Sleep. Cold comfort. As if I could escape the nightmare I am living by sleep. The memories, fresh in my mind, haunt me, and seep into my dreams. I never intended to get caught again, I just had to wait until it was safe to leave. Well there is no point worrying about it now, inside this cell. The Senate had their precious Ariax back and now they were going to kill her. I can see it coming, they've tortured me, burning water leaving trails on my arms and they have carved their signature double S on my cheeks. At least they had stopped bleeding. Of its own accord my hand reaches up and traces a finger across the letters. There would be a public execution, where the Senate would declare their final victory over me. It would be perfect, with only one thing missing. Me. Any second now they would come, my last allies. They alone could give me my last shot at freedom. There was a knock at the door. I dragged my hand away form my face and knocked back. The door disappeared. I crawled to my feet and brushed my clothes off. My arms screamed with pain as I bent and stretched burnt skin.

"This is sad," the voice said.

"Its good to see you again too, Logan," I croaked back.

"Ah. that same old wit." I smiled coldly.

"What else would you have come to adore so much?" The Seeing Stones on my neck and wrist cooled, after burning briefly once. The Senate Guard had been unable to take them from me. One particularly stubborn and frustrated guard had been carried away with the pattern of a chain burnt into his palm. He will scar, but he got his revenge, I was aware once more of the cuts on my cheeks, I would scar too. Logan kept his distance for all of two seconds, grabbing me in a hug and before I knew it I was hugging him back. He brushed his lips against mine and then stepped back to study me. He then walked to the door and picked up a bundle of cloth. Carefully he unbundled it, and from it he handed me my sword, Selene, and a small bottle from my own apothecary, its thick purple liquid, the light hitting it, sent shards of purple light across my face and arms. Also included was a black cloak, the initial wrappings, and a bottle of spirits. I grubbed the bottle and gulped it.

"Oh, I missed this stuff." I murmur and fell its warmth spread through me.

"Take it easy Ari, its been a while."

"Ah shut up. My arms hurt, my face hurts." I held out my arms then lifted a hand to my face. He reached out a hand, took mine away and held it. With his other hand he cupped my face, brushed the tears from my cheeks and ran a finger across the slices in my cheeks.

"When these heal, you will tattoo over the scars ok?" I nodded. "It will become a symbol for your supporters." I sighed, turned away from his hand.

"We discussed that."

"It's too late." I nodded again to accept as much. Footsteps echoed down the hallway. Working quickly, I threw the black cloak on, tucked the objects into its pockets. The black cloak itself was blessed, rendering me completely unnoticeable, unimportant and vague unless I drew attention to myself. Logan stepped out into the corridor, me following closely behind. The sudden change in light caused dark splotches in front of my eyes. Through the splotches I could see to one side, long panels of window, which doubled as mirrors from the other side. On the other side was a long openless, breakless wall. I figured there would be other cells behind them, usually empty. I knew where we were. The Senate High Tower. Every morning when the suns rose high enough, the rays hit the mirrors, sending out one flash of light over the capital city of Azalea, the home planet to the Shapeshifter Empire. So far the Shapeshifter Empire was the only to successfully span other dimensions, as far being the only also to have mastered inter-dimension travel. The Shifter Empire was ruled in general by Senators. And even in that, inner circles formed, unspoken alliances were established. Senators with common interests joined forces with other and together they swayed the vote of the Senate. Not really for the good of anyone, but themselves, and their home cities alone. I was the General of their army and I was pulled into the Senate Guard, from there I evolved to the Hunters, the most elite, dangerous and elusive of all the Senates troops. After that came the Senate itself. Fifty members, all in rings of their own but in the end, it all boiled down to two members, Norton and Pure. It did not take me long to climb to them, and all three of us held sway over the Senate, pulling strings on many alliances. But two new Senators appeared, and while I was away on a job, the new Senators corrupted Norton and Pure and convinced them I was plotting against them. Upon my return I was greeted with members of the Guard and Hunt and the news I was to be executed for treason. Having been in both before, escape was easy. But it was a trap. Shifter Hunters wore cloaks similar to this one. Sitting in an inn on the outskirts of a port town, they caught me and dragged me back here.

Logan turned to me now.

"Keep up will you?"

"Yes yes I'm trying." We rounded a corner and kept walking. Above us there would be another floor, the same layout as this but in the place of cells there would be offices, Senators offices. Logan paused, grabbed hold of me, and then we were in my office. Logan tapped a device on my desk and the door whirred quietly shut. A dull blue glow shined in from the central cavern window. I pulled my clock off and left it on the chair, which I climbed into now.

"The illusion is now down in your cell."

"Very clever."

"The execution is scheduled for this afternoon, you can go now or come with me."

"I'll follow you later."

"I have things to do now, but you can stay here, no one comes in here anyway."

"'Of course." I tapped the smooshy pad on my desk and the door whirred open and shut again, after Logan had left. I quietly crossed the room to a wardrobe and grabbed me senatorial robes. I put it on over my current lot of clothes. Long sleeved the covered my hands, off the shoulders with gold detail don the front. I crossed quietly back to my desk. I cleared all the paperwork they had emptied from drawers and surrounding bookcases and places them in piles on the floor. I wiped my hand across the desk and a layer removed itself. I turned to face the cavern window, held out my hand, and the layer became a cover for the window. It was now pitch black. I held out my hand, no significant movement in itself, but the after effects of this simple movement spoke magnitudes. I concentrated really hard. Fairly soon, particles of dust started to form themselves in my palm. Drawn from the air around me like a magnet. Under my control they expanded and doubled and picked themselves up. Gaining more and more it grew into a spinning orb. I smiled and gave it a faint blue glow, then set it down on my desk, where it continued to hover and glow. I leaned over the edge of the desk, peering over the now exposed secret area, several dividing compartments. Nothing was missing. I grabbed the Journals and compilation of observations on magic and crossed to the fireplace and through it all in. Back at the desk I picked up a hair barrette. I braided my fringed into two separate plaits and tied them together at the back. The other compartments held potions, of my own creation. Two of which had to be kept separate or else they started fighting with each other. Enemy potions, used to make plotters enemies. Two had to be kept together, else they let out a high-pitched whistle until they died out. One was kept to itself or else it set fire to the potions around it. Two sat side by side and yet could not be more different. If apart, they were both silent and would fade away. Only with each other could they exist. Both held all colours, at times they blended, at times they stood out brightly. One sat entirely still in its bottle, even when picked up, and yet still ran like water. The other was always and constantly moving. Life and death. Too precious to be bottled by anyone bar a phoenix. I reach down next to my desk, pick up some papers and start reading.

A couple of hours later there was a tap on the door. I put down the sheet of paper and blew some magic off my palm to the door, forming itself as a mirror, showing Logan on the other side. A tap on the smooshy pad and Logan was inside. I took a deep breath, we locked eyes and I nodded. I pocketed the purple potion, hid the sword and pulled the black cloak over my head. With one last look around my office I was gone.

A mock stage had been set up in the auditorium, symbolizing the importance of the event. Standing on the stage was a lecturing cistern. Standing nearby was a figure, head bowed, arms jutting out jaggedly, as if she had lost too much weight. The cloak she wore was a dull dark brown. She looked morbid, but a darker, more trapped, aura radiated from her presence. The illusion was absolutely perfect, Logan had done it well. I let Logan continue, watched as he walked through the outer door and left the auditorium. I turned back to the stage. Slowly the Senators and various dignitaries filled the seats. After a while Norton walked to the cistern. Norton was always the more confident, Pure was always shaken with the uncertainty usually associated with an ill sleeper, woken too soon. A short speech, listing off the details of my crime. Then Pure shoved brown cloak forward, his arms coming into contact with nothing, sending the cloak straight back down to the ground. A deathly silence fell over the auditorium. Then subtly, gold dust began to drift upwards. Uncharacteristically of this time, the suns set. I reached up and pulled the hood off my head. No one noticed, all eyes were on the stage. My hands made sure the potion was still there, and found another potion. Logan, I smiled to myself. On stage, there was a thickness to the gold and some form was being taken. After a while it was clear as a phoenix. It started, as if it had just been freed, glaring around with bitter gold eyes. Pure shakily swiped at it, his hand going straight through.

The phoenix let out a long, high-pitched song, reducing the general happiness and smugness in the room to sadness and mourning. When she finished, the temperature had dropped. She turned her eyes onto me, took to the air and flew towards me. Not so much flew as darted. She narrowed her wings behind her and went straight into my heart. I fell to my knees, the sadness used to create the illusion overwhelming me for a moment. And then, as quickly as she had arisen, she was gone. I drew myself to my feet in the deathly silence.

"Today I am leaving you all, and you will all be gone to me, so I have things I wish to say. The last wish of the dead." My voice rang clearly in the emptiness, no one moved, the general feeling was numb, haunting. Norton though, opened his mouth to speak.

"Shhh." I held a finger to my lips and my eyes smiled slyly at him, he suddenly discovered he could not speak. I walked quietly down the middle aisle, felt the people testing me with their eyes, trying to decide whether I was real or not. One of the Guard tried to take me, but with a wave of a hand, he was gone. I shook my head and made a "tsk tsk" noise.

"Don't you realize? I am already dead. There is nothing you can do to harm me. How does it feel?" Pause. "How does it feel to see a real live ghost?" I reached the stage and dropped the black cloak.

"As for my alleged crime? What proof have you a crime was at all committed? Surely you are not all going to forsake an ally? A friend?" My gaze swept over the crowd coldly. I shook my head slowly.

"What difference does it make? I'm already gone. Though it is a sad, sad day. For I foresee the future, and unless I succeed today, the fall of the Shapeshifter Empire will proceed. And that I will not allow. I am sad for the loss of the Senate, though I know civilians out there would do a better job than you all have. I am sad that you may no longer do the jobs that handed you the luxury and power you enjoy. And while I am sad, I am also grateful. Grateful to have the chance to work among you all, to live the friendship and allies I have had." I smiled warmly, but the smile faded. "I am to blame for the corruption. Blindness, that is my crime here, not treason. Farewell my friends, you shall all be mourned." My voice, having safely delivered the message clear as crystal, faltered and a tear rolled down my cheek, over the double S. I reached into my pocket and drew out the two potions. The thick purple liquid sent out a faint glow, while the deeper fiery orange was still, ominous. I took the lid off them both. I held the purple bottle up to my eyes, took a deep breath and swallowed its entire contents. I bent down and set the glass down shakily, as the dizziness set in. I stood again, a smile involuntarily lit my face.

"I am free," I whispered, though it was heard by all present. I dropped the orange potion, hearing the shattering echo through my happiness. As I fell to the ground, I could hear the choking start.



EPILOGUE

Ariax's last stand against the Senate and her suicide, did not go unrecorded. The toxins found in the air provided a cause of death for forty- seven Senators and a number of dignitaries. The bottle found clenched in her hand provided one for herself. The high mass of toxins in the air around a small patch of broken glass and liquid confirmed murder, committed by Ariax herself. Two Senators survived. Logan, whose body was not found amongst the others and also has not been heard of, and is declared missing. Pure has ordered he be tracked down, sending out elite Hunters. We, the loyalists to Ariax, have made it our mission to spread the story of her bravery, as told to us by surviving loyalist dignitaries. We know she lives, as does Pure, and she will always be hunted. But she alone stands for our true freedom. And upon her return she will bring us our peace, our balance. To Ariax, the Phoenix.