in over a week. 

He turned the corner and drew his weapon. A vixen ran past him just as he drew the knife. As luck and timing would have it a large red hawk came charging after. “Crap,” the young rat said, stepping between the two. The hawk and the vixen stopped when the rat spoke up. “I don’t know what’s going on but if you don’t stop chasing her, I’ll put this in your heart” he said holding his knife up. 

The golden eye hawk looked down at the rat and his knife. “Get out of my way” the hawk said. “I don’t think so,” the rat answered. With a swing of his arm the hawk caught the young rat by the neck and slammed him into a wall. “Mitch, what is going on? '' the vixen asked. “Put me down you overgrown chicken” the rat wheezed. 

“Kid threatened me with a knife, Ma'am,” the hawk answered.  The vixen’s sky blue eyes study the young rat. Alex’s soft green eyes had gone wide when he got a good look at the vixen. She had to be about four or five years older than himself. But her lean body and beautiful face blind him to the rest of the world. 

“Are you stupid or something kid, running around with a knife attacking people?” she said. “I thought he was after you,” the rat answered. The vixen picked up Alex’s blunt knife and turned it over in her hands. “You must be stupid, brave but stupid” she said “you thought a dull knife was going to stop, big bird here, just be glad you’re still in one piece, kid.” 

The hawk’s feathered fingers tightened around Alex’s neck. “Now why would a kid who should be in school running around at this time of night with a dull knife” she asked “are you planning on killing someone?” Alex continued to pull on the hawk’s hand so he could breathe. “Because if that was the case there is no way it would work with this thing” the vixen said ignoring the choking rat. 

The world was getting darker, Alex’s mind started to race. “Shebs run” he yelled with what voice he had left. With his free hand the hawk drew a gun and let off a round with a loud pop. The vixen's head turned to see what the hawk shot at. She took a few steps away and spoke up “You come here, yes you come here now.” 

From the corner of his eye Alex saw his sister shyly moving closer. “Please don’t hurt him,” the little hybrid said. “Well he did go after my friend here,” the vixen said “by all rights he gave up his life.” “My brother was only going to take some money,” the fox-wolf said. “So he was going to rob us,” the vixen asked. 

The vixen had kneeled down in front of the child. The child shyly nodded. “Now, if you tell me why he was trying to rob us I might let him go” the vixen said. Sheba thought hard about what she had to say. “Forget about me Sheba and run,” Alex said. “So Sheba was it, are you going to tell me why your brother tried to rob us or not?” the vixen asked, turning her eye to the rat. 

The hawk cocked back the hammer ready to pop off another round if need be. “We were hungry and we didn't have any money and no one we asked would help,” the child answered. “Hungry, he threw his life away because you were hungry” the vixen asked. She looked the two over. 

The rat’s clothes were loose and about to fall off and the hybrid did look a little thin. “I see,” she said standing back up. With soundless steps the vixen stopped between the hawk and the rat. “You really are stupid,” she said and tapped on the hawk’s arm. The hawk relaxed his grip just enough that the rat could answer. 

“I can tell she has been eating but you on the other hand,” she said “when was the last time you put anything in your stomach?” he glared at her taking in what little air he was given. “Oh that is touching,” she said and dried off a tear that was never there “so that’s what a week, almost two?” “Just let her go,” the rat begged. 

“Oh I see how it is, you’ve been lying to her” the vixen said “stupid and brave, and you have no idea how useless that is to this world.” “Just let her go,” he repeated. “I asked you a question, I demanded you answer” she said “or he will put the both of you down for good.” “Three weeks ago, just before we were kicked out of the home we were at” he answered. 

“You’re telling me you have been on the streets for almost a month and any food you get your little hands on goes right to her” the vixen asked. “She’s the only thing I have in this world, I’m going to take care of her for the rest of her life” he answered. “Really stupid” the vixen said “Mitch, deal with them.” 

In the second the hawk took aim, Alex’s body went into overdrive. He pushed his feet on the wall behind him and gripped down on the hawk’s hand starting to twist it. The rat pulled himself free of the hawk’s grip and swung himself into the two kicking the gun from the hawk’s other hand. The three hit the ground hard. 

“RUN” Alex yelled, kicking the hawk in the face. The child was frozen in shock at seeing Alex call up such strength she couldn’t move if she wanted too. The young rat threw himself off the vixen and her hawk and ran after the folf. “Come on, we need to go now” he said, shaking her free of the shock. But they didn’t get far. 

A few steps into their run something hard and heavy hit the young rat in the back of the head. Before he blacked out he heard Sheba scream. Alex was out cold and tied up in the seat next to her. Sheba sat balled in the back seat of a car with the vixens sitting across from them.  The hawk was sitting in the front seat with the driver. 

“Yes I know I’m late” the vixen said as she talked into her phone “something unexpected came up and I had to deal with it.” The vixen paused and smiled at Sheba. “No, I didn’t eat yet,” she said “yes, yes I will, Meg I know, look, could you do something for me, I need two of the guest rooms made up, and set two more places at the table.”

“Yes, both of them are cute, no Meg it’s not what you think I will explain when we get there” the vixen said.  Sheba turned to her brother, her face covered in drying tears. “Oh and Meg draw a bath they're going to need it” the vixen said before hanging up.  The young brown fur rat lay jaw hanging open tongue drooling on the seat. 

“Is he always so cute when he sleeps?” the vixen asked. The hybrid child shot a glare at the vixen. “I’m not going to hurt you,” the vixen said “and I didn’t want to hurt him.” “Then why did you?” the child asked. “Because I wanted to talk to him and he was trying to run away,” the vixen answered. “You’re lying,” the child said. 

“I guess I am,” the older female answered “you’re very good at this.” The vixen paused looking at the floor of the car. “Well we started off on the wrong foot,” the vixen said turning back to the child “my name is Jessica, and I heard your brother there call you Sheba?” The child nodded. 

“Well Sheba, after seeing what your brother can do,” Jessica spoke with a small smile “I would like to offer him a job.” “You want to use him to hurt people,” the child said. “Yes, but only bad people that do bad things to good people,” Jessica answered. “Hurting people is bad no matter who they are,” Sheba said, trying to put herself between the vixen and Alex. 

“I agree, but how can you stop bad people from hurting people if you’re always nice to them?” Jessica asked. Sheba looked to the floor for an answer. “I’m not going to make him do anything he doesn’t want to or more to the point willing to do” Jessica said “but I will only pay him for the things he does for me that is how it works.” 

“No, I’m not doing anything for you,” the rat said, rolling his head. “As I see it you don’t have a choice in the matter” Jessica answered “you can work for me or you can both die in the street.”

Between hunger and the painful knot on the back of his head the young rat was too weak to even lift his head more than an inch or two. “Go back to sleep kid” the hawk ordered “you too little girl.” “Why, you can’t kill a couple of kids with their eyes open” Alex asked. “Ballsy little punk isn’t he” the vixen asked “no, if I wanted you dead, you would be, plan as day.”

 “Then what are you going to do with us?” Alex asked. “As I said before, give you a job” Jessica answered “but that part can wait a few days.” “Wait a few days” Alex asked “what do you mean by that?” “You’re not going to hurt him are you?” Sheba asked. 

“No Miss Sheba, I’m not going to hurt him or you” Jessica answered “but the both of you have been living on the streets for almost a month and you haven’t eaten in a few days.” “Shall I have your doctor visit to check them out” the hawk asked. “Yes Mitch, but that can wait till tomorrow.” 

That night they had their first real meal in some time. Meg the otter maid took over care for Sheba and Alex. But Alex was never happy unless He could read Sheba stories about her heroes, the Sons of the Caretaker. She loved hearing about the wild fury and gentle soul of the beast, the wisdom and heart of the smith, and the skill and cunning of the bookkeeper.  

In their free time Sheba would draw what she had thought they would look like. Her dreams told her of shadowy beasts, and faceless males and wishes coming true. Even in her darkest nightmares she would always see her golden wing angel standing over her and her brother. Alex would spend his days learning everything Jessica wanted him to learn. 

One of the many jobs Jessica had Alex do was getting a book that was stolen from her. It was an old book, the cover and pages were held in place by string and the covers were hard leather. To confirm the book was real Alex had to check three pages. “Let’s see, spell of summons, yes, Bregold crest, check, and the letter, shit, where is the letter?” the young rat said, turning the pages. 

He found a folded page with a broken wax crest. He opened the page and scanned it for what he needed. “Good, this is it,” he said, packing the book into his bag. “Now, I just need to get back into the store and act like I was never here,” he said. “Hey, who’s back here?” someone said. Alex threw the bag on his back still talking to himself “crap, plan B, run.” 

He bolted from his hiding place, keeping out of sight best he could. The lights came on when the young rat was just feet from the window he came in. A giant bulldog came charging at the rat. Alex pulled the small twenty-two from the back of his belt and fired two rounds into the bulldog stomach.

The bulldog grunted and fell. Alex didn’t wait for the larger male to get back up and dove out the window. Within seconds of doing so, Alex remembered that he was on the top floor of a four story building. But as luck would have it a truck full of sand happened to be driving past as he jumped out the window. 

He landed softly in the sand, rolled to the edge banging his arm on the metal sides before rolling off. He caught the ledge of the truck and hung on till he could drop off the side without getting run over. “This is the last time I parcore out a window,” he said, slipping into a dark book store. Keeping his eyes scanning for anyone who might come looking for him. 

The young rat found a corner seat with a clear view of the door. “Now I just have to wait for bird-brain to pick me up,” he said to himself. The young male let his mind wander off. Daydreaming about the things he would do with the vixen that paid his bills. “Yeah right, like she would ever go for a guy like me” he said snapping to reality. 

It would be a few long years before he would know the truth. Alex sat quietly across from the vixen. She was still as beautiful to him as the day he first met her. But he felt off about the whole thing. He had never asked why she did what she did before and even when she answered him it wasn’t the whole truth. 

“Stop playing games with me and tell me the truth,” he finally said. The vixen shook her head. “Even if I did, it wouldn’t change what happened,” she said, keeping her eyes away from him. “Fine,” he said and slammed his hand on the metal table causing a number of people to jump “we’re done here.” Both were on their feet. 

The rat was about to storm off and the vixen had rounded the table to stop him. She couldn’t hide it from him anymore. If he left now, she may never see him again. “You want the whole truth,” she said tears rolling off her cheeks as she grabbed and pulled on the collar of his shirt “here it is.” 

She kissed him deeply, deeper than any other before. The rat pushed the vixen off holding her by the shoulders. “NO, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU” he yelled right in her face. Through her eyes she felt like she was standing before a dragon ready to roar flames and turn her to ash. “I love you” she said turning her face away “I have been for some time now.” 

The rat shook his head. “No, you’re not,” he said “this is just some game you’re playing to get me to do what you want.” Jessica wished he would have just stabbed her in the heart with a dull knife and twist, and still wouldn’t hurt as much as hearing him rejecting her and calling her a liar. 

Alex let go of the vixen as she dropped to the floor. He turned and walked off without even saying a word. Outside of the vixen’s earshot, the rat whispered to the demon. “We’re leaving.” “No we’re not” the demon answered “Sheba is talking to Meg and you need to go back and talk to her.” 

“I can't,” Alex said. “Why not,” the demon asked. “I just can't,” the rat answered. “Do you fear you will hurt her?” “No, worst,” Alex answered, “I would have kissed her back.” 

“If you need some time to clear your head then take it.” “You don’t mind watching Shebs for me do you?” “I’m honored to have her in my care.” “Thank you” Alex said, making his way out of the mall. “Nightmare” Sheba asked “do you think we … I mean I should go talk to her?” 

“I’m not sure” the demon answered, “it is not my place to tell my master what she should or should not do.” “I’m asking if you were in my shoes, what would you do?” she asked again. “I would think my feet would be too large to fit your shoes,” the demon answered. 

The child smacked herself in the head. “But if you are asking me what I would do if I was in your place” the demon answered “again it is not my place to tell my master what the right thing to do is.” Sheba’s ears perked up as she gave the demon a hug and ran off. Jessica sat where she was, on the ground tears still rolling off her cheek. 

She knew she had failed and thought there was nothing else to her life. She covered her face not once stopping her tears. “Have you come to rip out the rest of my heart just to stomp on It” she asked when she felt someone standing over her. “No, even if I did, I would still be no better than you” the folf child said, holding out her red fur hand.

“He would kill for you,” the vixen said “me, he might as well have killed me.” “As much as I hate you for the things you have done to us, to him” Sheba said taking the vixen’s hand “I would have to hate myself more for letting him do everything he has for me.” “I thought if I could just make him happy” Jessica said “it would have been enough.” 

“Nothing will ever make him happy,” Sheba said “I have seen him go weeks with next to nothing to eat and even when we have enough food to feed the both of us. Or go days without sleep just because I had a cold.” “It’s not the same he would do anything for you” Jessica said looking up at the child. 

“Yeah and I have always let him,” the hybrid said, trying to pull the vixen to her feet. “And I had gone out of my way to hide my feelings from him,” Jessica added. “We might as well face the fact we both had used him” Sheba said “and we owe him a lot.” “You never made him risk his life,” the vixen said.

“You never let him lie about taking care of himself,” the hybrid retorted. “It would take hours for us to list the things we have done to him,” Jessica said. The child nodded and agreed “let’s just both say we wronged him and we need to fix It.” The vixen stood up on her knees almost matching the child’s height. 

The two females hugged. “If you break his heart” the child whispered in the vixen’s ear “mark my words. I will kill you.” “You have a deal, little witch” Jessica answered and squeezed the child. “You do understand that so long as I serve her” the demon said drawing their attention “it may just be my claw at your throat.” “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Jessica said. 

Nightmare picked up the bag Alex forgot and said “I will hold on to this.” “There are some papers in there I wanted to show him” Jessica said rising to her feet “so he can stop saying he’s something he’s not. “And that would be” the demon asked. “A killer,” the vixen answered. 

By now the people around them had gone back to their lives without a second thought about the outburst they saw. “The only reason why he thought he was, because I wanted to see if he could pull the trigger.” “So he has never killed a mortal before” the demon asked. Jessica nodded. “That’s great, we got to go tell him” Sheba said, taking the vixen’s hand.

Chapter 9

“No, this can’t be right,” the young rat said to himself pacing around the backlot of the building “I’m not the type of guy she’s into.” Alex argued with himself over what just happened adding to his overworked mind. “No it was just a bad joke” he said “there is no reason why she would want a guy like Me.” 

His young mind ran the dreams he would once had of the vixen.  The scars along his back started burning once more. He had never told anyone about them and the ones who did, didn’t know how he had gotten them. “No, No, NO, I’m not part of this game” he yelled. 

The young rat stopped at the wall of the building and put his head against it with a heavy thud. He stood there lost in his thoughts. Thou the sound of ten sets of feet should have gotten him to move. But the rat was lost in his own little world. 

“Brown Rat with the right hand bright white is what she said to look for” one of the males said as the group stopped around him. “She also said he was some kind monster, this kid doesn’t even look like he can stand up to a paper clip” another male said. “Hell maybe he is, you know, like one of those kung fu guys like in the movies” another added. 

“Nah, they say this kid learned to fight from the old guy, you know Mitch, Death’s eye” yet another added. “I don’t have any money so just go away” Alex said and waved a lazy hand to the group. “Shut up kid” the first one said. “Ballsy little punk, huh boss,” the second one added. Alex lazily turned around as he spoke “great someone else here to kill me, come on guys just one day please, one goddamn day.” 

“I said shut up” the first one yelled. The young rat touched his head and rubbed his eye. “Fine, can we get this over with, I do have other things to deal with, '' he said and waited for one of them to knock him out. “Look kid, it’s nice of you to want to get this over with but I hate to say” the biggest wolf in the group said “but if you tell us where the girl is we’ll let you go.” 

“Yeah, no,” the rat answered. “How much is the brat really worth to you anyway, just tell us how much you want and it’s a done deal” the wolf said. “I said no, '' Alex answered. “Well kid, can’t say I didn’t try to be nice,” the wolf said and popped his knuckles, “but you’re making this harder on yourself.”

The rat’s brow tightened and fingers curled into fists. He was fine with them just beating him to death. But if they were going to go after Sheba. There was no way he’d let them go. “You even try to hurt her, I will put you down,” he said. “Boys,” the wolf called “He’s all yours.” 

Alex’s mind went into overdrive with a heart rate to match. One of the smaller dogs charged first, fist drawn back ready to fly. Once he was in arm’s reach of the rat the dog launched his attack. Alex in the same heartbeat turned his head and leaned back just enough for the dog’s first to pass him.

As the fist passed his face the rat grabbed the dog’s arm turning away. Alex pulled the dog’s arm down onto his own shoulder still turning. The dog was flipped over and landed flat on his back. The rat took his heel and clocked the dog in the side of the head. 

“Good boy stay” Alex said “next?”  The young rat didn’t have to wait long for one of the foxes and a hound to make their move. The fox came from Alex’s right. The fox came in quick and low. The hound came from the wolf’s right and ran for a high tackle. 

Alex followed the quicker fox and caught him under the chin with his knee. The fox’s speed turned on him as the rat led the fox up with his knee. Just when the fox’s side was high enough the rat hit the fox with the palm of his hand and drove him into the oncoming hound. With a spin and a half Alex moved clear of the two as they crashed into the wall.

Next up to bat was a large black bear who spared the showmanship and went to swipe the smaller rat off the face of the earth. Alex caught the bear by the wrist stopping it dead. “Does that ever actually work?” Alex asked before yanking the bear’s arm and driving his own head into the bear’s face. The bear swayed back a few steps holding his muzzle. 

“Did anyone ever tell you it’s not a good idea to corner a rat?” Alex said, turning to the lead wolf. “Not bad, kid but we don’t need you anymore,” the wolf said. Alex turned his head to see Sheba, Nightmare, Jessica and Meg stopping just outside the door he came out of. “Sheba run” Alex yelled as the bear came back with another swing. 

The rat caught the bear’s arm and lifted him clean off the ground and threw him at an oncoming fox. The bear’s arm was broken and one of the fox’s legs was broken when the bear landed on him. Alex moved to put himself between the two wolves, rooster, Great Dane, and crocodile. The crocodile looked past Alex at the demon behind him. 

The croc tapped the Dane and rooster’s shoulders before stepping back and walking off. “Alex, think you can take the mortals” Nightmare asked. “I’ve had worse,” the rat answered. “Be careful, there is a caster with them and his demon just walked off” the demon said. 

“So I’m on my own” he asked. “Hey, what are you morons doing, he works for me” the vixen said “so beat it.” “Just want the girl, nobody else has to get hurt” the wolf answered. “Like I said Beat it” the vixen answered. “They’re just mortals,” the demon said. “but if you don’t mind I think I will go have a chat with an old friend as it were.”

 And the demon left soundlessly to find the other demon.  “Ma’am you’re not part of this so back off” the first wolf said. “Well, I’m making myself part of it” Jessica said “and I have all of my resources set to protect the girl and her brother.” This caught Alex by surprise and broke his focus on the threat at hand. 

He turned his head to look back at the vixen. “That be the case” the wolf said “you’re in the way.” The next set of events took place in the blink of an eye. The wolves drew a gun each opening fire on the vixen. Meg jumped in using herself to shield the vixen as several shots struck the gimp in her leg.

Sheba had started chanting under her breath before the guns were drawn and enacted the spell just in time to put herself before the otter and the vixen. The child had spun around opening her cloak like wings shielding the three from the raging side arms. Alex at the same time jumped the two wolves to quickly disarm them. 

The spent side arms were flung off as the wolves turned to focus on the rat.  Alex was more enraged than he had been and it was reflected in his speed and strength. The wolves fought with heavy blows and fast kicks leaving the rat to dodge or block from both sides. Having to keep from being hit, Alex was forced to dance between the two wolves. 

The young rat caught the bigger wolf’s arm around the back of his neck. With a solid blow to the wolf’s upper arm Alex broke the bone like a stick leaving the wolf screaming in pain. The sets of kicks from the smaller wolf left his upper body open to attack. but Alex dropped his foot on the wolf’s ankle, pinning down long enough for Alex to throw his full weight through his other foot and into the wolf’s knee. 

He turned back to the bigger wolf who recovered enough to keep his head and switched to using his feet. But the wolf had made himself top heavy with his boxing style and had almost no skill with his feet. Alex made quick work of the wolf by blocking the wolf’s knee with his foot and pushing it back forcing the wolf to lean forward. 

This left him open for the rat to jump up and knee the wolf in the maw and put him down for a nap. The smaller wolf was not ready to give up and was crawling for one of the guns, a fresh chip in his hand. Alex took the clip and got to the gun with ease. Loaded with a round in the chamber. Alex held the barrel over the wolf’s head. 

The wolf had rolled over onto his back, hands open and flat. The rat knew it was wrong. He didn’t want to shed blood. But he had to protect his sister. He had to show them he was not going to let them have their way. Alex became lost in his own world. 

He has killed already. This should be easy. But why was it so hard? Why can’t he just pull the trigger? This should be no different than the last time. One shot was all it took. But this was different, just the idea of taking a life was painful. Even killing the demon was easy but this. Jessica could see the war raging on in the young rat’s mind. But there wasn’t a way to stop him. 

If he pulled the trigger she would lose him. Sheba saw the look on his face. It was more painful to see it on her beloved brother’s face. Even the demons saw the raging battle in the young knight. The world became still, the only sounds came from those who were hurt. 

It was one life on the line but two souls at stake. The vixen watched with but one spoke word from her lips “Alex.” The deafening echo rang out from the one quiet round used. The world began to move once more. The round marked where it struck mere inches from the wolf’s face. 

The rat dropped the gun and with both hands lifted the wolf clean of the ground. “I was just doing a job,” the wolf whimpered. “Shut it” Alex said “I have a new job for you.” “Yes, yes sir” the wolf whimpered “anything you say sir.” 

“I want you to tell your boss and their friends and your friends” Alex said pulling the wolf closer “LEAVE. MY. FAMILY. ALONE.” The rat threw the wolf to land on top of his friends and turned to the Great Dane and the rooster. “Same goes for the both of you” he said, turning to see his family. 

“Well that was anticlimactic” the rooster said as Alex walked away. “Leave it alone, Panbrook” the Dane said and turned to leave. “Yeah right, Captain like I’m going to pick a fight with a demon slayer” the rooster tacked “that’s your job.” “Just call your damn pet and let’s go” the Dane said walking off. 

The rooster whistled and floated off after the old dog.  The croc followed quickly after. Once they were gone Alex and Nightmare rushed over to Meg and the others. She was screaming and crying holding her leg. Jessica was holding the otter trying to keep her from moving around. 

“GOD DAMN IT, NOT AGAIN” she screamed. The fox-wolf child stood there watching as her brother and the vixen tried to calm the wounded otter. There was not much the demon could do as much as he wanted too. “Nightmare, why does everyone I care about keep getting hurt trying to protect me” she asked the demon standing right behind her. 

“I don’t know,” he answered. “I don’t want to be afraid anymore,” she said. “You want to be more like Alex,” the demon asked. “He’s not afraid of anything,” the child answered. “That is where you’re wrong sweet child” the demon chided “he is scared all the time, look at him now.” The demon points over the child’s shoulder to the young rat trying to save the otter. 

“Just like you right now, he's afraid he is going to lose Meg, who has been like a mother to the three of you” Nightmare said “but he will do everything he can to keep her.” No one had seen when Alex dropped his bag. But there at Sheba’s feet sat the spell book. It had fallen out of his backpack when he threw it down. 

It was the first time she had seen the book itself. She had always seen copies or Alex was reading it to her. “At this point your childhood is over” the demon spoke, seeing the tome of the Bregold sisters “the path you choose to walk after this will change everything you know and love.” Deep in her mind Sheba watched the world around her. 

She could see the paths before her. And all she had to do was pick one to follow. She could do as she always did, run and hide. She had rainfall with the power to heal. She had the demon behind her to command. But she wanted to do something more than she had before and what she needed lay at her feet. 

The child knelt down and took the book in her hand for the first time. It was just a flash but she saw it all, every story, every spell, potions, all of it. Sheba lived their lives in the flash. She became so shaken from it she dropped the book. She looked at her hand where she had nicked herself on the book’s metal clasp. 

“Sheba, what happened? Did you hurt yourself” the demon asked, taking her hand. It was a small scratch but it had drawn blood. The demon cleaned the scratch with a gentle lick of his tongue. He paused at the taste. His eyes open wide. His right eye held a cross for the pupil as the other seemed more cat-like. 

When the child’s blood touched his tongue for a split second the Bregold crest flashed in his eye. The demon blinked and closed his eyes thinking to himself. “It’s alright Nightmare” Sheba said pulling her hand away “I’m fine.” Stepping around the demon she ran over to the bleeding otter commanding the others to move. 

She grabbed the otter’s leg causing her to scream. “GENESIS” Sheba cried as the soft blue glow of her hand deepened. The otter’s screams were drowned out by the wave of silence that crashed over her. Her fear was washed away with the pain in her leg. Looking up through clear blue light she watched as the children she guided grew. 

From the first time she met them through the falls they had, and each of their tests passed. She watched as her dream changed. She began to see her life playing in reverse being shot, the countless visits to the doctor. All rolling back to the day her leg was broken. Like a bad dream she watched herself screaming, begging them to stop. Each blow to her made scream. Each crack of her bones killed her.

Then faster than it began, it ended. The pain, the ungodly pain was gone. She lay there as her family stood over her. She didn’t know why but she was smiling, overjoyed to see them. “What happened?” she asked “my leg, it doesn’t hurt anymore.” “They say the forces that made the world have the power to reforge life” The demon said “that is the power of Genesis.” 

The otter looked at the demon then back to her leg. Small holes mark where each bullet hit. There were a few of them dotting the straps of her brace and blood stained her pant leg. The muscles in her leg were regrown and matched her healthy one.  “But how” Meg asked, taking the brace off as it was becoming uncomfortable to wear. 

“The Bregold family were healers and could tap into the forces of Genesis” the demon answered “but with Rainfall Sheba could unlock more of its power.” “Wait Bregold, but their line died out ages ago,” Alex said. “It seems they share a relative,” He answered. “Wait, are you saying that Sheba comes from a blood line that goes back almost two thousand years?” Alex asked. 

“Yes and no,” the demon answered, “the spells and magic she uses dates back to the first Bregold witch, but Sheba does not share blood with her.” “HUH” they all asked. “The sisters were not the blood hares to the Bregold power,” he said “and they were not even blood to each other.” 

“The true hare of the Bregold line asked it of me to pass her family’s power to her granddaughters” He answered “And that power was passed through their bloodline to you.” “I know Nightmare” she said “I heard their wish.” “Enough of that, we need to get out of here before the cops show up,” Jessica said, helping Meg to her feet. 

Nightmare sighed looking around; he could hear screams drawing closer by the second.  The demon turned undoing the jeans he was wearing, slipping the flip-flops off and dropping the pants. “Nightmare, What are you doing?” Meg yelled. “We have no time to play games,” the demon answered, throwing the clothes into one of the bags. 

Alex picked his bag and threw on his back as Sheba collected her things. The mound of thugs started picking themselves up and regrouping. “Speak to anyone of what you saw and I will find you in your dreams” the demon said as he changed back to his true form. 

His fingers sharpened into claws as his feet grew longer. His muzzle became longer and flatter. His wings opened and were set ablaze. His fur died off where scales began to grow. His body stretched higher, till he was almost as tall as the building. The rest of his fur turned to a dark brown almost black; as the fur of his tail burned away in blackened flames.  Mouth open and eyes wide the thugs watch in horror, as the nightmare took form.

The beast’s hips seem to fold as he lowered himself to all fours. “Let’s go” the beast said, lowering more so they could mount up upon his back. Alex helped Sheba and Meg onto the beast before stopping Jessica. “We don’t have time for this,” she said, trying to push past him. 

“This is for earlier” the rat said, his hand wrapping around the side of the vixen’s head. He pulled her into a deep kiss before letting go and mounting the beast. Still dazed, the vixen was hoisted onto the beast’s back and set in front of the young rat. 

Alex put his arms around the vixen and signed to the beast that they were ready. The beast broke into a run on the spot beating his wings hard. No sooner were they up to speed were they in the air. They were gone from sight before the first patrol came to a stop. The officers began barking orders to the broken thugs, never seeing the monster that had stood where they parked. 

Chapter 10

A week after she had told him her feelings and still no answer from him. But given the fact the demon Sheba had summoned kept a close eye on him to the point Jessica couldn’t find time to be alone with him. But work waits for no one. and the movies don’t focus on the real work of a crime lord. And aside from the big epic scenes, the day to day for one is akin to an office job.  

For anyone to walk into her study without knocking would get shot no questions asked. But Infrerna was not just anyone. The feral folf trotted into the study, her tails dancing like a happy flame.  Jessica was focused on what she was doing to the point that she didn’t even know the beast was in the study.

Till she put her head in the vixen’s lap. Jessica jumped in her seat as papers flew about. “For the love God, how did you get in here? '' the vixen asked the four legged folf whose tails just seem to dance more. With a heavy sigh the vixen picked up the mess and called out to the door “you can come in Sheba.” 

The door pushed open as the young folf entered the room.  “I’m sorry to bug you but can we talk? '' the girl asked the door closing behind her. Sheba was still getting used to the respect everyone was giving her and her new clothes didn’t feel right. Besides being half the vixen’s age Sheba envied Jessica’s looks that caught her brother’s eyes. 

“You are never a bug,” the vixen answered, setting the pages aside “what’s the matter?” the girl looked down shyly unsure if she could even make such a request. “It’s about today,” she finally said. “Yes I know,” the vixen answered. Jessica looked up at the girl seeing how much she had grown. And seeing how beautiful she would become in the next few years. 

With a small smile the vixen thought the girl was a heart-breaker even at her age. Jessica petted the girl’s companion gently on the head. “I wanted to talk to you about the same matter” she said sitting up giving the girl her full attention. The girl turned her eyes to the vixen with a questioning look to her brow. 

“Can you have Nightmare give him the night off” the vixen asked with her own eyes drifting off shyly. Sheba’s ears twitched to the question. “You want to be alone with him, don’t you?” she asked, ears folding back sharply. “Please” the vixen asked, her ears drooping. 

In her mind Sheba wanted to be cruel to her for everything she had done to them, to him. But in her heart she could feel something she herself couldn’t understand. Jessica waited for an answer, feeling every second taking longer than the last. Before Sheba could answer, the intercom speaker started buzzing. 

The noise broke their thoughts apart and Jessica switched it to answer. “What” she ordered her mind resetting. “Ma’am, they're wrecking the weight room” the speaker answered. “Who is wrecking the weight room?” she asked. “Greenvolt and the Demon” he answered with sounds of shouting and things being thrown.

“Why do you keep running away from the truth?” they could clearly hear the demon yell before the voice cursed and the com line went dead. Without skipping a beat and far more adult than she was, Sheba turned to the vixen saying “we’ll deal with this later” and bolted for the door. The three females raced to the weight room to find out what was going on. 

Jessica started barking orders along the way to clear the area and to hold fire. The demon in his true form barring his size to a mortal height stood over a weight bench and added more weights to the bar. As the young brown rat stood waiting for him to finish. 

“I’m telling the truth,” Alex said, throwing his arms up for the fifth time “I’m just a rat nothing more.” “I have seen others like you who could do the same that you have shown me time and again” the demon said, locking the weights in place. “I’m not part dragon, I'm not a demon slayer” Alex said “I’m just a thief.” 

The other three males in the room kept quiet only following orders and staying out of the way. “As was your forbarer” the demon answered. “He was a hero and a legend,” the rat continued “no one even knows if he was real.” The demon turned his head with his brow cocked sharp. 

“I know he was real because I myself have spoken to him and crossed swords with him” the demon retorted standing behind the bench patting the seat. Alex took his place on the bench shaking his head knowing he couldn’t handle the weight on the bar above him. With one hand the demon moved the weight over the young rat letting him take the full weight of the bar. Alex held it for a second before it almost dropped on him. 

But the demon stopped the bar only an inch from Alex’s chest. “You have the strength within you” Nightmare said “use it.” “No I don’t” Alex answered “I’m not him stop acting like I am.” “I do not act,” the demon retorted “I only speak the truth.” The demon lifted the bar holding till the young rat took hold of it once more and released his hold on the weight. Then caught it once more. 

Alex shook his head again. “I can’t do it,” he said. “No, you will not do so” he said “why do you fear what is rightfully yours?” “It’s not mine” Alex said “rightfully or not.” “You took to Ranger as if you had her, your whole life, you wheeled your fire thing like it was nothing, you moved with speed and power like no mortal should” the demon listed.

Nightmare lifted and set the bar back where it was letting the rat sit up. Alex sat up his back to the demon. The demon’s right eye opened, letting him see the young rat in detail. With this quick scan the demon spotted something odd under the rat’s shirt. Only seeing it by the way the collar had come to rest around the rat’s neck. 

“What is that marking on your back?” the demon asked, reaching for Alex’s collar to take a better look. “Nothing,” Alex answered quickly, fixing his shirt and moving away from the demon. “Do not lie to me, laid” Nightmare ordered “I asked you a question.” “It’s nothing,” Alex said, continuing to move away from the demon. 

“If it is nothing then why do you hide it” Nightmare asked quickly closing the gap between them. “Because it is none of your goddamn business” Alex answered, trying to push the demon back. The demon in one movement batted the rat’s hands away and pinned him to the pillar behind him by the neck. With his claws cutting into the brick the demon looked into Alex’s eyes with his open one.

“Stop hiding” he said “you know full and well what you are.” “I’m just a thief, nothing more” Alex answered drawing on all his known strength trying to free himself. But failed to do so. “Stop lying to yourself Alex” Nightmare said, easing his weight off his hand. Alex held himself up by the demon’s hand, still trying to free himself. 

“Why are you so afraid to be yourself, Alex?” Nightmare asked, pulling his hand free of the brick and dropping the rat back on his feet. “No, you’re the one telling me to be something else” the rat answered rubbing his neck “you’re the one telling lies.” “I see,” Nightmare said, resting his hand on the loaded weight bar, “so you are challenging me to prove it to you?” 

'`Yes, I guess I am” Alex answered, rolling his neck. The demon thought it over in his mind. Then grasped the bar with one hand and said “as you wish.'' Then with the ease of swinging a toy the demon swung the bar, weights and all at the younger male. 

Alex was forced to dodge the oncoming attack by dropping to the floor and rolling out of the way of the shards of brick that exploded from the pillar the demon hit in his stead. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Alex yelled rolling back to his feet. 

“You wanted proof,” the demon laughed, ripping the bar and weights from the pillar “I am giving it to you.” the demon laughed, launching himself into another strike. Again forcing the young rat to move out of the way as the demon dropped the hundreds of pounds into the floor. Alex continued to move away from the demon who seemed to want to hurt him. 

Nightmare found swinging the weights wasn’t working so he busted the end off. Throwing the heavy plates like frizbes. The demon began embedding them into the walls where the rat was once standing. One of the other males ran to the intercom calling for help as the other two ran to safety.

“This is nuts, Nightmare, you’re going to hurt someone” Alex yelled stop in front of the intercom. “Why do you keep running away from the truth?” the demon asked, chucking another weight right at the rat’s head.

Alex dropped as the weight just barely missed his ear and buzzed by. The male at the intercom cursed and threw himself to the floor before the weight embedded itself into the wall where the intercom once sat. Sparks and bits of plastic flew off with a sharp crackle. 

“Stop it Nightmare” Alex yelled. “No,” the demon answered. Alex shook his head and held up his hand just as another weight flew by. In one motion Alex caught the disk spun around and threw it back at the demon yelling “repel.”  The beam of white light charged the disk’s spin as it took off. The demon laughed as the disk charged its way to him only for it to fly part feet away from the demon.

Nightmare’s tail shifted and pulled as the black flame relit itself on the end of the demon’s tail. “If you did that in the first place this wouldn’t have happened” the demon said, his tail whipping back and forth. “What the hell is going on here” Jessica yell from the doorway seeing the mess the two had made. “Male bonding” the demon answered “or I think that is what they call it.” 

Tapping a claw to his lip. “Sheba, your demon is nuts” Alex said as he sat on one of the benches. “That goes without say,” the demon cut in, “but I have my reasons.” “It’s going to take a month to get this place fixed,” Jessica said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “You tried to get him to do it again,” the child asked. 

The demon nodded. “I’ve read up on it that even if he doesn’t have dragon’s blood he has a condition that increases his adrenaline far more than a normal person,” she said, clearing a spot on the floor. “Adrenaline, '' the demon asked. “Yeah it’s a chemical the body makes to heighten one’s abilities when their life's on the line” Jessica answered “or when stress overwhelms someone.” 

“I see,” the demon said, “but Alex does not do that when his life is threatened, but only when he is protecting others does this gift show itself.” “Wait you said Greenvolt the demon slayer was a thief” Alex said changing topics. “Aye” the demon answered “and he was but that does not mean he does so without reason.” 

“What, like Robin Hood or something, you know, steal from the rich to give to the poor” the young rat asked. “No to live,” the demon answered. “Up till the first demon he slayed, Greenvolt would steal food and clothes but only from those who have to spare.” The demon continued. “He was a year younger than you when he learned of his gift. 

There was a fight between two demons that entered a village. The mortals that could flee did so, the sick, hurt and young couldn’t.  The thief saw those who could do nothing but needlessly die. The first few tries he learned his body healed faster and didn’t take to harm like others. 

This in mind he risked his life by stopping a charging demon with his own hands. He held the beast till other villagers rushed back to help the others. Once the villagers were safe he did all he could to fight. The second demon didn’t care that the thief was there but didn’t stop him from helping.

Together the thief and the demon fought the same foe till it fell. The thief turned to the other demon ready to fight.” “So he killed two demons” Alex asked. “No, but he almost ripped my jaw off," the demon answered. 

“I’m not getting into that fight again” the rat said before he started to clean the mess he helped make. “That’s a cute story and all but what happened that you two wreck my weight room” the vixen asked. “The scars on his back I wanted to know how he got them” the demon answered. “What scars?” Sheba asked. 

“It’s nothing” Alex answered “I’ve had them for years I don’t even remember how I got them.” “You are a bad liar,” the demon said. “I could have told you that” the vixen chimed in “the truth now.” Alex shook his head, biting his lip. “Alex, what are they talking about?” Sheba asked. The rat started rubbing his face. 

This was not something he wanted to talk about with anyone. “Please, I don't want to talk about it” he begged. “Alex talk, now” the vixen order “or will have to do this the hard way.” “The trash foster home we came from had something taken out of my back” he said, throwing his hands up and standing to leave. 

“Nightmare” the young witch ordered. The demon’s tail lashed out, splitting along the way. Before the rat knew what happened he was pinned face first to a wall. Legs and arms held in place by the demon’s tail. The last lash of the demon’s tail cut clean across the young rat’s back splitting the back of his shirt open. 

From the bass of Alex’s neck down to his belt were “x” and cross shape scars. But looking past the scars to the thicker bone under them showed a new side of him. “My god” the vixen gasped at the sight. “Freak, monster, those were the nicer things they called me” Alex said trying to turn his head away. 

“Not even a day after they had me put under the knife they had me back to working without a care if I lived from it.” The vixen shook her head. “Let him down,” the child requested. The demon set the young male back on his feet and released his grip on him. “And they call me a monster,” the demon spat. 

Sheba gently rested her left hand on her brother’s back and softly spoke “Rainfall genesis.” Alex froze up painfully and the spines of his back burned. Unable to scream feeling like someone was ripping his spine out, the rat held himself. The charge of power ripped through his back as sharp spikes cut through his skin and thick leaf green scales took their place along the path of scars. 

The piece of his ear that had been shot off grew back with fresh brown fur covering the new skin. His eyes blinked and sparked with a golden glow. To control the pain he beat his arms and fists into the wall before him. The cracking sound of bones gave way as bits of dust and stone chipped away from the wall. 

Steam clouded from his face as he roared out in pain and rage. When her magic released him the child backed away fearful of what harm she had done to him. Breathing hard Alex fell to his knees as his eyes softened to their green color. “OW” he said weakly and fell to his side. Sheba looked on in horror whispering “I was only trying to help.”  

The demon patted her on the head “your mind thought to heal his body but your heart wanted to heal his soul” he said. Alex’s breathing softened as he slept. The spines along his back retracted leaving small round numbs. The vixen sat next to the sleeping rat moving his head to rest in her lap. “Your magic woke his blood. 

Where you thought to heal the scars, his blood restored what he lost” the demon said and whipped his tail across the room. The demon’s own magic went to work repairing the room. “I think I have done my share of harm today” the demon said as his tail flashed and relit itself “I leave him in your care.” The demon left the room. 

“What did he mean by that” the child asked. “I’m not sure” the vixen said petting Alex’s head “but if his goal was to unlock Alex’s strength then you did the work for him.” “Roof roof.” “Infrerna, what is it girl” Sheba asked petting the fiery folf’s head. The folf’s tails waged getting what she wanted. 

“Oh I see you didn’t want to be left out” she said scratching her pet’s ears. Ranger sat up from her nap followed over to where her master laid. With a bark she licked his cheek, nudging his head with her nose till his hand rose and started petting her. Ranger’s ember tail wagged as her master woke. “Hungry girl,” he said, starting to pick himself up. 

The black wolf barked her answer. “Alright, alright we’ll get you something to eat.” He said, opening his eyes. His eyes were filled with the view of the vixen’s bust. Blushing sharply he looked up. “Are you ok Alex?” she asked, unfolding herself back to her feet. 

“Aside from my back hurting and the room spinning, everything is fine” he answered looking around “How did I get on the floor?” the four females looked between each other then all seemed to shrug. 

The rat held his stomach as he stood. “Man I’m hungry” he said. “Change your shirt and go eat, '' the vixen said. “After that get cleaned up” the folf child said “you’re going out tonight.” Alex picked at his ear making sure it was cleaned out. “Wait, going out” he asked before the young girl cut him off, shutting his mouth with her hand.

“Yes, you are going out now, go eat and get ready” the girl said “we’ll be back in an hour or so.” Sheba left the room calling for her pet who followed quickly after. “I’ll look after her” the vixen said and left the young rat standing with his jaw hanging. The black wolf barked again reminding her master that she was there. “Alright let’s go eat” he answered and led her from the room.

Chapter 11

“I’m going to need a stiff drink,” Jessica said, thumbing her way down a row of black dresses. “You’ll be fine,” Meg answered, eyeing her way down another row “remind me to hit the gym, I really let myself go.”  “Let yourself go, honey have seen yourself” Jessica asked “you look as good as you did before your leg was broken. 

“Yeah, and who made sure of that,” the otter teased. “Do you hate me for it?” the vixen asked, batting her eyes. The otter rolled her own before moving to the next row. “Now the one we really have to watch out for is this little heart breaker” Meg said sizing Sheba with a backless number. “Meg, she’s only twelve, wait till she’s sixteen before going backless” Jessica chided. 

“Right, oh I know” the otter said, thumbing over some more. Sheba wanted nothing more than to hide in her hood but her protector had to stay in the car. “Hun what’s wrong” Meg asked. The child shook her head taking a step back. “She’s a twelve year old tomboy and you’re picking out ballroom gowns for her,” the feline saleswoman said, trying not to sound catty. 

“Alright, what would you pick for her?” Jessica asked about picking a backless with a low cut front and loose shoulders. “Well, you can’t tell she’s twelve just from looking at her'' the saleswoman said, walking around one row and down the other “but I wouldn’t want to just show her off.”

 The feline saleswoman picked a handful of dresses before taking the young folf to the dressing rooms. Once the door had locked the saleswoman pulled Jessica off to the side. “I don’t mean to be rude.” the minx said tilting her head. The vixen’s ears twitched and folded back.  

“but I deal with this kind of thing a lot,” she said. “deal with what” Jessica growled. “You’re trying to get with someone close to her.” the minx said “mostly step-parents.”  “Yeah, that is rude of you,” Jessica said, turning away. “I’m not judging, just saying you’re trying too hard, '' the feline said. With a sigh the vixen turned back to the feline.

“And what, next you’re going to tell me I have love struck written all over my face” the vixen laughed. “I wouldn’t know about writing but I hear it in your voice” she said. Her fingers counting across one of the racks to an open space 

the minx asked “would you be a dear and hand me the third hanger down from that stack on the chair.” Jessica turned, filed out the top the feline asked and held it out to her. “Please put it in my hand” the feline asked. Still holding out her hand.

“Oh sorry” Jessica said and fixed it so the feline could take it. “Thank you,” she said and counted again “funny, huh, a blind woman running a store full of colors and designs.” “I didn’t say anything about that,” the vixen said, taking a step back. “Of course not, just not something you see everyday” the feline said with a small laugh. 

“Yeah, been getting a lot of those as of late,” Jessica answered. “Just like you don’t see the daughter of a major crime boss and one of the most powerful casters known to go clothes shopping together.” The air held still for a few seconds. “I have no idea what you are talking about” the vixen said, taken by the facts. 

“No matter, I’m not after her anyway, though, I would love to have her model the new teen line that just came in” the feline said “could hand me the two middle hangers please?”  “Sure” she said and pulled the two the feline asked for and handed them to her. 

“Thank you again, so nice of you to help me with this,” she said, filling the open spaces. Jessica opened her mouth to speak. But with a snap the feline turned back to the dressing rooms. “Let’s go see how she looks,” the saleswoman said, leading the way. 

And just as the door opened the two were standing next to Meg waiting. The dress had a modistest design that made the young girl look just a year or two older but still made her slim figure eye-catching. Sheba stood barefoot just outside the dressing room ready to run back inside. “Sheba, could give us a full turn around” the otter asked, giving her hand a small twirl.  

“See what I mean and It’s loose enough that she can wear running shorts under it and no one would know” the feline said “I would recommend low heel shoes and we have a sale on silk gloves if you like.” Sheba looked at her left hand before covering it with the other. 

“But go ahead and try on another and see what you think of them” the feline said with a smile. Shyly the young folf locked herself back in the little changing room. “Like I said, I would love to have her model the teen line we just had come in'' the feline said and turned back to Jessica “if there is anything else you need, don’t be afraid to ask.” 

The sales woman turned and walked off counting the rows with her hand. Jessica watched the feline leave before turning back to the dressing room doors. “Shit, Not today please, any day but this one” the vixen said to herself. “Jess,” the otter said, rubbing her leg out of habit. 

“Leave it alone. We have guards walking around everywhere. We have a demon in the book shop next door. And the sweetest little witch trying on clothes. Everything is fine.” 

Sheba chose then to step out of the dressing room. The dress she wore covered her almost completely. Meg shook her head. “Sheba, the point of getting new clothes is to show off” Jessica said “more to the point. Of getting people to see more of you.” “If I wanted people to see more of me I would go out naked” Sheba answered quietly. 

“I’m sure Alex would have something to say about that” Meg chided in. “I don’t know” Sheba said “I like the clothes he gets me.” “He also tends to get you clothes meant for someone half your age” Jessica tacked on. The vixen thought it over before turning to Meg. 

“Meg, go get that backless number you had a minute ago” she said tapping her finger on her lip. The otter shot up and was gone and back with the dress. Jessica took the dress and shooed the little folf into the dressing room. Used to wearing them Jessica had joined the young folf to help her change into the dress.

 “I … I can do it myself” she whispered, unsettled from having to change in front of the vixen. “I know you can, I just want to help.” Jessica said, helping the young folf unzip the back of the dress she had on. “Did you take your bra off before putting this on?” Jessica asked after seeing the girl’s bare back. 

“I … don’t have one” Sheba answered slipping out of the dress and setting it back on the hanger. “I see, why not?” Jessica asked, helping Sheba put the new dress on. “I … I never asked him about it and Meg was always busy” Sheba answered “and I didn’t want to just ask for money.” 

“Let me get this straight, you don’t ask him for money for things like clothes” Jessica asked, noticing the girl’s bright cartoony underwear. Sheba nodded, fixing the dress around her hips as her tail settled in the space made for it. “So he picks out all of your clothes” Jessica asked, holding the front of the dress. 

“No, when we can we go into the store and I get what I need then he pays for it” Sheba answered “and never thought to get one and now I … can’t get any with him around.” “I see,” the vixen’s ears shyly folded, “And you couldn’t ask me.” Sheba looked alway and answered quietly “I was afraid to even look at you.”

 Jessica nodded and fitted the front of the dress to the girl’s chest. “Truth is I always wanted to help you two,” Jessica spoke, tying the neck strings under Sheba’s hair “but that would have put both of you at risk. You, him, and Meg are the only ones who could have asked me anything and I would make it happen.” 

“Was this before or after you found out I’m a witch?” Sheba chided. “Before'' Jessica answered “and it was that crazy old Hoots that told me of your gift.” “You knew Mrs. Hoots” Sheba asked. “Yes, she worked for me” Jessica answered “we didn’t tell you because it was somewhere the both of you felt safe.” 

“She died because of me,” Sheba said, turning away from the mirror. “No, she died because I pulled you two into this mess” Jessica corrected “and don’t fight me on this I have more blood on my hands then you will ever know of.” Jessica smiled looking over her handy work.

 “If this doesn’t show him how much you have grown then he is blind as hell” she added “there was something you wanted to ask me?”“It was nothing” Sheba said “this feels weird.” “Yeah it does but you look beautiful in it” Jessica said, opening the door “let’s show Meg.” 

Meg turned to the door when the little bell chimed. Nightmare stepped inside holding a paper bag in the crook of his arm. Meg waved the demon over and smiled. “Find something you like?” she asked, looking from the bag to the demon’s closed eyes. With a smile he set the bag down.

Jessica stepped out first to find both Meg and Nightmare standing close together with the demon whispering in the otter’s ear as she giggled. It took Jessica a minute to coax the young girl from the dressing room and closed it before the girl changed her mind. “Jessica, what have you done with Sheba?” the demon said, turning his head one eye partly open.

“She is right here” the vixen answered, gesturing to the young folf with her hand. “No my master is but a child” the demon spoke up “this beautiful creature looks too old to be my master.” “I don’t know, maybe she aged, the girl a few years'' the otter questioned “cause that is what I imagined what that girl would look like in a few years.” 

Sheba blushed, looking away shyly. She had seen the light gold color of his eye and that had added to her embarrassment. “Sheba, there is no reason for you to be embarrassed” the demon said moving closer “I mean what I said, and it is only the truth that I speak.” “Nightmare, this is too much,” she said, backing away from the demon. 

The demon paused, taking a step back. “Let us get a good look at you then you can return to your clothes” he said motioning her to turn around once. In her haste she spun quickly as the cloth moved with her smoothly as if meant for her to wear. After the child stopped she felt more at ease taking another slower turn watching herself as she moved.

“I think we have a winner” Jessica said, watching the young folf. Sheba paused looking to the vixen with large round eyes. “You don’t even have to ask” the vixen answered “now get back in there’s one or two things left to take care of.” With that the two went back into the dressing room. After a few minutes Jesssica returned and made a few quick rounds of the sales floor.

Sheba, Meg and Nightmare joined Jessica at the register after Sheba had changed back to her own clothes. “Anything else I can help you with,” the blind feline asked. Sheba spotted a picture of a young minx that looked just like the Pack. The little minx's eyes were smiling. after seeing the hollow eyes of the demon, Sheba’s stomach turned with guilt.  

“Is that a picture of your daughter?” she asked. “Why yes it is,” the feline said before quickly turning the frame down cracking the glass “her name was Gwen. But she passed away not too long ago.” Sheba took a sharp step back right into her own demon. 

The demon rested his large hands on her shoulders before speaking up “you used dark magic to bring her back?” “Once, I was not strong enough,” the feline’s ear fell back. “I take it you already met that thing that has taken her body for itself.” “Sadly, yes” the demon answered.

“It promised to bring her back if we help it win this stupid game” the feline said “I know it’s a lie but my son on the other hand can’t let her go.” The demon nodded quietly. “If there is nothing else, please leave” the feline asked as her voice started to break. Before Sheba could press the matter, Nightmare nudged her away.

 “I’m sorry” the child said and walked away. She took one last look at the feline as she pulled the small picture frame to her and dropped behind the counter crying. “Demons will use any means to gain power. Even prey on those in grief.” the demon said “The pack has no body of its own and needs a host. And what better host than the living body of the dead.”

 “No one to fight it for control and to use the body of a helpless little girl” the vixen added “oh what better way to break an enemy.” “Ok can we stop with the evil planning stuff. We still have a birthday to celebrate” Meg said, trying to shake the gloom off everyone. “So Sheba, what did you want to get Alex for his birthday?” Meg asked, trying to pick which shop to hit next.

Chapter 12

After a quick shower to wash the sweat off Alex and Ranger made their way to the kitchen. “What is that smell?” he asked, looking around as he walked “I feel like I should know It.” The young rat could feel something in the pit of his stomach but couldn’t understand why he felt it. He curled his fingers into a fist and put Dreamcatcher on stand-by.

He slowed his pace as he closed in on the kitchen. He pushed the door to the kitchen open slowly inching his way into the room. “Take it easy, I’m not here to hurt you” a soft and sweet voice spoke as the hum of a chime whistled passed his ear. The scent he had picked up was coming from behind him. He heard soft breathing almost a purr.

Alex didn’t think his way through the scene. How could he have missed her getting behind him so quickly? “Hands up and power down and tell her to sit,” the voice ordered, “you’re not the first one to try to cover yourself after being caught off guard.” “I don’t trust you” Alex answered, charging his fist. 

“Don’t trust me, but keep this in mind” she said “I could have killed you already.” She had a point. Alex raised his right hand fingers out with a soft white glow. “Tell your weapon to sit,” she said.  “Ranger” he answered “down.” “Good now we may talk as civilized people,” she said. “Right, given the fact you have a sword to my neck and my back to you” Alex scoffed. 

“As rude as it may be, it is for your safety that we meet like this” she answered. “You seem to know a lot about what’s going on,” Alex asked looking at the blade from the corner of his eye “so you might know how many tricks this thing has?” Buying time was not something Alex was very good at but he just needed a few more seconds.

 “I could guess but that would just be a waste of time” she answered. “Dreamcatcher” Alex thought to himself “FLASH.” A pulse of white light filled the room. Alex happened to blink at the right time and missed being hit right in the face with the bright light. “Ranger” he called and felt the weight of a handle hit the palm of his hand. 

In a second he turned and raised the blade. The feline that had been standing behind him had covered her eyes and dropped her guard. “Cute,” she said, blinking her light blue eyes back in focus. Stepping back she reset her guard.

 The rat asked “who are you and what do you want?” Now that he could get a good look at what he was up against he took a step back. She smiled as she spoke “Mistress Eclairage Gagliuso, Daughter of the Storm, member of the Order of the Crown and I was here to get something to eat.”

She was tall and lean, but had a shapely form with light orange fur wrapped with an almost white shade of blue stripes. She was dressed in a form fitting business suit and high heel boots. Something about her started gnawing at the back of his mind. He could feel it in the pit of his stomach, something wasn’t right. 

She lowered her sword and turned the grip away from herself, never her smile breaking. Alex felt like he knew her from somewhere. Everything from her scent to her face ate at his memories. “How do I know you?” Alex asked, turning his hand reaching his blade closer to her. “Yes you know me,” she answered “this is not our first meeting.” 

“Drop the sword,” he said, taking another step back. Something about her was toying with his instincts. The feline let the blade fall from her hand and chime against the floor. “Now move over there” he said nodding with his head to a corner of the room next to the stove. 

She made it clear, by turning her back to him but kept her hands in clear view. When she stopped, she teased her curves as she turned to face the young. her beauty aside Alex felt only a bitter taste from her. “They are so much alike,” she said to herself. 

 “Ranger” he spoke and let the sword fall to the ground. Only for it to change back to the black wolf with her fiery tail. The wolf stood eyes locked on the feline. Alex picked up the discarded weapon and set it on the counter behind him. 

“You are more trusting then you let on” she said adding a teasing giggle. “How do I know you?” he asked again. The feline arched her back to tease him again. “All business with you forest dragons” she said “I’m the reason you are where you are now.” Alex turned and looked at her from the corner of his eye. 

“I was looking for you six years ago. And had that trash can of a home closed after we first met. But I didn’t get the chance to collect you. When you ran away with the child witch.” the feline answered. 

Alex didn’t react but just glared at her. “Yes, we knew about her even before you did,” the feline answered. “I was to collect you both. You, as an asset for the Order. And her to hide and protect and in the worst case remove.”

“Are you still planning on killing her?” he asked. “Only if ordered to but she is safer with you for now.” the feline answered “There are other agents willing to help you. But I cannot tell you who they are. But I can tell you there is more going on than just a game.” 

“Tell me something I don’t know,” the rat answered. “And why can’t you tell me who the other agents are?” “Because, I was never told who they were.” she answered. “They must not trust you enough to know.” Alex said with a laugh.

 “As is the way of things” the feline said “fools don’t trust power that isn’t theirs.” “or they just don’t trust someone like you,” the rat said. “Could say the same thing of a dumb kid like,” she chided. Alex rolled his eyes. “You’re a young healthy boy,” she added “you’ll fall for a pretty face.” The feline made her point with a soft bounce.

“Give me a little credit,” the rat said, “as you said us forest dragons are business.” She nodded a fare point. “But like I also said, you are young. your body and mind are not on the same page” she said, twisting just enough to draw his gaze. the young rat turned his head away leaving the weapon unguarded.

“Sweat child, you have no clue what you’re up against.” the feline chided and flicked her hand. The sword Alex had just set down zipped around the room landing handle first right into the feline’s grasp. Alex and Ranger both jumped ready to counter. But the feline simply set the blade back into its sheath.


“I am the granddaughter of a storm dragon and I am four hundred and sixteen years old” she answered. “Well you look good for your age” was the only thing Alex could think to say. “I’m not sure how to take that. But given what a strong and handsome young man you are” the feline said and winked at him. 

Alex shook his head feeling like she was just messing with his head. “What are you trying to get a raise out of me?” he asked, locking eyes with hers. Their eyes flashed, his, a bright gold, hers a dark gray. “If that was the case. I would have taken my clothes off” she answered “and with the way you’re going. I might just do so.” 

“Get out,” he answered. She put her hands up with the same grin on her face. “Right, my mistake. I should have known you already had a lover.” the feline said. “But yes, I have overstayed my welcome.”

“Next we meet I expect to share a dance with you” the feline said. And with a blinding flash of light she was gone. “This can’t be good,” he said to himself. Before his stomach protested the wait. Before long he and Ranger were downing burgers almost as fast as Alex could cook them. After a dozen or so burgers, Alex cleaned up after himself and Ranger.

With a sigh, Alex sat back, looking at the burning tail wolf. “That hit the spot.” he said “and no I don’t fall for a pretty face.” the wolf tilted her head to one side. “Oh don’t you start with me too,” he said, petting her head. Alex went to get ready for tonight. 

Meg had always seemed to be a few steps ahead. on his untouched bed was a dry cleaned suit a size or two bigger then what had always worn. but as he dressed he filled it out. it fit him a little too well and flexed his shoulders. With a set of ripping noses from his back he paused. 

He had forgotten about the scaly spines along his back. checking the mirror he saw the small set of holes going down his back. luckily, he had only ripped the shirt and not the sport coat. carefully he finished getting dressed. After pocketing a few of his things, he stopped by the little end table that sat next to an armchair by the door.

Next to the small warm lamp sat a hand and well worn paperback book. He set the gun into the holster under his arm and picked up the small book. it had seen better days, but he had it for years at this point. The countless number of times he has read it came to mind.

To him it was more than just a book. It was a good luck charm, his good luck charm. So with care he sat the little book in the inside breast pocket and padded it a few times. He looked at himself in the mirror. Just a few weeks ago he was no one. Just another street rat. But the rat he saw looking back at him was so much more. 

There was no way what he saw was truely who he was. He didn’t feel the confidence or power the mirror saw. He didn’t see himself fitting the same shoes. If the reflection didn’t have the same white fur on its hand he would have not believed it was him at all. power he was given. He closed his eyes and turned away from his reflection. 

The door to the room closed behind him as he headed off into the unknown night.

Chapter 13

“Wilson’s Wish Making” read the sign as Jessica and Alex stopped outside the little shop. “This looks like a bad joke” Alex said reading the signs that dressed the door. “Fortune telling, charms, spells, potions, magic tricks, toys and games” he read out. 

“Sounds more like a gag shop” the vixen answered, giving his arm a light squeeze “let’s check it out.” Alex was feeling very uneasy with having Jessica so close to him and her acting like a teenager on her first date. But before he could protest the door flew open almost hitting him in the face. 

“Oh, my apologies there laddie” spoke a silver wolf with short spiky white blond hair. He wore a baggy overcoat over a faded blue polo shirt and cutoff shorts. Alex took a sharp step back pulling the vixen with him. The wolf stood on his toes with a long heel. 

The wolf’s tail seemed to dance the same way Ranger’s tail did. He wore a patch over his right eye but his smile reminded Alex of someone. “Well are you coming in or you just going to stare at me” he asked stepping to the side. 

“I take it you’re Wilson” Jessica asked overlooking all the clues setting off alarms in the young rat’s head. “Yes, yes I am” he answered “easy there lad not everything is out to kill you.” Jessica looked down at Alex’s hand seeing it in a tight fist. 

The wolf just smiled and waited. Ranger trotted up to them after running a squirrel up a tree. The fire tail wolf walked right up to the other asking for attention. After some light pats on the head the wolf walked herself right into the shop. 

Still uneasy Alex followed the wolves and the vixen into the shop. “Tea, coffee, cake,” the wolf asked, leading the three back to a small table with a glass ball and a silver bird sitting on it. “No thank you” Alex answered, taking a seat as the wolf had motioned. 

“Yes please and I’m sure he will have some too” Jessica said overruling his answer. After a moment the wolf returned with drinks and snacks at the ready. “No I just always keep something ready” he answered before they could ask if he knew they were coming. 

“So what can I do for you?” he asked, turning one of the chairs around and plopping himself on it. Alex shrugged. “About giving the birthday boy here a reading," Jessica jokingly asked. “Alright palm, aura, cards, or the ball” the wolf asked.

 “Do his palm” the vixen jumped, pulling Alex’s hand across the table. “I don’t think it will work with that one” Alex said about pulling it back. But the wolf was faster and pinned his white paw to the table. “I don’t see why not,” the wolf asked, “was this casting of your choice?” “Um, kinda” he answered. 

“Kinda” the wolf asked “were you told to pick something and this casting came from it?” the rat nodded. “Then it was by choice” the wolf answered and opened the rat’s hand for him to look over. Alex shot Jessica a glare. “I see long life, lots of hard work, strong will, but this is odd” the wolf spoke. 

Drawing out lines with the tip of his claw. The two looked at him. “Your love lines are a mess.” he said looking closer. “There's many people who love you. And you can’t seem to understand which is which.” The wolf paused. 

“Two of these lines seem to clash. Meaning there are two people very close to you that have strong feelings for you. But you are unsure which to choose.” He added, releasing the rat’s hand. 

“Wait, could it mean like I don’t know, like family versus a girlfriend thing or” the vixen asked and cut herself off. “I do not count a confused child as a rival in love.” the wolf answered, “But yes, there are some mixed feelings on both sides of that coin.” 

“What” Alex asked, pulling his hand back. “You have a sister or someone like a sister to you, yes?” the wolf asked, sipping his tea. “Yeah” the rat answered “but I don’t see what that has to do with anything. And how did you know I have a sister?” 

“The look on your face” the wolf answered without looking up. He set his cup aside and blinked his good eye. “I’m guessing, she is a good few years younger than you and is at that turning point in a girl’s life” the wolf spoke, folding his hands into his lap.


“The point where she starts liking boys” the vixen chimed in “and him being pretty much all she has.” “Case in point” the wolf finished “so it is no big matter. Well in of itself anyway. But I’m guessing there is more to that story than I don't need to know.” 

“Oh” Alex said, looking away. “No matter” the wolf spoke up, “talk to her. I’m sure she will be understanding. And now it’s your turn my deer.” Jessica was more unwilling to show her hand than Alex, given how good this guy was at what he did. 

“If you want we can ask him to leave if it makes you feel any better” the wolf asked, his eye bouncing between the two. Jessica looked at Alex from the corner of her eye before reaching out her hand and opening its palm up to the silver wolf.

“He doesn’t know the many hardships you have undertaken. And only now you bring them to light.” He said before even looking at her hand. Jessica’s eyes dropped to the table top. He looked at her hand then closed her fingers and gently pushed her away. 

“Child, darkness clouds you and you will have to face your demons, ready or not” he said and swallowed hard. “I know,” she answered, “I’ve known for a long time.” “You have a lot of love in your heart and a lot of hope.” the wolf went on “Never lose them.” 

Alex could tell Jessica was about to bolt for the door. “However, that is a matter you do not have to face alone. Nor will you.” the wolf said and stood up “I guess that is all I have. Took less time than I thought it would.” He scratched his chin and led them back to the door.

Jessica and Ranger stepped out of the shop and started to walk down the street. Alex was stopped just inside the door. “Oh there was one last thing, Well two to be honest” the wolf said “one, this was sent to me by mistake.” He handed Alex an envelope. 

Then reached back into his coat after the young rat had taken the letter. “And second Happy Birthday” the wolf smiled, handing him a small box “oh and don’t forget to make a wish.” The wolf tapped his nose and rushed the young rat out the door. 

“But what do I do with this?” the rat asked, holding up the small box. “Do with what” Jessica asked looking back at him. Alex spun around to look at Jessica and then back at the shop. “Wait, that shop was right here just a second ago” he said looking at an empty lot next to him. 

Jessica looked at the lot next to him. “Yeah, it was,” she said, eyes wide. Alex thought about the name of the shop for a second. “Nah, couldn’t be” he said, brushing the thought aside. “Well” the vixen asked as they started moving. 

“Well what?” he asked. “What did he give you, ya goof” Jessica asked, giving him a light tap on the arm. “A box and a letter,” he answered. He put the letter away and opened the box. Inside was a small heart shaped charm and a folded piece of paper. 

Unfolding the paper with his fingers Alex started reading the note written on it. “Make a wish and give this to your girlfriend already,” it read “Wishmaker.” Jessica had read the note and looked up at the young rat’s face.

 His expression seemed to break into a smile. She had never seen him smile before. It was more fitting than the blank look he had always given her. She blushed when his eyes met hers. Alex pulled the charm out by the ribbon it was attached to. Then began to put it around the vixen’s neck. 

She gasped thinking it was some joke or worse he was going to use it to kill her. But he fixed the knot and let it hang from her neck. When she looked back at him she was about to ask but was cut off with him sharply pulling her into a kiss.

Her eyes closed as she drowned herself in it. Seconds felt like days to her. As he pulled away she felt dazed and blinked till she could focus. Her mind swam with questions but all she could do was smile. “Where to next?” he asked, taking her hand in his. 

“Know any good movies?” she asked before she could think about the question. Alex thought about it and shook his head “I never had time for movies or much of anything really.” “Oh” she responded, looking away. “I always liked books more anyway,” he added. 

“Books” she asked “I never thought you did a lot of reading.” “Yeah, books are easier to work with when running around and jumping out of windows and what not” he said and pulled an old paper back from his coat. “Fly and the Spider” Jessica read off the weathered cover “that’s a good one.” 

“You like spy novels?” Alex asked, dropping the book back in his pocket. “Just the romance of them” she answered. They walked along talking about the different books they had read and what they thought might happen in later stories.

“I’m just saying I think he’d go for the barmaid over the heiress because of the class difference between them” Alex said. “I don’t think so. She offered him everything she had.” Jessica said, rolling her eyes, “Plus the barmaid doesn’t even like him.” 

“She only likes him because he saved her life” he said “and if that is the only reason she likes him then there was no point in half of the story.” “Right, the knight in shining armor says playing the hero is no way to get the girl” she teased, pulling him closer. 

“I didn’t say that.” he objected “I’m just saying there should be more to it.” “Like a love of books” she added with a grin. “Yes,” he answered, “anything more than just. “Oh you saved my life. Take me, I’m yours.” He finished with a bit of over acting.

It was a new feeling for Jessica to just talk to someone. She hadn’t felt this at ease in years. And just talking about something like books just made her happy. Alex felt much the same. Finding they had more in common then he first thought. 

He had never thought just talking to her would be so easy. She had always scared him. “I know this place,” he said, stopping in front of an alleyway. The building next to it had a small spider web set of cracks in the bricks. Like it was hit a few times with a sledgehammer. 

Jessica looked around and at the web-cracks in the wall. “Well we both should.” She added, “This is where we first met.” “You still remember that day” he asked with a questioning look. “I remember you trying to play the hero and failed.” she said “You know, I was just going to have Mitch knock you out and move on.” 

“I remember him almost choking me out” Alex said thinking back on that day. “Oh he was'' she added “but the minute Sheba showed up. That was the game changer.” “Game changer,” he asked “I was about to black out when she showed up.”

“I know.” the vixen answered “Mitch had told me later on. That he had to use enough force to break a man’s neck.” Alex replayed that day in his head. Jessica took a few steps closer to the wall. Running her fingers along the cracks in the wall. 

“He missed because he thought she was taller” the vixen said thinking back as well. “Had you not put up a fight. He would have killed her.” she added “I found out later on he had gone rogue from a group called the Order of the Crown.” 

“She said something about that,” Alex said, breaking his line of thinking. “She,” the vixen asked, looking at him from the wall. “This woman was in the kitchen” he recapped “and she said she was from the Order of the Crown.” 

“What did she look like?” Jessica asked “Was she armed? Were the lights on? Did you look her in the eye?” “Tall feline, orange fur with light blue stripes. She had a sword. But I did disarm her” he answered thinking about it. “No, the lights were off. Just the light from the window. Yeah, her eyes flash to a gray color, I think.” 

Jessica grabbed the rat by the collar and pinned him to the wall. “Did she give you a name?” she asked, getting as close to him as she could. “Eclairage Gagliuso” he answered. “She said something about me having a lover.” 

Jessica smiled, “you have no idea.” She looked him in the eyes, doing her best not to blink. Alex blinked looking deep into her eyes. After a moment his eyes flashed gold. When his eyes returned to their light green color. 

He put his hand to her side, turning her with him. Lightly pinning her against the wall. Her hands released his collar and reached behind his head. They began to kiss heavily drawing small gasps from the other. 

Jessica paused him with a finger across his lips. “I think we should save the rest for later,” she said, forcing herself to release him. Alex’s body was still driven but his mind slowed him down. He nodded slowly, taking a slow step back. Letting his hand slip from her side only to be taken by her own hand.

“Maybe we should get back before it gets too late,” he agreed. Jessica smiled as he led her to where her driver was to meet them. They forced themselves to hold back the whole trip back to the manner. Alex’s wild ideas broke when he realized this was the first time he had not seen his sister off to bed.

Once back in the manner he quickly made his way to his sister’s room the vixen close behind him. Alex eased the door open so as to not to wake the young folf from her slumber. “You are back sooner than I thought.” the demon’s voice whispered just high enough for them to hear him “I hope everything is alright.”

“Yeah, old habits.” Alex answered lightly stepping over to his sister’s bed. The young folf had been rolling around in her sleep again. Pushing sheets and blankets off her. Her loose clothing showed more of her growth day by day. 

“She’s going to be a real heartbreaker soon enough” Jessica whispered as she helped Alex pull the bedding back into place. “Well it’s a good thing I learned to be a good leg breaker” Alex smiled, kissing his sister on the head adding, 

“I curse you to sweet dreams and happy days, my little witch.” Jessica bit her lip to keep from giggling. Alex looked up at the vixen, straightening himself up. He turned to the night stand with an open book on it.

“The Double Dealer” he read the name of the short story and sighed. “That was always her favorite story about the Wishmaker,” he said, closing the book. They bid the demon good night leaving the room as quietly as they could. 

“The Double Dealer” Jessica asked, in the hallway and closing in on Alex’s room “never heard of that one.” Alex recapped the story of how Wishmaker tricked two warring kingdoms into a peace treaty. 

“So he gave one girl a gift from the sister of the boy from the other kingdom. By having him give it to her” Jessica asked thinking about how silly it was. “Yep,” Alex answered “because the sister knew how lonely the two were. And she had made a wish for her brother’s happiness.”

“Sounds silly if you ask me,” Jessica said, opening the door to his bedroom. “Yeah, but she was always like that.” Alex said, giving another sigh. “Always trying to find ways of helping people. That’s how we found out about her gifts.” 

“God damn saints the both of you.” Jessica said, turning the lights on. Sitting out in the open on Alex’s desk was a small box with a bow sitting on top with a note reading “Happy birthday Alex, love Sheba.” 

Jessica picked up the box. Before Alex could do anything else she put it in his hand, saying “open it now.” Alex took the box and opened it. Inside was a charm shaped like a dream catcher and another note. “Promise saved. promise kept.” was all it said.

Alex laughed, taking the charm and threw its chain around his neck. Jessica read the note. Remembering how she heard those words enough times that they became hollow words to her. But knew those same words were like gold to Alex and Sheba. 

“You say this to her a lot, haven't you?” she asked, setting the box and note aside. “Yeah,” he answered, emptying his pockets. “I heard those words a lot growing up too,” she said, looking around the room. It was simple but clean. “but they were always lies.” 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, meaning it. “Don’t be. You’re not the one who gave me a drug abusing mother and a criminal for a step-father” she said. “At least you got to have time with them, I never knew my mother or father. I was a doorstep baby.” Alex said “And Sheba, her folks died in a car wreck.”

“I guess we all have had it rough.” she said, turning back to him. “Yeah I guess,” he said. She smiled moving closer to him. He blinked, putting his arms around her, holding her close. “I know it sounds silly. But could you say them to me?” she asked “That way I can hear it once and know it’s not another lie.”

Alex squeezed the vixen close to his chest and softly in her ear said “Promise saved. Promise kept. All before day is night.” She smiled,  her heart racing in her chest. She could feel his heart beating against his rib cage. “Now, where were we?” she asked, smiling up at him. He smiled picking up where he left off on the street corner.

Chapter 14

“I think you are confusing two different types of love” Wilson’s voice rang in the young folf’s ears as flashes of her brother ran through her mind. Ideas still new to her, crossed her mind countless times. The wolf’s words drew a sharp line between her thoughts and dreams. 

“I know he doesn’t see me that way.” she said “But part of me wants him too. To see only me.” “You are young. you have been through a lot.” the wolf answered, “It is understandable to think like that.” 

“But she doesn’t know him the way I do.” She said. “But she has feelings for him anyway?” the wolf asked. “I don’t know why” she answered “for years he had meant nothing to her.” “Is your brother strong and caring?” the wolf asked. 

“Yeah, up till now he has done everything for me. And asked for nothing in return.” she answered. She recalled everything he had done for her. Every time she was scared he was there to protect her. 

Every time she needed something he’d have it waiting for her. “Maybe thats is something that caught her eye,” the wolf asked. “I don’t even see how” she answered “with one word she could have everything.” 

“Everything” he asked. Her thoughts jumped to the number of times she had seen the vixen and the way she looked at her brother. “Maybe, I don’t know,” she answered. “Maybe there was one thing she couldn’t have,” he said. 

“Maybe there was something she couldn’t demand.” “You understand the power of a promise?” he asked. Her thoughts again jumped to the night she summoned Nightmare and how his words not hers make the apple glow. 

“A true promise is born from love and that is a power no one can match” the wolf said. She recalled every time Alex had shown great strength. How it was always to help someone else. “Tell you what,” the wolf spoke. 

Sheba’s mind returned to the shop where she had met this odd wolf. “Go ahead and pick two gifts.” “Two gifts,” she asked. “Yes, Two,” he answered, “one for your brother. And the other for the one you feel needs it most.” 

She went over to look over the number of charms laid out under a glass case. As she looked over the case one charm stood out over the others. It was a small dream catcher charm that matched the design on the back of Alex’s hand. “That one” she said without a second thought. 

“I see,” the wolf said, closing around the other side of the case “why pick such a charm?” “It just suits him. He was always there to scare off monsters and boogie men.” she said. “I see,” the wolf repeated, “do you know what a dream catcher is meant for?” 

“To stop bad dreams,” she answered, looking up at the older wolf. “Very good.” he said “But one needs faith to make it work fully.” She looked down at the charm, thoughts of Alex entered her mind. Him always needing to find answers. 

“He has a hard time finding or even keeping it,” she said. “He has a lot of love and hope in his heart?” the wolf asked, taking the charm from the case. He sat in a box and set it to the side. “He couldn’t live without caring for others.” she answered. 

“Then two out of three will have to do. For now.” the wolf said, turning back to the case. “Now, go ahead and pick another.” She looked over the case again. Two charms caught her eye. One was a small heart. the other a teardrop. 

“Can I see those two?” she asked and pointed them out. The wolf withdrew the two charms and set them out for her. “One would think these two wouldn’t mean what they do.” he said, pulling out another small box.

“The heart means hope.” she said thinking about it. “The hope and trust to the one it is given to.” She looked closer at the tear drop that looked more like a raindrop. “Very good.” the wolf answered “and the raindrop?” “Love” she answered “rain is love given to all.” 

The wolf smiled, sliding a piece of paper and a pen in front of her. “I think, I know which you want to give to the other.” he said but waited for her answer. “I want him to know it’s ok to be with her. But I don’t know if I could tell him. Because I want him for myself.” she said looking back at the heart shaped charm. 

The wolf smiled as he spoke “let me ask you this. Do you want him to trust her or to love her?” “Both I guess.” she said “I mean. After everything he has done for me. He should be able to give his heart to someone he cares about.” 

The wolf grin dipped as he asked “even if it is not you to whom he gives such a gift?” Sheba thought about it. He had never broken a promise before. Nor had he ever stopped loving her. “Yes, because I don’t own his heart. But I will kill anyone who breaks it.” she said, looking right into the wolf’s good eye. 

When she looked down at the charms again. The heart was gone and one of the boxes was closed. “Then that matter is settled.” he said “I will see to it myself that it is put into the right hands.” The wolf looked back at the case then to the young folf. 

“You know,” he said, “dreams are like people.” She looked up at him. “Well in truth there are really only three types of dreams that can change the world” he said, picking up the last charm off the glass case. 

Sheba’s head tilted as the old wolf spoke. “But it’s not the dreams themselves that change the world.” he said, crossing around the case again, his baggy coat shifting oddly as he moved “It is when they are met with faith, hope and love.”

He took the charm and placed its thin chain around Sheba’s neck. “Here, write him a note and put it in the box. Then take it with you.” he said taking his leave of the room “I have guests coming soon, I hope they like cake.” 

After she finished writing her note, she left the little shop and rushed into another dream.  Her body felt hot and itchy. She felt uneasy with this sense of need. It was almost painful. She woke up needing to use the bathroom. She found the blanket and sheet had been kicked off at one point. 

But somewhere in her dream she thought Alex and Jessica had put them back on her. Had he said something to her? But her first need picked up again. looking down at herself she made sure to do so quickly. Then clean the mess she had made in her sleep. 

Once she had stripped the bed and changed her clothes. She picked them all up and took them to the laundry room. A few steps into the hallway with her load of balled up bedding and clothes she was startled by a voice.

She dropped everything she was holding when Meg's voice caught her ears. “You’re up early” she said. Sheba was startled and embarrassed by the otter. Meg stood watching the young folf rush to repack the sheets and blankets and messy clothes. 

When Sheba finally looked at the otter, she was still in shock. The otter stood in the hall, her sleek form and curves made clearer by the tight one piece swimsuit she wore. Meg smiled, biting back a small giggle. 

“Sheba, are you ok?” she asked, taking the load from the girl. Sheba couldn’t think of what to say and rambled over her words. “Feel very hot and itchy?” the otter asked, setting the mess aside. Sheba nodded shyly. 

“Woke up and found a mess in your bed” she asked, leading the folf back to her room. Again she nodded. “Tell you what. Go put your swimsuit on and meet me at the pool” the otter said. And gently pushed the girl back into her room. 

Without a second thought Meg turned and grabbed the messy linens and tended to them. Ten minutes later the two females stood next to a large indoor swimming pool alone. The otter in her tight one piece and the little folf in her modest cartoony two piece that was getting to be a little too small for her. 

“Sheba, you know I’ve had to go through the same thing with Jessica,” the otter said, stretching out her arms and legs. Sheba nodded, still feeling uneasy. “It’s normal.” Meg said, “you’re going through your first heat.” 

Hearing that made the girl less standoffish about the matter. “And I did the same thing for her. I’m going to do it for you. when I caught her making that morning run” Meg said, giving the young girl a hug. Sheba blinked thoughts racing in her head.

“Time to cool off” the otter said, picking the young folf up and jumping into the pool. When she hit the cool water her body was thrown off. Breaking the burning itchy feeling and sending chills down her back. When her head broke through the water and gasped for air she stood shaking from the cold.

The otter on the other hand had not come back up. This scared the folf thinking something was wrong, till she felt arms around her. “See, isn’t that better?” Meg asked, helping the girl warm up to the cold water. 

Once Sheba could talk without her teeth chattering. She began to ask a lot of questions that she otherwise wouldn’t. The otter answered the best she could. The two climbed out of the pool and cleaned up before returning to Sheba’s room. 

“Now go get dressed and wake Alex.” Meg said “And I’ll go make breakfast after I get dressed.” Sheba thanked Meg and went into her room. Infrerna had made herself comfortable in the empty bed as the demon slept in his stone-like state. 

Sheba rolled her eyes at the sight of the two. She giggled to herself and changed into a blue button-up dress shirt and red skirt. She looked herself over in the mirror running her hand down her front. “In time” she said to herself, fixing herself and putting the raindrop charm around her neck.

When she was ready she rushed out of the room leaving the door cracked. Outside of Alex’s door, she paused with a thought popping her head “he might not be alone.” She knocked on the door, heart racing. No answer. She tried again this time calling his name. Still no answer. 

Nervous, she tested the knob and opened the door. Morning light was breaking through the windows letting her see.  “Alex,” she called, stepping into the room. He still lived the same way as long as she had known him. Clean but messy. 

Clothes were thrown about the floor. But her first thought was that was just like him. Till she saw some of Jessica’s things thrown across the room. Sheba bit her lip and swallowed hard. They spent the night together. “Alex” she called again making her way over to the bed. 

An uneasy shaking came with each step. Till she stood next to the bed. She looked down at the sleeping rat. His arm wrapped around his head with his mouth open and tongue hanging out. A hand laid curled along his side with Jessica’s face resting on his chest. 

His free arm was pulled tightly around her. Sheba was envious of Jessica’s looks. But seeing her like this, closed a gap between them. “Alex Wake up,” she said and lightly shook his arm. “Meg is cooking breakfast.” 

Alex’s body shifted as his head rolled around. Jessica sleepily squeezed him tighter as a reaction to his sudden movement. Slowly two sets of eyes open blinking away from sleep. They looked to the other first for reinsurance of the night before. “Good morning Sweety,” Jessica said, kissing Alex.

“Good morning” Sheba chimed in. Both Jessica and Alex turned their heads to see the young folf standing there already dressed for the day. Jessica quickly pulled the blanket high up over her chest folding her legs under her as she sat up.

Alex sat up covering as much of his bare lower half as he could. “You forgot to lock your door.” she said and playfully rolled her eyes. “I'll tell Meg to keep something warm for you.” The young folf turned and quickly left the room. locking and closing the door behind her. 

Alex and Jessica looked to the other and both smiled. “That turned out better than I thought it would,” the vixen said, picking up Alex’s bathrobe and putting it on. Alex bit his lip with a longing gaze. “She did say, she’d ask Meg to keep something warm for us” he said with a knowing smile.

Once the door was closed Sheba made a mad dash for the kitchen. What had gotten into her that she would act like that to her own brother? Her young mind danced his form around her eyes. Adding thoughts of what he was hiding under the blanket made her blush.

 But she did her best to push those thoughts aside. “Yeah, I hope you aren’t making anything that can’t be reheated,” she said, pushing her way into the kitchen. Meg looked at the folf for just a second. Sheba looked away, sitting in her usual spot at the bar counter.


One of the guards was standing next to the coffee pot waiting for it to brew. Meg was bouncing around with a mix of foods and smells flying all over the place. “I’ll be sure to save them some beacon and eggs,” the otter answered without a second thought. 

After a few minutes the guard had his coffee. He took his first sip when Sheba spoke up her thoughts. “I woke Alex and Jessica up. And I think they had sex last night.” The guard’s coffee flew across the kitchen. 

“Dave, she’s a grown woman and she can sleep with whomever she wants” Meg said after seeing the guard’s face. “I’m not mad Miss Meg.” he answered “Just envious of the bastard.” Meg shot the guard a dirty look.

The guard threw his hands up and left the room before the otter could take a frying pan to his head. Sheba covered her giggling by sipping her tea. “Don’t mind him Hun '' the otter said, setting a plate out for Sheba. 

As the morning shift changes picked up Sheba watched as guards and day workers passed through the kitchen as they do every morning. “Hey kiddo” some of them would say when they saw her. Others would ask about Alex. A couple would try to hit on Meg but run before she’d hit them. 

The few that stuck around till they had to start were shocked to see two things. One their boss Jessica walking into the kitchen in just a bathrobe. And second seeing Alex half dressed and holding her. One of the overnight guards dropped his coffee. 

“What? I’m not allowed to be in my own kitchen?” She asked glaring at half of them. The room cleared out of all but the four of them. “Alex, after you eat, be sure to take the girls outside for a walk and take your time” Meg said “we need to have some girl time.”

“And what are we eating?” the demon asked as he entered the room. “Bacon and eggs” the otter answered, setting a plate out for him. Ranger and Infrerna sat waiting for their fill. As Drake sat on Nightmare’s shoulder. 

“I hear many things from the people that walk around at night,” Drake chirped. “Like what” Jessica asked, having picked the night security herself. “Small talk of seeing things like us. And the woman who used to run the manner before Miss Meg.” the little dragon answered. “She is like the boy but of a different breed.” 

“Yeah she said something about that” Alex said, packing a biscuit with egg and bacon. “I had been meaning to ask” Jessica spoke tilting her head “where did you run into that woman?” “She was standing in this very room not more than a day ago.” the tiny dragon answered, “I can smell her scent.”

Jessica looked to the dragon blade and back to Alex who scratched his ear and looked away. “And you didn’t tell me about this why” she asked as her ears began to fold back. “I forgot.” he answered “I forgot and even if I did tell you. I don’t think we could do anything about it. Because she knew what she was doing.”

“Works for me.” the vixen said, turning back to her plate. “Eclairage Gagliuso used to work for my father.” “Your father worked for the order of the crown” Alex asked. At those words the demon set his fork down. Then turned his closed eyes to the young rat and the vixen. 

“No, she was a mole and had been for years” the vixen answered. “Question is for who was she a mole for?” the demon asked. “The order of the crown dates back long before any but the oldest of us would know.” 

“I can tell you she was one of the ones undermining my father.” the vixen answered “But she could only do so much without him taking matters into his own hands. Meg looked away. “Order of the crown?” Sheba asked, unaware of what the others had said. 

“It is an ancient order meant to curve the deeds of mortals for the betterment of the world” the demon answered “my brothers and I, are agreed to ourselves and the order to not act by greater means.” “The Sons of the Caretaker not acting by greater means” the vixen laughed. 

“The stories alone make you three out to be heroes the world over” she added. “Yes but name one story where anyone or all three do anything to change the whole world on that scale” Meg chimed in. Heads shook. “Case in point” the demon finished “but if the order still watches you. It means there is more to this game than even I had foreseen.”

“Well then” Jessica smiled, “good thing we got Sheba a dress.” Alex’s head snapped around. “Well, if we’re going to a Ball. We all have to look our best” the vixen said. 

The rat’s eyes grew in his head. “Relax, Dancing is just like fighting” the demon answered. “Fun part is you’re going to be dressing up too,” the vixen added. The demon’s large ears shot back as he spoke “I am not going.” 

“Oh yes, you are.” Jessica corrected “All four of us are going. Make that, everyone in this room is going.” Jessica set the open letter down for the demon to read. “The whole team is invited and as far as I’m concerned that means everyone in this room right now.” “Ranger and Infrerna and drake as well,'' Sheba asked. “Yep” Jessica answered, “which means they’ll all need a bath.”

Chapter 15

It was an unnerving feeling for Alex. To walk into a room full of people he had robbed, beaten or some other act to undermine or cripple by Jessica’s order. Jessica herself held her own to the number of low lives she had put under her thumb. Sheba had hid herself fully inside Infrerna’s cloak form.

Nightmare showed little concern for hiding his form at this point but retained his size to move around with greater ease. Meg dressed to kill. The otter’s dress fit her figure and drew the eyes of men and women alike. 

The walk into the building was unsettling in many ways for each of them. “Good evening, may I have the party’s name?” asked a small white mouse wearing a slim but loose dress and sunglasses. Her head was pointing down even as she talked. Alex was quick to pick up on the way the mouse moved. 

“Yes I’m Jessica Pinaco and my team’s name is Dreamer,” the vixen answered. “Member names, as to announce your arrival” the mouse asked without skipping a beat. But at the sound of Jessica’s name the mouse had taken a notable step back. 

“The Caster is Sheba Bloodgold, her guard and champion in Alex Hunter Greenvolt,” the vixen spoke watching the mouse’s reaction to each name as she wrote them down “and her demon’s name is Nightmare the beast, knight of the Caretakers keep.” 

“Yes ma’am” she said, shaking as she spoke. “As you know in the litter each member of a team is welcome to bring one person with them, may I ask the number to be seated?” “Eight” Jessica answered. The mouse nodded before turning around. 

“Follow me please” she said and began to count each of her steps. They were led into the building where they passed a second mouse girl equally as blind as the one that led them. Other guests and staff turned heads at the sight of the almost seven foot tall demon walking closely over a cloaked figure. 

The mouse stopped just outside the ballroom and turned back to the group. “I must ask you to disarm before passing this point,” she said, pointing her hand to a horse standing outside a large walk-in closet full of firearms and swords.

“Then half of our group will be left out” the vixen retorted. The mouse’s head tilted. “Alex,” Jessica said, turning to the tall rat next to her. Without batting an eye, he drew his sword with its wolf head guard. He dropped the blade. 

Ranger landed on her paws then sat at her master’s side waiting for his next order. Drake leaped from the top of Nightmare’s head and landed on the back of the fiery black wolf. “Infrerna” spoke a quiet voice from under the fire red cloak. 

With just the word the cloak blew itself free of its wearer shifting to a canine form, seven long tails curling into a dancing flame. Two steps and the beast stood next to her young master. Head turned to the sight of the creature that was hiding under the cloak. 

Sheba wore a long red gown that stopped just below her knees in the front and came to a point half way down her calf. The black trim cut between fur and cloth. The front of the gown fit to her young body drawing out her growing curves. From her tail to her shoulder was bare, only covered by a thin shawl.

Her hands gloved in black silk one stopping at her wrist of her right hand the other at the elbow of her left arm. She carried a small basket holding her family spell book and a golden apple. Around her neck was a small tear drop shaped charm hanging by a thin gold chain. 

Alex’s jaw dropped from seeing his little kid sister looking so grown up. Gasps and awes made her blush. “What did you do with my sister?” Alex asked, pulling his eyes away from the girl and to the equally beautiful vixen holding his arm.  “I did the best with what I had and it seems I had more to work with then I thought” she answered playfully, closing his mouth with a finger. 

“This way if you will.'' the mouse asked, leading on “One of the staff will inform you when your table is ready.” Just passed the door, the mouse handed a card off to a bull with his eyes closed in a respectful manner. 

He took the card and read it over before looking back at the group. He cleared his throat and spoke into a microphone that stood next to him. The eyes of the guests turned to see who had just arrived. The room became quiet as they moved down the steps. 

Alex shook his head just a bit saying “I don’t like this, too many people staring at us.” “That’s the point, Alex.” Jessica answered “Just relax and have fun.” “I have a bad feeling about this.” Alex said, looking around. 

“I have the same feeling but I have that part under control” Jessica said and kissed his cheek. “Nightmare why is everyone staring at us?” Sheba asked, staying close to the demon behind her. “Who would not gaze upon three beautiful women such as yourselves” he answered. 

Ranger and Infrerna both shot a look back at the demon. “You two are another story” he answered. Tails waged as the two trotted off behind Meg. “So the plus ones are sticking together.” Meg said, petting their heads “well that’s fine. I have to make a call here in a bit.” 

Meg, Drake and the two canines were greeted and led over to a set of tables where others sat and talked. And she made quick work of becoming part of the chatter. Sheba nodded Jessica and Alex off to dance. 

She stayed right next to Nightmare who found another demon he had known years ago. “Not used to being a guest and not one of the crew” the vixen asked, guiding his steps with a tap of her toes. “I’m used to not being seen.” he answered, letting his movements fall into place. 

“I know. But you were not as good as you thought you were” she smiled letting her body press against his. His eyes met with hers. offsetting her words with a look. “There was always one person who saw you cutting between the shadows” she said, never breaking from his gaze. 

“I never knew you had kept that close of an eye on me” he laughed before leading the vixen in a spin. “Remember that one job where you were stuck in a crowded room?” she asked. “That has happened more than once,” he answered.

“It was a birthday party for Bulloft’s daughter.” she pointed out. “We went to school together and the old guy thought me and her were friends.” “Yeah, I stole papers from one of the offices in the building. And on my way out. I got pinned down in the room the party was in” he said bring her through a small dip. 

“I saw you trying to get to the window,” she smiled, “and I just happened to have been groped by one of his men.” “Really, I thought a fight broke out. I didn't stick around to see what happen” he said. “But that was not your best work,” she added.

 “Tell me, it wasn’t the magic show,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t remember that one.” she answered, “But you’re going to tell me about that one later. But the one I’m talking about was when you got Sheba’s spell book.” 

“Oh, how was that my best work?” he asked, pulling her close once more. “You looked like an angel who forgot how to fly,” she answered as the music ended. A sharp scent caught the rat’s nose making his ears and head turn. 

“You’re getting better” a soft voice spoke. The voice was owned by the feline dragoness Eclairage Gagliuso. Her silver blue dress pulled out her markings. And the tight fit to her form kept many eyes on her. Next to her was a white fur wolf with bits of gray across his maw. 

“Eclairage, why is this boy dancing with my daughter? When he should be in a grave.” the wolf said his distaste was clear in his tone. “My apologies, my lord. But this one seems to have a few tricks up his sleeve” the feline answered. 

“Jealous to see me in the arms of another man,” Jessica cut in “or still pissed that I wasn’t the one firing blanks?” Alex had turned. Filling the space between Jessica and the wolf. “Boy, step aside so I may have a dance with my daughter” the wolf said with the wave of his hand. 

Alex looked at Jessica who looked back and nodded. “I’ll be right back,” Jessica said after giving Alex a gentle kiss. The wolf pulled Jessica across the dance floor before holding her close. “You forget your place, Jessica.” the wolf whispered in her ear. 

“My place is where I choose to be,” she answered, pushing herself back away from the wolf. “No. Your place is where I tell you to be.” the wolf said “And that means. I tell you to be on your knees. Then you drop them. where you belong.”

“You have no power over me. Not anymore.” Jessica answered following in time with the music. “I never wanted you beneath me, Jessica.” the wolf said, “But time and again you force my hand.” 

“Force your hand.” she retorted “You had a woman’s leg broken. just because she was trying to take care of herself. And then you made her walk on it.” 

“She stole and then lied to me,” he answered. “You almost killed her.” the vixen said, continuing to move away from the wolf. “Then a girl who wasn’t even twelve steps in to help her. And what did you do?” 

“You had no reason to look into my work. What happened to you was your own doing” the wolf cut her off. “I had every reason. time and time again. I heard the screams. I saw the blood. I even saw my mother’s body being bagged up and put out with the trash.” the vixen chided, tears filling her eyes. “And no less than a day later you raped me like I was some kind of toy.” 

“I loved you, Jessica.” the wolf barked “just like your mother. And what did the two of you do? She went out to screw other men just for her fix. And you defined me in my own home.”

Jessica laughed “And the next day. I got my hands on a shotgun. And blew you full of holes.” “As you can see your plan to kill me failed,” the wolf said, forcing her close once more. 

“Kill me all you want. Because I will just keep coming back. Bigger and better.” Hate filled her eyes. “But I want to forgive you.” he said “I want you to come back to me.” 

“I’ve already moved on. And he is a much better lover than you ever were.” she said and pushed the wolf back. “That boy is only using you. What has he ever done for you that I haven’t?” he said, pushing back. 

“He talks to me. He saved me from becoming like you.” she said with a soft smile breaking her tears. “Jessica. If you don’t do as I say. I will kill you” he cut off. “Like I care. Before all of this is over. One of us will be dead. and if I’m going to die then you’re coming with me.” she said laughing to herself. 

“Jessica, do not test me.” the wolf said, “But fine then pick which one you want to die. Your street rat lover or the girl.” “This is between you and me. They have nothing to do with this.” Jessica answered. 

“Really, Jessica. I’ve played this game before. I am the king of demons. This is my two hundredth time taking part in this game.” the wolf said grinning ear to ear. Jessica’s eyes went wide. “And no matter how powerful the beast is.” the wolf laughed in her ear. “I only need to kill the girl to win. But if you give me the girl and kill the street rat then I will forgive you.”

“What do you want the girl for?” she asked “And why do you want Alex dead?” “You don’t need to know my reasons.” he answered “You just need to do as I command.” “You hurt or even touch them. I’ll kill you myself” Jessica said, breaking free of his grip. 

The wolf looked at the young vixen with a growl deep in his throat. The small charm that hung from her neck glowed softly. “So help me Jessica. If you do not obey me.” the wolf growled. 

“Don’t threaten me,” Jessica said “I’m not my mother. I’m not the scared little girl you once knew.” The wolf stepped back. The glow from the small heart shaped charm was becoming blinding to him. Pinaco covered his eyes from the light. 

“I have something to protect. I have a family now. And if you or any other even try to take them from me. No force in this world or any other will stop me from hunting you down and tearing you apart.” she said and walked off. 

The wolf stood forced to rub his eyes. “No, you’re going to end your little family. With your own two hands.” he said to himself, turning away and returning to his table. 

“Please understand, we’re running out of time.” the feline dragoness said moving in time with the music “and if he gets his hands on her no one can stop him.” “What does Sheba have to do with his plan?” Alex asked following her lead. 

“I can’t tell you now. But find the story of the Caretaker’s keep.” she whispered “You’ll find the answers you need there.” “He made it clear that he wanted me dead.” he asked “why?” “Because right now you are the only one keeping him from his goal.” Eclairage answered and pulled away “Stay on your guard and keep her safe.” 

Before he could blink she was gone as Jessica walked back to and right into his arms. “I’m sorry it took longer than I thought” she said and squeezed him tightly. “It’s fine,” he said, hugging her back. “We’ve got a lot to talk about after this.” he said “Tell me, you have a plan B to get us out of here?” “I know, and always,” she answered, letting him lead her through another dance. 

“Sheba, I didn’t know you were so light of you feet.” Nightmare said dancing with the young folf who was being held a few inches off the floor. “I might be if I was on my feet,” she giggled. “You two look so cute together.” Meg said “Would you mind if I cut in?” 

Sheba nodded as Nightmare set the girl back on her feet. “I saw a boy over there that looks a little lonely, '' Meg said to her and pointed to one of the tables close to theirs. Sheba looked over and saw a young minx who looked to be a year or two older than her.

She made her way over to the young feline. As she got closer she saw two faces that made her uneasy. She saw the Pack sitting in the chair next to him. Dressed in a cute pink dress meant for a girl that age and she even had a little pink bow in her hair. And next to her was her mother, the saleswoman she met when she got the dress. 

Blinking, the little minx looked at her and waved her over. Sheba moved closer watching her. She didn’t act the same as before. She was acting like a six year old taking in everything she sees. The minx waved again and lightly pulled on her mother’s arm. 

“Mommy, mommy, there’s a really pretty girl over there” the little feline said in the only way a child that young could say. “Pretty girl?” the saleswoman asked the child “what does she look like?” “Hello again” Sheba said shyly and being more than polite “I’m sorry I upset you last time we met.”

“Sheba, was it?” the older minx asked, her head turning to her. “Yeah” Sheba said after nodding her head. “Don’t worry about it.” She said “That thing does have some good qualities.” “Mommy you know her” the child asked looking between the two of them. 

“Yes Gwen, her friend bought the dress she’s wearing. And she can do magic like mommy can.” The feline answered. “She’s beautiful,” the child said “just like mommy.” Sheba covered her mouth to hide a soft giggle. “Well you are very beautiful yourself” Sheba said smiling. 

The girl’s eyes light up. “Henry, Henry She said I am beautiful” she said, batting at her brother’s arm. “Yes, this is my daughter Gwen. and this is my son Henry.” the mother said “And my name is Ginger Woodcut.” 

“I’m Sheba Bloodgold '' she said, dipping into a small curtsy. Henry looked the young folf over and shyly looked away. “Yeah hi” he said, trying not to look at her. Mrs. Woodcut’s twitchy ears in her son’s detraction. Sheba tilted her head a little to the side. 

She thought he was cute and his demeanor reminded her of Alex. She bit her lip trying to find her voice. “Henry, are you going to leave a lovely young lady standing there? '' Mrs. Woodcut asked, reaching over her daughter and giving him a small push. 

He coughed as he stood up still trying not to look at her. “Would you … like to … I mean care to” he asked, words getting stuck in his throat. Sheba shyly looked up at him given he was a few inches taller. The young feline was forced to swallow hard. The look on her face was too cute and made it hard for the young man to speak.

“I think she wants you to have a dance with her” his mother answered the both of them.

Chapter 16

Sheba’s heart was racing. There was something about this ball. Even if most of the people were low-lives. The party goers were so friendly and the music was beautiful. The young minx holding her hand led her to the dance floor. 

They turned facing one another, still gripping the other’s hand. He set his free hand on her hip as she took his shoulder in hers. Slow uneasy steps turned to light and graceful movements falling in time to the music. To Sheba it felt like it’s a kind of magic. She saw more and more of her brother in him as they danced. A gentle touch holding back. 

She had to blink and look at him to remind herself of who he wasn’t. “Are you part dragon?” she asked slowly, letting herself draw closer to him. “No,” he answered “I’m a golemor.” She blinked. “Gwen is my half sister from a different father.” he continued “Mine was an earth spirit named Elvin. And Gwen’s was a trucker named Steve.” 

“My brother is part dragon.” she said “There are times when he scares me. Because of how strong he is.” “Guess it will take a lot for a guy to match up to something like that” the minx said jokingly. Sheba shook her head and smiled. “No,” she said, “it’s not my brother to fear.” 

“Yeah I know” he said “it’s you.” “ME” she asked feeling a bit taken. “Out of any caster here you’re the only one strong enough to summon Nightmare in over a thousand years” he answered. She looked away. “I’m not that strong,” she corrected. “I couldn’t do it on my own. Even then I almost died.”

“Well don’t you two look cute” Jessica said, as she and Alex found them in pasting. “Hey Shebs,” Alex asked with a quick pat on her head. “Henry, Henry Woodcut” the minx answered quickly “I’m sorry for all the trouble my sister put you through.” 

“Sister” the two asked in tandem. “His sister is the host body for the Pack” Sheba answered. Alex’s ears shot back. “Wait, Alex.” Sheba cut in, “It may not be as bad as we think. I mean I just met this sweet little girl sitting with her mother.” 

“You getting that feeling too,” Henry asked. “Yeah,” Alex answered, “you might want to get back to your family kid.” “I’m sorry Sheba. Maybe we could meet up again sometime after all this is over.” Still in shock she stood there as the boy she just met ran off. 

“Sheba, I didn’t mean to chase him off like that. But I need you to go find Nightmare and Meg” Alex said, ears twitch everywhere. “He’s right, Sheba.” Jessica added “If I know my father well enough. You and Alex are at the top of his list. And we need to be ready for anything.”

Sheba looked past Alex and Jessica in time to see three blind mice girls pushing large rolling trays into the ballroom. “Alex” Nightmare spoke dancing up with Meg in his arms. “Yeah I know,” Alex answered. The five of them quickly moved off the dance floor and back to their table. 

“Ok, we’ll save the fight for later. But quickly, what do you know about his plan?” Alex asked. “Not a whole lot. But this is what I do know.” Jessica answered “He wants you dead, her alive and anyone who could stop him out of the way.” “We’ll need to divide ourselves to escape this place” Nightmare said, flicking his ears about. 

“Maybe we can help?” a bombastic voice spoke from behind the demon. They all turned to the voice. The rooster, Great Dane and the crocodile they had met a few weeks ago stood as a group. Dressed in suits that only seem to fit the Great Dane’s look. They walked around the demon and parked next to the table. 

“We’re team Neverlan.” The rooster said sitting next to Ranger. “I’m Peter Panbrook. This is Captain James “Hook” Rodger. And this is my demon Tick Tock.” The crocodile took a pose hands out waving “Jazz hands” it chimed. 

“Tick tock” Sheba asked, just happening to be standing between the two demons. It leaned down to her ear. “Tick, tick, tick, tick” could be heard deep inside the demon’s head. “Yeah, he’s a hell-mouth” the rooster answered. “If you want to get out of here before anything goes down. Then you best listen to him” the old sea dog spoke.

“Give me one good reason to trust you,” Jessica said leaning over the table a bit. “I can give you two,” the rooster answered, kicking his feet up on the table. Glares enclosed on the rooster. “We’re with the Order,” he said. 

“And this son of bitch can get his ass out of anything” the old dog braked. “You love me anyway,” the rooster teased. “We don’t have time to argue about this. So what’s your plan” Jessica said, looking around the ballroom. Seeing other groups starting to do the same thing they were doing. 

“First, you, the witch and the maid don’t stand a chance fighting those gorgons.” the rooster pointed out “So going with your idea of splitting up. We’ll need to break into three groups to get out of here.” “If they're working for my father. They’re not going to touch me.” she said “but if they can they’re going after Alex and Sheba.” 

“Kill him, catch her,” the rooster asked. Jessica nodded. “Thought so,” he said “you and him are going out the front door.” The rooster pointed to Jessica and Alex as he spoke. “Big guy, think you can make a door out of that wall?” the rooster asked nightmare and pointed to the wall behind them. 

“With ease,” the demon answered. “Good, you take the maid and the captain out that way.” the rooster said “And you’ll come with me and Tick Tock.” “Wait” Alex said, holding his hand out. “Look, I know you’re playing over protective brother and all. But we don’t have time for it.” The rooster said cutting the rat off. “She's small and light. And we need to get her out of here first.” 

“He has a point,” Nightmare said. “Thank you,” the rooster said. Alex looked at Sheba. She looked back at him and smiled. “She gets so much as a scratch I’ll rip you a new one” Alex said. “I love it when you talk dirty to me” the rooster answered “but you have my word as a thief.” 

Alex shook off the rooster’s comment and looked around. “I don’t like this.” he said, “We had too much time to plan.” “That’s the point.” The old captain said. “Pinaco is a man who believes himself to be better than everyone. He doesn’t care if they plan or just die.” 

“Now that is no way to speak about your host Captain” Eclairage’s voice said from behind Alex’s shoulder. “So, you want him to lie?” The rooster spat, kicking his feet off the table. “Now, now, Panbrook, I’m not here for you.” the feline said curling her fingers around Alex’s shoulder. 

Alex rolled her hand off keeping his back to her. “You are so much like your father.” she said. “My what?” Alex jumped, turning around. Before anyone could react the feline had pulled the rat into a kiss. She pulled away sharply with a smile. “Just like him,” she said and trotted off. 

Alex stood jaw gapping. Jessica’s ears folded back. Alex shook his head a few times and started licking the feline taste off his lips. “Damn everyone wants you,” the rooster said. “Stay focus” the Captain said, knocking the rooster upside the head with his hand. 

The white wolf that Alex had met a few minutes ago stood half way up the stairwell they had entered from. “Ladies and gentlemen and whatever unwholesome creatures we have running about.” he said, his voice booming over the chatter and small talk going on. The three blind mice stood at the top of the stairs blocking the only known way out of the room. 

The crowd turned quiet as the wolf spoke. “First off, thank you all for joining me tonight.” he said, giving his hands a quick snap and clapping. The guests all gave a forced cheer. All beginning to feel the same scents of doom looming overhead. 

“Second, I hope you are all enjoying yourselves” he added his grin growing from the dismay building in the room. Alex nodded to Nightmare who had already begun feeding from the negative force growing around him. Other demons, casters and fighters began readying a defense. The canine weapons were quick to their master’s sides. 

Drake was bored and was blowing bubbles about the room getting them to float high in the air. “To be honest with you all. I have gotten bored with this game. And thought to myself.” The wolf spoke, his hands moving slowly through the air “let’s kill a whole flock in one go.” 

The men lining the rails pulled out a range of firearms and prepared to open fire. “But before we get to that,” the wolf added, bringing his hands together “let me tell you why.” The shockwave of a large blast shook the room smashing the windows in. 

“A few years ago I had found something long forgotten.” he said unaffected by the blast. Nightmare froze. “No, no, no, we hid that ages ago” he said looking out the window where the Pinaco manner once stood. The building was gone as only flames and broken stones remained.


“Yes, I had found what many would say never was.” the wolf said “and soon enough I will have the power of a god.” He sighed and laughed. “So I don’t care who wins this little game” he laughed “when I can have EVERYTHING!” 

Alex threw up his hand yelling “AVALON!” A clear glass shell jumped before the crowd blocking them from the rain of gun fire that had just begun. “GO NOW” he yelled. The croc opened his mouth, spitting out a handful of guns and swords. Oddly they were dry. 

“Grab and go” the rooster said, taking his pick and grabbing Sheba’s arm. The size of the shield and the continuous gun fire began to take its toll on the young rat. The thin glass shell started cracking. “Alex” Sheba called as she was taken away. He looked back at her and yelled “PROMISE SAVED.”

He turned away to focus. All he could do was buy them time. The casters began to throw spells and shields. Some even tried reinforcing the shield Alex had made. Jessica moved between Alex on the gunners. “Break it.” the wolf ordered. 

The three mice girls, all threw off the sunglasses opening their eyes. The small frail mice shifted in size and form. In no time there stood three snake-like creatures hissing as their coiled bodies spring them into the air. 

Nightmare had changed in size ramming the wall across from where the rat stood. In one blow, crashed through the wall and into the night. The serpents hit the shield causing it to shatter. Nightmare turned, catching one of the serpents. He held her with one clawed hand as a number of party guests raced out the opening. 

Meg and the captain rushed out with the others. “Is the mighty Nightmare scared to look me in the eyes” she hissed. “You should not wish for such things” the demon answered. Her body coiled around his arm in an attempt to crush it. “No one is afraid of you, old man,” she hissed. 

“In most cases I would enjoy that fact” he answered opening his eyes “but even I have my reasons for what I do.” Their eyes met and locked. Her gaze held powered, as bits of flesh became stone. But the held gaze of the older demon broke her. 

Her long body uncoiled from Nightmare’s arm as she began to tear at her own eyes as she started screaming. The demon closed his eyes, setting the screaming snake down. “I’m sorry” he said as turned and made his exit. 

The second serpents had landed right in front of the Woodcut family. Henry met her gaze before any of them could act. His body became stone in no time. The snake turned to the feline and met her gaze but nothing happened. With a snap of her fingers flames shot from the blind witch’s hand. 

“I’m blind you dumb bitch.” she said as her flames scorched the serpent’s face. “Did you know a gorgon’s gaze doesn’t work on a golemor” Henry’s broken voice said as he grabbed the snake’s arm and flung her to the ground and knocked her out with one punch.

The third serpent had landed right in front of Jessica. “You want him,” Jessica said, “you’ll have to go through me.” Alex had dropped to the ground from exerting so much energy. “Please, don’t make me hurt you” the snake hissed, more scared of Jessica. “No,” the vixen answered. 

The snake shook her head before picking the vixen up by the neck. Before the snake could turn on the rat who was trying to pull himself up. She saw her sisters lay on the ground. One bleeding from her eyes, the other badly burned. She looked between her sisters and the rat. 

She shook her head again, dropping the vixen. Bond her way to her sisters. “Come on we gotta get out of here” Alex said breathing hard. 

Sheba was running the best she could but the dress and shoes were slowly her down. The rooster a few feet ahead of her turned into an open door. “This way” he said, grabbing her arm and pulling her into the room. “Ok, not my best plan. But we’re doing fine” he said looking out the window. 

The croc found his way in the room and closed the door behind him. “We got trackers,” he said. “Like they’re going to find us.” the rooster answered. “Heard one yell about the girl’s scent” the croc said and turned back to the door. 

“Ok, so we’re not doing fine.” the rooster remarked, “No matter, I got a plan.” Infrerna barked at the door her seven tails opening like a fan. “Right,” the rooster said looking at the door, “that’s not good.” After looking around Panbrook opened the window. Looking at the fall to the ground. 

“Right, well I can get us out of here. But it won’t be easy” he said, handing Sheba a backpack he pulled from one of the file cabinets “I like to plan ahead.” Inside she found a full change of clothes, even underwear. She looked up at him from the pack. 

“I have my hobbies,” he answered, “give me the panties you have on.” “What?” she asked needlessly, covering herself with her hands. “Look if anything I wish I was saying this to your brother.” he answered “But a decoy spell I can use needs a very strong scent.” 

“Oh” she said before it fully clicked. “Tick Tock watch the door” the rooster said moving to the window “please be quick we don’t have much time.” After a moment she quickly changed into the clothes in the bag. 

The clothes had an odd fit to them. Some pieces made her blush from feeling alone. Once she was fully dressed and her dress and other clothes packed away along with the spell book and the gold apple. She threw it on her back and called Infrerna. 

The rooster turned around finishing his spell. Sheba had left the cartoon faced underwear on the floor and from where she stood casted a shadow over it. The rooster waved his hand as the shadow ate the cloth and then darted out the window. 

“That was a phantom runner” the rooster said before jumping out the window. Without a word the croc had turned and picked the young folf up. Putting her on his back,  jumping out the window himself. Both the croc and the rooster floated with ease. 

“Now then” he said and waved his hand once more. Sheba shook with a weird feeling. “One, I have us shielded from sight. So we need to get moving. And second, those are meant to give you a wedge.” the rooster said and took the lead. Flying away from the building and to an old warehouse. 

Still holding a heavy oak door as a shield, Alex ran with Jessica a few feet ahead of him “This way” she said, turning down an alley as several rounds zipped past her head. For a second Alex thought he could smell Sheba running past them. Turning down the alley and dropping the door. 

Alex caught up with Jessica who pulled him into a large dumpster and closed the lid. Gun shots, roars and screams echoed around them. When she could, Jessica curled up to Alex’s chest shaking. He pulled his arms around her and held her close. 

She knew it was going to be bad. But the idea of him outright killing so many people scared her. “This is not your fault” the rat said, squeezing the vixen. They waited till the sounds died off. “Wait here,” Jessica said. Working her way out of the dumpster. “If I don’t come back. Wait till dawn and run. Get Sheba and run. And don’t look back.” 

Alex caught her head and said “Then you better come back. Before I come looking.” He kissed her and slid back into hiding. Jessica quietly walked back to the open street. Peeking out, she found they had lost them. 

She turned to go back to Alex when something grabbed her and slammed her into a wall. “Running away are we?” Pinaco said, his hand around the vixen’s neck. “Leave them out of this” she said, clawing at his hand. “You made them part of this. And you dare think you can hide them from me.” the wolf said, reaching in his pocket.

“I won’t let you hurt them” Jessica spat gasping for air. “This is true” the wolf answered “you will.” “What” she said. “If you do not bring me the girl. I will kill her” he added “And as for the street rat. Give him this.” The wolf pulled a black apple from his pocket and held out to the vixen.

 “And if you don’t. I will rip him apart and stuff his carcass down your throat.” the wolf added, cramming the apple in her hand. The wolf dropped her, letting her fall to her knees. “Do this and I’ll forgive you.” he said walking off into a mist. “oh and I will be watching.” 

Without thinking she ran back to the dumpster where she had left Alex. She tripped on her heels, ripping her dress and scraping her knee. She yelped in pain before picking herself up and limping the rest of the way. 

“Alex” she called lifting the lid. The young rat pushed the lid off and jumped out of the dumpster. “Jessica” he answered “are you ok?” He looked at her leg and saw a good bit of blood rolling down. Taking no time he fixed a wrap for her leg from his suit and tied it in place. The black apple started burning her hand.

She held it as tight as she could. Till it scorched her skin and dropped into the young rat’s open hand.  Alex looked down at his hand seeing a bright red apple. “I know I’ve been eating a lot but I could have waited” he said with a quick lick of his lips. 

“Alex, don't eat that.” she said only a second too late. He had taken a sizable bite of the apple. He stood up as he spoke. “We still need to get out of here.” She looked at her hand, tears filling her eyes. 

“Alex, I’m sorry” she said, holding up the burn marks for him to see. His head spun before he could turn. He held his head as everything faded. He staggered and tripped, hitting the ground hard. The last thing he saw was Jessica crying. Then everything was black.

Chapter 17

Jessica fought to keep moving. Her leg hurt, clothes ripped and coat in blood. She called for help till her voice was all but gone. As thin as Alex was, his weight was too much for the vixen. But she wouldn't let him fall. 

But she fell, taking him with her. She kept him from hitting the ground but was crushed under him. Fighting to breathe she opened her eyes to see a tall hooded form standing over her. “Please” was all she could say, her voice giving out as her eyes burned dry without tears. 

Without a word the form lowered itself next to them as a silver snake-like limb uncurled into five long scaled fingers. “There is nothing I can do for your master. But I will bring him to my brother for his aid if any” the form spoke, lifting the sleeping rat off the vixen. 

Quite barks came from behind the form. Jessica smiled when she saw the iron and flame wolf. Ranger wagged her tail and licked the vixen's cheek. “No child. she bears no hate for you and has told me all that she saw” the form answer. 

The form uncurled his free arm and lifted the vixen to her feet. “Rest your voice, you need your feet now.” The form said as a soft hiss drew from his neck. A small gold snake slipped out from under the hood and slid off the tall form. 

The snake shifted shape into a staff to aid the vixen's pace. The black and red wolf fell into line as they began walking. “Have hope, child.” the form said “He still lives.” “I should have let the damn thing burn my hand off.” she said with what little voice she could draw on. 

“That would have done him more harm” the form answered “because he would have gone after Pinaco blindly and enraged.” The vixen watched the ground as they walked. “Pinaco has found my father's keep. And now my brothers and I must stop him.” the form spoke. 

“Brothers, keep” the vixen mouthed. “Yes, I am called Daydream, you have met both of my brothers have you not” the form spoke removing his hood. The demon's faceless head turned to the vixen. She nodded slowly. 

The thought of Nightmare jumped in her mind along with the reminder of the promise she had to Sheba. “Oh, god no” she thought to herself “I have no right to be here.” She shook her head dropping the staff. “Please take care of him,” she said, turning away. 

“Regret can not be atoned for, child” the demon spoke. “I'm going to hell anyway.” she said, trying to hop away. “We do not have time for your childish act. Now come or you will die.” the demon said “The same poison that makes him sleep is killing you now let's go.” 

“ALEX” Sheba's voice carried to the vixen's ears. “Oh this should be good” Panbrook's voice followed soon after. “What happen” the child asked running up to the demon. “He has been poisoned.” the demon answered. Jessica turned away. 

“It's all my fault” Jessica said “he ate an apple I gave him. And now he might die.” the child turned to the vixen. Rage in her eyes. “I broke the promise I made to you” the vixen continued. Before the child could act the wolf moved between the two of them, her back to the vixen. 

The child looked to the wolf and then to Jessica's clothes and hand. The child stopped and took a deep breath. “Let me see your hand?” Sheba asked, holding out her own. The vixen closed her fist and shook her head. “That doesn't matter, I did something unforgivable,” Jessica answered. 

“Don't be stupid. Just let me see your hand.” the child said and grabbed the vixen's arm. The vixen pulled away again. “Just don't. Just leave me alone. Alex needs you.” she said, covering her hand. 

“It's called black blood poison” the child said “when eaten the victim is put to sleep for a long time. In some cases they can pull themselves out of it. But others die in their sleep. Even if there was anything I could do for him. I can't do it out here. But if the poison mixes with living blood it acts like an acid and slowly eats away at their flesh. If I'm right. It's in the book.”

“Then leave me to my fate.” Jessica spat. “Please, let me see your hand?” she asked again. “Why? Why do you want to help me? After everything I did to the two of you.” the vixen asked, backing away again. “The two of you are better people than the likes of me. Hell your brother, there is a goddamn saint.” 

“I thought about that myself.” Sheba answered “I really did. In all the time he has worked for you.  You paid him more money for the things he has done then he would have made from anyone else. I have seen you shoot people just for talking back to you. And he had openly fought you on matters.” 

The young fold pulled her book from the backpack and turned a few pages. “You treated us better than anyone I have met before. So yeah you were hard on him and curl to us. But you cared for us when we had no one. And even if that wasn't the case. I made a promise to Nightmare. 

she read over a page as she spoke. “It's the contract made just by summoning him. In the words themselves. I, of light and love. I made a promise to protect life. And I wouldn't be keeping that promise if I let someone die, when I could have done something to help. It would be the same as killing them myself.”

The young hybrid stepped closer to the vixen with her hands out. “Please, you are someone I care about and someone Alex loves. So please. As part of our family. Please let me help.” 

“After all that if you don't let her look at your hand I will slap you” the rooster said shaking his head. “The sooner you two are done the sooner we can find my brothers” the faceless demon spoke. 

“Stay out of this.” Jessica chided before returning her focus on the young hybrid. “How can you trust me so easily?” Sheba looked down at the wolf next to the vixen. “She would not be protecting you if you willingly did her master harm.” she said, holding out her hand again. 

Jessica looked down next to her seeing a sad and worried face looking back up at her.  “Oh, you're going to guilt me too.” she said as the wolf happily wagged her tail. “Alright, you win.” she answered and painfully gave the folf her hand. 

Some of the bone in her hand could be seen through melted flesh. “It may be too late for her,” the faceless demon said. “Never hurts to try,” Sheba smiled, “but I could use some help.” The demon nodded and placed his twisted hand on the girl's shoulder.

Sheba set her blue hand over Jessica's, commanding “Rainfall, Purge.” Jessica bit into her fist as she felt sharp pins running up her arm and through her body. “This darkness goes deeper than we thought,” Daydream said. “Are you saying death has been inside her? '' the rooster asked, nodding to his own demon. 

“Yes, in a way.” Daydream answered, “This is not the first time Pinaco has poisoned her.” the black cross of the demon’s face turned to her. “Jessica, listen well. you must focus on what has brought light into your heart. This poison is feeding on your pain and loss.” the demon spoke. 

It was hard for her to focus past the pain. But the thought of seeing Alex smile gave her hope. The first man to show her real love. The heart pendent glowed softly. Meg came into mind, the mother she wished she had. She was never unkind. 

The young folf that stood before her, trying to save the life of a damned soul. She has a heart of gold, filled with love and hope. And her demon, Nightmare. Never needlessly curl, quick witted and friendly beyond belief. A faithful guild in the darkness. 

The more she thought of them the more she hurt. The heat pendent glowed with a candle’s light. “Fight it. Hold on to that light.” the demon said. “Yeah, think happy thoughts. And you might fly like me.” the rooster added. The clockwork demon whacked him upside the head. 

Jessica thought about every time she laughed. Seeing Sheba dressed up for a ball, dancing with Alex. The days they spent just talking about the books they have read. The pride she felt when the little girl before her summoned the beast. 

The more pain she felt the more good she found in her life. The thrill she got seeing a little rat take down her own bodyguard. “I got an idea.” Panbrook said “Hun, you know when Pinaco did that to you. Now think of something along those lines but in a good way.” “Not helping,” the demon said. 

But she did. She thought back to that day years ago. But compared it to the first night she spent in the young rat's arms. The heart flashed.  The pain was gone.  Sheba focused her will to contain the black mass rolling in her hand. 

“I'll take that” Daydream  said “my brother could use a snack.” With that the demon took the mass freeing the folf's mind to focus on other matters. “Rainfall, restore” she commanded. Jessica felt a wave crash into her and felt all her pain flush out of her. 

The melted flesh of her hand fell off as fresh healthy muscle, bone, skin and fur grew in its place. The cuts, scrapes and bruises along her legs and arms healed.  “That’s new” Jessica said, shaking the dazed feeling. 

“There are things out tonight that are hunting any form of magic.” a new voice chimed in “I'd say let's get out of the open before playing anymore games.” The voice was owned by a tall wolf wearing a long over coat with an eye patch turned up over his right eye. 

“Daydream, long time” the wolf said, his burning tail shifting behind him. “Two centuries, last I count, Wishmaker.” the faceless demon said, shifting the sleeping rat on his shoulder “But we can recap our lost time later.” 

“True, this way” the wolf said, leading them to the old warehouse. “The seal left inside can be used as a shield till sunrise,” the demon wolf said, opening one of the doors. “I know that's why I picked this place as a safe house when we got here,” the rooster said. 

“When said seal is used to call forth the likes of me. It can be used in many other ways” Nightmare's voice spoke from the open bay door. “Brother, I see you are still the same.” Daydream answered. “Hey, bro,” Wishmaker added. “Daydream, Wishmaker” the beast replied. 

“Jessica, Sheba, Where's Alex? Are you both alright? What's going on? who are they” Meg asked without a breath before hugging the two. “Alex was poisoned and is asleep.” Jessica answered. “We're fine, and these two are Wishmaker and Daydream,” Sheba added.


“And to answer the question before any one can ask. No, there’s nothing we can do for him.” Wishmaker said, setting up one of the cots to lay the rat on. “What do you mean there's nothing you can do?” Jessica spat “You're the sons of the Caretaker. Together the three of you are a god.” 

“No we are not gods nor do we have the power of gods, my brother means this is not our fight.” Nightmare said. “Black blood poison goes by another name,” Daydream added. “The nightmare slumber.” 

“Right now he is fighting off nightmares to stay alive.” Wishmaker continued “And the longer he stays like that. The worst it will get.” “When the light from his Dreamcatcher fades to black. He will die.” the beast said curling up next to the wall. 

“Brothers, come give them time with him.” The other demons backed away, joining the beast along the wall. Meg, Jessica, Sheba, Ranger, and Infrerna sat around Alex. he was still, almost lifeless. The soft glow of his hand was the only sigh of life they had. 

Keeping quiet the three brothers spoke of matters and made up for lost time. The three outsiders of the group sat back and watched. “This is stupid” the rooster said. “Leave it alone, Panbrook.” the old dog said, getting to his feet. “Where are you going?” the rooster asked. 

“For a walk” he answered. “Oh that's helpful.” Panbrook spat “Next, you're going to tell them to have faith that he might pull through. Dragon's blood is thick. no matter how many times it gets diluted.” “I'm going for a walk.” the old dog answered “Come on clock face I need someone to help with the bags.” 

The two headed off without another word. The rooster sighed before a long pause. Without care of any noise he made. The rooster got to his feet and crossed the room by where the demons sat. “I can't take this.” Sheba said standing up “There has to be something we can do.” 

“The only thing we can do is make him comfortable,” Meg said, drying her eyes. Sheba jumped on top of the rat. She beat on his chest screaming as loud as she could “YOU PROMISED. YOU PROMISED ME. RIGHT HERE. YOU PROMISED YOU WOULD ALWAYS BE THERE!” 

“Sheba,” Meg called, trying to pull her off her brother. “No, he promised, I won't let him break his promise” she cried. her fist pulsed with every blow. Panbrook watched the light from her hand. Then he watched the white glow of the rat’s hand. It was weak. But pulsed all the same. He smiled.

“HEY, chill the fuck out.” The rooster called, “I can get him back.” Her mouth agape Sheba looked at her fist tightly clinging to Alex's shirt. “Hey, old guys, tell us about the kid,” Panbrook said, turning back to the demons. 

The three turned their heads to face the rooster. “He's part dragon. He has a white casting over his hand. And his last name is Greenvolt. what don't we know?” he continued. “Yes, he's part forest dragon, given the scales and spines along his back and the color of his dragon flash” answered the wolf headed demon. 

“Greenvolt, was a student of mine ages ago” the beast answered. “And has a weapon named ranger. Yes we know that. What about the casting on his hand” Panbrook cut in. “It was a tracking spell but the trade off gave him command over the spell's power” the beast answered. 

“Good, how?” “Focus and faith.” the beast answered “Faith being the key to using the power.” “Alright, we know he doesn't have much faith in himself.  So can this faith thing go both ways?” “I don't see why not. The casting is just a channel. There should be nothing keeping it from feeding into him instead of him feeding into it” the wolf answered. 

“Good” the rooster said, turning back around. With a clap of his hands the rooster called out “Who wants to make some magic happen?” “What are you getting at kid” Jessica spat lifting herself off the ground. “Respect your elders, I'm two hundred and forty-six” Panbrook laughed “now let's get to work.” 

In no time they had cleared the floor where the painted seal lay. “This summing matrix uses light energy as the seal trapping dark energy inside” the rooster said. “Well we didn't know how it worked.  Just that this one made it work.” Jessica said. 

“Well that's how it works. But this is one I had never seen before.” he continued “something about the size seems off.” “What? Is it too big?” Sheba asked. “No, it's too small. Like it was scaled down and it has gaps laid into it like a lesser set up.” Panbrook answered “but that doesn't matter. we need this one over in the middle.” 

“The four of us together could move him” Sheba chimed a hopeful smile crossing her face. “Never mind that Sheba.” The beast answered, rising to his hind legs. “After all he is a few hundred pounds more than you.” 

“And yet he looks like a breeze could break him,” the rooster added. The beast lifted the young rat and turned to the seal. “Wait. we need a chair.” Sheba said, rushing off. “What do we need a chair for? We can use the cot just fine.” Jessica asked. 

“No, we need a chair because that's how he sleeps.” Sheba answered, rolling an old office chair past the vixen. “I have never seen him sleep sitting up.” Jessica questioned. “Well that's because you've been pinning him down as of late,” Sheba answered. Both Nightmare and Meg agreed with a nod. 

“The only time I've seen him lying down to sleep was when he got knocked out.” Meg answered.  Sheba set the chair up in the middle of the seal. “That should do.” She said, turning to the others. “Sheba,” the demon said, setting the young rat in the seat and setting him upright “make sure you understand that this might not work.” 

“IT'S” she began but toned herself down “It's better to try something. Then to just let him die.” “Even if this works. We don't know how much of him we have lost.” the demon spoke, folding Alex's hands onto his lap. 

“Then we'll just have to hope we didn't lose too much of him.” Jessica said, moving next to the young girl. The demon nodded as he stood. Coming to rest on all four of his legs and moving out of the seal. “Ok now what?” the rooster asked. Heads turned to him. 

“You have no clue what you are doing lad” Nightmare said, turning back to the seal. “It was just an idea.” the rooster said before walking off “Just trying to be nice. god.” Sheba looked around and ran back to her bag. 

“We'll summon him.” she said, digging into the bag. “Summon him? He's sitting right there.” Meg said and pointed right at the young rat. “A summoning is more or less calling a being or object to a place” the beast spoke. 

“OH, I get it” Jessica chimed in “You want to set off something like a flare for him.” The girl nodded, adding “But I don't think I have enough power by myself to make it work. Summoning Nightmare almost killed me.” 

“Let us worry about that” the wolf spoke up, lining himself with the beast as the faceless demon did the same as well. Sheba turned to the otter and vixen. “What can we do?” they both asked. “As mother, lover, and sister to him your bonds must call to him as one” Daydream added “one will, one voice, one heart.” Sheba took her book and Meg and Jessica to the summoner's ring. 

“HIS DRAGON'S FANG” the child jumped, “we can use that as the bond point.” she ran over to Alex and dug into his shirt for the fang she had given him years ago. Retrieving the fang she opened her book to a page enchanting it. 

The black bone chipped as it began to glow. The golden light faded to white as she returned to the summoner's ring.  She turned the page of the aged book. “Read the spell the way it says to” she said, handing the book to Jessica and Meg. She turned to her brother and held up the pale white fang. “We of light and love.”

Chapter 18

It was dark again. The blackness seems to be his only friend between each new horror that ripped through him. The more he fought the more it hurt. He cried. How long had he been here in the darkness? Days? Weeks? It felt like years. 

What was that noise? Was this another nightmare coming to kill him again? But it seemed soft. He felt cold. Like he was standing out in the rain. Voices? There were people talking. They were in front of him. But this can't be right? He knew the voices. 

“Run Wendy, take Alex and run” one of the voices said. An empty street came into view, it was dark, the rain had been falling for hours. “Hunter” a well known voice spoke. Figures stood before him giving no sign they even knew he was there. “How could you do this to us?” a familiar voice asked.

Her voice felt like a long lost dream. a part of himself he had lost before he could remember. Like a dream but it felt so real. “I'm under orders”  Eclairage Gagliuso spoke, drawing her blade. “I will not let you take my son” the one the dragoness called Hunter said drawing a battle ax from his back and ripping off his shirt. 

The rat Alex was watching had the same leaf green scales and sharp spines going down his back. His ax was shaped almost the same as Ranger when she was in that state. The rat had dark brown fur and was almost twice Alex's size. 

The female behind him was a small thin mouse with white fur. She was holding something in her arms. Thunder broke overhead. It was sharp and painful to him. Then he heard crying. From a baby. “My orders are to bring him to the order or kill him” the dragoness answered, her eyes flashing gray and holding.

“Wendy, run,” the rat said again, turning his head to the mouse. His eyes flash gold and held. The mouse said “I love you hunter” before turning and running. “Don't make me kill you Hunter” were the last things Alex heard before the world moved around him following the mouse as she ran. 

Was this a memory? The mouse did her best to hush the crying child without stopping. Alex's heart broke watching his mother run for their lives. After some time the mouse stopped outside a house Alex knew all too well. 

She hid her child the best she could and said she loved him, and left him. His heart broke watching her run off in tears. Moments later he watched as the dragoness darted past him not even so much as looking at him. 

Baby Alex began to cry shortly after both females were long gone. He cried till the door opened late the next morning. That's where it ended. He was enraged. She was sent to kill him. He saw the grin on her face when she ran past him to hunt down and kill his mother. But why? 

The world faded but he wasn't thrown back into the darkness. There was light all around him. It was blinding. He felt cold, but it wasn't the same. Snow? The air felt thin but he could breathe just fine. His legs were sore. Had he been walking? What's that smell? Pine? Was this another dream? 

The light dimmed into the background. He knew this place but had never been here before. It was a breathtaking view of a valley deep in the mountains. Heavy snow covered everything but some of the trees. It was early morning with the sun just breaking out between the peaks.


Looking up the mountain side he could see his old friend and teacher laying out on a stone ledge taking in the morning light. Thinking to himself that shortly after this he will have to replace his boots. Given how cold his feet were getting. 

He called out “Greetings, my old friend.” “Aye, lad and greetings to you as well” answered the great beast. “Some great beast of darkness you are lying out in the sun like that” he said drawing closer. “Aye but it helps me remember what I wish to protect.” Nightmare answered sitting up partly refolding his wings to his side. 

“I feel you summoned me here for more than just the view.” He said “Despite the beauty it holds.” “Aye, Alexander, there are matters I must ask of you” the demon spoke, turning his head.  “In all the years we have known each other, never have I turned you away,” he answered. 

“As you know my masters have aged and are not long for this world,” the demon spoke “and they have no known hare to pass on their gifts and understanding.” “Aye, lovely children they be” Alexander answered. “But my request is not one that can be handled as of yet” the demon spoke.

“My time may be short compared to yours but if I can I will do so” the rat answered. “I fear that this matter will not be handled in your lifetime as well. But what I asked is for someone to protect a child.” The demon continued, “This child will be the first step to a new age for this world.” 

“That be so then I will guard this child with my life. Even with my next if need be.” “You would be a knight in any age my young friend” the demon remarked with a laugh. “I swear by my words. I will protect this child no matter what age or what life it be” the rat answered. 

“I know. Lad, you have never gone back on your word before.” The demon nodded “If not in this life but the next you were to be there. How will I know it is you?”  “Just ask it of me. Ask of me name. Ask of me place. Lord help me. I might even be a thief in the next life.” the rat answered. 

“Well young knight, I know I can trust you with such matters till I return.” the demon spoke. “If I may ask, old friend, where must you go for such a time?” he asked, turning to face the still rising sun. 

“I must slumber till my next master has been called,” the demon answered, drawing himself to his feet. “Will this child be the one to summon you?” Alexander asked. “Aye, and I hope you will be there as well.” the demon answered once more. 

“Aye, count on it.” the rat answered. “One last matter I must ask of you” the demon spoke. “Aye, name it my old friend” the rat answered with glee. “Take my sword to my brother to care for him till my return.” the demon asked. The small drake took wing over to the rat's shoulder. 

“Aye, if I can find him.” he said, “and I'll be sure to return him to you when the time comes.” “Thank you my friend. I am sorry to make you come all this way just for my errands.” “Think nothing of it. though I would not turn away from a hot meal.” the rat said. He turned to watch the rest of the sun rise. 

Blinding light once again all sound gone. The world had turned hollow once more. But the blinding light stayed. For a second he thought he could hear voices. But before he could make out what was said he felt himself hit something hard. Like a wall or something. 

“Alex is that you” a voice asked. It was deep and booming but friendly and kind. “Yeah, it's me,” he answered without a second thought “but who are you?” He thought he had heard the voice before. He felt strong hands taking his arms. With one mighty pull Alex felt his body jerk and he was on his feet.

Still unable to see, he rubbed his eyes. “You have your mother's build,” the voice said.  “Who are you?” Alex asked again, turning to look past the light. “Alex, I'm your father,” the voice answered. It was slow but the light dimmed and Alex could see the large build of the rat he had seen from his dream. 

“But, you're dead,” he said, blinking. “You of all people should know. That death can't stop a Greenvolt.” the large rat answered. “My god, you have so much of your mother in you” the older rat smiled tears starting to run down his cheek. 

“I must be the great family disappointment.” Alex said looking away. “Alexander Hunter Greenvolt. I will not have you say such things. I feel nothing but pride for you.” Hearing his full name shook him. 

“I have so many questions,” Alex said, his head turning back to the older rat “I don't know where to begin.” “I know the feeling. Just look at you.” the older rat said “no man without honor could hold himself the way you do.” “I'm just a thief” Alex answered “I'm nothing special.” 

“You really take after your grandfather,” the older rat laughed. Alex sighed. “What's wrong Alex?” he asked. “I don't know. This feels like a dream come true. To finally meet you and I can't even trust that you're real.” 

“Then don't” he answered. “huh?” “Don't trust me. Trust yourself” he continued “trust yourself and have faith in yourself. Because in the end it's your hand that grips the handle.” Alex's head was spinning  with questions. How can he even trust what was being said? 

“Alex” the older rat spoke up gripping his shoulder. His grip was strong and firm but so gentle.  It shook Alex's mind. Every attack he had faced in this place had always been telling him it was hopeless. To give in and die. But this one. He felt nothing but love. 

Alex looked down at his right hand. Nightmare's words came back to him. “It is powered by faith.” “Why did you and mom give your lives for me?” he asked. “Because you are our son.” the older rat answered, “Your fate had nothing to do with why we protected you.” “Why didn't you take me to the order, they could have helped” he asked. 

“No, they would have made you into a weapon not a person” the older rat answered “and my student wanted you dead to spite your mother.” “I know. she let me live knowing she was going to kill mom, herself.” Alex said “but why?” 

“She only lusts for power,” Hunter said “she let you live thinking she could get what she wanted.” “She wanted you. When she found out about mom.” 

“She betrayed us to her master, the puppeteer” Hunter continued “she gave him my body. And hide you so in time she could have the heir that she wanted knowing my body wouldn't.” “But even he turned her away” Alex finished “to another woman and her daughter.” 

“You understand her hate,” Hunter added. “But Pinaco is the bigger problem right now,” Alex said. “Yeah, he could be if you let him” Hunter answered “I want you to meet someone, Alex.” The older rat turned and stepped to the side. 

“His name is Pinaco,” Hunter said, pointing to a small mass curled up on the floor. It looked like a person but it was way too small. Alex stepped back at the sound of the name. “I never wanted this.” a small voice cried from the mass. 

“It's ok,Alex. This is the real Pinaco. The one deep inside the creature you met.” The mass was a small toy dress in clothes ages old. The wood of its head was cut to the shape of a wolf and painted black with red and white markings. “You must hate me for everything I put you through” it said, uncurling to sit up. Alex was at a loss of words. Was this really the thing that so many people feared? “Why” was all he asked. 

“To be real” it answered “to be more than a toy or tool. To live. But my envy turned to rage. And now if I am not stopped. There will be nothing left.” it answered “so please you must put an end to me, I'm not a living thing so there will be no blood on anyone's hands when they kill me.”

Alex shook his head. Tears rolling down his face. Joy and pain filled his heart. “I can't. I'm not strong enough. and I can't kill you even if you ask” Alex answered. Hunter turned to his son. “You might not have a body of flesh and bone. But you are alive. you are real and it would be unforgivable to end your life” Alex answered. 

“I have killed so many people, I have hurt so many more, I killed your father and use his body to hurt and rape Jessica” the puppet said “I don't have any right to live.” “You didn't do those things I can tell” Alex said “You're not the monster. But if I can get out of here. I promise I will put an end to this madness.” 

“Is that so?” a new voice answered. Alex turned to look for its owner. “Dad,” Alex said, turning back to his father. “I think it's time for me to go.” the older rat nodded. “I hope the next time we meet won't be for a very long time.” the old rat said and hugged his son. 

“Yeah, me too, make sure mom is there with you when we do” Alex smiled. “And Pinaco, know this, a Greenvolt never goes back on his word” Alex said and turned to face the new voice. Before him stood a dark figure. Tall and hard to see. His thick black robes covered him completely.  

“Are you one of Pinaco's underlings?” Alex asked. “No” the voice answered but came from his left. Alex turned to find another figure standing there in shining armor. “If you don't work for him then who are you?” he asked. “I have no reason to answer your question” the voice spoke again making the rat turn once more. 

The third figure wore gray robes much like the first. “Why not” Alex asked turning to keep his eyes on each. “To be honest I don't feel like it” the voice answered. The voice was odd. It was young but old, ancient even. 

Alex was confused. He could tell this thing or things wasn't evil but it wasn't above fighting. “Will you tell me what you are or at least give me an idea of it” he asked. He thought if he could keep this thing talking he might be able to find a way out. 

“Maybe, but what's in it for me?” it asked. “I don't have anything you could want, '' he answered. “Oh you do.” It answered. “You have kept the knight's oath, lad.” Alex shook his head. “Are you saying you want Sheba?” he asked. “Yes and no,” it answered. 

Still turning to face each knowing the trick with the voice was just to throw him off. “It's not a matter of me wanting her for myself.” It continued. “You know of that dream I think it was a dream, is Sheba the child Nightmare spoke of” he asked.

“Yes, she is. She holds the key to change the world.” It answered. “Is that what you want from her? Is this key right?” he asked. “No” it answered “and I won't tell you what it is till you pay for it.” “Pay you with what?” he asked, “Sheba is all I have.” 

“Wow you have a really thick head” it laughed “no, she’s not all that you have. And no, they have already paid me for my help.” “What, they made a deal with you?” he asked. “Yes and no'' it answered “again I can only do what is equal to what has been paid.” 

“Great, I take it, Sheba, Jessica and Meg found a way to ask for help. But with what? and I know I'm not going to get an answer for this. But where the hell am I?” he said, still turning. “Hmm,” it answered “I guess you're not as thick as you let on.” 

“Hey” he chided. “No, I mean that in a good way. Throws people off. Always fun to use on lawyers.” it answered “But you have the right idea. So telling you wouldn't hurt. Yes they found a way to guide you out of this place. And that's where I come into play. Well we came into play.”

“We?” he asked. “Yes that was your father's fang you had around your neck all those years. The touch of light Pinaco used to control the poison in the apple you ate. And well, throw a spell into a seal and poof. You have a lovely mix of magic making markings. Say that five times fast” it answered. 

“So the bottom line is they bought the door for me. But I have to buy the key” he asked. “If that is how you wish to see it” it answered. Alex paused. “I have two more questions for you”  he said. “Well, fair be fair. You have done nothing but ask questions.” it answered. 

“And you haven't asked me one question” Alex said “so if you're playing equal trade and you haven't asked me any.” “Oh are you sure about that?” it asked. “Yeah, pretty sure,” he answered. “Well the truth is. I have been asking questions. And you have done nothing but give me answers” it said. 

“No mind games please” he asked “my head hurts as it is.” “Well, if you're done playing games then go rest. You have finished your mission. The child is safe and with her guardian. you have broken the hold of the shadows casted on your love. And you have made a better world for all of them” it said “what else is there for you?” 

“I have to go back. I don't have time to play games with someone who, time has no meaning” he said. “Why not?” it asked “all I have is time.” “I need to go back so stop playing games with me and tell me what I need to do to get back to them” he said. “You didn't answer my question” it said “what else is there for you?” 

“I have promises to keep.” he answered “I promised Sheba I would be there for her. I promised Jessica my heart. I promised Meg I would do what I felt was right. I promised a lost soul I would save him.” “And again I asked. what else is there for you?” it asked “Don't give me that honor bullshit. I want to hear you tell me the truth.”


“What do you want me to say? I want to go back. That I want to see my little sister grow into a woman. that I want to ask the woman I love to be my wife.” Alex fell to his knees, tears freely rolling down his face. “I want to be with my family. I want to see my friends again. I want to make that world a better place so if I ever have kids. They will never have to fight for their lives the way I had to.” 

“Well now that's out of the way,” it said, its cheerful tone never breaking “Here's what you need to know.” “What?” Alex asked looking up at one of the figures. “You're part dragon. You just have to use your dragon flash to burn the poison out.” it said so simply. 

“That's it” he asked “how do I do that?” “Well, I was building up to that by pissing you off. And getting it to work that way. But after that stunt. That's not going to work.” it answered. The figure that stood in front of the young rat withdrew a long black sword from his robes. 

Alex turned to the other two figures to find each had drawn a weapon as well. The one in the armor had a golden spear and the third had put on a cloak made of silver plates. “So shall we do this the fun way?” it asked. Alex felt himself smiling as he balled up his fist.

Chapter 19

“These things are fast” Alex thought to himself, dodging the spear tip. He threw himself back to the ground just as the silver cloak passed over him. He had to roll as the black blade dropped right where his head was. 

“They don't let up, but they're holding back a lot” he thought. He had no time to breathe as each attack led him into the next. “They're too well planned,” he thought, “but to them this is just a game.” Push, jumping off the ground to dodge a spear swipe of the floor. 

Back step, side step, spin, retreating from a sword swing and lunge. Drop and crouch under the spinning strike of the cloak. Knee to the face knocked back to the ground. “I've got to step up my game. I've got nothing on these guys.” he thought “They just seem to be dancing around me.”

“Relax, dancing is just like fighting” Nightmare's voice clipped into his mind. The young rat caught all three in his range of view. “I just got to feel the beat.” He said tracking the three. He started tapping his foot. Line up upward sword swipe. Side step, go for a kick to the head. It blocked. 

Cloak, clockwise spin it's high. Duck under it and go for a punch in the ribs. It spun away too fast. A golden flash as the spear lunged past the side of his face. GRAB IT. It swung and threw him off. He crashed into the floor but rolled back to his feet.

“I'm part dragon, I can take it, they're not trying to kill me, just knocking me around” he thought. He looked at his hand curling back into a fist. The white fur seemed to shine. He smiled and thought “I was armed the whole time.” 

“Dreamcatcher, shooting star” he commanded as his hand lit up and shaped halfway up his arm. He charged the one with the sword. Downward swing. He caught the blade on the glowing part of his arm. He blocked it. Clockwise spin bringing his arm back around with his own strike. It blocked with just its hand. 

“Stop thinking kiddo” it said “feel it.” “Hey, I'm still new at this. So,” Alex answered “I'm trying.” “Right, you seem to forget what you're fighting for again” it said and threw the young rat off. Alex rolled back to his feet after bouncing off the floor. “I know what I am fighting for” he said and charged the three again. 

“No, you don't. You think you do. But you can't even make up your mind.” it said as the swordsmen batted him away. Before he could recover the cloak user charged him spinning like a top. Alex barely dodged it and had his shirt ripped open. 

The spear user charged him next, his weapon spinning in its hands at blinding speeds. He caught the blunt end of the spear with his gut before he was flipped over and crashed on his back. He swung his arm trying to block the next attack. 

He did but was kicked hard enough in the side he was lifted off the floor and thrown across the room. He coughed and spat up blood. He was on the ground again. But it didn't seem like they were about to attack him again. “This isn't a game I'm playing” it said “if you can't awaken your dragon's blood you will die.” 

“How” he asked “how do I awaken it when I don't even know how it works.” he slowly pulled himself back to his feet. “Stop lying to yourself” it answered “you don't want it to work.” Alex  held his side breathing hard as he spoke “everyone keeps saying I'm a bad liar. To the point I don't even try. I need this to work.” 

“You don't need anything,” it said “even now you still have no value for your own life.” “That's because I don't live for myself” he shouted charging the three once more. And once again knocked back and knocked down. 

“You say you don't live for yourself.“ It asked. “How can you live for others when you don't even know your own value?” “And what value can you find after years of being mistreated and hated,” he said. 

“You think that's painful. Try being forgotten” it said “being treated like a fairy tail from a time when people needed some sign of hope.” “I'm sorry you feel that way. But I still don't see your point.” He said before charging again. 

He almost hit one of them but was kicked in the head and thrown off again. He rolled onto his back and laid there. “Fine, what value do I have?” he asked, “You're saying I'm worth something.” “Ask the three dreams that have been testing you” it answered.

“Three dreams” Alex said “I'm not sure how to answer that.” “You took a leap of faith by trusting a demon who's eyes you have never seen. You turned down power, you didn't need, because love was your strength. You, you freed a soul from darkness just by giving her hope” it said. 

Alex thought about what it said. “Take a feather from under my wing. it will lead me back to you.” Nightmare's words from when he first met the demon replayed in his mind. “I offer power in exchange for a trinket and you say no to me” Daydream's words rang in his ear thinking about how he turned down the demon's deal for Ranger and Infrerna for the fang Sheba gave him. 

The words from the crazy old one-eyed wolf told to Jessica came back to him as well. “Child, darkness clouds you. And you will have to face your demons. Ready or not. However, that is a matter you do not have to face alone nor will.” 

Had he really done all that? Alex shook his head as sat up. “That doesn't mean much with all the things I've done,” he said. “And what have you done? picked a few pockets, robbed some criminals, did you know those deeds had done a lot of good.” It said “because of you. Fear of her protected a lot of good people.” 

“I was just doing a job,” he answered. “Yeah and you're good at it.” it answered “You have also done so much more.” “Like what?” he asked, pulling himself back up again. Before he was fulling on his feet all three rushed him and put him back down. 

“You have given a lot to the people around you.” It answered, “You honored an oath without ever knowing about it. YOU were the one that awoke a powerful demon with a promise. You taught a child how to be brave. You free countless souls from hell by freeing them of their own doing.” 

Alex replayed up till this point. He had heard on the news that the crime rate in the city dropped some time after he started working for Jessica. He had raised and cared for Sheba almost her whole life. He had promised Sheba he would always be there for her no matter what before her apple turned gold. 

Sheba had stood up to Nightmare when he was hurt so she could help. Finding a way to break the curse on the weasel and free the ghosts that trapped themselves inside him. Had he really done that much good in the world.

 “Did you know the one you call the Caretaker had one wish for this world.” it said. Alex sat up again. “His wish was to find someone to be the hope for the world. He and his sons were that dream but he wanted someone who could be the spark of it. He wanted a mortal to be the hope of the world, not what so many call a god.”

“I can't save the world. and what I've done can be forgotten in time.” Alex said “I wish for a better world. But I know I'm not the one to do it.” “Do you know why gods fade from the world?” it asked.  Alex shook his head. 

“Because people turn on them for not doing everything for them.” it said “People forget how to live, when they call on a god to do all the work.” “No matter how much power the Caretaker has. He is just a person just like you.” it said. 

“Then why do you care so much about me having any value in myself?” Alex asked, getting to his feet again. “Next to you I'm nothing. My life is short. I can't change the world. I can't even touch you.” 

“Then why did you get up? knowing I will just put you back down. Why keep fighting knowing you are no match?” it asked. “Like you said. I don't value my own life.” he laughed “I don't need to. When I have so many people believing in me. I have to give it my all for them. I don't have to win, I just have to fight.” 

“That's why.” It answered, “Because you don't want to be a god. You don't need to have power. You just need to do your best.” “You think I'm what you were wishing for?” he asked. “You have already changed the world just by being born.” It said, “But yes. You are everything I had hoped to find in this world.” 

“I can't believe I'm saying this. But what can I do to help you?” he asked. The three figures faded into one. “Lay my dreams to rest. Ask the one who holds my heart to sing them to sleep.” the figure asked. 

Alex nodded. “You have more questions for me,” the Figure asked. “Yeah tons,” he answered, “but I think I understand now.” The figure's head turned. “I don't need to know the answers. I just have to have faith that I'll know what to do.” the young rat said “but I would like to know your name, as a friend.” 

“Next time we meet I will gladly give it to you” the figure answered. “It's about time I get going,” Alex said “I'll see you soon I take it.” No answer. Alex took a deep breath and focused his mind. 

“I am part dragon. In my veins flows their might. I am a protector, with the last drop of my blood and with the last breath I take I will do all in my power to do the right thing, I will protect those I care about. And I will show any who try to stop me why you don't piss off a dragon” he thought to himself. 

He folded his hands and focused all of his energy into his stomach. He let it build till he couldn't hold it anymore. With one breath he screamed at the top of his lungs. The deafening cry shook the building. The echoes of a monstrous roar rang in his ears. He opened his eyes as they glowed solid gold. 

He was standing in a large room. Before him stood that which he cared the most about. His kid sister, his love, and his second mother. He smiled letting the gold light fade from his eyes. He sighed and said “Sorry I'm late.” 

The light from the seal faded and the three women in his life glopped him. “Alex, you're back” Sheba laughed, her eyes filling with tears. “Yes thanks to you.” He said and squeezed his sister, “Thanks to all of you.” Sheba held up a white fang for Alex to see. 

“You know this was the second time you brought my father to me,” he said, taking the fang. She was confused by what he said. “Thank God you’re back” Meg said. “Hey, you guys did most of the work. He just did the fine tuning,” he added.

“This can't be my Alex, he is way too cheerful” Jessica said, holding on to him the best she could. “I had some good scenes knocked into me,” he answered. Alex looked around and much the same from his dream the three demons. The three sons of the Caretaker stood. 

“Oh, someone you guys know said hi” he added, still smiling. “Well damn that was touching. And that roar was hot as hell.” the rooster added “but let's hope no one else heard that.” “You know what,” Alex said, turning to the rooster, “I don't care.”

 the rooster blinked. “We have four demons, two casters and a dragon, let them pick a fight” he said before turning back to his family. “Ok now what?” Meg asked. “First things first” Alex said “we get something to eat.” 

“Got you covered, who am I giving the bill to?” the old sea dog said with the ticking demon following bags in hand. “Damn did you hit a smokehouse for all of this” Meg asked after they had set up some old tables to use. “Nah, I know a few places with some good eats,” the old sailor answered. 

“This kid knows how to treat a lady,” the rooster chimed in. “If that is what you want to call yourself” The sailor chided. The demons and Alex seemed to be fighting over food and were left to handle the matter themselves. “I don't even want to know where they put it all,” Jessica said, taking a shot from the sailor's whiskey bottle. 

“I'm just glad he's eating,” Meg and Sheba both said. “We need a plan” Jessica added “Pinaco might know Alex is still alive. so I don't know how to play it off.” “Nightmare” Alex asked looking up to the dark beast. “I don't think he does or thinks he is dead” the demon answered. 

“He's not looking for anyone right now. Based on their movements they are looking to keep people out. We're inside the perimeter. Small talk I just happened to overhear said something about the demon roaring or something.” The sailor answered, “They think the kid is dead and the beast is pissed.” 

“WE can work with that,” Sheba said. They all turned to her. “Well to stop him. We have to get close. And if everyone here has said he'll think Jessica did what he wanted. We just have to play along till the time is right.” she said. 

“She does have a point. but I don't like it.” the wolf demon said. “I don't like it either. But it's the best we got.” Alex added “Besides he won't let anyone close. Unless they have something he wants.” “We know he won't out right hurt her.” Jessica added “but he won't believe anything I say anyway.” 

“What makes you say that?” Alex asked. “We were both poisoned by him.” She answered “And if I'm not half dead begging for my life he won't believe me.” “We can fix that,” Meg said, turning to the rooster, who in turn nodded. 

“Any other bright ideas?” Alex asked. “I need to make a call,” the sailor said and walked off. “Well ok” Alex said “Any other ideas?” “Jessica, you're going to have to hit me,” Sheba said. Jessica froze. “You have to. If we're going to make this work.” Sheba said “we need to make this work.” 

“Not so fast” Meg said “if we can make her look like she's dying. Then we can make you look roughed up, so stop that.” “Hiding me Wishmaker and Daydream will be the only other thing to do” Alex added. 

“We've got cloaks” Wishmaker said “but you. You're just in rags at this point.” “I can fix that,” the faceless demon said, summoning a case from the ground. “I just so happen to have been working on this when we first met. don't worry it was paid for already so it's yours to keep.”

Alex opened the case and smiled. “I'm sorry, I had to be the one to give it to you.” the demon said. “I'm not.” Alex said, reading the note that came with it. “He would be glad to know this was my choice.” With a few tears and a smile he pulled the armor from the case.

“Alright ladies let's let the boys get dressed. And we'll get you squared away” Panbrook said, shoeing the girls into another room. Alex pulled off his shirt. Looking at its ragged state something stood out. A clean gash across the front of the shirt. He recalled the cloak swing that did it. 

He pauses to think about it. Could something in a dream affect the real world? But he shook his head and said to himself “the answer is the one who did it.” “Are you well, Alex?” Nightmare asked viewing the young rat through a partly open eye.

“I'm fine Nightmare.” he answered and thought about it “Nightmare, did my grandfather have a hard time learning to use his dragon flash?” “At first, yes. But once he found his cause he could call on it at will” the demon answered. 

“What was his cause?” the young rat asked. Nightmare laughed before saying “his cause was his dream. To be a better man and make a better world. But overall he wanted a family.” “I think I know what my father's was” Alex said looking at the armor “a better world for his family.” 

“Why do you ask, young knight?” the demon asked. “Because we have the same cause,” Alex said. The spines of his back projected out, as his eye glowed gold again. He found controlling the power he felt was easy. As long as he kept his mind clear. 

He turned and looked up to the old demon. The demon smiled. “It's weird knowing I am him. But not him at the same time,” Alex said. “What do you mean?” the demon asked. “You knew who I was that night. Right down to the fact both of us were thieves.” He answered, “When he, when I made an oath to protect Sheba till you returned. That's how you knew I was him.” 

“Aye, but that being said. You are still your own man, Alex.” the demon said “I do not call you Alexander. Because I see him in you. But he is not you.” “Thank you” he said, letting his dragon state return to normal. 

“Alex, you seem different from before, may I ask. What happened to you?” the demon said. “It felt like I was in darkness for years. Having nightmares rip through me. Then it started raining.” he said “I saw how I lost my folks. Then I found myself talking to you. And the oath taken that day. Then I met him, my father. I even saw the true face of a monster. Then I met a man who held great power. But he was so alone.” 

“But, that does not say why you have changed,” the demon asked. “It was something about him. Like time meant nothing to him. And just this idea of watching everyone you know and love aging growing old and even dying. But you're still the same like nothing happened.” Alex said “Nightmare, if you could grow old and die, would you?” 

“Alex, my age has no meaning and death will come to all things.” The demon answered, “But if I did know when I was to meet my end. I would know what to do. I would tell the ones I love, good bye.”

Chapter 20

After a hundred years he waited for this day. Pinaco stood atop a large stone circle that took up the space of his once grand home. His dragoness gave out orders to clear the circle. So when the time came nothing would stand in his way. 

“This city wouldn't be here if it was not for me” he said to the dragoness. “Yes, Lord Pinaco,” she answered. Her coat closed covering her form. Her tall boots were all that could be seen of her. “You should be glad, Eclairage” he said “once my daughter brings the girl and the boy's body, a new god will be born.” 

“And you will take Jessica for your own” she asked, almost spitting the words. “Of course, unless she disobeys me again,” he answered, overlooking her tone. “And what of the girl?” she asked. “Who's to say I can not have more than one woman for my own?” He answered. “That is to say if she survives her task.” 

The dragoness turned away with rage in her eyes. “Eclairage, you will still have a place at my side. Once you have made up for your failures,” the wolf said, overlooking the work. The dragoness' ears twitched. “What is it now” the wolf asked. 

“It sounded like a dragon's roar, my lord,” she answered. “Then the boy is dead. And the body has started to cool.” the wolf said “What you heard was just the beast's whaling.” the wolf paused. “Could you tell if he could use his flash,” the wolf asked. 

“No,” she answered, “even with the demon's help. It would still take him years just to call upon it, much less control it.” “I'm trusting you on this.” The wolf said, “If you're wrong. It will be the last time.” “Rest assured my Lord. It would take a greater force than even the beast to save that boy's soul.” she answered. The wolf smiled. 

“Sir, the materials you requested have arrived.” one of the workers said wiping sweat off his brow onto his red shirt. “Good. How much longer till the keep has been cleared?” the wolf asked. “About ten minutes, Sir,” the worker answered, shifting back a half step. “Very good, inform me when it has been cleared.” the wolf said dismissing the worker. 

The worker took off running. The dragoness turned to leave the wolf alone. “You have not been dismissed, Eclairage.” He said with his back to her. “Forgive me, my Lord. I thought you had no need of me at this point” she answered. 

“True, but I had not dismissed you.” he said, turning his head. He sighed, as old thoughts played in his head. He shook them off. “Those days are long gone,” he said to himself. 

“For years it was thought there was no way to kill the great beast,” he said, changing his own topic. “My Lord?” the feline asked. “unbreakable, unstoppable, invulnerable,” he said “I know his weakness. And for many it was well known. But no one knew how to use it.” 

“But you were the only one wise enough to find the answer, my Lord,” she said. “Yes, cursed steel, false love and black blood,” he said “I had tested it on him myself. After killing the crazed old witch. They thought I was after the girl and played into my hand. It does him harm. And as long as the metal is in his body it will weaken him.”

“I'm sure you have a plan to handle his brothers as well” the feline dragoness purred. “What can kill one. Will kill the others.” He said, “All I need now is the girl.” The last of the ruble had been cleared. 

The wait for Jessica to bring the girl was unsettling. Pinaco paced the edge of the stone platform thinking of what he would say to his daughter. “No, I have to be firm with her.” he said to himself “I can't let her off so easily.” He tapped his chin as he spoke. “But I should reward her for her obedience.” He added, “But the girl, she won't be so open to my command.” 

“My Lord, if I may?” the feline asked. He nodded and gave her a wave of his hand. “The girl might be easier to handle. If she felt there was some hope for the boy to return.” the feline said, “It may also aid in securing your daughter's obedience as well.”

“That won't matter once I have the Caretaker's power” he said “I would just wipe him from their minds and leave it at that.” “Of course, my Lord,” the feline said. “ I'm only saying till then. It may be of some use to reach your goal.” 

“True,” he said turning to her “but then again, if I remember correctly you had feelings for his father did you not.” “Those are as dead as he is.” She answered, “Making you happy, my Lord is all I need.” “Speaking of which.” He asked, “What has the order done to try to stop me?” 

“Last I heard my Lord.” She answered, “They had focused all their bets as it were, are on the boy. But with him out of the way. There is nothing to stop you.” “Good.” The wolf said, “I wonder if I will be able to father a child after becoming a god.” 

Before the feline could respond, the echo of a roar broke the night air. Just past the broken gates stood the dark form of the great beast. Before him, limped Jessica pulling someone with her. Between her and the beast Jessica had three hooded guards with their faces covered. 

“GET OUT OF MY WAY” she yelled, pushing people aside. She was manic and out of control. The girl she was pulling had a fat lip and was scared. “You're late,” Pinaco said, turning to face his daughter. “NO! I can't be late! I have the girl!” she said waving a blood soaked rag covered hand. 

“Settle down” he ordered. “Yes, yes sorry won't happen again father” she said her eyes twitching. “Where's the street rat's body?” Pinaco asked. “Body? What body?” she asked “it burned.” The vixen laughed. 

“Stupid girl.” He said, “No matter, I'll do without it.” “It would seem whatever you did to her has broken her mind” the feline said “my Lord.” “Shut it.” The wolf said, “Before you meet a worst fate.” The feline nodded and backed away. 

“Three of you will get what's coming for you.” The demon said. “Right, and you can go back to hell.” the wolf said and chuckled. “You shouldn't be forgiven for what you've done” Sheba said. “I'm not here for forgiveness. Now, come here child” the wolf order. 

“You can fuck off asshole” the young folf said. “WHAT” the wolf bellowed “How dare you speak to me like that.” “You have nothing but darkness in your heart.” The folf spoke, “You will never have the Caretaker's power.” “I will show what power is. You stupid child.” The wolf bellowed. 

He called upon the mound of lumber and steel. Black threads shot out from the wolf, catching the massive blocks of wood and the black steel plates. In no time the wolf was encased in a giant wood statue of a white wolf with red markings. 

It stood as tall as the demon Nightmare. Its black aura was sickening with the smell of blood. Before anyone could act the wood wolf snatched up the young folf in one large clawed hand. Sheba laughed even as its long claws cut into her. The wood beast eyed the child. 

She crowed as loud as she could. With a mad grin, her head became misshapen to match that of the caster Panbrook. “Time's up.” he said before he exploded. Before he recovered from the shock Jessica rushed him. She jumped onto his head. Her head as well misshaped to the rooster's maw. with the same grin and a kiss, it detonated. 

“One lesson, you should have taken to heart Pinaco” Jessica said as the beast turned her way “Plan for anything.” She held up her hand both without burns or blood. “How did you undo the black blood?” he asked, bewildered with rage in his eyes.

“With the help of one of the strongest witches this world has ever seen.” the vixen answered. Behind her stood the little witch with her golden apple in her bright blue paw. “As High Knight of this region under the command of the holder of the crown. I order you to stop this course of action and return to your original state of being.” the real caster Panbrook order.

“High Knight,” the feline dragoness said, backing away “YOU'RE THE HIGH KNIGHT!” “How else would I get away with what I do?” he answered. “STAY OUT OF THIS” the wood beast howled, batting the floating rooster off with the back of its hand. 

“That was a bad idea” Sheba said “asshole.” Enraged, the wood beast lunged  for the child. But her demon had other plans. The wood wolf was lifted off the ground and flung back crashing its head into the stone platform. The dark beast Nightmare stood between the wood wolf and its prey. 

“I will not let you do her or her family any harm” Nightmare spoke. “Family means nothing to me,” Pinaco answered, picking himself off the unbroken stone. “There are forces, Pinaco,” Nightmare spoke, unfolding his wings, “Forces that even outweigh my power.” 

The demon bellowed a roar that shook the ground. “I WILL SHOW YOU WHAT REAL POWER MEANS OLD MAN” the Pinaco howled. The two demons rushed each other. With blinding speed the two clashed in a fury of strikes ripping flesh and wood alike. 

Many of Pinaco's own men ran in fear. Sheba watched in horror as her beloved friend became so feral. “It's ok, Sheba.” Jessica said holding the young folf close, “I'll keep you safe I promise.” “But who will keep you safe?” the feline dragoness spoke. 

Throwing off her coat and drawing her blade the feline charged. What little armor she wore did little for her modesty. The feline swung her blade. No one will keep her from what was rightfully hers. The chime of metal to metal broke her grin. 

Her blade was stopped on the wing of a cloak. Covered in silver plate mail with a bird shaped hood stood Wishmaker. “I would hate to damage such a beauty as yourself. But even I can't sit idly by and watch another die,” he answered. “Charming, a demon who thinks he's a poet,” she spat. 

“Love your armor by the way.” Wishmaker laughed, “But I think you would look just as good without it.” “Save it, dirty old man” the feline spat, withdrawing her blade for another strike. “Heartnea, spear guard,” the winged wolf said. 

The silver cloak jumped shifting to wrap around the demon's arm. Now armed with a small shield bearing a long spike like sword in the overall shape of a silver woodpecker the winged wolf stood ready to fight. “Did you know the forms we take match that of the dreams of our father” he said. The feline lunged at the wolf. 

“I am his hope,” he continued, knocking the feline back with just a flick of his arm. “Angel's wings to answer prayers. Wolf body to be the loyal watcher. And dragon's flames to fend off darkness.” The feline charged again and knocked back once more.

“You're full of bull shit.” she roared as her dragon flash took hold. Her body seemed to build up a charge. Discharging small volts the feline swung her blade. A bolt of lightning blasted from her blade as a crack of thunder broke the air. The wolf laughed as his guard opened, fanning out its wings and tail catching the full charge of the attack. 

“Child, you lash out with a wrong sense of entitlement.” He said, turning the blade tip to her. “I know your family name. I aided the dragon whose blood you hold. you dishonor his name.” He said before discharging her own attack in return. 

The feline was shot back and sent crashing off across the stone platform. Her armor broke free from her as she crashed and rolled till she splashed into what was left of the pool and screamed in the water's charge. “Don't worry she's still breathing” Wishmaker said, turning to both Sheba and Jessica. 

“You're outdated Nightmare” Pinaco barked as the older demon knocked him back. “I have no need to update myself. When the darkness I feast upon never changes.” Nightmare answered. “You're just a blind old fool.” Pinaco spat, “You can't even see the light of a new age.”

“I am far from blind.” Nightmare spoke clawing at Pinaco's face “I am my father's faith. The venom of my gaze is not meant for kind hearts. so I need not see, to be guided by their light. I am the guard born of darkness to protect the faithful when they can not see,” he said. 

“You are as much a monster as any demon. And a fool to think yourself as holy” Pinaco barked as his claws ripped through Nightmare's maw. The slashes close as Nightmare grabbed the wolf's wooded head. “I am no saint nor do I make such claims,” the demon roared, “but know in the depths of darkness there is the light of faith.” 

The demon opened his wings and the rainbow of burning colors burned away the shadows. As his the gold of his eyes came into view meaning that of the demon who's head he held. Pinaco was blinded by both the demon's light and the horrors that he saw in the demon's eyes. He stumbled and fell back off the platform. He howled in pain tearing at his own eyes. 

“Well this leaves little for me to do.'' Daydream said with a long golden spear in hand “Seems I don't even get to make a speech.” Several loud popping sounds caught Daydream's attention as he said “seems, I spoke too soon.” The faceless demon turned to face the number of Pinaco's men foolish enough to stay and fight. 

“I am the demon smith Daydream, I sever this world with his love, as the faceless dream for any to make their own, do you really think bullets are going to do anything to me” he said tapping the ground with the end of his spear. 

Three more showed up, each carrying a long tube. They lined up and yelled “FIRE IN THE HOLE.” seconds later there were three loud blasts and three rockets racing to meet the demon. “That's more like it!” he laughed. The tip of his spear met with each bomb and turned them to return his attackers. “Some packages you just have to return,” he said, turning away. 

“I'm too old for this …” one of them yelled dodging the returning projectiles as they detonated. “That was fun.” the demon said, looking for something else to do. “Oh you think you're so cool Daydream” Wishmaker tacked on. “You picked your fight. And I picked mine. It's not my fault they had such weapons.” The faceless demon laughed. 

“True and you didn't get the same view I had” the winged wolf added. “Almost seven billion years old, you should act your age.” Nightmare said as he turned. The black flame of his tail shifted to the same silvery glow as his brothers. 

“Right coming from the one who took a thousand year nap and woke and tapped a fine young otter” Wishmaker chided. “As I heard it said.” Nightmare teased “You mad bro?” “Is this really the time for this?” Jessica asked, shaking her head as she looked around. 

“Yes, this is our home and we will bicker as much as we want” the three demons answered. “All three of you are insane,” she answered. “Um yeah your point” Wishmaker teased. “Are you even sure Nightmare beat him?” the vixen asked, pointing her hand at the last place she saw him. “Nope,” the winged wolf answered. 

“I did not beat him as you put it. For that is not my place.” the beast answered. “My brother's venom gaze affects one's state of mind. Those without fear aren't affected by it.” the faceless demon added. “Do not worry about small matters.” the beast continued “Read a story as we wait.” 

“Wait, for what?” she asked. Pinaco pulled himself back up onto the platform before Howling. “That answer your question?” Wishmaker asked, “Heartnea, wing guard.” The pike shield jumped shifting into the form of a small bird, before changing back into the plate mail cloak and enclosed around the winged wolf. 

“Drake, to my hand” Nightmare asked, opening his claws. The little dragon took wing from Jessica's shoulder. Drake doubled in size till he was half as tall as the demon that summoned him. His wings opened fully as the thin flaps along his sides hardened into place. Drake changed into a large sword that seemed fitting in the great beast's hands. 

“On three,” Wishmaker said, turning his back to his brothers. “You have viewed too many of those movies as they're called.” Nightmare answered. Pinaco's howl had summoned a small army of demons ready to fight. 

“We're keeping count this time?” Daydream asked, setting his spear like an arrow on an archer's bow. “Always,” Wishmaker answered. “Kill all but the girl.” Pinaco ordered. The demons set to rush the platform and the small number that stood upon it. “Three, two, one” they each said in turn before in one voice they yelled “COME AT ME BRO!” 

The three demons charged forth meeting the new foes half way out from the vixen and the folf, leaving them unguarded. Pinaco took his chance as the Sons of the Caretaker did battle with his forces. He rushed the two females just to stand over them. 

“Clavor girl, Jessica. But you will have to do better than that to stop me.” he said, his eyes red with blood. “Back off Pinaco. You can't have her.” Jessica answered, putting herself between them. “Come now Jessica. You shouldn't let them fool you like this.” He said, “I can forgive you. If you just give me the girl. You can have her back when I'm done with her. I promise.” 

She shook her head. “Then call me a fool, because I would rather be their kind hearted fool. Then your cold heart bitch.” She answered, spitting in his eye. “Don't test me, Jessica. I have been more than generous with you and your childish game.” The wood wolf said. 

“We have enough blood on our hands, Pinaco. This has to end” Jessica answered. “Jessica please, listen to me for once. Once I have the Caretaker's power. I can wash it all away.” He said, “Once I become a god there will be nothing to stop me. We can have everything we ever wanted.”


“I have everything I ever wanted.” She answered, “You will never understand how happy I am to have them in my life. But you think using them to become a god is going to change anything. All you understand is fear.” 

The wolf's wooden face twitched as he growled. “Jessica, give me the girl and get out of my way. This is your last chance or I will kill you.” he said, baring his fangs. “Fine, kill me. I'll die knowing I did the right thing for once.” She said, “SO GO AHEAD AND DO IT! YOU FUCKING SON OF BITCH!” 

“Jessica!” Sheba yelled. “Then you leave me no choice.” Pinaco said, lifting his fist “Good bye my daughter.” Eyes closed the giant wolf swung his fist down onto the helpless vixen. “JESSICA” Sheba yelled, grabbing on to her. 

Chapter 21

Pinaco looked past his fist when he failed to hear bones crushing.  His blood filled eyes met the sight of a blinding white light and the street rat that stole his daughter. “Sorry I'm late” Alex said, his head half turned to Jessica and Sheba. “What kept you?” the vixen asked, drawing a gun and opening fire on the wood wolf's face. 

Pinaco fell back covering his face. “Had to give a heartfelt hero speech to a small army just outside.” The rat answered. Cocking her head the vixen shot him a look. “Ok, so I got lost,” he answered. “You fucking piece of trash,” Pinaco growled “what devil did you sell your soul to get in my way AGAIN?” 

“If I knew his name I'd tell you” Alex answered pulling back his fist “Dreamcatcher, comet.” Alex threw a punch launching a ball of white light into the demon's chest knocking him back. “Jessica, take Sheba and go.” He said, “You two don't need to be here for this.” “Yes, you little bitch, run away again,” Pinaco laughed “just like your whore mother.” 

“I'm not going anywhere.” She answered, “This is my fight.” The vixen quickly reloaded her gun and took aim again. “We need to get Sheba out of here.” Alex said holding out his hand. His fire tailed wolf raced to him. Jumping and shifting into a bow as she landed in his hand. 

“No Alex, I'm done running.” the folf answered. Alex turned to her. Pinaco got back to his feet and staggered back over to them before dropping his fist down on the rat. Something small and fast crashed into the side of the demon's head knocking him off balance. 

“I called dibs on the witch first” the sound of a thousand voices rang out. Before he could recover something caught his foot lifting the massive demon off the ground and threw him. Pinaco pulled himself up after bouncing across the platform.

Before he could counter these new pests several small rockets blasted into his chest and head. “What is going on?” Alex asked, turning to see some well known faces. The little minx girl, Gwen, host of the demon called the Pack, and her half brother Henry, the golemor and their mother standing where they had made their attack. 

Joining them were two wolves. The taller and thicker being  Louis Wilds, the younger being his son peter. “See, you can hit just as hard with an RPG as with any spell you can spit.” the older wolf said. “I can't see anything,” the blind witch answered. 

“Tic Tock, what did you do?” the rooster asked. joining the group followed by the clockwork demon and the old sea dog. “Sheba, Alex, Jess, thank God you're all alright” The otter said running over to them. “Meg, what are you doing here?” Jessica asked, hugging the otter. 

“I'm not sitting back on the sidelines, while my babies go and fight,” the otter answered. “And what about them?” Sheba asked. “Um, yeah, well, I forgot to get your number before. well, before all of this.” Henry said, rubbing the back of his head, “You know. To see if we could hang out sometime.”

“Cute, but we have bigger problems right now.” The rooster cut in, “Like right now.” Pinaco's fist flew into the group. The older gray wolf was hit when he knocked his son out of the way and was thrown back into the dirt. 

The young wolf ran to his father's side. The pack countered the attack by charging at the wood demon's face. But he caught the smaller demon in his hand. “I don't think so, pest” the wood demon answered. He squeezed his hand shut. 

The sounds of bone breaking and a little girl's scream could be heard. He threw the ball of flesh back at its mother before reaching for Jessica and Meg. The young folf threw herself in the way, knocking the other two out of reach. The demon's metal claw ripped across her face. 

The demon pulled back to see if she still lived. Seeing her hurt but still alive the demon turned to take on the others. The young golemor charged the demon only to be batted away like he was nothing. “James” the rooster called “get them back we got this.” 

The old sea dog nodded and started moving the fallen back and started tending to them. The clockwork demon stepped up waving the others back. The Hell-mouth demon had opened a gate as did his own. Dust and small rocks were starting to be pulled into the gate from the open side. 

The wood demon felt its pull. But instead of running from it he let it pull him to its source. Jumping over the gate the demon dropped his weight down onto the other demon smashing it into a mound of gears and springs. “Tic tock, NO!” the rooster cried rushing to his friend. 

“More pests.” Pinaco growled, batting the rooster away. He turned back to the young folf. She looked up at him, hate in her good eye. “If you had only done what I said. None of this would have happened.” He said, moving closer to her, “Their blood is on your hands.” 

Her glare was unmoved by his words. “No, Pinaco.” Alex spoke up “None of this would have happened if you didn't start this. The envy you had caused this. The envy of the demon puppet Pinaco the puppeteer caused this.”

“This has nothing to do with you, street rat,” Pinaco growled. “No, it has everything to do with me.” Alex answered, “But I don't hate you.” Sheba turned to her brother. “Yah know, funny every reason in the world to hate you.” He continued, “But I don't.” 

Pinaco paused. For a second Alex saw the gentle face of the little puppet. “Why, why should I care if you hate me or not?” the demon shouted. “Because you want someone to see you as the real person you are.” Alex answered.

“I don't care about being a person. When I can be a god” the demon howled, throwing his fist at full force at the rat's head. With just his unmarked hand and eyes still their soft green he caught the demon's strike like it was nothing. “You're going to have to do better than that to kill me.” He said looking the demon in the eye. 

“There is no way you can be that strong without your dragon flash,” the demon roared. “That's the funny thing. I've been like this my whole life.” he answered “I'm part dragon. Doesn't mean I have to be in that state to use it.” Alex smiled pushing the demon’s claws away.

“Get out of my way boy” the demon howled. “Then why don't you take on someone your own size.” Nightmare said grabbing the wood demon's arm. Pinaco turned and drove his claws into the beast's heart. Nightmare's silver blood sprayed out like a field of stars. 

The beast gasped, holding Pinaco's arm and his open wound. “You've grown soft with age, old man.” Pinaco growled, “Save me the time and just die.” Nightmare spat up more of his own silver blood as he spoke “My … time … is … over. But … the one … to take my … place … will have more … power then … you could … ever dream...”

Pinaco ripped his arm free of the demon before he could finish. Nightmare fell. “NIGHTMARE” Sheba screamed, breaking into a run. Before she could get anywhere Alex caught her and pulled her back. “Sheba, no,” he said. 

Sheba fought begging her brother to let her go. It hurt him to hold her. As much as it hurt the both of them to see the once great demon fall. “BROTHER” the faceless demon called before rushing the wood wolf “I will make you pay!” Pinaco laughed, catching the faceless demon's head and picking him up only to swing back down onto the platform. 

“You bet, I'll pay,” He laughed, “I will pay for my power in your blood.” He dragged the demon away from his brother, continuing to beat him against the platform. “Now be a good boy and join your brother.” Pinaco said. With one swipe of his claws ripped Daydream's head clean off. 

The demon's silver blood sprayed coating the platform much the same as the fallen beast. “Two down.” He laughed, turning to the third brother. “Heartnea, release” Wishmaker said, starting to remove his cloak. The silver bird took off. Wishmaker closed his eyes, tears freely flowing for his brothers. 

“Father, we have failed you.” He said. He nodded and held out his arms. “I will not fight my fate. But please let them say goodbye to my brother.” He said as the wood demon came to stand before him. “Sure, why not. They'll be joining him soon enough, much like you,” Pinaco answered.

The wolf headed demon nodded. With just a swipe of his claws Pinaco stood over the last fallen son of the Caretaker. “You have two minutes,” he said and dropped to his knee. Alex was in a state of shock to the point he had let go of the young folf. Breaking free of her brother’s hold, Sheba ran to Nightmare's side. 

“Please don't die, please don't” she begged him. “Where is your brother?” the old demon asked, breathing hard. “ALEX” she called. In no time Alex shook himself back to reality and rushed after his sister. “Nightmare” he said, joining Sheba. 

“Good you are both alive” he said, too weak to lift his head. Tears mixed with her drying blood laying her hand on her protector's great claw. “I never thought the day would come that a master would outlive me” he said with a small laugh. “No. You can't die. You just can't,” Sheba cried. 

“Sheba, my time is over, my mission is complete” he smiled “I can finally rest, knowing the world is in better hands.” “Please don't go,” she begged. “Sheba,” the beast asked, “please help an old restless demon go to sleep one last time.” “Hey, you don't get to die until you say goodbye” Alex said, rubbing fresh tears from his eyes. 

With a sigh the demon laughed “but will you let me?” “Yeah,” Alex answered “you should get some rest … old friend.” Alex turned away. “Goodbye young Knight. You make your family proud and honorable.” “Nightmare, I love you” Sheba said. “I know child,” he answered “and I have as much love for you as you do I, Good bye Sheba.”

With his last words spoken the demon closed his eyes and stopped breathing. Sheba began to openly sob over the demon corps. “I'm sorry, Sheba,” Alex said, easing the girl away from their fallen friend. “There has to be something I could have done,” she said, hugging onto her brother's side. Jessica and Meg stood watching. 

In Jessica's hand was the golden apple used to summon the great beast. “I'm sorry Sheba,” she said, pulling the girl into a tight hug. “There has to be some more to it” Sheba said “they were too powerful to fall so easily.” “I don't know,” Jessica answered. 

“They can't be dead,” she continued “there has to be something we could do.” “Sheba,” Alex said. looking back at the pools of silver blood crawling across the platform. Only parts of the stone reacted to the acid. The blood formed lines and marks, and flowed to cover every inch. “Lay my dreams to rest.” Alex heard play back in his head. 

“Lay my dreams to rest” it repeated “Ask the one who holds my heart to sing them to sleep.” The platform now that he saw was ten times bigger than the summoning seal used for Nightmare. Looking down at his own feet he saw the band of marks cut themselves into the stone. Alex looked back at his family. 

Sheba was holding the apple again. He thought of his father's fang. How did it all fit? “What is it Alex?” Meg asked, seeing the worried look on his face. “Something doesn't add up,” he answered. Alex looked at the casting both he and Sheba had. Their light never broke. The charm Jessica was wearing shined even in this dark place. 

His eyes shot back to the apple and back to the charm. “The one who holds my heart.” “It's not a grave,” he said to himself. “What” they all asked. “It's not a grave,” he said again. They looked around. “The keep itself is not a grave,” he continued “IT'S A GATE!” 

Sheba looked down at the stone beneath her feet. “ No, it's too small. Like it was scaled down. and it has gaps laid into it, like a lesser set up.” The rooster's words play in Sheba's head. She shook her head. “This can't be right.” She said, “This can't be the same one.” “It's not.” Alex answered, “This is the real one.” 

“It would take way more power then any of us have to make it work” she answered. “Sing my dreams to rest” the voice played in the rat's head again. “I don't think it works like that,” he said. “Alex, there is no way this thing can work without a lot of power,” she chided. 

“You mean like having the seal written in the blood of three of the most powerful demons known.” He said, “The power is there. The whole thing is ready to use. We're just missing the key.” “Time's up” Pinaco called, rising to his feet. “Key, Key, KEY” Alex said to himself “THAT'S IT, you have the key, both of them.” “What?” Sheba asked. 

“Don't ask me how I know this. But this thing has a password or something like it. And the only one who can put it in is the one who holds the key.” Alex said, “Make it real simple I think. The sons of the Caretaker have one third of his power. But in truth they only have thirty-three percent and the last one percent can be used to control them. Now with just all but that percent contained in this seal. That last one is the switch.” 

Sheba looked at the apple. “Then that means whatever this thing can do. It might bring them back?” she said “but I don't know what this password could be.” “I don't think it will bring them back.” He answered, “Sheba, I have to ask you to do something that might be very hard for you.” 

“What is it Alex?” She asked, looking up to her brother with her good eye. “Lay them to rest. And help them move on. Sing them to sleep,” he answered, turning to Pinaco, “I'll try to buy you some time.” 

Sheba turned to Jessica and Meg “we need to move” she added turning to Panbrook who was trying to piece his friend back together. Three ran over to him and helped him pick up the pieces of the clockwork demon. 

Alex walked toward the wooden demon. “You want the Caretaker's power.” He yelled, “It's right under your feet. It's in the very stone we're standing on.” “You're a fool, vermin,” Pinaco answered. “No, I'm a thief.” He answered, “And my name is Alexander Hunter Greenvolt.” 

“Vermin are vermin, it doesn't matter if it has a name.” Pinaco growled and swung his arm back to bat the rat away. “You know. I'm just as strong as my father.” Alex said, jumping to meet the demon, “But.” Pinaco swung as hard as he could. 

“I'm a hell of a lot faster.” He said a foot away from the demon's face. Alex spun around grabbing the demon's jaw as he dropped. He flipped the demon over his head, throwing him as far as he could. Pinaco bounced off the platform and rolled to his side.

“You are nothing.” Pinaco growled, lifting himself back to his feet “You should be on your knees. Begging me to kill you. Just so you could have the honor to die by my hand.” “You did kill me.” Alex answered, “You killed me over a thousand times. I just didn't stay that way.” 

“Then why did you come back?” The demon growled, “You should have stayed dead.” “Because not even death stops a Greenvolt.” He answered, “And I have my reasons for being here.” The demon laughed “what some stupid scents of honor and duty.” 

“No, I wanted to come back.” he answered, jumping up to the demon's face again “I wanted to see my sister grow up.” Alex punched the demon in the face knocking him back. “I wanted to ask the woman I love to marry me.” He continued and kicked the demon in the side of the head. 

Pinaco fell back but kept his footing. “I wanted to make this world a better place.” he said, landing on his feet “And I can't do any of that from a grave.” “Then I'll be the one to put your foolish dreams to rest” the demon barked. Sheba checked on the others that fell. 

The young wolf held his father close, crying without a sound. Miss. Woodcut was holding her daughter crying. Sheba saw the weak breathing of a dying child. Panbrook was a wreck, losing one of his closest friends. Her heart hurt, seeing the pain caused to the people trying to help her. 

This had to stop. And with what Alex said, there was one who could fix it. She order Infrerna to stay with the others. she left her spell book with the otter. She hugged both her and the vixen. She jumped up onto the platform. 

“Where do you think you're going?” Jessica asked. “I'm going to help them rest.” she answered and hopped along to a ring close to where Nightmare lay. She took one last look at her fallen friends, and the mighty demons that lay dead around her. 

She looked to her brother holding off another monster for her. She wiped some tears and fresh blood from her eye. She took a deep breath. There was only one song she could think of. It was one she had not thought about in years. 

She hurt thinking about it. It was the lullaby her mother would use to sing her to sleep when she was little. It was the only thing she could remember clearly from that day. “Mom,” she asked herself “Help me through this?” She closed her eyes and let the words come to her as she hummed herself into the tune. With a sigh she opened her heart and sang.

Chapter 22

Everything seemed still. From the son soundlessly crying over the loss of his father. The blind mother holding her lifeless child. And the sobs of the rooster trying to save his friend. To the war raging between Alex and Pinaco. As the soft voice of a young witch sang into the night. 

“Promise saved and promise kept.” she sang, holding the golden apple close to her chest. “These words I give to you, be held till day becomes night.” She dropped to her knees. “My promise saved, my promise kept.” A low hum could be felt as the air began to cool. 

“Dear sweet children, I give to you my dreams tonight.” The apple's glow grew with each verse. “My promise saved, my promise kept.” The street lights darken as the stars shone brighter. “Fear no darkness sweet children. For my nightmare will guide you.” 

The demon's bodies began melting into the same silver color gel that cut the rock they lay upon. “My promise saved, my promise kept.” The hum grew louder. “Build your love sweet children. With my daydream to support you.”

Sheba found it hard to continue as the short time with the beast replayed in her mind. “My promise saved, my promise kept.” The apple pulsed in time with her heart beat.  “Share your hope sweet children. As my wish teaches you.” The tears for the fallen glowed with a soft blue light. 

“Promise saved and promise kept.” Sheba heard voices joining her as she sang. “Come sweet children and lay to rest. And dream of starlit angels.” She heard her mother's voice right next to her and could see every witch in their line. And the person that made the bond of love used to summon the great beast. 

“Promise saved is a promise kept.” The apple pulled free of her hands as the last of the demons melted away. “Upon thy keep this oath I do say.” Pinaco and Alex both saw the apple pull away and fly to the middle ring. “Promise saved and promise kept.” They raced to it from either side. 

“My dreams will aid the world. But will never force their will.” The light became blinding, as the streetlights started blowing out. The air pulled to the heart of the light as the gel pulled from the ground drew itself to the light. 

“This promise saved. This promise kept.” in the blink of an eye the light was gone. “All before day becomes night.” The air pulsed out sending all in its wake projected backward. Alex and Pinaco both were launched into the air. 

Sheba was pushed back and rolled back over to Jessica and Meg who caught her. Alex crashed into a dune of loose dirt and sand a few yards away. Pinaco was thrown back smashing through twisted spikes of steel and rock. 

 The stillness in the air was broken by the hum of soft breathing. Silver armor dress with the same black apron the beast wore was overlaid by a soft gray robe under a night black cloak. The hood was drawn fully over the figure's head but the gold and silver glow of two eyes showed through the blackened pitch. 

The weapon beasts wheeled by the three fallen demons raced to the figure. The golden snake took its place around the figure's neck. The silver bird landed on the figure's shoulder. As the black drake took to the other shoulder. 

The figure sighed heavily as he looked to where the fallen lay and to the places the once great demons fell. “This is a bad time for a joke” the figure said, his voice weighted. Everyone felt something heavy and thick in the air. It was hard to breathe. 

“Well, we don't need this anymore now do we?” he said, kneeling down and laying an open hand onto the stone. The pale skin of his hand showed through thin hairs about it. The ruins cut across the platform slipped away drawing into his hand. 

Alex pulled free of the dune watching the figure draw in the power of the keep. The figure stood up, turning to face the young witch. He made almost no sound as he walked over to the little witch. Alex recalled seeing this same figure in his dream. 

He helped Sheba to her feet and back on to the platform. Standing behind her, his hands resting loosely on her shoulders. Sheba stood scared once again facing something far more powerful than she could imagine. “Well, young knight, you show me great honor” the figure said when he was just a few feet away. 

“Just keeping my word, Caretaker” Alex answered. “Chartun” the figure said “Chartun Daliavoid.” Alex was taken for a moment before recalling and answered “Alexander Hunter Greenvolt, and this is Sheba Katrina Bloodgold.”

The hood turned down to the young witch. The open wound upon her face caught his eye. “I failed to protect her,” Alex answered. The hood turned to look passed them to Jessica and Meg. “No, this is the result of a protector.” The figure answered, “She risked harm for another. Thus you have not failed.” 

Sheba looked up at the figure, rage and pain in her eye. “You know damn well I can't bring them back.” He retorted, “Because they were always part of me.” Her gaze never broke. “Yes, it was my doing, That they fell with so little of a fight.” He answered, “The keep was meant to draw in power from wherever it could. That's why it never broke from any other force.”

The figure lifted his hand to his hood and withdrew it from his head. He flicked his long hair free of the hood and cloak to let it hang free. His thin and flat face showed both youth and age. With the same thin hairs dressing his face and neck. From his soft gold eyes roll tears for his dreams, his sons. 

Sheba looked into his eyes seeing the same loneliness and longing that her faithful Nightmare had. “There is enough power left from the keep,” he said, holding up his hand with a ball of pure light “for you to use as you wish.” Sheba turned to the others who each had lost someone in this fight. 

“Is there anything that can be done for them?” She asked, “They never should have been part of this.” “If there is, it may be too much for you to do alone,” he answered. “If you can help them I will take on any coast you have” she said. He withdrew the power and patted the young witch on the head. “like I said kiddo. it's your energy.” he said, turning and walking off. 

As he walked away bright gold wings opened from his back as he passed each of the fallen. The angel stopped in front of the mute wolf and his father. “Well all I can do for you, Louis Wilds.” The angel said, “Is give you a chance to say goodbye.” the young wolf turned and looked up at the being. 

“I see, don't worry about that.” He said, “I'll take care of it.” the angel bent down and touched the old wolf's neck. “Good bye Peter. Take care of yourself. Tell your mother I love her when you go to see her in heaven.” the old wolf's voice broke. 

The angel released the old wolf and caught the younger one off guard grabbing his neck. “His last wish. Will find him seeing your mother sooner than you will.” the angel said, releasing the young wolf. The wolf started coughing as his own voice broke. His eyes grew wide with understanding. 

“Dad” he yelled, fresh tears filling his eyes. The angel stood up, with a sad smile. “His last wish was to give his son a voice of his own.” he said as he turned away. His soundless steps skipped him over to the blind mother and her still child with the son and brother quietly crying. 

“A mother should never have to watch her child die.” He said, “That being said, may I?” The minx turned her head to face the voice speaking so softly to her. It took her a moment to turn her child's body over to this being. The angel took the child carefully and held her close. 

He whispered in her ear then hugged and kissed her on her forehead. He handed her back to her mother. Within seconds she took a sharp breath and opened her eyes. “Mommy?” she said, smiling. “Yes baby, Mommy's here.” The minx answered with her eyes watering with joy. 

She turned to the angel to thank him. Before she could speak she met with his soft kiss. She closed her blind eyes only to feel him pull away. “You can repay me by using this gift to be the good mother that you are.” He said as he stood up and walked away.

The small child giggled, drawing her mother's attention away from the angel. The minx opened her eyes and blinked as for the first time in her life she could see her daughter's face. “A good mother watches as her children grow into their own” the angel said as he walked away. 

He came to a stop over the rooster still trying to save his friend. The rooster looked up at the angel before falling, kneeling and bowing. The angel rolled his eyes and picked up one of the pieces the rooster had. “I'm not a god.” the angel said, flicking the piece to the side, “But I work for him.” 

The piece stopped midair as the rest floated up to join it. In seconds the clockwork crocodile was rebuilt. “Try not to break him this time,” the angel said. The demon stood still like new. The rooster jumped to his feet and leaped onto the angel, kissing him as hard as he could. 

When he finished the rooster stepped back in shock of his own actions. “You're going to make your boyfriend jealous,” he said as he turned away. He tapped the demon on the shoulder as he walked away saying “Take care big guy. And look out for them for me, will you?” 

As he walked away the demon's body rumbled. The rooster stood in horror as his friend's metal skin broke apart. Under the bits of broken metal thick dark green scales could be seen. Soon chunks of metal broke away leaving the crocodile's new body naked to the world. “A life given to protect is not so easily taken” the angel said lightly skipping away. 

He returned to the young witch, her knight and their family. “There is still one last thing I should do,” he said, raising his hand to Sheba's face. She grabbed his arm before he could touch the gash around her eye. “No, you have done enough for us” she said. 

“It's going to leave a really bad scar.” He said, “You may lose your eye?” “Maybe, but it will remind me that I don't have to be scared anymore,” she answered. “Well aren't you a keeper.” he said smiling “But do you think you have the power to stop me from doing what I want?” 

She looked up at him. He had the same sad smile Nightmare had. “No. But stories about you say you never do anything for free.” She answered. “Then you misheard them.” He said taking her hand with the same hand she was holding “Yes, there are many things I won't do without a price. But when I choose to do something then I have my reasons.” 

She shook her head. “How about this?” He asked, “Let me heal that for you. I'll leave a scar like you want. But I want you to give me something in return.” “I have not...” she said as he cut her off with a little kiss. 

“And done” he said and turned to where Pinaco was last seen. He started walking. Sheba checked her face and felt a small thin scar across her eye along with all the blood she lost, was gone. She opened her eye seeing everything like nothing happened.

Alex stepped up calling the angel back. The angel stopped and turned around. “Lad, this is over your head” the angel said. “Ranger” Alex called his black and burning wolf to his side. The wolf came and shifted to her ax form with her blade edge burning red. 

“No, this is my fight,” he said “I made him a promise.” The angel walked back, stopping just past the young rat. From where Jessica stood she was looking up to see the two the same as from her dream years ago. “Greenvolt.” The angel said “You do this. You will be doing so alone.” 

“No, I understand now” he answered “Nightmare said he is happiest when he is weak. Because it means there is no hate or fear to feed off of. I'm only alone when I give into the darkness.” The angel smiled and said “Then let's shed some light on the matter.” 

The angel tapped his foot causing the platform to glow. The soft glow broke the dark air about them. On the far side of the platform stood a shadow with glowing red eyes. “This is going to be fun.” Alex said. “Wait.” Sheba said, removing her raindrop pendant. Jessica did the same and ripped part of her shirt. 

She climbed up next to Sheba giving him the metals and tied the rag about his neck. “A knight shouldn't go into battle without his lady's blessing” she said and kissed him. “Hey” Meg said, throwing her pump-action shotgun to the rat. 

“Right, everyone ready?” the angel spoke “good ladies step back. lad let's go.” “I thought you said I was doing this alone?” Alex said. “You are.” the angel said “But I like things to be fair.” The rat and the angel walked to the middle of the platform. 

“HEY TINY.” the angel called. “What are you doing?” Alex asked. “Killing time so this story doesn't end too quickly,” he answered. “What?” Alex asked. “Never mind that,” the angel said, “making it a fair fight. Or just sweetening the deal.” 

Alex shot the angel a glance. “What? I'm an omni-dimensional being. I don't have a rule book.” the angel answered. “Really? how anticlimactic would it be if I did all the work? And didn't give you a chance of failure?”  

“No really guys, what do you think?” “Who are you talking to?” the rat asked, cutting in. “Who knows?” the angel answered “anyway, enough chit chat let's get this show on the road.” The angel stopped Alex on the edge of the middle ring. 

“Wait here.” The angel ordered, still walking. He turned back to Alex. “Stay, good boy.” The angel went to speak with the demon Pinaco. Pinaco swung his arm crashing it into the angel who didn't even react to it. 

“Really bro” he asked “you people keep calling me a god. And you think you have enough power to take me down?” Pinaco pulled back. “Thought so.” He said “Here's the deal. you two fight. The winner takes all. If you win. I'll give you a shot at the belt. You lose. Then the kid decides your fate. Got it?” 

“You talk too much, worm,” Pinaco answered. “I am Chartun Daliavoid, the Ninth Night, born the ninth child to Orviaus Don Daliavoid, ruler of the void. I am the Caretaker to the Great Library of Deeds, Master of the nova forge and Keeper of its flame.” he said “I have lived ages beyond this world or its star. And I am also a stellarphilim of chaos. Don't call me a worm, but next to you they have more class.”

The angel turned and headed back to the rat. Pinaco raised his arm again. “Lad, you even think about it. I will put you down.” the angel walking away. The wood demon backed off once more. The angel walked right past Alex who heard everything. 

“Lad, I set the stage. it's up to you to finish the show.” “That was a bit long winded,” Alex laughed. “That didn't even touch on a drop of the things I've done.” he said “I'm not a god just a god moder.” 

The young golemor minx rushed onto the platform trying to pass the angel. “Lively ones out tonight,” he said. With a drop of his will, lifting the young minx into the air without even touching him. “I can fight. I can help” he said, swinging and kicking the air. 

“I just finished telling everyone who I am.” The angel said, “were you even listening?” the minx became still. “That's better.” the angel said, floating the young male back to his mother and sister “Don't break your mother's heart like that. Or your girlfriend's.” The angel jumped off the platform next to Sheba. 

A clear dome sealed the dragon rat and wood wolf inside. “You're an asshole” Jessica said to the angel moving Sheba away from him. “Can't say you're wrong.” He answered “But all the same. He has a reason for this fight. He made a promise to the real Pinaco.” 

“The real Pinaco?” the vixen asked. “You'll see,” he said. Too much the same as his sons, the angel didn't really look at anyone. “Looks like the final boss battle in a video game,” he said. Alex stood ready as the shadow of the demon drew closer. 

Alex looked up to meet the glowing red eyes of Pinaco. The shadows broke away revealing the damage he had taken. Half of one of his arms was replaced by broken concrete and spikes of rebar. His stomach was gone and replaced with a cage of twisted steel over pounds of rocks and stones. 

His tail was replaced with the scooping arm from one of the heavy dossers. He dragged with him the long flag pole that was never used. “I'm done playing games with you. stupid STREET RAT!” He roared, swinging the flagpole.  

Alex barely had time to dodge the strike. The young rat recalled his training under Nightmare and laughed to himself. “Then stop trying to hit me. And hit me” he said, sidestepping another swing.

Chapter 23

Pinaco swung the pillar he had used to replace his arm, but the vermin was quick to run away. “Give up vermin, you will never win” he growled, swinging his weapon again. The rat fired two shots from the shotgun into the wolf's leg. 

“You're going to have to be better than that.” He growled, “Little piece of shit.” “Breaker” Alex commanded as his hand lit up, meeting Pinaco's pillar fist head on. The pillar smashed apart as black thread latched onto the rumble pulling back together into a loose fitting hand. Pinaco spun around whipping the rat away with his makeshift tail. Alex was knocked back and rolled across the ground to a stop. 

“Damn, he hits like a truck” Alex said to himself getting back to his feet. “Ranger, meet me over there.” he said to his ax, dropping her. The wolf paused before following his orders keeping herself safe. Alex rushed the demon head on. Pinaco swung his pole after the rat. 

Alex dodged it by rolling under it and sliding between the demon's legs. He fired one shot for the demon's face. Alex then dropped the gun and grabbed the demon's tail and half swung himself into the air. Once airborne the rat turned and dove for the demon's head. 

“Breaker, repel” he yelled, throwing a heavy punch. Pinaco turned his head just in time to catch the attack with half of his face. The wolf was thrown off balance and staggered. The rat hit the ground and rolled back to his feet. Pinaco wasted no time and grabbed the rat in his stone fist. 

Alex was caught under his arms leaving his rib cage unprotected to the demon's crushing force. “I'm going to enjoy squeezing the life out of you” the demon growled and began crushing the rat into his fist. “Well,” Alex said, grabbing at the rocky fingers, “I'm not going to die tonight.” 

Alex began pulling Pinaco's hand open. Before Alex could free himself, Pinaco slammed into the ground. Pinaco lifted the pole up and turned it to crush the rat's head. But something crashed into the demon causing him to miss the rat's head by just a few inches. 

Alex couldn't see what was going from the way he was pinned down. But he could hear a fire going and the demon above him grunting in pain. Pinaco was dealing with whatever it was that hit him, forgetting the rat he was holding with his stone fist. 

Alex looked around for any means of escape. Before he could move Alex felt very cold, like someone just dropped him into a pool of ice. He took a chance and pushed up against the demon's stone hand. The sounds of ice breaking followed as the rock gave way. 

He pushed himself free before finding the demon's hand had been frozen solid. A bit dazed, he rolled away. Before he could get back to his feet he saw the flag pole coming down again. He threw up his hands to catch it but didn't think he had time to. 

He felt something in his hands the second before the pole could crush him. Alex pushed against what looked like a long golden spear with markings like a snake. He turned the spear and moved himself out from under the broken pole and got back to his feet. Looking around he spotted Ranger trying to bite at Pinaco's leg.

And right next to her at his full size was the winged snake dragon. He quickly recalled the gold spear in his hand. Pinaco swung his weapon to remove the two weapon beasts from his side. But a small silver bird flew into the pole's path shifting into a free floating shield and stopping the counter cold, buying Alex time to recover. 

The flame color canine with her seven blazing tails leaped onto the demon's face, biting at his eyes. Sheba looked around after seeing her own item beast on the battlefield. “Like I said. I like to keep things far.” the angel answered when the young folf look up at him. 

She just noticed his items were gone as well. “And no. I didn't make them help him.” he said “The children if you will, that are born from the fires of my forge, have a will of their own. And if they choose to give their aid, they will do so.”

Alex turned the spear in his hand ready to strike. Before he could move he felt a sharp pain in his back and ran through his gut. He looked down at himself seeing a blood covered blade protruding from his stomach. 

“Did you really think you stood a chance against me? street rat.” The demon's voice rang in Alex's ears. The shock overthrew Alex. Pinaco's new body kicked the rat off his blade laughing with pride. Hitting the ground all Alex could think was “I can't let it end like this.” 

From the side lines Sheba and Jessica were ready to rush to Alex's side. The Angel held out his arm saying “You too have already given him aid. Just watch.” It was hard to breathe. The armor felt too heavy. Alex opened his armor the best he could. Pinaco stood watching him. Toying with the rat over what little time he had left. 

“Did you really think this was going to be easy?” The demon laughed, “That when this was over you'd go home and screw your little sluts.” Pain and rage kept Alex down holding his gut. The white fur of his hand was untouched by all the blood he lost. Half of his forearm had turned white. 

“To face a nightmare head on, one must be faithful.” Alex said fighting his way to his feet “To have a wish for a better world, one must have hope.” he was coughing up blood “To touch a dream, one … must … have … love.”

“Bullshit” the demon answered, stepping closer to run the rat through the head to shut him up. The three metals about his neck glowed brightly knocking the demon back. Alex's heart raced as he wiped the blood from his face. 

His right arm glowed, turning his whole right arm pure white. A blue light shined from the closing gap in his stomach. As his eyes glow solid gold. The spins along his back span out their full length. “With enough will power and a touch of Genesis power.” The angel said to the little witch and the vixen “A part dragon like Alex can boost his own power to match a pure dragon.” 

Alex pulled back his fist and punched Pinaco right in the face. The demon flew back hitting the ground. The weapons and items held off the larger body. “You’re right. This wasn't going to be easy,” Alex said, picking up the demon and punching him in the gut. “And when this is over. I'm going to build a new home with my family.” 

Alex didn't let up, with blow after blow the demon's body cracked and broke. Each time Alex pulled the demon back up to his feet. Alex punched through the demon's chest catching something small and round in his fist. 

“When this is over, I will save the real Pinaco and send you back to the hell you came from,” he said, ripping his hand free of the demon. The wood body matching Alex's size fell over and into pieces. Thin black threads burned away into his hand. Alex looked at what he was holding. It was a small cork wood bobbin. 

He remembered seeing one just like it hanging around the small puppet's neck. “If I'm right.” the angel said, “Pinaco was born using the soul thread.” Sheba looked up at the angel. “The thread is made by infusing a life force into the thread. With it Pinaco can do a great deal of things with it. From replacing body parts to taking control over another living being” the angel said “it is both his strength and his weakness.” 

“How is it his weakness?” she asked. “Because every use burns away his life force.” he answered “If he can't replace it he will return to being a lifeless toy.” Sheba thought about how much her Nightmare was the same. “Yes they were the same.” the angel added “My sons were made to act in my stead. But had the free will to do as they saw fit.”

Alex threw the bobbin aside looking back at the demon before him. “I get it now.” he said, his golden eyes fixed on the demon. The young dragon rat rushed the demon with all his might driving his shoulder into the demon's stone gut. 

The cracking of stone and the wine of metal bending was followed by a bellow of pain from the demon. The demon's wooden hand grabbed Alex, lifting him off the ground. “WHY WON'T YOU JUST DIE?!” the demon bellowed. “I have a damn good reason to live” Alex answered, twisting and breaking the fingers apart. 

The demon howled in pain as the black threads burned away. The beasts backed away ready to fight on if need be. The demon shook the stump of his arm as bits of broken stone steel and wood rebuilt his hand. The broken blade his lesser copy had was now fixed to the back of his hand. 

“You can't kill me boy,” the demon laughed. Alex flexed his white arm and smiled. “I'm not trying to kill you.” He answered, “Dreamcatcher, Divine Dragon.” Alex's body glowed jade all but his right arm which glowed bright white. 

In a flash of light Alex was gone and in his place was a massive jade green wingless forest dragon with a pearl white limb. And at its core was a mass about the same size as the young rat. The demon was now more enraged and lashed out, driving his blade towards the dragon's heart.

“What is that thing?” Meg asked. “That my dear, is Alex's soul.” the angel answered “well maybe not his soul per say. But it's the manifestation of his soul gifted by his great grandmother.” The otter turned her head to the angel. 

“What? you asked.” he answered, raising his brow and hands. “Is that, his Dreamcatcher doing?” Sheba asked. “Yes and no” he answered “the spell my son gave him is just a channel, or focus point the rest is Alex's doing.” 

The dragon reared up, backing away from the attack. Raising its claws to grab the demon's arm. Once caught the demon fought to free himself. The bellow of a woman's voice rang out from the dragon's maw “You will harm this child of mine no more. Beast of the last realm.” 

“Not even you have the power to stop me, Volts.” The demon answered. The dragon's white arm slashed upward through the demon's arm, ripping it clean off. The demon withdrew several steps. The dragon moved swiftly around the demon claws, ripping limbs free and casting them out of his reach. 

Smoke followed the hiss of the burning threads as the demon howled in pain. The demon broke apart, forced to rebuild himself smaller once more. Bloody meat, broken bones, twisted steel, and what wood and stone remained stood as monstrous, as the horror found in most nightmares. 

The dragoness raised her claw one last time to end the demon once and for all. Her head shook as her hand was held back. Alex's voice spoke over her's “NO, he is still in there.” “You have given me all the power I need.” The demon laughed black threads pouring out in mass. 

“PINACO” Alex yelled, breaking himself free of the dragoness' form. The dragoness faded quickly leaving Alex diving right for the demon. The threads shot up at him encasing him in a black mass. “Well that was more drawn out then I thought it would be.” The angel said, breaking the seal. 

“What?” all three said at once. “What? what? I've got work to do.” he said “And thank you. I don't have all day. So let's go.” The three look between themselves and the angel. The angel stopped and turned around looking at the three. 

“I've got a lot of work to catch up on, he's going to need help here in a minute, and I'm getting bored standing around doing nothing.” The angel turned around again and began walking towards the demon. The demon laughed “that's right ...” “Shut up, you lost.” The angel said collecting his beasts and checking their well being. 

Sheba, Jessica and Meg joined him seconds later. The demon had pulled the black mass of threads into himself. “How did he lose?” the angel asked the question they were all thinking. A crackling sound bubbled up from inside the offset mass in the demon's chest and stomach. 

“I'd say,” the angel said, taking a step back as did the others. “It was someone you ate.” blinding white light broke free of the demon's gut as bits burned away. It was no time flat before the young rat pushed himself free crashing to the ground. The demon fell back soundless and lifeless. 

Alex rolled over to his back with something small held close to his side. “That took longer than I thought it would.” Alex said, easing himself up. “Well did you keep your promise?” The angel asked. Alex lifted up a toddler size wood puppet shaped like a wolf and painted black with white and red markings around the eyes and face, dressed in old style clothes. 

“Thank you” it said in a light and friendly voice as a thin light blue thread finished burning away. Jessica looked down at the small toy. “How can something so small cause so much hell?” she asked. “If I really have to answer that.” The angel said messing with Sheba's hair “Then you overlooked a great deal of matters. Your hair is a knotted mess kiddo.” 

Jessica looked at the angel then to the young folf standing next to him. “Size doesn't equal power.” he added “Maybe if you cut it then let it grow back. But then again you could pull it off.” The angel messed with her hair a bit more before giving up on it. 

Meg tapped the angel on the shoulder. The otter was pissed and with good reason. When the angel turned and looked her in the eye all she could think to say was “what are you?” “I think I answered that one.” he said. The otter shook her head, her eyes never moving from his. “Are you some kind of ape or something?” she asked, nodding to his thin fur and pale skin. 

“Oh, ok,” he said, “what species is my form? human. it's not something found on this world. But one much like it. On that note. Is anyone else hungry?” Alex's stomach answered. “Dragons, they never change.” the angel said, helping the young rat to his feet. 

The angel tapped the side of his head with his finger taking a few steps around. “You know. I know I'm forgetting something. Well more like someone” he said. The angel turned around sharply as the others watched when a long thin piece of metal jetted out his back.

The metal was the damaged blade of a sword and was cleanly sticking out of the angel's back. In front of him stood the feline dragoness, fully nude and soaking wet. “Well, aren't you cute?” he said, gripping her wrist. 

He looked her over, adding “And a nice build to go with it. Tell me Hun. Did you really think that was going to do anything to me?” The feline locked eyes with the angel and tried to pull away. “Nope. You're going to pay for this. So stick around” he said and bopped her lightly on the head. 

The feline's legs gave out before she fell to the ground. “And out like a light” the angel said, withdrawing something from his robes. He covered the feline with a blanket of some kind and in a flash she was gone. “No matter. She's fine.” He said, “I won't feel right leaving her out here like that.”

“You're not going to kill her are you?” Sheba asked. “No. Just going to repay her for jamming something long and hard into me.” he answered, taking the hold of the blade's handle and pulling it out of his gut.  He dropped the broken weapon and turned around. 

“You know I think I should get going,” he said. “Why leave? when you only just got here?” Sheba asked, watching the angel. “Well for one. I think I caused enough trouble for one lifetime. And two.” he said, patting her on the head “I've been here the whole time. I knew the Bregold sisters just like I know you. I have seen kingdoms rise and fall. I have seen the wonders of this world and I can see now. That what one would call an old god is no longer needed.”

“We both know that's not true” Alex said, resting the lifeless puppet in his arm. “You're still needed, even if the rest of the world thinks you're just an old story. you're the Caretaker. You've watched over this world much like any other.” He paused looking at the others. “You're what can make dreams come true” he finished. 

“Hey now, I never said I wouldn't be back” the angel said “after all, who's going to stop me?” They all loosely nodded. The angel shrugged and trotted off to the middle of the platform. “But.” He said, turning to them, “There is one last thing I need to do. To honor those who have fallen because of me.” 

They all slowly backed away as the air became thick and hard to breathe. With just a flick of his wrist the ground and the platform moved  and quaked. In seconds the platform began reshaping. First, part of it sunk into the ground as the parts around it curled into a low wall. 

More of the platform pulled under itself raising under the angel. The shape of a round base with a low bowl to it as small pillars rose with shapes growing on each. Soon the forms of Nightmare, Wishmaker and Daydream took hold. The spot where the angel stool rose higher reaching several feet into the air. 

Water began filling the newly formed pool and flowed freely from the base of each statue and from under the angel's feet. Without wasting time the fountain was working fully, with the angel still standing at its peak. “Hay lad,” the angel called. “Yeah,” Alex answered. 

“You still have that coin Daydream gave you” the angel asked. “Yeah” he answered. “Good hang on to it,” the angel said, “might come in handy.” “I will,” he answered “will we even see you again?” “Maybe, maybe not,” he said, “let's see what happens.” the angel held out his arm. “Good luck.” he said and turned his hand over so his palm faced the sky. 

In the blink of an eye the angel was gone leaving one last statue in his place.

Chapter 24

Several months had passed since that night. Jessica and Alex stood together before the Caretaker's fountain, matching rings on their fingers. Jessica rubbed her growing belly cuddling up to her new husband. “I think we should name him Hunter, after your father.” she said. “What if he is a she? I think, if that’s the case.” He said, “We should name her.” 

“After your mother.” Jessica finished “I want our baby to have the things we never did.” “We'll do the best we can.” Alex said, holding his wife close. “Wow, and here I thought you had always babied me.” Sheba giggled at the two. 

The young folf and her minx boyfriend had joined them after school. They held hands as they watched the water flowing from under the feet of the Caretaker and his dreams. “How was school?” Jessica asked. “It's ok I guess.” Sheba answered, rubbing the lower half of her scar with her blue furred hand. 

The scar added a bit of charm to her smile. Her short hair fit her girly tomboy look. And her golemor minx had loose baggy clothes that didn't seem baggy on him. “Ever think about what he's up to?” Sheba asked, looking up at the angel.

“No. I don't think my mind could handle it.” Alex answered. “It would be nice to see him again.” Sheba added. “Yeah. We had even saved him a seat when we got married.” Jessica said, “Then people started asking why we had a puppet sitting at our table.” 

“The gardens look great, Alex.” Sheba said, changing topics. “Yeah, it seems forest dragons are better at growing things than destroying them.” he said, rubbing the back of his head. “Doctor Panbrook said since that night more and more magic users have been popping up.” Henry said, “He also said there are these creatures calling themselves dream beasts, who have also started showing up.” 

Alex laughed. “When one dream ends another begins.” He said when the others all looked at him, “Maybe it's just his way to remind us he's still watching over us.” looking up Alex saw something small and dark in the bright blue sky. 

He could almost swear it had looked back at him before taking off and breaking the sound barrier. So the days went by in a melancholy way. Weeks and months passing into years. And eight years later Sheba stood alone in front of the fountain. 

“With all the good things that have happened over the years.” She said more to herself, “I only have one last wish.” She pulled a coin from her pocket. “I'm getting married tomorrow. And I was hoping to find a way to ask you to come by if you had the time?” she said looking up at the angel statute. 

“Aim for his hand.” a voice said walking up behind her. She turned to see who was talking. What she saw was a canine who looked to be just a few years older than her. “Yeah,” he said “they say he'll answer any wish if they can land a coin in his hand.” 

“Yeah I guess that makes scents. You can't get anything for free.” she said looking at the coin “you've got to earn it.” “Or just have faith things work out.” he said “after all. It's the little things that matter.” Before Sheba could answer the canine left. 

She thought it over and looked up at the angel. She ran her fingers across the faded scar around her eye. “It's the little things that matter.” she said to herself “Because it's the little things that change the world.” She smiled and closed her eyes then gripped the coin in her hand. 

“My only wish is to ask you to come to my wedding tomorrow.” She thought willing her hope into the coin before throwing it as high as she could. She didn't look to see where it landed but she did hear the chime it made when it landed. “Hope I see you soon.” she said, beginning to turn away “maybe we could share a dance. Like I had with Nightmare. But we'll be saving you a seat anyway.”

When she had gotten home and picked up her mail. She filed through it as she always does. Before setting it down on the desk next to the folders of school papers that she had started working at this year. Her soon to be husband and her brother worked for the order along with Jessica. 

Life had changed after that night. But the good they did has change the world. Pictures lined the walls. A time lapse of her life over the past nine years. From her younger days when she was small and scared. To the day she became a fully licensed witch. 

She had spent months hunting down any picture she could find of the witches in her line. As well as spending days renewing the family spellbook. Adding her story in hopes that its next owner can use it to grow from her hardships. 

She was smiling as she changed and showered before going back out for the party Jessica and Meg were throwing for her. She wasn't sure what they had in mind. Hopefully it won't get too out of hand. When she met up with the otter and the vixen and her son Hunter, who looked just like his father Sheba knew how the night would go. 

The service was held by the order and many of them were dressed in suits of armor or robes. The small church was filled with friends and loved ones. Someone had made Hunter a suit of armor just like Alex's that he wore as the ring barer. 

Alex stood in the back as he waited to give his sister away. “Excuse me sir” a voice asked with a loose but friendly tone. Alex turned to answer. When he turned he was met by two men. One had a dark cloak on with the hood fully drawn. The other was a reddish-brown wolf dress for the day. 

“Yes? how can I help you?” he asked, looking the two over. “Mr. Greenvolt,” the hooded male said, “This is Eric Bloodgold, Sheba's father.” Alex held out his hand to the wolf. “It's an honor,” he said. The wolf took his hand and shook it and said “No, the honor is mine. Thank you so much for taking care of my little girl. I wish I could have been there for her.” 

The wolf looked like he was about to cry. Alex looked at the hooded male. “You missed my wedding.” he said to the hooded one. “That depends on how you look at it.” the male answered. “I could have been there and you just didn't see me. After all, someone had to set things up.” 

“I'll have to find a way to pay you back Mr. Daliavoid” Alex said and shook the male's hand. “Yes. There is a way.” he said “Go fill your role as best man. And let a father give his daughter away.” Alex nodded. 

“Oh. And one more thing. The name's Chartun.” The angel said “don't misuse it.” “Alex, what's going on? The pastor is waiting.” Jessica said, rushing over to him. “Last minute change in plans” the angel said before giving the vixen a hug, “you're looking good.” 

“Thank you, I guess,” she said oddly, pushing him away “who are you?” “I'm an asshole.” He said, “I'll take care of the pastor.” “Jess, it's Chartun, the Caretaker.” Alex said keeping his voice low. Jessica looked the angel over and spotted his item beasts around his neck and shoulders. 

She raised her hand to chide him when he cut her off. “Yell at me later,” he said and looking around, “I need to see the bride.” “What I'm right here” Sheba said, a vial lowered over her face. She paused tilting her head as she looked at the hooded male.  “Chartun” she asked lifting her vial. 

He nodded and withdrew the hood from his head. His alien face was still the same. even after so many years. He still held the same sad smile. “Hello Sheba,” he said “I'm sorry I've been gone for so long.” Sheba dropped everything to hug the angel. 

“That doesn't matter. I'm just glad you came.” she said, squeezing him. The angel hugged her in return. “I have a gift for you.” he said, easing her back. He turned the young folf to the wolf standing close by. 

Sheba looked him over for a minute before pulling him into a hug “Daddy.” The wolf smiled and held his little girl. “Look at how much you have grown.” he said “You look just like your mother.” The angel walked off without a word, taking Alex with him. 

“Let's get this show on the road.” he said, leading the way. As the angel walked down the aisle the crowd dropped to their knees knowing the rank he held. He looked sad by the unneeded sign of respect he was shown. 

He stopped at the base of the altar and dropped to his knee. This action confused many of the people watching. As he rose he greeted the pastor and spoke with him for a moment. The two agreed and the angel stepped to the side. He folded his hands in prayer. 

The wedding continued as planned. The wolf gave his daughter away and the values  were given. After the kiss, the angel stepped forward. The pastor spoke up “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the Caretaker, as he wishes to speak.” 

“Thank you.” the angel said standing before them. “I have come to pay my respects to the newlyweds and to perform a deed that I have not done in a long time.” He said, taking the drake from his shoulder as the drake shifted into his weapon state. 

“Alexander Hunter Greenvolt, Henry David Woodcut, and Eric Bloodgold, stand and be recognized.” The three stood before the angel. The Angel drew his blade to a salute and opened his massive golden wings.  The three crossed an arm over their hearts and bowed their heads. 

The angel spoke an oath that the three repeated. “Kneel” the angel spoke, as the three took to a knee. “Eric Bloodgold” he said “by the rite of god, the name of the crown's holder and myself. I knight thee.” The angel set the tip of his sword to the wolf's head and shoulders. 

Then repeated the action for the other two. The return to his starting point and bring his sword back to a salute. “Raise and be recognized as Knights of the World Crown.” The three stood and bowed before turning to face the crowd. The mass of people stood and applauded. 

The service finished and the crowd moved to the reception area. The idle chatter broke when Alex tapped his glass, getting everyone's attention. “Thank you all.” he said “Everyone knows I don't give speeches so I'll keep it short. Sheba, Henry, I've known you two a long time. And I only wish the best for the both of you.” 

Jessica bopped his elbow and pointed at the angel sitting at the end of the table. “Right. Where's my head today?” He added leaning over a bit, “Maybe we could ask the Caretaker to share a few words. And maybe he’ll give a better toast then I can.” the room chuckled.

“Yeah, sure.” the angel answered before standing up. He took a deep breath and sighed. “To the newlyweds. May your good days be long and bad ones be short.” The crowd joined with “CHEERS”. The Angel sighed again. “I would like to say one more thing if I may?” he asked. 

Henry nodded as Sheba spoke up “of course.” He nodded and continued “To friends lost. And to friends found. May we all keep them in our hearts.” It was a quiet and sobering thought that all agreed with.

The angel sat down letting others have their turn to speak. Once all the speeches were given the band started up and people began to dance. Sheba took to the dance floor and had her husband, brother and father dance with her. 

After her last dance she looked around spotting the angel still at his seat alone, the glass untouched. The look on his face reminded her of just how old he truly was. And how lonely he must have been. And without skipping a beat she walked right up to him. 

“Chartun” she said standing over him “why don't you join us?” “It's ok,” he answered “go enjoy yourself and leave an old man to his drink.” “I would,” she retorted “but you haven't even touched it.” She held out her hand to him. 

“Please? I know I'm asking a lot from you.” she said “But you are as much a part of my family as anyone else here.” He looked up at her. “Don't give me that look.” she added “I don't care how powerful you are. You're coming over and joining the rest of us and having a good time.” 

“Fine. But we need to do this the right way.” He said standing up. His robes and armor shifted giving him a fine pressed suit. “Would you care to share a dance with me, my dear?” he asked and held out his arm. She smiled and took his arm. “I would love to.” She answered. 

With silent steps the angel led the folf to the dance floor. He waved to the band for a slow tune. He turned back to the folf taking her hand and her hip. The music began as the two moved in time. Sheba didn't see the angel's alien face nor felt his skin in her hand.

All she could see was her Nightmare sharing this dance with her. “It's hard to believe.” she said “That there was a time, you were nothing more than a bedtime story.” The angel chuckled. “But now it's hard to believe that I'm holding you.” She continued, “My dreams, my nightmares, all of my wishes, all in one place.”

“Sheba,” the angel spoke softly, “I'm not a dream. Nor am I the dreamer. I am what is needed of me.” “Why do you always look so sad?” she asked. “That is a question I can not answer,” he said. As the music came to a close and the pair parted, the angel added “You know, If this story was ever made into a movie. This is a good place to throw in a musical number.”

Time passes once again. Homes and families have grown. Time is still as kind or curl as it wishes. Sheba Bloodgold lived a happy life. And was there to see her own granddaughter get married. She died weeks later. Time, taking its toll on her. She passed peacefully in her sleep. 

Alex Greenvolt continued to live, seeing his son married off. He outlived his wife and sister. But as fate is kind it was also curl. And took the lives of his own son and his wife. Leaving him to care for his granddaughter. 

Caring for her was hard and stressful for the both of them. He did the best he could for her. Always fearful it wasn't enough. But he never failed her. Even to his own bitter end. 

Blinding light. “GRANDPA” she screamed as her world turned white. “Sheba. Would you believe me if I told you I met the Caretaker?” The old brown rat said, holding a little hybrid in his arms. The two stood before a fountain with great monstrous beasts cut from stone. 

The largest being the black form of the demon Nightmare. The pearl white form of Daydream and the gray form of Wishmaker. And high above the three stood the angel known only as the Caretaker. 

“But Grandpa. Daddy said that was over a hundred years ago” the little six year-old answered. “A hundred and thirty-two to be honest.” The old rat corrected. “Grandpa, is it true what they said about the Caretaker?” the child asked. “Is what true, Hun?” he asked. 

“That if you make a wish and throw a coin into his hand. It will come true” the child spoke pointing up to the angel who's hand was held out palm up. “Sweety, it's not just true. It's a fact.” he answered “Tell you what. We'll come by here any time you want. And we'll try to get your wish granted.” 

“Grandpa, when's Mommy and Daddy coming home?” she asked. He sighed not wanting to hurt her. But he also didn't want to lie to her. “As soon as they can,” he answered. The flash of blinding light over came the scene as her voice broke.

The Caretaker's oath.

Promise saved and promise kept.

These words I give to you, to be held till day becomes night.

My promise saved, my promise kept.

Dear sweet children, I give to you my dreams tonight.

My promise saved, my promise kept.

Fear no darkness sweet children. For my nightmare will guide you.

My promise saved, my promise kept.

Build your love sweet children. With my day dream to support you.

My promise saved, my promise kept.

Share your hope sweet children. As my wish teaches you.

Promise saved and promise kept.

Come sweet children and lay to rest. And dream of starlit angels.

Promise saved is a promise kept

upon thy keep this oath I do say.

Promise saved and promise kept.

My dreams will aid the world but will never force their will.

This promise saved. This promise kept

All before day becomes night.