Chapter 52
by JonSpikeWho

----- Milady's throne room, The Future -----

"Are you sure it's safe to use telepathy while your daughter is here? Won't she hear?"

At Milady's silent beckoning, Jon Marlinspike had edged himself discreetly into the shadows behind Milady's throne while gods, godlings, and adventurers squabbled further out in the chamber.

"This isn't telepathy. I'm speaking directly into your soul, which, if you'll remember, is right here with me." She fingered the crystal pendant that hung beneath her dress. "Quickly though, who's the sergeant on duty in the barracks tonight? I need to tell him to get all our Coelanths over here now." Jon thought briefly.

"Michael ought to be on duty tonight."

She paused, finding Michael's soul in the cloud that hung around her before asking Jon, "Are there enough of you in the city to hold off Diamina's forces? I've got to focus all my attention on Satin, I can't be keeping our travelers safe, too."

"We should be able to manage, though perhaps not easily. That's a lot of gesu she's brought."

"I hope you can. Oh, give this to Monkey." She handed him a small package wrapped in brown tissue paper. "Powerful symbols of destruction, he'll know what to do with them," she explained, then sighed heavily. "I knew I'd have to confront Satin, but I had been hoping for more favorable circumstances." She looked up suddenly, toward the breach in the great wall. "The Guard is nearly here. Give me a moment to marshal my power, and then we'll move."

Milady now stirred within herself a force that had nearly consumed her in her youth. For centuries she had fought with all her strength just to keep it locked away. And even as she had gradually become it's master and not the other way around, still she kept it dormant, loathe to tap into it for anything. Using it still brought back memories of how she had come by such a terrible thing. Within herself, Milady awakened the power of a Dark god.

"You look worried, Milady. Even for this situation, I mean."

"Have you ever had to face the possibility of killing your only daughter, Mr. Marlinspike?"

She stood up.

----- Outside the Timeweaver Village, 20 years in the past -----

"My daughter really is something else, isn't she?" The man's voice came from nowhere and everywhere at once in the thick foliage. "I should probably kill her one of these days." Young Eleanor, startled, screamed and dove between her chocobo companion's legs.

"Who's there?" she asked in a high, wavering voice.

"A friend." The voice seemed to decide on it's origin now, to Eleanor's left and just beyond sight. He stepped through the undergrowth and Eleanor strained to see his face, but could mot make out much in the tree-dimmed light. His hands shone with the afterglow of a very powerful spell.

"In fact, my wayward daughter is why I've come to your village, because I must make amends for her. I kept the timekey from taking you along with Palios because I need your help." He drew closer as he spoke, and Eleanor could see more of him now. The most obvious was his thick black cape, traced with thousands of blue and glittering gold lines of embroidery, flowing over it in a hundred intricate waves of sacred patterns. It was drawn all the way about him so that nothing else of his dress could be seen for the many folds. Golden hair fell all across his shoulders in a fine spray, obscuring the sides of his face in the process. A delicate circlet of blood-red metal rode the crown of his head. His face, with high cheekbones that were very nearly Elvin, could have almost been described as beautiful or effeminate, were it not for two things. First, the broad spread of his shoulders beneath the great cloak indicated a very large man's build. Secondly, there was a grossly-shaped oval indentation in the middle of his forehead, framed neatly by the hair falling to either side.

Though Eleanor was still a young girl, she already had a good head on her shoulders.

Eleanor's instincts, for some reason, were telling her that it was safe to run crying, as a little girl might, into the arms of this newcomer, seeking comfort from the trauma she'd just endured. But she had a sharp mind for one so young, and checked herself; mysterious strangers walking out of the woods, especially the type that said strange things and spoke of powerful demonesses as their daughters, they were to be avoided at all costs.

"I--I need to go back to my home, now that that woman is gone, and see if my mother is ok." The tall man was almost next to her now. His image danced in her eyes as a powerful thrall wore away at her caution. LemonLighter WARKed in alarm but seemed unable to move. He stopped in front of the beast and kneeled down to peer between its legs at the five-year-old.

"There is nothing left of your village, I'm afraid. I'll go with you to see if you like." He stood again. "Come. Bring the chocobo along, too. We'll all go together." He offered his hand, which the small girl took reluctantly and stood, eyes still dry and wide with the remnants of fear. She blinked a couple times, starting to feel comfortable with his presence, even though she knew better.

"O-ok," she said as they started off, hand in hand, back in the direction she had come from. "Come on, chocobo," she gave LemonLighter a small smile. The large bird trailed uncertainly behind, as though the giant stranger still might turn around at any moment and tear his head off with so little as a gesture.

Eleanor had regained enough of her composure at this point to remember her manners.

"My name's Eleanor. What's yours?" she asked shyly.

"You may call me Tamaan," he replied, pulling back a branch to help her through a particularly thick patch of undergrowth.

----- The Master's Tower, present day -----

Milady sat on one of the ornate, medieval couches in her high chamber, looking exhausted and very put out besides.

"Look what a mess you've got us in this time, Ollie," she chastised. The Master sat at the other end of the couch, scowling and casting wary glances at a magically constructed cage at the far end of the room. They were having an emergency conference. For in the cage sat a woman with a ring on her finger, a ring that bore an inscription of several lions apparently imitating geese.

"Can't we just throw her into a time warp again?" The Master asked, frustrated.

"No, that was a stupid plan to begin with. And especially so now that everyone can run around the whole of time. It doesn't get rid of our problems, just delays them for a while."

"You thought of it."

"Shut up. I can't help it if the Mortal Gods are idiots. Oh what fools these Mortals be..."

"Then just kill her!" The Master was getting exasperated with His Lady, and in his defense, somewhat rightfully so. She could be a little hard to work with, especially for those with short tempers.

"I used all my strength just capturing her!" There had been a scuffle after Chad and his lackeys had left and the woman regained her senses, the end result of which was a couple black eyes for The Master (not that you could tell), and capture for the Daughter of Erroneous.

"You know how limited my own magical energies are! And we can't use your power on her, you're a Dark god; that dratted ring would just make it blow up in our faces. We'll have to wait until Chad, Ha-kee and Alpha get back. I don't want any of our normal soldiers trying to kill her." Milady looked away from The Master as an unpleasant thought that had been nagging at her subconscious suddenly occurred to her the rest of the way.

"Shouldn't your whelp Chad BE back by now? They have a TIME key, after all." The Master hadn't shared her epiphany, and was still firmly rooted in the present.

"Nuh-uh," she answered distractedly, gesturing for her mirror to come over to her. "Gates move down the timeline at fixed distances from each other. They'll get back after however long it takes them to finish their business." She stirred her finger in the strangely liquid surface of the mirror once it was within reach, concentrating on a new spell. Seven small lights lit up on it's surface.

"What's this?" The Master asked curiously, now also distracted from the matter at hand. He could feel Milady pulling the energy for the spell out of him across their link.

"An unfortunate discovery, I think. We've killed one ringbearer and also watched that ninja become one." She stirred the mirror again, and the lights rearranged themselves into a saw tooth pattern. "There are still seven signatures scattered throughout the timeline. My guess is that when a ring looses it's bearer, it selects a new one and passes through the timeline to reach them. I don't think, now, that killing the ringbearers is all that good an idea. Those damn Light gods were tricky."

"But they're dead now! The last of them, their king, by my very hands!"

"Only because he and your father had been fighting and were near-death when you found them. You killed *both* of them, need I remind you? And relics like these rings are just as troublesome now, to the few of us left, as they were when their gods were alive to wield them."

"So what can we do with our little friends, then, if we can't kill them?"

"I'm not sure. I'll have to start researching ways to destroy the rings themselves. Hmmm," she rubbed at her forehead, "Imprisoning all seven ringbearers in the same place is just BEGGING for trouble, but we might be able to get away with scattering their prisons the world over."

Their conversation was interrupted when a larger glow lit up in the corner of Milady's mirror.

"Just a minute," she excused herself, and tapped the light. A great bearded face replaced the reflected image and the seven lights. "Ah, Genera Ira. I trust you have good news of great conquest for us?"

"We have had control of the Murishinan border town of Jushan since nightfall," the face informed her. "But one soldier continues to elude us by very powerful magical means, despite the best efforts of our most powerful warrior mages. No Ring has been detected with him, so I would request My Lady's help in dealing with the creature."

"I'll go." The Master stood and strode toward the mirror. "Make it a portal," he said to Milady.

"With all respect to Her Master, our attacker has great magical abilities and will probably require Milady's skill to be captured."

"You DARE to think I'm not strong enough?" Flames licked around the angry godling's hand as he pointed it at the mirror. General Ira blinked in surprise, but Milady calmly pushed his hand away.

"The General only speaks good sense, and you know it... Put your hand out before you burn yourself." She smiled sweetly up at the dark, glowering face and black, storm cloud eyes.

You have to stay here and guard the ringbearer!" he argued.

"It'll just be for a minute. I'll be there and back in no time." She gave his arm a reassuring pat. "And I'm not hunting a Child of Erroneous, so I can use the link to power my spells. That one little Ringbearer-in-a-box can't kill you, and my holding spell will last at least another week; I really put my all into it."

"Fine then," the great shadow glowered.

With a gesture to the mirror, Milady stepped through and was in Jushan.

----- The Great Hall (not Chad) of Empress Eleanor -----

Milady stood quietly in front of her throne, waiting for the right moment to intervene.

"Who are you?" Queen Laine demanded of Satin.

That would do. Milady let a small fraction of her power spill out, causing the air around her to dance and flicker blue as it caught fire.

"I know who she is!" she called from inside the new flame, stepping to the front of the throne's dais. Satin at least remembered her manners.

"Mother." A curtsey and polite, though somewhat breathless greeting as the room paused. Outside, breezes began to whistle in through the windows. Three evil-looking figures inched their way out the back. "You're... a god again," Satin finally managed.

A gigantic wind tore through the hallway along with a painfully bright light, tearing at tapestries, blowing over shadow creatures, blinding and causing massive confusion, all far too quickly to narrate properly. Cries of pain came from the rear of Diamina's column.

"Protect the travelers!" Milady called in an impossibly loud voice. "Slay all of Diamina's soldiers, but leave my daughter be!" You wouldn't survive an attempt on HER life she thought grimly.

"HEEEEEYYY!" Diamina cried, distraught. "How come you're playing favorit---Waah!" Her protest was cut short as she skipped to one side, a fifty-pound spear hurtling harmlessly through her trailing hair and pinning a shadow-creature to the wall instead.

Vaguely human creatures, incredibly tall and thin, darted in through the windows on unmoving, glowing diamond wings and set about the front of the column with long, blade-tipped poles. There was a collective snarl as the gesu drew back and prepared to launch a counterassault.

"There's no need to hold your half-sister's creatures back any longer, Satin." Milady carried herself down the steps of the dais like a true Goddess of Evil, tall and regal, trailing blue flame along the floor like a cape. "She is a problem I've been meaning to deal with for some time, and this is a convenient enough opportunity. The travelers can take care of themselves."

Satin, unwilling to take her eyes off of Milady for more than a moment, shot a glance in the direction of the black horde, which collectively found itself able to advance again. The group of travelers grimly readied their defenses.

Jon shot past Satin and Milady on his own set of glowing diamond wings, blade drawn, the wash from his passing blowing Milady's long hair and dress out dramatically, and making her flames dance. He banked past Monkey, dropping the tiny package of tissue paper from Milady at the chimp's feet before darting headlong into Diamina's swiftly advancing soldiers.

Monkey "ooked" in excitement and tore at the wrapping, completely forgetting about the advancing enemy. In a second they were on him.

"Ook ook ook!" *Clang clang clang*

In another second they were away from him again, a black wave of sheer scrambling terror. Monkey laughed as a monkey might and scampered after them, gleefully banging his gifts together. *Clang clang clang*

Jon groaned when he heard the commotion. They were Cymbals Of Destruction. How utterly like Milady. He swung the direction of his wing thrust and shot sideways to avoid a gesu's descending blow, taking off the creature's forearm with his blade as he went. It howled in fury for a moment, but only until Jon had changed direction yet again, doubling back to remove it's head with a second stroke.

Next Jon shot past Warteen, who was busy fending off another monster with his rapier, and halved a second creature that had (somehow, despite his being psychic) snuck up behind the young fighter. He swung around and landed behind Warteen.

"Defenders circle here!" he cried, hoping to get his charges into a more strategic ring. Then he was off again, darting and slashing, clearing paths for people through the mob of monsters. Milady certainly liked to test his troops, asking them to protect these people against a whole hoard of gesu.

Milady's attention was not on the fight. She knew roughly how it would turn out thanks to her own time traveling, and besides, her Royal Guard was here, and they were more than capable of handling a crowd of unruly gesu. She was much more concerned about the young girl, her daughter, standing in front of her.

They regarded each other carefully, Satin, like Milady, carefully planning. She had no idea how her traitorous mother could still be alive, nor what she could want. She just knew to be wary.

"What are you here for, Satin?" A small, neutral smile from each of them.

"Like I'll tell," the girl sniffed, indignant. "I was warned about you even before we knew you had your Greater Power back."

"What do you need the timekey for? It won't grant you any powers you don't already have."

"I'm just keeping it away from you."

One of Diamina's generals, a giant black form that seemed to have been hewn from chunks of obsidian, had been observing Monkey, and was thoroughly unimpressed with his ooking display. He charged the tiny animal from behind, stone feet making amazingly little sound, his sword on a deadly inward arc. Warteen looked up to catch sight of his friend, shouting a warning just as the blade struck.

----- Jushan, a small town that Milady's forces have just conquered in the present -----

The Empress-to-be stared along the main street of the little town of Jushan as it wound its way up to the base of the first foothills in the Great Murishinan Mountain Range, and the now-abandoned homes that those hills held. Moon and stars glowed brightly overhead, easily upstaging the feeble efforts of the few torches in the street. There was hardly any sound, save for an occasional breeze drifting through the thatched roofs, and the quiet squeak of leather as one patrol or another trotted past. Milady's soldiers were well trained, she saw to that.

"You really shouldn't mock The Master like that, Ira," she scowled, and added with a quick grin "I already push my luck enough for the both of us."

"I know you'll see that I'm spared his wrath, Milady."

"Still, you should plan for days when I might not be around. Anyway, do you know where our troublesome friend is?" A crash and a shout from up the street answered before the General could.

"That pub there," the stocky man pointed.

Built into the first craggy rise of the foothill at the end of the street, the three-floored pub stood as a little bastion of debauchery, a sanctuary in which weary travelers could soak their livers and rest their legs. Or wings, or whatever else they cared to travel on. Lights flashed back and forth in the windows but were extinguished one by one, some accompanied by screams.

"No-one can seem to catch even a glimpse of him." the General offered.

"Hmph. Should still be simple enough. Well then, let's get this over with." Milady lifted her long, simple gray dress up a couple inches and started down the road, carefully and silently spreading a thick web of protection and detection enchantments around her as she went. The General followed from a distance.

The pub was dark again as she cautiously entered, feeling about with every sense she had, save for the first five. Ah, there he was, behind her now. And over there standing on the bar, too? But the one on the bar was only metaphysical, not dangerous, a scan spell told her.

A Coelanth, perhaps? This would prove to be an interesting encounter. His invisibility spell was impressively high-level and very well constructed. No wonder the mages in her army were having a hard time finding him.

She could feel him waiting for her, waiting patiently until she was just a *bit* more vulnerable. Must keep her back to him, make him think he was the predator. She started weaving a spell, deep inside her where none but the greatest of mages could hope to detect it. Then she moved further into the room, out into the open, heart beating madly in her ears despite the icy calm of her mind, hoping her stalker could hear her body's fear.

He leapt. She felt the magic in his blade streaking toward her neck. She spun.

"FORTUNE!" The spell felt its keyword, and that was that. Her hapless attacker tumbled to the ground in front of her, limbs immobilized.

Slowly the creature faded into view, a pile of a man tangled up in his cloak, with limbs longer and thinner than any being had a right to possess and not break in two. The effect was something like a swatted mosquito.

Milady playfully dropped to her knees beside him.

"Hmmm," she peered into his face, which was turned toward her, sideways against the floor.

"What are you doing?" His eyes flashed sharp and alert when she met them with her own, and she batted her eyelashes. Batted them in such a way that the man was forced to imagine a lion flirting with a mouse.

"Taking a second look," she replied matter-of-factly, sitting up straight again. "Anyone who can kill off my warrior-mages like that deserves a second look. It was quite a trick breaking your invisibility JUST enough for my binding spell to find you."

"And what may I call you, oh Commander Of Mages and Breaker Of Spells?" Milady had to smile a little, his tone was so delightfully dry and sardonic.

"You may call me Milady, though it's not an official title so much as the fact that I hate my given name." Switch between the innocent and the predator, keep him unsure of what to expect next. "What do you go by?"

"Jonahs." He sat up somewhat painfully, the binding spell making a clanking noise like heavy, dragging chains, though none could be seen. "Jonahs Marlinspike."

"What were you doing here, Mr. Marlinspike? You don't look like an Army Regular."

"I'm merely a traveler, and I was doing nothing more than the name would imply."

Mock horror seized Milady's face with a small gasp and a shocked placing of hand over open mouth. "You were impaling small birds on iron spikes?!? Those poor marlins! What a horrible man you are!" She dropped her hand and chuckled. "You fight rather well for a simple traveler who's simply traveling."

Jonahs looked annoyed. From her kneeling position Milady plopped innocently onto the floor, Indian style, and smiled. "Could I ask you NOT to make fun of me, Milady? A traveler needs to be able to defend himself." He snorted a little. "Even an *evil* monarch should know not to joke about a man's name. And I say 'evil' because impaling marlins on spikes isn't much more cruel than what your soldiers did during their raid."

"I apologize for my comment, t'was just a bit of sport at your expense. But then this is a war, Mr. Marlinspike, and all's fair therein. Murishina invaded us first." She smiled sweetly. "And why do you care? I can't smell a soul anywhere on you," she smirked. "It's over there behind the bar right now, isn't it? I'll bet you're a Coelanth, and a masterless one at that."

"And if I were?"

"Well, I know it's bad form to possess a Coelanth and FORCE them to serve you. So I was going to ask you, nicely, if you'd be my bodyguard. (The last bodyguard I hired is proving less useful for guarding, and more useful for running errands,)" she added conspiratorially.

A look of intense longing crossed his face, which was exactly what Milady had been hoping for, though mixed strangely with pain. Coelanths, she knew, were created to want and need a master more than anything else save their own lives.

Jonahs deftly regained his composure. "I find it hard to believe that such a woman as yourself really NEEDS all that much guarding to begin with."

"Oh, I do sometimes," she cocked her head to the side, "when I'm caught unawares. Everyone is human, or at least half in your case. And nobody's perfect."

"And why would I want to serve a ruthless master such as yourself?"

"Oh come now, don't take me for such a fool," she scoffed. "I know that a Coelanth doesn't care about the morality of his master so long as he has a competent one. And I think you've seen, between my invasion and capturing you, that I'd make a fairly competent master." The creature before her sighed heavily, sagging his head as he finally gave into his strongest instinct.

"I suppose you've got me. I'll swear fealty to you." He was about to say something more when Milady shot to her feet.

"Great!" she interrupted, swooning a bit from standing too fast (and she knew how to swoon just so, in order to make Jonahs's fool gentleman's heart jump straight into his throat). "I release you from your bonds," she said with a gesture, "and I think your first duty as my bodyguard is going to have to be to catch me." And she promptly collapsed.

Though she didn't manage to collapse very far. With a lightning movement Jonahs caught her by the arms and held her upright with a grip that was firm and steady and very light, as though she weighed no more than a feather. It was clear she wasn't going to fall any further, no matter how hard gravity tried.

"Are you ok?" he asked, clearly more worried than he really wanted to be.

"Just fine. Let's head back now though, ok?" She imagined that he probably held a sword in much the same grip, allowing herself to enjoy the feel of it for just a moment. Such a creature would make a good guardian, indeed.

He scooped her up as though she were a child, with one arm under her legs, the other around her back, and no effort at all. She smiled weakly at him.

"I guess that, between catching you and having to dispel such a powerful incantation, I've completely worn myself out." Jonahs couldn't help but chuckle.

"Very well played, Milady. Bluffing your way into becoming a Coelanth's master, even though you overexerted yourself in the process. Hid your weakness right up until the very end..." He gave a self-satisfied smile.

"I sense a 'but' at the end of that sentence," she added warily. He grinned even more broadly.

"BUT, you made one critical error. For all your apparent knowledge of our rare and arcane race, you revealed your weakness before I had a chance to bind to you with the traditional ritual. My soul crystal is still around my neck, and I could do whatever I like with you now and be on my merry way."

Milady only blinked, straight-faced, at the threat.

"But again, I'm a man of my word, and so will keep my promise to protect you. We'll conduct the ritual once I've got you safely back in your camp and you've rested up a bit." Milady looked down and away from him, smiling shyly. He bent carefully, so as not to jostle her, picked up his weapon (an unusually short quarterstaff with a broad, two-foot blade at one end) and headed for the door.

They were out in the moon and starlight again when she tapped him swiftly on the nose. He winced in surprise, then opened his eyes again, crossing them so as to be able to look at the offending finger still hovering close to his face.

"Well played, yourself," she purred. He jumped a lot more noticeably when her hand exploded into a brilliant halo of crackling blue magical energy. "I have MORE than enough power left to take your head CLEAN off. And I'm well aware that you're not Traditionally or Officially obligated to me in any way just yet. You passed your loyalty test with flying colors."

He stared at her, managed to paint a goofy look of disbelief over only half his face.

"Well, come on, let's go." She reached back and thwapped him on the rear much like one would a horse, making him jump a third time.

"YOU can very well WALK, so I've been shown." He started to set her down.

"What, no flying? I want to see the Hikarikaze! I'm your master, darnit, let's fly!"

The lanky half-man could only chuckle, and wonder just what it was that he'd gotten himself into. The four magical appendages of the hikarikaze unfurled from his back, forming an X of pure, dimly glowing energy, perfectly smooth and thinner than paper from the side. The two lower planes were shaped like elongated diamonds, the two upper the same but missing the last pointed foot of each.

He moved them back and forth a few times, stretching, then pressed ("pressed" is the closest the English language comes to describing the motion he actually performed). Brilliant white light lit the area and a violent wind burst up all around them, whipping and tearing at Milady's hair, all without so much as a movement from the wings.

"Cool," she purred again.

"Shall we go now?"

"We shall." A second, more focused blast of air sent the pair darting off into the night sky.

----- Back to Empress Eleanor's palace for the amazing conclusion! -----

The blade did far less damage to Monkey than you might imagine, given that he was now made of solid tin. He bounced across the granite tiles a few times before skittering to a stop a good fifty yards away.

Sit up, shake head, ook angrily at the giant rock demon. The cymbals seemed to be attached to his wrists via a sort of pivot joint, and he swung them to the outside, so as to get a better grip on the floor (monkeys run with all four appendages, you see, and the cymbals would get in the way). He ooked again and scampered back toward his opponent faster than a monkey should ever be allowed to go.

The distance between the two quickly vanished, thanks to Monkey's incredible speed. The Demon Lord was ready, sword swinging on an intercept path. An instant before the blow hit home, Monkey put on an extra burst of speed, and slid underneath the sword. He flipped around and shot straight up, slashing the monster from gut to nose with the razor edge of his cymbal. He kicked off it's head and flipped away in another amazing display of magical, cybernetic simian acrobatics, landing on all fours in an action pose that would've made Spider-Man jealous. He "ooked" happily into the camera and flashed a "V" sign with his fingers.

Thick black smoke poured from the huge gash in the Demon Lord's body, and it groaned feebly in pain.

Do you remember how your mother told you never to wrestle, play football, or do any number of other things in the house? Well, there's one thing she probably never taught you, but should've: never kill a Demon Lord indoors. Because in the finest Power Rangers tradition, they explode. A lot.

This one was no exception. A gigantic fireball blossomed out from the felled creature and engulfed the room, hurtling Monkey through the air again, though this time he made it all the way to, and through, the far wall. Raine, Carrie and a host of Coelanth soldiers had the misfortune of being the closest of the defensive ring to the explosion.

"BLAST SHIELD!" Carrie cried as she dove at a very surprised Raine, hoping to protect them both with a spell that was normally used while studying things like volcanoes and rocket engines. She wasn't worried about the Coelanths; as light and tough as they were, they'd be scattered like chaff but largely unhurt.

Flame wrapped around the bubble of the spell as the shockwave seized it and shoved, flinging them toward what would be a rather unhappy impact against a wall. Carrie saw and managed to use her meager telekinesis to alter their path, sending them blasting through a small door instead and into the outer chamber.

All was chaos as smoke cleared in the throne room and people could see again. Satin and Milady stood, unfazed, behind a wall of sapphire flame that was somehow harder than stone. Shadow beasts and Coelanths alike were strewn about the chamber. Milady couldn't see any of the travelers, although Jon was on the ground nearby, unconscious. Diamina herself was doubled over in an uncomfortable-looking position, both feet and face planted firmly into the ground, rear held high. Her sizable skirts had been flung up over her head by the blast, providing a fine view of a pair of delicate, girlishly pink panties.

"I can see you have a couple... problems to take care of," Satin grinned at her mother. "'Sister'," she sneered, "should know better than to use walking atom bombs as lieutenants. But I'll get out of your hair so you can clean up. Ta!" She waved, smiling brightly, and turned to skip away, but had vanished from sight by the time she was all the way around. A trailing afterimage of her smile faded a moment later.

"Damn," thought Milady. The one thing worse than having Satin here was having her somewhere else where Milady didn't even know what the girl was doing. So many dangerous unknowns: where Satin had been for nine hundred years, how much she had matured, how strong and crafty she had become. Gods were tricky like that; their relationship with Mortal Time was strange and slippery at it's best, making them very hard to keep tabs on.

She walked over to Jon, allowing the wall of blue flame to flicker and die, and stooped in front of him, pulling a silver chain out from under his shirt. Frozen in shining metal, the form of a wild, beautiful young girl hung at the bottom of the chain, her tiny hands held straight over her head, gripped onto one of the links. Delicate bat wings spread out from her shoulder blades behind her, and she was naked (although you can hardly blame such a free spirit as a fairy for wanting to be so).

"Grame, wake up." Milady nudged the figurine gently, then held her hand beneath it. It released the ring and tumbled into her palm, righting itself and shaking it's tiny head sleepily, stirring shoulder-length hair into a tiny cloud of silver spider webs. Blinking several times, the Microlanthe stared up at Milady with shining eyes.

"Two girls flew out through that door a moment ago," Milady pointed. "I need Jon here for now, but I think he'll want to know where they're going to be taken, so I'd like you to follow them instead." The tiny head nodded determinedly, stretched her bat wings, and flitted off.

"Good luck," Milady sighed, shaking Jon's shoulder. "Oi Jon, wake up, we've got work to do still."

<-- | -->