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When we last left off, Swift's side-trip to Earth had just been halted by... a familiar presence: **Rayek – what?** **And sweet water to you, lifemate mine,** he sent lazily. **I’ve come to inquire how much longer you intend to dally out here.** **I don’t know. A while. Skywise is going to show me a world like ours–** **Mm, I’ve been studying it from the Palace.** **That’s nothing. Come with us. Come see it for yourself – feel it for yourself!** Rayek’s aura flickered in dry amusement. **While I always enjoy… feeling things with Skywise,** his sending dripped with sarcasm, **Savin has prepared a meal of seared bluefin and fried cuttlefish, and I do not intend to see it go to waste.** **All right. Have fun. We’ll see you later.** **You’ve been gone a year already.** Tam started at that. **No! Can’t be. We just got here. Skywise?** But Fahr’s spirit only shrugged. **I’m aware time holds little meaning for spirits,** Rayek continued. **And I won’t say Savin and I cannot… amuse each other,** he added with a wicked spirit-smirk in Fahr’s direction. **Har, har, blackhair.** **And we value your freedom. Still, we do not think it an unreasonable request to dine with our lifemates at least once a year.** Tam sighed. **Well… can’t you both come join us?** **Tempting. But as I said, Savin spent a long time preparing this meal, and I do not intend it to see it wasted. And while it pains me to have to do this…** **No, it doesn’t,** Fahr sent irritably. **Not really, no,** Rayek admitted. **Now, you have until the count of eight to return to the Palace.** A tremor shook Tam’s aura. Had she been in her skin, she would have felt her hackles rise. She hated ultimatums. **Or what?** His spirit glowed with wicked delight. **You know what.** **You wouldn’t!** Fahr charged. **You know I will. Eight. Seven.** **He’s bluffing,** Tam insisted. **You’ll find out soon enough. Six. Five.** **Just one more planet,** Tam bargained. **We’ll come back tomorrow.** **Four. I suggest you start back now if you wish to be home in time.** **Aw, come on, blackhair!** Fahr pleaded. **For Freefoot’s sake!** Tam cried. **You’re being childish.** **Three. Two.** **You get me sick all over the floor, and you’ll have to clean it up!** **We do what we must, lifemate mine. One.** Rayek’s aura started to disperse. Tam felt the pressure ease from her hand and she knew he had returned to the Palace. **Scat, scat, scat!** Tam raged as she pictured herself back inside the crystal pod, and within an instant she was there watching Rayek calmly stride towards the two wrapstuff cocoon lying on a stoneshaped pallet. He was already drawing his dagger. No, no, no, I am not getting husk-shock again! She plunged down into the nearest cocoon. She felt Rayek’s hair ruffle at the edge of aura as she forced herself under the layers of wrapstuff and skin and sinew. Rayek sliced open the cocoon. The body of Swift, Blood of Ten Chiefs, opened its eyes. “There are you,” Rayek said cheerfully. “I hate you!” she spat, though her voice was too weak and drowsy to summon the necessary venom. She slowly lifted her head, fighting the sensation of vertigo. She had cut that much too close. The last time she had waited too long to re-enter her body, and learned all about the phenomenon of death, only in reverse. Rayek only clucked his tongue chidingly and turned to Skywise’s cocoon. Careful not to make any sudden moves, Swift sat up, rubbing her sore head. After a year of total freedom of dimension, her body felt much too small. Her skin seemed almost painfully tight. Coarse, earthbound sensations flooded her consciousness. The bright light of the Scroll Chamber. The sound of Rayek’s dagger slicing through wrapstuff. The smell of seared fish and sugary wine. The red-and-white blur coming towards. Swift blinked repeatedly until her vision focused. “Well…” Savin drawled. “ Look who’s back.”** The EQ Alternaverse, Version 2.0 is now LIVE Still fixing a few broken links for a couple pictures and trying to figure out why my web-builder program decided to do half the fics in one font, and the other half in another (I said Times New Roman, curse you!) Bear with me over the next few days.