[Black text on white]

The Frozen Dagger
by Amanda Fletcher

      Alison pretended to stare at her menu. Really, she was staring, jealously at the teen aged girls giggling and talking about boys. They were the lucky ones. If she had her youth, and known what had been available twenty years ago. She could have been one of them. Instead she had to fuss with a razor every morning and put on a little too much make-up so any stubble that grew back later in the day didn't show through.
      Alison had been born James Donaldson. At 27 she realized she wasn't supposed to be a man. Now she was 32, struggling with the fact that she was still only halfway to her goal. The operation was going to be expensive. She'd taken on a second job just to try to get the money together. Even with that job it was still going to take a year to save up enough.
      It would be yet another year of questioning looks and of stares. San Antonio, Texas wasn't exactly the most welcoming place in the universe for her. She hadn't been beaten up and left for dead in an alley, but she also made a point of not flirting, with anyone, ever. Not that she'd had much of a sex life as James either. It was hard to be happy with someone else when you looked in the mirror every morning and wondered what the hell you were.
      The name change had been harrowing. The clerk stared at her like she was a freak, and went out of her way to be exceptionally rude. The newspaper hadn't been much better. The man she'd placed the ad with had made her leave the money on the counter. Like it was diseased, but they did send the papers and file them with the court like they were legally required..
      The worst had been standing in front of the judge. Alone, and trying to make this woman who was peering down over her glasses at Alison understand that she was not insane, or a queer as the judge so eloquently put it. Her neck itched and she reached up to scratch it.
      The hormones had helped her figure at least and the doctor at the women's clinic had been understanding and kind. Alison felt like the doctor was the first friend she'd had in this city since the change. Her chest had filled out a little and she didn't have to wear the squishy plastic falsies anymore. She had developed a waist, and her skin had a more feminine glow about it. She had scheduled laser hair removal for her face for next week.
      One or two of her old male friends hadn't abandoned her, but they acted a little nervous. His girlfriend had walked out, calling him a freak. The same woman whom on the previous week before he tried to explain things to her had told him she'd love him no matter what. So much for unconditional love, Alison was pretty sure it was something only dogs did. After all they didn't care what gender their alpha was.
      She could vaguely hear the waitress behind her asking some little girl what she wanted, anything at all. In a cute little voice the girl said "I want everyone to have their wish." Alison smiled. Sometimes kids said the cutest things. She knew what her wish would be. Alison wished she had been born a woman, not just having to pretend to be one. Being 25 and a real woman, wouldn't that be something?
      Suddenly the world began to spin. Alison opened her mouth to scream as pain wracked her entire body, but nothing came out. Tears fell from Alison's eyes as her body endured the most agonizing pain she had ever felt. Then as suddenly as it all started, it ended.
      Alison shook her head woozily and grabbed the mug of spiced mead in front of her. Wait, when had she ordered spiced mead? Did this diner even serve spiced mead? Some burly warrior walked up to her table. "'ey. Ya Alisandra? Ya looks a lot like 'er. I 'ears yous a good sorceress. I was maybes lookins ta 'ire ya." The look in his eyes suggested he wanted more for his coin than just her sorcery. Alison glanced around. Not only was this not the diner, it was a bustling inn filled with people who looked like they'd escaped from a renaissance faire.
      Why did all of this seem natural, yet so unnatural? She wasn't a sorceress, was she? Why was this guy wearing a leather harness over his chest and carrying a battle axe? Last she checked she wasn't at some fantasy convention. She stood quickly, almost stumbling over her chair. "Look buddy, I don't know what you're selling, but I'm not interested." She quickly headed for the door.
      Alison ran outside, as fast as her legs would carry her in her soft leather boots. Wait, leather boots? She had been wearing her mary jane flats today. She darted into an alley and caught her breath. "Ok Alison." She said to herself. "You're crazy, which explains why you're talking to yourself. Or this is a really, really weird dream."
      Pinching herself didn't make her wake up. Ok she wasn't dreaming. That left, insane. Her life as a woman had finally pushed her over the edge. Great, this was just great. "I didn't wish for this!" She yelled. An annoyed voice woman's voice yelled back "Ne'ther did, I so shut it ya blasted 'arpy." Alison barely dodged some foul smelling water the woman threw at her. The mixed scents of urine and feces made her lose what little lunch she had eaten.
      As Alison stumbled out of the alley, trying to catch her breath, and get further away from that horrendous smell, stumbled into a horse trough. She wind milled her arms but managed to not fall in. In the water she could see a face with hazel eyes that peered back at him. It short of vaguely resembled her, if she were 21, and beautiful.
      Alison had dark brown hair that flowed down to her shoulders, and she was wearing some sort of black headband with a red jewel on her forehead. A blue streak shaped like a dagger was tattooed over her left eye. That must have hurt. Alison began to pat down her body. She had breasts, ones that felt more natural than the ones the hormones had given her. Her blouse felt different too. It was made of silk, and midnight blue. She had been wearing a red dress earlier.
      The blouse was more of a tunic. Black leggings covered her legs, and soft brown leather boots with a black sash wrapped around her waist with the sheath of and hilt of a dagger readily visible. She had a figure too, like a nice one. She was sexy. One lock of hair was braided and held in place by a white bead with the same blue dagger that was on her right eye. What did that symbol mean?
      A small nervous looking bald man with a bulbous nose and and white beard and hair that grew around the back of his head ran up up to her. "Allisandra" He called sharply. "I've been looking all over for you! Where have you been? That barbarian girl, Jana, has been looking for you. I think she works for Vengeance, we have to get out of here." He looked left and right as if he expected these people to pop out of the shadows at any moment.
      Alison sighed. Ok so people here wanted to call her Allisandra. It did sound kind of cool. Kind of D&Dish, it was a name he would... give... Wait. He did give a sorceress that name. Back when she was in her early twenties, she had placed a sorceress that looked just like the one he saw in the reflection in the water. She was some sort of ice sorceress. Had she become her character? Oh this was insane! May as well play along, there might be a way out of this.
      She let the little man usher her along. She tried to remember details. Ok, the blue dagger, right she had just been initiated into a group of magic users like her, dedicated to ice magic. The Frozen Daggers they had called themselves. She was still a low ranking member. The little guy dragging her along was Marson. He was something of a retainer to the group. He ran errands, delivered messages, etc. She seemed to remember his only power was that he could teleport to anywhere he wished, at any time.
      Ok, I've become my character. I'm in a D&D game. This is, weird, not exactly what I had in mind, but it could be worse. I do have magic now after all. But there was no Vengeance or Jana the barbarian in his fantasy campaign. Maybe they were new villains.
      Alison was taken through a maze of back alleys to a door with the same blue dagger painted on it in a corner, barely noticeable unless you knew to look for it. Marson looked up at her. You have to open it. Up at her? She wasn't that tall. 5'6" and 142lbs if she remembered correctly. Allisandra had been the tallest character she had ever made. Wait was she human or half-elf? She reached up and felt her ears. No points, human. A tug at her sleeve jolted her out of her thoughts.
      "What are you waiting for Allisandra? Cast the spell." Marson whispered urgently, as he looked back and forth again.
      Ok the spell, yeah the spell. It was a cantrip, its only function was to open the doors with the blue daggers. Now how did it go? Oh right, the words of the incantation passed her lips. The blue dagger glowed with a soft light, and then Alison passed through the door, along with Marson.
      A woman in flowing ice blue and white robes with a bluish tint to her skin looked up. Steam rose up off her as if she were heating the very air itself. No, she was 'melting', it was something that happened when one got higher in the ranks. They turned bluish and if they weren't in a cold environment, their skin would give off little bits of vapor as if they were being boiled. Supposedly it didn't hurt at all it was just what happened as they became more dedicated to the path. Their bodies became naturally colder so the mist rose off as a protection from heat.
      "Hello Allisandra. I'm pleased to see you made it back safely." She smiled at the small man. "You did well Marson." Now it was becoming clearer. Marson wasn't a small man, he was a gnome. Marson disappeared off to wherever it was he went, when they didn't need him. The woman looked back at her. Her name was.. Kalisa. Yes that was it.
      "Still you were very foolish, going out like that with Jana out looking for you. That girl is trouble. She's a very unstable savage. I have no idea what she wants from you, but you're not safe here. Head north to the village of Vita. You'll find a contact in the Owl's Feather Inn. Just ask for Beleran. He's a master woodsman. He should be able to get you to a safer place, and keep that woman off your back."
      Everything was happening so fast. Ok, so right now the adventure was to play tag with a savage barbarian who was apparently 'it'. Once she got to this Vita place, she should meet someone who could help her. Well at least she wasn't meeting her entire party at an inn. It was so clich‚d. Alison found herself outside again. She pondered if she should take the main road, or just go to the shadows of the alleyways.
      Wait, she had a magic cloak. Where was that thing? She opened up the pouch on her belt and felt around. This thing was deep for a belt pouch. She felt something silky and made of cloth in her hands. She pulled it out. It was a blue cloak that matched her dark blue blouse. She put it on, and she felt more like she convince someone of things with her charms. Right she had a cloak of charisma. It gave her more spells her day and made them harder to resist. It also had a hood to conceal her face and that dead giveaway of a tattoo.
      Alison decided that if she was going to play this role, she needed to think like Allisandra, not Alison. She would have to call herself Allisandra, think about her self not in terms of someone with a high charisma score and spells per day but as a female ice sorceress. Allisandra pulled the cloak over her head. If that crazy savage had been in the tavern, she probably heard that burly jerk with the brains of a goblin hitting on her. She wondered if he'd even noticed he was splattered with the blood off from that ogre he'd killed. Or was he just showing off? She wasn't certain if it was his body odor or the dried ogre's blood that smelled worse.
      Jana frowned as she walked through the streets of the town. She'd lost that Allisandra woman somewhere in the alleyways that gnome had run her through. What's worse was that she was out the money she'd paid that stupid barbarian guy to try and 'hire' Allisandra. When Jana had demanded her money back he had just laughed at her, knocked her down, and walked off. That hit felt like the kick from a mule. Chasing that stinky barbarian down was going to distract her from Allisandra, and probably hazardous to her health.
      She watched the stupid mean jerk walk away laughing. Well, she couldn't worry about that now. She looked around. The streets were bustling with people, and that stupid little gnome had probably tipped Allisandra off. She kicked at the dirt angrily. Now what? She could be anywhere by now. She wasn't going to give Sylvia the satisfaction of telling her where Allisandra had gotten off to. Sylvia was being a pain today, so Jana was determined to do this herself.
      A voice from the alley beckoned her. "'ey, Kid."
      Jana looked over. There was a stocky bearded man in black leather standing in the alley. "Yeh gunna stend der all dey un stare er are yeh gunna come o'er 'ere? I dunna 'ave all dey yeh know."
      Jana walked over quicky. "Umm who are you?"
      "Ne'er yeh mind w'o I am lassie. I know w'ere dat lass yer lookin' fer is goin'. Fer da rite price I mite be tellin' yeh."
      Narrowing her eyes, Jana looked down at him. "How do I know you're not going to try to rip me off like that barbarian?"
      The dwarf fumed. "Now lis'en 'ere yeh daft ful. Dunna yeh go comparin' meh ta dat looser. Yeh shunna trusted 'im in da first plece. It's yer own damn fult."
      Jana put up her hands defensively. "Fine, fine, I'm sorry. What do you want?"
      The dwarf rolled his eyes. "Wut do yeh think I wunt, lass? Are ye complet'lee daft? It sure as da mount'in 'ome ain't a kiss frum yeh. Whut backwurds screwed up place did ya come frum dat ya dunna even know how ta meke uh proppa deal?"
       Jana was furious. She hoisted the small heavy man up and slammed him against a wall. "Look. Tell me what I want to know or..."
      "Ur whut lass? Yeh'll get yer guts ripped outta yeh befur yeh can even pull dat wee dagga yeh got der?" The dwarf laughed at her. "Unlike yeh lass, I dinna come uhlone. Now yur price jus tripled. I dunna suggest any mure stunts like dat, if yeh value yer miserable life."
      Jana sighed. "Fine. How much?"
      "Ten gold, lass. It's a bargan after ya jus tried ta rough me up un all. Yer lucky amma even willin' ta even tell yeh anytin' ut all."
      Damn it. That was 15 gold out of her purse now. She was running light on funds and she still needed traveLing supplies. She shoved the coins into the fat grubby fingers of the dwarf.
      "Dat's mure like it, lass. Me mates be seein' yer frozen dagga lass headin' out da north gate. The lass is prob'la headin ta Vita. Iffan ya run, ya mite even be able ta catch 'er."
      "What?" Jana practically yelled "That's it? That's all I get. A probably?"
       The dwarf shrugged "Iffan ya donna like it, yeh can ulways be takin it meh mates." A couple of grins and chuckles emitted from the dark alley.
      Jana could vaguely make out the outlines of three or four other men. She couldn't take those odds, at least without getting badly hurt and risking losing Allisandra. "Fine." She stormed off with the sounds of laughter behind her. Her face flushed red with anger. If there weren't four of them... she tried to reason with herself exactly what she would do? Kill him because he humiliated her? That was no good. She couldn't be like or worse than them. She ran down the path blowing past the guards, who just watched her run by.
      The trail was long and dusty, if this could even be called a trail. There was nothing out here, but dust, dust, and more dust. The earth was cracked and dry. Fortunately, she was a sorceress. She could summon food and water at will. Allisandra was parched and hungry. Dust was swirLing through the air, making it hard to see, but she hadn't seen anyone for at least a mile. She was probably safe to stop and take a break.
      Allisandra waved her hands around and performed the gestures to conjure food and water as well as a temporary bubble to keep the dust out of her food. The water was cool and refreshing, and the hot bread and cheese tasted excellent. There was even a little bowl of stew that smelled delicious. It was good to be a sorceress. Allisandra was so absorbed in her food, she didn't even notice the coughing form of an 18 yr old savage coming up behind her.
      There was food ahead that smelled very tempting, some bread and stew. Jana's mouth watered and she remembered she hadn't eaten before she left town. She hadn't even stopped for provisions. But that smell, maybe there was an inn out here. An inn built out in a wasteland and only a few miles out of town? That seemed unlikely. She followed her nose towards the smell, and saw a slight cloaked figure sitting in a little bubble protecting her from the dusty wind that howled in rage as the woman protected from it dipped her bread into a bowl of stew. Where the hell had she gotten bread and stew? Wait, could that be her? Allisandra, the sorceress she was looking for?
      She knew two things about Allisandra. One she had the wish stone. The other was that she was rumored to be a formidable sorceress. Jana couldn't just go rushing headlong into this or she was likely to eat a few spells in the face. Allisandra hadn't seemed to notice her. She was too absorbed in her food, the very tasty looking food. Maybe if she tried to act like a starved half woman who had been lost in the wastes a few days, Allisandra might take pity on her, and not immediately start chucking spells.
      A woman covered in dust flopped down to her right. It was some of the worst acting Allisandra had ever seen. "You're not fooling anyone you know. If you're hungry, all you had to do was ask. Town is only two miles back at the most. You couldn't possibly be half dead."
      Jana sighed. Yeah she was 0 for 3 today. Some great plans she'd come up with. At the rate she was going she was never going to get the stone out of Allisandra and there were still so many more to collect. "Could I have some food and water please? I kinda forgot to get any supplies before I left."
      Seriously, what sort of moron did it take to not buy supplies before leaving town if you couldn't conjure your own? Allisandra looked the girl over. A female savage, dressed in skins, just like Kalisa had warned her about." Allisandra cast the spell to summon more food. No sense in letting the girl starve, she pushed the bowl, bread and cheese towards the girl. She watched as the girl gobbled down the offering.
      "So you want to tell me why you're chasing me around?" Allisandra grinned. "I mean you don't look like the sort that would want my hot body, and I doubt you want to kill me. You don't look like a killer. I hope you aren't going to try to prove me wrong."
      This wasn't going well. This woman was direct though. "You were in the diner. You got a wish."
      Allisandra blinked a few times. "You were there too?"
      So Sylvia had been right about this sorceress, even if Sylvia had yelled at Jana for pulling her out in the middle of town, but Sylvia had been being mean again, and Jana was irritated with her. After the fight, Jana had been determined to find Allisandra without Sylvia's help, and it had almost gotten her killed. "Yeah. I umm.. well... I started all of this."
      Allisandra rolled this over in her mind. Well why shouldn't the kid get her wish? And almost every kid wants to be an adult. Until they figure out being an adult sucks. Then it's too late and the adults all wish they could be kids again forgetting that being a kid had its own set of nightmares. Allisandra herself had wished she could be younger. Allisandra laughed. "That explains a lot."
      Jana sighed. She was really tired of people laughing at her today. Especially ones she would probably have a hard time taking in a fight. "Look, to make the world right, I need you to give up your wish."
      Allisandra looked at Jana like the barbarian girl had just asked her to stuff a fish up her nose. "You want me to give up my greatest wish? Something I've wanted all my life?"
      "You wanted to be a sorceress?" Jana asked innocently.
      "Yeah, that's it. I wanted to be a sorceress" Allisandra remarked sarcastically "We're done here, kid. Don't follow me ok? I don't want to have to hurt you, or be hurt myself. You wouldn't understand my wish." Allisandra stood, and the bubble protecting them from the wind and swirling dust popped. Allisandra started walking down the dusty road.
      "Wait!" Jana called after Allisandra. "Please. I have to. I need to set things right."
      Allisandra stopped and turned and looked at Jana. "Have you ever considered maybe you already did?" She then pulled up her hood and walked into the clouds of dust that had been kicked up by the wind. Before long Jana could only see a silhouette of the sorceress, then nothing.
      "But it's not right. Look at it... everything's wrong." Jana called after Allisandra. There was no answer but the howling winds.
      Jana pulled out the box Sylvia was in. "What now? I think she's happy as a sorceress."
      Sylvia sighed at Jana, somehow the skull was able exhale the breath of a sigh. "Did she tell you she wanted to be a sorceress?"
      "Yes, I think so." Jana answered. Her naivety made itself known like a lighthouse beacon on a foggy night. .
      Sylvia sighed. "So, how can you make her give up something, when you don't even know what she wished for?" Sylvia asked like this should have been obvious. "You've not learned that by now?"
      Great now everyone was making her feel stupid. Jana sighed. "Yeah I suppose so, but I don't think she wants to tell me. I mean if her wish wasn't being a sorceress. Do you think she's like Vengeance? She wanted a world that she felt more powerful in?"
      "What, I'm a mind reader now, Jana? I find them. I can't tell you why they do anything." Sylvia was annoyed again.
      Jana wanted to throw the box away. Teach Sylvia that she needed Jana as much as Jana needed her. But if she lost Sylvia out in this dusty wasteland, how would she find her again? Jana looked around, maybe if she knew where she was. She could make out the outline of a sign ahead. Janna jogged over.

Little Rock 75 Miles
Vita 23 Miles
Memphis 61 Miles.

      The sign for Little Rock pointed southwest. Vita was north, and Memphis was to the northeast. "Where are we, Sylvia?" Jana opened the box so Sylvia could 'see' the sign
      "On a guess, Arkansas. Never heard of a town called Vita. It must be a new settlement since Vengeance took over and changed the world. Either that or Allisandra had some particular dislike for Arkansas and turned it into a desert herself. It was mostly a farming state, not really a very exciting place."
      Jana sighed. More mysteries, why did these people always have to be so complicated? She closed the lid on Sylvia's box. She knew where Allisandra was going, if she let the sorceress get too far ahead, Jana might lose her, Jana realized she had to run twenty three miles with no food or water. Her hastiness had cost her. She needed Allisandra and the sorceress wouldn't be too pleased to see Jana again.
      Allisandra was in good shape but she wasn't really prepared for a thirty mile journey. Yeah in the army or D&D days they did that mess, but she was a city girl. A mile was a long walk. You drove thirty miles. After five more miles her feet were killing her and she needed to sit down and rest again. After a few moments she saw a shadowy figure coming up in the haze. "Sweet Gaia, her again?" Well at least Jana was mostly harmless.
      However what approached was not Jana. It was a man, in a leather jerkin and a cruel smile on his face. He aimed a crossbow at her "Gimme yer money and I'll let ya live."
      "You don't want to do this. Now be a good little bandit and run along." Allisandra shooed him away as if her were a peasant.
      "You think yer funny don't you, little girl? Yer money or yer life." The bandit threatened in a menacing tone.
      Allisandra mumbled some words, and by the time the crossbow twanged the bolt bounced off an invisible shield. "I told you. You don't want to do this." She started to stand up, and pulled the hood back revealing the dagger tattoo over her eye.
      "Eh? A frozen dagger bitch? Oh this is even better. They'll pay good money to get ya back," He whistled and three more men came out of the dust clouds.
      Allisandra was already chanting her next spell. The dust turned to sleet, and the formerly warm desert took on a distinct chill. One of them men leapt at her but found his gut sliced open by an icy dagger that had seemingly flashed into Allisandra's hand. But not before he ripped in her side with his own dagger. There were too many of them to take alone, especially injured. There were at least three more, and they were surrounding her, circling like wolves flitting in and out of the dust to hide their numbers, waiting for her to move so one could pounce on her from behind while she was casting a spell.
      A shriek came from her right, and she saw the quick flash of animal hides. It was Jana. Well the girl's timing was good anyway. Allisandra chanted a moment then flung an icy dagger into the throat of one of the bandits. He clawed at his throat then fell over. The last one's blade sparked as it clashed with Jana's. Good, she was keeping him distracted. A chilly white ball launched at the one fighting Jana. It seemed to freeze him solid in one shot. Icicles hung from his outstretched arm.
      Jana's eyes widened. That was this woman's power? To conjure up snowstorms in a desert and freeze people solid? There was no way Jana was going to beat her in a fight.
      "Thanks." Allisandra said simply. "I would have had a hard time with four of them." Allison keeled over clutching her side, where blood was beginning to stain her tunic.
      Jana rushed over to her. "You're hurt."
      "Yeah. Bastard sliced into my side when he jumped at me." Allisandra reached into her belt pouch and found some bandages. Then she began to pull off her blouse.
      Jana turned away squeamishly. "Umm..."
      "We're both women, kid. Get over it." Allisandra began to bind her wounds, and then cast another spell. As Jana watched amazed, the blood stains disappeared, and the hole in the blouse mended itself. "It's a pretty useful little spell. They teach it to all the young sorceresses. Unless we're playing the helpless damsel, having torn up dirty clothes doesn't impress anyone."
      After Allisandra had her blouse back on, Jana looked at the dead men. "I guess, I can kill when I have to." She didn't seem very pleased with the idea.
      "They deserved it kid. They would have killed me and you if we hadn't. Take his crossbow, bolts, and any money they've got. They aren't gonna need it." Allisandra motioned at the bodies. "And that little dagger isn't going to get you far out here."
      Jana looked at the crossbow funny. "I don't even know what to do with one of those things."
      Wow, this kid was hopeless. She was living her dream in a fantasy world that was a lot harsher than anything she'd dealt with back home. "Well, I owe you one anyway." Allisandra said nonchalantly
      Jana looked up excitedly "So you'll give up your wish?" She asked hopefully.
      "Umm, no. I was going to say, before you interrupted me, that I'd at least see you to Vita. A life for a life. I mean unless you think you can make the next twenty or so miles without food or water." Allisandra looked at Jana. She was more than little annoyed. The sorceress wasn't giving up her new life. Even if it wasn't quite what she expected it to be, but hey, being a ice sorceress has it's perks. "This dust storm likely isn't going to let up, today. We may as well take shelter."
      Jana looked around confused. There was no shelter out here. Allisandra began chanting for a few moments. Sorceresses chanted a lot, something to remember, maybe a weakness, if she had to go that far. No, she wasn't going to kill for the gems, but maybe if she could silence Allisandra somehow. She wasn't even entirely sure that would work, but it was the best she had for right now. Once they got to Vita, all bets were off after all. A little door popped up, and Allisandra opened it.
      "It's just like a Bugs Bunny cartoon!" Jana forgot herself a moment and shouted gleefully. "I mean, not that I ever umm... you know now that I'm older, I don't watch cartoons."
      Allisandra rolled her eyes, just because she had a bigger body didn't make her any less of a little girl. "You're never too old to laugh, Jana. Now come in before I leave you out in the dust storm." Allisandra stepped through the door to nowhere.
      Well if Allisandra went in, it must be safe. Jana followed suit. Inside was a house like back home. It was a cozy little two bedroom, with a modern kitchen, television the works. "How...?" Jana asked.
      "My Magic, my rules. If you're not too old for them, There's some cartoons and movies over there, and a variety of console games. I'm going to take a bath. Food's in the kitchen. If you can't figure out how to cook it, just ask the stove." Allisandra wandered off to the bathroom. So she made it a little better than modern convenience. She a sorceress, she could do that.
      As she shed her dusty clothes, Allisandra got the first real look at herself. She squeezed her breasts. They weren't too big, and she wasn't flat-chested. The exact ones she would have wanted. Her hair was perfect, her body was perfect. It was like a dream. "I could have kids." She whispered to her reflection in the full length mirror she was staring into as she reached out to touch her reflection in a state of disbelief. "It's real, and the rest of the world doesn't seem to mind. They act like things have always been this way. Why should I have to give up my wish?" Maybe it was selfish of her but it was too good to be true, except it was true.
      As she got into the bath another thought crossed Allisandra's mind. This meant she could have periods. Allisandra had no idea what to do with periods. She just knew woman bled a lot and it was when they were more likely to get pregnant. She was sure it's somewhere on the net. Everything else is. She could just look it up, her magic, her rules after all, why shouldn't she be able to access the internet?
      After a nice long relaxing bath, Allisandra toweled off and got dressed. There was no sign of Jana. She was probably in one of the bedrooms. Allisandra booted up her computer. "All the comforts of home, I wonder what the other sorceresses are living in." She giggled at herself. A few clicks later and Allisandra was learning all about how to deal with her new menstrual cycle.
      Jana wondered what Allisandra was up to. She'd heard the other woman exit the bathroom. She wondered if maybe she could reason with Allisandra about the wish. It couldn't hurt to try. "Whatcha looking at?" Jana looked over Allisandra's shoulder at the webpage. Allisandra had the internet too? Wait that was an odd page, it was some medical thing about a woman's time of the month. "Why are you looking at that? Umm, shouldn't a woman of your age already know all about that?" Jana looked at Allisandra accusingly.
      "Hey who said you could come in here?" Allisandra yelled at Jana. "Out!" She shoved Jana out of the room, and slammed the door. A soft click followed as Allisandra locked the door.
      "Umm.. Allisandra?" She tapped gently on the door. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you." There was no answer.
      Jana sighed and went back to her room. She pulled Sylvia's box out and set her on the bed. She didn't want to ask, but Sylvia was the only one that might be able to give Jana answers she desperately needed. "I made her mad, Sylvia. But why would she be looking up information on that time of the month?"
      Sylvia sighed from inside the box. "I don't know, Jana, you tell me. What sort of woman doesn't know about her menstrual cycle by the age of 18? You know about yours obviously, and you didn't have one previously."
      Jana tapped her teeth with a fingernail. "I don't know Sylvia. I mean if she weren't a woman before, I guess, but who would wish for that?"
      "Would you like a list?" Sylvia asked sarcastically.
      Sylvia was making her feel stupid again. She pushed down her anger. "You think that's what happened? Maybe she's some thirteen year old boy, who wanted to be a lesbian sorceress?" Jana asked.
      This was going nowhere fast. How dense could Jana be? "I think we've established sorceress was not on her list of priorities. She might be a lesbian, but I don't think that's what we're looking at. Since she didn't hit on you she's not into people who hunt her. I hear that's not high on most people's dating lists, being hunted."
      "Very funny, Sylvia." Jana was annoyed now. And the idea of being hit on by a woman made her squeamish again. "Maybe I should have thrown you into the desert."
      "Yeah, then where would you be?" Sylvia could be just as snarky as the kid, and she was better at it. "She's smart enough to realize she has a period now. Most horny teenagers wishing to be lesbians aren't going to consider that. So she was probably older than twenty to begin with."
      Jana shook her head. "She's a man who wanted to a girl? People do that?"
      "It's complicated, but yes, that's likely the case. Getting her to give that up, it's not going to be easy. For someone who wishes that hard to be a woman, they've got to be dead serious about it." Sylvia didn't know what else to tell Jana, really, even if the girl asked the right questions, which seemed to happen all too rarely.
      Well she had one idea, but trying to make Allisandra regret being changed into a real woman. It probably wasn't anything Jana was capable of. She'd probably already had guys slobber on her shoes. Allisandra was a powerful sorceress on top of it all. Sylvia knew what that was like. Back when she had a body. Now she was a talking skull in a box, carried around by a sweet, but sometimes dense kid. At least it was a nice box. Ok and she liked Jana too. Jana reminded Sylvia of her own daughter.
      Sleep and then morning seemed to come too quickly. Allisandra was dressed and eating bread and cheese in the kitchen. She looked at Jana coldly as the girl walked in. Jana looked at the ground. "About last night..."
      Allisandra frowned. "I don't need your apologies, Jana. I said I'd see you to town. And while I'd love to leave you out here and see if starvation, bandits, or ogres would get you first. I will hold to my world." Her voice was as icy as her spells. "Once we get to the next town, you're on your own. Don't follow me. I can't promise I'll be as nice the next time we meet."
      Jana sat down across from her. "I'm not going to claim I understand..."
      Allisandra roared at her. "You don't understand a damn thing, little girl! You don't know what it's like to grow up confused because you weren't like people like you. Why your body felt like a prison. Why you couldn't be what everyone expected you to be. You don't know anything like that. You might have the body of an 18 year old but you have the mind of an 8 year old."
      Jana screamed back "Fuck you! You don't know anything about me." Tears formed in her eyes, and her blood raged. She pulled her dagger, and then felt an icy chill form over her body. She was paralyzed. As Jana looked at Allisandra she wondered if the icy daggers of disgust Jana saw in the sorceress's eyes might fly out and pierce her.
      "I don't need to know you." Allisandra's voice seemed colder. A mist rose from her lips and the room seemed to take on a sudden chill. "I don't give a damn about your quest to save the world or fix the mistakes you think you made. I would have thanked you for giving me my dream. The one thing I could never have on my own. The magic is a bonus. I didn't ask for it. Maybe I was thinking about that character I played so long ago, and became her. Maybe it was just a side effect of however this world came to be what it is. I honestly don't care."
      "What am I supposed to do, Sylvia?" Jana was afraid even to cry in fear that her tears might freeze on her face.
      "I'd leave her alone if I were you. She's immensely more powerful than you here, and she's doing you a favor. Even though it seems she hates you." The box replied. "This is her home. She is the mistress here, and has absolute power."
      She cast another spell and Allisandra saw the box Jana was carrying shined with a strong blue. That meant it was made of a powerful magic or contained one. "I assume your talking box is your advisor. Maybe it even helped you find me. It seems to have the good sense though. I hope your talking box can steer you in the right direction, girl. If she's smarter than you that direction will take you far, far away from me." The words themselves almost seemed to freeze as they left her mouth.
      Allison frowned as the girl's lips began to turn blue and released the spell on her. Jana fell to her knees shivering. "Draw a hot bath and put one of the bath crystals in it. There's some blankets in the closet. Wrap one around yourself. The chill will pass." She had gone too far and almost killed the kid. She was a lot of things now, murderer wasn't one of them.
      Jana picked herself up slowly. Her body ached in protest, and it was difficult moving her almost frozen limbs. Every motion was like thousands of tiny needles pricking her skin Once Jana thought she was out of earshot she sighed. "Sylvia, she's a monster."
      "No Jana. She's protecting her dream. She's selfish, but everyone needs something to hold onto. She's found hers. Vengeance is no different. He found a place he thinks he belongs too and he'll fight like a wildcat to protect it." Sylvia reminded Jana in a flat tone.
      Jana found everything where Allisandra said it would be. The blanket took some of the chill off. It seemed to heat her body slowly. Jana couldn't understand the woman's dream. It was alien to her. But she understood her own dream and her need to accomplish it. Was she any different? Of course she was. She was trying to set right her mistake. This woman was living out a selfish desire, and Jana was willing to give up her wish to make things right.
      Taking away people's dreams was hard though. There would be others like Allisandra, who would fight for what they had gotten. What they felt they needed to be happy. Jana tried to push these thoughts from her mind as the steam from the water filled the bathroom. She dropped the greenish crystal in the bath and the water took on a similar color and bubbles started to form. It smelled of something lemony with a hint of rose. Green was an odd color for lemon and rose.
      As she shed her clothes she considered what the sorceress had told her. Allisandra said she would see Jana to the next town. Jana believed her. She jerked back from the hot bath as she tried to put a foot in. It stung like it was made of fire instead of water. After a moment her body adjusted to the hot bath and she slid into it. The hot water felt really nice.
      Allisandra finished her meal. Once Jana was out of the bath and redressed she would take her as far as she could stand to go today, probably another ten miles, which meant two more days with the brat, one if she could push in the last three miles tomorrow. Maybe if she cast spells on herself to push her limits. Best not to. If she made herself weak, the kid might be able to take advantage of her and try to take the wish away by force.
      Stupid kid, what right did she have to take away the only thing that had ever made Allisandra happy? It wasn't like she was hurting anyone. She'd even give up the magic if it meant she could keep the body. Allisandra wasn't above compromise. It was the one mistake in her life that no one could truly fix, because it was a mistake nature had made.
      Hot tears rolled down the sorceress's cheeks. The hormones, the surgery, nothing could give her this. She could have children if she wanted. She crossed her arms in front of her placing them on the table. The sorceress put her head deep in them and cried. It wasn't right, it wasn't fair. It was the only thing Alison had ever wanted so desperately in her entire life, the chance to be born as she should have been. And that naive little girl wanted to take it away.
      The bath was amazing. The hot and wonderful smelling water soothed her cold skin. Even irritated with Jana, Allisandra shared her best with the girl who wanted to take everything away. Jana didn't want this job. She didn't want to hurt people like this. But it was her responsibility. Her mother had always lectured her on responsibility. Taking responsibility for her actions, her mistakes, this was her responsibility. Now she felt even more like a jerk for having to take away people's wishes.
      "Sylvia, am I wrong?" Jana asked as she soaked in the bath.
      "Wrong and right are words, Jana." Sylvia was tired of Jana's questions already and it was only morning.
      Jana sighed. "That's not what I mean. Who am I to take away her dreams?"
      "The one who is responsible for this mess in the first place." Sylvia answered annoyed.
      Jana sank into the bath, her nose just above the surface, that responsibility thing again. She rose up just enough to speak without swallowing water. "Aside from yelling at me, and calling me names, she's treating me really well."
      "Well, she is pissed off at you." Sylvia reminded Jana. "But she has manners..." under what might pass as her breath she muttered 'unlike some people' "...to a degree, then again it could be argued that paralyzing you with a frost coating was her way of protecting herself, if a little excessive, since you did barge in on her last night and then pulled out a weapon. In her home, no less, that too was rude."
      Jana wished she was eight again, where all these stupid concepts of rudeness and fighting didn't mean as much at least in front of adults. In the schoolyard, as long as the teachers didn't see, anything was acceptable. And if you told, you were a tattletale. No one would play with tattletales, among the other miseries a tattletale would endure at least for a few days
      "I guess I shouldn't do that anymore." Jana sighed to herself. "Attacking her I mean."
      Well at least Jana was learning common sense, Sylvia thought to herself. It was about damn time she learned some restraint. Would they all have memories of this, when it ended? Would Jana remember her mistakes, learn from them? Likely not, this world, everything that happened, it would probably just all be like a fading dream. Forgotten quickly enough and everyone would return to the diner, and eat their chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes and gravy as if nothing had ever happened.
      It didn't take the women long to get on the road again. Allisandra was ready and waiting patiently for Jana. The pair set out and the door disappeared behind them. "This is ogre territory. It's highly likely we'll see one or five." Allisandra warned. "They think we're tasty, and won't hesitate to try and eat us."
      Jana wondered how Allisandra knew this. Probably the same way she knew how to cast spells. The world had granted her the knowledge about her powers. She wondered why it didn't teach her about her new body. It was only a few miles before thundering footsteps could be heard. "Me smell human." A deep scary voice spoke. "Spread out. Find human. We eat well tonight."
      Allisandra cursed. She was good, but she couldn't take more than one ogre at a time. It was the cost of being a sorceress, strong magic and a frail body. "Run" she whispered to Jana. "Don't stop for me. Don't stop for your box. Don't stop for anything. Just run."
      The two tore down the path. The winds carrying the dust through the air shielded them from the sight of the ogres. But it made seeing much impossible. Allisandra had wrapped a blue silk scarf around her face, and made Jana do the same with a white one before they had left. Goggles protected their eyes. If they were going to travel in this grit, they couldn't afford to have it blinding them again, especially now that the storm seemed to have picked up.
      The going had been slow, then suddenly Jana lost track of Allisandra. But she heard the woman cursing, and beginning to cast spells. A chill fell over the area again. It had happened last time Allisandra cast spells. Jana heard the crash of a huge body hitting the ground. "Me found one! Cold mage!" One yelled and the thundering feet ran towards the voice.
      "I have to help her, Sylvia." Jana didn't wait for a response, she ran to where she had heard the voices. Four ogres surrounded Allisandra. She was throwing balls of frozen death, and ice knives at one, but another bashed her with his club from behind and sent the sorceress sprawling. Jana snuck up behind a third and hamstringed the foul smelling beast. It roared in pain, as it fell to its knees. "There! Another! It stab!"
      Red blood had splattered all over Jana from stabbing the giant man. Her dagger felt so small against these monsters, but what else could she do? She darted back into the dust, hoping she could buy Allisandra some time. One of the ogres had looked hurt from her spells, but Allisandra herself didn't look like she could take much more of a beating.
      The sorceress staggered to her feet. Stupid girl, it wasn't the time to be playing hero. Even if that idiotic move had immobilized one ogre, and left her free to kill another as the other two ran after Jana. But there would be more. They smelled food, and they often went in raiding parties of six to seven. Allisandra had only seen five so far, and the hamstringed one fell to ice knife in the eye. Even a small ogre village required a lot of food. They were probably planning on raiding Vita when they'd found the two girls. Ogres were easily distracted.
      Jana darted, zigzagging through the dust clouds. She didn't know where the road was, or where Allisandra was. She could always have Sylvia help her find Allisandra later, once Jana was safe. Unfortunately for her, Jana ran smack into one of the ogres. After she bounced off its meaty leg and onto her butt, a hamfist of a hand reached down and grabbed her in a crushing grip. Jana couldn't breathe, and her arms were pinned to her sides.
      "Me got one!" The ogre yelled. "Me got the other!" Another yelled. Damn it, Allisandra had been caught too. As her lungs demanded more air, Jana felt light headed. The last thing she saw was a fist twice the size of her head coming at her face.
      Jana awoke in chains, in a dark room. Her entire face ached, and she thought her nose might be broken. Dried blood was all over her hides. "Allisandra?" She whispered. A feminine groan from across the room was her answer. At least she was alive.
      "Stupid girl." Allisandra coughed. "Why didn't you save yourself?" She ached all over. Allisandra had managed to do some serious damage to a third before another clubbed her in the back. Allisandra thought some bones were broken. Still she ached all over. Even having manacles on her hands and wrists hurt.
      "I couldn't leave you behind. You had every right to be mad at me, but you still shared your best with me, when you didn't have to."
      It hurt just to talk. "I was raised right." Allisandra said simply.
      A third female voice from the darkness whispered "Hush, both of you." It was slightly accented. Allison thought it might be an Asian accent. "If you want to live that is."
      Allisandra took the hint. Jana had to talk. It was the nature of 8 year old girls after all, to be nosy and chatty. "Who are you? I'm Jana."
      There was no answer, just a soft click, and the sound of a metal chain moving slightly. A soft song floated through the air. It wasn't one either woman recognized, even the language was unfamiliar. Allisandra immediately felt a lot better. A healing spell but it was sung? She must be a bard. No wonder she wanted quiet. The chains moving and her singing alone might be enough to attract the ogres.
      Allisandra felt words whispered into her ear. The person was so close Allisandra could her breath. "Can you fight?" Allisandra nodded. The chains clinked softly a few times, and then Allisandra knew she was free as the pressure fell away from her wrists and ankles.
      Jana heard she same whisper. "Yes." She said almost too loud. Allisandra winced.
      "Hush, damn it. They'll hear." Jana felt the soft breath of speech and heard the whispered words in her ear. A final set of chains clinked.
      Allisandra felt a hand on her wrist that gently tugged leading her somewhere. She crawled along with it. She could make out a vague form of a tiny woman, at least for a human, in the darkness. She pulled Jana and Allisandra close before whispering. "There's a back door. Sneak out quietly. Then we run straight ahead. The road shouldn't be far away. Now run." The woman pushed on something, and daylight flooded the room. The other two women didn't need any more of a cue than that.
      They had barely gotten a quarter of a mile before a deep voice bellowed. "Food escape!"
      The three women cursed, and ran harder. "You know" said the Asian. "If you can cast a teleport spell for us, now would be a great time."
      Allisandra gave her something of a nasty look. "If I could do that, do you really think I'd be walking out in this crap?"
      The Asian shrugged. "Point taken. Any other tricks that might save us, you look like a mage. Your Jana looks like a barbarian. I'm not expecting much there."
      "First off, she's not mine. She's just following me. I plan to dump her at Vita. While I have tricks, I'd like to save a few, just in case."
      "Again, point taken. Being unconscious doesn't exactly refresh our magic." The Asian sighed. "Guess we're running. The damn fools didn't even notice me slowly cutting a hole in that flimsy straw hut they'd stuffed us in. Strong, but not at all bright."
      Allisandra nodded. "Once we're clear, I can set us up with a place to rest."
      The Asian nodded, and the three kept running for their lives. After a while they stopped, panting, and trying to catch their breath. Jana was the first to speak. "Do... you think... they can still... find us?" She panted.
       The bard shook her head. "I think... we lost... them. Hard to say in this dust storm. Maybe we should wait it out in your shelter."
      Allisandra did not relish the idea of spending any more time than she had to with Jana. She was afraid she might start liking the girl, and then she couldn't do what she would have to, to protect herself when Jana tracked her down again. She began chanting again. Once she was inside the magical shelter, her magical skill no longer meant anything. She could cast any spell she wanted, as often as she wanted. This time, Allisandra decided a more, suitable setting for the Asian woman was in order. One she would expect to see in a medieval inn. No modern conveniences.
      "This looks different than last time." Jana remarked. Allisandra shot her a look. "Quiet, girl" She hissed "We don't know if she's from this world or not." She whispered.
      Jana nodded and fell silent. Allisandra looked at the bard. "The name's Allisandra."
      The bard nodded. "Mee Lien." She looked around the fabricated inn, complete with a phantom bartender and barmaids. "Impressive. Exactly what I'd expect from a sorceress of the great Frozen Daggers"
      Ah bards, they had a tendency to know a little about everything. Allisandra wondered how often it got them into trouble. "Thanks." She looked over at Jana who was frantically looking for her backpack. "You didn't bring provisions remember? Just ask a barmaid."
      Jana shook her head frantically. "My bag! With Sylvia, and the wish gems! They aren't here!"
      As Allisandra facepalmed, Mee Lien looked between the two women. "Might I ask what a Sylvia is and what wish gems are?"
      Allisandra answered first. "It's her talking box that gives her advice. The gems, well I'm gonna go out on a limb and say they're the key to her quest"
      Mee Lien raised a slight brow. "Now there's a first. I don't think I've ever heard of a talking box, at least not one that gave good advice." She knew of a few. Like the Skull Box of Rantha. It gave bad advice usually to get people killed so it could devour their souls
      Jana shook her head again. "Sylvia's not just a talking box. She's... well... a friend." A friend, a mentor, she meant everything to the barbarian girl. If she was going to ever hope to set things right, she needed Sylvia. There was no doubt about it, with or without their help, she was going to rescue Sylvia. Or die trying.
      Mee Lien nodded. "Excuse us, Jana. I need to talk to your boss"
      Almost in unison Allisandra and Jana yelled "I'm not her..." Then the two paused and looked at each other. Jana completed the sentence. "She's not my boss. I'm hungry anyway." Jana said annoyed at being treated like a kid again. Just because she was younger why did that make Allisandra her boss?
      Mee Lien took Allisandra aside. "Is she suffering from wasteland fatigue?" She whispered.
      Allisandra sighed and shook her head. "No more than I am. I've seen the thing. She talks to it and it talks back. If she's hallucinating, I am too." She whispered back. Mee Lien seemed satisfied with that answer.
      Back at the ogre camp one of the ogres delicately, at least for an ogre handled the tiny box he had found in a sack of gems. "What that?" Asked another as it walked up.
      The first shrugged. "Girl in skins have. Now me have. It box with skull. Bag had green rock too." He shrugged. "Give to chief, maybe" The other nodded in agreement.
      The chief seemed less than impressed with a pretty box with a human skull in it. He tossed it into the pile of treasures behind him. At least they were treasures by ogre standards, a few rotting carcasses, a giant bone, and skulls on pikes. "It not me kill. Me not care about skull. Not show off what me not kill. It too puny to claim, anyway." Sylvia's box landed in the carcass of a six legged cat-like beast. Its head had been twisted off and its skull now rested atop one of the pikes.
      He looked inside, the bag. "Green rock. Humans like rocks. Ogres no need. Ogres need strength. He tossed the bag over into the pile as well. The strap caught on one of the exposed ribs and slid down. "These treasures worth nothing to ogres. Bring better treasures next time."
      Jana didn't know what to do now. She couldn't leave Sylvia behind. But she doubted Allisandra would help her. All Allisandra said she would do it take her to Vita. Not go face down a camp full of ogres. She didn't know Mee Lien well enough to ask her. She poked at her stew with a hunk of bread. The thick meaty stew had looked good at first, but now she wasn't interested in eating.
      Mee Lien walked over and sat down across from Jana as Allisandra went upstairs for a bath. "Copper for your thoughts?" While stirring her stew with the hunk of bread Jana shook her head in response. Mee Lien offered comfortingly "It doesn't take a beholder to see you want your friend back, Jana. But it's suicide to go in there alone."
      "Don't you think I know that? I'm not as stupid as everyone treats me." Jana snapped. She was an experienced hunter. She knew how to track and kill. No one bothered to ask anything about her. They just assumed she was some stupid lost little barbarian girl. Well she wasn't and if she had to she'd show them.
      Mee Lien put her hands up and leaned back from Jana. "Do you always attempt to bite the people trying to help? I can understand a little why Allisandra does not care much for your company."
      Jana looked even more depressed now "I'm sorry... it's just been so much at once. Allisandra hates me, but she shares what she has with me. More than she has to. And without Sylvia, well I'm just not ready to go it alone yet. And I have to set her free someday. I can't do that if she's in the ogre camp."
      Mee Lien laughed. "I do not believe she harbors such, animosity as you believe she does. Is this claimed 'hatred' deserved or is she simply as cold hearted as I have heard the Frozen Daggers are?"
      Jana looked into her stew a moment before answering. "I'm going to sound crazy. Maybe it is crazy. But I'm responsible for the way things are. I accidentally created this world, from another world. I gave a bunch of people their wish. And... this is what happened. And... I did something to her I shouldn't have. I learned about her secrets without asking.."
      Nodding sagely Mee Lien felt the child needed advice, and a little more to pick up her spirits. "When many unfamiliar and uncoordinated minds come together to take an unplanned action, things can only result in chaos." She paused thoughtfully. Perhaps a story was in order. Mee Lien was well regarded for her tale spinning as well as her song. "If you will allow it Jana, I shall share a story with you."
      Jana shrugged noncommittally. Mee Lien took this as a cue to begin her tale "Where I come from, we have a legend. Two dragons came together to create the world. But they did not know how. The first, a female dragon her scales shimmering blue like ice floating gently across the ocean, she began to sing, lamenting that they had been given an impossible task, to create a new world from nothing."
      Jana leaned back and listened to the bard. She poked at her stew some more, but it still didn't look any more appetizing. "But when she sang, an amazing thing happened. A sphere formed. She turned to the other dragon, a male, whose fiery red scales glowed fiercely as if threatening to overtake the darkness of space around them"
       Mee Lien paused to sip some water, and smiled. Jana was paying rapt attention now. The bard continued her tale. "The beautiful blue dragon said to him 'Look what my song has created. But it is empty. My song along cannot create a world.' The male dragon, no less a beautiful sight than his female counterpart, was full of pride. Certainly he could give this sphere some of his magnificence and make it into a world. He sang in a rich deep baritone, and as he did, the sphere was filled. But now it was merely a solid sphere. He had done little more than the female dragon."
      Mee Lien watched as Jana's eyes glazed over with the look of someone who was entranced. That was the part she enjoyed most. More than once, out need she had snatched a purse laden with gold while she told such a tale. "The woman dragon had an idea. 'If we sing together' she said 'in harmony, I believe our world can take shape. It will be more than a lifeless sphere. Together, we can bring it life.' The male dragon thought this over. No he could do this himself. He just had to try harder. He sang with all his might. He sang as loud as he could possibly could without making his song any less a thing of beauty and his voice filled the sphere with a thundering force. His powerful song began to push at the sides, attempting to form life atop his world. However the sphere simply popped because it was not strong enough to hold such power. His song drifted off into the cosmos."
      Jana continued to listen intently to the story. She could almost see the two beautiful dragons, and hear the wonder of their song. "The female dragon turned to him, as he looked dejectedly at the disaster he had created. 'Your voice is beautiful. But you cannot force things to be. You must encourage them. Let us try again, together.' This time the male dragon agreed. At first, their voices were not in harmony, and the form they created was lumpy and without shape. But as their voices began to meld together, the shapeless mess became a sphere, and then it filled."
      "But instead of pushing out and destroying the sphere, their voices flowed, through and things began to grow on the sphere. It became a beautiful blue pearl with tinges of green and brown land which they could hang in the sky proudly. But still something was missing. The two dragons went back to their master and pointed at their creation. 'This is what we bring to you. Two voices in unison, in harmony have created beauty." They said in unison. 'But it is merely beautiful. If no one can enjoy it, then what good is beauty?' " Mee Lien paused to take another sip of water before continuing.
      "The master looked at the blue and green sphere, and nodded his approval. 'I shall grant your world beings which may live on it. They will appreciate its beauty. And you shall become The Song. The song will ring in their hearts and it will guide them and enhance their enjoyment of their world. It will be a peaceful place. You have done well my pupils. Now you may help your new world grow."
      Jana's eyes grew wide, like a child hearing her favorite bedtime story. "What happened to the dragons and their world?"
      Mee Lien smiled. She loved a captive audience, even if it was only of one. "It is said, that the dragons still live on to this day, even though we cannot hear their song. Many of my people have left our country, searching in vain for the song. I am one of them. I hope to one day find The Song, and bring it home to my people, so we may share it with the world again."
      A soft clapping came from the upper landing of the stairs. "A beautiful story, Mee Lien." Allisandra walked down. "I had come down to let both of you know that your baths are ready. But I heard Mee Lien telling her tale and I didn't want to interrupt. It is rare to hear a good bard's tale. Thank you, Mee Lien."
      After thanking Allisandra for her kind words, Mee Lien turned back to Jana. "If you never ask her, you shall never get your answer. However I love grand adventure with insurmountable odds. Just look at the grand quest I have taken on for myself." She winked. With that she rose and headed up the stairs to take a bath.
      Jana sat and contemplated this a while. It occurred to her she hadn't thanked Mee Lien for her tale. Maybe a bath would be the thing to take the edge off losing Sylvia, and allow her to reorganize her thoughts. The hot bath helped, but the young woman still was depressed. Jana was going to have to do what she had dreaded since she had learned the truth about her benefactor. Jana would have to swallow her pride, confront Allisandra, and ask for her help.
      The magic of the inn had provided Jana with a fresh light blue sleeping gown for while her skins dried from being cleansed of the dust. Jana slipped it on, and the soft silky fabric felt nice against her skin. As Jana looked into the mirror in the bathroom she felt she looked girly in it. Not tough like a barbarian warrior was supposed to be. Well as long as no one but Allisandra and Mee Lien could see her like this, Jana guessed it would be ok.
      Jana asked one of the ghostly maids wandering down the hall where Allisandra's room was. It pointed out Jana's room, then Allisandra's, the other obviously belonged to their new bard friend. She stared at the door and rocked back and forth on her heels. How was she going to approach Allisandra? The sorceress hated her.
      As Jana was about to get up the nerve to knock the door opened, and Allisandra looked at her. "Are you going to stand outside my door all night or did you want something?"
      This was going well already, Jana mused to herself sarcastically. Making jokes made her feel a little less nervous. "I know you hate me but..."
      Allisandra stopped the young woman. "Come in if you want to talk. It's warmer and more private."
      Jana nodded and walked inside the room. There was a little fireplace on the opposite wall as the bed. A small table sat in the middle of the room with two chairs, and a bookshelf adorned the wall opposite the door. Jana wondered what the titles might be. 'How to freeze barbarian girls solid' perhaps? Maybe even 'Making ice sculptures out of your friends and family' Making jokes like that just made Jana feel worse. The jokes made Allisandra out to be a monster, when she really wasn't all bad.
      After waving Jana to a seat Allisandra closed the door and sat opposite the girl. "For starters, I do not hate you. If I hated you, I'd have left you out in the dust storms to fend for yourself. I won't claim to particularly like you, but I think a large part of that is you hunted me down to take away something that I could have never had on my own, and means so much to me. Now, I believe you wanted to ask me something. Otherwise you wouldn't be staring at my door." Allisandra paused as a thought crossed her mind "Unless you were just trying to determine how best to kick it down and take what you wanted by force."
      The barbarian girl sighed. This was going to be harder than she thought. Allisandra didn't trust her. Why should she? What had Jana done to earn her trust? Not stabbed the sorceress to death in her sleep? Jana reasoned Allisandra assumed correctly she was safe until Vita. Once Jana had a place to restock her supplies, there would be no reason for the sorceress to believe she was safe. "My friend Sylvia, I need her back." Jana met Allisandra's eyes with a look she hoped was conviction. "I wanted to ask you to help. I think Mee Lien is willing and maybe the three of us..."
      Allisandra shook her head. "Slow down there, Jana. You're asking me to risk my life for you? I'm already giving you your life by taking you to Vita. I'm even treating you as a guest as opposed to 'that girl I got stuck with because I'm too soft-hearted to let her learn the hard way' or 'That girl who probably would stab me in my sleep if she didn't need me to keep her alive, and take what she wanted'. I'm sorry, but risking my life by going into an ogre camp wasn't part of that deal."
      Jana started to protest that she hadn't agreed to any deal and that she wouldn't stab anyone in their sleep. Then she stopped to think about it. She was accepting Allisandra's food, shelter, and the escort to town. By accepting those things maybe she had made a deal, even if she didn't have much of a choice or outright say she was agreeing to anything. Jana hated this. Not only asking for help, but being trapped by that woman. "But... I need you. I can't rescue Sylvia alone."
      "Ah so now you need something else from me. You have many needs, but you're not offering me much. You need to take away my happiness, and now you need me to risk my life for your talking box." Allisandra didn't sound amused. "I'm not a paladin. I don't risk my neck for the greater good. While I will help people out of kindness, that's maybe getting them to a town when their hastiness might have lead to their death, or perhaps a few coins for food. Not slaying a dragon for them. Not for free."
      Now Allisandra was humiliating Jana again. Jana pushed back her anger. Yelling at the cold hearted beast wasn't going to accomplish anything. This little adventure had cost her lots of money already, now it was costing Jana her pride. Sure she'd replaced a little of the money from what she took from those bandits, but her stubbornness had almost emptied her coin purse. Now it was forcing her to beg someone who couldn't stand her for help "I can't offer you any money, and I don't know what else you'd want."
      The kid wasn't big on noticing the obvious it seemed, or maybe it had something to do with the fact that her mind was still undeveloped. Kids could be bright, and trading like for like made sense to them. Bargaining for someone's life was beyond them. "There's only one thing I want. You're going to have to decide which is more important to you, your friend or your quest. I'm not unwilling to help, but there is a condition. If you agree to leave me alone so long as I do not attack you, and stop chasing me around trying to get that wish back from me. Then, I will help you get your friend back."
      This was just great. She needed Sylvia, but Jana also needed the stone from Allisandra. Jana doubted Allisandra would ever be dumb enough to violate that deal by trying to hurt her. Now that she needed Sylvia more than ever to give her advice, Sylvia wasn't here. "I need to think." She said.
      "Of course, it's a heavy decision in the hands of one so young. Take your time. It'll take the dust storm a few days to blow over." Allisandra looked back to a book that was lying open on her bed. "Now if you'll excuse me, I would like to get some reading in before bed." Jana nodded and left the room.
      Jana closed her eyes a moment. How could Allisandra do this to her? Didn't she understand how important this was? The woman's heart was made of ice, and she was treating Jana like a child again. Jana ran into her room and slammed the door. She threw herself on the bed. "Damn her. Damn her to Hell. She's treated me like a kid the entire time, and now she's doing this to me!"
      Mee Lien looked over from where she was seated at the table in Jana's room. "Well you are currently acting like a child. I would say she's within her rights."
      Jana looked up and glared at Mee Lien "What do you know? She's just been playing with me this entire time. All she wanted was this chance... this chance to make me look stupid. That's all anyone does, even Sylvia. They make me look stupid. She's making me chose between my friend and my mission."
      Mee Lien stood "There is little use in talking to you like this. But it seems to me. If you listen, the choice will become clear." Mee Lien slipped out the door. Jana threw her pillow at the door behind Mee Lien. "This isn't a choice. She won't help me because of her own selfishness." Jana began to cry. It's all she knew to do now. She cried until sleep came for her.
      There was a rap on Allisandra's door. She sighed. There were so many distractions before bed. "Come in, Mee Lien."
      Mee Lien laughed softly. "So observant, was it with magic or did you know on your own?" Sorceresses and their magic, to be fair, if it were her magical house she'd probably want to keep track of where people were and what they were doing while inside of it as well.
      "Oh it seemed the obvious choice after you listened at my door, and then there was a light rap instead of it flying in at me. That level of subtly is beyond Jana. Knowing that you were eavesdropping was my magic. It is my house, Mee Lien. My magic, my rules." Allisandra had to laugh at the amused look on the bard's face. Mee Lien caught the infectious laughter and the two shared a short laugh.
      "So it is. May I?" Mee Lien motioned to a chair.
      "As long as you don't expect me to get up, I'm comfortable." Allisandra briefly closed her eyes to slits. "And tired." It had been a long day, and tomorrow promised to be longer. Now she had two intruding house guests.
      "Of course. I won't take much of your time. We both need our rest." Mee Lien smiled. Perhaps a little selfish, but not unexpected, whatever it was Jana wanted from this sorceress, she was asking a great deal. "I won't pretend to know what has passed between you and Jana. She wants something that is important to you. She also wants something important to her now."
      "Yes, she wants two things important to her. I just want one thing, one of them just happens to be something we both want and it cannot be shared." Allisandra closed her book, and set it on the stand beside her. "I am sure you know I don't hate Jana. But I cannot let her take away what she gave me in the first place. If I had to, despite the fact that I don't want to, I would kill her."
      The Asian woman nodded "I do not know what is so important to you. I will not pry. We all have things important to us, and if you are willing to go so far to take her life to keep it, then it must have great value to you. I knew her ideas that you hated her were incorrect. Perhaps you are not as cold as those of your namesake are made out to be."
      Mee Lien's tone changed slightly, she was usually soft spoken, but her words now had a slight force behind them. "She is young. Do not be so hard on her, choosing between her quest and her friend is not an easy decision. I had to choose once too. I cannot say I do not regret my decision at times. But unlike her, my friends will be waiting with open arms for me to come home, victorious or not. They will be happy I was not killed on my journey. If she does not retrieve her friend, then Sylvia will likely be lost forever to her."
      "Then she and I share that in common. If I lose... my treasure let's call it. I can't ever have what I have now back either. I could find something, almost as good. But the truth is, I'll have only changed in part, never in whole. With my treasure, I am whole." Allisandra said sadly.
      "Wholeness comes from the mind, not from the body. You are only as whole as you feel in spirit." Mee Lien stood once more. "It seems I am a fountain of advice today. Perhaps if I had not approached you, I could have charged you a fee." Both women laughed softly. "I bid you good eve, Allisandra. May the twin dragons watch over you."
      Three days passed before the storms outside calmed down enough for them to even consider venturing into ogre territory. Jana swallowed her pride once more and walked up to Allisandra. She needed Sylvia back and the sorceress was the only way to accomplish that. Better to lose one stone, than all of them. "My friend is more important than my mission, Allisandra. Maybe that's selfish of me too. And maybe, in some small way, I can understand how you feel."
      Allisandra smiled at the young woman. "It's a start." She looked to Mee Lien then back to Jana. "The dust storm has died down. Any ideas how we're even going to attempt this? We're going in, barely knowing what we're getting into, and there's probably 15 to 20 ogres in there, before we even think about the chief. The chief is not going to be a pushover."
      "I was conscious enough when they dragged me in, to get a blurry eyed look at the place." Mee Lien began. "It will not be much, but I believe I can find the chief's hut. It is likely the box is there. In ogre society, any treasures found go to the chief first. If he does not desire it, the others may squabble over it with fights and contests of strength and endurance. I somehow doubt a pretty box will appeal to ogres. I can move about unseen, and steal the box back, especially if you two can give me a distraction."
       It was a dangerous plan. It would call for Allisandra's most powerful spells to take out an entire camp of ogres. She would leave herself vulnerable to Jana and town wasn't that far away. "I can whip up a small blizzard. It will blind them, and amplify my magic. As well as provide you with some cover. With luck, we can get in and out of there without being killed. Jana, you'll be with me. I'll need your muscle to guard my back while I cast."
      Jana nodded. This she could do easily. She was a impressed Allisandra trusted her that much, especially for someone who didn't really like their traveling companion much. "Ok. I guess it's the best we can come up with. I'll protect you, Allisandra."
      None of them liked the plan, but there just wasn't enough information to go on. It was still early, the ogres were just beginning to get up and plan their raids. Allisandra wondered why they bothered to plan 'Run into village. Smash. Grab human. Laugh.' Maybe it made the chief feel important.
      The sorceress nodded at Jana and then began to cast. Jana drew her dagger. She really needed to learn to use a bigger weapon. The winds whipped up, howling with the same rage they had been during the dust storm. The air turned a biting cold. Allisandra's tunic and hair began to blow violently in the wind. Then huge chunks of ice began to fall from the sky intermixed with blinding sleet and snow. Jana watched amazed. She had no idea Allisandra possessed that kind of power.
      The ogres ran around bellowing in rage as they came under attack. Several were injured and a few were crushed under the falling ice chunks. The icy death stopped after a moment and the chief came out of his hut. "Who dare attack, Mog'gog's home? Mog'gog CRUSH!" With that the chief strode forward, smashing the chunks of ice with his huge tree of a club, or shoving them forcefully out of his way. The injured ogres cheered, and the ones still in fighting condition stood and fell into position behind him. The uninjured ones ran to the forefront.
      "There's an army of them Allisandra. We can't hope to beat them all!" Jana yelled at the sorceress
      Allisandra grinned roguishly. "Just watch me. I'm not out of tricks. And don't get in front of me. I wouldn't want you accidentally hit." She was not going to die here, or let the kid die. If they died, Mee Lien would likely be next. In whatever afterlife there was, she didn't want two undeserved deaths on her shoulders.
      The sorceress began chanting again, and she seemed to glow with an eerie blue light. A gigantic wall of ice sprung up, launching a few ogres into the air like rag dolls. Others were frozen dead in their tracks as the wall crystallized around them, their faces frozen in fear and confusion. Mog'gog seemed unimpressed. He reared back with his club and smashed through the wall of ice before him.
      Mee Lien, on the other hand, was impressed. When Allisandra said she'd create a distraction, she meant a show worthy of songs being sung about it to recant the tale. Single handedly she'd already killed most of the ogres. The rest were missing limbs, or were slowly dying from ice shards that had pierced their bodies. But had Allisandra had to make it so blasted cold? Mee Lien's black silk tunic with red highlights, and thin silk pants, as well as the slippers on her feet were not made for this. The thin red sash that held her war fans in place was no better protection. Her clothes were made for looking nice while performing, not surviving a blizzard. The bard steeled herself against the cold, she had a mission.
      The size of this hut indicated the chieftain's house. Mee Lien doubted she could have missed anything the size of a barn even in the storm made by magic. One she was inside the stench of something long dead along with the skulls of humans and animals on pikes confirmed it. Mee Lien almost collapsed from the foul odor of several week old rotting meat. Flies flew around decaying bodies in a back corner of the hut. Did ogres not have noses, or was this like flowery perfume to them?
      Mee Lien wrapped a red silk scarf from her pack around her nose and mouth to filter out a little of the foulness in air. It kept her from vomiting at least. She looked around for something to poke through the corpses with, but was out of luck. She was not using her war fans to poke through the mess either. It would dishonor them.
      The prize was inside the corpse of a six legged beast that sort of resembled a panther. Its head had been violently removed. Then again everything ogres did was violent. As she looked inside her worst fears were confirmed. The corpse was crawling with maggots. "This is so nasty." She whimpered squeamishly. "Why couldn't it have been on top of a nice pile of gold? At least then I could have gotten something nice for myself." She tried to push the vileness of this from her mind "If one is not brave, some tasks can never be accomplished" she reminded herself. The others just had to fight ogres. Mee Lien got to fight revulsion.
      Gingerly she reached inside the foul corpse. Mee Lien felt maggots crawling on her hand as she grabbed the box. Shivers went up her spine. The bard forced back a scream. This was not the adventure she had in mind when she agreed to help Jana. Once the box was extracted from the corpse she quickly dropped it on the ground and shook her hand back and forth quickly to get the slimy worms off her hand. This was acting like a scared little girl, not a dignified warrior of her people. Mee Lien would forgive herself this time. After all, no one was here to see her behaving foolishly.
      Fortunately the bag Jana had mentioned needing as well was easier to retrieve. It just hung from one of the ribs of the beast. Mee Lien quickly slid it off. the outstretched bones.
      Now, what was in this bag that was so interesting that Jana had been reluctant to say much about it other than she had to have it for her quest? Mee Lien opened it up and looked inside. There was a single gem of jade. Jade was the stone that represented the soul in her country. It was highly revered and very valuable.
      That one stone could make her a very rich woman when she went home. But it was Jana's bag, and the stone was important to her quest. Jana would probably track the bard to the ends of the earth if she ran off with it. Besides, she could never come home and be lauded as a hero, when deep down, she knew she was a thief. She did not want that kind of burden weighing on her soul in the beyond.
      Helping herself to a little gold, even if it was not offered, for a tale or a song was one thing. She was getting something back for her services. While certainly Jana would owe her something for this little excursion into the land of vile, these gems were important to the girl. No matter how tempting it may be to collect this stone as payment, Mee Lien would have to resist. If offered, she would not hesitate, but to take from someone who trusted her, that was too much.
      One of the only ogres that wasn't dead or injured and still in the camp knew he could not stay out in this blizzard. He would meet the fate of his companions. The chief may kill him for cowardice, but the sudden storm certainly would. He ran inside the hut and spotted the tiny bard as she was preparing to depart. "Who in here? Who steal Mog'gog treasures?"
      Mee Lien blanched. Mog'gog could keep his treasures. She just wanted what was rightfully Jana's. She scooped up the box and slipped it into Jana's pack and then slid the pack onto her back, so she would have freedom of movement. She didn't like her odds one on one with an ogre. One or two good hits would spell her end. The bard had no intention of letting the beast get those hits.
      She pulled out her twin war fans and spread them. Both were white, with yellow trim and tassels. The dragons on the twin fans glowed menacingly in the darkness, as if the painted dragons themselves might just leap off the fan and begin an assault of their own The fan in her left hand was shedding a bluish light, and right fan glowed red. "Twin dragons of The Song, I call upon you. Fire and Ice, the twin fans of legend that bear your mark have chosen me. I call upon you as your humble servant to lend me your power. I call upon The Song."
      Gol wasn't real certain what this tiny woman was talking about. Or why she had little white glowing things in her hand. Gol only knew that she was stealing the chief's treasure. Even if it was the one he hadn't really wanted. But that did not matter. What the chief claimed was the chief's. That was all that mattered. He blinked and was thrown off guard as the little human suddenly began to sing.
      Mee Lien leaped at the startled ogre as she began to sing. It was a song of a woman who struggle against amazing odds in an attempt to rescue her beloved, only to die for him at the end. She, unlike the maiden in her song, had no intention of dying this day. The song gave her strength and vigor. It is said that a bard's song is a magic all of its own, and with a song in their heart, and passing their lips, they could accomplish anything. While this was certainly an exaggeration started by a bard, Mee Lien was going to pull as much truth out of that legend as she could. She would need it all.
      The fans left glowing streaks of red and blue behind them as they flew through the air with their wielder. A powerful kick to the face barely even phased the monstrous beast. Mee Lien pushed herself off just in time before the ogre would have crushed her with his hand. Instead he comically smashed his own nose. Unfortunately for the small bard, the ogre didn't see the humor in it.
      Jana's eyes widened as an ogre much bigger and stockier than any of the ones she had seen before lumbered forward. She looked at her dagger and then at it. "I don't think this is going to be very effective."
      "Give it here." Allisandra commanded as Jana looked at her oddly. "Give it here, and I will make it effective." Jana handed the blade to the sorceress. She trusted Allisandra. Allisandra could have killed her many times over by now. Instead she helped Jana. The woman believed in a certain level of honor. If nothing else, if the day ever came down that they had to face each other as enemies, Jana would know she faced an opponent who under other circumstances, could have been a friend.
      Allisandra chanted something Jana hadn't heard before, and runes etched themselves into the dagger. Allisandra handed it back. "Here. That should help." Allisandra hoped that giving Jana something that powerful wouldn't bite her in the ass someday. Right now however, they needed to get to that someday. She started chanting again, and a huge and very sharp ice lance launched at the oncoming ogre. He swatted at it with his hand, and knocked it partially aside but it still ripped into his arm. As blood sprayed from the wound, the ogre roared furiously.
      "I think you made him mad." Jana quipped.
      "Sure looks that way. Get ready." Allisandra joked back before she began casting again. She was using up all her best spells. She didn't know exactly how Jana got those stones. She'd hinted at willingly handing it over, but dead people aren't exactly unwilling. It was also fairly hard to hand over something when she didn't exactly know where it was. The jewel in her headband maybe?
      However, Allisandra knew damn well she wouldn't have given the girl such a powerful dagger if she truly believed that Jana would take such an opportunity. The girl may be naive, but she wasn't ruthless. For her sake and the girl's, Allisandra hoped Jana never learned to be. Children should never have to lose their innocence in such a brutal way. Not to mention Allisandra would never want to have to face down a Jana who would do anything to get what she wants. The girl was a skilled fighter. Allisandra also knew that even with magic she wasn't capable being on guard all the time.
      Jana rushed forward and darted between the behemoth's legs. It slammed down its club, barely missing her, as she ripped into its leg with her dagger. The dagger glowed purple and it seemed to bite deeper, cutting to the bone. Jana wasn't even certain how that was possible. This thing's legs were like tree trunks. That woman's magic was potent, and she had entrusted Jana with a weapon like this? Did Allisandra actually trust her? Jana could worry about that when they lived through this. If they lived through it.
      The ogre bore down on Mee Lien. Her fans flashed as she leapt again and sliced into the creature's belly, the fire fan cauterizing the wound, as the ice fan numbed an area around where it sliced in. The ogre reared back its right arm trying and failing to protect itself. As the Asian woman pushed off with a flip, the ogre caught the bard with a backhanded sweep of its battering ram of a hand, and she was batted through the wall like a child might swat a bug, if the child was swinging a tree. Mee Lien thought she felt something break as she slammed through the wall of a second hut and landed on the floor with a thud. Well fancy acrobatics weren't saving her hide and she wasn't doing much else but making it mad. Enough showing off, it was time for plan B.
      Mee Lien brushed herself off, as she started to stand on wobbly legs. She'd never been backhanded by an ogre before. It certainly wasn't an experience she cared to repeat. Her cheek bled from a cut she'd sustained as she'd ripped through the walls. Her patterned silk blouse had huge holes and her side ached from where a piece of wood had torn it open as she launched through it, and she was pretty sure a few ribs had been broken just from that monster hitting her. She sang a new song, this one of hearts healing after loss of loved ones, and her wounds began to heal.
      Checking inside the pack Mee Lien saw the box was miraculously unharmed. "Better me than you, I suppose? Well I shall protect you with my life. I promised this to your friend. Though I am confused as to what sort of friend a talking box can be. Perhaps when you are returned you can show me." The box didn't answer. If it had, Mee Lien would have worried about her sanity, more than she already was for agreeing to this. Oh well. It was another song of glorious and selfless deeds to sing.
      Thundering footsteps told Mee Lien that the ogre was wasting little time in chasing her down. She sang another spell. This time a song encouraging warriors to be swift as they marched forth to battle their enemies. She had her prize. There was no reason to risk her life any more than she had. She darted out of the hut her speed increased by her mystic song, but the long strides of the ogre kept it hot on her heels. Mee Lien cursed. She didn't want to bring another ogre to Jana and Allisandra. She stopped and pulled out her fans. "I ask once more for your strength in battle. I shall sing of your triumphs to my people once we have returned." She promised them. With that she turned and ran back towards the ogre.
      It caught the lumbering beast off guard once more. Ogres weren't exactly known for quick thought. Some questioned if they really thought at all. The tiny woman had stopped running from him and was now running at him. Before he could reason why she might do this the tiny woman dashed between his legs, slicing into one leg with each fan. One of his legs felt like it had just been stuck in the cook pot. The other felt wobbly, like jelly. With a roar of agony he fell forward with a booming crash.
      Mee Lien put her fans back into the black sash around her waist. "Thank you once more for your protection, Dragon Gods. I shall return to our home victorious in my quest and deliver your beautiful song so it may be shared once more with the world." She rushed back towards a giant wall of ice at the front of the camp Allisandra had to be on the other side of it.
      Jana circled back around and sliced Mog'gog just below the knees once more. The beast roared in pain and fell to its knees. As Jana danced about slashing with her dagger, Allisandra peppered the beast's chest with a wave of ice shards. Thinking the battle over Jana ran cheering to Allisandra. "We beat him!"
      However the thing was not beaten. Not yet. It lumbered back to its feet, and reared back with its club, like a baseball player preparing to hit a fastball for a home run. Allisandra saw it coming. She pushed Jana down out of the way, but in doing so, took the entirety of the blow herself.
      Allisandra was launched into the air, screaming in pain from the power of the blow. She was certain she had broken bones just from the impact of wood on her slight frame, not to mention what might happen when she landed.
      She had to put an end to this before she ended up breaking the rest of her bones as she imagined the unpleasantness of crashing back down and leaving a trench behind her as she skidded across the cracked earth of the wastelands. She cast a quick spell. It was a mere utterance of two words. "Feather fall" she croaked them out and gently but slowly floated down to earth. Once she landed, Allisandra lay still. Lying quietly was good. It hurt too much to move. Mee Lien would find her, if something else didn't first. She hoped it was Mee Lien., but at least she had done something good with her life. She had saved Jana's life, again.
      Mee Lien saw Allisandra go sailing through the air like a human dart. That couldn't be good. Her immense speed allowed her to keep up with the flying sorceress. Who Mee Lien doubted seriously was flying under her own power. As she found Allisandra, battered and bloody and laying on the ground, Mee Lien kneeled down. She could see the rise and fall of Allisandra's chest. The Frozen Dagger sorceress was alive, which meant she could be saved.
      The bard shook her head. "It seems unlike you to get launched into the air. What happened to you?"
      "Saving... Jana..." Allisandra spat some blood as she talked. "Did... something... good... for her."
      Mee Lien rolled her eyes. "You will not die, stop being dramatic." She sang, for several minutes. It was a beautiful song. It was about heroes of war, those who gave themselves selflessly for their country. They had lost comrades and loved ones in a terrible war, but emerged victorious and now returned home to heal their broken hearts and bodies.
      Allisandra felt her body mending. It was excruciatingly painful, yet warm and soothing at the same time. "I still feel bad for the kid. But I don't know if I can give up my wish to her."
      Mee Lien smiled a devious smile. "While I do not normally engage in treachery, perhaps there is a way you can make her happy, while not giving up your desires." She showed Allisandra the inside of the bag. There was a single jade stone inside. "If you can make one of these, then she will believe you have given her what she desires."
      Allisandra shook her head. "I can't do that to her. It's cruel. If I'm going to fight her over this someday, I'd rather it be at least an honest fight."
      Mee Lien laughed her soft laugh. "I like you. You are a cunning woman, but honest, and you have honor."
      As Jana spit dust out of her mouth and was about to yell at Allisandra for pushing her down, she watched in horror as the sorceress flew through the air like a baseball. She glowed with rage as she pushed herself to her feet. The runes on her dagger glowed with a fierce light as she rushed forward. "You killed her, you bastard!" Mog'gog was staggering. Jana helped him fall over as she sliced completely through his left leg. The tiny blade should have been incapable of such a feat, but whatever magic Allisandra put into it, made it capable of amazing things.
      The ogre fell forward as one of its legs was severed. Jana leaped onto its back and savagely stabbed over and over. Allisandra coughed as Mee Lien lead her back to the scene of the battle. "Whoa there, killer, I think he's had enough." She laughed.
      Jana looked up. Her face was splattered with blood. "I... umm... you're alive? Allisandra! You're alive!" Jana's voice went from confused to overjoyed. She jumped down and rushed over to hug the sorceress tight.
      After unentangling herself from the enthusiastic youth, Allisandra sighed. "Mee Lien and I had a talk, after she saved my life. I owe her now. She told me about how much she had given up for her quest. And reminded me how much you were giving up for yours." Allisandra sighed. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She hated this, but, it was what was right.
      Jana looked at Allisandra quizzically "Allisandra? You helped me, and I'll hold up to my end of things. I won't hunt you anymore." She said softly.
      "Don't speak, Jana. Just let me have my say a moment. I want this body, more than I've wanted anything in the entire world." Allisandra began "Maybe the people here don't know, maybe they just forgot their real lives. But, it's not fair to them for me to make them stay that way, just because I found my happiness."
      "A great man once said 'It is better to have loved and lost, than never loved at all.' I've had my love, if only for a few days. I even considered making a fake gem." Alison sniffled "But in the end. I can't cheat you, Jana. I can't cheat the world. Take it, Jana. Hurry up. Do it before I change my mind."
      Tears rolled down Jana's cheeks. She wasn't certain if she was overwhelmed with joy at the gesture, or saddened because of the sacrifice. "Allisandra? Are you sure?" After fighting Jana over it for days, Allisandra was willing to give it all up? This made no sense to the youth. "But why? You know... if you do this, you might change back and the wish will be gone forever."
      "I'm Alison. Allisandra is a dream, a fantasy. The stone is rightfully yours, Jana. You gave it to me, and I thank you for the wonderful gift. .Even if I lose it all, right here, right now, I got to know what it was like. That's something right? Now I should give a gift to you. I was raised right after all" Allisandra's chest glowed as she spoke those words. An icy blue oval stone slowly exited her chest, floated in the air a moment and then fell to the ground. Alison grunted with the short but sharp pain.
      Alison stared down at the gem as if she had lost a part of herself. "Please take it, Jana. The longer I look at it the more I want it back." She didn't change right away. She wasn't certain when she might, but she would enjoy it while she still had the chance.
      Jana nodded sadly at Alison. She quickly picked up the stone and shoved it into the pack. "Sylvia, are you ok in there?"
      "Yeah, you did good, Jana. Luckily I no longer have a nose. Sometimes there are benefits to being a skull in a box. That place had to smell like a sewer." Sylvia replied.
      It was the same old Sylvia. "Thank you, Alison. You could come with me you know?" She asked a little hopefully a second time. An ice sorceress would be an amazing help, as well as someone, she even liked and trusted. Jana looked a little dejected as Alison said no. Then she looked hopefully at Mee Lien with the unspoken question on her breath waiting to escape.
      Allisandra would like to travel with Jana, but she knew, deep down, if she did, she risked Jana's life. She didn't want to give this up, but she did it because she owed Mee Lien her life, and because it was right. She tried to keep reminding herself it was right thing to do. However every time she said it, it sounded hollow and untrue. If she traveled with Jana, the sorceress knew she would be overwhelmed with regret, and kill the barbarian girl just to keep what she wanted.
      Greed was a horrible thing, but this was a gift given, and taken away.
      Mee Lien shook her head. "I am sorry, Jana. I have my own quest, and my own path to walk. Someday, perhaps we'll meet again. Until then, the town is not far. We can travel together."
      It would have to be good enough. At the town gates Jana said her tearful goodbyes. She watched as Mee Lien and Alison took different paths into the town. She wondered where her path would lead next. Well after she went to the general store for provisions.
      Outside the general store, a little man bald man, with what little hair remained on his was a stark white, approached her. His nose was humorously bulbous. "Lady Kalisa sends her regards."
      Jana looked confused. She didn't know any Lady Kalisa. "Umm..."
      The little gnome laughed. "It is only important to know that she is the head of The Frozen Daggers in this region. But she knows of your agreement, and requests that you be on your way. You will find your motorbike, fueled and waiting for you on the edge of town."
      Jana had totally forgotten her bike in the last few days of confusion. "Thank you... I think?" How did all these people know all this stuff anyway? Jana wasn't entirely sure she liked magic anymore. The people who used it always seemed to know too much.
      "She also warns should you ever see another Frozen Dagger, you would be best to be on your way. She cannot guarantee your safety. You have taken from one of ours, and we cannot be responsible if one decides to take back." With that the little man disappeared in a puff of smoke.
      "Great... Alison willingly gives me a gem, and I get threatened." She sighed and slung her pack over her shoulder. "Where to now, Sylvia?"
      "Pick a direction. I sense wish gems in all of them." Sylvia yawned.
      Jana closed her eyes and sighed softly. That sounded like what started this mess with Alison in the first place. She opened her eyes again looked back to the town. Jana guessed she wouldn't see Alison again. Probably for the best, the sorceress probably changed her mind and hated Jana's guts again. Jana wondered how many more people she would hurt like she did Alison. She revved up the engine and drove off away from the dusty wasteland.
      Alison went to the Owl's Feather tavern as she was originally told to do. A thin tall man in green and black greeted her. He was a half-elf. "Allisandra? I am Beleran. I heard you lost your stone." Alison blinked. How did he know about that? She assumed Lady Kalisa told him and pushed it from her mind.
      Beleran looked at her sympathetically and put a hand on her shoulder. "You stand to lose something precious to you. I can offer you an opportunity to make sure you don't. Your wish lasts as long as this world does. I am sure you already regret your decision. Vengeance knows of The Frozen Daggers, and he owes them a favor. He would like to cash in that favor by helping you keep what you so rightfully deserve."
      Deserve? Did she deserve this? It was her wish, and it was freely given. Jana didn't really have any right to take it away and make her feel guilty about wanting to keep it. Besides who had put Jana on that quest anyway? Alison doubted the other wish stone possessors really wanted to give up their wishes either. What had the brat done to them? She nodded at Beleran. "It was my wish. She gave it to me. But, I don't want to hurt her."
      "Exactly. So if she dies, then she can't complete the quest. You're a powerful sorceress, and you have an axe to grind with Jana. Why don't you come with me? I'll take you to see Vengeance. If you help protect him from Jana, then he can guarantee you keep your wish. Besides all you need do is protect him. You can do that without hurting the girl." Beleran smiled as Allisandra agreed.
       This one had been too easy. He hoped when he found other useful ones they would be so easy to convince. This woman would be exceedingly useful. For such a powerful sorceress she never even noticed the poison he used. It was one Lady Kalisa had created for him. It clouded the mind, instilled doubt, and made people susceptible to suggestion. He had turned his ring around, flipped open the tiny compartment that concealed the tiny poisoned spike and pricked her shoulder. She never even felt it.
      From the shadows Mee Lien watched Beleran talk to Allisandra. She even caught him spinning his ring around to do something to her. Now Allisandra spoke of protecting Vengeance against the child she had trusted with her life mere hours ago. The bard knew she would have to intervene later. Why did she let herself get tangled up in these things? Then again having someone she knew already inside could be helpful.
      Allisandra was confused, and had only let go of her wish reluctantly and that had been partially Mee Lien's fault. It had been their deal. She would let the life debt end so long as Allisandra gave up the thing Jana needed to her. That half-elf's words merely twisted a memory of a gift into something taken from her. But there was nothing that could be done now. Mee Lien now was glad she had tailed Allisandra..
      She was certain Vengeance knew where the song was. From everything she had heard, he had created the world with his wish. She didn't know a whole lot about this wish stone business. But if anyone could help her find the song, it would be Vengeance, and he would tell her, no matter how she had to get it out of him. Her next destination was San Antonio. She would get her payment for services rendered after all.

Material, HTML and text contained on pages originating from DOLARI.NET and DOLARI.ORG are written by Jenn Dolari. Copyright 1992-2021 Jennifer Dolari. All Rights Reserved. Individual stories are copyright their respective owners, all rights reserved, used with permission.  All other materials are copyright by their respective owners.