Gifts Part 10-Fight

By Geraldle

Copyright © 2008

Part 7-FIGHT


I use the symbol * for Mind-Speech, for Mind-Speech between those who are part of the Link, I will start it and end it with **.

CHAPTER ONE-643 AF-7th of Verin-Evening

They were back in the garden under the canopy, and a table had been set up for the humans. Tess had her head stuck inside after she had eaten her fill of hay from the stables and a flowerbed, which had upset the gardener but hadn't bothered Rendar. They were discussing what they should do. Connected continuously to each other they had a constant buzz in their minds. It was an entirely pleasant sensation, and if they concentrated on the buzz, it separated into individual minds.

Symin said with a frown on his small face, "We know of two worlds on which Varagon has minions, our own and Tess's world. First, we're going to have to start with our world. Pictou, I killed the leader of one of the teams that have on our world. Do you know how many teams there are all told?"

**Three, two full teams and as you said part of a team.** said Pictou, with assurance that he would come to regret.

"Tess, tell us a little about your people?" Symin asked.

She nodded, **Well our social structure is very simple despite what many dragons like to think. We're a might makes right society. The most powerful being becomes the ruler, and all dragons are supposed to obey the leader, whether they are right or wrong. In point of fact about forty percent of dragons will do so haphazardly; the other sixty percent will ignore the ruler entirely.** Tess said with humor in her Mind-Voice.

She was more serious at she said, **The usual sixty percent are ignoring him, not because they object to what he's doing, but just because they are dragons, and we are a contrary race. As a race, we are the most powerful Magic Users, in any of the universes we have been in. Since we generally live between four and five thousand years we have a long time to develop our power. We do most of our growing in the first few hundred years of our life. I am thirty feet long, a fully adult dragon would be about double my length and not much more.**

Tess began thinking seriously, the others did not interrupt him her. Then she said, **Perhaps it is a good thing that our social structure is not more advanced, and that dragons are so individualistic. That means that the only code of ethics, that we develop are individual ones. We would find it impossible to gather an army together to conquer any of the other intelligent races.**

There was humor again in her mind, **Even Varagon hasn't been able to change that. He has become ruler of some of most powerful Magic Users in the universes and he can't use them as an army.**

**That is the basic structure of our society.** Tess said, dryly, **and you don't have to know any more to understand it. Now for something very different, the Ancients.**, and they could feel the awe in her mind, as she said, **Every once in a while a dragon will live far beyond the norm. They grow far larger, two and three times as large as an adult dragon. At that size they can no longer fly, but simply walk though even walking is an effort. They have very little to do with the rest of our world, they simply watch. The Most Ancient One is more than fifteen thousand years old. How powerful they are we do not know, none has ever used their full magic power. Even Varagon has not dared make any move against them.**

Symin turned to Pictou and asked, "The leader that I killed, indicated that you were being held captive, and had been warned not to escape. Do you know of any reason they would want you?"

Pictou looked thoughtful; on his very large dog face, it appeared somewhat odd. He shook his head, telling them, **At the beginning, they wanted me to Transport them between worlds, but when they realized my limitations in that regard, I really assumed that they would kill me, since I was of no use to them. For some reason they did not, but as you know held me captive instead. I think at that point I was simply a possession to them. They had caught me, though I proved to be of no use to them, I was unusual on this world, so I was a prize who they could show off to others, as a sign of their power. Their most powerful Great Mage produced the Artefact of Power, the band that was on my horn. It was one of Compulsion, preventing me from either Transforming or Transporting into the Void to go to another world.**

Pictou said, and his Mind-Voice was matter of fact, **The one you killed mentioned threats. Well they did threaten to kill me if I tried to escape, but in point of fact, I was sure that once they become bored with me they would kill me anyway that was the type of people they were. I always intended to try to escape whatever their threats, but it took two years before the opportunity presented itself. If I had not found Symin I would have died." he told them emphatically, "That was what I expected and in fact what I wanted. I did not want to live as either a captive or slave.**

Symin said solemnly, "I've read all of your minds, and none of you would be willing to accept slavery. Terrion was apparently a slave for almost a year, but he knew it wasn't real and he was living with someone he loved. He would not have accepted real slavery, and I know that I would rather die than be a slave. That seems to be one of the common threads that we share. Obviously, our first task is to remove Varagon's representatives on our world. We simply don't know how great a threat that they symbolize. Any ideas?"

Terrion said thoughtfully, "You killed the leader of one group when he was after Pictou. Obviously, we use Pictou as bait. Our Astral forms are more solid than any others we know about. If he suddenly appears at the pool where you killed one, it's likely that if he lets some mind-thought escape to indicate that he had just Transported from another world they will attack. They probably will bring all the people they have so we can get all of them at once."

Their agreement was total, that it was also flawed would be revealed but they would not even regret that, for it taught them a much-needed lesson.


Pictou, in Astral form but visible, apparently actually there. The three boys were there in Astral form and invisible, and Tess was there only in the others' minds. Pictou let a trickle of his mental thoughts escape, as if by accident, and it only took minutes before the enemy also appeared in Astral form and attacked. The shields which the Link knew how to use but should have taken time to learn how to use properly, jolted with the Mind-Blasts of their adversaries.

Symin realized they had assumed too much. Tess was too far away to help them. Not having learned how to integrate their shields they were completely on the defensive. Symin was about to call for them to return to their physical bodies, when he felt something behind them. Whirling around he realized that there were three teams left, not two. He began to shift part of the shield so it would protect them from that direction. He knew he couldn't do it too fast or that would leave them with inadequate defenses in the front. He didn't panic but he felt somewhat frantic.

Then Symin knew he wouldn't have time to cover all of them, his mind becoming completely calm. He blocked the Link. He could still link to them so they didn't lose his power, but they could no longer link to him, his death could no longer harm them. He blocked all access of a Healer to his body, now none of the Link would be able to enter it, it would take either Dearna or Seldon to do so. Symin kept moving the barrier, and he was able to cover the other three, but as he was bringing the shield up to cover himself, he let loose a Mind-Blast at the third team. Their blasts crossed each other, and the full shield was only covering part of him.

It struck him in the chest and affected his physical body back in Madron, crushing several ribs, driving them into his lung, collapsing it. As he began to lose consciousness, Symin was aware that the third team had disappeared. He signaled to the other members of the Link to let go of their Astral forms and return home. He let go of consciousness and he too flashed back into his body.

Back in their physical bodies the other members of the Link, jumped to their feet frantically, the Healer that Rendar had waiting, just in case of trouble, looking at Symin. Blood was bubbling from his mouth as he breathed, and he was deeply unconscious. The Healer looked at the boy helplessly. He had never seen anything like it the boy was blocked completely. The man was unable to touch the little boy with his magic.

The other four members of the Link knew what had happened. Terrion looked at Maxim, asking frantically, "Which, Maxim, Dearna or Seldon?"

Without hesitation, Maxim an expression of worry on his face, "Dearna!!!" he said positively. "Symin trusts her more than Seldon because he's known her all his life!! While his injuries are going to take an enormous amount of power, we can provide that! He blocked me out because I don't have the knowledge that a Healer needs to Heal a human. It's not like Tess, just throwing magic at it won't do any good, it has to be placed precisely. He had to make a choice and do it in a hurry!"

Maxim thought carefully but quickly, "Dearna is too important to Bremen and the surrounding area, to just bring her here; we're going to have to do a double switch. Move Seldon to Bremen, and move Dearna here, and we'll have to put in Seldon's mind exactly why we moved him."

Terrion said, seriously, "I've been to Camara, but to find Seldon. Only Symin knows his mind well enough to locate him that way." He thought for a moment, then turned to Karliv, "Sir, can you connect to Sinya. She can get Seldon outside of the Palace Ward." Karliv nodded as Terrion continued, "Once there I'll go in Astral form and get Seldon and Transport him to Dearna's. Maxim you and Pictou go get Dearna."


*Sinya!!!* she heard Karliv say more urgently than he had ever done before. *Symin is badly hurt. Go to Seldon at once, and get him outside of the Palace Ward at the front gate. Terrion will be there to take him to Dearna's in Bremen.*

Sinya jerked open the door and began to run the two hundred yards to Seldon's quarters. Karliv continued a little bit less urgently, *This isn't as urgent as the mission the others are performing. They went to get Dearna. Symin's known her much longer, he will trust her more, but they can't just take Dearna away from Bremen without replacing her, she's too important. So, Terry has to get Seldon to Bremen and return to Divandia, to add his power to the others as they help Dearna.*


Dearna was walking across the room when suddenly Maxim and Pictou were in front of her. She was unable to stop before she walked right into them. Maxim said quickly, "We need your help right now!! Symin's badly hurt; he took a Mind-Blast to the chest! It crushed several ribs and damaged his lungs! Terrion has gone to Camara to get Seldon! He'll Transport him here, so he can take over for you for the time being! When we were in Camara, he was complaining that since he became Royal Physician he doesn't have enough to do! We'll see if he enjoys a full practice again!"

Dearna protested, almost convinced "If you were going to take someone, why me, and not my father, he has much more power than I do?"

Maxim said matter-of-factly, "Raw power isn't our problem we've got that and to spare, what we need is the expertise to guide us! Symin blocked us out because we don't have the needed experience! There is a Healer there, but Symin has blocked out everyone but you and Seldon, and he can't help him! Only you or Seldon can reach him, and he's known you all of his life, and trusts you more!"

Dearna nodded in understanding, "Very well. Let's go." Maxim took her arm, while Pictou touched her on the knee and they disappeared; only a couple of moments before Terrion appeared with Seldon then disappeared again.


When Terrion jumped off the sleeping pad he was lying on, as his Astral form reentered his body, Dearna was already making a careful examination of Symin. She asked generally so she would know what she was dealing with. "What happened?"

Maxim explained a serious look on his face, "Five of us are now Linked. To compare it to something you're familiar with, like the God-blade is linked to Symin, we are Linked to him, and he is Linked to us. That has given us tremendous power, but we got careless and underestimated our first opponents."

Maxim said with his deep sorrow evident in his voice, "They caught us from behind while most of our shield was at the front. Symin felt them and began to move some of the shield to cover our backs, but he realized that he wasn't going to make it in time. Of course, Symin being Symin, he made sure to cover us before covering himself. He was able to cover some of his body, that's why though the damage as bad as it is isn't as bad as it could have been. Still the right side of his body was almost unprotected. It hit him in the chest, crushing ribs, and damaging his lungs."

Terrion, took up the story at that point, "He blocked us out for two reasons. With a Link such as ours, the violent death of one threatens the others, so he made sure we couldn't be hurt. The second reason is that though Maxim has developed Healing ability and through the Link, we can give him tremendous power, he isn't a trained Healer. He could have killed Symin in trying to help him. Symin knew how that would have affected Maxim, so he blocked any access to his body to any Healer except you and Seldon. If he'd had more time he would have allowed access to any Healer of sufficient power, but he simply didn't have the time."

Dearna said in amazement, "How do you know so much of what he was thinking? "

Pictou told her matter-of-factly, *He was able to block most of the Link, but we were still in his mind. It seems that we can't block that part of the Link. Even though the thought only took a fraction of a second, we felt him thinking about what to do and felt him do it.*

Dearna accepted that, right now she had a more important task. She told them, "You're right; though he is badly injured it could have been much worse. If he hadn't had, part of his shield up both lungs would have collapsed and he would have died. No matter how much power we have we seem to have a limit, when it comes to injuries this serious. I can heal him to that point and then I'll have to let time do the rest of the Healing. I can provide a little every day. His Self-Healing ability will join in automatically, but it will probably take him two or three weeks to recover completely."

Maxim turned to Karliv, Kraftin and Rendar who were standing around looking anxious. He told them, solemnly, "We were dumb, we should have asked for advice. We are certainly should have learned what we could do and how to do it properly. Symin certainly won't make the same mistake again, but he's more mature than the rest of us, except for Pictou who simply doesn't have the type of imagination to question what we were doing. We ask for your advice, while we're getting Symin to the point that Dearna is talking about could you think about what we should do until he's recovered fully?"

The three adults while still showing anxiety smiled. Karliv spoke for all of them, "If this incident ends up with all of you surviving in good shape, it could be a lesson well learned. Symin is more levelheaded than he acted today, I think the Link affected him and with all of you in his mind you influenced, him much more than you should have. As you say now that Symin's aware of what the Link can do to him, nobody will catch him that way a second time. However, you still can use advice, between us we have over two hundred years of experience."

Tess stuck her head under the canopy to see what was going on. Dearna looked at her calmly, saying, "I assume you're the last member of the Link?" and Tess nodded her head.

Dearna shook her head, though she was smiling as she said, "What Symin can get involved in. Well we should do something about Healing him. I am not Seldon; I'm only a Lesser Mage and need physical contact to borrow your power."

They were now in the category of Great Mages, at least in the Link and they didn't need physical contact between each other to share power. Terrion and Maxim knelt down beside her their hands on top of hers. While they didn't try to send any power into her, she could feel the tremendous well of energy that they had available, and knew she could call on it at any time.

Dearna put her hand on Symin's chest, and began the process of Healing him, after borrowing a little of that raw power. First, the ribs, as she pulled them back into their normal position fused and knitting together the broken and splintered portions. That she did on her own only taking a little energy from the Link, but she freely drew on their energy as she continued on with the more delicate task, of repairing Symin's lung. Her Healing energy supplemented Dearna repaired the punctures that the splintered ribs had made, and then the less visible damage that was at the cellular level. Then she reinflated his lung.

When Dearna was finished, she pushed Healing energy into Symin's body, to flush out any harmful chemicals that such damage could sometimes cause. They would end up in the bladder and excreted when Symin urinated. Finally, she put Symin into a Healing Trance before he could begin to wake. Dearna would need to bring him to consciousness periodically, so that she could feed him and give him liquids. Finally, she wiped the blood that had bubbled out of Symin's mouth off of his face.

Without the members of the Link, she would have been exhausted after repairing Symin's ribs and there would have been no way of repairing the rest of the damage. With the Link she was tired but even the exhaustion that she expected from the first part of the Healing wasn't there.

The two boys jumped to their feet, and with the natural nobility, that was part of their personality, they helped her to her feet. They looked at the three men who had been conferring while the Healing had taken place.

With a serious expression on his face, Karliv told them, "The three of us think you need to find a place where Symin can heal, and where you can learn a little more about the Link's abilities. The place that Pictou and Symin visited, Earth would make an ideal spot if you can get there."

Pictou said to them, *Earth is still very close, but it wouldn't matter if it wasn't, distance or weight limits, within reason no longer apply to us.*

They looked at Dearna, "Will you come with us to supervise the remainder of his Healing?" Maxim asked anxiously.

Dearna hesitated for a moment, giving a thought to her patients. Terrion grinned, "Don't worry, Seldon has already had his first patient and he's busy going though your books to refresh his memory on the more basic medical problems. He's enjoying himself immensely."

Dearna grinned back at him. Now that she knew her patients were in good hands, there was no way she was going to miss out on this adventure. "Yes, I'll go!! It should be fun!!" she said with excitement in her voice. "How do we get there?" she asked.

Pictou told her, *We Transport into the Void and then move to Earth's location and Transport to Earth. It's not the same type of Transporting as a Magic User on your world does, which is to move things from place to place and it makes it confusing. But that's the term I learned for it long before I even knew the other type of Transporting existed.* There was a bit of humor in his Mind-Voice, *Though in fact we'll be doing the other type of Transporting as well, to move the members of the Link and you to the pool where we fought our first opponents. Symin hit them hard with a Mind-Blast just as they hit him, so I imagine they'll need time to Heal as well.*

CHAPTER FOUR-643 AF-7th of Verin, Lythea-August 11th Earth

Maxim said, "Symin told me that you taught him a way to add cooling layers to Travis's body when he was here, and also heating layers. The four of us will need that type of layer, because the world we're going to is much cooler than ours. Both Pictou or Tess can live in a much greater temperature range than we can. Once we get to the Vincentís, we will no longer need them; we can put on clothing, which will be simpler. As far as we know there are no Magic Users on Earth, though most of them have the type of mind which can easily be accessed by those with Mind-Speech, though they can't project to each other."

Pictou said cautiously, **That's not quite true about there being no Magic Users, Symin and I encountered one during our first visit there before we brought Travis back. Symin killed him, since he was malevolent and he didn't think Earth needed a Magic User of that type. We want to limit our magic use until Symin is fully Healed and we can do a more thorough check.**

Dearna nodded at Karliv, saying, "As a Great Mage he can probably teach you much faster than I can."

Karliv gave a nod but told them, "In fact I shouldn't even have to teach you. With the Link, all you need is the knowledge and you can easily take that from my mind. With a little practice, it should be easy. I would suggest that even though Pictou and Tess don't need the knowledge at this time that they learn how to do it anyway, because it might be valuable to them in the future."

Karliv opened his mind and the four gathered the knowledge that he pushed to the forefront of his mind, and they began to practice. As had been said, Symin was much more level headed than the rest of them, and Karliv wasn't surprised, when Terrion gave a sudden yelp, beginning to rub his bottom and glaring at Maxim, who had just given him a hot seat, literally. He grinned as he retaliated, and while Maxim didn't yelp, he did rub his bottom, and then both of them were yelping as Rendar took hold of Terrion's neck and Karliv Maxim's. They bent the two boy's over and gave them each a dozen hard swats on their small bottoms.

Karliv as he let go of Maxim said, "It's nice to know that you're still children, but you're powerful children. You don't know enough about your powers yet to play practical jokes using magic, it could be dangerous, next time it'll be a dozen with belts on bare bottoms."

The two boys were rubbing their sore backsides and they nodded ruefully, realizing that they had been irresponsible. Terrion spoke for both of them, "You're right, but that's why we need Symin, he could have ended it with a word, and that word would have hurt more than the spankings did."

A few more minutes of practice, and they said goodbye to the adults. Rendar of course was linked to them so would be able to follow their progress and tell the others. They put Symin on Pictou and Maxim held him there while Terrion took Dearna's hand and they Transported to the little pool at the base of The Plateau.

They didn't spend much time there, while they were confident that their opponents had been injured they didn't know how badly and no longer overconfident, they didn't intend to take any chances. They put three layers of heat around themselves; Maxim providing Symin's and he also provided a bubble of air so that the unconscious boy could breath. Then they Transported into the Void, the humans and Tess holding their breaths. It only took about ten seconds before they reached their destination and were able to Transport to Earth.

They stood on the outskirts of the apple orchard, where Pictou and Symin had last appeared, only this time it was dark. It was much warmer as well even at this time of night, being in the high eighties and they all dropped the heat layers they had invoked.

Terrion asked, "Who do we contact?"

Dearna said decisively, "Travis, he knows four of us and will be the most exited to see us, even though it hasn't been that long."


Maxim gently prodded the young boy's mind, telling him, *Travis, wake up! Wake up Travis!* Unlike Jason who was a sound sleeper and didn't wake up cheerfully, Travis slept more lightly and almost always woke up happy, and the gentle nudge at his mind woke him up. *Good. Hello Travis.*

Travis's eyes opened wide as he recognized that mind voice. "Maxim?" he squealed. "Where are you?"

Maxim told him that, *We're here on your world. Pictou says we're at the same place where you arrived last time. Symin was seriously injured, Dearna Healed him, but he needs two or three weeks to recuperate. Would you tell your parents? We need transportation, since we don't want to use a lot of magic. There are six of us, and four of us you already know. Myself, Pictou, Symin and Dearna. There are two others, Terrion who's a bit older than your brother and Tess. Tess is a dragon, but she's a vegetarian, and she gets along with horses very well.*

Travis, except excitedly, "Sure!! But they say I have a very active imagination, and despite what happened for real, they may just think I was dreaming!!"

Maxim reassured him, *Tell them and then when you figure you need somebody to back up your story, ask me to come and I'll be there, to prove it wasn't a dream.*

Travis looked at his digital clock and saw that it was only nine-thirty. He had played a lot with other children on Lythea. Since they were all naked, considered too young to wear clothing in their social class, he had decided to discard his and he had spent the rest of the time naked. Since he had liked how it felt while he had been on Lythea, Travis had spent a lot of the time naked, since he had come back to Earth and he didn't even think about putting on a robe. He decided that Jason would want to be in on this, and Danni would already be downstairs with his parents. Travis grabbed Jason pulling him off of the bed, covers and all, knowing that was about the only way he would wake Jason before morning.

It was an effective if somewhat violent wake up treatment and Jason was suddenly wide-awake and vowing to kill his younger brother. He popped to his feet and saw the door was wide open, and he could hear Travis's bare feet thumping down the stairs. While Travis was a year younger, they were close enough in size that a wrestling match between them was fairly even. He realized that this was something more than a practical joke. If it had been, Travis would have stayed for the aftermath since he loved wrestling.

A little concerned Jason headed after his little brother and thumped down the stairs after him. Downstairs the sudden appearance of a naked Travis had embarrassed Danni as usual and she was blushing. Travis was tremendously excited and incoherent, and though they could tell he was talking about Lythea, they couldn't tell what he was saying. Maxim realized that he would have to intervene, and just as Jason was coming into the living room, he appeared to support Travis. Travis felt Maxim appear behind him. Turning around he threw himself into Maxim's arms, crying and saying, "I'm sorry!! I'm sorry!!"

Maxim lifted the little boy in his arms and rested his head on his shoulder and began stroking his bare back gently, saying in Mind-Speech which he let them all hear, *Don't worry Travis, all you had to do was tell your family that we're here. They know you're talking about Lythea, so that's all we need. You'll just have to learn how to be calmer and that comes with age.*

Jenny and Dan were calm. Danni and Jason on the other hand, were almost as excited as Travis quivering with exhilaration. Jenny asked him calmly, "Obviously you're Maxim? Are you really here?"

*I'm on your world, but I'm not really in your house.* Maxim said, still holding a naked Travis in his arms he gave the half bow of courtesy that would be given to his superiors, whether in rank or in age. He told, *There are six of us here, and this is my Astral form.* seeing the looks the adults gave each other.

He had a grin on his face as he said, *Yes, this is much different from what Symin would have described to you. Five us are now Linked, if you include Rendar there are six, but he stayed back on Lythea. We have far more power than our world has ever seen before, and our Astral forms are actually solid, and as you see, I can hold Travis quite easily.*

Maxim's small face became serious, as he told them, *But just because we have more power, doesn't mean we can't get careless and overconfident. Unfortunately, that's what we did, and Symin was hurt very badly. Dearna Healed him, but with injuries as bad as he suffered, they can be Healed to a certain point and then it takes time to complete the Healing process. We thought it best to get away from our world for a while to a place where Symin can complete his Healing and then we can learn more thoroughly about our new abilities. We could actually Transport ourselves physically but that is a major use of magic and we don't wish to use a great deal of magic until we've checked your world for Magic Users. We know you had one, and we are no longer overconfident. Our Astral form takes very little magic, especially since we are only a few miles away. Pictou said to tell you that we are near the orchard.*

Maxim paused for a moment, "You want us to come and get you?" asked Daniel. The boy nodded, and explained, *Yes, as I said our overconfidence was knocked out of us. Until we know more about any possible Magic Users, we intend to be cautious. As I said there are six of us here, four humans, Symin, myself, Terrion and Dearna, plus Pictou and Tess.*

Travis had regained his composure now, and was no longer crying. He twisted around in Maxim's arms. "Dearna's the Healer that Maxim and Symin brought me to."

*Symin said you had a nudity taboo. He wasn't really sure what that was, but obviously Travis no longer has one, if he ever did.* said Maxim grinning with amusement.

Jenny grinned back with equal amusement, telling him, "Not all of us do, and not all countries do. Our country does, and it's something that is engrained in us, as we get older. Travis is young enough that it hasn't affected him yet, though Jason, even though he's only a year older," and she nodded at her older son, "is blushing just from our talking about it, as is Danni."

Maxim twitted the girl, *Really, I thought that bright red was her natural coloring.* and Danni went even redder.

"Since we're somewhat isolated here and it's a warm time of year, we've let him spend most of the time naked. Travis also likes making Danni go red, and she's been an easy target since he got back from your world." Jenny said, smothering a laugh, "But should we go and get the others?"

Maxim made a quick inquiry and then said, *Dearna says there's no hurry, Symin's in a Healing Trance, and he'll stay there for the next two or three weeks, only waking to eat and drink and,* he took the words he needed from Travis's mind *and go to the bathroom. It's just as well, you understand a little about our world. Symin has an enormous amount of knowledge for someone so young, but he sometimes forgets that things like this while not of great importance help give you a grasp of our world that you wouldn't get in any other way.*

As Jenny and Daniel nodded Maxim continued, *As you know, we have no nudity taboo, probably because our world is so much hotter than most of your world. Babies of course wear diapers, but older children up to a certain age go naked. For a noble like Symin the age when they start wearing clothing is generally around seven, though eight or even older is not unusual for families that are more isolated. For other classes it's usually much older. I didn't get my first pair of short trousers until I was ten, and didn't wear them for anything but formal occasions until I was about eleven and a half. Nine is usually about the age children start wearing clothing in cities or towns, however with poorer children or children in more isolated regions, nudity up to age twelve or thirteen is not unusual.*

*Children and adolescents playing games even if they do wear clothing may discard them during the games, and that might be anywhere up to about sixteen or seventeen. That's the time when we become adults. Then we will wear them all the time, not because we're ashamed but because it's considered undignified.* Maxim grinned at the idea.

Maxim paused for a second before continuing, *We all have Mind-Speech, so we'll all be able to talk to you, including Pictou, who you know, and Tess who you don't know. Tess is a dragon, but unlike our vision of dragons, Tess is a vegetarian. She eats hay, and if you have any flowers, you might want to keep her away from them. She annoyed Rendar's gardener by eating a whole bed. Ren just shrugged. She also eats trees, either whole, which she tears apart or pieces cut up for cooking fires, and she gets along with horses very well. She doesn't have the smell of a predator and she can use her mind to sooth any residual fear they might have.*

Jenny giggled, then said, "I have an idea that our visions of dragons are closer to yours. The idea of a dragon who likes to eat flowers sounds funny. Reassuring but funny." and Maxim had to nod in agreement. Jenny continued, "How big is she?"

Maxim told them, *Thirty feet from nose to the end of her tail, though about ten feet of her is tail and it's very flexible, like a cat she can curl it around her feet. You don't need transport for her. She can fly here.*

Maxim set Travis on his feet, *I will say my good-byes for a little while then.* He gave a little bow and disappeared.

CHAPTER FIVE-643 AF-7th of Verin, Lythea-August 11th Earth

Jenny said to Daniel as she shooed Travis and Jason upstairs to put on shorts, it still being too hot to put anything else on aside from sandals, "Dad's coming out to leave his motor home in the morning. You'll have to be up to warn him."

"Why there are just three boys and a woman and Pictou, and..." Daniel started to say and then looked sheepish, finishing with, "and a dragon. We donít know what time heís going to get home and we donít want to leave a message on his answering machine in case his housekeeper finds it first. Itís fine that your dadís a believer but of course, thereís a problem because Louisa is as well. If we even mentioned a dragon, we couldn't keep Louisa and her family away with machine guns."

Jenny giggled, as he kissed her on the forehead, and the boys came slapping down the stairs in their sandals. Travis had slipped into a pair of shorts, and Jason had switched his pajama bottoms for shorts, neither boy bothering with underpants. Jason was modest, but as long as he was covered, he didn't care what was underneath.


As the mini-van came to a halt, they could see those waiting by the headlights. They could see two of the boys standing, and Symin lying down, and Pictou and the woman mentioned, but no dragon. While the children were disappointed, their parents were not. They preferred to meet her where there was more light.

They got out of the mini-van and went over to where they were. The whole family had come to like Symin a great deal, and Jenny asked for all of them, "How is he?" her voice, showing her concern.

Dearna answered reassuringly, * Symin's fine now. He just needs time to recover fully, which will take about two or three weeks. Then they intend to spend some time learning how to use their abilities somewhat better than they did the last time they invited an attack. Symin's a little scamp, but he's usually more prudent then he was this time. Five of them have Linked, and aside from Pictou, they are all less mature mentally than Symin. They think he allowed it to cloud his judgment this time. It's not something that will happen again.* Her Mind-Voice seemed matter of fact, but they could feel the real love behind her words.

CHAPTER SIX-643 AF-7th of Verin, Lythea-August 11th Earth

Tess was watching from above as they put Symin into the mini-van and the others got in and the van backed up and turned around. Her night vision was very good and she had no trouble following the van to its destination. She let everyone go inside before she began gliding down to a landing, soothing the horses' minds as she did so.

Inside Jenny led Dearna who was carrying Symin up to one of the spare bedrooms that he would be sharing with Maxim and Terrion. This one had bunk beds and a twin bed in it, which Jason and Travis or Danni used when they had sleepover guests. It was the room Symin had stayed in on his first visit. She undressed Symin and put him into the twin bed, pulling the covers up to his chin. If the temperature even dipped by ten degrees, he would need them.

Dearna wasn't trying to be quiet, in the Sleeping Trance, Symin normally wouldnít wake up until she woke him. While a loud, sudden noise might do so, almost nothing else would. She said to Jenny, *Your family is being introduced to Tess, right now. We can join them. Until he has completely recovered, part of my awareness will always be with Symin.*

Jenny felt timid as she followed the self-confident Dearna downstairs, through the kitchen door onto the porch. Once there she almost laughed out loud at her fears. Tess was the exact image of a dragon as she had imagined her, but at the same time, you couldn't fear her. Not after seeing the way she was so ecstatic at being the center of attention, and the way she seemed to love the kids. Jenny could see her in the role of a fierce protector of those she cared for.

Tess could feel her thoughts and she gently inserted a thought into Jenny's mind, *Don't let my personality fool you. I am a great deal different from the majority of my people. The fierce reputation we have on many worlds is well deserved.*

Jenny looked at her calmly now, telling her, "I don't doubt it Tess, but I always try to see people or animals as individuals. That's something my father taught me. It seems to be a good way to live life. It's also the way my husband lives it, and the way we've tried to teach our children to live it."

*Yes, it seems to be a good way to live.* Tess agreed.


Daniel and Jenny were sitting at the kitchen table when Maxim came into the room. He told them, *Dearna, is making a last check on Symin and then she's going to bed.* Pulling a chair away from the table and Maxim sat down, a thoughtful look on his small face. *I've told Terrion not to talk about the life he has lived, and does live. You should tell your children not to ask. I learned much from Travis when he was on Lythea, his mind is wide open, while I didn't try to look at private things, I found general things about your world fascinating.*

Jenny and Daniel nodded to keep him going and Maxim continued with the story. *Terry went through a terrible time when he was younger, from the time he was six until he was kidnapped when he was eight and a half, he was beaten unconscious two or three times a month by his father. I imagine he came very close to death many times. His father, the Count of Wymark, had a pet Healer, who would Heal Terrion. The marks of a whip or even broken bones are nowhere near as hard to Heal as Symin's present injuries. Within two or three days, the Healer could remove all the marks from Terrion's body but not from his mind. During that time, he lived in constant terror, twenty-four hours a day.*

Jenny gripped Daniel's hand hard as the evident sorrow in Maxim's mind voice, and the horror it brought to them. *When Terrion was eight and a half, he was kidnapped; he probably couldn't have avoided it even if he had wanted to. He thought they intended to rob him, and would kill him when they didn't find any money. He welcomed the death he thought was coming. Instead a man put a cloth with a Healer's potion on it over Terrion's mouth and nose to put him to sleep. When he woke up he found that he would be sold as a slave.*

Maxim asked, *You probably noticed the tattoos on Terrion and Symin's right shoulders?* The two nodded, and he told them, *That is the crest of their family, and because of that crest they are referred to as crested, meaning children of the nobility. It isn't as common in Madron, where Terrion was to be sold as it is in Camron, where all three of us were originally born. However to sell a crested child in Madron is illegal. Even so Terrion found himself in a slave market in Madron, with four other boys in a cell with him, and all of them were crested.*

Maxim leaned forward, putting his hand on his chin, continuing his tale, *The Slavemaster practically begged Duke Rendar, who is now Terrion's adopted father, to attend the selling of special merchandise. The man was too persistent, Ren was wary but he realized he had to find out exactly what was going on. When he found the five crested boys in the slave market, he realized with horror exactly what their presence could have meant. You see someone was trying to start a war between our two countries. Even the fact that they were on Madron soil might have started a war. Rendar felt he had no choice; he had to buy one of the boys. He didn't think he would leave the slave market alive if he hadn't and he felt that they would also kill the boys. Terrion discovered that he had Mind-Speech after he was kidnapped and Ren revealed his horror with Mind-Speech, and Terrion answered him, so Ren bought Terrion.*

*Ren, once they delivered Terrion to his home, took him through a secret passage to see his cousin, the Crown Prince of Madron. After a lot of speaking between the Kings and Princes of both countries, they decided that they couldn't make a move at that time. They simply didn't know enough. That meant leaving the children they knew about where they were in the slave market and trying to keep track of them. Those children were sold as slaves as were others that came later. Even though Terrion knew about the conspiracy, in order to gain time, he actually had to be a slave, and everything that meant, until they were ready to move, and that took almost a year.*

Maxim had a little frown on his face as he continued, *That meant that Terrion had to share Ren's bed, serving as his catamite, and it had to be very evident, because there were spies in Ren's household who were watching. I don't ask you condone it, I know it's completely illegal on this world, I just ask you to realize that Terrion has been sexually active with a man for over a year, because it didn't just stop, when Terrion was freed. They still share the same bed. If your children ask, Terrion will answer truthfully, because he's not ashamed of it. It was first a duty to his country, the fact that he enjoyed it was a good thing because he had no choice in the matter. If they had discovered that Terrion and Rendar were faking it, he and many other children could have died.*

Daniel and Jenny looked at each other and then Jenny said, "Your world is not ours. We have no right to condemn your customs out of hand, though we don't know if we can condone them either. We will simply tell the children that Terrion has gone through horrible experiences and doesn't like to talk about it."

Maxim nodded as he replied, *Fair enough." and a grin of amusement popped onto his face, *Now to something a little different and a little less serious though Danni might not think so. She has what you call,* and he searched their minds, *a crush on me." Maxim said with a sympathetic grin on his face. *She asked Dearna how old I was and Dearna told Danni that Iím almost fourteen. Dearna told me that from her aura Danni's about to enter puberty. Her body is getting ready for that, and she's starting to get interested in boys. I talked about that to Dearna before I came down. Unfortunately, Danni is thinking of me as contemporaries of the children she knows. Thirteen and fourteen year olds and most of them will be well into puberty.*

Daniel and Jenny were grinning, and Maxim giggled before saving, *I'm sorry for Danni, because physically and to some extent emotionally, right now I'm closer to a ten or eleven year old boy of your world rather than a fourteen year old. Dearna tells me that it will be about a year before I'll be at the stage that Danni is in and another three or four months after that before I actually enter puberty. On my world, both girls and boys enter puberty at about the same time unlike your own world where girls are more advanced sexually than boys. It's usually about fourteen or fifteen, so my situation is quite normal for our world. That means that like your ten and eleven year olds I'm not interested in girls yet, and won't be for a while yet.*

Jenny said with laughter in her voice, as she told him, "I'll try to break it to her gently, but girls of Danni's age, even before they enter puberty have a tendency to develop crushes on boys, or rock stars, or their teachers. They get over it, sometimes it's painful emotionally and other times they'll go to bed one night having a crush on someone and wake up the next morning and the crush is over. I'll talk to her in the morning."

Jenny continued, changing the subject to more practical matters, "Now for clothing, Terry is the same size as Travis, so he's easy to fit and some old stuff of Travis's will fit Symin when he's up, like it did last time. Dearna's my size so there's no problem with her, and you got lucky, one of Daniel's younger cousins stayed here for a couple of weeks after school let out and he left some clothes behind. We keep meaning to send them back to him, but we keep forgetting, so there are a couple of changes for you as well. If you need anything more we can get it tomorrow."

Jenny grinned, "You just admitted you're still a child, so as a child I'm telling you that it's time for bed."

Maxim giggled, and told her, *I bet you wouldn't dare say that to Symin, he can be very intimidating even when he's not trying.* as he stood up.

She rolled her eyes, "Oh, we certainly know that. Though," she said thoughtfully, "it's not really that he's intimidating. Despite the fact that he's even smaller than Travis, he just doesn't give the impression of being a child."

Maxim said thoughtfully, *Of course I know him much better than you and he's definitely a child. He has a power about him that comes to the surface at times, and an ageless quality. I saw him with Prince Tamen on a journey we took. Despite the fact that there's an even greater gulf between a Prince and an unimportant grandson of a Baron, than between Symin and I, the Prince treated him as an equal, and it never seemed strange. Even more extraordinary, I never heard any comments about it among the other servants about it being unusual, and yet I know it was.* He yawned and said with a grin, *You're certainly right about me needing to go to bed. Goodnight.* and as they also said goodnight, he turned and walked into the living room to the staircase and went up to the bedroom he would be sharing with Terrion and Symin.

Like Dearna he checked on Symin before he went to bed himself, and gently ran his hand over Symin's soft silky hair, showing the love that had drawn them as close as brothers. Slipping off his short trousers, he made a quick check on Terrion as well in the top bunk and then he slid into the bottom bunk.

CHAPTER SEVEN-643 AF-8th of Verin, Lythea-August 12th Earth-Darren Molloy

I had left the day after Symin and Pictou had returned to Lythea, to attend a skydiving meet. I had called yesterday telling Daniel and Jenny that I was heading home and I'd be out today to bring my RV out and to pick up my Jeep. It was much later than I had intended, almost ten o'clock. Not that it mattered much since I was retired but I prided myself on my physical condition. Even my doctor thinks I'm in extraordinary shape for a fifty-two year old man. Aside from the gray in my hair, I could easily pass for a man in my mid-thirties. However, even men in their thirties have their limits; I had simply made too many jumps and I had been tired and had overslept.

Everybody was out on the back porch, and I realized as soon as I saw Pictou that the two boys and the woman must be from Lythea. I grinned when I saw that Travis and one of the boys were nude and somehow they had gotten Jason out of his clothes as well, so he was also naked. Daniel and Jenny had talked about dares to their kids and they wouldn't do anything foolish, but this was the type of challenge that Jason couldn't pass up.

As soon as I stopped the motor home, Travis and the other boy were at the door with Jason hanging back. I could see him blushing and he was covering his genitals as much as he could with one hand. However, neither Travis nor the boy who Travis introduced as Terry showed the slightest trace of embarrassment.

Terry, though I soon found out his full name was Terrion Farlei, and on his world, he was the son of a Duke. He gave me a slow graceful bow, the fact that he was nude took nothing away from the dignity with which he delivered it. I noticed he had a tattoo on his right arm just below the shoulder like Symin had.

Travis said, "You're spending the day, Granddad?"

I nodded, and told him, "I've been invited for supper."

"Good," Travis said, "Terry and Jason and I were waiting to say hello before we went swimming. Come on Terry, let's go!"

Terry looked torn between the pleasures of the pool and politeness. Treating him like one of my grandsons, I turned him around and I gave him a light swat on his bare bottom and said, "Go, I'll be here all day." He gave a wide grin over his shoulder and taking the hand that Travis offered they headed for the pool at a run, sandals slapping on the ground.

I looked at Jason, though the tips of his ears were red, he wasn't covering himself anymore. "How did they get you out of your clothes?" I asked, and Jason went a deep red again, but he didn't cover himself.

Jason admitted, "I was dumb. We was all in the bathroom and I was making fun of the way Travis liked to be naked, and Terry said with a grin, that he didn't mind going naked either. He said when he's home he spends a lot of the time naked. You can see from the way that he's brown all over that it's true. Travis challenged me to go with no clothes for the rest of the summer, 'cept when we have guests. I was reluctant, but Travis brought it to Family Court at breakfast. Mom and Dad said that I've had a week, if I was going to make fun of him it should have been in the beginning. I either had to keep my mouth shut about it, or accept the dare."

"Knowing my big mouth, I knew I wouldn't be able to keep quiet so I had to accept it." Jason sighed, and then he cocked his head, and said, "It's odd, but even though it's embarrassing, and I keep blushing, I really don't mind it too much." He giggled then, "Danni's findin' it even worse, every time she looks at one of us she goes a deep red."

"I'm going swimming Granddad. We brought a backpack down earlier, with towels and shorts in case we get visitors." Jason got ready to take off, when I realized something.

"I thought your parents didn't let you use the pool unless one of them or Danni was with you?" I asked.

"Tess is watching us," he told me.

"Who's Tess?" I asked.

Jason giggled again, taking off, he yelled back over his shoulder, "You'll find out!" leaving me somewhat baffled.

I headed for the porch, just taking a quick look at the other two from Lythea. I said to Daniel and Jenny, "I'd never have thought you could have gotten Jason out of his clothes, out where there were other people." and like Jason had said, I saw Danni go red.

Jenny said with a smile on her lips, "Actually we're glad it happened this way. Jason's been getting too modest lately. Since he skipped a grade, this will be his last school year before he goes into middle school next year. We expect the children to use the new gym and changing rooms. If Jason gets a little more comfortable with nudity around the house again, it won't bother him to take off his clothes with a room full of other boys."

Daniel picked it up from there, "Being too modest can be a detriment. You've met my cousin that Jason is named after. He was modest like Jason is, and when he went into middle school it led to his being teased, and he became a loner with only a few friends. Luckily, my cousin broke out of his shell when he went to high school, but we don't want Jason to go through that. He's going to be a year or more younger than the rest of the boys, and some of them are going to be eleven and a half or twelve and entering early puberty. If Jason can get rid of some of that physical modesty of his, it'll be better all around for him."

I saw Danni was still blushing, "What about Danni? She's pretty red?"

Jenny said with amusement, "She's not modest; she just finds that naked boys, even ones much younger than she is embarrass her. She'll get over that if she ever has kids."

Danni threw up her head. Jumping down from the rail, she stalked toward the back door, trying to be very dignified. She spoiled it because she forgot Pictou was there. She started to fall over him, and the boy stopped her from landing flat on her face. Once she was back on her feet, she shrugged off his hand and slunk toward the back door, obviously embarrassed. Pictou just stretched out a little more and went back to snoring.

The boy grinned at me and shrugged his shoulders and he gave a half-bow that was as practiced and graceful as Terry's, *I'm Maxim Ascalon.* he said in Mind-Speech, *Danni's somewhat annoyed with me right at the moment. I'm almost fourteen and she thought I was somewhat older than she is, physically as well as in age. She was chagrined when Jenny told her that in fact physically and as I told Jenny and Daniel last night to some extent emotionally I'm really closer to an ten or eleven year boy from your world and not yet old enough to be interested in girls.*

I chuckled as I realized that Danni must have had a crush on this handsome five-foot tall boy, with his straight brown hair and sparkling brown eyes and pleasant features. Finding out that he was actually in a way much younger than she was must have been devastating, and Maxim grinned again. He said, *This has been a somewhat haphazard introduction. Normally Terrion, Terry, as the highest-ranking member of our group should have been introduced first. His adopted father is Duke Farlei, Rendar Farlei. He's a nephew of the King of Madron. He and Travis intercepted you and introduced Terry to you.*

Maxim said, *Of the humans, as a High Peasant I should actually have been the last to be introduced. Symin would be laughing his fool head off.*

I found it hard to picture that solemn, serious little boy, doing that, *As Maxim said this has been an unusual introduction, and count on it this is just the type of thing that would tickle Symin's sense of humor. I'm Dearna.* said the woman. I turned and looking at her, I was astonished that I had ignored her; though I was to find out that was one of her abilities. To fade into the background when she wished to observe what was going on.

Those dark brown eyes, with laugh lines at the corners seemed about to swallow me. I had to shake my head to recover and to take in the rest of her. She was about the same height as Jenny, five-feet-eight, and she looked even younger though as I was to find out later she was forty-two. As I mentioned she had dark brown eyes, and her hair was a dark brown as well with not a touch of gray, though there were red highlights in places. She was slender, and the bare arms and legs in the short-sleeved shirt and shorts were much more muscular than most women but it suited her. Certainly, she was well rounded in all the right places. She bowed as well, and it was halfway between Terry's bow and Maxim's, and then offered her hand. Taking it in mine, I found her hands were as calloused as mine, indicating that she worked for a living, and worked hard.

Dearna grinned, *Jenny tells me this is the most common method of greeting on your world. It's much rarer on mine. Normally it's only done between relatives who are either too closely related to bow to and yet not close enough to hug and kiss. Or on formal occasions between relatives. In those families which tend not to be very emotional, it is quite often the standard greeting.* She grimaced, *Until recently it was the way in which the Ascalon's, Symin's family greeted each other. Thankfully that has changed.*

I said to her, "The handshake supposedly developed because we are generally right-handed therefore it's considered be our weapon hand. If you're shaking hands with your right hand presumably, your weapon hand is busy. If that's true, I've long thought it was a ridiculous presumption. I was a police officer for thirty years, and a lot of people could use weapons with their left hand almost as well as they could their right."

Dearna nodded, saying, *Yes, our bowing was and still does serve the same purpose. Between people who don't know each other, or are unfriendly, the correct distance is about ten feet. That means that we're beyond sword distance.* She chuckled. *Like you, if it's for defense I find the concept ridiculous. If you're bowing, you are very vulnerable to a thrown weapon. A nod would be much more prudent. Perhaps that's why we simply nod to those who are of lower rank.*

Dearna cocked her head as she released my hand and I reluctantly let go, and she smiled gently. She asked, *I was curious about one thing Darren. Terry introduced himself with a full nobles bow, acknowledging you as an equal. In his adopted country, he now ranks in the top thirty in terms of nobility. You said you were a police officer, why did he consider your status that high?*

I opened my mouth to answer, but Maxim beat me to it. *On this world, what he did would not confer the type of rank that our world would. He was the Chief of Police for the five years before he retired, of the nearest city and it has a population of two million people.*

Dearna's eyes twinkled at me, as I looked first at Maxim and then at her. I knew that they had Mind-Speech, but I didn't know they could read minds. Dearna told me, *I see you have some concern about what we can do. While we can access your minds more easily than on our world, I'm a Lesser Mage. I can only see what's on the surface of your mind or what is addressed to me. We see much more from you, because your mind often gives pictures of what you're talking about. It would normally take a Great Mage, or someone especially gifted in Mind-Speech to do more. Maxim and the others are much different. Five of them are Linked together, and their power is much greater than any others in our history.*

Dearna gestured towards the pool where the boys had gone, with her left hand, *But Terry saw the same thing in your mind. He equated it to the Provost Marshall of Camara who is responsible for law-enforcement in our capital and the province around it. The Provost Marshall has the courtesy rank of Duke, which he will keep when he retires, getting a large pension, though unless he performs some outstanding service, it will simply be a life title which will die with him conferring no lands.*

Dearna suddenly frowned, and said, *Maxim, Symin is awake. Why would he be awake so soon? Normally he shouldn't wake for a couple more days.*

Maxim cocked his head, then replied, *He's hungry and he has to pee. He's being sensible and knowing how badly he was hurt he isn't trying to get up on his own. I can tell he feels much better than you told me he would be at this point in time. I wonder why?* He closed his eyes, and concentrated. Then he smiled and opened them, "I looked inside of myself and Terry, Pictou and Tess, and I can see that we now have his Self-healing ability. We've all Linked with his ability and since the rest of us aren't hurt, the Healing is working much better than it would normally. I told him we'd be right up.* He giggled, *Symin says 'Hurry!!!'*

CHAPTER EIGHT-643 AF-8th of Verin, Lythea-August 12th Earth-Darren Molloy

Mentally I slapped myself on the forehead. I had never asked why these people from Lythea would be here. But then taking a quick look back over the last few minutes that I'd been here, I realized that they had showed no anxiety or worry. they didn't even now, so obviously, however badly Symin had been hurt he wasn't badly off now. I followed them into the kitchen. Jenny got a can of Tomato Soup out of the cupboard, and Daniel got the can opener.

Jenny had an impish grin on her face as she said, "Why don't you go with Dearna and Maxim dad. Daniel and I will bring up the soup when it's done."

I swatted her on the backside, and she giggled just like she had when she was ten as I followed Dearna and Maxim. Symin was in what the kids called the sleepover bedroom, since they used it when they had guests over.

Symin was in the twin bed and he had a frown on his small face, which lightened when he saw us but didn't disappear. Dearna flipped down the covers and a naked Symin had his hand between his legs holding his penis trying to stop himself from peeing the bed. He said, *Hurry!! I've got to go really bad!!*

Dearna giggled, *Take him Darren; I didn't expect him to wake up for a couple of days, so I didn't locate the bathroom on this floor. I used the bathroom downstairs, both last night and this morning. You don't have to be careful with him. He's simply weak, and he'll need support to stand.*

I scooped him up off of the bed and carried him to the bathroom holding him up while he went, and he gave a blissful "Aahh!!" when he started peeing. When he was finished, I picked him up again.

Dearna said from the open door, saying, *I'm sorry about that, Symin, but I didn't expect you to wake up for the next couple of days. Under normal circumstances, you wouldn't have. Maxim says that they've picked up your ability of Self-Healing and they're feeding yours so it's not going to take as long for you to Heal, as I expected.*

I saw Symin close his eyes and his small face showed he was concentrating when suddenly I heard a thump, and a low yip of pain, "Oohh!!" Suddenly Symin had his eyes open again and he was rubbing his head smiling sheepishly at Dearna, who had just given him a good thump on the top of his head with her knuckles. Symin told her, *Sorry, Dearna that was stupid of me, trying to use my magic like that.*

*You're better off than would normally be the case, but remember this Symin, if you had been on this world, or our world without your friends you'd be dead. If you try to use any of your magic except for Mind-Speech before I tell you, you can, I'll take off my belt and use it on that little backside of yours.* and Symin nodded obediently, yawning.

As I carried Symin back to the bedroom, Dearna said, *I felt your anxiety when you realized why we were here. Maxim could have managed him quite easily but I thought this would reassure you, realizing that he's weak but no longer in danger. I wouldn't have threatened him with a whipping if he were still badly hurt. Not that it will matter.* she said ruefully. *If he feels like he has to use his magic, he'll do so, whether he knows a whipping is coming or not.*

Maxim grinned as we came into the room, telling us, that, *Symin doesn't have to use his magic at all. He found out in that brief instant that he was using it, that he can use ours. We all felt the thump you gave him on top of the head, though we didn't feel the pain, just an awareness that it happened and why you did it.*

I had been aware of something odd, but it wasn't until I put Symin back on the bed that I realized what it was. It was about ninety-five degrees yet Symin's skin was dry. I looked down and I realized that he wasn't sweating, and looking at Maxim and Dearna I realized they weren't either, though since getting out of the air-conditioned RV I was drenched with sweat.

Maxim said, perceptively, *We have thermometers as well and our Harnou scale seems much like your Fahrenheit scale. Our world is much hotter than yours, at least it is where we are now. It's just entering the rainy season on our world, but still during the day, it would be about one hundred to one hundred and five degrees, cooling off only about five degrees at night. During the coolest time of our year during the middle of the rainy season in about two months, it will be in the mid to high eighties day and night. At the hottest time of our year, it can go as high as one hundred and thirty or more for days at a time. I assure you that at that temperature we would be sweating as badly as you are right now. Normally however it will be between one hundred and ten and one hundred and twenty degrees, which we would find quite comfortable, though we would be sweating a little.*

Jenny showed up in the doorway with a tray on which was a large mug filled with soup and some milk, and a couple of paper towels for napkins. She said, "I gather this is somewhat unusual?"

Dearna nodded, and spoke the first verbal word I had heard from her. "Yes." *It's very unusual. He shouldn't have awakened for at least another couple of days without me waking him. His Healing is much more advanced than I expected. His Self-Healing ability is taking from the others to do it. He will be out of the trance completely within two or three days at this rate. He'll be able to get up with support as soon as that happens, and he should be close to normal in about a week. That's two or three times as fast as I expected.*

Dearna took the mug that Jenny offered her, and putting her arm behind Symin's shoulders, she lifted him into a sitting position, holding him there. *Symin, I have some food for you.* He opened his eyes but I could see he was half-asleep. She said, *Be careful, Symin this is hot.* and putting the mug to his mouth, he carefully swallowed some.

He said, *Good.* and his Mind-Voice was pretty dozy as well. Carefully over the next two or three minutes Symin drank the soup and then some of the milk which Jenny had also warmed.

Dearna smiled at Jenny as she put the glass of milk back on the tray, nodding her thanks. Wiping Symin's mouth she lowered him to a lying position again and by the time, she had pulled the covers up to his chin he was in a deep sleep again. She smoothed his blond hair with obvious affection, then stood up, saying briskly, *He'll sleep again for several hours now. I'll give him double the amount of soup tonight. He should sleep through the night unless he has to pee. In that case, Maxim will take him, only waking me if there is a problem. Normally it would be a week or more before he was on solid food, but I think he'll start to need it tomorrow night.*

Maxim was looking a little anxiously at Symin. Dearna said, *Maxim you were planning to go swimming with the others. Symin's fine and you know it! So go!!*

Maxim said, *But...* Dearna turned him around and gave him a swat on the seat of his shorts, and she wasn't holding back, and I saw him wince, but he went, rubbing his bottom as he did so.

Dearna said cheerfully, *I hope you don't mind. I know neither Jenny or Daniel use corporal punishment very much, but it's the most prevalent kind of punishment on our world. The boys are used to it, they accept it and wouldn't really understand your system of punishments.*

I told her, "I never used corporal punishment on Jenny, though Debbie would occasionally give her a spanking, but my nephew stayed with us for a year just after his father died, and his mother was getting her life back together. I used the punishments that I had used on Jenny but they didn't work. Finally, I asked him what type of punishment I should use. He thought it over seriously then said I should spank him, which surprised me. I ended up spanking him and he responded much better to it than I expected. His parents spanked him and he equated it with punishment. At the same time he knew they didn't like spanking him, they only did it because they loved him. When I spanked him he was satisfied that I loved him like his parents did."

I said seriously to her, "He has six kids today, and two of them respond best to corporal punishment and the other four to being grounded or losing privileges. Some shrinks, would probably consider it very odd that he only uses it on some of his kids not all, maybe thinking he was being unfair. He understands the fact that all kids need to be corrected firmly, in a consistent manner, but not all kids respond to the same type of punishment."

CHAPTER NINE-643 AF-8th of Verin, Lythea-August 12th Earth-Darren Molloy

I was finally going to meet Tess. Dearna was accompanying me to the pool that the kids used for swimming, to fetch them for lunch. Danni had joined them at about eleven o'clock. Despite the fact that she knew, that all four boys would be naked, it hadn't deterred her from seeking and enjoying the water on this very hot day, for our part of the country.

I stopped short when I saw Tess, and my heart was in my throat. Automatically I reached for a sword that I had never worn, as for a brief moment I felt myself in medieval times. That's what you fought a dragon with!! Then I relaxed the tension going out of me. Obviously, she was tame. Harmless?

Tess said in an amused tone of mind, *Tame? Harmless? Neither is really appropriate. Amiable would perhaps be the best term for my personality. Very few of us are like the cartoon dragon in 'Pete's Dragon' that I observed earlier in Travis and Jason's minds, which is the way they think of me. Most of us are much closer to the dragons that appear in the fables that you are thinking about. Most of us are fiercely aggressive. However, usually only towards those that can threaten us. Meaning no offense the humans of your world are very little threat as individuals, though many of the weapons that you possess could be deadly.*

I said dryly, "I certainly don't see you as the dragon from Pete's Dragon. The only similarity is the fact that you're both green."

*We can also make ourselves invisible, though that is not really, what actually happens when using Concealment. We just seem to be invisible to the senses. Most animals can see us, but it seems that cameras can not. When Symin was first here, he learned about the camera, and he wondered if he would show up when he used the ability to Conceal himself. Danni used both a regular camera and a digital camera and it appears for some reason neither can see us since Symin didn't appear on either. It isn't logical, but then again magic isn't always logical.*

Tess said a bit primly, like an old schoolteacher, *Logic in the simplest sense for instance would dictate, that if you were getting from 1 to 2 in your number system as say Travis would understand it, you would simply go directly from 1 to 2. If you were trying to do the same thing with magic, sometimes you would go from 1 to 2, but at other times, you might go from 1 to 4001 and back to 1 before going to 2.*

I nodded thoughtfully. It made sense in a weird kind of way. Looking at Tess more closely, I realized that she had her eyes closed, and I wondered how she was watching the children. Tess told me, *The Link is very new to us. We are starting to find that some of the magical abilities that we have are actually traveling through the Link and becoming part of all of us, while others are not. The ability to Transport into the Void seems to be species specific. Empathy, which Symin has in strong measure, is not traveling between us, but his Sense of Perception, which he uses for sight since he is blind, has moved much more quickly between us than any other ability. I am Perceiving the children not seeing them, and it allows me to see them under the water in a manner which is much better than sight.*

That surprised me. I hadn't realized that Symin was blind. I turned to Dearna and she looked unhappy. Tess said to her gently, *I can feel you still find it a distasteful subject Dearna, but please tell him how Symin lost his sight and some of the things he has done. Symin is our center. Understanding a bit about him, tells much about the Link.*

Dearna sighed, *I still feel guilty and I always will, Tess, but you're right the story tells much about Symin. I'll tell Jenny, we'll take longer than expected. We're having sandwiches so it doesn't matter if we're a little late.*

She took my hand and we sat on the bench placed by the pond, which was used for swimming in the summer and skating in the winter. Suddenly the five children were gathering in front of the bench sitting cross-legged. I noticed that Danni wasn't blushing she was too interested.

Dearna began to tell the tale, *Maxim earlier said that Terry was the highest ranked person from our world. Last night I followed some of what he told Jenny and Dan. He said that Symin was simply the unimportant grandson of a Baron. Well that's not completely accurate. Armand Ascalon, Symin's grandfather, is simply a Baron but at the same time, he's the head of the Ascalon Clan, which was the first and is now the last of the Great Clans though some Lesser Clans remain. His supposed authority is simply that of a Baron, but his moral authority would fully equal one of the Duke's of our country. There are five of them with hereditary titles not simply the life titles that some people receive for the service they give.*

Dearna paused for a second before continuing, *There is no Duke in the northeast, and that's because of the Great Clans. There were once four of them, and they ruled the northeast of Camron. The Ascalon Clan is twelve hundred years old. After the founding of Camron, the four Great Clans swore an oath to the King, three of the Clans continually broke that oath causing trouble for much of the time since the Founding.*

*Over the centuries, the King was required to fight them time after time, usually in minor skirmishes though several major battles occurred. Two hundred years ago, the Monarchy was finally at the point where they could afford to systematically destroy the power of the Great Clans. One hundred and fifty years ago, the crown fought the last of the major battles against the last of the three Great Clans who had continually caused trouble. They were defeated and dispersed.*

Dearna paused again to allow us to digest that information before continuing, *That's important, because you must realize that though the Ascalon Clan never fought against the King, the Royal Family has always been uneasy that the Ascalon Great Clan still existed. In 633 After Founding, one of Armand's sons, though not the heir conspired with people in Madron to kill our King. The King came down very hard on the Ascalon family. Much, much harder than he would normally do so. Normally, the Ascalon's would just have had to pay a huge fine, since as I said the son wasn't the heir.*

Dearna said, with a serious look on her face, *Instead, the King invoked an Edict of Exile. A huge fine was part of that Edict, and all direct descendants of Armand Ascalon above the age of reason, which on our world is seven, were exiled to their estate, on the pain of death.*

There was admiration in Dearna's Mind-Voice as she said, *This background is important, for you to know what Symin did. He and Maxim came across an injured King's Messenger a man by the name of Cartan; one of their functions is that of spies. The man had a vital message that had to get to the capital. It was in a Message Stone, and he had no way to access the message, he only knew it was urgent and concerned Madron. King's Messengers are Magic Users and to keep its message intact, the Message Stone had to be attuned to another Magic User and it had to be delivered to his contact in Bremen before she left, because she would actively avoid anyone that she didn't know trying to intercept her on the main road.*

We could feel Dearna's evident sorrow as she continued, *There was no way Symin or Maxim could get the man to the main road or to Bremen in time, and there were no Magic Users at the Ascalon Estate. Maxim has the ability now but he didn't at that time. The only way to get the Message Stone to Bremen was if Symin took it. As soon as he left the Ascalon Estate he was under a possible sentence of death, and he assumed that's what would happen.*

Her hand tightened on mine, I was moved by the tale, and I could see that both Maxim and Terrion had tears trickling down their faces. She gave a sigh and then continued the story, *It was necessary that the message be delivered secretly, and he used his ability to Conceal himself to get through the gate and to the inn where the contact, Sinya was waiting. Because of a variety of factors if Symin had missed her it could have delayed the message by days, and as it turned out it was perhaps one of the most important messages that was ever sent. Symin delivered the message but the act of using his ability of Concealment left him very weak, and he was able to attune the Message Stone to her then passed out.*

She moved a little uneasily as she told them that, *Fortunately, Sinya didn't know about the Edict, because even if she had done so, she would have had to leave him to his fate. As a Self-Healer, once Symin used up his normal magic energy, he automatically started taking power from his life force energy. Sinya left him in the room and when he was discovered; though he didn't know it he was arrested and moved to the mayor's house, where a couple of rooms were kept for children being detained. I was called in and I gave him energy which replaced what he had lost but it still took several days for Symin to wake up.*

*Symin knew the message was urgent and the Messenger told him that there might be spies in Bremen. When he woke up, he couldn't tell the mayor anything. He couldn't explain why he was off the Ascalon estate without permission. Tomma, who is still the mayor of Bremen, is my cousin, also a Judge who has the responsibility for High Justice They judge cases where the death sentence is a possible penalty. Tomma really had no choice, he either had to impose the death penalty or a punishment which was considered severe enough to satisfy the King.*

Dearna shook her head with regret evident on her face. *Tomma could have turned the affair over to the King for judgment, but he had never done so, and he assumed that if he had that the punishment would automatically be the death penalty, so he intended to decide the matter himself. It was common knowledge that Tomma had never gone to the King to judge a case of High Justice before. Symin would have known that so he couldn't ask Tomma to have the King judge the crime, even though he knew he would have been safe in that case. Tomma would have been suspicious, and everyone in Bremen would have known about it before the day was out. If there were spies in Bremen they would have been suspicious, so by doing that Symin might in effect be revealing the secret.*

Dearna continued, *Symin is a noble child and that describes his character even more than his station in our society. He did not speak even when told that instead of the death penalty he would have his sight destroyed. We are aware that there is a pathway from the eyes to the brain...*

"We call it the optic nerve." I told her,

Dearna nodded, telling me, *Thank you, that is much easier than the way we refer to it. We know that the optic nerve goes into the brain, which translates what we see. I was required to destroy Symin's optic nerve, and it was the most distasteful thing I have ever done.* Her hand tightened on mine very hard, her eyes blank, as she was seeing what she had done again. *However, as we believed at the time, if Tomma had transferred the responsibility to the King, we assumed that Symin would be executed. As a Lesser Mage Healer, it really required my ability to do the job. It is a very delicate procedure. When you do something that affects the brain it is very easy to kill if you make a wrong move.*

Dearna continued matter-of-factly. *In fact, the message was so important that if Symin had died it still would have been worth it. The spy in Madron discovered a plot to kill the Madron King's younger son and his companions. Certainly, the deaths of the companions, who were all members of important families, would have been much worse than the death of the King's son. Madron is much younger than Camron, the King's authority is much weaker. A war would undoubtedly have resulted.*

Terrion took up the story then, *Prince Tamen gave an Artefact of Power to Symin. It provided him with the Sense of Perception, though at the beginning it was only a few yards and only in black and white. When it was stolen months later, it was discovered that he had a natural Sense of Perception and at the time of discovery he could see about forty yards in diameter in color. Perception can act simply as sight, though it is not, it simply seems like it. As Tess said, it's magic and magic isn't always logical. However, Perception also allows you to Perceive things. To describe it, lets see. All right let's say you have a box, and there is something inside the box. You can see all sides of the box and also at the same time, you see what's in the box. Say it is another box, and inside that is another one and so on. You would be able to see all of the boxes, and all sides of those boxes both inside and out even though the bottoms would be resting on the bottoms of the larger boxes.*

Maxim took up the tale at that point, *The attempt to kill the King which resulted in the Edict of Exile, was the first attempt to cause a war between Camron and Madron, the attempt to kill the Madron King's son and his companions was the second try. A third try was the kidnapping of Terrion, other noble children and many common children. In order to save their lives Symin was going to do something which he knew would kill him.*

There was sadness on Maxim's small face and he said, *When they attacked the Fortress that contained the man Yersine who planned the three attempts it was Warded by very powerful Artefacts of Power. Symin had the ability to destroy them using his dagger, which is magic. Using his Astral form, he would have plunged his dagger into the Diamond Obsidian Ward stone, which would have destroyed it and the backlash would have killed him. He's only alive because of an accident. A Mage was guarding the Ward stone. Symin had to turn to protect himself. When he started to turn back, he slipped; his hand went into the Ward stone instead of the dagger. Symin found himself still alive, and he gained the instinctive knowledge of how to turn the Ward stone off. That allowed the Great and Lesser Mages of Madron to enter the Fortress and defend the children there making sure they weren't harmed.*

The look on Maxim's face was happier now as he continued, *Symin turned the Ward off but he found himself trapped by the power of the stone. To get himself free he had to channel the power of the stone through his body increasing all of his powers including his Sense of Perception. It increased his ability to Perceive from forty yards to about two hundred yards and beyond that is blackness and at the end it physically Transported him over six hundred miles from Ascalon castle to the Fortress.*

Terrion took back the tale again, saying a glow of happiness on his small face, *He also gave me the gift of speech. Three months ago his dagger, which as we said is magic, is called a God-blade. It affected him, interfering with his Self-Healing ability and absorbing any Healing energy that Dearna used to get him well. A Great Mage did a foolish thing and it endangered Temple City, which is in Madron, though it actually is neutral territory. Karliv, his cousin whose special ability is to use his Astral Spirit and take someone with him was on a mission for his King. He had taken Symin in his Astral form from Ascalon to the Fortress in northern Madron. The Ward stones were Diamond Obsidian. It's common obsidian but dragons like Tess, swallow obsidian and topaz and hold them in their first stomach to help grind up the vegetable matter that they eat. Their magic and the digestive juices that help break down the vegetation turn obsidian into Diamond Obsidian.*

Terrion shook his head, saying, *Diamond Obsidian is the hardest substance on our world, harder than diamonds, so hard that it can't be worked by any means that we have. The only thing that could affect Diamond Obsidian was Symin's God-blade. Diamond Obsidian is especially useful for creating magic Artefacts, but once damaged it's harmless. As I said Karliv was not available, the only way that Symin could get to Temple City was physically, by horseback, and there wasn't much time. He traveled nine hundred miles in ten days knowing that it would probably kill him, because only Healers could have kept him alive. With the dagger misbehaving, they couldn't help him. Symin knew the Gods would keep him alive long enough to try to save the city, but he also knew that his body would be so badly damaged that he probably wouldn't have survived.*

I winced at that, I'd once ridden sixty miles on a bet in one day, and could imagine some of the pain that Symin must have gone through. Terrion's small face was solemn and he gave a nod before saying, *Yes, anyone who's been on horseback for a long journey can know a little of what Symin suffered. But only a very little. Even we who are Linked to Symin, will never know what that journey was actually like, because he has sealed it from everyone else.*

I saw sadness in Terrion's brown eyes as he said, *I have some knowledge of what such pain can be like, because I was brutalized when I was younger, and I can only bear it because Karliv aged the memory, so it seems much farther away than it really is. As he said, it's something that made me, for good or ill, so I must remember it. Symin faces knowledge of the pain that he had and his closeness to death much more calmly. It does not diminish him as the memories I bear sometimes diminish me.*

Then Terrion smiled his sadness gone as he continued small face glowing, *The rest of the memory is a glorious one. Symin was in the place of the Gods and Kranholt the God to whom the blade was dedicated put limits on it. As soon as he did so, the Healers were able to begin helping Symin. Probably the Gods helped, since the Healers were all Priests and Priestesses of the Gods, because he recovered much faster than would be expected. In addition, for some reason even though the Artefact that Symin pierced was even more powerful than the ones in the Fortress, it did not increase his power as they did. I was asleep on a sleeping pad beside his bed when he awakened and he dropped on me and began tickling me. I know he's smaller than Travis is, but he's part Elf and he's far stronger than Maxim is. I was helpless to get him off, and had to yield.*

Terrion grinned at the memory before saying, *The Gods sometimes give individuals gifts and as a reward they gave Symin one. It was a Gift of Healing. Instead of using it to repair his eyes, he gave it to me.* His small face was thoughtful, *I didn't really realize what the Gift was. It wasn't until later that Rendar told me that he could have kept the Gift for himself, and gotten his sight back. Perhaps I should regret that I didn't think of that at the time, but I do not. There was too much joy in his eyes when he gave it to me, for me ever to regret it.*

Tears began to trickle down his cheeks then, tears of joy as Terrion remembered, small face filled with happiness. *That was the second major gift he gave me, first was the ability to learn how to read. This one was the ability to speak, for I was mute though I had Mind-Speech. Pictou says that almost all humans on Earth have the ability to project but not the ability to receive. On Lythea, they donít seem to be separate abilities. If you can project you can receive, and it's a limited talent. But I did not have the mechanism,...*

Dearna interrupted, telling him, *Vocal cords.*

Terrion gave her a quick smile, though the tears were continuing to fall gently, before saying, *Thank you. I did not have any vocal cords to make any sounds.* He lifted his chin and traced the brown line on his throat that looked like a figure eight on its side or the infinity symbol.

Dearna said, *It may be hard to believe, but I examined him when he went through Bremen, when they were returning the children rescued at the Fortress. He definitely didn't have any vocal cords at that time. Only the Gods have that type of Healing power.*

*Yes,* Terrion nodded in agreement, saying, *Only the Gods have such power. Yet I talked to Symin after Rendar told me he could have kept the Gift for himself. He had no thought of ever doing so. If I had not accepted it, he would have kept it, giving it to someone else who needed it. That's why Tess felt you should know something about him. As she said, he is our center. Our values are essentially his values not because he imposes them on us, but because of the basic nobility of his nature.*

Terrion wiped the last of his tears away, unashamed of them, then said cheerfully, *If you think I use big words for a not quite ten year old you have to realize that I've been in the company of Rendar, and often Karliv for almost a year and a half. Even when Rendar was receiving guests, I didn't leave. I was a slaveboy and they wouldn't have expected me to do so. What Ren heard basically I heard.*

The children got up and plunged back into the pool to clean the dirt off of their bottoms from where they had been sitting, the boys getting out and began to dry off. For the first time I saw Danni blush and she grabbed her towel and headed for home while she dried off. Looking at Maxim, it was quite evident from his physical development that he was well away from puberty, and I chuckled, sympathizing with Danni.

Dearna said to me and somehow I knew it was directed only at me, *Something that you must know about our world. We do not have the taboo that your world has about sex between adults and children. Eighty per cent of slavery and indentured servitude is sexual. While we do not particularly approve of it, at the same time neither do we strongly disapprove of it. When Terry said he was a slaveboy that's the type of relationship he had with Rendar and still has.*

"Why are you telling me about that?" I asked.

She looked me in the eyes with her brown eyes, and said simply, *You know.*

And I did, but I would have to think about it seriously. Then she laughed and looking at her, I realized that she was looking at Maxim. He hadn't bothered to put his shorts back on and he was grinning. I laughed with Dearna when I realized that he intended to embarrass Danni by showing up at the house, nude.

CHAPTER TEN-643 AF-10th of Verin, Lythea-August 14th Earth

Symin was glad to be up, even though it was strenuous. He was leaning on Travis who was closest to his size. Since he would just be walking around the room right know it was all the support he needed. Later in the day, he would be going into the hallway and first thing tomorrow, he would be tackling the stairs. He giggled at what Travis was telling him. "So Maxim showed up completely naked in the kitchen and Danni who was relaxing, went bright red, jumped up and ran out of the room, and we could hear her going up the stairs. Everybody started laughing. She got him back the next morning though. She's bigger'n he is and she's strong. She caught him coming through the kitchen door and she swatted him half a dozen times on the seat of his shorts with a ping-pong paddle. We could tell she wasn't holding back neither. He was rubbing his butt hard when she finished." Symin was giggling and he had to sit down on the side of the bed picturing it.

Travis, good humor bubbling was having a hard time holding back his giggles as well, "She told him since he was physically younger than she was she was going to treat him that way. She was getting him back for coming into the kitchen naked just to make her go red. She said from now on, he either had to be naked or wear shorts. If he decided to wear shorts, and he has, then the only place he can be naked, is down at the pool, in this room, in the bathroom or during the night when he's going to the bathroom. If she sees him naked anywhere else, she'll go hunting for him with the paddle and give him a dozen hard swats on his bare bottom."

Jenny said coming in the room with Maxim said in agreement, "She meant it too!"

Maxim nodded ruefully, rolling his eyes, *She did, and she can hit hard!* he said, rubbing his bottom in remembrance, and started Symin giggling again just when he'd begun to control himself.

CHAPTER ELEVEN-643 AF-13th of Verin, Lythea-August 17th Earth

It was after supper and Darren and Dearna were down at the pool supervising Maxim and Terrion who were swimming. Daniel and Jenny were sitting at the dining room table with their children and a naked Symin, who had decided to join the other younger boys, since he was only a little older and smaller than all of them.

Jenny said soberly with was both sadness and joy in her mind. "Dad has given Daniel and I his Power-of-Attorney. That's means that we can do things as if we were him."

Travis said softly, "He's going back to Lythea with Dearna? Isn't he?"

"Yes. Are you sorry?" asked Daniel.

Jason shook his head and said, "Not sorry, but sad, since we may never see him again. Travis and I have talked about it at night. We don't really remember Grandma Debbie that much, but we can remember Granddad and he was always laughing, and always happy. Since she died, he's been different, only being happy a few times. Since Dearna came he's gone back to the old Granddad, and we know he was only partly here for a while."

Danni said solemnly, "We can see how happy he is and we know that if he let Dearna go he'd return to the Granddad we've seen in the last two years. Though we'll miss him, we'll be missing the real Granddad, not the one who was never quite here."

Symin had been practicing with Jenny the various things he would say this afternoon. He told them, "We can't promise that you'll see him again. I told Jenny and Daniel what we would be doing and they said I should tell you the truth. What we are doing is very dangerous and we could very easily fail. If we fail, we will probably die. Without us there is no way your Granddad can ever contact you again. At least no way that we know of."

Travis asked with curiosity, "What will Granddad do?"

Symin answered seriously, "Your Granddad has the potential to be a Healer, and we think with a few years of learning he will have about the same amount of power as Dearna has, and she's a Lesser Mage Healer." He grinned, "Jenny says he's always bragged that he has the body of a thirty year old, and to her astonishment, Dearna agrees with him. If Dearna didn't know he was fifty-two she would have put his age at perhaps thirty-two or thirty-three."

Danni asked with intense curiosity, "You say that Granddad has the potential to be a Lesser Mage, what type of potential do the rest of us have?"

Symin told her, "Jenny and your brothers have the same potential while Daniel and you have a somewhat higher potential, your auras are showing that you could probably become Great Mages."

Danni said, in a statement not a question, though a bit wistfully, "You won't teach us will you?"

Symin shook his head, saying with regret, "No. We have affected one family, and I've killed once on this world. If I were to do things, again I would do it the same way. However, we must not act like Varagon, the being we will be opposing. Though from a different universe, he took over Tess's world, and has caused a lot of problems on mine. We don't have the right to affect your world in more than a very minor way, either for good or ill. If we were to teach you to use your magic that might change your world enormously and would be against the principles that we are developing."

CHAPTER TWELVE-643 AF-16th of Verin, Lythea-August 20th Earth

Earlier in the day, the members of the Link had checked Earth for Magic Users and had found none. They didn't think they were simply hiding. Since that time, they had been practicing with the shield but right at the moment they were all taking a breather, and having some Gatorade. The three boys were still wearing the jockstraps and hard cups under their short trousers but had taken off the hockey helmets. They had bruises to show where they hadn't stopped the tennis balls thrown at them by the others. The bruises on Tess and Pictou's bodies were only in their minds, but they knew they were there.

They had started with Travis and Jason at ten feet Danni at twenty-five and the four adults at thirty feet, but they had ended up moving Jason back to twenty feet. They started with shields down only bringing them up when someone started to throw a ball. They weren't using the full shield, only a portion of it. They wanted to get to the point where they could stop a tennis ball thrown by any of the others, then they would go to two, and then three. When they were successful with three they intended to switch to baseballs. That was why they were wearing hockey helmets with facemasks and the jockstraps.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN-643 AF-19th of Verin, Lythea-August 23rd Earth

They had used baseballs on the previous two days. Late in a the day before they had changed to marbles, so they were wearing goggles as well as the hockey helmets. Only Dearna and Darren, and Daniel had the skill to hit them with the thrown marbles, but for the last half hour Jason and Travis had been using slingshots. When they started with the marbles the others hit them a few times, but after three hours of practice today, including the half hour with the slingshots, the others hadn't hit them once.

The Link had come to the point where they could have a partial shield up and smoothly shift it between them, or they could have the full shield up and strengthen it at certain points when they wanted, just as smoothly and quickly.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN-643 AF-23th of Verin, Lythea-August 27th Earth

It was their last day and beginning two days before they had started using the Skeet Thrower. They had learned how to obliterate the clay targets, how to hit them just lightly enough to crack them or to actually pick them out of the air with their ability to lift things.

Everything was almost still now, the frenetic outside activities over. Darren was gone, headed for a lake twenty miles away where he intended to go skin-diving and just disappear when Symin and the others Transported him from the lake. Just disappearing allowed him to return if needed, with a tale of having lost his memory or something similar. Darren had cancelled his insurance policies not intending to defraud the companies. Symin had signed over the gold that he had brought to this world and deposited with Oskar Nordstrom, to Jenny and Daniel. Symin had originally planned to use it to buy scuba gear or something similar that would allow him to accompany Pictou in the Void. With the ability, they had picked up from Tess of creating a shield and trapping a pocket of air, it was no longer necessary. Since what they were doing was so dangerous he didn't want it to go to waste.

Terrion said with a bit of sorrow on his face, *Ren has told the others we're ready to return. I told him we'd be taking Dearna and Darren to Bremen first, unless the other Mages ambush us at the pool. Of course, he's been with me, but only off and on. For the first few days I was simply being a boy, Our training was quite boring to someone who wasn't directly involved in it, so he wasn't aware we were as close to leaving as we are.*

Terrion spoke out loud then for the first time, Darren having helped him with the words. "Good-byes are always hard. On our world where fifty miles can be a great distance to many of our people, it is something we do very often. However, this is one of the hardest good-byes I've ever said. I never knew my mother, and until I met Ren didn't really have a father either. You know I had to act as a slave for almost a year, so it's only been in the last few months that I've learned what being a son who had a father was actually like."

Terrion's face was beginning to crumple up in sorrow and he rushed the rest saying, "Arla, Renís mother has become my family as well, but I had never seen a family before. You have treated us as your sons, and brothers and I thank you for giving me such precious memories. In the past few days, I've seen what having both a father and mother is like and Iíve learned now that what I have with them is very close to what you have. Perhaps that is even more important than anything else. It will be something I'll remember for the rest of my life, and I thank you all for that."

Tears were flowing down his face as he embraced them each in turn. Daniel and Jenny were close to tears as well but Danni, Travis and Jason were well over the verge, and their tears were also flowing freely.

Dearna said a little ruefully, *I won't try to equal my little friend's eloquence, either out loud or in Mind-Speech. You have taken me into your family and welcomed me though I am taking your father and grandfather far away from you, in such a way that you may never see him again. I thank you for supporting us and the new lives we will be living." She too embraced them, and the tears were going now, acceptance taking their place.

Symin said with a bit of a frown on his small face, "I'm speaking for both Maxim and myself. He simply doesn't have the words he wants to thank you so he elected me to do so for him and for me. First for me. Unlike Terrion, I never had a father or a mother, the man I thought was my father was in fact my uncle and my father abandoned me when I was a baby to join my mother in death. Minna loves me and I know she does so as much as she loves any other member of my family. However, I know she isn't my mother and she wasn't intended to be. She was intended to be what she has become; broad-shoulders to which all members of the family can go to. Her responsibility has always been to the Ascalon Clan as a whole and because I needed her more than the others for a while, she came to me more often."

There was yearning in Symin voice as he said, "In the past year Sinya and Dearna have come close at times, but you two have come the closest to being the father and mother I never had and probably will never have; your children the brothers and sister I would have liked to have had. As Terrion said these few days and the time I spent here last time are precious memories and like him I'll never forget them."

"Now for Maxim," and Symin despite the solemn occasion giggled, "Sorry it's just his feelings are so ambiguous it's hard to describe them. He already has a father and mother, and brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, he's thinking, 'Thank you very much but I don't need more parents, or brothers or a sister'. Despite that, he feels much like Terrion and I do, as if you were family, a favorite aunt and uncle perhaps, and favorite cousins. He too will remember you, and for him the time here has been precious."

"I know both Tess and Pictou have already said their good-byes and they wished them to be private as did Darren. We will join them at the orchard and hope we will see you again. Goodbye." Symin told them, he and Terrion simultaneously giving the slow graceful full bow of the nobility to their equals while Dearna gave her one-quarter bow and Maxim his half bow and then they disappeared, taking aching hearts with them and leaving aching hearts behind.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN-643 AF-23rd of Verin, Lythea-August 27th Earth

They reappeared at the orchard where Pictou and Tess were already waiting. They reached out with their minds to the lake where Darren was scuba diving, and Transported him to the orchard as well. He slipped out of the scuba tank and the wet suit, leaving him in a pair of shorts he used for a bathing suit. They piled the stuff on an already weighted piece of plastic, and after tying it up they Transported it to the ocean and allowed it to sink to the bottom.

Symin told him, *We'll try to Transport to Lythea and immediately to Bremen, however if we get ambushed we may have to fight.* His small face was thoughtful. Suddenly Tess's shield popped into being and it pulled in gathering air. Since it would only take a few seconds to get to Lythea, she hadn't tried to gather in a large amount. The others joined their power to hers behind the shield. There was no attempt at Concealment this time. If their enemy was waiting for them, so be it, they were in for a very nasty surprise.


In fact, they were waiting, not in Astral form, which would have been prudent; they were actually there in person. They had gauged the Link's power when they first fought them, finding it wanting, not knowing it had been simple overconfidence caused by inexperience.

It was raining, but not heavily when they appeared beside the pool and the first Mind-Blast hit their shield. It was a huge blast delivered by the three teams of Great and Lesser Mages, the Link's shield completely integrated now simply absorbed the Mind-Blast, their enemies, not living long enough to realize their mistake. The return blast went through their shields as if they didn't exist, and the thirteen Mages died as the return Mind-Blast shattered their bodies.

Maxim and Dearna joined their minds to examine the bodies of the thirteen men and women to see if there were any life signs but there was none; all life extinguished. Maxim and Terrion were horrified by the deaths. They had never killed before, but the other three were not. Symin, who could be completely ruthless when it was required, felt no sympathy for those they had killed. He had felt their deaths with his Empathy. As usual when he killed evil people his mind sang with joy, and he thought them better off dead.

Tess simply had no compassion for enemies. She killed them when possible and whether they were good or evil, she simply didn't care. She might be an amiable dragon but she was still a dragon. Pictou was simply too unimaginative and practical to be concerned by the deaths.

Searching Symin located an isolated cave, which was large enough to take the bodies, so they Transported them into it and collapsed the roof to bury them.

They stayed at the poolside while Maxim and Terrion recovered, as they grieved for those they had helped kill. Dearna who could be almost as ruthless as Symin when necessary helped them immensely, soothing their minds. She told them that it was sometimes necessary to kill but it wasn't something they simply had to forget because those they had killed were evil. It was all right to hate killing that would make sure they would only kill when it was absolutely necessary.


Reaching out to Dearna's home in Bremen they found that Seldon was busy with a patient, so they Transported Tess to Rendar's home in Divandia while they were waiting for the patient to leave. When that occurred, the six of them Transported themselves to Dearna's home.

Seldon had a big smile on his face. Obviously, he was still happy to have a full practice again. Dearna marveled at the change in him. He looked years younger and much better than he had done in years. Being a Great Mage, he had felt the spike of magic that preceded their appearance. Unsurprised he grabbed Dearna twirling her around in delight.

Seldon said with high good humor, "I hadn't realized how much I missed it, daughter. When I return to the capital, I intend to institute at least some private practice again.

"I think you should, father, you look better than you have in years. However," Dearna then said, with a little unaccustomed shyness, "before you return to the capital don't you wish to attend my wedding first?"

Seldon looked dumbstruck, and then joy appeared on his weathered face again. While she was still young for their world, he wasn't and he had given up hoping to see her wed before he died. Looking at the others who had appeared with her, he knew who she meant, since Darren was the only adult there.

The two men locked eyes and sizing each other up, both liked what they saw. Darren bowed the one-quarter bow that Dearna had taught him and with the grace of the born athlete, it looked like he had done it thousands of times before. Seldon returned it and then moved forward and gave Darren a hug. He started to speak, when Symin told him, "You'll have to use Mind-Speech for the moment; he doesn't know our language yet."

Seldon nodded, saying joyously, *Welcome, young man, I had given up hope of seeing her wed before I died and I am delighted, simply delighted to welcome you to our family!!*

Darren nodded, saying, earnestly, *Thank you sir. Since my wife died four years ago, I had given up hope of ever knowing the type of joy I had known with her again. It was an unexpected but joyous experience when I knew that I was wrong. I still love her as much as I did before, but to my astonishment, I realized that it was possible to love another woman just as much. It has changed my view of love completely.*

Seldon nodded with understanding saying with a sigh of regret, *Yes, my wife died just three years ago. We had been married for sixty years; I know if I had been younger, she would have wanted me to marry again.*

Dearna said with a smile on her face, *I'm glad he hasn't forgotten his wife, it shows me that he has commitment, and I know from his mind that he loves me as much as he did her.* She laughed softly, *I'm not an adolescent girl expecting that one undying love is all that a man has to give.*

Symin said speculatively, *The Temple of Essus is outside the south gate. It's just as well that it has an enormous field next to it. This is going to be the biggest wedding held in many years. Most of Bremen and for twenty to thirty miles around it will want to attend.*

He looked at Terrion, and the younger boy nodded, *Ren says he'll pay for the whole thing. He says that since he'll never get married, and I probably wonít either, he'd like to pay for one big wedding in his lifetime.*

Symin nodded his understanding. *Minna and Tomma are probably the best ones to organize it. Between them, they know everybody they need to deal with.*

Dearna looked at the boy, "You wouldn't let us have a small wedding would you?"

Symin shook his head, telling her seriously, "You're important Dearna. Why do you think the others brought Seldon here when they took you to me? It's not because you're irreplaceable. Obviously you aren't, but look who replaced you. A Great Mage Healer. You know everyone within twenty miles, and have treated many of them in the past twenty years"

Darren and Dearna looked at each other, grimacing a bit with amusement as Symin was off and planning.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN-643 AF-25thof Verin, Lythea-Temple of Essus

The Priest of Essus started speaking in a solemn voice, "We meet to tie this couple together in a form of bondage, bondage between equals who know their own minds and voluntarily forgo the freedoms they now enjoy."

"Itís a joyous occasion for them because they chose to be bound together, and equally joyous for those of you who are watching them wed." He continued in that same vein for several minutes and then came to the conclusion, "If you still wish to wed, after hearing the duties that you will now owe to each other please say so now?"

Both Darren and Dearna answered in strong definite voices. This was something they wanted and more had come to need.

"Yes!!!" said Darren forcefully.

"Yes!!!" Dearna said, more quietly but with just as much determination in her voice.

"Present the Band of Gold." the Priest of Essus said, and they each held up a piece of decorated metal, in delicately made filigreed gold and they touched the ends together and the Priest ran his fingers over the edges and used his magic to join them into one. The Band of Gold was always of metal but only the more important members of society actually used bands made of gold.

Then he said, "This band is now one, these lives are now one, may they take pleasure in a long life of joy."



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