Liquic Diamond

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Chapter 10: GOING HOME

Giving Catalyst a nudge and signalling with her eyes, Natalia pointed to another cloaked figure that was approaching from the same staircase as the first.

“What's he doing here, Sirdis?” His question echoed throughout the Hollow.

“He's failed us of course, and now he's here to try and clean up his failure at the last moment. And, Pride, don't ever talk to me like that again,” replied Sirdis, reminding him of his place.

“I do apologize, Sirdis, it's just this vile little creature. I knew it was a mistake to involve him,” said Pride as he looked down at the dirty, bleeding, pus-filled, vile, wretched old Elf and kicked him to the ground.

“Well it was my mistake to make,” said Sirdis bitterly.

“They must be members of the Clique,” whispered Catalyst into Natalia’s ear.

“Well, Pride?” asked Sirdis.

“Our crystal is safe. I checked it myself,” replied Pride.

“Good, now leave us. I want to be alone with my friend here. And send me that lazy Basajaunak – I have some work for him,” ordered Sirdis with a smile that looked like vengeance waiting to be unleashed.

“Right away, Sirdis,” replied Pride, leaving without hesitation.

“How are we ever going to get to that staircase?” whispered Natalia.

“We'll have to wait for them to leave or a get chance to sneak past them,” whispered Catalyst, shushing Natalia because he could now hear footsteps so heavy they could only be from the Basajaunak that Sirdis had sent for.

“You wanted to see me, Sirdis,” said the Basajaunak.

“Yes I did. I have a job for you. I want Bailey’s old room here made useable again. Get in there and clean it up,” ordered Sirdis.

“Yes sir,” replied the Basajaunak humiliated.

“I know that voice,” whispered Catalyst looking over the edge to see who the Basajaunak was.

“That trader,” whispered Catalyst with a foul look on his face.

“Who is it?” asked Natalia.

“Ompst, that's how they knew we were coming, but how? We never met him until we were in the Basajaunak village and even then he was only there for a few minutes. He didn't know anything,” said Catalyst, puzzled. Natalia raised her head for a good look at him.

“No, Catalyst, that's not true. Think about it – the King’s castle, the guards that had us surrounded – he was one of them,” said Natalia.

Catalyst remembered the one guard that kept a very close watch on them as they stood there with the King and Queen, and then dropped his head when he looked at Natalia.

“If we get out of this, that's the end of him,” whispered Catalyst with every intention of letting Anastasia know.

“The room is ready, Sirdis,” said Ompst.

“Good, get over here and bring this filthy, vile, wretched thing in and put him in his old chair. Home sweet home, huh Bailey?” mocked Sirdis.

“Why? Why?” cried the old Elf in a fit of panic, knowing the last person he put in that chair didn’t live through the night.

“I have a few questions for you, that's all, my old friend,” replied Sirdis.

Grabbing Bailey by the throat, Ompst lifted him from the ground and held him face to face while he carried him and threw him into the chair with Sirdis following.


“Now's our chance, Natalia. Let's go,” said Catalyst.

“No, wait. Look, we won't get past them, not with Ompst at the door like that,” replied Natalia, pointing to the Basajaunak.

“We'll have to wait then, because that staircase is the only way we're going to get to the crystal,” said Catalyst.

Staring at the room, waiting for a chance to slip past them, Natalia noticed the ledge that looked as though it might wrap around the entire room where Ompst, Sirdis and Bailey now stood.

“Catalyst, if that ledge goes all the way around to the other side of this cliff, then we can simply sneak along that way. Then when we get to the other side, we can use the back of the room for cover, then slip up the stairs,” said Natalia.

“It's too far. We'll make too much noise, so if we're not seen we'll be heard. No, it's better to wait,” replied Catalyst.

“You mean you make too much noise. I'm lighter, I walk more softly and I'm smaller than you. I'll go. Just wait here and be ready to move, fast, when I get back,” said Natalia as she took off her shoes.

“You’re going alone?” asked Catalyst, shaking his head.

“Yes, it's the only way to get out of here before that crazy Elf tells them we're here,” replied Natalia not knowing that the Clique had known they were there since they climbed in the opening.

“Besides, it's got to be done, so it may as well be done right. I'm a girl and we can do anything!” said Natalia trying hard not to choke on her words for fear.

Sneaking up and over the cliff, Natalia moved silently around the outside of the room, climbing over blocks and rubble. As Catalyst watched out for Natalia, panic began to set in as he noticed that besides the danger of the spirits flying through the mountain Hollow, the ceiling was full of sleeping Cockatrice.

Moving slowly, Natalia could only hear Bailey’s interrogation, while Catalyst could only see it.


As Bailey sat in his chair, it was easy for Sirdis to see the depravity that filled his heart because it reflected in his face so plainly – the dirt, the pus and blood-filled boils and wounds that covered an endless void of sickness and hatred.

“You used to be so great, Bailey. Whatever happened to you? You used to be the best of us. If it wasn't for you, the Clique wouldn't exist, her Madero Clique, the Illuminati – it was you that brought them together to build this whole thing. Now look at you!” said Sirdis, his eyes filled with shame as he grabbed the chair, stared right into the eye of the old Elf and smacked him with an open hand.

“I can't believe I once held you in such high esteem. I looked up to you. I wanted to be just like you,” continued Sirdis with nothing but disdain in his voice.

“I guess it was all those poor souls you tortured, and all the pain you enjoyed inflicting upon them as you played God with their lives. It undoubtedly ate away at whatever it was in you that makes any of us a worthwhile being. You’re not the Elf I once admired and respected. You’re simply nothing now,” sighed Sirdis, knowing what he had to do.


Natalia made her way around to the other side of the room and back into Catalyst’s sight. Catalyst watched as panic and fear gripped him again when Natalia crept to the staircase and slipped around the corner.

Knowing they would need a fast escape as soon as Natalia returned, Catalyst took his rope dart and shoved the dart into the ground, took the rope in one hand and grabbed a rung with the other and climbed out as far as he could without pulling the dart from the ground, tied it off and climbed back to wait.


Sneaking around corners, slipping from one room to the next, dodging one patrol after another, and feeling like a Bond girl, Natalia was surprised at just how easy it was to find the crystal. It was sitting there in a small room all alone and unguarded on its own little pedestal. Simply walking in, Natalia found it was not quite so simple as she had thought. She smacked her nose on the locked door. Looking at the lock, Natalia knew even if she could reach the inside handle through the window, it would do no good, from the inside or out. Once this type of lock was locked it was locked. She'd need a key, but from where? It's not like they kept one over the door like her mother did, or did they? Looking up with no real expectations of seeing anything, Natalia found the next best thing to a key – a small opening just above the door. With her flexible ten-year-old little girl body, Natalia was sure she could wriggle through it. The hole was ten feet above her and the wall was smooth. If she could find anything to stand on it would be a telltale sign that someone was there. She needed to find some way up.

So with her back against the wall, Natalia pushed off running then jumped and kicked off the wall in front of her with a spinning flip and grabbed the lip of the hole. She could hear another patrol coming so she hurried to pull herself through. Dropping quietly to the floor, Natalia waited for the guards to pass.

“I'll take you,” whispered Natalia as she put the crystal into her pocket and then climbed upon the pedestal to make the jump back to the hole only to see the small release switch on the face of the lock, which with a simple turn would unlock the lock from inside.

“If I don't tell anybody, they’ll never know,” whispered Natalia choosing to ignore it and jumping for the hole as she made her way back to Catalyst.

Seeing Natalia coming was more than Catalyst could take. If she got caught slipping back around the room, they would both end up dead. The panic and fear set in, coupled with the confusion of how Sirdis could look so much like his father. Without realizing it, Catalyst’s mind screamed out for Anastasia and with Natalia still sneaking her way back, all he could do was watch and wait in silence.


The teapot smashed in Anastasia’s hands as the panic and fear from Catalyst’s mind gripped her. Flying out of the door and high into the sky, Anastasia tried to find the direction to head in, but with the confusion Catalyst felt, Anastasia could only circle as she tried to sort through the emotions.

Stopping midair, Anastasia collected her thoughts and focused them while she turned slowly, allowing her mother’s intuition to guide her as she scanned the horizon.

Seeing Ghost Mountain, Anastasia knew exactly where she had to go, but even a Krusnik can only fly so fast, so taking off as fast as she could, Anastasia left a red streak in the sky as she flew to her son.


Helping Natalia down off the cliff didn't help ease the panic Catalyst was feeling.

“I got it, see,” said Natalia, showing Catalyst the crystal and then putting it back in her pocket as Catalyst just stood staring at her, amazed once again with her ability to get things done.

“Come on, let's get out of here,” whispered Natalia.


“We all ready know you failed us, that's why I have guards posted upstairs circling the crystal right now, you foolish useless old elf!” echoed from Bailey’s interrogation.

Pulling out a sealed crystal no bigger than a pinky, Sirdis stood over Bailey holding it in front of his face.

“Remember this, Bailey? They’re strange creatures, these drill worms. For whatever reason, they’re comatose within the walls of the Gallows, but get one just a few feet away and they become ravenous, like waking from hibernation,” said Sirdis.

“Please, no! Give me one more chance. I won't fail you again,” cried the old Elf as he begged for his life.

“You’re right. You won't fail us again. This is the same drill worm we removed from your head when we helped you escape that prison you were in. And all we asked for in return was that you get rid of two children. We gave you your freedom, and just like one of those Blemmyes you’re so fond of, you got to cannibalize the two of them. But now that you've failed in keeping your end of the agreement, I see no reason to keep ours,” said Sirdis as he broke the crystal and forced it against the old Elf’s temple as Ompst,

Natalia and Catalyst watched.

“Argh!” cried the old Elf as the drill worm bored its way back into its home and ate its way through its meaty surroundings.


With the rope in one hand and Natalia in the other, Catalyst stepped off the drop and swung out twice as far as he had tied off the rope dart.

“Grab the rung and climb Natalia,” said Catalyst as he left her hanging there all by herself.

Swinging back, Catalyst landed on the ledge, grabbed the rung and pulled himself up. He started crawling back across, stopping only to untie his rope dart and take it with him.

“It’s gone, sir. The crystal, it’s gone!” came a cry from the Hollow.

“Climb, Natalia, climb,” yelled Catalyst, as he hurried to catch up to her.


Running into the room where Sirdis, Ompst and Bailey were, the guard repeated his news to Sirdis.

“It's gone sir, the crystal – it's gone!” said the guard in great fear.

“I'm sure it is, but so is he,” said Sirdis grinding his teeth as he pointed to the lifeless body of Bailey.

“Let this be a lesson to you, Ompst. Don't ever fail the Clique,” continued Sirdis as he stepped out of the old Elf’s room and looked around.

“Well they couldn't have gone far. Send out the guards and go with them, Ompst,” said Sirdis.

“Yes, sir,” replied Ompst.

“And bring back that crystal,” demanded Sirdis.


Struggling hard to cross the rungs, Natalia could hear the sound of footsteps from the other side of the bridge as the guards gathered at Ompst’s call.

“Oh no, Catalyst! They’re coming,” said Natalia as the drop into the endless void began to spin. Seeing what Sirdis had done to the old Elf, the image of his blood running from the drill worm echoed in her mind, a thought never to be forgotten. It drowned out Catalyst’s voice.

“We're almost there, Natalia. Just little further,” said Catalyst as he gave her a little shake to snap her out of her trance.

Thirty seconds and a lifetime later, Natalia found herself standing under the bridge on the ledge where they had crossed. Beginning to shake with fear at the sound of all the footsteps coming towards them, she turned to look at Catalyst.

“What are you doing?” she asked, as she watched him pulling on the rope he had tied off on his way back.

“I'm trying with no help from you to pull...down...this...bridge!” grunted Catalyst as he pulled with all his Krusnik strength.

Grabbing the rope and pulling as hard as she could, Natalia could see they were not pulling anything down. Panicking, she looked for another route of escape, and with her mind racing, she remembered that sound can be just as powerful as any hammer, if it's loud enough.

Reaching into the fitsall, Natalia grabbed the jar with the Atropos Styx and shook it as hard as she could, then taking off the lid, she pointed the screaming Death Head Moth at the rung Catalyst had been pulling on. Even though it missed by at least fifteen feet it didn’t matter. Catalyst was still pulling as hard as he could when the rung gave way, sending the dart flying straight for him. He jumped out of the way just in time because the dart slammed into the very spot where he'd been standing.

“Shake the jar again!” yelled Catalyst.

Natalia shook the jar one more time and screaming as loud as it could, the Atropos Styx brought down a massive piece of the bridge along with the guards that had been coming after them. Ompst narrowly escaped back to the other side.

Standing beside Sirdis and enraged by their escape, Ompst picked up a large rock and threw it at Natalia and Catalyst, only to watch it fall silently into the empty darkness of the void before it even made it halfway across the divide.

“Let's see them cross that!” said Catalyst, looking at the gap that had to be at least one hundred and fifty feet wide.

“I'd rather not,” replied Natalia, smiling with relief.

“Come on, we've got to get out of here,” said Catalyst pulling himself then Natalia up and over the lip of the cliff.


“You idiot!” said Sirdis as he looked at Ompst with contempt for his failed attempt to hit them with the rock.

“Go upstairs and get the dart cannons,” ordered Sirdis, pointing to the archway.

Ompst did as he was told, fuming.


“How are we going to get back through the barrier, Catalyst?” asked Natalia, knowing she hadn’t seen even so much as a switch after crossing through.

“I don't know. I've never got this far before,” replied Catalyst as they made their way towards their exit.

They reached the barrier and remembering landing on her butt, Natalia softly poked it into a wave that rippled across its face.

“It's up, Catalyst,” said Natalia as she looked to him for direction.

Catalyst stepped back to see if he could find a power source for the barrier. He turned to Natalia and said, “Well you could help me look.”

“Look? Look for what? All I've done is help. So far I've done almost everything!” replied Natalia jokingly, forcing Catalyst to smile.

“A switch, a lever, a hidden panel maybe, I don't know. But I do know this – that new Elf and the trader Ompst are not going to give up. We need to get out of here,” said Catalyst.

Natalia walked up to the wall that surrounded the archway and started dragging her hand across its surface. She pushed on its face as she swept her hand from one side to the other, searching for anything that would open the barrier.

“Well, I've found nothing,” said Natalia turning to Catalyst just as a clump of dirt landed on her shoe.

“Oh yes you have!” said Catalyst. He smiled as he stepped in for a closer look and brushed off the remaining clumps of built-up dirt, revealing a set of push blocks with chiselled carvings.

“What are those?” asked Natalia. She had never seen markings quite like them before.

“They’re letters,” replied Catalyst.

“An alphabet! Then all we have to do is figure out the code and we're through,” said Natalia smiling with relief once again.

“Yeah, but what is it?” mumbled Catalyst as he stood looking for a clue in the face of the blocks.

“Catalyst, wait. Don't touch anything, just give me a minute to think,” said Natalia as she stepped back to look.

“You had better think of something quickly, Natalia – the Clique are still after us,” replied Catalyst.


“Where is that lazy Basajaunak? Must I do everything myself?” grumbled Sirdis as he started up the stairs.

“What are you doing?” asked Sirdis, finding Ompst fumbling with two dart cannons as he struggled to pick them and the rope darts up at the same time.

“Come on, before they get away,” demanded Sirdis as he


“Okay, Catalyst, try pushing on the letters and listen for grinding – the ones that have been used the most will make a weaker sound, and those will be the blocks that will spell out the code,” said Natalia, feeling proud of herself.

“I would never have thought of that, Natalia! You just rock,” said Catalyst, pointing to the stone blocks with a smile.

“Oh no, not me – you. Your hearing's better. You push and listen,” said Natalia trying to ignore the compliment.

Pushing the blocks gently and listening hard for the weaker sounds of grinding, Catalyst could also hear the sounds of dart cannons being dropped and then loaded and knew they were running out of time.

“Okay, Natalia. The softer sounds are coming from these three blocks here,” said Catalyst as he pointed them out to her.

“Which letters are they?” asked Natalia.

“Sorry, I forgot you don't know our letterings. This is an N and this is an 0 and this is a W,” replied Catalyst as he pushed on the blocks to spell out NOW, and then touched the barrier, sending another ripple across its face.

“No, it’s still up,” he said, looking at Natalia with a shrug that asked, “Now what?”

“Stand in front of the barrier and when I tell you to, poke it for a ripple,” said Natalia, frustrated with his not thinking before acting.

“Better hurry up, Natalia. Just a few minutes ago I heard them load two dart cannons,” said Catalyst as he strained to listen to the echoes in the Hollow.

“N,W,O...O,W,N...hmm...ah! This is so simple! This barrier was built by the Illuminati, or with their help at the very least, so the code should be, New World Order, NWO, said Natalia as she pushed the blocks in that order.

“Okay, Catalyst, try it now,” said Natalia hopefully.

With that, Catalyst poked straight through the barrier.

“You did it, Natalia,” said Catalyst, smiling proudly at her.

“Of course I did. I'm a girl. We can do anything!” said Natalia with her head held high.

Swish! rang the sound of a dart throughout the Hollow as it was shot into the air, piercing the ceiling and locking into place.

“Well that's one dart launched,” said Catalyst, grabbing Natalia by the hand and dragging her through the barrier.

“One?” yelled Natalia.

“They have two,” replied Catalyst.

Swish!

“That's the second one. Run, Natalia, run! They’re coming!” yelled Catalyst, and in the blink of an eye Natalia was five steps in front of him.

Sirdis grabbed the rope and ran, leaping off the edge of the bridge and swinging into the divide. He let go of the rope at the peak of the swing and flew through the air to land on the other half of the bridge with only an inch to spare.

Turning to see that Ompst had yet to follow, Natalia and Catalyst could hear the yell from Sirdis as it echoed throughout the Hollow.

“Ompst, get over here now!” demanded Sirdis.

Hearing the sound of Ompst’s huge feet landing, Natalia and Catalyst hurried down the stairs and straight for the pillared landing.

“Look, that dirty old Elf left us a path,” said Catalyst, smiling.

“Yes he did, and he also left one for those chasing us,” replied Natalia.

“It's always something with you, isn't it?” said Catalyst.

“What? What do you mean always something with me? Catalyst they’re going to follow us straight across this thing!” replied Natalia.

“No they won't. Go on – get across. I'll be right behind you,” said Catalyst as he started gathering rocks.

“What are you going to do? Throw those at them?” asked Natalia smartly returning Catalyst’s rudeness.

“Trust me, okay? Now go,” said Catalyst, feeling more agitated than worried.

SSSSS...

“Do you hear that, Natalia?” asked Catalyst before she could take a step. He looked for the source of the hissing.

“No, but I see it,” replied Natalia and she pointed to a light mist being shot out from the wall.

“That has to be why we're fighting because right now I feel angry,” said Catalyst, covering his mouth with his sleeve.

“Another one of their traps,” said Natalia as she quickly turned to cross the landing and get away from the mist.


Anastasia was fast approaching Ghost Mountain. Driven by the lingering feeling of Catalyst’s fear she would be there in just a few minutes.


With Natalia safely across the landing, Catalyst began making his way across. His cloak was full of the rocks he had gathered and he threw them at the floor with all his might, smashing out the cobbles and leaving only the pillars.

“See, I told you. Trust me. Now if they want to come after us, they’re going to have to do it the hard way,” said Catalyst, smiling as he pointed to the sharp jagged tops of the pillars.


Sirdis and Ompst entered the code for the barrier and ran down the stairs to the landing. They stood astonished on the other side of the missing cobbled floor.

“You think that will stop me?” yelled Sirdis as he backed up and took a running leap off the edge to land on the third pillar out.

“I want that crystal back!” screamed Sirdis as he looked for his next step. Without another word, Sirdis jumped to the next pillar and fought for his balance.

“Quickly, Natalia,” said Catalyst as he pulled her down the stairs with him. Not wanting to be left behind, Natalia hurried along.

They reached the handholds that were still stuck in the same position by the old Elf’s grimy fingertips. Natalia started across the walls as Catalyst followed behind her.

Standing on the other side of the handholds, Natalia looked up and watched Sirdis standing on a pillar searching for his next jump as Ompst leapt to the third pillar out.

“Catalyst, they’re both corning now,” said Natalia.

Digging through his fitsall, Catalyst found the cloak he had packed for Natalia. He tucked and wedged one end into a crack, then placed a rock heavy enough to sink the timing plate right in its centre. He then took the loose end of Natalia’s cloak and laid each corner on top of a rock and placed another on top of them. Lining up the cloak with the centre rock, Catalyst placed three rocks on the cloak and pushed on the timing plate with his foot, setting off the sequence of the wall while making sure that when the plate lifted itself back up, it would knock another rock off the cloak weighing down the plate before it rolled it off making room for the next.

“What are you doing, Catalyst?” asked Natalia starting to panic.

“The rock on the plate is a weight, the ones in your cloak are weights as well, now I've set them up to roll off your cloak onto this rock and sink the plate before they roll off from the vibrations of the blocks. One after another they'll keep the timing plate moving and those two won't be able to cross,” replied Catalyst, very proud of himself.

“That'll work, at least until the wave starts moving back this way,” said Natalia pointing out the error in his plan.

“For now, yes, but not once I have a few more rocks, then they should drop once about every thirty seconds and keep restarting the sequence. The problem is I just can't do everything all at once,” replied Catalyst, leaving Natalia to wonder if he had only come up with that part of his plan right now.


Landing at the base of Ghost Mountain, Anastasia stood in silence as she strained to feel for her son. With her mother’s intuition working at full force, she immediately moved towards the opening. She stepped inside and, clearing her mind, listened to the Hollow’s void.

“You know, Catalyst, I don't think you had any intention of setting the rocks up like that, not until I pointed out your error!”

“You can't prove that, Natalia,” said Catalyst.

With a wave of relief washing over her at hearing their voices, it was only seconds before Anastasia was looking into their eyes full of half-hidden panic as she passed them by heading straight for the reason for it.

Flying right in front of Sirdis, Anastasia stopped him just as he was about to make his last leap across the pillars.

“Well, if it isn't the Krusnik woman I've heard so much about,” said Sirdis, looking Anastasia right in the eye. He held his hand up behind him, waving Ompst off the pillars in case he he needed a quick exit.

Awestruck by the resemblance of the Elf to Catalyst’s father, Anastasia was without words for a moment, and then she rallied.

“You must be the leader of the Clique,” said Anastasia. She showed her distain for the Elf as she poked him in the chest with her sharp-as-a-knife finger nail, moving him back just enough to make him look down and swallow hard at the fall that lay beneath him.

“As flattered as I am at that thought, I am not the leader of the Clique, madam,” smiled Sirdis as he pushed his way forward trying not to show fear at Anastasia’s quiet threatening tone.

Angered even further by his words, Anastasia grew out her teeth, showing the Elf he had better watch his words as she shoved her face in his.

“Madam, your child has taken something from me and I would very much like it returned,” said Sirdis.

“I'm sure he has, and I couldn't be prouder of him for it,” replied Anastasia with smiling eyes as she looked down at her son.

“I'm sure you'll forgive me when I refuse to surrender the diamond ring, or is it one of the three crystals that he has?” smiled Anastasia, trying to provoke Sirdis, thereby giving her reason to push just a little harder on his chest as he stood helplessly on the pillar while Ompst tried ever so quietly to pick up a rock to throw at her.

“It wouldn't even leave your hand before this Krusnik had you by the throat, so put it down Ompst, you fool!” yelled Sirdis, having heard what Anastasia could so easily see. With a nod of his head gesturing submission, Sirdis looked Anastasia right in the eye, and with a nod of her head, Anastasia accepted it.

“I want you to take a message to your leader,” said Anastasia as she grabbed Sirdis by the chest, tearing open a wound.

“As you wish, madam!” replied Sirdis as he glanced at her hand dripping his blood.

“Tell your leader to leave these children alone, or I'm coming for him. And since you’re smart enough to know that your monkey here was about to kill you both, then you’re smart enough to know that causing me or those two children any grief will only result in the same,” said Anastasia, pulling her nails from Sirdis’s bleeding chest.

“I will deliver your message, Krusnik, but be warned that we will have the crystal back, one way or another,” replied Sirdis as Ompst fled into the shadows of the Hollow.

“Go, before I put an end to you here and now!” demanded Anastasia. She grew out her teeth and nails even further while letting out a blood-curdling scream.

Turning to leave and seeing that Ompst had fled, Sirdis hung his head in shame as he listened to Anastasia snigger at him.

“What a coward,” was all Sirdis could say as he jumped back across the pillars and disappeared into the shadows of the Hollow.

Anastasia glided back towards Natalia and Catalyst. She forgot to retract her teeth and nails, and seeing once again just how powerful Anastasia was, Natalia was impressed not only by her strength but by her beauty. Natalia could see how not even a Vampire could resist her long enough to save his life.

Realizing she was dressed in almost all her battle gear, Anastasia gave a quick pull, putting everything back in its happy mom’s place.

“Ah, my beautiful little boy,” said Anastasia to embarrass Catalyst in front of Natalia. She hugged him hard enough to ease the tension in her heart while pulling Natalia close enough to let her wrap her arms around her waist for a hug as well.

Feeling the tension evaporate, Anastasia scooped them both up and gently descended out of the Hollow and headed for home. Flying so high above the ground, they could see everywhere they had been and how many miles they had crossed. Natalia was surrounded by air so cool that it felt like a refreshingly cold drink of water for her skin. She could only imagine the exhilaration that Anastasia must feel every time she flew. Before she knew it, they were back at Catalyst’s home.

“Okay, you two must be starving. Why don't you get cleaned up and I'll make something to eat,” said Anastasia in a tone of voice that was more of an order than a request.

When their meal was made and everyone was sitting at the table, Natalia felt the anti-climax after their adventures. Having to run from one danger or another made their meal seem more humdrum than satisfying. Catalyst’s face reflected the same and Anastasia didn't need her mother’s intuition to see it.

“Not to worry, you two will be back out there hunting your next crystal before too long. The next transition isn't very far away,” said Anastasia.

“How do you know we have to go back out again?” asked Natalia, trying to imply that they might have got all the crystals including the diamond ring.

“You'd be surprised by how much I know about what you know,” replied Anastasia, tapping her temple as she looked at Catalyst.

“That's right, you can see his thoughts, can't you?” asked Natalia, giggling.

“Well not exactly see. It's more a feeling than anything else. Now if he were fully Krusnik instead of half-Human, I would be able to see through his eyes and watch his thoughts,” replied Anastasia with a wink at Catalyst that suggested she might very well be able to do just that anyway.

“However as it stands, he has to be really afraid before his mind can even reach out for me,” continued Anastasia just to remind them not to depend on her showing up whenever they found themselves in trouble.

“Now if the two of you have finished eating, I'll clear the table,” said Anastasia.

“I'll do the dishes,” offered Natalia before she realized what she was saying.

Without a word Catalyst slipped outside to the porch to contemplate the fact that Sirdis looked so much like his Father. When the dishes were done and the table cleared, Natalia took the crystal from her pocket, wondering what to do with it.

“Anastasia, we've got to hide this crystal and I don't know where to put it. I don't think taking it with me is a good idea,” said Natalia hoping for direction from Anastasia.

“Let me see it, Natalia,” said Anastasia in her I'll-fix-it mom tone of voice.

“Well for a ten-inch crystal this thing has certainly caused a lot of trouble. Hmmm, what to do with it,” said Anastasia to herself.

Taking her necklace that held her wedding band, Anastasia started to wrap the crystal. With a loop and loop and wrap and twist and loop and loop, Anastasia secured the crystal to her necklace, and her necklace to her neck.

“What if the Clique come for the crystal only to find it tied to your neck, Anastasia?” asked Natalia, concerned for her safety.

“Oh my dear child, let them if they dare!” replied Anastasia, posing her answer as more of a challenge than anything else. Natalia felt silly for even asking.

“Well Natalia, you had better stay up as late as you can tonight. I can't send you home tired and I don't want your mother upset should you get cranky,” said Anastasia, smiling.

With a look that simply asked, “What?” Natalia stood staring at Anastasia.

Recognizing this look all too well having seen it on Catalyst’s face more than once, Anastasia knew she would have to explain.

“Natalia, the Transitional Moon Phase isn't for quite some time so you may as well go home and return to us when Chatice is to take power. There's just nothing more you can do here until then. You simply need to be in phase with them, remember you’re 0.2 seconds out of time with the rest of this world. Right now if you were anywhere else than Kyopelivuori, you could not even hold a glass of water, unless you took it with you. So tomorrow night Catalyst will walk you back to the portal, and when you get back through to your side, it'll be daytime for you there. When the time is right for you to come back, I'll reach out for you with my mind and you'll know, and we'll see you then. Remember you gave your word to the people of this world that you would retrieve the crystals,” said Anastasia, hoping it was explanation enough.

“Yes, yes I did, and I will. I always keep my word,” said Natalia.

“Look, Natalia, he looks so sad, and I don't have to feel his thoughts to know why,” said Anastasia, pointing to Catalyst.

“Well, let's go and talk to him,” suggested Natalia and pulled Anastasia out of the door.

“I already know what's wrong,” said Anastasia as she looked at the confusion on Catalyst’s face.

“He just looked so much like Dad and it feels as though we've lost him all over again,” said Catalyst in a tone of voice that shattered Anastasia’s heart as she watched her son helplessly.

“Well, Catalyst, I guess there are only so many faces in the world, and sooner or later they all get used twice. One thing I can promise you without a doubt is that Elf may have looked like your father, but he is not your father. He isn't even half Elf. Your father, my husband is a Man,” explained Anastasia.

“You mean was,” said Catalyst wiping the tears from his face.

“No I don't! We don't know what happened to your father. We don't know where he is, and until I know these things, then he's alive and out there somewhere and all he needs is time to get home,” said Anastasia in a tone of voice that told Catalyst he had better watch his tongue. She gave him a quick hug and walked away weeping.

“See, Natalia, she still cries for him, even after all this time,” said Catalyst as they watched Anastasia disappear.

“I bet that Elf’s looks are what saved his life today,” said Natalia as she sat down beside him.

The noise of Catalyst’s constant foot tapping grated on Natalisa’s nerves; the air around them was filled with his agitation. Natalia decided it was time to bring up a different subject.

“Why not build a fire, Catalyst? After all, this is my last night here for a long time, and since I have to go home during my daytime, your Mother told me to stay up as late as I can. I'm sure she meant you too,” said Natalia.

“Sure, why not,” replied Catalyst and shook the thoughts of his father from his mind.

The fire was roaring when Anastasia came back from her cry. The hours slipped away with laughter as Anastasia embarrassed Catalyst with one childhood story after another until they fell asleep by the warm glow of the embers.

With a kid in each arm, Anastasia carried Natalia and Catalyst into the house and out of the night air, making sure Natalia didn't end up as breakfast for a hungry Cockatrice.

When the following day was almost past and the sun only a few hours away from setting, Natalia and Catalyst still lay in their beds sleeping. Anastasia was watching the time and now she had to wake them. Brushing the hair from Natalia’s face and with a gentle whisper, Anastasia told Natalia to wake up, then left her room and called out for Catalyst.

“Young man, get out of that bed right now!” rang Anastasia’s demand.

With a huge smile on her face at the sound, Natalia began her day happy.

“It's not breakfast, but I'm sure you'll enjoy it just the same,” said Anastasia as Natalia and Catalyst sat down at the table and started digging in.

“Wow! Anyone watching the two of you eat would swear that food is something you’d never had before,” said Anastasia. She handed them both a napkin and waited for them to finish.

“Are you full now, Natalia?” asked Anastasia after everything had been cleared from the table.

“Yes I am, and thank you!” replied Natalia grinning broadly.

“Okay, good. Now Catalyst, it's time to take Natalia back to the portal,” ordered Anastasia, and with a hug and a kiss Natalia said goodbye to Anastasia.

Walking towards the wooded maze, Natalia could feel tears beginning to swell in her eyes. Shoving her glasses on wasn't enough to hide from Catalyst what he too was feeling, but it was enough to bring her some comfort. The glowing dusk lit the evening sky, surrounded by the most beautiful blue.

“They’re more of a daytime creature, Natalia,” lied Catalyst, trying to hide the fact that he knew why she had put them on.

“Be that as it may, I'm not taking any chances,” replied Natalia as she wiped her eyes.

“Well those glasses and the night don't really work together. How will you see?” asked Catalyst with a smart-mouth tone, just hoping.

“I'll simply put you to use,” replied Natalia in a smarter-mouthed tone of voice as she took Catalyst by the arm.

“You may as well climb up then,” said Catalyst as he pointed to his back.

“Not this time, Catalyst,” said Natalia still holding his arm as they walked into the maze. In almost no time at all, at least it seemed that way for Natalia, they were on the other side heading towards the portal.

Reaching the cave that held the beginning of the Liquid Diamond River, Natalia looked at the glints from the diamonds dancing across the cave. She quickly dismissed the hope of taking anything but the memory with her.

“Catalyst, while I've been here, you've kept a lot of things from me, and that's just like lying. So while I'm gone there's something I'd like you to think about – a girl’s heart is only as good as the truth that fills it,” said Natalia, hoping he would understand.

“Natalia, it's getting late for me and I really should be getting back so...” said Catalyst, holding his hand out towards the portal encouraging Natalia to jump in.

“Wait a minute, Catalyst, how will I know when it's time to come back? I know your mother said she will reach out for me, but how will I know?” asked Natalia, wanting to make sure she didn't miss it.

“I can't explain it. You’re just going to feel pulled somehow...you'll just know,” replied Catalyst. Giving Natalia a hug, he pushed her backwards into the Liquid Diamond and smiled as he watched her sink.


Natalia was not afraid. She enjoyed the sensation of floating through the tingling Liquid Diamond only to pop out the other side all too soon. She landed on the very spot she had been pulled from, and as she stood there looking into her own eyes she fell on her butt.

Confused by what she was seeing, Natalia could only stand up and walk over to her other half. She just couldn't figure it out, and with a feeling not so much of curiosity as instinct, like two halves of a magnet pulling itself back together, it was with wonder that Natalia l looked at herself and how much she had grown. She felt her hand connect with the girl standing in front of her and as her flesh, blood and bones painlessly filled the empty spaces left behind from their separation, the pain from two minds filled with two sets of memories fighting for the same time and space made Natalia drop to her knees. She cried out in sorrow and confusion.

After a few minutes the pain eased. She wiped the tears from her eyes and tried to gather herself as she felt the memories begin to settle and make sense in a very strange way.


On the other side of the portal, Catalyst was thinking about when she returned. Natalia would most certainly be older and bigger than he would be, and as he stood looking at the Liquid Diamond portal he began to think, “If I crossed over for just a minute and then came back, I would age just enough to keep up to Natalia, maybe, if I didn't stay longer than that.”

“Hmmm, okay then, one minute and back here,” mumbled Catalyst, deciding he didn't like the idea of Natalia’s age and size going to her head and making her think she would be able to tell him what to do.

With a deep breath and just as he would dive into the water, Catalyst dived into the Liquid Diamond River. In the middle of what would normally be considered a great dive, Catalyst popped out the other side upside down because he didn't know you come out the same way you go in.

Realizing he was upside down, Catalyst flailed his arms as he flew through the air and landed on his back. Natalia was laughing at him. He just lay there for a moment before he realized where he was and why he had come. Then Catalyst rose to his feet as fast as he could.

“How long have I been here?” asked Catalyst in panic as he looked at the new and surely improved Natalia Cherkasskaya.

“About ten seconds, but why are you here?” asked Natalia, hoping the reason was to make sure she was okay.

“You'll see,” replied Catalyst. He counted the seconds in his head as he waited for the right time, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, and having learned his lesson the first time Catalyst jumped back into the portal feet-first, landing safely on the other side.


Catalyst ran his fingers across his face, feeling the change that was taking place. In anticipation of seeing the new him, Catalyst turned to the Liquid Diamond River.

“Wow, wait until Natalia sees this,” said Catalyst, knowing she wouldn't have anything on him now.


Stepping out of the cave into gently falling snow and leaving the portal behind until it was time for her to return, Natalia noticed how everything seemed so familiar but in a new way. The path that had confused her in the first place was now no harder to follow than the sidewalks she used to get to school. The new memories she had gained since she had been away seemed like a movie being played in her head, one watched long ago and forgotten. Knowing that nothing had really changed, she now had a sense of peace inside the new her.

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