Kairo stood and watched mother and daughter fight each other, each bearing the marks of hits from the other. Mindell was breathing hard and her eyes were dark as night, emotionless as she circled her mother and paried one magical blow with another. Jess had started out smiling as Mindell attacked, but after getting a shallow gash on her cheek, her smile had slipped and not returned.

Mindell called forth a sword, made of naught but air and magic. Weaving it through the air, she allowed it to pick up momentum so that the delivered blow would be stronger. Jess saw what her daughter was doing, but not why she was doing it. All Jess saw was her daughter's hands moving fast in the air, gripping air; old magic was unfamiliar to the Court, and Mindell used that to advantage.

The blow, when it came, was aimed at Jess's midsection, the sword cutting through her first shield entirely. Jess stared, but at the last second was able to throw up her strongest shield, stopping the dangerous magic from her body by a mere millimeter.

"Is that all you have?" Jess taunted. Mindell dissolved the sword and began weaving her hands in intricate patterns as she whispered the incantation, putting her energy behind it. Kairo gasped, for it was a hard spell, one that she'd never tried before- a spell that was dangerous if done incorrectly.

A blue glow gathered around Mindel's hands as they wove in unseen patterns, spreading slowly towards Jess. Jess's eyes widened and she pulled a blood red ruby from her pocket and placed it in her palm. Kairo didn't know what it was, but from the gasps in the room, he could recognize that it was powerful and, therefore, dangerous to Mindell.

The ruby began to glow with an inner light, and the glow flowed out of the ruby to form a person. Kairo stared at the strong warrior that now faced Mindell- a warrior that she was unaware of due to her concentration on the spell. Jess smiled and sent the warrior to attack, paying no mind to Mindell's preoccupation.

Kairo wanted to throw himself in front of Mindel to protect her, and he would if there wasn't a shield around the dueling arena preventing just that. The warrior raised a huge fist and stalked towards Mindell. The blue glow grew darker until it was black, and so saturated around her that she was masked from prying eyes. The warrior circled the smokescreen, confused now that he couldn't see his target.

Out of the smoke emerged a huge, strong figure of strength... Mindell. Her hair blew around her head as if carried by a strong wind, and her eyes seemed depthless. She squared off with the warrior from the ruby, and the two circled. Mindell was so focused on the warrior that she didn't completely heed Kairo's advice in realizing that Jess wouldn't play fair. While Mindell circled the warrior, intent on his demise, Jess used magic to strike her repeatedly. Mindell fell to the ground after the first blow, and the warrior took over from there.

Kairo's knew she'd lost, and tears filled his eyes as he made his way to the shield and beat his fists against it. Jess turned to look at him with a smile as he beat against the shield and begged for Mindell's life. Glancing over her shoulder at a cowering Mindell, Jess made her way over to Kairo.

"Will you come to me of your own free will?" Jess asked, gesturing to Mindell, clearly telling him what was at stake if he said no.

"No!" came the weak denail from the middle of the arena. Jess threw a glare at Mindell and added her magic to that of the warrior, resulting in louder grunts of pain.

"Yes," Kairo said, shooting Mindell a glance before bowing his head before Jess. Jess tipped his head up and then molded his mouth with hers. He wanted to pull away and go to Mindell, to soothe her wounds, but he participated in the kiss to save her.

"Goddamn you, Jess, let him go. Kairo don't," Mindell said on a tortured whisper as she struggled to her feet, but made it only to her knees before the warrior's foot connected solidly with her stomach, making her roll onto her back and curl into a ball to protect herself.

"Take her away. Make sure that she doesn't return her, she is banished," Jess decreed, taking Kairo's mouth once again with her own. Kairo looked over her shoulder at an unconcious Mindell. He'd saved her life, but he didn't know, couldn't know, how she'd fare once she was thrown out of Jess's domain. He sent up a prayer to Jul to protect Mindell and return her to him, as whole as when she'd left- in spirit as well as body. With that prayer, his attention came back to Jess to placate her so that she would never get it into her head to finish what she'd started with Mindell.

Her head pounded and the light, when she opened her eyes, pierced her head like shafts of steel. The world seemed to spin upon its axis as she forced her body into a sitting position to look around cautiously at the unfamiliar enviornment. The stickiness of her clothes caught her attention and she plucked at them, surprised to see them come away caked in semi-dried blood.

Where am I? Mindell asked herself as she grabbed onto a nearby tree branch and pulled herself to her feet. The ground sway dangerously before she leaned all of her body against the tree for support.

"Who are you?" asked a startled voice from behind her. She swung around quickly to face the potential threat, forgetting, in her haste to protect her back, the fact that she was not at her best. Blackness rose before her like a tidal wave and she fell to the ground, remembering no more for a while.

"Hey, wake up. Please, wake up," a voice pleaded, desperation and anxiety in their tone. "If you don't wake up, I'll be blamed." Mindell heard the voice but didn't want to obey its command, for in that direction led pain.

Realizing the owner of the voice had no intention of going away, she opened her eyes cautiously. The face above her wavered, and then was still. His eyes were a dark green, blond locks falling about his face haphazardly. He knelt beside her, putting the back of his hand to her cheek to make sure that she stayed with him.

"I'm okay," Mindell promised in a hoarse whisper as she put her elbows beneath her to prop her up. The male placed his own hand beneath her back to help her up, propping her up against a tree to take some of her weight off of her arms.

"How'd you end up like this?" the male asked with concern as he gestured at her bruised and bleeding body. Mindell glanced from his concerned face to her torn clothes, blood having ruined the cloth in some places, bruises marring the skin that wasn't covered by the fabric of her torn clothes, and probably somet that were.

"I got into a fight," Mindell replied ruefully, though the last thing that she felt was amusement. She didn't want to think about what losing meant for her and, most especially, what it meant for Kairo.

"I surmised that," the male replied, banding his arm firmly around her waist and helping her to her feet. Mindell fell against him weakly and he swept her into his arms, realizing that she wouldn't be going anywhere under her own steam.

"I'm sorry to put you through so much trouble," Mindell apologized, putting her head against his chest and relaxing- exhausted with the expenditure of magic and the beating her body had taken. "My name is Mindell, by the way. And you are?"

"I'm Jerry of the House of Pa- Ris," Jerry told her, his voice soothing. He realized that she was beat and he just wanted her to rest.

"It's lovely to meet you," Mindell replied, falling into an exhausted sleep, the effort to do anything too much for her over-taxed body.

Mindell's eyes blinked open, the comfort of the darkness surrounding her like a warm blanket. I think she's waking up, a voice commented. She could hear it as if from a distance, but it helped to draw her to her surroundings. When her eyes adjusted to the light, she found a petite woman leaning over her. Glancing over the woman's attire, she identified her as a servant- the coarser fabrics settling well on the woman's ample hips.

"Wake up, child," the woman said with a smile. Mindell gave the woman a smile meant to reassure her, but she felt it twist as her body throbbed with pain. "You'll be fine, we've got a really good healer."

"Thank you," Mindell replied, lifting the woman's age worn hand to her lips to kiss it, as was custom. Tears came to the older woman's eyes and she brought their joined hands to cradle against her bosom. The older woman was of the society that dealt in older magic, and their customs, and Mindell's observance of those customs brought bittersweet memories to the older woman's mind; memories of youth and a time when the world was hers.

"I'll get the Lady to come to you," the older woman promised, squeezing Mindell's hand once more before releasing it. Mindell sighed and settled back onto the bed, exhausted with expelling any effort whatsoever.

A presence at the edge of the room caught her attention and she leaned up painfully on one elbow to investigate. Her eyes caught those of a much smaller someone, peering aroudn the door jamb at the mysterious visitor. She smiled to herself at the innocent curiousity in the child's demeanor.

"You may come in, if you want," she called to her tiny visitor. The dark headed child peered once around the door again, before pulling back shyly. "Really, I don't bite." The child's head dipped around the edge and stared at her with the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. He came forward hesitantly, eyes locked on hers as if her slightest movement would make him turn and run.

"Who are you?" the child's voice tinkled like bells. Upon closer inspection, she realized that it was a male child, ut one of great facial beauty for a child so young.

"My name is Mindell, and you are?" she asked, holding out her hand to him from her prone position. The child crept forward, his body braced as if he expected her to hit him.

"Cares. Where did you come from?" Cares asked, placing his small hand hesitantly in her own. Mindell closed her fingers gently around his small hand and moved over on the bed so that he could perch there.

"I came from the darkness of night, when shadows creep about, hiding from the light of the moon. I'm a bit of a dark bit myself, and you, where did you come from?" Mindell asked. The child leaned forward to stare with great interest into her gold flecked brown eyes.

"I came from nowhere, a place where no one wanted me so I was sent here, to serve when I'm older," he replied, no inflection in his voice. His eyes met hers solemnly, holding a knowledge and maturity that shouldn't have been there.

"Is that what you were told?" Mindell asked, sitting up painfully, lines of strain crossing her face. Cares reached out an innocent hand to smooth the lines from her face. Mindell froze, staring at him as he touched the crease in her forehead until it smoothed.

"Why are you hurt? Were you unwanted, too?" Cares's hand tightened its grip around hers, as if he wanted to reassure her, comfort her.

"I made a grave miscalculation in my judgement of someone. They used that mistake against me, and here I am," Mindell told him with a shrug of her shoulder. "I suppose, if you wanted, you could say that I was unwanted in that I wouldn't do what they wanted of me."

"Cares, what are you doing?" came a sharp voice from the door. Cares turned around quickly and stared at his accuser, a lovely woman with brown hair and black eyes. He attempted to pull his hand from hers but Mindell tightened her grip on his, giving him a reassuring squeeze when he looked at her fearfully.

"I was despairing when this fine little boy passed by and was kind enough to quiet my misgivings with his prescence. Please don't say you'll take him away, he's quite a comfort in the state that I am currently in," Mindell told the woman, who was obviously the Lady of the manor.

"Well, how are you doing?" the Lady asked, dismissing the child without a thought. Mindell's free hand tightened in anger but she said nothing, keeping a polite smile on her face.

"I'm doing quite well, thanks to your kind hospitality," she told the woman. The Lady nodded as if her gratitude was nothing less than she'd expected. The very thought made her grit her teeth, for such arrogance always rubbed her the wrong way.

"Well, we'll be happy to take care of you as long as you need," the Lady told her graciously. Mindell gave the woman a tired smile and settled more deeply into the blankets about her.

"Thank you," Mindell replied tiredly.

"Cares, come on," the Lady commanded. Mindell's hand tightened on his and shook her head when he looked at her.

"I wish him to stay with me." Mindell took her hand from his and looped an arm around his shoulders.

"No that isn't possible," the Lady told her sharply. Mindell's gaze met hers and refused to look away or even to blink. The Lady returned the challenge and both merely stared at one another for several minutes; the Lady finally looked away and left the room without a word to the child.