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Travellers between worlds

Saphira! Saphira! Saphira! Saphira! The young woman's ears rung with that tenacious appellation like an old LP getting stuck. There was no getting away from it anymore, she needed to know where the enigmatic and beautiful name originated from. More and more, she understood it to be hers and coming to really desire it. She wanted to own that new, foreign and mysterious identity and the rebound of inexplicable glamour coming with it - it beckoned to her, hinted at exotic places and eccentric beings, it resounded with ancient sagas like glistening fragments of a broken glass twinkling in the mind's eye. Someone had selected it for her and she wondered if it was her covert and confined father, the failed rebel. Was that the reason her mother had shrivelled away from it in Eralda?

The creature in the river had addressed her as Saphira. Her effervescent dream that night had echoed with that name, which seemed attached to someone braver, stronger and more independent than a girl called Sarah. Saphira was not just a school girl who had run away from home, but a heroine with her own agenda, pursuing her own future. Not someone you put where she made less trouble. Like in a school for humans outside London. Yes, the name was on everyone's lips, the name already known to be hers, all she had to do was reaching out and claim it. To use it as a leverage to leave Chelsea and London and England and go – elsewhere. To places where she deserved to be.

Saphira was someone who took on aliens, defeated them and emerged victorious. When she reclaimed her name, this alien in the river would have to watch it!

***

"The Alien is here? On Earth, you mean?" Tilathian asked as he observed Cleanthia through his Radphaser, hardly believing neither his eyes not his ears as he faced the Voidwalker, letting his eyes lock on her sparkling blue orbs, reading the relentless determination therein. The willpower in this petite girl was awe-inspiring and admirable, and he knew that she would not stop until their common foe was eradicated, but at the same time she was admirably cold and calculated, she would not do anything stupid.

They were sitting on the platform a bit away from the portal, waiting for the Infraheim universe to slip in phase and for the Portal to power up again. Darkness had fallen outside the narrow lozenge windows, this time of year in this northern part of Earth days were brief like a blink of an eye and nights endless, bitterly cold and lit with flaming Aurora Borealis. It was so chilly in the hall that smoke was coming out of their mouths as they spoke and Chervin could have killed for a nice and warm cloak now, he was tired of heating himself magically. Weary and voracious, he really hoped food would be served when they reached Labyrinth.

"It was here," Cleanthia clarified. "Until two days ago, local time. Perhaps just hours on our common time scale. I traced it to a large island outside the European continent. England or Britannia I believe it's called. On an islet jutting out in the large ocean, the beast rested for a while, charred the land, tainted it so severely that nothing lives there anymore. After its repose it began moving inlands. Seeking its way towards the colossal city in the middle of the island. I followed it to the outskirts of the megalopolis and there I first thought I'd lost it. But a deeper probing revealed that the Alien had left Earth altogether. Tearing the atoms apart like old paper. Not even one of my kind can perform such a deed, hence I hung behind, decided to use normal portalling instead."

"Where did it go?" Atrey wanted to know.  
"Labyrinth," Cleanthia's response was an edgy exhalation while she balled her fists, eyes concisely narrowing to slits, so quickly that you thought you could've imagined it. Next moment her pretty face was a mask of pretended ignorance.
"And you weren't able to follow?" the Cyborg asked further.
"No. The risk was too high. I'm doing this to get my revenge. Not to kill myself," the Voidwalker replied with a voice strained like a violin's string. Earlier she had divulged the sad fate of her father and no matter that Atrey had never had a family in that sense, she could envisage that it would resembling someone killing Tirkar – her closest friend ever. Only thousandfolds worse.

"But you could travel from Lealia to Earth without any use of regular portals?" Tilathian asked. "So why continuing not further on to Infraheim in the same way."
"Because Infraheim isn't aligned correctly with Earth," Atrey explained. "The chasm between the two worlds is too deep and too warped at the moment. The only safe way is to travel by portal. Or wait."
"Besides I didn't want for the Alien to realize I was coming through," the Voidwalker added with eyes like frosted razors. "I want to use my element of surprise."
"Seems like we contracted a fourth member to our little rag-tag band," Chervin smirked. It was meant as a joke but it fell rather flat against the cold, yellow-painted concrete floor of the Svalbard portal hall.  

***  

Cordelia sat by her hearth in her Austrian chattel, looking attentively into the flames, while listening to the concerted gale outside launching itself fiercely at the closed blinds, making them shiver and grind on their hinges. Only moments earlier the temperature in the room had dropped several degrees and the fire had turned silent and almost still, the flames shifting into a brilliant emerald, announcing that a visitor would be coming through from one of the Other Cosmoses. Cordelia couldn't remember the last time someone from any Outside Earth-realm had visited using this route. At least not since the portal opened on the island of Svalbard at the far polar edge of Norway, dedicated to serve the European countries.

As she strained her eyes to see a bit better, a warped and vaguely humanoid figure began to form in the flames, arms extended as if this visitor was scaling a wall. Cordelia became mildly surprised upon recognizing her old acquaintance the Labyrinthine Nurah, King Jareth's piquant chancellor, as she emerged onto the hearth, pale and perspiring from the ordeal and wheezing for air. This should be the one person to never require the hoariest and most primitive way of crossing between the worlds! Without a word, Cordelia went up to the nook to catch the falling woman, steadying her with able arms and embracing her at the same time. In one fluid movement she lead Nurah to a coach and had her to sit down. Behind them the fire returned to its usual combustive orange, crackling merrily as if nothing had transpired just seconds ago and the room became nice and warm again. Again Cordelia became aware of the intense Alpine snow storm which was raging relentlessly through the darkness outside the high windows, the rattling of the wooden shutters punctuating the sound of Nurah's uneasy panting.

"Relax, honey!" Cordelia purred when she found her friend trembling as if she was about to have a seizure, sweat breaking out on her pale forehead, green eyes looking dizzy and aloof. Cordelia helped Nurah to sit back and rest, wrapping a soft, tartan-pattered woollen quilt around her tense shoulders before she stood erect. "Wait! Take it easy, I'll be back in just a jiffy."

When Cordelia returned, she was bringing back a strong rye drink in a beautiful smoke-coloured glass and handing it to Nurah – who tossed the drink back the second she grasped it, almost shattering the thin orb of material with her dexterous hand.
"Thank you, dearest," the Chancellor of Jareth finally said in a raspy voice after catching her wind. "Words cannot express how happy I am to see you."
"I am always glad to receive you - but what made you take such an unexpected measure?"
"I have news of a most grave nature. And perhaps good news, depending on your perspective."
"Please tell me the important news first," Cordelia asked as she too sat down on the opposite coach.

"I imagine you've already heard about this strange alien organism emerging from another dimension," Nurah began. "I heard it killed a Voidwalker not long ago," Cordelia nodded.
"Yes. Fate have flung us down and danced upon us. By now this entity has taken to settle in my Infraheim and it's beginning to cordon it off, severing us from the rest of the Cosmoses. Don't know how and why it does this but it seems that all the normal access points are rapidly becoming disconnected. The ordinary portals to Avalon, Lealia and Ebraa aren't working anymore."
"But you can still portal here to Earth, right?"  

"It's possible still, yes. But I have a certain feeling that the portals are surveyed. The beast out there is keeping track upon us, dissecting our behaviour. So the only safe way to get to Earth is using the old-school roundabout routes. Like this one. The single reason for them to still be accessible is that I believe this – intruder – has yet to discover them."
"So you are more or less sequestered at the moment?"
"Yes," Nurah nodded her head severely. "Five labyrinthean days ago this creature was even audacious enough to attack King Jareth himself while he was in business here on Earth. It dispelled him to his own domain. I volunteered to come through to warn you people and the journey was much more difficult than the last I remembered."

"This is very discomforting news. Does King Angarian know?"
"Partly, he doesn't know the latest development though, since we cannot reach him. We dare not trying to reach him should we be overheard by our unwelcomed visitor. I'll ask you to bring this news to the Human Illuminate. Also be prepared to use your own alchemic knowledge and to wake the 'sleepers', since this world might need that protection."
"How do you know about mine..."
"In these dire hours, there's no time to keep secrets. Speaking of which..." As Nurah trailed off, Cordelia noticed a glimmer in her blue-green eyes and she leaned forward, as if to catch the words quicker.
"Lady Julianne's young daughter Sarah became trapped in Labyrinth with Jareth. He was visiting her in her home in England, when they were attacked by the alien. Jareth, level-headed as usual, managed to open up a temporary portal to Infraheim and fled with Sarah in his arms. She's in Labyrinth now, and they're both safe."

"That's an unforeseen development. Now, I suppose I have news for you too," Cordelia began as she leaned back in her coach. "Lady Julianne is desperately searching for Sarah, practically tearing down everything in her path. She came here yesterday asking for my help and proceeded with berating me when I pointed out I wouldn't be efficient enough."
"Knowing Julianne, there must be more to that story."
"Are you encouraging gossip?" Cordelia arched her thin eyebrows.
"Well, how badly does Julianne need to know where Sarah is?"
"Naturally a lot, she's her only child. She's obviously worried sick. The girl is only fifteen, and until just days ago she had no clue about her supernatural background, the real shape of the world and her own place in it. Now Julianne has gone to Whitehall to ask King Angarian for help."

"And what did he have to say?"
"I don't know. Rumours has it that Angarian promised her aid in return for help with trying to sway a few players of importance in the matter of expanding the settlement of Enangar."
"Oh, my!" Nurah gaped at this information. "It sounds as though she'd be willing to face down all those who once stood against her and scorned her to have her child back."
"Wouldn't you?"

Nurah decided to not answer the question. She was childless, quite common with her sexual orientation, but her treasured one was safe back home in Infraheim and she'd make sure the woman stayed that way at whatever cost. But it was better if people didn't know how far she was willing to go.
"Shall I tell Sarah about her mother?" she asked instead. Cordelia thought for a moment.
"Better not. For the time being Sara is safeguarded by Jareth. She better not try to run away on her own in search for Julianne, that could end in disaster."

"Then I'll let the matter rest," Her voice hardened into a business timbre as she changed her stance, preparing to move on. "Now, I must be on my way, dear, I have other people to warn and it's a long way from here to Boston and Tokyo. And you are due in India as soon as you can make it, I presume."
"Then be on your way, Nurah! And this discussion has never happened."
"I know what you mean, stay safe!"
"You too, my dear friend!"

Nurah stood and put down her emptied glass on the side table and the next moment she was out of the chattel, daring the storm and leaving Cordelia once more with the feeling that the world was changing, and probably not for the better.
King Jareth's court physician Orora alleged that the regenerative mycelium was a small fragment of ancient biotechnology heralding from the very Gods themselves, biotechnology which Infraheim now controlled. Old and incomprehensible, discretionary and quite a bit scary – or at least invoking respect and a spinal reaction of threading about carefully, not taking any unnecessary risks. The fragment of nanotechnology resulting in the mycelium inside her laboratory had been a garnered and stored sample Orora had discovered by chance and used only because the alternative had been to watch a human boy die as his fragile body fought a losing battle against a killer virus causing a bleeder decease. Why Orora later grew a similar mycelium inside herself was less clear. 'For research purposes,' was her answer to any who asked - not because it enabled her to quickly recover from severe injury and not because her physical strength was now twice normal. But there was a downside - as always.

The changes the mycelia were undergoing was something unable to fathom. They were growing thicker and more complex – mutating and transforming, becoming something more than she required. Were they changing her as well? Were they turning her from a daemon into someone – or something else? Orora was not sure, but those dreams she was having of insidious creatures in the water or being encaged in diamond, they were not part of her usual nocturnal phantasms. They were too vibrant, too clear and too possible to remember after waking up and they left her baffled. Like a primitive stumbling across a car, she had walked away with a wheel but had no idea about the workings of gears, spark plugs or fuel.

Perhaps this dangerous experiment was keeping Jareth outside of her laboratories for the time being. But she knew it would only be a question of time before the king's forbearance ran out and he came striding through that round lens door, demanding to see what his court physician was daubing in, what was nascent in her Petri dishes.

Thus far, their only interaction had been their weekly meeting and the odd dinner Jareth invited to and although he had asked her, he had yet to probe deeper, so she would still have some time to think up an answer. The one thing she had assured him was that her discovery was safe within her lab, the way Jareth demanded already the first night. The Infraheimites had every reason to be wary of Divine technology. Using it, they were walking into uncharted territory in more sense than one. It wasn't just the scientific hazards which worried them. There were also political implications. Jareth had hinted at the risks connected to a discovery of their research by someone from for instance Eralda. If news about this endeavour were to reach the ears of High King Angarian they could be in more trouble than ever.

Sitting down by a desk, Orora powered up the potent stationary computer in its lead shell, waiting until the converter began to emit a steady blue light before she logged onto the server. Here in Infraheim, where electricity was volatile to say the least, delicate electronic equipment had to be handled with exquisite attentiveness or they might be severely damaged. To assuage these obstacles every computer was encased in lead, making laptops quite inconvenient to use. Then all electrical input had to be run through sturdy converters which eviscerated the electricity the way a water plant cleaned out impurities from fresh water. Still it happened more often than not that someone blew their mainframe, especially when they tried to use magic on computers. But Orora was prudently keeping her mainframe shielded and ran her backups regularly, so she had so far never undergone any real problems with information loss.

Leaning back in her high-backed wooden chair, tilting it slightly, she watched as the system powered up and icons and glyphs began to appear against a silvery grey backdrop. The usual first, the message service, the weather and the news cast manifesting themselves in a bundle of squares up to the right, some information about portals not safe to use and some commercials about sports events and sales on body modification items and Eucheeta cubs. She just glanced momentarily over these things, she wasn't getting an Eucheeta anytime soon and sports had never been her thing.

Instead the daemon retracted her left hand claws and pulled two fingers across the touchscreen, snapping at an icon to open up the desired functionality. The microscope showcasing the cultivation of the mycelia. As she zoomed in over the cultivation, it looked like a mass of huge flattened puffballs spread throughout grass. These dwellings, Orora knew, the mycelia wove from the protein they were fed, bonded and stiffened by a resinic secretion. Upon testing a sample of this substance, she discovered it to be similar to a tough ceramoplastic normally used in the construction of bridges and houses. Since the last time she checked in on these things, they had grown considerably. This new, amplified kind of nourishment she had been testing was apparently working better – not surprisingly since it resembled the protein compounds used to tie together the biocomposites in the construction reinforcement.

It was an unexpected similarity, and it bemused Orora. Apparently there was a connection between the old heritage of the lost gods and the present day Labyrinth engineering, regardless that Infraheim was considered too young to have been colonized during the era of the Gods. Or was it? She felt far from sure about those established truths these days, it was a conundrum she needed to deliberate with somebody at a convenient time.

***

As soon as he stepped out of the sole portal on the Earth base in Svalbard, Chervin felt the difference in the air. He had been to Earth often enough to recognize it as a place where magic was tenuous and electricity and gravity were strong and durable. Still he always did a scan for magic currents when he arrived to a new place, out of old habit more than anything, just like an ordinary pedestrian might look for approaching cars before stepping out in a street. Usually scanning the surroundings on Earth just meant being met with guileless statics. Old natural magic emitting from nuclear reactions within the planet core or seeping down through the atmosphere to blend with the feeble currents that meandered and condescended across the planet orb. Those were so weedy that they were hardly possible to harvest, especially not by the brains of the Earthlings, where the glands and nerves for magic were degenerated and dormant.

But this time it was different. Something was out there, protracted just at the edge of his perception, where the small planet curved and the ray of magic bounced back against the magnetic field with a scraping sound. A sudden peep that quickly climbed the frequencies before fading out. Yet before Chervin could pin down what was bothering him about his surroundings, Tilathian stepped through the portal, immediately glancing around in the starkly utilitarian portal hall.
"Not much fancy here," he said as he flattened down his auburn hair and rolled his shoulders, still a bit giddy from the transfer.
"This is no fancy governmental or corporative base," Chervin replied absent-mindedly while the men stepped to the side to allow for Atrey to come through. "This is run by the small foundation known as the Illuminati and even though they have more than enough money, they must remain modest, flying under the radar. Stay unnoticed."

"Oh, yes, I know," the Ebraan said. "But it's been centuries since I sat foot on Earth the last time, and I have a clear memory the base was larger back then."
"Swalbards is rather miniscule even by Earth standards," Atrey's voice now came from behind. "The ones in India, South Korea and Mexico are larger. What's going on here by the way?"
"You feel it to?" Chervin asked.
"Yes, the waves are off," Atrey confirmed and it was clear that she was working her senses fast now. "Like the gravity of a moon pulling tides through the sea. Someone is using a lot of magic here. And that someone is certainly not an indigenous human."

"No, they aren't able to," Tilathian stated the evident.
"It's not just that. The signature is foreign even to... wait," she started off towards the edge of the portal area, while Chervin glanced behind his shoulder, noting how the cyan energy field in the large circle faded as the portal powered down. So little traffic here, it was unnecessary to keep the portals up and running, better deploying them at certain hours or if words of arrivals came in advance. The young woman managing the portal was also alone by the controlling console and while Tilathian loitered over to greet her and to entreat for the passage to Labyrinth, Chervin tried to sense in the strange magic emittance he had earlier felt.

That moment a small but strong hand clasped his shoulder and startled he spun around, he hadn't seen it coming at all. His surprised face was met with almost girlish titter as someone pressed something in his hand.
"Wear this, and you'll notice me! I've been here all the time."

With a huff Chervin put on the Radphaser and then he was able to see the Voidwalker standing in front of him in a jet black jumpsuit and with her blonde hair covered by a tight hood, only a few and flimsy escaped locks to be seen, glistening strands the colour of dry autumn wheat moving slightly in an unfelt current of air. Her cobalt eyes glittered beckoning as they looked him up and down. Yet underneath that glitter Chervin detected something else. Despondency and wrath, masked inefficiently by glued-on gaiety. Beyond that and artfully subdued, the wide bright sky, a sensation of soaring, a feeling of wind against her face. The absolute freedom of high flight.
"Cleanthia?" he gaped as he adjusted the instrument over his eyes.
"The very one," she replied. "I've been waiting for you three to come through. See, I know where the Alien is."

"You know...?" better not haste here, Chervin told himself. There was something uncanny about this young woman, something not right. He wasn't ready to dive head over heels into what she might purpose, play by her rules and risk losing the precious and brittle control he still felt he had. "How come Atrey didn't see you? The Cyborgs have always been able to spot your kind."
"I was hiding. From her as well." A smile was doing a poor job of hiding at the corner of the Voidwalker's mouth.
"But..."

"She's telling the truth," Atrey replied as she neared the duo from behind Chervin, who once again spun around, the most priceless look of surprise flitted across the mage's face when words refused to exit his mouth. These women – driving him crazy! "I understood it was her as soon as I noted the shift in magic but was unable to spot a source although the emittance had to be nearby. I may have a sixth sense with several facets, but Voidwalkers wanting to stay ulterior is a hard nut even for someone like me to crack." At the admittance she would've blushed had she been able to and Chervin almost pitied her at that moment.  
"What are you two nattering about?" This time it was Tilathian who appeared, not unexpectedly sounding beyond confused. As a response Cleanthia handed over a pair of Radphasers to him too.
"Now perhaps we can deliberate important matters," she said, the facetious girl from earlier gone and replaced by a stern all-business woman.

***

Rolling over again on the plush bed, Sarah stared at the closed velvet drapes. It seemed such a short while ago she had pulled them shut against the mild grey light. Rather than closing her eyes again, she sat upright and looked blearily first at the clock, and shaking her head at how little sense it made – then at the open book which was sprawled face-down on the floor tiles. Sliding out of the bed, she picked the book up again and placed the heart-shaped leather bookmark between the pages before closing it and placing it on the bedstand.

Her feet made no noise as she padded over to the door opposite of the bed, it opened up to a fancy bathroom complete with a large lowered bathtub in pink marble, a shower, two sinks, hangers with soft towels and lockers filled with all of the commodities a girl could ever wish for. But she wanted none of these things now, neither a bath or even a shower. Instead she used the loo before splashing some cold water in her face and blinking away the last traces of sleep from her eyes – including that uncomfortable dream she had just awakened from.

Exiting the bathroom she turned to the wardrobe provided. There were a number of outfits within and she chose a dress in navy and purple satin. Regardless of being one of the simpler ones; it was still quite nicer than the getup she had worn to the ball at Whitehall and a smile crossed her face in a dreamlike slow motion as she stroke with her hands across the soft textile. Moments later she changed pace as if being jerked awake a second time, left her room and took the elevator down to venture outside the castle, hoping that she could walk off a growing feeling of unease.

It was chilly in the air, the cocooned sky was grey and swollen, windless and still, but pregnant with a promise of change. The garden presented signs of a passed rain - puddles of water glittering on the uneven walkway and a soft film covering the fern-like trees, giving them a muted shine. Sarah could hear the splish-splashing sounds of water drips falling off greenery and the air felt sterling fresh and cleaned, all trace of burnt gasoline washed away by the precipitation. Before long she found herself by the river Ergenad. A hazy golden-orange ribbon rose from the eastern horizon where the clouds fragmented and the calm dark waters mirrored the expectant cobalt sky. Low sluggish waves exhausted themselves on the shore, grey and awash with inky shadows, as if sinuous sea beasts of daunting forms swam just below the surface. Lifting her head, her gaze cast across the green water at the resplendent spires rising through the fog on the opposite shore. Large red and blue avians hoovered over the water, sometimes diving down to sample something edible – Imfraheim's version of gulls apparently.

While standing there with her arms across her chest to somehow close the chill out, Sarah heard distinct footfalls on the gravelled walkway behind her. Turning around to the crunching sound, she recognized the elegant dark-skinned woman with silvery horns from the dinner three days earlier. Orora. The court physician.
"Good morning," Sarah greeted softly. The daemon woman smiled.
"Well met, Milady Sarah. You're an earlier riser too?"
"Not usually," Sarah admitted. "And skip the 'Milady' part, I'm not used to protocol. Now, the day is several hours longer here than from where I come."
"Hours?"
"That's the units we measure time by."

"Oh, I see," Orora's face lit up. "Your circadian rhythm is out of joint then, I presume."
"My what?"
"Your internal clock. Now come here," she indicated a white wooden bench beneath some of those large, yellow and finger-like vegetables that grew by the shore side. Sarah went and sat beside her as directed and noted that the finger-trees were emitting heat, which felt nice against her back this chilly daybreak and she understood why Orora had chosen this spot.

For a while neither spoke as they idly gazed out over the endlessly streaming river. The look on Orora's face seemed to hint that something troubled her.
"Hope you don't find Jareth's dinners and guests too exotic and peculiar," The older woman finally voiced her thoughts. "I know we can be a bit of a handful sometimes, especially to extraterrestrial visitors."
"I found you all nice," Sarah smiled politely. "Do you often gather like this?"
"Not really," Orora admitted. "Jareth seldom invites us all unless it's a matter of utmost gravity. Especially not Cascal."
"The Shaman, who came together with you?"
"The very one."
"Pardon my frankness, but he spooked me."
"His kind tend to do that," Orora responded softly. "Did you know that Cascal was banished here long ago? Before even Jareth was conceived. Most Celestians will have nothing to do with his kind, since they can intercept people's sleep, take over their dreams."

Dreams? Sarah felt herself go pale and tried to not show her emotions.
"So do you know why Jareth asked for them?"
"Yes – and I believe you do too. Alone, he is unable to preserve the safety of his realm. That entity grows in power every single day. And we do not know what it is. Even to the memory of the Ancients, it is Alien."
"Did they – find the Alien?"
"Not yet. But given time, they will."
"Do we have that time then?" Sarah pondered, remembering Jareth's worrisome words from the day before.

"Sarah, when the gods came together and created the universes, they also created time. Yet some place existed before the universes and exists outside of it now - and will exist when the universes collapse back upon themselves and become undone. In that mysterious place, outside of time, the Alien waits for us. Only through time can time be conquered. And if we use our time well – Jareth hope we can come together to defeat the beast."
"Orora," said Sarah in a bewildered tone, "Jareth seems so powerful."
"Not enough," the physician shook her head. "Not this time at least. So tell me, Sarah! Where have you been living, if not in Lealia?"

Sarah looked out across the river, squinting against the wash of sunlight over the waves while crafting a wary answer.
"My mother and I live on Earth. In England, in a suburb to London. I went to school there, living the unassuming lacklustre life of an ordinary human girl, and didn't expect anything else." Sarah summoned the courage to voice her insecurity. "I never really knew how different I was until I saw Whitehall."

Orora sensed the young woman was holding back, but let it go.
"That's not such a bad thing," she assured Sarah in a light tone-of-voice. "You'll find you're much better off than some of those daft bourgeoisie who cannot get their heads out of the clouds."
"Daft bourgeoisie? Anyone I know?"
"That's for another time," Orora smiled sorrowfully as she stood again, swiftly brushing off some invisible particles of dust from her ankle-long amber gown. "I must be on my way; my duties are calling me. But I urge you to take care when exploring this place alone. Don't get lost in the city, if worse comes to worse you may never make it back to the Eon Tower again. It has happened to others. See you later," she then gently bade. Sarah returned the salutation but remained sitting.

When Orora had disappeared up the track towards the castle, Sarah stood from the bench and moved across the narrow peninsular, nearer the river, intently stepping down the steep riverbank, knowing that Jareth might have wrung her neck if he'd seen her. Lowering her eyes to the beach she could envision the glimmer of something lapped by water, blue and spume. The thing moved with the rush of the waves, settled when the waters retreated, stirred again to their return. Straining her vision against the glare of the sun she distinguished texture and form and glistening patches of light, like a fading rainbow bleeding colours together. An object multi-coloured and sodden which scintillated with a lure to pull her to it, so that she may know what it was. Cautiously she dipped her sandal-clad foot into the dark waters. A chill spread throughout her and she instantly regretted her decision. If she'd felt her energy fading before, she now felt utterly drained and vulnerable. That was when a voice, deep like rolling thunder resounded in her head.

Little Fair Sarah. I have been waiting for you, it was saying. The next moment her world was sharpening and the detached numbness of her mind became a tide of pins and needles.
"Who are you?" she asked aloud.
I am what I am, the voice in her head sounded almost as if it was sniggering at its own nonsense comeback.
"What do you want?"
I want my rightful place. When the stars come into place, I will have it.
"This is not your place," she retorted defiantly; braver words than she truly felt.
I suppose it'll be either you or I who perish before the end, sweet Saphira. I look forward to meet you in combat.

Saphira! It was strange how that name almost came to Sarah's lips. The sound of it halted on her tongue – a bewildering paroxysm of synaesthesia made her see the name sparkling like bright stars, chiming in the keen silence surrounding it. The next instance that glimmer transformed into her own name the way she had heard it summoned in that overly lucid dream. The chill subsided and Sarah tottered back out of the river, instantly evoking splintered fragments of her dream that night. Fragments emulating the reality with a disturbing resemblance. A creature lurking in the deep black waters of Ergenad imperilling the realm of the Labyrinth. The name Saphira echoing through the long hallways of the Eon Towers, pursuing her as she ran for her life, her long, lavender cloak threatening to get stuck on various sharp objects.

Without any further hesitation Sarah whirled around, fled from the river bank and stumbled back towards the castle.
Audience with the King

Upon reaching Elefteria and the wondrous castle of Whitehall, Julianne requested and was granted a private audience before High King Angarian so soon that she had hardly time to brace herself for the potentially trying and humiliating encounter. This felt like the hardest thing she had ever done, even topping her decision to flee and take refuge on Earth fourteen years earlier. She was received by a tiny and timid puck servant and escorted through the labyrinthine palace. The small, spry and fleet-footed being in a flowing snow-white silk tunic and with blonde hair woven tightly under a silver mesh cap brought Julianne through long galleries hung with marvelous art and adorned with impressive statues. Halls where their footfalls echoed into silent emptiness as they crossed the shiny marble floors. Julianne became shown up broad and imposing staircases and finally through an outer office where clerks and secretaries were full at work with typing on computers and talking on picture phones, the buzz of activity fermenting the air like statics of a thunderstorm. The resemblance to any Earth office was almost scary, only the more sumptuous furnishing and the greater racial variation of the workers, including greenish dryads and small pixies, told Julianne that this was not some Earthly authority at work here.

The servant led Julianne to a small waiting alchove were golden lanterns hung in niches, casting a warm, inviting light except where pillars and drapes contrived to create equally inviting, restful pools of shadow. Here she was offered a seat and refreshments. Water, wine, fruit and small pastries were carried in on shiny plates, but she was too nervous to be able to ingest anything. Instead she settled for a few mouths of fresh and slightly carbonated water. Moments later the servant reappeared, curtsied and asked her politely to follow. Julianne stood and was guided up a few steps to an ornate set of double doors, the servant opening one of them and admitting Julianne into the office of the King.

Her casual stroll across the decorative rugs covering the floor belied the tension knotting her stomach as she faced the imposing man in the grand room. Once, she had loved him. Trusted him. Worshipped him. She remembered the past with such aching clarity it took her breath away.

Only when Julianne stood before the King of Lealia could she make her fury known and reveal her true intentions for having seeked him out. She wanted her child back, and King Angarian had better be prepared to assist her in the ordeal!

Sitting behind his large desk, with the great garden of Whitehall as a backdrop through a floor-to-ceiling picture window, Angarian was listening to the daughter of his old rival with well concealed pique, hands folded together in front of him on the polished mahogany surface of his desk. When Julianne was done he sat almost immobile saying nothing for a while. It aggravated her, but such was his intention and she was not going to give him the pleasure of seeing her annoyance. When he finally spoke it was with a clement, almost indifferent-sounding voice.
"Did you two fight before she left?" he asked.
"She didn't 'leave', of that I'm sure," Julianne replied, her eyes smoldered with the burn of dry ice. She had quite a bit harder to conceal her anger and her contempt for this man. "She was taken."

"Taken? By whom?"
"If I'd knew that, would I come here, you think? And humiliate myself before you?"
"I cannot answer that," his voice stayed unflappable, she failed to provoke him so far. "The only thing I know to this point is that Sarah is not here. At Whitehall. I could order a search for her, Julianne. But first I most know that she's not staying away on purpose."
"Why?"
"Because if she does, then you and Sarah have other problems to solve than ones that can possibly involve me."

Julianne sighed and swallowed.
"I didn't mean that kind of 'why'," she said pointedly. "I meant 'why' as in 'why should she?'"
"She's fifteen years old, Julianne," the King pointed out. "As a fifteen years old, she has just begun to live her life. Naturally she wants to try new things. To probate her limits. From what I understand she only recently learned about the true nature of her background and her powers. The things she could do; the places she could go. Naturally she's curious, and nurtures a desire to exam what she's got and see what's out there."

"She's still in school," Julianne protested.
"Yes, that's because you put her there," first now she could trace a faint edge to his otherwise so mellow and composed baritone. His next words were as soft as silver slivers, piercing the heart with such deftness that you barely knew where the pain came from. "You chose this human travesty instead of giving your daughter the upbringing a Celestian child ought to have. A gouvernante could have taught her all she needs to know and taken her around the world and shown her rather than tell as they do in those ludicrous human schools. But you did not come here to speak of tutelage, no?" he held up his hand as a kind of stop sign, to show that he wanted to move the conversation back on track again.
"Sire..."
"Angarian, please," he kept his voice solemn, there was no invitation in asking her to use the surname. "If there's by any chance a reason for her to leave on her own accord, I would like to ask you to consider this and envision where she could have gone."

"I cannot imagine any place," her words encumbered with acquiescence.
"So you come to me," he said impassively and she wondered what it was he hid. She had never known him for anything else than a smooth tactician, a chess player with several draws ahead in his mind. Mutedly she nodded her head, indicating for him to go on. "Yes, I may be able to put together a search party and locate your daughter, Julianne. But I have my own dilemmas to cope with, things eating off my time. So if you wish to add to my work load I will naturally have to ask for something in return."

"I understood as much," Julianne admitted, feeling her shoulders slump and the King changed position in his chair, leather creaking mutely beneath him as the weight shifted. "What is it you wish?"
"I wish to expand Enangar. Take the settlement further inland."
"But that's going to cost. To make that land safe. Those beasts in there..."
"Tell me about it. But we are getting crowded in all inhibited worlds there is now. I'm not sure how long it'll take for Toyahda and her people to find other planets."

"So what can I do?" Nervously Julianne found that she was fingering her bracelets and ceased hastily, letting them rattle back under the sleeve of her mauve camisole. As a response, Angarian leaned forwards as in instigating a plot, reaching out to touch her shoulder, and Julianne had to brace herself to not balk. She was here to sell her soul to get her daughter back, it would do no good to recoil now.  
"When your husband Reikan – your ex-husband as I've come to understand it now – was defeated, there were a few of his adherents who managed to slip out of the net. There always is, you know," his lowered voice resounded his statement. "They're still hostile to me, and I've finally found out what to do about it – and to gain a little bit too."

"What do you mean, you plan to use me as a bait to drag them out in the light?" Julianne could hardly believe what she was saying. "To give them a late-coming mopping up?"
"No, on the very contrary. I wish to sway them. Bring them in under my umbrella again. Now, I assume a little bribery would do. A little inducing of pristine, fertile, paradisiac and most of all free land. I want to make these people Counts and Countesses over parts of that lush and delight haven which is Enangar. To make it even more appetizing, I want you, Reikan's lovely wife, to persuade them of the value of this unique and generous offer. If you can in a believable way convince them that you are behind this idea, they'll not recognize it as coming primarily from me, since all and everyone out there 'know' that you and I are not on speaking terms."

"If you can't beat them, join them, you mean?"
"More or less. I'll kill two birds with one stone. I be rid of those adversaries of mine by converting them and I'll get a handful of eager colonists to bring out to that new frontier."

Then Angarian proceeded to tell Julianne who he wanted her to see and talk to. It was a list of half a dozen names, and it felt doable, she realized. Not an easy task, this dissembling made her feel dirty – almost like a prostitute. Yet when she forced herself to think about her daughter – her little girl and all the terrible circumstances she might be in, then talking to a few hard-to-sway rebels did suddenly not sound that bad.
"I'll do it," she established, leaning back a bit from Angarian and his touch. "Count me in! For this at least."

"Thank you, Julianne," came the unexpectedly sincere reply and Julianne forced herself to meet his navy-blue eyes.
"And my daughter?"
I will do what I can - which is indeed a great deal," the King promised, peremptory dismissal in his voice, but just as she stood to leave, he changed his mind and addressed her again and she vacillated, facing him once more. "Julianne, there's one thing I'd like for you to know. I never blamed you for what was instigated by Utrorion and Reikan. I know very well that you had no part whatsoever in those shadowy subversions. I'd also like for you to know that you're welcome back at Whitehall whenever you wish. So is Sarah."
"Thanks, but I'm doing fine in England," her reply fell off her lips more curtly than she meant to. For a brief second she thought of adding something to gloss it over with, then she decided against it. She had no obligations to Whitehall. Not even manners.

****

High above the flat sea she soared, carried by the current of the air, her skin alabaster under the floating cloak, her face covered by a filmy white veil. Beneath her the cold and barren islands of ice flew in the churning ever-restless waves of the polar sea, the starry winter night an imposing dome of obscurity over her small form. To her west, the sea was black and forbidding except for a distorted reflection of the icy moon, which on those waters melted into a long silvery smear.

Descending rapidly, she stepped down onto the parapet beside the small, insignificant concrete building. There she rested, breathed in the biting cold through her widened nostrils, the arid air callous against her naris as the stillness became more profound, the difference between frost and ice in the winter night. No wind ruffled the matte snow and darkness hung with folded wings but at the horizon the Aurora Borealis was swaying and pirouetting in her blithe dance, her undulating translucent veils painting the night in garish colours.  

When they perceived her presence the two armed men turned around, raising their black instruments of death. Seeing nothing they became short of breath by anxiety, their flesh trembling in fear and exertion. They looked upon her but couldn't see her visage, not her eyes and no lock of hair.
"Take me inside," she commanded, her modulated soprano mysterious and unknowable and they could do nothing but obey. Afterwards, when their superiors would question them, they would both answer that they weren't able to do a thing, they were under a spell and loss of all will and resolve.

***

Jareth and Sarah's next planned terminus was the conservatory referred to as 'the birdhouse' since it held avians from all over the universe, even if not all of them were birds in its true sense. No, there were a lot of large insects, batlike mammals, lizardians and even vegetables, like the looping roses of Maronja. But the two of them never made it that far. While heading down the flowerbed-lined walkway across a larger open field, they were intercepted by three people riding those lime-coloured feline mounts Sarah had learned were called Eucheetahs. The one up front on the leading animal was no other than Chancellor Nurah, her copper red hair fluttering behind her like a war banner.

Halting their Eucheetahs, the trio stopped and were off before the astonished Sarah and the more poised King Jareth. But contrary to what they expected, Nura didn't become the one to take the floor. Instead the man to the left of her stepped forward. He was a tall and beefy thug dressed in military garbs, with a with a brawler's scarred jaw and a nose that looked like it had been used to break a hard fall. He appeared devoid of any emotion, like a computer game badass. But there was apparently more to him since his sudden appearance didn't seem just accepted but encouraged by the King.

"Anfrado? What brings you here?" Jareth asked.
"Me and my men, we cannot cross the Outer Ridge the way we ought to," the military began to a sharp salute, his cold, gray eyes barely grazed over Sarah's appearance before focusing completely on his King. "It seemed early on to be a symptom of a greater problem. It's like something closes us in. Last week one of the guys took off, trying to break through. He never made it back, and we haven't heard anything from him since. Whatever may be that thing breaching our world is now impeding my work, too," he declared plainly and without pomp.

"The Alien?" Jareth shot a cursory glance at Nurah.
"Yes, my Lord," the Chancellor confirmed.
"When was the last time you were able to cross regularly?"
"Three days ago, just before you summoned the Council to discuss the Alien."

"Why didn't I hear of this sooner?"
"I supposed that either we could fix this problem, or it would work itself out before too long," Anfrado proclaimed, steadfastly meeting the scrutinizing gaze of his king. "I fear that we're becoming occluded, that the whole Infraheim realm is being cordoned off from the rest of the Cosmoses."
"How about the portals?"
"They're still operative, My King," the third rider said, a black elfin-like man dressed in a purple coat suite with a matching west and with a silvery high hat, now held in a slender fingered hand. "At any rate those in central Labyrinth. But there have been disturbances, we were not able to connect to Lealia earlier today. However, that could be due to the ongoing time-flux." He paused to reach inside a pocket on his west, retrieving an instrument in gleaning brass, which looked like a pimped clock. Opening up the case he glanced down at the instrument before raising his eyes to face Jareth again. "Fifteen minutes have passed over there during the last three days, and it'll take another week before it slows down enough to guarantee a safe passage for the general public."

"And how about the other Realms, Uldus?" Jareth asked as he rubbed the root of his nose in frustration.
"Ebraa and Avalon are off-line which is as expected since they run on the same axis as Lealia, but Xanadu/Thule is also disconnected, which is more strange."
"And Taronda?"
"They have been wavering, we received a warning from them this morning to seize portalling altogether until the anomaly has been found," Uldus went on. "As a matter of fact, the only connection still open is Earth. The least used."
"We all know what that may implicate," Nurah said.
"We're being staked out," Anfrado's voice was grim. "Selected for the slaughter."

At his words, Uldus eyes widened and he turned to Jareth as if seeking strength and even Nurah looked a bit unsettled. Sarah swallowed, suddenly the sunlight seemed less cheerful and warming and a chilly wind drew dried leaves across the lawn and the path and assaulted the nearby tree crowns, hissing through the leaves. Next thing the Eucheetahs were stirring and trampling, their ears plastered backwards against their majestic heads, fangs almost bared. Something was afoot here and Sarah had no idea what, other than that it was petrifying.

Then Jareth let up his voice.
"Now, calm down everyone," he ordered indomitably, making even the trio of felines less tense. "Nothing has happened yet save for some anomalies at the borders and a man missing. He might as well have gone AWOL or had a perfectly natural accident. Continue your search for him, Anfrado! A few flukes with the Portals shouldn't worry a clever fellow like you, Uldus! Nura, I want you to collect all signs of extraordinary disturbances and report to me later tonight. Lastly – do I have to remind you that we are the Infraheim? We are strong, brave and ingenious. We have never been defeated. We have always won – one way or the other. We intend to do it this time too! Am I making myself clear?" As he finished he rose a white-glowed index-finger in the air and the gesture almost mollified even the gyrating wind around them.

"Aye, my king!" Anfrado saluted and Uldus nodded his head in unison. Only Nurah looked a bit thoughtful as she stood back and grabbed the halter of her Eucheetah.
"What about those on their way here?" Sarah asked and turned to Jareth. "Will they make it if the portals are closed?"
"That is left to see," he replied as he turned towards her, his voice unexpectedly mild.

"Nurah," The King then addressed his Chancellor, and she straightened up her back, re-focusing on him. "I want you to get in touch with Lady Cordelia on Earth. If everything else goes wrong, there are ways to protect Earth and Cordelia is the only one who knows about them."
"Now, I don't understand," Nurah appeared a bit lost. "Shan't we first..."
"No matter what," Jareth added steel to his voice and a muscle flicked briefly in his cheek. "Earth must be saved. Because if it is lost, then all else will die eventually."
The journey of the Voidwalker

From the skydome came a plunging, muted shriek. A cry that pierced the nothing, echoed through clouds, through cobalt air, volleyed from cliff to crag and became severed into silence. It was a cry of someone in pain, not bodily but emitting from a tormented soul. For this voyager was not physically suffering as she broke through the barriers between universes and leaped forward into a new Cosmos the way only her kind could do. That was why they were called Voidwalkers.

Held in a high, swirling current the Voidwalker spiraled downward in ever giddying circles. She became lifted, wafted, and tossed about in the air of the great vault of the sky. Her slick, jet-black jumpsuit was shining like ink in the sunlight as she roamed where the wind might take her, brushed the silken periphery of bleached clouds, fanned by winds blowing in from the distant cloven edge of the world.

Far below her where the sky bowed to embrace a great breadth of liquid shifting blues, rose a towering edifice of rock overlooking a deserted beach, a secret grotto and a long dead landscape of ruined trees. Once a lush fruit grove and plentiful with a bounty of fruits, however none but the hardiest trees kept root above this atrophied place now. Under the brow of the cliff, closer to the demarcation of the grotto's mouth, the trees had withered into blighted stumps and stood twisted, ghastly and leafless, trunks blackened, roots seared. It was as if the nightmare had blasted and blistered away all the beauty and verdure from this secluded spot on the ground, left the land deliberately inhospitable and fallow.

White-tipped with swelling waves the ocean was drawn inexorably into this choked and dissipated shore, its sapphire hues draining into a tepid green and then to grey. Even the light of the sun altered here as if filtered through a jaundiced veil, giving the evening waters the colour of unpolished brass. The wind blew from the east, cold with the promise of winter. Or death. She shuddered as she stared at the cove in which sea heaved and rocked and convulsed spume over jagged clusters of slate. It washed foam and shell and tangled weed in and out of fluted, cavernous underground chambers, stirred the sands on the cove's shore, throwing up driftwood and curious things from the deep.

Only mythical creatures would dare wander here, she understood, no humanoid soul would possess the strength to prosper. Only the sea and the wind that took up strange words and sang the songs of this place to any who might listen. Tales for the known world of things unknown, mad, lyrical verses of life and death and after-death. Of the silent dreaming.

Riding the atmosphere far above the turbulence of waves, blackly luminous and splendid - a plume glossed with liquid, dancing lights, she began a lazy descent, turning slow and dizzying spirals, sparkling jet and onyx in the flaming arrows of the sun. Below her she saw the patchworked pattern of cultivated land, hues of yellow and green intersected by meandering roads, sparsely trafficked by small vehicles going from one village to another. The wind gusts kept her aloft, baring her over the boiling cauldron of the ocean and landward, toward a cove and the sable mouth of a forgotten, misty grotto.

At the dipping edge of a cliff the Voyager hovered precariously, looking out across the shadowed crater of darkness. From this crumbling perch upon the brow of the world's dark ledge visions were revealed, images rendered in phosphorous luminance, the turbid water surging in from the far and razor-edged horizon. Despite the froth trailing from the waves, the sea yonder was calm, serene. The fading light turned it a brilliant cobalt, rendering the crystal clear waters opaque as a sheet of steel. She listened – all ears, all other senses. Reaching out with tentacles of her mind, trying to read the imprints that lingered in the stone and in the wet, wind-ruffled sand and in the graying driftwood cast ashore by currents and tides.

For a transient moment she thought she felt its form and understood its origin and purpose. Then it all became garbled to her again. An alien disharmony almost making her nauseous as she slowly sat herself down on one of the few dry blotches by the shore. It had been here. Once, long ago. Why did it come here before going elsewhere? She wasn't sure and hesitantly she reached out to follow the track and as she strained all her senses, she caught the impression of a crack in the structural boundary. Not the well-known one which separated one of the universes from another but one that separated the universes from – something else.

Yet it was so very distant, so immeasurable far away, those marked boundaries of the known world. Who but the gods might envision what lied beyond? Retracting her tentacles of mind she finally materialized wholly in this world, and the first thing she felt was chill. To protect herself she phased slightly out from the realm again, while lifting her amethyst eyes to look at the sky. No, there was no ring alike the one on Thule, but there was a medium-sized moon crescent sitting halfway down the horizon, where the ginger sun was now disappearing among the waves. She had always loved moons, perhaps because they were a novelty since her world was without one.

The sun waned, ran molten into the water and The Voyager lowered a shielding hand from her eyes. Then she saw it! Two glowing flares cleaved the twilight sky, far flung jewels fired into a vein of molten gold. They climbed quickly to the ceiling of the sky dome. There was no making out what these brilliant bolts might be, they were too far away to be seen clearly, but they climbed higher and higher, defying the gravity, sparkling in the daylight only to evaporate into the ether, enveloped, swallowed by the closing mouth of the cosmic night.

"So this is Earth," Cleanthia whispered to herself. "This is the world of the billions and billions of humans. More than the regulars of Thule, Lemuria and Xanadu taken together. This is where lady Julianne hid away for so many years with her young daughter. And this is where the awful Alien beast has gone. Or at least a part of it. The part I must find. To claim my revenge!"

***

The vast verdant park was sparsely dotted with greenhouses between the lush groves and emerald fields, so gracefully and gravity-defying constructed they looked like spun sugar crafted by gentle-handed fairies. Those elegant structures reminded Sarah of the Kew Gardens, which she had visited with school the year before. The 29 greenhouses were home for a marvelous collection of exotic plants from all over the Seven Cosmoses, Jareth told, plants grown in soil shipped in to Labyrinth from all over the place and lit with artificial suns. As they walked through the hot and steamy aisles, Jareth pointed out and told about several of those plants, some of them hosting dryads, others were flesh eaters. He told about the Silvertrees of Sarontha who only blossomed one night every seventh years, those blossoms were among the most wonderful things to see and to smell. He told about the Titrivini Tree with its hallucinatory berries and the luminescent fungi of Datravana and the singing pines of Xanadu. Sarah's silence was beginning to unnerve him, but he was determined to carry on with the tour.

Finally he stopped outside one of the greenhouses. The two of them were now standing at a semi-circular landing with banisters of ornate iron facing a jagged plateau by a drop-off. Here a small brook turned to a waterfall, spilling over the edge like liquid silver before becoming subsumed into the pit below, where it merged with a larger current, a faint rainbow spanning over the gap like a dream of a bridge.
"You know you can talk to me," Jareth proposed, placing his nimble hands upon Sarah's slender shoulders, eyeing her in barely concealed concern. She kept her eyes down for a heartbeat before she had a change of heart and looked up at him, finally wording her disquiet.
"Jareth, I'm scared," she admitted and he felt his heart skip a beat. How could he not have seen this? Of course she was terrified after having almost been threatened to her life earlier today.

"Sarah dear," he began while looking into those anxious cobalt eyes, seeing his own reflection deep within dilated pupils, wondering if it was the way she perceived him. "Listen to me. What you heard about prophesies and aliens may sound exceedingly unsettling. But believe me, you're not alone in this. I saw that Alien, I felt it. I was undeceived by its implicit and profound ire, like no rage I have ever before sensed or understood could possibly exist, during those brief moments prior to absconding with you from the Earth realm. I know that it is overwhelmingly petrifying. However I will remain by your side and I promise to do all in my might to and to keep you safe. Moreover, I happen to know that reinforcement is nigh now, those coming here to participate in hunting down and defeating the Alien."
"When?" Sarah frowned, feeling a nasty sort of irritation spread under her skin, as if her earlier dread was evolving into some rudimentary precursor to anger.
"I'm not sure exactly when, but the atoms have been parted twice now to let through a minor group of people and the highlighted trajectory indicates that they're bound for Infraheim. With a purpose. At the same time there's another one. A sole and unprecedented soul out on the same errand, but for some reason travelling on their own. Nurturing avenge in their mind."

"Jareth," Sarah cut him off, her voice weighed down with annoyance. "Stop speaking in riddles!"
"I'm sorry," his peculiar brows crinkled. Then he rubbed his hands down her arms, trying to warm and comfort her, but Sarah made a shrug and took a step back, showing with her body language that she didn't appreciate his caress. "Sarah I... I'm used to express myself in a way that," he inhaled and started anew. "I often forget that you have not grown up among us. I mean among Celestians. I speak of things natural to us."

"What do you mean exactly?"
"It's like," he brighted up as he found a fitting parable. "If you were visited by a time traveler from your sixteenth century. Say you started to talk to her about phones, cars and the internet. She wouldn't grasp a thing. While to you it would be so natural that you barely batted your eyes at the notion of talking to someone on the other side of the world. Or driving a carriage sans pulling beasts. I talk about what I learn from my informants. Those who scan the realms to see who are coming and going on the borders to our universe. Using their forsaying powers to survey those who'll be arriving here soon or leaving soon. They have seen these four people. The trio travelling together and the sole entity who's never wholly in the same place. Please bear with me if it doesn't make sense. One day I will make sure someone better than me at teaching can explain these things to you."

"I look forward," Sarah murmured, her quiet words burdened with a broken edge of uncertainty. "But I'm still afraid."
"It's understandable. But remember, you're not alone in this."
"Thanks for – well trying to cheer me up. Or whatever it is you're doing." The faint trace of a smile, as she glanced at him from the corner of her eyes, while her main attention appeared to be focused on the cascading waters. "It works. A bit at least."

***

Cautiously Cleanthia stepped inside the grotto, letting her heightened senses guide her way, listening to the silence and felt the silence listening to her. For the first time in her life she felt real scare. But it was overtaken by a profound hatred, a white-hot scorching magnesium fire flaming fiercely within her chest, so powerful it frightened her and felt impossible to put out. This soulless Alien had killed her father, her only connection with another living being, thus condemning her to the almost ghost-like no-existence of the sole Voidwalker. The one people seldom saw and never cared about. Not even other Voidwalkers bothered with the one who was Alone. No one would be perturbed if she got lost or died, as a matter of fact, people would never know. Within moments they would even have forgotten she existed.

Still she couldn't afford to hate. She had to be cold as liquid helium, calculating and sharp, because she carried not just one world on her shoulders. For Cleanthia might be the one to stand between the Cosmoses and annihilation. She, as the only one able to locate the Alien. Locating it and lead the others to it on a trajectory where they could for as long time as possible avoid discovery and thus defeat the Alien using the element of surprise. They would only get one chance, that was evident.

Baring her teeth in a face-contorting livid grimace, she ran her hand across the bare stone, fondled the trickling sensation of the one who had dwelled there. Here a scarlet radiance stained the gory walls. Perhaps the swirling columns of sulphurous smoke were the expulsions of the Alien's breath, spewed from fetid lungs. It had known that which it seeked had been close at the time. In turn Cleanthia sensed the thing, but the image was equivocal, hard to pinpoint. Beyond a veil of chaos were the glowing orbs of demon eyes. Or as close to eyes those sensory organs may come. But the hunter was about to become the prey.

The Voidwalker turned around, tracing her hand over the rough surface, feeling her inner power tremble with barely contained odium. How could they be warned, the two, that the creature was very near - but a hair's breadth away and readying to strike? They had fled to that other world, the youngest and innermost of them all, the miniscule universe with but one sole sun satellited by two planets. They thought themselves safe there, but they were not, the Alien may strike at any moment.

She knew now that her father's dead had been no mere collateral damage, he had been ripped from life with a surgeon's profession. This creature out there was not out to break general havoc, or to gorge itself through the humanoid population, destroying their civilization as it went. It was out with one single motif in mind. One single soul was its ultimate goal. If it was able to find, conquer and seize that one, the rampage everyone else dreaded would have been the preferred outcome, because what Cleanthia saw when she traced the residual energies was the peril of the worst imaginable disaster. Everything that was, had been or would become were in jeopardy if the Alien should win.

Journal History

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