Crystalline Aura – Chapter 15 – Readers and Writers Book Club

Crystalline Aura – Chapter 15

Crystalline Aura
Oracle of Light
By Cil Gregoire
Alaska Sci-Fi Queen

Chapter 15
A Rescue Plan

Aaron became increasingly disgruntled as the warm sunny days were replaced by one overcast gray day after another. Then, mere cloudiness turned to rain. The rapidly growing underbrush, now waist deep, broke new records of growth as moisture was added to the formula. Steady rain soaked the forest and filled the bogs with water, hatching a new batch of mosquitoes that attacked with a vengeance.

Aaron didn’t notice Raven circling high above the camp as he lazed around on one of the log benches slapping mosquitoes and gazing sullenly into the flames trying to stay warm. The rain had stopped for the moment, but it didn’t make him any happier. Ilene added wood to the fire, then sat next to him. For some reason the mosquitoes didn’t seem to be so bad as long as she was near, Aaron had observed. It was as though she had an invisible protective shield around her that repelled the mosquitoes away. Ilene watched the raven as it circled lower, landing in a tree not far from camp.

“So where do you think Theon goes every day?” Ilene asked Aaron, as she stared placidly at the raven perched in the tree. Theon had been leaving camp early each morning to go they knew not where. The disquieting part was his total unwillingness to tell them anything about his whereabouts.

“I have no idea.” Aaron continued to stare into the fire, not turning to look at her.

“Why don’t you follow him?”

“I don’t know when he leaves, and besides, he doesn’t seem to want me around. Do you really believe he is from another planet?”

“Don’t you?”

“You saw him conjure the crystal from the painting. I never did believe that story of his about losing half an ear to a bear. But I certainly can’t see Rahlys taking out that Droclum dude.”

“I can conjure the crystal out of the painting, too.” Ilene’s statement startled Aaron momentarily, causing him to finally turn and look at her. Then he smiled slowly, brushing off her claim without considering the possibility she may be telling the truth.

“You cannot,” Aaron said, turning back toward the fire.

Ilene didn’t bother to retort. Instead she mentally focused on the painting stashed in her tent. Come! She called silently, opening her hand before her. The image of the crystal appeared, hovering over Ilene’s long slender fingers.

Catching the crystal’s glow out of the corner of his eye, Aaron jumped up in shocked surprise. “How did you do that?”

“It’s easy. You just call it to you with your mind, while concentrating on it. Try it.”

Aaron eyed the mock crystal with hungry desire to possess its counterpart. “Come here!” he commanded, sticking his hand out.

The glowing spectrum didn’t leave Ilene.

With angry impatience Aaron took a step forward, but before he could reach it, the image vanished from Ilene’s hand. “Look what you did!” she accused. Upset over Aaron’s behavior, she ran to her tent to reassure herself the crystal had safely returned to the painting.

Gloomily, Aaron sat back down by the fire and stared into the flames. “It doesn’t like you,” Ilene said when she returned to the campfire.

“Well, I don’t care,” Aaron slapped at mosquitoes that seemed to have closed in on him after Ilene moved away. Then Theon arrived at camp carrying a snowshoe hare, already dressed and ready for the spit. Immediately he skewered it and put it to roast over the fire.

“What’s happening?” he asked in good humor, cleansing his hands in the rainwater-laden grasses.

“The rain stopped, so we’re sitting out by the fire,” Ilene said. She always felt better after Theon had returned safely.

“Where have you been?” Aaron asked, knowing he wouldn’t get a straight answer.

“Oh, I’ve been out hiking around, exploring the countryside, studying the terrain…and shooting dinner,” Theon said indicating the hare spitted over the fire as he joined them. “What’s cooking in there?” He pointed to a pot nestled on some coals.

“Beans,” Ilene said, “I put them to soak last night.”

“Smells good.”

Theon sat down on the other bench, and the three sat in silence for a while. Then Theon took his knife and stone from his pouch and began sharpening it, the soft grating sound of stone against blade adding to the twittering of a few birds in the trees and the occasional buzz of an insect flying by close enough to hear. A week had passed without anything unusual or spectacular happening. As far as they knew, Rahlys hadn’t returned to the campsite, nor had she confronted them in any way. And there hadn’t been any sign of Droclum either.

Restless from inactivity, Aaron stood stretching, and walked around. Not wanting to get soaked by the wet underbrush, he stayed within the perimeter of the well-trodden campsite, then pausing at the edge of the overlook, he spanned his eyes out over the big swamp, soaking in the panoramic view. So much empty, unused country, and what miserable country it is, he thought, while his hands batted at the annoying horde of mosquitoes that clouded around him. Lacking motivation to do anything, he rejoined the others at the fire.

“Tomorrow we will pay Rahlys a visit on the way to the train stop,” Theon announced unexpectedly.

“What? Are you crazy?” Aaron burst out. “How do you know she won’t just blow your head off as soon as you step out of the woods?”

“I have done nothing to Rahlys,” Theon said, addressing Aaron’s concern, “…except camp in her neighborhood. I believe she will give me a chance to speak before shooting. She is not an irrational hothead like you. The two of you will be taking the southbound train back to town.”

“Fine with me,” Aaron said bitterly. “I’m ready to get out of this cold, damp, mosquito-infested hellhole.”

“What about the painting?” Ilene said.

“Take it with you, it is of no use to me.”

“You seem to forget that Rahlys overheard you say you were Droclum’s closest and most trusted follower.”

“If she overheard me say that, she also overheard me say that I’m on her side. As a turncoat, I may hold valuable information that could help Rahlys in her mission. And furthermore…all conversation during tomorrow’s short, friendly visit is to be mannerly and polite. There is to be no mention of magic, lovers, crystals, Droclum, or other planets…then, or ever. It would not be to your advantage. You would only be thought of as loony.”

“And will you be saying anything to Rahlys about anything special?” Aaron asked, acidly.

“On the way back, after the two of you are on the train.”

“How will she know you can be trusted?” Aaron asked.

“That’s a chance she will have to be willing to take.”

“I know she doesn’t want to see me.”

“It doesn’t matter, you will be with us. Are you afraid of your former lover?”

“You used to be lovers!” Ilene exclaimed, her eyes smoldering with displeasure. “So that’s how you know each other!”

“What did you tell her that for?”

“Perhaps you should have told her yourself.”

The campers on the point paid no heed to the raven taking off in the misty evening light. Little more was said for the rest of the night. As they were finishing dinner, the rain returned, driving them to their individual tents. Ilene lay in her sleeping bag staring at the crystal in the painting. It drifted out toward her. “Aaron and Rahlys were lovers,” Ilene confided to the crystal. “Did you know that?” She asked rhetorically, fuming.

Before her eyes the crystal spelled out “YES” in a stream of light. The word soon faded into the dusk. Ilene sat up in amazement. Incredulously she watched the spectrum twirl slowly on its axis as it hovered before her.

“What else do you know?” she whispered.

“LOTS,” the crystal wrote in the air.

“Does Aaron love me?”

The crystal did not respond. “Why don’t you like Aaron?” She asked, and the crystal blazed into action.

The words “HE IS NOT GOOD AT HEART,” filled the tent as the gossamer crystal zoomed about…then reentered the painting. The ghostly words slowly faded away.

Ilene was disappointed by the reply. She knew Aaron wasn’t the nicest of men, but he wasn’t really evil either. Perhaps she could sweeten up his personality a little over time, she thought.

↔↔

Theon, a.k.a. Half Ear, is, or was, Droclum’s right hand man, Rahlys pondered as she paced her bedroom floor, the floorboards creaking under her feet….Aaron wants to possess the crystal…she continued in her musing…To what lengths would he go in his effort to do so?… Theon, Aaron, and Ilene; what a strange threesome! What really surprised her was the presence of her painting at the campsite. And the crystal was outside the painting! Did the magic come from her? She thought back on the night she painted the crystal’s portrait, and how she had felt the magic tingling through her. Now Aaron owned the painting. How ironic!

Exhausted, Rahlys sat on the edge of her bed. And poor Melinda, what has happened to her? She forced herself to relax and emptied her mind. Melinda, where are you? She called out telepathically. But after some time, without contact, she gave up, and finally laid down, surrendering to sleep.

Quaylyn could hear her pacing and wished he could help, but he knew not to violate her privacy. Often he had picked up on her desire for solitude, despite his teachings on shielding her thoughts. Soon the guest cabin would be complete, and Rahlys would have the solitude she desired. Meanwhile, when he was not cabin building, or instructing, he took off on long hikes, studying the flora and fauna.

Sunny days were replaced by cloudy ones, then rainy ones, as Raven kept watch over the campsite at the point. Aaron and Ilene mostly stayed close to camp except for short excursions for water and firewood. Theon, however, was a lot harder to keep tabs on, disappearing under Raven’s watchful eye.

The building materials needed to finish the cabin project arrived by railroad freight down at the foot of Rahlys’ trail, including lumber and insulation for the roof, two small windows, a door, and the additional spikes needed to finish the log walls. All the materials were quickly teleported to the building site. Progress was rapid, with the help of magic, despite the cloudy skies, and Rahlys and Quaylyn wove spells to repel the ravenous mosquitoes that swarmed around them. “I notice you don’t freely offer your blood to feed the poor, hungry mosquitoes anymore,” Rahlys commented.

“There are just too many of them,” Quaylyn lamented. “There wouldn’t be enough to go around.”

Another gray, sunless day dawned, and by mid-afternoon Raven was sending Rahlys images of Aaron, Theon, and Ilene hiking through the wet, waist high underbrush toward Rahlys’ cabin. Aaron slapped at mosquitoes buzzing around his exposed hands and face as they followed the game trail on the ridge overlooking the creek. A couple of times Ilene and Aaron slipped and nearly fell from stepping on slick wet tree roots, poking out of the cold earth in search of warmth, hidden beneath the tall foliage of summer.

They hadn’t been hiking long when the group came to a clearing featuring a small, nearly finished, log cabin surrounded by piles of lumber, aluminum sheeting, insulation, and stove pipe covered with blue tarps against the rain. No one was around, and Ilene thought the unfinished cabin looked forlorn in the misty rain. They continued on through a tiny patch of woods to the edge of the clearing that surrounded Rahlys’ cabin and Theon indicated a halt. As though their arrival had been heralded by trumpet blasts, Rahlys and Quaylyn stepped out on the porch to meet them.

“May we approach, my lady?” Theon called out cautiously from the edge of the clearing. There was a weighty moment of silent hesitation.

“Yes, of course,” Rahlys said, “welcome.”

“Thank you,” Theon bowed his head respectfully as they approached the porch, “I am seeing my young friends off on the train, and when Ilene learned you were so close, she insisted on stopping in and saying hello.” I think we should talk, Theon telepathed tightly to Rahlys on the side.

“I’m glad you stopped by.” Rahlys introduced everyone to Quaylyn. “This is Aaron, Ilene…and Half Ear,” she said pointing them out, “and this is Quaylyn.” When? She asked Half Ear telepathically.

“You can call me Theon,” he said out loud, giving everyone a slight jolt of surprise. How about, after train?

“Please, come on in out of the drizzle.” After train would be fine.

“Quaylyn is an unusual name. Where are you from?” Ilene asked casually.

“Seattle,” Quaylyn answered with complete naturalness, “Rahlys and I are distant cousins, from my mother’s side of the family.” Then to Rahlys, You still need to tighten up your telepathy, Quaylyn scolded his student, I picked up a one-sided conversation. Rahlys blushed from the reprimand. She thought of a not very nice reply and hoped, for his sake, she was shielding her thoughts sufficiently.

The hikers peeled off their light rain gear, leaving it with their packs on the porch, and stepped inside. One piece of luggage Rahlys noticed was probably the painting of the crystal. An awkward silence followed as they settled into chairs around the massive birch table. Rahlys could pick up thoughts from Ilene and Aaron that explained why they kept looking between her and each other. She also noticed that she picked up nothing from Theon or Quaylyn who studied each other intently in silence. She wondered what was going through their heads, but there was not a single loose thread adrift for her to latch on to. She had to try harder to shield her thoughts she realized with dismay. Quaylyn had been right in being so relentlessly insistent.

Then everyone’s eyes were gazing at the walls. Rahlys had teleported all her matting and framing equipment and supplies to the woods, and over the summer had been covering her cabin walls with paintings of birds, wildflowers, and scenes of cabin building. Mystified by the works, Ilene stood and walked around to get a better look. “These are wonderful,” she whispered.

“You do good work,” Theon agreed, obviously impressed.

“Thank you,” Rahlys said to both.

After some polite discussion on art and the art of cabin building, Theon made a move to go. “Well, we best be moving if these two are going to catch the train.”

With grateful, but hopefully not obvious, relief Rahlys followed them out the door and made small talk about the weather while they donned their raingear. Then Aaron, Theon, and Ilene headed down her trail into the drizzly summer forest, headed toward the railroad tracks.

“I’ll go visit Vince and Maggie and inform them of what is happening,” Quaylyn offered as soon as the others were out of sight. Of course, either one of them could have telepathed a message to Vince and Maggie, but Quaylyn wanted to give Rahlys some time alone to think.

“Thanks,” Rahlys said, and Quaylyn was gone.

Rahlys breathed in deeply; relishing the solitude. Returning indoors where it was warm and dry, she sat at the table. What does Theon have to say? She had overheard him tell Aaron and Ilene he was on her side. It would be dangerous to trust him…but he would still be dangerous if she turned him away. Theon would know more about Droclum than anyone.

Calming herself, she thought of Melinda, then of Quaylyn’s lecture. “When you are telepathing a message, it is best to focus as tightly as possible on the signature you are communicating with, thus making the signal stronger and harder for others to intercept. It is like the light of an adjustable-beam flashlight. The tighter the beam, the less spread of light; the tighter the telepathed message, the less spread of receivable information.”

Rahlys focused on tightening and strengthening her projection in search of Melinda’s signature. She could almost feel the signal tightening and intensifying as she focused. Melinda, can you hear me? Where are you? Rahlys called out. She waited, searching; there was nothing in return. Over and over again, she focused with all her will, strengthening her projection. Melinda, where are you?

↔↔

Rahlys, where are you? Melinda cried silently in the ear-ringing quiet as she sat listlessly at the little table in the galley of the Taku with cabin lights on and engine off. Outside the cabin windows, darkness lurked so dense and heavy the feeble light of the cabin was defenseless against it. What was going to happen to her, Melinda wondered, tears welling up and streaming down her face? If not destroyed by Droclum directly, would she die from starvation first…or from the never-ending darkness consuming her soul? Maybe she should start up the engine and take a look around, she thought. But she continued to sit, unmoving… as she had for hours…lacking the will to stir. How many days had she traveled across these dark, hidden waters? She had lost track of time long ago.

Finally she forced herself to move. Her legs were numb beneath her as she scooted down off the bench and stood. Bracing herself, Melinda reached over and pushed the boat engine’s starter button. The engine hesitated, but then sprang to life. She waited a minute, shaking. Slowly her fingers reached for the running lights switch…and flipped it on. Melinda screamed silently…then tried to calm her pounding heart as she took a better look.

The Taku was traveling through a large tunnel, stalactites reaching down from the low ceiling like pointed shark teeth, the water stretching to the walls on both sides of the long watery passage. At first, it had looked as though she and the Taku were floating into the maw of a monstrous sea creature.

She turned on the fathometer; it read fifty feet. Watching it for a while, the depth varied very little. Melinda stepped out on deck. The Taku’s forward movement was more perceptible now that the mast lights reflected off the walls and ceiling. Detailed features could be seen slowly gliding by. Was she finally reaching her destination? There was no shore. Should she try to drop anchor and see if she could stop the boat’s progress? But what advantage would there be if she were successful? Did she really want to stay here?

Melinda, can you hear me? Where are you?

The voiceless message, addressing her by name, startled her. Melinda looked around searching for someone who could have spoken. But she was all alone. She had been alone for so long, she feared she had imagined the voice. But then, there it was again.

Melinda, where are you?

Rahlys, is that you? Melinda asked timidly.

Melinda! Yes. Thank goodness, I’ve finally found you! Are you okay?

I’m on Papa’s fishing boat, the Taku. Droclum sent me on a cruise, and for days I have sailed across a huge sea completely hidden deep underground. Rahlys picked up mental pictures as Melinda described a dark sea with stone arches and pinnacles, and stalactites that looked like shark teeth.

Where is your father?

There was a short grief-stricken pause. He’s dead. Droclum killed him. Melinda described the heart-wrenching scene. Please, can you take me back to the surface?

Yes, but I will need your help. Are you in any immediate danger?

No, but I’m really scared, and it’s so dark. Melinda bit back the urge to cry.

I know, but it’s going to be okay. Rahlys concentrated on mentally soothing Melinda’s anguish. My warriors and I believe that Droclum has set a trap using you as bait. We will have to outsmart him if we are going to be successful.

What kind of trap? Melinda dried her tears on her sleeves.

I’m not sure. Tell me what happened after we communicated last.

Soon after you sent me the apple, I was back on the floor of Droclum’s cave again. He knocked the apple out of my hand, and I tried to go after it, but somehow he stopped me without even touching me. It was like some invisible force was holding me in place.

Then what happened? Rahlys coaxed.

He asked me your name and I didn’t tell him, but then he said it, like I had. Then he asked me where you were, but I didn’t know, but he said I still had worth, and he was sending me on a cruise, and suddenly I was on the Taku…Melinda paused. I guess I am bait in a trap, she concluded. Why is Droclum after you?

Because he is an evil sorcerer, and he knows I wish to destroy his powers. He would like to do the same to me. I can mentally locate you now, unlike before, but I also perceive a spell that surrounds you. I fear that if I just try and whisk you away, Droclum will intercept us, but I have an idea that may work. I need you to tell me exactly where you and your father encountered Droclum for the first time.

Okay, but why?

An enchantment prevents me from locating his hideout, but perhaps I can locate this beach, and draw Droclum out in the open. Then I can confront him without putting you in any further danger.

Melinda focused on remembering the details of the little nameless bay where she and her father had taken shelter so many times when the passage was rough. Most fishermen didn’t risk taking their boats through the bay’s shallow narrow mouth, even at high tide, but Papa knew the course of the winding channel. While the waves rolled and tumbled out on the sea, the sheltered water of the bay, enclosed by high mountains that captured the clouds and dropped steeply into the water, remained perfectly calm. A small creek, imprisoned by dense alders, cut through the mountains and spilled out onto the rocky beach in braided rivulets that trickled into the bay. Melinda even located it on a chart her father kept in a drawer under the captain’s chair. She read off the coordinates.

Good, you have been a big help, Rahlys reassured her.

Don’t leave me, Melinda begged.

I am only a thought away. Can you take control of the boat and drop anchor, stopping its forward progress?

Melinda described her failed efforts to gain control of the Taku before. She glanced at the fathometer and read thirty-eight feet. There was plenty enough anchor line, but she didn’t know if there would be anything along the bottom that the anchor could grab on to, or if the anchor would be sufficient to hold against the force that was propelling the Taku forward. I will try, she telepathed back.

I will get you out of there, Melinda…I promise. Melinda could feel Rahlys’ resolve. It gave her a degree of hope.

I’ll drop anchor, she said.

Melinda made her way onto the bow. Even at this rather slow speed, there would be a bit of a jolt if and when the anchor grabbed. Melinda released the anchor from its cradle and dropped it over the bow letting the weight of the anchor and chain feed the line off the drum. She held on tightly to the hand railing along the outside of the cabin as she watched the anchor line feed out. When most of the line was out, she reached down and engaged the drum, stopping it from turning. Placing her foot on the line, she could feel the anchor bouncing on the bottom, as it tugged at the boat. Then all of a sudden the boat halted its forward momentum as the anchor hooked onto something below, spinning the boat around in a 180 degree turn. The anchor was holding, the Taku straining against the hook, stern first. It’s holding! Melinda silently cried out.

Rahlys?

But Rahlys was gone.

↔↔

Quaylyn teleported back to Rahlys, with Vince in tow, shortly before Theon returned. “Maggie wasn’t feeling well, so she stayed at home,” Vince said when they appeared.

“I found Melinda!” Rahlys beamed with excitement. “She’s okay!” Rahlys related all the information Melinda had given her. “We must attempt to rescue her as quickly as possible. Perhaps Theon can be of help. I have a plan.”

Raven projected images of Theon approaching.

“He’s almost here.” She gave Vince and Quaylyn stern looks of warning. “There is to be no outward show of unwarranted hostilities. Twelve thousand years can change a person. We will give Theon a chance to speak…and maybe redeem himself.” Both men agreed, albeit somewhat reluctantly.

Rahlys opened the front door as Theon reached the porch. He paused and bowed upon seeing her. “Greetings, Sorceress Rahlys, Guardian of the Light. I am Theon from Anthya’s world, and I have come to offer you my services to help defeat Droclum.”

“Come on in, Theon,” Rahlys invited, opening the door wide. She could feel the tension mount among the men as he entered the cabin. “You met Quaylyn earlier. He is also from your world…which I’m sure you have figured out. Again Quaylyn and Theon stared at each other intently, Theon looking decidedly puzzled over Quaylyn’s presence.

“And you already know Vince.” Vince was reassessing the man he had known before only as Half Ear. It had to be a hard adjustment, Rahlys realized. Vince barely responded to Theon’s respectful nod of recognition. He wanted answers, and he wanted them quick.

“Look, Vince, I know I have a lot of explaining to do,” Theon said humbly, “And I’m ready to start, here and now.”

Why don’t we sit around the table,” Rahlys suggested before there could be any confrontation. Stiffly, they took their seats, chairs scraping across the floor.

“Have you been in touch with your old friend Droclum lately?” Vince asked with forced calmness once everyone was settled. He expected Theon to flinch at the question, but patience instilled over centuries served Theon well.

With unforced composure, Theon replied firmly. “No, Vince. As far as I know, Droclum hasn’t thought of me as being still alive, much less living on Earth.”

“You know Droclum lives again, why haven’t you contacted him?” Rahlys asked.

“My lady, there is already enough evil in this world. Droclum must be destroyed.” Again he gave Quaylyn a strange look, then turned back to Rahlys. “Since I have known Droclum personally, I thought maybe I could be of help.”

“Do you know where he’s at?” Rahlys asked.

“No, but I may be able to help you locate him.”

“And tell us again why you are willing to help us,” Vince demanded, his voice still sharply edged. Theon did not answer right away.

“Because you are the good guys,” he said firmly, giving Vince a hard look. “Being a military man, I think you can relate. During your long honorable career, you must have seen much pain and suffering, cruelty and death. With your heart and soul saturated with man’s brutality to his fellow man, you retired and sought peace in the woods, did you not?” Theon looked directly at Vince, but Vince did not answer.

“Then consider this, I have witnessed all of man’s ruthlessness to his fellow man throughout the ages. From the time your kind nestled in caves, humans have cruelly murdered, raped, and plundered the lives of others in selfish greed. Like you, I seek peace. But no one knows better than I, that unless Droclum is destroyed, there can be no peace…for anyone…ever.” Again he glanced at Quaylyn, not quite sure what to make of him, which was particularly strange, since up until now, Quaylyn hadn’t even spoken.

“Why do you seem so puzzled over my presence?” Quaylyn asked at last, a bit annoyed.

“Because you are Quaylyn. Why are you here?”

“The High Council sent me to help Rahlys and her warriors develop their magical abilities and aid them in destroying Droclum.”

“The High Council sent you?” Theon asked in amazement.

“This is my First Mission. Is there some reason you question my placement?” Quaylyn asked offended by Theon’s tone of voice.

“Because you are Quaylyn,” he said again, dumbfounded.

“I still don’t understand,” Quaylyn said in protest. “You don’t even know me. I wasn’t a new person yet when you left for Earth. I’m still at the beginning of my longevity.”

When Theon didn’t respond, Rahlys took the floor once again. “What did you mean when you said you might be able to help us locate Droclum?”

Before answering, Theon pulled a dark medallion etched with silver runes from the leather pouch he always wore across his shoulder and held it out in his hand for all to see. “Droclum forged this medallion for me. It is enchanted with a spell that enables me, once his closest and most trusted confidant, to locate him, and communicate with him, through all his protective shields. I haven’t used it for millennia now… but maybe it will work.”

Rahlys looked at the medallion Theon held out toward her, without touching it. Silently she focused her mind on the crystal, hanging around her neck. Is Theon being truthful? She asked.

Theon speaks the truth as he sees it, and his intent is honorable, but he withholds a secret about Quaylyn.

“Perhaps we will give you a chance to try it,” Rahlys said, eyeing the medallion he still held.

“How do we know he can be trusted?” Vince asked.

“Ask the crystal,” Theon suggested.

Rahlys indicated to Vince with a slight movement of her hand, she already had, and pushed on. “Droclum is holding a young girl captive in a cavern deep underground in Southeast Alaska. We need to rescue her, but a spell surrounds her that will, no doubt, alert Droclum as soon as we try. If what you say is true, and Droclum is not aware of your existence, maybe it is time you paid him a visit. Perhaps your sudden appearance would be enough of a distraction to give me the time I need to whisk Melinda to safety before he can intervene. How would you feel about taking on such a dangerous mission?”

“I am ready and willing, my lady. And from where shall I try to contact him?”

“From a beach down in the panhandle. I have the coordinates; the crystal can take us to it.”

“And why this beach, if I may ask?”

“It is where Droclum first encountered Melinda and her father,” Rahlys explained. “If you contact him from there, you can tell him you have been looking for him, and detected the use of magic. Offer him your service. I need you to distract him long enough for me to rescue Melinda.”

“Then what?” Theon asked.

“I guess that will be up to you, depending on who’s side you’re on.”

“And when do you want to do this?”

“Now.”

I was born in New Orleans, grew up in the Louisiana swamp, and then settled in Alaska as a young woman. After decades of living the Alaska dream, teaching school in the bush, commercial fishing in Bristol Bay and Norton Sound, and building a log cabin in the woods, life had provided me with plenty to write about. The years of immersion in the mystique and wonder, and challenges and struggles, of living in remote Alaska molded my heart and soul. It is that deep connection I share with my readers.

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