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                                            by Lynne Charles

Asiel smiled sweetly at the still, sleeping form of her sweetheart and husband of just two months. She softly touched the whitened scar that ran across his bare shoulder. It looked as though it had been there for many years, but Asiel knew Jonathon had acquired it recently, just a few days before they had decided to marry. Putting these thoughts from her mind, she concentrated instead on her new found happiness as she snuggled closer to her husband and was soon sleeping peacefully.

* * * lc * * * * * * * lc * * * * * * * lc * * *

Her brother's threat was not an idle one, she realized. Steps must be taken to ensure the safety of Jonathon, as she now called him. She was quite certain that he was endangered by her presence, yet she knew that he would not be able to withstand Aviar's arsenal without her. She was trapped neatly in the center of the complexities. She had recently met Iffley, and she had decided that the great wizard was entirely capable of facing her evil twin on his own. So now she was beset by the problem of Jonathon's safety. How was she to keep him safe, while acting as though Jonathon was protecting her? She pondered quietly, and at long last a perfect solution came to her attention. Now, the only obstacle lay in presenting it to Jonathon. Aviar was irrevocably set in his course. Destruction was assured, but whose would it be?

She walked quickly down the curving staircase and was surprised to find Jonathon waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs.

"I need to talk with you, Jonathon."

"And I must speak with you, as well. Come."

He took her hand in his, and she offered no resistance. He led her into a breathtakingly beautiful garden, strewn with multitudes of varying flowers. They walked along the stony pathway through the greenery until they came upon a cozy nook half hidden by the shrubbery. A small bench was surrounded by newly grown lilies here, and Jonathon motioned to Asiel to seat herself. He sat down beside her, and she listened attentively as he began speaking.

"We have to talk about your brother. I realize that you care about him, but I don't see any way for you to remain safe as long as he is alive."

Surprised by her lack of response to his statement, he fell silent, and a long pause followed his words. Abruptly, Asiel broke the solitude.

"I quite agree with you. I have tried, and failed, for years, to save my brother and myself from his chosen path of destruction. When we were younger, our powers were too weak to cause any damage to others, save that of normal mischief making. However, as we matured, our powers grew as well, and now Aviar is bent on destroying those whom he will. He cannot be dissuaded, and therefore, cannot be stopped. If we are to survive, he must die. But does not plotting my brother's downfall make us as evil as he?"

There was a sadness in her tone as she spoke, nurtured by the years of loneliness she had endured, alienated from any emotions, except the hate her brother had bestowed on her. Pierce felt an empathy with the young woman, and understood the deep wounds she hid better than she knew. Once again, he grasped her hands warmly in his own, while he thought desperately, seeking an answer to her query.

"Sweetheart, we can always hold hope that your brother may yet be turned from his way. If we try only to help him, we may accomplish both ends."

But even as he spoke, they both knew it was an impossibility.

* * * lc * * * * * * * lc * * * * * * * lc * * *

The man in the black forest just beyond the manor sat quietly in the tree, stroking the yellow cat which lounged beside him. 'He must be destroyed. Utterly and completely destroyed. He is a demon, as they all are. I will not let them live to plague me!' Wit this vow ringing in his head, the young man scrambled out of the tree and ran off, darting in and out of the trees until he disappeared in the deepening gloom.

* * * lc * * * * * * * lc * * * * * * * lc * * *

The couple on the bench were sitting silently now, her head on his shoulder. She had finally drawn up enough courage to tell him of her plan, and he had, at length, accepted the idea. When he voiced his support, she gave in to her emotional upheaval, and cried many tears, full of both relief and sorrow. Now they sat holding each other, drawing strength from their rapport and support. They decided to put their plan into action as soon as possible.

When her sobs had finally subsided, Jonathon drew a handkerchief from his pocket and tenderly wiped the tears from her eyes. He held her close against him as they left the sanctity of the garden, and walked slowly toward the Topaz Room, where she was staying. As they neared the door, he pulled her close to him. They felt an electric current flow through them as their lips met. Time stopped for the couple as they left the world for the brief instant they embraced. Neither of the young lovers wanted to let go, but Asiel finally pulled away. She walked into her bedroom alone, and lay down on the large canopied bed. Intrigue sat beside his friend and nuzzled his head against her in an understanding way.

* * * lc * * * * * * * lc * * * * * * * lc * * *

Jonathon stood gazing down into a tiny emerald-covered box. It contained a single ring, fashioned in the old traditional way. It was made of white gold, two bands joined together. One band held five small diamonds, and a single large diamond graced the other band. The ring had been his mother's, its style passed down thorough numerous generations. This ring would have to wait, but until then she would wear the ring he would giver her tonight. Jonathon summoned one of the many servants in the mansion, and dictated an invitation for the night's festivities.

* * * lc * * * * * * * lc * * * * * * * lc * * *

An insistent knock on the door startled Asiel, and she leapt to her feet to open it, nearly tripping over Intrigue, who was sleeping peacefully on the lemony yellow carpet. A messenger held a silver tray out to Asiel. When he lifted the engraved covering, an envelope appeared, with Asiel's name written on it in script. She took the card from the tray and thanked the servant, who promptly left. She closed the door softly behind her as she opened the envelope. Inside, she found an invitation from Jonathon, which read:

My dear Asiel,

I humbly request your presence tonight for an evening of dinner, dancing, and conversation. Please wear appropriate dress. You will find suitable attire in your closet. I am looking forward to the pleasure of your company.

                         With sincerest hope,

                              Your friend,


'How like him!' she thought. Though she had only known him a short time, she realized that he often had difficulty expressing himself, unless he did so in a very formal style. But what did he mean by "suitable attire"? She opened the closet doors, not expecting to find anything in particular. And yet...there, hanging by itself, was a georgeous gown, cut in an old style she recognized as one called "Traditional Southern". She drew it out of the closet and held it in front of her. It was a long dress, full in skirt, and cut so that it would be just off the shoulder when worn. It was a very light shade of purple in color, and though her own favorite was a sunny shade of yellow, she decided to wear this dress tonight, if just to please Jonathon. She set about her preparations and was ready for the festivities by the time her escort came to take her down to meet her dinner date. Jonathon was surveying the effect of the lavish settings as Asiel stepped into the room. His back was to her, and she took this opportunity to examine his apparel. He was dressed simply, though in the same type of style she wore. A dark brown, tailed coat fitted neatly across his broad shoulders. Lighter brown pants reached to the end of brightly polished "gentleman's" shoes. He half-turned as he directed one of the servants to move a vase of daisies. Over a cream colored shirt, he wore a medium brown vest. He looked up as he straightened a napkin, and was momentarily stunned. The long Southern style dress suited her perfectly. She wore no jewelry, and adorned her hair with the simplest of ornaments. She had worn her hair loose, parted in the middle, and drawn up on one side, where she had fastened some daisies. Recovering his composure, he quickly stepped forward to meet her, and directed her to a chair. He seated himself next to her, and called the servants forward with their tasty offerings. The conversation was spent almost entirely on the past, as both Asiel and Jonathon somehow felt a need to know more about each other. After they had finished dining, Jonathon guided Asiel to the ballroom. Ornately designed, its walls were a rich brown mahogany, and each piece of furniture was similarly styled. Along one wall stood a small table. An oddly shaped instrument sat on the table, and Jonathon went over to it and turned a small handle on its side. He moved an arm attachment and placed it on a black rotating disk. From out of the large megaphone shaped piece came the sounds of beautiful music. Asiel had never heard anything quite like it, and she was breathless with wonder.

"What is it?" she asked.

"It is called a victrola, and the disk is a record. The music you hear is made by violins. I like to collect antiques. This particular piece was made BP, Before the Plague. It was sealed in a time capsule which was marked with a date from the early twentieth century, I believe. Do you like the music?"

She nodded her head in response, and he took her in his arms and showed her his favorite dance, the waltz. They danced to several tunes, and Asiel found that she loved the dancing almost as much as the man who held her. When the record ended, Jonathon asked Asiel if she would care to take a walk along the perimeter of the manor. She agreed, and as they walked out the French doors Jonathon secretly signalled to a few of his guards to inconspicuously follow them. They walked hand in hand around the mansion, until they reached a tiny gazebo toward the back of the manor. They stepped inside and sat down. Jonathon looked intently at Asiel as he held both of her hands in his own and began to speak.

"I think we both know how we feel about one another, though we have tried to ignore our feelings. We have both been afraid of the consequences of love. But we don't have to be afraid, as long as we are together. I love you, Asiel, and I want you to make my life complete by becoming my wife."

The earnest look on the young man's face told Asiel that this was all too real. She had not been prepared for this. She didn't know what to say. She suddenly felt trapped, and her mind was awhirl in a state of confusion. Jonathon watched her expression change, from confusion to fear to determination. Abruptly, she jumped up from the bench and whispered, "I can't. I'm...I'm sorry." Then she turned and ran back to the manor. Jonathon watched her go in disbelief. He sat there for along time after she left, then slowly trudged back to the manor, to sit silently in his darkened room.

* * * lc * * * * * * * lc * * * * * * * lc * * *

Their demeanor the next morning was cordial, but far from loving. No mention was made of the incident, and they let it go at that. They ate their breakfast in silence, and departed quickly in opposite directions. Asiel had received permission to ride, so she went out to the stables and saddled Sunshine. She rode without thought, giving the horse a free rein. As she neared the tree where they had first spoken, she slowed the horse to a walk. Knowing the horse would not run away, she dropped the reins and allowed the animal to graze as she slid gracefully off its back. She walked around the tree and was surprised to find Jonathon sitting against the tree with his head bowed. She turned to go before he noticed her, but he raised his head and asked her to stay.

"I thought we loved each other. Don't you care for me at all?"

There was a pleading in his tone as he spoke, and Asiel felt the strain of his hopelessness. She longed to hold him and tell him that he was all she could ever want. She wanted desperately to kiss him and take his heartbreak away, but she couldn't.

"I can't. Not yet. Please, don't ask me. When it is time..."

He was puzzled by her words, but didn't have time to contemplate their meaning, as a darkly familiar voice came from behind them.

"So I have found you at last. I have grown tired of playing these childish games with you. I will end this now."

Springing up, Asiel pulled Jonathon with her as she took off for a more open area.

"You should know by now that it is useless to run away from me, sister!"

Aviar followed the couple, and when Asiel and Jonathon had reached open ground, they turned to face their pursuer. Asiel stepped forward to meet her twin brother.

"I won't allow you to destroy all I have. You must kill me as well, if you try to hurt Jonathon."

"Do you seriously think your life means anything to me at all?" He laughed incredulously at the prospect. "If you are foolish enough to get in the way, I will destroy you as surely as I will destroy your lover."

He reached out toward Asiel, but Jonathon stepped in between the pair. Aviar pushed him roughly aside and advanced toward Asiel. Calling Mystique, Aviar sent the cougar to attack Jonathon while he concentrated on Asiel. Mystique seemingly appeared from nowhere, and Jonathon had no defence as the yellow cat pounced on his back. Jonathon fell to the ground as the cougar pawed mercilessly at his back. The material of his shirt had been ripped away, and now the claws were digging deep into Jonathon's shoulder. Asiel was having problems of her own as Aviar extended his pain-giving power to countermand her healing flow. She had to find his point of vulnerability, and soon, or she would become so weakened she would lose the last of her strength. She searched her mind desperately for a clue, and at last caught a glimpse of something from their childhood which might help her. Jonathon had managed to shake off the cougar. Blood was streaming down his back from the wounds the cat had made. The cougar was now engaged in defence, as Intrigue had come swiftly from the mansion in response to Asiel's directed plea. Although Jonathon was badly shaken, he could see that Asiel was in danger, and weakening fast. With no thought of his condition, he charged ahead and jumped on Aviar's back. His concentration was momentarily broken, and Asiel got the opportunity she had needed. While Aviar fought to throw Jonathon off his back, Asiel lunged at him and tore the black leather glove from his left hand. She grabbed his hand and concentrated her power on that area. As Aviar felt her flow seep through his defences, he became a wild man. His struggles where in vain, however, and he felt himself falling away into the blackness he had controlled for so long. Asiel, the tears streaming down her face, did not relent in her assault. She continued her onslaught until she felt the nothingness envelope her twin. She felt her very heart being ripped in two and yet she kept the flow strong against him. At the last, she felt the gratitude and forgiveness, then the emptiness, and her scream echoed across the field as she wrenched herself away from the now still form of her brother. Jonathon lay unconscious on the ground. His entire back was drenched in blood, which still flowed freely from the wounds. They yellow cat had perished as her master, and lay stretched out upon the ground like a defeated army with many battle scars. Intrigue sat exhausted from his efforts, and he too was bleeding from the war. Asiel gathered her thoughts together, and called Intrigue to help her get Jonathon back to the manor. She slid his still body on top of the panther, and the odd train made its way to the mansion. Servants helped Asiel move Jonathon to his bed, and they brought the materials she had requested. She knew the cat would understand why she must do this first. She dipped the cloth in the basin of warm water and gently cleaned the wounds on Jonathon's back. Most of the wounds where not deep, but there was one gouge she knew would leave a prominent scar despite her efforts. After the wounds were cleansed, Asiel touched the open wounds softly and her healing powers began to mend the torn flesh. Soon, all of the scratches where healing, even the deep one which ran across his right shoulder. The process took longer than she had anticipated, due to her weakened condition, and she was exhausted by the time she was satisfied she had done all she could. She took some of the salve the servants had left and tenderly applied it to the scarred areas. Then she turned her attention to the great black cat which sat patiently waiting for her touch. She held the cat and healed the wounds the cougar had inflicted. Intrigue's scratchy tongue licked her thankfully when she was done. Tired, she sat back in the chair next to Jonathon's bed and waited for him to awaken. Eventually, she fell asleep. The pair slept until dawn, recovering from their ordeal. As the sun began spreading its rays into the room, Jonathon stirred in his sleep. Instantly, Asiel was awake. She looked down on the young man and saw that some of the pain from his wounds was returning. She laid a soft hand on the injured shoulder and was rewarded as she saw the furrows disappear from his brow as her powers took affect. She sat by his bed throughout that morning as he began regaining his strength. When he finally opened his eyes, he saw her worried frown replaced by a happy smile.

"Well, it's about time you woke up, you lazy creature." she chided him. He looked over at her and smiled. It was over, and they were both safe. Saying nothing, he held out his hands to her. She took one of his large brown hands and kissed it warmly.

"Is the offer still open?" she asked.

He looked puzzled.

"What offer? What are you talking about?"

"I believe it had something to do with making your life complete." she said as she bent over to kiss him. He put the engagement ring on the third finger of her left hand and kissed her back.

 © 1985, 

K. Blaire, L. Charles, D. Conrad, Enad the Great, A. Mann, J. Pierce, B. C. Randolf, and T. G. Taft

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