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Transgender / Transformation stories in English
IN A PLACE NOT QUITE IN THIS REALITY...

She glided through the realm, no one who watched being quite sure
whether she was walking with her feet or just moving through effort of
will. Either was possible.  She was one of the major Incarna, a pure
force of nature, the living essence of pure feminine power.  She was
second only to the major trinity whose interplay kept the universe
moving, who were in turn second only to the one who created all.

All who were in her way sensed her presence and intent long before she
got to where they were and moved out of her way.  She stepped up to the
receptionist and stated, "I am looking for the Akashic Master."  She
could have easily taken the knowledge she needed from the man's mind
without any harm to him, but this way was more polite.  A necessity for
what she needed to accomplish.

The man accessed the computer on his desk and quickly said, "He's in the
gym.  Private workout."

The woman smiled and went through the door into the rest of the Realm.
She went through the long hallways which were the building that served
as the headquarters for the coalition of mages which had created this
mini-universe.  She went straight to the gym.  Standing in front of the
gym was a young lady in her mid-teens.

The youth blanched when she saw who approached.  It was her job to stand
in front of the gym, and politely refuse entrance to all who wished
entry.  As the Akashic Master's personal attache, she had the power to
refuse entry to even the other Grand Masters in a non-emergency
situation.  But this?  A major Incarna?  How could she refuse?

The Incarna stepped up to her and said, "I wish to speak to the Akashic
Master.  Announce me."

The woman paused, torn between her duty to the Master and her natural
urge to wish not to antagonize Her.  Finally she decided it would be
best to err on the side of caution.  The Master may be stern, but he was
fair.  She had no idea how the Incarna would react to refusal.  She
exercised the small amount of Forces it would take to open the door and
preceded Her inside.

Inside, the Master was working out with his students.  The Master, a
Caucasian (rare for the Akashic Brotherhood, most were of oriental
descent), and three students were on the mat, surrounded by a ring of
lesser students.  The three students were all attempting to strike the
Master, using only Do, THE martial art.  No Magick was allowed, although
all the students were Awakened.

The students were striving valiantly, but no matter where they threw
their punches the Master was not there.  The young woman smiled.  These
students had yet to figure it out.  One on one, none of them could touch
the Master. Even when it was three one on one battles at once.  Only by
working together, two forcing the Master to move in such a way that the
third could strike him, would they ever succeed.

The youth looked up to Her face and saw Her waiting impatiently, clearly
not used to being kept waiting.  The youth cleared her throat loudly.
"Master?"

The Master held up his hand signaling stop.  Two of the students froze
in place, but the third kept his last swing going.  The Master caught
his fist in mid-flight, and gave him a withering stare.  The youth
simply said, she felt unnecessarily, "You have a visitor."

The Master stared at Her for a few seconds before saying, "Class, it
appears we will be adjourning early today."  The youth could feel the
relief run through the class.  Relief quickly dashed when the Master
said, "To make up for it, our next class will run fifteen minutes long."

The class voiced their disappointment with a collective "Awww."

The Master cut them off with a quick, "Class dismissed!" and a clapping
of his hands.  The class got up and quickly bowed and left.  When it was
only the three of them, the Master, contempt evident in his voice,
asked, "What do you want?"

The youth blanched.  How could anyone, even the Master, treat Her with
such disrespect?!  The Lady ignored the contempt and said, "I have a
favor to ask of you."

The Master continued his arrogance by turning his back on Her and
walking over to the makiwara, the padded striking board.  As he started
a series of blows to the board he said, "Ask."

The youth felt Her grow angry, but She contained it and said, "One of my
worshipers has recently Awakened.  I'd like you to retrieve her."

"Fine."  To the youth, he said, "Janice, arrange for a couple females of
the Brotherhood to make a trip to the consensual reality."

The Woman quickly said, "NO!" then in a more placatory tone said, "I'd
like you to handle this personally."

The Master stopped.  He turned his head and looked over his shoulder at
Her.  "Why?"

Janice blanched again.  The Master would dare to challenge Her?  She
knew he was powerful, but was he really that powerful?

The Lady said, "It seems that she is being followed by a Weaver
construct. She has yet to demonstrate any control over her new abilities
in public, so they're just watching her, but she could be in real
danger."

The Master stared at her for a while.  Finally he returned to beating on
the board, and said, "Fine.  A while back, I did a favor for your
husband. The cost of me doing this for you is the same as for what I did
for him."

She looked at him, and said, "That seems a rather steep price to pay.
Somewhat inappropriate."

The Master stopped.  Turning to face her, he said, "I am the premiere
Akashic mage on the planet Earth.  I am one of the most, if not the
most, powerful mages in any realm.  I am the head of the Akashic
Brotherhood in this Realm.  And you want me to interrupt my vital
schedule to chase down an Orphan?  You're right, it is inappropriate.  I
think what I've asked for plus an undisclosed favor to be granted later
willingly and without hesitation should be an appropriate payment.
Further, I want a promise from you not to attempt to manipulate me in
any way to call for that favor before I want to."

Janice stared at Her.  The Woman was clearly angry, and Janice feared
for her very existence right then.  The Lady said, "I could make you do
this for me."

The Master replied, "No, you can't."

The Lady seemed to contemplate this and said, "I could make it very hard
on this Realm.  Collect the Major Incarna together and attack you."

The Master extended his hand and a towel flew across the room into his
grasp.  As he wiped his forehead, he said, "And I could resign my
position and return to the consensual reality.  Without the "offending
mortal" being present in the Realm, you couldn't get the Major Incarna
to agree on what color the sky is out there."

"You would do that?  Abandon your allies?"

"Great Lady, I am a Spur.  That alone scares most of the mages here.
The nature of my Spur makes me immune to Paradox.  That terrifies them.
Were it not for my mastery of the Soul Blade, most would assume me to be
a Marauder working on the "good guys'" side.  I took this job out of
respect for the wishes of its previous holder.  The other Akashics
accept for the same reason, and the other factions accept because they
have no choice, but most have made it clear that they would rather me
not be here.  Hell, you might be doing me a favor by driving me out."

"It still seems a steep price."

The Master slung the towel around his neck.  "You don't want to pay the
toll, don't try to get through the gate."  The Lady glared at the
Master, but before she could say anything, he said, "Of course, there is
another payment I would accept."

"What?"

"The truth.  The complete, unvarnished truth.  You can't convince me
that a newly Awakened Orphan, no matter how powerful, rates anything
other than a moderately powered H.I.T. mark.  Why do you want me?  What
do you expect to accomplish with this?"

The Lady and the Master stared at one another for awhile before She
finally said, "Alright.  I will pay your toll."

"Which one?"

"The favor."

"I thought so."

"When you get back-"

"In advance."

"That is not what you agreed to with my husband."		"It is not when I
agreed to accept payment.  When and what are two different things."

"But-"

"NO!  Lady, you have no credit in my bank, and you know why!"  Janice
trembled in fear, sure that She would strike both of them down any
second now.  "Now I have offered my terms.  Accept them or get out."

The Lady said, "Alright."  She stepped up to the Master, and placed Her
hands on his temples.  After a few seconds, she said, "It is done.  Now
I hold you to your end of the agreement."

The Master smiled.  "Hun, I may officially be the enemy of the
Syndicate, but, like them, I would die before I break a deal."

"Your mercenary attitude is unbecoming of an Akashic Master."

The Master considered that for a while, before saying, "Perhaps.  But as
the youths of my universe would say, 'Bite me.'"

The Lady glowered at the Master, before fading from view.  When she was
gone, Janice blurted out, "Are you mad?!" before remembering her place,
and saying, "Forgive me, sir, but are you crazy?"

The Master smiled broadly.  "Quite possibly."

"Sir, why would you treat Her in such a manner?"

"The Goddess and I have... a history.  Enough of that.  Has your mastery
of the Spheres of Prime, Matter and Forces progressed to the point where
you no longer need your Foci?"

"I have freed myself of the constraints on Matter and Prime, but I still
need to focus my Forces through the Do."

"Show me.  Shower me."  The Master snapped his fingers and his clothes
disappeared.  The snapping was nothing more than a dramatic affectation
of his.  By sheer force of Will, the Master could command any sphere but
Spirit.

Janice closed her eyes and concentrated.  A bubble of water appeared
over the Master's head.  She then struck a pose and went through a
carefully chosen kata.  As her hands moved, the water broke apart into a
spray of water and proceeded to rain down upon the Master.  When her
hands changed movement, the water flowed with them, quickly cleaning the
Master.  When she completed her motions, the water dropped to the
ground.

The Master then snapped his fingers again and the water was gone, and he
was clothed in loose fitting slacks and a shirt.  He said, "Master
Nakayama will take my place, both in training apprentices and, if
necessary, on the council until my return."

"The students won't be happy about that."  Master Nakayama was perhaps
one of the best trainers in the Realm, in his own way, better even than
The Master.  But he was also a stern task master that everyone hated to
train under.

"Neither will you."

"Master?"

"You lost focus on the third and fifth movements of that kata.  Have
master Nakayama work with you on that."

"Yes, sir."

"And make sure to inform master Nakayama of the extra time the students
must go through in their next class.  And inform him of Jason's lapse."
Jason was the boy who had not stopped instantly when the Master called
halt.

"Yes, sir."

The Master snapped his fingers and returned to his room.  There he
picked up the Soul Blade, before teleporting to the exit portal.  The
portal master asked, "Where to?"

"San Bernardino."

"Yes, sir."

The portal master used the crystals to re-align the portal to its exit
point in San Bernardino, and the Akashic Master stepped through into a
glade under the star filled sky.

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

Jacqui walked to her car, her brow furrowed.  In the 4 months since she
had ended the threat of Eric Lancaster, saved her mother's life and
decided to remain as Jacqui, her magic had been... erratic to say the
least.  For some reason, most of her magic was totally untrustworthy.
The Transformation spell, shape shifting, even the simplest of illusions
refused to work properly.  She had discussed it with her mother and
Bronwyn, and although each assured her that it was probably just an
after effect of the battle with the Brotherhood, that intuitive sense
which was so powerful in her told her that they were as mystified by
this as she was.

The only thing that still worked was her healing powers.  And, perhaps a
bit ironically, they had never been stronger.  With only the most
minimal links, she could dispel even the most intense pain, and even
some minor injuries.  There were even some times when her healer's
senses told her that the injuries she saw were bad enough that she
wanted to make them better, but when she formed the healer's link, they
already were better. Her mother told her that she was probably just
imagining things, and that the injuries weren't as bad as she thought.
Of course, that would've meant her senses were all screwed up as well.

But today, the evidence was undeniable.  She had gone to watch the
practice of her friends on the team.  The school's women's team was one
of the best in the state, and she would've loved to play, but she had
decided that, due to her pregnancy, she wouldn't try out for the team.
But that didn't keep her from watching.

Lisa, the team's star forward, had jumped to catch a pass gone wild, and
when she had come down, she slipped and sprawled headlong into the
bleachers.  The bleachers collapsed under her.  Jacqui, with her
healer's senses, felt the wood smash apart and shatter the back of
Lisa's head.  She felt Lisa's life force start to depart from her body,
and part of Jacqui, afraid she was already too late, determined that it
shouldn't be, mustn't be as bad as it was.

Then something happened and it wasn't as bad as she thought it was.
Lisa pulled herself out of the rubble of the bleachers and staggered
about a bit, before she was helped to a chair, as someone went to get
the nurse.

After the nurse checked her out, she thought she was only badly bruised,
but just to be sure, they took her to the hospital to get checked out.
Jacqui waited for the ambulance to leave and for everyone to clear out
before heading to her car.  She had to talk to mom and Bronwyn about
this.

As she pulled the keys out of her purse, she heard a strange, almost
metallic voice say, "Reality deviant."

Since there was no one else around, she turned and saw a man, about 6'
tall, bald, and with a pale pallor to his skin that gave her the
impression of a corpse.  He was dressed in a black overcoat that covered
all of his body except for his head.  And for some reason, every sense
Jacqui had screamed, "RUN!"  It was such a powerful compulsion, that
Jacqui took two steps backwards away from... it (for that was how she
was thinking of it), bumping into the car.

The thing told her, "You will come with me."

Since the very concept of going somewhere with this thing filled her
with a sense of nameless dread, Jacqui replied, "I don't think so."

The thing strode towards her.  "You have no choice."

Jacqui was terrified.  She fell back on the only weapon she had, the
Transformation spell.  She summoned forth the energy and cast the spell.
Somehow she managed the spell for the first time in four months.  She
envisioned the man turning into a kitten, and released the spell.  The
energy lanced out towards the thing and struck him.  Jacqui expected him
to start changing into a small ball of feline fluff, but was surprised
as the spell unraveled like cheap cloth, leaving it untouched.

The thing moved up to her with a speed no human should have and
backhanded her, knocking her to the ground.  Jacqui looked up and saw
the thing's right arm, now out of the coat, was some kind of metal
construct.  Some kind of metal construct with a barrel!

Jacqui did the only thing she could think of.  She mentally screamed,
"MOM!"

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

Bronwyn and Laurie sat at Laurie's table, discussing Jacqui's problem
with her magic.  "I don't know, Bron.  It's like everything she learned
is gone. She knows what to do, but when she tries to do it, it just
doesn't work."

"I don't know what to say, love.  Maybe...  Maybe her training is gone."

"What do you mean?"

"When Jacqui cast the spell that we thought would give her back her life
as Jack, but instead gave you your life back, she had more power than
anyone in the history of the Sisterhood.  Maybe it destroyed what she
already had."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"You're a healer.  To use a mundane analogy, if a person suffers a
serious blow to the head, after they've healed, they may have to relearn
to walk, talk, read, et cetera.  They know what they're supposed to be
able to do, but can't do it anymore.  When Jacqui had all that power
within her, it may have scrambled the controls she already had."

"So she may have to start over from scratch?"  With strong sarcasm in
her voice, Laurie said, "She's going to love that."

Bronwyn smiled.  She took a sip of her coffee and then looked up,
intending to continue her discussion, but, when she noticed that Laurie
had grasped the table, shaking visibly she asked, "Laurie, what's
wrong?"

Then she felt it.  Jacqui's scream of terror and desperation.  Bronwyn
grabbed Laurie's arm and cast the spell that would take them to the
youngster's side.  This was farther than she had ever teleported before,
but she had no choice.  She HAD to make it.

She cast the spell, and... nothing.  Laurie looked at her, fear and
desperation in her eyes.  "What's wrong?  Why didn't we go anywhere?"

"The spell... was blocked."

The two women looked at one another, and Laurie grabbed her purse as
they ran to her car.

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

Jacqui lay on the ground, trembling in fear as this half-machine man
advanced on her.  Suddenly, she heard another voice say, "Excuse me!"  A
man leapt, seemingly from nowhere (of course, Jacqui was a bit
preoccupied, so he could've come from her own car and she wouldn't have
noticed), and landed three reverse kicks to the thing's torso, knocking
it back on its ass.  The man landed smoothly and spun so he was facing
the thing.  "Didn't your momma ever tell you not to hit a woman?"

As the thing got up, the man whispered back to Jacqui, "Don't try to
run. That thing might get around me, and I might not be able to protect
you." It was a needless warning.  Jacqui was so terrified that running
had never even entered her mind.

The thing said, "Depart now.  This is no concern of yours."

"I beg to differ.  A man always seeks to protect an endangered woman."

"I will give you one last chance.  Depart or die."	 The man smiled.  The
thing charged him.  The two then fought with dizzying speed, moving so
fast, Jacqui was barely able to follow their movements. But despite the
thing's claims, it was clear that the man was the superior fighter.  He
knocked the thing on its back three times.  Once with a clothesline,
once with an uppercut, and finally with a spinning back kick, knocking
it back a good twenty feet.

As the thing got to its feet the last time, the man said, "Damn.  You're
not even a good workout."

It stood and pointed its metal arm at him.  A rocket shot out of the end
of the barrel.  Jacqui expected the man to move out of its way, but
instead he reached out and caught it.  He tossed it over his shoulder
and over Jacqui's car, where it exploded.  The man then brought his hand
up and pointed his index finger and thumb out, like the way young boys
did when they wanted to pretend their hands were guns.  "My turn," he
said.  He pointed his "gun" at the thing at depressed his thumb, saying,
"Bang!"

A beam of energy shot from the man's finger, striking the thing in the
chest.  It flew back into the wall, the continuous stream of energy
(looking like the energy stream from the proton guns from the movie
"Ghostbusters") playing upon its chest.  Finally, the energy stopped,
and the thing dropped to the ground, a big gaping hole where its chest
used to be.

The man then turned and walked back to Jacqui, extending his hand to
help her up.  Jacqui just looked at it, and with real fear in her eyes,
said, "You're a Brother, a worshiper of the Dark One."

The man smiled an honest, open smile.  "Not even close, hun.  You didn't
think your Sisterhood and the Brotherhood were the only two
organizations capable of working real magic, did you?"  Then, looking at
her expression, he said, "I guess you did."

Jacqui looked from his hand to his face and back again.  Finally
deciding to trust her feelings, she placed his hand in his.  He gently
helped her to her feet.  He then swept her into his arms.  She was about
to protest, when he nodded his head back to the thing's corpse, saying,
"His backup will be here any second, and we don't want to be here when
they get here."

Jumping and bouncing off the hood of her car, Jacqui found them flying
through the air to the rooftop.  Jacqui then held on for dear life as he
ran across rooftop after rooftop, bridging the gap between them with a
single leap, no matter how great the distance between them.

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

Laurie and Bronwyn drove up to the college parking lot, not sure what to
expect.  Jacqui's terror had remained intense for a few minutes, before
abating slightly, only to return after a few minutes worse than ever.
It then went went away almost entirely, only to come back seconds later.

But the last time was different.  Where before, the terror was that of
someone fearing for her life, it had been replaced by the terror one
experiences when, despite being safe, one was at the mercy of powerful
forces beyond their control.  Like being on a roller coaster.

The two pulled up to the entrance, only to be stopped by a man in an
orange vest.  "I'm sorry, ladies, but the college campus is closed.
There's been a large gas spill and we need time to clean it up."

Laurie tried to scan the man's mind, but it was shielded.  Even his
public mind was shielded against her.  "Excuse me, sir, I was expecting
to meet my daughter here.  Would she still be here?"

"Nobody here but the clean-up crew.  Sorry.  Maybe she already went
home."

"Maybe.  Thanks, anyways."  As the two women drove away, their concern
over Jacqui caused them to fail to notice a man in a lab coat taking
inordinate notice of them.

Laurie quested out mentally, trying to locate Jacqui, but something was
still interfering with their contact.  But then, something slammed up
between them, like a door being closed.  Laurie could still feel that
her daughter was, or at least felt personally, safe, but couldn't zero
in on her.

She turned to Bronwyn, hoping that her friend could sense something she
couldn't, but could tell by the look on her face that Bronwyn was having
no such luck.  The two returned home, terrified for the young girl.

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

Jacqui rode with her arms around the man's neck, her eyes tightly shut,
for a while.  Then she felt a strange sensation, and everything stopped.
The man said, "We're here.  You can open your eyes."

Jacqui opened one eye, and seeing she was in a room, opened the other.
The man set her on her feet.  She was in a small, sparsely furnished,
economy apartment.  The man asked, "Would you care for something to
drink?  A soda? Herbal tea?"

Jacqui started moving towards the door.  "Uhm, no, I think I better get
home."

The man went over to the small fridge, saying, "Your choice, but you'll
only be putting your own family at risk."

Jacqui stopped cold.  "What do you mean?"

"That thing that attacked you tonight.  It's called a H.I.T. Mark, by
the way.  It's part of a larger organization.  They would not have
attacked you without identifying you first.  I have no doubt, that,
having failed, they are now watching your home, waiting for you to
return.  You go back, they will attack.  They will either kill or take
hostage anyone else there in an effort to get to you."

"But... why?  Why me?"

"How do I explain this?  My own paradigm explanation probably won't be
something you can relate to.  Do you know anything about computers?"

"A bit."

"Well, think of reality as a huge mainframe, where everyone within it
has their own terminal.  Now most people are like your average
computer-phobe. Barely understand enough to function with what they've
got.  Content to let the computer tell them what to do, and if a problem
arises, are totally mystified, and have to wait for help."  Jacqui
couldn't help but smile. The man was describing her mother in perfect
detail.

The man continued.  "Then you've got a few, like those in the Sisterhood
or Brotherhood, who are capable of a bit more.  Think of them as
professional computer operators.  They know more about the program that
is reality. They also have access to hidden tools that most people
don't.  Like the control panels or extension files in a computer.

"Then there is a rare, rare group.  These people...  Think of them as
system programmers.  They can go in and change the basic programs that
run reality.  This is my level of magic.  This is... your level of
magic."

"Me?  No.  You... You must have the wrong person."  Jacqui started
edging towards the door.

The man dug in the refrigerator while saying, "Your magic has been out
of control.  Things that used to be easy now seem impossible to
accomplish, but what you do accomplish has a strength and power that
scares even you."

Jacqui froze.  "How...  How did you know?"

"One of the drawbacks.  A human can only walk one path of power.  Now
that you're on the upper level, the lesser paths are inaccessible."  He
came out of the refrigerator with a couple cans of grape soda.  He
pointed one to her.  "Sure I can't offer you one?"

Jacqui returned to the center of the room.  He met her half way, and
gave her the soda.  "So what does it mean?  Being on this upper level?"

"It's called Awakening.  It comes from the fact that the lowest level
act like they walk through life sleepwalking.  First off, all the old
rules you understood don't apply anymore.  You can heal without
shielding.  There's no difference between shape shifting and
Transforming.  For that matter, you could transform yourself to a male
and back again without losing your power.  The only limits you have are
your experience, skill and level of spiritual awakening."

Jacqui felt a pang of emotion.  For most of the time, since being
transformed unwillingly from Jack to Jacqui, she had desired nothing
more than to go back to being a man.  Even now, when she accepted being
and actually wanted to remain a girl, this man telling her she could
have both struck a chord in her.  "So what're the drawbacks?"

"Well, there's the one path rule I mentioned before.  But I'd have to
say the biggest drawback is Paradox."

"Paradox?  What's that?"

"To continue the computer analogy, think of it as the ultimate Conflict
Catcher program.  The Sisterhood that you used to be a part of uses
stuff built into the system to accomplish what they want.  You're
changing the system software.  In order to prevent a crash, there's
Paradox."

"What does it do?"

"Reality, the system software if you will, is the combined belief of
what all people in reality think is possible.  When you do something
that most people think of as impossible, you build up a bit of Paradox
within you. Too much Paradox, or you mess up too badly when trying to
reprogram reality and things start going wrong."

"Like what?"

"Well, I know one man whose left hand is gone, replaced entirely by
flame when he messed up in controlling the Forces Sphere."

"Forces Sphere?"

"There are 9 defined Spheres of Influence used by a Mage in controlling
reality.  In alphabetical order, they are Correspondence, the Sphere
that deals with space and spatial relations; Entropy, the sphere of
chaos and breakdown; Forces; the Sphere of force and energy, everything
from sound through light and even gravity can be controlled with this
sphere; Life, the sphere of biological control; Matter, control of
physical stuff; Mind, control of mental stuff; Prime, control of the
basic essence of magic; Spirit, control both of spirits, and of the
spiritual reality that lays alongside our own; and finally Time, control
and perception of time itself."

Jacqui thought about what he was saying.  "This Paradox you mention.  Is
there anyway to avoid it?"

"Yes.  There are two basic types of magical effects.  Those that
blatantly defy the rules of what can be done, called Vulgar magic.  And
magic that just causes the unlikely to occur, called coincidental magic.
If you use the latter, you really have to screw up before Paradox gets
involved."

"Like what?  What's the difference?"

"To give you an example, let's say a man pulls a gun out and shoots at
you. If you were to stop the bullet in mid-air, or cause the man to
suddenly explode in flames before he could pull the trigger, those would
be vulgar. But if you were to make the gun jam or throw his aim off, or
even reduce the effect of the bullet by making it pass through your body
missing all the vital organs, that would be coincidence."

Jacqui thought about it and said, "But none of this explains why that,
what did you call it, H.I.T. Mark wanted to kill me."

"Killing you was what it would've done if it had no other choice.  It's
first mission was to capture you."

"But why?"

"Another one of those drawbacks.  You see, at our level, there is a war
going on.  A war for the fate of the human soul.  There are four
factions. The largest faction is a group called the Technocracy.  Their
goal is to make all of reality predictable, controllable, and definable,
so as to make it utterly safe for all of its inhabitants."

"Doesn't sound like too bad a goal."

"There's one problem with it though.  The single most unpredictable,
uncontrollable, indefinable thing in reality is the human soul."

"But you can't destroy the human soul."

"Can't you?  Tell me, do you know of anyone who just goes through life,
waking up at exactly the same time, eats breakfast at exactly the same
time, goes to work at exactly the same time, does the same half-assed
job every day, comes home, complains to their significant other, then
goes to sleep, only to wake up and repeat the process all over again?
All without doing thing one to change it?!"

Jacqui considered what the man was saying.  Although her mother,
Bronwyn, and the entire Sisterhood weren't like that, she knew far too
many who were.  "This sounds like something out of the X-Files."

"It should.  Most of the stories in that show, at least the ones along
the "shadow government" story arc, are based on real events."

"You're kidding."

"Nope."

"So what about the other factions in this war?  What about you?"

"I am a member of a loosely knit coalition of Mages called,
collectively, the Traditions.  We represent, I guess you could call it,
the old ways. Wizards who follow the old formulaic magics.  Witches with
their life magics.  And ironically, also modern technomancers who want
technology and information to be free and unrestricted, instead of
controlled by an elite few.  We want things to be a little freer and
more individually controlled."

"And the other two factions?"

"The other two, thankfully, minor factions are the Marauders and the
Nephandi.  The Marauders are... nuts.  Literally insane.  They want a
return to the days of unrestrained magic and chaos.  They'd like nothing
better than to have anyone capable of anything, anytime, anywhere."

"I guess they have the most problems with Paradox."

"Actually, the exact opposite.  There is something about their insanity
which makes them immune to Paradox.  They are some of the most dangerous
opponents you will ever face."

"And the Nephandi?"

"The less said about them the better.  Where the Marauders are the
madness of pure chaos, the Nephandi are the madness of pure evil.  Their
souls have literally been ripped apart, purged of anything good, and put
back together again by forces so evil, that to look upon them is to risk
madness."

"So now I'm a part of this war whether I like it or not?"

"Pretty much.  You could theoretically maintain a neutral position in
the war, but that takes a certain amount of skill and finesse.  It's not
an easy road to travel.  The Technocracy will think of you as a wild
card to either be countered or used for their benefit.  The Nephandi
will destroy you or recruit you.  Of course, they'll try to do that no
matter what faction you join.  The Marauders won't care one way or the
other."

"And the Traditions?"

"The opinions run the gamut.  Some feel that neutral Orphans are just
cowards too afraid to get into the war.  Others feel that they should
just be left alone.  But no matter what stance they take, being neutral
means not having the support of being part of the factions."

"So I've been drafted?"

"Kind of.  You ready to go?"

"Go where?"

"Regardless of what stance you take in the war, you will need a certain
minimum level of skills.  I currently reside in a place not even on this
planet where Paradox doesn't hold sway.  There we serve two functions.
One is to be an active militant arm for the traditions, the other is to
be an active training ground for the newly Awakened.  It's easier to
train a person when you can cast reality altering magics without fear of
reality kicking you in your teeth."

"But... what about my mom?  What about the Sisterhood?"

"What about them?"

"I can't just leave them.  Particularly with what you've told me.  I
have to warn them."

"That would be bad.  Did you ever see that movie, "Men In Black"?"
Jacqui nodded.  "Well, it was a good comedy, but a bad representation of
the real Men in Black.  But there was one part of it that I did agree
with.  The character K, played by Tommy Lee Jones looks to J after he's
used blatantly overpowered technology and says, 'There's always a death
ray, or an intergalactic plague, or something threatening to wipe out
life as we know it on this planet.  The only way these people can get on
with their happy lives is if they do. not. know about it.'  I know the
Sisterhood.  You tell them about this and they'll try try do something
about it.  And they'll fail."

"Is the Technocracy really that powerful?"

"Individually, no.  The Sisterhood could probably take on a small group,
easily.  But the Technocracy is not a small group.  The Technocracy
ignores the lesser paths because they're just not worth expending the
energy to eliminate.  But if your Sisterhood makes themselves a viable
threat, they'll get stomped like a bug."

"I don't think they'll find it that easy."

"Really?  The Technocracy may define all their magic in terms of
technology, but anything you have read in any science fiction novel,
except for the most fantastic, they can do.  You use a mind-reading
spell, they use a telepathic scanner.  You use mind control, they use
advanced brain-washing.  You use the Transformation spell, they use a
'genetic realignment virus.'  And if they ever find out that the women
of the Sisterhood lose their powers if they become men, one genetic
virus later, phhht, no more Sisterhood.  One less lesser path to worry
about."

"You keep calling them that.  Why 'lesser path?'"

"I suppose it is a little arrogant.  But believe me, it's one of the
less derogatory terms.  Most of my peers refer to them as Hedge Wizards,
and you will hear the sneer in most of their voices when they say it.
But it's a reflection of power levels and abilities.  One of our level,
trained, has the power of four or five of those of your previous group."

"Previous group?"

"I suppose technically you're still on their rosters as one of them, but
you no longer wield the power of the Goddess.  You wield a power
completely of your own.  Short of its utter decimation, it can't be
taken from you. And in case you haven't figured it out yet, your power
will not suffer one bit from killing.  Whether your conscience will is
another matter entirely. Now are you ready to go?"

"But... my mom?"

"Look, I can't make you come with me.  Well, I could, but I'm not going
to. But I've told you your options.  You contact your mother, call her
on the phone, even contact her telepathically, and you might as well
sign the death warrant.  Now, as long as your mother doesn't try
anything stupid, she'll probably be safe."

"Probably?  You mean they might do something anyways?"

The man shrugged.  "Anything's possible."

Jacqui was quickly growing frantic.  It seemed she had an option of
doing nothing and putting her mom at risk, or doing something and
ensuring her death.  Then she said, "You.  You could protect her, watch
over her."

"Could, but why would I want to?"

"Please."

The man got up and walked towards the fridge.  "I'm a busy man, Miss
Donovan.  I don't have time to cater to every apprentice's worries."

"But what if it were your mom?"

The man froze and tensed up.  With obvious tension in his voice, he
said, "I'd like to think I'd protect her anyways, but far too much of me
wants to say I'd leave her to her fate, no matter how bad it is." Jacqui
could hear the pain in his voice and every healer's urge she had wanted
to help him, but didn't know how.

Finally, the man relaxed, sighed, and said, "Alright, I'll do it."  He
then turned to Jacqui, and said, "But I do it on my terms.  MY way."

"But what is your way?"

"Close your eyes and open your mind."

Jacqui did as she was told, and felt mental probes scanning her mind.
After he was finished, Jacqui heard a strangely familiar voice say,
"Okay, done."  When Jacqui opened her eyes, she saw a face she had not
seen in a very, very long time.

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

Laurie was frantic.  The night before when she had lost track of her
daughter, every Sister in San Bernardino had been mobilized in a vain
effort to find Jacqui.  But a little while later, Laurie's sense of her
daughter had gone out almost entirely.  She could tell that Jacqui was
still alive and unharmed, but other than that, the distance her senses
were telling her Jacqui was at were impossibly huge.  At that point
every sister on the planet had been alerted to be on the lookout for the
youngster.

At nearly five that afternoon, Bronwyn came running into the house.
Laurie, sitting at the kitchen table, asked, "Any news?"

Bronwyn sat beside her.  "Some.  One of the sisters who was watching the
college campus was in one of Jacqui's classes when the teacher called
roll. But then he got to a Jack Donovan, and a young man ran into the
room, yelling, 'Here.'  A young man that looked exactly like Jacqui
before her Transformation!"

Laurie thought about it for a second and said, "No.  It's not her."

"Laurie-"

"No.  Even if she had decided to go back, and had found a way, she...
he'd be a lot closer than my senses tell me he is."

"Are you sure?  I've gotten the impressions from our Sister.  She's been
watching him all day.  The impressions are exactly like those of Jacqui
before her Transformation."

Suddenly, a strange (yet familiar) voice said, "That's because I scanned
her mind to get all the information I could before doing this."

Both women bolted upright and turned to be confronted by the image of a
man who had not existed for over two years, Laurie's son, Jack.  Laurie
was suddenly besieged by guilt, the guilt of having transformed her son
unwillingly into her daughter; a guilt she thought she was over.
Bronwyn said, "Who are you?  Where is Jacqui?"

"Who am I?"  He smiled.  "For the time being, I am Jack, her son.  Not
telling you my real name will keep you from using it by accident."

"But where is Jacqui?"

"Safe."

"Safe where?"

"In case you're not getting it, I don't intend to tell you."  Before
either lady could object, "Jack" continued, "Here's the scoop.  Your
daughter, sometime in the last half year I'd guess, underwent a massive
spiritual transformation.  It was something that pushed her to a whole
new power level.  A power level you couldn't hope to deal with, much
less train.  So she's someplace where she can now be trained."  Suddenly
he switched tracks, and yelled, "Incoming."

Bronwyn then felt a mental message.  It was Dana, the woman who had been
watching "Jack" at school.  "Bronwyn, I've lost the boy!  He went into
the locker room after practice and when he didn't come out, I cast an
illusion and went in after him.  But he's gone!  I have no idea how!"

Bronwyn sent back, "It's okay, Dana.  He's here with us."

"He's...  How?"

"I'll try to find out.  Check back later."  Closing the link, she said
to Jack, "Alright who are you?  One of the Brotherhood?"

Jack snorted in derision.  "Hardly.  Shape shifting, mind scans, and
teleportation under the direct observation of a Sister with her being
none the wiser are all beyond them."

Laurie, a plaintive tone to her voice, asked, "Why are you here?  As
Jack? Why not send a girl to be Jacqui?"

"This is not usual behavior.  Usually the erstwhile apprentice simply
disappears for a while, then returns later.  Your daughter implored me
to come here.  As for why I'm Jack and not Jacqui, the reasons are
twofold. One, I don't do the girl thing unless I have to.  Private
reasons.  And two, to make going back to Jack a real option."

Laurie desperately said, "But she decided to stay Jacqui!"

With a disgusted tone, he said, "Oh, big surprise.  You destroy HIS
life, Jacqui spends two years rebuilding it as a woman, then doesn't
want to rebuild her life as Jack all over again?  Yeah, big surprise."

Hearing the guilt inspired desperation in her friend and lover's voice
and becoming quite angry herself, Bronwyn said, "Look, you!  Why should
we put up with this?  Why should we help you?"

Jack looked at Bronwyn with apparent honest surprise.  "So I should just
go back and tell Jacqui that Jack never really mattered to either of
you?  I'm sure she'll be real happy about that."

Angrily, Bronwyn said, "How dare you?!"  But before she could go
further, Jack snapped his fingers.  Suddenly there was a very realistic
image of Laurie and Jacqui in the kitchen talking.  It was a replay of
the events shortly after Laurie had made the Transformation of her son.
After that, he snapped his fingers again, and the first illusion was
gone to be replaced by one of Jacqui and Bronwyn.  In both cases, the
illusion showed both of the elder women apologizing for having taken
Jack's life from him, and pledging to do what they could to help him get
back if he wanted.

After both were finished, Jack snapped his fingers, and the illusions
were gone.  "So what's it going to be?  If you want, I'll go back and
tell Jacqui that you meant those words only as long as you didn't think
you'd have to really follow through on them."

Both Bronwyn and Laurie stewed a bit before Bronwyn said, "We want to
talk to Jacqui directly.  Find out what she wants."

"And I want world peace.  I don't see either happening real soon."

Bronwyn was quickly growing enraged.  "Now look here!  Do we get to see
Jacqui or...?"

"Or what?"

"Or things get really ugly."

Jack sighed.  "I can see this is going nowhere until you get a
confrontation, so..."  Jack snapped his fingers and suddenly all three
were standing on top of a wind swept plateau.

Bronwyn asked, "Where are we?"

"On top of a mesa somewhere in the American southwest.  New Mexico, I
think, but that's not really relevant."

Laurie asked, "Why are we here?"

"Well, I figured if the High Priestess there was set and determined to
provoke a confrontation it would best be held far away from your home
where we wouldn't be risking your house or possessions."

Both women were shocked.  This was further than any woman in the
Sisterhood (except maybe Jacqui) could've teleported without being
totally exhausted, and this man did it without the slightest stress.
After a few seconds, he said, "Well?"

Bronwyn pulled herself together and cast a "Stun blast," an attack
directly on the mind of a person designed to render them helpless.  The
spell lashed out, struck the Jack look-alike, and did absolutely
nothing.  In fact, judging by the look on his face, had he not been
watching, he may not have even noticed the spell being cast.  He looked
at her in disbelief and asked, "Is that the best you've got?"

Bronwyn then proceeded to cast a series of spells against him, each more
powerful than the last, but each doing absolutely nothing.  When she
took a brief break, Jack asked, "Are you finished yet?"

Bronwyn took a deep breath, and said, "Not quite."  She then used the
Transformation spell on herself.  She grew to about seven feet tall,
with a hard carapace, and claws for hands.

Jack looked at her and sighed.  He then back-flipped.  As soon as his
hands touched the ground, his body lengthened and grew.  His hands
became huge claws, and his head became a super-sized lizard's head. When
his feet landed Bronwyn and Laurie found themselves looking at an
oriental dragon. His head alone was bigger than both of them combined.
He then put his head right up to Bronwyn (his eye was as big as her
head) and said, "Take your best shot."

Bronwyn just stared at him for a few seconds before taking a couple
steps back, signifying her submission.  He said, "Good plan."  He then
brought his claw up and snapped it like fingers, and all three were back
at Laurie's in their normal forms.  "Now that we've had the obligatory
'See how powerful this guy is' confrontation, we can get on with our
lives."

Bronwyn could feel the pain and guilt in Laurie, and asked, "How could
you be so cruel and arrogant?"

"Cruel and arrogant?  If that doesn't fall under the category of 'Pot
calling the kettle black,' I don't know what does."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Your Transformation of Jack into Jacqui.  It was unprovoked and done
without full consideration of the effects upon him."

"We did what we thought was right!"

"Really?  Let's put that to the test, shall we?  Three quick questions.
One, when you scanned Jack's mind to see what he'd be losing, how many
things did you find?"

Both women suddenly got a sheepish look on their faces.  Jack asked,
"You didn't bother scanning his mind before you transformed him, did
you?  It's real easy to convince yourself that the life he's got isn't
worth letting him keep when you don't actually take a good look at the
life he's got.

"Second question.  When you gave Jack fair warning that asking for more
time after that first hour would mean staying a woman, how long did he
have to fight before finally giving in and losing total control?"

After a few seconds, he said, "That's right, you didn't actually give
him fair warning, did you?  It's real easy to convince yourself that it
was her decision when you make sure she's got only the data you want her
to have. When she has no idea the full ramifications of her decision.

"Third question.  Doing what I'm doing, living Jack's life for him so
that he'd have HIS life to come back to if he wanted to, would've been a
lot harder for you than for me, maybe even impossible, but how long did
you consider it before deciding it was impossible?"

After a few more seconds, he said, "It wasn't even a consideration, was
it? It kind of increases the likelihood that she won't go back to being
Jack when the life isn't really there to go back to, doesn't it?  Let's
face facts, ladies.  You were so interested in creating Jacqueline, that
for a brief while Jack ceased to matter."

Bronwyn felt stab after stab of guilt inspired depression roll off of
Laurie.  She growled, "Damn you."

She was about to try something, despite the consequences, when he said,
"Oh, go away," and waved his hand at her, teleporting her away.

Laurie sat there at the table, tears rolling down her cheeks, unable to
look up and face the image of her son.  But then she felt a hand on her
shoulder, placed there with a soft, tender touch.  She looked up into
his eyes to see a very concerned look.  "Damn," she thought, "did he
have to look SO much like her son?"

"Believe it or not," he said, "I'm not doing this to be cruel."

She looked down at the table.  "Could've fooled me."

He sat beside her in the chair recently vacated by Bronwyn.  He turned
her face to his.  "I'm doing this because you have never confronted the
guilt over what you did to your son.  You have never confronted the
reasons why you did it."

"I did it because the Sisterhood thought that Jacqui's power would be
necessary in the upcoming fight against the Brotherhood."

"No, that's the excuse you used."

When he said those words, he said them so matter of factly that it
shocked her out of her depression.  "What're you talking about?"

"Looking back, can you say, with absolute certainty, that you couldn't
have handled the Brotherhood without Jacqui?  Granted, her power made
victory almost totally certain, but can you look back and say that she
was totally necessary?  Again, with absolute certainty?"

Laurie thought about it.  "Not with absolute certainty."

He placed his hand on hers.  "You are too good a mother, too loving, to
have destroyed your son's life on a hunch.  At least not without having
undergone at least one of the precautions I mentioned earlier.  There is
another reason, a reason you must discover and deal with.  And, in so
doing, you will undo a serious wrong done ages ago."

Laurie was confused.  "What do you mean?  Do you know the reason?"

"Yeah."

"Can't you just tell me?"

He considered it for a while before saying, "Technically yes.  But the
fact of the matter is that it is so unbelievable and so... unkind a
revelation, that if I reveal it to you, you'll assume I'm just making it
up and get nasty and defensive, making both of our lives miserable for
our time together.  No, you have to discover this on your own.  I can
give you clues, and prod you along, but it has to be your discovery."

"Thinking along those lines, how long are you going to be here?"

"Until Jacqui finishes her apprenticeship."

"How long will that take?"

"Depends on whether or not she decides to join one of the sub-groups in
our coalition of Mages.  If she doesn't decide to join a formal group
then she can attend a variety of classes to get the training she needs.
Problem with that route is that there are special trainings available
only if you officially pledge to a group.  Trainings that could
theoretically speed her training time."

"And if she joins one?"

"Then her training time could last anywhere from 6 months to 12 years,
depending on the group she joins."

"12 YEARS?!"

"Yeah, but I don't see her joining the Hermetic Guild.  They're a little
too... anal for her, I think."

"Then how long do you think?"

"Well, I checked the records.  Jacqui is not the first Sister to awaken
to the higher level.  Before this, most have joined the Verbena, a group
of Life and nature mages, and a few have joined the Celestial Chorus,
religious mages.  But I don't see her joining either of those.  Most
likely she'll join the Virtual Adepts, computer mages who hack the
reality code."

Thinking of her daughter's skill with computers, Laurie said, "I don't
know about 'hacking the reality code', but computers make sense.  How
long till she comes back if she joins them?"

"Totally unpredictable.  They're one of the most freestyle learning
forms. Could take as little as 6 months, or as much as 5 years."

"But however long it takes her, she won't be here when she gives birth."

"Sorry, no.  But she will be safe.  There are more than enough Masters
of Life magicks to ensure a safe and healthy birth for mother and
child."

"But a birth without me."  Jack said nothing, knowing that nothing he
could say would do anything to make it better.

Laurie sat for a while, contemplating the words of the man who had taken
her son's face.  Finally, she pulled herself together, and, looking
around, said, "Wait a second, where's Bronwyn?"	

"She's fine.  I just sent her to-"  Suddenly Jack's eyes went wide, and
he said, "Oops."

"Oops?  What oops?  If you've done anything to her!"

"Oh, no, at least not anything she can't handle.  I just made a little
mistake."

"What mistake?!"

"I sent her to the bathroom of a casino in Vegas."

"And?"

"Well, I've never actually been to the women's room, and it was just
kind of an unconscious thing.  Wave my hand, send her away, and I sent
her to the one I was familiar with."

"Are you saying...?"

"I sent her to the men's room.  It was an accident and I didn't mean it.
I am sorry for any embarrassment I caused her."

Laurie tried to keep from smiling, she really did, but, after the
intense emotion of the past day, this was just too funny.  Jack said,
"Now that's the smile I remember from Jacqui's memory."

Laurie asked, "Uhm, Jack, you scanned Jacqui's mind.  Do you really
think she'll go back to being Jack?"

"From what I scanned, probably not.  But who knows what she'll decide
after mastering her new level of power.  She could stay Jacqui, and
decide to be Jack for a few days out of the week.  Or vice versa."

"But if she goes back, won't she lose her power?"

"Nope.  All the old rules don't apply.  It all depends on how much skill
she gains during her training.  Although I doubt she'll be able to
manage full body transformations fresh out of apprenticeship, but I
could be wrong.  Stranger things have happened.  Now if you don't mind,
I've got some studying to do.  Your daughter had a pretty heavy class
schedule. Sheesh!"

Laurie smiled.  He sounded like Bronwyn had after she found out what her
school load would be following Jacqui around for her senior year.  "Wait
a second.  You said you'd give me a clue.  To help me confront why I did
what I did."

"That I did.  Okay, clue one.  Look for a common thread running through
all those of the Sisterhood who decided to make the return to manhood.
The thread will be present in some who did not return, but all those who
did have at least one thing in common."  It was kind of vague, but at
least it was a starting spot.

Jack got up and went over to the fridge.  "Want a soda?"

"There's none in there.  I meant to go shopping today, but with Jacqui's
disappearance things have been too hectic."

Jack returned with a couple cans of soda, and set one in front of
Laurie. "Don't worry about it.  I handled the shopping.  One of the
advantages of having one of the world's most powerful mages living in
your household.  As long as we're together, as long as I'm here, I'll
take care of the food." As he walked towards the staircase, he said,
"I've got to warn you, though, some of my tastes can get pretty
extravagant.  Expect to eat well for a while."

After he left, Laurie opened the can of soda and sipped at it.  Then she
got up and checked her cabinets.  All of the ones with food were
stocked, mostly with expensive gourmet foods.  "Well," she thought,
"it's not my daughter, but it is something."

Then she heard Bronwyn mentally calling to her.  "Laurie, are you okay?
Is... whoever he is still there?"

"He's up in Jacqui's room doing her... his homework."

"Do you think it's safe to talk mentally?"

"I think so, but I also think if he wanted to eavesdrop, that no place
that we went to, no steps that we could take would prevent it."

"You think he's that powerful?"

"Yes, Bron, I do.  I have been sitting at this table all day, and have
felt no magic used in my house, but I, as we speak, am looking at
cabinets filled with expensive foods of all types."

"You sound impressed by him."

"Well, after you... left, we got a chance to talk.  He's not really a
bad guy."

"That's another thing.  Do you have any idea where he sent me?"

"The men's room of a casino in Vegas.  He explained that.  He's never
been in the woman's room, and he just sent you to where he was familiar
with. He did apologize for any embarrassment."

"Well, even if I believe him, we still need to get together and see if
we can find a way to get rid of him and get Jacqui back."

"No."

"WHAT!?  Are you crazed, girl?  Don't you want your daughter back?"

"Of course I do!  But if this man's organization can train her where we
cannot then she deserves the best we can give her.  Besides, he was
right."

"What are you talking about?  Jacqui accepted her womanhood and decided
to stay one of us."

"And he told me that, from what he scanned in her mind, that she would
probably not return to being Jack.  But if any part of her decision was
based upon the reason that Jack wasn't there to go back to, then we owe
it to her to let this man rebuild that life so that she has a decent
choice."

"But-"

"No buts, Bron.  In our arrogance to determine what we thought was
right, we stole Jack's life from him, we both admit that.  And we both
promised to do what we could to help her get her life back if that was
what she wanted. If this man can do what we can't, can give Jack back
the life he would've had if we hadn't Transformed him, we have no right
to interfere.  We owe it to Jacqui."

Bronwyn was silent for a few seconds before saying, "I can't just sit
back and do nothing."

"Yes, Bronwyn, you can.  You must."

Bronwyn was silent for a little while longer before saying, "I'll be
back as soon as I can.  We can discuss it in person."

"Okay, love."

************ ------------

He wandered through the empty building, questing with his magical
senses. The building was empty, thanks to those bitches in the
Sisterhood.  Thanks to them, one of the greatest strongholds of the
Brotherhood was now an abandoned husk of a building, some of their
greatest members lost.

He expanded his senses, looking for the tool that would provide both
revenge and domination.  Finally, he found it.  He walked over to the
computer terminal, pressed a button and the ZIP disk ejected.  He felt
the disk with his senses, feeling the mating of magic and technology
that was the creation of Eric Lancaster, the previous head of the
Brotherhood, his brother, now an emasculated bitch brat.

He held the disk up.  "And so it begins anew.  The Dark One be praised."

------------ ************

Excerpt from the journal of Miss Jacqui Donovan, Vol. II

Day 1

I know it seems strange to say Day 1, but it just seems right.  I'm
trying to think of something to put after it, like the A.T. (after
Transformation) in my original journal.  Maybe A.A. (after arrival) or
I.T.O. (in the otherworld).  I'll decide later.

After he got finished explaining my new status in the world, and
transforming himself into... Jack (I can't even say that it really is me
anymore), the Akashic Master brought me here to this... Otherworld.  I
can't think of another term for it.  We just stepped into a mirror, and
we were here.

From the explanation they gave me, there's a world side by side with our
own.  A spirit world.  I guess the closest analogy I've got in my
experience is what human mystics call the Astral Plane.  Of course, when
I use this analogy, most of the people here just smile knowingly.
Patronizingly.  They make me feel like a five year old trying to figure
out nuclear physics.

Anyways, this spirit world outside our own has a boundary.  They call it
the Horizon.  And when I say boundary, I don't just mean a limit, I mean
a metaphysical protective field.  That's where we are.  In a man made
mini-universe placed on a gate between what's inside and what's outside
the Horizon.

They won't tell me what's outside the boundary, and when I ask, they
just say, "Pray you never find out."  I hate it when people keep me in
the dark "for my own good."

They plan on taking me on a tour of the base tomorrow.  There are, in
their words, nine and a half groups in the base.  Nine full blown groups
of magi on their Council, and one up and coming group of youngsters.
They plan on introducing me to all of them.  They say I can join any
group I want to, or none at all.  But I get the feeling that they expect
me to join a group, regardless of whatever else they say.

The thing that strikes me most about these people is their total
arrogance. Maybe they deserve it.  Maybe their powers are greater than
anyone in the Sisterhood, and a few of them maybe have more power than
all of the Sisterhood combined.  But do they have to act like this makes
them better than all of humanity?

The thing I'm most surprised about is the Akashic Master.  I had no idea
that he was as powerful as he was.  It seems that he is the head of one
of those groups I was talking about earlier.  With a snap of his fingers
he could've had a half dozen of his men positioned around home within an
hour. That he would handle this personally flabbergasts me.

It flabbergasts everyone else, too.  But what really seems to shock them
is when they ask me what I had to do to get him to do it, and I tell
them that I just asked.  Apparently he's got something of a mercenary
reputation around here.

Well, tomorrow is another day, and I need to get some sleep.

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

Excerpt from the journal of Miss Jacqui Donovan, Vol. II

Day 2

Oh, Goddess!  I don't know whether to cry or jump for joy.  I was waken
early this morning by a lady about my age.  "Good morning," she says
with a cheeriness I definitely didn't feel.  "I'm to be your escort
today."

"I don't suppose you could escort me in about an hour, and let me get
some more sleep?"  I asked.

"Feeling a little groggy?  That's transition lag.  Kind of like
metaphysical jet lag from arriving here."  She then reached into her
belt and pulled out a dagger.  I must've gone bug-eyed, because she just
smiled and said, "Relax."  She then pricked her own finger.  She waved
her hand a bit, and sung.  The blood on her fingertip became a mist that
flowed towards me.  I backed up a bit, but when I breathed it in, all my
exhaustion dissipated.

I got up and thanked her.  After we left my room, I asked what the blood
and song was for.  "They're my foci," she said.

When I asked her what that meant, she said, "Oh, I forgot.  You're an
Orphan."

"Orphan?"

"Somebody who didn't awaken due to the training of one of the
Traditions. You see, each Tradition takes promising Sleepers who might
understand the universe from their viewpoint and trains them, hoping
they'll Awaken to their higher potential.  But there are a few, more and
more these days, who Awaken without any prompting from the higher
orders, an Orphan.  And a focus is a casting aid to help control the
universe around you.  As you follow the path to Ascension, you're able
to shed more and more of those aids.  As an Orphan, you either have your
own foci or no need at all.  Me? I use the foci of my own Tradition, the
Verbena."

"The Verbena?"

"One of the groups I'm to introduce you to today.  The Verbena are the
modern day descendants of the Pagans and Druids of the Pre-civilized
world. I use things like blood, song, dance, herbs, and such as foci.
Verbena are the masters of Life magicks."

She then took me to her section of the base, showing me some of the
rites and rituals of the Verbena.  Some of it, like the chanting and
singing were like what mom had taught me as one of the Sisterhood.  But
some of it, like the blood magic, was kind of creepy.

The next group she introduced me to was the Celestial Chorus, masters of
Prime.  These people focus through things like prayers, fasting,
sacrifice. They believe that their magick is actually a gift from the
Supreme Creator.

The next group were the Dreamspeakers, masters of the sphere of Spirit,
the modern-day descendants of the shamans of old.  They get their power
through beseeching the spirit world.

Then she introduced me to the Cult of Ecstasy, masters of the Time
Sphere. How do I describe the Cultists?  You know when people who
experienced the drugs of the 60's say that they experienced new worlds
and mind-expanding vistas?  For the Cultists it was true.  I suppose
that's not an entirely fair assessment, but it was the impression they
left me.  For them, their foci are anything that provides sensation.
Drugs, sex, even pain. Definitely not for me.

The next group was the Akashics, or more formally, the Akashic
Brotherhood (although from what I understand, more and more the word
"Brotherhood" is being dropped when referring to these folks), masters
of Mind.  This was when I discovered who my strange rescuer had been.
The Akashics are descendants of Oriental mages who focus their power
through discipline and their martial art.

Next I was shown the Order of Hermes, masters of Forces.  The oldest
formally established order (although the Verbena and the Akashics both
can trace their lineage back much further, the Hermetics are the first
to formally unify most of their groups under a single ruling body). When
you think of mages from most fantasy stories, sitting in their towers
apart from the world, writing new spells and doing fancy rituals, that's
these guys.

I don't think I'll be joining these guys, for two reasons.  One, they're
a little too... anal for my tastes.  Two, if arrogance were power, these
guys would already rule the world.  And that's saying something,
considering the rest of these mages' attitude.

This was when I asked Morrigan, my escort, if any of the mages lived in
the twentieth century.  That was when she brought me to meet the Sons of
Ether, masters of Matter.  These guys are like the mad scientists from
old pulp novels of the 20's and 30's.  Fancy gadgets based on obscure
scientific principles, most of which have been disproven, are their
foci.

Then she introduced me to the Virtual Adepts.  Now these are guys I
could really get behind.  They're computer mages.  Their foci?
Computers, programs, virtual reality gear.  These guys really impressed
me.

That was when it happened.  Morrigan took me to meet the last official
group.  The Euthanatos.  Death mages.  Masters of the Sphere of Entropy.
Just walking into their area kind of creeped me out.  We went in when a
class was in session.  A bunch of apprentices were being trained by a
Master in the use of a knife.

Then I saw him.  At first, I thought my eyes, my heart was deceiving me.
I thought that his visage was the result of the combination an
overactive imagination and the potential I had seen.  I saw...  Marcus.
The man I loved, the father of my child.  Morrigan was saying something
to me, but I didn't even hear her.  I called out to him.  His head
turned and then I saw it was true.  It was my Marcus!

I ran to him and threw my arms around him.  I felt his arms encircle me,
but it was cold, perfunctory.  After far too short a time, Marcus broke
the embrace.  He looked at me, and asked, "You are well?"

I said yes, and tried to restore our embrace.  But Marcus locked up his
arms, and kept me at a distance.  He said, "I need to get back to my
class," and turned back to his class.

I stepped away, wondering what was wrong, when Morrigan asked me what
was going on.  I told her about my relationship with Marcus, and
explained how I lost him, to which, she just said, "I'm so sorry."

When I pressed her for details, she explained.  "Your lover is now one
of the Euthanatos.  The Euthanatos, in an effort to understand death,
allow themselves to experience death.  They go beyond the Veil and
return.  From the sounds of it, Marcus's Awakening experience was his
dying."

"But if his Magick kept him from dying-"

"No, not kept him from dying.  Brought him back from death.  That...
changes a man.  The Marcus you see out there is not the same Marcus you
last knew."

I was stunned.  Marcus... no longer loves me?  I begged off any further
tour, and returned to my room.  Goddess, I think I will cry.

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

Bronwyn, early the next day, went into Laurie's kitchen, where the
younger woman was having a morning cup of coffee.  "Morning, Bronwyn,
shouldn't you be looking after Lani?"

"Lani is fine.  She's at the sitter's.  I figured we needed to talk
about this Jack problem."

"There's no problem."

"Laurie."

"No, Bron.  This is my decision."

Bronwyn remained silent for a few seconds before saying, "I scanned him
last night."

"BRONWYN!"

"I'm sorry, love, but I can't just stand by and do nothing."

Laurie grumbled a bit.  "I just hope you haven't provoked anything by
doing it."  They both sat in silence for a few seconds before Laurie
said, "Well, since it's already done, what did you find out?"

Bronwyn smiled.  "Honestly, not much.  His shields are... incredible.
Nothing I did could allow me to slip past even one of them.  But it was
the strangest thing."

"What?"

"When I was there, especially when I touched his shields, I got this
feeling of... familiarity.  Like I knew him."

"Is he someone you know?"

"No.  At least not someone I've known recently."

They heard feet on the steps and Bronwyn placed her fingers to her lips
in a silencing motion.  When he came into the room, Laurie said, "Good
morning,... Jack."

"Good morning, mother-darling."

Bronwyn got up, saying, "I guess I'd better go."

Jack said, "Sit down, Bronson."

Bronwyn froze in place.  "What did you call me?"

"Bronson.  Your pre-Transformation name.  I thought it'd hold enough
impact to get through to you."  Jack pointed to the chair which Bronwyn
was barely out of, and she sat back down.  "Now, where do I begin? Let's
start with that pathetic intrusion attempt you made last night.  Now you
didn't really know, so let me explain something.  My specialty is not
imitating other people.  My specialty is combat.  And the first type of
combat I mastered was mental combat.  So while you were clumsily banging
your head, metaphorically speaking, on my shields, I went through some
of your mind to find some personal data about you.

"Now, at first, I figured I'd get some data, come down this morning, use
it to prove I had been inside your head, then make some nasty threats."
Bronwyn and Laurie got suspicious (and a little frightened) looks on
their faces.  "Relax.  I dismissed that early on.  I realized that if I
threatened you, it'd probably only provoke you.  And I don't want to
fight you."  He looked Bronwyn in the eye and said, "Either of you," in
a tone that made it clear that if he had to fight, he'd find fighting
her much easier than he cared to admit.

He continued, "Let me explain something.  There is nothing you can do,
that I cannot counter, undo, or just plain ignore.  But you can hassle
me to the point where I decide to up and leave.  But if you drive me
away, know this, I can rebuild Jack's life anywhere on the planet.  You
drive me away, and the day after, she," he pointed to Laurie, "starts
finding letters of acceptance to colleges across the country, maybe
around the world, for Jack Donovan.  Then when Jacqui gets finished with
her apprenticeship, she comes back knowing that you were unwilling to
give her a decent chance at a life as Jack, and with a great life
somewhere else.  Get the point?"

Bronwyn and Laurie nodded.  Jack said, "Good.  Now I've got an early
class today, and if my senses aren't betraying me, I think we're going
to have a pop-quiz today."

After Jack left, Laurie slugged Bronwyn in the arm, and gave her a dirty
look.  "If you blow this for me, Bronwyn, I will never forgive you.  And
if you lose my daughter for me, I will never speak to you again."

Laurie stormed out of the room.  After she was gone, Bronwyn whispered,
"But I can't just sit by and do nothing."

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

Excerpt from the journal of Miss Jacqui Donovan, Vol. II

Day 3

I cried myself to sleep last night.  Then had dreams of dancing with
Marcus, like on our prom.  I woke up this morning and broke down in
tears again.  How am I going to manage this?  Knowing Marcus is just in
another part of the base, and doesn't want to be with me is just too
much.

Anyways, Morrigan introduced me to the last group, the semi-official
one. They call themselves the Hollow Ones.  They're Generation X mages.
Kind of fatalistic, but with a sense of hidden hope inside them.

There's a small group of unaffiliated mages, the Orphans.  I'm not sure
which group, if any I'm going to join.

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

Bronwyn sat in her home, trying to think of a way to, at least, keep an
eye on the Jack look-alike.  There was no way she could discuss this
with Laurie.  Not that Bronwyn blamed her lover.  If Bronwyn had been
made to choose between her child and the Sisterhood, she'd've made the
same choice. But it just wasn't in her nature to sit back and do
nothing.

Most of her options just didn't seem to be of any use to her.  Whoever
this man was, he was just too powerful to be confronted directly, either
with subtlety or blatant action.  So that left only indirect action.
Shape-shifting and illusions seemed out, too.  There was no way a mage
of his power wasn't going to notice the presence of magic.  He may not
have been able to see through them (although that seemed unlikely), but
he'd definitely notice the presence.

Which pretty much left the Transformation spell.  Which had dangers of
its own.  If something happened she'd be stuck like this forever, so she
had to pick her form carefully.  He had already admitted that he had
scanned Jacqui's mind, so she couldn't look anything like herself or
Bonnie.  She thought about it for a while then cast her spell.  When she
was finished, the cute little redhead looking back at her from the
mirror was exactly like she wanted.  Sexy, without being too sexy, but
also cute and pretty.

Luckily, it was still early enough in the term that a transfer student
wouldn't be too strange.  And she could choose a schedule that she
wanted. Only one or two classes with "Jack" would be necessary, and she
could grab the electives, or maybe even a computer class or two.  One
thing she had learned from Jacqui was that the Sisterhood was woefully
inept in modern technologies.  But whatever it was, she wouldn't be able
to use mental scanning to get her through the rough spots.

She'd cast the spells later that night to create the official records
of... What would her name be?  She finally decided on Nita.  But she'd
create the official records of Nita tonight, so she could get some sleep
before starting her watch the next day.

************ ------------

He walked into the base and into the lab.  "I got it," he told the
scientist working there.

The scientist replied, "Are you sure you want to use this?  The
Sisterhood knows you've got it.  They may have developed
counter-measures to it."

"Please.  The most effective counter-measures would've been destroying
all traces of the virus before they left the base.  But the bitches were
so concerned about their whelp that they totally overlooked making sure
that all back-ups were destroyed when they destroyed the computers.  No.
We will do this, if only to avenge my brother's death."

"But your brother isn't dead."

The man turned on the scientist!  "Transformed into a girl?!  He might
as well be dead!!!"

The scientist cringed, "Yes, sir, Mr. Lancaster."

After Lancaster left, the scientist resumed his regular stature.  He
took the computer disk with the virus on it and smiled.  "Fanatics are
so easy to manipulate," he thought.  He stuck the computer disk into the
drive. It'd take some work to make it into a sufficient tool for his
uses, but when he finished he'd show those fools in the Brotherhood what
worshiping a Dark One really meant.

------------ ************

"Nita" walked into the cafeteria.  She had checked a bit, and found out
that right after practice, a few members of the team, including Jack,
usually went to the cafeteria and had some sodas and snacks.  She had
arranged it so that her next class would be with the look-alike.  If it
was possible, she'd get him to walk her to class.

She sat down at an empty table and waited.  It was only about 15 minutes
before Jack and four other guys came in, laughing and joking.  They sat
at a table across the room from her, and continued to laugh and joke.
She was trying to figure out a way to get Jack to notice her, when she
noticed that a couple guys were pointing at her and whispering.  She was
tempted to use her magics to amplify her hearing, but she really
couldn't take the chance.

Then it finally sunk in.  Bronwyn a.k.a. Nita realized that she had
become far too reliant on her magics, but, if she was to pull this off,
she'd have to do everything she needed without recourse to even the
simplest of spells.

The boys seemed to be discussing something, and from the sideways
glances, and subtle pointing, she guessed it had something to do with
her.  Finally, one of Jack's friends got up and came over to her.  "Hi,
my name is Bob," he said, introducing himself, and extending his hand to
her.

Nita placed her hand in his, and he took it and kissed it.  "My name is
Nita," she said.

"Enchanted.  Are you new around here?"

"Transferred in today."

"Need somebody to show you around?"

"Well, no, I think I've pretty much got it down.  Thanks."

"Could I perhaps entreat you to share your phone number with me?"

"Sorry, no phone number yet.  Just moved into town, remember?"

"Perhaps I could take you out next Friday so that we could get to know
each other?"

"Sorry.  Until I can get caught up, I'm going to have to devote my free
time to study.  But I will keep you in mind for the next time I've got
some free time on my hands."

Hearing that he wasn't going to get anywhere, Bob kissed her hand and
departed back to the rest of the group.  Judging by the way he was being
treated when he got there, Nita guessed that he was being razzed for
failing to score with the new girl.  She thought about it.  If she
wasn't able to make friends with "Jack", she just might be able to stay
close by getting close to his friend.  He seemed a nice enough fella,
and kind of cute.  She could do worse.

It was then that a guy, uninvited, sat beside her.  He took her hand and
said, "Hey, baby, new in town?"

She yanked her hand out of his and said, "Obviously."  She tried to make
it clear from the tone of her voice that she wasn't interested, but,
like so often happened with intrusive asses like this, he didn't get the
hint.

"So what's a hottie like you doing sitting alone here?"

Turning away from him, she said, "Trying to get in some studying between
classes."

He started to get way too close to her.  "Aw, what's a babe like you
worrying about studying for?  You can land a rich guy for a husband just
by smiling and flirting a lot."

Normally by this time, she'd've sent this guy packing with a mental
suggestion or two, but restrained as she was, she could only push away
from him, saying, "Look, I'm not interested, so why don't you get lost?"

He got so close to her that she could smell what he had eaten for lunch.
"Aw, come on.  You're a girl.  I'm a guy.  I can tell you're
interested."

She tried to push herself free of his grasping arms.  "No, I'm not."

Nita heard the slap of hand on fabric.  She saw a hand on the jerk's
shoulder, and followed it up to the face of, of all people, Jack.  "Lady
said she wasn't interested.  A gentleman would take the hint and leave."

The jerk looked up at him, and said, "Beat it, ball boy, find your own
girl."

He turned back to Nita, but Jack said, "First off, the girl isn't yours,
and she's trying to make it clear that she isn't interested in becoming
yours.  Second, as a guy, your asinine, childish behavior is an insult
to real men everywhere.  So why don't you back off and go find some
airhead bimbo to insult?"

The jerk let go of Nita and stood up.  "Why don't I just beat me up a
jock instead?"

Jack made a face that left the impression that he was considering it
then said, "I suppose that's always something you could try."  He turned
back to his friends.  In a game show MC's voice, he said, "Bob, what's
the standard prize for a man who takes a swing at one of the team?"

Putting his hand to his ear like he had a pair of headphones on, Bob
imitated the voice of the prize announcer on The Price is Right, saying,
"Well, Jack, the standard award for someone stupid enough to take a
swing at a team mate in front of the rest of the team is a serious ass
whooppin'."

"Is that all, Bob?"

"No, sir, Jack.  The offending idiot would also get the eternal enmity
of the entire sports department as well as possible suspension and
criminal charges for daring to start a fight."

"Thank you, Bob."

"You're very welcome, Jack."

Jack turned back to the jerk and, in a more serious tone, said, "Now you
can take that swing if you want, but you will get hurt.  So why don't
you do the smart thing and just go on your way?"

The man looked from Jack to the team, one of whom took the opportunity
to break a pencil in an act of symbolic promised violence, and back to
Jack. He then said, "This isn't over," and started to walk away.

As he passed by Jack, Jack said, "It is if you're smart."  After he was
out of earshot, Jack said, "Which probably means it's not over."  Jack
turned to Nita, tipped his hand to his forehead in a salute, and said,
"There you go.  One damsel in distress de-distressed."

As he walked back to the team, Nita stuffed her books in her bag and ran
over to them.  "Excuse me, could I get one of you to walk me to my next
class?  I'd rather not risk running into that guy, or someone like him,
again."

Bob asked, "What's your next class?"

"Intro to Sociology."

Jack said, "That's my next class.  It looks like you've got an escort."

Bob said, "Lucky dog," and punched Jack in the arm.

Jack just smiled and extended his elbow in a gentlemanly way.  Nita
slipped her arm through his.  He escorted her to the lockers to grab his
books and they went together to the class.  He made sure she was
comfortably situated and then took a seat a row over and two seats back.
After class, she managed to catch him before he left.  "Can you... walk
me home?" she asked. "I guess I'm still a little freaked by that close
encounter with whoever he was."

"Sure.  That was my last class."

Jack walked her home, and, at the door, she said, "Maybe I'm being a
little forward, but transferring in late has got me flustered and a
little behind. You seemed to have your stuff together in class.  Could
we get together this weekend?  Just to study, I mean."

"Sure.  How about Saturday in the campus center?"

"That'd be great.  See you there."

After Jack left, Nita thought to herself, "This could be easier than I
thought."

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

Jacqui was in her room after a day full of classes.  Her classes, as an
undecided Orphan, consisted of attending most of the basic classes for
the other groups, so she could find her own path.  Her load was,
resultantly, not as intense as someone who had chosen, but there was a
lot more of it.

She was taking a short break before heading to the cafeteria to get
something to eat.  She heard a knock on her door and part of her hoped
that it was Marcus.  She had been trying to get him alone to talk with
him, but he had been avoiding her.  At first, she thought she was
imagining things, but as time went by, more and more she was sure of it.

With a tremulous voice, she said, "Enter."

The door opened, and in walked a beautiful woman, the Verbena Mistress.
She was (or at least looked) to be about 35, with a perfect body (as a
Life Master anything less would've been surprising).  She was clothed in
plants, like a bathing suit woven out of leaves.  Jacqui stood quickly.
"Ma'am."

"Please sit, youth."

"Thank you, ma'am."

"I hear the disappointment in your voice, Miss Donovan.  Perhaps you
were hoping that I was your young lover?"

Jacqui blushed.  "Is it that obvious?"

"Afraid so.  But that's not what I came here to discuss with you."

"Then what?"

"Would you tell me of your Sisterhood?"

"Well, I don't know a lot.  Being only an apprentice there, I wasn't
given a lot of the secrets before coming here.  Mostly history."

The Verbena Mistress contemplated that.  "I know your organization's
history.  That won't help."

"Help what?"

"Solve the mystery of our Akashic Master."

"What do you mean?  Maybe I can help."

The Verbena Mistress sighed.  "I assume you have heard the stories about
the... mercenary attitude?"

"Yes, but I didn't see it, myself.  He seemed stern and devoted, but all
I had to do was ask, and he agreed."

"He used to be that way with us.  But we... made a mistake."	 "What
happened?"

She considered it for a few minutes, not sure whether to tell the youth.
Finally, she said, "I assume you've heard of the Marauders' immunity to
Paradox?"

"Yes, the Akashic Master explained it."

"Did he also explain that he has the same immunity?"

"You mean he's a Marauder?"

"No.  He wouldn't have mastered the Soul Blade if he was."

"Soul Blade?"

"No one but the Marauders is sure how they maintain their immunity to
Paradox.  But, about 100 years ago, a Marauder, in a moment of
self-loathing, forged the Soul Blade.  The Soul Blade interacts with
whatever grants the Marauders their immunity and burns them.
Unfortunately, it also burns anyone with the slightest Paradox build up,
something almost all of us have to a greater or lesser degree.  He's the
only person to manage to dominate and control the Soul Blade."

"But if he isn't a Marauder then what?"

"He's what's known as a Spur.  Some people, after Awakening, have
abilities that far outstretch their spiritual power and Sphere mastery.
Normally, these abilities fade as Sphere knowledge is gained, but in a
few cases it doesn't, and nobody knows why.  These people are called
Spurs.  Problem is, we didn't know he was a Spur till he dominated the
blade."

"So what happened?"

"Sixteen years ago, he walked into the dojo of the previous Akashic
Master, carrying nothing more than a backpack full of clothes and a baby
in a bassinet.  The Akashic Master was stunned.  The dojo was just a
Sleeper training place, and in walks this young man, fully Awakened, but
totally unaware of his potential.  The Akashic Master sounded him out,
and found out that he was running from someone, he wouldn't say who.  He
was taking martial art classes because he felt he might have to defend
his child against someone who might destroy him."

"Who?"

"He refuses to say, refuses to talk about his past.  He proved to be an
avid student, absorbing the training like a sponge.  The Akashic Master
then introduced the young mage to us.  The young one wasn't happy, but
accepted his new life.  He felt that being here was a better protection
for his child than any hand to hand combat training he could take.

"We discovered early on about his immunity to Paradox.  Most figured
that he was just a Marauder on the right side.  But his immunity made
him the perfect weapon against the Marauders.  We sent him against
Marauder after Marauder, each stronger than the last.  Then, about 13
years ago, we sent him against one of the worst we had ever seen, a
Marauder intent not only in blowing the consensual reality apart, but in
destroying all of mankind. The Marauder was destroying the Amazon rain
forest, and he and our Akashic Master-to-be clashed in its deepest part.

"For three days they fought.  So much energy was loosed that we couldn't
even scan the area, and we lost track of him.  We finally felt the
Marauder's life force destroyed and disrupted, and knew our man had won.
But we couldn't find our man.

"It was about a year later when another powerful Marauder attacked.  A
Marauder that made the last look like a kitten.  Nothing we could do
affected him.  But then, our Akashic warrior returned to the base.  The
Akashic Master went to him to tell him about the new enemy he was to
fight. He found the young Akashic packing his bags and preparing to
leave with his child.  The Akashic Master ordered him to go after the
Marauder, but he refused.  They almost came to blows when the Master
interposed himself and demanded an explanation.

"He left the base, the anger pouring from him like light from the sun.
Being as that we had been casual lovers, I went after him, but as soon
as he returned to the consensual reality he had teleported somewhere and
scrambled his trail.  It took me a day to hunt him down.  I found him in
a bar in Seattle with a young woman of South American descent.  I
attempted to convince him to fight the Marauder, but nothing I said
worked.  It seems he was rather upset that we had not found and healed
him after the battle and refused to accept the orders of any from this
realm again.  No matter what the cost."

"But if you thought he was dead, and found no evidence to the contrary,
surely he could've forgiven that?"  The Verbena Mistress got a guilty
look on her face, and remained strangely silent.

Jacqui put it together, the fear, the guilt, the anger of the then
Akashic warrior.  She said, "You didn't find any evidence to the
contrary because you didn't look for any evidence to the contrary.  When
he didn't seem to survive his last fight, you figured it would be better
to let him be dead."

"Your intuition serves you well.  Yes, that's exactly what happened.
The Akashic Master and the Virtual Adept Master both wanted to go
looking for him, but by a vote of the rest of the council they were
forbidden from using realm resources.  The Akashic Master was too old to
risk a return to the consensual reality, and the Virtual Adept Master
was involved in other things, so they couldn't do it personally."

"And the Akashic Master, the one I know, was so pissed that he abandoned
you.  But you needed him desperately, so you agreed to do anything for
him."

The Verbena Mistress nodded.  "At first I tried to seduce him, but the
woman on his lap nearly knocked me through a wall.  I was going to knock
her out, but the Akashic defended her.  That was when I learned that
they were married.  She was a warrioress from a tribe deep in the Amazon
who had seen the fight between the Akashic and the Marauder.  She found
him, broken and dying, and nursed him back to health.  They were married
and she was even pregnant.  He told me that his first and only priority
from that point on was his family and REAL friends.  Not those who
abandoned him when it was convenient.

"But we needed him.  So, in return for his service, he had me perform a
service for him.  The details are not necessary, but since then, he has
been a mercenary, selling his services for a price.  Even, at times,
working for both the Technocracy and some of the less psychotic
Marauders. The only group he refuses to work for is the Nephandi." 	"But
now he's your Akashic Master.  How are things going now?"

"Only slightly better.  At first, nobody fought his appointment because
we thought we would be able to control him.  We thought we could say,
'Obey or risk our censure.'  First time we tried it, he resigned his
post, and walked from the council room.  And the rest of the Akashics
made it very clear.  He was the first choice of the previous Master, and
to accept another would be disrespectful.  So, once again, we had to
kiss his ass, or we'd lose the entire Akashic faction.

"Don't get me wrong, as the Akashic Master, he is judicious and fair.
If we need the Akashics, he chooses those who are appropriate and sends
them to do the job.  But if we need his personal involvement, it's right
back to paying his fare."

"And you're wondering what I did or said to get him to help me without
payment?"

"Quite frankly, yes."

Jacqui thought about it.  "Well, he didn't seem too keen on the idea
until I asked him what he would do if it were his mother who needed
protecting."

"What did he say to that?"

"He said, 'I'd like to think I'd protect her anyways, but far too much
of me wants to say I'd leave her to her fate, no matter how bad it is.'"

"So he has problems with his mother.  It's not much, but it's something
to start with.  Thank you, little sister."

"Mistress?"

"Yes, dearie?"

"If the Akashic Master would only do things for payment, why'd he come
after me?  What payment did he ask, and from who?"

"Didn't anyone tell you?  The Goddess herself asked him."

Jacqui was stunned.  "The Goddess?  She's real?"

"Of course.  Nice woman.  Can be a bit of a bitch sometimes, but can't
we all?"

"But what did he ask for?  Or did he just do it gratis?"

"No, he didn't do it gratis.  Although most of us feel he should've.  As
one of the greater spirits in this universe, she could've made things
very hard on us."

"But what'd he get?"

"No one is quite sure.  He asked for a favor and... something.  No one
is quite sure what that something is.  The rumors run the gamut from an
increase in power to the ability to seduce any woman he meets.  But I
doubt that's it.  He's never had a problem with finding sexual partners
before. Besides, he hasn't been with a woman since his wife died about 5
years back."

"How did she die?"

"At the hands of some very bad men.  Apparently, they tortured her to
death.  He's somewhat reluctant to speak of it."

"I can understand that."

"Well, I've taken enough of your time."

"Miss?"

"Yes?"

"Why is this so important to you?"

"To be honest, I'd like him back.  Or if that's not possible, to at
least repair the damage we did by abandoning him."

"I wish I could be more help."

"Thanks."

"Miss?"

"Yes?"

"If you know of my problems with Marcus, can you give me any suggestions
for handling it?"

"I'll talk with the Euthanatos Master.  Till then, the only suggestion I
can offer is to give him time."

"I'll try."

************ ------------

The scientist, head of the Brotherhood's Research and Development
division, entered the final lines of code into the computer.  He made
the back-up, and ejected the disk.

It was then that Jeremy Lancaster walked into the room.  "Sir, what can
I do for you?"

Lancaster said, "We seem to have a problem.  The bitch that my brother
was watching, Jacqui Donovan, is gone.  Replaced by a young man of
approximately the same age."

"She found a way to return?"

"Possibly, but why before giving birth?"

The scientist shrugged.  "Unknown, but it definitely bears watching."

"Agreed.  How many Sisters do we know about now?"

"Upon the... defeat of your brother, we identified the four involved in
his destruction.  By carefully watching those four, we have identified
one hundred and twenty-four others."

"Four Sisters defeated our entire base.  Astounding."

"Sir, may I comment?"

"You may."

"The reason your brother was defeated by the Sisterhood was that he
underestimated them.  He assumed that since the entire Sisterhood
consisted of once-men, they no longer had the power to effectively stand
against him."

"Your point?"

"These women spent their entire formative years as men.  The fact that
they are now women may mean they have lost most of the aggressive drive
that has allowed men to dominate the world around us, but we cannot
discount their history altogether."

Lancaster considered this.  "Agreed.  We have mistakenly assumed that
since they lost their manhood, they lost everything male about
themselves.  Our defeat at their hands proves that cannot be.  Your
recommendation?"

"We need to test the Sisterhood's abilities, particularly in the realm
of combat."

"Are you suggesting skirmishes against the bitches?  Seems too likely to
tip our hand prematurely."

"Only if we use members of the Brotherhood.  There are always mercenary
groups that can be hired.  There won't be any risk of anything slipping,
because we won't tell them anything that could lead back to us.  And, in
the unlikely event that these mercenary groups do eliminate a few
Sisters, that's a few less we have to deal with."

Lancaster smiled.  "Agreed.  Make it so."

Lancaster left, and the scientist looked at the computer disk with the
modified virus on it.  "Idiot," he thought.  By the time he was
finished, both the Brotherhood and the Sisterhood would be eliminated as
a threat, gone from the consensual reality.

------------ ************

That Saturday, Nita walked into the campus center.  She had her
Sociology books as well as some computer books.  Jack was taking the
same computer class, but at a different time (as she had planned, too
many classes together would've been way too suspicious).  She looked
around and saw Jack waiting at a table.  She walked up to him, and said,
"Hi, sorry I'm late."

"Only a few minutes, no big deal."

"Yeah, but with all this running around with new classes, I seem to be
late for everything."

"Just relax.  Take it one day at a time.  But it does bring up an
interesting question."

"What's that?"

"Why not just wait till next semester?  I mean I know you've only lost a
couple weeks, but it's not like high school, where you HAVE to attend."

"Well, I'm not really a patient woman.  I'd rather try to catch up a
couple weeks then wait 4 months for next semester."

"Me, I'd wait, but to each his, or her, own."

They then got down to work, Jack helping Nita with the lessons she
missed. And Nita had to admit he was a good instructor.  She probably
had learned more from him than from the classes' regular teachers.

Once they finished, Jack offered to escort her home.  She tried to beg
off, but he insisted.  They walked back to her place, with him holding
her arm in his like a true gentleman.  She was going to say good-bye at
the door, but as soon as she opened the door, Nita heard Lani crying and
her mother's instincts took over.  She rushed inside to Lani's room.
Lisa, one of the Sisters who Bronwyn had confided in before starting as
Nita, was attempting to rock the baby to sleep, but the baby seemed to
want none of it.

Nita took the baby, but Lani was just as resistant to being soothed by
her as by Lisa.  Nita was about to try to use her magic, at least to
attempt to find out what was wrong if not solve it, when she heard Jack
ask, "May I try?"

Nita was a little shocked, but she finally said, "Okay," and handed the
baby to him.  He took Lani and held her close, gently humming and
massaging her back.  After only a few seconds, Lani settled down and
started cooing happily.  After a few minutes, Lani settled down and fell
asleep in his arms.

Jack gently placed the baby in her crib.  "She's got a touch of colic,
but she should be okay."

Nita asked, "How did you get her to settle down?"

"A massage technique I learned from an acupressure specialist.  It'll
let her sleep comfortably for the next three or four hours.  By the way,
I don't think we've been introduced," he said, extending his hand to
Lisa.

"Oh, sorry," Lisa said, "Jack, this is my... mom, Lisa.  Mom, this is my
tutor, Jack."

Picking up on her role, Lisa said, "Tutor, huh?  He seems too cute to be
just a tutor."

Jack grinned as Nita said, half growling, half imploring, "Mother."

Jack said, "Believe it or not, we're just friends.  See you in class on
Monday, Nita."

"See ya then."  After Jack left, Nita slugged Lisa in the arm.  "You're
a stinker."

Lisa grinned widely.  "Sorry, couldn't resist.  So that's the guy who
took Jacqui's place?  Seems nice enough."

"I know, but we can't be sure that it's because he's really that nice or
because he's being Jack."

"Well, anybody that good with a baby can't be all bad.  And he is a
cutie."

"Correction.  Jack is a cutie.  We have no idea what this guy really
looks like.  But the weirdest thing is I still can't get over the
feeling that I know this guy."

"Lingering effect from his resemblance to Jack?"

"No, that's not it."

The phone rang and Nita picked it up.  After a quick discussion with the
person on the other end, she set the receiver down, visibly shaken.
Lisa asked, "What's wrong?"

"One of the Sisters was attacked in New York.  At first she thought it
was just a mugging, but just to be sure, she scanned the mind of the man
after she stunned him.  It seems he was a mercenary hired to attack her.
He didn't know about her status as a Sister, but I don't like this."

"Another faction of the Brotherhood?"

"I hope not.  If they're up to another direct confrontation so soon
after our last confrontation, it means they're a lot stronger than we
expected."

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

Excerpt from the journal of Miss Jacqui Donovan, Vol. II

Day 24

Oh, Bronwyn, mom, how could you?  I finally got Marcus alone, and asked
him why he was avoiding me.  He said he wasn't sure he loved me any
more.  He said he wasn't sure he ever loved me.  I nearly broke down in
tears, but managed to ask why.  He said, oh, goddess I can't even write
it.

Bronwyn, mom, how could you?

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

Bronwyn, in her regular form, and Laurie were discussing the recent
attacks on the Sisterhood.  In the last two weeks, seven Sisters had
been attacked by mercenary soldiers.  But Laurie was distracted and
irritable, and finally Bronwyn commented on it.  "What's wrong, hun?
You've been snapping at me all evening."

"I don't know.  I've been on edge for the last few weeks, but today it's
been like a toothache pain, and I don't know why."

"Is it," Bronwyn nodded towards the inside of the house, implying it was
Jack.

"No, it's not him.  At least I don't think it is."

"Then what?"

Laurie, frustrated, said, "I don't know!"

Jack entered the room.  He grabbed some apples out of the bowl of fruit
on the table and started juggling them.  "Good evening, ladies."

Bronwyn, in a cold tone that she took when in her regular form, said,
"Good evening, Jack," but Laurie just grumbled a bit.

Without even slowing the fruit in mid-air, Jack looked at Laurie for a
while.  Finally, he said, "Your link is stronger than I thought."

Laurie demanded, "What does that mean?"

"Your link with your daughter.  She's been having some pretty bad
problems recently, and that apparently has been leaking through.  That's
why you've been so irritable recently."

"Problems?!  What kind of problems?!"

"Problems with Marcus."

Bronwyn asked, "Her dead boyfriend?"

"Not quite so dead anymore."

"You brought him back to life?!"

"Not exactly.  He brought himself back.  Not everybody who enters our
ranks used magic before their Awakening.  In fact, most didn't.  For a
few, the experience that gives them their power is a death experience."

Laurie said, "Marcus... is alive?"  Jack nodded.  "But why the problem?
Jacqui should be happy that Marcus is alive."

"She was.  It's Marcus who wasn't happy after he came back.  He pushed
Jacqui away, and that hurt her."

"But why?  I thought Marcus loved Jacqui."

"He did.  Probably still does."

"Then why the problem?"

Jack considered it, deciding whether or not to explain.  Finally, he
said, "The problem is what you two did to him."

Angry, Bronwyn said, "What's that supposed to mean?"

Jack sighed.  "Look, don't get me wrong.  I understand why you did what
you did.  I don't agree with it, but I do understand it."

"What did we do?!"

"You manipulated him.  Mentally and physically.  And when he died, those
spells ended and started falling apart.  When he returned from beyond
the veil, all he knew was that he had been manipulated, not why."

Laurie said, "But we only did it to protect Jacqui!"

Jack sighed again.  "Look, I said I understood.  But let's face facts,
manipulation to a woman is like fighting to a man.  It comes far too
easily and, with most, is used far too often.  Like fighting, if it's
used to keep others from forcing their viewpoints on others, or to
defend a viewpoint, then it's justified.  But if it's used to enforce a
viewpoint, it'd be like me popping someone in the nose for not agreeing
with me."

"But we were only trying to protect Jacqui."

"Uh, not wanting to harp too much on this, but you were also trying to
manipulate Jacqui into accepting her femininity.  That's why you gave
Marcus a sexual skill far beyond his normal abilities for her
de-flowering."

Laurie and Bronwyn got guilty looks on their faces.  Then Bronwyn asked,
"Wait a minute.  How did you know what we did?"

"The spell was reconstructed to see what it was."

"Why didn't you tell Marcus?"

"Because right now Marcus is doubting Jacqui with both his heart and his
head.  Telling him about the spell will only fix the problem in his
head, not his heart, and that is where the important fixes have to be
made. Marcus has to know, in his heart, that he loves Jacqui despite
what you did to him, or it'll always come between them."  Jack tossed an
apple, which he had kept in motion throughout the conversation, to each
of the ladies. "Something to think about," he said as he took a bite of
the remaining apple in his hand.

As he walked from the room, he told Laurie, "If you're feeling this bad,
Jacqui must be in pretty bad shape.  I'd suggest you take some time to
meditate and send her some good feelings.  High emotional stress can't
be good for the baby," and left.

Laurie got up.  "Uhm, excuse me, I've got to... uh..."

Bronwyn said, "You've got to go take his suggestion.  Go ahead, your
daughter needs you."

Laurie ran upstairs, and Bronwyn looked at her watch.  She had to get
home anyways.  She had a big project due in her computer programming
class, and she and Jack were getting together tomorrow to work on it.

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

Excerpt from the journal of Miss Jacqui Donovan, Vol. II

Day 25

I don't know what it is, but this morning I woke up a lot calmer than
last night.  I had the feeling of mom being there with me.  I miss her.
I was still kind of depressed since Marcus told me he wasn't sure he
ever loved me (it still chokes me up to remember it), but at least I
felt up to facing the world.

You know, it really just sunk in.  Even if I finish training in record
time, mom isn't going to be here to help me with the birth of my child.

The good news is, I met a friend.  She's not mom, but she is someone to
talk to.  I was in the garden after a morning lecture.  Actually,
calling it a garden is a bit of an understatement.  It's more like a
park.

Anyways, I was walking through the park, looking for a place where I
could crawl up and hide from the world.  A place where I could cry my
eyes out and no one would notice.  I thought I found it when I found
this almost overgrown path.  It led to a secluded little grove.  I
thought I was all alone, when I heard this light whistling.  I looked
around and saw this innocuous looking old woman sitting on a log.  She
had her hand in front of her face, and perched on it was a small bird.
The lady and the bird seemed to be whistling to each other, and I got
the impression they were talking.

But when I got too close, the birdie got startled and flew away.  The
woman turned and saw me.  She said, "Oh, hello.  Don't get many visitors
to this part of my garden.  Come sit with me," and patted the log beside
her.

I walked up to her.  Before I sat down, I asked, "Your garden?"

She smiled a sweet, innocent smile.  "Well, I know that I don't really
own the garden, but so few people get out this deep I just started
thinking of it as my garden.  An old woman's harmless folly."

She seemed so nice and kind that I just couldn't help but smile.  I sat
down beside her.  She asked, "So what problems bring you to dear old
granny?"

"Problems?  What makes you think I have problems?"

"Dearie, I may not be one of the magi here, but what kind of grandmother
would I be if I didn't see the creases on your brow, and the sadness in
your eyes?  Besides, the only people that seem to find dear ol' granny
are those that need help."

"That must get annoying."

"You're dodging the issue, dearie.  Come on.  What's the problem?"

I don't know what it was, but I found myself pouring my heart out to
granny.  I started with mom's transformation of me into Jacqui and told
her everything up to Marcus's confessions of the day before.

Finally granny said, "It saddens me to see that the Sisterhood is still
manipulating their children that way.  But I suppose they have set it up
so they don't have any choice."

"Still?  What do you mean?"

"Haven't you checked the base archives on information about the
Sisterhood? Most of the archive is off limits to you as an apprentice,
but what you need to know isn't.  But that's not the real problem here,
is it?"

"No.  What am I going to do about Marcus?"

"Nothing."

"But-"

"No, dearie, no buts.  Marcus's problem is that he has been manipulated
by your mother and her friend.  Let him know how you feel.  Let him know
that you're sorry for what was done to him.  Anything more and he may
interpret it as an attempt to manipulate him."

"Great.  All the power mom says I had before, all the power I've got
now, and my best course of action is to do nothing."

"Dearie, here's the thing about power.  The greatest responsibility in
having power is in knowing when not to use it.  Learn that lesson, and
you'll be heads and tails above the rest of the Sisterhood."

I then thanked granny, and got up to leave.  Before I left, she said,
"Dearie, if you ever need someone to talk to, you come looking and
granny will be here."

Somehow it feels good to know that granny is out there for me.

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

Laurie sat at the table, reviewing the records she had of the Sisters
who had decided to return to being men.  Her records were by no means
complete (Bronwyn was the only one who had access to all the records,
and Laurie felt there was no way she was going to help with this), but
there was enough to get an idea of what Jack had meant with his clue. It
was subtle and Laurie was lucky that Jacqui's despair had subsided a
week ago, or she would've missed it entirely.

Jack came in from one of his study dates with that girl.  "Good evening,
mother-darling."

"Evening.  Jack?"

"Yes?"

"Can we talk about your clue?"

"Sure, just let me get a soda.  Want anything?"

"No thanks."

Jack got a soda out of the fridge and sat down beside Laurie.  "Okay,
shoot."

"I think I've got it figured out."

"Tell me what you've got and I'll tell you if you're right."

"Well, each Sister who returned to being a man had a power significantly
higher than their mother.  Most were considered serious losses to the
Sisterhood."

"That's it.  You got it."

"But what does it mean?"

"That, mother-dear, is for you to discover."

"If only I knew why Jacqui reacted as badly as she did."

"Wrong question."

"Huh?"

"Your next clue.  You're asking the wrong question."

"Care to be a little more vague?"

Jack smiled.  "When Jack originally became Jacqui, you tricked and
manipulated him.  You purposefully withheld vital information in order
to get the result you wanted.  He was hurt and betrayed.  Seems to me
that his reaction was perfectly normal."

"But... my mom tricked me, I didn't react like that.  A lot of Sisters,
most Sisters, were tricked and they didn't react like that."

"And that is the crux of your second clue."

"I still don't get it."

"When you do get it, then you will have solved a major step towards the
solution of your problem."  Laurie thought about it.  "Are we finished
yet?" he asked.

"Actually, I've got one other question."

"What's that?"

"When do I meet this girlfriend of yours?"

Jack laughed.  "She's not a girlfriend.  She's just a friend and study
partner."

"Yeah, right.  You think I don't notice the extra spring in your step
when you come home after seeing her?"

Jack laughed again.  "You're determined to play the role of mother here,
aren't you?"

"Can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen."

"Alright, already.  I'll talk to her and see what I can arrange."

"Thanks."

Jack went upstairs, and Laurie smiled after him.  He may not have been
the real thing, but it was nice to know that, after all she had done,
she could get along with someone who so closely resembled the real
thing.

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

Nita sat in the library with Jack on their usual Saturday study session.
Although this man was easily her superior as far as the programming
class went, her own knowledge of human nature made her, once she had
caught up, his superior in their sociology class.  It was a small thing,
but knowing he wasn't perfect pleased her.

They finished up their study session, and Jack leaned back in his chair.
"Thanks.  I finally think I'm going to be ready for the test on Monday."

"Just returning the favor for your help in computer class.  Want to go
to the cafeteria for some snacks?"  It was almost ritual, as well as
unnecessary, the asking.  Ever since they had first started studying
together they usually went to the cafeteria afterwards.  Nita had
started it, figuring if they were relaxing over a cup of coffee, he
might let something slip.  It hadn't worked, but it had started a
regular habit of going to the cafeteria after they were finished.

Surprisingly, this time he said, "Naw, I'm not in the mood for candy
bars and chips.  Look, I know this little coffee shop near my house.
They've got fresh muffins and great coffee.  Want to go?  My treat."

Nita stared at him.  Was he asking her for a date?  As always, she
couldn't read his face, but so what if he was?  Wasn't that what she was
trying to accomplish?  Trying to get her interested in him?  No, that
wasn't right. She was trying to get him interested in her.

Finally, she said, "Alright."

"Great."  He took her arm and escorted her to his car.  They drove for a
while until they stopped in front of his house.

"What are we doing here?" she asked.

"I've got to pick up some cash.  Besides, mom has been pushing me to
meet you for a little while.  You don't mind, do you?"

Actually, she did.  She had been avoiding just such a meeting because if
she and Laurie spent any time together in the same room, then Laurie
would be sure to see right through her disguise.  But there was no way
she could tell him that.  She said, "I guess I'm a little leery about
meeting parents."

"Don't worry about it.  I'm sure you two will get along great."

"I don't know."

"Look, if you're really that uncomfortable you can wait out here."

Nita briefly thought about it then decided against it.  If she stayed
out here that'd only make Laurie all the more suspicious and probably
result in her being actively probed by her friend.  "No, I guess I'd
better bite the bullet."

"Relax.  It's not like we're boyfriend and girlfriend."

"Right.  We're just friends.  Study buddies."

"Right."  Jack got out, went around, and opened the door for Nita.  They
both went inside.  Laurie was sitting at the table looking over
something. She quickly covered it up, but Nita recognized it as being
some of the records that Laurie had of other members of the Sisterhood.
"Mom, I'd like you to meet Nita.  I'll leave you two to chat while I go
upstairs for a sec."

As Jack ran upstairs to his room, Laurie said, "Good afternoon."

"Afternoon, Miss Donovan."

Then Nita saw it.  The look on Laurie's face that said that she was
beginning to see through her illusion.  "Excuse me, have we met before?"

"I don't think so.  But we might have."

Then Nita felt a light probing of her mind.  Only a reading of her
public mind, but it was more than she wanted to reveal.  She
instinctively threw up her shields, realizing seconds after she had done
it that that was exactly the wrong thing to do.  She and Laurie had
spent far too much time in each other's minds not to know the feel of
the other's magic on touch. Laurie's eyes went buggy with rage, as
Laurie mentally yelled, "Bronwyn! Don't you dare shut me out!"

Whispering, Nita said, "Sorry."

Still projecting mentally, Laurie said, "How dare you!  I told you I
didn't want you interfering!"

Nita said, "No mindspeaking.  If he senses it, it'll blow my cover!"

Whispering, Laurie said, "I should blow your cover, anyways.  I am not
going to risk my daughter over you!"

"You can't do that.  We have no idea how this guy would react to the
news. He may take off anyways."

"All the more reason to confess now."

They heard Jack coming back down, and Nita said, "Just don't blow my
cover. Let me play this out.  Please, love, trust me."

"Alright, not this time.  But you WILL be here tomorrow, in your regular
form, so we can discuss this in detail."

Jack came into the room.  "Hello, ladies, have a nice discussion?"

Laurie put on her best smile and said, "Certainly, dear.  Your friend is
a lovely girl."

Jack took her arm and said, "I know."  They then left, leaving Laurie to
wonder how she was going to handle this.

************ ------------

Lancaster reviewed the reports that they had gotten from the various
attacks on the Sisterhood by the mercenaries they hired.  They had
gotten a lot of information, but ultimately, none of the mercs had stood
a chance.

He told the doctor, "We're going to have to arrange some attacks with
lesser members of the Brotherhood.  We need to put greater stress on
finding out more of their capabilities in combat.  We know they're
incapable of killing, but, as we have found out, that doesn't mean they
are ineffective in combat."

"Agreed.  But we may not have to risk members of the Brotherhood."

"Explain."

"Unlike the members of the Sisterhood, we recognize that there are other
paths of power.  Other ways to gain mystic skills then by following the
Goddess or the Dark One."

Lancaster shook his head dismissively.  "Lesser paths.  Some of these
people barely have more power than an average man."

"Agreed.  But if we inform these lesser workers that they will be facing
magic users, they will be prepared where the Sisters will not.  They may
actually take out a few Sisters.  And if they don't," the doctor
shrugged, "who cares.  Yes, eventually the Brotherhood and the
Sisterhood will have to engage in direct confrontation, but knowledge is
power, and the more knowledge we have before that confrontation, the
more power we have."

Lancaster considered it.  "Agreed.  Make it so."

After Lancaster left, the doctor nearly broke out laughing.  This was
too easy.  With the help of the Brotherhood, he would start a war
amongst the lesser paths that would result in chaos to feed his dark
master.  And he would be able to give the leaders of the Technocracy,
who were becoming suspicious of his activities with the Brotherhood,
something to work with.

------------ ************

Bronwyn walked into Laurie's house.  Laurie was waiting at her usual
place at the table.  She asked, "Are you ready to talk now?"  Bronwyn,
seeming to be in a stunned state, sat down without saying a word.
Laurie's healer's senses told her of Bronwyn's confusion, and, although
still upset at her friend's actions, her concern took over.  "Bron, you
okay?"

Bronwyn just sat there for a few seconds before saying, "Laurie, I think
you were right.  I think I should just confess who I am to... Jack, and
then fade out for a while.  Handle some stuff going on with Sisters in
other states."

"Alright, now I know something is going on.  What happened yesterday?"

"I...  I don't know what you mean."

"Yeah, right.  Yesterday you were convinced that I should just let you
play out your hand.  Now, you come in here tongue-tied and stunned and
tell me you just want to fade away?  What happened?"  Laurie dropped her
voice. "He didn't... do anything to you, did he?"

"No.  Yes.  I don't know!"

Laurie placed her hand on Bronwyn's.  "What happened, love?"

Bronwyn took a deep breath, clenched Laurie's hand, and started her
story. "After we left here we went to that coffee shop down by the mall.
We talked.  We laughed.  We ate muffins.  Before we knew what happened
it was closing time.  Jack took me home, and walked me to my door, to
the apartment I set up as Nita.  We stood there like two kids, not quite
sure what to do or say.  Then I figured I'd give him a good-bye kiss.
Nothing special.  Just a light peck on the cheek.  But somehow our lips
met.

"Oh, Goddess, Laurie, it was so fantastic!  I just melted into his arms.
He made me feel so safe... protected.  But without making me feel
small."

"Sounds great.  What's the problem?"

"Laurie, I can deal with the fact that I may have fallen for him, but
the fact is I have NO idea who this man really is!  Have I fallen for
him or have I fallen for his image of Jack?  Besides I was trying to get
him to fall for me.  Not the other way around."

"So?  It seems to me you achieved your goal.  If he hadn't fallen for
you, I doubt the kiss would've been as intense as you describe."

"But-"

"No buts, Bron.  You're confused by your feelings for him.  The last
thing you should be considering is running away.  Besides, I thought
about it and you were right.  If Nita suddenly disappears out of his
life, he may get upset, particularly if, as I suspect, he's fallen for
you."

"But-"

"No, Bronwyn, as your friend, as your healer, and as the woman who you
directly disobeyed to do this, I am prescribing a healthy dose of time
as Nita."

"You can't be serious."

"Very.  Bron, your confusion isn't going to go away if you run away.
You need this."

Bronwyn slumped into her chair.  "Bitch."

Laurie just smiled.  She asked, "Do you really mean that?" already
knowing the answer.

Bronwyn gave a small grin.  "Of course not."

"Then kiss me to apologize for it."  Bronwyn and Laurie leaned together
and kissed.  "You know, if nothing else, your kiss with Jack has brought
us back together."

"We haven't been together since before Jacqui left.  Doesn't Jack have
practice today?"

"For the next few hours."

"Good."  Bronwyn grabbed Laurie by the hand and dragged her upstairs.
Three hours of giggling and fun later, Bronwyn lay beside a satiated
Laurie, gently stroking her breast.

The phone rang and Laurie picked it up.  "Hello?  Yeah, wait a second."
She handed the receiver to Bronwyn.  "It's for you."

"Hello?"  After a few seconds, Laurie felt Bronwyn's concern and fear
suddenly spike.  "Yeah, okay, keep me informed."

"What's wrong?"

"In the last twenty-four hours four Sisters have been attacked."

"More mercenaries?"

"Not standard ones.  Laurie, the people who attacked us this time were
wielding magic."

"Members of the Brotherhood?"

"Three of those attacked said that the magic used didn't have the dark
feel to it."

"And the fourth?"

Bronwyn swallowed, having problems getting it out.  "Dana is missing.
Whoever attacked her overpowered her and took her hostage.  Both her
mother and daughter are sure she's still alive, but they can't locate
her. Something is blocking their attempts."

"Goddess protect us."

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

Excerpt from the journal of Miss Jacqui Donovan, Vol. II

Day 52

Over the last four weeks, granny and I have talked a lot.  I followed
her suggestion and told Marcus how I felt, then let him work things out
on his own.  I wasn't sure how he was doing, but the other day I'm
pretty sure I caught him staring at me when he thought I wasn't looking.
It's a small victory, but right now, I'll take anything I can get.

Granny has suggested that I might want to join one of the groups.  I
think I haven't chosen one so far because I felt it might be like
betraying the Sisterhood.  Granny says I'm being foolish.  She says the
Sisterhood loves me, and they would've had to have degenerated to the
point where they were no longer worthy of the Goddess's power before
they'd throw me out for wanting to maximize my training potential.  She
also says that if I join one of the groups, I might be able to talk them
into letting mom come here for my baby's birth.

I guess the question now is which one.  I briefly considered joining the
Euthanatos to be close to Marcus, but that group really isn't for me.
Besides what happens if Marcus decides we should just be friends?  Or
worse yet, decides

No, don't even think that, Jacqui.  Trust that your love for him is
true.

I've pretty much ruled out the Verbena and Choristers.  They tell me
that most of the Sisters who have Awakened have joined one of these two
groups, but they're really not for me, and Granny says (and I agree)
that I need to choose a group I feel comfortable with.  Which likewise
leaves the Dreamspeakers and Cultists out.  In the two months I've been
here, I've gotten to know a lot of each group, and although both groups
aren't as out there as I first thought, neither do I feel I can really
do their world views.

Which leaves the Hermetic Guild, the Akashics, the Virtual Adepts, and
the Sons of Ether.

Like I said, I don't think I'll be joining the Hermetics, but for some
reason, they've been courting me pretty heavily to join.  At first I
thought it was because everyone says I am an incredibly powerful Mage
(am I destined to always be too powerful for my own good?), but recently
I've gotten the nagging suspicion there's something more to it.  Of
course, when I ask, they won't tell me a thing, saying that if I want to
find out I should join up.

You know, I really like the discipline of the Akashics, but the martial
aspects kind of intimidate me.  Not only for the fighting skills but for
the fact that the Akashics seem to have the greatest responsibility for
fighting enemies of the Traditions.  Besides, with my pregnancy,
learning that martial art of theirs would be a real hassle.

Which leaves the Sons or the Virtual Adepts.  I think I'll probably be
going with the Adepts, but I've really had to revise my opinions of the
Sons.  At first I thought they were just a bunch of wacky scientists,
but they really seem to make learning fun.  They have a joy of
discovering new things that I've rarely seen in anyone.  I suppose I
still have time to decide.

I still haven't been able to get to the archives and check out what they
have on the Sisterhood.  I'll try to find the time to get there soon.

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

Laurie had just returned from shopping for some new clothes.  With Jack
getting all her food her budget had expanded tremendously and she had
decided to take advantage of it at the clothes' store.

She did this partly to do something other than sit around the house,
partly to take her mind off the problems of the Sisterhood.  In the last
two weeks there had been no less than a dozen attacks on Sisters across
the face of the globe.  And they were still no closer to finding out who
was behind these attacks.

And worse yet, Dana was still missing.  Her daughter and mother had
spent long hours trying to pierce the wall between them, but, so far, to
no avail.

She was thinking of calling to find out if they had made any recent
gains when she heard a knock on the door.  She checked the peephole and
saw a delivery man.  She was wondering what was being delivered when she
felt a tap on her shoulder, causing her to jump in surprise.  She felt a
hand over her mouth.  Not restraining, but blocking, to keep her from
crying out. She looked to the other end of the arm and saw Jack's face
and relaxed.

Jack removed his hand from her mouth, leaned in, and whispered, "That
man is a magic worker.  Apparently you have become the next target for
these attacks."  Laurie got a concerned look on her face, but Jack
continued, "Don't worry.  With me here, there's no way he can break in
and hurt you. But if you invite him in, I can neutralize him and we
might be able to learn the true source of these attacks.  The risk in
that is that he might be able to move fast enough to hurt you before I
can stop him.  I doubt it, but anything is possible.  I'll leave it up
to you."

Laurie thought about it for a few seconds and said, "Let's take a
chance."

Jack nodded, and placed himself where he'd be behind the door when it
opened.  He nodded and Laurie opened the door.  The man outside said,
"Package, ma'am.  Requires signature and ID."

"Ok, come on inside."

Laurie turned her back and walked towards her purse sitting on a table.
In a mirror, she saw the man step inside and pull something out of his
back pocket.  But before he could use it, Jack kicked it out of his
hand, then grasped the man in a Sleeper hold.  Laurie turned, and felt
him struggle with his magics, but nothing he did accomplished anything.
She felt his magics squelched like a match dropped in water.  It was
only a few seconds before consciousness left the man.

"Quite humane," she commented.

"Mom, you will tend to find that those who are really the best at
fighting are those who like to use it the least."  Jack lowered the man
to the floor.

"Yeah, but that was almost anti-climactic."

"Had to keep him in relatively good shape in order to scan him."  Jack
placed his hand on the man's forehead.

"I'm not sure scanning him is going to do any good.  Some of the Sisters
have scanned men who have attacked them and found nothing."

"Well, no offense, but your senses are not as well developed as my own."

Laurie was about to say something, but Jack held his hand up while he
scanned the man's mind.  Finally, he looked up and said, "He was hired
by one of the Brotherhood."

"Are you sure?"

Jack nodded.  "You can't have ever felt that power without being able to
identify it again.  You never noticed it because the people being hired
never identified the feeling of the power, so it wasn't part of their
conscious remembrances."

"Then it looks like we have another war on our hands."

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

Excerpt from the journal of Miss Jacqui Donovan, Vol. II

Day 73

I finally got a chance to see the base's archives on the Sisterhood.
All I can say is, mom, I am so sorry for all the hate I had for you
after my Transformation.  You were as much a victim as I was.

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

Bronwyn, Laurie, and five of the best and most powerful were sitting in
her kitchen discussing the developing situation.  Bronwyn asked Laurie,
"Are you sure that this is a plot by the Brotherhood?"

"Jack was sure.  Not having the ability to go as deeply as he could, I
couldn't sense the presence of the Dark One's power through second-hand
contact."

Julie, one of the other Sisters, a good friend of Laurie's from before
she got pregnant with Jack, asked, "Can we trust this man?  Being male,
his power must be more closely aligned with the Dark One."

Bronwyn said, "Trust me, if this man wanted to do us harm, he could do
it in a lot more effective ways than feeding us false information.  I
think we can trust it."

"Where is he?  Perhaps we should interview him ourselves."

"He's at practice at school.  He's said that if we want to interview
him, he will be available so long as we doesn't expect him to modify his
schedule, or in any way interfere with his personal life."

"Just like a man."

Laurie said, "Julie, he didn't have to be there to protect me.  I
wouldn't have even known that this man was a magic user if he had not
skipped class and warned me."

Bronwyn said, "I think it's pretty safe to assume that we are now in the
middle of another war with the Brotherhood.  Each of you, when you
return to your homes, needs to warn all the Sisters anywhere near you to
be on the lookout for possible attacks."

After that the meeting broke up with an agreement to meet tomorrow to
personally interview the man.  Everybody except for Julie left to get
some sleep.  After they had gone, Laurie asked, "Okay, Julie, what's
wrong?"

"Wrong?  Why do you think something's wrong?"

"I'd have to be a pretty poor healer not to feel the pain resounding off
of you.  Come on, spill the beans."

"It's nothing, really."

Laurie tried to form a link between them, but Julie had every shield up,
making it impossible.  Looking into Julie's eyes, Laurie decided to play
a hunch.  "So how is your daughter?  Wasn't Joanie the name you planned
to give her after her Transformation?"

Julie started, "She's..." but then crumbled into tears.  Laurie quickly
got beside Julie and wrapped her arms around the sobbing woman.

After Julie settled down, she said, "Okay, Julie, what's wrong?"

Julie sniffled a bit and asked, "Laurie, I hear your daughter had
problems adjusting, but eventually decided to stay a girl.  How did you
manage to convince her?"

"I didn't.  I let the decision remain hers up to the end.  In fact, she
hadn't decided to remain a woman until shortly after she got pregnant.
In fact, I was so sure that she would've been happier as Jack, that I
almost gave up my life to give that back to him.  Does this have
something to do with Joanie?  Is she unhappy as a girl?  Why didn't she
Transform back?"

"She's...  She did.  Only two years after her Transformation."

"And you never let anyone know?  Julie, her Transformation was eighteen
years ago!"

"Bronwyn knows she changed back, but she doesn't know..."

"Know what?"

"Nothing."

"Julie, please don't shut me out."

"After she Transformed back, she... she left me.  She took her child,
and left the house, saying that if I ever came after her or her child
again, she'd kill me!"

Laurie sat there, shocked.  "I'm...  I'm sure she was just angry.  I'm
sure that now that... he's," Laurie saw Julie cringe visibly at the
mention of her child's return to masculinity, "had a chance to cool
down, he'll be willing to talk.  Haven't you made any attempt to contact
him?"

"That's just it, I have no idea where she is!"

"You didn't follow her... his aura?"

"Of course I did!  But about a week after she left me, something
happened. Her aura changed so radically in such a short period of time
that I lost track of her.  And nothing I have done since then has
allowed me to find her!"

Laurie was stunned.  Nothing she understood of the way magic worked
should've explained what Julie was saying.  "Why didn't you tell us?  We
could've gotten together, worked together to find him."

"My problems with my daughter are my own.  I didn't want to bother
anybody else."

"Julie, that is NONSENSE!  The Sisterhood isn't just a group of girls,
Julie.  We're a family.  We're here for you in pain and in joy."

Julie looked into Laurie's eyes, then leaned over and rested her head on
the healer's chest.  Laurie held her while she felt silent tears stream
from Julie's eyes.

After a few minutes, Julie pulled herself together and said, "Thanks,
Laurie, you're still the best."

"Julie, I know you're not big on asking for help, but maybe we could ask
Jack for help.  He's very powerful and very skilled."

"No, Laurie, absolutely not.  I feel bad enough involving the other
Sisters in my problems.  You have to promise me not to involve
outsiders."

"Alright, if that's what you want.  But I think you should at least meet
him.  You sure you can't stay?  He'll be back later tonight."

"I wish I could.  For some reason, the only flights I could get were
today. The flights are so loaded for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday,
I almost didn't make it today.  Short of making a magical plague to
knock dozens of people off a flight, I'm stuck."

"Okay."


The two ladies hugged and relaxed for a while before Julie had to go.
After she was gone, Laurie had a chance to sit and think.  After the
attacks had begun on the Sisterhood, she hadn't spent much time working
on Jack's clues, feeling that it wasn't time to work on what she thought
was a personal matter, but clearly this went a lot deeper than she
thought.  She spent the next couple hours pouring over the records she
had of the Sisters.

When Jack came home, Laurie asked, "Can we talk?"

"Sure."  He slid into the chair beside her.  "What's up?"

"I have spent the last few hours going over my records in depth and, for
the life of me, I can't find a single reason why Jacqui and a few others
have reacted so badly."

"I told you, you're looking at the wrong question."

"What do you mean?  Jacqui and a small percentage of others were unable
to handle their Transformations and reacted badly.  All the other
Sisters were fine with it."

"And that doesn't strike you as odd?"

"What?"

"Think about it for a second.  There have been approximately 150,000
Sisters throughout history.  Out of that number, 30,000 reacted badly to
the Transformation.  That leaves 120,000 individual Sisters who had
exactly the same reaction to the Transformation."

"So?"

"Look, if more people had reacted like Jacqui, upset, or maybe even just
mystified about their Transformation, but grew to accept and love their
femininity, that would be understandable.  But did you feel anything
like that?"

Laurie thought about her own Transformation.  After she had Transformed,
she had been mystified, but over how it had been done, but not what had
been done.  Thinking about it, it hadn't made sense.  Her entire life
had been turned upside down.  Guys who had been her friends were now
suitors, and girls she had wanted to be more than friends with were now
interested in nothing more than friendship.  But even from the
beginning, it had just seemed so... right.

"I... I don't get it."

"And when you do, then you will have solved a major step towards your
goal."

Jack then went upstairs to his room, leaving Laurie to wonder what was
next.

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

Jacqui, now a member of the Virtual Adepts, was on break in the gym,
watching one of the basics class for the Akashics.  The Euthanatos class
was waiting in the wings, but between when one class would end and the
next would begin, she had fifteen minutes to go through some prenatal
exercises for the care of her body and child.

While she was doing some low-impact aerobics, she was paying far too
much attention to Marcus who was in the class waiting for the gym, and
she put her foot down on the edge of the mat.  Her ankle twisted and she
fell to the ground with a slight cry.  With her healer's senses, she
could tell that it was a minor sprain, and something she could heal with
a minor effort, but she never got a chance.  Before she knew what was
going on, she felt Marcus's left arm go around her and support her
shoulders while his right hand touched her ankle.  The skin was a little
tender, and she flinched a bit, but she then felt the hurt and pain
drain from her ankle.

Jacqui looked into Marcus's eyes and saw only concern.  But as soon as
the healing was finished, she saw the hardness return to his face.  He
said, "You'll be okay," and started to disentangle from Jacqui.

Jacqui grasped his right wrist.  Marcus tugged a little, but not too
hard. "Marcus, tell me what you're feeling.  Whether you're angry, or
confused, or even if you hate me.  But please, talk to me."

Marcus stared at her, tongue-tied for a few seconds.  The hardness
slowly drained from his expression.  Finally, he said, "Jacqui, I could
never hate you."

"But how do you feel?"

Marcus stumbled about for a few more seconds, the confusion in his heart
plainly evident on his face.  Finally, the confusion resolved.  He
turned his hand over and took her hand in his.  "Jacqui, I do love you."

"But?"

Marcus shook his head.  "No, Jacqui, no buts.  I do love you.  Period."
Marcus then leaned over and kissed Jacqui.  Their arms wrapped around
each other, and they kissed with seven months of denied passion.  They
broke only after the Euthanatos class and the remains of the Akashics
started a round of applause.

They looked at each other with stupid, embarrassed, school-kid looks on
their faces.  Marcus said, "I've got a... class."

"Meet me in the garden after classes tonight?"

Marcus nodded.  "I'll be there."

As Jacqui walked from the room, she had to use all her willpower not to
jump for joy.

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

As the Sisters came into the room, Bronwyn came over to Laurie, and
asked, "What's up, girlfriend?  You've had this sappy smile on your face
since I walked in."

"I'm not sure, but I think it's coming from Jacqui!"

"Any idea why?"

Laurie shook her head as Jack walked into the room.  He walked up to
them and said, loud enough for only them to hear, "Good news, ladies,
preliminary reports say that Jacqui and Marcus have made up.  They
haven't done anything yet, but they do have a date for later tonight.  I
just thought you should know."  Both ladies smiled.

Everybody except for Jack (and the now absent Julie) took a seat around
the table.  Jack took a stand near the sink, leaning against the
counter.  When everybody had settled in, he said, "Okay, ladies, fire
away."

One of the ladies, Tara, Dana's mother, asked, "First off, how do we
know we can trust you?"

"Because you can trust them," he said nodding to Laurie and Bronwyn.
"And whether or not they may or may not like me, they do know I have no
reason to lie to you."

Another, Elaine, asked, "How do we know you haven't manipulated them
magically to believe you?  No offense, Bron, Laurie."

Clearly Bronwyn and Laurie were a little annoyed at the implication, but
contained it.  Jack said, "Because the power of the Goddess is
notoriously fragile within a closed mind.  If I had the power to
manipulate them on the level you're talking about, while still allowing
them to retain their power, I'd have enough power to make me sound so
believable, you'd all have no choice but to believe me."

They milled about a bit discussing it before Tara asked, "How do you
know so much about us?"

"Noyb."

"Noyb?  What's that?"

"N. O. Y. B.  None of your business."  The women grew annoyed.  "Look,
I'm doing you a favor by standing here answering your questions.  But
questions about who I really am, where I come from, where my knowledge
comes from, et cetera, are off-limits.  I'm not going to answer them,
and there's no way you can make me."

Patricia, a fiery tempered redhead from Ireland, asked, "Care to test
that?"

Bronwyn said, "Patty, no!"

"It's okay, Bronwyn.  Let her try.  We'll get a lot further once she's
gotten this out of her system.  I promise I won't hurt her."

Bronwyn sat back, and waved her hand.  As Patty marshaled her energies,
Jack seemed to notice something on his nails.  Patty launched into a
series of attempted intrusions and attacks into and upon his mind, but
he just bit at his nail, then spit it into the sink.  She exhausted
herself against him quickly, whereupon he turned back to her and said,
"Oh, you can start anytime you want," apparently not having noticed even
one attack.

When the girls got their shocked looks, he smiled and said, "I kid."  He
looked to Patty and said, "But we both know you succeeded in
accomplishing nothing.  So now that we have once again done the 'Test
the Limits' battle, can we get on with this?  I've got a date later."

Bronwyn smiled inwardly.  Jack and Nita were planning a date tonight,
and he just revealed that he was still unaware of her dual nature.

For the next two hours, the women grilled him on various aspects of
information about the Brotherhood, what he knew of the Sisterhood
(surprisingly much), and the various groups of magic users who had
attacked them.

Tara was right in the middle of asking him a question when she suddenly
froze.  Bronwyn asked, "Tara, what is it?"

"It's Dana.  I got a flash of where she was.  She's in a building across
town.  Some kind of medical building.  She's in pain!  We have to save
her!"

Tara was about to bolt from the room, but Bronwyn stopped her.  "And we
will, but we can't go rushing off half-cocked.  We need to prepare."

Jack asked, "Do you want my help?"

Bronwyn seemed stunned he was asking.  "No, this is Sisterhood business.
We'll handle it."

He just nodded and left.  He went upstairs, reached between the mattress
and the box springs and pulled out The Soul Blade.  He used his magic to
transform his clothes into a blue karate gi.  The fabric was as flexible
as cotton, but as strong as steel.  He belted the sword around his
torso, so it was on his back.  Somewhat to Bronwyn, but really to no one
in particular, he said, "You may not want my help, but you do need it,"
and faded from view.

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

Jacqui sat alone in the garden, waiting for Marcus.  She was beginning
to wonder if he was going to show up when a voice from right behind her
said, "Boo," causing her to nearly jump out of her skin.

She turned and saw Marcus sitting beside her.  She slapped him on his
arm. "Bum, you scared me."

Marcus said, "Sorry," with a big grin on his face revealing that he
wasn't really sincere in his apology.  The two leaned together and
kissed.

When their lips separated, Jacqui asked, "What's wrong?  You're still
holding back.  Do you still harbor resentment over what my mom and
friend did to you?"

"No.  I'm over that.  I now realize they were doing only what they felt
they had to to protect you.  In their position I might've done the same
thing."

"Then what?"

Marcus was silent for a few seconds before he said, "Jacqui, when the
Brotherhood severed my brake line, running me off the road, I died.
I've been to the other side of the Veil, and seen the Wheel of Life up
close and personal.  That... changed me.  And now that I know and have
refound my love for you, I can't help but wonder if you still love me."

"Of course I do!"

"Jacqui, I want to believe that, and I know you want to believe that,
but let's face facts, you no longer know me."

"I find it hard to believe you have changed so much that I don't love
you." Marcus shrugged.  "If you're that concerned, let's find out."

"How?"

"How are your Mind magicks?"

"I can form a telepathic link with someone with a similar level of Mind
magicks."

"Then link with me.  Open yourself entirely to me as I do the same for
you. Let's find out how well we mesh."

Marcus sat there for a few seconds, not sure if this was the right thing
to do, afraid of what he might discover.  Finally, he lifted his hand,
and Jacqui brought hers to his.  Their fingers intertwined, and they
formed the link between their minds.  Jacqui touched his mind and almost
instantly found the darkness in his soul that had not been there before.
She almost ran from it, but resolved to face it.  She touched it, and
found it to be nowhere near as scary as she thought.  It was dark, but
it was a natural darkness, like the dark that comes when the sun goes
down.

And Marcus touched her soul, finding the light that she was.  The beauty
and joy that Jacqui had brought to him was still there, and always would
be.  Her light brought a warmth to his soul that had been missing since
he had run from the road and died.

Their arms encircled each other and they embraced.  They kissed,
Jacqui's light natural embracing and balancing Marcus's darkness.  Their
souls embraced and meshed as easily as their bodies.  They looked deep
into each other's eyes and each smiled, knowing their love was true.
They got up and helped each other to remove their clothes.

Marcus took Jacqui in his arms, and slowly explored her body, his hands
roaming her face, arms, breasts, and pregnant belly.  He smiled as he
felt the baby kick inside her.  They kissed, and went to their knees on
the soft earth.  Marcus slowly went to his back, and Jacqui took his
dick in hand, stroking it from its semi-hard state to a condition of
rock-hardness.  She then straddled his hips, and slowly lowered herself
onto him.  As she rode him, he used his hands to stroke her body with a
soft, gentle touch. Linked as they were, mentally and physically, they
moved together with an ease and precision that neither had experienced
before.

They continued to move together for neither knew how long, but when they
came, they came together in a phenomenal simultaneous orgasm.  After
they came down from their orgasmic high, they could only lay there,
smiling stupidly.  Deeply in love.

A slight distance away, Granny smiled.  "Well, that worked out even
better than I'd hoped."

A disembodied male voice replied, "That was easy because they, despite
their power, are kids in love.  They just needed to be reminded of that.
The Akashic Master will not be so easy."

"Of course, my love."  Granny's form flowed and shifted into the essence
of femininity, the Goddess.  "But even if I fail in my primary goal,
there's still his budding relationship with Bronwyn.  Who'd've seen
that?"

"The hazards of dealing with humans, love.  They're just so
unpredictable."

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

Bronwyn, Laurie, and the girls of the Sisterhood were preparing for
battle. They had one of their own, Jane, watching the building where
Dana was being held.  They were about to launch their assault, when
Jane, frantic, sent the message, "The building just blew up!"

Afraid, all the girls turned to Tara.  She was feeling out with her
senses, but then shook her head.  "She's not in any worse shape than
before, and she's no longer being blocked, but I can't pin her down.
It's like she's never in the same place for more than a second."

Bronwyn was about to say something when they all felt it.  A magical
twisting of space and time.  Laurie's kitchen seemed to ripple, and
then, standing there, was Jack and a naked woman, the woman was carrying
a man's body, and Jack was carrying Dana!

Before anyone could move, Jack fell to one knee.  The women rushed at
him, but he said, "No!" and generated a force field keeping them from
getting close.  They were about to protest when he said to the woman
with him, "Up in my room.  Under my bed.  A silver bell.  Bring it to
me."

The woman unceremoniously dropped the man on the floor, and ran towards
the stairs.  Laurie said, "I'll show you where his room is."

The woman said, "No need," as her body shifted into the form of a large,
black wolf.  Laurie stood there stunned as the wolf bounded up the
stairs. A few seconds later, the wolf came back down, carrying a silver
bell in her mouth.  She shifted back to human form and held the bell up.

Jack rang the bell four times.  He said out loud, "Verbena, I need you."

After a few seconds, space and time warped again, and a woman, her body
covered in a simple black robe, appeared.  As soon as she saw Jack, she
went towards him, but he held up his hand.  "The woman first."

"But-"

Jack was adamant.  "The woman first!  Progenitor toxins in her system."

She stared at him, deciding whether to argue or not, but then said, "As
you wish."

She then reached her hand out and Dana hovered into the air.  She waved
her hand over Dana's body, then suddenly inverted her hand and clenched
it into a fist.  Dana tensed up, and cried out in pain.  A cry echoed by
her mother who moved forward, only to be repulsed by the field Jack was
generating. Dana shook, and a purple fluid flowed from her body, flowing
upwards into a ball in mid-air.  After the flow stopped, forming a ball
about a foot across, Dana visibly relaxed, followed by her mother, Tara.
Dana levitated over into Tara's arms, and the Verbena Mistress said, "I
need a pot or a bucket for this."  Laurie quickly got a pot large enough
to contain the toxin and held it under the floating ball.  The Verbena
Mistress lowered the ball into the pot and then walked over to Jack.

As soon as she said, "Your turn," Jack collapsed into her arms.  She got
a concerned look, and ripped the clothes from his body.  "Damn!  It's
worse than I thought!"  Laurie and Bronwyn were shocked when they saw
his body. It was covered in bruises and open wounds of various types.
The Verbena lay him out, then pressed her hands to his body.  His body
was surrounded by a bright glow, and when the glow faded, the wounds
were gone.

The Verbena let out a sigh of relief.  "He'll be okay.  He lost a lot of
blood, but I managed to replace it.  He'll be up and around after a good
night's sleep."

Patty said, "What do we do about him?" pointing to the man.

"Leave him for now."

The shape-shifting woman said, "Leave the Wyrm spawn to die."  The
Verbena Mistress gave her a dirty look.

Laurie and Bronwyn carried Jack upstairs.  As they put him into his bed,
Bronwyn asked, "Laurie, were my senses deceiving me or was that man
already dead?"

"At first, I thought so, but the more time I looked at him, the more I
sensed a strange life feeling about him.  But there's another question.
When you saw Jack, all bloody and dying, how did you feel?"

"Laurie, I... I wanted to cry.  I felt his life force start to leave
him, and almost lost it."

Laurie wrapped her arm around her friend's shoulders.  "Sounds serious.
Why don't you tell him who you really are?"

"And what if he rejects me for having manipulated him?  I don't think I
could handle that, Laurie."

"But-"

"Laurie, please, you made me stick with this when I wanted to run away,
and you were right, but please don't force the issue.  Promise?"

Laurie wrestled with the idea, then said, "Only if you promise to make
an effort to tell him."

"Okay."

As they went downstairs, Laurie said, "Y'know, I've never seen you this
flustered and tongue-tied.  It's kind of cute."

In the kitchen, the Verbena Mistress was sitting at the table staring at
the pot of toxin.  The shape-shifting woman was standing behind her, and
the body was still on the floor.  Only two of the other Sisters, Patty
and Elaine, were still there.  Patty told them, "Tara took Dana home,
and the others went with her."

Bronwyn nodded, then asked the Verbena, "What do we do with him?"

"Leave him until nightfall."

The woman said, "Feh.  Let me remove his heart and remove the trouble of
dealing with him."

The Verbena sighed.  Laurie asked, "What is your problem with him?"

The Verbena said, "The Garou and the Kindred are natural enemies."

"Garou?  Kindred?"

"Werewolves and vampires."

Laurie just stared at the Verbena for a while.  Then she just turned her
head away and said, "The world just got a whole lot stranger."  The
Verbena smiled.  "What are you doing with that stuff?"

"Trying to figure it out."

"Nasty stuff?"

"No.  That's the thing.  It's designed to be extremely painful, but it's
not really all that toxic.  A second-rate healer would be able to easily
neutralize it."  Laurie got a little annoyed until she continued with,
"This wouldn't even be a decent annoyance to one of your Sisterhood.
Hardly something I'd expect from one of the Technocracy's Progenitors.
It doesn't make sense.  Unless...  How do you heal?"

"How do I heal?"

"Yeah, the process you undergo when you heal.  What is it?"

"We shield, form a link, absorb the injuries into us and neutralize it."

"Empathic healing."  The Verbena considered it.  "That moves this into a
whole new category of insidious."

"How so?"

"There's a hidden component in this.  It'd be absorbed into your body
through the empathic link, and you'd never notice due to the pain of the
toxic part.  Then anybody you healed would get the hidden part.  Then
anybody who healed them would get it and so on."

"Eventually it would spread throughout the Sisterhood."

"Exactly."

Bronwyn asked, "What does it do?"

"Tags you."

"Tags us?"

"Like what scientists do with wild animals when they want to track their
migratory patterns.  This stuff would let them find you no matter where
you were on the planet.  You're lucky the Akashic Master decided to
intervene. My guess is the Progenitors would've let you rescue her with
only a token resistance, so that you could heal her."  The Verbena
Mistress waved her hand and disintegrated the toxin.

"The Akashic Master?"

"The man impersonating your son.  We're one of the more active combat
realms.  As such we try not to refer to our upper ranks by name so as to
not endanger their loved ones."

Bronwyn said, "It seems we owe you both a debt.  How can we repay you?"

The Verbena said, "Tell me about yourselves."

"That's it?"

"Not just technical details, personal stuff, too."

"Why?"

"A little more than a decade back we made a mistake and betrayed him.
Since then, if we needed his personal involvement in something, we had
to pay through the nose for it.  He's become rather mercenary in his
attitude. Even when the Goddess herself asked him to retrieve your
daughter-"

Laurie was shocked.  "What?  The Goddess?  Asked him personally?  For my
daughter?!"

"Didn't you know?  No big surprise there.  Both the Goddess and the Dark
One love their followers.  But anyways, he wouldn't even do Her a favor.
He demanded payment even from Her.  But your daughter makes a simple
request, and with no request for compensation, he does it.  Now, he's
nearly killing himself to keep you from risking yourselves?  To be
honest, I'd like to know why."

For the next two hours, Laurie, Bronwyn, and the other Sisters answered
questions from the Verbena.  After they were done, Laurie asked, "Did
that help any?"	 "Unfortunately, no.  I can see plenty of reason why he
might lash out at you.  He hates those who manipulate others without
good reason, but I can see no reason why he would put his life on the
line for you."

"Sorry we couldn't help."

"No problem.  Can I borrow your sink?"

"Yes, but why?"

The Verbena just said, "It's almost nightfall," and stood up.  She
reached into her robe, pulled out a dagger, and slashed her hand.  The
Verbena plugged up the sink, and let the blood flow until both sink
basins were filled.  Laurie assumed she was using magic, since the blood
was far greater than any human could lose without losing consciousness.
She closed and opened her hand, and the slash was gone.

The man then bolted up.  His face was contorted in rage, his canines
having grown considerably.  The Verbena grabbed his head, and plunged
him face first into the sink.  The vampire consumed all the blood in
each sink, and when he was finished, he was much more controlled.  The
Verbena gave him a towel she conjured, and, while he wiped his face, he
said, "My apologies, ladies, but when I am that depleted I'm not always
under control."

The girls just stared stunned, as the vampire turned to the Verbena and
said, "I owe you a debt."

"You owe the Akashic Master, not me."

"I owe you both."  He then turned, said, "Ladies," and walked out of the
house.  As soon as he was out the door, he just disappeared.

The Verbena said, "I need to go, too.  Ladies," and with no further
word, she and the werewolf disappeared from view.

Laurie turned to the others and said, "That was..."

All the other girls just said, "Yeah."

************ ------------

The Progenitor scientist, who was also Nephandi and was masquerading as
one of the Brotherhood, was furious.  His war amongst the Hedge Wizards
had not started, and now a Progenitor lab had been destroyed.

Of course, he couldn't let Jeremy Lancaster know of his rage.  Lancaster
was tickled pink.  As far as he knew, one of the "lesser path's" bases
had been destroyed.  One less block to his goal of taking over the
world.

Let the fool have his moment.  When all was said and done, both the
Brotherhood and Sisterhood would be wiped from the planet.

------------ ************

Laurie went upstairs to check on Jack.  She heard him moving about
inside, and knocked on the door to his room.  She waited for him to say,
"Come," then opened the door.

She walked in and saw Jack performing a series of martial arts
movements. "Are you sure you should be doing that so soon after your
recovery?"

"Yeah, it's not a problem.  One of the differences between your healing
and the Verbena's.  Much more complete healing."

"I want to thank you for risking your life for us."

"Just doing what I agreed to."

"And that was?"

"Protecting you.  That was really all your daughter wanted.  Not someone
to repair her life as Jack."

"Then why do it?"

"Have you thought about the last clue I gave you?"

At first, Laurie thought he was trying to change the subject, but then
realized, he was answering.  His clues, which would ostensibly explain
why she had so hurt her son, were the reason why he was here.  "I have
tried, but every time I think I've got it, the answer seems to slip
through my fingers.  I still can't figure why Jacqui reacted so badly to
her Transformation."

"Which is as good a lead in as any to your next clue.  You love your
daughter, don't you?"

With just a touch of indignancy in her voice, she said, "Of course!"

"Did you love your son any less?"

"NO!  I thought I was giving him a beautiful gift.  I still do."

"Relax.  I'm not attacking, just setting up the lead in.  But there are
certain things about raising a son that stick in your mind.  His first
day at school.  His first crush, both on a teacher and on another girl
at school.  His first ball game.  And so on."

"What's your point?"

"My point is that I have one boy and three girls.  And although the joys
in raising a girl are neither better nor worse than those in raising a
boy they are different.  Her first dress.  The first time she comes home
in that dress covered in mud because she doesn't quite understand that
she's not supposed to run through mud puddles in her dresses.  Then
there's the conundrum of trying to explain to her why the little boy who
keeps pulling on her pig tails doesn't really hate her.  That's always a
fun one."

With a melancholy tone, Laurie said, "I wouldn't know.  The Sisterhood
is forbidden little girls."

"Which brings up the next clue.  Why?"

"Why what?"

"The Goddess is the essence of femininity.  And you are the ones she
loves the most.  Why would she deny you the joy of birthing and raising
a female child?"

"Because it was part of the cost to defend humanity against the
Brotherhood when it first lost its way."

Jack smiled.  He grabbed his coat and slung it over his shoulder.  "No,
it wasn't."

"But, then why...?  That's what I've got to figure out, right?"

"Right.  Now if you don't mind, I've got a date to make up with Nita."

"Wait a second, you mentioned you had three girls.  What about their
mother?"

Jack took a deep breath.  "Deceased.  Five years ago she was taken
prisoner by the same people who held Dana hostage."  Tears came to
Jack's eyes.  "I can still remember rocking my then two year old to
sleep for months, as she cried for a mother who would never hold her in
her arms again."

"I'm sorry."

Jack pulled himself together.  "I've got to go."  As he left, Laurie
couldn't help but feel for him.

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

Excerpt from the journal of Miss Jacqui Donovan, Vol. II

Day 89

I'm now into my eighth month, and I feel like a whale.  I am glad Marcus
is there for me.  The darkness is still there, still a part of his soul,
but somehow, I don't know, it seems right.  That darkness doesn't make
him any less doting or loving.  If anything, it does the exact opposite.
His darkness is attracted to and counter-balances my light.  And I love
him for it.

My training and Marcus's proceeds at a fair pace.  Marcus should
"graduate" about the same time as our baby is due.  I guess it's time to
start thinking about baby names.

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

Nita was sitting on the bleachers watching Jack practice.  She still had
yet to confess her dual nature to Jack.  She told herself that she
didn't want to risk losing Jacqui, but more and more that was ringing
hollow.

They were alone in the gym, the other members having cut out to study
for finals.  Jack was practicing his free throws and Nita was studying
her computer texts.  Then, out of nowhere, Nita felt a magical
manipulation in her kidneys.  It was nothing more than a sudden need to
use the bathroom, and she knew it was Jack's doing, but it did make her
wonder why.

She closed her books and set them to one side.  "I'll be back in a few,
hun."

Jack just nodded.  When she was in the bathroom, sitting down, she cast
a quick spell to let her see the gym.  It was a risk, but she had to
know what was going on.

Jack was standing in place, spinning the ball on his finger.  He only
seemed to be waiting, and Nita wondered what for when five boys entered
the gym.  Nita didn't recognize most of them, but one she did.  The
leader was that same boy who had tried to get too chummy with her her
first day as Nita.  The one Jack had saved her from.

"Hey, ball boy," he called out, "time to finish our argument."

Jack put the ball under his arm.  "You really don't want to do this."

"I think I do."

Jack sighed.  "Fine.  Catch."  Jack then threw the ball, nailing the
jerk right in the nose.  A couple of the guys quickly moved in, but Jack
nailed both with a couple quick kicks.  He then leapt up and kicked the
remaining two in one motion.  And when he landed he nailed the Jerk with
a powerful uppercut.  All in all, the battle took less time than it
would've taken to describe it.  As he gathered both his and her stuff,
and left, Jack said, "Come back anytime, boys."

Nita withdrew her senses from the gym and finished what she was doing.
As she washed her hands, she thought about why Jack had gotten her to
leave, and came to only one conclusion.  He was protecting her.  The
five were clearly no match for him, but if she had been there, they
might have used her as protection against him.  They probably would not
have succeeded, but there was always a chance.  Nita was suddenly filled
with a sense of attraction she had not yet felt.

When she walked out of the locker room, and Jack was there, she suddenly
grabbed his head and kissed him.  His arms went around her quickly and
he returned her kiss with equal ardor.  After they were finished, he
asked, "Not that I'm complaining, but what was that for?"

"Just felt like kissing you.  Any problem with that?"

"Nope."

The two of them then walked together to his car.  Jack drove Nita home,
as he usually did, and walked her to the door, as he usually did, and
kissed her good-bye, as he usually did, but before he could leave, Nita
said, "Jack, my mom's not here tonight.  Stay with me."

"Are you sure?  I mean, you are asking for sex, right?"

"Yes, and yes."

Jack almost ran back to her and took her in his arms, kissing her with
extreme passion.  They walked together inside, remaining entwined in
each other's arms.  They kicked off their shoes and Jack swept her up
into his arms, and carried her into her bedroom.  He gently put her on
the edge of the bed, and sat beside her.

They kissed again as Jack's hands slowly roamed her arms and shoulders,
finally finding the buttons on her blouse.  He continued to apply lavish
kisses as he unbuttoned and helped her out of her blouse.  She then took
his T-shirt and pulled it off over his head.  They kissed again as Jack
reached behind her and unsnapped her bra.  He then lay a line of kisses
down her cheek, her neck, and around her breasts, finally kissing her
nipple, gently suckling it like a babe.

Nita moaned, amazed at Jack's sensitivity.  Most men would've gone a lot
faster, but Jack was taking his time, making sure that she was getting
all she needed and wanted out of this.

After a while, he switched off and lay another line of kisses on her
other breast, eventually taking her other nipple and suckling it to the
same state of arousal as the first.

Nita went after his pants, but he smoothly deflected her hands, saying,
"Uh uh.  You first."  He then knelt before her, unzipped her skirt and
lifted her buttocks.  Then in one motion he removed her skirt, slip and
panties. He kissed the inside of her knees, just above her stockings,
then up the inside of her thigh.  Just when she thought he was going to
get to something vital, he switched to the other leg and repeated his
kisses. Only then did he finally start licking her labia, carefully
avoiding her clit until she was moaning and thrashing in passion.

When he did touch her clit with his tongue, his touch was soft and
gentle. He took his time, making sure to lavish generous amounts of
attention on her.  He brought her right to the brink then stopped.  Nita
gave a small cry, but he just smiled.  He danced his fingers along the
sensitive flesh of her inner thighs, teasing and exciting her, letting
her cool down without getting cold.  As soon as she was cooled down, he
went back to licking her.  He brought her to the brink twice more, and
let her subside, getting her to whimper with desire and lust, before
finally bringing her off with his tongue.

As she lay there, drinking in the feeling of the orgasm, Jack crawled up
beside her and took her in his arms.  She expected him to try something
more, but she was pleasantly surprised when he just held her lovingly.
After a few minutes, she said with a smile, "You're not even undressed,
yet."

He stroked her face.  "Take your time.  With you I could do this all
night."

Nita reached down and undid his pants.  He stood up in front of her, and
she slowly removed his pants.  She leaned over and gave his cockhead a
brief kiss before pulling his pants to his ankles.  He stepped out of
his pants, then sat beside her on the bed.  They kissed as Nita took his
dick in hand, and fondled him to hardness.  She then pushed him onto his
back and got between his legs.  She leaned over, took his dick and
gently sucked on it.  When he was about to cum, she pulled her head off
of him.  He looked at her with need, until she started playing her
fingers on the inside of his thigh, just as he had done to her.

He smiled, and, resigning himself to her tender mercies, flopped back on
the bed.  Twice more she brought him to the brink, and twice more she
let him cool off just long enough to make the next time that much more
passionate.  Then she finally carried him over the brink into an orgasm
unlike any he had experienced in a very long time.

She then crawled up and lay beside him.  He took her in his arms and
said, "That was sneaky, but I suppose I deserved it."

Nita giggled.  "Yeah, you did.  But I do hope it was as enjoyable as
what you did for me."

"It was very enjoyable."  Jack pulled her close and kissed her.

"So when can you perform again?"

"Right now.  I wasn't exaggerating when I said I could keep it up all
night."

Nita felt his hard member poking her in her leg, and smiled.  She
reached down and gently fondled him, and he did the same for her.  When
they started to move together, she pushed him onto his back, and
straddled his legs.  As she took his dick in hand, and lowered herself
onto him, he reached up and slowly stroked her.  Once again, she was
amazed at his approach to sex.  He was slow, gentle, and loving.  As
they moved together, Nita looked down at his smiling face, and realized
that she did want him, she did love him.  And as he came within her, as
they came together, she realized she did want his baby inside her.  She
fell atop him, and they snuggled together for awhile before starting in
again.

As they lay together that evening, Nita looked into his eyes and
wondered if she should tell him of her dual nature.  "Jack?"

"Yes?"

Suddenly she was assailed by countless doubts.  She knew that Jack (this
one, at least) hated being manipulated.  Would he leave her for what she
had done?  She couldn't stand that.  So she just placed her head against
his chest, and said, "I love you."

Jack responded, "I love you, too."

Now she could only hope it was true.

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

A mystified Bronwyn walked into Laurie's house, to be greeted by a
loving hug.  "Congrats, dearie.  You and Jack finally did the deed."

Bronwyn asked, "He told you?"

"No, but I'd have to be pretty dense not to notice that silly smile on
his face after he spent the whole night out.  Was it any good?"

"It was wonderful, Laurie.  I've never had a more sensitive male lover.
He was even better than most women.  And, Laurie, when we came, I
realized I wanted his baby."

"You're pregnant?  I didn't sense it."  Laurie linked to Bronwyn with
her healer's senses.  "I don't sense it.  You're not pregnant."

"But... how?"

"I don't know.  The only thing I can think of is that he used some
magical protection."

"But I didn't sense anything."

"Hun, you were in the middle of what you call some of the best sex you
ever had,and we know he can be rather subtle in his magics.  I think
short of him conjuring elephants into the bedroom, you could've missed
almost anything."

Bronwyn smiled.  "Thanks, hun.  I needed that."

"Look, why don't you tell him you and Nita are the same person and ask
him?"

"I...  I'm not ready for that."  Laurie tried to argue the point, but
Bronwyn said, "No, hun, just let me handle this.  You promised."

"Alright."

At that point, Jack came in.  Bronwyn made a quick excuse and left,
unwilling to face him and risk betraying something.  Laurie gave her a
disapproving glare as she left.

Jack grabbed a box of cereal, a bowl, and the milk and sat down.  As he
poured the cereal, Laurie asked, "Can I ask for another clue?  I think
I'm getting close, but it keeps slipping away."

Jack got a concerned look on his face.  "I suppose I should've seen
this, but really I thought you'd have this figured out by now.  So I've
only got one more clue.  I can't do anything more without spelling it
out for you, and I won't do that."

"Okay."

"Last clue.  One of the reasons why Jacqui was so powerful was because
her father was one of us, one of a group called the Order of Hermes. One
of my level.  The fact of the matter is, he had some very powerful
enemies.  If you had not disappeared out of his life, he'd've
disappeared out of yours. But he realized there was always the chance
one of his enemies might've found out about you, and kidnapped Jack to
use against him.  So before he left, he cast a spell to protect the then
fetus.  A spell that would make tampering with his mind nearly
impossible."

Laurie was mystified.  "But how does this apply to Jacqui?"

"That, dear lady, is for you to figure out."

"Okay, I've got another request for you."

"Shoot."

"Tell Bronwyn you know that she and Nita are one and the same."

"I can't do that.  Not yet.  I'm not ready for it."  When Laurie was
about to protest, he said, "Look, I appreciate the concern, you've been
more of a mother to me than mine ever was.  But I'm holding you to your
promise not to interfere in any way."

Laurie sighed.  "Okay."  As Jack ate his cereal, Laurie went upstairs to
her room.  "Stuck between two promises.  I hate this."

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

Jacqui and Marcus were walking together in the garden.  She was in her
ninth month and due anytime.  At one point, she turned to Marcus and
kissed him.  Right in the middle of her kiss, she felt her first
contraction.  She had experienced false contractions before, so she used
her Healer's senses to check.  She looked to Marcus and said, "It's
time."

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

Laurie was sitting in the kitchen discussing the Brotherhood with
Bronwyn. Since Jack had saved Dana the attacks had dropped off to almost
nothing, but both women knew it was only the calm before the storm.

Bronwyn was talking about some information that she had gotten from the
Sisters in Asia, when she suddenly stopped in mid-sentence.  Laurie
looked up, and saw that Bronwyn was frozen in place.  She was about to
say something when Jack appeared beside her.

By way of explanation, he said, "Time bubble.  Don't talk.  Takes a lot
of energy to maintain.  Your daughter just went into labor.  She
petitioned for and got permission for you to be there, with three
conditions.  These conditions are non-negotiable and immutable.  You
accept and go, or refuse and stay.  Any attempt to bargain or modify
these conditions will be taken as an automatic refusal.

"Condition one, you don't get to discuss this with anybody before you
leave.  We leave right from here, and nobody but me knows where you are.

"Condition two, with the exception of your daughter, her well being, and
her birth, you discuss what you see with no one.  Period.

"Condition three, you let me blind your senses, both physical and
magical. You won't know where you're going or where you've been till you
get there.

"Do you accept the conditions as stated?"

It took her less than a second to decide.  She knew the conditions would
be a strain on Bronwyn, but there was no way she couldn't be with her
daughter during this time.  Not if she had any options.  "Yes."

Jack took her in his arms, then waved his hand over her eyes.  Suddenly
Laurie was blind.  And in more than just a physical way.  All her
senses, including magical, and healer, were blocked off.  Even her
connection with the other Sisters was suppressed (how powerful was this
man?).  Then, almost as suddenly as it started, the blindness lifted.
She was in a nicely furnished room with her daughter on a bed, Marcus on
one side, and the Verbena Mistress on the other.  Her senses told her
that Jacqui was in the middle of birth pains.

She ran to Jacqui's side, and embraced her.  "Mother, I was so afraid
you wouldn't make it."

"Never."

The two hugged, but Jacqui broke it as she went through another labor
pain. Laurie said, "Don't worry, dear.  Mother's here.  Let's bring your
baby into the world."

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

Bronwyn was speaking to, and looking right at Laurie, when she suddenly
disappeared.  She looked around and quested with her senses, but they
were telling her that Laurie was at an impossibly huge distance away.
Suddenly she was besieged by Sisters who were close to Laurie saying
that Laurie had just disappeared and asking Bronwyn if she knew what was
going on.  Their multiple voices became so insistent, that Bronwyn had
to mentally yell, "Quiet!"

After everyone had settled down, she said, both physically and mentally,
"I don't know where Laurie is."

She then heard Jack say, "She's safe."

Bronwyn asked, "But where is she?"

"I can't tell you.  But take my word for it.  She AND her daughter are
safe."

"But-"

"You're not listening, Bronwyn.  She AND her daughter are safe."

Bronwyn finally got it.  "Are you saying-"

"I'm not SAYING anything other than she AND her daughter are safe."

Bronwyn realized that although he wasn't saying as much, the way he was
explaining it implied that Laurie and Jacqui were together.  As he left
the room, Bronwyn sent the message, "I have it on good authority that
she's safe."

She spent the next few minutes explaining things to the others and
sending her best wishes to Laurie and Jacqui.

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

The birth went exceptionally easily, and when Jacqui held the baby in
her arms, and was nursing her, Laurie said, "Now you must cast the Birth
Rites."

"I can't, mother."

"What do you mean?  Can't you utilize the Goddess's power that well
anymore?"

"That's part of it.  I no longer wield the Goddess's power.  I wield a
power all my own."

"Well, if you can't, then allow me."

Laurie reached for the baby, but Jacqui said, "No!"  Laurie felt a wall
go up around her, preventing her from using any power.

"Jacqui, what are you doing?"

"I can't let you use the Birth Rites on my child, mother."

"But-"

"But nothing.  Mother, you must promise me not to even try to cast the
Birth Rites.  There is so much here I want to show you.  If you promise
not to try to cast the Birth Rites on my child, then we can spend a week
together as mother and daughter.  But without that promise I can't trust
you around my baby.  I have the power to prevent you from using your
power, but I cannot watch you all the time.  If you don't promise me,
you will have to leave right from here and go home."

"But, Jacqui, why?  The Birth Rites just dedicate her to a life to the
light.  Prevent her from being taken by the Dark One."

"It also...  No, never mind.  Just promise me, mom."

"But-"

"Mother, please.  There's more here at stake than you know."

Laurie wrestled with the idea.  Not cast the Birth Rites?  Such a thing
had not been done in the entire history of the Sisterhood.  But this was
clearly very important to her daughter.  It took her a few minutes of
wrestling with the idea, before she begrudgingly said, "Alright, Jacqui,
I promise.  I will not cast the Birth Rites on your daughter."

Jacqui took Laurie's hand.  "Thank you, mother.  You did the right
thing."

If it was the right thing, why did her stomach suddenly churn so badly?

************ ------------

Jeremy Lancaster sat in the office that was his as the head of the
Brotherhood.  The doctor was there, trying to counsel him.  "Are you
sure this is a wise course of action?  A direct confrontation with the
High Priestess of the Sisterhood could result in very bad consequences."

"Perhaps.  But I think it somehow appropriate that we defeat them by
forcing their surrender, by forcing them to admit we are their betters,
their masters."

"But it could result in your destruction."

"That's the beauty of the plan."  Jeremy picked up a disk which held a
copy of the digital plague that his brother had invented.  Balancing it
on opposing corners, and spinning it in his hands, he said, "If they do
anything to me, that will only mean their downfall."

Jeremy laughed, and the doctor dismissed himself.  Outside the doctor
thought to himself, "This isn't working out like I planned.  But it
still may work out for me."

------------ ************

Bronwyn tentatively waited outside Laurie's house in her car.  When Jack
and she (as Nita) had been on a date about a half hour ago, Jack had
excused himself, saying he had to go pick his mom up from an out of town
trip she had been on.  Since Bronwyn knew the only trip Laurie was on
was where she had disappeared a week ago, she knew this meant Laurie's
return was imminent.

She felt the twisting of time and space that was the signature of Jack's
teleportation inside.  She got out and rushed into the house.  Laurie
and Jack were in the kitchen, and Bronwyn took Laurie into her arms and
hugged her.  After exchanging some pleasantries, Bronwyn said, "Jack
didn't say so exactly, but he implied strongly that you were with
Jacqui.  Was it true?"

"Yes, she, Marcus, and her baby, Cheryl, are all doing well."

"Great.  You have to tell me all about it."

Laurie kissed Bronwyn on the cheek.  "Later, love.  Right now, I'm just
too wiped out.  I don't know why."

Jack said, "It's called transition lag, the metaphysical equivalent to
jet lag.  Passing through dimensions takes its toll on the body.  Until
and unless you get used to it, you either need some sleep or an
adrenaline boosting situation, like your daughter giving birth, to
counter it.  You'll be fine after a few hours sleep."

Laurie nodded, kissed Bronwyn, and headed upstairs.  She collapsed on
the bed, and thought she'd be asleep in no time.  But, as scenes of the
last week marched through her head, she found it harder and harder to
rest.  The scenes of her discussions with Jacqui about the Birth Rites
were what disturbed her the most.  At first, she had spent much of her
time just trying to convince Jacqui to allow her to cast the Birth
Rites, but Jacqui was adamant.  Under no circumstances was she going to
allow the Birth Rites to be cast on Cheryl.  She wouldn't explain why,
but neither would she compromise.

But it was what came next that disturbed her the most.  Once she had
accepted that there was no way to convince Jacqui through discussion,
she found herself plotting to cast the Birth Rites on her granddaughter.
Every time she was left alone with Cheryl, she had to fight off the...
compulsion to cast the Birth Rites.  At one point, she had even found
herself making the hand motions for the Birth Rites.  Only by reminding
herself over and over again of her promise was she able to control
herself.

Then it started to congeal.  She remembered Jack's clues.  He had
pointed out that eighty percent of the Sisterhood had had the exact same
reaction, that is to say no reaction, to their Transformation.  The only
thing that could be doing that was some sort of mental suggestion.  It
wouldn't be outright control, for that would destroy their ability to do
magic.  But a suggestion, properly placed, could do it.

This also tied into the last clue she had gotten.  Jacqui, as a fetus,
had been protected by her father from mental tampering, making any
suggestion weaker, and doomed to fall apart.

At first, she thought that it was only the reason why Jacqui had
objected so strenuously to her Transformation, but she remembered
Julie's problems with her son, and Jack's first clue.  Jack, as well as
others who had transformed back, were all much more powerful than their
mothers.  A mental compulsion placed on someone much more powerful
rarely held long.

So she had found out that the Sisterhood had been affected by some kind
of widespread mental compulsion.  And she had to admit what it was.  The
only thing that every member of the Sisterhood had in common was the
Birth Rites.  Every Sister had had them cast upon her by her mother and
in turn cast them upon their children.

But part of her rebelled at the idea.  The Birth Rites had been handed
down as a blessing from the Goddess.  Or had they?  Laurie remembered
the only clue that Jack had given her that didn't seem to fit.  He had
pointed out the joy of raising girls and asked her why would the Goddess
deny her that joy.  The only way that made sense with the other clues,
is if... the Birth Rites had NOT come from the Goddess.  But then where
had they come from?

She had to find out.  The first thing she had to do was break the Birth
Rites down, find out what they were.  No one had ever done this before,
and, in fact, the idea seemed somewhat sacrilegious.  But now, with
Jacqui's absolute refusal to use them, she was sure that she had to do
this.

She went over to her bookcase and grabbed a notebook.  Nowhere were the
Birth Rites written down anywhere.  They were always memorized and
passed on until the child could do them from memory.  As she started to
write the Birth Rites down, something seemed to interfere, cloud her
mind.  But she had to persevere.  She had to find out.

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

Bronwyn was sitting in the kitchen, across the table from Jack, who was
doing his homework for the next semester of classes they were taking
together.  For the last two hours since Laurie's return, she had been
debating whether or not to try to tell Jack of her dual nature.  She had
just thought she had worked up the nerve, when suddenly she felt
Laurie's scream of frustration and rage.

She jumped up from the table and ran upstairs, where she found Laurie
throwing her magical paraphernalia across the room.  Her crystals,
books, anything that had anything to do with the Sisterhood was in total
disarray, including Laurie's mental state.  her rage was so great that
her mind had lost any semblance of coherency.  Laurie grabbed an entire
shelf full of books and threw them to the floor, screaming, "Lies!  All
lies!"

Bronwyn raced to her friend and lover, and grabbed her by the arms.
Shaking her, Bronwyn asked, "Laurie, what's wrong?"

Laurie could barely get herself together enough to say, "It's just...
It's," before shrieking in rage.

Bronwyn was about to try something more desperate, when she heard Jack
say, "It sounds to me like Laurie has just discovered the reason why
Jack was so upset when he was first Transformed."  Both girls looked to
the door and saw Jack standing there leaning against the door frame with
the same cocky pose he had when first appearing to them.  He said, "Kind
of sucks being manipulated, doesn't it?"

Laurie settled down, but her rage didn't actually go away, just went
down to a controlled simmer.  Jack walked into the room, and said to
her, "The question is, what are you going to do now?  You could throw
what you know into the open air, and cause a lot of pain.  You could
inflict on others what you feel now.  Or you can pick and choose the
time of your revelation, and reverse the damage done.  In other words,
you can hurt, or you can heal."  The last seemed to really get through
to Laurie, and she calmed down immeasurably.  Jack turned and walked
from the room, saying, "The choice is up to you."

After he was gone, Bronwyn asked, "Laurie, what's wrong?  What did you
discover?"

Laurie collected herself, saying, "Bronwyn, I can't say.  Jack was
right. I've got to choose the right time to reveal this.  And until I
get a chance to think about this, I have no idea how long that'll be."

Bronwyn tried to argue, but Laurie silenced her with a kiss. "Please,
love, go home."

"You'll call me if you need me?"

"Of course."  Laurie pressed her forehead to Bronwyn's and transmitted
feelings of absolute love to the High Priestess.  Bronwyn finally gave
in, kissed Laurie and left, forgetting all about telling Jack about
herself.

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

Two hours later, after a serious sit down cry, Laurie came downstairs.
Jack was sitting at the table with his school books, but as soon as she
entered the room he got up, poured a cup of coffee and set it before
her.

She thanked him, and sipped at her coffee.  He went back to his
homework, and after a few minutes of silence between them, she asked,
"How could they do it?"

"Do it?" Jack asked, as if he didn't know what she was talking about.

"The Birth Rites," she started trembling as her barely controlled rage
started to re-surface.  Then she yelled, "A Damned Compulsion!" and
threw the coffee mug against the wall, shattering it and spreading
coffee all over.

Jack set his pencil down, and closed his book.  He took a deep breath
and said, "I can't defend what your ancestors did-"

"Why would you try?!  The Birth Rites are nothing more than a damned
collection of compulsions and manipulations.  They compel us to
transform our children.  They prevent us from having female children.
They make us want to accept our Transformations into women.  It makes
everything I thought I knew a lie."

"Not quite.  But it does taint everything.  Now you know why I hate
manipulation."

Laurie gave an exasperated sigh.  "Look, can you just spare me the
mystic master mumbo jumbo and explain this to me?"

"To gain an explanation, you must go back in history to before the
current incarnation of the Sisterhood.  Both the Sisterhood and the
Brotherhood have existed since long before the Goddess transformed your
first ancestors.  Practically since the dawn of civilization.  The two
groups were always designed to work together as a team.  To be two
halves of the same whole.

"But then a demon worshiper got into the Brotherhood, and managed to
corrupt them from the inside.  He turned them against the Sisterhood of
the age.  And the Sisterhood as it existed... stopped existing.  It was
then that the Brotherhood lashed out against humanity, and attempted to
dominate them.  It was then that your ancestors looked for aid to
protect them, looking first for a Sisterhood that no longer existed,
then to the Goddess herself.

"But the Goddess's ability to help was limited.  She was the essence of
feminine power, and her ability to affect men was limited."

"Yes, yes, I know all this.  So the Goddess transformed them into women,
and gave them the power to fight the Brotherhood.  But none of that
explains why the original members of the new Sisterhood created the
Birth Rites and inflicted them on their children."

Jack sighed.  "The original intent of the Goddess was that all male
children would become women until they learned what becoming a woman was
all about, but also that all female children would become men until
learning what being a man was like.  Then either could transform back
and join either the Brotherhood or the Sisterhood, depending on the sex
they chose.  The intent was to give a balance of the male and female
aspects of their psyches.  The aggressive male aspects would make the
Sisterhood a more effective fighting force, and female compassion would
moderate the brutality of the Brotherhood."

"So what went wrong?"

"Two things.  Fear and arrogance.  Remember that the times back then
were much more brutal than they are today.  The worst that you face
today was what was common back then.  After they fought and decimated
the Brotherhood, they were afraid of ANY of their children joining an
organization capable of what they saw.  They were also arrogant enough
to believe that their new female/male blending would allow them to serve
the roll of both the Brotherhood and the Sisterhood."

"So they created spells to sever the connection to the Dark One's
power."

"Oh, no.  You can't do that.  No one can."

"What do you mean?"

"The Dark One is the essence of masculine power.  All people have both
male and female aspects of their psyche, and thus all people have a
connection to both the Dark One and the Goddess.  And thus they could
not sever the connection to the Dark One.  But what they could do was
make it so their children could receive the blessing of magic power only
once."

"And that explains why we only have male children.  If we never have
female children, we never run the risk of one of them transforming into
a male with the power of the Dark One and not wanting to transform back.
But why compel our children to accept their changes?  If they would have
no power, wouldn't they have an incentive not to change back?"

"Minor incentive.  A transformation back would mean loss of magic power,
but there would still be secular power.  And remember, we're talking
about the Dark Ages here.  In many places women were literally chattel.
The property of their fathers until marriage whereupon they became the
property of their husband.  A man could beat his wife for no more reason
than he felt like it, and the most he'd get for it would be a stern
glare.

"They also realized that the Brotherhood could make a comeback.  Since
they wouldn't have girls becoming men becoming women, they needed to
make sure their ranks remained full.  So they compelled all the members
of the Sisterhood to Transform all their children into women, and
included compulsions to accept their femininity once transformed."

"So now we're all a collection of women because we have no choice.  We
never had a choice.  How could the Goddess allow such a thing?"

"I give the Goddess a lot of heat for not doing anything, but the fact
is there isn't a lot she can do."

"Why not?"

Jack considered how best to explain it.  "My Sensei once told me that in
order for a pendulum to swing, it must be able to swing both ways.  In
order for you to be able to truly be able to make choices, you have to
be able to make the wrong choices.  If the Goddess always makes you do
what is right, you lose a major portion of what makes you human, your
free will."

"But now I'm not even sure that what I am is what I'm supposed to be.
How can I be sure that I wasn't supposed to become Larry after learning
what it was to be Laurie?"

Jack shrugged.  "That's an inner question only you can decide."

Laurie thought about it.  "Could you remove the Birth Rites?"

"I can, but I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"Please.  As long as those Birth Rites are in place I can't be sure that
any decision I make isn't being influenced by them."

"Alright, if you really want to, but there's a risk.  If I remove the
Birth Rites then the Transformation might be undone as well.  You could
wind up becoming Larry whether you like it or not.  Now I can undo that
if you decide you do like being Laurie, but if you do become Larry, then
become Laurie again, that will destroy your mystic power.  You will lose
your ability to heal, to Transform, to do anything you used to do with
your magic.  You would be nothing more than a normal woman.  So decide
carefully."

Laurie closed her eyes and thought about it.  It would be a big step,
but she had to get rid of her doubts.  Finally,she said, "Do it."

"You sure?"  Laurie nodded.  Jack reached across the table and took her
hands in his.  She felt his power reach out and touch her.  She felt
something inside her start to unravel, and part of her wanted to rebel
and run away, but she fought the urge.  What he was doing felt strange
and somehow even unholy, but Laurie gave a silent prayer to the Goddess
for strength to persevere.

Then she felt it.  Another... presence.  Caring.  Loving.  It gave her
the strength to continue through with it, and the thing inside her just
fell apart like old, cheap fabric.

Jack let go of her hands.  "Done.  That was easier than I expected."

"I think you got some help."

With obvious distaste, he asked, "The Goddess?"

"Yes.  What's the problem?"

"Nothing, really.  I've got some personal issues with the Goddess.
Nothing for you to worry about."

"You sure?"

"Yeah.  You should probably take some time for yourself to get to know
you without those Birth Rites."

"Good idea."  Laurie went upstairs to her room, and sat down in front of
her mirror.  The face in front of her was the same in that it wasn't
visibly different, but there was a newness to it.  Like she wasn't
seeing it in quite the same way as before.  Then she noticed the
difference. Before there was a... force behind what made her like what
she saw in the mirror.  Now she liked what she saw because it was who
she was.  She knew that, if there was some alternate reality where the
Birth Rites had never been inflicted on her ancestors, she would still
be Laurie.  Her time as Larry was and would always be part of her, but
this is who she was.

She grabbed her purse and headed downstairs.  Jack asked, "Where you
headed?"

Laurie stammered out, "I...  I'm...  It's...  Oh, hell with it, I'm
going over to Bronwyn's for some fun.  You don't mind?"

Jack laughed.  "Naw.  My sexy "mother" having a sexual relationship with
my sexy girlfriend?  It's a teen fantasy come true."

Laurie got an idea.  "Have you told her yet that you know about her dual
nature?"

"Nope."

"Then why don't you join us?  We can reveal what you know, and have a
three-way.  Unless you have some kind of moral objection to that."

Jack thought about it.  "No.  No moral objections."

"But you don't sound too thrilled about it."

"Oh, don't get me wrong.  I'd love to share some time with you and
Bronwyn in the same bed."

"But?"

Jack sighed.  "My mother and I had a pretty serious falling out a while
back.  Before that she and I used to engage in sexual relations with
each other.  I just got a sudden blast of nostalgia."

Laurie looked into his eyes, and every healer's sense she had told her
to work with him. "Care to talk about it?"

"Probably should, but I think that'd be a little too personal."

Laurie put her hand on his arm.  "This is clearly a big problem with
you, and if you really feel you can't talk then I'm not going to try to
make you.  But you do need some healing.  And I think you should start
by telling Bronwyn that you know about her."

"You're just gonna keep pressing that, aren't you?"

"Jack, the secrets between you two aren't healthy for either of you.
Tell her."

Jack took a deep breath and said, "I'm sorry.  I'm just not ready for
this."

"Alright.  I can't say that I'm not a little disappointed."

Laurie started to head to the door, but Jack said, "Wait a second."

"Yes?"

"How'd you like to surprise our little Bronwyn?"

"What have you got in mind?"

"A little teleport to right behind her.  Suppressed so she doesn't
notice it, of course."

"Sounds like fun."  Laurie winked.

"If we're gonna make this work, you're going to have to get yourself
under control.  You go in there broadcasting your emotions and she'll
sense you as soon as you get there."

Laurie quickly went through a couple meditation exercises to get herself
under control.  "Ready."

Jack took her hand, concentrated and snapped his fingers.  Laurie
suddenly found herself standing right behind Bronwyn, who was working at
her computer typing out her latest novel.  Laurie slapped her hands over
Bronwyn's eyes and said, "Guess who?"

Bronwyn, who was used to getting advanced warning of anyone's presence
through her mystic senses, nearly jumped out of her skin.  Patting her
chest to get her beating heart under control, Bronwyn said, "Damn it,
girl, I love you, but don't EVER do that again!  How did you manage to
do that?"

"Jack teleported me here, suppressing the effects.  A little harmless
fun."

"Well, you seem to be a lot better."

"Better than I've ever been in my life, love."

"So what was it you discovered?"

"I can't tell you."  When Bronwyn was about to protest, Laurie said,
"Love, it's the wrong time.  You saw how I reacted.  You can probably
expect most of the Sisterhood to react in a similar way.  With the
current problems with the Brotherhood, can you really say that this is
the time?"

"I suppose not.  But you will promise to tell me?"

"When I think the time is right.  Now come on.  Let's talk about Jacqui,
while we get undressed."  Laurie took Bronwyn by the hand and led her to
the bedroom.

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

Excerpt from the journal of Miss Jacqui Donovan, Vol. II

Day 155

I can't believe how long I've let this journal go without writing in it.
But between giving birth, and Marcus, and my lessons, it really isn't a
big surprise.

The good news is my trainers tell me I'm almost ready to leave, almost
finished with my apprenticeship.  The bad news is I really don't feel
ready.  I don't know anywhere near as much as I did before I saved mom's
life and blew my magic powers wide open.  That's what I figured my
Awakening experience was.

But they tell me that this is usual.  The "Hedge Wizards" (the Akashic
Master was right, you can hear the sneer in their voice when they use
that phrase) have so much less to teach, that they can give a much more
thorough training in what they can do.  They tell me that there is only
so much training they can give before I need to go out and get "real
world" experience.

Marcus graduated just a few days after I gave birth to Cheryl.  We're
going to go home together.  They tell me that I can come back any time,
but I can't wait to get home.  The Virtual Adept Master wants to talk to
me about my first mission outside the Realm, but I'm not sure I want to
accept.  I can't wait to see mom and Bronwyn.

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

Bronwyn walked into her publisher's office.  She was supposed to be in
class as Nita right now, but her publisher had called her and said that
a major investor and now part owner of the firm was a big fan and wanted
to meet her.  She had tried to beg off, but the investor was leaving
town tomorrow.  He said it was up to her, but reading between the lines
let her know that this was a big deal.

As soon as she got there, she was ushered into the office.  But when she
entered the office, her senses rebelled.  The room stank of the Dark
Power. Whoever this guy was, he was a Brother.

Her publisher greeted her at the door.  "Bronwyn, may I introduce a new
investor and owner," the man, a good looking man with sandy brown hair,
stood up, and extended his hand, "Mr. Jeremy Lancaster."

Bronwyn tensed up, but managed to place her hand in his.  "Have we met
before?" she asked.

"No.  But I do believe you know my brother, Eric."  Bronwyn couldn't
believe the man's gall.  He was as much as admitting that he was a
member of the Brotherhood.  "Miss Llewellyn, could we go somewhere and
talk?  In private?"

"I'm not sure I've got the time."

"But I'm fairly sure I've got something you want to hear.  About your
future."

Bronwyn swallowed and said, "Alright, it looks like I don't have much
choice."

Lancaster leaned in and whispered into her ear, "You never really did."

They went outside and walked down the street.  After a while, Bronwyn
asked, "How did you know who I was?  How did you find me?"

Lancaster laughed aloud.  "Are you really that technically inept?
Hidden cameras invented in the fifties could tell us who you were. Today
there are digital cameras with high speed modem uplinks.  The fact of
the matter is, within 24 hours of your assault on my brother's (little
b, genetic relation's) base, there wasn't a Brother on the planet who
couldn't identify you on sight."

"So now what?  You take me somewhere and torture me until I give up the
Sisterhood?"

Lancaster stopped and leaned against a car.  "My brother really was an
ass, wasn't he?  Most of the Brotherhood are not psychotic sadists, Miss
Llewellyn.  Or may I call you Bronwyn?"  Bronwyn shrugged.  "You see,
back when the Sisterhood worked for the Brotherhood-"

"We never did!"

"Your predecessors did.  The Sisterhood that existed before the Goddess
started transforming men.  Anyways, when the Sisterhood worked for the
Brotherhood, information gathering was your province.  When that
Sisterhood turned on us by attempting to manipulate us into slaves, we
destroyed them. Then the Goddess created you.  But rather than accepting
your rightful place as our servants, you, too, attacked us.  And thus
began the schism that still separates us today."

"Is there a point to this?"

"The point is that it is time for you to accept your rightful place as
our servants."  Lancaster pulled a business card out of his pocket.  "In
one week, you and the top ten members of the Sisterhood will meet us at
this address, and surrender."

He extended the card to Bronwyn, but she made no move to take it.  "You
must be insane.  Whatever makes you think I'd do this?  No matter what
you do to me, another will take my place."

Lancaster smiled.  "And what makes you think you're the only one at
risk?"

"What do you mean?"

"You see where the Sisterhood has remained hopelessly mired in the past,
we of the Brotherhood have taken advantage of mankind's ever increasing
dominance of the universe through technology.  We have united the Dark
Power with technology to give us a severe advantage over the
Sisterhood."

Lancaster reached into his jacket and pulled out a box.  Bronwyn
flinched away from it, but he said, "Oh, relax."  He pressed a button on
the box, and it expanded into a Polaroid.  "It's just a camera."  He
handed it to Bronwyn.  "Here, take my picture."

Bronwyn reluctantly took the camera.  It didn't bite or shock her or any
thing like that, so she tentatively pointed it at Lancaster and
depressed the activation button.  It flashed and ejected a picture like
a normal camera, but the real difference was in the picture after it
developed. Lancaster was surrounded by a black aura.

Lancaster then reached into his pocket and pulled out a picture.
Handing it to Bronwyn, she saw that it was a picture of her entering
Laurie's home, except she had a white aura.  She could see a brief flash
of Laurie through the door, and she, too, had a white aura.

"You see, this camera detects the presence of magic potential within the
subject.  After you and the other three Sisters left our base, some
Brothers were posted to watch you.  Every time you met someone, a
picture was taken.  If they showed as a Sister, we tagged and watched
them.  And so forth.  We now have a list of over seventeen hundred
members of the Sisterhood.  How many Brothers do you know of?  Since
your little whelp transformed all the ones you knew, I believe your list
would be... me."

"You're bluffing.  There's no way you could've gotten close enough to
use that camera without us detecting the presence of the Dark Power
within you."

"That would be true if this were the only type of camera we had with
this capability.  We have other cameras with telephoto lenses that can
be used at far greater distances than you can detect our power at."

"We will fight you.  I could destroy you and your connection to the Dark
One right now."

"Oh, undoubtedly.  In terms of power I rank only in the sixtieth
percentile.  Absolutely no match for you.  But do you have any idea why
I am the High Priest of the Brotherhood?"

"Inherited the post from your brother?"

"Nothing so sentimental.  In the Brotherhood, the top five contenders
are selected then pitted against each other in a year long battle till
one has proven himself the clear superior of the others."

"And you proved yourself over the other four?"

"No.  I wasn't even in the running as one of the five.  But after the
five were selected after you managed to destroy Eric, I managed to send
all five to the hospital within four months, all while masterminding the
plot to root out your membership.  I'm devious, and I'm smart.  So you
could destroy me, but if you did that, agents of mine would set lose the
virus that my brother developed and plunge the world into the Dark Ages
once more."

"We destroyed that virus!"

"No, you destroyed the computer upon which it resided.  But my agents
tell me that, for whatever reason, you have been taking a computer
class.  Tell me, Bronwyn, what's the first rule of working with a
computer?"

Bronwyn thought about it.  All during the class there was one thing that
kept being repeated over and over.  "Always make a back-up."

"Very good, Bronwyn.  There was no way for you to really destroy that
virus.  Oh, you could've set us back a few months, maybe even a year or
two in re-engineering it, but none of you have the technical knowledge
to really have destroyed it.

"So, you see, you really have no choice.  You surrender or humanity pays
the price."  Lancaster took the card and handed it to Bronwyn.  This
time she grudgingly took it.  "See you in a week."

As Lancaster walked away, whistling arrogantly, Bronwyn thought that
there was still one wild card she could possibly play, a wild card she
called Jack.

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

At that moment, across town in Laurie's house, Laurie was taking a
little private time just lounging on the couch.  Jack came down the
steps, and said, "I've got to go."

"Go where?"

He took a deep breath and said, in a rather melancholy tone, "Not Jack
stuff.  Me stuff.  Akashic Master stuff."

"When will I see you again?"

"Actually, you probably won't see this face again."

"Why?"

"Unless something goes seriously wrong, Jacqui will complete her
apprenticeship while I'm away on this mission.  There'll be no reason
for me to retain this face."

"So the next time I see you, I'll get a look at your real face?  How
long will that be?"

"If I return, it should be about seven to ten days."

"If?!  You're not just abandoning us?  Abandoning Bronwyn?"

"No.  Let me put it this way, if I'm alive after this, I will return in
seven to ten days."

"If you're...  Is it really that serious?"

"It's always that serious.  If it weren't, they'd use other resources
than me."

"Oh."  Laurie considered it for a second, before saying, "Before you go,
you should tell Bronwyn you know about her.  You love her."

"If I do that, I might not go.  And too many people will suffer or die
if I don't."

"You can't just leave it like this."

Jack gave her a weak smile.  "Laurie, I want to thank you for being
there for me.  You've been a replacement for the mother I once thought I
had."

Laurie was about to protest, when Jack just suddenly wasn't there.  "I
hate it when he does that."

Laurie sat down and tried to relax again, but part of her was worried
about Jack.

A couple hours later, Bronwyn came rushing into the house.  "Laurie,
where's Jack?"

"He's gone."

"Gone where?"

"I don't know.  Business from his non-Jack life.  He said he'd be back
in about 7 to ten days."

"Oh, no."  Bronwyn collapsed next to Laurie.

"Bron, what's wrong?  This is more than you just not being able to tell
him how you feel."

"I was confronted by the new High Priest of the Brotherhood.  I, and the
ten highest ranked Sisters on the planet are to go to an address across
town, and surrender to the Brotherhood."

"They can't seriously expect us to just submit to our destruction.":

"He doesn't want to destroy us.  He wants to enslave us.  According to
his version of events, the Sisterhood was supposed to be subordinate to
them. And if we don't accept that, he is prepared to use the virus his
brother invented to plunge the world into chaos."

"But... we destroyed that virus."

Bronwyn shook her head.  Quickly she went over her meeting with Jeremy
Lancaster.  "I was hoping we could impose on Jack once again to help us
out."

"I guess we're going to have to handle this on our own."

"I guess so."		"Your attitude fills me full of confidence."

"Sorry, but this time it's different.  They've had the last ten months
to prepare for us.  We've got a week.  And this guy...  He's different,
Laurie.  Eric was powerful, but this guy is smart.  Maybe too smart.
And we don't have Jacqui's power with us this time."

"Maybe we will."

"What?"

"Jack told me that Jacqui was about to finish her apprenticeship.  She
could be back before our confrontation."

Bronwyn sighed.  "Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst."

"It sounds like you've got a plan."

"The beginnings of one.  But you need to contact the other nine Sisters
and bring them here."

"Are we going to surrender?"

"Of course not.  But one way or another, the Sisterhood will never be
the same."

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

She ran through the forest freely.  It was a good time.  She was what
the humans called an endangered species, and she, and her entire pack,
were thus protected.  Further, a recent Weaver enclave that was infested
by the Wyrm, had been destroyed, and her sister returned to her.

As she ran, she picked up a strange scent.  A human must have wandered
into her protected land.  She followed the scent, and found the human, a
male, just standing in a clearing.  The man must have been daft.  He was
just standing there, not making camp, not moving, nothing.  Just
standing there.

Oh, well, his mental state was not a concern of hers.  A sufficient show
of ferocity should send him running.  She bounded into the clearing,
growling and ruffling her fur.  Despite her seemingly aggressive stance,
the human seemed nonplused.  She decided to up the ante and leapt at
him.  She only intended to knock him over and scare him off, not cause
any permanent damage.

But as she sailed through the air, her body shifted from its lupine form
to its human form.  Naked as a jaybird, she bounced off the human's
chest.  He said to her, "Pack Mistress, your aggression is unnecessary.
I seek only to talk."

She glowered at him.  "Who are you?"

The Pack Mistress heard her sister say, "He is the human who saved me."

The Pack Mistress looked from her sister, walking into the clearing in
human form, to the human and said, "Then the Black Furies owe you a
debt."

"Which is why I'm here.  How would you like to repay that debt by
destroying a Wyrm worshiper?  The same one who got your sister kidnapped
in the first place."

"Keep talking."

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

Bronwyn sat in front of her computer, working on the anti-virus program.
She had had to steal it from the computer lab.  It was the work of the
grad student who had acted as a teacher's aide.  The program was more
advanced than anything currently on the market, and was, in fact,
destined for market release next month.  She could only hope it was good
enough for what she needed.  And she prayed to the Goddess that the
modifications she had to make wouldn't corrupt it till it wouldn't work.

Goddess, for the sake of all humanity, let her plan work.

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

The prince of the vampires in Los Angeles walked into his office, only
to be confronted by a human.  He was about to order the man destroyed
when his first lieutenant, recently returned to him, whispered into his
ear.

"Human, what are you doing here?"

"I recently saved your lieutenant.  It's time to repay the debt."

The prince shook his head.  "His debts are not mine."

"But the threat posed by the man who captured him is.  I simply seek
your help in eliminating that threat.  In return, the debt he owes me
will be transferred to you."

The prince smiled.  "Tell me more."

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

Excerpt from the journal of Miss Jacqui Donovan, Vol. II

Day 163, last day in realm

I've got just enough time to finish the journal before I head out.
After my Master explained the mission, how could I refuse?  Mom, I'm
coming home.

(You know I never did figure out a good abbreviation for putting after
the day number.)

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

He walked through the long hallway.  It was adorned with garlands,
drapes, and tapestries.  There was also a cold edge to it that instantly
terrified. But this time, there was also a warmth and a love he had
never felt when visiting before.  He knew that the hall was a psychic
construct, and would be influenced by the subconscious feelings of the
observer, and he was perceiving what he expected to see.

He entered the throne room, and the Goddess said, "Good day, Akashic.  I
see you are still placing me on a throne, thinking that I still place
myself above those who come to me.  At least there's no dais this time."

"Let's not get into that.  I've come for my favor."

"Yes?"

After the Akashic Master, still in his form as Jack, told her what he
wanted, she said, "I can only do that from within the consensual
reality."

"Leave that up to me."

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

The top ten members of the Sisterhood were waiting for Bronwyn in her
kitchen.  Laurie had briefed them all on the situation, and each
realized that this could be the last of the Sisterhood.  When she walked
in, she had a solemn look on her face.  Julie asked, "So what's your
plan?"

Bronwyn took a computer disk and put it on the table.  "Contained on
this disk is a computer virus modified so that it can accept the
Goddess's power.  It may be our only chance to stop the Brotherhood's
super virus. Since we have no idea of the exact parameters of the virus
itself, we need to use a more general program, and extra Goddess power.
If each of us places a portion of our power into the disk, it should be
enough to stamp out all presences of the virus, no matter where it
resides."

"But the downside is, all of us will be functioning at only partial
power for our confrontation with the Brotherhood."

"Exactly.  But we have a responsibility to humanity as a whole.  No
matter what the cost."

Each woman nodded.  Bronwyn put the disk on the table.  Each woman
reached out and touched the disk.  The room began to glow, and the glow
moved to the disk as each woman impressed a small portion of her power
into the disk.  When they were finished, each woman sat down, exhausted.

Bronwyn reached over, picked up the disk and said, "Now, at least, we
have a weapon."

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

The Akashic Master walked into the realm, still in his form as Jack.
Everyone was surprised, but no one said anything.  He strode straight to
the Masters' residence section, and knocked on the door of the
Dreamspeaker Master.  He heard, "Enter," and walked in.

"Are you ready?"

"Yes.  Good, it's time to go."

"You have the permission of those involved?"

"I do."

The Dreamspeaker nodded, got up, and went with Jack to the exit portal.

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

Bronwyn, Laurie, and the other Sisters walked into the base where Jeremy
awaited.  In a large ballroom, Jeremy and ten other Brothers awaited.
Jeremy, with a boastful smile, said, "It's good to see you're on time."

Bronwyn looked around.  Only the twenty-two of them were here, which
would mean no innocent casualties, no matter which way the battle went.
Aside from the people, the only thing in the room was a prominently
placed computer.  On the monitor was a prominently placed death's head,
and the computer itself reeked of the Dark Power.  Bronwyn guessed that
the computer was running the virus program in a ready to launch state.

Jeremy stepped forward.  "Come forward, Bronwyn Llewellyn, and accept
your proper place as my servant."

Bronwyn stepped forward and went to one knee before him.  "Jeremy
Lancaster," she started.

"Yes?"

"Bite me!" she yelled and then went to her feet and lashed out with an
uppercut.  It was barely enough to bloody his lip, but it was enough to
distract while the Sisterhood launched a collective attack.  The
Brothers collectively shielded (something that surprised the Sisters)
and launched a counter-attack.

Jeremy, from behind a shield of his own said, "What do you hope to gain
by this?  Our shields may not be as strong as yours, but neither are
your attacks equal to ours.  Combat is our bailiwick.  Eventually we
will get through your shields and destroy you."

"Not before I get finished," Bronwyn said as she ran towards the
computer.

Jeremy smiled.  Just holding himself, he waited as Bronwyn got close to
the computer.  When she was about there, he extended his arm, and
disappeared. Suddenly his arm shot out from the computer screen and
grabbed Bronwyn by the throat.  The rest of his body followed.  He spun
her around in his arm, and snatched the computer disk from her hand. All
combat on both sides stopped.  Jeremy whispered into her ear, "Very
good, Bronwyn, but I was expecting something like that."

"Now what?  Are you going to destroy the disk, our only weapon?"

"Do you take me for a fool?  That would release your power back to you,
not to mention burning me out in the process."  He tossed the disk to
one of his subordinates.  "Magnetize it!"

The subordinate pulled out a small box and ran it over the disk.
Bronwyn, realizing what was happening, yelled, "NO!" but it was too
late.

Jeremy said, "There.  With no more programs on it, the disk is nothing
more than a vessel for the Goddess's power."

Bronwyn tried to lash out with her power, but Jeremy closed his hand
around her throat, and interrupted any use she might've tried. "Enough!"
he said. "You will all surrender now, or watch as I burn the flesh from
her body."

Bronwyn croaked out, "Let him."

"Very brave, Bronwyn.  But your bravado cannot stop this."  He reached
back and hit the return key.  "Now, the entire city has just lost power.
Lights, police, fire department, it's all impotent.  Shall we see what
your arrogance has cost?"

He pointed a remote at a wall and pressed it.  The wall raised,
revealing a big screen T.V.  He pressed the remote again, and a scene
appeared on the set.  It was a scene of an intersection, but there was
nothing wrong with it.  The lights were functioning normally, and
traffic was flowing as it should.

Jeremy yelled, "What?!" and hit some keys on the keyboard.  Then he
said, "Doctor, check out this program!"

One of the Brothers ran over and started typing at the computer.  "It's
gone.  The virus is gone.  I can find no trace of it."

A female voice said, "Of course, doctor.  You didn't think that either
the Virtual Adepts or your bosses in the Technocracy would allow such a
virus to ever be used?"

Everybody turned and saw Jacqui leaning against the edge of the screen.
She was dressed in a black jumpsuit, and was wearing a pair of dark
black, wrap around sunglasses.  A cable extended from the sunglasses and
ran down to a box mounted on her forearm.  She tilted the glasses up and
said, "Hi, mom."  Laurie wanted to cry out for joy and run to her
daughter, but knew she couldn't do that right now.

One of the Brothers said, "So the whelp returns."

To which he was smacked on the side of the head.  "Watch it, bub.
That's my fiance you're talking about."  Marcus then stepped out and
placed himself between the Brothers and Jacqui.

"So you've-" Jeremy started before Jacqui interrupted.

"Excuse me."  Jacqui tilted her glasses back over her eyes.  Jeremy grew
angry, and tried to say something, but she interrupted him with a
halting gesture.  After a few seconds, she said, "Oh, this is rich.  Mr.
Lancaster, I think you need to take a look at this."  She pointed her
arm with the box on it at the computer.  A light beam shot out, and the
screen started displaying lines of computer code.

Jeremy looked around before taking a look at the screen.  After a few
seconds, he asked, "What is this?"

Jacqui said, "Your computer virus.  Apparently it's been modified a
little."

"But the only person who had access to it other than Eric and I was..."
Jeremy looked to the doctor.  "You!  I have no idea why you did this,
but you will suffer for it."

Laurie asked, "What did he change?  What does it do?"

"The new virus not only would've done everything the old did, but also
would've turned any Sister or Brother who touched an infected computer
into the opposite sex, eliminating all of you as a potential threat."

A collective murmur went up through both factions.  Jacqui continued,
saying, "Now look, Mr. Lancaster, why don't you do both of us a favor
and let Bronwyn go and we can sit down and discuss this."

"Never!  This only delays the inevitable.  It changes nothing!"

"You're making a big mistake."

"Hah!  Can even you stop me from killing this wench if I wanted?  Are
you that fast?"

"Truthfully, no."

Laurie was shocked.  Her daughter never should've admitted that, even if
it was true.  She wanted to try something, but Jacqui seemed strangely
unconcerned and Laurie knew that wouldn't be the case if Bronwyn were
really in trouble.

Jeremy said, "Then watch as the bitch dies!"  He raised his arm and
brought it down, glowing with Dark Power.

Bronwyn clenched her eyes shut, sure these was her last moments on
Earth. But when the blow never came, she slowly opened her eyes.
Jeremy's hand was about a foot away from her, and it seemed like he was
straining against something.  His hand was slowly pulled away from her,
him fighting it every step of the way.  Suddenly there was a burst of
fire traveling from Jeremy's hand, around the form of a man.  When the
fire dissipated, Jack was standing there, dressed in his blue gi with
sword on his back, holding Jeremy's hand in place.  Jacqui said, "But he
has more than enough speed to do it."		Jeremy strained uselessly against
the Akashic Master, as Jack said, "Let the woman go."

"And if I don't?"

Jack then elbowed Jeremy in the face, struck some pressure points in his
back causing the arm holding Bronwyn to go limp, spun him away from
Bronwyn, and back-kicked him into the other Brothers.  Jack knelt beside
Bronwyn, now on her knees gasping for breath.  As he touched her, he
flowed healing energy to her and asked, "Are you okay?"

Mystified, Bronwyn looked into Jack's eyes and saw the look of concern
and love that, previously, he had only given to Nita.  She nodded as he
helped her to stand.  "Good," he said as he gave her a light kiss on the
forehead and a short push shoving her towards the other Sisters.    He
then turned and walked towards the Brothers.

Jeremy stepped forward and said, "Why are you throwing in with them?
You should be with us!"

Jack just stared at him for a few seconds before saying, "You are so
clueless; it'd be funny, if it weren't so tragic."

"If you're not with us, you're against us!  Destroy him!"

The Brothers collectively lashed out with their power.  Bronwyn was
about to do something to try to defend him, before she saw that he was
standing unaffected in the midst of the Dark Power.  Then she remembered
his look and kiss and said, "He... knew I was Nita?"

Laurie said, "Uh huh.  After that first kiss you two had, he came home
as mystified as you were.  He confessed he knew.  He said he didn't mind
you watching him, it was just your trying to pry into his head that he
minded."

"And you didn't tell me?!"

"He made me promise, just like you did.  And being stuck between you two
was really annoying."

Bronwyn fumed a bit before saying, "Sorry."  Laurie's smile said all the
apology that was needed.

Before they could continue, the Brothers ceased their assault.  Jack
stood there unaffected, not even a hair out of place.  Jeremy whispered,
"Impossible."

Jack smugly said, "Not really.  About a decade ago, I did a service for
the Dark One.  My payment for that service was total immunity to his
power, no matter who wielded it.  In other words, ain't thing one you
all can do to me."

The doctor stepped forward and said, "I bet I can."

"Bet you can, too.  But we both know you aren't really human anymore."
Jack reached back and drew his sword.  Every empath in the room (every
Sister and a couple Brothers) felt a wave of aggression and an
anticipation bordering on hunger flow from the sword.  In a smooth
motion, Jack crossed the room and hacked off the doctor's arm at the
elbow.  But the stump didn't bleed.  Instead, when the doc grabbed it,
it trembled, and out of the stump exploded an octopus's tentacle.  Then
a wave of evil spread out from the doc, and every Brother and Sister in
the room recoiled.  "And now they know it, too.  You, demon worshiper,
Nephandi, are the kind of evil they, both the Sisterhood and the
Brotherhood, were created to fight."

The doctor glowered at Jack, and said, "Not that it will save them.  Or
you."  The doc charged Jack.

As the fight began, the Sisterhood and the Brotherhood were about to
jump in, when Jacqui and Marcus stopped them.  Jacqui told her mother
and the other Sisters, "This Nephandi is too powerful for you.  You will
only distract the Akashic Master from his duty."  Both the Sisterhood,
and, surprisingly, the Brotherhood behind Marcus stepped back.

As the doctor and Jack fought, the doc was unable to lay a finger (or
anything else) on Jack, but every time Jack slashed the doc or removed a
part of his body, an animal part grew in.  Lobster claws, bear paws,
various animal heads.  It was only a short time before the doc was a 15
foot tall, insane conglomerate of various parts.

The two separated and the doc growled, "You cannot destroy me."

Jack smiled.  "Maybe not."  Jack extended his hand back.  The disk with
the Goddess's power on it flew from the hand of the Brother holding it
to Jack. "But this can!"  He flung it with an outside toss and it went
sailing like a frisbee at the doc.  When it was only a few inches from
the doc's human face, Jack pointed the Soul Blade at the disk and fired
a bolt of energy at it.  When it struck and destroyed the disk, the
Goddess's power exploded into a ball of light centered on the doc,
getting a shriek of pain unlike any heard before.  When it faded, the
doctor was laying on the floor, human once more, in body if not in soul.

Jack stepped up to the doc, but the doc lurched forward, and, with the
last of his power, disappeared.  Jack looked up, but with a distant look
in his eyes.  After a few seconds, he smiled and said, "Gotcha."  He
then swung his blade around and sheathed it.

A voice then said, "Well done, Akashic."

Everybody turned to the entrance and saw a Native American walk in.
Jacqui gasped.  Laurie whispered, "Who is that?"

"That's the Dreamspeaker Master, the most powerful Spirit mage on the
planet.  He's over two-hundred years old.  Reality objects to people
that old.  He's putting his life at stake just being here."

Jack asked, "Are you ready?"

He said, "It'll take me a few moments to make the proper connections."
Jack just nodded.

Bronwyn stepped up.  "It seems we, and I in particular, owe you once
more."

Laurie asked, "But I thought you said you were going to switch back to
your regular form?  Why are you still in Jack's form?"

From behind them, Julie said, "Because she doesn't want me to know her."
Laurie saw Jack visibly tense.  "But did you really think I could be
this close to my child and not know it?"

Jack's face took on a hard edge.  "I suppose it was too much to hope
for." Jack shifted into another form.  He was now a little shorter than
Jack was, but his body was wider, more buff.  Where Jack had the lean,
trim body of an athlete, this new form had the compact, streamlined form
of a fighter. Without even looking back, he said, "Hello, mother."

A shocked Bronwyn said, "Joanie?"

The Akashic Master almost yelled, "NO!" and Bronwyn felt the anger spew
from him, with such great rage that all the Sisters were forced to take
a step back.  Most of it was directed at his mother, but some of it was
directed right at Bronwyn.  And it was more than just anger that she had
used the wrong name, there was something personal about it.

He continued, "I am JOE!  It has been Joe for the last sixteen years!
And, more importantly, it always should've been Joe!"

Julie, tears in her eyes, said, "I only did what I thought was best."

"For who?!  'Cause it sure as hell wasn't best for me!"

Laurie put her arms around the now distraught Julie.  Laurie angrily
said, "So she Transformed you.  You know why she did it.  If you had
such a bad time as a woman, you could've talked it out.  There was no
reason to threaten her.  No reason to abandon her!"

"Oh, is that why she told you I left and threatened her?"  He stepped up
and stared right down at Julie.  "It seems you left a few things out,
didn't you, mother?"

Julie whispered, "We don't need to go into this now."

"Oh, I think we do."  Joe started to pace around Laurie, Julie, and
Bronwyn.  "This isn't like your Transformation of Jack, where you
introduced an unwitting boy to his feminine side.  You see, as a kid, I
was a little spy, always sticking my nose where it didn't belong.  I
knew about the Sisterhood by the age of ten.  I knew about the
Transformation by twelve.  I spent three years wondering about it,
deciding whether or not to try it.  When I was fifteen years old, I
decided no, and told mom.  And on my sixteenth birthday, she Transformed
me anyways."

Jacqui said, "So you were Transformed like me."

"There are some differences, Jacqui.  BIG differences.  First off, I
knew that if I started playing with myself, started investigating my
body, I might lose control and not be able to change back after the
first hour.  So I kept control, and told her to change me back after
that hour.  She wouldn't."

Bronwyn said, "Julie!  Anybody who doesn't accept the Transformation
after the first hour is to be changed back!"

Julie said, "But she did accept it!"

Still pacing, Joe said, "Technically true, but only after she convinced
me to.  'Try it for a week,' she said.  'You might like it,' she said.
She made it sound like a vegetable I hadn't tried yet.  But I couldn't
really argue the point, so, after a promise to change me back if I
didn't like it, I agreed.

"One week later, I told her to change me back.  She goes upstairs, and
comes down about an hour later and tells me, 'I'm sorry, dear.  I made a
mistake.  I can't change you back.  Only you can do that now.'  I'd
later find out that was exactly what she planned in the first place."
There were some shocked looks on the Sisters faces, but they remained
silent as Joe continued.  "I was upset, as you can well imagine, but I
still believed mom and felt there was no use crying over a mistake.

"I threw myself into my lessons of how to be a woman, all along knowing
I was doing it with the ultimate intent of changing back.  I learned
fast, both as a woman, and as a Sister.  I specialized my magics in
information gathering, amplifying my own natural tendencies.  But I
figured out what I needed to change back after only a year, so I started
getting serious in my dating.  After three months, I found a nice boy,
and got pregnant by him. Nine months later my son was born.

"I spent a couple months nursing him before realizing I could take it no
longer.  I prepared to cast the Transformation spell, and that was when
mom really betrayed me.  As I had spent the last two years mastering
myself to cast the Transformation spell, mom had spent the last two
years crafting a spell to destroy me.  As I attempted to change back,
mom cast her spell, a very carefully crafted spell.  A spell that would
make any use of the Transformation spell by me impossible.  Combined
with her previous spell, it would stick me as a woman for the rest of my
life!"

A collective gasp went up from the women.  Bronwyn said, "Julie, you
didn't!"

One of the Brothers, all of whom had remained silent to watch what
happened, said, "What do you expect from a manipulating bitch?"

Joe turned on them.  "Quiet!  Unless you want to be blown off the face
of the planet!"

When he turned back, Julie said, "Please, Joanie, it was just your male
ego keeping you from accepting your femininity.  If you just give it
another try-"

"YOU DON'T GET IT!  I didn't change back because of ego.  If that were
just it, the Transformation back never would've been successful.  I
refused the original Transformation because I knew who I was.  I decided
to change back every time because I knew who I was.  I mastered myself
and my magics because I knew who I was.  And I turned down those magics,
and cast the spell to go back because I knew who I was.  And this," he
said slapping his chest, "is who I am!

"When you refused to accept that, and I was forced to fight you, I
fought back with everything I had and was.  It blew open every channel I
had and gave me more than enough power to shatter all your spells upon
me.  The result was a backlash that nearly killed you.  But I also knew
what all your spells had done, and I was so angry, felt so betrayed, I
didn't care."

Laurie said, "So you threatened her and left?"

"Not quite.  At the time I didn't know how powerful I had become.  I
thought I was a powerless male.  But before I left, I realized that
eventually mom would probably come after us.  And there was no way I
could trust her around my son.  So I did the only thing I thought I
could.  I threatened her.  I'm not sure I ever would've killed her, but
I hoped the threat would be more than enough to keep it from ever being
an issue."

"But what about my grandchild?" Julie asked.

"What about him?"

"Don't I deserve to see him?"

"No, mother.  You lost any and all rights to get anywhere near him when
you tried to destroy the life I wanted."

"I only did what I thought was right!"

"Crimeneys, mother.  You STILL won't admit what you did was wrong!  I'm
out of here!"

Joe turned, but the Dreamspeaker Master said, "No!  The battle between
the Sisterhood and the Brotherhood must end.  This is your plan and it
is a good one, but if you leave it will only mean more destruction.  Is
your anger worth that?"

"Fine.  You know the plan.  You complete it!"

"We need the Soul Blade, and you are the only one who can wield it long
enough to accomplish what needs to be done."

Joe and the Dreamspeaker Master locked eyes in a brief battle of wills
before Joe unsheathed the Soul Blade.  There was that same initial
anticipation, but this time it was followed by a sense of
disappointment. Joe said, "Let's get this over with."  Julie was about
to step forward, but Laurie stopped her.

Joe held the blade above his head and parallel to the ground.  He placed
his hand over the blade, right next to the hilt, fingers extended and
drew it along the blade.  As he did, lightning flashed from nowhere to
the blade between his hand and the hilt.  The further he moved his hand
down the blade, the brighter that section grew.  When he reached the end
of the blade, it was like a miniature star in the room.

He then swung the blade out and down.  As it went down, it cut a line in
the air.  The air in the room suddenly started swirling about like a
cyclone had been loosed in the room, as if reality itself protested what
the Akashic Master was doing.  As the blade continued its downward path,
the line widened in the middle, and those looking at it couldn't help
but think of tearing fabric.  When he touched the floor, all the light
in the blade had been discharged into the tear, and he quickly stepped
back and sheathed the blade.

The Dreamspeaker Master stepped forward and plunged his hands into the
split.  As his hands entered it, they disappeared.  After a few seconds,
he pulled his hands back through, dragging two hands with it.  The hands
were followed by two bodies, and as soon as they entered everyone knew
who they were.  They stood just a few feet below the high ceiling, one
male, one female.  The woman was dressed in a flowing gown that
shimmered like the night sky.  The man was dressed in nothing more than
boots, a heavy loincloth, and a big helmet where the only thing that
could be seen inside was two glowing orbs where his eyes should be.
Every Sister and Brother knew who they were, for their powers flowed
from them.  They knew they were in the presence of the Goddess and the
Dark One.

Jeremy yelled, "They have brought them here so we can finish our battle
once and for all.  Quickly, destroy the Goddess!"

Jeremy fired a bolt of darkness as the others (both the Brotherhood and
the Sisterhood) prepared to move.  But the bolt never reached its
target.  It instead hit the Dark One's hand and was absorbed harmlessly.
Then the Dark One, moving with a speed no human could match, swung his
hand down and swatted Jeremy Lancaster into the back wall.  In a deep
Bass, the Dark One said, "The next one who tries that gets scraped off
the wall with a spatula."

Every member of both the Brotherhood and Sisterhood were mystified.
Finally one of the Sisters whispered, "The Dark One protected the
Goddess?" but the room was so silent it carried with the force of a
yell.

In a normal voice, Joe asked, "You're surprised?"  Then he said, "Oh,
yes, that's right.  Despite your connection to these two, you are still
unaware of their connection to each other.  Let me make introductions."
He stepped between the two.  "On my left, we have the essence of all
that is woman, the living representation of feminine power.  Known to
one and all (at least in this room) as the Goddess.  On my right we have
the essence of all that is man, the living representation of masculine
power, and her," he thumbed at the Goddess, "husband, the Dark One."

A murmur of shock and surprise went through the crowd.  Many wanted to
deny it, but once it was out there, everyone knew it was true.  Joe
said, "And now that that's done, I'm outta here."  He then clapped his
hands together over his head.  His hands exploded in a sparkling burst
like fireworks. The burst dropped from his hands, and as it fell he
faded from view.  Julie released a cry of despair and tried to catch him
before he disappeared, but Laurie held her back.  She stopped fighting
when the fireworks touched the ground and Joe was gone.

Everyone stood around, not knowing what to say until the Dark One spoke
to his Brothers.  "You disappoint me.  You were created to protect
humanity in general and the Sisterhood in particular by fighting the
forces of darkness represented by what you saw in the fight waged here
tonight.  You were never meant to dominate or destroy humanity.  You are
the martial defense as described in Sun Tzu's Art of War, to be set lose
against the darkness at the Sisterhood's command."

One of the Sisters said, "Hah!  You were supposed to work for us!"

But Bronwyn said, "Not quite.  I've read the Art of War.  Yes, the
military only acts at the command of the civilian government, but once
set lose, the civilian government is supposed to step back and let the
military government do its job."

The Goddess said, "And that was the mistake of the first Sisterhood, the
one you replaced.  They felt that since it was their job to tell the
Brotherhood when to attack, they should also have the right to say how
to attack.  And when the Brotherhood wouldn't implement their commands,
some of which were totally unusable, they resorted to manipulation.  I'm
afraid that part of Jeremy Lancaster's story was true.  They did try to
manipulate the Brotherhood into slaves."

The Dark One continued, "With the Sisterhood failing to support the
Brotherhood, it was then that the first demon worshiper infiltrated
their ranks, convinced them to lash out at the Sisterhood, and that
their "rightful place" was as rulers of the planet."

"It was shortly thereafter that your ancestors came to me and beseeched
my aid.  I tried to convince them to beseech the Dark One directly, for
they were men and I could not grant them power directly, but they were
too afraid of the Dark One to even contemplate accepting his power."

"It was then," the Dark One said, "that I suggested the sex change.
That's right.  It was MY idea.  It was my hope that the men of the
Brotherhood would be more willing to accept the once men as their
partners, and, yes, mates in the fight against evil."

"But my husband underestimated the fear present in both the Brotherhood
and the new Sisterhood.  In a world where femininity was seen as
weakness, the Brothers were afraid of facing that part of their own
soul.  And in a world where the only way seen to fight evil was to be
darker than the darkness (thus humanity's name for my husband), the
Sisters were afraid of the brutality of manhood."

"And thus, lacking the empathy of their female side, the Brotherhood
became prey for evil far too often."

"And now gaining the aggressiveness of their male side, the new
Sisterhood arrogantly felt it unnecessary to reunite the two."

The Dark One and the Goddess both raised their hands, and Bronwyn and
Jeremy (who had been more pained then damaged by the Dark One's blow)
felt their hands raised.  The Dark One and the Goddess brought their
hands together, and suddenly the distance between Bronwyn and Jeremy
closed despite neither one moving a muscle.  And when the Goddess and
the Dark One clasped hands, Bronwyn and Jeremy found their own hands
clasping.

The Goddess said, "Despite what sex you choose as a lifemate, man and
woman were meant to be partners in the domination of the universe.
Neither one truly dominating the other."

Bronwyn and Jeremy stared at each other for a few seconds before slowly
releasing their grip and stepping back.  The Goddess and the Dark One
said in unison, "Let it be known that all Sisters and Brothers in this
reality are hearing our words here today.  It is time for this battle to
end.  It is time for the Sisterhood and the Brotherhood to be reunited
as a team to protect humanity from true evil.  All who disagree may step
down and step away."  Everyone in the room was silent.  No one could
know, but each was wondering how many (if any) of each group was
deciding not to accept the new way of things.

After that, the Goddess and Dark One said, "So be it."

Each of the Incarna shrunk down to human size and escorted the
respective heads of their orders back to the group.  When the Goddess
stood before the collected Sisters, she waved to Jacqui, who had been
watching in the background.  "Come along, child.  The power you wield
may be a power all your own, but you are still one of us.  If you chose
to be."

Jacqui smiled and came over to the group.  "I was a little worried about
being accepted now."

"Nonsense, love.  As long as you are woman in soul, you will always be
welcome."  Jacqui took her mother's hand as the Goddess then turned to
the Sisters and said, "Now about those Birth Rites."

Bronwyn said, "We have faithfully cast them upon all our children since
you handed them down to the first of our ancestors."

"Which brings us to the problem."

"Problem, Great Lady?"

The Goddess turned to Laurie and said, "Would you explain?"

Everyone but Jacqui turned to Laurie.  "The Birth Rites... were not
handed down by the Goddess.  Her original intent was that, in an effort
to give them balance, our male children would spend time as women, and
our female children as men.  Then our children could decide to be either
male or female depending on their own preferences.  The men would join
the Brotherhood, and the women would join the Sisterhood.  But our
ancestors had been so afraid of the Dark One and his power, that they
crafted a series of spells that would make it impossible for the men to
receive the Dark Power if they went back to being men, and since they
couldn't stop the girls from receiving the Dark Power at least once,
they made it impossible for us to even have girls."

Bronwyn turned to the Goddess and asked, "If this was not your will, why
did you allow it?"

"My children, you are not puppets.  I can give power, and guidance when
asked.  But if you are bound and determined to make the wrong choices
then I cannot stop you.  To do otherwise would be to destroy a vital
part of what makes you human, your free will.  But that is not the only
thing. Laurie."

Laurie paused before saying, "In order to make sure that the Sisterhood
would remain strong against a possible resurgence of an evil
Brotherhood, the Birth Rites contain compulsions that make us transform
all our children whether we or they wanted it.  It also includes
suggestions that make us want to accept our new feminine status."

A combined murmur went up through the Sisters.  "We're like this,"
Bronwyn whispered, "because... we're compelled to be?!"

The Goddess said, "The suggestions only made it more likely that you
would accept your womanhood as what you want.  It didn't make it
compulsory.  No one here would've gone back, it was that truth of
yourself that gave you such skill with my power.  But it shames me to
say that about fifteen percent of the Sisterhood are women against their
natures.  Normally I would be able to do nothing about this.  What human
will has done human will must undo.  But under agreement to the Akashic
Master, I do hereby perform my agreed upon favor and remove the Birth
Rites without risk of Transforming back.  But should any wish to return,
I am charging the High Priestess, whether she be you, Bronwyn, or your
successor, to make it possible."  The Goddess turned to leave.

Before she went anywhere, Bronwyn ran to her, and said, "Great Lady,
speaking of the Akashic Master, when he was here earlier, he was so
angry, and... and it was at me.  To be honest, I can understand his
anger at Julie, but I thought we were getting along so well.  Laurie
says he loves me, and I trust her feelings.  Do you know why he is so
angry at me?  I didn't do anything to him."

The Goddess looked into Bronwyn's eyes and images of the brief time that
the Akashic Master had spent as Joanie flashed through her mind, images
that contained the times where Bronwyn had met the young girl shortly
after her Transformation.  Then Bronwyn got it.  "I didn't do anything
for him either.  Great Lady, can you send me to him?"

The Goddess smiled.  "No need to use any power.  He's only on the roof."

Julie, who had been listening carefully, said, "I have to go to her,"
and started moving towards the stairs to the roof.

Laurie placed herself between Julie and the stairs.  "Julie, no."

"Laurie, I have to go to my daughter."

"Julie, listen to yourself.  You have to go to your DAUGHTER?  Julie, I
hate to break the news to you, but you don't have a daughter!"

"But-"

"No, Julie, no buts.  I have yet to hear you even use a masculine
pronoun to describe your SON.  HE has made HIS choice, and HIS choice is
to be a MAN."

Julie was on the verge of a breakdown when she felt the Goddess's touch
upon her.  "Julie, Laurie is right.  You were always more closely
aligned with me, and you were much happier once you were a woman.  But
you were so much happier as a woman, you assumed the same would be true
of your son. And, as a result, you never even got to know your son.

"But even at his most feminine, he was always more closely aligned with
my husband than with I.  It was not ego, but rather his true nature that
necessitated his return to manhood.

"And your son, Julie, is an exceptional man.  I knew that Jacqui would
ask him to protect Laurie against those who might strike at her to get
to Jacqui, and I hoped he might feel enough upon watching her to attempt
reconciliation with you.  But I never expected what he did.  Everything
after he met Jacqui, his imitation of Jack, getting Laurie to confront
her guilt, rooting out the secret of the Birth Rites in a way that
Laurie could accept, the freeing of the Brotherhood from their dark
manipulator, and even bringing us here to reunite the Brotherhood and
Sisterhood, was all him.  Be proud of HIM, Julie."

Julie looked down shamefully.  "He must hate me."

"No, Julie.  He loves you very much.  He's just finding it hard to
forgive you.  But in order for him to forgive you, you must first accept
him as he is."

"Should I go to him now?"

"No.  Let Bronwyn go to him.  Trust her to do the right thing."

Julie nodded.  As Bronwyn headed towards the stairs, the Goddess and the
Dark One returned hand in hand to the split in reality.  As soon as they
touched it, they, the split, and the Dreamspeaker Master all
disappeared. One of the Sisters then said, "That was mind blowing."

Bronwyn climbed onto the curved dome which was the roof of the ballroom.
In the dark, it took her a few seconds to spot him sitting on the edge
of the roof, his knees pulled up, his arms wrapped around them.  She
slowly and carefully made her way down to him, and sat beside him.  She
put her hand on her arm and said, "Can we talk?"

He took a deep breath and said, "I'm sorry I blew up at you.  It's just
when mom was there, saying what she did, and then you used my femme
name, I just lost control."

"I'd like to be able to leave it at that, but I can't.  You were right.
When I met you right after your Transformation, I sensed the pain you
were going through, but when you wouldn't open up to me, I checked with
your mom.  She told me exactly what I wanted to hear, and you made such
a beautiful, powerful woman... I didn't want to hear about anything that
meant you would be returning to your male life.  I am sorry."

"I wanted you to be able to fix everything when I met you.  Come in,
wave some magical wand and make everything right.  It was unfair, I
know."

"From the sounds of it, there was nothing I really could've done.  Not
to reverse it, at least."

Joe sat there for a few seconds before saying, "It's kind of ironic.  I
never wanted power, but time and again it was thrust upon me.  I never
wanted to be a Sister, but mom gave that to me anyways.  And the very
act of forcing my way back to the life I wanted opened channels of power
I'd never even dreamed of.  When I discovered that I would've been more
than content to just be another warrior in the fight, but it turned out
that I had certain abilities that made me the foremost warrior in the
fight for the safety of reality.  And if that wasn't enough after nearly
killing myself a number of times, I and the Soul Blade find each other,
turning me into a nearly penultimate weapon against the forces that
would endanger reality."

Bronwyn looked at the blade hanging from Joe's back.  "Not to change
subjects too radically, but what is that thing?  Is it my imagination or
does that actually have emotions?"

"All souls do."

"It's alive?"

"Kind of.  Six centuries ago, there was a powerful mage who wanted to
help humanity.  Unfortunately, he was also prone to psychotic rages
where he'd scour entire sections of land free of human life.  He thought
he could find a way to cure himself, until he started discovering others
like himself. Those whose madness made them immune to what was then
known as the Scourge. Realizing that he and others like him were
mankind's worst enemy, he forged the blade.  But he realized that there
was no magical way to keep the blade from falling into the hands of his
enemies.  Anything he did could theoretically be undone.

"That was when he was confronted by a young squire.  A twelve year old
boy who had Awakened to his power during the mage's last rage.  A boy
whose master had been slaughtered in that very rage.  The boy attempted
to destroy the mage, but really had no chance.  But rather than destroy
the boy, the mage ripped the boy's soul and Avatar, his magical self,
from his body and bound them to the blade.  That way, the blade could
resist any mad mage who attempted to use it."

Bronwyn was shocked.  "There's a fourteen year old boy in that thing?"

"Six hundred and something actually."

"Haven't you ever tried to release him?"

"He doesn't want release.  His life has become a fight against the
forces of darkness.  He serves a useful purpose and he knows it."

Bronwyn sighed and rested her head against his arm.  "You are a man of
many wonders, Joe."  Joe moved his arm from under her and wrapped it
around her shoulders.  She asked, "Do you forgive me?"

He rubbed his cheek against the top of her head.  "Of course."

After a few seconds, she said, "Now that we've got the boyfriend
girlfriend thing out of the way, do you mind if I speak to you as High
Priestess of the Sisterhood?"

Joe sighed.  "You want me to try to reconcile with my mother."

"Yes.  I can't make you.  I don't think anyone could.  But I think it's
time for a healing.  For both of you."

Joe just sat there for what seemed like a long time before he said, "You
don't know how much I want to believe in her.  How much I want to just
say okay and come back to her."

"But?"

"But the fact that she did what she did once means she could do it
again. I won't put my son at risk like that."

"But you could undo anything she did."

"I could undo the magic.  What I can't undo, at least without serious
tampering in my son's mind, is the knowledge that someone he loves and
trusts betrayed him."

"Are you talking about him?  Or you?"

Joe looked down at her.  "I suppose a little of both.  But ultimately I
can't risk my son going through what I went through."

"But the Goddess talked to her.  She realizes what she did was wrong."

"And what she did was wrong before, even by your rules.  That didn't
stop her."

"Joe-"

"Bronwyn, I'm not saying it won't happen.  But I don't give a damn what
the Goddess says, or the Dark One says or does.  When it comes to my
son's safety, I will not take chances."

"But-"

"Bronwyn!  My son knows of his heritage.  He also knows what mom did to
me. I haven't told him anything that would put him at risk if he decides
to go the route of the Sisterhood, but until either he decides he wants
to try, or I decide I can trust her, my son is off limits."

Bronwyn was trying to think of another argument to use when he said,
"But I can introduce her to her granddaughters.  There's no reason to
believe they might be at risk."

"You have daughters?"

"Three of them.  Twin twelve year olds, and a seven year old."

"That kind of explains why I didn't get pregnant when we had sex that
first time."

"Uh huh.  I only produce X chromosone semen."

"And with the Birth Rites in place, my egg rejects all X chromosone
sperm. Well, with the Rites gone, we could have babies, either male or
female."

"Not quite.  Part of my payment from the Goddess for retrieving Jacqui,
was total immunity to her power.  That includes her removal of the Birth
Rites."

"What about your girls' mother?  Where is she?"

Joe was silent for a while before whispering, "Till death do us part."

"Oh, Joe, I'm so sorry.  How did she die?"

Joe was silent again while he contemplated what to say.  Finally he
said, "I killed her."

Bronwyn was shocked.  "Was it an accident?"

"No.  I killed her intentionally although unwillingly."

"What happened?"

"My wife was a shape-shifter.  The same group of scientist-mages that
kidnapped Dana, got to her.  They wanted to find the "scientific
reasons" behind her shape-shifting.  So they used their Life magicks to
keep her alive while they tortured her, forcing her body through one
change after. When I finally found her, her mind was gone, her soul
shattered.  I did everything I could to heal her, but she was too far
gone.  Even reminding her of her children's need for her did nothing to
bring her back to me.  So I did the only thing I could.  I granted her
wish to die."

Bronwyn could hear the pain in his voice.  But all she could do was
snuggle in and share her love with him.  He finally said, "Bronwyn, I'm
not telling you this just to share myself.  If we get together, I will
do everything to protect you, but I have some very nasty enemies.  You
could be at risk."

"I'll take my chances."

"Thank you."  Joe leaned over and kissed Bronwyn.  "There is one other
thing."

"What's that?"

"I want to teach you how to fight, defend yourself.  After seeing the
way you hit Jeremy, you need it."

"What?  I hit like a girl?"

"No.  Some of the worst hits I've had have been from women.  That was
just weak."

Bronwyn looked into Joe's eyes and saw a twinkle that she took to mean
he was only funning her.  "Oh, really?  Let's see how much of me you can
take."  She reached into his gi and started tickling him.  They
playfully wrestled around a bit before they wound up laying together
laughing and kissing.

After a few minutes, Bronwyn asked, "When do you think you could get
together with your mom?"

"Her return flight is day after tomorrow, so how about the day after?"

"How do you know about her schedule?"

"I have... an acquaintance who has a lot of influence in the airline.
It was no accident last Thanksgiving when she couldn't get another
return flight at a later time or day, and had to leave without meeting
me."

"I should've guessed."

The two kissed, then sat back and watched the stars.  Finally, Bronwyn
asked, "What about that doctor?  Did he escape?"

"Not exactly."

"What happened to him?"

Joe got what could only be described as an evil grin on his face.  "Want
to see?"

Bronwyn looked at him suspiciously, but finally said, "Okay."

Joe snapped his fingers and a glowing circle appeared in the air.  In
the circle a csene played out.  The doctor was in the middle of a
forest.  He stood up and dusted himself off.  He looked around with a
smug grin on his face, like he had managed to get away.  A wolf howled
in the distance, but the doctor blew it off.  Until a wolf appeared in
front of him, seeming to melt from the woods.

The doctor started screaming at the wolf, figuring that he would be able
to scare it off.  But then the wolf's form shifted and flowed into a
half-wolf, half-man form standing almost eight feet tall.  In a very
groling voice, it asked, "What's the matter, doc?  Don't recognize me?"

The doctor realized the werewolf was the same he sent to the Progentor
labs some time ago, and barely managed to avoid her as she leapt at him.
He took off running, and was surprised when she didn't follow
immediately, but his surprise quickly faded as wolf after wolf flowed
from the darkness, nippiong at his heels and driving him on.

He finally broke out of the woods.  Seeing the city in the distance he
took off at a run, hoping to reach shelter before the pack got him.  He
saw a man leaning on a bike by the road, smoking a cigarette.  He ran up
and said, "Excuse me, but I'm being chased by a pack of vicious wolves.
If you don't want them to get you, too, we need to get out of here!"

The man blew smoke into the doc's face.  "You know, you'd think that
after I died, I'd be able to give these things up.  Oh, well," he said
as he grabbed the doc by the throat.  His eyes then glowed red and his
incisors grew to twice their normal size.  "It's not like I've got to
worry about cancer anymore."  The vampire then punched the doc back
towards the werewolves.

The doc quickly stood, seeing more vampires appear around him.  As the
wolf pack and vampire clan encircled him, he said, "Impossible!
Werewolves and vampires are blood enemies!"

"Normally true, but a debt is owed.  The only thing we have to do to
repay it is destroy you without destroying each other.  The ironic
thing?  With the exception of not destroying each other, we'd've done
that for free."

The doc then got a look of absolute terror on his face as the two groups
leapt at him.

Joe snapped his fingers and the ccircle disappeared.  "The rest just
gets bloody."

Bronwyn asked, "Why didn't he use his magic?"

"After that blast of Goddess power?  He barely had enough power to get
away from me."

Bronwyn said, "I'm glad I'm not your enemy."  The two kissed.

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

EPILOGUE...

Julie paced frantically in her house.  Bronwyn sat on the couch reading
a magazine.  Julie said, "He's not coming.  He's decided to abandon me
after all."

Bronwyn sighed.  "Julie, stop worrying.  He sent us both a telepathic
message saying he was going to be late.  He promised to be here.  Now
relax."

Julie sat on the edge of the couch, but she was as tense as a tightened
harp string.  And when the knock on the door came, she almost covered
the distance in one leap.  She threw open the door to see Joe standing
there. She lurched forward and threw her arms around him.  She expected
nothing in response, but was pleasantly surprised when he returned the
embrace.  After a few seconds, he whispered, "I missed you, mom."

She finally looked up, with tears in her eyes and asked, "I'm sorry for
what I did.  Do you forgive me?"

"I'm willing to give you a chance.  But let me introduce your grandkids
right now."  Joe turned back to the door and said, "Kids."

A dark-skinned twelve year old girl dressed in jeans and a t-shirt
strode in like she owned the place.  She looked around, and said, "Cool
place, dad."

Joe smiled.  "Mom, Bronwyn, meet Tasha.  Tasha, this is Bronwyn and your
grandmother."

Tasha said, "Hey, how's it going?" and walked over and hugged each in
turn. "Mind if I look around?"

Julie nodded.  After Tasha bounded off into the kitchen Julie said,
"She's certainly... bold."

Joe laughed.  "She takes after her mother that way.  Her mother was a
warrior from a tribe deep in the Amazon jungle.  Social niceties weren't
high on her list."

There was a light knock on the door.  A girl who looked exactly like
Tasha, except she was wearing a dress, was standing there, looking
around the edge of the door.  "Dad, can we come in now?"

"Come on in."

The girl stepped in, holding the hand of another little girl.  "This is
Inya," Inya let go of the other little girl's hand long enough to
curtsy, "and the little one is Norma."  Norma tried to imitate her
sister's actions.  It was a little stilted and less practiced, but
looked fairly well done for her age.  "Girls, this is Bronwyn and your
grandmother."

The girls waited patiently until Julie went to one knee, and said, "Come
on over and give your grandma a hug."

The girls ran over and threw their arms around Julie.  After the hug,
Julie and Bronwyn heard a pretty, young feminine voice say, "You're a
pretty lady," right into their minds.

Joe then said, "Norma is a natural telepath.  But she also hasn't used
her biological voice since her mother died."

Inya said, "We all try to get her to speak, but so far she can't."

Julie said, "That's okay.  If you just want to mindspeak to me, you go
right ahead."  Norma smiled and hugged her grandma.

Then Inya asked, "Dad, can I... should I share my secret?"

Joe nodded.  "I think they need to know."

"What secret?"

Joe said, "Where Tasha takes after her mother in personality, Inya takes
after her in body."

Bronwyn said, "But they're identical twins.  Aren't they?"

"Almost."  Joe nodded to his daughter.  Inya stepped back a little, then
rubbed the jewel on the bracelet on her arm.  Her clothes unraveled then
flowed into the bracelet, leaving her standing there in just her
bracelet. Her body then shifted and flowed until there was a small black
panther standing there with  a bracelet around its front paw.

Then in a mental voice, Inya said, "The bracelet also lets me speak to
you mentally.  I'm one of my mom's pride.  A Bastet. A werecat."

Then Tasha came back to the room carrying a big hunk of chocolate cake.
"This is pretty good, grandma.  You bake it or is it store bought?"

Both Inya and Norma looked to Julie and asked, "Can we have some?"

Julie sighed.  But with a big smile on her face, she said, "I was
planning on saving that till after dinner, but since your sister's
already gotten into it, go ahead."

Both of the girls said, "Yeah!" and ran to the kitchen; Inya bounding
right over the couch in her panther form.

Julie smiled and felt about ready to burst with joy.  She turned and
said, "Thank you, Joe."

"There's one thing more, mother."

"What?"  Julie wondered if maybe Joe was going to give her some kind of
warning, but his tone didn't seem to imply that.

Joe turned to the door and said, "Okay."  A boy in his teens then
stepped into the doorway.  "Mom, this is your grandson Steven."

Julie was about to breakdown in tears of joy.  "But I thought you said
he was off limits."

"The reason I was late was because Steven has decided to give being a
member of the Sisterhood a try.  We were taking some time to discuss it
to make sure he knew what he was getting into."

Julie walked over to Steven and took his hands.  "Are you sure?"

Steven said, "Yeah, grandma.  I've spent a long time thinking about it."

Julie embraced Steven, the tears flowing freely.  When they broke, Julie
asked, "Can you do me a favor?"

Steven said, "Sure.  What is it?"

"Do you mind if we wait a few months before Transformation?  The mistake
I made with your father was not getting to know him before his
Transformation.  I'd like to get to know my grandson before you become
my granddaughter."

"Okay, grandma.  I can do that."

Then, from the kitchen, they heard, "If you guys want any cake, you
better get in here!"

As Steven escorted Julie into the kitchen, Bronwyn walked over and
wrapped her arm around Joe's waist.  "Were you trying to talk him out of
it?"

Joe put his arm around her shoulder.  "No.  Joanie is a part of me, just
as Bronson is a part of you.  Being Joanie helped balance me and make me
a better person.  But I wasn't Joanie.  So when do my kids meet your
kids? Don't you have a daughter a little younger than me?"

"Sure, throw that up in my face."		"Don't worry, old woman, I'll take it
easy on you."

Bronwyn swatted his butt as they walked to the kitchen.  While they were
getting to know each other in the kitchen, Joe heard the Goddess's voice
ask, "So did I do well by you?"

Joe smiled and thought back, "Don't rub it in."

THE END


JULIJANA: Волшебные превращения мужчины в женщину

JULIJANA: Волшебные превращения мужчины в женщину

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