Disclaimer: W.I.T.C.H. is owned by Disney and this is a non-profit fiction intended for the enjoyment of fellow fans of this fine franchise. Try saying that fives times fast. The lyrics to "Learn to Crawl" are the property of their respective owners and are not my work. D.J.I.N.N. and other original characters in this work are my own creations and should not be used without my permission

Summary: Eighteen years after W.I.T.C.H. is formed, a young runaway is given the Heart of Candracar and must become a leader in order to fight an unknown enemy.

Author's Note: Yet another "Next Generation of Guardians" story. Don't judge until you've reached the end of the chapter, please. This is set in the TV universe, in case you were wondering.

You can laugh, you can feel fine

You can dance with a little twist

Turn your pretty red-head babe, you forget that I exist

Can you see yourself in my battered eye

Would you leave me on the side of the road

Would you wall crawl up to me, would you talk to me?

I can feel it like the spider's sting

Like a memory in my mouth

I feel like the morning fell, like the bottom's falling out

I can see what's up there above it all, laying down in the valley below

I can wall crawl up to you, I can talk to you

I'm already asking, I'm down on my knees

I'm already begging, begging you please

Can you teach me how to fly?

'Cause see I'm scared to die

And I've only just begun to learn to crawl

Can you teach me how to fight?

You can keep me up all night

Would you be there on the ground if I should fall?

Fall for you?

-"Learn to Crawl" by Black Lab

Chapter One: Mother/Daughter/Sister

Magic is in everything. Like mystical energy fields in popular fantasy it permeates the universe, different yet the same in all things. The elements, the stars, ourselves, the words we say... everything has magic within it.

The rain that falls through the air on a cold October night is magic. The mud created when the water mixes with the earth, nasty as it looks, is magic. The burning lights that dot a dark street in a small city called Heatherfield are magic. Beautiful and ugly, pure and impure, there is magic in everything.

And in the case of the small figure running down this street, soaked to the bone and hungry but mostly terrified of what might be in the darkness, there is more magic in it than most. The figure doesn't know anything about magic, besides that it doesn't "exist." That it's a fairy tale, along with a warm home and people that loved without wanting anything in return. In fact, magic was almost believable compared to the things she wanted most right now.

But for now, there is only the the cold rain and the loud thunder that rides the lightning as it rumbles and explodes like a baby's sudden cry than fades away similarly. Most believe magic is only a fable and see reality as it appears. This lost child's perception would change, however, this very night.

Magic does exist. A loving home is not out of reach for anyone. To find it one may have to go to the ends of the earth.

Or slam into a young woman as she walks home in the rain, sending her groceries flying from her arms.

"Hey!" Thirty-year-old Wilhelmina "Will" Vandom yelped as she was blitzed by some unknown person. It seemed like the perfect ending to a perfect day of cleaning up cages of sick animals and arguing with her mother about dating; at least she kept her grip on her umbrella. The young woman could feel a full-fledged righteous rant building for her probably busted eggs until she looked at the figure that had hit her.

Sprawled facedown on the sidewalk and trying to lift himself up onto his elbows, the person was bundled up in blue baggy sweatpants and a red coat that was two sizes too big. Though Will lacked her friend Cornelia's eye for fashion, even she could she could tell that the clothes were worn and the shoes on his feet were falling to pieces; he wasn't even wearing socks. Whatever outrage she felt slipped away when she saw how skinny his legs were and she realized that this was probably a homeless person trying to get out of the rain.

Ignoring her groceries, she bent down and tried to help him up. "Are you okay?" she asked as her hand slipped in under his arm. The figure pulled away from her and staggered to his feet, apparently trying to run again but only succeeding in going a few feet before stumbling. "Please. I just want to help."

Now on his hands and knees, the figure finally spoke in gasping breaths. "You can't. No one can. No one believes me. No one sees it." Suddenly he went rigid and starting whimpering. "Oh, god. It's here. God, leave me alone!" He started crawling away, desperate to get away from something besides Will.

Will theorized that this person was either mentally ill or on drugs; whereas this would have made most people nervous, Will had dealt with far worse in her lifetime. She was reaching for her cell phone to call a friend in the police department when she became dizzy; an old feeling from another lifetime. She clutched reflexively at her chest as if reaching for something then quickly scanned the street, rain forgotten in her pursuit of anything out of the ordinary.

Nothing in sight. Not that that meant anything.

Gathering her groceries as fast as possible (the eggs were definitely broken, Will noted absently) she shifted the bag to her umbrella arm and bent down next to the still-crawling figure and took his arm. He resisted at first, trying to pull away, but stopped when she she said, "I know something is chasing you. You're safer with me than alone. Come on, my apartment is a block from here." Slowly, the figure nodded and allowed itself to be pulled to his feet. Will looked over her shoulder as they walked but no one seemed to be following them.

When they rounded a corner and disappeared the street was empty. Or would have appeared empty to most. A shadow that seemed to spurn the street lights floated down the middle of the street, indistinct yet possessing the vehemance of a poisonous gas. if one looked at it long enough one could make out the silhouettes of many legs and what might be the torso of a woman.

The shadow rumbled as it scented its prey... and another, never before tasted but familiar nonetheless. It noted the similarities in the two with a hiss reminiscent of a disturbed rattlesnake. It would figure that her prey would run towards one of it's own as it ran from light to light.

After all, their kind always traveled in packs.

Patience, it told itself. Though not the ideal situation, this could be for the best.


They made the trip to her apartment in silence. Will kept looking over at the hood but was unable to discern any details besides a small mouth and a babylike nose. They were at the front doors to her apartment complex when the figure spoke. "Why?"

Will, all business in a way that she hadn't been in years, answered in plain terms. "Because I felt it, too. I know about these things." Boy, did she know about these things.

She had been expecting another question but the kid resumed his silence. Sliding her key card in the slot, Will held the door open for the figure as he rushed into the relative safety of the apartment complex. Casting one last look behind her, she closed the door and turned to her guest. "My apartment's on the fourth floor. We can get you dried off there."

Crossing the empty lobby towards the elevator, Will punched in the 4 button. The figure sneezed loudly, causing Will to jump slightly. The hood dropped lower when he realized he'd startled her. Will chuckled and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Scat cat," she said, remembering an old saying her mother had used whenever she sneezed. Susan Vandom had apparently been allergic to cats when she was younger, a trait thankfully not passed onto her animal-loving daughter.

The figure didn't respond and was quiet the whole trip up to the apartment. He went in first at Will's prodding, dutifully taking and folding her umbrella up and placing it in the holder next to the door. Taking one final look across the hallway as she closed the door, Will turned and removed her coat. "Well, I guess now that we're here we can get each other's names. I'm Wilma Vandom, but I go by Will. And you?"

"Dee," he said in a raspy voice after a moment's hesitation. "Just Dee. Do you always take in strays, or is it just cuz I'm cute?" The thin lips quirked into a sardonic smile.

Will grinned dutifully; humor was often the best stress reliever. "Oh, smart guy, huh? Well, truth be told, I've played the hero my fair share of times, and I could tell you were in trouble. In fact," her expression grew serious, "I think I'm familiar with what kind of trouble you're in."

"Lady, I doubt you've seen anything like I've been seeing."

"You'd be surprised at what I've run into over the years. So, Dee, do you want to stand there dripping or what?"

Dee's hood dropped until Will couldn't see his face at all; he was looking at his feet. "Oh, damn, I'm sorry, I didn't meant to... your floor..."

Will shrugged as she put down the groceries. "Don't worry, I'm no neat freak by any means. Are you hungry? I have some left-over lasagna in the fridge. Give me a minute to put up the groceries and I'll get it out." Dee just stood there. "Have a seat."

The kid hesitantly sat at the small bar in Will's kitchen as she fished out the slightly crushed eggs. Relieved that most of them could be saved, she began putting the rest of the bag away as she looked at the kid out of the corner of her eye. Bright brown eyes watched from under the hood of her grungy coat as Will pulled out the lasagna and some paper plates. Wondering if the silence was making Dee uncomfortable, Will started up a conversation as she microwaved a plate of lasagna. "This thing that was chasing you, did you see what it was?"

Dee shivered. "No, I didn't see it. I... knew it was there, though." He frowned. "Really, I'm not making this up."

"Hey, it's okay, I felt it, too. What did it make you think of?"

"Well... it felt like I was being chased by legs. Weird, I know. They kept coming closer until... I ran into you. I'm sorry about the eggs." When she set the plate of lasagna in front of him Dee tore into it with a plastic fork and a fury that was almost startling to see. Will felt a shiver of guilt as she thought about her "meager" lunch of a ham sandwich and a Coke.

Will smiled. "Don't worry about the eggs. We can have omelets in the morning."

Those bright eyes looked confused. "'In the morning?'"

"Well, duh. I can't let you go outside with something out there chasing down young boys. You're safer here with me."

Will didn't think someone so young could look so skeptical. "Look, I appreciate this, I really do, but do you want to risk your life for some street kid? This thing... I don't scare easy, but whatever it is scares the piss out of me. What makes you think it's afraid of you?"

Will was saved from responding by a loud crash coming from her bedroom. Both she and the kid jumped and stared at the door, barely breathing in fright. Will's hand was inching toward a drawer that contained a dagger given to her by Caleb when she noticed the pink light emanating from under the door. No way, she thought, no way it could be...

She looked over at Dee, who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. "Dee..." his eyes darted toward her, "it's alright. That's the reason we're safe." She walked over to the door and opened it, peering inside yet already knowing what she would see. The small chest next to her futon was shaking and spewing ethereal light like something out of a horror movie.

Will, however, found the light comforting as she opened the top drawer and looked at the source of the display. Her lips quirked up into a bittersweet smile as she withdrew an large necklace attached to a sturdy string; it was composed of a smooth round crystal surrounded by an asymmetrical frame. She held it up by the string and cushioned it in her other hand like a valued family heirloom. "Hi there."

Will wasn't sure why the crystal was reacting like this; it hadn't so much as flickered in years. Was it the threat that had followed Dee that was provoking it? Speaking of Dee, Will figured she better get back to the kid before he thought that his savior had been eaten by the Boogey Man.

Sure enough, Dee looked relieved to see Will emerge from her bedroom. His eyes darted to the necklace. "What's that?"

"This..." How to explain it? "This is the reason we can sleep soundly tonight. I can't use it like I used to..." Her face dropped a little. "But it's always kept me safe. Here. You should hold on to it." She held it out to Dee, almost questioning the wisdom of doing so but the feeling of rightness of the action eliminated her doubts.

Dee took the glowing necklace slowly and looked into its depths with a wonder that seemed unsuited to his features. At the kid's touch it seemed to increase in luminosity, Will not surprised at all at the change. "It's... nice, I guess. Don't know much about jewelry."

"Believe me, this is no ordinary jewel. So, you want finish up and take a shower?"

From the look on Dee's face it was like she had offered him a vacation to the Bahamas. "Uh, sure. I had some clothes with me but... I dropped them when I was running."

"It's okay. I did laundry this month. They don't have hearts or anything," she assured him before she realized he probably wouldn't care as long as they were clean.

"Well," Dee said, "I guess there's something I should tell you then." Will blinked in surprise as Dee removed "his" hood. The close cropped dark brown hair could have been a boy's, but the long eyelashes and heart-shaped face had a feminine slant to them. Which made a lot of sense once Dee said, "I'm kinda a girl."

"Uh, of course you were. Are, are a girl, I mean. Uhm, more lasagna?"

Patience, patience. At least the rain had stopped; it was less than an annoyance to her but it made it difficult to hear correctly. Predators needed all of their senses to hunt.

She shifted restlessly on the rooftop across from the former Guardian's dwelling. She had discarded her cloak of shadow since the natural shadows hid her well enough for the moment. She made out the older whelp's outline in the small window but couldn't see the younger one.

The urge to launch herself across the street and tear open the mortar walls to reveal her vulnerable prey within was strong; but there were rules to abide by, the principal one being to stay hidden while on Earth. Humans were innately curious, the odd branch that populated this world even more so; any evidence of her existence would bring them in droves. All vermin seemed to travel in packs, apparently.

There were other rules as well, none of them hers by choice. Her employer (though not actually paid, she still refused the term "superior" in all its meanings) wanted what the Guardian possessed more than the woman herself; in fact, the woman didn't even matter. Without the object of their power, the new Guardians would be no more than the children they were.

Still, to taste the dual flavors of young and seasoned blood together... She snorted and rubbed her front two legs together in the manner of a someone wringing their hands. Patience, patience.

Always patience. The best things came to those who wait.

And when the flash of soft light illuminated the red-haired witch's face, patience came to an end. With a chitter that might have been a laugh, she launched her massive body across the street to land with a light thud on the balcony outside Will's apartment.

In retrospect, choosing an apartment with a small balcony outside the kitchen was not the best idea for someone who had a higher chance of being attacked by giant spiders than the average person. Will hadn't actually considered this when she chose the small loft, having believed those days were long behind her. When the oil-slick smooth black leg burst through the French doors and knocked Will to the floor, she still mentally told herself off for all the Saturday afternoons spent sunbathing.

Years of hurried explanations and on-the-go battle plans allowed Will to quickly summarize an order for Dee as the leg swept the air over her head, searching for her. "Dee, go to the Silver Dragon restaurant downtown and ask for Yan Lin!"

"Will!" Dee was reaching for her, trying to pull her to safety.

"Do it!" Will shouted. The noise drew the creature's attention and the leg swept her out the door. She rolled end over end until she collided with the wrought iron fence that lined the balcony. Stunned, she lay on the concrete and saw what it was that had attacked her.

Her first thought was of the old Greek myth of Arachne, the woman turned into a spider by the gods. This thing looked liked a half-finished Arachne; from the waist up she was a female something with light purple skin, waist-length black hair plastered to her torso by the rain. She/it had large pointed ears seemed to merge with her jawline and luminous green eyes that looked only slightly less menacing than the dark purple lips that smiled at Will. Her too-long arms and fingers were crossed over ample cleavage, one eight-inch finger tapping on her arm. Her torso was covered by dark purple shells that resembled a breast-plate that swept up past her shoulders to end in narrow spikes.

Her body was the usual eight legs and a thorax configuration of a spider but looked like it was encased in hard, black plastic; the near prehensile leg segments ended in blunt points that seemed to defy gravity as they remained attached to the apartment building. If the person in 5-7 looked out onto their balcony, they'd have seen the creature's underbelly that was coated with the same material of the breast plate it connected to. The thorax was three times as large as the creature's torso and almost aerodynamic in its egg shape.

The creature's smile split to reveal sharp teeth not unlike a vampire's overbite. When she spoke her voice practically purred despite her insectile appearance. "Hello, little Guardian. I believe you have something I'm looking for." She held up one of her multi-segmented legs next to her shoulder and shot a rope-sized line of red webbing at Will.

The gunk attached itself to Will's breastbone and pulled her up to the leg tip like a fly on a frog's tongue. With a near effortless push, the creature leapt across the street and began traveling across the roof tops like a grasshopper, bounding lightly despite her truck-sized mass. As disgusting as it was, Will wrapped her arms and legs around the leg to keep her extremities from being snapped like twigs from the sharp movements of her captor.

The next few minutes were a blur of nauseating motion as the Beast headed towards the outskirts of Heatherfield. She stopped a few times to get her bearings and Will took the time to breath, even as she gagged from the too-sweet smell of rotten fruit that seemed to roll off of the thing like an aromatic fog. Then it was Motion Sickness Central as the flight was resumed.

When they finally stopped it was at a construction site where an old warehouse was being demolished for an strip mall. The site was along the interstate that ran out of Heatherfield and lay nowhere near any of the suburbs that ringed the city. Will grimly realized that the creature hadn't been running from possible pursuit; it was looking for a place where they could be alone... and far out enough that no one could hear her screams.

A perfect day for sure.

The webbing lost its hold on her and she fell. Before she went more than a few feet her ankles and wrists were ensnared by the tentacle legs and and she was was brought face-to-face with her abductor. Her arms were pulled over her head and her legs were stretched out like she was on some medieval torture rack. The analogy was not comforting. Nor were the Beast's words. "There now. All alone so we can... talk. And I suggest you try to be communicative; my patience is always lowest when I'm moist."

Despite her yelp of surprise earlier as she was yanked out of the window, Will was deadly calm as she faced the spider creature. Her expression was not one of terror but of mild disgust, like the Beast had cut line in front of her at Subway instead of threatening her with grievous bodily injury. "You know," Will said conversationally. "You remind me of something I stepped on once. And it wasn't a bug."

The creature chortled, clapping her long-fingered hands briefly. "Oh, how delightful. The little Guardian is making an attempt at bravado. I would be impressed... except that I know that the Heart no longer loves you as it once did." When this barb didn't get a rise out of Will, her smile faded. "What? Doesn't it hurt knowing you are no longer worthy of the honor bestowed upon you as a stripling?"

If her arms weren't being pulled over her head, Will would have given an indifferent shrug. "Not really. Life begins at a retirement, didn't you hear? One thing I don't miss about the job is listening to pieces of crap like you try to pump yourselves up. Honestly, it's like the forces of evil have self-esteem problems. You people need therapy, or drugs at least."

That darkly pretty face was warped by a scowl as Will felt the pressure on her legs vanish. Knowing what was coming, Will tucked her legs against her chest as the creature flung her against a half-finished brick wall. She covered her head with her arms before impact, saving her skull but crying out as her left side hit the bricks. She fell to the ground limply as the creature snarled a question at her. "Where is the Heart?! Give it to me and I'll let you live."

Will bit back a groan as she lifted herself from the hard ground. "Oh, yeah, like that's gonna happen. You better just kill me now; hell, I'm going on thirty and they say it's all downhill from there." She could at least lie about her age to her potential murderer. She leaned against the wall and tried to look unconcerned. "Of course, when my friends find you they'll make you wish you'd joined me." Keep her talking long enough to figure something out.

Spider Ho sneered. "And why should I fear them? They're as powerless as you."

"You obviously haven't seen Cornelia on the warpath." Will sighted a drainage pipe behind the Spider Ho. "And if its powers you want, the Queen of Meridian is good friend of mine. Let me tell ya, in some ways, Phobos was the nice one in the family; he delegated the dirty work. Elyon is a hands-on sort of ruler and she has one nasty little imagination to boot."

Spider Ho slammed her front two legs into the brick wall on both sides of Will, breaking through it like twin jackhammers. She grasped Will's collar in her hand and held her up against the wall, her legs dangling almost comically. "I tire of your empty threats, whelp! Tell me where the Heart is or I'll rip pieces off of you until you do!"

"Alright, alright!" Will said, a look of fear coming over her face. She felt a certain amount of pride at her act. "It's right here." She reached into her sweater, the Spider Ho's eyes tracking it with supernatural accuracy. Which was good, since she didn't see Will's other hand flash toward her face until the clod of dirt and grit was in her eyes.

She screamed, an eerie mix of human and insect chittering like a cicada heard through a megaphone. She dropped Will and clawed at her too large eyes as her intended victim ran under her thorax and made for the sewer pipe. She dodged construction equipment and building supplies as she mentally patted herself on the back for swimming an hour every day at the gym.

She had just entered the pipe when something wet and gooey hit her in the back of the sweater. Will yelped a Meridian swear word as she was pulled backwards and slammed painfully into a mud bank. Her eyes closed in shock at the impact and snapped open again when she felt one of the Spider Ho's legs slam into her stomach.

As she choked on the bile in her throat, Will looked into the eyes of the last face she expected to see. Spider Ho was actually smiling as she straightened her hair out and bent her massive body so her face was inches away from Will's. "I apologize, my dear. I thought you were weak and cowardly. But you're as brave as you are beautiful. I see now that you won't tell where it is hidden. C'est le vie, as they say on this world. I will find it eventually, but for now, I think we should get get to know one another better. Of course, the only real way to know someone is through sensation, like love-making... or pain."

Will coughed painfully. "You're not... really my type." On so many levels.

"If you can scream as I disembowel you with my bare hands, I think we'll manage."

So this was it. She was going to die. At least it was in the line of duty. Regardless of how it ended, being a Guardian was the best thing that ever happened to her and she was glad that she had not failed in this final task. As the Spider Ho's leg began to twist and cause her to gasp aloud, she mentally said goodbye to her mother, her sisters, Ingrid, Caleb, Mrs. Lin, and even Blunk. She regretted that she would miss that dinner at the Silver Dragon tomorrow. She could have seen them all one last time... I love you all so much.

At least Dee had gotten away. She would head to the Lins' restaurant and there Yan Lin would tell her of her destiny. The others would take care of her; maybe she would stay at the Dragon like Caleb had, fussed over by the Lin women, or maybe her mother would take her in to help ease her grief over Will's loss. Cornelia would take her shopping for clothes while Irma would grill her inevitable suitors like a stern aunt. Taranee would help her with school work; Caleb would make a fine male role model and teach her about Meridian. Ingrid would look out for her at school and Blunk would be a source of irritation and amusement for her. Elyon would instruct her on how to use the magic that had been given her.

Most of all, they would love her. Will knew they would because after knowing her only a brief time, she loved Dee already. And in recent years, Will had found it difficult to let new people into her heart.

Maybe Dee would think of Will when she held the Heart and gazed into it. At least she would be safe and far away from this monster until she was ready.


Or not. Maybe the dumb kid would run after the Spider Ho and show up just as the Beast was putting Will out like a cigarette butt. Figures. What annoyed Will even more was that she would have done the same thing at her age. You didn't have to be crazy to be a Guardian, but it sure helped.

Dee wasn't a dumb kid. One didn't travel halfway across the country over the course of a year by themselves without a good deal of common sense and practicality... not to mention a slightly loose system of morals that condoned stealing food when necessary. So she was a little surprised when she decided to ignore Will's orders, throw the necklace around her neck and follow after her. And the monster that had been chasing her all day. Her mind was screaming for her to stop and turn around but another voice, quieter yet all-consuming, overrode the frantic hysterics that would have left most people paralyzed with indecision and clearly ordered her to get herself killed for the nice lady.

Dee surmised as she ran that this second voice was her little-utilized conscience, making a huge comeback tour for this person who taken Dee into her home when most would have ignored her. Even with that nice gesture taken into account, the fear she felt for Will was greater than it should have been. It was like Dee had found something she couldn't bear to let go of, so much so her own safety was taking a backseat for once. For someone whose list of people she should care about contained the three brief entries of Me, Myself, and I, this was a feeling that was both disconcerting and fascinating. It also felt extremely weird, almost unnatural; supernatural, in fact, for someone as hardened as Dee to care so much for a woman she barely knew.

After all, the lasagna hadn't been that good. It had the texture of wet cardboard and was rough on the throat. But Will had fed her even after she dripped all over the floor and acted less than grateful for her help. She had cared only about Dee's safety and well-being.

And so she ran, the gaudy necklace Will had shown her smacking her in the face. It was almost like it was egging her on; in fact, whenever she lost sight of her quarry it seemed to hover slightly in the right direction like a compass towards due north. Its probably AA battery-powered glow even lit the ground when she ran out of street lights to guide her. In the back of her mind she kept saying "Thanks" even though it was only a piece of tacky jewelry. Like it could hear her or anything.

When she saw the Frickin' Big Spider land in the middle of a construction site, she had sneaked through the shadows until she emerged in an open space to see Will under the leg of the FBS. The woman's face was twisted in pain yet strangely peaceful, like she had accepted her fate. Dee, on the other hand, flipped a bird to Fate in all its forms; by some reflex that superseded all of her survival instincts, she then did a very dumb thing. "Will!"

It wasn't the fact that she shouted the name as it was how she said it. Dee prided herself on her strength; strength was the only way to go despite the other attributes people had tried to force on her. Yet the voice that emerged from her throat was strangled and shrill, sounding too much like the little girl she barely remembered being. Emotions saturated that word and transformed it into something more than sound, almost like a spell spoken to give life to something.

Hanging just above Dee's heart, the gaudy necklace began to glow brighter. And in Dee's soul, something that had never been born began to stir.

Whatever happened to her, Dee could not let this woman die. If she did, it would be like the whole world was gone. For someone who also prided herself on unfeeling logic the thought was so illogical it was blasphemy. Maybe the lasagna was better than she thought. Or maybe she'd finally snapped; whatever. Why should she be afraid of dying, anyway? It wasn't like her life was all that great. When she got to the Pearly Gates, her reason for gaining entrance would be three words: You Owe Me. And if she got to enter the gates with Will, well, that was cool. Pretty damn cool, actually.

Will didn't look all that angelic at the moment, though. She looked like she would have sent Dee to heaven herself had she been in reach. "Dee, run! She'll kill you!" If I don't do it first seemed to be implied by her eyes. For some reason Dee found Will being mad at her extremely funny and a shakey grin creased her face.

The FBS looked amused, too. "Well, now," she said in that too sweet voice, "the new whelp has brought what I seek to me. Since I'm pressed for time, child, how about we barter? Give me the Heart, and I'll let you go."

Dee was confused, then realized that the necklace's light was increasing in its intensity. Looking down at it she realized that this bauble was the Heart the FBS was talking about. All this for a piece of bling? Dee had seen people do strange things for money but a giant spider monster fencing this dime-store treasure for probably twenty bucks was hard to believe.

She looked at Will, whose eyes had never left hers. Didn't she notice the spider crushing her? Dee tried to speak but only managed to squeak pitifully. Clearing her throat, she said to the FBS, "If I give it to you, will you let both of us leave? We can't hurt you, we're nothing to you." It always payed to play to the bigger boy's ego, especially if the bigger boy was a giant spider monster.

FBS seemed to consider this, no doubt balancing the sheer joy of killing against a very busy schedule. Dee wouldn't have been surprised if she produced a day planner and a pair of eyeglasses. After a moment she said, "Very well."

"No!" Will shrieked. "You can't give it-" Her protest was cut off by the leg jamming further into her gut. Dee winced in sympathy; if she didn't get Will out from under there soon she was going to have internal injuries.

"Now," FBS said as she extended a leg toward Dee, "Just give me the Heart and I'll...urrrrgghh!" The creature clutched her head suddenly as if she had a terrible migraine. "No, I... I understand. Yesssss, my mistress..."

As abruptly as it came, the attack was over and the Beast straightened. With the air of someone who was carrying out the orders of a demanding boss, FBS sighed. "I'm afraid, child, that higher powers than myself have decided that your life is now over. Rest assured, your deaths will be swift." From the expression on her face it appeared she was not happy with this prospect.

Dee glared at the FBS even as she panicked on the inside. What now? She grasped the Heart in her hand and did the last thing she ever expected to do: pray. Granted, it was a prayer with several expletives laced through it but it was the first one she had made in a long time. As the legs of the Frickin' Big Spider drew closer, Dee hoped Will would put in a good word for her with St. Peter. She ate the lasagna seemed to be the only thing going for her.

The legs were within inches of her face when she felt her composure crack. Determined not to scream like a child, Dee instead channeled her fear and anger into two words of defiance. What she thought and what she said were two different things, however, her actual words containing a bit more syllables than the ones she meant to curse the spider with. With a surge of something that could only be described as pure power running through her, Dee stared the monstrosity in the eyes and shouted, "Guardians Unite!"

The Heart's steady glow exploded into an all-consuming burst of light that seemed to force her fingers open as it washed over the construction site. The FBS recoiled from Dee and stumbled back against the same wall she had thrown Will against, blinded and howling in outrage. Will, freed from the Beast, lay on her side as she stared unblinking at a sight she had thought she'd never see again.

The Heart of Candracar was floating in front of the girl that had summoned its power to fight evil once again. Dee, hands held open and out to her sides, was the center of her own wind storm, her baggy jacket fluttering like a flag at the the top of a mast. Her face was surprised but unafraid as she stared at the Heart, looking like a girl that had found the perfect Christmas present under the tree and couldn't believe it. With a flash of white light Dee was snapped up into a pinkish purple sphere of energy, knees drawn up to her chest and arms wrapped around them in a position similar to a fetus in the womb.

Will knew what was happening; the magic of the Heart was stripping away layers of clothing and psyche to reveal the true person underneath. A beautiful soul that had been ignored was being made flesh as Dee was growing into a young woman in a matter of seconds. Delicate yet strong gossamer wings were sprouting from her shoulders, to mark her as something special as well as propel her through the air. The girl known only as Dee, lost and running from the world, was being reborn to save it.

Elsewhere in the greater Heatherfield area, three other girls stirred in their sleep. And in the kingdom of Meridian, so close yet so far from Heatherfield, another girl dreamed as well. They dreamed of flying, like most do, but they also dreamed of each other as they flew through an environment unique to each.

One dreamt of a vast ocean, mighty and unconquerable as she floated through it, safe and supported in its azure depths.

Another dreamed of a ball of fire, fierce and independent as she orbited it like a planet, admiring its audacity to burn forever or die in the attempt.

The third flew along a tree-covered mountain range, majestic and strong as she danced from peak to peak, feeling the the life contained in the stone and the silent and nurturing earth.

The last floated in a funnel of air, invisible yet undeniable in its power and presence as it breathed a life-giving kiss to every living thing.

And they saw each other, reflected in those depths and flames and mountains and clouds. Some were friends and some perfect strangers, yet they were all chosen at conception to be sisters and warriors and healers and peacemakers. In short, they were the Guardians of the Infinite Dimensions, a new generation of heroines called upon to do what only they could.

None of them knew this. Not the Keeper of the Heart as she emerged from her cocoon to save the woman she would come to call Mother. Nor did the three who rose from their sleep to stare out windows in the direction of a construction site for reasons they did not know and were equally ignorant of the magical power they were feeding to their pre-destined leader. And certainly not the fourth, who thought her destiny was firmly entrenched and lay staring at her ceiling, unable to sleep as she was overcome by the urgent need to be elsewhere.

The only one who knew their entire destinies sat meditating in a realm beyond infinity. In the dimensional nexus known as Candracar the arrival of the new Guardians had been greatly anticipated. The need for them was great, the tasks demanding, but the being known as the Oracle did not fear the future. As he watched the Keeper land as lightly as a feather on the churned ground, the Oracle felt pride at her resilience. Like her predecessor but even more so, she had been through fire and been made stronger for it. Yet there was danger as well in having a heart that strong, that resistant to chaotic emotion. Hers was a path that would be difficult to walk, even for a Guardian.

But that was the future. The present was more than occupying enough for the Keeper of the Heart of Candracar. As Dee opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was Will's startled expression. If Dee had the time to look herself over, she would have realized that she possessed the mature body of a sixteen-year-old girl instead of her boyish fourteen years. Her shiny black hair was no longer cropped short but shoulder-length and straight as it lay tucked behind her ears. Her bangs hung over her eyes down to her prominent cheekbones, cloaking her face partially and combined with her light brown complexion to give her an exotic appearance.

She now wore the skintight dark green and light purple uniform of a Guardian over her lithe yet muscled body. A light purple halter top covered her neck and her torso down to her navel where it looped around the orifice with a circular extension of the fabric. Two sleeves ran down from her elbows down to her wrists where they dropped a hand-span like robes. Purple boots ran up to below her knees where they met light-and-dark green-striped tights that traveled up her well-trimmed thighs to end a few inches from her pelvis. A short green mini-skirt, slit on each hip, rested on top of a purple pair of hot pants that covered her waist. Her appearance was both revealing and modest, chastity and a brimming sexuality mixing together in a primal potion that could only come from the forces of nature.

Even as she checked herself for broken ribs, Will wondered why Guardian uniforms always looked so indecent. When Dee ran to her and not-so-gently yanked her to her feet with her increased strength, she realized this was not the time or place to theorize about such things. She also realized that Dee was now five inches taller than she was, having shot up a foot-and-a-half since she transformed and placing her at six feet exactly; it seemed the girl was in for a serious growth spurt in the next few years.

"Will, are you okay?" Dee asked in a svelte yet strong voice as she stared over Will's shoulder at the Spider Ho. The Beast was blinded by the light and was rubbing at her eyes fiercely; Dee quickly realized that she had asked the wrong question. "Can you run?"

Will shook her head. "If we run, she'll catch us. We have to fly."


"You can fly, look, I'll explain later, just trust meeeeeeekkk!" Will shrieked as she was snagged by another of the Spider Ho's webs. Dee had a strong hold on her, though, and dug her boots in the mud to steady them.

The dazed Beast glared bloody murder at the two women. Or eight women, or however many there were. They were dead no matter their numbers, filthy vermin! "Damn you, witch of Candracar! I'll make you watch as I rip the woman's arms off!"

"Like hell!" Dee shouted back. One arm wrapped around Will's back, she raised the other hand toward the FBS and fired a cracking energy bolt at the creature. The released energy hit the creature in her armored chest, electrocuting it and knocking its head back against the wall, stunning it further. The line of web that held Will dissolved into red dust when its wielder lost her concentration. Dee looked at her hand with a startled yet satisfied expression. "Freakin' A!"

Will thought back to the first time she transformed. Her flying abilities had been questionable at best and Dee would find it difficult carrying her out of here without crashing. How could they get away from this thing without flight? Maybe they didn't have to. "Dee, I want you to hold the Heart and ask it to open a Fold."

"A what?"

"Just do it!"

"Okay, ..." Dee checked her person for the talisman and couldn't find it; there wasn't many places to hide it on her new duds. Just as she was about to panic the Heart appeared over her own heart with a flash of light. "Oh." She held the Heart out and said, "Uh... open a Fold!" Nothing happened. "Please? Please, dammit!?""

By now the Beast had regained her senses. The look it gave the two women was so filled with hatred it seemed to distort her already alien features. Pithy comments discarded in favor of mangling them, the Beast screamed as it ran toward them with a speed out of proportion to its size, like a plague of locusts wanting to devour their flesh.

Will and Dee, both braver than most full-grown men, still shrieked at the sight of the Spider Ho knocking aside heavy equipment to get at them. Without knowing how or why, Dee slashed the Heart directly in front of her and Will. With a cackle of supernatural energy a glowing tear in space-time appeared between them and the creature.

The Beast barely had time to notice the Fold before it hit the gateway. Will and Dee were treated to a surprised look on its face as it dissolved in a flash. Instinctively Dee closed the Fold by swiping the Heart over it like a zipper, the tear sealing up like it never existed.

They stood there in the darkness, panting in relief and leaning on each other to steady themselves. The silence was welcome, comforting, serene... and short.

"Wooooowwwhhhhooooo!" Dee hollered in triumph, causing Will to age another few years until she was emotionally in her mid-thirties. "That was... so freaking... did you see?" She let loose another whoop to punctuate her statement.

Will thought about berating the girl for nearly giving her a heart attack, but couldn't after seeing the look on her face. In the short time she had known Dee, Will could tell the girl wasn't this happy very often. "Yes, I did. You did good, kid. Better than I did my first time, for sure."

Dee looked at her in surprise. "Your first time? This has happened to you before?"

Will nodded, not sure where to start. Best to lay it out there. "Dee, you've been chosen by the Heart of Candracar to be a Guardian. I was once a Guardian, too, the Keeper of the Heart like you are, apparently. Basically, you're a superhero now."

She expected Dee to look confused or shocked, but the new Guardian merely looked at her expectantly. She continued. "That thing, the Spider Ho," Dee smirked at this, "came from another dimension, another universe basically. There are lots of universes out there and some of them are very dangerous. Guardians, young girls like you, are given powers to stop them by a place called Candracar, a sort-of police department for the multiverse."

Dee's expression turned sour. "I don't do well with cops."

Great, just wait til she meets Irma. "Believe me, they're more like monks than police officers. That's just the basics; right now we need to get to a restaurant downtown called the Silver Dragon. Two former Guardians are staying there right now and we need to talk with them before we do anything."

Dee nodded, perfectly calm. Will was relieved that she was taking this so well, as opposed to her own reaction to the news that she had been a Guardian. "Can I open a 'Fold' to there?"

"No, Folds only go between dimensions. We have to fly or walk." It was way too early for Dee to Tele-transport yet.

"Again with the flying. How can I fly? It's not like I have wings."

Will smirked, then took her by the arm and led her over to a bulldozer with large rear view mirrors. Gesturing to the mirror, Will said, "Check your shoulders."

Dee looked at her like she thought Will had already flown over the cuckoo nest. She relented when she realized she was probably just as crazy as Will and adjusted the mirror until it showed her upper half. It took her a second to register that the incredibly hot girl looking back at her was herself; she touched her now-longer hair reverently even as she looked at Will questioningly, who merely shrugged and grinned like she was enjoying this.

Looking back at the mirror, Dee turned until she saw a glimpse of a butterfly-like wings poking out past her shoulder. Eyes widening, she twisted around until she could see both wings resting upon her bare shoulders like she'd had them since the day she was born. "Oh... my... is this permanent?"

"You can change back if you want, and transform again by saying, 'Guardians Unite.' Since we're here by ourselves this would be a good time for a flying lesson."

"So, what, I just flutter my pretty little wings and take offffffff!?" Dee had fluttered her pretty little wings and shot twenty feet straight up in less than a second. She hovered uncertainly in the air and waved her arms and legs frantic-ly, clearly panicking. Panic was only slightly less foreign to her than flying and this only served to agitate her further, as evidenced by the steady string of obscenities Will could barely hear; Dee could apparently give Irma Lair a run in cussing and curses.

"Stay calm!" Will shouted from the ground. "Don't think, just concentrate on your wings." Dee was able to gain control of her body and straighten out, owing as much to her anger at herself as Will's advice. "Okay, moving while flying is pretty much thought; while your wings are working you think where you want to go. Think yourself forward a few feet. Try it now."

Dee drifted forward a few feet. Without waiting for more orders from Will, Dee moved back and to the sides, spun completely around, and began to dart around the construction site in simple maneuvers. "This isn't so bad," she said as she ducked beneath a crane. "It's fun."

Will swallowed as Dee moved closer to the equipment. "Be careful, it's very sensitive."

"No problem, Mom," Dee giggled as she looked back at Will. Her body was straight as she held her arms and right leg up, like the woman in that old movie she'd snuck into a theater to see. "I've got this dow..." She was interrupted when she collided with a wrecking ball attached to the crane. Wings fluttering weakly, Dee hung onto the ball as she tried to clear her head, not helped by its swinging motion. "Ow. My knee. My face. My... ow."

"Hey!" said a gruff voice from the wrecking machine's cab. "Watch where you're going! I gotta work tomorrow, you know?"

Dee leaned around the side of the metal ball and stared at the empty cab. "Will, the machine's talking to me. Is that normal, or did I hit my head too hard? I'm not a junkie or anything, I swear... yipe!" Dee slid off the ball and fell into a pile of sand used to mix concrete. "Ow! That hurt! The sand hurts! Ow... sand shouldn't hurt..."

Will sighed as she silently vowed to apologize to Caleb for how W.I.T.C.H. had acted during their early days as Guardians. Maybe she could fix him some of her lasagna?

When Dee opened the Fold in front of the FBS, she had been thinking the popular epitaph "Go to hell." As it happened, the Heart interpreted this to mean a very hot place of fire and lava. While not hell in a spiritual sense, the inside of an active volcano on the edge of the kingdom of Meridian was not a fun place to be.

The Beast howled in a voice heavy with frustration and cicada cries as she scrambled for purchase along the interior wall of the volcano. Smoke clogged her eyes and made breathing a labor; she dared not lose her grip or be vaporized when she hit the molten rock that bubbled like stew a hundred feet below her.

Slowly but with the kind of resilience born of either strong love or equally strong hatred, she began to scale the obsidian wall by plunging her legs into the volcano. Shards as sharp as broken glass exploded outward every time she took a step, cutting her pale arms and face in a twisted web of slashes that seeped black blood.

She didn't notice, however. She healed fast and her mind was otherwise occupied with thoughts of vengeance against the new Keeper of the Heart. As much as she enjoyed torturing and murdering any old sentient, what she had in mind for the boyish brat made her tingle with anticipation she hadn't felt since her first victim.

First, she had to get out of this magnificent yet annoying wonder of nature. Then... no, patience.

Patience. Always patience.