Sunday, 27 April 2014

Fans Fiction The Soul Catcher by Sandy Deck



The Soul Catcher by Sandy Deck
Translated by Alison Balmforth


Prologue
Head held high, the black knight rode into the small village. A young and very beautiful woman rode at his side. Her long red hair danced in the wind.  The knight dismounted his horse and, with a determined stride, approached an old woman. She looked at him, frightened, and put down the heavy basket she had been carrying on her back. The remaining inhabitants of the village ran as quickly as they could into their houses, or hid behind handcarts or bales of hay.
   “Sir, please, this is everything I have, please take it but spare my life!” She pleaded with him.
     The knight laughed maliciously and glanced over at his wife, who now also dismounted her horse and approached the old woman. Her floor-length black dress clung to her young waif-like figure.  She stroked her sweetheart’s hair and looked at him. “Do you like her?” She asked, smiling softly. He grabbed her hand, pulled her to him and looked deep into her eyes. “How could I not?!” The black knight let go of his wife and glanced over at the old woman.
   “Kneel down!” He ordered her. The old woman trembled from head to toe and shook her head feebly.
   “Sir, I beg you! I am an old woman, please have mercy!” She pleaded once more.
   “Did you hear that, pigeon? I should have mercy on this vermin!” “But you must understand. She is old and cannot kneel before you”, his wife spoke softly to him. Her green eyes glistened. With slow steps, she walked around the old woman, stopped behind her and shoved her violently, so that she could no longer stay on her feet and she fell to her knees. The old woman cried out in pain.
   “She’s yours”, the red-haired woman said to her sweetheart. He laughed maliciously and lunged at the old woman. Contentedly and with affection, the young woman observed the events.
     Out of nowhere, a strong male voice commanded he let the old woman go. “Stop! Stop! Stop at once!”
     The black knight looked up abruptly and in the direction from which the voice had come. Blood dripped from the corner of his mouth.  The red-haired woman stood protectively in front of her husband.
   “Who are you and what gives you the right to disturb us during our meal?”
     The man approached her with steady steps, sword drawn. “My name is of no consequence! Release the woman. You’ve caused enough trouble in this village. It’s time somebody put a stop to it!”
     The black knight released his prey to stand beside his wife.
   “And who’s going to stop us? You?” Scornfully, he eyed the man from head to toe.
     But the stranger was not fazed and he threw a smoke bomb at the pair of them. An acrid smoke enveloped them. The sinister pair was distracted for a brief moment, and the stranger’s sword entered the black knight’s body before they could free themselves from the smoke.  His face contorted with pain, he collapsed. The smoke dispersed and the red-haired woman was now kneeling over him. She glared angrily at the stranger.
    “Don’t think you’ve won!”
    “It’s always a victory when one of the damned disappears back into the abyss!”
     Eyes wide, the black knight looked at his young companion and clung to her tightly. His heartbeat slowed and he spat blood from his mouth. Then he crumbled to ashes.
   “No!” The red-haired woman shouted, stood up and glowered at her husband’s murderer.  “You haven’t heard the last of this! You and your heart will be cursed! One day when you’ve found your true love, you’ll think of me and rue the day we met!” Conjuring, she raised her arms, mumbled something unintelligible and hummed an old children's song. Then she crossed her arms in front of her face. Dense fog enveloped her and she disappeared. The ashes blew away in the wind.

     The old woman lay motionless and gravely injured on the ground. A small pool of blood spread around her. Her eyelids were heavy.  With the last of her energy, the old woman called to the stranger. He went over to her quickly and supported her head. Blood trickled from her mouth. She whispered weakly: “Love will prevail and love will be. United in love, thank the stars. The stars shine as bright as the eyes of two lovers!”
     He raised an eyebrow and looked at her questioningly. “What’s that supposed to mean?” The woman stroked his cheek gently.
   “That’s all I can tell you!” Her voice was becoming weaker. “What’s your name?” she asked.
   “Gray”, he answered. “My name is Gray!”
     The old woman managed to smile. “Don’t be afraid, Gray! The stars will light up!” She prophesised with her last breath and then closed her eyes.

Laughing, Marie and Gray raced each other on horseback through the woods. They stopped by a small lake and dismounted their horses. Gray pulled her lovingly toward him and smoothed her long curly hair away from her face. “You wild child!” He said and kissed her deeply. Marie winked, pinched his bum and ran over to the water. She laughed as Gray cried out, startled. But he wasn’t going to let that lie. He ran after her, grabbed her and threw her into the cold water.
     Marie surfaced again quickly and scolded him indignantly.
   “Just you wait, I’ll get you back!”
     Gray stood on the bank, amused and laughing at the angry and soaking-wet Marie. She approached him and splashed him with cold water. “You’re determined, aren’t you, Marie?” He looked at her defiantly, entered the water and began a water fight. They frolicked and larked about like two boisterous children.  Marie ended the game by swimming over to him and putting her arms around his neck.
   “I never want to lose you! Promise me you’ll always be here!” Gray gazed at her affectionately and took her pretty face in his hands.
   “I will be! Promise!” He said earnestly, kissed her forehead and looked deep into her eyes. Then a cheeky grin spread across his face, he grabbed Marie and threw her into the water again.  This time Marie didn’t resurface. Gray panicked, shouting her name anxiously.
   “Marie! Marie! Damnit, Marie, that’s not funny!” He went under again and again, searching the water, but she had disappeared.  Suddenly, something grabbed his leg. He reached for it, startled, and pulled it towards him. It was Marie, who was grinning at him cheekily.
   “You little beast!” Happy to have found his darling Marie again, he pulled her closer. Just as he was about to kiss her, his gaze fell upon the moon. He gestured to Marie to look at the sky. Marie and Gray looked at each other, puzzled. It was daytime and the moon had blood-red flecks that were spreading rapidly over its surface. A cold shiver overcame both of them.
     Gray grabbed Marie by the arm and pulled her quickly from the water. “We have to get back to Camelot as quickly as possible!” Marie followed him.
   “What is it, Gray? For heaven’s sake, Gray, please tell me what’s wrong!” Marie had already been through so much since the first time she had met Gray’s brother, Jack. She just couldn’t get used to all the strange recurring things.
     Gray and Marie mounted their horses and rode back through the forest. They met with one of Camelot’s patrols. Even Gwen, who was now Queen of Camelot, had noticed the moon and had sent knights out to search for the two of them.

Josy and Greg were playing boisterously and carefree in the garden. Their mother watched them with delight from the patio. They lived in a big old house surrounded by pastures and greenery as far as the eye could see. There was a small pond behind the house, in which ducks went to and fro. As they always did at this time of year. It was summer and the sun shone brightly and warmed the young mother’s face. Melissa closed her eyes for a moment and enjoyed the sunshine on her skin.  The children laughed and sat down next to her at the table, which was laid with cake.
   “Were you asleep?” Josy asked and shoved a far too large piece of cake into her far too small mouth.
   “You dimwit, of course she was! You saw her!” Her brother, two years her elder, responded. Josy ate noisily.
   “But she wasn’t snoring!” She clarified her point.
     Melissa put the tea she was holding in her hand back on the table and smiled at them both. Her daughter nodded her head cheekily, making her dark blond braids bob around comically. She looked at her brother with a serious expression and stuffed cheeks. Greg slapped a hand against his forehead and groaned.
   “Not everyone snores when they’re sleeping!” He replied cleverly, scooting back on his chair and sitting up straight to make himself look bigger. He glanced at his little sister briefly out of the corner of his eye. Josy finally swallowed the last few crumbs and was able to speak more clearly.
     She giggled. “You do!” She said to Greg, jumped up from her chair and ran over to her mother. She put her little arms around her neck and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Melissa lovingly pulled her daughter close and kissed her forehead. Then Josy ran smiling over to the pond to watch the ducks.
   “Be careful and don’t go too close to the edge!” Her mother said.
   “Small children are so exhausting and annoying!” Greg said, shaking his head at his mother. Melissa smiled again.
   “You’re so right, my darling. When you turn eight years old, you are obviously so much more mature!”  She took a slurp of tea and looked at her son over the rim of her cup. Greg stood up, grabbed his football from the patio and clamped it under his arm.
   “Of course. And I don’t believe in the Sandman anymore like Josy does!”
     Melissa glanced up from her cup. “Oh Greg, since you mention the Sandman, what did the Tooth Fairy bring you last night?” She asked him.
   “The Tooth Fairy is so cool, Mum. She brought me a Star Wars magazine and a slab of chocolate!”
   “Is that so?” Melissa grinned at her son, who disappeared into the house with the words: “May the force be with you!”

Marie, Gray and the knights of Camelot traversed the forest. Marie had the feeling that something was hiding in the trees. A queasy feeling swept through her stomach. She stopped suddenly and listened.
   “Stop, wait!” She said to the others. “Do you hear that?” She asked, dismounting her horse. Gray and the others copied her. Very slowly and with cautious steps, they went a little bit further. Gray stayed close by Marie’s side.
     Strange words reached her ears. Words she couldn’t understand. They went slowly in the direction the words were coming from. Marie’s heart was pounding slightly and fear crept through her. She glanced repeatedly at the moon, which now had even more blood-red flecks.
     Now and then a raven could be heard in the distance, which eerily disturbed the silence of the night. The others drew their swords and continued on.
     Gray nodded at her and smiled.    
   “Don’t be afraid, everything will be alright. We’re with you!”
     Although his voice sounded so soothing, it didn’t seem to reach Marie. She was a very brave young woman, curious about anything new. She had already had lots of adventures at Gray’s side. She would never forget the first moment they met. When he was lying there, seemingly fast asleep.
     With the help of her dear grandmother, who had sadly died, she had been able to awaken him from his slumber. She remembered Jack’s sceptical expression when she had placed the rose petals, which had awoken him, in Gray’s mouth.

     From the very first moment he’d looked at her it was done. It was love at first sight. Even if it had been hard, they had found each other in the end. And fought side by side and hand in hand against monsters and aliens, but this right now, the moon turning blood-red made Marie frightened.

     Marie looked at Gray, who had run in front of her a short distance. He didn’t seem to be afraid at all. He moved silently with the knights towards the voice.
     A raven cawed, flew out of a cave and landed on some rocks. Unintelligible words came from the cave and now a young woman with long red hair came out. She carried a brass cup in her hands, which she held up to the sky in all directions as she chanted an invocation.
   “Luna inwietum cor nostrum, donec requiescat inte. In sucum et sanguine. Hic et nunc.”
The woman set the cup down on the rocks next to the raven and held her hands over it. Then it fizzled and a small flame shot out of it, vanishing in the same moment.
   “She’s over there!” One of the knights shouted and went fearlessly, sword still in hand, towards the woman. Marie followed the knights.  The woman laughed maliciously when she saw Marie and the men.
   “It’s too late, noble knights. My work is done!” She laughed loudly, her long red hair dancing in the wind.
     Gray grabbed Marie’s hand and held her tightly. His gaze met that of the woman. Marie could clearly hear Gray’s heard begin to beat faster. He held her hand even more tightly. Marie wanted to say something to Gray, but she couldn’t. She felt paralysed, staring at the woman.
   “What’s your name?” One of the knights asked.
   “You wouldn’t like my name, noble knight. It means death, disaster and depravity. It’s the Soul Catcher!”
     She laughed loudly once more and glared at the men. Some of the knights tried to grab her, but failed. The woman made a small hand gesture and the knights flew backwards. The other men froze.
   “My curse will spread across the land. Independent of space and time. The stars will burn up and the silence will awaken. Only the last of the star guardians will be able to break this curse!”
     Then she wrapped herself in her long black cloak and disappeared in a sudden fog. A lovely woman’s voice hummed an old lullaby.
     The knights stood up again and looked around, bewildered. Gray went over to the rocks where the cup still sat. He lifted it up and inspected it from all sides.  Marie followed him and Gray held out the cup to her. It was wonderfully decorated with stones and bore an inscription.
    “In hoc Salus. In this lies salvation“, Marie read. Gray nodded.
   “That can’t mean anything good. This cup can bring salvation and destruction. Depending on who uses it? I’d always thought it was just a legend!” He gulped audibly and for the first time Marie could see something in his eyes that resembled fear.
    
   Concerned, Gray beheld the chalice before him. “We have to undo this curse!” Merlin flipped through the books for a solution, but couldn’t find anything.  He sighed in desperation and ran his hands through his hair. “Maybe it’s not a curse at all!”
     Gray raised an eyebrow. “Have you seen the moon recently?”
      Merlin nodded silently. Gaius sighed, placing his doctor’s bag down on the table.
   “I’m afraid Gray may be right. The Queen’s health is deteriorating. If we do not find a solution soon she will die; and her unborn child with her!” He sat down clumsily on one of the chairs and looked at Merlin seriously. “The children in the lower village have also been affected. The fever will not desist. I fear they will all die if we don’t do something soon!”
   “But what? I’ve already searched through every book, but none of them mention this curse or a blood-red moon!”
     Gray paced pensively back and forth, as the door to the room suddenly opened and there stood Jack.
   “I heard you have a problem?” Gray stood stock still, not quite believing who stood before him.
   “Jack. Right on time, as always!” The two greeted each other joyfully.
   “You won’t find anything about it in these books. It’s a curse from another time and another realm. We must go to the old Singing Stones and speak with the Star Fairy”, Jack explained.
     Merlin glanced questioningly at Gaius. “The Singing Stones always sound on the night of the full moon. They are an ancient legend and it’s said that only a child of the stars can hear the stones and speak with the Star Fairy. The Star Fairy is said to find refuge there when the moon turns blood-red. That’s what they say in the lower village and surrounding areas!”
   “A child of the stars? Very well, let’s find this child!” Gray snatched up his sword.
   “It’s not necessary to find them. She is already here!” Jack looked at Gray. Gray understood without needing to be told.
   “It’s Marie! Am I right?”
     Jack nodded.
   “Great, then we can leave at once!”
     Jack grabbed his brother by the sleeve and gave him a serious look. “The fairy requires a sacrifice!” Gray paused, looking alternately at Gaius, Merlin and Jack.
   “What kind?” He asked eventually, his voice hard.
   “The souls of two lovers!” Gray freed himself from Jack’s grip, set aside his sword and sank onto a chair. He stared into mid-air, lost in thought. Merlin and Gaius looked at each other hopelessly. They knew all too well what that meant.
   “What if she only gets one soul?” Marie broke the silence.
Gray jumped up from his chair and wrapped his arms tightly around Marie.
   “I won’t allow it!”
   “How long have you been standing in the doorway?” Jack asked Marie, after greeting her warmly.
    “Long enough to hear your discussion about the Singing Stones!”
     Gaius offered Marie a hot peppermint tea.
   “With milk?” Marie asked, winking, and sat next to Merlin at the table.
   “If that’s how you like it”, Gaius smiled warmly at her.
     Marie was chilled to the bone after her trip to the lower village. The blood-red moon had also brought a chill over the land, even though it was summer. Marie took a couple of sips with pleasure. She suddenly became quite dizzy and set the cup down on the table. Before she could say anything, her head sank onto the table and Marie was asleep.
   “Gaius, what did you do?” Gray approached Marie and regarded her, concerned.
   “Don’t worry, sir. I just put a light sedative in her tea!”Gray shook his head, confused.
   “Why did you do that?” “Surely you don’t believe in all honesty that Marie would listen to you!” Gaius explained.
     Merlin glanced at the sleeping Marie. “Great. Now who’s going to find the way to the Singing Stones?”
   “I don’t think that was necessary. The fairy requires two souls. She would hardly be satisfied with one!” Gray was slightly angry and stroked Marie’s hair.
   “Well, I wouldn’t say that, Gray!” Jack chimed in. “Perhaps she might have struck up a deal with the fairy. After all, Marie’s isn’t just any soul. She’s a child of the stars too!”
   “We already have a child of the stars”, Jack glanced at Gray. Gray swallowed and reached for his sword. He stood resolutely in front of his brother.
   “If I’m a child of the stars too, let’s try it. Perhaps we can at least save the Queen’s life and the life of her unborn child!”
   “Is that what you want? You might never see Marie again, Gray”, Jack cautioned him. But Gray was determined to do what felt right to him.
     He kissed Marie and then turned to Gaius.   “Please take good care of her and, if I don’t come back, give her this!” He removed his chain, which had a cross hanging from it, and handed it to Gaius.
     Gaius nodded. “You can count on me, sir!”

      Gray lifted Marie and carried her into her room. He laid her gently on her bed and kissed her forehead, perhaps for the last time.  Early the next morning, Jack, Gray and Merlin set off on their way to find the Singing Stones in the hope they would find the Star Fairy. The path was long and difficult. It was a big challenge for Gray to find the right way, because only those who follow their heart could find them. Because Gray found it very hard to do this, and was more of a man to follow his head, they strayed from the path once more.
   “And this time I was so sure the Singing Stones would be behind this hill”, Gray declared once more as he dismounted his horse.
     Jack grinned and couldn’t refrain from commenting. “If this goes on much longer, I’ll become a singing stone!”
     Merlin, too, was already exhausted from their long journey. “Uh-huh. Of course. You said that last time. And what happened? We met some giant snails that wanted to eat us. I still stink of snail-slime!” He crinkled up his nose as he smelled his shirt.
   Jack laughed and dismounted his horse. “You wouldn’t have wanted to eat you either!”    “Hopefully next time you’ll get eaten and thrown up again!” Merlin climbed down from his horse.
   “No creature would ever throw me up!” Jack argued, winking cheekily at Merlin.
Gray rolled his eyes.
   “Not this again! If it hadn’t been for me and my smoke bombs, they would have eaten both of you and I guarantee they wouldn’t have thrown up, they’d have...” Before Gray could finish his sentence, he was distracted by rustling in the bushes. They looked around and found themselves in the middle of a small village once more. Everything was so tiny and looked like a village for garden gnomes.
     Small cows and horses stood in the pastures. Smoke rose from the chimney of one of the small houses and buttercups and daisies bloomed in the meadows. Tiny birds sang their songs and flew from tree to tree. Slightly off to one side, a river flowed, upon which several small boats swayed from side to side.
     Jack laughed. “Perhaps this time it was a pretty young woman whose call Gray couldn’t resist!” He looked in the direction of a woman who now approached the strangers. In her hands she carried a small wicker basket, which was full of various kinds of fruit.  The woman was just tall enough to come up to their knees.
   “Welcome, sirs. What brought you here?” She greeted them warmly. Gray crouched down, so he could speak to the woman at eye level.
   “Good day. Please forgive our intrusion into your village. We’ve lost our way.”
     Other people now came out from their houses and hiding places. They had small pointed ears; some wore caps on their heads. Some had red, yellow, or even green or blue hair, which grew wildly from their heads.
     Gray would have felt that these small people were very trustworthy, if they didn’t have their hooks, swords and pitchforks directed threateningly at them in warning. “We don’t want to hurt you, or disturb you. We were looking for the Singing Stones and found ourselves here!” Gray explained.
     The pretty young woman came closer the Gray and the other men, who were standing closely at his side. She set down her basket and smiled. Then she looked deep into Gray’s eyes. Hesitantly, she reached out with her left hand and laid it on Gray’s chest. Gray jumped up suddenly.
   “They say they come in peace and they got lost. Don’t be afraid, we won’t hurt you as long as your heart is pure and your intentions are good.” She smiled at Gray and the other two.    “Who are you?” Merlin asked, plucked up his courage and crouched down.
     She answered gently: “We are the last guardians of the mountains in this realm. And I am Princess Leyla.”  Leyla offered Merlin some fruit from her basket. The fruit looked like a small blue diamond. Merlin took it, thankful, and was about to eat it when Leyla stopped him.
   “This fruit is not necessarily for you. Save it for later, you still have a long way to go.”
   “If Gray continues to lead us, the journey isn’t long, it’s never-ending!”
     Jack smirked, but Gray didn’t find his brother’s comment funny and he glared at him angrily.
     Leyla grinned and continued: “This fruit is very precious; it contains serenity, strength and wisdom!”
     Merlin stood and regarded his gift with curiosity. Then the Princess handed some fruit to Jack. It was white. She said: “You have a long journey ahead of you too. This fruit contains clarity and protection. Keep it safe!” Jack thanked her briefly and regarded the fruit before putting it in his pocket.
   “Now your turn!” Leyla said to Gray, who crouched before her once more. Leyla extended her left hand again and rested it on his chest. His heart pounded. Hardly anyone had seen his true heart, other than Marie. Most saw only what he wanted them to see.
     She gazed affectionately at him. “You are afraid to follow your heart. You let your head rule your heart, for fear your heart will deceive you if you trust it. Deep inside you, you have so much love and goodness. I can also sense that there is a special woman in your life who touches you deeply. But I also see that you hide away your love out of fear! I advise you not to do that. The love she gives you can heal the pain you have endured for so long. Don’t close yourself off again. True love is worth fighting for!”
     She stood on her tiptoes, gave him a kiss on the lips and whispered in his ear: “Your heart will show you the way!” Then she handed a fruit to Gray, which looked even more precious than the others. It shimmered a pinkish-red and had a golden stem and silver leaves. “You’ll need this to find your way back to your sweetheart.”
     Gray smiled, nodding timidly. “Thank you for your kindness and generosity!” Then he stood and put the fruit in his pocket. When he looked up again, wanting to say goodbye, the village and its inhabitants were gone. He looked at Merlin, confused.
   “Don’t ask. Some answers come to us eventually!” He slapped Gray on the shoulder. Come; let’s continue to look for the Singing Stones before it gets dark!” Merlin, Jack and Gray mounted their horses.
   “Which way now, Gray?” Jack asked. Gray didn’t answer. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and followed his heart.

     Melissa was playing ball with Josy and Greg in the garden when the sky suddenly darkened and a blood-red moon appeared. Shocked, she froze and stared up at the sky.
   “Quickly children, come inside the house!” Frightened, the children clung tightly to their mother and ran into the house with her. Melissa closed all the doors and windows.
   “Mummy, what is it?” Josy asked.
   “I don’t know, darling. But as long as we stay inside the house, nothing can happen to us!” At least, that’s what Melissa believed.
     She switched on the television and put the news on. All channels were now reporting on the sudden appearance of the blood-red moon. They were advising to stay inside and close all doors and windows.
   “That’s exactly what you did, Mummy.” Greg nestled closely against his mother. Melissa sat on the sofa with her children and held them tightly in her arms.  Her heart beated faster and faster. She had to stay calm and not panic, she kept repeating to herself. She stroked her children’s hair lovingly and talked to them soothingly.
   “Mummy, maybe someone hurt the moon and now it’s bleeding. Maybe it needs help!” Josy said, not so frightened any more.
   “Yes, it’s possible, angel. Everything will be alright; someone will come to help the moon!” Melissa kissed Josy’s forehead.
     A lovely woman’s voice could suddenly be heard from outside. She sang an old lullaby.   “Mummy, who’s that?” Greg asked. Melissa held her children protectively in her arms.
   “I don’t know!” Melissa stood up from the sofa and covered her children with a blanket. Josy shuffled closer to Greg and they held each other’s hands.
   “I’m coming straight back, I’m just going to take a quick look out the window. Maybe I can see who that is! You stay right here, ok?” She said to her children. Melissa slowly approached the large living room window and shoved the curtain a little to one side, so she could see out. There was nothing to see outside, other than the moon, which was still blood-red. Melissa felt uncomfortable and fear spread through her.  She returned quickly to her children.
   “Mummy, I’m really dizzy and so hot!” Greg complained. Josy hugged her brother. Shocked, Melissa stared at her son. His cheeks were red and his forehead felt scorching hot. Concerned, she laid Greg on the sofa, while Josy ran to the bathroom to fetch him a cold flannel.
     Greg’s eyelids grew heavier and heavier, until he closed his eyes and breathed heavily.   “Greg, my darling! Please, say something!” Melissa’s hands shook with fear. She smoothed her son’s hair away from his forehead and kissed him. His head was still scorching hot.
   “Mummy, has he gone to heaven?” Josy asked, crying.
   “No, my darling. He’s just sleeping a while!” Melissa took the cold flannel from her daughter and stroked it gently and affectionately over her cheeks. She placed it cautiously on Greg’s forehead.
   “You stay with him, ok?” She said to Josy. “I’m calling a doctor!” Josy nodded, not letting her brother out of her sight. The woman’s voice outside stopped.  Melissa took a few deep breaths before going back to her children in the living room. The doctor promised to come as soon as he could. Thank God he only lived a couple of streets away.
     So far, Greg seemed to be the only child who had been taken ill with a fever. That’s what the doctor had said to her. When Melissa returned, she immediately felt Greg’s head once more, gave him some medicine to reduce his fever and changed the flannel.
   “Are you ok, Josy?” Melissa enquired. Josy nodded.
   “Nothing’s wrong with me, Mummy.” Josy smiled at her mother. “Mummy, Greg will get better, won’t he?” Melissa swallowed the lump in her throat.
   “Yes, my darling. Of course he will get better!” Josy ran to her mother, put her little arms around her and hugged her as tightly as she could.
   “I love you, Mummy. I’ll be right back.”  Josy scurried quickly up the stairs and returned in no time at all. She held Greg’s favourite stuffed animal in her arms. Josy carefully laid the large cuddly dog in Greg’s arms. Melissa smiled and dashed the tears from her face.
   “Don’t cry, Mummy. Everything will be ok!” Melissa put her arm around her daughter and kissed her forehead. She continued to stroke Greg’s hair, not letting him out of her sight. “I’ll stay with you!” Josy said.
     Melissa jumped as the doorbell suddenly rang. It was the doctor, who looked exhausted.    “I came as quickly as I could. The moon looks very eerie and if this hadn’t been an emergency, I wouldn’t have set foot outside today!” He wiped the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief. “To make matters worse, my car wouldn’t start and I had to run here!”
Josy ran onto the kitchen and returned with a glass of water. “Oh, how attentive of you, little one!” He emptied the glass with a huge gulp and then approached Greg to examine him.
His forehead creased with worry. “He has an extremely high fever. I would usually recommend that he be taken to hospital, but considering what’s happening outside, I think it’s best to leave him here.”
   “His fever hasn’t improved at all. I already gave him something to reduce it and put a cold compress on his head. Please doctor, will he get better?” Melissa could hardly suppress her tears.
   “The only thing we can do is put him on a drip. The hospital couldn’t do any more for him either.”
     Melissa fetched the coat stand from the hall, so the doctor could hang the drip from it. “He’ll be alright, Melissa. Don’t worry. I can’t X-ray him here, but his lungs seem to be clear! The fever came on suddenly, you say?”
     Melissa nodded. “Shortly after the moon rose, all at once there was a woman’s voice singing an old lullaby.”
     The doctor nodded and glanced at Greg, concerned. “Yes, I heard it too. But there was nobody there! We have to have patience and wait it out. He’s tough and a fighter. He’ll come through it.” His voice was very comforting.
   “What about Josy?” He enquired.
   “Nothing’s wrong with her. Isn’t that right, Josy? You’re fine?” Josy didn’t answer. Melissa scanned the room, but Josy wasn’t there anymore. Then her gaze fell on the open patio door. Worried, she ran out into the garden, where she found Josy immediately. She ran to her and scooped her up.
   “Don’t ever do that again!” She stroked her daughter’s face and hair.
   “Mummy, it’s ok. Look. They’ve come to help!” Josy pointed at the sky. Melissa could hardly believe her eyes. There were two figures. A woman and a man. They descended  slowly.
   “Please don’t be afraid. We won’t hurt you. We’re trying to help”, the woman said. The man nodded in agreement. “We can’t promise anything, but we’ll do our best!” Melissa held her daughter’s hand tightly.
   “Who are you?” She asked. The woman smiled warmly. “My name is Toshiko. And this is Owen.” Now he smiled too.
   “We are former members of Torchwood and we’re used to this sort of thing!” Owen tried to comfort Melissa.
   “But how is this possible?” She didn’t get an answer. Toshiko just smiled. Josy waved at both of them.
   “See, Mummy, everything will be fine! And Greg will get better too!” Owen nodded.
   “We’ll try. But we can’t do it alone. Josy seems to be a child of the stars and is protected by them. She can help us.”
     Melissa shook her head. “What’s that supposed to mean? And my son? Why isn’t he a child of the stars? How can she help? She’s just a child!”
   “Please stay calm. I can’t explain everything to you now. You have to trust us. Josy, do you know what you have to do?” Toshiko spoke calmly to Melissa. Josy nodded.
   “Of course! I’m not stupid! I can do it!” Then she looked at her mother. “Please let me help them, Mummy. They like each other very much and, if everything goes well, Greg will get better and my two new friends can finally be together! You don’t have to be afraid. After all, I’m a child of the stars!”
     Josy held up her head proudly and observed her mother. Melissa bent down and kissed her. It wasn’t easy for her, but she nodded in agreement. Josy ran like a whirlwind into the house.
   “But surely she’s far too young. She’s a little child!” She looked at the pair questioningly.
   “That’s true. She is a child. A child of the stars, at that. She can see things that other children and, more importantly, adults cannot!” Toshiko and Owen were becoming more see-through. “She will need to open the portal to another time. Only then can we defeat the curse!”
     Melissa looked confused and disbelieving at the sky. Then she glanced at the moon. Its colour was changing from blood-red to dark red. “It’s very dark red. It won’t be long before it’s black. Then it will be too late and the world will descend into darkness!” Melissa heard Toshiko say, before she disappeared into thin air with Owen.
    
      Marie jumped off her bed angrily. “Please, calm yourself!” Gaius attempted to soothe her. Marie hastily grabbed her bag and her sword.
   “Calm myself? Gray has ridden off without me to find the Singing Stones. What was he thinking? And you drugged me!” She approached the old man quickly, frowning.
   “But I had no other option. It was Gray’s wish that you remain here in the castle!”
     Marie looked at Gaius angrily. “But we always fight monsters and aliens together. Why should this time be any different?”
   “Because this time we couldn’t be sure you’d both come back. He loves you, Marie. He would do anything to spare your life.”
     Marie’s expression softened slightly.  Thoughtful and tired at the same time, she looked out the window. Outside, the moon darkened.
   “I would do anything to save his. Please, Gaius, you can’t stop me. I have to go to him!”    Gaius understood perfectly. He approached her and took her hands in his.
   “My dear child. You are so brave and full of love. Don’t you understand that the Star Fairy requires both of your lives as the price for her help? You will both die!”
     Marie swallowed and looked at Gaius’s concerned face. “But if she only takes Gray’s life, I’ll be alone again. What kind of life would that be for me? A life without Gray would be a quiet life for me. I don’t want that anymore! Please Gaius! We’ve always fought together. Hand in hand. If he has to go, then I want to go too. Hand in hand!”
     Gaius felt that it was hopeless to try to convince Marie to stay. So he released her hands and nodded silently.
   “Please take care of yourself!” Then he placed the chain Gray had given him before his departure over Marie’s head. Marie recognised it immediately.
   “Hand in hand. No matter where!” She looked at Gaius one more time, and then ran from the castle.
     She rode into the forest as fast as her horse would go. She knew it could be a long and difficult journey if she didn’t follow her heart. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply several times. She felt her heartbeat slow.
     She opened her eyes. “What do you think, chubby? Straight ahead?” She clapped her horse’s throat. “Let’s go, then!” Marie found it easy to follow her heart and she had soon reached Gray, Merlin and Jack.
     Gray was amazed when Marie rode up to him. “What on earth are you doing here?”
   “Did you really think I’d leave you to fight alone?”
   “Understand that it’s my fight, Marie! I triggered this disaster! Ride back!”  Gray looked at Marie, determined.
   “We can discuss this later!”
   “Wow! That’s what I call a comeback! Good to see you, Marie!”
   “Thanks, Jack! Eugh, Merlin, what on earth happened to you?” Marie crinkled her nose.
   “Great! Not you too! Your prince here led us to some giant snails instead of the Singing Stones!”
   “Giant snails?” She asked Gray. He laughed.
   “Don’t ask! I’ve missed you, Marie!” He said softly. Marie winked cheekily at him.
   “Yep, I can believe that! But I’m here now. Let’s go. Follow me. This way!” Marie rode ahead.
   “You see, Gray, that’s how you do it!” Jack nudged his brother. “Be thankful she’s here!”
     Followed by the three men, Marie rode down the steep slope. The sound of a river could be heard. “It’s right over there!” Marie whispered. They dismounted their horses and walked the rest of the way.
   “But I thought we’d find the Singing Stones behind a hill!”
   “Who told you that, Gray? My feeling is that they’re here by the river.”
   “Psst. Be still. I can hear something!” Jack gripped Marie’s sleeve tightly. “It’s coming from over there.” Merlin moved closer to the river. “Do you hear that?” He asked.
     Gray, Marie and Jack were now standing next to him.
   “Who’s that disturbing me?” An old woman sprang suddenly from the water. The four friends jumped.
  “It was us!” Marie was the first to find her voice and she now approached the old woman. “It was us!” Marie’s voice was strong and clear.
     The old woman emerged from the water and stood directly before Marie. “I’ve been expecting you. You and Gray!”
   “Good, then you know what we want to ask you.” Gray approached the old woman cautiously, one hand entwined around his sword.
   “You won’t need that!” She gestured with a glance at Gray’s sword. Jack and Merlin stayed close behind Marie and Gray. “I know very well what you want from me. But my help comes at a price! Do you know this?” Her voice was very commanding. She sat down on a large rock.
     Marie and Gray nodded simultaneously. “You want our lives!”
   “No, not your lives! Just your souls!” The woman stood and laughed. Then she turned to Gray.
   “Don’t you recognise me?” Gray drew his sword and pushed Marie protectively out of the way.
   “Oh yes, now I recognise you! Go back at once!”
     Jack and Merlin stood next to Gray, their swords drawn. Marie watched the events unfold and mulled them over. She didn’t take her eyes off the woman. Her heart pounded and a cold shiver overcame her.
     The old woman crossed her arms over her chest and fog enveloped her. “Perhaps you will find this form more pleasant to behold!” The fog cleared after a few seconds and in front of them stood the young woman who conjured the curse a few days earlier.
   “What’s wrong, brave knight? Do you really think your sword can stop me?” She laughed maliciously. “You want me to break the curse? First, drop your sword. Then we can make a deal!”
     Merlin and Jack looked at Gray questioningly. Gray nodded and put down his sword.
   “Jack, take Marie and Merlin away from here!” Gray pleaded with his brother. Merlin stepped forward, looked at the woman, murmured something and the woman turned into a vast cloud of mist.
   “What did you do?”
   “Gray, take Marie and run! I’ll try to stop her!” Gray grabbed Merlin by the arm.
   “Merlin, there’s no point. She has to undo the curse.”
   “I’ll spare your life if you undo the curse, Soul Catcher!” Merlin vowed to the old woman. All that could be heard coming from the mist was a scornful laugh.  Then she regained her human form.
   “That’s not how the game is played! Such a powerful wizard and still so helpless!” She leant against the large rock she had previously been sitting on. “I don’t have forever. And neither do you!” She looked up at the moon. Half of it had already turned dark red.
     Gray went to Marie, who was still staring at the woman, spellbound. “Marie, please go with Jack. I need to know you’re safe!” Marie shook her head violently and looked at him earnestly.
   “No!”  She now approached the Soul Catcher with steady steps. “Who do you think you are? Playing God and letting innocent children die! What’s been done to you that means children have to suffer?”
   “Brave, brave, your pretty lady.” The Soul Catcher said to Gray and then she looked at Marie seriously. “But your bravery didn’t bring you here. Ask your sweetheart what he did to me! Hasn’t he told you? No? He killed my husband!”
   “They were feeding on innocent people!” Gray explained. Marie’s gaze did not leave the woman.
   “He would never kill anyone unless he had a good reason for it!”
   “What if you’re wrong?!”
     Marie glanced at the floor. Gray came over to her and tugged her close to him.
   “Marie. Go with Jack now.” He pleaded with her again, but this time in a much firmer tone.    “What did she mean?”
     Gray looked at her. “Marie, I haven’t always been the man I am now. I’ve made mistakes that I regret deeply. But this is a matter between her and me. Please go now!”
     Marie’s eyes flitted back and forth between the Soul Catcher and Gray.
    “Please explain it to me!” Gray shook his head and kissed her forehead. Lovingly, he took her face in his hands. Tears overcame him.
   “Please, Marie, there’s no time for this. Keep me in your memory the way I am today. The past can’t be changed. Please don’t make this any harder than it already is!” Marie swallowed, tears running down her cheeks.
   “I don’t want to lose you. Let’s go together!”
   “Oh, how sweet! Who says it’s you I want, Gray? I’d prefer your lady! If you know what I mean!” The Soul Catcher paced up and down.
     Gray looked at Marie urgently. Then he kissed her. He nodded to Jack. Jack understood immediately.    
  Marie also understood immediately and suddenly broke away from Gray’s embrace. She ran to the Soul Catcher. Gray grabbed for his sword and held it menacingly.
   “Let her go!”
   “Or what?” The Soul Catcher asked. With a gesture of her hand, Gray, Jack and Merlin flew through the air, crashing back down to earth shortly after.
   “Gray!” Marie wanted to run to him, but she had been captured. The Soul Catcher enveloped her in her black cloak and extracted the soul from her body. Her lifeless corpse fell to the ground and the Soul Catcher disappeared in a cloud of fog.
     Gray ran to Marie and tried to resuscitate her, with no luck. Tears ran over his face and he laid his head on her chest. Merlin hurried over and checked her pulse, but she was dead.
Jack knelt before Marie’s lifeless body and held his brother comfortingly in his arms. Gray sobbed.  
   “It shouldn’t end like this! She can’t do anything about it. She didn’t do anything! It was me! Me alone!”
     Merlin stood, listening. He had heard a voice coming from the bushes. Carefully, he pushed a few sprigs and branches to one side. A woman sat before him. Her hands and legs were bound and she was gagged. Merlin freed her quickly.
   “Finally! I thought you’d never notice me!” The woman hurried quickly over to Marie’s lifeless body and held her hand over her heart. “Her heart is full of love. Her body may be lifeless, but as long as there is love in her heart, there’s a chance we can put her soul back. But you must hurry!”
     Gray looked up, quickly drying his tears. “Don’t be ridiculous. She’s dead! Can’t you see that?!” He now held Marie’s body in his arms and carried her away.
     Jack watched him sadly. Then he turned to the woman. “Is his pain not already severe enough? What gives you the right to say such things?”
     The woman shook herself and held out her arms. “Now I feel like myself again. It’s unbelievable what that brazen woman managed to do. To tie me up like a package. Apologies. Who am I? Don’t you know? You were looking for me!”
     Merlin and Jack looked at each other, confused. Merlin cleared his throat and shrugged.    “No! We honestly don’t know!”
   “I’m the Star Fairy! Who else would I be?” She looked at Jack and Merlin indignantly. Jack surveyed her from head to toe.
   “You’re the Star Fairy? Then tell us what we need to do. And what is your price?”
   “You must get to the other side; to another time. And only a child of the stars from the future can open the portal.” Jack frowned.
   “To the other side? What good will that do? The curse is here!”
     The fairy approached the water. “The curse is independent of space and time. It’s taking all future children with it in death. All children who are direct descendants of Marie and Gray. The curse is extremely powerful. But love is more powerful still.”
   “But children are gravely ill here too!” Merlin explained.
   “They’ll be healthy again as soon as the curse is broken. The children of this time are Marie’s heart. And, as far as I know, it’s even affecting the children in Camelot’s lower village, am I right?”    Jack and Merlin nodded.
   “And Marie cares dearly for these children!” Gray completed the sentence.
     The fairy nodded and smiled at Gray.
   “Where’s Marie?” Jack asked.
   “I laid her across the horses. How can we break this curse? The Soul Catcher already has what she wanted. My Marie! What now?”
   The fairy extended her hand. “Please give me the fruits that were given to you.” The men rummaged in their pockets and gave them to her.
   “Why do you need them?” Merlin enquired.
   “I’ll show you something.” She placed the fruit in the water, held her hand over them and the water bubbled around the fruit, moulding them into a stone which glowed blue, pink and white in colour. The fairy passed the stone to Gray.  “The stems and the leaves are my price.” She winked at him.
   “But I thought you wanted the soul of a child of the stars!” Gray took the stone and put it in his pocket.
   “Never! I chose these children and gave them their name.”  Gray looked at her, confused. “And before you ask, Gray, no you are not a child of the stars. I only choose female children. Children who are born with special abilities. You must go now. The child in the future is waiting for you! Take the stone and give it to the child. She knows what she must do with it. It’s the key to breaking the curse. And Gray, Marie lives on in your heart!”  Then she vanished in a bright light.
     Jack stood in the middle of the water, staring at a yellow light. “Hurry! She doesn’t have much power to keep the portal open for long!” Jack shouted to the others. Merlin and Gray quickly ran up the hill to fetch the horses and Marie. They managed to make it through the portal at the last moment.
     Josy greeted the men, smiling.
   “Hello, I’m Josy. And I’m a child of the stars!” She explained, full of pride. Melissa looked at her duck pond, bewildered, where Merlin, Jack and Gray had appeared with their horses. She approached them slowly and greeted them.   
   “Hello, I’m Melissa. Josy’s mum!” Jack shook her hand warmly. Gray stared at her in disbelief, looking for similarities in her face. If the fairy was right, the woman standing before him now was a direct relative of him and Marie.
     Melissa stared at Gray with just as much disbelief. “You look like the man in the picture! Melissa exclaimed. Gray looked at her, frowning.
   “What picture?” Merlin interrupted them.
   “You can explain later. We don’t have much time left. Look, the moon is almost completely dark red. It mustn’t be allowed to turn black. Then all will be lost. Josy, we’ve been told you can help us.”
     The little girl nodded. “Me and the three people in the sky!” She gestured upwards. Toshiko, Owen and Marie descended from the sky. Marie looked at her lifeless body.
   “Gray!” She said. Gray reached out his hand, wanting to touch her, but it was obviously not possible.
   “I’m sorry.” He turned to Toshiko. Toshiko smiled.
   “It’s ok. You can’t change it,” then she turned to jack, who was standing there smirking cheekily as usual. “Hey, Jack!”
   “Hey, Tosh, you look good! And Owen. I hope you’re well?” Jack’s expression became serious. Owen nodded.
   “At least here I know where I stand!”
   “And are you together?” Toshiko shook her head.
   “No. A grey wall of fog stops us from getting any closer. But we’ve had some really nice conversations!” She winked at Jack and her gaze fell to the floor, her cheeks turning red. Jack understood.
     Josy tugged on Gray’s sleeve. “Please give me the stone the Star Fairy gave you.”
Gray handed it to her. Josy kissed it and placed it in a crystal bowl. “You must stay here. You too, please, Mummy! We are a family and only our love can undo the Soul Catcher’s curse. And our kindness. The Star Fairy told me the love and kindness which runs through our veins will break the curse and all the children will get better!”
     Jack took out a knife and cut his finger with it. Then he passed it to Gray. Both brothers let their blood drip onto the stone. Melissa reached for the knife. But Josy held her hand tightly. “No, Mummy, just those two. The women don’t need to do it!” Josy laughed. Then she lifted the bowl up high, passing it to Marie. Marie took it and floated up towards the moon with it. Then she disappeared.
     Gray gazed at the moon impatiently. “What now?”
   “Wait,” answered Jack. Melissa went into the house to check on Greg. His head didn’t feel as hot anymore. The doctor looked contentedly at the thermometer.
   “The fever has gone down a little! Melissa, I’ll come by tomorrow to check on him!” The doctor said goodbye.
     Overjoyed, Melissa stroked her son’s head. Gray now stood next to her and gestured at the young boy. “If he takes after me and Jack, he’s tough and he’ll be better soon.” Melissa looked at Gray. Then she went over to the sideboard and handed Gray a picture. Gray swallowed. In the picture were him and Marie and she held a baby in her arms. They looked very happy.
   “That, that in the picture, that baby, that baby is me,” stammered Melissa. “I was told that my parents, you, were on an expedition...” Gray interrupted her.
   “Who would have thought it possible? Believe me; this is all a bit crazy for me too. But it feels nice. Family!” He smiled happily.
     Outside, the sky seemed to be brightening. Merlin and Jack looked expectantly at Marie’s lifeless body, which they had taken down from the horses and laid out on the grass. The moon continued to brighten and eventually disappeared. The sun shone and the birds began to chirp again.
     Josy clapped her hands, thrilled, and ran into the house, beaming with joy. “Mummy, Mummy. We did it. The sun is shining again!” Melissa hugged her daughter close.
   “You did very well, my darling!” Gray stroked Josy’s hair affectionately.
    “Brave, clever, little Josy!” He winked at her and she winked back at him, grinning cheekily. Gray laughed and went outside.
   “Mummy, Mummy!” Greg woke up and called softly to Melissa. She hurried to him at once and felt his head. It felt normal again. Tears ran down her cheeks and she smiled exuberantly at her son.
     Gray looked up at the sky. Toshiko and Owen held each other tightly and kissed. “Thanks,” Toshiko shouted to Gray and the two of them went off towards the sun. Then they were gone.
     Gray searched the sky for Marie. She was nowhere to be seen. Jack and Merlin had given up hope of a happy ending for Gray and Marie and covered Marie’s body with a blanket. Tears rolled down Gray’s cheeks. He knelt over her, pushed the blanket from her face and kissed her cold forehead. Tears dripped onto her.
   “But how can she be dead? Our daughter is here, in that house. I saw it for myself in the picture. We were happy! It was in this time! We were happy!” Gray sobbed. Jack and Merlin stood comfortingly next to him.
     Jack clapped his brother on the shoulder. “Let her go, Gray. You can’t do anything more for her! I’m sorry!”
     Merlin checked her pulse once more, but couldn’t find anything. Then he listened to her chest.  He grinned.
   “She’s coming back. I can hear her heart beating. It’s weak, but she’s coming back!”
     Gray held Marie’s head in his hands and called her name over and over. She opened her eyes very slowly and looked into his.
   “Gray,” she breathed softly.
   “Don’t ever leave me again, do you hear me?” Gray pleaded with her amid tears of joy.
   “If you promise it to me too?” She responded softly.
     Gray nodded. “Never. I promise! Side by side. Hand in hand. No matter where!”
     Marie smiled feebly and nodded. “Hand in hand through space and time!”



The End

  


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