W.I.T.C.H. doesn't belong to me. I'm just doing this for fun.

Many thanks to Aesop for his help in editing and consulting with ideas!

Set shortly after the end of Season 2.

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Mr. R's Main Office;

Heatherfield; 10PM:

The old gentleman, known to all the agents of the Institute simply as Mr. R, read the latest reports from his assistant, concerning his findings at Sheffield Institute. This case had taken up a lot of his time, and he had spent many evenings working late since the incident in December, not that the Institute really ever closed. Sylla was almost certain he had found the girls he was looking for.

Mr. R and his assistant, Raphael Sylla, had been driving downtown in the city of Heatherfield last winter, when an unexpected snowstorm had struck. The storm had come close to decimating that part of the city. Everyone was, of course, blaming the destruction on the storm, but he knew better.

Although Sylla had seen nothing out of the ordinary, Mr. R had seen much more. Like many of the agents of their organisation, he had gone through years of rigorous training and mental discipline, in order to better protect his mind from illusions and glamours, which was what the storm had been, nothing more than an illusion,

Mr. R and Sylla were both agents of an agency of the government, set up to do research into the paranormal and unnatural. Some version of the agency had been around for almost two centuries. It had been known for many years now that Heatherfield was no ordinary place, and over the years they had uncovered many such oddities. Each experience had provided additional puzzle pieces. So far, they still lacked a coherent picture.

Sylla was still only a lackey, with not many years experience, so his mind was more vulnerable to illusions, which was why he had not seen what Mr. R had seen… five girls attacking a giant snake-monster.

After the fight, he had set Sylla and their agency to searching through every database in the city, focusing on high schools and middle schools, to locate any young girl answering close to the description of the ones he had seen. They had gone through every school in the state, researching every female student there was. Even with their vast funding, and all the resources at their disposal, it had taken all winter to find them, but eventually they did.

They had found many girls answering Mr. R's description, but after a process of elimination they had finally discovered the ones they were after. Five girls, all of who fit the descriptions provided, who all went to the same school, hung out together, whose whereabouts could not be accounted for at the time of the storm, and apparently, all of who had a tendency to disappear from time to time.

The only mystery was that the girls were younger than those that Mr. R had seen downtown, but considering that no one beside himself had actually seen the girls because of the illusion spell, he suspected that the girl's appearances might have been altered as well. He had allowed for this in the search, widening the age range when there were no initial results. When they had the best matches they'd gotten in four months, he had sent Sylla to infiltrate their school, and keep an eye on them for as long as possible, while he had temporarily returned to headquarters.

If these girls were hiding something, they'd soon find out what it was.

Just then, the door to his office opened.

He looked up sharply, wondering who had the nerve to come strolling into his office unannounced and without permission. "Who's there?!" he demanded, reaching for the light to illuminate his whole office. "What are you doing here?!"

"I am merely a humble seeker of knowledge," a voice answered. "Knowledge that you, apparently, possess."

He squinted his eyes, as he finally found the light-switch, but before he could press it, someone's hand pressed down on his own, almost crushing it to the point of breaking.

Hissing through his teeth in pain, he tried to fight back against the intruder's grip, but his days of fighting were long since passed. "What do you want?" he repeated, as he chewed his lower lip to bite back a scream.

"What I said," the voice told him. "Knowledge, which you and only you can give."

"And what would that be?"

"The five girls whom you saw in Heatherfield. I want their identities and everything else you have on them."

For a moment, he forgot about the crushing pain on his hand, and stared at the shadowy face of the intruder in surprise. "How do you know about that?" he asked in genuine interest. "No one outside of the agency knows about them or our interest in them."

"Let's just say I have resources here and there," the voice spoke with a hint of sarcasm, but there was an undeniable hint of menace within it also. Mr. R had little doubt that if he did not cooperate, it would be his last mistake.

"Who are you?" he asked again.

The stranger removed his hand, eliciting a sigh of relief from the old man, and then pressed the button that Mr. R had been reaching for in the first place. The room lights came up, revealing the stranger before him.

It was an Asian man in his mid to late twenties. He wasn't ugly. Far from it, as he was quite handsome, except for his eyes, which revealed to Mr. R at once that there was something not quite right about him, as the eyes that stared back at him seemed far older than the man himself…much, much older.

"My name is not important," the man replied. "I desire only the information you possess and nothing more. I would prefer to just take the information without incident, rather than soil my clothes with your blood."

Mr. R's blood ran cold. "You wouldn't dare."

"You'd be surprised what I would dare, Mr. R. I have done far more and far worse in my life. And the best thing of all…" He fished something out of his pocket, an ID card of some sort, R noted, and poked it under the old man's nose. "I have full authorisation to do it all. Now, are you going to give me the information, or do I have to take it?"

Mr. R stuttered for a few moments. The ID card gave the man full clearance. Whoever he was, he clearly had the authority to simply demand the information, which begged the question, why was the visitor threatening him? And why all the dramatics if he could simply order the agency to hand over all available information and drop the investigation?

Finally, he just nodded and pointed at the folder on his desk. "This is all the data we have so far on the young females. They are students at a school called the Sheffield Institute. Their names and addresses are here also."

"I assume you have an agent tailing them," the intruder commented, taking the folder from him.

"Of course."

"Call him back, and from now on I don't want you or yours anywhere near this school or those girls, understand?"

Mr. R seethed at him, but the cold glare the man threw back at him made his heart want to beat faster. "What do you want with them?"

The Asian shrugged. "Merely to reclaim something I lost long ago, something that I suspect they now possess."

"And that would be?"

The stranger smiled. "Are you so certain you wish to know?"

He nodded, eager to learn, and then the intruder proceeded to undo his shirt to reveal his bare chest. He stared at the Asian's chest, his eyes widening in disbelief and horror

"Do I need to explain myself further?" the man asked, but all Mr. R could do was sit and stare at him.

"I thought not." The man took the folder and prepared to leave. "If you wish to tell your superiors of this meeting of ours, please go ahead. But rest assured… If you do, then like your agency, me and mine will do all we can to preserve our…secrecy, as well."

Mr. R just remained where he was, watching as the stranger finally left his office, closing the door casually behind him.

A few moments later, his phone rang, and after letting it ring six times, he finally picked up the strength to answer it.

"Hello?"

"Mr. R?" Sylla's voice spoke.

"Sylla?"

"Yes, I apologise for phoning so late, but I thought you might like some of my latest findings about the five youngsters-"

"Pull out," he simply told him.

"What? Why?"

Mr. R frowned. "Let's just say I have to bow to a higher power for now. Record all the information you have on the girls so far, then should things change, we'll pick up where we left off. But for now, it seems to be safer to watch from a distance."

"Understood. Pulling out." Sylla hung up.

Mr. R slowly placed the phone back on its cradle. Since it's founding, the Institute had researched every supernatural event it could find, and the man that had just left was like the embodiment of everything they were dedicated to investigating. But whoever this man was, there was one thing for certain, and that was he was no one to be trifled with.

The old professor was not a man known for worrying about those he was investigating, but in this case, if that stranger was going to have a meeting with them, he feared for those girls.

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Vandom Residence; Same Time:

Somewhere in Heatherfield, a young redheaded Guardian tossed and turned in her sleep, as dark images invaded her mind.

Will and her friends stood before the dark silhouette of a man. It stood before them, making no move. It was too dark for her to make out any of his features.

Without warning, Cornelia attacked, summoning vines from the ground to entrap him. But when the vines reached the man, they suddenly began to wither and die right. Taranee then summoned up her fire, blasting at the man with all her might, with an intensity that would normally incinerate a whole forest, yet for all the good it did against the newcomer, it might as well been a candle-flame.

The other Guardians were quick to add their own powers and abilities to the fight, but in the end, their efforts were just as wasted. Will's was the worst.

She blasted the man with her Quintessence powers, but for some reason when she did, all it seemed to do was feed him. She felt her power being drained, and then the scariest thing happened. She felt the Heart of Kandrakar move by itself, floating up towards the man!

She grabbed the Heart, only for it to slip right through her fingers, as it flew to the man's now outstretched hand.

"NO!" she yelled, as the man's hand closed around the Heart, and then…

Will woke up gasping, her heart surging as if in a panic attack. She placed her hand on her chest, trying desperately to steady her breathing.

"Talk about a nightmare rush," she said, breathing heavily. "And I thought nightmares were a thing of the past now."

After a few minutes, when her heart finally slowed down to its normal pace, Will took a deep breath and thought back to her dream. The image of the man was too dark for her to tell who it was, so it could have been anyone. Assuming of course that it even was a man in the first place. Since the image had been too dark to tell, she supposed it could have been a woman.

Will frowned at that. No, for some reason her instincts were telling her that it had been a man. She didn't know why, she just knew.

"It's probably just some bad memories leftover from last year," she said aloud. The image could have been Phobos. After what happened last year with the now imprisoned Prince of Meridian, Nerissa invading their dreams and everything, sleep had not come easily.

Will laid her head back down, silently staring up at the ceiling. After a few minutes, her eyes gradually closed again, giving her a restful sleep at last.

She did not even notice the Heart of Kandrakar, lying by the side of her bed, as it started to glow and sparkle, as though reacting to something… something close.

0000000000

Will yawned, as her mother drove her to school, her eyelids feeling like they had weights on them.

Her mother, Susan Vandom, eyed her suspiciously. "Don't tell me you stayed up late watching TV again?" she said warningly.

"Mmm?" Will said, yawning again. "No, mom. Just didn't sleep very well last night."

"Oh, you're not sick, are you?" Susan asked, looking a little worried, as she parked outside the school, immediately reaching for her daughter's forehead, to check her temperature.

"No, nothing like that," said Will, brushing her off. "I just…didn't sleep too good, that's all. Look, I gotta go now. See you tonight, bye!"

Will hurried out the car before her mother could object, rushing over to where Taranee, Hay Lin, Irma and Cornelia were already waiting for her. Matt was nowhere in sight, but she was running a bit late, and they didn't have class together until the afternoon.

"Whoa, someone woke up on the wrong side of bed," Irma said when Will ran up to them, eyeing her face. "What happened to you? You look like you just ran all the way here."

Will yawned again. "Restless night."

"Did you hear?" Taranee then asked.

"I just got here, how could I hear of anything?" Will replied, looking at her wryly.

"Mr. Sylla's flown the coop," the fire Guardian added, almost wailing. "Miss Knickerbocker said he transferred out of here yesterday without so much as a notice. He didn't even give notes of his class schedules, which means we'll all be behind in our classes this term!"

"Boo hoo," Cornelia said, uncaring, smoothing back her hair. "If I wanted to spend my life behind a screen all day, I'd just sit in front of my TV."

Taranee glared at her. "You may not care about your grades going down the drain, but I…"

"Come on, guys," Will said tiredly, acting as leader to negotiate the peace. "Taranee, I'm sure that…"

"Will!" Hay Lin's voice whispered frantically at her. "Your bag!"

Will looked down, wondering what it was that had gotten Hay Lin in such a stew, but whatever tiredness she may have been feeling previously soon evaporated, as she saw what had gotten her Asian friend so excited.

A bright light was sparkling within her bag, its glow waxing and waning, like a light bulb that was receiving too much power. She didn't need to look inside to know what it was, as it could only be one thing, but she looked anyway.

"Hey, Will," Irma whispered hurriedly, a false smile on her face, as people passed by while giving them curious looks. "You wanna turn down the light on that thing before you give us all away?!"

"Don't look at me, I'm not doing this!" Will hissed, as she opened her bag, looking down at the culprit…The Heart of Kandrakar. With her bag open, the light grew even more intense.

"Pull the batteries out of that thing, will ya?!"

"The Heart of Kandrakar doesn't have batteries, genius! If anything, the Heart is a battery!" Will tried pushing the Heart deeper into her bag, covering it up with her gym clothes and books, but all that did was make the light fade into a dimmer glow, shining through the fabrics of her bag.

Just then, the Heart began pulsing, as though it were beating like an actual heart.

"Will, what's going on?" Cornelia demanded.

"I don't know!" Will said, frustrated. "The Heart's never acted this way before, not even when the Oracle summoned us to Kandrakar."

"Maybe that's why it's acting like this?" Hay Lin suggested. "Perhaps Kandrakar is summoning us again?"

"Wait, wait. If there's another big bad on the move again, I'm handing in my resignation," Irma said, holding up her hands. "We've already defeated and hand-delivered two of them. What more do they want?"

"Take it up with the Union!" Will took a quick look around, checking that the coast was clear before reopening her bag and taking out the Heart.

"Will, what are you…?"

"We can't take the Heart with us to school like this," she explained. "We'll never be able to keep it hidden while it's acting like the fourth of July."

"So what do you suggest?" Taranee asked.

Will sighed. "We have no choice. Something is obviously bugging the Heart, so we need to take it to someone who knows more about it than we… Kandrakar."

"Will, are you crazy?! What about school?!" Taranee almost shrieked.

"Nice to know she's got her mind on the objective," Irma said wryly.

"We'll fold there and back before anyone knows we've gone." Will held the Heart before her. "Fold open! And if anyone asks, we'll just say we got held up in traffic or something."

The Heart sparkled once more, and a Fold in space shimmered open before them all, revealing the way to the Fortress at the Heart if Infinity.

"Last one there is a rotten tomato!" Hay Lin giggled, racing through, soon followed by the others. And as the last of them sped through, the Fold instantly closed behind them, leaving no sign that it had ever been there.

A few moments later, a long black limousine came up in front of the school, where the girls had been only moments before, its window sliding down.

The face of an Asian man looked out from the darkness of his car, his eyes concealed by the equally dark shades he had on, as he peered out over the schoolyard.

"It would seem that my objective has departed," he mused aloud. "Driver, move on!"

He brought his window back up, while his driver immediately restarted the car, passing right by the school, as instructed.

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Kandrakar:

"I don't get it!" Will said in frustration, almost shaking the Heart in her fist. "A few moments ago, this thing was blazing brighter than a fireworks display."

The instant they had left Earth, arriving in Kandrakar, the light from the Heart had immediately ceased, as if it had been switched off like a light.

The Oracle took the Heart gently from the Quintessence Guardian, carefully examining the mystical Gem. "I can sense nothing wrong with the Heart. Perchance you could tell us more of what exactly happened?"

Will sighed. "Nothing really to say. We were all at school, which is where we're all supposed to be right now incidentally, when suddenly the Heart began glowing and blinking brighter than a 400 watt light bulb."

"Blinking in what way?"

She shrugged. "I dunno. There was no exact pattern. It just kept going on and off, like when a flashlight is about to go when its batteries are worn out."

The Oracle frowned. "This is…unusual," he said finally. "Usually, the only time when the Heart reacts like this is when we are summoning you Guardians. But we made no such summons."

"Could someone else have been summoning us?" Hay Lin suggested.

He shook his head. "No, no one else has the power to send a summons through the Heart of Kandrakar besides us. And even if they did, a summons doesn't usually act in the way you've described."

He frowned. "From the way you've described it, it sounds as though the Heart could have been…reacting, to something."

"Reacting?" Taranee queried.

"Yes, like there was a source of great power somewhere, powerful enough to attract the Heart's attention."

"Like a magnet?" Irma thought aloud.

"Something like that, yes, but I can't think of anything that would attract the attention of the Heart of Kandrakar." The Oracle frowned again. "The Heart, as powerful as it is, is no more powerful than any other mystic Heart, like the Heart of Meridian or Zamballa, and it never reacted to either of them, correct?"

"Right, but then…" Will asked, "What would be powerful enough?"

"I do not know," the Oracle said, narrowing his eyes at the mystic jewel in his hand. He handed it back to Will. "Return to your school, for now. I will immerse myself in deep meditation to learn the cause, and when I do, the Council will convene and decide on a plan of action."

"This doesn't mean there's going to be another big bad, is there?" Irma said hesitantly.

"Yeah, because it's only been, like, a few months since we defeated the last one, and she came up literally right after we defeated the first one an' all," Cornelia complained.

"Evil has many faces," the Oracle simple replied. "For every one that's defeated, there is always surely another ready to take its place. Such is the way of the universe."

The Oracle was wise in many ways, which wasn't all that surprising considering his age. There were many legends about him from across countless worlds, some believing him to have lived since the beginning of time, but that was merely an exaggeration.

He had indeed lived for quite some time, but to his people that was nothing special, as their species were known to live for thousands of years. Come October, according to the human calendar, the Oracle would be 2,034 years old. A beyond impressive age to some, but to his people he was just starting to reach middle age. His own father had lived to a ripe old 5,903.

"Swell," Irma muttered sarcastically.

"We will contact you if we hear of anything," he promised. "For now, continue with your daily lives as though nothing has happened."

"That's okay for you to say," Will said, moaning. "But you've never had to deal with Miss Knickerbocker for being late to school."

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Hale Residence; 3 Days Later:

Cornelia hummed as she strolled in through her front door. School was finished for the day, she had no homework, and she had plans to meet the rest of the Guardians to catch a Vance Michael Justin movie. So, needless to say, she was feeling on top of the world at that moment.

"DON'T EVER GO THROUGH MY THINGS AGAIN WITHOUT MY PERMISSION, DO YOU HEAR?!"

Unfortunately, nothing good ever lasts, as her mother's voice screamed out from inside.

"I was only looking for some paper to do some drawing!" Lillian's voice cried, sounding very upset. "I had run out!"

"That's no excuse! You are never to go through any of my things without my permission, do you understand?!"

Cornelia made her way over to the living room just in time to see Lillian come running past her, sobbing her eyes out. She watched her sister for a minute, wondering if she should go after her, but at the moment she was more concerned for her mother. While it was true that her mother, Elizabeth Hale, was a strict woman, Cornelia had never seen her so high-strung.

She watched Napoleon as he passed by her, most likely to go after Lillian. He gave her a meaningful stare, and she nodded in understanding. He could offer Lillian a sympathetic cuddle while she dealt with other things.

She entered the living room, and found her parents sitting on the couch, her mother sobbing just as badly as Lillian had been, with her father, Harold Hale, holding her.

"Mom? Dad?" Cornelia asked hesitantly. "Is everything okay?"

Her mother hurriedly wiped her face, sniffing loudly to compose herself. "Everything's fine," she said quickly. "Lillian was just snooping about my things. I've told you both before that neither of you should go around other people's things without their permission…"

"Yes, mom, I know," the Earth Guardian said tiredly. Her mother had always had a funny obsession with people going through her stuff. She knew better than anyone that it was not nice for someone to go through your personal belongings, but even so, her mother seemed to have taken it to the next level today. "What happened?"

"I found her going into my wardrobe. She said she was looking for some paper to do some drawing."

"That's it?" Cornelia said, looking blankly at her parents.

"It's not enough to go through someone's personal belongings?" her mother replied sharply.

"Well, no, but…the way you were going on just now, I thought Lillian had done something like steal your jewellery or something."

"I don't like snoopers, Cornelia," Elizabeth Hale said in a huff. "I never have done and I never will. Just you be sure you don't repeat her mistakes, young lady."

Cornelia stared at her mother for a moment, noticing that her eyes were looking haunted. Her mom had never been good at hiding her feelings from anyone, least of all her children. "Mom, is there anything wrong?"

"Of course not!" she exclaimed, a touch of panic in her voice. "Why, what a stupid thing to say. I told you that I just don't like…!"

"Elizabeth," Cornelia's father then spoke, sounding as though he were tired. "Stop."

He spoke the final word with an air of finality, as though they were coming to the end of a journey, as he looked at his wife with a look of sadness and compassion.

"Harold!" his wife said, almost hysterically.

"Elizabeth, please," her husband told her. "Cornelia's not stupid. She knows something's up, and she's old enough to know the truth, even if Lillian isn't."

"The truth?" Cornelia stared at them. "The truth about what?"

Her mother looked lost, as she stared back at her, eyes full of sorrow, but the look from her husband seemed to give her some small measure of strength, and she sighed seemingly in defeat, nodding in submission.

"Cornelia honey," her father told her. "Sit down. Your mother and I have something to tell you."

Cornelia just did as she was told, sitting on the armchair in front of them, looking at them expectantly.

"Before we say anything else," her father then said firmly. "Let me make one thing perfectly clear, and that is that Lillian is NOT to know anything of what we are about to discuss. Understand?"

She nodded, still confused but patient.

Her father took a deep breath, her mother holding his hand and still looking distressed.

"Cornelia, sweetheart," he began. "You know that we love you and your sister equally, don't you?"

"Err, yeah?"

"And although you and your sister do fight an awful lot, I have always believed that you care a great deal about her, correct?"

Cornelia felt her confusion growing, but she slowly nodded. For as long as she could remember, it had always been expected of her to be her little sister's protector, a typical thing considering that she was the older daughter. That role in her life had become even more important since she found out that her sister was actually the Heart of Earth, and she had devoted herself completely to watching out for her sister, until such time when she was old enough to look after herself.

"I don't want any of that to change after we tell you what we know, okay?" her father continued. "Lillian is and will forever be your sister, no matter what, understand?"

She nodded again.

Her father took another deep breath. "Lillian…" he started. "She… She's not our biological child."

"What?!" she practically shrieked. Her mother seemed to tighten her grip on her husband's hand, looking as though she wanted to be anywhere but there at that moment.

Harold Hale sighed. "Lillian…is not our biological child, Cornelia," he repeated. "We adopted her when she was just one week old."

Cornelia felt like fainting. "Lillian's…adopted?"

Her parents just sat and nodded, seemingly waiting for her to catch her breath. She would need it, for at that moment Cornelia felt her entire world spinning around out of control.

"This…this isn't possible!" she exclaimed. "Lillian can't be adopted! For as long as I can remember, everyone who's ever met us kept on saying how much we looked alike, how we looked like you, mom, and the way we kept fighting like cats and dogs! How can she not be my sister?!"

Her father stared firmly at her. "I told you she is!" he stated. "Maybe not in the biological sense, but you've been around Lillian her whole life. You played with her when she was a baby, looked out for her whenever she needed guidance, protected her from the bullies at school or gave her a shoulder to cry on whenever she needed it. If that's not a sister then I don't know what is."

Despite the serious tone in her father's voice, Cornelia wasn't listening. She was still reeling from his revelation. "How?!" she just asked. "How could Lillian be adopted and I not know it all these years?"

Her parents looked at each other for a moment, and then her mother replied. "You were barely 6 when we got Lillian. You were practically a baby. We just told you that the stork had left us a bundle on our doorstep, and you believed us. After that, we did our best to keep the truth hidden."

"Why?"

Her mother shrugged. "Lillian's just a baby herself. She probably doesn't even know what adoption means."

"She's nearly nine years old, mom," Cornelia said wryly. "Not nine months."

"Well, she's still a baby to me!" her mother snapped, but quietened down after a pat from her husband.

"We didn't want to confuse her, sweetheart," Harold explained. "We wanted her to have as normal a childhood as possible. One with a family that loves her, a secure home and nothing to threaten her."

'Good luck with that,' Cornelia thought sarcastically. Considering who and what her sister was, and after what had nearly happened with Nerissa, keeping anything from threatening her wouldn't be the easiest of jobs.

"But she looks just like me," she then said. It wasn't the smartest thing she had ever thought of, but it was one of the first things that came to mind.

Her father shrugged. "Coincidence," he simply replied. "But it's not really a big surprise, as although she is adopted, Lillian is still family."

"What do you mean?"

"Lillian is the daughter of a distant relative of ours who passed away. She had nowhere else to go, nor anyone to take care of her. We were the closest relatives she had with suitable accommodation for a child. Social Services got in touch with us while we were still living in California, and although we had our hands full with you, your mother and I couldn't turn our backs on an innocent child." He smiled. "And when we saw Lillian for the first time, our hearts just burst open. Her resemblance to you was uncanny. It was like a sign from God that she was meant to be with us."

The Hales had only lived in Heatherfield for the last eight years or so. Before that, they had lived in southern California, until her father had gotten a promotion and they moved to Heatherfield for him to manage his own bank.

Cornelia frowned. "Who were Lillian's parents?"

Her mother gave her a hard look. "We ARE her parents, Cornelia, sweetheart!"

"I know that, mom," Cornelia said hurriedly, not wanting to upset her mother further. "I mean, who were her birth parents? You said that they were distant relatives of ours who passed away. What, were they cousins or something?"

Her father just shrugged again. "I'm afraid I don't know, angel. When the Social Services contacted us, they said they weren't allowed to disclose that kind of information to us."

"But if they were family already, then didn't that give us the right to know?" the Earth Guardian said in confusion.

"Afraid it doesn't always work out that way, sweetheart. And don't bother asking me, because there's a lot of the law that I will never understand. All they told us was that it was a distant relative on your mother's side…some 6th or 8th cousin of her mothers that she didn't know about…and that they had died suddenly, with no direct relatives of their own. And when we asked about them, the Social worker in charge of Lillian's adoption, a Mrs Jenkins, said that they couldn't disclose any information to us, only to Lillian, and not until she was at least 18."

Cornelia sighed. In a way, this explained a lot because she had always been curious about how Lillian could be the Heart of Earth.

Elyon was the Heart of Meridian because her birth mother, Queen Weira, had been the Heart before her, as her mother had been before her and so forth. It was the same with most mystic Hearts that were born in living vessels, across numerous worlds. So it had always been a mystery to Cornelia how her little sister could be a Heart when their mother wasn't.

She knew that her mother was definitely no Heart, nor had any kind of magic in her, as she would have found out long before now if she were, especially since becoming a Guardian, or Napoleon would have told her and the other Guardians. She had just never considered the possibility that maybe her baby sister was not her sister at all.

"But they did give us something along with Lillian," her father then added.

"Hmm?" she said, looking up in interest.

Her father looked over to the side, most likely checking to see if Lillian was there, but after seeing no one he looked to his wife who brought out a large envelope.

"This is what got your mother so upset, Cornelia," he told her. "When Lillian was going through your mother's things, she found this old envelope, and when your mother came in, Lillian looked as if she were about to open it. It contains all of her adoption papers."

Cornelia's eyes widened a little in understanding. That would certainly explain why her mother had gotten so upset at Lillian for just looking for some paper.

Her father reached into the envelope and pulled out a gold locket.

"What is that?" she asked.

"This came with Lillian when the lady from the Adoption Agency brought her to us," he explained. "Apparently, it belonged to her birth mother. It was an old family heirloom or something, given to the first daughter."

Cornelia held out her hand so that she could get a better look at it. Her father handed it to her.

The locket was large and looked very old, probably close to a century. It had classic old style carvings around it, and there were some words engrained on the back, but she couldn't understand them.

"What do these words mean?"

"They're Spanish, sweetheart," her mother replied. "They mean To All My Daughters, May This Bring You Luck On Your Happiest Of Days."

"And what does THAT mean?"

Her mother shrugged. "Happiest of days usually means your wedding day, so I guess this locket was given to their daughters when they were about to marry, but obviously we can't be sure of that since we never met them."

Cornelia turned the locket over in her hand, snapping it open. There was a small photograph inside, faded with no colour, of an old woman. She looked Mexican, somewhere around her mid 60s and dressed in heavy jewellery, including the locket that Cornelia could see clearly hanging around her neck.

"We don't know who that is." Her father answered what would have been her next question. "I can only assume that it must be an old relative of her birth parents."

"One of her parents was Mexican?" Cornelia asked in doubt. Lillian was pale-skinned, sunny-blonde and blue-eyed. She didn't look like she had any Mexican blood in her.

"Maybe, or at least one of her ancestors was, I don't know," her father shrugged. "Like I said, we never met them and were never told much, so there's no way to be sure."

"Sweetheart," her mother then added. "Please, under no circumstances are you to tell Lillian about any of this! We will tell her the truth someday, but not until she's old enough. Until then, I just want you to pretend like this day never happened, okay?"

Cornelia chewed her lower lip. "But, mom, I…"

"Cornelia, she's only a little girl!" her mother almost wailed. Her husband laid his hand on hers again, attempting to calm her.

"Cornelia, we have always trusted you to do the right thing," he said assuredly. "Now, I want you to do the right thing by not only us, but by your sister as well. Like your mother just said, she's still only a child. She's far too young to understand any of this or why we kept the truth from her. When the time comes, I promise you, we will tell her the truth, but NOT before. Understand?"

Their eldest daughter looked lost for a moment, but finally Cornelia just relented and sighed, nodding at them. "I won't tell Lillian anything," she promised.

Her mother gave a sigh of relief, while her father just smiled gratefully at her. The two of them looked as if they had just had a heavy burden taken off them, or at the very least, one they could now share with another.

"Thank goodness that's all settled then," Elizabeth Hale replied. "Now, I had better go in and make up with Lillian before she never speaks with me again." With that, she hurried over to Lillian's bedroom.

Harold Hale smiled again at his first daughter, feeling proud of her maturity, while Cornelia herself just felt lost in thought.

'I promised I would never tell Lillian,' she thought, 'but I never said about anyone else.' She knew it was not right to speak about such a private family matter with outsiders, but she also knew that because of who her sister really was, that such a thing could not be kept from her friends.

Tomorrow, she would tell all that she had found out to the other Guardians.

0000000000

Sheffield Institute; Next Day:

"Lillian's adopted?!" Hay Lin almost shouted in surprise.

"Shhh!" Cornelia hissed furiously, glaring at her. "I doubt my parents would approve of me telling the family secret to anyone, you know. If it weren't for Lillian's special circumstances, we wouldn't even be having this conversation."

"Well, it certainly explains a lot of things," Taranee added. Like Cornelia, she had wondered how Lillian could have been born the Heart of Earth, when the rest of her family (minus her sister) were all powerless.

"Maybe," Will frowned. "But it makes you wonder though who her real folks were then."

"My parents are her real folks!" Cornelia insisted, eyeing her dangerously.

"Yeah, I know, Cornelia," Will replied, holding up her hands in peace. "I didn't mean anything by that. I just meant her birth parents, that's all. I mean, you'd think we would have noticed someone with the embodiment of all Earth's magic flying somewhere around the world sometime, wouldn't you?"

"How could someone who was a mystic Heart die anyway?" Irma asked. "With all that power, I wouldn't think it was possible."

"They may have all the combined powers of a world's mysticism," Taranee explained. "But that doesn't make them indestructible. Take Elyon's birth mother for example. She was the Heart of Meridian, but Phobos was able to drain her of her magic, making her powerless."

"And besides," Hay Lin added. "None of the Hearts we've heard of have ever been immortal before. They all lived and died just like the next person. Guess that means they're open to things like disease, old age, murder and stuff, too."

Cornelia shrugged. "I guess."

"We could go to the Oracle for more info?" Will suggested. "Just to know a little more about Lillian's birth parents."

Cornelia squirmed a little, unsure. "I don't know about that," she admitted. She had just found out that her sister was adopted, her birth parents were dead and gone and whom no one apparently even knew existed. She was still reeling from the shock, and was in no mood to start finding out things about her sister's natural parents.

"Oh, come on," Irma teased a little. "Aren't you even a little bit curious?"

"No," Cornelia replied, but she had to admit that her curiosity was tickling. "Well, okay, maybe a little."

"It might also help us out in the future when Lillian gets her powers back and starts asking about her magical heritage?" Hay Lin chipped in eagerly.

"Yeah, and there's no sense going in blind," Irma said wisely. "When Lily starts asking, it'll be best to have all the answers ready."

The Earth Guardian had to admit that she saw the logic in that. With a little resignation, she sighed and nodded. "Okay, let's go speak to the Oracle."

"What, now?!" Taranee said, startled.

"It's lunchtime!" Irma said exasperated.

"Yeah, but we don't know how long we're gonna be gone!"

"It's only to get a little info. We'll be back before you know it."

"Knickerbocker already gave us the look for being late yesterday, and you wanna tempt fate again?" Taranee said, staring almost incredulously at her friend.

That was enough to make Irma pause. "Umm, okay then, maybe after school would be better."

To Be Continued…