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~:: A Child Shall Lead Them - Part II (Chapter I)::~

The sun was dropping from its apex towards the western horizon as the father and his only child slowly walked down the dusty cobbled streets towards the ancient school. It was a trip they had both made many times before, both together and separately, but this time they walked side by side under a pall of uneasy silence. Cale was afraid that Mary might not be persuaded to change her view on the subject of Adara's intended journey, and Adara feared that she would be persuaded to change her mind.

The elder sorceress greeted them both warmly despite a mild look of surprise at finding young Adara once again at her door, so soon after she'd been dispatched on an important task.

Nodding her wizened head towards Cale, she bade them enter. "Adara Westmarch, what is it that brings you once again to our humble institution?" she smiled, looking down into the pleading golden eyes. Adara bowed in respect and dropped her eyes to the floor. "Daddy wants to talk to you," she murmured, adding, “about our trip."

Mary smiled and nodded. "And have you explained the necessity of this journey?"

"I have," the girl answered solemnly.

Mary turned to the father, who also met her gaze with an equally pleading look. His was the look of a worried parent pleading for some assurance as to the safety of his beloved child. "That's why I came along, ma'am," he said, in a quiet tone, as he too bowed in deference to the elder wielder of powerful magic. "I wanted to find out exactly what these kids are up to."

"These kids," Mary emphasized the term with an air of disdain obviously directed not at the three younger cousins, but rather at Cale for having used the term in reference to them, "are more capable of handling the task at hand than many who are thrice their ages in the years you count as age. Your other self will understand when I say their combined skill and wisdom transcends the boundaries of their finite lifespan in this plane."

He felt a strange twinge and immediately knew it was the Nictus part of him that forced a smile to play across his dry lips as his head nodded in complete agreement. He swallowed hard as he realized that this visit was not likely to come to the conclusion he was hoping for.

"Mr. Westmarch" Mary began, then amending it to "Cale" as her tone softened, "I understand your concern for your daughter. However, you must understand that she is destined to do that which she must do." She turned to Adara with a warm smile, "Child, I would appreciate it if you would go to your room for a little while, so that I can talk privately with your father."

Again, Adara bowed her head and nodded, as she breathed a soft, "Excuse me" and slipped quietly down the hallway towards the dormitory.

The wizened maven took Cale by the elbow and ushered him to her private office. He inhaled the deep scents that mingled in the ancient room. The somber wood tones of the ancient furniture and paneling mixed with a pleasant overtone that always reminded him of the scent of someone baking something delightfully spicy and sweet.

Moving away from her desk, she motioned him to a pair of wingback leather chairs in front of the fireplace. Though the window was open and a cool evening breeze blew into the room, the sorceress waved a hand and with a muttered phrase brought dancing flames from a trio of logs that sat in the grate. The hearth glowed as the flames began to dance to the tune of the gentle breeze.

She clapped her hands and nearly instantly a young girl clad in the familiar garb of the Cabal was at their side. "My dear," Mary smiled, "please fetch Mr. Westmarch and myself a bit of mulled cider, if you would please?"

The young Adept nodded politely and scurried from the room, closing the doors behind her.

"I do not wish for you to worry unnecessarily," Mary began, taking Cale's hand in her own and squeezing it tightly. "I have come to love your daughter as if she were one of my own. I cannot tell you minute for minute what will transpire in her future but I can assure you that no tragedy will befall her...personally."

He'd just begun to experience a warm feeling of assurance when the codicil "personally" registered in his brain. "Personally?" he echoed in query.

With a deep sigh, the sorceress leaned back in her chair, folded her hands and nodded. "This mission will not be a pleasant one, for either the daughter of the demoness, or the man she is to marry."

He gave her a pained look. "If Sheken dies, Adara will be crushed."

"I did not say the girl would die. Let us refer to this as a trial by fire, for the girl. Marcus, however..."

Cale winced. Although his daughter was not truly an empath, he knew that anything that caused Sheken pain would be echoed in his child as well. "So you are telling me that this stalker is going to die?"

"The man," Mary intoned slowly, drawing out the word "man" as a form of correction,"is going to prove himself worthy of redemption. I cannot tell the outcome any further than that, for it depends on factors that are beyond my control."

Cale nodded somberly. "I don't like this. I didn't like Azazela going to the Rogue Isles, and I certainly can't in good conscience approve of Adara going there, especially at her age."

"Age is but an irrelevant number, Mr. Westmarch. Ask the Nictus within yourself how he feels about the passage of time. Time, by its very definition, is artificial outside this limited plane of existence. You cannot judge your child by the amount of time that has passed since her birth. You must judge her on her abilities and her character, both of which I have observed to be incredibly sound."

He closed his eyes and steepled his fingers as he contemplated her words. He had known his daughter was a prodigy from the time she was a baby. While this fact made him duly proud, it didn't help to console him at the thought of her facing a task that he himself would not undertake.

To Part II - Chapter II