A/N: Wow, it's been a while since I was here! (shocked face) Yes, you did read right… I'm updating! I know, I know, it's been ages. My apologies. Serious writer's block has dogged my weary footsteps… but thanks to the combination of a holiday (grins), isolation in the grim weather of North England (not-so-grins) and bullying from a number of sources, here's another chapter. Enjoy.

Bex

-x-

Chapter Twenty One

Catastrophe

Joss stalked into the kitchen, slamming the door behind her. As she kicked off her shoes, still muttering curse words, Gemma turned around from the bench where she was making salad and smiled at the taller girl.

"Hi, Joss. It's nice to be able to come home without worrying so much about Fern- what's the matter?" She stared at Joss's face, almost carven in immobility as the dark haired girl yanked the fridge open. "Where- where's Isaac?"

"I don't know," Joss snapped, pulling out a carton of juice and sloshing some almost randomly into a glass. "I assume he's around somewhere."

With that, she stalked past Gemma into the hall, then stamped up the stairs. Gemma turned around, her mouth open. She was dressed in a huge grey T-shirt of Will's, the bottom tucked into her jeans, and now she yanked absently at the sleeves as she looked after Joss's retreating figure. A moment later, the bathroom door upstairs slammed hard.

"What on Earth…" she whispered, absently dropping the knife she had been cutting peppers with onto the chopping board. As she stared, Will entered the room from the garden, frowning.

"Was that Joss?"

Gemma nodded, still open-mouthed, and turned instinctively to him.

"She must have had a fight with Isaac," she said worriedly. "I don't know what about, I mean, they were getting on really well and I thought-"

Will wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Don't panic," he told her gently, grinning. "Whatever it is, they'll sort it out between them- it probably doesn't need our intervention."

"But-"

"Look." Will sat down on one of the benches at the kitchen table, and turned Gemma round to face him. She stood looking down at him, her white-blonde hair falling across her face. Will tugged gently on her hands. "They'll be all right," he insisted. "Isaac and Joss, well, they're capable of looking out for themselves- they're as old as you and me, love. They won't welcome our interference."

"I know," Gemma said, looking depressed. "I just hoped that Joss and Isaac…well…"

"Matchmaker," Will accused, laughing. "Well, maybe you've got a point. Anyway, they'll make their peace between them."

Gemma sighed. "I hope so." She sat down abruptly on Will's lap, and kissed him hard, tangling her fingers in his hair.

"I love you," she said fiercely. "You will remember that, won't you?" Will opened his mouth to reply, but Isaac suddenly hurried into the kitchen. Gemma looked at him seriously, indigo eyes strangely bright.

"Little brother, what on earth have you been doing?" she asked wearily. Isaac returned her look.

"She wanted to know about family," he said heavily, not asking how Gemma knew he'd been doing anything. "I didn't want- I can't…" He broke off, shaking his head. Will felt his girlfriend tense in the circle of his arms, and frowned. Gemma had told him, a long time before, about their family- why there were none of them left to meet. He wasn't surprised that Isaac found it difficult to talk about, but he had thought Joss might have understood his reticence…

Unless, he amended, Isaac had done his usual thing, and gone all closemouthed about things. That would have put Joss's back up, anyway. Shaking his head slightly, he looked back at the twins. Gemma looked suddenly pained, her eyes large in her slightly pointed face.

"Oh, you didn't go all-" she waved a hand helplessly. "Shut in, did you?"

Great minds, Will thought with absent amusement as he watched Isaac in silence. The white haired boy shrugged noncommittally.

"How would I know?"

Gemma sighed with exasperation. "Sometimes, Isaac, you're an idiot!"

"True," her brother agreed solemnly, nodding slightly. "Look, Gem'- I don't want to talk about it, okay? I'll- maybe later." He walked past her and Will, and up the stairs. Will slid his arms round Gemma's waist, looking with concern at the worried expression on her face.

"It'll be all right," he insisted softly, rubbing a hand comfortingly across her shoulders. "When they've both calmed down, Isaac will explain and things will be fine."

"Yes, but-"

Gemma sighed, giving up on her half finished sentence, and leant back against Will's shoulder. The dark haired young man sighed, not saying anything. There didn't seem to be much point.

"Laurie would have been able to deal with Isaac," Gemma said softly, almost as if she was talking to herself. "He always did better than me- maybe it's because I'm too close. Isaac would tell Laurie things…"

"He tells you things," Will protested. Gemma shook her head.

"No…he tells me things if I ask. He used to tell Laurie things anyway. And- and when Cayra died, it took him six months to speak to me about it at all."

"That's-" Will began, and halted abruptly. "Look, where do you think Maerith is now?"

"I don't know," Gemma answered slowly, drawing spirals absently on his palm with the tip of her finger. "I just…don't know. It doesn't make sense, we haven't seen her since she spoke to the Laines-"

"I know," Will agreed. "It's unlike her. Unless she just decided that she couldn't deal with all of us…"

"Maybe." Gemma didn't sound too sure, but Will didn't push the issue. She wasn't really thinking about it anyway.

---

When Rei pelted back into the kitchen, Tallie and Arian were ready, clutching onto the free end of twine. Rei grinned absently as he skidded to a halt next to them, barely out of breath, and held up the tiny bit of string that he still had.

"It was close," he said briefly. "Come on, then."

"Come on what?" Arian asked. "You haven't told us-"

The air around them crackled with magick, their own and the blue and white gold that was pouring from the room above them. Tallie could feel her own lively bright orange threads coiling around the house.

Rei frowned deeply as he shut his eyes, sensing what was going on outside. "We need to finish it," he said quickly. "Now. Our magick is trying to do it by itself."

Arian tilted his head, half listening and half seeing. "That's…odd," he said distantly. "It likes- my magick likes yours, both of yours."

"Why is mine and Rei's mixing?" Tallie asked interestedly. "You'd think that fire and water magick wouldn't get on…"

"Because it's a power higher than that," Arian said softly, narrowing his eyes. "If Saxon and Calissa are right."

Rei suddenly staggered, and Tallie clapped her hands over her ears as above them there was a sudden, powerful detonation. The building was surrounded by swirling winds, and the Earth was rearing and shifting beneath them. As Arian clung to the bench, a cup tumbled from the draining board and smashed on the floor.

"Quickly, now!" Rei snapped. "Bind it, seal it, we need to force it into a whole shield- we have to force it all together!"

"HOW?!"Tallie screamed at him, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him. "You haven't told us what to do, Rei! Just tell us!"

Rei slapped her hands away. "I'll show you if you let me!" he shouted back over the sound of the gale outside. Without letting go of the twine he still clutched, he reached out and grabbed their hands. Arian caught on and took hold of Tallie's free hand so that they were standing in a circle.

"Watch," Rei ordered. "Shut your eyes and watch."

Tallie obeyed, understanding what he meant. Shutting her physical eyes, she concentrated on the threads of magick she could feel/see around them. If she looked upwards, the glow of bright white and dark blue magick that was exploding across the building was absolutely blinding- here, the glow was dimmer and the bright circle of her, Rei and Arian blazed in front of her.

Like this, Rei's voice ordered. She watched as his magick curled around, winding itself around her power as she winced. The touch of someone else's power against hers was alien, uncomfortable…and yet-

Like, her magick whispered. Like the stone one. Tallie fought off a smile as she heard the name her power had given to her friend. She pushed away the nagging part of her mind that told her that she had just called Rei a friend.

Tallie shut her eyes as she wrapped her own magick around Rei and Arian, and plunged into the bright, incandescent world of the magick.

There is silence in this place, a wind that makes no noise rippling the tall grass that covers the gentle slope in front of her. Tallie is standing in a cleared space, the clipped foliage sparkling green against the overcast backdrop of the sky. She smiles at the person standing in front of her, his arms folded.

"You're late," he tells her. "The others have arrived already."

"I wanted to make sure they left safely," she explains, looking around, then returns her gaze to his face. "I've always wondered…do you actually live here?" He snorts.

"Don't be ridiculous. This is just where I see you. Where would I live in this-" he gestures with an expression of disgust, "Wilderness. And I didn't choose it either!"

"So…" Tallie says, looking almost as if she was searching for something to talk about. "Do Rei and Arian have to wait?" She frowns as she folded her arms. He shrugged, dropping to suddenly sit cross legged on the clipped grass. Tallie looked uncertain, and slowly joined him. Absently she picks a blade of grass and began to twist it between her fingers.

"No. It's hard to explain-" he tells her uncomfortably. "It's more… look, who do you think I am?"

Tallie sighs, rubbing her nose thoughtfully. "See, I was thinking about this," she begins, and there is suddenly a spark of enthusiasm in her face as she sits up straighter. "You always turn up when I'm working magick… but you don't talk like my magick does. Generally it's quite… simple. But- that's just my magick, isn't it? The voice I hear is the voice of my magick, but that's not the same thing as Magick." She deliberately inserts the capital letter. "I think maybe you're the idea of magick, the concept."

He laughs at her, flicking her nose gently with one finger. "Calm down, Tallie. I know you're interested in ideas- but don't go mad. You're not stupid, that's for sure… but- who am I?"

Tallie screws up her face in the warm, overcast light, trying to think. Magick- magick is three, magick is the Trinity. Maybe that is why she has begun to think that Calissa and Saxon have been telling the truth about their power- threes and magick go together.

"You're one part of the Trinity, I think," she states, now certain. "The magick Trinity. I mean, I couldn't really tell you why I think that is, it's just this idea in my head but-"

"More detail," he commands, watching her with narrowed eyes. Tallie eyes him intently. He isn't much taller than her, and Tallie has never considered herself anything but small. Dressed in a pair of ripped jeans and a T-shirt that he has torn the sleeves off in a shade of dark blue, he looks about nineteen.

"You're not showing me your true self," Tallie accuses. "This isn't you- how can you expect me to work out who you are? Show me yourself, and I might be able to do it."

He sighs.

"Tallie…" he begins, shifting uncomfortably. "Is that really-"

"Yes," Tallie tells him bluntly. He sighs.

"Fine. All right, all right- just don't let on that I did, see? I'll get into trouble." Tallie nods, not really knowing who she would tell, then crosses her arm expectantly. He shakes his head, glaring at her, then stands up. "Here, then."

He concentrates, his eyes going distant as he spreads his hands. After a moment, Tallie hears a rushing noise, then his form begins to shiver and glow as she watches. His features, clothes, even his height, are obscured by shifting lines of light that move like water.

After a long uncomfortable moment, during which Tallie isn't entirely sure where to look, he is standing in front of her again.

Mostly his form hasn't changed. Dark blonde hair dyed red at the tips still spikes up into the air, and she is being watched by very dark brown eyes. He has startlingly long lashes, Tallie thinks- and is startled to find herself being reminded very strongly of Rei.

But clothes… where before his dress was modern and at the scruffy end of casual, now he wears a formal black suit, white shirt and dark tie. Two thick silver bracelets around his wrists are attached to myriad slim silver chains that stick out at right angles from his arms, all vanishing into mid air a few centimetres from him. The effect is that of modern, very fashionable but very inconvenient jewellery. In each hand he holds a puppet- the complex jointed figures attached to strings that join onto a wooden cross.

Tallie looks closer at the puppets. Both are beautifully made, as far as she can tell, showing every detail of the figures. The one in his left hand is a man, tall, commanding- but with an expression on his face suggesting listening. He is dressed in plain clothes, a loose pair of grey trousers and a white T-shirt. The T-shirt is emblazoned with hundreds of slogans for charities and charitable campaigns.

Tallie frowns, trying to remember what she has been told about the magickal Trinity. What were the three facets?

She looks at the other puppet, shaking her head with frustration, then blinks as her eyes begin to water. The figure is both man and woman, tall and short, young and old- it never stays the same shape for more than a minute. Now it is an Asian woman in exquisitely embroidered salwar kameez. Now a teenage boy in jeans and a huge T-shirt. Now an old woman with ribbons in her hair, now an African boy, now a hooded figure in a long dark robe. It is ever shifting, the details of each face only vaguely suggested as it flickers from person to person.

And then the morning dawns in Tallie's face.

"Oh!" she exclaims, smacking her forehead on her palms. "You must be Control! Without you, the others can't be harnessed, and-"

"Exactly," he interrupts irritably. "Can I take this off now?" Tallie shrugs assent and he shimmers, more quickly than before, back into his jeans and T-shirt.

"You're Control," Tallie repeats, jumping to her feet. She is still excited by her realisation, and now she begins to walk up and down. The memory of the emergency that has brought her here is faded in her mind, and she is focussed entirely on the boy in front of her. "That explains so much! Of course, we must all see the facet that is our weakness. I assume that Rei sees Empathy?"

He- Control- nods, only smiling slightly. "Yes, of course. He knows it to be his weakness, Tallie- you must understand that." Tallie is barely listening.

"And Arian Imagination. Well, I think he's the one with the least difficulty in all three elements… Rei and I are both more volatile, I suppose."

"Partly that's to do with Arian's background," Control points out. Tallie still isn't listening, though. She misses the hint that she might discover something about her enigmatic friend, lost in her own thoughts.

"But it makes so much sense! It explains why you've been turning up, trying to give me help… it's because I lack control. I'm good at imagining things, and understanding the emotions of others- but I can't control things. I think it's because I always talk too much, and run on past the point I'm looking for. I think I should probably learn to control my tongue-"

"YES!" Control steps in front of her, catching her hands and effectively forcing her to halt. "Yes," he repeats gravely. "You do. I understand why you talk and chatter like you do, it covers up the pain." Tallie flinches, turning her face to one side. Control catches her chin in one hand, forcing her to look at him. "But it prevents your potential, Natalia. You're talented, and you aren't doing everything you could!"

Tallie stares at him. "But- but, I know-" she begins, pulling her hands through her hair. The corn blonde curls, ruffled already in her excitement, stick out wildly in all directions. "I understand that, I just- oh, I can't get past it…"

"You're going to have to," Control snaps. "You are going to have to, Tallie! Look, back in the real world-" he gestures angrily away from them, down the hill to where a dark shadow suggests the beginning of a wood. "Back in the real world, there are two people who have lost me, lost any vestiges of control- and you are fighting to save them and everyone else from the consequences! Do you want that to be you? That's why you have to keep control, you have to learn the control you don't have naturally. If you had the control, your power would not be fighting to keep Calissa and Saxon's in check. Even if Calissa is a fraction more powerful, you, Rei and Arian should- combined- be able to hold her power without much of a struggle. But you're fighting! I know you are!"

"I can't feel the fight, though!" Tallie snaps back. "How do I know I'm fighting? And if it's such a difficult situation, why are you taking me away from it?"

"Oh, you're managing," Control snarls. "You're doing just fine. And I do know. But it isn't the point, and you know it. This is a warning, Tallie. Get yourself, get your argument with Rei, under control. It has to be. You Three are, believe it or not, the second of the Threes- and you need to work together. Sort yourself out. Do you understand?"

Tallie bites her lip, hurt by the usually friendly Control's anger and commandments, and nods. She doesn't look up, frightened of the expression on his face.

He sighs, then pats her gently on the shoulder before putting two fingers under her chin and tilting her face up to look at him.

"I'm sorry, Tallie," he says softly. There is no anger left in his eyes now, only a kind of desperate worry. "I'm just frightened that you Three aren't going to manage it. Bad things are coming and I'm fond of you all. The Laines never needed me to show myself like this, they learned my three elements by themselves, I suppose."

"Sorry," Tallie tells him guiltily. He shakes his head.

"No fault of yours. Just different people, different experiences. But they need your help. I would never, ever come down on either side in a magickal conflict-"

"Heaven forbid," Tallie murmurs regretfully, then grins at him. He smiles wryly.

"I couldn't. You're all my kind. But the Threes are… well, meant to work together. It makes sense."

"I know," Tallie tells him quietly. "I know. All right, I'll do my best. I- I promise. It's just hard, when-" she breaks off sharply. Control sighs and touched one finger to the cut over her eye.

"Ring?" he asks gravely. Tallie nods shortly, pressing her lips together to keep them from trembling.

"Backhander," she tells him- quietly, for Tallie.

"Why?"

Tallie laughs shortly.

"Does there need to be a reason? I made the mistake of mentioning Council business."

Control sighs. "You've learnt control there, haven't you? You haven't burned him, or your house-"

"That's different," Tallie responds automatically. "I learned not to release my power anywhere near people a very long time ago."

Control shakes his head. "I've kept you outside time long enough. Go back, keep hold over your magick. Calissa and Saxon are nearly finished now. Saxon's managed to-" he stops. "They'll at least stop arguing. I don't think it's appropriate to tell you about it, though. It was an intensely private fight."

Tallie nods. "All right. Thank you. Will… will you help me?"

"Of course. I think it would be better, though, Tallie-" he pauses a little. "If you didn't discuss this visit with Arian and Rei. I haven't talked to either of them before and you… you're slightly different. Go now. I have someone else I need to see."

---

Saxon fell backwards as the large cat sprang at him, milky white incisors bared in a snarl. With one swipe it slashed across his cheek with a blinding blow. Pain scored across Saxon's face and he felt blood begin to trickle down his face as he rolled from beneath the growling animal. Saxon heard wood splinter as he knocked a chair out of the way in his haste. Standing up quickly, he dodged around the table.

Surely, Saxon thought desperately, some part of Calissa would resurface soon? She wasn't all animal, though the animal had taken her over. There had to be part of her still somewhere in there. Surely…

He leapt sideways as the huge cat came at him again, black fur rippling over tensed muscles as it leapt.

"Calissa!" Saxon yelled. "Cassa, it's me, it's Saxon- for God's sake stop!"

This, he thought frantically, must have been what happened the night the Laines left Shadowlake. If she had killed someone… he shook the thought away. How could he stop her?

Stone magick was no use in a room with plaster walls and a wooden flooor… unless… He scrabbled under the table, dodging a swipe from a highly clawed paw, and came up with a tiny pebble. He had hooked it out of his shoe earlier that morning. Saxon had no idea how this part of his magick worked scientifically- it made no sense. Rock wasn't self generative and yet-

Too late. He had waited too long. A flying ball of fur hit him squarely in the chest, knocking him flat on his back.

Saxon looked up into the golden eyes of the jaguar, wondering if the green specks in them were just the work of his imagination. Hot breath washed over him as the cat panted, standing astride his body. His chest pounded with fear and several long, bloody scratches. The cat was raising a paw.

One last try, Saxon thought. He wished desperately that he was capable of giving a pretty speech, of finding words to get her out of this- to find the bit of Cassa that was left in her and make her understand… but he didn't have the linguistic ability.

"Cassa," he whispered, eventually. "I love you, kid. Don't do this. Please. I'm sorry that I walked away. Don't- destroy us both like this."

And that was all he could manage. Saxon cursed his inarticulacy, and to his shame felt tears beginning to sting his eyes. It wasn't supposed to end like this!

It was how it would end, Saxon thought numbly as a rumble of a growl shuddered from the jaguar's throat. Saxon turned his face away, ready now. My fault, he thought tiredly, I pushed her too hard… He conveniently forgot all the horrific things that Calissa had said to him.

"Please, Cassa," he repeated, hopelessly. "I love you. Please, don't…"

"Please, Cassa. I love you. Please, don't…"

In the mind of the beast, Calissa Laine fought against instinct, screaming her desperation. As Saxon spoke, she ripped herself away, crying with the agony of defiance-

The beast fought

And in horror and despair, Calissa surfaced…

As Calissa changed, Saxon caught her inert- and human- body.

---

-------

Wow, loads of new reviewers since I last updated- some of them unknown to me, some of them all too well known… love you really, Casey, De etc…!

Kay, here we go with some personals…

Dreamwalker12J: I don't know who you are, that's the bit of your email address… and you didn't tell me your ficpress ID- if you have one… so I can't give you a name! Thanks so much for the emails, and the request to keep going with it. As you can see, I've updated! grins hope you like it. (hands out skittles as thank you present)

jumpdown: thank you! I'm glad you think the combination of things works out well. Please keep reviewing, I really appreciate it.

Casey Drake: thank you so much for reviewing and asking questions! Touch of a healer would hurt Gemma and Isaac because they're necromancers. Healing is 'life' magick, if you like… Necromancy is 'death' magick. It can work both ways, obviously- they can bring people in and out of death, and paradoxically in some ways can even do the same thing as healers- like when Alex brings Joss back… but their magick is so opposite, it would be quite painful for them to touch.

Daoine Sidhe: Hey you! Thanks for reviewing! Clearly have been chained to my desk LOL. Well… here's the chapter, hope it makes you smile!

Casey C: Hey!! Thanks so much for reading this! (grins) (waves YAY UPDATE flag) Hm the Saxon/Calissa thing may take a little longer… backs away sorry… Tallie and Rei are almost beginning to understand each other, yes. It'll take a long time though. They're funny, those two. I'm glad you liked that section on Kieran's bond breaking as well… I kind of like that bit. (gives skittles)

Lily Pierce: Hey De! I'm glad ficpress let you get past chappy 5 as well… (grins) Well, the only thing is. I don't have a fanciable bad guy like Eri. (quiet Eri-fangirl squee) I'm glad you like Three… and I'm sorry that you had trouble with the characters. There are a lot of them, I know. I'm considering rewriting and making it a little easier by separating them out and stuff… but we'll see. Maybe I'll finish it first! Thanks ever so… (skittles)

Meitora: (blushes) wow, thank you so much! That was such a thought out review! (grins) yeah maybe I should stop torturing them, but it's so much fun…thank you again! Wow, I'm just so impressed by that review!

Caprice Legerdemain: AAAw thanks, please don't bow… (pulls Caprice up again right). Thank you ever so much, don't vanish in puffs of smoke any more- unless you enjoy it, obviously! Thanks ever so, and look, there's an update! Right up there! (points)

Theatreoftheabsurd: Hello darling. As ever, thank you for your review, support and for stopping me taking myself too seriously. (hugs) Hm, I do intend you to sympathise with Saxon at this point. Calissa is being extremely mean. And your Will is back! Plus a new bishie that I know you want to drool over. Thanks again, beta reader. (much love). (And a couple of skittles)

Well, that's the lot my darlings! Hope you enjoyed... and hopefully I'll be back quicker next time...

xxx