Chapter One
Page Title

copyright 2009:
PZ7.E576 L84
ISBN:     1440472467
EAN-13:  9781440472466


            Along a northern mountain pass a very special train moves along a track at a slow pace through a heavy rainstorm. While there are many other tracks through the mountain passes with many other trains, this train has its own that no others can ride on. Five times a week the Griffin Express moves between New York City and the Griffin Valley and never has there been a problem. The trip is always swift and the train is always on time. For reasons unknown this night things are very, very different. It looks as if for the first time ever the Griffin Express will not meet its schedule. The night's darkness is broken only by irregular flashes of lighting which illuminate the unusually heavy rain and the train's exceptionally slow progress.  The woodland around the mountain is dark and deep and as the lights from the train reach out there are unknown eyes reflecting back watching as the train passes. Talk of explosions and fire on the tracks ahead is heard across the engineer's radio. He is not sure what to make of it. No other train is allowed on his track!  The communications are garbled. The engineer is uncertain if the radio noise is about his track or some other. He calls for information but receives no instructions from the dispatchers, so he continues, slowly and cautiously. The Man is very upset.  It is completely unheard of!  For the first time ever his train will not be on time.

            The passengers have more than noticed the slow pace of the train. They keep up their complaints to the conductor. Many doubt they will make it to the valley by morning. A few harass the train employees. Most just stare out into the darkness and the heavy falling rain amazed by the reflections of the lightening off of the sides of the mountains.

            Into the train car enters a lovely young woman carrying a long cloak. She quickly glances at the other passengers then watches flashes from outside as she finds her seat. Her hair is red; her eyes are ice and blue and sparkled in the flashes of lightening that fill the car.  She sits down and just like everyone else begins to gaze out into the darkness. To anyone who notices her face is filled with worry. The woman whispers complaints to herself about how slow the train is. She also remembers the rumors she had heard. In all fairness, they were just rumors-nothing anyone would have taken seriously.

            She is Claire Cohan the wife of Harry Cohan. A few times a year Harry lectures at the Citadel University in upstate New York. It is the place that Claire first met Harry and she is now returning for the first time in many years. She had in fact received word of a possible accident at the university. While serious there was nothing in the message that made her worry too much and remained unconcerned until she lost contact with her husband. As the train rolls on Claire has a terrible feeling and it shows on her face.  She senses danger but sees no obvious logic in what she feels. 

            Before leaving the city individuals on the train platform spread rumors of large explosions and insisted that fires could be seen burning in the Griffin Valley. "How strange-fires burning in this kind of weather," Claire thinks. The weather has caused mudslides.  All roads are blocked by the mudslides and the only way in is by train.  Claire wonders if she might be riding into a trap.  "If I am moving into a trap then Harry is there already," she obsesses in her mind and whispers to herself in distress.  "Trap, what trap, who would trap me - God none of this makes any sense!  Why hasn't Harry contacted me?"

            Suddenly, and so abruptly that Claire grabs the seat in front of her desperately holding on tightly as the train attempts to screech into an emergency stop! There is a brilliant flash of light and then a tremendous explosion!  The train begins to roll over on its side. Screams are heard from every direction! Claire screams!  The sounds of metal being bent and crushed surround her.  Then a moment of stillness; desperate voices talk to one another and try to move about in total blackness.  Claire finds herself lying on what used to be the ceiling of the car and is now its floor. People are moaning and crying. There are calls for help.  Claire can not see anything-it is too dark! She struggles onto her knees. She feels her arms and legs, "I'm not hurt," she thinks almost out loud. There is mass confusion around her. She feels along the floor and searches for a direction to move in. Accidentally she lays her hand on what had been one of the cars' ceiling lights. She looks around her as best she can then bends over close to the lamp. With her lips nearly touching the light, she whispers, "Solas!"

            The lights in the car come on. People can see one another as they slowly and cautiously begin to stand up. Then the car begins to turn again from the motion of people inside. Soon it rolls on to its side. Passengers scream as the car comes to rest on the next set of rail tracks. Now, the ceiling is a set of windows, the lights are part of one wall, and the seats make up the other wall. Men try to open the car doors but they are bent and will not move.

            Claire begins to move to her feet as she looks around for her cloak. If she can find it she can help but she has to hide what she is up to, and she needs the cloak to do that. She sees it hanging from one of the seats and quickly puts it on. Everyone is trapped; something drastic has to be done.  Claire pulls the hood of the cloak over her then turns to face the wall. There is a flash of light that scares everyone. No one knows what just happened or where the flash had come from.

            When Claire turns back she has a long thin broad sword in her hand that hums with a slight glow. The sword shimmers and is stunning to look at. It almost seems as if it is made of light. When she raises it up a woman begins to scream out of fear.

            "Oh shut up you," Claire shouts at her with a very strong and distinct sound of Ireland in her voice!

            She jumps upward and swings the sword at the "emergency release" on the window above. The window, still inside its frame comes crashing down as Claire jumps out of the way. She slices the supports off several car seats and with a wave of her hand braces them under the now open window. Once again she turns toward the wall and placing the sword under her cloak; there is another flash and when she turns back the sword is gone. 

            "Get on with it now!" Claire shouts desperately as she uses the stacked seats to climb to the top of the rail car and out the window. The rain pours down, and the lightening flashes as she kneels on top of the car helping one person after another climb out. From a distance, there is a noise-then it repeats itself.   Claire looks up raising her hood above her eyes in the direction of the noise.   

            "Oh, my God," Claire shouts with shock and fear! There is another train coming along the secondary track. It is heading right at them!

            "Move! Move! Move!" Claire screams at the passengers the men help while yelling the same.  There is an old couple walking along the bottom of the car gathering their personal belongings.

            "There's another train coming!" Claire screams at them. "Get up! Get out! Now!" The men who are helping stand-up and run to save themselves.

            "We're coming!" the old woman shouts back, but she doesn't try to climb up. She is too busy shouting at the old man. The train is now so close its head light is blinding Claire.

            "Come on," she shouts desperately!

            It is too late! Claire stands runs and jumps off the far side of the car leaping into the air as the trains collide. A tremendous explosion and a stupendous fireball follow Claire as she bounces down the side of the mountain and onto an access road below. There are several loud explosions as the new train is pushed off of one track and onto the other. Claire rolls over and behind a large bolder as fire and large pieces of train parts come raining down around her!

            Claire braces beneath the rock in sheer terror and prays.  Then everything stops as time seems to stand still. There is nothing crashing down anymore. Only the endless sound of rain falling and intermittent lighting interrupt a strange calm which begins as Claire lies on the ground amidst the sight of fires burning and the stink of fuel oil from train engines. At first she does not move. Her back and legs are in pain. As she looks up it is clear she has been cut. Rain washes away the blood as fast as it appears on her face. The rest of her cannot be seen from behind the cloak.

            Shaking, Claire pushes herself up onto her knees and then rolls over with her back against the rock. As she looks up there lay the engine from one of the trains. Had she chosen the other side of the road to seek cover she would have been crushed. With rain still heavy Claire stares in wondrous terror at the wreckage for quite a while before she finally remembers to blink.   She looks down the railway access road. There are utility lights once every 50 yards or so. The road back to the city is blocked by wreckage. Claire sits there for a while with her head on her knees and tries to think of what to do next.  Looking about she sees no bodies.  The train that faces her is the one that came from the other direction.  There does not seem to be any survivors.  There doesn't seem to be anyone. It is as if there was no one driving the other train. "This is a night for hell on earth," Claire thinks.  "For what ever else might be going on I sure have not clue what it might be."

            Claire feels pain but decides to try standing anyway. Bracing against the rock she lifts herself onto her feet. Standing for a moment in the rain she takes a step and then another. The pain continues as she moves but she is tolerating it. Though shaken Claire had survived with only minor cuts and bruises and believe it or not the cloak she wears not only keeps her warm and dry but also has the ability to heal. 

            Claire takes a few steps toward the other side of the road. With the light from the burning wreckage she can see up the side of the mountain and is amazed to have survived the fall.  Clearly however the climb is too steep to return. Pausing for a moment to look around Claire does not see many options. With the rain coming down so hard that one can barely see the utility lights, Claire turns north and begins to walk. At first she limps a bit and then slowly the pain seems to subside. The rain does not penetrate her cloak. In fact, the cloak dries her clothing beneath it.  Claire has never been much on cloaks but thinks highly of this one.

            After walking for a time Claire begins to notice voices coming from above her on the main tracks. There are calls for help and some seemed to be moaning. Others shouted for everyone to keep moving. Claire assumes there are survivors from the train wreck above her on the mountain. After a mile or so a railway supply shack appears. It is surrounded by wire fencing.  A sign on top is marked "Chattanooga Pass Supply Substation 1."

            Everything is locked. Claire looks around for a moment carefully that no one is watching. Raising her right hand there is a flash of light and her sword appears. With a few swings Claire makes short work of both the fence and the lock on the door.

            Inside, hope of calling for help fades away; there is no phone. There are several hand lights. Claire borrows one. Staring out the door and into the rain Claire keeps wondering how she managed to get herself into this mess.  The situation presents few options. Still shaking a bit, Claire keeps reminding herself about Harry. There is a really nice train station at the entrance to the Griffin Valley. It could not be far now. Once there she could call for help and if not, the tunnel entrance to the Valley was but a short walk away.

            The volume of the rainfall is mind-boggling. It is coming down so hard that raindrops bounced off of the ground. As hard as her night had been so far Claire is still sick with worry about her husband. A nightmare of him lying somewhere, calling for help, and no one answering his call haunts her-odd thinking for someone who was nearly in that very same position but an hour sooner.   This is who Claire is, her true nature, dwelling upon the world around, her family and not herself.  The one exception was of course for Claire's endless search for the perfect cup of tea.  Tea is Claire's one big self indulgence which is clearly not going be satisfied standing in a railroad utility substation.

            Walking again she comes upon an access trail that winds itself up the side of the mountain. The borrowed light is quite powerful and cast a long and brilliant blue and white beam. Except for a few slips moving up she has no problem finding her way however Claire is not prepared for what she finds at the top. There is a long line of people moving out of the north and heading toward the train wreck.

            Many of the passersby are limping and others are being carried. People's clothes are very dirty, torn and stained with blood. Everyone is soaking wet.  Many are crying and others are near the point of exhaustion.

            "My God," Claire thinks. "What has happened?"

            Fear and alarm now replaced reason.

            "Where is Harry?" she mutters to herself in distress.

             If he is in the same condition he would need her right now! Claire begins to move along the edge of the tracks against the flow of people. It is so dark that only the light she carries illuminates anything. Endless questions possess her but each time she approaches someone he or she moves away. Claire is desperate and is now certain that she needs to make her way into the valley. She shouts at the crowd of people walking, "There's a train wreck ahead! You can't go that way!"

            The rain is so intense she doubts many have heard her. One man walking by looks in to her facer. Still she can barely see him in the dark. He says in a broken voice, "There's nothing but death in the other direction."

            The tides of people seem endless. By their clothing Claire knows they had come out of the Griffin Valley.  She just didn't understand why no one was willing to volunteer a few answers. Some are dressed in school uniforms and others are members of the staff.  Clearly, they are gripped by fear but they are also outside the Realm.  All of these people including Claire are members of a society that is distinct and apart from the rest of the world. This society has its own rules, places and government. Among themselves their world is known simply as "the Realm." The valley, the university and its prep school are all part of it. All the people on the tracks are members. Claire had not been to this place for years so she is a stranger. There are rules against talking to strangers. But there was something else-something so bad it inflicted so much fear there seems no way of reasoning with anyone.

            Some of the passing people are moaning. Claire truly wants to help. Indeed, she wants to stop and help all of them but fear now has her too. She has to find Harry!  Nothing was going to distract her from that objective.

            Claire walks more than five miles before spotting the lights of the Chattanooga Pass Station. The station itself is gone but some lights remain. The station has been burned to the ground. The tracks that ran in front have been torn apart by an explosion.

            Turning to follow the flow of people back toward a tunnel in the mountain, she finds the entrance scorched by fire. The signs that hung over the entrance are still burning; in the rain?  They are burning while it is raining?  It all seems very strange.  Claire begins to make her way through the tunnel. Suddenly an old man grabs her by the arms and Claire screams.

            "Don't go back there!" he shouts.  "Leave here while you can! The Darkside is on the move!"

            Claire shoves the man away from her. She says nothing as he stumbles. He had startled her, and she stands for a moment to catch her breath. People continue to walk pass her in a mindless daze. Claire knows she has to stay focused. Continuing onward after a mile she enters the northernmost edge of the Valley of the Griffin. Things seem very out of place. The tunnel was only mile long, but at the other end there is no rain falling.  

            As Claire moves out of the tunnel the sound of rushing water can be heard. At the extreme northern edge is the waterfall that feeds the valley.  In the dark she could not see the towering mass but the area is heavy with mist from the water crashing onto the rocks. The sound it makes is deafening but beautiful and is out of place given all the horror around her. The river it feeds flows into the valley and past the university. A human tide of people covers the trail leading out. The path is too narrow, and the volume of people is too much for Claire to try to walk against. Near the river shore are some small abandoned boats.  Climbing aboard one she throws off the anchor line and begins to float downstream.

            Sitting in the rear of the boat Claire uses a small wooden rudder to steer. She watches as people onshore struggled to keep moving. Some are calling for help. Others are helping, but most just ignore the pleas. Claire is completely baffled by this behavior. The people of the valley are good and caring group of people. She doesn't know what to think of what she is witnessing. Fear kept her mind focused on the nightmare of her husband lying dead somewhere. It is a horror unlike anything she has ever experienced, and it is now reinforced by the smell of death that seems to come from every direction.

            On the horizon things look even grimmer if that is possible. Light from an enormous fire reflects on the clouds above and fans out in every direction. The woodland around the university is burning in a firestorm. Her small boat floats past the trees on shore and into a clearing.

            Claire gasps, "Oh, my God!"

            The scene on shore is one of mass destruction. She stands on her small boat in total shock wanting to cry. This valley had been the most beautiful place she had ever lived and now it is in ruins. She spent 11 years here as a schoolgirl. The valley's beauty was so possessing its images often filled her dreams. Now ... now it is scorched earth in every direction! Sorrow turns to anger as Claire fills with rage at those who had destroyed her schoolgirl home. Suddenly, there is an enormous explosion whose shock wave sends Claire crashing onto the deck of the boat!

            Claire is unconscious. As she slowly struggles awake again she finds herself face down against the wood of the boat. Some time has obviously passed for on the horizon the slightest hint of sunlight could be detected. She struggles to her knees. Claire kneels there for a moment before she notices the sound of steel breaking against itself. As she turns in the direction of the noise the look on Claire's face moves from pain to shock and then to fear.

            In the blue-gray murky reflection of dawns' first light the Citadel could be seen in the distance. Its massive stone walls give way to a large field. Beyond the field is woodland consumed by a firestorm and on the field university students are in full battle against creatures dressed in blood-red cloaks. The sight is hideous and the students are not winning. They are obviously too tired to fight. They cross swords with their enemies run and then turn and fight some more. Each time the creatures pursue keeping them from resting. There are no firearms in the valley. Unless enchanted simple guns, pistols, and rifles are useless against members of the Realm. Each time the students stop to fight one or more of them fall by the sword of their attackers. These creatures are the Army of the Darkside the old man in the tunnel had warned against.

            All of a sudden a loud and penetrating roar is heard. It seems to come from the sky. In the next moment, lions with wings fly-in and land behind the Darksiders on the field. These creatures stand five times the height of a man nearly as tall as the trees. They have enormous claws or talismans. Their roar, or their scream, or whatever the sound they make is painful to hear. Claire is forced to cover her ears. Even with her ears covered the sound of the creatures sends pain up and down her spine. In the 11 years she lived in the valley Claire had never laid eyes on a real Griffin. Clearly, they are real and now infuriated! They have left their sanctuary and are now targeting the creatures in the red cloaks!

            The scream of the Griffins has the same impact on the Darksiders as it does on Claire.  It is obvious they use their ability to make this sound as a weapon.  The ones who had been fighting with the students now turned to face them. Their leader is a Teilusfar.  He pulls off his cloak revealing a head that is half man half goat.  Its antlers protruded outward and into a circle moving along the side of its face and coming out in front to a point.  Its body is muscular but in place of arms protrudes the tentacles of an octopus. Waving swords in two of its tentacles the Teilusfar orders the Griffins to withdraw. The Griffins roar as the Teilusfar and his army is forced to grab their ears and bend over in pain. They raise their swords at the Griffins and bolts of energy discharge! It is a desperate move. Throwing high levels of raw power from a sword will weaken the bearer very quickly-particularly after battling all night.  The Griffins are thrown into the air and crash down on their backs. The Matriarch of the Griffins recovers fast. Rolling quickly she jumps up. Moving to strike she goes after the Darksiders bent forward keeping her head low to the ground. When the Darksiders send bolts of energy at her she roars in pain but does not stop her forward attack. When she is close enough to strike the other Griffins roar forcing the Darksiders to hold their ears rather than their swords. The Matriarch reaches out with her talismans and begins to cut the Darksiders in two starting with the Teilusfar. Again and again she swings! With each swipe dozens of Darksiders are vanquished. The students who had run now return in force.

            Without warning a new wave of Darksiders runs out from the burning forest lead by yet another Teilusfar. They blast the closest griffin off of its feet and closing quickly they overwhelmed the students that were protecting it and drive their swords into the Griffin which roars in agony as it is instantly reduced to ash. With just two mighty leaps the Matriarch crossed the battlefield and facing the new column of Darksiders she roars so powerfully that the fire in the forest behind the Darksiders raises high into the air. The Darksiders are forced to their knees in pain. Then she inhales again stretching her body wide and when she exhaled fire flies from her mouth and everything in front of her, including all of the Darksiders are reduced to dust!

            Now very weak the Matriarch collapses onto the ground. Unleashing her fire had used up her remaining strength. Using energy always make a member of the Realm weak. Using too much can kill any creature man or beast. Three Griffins come and surrounded the Matriarch in an effort to protect her. Two others spotted Claire floating on the river. They make a loud noise but do not roar. They run to the river's edge to see who is on the boat. Standing high over Claire sniffing the air with teeth exposed glared at her intensely wondering which side she is on.  Claire stands as high on the small boat as she can. She removes her cloak so that the Griffins will see who she is-just a girl dressed in a brown sweater and jeans. She isn't a threat. In a gesture of respect she bows to the Griffins and they relax. They make sounds to each other and then turn away.

            Soon Claire floats up to the river dock near the entrance of the Citadel. Since the American Revolution thousands of members of the Realm had come to this place. Here they did not have to live in fear of being discovered. They could practice their art without being threatened. They could learn to make a contribution to society without being isolated by it. Here lifelong friendships were made and some even fell in love. Now the enormous 300-year-old doors that marked its great entrance lay crushed and burning.

            The Darksiders had planned well. It made Claire suspect that they had help. The high stone walls have gapping holes. Everywhere people lay about but no one is moving.  Darksiders lay face down next to the students who had vanquished them. Brilliant lives with everything to live for were cut short for reasons that went beyond Claire's comprehension.  "Why," she thinks out loud?

            Claire feels ill. She has a lump on her head from where she hit the boat. Cuts and bruises covered her. She has traveled all night and is now having trouble breathing. The sight of what true evil can do overwhelms her. Tears fill her eyes as she is forced to step over one person after another making her way into the commons.

            These red creatures are the dark side of the Realm. This is how they got their name, "Darksiders." "The train," Claire remembers. There was a flash before the accident just like the one that knocked her out on the boat. The Darksiders had launched an attack outside of the Realm. Claire is just now realizing all of this. "Oh my God," she thinks. "If the mundane world feels threatened by the Realm they will send-in their armies!"

            Soon Claire is walking through what is left of the door and into the main castle. The great halls and classrooms are empty. Smoke still rises from the ashes. The stench of death is everywhere. The sun begins to rise as Claire walks across the breezeway that connects the castle to the main living quarters. 

            She moves with caution as she enters the main hall. Now something else is wrong. It is dangerous, it is close and it feels very cold to her. Claire reaches out with her mind becoming very alert. As she moves past one of the rooms a creature in a red cloak carefully lurks from behind the door. Claire does not see it but she can sense it. The thing creeps-out of the room and begins to stalk her. Claire goes from room to room searching for anyone. She walks past another room not noticing yet another pair of eyes watching.  Again, Claire cannot hear or see anyone but she knows. Three creatures now guardedly stalked her from behind. Each time Claire looks around they hid themselves. They obviously want her, but they are clearly afraid of her.

            The one thing Claire cannot sense is Harry. At such a close distance if he were anywhere to be found she would be able to feel his presence. Claire's heart begins to breaking as a cloud of hopelessness comes over her.  She knows now. Harry's essence is gone. He must have been vanquished. So powerful a practitioner Harry was.  No one could have taken him by the sword alone he must have been destroyed in his entirety. Claire will be lucky if she can locate his ashes. Neither could anyone have taken Harry's brother Philo, or his wife Sara. Philo is High Chancellor and the single most powerful individual magical force on the planet, a person referred to simply as the White Robin.  Sara, like Claire is an Alfa-Omega of the first order. No one could have taken her by the sword either; Claire cannot not sense any one of them. In the case of Philo this is simply impossible. The only thing that could have terminated his existence is old age. Something very new or very ancient has stepped into the Realm. There is no logic to what has happened. What Claire certainly can sense are the children.

            She walks halfway through the next corridor to the point where it connects with another corridor. Each time she moves forward the creatures in the red cloaks get closer and closer. They are like wolves afraid their prey might run off.

             At the far end of the adjoining corridor appears three Darksiders who stand in their blood-red cloaks staring at Claire. Their dark deformed faces are slightly illuminated by the rising sun. Which is yet another oddity, they can barely function in day light. Claire just moves on.  She thinks it is odd these creatures would show themselves. In small numbers they are no match for a Practitioner of the Realm. They knew that, she knew that, and their daring and sudden appearance changes nothing. If they could speak English she would grab one and find out what has happen by beating it out of them. For now she has more important things to do so Claire ignores them.

            As she walks her soul begins to feel empty knowing Harry is gone. A realization, that except for a sister she had not seen in ten years Claire is now alone.   It feeds a growing melancholy that had begun when she couldn't save those two old people the train.  Claire would have come sooner had she any hint of the danger.  She would have summoned and army of practitioners had there been the slightest notion the Darkside had risen.  As for the survivors, she still sensed the children. "I need to find them," she thinks with a certain amount of urgency. As she continues to walk three more Darksiders entered the hall blocking her path. Then the ones who had been stalking appeared from behind.  Claire is trapped or so they thought!  At the sight of the first three Darksiders; fear had left Claire replaced by anger.

            Claire's fears are for the family she loves. She is not afraid of anyone or anything-least of all nine evil worthless dark creatures arrogant enough to think they could take on an Alfa Practitioner and survive. The three in the adjoining corridor pull swords and charged. They yelled words Claire has never heard before. She gives an evil glare of her own but makes no move choosing instead to ponder a lot of built up disgust that she is about to vent. The three behind her draw their swords and charge, followed by the three in front who draw and charged.

            When the first three got close enough, Claire pulls the hood from the top of her head, raises her left hand at them, and shouted, "I steach I An Fear Aer!"

            The three go flying into the air backward across the entire length of the corridor crashing hard upon the doors at the far end. Claire quickly raised her right hand inverted, and with a flash of light her sword appears. She points it at the three charging her from the front and shouted, "Cumhacht!"

            A bolt of power flies from the end of the sword and strikes the three reducing them to ashes. In the next moment Claire spins backward at the three who are attacking from behind. She shattered their swords like toys an instant before they would have killed her. Claire's fury knows no mercy. She swings her sword with startling speed cutting the dark one to her right in half which reduces him to ashes that floats for a very brief moment before collapsing onto the floor.  She spins around at the middle one and lops its head off; it to burst into ashes. The remaining one she runs the sword through, it also is instantly reduced to ash.

            The three at the far end of the adjoining corridor have made it back to their feet. Once again they charged. "One would have thought they would have learned their lesson," Claire thinks.

            "Cumhacht!" Claire shouts. The remaining three are reduced to a dusty memory. Bitter anger rages from Claire as she screams in emotional pain! 

            "I am the light, says the Lord. Those who believe in me will fear no evil and cannot die!" Claire screams and cries "cannot die" at the top of her lungs furiously as her eyes fill with tears she vents the pain that now consumes her. 

            Claire stands limp against the hallway wall.  "Emotions are in control," she thinks.  "This is not a good thing.  Have to be in control, have to survive, must find the children!" She also feels the effect of tossing raw power from her sword.  She has not done such a thing in a very long time but Claire is a very powerful Practitioner. It would take dozens of strikes before it had any real effect on her.  It is the depravity of the events that surround her and their impact upon her mind that she must move past them long enough to finish the day.   She is a woman of faith and right now she thinks maybe God may have left her alone? 

            Responding to the sound of her scream and the sounds of battle, a boy and girl come rushing in through the far doorway. Claire immediately takes a defensive posture. Then she realizes they are wearing student uniforms. They looked terrified. Their clothing is torn and covered with blood and dirt. She relaxes her posture.

            The two walk up to her. "I am Jason Fesserack," the boy says. "I'm Lisa Barns," the girl tells her.

            "I am Mrs. Harry Cohan. I've come to search for my husband, Professor Cohan. What happened to you two? What happened in this place? What is this blood on you?"

            "We've been fighting since sunset," Lisa explains. "Many of us are gone. The blood was splattered when they fell." The girl seems distant and she does not blink much and keeps looking around and shifting her. She never looks at anyone and obviously is expecting something to happen.

            "I know your husband Lady Cohan," Jason insists.

            "Can you tell me where I might find him?" Claire inquires with hopelessness in her heart.

            "No my Lady," Jason answers. "After the first wave of attacks the Lady Sara sent him off to seek out the Alfa male of the Griffin pride to warn him that Darksiders had entered his valley."

            "What happened to the Lord White Robin?" she replies.

            "He went off with the members of the Board and the Robin's cauldron to perform the equinox visual," Lisa tells her. Then the group would have fasted until sunset, when the Robin would perform the passion of the wings."

            "Were did they go?" Claire asks.

            "No one knows my Lady," Lisa insists. "The ceremony is performed in a cave that is lit only at sunrise on the morning of the equinox. The passion location is always kept secret."

            Claire leans against the wall. Emotion is replacing reasoning again. Her chest tightens and she is having trouble breathing. The situation is so desperate. Claire turns and rolls against the cold stone wall searching for some relief.

            "No one survived?" Claire asks with her voice breaking.

            "Three made it back," Jason answers. "One of the members of the Robin's cauldron was carried by two others. The one they carried was mortally wounded. The other two stood and fought with us. They vanquished hundreds of Darksiders before they were worn down by the numbers."

            "They said," Lisa adds, "that a dark lord using a wand and wizard's craft attacked them by surprise, that he trapped the White Robin in a Merlin's Cave! Do you know what a Merlin's Cave is, my Lady?"

            Claire shakes her head. "I know who Merlin is of course but I never heard of such a cave. A dark lord wielding a wand and using wizard's craft," she thinks out loud. "That's a warlock! A warlock in America, how did this happen?" She looks up at Lisa and Jason.

            "What of the Lady Sara and the children?" Claire asks.

            Jason answers her with pain in his voice as Lisa begins to cry. "Lady Sara led the student against the Darksiders when they breached the main gate. She and the student senior class fought them to a standstill and blocked them from invading the commons. But they breached the walls, and she and all of the rest of us were overwhelmed!" Jason bows his head and begins to cry.

            Claire looks at them. "She led the charge, did she?" Claire asserts. "You're bloody damned right she did!" Claire speaks loud with pain and pride in her voice as tears come to her eyes too. "What about the children?"

            Lisa looks up. "They are trapped inside the Robin's quarters. There are nearly three dozen Darksiders outside there trying to get past the Robin's barrier."

            "The barrier is holding?" Claire asks quickly.

            "Yes my Lady," Lisa replies.

            "Do you not know what that means?" Claire tells them as both looked up at her. "That means that where ever he is, the White Robin must still be alive! Thank God for that!"

            Claire looks across to the window on the opposite side of the corridor. She stands upright and walks over. After waving her hand the window abruptly opens. Then she shouts, "Cara, Cara duinn An seo mo Glaoigh An seo mo guth Tabhair aird uirthi mo Amhran!"

             Claire pulls a pen and paper from her robe and begins to write:


                        There has been a battle. Many dead from Darksider attack including most of staff and many students. Harry and Sara lost. Philo is missing. Board and cauldron wiped out. A dark lord using a wand and wizard's craft is thought responsible.                                      


-- Claire

            As she finishes writing a large bald eagle appears at the window. It screeches an eagle noise at them. Claire rolls up the note and hands it to the bird.     "Take this to Lord Cohan," she tells the eagle. 

            The creature leaps into the air and disappears into the sky.

            "I have to go and help the children," Claire announces.

            "You can't!" Jason demands.

            "It's impossible!" Lisa says agreeing with him.

            "A large group of Darksiders has been outside the apartment all night. They are still there! There are dozens of them pooling their powers and trying to get through the magic protecting the children!" Jason is trying to make certain Claire understands the situation is hopeless.

            "Dozens you say?" Claire asserts with fury in her voice. "Well, then-good!" Claire's face begins to turn red. "'Tis about time for some payback I'm thinking!"

            Claire walks past the students and heads for the children. But before she goes through the door, she turns back at them and says, "Off with you both now. I'm telling you to leave!"

            Then Claire kicks the door open and begins to make her way into the next tower. She waves her hand and opens the next door and walks in at which point Lisa and Jason catch up to her.

            "My Lady! It is too dangerous! There are too many!" Lisa insists that Claire come with them.

            Claire stops and turns.

            "Listen carefully you two," Claire is very stern. "I am ordering you both out!"

            Lisa, clearly very uncomfortable with having to stand up to Claire says in a reluctant weak voice, "No! I'm staying!"

            "I'm staying too!" Jason adds.

            Claire looks at them as if they are fools.  She orders them out again but they stand their ground. 

            "Alright then, stay behind me, listen to what I tell you, follow my lead, and don't help me unless I ask!" Claire is frustrated with them. "Do you understand?"

            The two nodded their heads as Claire walks off.

            "Bloody damn students have a death wish," Claire thinks.

            The sun had risen and begins to strongly illuminate the hallways. She approaches the adjoining corridor and pauses just before reaching it. Slowly and careful she lets her right eye peer around it. Sure enough, at the end of the corridor there are several dozen Darksiders. Their swords are drawn and they're taking turns directing bolts of energy toward a doorway. Their power keeps hitting an invisible barrier that is made discernible only when their energy bounces off.

            Claire backs away from the corner for a moment and looks at the two students. She whispers, "Last chance! It's about to get nasty and you've both had enough already!  You could sit this one out?"

            They both insisted on staying. "Fine," Claire whispers as if they had made a big mistake. "Stay behind me! Watch my back!"

            Once again, she peers around the corner.

            "Let's get this over with" she mumbles to her self.

            Claire summons her sword and walks out into the middle of the corridor shouting, "good morning, dark and evil members of the underworld! Can you not see the sun has risen?" She raises her sword and points at the windows. "'Tis time for your wake-up call!"

            The entire back row of the Darksiders begins to turn and raise their swords at her. Before they have a chance to do anything Claire launches a bolt of power at them. Eleven or so of them are instantly reduced to ashes.

            Jason and Lisa are stunned by the display of firepower. They too could throw bolts of power. They were only able to knock Darksiders to the ground with them.

            Now half of the remaining Darksiders turned their attention to Claire as the rest continued to try to break through the barrier. They launched bolts of power at her and the students. To Jason and Lisa's amazement Claire's sword is able to absorb their attacks. Claire moves her sword in an arch from side to side absorbing everything. The Darksiders are bewildered by her abilities. One by one more turn from the barrier to attack.

            Finally, Claire looks at the students and says, "Turn away!"

            This time they listen to her, and with that she raises her left hand inverted toward the ceiling and said, "Laith roid Cara duinn Solas!"

            A bright ball of light appears in Claire's hand as she continues to defend herself with the other. She throws the ball of light at the Darksiders then quickly turns away. The ball of light explodes blinding the Darksiders and sending so much pain into their heads they drop their swords. The brilliant flash overcomes even the ones who were looking away.

            Claire turns back and screams as she charges swing her sword again and again!  The students charged too. Whatever the students cut apart falls to the ground and dies. Whatever Claire cuts into turns to ash.  Lisa and Jason have never seen anything like Lady Claire before. She fights like an avenging angel.

            In very short order all of the Darksiders in the hall are done in.  It is not like they ever had much of a chance.  Claire approaches the barrier and with only a slight spark of light she passed right through it. When the two students approached it they are stung and stopped. It hurt! Claire turns around and with a wave of her hand she said, "Lig Teama Teigh thar!"

            With that Lisa and Jason follow Claire into the home of the White Robin. Claire opens the door very slowly and peers ahead as best she can. Carefully, she moves from room to room. She can feel the children are near. Then she hears a baby crying. She opens the door to the baby's room, and a sword flies at her! She blocks it and blocks again.

            "Laura!" Claire shouts.

            But the twelve-year-old blonde girl does not hear her. Fear has grabbed hold of her and made her deaf.  Not only that but like Claire she is using a charmed sword.  Something Claire has never seen a twelve-year-old do before.  If one of the students had come in first and tried to block her with their swords she would have cut them in two.

            Laura strikes again and spins and swings again and again. It is as if she is avoiding counterattacks but no one was attacking her. It is eerie to observe.  Claire now understands why Sara had not survived the battle. Obviously, she had given her charmed sword to Laura to protect the baby. Claire continues to shout Laura's name but the little girl is just scared out of her wits! Finally, Claire grabs her by the wrist of her sword hand. The girl struggles to get away but Claire shakes her harshly.

            "Laura!" Claire shouts, "Tis me, Aunt Claire!"

            Laura stands silent for a moment. She begins to focus. She whispers slightly, "Aunt Claire?"

            "Yes dear, ‘tis me," Claire responds with a sweet and affectionate voice.

            Laura wraps her arms around her and begins to cry. Then she whispers in a panicked voice, "We have to be careful! The Darksiders are attacking!"

            With a flash Claire's sword vanishes and she responds by pushing the girl's hair back across her head. "Aye, lassie, they are gone now." Claire held her head and looks deep into her eyes; again, very affectionate; "they would not have had a chance against you princess."

            Laura looks back at Claire and in a voice so cold Claire could not believe it's coming from a child's mouth, Laura says, "Mama is gone. The Darksiders took her."

            Claire picks her up and hugs her tightly. All Claire can do is cry and hug the little girl. Lisa comes in and takes her from Claire's arms. Claire moves to the crib where the baby lay crying and lifts him up. She gently holds the baby boy as she walks about trying to calm him while drying her own eyes. She walks out of the bedroom and into the main living room looking for some sun light on her face. Peering out the main picture window it becomes obvious that the hallway is not the only way the Darksiders had tried to break in. It looks as though they had tried to blast their way though the wall.   

            Laura comes out of the bedroom followed by Lisa. She walks up to the great picture window and peers out of it.

            "That is where Uncle Harry died," Laura points at the garden below.

            Claire walks up to view where she is pointing. There is only scorched earth below.

            "He tried to protect a big cat with wings." Laura says coldly. "The animal fought the dark ones as fire burned around them. I yelled at Uncle Harry to run, but he couldn't hear me."

            "The Alfa male of the griffin pride," Jason says thinking out loud.

            "Aye," Claire agrees sadly as she stares at the yard below. "No wonder the Matriarch Griffin fought as though she were possessed. They killed her mate." 

            Claire cannot talk about Harry. She cannot even say his name. She is not certain they are safe and could not handle the emotions she knows will flood her mind if she thinks about him. The hope that had filled her heart and had driven her into the valley in search of Harry is now replaced by an empty space.

            Unexpectedly, the window began to open on its own. Everyone in the room backed away not knowing what to expect.

            Laura, get behind me!" Claire says as she hands Laura the baby to hold as she and the two students prepare for another

            Then the screech of a bird is heard loudly as a great bald eagle lands on the windowsill. It is carrying a note.

            "It's all right everyone," Claire says. "Lisa take the baby from Laura," Claire instructs as she moves forward to greet the large bird.

            Claire takes the note from the bird. It jumps back into the air, and the window closes. Claire sits down on the couch and reads


                        Bring the boy back with you. I've appointed Phineenous Dickelbee as acting chancellor. He should arrive there by noon. Laura is to stay with him. He will hold the post until a new board can be appointed. Send out a search party for Philo and retrieve Harry and Sara's swords!


            "Bloody hell Cohan!" Claire shouts with anger. "You're a bloody coward," she thinks. "Your baby brother and sister-in-law are dead, your other brother is missing and all you can do is write a note!"

            "Bastard!" she says out loud.

            "What's wrong? What has happened," Laura asks as she walks up to Claire?

            Claire wraps up the note and places it in her pocket. Then she looks at Laura.

            "Lord Cohan has appointed a good man by the name of Doctor Phineenous Dickelbee as acting chancellor," Claire tells the little girl. "He will be here by noon. He has ordered you to stay with him-"   Then she pauses. "- and to protect him."

            "How am I supposed to do that," the girl asks with a bewildered look on her face?

            "You'll do as your mother taught you-the same way you protected your wee brother!" Claire looks into her eyes. "We're all very proud of you Laura. Lord Cohan is very proud of you!"

            Laura stares at her for a moment and then responds with a sincere voice of respect. "Yes my Lady, I will do my best. Tell His Grace that no harm will come to the chancellor. Tell him I swear this!" She pauses for just a moment and then asks, "Can we go and look for Daddy?" Then she cries.

            The little girl is a mess and yet so brave. "No wonder she has survived the night," Claire thinks as she looks back at her very sadly and says, "I will see about your Dad then tend to your Mom and Uncle Harry."

            The two hug.  Claire stares out from behind the girl.  She knows this is not the end of the battle; it is just the beginning - for the first time in centuries the Darkside is on the move. 


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