"So you see," Nevva concluded, "the only way we can stop Saint Dane now is if we use his own methods against him. That's why I've come to you, Mark – I cannot do this alone, and I need someone who is more familiar with the Earth territories than I to accompany me. I wouldn't want to do anything drastically ignorant or dim-witted."

"Of course," he whispered. He was falling into her trap without hesitation. She was playing her part well.

With a quick, almost imperceptible glance at 'Andy Mitchell', who was watching her with the perfect expression of strange shock and confusion, she continued. "The turning point for all three Earths is drawing nearer, and Saint Dane is preparing to tip them into the wrong direction. But if we change the direction of the Earth territories ourselves, we can trick him, and thus keep things right."

"So what can I . . .?" Mark Dimond trailed off uncertainly.

"You'll have to forgive my – imposing," she said delicately, "but I have been following what you and your friend Andy have been creating recently, this Forge technology. If you bring this to First Earth, you will change the future of all three of the Earth territories, which would throw Saint Dane entirely off-balance."

Dimond bit his lip. "This all sounds great in theory, Nevva. But . . . changing the future of all three territories . . . I know we're trying to stop Saint Dane, but this doesn't seem . . . what if something backfires?"

"I know this is a lot to take in, but you have to trust me. Not only will this chain of events cause Saint Dane to lose your Second Earth – not only will your home territory be safe – " she paused for a moment " – but your parents will also survive."

Dimond's attention snapped to hers instantly. She gave him a soft smile.

"I – h-how do you know – a-are you s-sure?" he stuttered.

"Absolutely," she intoned, voice gentle but steady. "Forge will change the entire course of the future . . . a better future for all of Halla."

He twitched, his arms jerking upward as he ran his fingers haphazardly through his unkempt hair. Letting out a half-crazed, bitter sounding laugh, he said, "It all – almost sounds too good to be true."

"I am sure it does," she soothed. "But it's true, Mark."

"Almost sounds too good to be true," he muttered again, feverishly. "We stop the bad guy, I help save the world – heck, all of Halla – and – the dead ones will have never died. The ideal story . . . the perfect fairy-tale." His voice cracked. "Complete with the happily ever after and everything."

Nevva did not understand what he meant by 'fairy-tail' – what sort of animal tails were ever fair? It must have been a Second Earth reference. She stowed it in the back of her mind to ask Saint Dane about later.

"You will help me, won't you?" she asked him in an undertone.

"I . . . I think so . . . yeah, I . . . yes." He let out a heavy breath, but it didn't seem to release any of the tension in his tight muscles. Then, as though realizing the other boy was there for the first time, Dimond flicked his eyes in Mitchell's direction. "Wh-what do you say about all this? I know this is all a bit . . . sudden, and weird for you, but you're – you're in this now too. Or not," he added quickly, "you don't have to – if you don't want to do this – Forge is your thing too, so if – "

"Don't be thick, Dimond," said Mitchell. "'Course I'm coming along. We're partners now, ain't we?"

"Well, yes, but if you didn't want to do this, then I wouldn't . . ."

"Hey, if you wanna save – did you call it Holly? – "

"Halla," Dimond corrected absently, and unexplainably, Nevva found herself biting back a smile, and had to look away from Saint Dane. Strange how she could adapt to these many roles with such ease, immersing herself in them entirely, and yet there would occasionally be the odd moment where everything would nearly be given completely away.

"Yeah, whatever," said Andy Mitchell, scoffing and flicking his eyes to the ceiling in an uncaring, exasperated manner. "I'm not as ignorant as you think I am about all this – I did read those first journals of Pendragon's, you know. You wanna save this Halla with the Forge, then I'm with you. "

"Thanks, Mitchell," said Dimond sincerely. "Erm, if – if you two don't mind, I think I need a few minutes to – just to be alone."

"Of course, go ahead," said Nevva gently. "This is a lot to comprehend all at once."

Dimond swallowed, gave a hasty nod of thanks, and hurried up the stairs. His bedroom door whisked close as fast as possible, yet when it shut, Nevva barely heard a sound.

She glanced towards Andy Mitchell, but he only raised his eyebrows slightly. She got his message loud and plain: now was not the time for them to talk about anything significant aloud, the boy could still be listening. So instead, she treaded into the kitchen; Mitchell slouched in after her.

Curiously peering in at the dining ware, Nevva tried to figure out how to pose a meaningful question to Saint Dane that would not sound important to possible prying ears. "Are you – prepared to travel to First Earth, Andy?" What she was really trying to say was, I know Mark said he was going to come along with us, but do you think he's going to stick to this agreement?

Saint Dane had been trying to teach her the art conversing without speaking, and though she had been improving, she was not yet quite as adept as he. She was usually only able to understand the other person's words or emotions when they were either experiencing high-strung feelings, or if they wanted her to comprehend what was going on within their minds. It was a hard thing to explain – it was not precisely seeing the brain's thoughts, for thoughts could not be seen, in the sense of diving inside the mind and producing logical sentences. No, this was more 'reading' the emotions, the needs, the core of the person.

Mitchell shrugged. "Whatever. I'll do what Dimond needs me to do." He locked eyes with her for a long moment, and she seemed to read the message: Mark Dimond is depressed and morose beyond all measure. At this point, he is so desperate that he will do anything we ask of him.

"That is very kind of you. You are a good friend." That may be true, she thought, letting her own eyes speak for her, but for a mere human, you must admit that he is fairly intelligent. Eventually he may change his mind.

"I ain't Dimond's friend, lady – we're partners." Intelligent in the academic respect, but emotionally, he is just as weak as any other, even weaker in his present state. Emotions always win over the brains with these beings. Besides, even if he was to change his mind, by then it would be too late – he will be dead.

"Forgive me for misspeaking." You are right, of course, forgive me.

Mitchell only snorted. There is nothing to forgive, Nevva, it is merely in your nature to ask questions.

There was nothing more to say; Nevva gave a curt nod, her mouth curving upward almost imperceptibly as she turned her attention back to the plates and glasses, gazing at them vaguely for a few moments before remembering about the fair-tail concept that Dimond had mentioned earlier. Though they were still staying in their roles, Nevva didn't see the harm in bringing the matter up to Saint Dane now: after all, Mark Dimond knew she was a Traveler . . . or had been one, at least.

"The people on this territory – you have something called fairy-tails?" she asked casually.

"Yeah – what about 'em?" he returned, with another snort.

"What are they?"

"Stupid things," said Mitchell, falling into a chair at the kitchen table.

"Can you tell me about them?"

"They're just stupid stories told to little kids. They usually have 'magical' animals and things, like dragons and elves and stuff. And all of the stories are usually pretty alike."

"In what way?"

"They all have these perfect people – usually princes and princesses – who all beat their dumb problems easily, and then get to ride off and live in a castle and marry and have kids and crap."

"What happens after that?"

"Nothing," said Mitchell, as though it were obvious. "It's 'happily ever after'. Nothing happens after that, that's where the story ends. But we know that it's all going to be okay for them, 'cause that's just how it works – that's just how the stories end."

"That's silly," said Nevva reasonably, "nothing ever just 'ends'. Besides, you can't always be happy. It's . . . it's just impossible for everything to run wonderfully all the time."

"Hey, lady, don't look at me, do I look like I wrote the damn tales?"

"No, I was just commenting that logically – "

"Well, they ain't s'posed to be logical. They're fairy-tales – fairies are made-up, and so are tales. They're supposed to be – what's the word? – oh, yeah, surreal."

"What is the point to them, then?" Nevva wondered aloud. "I understand making up stories, we have this on my territory too – but why make up tales that are completely impossible, and ridiculously happy?"

"Why're you asking me? I dunno why, it just is." Mitchell put his feet up on the table, examining them idly for a moment before speaking again. "I guess 'cause little kids – and sometimes adults – just like to escape their real life when they're really down or whatever. They like to see that some people do get to be happy all the time."

"But wouldn't that make them more depressed? To read about those who get the perfect 'happily ever after' – and know that they themselves never will?"

"You a shrink or something? Christ, what's with all the questions? Do you ever shut up?"

Nevva knew he was only acting in his role, playing the part he was needed to play, just as always. But the words still stung, knowing that it was really he who was inside the body of this teenager. "I'm sorry," she murmured, turning away from him. "I did not mean to annoy."

"Yeah, whatever, lady," he scoffed. But several moments later, he was standing next to her, glancing her way out of the corner of his eye: Fairy-tales are just concepts created by those on the Earth territories, Nevva. Silly, illogical stories drafted to create joy and fill humans with hope for the future. They know on some level they will never get the perfect 'ending' for their own life, but dreaming for the ideal future is the best they can do. He smiled at her then, and it was only then that clearly, from behind the gruff features of Andy Mitchell, it was only then that she saw her Saint Dane. Of course, for us, the ideal future is no mere dream.

She smiled too, and was about to reply to this when she heard footsteps. Mitchell instantly slumped off to one side, leaning drowsily against the kitchen counter. Dimond came down the stairs, and appeared tentatively in the doorway. His eyes were wide and slightly red-rimmed, but otherwise he looked fine.

"Okay," he said, "I'm ready. We're going – going to the flume, right?"

Nevva nodded. "Yes, that was the plan."

So the odd threesome moved through the house and towards the front door. Nevva and Mitchell stood on the front step while Dimond shut and locked his front door (she decided not to tell him that this was a rather pointless act, seeing as he would never come here again). As he turned the lock, she saw his hand hesitate, his eyes flicking all along his home, from the neatly trimmed front lawn to the shingled roof.

She sensed that action was needed quickly, and reached out a hand, gently placing it over his own. "Don't worry," she told him kindly. "This is the way it was meant to be – this is for the best, what we are going to do. Happily ever after just like the fairy-tales, right?"

Dimond took a deep breath, and took his hand away from the door, folding his hands into his pockets as he looked over at her. "Right," he whispered. "Happily ever after."

-Fin