"...wow!" Darek of Yew had always known the old manor house was haunted. A witch had lived there once; a woman of strange powers and subtle charms, who had held the local populace in fear, until, one day, her wicked ways had caught her up at last, and a daemon from the Realms of Shadow had come and dragged her away (Derek was a little unclear on what exactly the Realms of Shadow were, but that was the phrase his brother had used when he'd told him the story, and Roger always seemed to know everything). Now the ruins of her home were haunted by the ghosts of all the little children she had eaten. That was the story the children of the villae had told to each other for years; the story passed down tot hem from older boys (and even girls) as it has been passed down to them in turn. So Darek had always known the old manor house was haunted. But he hadn't really believed. Not REALLY. Not in that way that that leaves you shaking, and terrified, not for your life (though you're scared for that too), but because you've just learned that the world is suddenly stranger, and less safe than it was before. Not the way he believed now. Perhaps if he had beleived, he wouldn't be there, but witches and demons were just stories, and he had said as much to his friend Markus. Markus had dared him to prove it; called him a coward when he hesitated; and soon, almsot before he knew it, he was boasting that he'd go down to the old house tonight and bring back a piece of the witch's old clothing to prove he'd been. He might still ahve backed out, but Suzy had been thre, smiling at him, and saying how brave he was. Lately, he had found himself willing to do a great many stupid things when Suzy smiled at him. He wasn't sure how much he cared for that, but there didn't seem to be much he could do about it so far. So he had snuck out of his home and trecked the long trek deep into the firest near the sea-line, up the old path overgrown with weeds and grass, until he came to the house. It had been grand once; that much even a child like him could see. Large enough to hold the comfy old farmhouse he lived in in its front porch alone. Made of solid stone, it formed a big L-shape, with a cobbled pateo in the middle. The sloped tiled rough, big, arched, picture windows, elaborate stone-work, and even the ivy that crept up its way up the walls and wound around the high stone tower that rose from south-east corner of the house - all of them would have been beautiful when the building was in its prime. But not it was crumbling. The The rouff had fallen in; the windows gone; even large parts of the walls had caved in. The high stone tower had collapsed, strewing stonnes across the yard and surroudning property. It was an awful lot of damage, Derek, had thought, laying crouched on wet grass, watching the flickering moonlight paint the once proud domicile in silver. There were castles near Yew made of stone like this; some still stood more proudly after centuries of neglect. Why was this place crumbling after only a few decades (the witch had left recently - all the tales agreed on that)? Perhaps the demons had destroyed the witch's house when they'd come to claim her, he had thought only half-seriously to himself as he'd risen from his hiding spot at the edge of the property and crept nervously towards the door. In the dark, the ruined facade of the building had seemed much more foreboding then he'd thought t would. Twice he had almsot run for it, but then he'd thought fo Suzy's smiles and force dhimself to keep going, until he stood before the ruined wooden door, trying to peer through the gloom inside. And just as he was doing that, something ahd happened. There was a flash of light, and a sound as if a symphony of silver bells were sumehow rining louder than a thunderclap. He had looked up, terrified, to see wher ethe lgiht was coming from. There, 10, maybe 15 meters above the house - above the tower's foundations, just where its upper floors might have stood were it still intact, there was a twinkling flash, pulsing like an earth-bound star that kept winking in and out of existance. And He knew he should move. he was terrified. More so than ever before in his life. This was REAL magic, here, in this haunted, crumbling place. He wanted nothing more than to be elsewhere. But somehow he couldn't make his legs move. He could only stare transfixed as the pulsing grew stonger, and stronger; faster, and faster; until, eventually, it widened into a... Moongate? He had heard the term - even seen the mystic moongate near the city. THis looked the same. but instead of being blue, the space inside its luminous outer edge was pitch black. The gate near Yew had seemed wonderous, but somehow, for some reason he could not define , staring into this doorway only heightened his terror. And as he stared, a woman came through,. TO say she stepped through wouldn't be quite right; she was simply there. He had only a few seconds to catch an impression of dark blue/purple robes before her eyes widened and she fell out of sight. If he didn't know better, he'd have sworn her eyes weere wide with surprise. He certainly wasn't imagining the cry of sudden pain as she hit struck the stone floor of what was left of the tower 4 stories bellow. Maybe she hadn't known the tower had fallen? Should he call out to her? go see if she was allright? A fall like that could have seriously hurt her - even killed her outright. But then, what if this was her home? What if she was the wtich? He had certainly never heard of anyone else who might be walking through holes in the air to reach this place. As he stood deliberating, he saw something. At the gateway she had come through there was suddenly a... presence. Derek didn't know how he knew that. He couldn't see anything change - there was no figure wreathed in flame. But somehow, he was sure, SOMETHING was there. It spoke. Derek didn't know if it was actually a noise, or if it was just in his head, but he had the impression of a voice forming... not words, exactly, so much as images. Horrible things. Slavery. Torture. ****. Horrors it could visit on a person's very soul. They were threats, Derek realized - it was threatening her. The portal bulged suddenly, the darkness tretching outwards, as if that thing were trying to break free. That, Derek was certain, would be very bad, but there was nothing he could do about it. Then he heard the woman's voice, shouting, determined and yet, he could tell, desperate at the same time, and shaking with pain, or stress, or maybe both. "An... GRAV!" The portal shuddered - there was no other word for it - and for a moment, Derek could feel a terrible sense of power striving against power. Then, with a final pulse, it vanished in a burst of light. Derek heard the woman scream with pain, and cringed himself, closing his eyes against the sudden painful illumination. When he finally felt safe opening them again, the gateway was gone. Of the woman there was still no sign - she was hidden from him behind the crumbling walls of the lower floor she had fallen into. "Miss?" He had called out almost before thinking. For some reason he had ot know if she were allright. "Miss, are you there? Are you hurt?" There was no answer. He made his vioce louder, and tried to make it firmer while he was at it - more grown up. "MISS?" Still no answer. He should leave, he knew. Peering through the broken down door into the shadowy interior of the house, he REALLY didn't want to go in there. But she might be hurt. Besides, what would Markus say if he found out he'd run after seeing so much? What would Suzy say? Sighing, he pushed open the door. --- Valentina Esvelle Penderghast was warm and comfortable. Hovering between sleep and consciousness, she was dimly aware that she was wrapped in blankets. In something soft anyway. Had she gotten to bed after returning? She didn't remember it? No, wait, there hadn't been a bed. Her old house had been ruined, and... She remembered. Suddenly, the sorceress was wide awake, pushing herself bolt upright despite the pain it caused. Blinking sleep from her eyes, she looked around. She was in a small room, the walls made of wood; the furniture rough, but well-crafted. A guest room in a peasent farmhouse, maybe? There were two people in the room with her. A small boy who lept back from her, and a middle aged man, strongly built, who reached for a rusted sword when she moved. Father and son. She turned to the son first. "You were at my home. You called to me, I think, before I lost consciousness." The boy only nodded, obviously freightened. She smiled and stetched out a hand to him, about to allay his nervousness when the father spoke, "Derek, come away from there." She looked up to see him clutching his sword rather nervously and laughed. Giggled, really. She never got tired of eliciting this reaction. "You've gone to an awful lot of trouble to save my life if you only meen to run me through." He blushed a little, but didn't let go. "Well, we Derek braught us to find you, and we couldn't just... leave you there. But, well..." He didn't need to finish. He and whomever else Derek had braught couldn't simply let her die, but neither could they feel safe around her, no matter what she did. People who opened wholes in the night sky and dealt with demons (even if only to keep them from following) were not safe people to be around. She couldnt' stay here. The sorceress sighed. No matter; she could heal herself quickly now that she was conscious. "I undertand. I will not trouble you long. If I could impose on you for some bathwater, I can be on my way witin the hour." She paused, noticign something, and liftd the bed covers a moment to look down at herslef. "Perhaps my clothes back, also? The man blushed in earnest at her eloquently raised eyebrow, and started stammering something about needing to remove them to tend her wounds. Valentina merely chuckled till he left the room with promisses of bathwater and undergarments on his lips. Laying back as he closed the door, she turned to the boy. "Derek, wasn't it?" He nodded. "Dont be afraid, Derek. I will not, I promise, harm you. I owe you my life." He merely nodded again. "My home... it was in ruins, wasn't it? "Yes, m'am." Well, at least he isn't mute, the witch thought ryely to herself. "My name is Valentina, Derek. My friends used to call me Val. How long have I... how long has the house been abandoned?" "A long time M- err... Miss Val. Since before I was born." "So long...", she spoke almsot to herself, "So much must have happened!" The boy nodded again. "Pappa's always telling us about wars, and things like that." "Wars?" She chuckled. "For a man who seeks peace I always wonder what Lord British would do in the absence of some new crusade to fight." "Its not Lord British any more, Miss Val. Not for some time. Pappa says Lord Casca took the throne just months ago. Valentina's eyes widened at this. The old monarch of Britania had seemed invincible and unchangeable. Somehow she had difficulty imagining a Sosaria without him in it. She signed agian, but in an almost contended sort of way, as she closed her eyes and focussed on healing her wounds. "Please, tell me more. tell me... tell me everything."