The Magic of Ahmen Khotec

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The Magic of Ahmen Khotec

Postby LilJennie » Wed Apr 20, 2022 9:04 pm

Miki and I have been working on this one for a while. We hope you enjoy! – Jennie

The Magic of Ahmen Khotec

By Miki Yamuri and Jennie Flint

Vacation had been fun, so far. It had been a long year and times had been hard. Fortunately, things had taken a turn for the better and Misty, who was about 5 feet tall and had long blond hair, and her very best friend, Alicia, who was about the same height and had red hair with a row of cute freckles across her button nose, had taken what was billed as a tour of a lost palace.

The area was a very large distance out into a desert amid many ruins of what was obviously a large abandoned city. The huge central area that was called the Palace, was the most intact structure in the large, ongoing, excavation.

As the guide led the small group into the gate leading down into the large excavated area, the guide said, “Make sure to all stay together. Don’t want anyone getting lost or falling into a sand trap.”

Misty and Alicia were completely captivated by the magnificent stonework and beautiful mural artwork that had survived intact. Each new area brought a different treasure into view.

The guide stopped for a moment and gestured towards a darkened opening in one wall, “Legends say that the great wizard Ahmen Khotec created some of his greatest magics within that chamber. It’s never been fully explored due to the many pitfalls and sand traps throughout the great hall.” She turned and gestured in the direction she began moving, “If everyone will follow me, I’ll show you the hanging gardens and the fountain of fire, which is actually still burning.”

As the guide and the rest of the party moved on, Misty took Alicia aside and whispered, “No one had explored that area in depth. If we are careful, we might discover something interesting.”

Alicia replied, “I don’t know … we might get into trouble going off on our own.”

As Misty turned on her very bright light and began looking into the large dark cavernous area, “Don’t be a chicken. I can already see new murals and things on the walls.”

Alicia watched as her friend entered the room. A chill went down her spine as she followed.

Deep within a side alcove in the darkened chamber, an artifact that had lain dormant for uncounted seasons awakened and recognized that two candidates had just entered the conjuring room. The spell it had been imbued with recognized immediately those two were perfect.

Alicia turned on her light and began exploring too. The murals on the wall told of great campaigns and untold exploits of ancient kings. “Not too terribly scary, I suppose,” she said quietly. “Just … battles and adventures, it looks like.” She made sure to point her light at the floor frequently, remembering the tour guide’s words about sand traps.

Alicia realized Misty had stopped and was looking at the floor. “What is it?” she asked.

On the floor within the circle of Misty’s light, mostly buried in the sand, was a medium-sized box made of some kind of strange milky crystal. On the lid were many strange squiggly symbols.

Misty replied as she knelt and began brushing the sand away, “It looks like some kind of … box of some kind. Thing is, it’s made of a crystal instead of wood or metal.”

Alicia knelt and began to help remove the sand, working carefully so as not to disturb the box too much. It was about 3 inches across, 4 inches deep, and 12 inches long. Once all the sand was cleared, Misty slowly removed the cover, which fit very tightly. Within was some sort of tapered rod that was the size of a pencil at one rounded end, and the size of their thumb at the leatherbound other end.

Misty said with awe in her voice, “If I didn’t think it was something else, I would swear this resembles a magic wand or something.”

“Um, well the guide did say that Ahmen Khotec was a wizard,” said Alicia. “But … those are all just stories, right?” She looked at the object, not wanting to touch it. “There might be a trap that goes off if we touch it,” she cautioned.

It was then that the sound of many voices started to become close enough and loud enough to hear. Shortly, the girls knew that a group was searching for them as they heard their names called out.

The tour guide had stopped at one of the prearranged points to give the individuals on the tour some refreshments and take a short break to rest. It was very hot and they had been walking for a while.

During the routine head count, it was realized there were two missing. It was quickly determined who was missing, so an immediate call went out to emergency rescue services to locate them. The many deep pits that had been filled with loose sand were everywhere. To step on one was like stepping into air, and the person would instantly sink to the bottom.

Alicia said softly, “Darn. Now we’re gonna be in trouble. They came looking for us.”

Misty replaced the top to the crystal box, “Not as much as you might think.” She stood and called out, “In here! We found an artifact I think you might want to examine.”

Six individuals decked out in spelunking gear entered the room carrying their bright lights, which lit up the area. Even more of the brightly colored and intact murals were revealed throughout the huge hall.

One of the individuals, who obviously was leading the group, came over and knelt beside the girls. His expression changed from one of sterness to amazement, “Great Scott! You actually found one of Ahmen Khotec’s fabled artifacts. I also see you were very careful in the way you uncovered it and mostly preserved the area.”

Another of the rescuers got on their radio and informed someone that a major find had just happened and the girls had been found safe.

The girls didn’t get away without a major admonishment and were shown one of the large sand traps close by. The heavy piece of loose mortar that was tossed into it vanished as if it had landed on water.

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That night, the girls’ dreams were filled with many vague images and whispering voices.

Meanwhile, in the conjuring room within the ruins, a softball-sized sphere of crystal in a side alcove began to glow a soft blue-white. After all this time, its waiting had come to an end. Two subjects had entered the conjuring room, and they were exactly perfect. It was time for the sphere to fulfill its purpose. It was time to insure that the new subjects were indoctrinated and took their proper places. The first step was the calling of a familiar for each of them.

In her dream, Alicia was a young toddler, in her mother’s house, in a playpen that was familiar from her childhood. Wobbly on her feet due to her weak baby legs and the thick diaper she was in, she stood up by holding onto the side, trying to peer out into the world beyond, but she couldn’t escape. Then she heard a vague whisper. At first she couldn’t understand what it was saying, but over time it became a bit clearer. “You … always wanted … know the truth … what lay beyond …”

It cleared up even more. “But even when you found out, you yearned to learn more … now you have been chosen … if you wish, a familiar will come to help you. Do you wish to go beyond?”

In her dream, the toddler Alicia babbled enthusiastically and tried to reach out of the playpen. “Very well,” said the voice.

A very cute little critter suddenly scampered into her sight. It stood on its hind legs and wiggled its nose at her for an instant. It looked like a mix of a squirrel and a ferret, with a bit of cat and rabbit thrown in.

It cocked it head to one side and started a soft musical babbling cooing sound. Alicia’s eyes grew large as she realized she could understand what it was saying.

“It cooed softly, “Hi, my name’s Snuggles. Can we be fwends? Gots tons ta teach ya if ya wannas.”

Alicia sat up in her bed with a gasp. She looked around the room she and Misty shared. Alicia saw Misty was mumbling in her sleep, although otherwise it appeared she was sleeping comfortably. Alicia was very glad they had managed to get a room with air conditioning in this warm land.

It was about then that Alicia noticed that the creature from her dream was sitting on its hind legs at the foot of her bed, wiggling its nose at her. She gasped and stared at it in fear at first. But it tilted its head and didn’t approach her, looking at her with its large, friendly eyes. It cooed at her, and somehow her mind decoded it into “Sleepy? Still time for sleeps? Maybe just sleeps.” It curled up into a ball at the foot of the bed and closed its eyes. Then it opened an eye and said, “Sleeps?”

“I’m still dreaming, that’s it,” Alicia mumbled to herself. “It’ll be gone in the morning.” She lay back down and pulled the sheet back over her.

Meanwhile, Misty was having a dream too. In Misty’s dream, she was sitting in a small, but warm pool, splashing around and making waves when she noticed an object about the size of a softball. It hovered just out of reach and glowed a soft pleasant blue color.

A small bit of fear tingled through Misty as the sphere seemed to speak. “Hi,” it said, “I’m called Spirit. Can we be friends? I have much to teach you.”

In her dream, Misty backed across the small pool to the other side. She asked, with a tinge of fear obvious in her voice, “Why … did you choose me?”

The sphere replied, “Have you ever wondered why? Or asked yourself what if?”

Misty’s fear ebbed as she thought about the question, “Yes. I ask that very thing a lot.”

The sphere replied, “Suppose one of those daydreams of yours actually came true?”

Misty woke up with a small gasp about that time and looked around the semi-darkened room. Curled up on the end of Alicia’s bed was a creature as adorable as any plushie, and it even looked like one. On the table next to her bed, she saw an ornately carved stand supporting a crystal sphere about the size of a softball sitting nestled within the stand’s arms, as the sphere glowed a very soft pulsing blue.

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Alicia woke up. The morning sun was streaming through the windows. She looked around. Misty was lying on her bed, the covers churned up around her, looking more as if she’d passed out from exhaustion than as if she’d peacefully gone to sleep, which was odd, considering she’d been sleeping peacefully enough when Alicia had last seen her.

That was when she noticed the orb sitting in its stand next to Misty’s bed.

“Ooh, that issa neatos choice fora familiar,” said the babbling, cooing voice Alicia remembered from her dreams, and she turned to see the small furry creature, who was also looking at the strange orb. “Looks just like the Orb of Sequention.”

“Orb of … Sequential?” asked Alicia quietly.

“Tha wizard Ahmen Khotec, he make the Orb of Sequention ta wait for some apprentices ta come someday ‘n learn his magics,” said the creature – Snuggles, hadn’t it said its name was?

“I didn’t see any orb when we were in the ruins,” said Alicia.

“It sawed you,” said Snuggles.

“I didn’t see one of … you either.”

“No no no,” said Snuggles, shaking his or her head. “Is not like that. Me? Wasn’t there. That? Not really tha Orb. We?” Snuggles pointed with a paw at the orb and him or herself. “We helpers. Tha Orb sended us. Taked forms outta your dreams. Here ta help you.”

“You’re … not a dream, are you?” asked Alicia.

“Nope nope,” said Snuggles. “Real like tha sand traps inna ruins.”

“Um, Misty?” Alicia said in a louder voice. “Misty? It’s morning …”

Misty rolled over and said “Merghenn …. Mmmpfh … “ and a few other things that were incoherent before she sat up in bed and rubbed one of her eyes. “What time is it …?” she saw the adorable creature from what she thought was a dream sitting on its hind legs looking at her. She quickly turned and looked at the table. The ornate stand was now gone, but the crystal orb was there floating, giving off a wonderful and soft pulsing blue glow.

Alicia said, “Welcome back to my nightmare.”

Misty looked at Alicia with big eyes and said, “They’re real … not a dream?”

A cute musical kind of voice came from the floating sphere that had begun to dance around the room in a comical manner, “We no dream, silly. But you have been chosen and we here ta helps you and shows you how.”

Snuggles giggled and said, “Is like this, you both are now to learn all of those Wizarding Wizdom thingys of Ahmen Khotec. Is sort of a gift for being brave or somepin likes that.”

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In a very well supplied archeological research facility, many PhDs and other technicians scanned, took pictures, and made as many observational notes as possible on this new artifact.

“The box has inscriptions engraved in its cover,” said Dr. Phyllis Lombardi. “They were hard to see, but they’re visible enough with magnification. They appear to be in ancient Etruscan, which is strange, since Ahmen Khotec wasn’t Etruscan, but legends about him say that he knew every language in the world – probably an exaggeration based on the fact that he simply knew quite a few.”

“That’s assuming that he really existed,” challenged Dr. Bruce Hanarski, scratching the black beard on his chin. “You can’t assume he was a real person. Of course the powerful legendary wizard spoke every language. It’s part of his legend.”

“Well, you can’t deny that this is Etruscan on this box,” said Dr. Lombardi, pointing at the magnified image on the monitor. “It says that two will come and take their place within the high circle of magic. And here it says that this wand is one of an exact set that is the sole property of the chosen.”

“Ah, so it’s a prophecy,” said Dr. Hanarski. “But … one of an exact set? A set of how many things? And what type of things?”

“It doesn’t say,” Dr. Lombardi replied. “Perhaps there are meant to be two wands, since it says that two will come? But if so, we haven’t found another. Or perhaps there are other types of items that simply haven’t been found.”

“Or perhaps they have been found, but haven’t been identified as part of this ‘set,’” said Dr. Hanarski. “The local museum has some artifacts that were found at the site, and other items found over the years are being studied at museums around the world. Any of them could be part of the ‘set’ the inscription mentions.”

“Well, it does say that the set will come together at the proper moment, to be claimed by the chosen two,” Dr. Lombardi said, gesturing at the image. “Now whether Ahmen Khotec was a real person around whom a legend grew, or whether he was merely a legend not based on a historical man, our task must be to find out what we can learn from this artifact about the culture in which it was made.”

“Yes,” said Dr. Hanarski. “Well, first of all, there’s the milky quartz it seems to have been carved from. I’ll see if I can find out where that stone might naturally occur, whether it’s native to the area …”

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“So … why are we here at this rock quarry?” asked Alicia, brushing her red hair out of her face, although the wind kept blowing it around. “Are there … magical rocks here or something?”

Snuggles looked up at her and replied, “Tha thingies you need … they are in boxes and tha stone for tha boxes comed from this place long ago.”

Snuggles hopped over to a fist sized chunk of loose crystal and pushed it with her nose. Once she had pushed the crystal to Misty’s feet, it sat on its hind legs and said, “What ya needsa does is pick up that crystals an bof of you hold it. Next, needsa chant this, Far away lost to sight, bring across in rapid flight. One is found, other lost, bring to hand to rightful owner safe and sound.”

Alicia and Misty looked at each other for a minute before Misty picked up the crystal. As soon as Alicia touched it too, it began to glow and vibrate in a musical way.

In the archeological facility, in plain sight of many researchers, the ornate box, its lid, and the wand that had been nestled within for so many years, all suddenly vanished in a silver flash of light.

One of the researchers commented in complete astonished awe, “Apparently, Ahmen Khotec was more than a legend. In my entire life, I have never seen an artifact just vanish …”

The crystal both girls had in their hands seemed to split in two and become two crystals. Then, in a small flash of silver light, the girls each were holding a box, about 3 inches across, 4 inches deep, and 12 inches long. Each of them removed the top of her box in her hand to reveal a beautifully crafted wand.

“Is … is this what we found in the ruins?” asked Alicia.

“Yea!” replied Snuggles. “One of em is. Other one was in a different place far away. But they belong to you. You tha chosen ones. An’ there is more.”

“There are more … what?” asked Alicia.

“There more thingies to find yet,” said Snuggles. “Try holdin tha wand an’ say tha words again.”

Alicia and Misty both picked up their wands and held them in one hand. Together they repeated the words another time.

In another, although much larger flash of silver light, a rather large and finely carved chest appeared. Alicia stooped and ran her hand across the ornately carved lid to make sure what she was looking at was for real.

Misty said, “This is getting weirder and weirder.”

The glowing sphere that was Misty’s familiar seemed to giggle, then said, “Is ya opena chest, Think u gotsa nice surprise inside.”

Misty looked at Alicia who shrugged. Misty went to the hasp, which looked as if it were made of solid gold. She said, “I don’t see how to open …”

It was about that time Alicia took her wand and pointed it at the hasp with a dramatic flourish, “I command you to unlock and open.”

This time, the flash was very bright blue accompanied by loud clacking noises. The lock fell from the hasp, and it and the lid of the chest opened. Amid bright showers of golden light, the girls could see two really cute outfits, several kinds of pouches, and many different types of crystals.

Misty’s eyes grew large as she said in awe, “Darn, this is like in the movies or something. I mean, I never really believed in magic before.”

Snuggles giggled, “Maybes not … but it believes in you. Good job openin’ tha chest, ‘Licia!”

“Oh, it just popped into my head that if we were supposed to be able to open the chests, there should be a way to do that,” Alicia said. “It was nothing.”

“Magic alla bout ideas,” said Snuggles. “Has good ones … make good magic. Has bad ones … makes no good magic.”

Around that time the two of them saw a car drive up on the road – quite a distance from them, but this quarry was out in the country in a sparsely populated area. “Who could that be?” Misty asked. “I doubt it’s a coincidence that they’re here now.”

“You no gotsa stay here,” said Snuggles.

“These things chose you,” said the floating orb. “They helps you keep holda them.”

“I want to find out who that is,” said Alicia. A balding man with a black beard was coming toward them. He appeared to be wearing a blue suit and carrying a briefcase.

“Well, OK,” said Misty. “I don’t think we’re breaking any laws by being here. But I’m not sure.”

They waited for the man to come to them, on the stone shelf, holding their wands. The man finally came close enough to see Snuggles and the floating orb. He paused in his approach. Alicia and Misty smiled and waved at him, so he cautiously came closer.

“Err, hello, young ladies,” said the man. “My name is Dr. Bruce Hanarski of the Frederick Noland Archeological Institute. I came here to investigate the quartz stone of the region, because this site has been quarried for that type of stone since antiquity. You see, we’ve found an artifact made of it …”

His eyes fell upon the boxes that Misty and Alicia had set down near their feet, as well as the open chest.

“But you have … what appear to be two boxes just like the one we found! As well as that chest! How … where …”

“Oh!” said Alicia. “Are you studying these things? I’ll bet you can learn a lot about the past from them! They seem to have chosen us, but I don’t know why you can’t look at them.” She picked up her box. “Here,” she said, holding it out for him.

Taking the box, Dr. Hanarski looked closely at it, adjusting his glasses. “Yes,” he said, “this appears to be identical to the one we found, or as nearly so as makes no difference. And the other one?” Misty held it up for him to examine as well. “Fascinating,” he said. “That one is completely identical as well, as far as I can tell upon first examination. And there is this larger chest?”

“Be our guest,” said Misty, “but remember, the contents chose us.”

“The … contents … chose you?” he repeated in confusion. “Although I admit that I’m bewildered by that statement, the fact is that I have no interest in taking or stealing anything from anyone. I’m only seeking knowledge. Is there by any chance an inscription on the chest? Might I be permitted to examine it, and perhaps take photographs?”

The two young women agreed, and Dr. Hanarski spent some time taking pictures of the boxes, the chest, its contents, and even Snuggles and the floating orb, whose existence caused him even more confusion. “Now, I originally came here to examine the stone found here – so I plan to do that, but is there a way I can get in touch with you if I have more questions?” Both Misty and Alicia gave him their mobile phone numbers, and he gave them his, as well as the Institute’s.

As Dr. Hanarski continued to explore the quarry and take rock samples for the lab, Misty and Alicia spoke quietly. “Do you think one of these boxes vanished from his Institute?” asked Alicia.

“If so, he doesn’t seem to know about it,” Misty said. “Maybe it happened while he was already on his way here.”

“So he was already heading here, not knowing we were here already?” Alicia wondered. “That seems like quite a coincidence.”

“Wif magic, there is no really coincidences,” said Snuggles quietly.

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In the land of Alagyr in the far distant past, the mighty wizard Ahmen Khotec gazed into his crystal orb and watched the images of two pretty young women and their assigned familiars. He knew beyond a shadow of doubt that they would be the perfect ones. He had chosen them many centuries before they had even been born and made arrangements to train them in the traditional manner.

But he also knew that he had enemies, and they would try to prevent him from passing on his knowledge to any successors. They wanted themselves and their own successors to hold all the magical power in the world, and the elimination of a rival meant more to them than maintaining the balance of the universe.

Ahmen Khotec would have to be very careful with the initial time slip to bring them back to the finest instructors in the fine arts of magic without scaring them completely to death. That would be difficult, for more than one reason …

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In the present, Misty and Alicia studied the large tome that Spirit had conjured. With the adorable antics of Snuggles doing animated pantomimes of the motions while Spirit taught the proper enunciations required to get the simple spell of color transference to work, the glyphs and symbols in the book showed them exactly what they had to do.

Misty and Alicia looked up and then at each other as something like a small chime sounded pleasantly. Spirit said in a strange tone, “Prepare yourselves. It is time to meet your instructors.”

Misty and Alicia found themselves seated at a large table stacked with many volumes of antiquated scrolls and other mysterious artifacts.

A man in a grand hooded robe waved one of his large sleeved arms as he said, “Welcome to the first day of class. Ahmen said you would be disoriented when you arrived. Relax; there is no danger. I am the wizard Dark Lord, and I have been tasked with teaching you all I am able.” His voice was deep, but patient sounding.

“No! Stay back, demon!” shouted a voice. A figure dressed in shining white robes trimmed with gold appeared. It looked like a young man with blond hair and ice blue eyes. To Misty and Alicia, he said, “Don’t worry, young ladies; I’m here now, and I’ll protect you from this evil sorcerer. He will only fill your heads with lies.”

“What?” said Dark Lord. “I do not know who this man is, nor has he given you any name or any reason to trust him. But it is also true that you have no reason to trust me. Use your skills and intuition, then, and choose whom to believe. This will be your first test. A bit earlier than I’d have liked, but sometimes these things can’t be helped.”

“Stop trying to mislead them, foul demon; it won’t work!” said the man in white. “Come with me, and I will protect you from the forces of darkness!”

Snuggles looked agog at the man in white, and Alicia looked at him incredulously. She looked at Dark Lord. She looked at the mystery man again. Then she looked at Misty. The two of them nodded.

“He’s right,” said Alicia.

“Good, then come with –” began the man in white robes.

“Not you,” said Misty. “You’re some sort of impostor. Dark Lord gave us a name to call him. You didn’t. Who even are you? And where do you propose to take us?”

“Besides,” said Alicia, “What kind of misleading impostor would call himself ‘Dark Lord?’ If someone wanted to fool us, don’t you think he, she, or they would assume an appearance that made them look noble, good, on the side of the angels, and so on?”

“It could be some sort of reverse psychology trick,” said Dark Lord.

“What’s more,” added Misty, “Dark Lord himself pointed out that we had no reason to trust him. He did it again just now. You, Mr. White Knight, do you deny that we have no reason to trust you either?”

“But … he’s evil!” said the man in white.

“How do we know that?” asked Alicia. “How do we know you aren’t? Can’t evil disguise itself as good? Go away.”

“Noooooooooooo!” cried the man in white, his image warping and twisting into inhuman forms as he faded away into the shadows.

Dark Lord watched. Once the interloper had vanished, he turned to the two girls again. “So, you think you have made the correct choice?”

“Err, why?” asked Alicia with sudden uncertainty. “Didn’t we?”

“I mean, you’ll just have to find out, won’t you?” Dark Lord said, shrugging under his dark robe. “I could always say yes, but I could be lying. I do want you both to know that Ahmen Khotec had his enemies, and they have passed their power down to their successors over the generations. They would prefer not to have you as rivals. That character who just appeared – and disappeared – was probably sent by one of them. And I doubt that will be their last attempt to interfere.”

“Guess we’d better keep our eyes open,” said Misty.

“Hmm,” said Dark Lord, nodding in seeming approval. “Instead of interfering with your education, it seems they taught you your first lesson, and it’s a very important one. You have entered a world where very little is as it seems at first, and you should never forget that. Never. Now, as I was saying, I am the wizard Dark Lord. I am an ally of Ahmen Kotec, who passed away long ago from your point of view, but his wish is for his knowledge and wisdom to be passed down to his chosen successors – you two. And therefore I’m to get your training started.”

“The stuff we can’t learn from the book, or from our familiars?” asked Alicia.

“Why would you say that?” Dark Lord asked.

“B … because otherwise, why would you be necessary?” Alicia replied nervously. “Why would Ahmen Khotec have gone to all the trouble to arrange for you to be here, and for us to be here with you?”

“And why would he have taken the risk, allowing a chance for his rivals to send some kind of spirit or illusion or whatever to interfere?” asked Misty.

“Very good,” said Dark Lord. “Yes, indeed, there is much more that cannot be learned from books, and although their knowledge is great, familiars have only one point of view, and you must learn others.”

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As Dark Lord cast some sort of warding magic over the vicinity to prevent more intrusions, Misty and Alicia studied hard. None of the words they read seemed to make any sense. The more they tried, the more like scribbles it appeared to be.

Snuggles came up and giggled, “Is cuz you no inna right mind ta reads it.”

Misty looked over and said in frustration, “I only have this mind. What other is there?”

Spirit began to glow brightly as the girls felt a wonderful tingling surge all through their bodies. They suddenly realized that they were toddlers, and the scribbles now meant something.

It wasn't long before Misty and Alicia were creating simple glimmering illusions of small creatures and butterflies that floated and cavorted around the room. Dark Lord watched and nodded in approval at their major regression achievement. To the girls, everything seemed normal, but to the Floppit and Spirit, this was just plain fun.

After an undefinable amount of time, Alicia and Misty found themselves feeling as if they were waking up from a deep sleep full of pleasant dreams. Blinking once or twice, Alicia looked around, then her eyes fell on the book near her on the table. “Still looks like chicken scratches,” she said. “But … I seem to remember being able to read it … or was that a dream?”

“Me too,” Misty said. “But we weren’t dreaming, were we?” She turned and looked at Dark Lord, whose face was as usual hidden by the hood of his robe.

“Ahmen Khotec began learning about magic when he was just a toddler,” said the wizard. “To learn his most fundamental spells, your minds must become the same. Adults cannot comprehend.”

“Wait, so we were toddlers? Were we really crawling on the floor?” asked Alicia.

“In mind, yes,” the wizard replied. “It enabled you to build an instinctive understanding of the basics – which you probably still have. Try the butterfly spell.”

“Butterfly …?” said Misty, making a hand gesture and saying a strange phrase. Suddenly it seemed as if a colorful butterfly were fluttering around the room. “Whoa …”

“You have learned too much,” said Dark Lord. “You have learned that the world is a certain way and the laws of nature work like so. But that isn’t fully true.”

“I have another question, Mr. Dark Lord,” said Alicia. “Those people, the rivals of Ahmen Khotec you talked about. Why do they just want to keep Ahmen Khotec’s power from being passed down? Why don’t they want to steal it for themselves?”

“Ah, yes, a good question,” said the wizard. “Well, as I said, they all had magical secrets passed down to them from their teachers, and they from theirs, back to Ahmen Khotec’s time. But what are these magical secrets? All consist of knowledge and wisdom – the knowledge of how to summon forth the power of magic, and the wisdom to know when to do so, and when not to. But their knowledge and wisdom isn’t the same as what you’ll be learning. They believe that the magic they know is just as powerful as Ahmen Khotec’s – though I know they are wrong. They believe they have no use for the knowledge, and the wisdom is completely at odds and cannot be reconciled with what they have learned.”

“It’s an incompatible philosophy?” asked Misty.

“Precisely,” said Dark Lord. “They don’t believe in Ahmen Khotec’s wisdom, so in their hands, it truly would be useless. But … they can stop others from learning it, and that’s what they tried to do earlier. And they will try again, I have no doubt.”

“Why not just … kill us when we were children?” asked Alicia.

“They had no way of knowing that you would be the chosen ones,” replied the wizard. “There was no way to tell you apart from any other children … until you activated the artifacts in the ruins. They must have had spells, or spies, watching those ruins for any signs of activity. But yes, killing you would be the most effective way to prevent the secrets from being passed down, so you must be careful, and we must all be vigilant for any sign of another attempt. Now, there are a few spells I know of that could help, so let me teach them to you …”

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In a rather damp cavern, where the only light came from smelly, smoky sconces, a rather large fireplace, and several large red and black candles sitting on the huge round table, many individuals both male and female sat around while another perused an ancient tome of magics.

One individual, dressed in an outfit that was as red as fresh blood, his face hidden in the hood over his head, read the extremely large and obviously very old tome. On each page he turned, the arcane words on the pages seemed to catch fire.

“What’s it foretell, Dragoth?” asked one of the women, who was dressed in pure ebony black.

He replied with a tone of frustration, “Not so sure, Eltherian. It seems that Ahmen has created some sort of ripple in the fabric of the Etherium. I know they are here, but I can’t find them anywhere.”

Another asked in a deep growly voice, “Are we thwarted?”

Dragoth replied with a grunt, “Don’t think so. Only problem, those two don’t seem to be in this particular timeslip. Not sure where they are. We do need to find out so we can stop them.”

Another of the women in ebony black said as she put a strange looking object to her forehead, “Lets see what the Eye has to say.”

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Misty and Alicia both looked at each other at the same time. “Is that …?” asked Alicia.

“Why, yes, I believe someone is attempting to scry upon us,” said Dark Lord.

“It feels like … a tingle going up my spine,” said Misty.

“Issa mystic presence,” said Spirit. “Scry spell makes a … thingie.”

“Whenever a spellcaster scries, by any means, they separate a part of themselves and send it forth, embodied in a magical vessel,” Dark Lord explained.

“Like … a part of their soul?” asked Alicia.

“That would be truly foolish,” said the wizard. “No, they send a small fragment of their psyche, their mind, so that the rest of it can sense what the small piece sees. If they don’t, they won’t see anything.”

“Could they send the vessel out without a part of themselves, and then collect what they saw after it got back?” asked Misty.

“That would work,” said Dark Lord, “if nothing happened to intercept the vessel before its return. If it were lost, so would be everything it had seen.”

“So is one of those things here?” asked Alicia.

“One is trying to find you,” said Dark Lord. “The spell can send the scrying vessel through space and time, in search of its target. It’s searching. And it’s a strong one. I’m guessing some sort of artifact.”

“What can we do?” Misty asked.

“Well, it will eventually find this place – they won’t be able to get in, but it’ll tell them where you are. They’ll be able to assault it more strongly after that. Unless …”

“Ooo, this is the thing where we touch fingers right?” asked Alicia, laying her right hand down on the table near Misty.

“Yes, we combine our strength,” said Misty, laying her left hand down, lightly touching Alicia’s fingers. Together they chanted, “Let our powers now combine. What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine.” They both felt a tingle like an electric current flowing through their fingers.

“Very good,” said Dark Lord. “You combine quite naturally, and the result is a great deal more than simply the sum of your powers. This may be one reason why Ahmen Khotec chose you. Now, feel that tingle down your spine? That’s the signature of the scrying vessel that’s seeking you … find it, and then …”

They closed their eyes and reached out, using the tingling chill in their spines as a guide. “I’ve got it!” both young women said at the same time.

“Excellent,” said Dark Lord. “Now, remember the spell. You’ve only learned some illusions so far, but that’s all we need. Show it. Show it a false reality.”

“Oh, I know …” Alicia said, and Misty quickly picked up on her idea.

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“Yes,” said the woman in black. “The Eye never fails. I have found them.”

“Excellent, Verbena!” said Eltherian. “Where are they? What sort of protected enclave have they ensconced themselves within? A Sphere of Eldrath? A Kamerand’s Box? A Shield of Celestial Tranquility?”

“I see … just a building,” said Verbena. “A tall, tall building such as people build in the cities of the modern world. With many rooms, all alike. Do they think to confuse us with mere architecture? How foolish. I see where they are …”

Dragoth said, “There must be some protective ward! Ahmen wouldn’t just leave them undefended.”

“I see … what? The room they are in … its walls are covered in wards drawn with blood! And what is this? Every room on that story … its inhabitants, slain or dying, their blood used for this ritual.”

“That doesn’t sound like Ahmen,” said Dragoth. “He was always such a goody-two-shoes. He’d go out of his way to save a kitten caught in a tree.”

“All I tell you is what I see,” said Verbena. “I cannot see within the room. The wards of blood magic are too strong for even the Eye to push through. I know, for I have tried this. The two girls, whoever they are, are ruthless, willing to murder others to protect themselves.”

“I can respect that,” said Eltherian. “But we were expecting weak novices. They have learned quickly.”

“We will need to be careful,” said Dragoth. “If they are that ruthless, we must not engage them directly. That would be a great risk to ourselves and everything we have built. They would tear us down in revenge.”

“No,” said Verbena. “You are correct. We must not risk a confrontation. We must instead focus on interfering with the transfer of power. We must find Ahmen’s other artifacts.”

A groan went through the crowd of others at the table. “But we’ve been searching for them for centuries, both we and our forebears,” said a wizened old man in a simple black suit. “We have found nothing.”

“We weren’t working together then,” said Dragoth. “If we pool our resources, we will certainly find them. And we can destroy them to prevent them from falling into the hands of Ahmen’s bloodthirsty but determined successors.”

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“The tingly feeling is gone,” said Misty.

“Ah, then they have withdrawn their spell,” said Dark Lord. “What is it that you showed them?”

“Well, we didn’t know what they’d believe,” said Misty, “so we showed them something out of their own imagination, something they knew would work. We allowed their own worst fears to show them images. We did nothing else.”

“Hm!” said Dark Lord. “That’s impressive. You actually read something out of the mind of the scryer. What did it end up being?”

“Pretty gruesome, I’m afraid,” said Alicia. “It looks like they think we’re the kind of people who would murder everyone in a whole story of an apartment building just to protect ourselves with … blood magic, which I guess is magic that uses blood and violence?”

“Indeed it is,” said Dark Lord. “It’s not Ahmen Khotec’s way, but it is the way of some of his rivals. So, they now think you’re the sort who would go on a killing spree, collect the blood, and cast wards with it. What will they do now, I wonder? They pulled away, so they’re probably worried about what you might do to them. Now they’re going to try something less direct. Hmmm …” The wizard seemed lost in thought.

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The girls found themselves suddenly beside a beautifully gardened pool. Large lime-green butterflies fluttered and flitted around the glowing abundance of flowers growing in an artistically arranged way.

Dark Lord appeared in a golden flash. “This is the Pool of All Knowledge. Its title can be a bit misleading; however, it can provide a great deal of knowledge if the right questions are asked.”

In the middle of the pool, where several large-leaved plants grew in the water, bubbles began to rise, then a sparkling tinkling ice-like water spray began. Amid a silvery glow, a really cute female shape appeared, dressed in the water spray.

“Misleading?” it said in a pouty little girl’s voice. “Everything I ever told you was always the truth as best as I knew.”

Dark Lord chuckled, “I know, Sweetheart, that’s why you’re so trusted. But both of us know, you’re far from knowing everything.”

“Says you,” said the water sprite as she stuck out her tongue, then she turned to the girls and said, “Ask and I’ll tell no lies … see what wisdom buys.” The sprite looked at the girls with what appeared to be a real eagerness.

Misty and Alicia looked at each other for an instant before Alicia had a mischievous expression come across her pretty face. She asked, “OK, what do you get when you adiabatically demagnify 64 gallons of CO2 by 2,600 PSI?”

The sprite giggled, “Aww, darn. Thought you would give me something hard. Assuming initial conditions of standard air temperature and barometric pressure, that would make almost a pound of what you call dry ice.”

Misty piped up and asked, “Why did Ahmen Khotec choose us?”

This time, the sprite took on a serious expression and replied, “Because, out of all the many people on the earth in this era, the two of you were the only ones he considered worthy to take on the enormous task before you.”

“But what …” Alicia started asking another question, but thought better of it. “No, if I ask why he considered us worthy I’m just going to get another circular answer. He decided on some particular criteria, and we fit it, whatever they were. Who sent an illusion to deceive us right after we met Dark Lord?”

The sprite made a thoughtful expression and replied, “I wasn’t’ there, but I did sense the disturbance. That felt like Regari Draken’s magic to me, so I’d say Dragoth, the current holder of his power. Can’t be 100% certain, but if I had to guess, that’s who’d I’d pick.”

“Dragoth,” said Dark Lord with not a small amount of contempt in his voice. “I look forward to tangling with him again.”

“Why is Dark Lord helping us?” asked Misty suddenly.

“Because he owed Ahmen Khotec a favor,” said the sprite. “After he trains you to a reasonable level of competence in Ahmen Khotec’s magical style, he can finally rest.”

“Rest?” asked Misty. “He hasn’t slept since Ahmen Khotec was alive?”

Dark Lord interrupted. “I’m right here,” he said. “But I suppose you wouldn’t know whether I was telling the truth if you’d just asked me. I should be dead, my spirit gone to its rest in the afterlife, but I made a promise to Ahmen, and a magical promise transcends even death – to an extent. I’m only still alive, if you can call it that, because of that promise.”

Alicia gulped. “You mean you postponed your death to keep your promise to him?” she asked.

“Correct,” said Dark Lord.

“Why are you called Dark Lord?” asked Misty. “That’s kind of an ominous name.”

“It’s a long story –” the wizard began.

“Why’s he called Dark Lord?” Alicia asked the sprite.

The sprite closed her eyes and simply said, “His magic has to do with manipulating darkness and shadows. And he’s used lots of it to conceal his true name, because your true name can be used to cast spells on you.”

“Wait, does that mean we have to change our names?” asked Misty.

“It’s not like that,” said the sprite. “You see, every sentient being has a true name that can only be discovered with magic. I mean, you’re Misty, and that’s Alicia, but those aren’t your true names – those are just the names your parents gave you. Your true names are inscribed in the Akashic Record beyond the Astral Plane, and they have been since before you were born. Dark Lord has probably already taken steps to conceal them so your rivals won’t find them.”

“Some of those first spells I taught you,” said the wizard.

“Oh, so that’s what those were,” Alicia said. Dark Lord’s head nodded beneath the hood of his robe.

“How’d you get to be an all-knowing fountain sprite?” asked Misty.

“I was just an ordinary water sprite, but I made a deal with Ahmen,” the sprite said. “He noticed that I was always a curious sort, so I got to know everything, while he got a source of information. It’s a lot more interesting than just being a nixie or a naiad.”

“But Ahmen’s dead,” said Alicia. “If we’re going to be his successors, do you have to renew your deal with us?”

“OK, now I see why he picked you,” the sprite replied. “Yes, once you get to the level of expertise where you could either renew or release the deal, I do have to choose whether to continue this job. And before you ask, yes, that’s the case with all of Ahmen’s lingering spells that remain active after his death. Once you get to the point where you could cast the spell yourself, you’ll have to either renew the spell, or not, as you choose.”

“How do we find all of Ahmen Khotec’s lingering spells?” asked Misty.

“He should have a book of them somewhere,” the sprite answered. “Dark Lord probably knows where it is. You can’t leave lingering spells after you die without having some kind of anchor for them, and Ahmen liked to keep track of them in books.”

Dark Lord added, “There are several, in different locations, and I’ll show them to you when you get to their level of learning.”

“What level are we at now?” asked Alicia.

“Well, can you cast a light spell?” the sprite asked.

Lux sit,” said Alicia, waving her wand, and then there was a glowing orb of light hovering in the air near her head.

“And you haven’t even slept once since you started,” said the sprite. “You’re quick. You’ll be hitting the first renewal soon, probably tomorrow.”

“Let me be the judge of that,” said Dark Lord.

“Fine, fine,” said the sprite, waving one hand dismissively, “your teacher will be the one who decides when you’re ready, but you’re coming along fast.”

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Misty and Alicia found the water sprite to be nice, friendly, and very dependable. They actually became very good friends. It might not know everything, but it knew enough to teach the girls many new tricks and spells … enough that Dark Lord had taken them to the darkest, nastiest, most depression-causing place and set them up for their first trials of passage.

Before leaving them to their task, Dark Lord said softly, “Take your time, for time here has no meaning. Things will not always be as they appear. It is up to you to navigate this area and complete the trials. I cannot help this time; it’s all on you.” He then vanished in a flash of golden light.

Alicia said as she looked around the very dismal and depressing place, “I think we had better be very careful. No telling what’s lying around waiting to eat us.”

The landscape was the ruins of a smashed and broken city. It looked as if a bombing had leveled the entire place. Everything was covered in a gray dust. Nothing moved, despite a bleak wind that constantly whistled through the broken remnants of buildings. The light was dim, as if the dust in the air was filtering out most of the sunlight, but not quite all of it. If this was daylight, night would be like being inside a black velvet bag.

Misty replied as she took her wand from its leather case and gave it a graceful flick that produced a soft white light that pushed the depressing shadows back, “Shoot, we’re too small for two bites and too big for just one.”

The girls laughed until the first greasy, firey, brimstone-smelling appearance of what looked like a cross between a heavily armored and armed pig and some kind of lizard. It crossed its two swords, and with a ringing, slashing motion, it filled the air with sparks as it leapt towards the girls.

Misty waved her hand nonchalantly. There was a huge bright flash as she said, “In the light of truth, show what is.” The beast vanished, and a really strange looking very small creature stood in its place with a really dazed and confused manner about it. Misty said with a snarky tone, “Gotta do better than that. I know what a glamor is when I see one.”

The creature looked like an extremely skinny hairless rat that stood on two legs. But when it regained its composure, it said, “So, you think you are the ones who know what reality is? In the light of truth, show what is!” It raised its arms, and suddenly it seemed to be holding aloft a huge ball of white light that then exploded.

Alicia and Misty shook their heads in disorientation. They were still in the same windswept ruined cityscape, but they then realized that they were both little girls, no older than about four years, and neither of them had wands or magical raiment, just tattered dresses. Their faces and hair were dirty, and they looked like refugees of this dismal place. “This is all you are!” cackled the small creature. “Just tiny humans, living out your puny existence on this moldering rock! Nothing you do makes any difference. But I, Screethe, can leave this place, and you cannot. Farewell!” It vanished in a cloud of dust that blew by.

“Wait, what?” asked Alicia, her voice sounding tinier than ever against the constant howling wind. “He can take our wands? That’s not even fair!”

“Remember, the wands make it easier, but we don’t need them,” Misty replied.

“OK, but what do we do?” Alicia said. “We don’t know where we are or what that thing even was!... Wait a minute.”

“What?”

“We can’t be that lucky,” said Alicia. “That must have been a clue. Screethe, we conjure thee and command you to stand before us once more.”

Misty caught on. “Its name! It gave us its name! Screethe, we conjure thee and command you to stand before us once more.”

Alicia repeated the words a third time, and the creature appeared again in a cloud of dust. “What do you want? You can’t make me do anything.” it said petulantly.

“Yes we can,” said Misty. “Screethe, we command thee to take us to Dark Lord.”

“What? I don’t have to do anyth –”

“Screethe, we command thee to take us to Dark Lord,” said Alicia.

“I told you, I don’t –”

“Screethe,” Misty said the words a third time, “we command thee to take us to Dark Lord.”

“Fine!” said the creature. “Anything to make you go away.” It grabbed at the hem of each of their dresses with its scraggly claws. They were surrounded by a cloud of gray dust, and when it cleared, they were in a large, dark room, where Dark Lord stood, surrounded by tall bookcases full of arcane tomes. “Here,” said Screethe. “There’s Dark Lord, and I’m outta here.” The creature disappeared in another cloud of dust.

“I am really quite impressed,” said Dark Lord. “Instead of trying to get your wands or ages back, you focused on the task at hand.”

“So we pass?” asked Alicia.

“Not yet,” said Dark Lord, “but almost. You still need to find your wands and other gifts. And no, Screethe didn’t steal them. Where would he put them? He doesn’t have any pockets.”

“But we’re still little girls!” said Alicia in her tiny high voice.

“Well, wait,” said Misty, her voice also tiny and high-pitched. “Are we?”

“But Screethe cast the spell to reveal the truth,” Alicia said. “And what are we except children who have grown bigger?”

“But that’s exactly what we were before,” said Misty. “Wait, who says he cast the truth revealing spell?”

“But he said the words,” Alicia said.

“He said some words, sure,” said Misty. “But we know you can say any words, right?” She held her arms wide, palms open, and incanted, “Light of truth, reveal what is!”

Suddenly Alicia and Misty were as they were before – appearing to be 18 years old, dressed in their magical vestments, and holding their wands. Dark Lord was nodding beneath his robe’s hood.

“Oh, I see!” said Alicia. “They never went anywhere! He cast a glamor upon us using the words of the true sight spell!”

“Yes, very good,” Dark Lord said. “Your adversaries may use the very words of their spells to deceive. Know their magic by what it does, not by the words they use.”

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The girls studied very hard and learned their lessons very well. Some lessons they apparently already knew, but they just didn’t realize what to do with what they had until a proper situation presented itself for them to understand.

The Water Spirit taught them how to present mist as cover. This provided a passive way to confuse an enemy without expending large amounts of ethereal energies and allowing for discovery through arcane means.

After many weeks of hard tasks and much study, Dark Lord allowed the girls three days off to do as they pleased. Both of them had decided to go down to the large lake and basically have a picnic and swim in the crystal clear waters. Of course, both of them knew to place the wards to keep the large water serpents away while they swam.

While the girls were laid out tanning, some weird thing came whizzing loudly by them and landed directly into the bowl with the potato salad in it. What the disgusting object looked like, upset the girls badly.

Alicia stood and shook her fist in the direction the … smelly object had come and shouted, “By the great beard of Szither Zakkol, I command retribution of three times three.”

A very loud scream of pure agony echoed across the lake as some kind of ugly creature stumbled from the shadows covered in gooey thick brown smelly stuff that also seemed to be burning. The smell was like a really backed up sewer.

It was more than obvious that the creature was going to die. Its flesh had been burned off and seriously infected by the brown gooey mess that continued to rapidly consume the rest of the critter.

Misty walked over to the smoldering smelly lump of gooey flesh and spat on it, “You just had to ruin some of the best potato salad I ever tasted. Well, now you can say your own crap got you.”

Alicia and Misty looked at each other then laughed. It was about that time they realized something other than a water serpent was rising from the lake. From what it looked like, about two dozen water hydra soldiers, fully armed and armored, were now advancing on them.

Alicia commented as she dug her wand from the carry bag, “Darn, and I thought we had time off.”

Misty replied as she tossed a large ball of blueish energy towards the first few in the approaching group, “Perhaps we do. Doesn’t mean they do.”

The energy impacted and exploded. The massive amount of fury surprised the girls as a huge firey divot appeared throwing large chunks of fire and debris for yards. Many of the advancing soldiers no longer existed in any form other than some sort of gooey paste.

The rest of the advancing hydra warriors stopped and looked at each other for an instant before vanishing back into the the depths of the lake.

Something like a large gong sounded. A bright cloud of light appeared, and a small voice came from it, “The lesson has been well learned and proven by combat. Return to Dark Lord, it is time to advance.”

“What?” said Alicia in absolute astonishment. “This was a lesson? He told us we had the time off!”

Misty added, “Yeah, not fair!”

“Well, you know what?” Alicia said. “He said we had three days. I think we should take three days.”

“Yes! We should!” agreed Misty.

The two young women used their wands and their newfound knowledge to clean up the lakeshore, renewed their wards, and relaxed by the water some more. Eventually Alicia took out and started reading a small book that she had found in Dark Lord’s library. Misty practiced manipulating the lake’s water with her wand.

“Look what I can do!” Misty called out. She was standing on the surface of the lake, and as she raised her wand, a column of water rose up beneath her, lifting her up as if it was an elevator.

“Wow! That’s amazing!” said Alicia. “I’ll have to try that! But I’ve been reading about something.” She held her wand above a sand castle she’d been building and focused. A tiny drop of a sparkling, glowing liquid fell from the tip onto the sand castle. When it hit the sand, it transformed into transparent glass. “Transmutation. One material into a related material is easiest.”

“What about water to ice?” asked Misty, still atop her column of water.

“Hmm,” said Alicia. She held her wand out to the side, walked closer to Misty’s water column, which was only a short distance off shore, and flicked the tiny glowing drop toward the column of water. Instantly it was frozen into a column of crystal-clear ice, with Misty on top. “Looks like ice works! That book on transmutation is really very interesting.”

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Their familiars taught them more about transmutations than any of the tomes of magic did. Then, since the girls were on 3 days off, they began to play with pretty fire orbs. Each one was a different color and created its own unique sort of damage when it impacted.

They were fun to make, and the girls created sort of a game of it. The Floppit had started throwing up different types of objects, then calling out what color of fire orb to create. Spirit gave each fire orb a sort of life of its own to add to the realism of the attack.

When the Floppit called out, “Now try Black Fire. Let us see how well it works for you.”

Alicia put out a hand and stopped Misty from flicking her wand, “Wait. Black Fire is part of Dark Lord’s magical repertoire, isn’t it?”

The orb glowed brightly as it replied, “Yes, it is. A rather high level part, if I recall correctly.”

Misty asked, “If I use Black Fire, that would boost our magical level a good bit, wouldn’t it?”

The Floppit nodded, “It would. It also would mean you would have to re-establish several of Ahmen’s magical remnants and agreements.”

With a slightly indignant tone in her voice, Alicia said, “So, even if we’re on downtime, we’re still being evaluated?”

The Floppit nodded and replied, “Yups. You gots tonsa stuffs ta learn n no gots much time ta does it.”

Misty replied with a sigh, “Figures. So this is one of those epic good against evil kinda things, is it?”

Spirit replied with seriousness in its tone for the very first time, “It’s worse than you think, cuz tha fate of this world as you know it is in your hands.”

The girls looked at each other with real worry. “Why, what’s going on?” asked Alicia.

“Well, those other wizards n stuffs,” said Snuggles, “they not just your rivals. They really does wanna rule tha world. They already usin’ magic to make people do what they wants.”

“Like … controlling people’s minds?” asked Misty.

“Sometimes,” said Spirit. “Or sometimes just … whad’ya call it, ’stortion.”

“Extortion?”

“Yeah,” Spirit explained, “like they blow up somethin’ some big business guy likes, tell him they can do it again anytimes they wanna, then say they will unless he does what they says.”

“That’s awful!” said Alicia. “But what do they want them to do?”

“Oh, spends money some way,” said Snuggles, “or vote for some law or other, or make some other kinda decision.”

“This is not good,” said Misty. “They’re already having a corrupting influence on the governments of the world. Which ones exactly?”

“Whateber ones they can,” said Spirit.

“I think we should stop them,” said Alicia.

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Holding up a crystal and watching the girls’ conversation, Dark Lord said, “Ah, Ahmen, my friend, you have chosen well. Let us see if they can indeed stop the machinations of your foes’ disciples. But I’m afraid it will take more than learning a few of my paltry spells.”

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After the third day, the two young women returned to Dark Lord’s magical library. “Good morning,” he said, getting up from a chair, where he’d been studying a large tome.

“Good morning, Dark Lord,” said Alicia. “It was nice having some time off, but …” She looked at Misty. “We know we’ve got work to do.”

“Quite right, young Alicia,” said Dark Lord. “And I think you may be ready for the next test. But we will have to go to the next location. That’s where the next lingering spell is, and the next repository of Ahmen’s wisdom as well.”

“Oh – I guess we’d better pack our bags,” said Misty. “I mean, figuratively speaking.”

“Yes, I’ve already got my luggage right … here,” said Alicia, gesturing with her wand and causing her belongings to gather themselves into three suitcases that stood next to her.

Nodding, Dark Lord said, “Thaddeus’ Collector, a very useful one to know. And I see that young Misty has also mastered this spell.” Misty had indeed conjured her set of luggage, with everything she needed instantly packed inside.

“And here we must go,” said Dark Lord, spinning a large antique globe that sat in his library, stopping it with his finger pointing at Rome. “This is another very useful spell. Ahmen himself taught it to me, and it does draw upon his philosophy, meaning that his rivals would have to use other means … please follow me …” He led them across the library to another door.

Gesturing with his wand at the closed door’s four corners, he said, “Now, one expects a door to lead to what’s on its other side. But for us, as we recall that the universe is largely what we perceive it to be, we can alter our expectations and thus alter the universe.” He opened the door, and they stepped through.

Stepping out of the door of a cab onto the sidewalk, Dark Lord paid the driver a handful of euro coins. “Mille grazie, Signor,” he said, and the confused man held out his hand to accept the payment, muttering something in Italian to the effect that he hadn’t driven them anywhere and had no idea how they had gotten into the back seat of his cab, but he wished them well.

“Keep an eye out, because we’re in the outside world again, and they’re still looking for us,” said Dark Lord, leading them down a cobblestone-paved alley.

“How long will we have to be outside?” asked Misty. She and Alicia were looking around suspiciously, but the only movement they saw was the pigeons.

“Not long,” he said. “Here we are.” He stopped at the back door of a centuries-old row house and tapped the doorknob twice with the tip of his wand, then turned it and went inside. Alicia and Misty followed, looking around. They were in an old European kitchen, long disused. Dust was everywhere. But Dark Lord didn’t stop; he led them further inside and up a narrow flight of stairs to another door.

Aperiatur semita,” he said, opening this door, and inside was … the girls weren’t real sure what it was they were looking at. It was some sort of obelisk sitting in the middle of a round slanted base, in the center of a large darkened room. As it rotated, two swinging pendulum things were exactly timed to pass through the carved places in the rotating obelisk.

The obelisk was sort of a pyramidal shape with a flat top, decorated around its edges like the battlement of some tower. Each time one of the pendulums passed through the openings in the obelisk, large, colorful geometric shaped crystals would glow softly around the circular base.

Alicia asked, “What is that thing supposed to be?”

“Yeah,” said Misty, “just what is it, and what does it do?”

Dark Lord laughed, “I know people in general never figured it out, but that device is a perpetual motion machine. Each pass of the node at the end of the pendulum excites what is known as Soul Crystals within its construction. This in turn imparts a discharge creating a push that keeps the pendulum in motion. Another thing it does is generate ethereal energies that allow us to read these.”

He waved his arm. Light flared from many sconces around the outside of the room, each one’s crystal glowing brightly and lighting up the area, revealing the room to be a library, the shelves in its walls stacked high with books. The girls stared in wide-eyed awe at the sheer size of the library. They both knew this space was many, many times larger than the house that supposedly held it.

Returning to the task at hand, Alicia said, “Now wait … is this machine one of Ahmen Khotec’s lingering spells?”

Misty followed up with, “Are we here to either stop or renew it?”

“Yes, and yes,” said Dark Lord. “Now that you are here, though, the machine has started to fall out of alignment, as the magic that keeps it running is now running down. It will run down over the course of the next 24 hours, but long before that it will become misaligned and cease to work. You have about one hour to renew it, if that’s what you decide to do, before it breaks down. If you can’t prevent that, you then have 23 hours to fix it.”

“So … we need it running in order to read these books,” Alicia said.

“Correct,” Dark Lord replied. “It powers these crystal sconces, which produce a magical light that allows these books to be read. Without them, the books appear blank.”

“But … do we need these books to renew the spell?” asked Misty.

“That is your test,” said Dark Lord. “You must renew the spell. Perhaps the means to doing that is in these books somewhere, or perhaps not.”

“Oh, great,” said Misty. “The answer may or may not be in any of the zillion books in this place.”

“Maybe if we look at some, we’ll narrow it down,” said Alicia. She picked up a book on a shelf and started reading. “Good thing the magic light also translates it,” she said, sitting down in a chair just past the machine.

“Well, no point wasting time,” said Misty, taking a book from the leftmost end of another shelf and sitting down in another chair.

Dark Lord stood still, crossed his arms into the flowing sleeves on his robe, and said nothing as the two young women read.

“What’s your book about?” asked Misty after several precious minutes had passed.

“Seems to be about time crystals, magic and thought, and how the three interconnect,” Alicia said. “What about yours?”

“It’s about math and magic,” Misty said.

“Doesn’t seem like either one’s about renewing this spell,” said Alicia.

“Wait … weren’t we supposed to renew each spell after we were ready to?” Misty asked.

“You’re right … Dark Lord wouldn’t have brought us here unless were were already ready to handle it,” Alicia said, looking at Dark Lord, who was still just standing quietly, presumably observing them.

“What did we learn before we came here?” asked Alicia.

“Well, we were turning fire orbs into other kinds of energy,” said Misty.

“That’s it!” said Alicia. “Or I think so!” She faced the perpetual motion machine. “This thing transforms energy from one kind to another. Dark Lord said its kinetic energy somehow releases magical energy that keeps it going and also powers the lights.”

“Magic is the only way you can get more energy out of something than you put in,” said Misty.

“But wait, first, do we want to renew this spell?” Alicia asked.

“I think so,” Misty replied, “or how are we ever going to read these books? I don’t want the knowledge in them to be lost. At least, not until after I’ve read them.”

“Same here, so I guess we’re going to renew it,” said Alicia. “So, how does the spell work? Kinetic energy to magical energy, and some of that goes back to kinetic energy.”

“Lingering spells have to have anchors,” Misty said. “Ahmen Khotec liked to use books as anchors, or so we’re told, but that doesn’t mean he always did.”

“There are these crystals,” Alicia said, looking at the Soul Crystals at the machine’s base. “Let’s see if there’s anything suggesting how things are connected.”

The girls sat next to the base near one of the large, ornately, and delicately carved crystals. Scribed into one of them in very small but glowing magical script was a statement, “That which goes in, is not necessarily that which comes out.”

Alicia snorted a small laugh, “Now, that’s an understatement if ever I heard it.”

Misty stopped laughing abruptly. Alicia looked her way. Misty ran her fingers through her hair in a thoughtful way as she said, “What if these Soul Crystals … have some type of interconnection with a Time Crystal.”

Alicia’s eyes grew large as she understood what Misty was getting at. “I don’t know about that. If they do, that’s the answer. I’m sure there’s a way to test it, however.” She drew her wand from its ornate leather carry case at her shapely waist. “I was actually reading something about making some type of magical Janus material out of both of those types of crystals made into layers.”

With this, Alicia evoked the Empowering spell using her magic wand. A large and very bright lingering beam of intense white energy arced from Alicia’s wand to the large crystal with the writing on it. To both young women’s amazement, the crystal absorbed it all with no damage.

Immediately after that, all the crystals began to glow brightly in each of their varied colors. The sconces in the room went dark. The pendulums stopped their arcing swings and hovered as if frozen for an instant as a very loud and resounding “CLICK” was heard. The rotating obelisk stopped moving as well.

Then, the sconces illuminated once again as the pendulums began their perfectly timed swings through the slots of the now rotating obelisk with the same results as before … except the girls noticed the glow was now bluish green, instead of the reddish color it had originally been.

Dark Lord clapped his hands vigorously, “Very good. Excellent, in fact. It only took you fifteen minutes to figure that out.” A loud gong sounded, sending deep toned vibrations through everything. Dark Lord returned his hands to the large sleeves of his robe. “With that, both of you have reached level three. You can call yourselves Wizards now if you want.” He laughed pleasantly. “You do need to know, you’re each a hair’s breadth from going to the next level. As the Fountain of all Knowledge said already, you’re both advancing extremely quickly.”

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A man awoke with a start at the very bright flash in his bedroom. He wiggled back until the headboard stopped him and stared open-mouthed at the figure dressed entirely in ebony black.

Like the specter of death, the stranger in black pointed one of his bony fingers at the man in bed and said in a really strange-sounding voice, “You, who live off the sweat of others, hear and obey, lest ye suffer the consequences.”

With fear obvious in his voice the man replied, “Wh-wha-what is it you want me to do?”

The figure in black replied in its very strange-sounding voice, “You will deny the loan to Dimmerex, Inc. and make a writ of demand for immediate payment of all their outstanding notes.”

The man regained a bit of his spine as he repled, “Look here, I can’t just do that. There has to be some kind of default.”

The room trembled with the man in black’s reply, “I care not for the ways of mortals. You will obey, or …” Before the mysterious figure vanished in another bright flash, the end dresser suddenly sparkled like the Fourth of July for an instant before it sublimated away like some kind of vapor and was gone as well.

The man trembled in fear as he pinched himself several times to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. The end dresser was still gone. A sprinkling of fine ash on the carpet was all that was left of it. Shaking, he got up to send a very important email.

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Now that they had time, the two girls went outside and put up some magical wards around the area so they could spend some time browsing the books. Once it was dark outside, they left the building and surveyed the area.

They found four points equidistant from the building and made tiny marks upon stones they found there, carefully sprinkling them with the tiniest pinch of cinnabar dust. Once the fourth stone was inscribed, Alicia and Misty held hands and chanted softly in unison, and then it was done. They went back to the building and up the stairs.

“Now we’ll know whether anyone with any magical ability approaches,” said Misty, “or if anyone intrudes with a spell from a distance.”

“Good idea,” said Alicia. “The building is safe because of Ahmen Khotec’s spells, but if someone’s watching it or ready to zap us when we go to the next place, we’ll know about them and be ready.”

Misty looked again at the intricate pendulum device. “I don’t feel as if I can truly call myself a wizard, because I don’t think I could make something like this myself. But maybe I can learn more about it by reading some of these books here.”

“Yes, same here,” Alicia said. “The transmutation of energy that’s happening here is fascinating. I want to know how it’s done. All my science classes said energy can be changed from one form to another – but they weren’t talking about magical energies.” Both of them started reading, while Dark Lord found a table in a back corner and began writing in some sort of journal he’d brought with him.

Some time passed. There was a time when the girls became tired and conjured temporary cots to sleep on. The room was comfortably warm. Several days and evenings of study passed, although the two of them noticed that they didn’t seem to get hungry as often. “Why is that?” asked Alicia. “I haven’t eaten since that restaurant we went to yesterday, but I feel just fine, not hungry at all.”

“Ah, well, magic can sustain your body to some extent,” said Dark Lord, “but you should probably try to eat regularly, or it won’t have the proteins and minerals to repair itself.”

“You never seem to eat,” said Misty.

“Yes, but then I’m only alive in a loose sense of the word,” answered the wizard.

“What time is it?” asked Alicia. She looked at her phone, which was also being sustained by magical energy now that they’d learned how to transmute it into electricity. “It is about dinner time. We could try that little trattoria on the corner.”

“Let’s go,” Misty said. “I love Italian food, and where can you get more authentic Italian food than in Rome?”

“A few spells first, I think,” Alicia said. “First, I don’t speak Italian, so we’ll have to compensate for that.” She spoke some words and waved her wand.

“And second, we need some money – the best way to do that is to start with some.” Misty waved her wand over some American dollars she had and transformed them into the rough equivalent in Euro coins and bills.

“And then, protection,” Alicia said, and they nodded at each other and cast a ward that was probably more powerful than it needed to be.

“Very well,” said Dark Lord. “I will be with you in spirit, but it would be … disruptive if I went with you in public. Let’s see how you do.”

The two of them went down the stairs and up the street to the tiny restaurant, where they discovered the best tagliatelle bolognese they had ever tasted.

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While the girls ate, a television was on turned to the local news.

“In local business news today, Dimmerex Inc. had all its outstanding debits called by the financial institutions they had loans from. This action was highly unusual since Dimmerex had not missed nor was late for a single payment. Although this action is extremely unusual, it is a legal move by the bank. The results will be shutting the company down. The electronics world will surely miss the chips and other items manufactured by them. Another company, Darkarts LLC. purchased all the notes and the company before it defaulted and had to declare bankruptcy. However this in no way saved the production line Dimmerex had been working on and the new company will be producing quite another product all together.” The commentator looked up at the camera, “This is Talbot Neese, and this has been the World News at Noon.”

Between mouthfuls Misty commented, “Wow, that means several of the most successful quantum computers won’t be able to get their newest chips anytime soon.”

Alicia repled, “I see. Don’t you think it’s kinda strange the bank would foreclose on a debt that hasn’t defaulted?”

Misty shrugged, “I’m not real sure how those high rolling loan thingys work, but it is really strange. Think of all the interest income they lose.”

Alicia nodded, “It seems to me … that particular thingy was caused. I think the forces of darkness are starting to make major moves.”

Misty replied as she waved to the young waitress, who was probably the teenage daughter of the couple who ran the tiny restaurant, “Yeah, I feel that too. Perhaps we should look into it?”

As Alicia paid their tab and stood she said, “Lets us go to the library and see if we can discover anything.”

The young women arrived back at the library. Apparently, their familiars had been busy. They found a large table with many old tomes stacked neatly, a large crystal giving off adequate lighting to read by, and several soft chairs. They also found several artifacts that would allow them to read much faster, especially since they had so many thick volumes to go through.

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In a very dark, damp cavern lit only by smoky, flickering torches, several men and an equal number of women dressed in ebony black stood around a scrying bowl.

One of them, dressed in red and outlined in black, looked up and said, “From what I can see here, we accomplished what we set out to do. They won’t be making that quantum breakthrough.”

One of the women looked over and said with a snideness in her tone, “We are about to lose control of this fast.”

One of the men dressed in ebony black asked, “How so? We stopped not only the manufacture of the necessary items, we put the entire company out of business and purchased it ourselves.”

“Because,” the woman replied, holding up something that looked like a mirror made into a large jewel-encrusted brooch that showed Missy and Alicia studying, “there are two other players opposed to us. From what I can tell, they are rapidly becoming more powerful than we ever were … even combined.”

A silence thick as molasses in winter fell over those around the scrying bowl. As if to punctuate the woman’s comment, the image in the brooch’s mirror suddenly grew fainter and foggier until it seemed a blank gray rectangle.

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“They keep trying to scry upon us,” said Alicia with a distasteful expression. “That spell just popped into my head – I thought it might be good to put a stop to that.”

“Wait, could something be putting thoughts into your head?” asked Misty.

“No, not like that – it was as if I just put two and two together and came up with much more than four,” Alicia tried to explain. “The earlier spell we did where we showed a scryer a false reality – I combined that with this spell I just found to blur someone’s vision of something so it can’t be clearly seen. When the scryer tripped our wards, I wondered what to do, and I just got that idea.”

“So they can’t see us now?” Misty asked. She reached out and examined the mystical energy of the spell Alicia had just cast. “Oh, I see, it’s like looking through frosted glass. They can’t see anything. Light or dark is about the limit.”

“Right,” said Alicia, “and I think we should probably add that to the spells we cast on ourselves each morning. No scryers spying on us.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” said Misty.

“What about you, what have you found?” Alicia asked.

“Well, it’s pretty obvious that we need a focus, something having to do with Dimmerex or Darkarts,” said Misty. “That will give us the connection we need to narrow down onto what they did, and who did it.”

“Well, we could just find a computer or chip made by Dimmerex, which would be easy enough, except I think it would only work if it were made since our friends’ meddling.”

“And they stopped making computers since their meddling.”

“What if there were a few products made after the company was closed down, but before they’d shut down the assembly line?” Alicia asked.

“How would we find them?” Misty wondered.

“We go there, for starters,” said Alicia.

“Dark Lord, you know some teleportation,” Misty said.

“I do,” the wizard replied; he had been quietly observing from his table in the corner of the library.

“Can you show us how you do it?” Misty asked.

The wizard answered, “I can show you how I do it. That doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. But you may be able to adapt the spell to your way of doing things – which is, of course, very similar to Ahmen’s. But be careful – there may be traps for you there.”

Dark Lord then showed them how he could open portals from one shadowy or shady area to another, as long as it was somewhere he’d seen in the past. He demonstrated by making portals at opposite ends of the library, walking through them, and allowing the two young women to pass through them as well.

“But you need three things: two places to connect, and a mystical conduit that you form between them,” said Misty. “And those two places must be dark or shadowed.”

The wizard nodded. “Like my library where we were previously, and the back of a Rome taxi that was in the shadow of a building,” he said.

“But what sort of places would we need to use?” asked Alicia. “Places with … something to do with the truth!”

“Like a library,” said Misty, gesturing around her at the one they were in.

“Or a bookstore, or a newspaper office, or … or a courtroom!” said Alicia. She picked up a copy of that day’s newspaper and found a story about Dimmerex they’d been reading. “There are all kinds of lawsuits going on about that corporate buyout and that bank foreclosing on the company’s loans. Somebody somewhere signed sworn affidavits, attesting that the statements in them are the truth … here!” She pointed to part of the article where it said that the company’s former CEO had signed written depositions.

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“A law office doesn’t seem like a place where there’s lots of truth,” said Misty as they walked down the hallway. They both had glamors on themselves, making them look like young professionals in business attire.

“But there’s some, and that’s the point,” said Alicia. “The spell got us here. It seems to be in New York City somewhere. We appeared right in front of the file cabinet where the signed documents were. We found out the address where the CEO lives. Now we just have to go talk to him. We can tell him that we’re working for a … competitor of Darkarts. That’s not even a lie.”

“No, because we are a competitor of the people who run that company,” Misty said. “We just have to get to that address. But we’ll have to start out going there the regular way, until we find a shortcut of some kind.”

Alicia took out her phone. “This says we’re … here …” She pointed at a spot on the map on the screen. “His address is … here … and …” She tapped something into her phone. “And these are public library branches, schools, newspaper offices …”

“We just have to get out of this building, cross the street, and portal to … that one there,” said Misty.

They stopped in front of an elevator, and Alicia pressed the down button. “Well, step one,” she said. “Getting out of here.”

The elevator doors soon opened. The young women didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary until after they entered and selected “L” and the doors closed. When the doors opened again, a thick mist flowed in around their feet. The area was very dark and damp. Screeches and howls could be heard both near and far. Very strange odors assaulted their noses. From what they could see, the area was out of some depraved individual’s worst psychotic nightmare.

Alicia said with obvious incredulity in her voice, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

Misty looked sideways at her, then replied, “I don’t think we’re still on Earth, Dorothy, much less Kansas.”

Alicia said, “Wait.” She pressed the floor number they had been on. A moment passed, and the doors opened. They were back where they had started. “This .. is …”

Missy finished, “Amazing and incredible.”

The girls looked at each other for a minute before giggling nervously.

Alicia looked around the hall they had first appeared in. It was out of the way and secluded. The perfect place to hide a magical transport gateway. “Apparently, some of those we are against have a foothold in this building. Or … at least somebody with some knowledge of the mystic arts is up to something here.”

Missy started examining the elevator’s control panel, “This is still an amazing find. There are 150 buttons in this panel. I wonder where they all go?”

Alicia snorted a laugh, “From that last place it took us, I wonder if we really want to know.”

As she pushed the button labeled “1,” Misty replied, “Aww c'mon, girl. Let’s be adventurous and take a peek. I’m really curious now.”

The door closed, then opened. The girls were looking at the lobby and reception desk of the building they had been in. Both girls exited the elevator into the lobby in complete awe. One thing they realized was that there were both letters and numbers in the control panel. Perhaps the letters took them to … other places.

People were all around, so they stood aside and spoke quietly to one another for a moment. “The former CEO of Dimmerex hired that law firm,” whispered Alicia, “but they’re only on the 41st floor – they don’t own this building.”

Misty replied in a whisper, “Well, there are at least a hundred different businesses with offices in this building, plus the company that owns it, so that’s at least 101 possibilities for who’s been casting elevator spells.”

“And what about all these people?” asked Alicia. “Why aren’t there people going on elevator sightseeing trips to other dimensions? They must not be able to see those buttons, or they must not work for them.”

“So why do they work for us?” Misty asked in return. “We’ll have to ask Dark Lord – unless we figure it out ourselves. In the meantime, should we see where some of them go and who runs the show there?”

“Let’s take a few precautions first,” said Alicia.

Several minutes later, they went back to the elevator and waited their turn to get in. Sure enough, they were faced with a panel full of buttons labeled with both numbers and letters. As they’d agreed, Alicia pressed the button labeled “A.”

After stopping at floors 2 and 3, the elevator stopped at floor “A” and opened its doors. There was a vista of an ancient temple of some kind, its polished marble floor and massive columns seemingly stretching forever into the distance, the ceiling too high to be seen. They stepped through the doors and looked around. The elevator closed behind them, but it remained there, in a wall, its call button plainly visible. It didn’t vanish.

“Hello?” called Alicia. “Is anyone here?”

“Please be calm, my child,” said a quiet voice from quite nearby. Both Alicia and Misty gasped and turned to see a man in what looked like a monk’s robes, tied at the waist with a simple cord. His head was mostly bald; only a bit of gray hair remained above his ears. “How may I help you?”

“Well, we just wanted to know what this place was,” said Misty, quietly. The entire place was very silent, except for what sounded like some sort of monastic chant echoing from somewhere distant.

“You have come here unknowing?” the man said with raised eyebrows. “It has been a long time since such a thing happened. I am Brother Andrew, and these are the Halls of Contemplation.”

“Wow, the Halls of Contemplation, really,” Alicia replied, also quietly. “If I may ask, Brother Andrew, who was the last person who came here unknowingly?”

“His name was Ahmen Khotec,” Brother Andrew replied. Both young women looked at each other in surprise.

“D-did you say … yes, of course you did,” Misty said. “We’re disciples of Ahmen Khotec – or of his wisdom, anyway.”

“Ah, then that is why you are here,” said Brother Andrew. “Please allow me to explain. If you are indeed students of Ahmen Khotec’s work, then you know that the philosophy and ethical and moral tenets of the work influence the work’s effects. Ahmen Khotec knew of the value of thought and contemplation, and so this belief was able to bring him here. Or perhaps this place had an influence on his works. It is possible that it may work both ways.”

“So our studies caused us to be able to reach this place?” asked Alicia. “But … what about the elevator’s other buttons?”

“Elevator?” asked Brother Andrew. “There are many ways to access this place, and I believe that the Abbott has arranged for one of them to be an … elevator in a large city, yes. As for the other destinations that the conveyance leads to, others must have made other arrangements.”

“Every button goes to someplace run by someone different?” asked Misty.

“Well, wait, the different floors and offices in the building are rented by different businesses,” said Alicia. “This is like the magical version of that.”

Nodding, Brother Andrew replied, “It is as you say. But you are likely to be led to places that are in tune with Ahmen Khotec’s philosophies.”

“Do you know Dark Lord?” asked Misty.

“Ah, yes, he was once named – oh, but we should not reveal that,” said the monk. “Let me say merely that he was once known as Darius.”

“So what do you do here?” asked Alicia.

The monk smiled and replied, “We have found a way to retreat from the discord and strife of the physical realm and spend our time in meditation and thought. Some of us also sing as a form of meditation. We reach with our minds toward unity with the cosmos.”

“Do you search for truth?” Misty asked.

“If truth is acceptance of what is,” said Brother Andrew, “then we do indeed.” Alicia looked at Misty.

“Would we be welcome to visit again?” asked Misty. “There’s somewhere we need to go now.”

“Of course,” said the monk. “Be well, good visitors.”

“Public library on 86th Street,” said Alicia. The magical words and gestures took them from one place of truth to another. They walked around a column and found themselves walking around a bookshelf.

They quietly left the small branch library and followed the map on Alicia’s phone to the apartment building where the former Dimmerex CEO lived. “So how do we get into his building?”

“I’ve got a plan,” said Misty. “Just leave it to me.”

When they reached the apartment building, they looked at the panel of buttons and found the right one. “There he is, H. Demmer,” said Alicia.

Misty pressed the button. “Let’s see if he’s home.”

“Yes?” came a male-sounding voice.

“Mr. Demmer?” Misty jumped in confidently. “We’re paralegals from the law firm of Hendricks and Associates. We’re here with the documents the firm mentioned they were going to send you.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” said the voice. “Please come in.” The door buzzed, and Alicia opened it. They walked through the lobby, where there were only a few people checking their mailboxes or reading the newspaper.

“Documents?” asked Alicia. “We don’t have any –”

Misty held up a manila envelope that she hadn’t had just a moment before. “Yes we do,” she said. “I saw this on the mail cart and touched it as I went by. We’re just saving the law firm a bit of postage and time.”

“You used the Touch of Summoning!” said Alicia. “Nice!”

“Now, they’re addressed to apartment 814, so … eighth floor,” said Misty, pressing the elevator’s call button.

The doors opened and the girls got out on the 8th floor. The plaque on the wall pointed the direction to 814 and they proceeded down the hall to the apartment and knocked. A rather handsome man answered, “Hello. You must be the two paralegals.” He turned and beckoned them in. “Have a seat. Would you ladies like something to eat or drink?”

Misty and Alicia declined. “We would like to discuss with you about the foreclosure on the loans you had out,” said Misty.

Demmer sat across from the girls and stated plainly, “I really don’t understand what happened. We had never been late nor defaulted on any loans. It is, however, legal for the lender to call in the loans at anytime. We just didn’t have the liquidity to cover them on demand.”

Alicia looked at Misty for a second. “Seems rather convenient to me. And magically, Darkarts was there with the cash on hand. 300 million dollars is a lot of petty cash.”

Demmer laughed. “It’s actually a full year’s profits. I tried to bring a legal action, but it’s going to take a long time. They had the cash and interest on hand … we didn’t. We had just purchased the materials we needed to make the special quantum chips under contract.”

Misty commented, “It’s still extremely unusual that a bank would suddenly foreclose just at this time.”

Demmer nodded, “I agree. But our appeal to the ruling is ongoing. Courts take a long time, as you know.”

With a bit of magical interjection, Misty produced a set of legal documents that escalated the appeal process from municipal to federal and handed the brief to Demmer. This time, the girls had made sure that no one had managed to manipulate anyone else. This had come completely out of the blue, and the people involved wouldn’t know it was happening until it was too late to interfere. Those chips were too important to just let go without a real fight.

“Thank you,” said Demmer. “This gives me a ray of hope. It appears that a higher court has taken interest. Perhaps someone other than just your firm and I can see that there’s something extremely irregular about this.”

“It seems so,” said Alicia. “Now, if we could just get you to sign here to acknowledge that you’ve received these notices, we’ve got to get back to the office.” She slid a form toward him.

“Ah, yes, of course,” said Demmer. “Let’s see … I acknowledge that I have received these documents and understand that the firm of Hendricks and Associates is acting as my legal representation in this matter … yes, this seems in order … OK.” He signed the form with his pen, with the Dimmerex, Inc. logo on it. “Well, I’ll let you two ladies get back to work. Here’s hoping something comes of this.”

“Let’s hope,” said Misty. “There’s a good chance that this will lead to something.”

“Good luck to all of us, Sir,” said Alicia. The two of them shook his hand and took their leave.

Returning to the library, they portaled from there to the library in Rome. “How did it go?” Dark Lord asked them.

“We discovered the Halls of Contemplation,” said Alicia.

“That’s … very interesting, though did you find anything about this Dimmerex company?”

“Oh, yes, we got exactly what we needed,” Misty replied, holding up the signed document.

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“This is the signature of Mr. Demmer, founder and CEO of Dimmerex,” said Alicia as they prepared the ritual. “And what’s more, it’s signed using a pen that was made for Dimmerex while it was still an ongoing corporate interest.”

“Excellent,” said Dark Lord, watching Misty draw the sigils. “There is enough of an affinity connection here to allow us to learn anything about Dimmerex, even what your rivals have done and wish to conceal. They can’t hide from a connection like this.”

“And the circle is closed,” said Misty, finishing the signs on the floor.

Dark Lord said, “Now, what is the next step?” He expectantly awaited his students’ answer.

“Now that we have the circle of protection,” said Alicia, “we begin the Invocation of Truth, to ensure that any false illusions left by our rivals won’t taint the information we find.”

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Misty and Alicia discovered this particular spell was a lot harder to do this time around. It was more than obvious that whoever perpetrated Dimmerex’s issues was also very powerful and had done their best to cover their deeds.

Slowly, within the ethereal mists, images formed. They observed an individual in ebony black robes appear within the primary loan officer’s office, ordered him to call in all Dimmerex’s notes, blasted a table to atoms as incentive, then vanished before the officer’s eyes. The officer, of course, had immediately complied with everything the individual in black had told him to do before he had vanished. But the two young wizards in training were unable to pierce the shadows and discover the mysterious man in black’s identity.

“Don’t blame yourselves,” said Dark Lord. “They covered their tracks. To get through concealment like that you’d need a direct connection to our shadowy friend, like their true name or something they left behind. Laying a trap for them might be the only way to get at them …”

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In a very dark and damp place with the sounds of dripping water, lit only by smoky torches, many individuals had gathered around another dressed entirely in blood red.

With a tinge of anger in his voice, the man in red said, “How in the eternal fires of Hades did this get pushed to the top of the Supreme Court’s docket? Our company has been issued a restraining order, as has the bank. Effectively, it’s stopped the foreclosure and created serious investigations into the unusual nature of it all.”

“We have a real problem,” said a woman dressed in an ebony black robe so dark that it actually absorbed all the light around her.

One of the other men in ebony black asked, “Oh, really? I would think the federal investigation into this was bad enough.”

The woman replied, “Apparently there is another wizard opposing us. One who’s extremely powerful, and from what I can tell, completely ruthless. More so than we ever were.”

A murmur rounded the large gathering as that revelation was discussed. “Hekula?” asked one man.

“She’d have to be 400 years old or more now,” answered another.

The suppositions flew quickly. “What about Li Won Chu?” “Totally not his style, though.” “Norbalang?” “I myself saw his corpse, and that was 20 years ago.” “One of Ahmen Khotec’s disciples?” “They’re ruthless, but they’re raw novices.” “Some remnant of Klazer Kshin?” “Maybe … but someone would have to be maintaining his spells, and I don’t know who that would be.”

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“It’s a good thing that there are so many affidavits on file in these offices,” said Alicia. “Signed documents swearing that the statements in them are the truth. That gives us lots of mobility.”

“You … are … right,” said Misty, carefully casting the spell at the fourth corner of the law clerk’s office. “There! Done with this one. On to the next one …” They cast a portal to move to their next place. The scenery around them shifted to outside the home of a Supreme Court justice. Crickets chirped in the otherwise still night. “Hmm, we’re outside.”

“Interesting,” said Alicia. “The interior must be warded. Someone in this house knows some real magic – or maybe they’ve hired someone who does. Well, we’ll just put our own spell around the whole house. It shouldn’t trip their wards, because its only harmful intent is to unlawful intruders.”

They renewed their wards against detection and cast the anti-invasion spell around the house, then moved on to the next site.

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Dragoth prepared to portal himself into a Supreme Court law clerk’s office. He first made sure that nobody would be present except for himself and the clerk in question. Then he checked for counterspells – whomever he and his co-conspirators were up against, they were ruthless and wily. But he detected only a basic ward, barely more powerful than a child’s bedtime prayer. Probably something the clerk had purchased from some New Age store – maybe she had burned some incense or had the place smudged with sage.

Well, then, it was time to go. It was absolutely important that they prevent Dimmerex from producing its quantum computer components. Not that Dragoth understood why – it was just that their divination spells clearly revealed that things would go very badly for him and his comrades if those techno-gizmos went into full production. It’s not as if he’d miss them, as Dragoth preferred a good fountain pen and parchment over some computer any day, especially if that parchment were made from good old fashioned dried human skin. There was just no substitute when it came to black magic.

He sprinkled the dried blood powder and chanted the words; most of the spell had been cast beforehand to save time now. He instantly found himself in the law clerk’s office, surrounded by books – and felt terrible pain assailing his lower legs. Snakes! There were venomous snakes biting his calves, coming from all directions. They were exactly the same kind that he had killed and drained the blood and venom from the night before when preparing for this, in fact. He considered that fact in what time he had.

“What –” said the law clerk, looking up from her desk, then standing up in surprise. “Who are you? How did you get in here – what are you doing?”

Dragoth was trying to cast the return portion of the spell, but it was difficult while trying to stamp his feet on the snakes that writhed around him, biting him, injecting poison into his bloodstream. “Security, I have an intruder in my office,” the clerk was saying on her phone.

Finally Dragoth managed to finish the return spell. The snakes hadn’t come with him. Panting, he checked his legs, finding his leggings punctured with many bloody holes. His calves were bleeding, and he felt a burning in his veins. He went to find bandages and possibly some kind of anti-venom spell. What had happened? That was not the counterspell he’d been expecting at all. It had been far more potent than anything he’d detected. What exactly were they facing here?

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“Excellent,” said Misty, holding up a vial of blood. “Now we will know your name,” she said to it.

“I hope the poor law clerk wasn’t too freaked out by having some guy appear in her office and then disappear again,” said Alicia. “At least she wouldn’t have seen the snakes.”

“No, they were only real to the bad guy, of course,” Misty said. “So, this tome says that we just need a drop of this blood, mixed with a bit of tincture of peppermint and some aconite. We’ll know his entire life story. It doesn’t matter what protection he may have on him – this is a direct line.”

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Dark Lord was impressed. The students were learning by major leaps and bounds. He did have a concern over what they were about to attempt. Blood Magic was powerful, but it also had one of the darkest linages.

Dark Lord said as he set up the runes required for the next magical investigation, “The first person known to wield blood magic was Thalsian, a necromancer and dreamer who lived circa 1595 BC. He claimed to have learned the art after personally communicating with the old god Dumat. He used his newfound powers to declare himself king of Neomenia and spread the worship of the old gods. Many of the modern Mages of the Imperial Wizard Guild today argue that that blood magic was most likely learned from the ancient elves of Arlathan, though there is no evidence to definitely support either stance. Others yet believe that knowledge of blood magic came from the powerful ancient demons known as the Forbidden Ones, because of who they are and why they are fallen.”

Alicia asked, “Should we set stronger protection wards, just in case?” as she gathered the necessary items.

Dark Lord, for the very first time, laid the hood of his ebony black robe back, revealing a very handsome man with jet black, neatly trimmed hair, “A strong and powerful protection ward is always a good idea. A Wizard never knows exactly what’s on the other side.” He chortled softly.

As Alicia recast a much stronger protection ward, Misty asked, “So … ummm … what’s on the other side? Are we missing something?”

Dark Lord removed his ornate wand from its place in his robe’s large sleeves with an elaborate flourish. A very large rectangle on one wall flashed brightly. The area seemed to boil with mist for an instant, then a very dark place lit only by smoking torches with many in black robes gathered around an altar appeared within.

The girl’s watched in horror as another, dressed in a blood red robe, performed a human sacrifice, and brought forth a large and very ugly demon. The image faded.

Dark Lord said softly, “From what I understand, those we are seeking appear to fear you. Apparently something you two have done up to this point has convinced them that your powers far exceed theirs.”

Alicia asked, “Do they? I mean, where do we stand in the rankings next to them?”

Dark Lord laughed, “I didn’t want to actually tell you this yet, but the both of you are perhaps the most powerful wizards the Omniverse ever created. I am tasked with the sacred duty of instructing you both in how to wield it properly. As all the evil wizards and magicians have learned throughout history, misuse of magic brings disaster and a collection on a debt none are truly willing to pay.”

“So … should we be doing this?” asked Alicia, finishing up the stronger warding circle. “Is this that blood magic you were talking about?”

“Not quite … but you’re coming close to the line, which is why I’m warning you,” Dark Lord explained. “To cast a spell you need power, and that power can be obtained in a number of ways. Using the blood of a living being is one of those ways, but it taints the spell, and the caster, and that stain is hard to remove. But what you’re about to do is a bit different. You’re using the blood of another caster to identify him, because his blood was a part of his body, the ultimate sympathetic magic. But be very careful. Do not take any power from this blood. Information, yes. Power, no.”

“OK, gotcha. Use other power sources,” said Misty. “But … what would be wrong with letting our rivals think we did?”

“Just like they think we murdered an apartment building full of innocent bystanders?” asked Alicia. “They’re going to be so disappointed in us when they find out we didn’t really do any of this.” She grinned impishly.

“Misdirecting your opponents is very clever, but as with any deception it can fall apart quickly unless it’s carefully maintained,” advised Dark Lord. “Also, Ahmen’s magic relies on truth, so it’s difficult to actually lie with it. which is why it’s best to do what you’re doing – let your rivals deceive themselves, projecting their own worst impulses upon their image of you.”

“Let’s get started, then,” said Misty. Looking at Alicia, she asked, “Ready?”

Alicia had taken her place as well, within the circle but opposite Misty. “Ready!”

Then, chanting together, the two young wizards intoned, “Spirits of Truth, we conjure you to guide us. Spirits of Justice, we conjure you to aid us. Spirits of Order, we conjure you to channel our energies. Spirits of Time, we conjure you to teach us.” A foggy blur of dim radiance began to surround the vial of blood, which stood on a pedestal at the center of the circle.

Taking turns, they invoked Isis, Athena, Ogma, Vör, Anahita, Minerva, Nidaba, and Benzaiten. Their vision began to grow. “Show us the truth. Who opposes us? What is their plan?”

They had strong visions then: people in black and red robes, speaking in a dank torchlit cavern. One of them threatening a bank executive. That same one’s appearance in a court clerk’s office. And that one’s true name. They spoke it then, its metaphysical symbols not all made out of speakable sounds, and obtained knowledge of the dark plan that was in motion. They learned the monikers, though not the true names, of the other conspirators. They knew their magical traditions and lineages. They learned much before their strength began to wane and the spell began to fade.

And then it seemed as if some of the figures in the dank cavern turned towards them. As if they could see them. Alicia and Misty were both feeling weak and tired. They tried to defend themselves. They needed more strength. Suddenly the power of the blood in the vial at the circle’s center called out to them. It promised them everything. They would be safe, they would be protected, and they would take vengeance on their enemies.

“No, we don’t need it!” said Alicia. “Let the spell be ended!” And they were in the magic circle within the Rome library, where they had in reality been all the time.

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“Dragoth? You seriously allowed them to obtain a quantity of your blood?”

“Eltherian, you don’t know … they had cast a trap … I could even sense it …”

“Enough. Perhaps I overestimated your ability. Perhaps we all did.”

“No! I am still heir to Vilakis the Serpent and crown prince to the Throne of Bone! I will destroy you all if you turn on me!”

“Observe as I fail to quake in my boots. But then … these two disciples of Ahmen Khotec, they once again use blood. They have clearly fallen from the light of his wisdom and now use his power for debased purposes … they oppose us now, but perhaps we can use them.”

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“What – where –” began Alicia as she regained consciousness.

“Ugh,” groaned Misty. “My head.”

“Do not worry,” said Dark Lord. “You have done well, and you have passed another test. You were tempted by the power of the blood, and you did not succumb. But you did deplete your stores of energy, which you will have to replenish. Time will do that, and rest, and meditation. But in the meantime, what did you learn?”

“The true name of Dragoth,” said Alicia with a tired smile. “And we face Eltherian, of the Red Wheel. And Verbena, heir of Venin.”

“And their plan,” said Misty. “We know what they are trying to do. They know that someone will be melding magic with technology and ruining all the plans they and their predecessors have laid for centuries. They know that unless they stop this, they will be undone by the light of truth.”

“Ah,” said Dark Lord. “Now it all makes sense. They knew Dimmerex’s quantum computer components would help uncover their plots, so they sought to scuttle the company and shut it down.”

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Menerva did her very best healing magic on Dragoth’s many wounds. She said sympathetically, “I know this is painful, but apparently those Novices used a rather advanced defensive spell against you.”

Dragoth snorted derisively, “Oh, really? You think? And how much insight did you have to burn to see that?”

Menerva sat back and said angrily, “How on this earth were we supposed to know those women know the darkest and nastiest forbidden spells known?” She flourished her wand, and a place on the cavern wall created a large image.

Within the image, due to the girls’ spell of mind-fog, which covered what was actually going on with the very worst the individual who was doing the scrying could think of, they saw the two women tossing what appeared to be body parts into a very large cauldron.

All that were gathered trembled in fear. All of them knew all about the spell that called the cursed demon Oblivion and forced it to be under their control. They also knew that only three of them were powerful enough to wield it and control such a powerful being. It filled them with fearful dread to think those women were powerful enough, even though they were only novices, to do this spell as if it were simplicity itself.

The man dressed in the flowing blood-red robes stood in the middle of a calling circle. The black candles flickered in a strange way, causing shadows on the walls to appear as if they were demons come to watch.

The man chanted in a language not heard by the ears of mankind in many generations. The candle flames became a roaring wall of ebony black, and from it stepped a huge and very nasty demon.

All in the cavern recoiled in terror and backed away as the man in red approached without fear.

The demon looked down at the man in red and actually smiled, in its fangy way, then bent and picked the man in red up gently into his arms as if he were a toddler. “Well, my favorite son. What would make my baby boy call me from across the great void from the pits of the eternal flames? I know it must be serious.”

The man in red said in a more childlike way, “Aww, Pop. This is embarrassing.” He turned slightly and looked over the large crowd, who stood a distance away and trembled in fear with incredulity spread across their faces.

The large demon laughed. “You mean that trash?” He pointed to them. “Don’t let them bother you.” He hugged the man in red lovingly. “It’s just good to see my baby boy once again. It has been 200 years, you know. Now, tell your dad what’s on your mind.”

The man in red held out his hand. A boiling cloud of dark formed. Within it, a light began to glow, then it showed the girls still doing the blood spell with many body parts.

The demon’s face took on one of real concern as he said, “That is really bad. If what I am seeing is really happening, those women are perhaps the most powerful wielders of the dark arts in centuries. Under whom are they studying?”

The man in red shook his head as he replied, “You wont believe it. They are the disciples of Ahmen Khotec.”

The demon’s expression darkened even more, “That … cannot be. Ahmen was the most powerful wielder of light and truth. It … isn’t possible for humans to corrupt the light. It … cannot be. As much as I would love to see it happen, it is just … not possible.”

As the demon placed the man in red robes back on his feet, the man said, “I know that as well as everyone here. Still, what we see is them performing not only powerful magics, but the darkest, most cursed spells known.”

The demon said in one of those ethereal voices that shook everything, “It cannot be. No mortal is that powerful.” Then it vanished in a flash of dark.

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“I wonder what they see us doing when they scry on us,” said Alicia.

Dark Lord replied, “Keep in mind that sooner or later you will be confronting at least one of them directly for the first time, and you will have to make it look good. On the other hand, they will be prepared to counter and defend against all manner of dark magic and won’t be prepared for anything else.”

“Would that dark magic include … shadow magic?” asked Misty.

“Quite likely,” said Dark Lord, “because even after millennia of study into the mystical arts, it’s still all too common to mistake shadow magic for evil magic. But there’s nothing evil about a shadow. It’s just a natural phenomenon, like fire or wind. It’s all about who wields it.”

“The same could be said about light, couldn’t it?” asked Alicia.

“Yes, of course,” Dark Lord answered. “And that could be the key to keeping up the deception. But again, you still cannot directly lie to them. You can only give them what they expect to see and make them lie to themselves. But in the meantime, you’ve passed the tests here. We need to go to another place.”

“How many libraries did Ahmen Khotec have?” Misty asked.

“I know of dozens,” said Dark Lord, “and there are probably many that he never told me about. But we’re not going to a library this time.”

“Oh? Where are we going?” asked Alicia.

“You’ll see,” said Dark Lord. He took out his wand and flicked it at a wall, causing a portal to open.

The room that they entered upon walking through the portal was dark at first, but without anyone doing anything a few lights began to flicker and glow. They looked like Chinese lanterns, but in time as the light grew steadier it became clear that they weren’t lit with candles but with something more magical. Still, the room Misty and Alicia found themselves in looked quite Chinese in design, with wooden paneling trimmed in ornately carved red borders and decorated with beautiful paintings of animals, plants, and natural features such as mountains and forests.

The room contained several tables containing glassware and apparatus; small vials labeled in Chinese contained many colors of powders and liquids. “This is Ahmen Khotec’s alchemical laboratory,” said Dark Lord. “It is said that it was once one of the laboratories used by Fang, the earliest known female Chinese alchemist. She is said to have discovered how to transmute mercury into pure silver in the first century BCE. It’s also said that her husband beat her, demanding to know the secret, but that she never revealed it.”

“We’re in China?” asked Alicia.

“Yes, beneath the city of Xi’an, which was the Han Dynasty capital, back when Fang was alive,” explained Dark Lord. “It’s said that Fang was a good friend of one of the Emperor’s wives, who was also an alchemist.”

“Doesn’t the Chinese government … know about this place?” asked Misty.

“Oh, it would probably be well guarded at best, or destroyed at worst, if they did,” said Dark Lord, “but Ahmen Khotec found it and sealed it away centuries ago. It’s where he worked on his potions and elixirs.”

“And is it time to learn how to make some of those things?” Alicia wondered.

“It is indeed,” said Dark Lord, “but the most important thing is the protection spell. It keeps the entrance hidden. If we want it to stay hidden, you’re going to have to find out how to renew the spell before it wears off.”

“And we probably have about 24 hours starting when we came in,” said Misty. “OK, first, I don’t know any Chinese, so …” She cast a brief spell with her wand that allowed her to read languages she didn’t know. Alicia nodded and did likewise. They were now able to read the labels on all the vials and jars. There were also shelves of recipes along one wall of the room. They began carefully taking one scroll after another from the shelves and reading through it, looking for anything that might describe the magic used to ward the laboratory.

“That’s the last scroll,” said Alicia, “and although I saw a lot about making magical mixtures, I didn’t see anything about warding this place.”

“Well, it might be that it wasn’t done using a potion,” Misty mused. “We might have just assumed that, because we’re in an alchemical laboratory and there’s a test here.”

“Let’s look for any signs of the warding spell,” said Alicia. They started searching around the outer walls of the room, while Dark Lord took a seat on a stool at one of the long laboratory tables, watching them with interest.

“I’ve noticed one thing,” said Misty. “There’s no door. No way out. I guess Ahmen Khotec used magic to get in and out.”

“Then it’s possible that the real challenge is getting outside,” said Alicia. “The warding spell may have been cast from outside the room.”

Misty snapped her fingers as she said, “Wait. Things are not always as they appear at first glance.”

Alicia turned and looked askance at Misty, “Not as they appear?” She walked over and knocked on the ornate stonework that effectively sealed what appeared to be the door. “It seems pretty real to me.”

Misty giggled, “That particular portal, yes. We have to find the correct one, then use the Sight of Truth spell to undo the Mind Haze spell that is showing us something else.”

A large smile crossed Alicia’s face. “It can’t be that simple … can it?” She removed her crystal wand from its leather carry case at her shapely waist. She flicked it at another of the bricked up portals. There was a deep white mist that suddenly formed and began to seep across the floor from the now open portal.

The girls looked out. What they saw didn’t look like where they thought they should be but was instead dark, cold, and filled with thick swirling fog. What might have been the shapes of trees were sometimes visible.

Alicia and Misty looked out the portal. They could feel the cold dampness of the fog and see the twisting shapes of the trees.

Misty said, “This isn't the way out, I’m sure. Or … not the one we were wanting.”

The girls stepped back into the laboratory, and the portal seemingly bricked itself back up solidly. Misty went to the next portal and drew her wand from its leather case at her shapely waist. This time, the portal opened into what appeared to be a normal street for the location they were supposed to be. It was obvious that they were now looking out onto a busy street of the Chinese city of Xi’an.

After glancing out the doorway, they stepped back away from it into the laboratory. “OK, what now?” asked Alicia. “We still need to figure out how to renew the warding spell so it won’t fade. After all, if it fades, this place and all its knowledge will soon be discovered by the Chinese government, and they’ll take control of it.”

As Dark Lord sat at the table and watched with interest, Misty pinched her lip in thought while Alicia paced. Finally, Misty said, “Well, what if you were right? What if the warding spell’s anchors really are outside this room?”

“Well … if that’s the case, we’ll have to venture outside and look for them.” Alicia flicked her wand and cast a spell they both knew.

“Yeah, the Glamor of Expectation,” Misty said, casting the same illusion upon herself. “That’s like what we’ve been doing to our buddy Dragoth and his pals. Showing people what they expect to see.”

“So we don’t stick out like a sore thumb,” said Alicia. “Also, how about the Enchantment of Tongues?” She opened her mouth and flicked her wand toward her eyes, ears, and mouth.

“Good point,” said Misty. “I know I don’t know any dialects of Chinese, and I don’t think you do either. Now we’ll be able to speak and understand it, so that’ll be another way we won’t stand out.”

They then ventured out into the street, walking with the other pedestrians on what seemed like a busy afternoon in Xi’an. They walked once around the block to get the lay of the land, then returned to the laboratory.

“So, I notice that this room doesn’t seem to actually be inside the building,” said Alicia. “Dark Lord did say that it was underground. The portal must link a spot on the surface to an underground room.”

“Hmm, so let’s look at the portal a bit more closely,” Misty said. “Reveletur symbolis,” she intoned, outlining the portal with her wand’s tip. Lines of light appeared in the air, composed of tiny magical symbols, surrounding the portal and leading off from the portal’s corners upward through the room’s ceiling.

“So if the actual destination is over there … and I can feel that it goes pretty far upward too …” Alicia said, thinking aloud, “where we actually are is beneath a building a few blocks over … that way.” They both hurried back out the portal, hiding their wands again, and walked at a normal pace toward the building they thought the laboratory was beneath. It turned out to be a large stone historical building. It was fenced off; guards were posted.

“Excuse me,” said Alicia to one of the guards, who stood at either side of the only visible entrance through the fence, “but we are here to study the site.”

“No problem,” said the guard. “Show me your permits.”

“Of course,” Alicia said, panicking for a brief moment, then touching her wand and briefly incanting a spell. She now held a piece of paper in her hand. Misty watched what she was doing and did the same.

“Here you are,” said Alicia, showing the paper to the guard. Misty showed hers too.

“Very well, then,” said the guard, taking out a mobile phone and tapping on it briefly. “Please have an enlightening visit, Professors.”

Alicia rolled up the blank piece of paper she was holding, and the two continued into the ancient building. “He saw what he expected to see,” she said quietly. “They must get a lot of professors here, studying this place.”

“Could this have been the site of Fang’s actual home?” asked Misty.

“Well, maybe,” said Alicia, “but at the very least it was the home of her descendants, because these inscriptions here mention the Fang family.” The spell they had cast allowed them to read Chinese too, even ancient forms of the characters.

“They seem to be preparing the site for visits by the public,” said Misty, “but they sure haven’t finished yet. It’s very dark over here.” She lit up her wand, ensuring that what others would see would be a simple flashlight, and searched the corner of a room. “What’s this?” she said.

“What’s what?” asked Alicia, coming over to look. Near the floor there were symbols that weren’t Chinese or any readable language in the usual sense. “Are those wards?”

“I believe they are,” said Misty. “Let’s look more closely. Yes … they’re exactly the same sort of symbols that we keep seeing in Ahmen Khotec’s books. We’ve got it! Now we just have to find all of them and renew them … let’s see … this is above one corner of the laboratory …”

“The place’s size would probably put the other corners beneath other rooms roughly there, there, and there,” said Alicia, pointing.

“Got it,” Misty said. “So we touch the wards …” She and Alicia both lightly tapped the ward they’d found with the tips of their wands. They did the same in two other rooms, where they also found wards carved in the stone walls near the floor. But in the fourth room, they were surprised.

“Oh! Professor Sung! Dr. Jong!” said a voice. They turned to see a smiling young woman with a white coat and an ID tag. “I was in your class on ancient Chinese dialects!”

“Oh yes, of course, Wei Li-sun,” said Alicia, quickly reading the name on her tag. “Do you work here now?”

“Yes, I got a job with the Historical Research Department,” said Li-sun. “Are you here to examine the inscriptions? I knew you would come here someday.”

“Yes …” said Misty. “We’re interested in these very unusual inscriptions here. They don’t seem to be Chinese and may be some other type of symbols.”

“Oh, yes, I think I know the ones you mean,” said Li-sun. “Sorry, they haven’t installed lights in this room yet.”

“No worries,” Alicia said, pointing her wand at the spot where she expected the symbols to be. They were indeed there.

“See there,” Misty said, gesturing at the symbols with her wand. “Everything else is in the ancient dialect, but these symbols are something else.” She tapped them very lightly with the tip of her wand.

“Yes,” Alicia added, also tapping them lightly, hoping the gesture would be seen as just pointing to them with a pointer, “they could be an unknown language, or they could be magical symbols to ward off evil, or they could even be alchemical, considering that the famous Fang was an ancestor of the powerful family who once lived here.”

“Oh! Perhaps some of her descendants continued her traditions,” said Li-sun. “An excellent theory, Professor! But of course we would need to do more research.”

“Yes, of course,” Alicia replied. “Such a hypothesis would need documentation and support, or it is only supposition. But perhaps your work at this site could help prove or disprove it. What are they having you do here?”

Misty saw immediately what Alicia was doing. By moving the questions onto what Li-sun was doing, they could prevent her from asking them questions that they wouldn’t know the answers to. Alicia continued asking Li-sun about her work and her life, subjects she was very interested in and very happy to talk about, and Misty joined in. Finally, they ran the clock out.

“Oh, but it is nearly time to close the site for the evening,” said Li-sun.

“Here, what is your email now?” asked Alicia. “I will be sure to get in touch with you.” She took out her phone and copied down what Li-sun told her, keeping her wand in her hand as she did so.

They parted with smiles and handshakes, and Misty and Alicia left. As soon as they returned to the laboratory, Alicia intoned a spell. “What was that?” asked Misty.

“I hope it works,” said Alicia, “but you know that I used the Banter of Forgetfulness on Li-sun back there, right?”

“Well yes, she shouldn’t remember much of what exactly we said or who we were,” Misty said.

“Yes, but I did promise that ‘I’ would get in touch with her,” said Alicia. “So I’m making sure that the real Professor Sung finds her old student Li-sun’s email address in her phone soon.”

“Lockley’s Probability Manipulator!” said Misty. “Of course!”

“Combined with Brant’s Electronic Insinuation,” Alicia said. “The contact info is in her phone now, and sometime within the next week Professor Sung will find it and realize that she hasn’t emailed her old student since she graduated.”

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In the nether regions, unimagined by the minds of mankind, a powerful demon sat upon his throne of bone and brooded very dark thoughts. He conjured several of the images that depicted the Acolytes of Ahmen. It was good his son had notified him of these dire happenings.

In the demon’s mind, he was totally incredulous that humans had found a way to corrupt the Light. He watched several of the major blood magic ritual images several times as a small fear crept up his spine for the first time. As much as the demon wanted this kind of thing to happen, the magic power had to have its source. That source …

Somehow, those two had found a reconciliation point none had ever dreamed of. Shadow always retreated before the Light. The repercussions of a reconciliation point for the separation of Light and Dark would send major shockwaves throughout all creation if not used exactly properly … and perhaps even if it were.

It would mean total helpless submission of all to those female children of Ahmen Khotec. The demon felt the first strings of sheer terror begin to form. He must talk with these two before they caused universal armageddon.

The demon vanished in a bright flash, only to appear in some sort of overpowered cage of light. The demon silently cursed as it saw the symbols etched about and realized he was trapped in the most powerful protection ward the Light had, The Aura of Truth.

He could clearly see out of the ward’s protective aura, and saw two young women and a man dressed in the most ebony black robe the demon had ever seen outside of the inner circle of the Cursed Six. The man sat on a stool off to one side of what was obviously a laboratory of some sort.

The demon turned and looked at the girls as it said in those ethereal voices they can have, “I must speak with you. There is certain knowledge that cannot be known.”

As Alicia opened the Tomb of Meetings to a blank page and conjured the magical writing feather, Misty said, “Welcome. We were expecting Dragoth, but I suppose his source is good enough.”

The demon laughed. “Source?” He laughed again. “Silly mortal, I am Dragoth’s father. I must somehow convince you not to keep up the mixing of the Light and the Darkness. The results are universally bad for all creation.”

Alicia and Misty marveled at the Magical Writing Feather as it inscribed in fiery glowing letters the entire dialogue between those in the room and the demon. Both young women knew that the power of Light and the power of Dark were unreconcilable. If it were possible, some demon or evil wizard would have done it already. They also knew that the irresistible force meeting the immovable object would destroy all of creation.

Dark Lord looked at the two young wizards, and they looked back at him. He said only one word. “Truth.” Alicia and Misty looked at each other.

Slowly, Alicia asked the demon, “So … what exactly do you think we have been doing?”

“What do I think …?” the demon said incredulously. “You have been using the magic of Ahmen Khotec, which is entirely based on truth and Light, to commit atrocities the likes of which I myself might delight and revel in. The summoning ritual of Oblivion … the blood rituals … these are a corruption of Ahmen Khotec’s wisdom the likes of which I wish I could witness, were it not for the fact that such a combination would undermine the fabric of Creation itself.”

“Would it?” asked Misty.

“Of course it would!” shouted the demon indignantly, as if Misty were deliberately baiting him. “There would no longer be a distinction between Light and Dark! Day and night would have no meaning. Up and down, left and right, here and there. All would become one, and thus all distinction between people, places, even objects, would be destroyed. The universe would collapse to a single point.”

“Yet, has this happened?” asked Alicia.

“Obviously it has not, which means that …” The demon paused. “That you have not done so! Ha ha!” He laughed like an insane person. “You haven’t actually done it! You’ve made it look like you have, but you haven’t! You’ve fooled them all! Even me!” He laughed even more insanely, as if the two had broken his mind.

When he finally calmed down, Misty asked, “And what would happen, if anyone ever found out you had been fooled to this extent?”

“And entrapped in a cage by two novice Wizards of Light?” added Alicia.

“It would be difficult to recover my reputation, of course,” the demon said. “What do you want?”

Alicia and Misty looked at each other. Then Misty said, “Are you planning to tell anyone what has happened here today?”

“Well, obviously not! …” The demon paused. “I see. You wish me to say nothing about it. Well, I desire the same. Wizards of Light. Always with the questions. You can’t tell a lie if all you do is ask questions! Fine. I won’t say anything about being fooled by you or being trapped in your cage.”

“And?” asked Alicia.

“Well, obviously I also can’t tell anybody you aren’t really in possession of a secret reconciliation point between Darkness and Light,” said the demon, “because no such thing exists, and you’ve just made it look like it somehow, even though Ahmen Khotec’s magic doesn’t allow you to lie with illusions. I will find out how you did that! I will!”

“Farewell,” said Misty, and chanted the final syllables of the Aura of Truth, which did not release the aura but rather banished anything caught in it back to wherever it had come from.

“Good,” said Dark Lord. “Lying would have weakened the Aura of Truth, as well as any other spells you attempted to use. By only asking questions, you told him no lies. He came to his own conclusions, right or wrong.”

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On the date the court case came to the federal docket, the bank captain and Dimmerex’s CEO were both there. The bank’s lawyer had come loaded with many pounds of documents. Conversely, Dimmerex’s lawyer came with 2 sheets of paper. One was a federal law that stated: Unless the bank could prove just cause, there was no grounds for them to call in a loan under the conditions they had done to Dimmerex.

The bank’s lawyer wasted much time presenting a case that was groundless until the judge became annoyed.

The judge banged his gavel. “Pardon me for interrupting. However, I have listened to you drone on for over an hour about meaningless agenda items. Unless you can prove probable cause, I’m afraid I will have to rule in Dimmerex’s favor. Also, I add to this the stipulation that all monetary loans, debts, and leans are now and forever released. If any other business is transacted, that will be in force.” The judge banged his gavel. “Case closed. Bailiff.” He handed the bailiff a stack of papers, “Ensure this is properly filed and the bank’s lawyer has triplicate copies.”

“Your Honor,” said the bailiff before taking the stack of forms into another room, where the clerks made the copies, certified them, placed the official seal on each page, then gave the triplicate copies to the bank’s lawyer.

Dimmerex’s lawyer was shaking Mr. Demmer’s hand in the hallway. “Congratulations, Sir,” he said. “The company you started is yours again.”

“Well, thank you for your excellent representation,” said Mr. Demmer. “I’ve seen nothing but exceptional service from Hendricks and Associates. Hand delivery of documents by that pair of paralegals, even.”

“Hand delivery of …?” asked the lawyer. “Well, I’m glad they were so conscientious … didn’t know they did that at our firm. But at any rate, I’m glad we were able to be of service. And if they appeal, we’ll notify you. Will you be going right back into production?”

“Well, we had to lay off nearly all of our employees when the bank shut us down,” said Demmer. “So we’ll have to rehire or replace them all. But once we do, we’ll be back up and running. Most of our contracts haven’t even expired. We might actually be able to fulfill our customers’ orders.”

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In an antechamber deep within the dark, damp grotto, Dragoth sat at his conjuring table reading over a tome older than recorded history. From what he read, and the vague replies from his father, who should know first hand, there should be no way for the light and dark powers to mix.

The more he studied, the more frustrated Dragoth became. He must learn the secret to being able to wield both in harmony. He turned slightly and looked into the misty depths of his scrying orb at the extremely dark ritual those girls were once again performing. Right on cue, when the girls appeared to have completed the actions, an apparent blast of darkness spread until it completely filled his orb, which then went dark.

Dragoth banged his fist on the table, the thick wood making an echoing boom within the grotto, scaring to flight several dozen of the rather large pet vampire bats, which flew off in a large squeaking flock. As he watched them fly off for the moment, his thoughts turned really dark as he mused over how two amateur acolytes were apparently becoming the most powerful magical agents of the age right before his eyes … and nothing he had tried so far amounted to anything.

Dragoth snapped his fingers, and several large oil candles ignited with a loud pop. He brought out a medium-sized finely shaped crystal mortar and began adding a small quantity of several lumpy elements. As he muttered arcane words, he slowly and carefully began to grind and mix them together with a pestle made of some kind of creature’s bone.

Dragoth knew that Ahmen Khotec had found perhaps some of the most powerful wizards ever, and this didn’t bode well for him, or the other practitioners of the Dark Arts. It was time to make whatever move against them they were going to make before the girls became any more powerful. From all indications, even as quick as this was, it might well still be too late.

Dragoth walked from his conjuring table over to something that might be better described as an altar than anything else and dumped the finely ground, well mixed powdered compound into a huge, ornately carved crucible made of some kind of crystal that softly glowed.

Just as Dragoth raised a strangely shaped bottle of glowing jet black liquid above his head, 6 individuals dressed in the blackest of black robes entered as if summoned. They took positions behind Dragoth standing in a semicircle, male then female, and began a low toned rhythmic chant with their heads bowed and hands folded in supplication in front of them.

Dragoth said in a loud echoing ethereal voice, “Upon the powers of darkness beyond the great void I call …” With this, he removed the top from the bottle he was holding and dumped a large quantity of the thick, oozing, black liquid into the mixture within the crystal crucible.

Immediately, a large sparking pyrotechnical explosion of energy began. The filigree surrounding the altar filled and began to sparkle brightly while some form of boiling dark cloud formed within the frames. Within the cloud appeared large, very red, reptilian eyes and what appeared to be a fang filled mouth. The other six in the ebony black robes were cowering on their knees.

The image appeared to look right at Dragoth and said in a guttural, rasping voice, “And what task has the crown prince of the Throne of Bone have for the Nether Realms?”

Dragoth smiled as he replied, “I am in need of warriors and powers to defeat one of the greatest threats to the Dark Realms that has ever appeared.”

A large sphere appeared. Within, it showed Misty and Alicia performing the blood spell of Aranados, which all present knew was a truly dark and quite destructive spell.

Dragoth pointed, “We must stop them from completing whatever task is their goal. They are but novices, yet they perform great and evil spells as if they were commonplace.”

The image in the altar looked seriously at the conjuration. It was obvious that the face was seriously frowning as it repled, “Ask what you need, and we shall do our best to supply it. The mating of light and dark, much as I would love for it to happen, must be stopped. The end results would mean a true creation-wide destruction.”

Dragoth said with an almost hysterical tone in his voice, “By my authority as crown prince of the Throne of Bone, I call upon the armies of darkness to search out and do battle with those upstarts.”

Before the image vanished, it replied in a voice that shook the grotto, “It shall be done, O Prince. The forces of darkness are at your command.”

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“So how’s this contraption work?” asked Dark Lord. They stood before a new installation in the laboratory, whose wards had been renewed. This mass of electronics and cooling systems was in the center of a previously empty area in Fang’s laboratory, with a rack full of computer servers, a monitor, and a keyboard attached to it via numerous interface cables and devices.

“Well, this is a quantum computer,” said Alicia, indicating the column of electronics and cooling. “It’s really good at computations that involve chaos, or situations that aren’t known so much as the probability of various different situations are known instead.”

“Like if you’re not sure whether the potion is pure truth potion, pure healing potion, or some mixture of the two,” Misty said, by way of example. “And this is a bunch of regular computers that let us talk to the quantum computer.”

“And you think there’s some way to apply this to magic?” asked Dark Lord. “I suppose there’s a possibility, considering that Dragoth and his allies have been pulling out all the stops to prevent such a thing from coming to pass.”

“There must be some way,” Alicia said. “And I’ve got a theory. If we can translate what Dragoth and his cronies have been doing so far into numbers, we might be able to program this collection of gadgets to predict their next move.”

“What’s more, we could create some magical sensors that could continue to feed it magical input in real time,” said Misty. “You know, we have Dragoth to thank for this idea. We would never have thought of it if he hadn’t been so all-fired insistent on preventing it from ever happening.”

Dark Lord laughed. “That’s rich! It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. They could have left well enough alone, and it never would have happened. They have only themselves to blame. It’s a good thing that Ahmen had so much wealth stored away for the future. It allowed you to purchase this equipment from Dimmerex, now that they’re back in business. So you think you have both the technological knowledge and the magical expertise to make this all happen?”

“Well, not just yet,” said Alicia, “but we’re on the right track, and we will soon.”

“I’ve got a handle on the magical sensors, though,” said Misty. “This is a basic one already.” She held up an ornately decorated golden disc with various colored gemstones embedded in it, and a wired plug attached to it. “This is simply a Khazim’s Magic Sensitivity spell, imbued into this item I constructed to amplify it and change it into electrical signals. With some chips that were already designed for transforming analog electrical signals into digital patterns, we can just plug this in, and any software we write will be able to tell whether there’s fire magic, shadow magic, light magic, dark magic, or whatever in operation nearby.”

“We could make several of those, and install them in different places,” said Alicia. “We’ve even got a spell that makes wired signals wireless via magic – that’s how we’re powering this setup, with electricity from America, so the Chinese government won’t detect it via the drain on their power grid.”

“The more input, the better the output,” said Misty. “As long as none of the input is junk, anyway.”

“Plug it in,” said Alicia, and Misty connected the device to an input port.

“Should I try something?” Misty asked.

“Just a moment …” said Alicia, typing on the keyboard. “OK, try now.” She typed something, and a window appeared on the screen saying, “No input detected.”

“All right,” said Misty, taking out her wand and intoning, “Lux sit.” The end of her wand lit up like a firefly. On the screen, the text in the window changed to, “Light magic detected.”

“Excellent,” said Dark Lord. “This has not been a test, by the way. I had no idea any of this was even possible. If it had been a test, you would have just passed, though. Can it tell who cast the spell?”

“Not yet,” Alicia said. “That’ll take more work.”

On the screen, the window’s text changed to say, “Infernal magic detected.”

“What …” Misty said, looking worriedly at it.

Reveletur symbolis,” said Dark Lord, his wand out, brandishing it in an arc around him, leaving a trail of violet vaporous symbols in the air behind it.

Reveletur magicae infernalibus,” Misty said, similarly flicking her wand in an arc around herself. A spot of blood-red light hovered in the air in one direction. The symbols around Dark Lord arranged themselves around the spot of red light, settling into an order.

“It’s not close,” said Misty, “but it’s somewhere on this continent. To the south. Somebody’s using infernal magic, and its effects are appearing.”

“It’s a conjuration,” said Dark Lord. “The symbols mean someone’s called upon the armies of darkness. This is bad. All over the world bad. The damage won’t be limited to those who practice the magical arts. People will die.”

A second red spot appeared in the air in a different direction. Then a third. Then dozens. Then there were hundreds, in every direction. They were slightly denser to the north and west than to the south and east.

“Lots of people will die,” added Dark Lord.

“Can we stop it?” asked Alicia.

“There are only two ways to stop the armies of darkness,” said Dark Lord, wide-eyed as he watched more spots of light appear. “First, if they accomplish their goal. I think there’s no question that this has something to do with you two. So they’d have to kill or capture you. That’s out of the question. Second, if the spell that summoned them is found and canceled, the magic that allows them to exist here would be undone, and they’d be forcibly returned to the Nether Realms.”

“Well, we adapted this machine here specifically for that kind of purpose,” said Alicia.

“We’ll need more detectors,” Misty said.

“We’ll need better code,” added Alicia.

“We’ll need more time,” said Dark Lord. He chanted, and the light around them became red. “The computer thing isn’t affected, because this would change the frequency and energy of the electricity coming into it, and that might harm it. But right now, one hour passes inside this room for each second outside. You can make your plans, cast your spells, think, and talk. But you’ll have to cancel it to type on the computer, so before you do that, be ready.”

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In a small, semi-rural township with many farms scattered across its huge landscape, a large flash happened almost hidden behind Larry Higgin’s barn. The flash probably would have gone unnoticed, except for the duskiness of the light level due to approaching night, and the fact that Larry was still hypervigilant after just returning from a war zone.

Immediately, Larry ran into his house and grabbed his military assault weapon and as many 60 round mags and .40mm grenades for his underbarrel launcher as he could stuff in his overalls pockets. He was one of the commanders of the local prepper militia, and he wasn’t going to allow something to invade his land without a fight.

As he dashed out the back screen, he loaded the special black talon exploding rounds and thermite grenades he had managed to get from military ordnance stores before he’d been sent home on rotation.

He charged his weapon and cocked the grenade launcher as he rounded the corner of the barn. First thing he noticed was the horrid stink, before he saw the ugly ragtag horde of creatures standing there.

They looked like something out of his favorite adventure video game. Larry couldn’t believe it; he had to be hallucinating, having one of those … PTSD thingys they’d told him about.

Ugly was a mild way to put it, and they were dressed in some of the strangest collections of chainmail and normal body armor one could imagine. Their weapons appeared to be many types of oddball odds and ends of melee weapons, along with an assortment of some type of sling projectiles.

Larry had no fear, but he also had no idea of the very evil dark magic that might be contained within the armor, or the seeming junk they used for weapons. He rounded the barn and dropped his weapon to his hip, shouting, “Awwright you stinky crap bombs. This here’s my land, ’n y’all’s trespassin’!”

The horde turned and looked at Larry. The guttural sounds Larry heard sounded like laughter more than anything else. One of the uglies said in a rasping guttural voice, “Lookie here. We gotsa real brave slab o’ meat. Betcha wiffsa bitta brain gravy ’n eyeball garnish, that skinny thing might taste good.”

A roaring round of more of the guttural noises that sounded like laughter. Larry really became pissed. He had seen some of the things the enemy he had faced in the jungles had done to his force’s bodies and totally lost it. If they thought they were going to eat him, this critter would learn that he had a mighty bite.

The ogres, even with the magical wards of protection, didn’t really have the proper armor to defend against modern exploding weapons. Larry let fly by first pumping off three .40 mm grenades into the group that was laughing the loudest. The resulting explosions blew 4 of the 6 in the group to bloody chunks and ripped the other two into shreds. Those standing nearby took heavy shrapnel damage.

The horde fell immediately silent as Larry opened up with his weapon set to semi. As fast as he could pull the trigger, many of the ugly and smelly creatures fell with their heads splattered as the Black Talons super penetrated before they exploded.

Even in the few seconds before the horde reacted, Larry had killed dozens. The horde was totally caught by surprise at the power this meat sack had. Retaliation came swiftly, though, as more uglies magically appeared in a flash and tossed several dozen black spheres that landed in a scattered sort of way and popped. A really weird glowing cloud of mist flowed out from them along the ground towards Larry. Anything living it came in contact with withered immediately into nothing or died and instantly rotted away. Along with that, many kinds of fire and freezing things exploded all around amid all the flying junk that constituted their ragtag weapons.

Before Larry turned and made a strategic exit, he pumped off 1 more .40 mm thermite grenade in front of the approaching cloud. Larry didn’t see it, but the grenade’s massive fire and explosion stopped the mist’s advance, although it didn’t totally get rid of it.

The horde was completely mind blown and outraged now. There was no way a meat sack could do that to them. Larry heard a loud guttural roar and the clamor of metals against metals as he dashed into the house and brought out his favorite and most illegal toy, his prized Vulcan cannon. He donned the 40k round backpack mag, loaded the belt into the receiver and charged it. Larry smiled; today was a great day to die.

The last thing Larry did before dashing out to face whatever fate chose for him was to make an emergency call over the shortwave to his militia command post. Those who heard the call immediately mobilized whatever prepper weapons they had and rushed to Larry’s farm. The message sounded desperate.

20 minutes later, several dozen pickups and vans arrived. Men and women dressed in body armor and armed to the teeth emerged. During the wait time, Larry hadn’t been slack in any way. The carnage was massive; he was yelling like a banshee as he devastated the seemingly never ending hoard of ogres. The roar of his minigun spoke volumes.

Larry was handed another backpack mag for his minigun, for which he was very grateful. While he stopped to reload, the others dove in and continued fighting. By this time, however, many many more ogres had arrived, followed by another type of creature even more smelly and ugly.

Their numbers kept increasing even as their death toll skyrocketed. By this time, however, the 60 or 70 defending the farm with Larry began to take damage as they began to be attacked with magical means.

Of course, there were many more instances of incursions all over the world, including the area surrounding the location of the alchemy lab, where the girls were in total shock over the enormity of the forces of darkness’ mobilization.

One such incursion occurred next to a large body of water where two nations were currently having an armed disagreement. Two huge armies were in the process of blowing up as much real estate as possible when a large incursion of hydras slithered out of the water in full battle armor.

The two warring parties seemed to make some kind of ceasefire against each other, then opened up on what they thought was some sort of nightmare. At first the hydras were caught by surprise and took heavy losses. That was until the Mistress Hydra did one of her sonic screams.

After that, the magic glaives, the magic crystal swords, and many more sonic screams prevailed. What few were left of the mighty army of hydras continued their search for the two wizards amid the massive smoldering wreckage, but with an astonishing reduction in their own numbers.

The massive armies of darkness moved swifter than the wind, but in the end they had lost much of their forces. However, before humankind could react properly, mankind had already lost. The fact that so many of mankind already had darkness contaminating their spirit aided immensely in the rapidity of the takeover. The death toll on both sides was as astonishing as the massive damage. And it had only been about half an hour.

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“This is … crazy,” said Alicia, looking into the laboratory’s scrying orb. Everything was happening in slow motion because of the time spell, but the devastation and loss of life was difficult to believe, and it was happening all over the world. The hours they had spent working on their device had yielded some progress, but there was still a long way to go.

“We have to keep working,” said Misty. “It’s the only way to end this. We can’t hope to oppose that without something special in our corner.”

“Is it time to test phase one yet?” asked Dark Lord.

Alicia paused in her panicking. She thought for a moment. “It … might be,” she said, almost not believing her own words. “I think we might actually have all the pieces in place for the first step.”

“Then let me help,” said Dark Lord. “This isn’t a test. This is war. I’m allowed to help, so let me send your first wave of sensors out for you.”

“That would be perfect, thank you!” said Misty. “I’ve made a hundred, and they’re cloaked and magically wireless.” The small sparkling golden devices lay in neat rows on one of the laboratory’s long workbenches.

“I know the plan, so I know where these go,” the wizard said. He took out his wand and started incanting. Tiny orbs of shadow appeared and disappeared, taking the sensors with them, as he teleported them to their intended locations. They hovered hundreds of feet above the ground and were magically invisible to the unaided eye.

“I’m seeing them,” said Alicia, watching their data start coming in. There was more now than there had been for the prototype – not just location and type of magic, but strength, aspect, and magical signature as well. “And … that’s the last of them. Running the software …” She typed on the keyboard. And Dark Lord dropped his slow time spell.

The quantum computer component of their contraption didn’t look or sound like anything was happening, but its cooling pumps started to make more noise. A map of the world appeared on the screen, quickly overlaid with a twisting, shifting, multicolored heatmap.

“Fascinating,” said Dark Lord, focusing on the screen. “This is telling us where magic is being used, and what kind. And the … quantum thing, what’s that supposed to do, then?”

“It’s supposed to deal with multiple possibilities happening at once,” said Alicia. “It can consider many possible outcomes and isolate the most likely, much more quickly than a standard computer.”

“And what possibilities are we trying to analyze?” asked Dark Lord.

“Where this spell was cast,” said Misty.

“There!” said Alicia, pointing to a spot in eastern Europe. The colors were intense there, and arranged into a five-sided pattern. “If only we had more sensors, more densely packed.”

Suddenly the image on the screen almost froze again. Dark Lord had renewed the time slowing spell. “All right,” he said. “How many do you need?”

“I was using Drelbin’s Duplication to generate more of them,” said Misty.

“Let me do that,” said the wizard. “You work on … whatever you were doing.”

“I was working on improving the sensors,” she said.

“I was working on the code,” said Alicia.

“You are both doing such a good job with those tasks that it seems a shame for you to interrupt them for something as mundane as making more sensors,” said Dark Lord. “Let me handle the Duplication. I know the spell well.”

“OK,” said Misty. “Then I’ll just … try this.” She started tweaking the prototype sensor, adding new types of gemstone and new combinations of reagents.

“I’ll see if I can overhaul this prediction algorithm,” Alicia said, typing madly on the keyboard of a laptop computer. As it was separate from the server rack and quantum computer assembly, she could use it while inside the slow-time spell’s area of effect without fear that the time differential would harm the truly expensive equipment, compiling her code and doing test runs before uploading it, which required Dark Lord to take down the slow-time spell, but he then replaced it.

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As the rest of the world reeled in the aftermath of the very short takeover of the planet, Dragoth sat in front of his ‘ALTAR’ and continued to watch the images that played out within the boiling misty miasma.

He felt elated at the swiftness of it all, but anger at the massive death toll it extracted against his legions. He had lost fully 2/3rds of his total force in the short 30 minute battle. And what was more, they hadn’t successfully located those two junior wizards.

He put that from his mind as he began adding special crystals to the bowl in front of him. He selected another vial that contained a softly glowing yellow liquid and poured a drop over the crystals in the bowl.

A wavy kind of misty veil crossed the image temporarily, then different images of different locations slowly focused within the boiling cloud. Dragoth knew nothing could stop the remainder of his forces in the search for those infernal two.

The biggest issue Dragoth had was trying to scry the location they might happen to be in. The images that formed within the cloud once again showed the girls performing the darkest of blood magics, coupled with the most powerful spells of light. None of the many images showed or gave any kind of hint as to the location.

In the underground laboratory in Xi’an, China, a small and very adorably cute creature appeared. Snuggles immediately hopped over to Alicia, sat on its hind legs, and wiggled it nose.

Alicia smiled, picked Snuggles up, and gave her a gentle hug, “Welcome back. Haven’t seen you or Spirit in a couple of days.”

Another flash, and the softly glowing orb of Spirit appeared. Snuggles said in its cute voice, “Nopes, we beena studdyins too.”

Spirit swished and bounced around comically until it came to a stationary floating place next to Snuggles. Spirit said, “Gotsa shows ya sompin mortals dunno.”

With this, Snuggles dropped several types of pouches filled with different items that she was carrying on her back. Spirit began to project moving images as to how to work the mighty chaos spell of reclamation, thus undoing the massive death toll and damage caused by the armies of darkness.

Because the armies of demons were magical in nature and had been brought to Earth through conjuration, the magics would not affect them in the same way. Their massive losses … were lost.

Dark Lord raised an eyebrow as he read the title of the tome Snuggles had brought, “The Power of Chaos? I didn’t realize chaos was a power. I’d thought chaos was defined as the uncertainty principle. The unpredictability of reality.”

Misty said, “If it can help us to stop this insurgence, and defeat Dragoth …”

Alicia interrupted nervously, “Isn’t chaos defined also as a dark force? Will we even be able to use it without contamination?”

Dark Lord replied, “Chaos is thought to be a shadow power. It’s neither good nor bad, just the random actions of major forces almost too powerful to wield.”

Alicia and Misty began to read the large volume on Chaos Magic, while their super advanced Quantum Computer narrowed down the point of origin for the spell of summoning that had brought all the evil minions to Earth, homing in with razor sharp precision.

“It looks like we’ll need a fairly large ritual space to enact this,” said Alicia as she read. “I don’t think we can do it in this lab.”

Misty added, “Yes, and the spell we have to chant is really long. It might take a long time.”

“So we’ll have to be outdoors, for a considerable length of time, with the legions of evil looking for us,” said Alicia. “It’s risky.”

“On the other hand,” said Misty, “there’s an opportunity in it. Let’s see …”

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“I’m starting to think my son is an idiot,” said Dragoth’s demonic father as he watched the goings-on of Earth via a large pentagonal scrying glass. Currently it showed Dragoth continuing to try to find them via scrying. “How has he not yet realized that these two little girls have him fooled? Come on … figure it out …”

He noticed something in the glass. “Wait. What’s going on? It’s those two girls. They’re incanting a ritual … on a hilltop in Bulgaria? That’s just a mile from my son’s cave! What are they thinking?”

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“Wait – wait – THERE THEY ARE!” shouted Dragoth, almost jumping up from his “altar.” “They’re … doing some kind of ritual that I don’t recognize. But where is that?”

Suddenly a number of acolytes ran into the room. “Master,” said one of them. “The two young wizards – the disciples of Ahmen Khotec –”

“Yes? What about them?”

“They’re not far from here, Master,” said another. “They’re over on Limbrovic Hill. It’s only about a mile away. Some of us saw something over there on a routine patrol and checked it out.”

“Well, what are you waiting for?” asked Dragoth furiously. “Get them! Bring them here! I must know their secret!”

“B-but Master …” said the first acolyte uncertainly.

“Go now!” shouted Dragoth. “Capture them! Do whatever you need to do! Or are you trying to prove yourself incompetent?”

“N-no, Master! Yes Master! We’re going, Master!” the acolytes stammered and left hurriedly.

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Sparkling energies and clouds of light that flickered like thunderclouds swirled around Misty and Alicia’s ritual space. “Sloah mispec harui pluvo milerialia,” they chanted in unison. Their words slowed as they went. “Lulo brego kumeralis vera …”

“Stop!” shouted a nervous-looking robed figure, who was pointing a wand at them. “You can’t just come here and do that! We’re taking you to Master Dragoth! He’ll decide what to do with you!” They were surrounded by black-robed figures with wands. Alicia and Misty looked at each other. The chaotic energies continued to swirl around them. But they said nothing.

“That’s right, not another word!” said the acolyte. “Come with us!” Misty and Alicia did as they were told. Thirteen black-robed acolytes kept their wands pointed at the two young wizards as they walked them to Dragoth’s lair. But the swirling chaotic energy in the atmosphere didn’t dissipate. The air was still crackling with power.

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“Master, they’re here!” said a low-level apprentice.

“Bring them in!” said Dragoth. “They shall see my triumph!” The acolytes ushered Misty and Alicia into Dragoth’s sanctum at wandpoint. The two young women’s eyes were still wild, though, and their hair was still charged as with static electricity. Tiny flashes of energy leapt from their bodies into the air occasionally. They still hadn’t said a word since leaving the hilltop.

“Here I have called upon the foes of light, the armies of darkness, and they have wrought destruction upon the whole of the Earth,” said Dragoth, standing before his “altar.” “Here will I now put an end to your abominations. This mixing of light and dark magic cannot be. It will not stand. I do not know how you accomplished it, but I have seen you do it. I do not know what sort of ritual you were enacting upon the hill, but …”

Alicia and Misty looked at each other, and Dragoth paused with uncertainty. Then, at once, the two young wizards uttered the final word of their ritual, which they had been holding at the ready. “Thama!”

Then the chaos energy was released upon the chamber. Misty and Alicia flattened themselves against the walls as a swirling cloud of pure chaos magic focused on the center of the room and the altar there. The lightning-like bolts of multicolored energy flashed throughout the cloud, lighting it up but at the same time obscuring the view of what was happening inside it.

With so much chaotic energy contained within such a small space, the destruction was immense. Alicia and Misty worked their way to the exit, the acolytes long since having fled. Dragoth was staring at this phenomenon, trying to cast spells to ward it off, flicking his wand this way and that, quickly snapping words of magic to no avail. The interior of the chamber was being converted into a fine powder, the contents of the cauldron to mist.

Having left the chamber, Misty and Alicia ran. They kept running until they were back to the hilltop. Winded from running and from climbing the hill, they looked back at Dragoth’s lair. Bolts of chaotic energy were lashing the mountain from the sky. Howling miasma-filled winds issued forth from the cave entrance. The two stood at the center of their protective circle at the top of the hill, opened a portal, and vanished.

“I saw!” said Dark Lord as they appeared in the laboratory. The quantum computer’s screen showed a bright patch of pinkish-purple on its map in the location in Bulgaria where the two young women had been. “You caused quite a stir! But that was so risky! He could’ve had you killed!”

Misty and Alicia were still too out of breath to say much. “Worth it – watch the screen –” panted Alicia.

Around the world, they could see on the map, the bright flame-orange of infernal magic had begun to be pushed aside by seemingly random flashes of the pinkish-purple chaos magic the two had unleashed upon the world. The chaos could have been just as bad as the demon armies, except for one saving grace: they had unleashed the chaos in the room where the armies of darkness had been conjured in the first place. So the chaos was spending its force on wiping out the effects of the conjuration.

If one were able to stand and observe with the proper perspective, they would see a seriously war-ravaged world being swept by a wave of boiling arcing energy washing over the massive destruction. After it passed, it was as if nothing had ever happened. All the destruction, fire, and obvious death was gone, and everything was exactly back to the way it was prior to the attack, minus all the pollution, radioactive waste, and garbage piles.

In a place that would probably be thought of as the infernal fiery pits, a rather large demon sat on his throne of bone. In front of him, a greasy sort of mist arose amid a small red fire as it rapidly formed into Dragoth.

The demon laughed in its deep rasping way, “Well, my boy. Welcome to hell. Now I have several centuries to teach you about why light and dark will never mix.”

Dragoth looked around at the very dismal and extremely depressing place, then screamed in total abject frustration.

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Dark Lord stood with a large smile on his face as a loud gonging sound began to chime somewhere in the laboratory. “Well, ladies, it appears you have earned your wands. That irritating gong says you have achieved something no one has ever done as an apprentice before.”

“We saved the world?” asked Alicia.

“Actually … no, an apprentice has saved the world from ruin at least once before that I know of,” said Dark Lord.

Misty asked, “We defeated our rivals?”

“Well – generally when apprentices have rivals, one of them will defeat the other; the only question is which one …”

“So what did we achieve?” asked Alicia, looking confused.

“You didn’t just defeat a rival,” explained the wizard. “You defeated Dragoth, the son of a demon. He was a disciple of Kheb’rakth, a master of infernal sorcery in ancient times. Needless to say, his magical path led away from truth and justice and toward corruption, greed, and evil.”

“I knew he was no good,” said Misty, “but I guess I didn’t know how bad he was! That demon did say he was Dragoth’s dad, but I didn’t believe him. Believing what demons say is a bad idea by all accounts.”

“From what I’ve read, they pretty much invented lying,” added Alicia.

“More or less, yes,” said Dark Lord. “But congratulations! And … you may have invented an entirely new branch of magic,” he added, looking over at the quantum computer and the rack of servers. “No one can master both good and evil paths at the same time. The two are simply incompatible. But combining Light magic with technology? There’s no fundamental principle that says it’s impossible. You just connected a quantum computer up to a bunch of other computers, added some magical sensors for input, and here you’re comparing the probabilities and consequences of different magical actions.”

“So … do we graduate?” asked Misty.

“Well, you’ve earned your wands, so to speak,” said the wizard. “I mean, you’ve already been using your wands, so it’s just an expression. What it means is, you’re wizards now. You can study and practice any form of magic you like. I’m satisfied that you’ve both got a good, solid educational foundation to build on.”

“Wait …” said Alicia, “does that mean you’ve fulfilled your promise to Ahmen Khotec?”

“It does,” said Dark Lord. “And that also means that I’m going to my eternal rest – though whether it’s eternal or whether I can expect some sort of reincarnation isn’t for me to say.”

“Who decides that, anyway?” asked Misty.

“The Powers that Be,” said the wizard. “That’s a matter of belief, and everyone’s got their own.”

“But … Dark Lord …” said Alicia, tears welling up in her eyes. “You’ve taught us so much! We’ll miss you!”

“You’re our friend! We can’t just say goodbye and thanks and be all right with that!” added Misty.

“I was meant to have died centuries ago,” the wizard said. “I lived a full life, and I’m only still around because of the promise I made to my good friend. Ahmen was a powerful force for good in the world. I now know that his legacy will live on. You two will also stand against the darkness when it threatens the world – I know that because I’ve just seen you do it. When I go, I’ll go knowing the world’s in good hands.”

“You’re not … going right away?” Alicia asked.

“No, it seems not,” Dark Lord replied, looking at his outstretched hands. “Not yet. Perhaps my promise isn’t quite fulfilled yet, or perhaps the spell is giving me some time to get my affairs in order. Only the Powers that Be know.” He looked at Alicia and Misty seriously. “But basically it could happen at any time, so before it does, let me just tell you that it’s been an honor guiding and teaching you. I’m so happy that I got to know you.”

“Ohhh!” Alicia said, unable to avoid stepping toward the wizard and hugging him. Misty did so too, weeping uncontrollably. Snuggles and Spirit looked on sadly.

After a few moments, the two young women stepped away. “You’re … not going yet,” said Alicia, wiping some tears away with her fingers.

“And … we don’t know when you’ll … you know … go …” Misty added.

“Neither do I …” said the wizard, tears in his eyes as well.

“Well … were there any other spells of Ahmen Khotec’s that needed renewing?” asked Alicia.

“This was the last one that I know of,” Dark Lord said, “but … maybe there’s another one we were all meant to discover?”

“Sounds like it’s time for some more research,” said Misty.

“There are some more libraries I could show you,” said the wizard. “Maybe they’re protected by spells that need renewing? But I thought they were protected in other ways. But we can look …” He opened another portal with his wand. “Let’s go to Egypt.”

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They stood at first in total darkness, but then lamps started to ignite around them. The lamps sat on tables, and the tables stood between cases of diamond-shaped scroll receptacles, all full of ancient scrolls wrapped around wooden dowels with ornately carved handles. The walls were stone, carved with intricate hieroglyphs. There were no windows or doors.

“The ancient Library of Alexandria was destroyed by the Catholic Church – or so they thought,” said Dark Lord. “The Catholics said they were destroying blasphemous writings, when in fact they were really destroying the greatest repository of knowledge the Mediterranean world had ever known. Of course, the Catholic’s leaders knew exactly what they were doing – extending their political influence to a land where it had been only shaky at best, and all it cost was the destruction of most of the learning of the ancient world and plunging Europe into a Dark Age for almost 800 years. When the people blindly believe whatever the Church tells them, why would anyone need any other knowledge? But there was a vault beneath the Library that they never found, because Hypatia, the last surviving head librarian, sealed it forever. No one could enter, with its doorway destroyed – no one but those who knew the spell to travel here.”

“What?” Alicia asked. “This is the actual Library of …”

“No, it’s just the last remnant of it,” said Misty, “but still … wow …”

“Perfectly preserved by all who can still visit,” Dark Lord went on. “Technically it should be underwater now, and the scrolls should have rotted away to nothing, but after the spells of many wizards, it’s basically become a dimension all its own now, with its own variation on physical laws.”

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The massive destruction within Dragoth’s grotto finally ended. The acolytes who had fled slowly and fearfully returned to the massively destroyed place. Most of it was now an extremely large sinkhole that had begun to slowly fill with water.

Now that Dragoth’s flesh body had been killed, the witches and wizards of his particular coven had no source for their powers and had lost them. The survivors began to dig through the massive twisted rubble, searching for anything that might have remained. They stood in total astonishment at the massive destruction.

It was more than obvious that those apprentices of Ahmen Khotec were as powerful as they had feared. The type of magic they had used was totally unknown to the survivors, but now they were powerless on their own and extremely fearful of another devastating attack against which they no longer had any type of defenses. From the ruin of the grotto by the last attack, they knew in their souls they hadn’t stood a chance even when they’d been at full strength.

One young apprentice witch discovered an artifact that had managed to survive intact and retained some of its powers. It was far weaker than what they’d had before, but they were now able to gather more sources, if only they had time to gather them.

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Dark Lord, Misty, and Alicia began to study all the remaining knowledge stored within the library. Dark Lord gasped when he had rolled part of the way through a very old and very large scroll. He said with amazement in his voice, “Girls, look at this.”

Alicia and Misty gathered near and, using a language-reading spell, started reading the ancient language that had not been used in many millenia. The story it told was how well Light Magic and Earth Magic would work together once the particular earth ingredients had been purified and cleansed of corruption.

It went into great detail on how the merging was to be done, and exactly what prayers, not magical incantations, were to be used. This was the missing link to insuring that evil could no longer gain a foothold. It didn’t mean small cells didn’t pop up now and again, but it kept it from making any kind of lasting and powerful footholds.

Dark Lord said softly, “So, that’s the last item I must do.”

Alicia looked up and said, “Last item? What’s that?”

Misty said, “Yeah, what?”

Dark Lord laughed and replied, “I am to teach you Earth Magic and how to integrate it with Light Magic. It’s so ironic, too, that a Shadow Wizard would the chosen one to pass on this ability. But then, of course I’m adept with Light Magic – one can’t practice Shadow Magic without being familiar with the Light, since it’s what casts the Shadow.”

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After adding their own preservation spells to the Library, Alicia and Misty got to work learning about Earth Magic from Dark Lord. They had already learned a lot about Light Magic because of the nature of Ahmen Khotec’s legacy, but they needed to learn the same amount about Earth Magic before they could hope to be able to blend them.

They had returned to the quarrylike excavation where they’d found Ahmen Khotec’s chests. “Now,” said Dark Lord, “this area has been worked by both machines and hand tools. It’s not very corrupt, but it has been disturbed from its natural state. That makes it a decent place to practice – we’re not disturbing untouched natural land, and we’re not dealing with a place corrupted by evil either.”

“So we can … shape the land?” asked Misty. She began to cast a spell, taking out her wand and moving it in time with an incantation. Slowly a stark cut in the bedrock began to fill in with soil, far below them at the bottom of the excavation, and plants visibly began to grow in that soil.

“Good,” Dark Lord said. “What you’re doing is accelerating the natural process of healing that would occur in this scar in the earth’s skin.”

“Let me try something,” said Alicia, chanting and making gestures with her wand, mostly pointing downward.

“I see what she’s trying to do,” said Dark Lord, closing his eyes. “Hidden below the earth are many things, some of which are natural and some made by humans in times past, swallowed by the soil. She’s trying to sense them.”

“What … is that …?” asked Alicia, her eyes closed as well, slowly raising her wand upward. The ground beneath them rumbled, then a spot down in the quarry split open, spewing soil and rocks, and upward came … a rectangular stone object, still covered with dirt and roots. She gestured again with her wand, and it rose up into the air, floated over to where the three of them stood, and landed gently but heavily on the ground.

“It looks like … a stone coffin,” said Misty. It was certainly the right size and shape to be an over large one.

“It may be a sarcophagus,” said Dark Lord. “Are those … symbols on it?”

Alicia began to brush away some of the dirt from the stone so she could better see the carvings on it, but then she remembered that she was a wizard and used her wand. The dirt and remaining roots then simply lifted themselves from the stone, hung in the air for a moment, then were cast to one side and tumbled back down into the quarry.

“Well done,” said Dark Lord. “Now, let’s see …” All three of them began to look at the carvings on the stone.

Alicia cast a revelation spell so they could read the inscriptions. Dark Lord began to act strangely as Misty and Alicia began to open the shelves in the side of the overly large sarcophagus.

They found many arcane items and many scrolls all safely secured within. Dark Lord didn’t seem to want to open the top of the huge box for some reason and made many excuses to stand at a distance, although he gave no warnings of any types of danger.

Using magic to remove the warding seal of the heavy crystal upper lid, they carefully opened it. There was clearly a body within, and when they removed the drape across it, they had the greatest shock of their young lives. The body within was Dark Lord’s. In the the lower chamber of the huge sarcophagus, another body lay in perfect preservation. According to the inscriptions on the plaque at its head, this was Ahmen Khotec.

Alicia gasped out as she pointed, “That’s … you! Isn’t it?”

Dark Lord hesitated an instant then replied, “That is the shell of who I used to be, not who I currently am because of the promise.”

Misty said, “Does that mean we get to meet Ahmen?”

Dark Lord slowly shook his head as he replied, “Only if the powers of light choose, or he made some sort of magical arrangement.” Dark Lord bent over and tapped the lower portion of the coffin, and a large tray slid out. “In here, you will find many of the anchor books and talismans necessary for you to continue the fight against Darkness.”

Misty began to look over the many rings, bracelets, broaches, and other talismans within the tray. “Darn, all this and I can see there are several other shelves. It’ll take us years to study and learn how to use all of this.”

Dark Lord laughed. “More than the rest of your natural lives, I’m afraid, just as it took us several lifetimes.”

“You didn’t make these, then?” asked Alicia.

“Some of them, but most of them Ahmen inherited from his teacher before him,” explained Dark Lord. “The rest we found during our travels.”

“Well, I suppose we’d better get this to a safe place,” said Misty. “Were we supposed to unearth Ahmen Khotec’s sarcophagus?”

“It was probably bound to happen sooner or later,” said Dark Lord. “I didn’t know this is where it had ended up – the spell committed the sarcophagus to the care of the Earth.”

Alicia and Misty opened a portal to the laboratory and transported the sarcophagus to it.

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Back at what used to be Dragoth’s home base grotto, which was now mostly a large pit filling with water, many angry and disgruntled former followers of Dragoth dug through the massive debris looking for anything that might have survived.

They had found several magical artifacts that had retained their dark power, but all knew they had lost a great deal of it once Dragoth had been eliminated. One of the elder witches, Minerva Hellsbore, accidentally uncovered an undamaged summoning conjurare. To the amazement of all, it had managed to survive whatever attack those two acolytes of Ahmen Khotec had wrought upon them.

“We must use this,” Minerva said. “As quickly as possible.” The others agreed.

Dragoth’s surviving inner circle hastily gathered the arcane items they would need.

“Be quick, but careful!” Minerva urged them as they searched. “If we make the slightest error in performing this ritual, we will join Dragoth in the Infernal Realms. Summoning any of the Seven Deadly Cursed Demons is very dangerous, as we all know well. I wish we could summon the Sovereign of Wrath, as that would be most appropriate for exacting our vengeance, but this is the only conjurare that survived.”

They frantically dug through the massive mess and ruins left behind and meticulously searched for the required items. Several of the more stealthy were assigned to find a human to kidnap for the sacrifice necessary in the final phase of the summoning they were going to attempt.

If all went well, they knew they would be able to retaliate, but all had to be done in secret, and the attack had to be done by surprise for it to work. Their power would only be half of what it used to be, but if they had the element of surprise on their side, they had a chance of getting their vengeance.

While Minerva Hellsbore lit the ebony candles and mixed the required ingredients, two wizards dressed in the blackest of black robes manhandled a screaming, fighting, and partially nude young woman into the dank area and forced her onto the sacrificial altar slab. A quick wave of a flask copiously emitting vapors under the screaming girl’s nose silenced her as she fell back in a complete stupor.

Minerva Hellsbore spoke the last words of her incantation, picked up a large jagged dagger with a bejeweled handle, and turned towards the now silent woman on the slab. One of the wizards ripped what little clothes were left from the young woman and left her nude.

Minerva Hellsbore raised the dagger above her head and intoned, “With this blood, I summon thee, oh great and mighty Asmodeus, the Sovereign of Lust.”

In the back of her mind Minerva truly hoped they had been powerful enough to contain this demon within their runes of protection, or they would be instantly taken. She brought the dagger down between the young woman’s breasts, producing a shower of spurting blood that covered all within the conjuration’s protective circle.

Instantly, the whole area shook as the temperature became extremely hot. A portal opened that seemed to lead to the heart of a boiling miasma of flame. What appeared was totally unexpected.

A vision of female beauty beyond their powers of description appeared within the circle of protection. Of course, as expected, the demon tried to break the protection wards. She did send a tingle of fear through all there at the massive assault, but fortunately for them, it proved futile in the end.

The demon said, in an ethereal, echoing voice that sent erotic shivers through them all, “Who has invoked the most ancent summoning, and for what purpose?”

Minerva could feel the lust tingle throughout her body. She replied, “Oh, mighty Ruler of Lust, we, the former followers of Dragoth, heir to the Throne of Bone, beseech thee for aid, in this time of our most desperate need.”

Asmodeus turned and looked directly at Minerva. For the first time in Minerva’s long life, she felt herself become massively aroused as she felt the warm wetness in her undies become even more intense, and her breasts buzzed like a hive of bees in June, “I see. It is a power source that you seek from me. Very well; upon you I grant all the power a mortal can handle. But from all of you I will exact a price.”

Minerva could barely help herself as she grabbed between her legs as she began to lust for all the men and women around her. “What is this price you ask?” she gasped.

Asmodeus laughed a wonderfully tingling laugh as she waved her hand. “That all of you enjoy my gift, as well as the power I bestow on you.”

All the surviving members began to glow a bright pink. Immediately, all the men and women stripped nude as a massive orgy began in ernest. As Minerva stripped off her ebony robes and helplessly joined in, she could feel the demon’s power filling the empty void that had remained when Dragoth’s power had been taken and the super pleasant intenseness of sex.

Asmodeus laughed again as she looked over the orgy. All of the survivors were filled with a lust they were helpless to control as sex ruled the cavern. Asmodeus vanished, leaving behind a newly empowered enclave of worshipers in the midst of the most intense lust-filled orgy the mind of mankind could possibly fantasize about.

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The array of monitors that Misty and Alicia had connected to the new quantum computer and its control servers suddenly lit up. The servers started making siren-like alert tones, and a map appeared with a deep red zone in its center.

Alicia looked up from studying one of the artifacts they’d found and asked, “What’s going on?” She hurried over to look at the screens and was joined by Misty and Dark Lord.

“Looks like there’s a powerful concentration of infernal magic centered on the very spot where Dragoth’s lair used to be,” Misty said, studying the image. “Clearly they’re still using what’s left of the site.”

“That’s a hell of a lot of infernal magic,” said Dark Lord. “Pun absolutely intended. What could they be doing with all of that? And where did it all come from? With Dragoth gone, they shouldn’t be able to generate much energy.”

Dark Lord brought out his scrying glass and began to investigate the new power. He became very concerned as he looked over toward Alicia and Misty. Both of them were prime specimens of femaleness and, if Dark Lord were a few centuries younger, as well as actually alive, there would be a definite attraction.

The issue here was the type of power he was witnessing grow within the destroyed Dragoth Grotto. He remembered when he was their age and how hard this particular power was to avoid and overcome.

Due to his wards’ youth, he truly feared what could happen, and he hoped he could find some way to counter it. One of the real issues here was that Lust also aided in the continuation of the species, and at certain ages and at the right moment, anyone would succumb and be helpless, but it also meant that blocking or avoiding it would be extremely difficult. The thing was that Lust itself, like Shadow, was neither good nor evil, but the former Dragoth coven had summoned a primal evil aspect of it.

Alicia and Misty were diligently studying the many volumes and scrolls, as well as practicing using their newfound artifacts and the different aspects of the powers this afforded them. Dark Lord was more than proud of his wards, and he realized something else. He could feel the renewal of the light that supported his life force. He smiled.

Those girls were very powerful and growing with leaps and bounds. The Pool of all Knowledge had eagerly agreed to continue in the job. She had become very close friends with Misty and Alicia, and the water sprite was friendly, dependable, and as honest as there could possibly be when anyone sought information.

Dark Lord thought, “Perhaps if we approach this from a different perspective …”

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Several months had passed. Alicia and Misty had attempted to use some of their newfound aspects and artifacts to contain Dragoth’s old coven. Somehow, this new power of theirs might be lessened by certain things they had done, but they discovered they could not completely deter it.

Within Dragoth’s old Grotto, the women were discovering several things they mostly didn’t want. One aspect they did want was that their age had been reduced considerably. Since most were in excess of 100 years old, suddenly becoming teenagers and regaining their lost beauty was more than welcome.

Their inability to control the massive lust that overcame everyone every day after supper, which also led to the passionate orgies they all participated in quite eagerly, led to a problem none had thought about in centuries.

Minerva Hellsbore stood in just a sheer shorty top and her undies and looked at her very shapely new body in the mirror. She knew she didn’t look much older than about 18 or 19.

She turned and looked at her profile as she placed her hands on her protruding tummy bump. She knew she was pregnant, but had no clue which of the men might be the father, nor did she really care.

“Many of us find ourselves in the same situation,” said Verbena, entering the room, her belly showing the same roundness. “It won’t be long before the patter of toddler’s feet will be heard here in the grotto.”

“So it appears,” said Minerva. “But the fact is, the sacrifice of infants is a powerful ritual in black magic.”

Verbena frowned. “It’s not as powerful as it would be if the infants were conceived in purity.”

“True, conception took place under demonic influence, so the infants will be born tainted,” Minerva replied. “They would have to be purified before their sacrifice would bring forth its true power.”

Verbena scoffed. “As if there’s any way for us to purify them, or anything. Purification isn’t exactly the forte of the traditions we follow.”

“And those acolytes of Ahmen Khotec … they seem to be utterly corrupted. I’m not confident of their ability to purify anything, even if we could convince them to do it somehow.” Minerva scowled. “No, I think we don’t have much hope of raising power in that way. Oh well. We can always do the usual thing and kidnap newborn infants to sacrifice.” Verbena nodded.

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“So, Fonticula,” asked Alicia, “we have a question about … um … err, that is …”

“Yes?” asked the water sprite, swimming in the Fountain of All Knowledge.

“Lust,” said Misty. “The survivors of the Dragoth coven summoned Asmodeus.”

“Asmodeus?” asked the sprite, who had told them to call her Fonticula, which meant “Little Fountain,” because of course she didn’t want to reveal her true name. “So they’re having orgies and raising infernal magic that way.”

“So it seems,” said Alicia. “So, well, our question is how to purify Lust. We want to take away that advantage when we finally confront them.”

“Oh! And you don’t want to become a victim to the influence of Asmodeus,” Fonticula replied. “Well, the fact is that, like shadow, magic based on lust, sex, attraction, or whatever you want to call it, isn’t good or evil by itself. That means that it isn’t the lust you have to purify. It’s just the evil.”

“I see!” said Misty. “If we purify the evil, what’s left? I guess we’d still have the attraction? The desire without the evil aspects, like the manipulation, the jealousy, the insatiability.”

“And that sort of thing is just what Asmodeus can’t stand,” said Fonticula.

“So now we just have to figure out how to counter the evil influence of an archdemon,” said Alicia.

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Dark Lord sat back and rubbed the grit from his tired eyes. He looked over the large pile of ancient scrolls he had just finished studying, then picked up his notes. There was only one way to beat the evil power of Asmodeus’ Lust that was now loose in the grotto. The individual who had to accomplish the task … had to more or less be an infant. They were immune.

He looked over toward the girls as they also diligently studied the huge pile of scrolls and tomes piled on their table. A smile crossed his face as he imagined the two of them as toddlers. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he began to devise a plan where a toddler baby could retain enough of their skills from being an adult to launch a purification spell at the heart of this emanation. The spell was simple enough; that part was doable.

Dark Lord also knew that whichever of the girls, if not both of them, chose to be the infant, they would need some powerful protection wards. Since the both of them were Wizards of the Light, at least that part of this issue was simple to remedy.

Dark Lord said, “Alicia, Misty, come here. I have something rather important to talk with you about.”

The girls were glad to take a break from their long hours of study and came over to sit with Dark Lord.

Alicia said as she flopped in the comfortable chair, “What’s up?”

Misty flopped in her own chair and added, “Yeah, not that I’m complaining. Been several hours since we had a break.”

Dark Lord looked both eager young women over before he said, “I have found a way to make you immune to Dark Lust. I’m not certain you’ll like it, though.”

The young women looked at each other before Misy asked, “Ok, so what horrible awful thing do we have to do to become immune?”

Dark Lord grinned as he snorted a small laugh, “Not too much. Just become an infant, old enough to toddle and be able to talk just enough that your babble can be understood.”

Alicia gasped, “An infant? A real baby?”

Dark Lord replied, “Afraid so. A simple illusion or glamor won’t do this time, either. And I will have to be the one to do it, and then remove it …”

Alicia gasped out, “A real baby? Like in diapers …”

“That’s right,” said Dark Lord. “I’ll have to set up a nursery in here. If only one of you is going, the other can help take care of the baby. If both of you decide to go … well, maybe Fonticula can help.”

“I don’t know about this,” said Misty. “Whichever one of us gets turned into a baby for the duration will be totally helpless – or both of us will. Are you sure we can’t just become small children? They have no sexual feelings either, and nobody is sexually attracted to them … well, nobody healthy …”

“Exactly,” explained Dark Lord. “We are talking about the corrupting influence of an archdemon. Only the most innocent of babies are immune. We’ll actually be taking a risk by having you old enough to be barely able to walk and talk.”

“I … I will try it,” stammered Alicia. “I have to admit to a bit of … fascination with the idea.”

“Very well,” said Dark Lord.

Misty asked, “I’m not sure about it myself. But before I decide, I thought of another question. Whichever of us gets turned into a baby, how do they infiltrate the lair? We can’t just, you know, get airdropped in by a stork or something.”

“I’ve got a plan for that too,” said Dark Lord. “They’ll be all too eager to invite you in.”
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Verbena and Minerva were sitting in an alcove having a girl talk. Their bellies had gotten to be so large the women could barely walk.

Without warning, the aspects of the room changed. All the doors or other means to exit vanished and became solid rock. A huge rift opened that seemed to lead to a boiling miasma of flame, from which stepped Asmodeus, only this time in male form, and the absolute perfect specimen.

Asmodeus said to the two startled women, “I have come to insure that your powers have an anchor to hold it within this realm.” Asmodeus reached over and placed a hand on each of the pregnant women’s bloated stomachs. “I endow your children with my powers: extremely long youth, and a beauty all will lust after.”

All Minerva and Verbena could do was sit in total shock as the most intense tingling rushes coursed through their bodies like a tidal wave. Of course, the infants in their wombs began to kick and move, adding to the intenseness of the moment. Asmodeus chuckled deep in his throat with demonic glee.

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“Now, allies all, that we have regained some semblance of the dark power we had attained in Dragoth’s time,” said Eltherian, also pregnant beneath her black robes, “our next order of business is striking at the acolytes of Ahmen Khotec. And that means first finding them. They must be somewhere in the world of the living – it’s unlikely that they performed a suicide strike to take Dragoth from us. But they are certainly protecting their location with the strongest magic they can muster. So to pierce that veil, we must use the strongest magic we can muster.”

“We need a sacrifice,” said Hugo, one of the former apprentices who had come to the forefront after Dragoth’s passing. “Nothing less will do.”

“An infant sacrifice,” aded Verbena. “But as we know, the children all female members of our coven carry, though they will be born soon, are imbued with demonic corruption. Their sacrifice would be powerful, but not as powerful as the sacrifice of a pure innocent. Therefore we need to go forth and find one.”

There were solemn nods of understanding. “Yes,” said Hugo. “Just as we always did before, we must go out into the lands around and kidnap an infant for the sacrifice. We’ll study the maps, cast scrying spells, and find a nearby town, one where there are children recently born.”

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“So, you think this will work?” asked Fonticula. She had changed her form to that of a human – the water sprite was an expert at altering her own form, just as water took the shape of its container.

“As long as they don’t choose to kidnap some other babies in their search for sacrifices,” said Dark Lord. “So, ‘Fontaine,’ we will play the part of a loving couple who has recently been blessed with two beautiful twin daughters.”

“Very well, then,” Fonticula said with a giggle. “And you, ‘Adrien,’ are my husband in this drama.” They had chosen an abandoned house in a small Bulgarian town near the devastated crater that had once been the mountain housing Dragoth’s cave. Dark Lord, Alicia, and Misty had used magic to renovate the house and its environs, so everything was in fine working order.

“And we’re … the daughters?” asked Alicia nervously. “How will this work?”

“The spell is easy enough,” said Dark Lord, “but I will have to transform you, and transform you back. In order for it not to wear off at an inopportune moment, I’ll have to make it last until undone.”

“Well … all right …” Misty said. “What about our wands and stuff?”

“I’ll have to hide them,” said Dark Lord, “but the fact is that the magic you’ve learned relies on your own inner power and the power of truth itself. The wands really just help you focus it. You can still do quite a lot … well, it might be a bit hard for you to say the magic words soon, but there is still much you can do.”

The two young women gave Dark Lord their wands, and he quickly transported them to the safety of the laboratory sanctuary. “Now, perhaps you should stand in the playpen there, as you’ll soon fit quite comfortably inside.”

Alicia and Misty looked at each other and stepped over the side into the playpen they’d already set up.

“Now then,” Dark Lord said, “let’s begin.” He began chanting arcane words, holding his wand aloft. Alicia and Misty felt the familiar tingle of magical energy in the air around them, but this time it entered their bodies and pervaded every cell.

They were disoriented as every part of them was changed. Everything in the room around them seemed to grow larger, and the side of the playpen they had just easily stepped over now grew to become a tall wall made of bars. Their legs felt wobbly, and they fell to their knees on the soft cushion of the playpen’s base, then rolled onto their backs.

“I suppose we’ll have to send their clothes to the lab as well,” Dark Lord said, flicking his wand, and instead of being inundated in a pile of oversized clothing, the two girls were suddenly wearing nothing, except for one diaper each, as Dark Lord had provided for that. Their bladders had become just as weak as every other muscle in their infantile bodies, and they had thoroughly wet their diapers during the transformation.

Alicia held up her hands and feet and looked at them in fascination. She wiggled her fingers and toes and giggled in glee. This was amazing! She felt so different, so small! It was familiar, as she vaguely remembered feeling like this in childhood, but she hadn’t felt like this for quite some time. It didn’t matter to her at all that her diaper was soaking wet – in fact, it felt nice, warm and comfortable.

Misty, on the other hand, did not like her wet diaper. She didn’t know what that feeling was, but it bothered her. She discovered a wonderful way to express her displeasure and began to cry. Wailing away in infantile despair, one would have thought it was the worst thing that had ever happened to her in her life – although when she’d been a baby originally, she’d obviously wet her share of diapers.

“Oh dear, they’re so wet,” said Fonticula. “Let me take care of them.” And with a touch, their diapers were suddenly completely dry. The water sprite had full command of the element of water and could cause liquids to come and go at will. Misty’s crying suddenly stopped with a confused, questioning sound. She looked up and saw Fonticula and smiled.

“That’s right, you know me, my friends – well, you’re going to be my daughters for this little play,” said the sprite. “That’s right. And we’re going to put you in some adorable clothes. Yes, we are.”

She picked up Misty first and took her to the changing table, where she dressed her in a pale pink onesie, doing up the snaps between the baby girl’s legs, then pulling a romper on that had a bright rainbow unicorn on the front with lots of pretty colors.

Returning Misty to the playpen, she picked up Alicia and dressed her in a white onesie and then a pink romper that had a white bunny rabbit on the front, and had a puffy white bunny tail on the bottom. She set Alicia back down in the playpen with Misty. Alicia saw Misty and was overjoyed with how adorable Misty looked.

She tried to hug Misty. “You sooo cute!” Alicia tried to say.

“You wook siwwy,” Misty attempted to say, trying to push away Alicia’s hug attempt. “You siwwy bunny wabbit.”

“Now, now, girls,” said a chuckling Dark Lord, “you’re going to have to get along. You’re sisters, after all, and you’ll be together a lot.”

“Sissews?” asked Alicia. “Sissews!” she said happily and renewed her attempts to hug Misty.

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Back at the enclave, the very pregnant women aided six men in dressing for their mission. They had located a hovel very near the destroyed grotto. They knew from their scrying spells that there were two prime infants there who were guarded only by the simplest of runes, nothing but folk magic, really. Neither the young mother nor the father would be able to stop them.

One of the men, dressed entirely in black and looking more like a ninja than a wizard, waved his hand. A small shadow in one corner became more pronounced, then six of them entered the shadow and vanished.

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Misty and Alicia sat in their playpens and giggled as they played zoomie cars. The little cars made a loud and pleasant squeaky noise as their rolly polly googly eyes rolled around in a goofy way.

Without warning, a shadowy place in a secluded corner of the playroom became profoundly dark, and six individuals dressed all in black like ninjas walked into the playroom. Before Misty or Alicia could do anything but screech, they had been nabbed and carried into the rift. As Dark Lord rushed into the room, followed directly by Fonticula, the shadow inconspicuously lightened back to just a shaded area.

Dark Lord smiled as he said, “Apparently they took the bait.” He temporarily froze time so they could speak.

Fonticula asked, “Do you think the girls will be in enough of their adult minds to do what they need to at the right moment?”

Dark Lord’s face took on a slightly worried expression. “Not sure. They took to the regression so willingly, even Misty.”

Fonticula smiled as she returned to her original mist state. “Well, those idiots left a bright enough trail. Perhaps if we followed at a safe distance to make sure.”

Dark Lord shook his head as he said, “Not unless you really want to be a mommy for real.”

Fonticula looked at Dark Lord with a really cute but strange expression. “Why do you say that?”

Dark Lord replied quietly, “Because you are just as susceptible to Black Lust as any other living creature.” Fonticula’s eyes widened as she realized that he was right. As long as Asmodeus’ aura remained in effect, they couldn’t help, except via very long-range magic. They couldn’t even get close. “What’s more,” he added, “we’ll have to stay where we are and pretend to be bereaved parents, or else the coven’s scrying spells might tip them off that the two babies aren’t what they seem.”

“You’re right,” said Fonticula. She shifted back into her human shape and got ready to put on a good act. “But … I have one serious question. We’re deceiving the coven, using untruth to our advantage. We’re still letting them believe what they want to believe, but this time … we presented them with a false reality. Ahmen Khotec’s magic is strongest when only the barest truth is presented. Doesn’t this deception weaken the girls’ chances?”

Dark Lord sighed a bit. “Yes, unfortunately it does. In Ahmen’s books, he goes through every possible twist and turn, every gradation between complete truth and complete falsehood, and calculates every situation’s impact on the strength of his spells. This is the best I could come up with. We transformed the girls; we didn’t use an illusion. Even their minds are altered. You transformed yourself, true, but I only changed my clothes. But still, the girls aren’t really babies. This is one step better than an illusion, but the intent is still to deceive, and magic is entirely about intent. Truth magic is only about 85% effective under these circumstances.”

“But … truth magic is now only one of the fields of magic that the girls know, right?” Fonticula remarked.

“Yes,” said Dark Lord, “but … let’s hope they can remember that.”

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“Who you peoples?” Alicia asked in her tiny, babbly voice as the masked cultists carried them through the dank cavern. “Where you takin’ us? Put us down! Whaaaaaaaaaaa!” She cried and squirmed.

“You gonna be sowwy!” said Misty, struggling a lot. “When our Mommy an’ Daddy gets you, they gonna … they gonna … kick your head!”

The cultists carrying them simply ignored them, then brought them to a room where there was a large rusty cage. They opened its squeaky lid, lowered the girls into it, and closed it again with a clang. Then one of them snapped an equally rusty padlock onto the lid, taking the key with him as he left.

The girls struggled, trying to get out, but the bars were too close together. They could reach out with their arms and legs, but that was all. All they could do was sit on the cold, damp stone floor, and the bars made that even worse. What was more, their diapers were wet.

“What’s we gonna does?” asked Alicia.

“Shhhhhh,” Misty said. Then she whispered. “Issa secret.”

“Ohhhh yeah,” Alicia whispered back. “We does tha thing.”

Misty nodded. “When it tha wight time, we does tha thing.”

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Time passed slowly. The girls were more than miserable in their seriously messy and wet diapers. The stone floor was hard, damp, and cold. Water dripped from many places around them incessantly, and from the stalactites and stalagmites throughout the large visible area, had done so for quite a long time.

Misty said with a whimper, “We been heres fora long time. Am hungry n needsa change bad.”

Alicia replied in much the same way, “Me too. Seems they gonna starve us ta deaf.”

About that time, a bright flash in the semi-darkness, and low and behold, Spirit appeared as it bounce around the rusty steel cage.

“Hi, “ it said in its cute voice, “Am heres cuz amma only one can bes. Since I no alive as life is thoughta .. am no susceptible.” Several large bottles of the girls’ favorite food appeared. Of course, both of them grabbed the bottles and began nursing fervently and quickly emptied the huge bottles.

Spirit glided up to the steel bars and hovered for an instant. “Seems they comin’. Now no be feared none. I promise when tha time is right, you will know exactly what ta does, and will does it properly.” Then Spirit vanished in a flash of light.

No sooner had Sprit vanished than two men and two very pregnant women entered the cavern with the cage. One of the men took a large clanking bundle of archaic keys he was carrying and fumbled with several, then unlocked the cage.

The two women reached down into the cage and picked the messy girls up. One of them said, “Eeewww. I’m going to strip them and clean them up before we put them on the altar slab.”

The man with the bundle of keys held his nose as he replied, “I think that would be an excellent idea.”

The women carried the girls into another area within the large cave where there was an Artesian well spewing a huge fountain of water. Misty and Alicia found themselves stripped, then bathed with some type of very soothing oil. The girls found themselves having to struggle to keep their minds from wandering off.

They were dried, wrapped snugly in large bundles, and carried a long way until the women turned into a large opening. Within, a very large and ornate altar stood, with a large, darkly stained slab in front of it. The women laid the girls on this slab as another very pregnant woman dressed in pure red entered, picked up a nasty looking knife with a jeweled hilt and a jagged blade.

The many gathered men and pregnant women began a low moaning chant as the woman in red turned toward the altar and raised the knife above her head with both hands.

She said a few archaic words, then continued in English, “Mighty Asmodeus, to you this day we bring a sacrifice to improve and strengthen our powers to better search out those terrible Acolytes of Ahmen.” She turned and approached the slab, where the girls lay nude. “With this innocent blood we do make the offer …”

She never got to finish. Both Alicia and Misty sat up when Spirit appeared. They both knew exactly what they had to do, and this was the exact time to cause a total removal of Asmodeus’ influence.

“What’s that –” one of the black robed men began to ask, pointing at the hovering, glowing orb of light that had entered. But Spirit didn’t hover for long. It brought Misty a transparent crystal sphere, which she held in both hands. In her innocent hands it glowed with white light, first softly, then brighter and brighter. The ritualists hissed at the light and backed away as it pierced their eyes.

“Share,” said Misty, holding the orb out to Alicia, who took it, or seemed to, but Misty still had hers, while Alicia had another one, and hers also began to fill with white light in her hands. The two lights became even brighter, and soon it was no longer possible to make out any details in the cavern. The light began to burn the dark wizards’ skin, and they began to shriek in pain, attempting to back out of the room with their smoking hands covering their eyes.

Then a booming voice echoed through the chamber. “What is the meaning of this?” came the voice of Asmodeus, but then he recognized what was happening. “No! Light of Innocence! I cannot bear it! I must leave –”

“Stay,” Misty and Alicia said in unison, their voice taking on a majestic tone, and a blazing circle of light appeared on the floor, and the solid form of Asmodeus appeared within it, forced into corporeality.

“It … burns …” the archdemon grated, straining at the circle that constrained it. “I … must …”

The archdemon seemed to grow in size, becoming a black silhouette with humanoid shape and malevolent red eyes hundreds of feet in height. Its voice became even louder. “YOU CANNOT CONTAIN ME, MORTALS, FOR I AM EVIL ITSELF,” it boomed, the rock of the cavern shaking with the sheer volume of the sound. Small stalactites and bits of rock fell from the cavern ceiling high above.

Alicia and Misty stood steadfastly, looking at where the demon had been, not where it appeared to be now, high above them. “Stay. And. Burn,” they said in unison, and their voice echoed through the cavern as well. It wasn’t loud, but it had force nonetheless.

The demon’s form began to smoke, and it boomed, “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” The giant shadow form melted, revealing that it had been nothing but an illusion; the human-sized form of Asmodeus still stood within the circle of light, falling to its knees as more smoke boiled from its body. The ritualists had fled screaming into the hallways, but their voices could still be heard.

With a harsh, gargling scream, the archdemon hacked out, “You – Ahmen Khotec – acolytes – deceived them – lies – trickery –” It paused. “No – no ilusion – real – innocence – but – how?”

The two girls didn’t answer it. They simply held their crystal orbs closer together, causing them to shine even more brilliantly. Asmodeus croaked out its final scream and was gone, its final smoke boiling away and purified by the coruscating, actinic light that burned all darkness from the chamber.

“Truth,” the two girls said simultaneously, and their bodies returned to their normal age. The aura of Lust had been dispelled, so there was nothing to affect them.

Snuggles scampered into the chamber through a portal in the air, holding two wands in its mouth. “Hewe oo go!” it tried to say around the wands.

“Thank you, Snuggles,” said Alicia, petting the furry familiar fondly and taking the wands, handing Misty hers.

“And now …” said Misty.

“Purification,” they said together, making gestures with their wands and speaking arcane phrases. The dark basalt stone of the cavern itself was transformed into bright white marble with veins of gold running through it. The altar and the sacrificial slab before it crumbled to dust, the dust crumbled to powder, and the powder was crushed out of existence.

The two young women waved their wands and were once again clothed in the cute magical vestments of Ahmen Khotec, the symbols of truth glowing upon the fabric they were stitched into. Followed by their familiars, they walked out of the marble cavern and into the hallway, which became marble as they walked.

They found some of the dark wizards cowering in corners, having lost their way amid the transformed corridors. “H-how?” asked a tearful Minerva Hellsbore. “How? How can you mix light and dark?”

“There was no dark,” Alicia said simply. “Only light. You supplied the dark in your imaginings.”

“But … the rituals … the blood … the demons …”

“Illusions you created yourselves,” said Misty. “You fooled yourselves. And you did it well.”

“Truth,” said Alicia, gesturing with her wand toward the obviously pregnant Minerva. “Your child is dedicated to Asmodeus. Shall this remain so?”

“All – all the babies yet unborn – all belong to the Dark One,” said Minerva, still flinching from the brilliant light, but not burning in it.

“It is upon this plane no more,” said Misty. “The way has been shut behind it. Even unto the Hells it returns diminished. Its power is weakened for generations to come.”

“I – I do not … wish … this for my child,” said Minerva. “Please. Ahmen Khotec’s magic is of the light. It is too late for me, but my child …”

“Your child has been exposed to the purifying light of Innocence and Truth,” said Alicia.

“But the baby will need to see the light again once born, to remove the demonic influence,” added Misty. “Or so I’ve read.”

“That won’t be long now,” Alicia remarked. “But we can’t stay here. We can come back, though, for these are now halls of truth.”

“I will be here,” said Minerva.

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The girls and their familiars arrived back at the Hovel with Dark Lord and Fonticula still dressed and looking like a young mother and father.

Misty said cheerily, as she bounded over and gave Dark Lord a huge hug, followed by Alicia, “It worked perfectly. I can’t …” She sat back and placed her fingers above her eyes for an instant as she tried to formulate in her mind what had happened as a baby.

Alicia said, “Yea. I know, it was so amazing. I had no idea being a baby was … like that.”

Misty looked at Alicia for an instant, “You know? I do still kinda like some of those outfits. They would look cute on you too.”

Alicia blushed slightly pink, “Before they are wet and messy, those diapers were really soft and comfy. What happened in the grotto … that was also something. I just knew how.” She shrugged as her face took on an infantile sort of glow, “Can’t believe I was a baby again. Would have been really nice if they would have changed us at least once.”

Dark Lord folded his hands into the large sleeves of the dressing gown he was wearing, which was currently a popular fashion trend among men in the region. “Well, children, how did your little playdate go?”

By this time, Fonticula, still in her human form, had rushed over and given the girls a huge loving welcome home hug, which the girls returned with glee. “I can see my ‘daughters’ must have a huge story to tell their ‘mother.’” Fonticula took the girls by their hands and walked with them over to a large sofa and sat, pulling them comfortably down to either side.

Fonticula said in a giggly sort of way, “Now. I wanna hear all the messy details. All Knowledge kinda thingy.”

Alicia and Misty laughed, then began to tell the tale of what they had just experienced since they had been abducted. Dark Lord looked on with a really strange smiling expression. He was more than proud of these young women.

In his mind, he now knew they were far more than just acolytes, they were now full blown wielders of not only the mighty powers of Truth and Infantile Innocence, they also knew how to mix the shadow power of Chaos into the weave, in a form that was neutral and neither good nor evil, to produce even more amazing results.

Alicia interrupted Dark Lord’s contemplation. “We also did a purification of the grotto and those within.”

Misty said, “Yea, we also whipped Asmodeus’ butt off. He has been banished back to the nether regions in the closest thing he can come to death, for the next few centuries.”

A thoughtful expression came to Alicia’s pretty face, “We also attempted to aid the unborn children of the follower females. They will never again choose to follow darkness. Their children we would need to see once again to completely remove all demonic influence.”

Misty added, “We met Minerva Hellsbore, who was the high priestess of Asmodeus’ followers. She is now a young woman of about 18, very very pregnant, and will deliver very soon. As soon as she goes into labor, the runes we left behind will summon us so we may cleanse the newborn and return them to innocence.”

“Very good,” said Dark Lord. “It’s my belief that Asmodeus infused those unborn infants with his demonic essence, which is powerful, raw, and purely evil. No child with such influence within them should be allowed into this world. And we should return to the laboratory and check your amazing machine, because it’s unclear where the rest of them are – according to your tale there were some six of them?”

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“Wow,” said Fonticula, visiting the laboratory in China in her human form. “This place is … oh and that must be your machine! So … complicated!” She walked up to it. “Hello, machine, I’m called Fonticula. What are you called?”

“It doesn’t really talk or think,” said Alicia, “but it should have a name, shouldn’t it? We’ll think about it. But its ability to predict future magical trends based on the past and present is what we need right now.”

“It’s constantly scanning for all types of magic all over the world,” Misty said, typing on its keyboard. “The thing we need to look for is infernal magic, and where there will be outbreaks of it in the next week or so if nobody changes anything. Those will be our demon babies.”

Indeed, the computer gave them six locations where there would be explosions of demonic energy around the world within the next week. Two of them were in the Bulgarian location of what had once been Dragoth’s lair. The others were separated. “They must have transported themselves away,” said Alicia. “But Minerva Hellsbore and one other seem to have stayed in place.”

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Back at the purified grotto that used to be Dragoth’s lair, Minerva Hellsbore began to feel a strange twinging irritating pain in her lower back. Verbena happened to waddle in about that time with her hands on her swollen tummy bump.

Verbena said, “I think my time is near. The infant has dropped lower in my womb and has become a lot more active …” She looked at Minerva, who was slightly bent over a table holding her lower back. “Are you OK, Minerva? You don’t look so good.”

Minerva smiled weakly as she waddled over towards a large chair, “I think I’m going into labor. I dropped a few hours ago, and now I have this irritating backache.”

Verbena waddled towards Minerva just as it looked like she had a serious potty accident. A pool of liquid formed around her feet as her water broke. She grabbed her swollen tummy bump and gasped as the very first small contraction happened suddenly.

Verbena started yelling for the midwife. “Hurry, Minerva’s water broke. I’m sure we need you immediately.”

Several very pregnant young women waddled into the room. One was carrying a large bowl full of hot water while others carried different and sundry supplies like alcohol, antibiotic creams, and many items that would be used to clean and dress the newborn after being weighed.

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Back at the laboratory, Misty and Alicia’s wards activated, informing them one of the female head Followers of Asmodeus were going into labor.

Alicia said, “We need to go, Dark Lord. If we can cleanse those infants instead of killing them, I think we might have some new followers of Light.”

While Misty set up the teleport ritual, Dark Lord gathered the necessary items they would need to attempt a purification. In his long memory, however, no one had ever tried to purify an infant tainted in this manner; they had always been put to death. The risk was, at that time, always too great. This time was different, though, and Dark Lord knew it. If the girls could only manage it, those infants would live normal lives unfettered by darkness.

In a large flash, the four of them along with all the necessary items and ingredients vanished from the laboratory, only to reappear next to the bed where Minerva had been laid. Verbena was gasping as well. When Misty turned, Verbena’s water had broken and she had created a large puddle.

“Oh!” said Alicia. “You’ve brought in midwives. That’s very good!” The midwives were already quite busy, however, and they mostly ignored Misty and Alicia.

“Soooo, we’re here to purify the infants so they’re cleansed of any demonic energy,” said Misty. “We’ll just get started over here.”

“By Truth and Light we cast these circles, that no evil may enter or leave,” said the two of them simultaneously. Dark Lord and Funicula also appeared, carrying baskets containing supplies. “We purify ourselves, that no evil may enter us. We purify this land anew, that no evil may linger here.”

They were painting a circle on the white marble floor of the cavern in a magical paint that began to glow as it quickly dried. The circle was decorated with magical symbols and words.

“Ah, so you are shaman,” said one of the midwives. “Is good you chase away evil spirits. Just stay out of way, yes?”

“Yes, of course,” said Alicia. Lightly tapping the top of the midwife’s head with her wand, she added. “I also purify you, that no evil may try to enter you.”

“Yes, yes, very – oh!” the midwife said. She had begun in a businesslike, nonchalant tone, but then she sounded rapturous. “My heart … it leaps! Like bird flying into sky!” Then she returned to the task at hand. “But still, we have babies being born, yes?” She turned to Verbena. “The pushing, it come soon. Be ready.”

Misty and Alicia made sure to purify both pregnant former cultists and every midwife present. Then they simply waited, chanting the spells of light and purification, which seemed to be brightening the cavern around them.

“Are you sure you should be here?” Fonticula asked Dark Lord.

“I’ve seen childbirth before in my centuries of life,” the wizard said. “Have you?”

“Well, of course I haven’t given birth, in the human way,” the sprite replied. “I’ve seen it, as a curious water sprite attracted to all knowledge. My people … well, we give birth in our own way.”

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Verbena and Minerva were in hard labor for about 30 minutes. Their gasps and cries echoed through the newly purified halls of the grotto. Verbena gave birth to a very healthy boy. Minerva gave birth to a girl.

However, when Minerva’s child came into the world, there was a very bright white flash, Something that looked like oily smoke exited the little girl and hovered for an instant before it was consumed and purified by the light. This left the infant alive, but she had no motivational spirit within her any longer, since the demon that had occupied the flesh was now gone.

The midwife who was holding the infant turned and looked directly at Dark Lord and smiled. She began to glow bright white as she approached. Dark Lord backed rapidly up until the wall stopped his motions.

The midwife said softly, “This newborn flesh has had the demon that possed it purified. It now needs a motivational life force to occupy it.” She looked hard at Dark Lord, “You are a lifeforce but have no living flesh. As a reward for the long service, Light has granted you a new body. You will still be you with all your knowledge and power, but you will now be this little girl too.”

Dark Lord gasped out as he held his hands up in a defensive way, “No .. don’t …”

Instantly, Dark Lord’s robes fell limply to the floor as a sparkly white and golden mist seemed to rise from them, then entered the nose and mouth of the limp infant in the midwife’s arms. Instantly, she opened her eyes, began kicking her feet, and started screeching like the other one was, reassuring everyone that her lungs were clear.

The midwife put the infant to her breasts and patted her hiney softly. “There, there, Miss Hellsbore. Everything is all right.”

In a very cute and pouty voice the infant screeched, “Am Dark Lord, not Hellsbore.”

The midwife laughed, then cooed, “Not any longer, Sweetheart. For at least several centuries, you are Miss Doreena Hellsbore.”

The midwife took the infant to Minerva, made sure one of Minerva’s breasts were exposed, and placed the nipple in the infant’s mouth. Dark Lord was helpless as her new body began to instinctively nurse. She could feel the warmth in her tummy as she had her very first meal … as Doreena Hellsbore.

Alicia and Misty looked on in amazement. “Dark Lord?” asked Alicia. “Are you OK in there?”

“He’s – I mean, she’s fine,” said Misty, looking on with a smile.

“But … what about Verbena’s baby?” asked Alicia. “Was the evil banished? And if it was, why wasn’t her little boy without a spirit?”

“I’m not sure,” said Misty, “not right now. But … let’s find out.” She went over to Fonticula. “You wouldn’t happen to know whether that baby boy over there still has an evil spirit in him?”

“Well, I don’t know,” said Fonticula, “but what I do know is exactly how to find out. What you need is Ephronius’ Demonic Locator.”

“Oh! We read about that spell!” said Alicia. “That makes sense – it points toward the nearest demon. Cast it near the baby, and if it points away, the baby’s fine. If it points toward, we’re going to have to cast it again from a different spot, to make sure it’s not just pointing in the baby’s direction at a demon that’s farther beyond.”

“There shouldn’t be any in this place, as purified as it is,” said Misty. “OK, so we’ll need a holly leaf, a lodestone, a white lily petal, and a pinch of salt.” They set about collecting those things while Fonticula and the midwives kept an eye on the new mothers and their babies.

When they were back, Alicia hung the lodestone from a string so it rotated freely in the air, at first aligning itself with the Earth’s magnetic field. Chanting the words of the spell, they sprinkled salt on the lodestone, and it no longer pointed north and south but swung freely. Then they touched the lodestone with the leaf and the petal at the proper moments, and it suddenly pointed … in a completely different direction from the infant, who was sleeping in his tired mother’s arms.

“What’s that mean, then?” asked Misty quietly, standing some distance away from the newborns.

“Looks like there’s no demon in the baby,” said Alicia. “But why did the other one react the way she did?”

“In my opinion,” said Fonticula, “Asmodeus must have done something special to that baby girl when she was in Minerva’s womb – and by special I mean specially evil. He drove her spirit completely away and replaced it with a portion of his essence. Even archdemons don’t do that very often – they’ve only got so much essence, and it doesn’t grow back that fast.”

“So he didn’t do that to Verbena’s?” asked Misty.

“It seems not,” Fonticula said. “Or perhaps he tried, but it failed. The baby’s spirit does seem pretty strong in the Light.”

“What about the other four?” asked Alicia.

“We’ll have to see,” Misty said, and Fonticula nodded. “Minerva said Asmodeus came to visit her and Verbena personally, but not the others.”

“Can you watch over them, please?” Alicia asked the midwives.

“They will be fine,” said one of them. “You go check on others. Must drive out evil from them too. You know where?”

“Yes, we do,” said Misty, looking at the map she had printed.

So they transported themselves to a hospital in Belgrade, another in Budapest, another in Prague, and oddly to the back of a taxi in Munich. In each place they neutralized any evil influence on the baby, whether the mother had anything to say about it or not, and in the last case they had to jump back to the midwives for advice, but they got them all purified. There would be no demonic babies born on their watch.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Now, of course Dragoth and his followers, all disciples of the dark magics of Kheb’rakth, were only some of the evil wizards hiding in the world. Some of the other evil traditions’ followers had been collaborating with Dragoth, but they had scattered when Dragoth had died. They were now all making their own evil plans, separately. But that is another story.
Sunshine & rainbows,
LilJennie
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LilJennie
 
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