Loreena Mckennit is nice!

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The air was dark and sombre as Dei stepped up to the dais in the middle of the Realm, the five archangels (Hikari was still unconscious in Dei's palace) seated around him, the other angels crowded around the circle. "Greetings, fellow angels. I trust you know why we are here today."

He waved a hand as he spoke, gesturing at the darkness around. "The Realm cannot survive much longer. We have but a few bits of magic left, and when that is out, everyone will fall. We have but two choices, to let that happen to us, or to create a New Council."

"Wait!" Pyrrhus spoke up suddenly, and everyone stared at him. "If a New Council is formed, even if all of us archangels decide to continue on in it, you will have to leave! I don't want that. Is there not some other way?"

"I'm afraid this is the custom of the Realm. It has happened once long ago, once every ten thousand years." Dei sighed. "The Head Angel is reborn then, and with him comes renewed power. I will pass over to the other side of the bridge." He smiled at Pyrrhus. "The Realm still needs its Fire Archangel. Don't let it down."

Pyrrhus looked very angry indeed. "Dei, if you leave, be sure I will pass over, if not to follow you then of grief!" He stormed out of the meeting circle, and everyone stared at the Head Angel, who sighed and left as well.

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Fire Angels were not known for their love of water. But it was over the largest lake in the Realm that Pyrrhus chose to stop, wings beating in mid-air. A tear fell into the depths as he gazed at the distant horizon.

Why the Realm? Why Dei? It was unfair. He didn't want Dei to go.

A wave of exhaustion floated over him, and he fought it down, while knowing that after the Light Angel the Fire would be the next. He was about to fly off when another wave hit him, and he felt himself slipping out of consciousness...

"Pyrrhus!!" Dei shot out from nowhere, it seemed, and he caught the falling angel a second before he would've hit the water's surface. The Fire Angel was so light in his arms as he beat his wings strongly, flying upwards and away from the lake.

Pyrrhus had almost drowned. He frowned, brushing away a lock of dark hair from the latter's face.

Would all the angels meet that fate?

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"Kera!" Cerei raced across the hangar, with Alexis and Keiran in hot pursuit, as the GoldenKestrel landed and the door opened. Kera looked quite tired, but very happy, as she emerged, and Corey, Caseo and Revlis were smiling delightedly as they spotted the huge, huge, huge bag of food Alexis had brought along.

"Something to feed you before dinner, you're probably very hungry," she said knowingly as they pounced on the food and started eating ravenously. "I must tell the mechanics to open the storeboxes so you can store frozen food in there. How did it go?"

"Oh Mother, it was so good we stayed behind!" Kera caught her breath, explaining everything to Alexis and Keiran, the latter getting quite annoyed as she went on about Luyin's plans and what he did. "I've a good mind to go there and kill that fellow myself," he muttered.

"Now, now, darling, don't," Alexis said soothingly, and Keiran huffed irritably. "Now, Kera, you're going to school tomorrow, so go get a good night's sleep."

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"Good morning!" Shane and Ran were waiting expectantly in the school courtyard as Kera and Cerei stumbled into the grounds, the former yawning, the latter looking exceedingly perky. Corey was trailing along behind them, looking torn between joining in the laughter and keeping his dignity.

"Oh, Corey, are you coming along too?" Kera asked cheerfully. "You're not wearing the uniform, you know. Are you going to come to classes too, or what?"

"I will be waiting for you after school," Corey said shortly. "I have learnt everything I need to know from intense satellite-based school, and I do not see the need for repetition. I have yet to finish fixing the Avean."

They watched as he walked away, Revlis running along after him, and then they headed silently into the school. Chattering students surrounded them, and Kera sighed as she stared at the ground.

They couldn't ever be the same as the other students. They knew about things that happened on other planets, life-threatening things, been there even. How could they actually live a normal life?

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"Heal," Dei breathed, and sparks flew from his fingers into Pyrrhus' hand, granting him power to sustain him for a bit of time. A bit being relative. The Fire Archangel was sleeping quietly on a bed of soft silk, ominously like Hikari.

"My lord?" Kaelin was standing by the door, and his face was filled with worry. "I feel you ought to see this." He gestured behind him, and Dei gasped.

The Realm's trees were fading away, each one seeming to disappear just like that, and Terran himself was nowhere to be seen. Kaelin sighed. "Terran is trying to save the precious trees just by the Central Statue, but he cannot last for too long."

"I won't stand in your way if you wish to go, Dei," Pyrrhus said suddenly, albeit weakly, and the Fire Angel struggled to his feet. "But if you go, I will follow you!"

"How can that be possible?" Dei asked gently, placing his hand on Pyrrhus' shoulder. "How could you pass over without the other archangels? I do not know. I have only lived once as the Head Angel in the Realm."

"There is a way," Kaelin spoke quietly. "The archangels have freedom to decide for themselves when the Head Angel passes over. I have stayed for three lifetimes of the Realm already, and Zephyr two, and Hikari and Shiro four. But Terran's predecessor Basyin and the ex- fire archangel Eiri chose to pass over in the last lifetime. You have but one decision, and there can be no coming back from it."

"I know well what I would choose," Pyrrhus said immediately, and he looked very determined. "I would go with you."

"I do not know if that would be right for you," Dei said softly. "After all, the Realm needs a fire archangel, you know. We cannot let there be an unbalance of the elements."

"Would you have me be unhappy forever?" Pyrrhus asked softly.

"Never." Dei placed his arm around Pyrrhus' shoulders, and the Fire Angel stared at him impassively. "I would not want that, indeed. Now go to sleep. You need your rest. Tomorrow we shall decide."

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"I have decided that I don't want to go to school tomorrow," Kera groaned as the four of them emerged into the courtyard after a long, hard day of math, language and other academic crap. "I mean, that teacher's biased towards me. Just because I'm not like other people doesn't give her the right to ask me the hardest questions in the book!"

"Oh come on, you're improving at least, I think she sees it," Ran said, and Shane nodded, the latter tired from music class after school, at a time when the others had remedial math. "I mean, you only got 5 out of 20 questions wrong today..."

"Some achievement," Kera mumbled. "I seem to remember that all of you passed the last test with flying colours." She caught sight of Corey by the school gate, and he smiled as he saw them.

"Heylos!" Cerei grinned as she patted the silver wolf standing next to Corey, and Revlis wagged his tail furiously, sending a shower of sand and dirt flying. "Hey, hey, hey! No need for that, it's only been a day since you last saw us!"

~What is one day?~ Revlis asked rhetorically as he loped easily next to them on the way home. ~I have waited 2 decades since Master passed away. A day is nothing, but even these simple pleasures are worth savouring, say you?~

"I suppose so," Shane said, and he looked very wistful. "I have waited 15 years too for my father to accept me."

"I see," Corey said thoughtfully, but he didn't say anything further, and neither did the others for a few minutes. The sun was setting, and in the distance wolves howled.

"Kera, Kera!" Alexis rode up to them on a fine grey mare, her sword drawn and her face quite pale. "Come quickly, all of you! No time to waste!"

"What's wrong, Mother?" Kera asked, just as Keiran led towards them a group of horses, all saddled and bridled. He too looked very ruffled, much unlike his usual dignified self. "Hurry up!"

Kera scrambled onto one of the horses, the others following suit. Alexis led the way back to the palace at a gallop. The soldiers were unusually hushed, and they parted reverently for the company to pass.

"Quickly." Alexis led them down the corridors, after throwing the reins of the horses to one of the soldiers. "This way, don't dawdle, there's no time!"

They filed into a strange room Kera had only seen once or twice before, and only then when she was very young. King Kiaran was pale under the bedclothes, and Kyran was sitting by his side, face contorted with worry. Keien was standing by the window, Shirin clutching at his shoulder. Queen Rena was seated in an armchair, almost sobbing.

"Father, are you alright? The doctor's medicine, have you taken it?" The panicked tone in Keiran's voice told the children that it was no simple illness the king was enduring. "Kera is here."

"Kera," King Kiaran murmured, and the young princess headed over to him, eyes wide. "Don't worry, Grandfather! You eat the medicine, and you'll be fine! The doctor will save you!"

"What speak you of?" King Kiaran half-whispered. "What ails me...cannot be cured. 'Tis age and nothing else."

Revlis was looking as though he had a great internal struggle battling him, and he bowed his head. The Zarisians were immortal. Zarisi had said so. They could never die.

But they were cursed, in a way, to watch as their loved ones fell one by one before their eyes.

"Here..." King Kiaran moved his hand with great difficulty, and he deposited a package wrapped in paper into Kera's hands. "Remember...put what I give you to good use, and you..."

For a long tense moment the room was silent, and then it was though a spirit had flown out of the window, leaving behind a great sense of peace. Alexis turned away, weeping, and Queen Rena seemed frozen with shock. Kyran went over to Keien and Shirin, hugging them unabashedly.

Keiran stared for a moment, and his eyes were emotionless and unreadable. Then he turned and blindly strode out of the room. Alexis glanced after him. "Oh dear."

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Alexis hurried after Keiran, almost knocking over a soldier in her haste. The prince, it turned out, had retired to the meadows, where Danaea and Laurae were lying in the clover contentedly. Keiran himself was leaning against Laurae's flank, staring into a distant spot in the grass. He didn't look up when Alexis approached, and she knelt down, touching his shoulder. "Are you alright?"

"You think?" Keiran's sarcasm hadn't really improved even after so many years. "Why would I not be?"

"Keiran," Alexis admonished, and the prince stared at her blankly. "You know your father's lived a good long life. Are you going to fall to pieces because of this? Elisia needs its princes more than ever now."

"I don't know..." Keiran obviously wasn't listening as he absentmindedly stroke Laurae's fur. For a moment his eyes reflected what they had been when Alexis first met him, cold and without feeling.

Alexis didn't know what to say. So she just hugged Keiran, and he sighed deeply, that being his only show of emotion.

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Back in her room, Kera stared at the package, treating it with reverence. It was nothing special, really, just wrapped up in brown paper with string. Cerei stared at her. "Quick, open it."

"Grandfather gave it to me," Kera said slowly. "I don't want to...spoil it."

"He meant you to open it." Corey spoke from his position by the door. Revlis was sitting on a chair, looking quite subdued. "I think it might be important. Do it."

Carefully Kera undid the string and opened the package, revealing a folded piece of paper and a tiny box set with emeralds. Emeralds. The classic symbol of the les Alyxande family. It was reflected in their very eyes.

She opened the box. Inside lay a tiny brass key on a string, along with a small emerald gem in a gold set. The letter rustled as though impatient, and she read it.

Dear Kera,

Perhaps you wonder why I choose to leave this to you and not to your father or someone else. I have my reasons for this, but they will soon become known to you. Some are chosen because they can, but some are chosen because they want to.

Remember that the flow of time waits for no-one. Even as I write this there are people who are seeking help in their lives. They have no choice, because circumstances prompt them to. Elisia has long been a planet of peace, but we too must understand others' plight.

The key I give you unlocks a door on the altar of Erisa upon our planet. Its locations are forbidden for I to tell, but through miracle, through determination and through pure love and courage, one will be able to find it. Stand by those who do likewise to you, and in desperate times look to the emerald I give you.

What you will find will help more than one person, if you are wise. Use what you find there, and hasten to unlock its power to free those in bondage.


"What's it mean? I can't understand much of it," Kera said finally after a long pause.

"I think it means you're supposed to look for something," Ran said slowly. "And then use that to help someone."

"But who?" Kera sighed, fingering the brass key.

"Who knows." Shane said, taking a deep breath. "And now I've got to get home. My father's actually coming home for dinner for once, and I don't want to miss it."

He and Ran left, and Revlis sighed. "So, Kera, what are you going to do about this?"

"I don't know." Somehow a plan was beginning to form in Kera's mind. "My parents won't let me do anything dangerous, but I need to do this. Call Lourdes. And Caseo." Her eyes glinted with determination. "We're going to fulfil this task."

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