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by Lynne Charles

"How could you have been so stupid?!" Jonathon shouted across the room at her.

"How could I have been so stupid! It was all your fault, you overgrown, overbearing, unreasonable wretch!"

With that, she picked up a small vase sitting on the table behind her and threw it in Jonathon's general direction. It shattered explosively at his feet. His eyes darkened, and he strode quickly over to Asiel. He gripped her arms, and forced calmness into his tone.

"I think that is quite enough. That happened to be a priceless antique. Go upstairs and cool off."

He released his hold on her and turned his back on her. Angrily, she stormed from the room and ran up the curving stairway to the Topaz Room. With a sense of finality, she locked the door behind her.

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The darkened room leant an odd feeling of comfort to the figure lying uncomfortably on the lab-like bed. He began to stir uneasily. Opening his eyes more widely, he glimpsed a hunched form in one corner of the tiny room.

"Ah, at last, my charge finally awakens."

The funny little man came over to the bedside with a bowl of ill-smelling compounds. He stirred the contents, and a nauseating odor permeated the air.

"Here, young man, drink this."

The young man sniffed the mixture warily. He glanced from the bowl to the face before him. With determined decisiveness, he gulped the substance, and fell back onto the bed.

"Sleep now, boy. It will do you the most good."

The caretaker turned back into the darkness and left the man to himself.

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"Making up is the best part. It's too bad we have to fight to do it."

"We don't have to fight." he replied as he drew her closer to him under the silky satin quilt which spread in purple splendor over the bed. They held each other tight until the brightness of the sun's rays awakened them the next morning. Asiel rose with the dawn, and left Jonathon sleeping peacefully as she departed for the sanctity of the meadows. She went directly to the stables, pausing only long enough to get a quick snack. She saddled Sunbeam herself, and rode quickly away into the fields.

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'Soon. I promise it will be soon. Then I will no longer have to endure the hateful ministrations of this gnarled, useless, old man.' The dark-haired man was sitting impatiently on the bed, waiting for the wizened form to bring him the medicinal poultice he needed to gain strength. He knew that he would be strong enough in a few days to continue with his purpose. He had only to wait.

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

Many guards scurried around, searching anxiously for Pierce. They finally found him in the garden, enjoying the solitude of the blooming flowers.

"Mr. Pierce! Mr. Pierce! Something has happened!"

The guard ran up to Jonathon, who waited nervously for the man to regain his composure.

"Well, what is it, man? Speak up."

"Sir, we found Sunbeam saddled and foaming from a run wandering about the grounds. Apparently, she returned alone, as there is no sign of the mistress anywhere. We have searched the stables and Manor thoroughly. I came immediately to inform you, Sir."

The worry apparent in the guard's voice caused a flash of concern to betray Pierce's feelings, but a mask of calm control reasserted itself.

"Take thirty of our most trusted men. I will meet you by the stables. Go now, man. Hurry!"

The guard departed and provided the necessary manpower within ten minutes. Jonathon met the group, then sent them out in teams, each within calling distance of another pair. Jonathon felt a stange sense of foreboding as he joined his men in the search. As it was, it was he who found her.

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The young man paced angrily about the room. The old man had been gone far too long. The seemingly magical potions the medicine man had given him had provided a remarkable recovery. In essence, the dark man had completely surpassed his injuries, and needed only to rest for complete restitution of his faculties. Storming about the room, he almost didn't hear the the old man reenter the cabin. The old man was surprised to find his charge able to work, as he had left him laying in a deep sleep early that morning. He should have still been unable even to rise from the bed.

"You must be feeling very well to be able to walk about. Perhaps I have been able to help you with my small offerings."

"It's about time you returned, old man. Make my solution, and be quick about it." The young man folded his arms imperiously across his chest and fixed his black eyes on the caretaker. It would only be a short time, he knew, before he could be done with this menace. And when he was finished with him, he would carry out his mission.

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She was lying face down on the ground. Jonathon dropped to one knee beside her and gently turned her towards him. There was a bloody patch on her forehead where she had struck a stone. Gently, he gathered her up in his arms and strode to the Manor. He laid her carefully on the bed and summoned a messenger to find the doctor. He sat next to the bed, stroking her hand and calling her name, but Asiel did not respond. After an eternity of waiting, the doctor finally arrived. He signalled Jonathon to leave, then bent to examine his patient. With his customary thoroughness, he conducted his survey, and soon discovered the cause of the injury. Shaking his head, he covered Asiel with the purple quilt, and left to tell Pierce of his diagnosis.

"Well, Dr. Batione, what is it? Why does she not respond, or awaken?"

"Jonathon, I'm afraid your wife is in a coma. She has suffered a mild concussion as a result of a fall. There's something strange, however. The coma seems to be self-induced. She has a power, a power that I don't understand. She seems to be healing herself. Her body reacted to the danger."

"She is in a coma because of a concussion?" Jonathon was incredulous.

"No, I didn't say that. I said she is in a coma, but it is not due to the concussion. Somehow, she has been exposed to a very rare, incurable strain of strapholiminous virus. I cannot help her, but she is trying to cure herself. We must wait and see. That is all we can do."

"May I go in to see her now?"

"Yes, certainly, but there is something else. Your wife is in a very dangerous situation, and it could endanger more than one life."

"Do you mean that I may become infected with the disease, as well?"

"No. You are naturally immune, as most people are. I am talking about the life of your unborn child. Jonathon, your wife is pregnant."

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His fury spent, the young man surveyed the results of his destructiveness. The old man lay crumpled in one corner. The table was overturned, and herbs and spices were strewn around the room. The struggle had weakened the darkly-clad man, and he leaned against the sturdy frame of the doorway for a short time before he left the cabin and headed for the comforting darkness of the nearby forest. Darting among the shadows, he journeyed to a familiar vantage point, where he could watch the Manor. It would be soon.

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In the bedroom, Jonathon sat patiently by the window. He stared out into the deepening obscurity. 'I know you will come back to me. You have to.' He turned and leaned over the bed, touching the white bandage on her forehead. "You have to." he whispered as he kissed her tenderly on the cheek. "And I will wait for you."

 © 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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