Monday, November 2, 2015

"The Consultant and The Mask"

“The Consultant and the Mask”

By Zapper

Author note:  Magic which has always existed is now openly acknowledged.  10% of the population is magically sensitive and 5% can actually be taught to cast spells.  Only about 1% have the ability to earn a Magic-User 3rd Class license.  In a country of 300 million that means there are potentially 3 million professional practitioners.  However, it takes hard work and training to develop that raw talent.  There are currently in the United States about 1 million licensed practitioners.  Of that about 100,000 are rated 2nd Class, with about 10,000 1st Class Magic-Users, and about 300 Masters in the entire country. 

   There are also more ancient private schools of magic.  These schools are not registered with the Guild and specialize in unique types of magic that are generally considered illegal.  The Guild of Magic-Users actively hunts these schools yet they persist.

   The multiverse is layered with world stacked upon world the only thing separating each realm of existence is the veil.  The veil separates what is, from what might have been, from what may yet come to be.  It’s as thin as silk and yet unless one has the power and skill it is impenetrable.  For those with the ability it can be parted and thus, Elves, Dwarves, Fairies, Ogres, Orcs, and Trolls and all manner of legendary creatures now walk the earth.  The power of magic is rising how humanity reacts will chart the course of civilization of the next thousand years.  An Age has come to an end and a new Age has arrived and as yet no one has noticed. 


Synopsis:  Alastar now having been forced to assume the identity of Morgana Livingstone is trying to put her life back together.  Attending the St. Louis Institute of Magic run by the Guild of Magic-User’s, while trying to salvage some of her old life by keeping her consulting business open.  Inspector Lee of the Guild calls asking for Morgana’s help in the theft of a powerful artifact.  The crime scene is a puzzle and as Morgana works to figure it out businesses that she’d supplied the wards for are robbed by an unknown thief.  Catching the thief proves a challenge that only deepens the mystery as events and forces are on the move in St. Louis.  In the midst of all of this Morgana discovers that she is attracted to the handsome Sir Galohond Larothta, on a mission from the Elvish Realm.  Suddenly, events converge and Morgana knows she’s in over her head but with the help of Sir Galohond Larothta she just might survive. 





****************
Prologue:  “The Thief”
****************

The moon was full and shining down on the van parked a couple of blocks south of the Mansion House Apartments in downtown St. Louis.   It was a hot and humid summer night, nothing new really for St. Louis.  The thief left the van running with the a/c on low as he moved to the back and settled into a comfortable position on the floor.  Not officially licensed he had to be careful not to come to the attention of the Guild when he practiced magic. 
Max, (to the few people he called friends) closed his eyes and concentrated.  The first spell he cast was designed to cause people to see the van but to file it away as unimportant.  This was not a very powerful spell but it called for subtly and skill in mind magic.  These were areas that Max excelled.  Max had trained with some of the most skilled practitioners in a very exclusive, if illegal, school and he now made a comfortable living with these talents. 
Tonight he’d been commissioned to remove an artifact from an apartment in Mansion House and he felt confident he would succeed.  It was almost 1 am when Max was ready to cast his next spell.  He was slightly nervous, although he’d cast this spell dozens of times he’d never cast it at this particular type of target.  Max thought about how uncomfortable he was going to be but brushed this aside, the money was just too good. 
He took a deep breath and glanced down for one last look at the photograph of his target.  Max then focused on building a mental picture of the target in his mind and released the spell.  It took affect at once.  He felt his spirit pull free from his body and fly up toward the Mansion House disappearing into the brick wall of one of the upper level apartments. 

+++

Max slowly started to become aware of his surroundings.  First, from a distance came sound.  The breathing was heavy, a man grunting rhythmically to a soft feminine counterpart, whose moans of pleasure, punctuated the air.  Next the taste of peppermint filled his mouth along with a salty flavor he couldn’t identify.  Suddenly he could see but the room was extremely dark with a small amount of light coming from his left.  Then the smell of two people engaged in sex filled his nose and with that the sense of touch returned. 
Max now felt for the first time in his life the sensation of a large penis pushing into his slick welcoming vagina.  At the same time the man on top of him was actively sucking the nipple of his right breast while stroking his left breast.  He realized that he had his legs wrapped around his lover’s waist and was pushing up to meet each thrust as the nearly overwhelming sensation of an orgasm approached. 
“Harder, harder, … oh God.”  Max heard a woman’s voice say.
With this the man reached down and started to stroke his clitoris as he increased the pace of his thrusting.  The orgasm took Max’s breath away and caused him to grip his lover’s ass tightly with both hands.  Max pulled him as hard as he could into his pussy.  At this point he couldn’t hold in the scream of pleasure as his world shrank down to, cock, vagina, and the sensations of a female orgasm.  Suddenly Max felt his husband’s penis flood his vagina with a warmth that amazingly caused a series of aftershocks of pleasure, not a full orgasm but pleasant enough to keep his vagina pulsing. 
After a minute Max’s husband rolled off, his penis sliding out with a slick popping sensation.  Max lay there momentarily stunned. 
“That was great Karen.”  Said Will.  He then got up and walked to the bathroom and turning on the light.  There was the sound of a faucet running as Will moved around. 
Max lifted his left hand and looked at the slim delicate female fingers, with the wedding ring on the third finger.  He then touched his sensitive breast and knew that he possessed the body of Karen Smyth.  His spell had been perfect his timing awful.  Now that he was fully in control of the body Max knew that Karen’s consciousness was in a sleep state.  To her everything that happened would feel like a dream after he left. 
The warm sticky feeling between Max’s legs caused him to get up and head to the bathroom.  Will had just finished wiping off his manhood with a washcloth and smiled at his wife.  He kissed Karen on the top of her head and then returned to the bedroom. 
Max closed the bathroom door and stared at himself in the mirror knowing what he would see.  Karen Smyth stared back.  About 5’2” she was in her late forties, and was about twenty to twenty five pounds overweight.  Max figured that she had probably been pretty when she’d been younger but a sedentary life style with too much food had left her looking chunky.  Her C sized breasts sagged a bit, her stringy brown hair hung down past her shoulders and her skin was somewhat blotchy. 
The feminine sensation of cum running out of a well-used vagina to drip against the side of her leg startled Max from his inspection.  Suddenly feeling nauseous he rushed to the toilet and emptied Karen’s dinner into the bowl. 
“Get a grip, Max.”  He said to himself. 
Max used some tissue to wipe his mouth and then flushed the toilet.  After waiting a couple of seconds for his stomach to settle he turned and sat on the toilet and used more tissue to wipe the cum and the juices of his own orgasm from his vagina.  He was startled by how sensitive it remained even several minutes after sex.  Feeling dirty Max went to one of the drawers next to the ‘his and her’ sinks and pulled out a wash cloth.  Wetting it down with warm soapy water he then cleaned his crotch and legs.  Next Max found a tooth brush and got rid of the after taste of vomit, peppermint, and cock from his mouth. 
One of the benefits of the possession spell was that Max had access to his victim’s memories, mannerisms, and skills while he possessed a body.   The problem was that he had to focus to bring these forward.  However Max had used this spell often and was skilled in pulling up a victim’s memories.  He now used Karen’s memories to find panties, a night gown, turn off the lights, and then he climbed into bed.  He settled onto his back and listened to the slow rhythmic breathing of Karen’s husband. 
“There’s no way he can already be asleep” Max thought to himself. 
Max glanced at the clock and saw that it was now twenty minutes past one, twenty of the longest minutes of my life he thought.  Max settled in to wait knowing that he had to make sure that Will was asleep before he made his move.
By 2 am Max could hardly stay awake and figured that it was time to get going.  The possession spell didn’t have a time limit and unlike a transformation spell, once it had been cast no energy was required to maintain it.  But he didn’t want to be in this body any longer than he had too.  His masters had lectured him about what might happen if his body died while he possessed another body.  Not something Max wanted to think about. 
Particularly since Will was a Class 1 Magic-User and would exact a vengeance on Max if he caught Max possessing his wife.  In fact this was the reason Max had targeted Karen.  Magic-Users had a natural defense against this type of magic, and the stronger the Practitioner the more powerful the natural defense to hostile magic.  In order for Max to possess Will he would have needed some type of symbolic consent. 
Max climbed out of bed and walked out of the bedroom not feeling the thick shag carpet beneath his bare feet as he focused on the task at hand.  The hall had hard wood floors which were cold enough to cause his nipples to harden breaking Max’s concentration.  Doing his best to ignore this reaction, and the sway of breasts and hips as he walked, Max continued to the study.  
Once in the room he turned on the light and looked around.  There was a pentagram inscribed on the floor in silver.  Books dominated one wall and windows the other.  The third wall held several display cases.  One of these cases held a Mask made of a strange white stone.  Max quickly focused on the Mask since this was the object he’d been commissioned to pilfer. 
Karen had no magical power but she was magically sensitive.  One of the characteristics of possession spell was that Max was limited to the magical abilities of the person he possessed.  He walked over to the display case and using Karen’s limited sensitivity opened his third eye and examined the wards protecting the case. 
The intricate weaving of energy was well beyond anything that Max could hope to overcome in Karen’s body.  However his ace in the hole was Karen.  Most Magic-Users included their spouse’s bio-metric information when building household wards.  This way a spouse who was not magically gifted would still be able to access buildings and valuables.
By possessing Karen, Max controlled her body which should allow him to breach the wards.  Watching the wards carefully Max stepped forward and reached up to the latch keeping the display case closed.  The wards flared for a second in Max’s sight and parted.  He opened the case and picked up the stone Mask.  Max was startled by how light the Mask felt, but there was no doubt that it was made of some kind of stone.  Max also noticed that the Mask felt oddly cold. 
He closed the case and went to the kitchen where he put the Mask into a plastic bag.  Next Max went to the hall closet and found a pair of Karen’s tennis shoes and a long khaki trench coat that belonged to Karen.  Max wrapped the trench coat around her night gown slipped on the shoes and grabbed a key.  He exited the house and felt the wards part and then snap back in place when he passed.
He rode the elevator to the lobby and waved at Gus the doorman as he left the building.  Walking two blocks to where he’d parked the van seemed to take forever.  Max spotted the van only with difficulty since the spell Masking the van was still in effect.  Max reached up under the front right tire and found the key fob for the van and unlocked it with a click. 
He opened the passenger door and looked back to spot his body apparently asleep on the floor in the back of the van.  This filled Max with a sense of relief.  At least his body was still safe.  He dropped the bag behind the passenger’s seat locked the van and left the key fob on the driver’s seat. 
For a second Max thought about returning to his body now, this would leave Karen waking up in the middle of the street with only a vague dream about what had happened.  But as soon as Max had that thought he discarded it.  Part of his reputation was built on no one really understanding how he accomplished his thefts. 
Max retraced his steps to the apartment.  Once in the apartment he hung up his coat and returned to his place beside Will.  Settling into the bed, Max relaxed and with a word activated the part of the spell that returned his spirit to his body. 
Again there was that sense of dislocation and suddenly Max was back in his natural form.  Max reached between his legs to verify that his equipment was in place and the felt his chest finding only firm pectoral muscles.  With a sigh of relieve Max slide up into the driver’s seat.

+++

Max sat down at the laptop in his motel room.  He quickly logged on and sent an e-mail to his contact.
“I have the merchandize.  Where do I deliver it?”
As soon as the note was sent Max logged off the computer and got ready for bed, trying not to look at the bag with the Mask sitting on the table to one side.  Max turned off the lights and got into bed.  He felt fatigued from the day but his mind kept returning to the events of the evening.  Max couldn’t shake the memory of laying underneath Will as he thrust into Karen’s eager vagina.  The memory was so disturbingly erotic that Max found himself becoming hard.  Max tossed and turned for over an hour before he managed to fall into a fitful slumber. 

+++

The next morning Max discovered that he was to meet his buyer at a rest stop outside of St. Louis on I-70 toward Lake St. Louis.  They would meet at midnight.  Max was cautious by nature so he packed up his bags and headed up to the closest exit to Lake St. Louis and found another hotel.  He settled in to wait for midnight and his meeting.

+++

Max pulled his van into the parking lot of the rest stop and didn’t see any other vehicles.  Not really alarmed he got out of the van picked up the bag with the Mask and headed back to the picnic tables where he’d meet his buyer.  Since he was the first to arrive Max sat down and lite a cigarette.  He hated waiting but understood the necessity at times. 
“Are you Maximilian Alexander Dionissis?” Asked a high sweet female voice. 
Max spun around in time to see a beautiful blonde woman in old fashioned long robes standing behind him. 
 “Yes” he hissed.  “Are you Siofra?”  
Getting his first good look at the woman Max noticed that the tips of her ears were sticking out from her long blonde hair.  Her narrow eyebrows and pointed chin finished establishing her race.
“You’re an Elf.”  Max stated redundantly. 
Ignoring Max’s statement Siofra asked, “do you have the artifact?”
Max now lifted the plastic back which contained the Mask he’d taken from the Smyth’s apartment yesterday. 
“May I see it,” Siofra said.
“As soon as I see the money.”  Max stated feeling in control of the situation.
Suddenly Siofra snarled. “Insolent human” and made a gesture with her left hand. 
Max was already moving before she completed her spell.  He dodged to the left, diving into a roll that came up to Siofra’s side.  At the same time Max spoke a Word of power that increased his, speed, strength, and resistance to hostile magic.  There was a blaze of light as a bolt of magical energy blasted through the space that Max had occupied moments before. 
Now furious, Max didn’t have that many offensive magical spells, but he knew how to fight and augmented his abilities with mundane weapons.  He pulled out a Glock, Semi-automatic, 9mm, and started firing.  Siofra was faster and had a shield in place before Max got the first round off.
With a gesture telekinetic force gripped Max lifting him a few inches off the ground and pinning his arms to his side.  Siofra smiled an evil leer and walked over to pick up the bag that Max had dropped. 
“You’ve got the Mask now let me go.”  Max said, hoping that he might yet come out of this alive. 
Siofra walked gracefully around Max in a full circle before stopping in front of him.  When she smiled this time Max noticed that her teeth were a brilliant white and that a small trace of saliva had run down from the corner of her mouth. 
“Maximilian you have done me a service.  My mistress will be very pleased.  Yet I cannot risk you telling anyone about what happened.  Go with my thanks into the afterlife.”  She said. 
Before she could start casting Max interrupted.  “If I’ve done you a service then you owe me a debt, if you’ll not grant me my life then I ask a kiss.  You are the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen.  I’ll count myself lucky to die with the taste of your kiss upon my lips.”  Max said, hoping to play on Siofra’s Elven pride and culture simultaneously. 
Eleven culture was known for repaying debts, and what Elven woman could resist being called beautiful.  Siofra cocked her head to one side a slow wide smile dominating her face.  “Your silver tongue has granted you, your last request” she said. 
Siofra moved forward confident in her power and gripped Max’s head with both of her hands.  She then leaned forward and brought her lips to his.
While Siofra had been talking and moving toward Max, he started casting the only spell he could think of that might save him focusing intently on Siofra the whole time.
Suddenly Siofra pulled back, eyes wide, “what have you done?”
With a snarl Siofra made a gesture with one hand and spoke a word, of power.  A bolt of magical energy blasted from her open mouth hitting Max in the chest blowing a hole through it the size of a softball.
The power of a kiss Max knew, was ancient, a symbol of unity so powerful it would potentially overcome even a truly powerful beings natural resistance to Max’s most unique spell.
Siofra froze.
She blinked several times as though she were becoming aware. Then she opened her mouth and licked her lips.  Next she raised her hand to touch her face.  This seemed to break her free from whatever force had held her motionless. 

+++

Max looked down at his body with the huge hole blown clean through his chest.  His knees gave out and he collapsed to the ground.  Long blonde hair cascaded around his bowed head as he tried to catch his breath.
Staring into his own dead face was not a situation he’d ever thought he’d have to deal with. 



*****
Chapter 1
*****

The obnoxious buzzing of my cell phone pulled me from a deep sleep.  I rolled over to grab it and managed to tangle my hand in my long dark hair.  I reached again and only knocked the phone from my night stand.
“Damn it” I growled.
I threw back the covers and started patting around on the floor until I located the offending device.
“Yes!”  I said grumpily into the phone. 
“Morgana Livingstone?”  Asked a deep male voice.
“Yes, who is this?”  I replied feeling annoyed, I had just glanced at the clock and saw that it was 6 am.  Who in their right mind calls someone at six in the morning? 
“This is Inspector Lee from the St. Louis Guild Hall.  I understand you’re an expert on magical wards and runes.”  The doubt that filled Inspector Lee’s voice made me want to bristle. “The Guild could use your help on a theft we’re investigating.” He said. 
It took a moment for my sleep addled mind to recall but I was now on retainer as a consultant to the Guild.  My mother’s idea and as usual I couldn’t say no. 
“Okay, where do I meet you?”  I said again looking at the clock.
“Can you be at our downtown office by eight?”  Inspector Lee said in a tone that indicated it was more of an order than a question.  There was also the implication that it might take me more than two hours.  I hadn’t met this guy yet and already it felt like he was a sexist jerk. 
“I’ll be there” I replied and hit the end button. 
“Ugh, I hate mornings” I said to the empty room and rolled over onto my back feeling my breasts shift around under my large men’s t-shirt.  
It was May and it felt like summer had arrived in St Louis and the a/c in my house was already running.  For a second I stared up at the ceiling fan and thought back about all the changes in my life. 

+++

For three months now I’ve been living as Morgana Livingstone.  After Ambrose Grosvenor managed to escape in my mother’s body leaving her in mine and me in Morgana’s the Guild Council of Elders had held a closed door meeting to discuss the situation.  My mother had been invited, I had not.
The Council decided to state publicly that Ambrose was on the loose and wanted.  He’d stolen my Mother’s body and left her in my body.  That way she could retain some status as an advisor but since she lacked the power she couldn’t be a council member.  This also allowed them to put Ambrose in Evaline Mor Donegal’s body on the Guild’s most wanted list.  They were desperate to catch Ambrose. 
The Council chose to keep my involvement a secret.  Alastar in Ambrose’s body was, (nothing more than ashes now) officially missing.  According to the Council the Livingstone’s were a powerful and well-connected family.  The idea that Ambrose could murder all three and take down my mother (the matriarch of the Donegal family) would, (they felt) be too much of a blow to the prestige and reputation of the Magic-User Guild Council of Elders.  On top of which it was an election year and the Guild was once again under attack by politicians who wanted to limit the power of the Guild and enforce strict control over the magical community.  This meant that I was now officially Morgana Livingstone the sole, Livingstone, survivor of Ambrose murderous rampage.
When Mother broke the news to me I’d felt like I’d been violated yet again.  My body had been stolen and now my identity?  I admit I’d become a bit irrational as evidenced by the broken furniture.  My mother had watched it all with her normal annoying calm and when I’d run out of energy asked if I was done with my tantrum.  
I tried to move back into my old house but mother had vetoed that idea.  She’d let me return briefly but soon had a moving service there to clean out my belongings.  Most of the clothes she confiscated.  With the assertion that they fit her far better than they fit me, which while true, still felt like theft.  Next she insisted on finding me a small house to rent and begrudgingly returned some of my things.  I drew the line when she offered to go shopping with me.  So instead she’d asked Chelsea, our long time cook, to take me shopping.  That had easily been one of the most embarrassing events of my life. 
Chelsea had insisted on taking me to my mother’s tailor.  Once in the exclusive shop I’d been measured and fussed over.  Chelsea had taken Ann, the shop owner, to one side and talked quietly to her.
When Ann returned to the room where I stood in my panties and bra feeling very exposed she looked me over carefully. “So I’m told that you need several dresses, business suits, and a couple of gowns.”  Ann said looking down at a piece of paper.
“What!  I don’t need all that and besides I can’t afford it.”  I said.
“Oh don’t worry Morgana Mrs. Evaline Donegal has ordered it for you and has already paid for it.”  Ann said bustling out.
At least now I know my measurements, I thought, I’m 5’7” and 36C, 23, 37.  Chelsea now forced me into several department stores where she threw outfit after outfit at me.  I had never tried on so many clothes in one day.  I learned several things that afternoon: Chelsea is a tireless shopper, heels take practice, I can’t snap a bra behind my back to save my life, and I’m still very uncomfortable being a girl.  However the practical part of me knew that I was now Morgana probably for the rest of my life and I needed a wardrobe.  
All of this, unbeknownst to me, was in preparation for a trip back east, once again arranged by my mother.  It was necessary anyway under the fiction that I was Morgana.  She was an only child but had relatives and an estate that needed to be settled, as well as her parents funeral to attend.  The Guild and its lawyers had smoothed the way legally, so now I had a sizable inheritance.  I did my best to avoid talking to Morgana’s friends and relatives pretending to be morning my parents.  However the head of the Livingstone family Bernard’s older brother and now my uncle insisted on seeing me.  Arthur Livingstone was a member of the Council of Elders and was well aware of the situation.  That didn’t stop me from being nervous when I entered the large house on the Livingstone estate. 
My shoes made the distinctive click clack noise as I walked over the marble floor following the Livingstone butler.  He was about four and a half feet tall and clearly dwarven.  I was wearing a conservative skirt, blouse, and business jacket but felt awkward and out of place.  As I approached the study I noticed the large oak doors nearly twelve feet tall.
“Good God that’s pretentious,” I thought to myself.  The irreverence help with my nerves as the doors swung open at our approach. 
Unlike most Magic-Users studies I didn’t see a summoning circle, although there were plenty of book shelves.  Looking out a pair of tall windows behind a large desk was a man with long white hair, his hands clasped behind his back. 
Without turning around he said in a gentle male voice, “please sit down.”
I gulped involuntarily, and saw a set of chairs off to one side with a pot of tea and cups already set out.  I walked over as gracefully as I could and sat, barely remembering to put my knees together at the last second.  When I looked up I saw that Arthur had turned around and was watching me.  
He had a long face full of angles, a large drooping mustache, and brilliant blue eyes.  I instantly saw from which part of the family Morgana got her eyes.  As he looked at me I got a vague sense of disapproval.
“Please pour the tea, my dear.”  Arthur said.
Suddenly I felt like this were some kind of test and felt annoyed.  I picked up the tea pot paying no attention to the quality of the service and quickly filled both cups.  I then glared up at Arthur.
“Satisfied” I asked?
Without saying anything he crossed the space and sat down in the vacant chair.  He looked at me with those piercing blue eyes and said.  “No, I am most definitely not satisfied.  My brother and sister-in-law are dead, my niece’s soul has been sent to the afterlife and you wear her body.”
The bluntness of his speech stunned me.  I didn’t think that he’d be happy about the situation but I hadn’t expected this. 
“If it’s any consolation I’m not happy about this either.”  I said.
At that he grunted and picked up his cup and took a sip.
“I had thought that perhaps the best way to keep your identity secret would be to bring you here and surround you with family.  I see now that your mother was right.”  He said.
“What are you talking about?”  I asked still unsure what was going on.
“During the council meeting after it had been decided to keep what happened to Morgana secret I argued that you should be turned over to me.  Your mother argued that the best thing to do would be to keep you in St Louis.  No one there knows Morgana, so it would be less likely that you’d make a mistake that would give away your identity.  I didn’t see it at the time but she was right.”  At this I tried to interrupt but he held up a hand and continued. 
“You may have my niece’s body but you move nothing like her.  She was graceful and refined, you are neither.  I could see that you’re a fake just from the way you poured the tea.”  He said sounding sad. 
I suddenly felt guilty.  Like I was some sort of pervert wearing this stunning female body, and doing it badly.  But I never asked for the sex change and I was just as much a victim as anyone.
“Sir, I’m sorry that I’m not what you were hoping for, but this is hard for me too.”  I said.
Arthur now met my eyes and nodded.  “Morgana was the sole heir to Bernard’s estate.  Since you are eighteen the estate will be held in a trust and I’m the executor.  I will make a stipend available to you but you will not get the full inheritance until you’re 21. You are registered to start classes in the fall at the St Louis Institute of Magic.  The cost of your schooling will come out of the estate.”  Before I could say anything he continued. 
“I saw the reports of your battle with Ambrose and if they are true.”  Again I tried to say something but he once more held up a hand and continued, “I have no reason to doubt the truth.  Morgana was always very gifted, I’m sure with your knowledge you are more than worthy of the Master status.  However, this might cause a few to wonder.  So even though you’ve been awarded the rank, your mother and I agree you need to go back to school.  It should be much easier to earn a degree the second time around.”
He paused to sip his tea and then looked at me with hard critical eyes.  “Now that I’ve met you in person I think that I need to have a word with your mother about getting you some additional help learning how to be a lady.  I’ll not have the Livingstone name become embarrassed or Morgana’s memory tarnished with such unrefined behavior.” 

+++

I shook my head to help clear it of memories.  The trip back east had been uncomfortable and embarrassing.  With two distinct results, the first was that I was due to start classes at the St. Louis Institute of Magic in the fall.  My mother had helped me pick out this house close to campus and the one bright spot (if you could call it that) was that I was now Alastar Donegal’s junior partner in the consulting business.  So I got to keep my office and using my Magic-User Master Class status I purchased a magical consulting license from the Guild. 
The second was far more embarrassing.  Apparently my uncouth behavior or at least lack of refinement had bothered Arthur Livingstone enough to talk to my mother.  Shortly after my visit back east mother had forced me onto an airplane bound for New Orleans to spend two weeks with Mrs. Broussard and her school for young ladies.  Manners, edict, diction, makeup, and clothes had all been crammed down my throat.  I’m not exactly sure what story Arthur Livingstone and my mother concocted but I kept getting comments like “you poor thing” and “isn’t she sweet” the flight back to St Louis had felt like an escape from prison.
I threw the covers back and stalked into the bathroom suddenly angry at the events.  Even after this much time my body felt awkward to me.  I turned on the lights and saw Morgana’s sleep tussled long dark hair framing her beautiful face and stuck my tongue out.  The woman in the mirror copied my movement. 
“God I hate mornings” I muttered and started getting ready.  After getting cleaned up I started in on my makeup.  With the training I’d received from Mrs. Broussard it was almost easier than using a glamor and it certainly helped me look more normal.  Besides when I’d explained to mother that I would rather use a glamor he had stated in no uncertain terms that there was no way he was going to allow his ‘daughter’ to waste magical power everyday simply because I was to embarrassed to learn what every woman knows.  It felt like mother had decided that it was his duty to cram a life time’s worth of lessons on womanhood into a few weeks.  I’m sure Arthur’s phone call hadn’t helped things either.  I started to suspect that it was a way for mother to avoid dealing with her new male body by focusing on me and my ‘adjustment’ issues.  The lessons paid off now since I was able to do a passable job of putting on my ‘face paint’ as I still thought of it.
I walked into my closet amazed at the amount of clothes.  There were the things that Chelsea and I had bought, and several bags from my mother’s tailor that I hadn’t even dared to open.  In addition I had returned from Massachusetts with all of Morgana’s clothes.   I thought about putting on one of the business suits, but then in a rebellious mood pulled out a comfy pair of jeans, a short sleeved black blouse, and comfortable black leather shoes with no heel.  I knew this look was way too casual for a Guild Inspector, or even a Guild Special Agent.  Which is why I chose it, I didn’t want anyone to think that I was part of the Guild.  My only concession to a professional appearance was that I pulled my hair up into a more business look. 
Glancing at the clock I saw that it had taken me an hour to get ready.  I hurried into my kitchen pouring a bowl of Cheerios muttering “it was so much easier to get ready as a guy.”  Still I had twenty minutes before I had to leave.  Edgar my familiar flew from his perch over to the counter and started begging.  If you’ve never seen a crow beg before it’s worth a laugh.  I giggled softly as I ran a finger over his head and then dropped a handful of Cheerios onto the counter.  
Less time required to get ready in the morning was only one among the many physical changes I was struggling with.  I had toyed with the idea of using my power to transform into Alastar.  In fact I’d done it the day after I’d recovered from my battle with Ambrose.  Even though I was much more comfortable I knew I had to release the spell.  Transformation spells require a continuous flow of power to maintain the altered shape.  This meant that anyone who was sensitive to magic would know as soon as they met me that I had a powerful spell running.  Most people with the ability would reflexively check to see what type of spell was being used.  In the magical community wearing a transformation spell around in public was the same as a mundane person walking around wearing a Mask.  While not illegal it was a bit rude and caused plenty of uncomfortable questions.  The last and perhaps most compelling reason was the steady drain of energy.  I guessed that I was now strong enough to last about a week before my strength failed and I’d have to drop the spell and rest.  During that time I’d get progressively weaker and more vulnerable.  Transforming back into Alastar simply wasn’t a solution.  Besides as my mother lectured me I was using my power to avoid having to accept the fact that I was now a woman. 
My new house was on a minor ley-line in University City it would take me a solid twenty minutes to get to the Guild Hall in downtown St Louis.  Edgar my familiar flew up to my shoulder as I picked up my purse from the counter.  I opened the purse, (a new habit for me) and checked cell phone, wallet, keys, a few small magical tools, some feminine products (that I didn’t want to think about) and a new addition a Walther P22, a very small .22 pistol.   A girl, even one with magical gifts like mine, can’t be too careful.

+++

The drive downtown was uneventful and the traffic was light.  I reached into the glove box and removed a pass that allowed me to pull into the underground parking garage at the Guild Hall.  I held up the pass for the attendant to see and spoke the word of activation and felt the Guild’s outer wards part.  I pulled the Charger forward and stopped next to the booth. 
Leaning out the Guildsman said, “Ma’am what brings you to the Guild Hall today.” 
“I’m here to see Investigator Lee.” I replied.
“Very good Ma’am, please park in spot 24 and take the elevator to the sixth floor.” He said.  When I nodded he hit the button that caused a yellow mechanical arm blocking my progress rise. 
Driving into the shadowy interior I saw that each of the spots were numbered and found spot 24.  From my location I could see the elevator off to the left.  The ride to the sixth floor was uneventful and I walked into a lobby with a buxom blonde receptionist.  Something bothered me about the woman and I took a look at her with my third eye.
A Magic-Users third eye allows them to view the world of magic. Everything mundane appears in black and white but everything magic is in vivid color.  The blonde practically glowed with color.  There were at least half a dozen active spells including a transformation spell.  Somehow I got the impression that it would be a very bad idea to mess with her.
‘Well here goes nothing’ I thought to myself and walked cautiously forward, Edgar balancing on my shoulder.  “Excuse me I’m here to see Inspector Lee.” I said feeling out of my depth.
The blonde smiled up at me, “certainly.  If you’d take a seat I’ll let the Inspector know that you’re here.”
I settled into a chair remembering to cross my legs at the knee the way Mrs. Broussard had been coaching me and looked around.  Obviously the Guild had money.  The lobby had new carpet and the furniture was of good quality.  I’d only sat there for a minute before the door behind and to the left of the receptionist opened and a large dark haired man in a crumpled cheap grey suit walked out.  He scanned the lobby for a second almost as if he was looking for someone else before he settled on me and walked over.
“I’m Inspector Lee, are you Morgana Livingston?”  He asked.
I stood up feeling Edgar flap his wings for balance and extended my hand.  “I’m Morgana, you asked me to come in.”  I said feeling unsure about this situation due to his reaction.
“Excuse me,” he said, “I was expecting someone older based on your reputation.”  His grip was strong and his hands had a rough edge of calluses that reminded me of how small soft my hand now was.
I felt my face flush, “I can assure you Inspector I’m more than qualified to assist you on a crime involving wards.”
He looked me up and down his eyes lingering on my chest for a moment before he said “let’s get going then.  I’ll drive we are headed out to the Mansion House Apartments.

+++

“So do you have a first name or should I just call you inspector all day.” I asked feeling irritated.  We were driving an older Buick, which stank of coffee and old cigarettes, toward the crime scene and the Inspector hadn’t said much yet.
Glancing at me out of the corner of his eye he said, “I’m Allen, you can call me Al.”  Then with a sigh he said “look it’s nothing personal but I don’t agree with the Guild’s policy of bringing in outside experts.  So when the Lieutenant told me that the Guild Grand Master had directed us to get in touch with you to help on this case,…. Well it feels political and like a waste of money.  But my opinion doesn’t count so let me bring you up to speed.”
Another minute went by in silence before Al started talking, “We are headed to William Smyth’s apartment.  He is a licensed Magic-User 1st Class and two nights ago after he and his wife went to bed they were burglarized.  We’re stumped.  The wards were never disturbed.  The only thing out of the ordinary was that Gus the doorman saw Mrs. Smyth leaving the building in the middle of the night and return a few minutes later.  Mrs. Smyth claims to have no memory of leaving the building.  So the Guild is hoping you can look over the security and see if there was a hole in the protections anything that might give us a lead.”
I nodded to indicate I understood and then glanced out the window.  Odds of me spotting something they’d missed were slim.

+++

The thief Max stood in the bathroom of the safe house he’d driven to after his failed attempt to sell the Mask.  He’d only stopped long enough to ditch the van and switch into his current car.  He was staring into the mirror at the blonde Elven beauty.  At the moment Max was 5’10” and in a body he’d dearly have loved to fuck if he’d been in his natural form.  Instead his body was dead, and he was stuck in this one.  He reached for the memories that came along with the body when he possessed it and felt Siofra fight him.  This had been a strange situation from the start.
Max had been desperate and tricked Siofra into kissing him before she killed him.  The powerful symbolic nature of a kiss had been all Max needed to breach her natural defenses and possess her.  However she’d felt his spiritual invasion and before Max had time to take full control she’d cast a spell killing Max’s body.  This meant if he said the release words designed to end this possession, his spirit would try to return to his dead body and instead he’d be flung into the afterlife.  Max wasn’t ready to die so he had no intention of saying those words.  But this also meant he’d never be able to use the possession spell again. For all practical purposes he was stuck in this body until he died.
The spell had been designed for one human to possess another human.  It had never, as far as Max knew, been tested on one of the other races.  One of the things Max had discovered was that Siofra’s spirit was not nearly as silent as a human would have been.  Every time he tried to access her memories she fought him.  In some ways this reminded Max of his days as an apprentice at the Hidden Eye Society.  When he’d been instructed on this spell he’d been paired with another apprentice.  One of them would cast the spell and the other would try to fight off the spiritual violation.  As Max got better he learned the mental tricks necessary to fully subdue the mind and spirit of the person he possessed.  It had been years since he needed to resort to these principles but Max knew that he had to gain access to Siofra’s memories and skills.  
Max moved into the bedroom and settled cross legged on the bed.  With a few breaths Max had centered himself and began the mental and spiritual assault on Siofra.  He desperately needed to put her into the catatonic state normally used so that he could fully possess her. 

+++

The Mansion House Apartments were in downtown St Louis and had a variety of tenets all of whom made a good income and wanted to live downtown.  It was easy to see that this place had money.  From the security guards to the wards that had been set to protect the residents.  It didn’t appear like it would have been easy to get in and out of this place I thought.
We took an elevator up to the Smyth’s apartment.  Apparently they were expecting us because the door opened after the first knock.  The man who greeted us was only a couple of inches taller than me.  He was your average looking middle age guy.  Grey had started to settle into his hair and his waist reflected a sedentary life style. 
After Inspector Lee introduced himself and flashed his credentials Mr. Smyth let us into the apartment.  The décor struck me as nice but not over the top.  Very classy I thought.  Inspector Lee explained that I was here to look at his wards to see if I could figure out how they’d been breached.  Mr. Smyth looked over at me the doubt in my ability replaced by lust as he checked me out.  I just wanted to scream, “hello my eyes are up here.”  Instead I looked around the apartment and decided to ask a few questions.
“You’ve a very nice apartment.  Are these Elven artifacts?” I asked pointing to a display case in his study next the empty case.
For the first time Mr. Smyth’s eyes left my chest and looking at the torque in the display case, lit up.
“Yes, you see I’ve a passion for collecting Elven relics.”  He said.
“Are these all mundane or magical” I said sweetly trying for innocent but I could already feel the power of these artifacts.
“Oh, no my dear they are all magical.  Otherwise what would be the point?”  His face had flushed with the tones of a true fanatic.
“It was a Mask that was stolen correct?  What exactly did it do?”  Now I turned to face him trying to catch his eye.
“Ah, yes, like I told the other inspector I don’t know what it did.  I had just acquired it and had only begun to examine it.”  Looking at him now it felt like he was hiding something, but what?
“Come on Morgana, let’s look at the wards.”  Said Al in an impatient voice.

+++

Driving back to the Guild Hall I felt frustrated.  I was missing something but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  The wards had been tight.  I might have been able to break through them but my intrusion would have left signs.  There was nothing to indicate how they’d been penetrated.  Allen looked smug like he was happy I’d had no success.  This irritated me even more.  I may have gotten this job because the Grand Master was friends with mother but I wanted to prove to these guys that I was worth the money!
“Did the Guild interview all of the building employees working the night of the robbery?” I asked.
Not even glancing at me Allen replied, “of course, it’s standard procedure. The only thing we found that was unusual was that Mrs. Smyth left the building at about 2 am.  She has no memory of leaving the building.  Obviously this is our only lead but we’re at a loss to figure out what happened to her.”  
“Can I read through the transcripts?”  I asked frustrated that I could piece this together.
“Sure but it won’t do you any good.”

+++

Returning to the Guild hall Allen set me up in a cubical with paper copies of the statements from the building employees.  Edgar hopped to the top of the divider and started preening while I read.  When I got to the statement by Gus the doorman, I paused, my mental alarm went off.  Mrs. Smyth shortly after 2 am had left the building and been gone for 15 minutes. Why would she leave and come back at that time of night?  How is it possible that she didn’t remember?
Allen mentioned this as the only real lead.   They had asked to examine her magically to see if she’d been compelled but Mr. Smyth had refused to allow his wife to be tested.  If they wanted the Mask back why would then refuse to cooperate?  I packed all the papers into a folder and stood up summing Edgar to my shoulder.  There was more here to read but I needed my study and summoning circle.  Suddenly I heard a commotion at the other end of the office.  A tall thin incredibly good looking man had entered and was confronting Allen.
“Are you Inspector Lee?” Asked the stranger in a loud voice.
Allen in his rumpled suit, looked up at the man and said, “yeah, that’s me who wants to know?”
“I’m Sir, Galohond Larothta of the Sylvari and am here about a crime you’re investigating.”  The elven lord stated. 
Allen eyed the elf for a moment and then invited him back into his office.  As they walked by I caught the elf’s eye and felt a shiver run through me.  One part of me wished that I’d been invited to go with them just so I could be near this masculine creature.  Another part started choking the part that wanted to get closer to him.  Blushing I finished collecting my papers I summed Edgar to my shoulder and headed down to the garage.

+++

As I drove home my mind kept wonder back to the blonde elf and his incredibly broad shoulders.  Desperate to think about something else I focused on the case.  An elven artifact of unknown power had been stolen, why?  What was the purpose of the artifact?  The wards on the Smyth place were first class.  In fact they were much better than I’d have thought necessary for a personal residence.  My gut told me that William Smyth was not being completely honest and it was obvious that he wasn’t fully cooperating.  Now suddenly an elf lord appears in the Guild Hall.  There was something much larger than the theft of a Mask going on here but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Of course the fastest way to solve this would be to find the thief.  I shook my head at that, what am I thinking; I’m not a Guild Inspector.  They had brought me in to look at the wards and runes on the Smyth place I did and couldn’t help the Guild.  So my obligation was complete.  I thought about calling my mother and asking what he thought about all of this but rejected the idea.  I’d been getting way to much ‘help’ from mother lately. 
Gunning the Charger I headed home and thought about getting a work out in before dinner.  This body was stunning but it hadn’t been in very good physical condition when I’d gotten it.  I’d been working hard at improving my conditioning.  I could now run five miles and not feel winded.  Besides I needed something to distract me from thoughts of the tall elf and his broad shoulders. 

+++

Max opened her eyes.  The sun was setting which startled her.  Most of the day had been spent sitting in lotus position focused on subduing Siofra.  Max stretched feeling her spine pop and climbed off the bed.  For the first time in this body Max felt comfortable. Her effort to gain control of Siofra’s memories, skills, and abilities had been mostly successful.  Max no longer felt Siofra actively fighting him, instead he felt her in the ‘normal’ catatonic state.  Max reached for a memory and found himself in Summer as the Elves called their homeland.  She was standing in a dueling circle with her brother in another circle opposite her.  The duel began and Max was surprised by the strength and skill displayed.  Elves in the human lands never used so much power.  The answer came to him from Siofra’s memories.  This time it was a lecture, by her mentor. 
“Magic in the human realm is different in its very essence from magic in Summer.”  The master said.  “While you can feel the magic, you cannot touch it in the human realm.  Therefore the only power you’ll have is what you bring with you.  Never use so much magic that you lack the strength to part the veil and return home.”
Max shook his head.  “Shit!  I’m trapped in the body of a female and I’ll run out of magic very quickly.  I’m totally screwed.”
Max focused for a second on the internal power stored by Siofra.  He was surprised to discover out that she had used very little power before he’d taken control of her body.  Max was also startled by her strength.  At this moment Max was holding more power than she’d ever been able to hold.  However unless Max returned to the eleven homeland he’d never be able to replenish the power. 
Looking over at the Mask Max felt a sudden surge of excitement when he searched Siofra memories.  The Mask!  It acted like some sort of magical adaptor.  When used by an elf in human lands it would pull magic from here alter the magic so that an elf could use it.  There were only a few of these Masks known to exist and they had been made by a master craftsman who had passed away.  The technique for crafting them was lost as well.  If Max put the Mask on she’d be able to fill up her magical reservoir.  There was something else about the Mask tickling at the back of Siofra’s memories.  They were gender specific.  So a male elf couldn’t use a female Mask and vise-versa.  Fortunately this Mask with its delicate feminine features was one that Max could now use.
As Max picked up the Mask she realized with another surge of memory why this was so important to Siofra.  There was a woman who,….as soon as these memories floated up Siofra’s spirit rose up against the mental shackles Max had bound her with and fought him.  To the observer it appeared that Siofra had simply frozen.  Inside Max was doing everything he could to put her back down.  Suddenly Siofra seized control of Max’s mouth and spoke a quick incantation.
Desperate now Max did the only thing he could think of, he pulled on Siofra’s magical power and turned it against her in a spell known to his brothers and sisters as the ‘spirit knife’.  It was a direct attack on a person’s spirit. Normally this type of attack would be easy to defend.  However because Max was sharing Siofra’s body he was able to attack her spirit directly by passing any normal magical defense.  In fact the Secrete Eye Society had designed the spell for this purpose.  If he possessed someone and was losing the struggle for control, and could not, for whatever reason, escape to his own body this was the last emergency option.  He felt Siofra’s mental shriek as the spell blasted her burning all the ties that bound her spirit to her physical body.  For a moment a ghostly image of Siofra hovered in front of Max’s eyes and then it dissipated.  Max collapsed to the floor shuddering.  He’d felt every bit of agony Siofra had felt when the spell tore into her.  It was as though a piece of him had died as well when he’d killed her.  There was another consequence Max realized despite the throbbing headache.  He would no longer be able to access to Siofra’s memories or skills.  He had what he’d managed to take before she’d rebelled and that was it.  Whatever spell Siofra had cast, Max knew she was in trouble.



*****
Chapter 2
*****

It was well past midnight and Mark was on his way home from work.  He’d gotten out of the Army a few months ago and was planning to start college this fall using the Post 9/11 GI Bill.  Even though he had a bit saved up from his last overseas deployment Mark had found a job working as a security guard.  The pay wasn’t great but he needed the work at least until school started.  Besides, in Marks opinion, walking around an empty warehouse at night was much easier than other types of work and far less dangerous than his time in the Army. 
Suddenly Mark felt a magical stirring on the road behind him.  He glanced in the review mirror and saw a set of headlights but they were pretty far back.  Mark was on a back road about 25 minutes outside of East St. Louis and was used to this being a fairly quite drive home.  Again Mark felt a spike of magic behind him and this time saw a flare of light in the mirror.  Someone was throwing magic around back there and it didn’t seem like it could be anything good. 
Mark had no magical power. None, he was what was currently being called ‘magically sensitive.’  After he’d entered the Army they’d put him through a battery of tests, Battle-Mages (BMs) were in very high demand.  However once the Army was convinced he couldn’t be developed into a BM they put him into another course.  The course was designed to develop Mark’s magical sensitivity, after BMs Magic Sensors (MSs) were the next highest demand.  When a squad was out on patrol it was handy to have someone who could sense a ward, or magical trap before it killed the whole squad.
Mark could now feel the magical battle raging behind him.  He sped up and at the same time started to look for side roads.  He needed to get off this road and let the battle sweep past.  Unfortunately when he looked into his review mirror the car that had seemed at least a half mile back was now only a couple hundred meters behind him and gaining fast.
Within seconds it flashed by and swerved in front of him using his truck to block the view of whoever was chasing the car.  As soon as it was in front of Mark an object was flung out the passenger side window.  Mark reacted instinctively slamming on the brakes and turning the wheel to avoid the object. Before Mark had time to come to a full stop he heard the thunder of hooves and looked out to see nearly half a dozen glowing horsemen galloping down the road at an impossible speed.  As they neared Mark’s truck the lead horse leapt into the air sailing over the vehicle.  The others followed and Mark turned his head to watch as they continued to gain on the fast moving car.  
Mark sat there for several seconds watching the incredible chase and felt the spells slashing back and forth between the car and horsemen.  After a moment Mark realized that he could feel another source of magic.  Getting out of the truck he walked to the side of the road where the object had been flung, Mark knew he was being stupid but couldn’t help himself.  There were so many ways this could go bad.  If this were some sort of MIED (Magically Improvised Explosive Device) then he was probably already a dead man.  Of course how could he leave it along the side of the road?  It might hurt the next car that came by.
Mark spotted a plain looking cloth bag.  Mark knew that instead of approaching it he should call 911 and get some police out here.  There was something about the bag drew him toward it.  Mark approached carefully every sense full open. Whatever was in there was powerful, and unless he was completely mistaken non-hostile.  With care Mark squatted next to the bag and gently eased open the draw strings.  He then peered into the bag and saw what appeared to be some kind of Mask.  Mark decided that it would not harm him so he picked up the bag.  He let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding when nothing happened.  As he walked back to his truck Mark told himself that he’d call the Guild in the morning and turn this thing in.  It was way too powerful to leave on the roadside where anyone might stumble over it.  He’d never be able to live with himself if some innocent mundane person was hurt because of this artifact. 
Mark climbed into his truck and headed to his apartment.  Safely home Mark tossed the bag on his coffee table and went into the kitchen for some left over Chinese food and a beer.  While waiting for the microwave to heat his food Mark downed his bud in two long steady pulls.   Once his food was warm he grabbed a second beer and sat down on the couch and turned on the TV.  Mark was into his third beer before his attention returned to the bag.  Suddenly he realized that it was tugging at him.  He opened the bag and pulled out the Mask setting it on the coffee table so he could examine it better.
It appeared to be made of a white stone, the features were fine and the Mask was obviously designed as a female face.  Mark extended his senses and got his first solid impression.  He dropped the Mask and jumped back.  The clatter of stone on wood barely registered as Mark realized that the Mask was aware of him, and that it wanted him to put it on.
“The damn thing is sentient.” Mark said out loud.  He’d never heard of an artifact that had an awareness or perhaps a sense of identity?  But somehow this one does.  If Mark’s sensing ability was working then the Mask was curious, it was curious about Mark and its surroundings.   
Mark snorted slammed his third beer and headed to the bathroom for a shower and to get ready for bed.  Mark at the last second and diverted into the kitchen for a fourth beer after what he’d witnessed tonight he needed something to take the edge off.  He usually didn’t drink this much but the magical battle he’d witnessed during his trip home had left him shaken.  He felt like he was back in Afghanistan and had just returned from a patrol and needed to decompress.  Of course they’d not been allowed to drink while in the sandbox. 
Standing under the shower Mark finished off his beer.  Once ready for bed Mark walked back into the living room to turn off the lights and walked around making sure everything was locked up.  Again the Mask caught his eye, and this time the siren song snared Mark.  Almost in a daze he walked over and picked it up.
It didn’t feel like stone.  It felt soft somehow and when Mark had first held it the Mask had felt cold now however it was warm to the touch.  When his skin made contact he felt a shudder run through his body.  Mark returned to the bedroom turning off the lights along the way without conscious thought.  Mark looked into the mirror in the bedroom.  Staring back was a slender young man, 5’ 10” with brown hair and eyes.  Mark turned out the lights and settled onto his back holding the Mask in both hands.  Unable to fight the urge he settled the Mask onto his face.
For a second it made his whole face tingle and then everything went dark.

+++

Moonlight washed over me as I stood in my backyard.  Morgana’s body is strongly aligned with heavenly objects as well as ley-lines but the moon felt especially powerful and personal.  Even my cycle (I shuddered remembering) was tied to the moon.
Once I got home I’d gone for a run and tried to put the case and the handsome elf out of my mind.  After I got back my curiosity got the best of me.  I got cleaned up made a light dinner and started searching through the records I’d brought home from the Guild.  After finishing these I switched to my research books and on-line search engines.  I’d come up with a couple of options.  First Mrs. Smyth must have been the means the thief had used to take the Mask.  She’d left in the middle of the night and returned later. Assuming she was innocent of the theft that left three possible options. 
A soul swap, which while possible, (I glanced down at my breasts for an ironic confirmation) but was extremely unlikely.  It was very rare magic, and it would have been impossible for the thief to get out of her body since she had no magical power.  That left compulsion and possession as possible means.  Of the two compulsion was the most likely possibility.  In the United States it was illegal to compel people against their will but the magic didn’t take all that much power and the principles were obvious to anyone with an undergraduate level of magical training.  It would be relatively easy to find out if she’d been compelled a magical examination would answer the question. 
I wrote a note to myself to ask Allen about having the Guild get a court order and force the exam.   Now I considered possession.  This was much trickier possibility.  She could be possessed by a being from beyond the veil.  Or she could have been possessed by another human Magic-User.  For a creature from beyond the veil to possess her they would have needed a vehicle.  Perhaps a means was a better way to think of it.  An artifact, or a messed up summoning would be the most likely possibilities.  If her husband had screwed up a summoning or if she’d been in contact with an artifact, well that might have allowed this to happen.  
The last possibility was a human Magic-User had used a spell to do this, I had no idea how that would be done I only knew that it was theoretically possible.  But I was determined to show Inspector Lee, the Guild, and (even though I wouldn’t admit it) the handsome elf, that I was a very capable Magic-User and worthy of the Master Class ranking, that my help was more than just a political favor.
Thus I found myself standing in a light cotton robe next to a summoning circle in my backyard under the silvery light of the moon.  Luckily for me this spot was secluded because I was very uncomfortable with my next step.  I had drawn three circles for tonight’s work.  The first was the Great Circle with symbols at each of the four cardinal points.  The symbols represented each of the elements.  Within the Great Circle I’d drawn to two smaller circles.  One of the smaller circles was where I’d be standing and the second was where I intended to summon assistance. 
I took a deep breath and tossed my robe to one side.  I was now completely naked, female, and a virgin.  These aspects symbolic and powerful for the ritual magic I was about to preform and were extremely important to the being whose help I intended request tonight.  I stepped into the Great Circle and glanced over at Edgar.  He was perched outside and would be of no real help for this. 
“At least it’s warm” I muttered under my breath. 
I now focused briefly on the Great Circle pouring enough power into it to activate it.  Next I stepped into my circle and faced the circle I intended to use to summon a Spirit.  Once I’d activated the inner two circles I focused on pulling as much power as possible.  Morgana’s body gave me access to tremendous amounts power, I added to that by drawing from the ley-line beneath my feet and then with a deep breath focused on the silvery light of the moon.  I felt my body hair stand up pulling away from me defying the laws of gravity as I drew even more power.  One part of my mind noticed that my skin now emitted a soft silvery light, but mostly I focused on the task at hand.
The great thing about this type of circle was that they helped to focus and contain power. I felt the moment was right and spoke my incantation, finishing with a plea in plain English.  “Luna your favor I beseech, send me a sign of your favor in the form of your servant.”
I felt the power flow out of me causing me to collapse to my knees and catch my breath.  For a second I felt utterly empty.  The stillness in the clearing was like a moment of perfect frozen crystal clarity.
“What would you have of me mortal?”
I looked up and the woman in the summoning circle opposite of me was as stunning as she was inhuman.  She was completely naked with a perfectly formed body made of what looked like liquid silver.
I stood up, “what is your name?”
The creature stared at me for a moment and then let out a high pitched laugh like the sound of church bells ringing. 
“Surely you don’t expect me to answer that question.”
“By my power and the will of your mistress you are here, by the circle you are bound, and thus I ask again.  What is your name?”
This time the slivery lady appeared enraged and darted forward to rake at the invisible wall of her circle.  When her claw like fingers hit the edge of the circle a spider web of light flashed around.  Yet she remained contained within the circle.
“You try my patience mortal, say the reason for summoning me before I breach your defense and devour your soul.”  She said.
I took a deep breath, “Again I ask, who are you?  Thrice I have asked and now thou art compelled, speak THY NAME.”
At my words the creature went ridged.  Then suddenly she threw back her head and laughed.  “My queen has once again shown her wisdom.  She sent me to you this night because three cycles ago you did battle with another mortal and during that battle my queen observed you and became interested.  I am Procellarum Oceanus, second only to the great goddess herself, I am the mistress of storms.”
I stood there for a moment stunned.  The spell I’d used was to summon a servant of the moon and to bind it for a short time.  Once I had its name it had to answer my questions honestly, however the answers given were not necessarily understood correctly.  It could also refuse to answer.  I could try to compel it but that was a tricky business better to barter if the creature became difficult.  I could also use its name in future summoning’s with greater ease.  This was the first time I’d tried this spell since you had to be female to use it.  The fact that Procellarum stood before me left me momentarily speechless.
“Three nights ago, in the human city of St. Louis an artifact was stolen,” I made a gesture and released a spell I’d prepared in advance.  An image of the Elven Mask appeared in the air above my head.
“Where is the thief?”
When I finished Procellarum nodded and motioned for me to continue.
“What is the purpose and nature of the Mask?”
Again she gestured for me to go on.
“Why are the Sylvari Elves interested in this crime?” 
After I asked my third question Procellarum smiled.  “Ah, child excellent questions all and yet better ones could have been asked.”  Before I could respond she said “Primo in the morgue two blocks south of the Guild Hall.  Secundo the nature of magic is different in every realm.  When Elves come to the human realm they must bring their magic with them or they are powerless.  The Masks transform human magic so that an Elf might have unlimited supply of magic while here.  Mighty Elven artifacts are aware and have a will of their own.  These Masks were crafted at the height of Elven power to provide way for Elven warlords to conquer the human realm.  Isilidhrindal the Sylvari Queen wishes a peaceful relationship with humanity.  Trade has been prosperous for both elves and humans but the elven nation is divided.  The Queen is not as powerful as she once was and there are those that wish to over throw her rule and see an opportunity in the human realm.  The Masks are crucial to their effort.” 
For a moment I stood there feeling stunned. 
“Thrice you have asked and thrice have I answered, my summons is broken.  Call again Maiden of the Moon and I will answer but next time be prepared to pay a price for a service.”
With that Procellarum disappeared in a blaze of silvery light.
I stumbled out of the circle and hardly aware of the fact that I was still nude and in a daze pulled on my robe and walked to the house.  I felt Edgar when he settled onto my shoulder and the normality of it brought me back to the here and now.  What the hell is going on?  Perhaps it’s time to go see mother, I thought.

+++

Max woke up and struggled to sit up.  She had been lying on her side naked, with her hands cuffed behind her, feet shackled, and rubber ball gage in her mouth.  Max struggled to look around but the bag that had been put over her head limited her vision.  Max felt inside and found that she had about a quarter of the power she would have if she were at full strength.  It should be simple to get out of these bonds Max thought.  Drawing on that power Max felt agony arc through her body.  Gasping for breath Max realized that there was some type of collar around her neck and as she moved about Max realized that there was a chain running through the collar.  Obviously her captors didn’t want Max to use her magic.  Whoever it was that had captured her, they knew what they were doing.
Max lay back and thought about yesterday.  After she’d killed Siofra she knew she had to run.  Max had collected up her gear taking only enough time to finish forging a new Georgia drivers licenses.  What Max had failed to appreciate was that the spell Siofra had cast had been a sending, calling for help.  Before Max had finished up the door had burst open and two tall male Elves had come in hands blazing with power. 
Max had thought quickly and pretended to be Siofra.  Things had calmed down quickly but one of the Elves had pulled out a phone and called in the situation, including Siofra’s recovery of the Mask.  Both men had picked up the Mask and apparently tried to draw magic through it.  They of course failed.  After a few minutes they asked Siofra to try.  Max had been startled to realize that just holding the Mask in her hand was enough to allow her to draw power.  At the same time Max felt something come awake inside the Mask.  Like there was some kind of entity inside it and when Max used it, it had awoken.  It felt hungry and evil to Max so she quickly put the Mask down.  Max had to fight the urge to wipe her hand on her robes the Mask left her very skin feeling contaminated.  She also realized that the one slight tug of power had been enough to fill her with energy.
It didn’t take long for the two goons to realize something was wrong and start to become suspicious.  When one went outside to get a better cell phone signal, Max acted.  She hit the remaining elf with a stun spell grabbed the Mask tossed it into cloth sack and ran.  
The chase had resulted in her current situation, Max thought with a grimace, but at least these assholes don’t have the Mask.  In a last ditch effort at defiance before Max had been captured she had tossed the bag with the evil thing into a ditch. 

+++

I woke early the next day.  My head hurt like I’d been on a drinking binge even though I hadn’t touched any alcohol.  I got a pot of coffee going and then looked up the number for the medical examiner’s office.  After going through a couple of automated answering trees I got a real person who put me through to one of the assistant medical examiners.  After explaining who I was and that I was working a case for the Guild and suspected there might be someone in the morgue from two days ago who had been killed via magic and that it might be related to what I was working on. The examiner told me that I couldn’t get that kind of information over the phone but if I came down they would let me do a magical examination of the body.  They would need confirmation from the Guild that I was on official business.  This meant that I’d have to call Inspector Lee.
My conversation with Al had been brief but after a little persuasion he agreed to authorize my visit.  The trip downtown was pretty quick with light mid-morning traffic.  This was my first visit to the morgue and I was surprised to figure out that it was on Clark Avenue just a couple of blocks from Busch stadium.  There was plenty of parking and the building itself was very modern looking.  I found my way to Dr. Paula Caldwell’s office and after knocking on the door was greeted by a short plump woman in her early fifties with thick glasses and brown hair. 
“Are you Dr. Caldwell” I asked somewhat redundantly.
She looked up at me with eyes made extra-large by her glasses and said “that’s me, and you must be Ms. Livingstone from the Guild?”
“Come with me” she said and led the way down the hall toward an elevator.  “So there was only one body brought in the night that you mentioned.  A male, mid-thirties, and it was obvious that he’d been killed by magic.  The Guild sent an inspector down to examine the body and then she left.”
We took the elevators down to a lower level in the building and when we stepped out the smell of chemicals hit my nose and made me sneeze.   Dr. Caldwell marched off down the hallway, seemingly oblivious, to a door were she swiped a badge and then typed in a code.  There was an audible click and we entered a secure area.  Once inside she indicated a large book on a table next to the door.  
“You’ll need to sign in.”  She said.
After I signed in we went down a short hall and into a larger room with several rows of square doors.  There was a computer in this room and Dr. Caldwell went to it and sat down.  I noticed at once that it was much colder in here than other parts of the building. 
“Ah, here it is.” She said looking up at me.  “Maximilian Alexander Dionissis, age 34, U.S. citizen, died of massive heart failure due to magically induced trauma.”  She said reading from the computer screen.  She then got up and walked to one of the square doors and opened it.  Inside I could see a shelf and something wrapped in a medical bag.  She pulled the shelf out and unzipped the bag.  I was surprised by the lack of smell.  Evidently the chemicals they’d used were enough to stop the body from decaying.  Or they had such an effect on my nose that I couldn’t smell anything. 
Looking down at the corpse I felt my heart start racing and suddenly I felt nauseous.  With an effort of will I pushed aside my reaction to seeing this unknown corpse and focused on the wound.  The cause of death was obvious.  The size of the hole burned through his chest left no doubt.  What I noticed right away was that the edges of the wound had blackened.  Whatever had done the burning had been so hot that it had seared the flesh closed as it burned through.  I took a shallow breath (another deep breath would have made me sneeze again) and opened my third eye.  The area around the hole sparkled with faint traces of green and gold energy.  I pulled out a small clear crystal and held it over the damaged area and spoke a soft incantation.
The energy from the wound arced up to the crystal. I now held up the crystal and saw that I had an exact match for the residual energy from the wound.  If I found the person who did this I’d be able to use the crystal to identify their magical signature.
Dr. Caldwell was looking at me curiously, “what did you just do?”
“This” I said holding up the crystal for her to see “is like taking the magical equivalent of a finger print.  It should help us identify who did this.” I said feeling proud of myself.  I’d worked out how to do this spell this morning and prepared it for this visit.  One of the differences that separated Magic-Users 1st Class and Master Class from 2nd Class practitioners and below is that at ability to take theory and turn it into a new spell when the need arises.  At 2nd Class and below it’s just memorization. 
“The Inspector who came down yesterday just looked at the body for a few minutes and then left.”  She said with the sound of disapproval in her voice.  I could tell by the way she was looking at me that I’d earned some respect with just this one spell. 
“Thank you for the help Doctor I think it’s time I head over to my office.”  I said not bothering to tell her that my office wasn’t in the Guild Hall. 

+++

Mark woke feeling absolutely fantastic.  It was almost noon and he lay there for a moment puzzled about the feeling of euphoria but shrugged and rolled out of bed.  As he walked to the bathroom he wondered at the strange dreams he’d had all night long.  They were filled with color, but had been fragmented he remembered seeing broken glass, looking into a glowing purple crystal, holding a pair of wands; it went on and on random and disconnected. 
Mark headed to the kitchen to get a pot of coffee going.  Once the coffee pot had started brewing he headed to the bathroom to go through his morning ritual.  Passing through the living room Mark spotted a couple of objects on the coffee table he didn’t recognize.  Looking closer out of curiosity he noticed what appeared to be a half a dozen crystals, a couple of wands, and a set of rings.  Mark felt a chill run down his spine.  “What the hell?”  He said.
Mark opened his magical senses and looked closely at the objects.  At first he felt relieved since he couldn’t detect any magical power.  Mark picked up one of the crystals and it felt empty sort of hollow.  This reminded him of that time in Afghanistan when they’d gotten ambushed by an Afghan Shaman who had started hitting them with Magic.  They’d called it in and returned fire but lost several guys before help arrived in the form of one of the Division’s Battle Mages.  The duel had been impressive, particularly for Mark since he’d watched it through his enhanced senses.  Once the battle was over he’d been ordered to help sweep the area and to look for any magical traps or objects.  Mark had found the Afghan Shaman’s body and he’d noticed several crystals around the Shaman.  Mark had picked up one and felt the same feeling then as he did now.  The BM had explained that it was the way a magically wrought crystal felt after it had been utterly drained of its power.  
“How did all of this stuff get here’ Mark asked himself.  He set the stone down and checked to make sure the doors were locked.  To his surprise the apartment was unlocked.  ‘I could swear I locked up before I went to bed’ he thought feeling even more confused and quickly locked the door. 
Mark stepped into the bathroom and turned on the light.  When he looked into the mirror he was a bit startled by his appearance. He looked paler, his normally brown hair was slightly longer and lighter, and for the first time in years he had no whiskers in the morning.  Mark had been shaving since he was a freshman in high school and now his face felt soft and smooth to his searching fingers.  Abruptly Mark remembered the Mask.  He’d put it on right before he fell asleep.  What in God’s name had he been thinking.  Mark rushed into the bedroom looking around intently for the Mask but couldn’t find it.  After looking under the bed and into every corner of the bedroom Mark gave up and returned to the bathroom.
He spent several minutes looking at his face.  It had changed.  The changes were subtle but there none the less.  His skin looked paler and felt very soft and smooth.   His nose was thinner and smaller and his lips looked puffy.   Turning his face from side to side Mark decided that the depth of his eyes had changed and his chin was more pointed and delicate. 
“What the fuck is going on?”  Mark asked out loud.  Suddenly he had an idea and opened up his magical senses to the fullest.  As soon as he did this and looked into the mirror he saw the Mask sitting on his face.  To normal mundane sight it was invisible but it stood out to the third eye.
Mark reached up and tried to touch the Mask but his fingers felt only smooth soft skin.  He slid his fingers around trying to hook them under the Mask but couldn’t find the seam.  Mark could see the faint line where the Mask stopped and his skin started but when he ran his fingers over the area he couldn’t feel the edge.  For a second Mark couldn’t breathe.  “What have I gotten myself into?”

+++

I made it to my office in no time and let Edgar out through the window, he’d been feeling cooped up today since I’d not let him out for a flight yet.  I didn’t have any appointments today but I liked to make sure I spent some time in the office every day. I didn’t get a lot of walk in business but I didn’t want to lose business just because I wasn’t here.  Looking down at my casual attire I regretted the choice since I usually went out of my way to look professional while in the office.  It was summer and the heat has in the upper 90s.  I had chosen a pair of khaki Capri’s and a sleeveless light green blouse and sandals.  The neckline on the blouse showed off a hint of cleavage, my mother would have approved of the outfit, but the only thing I liked about it was that it was somewhat cool and didn’t expose too much skin.  When I glanced around I smiled, the only real change to the office was that instead of just one desk now there were two along with a second name on the door.  
I figured that I probably should call my mother and let her know that there were some strange events going on in town.  But besides asking for advice, there really wasn’t that much she could do.  She just didn’t have the magical strength to do a whole lot.  I would need to talk to Inspector Lee and fill him in on everything I’d learned.  In fact I’d already promised him I would; it was the price I’d had to pay to get him to agree to let me examine the body in the morgue. 
I called my mother but got her voice mail.  That is just too weird hearing my old voice answer “Evaline Donegal, I can’t take your call at the moment, please leave a message.”  The male voice with the female name gave me a shiver but it was doubly strange since it was my former voice.
I pulled out the crystal and set it on my desk.  I examined it for a minute or two with my magical senses before turning to the computer.  The Guild had a number of useful applications on line if you had authorization to access them.  Because of my retainer status I could and I made use of one now.  It was sort of like a program used by the FBI to run a finger print.  It was more difficult because you can’t just scan a magical signature with a machine.  Instead I used it like an index.  First sort by color, this was tough because shade mattered and the signature was primarily green laced with gold.  Next the pattern, this was the really complex part.  The first aspect of this pattern told me the person who’d cast the spell was female.  After another ten minutes I was sure that it had also been an Elf.
I pushed my chair back and rubbed my eyes.  Max had been killed by an eleven woman.  I knew that the Guild data base didn’t have much information on elven criminals.  The elven kingdoms liked to extradite any Elves who had committed crimes in the human realm back to ‘Summer’ to try and if necessary punish them.  Perhaps another tack, I thought.  I dug into the Guild’s criminal data base, search by name: Maximilian Alexander Dionissis.  The search came back with a match almost at once. 
It turned out that Maximilian went by Max and had been arrested on two occasions, once for theft and once for the unlicensed use of magic.  On both occasions there hadn’t been enough evidence to go to court.  But in the notes attached to his file one of the inspectors, from Atlanta, speculated that Max was much more powerful (magically) than they were able to prove.  They had tested him and he graded out below Magic-User 3rd Class, but the Inspector thought he’d somehow spoofed the tests.  It was further speculated based on a tattoo on his forearm (of an eye within a circle) that he was a member of the Hidden Eye Society.   I had no clue what society that was, but I figured it must be one of the illegal magical organizations that the Guild was constantly trying to stamp out. 
 Just then my cell started to buzz and at the same moment there was a tingle at the outer wards to my office.  I ignored the phone and got up to see who was coming into my office.  The man who walked in was about 5’8” with brown hair, and while he looked rather ordinary was considered a Magic-User 3rd Class.  He was also one of the better magical craftsmen in St. Louis.  He had commissioned me or Alastar rather, to put the wards on his shop a shop in East St. Louis and therefore needed an extra bit of magical protection.  
“Can I help you Mr. Carter?” I asked trying to sound politely interested. 
“Where’s Alastar?” He asked sounding angry. 
“Unavailable at the moment, I’m afraid.  I’m his partner and am familiar with his work.  I believe he installed a triple ring set of wards on your shop last fall.”  I said trying to sound competent and knowledgeable in spite of my youth. 
“You can give me my money back!”  He said glaring at me.
I met his gaze for a moment and then he looked away.  “Please why don’t we sit down?” I said indicating the couches.  We moved over to the couches and Carter seemed to realize that I was a woman because his eyes became glued to my chest. 
When he looked up from my chest I said, “So can you tell me what happened?”
“I’ll tell you what happened I was robbed!”  As he said this his cheeks started to get flushed. 
“Did you call the Guild?”  I asked knowing that no matter how good the wards there is always a way to get through them. 
“Of course and the insurance adjuster, they’ve all just left, that’s why I’m here.”
“Okay, could you just tell me what happened from the beginning?”  I said feeling a little annoyed. 
“I arrived at my shop this morning and found the wards down.  Like they’d been turned off, except that when I tried to bring them up all the magical linkages and bindings were broken.  They’re now completely useless.  I saw that the main door had been forced and the mundane alarm had been hexed.  The only thing the thief touched was the display case where I display some of my enchanted magical items.”
I interrupted, “the thief didn’t try to take the cash from the safe?”
“No just the items on display,” he replied sullenly.
“What about the more questionable items you kept shielded in the lower vault” I asked staring intently at him.
Mr. Carter jumped to his feet, “how do you know about that?”
“Oh, sit down.  I’m Alastar’s partner.  I’m fully briefed up on his work. So the thief got through the outer wards, but the ones hiding the vault kept everything there safe?”
Slowly Mr. Carter sank back onto the couch blushing as he did so. “I, uhm, yes, that is the lower vault was untouched.”
“Luke, may I call you Luke?”  I didn’t wait for his nod, “I don’t care that you keep some semi-legal magical items in the vault.  If a stripper comes to you for a glamor to make her sexier who am I to judge?  Or if some guy wants to fulfill a fantasy about being a woman for a day why should I care?  I’ll need to see your shop so I can see how the wards were breached and I need you to be completely honest with me.  If you try hiding things from me it will just prevent me from being able to help you.”
With that I stood up.  “I’ll meet you at your shop at 1 pm?”
When I extended my hand he shook it and said, “I’ll be there.”  

+++

It was now nearly three pm and I was worried.  I’d never seen a set of wards taken down the way the ones on Luke Carter’s shop had been.  It was like all of the magic they channeled had been drained to the point that there wasn’t enough magic in them to maintain the linkages necessary for them to continue to draw power from the ley-line under the shop.  Once that happened they were completely useless.  I’d put up a temporary set of wards for Carter and told him I’d craft another full set as soon as possible.
But the whole thing puzzled me.  If the thief had been strong or skilled enough to use some new type of ability on the outer wards why stop at a bunch of relatively cheap items?  The lower vault had several items of far greater value, and the safe had several thousand dollars.  Why break in and not take the money?  If the thief was after magic why not take the more powerful stuff?
The call on my cell phone had been Inspector Lee when I’d called him back he asked me to come into the office.  Since I’d promised to tell him what I’d learned from my summoning I figured I’d best head in.  Besides it would give me a chance to talk to the Special Agent who’d responded to Carter’s call and find out if he knew anything more about this.  Using Guild ties to help my personal business might not be completely ethical but I needed to figure out what happened.  
+++
Mark woke with a start.  Late afternoon sunlight streamed through his bedroom window and at first he couldn’t figure out where he was or the time of day.  Shaking the cobwebs from his head he glanced at the clock and saw that it was almost five pm. 
“God I must have been tired.” He mused out loud and was startled to hear his voice.  It sounded slightly different.  Am I coming down with a cold?  He wondered but didn’t think so, since he felt great.  Mark lay there for a couple of seconds collecting his thoughts.  After discovering the Mask was attached to his face he’d decided to call the Guild and get help.  He’d actually dialed a couple of times but for some reason stopped before the line connected.  What would he tell the Guild?  That he saw a magical battle and had taken a magic artifact?  That instead of delivering it to the Guild he’d used it and oh-by-the-way how did all of those powerless magical items make their way to his living room?  If a Guild Special Agent walked into his apartment it would look like he was a thief. 
Mark had decided to go out for a walk to clear his head.  If he couldn’t go to the Guild there were other Magic-User’s in the city.  They were more discreet than the Guild, perhaps they could help.  When Mark got back from his walk he’d poured a bowl of cereal since all of a sudden he was starving.  After he ate, he suddenly felt incredibly tired and looking at his watch realized he had a couple of hours before he had to go back on duty tonight.  A short nap would feel pretty good.
The nap had probably been a bad idea Mark decided since he now had less than an hour to get to the ware house where he’d spend the next eight hours walking around.  Mark hurried into the bathroom and stopped when he spotted his reflection in the mirror.  His hair was almost completely blonde now and it had grown several inches.  His eyes had turned a startling shade of green and his skin was much paler.  His face had continued to change, the features were much more delicate and the lips were fuller.  Mark could still see a little of the old Mark in this new face but it was rapidly changing.
Mark switched to the third eye and was shocked again.  The Mask glowed with power, and green energy in vine like tendrils had wrapped around him ducking into his skin here and there and popping out in other places.  With a shudder Mark released the sight. 
“Ok, get dressed and then head down to the Guild Hall.  It doesn’t matter if they think you stole all that stuff, they’re the only ones who can help you.”  Mark said to himself. 
Figuring a quick shower would help calm his nerves Mark turned on the water and stripped off his clothes.  When he caught a glance of his reflection he stopped and turned to face the mirror.  His body was thinner and taller than before he was sure of it.  But what had stopped him were the bright pink nipples on his chest and the missing definition.  Mark had spent many hours in the weight room and the thin twig like arms and legs showed a staggering loss of muscle.  His now hairless chest could have been that of a ten year old boy.  Except that his nipples looked a little puffy.
“Fuck the shower!”
Mark got dressed in a pair of jean shorts and a t-shirt that were both suddenly too big at the waist and shoulders.  He slipped his feet into a pair of flip flops and grabbed his keys, wallet and headed out the door.  Once in his truck Mark drove west toward down town St. Louis.  As he was driving he suddenly felt the urge to pull into a shopping plaza.  It was now 6 pm and most of the shops were closed.  Mark parked the truck unable to resist the urge to get out.  He walked along the side walk until he was standing in front of a small magic shop.  It sold used and cut rate magical items.  Probably half the stuff in there wasn’t even magical.
Suddenly Mark opened his senses and could feel and see the wards. He was almost touching the outer ward.  Helpless Mark watched as his right arm came up his palm touched the ward.  Unexpectedly Mark felt a rush of energy from the ward push into his palm.  The energy drove into him causing the Mask on his face to tingle before settling into his center.  It had only taken a second but Mark could tell that the ward net was completely down.  
He moved toward the door and watched as his hand came up in a gesture and with a word he’d never heard before he cast a spell.  Suddenly telekinetic power gripped the door and the latch clicked open.  Before Mark stepped into the shop he uttered another word and there were several electrical sparks.  Mark knew instinctively that all the electrical items in the shop had been shorted out including the alarm.  
Mark headed toward the first display case.  There were several items showing the signs of minor enchantments.  In short order Mark had them out and was stuffing them into his pockets.  Then moving behind the counter he found the plastic bags the shop keeper used for customers.  Picking up one he continued to clean out all of the magical items.  Once done Mark headed back to his truck. 
Before he knew it he was back in his apartment sitting on his couch.  Mark watched helpless as he picked up each Magical item and drained it of power.  Each time he drained an item he felt the Mask tingle and then the energy settle into his center.  For the first time in his life Mark felt what his instructors had described as a Magic-Users center.  This was the place a Magic-User stored magical energy before casting a spell.  Once done Mark headed back to the bedroom to stretch out on the bed.
Suddenly he felt like he had control of his body again.  Mark jumped out of the bed. 
“Holy shit, what the fuck was that.”  He looked at his hands and realized he was shaking.  
“The Mask!  It’s possessing me!” 
Suddenly more determined than ever Mark headed toward the door to his apartment intending to drive into the Guild Hall.  A wave of exhaustion hit him and he stumbled.  Mark caught himself on the edge of the door and tripped forward into the hallway.  He made it another step before he collapsed to the floor in a dream filled sleep.

+++

I rode the elevator up to the sixth floor looking forward to meeting Inspector “call me Al” Lee.  At least I’d be able to contribute some information to the investigation even if I didn’t have any real answers.  I made it to the lobby and was once again startled by the freaky receptionist.  This time I didn’t bother looking at her with the third eye.  A few minutes after I arrived Inspector Lee was escorting me to his office.  It was a small office with no windows and barely enough room for his desk and a couple of chairs.
“So what do you know about the thief, Maximilian Alexander Dionissis?”  I asked.
Allen shrugged, “not much to be honest, I heard that he’d been killed but since it was done with Elvin magic it was turned over to the Foreign Affairs Division (FAD).  Which brings me to the main reason I wanted to talk to you” he said.  “This case has also been pulled into the FAD.  I’ve been officially taken off the case and your involvement is terminated as well.  You can talk to Diana the receptionist on your way out and bill the Department for your hours.”  As he said this I could tell he was pissed. 
“What about the information that I learned from my summoning spell?”  I asked feeling annoyed. 
Al pulled out a small digital recorder and sat it on his desk.  “I’ll take any information you’ve discovered and pass it on to the FAD.”
With that I relayed what I’d learned, however I left out the details of who I’d summoned since it was none of the Guild’s business.  Once done Inspector Lee stood up and offered me his hand, “it’s been a pleasure working with you Ms. Livingstone, I hope we can offer you some business in the future.”
I knew I’d been dismissed so I headed back out to the lobby to find Diana and bill her for my time.
As I was talking to Diana I heard the elevator doors open behind me.  I glanced over my shoulder and my heart started racing.  Sir Galohond Larothta in an immaculate grey suit walked into the lobby.  I’ve never been attracted to a man before but there was something about this elf that made my body react in ways that were foreign and uncomfortable for me. 
“Ah, Morgana Livingstone if I’m not mistaken.”  He said extending a hand.
I reached out to shake it but he deftly took my fingers and turned my hand over so he could bring my fingers to his mouth brushing them with his lips.  If my body had reacted to his before the feeling of his lips brushing against my fingers sent an electrical jolt through my system.  I felt my nipples tighten like two tiny erections, my face flushed, and there was an ach in my loins that made me want to squirm and rub my thighs together. 
“Yes, ah, that is please call me Morgana.”  Why the heck did I say that, I thought?  “And you are Sir Galohond Larothta I overheard your introduction to Inspector Lee the other day.”  Why am I babbling I thought, good grief Alastar get a grip on yourself.
“I am pleased that you remember me.  I am of course familiar with the Livingstone family.  My deepest condolences on the loss of your parents,” as he said this, his gaze caught mine and I noticed that he had deep grey eyes.  The sincerity in his voice made me feel ashamed about the ruse I was forced to play. 
“Thank you.  You’re very kind.”  I stammered and I suddenly realized he’d not released my hand.  With a bit of reluctance I pulled my hand away.  “Excuse me but I really should be going.”  I said attempting to step around him but he moved back blocking my avenue to the elevator.  
“Your pardon Morgana, but I wanted to speak with you.  I understand that you’ve been looking into the theft of the Mask of Esarthae Haelond.”  Before I could respond he continued, “I’m the Chief Investigator for the Sylvari here in St. Louis.  I understand you’re a private consultant.  May I come by your office at say 10 am tomorrow?  I’d like to discuss an opportunity for us to work together.”  At this he pulled out a business card and handed it to me.
I wasn’t sure how to respond so nodded my head and ducked around him heading to the elevator.  Once safely in my Charger I let out a breath.  Well now I’m officially off the case according to the Guild.  But I may be back on it with Galohond.   “God I need a drink.” 

+++

Max had spent most of the day sitting on the floor with her back against the wall.  This had been the least uncomfortable position she could find with her hands behind her. Max had also discovered that the chain that connected her to the wall was barely long enough for her to lie down.  Eventually she’d been forced to relieve herself, stretching the chain as far as it would go Max squatted so that the urine would be directed as far away as possible.  This was only a limited success and she’d been forced to sit on the floor next to a puddle of urine. 
The loud noise of a door banging open caused Max to jump.  A pair of rough hands gripped each of her shoulders lifting Max to her feet.  There was the sound of a key turning in a lock and Max felt the chain in her collar come free of the wall as one of the guards tugged her forward by it.  Max instantly tripped and unable to catch herself with her arms bound and fell head first to the floor causing a muffled yelp when her breast was smashed against the cold stone. 
“Take off her shackles.”  One of the guards said. 
Max felt one of the two move to her feet and once the restraints were removed she was again pulled to her feet.  With a tug on her leash Max was pulled forward.   She was led down a hall and then up a set of stairs.  Max soon lost count of the twists and turns but at last she heard a door open and was led into another room.  Now for the first time Max’s arms were freed from their restraints only to be secured to the arms of the chair Max was forced to sit in.  Max felt as the chain on her collar was attached to the chair and then felt her feet as they were secured to the legs of the chair.  Then Max heard one of the guards leave. 
After a few minutes the door opened again and suddenly the hood covering Max’s face was jerked off.  Max’s eyes watered at the sudden light and she tried blinking several times.  After a few minutes Max made out the form of a male elf sitting in a chair opposite her.  When it was apparent to the elf watching her that she could see he said “do you know who I am?”
Max just started at him and then made a muffled sound around the gage.
“Please remove the gage.”
The guard to Max’s right quickly complied and Max felt her jaw ach after having been forced open for so long.  With another gesture a small cup of water was placed under Max’s lips and she drank greedily. 
Once Max had finished drinking the elf lord looked over at the guard who’d remained in the room.  “Leave us.”  The guard nodded and left shutting the door behind him leaving Max alone with this elf.
“Now, let’s start again, do you know who I am?” 
Max shook her head, “no should I?”
“As a matter of fact Siofra would know me very well.  How is it you wear her body?”  The blonde elf lord sounded curious. 
“A misunderstanding,” Max said.  When the elf waited Max decided it was time to come clean.
He explained how he’d stolen the artifact and how Siofra had tried to kill him.  The elf lord didn’t seem surprised.  He shook his head, “she was always too arrogant for her own good.  Too sure of her power and quick to assume that humans are weak.  Now for her pride she’s gone.”  Then he looked sharply at Max, “What am I to do with you?”
“You could just let me go?  I promise I won’t make any trouble for you.  I’ll disappear and you’ll never see me again.”  Max said desperately. 
At this the elf lord laughed, it was a rich golden laugh the kind that made others want to join in.  “No Max I don’t think so.” He held up his hand before Max could interrupt “I believe you.  I’m sure you’d do everything you could to disappear.  But you see you’re wearing the body of my cousin, the body of a Sylvari noble woman.  It is very valuable just for the blood line to say nothing of the power you might wield if allowed to run free.” 
At this the elf stood up and picked up the wooden chair he had been sitting in and moved it to the far wall.  When he returned he looked down at Max.  “I’m sure you don’t recognize the chair you’re sitting in.  It’s actually one that Siofra told me she found while exploring an ancient ruin in Summer and it has some very interesting capabilities.  It has the unique property of appearing as a normal chair, unless one knows the command words.  It’s magic only works here in human realm.  Which is why we believe it was stored in Summer in the first place.” 
Max felt his heart start to race and a cold sweat broke out on his skin.  “Look there is no need for this I’ll do whatever you say.” 
The elf ignored Max and continued, “It is very effective in getting information from a captive.  It can give pleasure, or pain, because it’s designed to be used on the mind of the person in the chair so it leaves no physical damage.  You see my cousin was very gifted at mind magic, compulsion, and illusion so learning the secrets of the chair was an obsession of hers.  She shared that information with me.”  For a moment he shuddered.  “You see that is how I know that you’re telling me the truth.  Her death released me from the magic of chair.” 
At this he grinned widely.  “The irony is poetic since you’re wearing her body and I intend to use the chair to en-spell your mind as she en-spelled mine.  You see while you’re bound to the chair all of your natural and magical mental defenses are gone.  Let me give you a demonstration,” with this he spoke several words that Max couldn’t quite make out.  But suddenly she felt a wave of energy sweep over her body making her shudder. 
“Your name is now Little Slave.”  The elf said.  “Please tell me your name?”
“I’m Little Slave” Max said and was startled.  “No my name is really Little Slave, damn it I’m Little Slave.”  No matter how hard Max tried to say ‘Max’ it kept coming out Little Slave.  “Please I beg you this is unnecessary.”  Max pleaded tears starting to leak out of his eyes.
The elf lord’s grinning was mocking “I’m sure you’d do whatever I asked right up to the point where you thought you could escape.  Oh, no Little Slave, I have need of you but I must be sure you’ll obey.  Now be silent.”
Max tried to say something but found that his voice would not work.
“Let us begin, when you and I are alone you will answer to the name Little Slave.  When we are around others you will answer to the name Siofra.  You will think of yourself as either Siofra when others are around or Little Slave when it’s just you and I, but you will always remember who you were.  You will not try to escape and you will always do whatever I command.” 
Little Slave could feel magical shackles burning their way into her brain.  She tried to fight them but was helpless against the power of the chair. 
“You are in my cousin’s body, one of the things I need from you is children to continue the line.  The other thing since you’ve used the Mask is that you now have a connection to it.  I intend to use that connection to recover it.”  He said.
The Elf lord walked around the chair like a wolf circling his prey.  “This is just to perfect, my vain, domineering, and arrogant cousin killed by a human thief.  Now her body is my play toy.” When he laughed this time there was no gold in it, instead it sounded too Little Slave like pure evil. 
“Elvin woman have learned to control their cycle so that they can become pregnant when they choose.”  With an evil leer he said, “you’re now attracted to men.  Your main purpose in life is to have babies and to please men.  You will act very feminine so that no one will ever know that you were once male.” 
Little Slave shuddered again and felt the mental burning and then a shifting deep within her psych.  When she glanced up at this elf she noticed his broad shoulders and how strong and virile he looked.  Little Slave felt her nipples poke out and for the first time since she’d been trapped in this body she felt an ach between her legs when looking at a man.  
The elf lord’s face was now flushed with glee as he leaned forward, “you will have sex with any male I order you too.  On my command you will become pregnant as often as you can.  You may speak, now what is your name?”
“Little Slave” She said shuddering as the third set of commands burned into her. 
“What is your purpose, Little Slave?” Asked the elf. 
“To have babies and please men.” Little Slave responded to her growing horror.
“You will not cast a spell unless you ask me first is that clear?”  He said.
“Yes” She replied screaming on the inside.
“When we are alone you will call me Master.  But when we are around other Elves you will do your best to act as my cousin would only as a more subdued, humble, and respectful of me version of Siofra.”  He ordered. 
“Yes Master.”  Little Slave responded, feeling more mental chains burn into her psych.
With that the elf lord began freeing Little Slave from the chair.  Once she was free Little Slave sat there quietly thinking about her options.  The collar had also been removed but she doubted that she’d be able to cast a spell.
The elf lord held out his hand, “come now Little Slave it’s time to get you cleaned up and then you will come to my bed chamber.  I intend to be the first to show you the joy of womanhood.” 
Little Slave followed the lord into the hallway where the two guards waited.  “Take my cousin to her old chamber and once she is ready escort her to my bedroom.” He said.
As Siofra was walking away following the guards the elf lord said, “Oh, Siofra, clean yourself quickly.  Put on something sexy and hurry back to me.” 
Siofra felt the order sink in as though she were still in the chair.  Feeling like she was trapped in a nightmare she hurried after the guards.  



*****
Chapter 3
*****

I arrived home and found a message on my machine from my mother.  Evidently she’d been away on a business trip back east and was now home and wanted to have dinner sometime this week.  I decided not to call her back right away.  Instead I grabbed my duffel bag where I’d packed some workout clothes and headed to the 24 Hour Fitness not far from my house.  As I drove over I felt annoyed.  It wasn’t as much fun to come here now since most of the guys I used to lift with now regarded me as a piece of ass to be ogled.  How do women put up with this?  Still I paid for the membership and needed to blow off some steam.  When I got home Edgar cawed at me in an annoyed way since I’d left to go to the gym and he hadn’t eaten yet.  I refilled his feeder and spent a few minutes placating him.  Why are males so needy I thought.

+++

Mark woke up and for a moment wondered where he was, why was he sleeping in the hallway.  Then his memories returned, his body kept changing and when he’d tried to go to the Guild for help the Mask had possessed him.  Mark reached for the Mask but felt only the smooth skin he was now starting to associate with his face.  Mark pushed himself to his feet and felt flesh move around on his chest in an unfamiliar way.  He reached up and cupped a pair of breasts.
For a second the world spun and Mark had to throw out a hand to catch the wall in order to prevent himself from falling over.  He stumbled to the bathroom and found that the lights were still on.  When he looked into the mirror what he saw stunned him.  The woman staring back had large green eyes, blonde hair now past her shoulders, and a pair of small high breasts pushing out against Mark’s now oversized shirt.  The face had changed even more, it was very fine boned with a thin nose and high cheek bones there was no trace that Mark could see of his former face.  Unable to resist the urge Mark stripped.  He noticed that his shoulders were now thinner and much smaller than his had been.  His arms while still thin now had a bit of muscle tone.  His new breasts were small and perfectly formed cones, if he’d had to guess he’d have said maybe an A or B cup.  His waist had gotten much thinner probably in the low twenty inch range and then the hips flared out creating that hour glass figure he enjoyed observing in woman.  To Marks relief his cock and balls still hung between his legs.  However when he reached down feel his penis he realized there was no sensation.  He could feel his cock in his hand but there was no feeling of his hand gripping his cock.  Mark quickly felt his scrotum and realized it had no sensation as well.  He also discovered that the sack was empty, he was missing both gonads. 
Unexpectedly tears burst from Marks eyes and he slipped to the floor hugging his knees to his chest.  He felt completely trapped and helpless against the power that was changing him.  He was also worried about what would happen once the change was complete.

+++

I arrived at my office early the next day, I told myself that I needed to get caught up on some work but the truth was I was a anxious about my meeting with Galohond Larothta.  I had originally planned on a conservative business suit.  But after several different changes I’d settled on a black skirt, and matching blouse that showed some cleavage.  I also added a set of three inch heels, black stockings, and took the time to style my hair and carefully apply my makeup.  Now sitting in front of my computer at work I felt like a school girl waiting for her first date instead of a professional Magic-User expecting a potential client.  
With nothing better to do I thought back to last night.  After I’d eaten a light dinner I’d called my mother.  He’d answered on the second ring.  After a few minutes of polite chit chat I told him about the case.  Mother wasn’t surprised that FAD had stepped in and taken over the case.  He also adamantly denied having asked the Guild Grand Master to throw some business my way.  This made me a little confused, why would the Guild Grand Master want me involved with this specific case.  With a mental shrug I moved on and explained to mother what I’d learned from the summoning and the morgue at this point he’d gotten very quiet.
“Alastar, you need to be very careful.”  Mother said.  “Elves are not to be taken lightly and the fact that some faction is running around St. Louis with a powerful artifact is very serious.  I want you to promise me that before you do anything stupid you’ll come see me.” 
“I’m not a child mother, I can handle this.”  I replied feeling annoyed.  That had led to an argument which hadn’t helped my mood any.
Now as I sat here waiting for Galohond to arrive I wondered if I’d been stupid to snap at my mother.  Almost as if thinking his name had summoned him I felt a jingle at my office wards alerting me to the arrival of a Magic-User. 
I stood up smoothed my skirt, and walked around the desk to greet my visitor.  When Galohond Larothta walked into the office he took my breath away.  At 6’2” his athletic body hummed with masculinity.  He was wearing work boots, blue jeans, and a collared shirt obviously going for a casual look.  It made me feel like I’d over dressed for our meeting. 
“It’s a pleasure to see you again Morgana.”  He said walking forward to take my hand and kiss my fingers again.
I shivered with pleasure and said, “the pleasure is mine Sir Larothta.”
“Please call me Galohond” he said.
I gestured to the couches.  “Would you care to sit?  Can I get you a cup of coffee or tea?”
“Tea please.”  He said sweeping over to one of the couches and sitting down.
I had managed to anticipate he’d ask for tea and already had hot water waiting.  I got two cups of Earl Grey going and placed them on a service which I brought over to the coffee table. 
After taking a sip I decided to get down to business.  “Yesterday you said there was something that you thought I could help you with?”  As soon as I said this I regretted my choice of words.  When he raised on eye brow I felt my face heat up.
“I’m sure there are several things you could help me with.”  He said flirting with me while his eyes lingering on my cleavage before looking me in the eye.  I noticed that he had beautiful grey eyes.  
“I am investigating the theft of the Mask of Esarthae Haelond and I understand that you’ve done some work on this matter for the Guild.”  Galohond said.
“I have, but I turned everything I learned over to Inspector Lee yesterday.  You should be able to get a copy of my report from him.”  I said feeling puzzled.
“I have reviewed your report and I’m impressed.  Could I see the crystal with the magical signature you took?  I understand that you think the thief was killed by a female elf?”
At this I nodded and got up feeling his eyes on me as I moved to my desk.  I pulled the crystal out of the desk and walked back over to where we were sitting.  I spoke a word and channeled a trickle of power into the crystal so that it started glowing with the color and pattern I’d copied into it.  I then sat it down on the table between us.
“My I have a closer look?”  Galohond asked.  When I nodded he reached forward and picked up the crystal with two fingers.  He turned it over several times and with a sigh sat it back on the table.
“I can’t say that I’m surprised, but this is disturbing none the less.”  He said.
“Oh?”
“The former Lady Duchess Siofra Aldalithe is a hunted fugitive with a bounty on her head.  I’m not surprised to find her here nor am I surprised that she is responsible for killing your thief.  She is wanted for far greater crimes back in Summer.  What worries me is if she is here it’s very likely it’s to do more than simply get her hands on the Mask.”
“Are you sure it was her?”  I asked.
“Yes, I’ve fought her before and I’d recognized her magical signature anywhere.  May I have your crystal?  I will return it when the investigation is over but I have a meeting later today with the Guild Foreign Affairs Department and I’d like to let them see this.”
When I nodded he picked up the crystal and put it into his pocket.  “I’m sorry to cut this meeting short but I should head over to the Guild.  Perhaps we could meet later today?”
“I’d like that” I said without thinking.
“How does dinner sound?”  He asked.
“I, uhm what did you have in mind?”  I could tell that I was blushing fiercely now. 
“Why don’t we meet at the Franco at 7 pm? I’m particularly fond of French food, if you’ve not been then I think you’ll be surprised.”
When I nodded my agreement he once again scooped up my fingers for a kiss goodbye and the walked out the door.  As he walked out I found my gaze lingering on his hard round athletic butt.  I wondered what it would feel like to hold it with both hands as he thrust into me.  Suddenly I snapped out of my day dream.
“Get a grip Morgana” I said to myself and walked back over to my desk. 

+++

After Galohond left I sat at my desk not really doing any work, instead I replayed the events over again in my mind.  Max had stolen the Mask, a Mask which allowed female Elves to draw power while in the human realm.  Siofra who was a wanted criminal and a fugitive from her home realm had killed Max and taken the Mask.  She might still be in the area or she could be a thousand miles from here.  According to what I’d been able to learn she planned to use the Mask to build a power base here and to use our realm as a sanctuary to over throw the Sylvari Queen.  This was obviously something that was best left to the Guild to handle it.  I let out a sigh, I really needed to focus on crafting a new set of wards for Mr. Luke Carter and I still didn’t know how his wards had been so thoroughly breached.
Suddenly my phone rang, “hello.”
“Morgana Livingstone?” asked the voice of Luck Carter.
“Yes, what can I do for you Mr. Carter?”
“You said to call you if I noticed anything unusual.  Well I’m looking out of my store across the street at Dave Martin’s shop and he is being robbed!”  Mr. Carter was speaking so fast I could hardly follow along. 
“Okay, take a deep breath and calm down, did you say you’re witnessing a robbery right now?  You need to call the Guild.”  I said.
“I already called the Guild but I thought of you when I saw the way the thief took down his wards.”  He said.
“What do you mean?”
“She just held out her hand and the ward net went down and then walked into the shop.  Shit!  Dave is out in the parking lot right now trying to stop her.  This is going to get ugly.”  With that the cell phone suddenly disconnected.
For a second I didn’t know what to do, these shops were in East St. Louis and I’d have to use the I-64 bridge and then it would take me 20-30 minutes to get to his shop.  I looked over at Edgar sitting on his perch and suddenly knew a way.  There was a spell I’d never tried before since I’d not had the power.  I could use my bond with Edgar and shape shift into a crow.  Just because I was in crow form I’d not be able to fly, flying was a skill that took practice.  But since I was bonded to Edgar and he was a flyer I could draw on his skill. 
I knew I didn’t have much time so I quickly changed from heels to boots, grabbed a pair of wands and opened the window allowing Edgar and my soon to be transformed self-access to the sky.  Edgar remained on his perch looking at me with his head cocked to one side.  I started by strengthening the bond between us.  Next I closed my eyes concentrating, and pulled power into my center.  I drew the mental construct of a crow and spoke the words of the spell feeling my flesh and clothes transform. 
Everything was huge!  I looked up at Edgar in time to see him hop down from his perch with a flutter of wings.  Suddenly I realized that my spell had been perfect in that it had made me a crow like Edgar but I had accidently made myself a female crow!  Edgar was checking me out!  Without thinking about it I snapped my wings down and darted into the air.  I was out the window before I knew it with Edgar following in hot pursuit.  For a brief moment I realized that the male pursuing the female was part of the crow mating ritual.  Damn it.  I also realized that flying was as natural to me right now as it was to any crow.  So I turned east and head toward Luke Carter’s shop. 
Once I was up high enough I cast a second spell this one affected the wind.  It wasn’t that powerful a spell so the affect was localized but it brought up a 20 mph tail wind which helped us considerably.  The next thing that helped was that I was on a direct line for the shop instead of having to follow the roads and cross the river at one of the bridges. 
Even so it took several minutes before we arrived over the shopping plaza.  When I spotted the parking lot next to where Luke had his shop I knew that I was too late.  There were a couple of cars tipped over and a fire was going to one side.  But most disturbing was the body of an elderly man lying sprawled on the sidewalk with a broken staff lying next to him.  I dove for the ground and started shifting back into my human form before my talons hit the pavement.
As soon as I was fully human again I knelt next to the man and checked to see if he was breathing.  He was so I checked for a pulse, which was slow but strong.  Okay so he’s just out.  I stood up and looked around.
I saw Luke running up from his shop with one arm extended on this arm he had a large ring which was glowing red.  He was gripping the extended arm with his other hand to steady it. 
“It took you long enough.”  He said.
“You could have helped him.”  I said angrily.
“I’m not a Guild Special Agent, or a Magic-User Master Class.”  He replied.
Before I could say anything else a woman came up.  “She went that way” and pointed east out of the parking lot.  “After she took down Mr. Martin she jumped into a Ford F-150 and took off.”
 I knew that this robber needed to be stopped before she hurt anyone else and that I was in the best position to pursue her.  So I recast the spell that turned me into Edgars dream girl and took to the air.

+++

Mark finally decided to get up and take a shower it had been two days since he’d first found the Mask and he had hardly been awake long enough to eat much less get cleaned up.  There was something soothing about the feeling of water cascading down his body.  It would have been completely relaxing except for the differences which were impossible to ignore.  The first being the feeling of water massaging his chest, God that feels good he thought.  Soon he was rubbing and fondling his new chest, exploring this narrow waist and the feeling of hips that flared out.  When he realized what he was doing he hurriedly turned off the water and got out of the stall leaving a puddle on the linoleum in the bathroom. 
Mark wrapped a towel around his waist and rubbed the steam off the mirror.  The female face that stared back was the most bizarre thing he’d ever seen.  When he ran his eyes down his body he realized that it looked wrong to have the towel wrapped around his waist leaving his chest exposed.  Still he stubbornly refused to shift the towel to the proper female position.  As Mark stared at his reflection he felt an emotion coming from the Mask.  Opening his third eye Mark was not surprised to see the Mask and the green ropes of energy flowing from the Mask around and into his body.  What did startle him was that for the first time he felt a well of magical energy inside of him.  Like the Mask was draining magic from the world around and using it to change Mark and at the same time storing the excess inside of him.  Mark concentrated on the Mask and realized that it was hungry. 
Mark thought that perhaps he could satisfy the craving with food so he went into his bedroom and threw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.  He noticed that although the jeans were to big around the waist he had trouble getting them over his hips.  The material of his skives bunched uncomfortably as well.  Arghhhh
He then went to the kitchen.  When he got there he was startled to see that it was almost 11 am.  He’d spent most of yesterday sleeping.  Mark glanced at the message machine and saw that there were several messages.  “Shit, I missed my shift!”  Feeling like he’d probably lost his job Mark also knew there was no way he could go to work looking like he currently did.  Mark decided to forget about the message machine for the moment and focus on breakfast.  He made a 4 egg omelet with toast and wolfed it down with coffee and milk.  He felt full but knew as soon as he finished eating that the Mask wasn’t satisfied.
Mark soon found himself in his truck headed toward an outdoor shopping plaza where he knew there were several magical shops.  He had a little under a hundred dollars in his wallet and figured that maybe he could get a couple of magical items and hopped these would satisfy the Mask for now. 
Mark parked his truck and walked toward one of the cheaper looking magic shops.  As he approached he felt the outer wards of the shop tingle against his skin.  Mark knew that these were like a door bell they would tell the owner that someone with magical talent was about to enter the shop.  Suddenly Mark felt like a passenger in his own body.  His hand came up and he felt the ward dissolve.  He strode quickly into the shop and looked around there weren’t any other customers at the moment.  The owner was stocking some books on a shelf in the back of the shop and looked up as Mark entered.  The look on his face reflected confusion. 
“Can I help you?”  The owner asked.
“I think not” Mark’s voice sounded high, feminine, and cold.
Suddenly Mark thrust out a hand and spoke a word.  A bolt of glowing green energy hit the owner before he could get a shield up and sent him sprawling into a heap.
Now Mark focused on the case with magical items.  Just like the last time he found a bag and filled it with all of the items he could find in the shop.  As Mark was leaving he could hear a groan from the owner.  This made Mark feel a little bit better since it told him that he’d not hurt the guy.
Mark darted out of the shop heading toward his truck.  He’d barely gotten to the sidewalk when some sense told him to duck.  A bolt of angry red energy flew over his head.  Mark spun around and brought up a shield.  Looking back through the light green energy field Mark saw the owner of the shop was holding a staff in one hand and extending the other which was glowing with red energy.  A second later that energy slashed out at Mark.  This time Mark held out a hand and caught the energy on his palm.  The power from the spell was instantly absorbed my Mark.  Now confident he started to walk toward the shop owner.
Again and again the shop owner blasted at Mark who sometimes deflected the blast and other times simply absorbed it. Mark stopped walking a few feet from the owner.
“Mortal do you know who I am?”  Mark asked.
“A thief!”  He said.
“I am Esarthae Haelond and I am your death!”  With this Mark brought both arms up and pushed them out like he was shoving someone.  The energy that lashed out was a sickly looking green bolt of force that made the air crackle as it rushed toward the shop owner.
He brought up his staff like he was going to use it to block the energy just before he was struck.  Crack! The instant Mark’s magic missile hit the energy shield and staff, excess magical energy exploded in all directions.  The force of the explosion blew the shop owner off his feet and snapped the staff in two.  As the back blast surged toward Mark he felt once again the sense of absorption and the wave flowed on by. 
Mark walked over to the now semi-conscious owner and knelt next to him and placed a hand over his Solar Plexus.  This area was known as a Magic-Users center in some cultures referred to as the Manipura Chakra it is where magical power is stored.  Suddenly Mark felt the Mask reach and pull power directly from the shop owner.  The sensation was like a wave of pure pleasure.  For a second Mark could see lines of energy connecting him to the man and then it was over.  When Mark looked down at the guy he got the same feeling that he’d gotten from the objects that had been drained. 
Mark felt like he was about to be sick.  Still unable to control his movements he stood up picked up the bag of items he’d dropped and walked to his truck.  As Mark drove back to his apartment he couldn’t help feeling the emotions being emitted from the Mask.  Pleasure at being full and satisfaction at defeating an opponent the Mask was for the first time, since Mark had been able to sense its emotion, happy.
Mark pulled into a parking spot by his apartment and walked into it without bothering to look around.  Once inside the apartment he sat the bag of magical items on the floor and collapsed onto the couch.  Suddenly Mark felt the Mask go quiet.  He lifted his hand and realized that he was back in control of his body for the moment.
Mark tried to stand up but felt a wave of dizziness wash over him.  At the same time his skin felt itchy and tingly all over.  There was a sudden sharp pain in his groin that doubled him over.  This was followed by a series of cramps.  When it was over Mark lay on the couch basking in the lack of sensation.  Slowly he reached between his legs and felt only the smooth contour of a female groin.  His penis was completely gone.
Mark stood up on wobbly legs and walked around the couch when the door to his apartment burst open.  Standing in the door was a beautiful brunette radiating power whose eyes blazed blue with magic. 
“Please help me.”  Mark pleaded dropping to her knees and holding out her arms.  The strange woman gestured and spoke a word.  At that moment Mark felt the Mask stirring but it was too late.  The stun spell slashed into Mark knocking her into unconsciousness.

+++

I stood over the body of the woman I’d tracked from the shopping plaza to this tiny apartment and was puzzled.  From what I’d seen she had to be a powerful Magic-User at least a 2nd Class.  Yet she’d offered no resistance, instead it felt like she had wanted me to knock her out.  I walked into the apartment and looked around.  Lying on the floor next to the couch was a bag that held several magical items.  Probably the items stolen from the shop today, but on and around the coffee table were more items.
I opened my third eye and looked around the apartment.  The items in the bag glowed with energy while the items on the coffee table looked drained.  But not drained like an item that had been used and then needed to be recharged.  These were drained to the point that they were useless.  They could never be recharged.  Now I turned and looked back at the woman and felt like I was about to be sick.
The Mask on her face glowed with a sick green power.  From the Mask numerous tentacles of power sprouted.  These tentacles had wrapped themselves around the woman’s body burrowing in at one spot only to pop out at another.  I had to take several deep breaths to prevent myself from getting sick.  Suddenly it clicked, this woman was wearing the Mask of Esarthae Haelond it was the only artifact that I’d heard of that might have this level of power.  But it was designed for an elf, the woman in front of me looked human. 
What should I do, I could call the Guild after all they were responsible for handling magical crime in the city.  But I had an uneasy feeling.  Inspector Lee hadn’t appeared real happy about being pulled off the case.  In fact the impression I got was that the FAD existed more for political reasons than to solve crime.  I suppose I could get in touch with Sir Galohond Larothta the Mask fell into his lane after all.  But this was a human woman who was wearing the Mask.  Lastly she’d asked for help and hadn’t done anything to try and stop me from stunning her. 
I made up my mind and cast a sleep spell on top of the stun spell to make sure she remained unconscious.   I then pulled out my cell phone and placed a call.
“Mother?  It’s Morgana. ….. I need your help, can you send Steven to pick me up? ….. I’ll explain everything when I get there.”  

+++

It was early evening and I was sitting on the back patio at my mother’s house.  I was sipping a chilled white wine while mother took a long pull from her second lager.  “Have you ever seen anything like that?”  I asked.
“I’m not really an expert on Elven magic,” mother replied.  “But no.  That Mask is changing and probably controlling that poor girl.  We need to separate them.”
“How do we do that without killing her?”
“I’m not sure yet.  I’ll need to do some research, and I think I’ll call my old friend and your former tutor, Susan McDonald.  She is an expert on Elven magic.”  Mother said.  “However I think we need to perform a spell tonight that should at least contain the influence of the Mask.”
I was a bit surprised.  “Contain it how?”
At this mother laughed, “come now Alastar or should I call you Morgana since you seem to have forgotten how to ward.”
At this I understood what mother was hinting.  If we couldn’t separate the mystery woman from the Mask we could or rather I could do some wards that should prevent it from changing or controlling her further.  I took another ship of my wine, savoring it’s light sweet flavor.
I suppose I should get started.  Mother nodded, “while you’re doing that I’ll see what I can find out.  When you’re done meet me in my study.” 
With that he got up and headed back into the house.  I noticed that he took long confident strides and that his posture was much more masculine.  Perhaps mother is adopting.  I thought for a second and then reached for my purse.  I found Galohond’s business card and punched his number into my cell phone.
“Hello?”  His sweet masculine voice made me shiver and my nipples instantly got hard. “Galohond this is Morgana.  Something has come up and I can’t make it tonight.  I’m sorry can I take a rain check?”
“Morgana I’ve been looking forward to having you, … for dinner all day are you sure we can’t meet later?”
I felt my face burn with the innuendo “I’m very sorry but no.  How does tomorrow night sound?”
“It sounds great but only if you wear something sexy as payment for making me wait a whole day to see you again.”
“Fine tomorrow it is” and with that I pressed the end button.  For a second I sat there feeling appalled.  Did I just agree to a date, and that I’d wear something sexy?  “Crap!”
With that I got up and headed up to my room to prepare for tonight’s task.

+++

I entered the bedroom where the woman was stretched out.  She was wearing men’s jeans and t-shirt which seemed ill fitting and mismatch on such a pretty young woman but if the Mask had possessed her there was no telling why she was dressed this way.  I had stopped to pick up some paints and a couple of artists brushes.  I spent the next several minutes removing all of the woman’s clothes, including men’s underwear, and pulling her long blonde hair back so it would be out of the way.  As I looked at her I could barely see a faint line where the pale skin covered by the Mask stopped and her more natural coloration started.  I knew this would take some time and that I had to be very careful as I started painting wards onto her body.  I took my time and switched back and forth between magical sight and mundane vision.  Containing the power of the Mask was challenging and took all of my skill as an artist and a professional warder but when, after nearly three hours, I was done I looked down on her I felt pleased with the work.  I channeled enough energy into the ward matrix to activate it and watched with the third eye the results.
Starting at her feet the wards sparkled and became active.  As they did the green tentacles piercing her feet dissolved.  This continued as each ward activated the next moving up her body.  In a matter of seconds only the Mask remained.  It still glowed a sick green but its influence was contained.  I shut down my third eye and drew two more wards on the wall next to the bed.  The first was a healing ward.  It would pour benevolent energy into the woman’s body.  I had no idea what kind of trauma she’d been put through.  The second ward was a sleep ward.  As long as it contained power it would keep the person on the bed fast asleep.  I put enough energy into both wards to keep them active for the next 10 hours.  I had no idea what this woman’s story was but I needed to talk to my mother and see if we had a way to remove the Mask.  The last thing I wanted was for her to wake up and start wondering around.  Feeling pleased with myself I headed up to the study. 

+++

When I arrived in the study mother was sitting behind his desk reading from a tome I didn’t recognize.  He looked up when I entered the room.  “So how did it go?”
I couldn’t help smiling “very well I think.  The Mask is contained, but I still don’t see a way to remove it.  The wards I made are only a short term solution.  They will wear off, so we really need to get that thing off her.”
“Agreed.  I spoke with Susan and she will be come to visit us tomorrow.  She had a couple of ideas on the phone but won’t really know for sure if they will work until she sees the patient.”  Mother stood up and walked around the desk.  “So what do you say to a late dinner?”
Suddenly I was ravenous.  “I think I could eat a horse.”  I said with a laugh.
“I don’t think we’ve got any horse, but pizza and beer are in the kitchen.  I never realized how good those two flavors are before our switch.” 
I groaned to myself quietly.  I had found that after I’d gotten Morgana’s body I just didn’t really like greasy food.  If I knew Chelsea (mothers cook) there would be a few other options.  So I accompanied mother as we headed toward the kitchen. 
Dinner was awkward as usual.  I had never really felt comfortable around my mother after Ambrose left her in my body.  Evenings like tonight just reminded me of this fact.  He tried to make light conversation but questions about clothes and if I was seeing anyone was just difficult.  After dinner I summoned Edgar to my shoulder and headed to my room. 
One of the things I’d always liked about staying in my old room in mother’s house was that it was large and it brought back lots good memories.  Tonight it felt strange.  Like the memories of the boy who grew up here didn’t fit.  The bed was too hard, the closet small and it only had a couple of outfits.  I dug out a fresh set of panties and an oversized men’s t-shirt to sleep in and then walked into the bathroom attached to my bedroom.  I looked at the shower for a moment and then decided to take a bath instead.  My bathroom had a separate stall for the shower and the tub.  I had never been a big fan of baths growing up but lately I’d reevaluated that opinion.  I got the water going and added some bubble bath since my mother had provided it.  Returning to the sink I brushed my teeth and stripped.  The reflection of the raven haired woman no longer startled me even if I still thought she was hot.  I checked the temperature of the water and then climbed in.  I had to go slowly since it was very hot but once immersed it felt heavenly. 
The tension in my shoulders eased away as I felt my body relaxing in the hot sudsy water.  I let my mind drift trying not to think about the case or the implications for the magical community of a rogue terrorist threat running around St. Louis or the reaction of the Guild when they found out I’d recovered the Mask and not handed over the person wearing it instantly.  Instead I just drifted.
Strangely I found myself thinking about Galohond.  There was something about him that I couldn’t identify that made me keep thinking of him.  The breadth of his shoulders, his round athletes butt, the dreamy grey eyes, I felt my nipples getting hard and the strange ach returned to my groin.  I started to slowly rub my breasts focusing on my nipples.  God that feels good I thought.  As I played with my titts the ach in my groin got worse, I slipped my right hand down and started to stroke my clitoris.  I felt the hot soppy water inside my vagina as I slipped a finger in.  I continued to stroke both my clitoris while pushing a second finger inside.  As I stroked my pussy I felt a spot inside that sent electricity shooting through my whole body.  I started to moan uncontrollable.  I’d never felt anything so fantastic, my moans turned into low cries of pleasure as I felt my first orgasm in this body.
I’m not sure how long I stayed in the bath but the water was cold and my fingers and toes were shriveled up by the time I got out.  Why I’d waited so long to do that was a mystery to me but it felt great.  It made me wonder what real sex would feel like.  Again my mind drifted to Galohond.  For a second I fantasized about him on top of me thrusting into me.  I had to shake my head if I kept this up I’d be masturbating all night long.  I stepped into a pair panties feeling the unique female sensation of panties snugly fitting my flat female crotch and then pulled men’s t-shirt over my head and returned to my bedroom.  Edgar was already asleep on his roost.  So I turned out the lights and climbed into bed. 

+++

I was pulled from sleep by the buzzing of my alarm.  God I hate mornings I thought as I reluctantly climbed out of bed.  It was early but I wanted to check on our house guest.  The spell I’d used to make sure she stayed asleep would be wearing off soon and I wanted to be there when she woke up.  I was assuming that she was an innocent victim based on her reaction to me yesterday but it could have all been a ruse. I decided to go for a tough look this morning.  I climbed into a pair of skin tight black jeans, black t-shirt, and cowboy boots.  I pulled my hair back and did a quick glamor on my face instead of taking the time to do make-up. 
Next I swung through the kitchen, Chelsea was already there so I grabbed a cup of steaming hot coffee and a bagel and headed to our guests room.  I opened the door and was pleased to see that the wards were just starting to run out of power.  Well this should be interesting I thought and settled down in a chair in the corner.  From my position I would be able to watch her wake up and it would probably be a few minutes before she noticed me.

+++

Max reclined back into the plush love seat as morning sun light streamed into the room.  She was happy that for the moment she could think of herself as ‘Max’ since the Master’s command had said she must remember who she was but only had to think of herself as Little Slave while alone with him, and Siofra while in the company of everyone else.  For the moment she was alone.  She tried not to think back to last night but her mind kept drifting back. 
After she’d gotten cleaned up she had put on a sexy black cocktail dress she’d found in Siofra’s closet, fixed her hair, and grabbed a set of three inch heels.  She had skipped stockings and underwear since she’d been told to dress sexy and Max had always found woman without underwear sexy.  After she arrived at the Master’s it had not taken him long to get her out of the outfit anyway.  The rest of the night had a dream like feel to it in Max’s memory.  They had sex of course.  In fact they had had sex for almost six hours straight.  The Master had used a spell to return the stiffness to his cock after each orgasm.  Max had lost count of the number of orgasms she’d had but by the time the night was done Max realized that something inside of her had changed.  In fact just the idea of the Master’s large pole was making her wet as she sat there.  Perhaps it was the magic, but Max realized that even sitting here now just basking in the sun light she craved that feeling of fullness that came from a rock hard cock thrusting into her.
With a sigh Max got up and walked over to a small table, God I’m sore she thought finding it difficult to walk.  As she passed a mirror she saw the beautiful sexy blonde elf, wearing a peach colored teddy, even with her hair tussled from last night Max knew she looked great.  On the table was a pot of tea, several pieces of fruit, and pastry’s.  The Master had ordered the food before leaving.  His orders to her had been stay in the house and be ready to travel by noon.  Max felt starved thinking back she couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten.  So she poured a cup of tea and filled up a small plate with as much food as it would hold and returned to the love seat.  Max tucked her feet up under her and balancing the plate on the armrest she started eating. 
How much freedom do I have within the Master’s commands Max thought.  She glanced at the phone next to the bed and setting the food aside went over and picked it up.  As soon as she got a dial tone she called the number to her old cell phone.  It went directly to voice mail but this was enough to tell Max that she did have some free will and that the master hadn’t thought of everything.  Max returned to her seat and started eating again trying to think through the situation.  She would have an opportunity at some point and when it came she needed to be ready to take it. 

+++

The low moan was the first indication that the woman on the bed was coming around.  During the night she’d become buried in a cocoon of blankets and only now started to stir.  Mark’s mind still heavy with sleep couldn’t figure out where he was.  Slowly memories returned, the last several days, trapped inside his own body by the Mask.  Abruptly Mark realized that he couldn’t feel the Mask.  The last two times when he woke up there had been a sense of hunger coming from the Mask and more recently other emotions.  At the moment there was nothing.  Mark sat up cautiously feeling irritated by the long blonde hair that hung across his face.  With an unconscious feminine gesture he swept the hair aside.  The next thing Mark noticed was that he was completely naked and that his breasts were exposed.  Mark unaware that he was being observed pulled the sheet up over his chest.  It wasn’t a dream I’ve got breasts Mark thought to himself. 
Mark looked around the room slowly now fully remembering the events of the past few days.  Mark remembered the Mask taking control of his body and forcing him to feed on stolen magical items, and then the fight at the shopping plaza.  Finally Mark remembered gaining control of his body just as someone forced his door open.  The Magic-User had looked very powerful and Mark had done the only thing he could think of at the time.  Surrender.  He vaguely remembered as she cast a spell and then nothing.  No looking around the room Mark figured that even though he didn’t know where he was it couldn’t be a Guild cell since it was way too nice for a government cell. 
“How are you feeling?”  The woman’s voice startled Mark and he glanced into the far corner to see a woman wearing all black watching him.  Mark realized this was the same woman who’d knocked him out so she must be responsible for bringing him here.  She was sitting in a leather chair with a small table next to it.  Mark noticed the coffee cup sitting on the table and figured that he must have been out for quite some time.
“Where am I?”  Mark asked and was startled at the high sweet feminine voice.
“You are safe for the moment, I am Morgana Livingstone and you are in the home of my mo,….er….God Mother.  I’d like to ask you a few questions particularly about the Mask you’re wearing.”   Morgana said. 
Mark let out a sigh, “you’re a powerful Magic-User.  Can you help me?  I can’t get this damn thing off and it’s been making me do things and it’s been changing me.”   The words came out in a rush.  Mark had wanted to talk to someone about the Mask for days and now suddenly he felt like he was free from the Mask’s compulsions. 
“Why don’t you start by telling me your name and how you came to be in possession of the Mask?”  Morgana asked. 
Mark crossed his leg and turned so he could fully face Morgana he accidently allowed the blanket to become tangled and exposed his titts.  Mark quickly adjusted the sheets feeling his face turn red even though he was sure this wasn’t the first pair of breasts the woman had seen. 
There was something about the awkwardness that alerted Morgana.  Like this woman wasn’t comfortable with her body.  For a woman this old keeping a sheet tucked around her torsos should have been as natural as breathing. 
“My name is Mark Miller and I found the Mask while driving home from work Tuesday night.”  Mark launched into the story and was surprised at how good this woman was at listening.  If he’d heard the same story he wouldn’t have believed it but somehow he got the impression that she not only believed him but wanted to help.  When Mark concluded the story he sat there quietly looking down into his lap.
“I hope that old guy is okay.  I never meant to hurt anyone.”
“I’ll have to make a couple of calls to find out how he’s doing” Morgana said.  “You’ve given me a lot to think about but for now I’d like you to stay here.  Mr. Donegal owns this house and has agreed to be your host for the next couple of days.  There is an expert on Elven artifacts, Mrs. Susan McDonald, who also happens to be a friend of Mr. Donegal is on her way here now and hopefully she’ll know how to separate you from the Mask.  Please have a look at your hands.”
Mark had noticed while he’d been talking that his hands and arms had been painted with a series of symbols that he recognized as wards.  Now he held them up and inspected them closely.
“I’ve warded your body against the enchantment of the Mask but the wards will only work as long as they are clear.  If you wash them off or smudge them they will stop working and the Mask will be able to start working its magic on you again.”   Morgana said standing up and walking over to the closet.  She returned with a light blue fuzzy bathrobe which she dropped on the bed. 
“There are slippers in there as well.  For now if you could do without them I’d prefer you stick to loose fitting clothes.  Avoid anything tight that might rub or smear the wards.  I’ll need to check them later today but if you’ll get dressed we can head down to the kitchen and find you something to eat.”
“Uhm, that sounds good but, ah, well I need to use the restroom.”  Mark stammered.
Morgana nodded in understanding.  “Turn left and you’ll find it two doors down.  If you go to the end of the hallway and take the stairs down you’ll find yourself on the back side of the house.  Just walk straight through the first set of doors and you’ll be in the kitchen.  I’ll wait for you there.”  With that Morgana turned to leave but paused and looked back over her shoulder.  “Mark I will do everything I can to help you.  Your safe now honey” with that Morgana stepped out of the room.  For the first time since finding the Mask Mark felt hope.    



*****
Chapter 4
*****

For a few minutes after Morgana left Mark just sat still attempting to sense the Mask’s influence.  When he completely failed to feel anything he almost became giddy with relief.  He tossed the blankets to one side and jumped out of bed.  The strange sensation of breasts bouncing brought him back to his current situation.  Mark looked down and saw the female anatomy he’d seen the last couple of times he’d examined himself.  This time when Mark looked between his legs he there no sign of his old friend.  Feeling like he was about to cry, (another strange emotion for Mark) he picked up the robe that Morgana had left and slipped it around his shoulders.  He then found the slippers she had mentioned and went in search of the bathroom.

+++

I arrived in the Kitchen in time to spot my mother drinking orange juice directly from the container. 
“What are you doing young man!”  I demanded trying my best to sound like mother when she’d caught me doing exactly the same thing when I’d been growing up.
Startled mother choked for a second and then glared over at me.  “Alastar, don’t you take that tone with me.” I tried not to giggle but the effort of holding it in was too much.
Still grinning I refilled my coffee cup.  “So when will Susan be here?”  Susan McDonald had been a longtime friend of the family.  I had spent one summer under her tutelage back when mother had hopes of developing my meager strength into something more in line with our heritage.  Susan had been a friend and a mentor to me when I had desperately needed one.  I was looking forward to seeing her again.
“She’ll be here by lunch time.”  Evaline said.  “Alastar, er Morgana Susan doesn’t know about your situation.  You’ll have to play the part of Morgana Livingstone while she’s here.  I’m sorry, but the more people who know the secret the less likely it will remain one.”   
I nodded my understanding.  I wasn’t happy about it but I understood.  “I’d probably better send Edgar away while she’s here.  She helped me bond him and her owl is going to recognize him the minute they meet.” 
“Agreed.  Now is our guest awake?”  He asked.
“Yes, but there is more to her story than I realized” I said.  I then explained to my mother what I’d learned from Mark.  When I’d completed my tale I noticed that my coffee cup was empty.  I refilled it while mother stood silently looking out a window from the kitchen that overlooked the back yard.
“I don’t really know that much about Elven artifacts.  But from the description this Mask must be ancient and powerful.  I’d guess it was designed for a female elf to use.  The Mask must have become active and then it sensed Mark.  With no defenses but plenty of sensitivity, well that made him an easy target for it.  I suspect that the Mask is not just turning Mark into a female but also an Elf.  Have you seen any signs of a racial change?”  He said turning to look at me.
When I shook my head no, mother continued “So perhaps we’re in time.  You see if the changes had been completed the Mask would be in total control of Mark and there would be no way to separate them.  As it is there may be no way to separate them right now but Susan will know better than I.”  Mother looked around the room and spotted the morning paper where Chelsea usually left it.  He picked it up and headed toward his office.
“After our guest”
“Mark” I interrupted.
Looking annoyed mother continued “after Mark has eaten please bring him by my office I’d like to have a look at him.  I need to report to the Guild Hall that we have the Mask they’ve been looking for.”  With that mother strode out of the kitchen. 
Feeling like I needed something to do so I went to my purse and fished out my phone.  I then called Luke Carter.  For a second I’d thought about calling Inspector Lee but I knew the case was over as far as he was concerned and I didn’t want him connecting the dots between the robberies and the Mask.  He’d just pass the information on to FAD and that might complicate things.  I figured that mother would call the local Guild Hall Council Grand Master and the two of them could work out what to do with the Mask after it was separated from Mark.  Hopefully Luke will be able to answer some other questions. 

+++

I hung up the phone just in time to hear the door to the kitchen open.  Mark walked in and, despite the sleep tussled hair and the wards covering most of her skin, she looked quite pretty. 
“Did you have any trouble finding the bathroom?”  I asked.
“No, although I’m not used to dealing with this” she said gesturing down at herself.  I nodded in understanding but knew that I couldn’t tell her how I knew what she was going through. 
“Let’s get you something to eat.  What are you in the mood for?  An omelet?  Eggs and toast?  Chelsea my mo…er Mr. Donegal’s cook is shopping right now but I’m not too bad when it comes to cooking eggs.”  I said almost revealing my relationship to my mother.
“Uhm I don’t think my stomach could handle anything that heavy right now.  Could I just have some cereal and maybe some fruit?”  Mark replied.
“Have a seat over here dear and let me get you a few things.”  With that I went into the pantry and picked out a couple of different kinds of cereal and placed the boxes along with milk and a bowl in front of Mark.  I then started slicing fruit.  After a few minutes I looked over and saw Mark scraping the bottom of her first bowl of cereal.  I then brought over a plate with apple, pear, and melon slices, and fresh grapes in a few minutes I returned with some cheese and croissant. 
Looking at the spread I laughed, “a regular continental breakfast.”  
Mark who had been focusing on shoving apple slices into her mouth looked around at all the food.  “I’m making a pig of myself aren’t I?”
“Not at all, from what you told me I don’t think you’ve eaten properly for the last couple of days.”  I took a sip from my third cup of coffee.  Mark seemed relieved and returned to her pursuit of calories.  The only real difference was that she slowed down a bit.
“So how do you feel now?”  I asked when I noticed that Mark was now playing with her food more than eating it.
“I’m not sure.  I mean physically I feel great.  No aches or pains, and this body is very light and limber.  But I feel like a stranger or like I’m wearing someone else’s face.  Only that doesn’t really cover it.  I mean for example I’m sitting here and I should feel my balls against the chair, instead it’s like there is nothing in front of me to touch it.  I’m probably doing awful explaining how weird this is.”
“Mark, no one can really understand what you’ve been through.  But we’d like to help.”
“Why?  Why would you want to help me?”  Mark asked softly. 
“For starters when magic is abused or it’s used to hurt people the Guild does it’s best to make things right.  Next I’m a Magic-User Master Class and I have a duty to use my power to help people.  Mr. Donegal, our host, is a member of the Guild and would like to help you.”  As I made my speech I made sure to make eye contact with Mark.  I’d learned a long time ago that if you wanted to convince someone of something eye contact is a good place to start. 
Mark looked down into her lap for a moment.  When she looked up I could see tears glistening in her eyes.  “Thank you.”
At this I nodded “Mr. Donegal asked me to bring you to his study after you finished eating.  Are you ready to meet the head of House Donegal?”
At this Mark seemed a bit awed but I could see her pull herself together and with a nod stood up. “I’m ready”
“Ata girl” I said also standing “follow me.”

+++

When I was small I used to think of this house as some kind of magical castle and had imaginary adventures in each of the rooms.  As I got older I thought of it as cold, draft, and just too big.  Now as I led Mark through each of the rooms on our way to the study I could see the impression it was making on her.  The impression was of wealth, power, and magical might perhaps there was some calculation that had gone into the construction of this house I thought.
I knocked on the double doors to mother’s study and waited for a second before I pushed one of the two open and led Mark inside.  Mother’s study is different from her sanctum.  This is the room where he comes to relax read and think.  The floor is made of hard wood with no sign of a summoning circle.  There are several thick Persian and Turkish rugs one the floor.  The far end of the long rectangular room is floor to ceiling glass windows with large curtains that can be drawn to block out the sun.  Along the left wall book shelves dominate with a few portraits of our more illustrious ancestors.  The right wall is dominated by a huge fire place.  There are several leather chairs and couches around the room but the one piece of furniture that really dominates it all is the huge mahogany desk where my mother was currently sitting reading something on a computer monitor.  As we entered he looked up and grinned.
I led Mark toward my mother noticing for the first time that when he smiled the room seemed to light up.  He was tall with broad shoulders and a muscular build I’d spent several years at the gym working on.  He came around the desk and offered a hand to Mark.
“Morgana told me what happened to you.  How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay, a bit confused, but better now thanks to Morgana.  Thank you for asking sir.”  Mark replied.
“Please call me Mor, it’s my middle name and I think it fits better these days.  Why don’t we all have a seat?”  With that he led us to the couch and chairs arranged around the fire place.  At the moment there wasn’t a fire going for which I was pleased since it was already in the mid-80s and it was only 10 am.
“Even though Morgana has told me your story I’d like to hear it from you if you don’t mind.”
“Yes sir, ah I mean Mor” and with that Mark went into his story about finding the Mask and everything that had happened since then.  As he talked I watched my mother closely.  Once Mark got into his tale I noticed mother discreetly open his third eye.  I was sure he was doing a couple of things, inspecting the Mask and the wards I’d done but also trying to evaluate what exactly the Mask had done to Mark.
When Mark had completed his tale mother sat there for several seconds thinking.  “Mark I’m not sure if we’ll be able to remove the Mask or not.  My friend and colleague Dr. Susan McDonald will be here in a couple of hours.  She is an expert on Elven magic and I hope that she’ll have some ideas.  In the meantime feel free to explore the house and grounds Morgana is, I’m sure, an able tour guide.
Feeling like we’d been dismissed I got up as Mark stood he extended his hand.  “Thank you, I can’t tell you how much your help means to me.  If you can get this Mask off me and return me to normal, I’ll be in your debt.”
Mother grinned wickedly “be careful when you choose words around Magic-User’s we have a tendency to hold people to them.”  Then with a chuckle he walked back to his desk.  Just before I stepped out of the room he called out, “Morgana a moment of your time, in private please.”
“I’ll just be a sec why don’t you want to wait for me in the hallway or I can meet you back at your room.”  I asked.
“Are you kidding, I’ll never find my way back to my room without a guide.  I’ll wait.”
Once the doors were closed I turned back to mother. 
“Morgana, … Alastar … this is going to be very difficult.  I’m not sure about everything that artifact has done to that young man but the current changes are extreme.  Unless I’m miss-reading things he now has a magical chakra and from his earlier story he didn’t have any magical ability.  I have no idea how that Mask was able to take a person who while magically sensitive was completely mundane and transform her into a Magic-User but it did.  It also looks to me like the physical changes may be permanent but Susan will have to examine him to know for sure.” 
“How can the physical changes be permanent?  Transformation spells require a continuous feed of energy to maintain.”  I asked.
“That’s just it he doesn’t register as a transformed person.  The body signature I got from him was that he is in his natural body.  But that was confusing too; if I didn’t know better I’d say he is a half-elf right now.  But I’ve never heard of a successful inter-breeding of the races.  Be careful around him and watch him.  If the Mask gains the upper hand for control we could all be in trouble.” 
“I’ll be careful” I said turning around and heading out of the room.  Just as my hand touched the door knob my mother said “oh, by the way, you did a really nice job with those wards.  I doubt there are more than a dozen people in the world that could have done that.”
“Thank you” 
I then left the room.  Mark was standing in the hallway looking at a painting of a forest scene.  “So would you like to go back to your room or would you like a tour of the grounds?”
“After being a prisoner in my own apartment these last few days I’d like to walk around.  But is there anything else I can wear?”  Mark indicated the bathrobe and slippers.
I had to giggle at that “I suppose you do look a bit odd.  How would you feel about a nice dress?”  At the look of horror on Mark’s face I did laugh out loud.
“Come on I think I’ve got a pair of sweat pants and a loose t-shirt that should fit.  But we have to be careful, we can’t afford for the wards to get smeared.  As a matter of fact I should probably examine them while you change.”

+++

Susan McDonald arrived in a black Mercedes-Benz E350 at 12 pm exactly.  Mark was now back in her room so I had decided to find a spot where I could watch for Susan.  I arrived at the entry to find that my mother was already there.  We walked out the front door and then down the steps together to greet Susan.  
Susan McDonald is a short woman, with light brown hair and a full figure.  She is also just over a hundred and could pass for thirty.  Although she is classified as a Magic-User 1st Class she has more knowledge and skill than most members of the Guild Council of Elders in my opinion.  This coupled with her irreverent nature and love of life, have always drawn me to her and seeing her smile up at my mother made me want to scream.
“Alastar how are you?”  She said wrapping my mother in a hug.
“Susan, I’m not Alastar.  You did get the news?”
“Evaline?  My god my dear I’m so sorry.  I just didn’t believe it when I heard the news and then seeing you standing there next to your girlfriend well I just assumed that things were back to normal.”  This was the second thing I always loved about Susan, that despite all the years she assumed the best about people and that the right thing would happen in the end.  She was also a bit scatter brained.
“Ah,” mother turned to me and gestured me to step forward.  “Susan McDonald, this is Morgana Livingstone, Morgana Susan.”
“Thank you Mor,” I turned to Susan “It’s a pleasure to meet you Ma’am I’ve heard so much about you.”
“So you’re one of the Livingstone clan, hmm good family.  Evaline I definitely approve.”
Now it was my turn to feel my face flush.  Before I could say anything mother stepped in “Susan it’s not like that, Morgana is more like a pupil and friend there is nothing going on between us.”
“Really” Susan’s sharp eyes darted between the two of us. 
“Perhaps we could go inside and have a glass of ice tea and talk about the Mask and its victim?”  I asked.
Abruptly smiling Susan wove her arm through mothers and headed up the steps. “That sounds lovely, come along now dear.” 
We soon found ourselves in the atrium relaxing and looking out at the flower garden that extended off this section of the property.  Mother and Susan had been getting caught up for the last twenty minutes while I sat quietly listening.  I was enjoying the conversation even though I wasn’t contributing.  For me it was a nostalgic feeling to be in Susan’s company.  Finally she turned to me, “so tell me about this young woman you rescued.”
“For starters she was a man before the Mask began its work on her.”  I was pleased at the startled look on Susan’s face.  It took quite a bit to startle Susan.  I then launched into a retelling of Mark’s tale only this time I added observations from my inspection of the Smyth apartment and what I’d deduced about the thief and my examination of his body.  I then added what Sir Galohond had told me about the former Lady Duchess Siofra Aldalithe and my theory that it was all connected and that there was an Elven terrorist cell active here in St. Louis.  When I finished both my mother and Susan were staring at me with stunned expressions on their faces.
“Al, ah Morgana if what you say is true we have a very serious problem.”  Mother said looking both impressed and irritated that I’d not told her everything before now.
“All of that may be true, but if it is then it’s a matter for the Guild to attend too.  For the moment we should focus on this Mark person.”  Susan said.
“Shall I fetch him for you?”
“Yes dear but let’s use Evaline’s sanctum.  There are a few tests I’d like to try.”

+++

Mark had been nervous as he waited for Morgana to come get him and had almost jumped at the knock on the door.  The door opened and Morgana poked her head in. “Mark are you ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be” Mark answered.
Mark felt a lot better as he followed Morgana noticing her shapely back side along a hallway into a part of the house he’d not seen during the tour.  If I can be changed back to normal I wonder if Morgana would be interested in a date, he thought to himself.
“So where are we going?” Mark asked.
“We are going to Mor’s sanctum.  It’s where he casts his most powerful spells.  Susan has worked there before and is familiar with it.  She needs to examine you magically before she’ll know what can be done to help you.”
For some reason being around Morgana settled Mark’s nerves, even though she was a virtual stranger she had been the first good thing to enter Mark’s life in a while.  If Mark had thought the double doors made of oak which had led to Mor’s study had been impressive the wrought Iron and Silver doors leading to his sanctum left Mark feeling awed.  These people live in a different world from the rest of humanity he thought.
The doors opened at a word and gesture from Morgana which was a bit odd since most Magic-User’s jealously guarded the secrets of the sanctums.  Or at least that’s what Mark had been led to believe.
Mark stepped into a circular room with a series of sky lights letting in enough illumination to make any other light unnecessary.  The next thing Mark noticed was the room contained more books than he’d seen in one location outside of a library in his entire life.  The floor was made of a type of dark stone Mark had never seen before and in the center of the room was a magic circle with all sorts of symbols.  The whole thing was apparently made of silver laid into the stone.  At the clearing of a throat Mark came back to himself and glanced to his right.  Standing in front of a couple of chairs were two people.
“Mark, this is Susan McDonald, Susan this is Mark Miller the young man we’ve been telling you about.”  Said Mor.
Mark extended his hand and realized that the woman shaking his hand had a firmer grip than he did.  “Please come sit down” Susan said indicating the four chairs facing each other in a circle.
“I’ve heard your story from Ms. Livingstone but I’d like to hear it in your own words.”
With that Mark launched into his story again. It was starting to take on a cadence built up from the telling and retelling.  As Morgana watched she noticed that Susan did the same thing that her mother had done.  About half way through the tale while Mark was distracted she opened her third eye and studied the young man.  Once Mark completed his story Susan sat quietly for a moment and then looked at Mark. 
“I must be honest with you Mark this is going to be a challenge.  That Mask is an artifact I’ve read about and from what I’ve learned it’s a vile thing.  An Elven War Lord wished to use her power to dominate the human realm and then bring hordes of human barbarians back to Summer to subdue her rivals.  The problem is that Elves are limited in what they can do magically while in the human realm.  She thought she had solved the problem when she allied herself with an Elven Master Craftsman who also happened to be an Elven Witch.  The Witch betrayed the War Lord and used her life force to enter the Mask.  Once in the Mask the Witch gained the ability to possess anyone who uses it.  She used her power to steal the body of that first War Lord.  However she was defeated while in the human realm by an allied force of humans and Elves.  The Elves have learned to counter the power of the Mask by the simple expedient of never putting it on.  Once attuned to it they don’t even need to touch it to draw power from it while it’s here in the human realm.  They simply need to be within close proximity.  The Witch being female prefers female victims and refuses to give any power to men.”  Susan paused to see if Mark understood what she was telling him.
“But if the witch prefers woman why did she do this to me?”  He asked.
“I can only guess.  It’s been hundreds of years since anyone has used the Mask.  Over time spirits trapped in objects like this have a tendency to fall into a sleep like state.  At some point Siofra must have wakened the spirit of the witch within the artifact.  Once that was done the witch would have been desperate to have a body to possess.  Because you were magically sensitive but lacked any real power you were an ideal target for her.  She probably didn’t even know your race or gender until after you put the Mask on that first night.”
“Once she had begun to take control of your body she needed two things, the first was power.  The way the Mask works is that the person wearing it draws power through the Mask into their center.  You didn’t have the ability to do this.  So the Mask had to improvise.  Obviously it can drain power from objects.”
“And people” Morgana interrupted.
At this Susan stopped and looked at Morgana with a question in her eyes.  “When the Mask was making Mark rob a magic store yesterday, the owner objected violently and with magic.  During the battle the Mask drained the shopkeeper of all his power.  But not just his power but also his ability to do magic, I spoke with the hospital this morning and he is completely mundane.”  When Morgana looked over at Mark she could see the look of shock and horror on her face.  “I’m sorry Mark, it’s not your fault you didn’t do it the Mask did.”
“Yes” said mother “but that might explain Mark’s magical chakra.”
At this Susan nodded “yes it might and if that’s the case then our task is a bit easier.” Turning to look at Mark Susan continued “Mark time is of the essence.  The wards that Morgana placed on you are first class but they are only a temporary measure.  Already I can see the Mask working to get around them and take control of you again.  We need to get that Mask off you as soon as possible.”
“Ma’am I’m more than ready to have it off!” Mark exclaimed.
“I’m sure you are.  However there are some things you should know.  First this spell will take all three of us to cast and it might fail.  If it fails the Mask will gain control of you forever.  If that happens we will be forced to kill you.  The witch who lives in that artifact is too powerful too loose on this world again.”
At this Mark swallowed “I understand Ma’am I’ll take my chances, just get this thing off me!”
Susan smiled and leaned forward to pat Mark’s hand.  “There are other possible outcomes.  We might have complete success in which case you’ll be separated from the Mask and will change back into your natural form.  I doubt that will happen since I can’t sense any magic being used to maintain your current form.  In fact I think the most likely outcome will be that we separate you from the Mask and you will be female for the rest of your life.  But until the Mask is off I can’t tell for certain.”
“Ma’am, I wish I’d never seen this damn thing.  If we do nothing the Mask will take over, if we try and fail it will take over.  But if we try and succeed I will be free but might be stuck with this body?  Those are odds I’m willing to take.  Especially since I can’t go back and changed things it seems like there’s only one choice.  So when do we start?”  Mark asked.
“Now if Morgana and Evaline are ready.”
“I’m ready” said Morgana.
“So am I, but I don’t know how much help I’ll be” said mother “I don’t have much strength that I can lend to the effort.”
Susan looked over at Evaline disappointment on her face.  “Evaline, when your son wore that body you always underestimated it and him.  There is a powerful ley-line under this estate.  You have spent years attuning yourself to it this is what I need you to do today.  Allow me to pull on the strength of the earth through your connection to the ley-line and this place.”
Mark watched the exchange between Susan and Mor wide eyed obviously confused by Susan calling Mr. Donegal by a female name.  
Turning to me Susan asked “Morgana have you ever participated in a linked working?”
“Yes Ma’am.” Morgana replied wishing to add that Susan had taught her how to link more than a decade ago.
“Well then let’s begin.”  Susan stood up and turned to Mark. “Please remove all of your clothes and step into the center of the circle.”  She then looked at Evaline “do you have any potions that will induce a light trance?”
“Certainly”
“Please fetch one.”  Susan said.
Morgana had to hide a smile as she watched Susan order her mother around here in the heart of her own power.  Obviously Evaline’s confidence in his magical ability was shaken by living in Alastar’s body for the last three months.
By this time Mark had stripped out of her clothes and was standing in the center of the circle. Evaline brought a potion contained in a small bottle to her being careful not to step on any of the silver lines.
“Go ahead and drink this Mark it won’t hurt you.”  Evaline said.
Mark tilted his head back and downed it in one shot.  Amused Evaline took the bottle and retreated out of the circle.  Susan looked around and saw that both Evaline and Morgana had taken positions outside of the Great Circle just where she would have directed them. 
Glancing at Morgana Susan asked “those wards on Mark’s body, did you leave a key or central ward that will allow us to take them all down at once?”
Morgana smiled this was just like the days back at Susan’s cottage when they’d worked magic together. “Yes Ma’am, there are both a central ward and a verbal trigger.”
Susan nodded, “quite good in fact some of your warding reminds me of Alastar.  Mark, dear, how are you feeling?”  When Mark just turned her head to look at Susan showing glassy eyes Susan knew that it was time.
“Okay ladies, this is how we’ll begin.  On my command Morgana will release the wards on Mark. As soon as she speaks the trigger Evaline bring up the power of the circle.  That should contain the Mask.  As soon as that’s done both of you will link with me.  Evaline concentrate on drawing power through the ley-line and push it to me.  Morgana feed me a steady stream of energy but watch what I do.  If I falter you’ll have to pick up the spell.  Questions?”
When both Morgana and her mom shook their heads Susan took a deep breath.
“Let’s begin, Morgana drop the ward.”
Morgana lifted a hand (even though it was unnecessary) and spoke the Key.  At once Mark’s posture changed suddenly she seemed confident and angry.  Before Mark could utter a word there was a blaze of silvery light that shot along the silver pattern set into the floor.  In less than a second the entire Great Circle was a glow with power.
“Mortals I will destroy you and feast on your power before this day is done!”  The arrogance, power, and malice in the voice shocked Morgana.  This creature was evil! 
Susan didn’t respond instead she spoke a word and made a gesture.  Morgana knew exactly what to do and spoke the word that would link her to Susan.  On the other side of the circle Morgana could feel Evaline doing the same thing.  Morgana felt the link solidify between each of them.  Faint and tenuous at first but within a seconds it grew into a fully formed link.  It was the kind of magical connection that only people who really knew each other and had performed magic together could establish.  
Abruptly an inhuman shriek sounded from within the circle as Mark blasted a sickly green energy at Susan.  The energy struck the side of the circle and splashed into an arc left and right following the contour of the circle all the way around searching for yet finding no flaws.
Susan began chanting while making an intricate series of gestures, each movement was fluid and well-practiced but it took several seconds before Morgana started to understand what she was doing.  This first series of spells was designed to draw the magical energy trapped within the circle out and dissipate it.  The Mask need power in order to remain active, if that power could be siphoned off it would be helpless or at least much easier to deal with. 
“Foolish human is that the best you can do?”  With that the creature inside the circle spoke a word and stamped her foot against the stone.  The room shuddered but the stone and the circle held.
“This circle has been warded against that type of attack" Evaline said sounded smug. 
Now Susan started a new series of spells.  Morgana could tell these were designed to draw the creature out of Mark’s living body and contain it within the Mask.
“Noooo” the sound of the spirits agony caused one of the sky lights to crack. At the same time a sickly green mist poured out of Mark’s eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.  The mist was heavier than air and pooled on the ground around Mark’s feet.
At this point Morgana was channeling more and more magical power into Susan.  Morgana had never experienced a link this fully formed.  She was watching the Mask from three different angles all at once almost as if for the moment the three of them were one being.  Morgana felt Susan’s demand for more energy and responded, it felt like she was trying to sprint uphill with a hundred pound pack on her back through the mud.   Morgana caught a glimpse of her mother and saw that his face was red from the strain of pulling ley-line magic and directing it to Susan and at the same time felt him pulling every bit of power from the earth he could. 
The mist was pushing itself up taking on the form of an Elven woman.  For a moment her features were stunningly beautiful but this lasted only for a second.  Now they changed her teeth became fangs and fingers sprouted claws and within seconds a hag like monstrosity stood within the circle towering over Mark’s frozen form.  The feeling of pure malevolence, a hatred for all living creatures was so powerful that Morgana felt her concentration waiver for a second.  What kind of creature was this thing?  It certainly wasn’t human!
Again the creature shrieked and the volume and violence of it caused Morgana to stagger back a step.  For some reason Morgana felt the need to look up and saw that one of the skylights directly over the circle had cracks running the entire length.  She reflexively paused to catch her breath.  Then slowly at first one followed by several, glass shards fell heading straight for the circle.
Without thinking Morgana directed telekinetic force toward the falling glass.  Suddenly they stopped, frozen, just a foot or two above the circle.  With a gesture she tossed them to one side and then directed energy at the remaining glass in all four skylights blowing the glass up and away from the house and more importantly the circle. 
However while this was going on the creature surged against the boundary of the circle looking for a flaw.  Energy played along the perimeter but the creature was contained.  Unexpectedly Susan collapsed to her knees.
“Alastar take it” She gasped out.
Without thinking Alastar reached out and took control of the link smoothly picking up the threads of the spell and allowing Susan to catch her breath.  If Alastar/Morgana had thought she was working hard before now she really knew what it felt like to strain under a heavy magical load.  With a calming breath she reached into the recess of her mind and somehow found more power and directed it at the creature.
“Esarthae Haelond I bid thee return to your vessel.”  Alastar/Morgana said.
This time the creatures answering shriek was softer and contained words that Alastar/Morgana didn’t understand.  Alastar/Morgana felt power coming to her from her mother in far greater quantities then she’d thought possible.  Now more energy, faint at first but growing in strength, flowed to Alastar/Morgana from Susan who had pushed herself back to her feet. 
“By thy name and the power of this circle I bid thee Esarthae Haelond return to your vessel!”  There was a huge surge of energy as the power of the binding pushed into the creature within the circle.
“Mortal there will come a day when I am free and on that day I will find you and have vengeance!”  The malice dripping from the creature’s voice made the hair on Morgana’s arms stand up.  She took a deep breath and steeled her will.
“ESARTHAE HAELOND thrice thou art named!  By my Word thou art bid and by my Will thou art bound.  RETURN TO THY VESSEL!”
Morgana ended her command with a shout and a release of power that caused the sound of thunder to crack through the room shattering mirrors, lights, and shorting out every piece of electrical equipment in the room.
The sound of thunder drowned out the Spirit’s roar as it returned to mist and was sucked in a swirling vortex into the Mask.  The Mask became visible to mundane sight for the first time since Mark had put it on and fell to the floor with a clatter of stone on stone and a sudden silence.
Morgana felt her legs turn wobble and dropped to one knee rather than allow herself to collapse fully.  She looked over at her to partners and saw that Susan was sitting on both knees steadying herself by leaning forward using both arms to hold herself up.  Across the circle Morgana’s mom had also dropped to a sitting position but appeared to be fine.
With the spell done Morgana broke the link and then dropped the circle with the simple expedient of sliding one foot across the silver line.  The magic released with the sensation of a bubble popping. First Morgana checked on Mark, after the Mask had fallen off she’d collapsed in a heap.  Finding a steady pulse Morgana turned to the Mask.  Reaching out telekinetically she picked up not wanting to touch it and walked over to her mother. 
“Mom, do you have something we can put this thing in that will prevent its influence from affecting anyone else?” 
“Evaline you mean” he hissed glancing over at Susan.  The louder “yes I’ve got a special safe here in the sanctum designed to hold powerful magical artifacts and prevent any possible leakage of magic or influence.”
“Oh be still Evaline, I figured out that Morgana was Alastar the second I saw the wards on Mark’s body.  But if I needed any further evidence the link proved it.”  Susan pushed herself to her feet and turned to look at Alastar.
“My dear, I’m so proud of you.  What you did today was amazing.”  With that Susan walked over and gave Alastar/Morgana a hug.  “Now let’s get rid of that thing, put Mark to bed, and raid your mother’s wine cellar.”

+++

It was still early in the day despite everything that we’d done. The spell to remove the Mask had started at 1 pm and by 1:30 Susan and I were sitting in mother’s study drinking a chilled Chardonnay.  Mother was sipping on a light beer and looking relaxed. 
“How is Mark?”  Asked mother looking over at me.
“I took her back to the guest room, and put another sleep ward over her.  She should be out until tomorrow morning.  Physically she’s exhausted and needs sleep.  Mentally, well who knows after everything she’s been through?”  I replied.
“So will the two of you tell me what really happened three months ago?”  Asked Susan.
Mother looked irritated “Susan the only reason that I didn’t tell you everything was that the council ordered us to keep it a secret.” 
“Well I’m not a member of the Guild or the Guild Council.” I said and turned to Susan.
With that I launched into the story about Ambrose and what he’d done.  Once I’d finished Susan only nodded.  “Now things make more sense.  Dear it may be tough to give up your life and identity but based on what I’ve seen you will be able to do a lot of good with the power you now have.”
I smiled with pleasure at Susan’s words, she had always been very encouraging and easy with compliments sort of the opposite of my mother.  Suddenly I realized the time.
“Crap, I need to start getting ready.”
“Ready for what dear” asked my mother?
“Uhm well I sort of have a date.” I stammered.
“A DATE?” the surprise in mother’s voice made me feel rebellious.
“Yes if you must know, so as much as I’d like to stay and get caught up. I really need to get moving.”  With that I left my startled mother and amused mentor and headed up to my room.  

+++

Instead of trying to get ready at mother’s place I jumped into my Charger (Steven had gone out earlier and picked it up for me.) and headed to my house.  Once home I petted Edgar and gave him some food.  Then I headed to the shower.  After getting cleaned up I wrapped a towel around my chest tucking it between my breasts to hold it up while I wound a second towel around my hair to help dry it and keep it out of my way.
Next I went into the closet and after a moment of hesitation started opening the bag’s containing the garments my mother’s seamstress had made for me.  The first bag held a deep red formal gown. Definitely overkill for tonight I thought.  The next bag held a purple full length dress with a large slit up the side and a plunging neckline.  I don’t think so!  After checking and rejecting several more dresses I opened one and paused.  It was a brilliant blue, silk dress that stopped just above my knees.  It was off the shoulder but still covered more of my chest than some of the other dresses would have.  After looking at it for several minutes I decided that would be the right mix of daring but not too daring.  I took the bag into the bedroom and laid it on the bed.  Now underwear, as I considered this I noticed the bag the dress came in also had a pocket on the outside.  Unzipping the pocket I discovered a set of lingerie that perfectly matched the color of the dress.  It seemed that either my mother or Chelsea had thought of everything, a multi-way strapless bra, thong panties along with a garter and stockings.  Somehow I knew that if I started looking through the shoe boxes I’d find the perfect shoes to go with this outfit.  
For a moment I thought about calling Galohond and canceling.  Was I really ready to try and be a girl on a date?  But the thought of him made my knees weak.  Okay get a grip, it’s not like you’re going to have sex.  This is just one date talk to him.  Find out if he’s interesting or an ass.  With that I dropped the towel and stepped into the panties.  

+++

I never liked driving in heels but tonight I decided that I’d give it a try.  The Franco at 7 pm was prime time for dinning.  I wasn’t sure how Galohond had been able to get reservations but when I pulled up to the valet he was already waiting.  Galohond was wearing a black double breasted suit with a green shirt and matching tie.  The suit did a great job of setting off his broad shoulders and thin waist.
“Ah Morgana it was indeed worth the wait, you are a vision.”  With that he scooped up my fingers and kissed them lightly. 
“Thank you Sir, if you weren’t a knight I’d accuse you of trying to be gallant.”
“It’s the prerogative of the gentry to be gallant my lady” he said with a deprecating grin.  I tucked my arm through his elbow as I’d felt my previous dates do and said “well lead on good sir I understand a feast awaits us.”
At this he laughed and we stepped into the cool dark recess of the restaurant.

+++

Evaline and Susan were sitting once again in the atrium.  They were enjoying an after dinner coffee when the wards vibrated.  Evaline sat up straight and sent out a questing.  At first he didn’t feel anything and started to relax.
“Is everything alright?” Susan didn’t appear too concerned.
“I’m not sure yet. The wards started to signal and then stopped. Alastar designed the wards on this place, and while he might not have been very powerful, he is an absolute genius when it comes to warding.”
“Yes I know Evaline, I did mentor him remember?”
Evaline flashed a smile at his longtime friend.  “It’s Mor now.  Evaline doesn’t really fit.”
Susan giggled and put her hand on Mor’s “So remember that summer back in the seventies when you were feeling very experimental?”  Mor flushed remembering, he and Susan had a quiet fling each of them transforming into men they were particularly attracted to and then seducing the other.
“I remember, but try to imagine how strange this is for me.  I’m in my son’s body and don’t even have the power to work a transformation spell without either tapping a ley-line or pulling power from one of my repositories.”
Suddenly there was a jarring at the wards and the full alarm went off.  The outer wards were breached and the inner activated in full defense mode.  A loud siren started and a signal was automatically sent to the Guild Hall.  The Donegal estate was under Magical assault.

+++

Rushing forward dozens of figures approached from all four directions.  All were dressed in black and wore archaic looking armor.  In addition to the primary assault force the road leading up to the property was blocked in both directions by two squads of ten Elves in black armor.  Lastly a reserve force of a dozen headed up by a blonde female Elf wearing form fitting black, green, and golden armor waited along the drive way leading to the house.  Siofra looked around anxiously waiting for a signal from her Lord for her to move up onto the objective.  Whoever tripped those alarms is most likely a dead man or dead elf she thought to herself.  

+++

Back in the estate Evaline and Susan had hurried to the hall leading up to the main entry.  Evaline had dismissed the servants early and there were no security guards in the house with Alastar’s wards they had always seemed unnecessary.  
The pounding of magical blasts against the wards sounded like the crack of artillery.  They’d been at in for nearly sixty seconds and already it seemed like an eternity. 
“Should we go collect young Mark?”  Asked Susan.
“No, we have her under an enchanted sleep she’s probably safe where she is.  Especially since no one knows she’s here and Guild Special Agents will be here before whoever this is has a chance to search the house.  Assuming they break through the inner wards.” Evaline said. 
“Evaline, I think we need to assume they will break through.  You’re on your home ground but you don’t have much strength.  I’ll hold them here, go to your sanctum and arm yourself with your most powerful weapons.”  Susan looked at her friend fear showing in her face.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can.” With that Evaline started running for the sanctum.  One great thing about this body he thought was that it’s in great shape.  Suddenly the pitch of the alarm changed.  Louder and shriller, “shit” the inner wards were breached.  For a second Evaline considered going back but figured he’d be useless in a straight up magical fight.  
He approached the sanctum and since he hadn’t seen any sign of intruders took down the wards and headed in.
“Ah thank you that was much easier than bashing the wards down.”  The voice was a cultured masculine one and Evaline whirled around.
Three Elves stood in the hallway each wearing armor and carrying swords in one hand wands in the other.  Except the leader, he was a tall blonde elf with broad shoulders and stood there calmly holding a staff his sword sheathed at his side.  
Pulling as much power as possible Evaline lashed out with magical energy, even using as much strength as he could from the ley-line beneath his feet it was a far cry from what he could have hurled at the intruders three months ago.  The power splashed across a shield the lead elf had pulled up in response to the attack momentarily blinding everyone in the hallway.  Evaline used that moment to throw himself backward into the sanctum and spoke the words that caused the doors to slam closed sealing the room with magical power.
For a moment the Elf Lord cursed in his native tongue.  This assault had not gone according to plan.  The wards had been much more powerful and subtle than he’d anticipated his team had set them off prematurely giving the occupants time to prepare. Now Evaline Donegal had locked herself in her sanctum.  The mistress had explained who this man really was and that he was much less powerful in his current body but not to underestimate him.  He was smart and on his home turf. 
The Elf Lord lifted a gauntleted hand to his face. On the wrist of the gauntlet was a large gem.  Activating it with a trickle of power he spoke.  “All elements this is lead, report status.”  Around the estate each of the squad leaders had a similar gem on their gauntlets and from the gem their master’s voice sound and they moved to obey.
“Bravo Echo ONE in position negative contact.” Came the reply from the northern blocking force.
“Bravo Echo TWO in position negative contact.”  The southern element reported. 
Alpha Echo ONE, through the wards on the objective, negative contact.”
“Alpha Echo TWO, through main wards.  CONTACT, repeat we are in contact with a defensive force.”
“Roger Alpha Echo TWO secure the main entry.  Break, Romeo Echo move forward and support Alpha Echo TWO report main entry clear.”  The tall Elf Lord said.
“Roger lead, Romeo Echo moving” Siofra said turning to her reserve element and directing them to follow her as she moved forward. 
“Alpha Echo THREE, working on the wards, we’ll be through and on the objective in 3 mikes, negative contact.”  Came the report from the last assault element. 

+++

Back in the entry hall the doors burst open from the force of the repeated pounding.  Before the first Elven warrior could jump through Susan blasted white hot energy into the breach.  For a second the lead Elven warrior glowed as his shield absorbed the energy then it failed and the white hot fire struck him in the chest.  His entire body glowed for a second and then with a scream he fell to the ground nothing more than ashes within the melted armor.
Warbling their battle cries the Elves surged forward.  The next elf made it into the doorway before he fell to Susan’s furious blast.  Suddenly the windows to the side shattered and a huge Elven warrior stood there.  Susan pivoted and blasted him with both hands but he caught the energy on large metal shield strapped to his left arm.  It obviously held a powerful enchantment since it absorbed the blast.  Suddenly Susan sensed movement in the door and turned in time to catch a green energy bolt and deflect it before it could strike her.
Now more Elves pushed through the door and Susan had everything she could do just to defend herself.  As she did this she noticed the large warrior was moving forward.  Even though he’d cast no spells his sword glowed with green and red power that she knew would cut through her defense.  Glancing back Susan knew there must be 8 or 9 opponents in front of her and no chance to beat them. 
She hesitated for a second, “I’m sorry Evaline” and then uttered her death curse blasting out with all the power she could hold and weaving in her life energy which created a tidal wave of amber and white energy that surged toward the attackers. 
The magical fire ripped down the hallway and caught five of the Elves before they could get out of the way.  Their individual body shields held for a heartbeat and then they were consumed.  Silence fell in the hall.  Of the twelve Elves that had assaulted the main doors seven were dead.  One of the Elves noticed that even though the fire had been white hot the walls and furnishings had not been touched. 
Into this mess Siofra strode looking every inch the Lady Elven War Lord.  Pointing with her sword she said “the Mask is that way.”  Siofra also noticed that she was now close enough to draw power from the Mask.  She instantly started doing so and felt energy pour into her in greater and greater quantities as she got closer to the sanctum.

+++

The music was light and the ambience perfect I thought.  Galohond had taken the liberty of ordering and since I knew nothing about French food this was fine with me.  He proved an excellent conversationalist and I approved his taste in wine.  
“So how is it you’re here as an agent of your Queen?”  I asked. 
“I didn’t think you wanted to talk about work?”  He replied. 
“I’m not asking you about the case. I’m just curious how you came to be in St. Louis.”
“That is a bit of a story.  You see although I come from a noble family some of my relatives have joined the separatist movement.  I volunteered to hunt them down here in the human realm to prove my loyalty to Queen Isilidhrindal.”
I was surprised that he’d be this open about Elven politics and his family.  I’d always heard that Elves were very private people.  Then I had an inspiration. 
“You’re related to Siofra.”
“Yes, curse her.  She has brought a great deal of shame to my family.”
“But that’s not all is it?” I asked.
“No, she’s my cousin, she somehow persuaded my younger brother to join her cause.  If I can capture her, I might have an opportunity to talk him into surrendering.  If he does then I can use my influence at court and beg the Queen for mercy.”
“Since you’ve been so open I feel like I owe you some information as well.”  I said feeling guilty.  I hadn’t lied to him and I was under no obligation to pass information to him.  But I was starting too really like his openness and I didn’t want this case to come between us. 
“Oh?”  He asked looking interested.
“I along with Mr. Mor Donegal have recovered the Mask.”
“WHAT!” At the sound of his shout heads turned around us.
“Quiet” I hissed “we only just recovered it last night, and today we separated it from the poor human woman who was wearing it.  I’m sure that Mor has informed the Guild so you should be able to talk to the Foreign Affairs Division tomorrow and arrange for it to be returned.  It is an Elven artifact after all.”
Now he looked worried, “you don’t understand.  That Mask was stolen from the vaults of a citadel guarded by Elves loyal to the Queen.  The separatists somehow were able to turn guards who had been loyal and use them to gain access to the vault.  I and my team were able to track them and we ambushed them before they left Summer.  They fought with suicidal ferocity.  A few managed to escape into the human realm and when we tracked them down they had all committed suicide to avoid capture.  The Mask was gone.” 
“I came to St. Louis because Mr. Smyth had contacted Elves who deal in black market items looking to sell the Mask.  They in turn contacted the Queen’s Guard and I was dispatched.  I thought I was going to arrive here and buy the Mask and return it to Summer.  But by the time I got here it was already stolen.  I don’t know if the separatists are still here in St. Louis but these people well trained, and have several other artifacts that are very dangerous.”  
At this he paused and then continued in a rush “I have reason to believe that there are members of the Guild perhaps even on the St. Louis Guild Council who have been compromised.”
“Compromised how, what do you mean?” I asked starting to feel worried myself.
Before he could answer I felt a shriek in my head.  I put both hands to my ears in response although it did nothing to reduce the noise.  When I could see again Galohond was looking at me with an alarmed expression.
Before I knew what I was doing I was on my feet. “My mother is in danger, our estate is under assault.  I’ve got to get there as fast as possible.”
I turned and practically ran out of the restaurant heading for my car thinking.  When I got to the entry I realized there was no way I could get to the estate in my car in time.  I sent out a call to Edgar and ordered him into the air directing him to the estate.  He was much closer than I was so if he got there before me, I could use our bond to see what was going on.
By this time Galohond was standing next to me. “I don’t understand, I thought your mother was dead.”
“Did I say my mother?  I should have said my God Mother.  Evaline Mor Donegal is my God Mother and her estate is under assault.”  I didn’t bother to look at him to see if he’d believed my lie.  “I plan to get there fast, you can come if you can keep up.”  Before I could cast my spell he interrupted me.
“What do you plan to do?”
“I’m going to transform into a bird and fly to the estate.”
“That will take some time yes?”  He asked.
“Normally but I plan to summon an Air Elemental and use its strength to get me there very quickly.”
“I’m not an expert on human magic but in Summer Air Elementals are the most tricky and difficult of all the Elementals to summon and control.”  He said.
“They are here as well but I don’t have many other options if I want to get there fast.” I responded.
“I have a powerful transformation spell.  If you have the strength to copy the design you can use the spell, it’s much faster than some bird.”  
I caught his meaning instantly.  Transformation spells required the caster to have the pattern of the creature or person they intended to change into.  For example I have the power to change into a Polar Bear but without the pattern I can’t change into one.  The second aspect is that the more powerful the creature the more magic is required.  There is also a mass component.  It requires more magic to add mass, and interestingly enough, an equal amount of magic to lose that same mass.
I nodded to Galohond and he stepped out from under the valet awning and walked into an open section of parking lot.  Then cast his spell.  I watched the transformation using the third eye to make sure I understood the pattern.  The words of power and gestures he used were different but suddenly the pattern took shape superimposed over his physical image.
“No way” I said stunned.
Standing in the parking lot was a huge Green Dragon with a golden belly.  He looked at me and then leapt into the sky with a great snap of his wings.  Cars in the parking lot shifted around from the down blast of his wings and several car alarms started going off.
I had the pattern of a dragon seared into my mind.  A DRAGON, holy shit there hasn’t been a dragon sighted in the human realm in a thousand years.  I walked to the parking lot where Galohond had stood and felt nervous.  This would take a lot of power could I do it?
Abruptly I felt the light of the full moon bathing my skin in its soft radiance.  I felt super charged with energy.  I concentrated on the pattern of a dragon and pulled all the power I could and then poured it into the pattern and spoke the words and cast the spell.  My skin rippled with energy, I felt myself growing and I fell forward onto my forelegs.  I shook my head and felt scales ripple along my back.  With an unconscious motion I snapped my new wings down and then up stretching.  I realized that the change was complete and looked at my scales.  My dominate color was silver with a blue belly and the undersides of my wings were blue as well.  I tipped my head back a roared feeling incredibly powerful.
I noticed another dragon high in the air and all at once I could hear him in my mind.
*Morgana if you want to help your God Mother you need to get control of your Dragon nature and take to the sky*
I realized why I’d changed into a dragon and knew that I had to hurry.  My mother was in danger.  Rage swept through me, dragon anger, a feeling almost overwhelming in its elemental power.  Without thinking about the people around me I jumped into the sky and snapped my wings down and in seconds I’d climbed several thousand feet leveling off even with Galohond. 
*You make a beautiful dragon* He sent.
I realized that I was larger than he was by a considerable margin and in dragon terms more powerful.
*You’re not so bad yourself pipsqueak*
I then turned to mother’s house and started snapping my wings beating the air furiously.  At the same time I realized that dragons must also use magic to propel themselves through the sky.  So I pushed out with my power.  In seconds I’d left Galohond far behind me.  I also figured out that I was using power at an alarming rate, but in this moment I didn’t care. 

+++

Edgar came to the estate first and spotted the two groups of Elves blocking the road.  One group was engaged in a furious spell battle with the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) from the Guild Hall.  The other group was maneuvering to provide covering fire and then as Edgar watched both blocking groups fell back toward the house disengaging the QRF as they did so. 
The wards were down and the house was completely open. I directed Edgar to the skylights that led to the sanctum.  If I knew my mother he’d make his last stand there. Edgar perched on the sill of one of the windows and gave me a view of the interior.  The doors had been forced and a group of more than a dozen Elves in black armor were inside.  My mother was being held in the air and a female elf with blonde hair was trying to open the safe which contained the Mask.
I roared and redoubled my efforts to get to my mother’s estate.  There are several ways to fuel magical power.  There is the amount of ambient magic in the world around us.  There are artifacts which are able to contain power such as wands, staffs, and crystals.  There are the elements, the sun, the moon, and ley-lines, but there is also emotion. 
Magic is the life force of the universe.  In its natural state it is pure chaos.  As the will is applied it can take shape, but the more powerful the will, the greater the determination, the more magic that a Magic-User can use and shape.  Emotion and Will are closely linked.  At the sight of my mother held prisoner I allowed my dragon rage to sweep through my body.   My home had been invaded, my mother held prisoner, and now these assholes were going to free the Mask.  I had never been so furious in my life.  With my Will I shaped my anger using it as a conduit from which I drew as much power as I could hold.  I then focused on flying.
Within a few minutes the estate swept into view.  I could see that the blocking force had disengaged from the Guild Force and was almost within the protection of the house.  I decided I would not allow this to happen.
I opened my jaws and to my surprise lighting blasted out.  I was nearly a mile up and two miles away but my dragon vision turned the night to day for me and then telescoped in allowing me to see my targets clearly.  The lighting forked and then forked again as it traveled the distance.  Bodies, grass, and gravel went flying and armor smoked.  In a few seconds I was over the estate and circled once spotting the survivors of my first pass trying to scatter.  Again I blasted them with lighting watching with amazement as the lightning seemed to twist and follow my enemies killing them in a relentless chain of lightning and death.  
Turning again I dove for one of the skylights and transformed as I descended.  There was no glass to break and I caught myself with telekinesis.  Edgar followed me as I dropped into the sanctum.
Several green and golden missiles blasted up at me, I ignored them as my body shield flared.  I could still feel the silver glow of the moon on my skin and drew strength from it.  When my heels touched the floor of the sanctum the power of the ley-line flowed smoothly into me increasing my power yet again.  This was a ley-line I’d been tapping since I was a child nothing could be more familiar.
I looked to one side and saw a hole in the air, the blonde woman holding the Mask of Esarthae Haelond stepped through the hole and for some reason she didn’t look happy.  In front of the hole six Elven warriors stood swords at the ready.  Behind them a large blonde warrior who looked very familiar stood holding a staff watching me.  I could tell he was the one holding my mother telekinetically.
“If you release him, I’ll let you live.”  I said and the sound of my voice startled me.  It was full of a slivery power that made strange echo within the confines of the sanctum. 
“Woman who are you?”  Asked the elf with the staff.
I didn’t bother to answer but started casting.  I attacked with fire, lightning, cold, and magic missiles all at once and with precise control.  Four of the six warriors in front of me died before they realized they were under attack.  I leapt forward summoning light to my fist in the shape of a Katana and sliced at the nearest standing warrior.  He tried to catch my blade on his and even though his sword glowed with a green energy my blade sliced through it and his torso with equal ease.  Then I was by him facing the elf with the staff who held my mother.
He leveled his staff at me and blasted with a gold and green power.  I brought my shield up and energy flared across it blinding me for a second.  When the light cleared the elf, my mother, and the hole in the air were gone.  I looked to my left and saw one warrior remaining.  He looked at me with a grim determination and charged forward.
As angry as I was I still had control, I lashed out with telekinesis.  I pulled the sword from his hand and lifted him into the air.  Then I hit him with a sleep spell and watched him pass out.
I heard a noise behind me but Edgar had already warned me so I didn’t jump.  Instead I turned slowly.  Galohond had just landed in Elven form and looked around.  The look of shock and anger on his face told me that I had at least one ally in the building.  I suddenly felt like throwing myself into his arms and crying but I refused to give in.  I would rescue my mother and then someone was going to pay for this. 



*****
Chapter 5
*****

The commander of the QRF strode into the entry hall looking around as though he expected an attack to appear from any corner.  He was flanked on either side by Magic-Users who looked like they knew what they were doing.  I moved forward leaving Galohond where he was at the far end of the entry hall, Edgar squawked and flapped his wings once to maintain his balance at my movement.  I’m sure I must have been a sight in my tight blue dress with a large crow perched on my shoulder. 
I could feel the QRF commander holding magical power obviously ready to lash out, so I made sure to hold my hands out palms up indicating my peaceful intentions. 
“Ma’am please identify yourself.”  It was more of a demand than question. 
“I’m Morgana Livingstone, Evaline Donegal is my God Mother (I decided to stick to the story I’d told Galohond knowing the Guild wouldn’t be able to disprove my claim right away) when the wards on this estate were breeched I came to assist.”  I said.
“My team took fire from an organized group, as we approached the estate.  We are now securing the property.  I must ask you and your friend to remain here.” 
When I nodded he spoke into a mic attached to his shoulder of his tactical battle harness.
“Main entrance secure.  I’m leaving Stevenson with two possible suspects in the main hall.”  With that he and one of the two QRF members moved off leaving a tall special agent with us.
I knew it would be a few minutes before they had secured the grounds but thought it best to let them do their work without interference.  I kicked off my heels and walked over to a wall where I sank to the floor and leaned back closing my eyes.  God I was tired.  I’ve been working this body hard for the last three months but I didn’t think I’d used this much power in a twenty four hour period.  Including the night I’d been captured by Ambrose.  I heard Galohond walk over and take a seat next to me.
“What you did tonight was very impressive.”  He remarked softly.
“I failed, my mother was captured and Susan is dead.”  I had only discovered Susan’s body a few minutes before the QRF had showed up and I was still in shock.
“You took out over twenty Elven warriors by yourself.  I don’t know any other humans who could have performed a similar feat.” 
“How many Master Class human Magic-Users do you know?  And of those how many have you ever seen really cut loose?”  I responded.
“Only a few and I’ve never seen any of them really go full out.” He acquiesced. 
“So where did they go?  I assume Summer, can we follow them and can you track them?” I asked.  Now I opened my eyes and looked at Galohond making sure I could see his face when he responded.
“I can part the veil to Summer, but I don’t know where they landed in the realm.  It’s not like I can open a way here and land in the same spot on the other side.  I have to have a place in Summer in mind and that’s where my way will open.”  He said.
“So why didn’t we just open a way to Summer from the restaurant and then open another way to here?”  I asked feeling frustrated. 
“Two reasons” Galohond replied, “the first is that I’d never been here.  I can only open a way to a place in the human realm where I’ve been.  The second is that time doesn’t flow evenly between the realms.  The difference is not huge but it’s enough and it’s erratic.”
“What do you mean ‘erratic’” I asked?
“We could have parted the veil and arrived in Summer then instantly parted it again and returned here.  To us the event might have taken five minutes subjectively.  Yet we could have arrived here only to find an hour had passed.  Or two or three hours it’s hard to know.  Conversely we could spend several hours in Summer and return here to find only five minutes have passed.  The time stream is not so different that days will go by in one realm while hours pass in the other, and they seem to oscillate and correct.  For example when one realm might get ten to fifteen hours ahead of the other, suddenly it slows down and the other catches up.  We have sorcerers who spend most of their lives studying this and can sort of predict the oscillations.  I’m not that good and didn’t think it worth the risk.” 
I decided to accept this but also became determined that I would start studying this branch of magic.  I had never had the power to ‘travel’ and in the last three months had not had a reason to learn until now.  Now I had a reason there were some Elven terrorists that I planned to hunt down and kill.  
“Why did their leader look like you” I asked? 
When Galohond didn’t respond I opened my eyes and looked over at him.  He was leaning against the wall looking up at the ceiling his face a mask of sorrow.
“You must have seen my brother, Arangalad Larothta.  Was he leading the raid or was there a female with long blonde hair?” 
“There was a woman, she was the one who retrieved the Mask, but it didn’t look like she was in charge.  In fact there was something odd about her.”  I said.   
“If he was leading this raid then he is truly lost.  I doubt I will be able to bring him back to my Queen.”  Galohond said.
By this time the QRF commander returned to the entry hall and walked toward us.  I stood up and faced him.
“Morgana, correct?”  He asked.
“Yes”
“There is a Guild Inspector on his way.  The St. Louis Guild Hall Grand Master has been informed and he directed me to ask you to come to the Guild Hall to make a statement.”
“Of course, however before I leave I’ll need to bring the wards back up.  I have no intention of leaving my God Mother’s estate wide open while I’m gone.”
“I’m sure the Inspector will be willing to leave a couple of Special Agents here to watch the place.”
“I appreciate that” I said.
The commander turned to Galohond, “I’m told that you have diplomatic immunity and I can’t direct you to come to the Guild Hall to make a statement.  However your cooperation would be greatly appreciated.”
“Commander, I’m happy to assist.”  Galohond said.

+++

The sun was coming up as the Guild Hall cruiser pulled into the driveway to my mother’s estate.  It had been a very long night.  After building a set of temporary wards I’d gone to the Guild Hall.  For the next several hours I’d told my story over and over.  I’d answered questions until I was ready to blast those interrogating me through the wall.  I was proud of the fact that I’d not lost my temper. 
The Guild Hall St. Louis Grand Master finally showed up.  He knew my full story yet he seemed willing to allow me to be interrogated for hours before directing his folks to drive me home.  He had to know that I would have nothing to do with an assault on my own family’s estate.  His lack of support left me feeling confused and suspicious.  Now approaching the estate I could see the signs of the battle that had raged here last night.  
Trees had been knocked down, furrows dug into the turf.  The concrete road was tore up where the QRF had been ambushed and it was easy to see where the Elves had retreated by the path of destruction.  We drove up the long winding driveway to the estate and when the house came into view I saw more evidence of destruction.  The lawn was ripped up where my lightning bolts had killed the Elven rear element.  The house was scorched where the Elves had breached the wards and several windows had been shattered.
The doors at the top of the steps leading from the circle drive to the main entrance had been partly blown in and signs of Susan’s death curse were still lingering in the air.  I felt tears leak down my face as the car stopped and didn’t care.
I told the driver I’d be fine and spoke the key that allowed me to slip through the simple ward and enter the house.  I glanced at my watch and saw that I had about an hour before the spell that kept Mark asleep expired.  I was glad the QRF had only secured the property and not actually tried to search it.  For one thing the house was huge with several levels and guest rooms it would have taken them a great deal of time to fully search the house.  For another the vault under the house had another set of wards, ones that hadn’t been breached and I had no interest in taking those wards down or allowing a bunch of Guild Special Agents into the family vault.  
I returned to my room and stripped off my dress and climbed into the shower.  The hot water sluicing down my soft body rejuvenated me.  I hadn’t let my mind think through my next steps but now through the fatigue I considered the problem.
The Elven separatists had the Mask, my mother, and other resources that Galohond had alluded to but not described.  These were very bad people and they had my mother.  Who knows what they’re doing to him I thought.  I felt my anger burning but refused to let it cloud my thinking.  If they remained in Summer the Elven Queen and her forces would hunt them, find them, and eliminate them.  Elves as a race didn’t think much of Human Magic-Users, they usually underestimated us which would hopefully be an advantage and made me think it likely that they would return to the Human Realm.  They seemed to think that the human realm offered them a sanctuary.  That was about to change I vowed softly to myself.  If they returned to this realm I had the key to finding them right here in this house.
Mark was attuned to the Mask.  If the separatists brought it back to the human realm I knew that I could use her connection to find it.  From there it would be a matter of planning and rescuing my mother.  But even if they were here there obviously were things I didn’t know and there was only one person who could give me the answers I’d need.  Galohond.  
I finished up in the bathroom and found a set of comfy sweat pants with the letters PINK on the butt.  I pulled these on and found a t-shirt and headed to the kitchen.  It was too early for Chelsea to arrive but I needed coffee.  Once I got the pot going I figured I might as well eat something and popped a couple of slices of bread into the toaster. 
Once the machine was done, I poured a cup of coffee for myself and Mark, put four slices of toast on a plate and headed up to Mark’s room.  When I entered Mark’s room I noticed that sunlight was streaming through the window and that the ward was down.  Mark stirred when she heard the door close.
“Good morning, how are you feeling?”  I asked.
“Great actually” Mark said sitting up and stretching.  Her sleep tousled blonde hair fell across her face as she sat up.  Reaching up with an unconscious grace Mark brushed it out of her eyes.  I sat one of the two cups of coffee down on the night stand next to the bed along with a plate with toast.  I then moved over to the chair in her room and sat down and took a sip of my coffee.
Mark pushed herself back until her back was against the headboard and pulled her legs up to sit cross legged in the bed and then picked up the coffee.  After taking a sip Mark reached up and touched her face with one hand.
“I still can’t believe it’s gone.”  She said.  “I need to look at myself in the mirror.”
I nodded and when Mark stood up the large t-shirt, we’d put her in the yesterday, came down almost to her knees.  I could easily see her nipples poking out from the thin material.  Mark knew the way so I followed her into the bathroom.  I watched as she stood in front of the mirror touching her face.  I opened my third eye and examined Mark.  There was no sign of the green energy that had twined its way around her body in fact there was no sign of the Mask at all.  The changes that the Mask had made in Mark were impossible to spot.  She looked like a normal woman, a normal female Magic-User if I looked closely.  It’s very difficult to simply look at another Magic-User and gage that person’s strength.  I would need Mark to draw in power in order to tell how strong she was.  But there was no doubt in my mind that she was now a Magic-User. 
Mark touched her face, then looked to the right and the left as though she couldn’t believe that the Mask was missing.  I could tell she was using the third eye to look for the Mask.  Suddenly she turned around and threw her arms around me in a warm hug.
“Thank you so much!”
“You’re welcome, but Mark I’ve got to tell you.  Saving you has come at a price.”  Let’s go back to your bedroom so we can sit down and chat.  Once we were settled back into her room I launched into an explanation of what happened while she’d been unconscious.    As I talked I could see the shock on her face.
“Why would some group of Elves want that Mask?”  She asked.
“Because it’s powerful and it allows them to draw on their magical power while here in the human realm.”
Mark shook her head.  “What can I do to help?”
I smiled at that since it was exactly the reaction I’d been hoping for.  “I think that you have a connection to the Mask.  There are a couple of different types of spells I could cast using your connection to figure out where their hiding.  But for now why don’t you get cleaned up and meet me in the kitchen in about an hour and a half?  I need to see how badly the estate was damaged and talked to the staff.”
When Mark nodded I left her to herself and went in search of Chelsea.

+++

The great thing about mother’s staff is that they have been with the family for a long time.  It had been years since there had been any kind of magical assault on the estate, and this was the first time that any of them could remember where the intruders actually broke through the wards.  Steven the butler and Chelsea the cook are the only two full time members of her staff.  Mother had set up a service to take care of the grounds and another company that came in and cleaned the house a couple of times a week.  Once Steven and Chelsea had arrived I explained what had happened and then the three of us spent the next hour surveying the damage.
It was better and worse than I had thought.  The physical structure of the building had not been damaged to badly.  Several windows were shattered, and three doors had been forced.  Not to mention the damage to my mother’s sanctum.  It had sustained damage from our spell casting and from the Elves when they had forced their way in.  Apparently it hadn’t taken all that much for them to overpower my mother.  Most of the items she kept in the sanctum remained untouched.  Obviously after they’d gained entry they’d subdued her and knew right where to find the Mask.  The most extensive damage was in the entry hall where Susan had made her last stand.  Even though the damage to the house would be fixed within a day or two Susan’s death hit me like a dagger through my gut.  I felt for a moment physically ill and once again tears slide down my face. 
Chelsea found me in the entry and hurried over to wrap her arms around me.
“Don’t worry honey, the Guild will find your mother.”  She said trying to comfort me.
I pushed away and wiped the tears off.  “If you think I’m going to wait for the Guild to handle this then, well, you’re wrong.”  I then explained to Chelsea about Mark and asked her to be on the lookout for him. 
“See if she needs anything to eat and then send her to mother’s study.  I need to make some phone calls.  But I’d like to talk to Mark as soon as she’s ready.”
With that I headed to the study.  Fortunately mother’s study had been undisturbed.  I went to the desk and found her address book.  There was a page in the book labeled ICE (In Case of Emergency) my mother had explained to both Anthony and me what to do if something happened to her.  I checked the time; it was now 8 am in St. Louis, which meant that it was 2 pm in London.  I called my brother Anthony.
The conversation was awkward.  Mother hadn’t told Anthony that I was in Morgana’s body.  This meant I had to keep up the charade.  The conversation ended with Anthony saying that he would return to St. Louis as soon as he could get a plane ticket.  My older brother and I had never really been close.  My magical handicap was part of it but the other part was the age difference he was ten years older than me.  I decided to think about Anthony later.
Next I used the phone number in mother’s address book to contact the Guild Council Elders.  I knew that the St. Louis Guild Hall would have already notified the Elders but I wanted to make sure that mother’s closest friends and colleagues knew what had happened.  What surprised me the most as I made these calls was that apparently no information about the attack had been passed from the Guild to the Elders.  Something was very wrong. 
After making the necessary calls I sat thinking.  Several things just didn’t add up.  First how had the terrorists known to raid our house?  My family had no association with the Mask.  Second once they assaulted our house they knew exactly where we’d hidden the Mask.  It should have taken them time to search the estate, including the vaults.  Because of the protections in the vaults they should have still been searching when I arrived. For that matter why had Siofra tossed the Mask?  Mark’s story about finding it made me think there had been some kind of argument or falling out among the terrorists.  But this rift had evidently been patched because Siofra was here during the raid, but she had clearly not been in charge. There was also Galohond’s statement about the Guild being ‘compromised’.
Suddenly things started to make more sense.  What if someone highly placed in the St. Louis Guild Hall was in league with the separatists?  This person could have gotten the message when my mother called and passed on that we had Mark and the Mask.  If the information had been passed on to the Elves then they would have had almost a full day to prepare for the raid.  I didn’t have any proof but this felt right.  Once Siofra was close to the Mask she would have been able to feel it if she’d used it before and had presumably established a connection.  That would explain the reason why they hadn’t had to search the property. 
I still didn’t understand why Siofra would have ditched the Mask in the first place, but at the moment that wasn’t as important as finding her.  I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Galohond’s number.
“Morgana, how are you?”  His masculine voice sent a thrill through me.
“Tired, I haven’t had a chance to sleep yet.” I replied, “can you come over to the Donegal estate?  I need to talk to you.”
“Yes, but I’ll need a couple of hours.  How does noon sound?”
“Fine, we can have lunch here while we talk” I said.
After I disconnected the phone I realized I needed to think this through a bit.  I was confident I could use Mark’s connection with the Mask to locate it if it was in the human realm.  Once I knew where it was, I would need to take a look.  If there were a couple dozen Elves there I wouldn’t be able to take them down by myself.  I may be very powerful but part of my success yesterday was surprise, and I’d had lots of advantages.  The moon, ley-lines that I knew intimately and my rage had all helped.  To hit this group on their home turf I’d need allies, and every advantage I could find.
My thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the study door.  Chelsea poked her head in, “Morgana I’ve got Mark here.  You wanted to see her once she’d gotten cleaned up and eaten.”
“Thank you Chelsea, yes I do want to talk to Mark.”  As I said this I stood up and came around the desk to greet Mark.
Mark looked much better than the last time I’d seen her.  Chelsea had found some clothes for Mark who was now wearing a pair of jean sorts, and a light blue t-shirt with a bra underneath.  The clothes appeared to be a bit loose but they looked much better than what I’d been putting Mark in since she arrived.
“Mark you said that you’d be willing to help me rescue my God Mother.”  I said after we’d sat down.
“I don’t know what I can do, but yes I’d like to help.  I spent four years in the Army so I’m pretty good with small arms.  I used my magical sensitivity while on active duty so I’ve some training there as well.” 
“I didn’t know you were in the Army.  You might be able to help more than I thought at first.  For now though I’d like to see if you can draw in some magic.”  I said.
“Morgana, the Army tested me very extensively I’ve got no ability to draw in power.”  Mark said looking embarrassed.
I leaned forward making sure to make eye contact with him.  “Mark, I think the Mask changed more than just your physical body.  I think you have the ability to use magic.  So please try.  Start by opening your third eye and just try to feel the magic around us.  Once you feel the magic focus on it and then pull it in.  The sensation should be almost like taking a deep breath.  It should feel normal and natural.” 
I watched with my third eye as Mark focused on the magic around us, then suddenly I felt him pull on it drawing power into her center.  As I watched Mark abruptly realized what she was doing and let go of the power.
“Holy shit” she jumped to her feet shock evident on her face.  “I can feel the power inside me.”  Mark held her hands over her stomach like she could touch the power with them.
“I told you that you were registering as a Magic-User to me.  If you feel up to it, I’d like you to pull in as much power as you can and fill your center.  I’m trying to see how strong you are.”
Mark nodded and closed her eyes focusing on her sensitivity to the magic.  When she started drawing the power in this time it felt more natural.
“Are you holding as much as you can?” I asked.
“Yes, does it always feel so good?  It’s like I’m holding liquid life inside of me.”  The wonder in Mark’s voice brought back some of my childhood memories as my mother instructed me in the use of magic.  
“It does, but over time the wonder goes away.  I suppose as we get more used to working with it we lose the sense of awe your feeling right now.”  I said.  “I’d say that you’re a strong Magic-User 2nd Class.  You might with training and time reach 1st class status but it’s hard for me to know for certain.”
Smiling widely Mark released the power. “So how do we find your God Mother?”
“I would like to use your connection to the Mask to find it.  I think the terrorists will keep the Mask in the same location as my God Mother.  I’ll handle the spell casting for that.  For now I’d like to teach you the spell for a body shield.  It’s fairly easy and if you’re going to come with me on this rescue I’d like you to be able to protect yourself as much as possible.”
For the next hour I worked with Mark on the shield.  She was a quick study and cast the spell correctly on her second attempt.  After that it was a matter of teaching her how to continue to feed it energy to keep it up.  This required some concentration.  With practice holding a spell active while doing other things would become second nature to her. Once I was satisfied that she could cast it and hold it I sent her to one of the training rooms to practice.  There was a pitching machine in one of the training rooms which would shoot baseballs at her.  It was good to practice deflecting the base balls.
I returned to mother’s study and pulled several grimoires from her shelves and began studying.  There are dozens types of tracking spells.  There are also ways to block them. So I needed to be prepared to deal with interference. 

+++

Before I knew it Steven knocked on the door to let me know that Galohond was here.  I asked him to have Chelsea send up lunch for two to the study.  Galohond walked into the study wearing traditional Elven garb.  Long robes with a belt and sword at the waist, I was still attracted to him but pushed those feelings aside since we had business to discuss. 
I soon discovered that Galohond is an attentive listener, I explained my plan and showed him the spell that I’d devised to locate the Mask.
“I agree with you Morgana.  We cannot trust the St. Louis Guild right now.  I’m not sure your spell will work but I think it’s worth trying.  If we do locate them then I’ve got a suggestion.  I have my own personal retainers on the other side of the veil.  Your God Mother is caught up in this, but with that lone exception this is Elven business.   Let’s combine forces and see if we can’t rescue Evaline, take the Mask, and neutralize this threat.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.”  I said looking into his grey eyes.

+++

Locating the Mask had proved harder than I’d thought it would be.  The first spell we’d tried had failed which wasn’t all that surprising.  The Elves were blocking tracking spells so I went with a different approach.  Using a few drops of Mark’s blood I cast a spell designed to allow her to draw power over a distance from an artifact she had a connection too.  This was a spell that most Magic-Users are taught at the college level and was very useful for augmenting power if you didn’t want to carry objects around with you. 
Susan had noticed Mark wasn’t just an ordinary human; she was in effect half-Elven.  The spell I used allowed Mark’s Elven side to draw Elven magic through the Mask like any female Elf attuned to it.  By itself this spell did nothing to help us track down the location of the Mask.  As Mark drew in the power I sent a questing down along the magical bond.  This spell wasn’t designed as a tracking spell either.  Instead it was used to map out magical linkages and bonds.  I used it almost daily as I developed wards for a building or location.  Once I had the linkage between Mark and the Mask mapped in my mind I focused on the large map of St. Louis and its surrounding area that I’d placed on the table.  I pulled a small bag of silver powder and tossed the dust into the air speaking a simple cantrap I’d designed that would visually display a linkage I’d quested.  Once the dust settled it showed Mark’s location on the map with a small circle and drew a strait silver line to the location of the Mask which it marked with a second circle of silver on the map.
The elves were hiding in the Hazlet State Park on the Carlyle Reservoir in Illinois looking at the map I guessed it was a little over an hour by car from the estate. 
“Morgana that was amazing!  Using three different spells to create a new affect, I don’t think I could have got through their blocking spells and I certainly couldn’t have done it without alerting them.”  As Galohond said this he swept me into a hug.  I flushed with embracement and smiled up at him.  Suddenly Galohond pressed his lips down on mine.  For a second I stiffened but before I knew it my body was responding melting up against his strong frame.  I felt my nipples harden and there was an ach in my groin that made me want squirm and rub my legs together. 
“Do you two want me to leave?”  Mark asked with a smirk. 
I pushed away from Galohond feeling my face turn a bright red.  “No, uh, that’s okay.” I looked up at Galohond, “What was that for?”  I asked.
“I’d like to say it was because you’re beautiful, brilliant, and the most powerful human mage I’ve ever seen and I wouldn’t be lying.  But the real reason is that I’ve wanted to kiss you since the day we met in the Guild Hall.”
Looking at Galohond as he made this speech did nothing to help me get control over my raging girl hormones so I turned away from him and walked to the other side of the room.  
“We know where the Mask is, but we don’t know if Mor is there.  We also know nothing about their defenses.  I’d normally go to the Guild Hall for this but if the St. Louis Guild Hall Grand Master is working with the separatists then we’d be tipping our hand.”  I mused out loud.
“Morgana” Galohond said stopping my pacing, “I am running low on magical strength.  So I must return to Summer, while I’m there I’ll summon my personal retainers.  We will meet you here.”  With this he pointed to a spot along the north side of the reservoir.  It appeared to be a bit swampy with lots of trees which would make a good rally point before we moved south to the location where these Elves were basing their operations. 
“Alright, when will you be there?”  I asked.
“I’ll leave now but as I said before time runs differently between the realms.  Plan on my war band and I arriving no later than sunset” he said.
I looked at my watch it was now 2 pm.  It would take me about an hour to an hour and a half so I could easily make it there.  In fact if I were smart I might even be able to do a quick reconnaissance.
“Alright sunset but if you’re not there by then I’m going to do this without you.”  The idea of what these criminals might be doing to my mother was driving me crazy.
Galohond seized my shoulders with both hand and then with his right hand he tipped my chin up so that I had to look into his eyes.
“Morgana, we will rescue your God Mother, but do not try this by yourself.  These people are dangerous.  You are powerful but not powerful enough to take them all on alone.”  Galohond looked worried and concerned as he stared into my face.
“I’ll wait for you unless something happens, if I think he’s in danger I’ll do whatever I have too.”  I said this feeling very determined.

+++

Evaline came to slowly his head throbbed like someone had been beating on it with a hammer.  When he opened his eyes he realized that there was some light streaming into the darkness under a door off to his left.  He figured based on the fact that he was lying on something soft and above the floor that it must be a bed.  When he tried to move Evaline discovered that his arms and feet were chained to the bed posts.  With the slightest effort of will he attempted to draw in some magical power and felt the collar around his neck block the attempt and send pain shooting into his mind.  Evaline instantly released the magic.  ‘Well that’s to be expected’ he thought.
Evaline didn’t know how long he lay in the darkness before he heard footsteps approaching the door.  It opened and the lights came on causing Evaline to blink trying to adjust his eyes to the light.  There were two Elves facing him, a tall blonde Elf with broad shoulders and grey eyes.  The second Elf was a female with long blonde hair and bright green eyes.  Evaline was sure this must be Siofra based on the limited information he’d received.
“I’m glad to see your awake” the male Elf said.  “Let me make the introductions, I’m Sir Arangalad Larothta, and this is my cousin Lady Duchess Siofra Aldalithe.  I understand you are the former Master Magic-User Evaline Mor Donegal.  You’re going to have to tell me about the spell that put you in that body.” 
“I’m not telling you anything cur.  If you run now you might be able to escape!  In fact if you release me now I might put in a kind word for you when the Guild strike team arrives.”  Evaline said. 
Ignoring her outburst Arangalad continued “Your power may be reduced but from what your colleague’s in the Guild have told me you are very smart with a deep understanding of magic, or at least human magic.  If fact they speak highly of you, you will make an excellent addition to our cause.  Particularly since I plan to use the area as my base of operations, you will soon use all of your power and influence to make sure that I’m undisturbed.”
“There is no way I’m going to help you!  How is it you’re on friendly terms with the Guild?  You’re an outlaw here as well as in Summer.”  Evaline responded.
“Ah, that is an excellent question.  In fact I think the answer to that question would be better served as a demonstration.  Cousin if you would be so kind?”  With that Arangalad gestured toward Evaline.  Siofra stepped forward and made a gesture and the chains holding Evaline fell away.  Before he could move bands of telekinetic energy wrapped around Evaline lifting him off the bed.  Arangalad turned and opened the door leading them out into a hallway.
Evaline was prevented from getting a good look at the building because his head was restrained and he floated along on his back between the two Elves staring at the ceiling.  Soon Arangalad opened a door and they entered another room.  This one had no windows and so Evaline still had no idea what time of day it might be.  Now he was rotated upright and then he spotted a large ornate wooden chair sitting in the middle of the room.  Using telekinesis he was deposited in the chair.  A set of leather restraints floated over buckling his arms to the arm rests while two more sets secured his feet to the front legs of the chair.
Arangalad had picked up a smaller chair and which he sat it in front of Evaline.  Smiling evilly at Evaline he said “I’m sure you don’t know anything about the chair you’re sitting in.  I don’t know when it was created or who crafted it, but whoever made it was a genius at mind magic.  My cousin who is also gifted in psionic magic found it in Summer.  Its magic only works here in the human realm which made unlocking its secrets very challenging.  Siofra was quite good she somehow managed to unlock the chair’s secrets and then shared them with me.” 
At this Arangalad glanced evilly at Siofra, “I recently had the chance to return the favor didn’t I Siofra?”  At this the blonde female said “Yes master.”
Evaline looked at the female Elf with a growing apprehension.  For a second a look of hatred crossed Siofra’s face before the look of neutrality returned.
“You see when my cousin used the chair on me she made it so that I couldn’t act against her wishes or her best interest.  Once Max killed Siofra and took her body the conditioning was broken, now Max, who wears my cousin’s lush little body, is my slave.  Isn’t that true Little Slave?” 
“Yes Master”
Arangalad leered evilly at Evaline “It is the most powerful artifact of compulsion that I’ve ever heard about.  One of its strengths is its subtlety unless you know what you’re looking for it’s impossible to tell that someone is under its influence.  Several members of the St. Louis Guild have enjoyed treatments from that chair, including your Grand Master.”
At the look of shock on Evaline’s face Arangalad let out a laugh.  “Oh this is going to be so much fun.”

+++

I found a truck stop near the Reservoir off of old US-50.  I topped off the gas tank and then parked the car behind the station.  I used a spell of un-notice and sent Edgar into the sky. 
“Mark, this is as close as you can come for now.  Once we are in place I’ll text you,” I said holding out a cell phone.  Mark who had driven up with me walked around from the passenger’s side to the driver’s side and took the phone and keys from me.  “Drive to the park it shouldn’t take you more than ten minutes.  We will have taken the rebels by surprise.  I might need you to help us locate the Mask.” 
“Why can’t I come with you now?”  Mark asked.
“Because you can’t caste this spell” I replied. 
With that I transformed into the crow shape that Edgar seemed to like and took to the air.  As I flew toward the reservoir I started looking for the state park.  Almost at once I felt the subtle wards.  A section of the park well away from the main office was laced with wards.  They were mostly the type which sent an alarm if tripped.  But woven into them were wards to cause people to lose interest and go around.  There was also a layer which caused the illusion of an empty section of woods.  I was not close enough to pierce the illusion and the way it was set up I’d probably trip one of the other wards.  Whatever was under that illusion I wouldn’t be able to see it unless I tried to sneak in.  As tempting as that was I turned north heading to the rally point. 
Once I landed I looked at my watch.  I’d taken my time leaving the estate I’d wanted to be as prepared as possible.  I’d started with a careful choice of clothes.  Black jeans, and work boots were followed by a tight black t-shirt.  I tucked the t-shirt into the jeans and threaded a wide black leather belt with several silver metal disks worked into it through the loops of my jeans.  Over the T-shirt I selected a black leather jacket.  It was too hot for this outfit but that’s where the jacket’s special properties came into play.  The jacket was one I’d worked on after switching into Morgana’s body.  The leather held several defensive spells and would keep me warm or cool or dry depending on the temperature and weather conditions.  I tied my hair back and looked in the mirror.  The gorgeous brunette in black leather stared back like she was fresh off some Hollywood set.
Next was a trip to the vault.  Once there I’d helped myself to several items that had been in my family for generations.  The first was a staff.  It was six feet of black oak.  Gliph’s and wards decorated its length making the staff more of a tool than a weapon.  It had been in the Donegal family for generations.  Next I’d taken a powerful ring that would generate body shields of far greater power than I’d be able to do on my own.  The last item I’d taken from the vault was a tiara which would gift me with very potent realistic illusions and some skills in psionic magic. 
Edgar landed on my shoulder and I found a tree to sit next to since it could be several hours before Galohond arrived.  Since I had nothing else to do and I was feeling paranoid I made use of the tiara and caused the illusion that I was a bush growing next to the tree.  I could feel Edgar’s confusion as the magic took hold.  He wasn’t happy with me and flew irritably into the tree where he found a place to wait.
The tiara sent a warning into me.  Someone was near and they were also using illusion.  The tiara sensed this and with no effort I was able to pierce the spell.  Two male Elves entered the clearing looking around.  The tiara gave me a strange double vision I saw a couple of squirrels images superimposed on a pair of Elven warriors.  Elves as a race are very gifted with illusions, these two were no slouches.  If not for the tiara I’d never have realized they were here.  One of the squirrels chittered to the other.
“The trace ends here.”  The bigger of the two said.
“Tasathdien are you sure someone was snooping around the wards?”  Said the smaller of the two.
“No, not sure but I felt a presence.  When I tried to back track it I felt the presence move up here.  Now I don’t feel anything.”  Tasathdien replied.
“I don’t feel anything, but you’re almost never wrong.  Let’s set a trap and see what we catch.” 
With that the two started casting.  I’m not all that familiar with Elven magic but I could see right away they were building a ward and laying it over the clearing.  I suspected that its purpose would be to alert them to anyone entering the clearing.  With this ward in place Galohond would be compromised from the moment he and his team arrived.  I was pretty sure I could take these two guys out but would that alert the main group?  Perhaps I could disrupt the ward once they were done.
The casting took about twenty minutes and I was impressed with the spell.  To my dismay the two elves didn’t leave instead they settled down by a tree across from me.  I realized this was going to be very tricky.  They would notice if I changed the spell since they were right here.  However if I left it up the chance that Galohond would arrive and tip off the terrorists was one I couldn’t risk. 
This was going to have to be a subtle working.  I sent Edgar into the air feeling confident that he would not be detected.  Edgar after flying around for several minutes landed in the tree above the Elves hiding under the illusion of squirrels.  Now I strengthen the bond between Edgar and me so that I could observe the Elves through Edgar’s eyes.  Once this was done I slipped a sleep spell through Edgar and ever so gently allowed it to drift down on my squirrel/Elves.   The spell took almost ten minutes to work but when I saw through Edgar’s eyes that both were sleeping I breathed a sigh of relief.  Next I started to modify the Ward. 
About a minute into my working there was a tearing sensation as a hole was ripped in the fabric of reality. 
“Crap” the time for subtle was over I snapped the ward breaking it and the surged to my feet strengthen the spell on the two Elves.  Both stirred as the ward went down but I was sure no alarm had been sent back to the rebel camp. 
Galohond rode through the hole on a large black stallion, he were deep blue armor and had a huge sword strapped to his back.  Once he was in the clearing he made room for his followers.  By the time the rift closed there must have been a hundred Elven warrior mages in the clearing.  Each one fresh from Summer and bursting with power. 
“Galohond, your timing was almost disastrous” I said walking forward. 
Galohond looked at me through the open visor of his helmet and grinned.  “Now this is something you don’t see every day.  A talking bush and a pair of sleeping Elven guards” he said gesturing at the two Elves fast asleep.   
I felt annoyed and dropped the illusion and summoned Edgar to me.
“Better?”
“Aye Lady Livingstone, much better” Galohond said.  He then turned to one of his men “Randgos bind those two rebels.”  Then he jumped down from his saddle and tossed the reigns to another Elf. 
“Where is Mark?  I thought she’d be with you.”
“About ten minutes up the main road from here.  I’ll call her once we’ve got the rebels defeated.  She doesn’t know enough magic to defend herself.” 
I quickly cast a spell causing an illusionary three dimensional map of the park to materialize.  Having flown over it I was able to display this view with a good amount of detail.  I marked our position and then the location of the rebel camp.  Then I caused the wards I’d observed to appear so that the Elves would have an idea what they were riding into.
“I suggest we surround the site and then attack from all sides at once.  I don’t know how many Elves are here but they were hurt when they assaulted my God Mother’s estate.”
I then caused an image of Evaline to appear.  “This is what he looks like.”  I took a deep breath getting ready to explain why my ‘God Mother’ wore the body of a young man but Galohond must have figured out what I planned to say.
“I’ve already explained what happened to Evaline Donegal.”  He whispered and then continued in a louder voice; “We will split into five squads for the assault.”
“Randgos, take the 1st squad around to the south signal via speaking stone when you’re in position.”
“Aye, Sir” Randgos replied with a salute, he then leaped into his saddle and road off followed by twenty warriors. 
“Castien, take the 2nd squad around to the east.  Be careful the terrain is not favorable and I don’t want you to make contact early.”  Galohond directed.
An Elf in green and black armor with a scar running from his nose horizontally across his cheek saluted from the saddle.  “Aye sir.” 
Orthandon, take the 3rd squad around to the west.”
“Aye, Sir” The Elf in silver and green armor replied with a crisp salute.
Morgothor, you have command of the 4th squad.  I will accompany you with the command squad we will assault the main entrance to the camp together from the north.”
“As my lord commands” a tall pale Elf with black hair replied.
Galohond turned to me.  “My lady may I offer you a ride?”
I nodded my agreement feeling my heart speed up with the idea of battle to come.  Galohond jumped back into the saddle and then extended an arm.  I grabbed his hand and he pulled me into the saddle behind him.  Together we rode for the ward followed by forty Elves. 

+++

Max moved quietly through the building.  In the time she’d spent here she learned that this compound had been brought into the human realm from Summer directly.  She didn’t know the spells involved but the building was impressive.  It amounted to a small citadel with 50 foot walls, a great hall, several towers, and a barracks. 
The day had been a tough one.  The assault from last night had cost the rebellion to many warriors.  They had escaped into Summer and all the Elves had pulled in as much magic as possible before returning to this sanctuary.  Most were now sleeping off the fatigue from the night before.  Max had been used to draw power from the Mask and then send it to Arangalad via a link.  Proving Arangalad’s theory, the Mask could provide power to all of the rebels while in the human realm.  Next Max had been forced to assist in the compelling of Evaline.  Max shuddered as she remembered it.  Then Arangalad had sent Evaline to his room and taken Max back with him to his bedroom.  Arangalad had been rough as he took Max from behind.  Even so Max had come, unable to escape the compulsion.  Now however Arangalad was sleeping. 
Max entered Evaline’s room.  He was curled up on his side in the fetal position.  Max put a gentle hand on his shoulder and noticed that Evaline was sucking his thumb. 
“Wake up little one.”
Evaline blinked, “momma?”
“Yes dear, I need you to come with me.”  Max said trying to be as sweet as she could while at the same time feeling disgusted at what Arangalad had done to Evaline.  This was his way of humiliating and embarrassing Evaline.  Max knew that there were several layers to this compulsion and on a command from Arangalad, the compulsion to be a 5 year old boy, would be lifted.  But the memory of it would stay with Evaline and he would know that Arangalad could do it any time.  Unfortunately only Arangalad could lift the spell.  
“Up” Evaline said holding up his arms.
“Baby’s too big for Momma to carry.  I’ll hold your hand.”  Max replied wishing that she could cast spells a levitation spell but she was forbidden from casting any spells without direct permission.  
Evaline’s large callused hand enveloped Max’s tiny soft hand and they headed out the door.  There were no internal patrols, at the moment, which was good since there was almost no chance for them to avoid anyone.  When the room with the chair came into view Max breathed a sigh of relief.  She scanned the door with her third eye and saw the wards.  She reached into the bodice of her dress and pulled out a small potion.  When she’d opened the safe with the Mask in it she had seen several other items.  Max was a skilled thief it had taken almost no effort for her to palm a couple of the potions. 
Once she’d had the opportunity to examine them she had been thrilled.  The first two were combat potions.  They made the person drinking them stronger and faster and boosted the user’s body shield.  The third and last potion was designed to neutralize magic.  It could be used in a variety of ways but Max thought this the most effective for the current plan.  She opened the vial and scattered the contents over the wards.  They went down at once.  Max knew that the wards would only remain down for a couple of minutes. 
“Momma I got ta go potty” Evaline said.  Max glanced over at him and saw he was standing with his legs crossed holding his privates.
“In a minute sweet heart, Momma needs to open this door.” 
Working as quickly as she could Max pulled the set of lock picks Arangalad had given her before the mission to recover the Mask.  The lock on the door was simple for a thief of Max’s skill.  Once open she dragged Evaline inside and shut the door.  Almost as soon as the door was shut she felt the wards outside the room come back to life. 
“That was close.”
“I really have to go pee-pee.”  Evaline complained.
“I know sweetie.  I promise I’ll take you to the potty but first we need to play a little game.”
“I like games.”
“It’s called repeat after me.  Now I’ll sit in that fancy chair over there and you have to say whatever I say.  Okay?  Then it will be your turn to sit in the chair.”
“That sounds like a boring game!”
“Well honey if you want to go potty you have to play the game.” Max said.
Feeling excited and nervous Max sat in the chair.
“Okay honey now you need to say these words nice and clear for Momma.”  With that Max said the words of activation that he’d heard Arangalad use earlier that day.
When Evaline spoke them Max felt the chair’s magic grip her mind. 
“Now say I release you from all prior commands imposed by this chair or Arangalad.”
“I re, re lea se you from all commands.”  Evaline said.
Max felt chains she was no longer consciously aware of drop away.  Even though Evaline hadn’t done it exactly right she knew it was good enough. 
“Okay baby, now say stand up.”  Max knew from Evaline’s session that once the magic started the only way out of the chair was if you were released. 
Suddenly there was the sound of a horn blasting out an alarm.  The outer wards had been tripped.  The castle was under attack.
“Momma I’m scared.”  Evaline said.
“Baby, momma needs you to say ‘stand up’” Max said feeling desperate.  
“Stand up” Evaline shouted stamping his foot and Max practically leapt out of the chair.  She hurried over to Evaline and hugged her.
“Evaline, I think some people have come to rescue you.”  With a deep breath Max reached into the source of power inside of her and cast a simple sleep spell on Evaline.  Max was thrilled when Evaline sank to the floor.  She’d been able to use magic without Arangalad’s permission!  She was no longer under the compulsions imposed by the chair.  Using telekinesis Max moved Evaline to one side in the room and dropped a simple illusion over him to hide him. 
“Time to get the hell out of here” Max said. 



*****
Chapter 6
*****

The Elves had reflexively cast illusion spells over themselves to prevent anyone from noticing as they thundered toward the rebel camp.  For me the ride around the island was a blur.  Sitting behind Sir Galohond might sound romantic but I’m not a skilled rider.  I had one hand wrapped around his waist and I clutched my staff with my other hand.  My breasts were crushed into the metal armor protecting Galohond’s back and as we bounced along I was glad, for the first time that I could recall, that I didn’t have a set of balls.  Because they would have been black and blue from the beating my bottom was taking as I struggled to stay on.  My entire world view narrowed to just hanging on.  As we got closer Galohond slowed the troop to a walk and then finally stopped several hundred yards short of the outer wards. 
“We’ll wait here until the other squads report in” he said glancing back at me over his shoulder. 
“Fine” I said and slipped off the horse.  I couldn’t help rubbing my bottom, before I looked around.  It took me a few minutes to figure out where we’d stopped.  Once oriented I opened my sensing ability to the fullest, the wards in front of us were just as I’d observed earlier but now I was closer so I focused on the building or buildings beneath the illusion.  A vague shape swam into view.  It was huge, but that was as much as I could determine. 
The quite was shattered by the sound of a horn wailing from within the heart of the warded area. 
“Command, this is Randgos the 1st has been compromised.  Standing by for orders” the sound of Randgos calm voice coming from the crystal on the back of Galohond’s right gauntlet was unnaturally loud.    
Galohond swore once then touched the crystal “All squads attack now.  Push onto the objective and remain in contact. Acknowledge.” 
“1st Squad, roger attacking.”
“2nd Squad is in position and attacking.”
“3rd Squad 2 minutes from position, attacking.”
“This is Command and 4th squad attacking.”  Galohond said and turned to me, “Morgana” he reached down from the saddle and extending his hand. 
“I think I’ll handle my own transportation from this point, thank you.  So we’re done with stealth right?” I asked.
When Galohond nodded, I turned to face the place where these criminals were holding my mother.  I summoned every bit of rage, and fear I could muster and then used my emotions to help me draw in the magic.  Next I focused on the ring on my hand, with a trickle of power I activated it and felt a powerful body shield distort the air slightly around me. 
Galohond had been watching me for the second this had taken and I looked up at him making eye contact.  “You’re Queen is Turethiel Isilidhrindal can you show her to me?” I asked.
In answer Galohond held out his hand palm up and an illusion of a red haired Elven woman in a green and silver gown appeared hovering over his palm.  Instead of concentrating on the image I used the power of the tiara and drew on Galohond’s memories as he focused on the Queen.  I poured as much power into the tiara as I dared and let its magic take hold.  This was a type of magic I’d never been very good at, but mind magic and illusions were the reason this artifact existed.  My ancestor who’d crafted the tiara had been one of the most skilled Illusionists of her time.  It was said she’d learned her craft at the feet of an Elven King and lover hundreds of years ago. 
I heard the Elves around me gasp and seeing the look of shock on Galohond’s face I felt satisfied that the power I was sending into this illusion was having the desired effect.  In my hand instead of a staff I now carried a spear.  I glanced up at Edgar and saw that he’d been caught up in the glamour as well.  Instead of a crow a small dragonet roughly twice Edgar’s normal sizes flew in a lazy circle around my head.
“Morgana I’m not sure what spell your using but if I hadn’t seen you do it I’d swear that my Queen was standing here garbed for battle with her mighty spear Tathanir in her hand and her familiar Gwethdadaaiel flying above her.”
I looked down at myself and saw a form fitting breast plate making up the center piece of traditional Elven armor covering me.  The colors were the Queen’s silver and green and the outfit itself consisted of steel, silver, leather and silk revealing and protecting at the same time. 
“Then it’s time to do what we came to do.”  I noticed that even my voice had changed as I turned back to the ward and lifted my staff (even though it looked like a spear I could tell that its nature was unchanged) and sent my power and will through it using the staff to shape the spell.  Light burst from what appeared to be the spear’s tip flew across the sky and hit the ward.  The ward shimmered into view for the first time visible to the naked eye, a spider web lattice of intricately wrought magic.  My power flowed down each line, mapping it, displaying it and then on my command dissolving it.  The ward collapsed with a faint pop into nothingness. 
“Ride Sir Galohond the enemies of your Queen are before you.”  I said in my most commanding voice.  Then without waiting to see if they would follow I active my telekinetic power and rose smoothly into the air and flew toward the now visible castle.
Below and behind me I could hear the cries of the Elven warriors and the thunder of their mounts hooves but I focused on the gate directly in front of me.  I reached again drawing power into me and focusing it through my staff, I pointed at the gate “Frigidam!”  The spell lashed out and even at this distance I could feel the back blast of cold air.  The gate of iron and oak turned white with frost and a lattice of ice spread out from the gate to the wall and ground around it.
Now I gripped my staff with both hands holding one end and spun it around my head and then snapped it down to point at the gate “Ruptis!”  An invisible fist of telekinetic force surged toward the frozen gate.  The impact sounded like a freight train hitting a wall and the gate shattered into thousands of fragments along with part of the wall around it.  Behind the gate several Elven warriors had assembled in response to the alarm, their bodies were riddle with shrapnel and thrown back into the courtyard from the blast.  
I sailed toward the wall having no intention of landing.  A guard tower over the gate had four Elven Warriors each with the traditional great bows.  The arrows glowed with green, gold, purple, and red power as they shot them up at me.  I responded with a wall of air sweeping them to one side and then lanced lighting down at them.  All four had body shields but only one survived my counter attack. 
“The Queen, the Queen is here.”  With that the sole survivor of the attack turned to a large crystal mounted on the wall with his touch it started to glow and he shouted into it. 
“The Queen is here fly, QUEEN Turethiel Isilidhrindal IS UPON US WE ARE undone! 
I couldn’t have asked for a better panicked response.  The guard tried to jump into the courtyard but I hit him with a magic missile.  One of the simplest of spells but with the power I put into it his shield barely had time to flare before the missile smashed through his body dropping it to the courtyard below.  
I hovered over the tower and cast a spell which blazed a beacon of light into the sky and caused me to become so intensely bright for a few moments that no one could look at me.  I knew this would buy only a second or two but I needed to send a message.  I pulled out my phone and pushed send on the text message I’d readied for Mark. 
“It’s begun.”
I didn’t wait for his response instead I focused on the wall to the great hall in front of me.  Again pushing energy through the staff I blew a hole through the wall and augmented my voice with power so that it echoed with concussive force around the castle.
“Arangalad Larothta and Siofra Aldalithe submit to me now or face my wraith!” 
I had deliberately made a target of myself hoping to draw the Elves attention.  I got my wish as spells lashed out at me from all directions.  I used my shield to absorb the power and felt my ring start to grow warm indicating that it was starting to reach its limit.  I wasn’t even close to mine.  While I’d been absorbing the attacks I used the staff to quest back along the line of each spell so that now even though I couldn’t see most of my targets, in fact several were firing on me from behind stone battlements, it didn’t matter. 
These Elves were in the human realm and I was one of the most powerful Magic-Users of this realm.  They were about to learn that human magic was both strong and subtle.  My spell reached through the ether seeking and finding each Elf slipping through their shields since a questing didn’t match the criteria required by a shield to defend.  With this gossamer connection established I held each target in my mind I whispered, “Combustum.”  Twenty tendrils of power wafted out sliding down the bond slipping through body shields and all around the curtain wall twenty individual pyres exploded most didn’t even have the time to scream before their ashes fell to the ground.
Galohond and his troop clattered into the courtyard as I floated toward the opening in the wall.  When he looked up I could see the awe on his face but that was all the time I spared for him as I floated into the side of the building.

+++

When the alarm went off Arangalad had been pulled from a deep sleep.  Climbing to his feet he was confused but quickly started to pull on his clothes.  He looked around and realized that Siofra was missing.  “Damn that woman, she won’t be able to sit down for a week when I’m through with her.”  Just as he finished buckling on his sword he felt the wards go down.  All of them and all at the same moment, “what in the nine hells is attacking us.”
The pounding on the door wasn’t unexpected and he made a gesture causing it to swing open and the Elven guard almost fell into the room.  “My Lord we are under attack.  The ward was tripped along the south west section but now the whole thing is down.” 
“Yes, fool, I’m linked to the ward.  I know it’s down.  Who is the Captain of the Guard tonight?”  Arangalad snarled.
“Caltidiriel Isilidirseer” the guard replied. 
Arangalad lifted his gauntlet clad hand to his mouth and touched the crystal. “Captain Isilidirseer, this is Arangalad, status report.”
“My lord status of enemy force unknown, the wards are down. I’m proceeding to the central tower to assess the …”
A loud explosion rocked the building and caused several cracks to appear in the wall behind Arangalad.
“By Hothyan’s balls what was that?”  Arangalad said.
“My lord I just reached the tower, it looks like the main gate is down.  I repeat the main gate is down and an assault force is riding hard for the gate.  No, no it can’t be….”
“The Queen is here fly, QUEEN Turethiel Isilidhrindal IS UPON US WE ARE undone! 
Arangalad stood silent for a moment his mind frozen in shock.  Then he lifted the gem to his mouth again.
“Captain Isilidirseer, can you confirm that report.” 
“My Lord I’m looking at Queen Isilidhrindal, I say again Queen Isilidhrindal is here!”
Arangalad’s mind seemed to whirl in a frenzy.  How could she be here?  The last report he’d seen placed her in her Palace in Summer.  Even though his little group was officially in rebellion against her reign his spies in the palace had indicated that she wasn’t taking his threat all that seriously.  Then there were the serious legal and diplomatic implications for the ruler of an Elven nation invading and taking military action on United States soil.  
Arangalad also realized this was an ideal time to attack.  He had just under 200 warriors here, he’d led half of them on the raid last night on the Donegal estate.  The raid hadn’t gone well and he’d lost more than a quarter of his force.  Another ten had been injured and although they had been healed with magic they were all exhausted.  He had ordered minimum manning in order to give his warriors time to rest. 
 Arangalad felt like his mind was moving in slow motion.  A second explosion shook the room this time louder and with more violence.  Arangalad lost his footing and fell in an uncharacteristic way to the floor. 
“Arangalad Larothta and Siofra Aldalithe submit to me now or face my wraith!” 
The sound of the Queen’s voice echoed through the room sending a shiver of fear along Arangalad’s spine.  With the spike of adrenaline that accompanied the fear Arangalad’s mind started functioning again.  He decided that he couldn’t risk a confrontation with the Queen and her forces.  Much as he hated to admit it this was a fight he was going to lose.
“My lord I’m not sure how but the Queen just killed all of the soldiers on the curtain wall.  What are your orders?”
Arangalad lifted the gem again and directed a trickle of power into it changing its color slightly.  “This is Arangalad to all hands, full retreat.  I say again full retreat, rally at pre-designated rally points.” 
Angrily Arangalad strode into the hallway.  A small PSD (personal security detail) consisting of four guards formed up around him in a diamond formation as they headed down the hall.  There were two artifacts that Arangalad intended to secure before he parted the veil and fled into Summer.  A small soft feminine voice whispered in the back of his mind, if he failed in this task whatever remained of his life would be spent in agony. 

+++

Mark had been sitting impatiently waiting for some kind of signal that the operation was underway.  After a couple of hours of trying to listen to music or read from his Kindle he felt a stirring in the ether.  Knowing this might be the first sign of the assault he opened his sensing ability.  Yes, there was the Mask to the north right where he’d felt it all day. Mark climbed out of Morgana’s car stood up and stretched.  He could feel the ward and even almost catch a glimpse of it with his third eye but it was at the far end of his ability.  Abruptly it just vanished.  
“What the hell?”  Mark had never heard of a ward of that magnitude just going down.  “Morgana and Galohond must have started.”  He said out loud to himself.  Mark got into the Charger and turned on the motor he wanted to be ready as soon as Morgana called him in.  Mark wasn’t surprised when all at once his magical senses registered a huge explosion of magical force followed by the casting of dozens of spells to the north.  Suddenly his cell phone buzzed.  The message was simple; “It’s begun.”
It felt like a major magical battle had started as Mark felt magic flare.  He put the car in gear and pulled out of the truck stop and headed north.  As Mark drove closer to the battle the intensity escalated to the point where he had to start shutting down his magical senses and focus on the road. 
“Crap what am I doing?  Even in Afghanistan I never saw anything like that.”  The lights from the magical fight lit up the horizon as twilight settled in.  Mark drove on.

+++

Galohond led his troop through a maze of rooms on the lower level of the citadel.  The assault was going better than he’d hoped.  Especially once he’d seen the size of the rebel stronghold.  So far most of the enemy warriors he’d faced were in a state of shock and only had time to grab a weapon before his War Band had engaged them.  In fact most of the fighters were only interested in fleeing.  Not that he blamed them, with the show of power and skill that Morgana had put on most of the rebel Elves were convinced that Queen Isilidhrindal was here in person.  If Galohond hadn’t seen Morgana change into the Queen he’d have be certain it was her as well.  Then there was the way she’d breached the fortress, Galohond figured that even if Isilidhrindal were here she couldn’t have put on a better show.  As Galohond rounded a corner he caught a glimpse of a familiar female figure down a long corridor and then she was gone.  His heart started to race unless he was mistaken that was Siofra!  

+++

I moved through the upper galleries of the Great Hall looking for my mother.  Normally I’d be able to use a spell linked to the blood relationship between a parent and child.  However Morgana’s body wasn’t actually a blood relation.  Before I’d left the Donegal estate I’d taken a dozen or so of mother’s hairs from the hairbrush in his bathroom.  Using these I cast a spell that gave me the general direction of where he was being held.  Along the way I encountered several more Elves, two surrendered as soon as they saw me.  I figured I couldn’t trust them so I stunned and bound them, the others I killed.  I’m not normally a blood thirsty person but they had my mother and I had no idea what they might have done to him.  When I came to my third dead end I began to feel like I was stuck in a maze.  In frustration I blasted a hole in the wall and stepped through it into a storage room.  “I’m done walking in circles” I muttered, so I faced the direction I needed to go and blew a hole in the next wall.   

+++

Max was frustrated the entire castle was in confusion.  It had been easy for Max after leaving Evaline to veil herself with magic and move through the passageways undetected.  However she’d been forced to detour twice to avoid pockets of fighting that blocked the passageway and only now was able to approach her room.  Arangalad had made her store the Mask in her room but told her not to touch it or use its power without his permission.  Max decided that she would take the Mask and escape.  She had two reasons for this choice first Arangalad wanted it so she didn’t want him to have it.  Second and more important the only way that Max could practice magic in the human realm was by drawing power through the Mask.  So as much as she loathed the thing unless she wanted to live in Summer where she was a wanted criminal she needed the Mask.
Max slipped into her room and went to the chest where the Mask was stored.  When she heard a key in the lock she froze for a second.  Max quickly veiled herself and cast a levitation spell once she was flat against the ceiling she used another spell she’d learned as an apprentice to invert the magic making it almost impossible to detect her spells.
Arangalad entered the room and his four guards spread out looking ready for anything.  The rage Max felt upon seeing Arangalad was almost enough for her to drop the veil and attack him right there.  Max saw red, this was the man who’d enslaved her; body and mind, and had figuratively and physically fucked her.  Suddenly all she could think about was settling the score with him. 
But Max had never been strong at offensive magic.  After his attempt to subdue Siofra he’d gained a small portion of her memories and skills.  This foundation had been built upon by Arangalad with his command for Max to do his best to impersonate Siofra.  Under Arangalad’s ungentle hand Max had learned over the past few days to blend these two natures.  She was still not the best fighter but she was a far cry from helpless.  Max now had at her command several Elven spells and bits and pieces of Siofra’s memories.  As Max thought about this and tried to summon the courage to attack Arangalad pulled the Mask from the chest and dropped it into a pouch which he tied to his belt.  He then spun about and headed out the door. 
Once the five Elves were gone Max drifted to the floor.  Suddenly she was shaking uncontrollable.  Max had never felt so helpless she wrapped her arms around herself as she sank to the floor.  For several long minutes Max tried to tame a rollercoaster of emotions, fear, rage, pain, humiliation and even lust as she’d been forced to learn a woman’s passion and crave her master’s touch.  Slowly Max gained control of herself and the emotions settled into a cold anger. 
Max decided then and there that nothing else mattered she would have revenge on Arangalad for what he had done to her.  Using her connection to the Mask she followed Arangalad hanging back and trying to remain undetected, but waiting for an opportunity to attack.  As Max walked she focused on the Siofra memories of dueling and her favorite offensive spells.  Silently she followed; he was surrounded by guards so the odds of taking him out right now were slim. 

+++

Mark pulled the Charger to a stop in front of the shattered gates of the castle.  “No way, a fucking castle” Mark said out loud in awe.  She got out of the car and went around to the trunk.  Mark had convinced Morgana to stop by her apartment before driving out.  Mark may have been out of the Army but she still enjoyed shooting and had several guns at her place.  In fact through some of her Army buddies she had a couple of items that were not necessarily 100% legal.  Now she started arming up.  She pulled a Beretta semi-automatic 9mm from its case pushed a 15 round clip into the stock and racked it flipping the safety off putting the weapon in condition ‘red’.  Mark already had a tactical Blackhawk belt holster clipped on so she slotted the weapon into it and pulled out her primary weapon system.  The M4, she adjusted the shoulder harness and slung the weapon in front of her and pushed in a 30 round mag.  Next she put into the cargo pockets of her pants several clips.  The right pocket held four clips of 5.56mm ammo and the left pocket held 4 clips of 9mm ammo.  Feeling better prepared to handle anything that might come this way Mark settled to one side of the Charger and waited for Morgana’s phone call.
Mark had only been in position for a few minutes when he noticed four Elves racing out of the ruined gate.  They were in various states of dress and had the look of rats fleeing a sinking ship. Mark stood up and sighted them down the barrel of the M4.
“Halt!”  He shouted opening his senses up at the same time.
The nearest Elf made a gesture and a bolt of magical energy sizzled toward Mark.  Mark’s body shield flared up just as he’d practiced with Morgana taking the blast.  Mark didn’t hesitated firing a three round burst into the lead Elf.  The Elf’s shield flared absorbing the rounds so Mark went full auto had hosed down all four Elves.  Each of their shields absorbed several rounds and then flickered out.  The first two went down under Marks barrage of fire and then his clip emptied.
Mark dropped the M4 letting its sling catch it, drew his Beretta, and smoothly continued firing.  With their shields down the Elves tried to dive for cover but this was a game Mark had played many times while in the Army.  In a matter seconds all four Elves were down.  Mark ejected the mag and racked a new one.  He then holstered his 9mm and repeated the process with the M4 and returned to his position by the car.  As far as he was concerned he would maintain this position until called forward. 

+++

Arangalad was in a rage, he had left his room knowing he had to collect both artifacts and try to salvage something from this disaster.  To top it off Siofra had somehow managed to escape him.  She should have been by his side fighting with him and serving as his loyal slave.  Arangalad had hoped that she had slipped out of his bedroom and simply returned to her bedroom but when he’d retrieved the Mask there had been no sign of her.  Arangalad headed toward the room with the chair.  He knew that he needed to collet it and then escape into Summer.  For a moment Arangalad considered a detour to fetch Evaline but with all of the chaos and fighting he decided it would be too much of a risk.  Along the way he had run into some of the attacking forces and had killed two Elves and retreated from the others.  Now at last he was approaching the room with the chair. 
Suddenly the wall across from the room exploded and Queen Isilidhrindal stepped through the hole.  Arangalad was surprised, but then his reflexes kicked in, and he raised both hands sending twin blasts of green and gold energy into her.  The Queen’s shield flared with a brilliant emerald energy deflecting his blast.  She turned to look at Arangalad and her eyes blazed with silver light.  She raised a hand and a wall of force slammed forward knocking Arangalad and his guards off their feet and sending them tumbling down the hall.  From the floor Arangalad saw her raise a hand and blast down the door to the room with the chair. 
Arangalad was confused if the Queen was here to take him and Siofra for their crimes why was she ignoring him.  Something was not right and Arangalad’s suspicious mind wondered if this was really the Queen.  Could it all have been a trick?  If it was then he was too late to stop the evacuation and coordinate the defense of the citadel.  It wasn’t too late to take this imposter prisoner and escape with her and the Chair into Summer.  A female voice sounded in Arangalad’s mind, “bring her to me, my servant and I will reward you.”  Feeling determined Arangalad stalked down the hall and into the room with the Chair.

+++

I blasted through one wall after another.  Sometimes walking down a hallway others stepping through rooms, I didn’t care about the carnage I left behind I was focused on one thing only finding my mother.  By the time I’d knocked down my fifth wall I stepped into a corridor with a door directly opposite me.  My shield flared as I was hit from my left by a blast of energy stronger than most.  I glanced to my left and saw five Elves so I hit them with a wall of telekinetic energy sending them tumbling down the hall and then focused on the door.  It was child’s play to knock it down and I stepped into a room with no furnishings except a fancy oak chair sitting in the center of the room.  My spell told me that my mother was to my left.  So I opened my third eye and examined the room.  I instantly saw the veil hid him.  I cast a counter spell which nullified the veil and gave me my first clear view of my mother curled up on one side sleeping.  I felt a sense of relief wash over me just as pain seared into my back and I was thrown forward.  I hit the opposite wall several feet above the floor and felt my shield flare cushioning the blow before I landed on my ass.
I looked back and saw the five Elves I’d knocked down now standing in the door way looking pissed off and ready for a fight.  I’d lost my grip on my staff but as I slowly climbed to my feet I caused it to fly into my hand.  These guys looked calm, confident and ready for a fight, they were obviously different from the Elves I’d encountered earlier.
“Surrender now and I may be merciful” I said playing on my glamour. 
“I don’t know who you are but Turethiel Isilidhrindal you are not!”  The blonde Elf who seemed to be in charge said.  Suddenly it clicked and I knew who he was.
“Arangalad Larothta you miscreant I am your Queen submit to my will!”
At this he laughed dispelling the scene I’d tried to create. Obviously he didn’t believe my illusion.  But at this point it didn’t really matter because I was here and there was nothing he could do to stop me from rescuing my mother.
“You are not the Queen, dispel your glamour that I may know the face of my enemy.”
I’d had enough of hiding anyway so I dropped the glamour and gave my enemies their first look at me.  “I’m Morgana Aoife Livingstone, God Daughter to Evaline Mor Donegal, Magic-User Master Class and if you’ve done anything to my God Mother I’ll make you beg before I kill you.” 
The look of surprise on Arangalad’s face was replaced with recognition which pleased me for a moment and then I attacked.  Because the space was relatively confined I sent five magic missiles burning toward them as a distraction.  At the same instant I used my tiara to create five identical images of me for them to deal with while veiling me.  Next I sent light shaped into several daggers spinning at them along with a blast of lightning. 
I was surprised when all five elves survived my initial offensive.  They countered by sending walls of force, a gale of icy wind, shuriken made of mystical energy, while two of them pulled out their swords which glowed with green energy and rushed forward.
I sent my illusionary doppelgangers forward to deal with the first two.  Since they believed they were fighting me they actually engaged in a physical battle.  I knew that I had to get more creative so I focused on the two guards that remained by Arangalad’s side and using a power of the staff transformed the air in the guard’s lungs to water. 
Both went down coughing their concentration broken.  Arangalad hit one of my doppelgangers with beam of pure darkness and swept it sideways through two more.  The anti-magic cut through the illusions with a feedback that caused my tiara to heat up and breaking the illusion entirely. 
I lifted my hand to cast my next spell when I saw the air distort behind Arangalad and a hand wrap around his neck.  A second hand with its fingers transformed so that they ended in a set of wicked looking claws reached with a familiar precision into Arangalad’s groin sliding under the cod piece.  With a quick raking movement the claws ripped up and out holding a piece of bloody meat.  Arangalad’s shriek of raw agony echoed around the room.  He collapsed forward curling into a ball around his pain.  The woman behind Arangalad stood hold her bloody prize in one had glaring down at Arangalad.
“You always seemed so eager to give this to me when I was your slave.  I thought I’d keep it as a souvenir now that I’m free of you.  Die in agony!”  She spat out. 
The two Elves who’d been fighting my illusions leapt toward her swords extended but she spoke a word and opened her mouth and spate a glowing green fire.  The fire hit the Elf to her left and blasted through his shield and chest knocking him back several feet searing a hole through the spot where his heart had been.
Before the Elf to her right reached her I hit him with a series of magic missiles knocking him into the far wall and then punching through his shield and riddling his body.  In less than a second his body slid to the floor leaving a wet streak behind. 
The two Elves I’d cast my spell turning the air in their lungs to water stopped moving since the spell continuously changed any air they managed to suck in into water while they coughed up as much water as they could.  Neither one had the training or self-discipline to dispel the magic while distracted and choking. 
I looked across the room at the blonde female Elf, “Siofra I presume?”
“No, I’m not Siofra.  My name is Max and I’ll be going now.”
“I’m afraid not Max.  I appreciate your help but I’d like to ask you a few questions like, is your real name Maximilian Alexander Dionissis?”
The look of shock on the woman’s face was all that I needed to confirm my suspension.
“Look I’m not a murder and I was not helping these guys.  They had me under a compulsion just like they’ve got Evaline under one now.” 
“Why don’t you start at the beginning and explain to me what’s going on?”  I said glancing at my sleeping mother and not hearing anything from the hallway I figured that I had time to understand this mystery before I acted.
However my mother opened her eyes and turned her head spotting Siofra.  “Momma?”
I glanced at Siofra and then back at my mother confused.  Now he sat up and looked around apparently frightened.  But when he saw me his posture suddenly changed.  He lunged to his feet. 
“Die” Evaline screamed extending both hands and blasting me with my former signature purple fire.
I raised my hand blocking the flames and directing them to one side.  I was startled that blast had been considerably more powerful than I’d been capable of.
“Mother stop, it’s Morgana” I said trying to figure out what was going on.
He snarled with an inarticulate rage dove forward into a roll and came up a few feet from me his fists pumping with a quick one two motion.  In response to mother’s attack, two bursts of telekinetic energy slammed into my shield, blowing me completely through the wall and into the air outside the room.
I activated my own telekinesis and caught myself in the air at least thirty feet above the ground.  When I looked back my mother was standing in the whole in the wall eyes blazing with madness.  Then he leapt into the air and flew up toward me!  I had never been strong enough to have cast any of those spells.  What the hell was going on?  How had he got so strong and why was he attacking me?
“Mother its Alastar stop!”
He made a slashing motion and a crescent shaped blade of pure magical energy blazed toward me. 
I poured energy into my ring and then used my tiara to veil myself and then dropped several feet while causing a doppelganger to appear in the space I’d just been occupying.  Mother clapped both of his hands together and a sword of purple energy came into being.  He then flew strait at my illusion.

+++

Back in the room with the chair Max watched the battle between mother and daughter for a few heart beats and then turned away.  She moved over to where Arangalad was bleeding to death and pulled the bag with the Mask from his belt and turned to look outside again.  As Max watched Evaline drove a sword through Morgana and Morgana’s body dissolved.   Grinning at Morgana’s clever use of illusion Max turned to leave and then spotted the chair.
Suddenly she felt an unreasoning hate for that chair, how many people were under its influence?  If Evaline where free from the compulsion there was no way he’d be fighting his daughter, …. Max drew all the power she could through the Mask and then hit the chair with the most powerful fire spell she could summon. 
The intensity of the heat surprised Max and she backed away from the chair into the hallway.  It was blazing with red, gold, purple, green, and blue flames and for a moment Max thought she could hear voices screaming in the flames.  Max figured she’d done all she could and turned to head down the hallway when she felt a binding spell slip around her.
“Cousin, I have you!”  Galohond said striding forward holding a bloody sword in one hand.  Max started to cast a spell that would dissolve the magical bonds but before she could Galohond’s second spell took hold and Max passed out. 

+++

I watched my mother slice through my illusion dispelling it and cast a binding spell.  I felt my spell settle around mother’s shield and I was surprised when the shield held.  Mother spun around searching for me, so I focused on the binding powering energy into it.  Suddenly his shield collapsed and the binding took hold.  For a moment he was helpless but I knew better than to relax. 
I noticed a dark foul smoke pour from the hole where my mother had smashed me through the wall and then I felt a wave of energy pass by me.  When I glanced back at mother he was no longer struggling, instead he was looking around confused.  I decided to take a chance and dropped my veil and flew up in front of him.
“Mother?” I asked.
“Alastar?”
“It’s Morgana mother, do you remember?”
Suddenly tears were pouring down his cheeks.  “Alastar … I’m … sorry, I was … trying to … stop but … couldn’t.  The chair … it made m…me.”  The words came out between sobs.  I felt my heart break and flew up to wrap him in a hug.  We floated there for several minutes before looking around.
I knew that I needed to find Siofra and Galohond and figure out what was going on.  I looked around trying to take stock of the situation.  The fighting appeared to be over so I carried us back to the hole, the room appeared to be filled with smoke so I caused a wind to come up and pulled out the remaining smoke.  Once we landed inside the room I released my mother and took a look around. 
Where the chair had been only a pile of ash remained.  The bodies of the five Elves lay on the floor but what surprised me was that Arangalad moved his head weakly to look over at us.
“I’m free” he whispered in wonder.
I looked at my mother but he was staring at the pile of ashes that had been a chair.  So I moved over to Arangalad and knelt next to him.  As I did this Galohond walked into the room he saw Arangalad and with a choking noise hurried over and knelt on Arangalad’s other side.
“Brother” Galohond whispered.
Arangalad looked over at Galohond and his eyes seemed to focus.  A faint smile crossed his face, “be happy brother I’m free.”
“Free of what?”
“The woman the one who chain our minds and made us her slaves, Siofra and I, we never had a choice.”  Arangalad’s eyes fell on the ashes and he smiled.
“I go to my death happy brother, I am no longer a slave and that cursed chair is gone.  Forgive me and tell mother and father I’m sorry.  I will wait for you in the afterlife and we can hunt together like we did when we were boys.”
With that the life seemed to fade from his eyes and when I touched his neck I couldn’t feel a pulse.  I looked up to see tears streaming down Galohond’s face as he began to mourn his brother.  



*****
Chapter 7
*****

I wanted nothing more than to take my mother and get into the Charger along with Mark and leave this mess behind.  By default I found myself in charge.  Galohond was rocking back and forth softly singing a song I couldn’t quite hear.  My mother was staring off into space and I didn’t want to interrupt.  So I walked into the hallway in search of one of Galohond’s squad leaders.   I found two guards wearing Galohond’s colors guarding an unconscious Siofra.  For a second I thought about saying something since she had helped me in my fight with Arangalad and had in all likelihood been the one who’d destroyed the chair. 
Instead I said “Sir Galohond’s brother is dead.  Who is his second in command?”
The taller of the two guards replied, “Lieutenant Randgos, my lady.”  
“Do you have a way to contact Lieutenant Randgos?”  I asked. 
“Yes, my lady.” 
“Then ask him to meet myself and Sir Galohond here and provide a status report.”
“Aye, Aye my lady” the guard said snapping a crisp salute.
“I’ll be taking this one for questioning.”  I said pointing to Siofra and used a levitation spell to lift her before the guard could protest. 
Instead of going back into the room that had held the chair I walked through the hole I’d blasted in the wall.  On the other side was a room that had been a bunk room for several guards.   The room had two large holes a door and several bunk beds I dropped Siofra onto the floor in the middle of the room.  The bag tied to her belt obviously looked like it didn’t belong so I pulled it open and when I saw the Mask knew I was right.  I grabbed a stool and sat down placing the Mask on the floor and then cast a spell to wake Siofra.
As Siofra started to come around I took a close look at her.  Her face looked gaunt like she hadn’t eaten well in quite some time.  She had dark circles under her eyes and her clothes were spattered with blood.  When her eyes came open she looked at me and then they darted around like a wild animal that had been caged.
“What is your true name?”  I asked looking down at her trying not to seem too threatening.
“You already know.”  She replied looking defeated.
“I still need to hear it from you.”
“Maximilian Dionissis” he said.  “You’re Morgana Livingstone, although you were once Alastar Donegal.”
“How do you know that?”  I asked feeling chilled.
“Arangalad interrogated your mother with the chair, he told Arangalad everything.” Max said. I felt my cheeks flush with a fresh rage and took a deep breath to calm myself.
“How did you know my name?” Max asked.
“I’ve been investigating the theft of the Mask.  I examined your body and reviewed your record, but something about the case didn’t add up.  After successfully taking the Mask from Max why would Siofra run from her own people.  Then when I saw you in my mother’s house you didn’t look happy to be there.  In fact it looked like you would have run away if you’d been able.  Then you attacked Arangalad and claimed that your name was Max.  There was only one person that I knew of whose name could be ‘Max’ so I guessed that it was you.”  I watched Max as I talked and when I saw her nod I continued.
“So why don’t we start at the beginning and you tell me what happened?”
Max seemed to consider for a second and then launched into her tale.  I listened at times surprised and other horrified at what Max had been through.  It made her actions in killing Arangalad much more understandable.  I stopped her when she tried to gloss over what had been done to my mother and made her tell me in detail.  Besides playing with him Arangalad had implanted several layers of compulsion.  The plan had been to either allow Evaline to be rescued or to release him.  Once he was back home he would become an agent for the separatists in the human Guild.  There had been a secondary mission to capture me and turn me over to Arangalad.  The third layer had been to kill me if the situation became compromised.  When Evaline saw me in the room with the chair and Arangalad on the floor dying he must have decided the situation fit the condition which required him to kill me.
Max finished her tale explaining that destroying the chair was the only way that she could think of to end its power.  I agreed that most of the time this was the quickest way to end the power of an artifact.  However there were some artifacts whose spells survived their destruction.  I pointed this out to Max and she admitted that it had been a guess.  About this time the guard I’d talked to earlier walked into the room followed by Lieutenant Randgos. 
“Lieutenant, do you have a status report?”  I asked. 
“Ma’am, I do, but where is Sir Galohond?
“He is mourning his brother let’s not disturb him for the moment.” 
“Very good Ma’am.  The castle is secure.  We have taken 32 prisoners.  We have 84 EKIA, (Enemy Killed In Action), 11 EWIA (Enemy Wounded In Action) we suffered 8 KIA, and 7 WIA and have already administered BFH (Battle Field Healing) to the wounded.  I recommend that we begin preparations to part the veil and return to Summer.”
I nodded at his report. “I agree please begin making your preparations.”
I turned to Siofra, “you can come with me under your own power or I can bind you and bring you.”
“I’ll walk” she said.
With that I returned to the room with the chair.  By this time mother had moved to the hole in the wall and was looking out over the courtyard.  Galohond was still sitting next to his dead brother chanting softly.  I walked over to my mother and cleared my throat.  He turned to face me and I could tell that he’d been crying.
“Are you okay?” I asked feeling like it was a stupid question.  This was my mother Evaline Donegal, always strong, always in control.  I didn’t know how to handle this situation.
His eyes had a haunted look but he met mine. “I’m a long way from okay, but I’ll survive.” 
“We need to report this to the Guild but the St. Louis Guild Hall Grand Master was subordinated with the chair.  In theory he is no longer under the influence but is it wise to call him?”  I asked.
Mother shook his head, “no and we’re across state lines anyway, right?  This is a Chicago Guild Hall problem.  Call Grand Master Samantha Christenson she is an old friend and will be able to contain the site and take care of the media.  It would probably be best of all of the Elves weren’t here when she arrives.”
I felt better mother was starting to function he was thinking about political implications and making sound recommendations.  I now turned to look at Galohond after a moment I walked over and knelt beside him placing one hand over his. 
“Galohond, I know you’re grieving but we have to talk.”
“Have you ever lost a sibling Lady Morgana?
“No but my father passed away several years ago.  I know this is hard but you’ve got a job to do.”
Slowly Galohond climbed to his feet.  “Where is Randgos?  I need to get a report.”
“I’ve already got it.  The castle is secure and Lt Randgos is preparing your War Band to return to Summer.  Before you go we need to agree on a couple of things.”
When Galohond nodded I continued “first this is not your cousin Siofra” I said gesturing to Max.  “She can tell you the full story but the real Siofra is dead.  What should we do with her?  Also I have the Mask” at this point I held up the bag containing the Mask.
“We will take the woman and the Mask and return to Queen Isilidhrindal she shall judge their fate.”
I looked at Galohond and then at Max.  On the one hand Max had been a victim.  Of both Siofra and Arangalad on the other she had been a thief and had been the cause of her own downfall.  Still she had helped me and I felt like I owed her a debt.
“At her trial I would like an opportunity to speak on her behalf.  If not for her today would have been bloodier.” I said.
“Agreed.”
“Arangalad indicated that there was another person, a woman who had enslaved him.  Do you have any idea who that might be?”  
Now Galohond frowned thinking, “no but I will make sure the Queen knows.  It appears we have a plot within a plot. The real threat has yet to step onto the battle field.”
“I need to call in the Guild, it would be best if your people were gone before they arrive.” I said.
Galohond nodded and headed out of the room shouting for his guards.

+++

I stood before the ruined gates to the castle leaning against the Charger.  My mother was in the back seat of the car trying to rest.  Mark who I’d completely forgotten about once the battle had been fully joined had hopped up on the trunk and sat waiting, with me, for the Guild Special Agents to arrive.  Edgar was perched possessively on my shoulder apparently his ego had been hurt when I’d blasted my way into the castle without him.
Behind us the castle was now empty, even the bodies of the dead Elves had been removed.  The Guild Special Agents would secure the site until a team from Chicago could come down to inspect it more fully.  Mother had provided me the direct line to Grand Master Christenson and once I’d explained who I was and what had happened she had been only too happy to send a team down.  She had explained to me how it would be in the best interest of the Guild and the Magical Community as a whole to keep this quite since those involved had been mostly Elves.
Tomorrow the Guild Council of Elders would travel once again to St. Louis and meet with mother and me to go over the events of today.  At that meeting they would decide what to do.  She had also wanted to know if I needed a guard.  I’d declined her offer and was only too happy to see the first of the Guild Special Agents arrive on scene. 
The drive to St. Louis had been extremely quiet.  Mother had spent most of the trip stretched out in the back sleeping.  I had asked Mark to drive since I was exhausted both physically and magically and spent the first few minutes staring out the window lost in thought.  I trying not to think about what sort of hell my mother had just gone through.  I may have dosed off for a few minutes but I never really got any restful sleep.  It was very late when we arrived at the Donegal estate.  I asked Mark to spend the night and we all settled into our rooms just before the sun crested the horizon.  

+++

The Council of Elders started arriving just before lunch.  I figured this was a good sign since it meant that we would be feeding them and no one has ever said anything bad after a lunch made by Chelsea.  Mother greeted each guest and I played the gracious ‘God-Daughter’ for them.  We introduced Mark and then moved into the formal dining hall for lunch.  All told there were 13 Elders who’d made the trip. After lunch we moved the meeting to the atrium where the Chairman of the Council of Elders called the meeting to order.  The Chairman of the Council of Elders was a small female Master Magic-User Corine Lyons whose white hair and wrinkled skin made her look grandmotherly.  Her bright blue eyes and sharp wit quickly removed any doubt about her ability to lead.
“Magic-User Master Morgana Livingstone, will you tell us what has transpired?”
Her questions seemed simple enough but with all the Elders sitting in chairs in a semi-circle and me, mother, and Mark in three chairs in the middle it felt like we were on trial.  I got to my feet and started my tale.
“Ma’am it all started when I got a call to come down to the Guild Hall and help Inspector Lee look into a theft.”
For the most part they let me talk without interruption.  Then the questions started.  It seemed to go on and on.  Then it was Mark’s turn.  I sat listening and wondered what it was that these powerful individuals were trying to discover.  Lastly they asked mother to tell her story.  There was a noticeable difference when he talked.  Far fewer questions and all phrased more respectfully.  When the three of us were done the Elders asked Mark and I to leave so that they could continue talking with mother alone.
Out in the hall Mark leaned against one side. “Is it always like that?”
“Like what?” I asked smiling since I could guess what he was thinking.
“Like we are being interrogated, like I’m a child and they just caught me trying to steal a cookie.”
I did laugh at that, “yeah that’s about how it always feels.  Come one let’s go to the kitchen.  We can get a cup of coffee and a real cookie and wait.  They will probably be talking for a while.”
I was surprised when after only 30 minutes we were called back into the atrium.  Mother was standing to one side looking thoughtful.  Magic-User Grand Master Lyons looked at Mark and me as we stood nervously next to each other.
“Morgana I have received a message from Queen Isilidhrindal and she tells me that you have done the throne a service.”  Chairwoman Lyons said.  She paused to let this information sink in before she continued “from what I can tell you have done the Guild a service as well.  Based on what you uncovered we will be testing several Guild members in the St. Louis, and Midwest Guild Halls.  There is no telling how many members fell under the influence of this group.  Well done!”  With that she stood up and started clapping.  For a second it was just her but then all 13 Elders joined in. I felt my face flush but decided it would be best to say nothing.
“Mark, we understand you’re a victim here and we will do everything in our power to change you back but if this is impossible I’d like to offer you a place at the Chicago Academy of Magic.  You have a talent that must be trained and paying for your education is the least the Guild can do after all that you’ve suffered.”
Mark looked stunned and unable to speak she simply nodded her head.
“Morgana we would like you to take up a full time position as an Inspector within the St. Louis Guild Hall.  In addition as a Master Magic-User and a full Guild member you’d sit on the St. Louis Council and receive a full salary from the Guild.”
“Master Lyons, thank you.  I don’t mean to be rude but I’d like to think about it.” I said.
Chairwoman Lyons looked disappointed but nodded.  “Don’t think to long my dear the Guild needs young powerful women like you.” 
As if by silent agreement this ended the meeting and the Masters got up and began to filter out.

+++

Later that evening it was just me and my mother sitting on the back patio eating a light dinner.  The stars were out and a light breeze took the edge off the humidity of a summer night in St. Louis.  I took a sip of my Chardonnay and felt my body start to unwind.  I looked over at my mother who was also drinking a glass of wine.
“Alastar your brother arrives in the morning.”  Mother said looking up at the stars.
“I know I texted him that I could pick him up but he said he’d prefer to have Steven do it.”
“I talked to the Elder’s and they agree we can let Anthony knew about your secret.  Officially you are my ‘God Daughter’ but Anthony will know the truth.”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.  On the one hand it would be nice not to have to lie to Anthony but it would be incredibly embarrassing for me to meet him. 
Mother broke into my thoughts, “Alastar I need you to do something for me.”
I looked over at my mother noticing how serious he looked.  “Anything.”
“I must retire.” I tried to interrupt but he held up a hand. “Please, this whole situation has made it clear I’m not suited to lead House Donegal.  Anthony is my heir but he isn’t ready.  Once he is a certified Magic-User Master Class he will take over the estate but until then I need you to do it.”
For a second I was speechless.  “Mother I can’t run the estate.  I don’t know enough magic.”
“Morgana, no, Alastar you’re more than ready.  Let’s be honest Morgana Livingstone was a young woman from a rich family with more power and natural talent than ambition.  She never really studied hard, she never pushed herself.  Since you’ve taken her body you’ve already surpassed Master Magic-User’s far more experienced.  Because of your handicap you’ve always been disciplined and driven.  Your knowledge, skill, and drive when combined with Morgana’s raw talent have made you in a very short time one of the most powerful Masters in the United States.” 
I had to look away from my mother since my vision started to wavier.
“So what is it you want me to do?” I asked.
“First move into the estate.  There are objects in the vault that are powerful and have been in the family for generations.  You used three of them today very effectively.  There are other objects we are charged to keep out of the hands of those who would misuse them.   Second take my seat on the St. Louis Guild Hall Council.  I’m no longer qualified to hold it.”  At this I tried to protest but he raised his hand. 
“Thank you for your loyalty but it’s the truth.  I don’t have the power to hold the position.”  
“What about Anthony?” I asked. 
“He will be here for a few days.  We will all attend Susan’s funeral.”  At this mother choked up and didn’t continue for several minutes.  Finally he took a drink of his wine and said “Anthony needs to return to London and finish his studies.  I need you here to run the estate and maintain our affairs in St. Louis.”
“Mother what will you do?”  I asked feeling confused.
“Your father and I have property in Washington, in the Puget Sound I plan to retire there.  It’s a nice house with everything I need.”  At this mother sat his glass down and reached over to catch my hand and look into my eyes.  “Alastar I need you to do this for me.  That chair and the fact that I couldn’t defend Susan or myself has taught me a great deal, I need time.  I need to work on building up my power and time to heal please try to understand.”
I felt my eyes tearing up.  Instead of trying to explain I reached over and gave him a hug.  “Mother I’m always ready to do whatever I can to help.”  Surprisingly I meant it.  

+++

Author note: This concludes part II of the Consultant series. This trilogy is continued in “The Consultant and The Hounds of Heaven.”

** You can find other stories in the Guild of Magic-Users Universe at the below link.  **

Link:  Additional Stories by Zapper 

Cheers
Zapper


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