Sleeping Beauty Sleeping Beauty
by Haruka Spork Tenou

Once, a long time ago, in a far away land, there lived a king and his queen. They lived in a regal palace, surrounded by loyal subjects who adored them, for they ruled with a firm yet just hand. They tried for many years to have a child, but met with frustration each time. Finally, as they grew older and their hope began to fade, they were blessed with a beautiful girl child.

Trumpets rang out across the land on the morning of the princess' birth. Courtiers and nobles filled the Great Hall, waiting to pay their respects to their future monarch. Intermingling with the courtiers and nobles were the elves, fairies and sundry mages. The Hall was filled with laughter, joy and light.

All except in one corner. There stood Mage Septus, the spurned suitor for the Queen's hand. For many years, Septus had watched, waiting for the day when her revenge against the King and Queen could be effected. Now, it seemed, the hour of revenge was at hand.

Septus strode out from the shadows, her hair billowing out behind her. An evil glint resided in the depths of her eyes, as she sank down on one knee before her monarchs. Her gaze alighted on the child, the issue of the woman who by rights, should have been hers.

She rose to her full height. Her gaze trapped the Queen in her seat as her softly spoken words pronounced the sentence that was to weigh heavily on the land.

"You may think you have won, Marcus...but you are wrong. Gertrude will be mine, and that bastard you call a daughter will die ere the moonrise of her seventeenth birthday by my hand."

To their credit, the guards did immediately try to kill Septus for threatening the new Princess, but their spears and swords clattered to the floor, bent and broken. Septus' bitter laughter filled the room.

"Fools! You think you can kill me with those toys?" Septus' icy glare had not left the Queen, who had leapt from her throne and now held her child in her arms. Septus sneered at the sight. "How quaint. Prepare yourself for a brief life, bastard princess." Septus laughed as the King rose to stand between his wife and child and the mage.

"Septus, I am the one you should be angered with, not an innocent child." His low tone would have been soothing had it not been Septus he spoke to. As it was, Septus was angered more.

She flicked her wrist and the King was abruptly flung against the wall, bound in place by vines that erupted from the floor and held him. Septus walked to stand in front of him and spoke in an equally low tone, the threat in her voice perceptible to the dullest of people.

"Marcus, you will live to rue the day that you touched what is mine."

"I belong to no one, Septus. I make my own choices. That day, I chose to be with him. Accept that and lift the curse you have placed upon my innocent child."

Septus turned and shot a spear of magic at the mage who was gearing up for an attack on her. She sneered as his eyes widened and he slumped to the ground, his body twitching and blood seeping from his nose.

Her sneer was then directed at the Queen, who stood proud and tall before her, defying the strongest mage ever born.

"You are mine! Once you have accepted that and submit to my will, I will lift this curse!"

The Queen looked at her gravely.

"You know I cannot do that, Septus. The Duels are to be fought once. The verdict of your Duel with Marcus is recorded in history. Once you accept that, maybe you can move on with your life and-"

"SILENCE!" Septus roared. "I will hear no more of your prattle! Your bastard will die by moonrise of her seventeenth birthday, by my hand!"

A flash of light blinded everyone in the Hall, and when they could see again, they saw that a bolt of lightening had struck the ceiling of the Hall, breaking through to strike where Septus had stood.

The Queen shook her head and sighed, her body beginning to shake in reaction. Septus had always been one for a flashy exit.

---

That night

Marcus paced across the bedroom, as Gertrude fed their daughter. She was cooing and singing softly to the baby.

Marcus paused in front of the window and gazed out, his shoulders stiff.

"You should go to her." Gertrude didn't look up.

"Out of the question, Marcus. I have my family here. I will not be bullied by her."

Marcus turned to look at his wife.

"You would choose your life over your daughter's?" The words were harshly spoken and Marcus regretted speaking them before they had finished clearing his lips.

Gertrude shook her head and continued gazing at her daughter.

"It's not about that, Marcus. You know what she would do. You know she's defying the Duels as it is. Shall we show weakness by letting her dictate to us how we should live?" Gertrude snorted, showing her distaste for that idea. "Never! I would rather loose everything than let the world be at the mercy of Septus!" Gertrude looked down at her daughter, sorrow in her eyes. "I only wish..."

A single tear escaped her eyes and splashed down on her daughters cheek.

---

Thirteen years later

The princess grew rapidly, and was blessed with a keen intellect that put her tutors to shame. She absorbed knowledge quickly, and was inquisitive, seeking to find out why things were the way they were, why couldn't it be done this way instead?

Her probing questions and intelligence brought about changes in the kingdom, much needed ones. The tax system was overhauled, a system of failsafes was installed to ensure no embezzlement would occur. The legal system was updated, arcane laws thrown out as the princess proved they were outdated and should be modified.

But what intrigued the princess most was magic...and those Duels she kept hearing about. The pathways of magic fascinated her, and she actively sought teachers to appease her hunger for knowledge while simultaneously training in the ways of the blade.

One afternoon, just after the princess' thirteenth birthday, she ran into the throne room, her breeches torn, her shirt loose and both caked with mud. Her eyes sparkled from behind the layers of dirt on her face.

"Mother! Father! Look!" She ran up to them and showed them her latest acquisition.

In the princess' hands was cupped a small puppy. It's eyes were still closed and it's fur was just starting to peek through it's skin.

"Oh my...Where in the world did you find that?" her father said, a smile on his face. The princess was known for having a soft spot for animals.

"He was in a box next to the well and someone had put him in there, and they tied a rope around it and then I came by and I scared them away and then I opened the box and there he was!" The princess' wide eyes and honest expression showed her innocence. "Why was he in a box?"

Gertrude glanced at her husband and stood, putting an arm around her daughter as she spoke.

"You remember how I told you about death and killing?" The princess nodded. "Well, someone wanted to kill the puppy."

The princess looked thoughtful for a moment before turning her inquisitive gaze back to her mother.

"Why?"

"Because..." Gertrude looked at the puppy. It was very small and looked like it wasn't a full blooded dog, but some sort of odd hybrid. "I think it was because of his size. He's a small puppy, and some people don't like small dogs."

The princess looked thoughtful and petted the puppy. She looked up at her mother.

"Do you think I can keep him instead of letting him be killed?"

Gertrude chuckled and looked up at her husband. His eyebrow was raised in a why not? expression. Gertrude hugged her daughter and petted the newest addition to their family.

"What are you going to name him?"

The princess thought for a little while before plopping herself down on the floor and bringing up the puppy to her face. She looked at the puppy seriously for a moment before speaking.

"I think your name is..." She tilted her head to one side and looked curiously at the puppy. "Your name is Dev?" Her face broke out into a wide grin as the puppy whined in her hand in response. "Hi Dev! I'm Brett."

And so, Brett met her best friend.

---

Septus gazed out the window of her tower. Thirteen years. For thirteen years she had replayed that night in her mind, and each time, she remembered looking into that bastard's eyes. Why did the memory of those eyes bring such fear?

She turned away from the window and dashed her hand across the low table that stood next to her, spilling the cosmetics that had resided there on the floor. She glared at them disdainfully. Bah...more "presents" from people seeking her mercy or assistance.

Did they think she NEEDED cosmetics? Septus walked to the large mirror that stood in one corner. She eyed herself critically.

Her body was soft yet firm, showing the effects of her moderate excersize regimen. Her skin was as smooth and clear as it had been thirteen years before, when she had cursed the bastard.

As she thought of the child once again, a sneer crossed her pretty features. That bastard...

Septus looked around her bower once more. A slow, evil smile began to form on her face.

Why not? she mused to herself. I haven't looked at the freak for at least a week.

Her smile became a mockery of the word, becoming a grimace that did nothing to enhance the natural beauty of her face.

With a gesture of her hand and a short muttered incantation, Septus cast her Air spell. As she traveled towards the castle which held the bastard princess, Septus thought to herself, After all, I mustn't forget the face of my target.

---

One year and six months later

Enfolded in a voluminous cloak, Septus set down the basework for one of the subtle spells that would eventually draw Brett to the destiny that had been cast.

A small bit of dull grey metal dropped from one of the many pockets of her cloak, unheeded. It tumbled onto the grass, near the spot where the small box containing Dev had been placed those many months ago.

Her work done, Septus quickly fled from the small garden, making her way back to her secluded and forbidding home.

De-ev! Brett Called. Where are you, you flea-bitten mongrel?

Flea bitten! I'll show you who's flea-bitten, brat!

Dev erupted from the bushes and landed on Brett's chest, causing them to fall to the ground. They wrestled on the grass, laughing as they played.

Brett managed to maneuver Dev into a headlock, trapping his paws beneath his body and hers in an awkward placement which did not afford him enough purchase to cast off Brett.

Yield! Brett Yelled.

Dev growled as he tried to push up against Brett ineffectually. He let out an exasperated sigh and collapsed onto the ground.

Fine, he Growled, But, dammit, I'm getting you back!

Brett laughed and pushed up, off of Dev's prostrate form.

Sore loser.

Their wrestling had carried them from the large clearing in the main garden where they had started to a secluded and seldom used smaller garden. They lay on the grass, relaxing under the tranquil blue sky.

After a moment Brett sat up.

"This is where I found you." Brett's soft voice woke Dev from the half- doze he had been falling into.

Dev glanced at his friend. The lack of use of MindVoice indicated to him the emotions ran high surrounding this issue.

Brett stared unseeingly at the well where Dev had been discovered by a precocious and inquisitive child. The young adult that child had become sat contemplating the well and those long ago actions with no outward expression.

You saved my life that day.

Dev's gentle Speech made no visible change to Brett's demeanor.

"I know." The calm acceptance was indicative of the strength of Brett's character, in that never had Brett sought repayment of that debt.

Dev lay still and silent next to Brett, knowing that any Speech on his part would be futile to the extreme. Brett needed to work it out in a way that would allow acceptance and peace in an oft troubled mind. After a quiet eternity of wind rustling and soft bird chirping, Brett spoke once more.

"Do you ever wonder?"

Dev didn't move.

Wonder what?

Brett gestured expansively.

"Why whoever put you there...put you there."

Dev gave it serious thought, supressing the urge to make light of the situation. He didn't know why, but he sensed that Brett needed his total honesty.

I generally don't think about it all that much. Or at least, I tell myself that. When I have thought about it, the only answer I could get to was that in some way, I'm worth a lot. Whether that worth is good or ill, I don't know.

Brett nodded, the handsome features set in a serious expression.

"I can understand."

Neither Brett nor Dev acknowledge the unspoken part of that sentence.

Because I felt it too.

Brett gestured abruptly, dismissively.

"The point is moot. We're here now."

That we are. Brett could Hear the smile in Dev's Voice.

"What's that?" Brett's curiosuty was piqued by a dull glint in the grass surrounding the aged well. Brett retrieved a small metal locket of curious design.

In form and material, it resembled nothing Brett had ever seen before. A compact design was etched into a dull grey substance that resembled a type of metal, but no metal that was known to man.

Brett examined it physically, seeking a catch. Seeing none, Sight came into play. With the Sight, a miniscule fissure along the side seam and a subtle aura was perceptible.

"It's emphatically linked to whoever's picture is inside," Brett whispered. If asked, there would have been no explanation forthcoming as to the awe that permeated the whisper.

Utilising Sight to guide a thumbnail, the locket was opened.

Later, Brett wrote a a poem that summarized the first sight of the Lady of the Locket.

Eyes that blazed along my skin, capturing my attention and fancy, are all I know of you.

Your image struck me though and arrested my heart.

Beauteous lady, I still know not your name, yet I do know this truth;

That you have captured my heart with a single glimpse into the depths of your eyes.

To say that Brett was lost after the first glimpse of those fiery eyes and smug smirk would be a misuse of the word. Brett was cast adrift, doomed to want someone she neither knew nor had any idea of how to get.

Six months later

Brett and Dev ran through the forest, dashing around bushes and ducking under tree limbs. After that first day of their acquaintance and subsequent friendship, it was rare to catch them out of each other's presence. Dev grew rapidly, and Gertrude soon saw that her initial assessment of Dev was correct.

Dev was no ordinary dog. He was a curious hybrid, strong and sturdy, his coat a lustrous brown that set off the deep blue of his eyes. He sometimes displayed a higher than average intelligence, his head cocked to the side as he would listen to conversations that swirled around him.

Brett and Dev leapt over fallen trees, their bodies answering the stress they placed on them. They finally stopped, panting heavily, at the side of a stream.

Brett leaned over, hands on knees. Her head hung down and a grin broke out on her handsome face. She flashed it at her companion, who lounged on the grass, his head held high and his tongue hanging out of his mouth.

How's that for a race, smartass?

Acceptable. You could have done better. And stop with that panting, you and I both know you're not winded in the least.

Brett's grin was matched by the sparkle in her eyes as she straightened and stopped panting. She walked over and scratched Dev behind the ear.

Ahhh...a little more to the left...yeah right there!

Brett shook her head.

From the sounds you make, someone would think I was doing more than scratching behind your ear!

Dev snorted.

We both know that even if I was human you wouldn't give me a second glance...not when you could be looking at that picture you found.

Brett frowned and drew her hand back. She walked to the stream and looked at the water. Her hand reached into her shirt and withdrew the locket. Her thumbnail slipped between the halves of the mysterious dull metal, and popped it open.

Inside, a mocking grin greeted her. Deep within those eyes was years of pain. The lines of the face in the small picture were classically beautiful and alluring. Brett's thumb caressed the small picture as she tore her gaze from the picture and back to the stream.

Wondering who she is does you no good.

Brett gestured angrily, her back stiff. Dev watched, carefully.

You could always-

SHUT. UP.

Brett's jaw clenched as she turned and glared at her best friend.

You don't know what I'm feeling! Stop...

Brett saw the understanding in the depths of Dev's eyes, accepting her outburst with the same sage wisdom she had come to rely on the last two years. She felt the tears begin to prick at the backs of her eyes.

She tore her gaze away and firmly pushed her tears down. Now was not the time for them.

I'm sorry.

Brett sat on the banks of the stream, her head hung down. She felt a cold wet nose nudge her and she smiled a little. She raised her arm and Dev plopped his head in her lap.

You're a great friend, you know that, Dev? I don't think I tell you that often enough. You put up with all of my bullshit and-

I love you, mindsib. Why wouldn't I put up with your bull? You feed me the good stuff, not like those idiots in the kitchen.

Brett laughed and shook her head.

If you talked to them like you do to me, then you'd get steak.

Dev snorted and looked up at her.

If I did that, they'd start calling me Cerberus!

Brett laughed again, laying back on the cool grass and grinning as she watched the clouds. She and Dev lay there for the rest of the afternoon, bantering back and forth.

---

Septus sat in her room, her scrying bowl before her. She gazed into the depths of it's blackness carefully, her mind clear.

In the blackness of the bowl began to form a picture. The picture sharpened until she could see two figures, one human, one dog-like.

Septus' breath hissed out from between her teeth. That bitch and the dog were on her land! She raised her hand, ready to invoke the spell.

Her hand paused in midair as she pondered. An evil grin broke out on her face as she brought her hand down and invoked a different spell.

---

One year later

Brett stood on the battlements, the wind ruffling her short hair. At her right stood her best friend and constant companion for the last three years, Dev. They watched the wind race through the trees, rustling their leaves.

Brett sighed. She had just turned sixteen the previous week. The heir to the throne had grown tall and strong, lean and hard in the way of a person who earned their way by their sword and wits. Deep eyes seduced many a courtier and noble lady with a single glance and held a mysterious air that enticed all the more. Combined with the strength and perfection of form, the heir was the most desirable bachelor of the lands, future title and fortunes set aside. With the addition of the fact that the handsome, well built, and intelligent bachelor was the only heir to the throne, there was certainly no lack of possible suitors or bedmates.However, Brett chose none.

The court was beginning to wonder when she would take a mate. No one knew if Brett wanted a man or a woman. Lately, nasty rumors had started that Brett wasn't going to take a mate because she already had one in Dev.

When Brett had first heard those rumors, she had laughed so loudly everyone in the Great Hall turned and looked at her. As the months went by, she grew tired of it and resigned herself to finding someone suitable to bed before the rumors grew completely out of control.

She had watched as courtier and noble alike had tried for her heart. None could win it. She was called the Ice Prince and the Ice Bitch by those who were spurned.

Brett scorned all who wouldn't accept that she was as she was and nothing could change who she was becoming.

For as long as she could remember, Brett didn't like to play with the girls. She thought their games silly and childish. She had always preferred playing something like rugby or bandits and sheriffs then playing with dolls or dressing up. She had always been the first one to climb a tree or to explore the unknown. Combined with her studies and desirable body, Brett had grown to be an all around formidable suitor. Now only if she would suit.

Brett tried to give the men of the court a sporting chance. She really did. They all seemed to have remained at the maturity level that they had as children. The only difference was that they were older. And at the mercy of the one eyed snake. The women were insipid and most were worse than the men. Brett found nothing but disgust when considering a mate among the courtiers and nobles.

Brett never had to worry about being at a disadvantage. Between her taller than average height and her extensive training in both magic and swordplay, she was one of the most dangerous people in the kingdom.

The light breeze danced across Brett's nerves as she continued gazing out across her family's lands, remembering how she got there and why she was so somber.

The previous month, she had found a small, leather bound book in her room. It had apparently been a history of the kingdom. She had thumbed through it and had stopped when she had seen her name at the end of the book.

...and on the seventh year of their reign, a child was born to Marcus and Gertrude. They named their child Brett.

Brett grew to be a fine, strong, upstanding citizen, unknowing that because of her mother's badly made decisions, she would die before moonrise on her seventeenth birthday.

That had been it. Those simply stated lines had sealed her fate. She was to die within a year. Brett sighed and rested her forearms on the battlements.

Since Brett had found the book, she had been quieter than normal, withdrawn. It had reached the point where her mother had decided to intervene.

Gertrude gazed up from the courtyard. Brett stood up there, her eyes trained on the landscape. Gertrude smiled as she gazed upon her only child. Brett had grown to be a true royal, her bearing showing every bit of her breeding. Her skill with the sword was rivaled only by her skill at magic. In all her years, Gertrude had seen only one other to match Brett.

Gazing up at Brett, Gertrude felt her heart clench and tears sprang to her eyes.

Why? Why did Brett have to die? Why couldn't Septus kill her instead? Gertrude had spent years trying to accept the death sentence that had been passed on her child by an old friend.

Gertrude remembered Septus, before the rift that had separated them. Septus had been a good friend, loyal and true, willing to die to protect someone she loved. What had caused her to be so bitter? She knew the rules of the Duels as well as anyone in the kingdom. Why did she feel the need to defy them? They were the backbone of the kingdom, a tradition that allowed them to bring order to an occasionally unruly world.

Gertrude shook her head at her thoughts. Regardless of what had happened, Brett was strong. If anyone could defy and vanquish Septus and her curse, it was Brett.

Gertrude felt a small smile begin as she remembered seeing Brett defeat not one, but four mages and a weaponsmaster with nothing more than a flick of her wrist and a wry smile. Gertrude had heard the gasps and had seen first hand the women (and one man) who had fainted at that display of power and strength.

Brett heard her mother's soft tread long before the wind brought the soft scent of jasmine that surrounded her mother.

"You might as well come over here, Mother, I know you're there." Brett's soft voice startled Gertrude out of her observation of her daughter.

Gertrude smiled and petted Dev as she took up a position next to Brett. They stood together in silence for a few moments before Gertrude spoke.

"Are...Is everything all right?" Gertrude asked haltingly. She didn't know how to ask what she wanted to know.

Brett didn't move from her position leaning against the battlements.

"Why am I to die on my seventeenth birthday."

Gertrude started. She had NOT expected that. She swallowed nervously. She had been afraid this day would come.

"Why do you ask?" Brett could hear the nervous reluctance in her mother's tone.

"Answer my question." Brett's voice was soft, and a subtle note of pleading had entered it.

Gertrude looked down at her hands. Taking a deep breath, she began telling Brett the tale of her doom.

"When your father was courting me, I had another suitor for my hand. Septus. I had been friends with Septus since she was a child, and somewhere along the way, she convinced herself she was in love with me. Septus challenged your father to a Duel." Gertrude paused and risked a glance at Brett to see how she took that news. Seeing no change, Gertrude continued, returning her gaze to her hands. "Your father defeated Septus. I went with him willingly, and we were joined. We thought that was the end of it, and it should have been, but Septus decided otherwise. When you were born, we invited her to the royal presentation of the assumed heir." Gertrude sighed and raised her painfilled gaze to the horizon. "I guess until then she thought she still had a chance. She-" Gertrude bit back a sob and was quickly held in Brett's loving embrace. Gertrude refused to allow her tears to fall until she had finished her story. She tamped down the lid on her tears and continued. "She cursed you that day, Brett. She said I would be hers, somehow." Gertrude could feel Brett stiffen. She forced herself to finish. "Your father wanted me to go to her...to give in." Gertrude raised her tear filled eyes to her daughter's stony countenance. "Please, Brett, understand that I couldn't do that!"

Gertrude's control was tenuous at best. It broke completely when Brett lowered her eyes and looked at her mother with a sad acceptance.

"Oh, Brett! I wish I could have saved you! I'm so sorry..." Gertrude sobbed.

Brett patted her mother's back, somewhat uncomfortable with her tears.

"I understand, Mother. One must never give in to acts of terrorism." Brett's soft understanding tone completely undid Gertrude. She sobbed as she had not allowed herself to sob since the death of her father many years prior.

After Gertrude had wiped her eyes of the last of her tears, Brett spoke again.

"In the interest of the kingdom, I must leave."

Gertrude gasped and clutched at Brett's arm.

"No!"

Brett looked down at her mother, her expression closed.

"She will come looking for me, Mother. I must not be here when that happens." Gertrude saw the wisdom in her daughter's words and reluctantly nodded, agreeing. "From what you have said and what I know, Father will not appreciate the immediacy of this situation. I have endangered the kingdom long enough." Brett stepped back. "I will leave."

---

Brett hitched the pack on her shoulders up a little more. She rolled her head and rubbed her sore neck.

Gods...who would have thought that it would be so damned difficult to leave a city?

Brett stiffened as she heard the soft snap of a branch. She stilled, her ears straining for any sound. She sent out passive mindprobes to see who or what was in the forest below.

Of all the...HEY! MONKEY CHILD! Think you could STOP abusing that poor tree?

Brett scowled at the mindshout and jumped from the tree branch she had been perched on, landing behind Dev with hardly a whisper of sound.

I left explicit instructions for you to stay!

Dev didn't turn or visibly acknowledge her prescence in any way.

Since when did you have the authority to give me orders?

Brett sighed, frustrated, and ran a hand through the short locks resting on a sweaty forehead.

Who the hell can I trust to protect my family now that you're here?

Dev turned and looked at his friend.

You're kidding, right? He snorted and turned away from her, loping off into the woods. You obviously haven't been paying attention to Qrys' lectures after she clocks you. The castle is the safest place in the world, especially now that the main liability in the kingdom isn't there anymore, endangering their safety.

Brett scowled even as the truth in Dev's words became obvious. He was not only right, he was pissed. Brett recognized the emotion in his mindvoice. He was scared, worried, and pissed beyond belief.

Brett sighed and quickly scanned the area for any other intruders.

Look, Dev, I'm sorry, I just-

Don't.

Brett could tell that Dev was tense from across the clearing. She frowned.

What's with you?

Dev finally turned to face her, his eyes glittering.

You mean besides the fact that my supposed best friend decided to not tell me she was leaving? Didn't even bother to find me to say "see you later, I gotta run?" You mean BESIDES that?

Brett leaned against a convenient tree. Crossing her arms over a leather clad chest, an insolent eyebrow was arched at Dev.

I was unaware that you were my keeper.

Dev snorted and shook his shaggy head, looking at Brett sadly.

You don't get it, do you?

Dev laid down on the forest floor, his head on his paws. He didn't look up at Brett as he continued his mindspeech.

Ever since you found me, my life has been for one purpose: to someday save you the way you saved me. As soon as I was able to understand what you did for me that day, I vowed that my life was to be dedicated to repaying the debt I owe you. I swore by the holiest of vows, by both the Lady and the Lord. Brett inhaled sharply at that. That was stronger than a blood oath! I don't regret it, Brett. Don't think that. I...well, I'm grateful. You've been a great friend to me, and I don't know how I could ever repay you for all you've done. Brett Heard Dev's laughter. I'll spend my life trying, though.

Brett stood there, stunned. She tried to assimilate this knowledge and found herself dumbfounded.

You mean, because as a stupid young kid, I pulled a box off a well and found you, I'm stuck with you following me around for the rest of my life?

Dev raised his head and looked at her. Brett could have sworn he managed to find a way to make his muzzle into a wry expression.

Very good, brainiac. Did you figure that out all by yourself?

Brett tried to stifle the grin that wanted to spread across her features.

Look who's talking, Mr.-steal-the-partridge-while-Cook's-watching.

Dev leaped up onto his feet and tried to look menacing, raising his hackles and baring his teeth.

HEY! That was only once, and besides, that partridge was for you and that lady friend you had, what was her name...Sybel? Silke? Catch of the day?

Brett straightened up from the tree and bared her teeth in a snarl.

Her name was- Brett paused and stood there thinking. After a moment, she collapsed onto the ground, her brow still furrowed in thought. Dev tried to contain his laughter.

Brett looked up at him with woeful eyes.

I can't remember her name!

That did it. Dev collapsed on his side, howling with laughter. His shaggy sides shook with his hearty guffaws. Brett stood over him with her hands on her hips, an eyebrow raised. Dev looked up at her and broke out into a fresh batch of laughter.

I'll have you know, I DO remember her name, it was Deirdra!

Dev grinned toothily up at her.

It's good to know that your bed has been so empty that you can remember each and every one of them.

Brett shot Dev a wry glance.

Yeah, and I could tell you exactly what was wrong with each of them, too. Brett shook her head. Those damned court "ladies" are all hypocritical unimaginative bitches, and the "gentlemen" are worse. The servants all want special treatment and the subjects... Brett snorted in distaste. If they're not trying to convince me not to rape them, they're making every glance into a fairy tale. Brett shook her head and lay back on the grass No, Dev, I long ago gave up on finding my bondmate here. And now... She closed her eyes. Now I'm going to get as far away from this kingdom as I can. Maybe if I'm far enough away, Septus won't harm them.

Dev laid his head in his paws and looked at Brett sympathetically. It couldn't have been easy knowing that you would die within a year. He sat there, his sad understanding blue eyes watching Brett.

Brett sat there as though she was alone. Her hand reached into her shirt and pulled out the locket. Her thumb caressed the dull metal, running over an intricate pattern long since commited to memory. She popped it open and sat there, staring down at the picture within.

Who are you, my siren?

---

Septus sat on a large overstuffed pillow on the floor of her workroom. Her long hair was pulled back in a simple functional ponytail. Her lashes rested on her smooth cheeks. Her features were serenely beautiful, belying the raging hatred and passion that blazed just under the surface.

The outer warnings for intruders onto her land had been tripped. While normally Septus would simply send a construct out to scare off whoever had intruded, this time, the secondary spell had alerted her.

The intruder onto her land was that bastard whelp, Brett.

Septus' features broke out into a beatific smile that would have melted a thousand hearts of stone. Her eyes opened, and those thousand hearts would have quivered in fear and slunk away, cowering in fear.

Septus rose from the pillow in a single, graceful move. She had expanded her powers over this last year since she had last seen the bastard. Septus smiled to herself as she debated the merits of merely transporting them directly to her dungeon and having her fun with Brett there.

Septus walked to the window and opened it, allowing the sun to blaze down in the candlelit stillness of her workroom. The wind blew in, scattering random papers and blowing along the shelves of powders and rustling years of collected dust hiding behind the tall shelves. She closed her eyes and centered herself, then opened her True Sight to the forest.

The flowing lines of power that thrummed beneath the forest were laid bare for her to see. Septus dipped her mental finger into one of the lines and felt the rush of clean power that sang along her nerves. She allowed the power to fill her until she had enough for what she planned.

She opened her eyes and using her True Sight, transported herself to the area near where the bastard and that cur lay. Septus cast the spell she had laid the groundwork for the previous year, and Brett and Dev fell fast asleep.

Septus walked out of the surrounding forest. She smiled to herself as she took in her prizes. A lesser person might have left Dev there, to be found by whomever, but Septus was smarter than that. Dev was a critical weak link in Brett's armor. Through that cur, Septus could tear that bastard apart.

Septus smiled to herself and transported them to the wing of her castle that had been prepared for their arrival. Septus was thrilled at how smoothly this was progressing. With a little more time and a touch of luck, Brett wouldn't just be dead by her next birthday; she'd be destroyed.

---

Brett opened her eyes and sat up, shaking her head. She reached over and shook Dev awake. He raised his head and stood.

Gods, how long were we asleep?

Brett shrugged.

Not a clue.

Brett stood and dusted herself off. She turned to Dev.

Shall we?

They walked off into the forest, leaving behind nothing but a memory and a fleeting scent in the peaceful glade.

---

Brett and Dev traveled for many weeks, meeting few people and passing through fewer towns. They managed to make their way out of the kingdom with no trouble, and Brett was even able to procure a horse with a little haggling and a bit of flirting with the previous owner.

Brett, Dev and the horse made their way through numerous kingdoms and fiefdoms, makng thier way as unobtrusively as possible. The horse had been unceremoniously dubbed Horse, much to Dev's chagrin. Brett had shrugged and made a comment about not needing a long ass name to call when "Horse" was as good a name as any, not to mention a lot more convenient.

After traveling through sundry lands and meeting more people than they had conceived the world to hold, Brett and Dev finally met more trouble than the pair of friends could handle.

They had spent the previous night in yet another nameless, faceless inn. It was exactly the same as so many other inns they had stayed in. The faces tehy saw, the interiors, each as a cut and paste copy of the last.

It had been yet another unremarkable night. After the usual tussle surrounding the housing of Dev, they had settled in for the night.

Dev had awakened first, his keen nose detecting the scent of smoke. With some none to gentle Prodding, Dev awakened Brett and informed his companion as to the possible danger.

Brett had awakened quickly and redonned the well kept weapons. Sight was utilized that the inn was surrounded by a none too friendly looking band of brigands.

Shit! Brett cursed as the full complement came into View.

What?

They've got a thrice damned mage!

Dev let out a few curses in his mind.

Power level?

At least Master. Possibly Adept.

Any way to get by?

Brett Scanned the area.

We'll take some heavy abuse. It's either take out the mage or the fighters, can't do both.

Distraction?

Brett let out a colorful curse picked up during a stay in a...less than reputable inn.

We have to take the mage first. He's got them in MindSpell.

Dev nodded, his Voice grim.

They quickly developed a strategy of attack that seemed to have the least amount of risk and largest probability of success.

Brett crept through the burning building, a Fire Ward spell at the ready should it become neccessary. Dev erupted from the second story window, decapitating the mind controlled brigands and generally causing as big of a distraction as he could.

His shaggy coat protected him from most of the blows and weappons directed his way. The coat made his body appear larger than it truly was.