So, I promised this chapter would be longer than most of the ones you guys have read recently. I kept my promise.

School started back three days ago, and for once I'm actually excited for the new school year (if you take away the fact that I've had two one-page essays already).

We had lots of reviews for the last chapter, and I'd like to thank all of you who reviewed!

MusicofPoetry12: Thanks so much for the compliment, I'm glad you love the story. :) And yes, I've thought about writing a novel, but my first attempt came out so terribly that I've been kind of scared to try again. ^^" I only recently made up my mind that I'll rewrite it entirely, but it might be a bit before I actually do. :3
And good luck with your story! I'm glad my writing tips were able to help! ^^

Sapphire Silvermist: Goodness, when I saw such a long review, I was scared to death that it would be full of criticism! 8D Clearly, I was completely wrong, and I don't know if I've ever been so happy to be incorrect! Thank you so, so much for all of the compliments, I really appreciate them and you wouldn't believe how they boost my little writer's ego! :D
And the TWIST: I'm glad you loved the TWIST. XD I slid several in there, so even if I don't know what TWIST you're talking about, you like it, and I'm glad. :D
Oh, dear Lord, another Artix fangirl! D8 EVERYONE READING THIS, HIDE! XD Don't worry, I'm a little bit of a fangirl too, I suppose. X3

Jellybelly Puffypants: I'm happy you like the story! :) Here's the next chapter!

MissFiyeraba: Thank you so much for the amazing compliments! :D
And Love and Loss is TERRIBLE. Possibly my worst fanfiction ever. XD I went back to read it last week and I realized how much of a Mary Sue my OC is! D8 All the same, thanks for reading/liking it. U.U

hnybnny: I agree, the fandom is so small that it can be a little difficult to find ones that hit close to home. :) Thanks so much!
And don't worry, in the next Dragonfable one I intend to write, those two will definitely make a guest appearance. X3
Also, I can't thank you enough for the
Favorite Author listing! 8D *tacklehug*

Whew, my fingers feel just a little bit numb at the end. XD Now, let's get to the story! Enjoy!

So… what he's telling me is that if I can't get past Death and persuade Artix to come back to life… then he's gone forever?

I sucked in a deep breath, running my fingers through my bangs. I still wasn't sure if I knew how to do this, or maybe that was just the worry talking. I did know that, given the option, I wasn't doing it alone. I dropped my hand from my hair down onto the furry golden form on my left, absently scratching at Kai's brow. His rumbling purr announced his appreciation of the gesture.

"Can I take Kai with me?" I asked Warlic. "Is there anyone I can have tag along?"

"No," he told me solemnly. "You may take a pet, but that is all. This is your quest, Magiya; you must do it alone, without a friend." I muttered a curse under my breath, smoothing the russet fur down on the back of Kai's head. Even if I hadn't taken somebody with me to help me fight, I would have liked to have someone there. Then again, talking really wasn't completely necessary. Also… this was my mistake, nobody else's. Nobody else had to get hurt because of me… because of me and my stupid-as-hell, antisocial, sociopathic personality.

"Well… can you open the gate or whatever it is to Death's Realm?" I asked him, deciding that bluntness would be the best course here. I really didn't feel like beating around the bush or anything, that just wasn't my style. It wasn't Warlic's, either (most of the time), even though he did it much more eloquently than I did.

"Yes," he replied. "And Magiya, one more thing…"


"If I ever catch you trying to use the magic that you tapped into in Amityvale, I will personally take your staff and I will break it."

The words were delivered so smoothly and calmly that I almost missed them and the slightly terrifying meaning behind them. He'll break my staff? I was rendered speechless for a long minute, shock and belligerence was all I could comprehend. I hated feeling bullied, or like I had only a few limited choices, and right now it felt like Warlic was backing me into a corner.

Be realistic, the side of my mind that had kept me alive so far, When were you ever going to even venture near that sort of stuff again? I almost instantly felt guilty, and settled for grinding my teeth as I nodded somewhat shortly, ducking my head.

"Are you ready?" he questioned. I hesitated. I didn't know if I was completely ready to go off on another quest yet or not.

You're ready for this. You can't go your whole life waiting… Sometimes I feel like I'm waiting for something that will never happen. No more of that.

So instead of remaining silent, as I might have originally, I gave a determined nod. "I'm ready."

The spell that Warlic wove seemed to twist through the air surrounding us, imbuing every living thing in Lore. It was a part of everything, unseen and almost unnoticed, but it was also not there. Whatever it was that Warlic was summoning, it had the potential to suck all of the heart and soul out of anything it came across, and just imagining that I could feel the whisper of it brushing across my ears and cheeks filled my heart with stones. It sank like it was filled with lead. There was something menacing and dangerous about the invisible currents drifting around us, even now becoming tinted with charcoal gray and turning out to be nearly discernible to the naked eye.

Not quite unexplained goosebumps blanketed my arms, all the way from my shoulders down to my wrists. I had felt this before, whatever this feeling was called. It was a much more potent form of the aura that had been surrounding Vayle throughout our last three encounters; the only ones we'd had, thankfully.

The spell was spun like cotton or wool into thread—from something that was all over the place and irregularly shaped into a fine, delicate strand that could be woven into almost anything. In this case, though, Warlic was molding this magic into a spiral, or some sort of vortex. The naked eye wouldn't be able to see it, but to those who had been taught to both see the magic and manipulate it to their will, they could view it if they sort of blurred their vision a little bit and kind of used their inner eye, I suppose. That sounded really corny, but that didn't make it any less true. You had to sort of feel for it, and you could see it.

It had been over two minutes now, and I was beginning to get uneasy with how long this was taking. Sure, important or complex spells could take a bit, but this prickly feeling that currently covered every inch of my skin was clenching the base of my spine, and making me even jumpier than usual. I shifted uncomfortably where I stood, managing to barely see the oval of swirling magic that was gathering before us, whirling with alarming speed. Warlic had once told me that the colors of magic differ for each person who sees it, if only by a little. What might be red for one person could appear pink for another, or burgundy for somebody else. For me, the coloring of the sluggishly forming portal before us was a deep, sinister shade of purple mixed with black and the odd streak of indigo blue.

With no small amount of shock, I looked up at the entranceway to what might be another plane of being. The thing was flat on one side (the side facing us), the dark colors looking like streams of smoke caught beneath a pane of glass. The top of it stretched above my head by at least a few feet, looking to be around ten feet tall, roughly. Its height equaled the height of Warlic's tent. Its width, however, was quite a bit smaller. At the center, where the flat oval would be widest, it was only about a yard wide. The effect of the undulating colors was mesmerizing, almost… Had I not had at least an idea of where this led, I might have been tempted to touch it, maybe just stroke the surface, see if it was as silky as it looked.

"This… is the portal," Warlic murmured, sounding just a little faint. A quick glance at my mentor revealed him to be standing with his head tipped slightly back, looking at the thing he had just conjured. However, his eyes were half-lidded, and just a little bit glassy.

This took a lot out of him, I realized with a twinge of guilt. The logical side of my subconscious immediately refuted that.

He was going to do it anyway, it claimed. He wants you to go get Artix.

Yeah, yeah…

I took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. I didn't want to feel like I was going to chicken out, so to speak, but this was just a little intimidating. I chewed on my lip uncertainly, still staring up at the portal.

"Whatever happens," Warlic told me quietly, "Whatever undead monsters you encounter, ghosts, skeletons, anything… stay on the trail. Do not stray from the path." I nodded again, my voice failing me.

One step into the portal. Once you're on the other side, choices are taken away, making it easier to choose from those still available.

"Anything else I need to know…?" I asked nervously, unintentionally stalling.

"It is not easy to hold this portal open."

Warlic's voice was a little bit tight, revealing his impatience. I took the hint and stepped up to it. Thin, opaque wisps of nearly black smoke stretched out slightly from the surface of the portal, attempting to wrap around my wrists and knees, trying to pull me closer. Goosebumps almost painfully spread up my back and across my shoulders. I shivered, and tentatively reached out with my left hand. My hands were empty at the moment, something that could easily be fixed if I chose to summon my staff. My fingertips brushed through the surface of the swirling darkness, and it felt like trying to catch smoke. It was eerie.

I took one more short breath, and before I could think twice about it (or for a fifth time, for that matter), I closed my eyes and rolled forward on the balls of my feet, passing through the portal.

For a minute, it was like I had taken a step in a normal place, like you would at home. There was no difference in air pressure, or gravity, or in the air I was breathing. But upon opening my eyes, I knew that Warlic's spell had worked. I recognized nothing. Turning around and around, my mind attempted to make sense of the things I could see around me, identifying each thing as something that was commonly found in my world.

I was standing at the head of a path, and loose trees were scattered on either side. Everything was blurred slightly, as though my eyes were out of focus. I squinted, which didn't help any; my vision was just fine. There were the typical rocks and grass around, but the real kicker was that there were small chunks of the actual ground floating at various distances from the ground. Turning to my left by a step, I could see a head-sized chunk of compacted soil floating at about shoulder height. There were small roots weaving through it, and the occasional pebble or stone. Grass still sprouted from the top of it, though.

And everything was gray.

You know how people (pet trainers and breeders, mostly, like Aria and Grams) say that canines (when you find one) are colorblind? Well, seeing things in shades of black, white, and gray was a new experience for me, and frankly, it was stranger than seeing a Cave Hydra slithering around in the Sandsea, or a Mummy traipsing around in the Locker. It made it much more difficult to see when something was moving… Like when you were about to be attacked, for instance.

There was no wind whatsoever—it was perfectly quiet. The only thing making any noise was me, just with slightly faster breathing and the quiet shuffling noise that fabric made when it was draped the way a Mage's robe was. Leaves didn't fall. There were no animals, like birds, insects, or squirrels, and not even leaves sparsely scattered on the side of the path stirred, giving rise to my assumption that there was no breeze. Everything seemed to be at a total standstill. Without any other preconceived notions, I might assume that this was what it was like—would be like—if time came to a stop.

From what Warlic said, I thought furtively, looking around myself again, I need to follow the path… And not leave it, no matter what. Not until I find Death, and if I can convince him to let me see Artix… I'm not going home.

With that thought in mind, I started to walk. I was at the end of a trail, slightly raised up from the rest of the ground, so I followed the winding path from the start. Things may have been perfectly calm, but that's not as comforting as it sounded. I paused, placed my palms together, and slowly moved them apart. Once my arms were as far apart as I could spread them, I had one end of my staff touching each hand, and I lowered the end to the path, feeling strangely comforted by the feel of the worn wood. There was nothing more I could really do to defend myself until something actually happened, so I continued to walk.

I walked.

And I walked.

And I walked.

And there was nothing within hearing range. I saw nothing aside from what I had already seen. Instead of letting my guard down, as a few people might have done, it just made even more goosebumps snake down my arms, and if anything, I got jumpier. This place seemed to do that to me… then again, considering where I actually was, maybe it just happened to anything alive. It was Death's Realm, after all.

That was about the time that I heard the laughter.

It wasn't the cold, bone-chilling laughter that I'd heard from Vayle—it was almost the exact opposite. It was a child's laugh; a high-pitched shriek of joy. My head whipped around to my right, where it had come from, somewhere within the trees. I opened my mouth to call out to them, then stopped myself.

If there was anyone (or anything) here, it was dead. Calling out to them was pointless. So I snapped my mouth shut, still stationary, trying to peer through the few low-hanging branches in the hopes of seeing the source of the laugh. My eyes then locked onto a small figure, dressed in dull, drab-colored clothing. A peasant child? I harbored no ill will towards those who had less money. I had, after all, started out as one. A mischievous grin was plastered all over his face, and he ran straight into the arms of a woman who, up until now, I had not noticed. She smiled too, a much more motherly smile, and twirled him around once before settling him in her arms. Her mouth moved, but no sound came out. She was saying something to the boy, and he just smiled brighter, jabbering something back. His voice didn't exist, either, and whatever he was saying went unheard. My brow creased. Who were they? They both laughed again, this time silently.

Then simultaneously, their heads turned towards me. I froze for a second, wondering if they could see me, and then realized as their expressions turned to one of horror, that this was not the case. I had barely turned to see what they were looking at behind me when a torrent of blinding fire whirled past my face. Moving would mean being burned to death.

Dragon's fire…? From the corner of my eye, a monstrous blue shape was visible. The firelight reflected off of the creature's cerulean scales in the most hypnotizing way, but it couldn't be beautiful when you saw the other end of the deal.

I was forced to watch, unable to do anything, as the mother and her child were enveloped in the surge of the fire. They turned black, and just as I was about to turn away, unable to stomach any more, their forms wavered. All of them; the dragon, the mother, and her child. The edges of their outlines flickered, before they vanished completely, leaving the path and everything around it as it was before.

They died, I thought with a sickening realization that felt like a punch to the gut. Both of them. That's what I just saw.

This truly is Death's Realm.

Okay, so since school started and I'm back on a schedule, I have no promises for the date of the release of the next chapter. I DO promise I'll work on it when I can.

Helpful advice… Don't have three dogs that race through the house and knock your laptop off the table and onto the hardwood floor, where the corner gets cracked. -.-

No, seriously. That's what happened the other day.

On another note, I suggest that you take time purely for yourself about once a week. Get away from all outside contact, and just WRITE. Close yourself up in your room and be antisocial. I call it "alone time". When one of my friends has been at my house nine nights out of ten (which has been happening a lot this summer), I tend to get irritable and snappy, because she's hyper and doesn't let me write. DX

So, get Alone Time.