I never wanted to see hide nor tail of the army again, but after years of searching for any sign of my big sister I found the base hidden in plain sight. No mortals could see it. The basic enchantments made it look like an abandoned allotment to human eyes, but the facility was the gateway between the humans realms and ours (where my kind could escape the lands we were created in) and is undoubtedly larger than what the humans call a block. I watched a small lapwing bird flying along and suddenly it hit the air as if it was a panel of glass. I had no sorcery training, but I am a rare Hell's Angel. I simply walked onto the bare earth, ducking the construction tape and suddenly the front of the Credence Clearwater facility emerged behind a dense entombment of glossy evergreen herbage. There was a coral of frisky mounts frolicking and cropping the grass. The Nightmares look like human horses, but these could run through the air and through walls. It was rumoured they came from the Bad Lands through purple portals on full moons, running in herds though the midnight between realms, but once long ago someone swung a bridle over the stallion and therefore bound them to domestication. On Halloween nights they bring with them all the demons from children's darkest nightmares to wreak havoc on the human realm; vanishing when the sunlight struck them. Purple swamphens wove their way through the puddles caused by the sprinklers at the Nightmares feet. I crouched in the herbage. I tried to step back into the human realm, but struck a solid barrier again. I'd have to wait until morning and try again. Credence Clearwater serves as a stopover point for weary travellers and an army facility. Along the far side I could see the row of stone pitched fireplaces side by side the way humans would align communal toilet stalls and the travellers stepped into them folding up their wings along their backs, holding briefcases in one hand. They stood smugly, punched a numbered button like humans do in an elevator and in a roar of flame they had teleported to their destinations. The difference between elevators was the fireplaces' panels were numbered -9000 to 9000. These fireplaces would take the travellers from the past, present to future to and from any location. Credence Clearwater is one of one hundred places like this across the realms. One of two in the human realm. The vanilla ice cream coloured Nightmares began to migrate to their stables like children did to their desks when a teacher they respected came to the door. One by one in the row they lowered their heads and closed their purple eyes with no pupils or iris. They were just lavender purple almonds. Someone was coming my way. "Good evening Miss Ventra. Allow me to escort you to your quarters. Your uniform is waiting," I swirled around in shock to face the Short-snouted PigGremlin addressing me. "Pan?" I gasped. He bowed to me. PigGremlins are always half the size of their masters. I'm twelve years old whereas Dawn is twenty one. "At your service Miss Ventra," He wasn't allowed to touch me or it was seen as assault to a high ranking officer (Short-snouted PigGremlins don't get ranked) and that was punishable by death. "Just Daisy as we agreed," I hugged him, "I've missed you so much!" I swung him from side to side in joy. "Easy Mis-I mean Daisy," The facility, if you made a cross-section cut looks like a beehive. A new hexagon (quarter) is added when a new officer moves higher in the ranks. Lower officers attain that old office. My quarters are fairly high. I unfolded my white feathered wings sprouting from my shoulder blades. "Climb aboard Pan," I ushered. "It'll be faster than walking," "I suppose, but if...If anyone sees you without me before you get your uniform back on…It's pressed, ironed and folded on the end of your bed as per usual," Pan made it sound like I had never left. "Why didn't someone get it?" "I did not allow it. I threatened to poke so many holes in anyone's arm who tried their blood could be used like a sprinkler hose Miss Ventra," Pan's Horseshoe bat like ears swivelled, "hush. Someone's coming," I landed gracefully, not even disturbing the dust motes as they twirled down. I knelt down so Pan could slide unharmed off my shoulders. Short-snouts were known to be near on indestructible for their sizes while a Silver-tongue like the one my big sister Dawn had last time are always the height of my sister, look like handsome humans, but with a silver tongue (hence the name). Silver-tongs are skilled sorcerers capable of any magic dark or otherwise and appeal to moral codes set for them. Short-snouts have been known to revolt and are known as the most unfriendly. Short-snouts loyalties can't be bought. Pan knocked on the door to my quarters and the door swung open as his hand with its five gnarled talons wiped the golden dust coated plaque that read: Miss Daisy Ventra- Rank 76#. "Welcome home," Pan shuffled past to light the immaterial oil lanterns; one in each corner. He cursed as the matches he struck burnt his bumpy orange skin. "It's good to be back," I lied. Nothing had changed from the day Dawn sent me away on my eighth birthday, fearing for my life. A lavender purple envelope suddenly sprang through my mail slot. Pan picked it up, in case it was a trap. "It's from…" He scanned the parchment, moving his head from line to line. "From…" "Ta?" I held out my hand. Short-snouts. Notorious for poor eyesight amongst other things. I didn't want to upset my own Short-snout and receive a poke in the shoulder with his notoriously sharp talons that would put most butchers' knives to shame. He obeyed. "Blimy! It's from a Silver-tongue. Would you look at the handwriting?" What was a Silver-tongue doing writing to me? Only experienced masters with platinum, emerald, Amethyst, Amber or obsidian plaques could handle them. They weren't trouble makers, just fragile. The parchment read:
Dear Miss Daisy Ventra, Previous Rank: 76# Current Rank: 73-74#
It is my duty to inform you of the latest developments, any extreme changes to your rank numbers etc. As of now you have been denoted to Rank 73-74# in your absence. You will find the buttons on your uniform therefore have been changed. I'm courteously therefore reminding you of your new duties. You must attend at least five meets a week in order to regain your previous ranking. You need to participate in the Nightmare Riders Division and your Short-snout must commit no monkey business for a duration of a month while cleaning your quarters and surrounding area of your derestriction. Monkey business includes snarling at superiors. We, anticipate your quick acceleration of attention on these pressing matters. You keep your dorm, only demoted to an ivory plaque, but if problems issue a bronze awaits.
Yours sincerely, The Silver-tongue of Miss Dawn Ventra Rank 101-102#.
"Did you hear that Pan? My sister's Silver-tongue!" I danced around like a little girl, waving the letter. "It may have been my recent bad antics that caused your demotion," Pan mumbled apologetically. "I don't mind. What's another year of service?" bad antics were Pan's way for saying he may have poked my sister's Silver-tongue. That explained the Navy and Royal blue blood stains. Yes, Silver-tongues bleed blue blood. "Your first duty is to clean this place top to bottom so it sparkles. I'll put on my tunic and skirt and then I'll sort out the stuff you put in boxes while cleaning. Throw nothing out unless it is actually rubbish. You know what I approve of," Size 14 red tunic with gold floral embroidery and my size 12 pleated matching red skirt with golden floral embroidery trim. The only change was my buttons were now all silver. I fitted my golden headband inlaid with rose pink quartz love hearts. That was complimented by my black shoes and white and red horizontally striped socks. I tugged back my chocolate brown hair into a ponytail and began arranging my noticeboard Pan had moved. Rubbish. I peeled off the receipt that was so faded I could barely make out the type, squinting. Rubbish. I peeled off another receipt for boot lacer this time. Wait! No old ties. I was starting fresh. I arranged all my previous certificates into a portfolio folder in order of the date I received them. My cork board for notices was now blank. I stood back with my hands on my hips admiring my handiwork and Pan's. I directed Pan which things I wanted torn in half and thrown down the chute that lead to the furnace where all unwanted items were disposed of strait into the eternal flames.
My first training session came early the next dusk. The instructors could not come out during the day. I stood in line with Pan and watched the instructor while I stood at attention saluting in the same direction as everyone else. "What do we have here? A Hell's Angel I assume," I nodded. The instructor rubbed his chin. "And…" he snorted in disdain, "A Short-snout PigGremlin. Rank?" "73-74#," I stammered. "Name?" The scribe with him asked with a tone that clipped off any question. The scribe was a Life Breather. They could take any shape they wanted and were used by dark magic sorcerers to take over the life of a victim. If the victim and the Life Breather locked in combat that realm (including them) would explode. At the moment he was human besides his fully black eyes. Just like the Nightmares with no pupils or iris. Life Breathers came from the Bad Lands too. The Life Breather was patient, waiting for my response, bent over to me like all adults did like I was still a little girl or something. I was frozen with fear. Pan suddenly stomped down hard on the Life Breather's foot he'd been tapping idly. It suddenly transformed into a carpet python, wrapping around Pan, squeezing the life out of Pan. I had no choice. I thrust out one wing, driving from it a shower of razors into the Life Breather. He uncoiled and raised himself to me poised to strike like a cobra. Pan scrambled to his feet and did one of the only other things a Short-snout could do. He locked eyes with the Life Breather. His deathly cold stare sent a tremor or undoubtable coldness through the Life Breath's body. I watched him shudder, but Pan kept his gaze locked deliberately on the Life Breather until it became its human form on its hands and knees and a black snakes tongue flickered warily from its mouth as it pulled itself to its feet. Yes, Life Breathers can transform into a whole object, inanimate or living or parts of it. It was a challenge I knew Pan would accept. Life Breathers are easy to tell apart from the eyes. They don't bleed. When they are destroyed they will vanish into a swirl of black magic particles. Pan let an 'I'm watching you' snarl emit from his crocodile jaws. I just wanted to grab the Life Breather's cheeky tongue and pull it out. "Daisy Ventra." I finally pouted. "Control your Life Breather Sir or I will have my loyal Short-snout disembowel him," "Misss Ventra?" The Life Breather plummeted to his knees, "pleassse forgive me recklesssnesss. I did not know," "Your sister went to the Bad Lands and killed thousands of Life Breathers," Pan whispered to me. "I bet you wish you'd known who she was beforehand huh?" The Life Breather glared at Pan. "You are no more than a common Ssshort-ssnout. It iss her I resspect," The Life Breather pointed to me, "not the likesss of you." "He has a name. I should have you know he prefers the title Pan. I'm flattered, but the Hell's Angel who ventured into the Bad Lands and survived was my sister. Do you know where she is?" I asked. "The One Who Walkss acrosss Lava and her faithful Ssilver-Tongue. I know of her many tales of greatnesss and epic adventuress, but not her whereabouts. I'm truly ssorry," I'd hit rock bottom. "Did you say Ventra? She was with the Nightmare Riders Division last I heard," another recruit shouted. I'm going to shorten Nightmare Riders Division to NRD from now on. "Really?"
I could not wait until my first saddling up. Pan, although he is very superstitious about approaching Nightmares, followed me like a shadow. The class was standing inside the Nightmare coral. "Good evening all. We chose a lesson after another pleasant sunset because the Nightmares have been unsettled at present. They are safest when the moon is out. My name is Alarish and I am going to be your instructor for the Nightmare Riders Division or NRD in short. Let's see the role. Oh, we have a Short-snout attending with his master tonight. Make him feel welcome. Short-snouts for those of you who unaware are frightened of Nightmares. But as you can see, there is no need to be." "Yeah for you maybe," Pan muttered hidden behind me, "but would you know? You're a stinking human." "Come off it Pan," I laughed. The instructor was very happy. He laughed as a Nightmare nosed his cheek in search of hugs or food. "Ah hah ha! Okay stop it, that's enough girls. As we all know from our Nightmare studies they have no visible keys to gender besides one. Can anyone clarify what that maybe? Yes you at the back?" The student who yelled out to me my sister had been last seen in the NRD raised his hand. "Males are jet black with red eyes and a red Mohawk shaped mane. Females obviously have the curly blue, ordinary mane of a human realm horse." "Correct. Someone has been doing his homework. There can only be one male per herd which is why any males cast out here are usually lead humanely into the eternal flames," "That's cruel!" One girl yelled. "That's life toots," Pan snickered and raised his claw to a Nightmare who was sniffing my cloak hem. "That's our breeder Excalibur near the Short-snout. Watch what your Short-snout does to her Miss Ventra. She's got a bun in the oven," Alarish giggled, "give her a handful of this chaff. She'll love you forever for it," "Miss Ventra?" A murmur went through the class. They moved away from me. Even the humans shielded their Silver-tongues who backed into the wooden rails. "Did I hear my name?" Now I knew why everyone moved away. A procession of soldiers was marching this way. Everyone bowed their heads as a long shadow fell over them. They did not look up as the shadow passed. "The instructor with the Life Breather called mam," A winged messenger with a lower rank than me stuttered. His was palmed off on the face by a handsome Silver-tongue with tousled blonde hair. "I heard the name Ventra. Where is she?" The crowd parted. It was just me and Pan in the open. "It can't possibly be? Let me through!" Someone shoved the Silver-tongue and he rubbed his shoulder. You may have noticed a guy is partner with a girl. That because girls together tend to bitch. "Daisy?" The winged soldier with hair like Taylor Swift's but the colour of dark chocolate knelt down to me with an open mouth of disbelief and tears streaming down her face. Her white feathered wings closed around me. "I'm…never…going to lose you again. I promise," "D-dawn?" I stammered and tackled her to the ground with an overwhelming hug that made my arms ache. She nodded as I knocked her to her back. I could see her frizzy maple wood brown hair always four shades darker than mine that hung as straight as a board and just below my armpits. "At ease Randolph," Dawn ordered. The Silver-tongue slid his key shaped sword back into its scabbard on his belt beneath the folds of his blood red hooded robe with gold floral trim. My sister wore a white tunic with cerulean blue floral trim. Her matching jeans glittered and her tan shoes with black soles kicked the leaf litter aside. Dawn was in a car accident when she was younger so her shoulders and collarbone that support her wings had to be plated with sheets of metal. She's always rolling her shoulders and kinking her neck to keep limber.
Dawn and I went for a walk in the room where the wall was that protected us from the Bad Lands. "You know no magic, light or dark do you? Neither does your master. You need my master and me," Randolph asked Pan; shuffling my sister's overcoat to be draped over his other arm. Pan only growled at him. The boys hung back and Dawn and I constantly looked of over our shoulders to make sure Pan didn't draw blood on Randolph. "How much blood did Pan spill when he poked Randolph?" I asked. "Only a few drops. Nothing with a little five year studying in light magic can't fix in the click of my fingers. I'm considering extending my knowledge to eight years so I can be at least compared with my Creature Helper," Yes people like Randolph and Pan are referred to as Creature Helpers. They are the creatures who use light magic or help those on the light side. The opposites like Life Breathers from the Bad Lands are called Halloween Misfits. They are made when the masters of the dark magic arts culminate on witches' special events like All Hallows Eve (Halloween to the American humans). "I only can thank you for being in this rank sis. Heel Randy," He trotted forward to Dawn's side and she ruffled his hair. "Good boy. You don't have to be sceptical of Pan and my sister. I can tell she's not a Life Breather because I can do this," Dawn paused and grabbed my hand. Randolph looked around for an attack or sign. Pan was looking around to spot what angle the result of my special powers would come from and in what form. Suddenly both of them rose into the air like there was no gravity. Dawn let go of my hand when they were safely on the ground. "What have you been doing in my absence?" I asked. "The magic from when I last touched your hand had not faded. For years afterwards I could touch the magic left on me to my feet and walk on lava. One day it ran out and Randy saved me. When I gave up hope of finding you; Randolph encouraged me by retelling me the tales of you to keep searching. I flew many miles from sun up to sun down without rest until I collapsed of exhaustion, out of the sky. Randy carried me and sheltered with me beneath my wings when I made domes for us with them in the cold, rainy weather or the heat of the desert suns. How'd you know of my reputation?" "A Life Breather told me. He belongs to the guy who asked me my name yesterday. He quickly learnt not to bend down close to my face like most adults do or risk a stamp on the foot from Pan," Randolph had a puppy-eyed look of confusion he turned on Dawn that read something like: 'What? A Life Breather in this realm? How is that possible?' "Calm Randy. How was the rest of today? With the Nightmares," "We never finished the lesson. You impeded. Thanks for calling this catch up walk a Meeting of urgent Agenda with a side of tea sis." "No problem sis," "Can you teach me how to train Pan to be like Randolph?" "It won't be easy since I see eye to eye with Randy in more than one way. PigGremlins…" Dawn got no further. Pan kicked her in the shins. In a flash Randolph picked him up by the collar of the shirt and had held him at arm's length. Pan tried to claw at Randolph, but managed air and gave up. His arms were too long and the ground too far away for Pan's liking. With four arms Pan's a force to be reckoned with in a tickle fight. When he wanted something he'd tug until he tugged your sleeve off and then tug on the next one until it fell off or he was answered. Randolph held the key shaped sword at Pan's throat with the sparks writhing out the end, waiting to taste his flesh as blood bubbled out, but not close enough for Pan to snatch it. Short-snouts were known as Snatchers off the beaten tracks to travellers who had their belongings snatched before Short-snouts became Creature Helpers. "Put him down Randy," Randolph looked from my sister to Pan.
To Be Continued…