Chapter One: A Long, Strange Trip Begins

Melissa woke slowly, hearing the sound of birds chirping and a stream somewhere nearby. That's a very strange thing to hear in a jail cell, she thought. Perhaps even stranger, was the feeling of warm sunshine on one side of her face. Melissa lay still, enjoying the warmth of the sunlight and the sounds of nature around her. She became aware of something poking the corner of her mouth and sleepily raised a hand to brush it away. Her mind jolted more completely awake when her fingers encountered what felt like fir needles and a small twig. Melissa opened her eyes and sat up. She was no longer in the holding cell where she'd gone to sleep late the previous night. At least, I think it was last night, she thought.

She was lying on a soft layer of fir needles covering a gentle slope. She was on the edge of a forest; dark fir trees provided a strong contrast to sunlit maples and alders. There was brilliant sunlight illuminating the clearing where she now sat. Blue sky hung above her, a deeper and somehow richer blue than she'd ever seen before. Looking down the slope, Melissa could just make out the bright flashes of sunlight reflecting off the water of the stream she'd been listening to. Her mind at first refused to do more than merely cataloging her surroundings, but slowly the shock faded and she began to wonder if the police had judged her and convicted her while she slept. Maybe they'd dumped her off somewhere out in the wilderness to serve out her sentence in exile. Her heart was racing at the thought of being lost in the wild without any trace of woodcraft. How will I eat? Melissa thought wildly. Oh my god, where will I find a bathroom?

Finally, the absurdity of her thoughts made her chuckle, and her heart settled down to its normal pace. She took stock of what she had and what she knew, figuring that once she knew that she could begin to look for the things she needed. She first looked for her purse to see if she had a cell phone or any money. She not only did not have those things, she didn't have a purse. She also didn't have her normal clothes. Instead of slacks and a blouse, she was wearing a light woolen dress of gray and brown that looked as if it would be worn by a character in one of her husband Charlie's stories. Simple, stout wool dress and stockings, sturdy leather shoes, and a wool cloak complete with hood rounded out her clothing ensemble. Her purse was gone, but there was a leather satchel lying on the ground beside her. Melissa opened the satchel and began sorting through the contents, finding some bread and hard yellow cheese wrapped in gingham cloth, a water bottle (empty), and a small bottle of something that sloshed invitingly. She removed the cork from this last bottle and sniffed tentatively. It smelled like some kind of wine; it had a potent tang yet smelled sweet like honey. This must be mead, she thought as she took a small sip. It warmed her throat and stomach as it went down, and made her realize how empty her stomach was. I'll save that for later. There was a small knife hooked to the belt she wore, more useful for eating and cooking than for defense. Will I need to defend myself here? Wherever 'here' is?

Melissa got unsteadily to her feet, her hand going to her head as a wave of dizziness washed over her. She wobbled a moment and then it passed and she stood straight and looked around. There were no signs of civilization, and no sign of people in the vicinity. I have always heard that if you follow a stream sooner or later you will find people. I hope that's true, she thought. In any case, it's something to try and I need water anyway. With a decisive nod, Melissa moved down the slope toward the stream. There were willow trees growing along the bank, the long strands of leaves hiding the water as well as a curtain. Melissa pushed her way through the green wall and found herself at the edge of a small brook, only about two to three feet across in some places, though it spread out to nearly six feet in slower stretches that she could see. The water was sparkling and totally clear. Melissa was nervous about drinking from a stream without knowing where the water was coming from, but she was thirsty and the day was warm. She would need water soon and so she had to take a chance. There are water bugs skimming on the surface, and I hear frogs, so it should be healthy. As she knelt on the bank and dipped the water bottle beneath the surface, she was startled to feel how cold the water was. It must be coming straight from a glacier, she thought. That meant it was probably much cleaner than a lowland stream.

Melissa lifted the water bottle and took a small sip, intending to spit it out if she detected anything wrong with the water. The first taste was better than any water she'd ever tasted back home. She drank deeply and then refilled the bottle, corking it securely and placing it in her satchel. As she stood once more, the strangeness of her situation overwhelmed her once more. How is it that I know I'm not near home anymore? Where the heck am I, and what am I going to do? Melissa's tears began to flow without warning. Oh dear God, I forgot about my poor Charlie! If this is happening to me, she thought, what must be going on with him? Melissa sat on the stream bank and wept for a long time, how long she didn't have any way of knowing, but the sun moved a ways in the sky over her head before she felt herself calming again.

"Dear God," Melissa prayed out loud. "If you are watching over me somehow, I could really use some guidance right about now. And if it's not too much to ask, please watch over Charlie and give him my love. I truly wish he were here with me right now, but mostly I want to know that he is alright." She sighed, she knew she was asking a lot and not giving anything in return. She was returning to the ways of a child in the presence of the Unknown. She smiled a little, the first such smile since she'd awakened in this place. "Thank you, God, for the food, the water, and the nice weather." Melissa hoped her late-blooming gratitude might make up for her needy wishes earlier. She valued independence and self-reliance. She felt slightly ashamed of herself for sounding like she was begging for help. If she were a character in one of Charlie's stories, people would give up on her thinking she was the damsel in distress instead of the heroine at the beginning of a long adventure.

Those thoughts seemed to echo oddly in her mind, as if they were vying for her attention somehow. What if I am a character in Charlie's story? Melissa thought. She looked at that idea from every side, turning it over and over in her mind. It would certainly explain how I went to sleep in a jail in our hometown and woke up in the forest dressed like a village maiden, she thought. Her heart beat faster as the certainty built that this was at least a portion of the answer. Well, then, Melissa told herself. If I am to be the heroine of my own story, I need to start thinking like a hero. What should I do first? Oh, I already did that, didn't I? I took inventory and found water and food. I guess it's time to start moving. Melissa's stomach rumbled, reminding her that it was empty. I suppose food would be a good idea first. She used the knife (after wiping it carefully on the cloth) to cut a small piece of cheese and some of the bread. She wiped the knife blade again, wanting to clean it but thinking that washing it in the stream wasn't the right thing to do for some odd reason.

Melissa felt steadier once she finished the bread and cheese. It wasn't much in the way of a meal, but she found it satisfying and hoped it would keep her going until she found something better. She looked around her with a new sense of purpose and saw a level space above the far bank of the stream, about the height of her eyes. She couldn't tell what it was, but it looked as though it might offer better footing if nothing else. She nodded as though she had just won a debate with herself, gathered her skirts and jumped across the stream. She landed cleanly on the far bank, though she wavered a moment feeling like she was on the verge of falling into the water. She steadied and stepped farther up the bank, looking ahead to the level place. It's a dirt road, well, maybe a wagon track would be a better description of it. There were twin ruts worn through the grass into hard reddish dirt making it plain that wheeled vehicles of some sort passed this way at times.

She spent a few minutes looking about, trying to see something that would indicate the best direction to travel. There were still no signs of civilization in either direction that Melissa could detect. No sounds, other than the stream and the birds, to give her any guidance. The road curved gently in both directions, vanishing into forest a short ways from where she stood. Downhill is more likely to be where you'll find a town, Melissa told herself. She turned left and started walking. Within a few minutes, Melissa had passed out of the bright sunshine and into the dappled shade of the forest.

"You know," Charlie said to Melissa one day when they were sitting together talking. "I get the oddest feeling sometimes about my stories."

"What kind of feeling? That people will love them and we'll make lots of money when you publish?"

"Well, of course," he answered and they both laughed. After a moment of silence, he went on. "I feel like I've put so much of myself into them that they've somehow become real." Missy felt a wrenching in the pit of her stomach and looked at Charlie sharply. She had never spoken of her feelings about the stories, yet now he was describing the same thing she had felt for two years, that he was somehow putting himself into his writing and losing himself in the process. Melissa read his work and always had the strange feeling that she was reading about real people that she could clearly see in her mind when she closed her eyes. Sometimes, when she was reading one of his pieces for the first time, Melissa would have a brief sense of vertigo; a dizziness that would make her pause and wonder what had changed, before she shrugged it off and continued reading. It never happened outside of those situations, and after a few times, Melissa came to expect it when she read her husband's writing.

"I get to a point where I feel like the story has become too real," Charlie continued. "When I start feeling that way, it's like the story begins to tell itself. It scares me sometimes and I find it too hard to keep going."

"Maybe you need a break from Ingvar for a while?" Missy suggested.

"Maybe so," he agreed.

Charlie began other stories to take a break from his first novel. He wrote about a thief named Michaelina, whom everyone thought was a man. Missy liked this story, and thought the relationships Charlie was creating there were delightful. He also wrote about a young priestess and an aging hunter. Missy felt a special fondness for the priestess who endured the life of a social outcast while being prized for her special abilities.

For a time, Charlie seemed to be energized by this work, and Missy had all but forgotten his discomfort. He worked hard and was repaid for his efforts with stories that were tapestries of characters and places, victories and failures. Missy read every story he wrote when he was ready for her to see them, helping him to edit and polish. She was getting so used to the feeling of vertigo she felt when reading his work that she hardly noticed it anymore.

As they were closing out their third year of marriage, Charlie was still an unpublished author. He had developed a knack for starting new stories that possessed incredible detail and each one seemed to become a living thing for Missy as she read it. What he seemed to have trouble doing, was finishing the stories. When Missy talked to him about it, still being the supportive and concerned wife, he grew defensive and secretive. His behavior was growing more erratic with each passing month, and Missy had a gnawing feeling that she was losing her husband somehow, as if pieces of him were being stripped away. She became careworn, trying to support them both while Charlie wrote.

Missy suggested that Charlie write some short stories that could be published in magazines as a way of getting his name out to the public. It will also help his confidence and our budget if he sells anything, she thought. Charlie at first didn't want to permit himself to get distracted from what he saw as his real work, but finally agreed to give it a try.

Missy had wanted a dog since they got married, but it seemed irresponsible to add another mouth to the family without a corresponding increase in their earnings, and so she was still waiting. Charlie decided to write a short story about finding the perfect puppy for his wife and surprising her with it for Valentine's Day. The story was sweet, describing Charlie finding a Golden Retriever pup and how he had tied a big red bow to the puppy's collar. He described the dog perfectly, so clearly that Missy had no trouble imagining how soft its fur would feel, how cold and wet its nose would be. She felt the familiar vertigo as she finished reading the story.

Missy leaned closer to Charlie and told him how wonderful the story was and how she was certain that someone would want to publish it right away. Then she felt something brush her shoe, followed by a strange sound and a cold wet touch at her bare ankle. She looked down in amazement to find a puppy looking expectantly up at her. It was a Golden Retriever pup, with a big red bow tied to its collar, exactly as Charlie had described in his story. She squealed in delight and picked the puppy up, nuzzling against its soft fur.

"Charlie! Thank you, she's perfect," she told him. Then she took a good look at his face and stopped. Charlie was looking at the dog in shock, his face was deathly white. "What's wrong honey?"

"Where did that dog come from?" Charlie asked. Missy laughed at him uncertainly.

"You bought her for me, didn't you?"

"No," he said slowly, "I actually did not buy him for you. I've never seen him before, but he's exactly what I pictured in my mind when I wrote the story."

"She's just what I pictured when I read it, too," Missy told him. She was inclined to let it pass, thinking that Charlie was denying it to avoid taking responsibility for spending money they didn't really have to buy the puppy. But Charlie's agitation was getting worse.

"It's like he somehow became real and stepped out of my story," Charlie said half to himself. "There are times I feel like my stories are really happening somewhere, responding directly to what I write."

"I've had that feeling sometimes myself," Missy told him. "When I read your work, sometimes I get this weird feeling that I can't describe and then they seem real to me. I felt it just now reading about this puppy."

"Oh my dear God," he said slowly and very softly. "Missy, what if those weird feelings I've had about my stories means that the same thing happened?"

"What are you talking about, hun?"

"That feeling that they're somehow real," he said impatiently. "I do fine writing a story up to the point where it seems to take on a life of its own, where I start to feel that I'm describing real people having real adventures, and then I just can't go any farther with them. What if the bad things are just as real as the good? What if I am somehow harming innocent people by writing about their pain and hardships?" Missy shivered suddenly, thinking of the strange vertiginous sensations she had sometimes when reading her husband's stories.

Melissa walked causally, conserving her strength. She had no reason to hurry, especially since she had no immediate needs or even an idea of where she was. Until she knew where she was she didn't feel that she could make any plans. As she walked she alternated between worrying about Charlie and trying to figure out how Charlie's power of creation worked. She was forced to concede that somehow, her husband had been able to make the puppy appear in their home as she had read the story, unless of course, he had lied about not buying the dog. But to her knowledge, Charlie had never lied to her before about anything serious. In fact, he was such a terrible liar that he wouldn't normally think of trying to hide anything from her if she asked. The puppy had been real; she'd held it in her arms and played with it. And yet, the police told her at one point during their questioning that there had been no puppy in the house when they arrived, nor any sign that one had been there. Could I have imagined the dog? Melissa thought. I suppose it's possible, but Charlie reacted so strongly that I believe the dog really did just appear. And what if he's right that somehow he created everything that he wrote about? Could that actually happen? And so it went, round and round in her head as she walked through the forest.

Melissa had been walking for what seemed like a couple hours when she thought she heard the sounds of a conversation nearby. She was too far away to make out any words, but it definitely sounded like two people talking. She quickened her pace, hoping to find someone that could answer some of her questions. She saw more light through the trees ahead, and reasoned that she must be approaching another clearing in the forest. Melissa was nearly running when she reached the edge of the clearing, almost bursting from the trees to stand blinking in the clear sunshine. I must look like a madwoman emerging from the woods like this, she thought, smiling.

Not far ahead of her was a wooden wagon stopped in the road. A tired looking brown horse was hitched to the wagon, and stood patiently at rest, occasionally bending its head down to nibble at some grass. Beside the wagon, a grassy expanse stretched down to the stream bank providing a comfortable place for the picnic. A man and a woman sat on a blanket there in the sunlight, eating and drinking, and talking softly. Theirs must have been the voices that Melissa had heard as she approached, as there didn't appear to be anyone else nearby. They stopped talking and looked at Melissa as though startled by her sudden appearance.

"Oh my, excuse me," said Melissa. "I hope I didn't startle you." The man didn't say anything, only gazed at Melissa. The woman, however, was friendlier. They seemed ageless, older than middle years yet young at the same time. Melissa really couldn't decide what to think of them at first. They seem… familiar, somehow, she thought. Do I know them from somewhere? Oh, I hope not, because I really can't think of who they are.

"Not to worry at all, dear," she said. "Are you traveling alone?" Melissa worried briefly about revealing her vulnerability, but decided that she had to take a chance on these people if she was going to begin to understand what was happening to her.

"Yes," Melissa said simply. "To tell the truth, I really have no idea where I am." The man and woman looked at each other, clearly not sure what to make of this. The man stood and took a couple steps toward Melissa. She was wondering what he was up to, when he suddenly produced a small knife and held it toward her as though he were ready to stab her. Melissa gave a small squeak of surprise and took a step backward. The man suddenly gave a tight little smile and called to the woman without taking his eyes off Melissa.

"She's a demon, alright," he said. "She flinched at the sight of a blessed silver knife."

"Is that what you're trying to prove?" Melissa asked, abruptly feeling less frightened and more amused. "I thought you wanted to rob me." Melissa strode toward him and put her hand directly on the knife blade while the man gawked at her. "I am no demon, just a lost and confused traveler."

"Lucas, put that fool knife away and stop scaring the poor woman," the woman said irritably. She stood and came to Melissa. "I'm called Patience and this big oaf is my husband, Lucas."

"Pleased to meet you both," said Melissa. "My name is Melissa. I'm sorry if I startled you or seemed a bit strange, I just found myself in these woods with no idea how I got here. I'm a bit confused about a lot of things, I'm afraid. You're the first people I've seen."

"Are you sure you're not a demon?" Lucas asked, squinting at her. Melissa laughed and he smiled in spite of his suspicion.

"As sure as anyone can be, I suppose," Melissa told him. "My husband always called me his angel, so there's at least one person who doesn't think I'm a demon." Melissa's eyes began to tear up again at the thought of Charlie so far away and herself being unable to reach him. Patience laid a gentle hand on her arm.

"Is there something wrong with your husband, Melissa? Your eyes got very sad when you mentioned him."

"He's injured and they wouldn't let me see him, and then I wake up here and don't know what anything means anymore," Melissa began crying in earnest as the full depth of her fear and grief came welling to the surface and her words rushed out in a torrent. Patience put an arm around her shoulders and hugged her tightly. After a moment, Lucas also put an arm around her shoulders and led both women over to the blanket where he and his wife urged Melissa to sit. He sat a short distance from them, knowing that this would be best handled between women.

Melissa told her tale and gradually became calm again. As she calmed, she noticed the man and woman exchanging glances from time to time as she spoke, yet they didn't interrupt her or show any doubt of her veracity. As she reached the end of her tale, Melissa felt her throat hurting from her crying and all the talking. She laid a hand at the base of her throat and tried to swallow enough to ease the pain. Lucas noticed this and poured some golden wine into a small glass and then handed it to Melissa.

"Drink it dear, it's mead and should help your throat to feel better," Patience told her. "It should also help your nerves to settle." Melissa sipped from the glass, at once smelling the alcohol mixed with the scent of honey, and feeling the warmth spread down her throat and throughout her body.

"That seems to help, thank you," said Melissa.

"So if I understand what you've told us," Patience began. "You think your husband's story created this world? And now that he has become aware of this fact, he is having a crisis of faith and guilt?"

"I hadn't thought of it quite like that," Melissa answered. "But, yes, I suppose that is accurate. Wait, you said 'this world?' Then I'm in one of Charlie's stories?"

"Yes Melissa," Lucas said gently. "I may not know what Charlie wrote or why, but the fact is you are in one of the worlds he created. And now you have to decide what to do about it." Melissa covered her confusion by sipping more mead. The wine was already making her feel relaxed, almost sleepy.

"You're implying that I have some control over what happens, is that right?" Melissa asked after a few moments of silence. Patience looked sharply at her husband but said nothing. Lucas smiled at her.

"It sounds to me, from what you told us, that Charlie only made the shape of the creation," he said. "I believe that you gave it life. If that's true, then yes, you have control within his worlds and perhaps beyond them once you learn how to use it."

"Melissa, there are many types of people," Patience said. "But basically, you can express the groups as those who create, those who destroy, and those who try to live within those extremes. You and Charlie are among those who create, obviously. The vast majority of people we meet in our lives are simply trying their best to balance between creation and destruction, just trying to live their lives. And then there are those who live to destroy the creations of others."

"As a creator, most people you encounter will support you based on their predilection for creation," said Lucas. "Their affinity to you will be proportional to their alignment with creation and their opposition to destruction. The ones you must avoid, or defend against, are those whose alignment falls naturally closer to destruction. They will try to harm you or block your endeavors."

"Those you should truly fear, and prepare to fight, are the forces of destruction," said Patience. "Those entities are polar opposites to your force of creation. If a creator and a destroyer were to directly oppose one another, entire worlds may be obliterated regardless of who eventually wins."

"Then how do you protect what you've created?" Melissa asked.

"By finding champions," Patience said. "You find champions who support your creation and who will fight to preserve it." Melissa thought about this idea for a few moments. Patience and Lucas were silent, allowing her to think it through.

"If only there were a way for me to find the heroes my husband wrote about in his stories," Melissa said softly. "I'm sure they, or some of them at least, could be persuaded to help me find Charlie."

"But why should they fight for you?" Lucas asked her. "What will you tell them to inspire them to join you? What are you fighting for?"

"I'm fighting for my husband," Melissa said sharper than she intended. "I just want to set him free and be with him again. I'm frightened for him."

"That might be enough for you," Lucas said. "But will it be enough for your champions? Do you even know who it is that opposes you?"

"I have a vague memory of a shadowy figure standing nearby when everything went crazy last night," Melissa told them. "I couldn't see any details, only a vague form that looked like a person. But I had the strangest feeling it was grinning at me. Like it was really enjoying the pain and fear I was feeling." Lucas and Patience looked at each other for a moment; some secret communication seemed to pass between the married couple.

"That could be the one that is your enemy in this," Patience said cautiously. "You must put a name to your enemy before he can be defeated. And each time you defeat him, he may come back in another guise, until you discover his true name. Only then may destruction, or evil as you would say, be truly stopped." Melissa took another sip of mead, and felt herself becoming very sleepy.

"That sounds like the monster in a B-grade movie," Melissa said with a smile. "You always have to kill them three times and even then you can't be sure they won't get up again for a sequel."

"I think that may be an apt description," Patience said with a smile. "Even if I don't understand what a movie is."

"There is one more piece of advice we must give you before you leave us," Lucas told her.

"Leave?" Melissa asked in confusion. Her head was feeling very heavy suddenly. She found herself lying on the grass beside the blanket without any memory of having moved. She was intensely tired and struggling to hold on to the words she heard.

"You can choose to go backward, and you will find a place where you can live in peace, perhaps even happiness," Patience told her.

"Or you can move forward," Lucas said. "Move forward, and find the champions you seek to set things right. Be the Goddess of the worlds your husband Created. Use the power of Creation to aid your champions in their struggle to set Charlie free and defeat the demons of destruction that oppose you."

"Demons?" Melissa asked in a sleep-slurred voice.

"They will seek to stop you," Lucas continued. "But if you keep moving forward you will find a way to overcome them even in the darkest hour. Trust yourself and your champions, as we trust in you Melissa, as our champion."

Melissa thought she saw them both lean forward to touch her forehead lightly in blessing. A white light blossomed behind her eyes as she fell into a deep sleep. Once again, Melissa was alone.

Melissa came awake slowly, feeling at once refreshed from sleeping and stiff from sleeping so long in one position on the grass. The light coming through the trees above looked golden-red. It's either sunrise or sunset from that color, she thought. How long have I been asleep? She sat up and looked about. There was dew on the grass around her, and tendrils of ground fog still wound through the trees. Morning, then, she thought.

She was in a different place; there was no sign of the wagon, the horse, or of Patience and Lucas. In fact, as she looked around, she saw that there was no road and no place for a wagon to have stopped. She was sitting on a patch of green grass in a very small clearing in dense forest. There were no identifying features, only trees as far as she could see. Well, she thought, that's not entirely true.

Directly ahead of her was a rough-looking footpath. It was studded with rocks and nearly choked off by brambles. A shiver ran up her spine as she vaguely remembered something about moving forward. Instinctively, Melissa looked to see what was behind her. She saw a clear path winding off into the trees, smooth brown dirt lined by banks of green grass. She could hear Lucas speaking in her memory, telling her that she could go backward and find a place to live in peace and maybe in happiness. Or she could move forward, and set things right.

Melissa realized she was hungry, and felt for her satchel. She used her small knife to cut off a piece of bread and some cheese. She unstopped her water bottle, not wanting to taste any more mead for a while. As she ate, she thought about her predicament. It seemed like her meeting with the married couple had been a dream, and yet the memory still had a strangely compelling quality. She stared straight ahead at the rough path before her. She realized that she wasn't even contemplating taking the easy path backward, not thinking about giving up on Charlie. She was instead thinking of how to begin, and what to tell her champions when she found them.

Melissa thought about the various characters in Charlie's stories, their strengths and weaknesses, and the kind of people they were. She thought, too, about the way that her husband had woven his wife into his stories. It was a habit that had originated as a playful expression of his love, and then had become a habit. He wrote about Melissa being a goddess within each world. Sometimes she was a living presence and sometimes just a forgotten deity known only to a few through a beautiful statue. She had been amused at first, and then later became somewhat embarrassed to think of what other people might think if there was always a goddess named Melissa in the story.

The first time Charlie had written her into the story, it had been in response to her reaction to his joke. When he'd said he wanted to create a goddess character based on her, she'd told him that he would probably make her a shriveled old crone. They'd laughed together, but Melissa had seen the mischievous glint in his eyes. When he'd written the opening chapters of Ingvar's story, she had indeed been included as a crone, an old seeress that gave out proclamations of doom and summoned warriors to their greatest adventures. That might actually be useful now, thought Melissa. I wonder if I can reach Ingvar's palace and appear as the crone? That might just work to get him to come along.

Charlie had put a lot of himself into Ingvar Goreson, and Melissa had always had a special fondness for the character. She wondered if the man would be as fascinating to her as the character was. Melissa realized then that she had decided to move forward, and that Ingvar would be the first champion to recruit. But even the powerful barbarian lord would be unable to save Charlie alone. She frowned. There would have to be others involved if they were to succeed. Ingvar would be a powerful warrior and a strong leader, but he could not face magic alone. Melissa herself, if she believed Patience and Lucas, could possibly work powerful magic, but that was unproven. And I really don't know if they were real or just a dream, Melissa thought with a smile. She rather thought they were real, though she had almost nothing to base that belief on.

So I will need a warrior, and someone to work powerful magic, and maybe someone very clever and stealthy, she thought. She nibbled on the cheese and drank more water as she considered all of the stories she could remember from her husband's work. Like building blocks clicking into place, names fit into her ideas creating a small party of heroes that should have a very good chance to overcome nearly any enemy she could think of. Of course, she only had the half-finished manuscripts that Charlie was writing to go on, and also the books from other writers that she had read for enjoyment, but she thought that she had a pretty solid idea of what made a good adventure party. She nodded to herself as she ran through the names in her head and began to focus on the places those characters would be found. She concentrated on finding them at the end of what Charlie had written for them, at times where she knew them the best.

Melissa packed her few belongings in the leather satchel and rose to her feet. She concentrated on the land of Semaar, the land that was ruled by Ingvar Goreson. She also focused on the image of the crone as Charlie had written her. She imagined what it would feel like to be shrouded in black wool, clutching a gnarled wooden staff. She concentrated so hard that she could feel sweat breaking across her brow. When she felt that she was ready, she took a step forward towards the rough path ahead.

There was a bright light behind her eyes, and the she felt the world move beneath her feet and nearly stumbled. The first thing Melissa saw as she opened her eyes was the hand of an old woman clutching a wooden staff directly in front of her face. She smiled. It worked! Melissa thought triumphantly. And then a horrible thought ran through her mind. What if I can't change back?

She sighed and started walking. The only way through this is to keep moving forward, she thought. The path before her was narrow but well defined. There were rocks studding the dirt, but it was fairly easy to walk without fear of stumbling. The trail led downhill through the trees ahead. The air was cold and felt like she was at a high altitude, just like the hills surrounding the city of Semaar. If this is the right place and time, she thought, then Ingvar should be hunting nearby.

A loud crashing sound caused her to give a startled cry and throw herself to the far side of the trail. A huge mass came crashing through the brush where she had been standing, veered away from her, and then continued down the path and out of sight. It was only a deer, a buck from the antlers she saw as her heart stopped trying to leap out of her chest. Melissa had nearly recovered when another crashing marked the passage of three horsemen in close pursuit of the buck. Melissa almost cried out as she recognized the lead rider by the huge double bladed war axe strapped to his back. The huge man was already gone by the time Melissa thought to call out to him.

Obviously I will need to talk to Ingvar sometime when he is sitting still, she thought with a tired grin. But she was exalted; her first effort at magic had worked. She had changed herself and her location by focusing her mental image on what she wanted to do, and then stepping forward. Now that's acting more like the heroine of my story, she thought with a soaring satisfaction.