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     The three companions shuffled into the Citadel doors escaping the downfall that had engulfed the entire city of Bolster. Rain fell hard and thick and had everyone scurrying indoors or throwing tarps over their wares in the market square. Lightning flashed and the wind picked up blowing baskets and blankets about with ease. Some merchants chased down their property while others cut their losses and saved what they could.

   "Was that really necessary?" Marcus said. He was referring to Avos, though the boy did not make the connection. Avos assumed Marcus generalized what nature or the Light had given them to deal with, not his own will.

     Elise, however, saw the exchange differently. She picked up on a quick, annoyed glance Marcus had given to Avos. She also marked how oblivious Avos was to the insinuation. Was he really at fault for causing such a strong storm? What were they not telling her? Elise thought of Faeron then, and what he had shown her in her mind's eye; she and Avos holding hands, wind and rain gusting around them.

     They all stood rearranging themselves and wiping their faces with their sleeves, though it didn't help them get any drier.

     "Ok, lead the way, Chancellor." Elise said as she stared at Marcus, waiting for him to look at her and catch her questioning glare. Though he didn't. He just started walking up towards one of the stairwells and motioned for them to follow. She started to wonder if either of them remembered she was there. Yet she caught Avos staring at her then and was comforted.

    "Come on," he said as he held out his hand for her. Instinctively she reached out for it and took it in her own. He lead her up to the stairwell and guided her up the stairs as he let go of her hand. He had wanted to hang on but he would have felt awkward having her drag her arm behind herself just for the sake of holding his hand up the stairs. The stairwell itself was very narrow and wound up and around all five levels of the Citadel. There were three of such staircases in each corner, in the fourth was an oversized chimney where the smoke from the basement waste fires was let out.

     Elise had never been inside the Citadel, she had always made it a point to steer clear of any Council members. It had only been five years since the Council finally lifted the penalty of death for practicing magic. There were still restrictions of course but people were no longer killed for simple brewing. Most witches she had known had been more than simple potion brewers. Their real power had to be hidden. People did not feel safe around things they did not understand. Magic was one of those things. The abilities some witches had would be unbelievable to the average human. The ability to fly, to move things with their mind, to read peoples thoughts, to enter the dreams of others, to manipulate matter or to call on the elements were only some of the basics.

     Brewing potions for simple ailments was a witch's way of making herself known to others and brewing came natural to all of them. Each witch was born with an inner ability to create concoctions from living things. Some had more knowledge than others, some drawn to lighter or darker magic. Where one woman would focus on herbs and stones to cast her spells, others focused on flesh and blood.

     Elise was told once by her mother that there were only a handful of real witches left on Valterra. She knew otherwise though. She wasn't certain if her mother truly didn't know how many witches there were, or if it was her way of scaring Elise into keeping herself hidden for fear of persecution. Historically, since the Shattering, witches were burned alive or beheaded. Her mother used to always try and scare her with old stories. Though Elise knew the truth; that there were still many witches scattered throughout Valterra and her mother wasn't among them.

     Elise was a strong witch, above average. She could call on all the elements, which was extremely rare. She knew any herb by sight or smell. She could read the history of an object just by touching it and she had another ability that she had never told anyone. Elise could close her eyes and sense the life force of any witch close by. If she concentrated long enough, she could sense the entire population of witches on Valterra. She could also sense Valterra's core. She wasn't sure what it was but she could definitely sense a power emanating from inside Valterra itself. She looked at it as Valterra's own life force, though she knew that was crazy since a planet could not be a witch. Still, it was the thought that stuck, and whenever she felt the core of Valterra, she felt an inner peace. Much like the feeling she got when she looked at Avos. She thought of Faeron then too. Yes, him as well. She felt a tinge of guilt thinking about him now. He had only just left and she had already accepted that she may never see him again.

     She wasn't sure what her feelings for Avos meant. Everything was happening so fast. She did know that whatever had just transpired between the two of them was miraculous. She felt him tap into her power but by the looks of things Avos didn't know what he had done. She wondered then, was he a warlock? She stared at the back of his head as he ascended the stairs and she was fairly certain that he was not. Yet something was there, not like a witch's life force at all, something much stronger that almost seemed like it was fading away as she searched for it.

     As they reached the top of the staircase Marcus took the lead and opened the first door on his left. He entered what must have been their lost friend's quarters. It was a large room with its own fireplace and dining area.

     "Go ahead, Elise. Look around until you find something useful you can use," Marcus told her.

     She scanned the room and nothing really personal stuck out to her. The room held a bed and a dresser all nicely made up and wiped clean. She thought maybe she should just get into her bed and see what happened, but then she remembered she was enlisted to help with only a locator spell. Neither Marcus nor Avos knew the extent of her true powers. Next to the fire place were two large mahogany leather chairs, very impressive actually. Elise took note; this friend was most likely an authority figure, perhaps a former member of Council. But then again, what did she expect, she was in the Citadel.

     She looked towards the dining area and next to the table in the corner of the room was a large bookshelf, half filled with books and odds and ends. She walked towards it to take a closer look. The History of Valterra: an archivists guide, The Evolution of Council, The Age of Elders, were some of the titles she read. Diplomats, Elise sighed. Nothing she could really use.

     Then she noticed the desk set up next to the bookshelf. There was some evidence of use there, a half empty ink jar and quill still lay out on the table, but also a small hand mirror. Elise raised her eyebrows, now that could be useful. Her heart skipped a beat when she thought about what else she might find close by. There was a drawer there closed inside the desk. She opened the drawer and smiled when she saw what lay inside; a large metal hairbrush. And to her delight, it had several strands of long brown hair entwined in its bristles.

     "The Light favours us," she almost whispered as reached in to grab the brush. As her hand wrapped around the handle gripping some of the strands of hair with it, Elise instinctively closed her eyes as images began flashing in Elise's mind. A women, crying at three graves, the same women in a huge library reading at a large desk, the woman in her bed, the women in the courtyard, the same women in an empty room surrounded by a dark mist, the same women outside in a field, the black mist circling her, the same women in a dark cave, jolted back, arms outstretched, the black mist engulfing her. Elise opened her eyes; the images had stopped, though she still held onto the brush. She looked over at the two men who were waiting for her to speak. Avos looked more puzzled than Marcus, who seemed more inclined to take her behaviour in stride.

     "What just happened, Elise?" Avos asked.

     "I saw your friend," she looked at Marcus, struggling for the right words to explain what she saw. "She was being... devoured by the Great Dark."

     Marcus took hold of both Elise's arms and looked her straight in the eyes and asked "Are you certain?"

     "Yes," she uttered, "if the stories I've heard about the Great Dark are true then yes, she's been Usurped."

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