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by Gaby
Rated: 13+ · Campfire Creative · Appendix · Other · #1989599
G.o.T. Campfire - House Florent
[Introduction]
Born out of darkness into the light


It is you who decides fate.

What is the world you live in? Where is your future? Who are your friends and allies and which of those might be foes?

Do you turn your back and leave the darkness behind you in order to face the light or do you avoid the light and dedicate yourself to the dark side of your life?

The choice is yours.

This is your campfire! Do what you must.
Mitchopolis & Janine
Make your own decisions and lead the story in the direction you and your members decide on.

We will not stand in your way. We shall not reveal your words until the last day.


You have until May 25th to add what you need.
One suggestion...
On this last day, May 25th, try to make the closing post, as in finish the story - tie up loose ends - get it done!

But, keep in mind, the rating is set at 13+! *Smirk*


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Good luck, my Warriors! *Shield1*
...Start!
THE PETITE WOMAN


The petite figure with the dingy white Keds shuffled across the cracked concrete of Garden Drive with a singular purpose. She noted the moonless night and the utter lack of nighttime sounds. There's a heaviness in the air and a restlessness in the earth, she thought as she pulled the hood of her sweatshirt tightly around her head and quickened her pace.

The Town of Rose Cutt rushed past her. She had dreaded this night for years. Its coming was inevitable, and she was thankful it was one of the others and not her. Considering she had been in service the longest and had witnessed this twice before, she assumed she would be the next to fall. How long had she been in service to this strange Town? Too many years, she thought, but that didn’t mean she was ready for the alternative. She wasn’t even ready for this day to come. Things would be different this time, much harder than the last one. Even their small town which was surrounded by marsh for miles had suffered the encroachment of technology, and technology made everything complicated.

The Town Center came into view and the petite woman stopped under the street light. Nothing moved except the shadows from flickering advertisement lights in store windows. The other two had arrived already. She could feel it. Best to just get this over with and get things started. She strode to the circular garden in the center of the Town.

Flowers, but not one single rose, bloomed in the garden surrounding a large ornate fountain made of white granite. The base was round and from its center rose three granite branches, each arcing away from the middle of the fountain. Upon each trunk-like prong, complex designs had been etched and stained into the granite. The petite woman stopped on the sidewalk encircling the garden and studied the granite face on the end of the arcing branch closest to her. It was her face. The face ages as I age but no one ever notices, she mused. She remembered when the granite face was beautiful and young. Where had all my years gone – lost in servitude.

"You’re late.” The cold voice slid through the air like a knife. A tall slender figure wrapped in a fur cloak with a hood stepped into view from the other side of the fountain.

I’m not taking the bait, thought the petite woman. Not this time. “Where is she?”

High heels clicked on the sidewalk as the tall women moved around the fountain. “Where else? By her granite face. She’s weeping.” A slight sigh punctuated her words.

On the other side of the fountain, the petite woman found a hunched over figure of a fat middle aged woman wearing a Rose Cutt Flower Festival t-shirt dated 2005. Her skin clung to her bones in places, and the petite woman could see blood traveling through the fat lady's veins. How can she still be so fat and look like a skeleton at the same time? “Hey, Leslie, it won’t be long now.”

The fat woman rolled her eyes at the petite lady and opened her mouth to speak. Her tongue turned to ash and sprinkle into the fountain water. Her teeth followed suit and then her lips. Revulsion smacked the petite woman in the face like a sack of sewage. The smell of the ash reeked of decay and waste.

“Help me get her into the fountain.” The petite woman breathed through her mouth and grabbed the decaying woman around the waist. Clicking heels sounded then slender, manicured fingers seized the fat, yet thin, ankles of the woman and shoved them toward the water. The petite woman delivered a powerful shove, more powerful than her petite frame suggested possible, to the dying woman’s lower back resulted in a splash that sounded as though a tidal wave had crashed upon the town center.

The petite woman leaned against the fountain’s ledge. The ash swirled in the water as the fat woman struggled to keep her vanishing face above the water. That will be me one day, she thought. I’ll decay as a sacrifice to the town spirit and then what? She had no idea what happened to the lost servants. She didn’t care to think about it now either. “The clock starts ticking now.”

“I’ve already scoped her replacement. She going to be perfect.” The tall woman said, turning her back on the ashy water.

The petite woman pushed herself to her feet and sneered. She gestured for the tall woman to continue speaking.

“The LaGrange family only have a couple of viable choices, dear. And I refuse to work with Vera LaGrange on the basis that she is filthy trailer trash with chin stubble.”

“Who do you want?” the petite woman asked.

“Lila LaGrange.” The tall woman cocked her head and grinned smugly.

“My stars,” the petite woman whispered. “She’s a baby.”

“Not a baby – a child, yes, but not a baby.”

The petite woman turned back to the fountain. Black ash swirled in the fountain and the granite face of the fat woman on the fountain cracked and splintered. “Why not Lila’s mother?”

“Tammy? I don’t think so. She would be ill-suited for her new role, and you know what I mean.”

The petite woman closed her eyes. She knew exactly what the tall woman meant. Tammy possessed a strong will, and she had studied with that half-ass coven near the East Marsh. Grabbing a replacement for poor Leslie was going to be hard enough without the complications that Tammy brought. “Lila’s uncle is a deputy.”

“That glob of goo with a badge? Sammy Dupont? I don’t expect much interference from him. We can always leave a trail of pies and brownies to distract him.” The tall woman laughed at her own joke.

The petite woman did not laugh. Granite chunks dropped into the fountain as the fat woman's face fell away from the arcing arm of the fountain. “Alright, Lila it is then. We need to make a plan to grab –“

The base of the fountain beneath the arcing arms cracked and crumbled into a tiny swirling hole that suddenly opened at the center of the fountain. The debris fell away into a spinning mass of muck and mud. The hole was small but the petite woman knew it would grow and grow into a massive sink hole that would devour the town. The three arcing arms would remain untouched. The petite woman could see the re-bar that held them in place vanished into the muck, but she knew that old magics really held the arms and their granite likenesses safe from the sucking mire.

“Let’s take Lila and begin the rituals before the Master reclaims Rose Cutt." The petite woman turned and walked away from the fountain.
The petite woman and the tall woman strode through town to the LaGrange home while it was still dark and quiet.

"Look. They left the child's window open. This is going to be easy," said the tall woman.

"I guess they don't even think of someone using it as an entrance because they have law enforcement in the family." The petite woman looked around for anyone coming their way. She saw no one.

The two women rushed to the child's window and peeked inside. There was a nightlight, so it would be easy not to bump into anything.

The tall woman turned to the petite woman to ask, "Do you have the knock out drops ready?"

"I'm coating the rag right now. She won't be any trouble at all," said the petite woman as she finished the task.

There was an old crate in the side yard. They placed it under the window and the petite woman climbed inside as the tall woman waited to grab the girl from the petite woman.

The petite woman crept to Lila's bed and carefully pulled back the pink floral comforter and the bright green top sheet so Lila wouldn't get tangled in the covers. Lila was wearing a light blue nightgown with stars on it. The petit woman waited a few seconds to make sure Lila didn't stir and she heard no one else stirring in the house.

The petite woman carefully put the soaked rag near Lila's nose to let her get a whiff before she picked her up. Then she grabbed Lila while forcing the rag over her nose and mouth. Lila sairmed and struggled for a minute before passing out. The knock out drops worked every time they used them. The petite woman walked carefully to the window and passed Lila to the tall woman outside. Then the petit woman climbed out the window to join the tall woman.

"Okay, we made it. She's passed out. Let's get to your place quickly before anyone notices. You have the best hiding place," the tall woman said to the petite woman.

They walked quickly through town to the petit woman's home in an old abandoned warehouse on the edge of town. The petite woman had the old offices all fixed up as a nice home. She even had a little kitchen area in the old break room. It was quite a find. It didn't take too much effort to run the company out of business so she could have the building as her new home. The abandoned house she was living in was scheduled for demolition, so the company had to vacate the building for her.

They arrived and took Lila to the room with the lock on the door. It was the bosses office and had a small restroom attached to it. The tall woman let Lila roll out of her arms and into the bed. The petite woman covered her up. They exited the room and locked the door.

"So do you want me to fix you something to eat? We need to stay put for a while," said the petit woman as she started to prepare the food for the two of them. She opened the cupboards to show off her food stores. She prided herself in her abilities to stay well-stocked.

"Sure. I want to watch the local news to see what they say when they notice Lila missing. It will be early since it's a school day.
Lila woke up to the sound of rain dripping down somewhere around her. Then a sudden loud boom startled her, but she could not move. Her arms and legs felt as if they were made up of heavy wood, and the room seemed shabby and strange. She couldn’t see much of the furniture due to her blurry eyes, only their dark, ghastly shapes.

“Just thunder,” she thought, “I must be having a nightmare.” She closed her eyes again.

With the early light of dawn sneaking through the panels of heavy curtains on one side of the room, she jolted upright. At the foot of the bed, she saw a petite woman standing with her back against a wall, holding an antique doll in a dark-red, frilly dress. The doll had peachy lips, long blonde hair, and a brown hat. With her other hand, the woman reached to the wall. Lila heard a click and the lights came on in a row on the wall over where the woman stood.

“I am still dreaming,” Lila thought. She peeled her eyes from the doll and looked around the room. A table and chair was near the bed next to her, and cobwebs hang on the bookcases on the opposite wall. Another door between the bookcases were open ajar. She blinked and opened her eyes again. The cobwebs were still there. What if a spider leapt at her in this peculiar, ratty room?

Spiders! Hadn’t her mother warned her?

She recalled that conversation. “If you see spiders, anywhere in Rose-Cutt, it means the coven has a foothold there. Stay out of such places, Lila.”

“What if I can’t? What if I am trapped?”

“You won’t be. We’ll rescue you. Just in case, should such a thing occur, close your mind just the way your uncle taught you, and think of me. I’ll find you. After all, you have inherited powers, too.”


Lila blinked again, but nothing changed. She was in a bed that wasn’t hers; the cobwebs were still there, and the petite woman kept watching her. She definitely was not her mother reading her favorite scary stories, wrapping her soft arms around her to keep her safe. She knew something was amiss then, and swallowed a sob. Someone did want to do her harm.

Lila spread her fingers over her eyes, and chanted inwardly the words she knew that would close her mind to this woman who had been staring at her ever since she had awakened.

“Lila! Look at me,” the petite woman kept ordering her repeatedly, but Lila didn’t obey her until she had said all her words silently.

When she took her hands off her eyes, the woman smiled at her. “Good morning, Lila. I’m here to take care of you. My name’s Ulrika.”

“How do you know my name?” Lila’s voice trembled as she lowered her hands to her lap.

“I know all the names in this town,” Ulrika said.

Ulrika! It sounded familiar. Wasn’t that the name she had overheard her mother whisper to a neighbor? “The gatherer for the fountain,” the neighbor had said, shaking her head from side to side. A gatherer for the fountain had to be a bad person. Lila understood that much.

She turned her head away from Ulrika, still avoiding her, and stared at the ceiling.

The tentacles!

Lila gasped. An amorphous mass like dark jelly with its tentacles hanging downward was on the ceiling tiles; although it seemed as if it were moving, it wasn’t. The shock twisted her stomach beyond what she could bear.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” Ulrika said. “Just some artwork on the ceiling. Don’t pay attention to it. See the doll? Do you like it?”

The doll’s green eyes flashed when Lila looked at it.

Ulrika continued. “This little doll is a replica of you, Lila. See the blonde hair? She has eyes just like you.” She straightened her stance and took a couple of steps toward Lila to hand her the doll.

“Thank you, but I need to go to the bathroom,” Lila said, timidly, trying to hold back her tears. She was frightened for sure, but she sensed she shouldn’t show her fears to this woman.

Ulrika laid the doll gently at the foot of the bed, then pointed to the door in between the bookcases. “It’s in there.”

Lila slipped out of the covers and looked down on the floor for her slippers, but they weren’t there. Of course, not. They were on the floor in her bedroom in the La Grange house.

“Just go in there, barefoot,” Ulrika said. “I'll get you something for your feet later. Do you want me help you?”

“No.” Lila stood up, but hesitated, catching the sight of the cobwebs again.
A Non-Existent User
Ulrika stood by the door of the bathroom, listening intently. All was quiet. "Are you all right, Lila?" There was no response. She reached out to turn the door knob, but it had been locked from the inside and Ulrika shook her head in dismay, turning to face the tall woman, Isabel, who had slipped silently into the room. "A lock? Really?"

Isabel rolled her eyes and spread her hands in apology. "It was an oversight when they were securing the bathroom." Her voice was low, though not quite a whisper. "She's not going anywhere," she continued. "That room and this," she gestured to the bedroom as she spoke, "are completely sealed." She went to the foot of the bed and picked up the doll. "Well? What say you?"

Ulrika took a deep breath and nodded as she took a few steps from the door. "She definitely has the Sight. But she's weak."

"Well, she's young. She'll learn."

"We don't have time to train her properly." Ulrika made a point of emphasizing the word time, which was a luxury they no longer had.

Isabel turned to her and half-smiled. "Crash course it is, then."

Ulrika could feel her hackles rising. "That's so dangerous, Isabel," she began to argue.

"Like you said," Isabel cut her off, "We don't have time; therefore, we have no choice."

A click sounded from the bathroom door and they both turned as the door slowly opened. Lila emerged, her eyes red from crying, but she had managed to stop the flow of tears. Ulrika felt a pang of sorrow for the girl. While her Sight was weak, there was a strength within her that was unexpected for one so young.

Isabel, who still held the doll in her hands, turned sharply on her stiletto heel. "Hello, Lila," she said, flashing a smile that carried no warmth. "How are you feeling? I know the medicine we gave you can make you feel a little queasy. Does your tummy feel okay?"

Lila was silent for a long moment as she stared at Isabel. "I'm fine," she said, her child's voice level, but only with great effort. Ulrika was certain she could detect a hint of defiance, which she knew would work in Lila's favor. She threw a sideways glance at Isabel as she continued speaking to the girl.

"We knew you might not be feeling well when you woke up," Isabel bent down as she spoke to bring her closer to Lila's eye level, "That's why we made you this doll. She's pretty, isn't she?" Isabel made a ruse of looking from the doll to Lila and back again in mock delight. "Why, she looks just like you! Maybe she can keep you company while you're here with us." She straightened to her full height and held the doll out to Lila. "We made her just for you, Lila."

Ulrika couldn't help herself. She stepped forward and placed her hand on Isabel's arm. "Wait... not yet..."

Isabel shot her a sharp look of contempt. "Crash. Course."

They both turned to look at Lila, who was now staring intently at the doll, seemingly captivated the glittering green eyes. "Just for me," Lila whispered.

Isabel smiled coldly and nodded. "Yes, Lila. Just for you."

Ulrika closed her eyes and turned away as Lila stepped forward to take the doll.
It was Sammy Dupont who got the call from Tammy LaGrange about her missing daughter.

Sammy thought, "The Sheriff was not going to like this. Why did all the weird stuff happen on his shift? Heck even I don't like my niece gone."

Normally, the Sheriff would come in at 8:00 am every morning even on Sunday. He was a good person to work for, but very strict on expenses.

Sammy called John, "Sheriff; we have a problem. My niece went missing from her bedroom just a few minutes ago according to Tammy."

John Weston replied, "How long has she been gone?"

"According to Tammy she wasn't in her room at 5:30 am when Tammy went to wake her for morning chores. Tammy also says her bedroom door was closed, and the room window was wide open."

"Damn it, send over the Crime Lab boys. Let's see what they can tell us, and tell Tammy to let them in Lila's room as well as around the outside of the house. I'm coming in as soon as I get dressed."

"John, no matter what happens, I want to be in on the capture of who ever took her. You hear me?"

"Sam, I hear you loud and clear now get back to work."

Sammy called Tammy, "Sis again I am so sorry this happened to Lila! John says to let the crime lab boys in Lila's room and around the outside of your house. He's hoping to get finger prints, so we can track down who did this."

Tammy started bawling, "Sammy I-I-I want my baby back. If something happens to her, there will beeee ha-ha-hell to-to-to payyyyyy! You hear me Sammmmmmy? Brother, you make sure you tell John as well. I really mean business!"

Clint picked up Chuck Walden and Gina Tonks on his way over to Tammy's house. He explained the situation to them and assigned them to work areas. Chuck was to print the room and search it for trace evidence. Gina was to do the same but outside the room and also check out, the paths leading up to her window. Chuck was going to calm Tammy down and search the lawn for trace evidence. He wanted everything collected and put in the truck; they would do all the work at the lab on this case.

Everything went according to plan in three hours they were heading back to the lab. Gina was hoping to get a foot print and finger prints from the wooden crate they had found. Chuck had noticed a strange smell on the pillow case, so he had bagged the pillow with the cover.

The Sheriff was driving fast as he passed the town square and noticed something really strange with the fountain. Slowing down and turning around he headed back into the square just as the main section fell into the ground. He quickly backed up his jeep to a safe distance and started to figure out what was happening here. He started feeling a tug pulling him into the center. He grabbed on to the shrubs and small trees trying to pull himself back away from the suction.
The old masters are impatient. The ailing woman just didn’t do it. They wanted a healthy woman for their work. That excuse of a body . . . . They knew there were others in the town.
Ulrika and Isabel are arguing about how to train Lila in so little time. They thought someone so young would be passive like Leslie. Passiveness, submissiveness would make the girl easy to train. But Leslie didn’t have the Sight. This could be complicated. Ulrika is trying to get Isabel to think before she makes things worse.
Lila is so scared. All she can think of is the conversation she overheard between her mother and her neighbor. Lila closed her eyes and began saying the chant her uncle taught her silently to herself. Remember what I say, Lila. Concentrate on me, Lila. Picture me. I’ll find you. That is what her mother had said. Lila clenched her eyes and focused intently.
The women are oblivious to the eyes of the doll but when Lila reopens her eyes she sees. The eyes flicker, but there’s a pattern to it. She remembered when she had gone camping with Sammy and her mom. Sammy told stories of people using drums to send messages, a code in the rhythm of the drumbeats. Is there a code here? She looked intently at the pattern.
The women looked at Lila and smiled. The doll had done its work, mesmerizing the child. Or so they thought.
Lila found that in concentrating, she felt different. The flickering started to form words in the air. Yet she also could listen to what the women were saying and hear the nuances in the voices. She had a hard time doing either before, now it was easy. She had heard her mom and Sammy talk about power but is this what they meant?

* * *

Clint, Chuck and Gina were on their way back to the lab when they approached the town square. Each was excited to get the evidence back to the lab and under the microscope to see what story it would tell.
Gina had turned to the back seat to talk to Chuck when Clint locked up the brakes. Her seat belt cinched up, making it hard to breath. Chuck landed on the console.
Before anyone could say, “what the hell?” Clint was out of the car and sprinting toward the square..
“Gina, call Sammy!” he screamed as he ran.
John was down, hanging onto a shrub, which was starting to work its way out of the ground. Clint braced his legs in a storm drain and grabbed one of John’s arms.
Clint could barely hold onto him the pull was so intense. The shrub’s roots were showing. How long did they have? Chuck looked for something he could tie onto himself and John.
A reprieve came quickly. A young woman came out of a store with shopping bags, talking on her cell phone, and totally obtuse to the scene around her. She was gone, dragged into the fountain in a split second. Then the suction let up. The men scrambled back out of range.
* * *

While the guys were still hanging onto John, Gina made the call. “Sam, something’s happening in the square. It’s pulling the Sheriff into the fountain. Clint and Chuck are doing all they can to hang onto to him. Do something!”
“Be right there.”
Sam bolted out of the office leaving the office wide open. He has to get to Cassie. She’ll know what to do. He alerted her to be ready when he got to the East Marsh. Cassie said she would.
Cassie had kept a kit in a closet for when this time came. All she had to do was slip on some clothes.
Sam was driving like a maniac, cutting several cars off, leaving angry drivers in his vapor trail. John is going to be all over him about this. That is… Sam dismissed the thought from his mind. Calm down, get a grip! They’re back. Here we go again. Is Cassie ready for this?
He spun the car as he came to a sliding stop in the driveway – and banged Cassie’s old VW bug. Great, need Cassie and tear up her stuff. Oh well.
Cassie, kit in hand, leapt into the car.
“Did you really need to do that? OK, you’re forgiven. Let’s go!”
Sam nodded and spun the wheels, spraying the old bug with gravel. He didn’t have time to think about that right now. His mind was on John, Chuck and Clint.
“Are you sure you know what we’re up against?”
“Sam, the coven has been waiting for this opportunity for a while now. Have you talked with Tammy? She has been learning with us.”
“Cassie, have you talked with Tammy today?”
“No, it’s been over a week, why?”
“They took Lila.”

Ulrika turned back to Lila. The instant her hands touched the doll, Ulrika could see the Sight in the child strengthening. It was too late to stop now.
"What do you see, Lila?" Isabel asked.
"Words. I see... words," her beautiful green eyes blinked. Her brow furrowed. "And... now they're gone."
Ulrika cast a sideways glance at Isabel. This was not the expected outcome.
"Words? What did they say?" Isabel's voice had a hint of impatience.
"I..." Lila stared at the doll again. "I don't remember. They were strange. I didn't understand. Something about the old masters being impatient. The old woman..." Lila closed her eyes, trying to remember. "Leslie. She wasn't enough. The masters wanted to take another, so the... Paralax, I think, didn't close right away. It stayed open until it consumed another. It tried to take a male, but the masters wished for a female, so the Paralax let the male go and took a nearby female. The masters are also worried that someone won't be trained in time, that just because she is young doesn't mean she is passive. They think Isabel will make a mistake if not careful."
Isabel frowned. Ulrika was amazed. In her thirty years of servitude, she had never seen a Seer discern words so quickly. Usually, the first thing any Seer in Rose Cutt saw was the Paralax. It was a fleeting image when Ulrika had first used her Sight. Aliya had seen the Paralax long enough to make out the faces on the arches. Leslie had seen a basic shape, but couldn't even recognize it as the fountain in the town square. Leslie could never see anything on her own, and only basic shapes when she held a Viewer. This message Lila had just repeated, the thoughts of the masters from the other side of the Paralax, confirmed Ulrika's suspicions that Leslie never possessed the Sight. That had been a mistake on Isabel's part.
"Oh, it appears we have not been properly introduced," Isabel said, her voice tinged with annoyance. "I am Isabel."
"Oh!" Lila exclaimed, seeming embarrassed. "I'm sorry, I just said what the words said."
"It's alright," Isabel shook her head and sighed.
"So if you're Isabel, does that mean that you understood what the words meant?"
"Yes, yes I did," Isabel nodded.
"What do they mean?"
"All in good time, all in good time," Isabel smiled.
Isabel grabbed Ulrika's sleeve and whispered, "Send a message to Aliya. We must meet for Lila's initiation."
Ulrika nodded. Isabel motioned for Lila to come. "Come, sweetie, I want to show you something."

***

Isabel's cold arm wrapped around Lila's wrist. However, rather than lead her anywhere, Isabel reached up and grabbed a dark tentacle. Lila had forgotten about the jelly on the ceiling. Isabel yanked down on the tentacle and Lila suddenly felt her body become weightless. She looked down and saw that her whole body had become black sparkles. She felt herself being pulled up into the jelly, Isabel's arm still around her wrist. Isabel had decayed to black sparkles too. They passed through the jelly and up into a cavernous room. Lila dropped to the floor suddenly as her body reverted to its original form. She stood up and looked at Isabel, who had landed quite nicely. Isabel smiled. "One day, my dear, you will be able to do that without my help."
"Where are we?" Lila surveyed the room. It was dark, with only candle light illuminating the chamber. On the floor was an odd design; a triangle, with a rose in the center.
"Between worlds. There are only a few fully open gates between our world and the next. This gate would be half-open, I suppose. We're not in our world but we're also not in the next one either."
"Why are we here?" Lila was suddenly very frightened.
"All will be explained soon; wait for Ulrika and Aliya to come. The Gatherer and the Speaker must be present for your initiation."
Lila shuddered. She had heard her mother refer to Ulrika as the Gatherer for the fountain, so that must make Aliya the Speaker. Isabel led her to one of the tips of the triangles and sat her down. "It won't be long now, sweetie."

***

Ulrika waited impatiently for Aliya to arrive. She had sent a message using her Sight, and Aliya had responded, but it was almost ten minutes later and she was still waiting. It was important that they be present for Lila's initiation. And the initiation had to be exactly at noon, and there was still a need to explain everything to Lila. There was no way for her to be the Discerner when she didn't even know what she was doing!
Aliya stepped through the door, keys jangling.
"What took you so long?" Ulrika demanded.
The 27-year-old blinked. "I am sorry. I was across town when you called."
"Doing what? Don't you know how important this is?"
The redhead turned her face away. "Yes. I'm sorry about Leslie. I thought it would be..."
"Me?" Ulrika's expression softened and she sighed. "I did too."
"Who is her replacement?"
"Lila LaGrange."
"My God, she's eight! And I thought I was young for initiation."
In all honesty, both Aliya and Lila were young for initiation. Aliya had been 17 when they took her as a replacement for Jade. She had had a stubborn streak that made Isabel's eye twitch come back. Ulrika hadn't seen it twitch that fast since she had been the new initiate.
"Well, yes. But we needed a LaGrange. One from each of the three families, remember?"
"How could I forget? I had no idea I was even descended from the Allysons."
"And I, the Pearsons. Last names have been changed so many times only Isabel can determine if they have the right blood or not. Only the LaGranges have kept their name. The rest changed theirs out of shame."
"How many years has Isabel served? What family is she?"
"I don't know," Ulrika paused. "We've always needed a fourth... though I don't think she's from one of the families. It must not be of concern to us, because I've worked with her thirty years and she's never said anything about her life before she was the Director of the Sisterhood."
"We should find out some day. I mean, lifelong servitude... I feel like we deserve some answers."
"You'd better not say that again. The masters hear everything."
"Yes, I know. Let's go. Isabel will be angry if we're any later."
Ulrika nodded. She reached up and pulled down on a tentacle. Aliya did the same. They turned to black glimmers and passed through the membrane. When they arrived, Lila had already been sat down in the position of the Discerner. Isabel was standing on the rose. She turned and glared at them. "Hurry! Time is of the essence!" Aliya and Ulrika rushed to their seats on the other two points on the triangle, Aliya in the Speaker's and Ulrika in the Gatherer's.
"Ah! Now we may begin," Isabel turned to Lila with a wide smile.
"Lila, it is time to learn about the Sisterhood of Rose Cutt."

***

Cassie sat back in silence. Poor Tammy she thought. However, however bad she felt for Tammy, it would be worse for Lila if they didn't find her soon. A lifetime of servitude followed by a sacrifice to an evil spirit would be truly terrible.
"She went missing sometime last night... Tammy went in and couldn't find her at five thirty this morning," Sammy said.
"What time is it?" Cassie sat up desperately and looked at the clock.
"Uh... around eleven."
"We have to find her fast! The Sisterhood initiates their initiates at noon!"
Sammy pushed the gas pedal all the way to the floor. "Open the kit!"
Cassie yanked open the kit. The coven's pamphlet of emergency procedures was useless. So was an assortment of other items in the kit. Finally she found what she was looking for. A miniature portrait of a girl holding a rose. Clearing her mind, she held the portrait tight and called her inner Sight. She could feel the Viewer in her hands aiding her power. Cassie focused on what she knew of Lila and the Sisterhood, hoping to find, one, if not all of them. Slowly, ever so slowly, a scene came into focus. Lila and the three others were in a darkly lit room. Each figure glowed a different color. Lila glowed green, another glowed blue, another glowed purple, and the one in the center was completely black, devoid of color. Cassie gasped. "The three families... it is true."
She searched the scene for a door. Although the whole room was dark, the darkest point was to the right of one of the women. All of the light in the room seemed to be drawn to it. Even Lila and the other women's lights were being pulled in.
The scene faded. Cassie looked up over the rooftops of Rose Cutt. Gripping the portrait even tighter, she felt a new wave of Sight coming. The same shades of green, blue, and purple light appeared, this time over a warehouse somewhere in the south of Rose Cutt.
"Sammy, head south! I've found her!"
The bicycle chain needed oiling. The screek, screek, screek of each pedal revolution echoed across the two lane highway and into the marshy woodlands on either side. Sandaled feet with cracked heels and yellowing toenails lazily powered the rusty men’s bicycle as wispy tendrils of smoke swirled in its wake along the highway shoulder. The large round figure whose massive buttocks enveloped the small seat bobbed her head and puffed on the menthol cigarette tucked in her leathery lips to the rhythm of the noisy chain.

Screek, bob, puff. Screek, bob, puff. Screek, bob, puff. She rolled steadily beside the highway toward the warehouse on the south edge of town. Sweat beads dotted her lined forehead and slalomed down her wrinkled fleshy face to the rolls of fat that started at her whiskery chin and blended into her massive bosom.

The whir of a car engine sounded from behind her but she never broke her steady rhythm. Her gray eyes fixed steadily forward twinkled with mischievous delight and the left corner of her mouth curved upward multiplying the number of fleshy folds jiggling on her face. The car drew closer and the fat lady pedaled on. Screek, bob, puff. Screek, bob, puff. Screek, bob, puff.

The police cruiser blew past her doing at least 80 mph, she figured. The rush of the wind billowed through the large flowery mu-mu covering her ample body. She enjoyed the coolness of the air blast but hated the distasteful taste of the car exhaust. She sighed. The whir of the fading engine sputtered then fell silent. Her eyes narrowed as brake lights from the cruiser reflected in her lively eyes, and she pedaled on. Screek, bob, puff.

As she approached the now stopped cruiser, she could hear the click, click, click of the ignition failing to restart the vehicle. With eyes still fixed on the horizon, she rolled past the stalled car a couple of yards then pedaled backward with her plump feet. The bike stopped. Her feet slammed down on the shoulder’s gravel. She leaned toward the road, poured off the bike, almost as though she was made of jello, and with her gnarled big toe snapped the kickstand down.

She turned and faced the cruiser. The cigarette perched between her lips smoldered as it started to burn the filter. Her short fat fingers plucked it from her mouth and flicked it toward the patrol car. A smile burst across her face, revealing surprisingly pearly-white teeth, and she clapped her hands together while gyrating up and down. Her bosom rolled and undulated. “Sammy. Sammy. Sammy. Imagine us running into each other on such a fine afternoon.“

The driver side opened and Deputy Sammy Dupont stepped from the vehicle. She noted his expression was one of exasperation and befuddlement. “Vera? Where’d you come from? What are you doing here?”

“I come from mama’s womb where else I come from, you silly kaka-bean. “ She ambled closer to the car. “I’m here cause this is where I be, you larky lumphead.”

The overweight deputy shook his and leaned over to look at the passenger in his car. Vera Lagrange eyed the girl in the passenger seat. “Who dat in there? Is that Cassandra Melodiousness Bell?”

The girl exited the vehicle. “You know my middle name is not Melodiousness. Hello, Ms Lagrange.”

Vera tittered and rubbed her plump fingers together. “My word, girl, I ain’t seen you in a such a long time. You got teats and everything now. My, my, you are pretty.” Vera glanced at Sammy fishing out his cell phone from his pocket, and motioned toward him with a nod of her head. “He wants to grind your crab cakes and play in the melon patch.”

“What?” Sammy shouted, his face reddening. “No, I don’t. Shut up, Vera.”

Cassie shook her head. “Sammy we have to go. Now.”

“Where you kiddies headed?” Vera asked.

Sammy ignored her question and turned to the girl. “My cell’s dead. Can I use yours?”

Vera cackled lightly and fished a cigarette from her mu-mu’s pocket.

Cassie checked her phone and shook her head. “Mine’s dead, too. I just charged it last night. This is weird.”

Vera smiled her dazzling white smile as Sammy and Cassie slowly turned to look at her. She slid the cigarette between her lips, passed her hand across its end and inhaled the delicious smoke.

“Vera? What’s going on?” Sammy asked her as he edged around the vehicle.

Cassie, sounding as though she was speaking to a child, said, “Ms. Lagrange, we’re in the middle of a serious-“

“More than serious, girl. I’d venture to use dire or…” Vera stared at the sky, waggling a finger in the air. “…or desperate. Now you tell me-”

Cassie interrupted. “I’m sorry, Ms. Lagrange, I don’t mean to be disrespectful but we just don’t-“

“Let her talk, Cassie. Talk to me, Vera,” Sammy said.

Vera puffed deeply on her cigarette and then cleared her throat. “Look at you two babies riding into the noon day sun to rescue that poor girl. But you ain’t gonna rescue nothing that they don’t want you rescue, and they don’t want you to rescue anyone. You hearin’ me?”

Cassie moved to the front of the car. Vera could see astonishment in her eyes. “What are you talking about, ma’am? We have to save Lila?”

“Without a doubt, my little nuzzlebutt. We have to save that girl, but you don’t run into a viper’s den waving a water gun.” Vera made her finger into a gun and a squirting sound rolled across her lips and past the cigarette.

Vera saw Sammy reaching out to grab her arm. She pivoted away and glared at him with the eyes of a jackal. The deputy recoiled instinctively. Vera brought up her fake gun hand and pointed it at Sammy’s face. Her fat thumb pulsed forward as though the pistol hammer dropped and a tiny squirt of water hit the policeman on the end of his nose. “We can’t rescue what’s not here, boy. We got to disrupt them and we got to do it smart like. And we got to do it now. Rescue is much later. I got a plan. Take me to that warehouse.”

Sammy looked at Cassie who shrugged and both stood stupidly staring at her. Vera tapped the hood of the car. The engine roared to life. She waddled around Sammy, opened the rear door and stuffed herself into the back seat. “Well, come on kiddies, we have a long row to hoe.” Vera cackled from the back seat as Sammy and Cassie slowly turned and re-entered the police cruiser.
"Now I've got some inside information to tell you about so you understand the situation," Vera said as Cassie and Sammy buckled in.

Sammy asked, "What on earth do you know about the situation?" Sammy looked over the seat at Vera, still amazed she got the motor running again.

"I know you studied with the coven at East Marsh, too, but why are you heading to the same place we're going?" Cassie said as she held onto Sammy's arm and looked back at Vera.

"I'm going to where they took Lila, the same as you two. I didn't just study the craft with you and Tammy and the others. I have had contact with the sisterhood of Rose Cutt. Leslie LaGrange used to visit me late at night and gave me an earful for quite some time. She spent the last two months coming over every single night because she thought one of the sisterhood would die soon and need to be replaced." Vera pointed towards the direction of the warehouse and the squad car lurched.

"I guess we better continue to the warehouse," Sammy said as he turned his attention towards driving.

"That's better, Sammy. We need to disrupt the initiation, but the sink hole at the fountain doesn't stop swallowing up the town until someone is initiated into the sisterhood for a lifetime of servitude to guard this town. So getting Lila back is just part of the problem. If it's not Lila, then it's someone else with powers, but they want a LaGrange," Vera explained as she threw her cigarette butt on the floor and lit another.

"So what do you suggest, Ms. LaGrange?" asked Cassie as she clutched the picture to focus her sight.

"Well, we can get to the warehouse and search for the portal to the chamber in the between worlds where they have Lila. If we can figure out how to get inside or prevent them from initiating Lila or both without being killed, then we could call that some sort of victory. Leslie told me the ceremonies happen at noon. If we keep them from being on time, then that means they have to wait another day and that sink hole called the Paralax continues to suck the town into it for another day. No matter what, we are going to lose the whole town unless someone is initiated into the sisterghood and servitude to guard the town. Someone needs to volunteer to take Lila's place." Vera looked at the warehouse coming into view as Sammy drove into the parking lot and up to the main entrance.

"Maybe we should try to get in through the loading docks, Sammy," suggested Cassie. Sammy took her suggestion and headed to the back of the warehouse. They were in luck. One of the rolling doors was open about half way and there were stairs to the warehouse floor. Other cars were parked near the opened door.

"I suggest we find the offices. That would be the easiest place to live." Vera and the othets got out of the car and followed her into the warehouse.

"Over there. That looks like the door to the offices." Sammy pointed to a door on the far side of the warehouse and drew his revolver.

"This is old magic, Sammy. That gun isn't going to be much use. You might hit Lila." Cassie reminded Sammy about what he should have known after all of this time listening to her go on about the coven stuff.

"We're looking for some kind of artwork that looks real. That's the portal. It might be hard to find. Let's split up once we get inside the office area. Okay?" Vera didn't stop to hear their answers. They got to the door and the lock had been broken, so inside they went in silence.

All three of them stayed together, instead of taking Vera's advice. It was a quarter to noon, so they hurried through the cubicals and made their way to the break room. Then they went into each of the offices where the accountants used to work. They even cjecked the conference room, but still no luck. Then they finally got to the corner office. The room was dark like the others, but this room had spider webs. That gave it away.

"Look everywhere. I think this is the room. Look at the bed and there's a restroom in there," Vera whisperred to the others.

Sammy gasped and pointed up.

They all looked and knew they had found the portal. That octopus painting was alive and clinging to the ceiling. One of the tenticles reached down to Sammy's upstretched arm.

Vera pulled Sammy's arm down. "That's how we activate it, but who knows what will happen if we don't know what we're doing?"

"Maybe we need to concentrate on getting to the room where Lila is," suggested Cassie as she squeezed Sammy's hand.

"The only problem is they probably already know we're here, so they'll be ready for us," explained Vera as she pointed to the octopus painting trying to reach for them.

***

"Someone's in the warehouse near the portal," Ulrika said urgently as she pointed to the change in the wall that lead to her home.

Aliya said, "We have to hurry before they figure out how to get in here."

"Silence. We will not begin the initiation until the stroke of noon. If it's not today, then it will be tomorrow. Nothing.else is acceptable," said Isabel with the authority of the leader she was.

" Well, finish explaining the duties and importance of the sisterhood so Lila will understand how important she is. That way she will want to be initiated and nothing will stop her," Ulrika pleaded with Isabel who wanted things to be done quickly.

Isabel turned to Lila to continue, "The sisterhood of Rose Cutt guards Rose Cutt and we also prevent the total loss of the town into the Paralax in the town fountain. We all have an important duty to agree to a lifetime of servitude to this town in order to keep it in existance. This town is a gift from the great spirit who gave our founding families a safe place to live when they were fleeing for their lives. People used to hunt those with special powers. As part of the price for a place to live, people were chosen to be guardians of this special town. We chose you to be the next in a long line of your family. This is an honor to be chosen, especially at such a young age. Do you understand, Lila?"

Lila looked over at the changing wall and then back to Isabel. "I guess I do. But why did you have to take me away in secret?"

Isabel looked at the other two women and back at Lila. "The Paralax will continue sucking people into it, never to be seen again until we initiate someone to replace our dearly departed sister, Leslie. We didn't have time to explain it to you in the middle of the night in your bedroom."

Lila thought she saw a hand coming through the wall, but tried to ignore it. "I guess I understand. But why don't you just tell people how much you help them so people aren't afraid of you?"

Aliya jumped in, "This is going to take more time to explain. She needs to know how we guard this town so she will understand."

"We're about to have company. I think she will find out what we do as they enter. We should just plan on the initiation for tomorrow. Lila, go stand in that corner and let us handle the intruders." Lila scrambled from her spot on the triangle to the far corner where Ulrika pointed. She knew these were dangerous people.

***

"It's now or never gang," said Vera as she reached for a tenticle and concentrated on getting to where Lila was. The others did the same. They all started to turn into a sparkly state.
Cassie wrapped her arms around the deputy’s waist, as they were becoming weightless. Sammy rolled his eyes. “So when did I become so special? Is this for real?”

“Oh, aren’t you cute, Sammy,” Cassie said. “There is only one tentacle and Vera is helping carry us. So hang on! Besides, why would I…you…when you are…you know…maybe…someone else.”

“Oh, a full background check. I’m flattered. The green-ey'd monster, which doth mock…” Sammy giggled happily.

“Cut it out you larky lumpheads,” Vera sneered. “We have work to our eyeballs, and never mind that I’m trying to pull you up. It ain’t easy with that fat belly of yours, Sammy boy!”

“Look who’s talking,” Sam said. “I have no belly. All abs and pure muscle.”

“Right now, we’re just black sparkles, and I hate this dark jelly sticking all over me. They warned us about this in East Marsh,” Cassie said.

“It’s Isabel,” Vera groaned. “That goat’s on to us and is making the passage impossible.”

Finally they dropped on some slick surface, but they slid, their combined weights propelling them on, all the way to Isabel’s feet.

“Get off my triangle,” Isabel screamed and kicked Vera with the tip of her pointy-toed stiletto, her skirt swishing around her hips. All three felt a jarring blow, like the hit of a powerful electric jolt, in every cell of their bodies.

By the glow of the candles, Cassie and Sammy rose to their feet, but Vera lay very still, her eyes wide, her body motionless, crimp curled. Cassie bent down, moving her hand carefully over Vera’s head, as if afraid of another unseen caper of Isabel’s, until Lila began chanting.

Sammy joined Lila in her chant. Right away, Vera started to move. Frowning, Ulrika spun around, a chalice of red liquid taking form in her hand. She rushed near Vera and held the liquid to her lip. “Drink,” she ordered. Vera grabbed the chalice and pressed it to her lips.

“Why are you helping her?” Isabel growled, narrowing her eyes. Then she whirled, stepping out of the triangle, and with her fingers like iron claws, she grabbed Ulrika’s hoodie and began shaking her. Ulrika wailed in pain, taking a step back and carrying Isabel with her even farther from the triangle.

In the meantime, Sammy grabbed Lila by the arm and pulled her to him. Cassie hurried to them. Sammy threw his other arm around Cassie, as if instinctively trying to defend her.

“No time to sit an’ sip tea!” Vera moaned, her voice sarcastic and biting; then she lifted her chin and chucked the chalice into thin air. The chalice evaporated completely. Vera seemed herself now, although her lips were pulled into a grimace of distaste. She rose to her feet, glancing at Isabel who let go of Ulrika. Ulrika slowly lowered her head, trying to hide the flare of alarm in her widened eyes.

Abruptly, the candles started glowing wildly with loud snapping and popping sounds. A howl followed strange rustlings and squeaking sounds from the corners of the chamber.

“Get out,” Ulrika turned around to them, screaming in terror. “Don’t let the chamber collapse on us.”

Vera snapped her finger at Sammy and signaled with her head for the three of them to come near her; then she stomped on the floor. A gaping gash opened. Vera leaned down and tugged at the end of the pulsating tentacle. Cassie rushed to her with Sammy, dragging Lila.

Sparks of fire whirled around them, but they grabbed the tentacle nevertheless. While they did so, the sparks turned black and the abyss pulled them into darkness.

With a thud, they landed on the floor of the room in which Ulrika had brought Lila the day before. They stood up, their faces solemn, their senses flaring with the viciousness of their experience.

“This was fast," Sammy said. "We barely made it.“

Cassie nodded. “It was touch and go." She reached and touched Vera's shoulder. "Thank you, Vera. We owe you, but let’s get out of here before the other two come down.”

“Rose-Cutt is in danger,” Vera said, her inner turmoil apparent in her face. “The Parallax will devour more victims now.” Then, she ducked her head down in grief.

Lila picked up the doll from the floor. “I thought I took this with me, up there,” she said. “But she must have followed me.”

“Let’s get out of here,” Cassie pleaded again. "Please, look at the sky. The clouds are turning grey."

But Lila didn’t move. She was staring at the doll while the doll’s eyes were flashing. “I can’t go,” she whined. “Ulrika is in trouble. I must help. We must help. We must save Rose-Cutt.”
         John woke up in Gina's arms holding him tight as Clint and Chuck carried him away from the town center. He watched as the Parallax continued to grow larger.

         John thought, "Parallax, where did that word come from?"

         He searched his mind for memories. He found it was from the sheriff that John took over for.

         The old sheriff spoke, "John this not a normal town. It has a curse and a blessing. It was all caused by those evil people on the witch hunts. The Parallax was created by the survivors of the Salem Witch hunts. They formed a group and combined their powers and anyone who came witch hunting here was sucked into the Parallax. If it ever revives and becomes active. It will consume this town since that stupid mayor relocated the town to preserve that historical monument. There are two ways to deactivate it. One is allowing a new guardian to be trained, and the ritual performed at noon."

         The aged sheriff continued between bouts of coughing and spitting up blood, "The second way is you must drive a fire bomb inside it and kill those old blood-sucking ancient guardians. It has to be a hexed bomb."

         The old sheriff gave a dying scream and stopped breathing and was still. John brought the body to the city morgue. He wanted an autopsy preformed as his first act of a sheriff. He never got the chance as soon as the mortician saw who it was. He had the body burned as per the old sheriff's orders.

         John snapped out of it and started struggling, and his lab crew stood him up. He pointed to their lab truck, and they all headed for it at full run. Clint jumped in and once every door was closed. He slammed into drive and floored it. John told him to head for the sheriff's office as fast as he can. Once there John got out and ran into his office and tripped the emergency sirens warning the town to evacuate as soon as possible.

         John thought, "I hope the people heed it's warning."

         John tried to call the Mayor's office. John didn't get any answer, and then the phones went dead. John remembered the town center and where the fountain was. It was probably gone with all the people inside including the mayor. No one was escaping that suction. It was time to leave here. John felt he needed to take out the town's disaster plans and take them with him. He grabbed all the demolition ordnance as well as the heavy guns. Stuffing everything into two big black carrying bags. He yelled for Clint, Chuck, and Gina to go outside and the vehicles ready. John handed each one a deputy badges and headed to the emergency command center. He shouted to the rest to grab any vehicle and go to the old town site.

         Gina grabbed the crime lab van and started speed to old town. Clint grabbed his crime scene lab pickup truck and headed out after Gina. Chuck decided to grab the bomb pickup he didn't understand why it felt so important. He finally got it to start and headed out to old town as fast it would go. Traveling at highest possible speed the old command center van would go John kept hoping the remaining town members would make it to old town. Gina passed him like he was standing still. Clint was right on her tail. John pulled in behind and used him to help pull him along faster.

         It was a straight-line drive to the old town they started to see people running towards the old town and off the roads. John thanked his lucky stars that the people were being smart. As they drove Gina saw terrified people materialize ahead of her and reported that to John. The rest of the convoy slowed as well because the crowd clogged the road. She heard him on her vehicle's radio and started slowly until she could pull over and safely stop. Clint and John joined her; they all got out and started waving at people to come get in the vans.

         Chuck caught up with the convoy. John quickly motioned him on to the old town. Chuck continued on as directed by John. He kept it floored only going 80 miles per hour. John was thankful Chuck had picked up that vehicle. They will soon need it, and it contents. John kept yelling to the people to come up here. He spotted Tammy, Sammy, Lila, Cassie, Ulrika, Isabel, and Vera. He was impressed at how fast Vera could run. He jumped down and grabbed Sammy as soon as he touched him all the groups stopped and stared at him. He motioned for them all to get in the big van.

         Once everyone was seated John hoped in and started it up and floored it. He burned rubber for forty feet the van seemed to take off as if jet assisted. John kept it floored looking for Chuck. He hit the old town, and he pulled off the interstate and headed for the old sheriff's office. He wasn't sure if it was still standing It was intact and looked like it was ready to offer shelter for his people.

         It wasn't long before Gina, and Clint showed up over loaded with people. John ordered Sammy to get everyone inside and down to the shelters.

         Vera waddled over to John and asked, "John, do you know what we are fighting?"

         John looked Vera in her eyes and said, "The old sheriff told me when he died. He said something about a hexed fire bomb."

         Vera's face turned even whiter than it was normally, "John did something transfer to you when he died."

         "No Vera he was cremated before I could see the autopsy."

         Vera felt a relief flood her, "John you don't know how glad I am to hear that. You have talent untrained and powerful."

         John just shook his head, "Vera this is all a bad dream, and soon we all will wake up and forget it all."

         "No John it is only going to get worse until you release the hexed bomb on it. The trick is. Where did the old sheriff hide it?"

         Tammy came out and said, "We lost one of the sisterhood. Now we lost the hope of the performing the ritual tomorrow at noon."

         Vera said, "She isn't lost just hiding until we start the gathering for the ritual."

         Tammy said, "I will die before I allow Lila to become one of the sisterhood!"

         Vera said, "You probably will before this is over dear. If the sheriff cannot find the hexed bomb and fast."

         John said, "I might know where it is at now that I think about it. Come inside to the sheriff's old office and let's see if I'm right."

         John showed the note to them all. John ordered Chuck to do as the note said. He and the rest of the people would go clear the loading dock. John ordered Clint to stay and gather up all the refugees and get them into the shelter under the sheriff's office. John put Clint in command of the shelter.

         Before they could set one foot towards the bomb all the rest of the Sisterhood, and the West Coven joined John. They had a hard time threading through the maze of the old sheriff office building. Finally using a lucky guess John opened a door into the loading docks. John moved over to the end door that would be closeted to the old sheriff's office. They found strange patterns all over the floor. They cleared the floor, so they could read the whole thing.

          John found it formed instructions in his mind. As he was allowing the instructions to form in his mind. He felt Vera next to him then her soft whisper in his ear.

         Vera whispered, "Just let it form in your mind. It will guide you to its storage place."

         John continued allowing it all in. As they uncovered more it all started to make sense. Finally, as the floor was uncovered John took it all in. He now knew what they needed to do. He moved over to the blank wall that was behind the old sheriff's office. He waved his arms as if opening up all the oceans in the world; the whole wall dropped into the floor as if it had never existed. They looked into a room that hadn't seen daylight in quite a long time. It looked like a medieval black smith shop.

         John noticed that on the old forge sat two metal cases that had strange words, and symbols etched into them. He felt a strangeness come over him.

         It whispered in his mind,"John, you have to add the fire into me for me to be complete. You know what is needed to make it happen for this is my time."

         John sent Gina to get the bags from the control center van. He went and opened up the bomb disposal van and took out all the tools for disarming. John had Chuck and Sammy haul them into the hidden room. About that time, Gina showed up with the control center van and parked in a particular spot. She quickly ran back and got her Crime scene van and parked it in another weird spot. It looked as if they were blocking a blast from Rose-Cutt. That was when John noticed they all had weird symbols painted on them all over.

         John grabbed a bag he noticed in the crime scene van that had been glowing with strange symbols. He ran back inside the secret room and opened all the bags and spread their contents all over the floor. This went continued until his hand touched one of the demolition grenades. It guided him to place it into one of the cases. This continued until all the explosives were packed solid in both shell halves. John continued only now he assembled the halves into one sphere with strings, fuses, and holders mounted on it sides. He continued until he had the strings attached to one of the holders. He connected all the fuses to the other holder.

         They heard a rumbling. The loading dock door shut all on its own. John had picked up the bomb and brought it out into the center. That was when the blast hit the vehicles and the old sheriff's office. The whole building shook as if someone had exploded a nuclear bomb close by.
Ulrika asked Isabel if she could remember anything about the old master. Isabel shrugged her shoulders in defeat. She could not bring herself to speak; they would know she was scared witless. Her mother told her that no one has ever challenged the old masters and lived to talk about it.
Aliya looked around the room seeing all the people staring at them intently. She was not comfortable with this situation at all. If only they had finished the ritual everyone would be safe now. This was not going to bode well for any of them. The skin on her neck was becoming itchy. Dang, this is all I need is hives too, she thought to herself.
Tammy was holding her daughter close when she noticed the eyes of the doll were no longer green but a vibrant red. “Lila, where did you get that doll?”
“Ulrika gave it to me.”
“I’ll be right back, sit right here, Lila.” Lila cuddled the doll close to her protectively.
Tammy tugged Sammy’s arm and nodded her head for him to follow her. She walked over to Ulrika, Isabel and Aliya who were huddled together whispering among themselves.
“What is that doll that you gave Lila?
“Oh no! I didn’t know she had it still. Did you Isabel?”
Isabel shrugged again
Ulrika grabbed Isabel by the arm clenching it tightly. “Isabel, we are all in danger. If you think for one minute the old masters are going to save us, you are crazy. There is no going back now!”
Isabel glared but said nothing.
Sammy felt the urge to slap Isabel, but didn't. He would deal with her later.
Aliya spoke quickly looking all round as she did. “They can see and hear everything. We are all going to die. There is no way out of this.”
Tammy said, “The sisterhood is ready, we have prepared for this day for a long time now.”
Aliya only shook her head from side to side. She knew there wasn’t the silly group of want to be witches could do. No one or nothing could stop the old masters.
Tammy was frustrated with how uncooperative the girls were. She walked over to Vera and began talking with her about the doll. Vera approached Lila with Tammy to get a closer look at the doll. Tammy was right those eyes were redder like a flaming fire.
Vera asked, “Lila can I see your doll closer please.”
Lila handed the doll to Vera. The doll shook so intensely Vera dropped it to the ground. Lila grabbed it quickly from the floor and the doll stopped shaking. The eyes turned a soft green again when Lila looked it over to see it had any damage.
Lila said to Vera, “they do not like you.”
Vera's head snapped up quickly to look at Tammy's face.
"Lila, who doesn't like me."
"The old masters."
*******************
John, Clint, Chuck and Sam gathered the group of volunteers to discuss their options. John wanted to be sure everyone knew what was at stake. He knew some of the men had families waiting in the shelter. John suggested the talk among them and he would understand if they were reluctant to go forward with the dangerous task ahead. There were no guarantees anyone would live after this.
}In the meantime, Vera joined the Sisterhood of Rose Cutt.. This is the first time the sisterhood have all been in the same space, let alone be with so many non-believers in the old magic.
Gina sprang into the room, running to John.
“The town’s people are getting all worked up, they need assurances from someone. Fear does crazy things to people!”



1892


Isabel set her pen down on the desk. A man peeked in.
"Madame Mayor, there is a woman here to see you."
Isabel frowned. As Rose Cutt's first woman mayor, many young women had come to speak with her. She was something of a celebrity. "Who is it?"
"She says that you will discern who she is."
Isabel's frown deepened.
"Oh, yes, I know who you are talking about. Let her in."
The young man turned and left. Seconds later, he ushered in a womanly figure in an emerald hood.
"Leave us be," Isabel said to the man.
"Yes, Madame Mayor."
The man turned and left.
Isabel turned to the woman in emerald and forced a pleasant smile that she hoped concealed her irked thoughts.
"Zora, I hope you've reconsidered my request."
The woman lowered her hood, allowing raven black hair to fall down her back. "Rose Isabel Cutt, you are quite remarkable."

Present day


Isabel sat against a wall and shuddered. She could feel her hair graying. The disgusting Vera LaGrange looked at her.
"What a-happenin' to ya hair?"
Isabel sat straight up in shock. She grabbed a piece that had fallen loose from the bun and whipped it in front of her eyes. Sure enough, gray was spreading down from her scalp.
"No, no, no, no," all Isabel could whisper was no. Ulrika turned and stared at her in shock.
"Isabel, what's happening?"

1892


Isabel became angry at the mention of her given name. "That is not my name! I had it changed long ago, and I burned the records that said my name had ever been different!"
"True, but you cannot change the past, or the name your mother gave you."
"My mother..." Isabel began but then trailed off.
"Your mother was a remarkable woman as well. Not a drop of magic blood in her and yet she somehow discovered the secret behind the founding of Rose Cutt, and the Sisterhood. Those things were meant to be kept secret."
"She was a historian. She loved this old town so much so that she went digging. And she found some things that were, well, rather different than what she had originally thought. Yet, she loved it all the more, even naming her only daughter after it."
"I know. Yet you are more remarkable still. No one outside of the three families has ever caught the attention of the masters for longer than a second. However, with your, rather rash... shall we say, moving of the town to surround the Paralax, rather than remain at a safe distance away from such old magic, the masters have been quite abuzz."
"Oh, relax, I knew it would be fine. My mother did the research on your Sisterhood. As long as you keep sacrificing yourselves to it, the Paralax will continue to protect the town and repel all witch hunters."
"This is true."
"So, have a made my point clear?"
"Yes."
"Have the masters and the Sisterhood reconsidered my request?"
"They have."

Present day


"Isabel, your hair is graying! What is happening to you?" Ulrika repeated.
Isabel just stared at the wall in shock. Vera grabbed her arm.
"How-a long has she-a been a-servin'?"
Ulrika shook her head. "I don't know. I've served for thirty years, but Isabel has always been there. As Director of the Sisterhood, she isn't eligible to be sacrificed to the Paralax."
"If da masters are a-takin' away their blessin', things could get real messy wit' her," Vera said it lower so Isabel could not hear.
"All right, the men are set up around the perimeter of the sinkhole. They're waiting for further instruction," Sammy Dupont approached the three.
"'Dese a-men, are dey LaGranges?"
"No."
"Pearsons?"
"No."
"Allysons?"
"No."
"Den get 'em da hell outta there!"
"What? Why?"
"Sammy, Sammy, Sammy! You been a-trainin' wit' the Coven! What d'ya think da Paralax is gonna do to 'em?"
"Um... suck them in? But they want to help."
"If dey wanna help, send 'em back to da shelter at the Coven wit' der fam'lies. Der ain't nothing dat non-magic humans can do against da Paralax!"
"Um... okay," Sammy turned and left.
Vera turned back to Ulrika, who was now trying to coax information out of Isabel.
"Isabel, how old are you? We don't want to lose you."
"You can't lose me."
"The way you're aging, I'm worried we will."
"No! I mean you can't lose me. Not if you want to save Rose Cutt."

1892


"I'm going to be in charge of the Sisterhood?!" Isabel exclaimed, joyful.
Zora paused, her hand on the desk. "Yes. As Discerner, I determine what the old masters desire, and they were very clear on what is to be done with you."
"And?" Isabel was hopeful, expectant.
"You will become Director of the Sisterhood, as you requested."
"Yes! Now, I just need to fill out some forms, and you'll be registered with the town right away."
"There is more."
"Yes?"
"Your job will not be exactly as you described. You will still be in charge of the Sisterhood, directing us."
"Yes..."
"However, we may not be registered in the town. Don't you understand that we aren't supposed to exist?"
"What? But, Zora... surely the masters wish for this to all be official."
"You will be bound to keep the secret of the Sisterhood on the price of your life. Because you have already meddled enough with old masters, by right you should be dead. However, the masters have decided to grant you Sister-ship, as you are by far the most cunning mortal without Sight ever to live in Rose Cutt."
"I have to keep this a secret?" Isabel sighed and closed her eyes, folding her hands on the desk. "I guess I can."
"You must leave your position as mayor."
"What!?" Isabel screeched.
"Or die."
"Fine," Isabel sat back, sullen.
"You will be exempt from the sacrificial ritual."
"So I will be immortal?"
"No. Your life will be tied to the town's. Should the town die, or be swallowed by the Paralax, you will die as well. If you by some unfortunate happening are killed or fall into the Paralax's grip, the town will be consumed in fire and brimstone."
"You sound like Reverend James."
"You will not age, however, as your youthfulness will be needed to direct the Sisterhood."
"Perfect!"
"But should if the town decays, you shall age as well."
"This all sounds fine, except for leaving the mayorship. I worked hard for that."
"Well, now you will be working hard for the masters. They hold your life in their hands now. You placed it there by meddling where you should not have. Only those aware of the masters' existence can be directly affected by them, aside from the damage the Paralax does."
Isabel sat back, feeling a weight dropped on her shoulders, yet a happy joy. She was going to fulfill her mother's dream for her and lead the Sisterhood!
"I'll do it."
"You do realize that you no longer have a choice."
Isabel frowned. "Yes, I guess so."
Zora stood and raised her hood. "Come, it is time to initiate you into the Sisterhood of Rose Cutt."

Present day


Ulrika was shocked. "What?"
"Nothing," Isabel replied.
"But you said..."
"What I meant was that if I die you will not be able to induct anyone into the Sisterhood because the Director must be present. I hold secrets that I haven't even taught to you, Ulrika. Secrets that may be necessary for future events," Isabel snapped.
The deputy, Sammy Dupont, approached the trio again. "All of the non-magic men are gone."
Ulrika breathed a small sigh of relief. Those who did not understand the magic of Rose Cutt would make this impossible situation worse. She was glad they were gone.
Vera looked desperately at Sammy. "John's-a still here, ain't he?"
"Yes."
"Good! Now tell 'im to bring dat bomb!"
Sammy retrieved John and the bomb. Ulrika disliked the sight of the bomb. It had such strange hexings. It was so East Coven.
"John, d'ya know how to activate it?" Vera asked.
"It said I needed to add fire to it."
"Oh, you already have. Your desire to save da town was da only fire it needed."
"Great! Now, all we need to do is get this to the Paralax."
A rumbling outside the compound sounded.
"It appears the Paralax has come to us," Tammy said, peering out the window. She still gripped Lila's hand, tightly. The doll was set in a corner, our of Lila's reach.
John opened the door. Just outside, the Paralax swirled.
"Everyone to the back of the room!" John exclaimed.
All present backed up. John stood, wind whipping around him. Ulrika watched him pick up the bomb.
"John, do you know how to activate it?" Cassie shouted.
"Yes!" he exclaimed. He turned back to face everyone.
"Nobody follow me, nobody scream, and if this doesn't work, you're all probably screwed."
"John! I'm sorry!" Vera exclaimed.
"What? What do you mean?" Tammy exclaimed.
John leaped through the door and into the Paralax. A scream almost escaped Ulrika's lips, but she remembered John's last request.
An earth-shattering boom erupted from the Paralax. Ulrika shut her eyes tightly. When the noise faded, she opened them. The wind still whipped. The Paralax was still there.
A terrible laughter came from the center of the Paralax.
"Do you really think that some hexed firebomb can save you? WE ARE THE ANCIENT MASTERS. WE KNOW ALL HAPPENINGS OF ROSE CUTT. We knew of the bomb, and we have been working our power together to save ourselves from the blast. THE PARALAX CAN NEVER BE DESTROYED!!!" The laughter continued.
The front of the building was torn away. Tears welled in Ulrika's eyes. Her only hope of never having to find out was on the other side of the Paralax had been crushed.
"Everyone! Get out! Now!" Sammy rushed them all to the back door, the Paralax following. Isabel stumbled. Ulrika looked back and saw that age had weakened her, wrinkling her skin and swelling her joints. The ground right behind Isabel crumbled.
"Ulrika!" Lila screamed. Ulrika looked and saw she had gotten a hold of the doll.
"We must save Rose Cutt!" Lila shrieked.
Ulrika stared directly into the child's eyes. She felt the Sight in her increase. Suddenly, she understood.
She turned and hustled back to Isabel, lifted her up and ran. She felt the ground crumbling beneath her. As it fell away, she threw Isabel as far as her petite form could manage, safely into Vera's arms. With nothing to hold on to, she fell away into the Paralax.

***

"Ulrika! Ulrika!" Ulrika felt someone shaking her awake.
"Wha... where are we?"
"There isn't time! We must go now!"
"Who... who are you?" Ulrika rubbed bright sunlight out of her eyes.
"Ulrika, look at me. You fell through the Paralax, but there's still hope," a new voice interrupted.
"Jade?" Ulrika was startled. She turned to the hands that had shaken her awake. "Leslie?"
"We don't have time for this! The Speaker from the Beyond can only speak for you when you stand exactly where she is standing in Rose Cutt!"
"Speaker from the Beyond? Do you mean Aliya?"
"Yes! Now, hurry!"
Ulrika rose up with the help of Leslie and Jade. "Where are we?"
"Look around."
Ulrika lifted her eyes and looked around.
"Rose Cutt?"
The others looked on in horror as Ulrika fell away into the abyss. Isabel, inconsolable, rocked in Vera's massive arms. Sammy's mind raced through all the possiblilties.Everyone else just tryed to get their bearings.

The Paralax, for the time being, remained stable. No one knew how long it would stay that way. Sammy decided they needed to get as far away from it as possible and they needed to move fast! As they raced away, they all turned to Lila, who was clutching her doll. The doll's eyes flashed green then red. Lila stared intently at it, as if trying to interpret the flashing. Sammy noticed this and yelled back, "Don't anyone let her lose that doll!"

When the group cleared the building they saw the burning remnants of several vehicles and John's half-charred body. John was struggling, inching towards them as smoke still wafted up from his wounds. In his hand, or what was left of his hand, they saw a box. When they approached they realized he held the hexed bomb. Somehow it remained intact after the explosion.

With his dying breath he whispered, "Must save Rose Cutt."

Vera tossed Isabel's limp body into the covered back of a nearby derelict army truck and hauled her massive self in behind the tall Sisterhood Director. The frame of the old truck creaked under the strain of her weight. Vera dropped to floor, her elephant sized legs splayed out in the shape of a V, and she dragged the unconscious form of Isabel into her lap.

The Director's breathing was shallow, and her hair was now a course shock of gray hair. Vera stroked Isabel's cheek gently. "Sorry, sugar britches. But these are desperate times. My plan is fraying at the edges and threatens to unravel completely unless I can get things back on track."

Vera carved three spirals into the dusty floor of the truck and connected each spiral with a line so that she and Isabel sat within a triangle shape. Words of a lost language flowed from Vera's wrinkled lips and each tiny spiral slowly began to spin. Vera sighed and caught her breath. Her energy reserves were low. The past few hours had drained her. She had never had to exert so much power and concentration for so long. These fools were ruining her plans. She knew she had too many irons in the fire and was going to have to let one or two of them go to avoid complete exhaustion.

Vera looked down at Isabel and regret washed over her for an instant, and she felt a few lines of her concentration waver. Cassie, she thought, she was losing Cassie. She refortified her spell lines and focused all of her energies on the lines of magic that kept her plugged into the events around her. Isabel moaned and Vera brought her attention back to the task at hand inside the truck. Vera raked her index finger across Isabel's neck, drawing a line of blood across the pale flesh. Isabel gasped but remained unconscious.

Vera dripped a drop of blood into each spinning spirals surrounding her. The dull etched lines forming the triangle glowed in red as Vera's spell of cloaking formed a shield around the two ladies. Vera slumped forward, allowing some of her spells to fall away - the ones that shielded her thoughts from some of those with powerful Sight. She fished an old tissue from her muumuu’s pocket and stemmed the blood oozing from Isabel's cut.

"Rest, my sweet lady, this is not over yet, and I still have a few tricks up my sleeve to win this thing for the Masters." Vera looked at her hands as they shook, and once again her concentration wavered. Lila had rattled her. That little imp was proving more troublesome than any had anticipated, perhaps even the Masters.

"Lila, who doesn't like me."
"The old masters."


Those words played over and over in her mind. How could The Masters be displeased with her? She had done everything they had commanded of her. She had been working so hard to destroy the Sisterhood and to allow the Masters to return in all of their wondrous glory. How could they not be pleased?

She closed her eyes and steadied her mind. The girl is wrong, she thought. I have served the Masters. I shall bring about the full power of the Paralax. "I cannot fail," she whispered to herself. But she knew her plan was tilting sideways and her energies were so low from her ongoing efforts to put all of the pieces in place that she was in danger of failing her Masters.

The plan had started to unravel at the warehouse when Lila wanted to rescue Ulrika. That was when Vera had started expending energies of spell lines that taxed the limits of her abilities.

There had been no stopping that little whelp of a Lagrange from going back to Ulrika. Vera's body shuddered at the thought of that horrid woman, Ulrika. She was the fly in the ointment, the monkey wrench in my plans and the sole reason I am sitting in this truck trying to bring things back under control.

The four of them, Sammy, Cassie, Lila and herself had returned for Ulrika, but as soon as they had entered the chambers Vera recognized the look in Ulrika's eyes. The bitch knew. Ulrika had discerned something of my true nature when she had pressed that chalice to my lips. Either she realized I feigned injury from Isabel's attack, or the chalice had served another purpose that gave her some knowledge of my true intent, Vera thought, either way I knew I had to act.

Vera looked down at Isabel's aging face and felt pity. Poor Isabel thought it was her tie to the town that was draining her life, but Vera knew that was not the case and guilt tugged at her ever so slightly. At the moment in the Chamber when Ulrika realized the truth of Vera's plan, Vera had done the only thing she could think of to avoid exposure and total failure. Now, in the truck cradling Isabel, the memory washed over her.

Ulrika had opened her mouth to warn everyone that Vera served the Masters as their agent to destroy Rose Cutt and bring them back into this world to rule as our true Masters. Vera knew spells and incantations of vast power but she also knew they came with a great cost. Standing in the Chamber between worlds in an act of desperation, Vera exacted her cost and executed a spell of untold power.

Vera reached out with old dark magics and stripped the life force from Cassie, absorbed her power and flung her lifeless body into the darkness. The infusion of the energy had been startling to Vera and filled her with a sense of power she had never known. With power, raw and wild, Vera reached into Isabel's being and stripped away a chunk of her life essence and absorbed it into herself. Vera's ample body had crackled with power.

All Lagranges of power must perish. The thought raced through Vera. All Lagranges of power must enter the Paralax. The power coursing through Vera threatened to overwhelm her. She reached out with tendrils of ancient incantations and transported everyone from the Chamber to the place she had abandoned her bicycle on the highway.

The magic crackled on the highway and Vera watched as Sammy, Lila, Ulrika, Isabel and Aliya collapsed on the gravel shoulder of the road. The magic inside of Vera still crackled and she felt as though she would explode with the power coursing through her. A crackle of magic sounded to her left and Tammy Lagrange appeared and slumped across the highway. Whoa, Vera thought, she had managed to pluck Tammy from wherever she had been and brought her here as well.

Vera loved the taste of the magic and the overwhelming power it instilled in her, but overwhelming it truly was. She needed to expend more it. She drew runes in the gravel and whispered incantations. In front of Vera, vines, roots and marshy clumps of dirt flew from the woodlands on the side of the road and swirled into a vortex. The roots formed into a skeletal human frame while the vines and muck slowly covered it until a humanoid figure took shape. Vera concentrated and performed intricate hand gestures as the swamp thing slowly transformed itself into the shape of Cassie.

Vera smiled at her creation. Vera would be able to control the Cassie Mimic as needed so she had another set of eyes to take in events around her, and she could use it to help accomplish her goals. The magic with her had eased but was still threatening to overwhelm her physical body. She touched each of the minds of those around her and buried all their memories from the warehouse and implanted the idea into each of their minds to head to the Paralax.

The others began to stir and Vera was still crackling and bursting with magics. She needed to expend the excess and keep enough in reserve to keep all the lines of magic in effect that she had cast. Vera closed her eyes and picked out a random place and time in the near future, away from most people and concentrated on that single moment. She let the magic build and then hurled the excess magic along the casting line into future. Vera imagined the magic discharging into the air like a nuclear bomb. That area would be full of wild magics and energies.


The memory shattered as Vera felt some of her magic lines wavering. Vera needed more power, more magic to accomplish all of her goals. She looked at Isabel and placed her fat fingers over the tall woman's heart. "I'm sorry, my sweet lumpkins, but mama needs her Ju-Ju." Magic crackled and Vera started to slowly drain the life-force and magics from the Sisterhood Director.

----------


In the darkness of the chamber between worlds, something stirred. A dragging sound came from the darkest corner of the room. A bloodied hand scraped across the floor and slowly came into the light. A woman dragged herself to the center of the room and collapsed on the rose etched on the floor.

Cassie looked up at the tentacles. "Oh, Ms. Lagrange," she whispered, "you should have killed me, you fat pig, because now I'm coming for you." Her hand reached for the ceiling as rage filled her heart.











With Cassie's vendetta as her only strength, she managed to get herself transferred to into the Paralax to be with Urlika. This helped to stabilize the Paralax temporarily. It loved getting magical beings into its belly.

Urlika looked at the badly damaged Cassie, "What's going on? Why are you here with me?"

"We have to destroy Vera. She wants to help the Maters come to full power in the real world, instead of just here. She's trying to destroy the Sisterhood in order to let the Paralax take over Rose Cutt. For now I'm on your side. I can help," Cassie said as she slumped to the ground, leaning against Urlika's leg.

Jade looked at Cassie and Urlika. "There is a way for us to get out of the Paralax and back to Rose Cutt to reform the sisterhood and close down the Paralax. But we are going to have to open ourselves up to more people in the Sisterhood to avoid this problem in the future. There has never been a rule against having more people, just a rule against having fewer. We've been endangering the town for centuries."

Leslie grabbed Urlika's arm and Jade's hand. "Listen. There are people who live inside of the Paralax who don't want it to eat any more people or pieces of the town. They have been studying some old documents from before Rose Cutt was formed. They think they understand the magical powers that allow Rose Cutt to exist enough to work around it. They say they have found a way to go back and forth between the worlds, but it only works for those with the magical powers strong inside of them. The rest of the people die away not long after they come through the Paralax."

Jade took Urlika's hand and gave it a squeeze. "This is where we can regenerate and go back to the real world and flourish. There's a secret gateway deep in the marsh land outside of Rose Cutt. It's in the East Marsh, where the East Marsh Coven meets. It's amazing that they chose that spot as their meeting place. They must have been soaking up powers while they were so close to the world beyond the Paralax. That must be how they gain their powers when they didn't have any before. That means Vera has even greater powers because she was born with powers and she spent so much time studying with the people from the East Marsh Coven. Maybe this is how she gained her connection to the Masters."

Urlika kicked Cassie off of her leg and turned to Jade. "So you can both come back to Rose Cutt to help stabilize the Paralax and bring the town back to its previous condition?"

Leslie rolled her eyes. "I don't think it will all come back to its former condition and the dead will remain dead, but the land will be stable and the remaining people will be able to rebuild a newer section of Rose Cutt. That was the whole reason we were supposed to stay away from building around that fountain in the first place. It just gets destroyed time and time again over the ages."

Urlika looked at Cassie who was moaning. "Will she come back to full strength again while she remains here, since she now has some of the magical powers inside of her?"

Jade said, "It goes slower for people with weaker powers, but yes, in time she will come back to full strength, Why?"

Urlika simply said, "She's against the Sisterhood. I don't believe her that she now supports us. I don't think she understands our purpose at all. It's our job to keep Rose Cutt safe from the Masters whims and cruelty. The great spirit who helped to create Rose Cutt created the Sisterhood to protect the town from the Masters."

Leslie held her hands over Cassie and used her powers of healing to help revive her enough to be able to walk again. Cassie began to stir and sit up. "I'm feeling so much better now. What are you doing?"

Still working her healing magic, Leslie said, "I'm just helping you along. You were working your own healing magic all on your own. You people of the East Marsh Coven stumbled upon a great secret without even knowing about it. It's better to have you with us than against us."

Cassie pushed herself up and wobbled a bit. "What can I do to help?"

Jade looked at her and chuckled. "We just needed you to be able to walk on your own power, so we didn't have to carry you. Let's take a moment so that you don't fall all over yourself as we make our way to the gateway. We might have to dodge some other beings along the way. We can't have you running into everything on the way."

Urlika looked shocked. "I don't think I understand what the plan is. What are we about to do?"

Leslie pulled away from Cassie and looked at Jade. "Maybe she got bumped on her head as she came through the Paralax. We're going to the real Rose Cutt to make the Sisterhood strong again and to help Rose Cutt get back on its feet. Things like this have happened in the past. We need to make sure it never happens again. We just have to learn to live with the Paralax and the Masters and always keep the upper hand. We need more people to join the Sisterhood of Rose Cutt to make this work."
Insulted by the exchange between Leslie and Jade, Cassie said, “I might have bumped my head, but the three of you have acquired social skills worse than an ape singed by a dragon. Just give me a minute to pull myself together, and I will help you. We’ll recruit more people to the Sisterhood and save Rose-Cutt, but first we have to get in touch with whoever is left in East Marsh.”

But she appeared stiff, self-conscious, and her facial expressions changed with every word she said, although she probably recognized her own inappropriateness.

Jade slapped her hands to her hips. “Ape singed by a dragon, ha! You are either with us, Cassie, as the reputed peach of a witch that you are, or you are as dumb as a wilted cabbage head. Don’t you see we have no time to lose?”

“I’ll help her,” Ulrika said. “She can lean on me. Each exchange of dispute among us is giving me the creeps. No need to lose time. We must hurry toward the East Marsh.”

“You are shorter than all of us. How do you expect to carry Cassie?”

“She doesn’t have to carry me,” Cassie said, ever hopeful as the witch she was raised to be. “I’ll just lean on her. You are forgetting about what you are taught: Willpower against matter.”

“We have to go in pairs,” Leslie said. “This way if one pair is snatched back into the Paralax, the other can make it to East Marsh. Can you all use the wind?”

“Use the wind?” Jade’s question sounded hushed like a prayer; yet, she locked her arm to Leslie’s, then nodded to stop herself from commenting further.

“At the subatomic level, this universe is more of thought than matter. Let’s think East Marsh and cling to the wind. Since we won’t be touching ground, Old Masters will not be able to hear our thoughts.”

“Let’s hope so,” Ulrika said offering her shoulder to Cassie to lean on her. “But I wouldn’t bet on that assumption, either. I’d rather trust the Masters than Vera.”

A shadow passes through Cassie’s eyes, between her lens and the inner light, darkening her stare. She whispered to Ulrika, “I’m scared.”

Ulrika whispered back.” Me, too. But I’d be more scared if we weren’t attempting this.”
The minute they stepped into the wind, the Paralax roared.

****

“The Paralax! You heard it, right? When we took off?” Jade said as she and Leslie stepped into the wet marsh.

“Yes,” Leslie said. “It gave me the creeps, but it might not be for us. I think it was for something else. Lying in the beast’s belly for such a long time, I memorized its reactive spurts.”

“You always had the better memory,” Jade said, as she stepped away to avoid the glistening form of a water moccasin, as it slithered into the vernal pool nearby. As she watched the snake, an instrument of nostalgia from the scented flowers of Broad-leaved Paperbarks awakened Jade's sense of smell. “Let’s first drink the honey for energy, like we used to,” she added.

“The Eucalyptus would work better for speed,” Leslie said. After all she knew something about the healing arts. “But where are the other two?”

“We are here,” Ulrika’s voice came from ahead of them. They had crossed into the Marsh from the other edge.

“Why didn’t you use the short cut?” Jade asked, as Ulrika and Cassie appeared at the other side of a vernal pool.

“The dry pass is this way.” Leslie gestured with her hand to show a dry patch of land for Ulrika and Cassie to walk through.

“Why didn’t you take the short cut?” Jade asked again when Ulrika and Cassie joined her and Leslie.

“Vera!” Cassie gasped, but she could now stand on her own two feet. She sniffed, breathing deeply the fragrance of the Eucalyptus and the Paperbarks. “Oh, I missed this place so!”

Leslie frowned. “What about Vera?”

“She cast magic into the air right after you. The effect was like nerve gas. She is very powerful, now that she is saturated with Isabel’s essence in addition to her own,” Cassie said.

“We actually worried about you two. Her magic was blocking the shortcut,” Ulrika added. “So, I pulled Cassie into another wind corridor. As long as we’re here…”

“Obviously, Vera sent her excess energies into air, which must now be filled with magic and wild energies. Not only the air of today but the air of the future,” Jade speculated.

“Let’s go see who else we can find here and recruit,” Leslie said, taking a path alongside the vernal pool and around the Paperbarks. The other three followed.

***
Vera gloated over her success. She had sent the Cassie Mimic into the Marsh as she had guessed it would be where the others would go for help. She would direct the Mimic through the set of eyes to take in events around her, and she would use it to help accomplish the greatest glory for herself. She would no longer be the pariah. The Masters would have to appreciate her and approve of her magic then.

She had also managed to send the others to the mercies of the Paralax, to where the fountain would devour them. How could the Masters be disgruntled by her work in view of the victims she procured for them?

Plus, that taste of the magic and its overwhelming power…How she loved it, but devastating it truly was. She had to shed some more of it. As she let some of the magic trickle out of her, noises she couldn’t understand or fathom erupted from her mouth all at the same time: The buzzing of the wasps, the caws of ravens, the laughter of the hyenas, the snarls and hisses of every wild beast, and the sounds of rattlesnakes akin to the noise dried gourds made when shaken. Those simultaneous noises now blended into one irritating, eardrum piercing, ominous and horrid chorus, knocking Vera off her feet.

As she fell, she screamed. “Isabel, get out of me!”
A Non-Existent User
Lila...

"Who is that," Lila whispered in response, but she wasn't really talking. Her thoughts were forming words in her mind. She opened her eyes and found herself lying on gravel near a road in a place she didn't recognize. Above, the sun shone brightly through the hazy sky, but she felt no warmth from its light, nor did she feel cold. She turned her head slowly and saw a bike parked not far from where she lay, slumping on its kickstand. As she looked closely, it seemed to shimmer. "What is this place?" she thought.

Slowly, she struggled to a sitting position and realized she was not alone. Beside her lay the doll Ulrika and Isabel had given her. She pulled it to her and took it in her hands. The eyes glittered a bright green. "I can hear you," Lila said without speaking. The doll remained motionless, but Lila could fee a presence forming around her. It felt light and cool, like a cotton sheet on a warm autumn night.

"Do you understand what's happening, Lila?" came a voice from all around her.

"I-I-I think so," Lila stammered. "Vera, she's trying to make you cross over."

"You have great comprehension for one so young, Lila," came the voice again. There was no malice in its tone and Lila was not frightened. "The people of Rose Cutt don't understand us. Their perception of us is twisted through their own reality."

"What do you mean?"

"Their perception of us is not the reality of us," the soothing voice continued. "We do not wish for the destruction of Rose Cutt, neither do we contemplate its continued existence. It is neither here nor there to us."

"But the fountain..." Lila began. "If we don't promise servitude to you, you'll destroy Rose Cutt."

"Make no mistake, Lila, there is dark magic swirling at all points. But it is the dark magic of men, not of us."

"But, Vera..."

"She forsook us many, many moons ago," the voice said, its tone changing from soothing to stern. "And her soul has been lost to the greed for power, the lust for dominance." A sadness seemed to creep into the voice's inflection. "We have mourned her loss for many years now."

Lila felt confused and befuddled. "How can she command you, then?"

There was a powerful ripple in the energy surrounding Lila. "She does not command us," came the booming response. "The Old Masters will not be dictated to. We are not the playthings of humanity, to be summoned hither and thither on a whim! We have no desire to cross to the natural world! We have no interest in partaking of your miserable existence!"

For the first time, Lila felt a wave of fear. Tears rolled down her cheeks. "I'm sorry," she whimpered. "I didn't mean to make you angry. I'm so scared... I want to go home..."

The energy calmed and the voice returned to its soothing tone. "Child, to be certain, our quarrel is not with you. Our quarrel is with those who have been gifted, but who abuse those gifts for their own selfish gain."

Lila swallowed hard. "Like Vera?"

"Yes, like Vera. She knows her powers well and she has allowed them to become perverted. It is her perversion, not ours, and it has seeped from the very darkest corners of her soul. She has turned to dark magic to achieve her aims."

"What am I supposed to do?" Lila whispered.

"Oh, our Child of Light! Your brilliance is a foil to her darkness, and she knows it. She has sensed you from the very beginning. You are the true-born Protectress of Rose Cutt, and we have been waiting for our Daughter of Light, who is you."

Lila rose to her feet, feeling a certain sense of purpose. "But I'm not initiated yet," she mused.

"My darling," came the voice, a certain level of amusement in its tone. "Do you think you need to be initiated?"

"No," Lila shot back with certainty.

"You are correct..."

With that, the mirage of the gravel road disappeared and Lila found herself in the space in between, the words of Ulrika echoing through the ether: "Me, too. But I’d be more scared if we weren't attempting this."
         John grabbed the bomb and leaped through the door into the paralax. He waited for what he thought was the center and pulled both handles on the bomb. At first nothing happened then it gave a puff that put fire in his face and chest as well as his arms and hands. A loud laugh exploded around him. You silly human trying to explode a hex bomb without a hex placed on it. Good show you did have us worried for a while.

          John thought to himself, "So that was why Vera was sorry."

         We have a proposition for you if you are interested. John since your fully human with no powers. We need someone killed and an outside agent are you up for this challenge? John thought to himself why not I'm dead either way.

         John spoke, "Since I'm dead either way go for it. Just who do I have the honor of killing?"

         The Eldest Master spoke, "Your primary target is Vera she has overstepped our agreement. The secondary target is your deputy Sammy. He must never be sheriff in your place."

         John spoke, "What if he defeats me?"

         The Eldest boomed out, "You die anyway. You will die no matter what. We have to curse you to force you to live again. But the advantage is you will get multiple chances to complete your mission. We advise you take out Sammy first. You will need Sammy's life force to protect you from her. She has been a really bad girl."

         John couldn't help laughing at 'really bad girl.' He though how Vera had played them all and allowed him to sacrifice his life for nothing she knew that bomb to be effective needed the hex spell on it. As for Sammy why him he was just an overweight deputy with a heart of gold. His love for Krispy Cream got him every day. John had always been afraid that soon he would turn into a Krispy Cream donuts and roll away.

         The Eldest Master spoke, "We need an answer now John."

         John spoke, "let's say I do your bidding and I manage to kill both what then?"

         "Once the young trainee Lila is in here with us. The Paralax will be reset and the time of activation will be ended until the next set of seers are born. You will still die eventually because all humans hate abominations such as you will become John."

         "Times up John yes or no?"

         "Yes"

         John's damaged body was thrown out with the blast that damaged the vehicles. He still felt himself dying really slow he noticed the people running out for the vehicles.

         John tried to warn them and save his town before he died and was cursed he was crawling towards Sammy and Vera as he whispered, "Must save Rose Cutt"

         They all began to ran off. Someone pulled the bomb casing from John after whispering to the group. John passed out but didn't depart this world as he should have instead his soul waited around the outside of his body as the masters transformed it into a Zombie. A different voice whispered into John's ear.

         "Daddy you must do as the masters want. You will get no choice in this anyway. But once your mission for them is over I promise to guide you home to mom and me."

         John's mind opened on that saddest memories of his life the death of his wife and child. They had been crushed by a semi with a defective wheel. Over two years ago when the heavy wheel broke free of the speeding semi and went through their car windshield returning home from the capital city.

         He felt pure joy knowing his daughter would guide him home once more.

         "Daddy you must enter the Zombie body now so that you can control who's brains you eat. You must only eat Sammy's and Vera's. Or you can never come home again Daddy."

         John jumped back into his old ruined body as the process finished. It was horrible to feel the changes he felt the programming to eat Sammy and Vera He also felt the hunger that would make him kill over and over again. He knew he would have a hard fight to control it. He just hoped Sammy was close. John smelled in deep to his dead lungs his nose told him Sammy wasn't far.

         He was still running from the expanding Paralax. It seems in his fear he was running in circles. John watched him and on the third circuit he sprang and brought the fat man down. John just kept biting him and chewing. Until he hit an artery. Soon Sammy was stopped fighting and moving. Smelling in deep the iron tang of pooling blood, John quickly broke Sammy's head open by pounding it against a large rock. He feasted upon Sammy's brains and felt his body fill with magical power. He felt it build up and expand out. It ended in every exterior point of his body even his remaining burnt hair was standing up straight in the air tingling.

         It started to show him Vera's movements He watched her eat her victims and suck them dry of power. He watched as she drew her triangle into earths Lay lines to add more power to her body. He ran towards the truck she was hiding in hoping his power from Sammy would attract her to him. He ran faster as fast as his dead legs could move at least only the out skin was burned black but the muscles were all intact and working just fine.

          John watched as the stiff blackened skin broke off in chunks dripping some greenish puss like fluids as he ran. It was a good thing he didn't find anyone along the way. His power and hunger was building again. Vera was close and getting closer fast.
Lila could feel a dark energy growing, she didn't know how she was sensing it but she had no doubt in her mind Vera was at the root of it. Lila's mind was swirling as she tried to process the information the old masters were sharing. There was just so much for her to take in. Lila couldn't help herself, the tears on her cheek trickled one after another. " Ulrika, I wish you were here to help me."

The old masters said nothing leaving Lila to her jumbled thoughts and fears for the moment.

***********

Vera took so many victims, never sating her thirst for power but as she drew the triangle on the cracked and dry earth she could feel Isabel trying to regain control. Vera had to get herself free of Isabel, she almost killed her once with the fall earlier.

Vera struggled again with Isabel, it was clearly not going as she anticipated. Daaammm, that confounded woman is always getting in her way. Regaining her balance somewhat she tried to force Isabel from her body. Isabel was not giving up, so far she resisted each blow Vera tried. However, each curse filled spell weakening her, Could she stop her?

Finally, unable to stop Vera, Isabel fell to the ground drained and helpless. Vera went to give Isabel a fatal blow but her keen senses made her aware that John was here. She had to turn this around and kill him. She could feel the raw power radiating from him, she knew he needed to feed and it was not going to be her. Isabel laid on the ground blissfully unaware of John's presence.

************


Lila shuddered as she sensed another power growing but from who?

Ulrika, Jade, Cassie and Leslie intent on finding recruits to help battle Vera before she got to the Old Master, Rose Cutt was at stake. So many innocent people that did not have a clue were huddled together waiting at the old factory. The women knew it was up to them to stop Vera, Lila was too young or so they thought. Running like terrified gazelles from a burning wooded area they covered the distance in no time.

*************


Tammy La Grange could not find her daughter, Lila or her brother Sammy anywhere when she finally did come to.This pacing was going to drive her over the edge. Tammy knew she had to do something, anything. She began running down the gravel road into the fields to the meadows. One of the elders in the sisterhood must know how to stop Vera. Tammy had no doubt in her mind now, that Vera was more dangerous than the old masters. Tammy saw Jade first than Ulrika running toward the marsh. She yelled to them but they did not hear her. She darted after them. As she sprinted Leslie and Cassie came into sight, her eyes must be playing tricks on her. She was sure Leslie had died, every one in town mourned her at the service just the other day.

Tammy struggling to get her breath as she caught up with them at the marsh pentacle, The stars were all marked on the ground, candles burning in each point. Ulrika stood in one point, Jade in another, Cassie stepped into another. Leslie and Tammy stood hesitantly looking on when Ulrika urged them to enter. Leslie reminded Ulrika we do not have power like you. Ulrika said, "Teamwork is vital to our success to stop Vera, you must join us we need your resources!" Tammy looked at Leslie, took a deep sigh and stepped into another point. One star point remained for Leslie. Leslie looked up the sky and crossed herself with the father, the son and the holy spirit and entered the final star point. The ground rumbled and shook with a strange mist appearing from out of no where...

************
Jade scratched a pentagram in the dirt on the ground. "Everyone, stand at a point."
"What will this do?" Cassie asked. "We're still in the Paralax, aren't we?"
Leslie nodded. "Yes, yes we are."
"Then why did we fly past so many people? And males? It looked like regular Rose Cutt."
"Imagine the Paralax like a monster. The fountain is its head, sticking above the ground. Below it is the stomach, which stretches wider, underneath Rose Cutt. This place is not the true belly of the Paralax, however. This is similar to a safety net for magical creatures. All non-magic creatures that enter the Paralax fall straight through here and are consumed by the Old Masters."
"That doesn't explain all the people."
"Since this place mirrors Rose Cutt, there are reflections of the residents right now. The star I just drew is a crosspoint between the worlds. We should be able to hear and converse with anyone that comes along, and they should be able to see us. In fact, here comes someone right now."
"It's Tammy!" Cassie exclaimed as she stepped on a point. Ulrika and Jade stepped onto points as well.
Tammy arrrived and after some convincing stepped on point. Everyone stared at the last, Leslie. Leslie sighed and crossed herself, and old habit from her Roman Catholic days, and stepped on the point.
Mist swirled around them. Cassie felt a strange sensation, like something reached down and was pulling her up. She was being lifted, though her feet remained on the ground. The mist cleared and the lifting sensation stopped.
Cassie checked herself and saw that she was all there. Ulrika stood near her patting herself. Tammy stared bewildered. "Come on!" Cassie exclaimed. "Let's go!"
Jade and Leslie remained unmoved. "Leslie? Jade? C'mon," Ulrika dusted herself off.
"This is where our help for you ends," Jade said remorsefully.
"What?" Ulrika drew back.
"When I said 'magical powers strong inside of them' I meant 'the magic of life.' Once you are sacrificed to the Paralax, your life energy is gone and you can never leave. We can still perform magic from this side, however, it can't interfere directly with the magic in Rose Cutt. Unless, of course, a living resident of Rose Cutt currently in Rose Cutt allows us to," Jade nodded at Tammy.
"But how will we know what to do if we need your knowledge?" Tammy asked.
"Aliya. The Speaker from the Beyond. That was my position once."
"It is the most mysterious position. None of us are sure of its pertinence," Ulrika added.
"After entering the Paralax, I soon discovered its purpose. When a resident of the Paralax is standing in the exact spot as the Speaker from the Beyond is in Rose Cutt, the Paralax resident can take control of the Speaker's tongue and speak for them."
"So that's what you meant when you told me Aliya could speak for me," Ulrika said.
"Yes."
The ground rumbled. "We have to find Lila and Sammy! They're both missing!" Tammy suddenly remembered her purpose.
"Right!" Cassie exclaimed. She nodded to the women of the Paralax. "Thank you for your help!"
"Remember the mission. Initiate more people. If they fear the sacrifice, tell them of this place," Leslie reminded.
"Agreed. Until we meet again," Ulrika bowed her head. The other two did as well.
The three women of Rose Cutt turned and left.
"We must initiate more people to the Sisterhood of Rose Cutt," Ulrika stated.
"Yes, I know, let's go find some initiates."
"Well, we have two here right now," Ulrika reminded.
"What?" Cassie exclaimed.
"Didn't anyone tell you?" Ulrika was perplexed.
"Tell me what?"
"No one outside of the three families has the Sight."
"Does that mean I'm?"
"You're a Pearson, like me. In fact, if you hadn't have joined the East Coven, you may have been recruited as my replacement."
"Um.... okay. How do we get initiated?" Tammy asked.
"We need Isabel! And Aliya! All members of the Sisterhood must be present at each initiation."
"Where are they?" Tammy asked.
"Aliya should be somewhere safe; it's Isabel we need to worry about. She's in the clutches of Vera."
"Vera?"
"Oh, yeah, she's evil. We forgot to mention," Cassie said blandly.
"What about Sammy and Lila? I haven't seen either of them."
"I don't know. We'll just have to find them."
By this time, the three women had made it back to Rose Cutt. Someone was there waiting for them.
"Lila!"
Lila's eyes stared at the doll. "We must save Rose Cutt."
Ulrika now understood what the child was saying. "Where is Isabel?"
"With Vera. She has very little time left. But she is fading."
Lila looked up and nodded at the edges of Rose Cutt, which were beginning to smolder. "Should Rose Cutt die, all of Rose Cutt will be consumed in fire and brimstone."
Tammy and Cassie were completely baffled by the exchange. Ulrika stood straight up.
"We've got to find Isabel and get her away from Vera. If Isabel dies this show's over for good!"

***

Adriel watched with rapt attention. The town of Rose Cutt was being consumed by the Paralax. Four hundred years of protection was going to waste.
"Tsk, tsk," Adriel muttered.
Adriel still remembered the day years ago when the three women had come with their families, fleeing persecution and witch hunts. Hannah LaGrange. Rebekah Pearson. Matilda Allyson. The three had begged for salvation from their three familiars. "The Masters" they called them. Each witch had taken up a familiar, yet had since renounced service to these spirits. However, one cannot just renounce a familiar. The spirit will follow its servants for the rest of their lives.
And so they had stumbled across Adriel in his abode in the East Marsh. They knew that the three Masters were going to kill them if they didn't get help. And, sensing Adriel was of a higher order than the three Masters, begged for his help.
And so Adriel had cleared a space for a town. On the outside rim he created the most extraordinary magic of all time, the Paralax. The fountain served as a prison for the three Masters.
However, great magic comes at great cost. The Masters were so powerful only one type of energy could ever contain them. Life energy.
And so the three witches had committed their lives to the Paralax. Once every ten years, a magical being of the Sisterhood of Rose Cutt was to be sacrificed, to keep the Masters at bay. However, potential life energy was almost as important, and so there must always be at least three Sisters.
Adriel was concerned, however, for the lost Sisters. He was not an uncompassionate soul. And so, he had created the parallel Rose Cutt, for the deceased Sisters to live in.
The consuming whirlpool now eating away at the town was truly a gateway, growing larger and larger until it would be large enough to allow the old Masters entry. The town of Rose Cutt itself was the final barricade between the Masters and the physical world. If it was destroyed, so would the Masters' prison.
Now Rose Cutt faced a new threat. Not something part of the original plan. The Masters had worked enough residual magic to create a simple blood tie from the town to Rose Isabel Cutt. Yet, though simple, it could not be undone, no matter how powerful the opposing spell.
So, all Adriel could do was watch and wait. All of his magics were being preoccupied holding the town together as it was. Four hundred years of work hung in the balance. This would be interesting.






VERA

A zombie, really? thought Vera. What dumb-ass half mystic decided to conjure a damned zombie? But its presence worried her. The plan to destroy these women and their secret society was falling apart. She also held doubts about the return of The Masters. At the start of this mess, Vera was certain she was destined to bring forth a new world order where Gods walked among mortals. Now, only someone from inside the Paralax would have the juice to bring the sheriff back as an undead savage, and was this someone one of The Masters?

The gray hand of the sheriff parted the canvas backing to the truck. Vera considered for an instant to kick Isabel into its undead claws and be done with the troublesome red-head, but wisdom cautioned her against such rashness. Isabel's power was too unpredictable to allow it to be eaten by a zombie. With the way things had been going, Vera might find herself face to face with a two headed witch zombie in high heels looking for payback. Forget that.

Vera yanked Isabel behind her and then scooted her ample ass toward the zombie sheriff as it growled and climbed into the back of the truck. Vera thrust her sandaled foot into John's knee. The joint popped and snapped as the undead's leg bent backwards. John showed no sign of pain but its balance was thrown off, and John fell out the truck. Vera heard the zombie crash to the ground like a sack of dead fish.

Vera mumbled a short incantation and her body pivoted at her cracked heels, and she rose to a standing position. Through the canvas curtain, she watched the zombie struggle to get back to its feet. Vera shook her head and leaped from the side of the truck with her giant backside leading the way. Her massive body landed on the head of the zombie and crushed it flat. No blood or brain matter leaked from the crushed skull. Its body lay motionless. Vera used another quick spell to raise herself from the ground to stand beside Sheriff John's flattened skull. The undead is now all dead, she thought and fished out a cigarette from her pocket. A blue flame formed at her fingertip and she touched it against the end of the cigarette. She inhaled deeply, mumbling ancient words, then exhaled a heavy bluish cloud of smoke at the zombie that settled on its body like a moist coating. Nothing like the certainty of fire, Vera thought as she flicked the cigarette.

Whoosh! Vera stepped back as flames engulfed the zombie. The dead husk burned quickly until all that remained were orange embers and gray ash.

Vera parted the canvas backing and reached in to grab and drag Isabel by her ankle. Cold rage swirled in her head and Vera felt as though she were swimming in a pool of hatred. She hated everyone and everything about Rose Cutt. She hated The Masters and she hated herself. But what she hated the most at that moment was the emptiness of the back of the truck. Isabel had escaped.

Her meaty fist slammed the truck. "Enough! I have had enough of this foolishness," Vera shouted. She lumbered around the truck and stuffed herself into the driver's seat. With a single touch of her finger, the engine roared to life. Vera slammed her foot on the accelerator. It is time The Masters and I settle this. I will be victorious, even if it means destroying The Masters and claiming their powers as my own, Vera vowed. "None have any idea what this big mama is truly capable of and they will cringe in terror when my true nature is revealed!"

The truck, glowing with a green aura, tore past the police and the gates of the army base. It turned on the main highway toward the center of town and the paralax

--------


ALIYA

"Wake up, dammit!" Aliya struck the Sisterhood Director across the face. "Isabel! I need you!" Aliya gasped to catch her breath. The efforts of dragging Isabel from the back of the truck into the abandoned fuel depot has exhausted her physically. Isabel moaned. Aliya sighed and picked twigs and debris from the tall woman's red hair.

Aliya had never been so frightened in her entire life. Vera's power eclipsed the entire Sisterhood. How was it they had never noticed or seen through her ruse of an overweight eccentric from the trailer park? Our pride and sense of being special blinded us to the real dangers. Vera means to destroy us all.

The memories Vera had stolen from her about the warehouse had slammed into her mind like the slice of a meat cleaver. She had been looking for Isabel. She wanted to know what the Sisterhood planned to do when the memory of Vera's vicious attack on her flashed in her mind. Aliya had dropped to her knees in shock and confusion for an instant, but she also recognized the unmistakable sensation of dark magic being severed from her body.

The source of the dark magic burned in Aliya's mind as the image of Vera and Isabel in the back of an army truck flashed in her mind. If Vera killed Isabel, all hope was lost. Aliya had used every magic she knew to cloak herself from Vera and snatch the red-headed sisterhood leader from under that fat cow's nose.

But they needed to act now But act how? Aliya had no idea what to do next. The Sisterhood had to reunite but where was everyone. They needed to find Lila and complete the ceremony. They couldn't wait until noon of the next day, could they? Was it possible to initiate her at another time? Aliya often suspected some of the limitations placed on rituals were less of necessity and more of tradition. Well as sure as hellfire they were going to have to buck the tradition.

She grabbed Isabel by the shoulders and shook her. "Wake up, bitch! I need you, now! We need you!" Tears rolled down Aliya's face.

Isabel's eyes snapped open and she screamed. Aliya screamed in response.

ULRIKA


Ulrika screamed. She dropped to her knees and screamed. She sensed the others around her moving toward her and she motioned them back.

Then another scream shot from the woods.

LILA


Lila screamed. She wasn't sure where she was or when she was but she screamed. The scream flew out from between her lips - beyond her control.

ISABEL


The scream rolled past her lips. It was a combination of rage, outrage, fear, sorrow, anger and desperation. Isabel screamed and her mind cleared. She had been such a fool.

The Sisterhood had been hers. The power had been hers. The was the way she had thought and now in this moment of screaming clarity, she knew she was as responsible as Vera for this mess. Somewhere along the way she quit serving The Master, quit serving Rose Cutt. She only served herself and her petty, selfish ego. So she screamed.

Ulrika had been so pure. Isabel remembered when she had been initiated. She also remember the jealousy that had coursed through her. The tiny woman packed so much power and potential. Isabel should have encouraged its growth in service to the Sisterhood, instead she used every trick and scheme she could to keep Ulrika from reaching her true potential. She had lied to Ulrika and misled her in so many ways in the past that the culmination of her sins overwhelmed her. So she screamed

Aliya had been so anxious to please and so eager to learn. Isabel had never encouraged the Speaker to reach her full potential. Isabel had been frightened she would outshine her in the eyes of The Masters, so she held the girl back by creating tiresome rules and traditions that meant nothing and served no purpose but to keep Isabel as the most powerful. Shame washed over Isabel. So she screamed.

Lila had such power. Isabel recognized it at once and coveted that power. She had chosen Lila as the new initiate not to raise her up and encourage her growth, but to use her as a tool to manipulate to her agenda of power. The girl would be her servant and would give Isabel incredible power at her disposal. Tears formed in Isabel's eyes as she saw herself for the monster she had become - the destroyer of innocence, purity, and zeal. So she screamed.

And screams came back to Isabel. Screams filled with acceptance, forgiveness and camaraderie. And Isabel felt warmth and love and sisterhood.

A teardrop fell on her face and Isabel stared into Aliya's eyes. The Speaker touched her face and the screams died. In the silence, Isabel could feel her sisters, even Lila.

"It is time we act, sisters," Isabel thought to the others, "We must make our way to... to where?"

-----


And they all knew instantly. The answer coming to them from The Masters through the conduit Lila shared with them. The images of the place formed in their minds. They all watched as events of the past unfolded in their minds:

Vera closed her eyes and picked out a random place and time in the near future, away from most people and concentrated on that single moment. She let the magic build and then hurled the excess magic along the casting line into future.

The Masters showed them the place. A lonely corner of the army base where wild magic, Vera's magic, danced and swirled, filled the minds of each member of the Sisterhood.

"It is time to end this." The Sisterhood of Rose Cutt vowed to one another and to themselves.









Urlika, Tammy and Cassie had the picture in their minds of where the magic was crackling in the air near Aliya and Isabel. Lila wasn't there, but maybe she could get there. They could initiate both Lila and Tammy and Cassie. That would be enough to close down the paralax and get Rose Cutt on the path to healing once again. After this disaster, others in the three famiies would want to be initiated to protect Rose Cutt. Tammy was from the correct bloodline. Even if they couldn't find Lila right away, Tammy could help close down the Paralax and then they could go find Lila to be initiated as a back up to keep the Paralax away.

"Come on. We have to hurry to get to Aliya and Isabel at the base." Urlika urged Tammy and Cassie.

***

Lila looked at her pretty doll and thought about that place she saw in her mind. She wanted to go there and become part of the Sisterhood the right way by being initiated. That way she would know how to properly initiate people when the time came. It was important. But she wondered of it was best for her to stay where she was because she was so little and things were such a mess. Maybe she needed to wait for the Sisterhood to come to where they all were not so long ago. They knew how to get to her when the time was right. She and her doll would be safe for a while. The adults could manage without her for now.

***

Vera was on the highway in the military transport truck. She was on her way to the center of the town and the Paralax. She figured she would know what to do next once she got there. Nothing was clear anymore. She needed to get her bearings straight. She hoped she could find who she was looking for on the way. She didn't think Urlika would escape her sight. Tammy and Cassie were easier to handle. She had to find them. Then she would know what to do. She was of that old family bloodline of course. Maybe Adriel would come to her aid in this difficult time. He saved her family so long ago. She was alive because of her. Maybe she did owe her allegiance to the Sisterhood. Maybe she was wrong to align herself with the Masters. There would be no more Rose Cutt if the Sisterhood didn't initiate someone from the correct bloodline. She could convince them to initiate herself. Vera thought about it. Isabel would never allow her to be initiated after all she had done. Maybe she should help the others get together again in order to shut down the Paralax. Maybe then things would start to get back to normal. The magical spells were taking their toll on her. She was growing weary. She had to get ahold of herself and find a way to get back on the right path. It was in her blood to protect Rose Cutt.
"Paul!"
Paul flipped away from his current spellbook page. The East Coven's study system was very free-lance. Fresh out of college, he had just been studying how to turn any liquid into beer.
Cassie, a Level Six Coven member, was quick marching towards his tree stump. Paul stood up, as was custom when greeting a higher level member.
"Yes, Cassie?"
"Don't you know what's happening?"
"Um... no. I was just studying how to... reduce foot odor," Paul read the random page he had flipped to. Then blushed. That page was almost as bad as his previous one.
"We've got a HUGE problem. Where have you been?"
Paul thought of all of the things he had done in the past few hours with the spellbook. "Nowhere. Just here. Studying."
"Well, basically, the Sisterhood failed to initiate a new Sister, and now the Paralax is destroying the whole town."
"Oh, crap!" Paul set the book down.
"Yeah, we've got to go. Is anyone else in the Coven available?"
"Um," Paul thought of all the magical injuries that the other Coven members were recovering from. "No."
Cassie sighed. "I don't usually work with a Level Two, but I guess desperate times call for desperate measures."
"Hey!" Paul was indignant. Usually Cassie didn't use the level card, especially when not necessary.
Cassie didn't look contrite at all. "Let's get to my house. I have some good stuff that may be useful."
Paul had never heard of magic items being useful against the Paralax, but Cassie was a Level Six, so maybe she knew something he didn't.
"Okay!"
"Do you remember how to transport?"
Paul paused. "Um... don't I say something like Gringa Zor Tle Cassie's house?"
A poof of smoke and they stood in Cassie's living room.
"Perfect!" Cassie smiled. "I was worried you might have trouble getting through the protection spells, but I must've set it to let all East Coven members in."
Paul paused again. "You don't know your own protection spells?"
Cassie glared at him. Paul was quiet, embarrassed at overstepping his boundaries.
Cassie retreated to her bedroom to grab supplies and Paul stood awkwardly in the living room.
Cassie returned. "Do it again. This time, say Tammy LaGrange."
"Why can't you do it?" Paul asked.
"Paul, quit being lazy! I can't cast magic with these many magical items in my hands! I don't want to wipe Rose Cutt off the map!"
"Okay," Paul rolled his eyes. "Zinga Tor Gle... Cassie! That wasn't right, was it?"
Cassie's eyes widened and she screamed. Her skin began melting.
"Oh my God!" Paul screamed. Cassie melted to vines and sticks and slime before his eyes. What spell had he cast? The magical items dropped to the floor. Cassie was gone.
"Oh my God!" Paul had just accidentally offed a Level Six!
Who could he go to? Who wouldn't freak out at him?
Then he remembered the Paralax. As bad as what he had just done to Cassie was, the Paralax was the greater threat. He should do what Cassie wanted him to do.
"Gringa Zor Tle Tammy LaGrange."
Another poof and he was standing next to Tammy and Ulrika.
"Tammy!"
"Paul?" Tammy was surprised.
"Tammy," Paul heaved out a sigh, "I killed Cassie." He bowed his head
A hand tapped his shoulder. "Turn around."
Paul turned around. "Cassie! You're not dead! But... what?"
Cassie smiled and pulled him into a hug. "I couldn't be prouder of you."
"But, I screwed up."
Cassie kissed him on the cheek. "Nope. Now, we've got business to do!"
Paul blushed. "Let's go!"

VERA


The forest and trees zipped past Vera as she roared down the road in the army truck. She felt an urge to hug Ulrika and tell her everything was going to be okay. A tear welled in her eye and rolled down her plump face. Vera whispered to herself that all of her choices these past few days had been such poor choices and that it wasn't too late for her to turn of a new leaf.

She slowed the truck and eased it onto the shoulder of the road. Now where was I headed? She climbed out the truck and breathed the fresh air of the day. It really was a beautiful day and so great to be alive. Vera wanted to go play at the park and swing on the swings and zoom down the slide, feeling the sunshine on her hair and the sand beneath her toes.

She stuffed herself back into the truck and turned it around on the highway to drive to the park. She rolled down the window to let the fresh air in and -

Vera screamed. That fool Paul had destroyed her body with his incompetence. She locked the brakes and whit-knuckled the steering wheel. She touched her face expecting her finger puncture a wall of mud and ooze. She blinked away the tear. What the hell is happening! She jumped from the truck again and onto the road. The Cassie Mimic's been destroyed. I have lost contact with it

She paced in a circle, round and round, trying make sense of what was happening to here, or rather what had happened to her. 'Son of a Frog's ass," she screamed. "Some bitch is charming me, inflicting me with a damned powerful charm spell. Who?" Vera's eyes narrowed and she sent out feelers to trace the source of the charm. She closed her eyes and let her her sniffer spell do its thing. She could feel the source getting closer and closer.

Honk!

The feelers feel apart as her concentration shattered. She was staring at a gold Yukon idling in front of her as she blocked the road. The man behind the wheel was waving her out of the way.

Honk! "Come on, lady, move!"

Vera touched the hood of the car and the engine sputtered and died. She waddled around the SUV as the driver exited the vehicle.

The screams of the driver, his wife and their two children echoed down the lonesome road. Blood coated interior of the vehicle and Vera pulsated with their life forces, severing all chances of a charm spell getting past her defenses again.

The Sisterhood dies tonight, she thought as she looked at the carnage in the road through the army truck side view mirror and headed for the Paralax... again.


Urlika, Tammy, Cassie and Paul let Paul transport them to where Aliya and Isabel were on the base.

"You made it!" screamed Aliya.

"So the East Coven is going to help us save Rose Cutt?" Isabel was still a little woozy, but she could tell what was happening better now.

"Do we have a different plan or are we still initiating Lila? I think she's in the between place she knows how to get to from Urlika's warehouse," Aliya said as she looked at Paul and the others.

Urlika piped up and said, "We could initiate Tammy to shut down the Paralax and then go find Lila to see if we can get more people initiated so this doesn't happen again the next time someone dies."

"I die if Rose Cutt is swallowed up by the Paralax. Look at me. I only stay young as long as Rose Cutt stays vibrant," moaned Isabel.
ALIYA


Aliya suddenly lost control of her tongue.
"Wait! It's Jade!"
Aliya covered her mouth. "What was that?" she said in her own voice.
"Aliya, it's Jade. You don't know me, but I was the Speaker before you. Your full title is Speaker from the Beyond. I'm in a parallel Rose Cutt, standing exactly where you are. Therefore I can take control of your tongue."
It was an odd sensation to have words that weren't your own coming out of your mouth.
Urlika stepped forward. "What is it, Jade?"
Aliya closed her eyes and pretended she was listening to someone else talk. It took away the freakishness of what was happening.
"Vera has grown too strong. Some of the older Sisters are watching her. She is headed for the Paralax for an unknown reason. Her desire is to eliminate the Sisterhood. She may feel she can accomplish this from the Paralax."
"Yes, we are aware of this. I tried to charm her into a kinder state of mind, but it didn't work."
"We know. In her current state, she cannot be stripped of her powers, neither by you, nor the founding spirit Adriel, nor even the Masters. However, there is an alternative. It is risky."
"What is it?" Tammy demanded. "If the entire Sisterhood dies then the Paralax will just reopen."
"The Paralax is designed to contain beings of extreme magical power. Vera, in her insane killing and lust for power, has become much like one of the Masters. Therefore, if she were to fall into the Paralax, she would not land safely in the parallel Rose Cutt, but rather fall into the prison of the Masters. They would not be able to consume her, but she would not be able to leave."
"What's the catch?" Cassie asked.
"There will need to be more Sisters... five at least, in addition to Isabel."
"Perfect!" Tammy chirped.
"You're no longer against Lila being in the Sisterhood?" Cassie asked.
"Well, now that I know about the parallel Rose Cutt, of course I want Lila to go there."
"This is not immortal life, Tammy," Jade cut in. "If the Paralax dies so do we."
Tammy sighed. "I know. But you have to admit there's pretty good chances."
"Yes."
"That reminds me. Where is Sammy?"
Aliya sighed. "He was killed and eaten by a zombie John. I saw it, but I was too busy rescuing Isabel."
"I'm sorry," Cassie turned and gave Tammy a hug. Tammy burst into tears at the thought of her dead adoptive brother. He was so cute when her family had first adopted him. And now he was dead.
"We can mourn him later," Isabel cut in.
"Yes," Jade cut through Aliya's tongue again. "You must get Vera into the Paralax. I will leave for now but we will be watching you."
Aliya smiled. She didn't like having Jade use her tongue. She was glad it was over, for now.
"One of us should take Isabel to the place with Vera's magics," Ulrika reminded.
"I'll do it," Paul volunteered. Isabel grabbed his hand with a weak, wrinkled hand. Paul straightened and looked far off.
"I just implanted the place we need to go in your mind. You won't be able to transport there. You'll have to carry me there. I can't walk."
"How do I know how to get there?"
"Follow the spiderwebs. They are the residual signs of magic. When Vera shot her magic through to the building, that will be the path it took."
Paul nodded and picked up Isabel. Cassie smiled. "Thank you, Paul."
Tammy wiped a tear from the bridge of her nose. "Let's go shove that pig of a witch into the Paralax!"
Vera


Vera smugly pleased that her freshly generated powers pulsated in her old body. This feeling is utterly amazing. She was convinced the old masters were no match for her now. The only major outstanding issue was Lila. Her powers were not controlled yet so this could be an issue if not trained properly. Vera knew Ulrika, Tammy, Cassie and Isabel had to be destroyed as well but they were no real threat. Lila on the other hand had a strong connection to the old masters. Vera shook her head to clear her mind. She did not have time for speculation. Focus!
Vera began driving again toward the Paralax going over in her mind what was next when she arrived. Everything, had to be just so if she was to accomplish her goal of destroying the Sisterhood. Vehicles strewed in the busted up roadway were making the drive longer than usual. The closer to town the more vehicles were abandoned along what was left of the road. Vera had to shift gears in the old army truck. That was no easy feat; she stalled it several times before she got the hang of double clutching it. She hadn't done that since her father’s old tractor.

Isabel

Isabel snuggled closer to Paul, oddly attracted to his youthful muscular body. What is it about adrenaline rushes and dangerous situations that always make me attracted to younger men? She couldn't resist breathing her warm breath across his ear.
Paul asked Isabel if she was okay. "Am I hurting you?"
"No, you are not," she whispered.
Paul noticed a spider web dangling in a rather odd place on the building and then another one from the tree that came down to the ground. They did not have spiders as a rule; this must be some of Vera's work. Isabel didn't want to think of Vera right now. "Dang it."
Isabel closed her eyes and shared the images with Ulrika where they were and what they saw. Not far from the spider webs were several of the oversized tentacles they used to bring Lila to the in between world. Isabel concentrated trying to envision Lila's location.
Isabel saw Lila in the room they had been in at noon time in the old warehouse when they began the initiation. Isabel knew that she and Paul were supposed to be finding Vera but when did she ever do exactly what she was told.
Isabel told Paul they needed to go inside the warehouse. Unsuspecting Paul followed Isabel instructions like a puppy seeking praise. Isabel just smirked to herself. Men were all alike when it came to beauty.
Lila

Lila was sitting in the corner rocking the doll close to her. The old masters had told her Isabel was near and not to worry, Lila shuddered when she heard Isabel's voice getting closer.

VERA

The abandoned cars and road barriers blocked the way to the Paralax. Vera left the truck running as she started walking a zig zag course through the obstacles littering the highway. So, what's the plan? she asked herself. Was she just going to walk to the edge of the Paralax and scream at The Masters? That was a ridiculous idea. She needed to weaken the Masters, to grab their attention and to make herself known as a force to be reckoned with. To remind them of who she really was. But how?

Movement from up the road distracted her thoughts. A group of people walked toward her winding their way through the debris. Vera sucked in a deep breath to get into the proper mindset. She had to get into character.

A tattered and exhausted deputy approached her. Behind him were a dozen city workers and emergency responders. They had an aura of defeat and depression surrounding them like a thick gray fog. When the deputy caught sight of her he started waving her back.

"Ma'am, go back. The roads too dangerous to continue. You should come with us to the army base."

Vera covered her mouth with her hand in a gesture of shock. "Oh my, is there no hope?"

"We're trying to contact the National Guard, but all the cell phones are out of service. Is your phone working, ma'am?

Of course they are, she thought, just one of my many spells I am weaving. "Pish posh on phones, young man. I can't afford no phone on my monthly check."

The deputy nodded wearily and motioned her to turn around.

Vera closed her eyes. She had so many lines of power and magic weaving through Rose Cutt at the moment. She mentally ran down the list looking for things she could discard as a useless drain on her energies. The one spell that leapt out at her was the one she had been keeping in place for so long but was also the biggest drain. Was it really needed any further? Discarding it would strengthen her resolve and make her next move much easier.

"Ma'am?" The deputy touched her shoulder. The crowd following him had stopped and stared at her through the exhausted glaze that resided in all of their eyes. "You ready?"

Vera smiled. "Yes, deputy. I believe I am." She closed her eyes and concentrated, dispersing the morph cloaking spell that had hidden her true form for so many years.

The fat folds on Vera's face expanded and stretched. Her massive body stretched into an oblong shape. A crack formed in the center of her forehead and expanded down her face as a jagged gash slow opened her flesh.

The onlookers gasped as hundreds of thin brown insect-like legs with vicious tiny pincers erupted from the opening in her face and tore at her flesh. The gash opened wider and ran the length of her massive misshapen form.

The deputy put his hand to his holster but froze as two long, thick reptilian legs like an alligator's but longer, much longer broke free from Vera's body.

Vera tore away the last carcass the spell had generated and stood in her true form staring down at the deputy and his followers. She caught a glimpse of herself in a nearby windshield of an overturned truck. I am gorgeous she thought and perfection.

Vera thought of how her human form would describe her true body. Her torso and head resembled a cockroach with hundreds of tiny insect arms with a pincher on end of each wriggling appendage covering her chest and abdomen while her back was covered by a bark-like carapace. Her head and face resembled a roach as well but vicious spikes and thorns covered her entire head and face. Her legs were two powerfully muscled appendages that bristled with course black hair over a reptilian hide.

The crowd screamed. The deputy drew his pistol. Vera emitted a bone shattering hiss and attacked with the ferocity of a rabid wolverine.

Vera made short work of the sheriff attempting to fire upon her. The others in the crowd cringed and howled as Vera ate the sheriff, sucking in his life essence, making her feel even stronger.

Vera looked around at the others as she hissed. A few people in the crowd had guns and fired on the creature who was Vera. Vera took some damage, but it wasn't enough to stop her. She picked her way towards the gunmen and ate each and every one of them, slowly sucking up their energy and life force, fortifying her in strength, magical powers and her resolve to dominate all who crossed her path.

***

Isabel was loving being with Paul. She let him hold her and lead them to the room with the entrance to where Lila was. She even had him reach up with her to grab the tenticle hanging down. They both turned sparkly as they made the crossing into the room where Lila was sitting.

"Lila. Does your dolly know what's going on?" asked Isabel.

"Yes. She knows things are dangerous, so it's best for me to stay here," responded Lila.

"Lila. Do you want to become part of the Sisterhood?" Isabel was clutching Paul in the hopes she would hear what she wanted to hear.

"I have to join the Sisterhood in order to help protect Rose Cutt. I don't have a choice," Lila said as she looked up at Isabel and Paul.

"I thought we weren't supposed to let this happen," said Paul still holding tight to Isabel.

Isabel ignored the eye candy and sent a mental message to Aliya and Urlika letting them know it was time for the initiation of Lila and to come to the place in between worlds.

"Paul, aren't you part of the LaGrange family, too?" Isabel asked Paul to distract him.

"Yes, but I was told the Sisterhood was evil."

"Of course you were. But we are the ones who keep the Paralax at bay, so you might as well start embracing the Sisterhood as the only way to save Rose Cutt," Isabel said as she tried to suck strength from Paul.
ULRIKA


"Isabel's a fool," Ulrika muttered.
"I know," Aliya sighed.
"Some people just can't learn!"
"Why would she seek out Lila? She knows we have to get Vera into the Paralax first."
"Well, I don't know."
Ulrika put her head in her hands. "Let's just tell her to meet there and we'll come as soon as possible."
"Okay," Ulrika concentrated and sent a message to Isabel. Lila responded as well, which was good. The child would not be duped into doing anything foolish.
"The old factory's gone," Tammy observed. "Where are all the people?"
"They must've moved, outside the town," Ulrika replied.
"Good, it's probably safer for them there. Now we need to find Vera."
"The people on the outskirts of town are less safe than you think," Aliya cut in.
"What?" Cassie asked.
"Not me, someone else," Aliya managed to blurt before it continued.
"It's Leslie. Vera has unmasked her true form, and is attacking the townspeople."
"True form?" Tammy asked.
"A hideous creature, capable of destroying all of Rose Cutt by herself. It is now more important than ever to send her into the Paralax. She now rivals the Masters as far as malevolence and power."
"Lila said that the Masters wish to stay in their prison."
"That may be true," Leslie admitted. "They get a free supply of human life energy, which is like candy to spirits."
"So, shouldn't they be able to help us?"
"I don't think they can do much from their side of the Paralax without breaking through completely."
"Vera is attacking the townspeople," Ulrika reminded.
"Yes," Leslie said, "the group that met her has perished. The life energy she has absorbed has made her powerful. Only one in Rose Cutt can defeat her."
"What of the others in Rose Cutt?"
"They scattered. They're hidden everywhere. This is all very frightening to them."
"I'm sure we're trending on the Internet too," Ulrika rolled her eyes.
"Actually, no," Cassie interrupted. "One of the spells she's casting is keeping any electronic device from working."
"Perfect!" Ulrika smiled. "Now, although Vera is a huge threat, saving the innocents is our first priority."
"Yes!" Tammy agreed.
"What do we do?" Aliya asked. She paused. "This is Aliya, by the way."
Ulrika held up two fingers. "Two spells. One for now and one for later. We have to get the people to safety. Then, we have to replace their memories. Only a few of us will keep the truth of what happened alive."
"A memory spell requires five people," Cassie cut in.
"Which is why," Ulrika rolled her eyes, "We can do that later. For now, let's send them all to the only place shielded with enough magics to be safe from Vera, or at least delay her entry."
"The East Coven," Cassie nodded.
"Let's do it!" Tammy exclaimed. She grabbed Cassie and Aliya's hands. Aliya and Cassie grabbed Ulrika's and they formed a circle. They concentrated hard on the East Coven. Then, with a collective force, they shoved their transportation spell into the four directions, covering all of Rose Cutt. Since it was spread so thin, the magic would not affect those with awakened magical abilities, like Paul, Isabel, Lila, and Vera. Anyone else, however, would be sent to the East Coven. And there they would be safe, for the time being.
Ulrika let go of the hands. Steam erupted from the four points the hands had touched. For the first time in a while, she smiled.

***

Adriel sighed with relief. The cool breeze of magic had been refreshing. And now all of the non-essential players were safe. The only people left in the town were Isabel, Paul, Cassie, Lila, Aliya, Tammy, and Ulrika. And that hideous creature. He should've put her away with the others. It was an oversight by both him and the three original women. The women did not complain of her presence, or even seem aware of her. She had been contrite and friendly when conversing with Adriel in private. And so he hadn't imprisoned her. But, soon after, he realized his mistake. It was too late. The Paralax could not be opened without releasing the other three. Until now, although they were very nearly releasing the three. Maybe this catastrophe was a blessing in disguise.
LILA


Lila gripped her doll tightly. The Masters were talking to her but she ignored their voices like the chatter of her school mates on the playground. She could also hear the Sisterhood fighting over plans but she mostly ignored them. "I want my mommy," she whispered. She looked at Isabel who seemed lost in her thoughts and clinging to that nice but goofy man.

"You're dying, Isabel," Lila blurted without thought. She wasn't sure how she knew but she did, and she also knew Isabel thought it was because of the Paralax and that was not true.

"I know that, already," Isabel said stiffly. "I've no strength to continue and as the town dies, I die."

"Nuh-uh, that's not why," Lila said lifting herself to her knees. "Vera is the reason."

Paul sat Isabel on the bed and went to the bathroom to get water for Isabel.

"Hush, girl. Don't be so stupid," Isabel said.

"I'm not stupid. Vera ripped out a hunk of your life force. I saw her do it." Lila stood. "And we need to go get it back. The Masters already showed us where it is. It is at the Army Base."

"The Masters lie," Isabel whispered then said in an even softer tone, "Vera stole my life force."

Paul returned with the water. "So, what's the plan."

Lila took the glass from Paul and walked over to Isabel. She handed the water to the tall woman.

Lila noticed that Isabel tried to smile but failed. She took the glass from her and their fingers brushed. A single voice from one of the Masters pushed into Lila and Isabel's minds.

"Actions is required. Go to wild magics. Lila must go to the wild magics. Isabel do your duty, now. We, The Masters, command it."

Isabel gasped and dropped the water as she seized Lila's hand. Lila felt herself yanked into Isabel's weak arms. "I am so sorry, child. This is all my fault."

Lila felt a surge of energy. The sensation cleared her fright and Lila suddenly understood what the Masters wanted. "No, Isabel, it is only partly your fault. I forgive you. We need to leave here and we need to go to the Army base."

Paul turned away from the window he had been peeking out of. "Well, there's a cop car out there. I know a hot wire spell."

Lila smiled at Paul and looked at Isabel. The red head nodded and reached for Paul.

Paul flicked on the sirens and flashers as he backed onto the highway. "Hell yah, we going blow the roof off this muther." And Paul floored the accelerated while Lila and Isabel held hands in the back seat.
CASSIE


Cassie was nervous. They had just sent the whole of Rose Cutt to the East Coven. Surely this would be a serious infraction of the rules of East Coven. The memory spell wouldn't work on East Coven members, and she would be in serious trouble.
Sure enough, a pop sounded. "Cassie!"
"Ariana!" Cassie bowed her head.
The black-haired superior frowned. "Did you send everyone in Rose Cutt to the East Coven?"
"Yes," Cassie said glumly.
"And you are working with the Sisterhood?" Ariana eyed Aliya and Ulrika.
"It is an emergency! The Paralax is destroying Rose Cutt!"
Ariana heaved out a sigh. "Well, that may be true, but you need to come deal with the mess you created at the East Coven."
"Seriously?" Cassie was outraged. "Can't you have some Level Threes take care of it or something?"
"No. All of our members have been taken out of commission. That blundering Paul and I must have words. As soon as I find him," a thunderclap sounded, Ariana's warning didn't need an ending.
"But, Ariana!" Cassie cut in.
"Now!" Ariana snapped her fingers and Cassie was in a different place. The East Coven, specifically, on the balcony overlooking the whole courtyard.
"Look at the mess you've created!"
People milled about in fear. No one knew what was going on. The mass of panic was disrupting the tranquility of the East Coven. This would have disastrous effects on the magic.
"Silence!" Ariana yelled. Magic rippled and people stopped talking. They all turned to the balcony.
"Start explaining," Ariana muttered. Cassie took a deep breath and stepped forward. The people's memory was going to be wiped anyways. Why not explain everything?
UlRIKA


A siren wailed. Ulrika opened her eyes. My stars, I dozed off. How was that possible, she wondered. Her energy levels were low after transporting so many people to safety. She had sat at an abandoned desk and rested her head for a second and had dropped off.
Now what madness is this? She stepped outside and a Rose Cutt patrol car, lights flashing and siren wailing roared past her.

"What in the Bog's Comet-" Aliya shouted. She ran toward Ulrika coming from the other side of the compound with Tammy on her heels.

Ulrika shrugged and ran into the dust cloud trailing the speeding car. She could hear the footfalls of her friends fall in behind her. What new madness could this be. They needed to find and destroy Vera. That was the number one priority and then they would close the Paralax as they have in years past. Madness!

The police cruiser's brake lights blared through the dust cloud followed by the distinct sound of a car crash. Oh my! Ulrika cast a simple speed charm but it failed. She simply had no energy. Shafts of blue and red cut through the dust clouds as Ulrika reached the car. The front of the patrol had smashed into the side of a tank. A tank! How does one not see a tank!

She rushed to the car and opened the rear door. Ulrika reached in and pulled out Lila, her nose bleeding.

"Lila! In all that is holy, no, Lila," screamed Tammy as she ripped the girl from Ulrika's arms.

Ulrika heard a moan and helped Isabel from the back of the car.

"What happened?" Isabel asked.

"I hit a tank," Paul said staggering around the back of the car with blood oozing down his face. "A damned tank."

Ulrika told Aliya to take care of Paul while she helped Isabel away from the wrecked vehicle. She looked so old, so frail. She can't die! All will be lost. She looked over at Tammy cradling her daughter.

"Help Lila," Isabel whispered in her ear and then sat on the dirt road.

Tammy was talking to Lila, holding her tightly when Ulrika came up behind them. "How is she?"

Tammy smiled. "Just a bloody nose." Then Tammy's face fell and tears welled.

"But?"

Tammy sniffled loudly and pointed. "Lila says she has to go into that."

Ulrika looked in the indicated direction and her heart skipped a beat. In the corner of the base, magic, pure and raw, danced and swirled. She had thought the vision earlier had been metaphorical and representative of something greater, but no. It was actual magic. A whole lot of magic just sitting there. Wildflowers and roses, so many roses, had sprung up beneath and around the magic- she wasn't sure what to call it.

"I have to go in that," Lila said taking Ulrika's hand. "I'm scared. Mommy says I don't have to. But I do - don't I?"

Ulrika looked to the magic swirl to Lila to Tammy. Tammy's eyes pleaded with her to tell Lila to walk away - to save her daughter. She motioned Tammy closer and hugged her and whispered that it will be all right.

"Yes, sweetie, I think you do. You're the only one who can absorb that much magical energy and survive it. I have seen the power in you and The Masters have as well. You have to hurry. We are out of time." Ulrika kissed Lila on the cheek and gently nudged her toward the magic swirls.

Lila looked to her mother then simple turned away and walked into the raw and pure swirls of magic.


Lila loved the smell of the roses as she stepped closer and closer to the swirls of magic.

"It's pulling and reaching. It wants me," Lila yelled back to the others.

"Trust your powers. You can handle it," Urlika called back to Lila.

Lila took a last step into the magically charged area and felt the power surge within her body. She felt bigger and stronger. She felt powerful.

"It feels good. You really have to feel the power," Lila said as she stretched her arms out to her sides and then pulled her hands slowly together. She turned towards the others and sent out tendrils of magic towards Urlika, then to Aliya and then finally to Isabel. They all looked in shock feeling the power fill their beings.

"Thank you for giving us what we needed to fight Vera," said Isabel as she started looking more alive than she had in a while.

Urlika stepped towards Lila as the magic finished filling the little girl. "It's time to learn to fight, my little one. We have to go save Rose Cutt from Vera."

"I'm going to go fight?" Lila asked as she grabbed Urlika's hand.

Aliya finished her magic high and chimed in, "You know more than you're letting on. You're filled with natural talent beyond our beliefs of what you could do. I think all will be well with you fighting alongside of the rest of the Sisterhood. Come little one."
VERA


The Paralax swirled before her. She could see past the swirling sands and into the darkness beyond. Three beings huddled together.
"Don't worry, boys! Mama's gonna get you out real soon!"
A whimpered voice echoed through the Paralax. "No, Mama! We don't want to go! It's nice here. We can do whatever we want and we get free life energy!"
"But, sugar lumpkins, you're a prisoner!"
"But, Mother!"
"Quiet!" Vera felt a tear trickle down her monster cheek. "Mommy knows best!"
Her three sons silenced themselves. "Now, to destroy the Sisterhood!"
A burning sensation on her shoulder made her spin around. "Argh!"
The air crackled and four lightning bolts struck. Isabel, Aliya, Ulrika, and Lila appeared. Each Sister glowed with her own aura of power; Lila blue, Ulrika green, Aliya purple, and Isabel...
Vera gasped. Isabel should've been devoid of color, yet she glowed a vibrant red. What had happened to her?
"Vera!" Lila shouted.
"What, little child?" Vera roared and laughed.
"We have come to destroy you. We battle. For Rose Cutt."
Vera laughed again. The Sisters were making it much easier. "So be it!"
LILA


A knot of terror made her stomach ache. Lila stood with, well, she stood with her sisters, she thought. The Masters had told her as much. They had told her she didn't need the tradition of initiation to be a member of the Sisterhood of Rose Cutt. She understood now what it truly meant to be a sister with these fine women.

But Vera frightened her. She was gross and a creature born of nightmares. Vera alternated between running upright on her two crocodile-like feet and scurrying along the ground using her hundreds of roach-esque appendages.

The Paralax had devoured the entire center of the town and continued to expand. All around the perimeter of the expanding, swirling circle, debris continued to tumble into the vortex. Vera had scurried up the side of three story building near the expanding Paralax while the four women stood in the middle of the main road into the town center.

Ulrika stepped forward and told Lila and the other two sisters, "Hit her now with everything you have."

Ulrika cast a fire spell and a gout of flame erupted beneath Vera. Isabel's incantation shot enlarged rose thorns while Aliya cast a blinding spell. Lila hesitated and then summoned the imagery she needed to blast the monstrous woman with bolts of lightening. Lila could feel the magic coursing through her body.

With a smouldering trail of smoke in her wake, Vera screamed and leaped from the building. She landed amid a pile of rubble and scurried beneath the debris.

"Remember we need to throw her into the Paralax to destroy her. I also suspect that she is powerful enough to collapse the Paralax enough for the Masters to close it completely and restore the land," Isabel announced as she peered to her left trying to find Vera.

"Maybe we should separate and surround the Paralax on four sides," Aliya suggested.

Lila remained quiet, letting her eyes search the area where Vera had landed. Her heart pounded in her chest. She just wanted this over. She wanted to go home and watch television.

"That is an excellent idea," Ulrika said, "I will teleport to the other side from here. Lila, you stay put here. Aliya and Isabel, take the other points across from one another. Go now."

Three flashes of light blinded Lila as her sisters teleported to their assigned spots. She suddenly felt very alone and vulnerable. She used her magic to seek out Vera. The magic crept away from Lila as she imagined it spreading away from her like millions of inchworms looking for a bad apple.

ULRIKA


Guilt racked her conscience. Ulrika had discussed this plan with Isabel just before arriving and they both agree it was the best plan, but also the most dangerous. Using Lila as bait was a sure fire way to draw Vera to a spot where the other three could be ready to teleport to in a instant and then strike her down with massive attacks and toss her into the Paralax.

Ulrika had detection spells all around Lila and her eyes constantly scanned the area around the young girl looking for the slightest movement.

VERA


Vera stared at Aliya from beneath her debris pile. The Sisterhood had caught her off guard. Power was just spilling off that little girl. Where had she gained such incredible power? The child was a natural, Vera thought, but this level of power was unheard of. She needed to kill Lila first.

Vera was injured but nothing was too bad that would affect her performance. She scurried to a different vantage point from under the rubble and there was Lila, all alone. She knew exactly what she had to do.

LILA


Lila's magical inchworm seekers continued their slow expansion in search of Vera. She kept looking at the others constantly for a sense of security - just knowing they were there made Lila feel safer.

Sudden movement near Aliya caught Lila's eye. As she turned to look, the faint sound of a siren sounded in the distance from behind her. She couldn't she anything coming up the debris littered road. Lila hoped no policemen were foolish enough to come here to try to help. Lila looked back over at Aliya.

The young Speaker was slumped over a pile of dirt. Lila's heart jackhammered and she looked over to Isabel. The tall red head was looking back at Lila. She waved. Lila bounced up and down and pointed toward Ailya. As she turned to look in that direction, dirt erupted from the ground behind Isabel and the large insect-reptile Vera fell upon her. Hundreds of razor sharp pinchers tore into Isabel. Lila soundlessly screamed and urinated in her panties.

A blast of red light burst forth from Isabel and Vera catapulted away from her and smashed into and through the side of a UPS truck. Isabel stood immediately, looked at Lila and waved. Then she collapsed and fell behind a pile of broken barricades and out of sight.

Lila turned to Ulrika. The UPS truck silently exploded as though it were made of liquid metal. Ulrika was not in her assigned position. The sound of the siren had grown louder. Lila tried to swallow but she felt like she couldn't breathe and was being choked by a knot of terror in her throat.

A burst of light formed beside Lila, and this time she really screamed, loudly. Lila unleashed lethal bolts of arcane energy. When the light dissipated, Ulrika lay in a smouldering heap. Lila dropped to her knees and wailed. Her world collapsed to a pinprick of light focused on Ulrika. I killed Ulrika, Lila kept repeating in her mind. In a burst of sorrow and despair, Lila released as much magic as she could muster into the smoking body of Ulrika. The magic enveloped the petite woman and glowed like a small sun. Lila poured as much magic as she could find until she collapsed, exhausted and spent.

The concrete was warm against face. The siren was much louder and her face was soaked with tears. Lila could hear tiny scrapings on the concrete. A shadow passed over her blocking the sunlight.

"Well, haven't you been a naughty little girl." Vera said.

Lila opened her eyes and Vera stood over here. The hundreds of pinchers clicking softly. A grouping of the appendages grabbed Lila by her ankle and lifted her into the air.

"No speeches. No fanfare for you. Just a quick death into the Paralax. First you then your sisters." Vera walked to the edge of the Paralax.

Lila looked downed into the swirling vortex and felt defeated. She was empty of magic. She had nothing to fight with. She knew she was going to die. Vera flung her into the air and her stomach did a flip, then she saw her mother.

Her mother's face was scrunched in absolute rage. She was running at full tilt with a cloaking spell surrounding her. She hit Vera in the back so hard that Lila heard Vera's shell crack. Lila watched as her mother and Vera tumbled into the Paralax and vanish.

Lila watched an explosion of magic beyond the sands of the vortex and the Paralax closed instantly. The air around Lila was completely silent. Am I dead, she wondered. She was suspended over the cracked and broken land of the town square, but the sinkhole was gone. A bubble of green energy surrounded Lila.

Lila looked over at the prone figure of Ulrika with a single arm outstretched casting the bubble spell around her. Lila collapsed inside the bubble and wept for her mother, saying a silent prayer of thanks to her mom and the Sisterhood of Rose Cutt

© Copyright 2014 Gaby, Mitchopolis, Janine, Joy, xx-xx, The Run-on King PDG Member, Witchy woman, CJ Reddick, PandaPaws;VETTECH Class of '20, (known as GROUP).
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