Disclaimer: The usual, the characters from Sorcerous Stabber Orphen belong to Yoshinobu Akita, Yuuya Kusaka, TBS/Bandi and ADV.

This is set after Sorcerous Stabber Orphen: Revenge. This is based off the Anime only using the English terms. Warning Spoilers!

Author's Note: I'm still in a bit of shock over this but Little Minamino wrote a spin-off oneshot for this story. And with a few tweaks, it fit in with everything so well; I framed part of this chapter around it. You can also thank her; she got me moving on the next chapter much faster. The link (or rather path – this is Fanfiction dot net after all) to her story at the end. In the mean time enjoy!

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Majic watched Orphen and Devon leave the cave. He shook his head thinking, 'Like I had to be reminded of the standing orders. Besides it's too early for that shit, still…' He paused, looking over towards Hartia who was waking up.

"Good Morning." Majic whispered.

Hartia immediately looked towards Majic, scanning the area noticing the missing parties. Raising an eyebrow in question towards Majic, Hartia replied with a simple, "Morning."

Majic just grinned, "Ready for a story?"

Automatically Hartia grimaced and said, "No…but you're gonna tell me anyway aren't you."

"Nope." Majic replied, grinning like a cat that had just eaten a canary. "If you're not curious about what happened between Cleo and Master last night or that he and Devon just left the cave, by themselves…" Majic trailed off, before standing, "Now that you're up, I'll go get a few things ready to fix breakfast." He added over his shoulder as he left the entrance of the cave.

Hartia stared opened-mouthed at Majic's back initially too stunned to realize that his source of information just went outside. "Damn cheeky apprentice. Appealing to my curiosity… but it won't work." Hartia muttered. "Nope…no way…" he paused, "Oh who am I kidding?" He added resignedly as he reached for his boots, shifting some clutter in the process. That was not the only movement he saw, slight movements from Alik and Cleo that indicated the pair would be waking soon.

When Cleo's hair seemed to sprout a pair of green eyes, Hartia nearly jumped out of his skin. Shaking his head at himself for being silly, when he knew full well whose eyes those were, Leki, her familiar champion. All things considered though, he knew he couldn't fully leave the cave, especially with Orphen out of sight, so he got up and went to the entrance, hoping that Majic had stayed close.

Once at the entrance, he found that Majic was only just outside and obviously waiting for him. "Better make it quick," Hartia said, gesturing over his shoulder, "they're gonna wake soon and I don't want them to be anything even remotely resembling alone, especially here."

"I know Master Hartia but I just couldn't resist. Besides, I have to cook inside, everything else is wet, but at least here our talking shouldn't wake them." Majic said quietly starting to launch in the explanation. "You know I left…"

"Wait…" Hartia said stopping him, "Let's move this inside, even if it runs the risk of waking Cleo and Alik, it's better than them waking…" Hartia trailed off. Majic nodded and picked up the full bucket he had intended to use to get fresh water in while he and Hartia talked. A chore that had apparently been taken care of, either by a Wolven or another at the camp Majic didn't know but silently thanked.

Once he re-entered the cave and Majic got breakfast started he softly launched back into the explanation of what happened the previous evening and Orphen's and Devon's departure.

Majic had barely gotten the bacon started, when Cleo suddenly sat up looked around confused and gave a startled scream, which set off a flurry of activity. Leki was unsettled from her head and moved back in her lap whining to try to reassure her. Majic and Hartia both dropped what they were doing to dive to reassure her. Midway through that process Majic shifted his target jumping over the fire to get to Alik, who'd also woken up adding his scream to hers.

"He's near I feel him." Cleo cried, frantically looking around, but not really registering anything, "Orphen! Alik! Where's, Alik? Wait, no he's not here… but he was... but weak… I've got…"

"Majic's got Alik." Hartia said trying to reassure her, even as he tensed knowing who else she was referring to. Even so, first he had to calm her down before he could do anything defensively. He gestured to Majic, indicating he should drag Alik to Cleo, before reaching out to gently grasp her shoulder.

At his touch, Cleo screamed again, this time much louder and longer. At the same time, Alik broke away from Majic. Cleo punched Hartia, grabbed Alik and they both ran out of the cave. Leki followed them after being dumped off Cleo's lap, growling slightly.

Hartia, rubbing his jaw, was getting to his feet to follow them when he was knocked over by the arrival of Orphen, who had arrived via teleport on the rocks surrounding the fire. He quickly scanned the area and ran out of the cave after Cleo and Alik. After his departure, Hartia noticed that Majic was getting up too after pointing Orphen outside.

*********

Before running outside, Orphen forced himself to slow down. In the few moments he'd been in the cave, he saw that although obviously startled and alert, Hartia and Majic were unworried. He took a deep breath to ease the panic he'd felt when he thought there might have been an attack with him away. Pausing at the entrance, he could see Cleo and Alik just outside the cave. Cleo was holding and comforting Alik, who was crying that his head hurt. Seeing them safe and nearby, allowed him to shake off the last vestiges of panic, something he knew he had to do because if he wasn't calm, he wouldn't be able to calm them.

She was chanting, "Alik…it's okay. We're safe. Yes, I felt him…or something like him but he's gone! He's gone!"

"No…he's here. He's here…"

"Hey kid," Orphen called out, "What did I tell you?"

Alik looked up at Orphen, sniffed and shakily replied, "That you weren't gonna let anything happen to us, ever… you even promised."

Orphen nodded. "And…"

"I-I know. I'm sorry, I still got scared… it was dark." Alik trailed off, embarrassed.

Orphen knelt next to them, "Are either of you hurt?" He asked, placing one hand on Alik's shoulder and the other on Cleo's as he quickly scanned them for any injuries, "What happened?"

"No." Cleo replied, realizing he might not catch her meaning she added, "We're not hurt. I woke up and was disoriented… I felt him near. I think. But he left." She looked down at Leki, who had followed her outside and was sitting next to her tugging at her sleeve. She was reaching up to grasp her pendant when Argenthua walked into the clearing, in her human form.

"The area is clear now. However there was a sorcery teleport from the clearing where the Alpha Sorcerer and other Hunter were..."

"It was me. I teleported after I heard her scream." Orphen interrupted.

"That could be, however…" Argenthua started, when Devon dashed into the area coming to an abrupt mud-spraying stop. Looking around at the people just standing near the cave entrance seemingly calm, he focused a cold glare on Orphen.

Stomping up to Orphen and getting in his face, Devon shouted, "WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING? YOU JUST LEFT ME BEHIND!"

Orphen was inhaling to shout back at Devon, when suddenly Devon was on the ground having been knocked down by Alik who'd flung himself at Devon. "Where were you? I was so scared I thought he had gotten you again." Alik cried out.

Looking a little bewildered, Devon hugged Alik back, muttering embarrassedly, "Chill little bro. I was off talking to the… lead sorcerer. You know making plans and such, t-to keep us safe." Devon answered to sooth Alik's nerves.

"Devon!" Cleo screeched, standing looking down at herself and the drops of mud all over her. "You sprayed us all in mud when you stormed up here!"

"The hell!?! I ran here at top speed to get here because you screamed! Instead of a thank you, you're complaining about a little mud. You ungrateful b… wench!"

"Thank you? You want a thank you for worrying Alik, me and everyone!" She shouted. "And that goes for everyone who was absent when I woke up." She snarled, looking over at Orphen. "Now, I'm going to take a bath."

"A bath!" Devon and Orphen shouted.

"A bath," Argenthua replied, gesturing to her own mud splattered attire, "An excellent idea, which all should indulge in, in a different location than Cleo and I." She then turned to follow Cleo, pausing at the edge of the woods looking back at Orphen. In a telepath, she added, "I believe the Alpha Hunter might wish to have a chance to indulge in… how do you call it, 'girl talk' as she is…' Argenthua broke the contact when she saw Orphen nodding.

After Argenthua and Cleo vanished into the woods, Majic cried, "Oh no." and ran back into the cave muttering, "Please don't let the bacon be burnt!"

"Bacon?" Alik repeated, looking up from where he'd been holding on to Devon. He started to get up, but hesitated.

"Go on… even I know better than to get between you and bacon." Devon replied, ruffling his brother's hair. After he withdrew his hand, he rubbed the fingers together. "And a bath for you Mister, after breakfast." Devon ordered, moving to wipe his hand on his pants only to stop and shift to his shirt after realizing his pants were muddy. He shifted his gaze back to Orphen, and scowling he stood up, muttering quietly, "Besides, sorcerer boy and I still need to talk."

Alik ran into the cave without hesitation at the prospect of snitching some bacon and they all heard, "If you're going to help Alik, you can't snitch more than one piece. There has to be enough for everyone."

"I think I'll go monitor the progress," Hartia said, reading the tension still between Devon and Orphen. 'I probably better warn Majic there may be additional breakfast delays.' He thought as he stepped back into the cave.

"Now that that's taken care of," Devon growled, walking purposefully up to Orphen, "We have some unfinished business."

Orphen raised an eyebrow, but didn't reply.

"If we're all supposed to be working together, why in the hell did you just vanish back there? In the middle of our discussion!"

Orphen resisted the urge to roll his eyes, thinking, 'He's not really that stupid, is he?!?' Another look at Devon's face revealed that he was thinking exactly that. Although ignoring him again was temping, Orphen sighed and decided to try to pacify him, "I reacted. I heard her scream and acted instinctively." Gesturing at the mud splatters, "Are you saying you didn't?"

"Of course I did… but you could have taken me with you."

"No, I couldn't." Orphen said, the thought passing through his mind that they still needed to share their conclusions regarding teleports with Devon. "Look…" Orphen started, stifling a cough, when Devon rolled into the rest of his tirade like Orphen never said anything.

"That's twice you just abandoned me when there's been danger. Yes, I can take care of myself but you could have taken me with you. She and Alik are mine to protect!! They're not yours!"

"The hell they aren't! All I thought about was getting them… besides, I believe, as I teleported, I saw was your back running away…so tell me. Who left who!" Orphen snarled, even though he admitted to himself, he wasn't certain who ended up leaving the clearing first.

"You left me! You arrogant sorcerer asshole!"

This time Orphen did roll his eyes, thinking, 'Back to the posturing crap.' Not wanting to continue the useless argument Orphen muttered, "I've been called worse things by more creative people then you." Orphen turned his back on Devon, adding, "Come up with something new next time."

Devon stood there sputtering at Orphen's back, furious that the sorcerer was going to try to make that the last word. 'No way in hell is he gonna get away with that.' Devon thought, just before he started to launch a punch at Orphen's back, shouting to get his attention, "Damn you! You sorcerer scum!"

Orphen turned back at the shout, just in time to barely block a fist that was aimed at his head. Blocking the punch, he countered with one of his own to Devon's body causing him to bend over at the waist. Using the position he was in, Devon leaned forward pushing himself and his shoulder into Orphen knocking them both down in the mud, where the fight turned into a muddy wrestling match, until they were both suddenly pulled apart.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

After settling next to Alik, Hartia announced, "Majic be ready… there might be an additional delay or two. Devon and Krylancelo are finishing um… their talk."

Majic chuckled knowing what that might mean…and to his mind he hoped his Master kicked Devon's ass. 'But if they continue to fight,' Majic thought, 'they'll never be able to work together. Although since they probably fought earlier, they should have gotten it out of their system.' Majic had barely finished that thought, when shouting was heard. 'Or not.'

"What are they mad about?" Alik asked.

"At this point, Alik. I don't think they know." Majic replied, sharing glance with Hartia, he moved the bacon off the fire as the sounds of shouting changed to fighting.

Alik chuckled, "I hear um… one of the new ones… Terados growling. I think Big Brother and Uncle Orphen are in trouble."

"Well," Hartia replied, realizing he did hear growls and not just from the men, "I've got to see this."

They hurried to the entrance and what Hartia saw made him wish he had a camera, not that it would capture anything but a blur. Covered in mud were Orphen and Devon suspended in the air held by two Wolven by the backs of their shirts being shaken. Hartia thought, 'They look like they're being…'

His thought was interrupted, when one of the Wolven sent a telepath to everyone, "Disobedient pups will be scruffed. Submit!"

"Put me down!" Devon snarled.

"Let me go!" Orphen growled, to his further fury, he broke into a coughing fit. In reaction, the Wolven stopped shaking him.

"Damn it! You stupid mutts! Stop it! I'm not your damn chew toy!" Devon shouted, flailing his arms and legs trying to get leverage to kick at the Wolven, only succeeding in flinging more mud around the clearing. The Wolven holding him simply growled and shook him intending to calm him down. Instead it only further agitated the Hunter. "Put me down you flea bitten-mongrels before I hunt down your asses! And turn you into…"

"Submit!" The Wolven stated again.

"Devon!" Alik exclaimed, "You're only making Terados mad."

"Stay out of this bro!" Devon growled at Alik before shouting once again at the Wolven holding him, "Now let go before I muzzle you!" When the only response was another growl and a shake, Devon inhaled to shout again only to be interrupted by a feminine giggle coming from the edge of the clearing.

Next it was Cleo's turn to be interrupted, she opened her mouth to ask what was going on when Terados snarled again and broadcast, "Until the ones acting like pups settle down, they will be scruffed."

That was it for Cleo, she broke out laughing, setting others off. Especially Hartia, who'd already been having a hard time suppressing his laughter. Even Leki was indulging what could only be called wolf laughter.

That was the last straw for Majic who had been barely containing his merriment of the situation and bursts out into laughter.

Between laughs, Cleo noticed Orphen was coughing and sobered slightly. She asked Terados, "Would you please let them down?"

Terados turned towards Cleo, answering privately, "No, Alpha. Pups who miss-behave must submit before they are released."

Cleo nodded, "I know however this is just… typical human male egos. Let them down easy please."

Snickering, Hartia added, "Cleo, call it what is really is, a pissing contest." Glancing at Majic and Alik before standing straight up, attempting to look dignified, "Unlike them," he said pointing at Devon and Orphen, "we're too smart to have to be disciplined like that." He walked over next to Majic and companionably threw an arm over his shoulder speaking quietly. His actions caused him to Miss Cleo grasping her pendant.

"So maybe we should keep score?" At Majic's nervous laugh, Hartia continued, "Let's see Cleo one, Orphen one, and Devon is at two. Now we need to decide if the winner is the one with the lowest or… What the…" Hartia indignantly shouted as he, Majic and Alik were lifted aloft by the waistband of their pants.

Alik squealed in delight, craning his head around to see who was holding him. Laughing, he said, "Policarpos! This is fun when I'm not in trouble."

Point made, simultaneously the four Wolven holding the men released their captives the same way. They opened their jaws, unceremoniously dropping their charges on their collective behinds, causing Alik's peals of laughter to increase, while he continued to swing from Policarpos' mouth.

Hartia recovered first, getting up and dusting himself off, leveling a glare at Cleo. He knew from the coordination of that particular stunt, the Wolven got the idea from somewhere. Add to that that Cleo was looking very smug…while she laughed. Not just a little giggle or grin, but a full out laugh. He couldn't help grinning a bit himself, 'I think, the humiliation was almost worth it to hear that,' he thought, watching as Cleo approached Orphen, mischief clearly showing in her eyes, 'and I think it's about to get better.'

After he'd stood up, Orphen warily watched as Cleo circled behind him. He felt her fingers grasp his collar, pulling it down slightly and he realized she was examining his neck. Inwardly he groaned, that light touch was like a magic all her own, calming and exciting him all at once. Even more than the sound of her carefree laughter did. However, he refused to succumb, 'Right now anyway,' he thought before whirling around to face her, he attempted to glare her down, and snarled, "This. Never. Happened." He enunciated spoiling the effect with a when he finished and had to wipe his nose, "It will never be discussed or brought up again."

"Like hell." Cleo giggled, "I so can't wait to tell Azalie." She heard more than saw Hartia's small sound and suspected he was relieved no one else was mentioned so she upped the ante, "About all of you." At his groan, she grinned continuing, "And it'd be hardly fair not to share this tale with Tish and Mariabella. Don't you think?"

Devon whined, "Come on Cleo! You know she's still giving me shit for…"

"Language, Devon!" Cleo hissed, glancing towards where Alik was giggling at the new game he and Policarpos were playing,

"So the hell what! What did you just say? Besides, he heard worse from Dad!"

"And what did your mother do?"

"She made him… oh. Fine! But you still can't tell Mariabella she's still blaming me for what Bird did!"

"Take it like the Hunter you claim to be. Are the others whining when faced with the potential wrath and teasing of their sisters?"

Behind Cleo, Orphen and Hartia both let out a groan in unison. Cleo whirled around to glare at them, "Don't make a liar out of me!"

"We won't." Hartia replied, grinning as he thought of something. "However, Cleo…if you remember what I said earlier… Devon two, Orphen one and you…"

"Fine! I'll keep my mouth shut."

"Don't' worry Cleo…Masters… um…even you Devon. Alik and I will keep our mouths shut, too. We'll keep that secret, won't we Alik!" Majic added, standing to join Alik who'd stopped playing with Policarpos to watch the teasing.

"Yep… won't tell anyone… well, after I tell Aunt Tistiny 'cause I'm not supposed to keep secrets from her or anyone. Right? Didn't you all say," Cleo groaned knowing what was coming when Alik trotted up to stand beside her, "Secrets will get us all killed."

'Yep,' Cleo thought, 'Mother would say we've been completely indoctrinated into parenthood. With our own words thrown right back in our faces. At least, this was in fun…mostly.'

She paused, glancing at the cave entrance. 'Strong…I can be strong. I will be strong… and not just for them. Just like Argenthua said when she gave me that pep talk. I can do this.' She thought taking her first step towards the darkened cave entrance. Just before her courage faltered again, she felt Alik take her hand and they walked into the cave together.

Orphen, reacting to Cleo's mood shift as she looked towards the cave, reached out towards her to stop her, when he heard Argenthua in his head.

'Let her do this on her own. She needs to find her own strength.'

"That's just too damn freaky." Devon muttered, telling Orphen that he wasn't the only one who got that message.

Looking over to Argenthua, Orphen nodded sitting down to wait, while she entered the cave and sounded like she was calmly moving around, before shouting in his normal tone, "Cleo get a move on we would like to leave today before dark."

Majic grinning as he realized what his Master was doing, followed suit, "Breakfast was ready before everything happened, we'd better hurry before it gets any colder"

Devon started to get upset at their treatment of Cleo 'How could they be so callous when she was obviously afraid. She must have gotten really spooked by the bats the last time they were here. And once again that inconsiderate bastard just walked all over her. Why does she put up with it?' He was about to ask what the hell was wrong with all of them, when Cleo came out of the cave with Alik in tow and with her gear all packed.

"We're ready and packed," Cleo announced, nodding at Majic slightly since she knew he'd already packed most of her gear, before looking at Orphen, Hartia and Devon, "Are you? Hmmm… gee looks like that the men are once again are delaying our departure."

"And don't forget, big brother has his stuff all over the cave. So he really needs to do a lot of packing!" Alik chimed in between bites of bacon he had snitched.

"Well, right now, picking up in the cave would be pointless. So it looks like he gets to clean up while the rest of us eat whatever remains of the bacon after Alik finished," Majic said, looking up at the sky, "We need to get moving. The weather still looks like it could rain."

"Damn pushy brat!" Devon snarled at Majic, before amending his statement, glaring at Cleo and Alik, "Brats!" He turned and stomped back into the cave, muttering. "There's a hot springs in the back… for the information of those who didn't explore. Besides, I haven't even been back since earlier… damn Bastard." After grabbing his bath stuff, he remembered something from earlier. "Alik!"

Hartia trailed behind the inside bathers, muttering, "I still have some packing to do." Adding in a thought, 'I think a lot of the stuff they saw was mine, but I'm not telling them that. I'm still not really used to this traveling light routine.'

He was picking up a few of his belongings and putting them in his pack, when he heard some coughing behind him. He glanced back to see Orphen had been getting fresh clothes and bath supplies when he had to stop for a coughing fit. 'Not good, that's progressing too much and last night probably didn't help. This morning either, because I know him, he'll go for a cold bath before joining Devon.'

Hartia sighed, and stuffed one of his grade books back in is pack. 'Why did I think I'd use that? And they say women pack too much.'

Shaking his head, he refocused on the problems at hand, 'I'll have to figure out a way to get us to either rest long enough for him…no, that would never work, but maybe if we got new horses… no, those are too easily spooked. A wagon…hmmm, that would work. We'll get a wagon and soon, no matter how risky it is. But…where can we get a wagon?' Hartia's shoulder slumped in defeat. 'To get a wagon, we'd have to go into a town and that's too dangerous and not just for us. Maybe a short trip… oh yes, that worked so well for Majic.' Hartia thought sarcastically, 'Good information, bad situation. No, for now… we just keep going and see what develops.'

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

About mid-day the next day, after another cold rainy night, Devon had had it. At a crossroad, Devon stopped and told everyone to wait while he stomped back to Orphen who was bringing up the rear of the party.

"There's a town just few miles ahead. I've stopped there before and I'm not taking any argument. It may be dangerous, but if you keep driving us like this we won't need him to kill us, you will. Cleo's almost the point of…"

"Enough." Orphen wheezed, using the break to catch his breath, which had been getting increasingly more difficult the more clogged his nose got.

"…exhaustion. And Alik is practically having to be carried…"

"I said enough. You already made your point. We'll stop there. I know the town too and it's very small and easily defended if need be. So as long as it isn't having a festival or caravan in the town, we'll stop. Those are my conditions and they're non-negotiable."

"Oh…Okay." Devon said, surprised at the lack of fight and then really taking a look at Orphen who was paler then normal except for his end of his nose that was pink. "You look like shit!"

"I'm fine." Orphen replied, waiting for Devon to gloat, when he remained quiet Orphen prompted, "So Devon, go tell the others."

"Sure." Devon said, looking concerned, "But are you sure you're going to make it. I mean, you really do look like hell. I should… I should know," Devon said, gulping to steady himself before turning to head back to the others, whispering, "I've been there."

Orphen realized that a turn in the conversation away from that topic might be in order, even as it occurred to him that Devon might have some of the same things haunting him as Cleo and Alik. A fact that was supported when Orphen saw, at the base of Devon's neck a very familiar type of scar coming up from below the collar. Trying to act unaffected, Orphen groused a very normal sounding reply, "Thanks for the concern, but I'll be fine. Well, I will be if Cleo would stop pouring that infernal tea down my throat every chance she cant get."

Devon stopped and looked back, "Tea…" He said with a shudder, adding, "and hot tea at that. Sucks to be you right now."

He stepped away from Orphen and raised his voice. "Guess what? He agreed. It's unanimous; we're stopping at the next town in just a few hours. So real beds and hot tavern food tonight."

Orphen narrowed his eyes watching Devon, frustrated that he implied that everyone else wanted to stop, but wouldn't ask. While he was glaring at Devon's back Hartia approached.

"You agreed?" Orphen snapped.

"Not like he implied, but yes, we all would like to stop. However if you don't think this is a wise move, I'll back you up on the change."

"Wise, no. Necessary, yes." Orphen grumbled, "According to Devon, I'm driving us into our graves without Garik's help."

"In trying to keep everyone safe, and not just the people in this party."

"The path to hell is filled with good intentions."

"All that is true… but this case is different… I support you in staying out of the towns, I know I couldn't live with myself if anything happened to them because of me." Hartia shrugged, "That said we do need the rest."

"Same here. I just keep having this feeling of urgency, even when I know we can only push so hard. I keep thinking, I should send you and Majic on to the Tower with the information and I stay with the others," Orphen held up his hand stopping Hartia's words when he inhaled to object. "However, I'm not stupid enough to believe that I could hold my own, even with the Wolven's support, to face what Garik would unleash on us if we split our forces. The Wolven," Orphen broke off coughing.

"I know, we owe the Wolven a lot, they've saved us more times then I can count. And I don't know about you, but I really don't want to be scruffed again if we did something stupid." Hartia replied, watching Orphen concerned. In a thought Hartia asked himself, 'Just how sick are you Krylancelo? You don't admit to weaknesses. Period. Plus, you're awfully chatty…this isn't good. I wonder if I can stretch this into more then one night?'

"No!" Orphen growled.

"I'm just glad you're being reasonable about this." Hartia replied and after Orphen sneezed he added, "Bless you. Now, are you sure you're okay. You really look like…"

"I know… I look like shit. Good grief, can't a person even sneeze or have a runny nose without everyone commenting on it."

"Hey…I was just worried. And speaking of that, I know you're not going to like this." Hartia watched Orphen's eyes narrow, the effect being spoiled completely when he sneezed. "Deal with it. I've talked this over with Majic and we both agree that a wagon would be best until we reach Alenhatan."

"I was thinking we should…"

"No. We are not skipping Alenhatan. I know it's risky, but we need to find out first hand, what if anything Steph has been able to find out about the writings. And we need to get there quickly, you know what the rains signify, the weather's changing. The longer we take to get to Alenhatan, the colder the walk to the Tower will be."

"Like I don't know that."

"So you're okay with the wagon."

"I don't like the idea."

"Tough. It's for them," Hartia said gesturing towards Cleo and Alik, "more than anything else. The wagon would allow us to make it to Alenhatan in two days versus four. Besides, there are ways to reduce the risks or at least control things. Levitate and illusion can help us avoid having horses spooked again. And if necessary we'll ditch the wagon just before Alenhatan. We mustdo this. Alik is losing his drive and Cleo's hiding the fact that she's exhausted so you won't worry. Adding to that she's worried about you. Do I need to go on?"

"I said I didn't like the idea, not that I didn't agree."

"Then why…"

"Didn't I stop you? You do like to hear yourself talk." Orphen sneezed again, and noticed that the silent audience was starting to get jittery. "I know we need the rest…even the Wolven. Argenthua even mentioned that we would be able to rest in Alenhatan and I just realized I forgot to ask why. And now isn't the time for their damn question crap! We'd be at the damned Tower already if teleport was an option."

"Well it's not. Although I remember we talked about feint maneuver with the Wolven guarding two groups, do we want to try that instead?"

"No. Remember we also nixed the idea. Separating is even more risky than the wagon. Look I'm not up to arguing anymore. I agree about the wagon. Now you have the hard part, convincing Cleo to get near a horse again."

With a smirk, Hartia said. "She already agreed…but she also said I'd need to talk to you."

"Then what the hell was this all about? Why in the hell waste our time?"

"You're just gonna take my word for it? Oh come on, I'd have thought you'd learned the kids and communication lesson by now."

"Huh?"

"You really are sick, aren't you? Not just a cold, you're feverish too aren't you? Otherwise you wouldn't fall for such an obvious trick; one I'd expect Alik to be pulling on you soon.

"Already did. Or did you forget? So do you or don't you have Cleo's agreement?"

"I do… and that's easily verified with her. However you didn't answer my question?

"Why in the hell do you think I agreed to the inn? In spite of the risks, we all need the rest, including me."

"Can you make it?'

"I will. So let's get moving." Orphen replied, walking past Hartia. "You take up the rear guard for now."

Hartia shook his head thinking, 'You dodged the question. Really Krylancelo, no, Orphen, he's Orphen now' Hartia reminded himself, 'Of course, Orphen, you know it wouldn't kill you to show a little weakness to Cleo. She knows you're sick so it's not like it's a secret and it would help her feel useful.' He turned to make eye contact with Cleo and nodded.

At Hartia's nod, Cleo released the breath she'd been holding. Orphen had agreed to Hartia's suggestion about the wagon and didn't explode. That on top of the inn tonight was nothing short of a miracle. Asking herself, 'Why am I still so worried? He didn't explode. He agreed without a fight. I should be happy. Bed, bath, wagon and supply shopping.' She watched Orphen walk towards her taking in his complexion, slight stagger and cough and knew. 'That's why, he's sick…because of me.' She hung her head and let Leki down from where she'd been holding him. By her feet, Leki let out a small growl at Devon as he rejoined the others.

"What's your problem now, Mutt?" Devon's voice cut through her misery, with a different one. "So Cleo, I arrange for us all to get rooms in a town, hot baths and food we didn't have to cook and instead of lavishing your thanks on me, you look like someone dumped the 'fraidy cat into a barrel." Poking Majic in the shoulder.

"Devon! That's not even remotely funny!"

Majic put a hand on Cleo's shoulder, shaking his head, "Don't waste your breath on that… that, oh just save it for the walk."

Hartia, who had noticed Cleo's face fall, and suspected he knew why, grimaced when Devon said his bit. From the rise in tension and the protective stance Majic put up immediately thereafter, Hartia knew this could blow up if not dispersed. Since he and Orphen had passed everyone on the path, Hartia called back. "Devon, you know where the town and inn is, right? So are you leading the way or do we guess?"

"Oh yeah. " He quickly looked around to get his bearings, "You're headed the right way, but I'll take the lead." Devon started to hurry to the front, looking back at Alik who was walking towards Orphen. Narrowing his eyes, Devon called out, "Come on and join me, bro."

Alik looked between Orphen and Devon, undecided. Orphen made a slight pointing movement and in reaction Alik turned to catch up with Devon, but not before looking back over his shoulder to make sure Orphen was coming.

While Devon and Alik were situating themselves in the front of the group, Majic gave Cleo's shoulder another squeeze before he whispered, "He'll be alright and this rest will be good for all of us. And before you go blaming yourself, remember we noticed he was coming down with something even before the cave."

"I know… but…"

"No buts." Hartia interjected, "I don't know what you two were talking about but you're wasting breath when you should be walking. And I'm pulling rear guard right now. So don't you have someone you want to catch up with…" Hartia added with a grin and a wink.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The weather had finally cleared as they were approaching their intermediate destination, Alenhatan. Once she'd checked on Orphen, who was dozing against the wall of the wagon right behind the driver and next to her, Cleo tugged on Hartia's pants leg to get his attention. He looked over his shoulder from where he was sitting with Devon driving the wagon.

"Although we're close, we really need to stop for lunch to stretch our legs. Being cooped up is this sorry excuse for a wagon is difficult for us all…" She broke off when she noticed Alik who was sleeping in her lap, start stirring like he was having a bad dream. "Even if it is getting us to Steph's faster."

Hartia nodded, before looking over at Orphen. He opened his mouth to ask about Orphen when Majic, who'd been keeping watch out of the back of the wagon took the words out of his mouth, "He okay?"

Cleo reached out and touched Orphen's forehead, checking for fever, "He's still got a slight fever and that's another reason I want to stop, he needs some more hot tea to help with the congestion. I also want a healer to check him out when we get to Steph's." Cleo said, stroking Alik's hair as he continued to stir like he might be waking up.

"You get no arguments from me on that… him, well, that'll be a different matter all together."

"We're getting close to the city, or at least less rural areas, I can see signs of a settlement." Devon added, indicating he'd been listening while he drove the horses.

Cleo looked out the back of the wagon and noticed a thin trail of smoke rising over the tree line. 'There are some farms out here, I guess that's what Devon meant by settlements,' Cleo mused when Alik suddenly sat up where he'd been curled up against her. He looked around disoriented a moment before fixating on the smoke and getting agitated.

Even though Cleo was closest, she wasn't in a position to see Alik's face so Majic was the first to notice exactly how alert Alik was. "What's wrong, Alik?"

At Majic's words, Orphen opened his eyes. He watched as Cleo looked first at Alik then followed the direction of his gaze. Orphen saw the shadow he hated creep into her eyes whenever she thought about or remembered something about Garik.

She said, "Alik, its not…."

"I know," the boy replied, "but she's calling me!"

"Who?" Cleo seemed to try to feel for something, and then cried, "He's not here!"

"Not him! She's scared." the boy called back as he leapt out of the Cleo's lap and lunged towards the back of the wagon, knocking Majic over on his way out. Once he hit the ground, he started running full speed towards the smoke. He'd barely cleared the back of the wagon and Cleo was charging after him, trampling Majic as she jumped out of the wagon.

Orphen followed them out of the wagon, which had stopped when Devon and Hartia noticed the commotion. They heard, as Orphen regained his balance and started running after the pair of blondes, him mutter, "Geez, they're just alike! Neither one of them think first."

"Owwww…" was all Majic said as the fourth and final passenger of the wagon trampled on him. Leki jumped on Majic's stomach and used him as a springboard to get out of the back of the wagon and tore off after the trio.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

As Cleo followed Alik the reason for the smoke became clear. Near a river embankment, a circle of men were gathered around a fire, fanning the smoke into a small hole. They were focusing on the fire and the hole, lying in wait for something to crawl out. Cleo vaguely remembered that some of the local Totokonta men did something similar. Usually in response to a predator that was going after their chicken coops, although they usually just moved the animals, without killing them.

She hoped that Alik hadn't noticed, but she saw signs that the men had been killing what appeared to be baby animals of some sort as they were driven out of the hole by the smoke. All thoughts of what the men were doing vanished from her mind when she saw Alik throw himself on the nearest of the men in an effort to stop him. That man flung the boy off his arm and to the ground. In reaction, Cleo shrieked putting her forward momentum behind her fist, punching the man and knocking him to the ground.

Once he was down, Cleo turned her focus to the next closest man, she pulled her arm back to punch him, only to find him ready. He caught her fist and held it, he raised their joined hands, pulling her off balance. She tried to swing her other arm around to hit her attacker but he simply grabbed her other arm. Shifting his tight hold from her fists to her wrists, he announced, "Look what we have here boys."

After letting out a startled eeep, Cleo snarled, "Let me go you sorry excuse for a human." She twisted and tried to kick him in the shins, adding further insult, "You miserable poacher."

In his focus, Alik was oblivious to the danger Cleo was in as he fell to his hands and knees to go in to the cave, stopping only long enough to put out the fire with the only available tools, his hands. He just kept hearing a voice crying to him for help and he wasn't going to fail her.

Cleo had almost twisted one of her hands free to punch the man holding her when she heard "Sword of Light." Doubling her efforts, she managed to free one of her hands so that when the man was blown off his feet and away from her by the spell, she was able to keep her balance, barely. She turned to see Orphen and Leki at the edge of the clearing and the other three poachers flying from a blast that Leki had sent their way. Relieved that, that worry was over she looked back to where she'd last seen Alik.

Instead of seeing him, she saw his feet disappearing into a small cave. Without thinking, she dove for the cave to follow him, when she felt Orphen's arm come around her waist. She was about to turn and give him a piece of her mind when she saw Leki enter the cave behind Alik. Relaxing she muttered, "I'd have probably gotten stuck anyway."

"Yeah," Orphen muttered, wheezing, "I-I…I'll shout at you," he paused, gasping for breath, "for being stupid later."

"Are you okay?" She asked turning towards him, even as she glanced over her shoulder to reassure herself that Alik would be fine with Leki, as a new worry asserted itself. Cleo put her hand on Orphen's chest to steady him when she realized he was …well, wobbling.

"No… no, more mad dashes to rescue kittens today okay." Orphen groused, pointing over her shoulder.

She looked back to see a soot and dirt covered Alik emerging from the den holding a cougar cub, the sole survivor of the litter, looking very pleased with himself.

"She's alright, I saved her." Alik beamed.

Cleo barely heard Alik's announcement because just after Orphen pointed out Alik his energy seemed to give out and he started to sag against her. Just as she was starting to get overwhelmed by his weight, Hartia stepped up.

"Tsk, tsk, you shouldn't be pawing all over Cleo at a time like this." He quipped, even as he put an arm under Orphen's shoulders to help him stand straighter and lift him off of Cleo. That action earned Hartia first a glare and then a relieved look as the meaning behind Hartia's actions sunk in.

Cleo gave Hartia a grateful look before looking between Alik and Orphen. She chewed on a nail momentarily before reaching up to give Orphen's shoulder a quick reassuring squeeze and moving over to Alik.

"So what do you have there Alik?"

"Not a what…a who. Her name is Suhi." He said, petting the singed-looking cougar cub he was holding in his hands.

"Oh… did you just name her?"

"Un huh. She told me… but she's still very scared…and hungry."

"Told you? Oh…" Cleo whispered, suddenly remembering back to when she'd met Leki. She'd known his name, somehow instinctively. Now she wondered, 'Did I really think up his name or did he tell me?'

'Told you.' She heard in her head, and glanced down to see Leki looking up at her. She held her hands out and he jumped up into her arms.

'Did you?' she thought back, not realizing that she wasn't grasping the pendant. 'For the longest time, I thought I'd made it up…that your name popped into my head. Now that I think of it that thought it… it was in your voice. So… why does Alik know the cub's name?'

'She's his familiar.' Leki 'pathed back, as if it should have been completely obvious to Cleo.

'Thanks,' Cleo thought back before moving Leki to her shoulder and focusing her attention back on Alik. "So welcome to you Suhi." Cleo said aloud reaching out towards Suhi. "So do you think she'd be okay with me scratching her ears?"

Instead of replying, Alik simply lifted her up, holding her around her chest under her front legs with her back legs dangling, to Cleo, who gently took the cub from Alik. Cleo got a glimpse of red marks under the dirt covering Alik's hands. Cradling the cub Cleo touched one of his hands. "What happened?"

"Um…" Alik said, wrinkling his eyebrows, "I-I don't… well, the fire… I put it out."

"Alik!" Cleo exclaimed, but carefully held the cub in her arms, even as Leki leaned down sniffing at the cub. "Let me see!" Alik turned his hands upward and Cleo inhaled sharply.

Before Cleo could say anything else, Majic stepped up behind her, "I have the first aid kit Cleo. So Alik, let me see what you did to yourself."

After examining his hands, Cleo turned towards everyone gathered near by and announced, "We're stopping here!"

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Once Majic had finished bandaging up Alik's burns, which weren't as bad as they initially appeared. Majic had been tempted to heal them with sorcery but a strange sense of foreboding or déjà vu kept him on alert. This clearing was familiar to him even though he didn't think they'd ever stopped here on their travels between Totokonta and Alenhatan, passed by yes, stopped no. 'Why is this place so familiar?' Majic asked himself.

He sat down by the fire that had been quickly reinstated after the poachers were dealt with and the victims taken by Devon for burial at the edge of the forest. As he was stirring the canned beans that were being re-heated for lunch, he watched Cleo alternately fussing at Orphen and Alik. Hartia was running some interference for Alik because he was helping tend the cub, with Leki supervising, but Orphen was getting the full brunt of what Majic had privately dubbed "Cleo's Tea Attack".

"Will you quit pouring that crap down me?!? I want some coffee."

"No. This is better."

"All that matters is that it's hot, not what."

"Drink the tea, then you can have a cup of coffee."

"Fine." He replied, taking the cup of tea, "But you stay away from the coffee."

"So you don't want me to fix it?" Cleo teased, hoping to get a rise out of Orphen.

Cleo grimaced when the only reaction she got from Orphen was a headshake before he took a drink of the tea she'd given him and leaned back against the slope of the ground where he was sitting. She watched him worried for a few moments before turning back to the fire and arranging the coffee.

Majic watched as Orphen took the opportunity while Cleo was distracted to stand and walk over to Alik. 'Actually, he wobbled,' Majic corrected himself, sighing. 'This isn't good. I've never seen him so sick, and still he wants to take care of them… no, all of us,' Majic thought, rubbing the back of his neck. He looked up at the sky almost expecting clouds or rather lightening because the hairs on back of his neck were standing up, leaving him uneasy. 'And this is just too creepy, I still feel like I've been here before… but I think that was just a dream. Of course if it's like my dream… then Devon...' Majic broke off his thoughts to see Devon come charging into camp, his sword drawn and bloody even as he appeared to be cradling something in his off-arm.

"We've got company!" He shouted, turning back towards the threat after shouting the warning.

Hartia jumped up to join Devon as the bandits appeared behind him running towards the party. 'We don't need this!' Hartia thought, noticing that Orphen was beginning to stand.

"Stay down." Hartia whispered at Orphen, "Devon, Majic and I will handle this." Hartia then turned towards the threat. There were about ten bandits running at towards them. 'We can't sustain a long battle, we're too tired.' He thought considering their options, 'That's it…tired, sleep…so get ready to go nitey nite boys.'

Groaning, Orphen ignored Hatia's directions and stood, "Alik, what should you be doing?" He asked before coughing.

"I know…but your not well and I need to help….

"Alik!" Orphen ordered, pointing towards Cleo and Leki before turning to join Hartia and Devon.

Alik nodded shifting his hold on Suhi who was growling, wiggling and trying to get down. "You gotta get bigger first." Alik told her, "Then we're gonna do the protecting."

"I'm sure you will Alik," came Cleo's response to his whispered promise. "But for now, you can protect her and let the macho men show off until you're big enough to join them."

As she expected, Alik snorted, crossed his arms and muttered, "I'm big already, Suhi's the baby." From Alik's arms, Suhi snarled at him when he said 'baby.' "Sorry…but you are." He added, shifting her in his arms to scratch her belly.

"Alik. Now." Cleo warned. Stomping his feet, Alik complied.

Even knowing he wasn't doing what he should be, Majic stood frozen in shock. The events around him were occurring exactly as if he was in the midst of one of his dreams, no nightmares. 'But if that's the case…' he thought before suddenly diving at Cleo knocking her over. As they fell, he felt like the back of his shoulder was on fire. 'I changed it?' Majic questioned, looking at Cleo who was looking at him angrily for knocking over but was otherwise fine. He then looked at his shoulder, which had a thin trail of torn fabric and blood on it, before he noticed the arrow on the ground near their feet, 'It didn't hit her like it did in my dream.'

Reacting to Cleo's gasp when she hit the ground, Orphen turned and saw an archer in the tree reloading his bow. "Sword of Light!" he cast, knocking the archer out of the tree eliminating that threat even as the recoil from the spell, knocked him off his feet. "Damnit!" he cursed, trying to get up only to find his legs wouldn't support him. Glaring at the dead bandit, Orphen pounded his fist into the ground, pissed off at the world and his own body for failing him.

He looked back to where Hartia and Devon were and saw that Hartia had made quick work of the bandits. The bandits were falling to the ground en mass, even before they'd gotten very close to the camp. Relieved that the threat seemed to be over, Orphen scanned the trees to search for any other archers that may be hiding.

"These are different." Hartia said, searching one of the fallen bandits. "These men aren't mercenaries. Or…you know they could have …they could have been after the poachers…"

"I don't think they're with the authorities." Majic muttered.

"Who the hell cares?" Orphen and Devon barked in unison.

Glaring at Devon, Orphen continued, "Just tie them up. We'll tell someone in Alenhatan. They'll deal with it…them."

"Yeah," Hartia replied, "But I think this is probably a case of poachers attacking poachers. We just got in the middle. Devon and I will…"

"I ain't doing it." Devon snarled, "I don't give a damn about them! I gotta get Re…Bird to the vet. First thing!"

Cleo, who had moved to sit next to where Orphen was slumped, watched Alik run over to Devon. Devon, she now noticed was cradling a bundle in his left arm with what appeared to be a short stick poking out of it. The bundle Cleo now realized must be Bird wrapped up Devon's vest and Alik asked the question on the tip of her tongue.

"What happened?!?"

"They had a stinking archer! I didn't see him and she did. She called out to warn me so I ducked…but the stupid animal swooped down between us anyway. She'll be just fine…" Devon groused attempting to make light of the situation to Alik so he wouldn't worry. "However, I want to get her to a vet as … umm soon."

Hartia heard both what Devon said and didn't say, "I'm pretty good at handling animals and work with the stable crew at the Tower of Fang. We're at least two hours out of Alenhatan, want me to take a look at her?"

Devon looked down at her, Alik and finally Hartia before nodding. He gently shifted bird so that Hartia could lift her out of Devon's protective hold. When his hands brushed Devon's arm, Hartia could feel that Devon was shaking, contradicting the man's nonchalant attitude in front of his brother.

Once Hartia was securely holding the falcon on its back in his left arm, he examined the wound. The broken arrow was still embedded in the falcon's wing just below the shoulder. Although tempted to remove it for the bird's comfort, Hartia realized he couldn't. 'Without proper first aid materials she'd bleed to death, even before I could get off a heal spell. No, immobilizing her like he has is best and we'll use the arrow to keep the blood loss to a minimum. I wonder, maybe we might have some herbs to numb the area in the first aid kit.' Hartia looked towards the road and Alenhatan, 'Two hours? We have to hurry… now there's a life at stake.'

While Hartia was examining Bird, Devon watched him and could tell Reha was in good hands. 'Now just to make her more comfortable,' he thought. He addressed Hartia, who looked like he was going to hand her back, "Could you hold her for a bit longer. I'm going to something for her from my pack."

"Of course." Hartia answered and watched as Devon picked up his pack and pulled out what looked like a small travel bag.

"I was going to offer this to Alik for the furball…but it appears I have need of it." Devon explained as he unfolded the bag enlarging it and then revealing straps. He looped the straps around him and situated the pouch in front of him. He rubbed the strap, fondly, "Mom made it for Bird."

Hartia nodded, smiling faintly as he recognized the pouch, one designed by vets for carrying small animals. Once the bag was secure, Devon gingerly transferred Bird into the pouch. As close as they were standing, Hartia could easily see the worry and pain in Devon's face. Softly so no one else could hear Hartia whispered, "She'll be fine. I just wish I could heal her now."

"No, we need any and all of your sorcery mumbo jumbo to be ready to blast through any obstacles and defense." Devon replied, looking down at Reha and raising his right hand and stroking her eye ridge softly with a finger. "That's not to say I won't demand that you heal her if she get any worse." He announced and winced, almost as if he heard his tone, before adding more quietly, "Umm thanks for looking at her."

"No problem. Besides she's part of the troop and we take of each other, right? Speaking of which, Majic? Do we have any numbing herbs?"

"Yeah. I'd have to do a bit of digging in the pack to get to them though."

"Bird could use them…but that can be applied in the wagon. I want to get moving."

"I'll get these few things packed up and find those." Majic said hurrying to douse the fire and get the lunch items picked up. 'I can't pack these up fully as we'll need to eat in the wagon. Thank goodness the beans got warmed up.'

Devon nodded gratefully to Hartia and turned to walk towards the wagon when he heard coughing behind him. He turned around and looked back where Orphen was in the midst of another coughing fit. Looking at Hartia he quietly asked, "Can the King of Denial even walk back to the wagon?"

"Probably not." Hartia replied, chuckling at the moniker, thinking it applied to both men. "I'll get him there though. However if you could get Alik and the cub settled, that will be very helpful. That just leaves 'Florence Nightingale'…"

"That's easy. And I can help with her, too. Watch and be awed." Devon grinned, preening hero style, as best he could with what could also be described as a baby carrier strapped to his chest, before calling out, "Alik! Come on we need to get to the wagon so we can get moving before anything else happens."

Alik immediately trotted over to Devon from where he and Suhi had been attempting to help Majic find the herbs in the pack while Majic was packing up. Once Alik , who was still carrying Suhi, was by his side, Devon added, "Oh…and Cleo you might want to check the wagon. When you and Alik charged off, you caused everything to shift. Everything's gonna need to be adjusted before we can get moving. And with Bird like this," he added, gesturing to her carrying pouch, "I won't be able to do much. And Alik has to deal with the fur ball with teeth."

As Alik joined Devon in walking to the wagon, Hartia held back a chuckle when Alik proudly corrected Devon. "And claws! She has teeth AND claws Devon did you forget about the claws? Do you want to see them? And will Bird be okay? I thought we would remove the arrow why didn't we?"

"Alik. Quiet, Bird is hurt and needs her rest. As for everything else, well, how could I forget about…" his voice trailed off as they got further away from Hartia.

"I'll have to remember that one," he added when he noticed that on Devon's suggestion, Cleo was getting up and looking at him.

"I've got him." In response, she nodded and ran to catch up with Devon and Alik. "And you're stuck with me brother."

"Stuck or saved from being nursed to death."

"Either way you want to look at it."

"How bad?" Orphen asked, indicating Devon and Bird.

"Bad enough. It's low power, but it might be a good idea to levitate the wagon. The lack of jarring would be welcome for all of us and easier on both animals. The cub isn't in the greatest of shape either. What do you think?"

"I think my ass thanks you." Orphen quipped, before looking around. Once he saw that Cleo was in the wagon and out of sight he admitted something, "I need your help."

"I figured. So willing to admit that you're sick or are you going to dodge it again?"

"Haven't we covered this ground before? Yeah, I'm sick and it sucks. Now are you going to help or what?"

Instead of replying, Hartia simply stooped down lifting Orphen's arm over his shoulder and putting his arm around Orphen's waist, lifting him up and helping him walk to the wagon. 'Geez Krylancelo, you're burning up. Not good. He needs a doctor, the animals need the vet. We're going to have to split up. Now how to broach the subject?'

"Hartia," Orphen started, coughed slightly and tried to suppress it before he started again, "You're too easy to read. Yes." He gasped for breath again and added, "We split up at…" He broke off coughing.

"Easy Kryl…," Hartia inwardly winced, thinking 'old habits die hard' before he continued. "Yes that's what I was thinking…so even though we don't want to, we'll split up at the gate to town. Alik, Devon, the critters and I will go to the vet. Majic, Cleo, Leki and you go straight for Stephs. I'll also check in with the authorities regarding the new forest residents. Does that about cover it?"

"Yeah. Good thing the Wolven…"

"Said it's safe right now." Hartia finished for him even as they both thought, 'But for how long?'

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Majic, can you get him out of the wagon? It may not be much warning, but I'd like to let Steph know about the bear we're inflicting on them. And maybe," Cleo paused looking back in the wagon, "ask Tim to go for the doctor."

"Hartia said when we split up, that he'd send the doctor."

"I know…"

Majic put his hand on Cleo's shoulder, "He's going to be fine…it's a cold, a bad one yes, but rest is what he needs. Remember after the night at the inn, he improved."

"And got worse so fast..."

"Because he didn't rest until he was fully well. We can stay here a while… but first we have to get in."

"I know." Cleo replied, "Thanks Majic." She added with a quick hug and a look that said what the simple thanks didn't cover. She jumped out of the wagon and dashed to the door to Steph and Tim's house.

She got to the door and knocked, only to have the door fall open. 'That's odd,' she thought, glossing over that fact when she called out, "Hello! Stephanie, Tim we're here."

Cleo entered the house, which was lit and she could smell something cooking…well, maybe burning in the kitchen. "Stephanie!" she shouted. Thinking to check the kitchen, Cleo turned to the left when she heard a thump in the living room.

'Oh…there they are…' she thought walking into the living room only to find it empty. Looking around she noticed a couple of lit candles near the fireplace, mostly burnt down and the fire was nearly out in the fireplace. 'Are they gone?' she questioned internally. She could hear that Majic and Orphen were approaching the door but she still hadn't found Steph.

"Steph! Tim!" She called out again when she froze and rubbed her ear. Suddenly she realized the now familiar buzz had been thrumming in her ears since she entered the house. "I've got to be wrong. Arguentha said we'd be safe here."

Frantically looking round, Cleo couldn't see any threat but being alone in the semi dark of the living room eliminated any comfort that thought might have given. Even knowing Majic and Orphen were right behind her, suddenly she felt very vulnerable and alone. 'Wait right behind… I've got to warn them.' She thought, backing away. Just as she was about to turn toward the entrance, someone stepped out of the shadows near the bookshelves.

"About time, bitch." Agan snarled, "You nearly cost me everything and I can still succeed, if I honor the pact. You're going back to Garik." He smiled when she visibly flinched and began to tremble, "And then your sister will be mine again."

"Never!" Cleo screamed. "Never, Agan!" She screamed again, backing away while scrambling for her dagger as she became aware that Agan wasn't alone. She glanced back towards the entry, unsure of what to do, silently wishing for help or that she hadn't left Leki with Orphen. Trying to curb the violent trembling she was feeling, she shakily held the dagger out ready to cut at anyone who came near her.

"Oh I'm so scared!" Agan taunted. He reached out and grabbed Cleo's wrist. "Time to go."

At his touch, Cleo sprung into action. She tried to pull her wrist out of Agan's hand when she heard uneven footsteps coming from the entrance.

"Not this time you fucking Bastard!" Orphen screamed, holding back the shock when he confronted a scene straight out of his nightmares; Cleo, Agan and the knife. He ran right up to Cleo and Agan and cast "Sword of Light." at point blank range; Agan was dead before he hit ground, a hole blasted through his chest where his heart should have been.

Even while Agan's body was still falling, Cleo flung herself into Orphen's arms only to end up catching him as he started to lose consciousness. She ended up easing him to the ground as she tried to process everything that seemed to be happening at once.

A flash of purple illuminated the room which Cleo faintly registered as being sorcery in nature before focusing on the more pressing issue. The brilliance of the spell shed light on the fact that there were five heavily armed men in the room closing in on her and Orphen. She tightened her grip on her dagger, readying herself to fight, when she heard glass breaking and 'Sword of Light' being chanted again before everything exploded in light and sound.

When the dust settled and the light faded, Majic and Leki were standing in the midst of the fallen mercenaries and Hartia had just arrived at the doorway breathing heavily.

"What happened here? I felt…" Hartia asked, scanning the room for threats when his eyes landed on the body on the floor, 'Shit! Are there more?' he thought, noticing other bodies on the ground, none them moving. 'Okay… the emergency's over,' he thought. He inhaled to ask what happened and if Krylancelo was okay when Cleo suddenly sat on the floor next to where Orphen was sprawled and he changed his question. "Is everyone alright?" He asked, when she didn't even react he started towards he calling, "Cleo?"

Stepping between Cleo and Harita, Majic hurried over to her, putting a hand on her shoulder to feel her trembling. He looked her up and down and could tell she was physically fine. He looked up and answered Hartia since she didn't appear to be ready yet, "She's fine. Agan was here."

Ignoring Hartia's gasp at the name, Majic stooped down to her making sure she could see his face before calling to her. "Cleo." He slowly reached out his hand to put it on her shoulder and tried a different tact, "You're safe. We're here, even Hartia's here. Now, are you alright?"

She turned her head and looked at Majic blankly for a few seconds before she blinked and echoed, "He is?"

"Yeah. Is Master?"

"Oh…" She replied, the spark returning to her eyes and she seemed to regain her focus. "Hartia, I need to get him… and Majic … would you?"

"On it Cleo," Majc quickly replied anticipating her requests, even if she didn't fully vocalize them, "Hartia could you get Master upstairs? I'll tie up the thugs and find Steph and Tim."

"That last step is unnecessary. Like I couldn't get loose, once they got distracted." Steph announced. "Thanks to the Psycho brigade we knew you were on the way, along with another important piece of information, right Hartia?" Steph snapped out, looking angrily at Hartia.

"Huh?" Hartia muttered, just after he'd picked up Orphen wondering what he'd done to piss Steph off. 'What's her problem, I opened the door to the closet… well, I was trying to find the door to the living room…but still, I got them out. Why's she so pissed?'

"We seemed to have been forgotten in the announcements of a rather important event," Steph taunted, winking at Cleo, "I mean really Hartia, didn't it occur to you that maybe, just maybe, you should have mentioned that Cleo had been resurrected by sorcery. Not to mention, the who, what, where, when and exactly how it was done when you were here previously."

"Oh…" Hartia said sheepishly, "I'm sorry… it wasn't, it slipped…. Look, talk later, he's heavy. Is his usual room ready?"

"He's sick and needs a doctor." Cleo added.

"When is it not? Let's get 'Mr. I never get sick' upstairs." She turned to Tim who was getting to his feet and heading for the door, "Tim could you…."

"Already ahead of you dear, I'm going for the doctor and the …um… 'Clean up' crew, including the sheriff."

"I'm sorry for the mess and all the problems..." Cleo said in a fading voice while gesturing to the remains of the room.

"Like the 'psycho brigade' was your fault. You and I have a lot to talk about Missy, I mean, not that I'm not glad to see you, you really have gone where no one has gone before and I want to hear all about it. Especially so I know who's ass to kick." Steph was distracted by a faint giggle from the floor, and glanced over to see Majic had returned was tying up one of the mercenaries. "What's so…"

Hartia interrupted Steph to remind her of the task at hand, "Ladies, he is not getting any lighter. Tell me where you want 'sleeping beauty' here. Then gossip."

"Follow me; I'll take you to his room." Steph said to Hartia, before turning to Cleo, "Then you can help me get him in bed and ready for the doctor." Steph sniffed the air, "Since Hartia's visit, I've been keeping some light fare ready at all times in the kitchen… but I think it's burnt now. Or gone. Once he's settled, I'll get something fresh going… "

"Um…fine… does that mean I should put him on the dining room table?"

"No…oh…sorry follow me." Steph said reaching the top of the stairs where movement outside a window caught her attention. "What now? Oh, there's someone on the street… are they with…"

"Oh crap!" Hartia exclaimed, before turning back to Majic, "Magic I left Devon and Alik in the city. Go and escort them to the vet as Orphen is not our only patient." Hartia requested finally reaching the top of the stairs.

"Just please be careful and hurry back." Cleo added as she followed them.

"But…" Majic called out hesitantly, "I wanted to make sure you were okay? You never…" Majic paused and realized she didn't hear him. "I guess I'll ask later." Majic turned and headed back outside when the sound of running water caught his attention.

Looking over his shoulder, he noticed Leki lowering his leg by Agan's remains. "You didn't?" Leki cocked his head, softly barked once and walked to the door. Majic was hard pressed to hold in a laugh. 'Poetic justice.' He thought, 'now onto the more important task.'

He stepped outside, and sure enough, there was Alik and Devon, coming up the walk. "Good you found us. Hartia sends his apologies but something came up. Let's get to the vet."

"What happened?" Devon asked, dropping all the usual posturing.

"To put it simply," Majic answered, sagging slightly as he was calming down, "An ambush. Everyone's okay." He stressed, the word everyone.

Alik nodded, and asked, "Can I go…"

"Well… we could, but shouldn't we get Suhi and Bird to the vet?" Majic intercepted Alik's inquiry before he could finish.

"Um…yeah. But Suhi's okay…she's just hungry, so can't I?"

"No. Bro, we need to have her checked out too. Just in case. So which way are we heading?" Devon interjected.

Majic pointed down the street, "That way, until we get to the four-way intersection."

Before either men moved, Alik started down the street. "What happened?" Devon asked in a whisper as they followed Alik, at a slight distance so they could quietly converse without alarming the boy.

"As I said, an ambush… some of Garik's minions were at Steph's house and we blasted them leaving a dead body in the living room. Not something Alik needs to see. Besides we have someone, two someone's actually, who need attention. I'm sure everything will be discussed later."

"Agreed." Devon replied, checking Reha again, who weakly squawked back. "Hey Majic, um… can you help with the healing like Hartia?"

"Yeah, if I need to. Why?"

"Just as a backup…for her," He paused looking down a Reha, "for when the arrow comes out."

"Of course, I'll help." Majic replied. "Fortunately, we're not far away."

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Author's note:

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to read my story despite infrequent updates. If you include your E-mail or sign-in under your profile, I do try to respond personally. If you're anonymous or don't elect to review, I'll still throw out a general thank you for reading my story and a specific thank you to each of those who left reviews (Ayumi –Night Beauty-, Briar1717, Chaotic Angel7, Clocca, Katrita, Little Minamino, lovestoread, Majo 18, orphen chica, Palmtree, Rin Seren, satomika, and TSume Sumeragi)

And lastly, if you want to know what happened at the inn…see Little Minamino's fic titled "Nightmare" under the Sorcerer Stabber Orphen section here at Fanfiction dot net. I'll try to put the link here where all you have to do is delete the spaces. http : / / www fanfiction net / s / 4493558 / 1 / Nightmare