Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year From A Lady's Prerogative!

Happy New Years from the A Lady's Prerogative!

I hope that you're New Years brings much goodness and prosperity.

Look forward to some news about the upcoming A Lady's Prerogative II: Wounded Aerth which is due out in October of 2016.

Meanwhile I'm gearing up for an upcoming rerelease of The Butterfly Dragon: Heroes Of Our Own with new artwork, revisions and an improved ereading experience!

Happy New Year!

Brian Joseph Johns

Monday, November 30, 2015

Mila and Barris...


I had ordered a new upgrade cpu before the weekend and was surprised to find that it had arrived earlier today. I quickly installed it and ran a series of test renders with it. It performs great of course and I'm very happy with it. The above image was produced with Daz 3D.

This coincides with a new edition of A Lady's Prerogative that includes the short story Where Art Thou Barris? as well includes the first few chapters of A Lady's Prerogative II: Wounded Aerth (which will be released in October 2016 exclusively on Amazon). The price has been reduced for the holiday season so if you're looking for a good egift, give the gift of reading!

Thanks again to Best Bear Sales on Ebay for the getting my cpu upgrade to me so quickly (and to the Postal service). Thank you to HP and IBM for reliable and good performing computers.

Brian Joseph Johns

Friday, November 27, 2015

Where Art Thou Barris?

Mila came running around the corner into the dining room and ducked behind the hutch. She was in her underwear and a bra trying to remain silent. She sat still keeping hidden from her follower. He stepped into the front hall and passed the dining room archway heading further down the hall towards the study or possibly the kitchen. She held her mouth trying to contain herself.

Then there was silence.

She held her breath and remained very, very still.

Listening.

What was that? she asked herself.

She was jumped from behind.

At first she tried to run but he hung onto her despite her struggles.

When he started to tickle her, she laughed uncontrollably and found the energy to break away.

Just barely.

Still laughing.

"Don't come any closer." she said to him.

"Or what?" he asked her.

"...Or I'll use this." she said holding up a large ice cube.

"...Heh heh heh. Whatever do you think that you're going to do with that." he asked her foolishly.

"This." she replied as she dove for the front of his pants.

She opened up a gap enough to slip the ice cube down his pants and right into his trunks.

"Arrrrgh! Arrrrgh! Arrrgh! Arrrrrrrrrrrrgh!" he danced around screaming, hopping from foot to foot.

She laughed at him profusely quickly running out of breath.

He backed up hopping on one foot falling backward onto the floor.

"Owwww." he said still screaming and laughing.

She stumbled in his direction still in laughter, and lost her balance falling on top of him.

"Ooowph!" he said.

"Give up?" she asked him.

"Never!" he said.

She grasped the ice cube in his pants holding it against his package.

"Ok! Ok! I give up." he said.

"I told you that you couldn't win." she said fishing the ice cube from his pants.

"Yes, yes. I know. You absolutely... Lost!" he said grabbing for her most ticklish parts.

She screamed and writhed on top of him laughing uncontrollably as he played her like an instrument of laughter and pleasure.

"Do you give?" he asked her.

"Yes! Yes! I give!" she was out of breath and still laughing profusely.

He released his grip on her ticklish parts and she slithered up his body.

They looked in each other's eyes and their lips met in a passionate and sloppy kiss. They spent the next forty five minutes on the floor between the dining room and the study working up a breath and a sweat before moving upstairs.

A few hours later Barris woke up, stroking her back with his hand trying to get her attention.

She groaned affectionately.

"Would you like anything? I'm going to get up and get a snack." he asked her.

She propped her head up still a little groggy but very much with a post lovemaking perma-grin on her face.

"Ohhh yes. There's some of that sherbet. Could you get me a small bowl and a glass of water?" she asked him purposely blinking her eyes at him her chin resting on her pillow as she looked up at him.

"I think I can manage that. I'll be right back sweetie." he got up and made his way down stairs to the kitchen.

He found his way to the fridge keeping the lights off. The moon was out tonight and it was a bright one at that illuminating his path through the house. Once he had the fridge door open it was all easy pickings from there.

He scooped out Mila's sherbet and poured her a glass of water, then one of his own grabbing a bowl full of olives for himself.

He balanced it all in two hands, holding the bowls in one hand and the glasses in the other. When he closed the fridge with his foot he laughed.

"Yep. Got the hang of that" Barris commented to himself.

He made his way up stairs.

Mila lay on the pillow not sure of how much time had passed but very much looking forward to a snack. She secretly hoped there'd be a bit more soft play between them and needed the energy for such. She wondered if the full moon might have something to do with her heightened libido. Though Barris was very much a turn on to her, she occasionally had fallen into moods where she just wanted to be alone. Have some quiet time and space. On those days, she'd just tell him and he'd be very understanding though she was sure he was excited to have a bit of his own time too. They needed it every once and a while. He'd go read or work on something for the house and she'd work on one of her projects. A painting. A sculpture. Candles. A culinary delight of some form. Sometimes she'd just put on her favourite music and just dance. Ballet and classical mostly. When their day was through, they'd reunite and it was like they were recharged. That's what she loved most about him. She always had her own time whenever she needed it and he always found something to keep improving himself when she'd take that time for herself.

Really it was for them because what is love if you aren't free? Free to live and be yourself. Free to laugh. Free to play. After you've done whatever it is that drives you to etch your existence onto the rest of reality. After all, we are with whomever we choose to be unless we're alone. Being alone like being together can be a sole choice as much as a mutual one though the reverse is not quite true. Unless of course you are not free.

Love is choice and love is freedom. Each day that they spent doing their own thing, they always chose to return to each other at the end of that day.

They had that in each other without constriction or condition and she trusted that the day would never come that he did not return to her.

She mulled these thoughts over in her head and retread her memories and then returned to the thought: he's really taking a long time.

"Barris? Come on honey." she spoke out loud.

No answer or sound.

"Barris. Come on. I'm too tired to come chase you. Really." she said aloud.

Still no answer.

"Oh you buggar!" she got up giggling a bit and found her way to the stairs.

"If I find you, you're really going to get it! No ice cubes this time. No no no. That's too good for you..." she giggled as she spoke getting excited over their little game.

She got down stairs and looked high and low for him.

When she was sure that she could not find him, she started turning on the lights.

"This is serious..." she said with dread.

She immediately started an incantation still forgetting that she was completely naked.

She wove the spell into a section of wall in her study. The wall was already covered with a smattering of colours and hues yet she wove the existing colour into a palette for the spell. A portrait framing two figures began to take form and before long it resembled two women looking very stately perhaps from the eighteen hundreds. From another time distant from this one.

"Shelmynaer Wynarhet Suznan Magrete!" she finished her incantation.

The two figures from the portrait stepped out from the wall, as if they had just been born there fully clothed in the attire of their former days. The two women looked at each other and then to Mila.

"My. Oh my. Mila. You do know that you're..." Margaret tried to inform Mila in embarrassment.

"Naked. Go ahead and say it. She's naked." Suzannia completed her dearest friend's sentence.

"I'm sorry but I didn't have time to..." Mila tried to finish.

"To get ready for three hundred and some odd years old company. What state of affairs is the world in now since the last time we talked?" Margaret with her hands on her hips asked Mila.

"The world is fine. I think. It's Barris." Mila told them.

"What about Barris? What did you do to him? You didn't turn him into a tattoo did you? Let me see your tush..." Suzannia twirled her hands directing Mila to turn around.

She turned slightly before dawning a frustrated look on her face.

"No. I did not turn him into a tattoo. Yet." Mila said frustrated.

"Then where is he?" Margaret asked Mila once again her hands on her hips.

"I was hoping you two would know." Mila told them honestly.

"Oh. You wanted us to... Oh. That explains it. Well then. Let me..." Suzannia turned around gesturing with her hands and a ghostly machine appeared with barely enough room.

It had many spindles and a housing for large spools. It had gears and belts connecting other parts all directed to a large housing, chassis and crank. The machine appeared to originate from eighteenth century Europe or sometime there about from the looks of it. Mila could not imagine what it was for, but knowing Suzannia it could have been almost anything.

Suzannia wound a spool tightly and then turned a crank winding the whole device up. Then she stood back.

"Where in this world is Barris, the love of my friend Mila?" Suzannia asked aloud before flipping a latch that had stopped the gears in place.

When she did, the tension from the coil pressured the gears and the machine sprang to life and began threading the heads to the weaving machine she'd developed in an age long gone. Before long a section of tapestry began to emerge with a woven pattern of intricate text across its face. They waited patiently until the machine was done the whole job in forty five seconds.

Suzannia examined it.

"He's in Alivale." Suzannia told Mila.

"What in the blazes is he... I told him there's left overs in the..." Mila tried to explain on the verge of tears.

"Wait! Don't make a fuss before I've finished reading! There's more..." Suzannia yelled abrubtly interrupting Mila.

"Oh she just loves to do that you know. A regular Jekyl and Hyde you are!" Margaret scolded her friend.

"Hey! That's not one of yours you know! Mr. Stephenson is a real gentleman. You're no better. A book where someone makes living people out of dead parts?" Suzannia glared at Margaret before her face adorned a slight smile as she winked.

"I'll have you know that book caught the attention of many!" Margaret argued to Suzannia.

"Right! I'll bet it did. In mortuaries and graveyards it was a best seller amongst the optimistic dead. Now I don't suppose you could have penned something like that Mr. Verne, another extraordinary gentleman he is. I quite enjoy my talks with him. Not like that Herbert person you're always on about. Mr Wells this and Mr Wells that..." Suzannia defended herself taunting her friend.

"Please do continue Suzannia..." Mila urged Suzannia enthusiastically.

"Thank you my dear. It says: Barris is in Alivale. Then it says: he was taken there by a mystic called Dynaerva. He had an appointment with the unknown." Suzannia finished for Mila.

"An appointment?" Mila asked unbelievingly.

"What in the world is a Dynaerva?" Margaret asked Suzannia.

"I haven't the slightest." Suzannia answered honestly.

"Doesn't that machine tell us anything? We could have gotten more from the town crier!" Margaret once again scolded her friend a slight smile on her face.

"I think they've replaced the town crier with email, or spam or something like that. So my machine seems to be doing pretty good so far. Don't you get feisty just because you haven't had a drink!" Suzannia defended her life's work.

"You know I haven't had a drink in ages. Literally. Though I wouldn't mind one after this is..." Margaret tried to finish but was interrupted.

"Look. I just brought you two here because I wanted to know where Barris is and I thought you could help me. So we know he's in Alivale with a Dynamare." Mila summed up the situation.

"A Dynaerva. Though I think that its a name. So He's with Dynaerva." Suzannia told her.

"Men. The nerve of them. Leave them alone for a second and they're out for a night on the town with a Dynamare mystic or some other..." Margaret began.

"Dynaerva." Suzannia corrected her.

"Thank you two. I need to go find him." Mila addressed them both as she began her incantation to summon a portal.

"Wait! Clothing!" Margaret yelled.

"Oh." Mila said looking down at nakedness before them.

She ran up stairs and a moment later Suzannia and Margaret heard the sound of a aetheric portal opening upstairs. The air was disturbed slightly as the air pressure between Mila's departure portal and the destination portal balanced before she stepped into its depths in her night gown and ballet slippers. The two women waited down stairs for her to return.

"I don't think she's coming back down stairs you know." Suzannia told her lifelong friend.

"Then how about that drink?" Margaret asked.

"Alright. That sounds good to me. It has been a while. Let's do catch up shall we? Just like old times." Suzannia said excitedly.

"Yes it has been a while." Margaret replied pouring for them both.

A great distance away in the town of Alivale, Barris walked a few steps with two bowls in one hand and two cups in the other. He lost grip on the bowl with the olives and it fell to the Alivale sidewalk and smashed into pieces.

"I was looking forward..." Barris struggled to put down everything else he was carrying and started to track down the olives, devouring them one at a time from the ground. He then drank his glass of water to wash them down and wiped his face.

"Ok. Where in the heck am I?" he asked aloud.

When he realized that he was outside, he remembered his state of dress was nothing more than his boxer shorts.

"Not again! Why does this keep happening? This better not be the past again, or the future or some other forsaken place!" Barris exclaimed.

He quickly turned, startled when something had tapped him on the shoulder. He found himself face to face with a life sized mock snowman decoration. It appeared to be some form of holiday decoration. It looked back at him completely inanimate.

"Oh. That's funny Mila. Real funny. Now where am I honey. Really?" he looked around again.

"Honey?" he squatted and picked up Mila's bowl of sherbet and her glass of water.

"I'll come back for that." he said referring to his empty glass.

He then proceeded towards the Alivale main street in search of a landmark and directions.

Not far behind him, Dynaerva kept vigil and the night's plans began to unfold.

Updated: Friday November 21, 2014 10:30 AM (The prior section has been heavily edited as well and is up to standard now)

Mila stepped out of the portal and onto the main street much like she had a year and a half earlier to track down and face the Power Lord in the warehouse around the corner from her current location.

She looked the street over which was ripe with holiday decorations and coloured lights despite the fact that it was quite warm outside and definitely unseasonably so. This did not detract from the wintery holiday feel she had but that was completely absent with Barris, where ever he was. Only Suzannia's machine knew for certain and perhaps this Dynaerva person or thing.

She made her way towards the main strip when she heard the sound of tiny bells and out of the corner of her eye, one of the doors of one of the shops had opened up. A face peered out from behind the door gesturing her closer.

A man's voice spoke in a another language to her and she looked in puzzlement.

"I'm sorry. I can't understand you." Mila said honestly.

The man behind the door appeared puzzled for a moment before continuing.

"Come! Quick! Don't let them hear!" the man said to her in a strange accent.

"What? Don't let what hear?" she asked him.

"Shhhh! You'll attract them here you will! Come here!" the man said to her from behind the door.

Mila made her way over to the shop and in the door. The tiny bells tinkled once again as he closed the door.

"They always come out at this time of year! You should know that and how dangerous it is to be out!" the man said with the same unplaceable accent.

"What are you talking about? Who are they?" Mila asked completely seriously.

"Them. The ancient ones. You know. From the poem we were taught as children. Did you not go to school around here?"

"That depends where here is? This is Alivale is it not?" Mila asked the man.

"Yes most certainly. Still, you are from somewhere else." the man looked a little disappointed.

"I've lived here for the last five years. I bought a house up on..." Mila tried to explain but he was deep in thought.

"Welcome then to my humble shop and home. Me and my family will keep you safe for the night. You may sleep on the couch if you'd like. It would be best and at least you'd be safe." he locked the door.

"Safe from what?" she asked him again impatiently.

"The ancient ones." he said.

As if on cue, the sound of a blood curtling howl echoed through the streets. That of a large beast and possibly that of a large wolf.

"Them." the man said to her, showing his teeth and rearing up his hands like claws.

"Dogs? Thats probably just a stray. Poor thing is probably looking for some food." Mila said compassionately.

"That is no dog Ma'am. The ancient ones come in many shapes and sizes. They can change to take on many forms." the man peering through the window of his shop door.

Mila looked at the door and its frame and noticed something odd. Amongst the decorations and holly was strung various herbs and pot-pourri. There seemed to be garlic and what she recognized as wolf's bane.

"Are you trying to keep demons out?" she asked him looking very startled herself.

"Shhh! Keep your voice down. You'll attract them. They know when you are talking about them. It attracts them." he said to her a sheer look of terror on his face.

"What is this poem? Can you tell me or show it to me?" she asked him trying to make headway in this mystery.

"Only in my language. Wait. I might..." he said remembering something he`d long forgotten.

He gestured for Mila to follow him into the back away from the store front. There he had the entryway to his humble living space set up in what Mila presumed to be a multi-floor apartment. He walked over to one of his two book shelves and looked carefully through it for a specific title. When he'd found it, he thumbed through to a page he'd marked long ago for some visitors he'd lost track of in the ages.

"Here. This is it. A translation. A poetic one at that. In your language." he laid the book on a table for her to read.

She examined the page and quickly found a short verse:

The Ancients here and how so bold, their body's beast shape sewn so cold.

From death's embrace were they taken, the marks upon their bodies graven.

Their timeless grace upon this Earth, to seek their blood and spread their mirth.

The wolf makes hate, where blood dead seek, the victims drawn amongst the meek.

Their ever war a senseless shame, for ever more they'll play this game.

Keep night safe to serve ye well, while they live their living hell.

'Pon thy door put herbs and clove, collected from a full moon's grove.

Above thy door our lord's true mark, to keep hell's servants in their dark.

She closed that book and sat unable to move for a moment.

Mila's face fell pale and a sickly feeling came over her.

Barris is outside.

Barris had ducked into a doorway on the street to momentarily shield himself from the wind which had picked up a little. The moon glared down upon him from the sky keeping the street will lit even in the areas where there were no lamps or light.

He looked down at Mila's sherbet which had mostly melted and feeling hungry himself finally gave and consumed it himself.

"I'm sorry honey. I couldn't wait. You know I love you but..." he was suddenly pulled inside the door from behind.

He stumbled backward into the door way and stood before a middle aged lady of mysterious beauty.

She looked him up and down.

She spoke to him in a language that he did not recognize or understand. He looked back at her a confused look upon his face.

"I'm sorry. Nada abla e comprendez espanol? Nein spokken ze deutch? J'eune pas parle francais? Uhhh. Ne hao ma? Shieh Shieh? D'wor Zhieh? Domi Arigato? Hmmm. Gratzi Italiano? An-yŏng-ha-se-yo?" he said trying everything he could to communicate in futility.

This time it was her that looked at him in confusion then she recognized something and spoke again.

"Well what are you doing out here on a night like this Bella?" she asked him her voice still thick with a beautiful accent.

"Uhhh. Nothing. Just out for a midnight stroll standing in your doorway eating my bowl of sherbet in my underwear. Nothing too strange." he said still a little bewildered.

"Don't you know that you should not be out at this time Bella? It is dangerous to be outside at this time." she told him and as if to accent her assertion a howl echoed through the air outside.

She quickly closed the door and locked it.

"This is a nice place you have here. Do you often have strange men clad only in their underwear in as your  guests? I'm engaged by the way. Yep she's one in a trillion. Universes that is. You'll never find another like her anywhere." he struggled with conversation.

"You think I want to with you? Bella, whatever do you have on your mind?" she waved her finger at him with a coy smile across her face.

"What? You think I was? No. Not at all. I'm just looking for my fiance. We're engaged you know. You see I was just getting her a snack from the fridge when I was... and then I was outside and a snowman tapped me on the shoulder... then I decided to have this bowl of sherbet in your doorway in my underwear... Oh heck. I'm alright miss. Really, I'm not a maniac or something..." Barris stopped when another howl echoed through the streets outside only much closer this time.

The lady looked out the window.

"Don't worry Bella. We are safe in here you know. You see?" she pointed at the doorway.

The frame was completely surrounded by a variety of herbs and plants that Barris could not recognize though he did spot some garlic. At the top of the door a crucifix was precariously balanced atop of the door from which it was held in place by a variety of boughs and birch wood.

"Are you having goblin or troll problems around here or something? You should just call the pest control..." he asked her trying to keep a serious look on his face.

"What ever is a goblin Bella? No. It is the Ancients. They come outside at this time you know." she looked outside and then back to him.

"Uhhhh. What is this place? You run a business or something?" Barris asked her politely.

"I am a mystic and a fortune teller. I can tell you your horoscope or I can ask the cards. I can see it in your palms or in your tea. Bella, I will tell you anything about your future and your past. I will even tell you about your now. I will cure you of evil spirits and of bad luck. If you pay the price of course." she said enticingly.

"Uhhhh. You don't want my toe nail clippings, nose hairs, my underwear or one of my fingers do you?" he asked her somewhat sarcastically and looking a little uneasy.

"Not at all Bella. For you fifty dollars would be fine." she told him really pushing the sell.

"I could not turn down an offer like that now could I. If only I had fifty dollars on me." he said though he was interested in what she offered.

Her accent and attire painted her very much as a fortune teller and mystic as she'd described herself. On top of being attractive and mysterious, she had a fun and friendly demeanor that made him trust her and he instantly found kinship with her at some level. He looked around the shop and it was filled with curios and mystical trinkets leaving no wall space that was not covered in some form of magical or mystical symbol. A table with a crystal ball sat in the middle of the room with two chairs. He looked at it trying hard not to push her.

"You and Mila are really going to get along..." he said quietly to himself referring to his new found friend.

"I'm sorry. What did you say?" she asked him.

"Oh. Just thinking out loud." he said honestly to her.

"Alright Bella. You pay me when you can. Fifty dollars and not a cent less. I do take credit or debit cards too. I just got Paypal if you'd like as well." she said to him affirmatively and professionally.

"Its a deal." he said as she directed him to the chair for her customers.

She sat opposite him at the small table. She pulled a pack of wooden matches from her pocket and lit a candle. The candle appeared like the ones Mila would make every so often. It was intricate and very artistically made, a spiral of colour and shape.

"Alright Bella. The Ancients are kept at bay for now. Just gaze into the crystal ball. She knows our secrets. Your secrets and she is going to tell you about yourself, past, present and future. She will tell you about this lady that you seek. Her name is Mila. Oh Bella. Look at this. She is your one true love. You have quite a past. Let us take a look. Listen for your tale is about to begin..." she spoke as the outside world drifted away.

Updated: Sunday November 23, 2014 6:21 PM (Small changes and edits to the above sections of the story and what's written beyond this point. There's a good addition from the point Barris goes to get Mila her sherbet that really discusses Mila's views on life and love and sets up her emotional turmoil regarding her missing partner).

Mila paced the store front considering the ramifications of going out to confront the ancients.

"I have to get outside. I have a friend,,, No my lover is out there right now as I speak." she said courageously aloud.

"May I suggest another course of action for you? Insist if I may?" she found his accent very compelling.

"Yes. You may though I cannot guarantee that I'll take it." she gave him permission hesitantly.

"This community is tightly nit for we have survived many many years as a village in the face of the ancients. If he was outside wandering the streets at this time as you were, he'd likely not have gotten far without the intervention of one of the other town's folk. He's probably inside right now enjoying a hot cup of our famous herbal tea." he assured her.

"So you're saying that I because you let me into your house, that someone else somewhere else let him in? In his underwear?" she asked him sceptically.

"Hmmm. I see your point. Well, yes. Stranger things have happened. These are strange times." he answered her looking her up and down.

She was clearly not dressed for her outing and yet she was taken in by this family man.

"You didn't have some other plans with me did you?" she asked him honestly a little bit wary now that she'd had the time to fully absorb the implications of the situation.

"Not at all. Would I risk the love of the woman I married and two wonderful children for a night with you?" he asked her honestly.

"Thanks. I feel much better. I think?" she answered him honestly.

"But I would risk everything in protection of my family, our love and our people. So here you are in my home. Please do have a cup." he reached for a picture from the store counter and handed it to her.

The picture was of himself in the back row beside a naturally beautiful woman, who were preceded by their two children, a girl and a boy. They looked very genuinely happy. Together. The photo obviously did not capture the moment because there was no moment. They were as they are: a happy family. She saw that in the photo and in their eyes and those of their children. She considered this and slowly let her guard down. Enough to think this through over a cup of herbal tea. Barris was probably enjoying the same thing elsewhere worried sick about her.

Another wolf howl broke her train of thought. She tensed listening carefully for any signs of Barris' voice or screams. When after a moment she heard nothing, she relaxed a bit.

"Alright. I will have one cup of tea and decide what to afterwards." she said hesitantly.

"Believe me. You will not regret your choice." he said with a slightly ironic if not sinister overtone to his voice.

Maybe it was her imagination but he knew something that he was not telling. Then again it might have been her imagination. After all, she was an artist. Her well being and prosperity depended upon her creative mind as did her art and her aetheric weave. Her magic was built around it. Imagination and intuition often spent much time masquerading as one another she thought. She decided that her imagination was more active than the latter and accepted the hot cup of herbal tea.

"The recipe for this tea has been in the family for generations now. Please do enjoy." he offered as he handed her a cup he'd poured from a tea pot that had been candle warmed much like his accent.

Mila drank the tea and before long her thoughts were drifting to her times of the recent past with Barris. Something beckoned her from within the mists of their time together and she went willingly in search as she drifted off.

The Awakening: The Dawn Of The Festival

Mila awoke to find herself in the middle of a party or festival of some kind. It was the evening and she was seated at a table, a large crystal ball on the table in front of her. Around her in the middle of a street she did not recognize, a variety of performers presented their show while a group of people danced together in union as one.

She rubbed her eyes and thought back to her last location.

"I must have fallen asleep." She thought aloud.

She looked around for the family man who had welcomed her into his house though she found no sight of him.

Instead a lady in pirouette found her way to the table and back to the crystal ball.

"My gosh! It is true Bella, you are truly bound as one. I've never seen anything like it!" a lady dressed much like a Gypsy spoke as she twirled into the chair across from Mila, a rose held tenderly in her hand.

"I'm sorry, and you are?" Mila asked still a little defensively.

"Oh. I thought you'd be more than happy to see me. After all, I alone can keep you safe from you know. That man that will come between you and your man." the Gypsy Rose spoke.

"Barris? Wait. First of all, where is he. Then you can answer who are you? Then maybe where are we." Mila peered into the Gypsy and perhaps right through her.

"Easy Bella. I am here to help you. It is the time of the great festival you know. The holiday season. When the little one opens their gifts from the man of the forest. The man on the rock doesn't come out until the night you know. Then he'll be after you, you know." the Gypsy Rose informed Mila.

"You haven't answered one of my questions?" Mila asked her though feeling a sense of trust in the strange Gypsy Rose.

There was a moment of pause between the two as the festival proceeded and the people danced. The Gypsy Rose looked around knowing that Mila was watching her. She returned the glance to Mila.

"Alright Bella. I'll tell you but you must be calm. The night will come and he'll be looking for you as will your lover boy." the Gypsy spoke.

"Man. He's a man." Mila spoke in his defence.

"You do love him don't you? We'll see how you face up to you know who..." the Gypsy spoke as she pulled a deck of cards from a pouch on her belt.

She shuffled the deck many times with a skill and finesse that Mila had not seen, though Mila had seen many who'd scryed through a deck. The Gypsy dealt the cards in a rhythmic flow and the cards flew into place forming the shape of a diamond.

"Well Bella, it looks like you are in for a surprise. Open a card if you dare..." the Gypsy spoke.

"This is not getting me any closer to my fiance. I want answers." Mila tensed readying a spell that she suspected would deal with most of the situation and much that she'd not anticipated.

"Wait! You can't do that right now! Have patience. There are some things that you cannot solve in that way Bella. Please just do, open or turn around a card if you will..." the Gypsy spoke convincingly.

Mila listened and accepted the fact that not everything in life could be solved with a magic or a paint brush though most of it could be expressed as such.

Mila reluctantly picked a card just off of the center of the diamond not knowing that despite the fact that she'd thought about her choice, she'd still played a part in the Gypsy's scrying into the nature of the universe.

"Hmmm. I'd not have thought of that Bella. You have much strife ahead of you, though much love, Which one is stronger?" the Gypsy turned a card.

"What do you see?" Mila asked her.

"A card Bella. A card. Though it is so much more. Like one of your paintings or sculptures. Or your ballet, it leads us to answers you know. You just have to know how to read the signs." the Gypsy spoke softly and assuredly.

"So what you're saying is seeing is really believing?" Mila asked.

"No Bella! Are you really that foolish?" the Gypsy Rose eyed Mila.

"I believe my fiance is here, in this world of yours. The world of Transylvania or of Romania. Are they one and the same?" Mila demanded of the Gypsy.

"Let me finish reading your cards and you'll find out!" the Gypsy answered.

A distance away, Barris awoke beside a friend.

"Honey, is that you?"Barris said nuzzling up to the warmth beside him.

"You fool! If you should pinch my side like that again, I will twist your arm!" Sato exclaimed.

"Sato! Whatever are you doing here? This is... Wait a minute. Where am I?" Barris demanded immediately jumping to his feet looking at his hand and then to Sato's rump in surprise and dismay.

"Barris-San! I should ask you the same thing! You slimy weasel! I was asleep soundly in my home in Brisbane." Sato demanded of Barris looking very tired and upset.

"Sato! I only went to sleep a moment ago. You should be back in Brisbane! Right across from the record shop, wait! I mean MP3 shop! Not many people buy real books you know? We're in an ever changing world!" Barris exclaimed.

"Then why am I here. Besides that, where is here?" Sato asked.

"You have me Karate man! You mean for all those years of Shaolin Kung-fu, Tae Kwon Do, Goju Jujitsu Ryu, and those personal lessons from your friend, Morihei Uesheba and you don't know where we are?" Barris asked his life long friend.

"I am beginning to wonder though it is my sense of wisdom telling me that much, unlike yours. Perhaps only the women in your family were graced with every brain cell and virtue you've lost?" Sato stood beside Barris just as lost as he.

"Well good friend! Maybe all those books you've accumulated were filled with gibberish that is far beyond your conception! I've never seen you reading them." Barris offered in return though not really sure of why they were fighting.

"Well if you count yourself amongst the likes of William Butler Yates or Sumi, you'd do best not to tread 'pon my dreams. Fool." Sato spoke keeping his ground solid and fertile.

"Sato, nobody can deal such flagrance upon me as yourself. We are birds, no wait, we're Cats of a whisker. We are indeed." Barris assured the already defensive Sato, who felt that it was a strange fate ending up here.

"Now that I know you're Barris and you must know me your friend, what now?" Sato queried his lifelong friend.

"You're asking me? I thought you had all the answers? Don't you have an escape from this mess trick Sato?" Barris' hopes nose dived into the ground with Sato's admonition.

"Yes I do. It's called teamwork. And you'd best learn to heed the advice of your elders." Sato advised Barris.

Friday January 9, 2015 2:16 AM

"Well? My best friend Mr fuzzy head? Where are we?" Barris demanded of Sato whose already thinning hair was cut to the scalp leaving a fine layer of greying stubble.

"Listen there steed whose reigns have been discarded by an artistic horseback rider! You awoke me! From a dream that I'd been long looking forward to. You see, age does not mean lack of affection nor memory thereof." Sato blasted back at Barris.

"Well I've been abducted from reality you fool! How's that compare to your trauma?" Barris demanded.

"Well I'd say no less and no more!" Sato offered.

"Good. Then we're at par once again my friend." Barris advised his friend.

"You're no less the fool if you heed advice without my consultation." Sato told him.

"I'll remember that next time I'm abducted this way and you`re two thousand miles away." Barris said taking a moment to look at his surroundings.

They were both on a road that led up a mountainous hill whereupon a marvellous Castle sat on a mountain path in the darkness of the night lit by strategically placed oil burning lamps. Between this Castle road was the the township whose outskirts they peered from.

They both eyed it with awe and Barris waited a moment before speaking.

"What do you suppose we'll find there?" Barris asked Sato still looking onto the path as if staring at it might shorten the distance there.

"What else but trouble?" Sato told him still slightly grumpy thinking about having missed his dream.

"Exactly. If there's trouble about there, that's where I'll find Mila." Barris said somewhat hesitantly.

"Let's hope she's thinking the same of you because she's probably be right." Sato gestured to Barris to proceed.

"I can only hope." Barris said quietly to himself thinking of her safety.

The two of them ventured up the road which passed through the dimly lit town and onto a rough path horse and carriage path which led up to the castle. The town itself looked much like the town they`d encountered outside of L'Arbour De Noir a little more than two years ago. The streets were hewn with litter, party hats, paper masks and the acrid smell of wine and liquor hung in the air.

"Wouldn't you know it. We always seem to show up at just the right time." Barris told Sato.

"In this case that might be good." Sato advised him.

Barris thought about it for a moment before nodding.

"How very true. At a party we could have been less wary of trouble..." Barris stopped mid sentence as he noticed it on the brick road way laying under a table.

He immediately ran for it and picked it up.

"Her necklace. The Amulet. She's..." Barris paused comprehending but not really knowing how serious the situation was.

"...in need of our help." Barris finished as Sato put his hand on his friend's shoulder in reassurance.

Miss Led

"I see great loss... and a great choice." the Gypsy tapped the card which was upside down from her point of view.

"What kind of choice?" Mila asked the Gypsy.

"Bella, a choice that you put off once before in your life. You will face it again and you will pick what you keep and what you lose. How I know I can't say. I just know these things." the Gypsy shrugged nonchalantly.

"That's it?" Mila asked her waiting expectantly.

"What can I say? I only just got set up you know. I'm still waiting on my web guy to get the site online." the Gypsy joked trying to lure a smile from Mila.

"Well no offence, but that left a lot unanswered." Mila looked down at the Amulet which dangled between her breasts just behind her blouse.

"Sometimes Bella, it is the questions that are more useful than the answers. Think on this and it will help you. I think you know how much you love him, but do you really love him?" the Gypsy asked her.

Mila just stared back at her firmly not even feeling the justification to answer her.

"Come now. Have a drink, enjoy the festival. It is a special time of year you know? Here I mean. Many years ago our ancestors made a sort of peace with the ancient ones you know? We've been safe ever since. We now celebrate this time and season while it is still warm air at night you know.`the Gypsy handed her a bottle embossed with an ornate design crafted by a local artisan.

Mila admired the bottle`s design observing some techniques she`d seen in on crystal glasses, only this was clearly a glass bottle.

"This is quite a beautiful bottle. I've not seen glass making like this before." Mila commented as she turned the bottle in her hands.

"You'll likely not see it again. An ancient craft you know. As ancient as the ancient ones, though if you think the bottle is nice, you should try the wine. Drink right from the bottle, its customary Bella! Life is but a dream..." the Gypsy told her as she took a swig from her own bottle.

Mila looked at the bottle and through into the crimson liquid within and could have sworn she saw herself and Barris intertwined in their bed at home fast asleep. She was nuzzled, her face pressed against his chest while he was nose deep in her hair, obviously enamoured with love and lust.

"Maybe it is a dream." Mila smiled seeing the two of them from the outside for the first time.

She put the tip of the bottle to her lips and tilted the bottle high, slow and deliberately. The liquid within flowed freely into her mouth and through her taste buds like ambrosia itself. She lowered the bottle just as slowly barely able to stop herself.

"That is very good! My compliments to the bottle maker and the wine maker." she stood as the music began to move through her.

She moved with the grace her ballet had given her letting the music guide her body.

"That's it Bella, enjoy. It is the time and time is so short." the Gypsy spoke standing to join her.

Before long a group had encircled them and within it they danced tête a tête, a counterpoint of Gypsy tradition and classical ballet.

Before long the the first bottle of wine became a second and then another, and all of this into the late evening as the night really began.

Mila kept her head about her, ever searching for Barris though maintaining a social regard for those around her much like she`d do at one of her art shows. She`d become typsy and found herself in good company with the Gypsy each sharing the conversation and pitching it back and forth and around as needed to keep the party going. Then at just a little before nine in the evening was when they arrived, the guests of honour.

They walked into the festival almost like a shadow might creep unnoticed across the face of the earth, sneaking up and taking those wary of the night by surprise.

They were two men of stature and poise, both dressed in noble attire and both drew the envy of every man and the attention of every woman. Every woman except the Gypsy and Mila whom these noble men currently held in their interest.

The Gypsy noticed the men over Mila's shoulder and gestured to Mila as the men approached.

Mila turned and was greeted by the most incredibly charming and handsome man she'd seen next her lover, Barris. She blushed slightly.

"Forgive my rudeness and beg my pardon. I do not wish to interrupt your conversation."  he said to Mila charmingly.

"No. That is alright. You weren't interrupting, was he... Gypsina?" Mila told him still clutching the bottle she'd been drinking from.

"No... No... Bella. He was not interrupting us at all." the Gypsy spoke with a typsy smile giggling slightly.

"I am Count Stalstad, and this is my good friend..." the Count was interrupted.

"I am Heir Volfolk, at your service." his voice much deeper he held out his hand.

Mila accepted it noting bestial strength behind his tender grip.

"You must forgive my friend. He is a bit forward and does not often pay right to that which is cuth and held in turn..." the Count smirked at the Heir.

"I only act without thinking while you think without acting. It is in that moment that one could miss a treasure." the Heir replied looking into Mila's eyes.

The Count paused remaining calm and collect while looking over at the Heir.

"And how might you feel about that statement might I ask dear Lady...?" the Count looked towards Mila and the Gypsy patiently waiting.

"How does one know when they've found a treasure or a trap? Thinking before one acts could avoid such prats and pitfalls you know?" Mila paused as the Heir retreated slightly.

"Duly noted." the Heir nodded looking over to the Count whose smile was quaint and modest yet pronounced without gloating.

"This is Lady Gypsina and I am Mila." Mila looked to the Heir and then to the Count.

"It is my honour and pleasure to make the acquaintance of two such lovely ladies." the Count accepted the Gypsy's hand and then Mila's, bowing and touching each in turn to his forehead.

"My honour." the Heir hardly waited for them to be done with the Count before he accepted a hand from each lady, lightly nibbling Mila's finger instead. Mila quickly withdrew her hand blushing slightly though appearing slightly defensive.

"Mind him not. The Heir always treads heavily where a light step is needed you know. Its in his nature." the Count commented on Mila's reaction.

Friday January 9, 2015 3:17 PM

"Or forward into a place where no steps should be taken." Mila said firmly and growing impatient.

The Heir raised an eyebrow looking over to the Count perhaps communicating something privately.

"Best also not to patronize us." Mila continued.

"Yes, we are ladies after all." the Gypsy backed Mila's assertion up much to the amazement of the other inhabitants of the festival.

"Your advice will be heeded for certain and the next time I venture from my humble abode at this time, I shall be sure to bring my friend out on a leash." the Count said slightly scolding the Heir.

"It is not so much a leash that may be required, as much as somewhere to put his droppings and take them with you when you leave." Mila said firmly.

"Again, my lady Mila, please do forgive us. I'll ensure that only he steps in his droppings from this point on." the Count looked to the Heir scornfully.

"Ohhh I like her." the Heir said with a slightly menacing smile and a growing rage hidden slightly behind his eyes.

Mila looked into them and saw something hidden behind them, peering out from within and trying desperately to get out and at her. She momentarily felt fear and the overwhelming need to run. Flee. As far as she could. That feeling was quickly replaced as she was overwhelmed and felt as though she'd just given up. Like there was nothing left for her to do but wait for the inevitable. Like the fauna from from a forest caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, unable to move. Just a matter of time. A short time at that though it felt like an eternity. A life lived in a moment. She was reeled back to reality by the Count's words.

"We did not come here to create conflict, but to offer those of you willing, a place to continue your festivities and a place to stay for the night should things run into the wee hours." the Count turned and presented the Castle, which strangely enough Mila had not noticed before he had mentioned it.

"Of course this offer is open to all of you. I have two coaches that will pick you up and drop you off as you desire. They'll keep running this road until all are at the Castle." the Count stated in full presentation of his offer.

He turned quietly to Mila.

"Perhaps then we could speak and heal the earlier wounds and salvage a friendship from the mire of foolishness beset by the Heir?" the Count asked Mila sincerely.

"I'm afraid that is up to lady Gypsina. If she should desire to go then so shall I." Mila answered confidently though still very much affected by what she had seen in the Heir's eyes.

"Come when and if you desire. Until again we meet." the Count bowed before the ladies and the crowd.

"Yes, I'm sure it will be quite interesting." the Heir snickered coldly as he too bowed.

The two turned and made their way back to the coach and to the Castle. The Heir had stopped when he'd seen Mila turn, her back to him. He raised his hand fluttered two of his fingers while speaking a curse. Mila had not felt it but the necklace that fastened the amulet to her neck had broken free. The Amulet fell silently to the cobblestone and bounced just under a table, the broken necklace still attached.

"Let's see how you fare without your protective artifact." the Heir spoke quietly in the night air.

Mila had turned to confer with the Gypsy about whether they'd be attending.

"What do you think? Is it safe? Do you think I'll find Barris there?" Mila asked the Gypsy.

"Perhaps that question might work from another point of view? It is the biggest place around here, except for the town. Where would he look for you? When you think of a place, that is the place that you must go." the Gypsy answered her in honest wisdom.

"...And if you go, I will attend with you Bella." the Gypsy said comforting Mila.

"Then let us both go and find Barris, while we enjoy the night's festivities. In a real Castle." Mila played with the thought for often such maintained Castles were a treasure trove of artistic works. Works she'd loved to see with with Barris who also had the same and similar such appreciation. That would be a romantic salvage to their already perfect evening together. That would be her treasure though she did not ask herself if it was a trap having completely forgotten what she'd seen in those eyes.

The Road

By the time Sato and Barris had made it to the outer edge of town it was just before eleven. Barris had fixed the necklace and tied it around his wrist, not daring to put it on. Mila had never spoken to him about it, nor had she responded to any of his inquiries about it. She'd treated it like it did not exist at all or perhaps like it was a part of her. She'd never take it off, even when they'd showered or made love and it was not before long that Barris just accepted the fact that she did not want to even acknowledge it. Barris only knew that it was a great burden to her and that she could never discuss it. Ever. It was so odd that he'd ended up with it and it chilled him when he'd thought about it. He kept his mind on her sitting somewhere, on the steps of the Castle perhaps just waiting for him to arrive. Standing when she'd seen him and the two running to meet each other in an embrace they'd never break.

Barris had not said a word to Sato since they'd found it, just communicating in customary gestures and friendly intuition though Barris took this very seriously. In the distance ahead of them they'd heard a horse, perhaps clearing its throat or maybe flustered by a long period of inactivity. It bellowed then stamped its front hooves down in place.

Barris and Sato looked at each other to verify if they'd heard it or if it was just their imagination. That is when the whinnied and they both dashed in the direction of its sound. There around a bend in the road and just beyond some trees was a horse drawn carriage, a coach sat high upon the canopy with the reigns in his hands.

"Can you take us to the Castle. Please?" Barris asked bending over slightly out of breath.

"The door is open. Mind your step." the coach spoke emotionlessly.

Barris looked at Sato once again and Sato nodded in agreement. Barris opened the latched door to the carriage and stepped in taking a seat in the far corner, The interior of the carriage was much bigger than he'd anticipated, easily holding as many as eight people if need be. The horses pulling the coach were four enormous Clydesdales, built of solid muscle and preened to the mane, The seats were slightly padded and the ride was somewhat bumpy but it was luxury, and most definitely an incredible stroke of luck or fate, or both. The coach did not say a thing during the entire trip and the horses did not miss a step as they'd run this path too many times for either them or their handlers to count.

Beyond the forest wall was pure blackness and a mist veiled the road slightly. Barris imagined they were on a cloud boat destined for a Castle in the sky. Perhaps from a children's fairy tale or an adult's nightmare. Perhaps one and the same, the only difference being the ears that heard them and the mind's eye which saw them. Barris thought that some children's fairy tales were the terror of adults in a thinly crafted disguise. After all, he was riding a coach to the magical Castle to find his lost princess where she was being held captive by...? As an adult he felt terrified of what might have happened to her and he peered into the Amulet once more. The Amulet of which she'd never confided to him. She who had shared her deepest secrets with him and the only evidence he'd found of her being was that about which she'd remained silent for the time he'd known her.

The coach ground to a stop at the base of what appeared a long stone walkway that stretched to the Castle for a distance of two football fields.

"Please exit the carriage. Mind your step." the voice of the coach drolled.

"You mean you could not just take us the whole way?" Barris stepped out relunctantly.

"A lot of help you are." he said as the coach turned and returned to the outskirts of the town.

"We'd best make haste." Sato said determinately starting the walk up the stone walkway.

From just beyond the wall of the forest which surrounded the Castle, though dwarfed by it, they heard the sound of snarling and growling. It followed them as they ventured always just out of sight behind the forest wall.

"Oh great. Now what!" Barris peered into the darkness.

"Barris. Forget about the forest. Let's get on with..." Sato did not have time to finish his sentence before an enormous beast leapt from the cover of the trees directly at Barris pouncing atop of him. Barris was winded gasping for breath as the beast snarled and snapped at his face. Sato wasted no time and kicked the beast in its snout, sending it yelping backward for a moment. Sato helped Barris to his feet as another four similar beasts leapt from the forest and onto the stone walk surrounding them.

Barris wasted no time and gestured with his hands, and shouting exactly as he'd learned from Mila's instruction.

"Selmelth fargwaeth!" he yelled and a blinding flash caught each of the beasts just at the end of their snouts.

They yelped running in circles bumping into each other in the night while Sato and Barris took the opportunity to flee. They ran without any thought of the need to breath as fast as they could for the front of the Castle. Behind them the yelps of the beasts subsided and their bounding onslaught could be heard closing the distance. Barris tripped and fell flat upon the unforgiving stone as one of the beasts landed atop of him. He rolled as the beast snapped at the back of his neck and its canines just missed him by inches. Sato punched at its snout sending it flying backward and running for the forest. The remaining four encircled them and closed in for the kill.

Barris once again got to his feet, his left elbow badly bruised as was once of his legs. He only had once choice.

"Weave this do I, with my sight,
for soon ye will hence take up flight
for now are you beset by fright!" Barris evoked the verse while trying another weave Mila had taught him.

A glowing burst of energy sprang from the aether and enveloped each of the beasts and they turned and fled, following their injured pack member into the darkness and cover of the forest.

"That was a good one! Since when did you start taking up the weave?" Sato asked, cheering his friend on.

"She's been teaching me. Only a very little but I seem to have caught on at least a bit. I've never tried that before. That was the first time I've shaped it for myself." Barris could not believe his eyes.

By the time the self doubt hit him, he looked to the Amulet.

"Must be from this." Barris said quietly to himself.

"I think not. I think that it is from you and your thoughts of Mila. You doubt yourself too much and that is why life happens to you and you do not often enough happen to life. Like a boat on an ocean limited to the direction of the waves and the wind." Sato offered his friend.

"What, are you saying that I have to make my own waves? Make my own wind?" Barris asked.

"Yes. Sometimes you do. Even when there is nothing carrying you anywhere or in any direction. Especially when that is the case. This is proof that we are close to Mila and you made the means to save of from disaster no doubt to find and rescue her." Sato told him.

"It is. Isn't it." Barris said with honest relief and determination.

They brushed off and continued their journey to the Castle, Barris limping slightly.

"Sato?" Barris said to his friend.

"Yes?" Sato answered.

"Thank you." Barris said quietly and confidently.

"It is you who saved us." Sato expressed honestly.

"No. Not for what you did. For what you said." Barris told him.

"Yes. Words can have a far greater impact than we know. The power to heal and also to hurt." Sato told his friend.

"Then thanks for the healing." Barris said.

"Thanks for the poetry. It was good for an on the spot improv. It was on the spot wasn't it?" Sato replied.

"Yes it was made upon the spot as much and more than it was not." Barris smiled.

Tuesday January 13, 2015 9:41 PM Updated

"Don't push it." Sato winked but still holding a firm look on his face.

"Fine. You be grumpy and I'll find Mila." Barris said walking up the tremendous stone steps toward the front door.

The doors were at least fourteen feet tall and made from a variety of hard woods but mostly oak. They curved across the top to follow the form of the stone arch-doorway that housed them. Embossed across their surface were a variety of shapes and various creatures, much like hieroglyphics. The work was so intricate in fact that Barris found it hard to believe that it was a carving at all.

"Where do you suppose we knock?" Barris asked Sato.

Sato paused a moment looking at Barris with amusement then reached over to a hidden alcove beside the stone doorway itself and found a rope which was wound through hidden pullies both above and below the doorway. He tugged with a bit of effort and a variety of bells were heard from behind the doors. Sato looked back at Barris, his eyebrow raised slightly.

"The surface looks a bit hard for a knock you know." Barris commented.

On the other side of doorway, a tremendous bolt could be heard moving and a latch twice its size caught it somewhere within. When the echoes subsided, the door opened just slightly with the balancing of air pressure between the outside and beyond into the interior.

"Not quite what I expected but then again I've never been to a Castle." Barris said casually to Sato.

"I cannot say the same, however I have never been to this Castle if it is any constellation my friend." Sato responded.

Barris pushed hard against the door and it slowly opened revealing a large stone foyer dimly lit by hat appeared to be gas lanterns fastened to the walls. Barris paused to take it all in.

"This way please." a man stepped from the shadows and approached.

Barris jumped back a few feet nearly into Sato. Sato pushed him away urging him to take the lead.

"Do you think the Doctor would do something like that?" Sato asked him somewhat rhetorically.

"Doctor who?" Barris asked.

"Exactly." Sato responded.

"Very funny." Barris rolled his eyes,

The two of them followed the man, who was dressed somewhat like a relic of time, one that Sato could appreciate more so than Barris. He led them through a hallway and down some stairs to what appeared to be a dungeon. The oddly dressed man turned and followed another hall towards another large set of doors.

"Here you are gentlemen." the man presented the doors to them in the darkness.

Barris who had already felt a bit uneasy looked to Sato once again.

"Thank you kind sir." Sato offered the man looking back to Barris reaching for the door.

"Wait. Why did you bring us down here?" asked Barris.

"We bring all guests to the dungeon." the man answered with a somewhat sinister smile upon his face.

Barris tensed as Sato open the door.

The music blared out and inside much to Sato and Barris' surprise was a somewhat modern party inside, lights, dance and many people.

Barris pushed past Sato looking for Mila in the crowd. He scanned the room and his gaze found her, in conversation with a well dressed and stately man.

Barris ran the distance to her as fast as his feet would carry him. When he arrived, he threw his arms around her and pulled her close to himself. She paused momentarily and then struggled against his grasp.

"Who the hell are you?" Mila asked him pushing him away.

Barris paused a moment, his smile leaving and then finding its way back onto his face.

"C'mon honey. Don't joke like that. I was really worried about you... Sorry honey, I lost your sherbet. I didn't forget." he appealed to her.

She looked at him momentarily trying to place his face.

"You remember me? How about Sato? You must remember... We went to L'Arbor De Noir and we rescued Yirfir..." Barris struggled with disbelief.

She only looked at him not recognizing him.

"How do you know Yirfir?" Mila asked him.

"Sir, I'm afraid you've had a bit too much to drink. Perhaps you'd like to sit down and calm down lest I have you removed?" the gentleman she'd been talking with intervened.

"Look, this is my fiance. Look at my ring!" he pointed to his engagement ring.

"And should she not have a matching ring according to your customs?" the gentleman asked.

"Yes. Precisely my point." Barris answered grasping at the futility of the situation.

Mila held up her hands and there was no such matching ring or band upon them.

Barris' heart sank.

"Mila. I can't believe this. Wait! Wait! Your amulet. The one you never..." Barris held up the amulet that was wrapped around his wrist.

She stared into it and mouthed his name.

",,,Barris..." she spoke barely audibly under the music.

The gentleman stepped in between them.

"Look sir, if you'd kindly make your way to another location the lady clearly does not want to be with you." he flashed his eyes at him pressing his self between them.

Barris redoubled his efforts and pushed him aside.

"Look Mila! This man is playing you! You need to press beyond this!" Barris pushed the man aside and presented himself.

Another man, much more menacing than the gentleman interposed himself at once.

"Look mate. You don't want to mess with me. My friend here is daisies and flowers and I'm meat, All of it! I'll devour you whole. He's the voice and I'm the claw if you know what I mean." the man yelled at him with a fierce in his eyes or rather behind them.

Sato at once latched onto Barris' shoulders.

"I'm sorry. My friend has had far too much to drink. He's full of himself tonight let me tell you." Sato spun Barris and slapped him twice in the face secretly winking at him.

"Barris! Barris! Snap out of it man! Let's just go sit somewhere else." Sato urged him.

Barris resisted momentarily and then decided it might be better to regroup with Sato.

The claw man released his tremendous grip upon Barris and Sato pulled him to the opposite side of the dance floor. Sato found a table and sat him down at it taking a seat beside him.

"Barris. Something is wrong. We're not dealing with something normal here, like the world you know." Sato told Barris trying to calm him long enough to devise a plan.

"She can't remember me! I cannot think of anything worse!" Barris sat in shock of the situation.

Barris looked around at the converted dungeon which had obviously become the playground for this jet setter man who'd whisked Mila away from him. The room was the size of a mid sized dance club like the ones he'd gone to on occasion at home when he was younger. There were many people on the dance floor and others at a bar which was serviced by similarly dressed men to the one who'd greeted them when they'd arrived. Mila appeared completely enamoured of the gentleman whom she was talking with and this drove Barris to a fit of jealousy and near rage.

"Hang on friend! You must resist your emotions and concentrate upon earning her love. She loves you and that cannot be lost as easily as it might appear." Sato reassured his friend knowingly.

A woman dressed in what appeared to be gypsy garb sat herself down at their table.

"You must be her one true love. I can help you Bella. I can. You must trust me." the Gypsy said.

[Friday November 27, 2015 3:55 AM Newest addition]

"Maybe I am not hers. Maybe we were not meant to..." Barris said aloud to himself but perhaps seeking reprise.

"If you are looking for reprieve from one such as I, then you're already done. How I know, don't ask. The world she is a crazy place you know. I can only look at what the crystal says or how the cards fall. Then I know but sometimes they don't listen. What about you Bella? Do you listen to what I say? Can you?" the Gypsy queried Barris.

"She's already enamored with... that beastly man or maybe the Gentle man. Look at me! What can I offer her compared to them?" Barris said in self misery.

"Then they've already won if you're written yourself off so easily. You are defining yourself by your fears of inadequacy for her. Mila I take it." the Gypsy said to Barris empathically.

"She's enamored by him. Can't you see? Its the... amulet. Wait. The amulet! That's what she inherited from her battle with the Power Lord in Alivale! Where I fell protecting her!" Barris said looking to the Gypsy for answers.

"It seems you've fallen more than once." the Gypsy spoke aloud to him sarcastially.

"Hey! I only fall for her." Barris said to the Gypsy in a defensive tone.

"So I gathered and I can say for sure that you've fallen." the Gypsy replied.

"..." Barris looked at her and she returned the glance.

"There are some battles Bella that one must pursue beyond their fears and false sense of what they trust." the Gypsy told Barris, looking through him.

Sato looked to the Gypsy and understood her point. He nodded to her inferring he'd take over from where she'd left off.

"I told you the story of my lost love did I not friend?" Sato asked Barris.

"Which one?" Barris asked sarcastically.

"The only one I've mentioned. My quest for the stone. A stone of value. You remember." Sato held his contempt for Barris' inference of infidelity.

Barris nodded affirmatively to Sato.

"Well one of the things that happened with our love affair. My greatest lost love was that she showed me her leg... right up to the top of her thigh... the very top... a delicate affair... so beautiful... her eyes... her lips and her leg right there at that..." Sato said lustfully savoring his recall of her.

"I always knew you were a horny old man..." Barris said stingingly.

"Old!" Sato replied sharply.

"So you admit you're not horny?" Barris asked as he settled into his self pity.

"If you mean horns like a devil you've lost your sight. I saw the beauty of her wonderful wholeness of her sensual mind and body. Her mind and body you fool. Know you not the beauty of your beauty Mila?" Sato responded sharply without falling into the youth's trap.

Barris sat quietly realizing that Sato was not one to be toyed with via the arrogance of the self conceit of youth. Wisdom had fewer openings than it might seem. Sato had understood that to seek such openings was in the first place a sign of the arrogance of youth. In short: foolishness. Though foolishness that Sato admired and was willing to forgive from a friend such as Barris who'd caught him many times in laughter off guard. Perhaps that was what defined a true friend. One whose opening one could poke at without any reprise but that of laughter and the ability to laugh at one's own ideosyncracies. Sato was able to laugh as much at himself more often than Barris though Barris often made that balance a precarious one.

"Continue old man..." Barris said still heart heavy of his own plight.

Sato tensed for a moment before seeing his best friend's humor.

"She at that moment had hinted that she'd not wanted me to pursue her. She'd sluffed me off. Thrown me away! I was devastated!" Sato said to Barris his thoughts still heavy on the memory of her luscious thighs.

"Mila's gone. She's fallen for a..." Barris said oblivious of Sato's story.

"Did you even hear a word of what I said? You call yourself a friend yet your ears are only open to your own pain?" Sato asked him.

Barris considered what his friend had said before he noticed that Mila had migrated to the dance floor with the Gentile. His fists clenched and he cringed with the thought of Mila in hands with this man in a love making clench in the height of passion.

"Ahem!" Sato said intruding upon Barris' fears.

"I'm sorry Sato." Barris said spying the dance floor though listening whole heartedly to his life friend.

"As I was saying. Her leg was enticingly obvious. She'd indicated that she wasn't interested in me yet she'd exposed herself in such a way that she'd known would drive me to... She'd known my soft spot for her. That place of her that drove me to passion..." Sato struggled to keep his passion for memory contained.

Barris looked over and finding himself interested in Sato's story.

"That's better Barris. Now listen to what I have to say... She'd said one thing but indicated another to me by signal. She'd known I was enamored of her. Women are like that sometimes. It's a lady's prerogative you know. To do that to their lovers. Lure them and catch their attention and then toy with them. Those dastardly creatures that they are..." Sato said still savoring his memory of her.

"Are you saying that my natural modern rennaissance artist Mila is trying lure me by showing me the top of her amulet?" Barris tried to fit his interpretation of Sato's story into his situation.

Sato steamed in frustration for a moment shaking his head in his hands.

"No my best friend and I fear if you do not see it that I've failed you. You have eyes for beauty and great love but you've not eyes for when your one true love is saying: catch me if you want me!" Sato replied pleading with Barris.

Barris considered what his best friend had said to him. Was Mila showing him her thigh? Was she testing him and measuring his merit as a lover by his ability to pursue her when he'd lost her?

"Do not defeat yourself my friend. Chase her if you want her. If you didn't then I suppose we'd both be somewhere else. Serendipity is a strange bedfellow and one nought to constrain. As if she's the one magic trick that you want to never go away. Ever." Sato said in a mixture of intro and retrospect.

"He's right. Aside from the fact that he's an old man with a fetish for thighs." the Gypsy affirmed for Barris.

"Are you saying that Mila doesn't have beautiful thighs?" Barris asked the Gyspy.

The Gypsy shook her head as her attempt at levity flew well above Barris' head. Naivety sometimes harbored innocence which sometimes harbored a decided lack of appreciation for the sarcasm of others.

"You obviously love her. So go for her!" the Gypsy urged Barris.

"I'll help you friend." Sato assured Barris.

"I can love her myself thank you very much. Her and me." Barris said looking at Sato accusingly.

Barris stepped up to the dance floor and edged his way through the music towards his one true love. He let the rhythm work through his body and find his center. He swayed to it synchronizing himself to Mila's motion. She watched the Gentile religiously holding his sway. The beast held his beside her still competing with the gentile for her attention.

"Welp?! What for art thou here? Our table scraps perchance?" the Heir Volfolk inquired of Barris flexing his body for Mila to bear witness.

Mila held her glance to the Gentile Count Stalstad still enamored of him and his sensitive and intelligent lure. Heir Volfolk held her in contempt and approached her.

"The night is still but young as is your lure. One so new as yourself is so easily caught in the guiles of one such as this..." the beast gestured to his mutual contemporary.

Barris eased his way as seductively as he could elicit toward his enamored Mila. She took little notice of him and concentrated on the gentile.

Barris moved as enticingly as he could though he was not able to keep pace with his more abled competition.

"He's relying on what is not her. She's found something else in him. Something... not..." the Gypsy expressed.

"Me?" Barris asked.

"Exactly Bella." the Gypsy answered.

Barris held the amulet tight in his grip before he realised that it was the secret to her release.

"Mila. Do you remember the night when I slept in the living room cabinet...?" Barris asked her showing her the amulet.

Barris had reminded her of the time that he'd gone to the kitchen after they'd made love. He sought to bring a snack to her in bed but Mila's Mother had nearly caught him naked in the kitchen. Barris to avoid capture had evaded her to the living room cabinet where he ended up spending the whole night.

She stared at the amulet strangely at first until within she spied the memory about which Barris had been talking.

"...Barris... it's time for bed... where's my snack..." she spoke aloud.

"She remembers..." Barris said aloud.

"Of course she remembers. Its me she's remembering." the Heir Volfolk told Barris.

Count Stalstad looked at them both and caught Mila's eye.

"No. Its me she really wants..." he replied to Mila and Barris both.

[Friday November 27, 2015 4:17 PM Latest Update]

"Look. I think you should give the lady and her man a little space." Heir Volfolk stepped forward imposing himself into Barris' space.

Barris held his ground against the larger man.

"I'm not going to budge." Barris said defiantly crossing his arms.

The beastly man took a look around and then clamped his hands firmly on the sides of Barris' shoulders, picking him up and placing him a few steps away. Mila did not take notice of Barris but instead remained enamored of her host.

Sato stepped up to his friend's defense tapping the brutish Volfolk on his shoulder from behind.

"Huh?" Heir Volfolk replied turning to see the much smaller Sato before him.

"Unhand my friend and keep him unhanded. We are here but to enjoy ourselves." Sato suggested to Heir Volfolk.

"So am I. At least as much as I'll enjoy tearing you to pieces..." Heir Volfolk replied as if a beast were peering out from behind his eyes.

"Silence! This is to be a party! We are here to enjoy ourselves and the company of our guests. Keep your testosterone laden hind in order Heir Volfolk. I must apologize for my friend's behavior. He tends to get out of hand at times. Mr... Barris is it? Sato? Please do feel free to enjoy yourselves. The Steward of the Keep will show you to some of the guest quarters if you'd like to stay. Mila and I are going to retire, aren't we?" Count Stalstad fetched Mila's hand and she followed him.

At that point the Gypsy approached Barris as he watched in disbelief his love depart with the Count. The Gypsy shook him.

"Bella! Bella! I have an idea. We need to get to a guest room." the Gypsy suggested.

"Are you crazy! I'm not going to jump in the sack with you so soon after she left with..." Barris said in shock.

She smirked at him looking to Sato who shrugged.

"That's not what I meant. We need to get to the guest quarters and I can help you to reach her but you must trust me. You too Sato." the Gypsy beckoned them both.

They each took one of her arms and escorted her to the Steward who stood by the entrance to the banquet hall of the Keep. He looked at them as they approached raising his eyebrow slightly in shock.

"Bella, we'd like to go to our guest room right now if we could. I've found all the company that I need for the night." the Gyspy said smiling invitingly to Barris and Sato.

"Of course Madame. Would you please come this way." the Steward replied blandly.

The climbed the stairs of the Keep up three floors and walked a hall that connected to the main entry way and foyer of the Keep. There he turned to a door adjacent the railings and opened the door.

"Your quarters Madame." the Steward directed them inward.

"Thank you, Bella." the Gypsy replied to the Steward.

"Uhhh... do we need to tip him?" Barris felt around rummaging through his pockets for money.

Barris presented the Steward with a few coins.

"It's quite alright, Sir. I'm fine." the Steward rejected Barris' gratuity instead turning to return to the banquet hall.

Sato grabbed the door as the Gypsy pulled Barris inside and over to the bed.

"Lie down." she said to him directing him to the large canopied bed at the far end of the chambers.

"Really?" he replied to her in surprise.

"Relax, Bella. You're not my type. I'm going to set up a dream link between you and Mila. There you can talk with her in private and make plans to rescue her. But you have to trust me!" the Gypsy explained to him.

Sato sat in an overstuffed chair next to the fireplace and relaxed gathering his energy for what may be a long night.

Barris stepped up to the large bed and slipped between the veil encircling it as the Gypsy followed.

"Now Bella I want you to lie down, get comfortable and close your eyes. Think about your love: Mila. Remember her face. Her body. Her voice. Her smile. Concentrate on her. Now remember her heart beat like you did the first time that you noticed it. Think of it beating and follow it back to her. To her body. To her smile. To her thoughts. Her dreams..." the Gypsy's voice faded as Barris' consciousness slipped into the darkness.

Barris awakened in the grove behind Mila's house. The colors of the leaves and the fragrance of autumn in the air. The hues of the sky and the grove itself were alive and dancing with vibrant color and texture. There amongst the fallen leaves he spied Mila.

She was wearing a short pink gown, one of his favorites. The one with the butterfly collage she'd stitch and stained to the silk dress. Her feet were bare and she herself was enjoying the grove and the feel of the still warm wind upon her body.

"Barris!" she exclaimed when she saw him.

She ran through the leaf scattered landscape towards as did he to her.

They met in embrace and their lips met in a long and passionate kiss.

"I thought I'd lost you." Barris said to her kissing her again gently as she bit his lip.

"No. Count Stalstad has some kind... power. Its not the weave like we know it. Like I've been teaching you. It feels unnatural. Lifeless. Stale and musty. It feels disgusting but my body cannot resist it. Inside I'm trying to free myself from his clutches. That power but it's hopeless." Mila explained to him as she admired him and the texture of his face perhaps remembering it for a future work of art.

"I've got your amulet. The one you... never talk about. Is that it? The reason? Why can't you tell me?" Barris asked her looking into her eyes.

"Barris, I love you more than life itself. Believe me. But I can't tell you. You have to trust me. Please. If you love me don't press me about that. Please." Mila pleaded with him.

Barris nodded affirmatively his smile returning to his face.

"I won't ask you again. I have it. I have to get it to you. To your body." Barris told her.

"Yes. It protected me from such powers as the Count's. Be careful though. He's very dangerous and ancient. Not quite like Lorr but still very deadly. Heir Volfolk too. He's a beast of some form. A shape changer and possibly a lupis lycanthropicus." Mila told him.

"A what?" Barris asked her.

"A Werewolf. Or Were-something. He's a savage killer. Protect yourself. Look for the Gypsy. She'll know what to do and may be able to help you against both of them." Mila told him then planting another kiss upon his mouth.

"I've already found her. She's the one who helped me to make this collect call." Barris said in levity.

"Collect? Nooo way honey. You've got the tab on this call. Be good and we'll have a special night at home when we get back." Mila joked with him.

"Promise?" Barris smiled.

"We'll see. Don't get hurt and get help. He's beckoning me right now. I must go. It takes every bit of my willpower to resist him. I cannot afford to be away when he tries." Mila explained to Barris.

"I'll be with you soon. We'll stop them. You. Myself. Sato and the Gypsy. We'll stop them together." Barris assured her.

"I'll always love you..." she said as she drifted from view.

The colors of the grove disappeared and darkened as Barris' eyes once again adjusted to the lighting of the guest chamber of the Keep.

[Saturday November 28, 2015 9:37 PM Barris And The Gypsy]

"She's alright! She looked... so beautiful. In her head. Seeing the world through her eyes. Just beauty." Barris said as he leaned up on the bed nearly colliding with the head of the Gypsy who watched over him.

"This is good news Bella. More than that I can't tell you." the Gypsy assured him with a coy smile on her face.

"She mentioned you. You've met her before? She said you knew the answer. The mystery of the ancient ones..." Barris got up from the bed and began walking in circles as he thought aloud.

"Yes Bella. I know too much. We've long been held in their struggle for control of our land. The lands of the ancient Vlad. That drunken Irish man wrote about us too. The anients found it amusing his muses on what he thought was a fable." the Gypsy commented.

"You mean Stoker? Bram was one of my favorite authors next to Shelley, Verne and Wells of course. You mean he was talking about something real?" Barris said in shock as if a veil that had concealed his world view had been lifted.

"He was writing about the legends. Many of my country people despised him for doing so. The ancients during that dark time toyed with us even after he'd revealed that truth. He was trying to help us. Instead they rounded us up calling us a bunch of drunken Gypsies. Living where we could when we could. The ancients knew that we alone possessed the knowledge to stop them. We for a hundred generations have nurtured the knowledge of the seers. We long have peered into the depths that few have. We've learned their weaknesses and most of all, we know their strengths." the Gypsy replied deep in retrospect.

Her thoughts fell upon the dark times of past when her kind were hunted to the brink of extinction. The Gypsy nomads of Vlad's lands. Never fitting in with the lives of those who'd settled into society and the villages. Instead they were forced to eek an existence from what they could garner by the services they sold to the villages. Often drawn from their unique and learned knowledge of lore and legend such as fortune telling. Card and tea reading. Palmistry. Many had seen them as living on the fringe. Feeding on society much like the ancients themselves. It wasn't until the first real onslaught upon the villages and when the ancients had begun openly feeding upon the civilized that the villages and towns accepted the Gypsies as their most prized allies. For they alone possessed the knowledge that the people once had. The means to fend off the worst of the ancients. The feeders and the beasts. Ever their struggle for power over her lands and their people.

"So can you help me? She said you could. Can you?" Barris asked her.

"I can help you if that is what I must do." the Gypsy replied.

"We're back on track Sato. Sato?" Barris prodded his friend who'd fallen asleep.

"Yes. I was... meditating. Forgive me. I must have meditated a little too..." Sato sat up and got to his feet rubbing his eyes and obviously tired.

"If we were closer to my shop. I could... But no. We have to make due with what we have." the Gypsy thought about their options.

"I will need you to gather some things for me from in here. Get one of the basins and fill it with water and bring it to me. Go to the basement and fetch some of the balloons from the party. I've got herbs and cloves that will protect you along with this symbol. The star of the Gypsies. Our most sacred ornament and the most powerful protection against the ancients. Now go and fetch me those things as I have asked and quickly Bella." the Gypsy urged Barris.

Barris looked to Sato who nodded and accompanied his friend without hesitation.

"You know, if we get through this, we should have no problem with your wedding." Sato commented.

"How'd you know I was thinking of asking her? Are you psychic too?" Barris said to his friend as they descended the stairs to the main foyer.

"You don't need to be psychic to see the obvious." Sato told Barris.

"Well. Yes. I'd been planning to. But I've been lets say working up the capitol. For a ring." Barris told Sato.

"A ring. Yes a symbol of marriage in the west for certain. An unbroken loop. And with this symbol you believe that would give you the courage to ask of her such a question?" Sato posed of him.

"Well. Yes! Of course I would. There's no courage in such a thing." Barris said to him.

"Yes there is. More so than you know. If you do not understand that then perhaps you do not understand marriage and the commitment it entails?" Sato asked him as they arrived at the bottom of the stairs surprised to see that many party goers were still drinking and dancing.

"I understand that I love her. That feeling has not dwindled but only grown since the first time we met in your shop two years ago." Barris told him.

"Yes but how many of life's challenges have you tackled that have challenged your feelings for each other. How many times has she found the toilet seat up. How many times has she had to clean up after you. How many times have you had to clean up after her. How many times have you found things about each other that annoyed you and challenged your unity? Her snoring? Your snoring?" Sato asked.

"Why would you even ask that of me? Of us?" Barris asked him.

"I'm playing the devil's advocate. If someone doesn't challenge your love for her, who will? I am concerned that my best friend might not know what he really wants." Sato said to him.

"Why? Because you have a relative you'd rather me marry so you can keep me in your family?" Barris asked.

"No. Because I am concerned that you might not be ready for such a decision." Sato said to him.

"I am and you have no right, even as my best friend and potentially my best man to stop me! I love her and that is that!" Barris said to him stopping as they collected balloons.

Sato stopped for a moment and looked at him smiling.

"We're about to confront an ancient and powerful evil that has kept these people hostage for millennia in order to rescue my potential wife to be from their clutches armed with nothing more than a few garlic cloves, a necklace and a few balloons. If that is not love I don't know what is!" Barris said to his friend.

Sato started laughing followed by Barris. They both burst out laughing at the situation and Sato and his realization of Barris commitment to her.

"You really do love her. I think that if you're ready to face them with this arsenal that she might overlook you leaving the toilet seat up a few times." Sato said to him.

"Or I might overlook her snoring." Barris said to him.

"She snores? I don't think that she's right for you!" Sato said in all seriousness before his face once again broke out in a smile.

"I had you." Sato joked.

"You did and you still do Sato. You always will my friend." Barris assured his best friend.

They finished gathering the items that the Gypsy had requested and returned to the sleeping chambers where she sat in front of an arrangement of cards.

"I have asked the ancestors and they have answered. You will face many challenges on this night Bella. Her life and well being is at stake. You must succeed Bella. You must." the Gypsy.

"Get me ready to hunt the feeder and his lap dog. Let's get this done!" Barris said with confidence.

The Gypsy spent a half hour preparing the garlic cloves and herbs, some balloons which she had filled with the water from the basin after conducting some sort of ritual over the water with her Gypsy Star symbol. She lay the star down carefully before her and chanted before she retrieved it and stood.

"Bella. You take these. These cloves and herbs will keep you safe from the evil of the feeder and his beast. Together with my symbol and these balloons you will defeat the ancients that have kept our village in its clutches for centuries." the Gypsy told them.

"I feel like a kid again. Like this is a game at someone's birthday party." Barris commented.

"This is no joke Bella. This is very serious." the Gypsy said to him.

"I'm sorry. Thank you so much for all of your help." Barris accepted the balloon and the necklace of herbs and garlic.

"I feel like a shish-kebob. Can I get some barbecue sauce too?" Barris joked again.

"Bella!" the Gypsy yelled at him.

"Sorry!" Barris replied.

Sato and Barris snuck out of their chamber and headed up the stairs to the top floor of the Keep and to Count Stalstad's personal chambers where his soon to be fiance lay asleep as the Count prepared her for the ritual of spirit transfiguration. They were going to steal her soul.

[Sunday November 29, 2015 1:29 PM Conclusion ]

Barris approached the door to the sleep chamber of Count Stolstad. He slowly opened the door peeking his head inside. The room was dark yet under the moonlight he could see that on the bed Count Stolstad was intertwined with his Mila.

"It's worse than I thought!" Barris whispered to Sato.

"Let's go then. Make haste." Sato replied.

Barris grasped the cloves and garlic necklace mouthing don't fail me.  He pushed the door open and charged into the room towards the bed.

"Unhand her you wretch! You have your hands on the love of my life! The woman I intend to..." Barris yelled as he charged the bed, Sato following close behind.

Barris leapt for the bed landing between them and finding himself in a struggle with the Count. Sato got the lamp beside the bed and much to Barris' surprise, he was grasping at a complete stranger.

"You swine! You dare to charge into my room and proclaim your love for my wife!" the man in the bed responded to Barris' accusations.

"I'm uhhh... sorry. There's been... a mixup. I'm afraid... terribly sorry." Barris said retreating.

The lady in the bed retreated from him as she looked to him. A smile grew across her face as she blushed slightly.

"Terribly sorry... Milady. That was a complete mistake. My porter is to blame. Sato! How could you! You were supposed to get us to the Keep of Count Baron Duke!" Barris said thinking quickly as he snapped at Sato.

Sato rolled his eyes cradling his forehead in his hands.

"I apologize for the mix up. It must have been your directions! Sir!" Sato bowed as he replied refusing to bear the blame for Barris' mix up.

"Well then! Next time correct me when I'm wrong!" Barris said backing away from the bed and the couple.

"It would seem that your mistake was not a mistake at all but my cunning." Count Stolstad and Heir Volfolk intercepted them as the approached the exit to the chamber.

"Well at least you own up to it. I'll give you that." Barris said as he charged for Count Stolstad with the Gypsy star held in front of him.

"Back to the gates of... where ever you came from you dark lord of the abyss!" Barris screamed as he approached the solemn Count Stolstad.

"What is the meaning of this! This is an outrage! Count Stolstad, you invited us as your guests! Why now do you barge into our bed chambers unannounced with this crazed and maniacal buffoon and his porter!" the man in the bed yelled.

Heir Volfolk closed the large doors to the chamber behind himself as he stepped into the room.

"Well Stolstad, it looks like feeding time. What do you say?" Heir Volfolk said from beside his ancient compatriot.

"A good suggestion. I'll take the couple and the buxom of that lady. You take the loud mouthed Welshman and his arrogant knock off side kick." Count Stolstad suggested.

"You always get the girls. Alright." Heir Volfolk said instantly transforming from his human form into a large hairy wolf-like beast.

His head became elongated like that of a wolf and a row of large canines lined his slavering mouth. He roared and charged at Barris as Count Stolstad charged the couple.

Barris side stepped the wolf as it charged him. The wolf's claws slid on the hard stone floor unable to dig in. He slid for a distance before tripping on a crack and flying into the stone wall of the keep in the chamber.

"Ha ha! I beat Heir Wolf! Heir Wolf? I made a funny! Ha!" Barris proclaimed aloud backing up just slightly.

"At least he's not Heirless. He's got plenty of hair!" Sato said jumping in on the fun.

The wolf picked itself up from the stone floor clearly enraged and charged snarling at Barris.

Sato sidestepped the wolf sticking his leg out and tripping it as it charged his best friend.

Barris removed himself from the path of the wolf's fall. The wolf fell to the floor and slid into the stone wall once again as Barris retreated to the other side of the bed where Count Stolstad struggled with the couple.

Barris looked for a point of retreat and finding none he backed up to the window. By that point the wolf was back on his paws and ferocious and slavering. It stopped and howled. It's call echoed throughout the Keep and out into the wild many howls could be heard. Windows crashed from around the keep as wolves from the surrounding land leapt into the Keep and charged to Heir Volfolk's aid.

Their claws could be heard on the stone floor as they ran up the stairs. When they'd crested the top and were just outside of the closed doors to the bed chamber, the Gypsy confronted them.

Her hands were held before her as she cast her weave upon them. The magic leapt from her hands and found its way through every one of them. The pack of them took pause looking to her and fled in terror yelping and crying as they did. They quickly flew back through the windows which they came and fled into the wilds.

"Ciao!" she yelled after them.

She then opened the door to the chamber and proceeded in where Barris was corned by Heir Volfolk at the window.

She wound up a spell. Barris could see what was going on while Sato kept Heir Volfolk distracted. The wolf would snap at Sato and Sato would with his quick reflexes move and strike the wolf.

"Now Gypsy!" Barris yelled.

The Gypsy's spell flew from her hands and hit the wolf's tail sparking a small fire. Heir Volfolk turned his head and upon seeing his tail on fire leapt out of the window yelping and screaming. He landed several floors down on the paved grounds of the Keep and got up limping and running for the cover of wild. He was never to be seen again.

"Who says that you can't teach an old dog, new tricks." the Gypsy said aloud with a snicker on her face.

Count Stolstad unhanded the man with whom he'd been struggling on the bed and stood once again.

"Well. It seems I am cornered." Count Stolstad said to them.

He gestured and gazed into the Gypsy's eyes and she became enthalled without the protection of her Gypsy star. She became lost in his eyes as Mila had. She approached the Count slowly and stood before him.

"Now my darling, I will feed." he said to her hungrily.

Barris charged screaming at Count Stolstad. He grabbed two of the water balloons he'd strapped to his shirt throwing them like hand grenades. The first one hit him in his chest just under his breast pocket. The other hit him in his head. Barris watched in amazement waiting for the Count to melt or burst into flames. A few moments later and it was clear that nothing was happening.

"I take it that..." Barris started.

"Holy or blessed water? No. It's useless. Has no effect." Count Stolstad said in a matter of fact way.

"I see. What about...?" Barris said holding his garlic necklace up.

"No. I'm afraid that doesn't work either." Count Stolstad said quietly and calmly.

"Mirrors?" Barris asked him.

"Hmmm, that's a good question. No. I like mirrors. They're helpful especially when I have to shave." the Count said to him.

"Stakes? Through the heart maybe? How about that?" Barris said excited that he might have found a suggestion that might work.

"I think they'd probably work on just about anyone, wouldn't you? I mean come on. A stake through the heart? That's pretty much it. Lights out and your done." the Count said to Barris.

"Well I don't have any stakes. Hmmm. Alright then. Then I guess I'll have to bludgeon you to death with my bare hands... or to undeath... or whatever it is you are..." Barris said putting up his dukes.

The Count at once transformed into a hideously pale skinned ghastly looking visage of what he'd been moments ago. His eyes flared and glowed red contrasting the porcelain white of his skin. His shadow grew to encompass his aura.

"No. I instead will feed. Then I will kill all of you!" the Count spoke his voice dark, demonic and foreboding.

He turned to the Gypsy and advanced upon her. From the corner of his eye Barris saw Mila entering the chamber.

"Barris!" she screamed.

Barris grabbed her amulet from his pocket as he turned to her. He threw it to her and she caught it putting it on immediately.

"Count Stolstad. You have some explaining to do!" Mila said confidently as she approached him seductively.

"Mila! Oh... Mila. I was just... talking to the fine Lady Gypsina here. I was just going to..." Count Stolstad struggled to explain where he'd taken off to.

"Well don't you worry count because this girl is spoken for." she said as she arrived at Barris planting a passionate kiss upon his lips.

"Now if you'd be so kind as to release her." Barris said of the Gypsy.

Count Stolstad looked around at them each in turn.

"I insist." Sato said his arms crossed before him.

The Count lunged for the Gypsy's neck. Barris moved first and collided with his mid section barely moving him. The Count hefted Barris helplessly into the air throwing him across the room. Sato moved next throwing a solid line of punches up his abdomen. The Count reached for Sato as he dodged. Sato avoided the Count's grasp managing to land a kick in his solar plexus area. Sato smirked when the Count shrugged the blow off. The Count retaliated throwing Sato back across the room with a push. Sato rolled landing on his feet unharmed.

Mila began casting her weave which flew forth from her body like a solid rectangle about human height. It struck the Count casting him back against the wall. Mila kept her concentration upon the rectangle which imprisoned him against the wall of the chamber. He struggled against it trying to free himself from it. Mila struggled against him and pressed on drawing all of the strength she could as the stand off appeared about to break the glowing rectangle pressed Count Stolstad into a flattened projection. Slowly the colors of his face became the oils of paint upon a canvas. The glowing rectangle became a frame and an incredible oil paint portrait of the legendary Count Stolstad stood leaning against the wall of the chamber. All was silent.

"Did you do that honey? So quick! That's amazing!" Barris said finding her and embracing her feeling her silk dress against his body.

"I saw you in my dream!" Mila told him kissing his face.

"So did I. The best dream I've ever had." Barris said returning her kisses.

"Sato? Gypsy?" Mila invited their friends.

Sato and the Gypsy shyly moved in and joined the group hug.

"So do you get the impression that I really like you?" Barris asked Mila.

"Yes. I think you passed the test." she kissed his cheek and then his mouth.

"Its a good thing then." Sato said and smiled as Mila planted a kiss on his cheek.

"She's mine." Barris said firming his grip on Mila.

"Lucky for you Bella. Lucky for you." the Gypsy replied.

Epilogue

Barris wandered quietly into the front door of their house in Alivale.

"Honey. I got the ice cream and snacks for our night." he yelled up the stairs.

There was no answer.

"Honey?" he said aloud putting the ice cream into the freezer and warming his hands rubbing them together.

Barris stepped back through the dining room and to the living room where Mila had placed the portrait of Count Stolstad on the wall.

"We certainly got you. Didn't we!" he said to the oil painting.

He jumped back slightly when he thought he saw its eyes move. He calmed himself and after he'd convinced himself he was seeing things he continued his search.

He slowly made his way up the stairs and to her art study. He opened the door and looked around the room for her. Her latest work was hidden under a sheet and he dared not peek. Instead he backed up and closed the door making his way to the bed room.

He put his hands on the door knob and turned slowly opening it. The bedroom was decorated in candles and the bed was made with red silk sheets but there was still no sign of Mila.

"Ohhh... I see we're a little playful tonight are we...? Mila?" Barris said aloud still searching for her.

He stepped into the room and as he got closer to the bed he felt a pair of hands cover his eyes from behind. He smelled the slight essence of light perfume and potpourri.

He slowly removed her hands from his eyes and turned to take a look at her.

"Do you like?" she said to him seductively presenting herself to him.

"Some dreams do come true, don't they honey?" Barris said as he kissed her tender lips.

"Yes. They certainly do." Mila replied as she pushed him onto the bed and mounted him.

Copyright © 2014 Brian Joseph Johns

Dedicated to Isabel.