NOTE: in this chapter, I was forced to use "=" to substitute for the asterisk. I hope it isn't too confusing, it's not my fault.


Despite the threat in Pixel's voice, Score did not immediately seek out Helaine. Instead, he dumbly wandered into his room and sat at his desk. He thought, not about any of the present crises, but about his mother. In his mind she was dark, and pretty, and only a misty memory. After she had died, he was so afraid he would forget her that he used to hide in her closet, before Bad Tony threw her stuff out. He pulled her blouses and skirts and sweatpants to the floor and made a little Score-sized nest out of them. How had she died? Bad Tony never gave him an answer on that. For the umpteenth time since his last encounter with his father, he wondered what it meant that his mother was a strega. The only strega he knew of was Strega Nona, the children's book about the boy who ate too much spaghetti.

In a way numb, Score's mind wandered off task and he lifted his "encyclopedia" off its shelf above his desk. The book was under an enchantment; it only opened to one page, but it was always exactly the page he wanted. True to form, the book opened to an entry on Italy.

There are three sects of Italian witches (stregas). They deal with the magic of the earth, moon, and stars. Although their powers are largely imagined, some stregas have been known to have the Sight. These witches are offered glimpses of potential futures, but they frequently are unable to correctly interpret their visions. According to the Wizard Blitz in his manuscript Lesser Magicians of the Rim Worlds, these witches are descendants of powerful wizards who were trapped on Earth after the Breaking of the Diadem. This explains their watered down magic. No strega has ever been known to cross through a portal.

Score closed the encyclopedia and re-opened it. His mother's smiling face beamed back at him. He bent over the page to read the scanty biographical information when he realized with a shock that the words beneath her picture had changed. Camilla Rachele Caruso the name was the same but here was something different:

Born Camilla diAlberto in 1961 on the rim world Earth, this minor strega is known for her only great prophecy about her son, Matthew ("Score") Francis Caruso, predicting his rise to power in the Diadem. Some experts argue that she was merely a vessel of the Triad, not possessing the true Sight.

Score frowned at the description of his mother as "minor" and "merely a vessel", but continued reading.

Her legitimacy will be determined by the accuracy of her second great prophecy, that her son would participate in notte di martirio.

The article continued, with a brief acknowledgement of her marriage to Bad Tony and Score, and then ending with her "mysterious disappearance and ultimate death" in the summer of 1995. But Score's mind ran over his mother's prophecy. He started to close the encyclopedia but a voice stopped him.

"She was really pretty" Helaine remarked. She peered over his shoulder and then turned his chin to look at him full in the face. "You look more like her than Bad Tony." Helaine's typical bellicosity was tempered by this woman. Score shut the encyclopedia and Helaine remembered her goal in coming into his room. "What were you going to write?" she asked, showing him his incomplete letter.

A thousand words came to mind, but Score couldn't voice any of them.

"Fine." Helaine said, and turned to leave.

"Wait." His throat was hoarse. "No. Come back."

She sat on his bed, some distance away, and waited. What did she want from him? A vow of his undying love and affection? An apology? She didn't know herself.

Meanwhile, Score scribbled on the parchment, attempting to squeeze out what was inside of him but covered up by the frothy pink love he had for Amaruit. He finished as best he could and offered it to Helaine, who plucked it from his hand and resettled on the bed to read.

"Because it's you I would wear my feet out following, not her. However I act around that girl is shallow and fabricated. I could love you, far away from her."

Score waited. He felt like he had a belly full of cold oatmeal. Would she laugh at him? Run away from him? Attack him?

"No." Helaine said, shaking her head sadly.

"No?"

"No, you can't love me. I'm sorry. You are devoted to her." Helaine's voice was magnificently steady, but she began to lose control. "And I can't do that. I can't be second to someone. I couldn't live a life with you knowing that she existed. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry" Helaine shook, but didn't cry. They both sat in somber silence until Score moved to comfort her with a trembling arm. The love potion didn't take to kindly to his intimate embrace with another woman and his skin burned, his mind clouded.

Through their mental connection, Helaine could feel some of his pain. "I'm hurting you." She said with a quavering voice.

"Yes" Score managed. "You are."

There was silence as Score waited for Helaine to recover herself, during which he ground his teeth together in defiance of the love potion. It was a small rebellion, this half-hug, but it felt good. Then Score remembered the urgent task Pixel had set before him. He dropped his arm and stood up.

"We have to go to Jewel." he said.

"I know. It was my shower that tried to eat me. I suppose Pixel talked to you about it?"

So they left, walking together, almost touching, to the courtyard and opened the portal to the axis of the diadem: Jewel.

The first visible clue that something was wrong was the absolute shambles the analog room was in. The unicorn horn had crumbled to dust, and someone had strewn the gems across the room, shattering some. From the splintered doorway Helaine could see that the diamond was still intact and glowing brightly. "Good" Score said when she pointed this out to them. "At least that's one bad guy we won't have to worry about." The fate of the emerald, ruby, and sapphire could not be observed, so they carefully stepped over the broken doorframe into the analog room.

Without noise, the gems crowded around Helaine, settling on her head, her neck, and breast. Others spun around her ankles so rapidly that they appeared to be part of a radiant gown. "Welcome, Empress Helaine, ruler of all that is noble and just," she heard. Turning to the sound, Helaine saw her image in the mirror, regally adorned with the sparkling stones. Her reflection bowed to her. She opened her right hand and felt a scepter fall in it. She was magnificent.

Score looked into the face of his mother.

"Mom? What are you doing here?"

She smiled and smoothed his hair affectionately. "That's not important. Listen. While I was alive I made a prophecy that you, my son, would be the great sacrifice."

"I don't think I like the sound of that" Score muttered.

"Hush. The world needs you. A long time ago the great God sacrificed himself so that life could occur. Every 10,000 years that promise is renewed by the death of a great magic user. It is the Notte di Martirio."

"I saw that in my encyclopedia. But you're asking me to die? I don't get it. Why me?"

"Without you and your sacrifice, the life of Jewel ends. Without Jewel, the Diadem falls apart, and the other planets will careen and collide and havoc will break out. The universe needs you, Score. Beware of those who will dissuade you from this. You are the savior. You alone."

Helaine shook him, and Score's mother disappeared. "That was rather embarrassing."

"What did you do that for?" Score asked angrily.

"Sorry" she apologized. "You weren't affected by the glamour?"

"No." He snapped, still mulling over his mother's image and terrifying words.

"Oh. Maybe it only worked on the first person to enter the room…"

"What happened?"

"Nothing real. I imagined I was a powerful queen. Luckily Pixel contacted me or else I might have been dreaming about my crown for hours."

"Pixel?"

"Yes. Didn't you hear him? He said that since Bryndis and Amaruit probably have related magics, we should be on guard for walking into glamors that make us feel important or loved or powerful." As she spoke, Helaine picked her way across the room to where the gems for Ordin, Calomir and Earth should have been. She instantly found the sapphire, and rejoiced at the flicker of Eremin's soul within. "Fen-suckled buzzard" she gloated "you're still trapped in a nut-hook!"

For the millionth time, Score did not try to understand Helaine.

Helaine's pleased expression disintegrated. She pressed the ruby into Score's hand. It was dull and lifeless. "Nantor has escaped."

"Traxis too." Score pointed to the lackluster emerald partially obscured by a wayward onyx. Helaine cursed in that particular way of hers. "We better tell Pixel" she said, reaching for her agate. But before she could open the channel, Pixel's voice appeared in her head.

=Helaine, something weird is going on=

=I know!= she chimed in =Nantor and Traxis have escaped!=

=What?= He sounded distressed, but returned to his original subject. =Look, after I contacted you about the glamour traps, Crow grew again. She's got to be… at least twenty or thirty years old. And Nova says her mind feels funny too. Not human.=

=Not human?= Score asked.

=No. She's one hundred percent human, but it seems like she's also one hundred percent something else.=

=That's two hundred percent.= Score stated the obvious. =That doesn't add up.=

=I know. It's crazy. But I think everything is connected somehow. And that prophecy that Oracle told you he heard. I just don't know…= Pixel trailed off.

Helaine sighed. Pixel would figure it out eventually. Unfortunately he had a bad record for only figuring things out after they'd already been trussed by the bad guys. "Let's go Score. We've got some life potentials to round up and stick back in their cells."

Neither Score nor Helaine had done much exploring on Jewel. In fact, they largely avoided it. So neither was sure exactly how to go about looking for renegade former dictators. "We'll search the bottom of the castle first" Helaine declared. "Those specks are heavy, so they would sink into a basement or dungeon."

Score stared incredulously. "Is that true?"

"Does it matter if it's not?"

Score decided it didn't. He jauntily followed Helaine until they found a set of stone stairs leading to the castle's underbelly. As if reading his mind, Helaine stopped midway through her descent and turned to face him. "Just because I'm not actively eviscerating you doesn't mean I'm not still angry about your… indiscretion."

It was hardly a fair term for accidental love-potion consumption, but Score didn't protest. He was almost thankful for the distraction of having to save the world. It took the edge off the potion.

At the bottom of the stairs, Helaine and Score paused. Beyond them, in the next room, they could easily see the figures of Nantor and Traxis, on their knees, in front of the shadow of Bryndis. "You'll find them, right? Especially the boy" she purred, and Nantor and Traxis mumbled their agreements.

=What's wrong with them?= Helaine demanded. =Why are they acting so odd?=

=They're in love with her.= Score didn't smile. =I guess she and Amaruit have the same influence over people… or scummy wart bags like those two.=

=Foul quislings!= Helaine snorted, which was a very difficult thing to do in her mind. Score contemplated complimenting her when he felt the heavy eye of Traxis upon him.

He squelched his initial desire to run very very far away and instead opened up a large pit underneath his somewhat-former-self. Traxis merely floated over it. Score spoke a few short words about excrement and tried fireballs. These, of course, sailed merrily through the ghostly figure of Traxis. "How do you kill someone who is immaterial?" he asked Helaine. She pursed her lips and reached for her onyx. Her image flickered and her hair grayed. Score blinked, and before him stood Eremin.

"Nantor, Traxis! You bumble-footed mewling pus-heads! What are you doing consorting with that woman?" Helaine's typically mordant voice was laced with venom. "We killed that common-born bitch ages ago."

The two shades stopped and stared at Eremin, their allegiance obviously confused. Bryndis stepped out around the corner and stared. "I didn't release you" she said, frowning.

"Because I can't be turned into a fawning puttock like these addled mokes?" Helaine tossed her head—Eremin's head—arrogantly. "At least you recognized my superiority. Now, release these dodder-heads from your glamour and I may not scatter your ill spirit to the winds."

Bryndis looked actually frightened, but then the raven-haired witch caught sight of Score, who was doing his best to look like scenery. "Ha!" Bryndis muttered an incantation and Score found himself covered in thick sticky webbing. It didn't render him immobile, but he couldn't remove it. It was gross, but nothing harmful. Helaine, after ascertaining that Score did not require her assistance, drew her sword and leapt over the pit Score had created to attack Bryndis.

"I wouldn't do that, if I were you." Bryndis said smugly. Helaine halted, but remained ready. "That netting is highly flammable." She demonstrated by lighting a bit that had fallen to the floor by her feet on fire with a snap of her fingers. The webbing disintegrated in a flash of flame. "And your friend is covered in it." Score had to agree with the witch on that point. It seemed impossible to remove. "Now—"

Helaine rushed at the sorceress, just as Bryndis created two fireballs that dangled inches away from Score. "And now I will burn him alive if you do not retract your sword from my throat and agree to be taken prisoner."

Helaine looked helplessly at Score. She'd been tricked. She let her sword down a little and Bryndis pushed her to the floor. Rather than explode in anger and pride, as she might once have done, Helaine rolled back on her feet and calmly walked around the pit to Score's side.

"You pushed me. You're solid. You weren't solid in the Hall of the Ancients." Helaine wrinkled her forehead at this new piece of information.

"Yeah, and you weren't evil then, either." Score added helpfully.

"That's because this tomb is the only place I can exist for the time being. In the Hall of the Ancients I am able only to project my image. And I'm not necessarily evil. You see, I only wanted to find Amaruit so I could regain my body and finally leave this dratted place. But when I saw your mother's prophecy, Score, I realized I had the opportunity for something grander. Unfortunately, that will involve a small sacrifice on your part."

At the word 'sacrifice', Score froze. His mind called forth his nightmare, and he remembered. He remembered the smell of this sticky silky web stuff, remembered the frozen stares of Traxis and Nantor. His nightmare was real, and it was today, and it was destiny.

"Prophecy? What is she talking about, Score?" Helaine turned her puzzled face to him.

"My mother…" he began "could do some magic. She foresaw me ruling the Diadem with you and Pixel, and she also foresaw my death."

"Precisely" Bryndis chimed in, "you, Score, are the magician who will die to appease an angry God."

Helaine frowned "That's not right," she said quietly. There was a small silence.

"So…" Score felt like he was made of mercury, seeping into the floor. "Are you going to kill me now or later?"

To his surprise, Bryndis laughed. "Neither! You think I want this sacrifice to happen? Hardly! If I prevent it, then I'll have ensured the collapse of Jewel. It's what we—" she gestured to the lifeless Nantor and Traxis "—dreamed about. If you survive tonight, then I'll have succeeded, finally!" Her laugh was just short of a cackle.

"Then why do you have me all tied up, if you don't want to kill me?" Score asked. It was getting easier to speak of his death.

"I have to keep you from sacrificing yourself."

"You mean… suicide?"

"Obviously."

Score shook his head. "This is way too Twilight Zone. Although you are an evil psycho villain, like the umpteen others we have come across, we're having a conversation with you, and you're not trying to kill me."

Bryndis shrugged. "As long as you're being so cooperative, I might as well tell you the real story, not that silly one I concocted for you earlier. Two thousand or so years ago the former Triad and I murdered all one hundred of the council members. There was an enormous power vacuum, and after we'd taken our share, we let the rest erupt into the universe. Sure, lots of scum got their hands on it, but we were always able to control them. Everything was wonderful until we discovered that we were too powerful to leave this boring hellhole of a planet. So we forged a diadem."

"The diadem?" Score asked.

"No. A physical one. A crown. We made it of gold and yew and set a diamond in the center. Then we drew straws to see who would have to wear the diadem of power, and I lost. The other three left for ten years, and when they came back, I was eager to shed the crown and travel. But the others, they didn't want to stay. They made a pact and abandoned me almost as soon as they arrived. So, I did the only thing I could. I found the relic sword Geismorte in the chambers of a council member and gutted myself. I, the soul, was separated from my body and magic, which became the first incarnation of the girl Amaruit.

"Without someone to wear the diadem, everything fell apart. The triad rushed back to Jewel and bound each other with a spell that would terminate their lives if they did not spend at least one year out of three on Jewel. This prevented any two from abandoning the third. They hid Geismorte and continued to live.

"But a soul seeks its body, and within twenty years, Amaruit made her way to Jewel. She was naïve and simply asked to talk to the others. They killed her, of course, but when she reappeared twenty years later, they realized I was still a threat. So they programmed the first Oracle to locate her and destroy her as soon as she came into her powers. But somehow, this girl with my face and magic managed to reappear in Jewel, becoming more aggressive as the reincarnations continued.

"These began the paranoid years."

At this point, Score realized Helaine was not beside him. A warm joy calmed his nerves. Helaine had escaped to bring help, certainly. The longer Bryndis was distracted by this long and ancient story, the more time Helaine had to get away safely.

"The paranoid years?" he repeated with a sycophantic smile.

"Yes. The Triad enlisted the Jewel's Thirteen, their secret police and security. They also created an escape route based on the separation of body and soul. Without Geismorte, they could send their corrupt souls along with their physical characteristics and magical abilities into the wombs of women on rim worlds. They used this successfully several dozen times when their hegemony was threatened over two thousand years.

"It was Sarman who disrupted their system. His rise to power was so quick that the Triad were caught largely unaware. Although it may seem as though they had time to plan, the notes and clues they threw together for you were done in a manner of minutes."

"That explains the poor quality." Score tried to joke.

"And because their escape spell was not ready, the three were willing to make a desperate move. They used Geismorte. This effectively did the same thing as their spell, but with the crucial difference of leaving their souls trapped on Jewel. The children they sent to the womb were open for the infusion of brand new souls, and" here Bryndis sneered, "disgustingly nice ones at that. That was how you were able to defeat them and lock them up inside rocks."

"But what about the lovely Amaruit?" Score asked. "Why didn't the Oracle kill her like he was supposed to?"

Bryndis shrugged. "I imagine that since you toppled the Triad, there was no longer any magic to power the program and he couldn't complete his task. Then through some cursed luck, she found you." Bryndis looked around. She and Score were alone. "Where are Nantor and Traxis now?" she grumbled. "They never used to have attention spans this short."

Thankful that Bryndis still hadn't noticed Helaine's disappearance, Score settled back against the wall as best he could, away from the dangerous fireballs that still threatened him. If he had been sincere at that moment about his fate, he could have thrown himself into them. But somehow, death by fire, all alone, was not how his dream told him he would die. There would be a sword involved…

As soon as Bryndis turned her back to chase down her former classmates, Helaine somehow oozed from the shadows. =Shh…= she mind whispered. She showed him her green chrysoprase with a wink. Score, of course, could hardly keep his own gems straight, let alone Helaine's and Pixel's. He had no clue what she was planning.

Helaine used her control over earth to weave a thin layer of soil between her friend and the icky-sticky webbing. The thin layer expanded as she added more and more dirt until finally she collapsed the earth back to the ground. The web stuck to the soil, and Score was free.

=Now let's go.= Helaine tugged on his wrist impatiently =I told Pixel everything I heard, about how she thinks she needs to save you from killing yourself. We're meeting him in the analog room.=

Score pulled away. =Helaine…it's true=

She stopped. =No. It's not. You're deluding yourself. You're not supposed to die.=

=I saw my mother, Helaine. I saw her. She told me that it was me, that without me, the universe would end.=

=Saw her where? In the analog room? That was the glamour, idiot! It made you feel important.=

=No. Listen. Do you remember the night you spent in my room?= Score demanded. Helaine blushed.

=Yes. But I didn't think you did.=

=That dream I had? That took place here. This is my fate, Helaine. I have to die to save the world.=

=No you don't! It's her glamour! You're not a mythical savior, you're Score!=

=Oh. Is that it?= Score asked coldly. =You're jealous because for once destiny is raising me up above you and Pixel? It's me. Matthew Francis Caruso. I'm important. I'm needed.=

=Score, just listen to yourself!= Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes. =This is not right! This is not how God works! This is wrong!= She tried to throw her arms around him but he slapped them away. =Please, listen to me. I'm your friend, Score, and I love you the way no one else in the entire Diadem does. I would do anything you ask, but I am not letting you die because of some woman's twisted view of religion!= Helaine was actively crying now, as silently as possible. Bryndis was still only in the next room.

=You don't love me.= Score softened a little, and reached to take her hand. The love potion caused it to burn. =Perhaps because I am your dear friend, but you can't love a condemned man. Besides…you would never have been mine anyways. Remember Amaruit?=

Helaine stared at the ground.

=Look, for once in my life I have the chance to not be a coward. I'm going to face this like a man on your planet. Lots of courage and few brains. Because it's necessary. I'm sorry our feelings were tangled, but this way you will be able to live long enough to devote yourself to someone, even if it's not me. You'll love again, Helaine.=

="To say that you can love one person all your life is just like saying that one candle will continue to burn as long as you live"= Helaine murmured slowly. =But that's not true. Not for me.= And she looked up with her cornflower blue eyes, made bright by tears, in that startling way that broke his heart and truly made him mourn his death. She put her hands on his cheeks and slowly kissed him with the firm determination that marked everything she did. There was no mistaking this for anything but a real-kiss, the one Score had ached for since the fake-kiss saved his life on Earth. Because of the love potion, he felt like he was swallowing lava, and it was too much for him to touch her anywhere else. Helaine felt in his mind equal parts pain and bliss and forced herself to withdraw. She licked her lips and tasted only surrender.

Helaine unsheathed her sword and laid it across her heart. =By my honor as a daughter of the House of Votrin, I swear that I shall not outlive you this night. If you fall, it is because I have failed at the cost of my life to keep you alive.=

=Helaine…= Score sighed =I have to do this=.

=So do I=

Score looked at her for a minute and contemplated his next move. Was he going to die without ever kissing her again? Yes. Die without ever seeing unicorns again? Yes. Die without ever teasing Pixel one last time? Yes. But the weight of the world rested heavily on him. Was he going to have to die by his own hand? Apparently so.

Score snatched Helaine's sword from her and sprinted off across the room. Helaine dashed after him, wielding her dagger. She caught up to him easily and knocked him to the floor, careful to step on the blade of her sword so he didn't fall on it. The commotion attracted the attention of Bryndis, who stormed into the room.

"Stupid girl!" she barked "What are you doing?" Bryndis stretched out her hand and a sword flew into it. She used the flat edge of the blade to knock Helaine away from Score, and kicked the sword he grasped away from him. She then turned her sword back to Helaine, who was still armed only with a dagger. Bryndis delivered a heavy blow to Helaine's side, but then Score was between the two women, brandishing Helaine's sword, his suicide-sacrifice forgotten for the moment.

"If I have to die, she gets to live" he snarled, lunging at the woman with the weapon. He didn't have a clue how to handle a sword, but it gave him a minute to check on Helaine. She didn't appear to be bleeding, thanks to the heavy chain mail she wore everywhere, and was slowly getting to her feet.

"You've got it backwards," Bryndis corrected him, attempting to reach around him to stab Helaine. "You're living and she's dying."

Score gave up on doing anything with the sword, and focused on keeping between Helaine and Bryndis. The problem was that they both wanted him out of the way. Helaine tried to reach for her sword back, and Bryndis seized the opportunity to deliver a stab to the gut. But Helaine's hand slipped from the handle and she fell back, and Bryndis's sword, seeking her flesh, found Score's instead.

Both women stared at the wound the sword left. "It's small." Bryndis said.

"We can heal him." Helaine added, placing her hands over the red hole in his right side. Bryndis added her hands and the former combatants focused their energies on speeding up time to knit together his skin. But the harder they tried, the more wretched Score looked. Helaine helped him to lie down on the ground when he began to sway. Neither sorceress understood. The wound really was insignificant. But a thin silvery shine began to gather on Score's chest, like dew in the morning, and pool together. Bryndis gasped and scuttled, looking for the sword.

"What is it? What's going on?" Helaine demanded. Bryndis showed her the handle of the sword.

GEISMORTE

"That's his soul leaving him."

Helaine stared wide-eyed. "Well, do something! Stop it! Save him!"

"If I knew how, don't you think I would have mended myself a long time ago?" Bryndis snapped back.

Helaine stroked his hair, touched his lips, held his hand. She whispered in his ear and shouted at his glazed-over eyes. She cried.

Bryndis watched all this silently. Nantor and Traxis entered the room, as they had finally escaped from the diversion Helaine had set for them. They knelt down next to Bryndis, and all three observed the silvery mist rise and disintegrate, and Helaine rest her cheek on his chest. They didn't know she was speaking to Pixel through her distraught mind, incoherent as a child.

Finally Bryndis spoke. "And the world is safe for another millennium."

"That's not true." Helaine whispered without turning to face the woman.

"It is. I saw his vision. He was the intended sacrifice. The promise is renewed."

Helaine sat up and turned. "What you saw was his reaction to your glamour spell. I won't believe that a world demands the death of a good person."

Bryndis shrugged. "Suit yourself. It was a solid plan, though." Helaine glared silently through bleary eyes. "Don't worry. I'm not going to kill you too. There's no point."

Helaine thought about this. "No. Fight me."

This elicited stares from the three. "Do you have a death wish?" Bryndis asked.

"No. But I would like to see you dead." Helaine stood and took her sword from Score's hand. "Come on. Fight me."

As soon as Bryndis got to her feet, Helaine began swinging blindly with her sword. She parried nothing, gave no ground, and yet seemed completely incapable of a competent stroke. She didn't notice when Traxis and Nantor, the lovesick former dictators, attempted to pull her off their mistress. She didn't notice when Pixel, Crow, and Amaruit came running down the stairs.

She did notice when Crow, looking at least thirty, walked straight onto her sword.

"Helaine." She said, showing no signs of discomfort at the iron blade lodged in her stomach. "Stop this now."

Helaine obeyed.

Crow smiled, and instantly Helaine felt better. Exhausted, but better. She dropped the handle of her sword and sank to the ground beside Score once more. Crow plucked the sword out of herself as though it were no more than a pesky splinter. There was no hole.

Pixel put a comforting arm around Helaine. "Don't worry," he said calmly, "I figured it all out, and everything it going to be fine, just like Crow said it would."

The former orphan girl took Amaruit by the wrist and nabbed Bryndis with her other hand. "You should be whole" she said, and gently forced the two together until they merged. The old soul of Bryndis disappeared into the young body of Amaruit, who coughed up a small seed. Crow picked it up. "This is the bad seed inside you," she said, ostensibly to Amaruit/Bryndis, but somehow also aimed at Helaine. "You had two thousand years of hatred and resentment lodged in your soul, and you were sick. Now you will be healthy."

The once-girl sat down next to Score. She softly opened his mouth, then gathered something in the air into her palms. She showed it to Helaine. It was the silvery liquid of his soul. "You should be whole" she said sternly as she poured it down his throat. Score coughed and sat up. He didn't seem surprised to see Crow. "Once upon a time" she said, "there was a good and loving God who sacrificed himself for all life. That one time was more than enough from now until eternity. What your mother foresaw was this evening. What she didn't know was that it was entirely unnecessary. You acted bravely Score, but in the end Helaine was right. Go and live."

Crow shifted slightly to face Helaine. She smiled. "You should be whole."

"Who are you?" Helaine asked.

"Thank you, Helaine. And thank you, Pixel, and Score. I am Love. You created me."

Crow stood and picked up Geismorte. She stared at the hilt before snapping the blade as easily as a twig. She sent a look to Traxis and Nantor. "Back where you belong." They disappeared.

"Before I leave," Crow told her silent audience. "I will recommend this to you: the diadem that the original four created is still in existence, and it is not on Jewel. You ought to retrieve and destroy it, for in the wrong hands it is a powerful weapon."

And as easily as Oracle, Crow faded out of the dim dungeon light.

Pixel was the first to speak. "Nova did say she was something else…" A little ways away from the three, Amaruit/Bryndis stirred. Pixel looked at her. "So, are you Amaruit now, or Bryndis?"

"Amaruit." She replied easily. "I don't feel much different. Just somehow… more complete." Watching her curl and uncurl her fingers, Score realized something significant.

"I'm not in love with you anymore."

Everyone stared at him. The love potion had been largely forgotten in the half hour.

"Well, that makes sense." Amaruit decided. "It was only supposed to last for the rest of your life… and you died."

Score grinned. He felt free and light, and decidedly amazing.

Helaine turned to Pixel. "When I contacted you earlier, and you kept saying 'it's Crow, it's Crow', is that because you knew she could somehow fix everything?"

Pixel nodded. "I figured it out partially through the prophecy Oracle told us he overheard. 'Scavenging birds claim the old throne'. We were thinking too literally. But a crow is a scavenging bird, and Crow certainly seemed to take over a few things. When she aged, it was always when we were in contact with Bryndis somehow, as though she was maturing specifically to deal with something chaotic."

"Huh." Score snorted. "So this whole thing really had nothing to do with us at all. It was about Crow becoming who she needed to be."

"Basically." Pixel admitted. He snuck a glance and Helaine and Score, and saw that although they had not celebrated Crow's gift with an enormous kiss (as he'd assumed would happen), their pinky fingers were interlocked, and both were somewhat flushed. He grinned. "Well, I think Amaruit and I will check out the analog room, see if it's still a mess. Although I have a feeling that Crow straightened that out for us too." He helped Amaruit to her feet and beamed at her.

=There he goes again,= Score said privately to Helaine, =mooning over ladies.= She laughed. They watched Pixel and Amaruit ascend the stairs, but just before they disappeared from sight, Score hollered up at them:

"PIXEL! UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, YOU HEAR ME? NONE! WILL THE FOUR OF US GO ON A DOUBLE DATE!"

And although this is certainly not the end of the adventures of the Triad (plus one), it is the end of this one.


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My FINAL Author's Note:
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It has been over three years since I began this account to allow my meretricious and, frankly, ridiculous Harry Potter story to shine. Since then, as you know, I've switched tactics to Diadem fiction, with my two fluffy one-shots and the exhaustingly long "Triad". In fact, "Triad" is the only story I've worked on for almost a year and a half now (putting aside silly things I write that never see the public eye). But I'm proud of it, and thankful for this community that allows even small niches of storytelling to survive.

If I was to thank everyone, this chapter would be too large to upload. It's already massive at 6000 words, about triple my normal. So I'll submit the thank yous as a review (since author's note only chapters aren't allowed)

A few notes on names and other junk:
"geismorte" is a semi-German word meaning "soul death"
Amaruit is inuit for (if I remember properly) wolf (or maybe fox)
Crocidolite is the gem I wanted to work into the story but I couldn't. I just thought it was a cool word. Maybe it would give Pixel crocodile powers or something. I dunno.
A lot of Helaine's insults and language I compiled from years of studying Shakespeare, but I have to give credit to Pete Levin ) for inspiring "fen-suckled buzzards"
"Aroo!" my close-out line, was the answer I used to give when asked "what sound do kangaroos make?" I stuck it on the end of my stories (so much shorter than "love and a peanut butter sandwich") starting in 02 or so… but I've gotten a lot of queries about it.

Well….. I hope you enjoyed the story. I know I did. Questions, comments, things to do differently next time? Hit the review button, or send me an email ). I won't be on hiatus too long. I'm not sure if I'm going to do a sequel/prequel or grab the Triad from a totally different angle but they're so much fun to write about I know I can't stay away. And now its 4am. I've been writing for six hours basically straight through, trying to get this last chapter exactly the way I want. But it was worth it. I hope you agree.

And finally, the biggest of everything: THANK YOU Mr. John Peel for creating this world, and for not suing me for playing in it.

Very much AROO

Ellen