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This is a work of fiction. All the characters or events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or used fictitiously.


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Copyright © 2017 by Scott Prussing Publishing    

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THE FOUR TEENAGERS had already trekked nearly a mile when they turned off into the trees, following an almost invisible path up a steep hillside. Jeremy led the way, the bright yellow beam of his flashlight illuminating the uneven ground in front of them. Brit walked close beside him, with Lexi and Ryan trailing a short distance behind. Holding hands, they climbed the ridge at a slower pace.

Growing up in Connecticut, they had all heard stories about the famous Moodus Noises, but only Jeremy had actually experienced the underground rumblings. He hoped they would get lucky tonight—there was nothing like a little shake, rattle and roll to make a frightened girl seek out a bit of reassuring snuggling. And he was definitely interested in some close cuddling with Brit.

“Are we almost there?” Brit asked, trying not to sound like she was complaining as she tucked a few loose strands of her long dark hair behind her ear. She wasn’t really feeling tired yet, but she was starting to work up a bit of a sweat in the humid summer air. They were getting pretty deep into the woods, too, and she was beginning to feel a little nervous.

“Yeah, it’s just a bit farther,” Jeremy replied. He pointed the flashlight a hundred feet or so farther up the hillside, which had grown much steeper. “Up there.”

He sucked in a few quiet, deep breaths as they continued up the slope. He was not about to show Brit he was tired—he had an image to uphold, especially in front of her. He could not believe his good luck in even getting her to come up here with him tonight, and he wasn’t about to look like a wuss in front of her.

Finally, they reached their goal: a large, flat stone outcropping near the top of the ridge. Jeremy swung the flashlight’s beam slowly across the rock, making sure everything was okay. Stringy weeds and tall grasses sprouted from small cracks in the gray shale, but the wide expanse of stone held the surrounding woods at bay, leaving a wide, clear ledge.

“Ta daa! We’re here!” Jeremy’s voice rang a bit too loud for Brit’s taste.

“Shhh,” she admonished, looking around nervously. Something about this place made her feel uneasy, especially since Lexi and Ryan were still some distance down the ridge. She hoped she would feel better when all four of them were up here.

Jeremy frowned. “Why are you whispering? There’s probably no one around for miles.”

Brit drew in a deep breath. “I know, but it just feels like we should be quiet, you know?”

Jeremy switched off the light. No longer blocked by the thick foliage, the full moon cast a pale illumination over the wide ledge, giving it a somewhat eerie feel. They heard water splashing off to their left, where a wide stream cascaded over a rocky bed down the mountain into the slow moving Moodus River far below.

Jeremy thought this might be a good chance to go for a hug, so he gently drew Brit into his arms.

“You know you don’t have to be afraid, right? We’re the only ones—shit! What’s that behind you?” He feigned a horror-stricken expression and jumped back, pulling her with him.

“What?! Where?” Brit shrieked, pulling away from his grasp and looking over her shoulder. She didn’t see anything, and when she heard Jeremy begin to chuckle, her fear turned to annoyance. She was really starting to regret letting Lexi talk her into coming along on this little adventure. Lexi and Ryan had been dating for several months now, and Lexi had been wanting to fix Brit up with Jeremy for a while. Jeremy was cute, and Brit knew he could be downright charming when he wanted to be, but right now, he was just being an ass.

“Oh, you’re just so hilarious,” she said, smacking him hard on his upper arm.

“I’m sorry,” Jeremy said a bit sheepishly, “but you look so darn cute when you’re scared. Your eyes get all big and round and…”

“Shut up.” Brit was about to tell him where he could go, but she decided he was not worth it. “Just shut up.”

She wrapped her arms across her chest, suddenly beginning to feel a bit chilly despite the balmy night air. Maybe she wasn’t being fair to Jeremy. She knew he was just trying to be funny, but even though this spot was lovely in many ways, something about it still gave her the willies. She felt like she was being watched, like something really could come out of the shadows and grab them. She wished Lexi and Ryan would hurry up and get here. She would feel better when all four of them were together.

For his part, Jeremy knew he had screwed up. Brit’s furrowed brow and closed off body language told him more than any words could say. Hoping he had not irreparably damaged the rest of night, he reached out to touch Brit’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, okay?” He did not know what else to say. Luckily, he was saved from having to come up with anything else by Ryan and Lexi’s arrival. They were a good looking couple. Ryan’s dark, athletic look and build contrasted beautifully with Lexi’s blond hair and petite frame. The kids at school had even nicknamed them Ken and Barbie.

“Wow, this is some gorgeous spot,” Lexi said, peering out over the edge of the cliff to the river below, which snaked like a dark silver ribbon through the black woods. “It’s breathtaking.”

Seeing that Jeremy had switched off his light, Ryan turned his off as well. A moment later, a band of thick clouds floated in front of the moon, making the night darker and even more ghostly. The wind seemed to have quickened also, rustling the leaves behind them more violently than before.

“Man, it’s really dark out here when the moon hides, huh?” Ryan said with a grin.

Lexi nestled closer to Ryan. “I think it’s spooky. You better save me from any monsters out here, mister, or there’ll be hell to pay.”

“I’ve come to suck your blood!” Ryan threatened in what was supposed to be a Transylvanian accent but sounded more like he had been punched in the mouth and lost a couple of teeth.

“You’re such an idiot,” Lexi said, laughing. “But I love you anyway.” She rose up onto her toes and kissed him on the cheek, then turned to Jeremy. “How did you guys ever find this place anyway?”

“My dad used to bring me hiking here when I was little. He told me the Noises occurred when little boys and girls were being punished by monsters under the rocks. I heard the rumbling one time we were here, so I believed him.” Jeremy chuckled at the memory. “You can bet I was a well-behaved kid for a long time after that!”

They all laughed.

“I was always told that the Noises were a demon trying to break out from its prison under the earth,” Brit said. “I think that’s an old Indian legend.”

The moon chose that moment to peek out through the clouds, giving a faintly blue cast to the rocks surrounding them. Brit felt goose bumps begin to rise on her arms.

“Well, then,” Ryan said as he pulled his the backpack off his shoulders. “I’ll take the moon reappearing as a good omen. Let’s see if we can get someone or something to talk to us.”

Unzipping the pack, he took out a wooden spirit board and a black pointer. Sitting down on the outcropping, he opened up the board.

“I didn’t know we were going to be doing anything like this,” Brit said nervously. “My dad has never let one of those things into the house. If they make him uneasy, they gotta be bad news.”

“Oh, come on, Brit,” Lexi said, taking Brit’s hand and gently pulling her down to sit. “It’s all just for fun. You know as well as I do it’ll be one of the guys moving the pointer. Let’s let them have their little fun.”

“Don’t worry, Brit, I’ll protect you,” Jeremy said.

Reluctantly, Brit sat down between Jeremy and Lexi, completing the circle.

“I summon you, oh dark one,” Jeremy intoned in a deep voice. “Rise up…rise up and tell us your name.”

Brit did not like this one bit. She glanced at Lexi, who was smiling.

“It’s okay,” Lexi whispered, taking Brit’s hand again and giving it a quick squeeze before pulling away and placing her two index fingers on the pointer like the guys had done.

Brit took a deep breath and then hesitantly placed her fingers on the pointer as well. She did not know whether she was imagining it, but the wooden triangle seemed to feel warm under her fingertips. She hoped the damn thing would stay right where it was.

Instead, it began to slide slowly across the board a few inches before stopping.

“I,” Lexi said, reading out the letter where the pointer had stopped. The pointer moved again. Lexi continued to call out the letters. “A…M.” She hesitated a moment, then read, “I am…”

Brit stared hard at the board, wondering what name the guys had planned to spell—and hoping that it WAS the guys who were doing it.

“I am who?” Ryan asked when the pointer started making slow circles around the board without stopping on any letters.

The wind suddenly ceased blowing. Everything had gone deathly still. Only the gurgling stream broke the silence, and even that seemed to have quieted a bit, as if nature itself were awaiting the answer.

Finally, the pointer halted.

“L,” Ryan said softly. The pointer moved again, and again. “A…M…A…S…H...T…U.”

The pointer stopped. They all watched for a moment to see if it would move again, but it remained where it was.

“I guess that’s it,” Ryan said.

Lexi grabbed her smartphone and began busily tapping the screen to search the word.

“Lamashtu,” she read, “an ancient demon thought to…”

Before she could read any more, the ground began to tremble and a sound like distant thunder rumbled through the rock beneath them. They all sprang to their feet.

“That’s the Noises,” Jeremy said, trying to soothe himself as much as his friends. “I’ll never forget that sound. The ground never actually shook like this, though.” He switched on his flashlight and swept it quickly across the outcropping, but saw nothing.

A moment later, another more violent tremor rattled the ground. At the same time, the wind began blowing again, stronger than before. Stout branches bent and creaked, and the leaves rustled loudly. The beam from Jeremy’s flashlight dimmed.

“I don’t like this one bit,” Ryan said, bending to quickly gather up the spirit board and the pointer. “Let’s get out of here.”

Brit was beyond frightened now. There was no way this could be part of any prank dreamed up by the guys.

Suddenly, a low, guttural howl filled the air. It seemed to emanate from all directions at once. All four of them looked around anxiously.

“Holy crap!” Ryan exclaimed. “What the heck was that?”

“It was just the Noises again, right Jeremy?” Brit asked hopefully, her voice rising an octave. “You’ve heard that before, right?”

Jeremy looked at his friends, his face pale in the moonlight. His eyes were wide with fear. “I’ve never heard anything like that in my life.”

The growl sounded again, louder now.

“Go, go, go!” Jeremy yelled. “Let’s get out of here!”

They sprinted toward the trail that led down off the ridge. They managed only a few steps before Brit tripped on an uneven spot in the stone. Her feet flew out from under her and her head smashed down onto the rocky shelf with a sickening thud. She lay crumpled on her side, motionless.

“Brit!” Lexi screamed. “Brit!”

She knelt down beside her friend’s still form and yelled for Ryan to give her the flashlight.

“No, no, no, no,” she sobbed, gently lifting Brit’s head and feeling a warm liquid run onto her hand. She held her hand up into the flashlight’s yellow beam. Dark red blood coated her palm and dripped down from her fingers.

Jeremy looked on in horror. “Oh, god…she’s dead, isn’t she?”

No one even noticed that the wind had died again and the ground had grown still.

Intended or not, blood had been spilled. After all these centuries, a human sacrifice had been made. Now there would be Hell to pay.


LEESA COULD NOT HELP SMILING as she relaxed in her comfortable rope and canvas hammock and watched Rave and Ralin playing around in the backyard. The early June sun felt wonderful on her bare arms and legs, while a floppy-brimmed straw hat shaded her face. A gentle breeze that barely rustled the leaves of the trees kept the air from feeling too hot.

Father and son were taking turns cupping their hands under one another’s foot and then hurling him as high into the air as they could. Already, Rave had tossed Ralin higher than the tallest tree in the yard, a height of nearly forty feet. Leesa had long ago stopped worrying about how her son might land after being tossed to such a height. For his part, Ralin was determined to throw his father up just as high, but so far his every effort had fallen a few feet short. Ralin was not one to give up easily, though. When he set his mind to something, he could be as determined and stubborn as anyone Leesa had ever met. Rave would say it was a trait he inherited from his mother.

“Is that the best you’ve got?” Rave teased when he landed softly upon the grass after yet another toss.

“Maybe if you weren’t so fat, Dad,” Ralin replied with a grin, “I could throw you as high as you throw me.”

Leesa chuckled. Rave was anything but fat. He was just as muscular and athletic looking as he had been when she first glimpsed him in her Vampire Science class more than fifteen years before. He looked just as handsome, too. He really had not changed at all since those first days, and her heartbeat still quickened when she looked at him.

No one who met him would ever believe Rave was nearly two centuries old. She could hardly believe it herself. Eventually, he would begin to show some age, she knew. Though it did not seem like he would, the proof that volkaanes eventually aged could be seen in his mentor Balin, whose hair had gone mostly gray. Of course, Balin was well over five hundred years old. By the time Rave’s thick, dark copper locks started to gray, Leesa figured her own blond hair would probably be going to silver as well.

As for Ralin, he was the spitting image of his father and, thanks to his special volkaane genes, already as tall and nearly as muscular as Rave. The two of them could easily be brothers rather than father and son. Leesa had to constantly remind herself that her son was barely thirteen, and subject to much of the same angst and uncertainty of teenagers everywhere. Given his secret heritage and relative isolation from other kids his age, Leesa knew he was probably subject to even more of it than a normal teen.

Still, when he played like this with his dad, he seemed happy and relaxed, for which she was grateful. In the last couple of years he had gained nearly complete control of his hybrid volkaane/wizard magic, which meant one less headache to trouble him—and to worry his parents. He still had lots to learn—they all did, since his form of magic was something completely new—but at least his magic no longer erupted seemingly of its own accord. That had caused more than a few headaches during Ralin’s early years, for sure.

In fact, life for all of them had been very peaceful for some time now, which certainly had not been the case during her early days with Rave. After several years filled with battling evil wizards and the Necromancer, followed by one brief adventure helping the centaur Ariandre save her world, things had settled into a fairly boring, though not unhappy, routine. The main excitement in her life nowadays was the still hot lovemaking she and Rave continued to enjoy with wonderful frequency—and she meant “hot” in every sense of the word, thanks to Rave’s inner volkaane fire. In fact, just last night…

Leesa let her eyelids fall closed as she began to recall the steamy details of last night’s amorous activities.

Before she got far, though, Dominic’s voice pulled her from her reverie.

“Napping in the middle of the afternoon, are we?” he teased. “Have I been working you too hard? Wearing you out teaching you to master your magic?”

Leesa opened her eyes and looked up at the wizard. “No, not at all. I was just remembering something.”

“From the smile you had on your face, I do not think I want to ask what it was you were remembering.”

Leesa laughed and felt a slight blush warm her cheeks. “No, you probably don’t,” she admitted.

For the past few years, Dominic had been living here with them. The elderly widower who had rented the house to them died a few years back, and when his son offered to sell them the house, they had jumped at the chance. Dominic’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of treasure made buying the house easy, once they converted some of his jewels into cash.

Not long afterward, they added two new rooms, one for Ralin and one with a separate door to the backyard for Dominic. He was around so much anyway, helping Ralin learn to control his magic and continuing Leesa’s training, that it just made sense to have him live here. Plus, they were all very fond of him.

“Do you think you can muster up enough energy to work on some magic?” he asked her.

“Sure. But why?” Leesa wasn’t really complaining about practicing—she almost always enjoyed using her magic. She was just in a mood. “Nothing ever happens around here anymore. I was just thinking about how we could use a bit of excitement. It’s been pretty dull for a while, you know.”

Dominic frowned. “Don’t talk like that.” His tone was much more serious than Leesa would have expected.

Leesa studied the wizard’s face, but as usual, his expression gave nothing away.

“Do you know something you’re not telling me?” she asked, her brow narrowing. “Is there something going on I should know about?”

Dominic shook his head. “No, not at all.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “It’s just that I remember feeling very much the same way a hundred years or so ago—right before so many of my comrades crossed over to the dark side. And we all know how that turned out.”

Leesa smiled. She certainly did know. The ensuing battle had nearly ended waziri magic. Only Dominic had escaped the slaughter.

“I get it. Be careful what we wish for, right?”

“Exactly. Now, as for practicing your magic, you and Ralin are the future of waziri magic. When I’m gone, it will be up to you two to carry it on, in whatever new form it may take.”

Like Rave, Dominic did not appear to have aged at all from the day Leesa met him. His dark hair was still only lightly speckled with gray, as was his short, pointy beard. He looked like a well-preserved man in his early fifties, though he was even older than Balin. She suspected he had several good centuries left in him, at least, but she remembered how they had nearly lost him to the Necromancer’s deadly magic table some years back. She quickly pushed that depressing thought away.

“You don’t look like you’ll be going anywhere anytime soon, but I get it.” Leesa swung her legs over the side of the hammock. “Let’s go do some magic. How about you teach me something new today?”

Dominic held out his hand and helped Leesa out of the hammock. “I know just the thing. Something I think you just might be ready for.”

Leesa’s interest was definitely piqued now. Something she might be ready for? She had been doing magic for fifteen years now, and had mastered scores of spells and powers. And now Dominic was saying he had something she only might be ready for? She could not imagine what it might be, but she could not wait to find out.


WHAT IS IT?” Leesa asked. “What magic do you think I only might be ready for?” Her words came out a bit more sarcastic sounding than she meant them to.

Dominic raised his eyebrows. A bemused smile curved his lips.

“Feeling a bit full of yourself, are you?” he asked. “Like there’s no magic left that could possibly pose a challenge to such an experienced wizard as yourself?”

“I’m sorry,” Leesa replied, meaning it. “I didn’t intend for it to sound like that. I’m actually really excited you have something new and challenging for me. Especially with the blah way I was feeling before.”

“I’m glad to hear that, because what I have in mind will definitely be a challenge. I have no doubt it will take some time before you are able to succeed.”

Leesa’s curiosity ratcheted up another few notches. Dominic seemed completely certain this new magic would prove difficult for her to master. She wondered again what it could be as she watched him reach one hand behind his back and pull his magic wallet from his pocket.

He dug into it, his arm disappearing almost up to his elbow. When he withdrew his hand, he was holding something Leesa recognized instantly, even though she had not seen it in nearly fifteen years.

“Let’s hope you still feel excited when you are struggling to create your avatar,” Dominic said.

Her avatar! As she stared at the beautiful ivory and silver box no bigger than Dominic’s hand, Leesa’s mind immediately shot back to a moment she would never forget. She had used Dominic’s avatar—an extremely realistic false projection of the wizard—to help him try to defeat two black waziri and their apprentices. That their scheme hadn’t gone the way they planned and they had to be rescued at the last moment by Stefan and three of his fellow vampires did not matter. She remembered how the avatar had been so lifelike it had tricked even the dark wizards, who were familiar with such magic. And she remembered Dominic telling her how extremely powerful the magic that had gone into the creation of the thing had been.

He held the box out to her. “Take it,” he said.

Leesa took the box carefully in both hands.

“Do you notice anything different?” Dominic asked.

She turned it over slowly, examining it closely with her eyes. There was something different, she saw right away. She remembered the ivory and the silver being etched with detailed designs, but both were smooth and unmarked now.

“The markings are gone,” she said. “What happened to them? Did they disappear along with your avatar? Is it empty now? Can a wizard create only one avatar in his lifetime?”

Dominic smiled. “There are no markings on it because it is a different box.” He reached into his wallet again and withdrew a second box, identical to the first except for the familiar, intricate etchings. “This is mine. That one is yours.”

“Mine?” Leesa ran her hand over the smooth surface of the ivory. Despite the warmth of the day, it felt slightly cool to her touch. “Thank you so much. I love it.”

Behind them, Ralin had at last tired of tossing Rave up into the air. Instead, father and son had leapt up into a tree at the edge of the woods behind their yard and were now racing through the branches. Leesa watched them disappear back into the woods, then she turned back to Dominic.

“How long have you had this?” she asked, slowly turning the box over and over again in her hands.

“Not all that long. But long enough, I think.”

More wizard speak, Leesa thought. She knew better than to try to get any more details from Dominic. It was enough for her that Dominic thought she was ready to try this now.

“However long it’s been, I guess you didn’t have time to decorate mine like yours,” she said, grinning to show she was only teasing him.

Dominic returned her smile. “Carving the etchings is your job. One of several difficult steps that lie ahead for you, I’m afraid.”

Leesa shifted her eyes from her plain box to the beautiful, intricate etchings that covered the entire surface of Dominic’s box. She had never been much good at creative crafts, but she guessed that was not going to matter here. She was pretty sure she was not going to be using any carving tools to decorate her box. The etchings would be produced through magic in some way, she guessed. That Dominic said it would be a difficult step told her she was not going to be using anything as simple as a narrowly focused beam of magic like a laser to create the designs.

“So, what do I do first?”

“Do you remember when I healed your leg?”

Leesa was momentarily taken aback by the seeming non-sequitur. She had grown very skilled at using healing magic over the years—Ralin’s early childhood adventures made sure of that—but she did not see what healing magic had to do with carving designs into ivory and silver.

“Uh, yeah. Sure. I remember.”

Dominic recognized her confusion. “Do you remember the very first thing I had you do before I healed you?”

Leesa thought back to that day so many years ago. It took her a few moments, but finally she knew what he was talking about.

“You had me look inside myself to view my magic, so that eventually you could wrap your magic inside mine, to prevent the black waziri from detecting it when you healed me.”

“Exactly. Step one now is for you to do that again. Hold your box like this while you do it.”

Dominic held his box in front of him slightly above waist level, cupped in the open palms of both hands. Leesa did the same.

“Remember, think about all the magic you now possess,” Dominic instructed, “but do not allow your mind to focus on any one part of it. When you’ve done it, let me know, but do not open your eyes.”

Although Leesa had not done this in years, she did not expect the task to be too difficult. After all, thinking without focusing was the basis of a lot of her magic. Indeed, it had been the very first thing Dominic taught her—the everywhere/nowhere technique.

She closed her eyes and forgot about the box she was holding, focusing her thoughts inward instead, mentally running through every spell and power she could think of, without actually thinking of it. She likened it to racing across a wide stream, leaping from stone to stone, barely letting her foot contact a rock before lifting off and moving on to the next one. At the same time, she tried to visualize the yellow glow she had seen inside herself that first time.

It seemed to take longer than she remembered—perhaps because she had learned so much more magic now—but finally she began to see it, an oblong sphere of yellow light, taller than it was wide. The outside edges were faint and gauzy, but the deeper into the glow she looked, the brighter it grew. In the center, she saw a shining yellow sphere the size of a basketball. Once again, she was looking into the core of her power. The sphere was definitely larger and much brighter than it had been that first time, marking the growth of her powers.

The entire thing shimmered and pulsated, almost like a heartbeat, but not quite so regular. This was the special vibration of her magic, she knew. She felt her mind merging with the energy, becoming one with it.

“I see it,” she told Dominic. “It’s beautiful. And so much brighter than I remember.”

“Your magic has grown many fold since then,” Dominic replied. “Now for the hard part, the complicated part. Try to merge the core of your magic with the box in your hands. Do not try to force it…rather, direct it to do what you wish, if you can. Visualize a piece of it extending out from your body, yet remaining connected to the center.”

Complicated is right, Leesa thought as she tried to follow Dominic’s instructions. Don’t force, direct. Extend, but stay connected. As usual, visualization was the key. She imagined the bright core of her magic to be the sun, and then pictured a flare erupting out from its surface. She tried to see the flare heading outward toward the box, but the tongue of energy dissipated before it ever left her body.

Concentrating harder, she tried again. She let the image of her magic as the sun grow clear and strong before attempting to send a second flare. Rivulets of sweat streamed down her brow from her exertions, but she was unaware of them.

Once again, though, her efforts failed.

“That’s enough,” Dominic told her, his voice seeming to come from somewhere far off. “Open your eyes.”

Reluctantly, Leesa opened her eyes. She immediately looked down at her box. Its silver and ivory surfaces remained unmarked.

Dominic saw the disappointment on her face. “I told you it would be difficult. No wizard I ever knew was able to do this on his first try. ”

Leesa felt a little bit better about her failure. She wiped her sweaty brow with her forearm.

“How many tries did you make before it finally worked?”

“More than one,” Dominic replied with a smile.

“C’mon. Tell me. How many?”

Dominic shook his head. “This is not a competition, Leesa. You’ll get it when you get it. I don’t want to set any expectations for you. If you form some kind of expectation for when you should succeed, it will only get in the way of your progress.”

“Spoken just like a wizard,” Leesa said, smiling.

“You may try this one time each day,” Dominic instructed, his tone serious. “No more.”

Before Leesa could press him further, Rave and Ralin returned from their trip into the woods.

Rave kissed Leesa’s cheek. “You two been having fun while we were gone?” he asked.

Leesa sighed. “Not really. But Dominic says we’re done for the day. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

“Well, why don’t you make it good, then?” Dominic suggested. “Go do something fun with Rave for a few hours. Ralin and I will stay here and work on his magic.”

Leesa pursed her lips, thinking. She knew Ralin would be okay with it—he loved practicing magic with Dominic.

“Go,” Dominic insisted. “That’s an order.”

“Okay, if you say so.” Leesa levitated herself a few feet off the ground directly in front of Rave. “How about a ride, handsome?”

Rave reached out and drew her close, cradling her against his chest. “Where to, my love?”

“Our spot,” Leesa said.

Rave smiled. “As you wish.”


RAVE TURNED and raced off into the trees. After all these years, this was still Leesa’s favorite way to travel by far, the closest she came to feeling like she was flying, even more so than levitating and pulling herself toward some immovable object with her telekinesis. Moving in that manner was much slower—more like floating than flying. And this way she got to snuggle against Rave’s muscular chest, too.

In a few places where people might see them, like crossing roads, they walked hand in hand like an ordinary couple, but for the most part they remained in the woods and Rave carried her. Sooner than Leesa would have liked—it always seemed much too brief when Rave carried her—they were speeding up the tall ridge toward their spot above the Moodus River. Despite the steepness of the slope, Rave did not seem to slow his pace at all. When he reached the wide rock outcropping he lowered Leesa gently to her feet near the edge of the ledge.

Leesa stared down to where the slow-moving Moodus River looked like a silver ribbon threading its way through the leafy green woods. She breathed in a deep breath of the fresh, clean air. She never tired of this place. Even if it had not held special memories for her, it was still remarkably beautiful and peaceful.

She snaked her arm around Rave’s waist as she drank in the scenic splendor, and Rave did the same. For a few moments they stood silently, content to share the special closeness this place always brought to them.

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