Arella's Note:  Sorry for the long delay, people!  Life is back to normal now, however, and the chapters should be coming out in regular time again!

Chapter 11 Written by Arella Ashkenazic

Sassira Ralina Pukada Anaya de Murano

I watched, slightly amused by Jace's sense of humor and by the talking squirrel, as Talon looked hungrily at the screeching animal.  However, her face quickly turned from hungry amusement to disgust as that charming little voice belonging to everyone's favorite fairy said, "Oooo!  Soft!"

And then, she eyed the squirrel…

Her eyes widened with curiosity and she flitted up off of Talon's back.  She looked at the squirrel, whose eyes had widened to an enormous size, probably because of Meris obvious lack of clothing, something I still say needs desperate fixing.  Jace was also admiring the tiny fairy.  I would have been annoyed if he hadn't looked back at me and blushed furiously.  I just laughed instead.

Meris, however, looked up at Jace, eyes pleading.  Apparently, she had never seen a squirrel before.  "Can I touch it?"

I nodded to Jace, knowing Meris wouldn't hurt the poor thing any.  Besides, the squirrel looked in desperate need of a "little lovin'".

The squirrel began to struggle even more in Jace's grasp as Meris launched herself at it.  His eyes bulged even more as she squeezed him tightly.  "You're even softer than Tally-wally is!  We will spend glorious evenings together."

The squirrel's eyes turned shrewd, if a squirrel can do that.  I choked.  "Don't even think about it!  That's disgusting!!!"

Before any more thought could be put on the two creatures, Lord Burnwick coughed discreetly.  I turned to look at him and saw my whole family staring at me as if they'd never seen me before.  Okay, so they knew about Jace, and they weren't gonna kill him.  But that didn't mean that they weren't going to kill me.  No one ever said parents are logical about these sort of things.  My father's eyes were still burning with a slow fury, but now he was looking at me and not at Jace.  I took a step backward.  It wasn't that I was afraid, of course.  It was more that I wanted to make sure that he actually wasn't going to try anything.  I am an adult after all.  They need to stop treating me like a child.

The Duke looked especially mad.  I suppose it was because he realized that he wasn't going to win this argument, and I was not going to marry him.  Period.  He clenched his hands at his side and took a step forward.  My family, too focused in their own thoughts, didn't even notice him move.  But Jace did.

And before I could do anything, he had dropped the squirrel, who was still being cuddled by Meris and stepped in front of me.  With a primitive growl, he held his hand out.  I could feel the magic growing in him.  See, while I had the Wild Magic, he still retained the learned magic.  His face was cold.  "Don't even think about it."

The Duke's fury left him really fast.  Or, at least, it appeared that way.  His fists were still clenched, but he turned on heel and stalked away.  I looked at Jace with a smile and reprimanded, "You don't have to protect me.  I can take care of myself."

"I know," he responded.  "But I like it."

All of a sudden, it seemed as though I had known Jace my whole life, even though I didn't really know anything about him.  And he really didn't know much about me.

My mother always said that relationships based on traumatic experiences were bound to fail in the end.  All of a sudden, I didn't really care that much.  And no matter what the social boundaries were, I was still very interested in Jace, and I wanted to learn more about him.  I wanted to know everything.

"Gentlemen," I said, glaring at everyone except Jace.  "Why don't we take this inside to consider what to do.  We must remember that there are more important things at hand than family matters.  We have a wayward magician, missing people, and a gem in conflict.  I think that society needs your help a little bit more than our family does."

Jace looked solemnly at me for a few moments then lowered his hand and stepped back.  Everyone else just looked a little squeamish, as if I had hit them right on the mark, especially Lord Burnwick.  He nodded curtly and said.  "Why don't we go into the conference room and discuss the current situation."

I was definitely happy that my father agreed to this, and soon we were all sitting, albeit cautiously, in the conference room.  Lord Burnwick sat on one end of the long table and my uncle, the king, on the other.  My father sat on one side of me and Jace on the other side.  He linked his fingers into mine before the conversation started and I smiled at him.

Lord Burnwick was the one to curtly start the conversation.  "Well, what do we know so far."

I saw my father's mouth open, and I knew what was about to come out, so I stepped in and replied instead.  "I'll be brief, my lord.  A short time ago, I was in one of the forest cities of our people, the city of Lensor.  The city was completely deserted, people nowhere to be found, and Lensor is a fairly large populous, for being a tree city.  There were no bodies, and everything seemed in neat order.  Except for one thing.  I found the Mark of a mage in one of the homes."

"And where is that Mark now?" Lord Burnwick asked.

"I… I forgot to grab it.  I got too busy saving Jace's life."

There was a distinct glare from my father and a discreet cough from Lord Burnwick as we continued the conversation.  "And no one else has found it?"

"No, my lord," the Duke said haughtily.  "My men searched the whole area and we found nothing.  Not even a trace of any mage's Mark."

Lord Burnwick sighed.  "It's probably for the best, I guess.  Touching it could have possibly cost you your life.  Marks are very dangerous things when held by the wrong… or the right people."

"Still," I said softly.  "I wish I had at least found out what was on it.  I don't remember…  And each Mark is unique, isn't it?"
"Yes."  Lord Burnwick nodded.  Then he stood and reached out a hand, as I was sitting close to him, and set it on my head.  He muttered a few words in a language I didn't know, and then, I felt dizzy.  The world began to spin, and suddenly, I was going back through time, but not quickly.  Or so I thought, anyway.  My mind seemed to be retracing it's steps, all the way back to the first encounter with Jace and then to the point at which I was staring at the Mark.  It stopped there and I looked at the object.  It was so vivid that I wondered how I could have forgotten what was on it.

Lord Burnwick then lifted his hand off my head and asked, "Well?"

Everyone else was leaning forward in their chairs, as if they had just witnessed some sort of miracle.  Like they had never seen magic before.

"It's not an ordinary Mark," I said with a shutter.

"What is it then?" Jace asked me softly.  He gently squeezed my hand.

"I… There was a picture of a woman on it.  But, the picture wasn't just embedded in the metal, like all of yours.  When you look at it, it stands out in full color.  The woman is standing there, a serene look on her face, with blood running from her neck down her bodice.  It isn't a full body picture.  Just from the waste up.  It would be gruesome, but instead… it seemed beautiful.  Just from the look on her face."

"That's what I was afraid of," Burnwick growled.

My uncle nodded.  "I thought so, too.  But how did he escape?  I thought you entombed him somewhere in the volcano."

"I did."  Burnwick said.  "I and four other High Mages.  Unfortunately, they are all dead, and I am the only one who remains.  We will have to make a new high council.  And this time, we have something that wasn't accounted for to deal with."

"What's that?" I asked, suddenly very worried.  My stomach turned queasy.

He looked straight at me with those piercing eyes of his.  "This time we have real Wild Magic to deal with.  I had thought Valuciadus had Wild Magic back in the old days.  That was one of the reasons that we sealed him in the volcano.  But now that I have felt true Wild Magic in Jace… and now in you, I know that what he has is far different.  His magic isn't Wild.  It's very controlled, and has no life of it's own except his."

"Valuciadus?  Isn't he the one that parents tell children about?  That he will eat them in their sleep if they are bad?"

My father nodded.  "Yes.  The real Valuciadus is only known to the oldest of elves like Lord Burnwick.  There are a few Plains Elves that know of him, too.  He is supposed to be a myth, something that never existed.  Unfortunately, he is all too alive.  In fact, he is one of the reasons that the human race is almost extinct."

"But what is he?" I asked.

"It's very simple," Jace said with a bitter smile.  "He's half Vampyre.  Or, so he told my father before he killed him.  He's an alien, from another dimension.  His mother came here and bred with the humans she killed.  Valuciadus was born from her.  Along with a few others.  The others died early in their lives, but Valuciadus had magic to keep him alive.  The Elders thought it was Wild Magic, and that the Wild Magic was keeping him alive for it's own purposes.  However, my father didn't believe that.  He said that it was Vampyre magic, and that the rest of the children had been born without it.  But, no matter what it was, Valuciadus was very powerful, and he killed many humans in his lust for blood."

"But not elves?" I asked.

"Only a few.  But the magic in our blood, the magic of the earth and the trees is very strong.  He could only drink it sparsely, at times when he needed to refuel his energy by more than just human blood.  And even then, the magic was so strong that he would have to hide out for days to recover.  And then, after he came out, he was twice as strong.  And twice as evil and bitter."

"He is even more of a threat to us now," Burnwick said.

"Why is that?" I asked, my heart beating hard.

"It seems he has drunk the blood of a whole Elf village."