Conceding to Kismet

Beyond our world lies another dimension called The Nonetta.  In this dimension, a powerful group of humans called Imazims hone their powers and divide their time between that dimension and The Airtha.  One special group of Imazims find themselves in the ultimate test of strength as they are called to save the dimension they abandoned fifteen years previously.  This is their story...
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Chapter 1

 

                Click.

                “Look to the right.”

                Click.  Click.

                “Turn your shoulder a bit.  Tilt your head toward it.  Excellent.”

                Click.  Click.  Click.

                “Give me a crouch.  Hand over your knee.  Look right at me.”

                Click.  Click.  Click.  Click.

                “Alright we got it.  That was wonderful, Anastasia.”

                Anastasia.  She needed no other name.  She was the only one, the one and only.  Anastasia had been a model for nearly fifteen years.  She had been the highest paid for the last seven and showed no signs of slowing down.  So many women in her profession were cast aside at her age, but even approaching 32, she was nowhere near done or over the hill.  Many had attempted to pull the rug from under her, but each time she rose like the phoenix and made fools of her detractors.  Some had learned and had given up trying to punch her number long ago.  She had a rare combination of poise, grace, confidence, wisdom and humility that was difficult to resist.

                She sat in her sparse dressing room removing the last of her outlandish makeup.  Her “Afro-Gothic Chic” had made her famous.  It was often emulated then counted out as irrelevant when that could not be done effectively.  But Anastasia always made it work.  Sure she dabbled in other styles and made them just as fly as she, but she always came home whenever she felt the need.  No one else came close to doing it the way she did.

                Anastasia slipped into her dark blue jeans and black mock turtleneck.  Even without a trace of makeup, she had an incredibly stunning face: long, curvy eyelashes accented her dark brown eyes; the thick dark eyebrows arched just enough; the nose fell somewhere between flat and bulbous; the full mouth was one people now paid a fortune to attain.  All were gifts from a missing nomad mother and a father she never knew.  She could not hide the natural beauty that made her stand out, so people always noticed her and made it impossible to walk down the street incognito.  She usually traveled by car and missed leisurely walks in the park.

                “You already done for the day, Ana?”

                “Yeah, Pete, I’m ready to go home.”

                Although she could drive, Anastasia hired Pete Winston as her driver/bodyguard nearly six years ago.  She had known him for a while in their younger years, but they usually ran in different circles.  She knew he often got into trouble and was not surprised to hear he had gone to jail for breaking and entering.  However, she was surprised to see him in the park playing with his young daughter one day.  He had been completely honest with her talking about his past – except he made no mention of how difficult things were for him trying to support his child.  She figured that out herself.  The next day, she tracked him down and asked him if he wanted the job.  Pete and little Katra Winston had been part of her life ever since.

                “Oh, Kam called while you were in your shoot.  I’m sure he left a message though.”

                “Thanks, Pete,” she said as she took the cell phone he always held whenever she was in the middle of a shoot.  She checked her voicemail, skipping over all others until she heard his voice.

                “Hey, baby, just calling to let you know the plane made it in okay.  I’m on my way home now.  I wanted to make sure you remembered we were meeting at my house tonight.  See you then.  Love you, sweetheart.”

                She smiled as she saved the message to listen to it later.  That was her Kami.  The two of them had been a couple for nearly seven years.  She fished out the latest CD from his band Kief and popped it into the player.  Kami had been a pioneer in the sound now called industrial rock.  Anastasia felt his music sounded like a clever cross between Goldie and Nine Inch Nails while vocally he resembled Chris Cornell.  Despite this, Kami made Kief totally original and he managed to keep the same band members since before their breakthrough. That was one of the things she liked about him.

                Pete dropped her off at the mini estate Zenana to spend the rest of the day with his daughter.  Even though the name had caused much speculation about Anastasia’s private life and hobbies, the rather small Verde butterfly mansion was a haven for her.  She refused to think of it as a gilded prison.  She often spent days at home without emerging.  She was happier curled up with a good book than at the latest A-list social gathering.  She was happiest curled up with Kami.

                She headed for the kitchen to prepare a light snack even though she knew she would stuff herself later when Kami served up a nice helping of whatever delectable delights his chef was preparing.  Still, a little yogurt wouldn’t hurt.

                Then she felt it.

                The sharp, piercing pain started off rather dull then briefly intensified.  She clutched at her heart.  When she removed her hand, she saw where the symbol had raised itself through the skin.  After all these years, it was back, the symbol of the Imazims.

                They were calling her back.

                She had not been back to The Nonetta since that day fifteen years ago.  It remained clear in her memory, but she thought that would be the closest she would ever come to it again.

                Anastasia headed for the secret room adjoining her bedroom.  She retrieved the dark green cloak and affixed it to her shoulders.  She then opened an old wooden jewelry box and gingerly took out the only item – a necklace bearing the symbol of the Imazims as its charm.  She checked her watch.  She might not have to manipulate time.

                “Nuseht fodlo gek calb,” she chanted.

 

~~~

 

She sat stoically at the head of the table.  She knew they were trying to get a read on her, but she had perfected her poker face years ago.  It was one of the reasons she was so good at business.  She scared the hell out of the corporate boys.

                Lionel Martin looked from Amel to his lawyer.  She knew he would sign.  His company would go under completely without her, but he resented having to turn over so much control to her.  Despite her good looks and charm school demeanor, Amel conducted business with all the gentility of a school of sharks.  She had not relented on a thing.  Lionel sighed then committed his signature to the contract.

                “You did the right thing, Lionel,” Amel said as she finally gave way to a smile.

                “Let’s hope so,” he said as he and his entourage headed out the door.

                “Don’t you just love the smell of humiliation in the afternoon?”  Scott Bridges had been Amel’s assistant for two years.  Unlike most of the employees at the company, Scott did not seem to mind the fact that she was his boss.  For that, she let him get away with little things like the brandy he kept in his desk that he was now pouring for her to celebrate their latest conquest.

                “Seriously, I thought the old man was going to cry,” Scott said rather gleefully.

                “Have some sympathy, Scott,” Amel said flatly.  “One of us has to.  I can’t.  I can’t respect anyone who avoids looking me in the eye.”

                “Is that so?”  He looked at her with a glint in his eye.  Amel had known for some time that he had a quiet crush on her or at least acted as if he did.  She never got involved with men from work, however.  She always had to wonder if her detractors were trying to set her up.  So despite that deep dimple in his left cheek, Amel let Scott twist in the wind when it came to the possibility.  Besides, the beau du jour would not have liked it very much.

                Amel sent Scott home before heading off herself.  As she slid behind the wheel of her luxury car, she made mental notes of her evening plans.  Even though she had scored a beautiful victory, she felt like staying in.  She could order a nice catered meal from her favorite Italian place, Fellini’s.  They made the best chicken tortellini on the coast and Amel indulged as much as she could.  She could already taste it with a fresh salad, warm bread and red wine.

                She drove into the exclusive Black Ocean neighborhood.  She had decided against living in one of the overly spacious estates when she fell in love with the sky blue house seven years ago as she was still climbing the corporate ladder.  She did not have a professional come to clean like so many of her neighbors, preferring to spend two Fridays a month lovingly disinfecting her own home.  Once a neighbor mistook her for the maid.  He never made that mistake again.

                As she entered the door, Amel kicked off her heels, trimming her down to 5’6”.  She had been thick all her life and she hated the attention her curvy physique garnered during her teen years.  Now she picked and chose who she returned that attention to.  And she was definitely choosy.  She had to be.  Fortunately, she was becoming good at weeding out the ones more interested in her money and status than her.

                She put a few drops in her black eyes.  They were a bit irritated after a long day.  Amel settled down and stuffed her feet into the soft massager.  She had just clicked on the television when the doorbell rang.  Amel grunted and dragged herself to the door.  Donny.

                “I know you didn’t think I was leaving you alone tonight!” he said as he barged in.  Amel made no attempt to stop him.  She liked Donny even though she found him loud and boorish at times.  He knew when to tone it down around her though.

                He handed her a bottle of champagne and strawberries.  She set it down then excused herself to slip into something more comfortable.  She chose a dark blue wraparound skirt and a low-cut black blouse.  She was about to step into her slippers when she felt it.

                “Aagghh!” she yelled as she clasped her hand to the right side of her neck.

                “Amel, what’s wrong?” Donny asked as he began to rush to her bedroom.

                She rubbed at the symbol protruding from her neck.  After all these years, it was back.  They again called her to The Nonetta.

                “Amel, are you okay?” Donny asked as he came toward her.  “Why were you screaming?”

                “Nothing.  I just stubbed my toe.”  She tried to keep turned away from him.  She was not certain if he had the ability to see the symbol.  “Go - go on back to the den.  I’ll join you in a minute.”

                “Maybe you should let me see that.”

                “No, Donny it’s fine…”

                “It’ll only take…”

                “Delrow laci gam!”

                Donny and everything around him froze in place.  Amel had almost forgotten about the time stop charm.  It came back to her just as Donny was about to touch her.

                “Sorry, Donny,” she said as she kissed him lightly on the lips.  “But I can’t have you finding out about this.”

                Amel stepped into her walk-in closet.  She felt around until she found the loose panel.  She removed it and stepped inside a dark room.  She went to a display case and removed a ring.  She gingerly traced her finger along the symbol not believing she was being called back to The Nonetta after fifteen years.  Amel found her dark blue cloak and secured it around her shoulders.  She took a deep breath and chanted.

                “Nuseht fodlo gek calb.”

 

~~~

 

 

Ariel stepped onto the stage and took a bow.  This was not the first time she had gotten a lengthy standing ovation, but this was by far the most satisfying.

                The curtain came down and she ran to the wings.  Miguel immediately enfolded her in his arms.  They tightly embraced each other before heading back to the stage hand in hand for one last bow.

                It took Ariel no time to change into her street clothes.  She and Miguel clasped hands and set out to join the after party in their honor.  When they first married fifteen years ago, Miguel promised her he would do everything in his power to see that her dream of staging her own ballet came true.  He made good on that promise.  Ariel thought back to her wedding day as she celebrated the triumph of her ballet.

                Her dark green eyes shined like emeralds as she smiled at her fellow dancers and well wishers.  Her thick, dark eyebrows formed clownish but pretty arches providing a frame with her aquiline nose and pouty mouth.  Although she remained pleasant and composed, Ariel was anxious and jittery on the inside.  She awaited the real celebration to take place later at home, the private one she and Miguel had planned.

                “We’re very proud of you, Ariel,” Diane was saying.  “We always knew you could do it.”

                “Thank you so much, Ms. Diane,” Ariel replied as she kissed and hugged Diane.  She then reached out to clasp the waiting hand of Diane’s husband Sidney.

                “Yes, we had a feeling you’d make it happen,” Sidney said with a wink.  He tended to wink at her a lot – at least in this world.

                Ariel continued to work the room.  Just as she felt she could not shake another hand or her face just might crack, Miguel appeared at her side.

                “The dinner’s about to start, Ari,” he said.  “We need to get out of here.”

                They headed back to the dressing room.  No sooner did they get through the door than Miguel pinned her against the wall.

                “Come on, Miguel.  We don’t have time.”

                “We could skip the dinner,” he said between kisses.

                “You know we can’t.”

                “Then how about we skip appetizers and dessert and feign exhaustion.  I mean we were just in a four-hour show.”

                “You got a deal.”

                They drove the short five miles from the theater to Riviére, the latest hot spot for the A-list crowd.  Their party was already seated and started off a round of applause as they entered the restaurant.  They were practically giddy fools holding hands under the table and sneaking glances back and forth.  Their obligatory meal seemed to last forever.

                No sooner than he finished his chicken cotillion did Miguel begin to yawn.

                “I think I’d better get this one home before he passes out,” Ariel announced.

                “But it’s so early!  Surely you can stay for dessert and coffee.”

                “Maybe some other time.  All the work going into that show is catching up.”

                “Yeah, we’ve got some more publicity to do in the morning.  I should get some beauty rest.”

                “Okay, but we must get together again soon.”

                They were subdued during the drive home, barely speaking to one another.  Ariel looked at him as he drove and studied his dark brown face as she often did when she thought he was not paying attention.  She never tired of his face or the taut, lean body that came along with it.

                “See something you like?” he teased never taking his eyes off the road.

                “You bet I do.”

                As soon as they entered the vermillion house, all pretense was checked at the door.  They tore at each other’s clothes as if civilization itself depending on their coupling.  All the while, they relished in each other’s touch, scent and gaze.  Their trip to the bedroom was quite eventful.

                Yet it only hinted at what was to come.

                Thousands of times over fifteen years and it never got old or dull to either of them.  Miguel always took the time to explore her body as if it were the first and last times.  Ariel showed her appreciation by giving back as much as she took.

                She was almost there.  She could feel it.  So could he.  He knew just how to get her there every time.  He listened as her breathing grew heavier.  She squeezed him tighter.  Then suddenly she screamed.

                Miguel thought for a moment that she had come on strong but quickly realized she was in pain.  He pulled away from her as her moans changed from pleasure to agony.

                “Baby, what’s wrong?”

                He ran his hand soothingly across her belly.  He felt it.  The symbol of the Imazims began to protrude through the skin.

                “Miguel, they’re calling me.”

                He helped her get dressed before ascending to the attic.  He looked around the dark spacious room.  He opened a chiffonier and grabbed a small rectangular jewelry box.  He carefully removed the bracelet and placed it on the table.  By the time he retrieved the dark red cloak from the wardrobe, Ariel had made it to the attic.

                “Are you coming, too?” she asked as she slipped the cloak over her shoulders.

                “I wasn’t called.  You can tell me if I’m needed when you come back.”

                She kissed him tenderly as he affixed the bracelet.

                “Nuseht fodlo gek calb.”

 

~~~

 

“Once again I’d like to thank you for coming here today.  I truly appreciate your time and support.”

                Aurora always came to Zouk first on her book tours even though her books now sold in the millions.  The small indie outlet was one of the first to support her while she was still struggling to make a name for herself.  So she made Zouk the primary source for her publicity, advanced books or anything else relevant to her work.  That included the recent film and television deals in development.

                She signed books for the next couple of hours.  She recognized some of the faces although she had trouble with names.  Aurora loved the diehard fans.  They would always be faithful as long as she remained true to her vision.  She loved the new converts as well.  They brought a good type of zealotry that kept her going through her worst bouts of writer’s block.

                Aurora looked out to the one seat still occupied in the slowly emptying bookstore.  She winked at its occupant who sweetly smiled back at her.  She definitely owed Phaedra this time.

                The signing ended.  Aurora gathered her belongings and gave her thanks and well wishes to Karma, the owner of Zouk.  She finally walked over to Phaedra who sat reading a book, thankfully not one of her own this time.

                “Ready to go, sweetheart.”

                “Yeah, Mom.”

                Aurora felt that at fifteen, Phaedra might have grown tired of accompanying her mother to book signings and other publicity events, but Phaedra had always shown such remarkable patience with the whole process.  Perhaps her young mind matured early as she recalled the lean years having to wait long hours for her mother to finish shifts in restaurants and diners.  She had already told her mother she did not mind being away from her friends and kids her age.

                “If they’re really my friends, they’ll be there when I get back.”

                Phaedra had been her life for so long.  Yet she still found herself in awe that the girl was hers.  Phaedra’s dark gray eyes were nearly a replica of her own, but the rest of her face bore a resemblance to the man Phaedra never knew as her father.

                “You know he showed up.”

                “Who?”

                “That man that used to come visit when you worked at the diner.  Teddy.  He sat in the back while you were reading then slipped out when you started to sign books.  I think it was him.  I don’t remember his face that well and I didn’t get a good look.  I didn’t want to stare you know.”

                Aurora grew quiet.  Teddy had been there?  She was glad Phaedra had not seen him well enough to be sure.  Phaedra had been five years old the last time he came to visit, three the last time Teddy had held her.  Since then Phaedra had claimed various sightings of him, none of which Aurora had ever seen.  She wondered if her child’s mind played tricks on her.

                “It might not have been him, honey.  It’s been so long since we’ve seen him.  Where do you want to eat?”  Aurora hoped changing the subject would take Phaedra’s mind off Teddy.

                “I don’t really care, but I guess I could go for some Chinese.”

                Aurora smiled.  She loved Phaedra’s confidence and charm, but she sometimes wished the girl was not so wise beyond her young years.  She knew exactly how miserable too much wisdom could make someone.

                They chatted over sweet and sour pork, Hunan chicken, won ton soup and white rice.  Aurora knew everything about her daughter’s life, but they always found something to talk about.  She had finally begun to allow Phaedra to read her books last year.  They spent hours discussing them.  Aurora felt like a huge weight had been lifted from her head and an entire world had opened for the both of them.  Still she kept a very crucial part of her of her life from Phaedra.

                “You will accomplish great feats.”

                “In bed.”

                Aurora gasped with a smile.  “What do you know about ‘in bed’?”

                “That’s what you say at the end of a fortune cookie.”

                “I know I’d better keep an eye on you.”

                “I keep one on you.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen you with a man.  I’m starting to think I was hatched.”

                “Check, please.”

                They had way too much room in their spacious off-gray house, but they loved every corner.  When Phaedra retreated to her bedroom, Aurora strolled to her favorite room, the library.  She may not have had rare books, first editions or collector’s items, but she loved each and every book in her vast collection.  She spent hours in this room formulating her ideas and watching them come to life.  She treated each piece as if it had the power to make a sibling for Phaedra.

                Aurora took a break to check her e-mail.  She was not surprised to find a message from an agent who wrote her at least three times a day.  He was in the midst of a four-month crusade to persuade her to come to his company and abandon her longtime agent.

                She was just about to have a bowl of mint chip ice cream when it hit.  Right in her left thigh she felt it.  Aurora was more shocked than she was in any pain.  She was the last person she thought the Imazims would call.

                Aurora made sure Phaedra was okay before heading back to the library.

                “Tahgis nilp nie dih.”

                 A shelf disappeared revealing her dark silver cloak and small jewelry box.  Aurora fastened it around her shoulders then reached for the anklet bearing the symbol of the Imazims.  She tenderly stroked it before affixing it to her ankle.

                “Nuseht fodlo gek calb.”

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Dark hues of purple and orange stretched across the vast sky.  A gentle wind blew from nowhere.  She tightly gripped her mother’s hand.  She was not really afraid, but she had no idea where she was or where to go.  Her mother simply told her they were going to a special place for unique individuals.  Not everyone could go.  Not everyone knew of it.  She was truly a chosen one.

                “So many of the people you admire are like you.  Like us, they belong to an exceptional kind called Imazims.  This is our realm.  Here you will learn all about the powers you possess.  It’s important that you understand them and learn not to abuse them.  You will also learn about Morphs.”

                “Mommy, what’s a Morph?”

                “You’ll learn, child.”

                They watched a dark figure from across the horizon.  It seemed to float across the black ground.  It stopped right in front of them then slowly pulled back the hood to reveal a withered but lovely face.  Her mother made a ritual gesture touching her extended forefinger to her head and chest then pointing it outward.  The elderly woman smiled and returned the gesture.

                “Welcome back, Dragonfly.”

                “Thank you, Mother Galweh.”

                “This is she?”

                “Yes.  She’s mine.”

                “She is ready?”

                “Very much so, Mother Galweh.”

                “Very well.”

                Her mother took one hand.  Mother Galweh took the other.  She did not remember her feet touching the ground.  She had no idea when the huge dark stone mansion had materialized before them.  Outside the mansion were statues, many bearing the likeness of beautiful women. The blue and grey stones seemed to illuminate.  The immense building seemed to swallow them as they entered.  She was still not frightened.  She let go of her mother’s hand.  She moved automatically navigating the ancient mansion as if she had been there many times already.  She stepped into the main hall where she found the other young ones.  She walked past them all until she found them.  She knew they were hers.  They knew she was theirs.  The four of them stood in a close circle appraising each other.

                “I see you’ve found each other,” said Mother Galweh as she materialized from nowhere.  “This is your quadron.  In this dimension, this is your family.  You are each other’s home.  You all progress together.  If one of you succeeds, you all succeed.  If one of you fails, so does your entire quadron.  However, it’s very rare that a quadron fails.  It never takes long to realize you are much stronger together than individually.  After all, that is how we survived all this time – with each other.  Now it’s time you learned your names.”

                Mother Galweh drifted to the girl with reddish brown hair and placed her thumb on the back of the girl’s neck.  The girl gasped and light briefly flashed in her black eyes.

                “Lyric,” she said.

                Mother Galweh moved to the girl who looked shyly at the rest of them.  The same thing happened to her.

                “Lyzette,” she said in a cute, raspy voice.

                Mother Galweh approached the girl who had been smiling the entire time.  That smile never wavered as the light passed through her.

                “Lyasia,” she said breathlessly.

                Then Mother Galweh approached her.  When she felt the thumb on her neck, she found herself in yet another world.  She walked barefoot through the black sands on a warm spring night.  She looked into the sky at the whole noon.  She knelt to the ground to brush away the sand from a shiny black stone.  A butterfly descended on her hand just as she read the five letters in green carved on the stone.

                Only a second had transpired from the moment Mother Galweh placed a thumb on her neck to the moment she uttered her new name.

                “Lythe.”

 

~~~

 

The true power of an Imazim is indeed a wondrous thing.  There once was an Imazim whose silence cast a curse over all the Nonetta. Not even her fellow Imazims could break the curse.  She did not mean to curse them.  She simply had no idea her voice held so much power in The Nonetta.  Her voice was feared in The Airtha.  Saphis had always silenced her when she used her voice.  Morphs stole her voice and found it to be most beneficial to them.  She grew disillusioned with her own beautiful voice and decided never to use it again.  This one Imazim who would not use her voice put a curse over all The Nonetta.  For an Imazim to not use her power, particularly a natural one, weakens all the rest.  She began to dream and saw the slow destruction of the Imazims and The Nonetta.  So she spoke.

                The curse was broken.

 

~~~

 

“I’m sure our parents are allowed to visit us.  Why would they separate us from our parents?  This isn’t a prison.”

                Lyasia looked at Lyric, Lyzette and Lythe with an emphatic enthusiasm as she spoke.  “Anyway, we’re supposed to be getting to know each other.  My father told me about The Nonetta when he realized I was an Imazim as well.”

                “Both my parents are Imazims,” Lyzette said.  “I was never allowed to use my powers.  They said I needed to learn more about them and how to control them.  They said Imazims could destroy The Airtha if we so chose, but Imazims don’t destroy.  Instead, we do what we can to save it.”

                “I don’t see why,” Lyric said.  “My mom said The Airtha is dying and if the Saphis won’t stop it, we owe them nothing.  If they destroy The Airtha, we’ll still have The Nonetta.”

                “But don’t you think we would suffer as well if The Airtha was destroyed?” Lythe finally piped up, embarrassed the rest of her quadron might realize she had been ignorant of The Nonetta until quite recently.

                “You’re probably right,” Lyzette said in her quiet rasp.  “If The Airtha didn’t mean anything to us, we would have abandoned it long ago.  There must be something in it.”

                The girls looked at each other unsure of where to take the conversation from that point.

                “Should we tell each other our real names?” Lyasia offered.

                “I don’t think we have to,” Lyric said.  “That only matters in The Airtha.  We’re supposed to form our Nonetta identities now.”

                Silence overcame them again.  Lythe studied her nails as Lyzette looked from her shoes to each girl.  Lyric played with her hair as Lyasia surrendered a sly grin.

                “Ariel!” she said proudly.

                “Anastasia,” Lythe said as she too began to smile.

                “Aurora,” Lyzette said as she moved to stand closer to Lyasia and Lythe.  They all turned and looked expectantly at Lyric, who sighed dramatically then made her way over to the others.”

                “Amel.”

                They finally fell into a comfortable chatter.  When Lyasia told the others she wanted to be a dancer, she demonstrated with a series of pirouettes then grabbed Lyzette to waltz with her.

                “I’m going to love being an Imazim,” Lyasia said.  “Everyone I’ve wanted to be like is one: Katherine, Alvin, Bill, Debbie… I always wanted to be like them.  My dad said I would be just as good.  Better probably since they’ve already set out the path.”

                “That’s what my mom says” Lyric said.  “She says there are a lot of Saphis who were supposed to be Imazims but were afraid of their power.  Most of them let Morphs steal their power, pretend it was theirs to begin with.  That’s why some Imazims don’t want to stay in The Airtha.  They always run the risk of having their powers stolen or worse: they give them away because they’re afraid to use them.”

                “Well, that’s why Morphs are so dangerous,” Lyzette said.  “They have no remorse about taking the powers of others and claiming it as their own.  They’ll say that it belongs to everyone, so it’s not really stealing.  That’s what my mother says.”

                Lythe took it all in.  Her mother had never mentioned the words Imazim, Saphi or Morph.  She never even read her daughter fairy tales, saying they left little girls with grand delusions about life.  She did not want her daughter embracing such silly notions of Prince Charming, evil stepmothers and happily ever after.  But now certain things her mother said began to make sense.

                “Never let anyone else take credit for your work.”

                “Don’t be afraid to speak out.”

                “Never let anyone get away with treating you like less than you are.”

                “Don’t be afraid to think on your own.”

                Lythe’s mother constantly fed her gems such as these.  She had seemed strange the day before as she watched Lythe eat her lunch.  She finally brought herself to tell Lythe that they would be going somewhere special soon.  They would have to pack no bags.  When the time came, her mother told Lythe to close her eyes and hold her hand.  Lythe then heard her mother chant.

                “Nuseht fodlo gek calb.”

                When she opened her eyes, she saw the beautiful purple and orange sky of The Nonetta.

                “You weren’t told about being an Imazim, were you?” Lyasia was asking her.

                “No,” Lythe said quietly.  “She only told me about this place yesterday.  She said I would understand once I got here.”

                “Wow!” Lyasia’s eyes were suddenly wide with fascination.  “You must be a purus Imazim.  We have a purus in our quadron.”

                “How do you know she’s a purus?” Lyric said grouchily.  “She didn’t even know she had powers until yesterday.”

                “That’s how we know she’s a purus,” Lyzette said with a little more confidence than she previously had shown.  “Some Imazims try to keep their children from the life or the kids have lost their parents somehow, so they don’t know who they really are.  But they get called anyway.  Usually in their late teens or twenties.  Only a purus would be called this young not knowing she was an Imazim.  We have to embrace that.”

                Lyric clicked her tongue and sighed with exasperation.  She stood apart from the others, daring to remain individual.  Lythe looked at her and immediately thought of something else her mother would tell her.

                “Don’t ever think you’ll make it in this world alone.”

                She had not been thinking aloud.  She thought the words had remained in the confines of her mind, but Lyric had slowly turned to look at her as if she had spoken directly to Lyric.  They gazed at each other curiously.  Then as if being pulled by an invisible force, Lyric walked back over to the other three.

                “If one of us succeeds…”

                “… all four of us succeed…”

                “…if one of us fails…”

                “… then so do we all…”

                This was what was supposed to happen.  It was not their intention, but they felt it happening.  Mother Galweh had told them the quadron would be their family in The Nonetta.  They had not been told what they were now finding out.

                They would be one.

 

~~~

 

Lythe drew her cloak closer to her as she looked around.  There was an unnatural chill in The Nonetta.  Still, it was just as she remembered, the most beautiful purple and orange sky she had ever seen. She had never grown tired of it as a child.  She found even more to appreciate as a woman.

                She walked toward the horizon although there was nothing in the distance.  She had not decided her destination, so none appeared.  She had not decided if she wanted to go directly to the mansion or detour to the black sands where she received her name.  She felt the black sand beneath her toes as she unconsciously conjured the beautiful beach.

                “It’s always peaceful here,” a familiar voice said.  “I only hope we are strong enough to keep it so.”

                Lythe looked at the woman whose old voice did not match her young face.  The woman smiled.

                “You’re thinking, ‘Why does this 30-year-old woman sound 75?’  Would it help if I sounded like this?”

                Her voice had changed to match the face.

                “Or would it help if I looked like this?”

                She began to age.  Slowly, Lythe realized why the voice was so familiar.

                “Mother Galweh!” she exclaimed as she greeted the woman before her.  “I know I was called, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen The Nonetta.  Mother Galweh you’re young!”

                Mother Galweh had returned to the 30-year-old.  She was nearly as old as time itself.  She was so powerful that she could choose her physical appearance at will.  She was the most powerful Imazim in existence, but she said her power was contingent upon her fellow Imazims.  As their powers grew, so did hers.  She weakened when Imazims lost their way.  But if she weakened, so did The Nonetta.

                “Are you ready, Lythe?”

                “Yes, Mother Galweh.”

                Mother Galweh took Lythe’s hand.  The mansion appeared before them.  Lythe often asked herself why Imazims ever left The Nonetta.  She already knew why because Mother Galweh had explained to them that The Nonetta and The Airtha were connected.  The Nonetta was kept from those who dwelt exclusively in The Airtha.  They could not fathom the existence of The Nonetta and believed those they actually did not know were Imazims were not as good as they.  These were Saphis.  Saphis did not realize that without the Imazims in their world, they would perish.  Their existence would become empty.  Morphs, on the other hand, knew the Imazims’ true power.  However, they wanted it for themselves.  The Nonetta was the only safe space for the Imazims.  But the Morphs grew stronger all the time.  One too many trusting Imazims had shared with Morphs believing an alliance at hand.  More often than not they were betrayed and found their powers stolen.  In that regard, Morphs were worse than Saphis.  Saphis believed Imazims were unnecessary, but Morphs wanted to steal the very essence of the Imazim, claiming it in the name of universality.

                Lythe walked into the mansion, its dark beauty enveloping her.  She knew that others were there even though the place seemed empty.  The young ones were surely off in lessons.  She could feel the security charm that surrounded the mansion.  It was not strong enough to cover the entirety of The Nonetta.  The Circle would have its own charm of protection.  Once when she was a child taking lessons, Lythe and others had to stay put in the mansion for two days under protection.  She never thought that would happen again.

                Lythe walked into the Argen room.  Her quadron spent many hours in this room perfecting their powers.  They also studied The Labyrinth, their final task to complete their training.  It was never to be.  When their year nine approached, Lythe’s quadron could not reunite to complete the year.  The 144 was broken.

                She approached the Argen stone.  After all this time, she remembered the words to conjure the image of The Labyrinth.

                “Noo meg naro.”

                The Labyrinth itself was a massive undertaking.  However, the image before Lythe was simply a replica showing them what they could possibly encounter.  It tested every dimension of their training and each member had to pass each part individually as well as together.  Her quadron never got that chance.

                “Maybe it’s for the best we didn’t make it.  I’m getting dizzy just seeing the simulation.”

                Lythe turned to see the perpetually smiling face of Lyasia causing her to follow suit.  They embraced in a tight hug, their black energy flowing between them.  Even if they had not known it before, they would have found out then that they were both happy in The Airtha.  Lythe smiled at her old friend.  She had kept up with the success of all members of her quadron.  Lyzette had gotten off to a rocky start, but she had persevered.

                Lythe and Lyasia turned to see Lyzette approaching.  Her serious gaze slowly gave way to a smile.  All those years ago, she seemed uncertain of them as if afraid they may have meant her harm.  That uncertainty had shown itself briefly then she remembered.  Lyzette remembered they had sacrificed their training because of her.  They never openly blamed her.  In fact, it was believed they were so successful in The Airtha because they were not full-powered Imazims.  So many others with talents greater than theirs had perished far too soon in The Airtha, a realm that could not fully appreciate their gifts and sought to harness them, to limit their full potential without allowing a Saphi or Morph to dictate their boundaries.

                “It’s beautiful and wonderful to see you again,” Lyzette said in her distinct rasp.

                “It certainly is,” a sharp, cutting voice materialized.  Lyric walked up to the rest of her quadron, her stoic face belying nothing.  Instead, she extended her left hand to Lyasia and her right to Lyzette.  The four of them joined hands letting the black energy flow through them.  The past fifteen years of their lives in The Airtha became not simply shared memories but shared experience.  They took turns living the lives of the others until each one had lived as the other three.

                Mother Galweh beckoned them to sit down.  “You’ll have time for oruk later,” she said benevolently as she illuminated the room.  “I know you’re wondering why you were called, especially now after all this time.  None of you have returned to The Nonetta since the day you left.  Very rare for a purus quadron, even one that did not complete tasks.”

                The flickering light cast ominous shadows behind Mother Galweh as she stood in front of the quadron.  Her dark brown eyes began to lighten as she spoke.  Her dark purple cloak spoke to her status as the leader of all Imazims, but her manner suggested equality among them.  Mother Galweh was more concerned with preparing her young ones to survive in The Airtha rather than with having them worship at her feet.  This was the quality that endeared her to generations of Imazims.  Now as they looked upon her, Lythe, Lyric, Lyzette and Lyasia could sense the urgency with which she called them back to The Nonetta.

                “We have reason to believe Morphs have managed to infiltrate The Nonetta.  Not only that but we believe at least one has passed as an Imazim for quite some time.  We’re not sure how long we’ve been vulnerable, but none of our young ones are allowed to run about The Nonetta alone.  If they must, they have to stay in their entire quadron.

                “We’ve called you back for a purpose.  Your quadron must complete tasks.  Your generation was the last to have a purus among your ranks.  But the quadron with the purus, well, you chose to stay together.  That’s why you’ve all succeeded as you have in The Airtha.  It’s rare for an Imazim to gain so much there without sacrificing so much of her essence, but you four have.  Now you need to bring some of that energy back to The Nonetta.”

                Mother Galweh smiled at them.  “Of course you are under no obligation.  If you decide to solve The Labyrinth, call to The Onyx Guild.  We will prepare the course for you after you’ve been given ample time to prepare yourselves.  In the meantime less powerful Morphs may come, but they shall be easily defeated.  The one or ones we fear will be far more clever.”

                Her expression had become uncharacteristically weary for a moment, but she quickly regained her composure.  “Take some time to make your decision.  You know how to call me.”

                With a wave of a hand over her face, Mother Galweh was gone.  Being old as time itself, she had no concept of kept time.  Things happened when they were supposed to.  One second and 100 years were all the same to her.  Yet the quadron knew that time would be of essence in this matter.  They sat looking at the spot where Mother Galweh had been.

                “You know what she means don’t you?” Lyric broke the silence.

                “Yes,” Lyzette said grimly.  “But do you think she really believes we’ll abandon The Nonetta just because we walked away all those years ago?”

                “Wouldn’t we?” Lyric said sternly.  “We haven’t seen this place for fifteen years.  We’re not connected to it like others.  What do we have to gain by helping?”

                “It’s not about what we have to gain,” Lyasia said.  “We all know damn well we are connected to this place and if The Nonetta is destroyed so is The Airtha.  Are we really going to be that selfish?”

                “Who says it’s selfish?  We were the last generation with a purus among us and The Guild simply let us go when we didn’t do things their way.  The Nonetta may not have changed, but The Airtha sure has.  If they insist on staying intertwined with each other then perhaps they should have worked harder to keep The Nonetta from getting left behind.”

                Lyric’s outburst gave them all pause.  They all at some point had asked the same question, especially since none of them had to use their powers to climb their way to the top.  Yet they all knew their training had contributed significantly to their ability to cope in a world that despised them for no good reason.

                “We’ll complete the Labyrinth because we can’t help who we are,” Lythe broke into the silence.  “Even if we didn’t use our powers, everything we are is tied to The Nonetta.  Besides, we all have Saphis in The Airtha we love and protect.  We can’t let them be destroyed.”

                Lyric turned to Lythe stoically.  To anyone who did not know Lyric, her expressionless eyes might have indicated she was dismayed.  Since Lythe knew her well, that was just a great poker face and that she never smiled very often anyway.

                “That’s all I needed to hear.”

                “Honey, I missed your cynicism.”

                The four of them joined hands again, finishing the oruk ritual they had begun earlier.  As the black energy flowed through them once again, they felt a charge neither of them had experienced since they last left The Nonetta nearly fifteen years ago.  They sent their energy to protect the ones who were not yet strong enough to protect themselves.  They felt the black energy of the Imazims not in The Nonetta sharing their energy to keep it safe.

                Soon they would all be called, their entire generation of 144.  They would reunite in The Nonetta to support the quadron through the difficult task that was The Labyrinth.  Usually when the task was completed, the generation would partake in a huge celebration, coming together with the others and enjoying their accomplishments.  They all knew this time, though, the Gala would probably be postponed if held at all.

                They disconnected knowing it was time to return to The Airtha.  They had some preparations and explanations waiting for them.

                “I have to get back,” Lyric said.  “I have to break the time manipulation charm off Donny.” She then gave a rare smile thinking of Donny frozen in place in her bedroom.

                “Miguel will want me to fill him in on you guys, what he doesn’t know already,” Lyasia said.

                “Phaedra doesn’t even know I’m gone,” Lyzette said wistfully.

                “I might just be a little late for Kami,” Lythe said as she wondered how she would explain her absence to him.  “Until next time, Ukoknas.”

                They each raised their right hands then touched their charms and simultaneously said their magic words.

                “Rever ofoton ruter.”

                And like that, they once again left The Nonetta.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

When an Imazim moves ahead too fast in The Airtha, Saphis become afraid.  They do not know why they fear the Imazim’s power, but they do everything they can to subside it.  Some openly intimidate.  However, most pretend to be friendly.  They tell Imazims to go slow.  If they try to get what they work for too fast, Saphis might feel threatened.  “Go slow,” they said.  “Progress takes time.”  One Imazim refused to go slow.  She had the right to work in her own time at her own pace.  Why should she wait for the Saphis to be ready for her?  The Airtha belonged as much to her as it did to them.  So she moved along at her own pace though she was warned to slow down.  She refused to be intimidated.  The Saphis did everything they could to slow her down.  When this did not work, she was destroyed.

                An entire generation of Imazims was born in her place.

 

~~~

 

She would be about fifteen minutes late.  Anastasia quickly got herself ready.  She slipped on a pair of black slacks and an emerald green blouse before finding her favorite pair of black sandals.  She would only be in them for a few moments anyway.  Anastasia was at home in Kami’s place, so she never kept her shoes on there either.  She grabbed her purse and the keys to her Nissan and headed off to meet Kami.

                Kami owned an entire estate that required a full-time staff.  In keeping with his favorite naming pattern, he called it Kali, the same thing he called Anastasia, his muse of the past seven years.  Anastasia was waved through security then turned her car over to Kami’s driver Dave.  She had her own key to the front door, so she walked in without Richard announcing her.  She went straight through the grand mansion to the small private dining room.  He was already waiting for her.

                “You’re late,” Kami said as he rose to kiss her.  “I was starting to worry.  You’re always early.”

                “Sorry.  I got a little hung up at home.”

                Anastasia looked at Kami.  That first day they met all those years ago was definitely not love at first sight.  Kami’s band Keif was making its first music video for its debut single, a song called “Wyldfyre.”  The group’s manager Nigel noticed Anastasia’s picture in his girlfriend’s copy of a French magazine Si Vous Plait.  Her image jumped out at him and he spent the next two days trying to track her down.  Her agency tried to convince him to use a different girl, someone more “mainstream,” but Nigel was adamant about having Anastasia.  He found her himself and set up a meeting between Anastasia and Kami to convince the two of them that her Afro-Gothic image was a perfect match for Keif.

                She had looked at Kami as they talked.  She had to admit the six-foot half-Asian, half-black man was incredibly handsome.  On the day of the shoot, she found that he was just as attractive below the chin.  She only had to work on the second day of the shoot and the two got quite cozy during the interim.  It did not take them long to become completely comfortable with their more intimate interactions.  But at the end of the shoot, they shook hands and went their separate ways.

                Anastasia thought that would be the last she would personally hear from Kami although she hoped the group would succeed.  She loved the sound of Keif’s music as Nigel had sent her a CD before they met.  A month after the video shoot, she received a small package in the mail.  Anastasia found a CD labeled “Kali” inside.  That was when she found out Kami’s secret: the man labeled the next big thing in rock was a classically trained pianist.  She listened to his seven-minute ballad for two hours straight.

                A couple of days later, Kami called and asked her if she wanted to join him for a night out.  They went to a club to see a local band play then spent the better part of the night in a 24-hour diner.  Anastasia found out that Kami had a poet’s soul.  She also found out that his attraction to her had nothing to do with her looks and occupation but rather the energy he received from her.  She felt the same way about him.  Three weeks after that first date, “Wyldfyre” debuted.  After six years of hard work, Keif was an overnight sensation.

                Kami and Anastasia became a premier A-list couple.  At first, Anastasia’s biggest obstacle in being happy with Kami was not the many groupies he encountered but his mother.  For the longest time, that woman would not give Anastasia the time of day.  That all changed five years ago when Kami’s tour bus crashed.  Anastasia had been in Italy at the time, but she immediately dropped everything and rushed to Kami’s side to see that he recovered.  Kami’s mother “accidentally” leaked to the press that Anastasia’s agency was threatening to drop her for walking out of an assignment to be with the man she loved.  The two women had gotten along just fine since then.

                In the five years that followed, Anastasia and Kami continued to grow closer.  They never discussed moving in together or marriage but had to endure his mother’s hints of being ready for another wedding and grandchild.  They both tried to laugh it off and continue being happy as they were.

                Anastasia felt she had no right to take Kami’s name when she had not told him her most closely guarded secret, her true identity.  She had wanted to tell him since the beginning, since the first time she felt his energy flowing through her and she gave hers to him.  However, she had no idea how to tell him or even how to broach the subject. How do you tell a man you’re a creature of another dimension with powers this world finds too frightening to imagine, she often asked herself.  She asked herself that question every time she looked in his dark brown eyes and saw her future.

                Despite their evening date, Anastasia and Kami were enjoying a meal of banana and strawberry crepes.  Kami actually chose his chef based on how well she could prepare that particular delicacy.  She was also great at making Anastasia’s favorite, crawfish etoufee.  While she made short work of her sweet treat, Anastasia thought of how she would tell Kami about her unexpected upcoming trip.

                “You’re staying the night aren’t you?” he asked as he pushed his plate aside.

                “Of course I am.  Do you think I’d make other plans?”

                “No, but you have seemed a bit far away since you got here.”

                Anastasia looked at him then noticed the room.  It had been especially decorated in her favorite color combination of black and green.  She noticed the green posies scattered throughout the room, the blue and green candles setting off the emerald green tablecloth.  Everything was set to her liking and she had made no mention of anything.

                “Kami, you went through all this trouble!  It’s not even a special occasion.”

                “I’m here with you.  That’s special enough.”

                “Oh you sweet talker, you.”

                “I’m serious.  With the tour starting next month and all the PR, I’m glad to be here with you for a few days.  Three weeks is a long time to be away from you.”

                “I’ve missed you as well.  I try not to dwell on it because I know we’ll be together before we know it.  I always have something to look forward to.”

                “Yeah, but it would be nice if you were here.”

                Anastasia tried to smile, but it stopped before it reached her eyes.  “You’re right.  Something came up before I got here.  I don’t have all the details yet, so I didn’t want to worry you with it.  I have to go away for a little while.  I hate to do it before your tour, but I don’t think I can avoid it.”

                “You have to work?”

                “No.  No it’s not work.”

                “Well, if it’s personal then I can come with you.”

                “No!” Anastasia exclaimed then quickly calmed herself.  “I mean no.  I can handle this.”

                Kami eyed her suspiciously.

                “Kami, I trust you out there when I know there will be women younger and whiter throwing themselves at you.  This is nothing of the sort, so I hope you can do the same for me.”

                He began to smile.  “Ana, does this have something to do with your mother?  I know you don’t like to talk about it, but I’ll understand if you need time.”

                Anastasia sighed.  “To be honest, I’m not certain what it’s about yet.  Yeah it’s the past and hopefully I can tell you everything soon.  For now, I just need to do this.”

                Kami nodded then stretched out like a cat.

                “Considering it’s been three weeks and I won’t be getting my full fill of you like I expected…”

                He stood, headed to the door and pretended to shuffle about nervously.  “I was wondering if you would care to join me in the bedroom.”

                She loved it when he did his Brando impersonation.  They discovered they had an affinity for The Wild One soon after their first date.  He led her to the bedroom he had had decorated with candles, flower petals and potpourri.  She knew the light piano music was Kami’s favorite mix of Tchaikovsky and Mozart.

                Anastasia thought he was so beautiful in the candlelight.  She straddled Kami as he sat on the bed.  She ran her hands through his soft, curly hair as he busied himself removing her clothes.  As many times as they had been through it over the past seven years, it never got old to either of them.  Anastasia had become much more open with her affections since Kami’s accident, afraid to face life without him.  Now, knowing that The Nonetta was in trouble, she unleashed all her passion onto him as if she would never have another chance.

 

~~~

 

Donny was still exactly as she left him.

                Amel made sure she was not still wearing her ring.  She looked at Donny’s watch, the only time piece that stopped with him.

                “Emite mevig.”

                She watched the clock as it wound back to the time she had frozen Donny.    She then used the charm to unfreeze him.

                “… a second.”

                “Donny, I’m fine really.  I’ll just go sit down and take my weight off it.”

                She limped back to the den trying to remember which foot she said had been injured.  When she reached the den, she sat down and picked up her cell phone.  She hit the speed dial to Fellini’s and ordered her dinner for two while Donny busied himself giving her a foot massage.  She tried to wave him away, but he really thought he was being helpful.

                “Donny please!” Amel said as she hung up the phone.  “It’s alright now.  Let’s just wait for the food to arrive.”

                He tried not to appear to be sulking as he settled down on the loveseat next to her recliner.  Normally, he would have asked her about her day and listened attentively to her version of her latest victory, but he sat quietly sensing she did not want to talk.

                Amel had only been with Donny for about six weeks.  She met him at a conference she attended annually.  This time she was the keynote speaker.  Donny had approached her afterward telling her how much he had looked forward to meeting her.  She was surprised to learn that he was an executive at a well-known company with which she frequently did business.  Amel did as she always did with a potential suitor.  She ran a thorough background check on him.  Everything he told her about himself was true, so she usually gave him the benefit of the doubt.

                She tended to be unlucky in such matters.  Amel had dated men from all walks of life.  She took her time to feel them out never jumping in with both feet.  So many times she was told that she was too cold and ungiving.  Any potential relationship died when she pointed out that he was not exactly the warmest person in the room, so why should she be?  Oddly, some complained that she was not invested enough in the relationship when she did not nag or attempt to change them like women were apt to do.

                Even though Amel was willing to make some concessions for the sake of a relationship, the one thing she refused to do was change who she was.  Anyone who asked was immediately shown the door.  Amel was warned she would find herself alone and lonely should she continue to be so picky.  She felt she had a right to hold out for the best she could possibly get and not settle.

                She had the best once.  Wesley.  The eighteen months she had with him was the longest relationship she had ever had and far too short.  Wesley was twelve years older than she and an artist.  The two of them were complete opposites.  He was a few inches taller than she was even in her heels.  Amel was surprised to see this beige brown round-eyed man approaching her day in the park.  She had decided to walk home and stopped in the park to rest her feet.  She had been staring out at the playground when she realized he was speaking to her.

                He asked her if she modeled.  Considering she was in a dark power suit with her dark brown hair pulled into a tight bun, Amel thought it was an odd question and an obvious pick up line.  Yet she did not give him her usual go away glare.  Instead, she politely smiled, shook her head then turned her attention back to the playground thinking he would go away.  He didn’t.  He asked her why or why not.  When she looked at him questioningly, he smiled enigmatically.  Amel was not easily flustered, but something about Wesley excited her.  Nevertheless, she had no answer to his question.

                Wesley began to tell her why she was perfect as a study in form and shape.  Amel remembered the way he ran his finger along her curves without ever touching her.  He said she would make just as perfect a sculpture as the Venus de Milo if not more so.  He was not in the habit of passing up on a work of art.  He was certain that he would immortalize her with a sculpture.

                Amel only laughed.  It was cute really, his cockiness.  He possessed a boyish charm even in his late 30s.  Sometimes he dressed like a beachcomber.  Other times he dressed like a hippie.  Amel was not sure why she took to him.  He seemed so unambitious although he was able to make a living from his art.  At times she hated his ability to be so laid back even if things were not going his way.  For three months, she waited for Wesley to lose patience with her for not modeling for him.  He never did.  He always said the same thing.  “You’ll do it when you’re ready.”

                It was nearly a month later before she was ready.  Amel was so nervous when she began to undress that she was visibly shaking.  Wesley soothed her and told her she didn’t have to do it.  She relaxed after a few moments and removed her clothes.  It only took him a couple of weeks to finish the sculpture.  It might have taken him half that time had Amel not provided such a pleasant distraction when she went to him after work.

                Wesley never criticized her for being ambitious.  Amel kept her work life from him as much as possible.  They talked to each other about their work, but she tried not to obligate him to show up on her arm for functions.  She attended a few of his openings, but she did skip a few to catch up on work occasionally.

                They had been together more than a year when she first realized something was wrong.  Wesley did not seem to have as much energy as he had when they first met.  He began to take to his bed quite often.  Yet he still insisted nothing was wrong.  She knew better.  Wesley was never a big man, but Amel still noticed he was wasting away.  Although she knew it could jeopardize her chances for advancement, she took family leave to spend her time by Wesley’s side.

                Those last few moments with him were forever burned in her memory.  She had his hand in hers.  She could feel the lifeforce leaving him.  Amel knew it was forbidden, but the past eighteen months had been extremely blissful.  She was not ready to let it go.  She placed her free hand on his forehead.

                “Rela ehe hot.”

                Her energy began to flow into him.  His heartbeat got a little stronger and his breathing came easier.  For the first time in two days, he opened his eyes.  For the first time in as many months, Amel smiled.  Wesley looked at her and returned her smile.  Then she realized there was the enigmatic tinge to it.  He lightly stroked her hand before squeezing it.  She panicked when she realized not only was he returning her energy but he was also giving her his.  How could he have known what she was doing?

                Wesley died in her arms.  He was 39.  Amel fought hard not to let her devastation consume her.  She made the arrangements for Wesley’s memorial and hoped his family did not object to his wishes to be cremated.  They didn’t.  Amel insisted they take Wesley’s personal possessions even though he had left them to her.  His father took most of them but said she should keep pictures and other things they shared.  He assured her that in time her grief would subside and she would be able to look at them with fondness.

                She never told anyone about the sculpture.  She hid it away in the walk-in closet with another part of herself she kept from the rest of the world.  Amel felt no one else had the right to look at it.  No one else could see her in the way Wesley saw her.  He made her feel so beautiful.  Not just physically either.  With Wesley, Amel felt a spiritual awakening she had not sensed since she left The Nonetta.

                As much as she tried not to, Amel compared all beaus for the next four years to Wesley.  She did not expect to find anything close to what she had with him, but at least she now knew the real thing.  She saw no use in wasting her time on anything less.  Her experience with Wesley taught her that life in The Airtha was too short to settle for something she found unfulfilling.

                Amel looked at Donny as he slept.  She liked him, but she knew she would never feel for him so strongly that she would be willing to give him her essence if he needed it.  She had a strong physical connection with him, but she knew that would definitely not keep them together or fill the lack of a spiritual connection.  Besides she knew the sex they both enjoyed would continue to grow lackluster when he began to neglect to take off his Bluetooth before making his overtures toward her.  And sometimes during when he was sealing the deal.

                She hated to do it, but she had the ability.  Like all the others, Amel knew she should not use her powers in The Airtha frivolously, but sometimes it seemed like such a waste not to use them.  She placed her hand over Donny’s head and chanted.  She saw the images she needed to see if his intentions were honorable.  She did not need to use her powers after all.  She had known all along.

                Amel settled into her side of the bed.  She was more disappointed than hurt.  She rather admired his patience and dedication to his job.  Six weeks and he had not come close to fulfilling his mission in corporate espionage.  He had even started to like her, possibly why he had not gotten around to his true intentions pursuing her.  She would wait until morning to let him know she was firing him from her life.

 

~~~

 

Miguel was asleep by the time Ariel got back.  She knew he would be.  She climbed in the bed and snuggled closely behind him.

                “How bad is it?” he said sleepily.

                “Eve of destruction bad,” she answered.  “We’ll all be called back soon.”

                “We haven’t been back there in fifteen years,” Miguel said as he began to come to life.

                “I know.  I wonder if our entire generation stayed away, not just us.  I always thought we were the only ones.”

                “Perhaps we weren’t.  We’ll find out soon.”

                Ariel touched Miguel’s dark brown face.  The first time she had met him had been more than twenty years ago in the Nonetta.  There she had known him as Eros.  His quadron was a rare one.  Male Imazims were already uncommon, but an entire male quadron of equates was unheard of. In The Airtha, his quadron mates were known as Michael, Michel and Mick hailing from Canada, France and England respectively.  Miguel had been born in Peru.  In The Nonetta they discovered that Erlic, Ermine, Erebus and Eros shared a birthday.  They were all the best of friends.

                They were still children learning the ways of the Imazims and understanding their power.  Lyasia ran through the enormous hall fearing she would be late.  In her haste, she neglected to mind the corner she rounded and barreled straight into Eros.  Just as her books were about to go flying across the room, they stopped in mid-flight suspended in place.  Lyasia then noticed Eros performing the charm.  He gently lowered her books to the floor then smiled as he helped retrieve them.  She thanked him sincerely then scampered off to class making it just in time.

                She never saw him outside The Nonetta during those first few years.  Whenever they did see each other, they were usually in the company of their own quadrons.  Eros was always polite to Lyasia and the rest of the girls, but he always had an extra something in his smile just for her.  It was during eighth year they both realized what had been going on between them all that time.  Lyasia had become an exceptional dancer and choreographer by then.  Eros had honed his skills in stage direction, something he had not even considered before he came to The Nonetta.  That eighth year, they worked together to present their generation with its traditional Creative Works presentation.  For the first time, they were alone planning and creating. It was a wonderful collaboration.

                When the presentation ended, Lyasia and Eros joined hands and took a bow.  Then he surprised her by handing her a beautiful bouquet of red roses.  That was the first time she understood the feeling she got whenever she looked into Eros’ golden-flecked eyes.  She saw what he had seen for years.  Destiny.  They were destined to be together.

                Ariel and Miguel met for the first time in The Airtha the next day.  Ariel saw that he was just as much his own man there as he was in The Nonetta.  He introduced her to his family as the one he was supposed to be with for the rest of his life.  She was accepted by them and her family adored him.  They married after the left The Nonetta.  Although they were still young, they made their relationship work.  They were idealistic and they were artists.  They both worked day jobs while they created dance recitals and staged plays.  It was four years before they had their first successful show.

                Ariel never joined a dance company or went through the regular route to perform.  She combined her dance with Miguel’s stories and poetry to create a unique form of performance art.  They traveled to gymnasiums, community centers, cafes and wherever else they could book themselves.  They almost did not know what to do the first time they landed a coliseum with a “legitimate” theater.

                They had not looked back since then.  Their reputation as a performer/director couple grew and their audience began to recognize them as an equal partnership.  Neither one made a move without the other always coming as a package.  This arrangement actually prevented them from working with some influential people who often wanted Miguel but not Ariel.  Although they had managed to move into larger venues, they still had not played the most prestigious stages often associated with the pinnacle of success.  For that reason, they named their production company Backway.

                At one point, they talked about having children.  They decided to put it off while Ariel still had years of dance ahead of her.  She knew Miguel had no regrets.  They each had a host of nieces and nephews on which they doted on every chance they got.  They often brought the children to their vermillion house, letting them run about and enjoy the luxuries that came with their success.  For a while, they were the normal well-rounded family.

                But mostly it was just the two of them.  Ariel would not have traded the time she had with Miguel for a lifetime guaranteed engagement on Broadway for the next five years.  He felt the same for her.  They were inseparable, of one mind.  That connection intensified when they physically intertwined, neither of them having ever known anyone else in that way.  Ariel knew that heaven forbid if anything ever happened to Miguel, she could never turn her body over to another.

                Miguel held his beloved Ariel in just as high a regard as she held him.  Even without their powers, they could read each others’ minds.  Their years together left them in perfect synch.  Miguel knew when Ariel was happy or worried and how to respond to her in either case and all those in between.  She did the same for him.  They both learned massage techniques to help with the stress of their daily lives.  They shared common interests and did not push each other on the ones they did not.  If any couple had figured out the secret to a successful partnership, it was Ariel and Miguel.  Then again they were both Imazims.

                Ariel thought about the last day in The Nonetta.  Miguel saw how upset she was when she told him her quadron would not be completing its final task.  She insisted he stay in The Nonetta until his tasks were done.  He made her promise that as soon as he returned to The Airtha she would marry him.

                Their wedding was a small, intimate affair.  They could not gather their families in one place, so their quadrons stood in as wedding guests.  It was the last time Ariel had been with her entire quadron before being called back to The Nonetta.  She now felt a little overwhelmed at seeing them again.

                “It felt good to be back, didn’t it?” Miguel said as he repositioned himself and took her in his arms.

                “Not just The Nonetta,” Ariel said.  “Being all together again was something I never thought would happen.  I was so grateful to have them at the wedding.  When we renewed our vows, I wanted them to be there so badly, but there would have been so much to explain.  Not everyone in my family is an Imazim.  How could I explain to the kids how I know Anastasia, Amel and Aurora?”

                “You’re well known,” Miguel reasoned.

                “Yeah, that’s true.  We could have run through the same circles.  I only wish we were meeting under different circumstances.”

                “How about when this is over, we renew our vows again.  This time we could make sure everyone comes.  You know the girls will be excited to have such prominent people right there in person.”

                “But what if we don’t get the chance?”

                “We will, Ari.”

                Miguel pulled her close and kissed her.  Her doubts began to subside even if they did not completely disappear under his spell.  Ariel drifted to that place he always took her.  It was somewhere between The Airtha and The Nonetta.  She imagined it was heaven.  She had no worries in either dimension.  No one else existed except the two of them.  Miguel finished what he had started before she left.  This time, they both got there.

 

~~~

 

Phaedra was on the phone when Aurora went to check on her.  Typical teenager.  She had not noticed Aurora had been gone.  That did not surprise Aurora.  Phaedra was used to her disappearing into that study for hours at a time.  At 15, she knew better than to disturb her mother in that sacred place except in case of an emergency.  Emergencies included asking permission to go to a party or have a sleepover and other such matters of import.    Aurora loved every interruption although she never said so to Phaedra.

                Aurora did not return to the study instead opting to head to the kitchen and indulge in one of her favorite comfort foods, celery.  She did not go to the dining room, the den or her bedroom.  She just sat in the kitchen as she thought over what she had learned in The Nonetta.  Just the thought of a Morph still scared her.  The word itself still sent a chill through her as it did all those years ago when she was a child.  Now she would have to come face to face with that fear if she was to do her part to see that The Nonetta and The Airtha were not destroyed.

                “Mom!”

                She looked at Phaedra not knowing how long her daughter had been trying to get her attention.

                “Where were you?”

                “Nowhere.  Just thinking about the reading.”

                “I think it went well,” Phaedra said as she grabbed an apple and sat on the stool next to her mother.  “Nothing unusual except…”

                Teddy.  Aurora had nearly forgotten about him.  She looked at Phaedra and saw the nose and mouth of the man who had fathered her daughter.  She wondered if it was time to tell Phaedra the truth.  But telling her about her father would mean telling her about The Nonetta and what she might really be.  Phaedra had shown signs of being an Imazim.  She did not seem to have the same talent for art and suprahuman skills as Anastasia and Ariel but exhibited an inordinate amount of intelligence at an early age.  Aurora knew that if she allowed Phaedra to begin training now, she would not have the benefit of a quadron or a generation.  However, in her case, she might not have suffered a bit for it.

                Phaedra’s father was unusual indeed: a veritus Imazim with Saphi parents.  His parents did not become Morphs as they felt the Imazim’s power was not theirs to take.  Yet, they wanted their son to reap the benefits of the Imazim power.  They enlisted a friend to take their son to the dimension they were not allowed to enter.  In this dimension, their son became Phaedrus.

                Lyzette was friendly to everyone.  Kindness was natural to her.  So was nurturing.  Phaedrus appeared out of place among the others in The Nonetta.  Lyzette wondered if that was why he always seemed so miserable.  His quadron seemed to be the only Imazims to accept him.  All the rest tended to avoid him.  All except Lyzette.

                On any occasion she found herself near him, she felt compelled to ask him how he was getting along, if he had had a good vacation or how he was coming along in tasks.  The first couple of years, Phaedrus would merely run his hands through his ash-blond hair and give a one-word reply.  Eventually his one-word expanded to three then to a reply with an explanation.  At that point, they formed a tentative friendship at best, neither of them certain what the other sought in any kind of relationship.

                They were nearly eighth years before they had a real conversation.  Lyzette found Phaedrus one day as he sat under a baobab tree.  She found out it was one of his favorite hiding spots.  She asked if she could join him and was surprised when he said yes without hesitation.  She supposed he had gotten used to her.  She made the usual small talk before she got around to asking him the question she had wanted to ask for years.  Lyzette asked Phaedrus why he never smiled, why he always seemed to want to be elsewhere.  His sapphire blue eyes bored into hers momentarily.  She thought she had made him mad.  Then he answered.  Phaedrus told her that he knew the others were suspicious of him.  He never felt like he belonged in The Nonetta.  He felt the same way in The Airtha.  His parents tried to convince him that by some right of birth he was better than the other Imazims.  He wasn’t arrogant enough to believe them, but he heeded their warning of getting to close to anyone.

                Lyzette told him they were all unique in The Nonetta, but that uniqueness put them in the same boat.  Why not embrace it?  She knew he was not a Morph and deep down the others knew it as well.  She wondered aloud if his way of thinking kept him lonely.  He admitted that sometimes he felt he missed out.  He was expected to make connections that he could use in The Airtha, but he was not expected to bring back any lasting friendships for personal reasons.

                Phaedrus did not realize they were touching hands until he heard the voice of a quadron mate calling him.  He abruptly took back his hand.  The light that had begun to shine in his eyes as he talked to Lyzette began to fade.  He ran off through the trees to meet Phocion before the latter could find his secret lair or see him with Lyzette.  He had come to enjoy feeling like she was his own special friend.  He did not want to share her.

                She noticed a change in him after that.  Whenever they happened to encounter each other in the halls, Phaedrus’ expression lightened and he seemed less tense.  They began to meet regularly under the baobab tree.  It was during one of those meetings Lyzette saw him smile for the first time.

                They sat beside each other during the eighth year Creative Works presentation.  At some point, they both noticed.  Phaedrus’ hand was on her knee.  They sat in a nervous stupor not knowing what to do next.  However, their overfriendly gesture was also noticed by two members of his quadron, Phantasm and Pharoah.  At the presentation’s end, she saw them speaking to Phaedrus.  Lyzette watched as he suddenly left in a huff.  She started off to follow, but Lythe stopped her to ask what was wrong.  She assured her there was no problem and asked her to give Lyasia her congratulations.

                Lyzette knew where she would find him.  She easily found the baobab tree even though it was dark.  His back was to her as she approached.  She wrapped her arms around his shoulders as she crouched down to meet his level.  Lyzette was stunned when he turned to face her, even more so to see the tears that glistened in the moonlight.  She asked him what was wrong.  He did not answer.  Instead, Phaedrus swept her off balance and laid her on the ground beneath him.  He hesitated a moment then began to kiss her fervently all over her face.  Lyzette felt his hands awkwardly probing her as she, too, was uncertain of what to do.

                Although not entirely unpleasant, the experience was not exactly what Lyzette thought it would be.  They held each other in an awkward silence letting energy flow between them under the dark moon.  It was nearly daylight when they realized they had fallen asleep under the baobab tree.  They rushed off in separate directions carrying their secret of the previous night with them.

                Months later as she held the tangible result of that night in her hands, Aurora knew she could have no regrets.  She named her daughter after the man who had given her such a precious gift.  Aurora harbored no resentment against him, not when he left her with the best part of himself.  Even though life had been difficult trying to raise Phaedra on her own, she never asked him for anything.  She never held him to any obligation.

                Instead, Teddy would simply watch her from afar and look as if he could somehow reach her.  She saw the longing in his eyes each time.  She saw the light return to his eyes whenever she noticed him watching Phaedra.  She could sense the longing he felt to be her father.  She also knew the reason he had made no attempts in fifteen years.

                Aurora studied her daughter.  She was nothing less than proud to be Phaedra’s mother.  She still did not regret the decision she made all those years ago.  She only hoped the repercussions would not reach beyond her own life.

                “Phaedra, there’s something I must tell you.  I should have told you before now, but I’m afraid you may find it difficult to believe.”

                “Is this about my father?” Phaedra asked with rare complete seriousness.

                “Part of it is.  The rest you’ll have to see to believe.”

 

© 2010 Conceding to Kismet for Inda Lauryn

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