Over The Ocean And Into The Woods

Title: Over The Ocean And Into The Woods
Author: Hannah 'Rainwoman’ Orlove
Fandoms: Sleepy Hollow
Pairings: Ichabod/Horseman
Rating: PG-13 to R (Homosexual themes, gothic ambience)
Disclaimer: I don't own them. I have no money, just a few back issues of Green Lantern and X-Men. Please don't sue. Notes: Ichabod and the Horseman (Christiaan, borrowed shamelessly from ZzoaozZ) pledged their fealty to each other in 1802 and it’s currently 2002. Ichabod has grown into his own as a witch. The Headless Horseman is now a story for all non-Sleepy Hollow residents. German being spoken is indicated by [].


Ichabod was the first of the pair to wake. Christiaan almost never slept, but when he did he seemed to be making up for lost time; it was impossible to rouse him. Ichabod didn't mind. The time he spent in the arms of the Hessian were some of his favorite moments; he was in a cocoon of warmth and safety. When his lover did begin to wake, Ichabod sped the process along with a question.

[Christiaan?]

[Yes, Ichabod?]

[I was thinking of going back to New York soon.]

This pulled the Hessian out of the realm of sleep. [Why? You went this summer. Is something wrong?]

[The funeral for one of Katrina’s great-granddaughters is in two days.]

Christiaan let out a sigh. Switching to Ichabod’s native language, his reply was terse. “If you must.” It was no secret between the two that the former mercenary held only animosity towards the descendents of the Van Tassels. Since Ichabod left them in 1802 they had only brought his partner more difficulty. “But come back soon. Halloween is coming.”

Ichabod smiled. “Miss our holiday? Never.” He didn't intend to. In the thirty years since the forming of “Oscar’s Club” and its annual costume contest, the two had won first prize six times. It was a yearly ritual they loved.

***

If you were to look at the Tree of the Dead in the Western Woods, you would most likely be surprised to see a small satchel appear to fly out of the tree’s roots, followed by a very pale, yet strikingly handsome man. After a moment, he would gather his wits and draw his hand, palm open, in front of his face, almost pulling at it. He'd make a fist, and you'd see a Japanese woman standing where the man had been. She'd look around, then pick up the satchel and leave for the direction of the Hollow.

You might not be watching, but others certainly were.

Ichabod, however, was unaware of this. He had come prepared for ghouls and ghosts looking for him, and even had taken measures against regular people. He didn't know that these people were watching him from almost half a world away, so the only hint to their presence was a small bit of magic in the air that was not worth noting, like the smell of cinnamon next to a bakery.

These viewers watched him pass through the countryside into the city and through the city to a hotel. Once they were certain he was settled in, they converged at the door of his home.

***

The Hessian was having a typical ride. Some hikers, a young couple, nothing he would worry about. Enough people had turned up dead in these woods to warrant caution when one entered with ill intentions.

He was riding back to the Tree when he felt his awareness of his surroundings alter. Pulling Daredevil to a halt, he paused, almost sniffing the air, to find the alien presence in his home. He didn't need to wait or look far; it came to him almost immediately.

The spell descended upon him faster than he could react. Christiaan tried to struggle, to no avail. He would have roared, had he been able to move of his own free will.

“Stop.”

This was unnecessary, but the weight these words carried to the other people in the clearing made it clear that some form of perceptible control was needed. His anger was tangible at this point.

“Excellent, Juan. Your intelligence proved correct, for once.” The voice’s owner paused, and then spoke again. “Look at me, Horseman.”

Christiaan had no choice but to turn and stare at his new master. A small young man with a receded hairline stared at him with pride he had not seen since Lady Van Tassel first called to him. He was wearing a simple brown cloak, like a monk of some sort, and was surrounded by almost twenty others dressed the same way. They all stared at him with an awe that can only come from viewing primordial forces of nature.

The man smiled. His voice was like velvet as he spoke: “I am your master now, Horseman. But this spell will wear off soon ” He paused, glancing at the others who had surrounded him “ So I need something more … solid. Give me your skull.”

Christiaan moved against his own accord; this was rape, committed by his new master using his slave’s own hands. He grasped his neck and pulled off his head. The flesh remained intact for a moment before turning into so much ash, which was scattered by a slight breeze. The pain wasn't as great as putting it back on, but he couldn't worry about that now. Without eyes, he could only feel where the man was. People were like lamps in the fog, lights without shape. With great care, the now-Headless Horseman leaned down and placed his skull in the hands of his new master.

“Sir?” This voice came from the other side of the clearing. “What about…well…the other?”

“Obscure our tracks. We want him to find us, but not too soon. Put some small conjuration over the ports. Rose, Dimitri, ready the portal.”

The Horseman didn't know what happened next, only that Daredevil started pawing the ground and as he was trying to control him, his awareness of the world stopped for a moment, then returned in a very different fashion. He was still surrounded by trees, but these were more alive. The Tree of the Dead was nowhere near here, as were Ichabod’s wards over his bones.

His master spoke again. “Find a hiding place here, Horseman. I will call you when I need you.” He turned and strode away from his slave, skull in hands. His followers joined him.

The Hessian spurred Daredevil, beginning a survey of the land he would now inhabit. He rode for almost twenty hours, never tiring or slowing. He passed spiders the size of dogs, what must have been a unicorn, and trees that moved when he came near. The pair found a secluded grove far from their point of entry. They stayed there for three days.

***

The funeral had been nice, as funerals go. He hadn't approached most of the other mourners, even disguised. It would have been too odd to explain how he'd known Eliza, or why he was here. Instead, he waited until the others had left. He then approached the grave.

“Eliza Walker
1920-2002
Loving sister and granddaughter
We shall not see her like again”

However sad that was, there was no way to change the truth of that statement. Magic had stopped flowing in Katrina’s descendents at the third generation removed. Eliza was the last child to have witchery, and she had borne no children. Ichabod knew of no other witch families near New York, or even of any in America. Pushing out with his awareness, he could still feel 'Liza, but now it was like looking at a photograph…She had been making a potion for her niece Abby to help her through the flu when she'd had the stroke. It came suddenly, as they sometimes do. She'd been in the hospital for almost a year. Ichabod had kept tabs on her; he'd missed her brother’s funeral, the family hadn't liked that…

Ichabod stiffened. He pushed his awareness out again, this time to a more familiar place.

The realization hit him harder than a bullet. He fainted.

***

The next thing he knew he was in a bed surrounded by many faces, almost all of which belonged to children; most of the adults in Katrina’s family were frightened of him. Eliza’s younger brother Jack spoke to the family. “He’s awake, children. You can go.” He turned to Ichabod. “Why are you here? We asked you to tell us if-”

“The Horseman’s gone.”

“...anything…” Ichabod’s comment caught up with Jack. “What do you mean, gone?”

“I mean gone. I can't feel him.”

“Oh God.” Most of the family knew of the relationship they had once had with the Hessian. Some denied it, while others helped care for the dead man as a sort of penitence. Jack was one of the latter. “Can I do anything? Where is he?”

Ichabod propped himself up on his elbows. “Take me back to Sleepy Hollow. Keep people out of the Western Woods. I don't know where he is.”

Jack nodded. Within a few hours Ichabod was back in his home, readying himself for the trip that lay ahead.

***

In the Western Woods, Ichabod closed his eyes and turned his face to the sky. He extended his arms and spread his hands, palms facing out. He turned his head, almost tasting the atmosphere.

‘No…No…Wait. Yes.’

He'd found a trail. He turned and strode to the source.

'The caster left a few days ago. I can find them.’

He felt the texture and essence of the spell. It wasn't like anything he had encountered in many years. But the caster could be found.

‘They are there.’ Eyes still closed, Ichabod readied himself for the transport.

Latching onto the essence with all his force of will, Ichabod pushed himself onto and into it, traveling in magic for an instant. He cried out.

‘Wait…it’s too far away…’ Fighting to stay conscious, he arrived on a cold floor. Opening his eyes, he glanced around, but could see nothing in the dark surrounding him. Gasping, he gathered himself together and pulled himself to his feet. He glanced around, hoping to find something from his new vantage point. He did.

“Kathy?” The voice was thick with unease and an accent Ichabod couldn't place. Turning, he faced a light so unexpected and bright that he threw up his arms to shield his eyes. “What've you found, dearie?”

“Who…Where am I?” Ichabod blinked, lowering his arms and staring at his new acquaintance. He was dressed in what Ichabod assumed were modern clothes, holding a lantern.

“You’re trespassing in Orylyn. How'd you get in here?” Amazement combined with suspicion was not a good thing to hear.

“What’s Orylyn?”

The other speaker shook his head. His cat, though aware of her other half’s confusion and worry, was content at the moment to stare up at this visitor. Her human continued speaking. “It’s in Great Britain. Look, you could have found this place easily enough, so why not just come in by the front door?”

“Britain?”

“Yeah. Don't you…” Cherry let out a sigh. “Kathy, stay here. I'll get Madame Dalry.” He turned to leave the room, muttering, “Bugger…” as he left Ichabod’s prone form behind him.

***

Zoran Ludd had been called from the campgrounds to Pritchard’s office. He'd been securing the area for the camp-out later this week. Twice each year the school had to be cleaned out and tended to. Ghosts tended to congregate in Orylyn’s walls and the exorcisms tended to disturb the younger students. The plumbing and heating problems, while not paranormal to any degree, were quite extensive and needed a lot of working space and little bother from children. It was simpler for all involved to have the students not in nurseries out of the buildings.

He took the small man from the hallway to the hospital wing as several other teachers looked upon the spectacle. They wouldn't say, but they were very scared. No one could tell how the man had gotten into the school, or why he hadn't shown up when he was of age to join. He had an amazing amount of magic in him, more than most of the faculty, in fact.

After he'd deposited the man, Ludd went back to the campgrounds. The others stayed for a while before going back to their beds. All made certain that protective measures were placed against the new person.

***

“Oh, good, you’re awake.”

Ichabod scrunched and rubbed his eyes. He had woken up just a few minutes ago, and was thankful someone had bothered to move him.

“Here, drink this.” A woman dressed in a starched white dress and apron spoke to him while handing him a cup of some orange liquid. Ichabod sipped it. “What’s your name?”

He stopped drinking the juice. “Oh, sorry.” He put the cup down and started to get out of the bed. “I am Ichabod Crane. I need to see if... ”

“No you don't, I'm afraid.” The woman pressed a hand down on his shoulder to keep him in place. “You just woke up; you need to get your strength back.”

He pushed her hand aside. “I faint often; don't worry about it. Once I wake up it means that I'm fine. Now let me up.”

“Mister Crane, I'm sorry, but I cannot let you up. If you keep acting like a first year, then I'll - ”

What she would have done was unknown to Ichabod, as he placed a hand onto her forehead. She gave a small cry before collapsing onto the floor.

Ichabod immediately regretted the action. While he was out of bed, the desire to vomit was immediate and urgent. He instinctively knew that another act of magic would only increase this new need, so he had no choice but to drop to his elbows and knees and bite back the horrible taste of his own bile. Once it subsided, he got to his feet. He realized he was dressed in some sort of pajamas. Glancing around the room, his eyes alighted upon seeing his clothes cleaned and folded on a chair next to his bed.

***

Meanwhile, the Hessian felt the pull of his master. He hadn't moved from his spot at the edge of the clearing in almost two days. No animal save Daredevil had approached him. He called to his steed and rode to where his master was waiting for him. As he went, he gradually learned of the people he would be killing tonight. Eight of them, the most in such a short time since the war. He occasionally missed the sprees and the freedom of battle, but those desires were few and far between these days.

When he got to the gathering of mages, he could feel his master, some acolytes, and his skull in a small fire with the hair of those about to die.

“Ah, Horseman. You know those to kill. Do so in the way you do so well, but bring us the heads.” A large burlap bag was tossed to the Hessian, who caught it with ease. “Go.”

He rode away from what he knew were stares of fear and admiration.

As he neared the campgrounds, he slowed. He couldn't charge into it; the targets would scatter. Instead, the Horseman picked a hidden place to watch. He dismounted from Daredevil and bided his time.

It took him almost three hours of waiting and tracking to get all of them. When his quarries - children who had done nothing and hadn't even lived yet! - had exited their tents for whatever reason they possessed, he followed them until they were far enough away for a bump in the night to cause no disturbance. He had used his sword instead of an ax for quietness. It disgusted him to kill these people. The youngest was thirteen while the oldest was twenty. To kill innocents in such a manner increased his abhorrence even more. But he had no choice in the matter. He left the bodies where they had fallen. When he'd collected all of the heads, he rode back to his master’s side. He tossed the bag down and went back to what was now his grove until he would be called again.

***

It was the moans that woke the students.

They all heard the odd noises from their tents. The older comforted the younger, saying it was just the wind. This would have worked if the noises hadn't continued and began to sound like voices. To appease the young ones, some of the older students went outside to look.

The faculty was called immediately.

On the edge of the campgrounds at the forest’s boundary, eight student’s heads one for each year had been placed atop a spear and imbedded in the ground. The heads were moaning and blinking. They weren't moving about on the spears, making the sight more gruesome. Their faces hadn't been mangled so all could see who they were Catherine Heaton, Joshua Morgan, Mark Craig, Erin Newberry, Artemis Reynolds, Donald Florman, Cyril Hadrian, and Bathsheba Sellick. All rescued from the tourists before they had turned ten.

Once all the teachers were there, something even more horrible happened.

They began to speak. Not in a whisper or a groan but in the voices they had when they lived, which somehow made it worse. They all spoke together:

“We who have been killed are not those whom you should mourn. We are the reprisal for countless ages of terror from those like and unlike our executioners. The innocents without names are those who deserve laments. If you wish for us to be the only ones killed by the Wild Children, cease your acts against them. Tell all of your world or our blood will be on your hands. Let us not have been killed in vain.” With that, the heads ceased their movements and sounds and died fully.

Some students wanted to stay and stare. These people were ignored and ushered to the dormitories with their classmates. The cleaning be damned, the students were more important than a poltergeist. Most were only too glad to leave the atrocious spectacle. The students were required not to leave the buildings until they were given an all-clear.

An hour later, Pritchard called the entire faculty to the dining hall. He cleared his throat; he'd never thought that these outcasts would come so close to those opposed to them. Speaking to all, he kept his message short: “Alert the Ministry and find the man who came to the school earlier. See if he has anything to do with this. We've had too much danger here in recent to worry about the insurgents.”

“I don't.”

All present turned and looked at where the voice was coming from. They saw that a very pale, very slender man had followed them into the room and was standing just inside the doorway. He had shown up while they were herding the students back to the school; there had been too much confusion and panic to ask him who he was. They had just assumed him to be a cook or an older student (he was dressed well enough to be either) and he looked as though he knew where he was going so no one suspected anything.

The small nurse spoke first. “Ichabod Crane, wasn't it?”

“None other.”

“You’re the man Cherry found, aren't you.” Günter Levinski stated.

Ichabod paused for a moment. “Yes. I am.” He began to walk towards the rest of the people assembled in the hall. “Now if you could be so kind as to remove your hexes-”

“Why should we, when you could be a Wild Child yourself?” One of the younger teachers, Travis Minneon, didn't say the name so much as spit it out.

The distance had decreased to half of what it had been. “If I was one of the ‘Wild Children’ you speak of, I would not be here under these circumstances.” How could he tell them the truth and still gain their aid? “I need your help in - ”

“Don't some any closer,” Minneon warned. He knew Ichabod couldn't do anything dangerous now but was unwilling to chance anything.

Ichabod was now several meters away from the assembled mages but still didn't stop his forward movement. “ preventing more killings from happening.”

A hush fell over the congregated magic users. He had been at the scene of the crime, so he obviously knew of it, but if he had information to help stop more, that would be almost too wonderful. The bodies had been probed and no magic had been found. There were no people showing up in scans of the surrounding forests. What could this Ichabod know about this?

Jackson Wren, an older, more cynical teacher, voiced this to all within hearing distance.

Ichabod relaxed a bit, but only on the inside. He now had leverage but it could easily disappear. “Remove the hexes and I'll tell you.”

The group hushed again. No one was certain if this man would be able to help them.

Instead of responding to Ichabod’s request, they hurried as a massive unit into the kitchens, the entrance of which was at the opposite end of where Ichabod entered. He was left alone amidst the long tables and benches save for an ermine and a raven that stared at him balefully. Though slightly embarrassed by the attention from such dubious sources, he glanced around, noticing that this room had no windows and only two sets of doors, one to the hall and one to the kitchens. The halls, though, were filled with memorabilia from what he assumed was the school’s history. Paintings of people he guessed were the teachers in their younger days were smiling down from near the ceilings, and the younger children were closer to the floor. There were some plaques for sports scores, but those were just for accomplishments like long jumping or racing. There were no competitors, no faces on the walls that weren't from this school, no landscapes of any kind; just people produced by this place. Ichabod wondered why these people wouldn't want to acknowledge the world they came from.

***

Oblivious to the calm outside, the mages inside the kitchens were arguing hotly enough to roast dinner for the school. It had been going on for quite some time now and the arguments were getting more visceral.

“We've got to kill him!” Caroline Dalry slammed her fist against one of the cast-iron stoves. Dalry was one of the younger mages of Orylyn who wholeheartedly supported the policy of isolation up to and including kidnapping. “How could he have gotten here if he’s not one of us? He must be a renegade.”

Ivan shook his head. “He doesn't know what this place is, and even they know that. He’s just a tourist.” The mages called the commons ‘tourists’ because they were unknowing and out of their element. “Just give him a fogging and let him on his way.” Kathy, his familiar, mewed with assent.

“Too much risk. I agree with Dalry; we can feed the body to the dragons.” Zoran was soft-spoken but could make his words cut like steel.

“No. What would that solve? If he is a renegade, they'll come looking for him.”

“If he is a renegade and breached our walls, why haven't the others?”

“I said that he was a spy; he’s just here to make sure it’s safe for an invasion.”

“I don't think he’s even European.” Susan Crumb, the nurse, spoke with a confidence she didn't have.

Everyone turned to look at her. She continued, “His accent is American.” She paused and spoke again, faster now that she was certain of herself. “You know he made me sleep. He’s obviously trained in magic but the hex didn't really hurt him so he must not have meant to harm me. If he does try to harm us, we could deal with it easily. The students are all in their quarters so we don't need to worry about them. We should talk to him.” She blushed. She'd never spoken so many words to such a large group before.

Pritchard nodded. “That is the best I've heard yet. Crumb, you stay, and Ludd and Jones, and Kellogg and Cherry. The rest can go.”

***

Most were only too happy to leave the problem to the others, and this was demonstrated at the speed with which they left the kitchens and dining hall for their offices and dormitories. As they moved past Ichabod, some would give him a sideways glance while others glared at him and still others acted as though he didn't exist. The ermine and raven followed, leaving Ichabod alone for just a moment.

Pritchard strode out followed by the five witches and the cat. He stopped in front of Ichabod.

“Come with us to my office and we can see if you do know anything of use.”

Ichabod nodded and got up off the bench he'd been sitting on. As he followed the first people like himself, out of the Van Tassels, he'd seen in a long while, he thought how Christiaan would have been so happy to hear of this, that witches were still alive. Thinking of his lover, hollowness formed in his chest, an ache. Not just for himself and the German, but also for those he would have no choice slaughtering.

***

The office was more welcoming than the dining hall, but not by much. There were hints of other places, like the globe on the massive desk, but Ichabod noted that the continents were not shaped properly. The same was true for the framed maps on the walls.

The most obvious difference between the two rooms was the window. It was a circular skylight at the epicenter of the domed ceiling, about twenty feet up. He would have loved to see the view out of it. In addition to the six witches and the cat, there was a dragon sleeping in a basket on the desk, across from where he was seated. It wasn't much bigger than a kitten but every so often a wisp of smoke would emanate from the nostrils or mouth. Pritchard, seated across from him, was petting the animal.

Ichabod, like every child of his era, had heard stories of dragons and satyrs and elves and other such beasts. Even though his lifestyle was very unusual, to say the least, he still hadn't placed much stock in creatures that seemed to stem from pure fantasy.

He was broken out of his fascination by a goblet in the style of the Vikings placed in front of him. A dark red liquid smelling faintly of mint was poured into it.

“Drink.”

Ichabod was unwilling to find out what would happen if he refused. He picked up the goblet, uncertain of the proper protocols, and hesitantly took a sip. He almost spat it out, it was so bitter.

“Drink it all if you want it to work.” This was said with humor. Ichabod didn't appreciate it at this point.

With great resolve, he gradually drank the entire content of the cup. As he did, he noticed a small change in his awareness. The magic that was on him had ebbed off but was almost immediately replaced by a different sort. The last kind had been a deep jade and hurt him a bit; this was a light orange and tickled.

Once he had finished the concoction, the cup was plucked from his hand and placed back onto the desk, as though they didn't trust him enough to hold a mug.

“Ichabod Crane.” Pritchard seemed to be reading from a book, not talking to a person. “An American.” Wonder had crept into his voice, but it was just as quickly replaced with authority. “The potion did remove the anti-magic hex. I should tell you that this does double as a truth potion. If we ask a question, you will have no choice but to answer without duplicity.” Pritchard earned glares from Kellogg and Dalry, but ignored them. He deliberately didn't say when the potion would wear off, to improve his chances of learning more about this man. “Now. I would like to know what you know.

“One of your parents must have been quite brave to try to live in such an inhospitable country. What was your mother’s name?”

“Mary Crane.”

“Your father?”

“Reverend Peter Crane.”

Jones hastily flipped through a book of records he'd pulled off one of the voluminous shelves. He looked up and shrugged, “They’re not in here.”

Pritchard turned to stare at Jones in surprise, but hastily concealed it and turned back to Ichabod. “Did either of your parents teach you how to use magic?”

“Ye…” Ichabod would have continued speaking, but he couldn't. The tickling sensation had just flared up and increased to the point where it felt as though hundreds and hundreds of insects were crawling all over his skin, biting him, stinging him. His body gave a few jerks in the chair and he cried out. He didn't often wish to faint, but now was one of those times. He did, but the pain forced him out of the swoon a moment after he entered it.

Several seconds after that, the pain dissipated as quickly as it had come, leaving him shaken and weary.

Sniggers came from the mages behind Pritchard, who just shook his head. Crane had been given fair warning. He asked again, “Did either of your parents teach you how to use magic?”

Exhausted and drained, Ichabod had no choice but to say, “No.” He often wished his mother had but she'd never gotten the chance to.

“Were your parents taught by their parents?”

“I don't know.” Ichabod was far from certain that he should volunteer information at this point; if he was unsure, it might seem a lie and bring that pain back.

“Well, then, who taught you?”

Though he had promised Katrina back in 1877 not to tell strangers about her family, he had no choice in the matter now. “I was taught by Katrina van Tassel. After her death, I learned from personal experience.”

More flipping. “Other Dutch names are on record, but no ‘van Tassel.’”

Pritchard leaned over his desk, giving Ichabod flashbacks to his days as a constable. “Where was this ‘Katrina’ born?” It was unusual, but not unheard of, for a family of mages to set up a community of their own. Perhaps these van Tassels were one of them. There were at least three of these places in Denmark and one in Italy.

“America.”

This was getting very odd for the interrogators. The idea that a witch could learn magic and not be a European was foreign to them, but not terribly so. It was still a strange concept. Cherry was once again the voice for his collective, asking how Katrina had learned enough magic to teach another if she hadn't come to their school.

Ichabod didn't dare smile at their lack of information, but inside he was grinning. “She was trained by her mother, who learned from her mother. The van Tassels have a long legacy of magic.” This was said with a bit of anger, to try to ward off more questions about Katrina. The ploy didn't work.

“How old is this legacy?” Perhaps this would explain it; a mage left Orylyn and went to America to have a family, then married and changed their name.

“It is at least two hundred and fifty years old.”

“Did any of her ancestors come to Orylyn?”

“No.” Ichabod knew this to be true; Katrina was proud of her mother’s lineage and had learned all she could about it.

Nothing the mages could have imagined would have been able to prepare them for this bomb. The idea that proper witches and wizards could even exist and not have Orylyn’s training in any degree was preposterous to them, as strange as flying was to a snake. Even the small dragon had woken up, staring at Ichabod the way its master was.

“Is something wrong?” Ichabod leaned towards the people who had backed up several paces in the last few seconds.

Visibly careful about his word choices, Bartholomew Jones spoke for the first time. “Not precisely…” He paused, exchanging glances with his peers.

He then decided to take a gamble. “Tell us your history.”

Ichabod was quite surprised at such a large request. “My history?…How much of it do you want me to tell?” “All of it, if you please.” Again, unappreciated humor.

Ichabod closed his eyes, searching for fortitude, and then, reluctantly, started to speak. He was a private person by nature, and to lay his entire life out in the open was an experience he had hoped never to engage in. He spoke for quite some time. He did omit a few facts his relationship with Christiaan, for one, simply stating he'd found a way to gain immortality and had taken it.

What encouraged him to keep up the telling was the memory of the children’s heads. Ichabod was well aware that only Christiaan was capable of such a deed. The guilt he felt and the knowledge that he should have taken better care over his wards to keep his lover safe, which would have prevented this series of events form occurring, made him willing to continue his story.

When he was done, Pritchard had no option open to him but to shake his head and wonder. This man - if that term even applied anymore was a true enigma. He could have easily been swayed to the Wild Children’s underdeveloped ideas regarding magic or to Orylyn’s teachings. At this point, he could join either one. It was up to Pritchard to ensure that Orylyn kept Crane.

After a moment, he asked a question: “What do you know of our history?”

When Ichabod said he knew nothing of use about them, glances were once again exchanged.

Pritchard was able to read those better than Ichabod, and was equally adept at communicating nonverbally. He lifted and waved one of his hands. Mages once again walked past Ichabod, though in a much smaller scale.

Once the others had left, Pritchard leaned back in his chair. Though he lacked a beard and wrinkles, he now seemed very old. The dragon, aware of his master’s turmoil, stepped out of its basket and walked over to his lap.

Pritchard stared at his little pet. “Ah, Llewellyn.” He stroked its back again; momentarily oblivious to the gaze he was getting from Ichabod.

Still stroking, he looked back up at the man who was turning his world upside-down. “You told us your history, so I might as well tell you ours.”

Pritchard leaned back in his chair, staring out the skylight. It was getting late in the day and the sun had left its point overhead. There was still some light coming from it, but it was much softer than what had been there a few hours ago. Instead of a harsh beam, soft luminosity was spread out across the desk area, further accenting Pritchard’s age. He sighed, and spoke.

“We have always existed in a state of apartness for our own safety. Even when we were called druids we were tolerated at best, hated at worst. Even then the ‘tourists’”- Ichabod was unfamiliar with Pritchard’s use of the term, but didn't comment on it - “were cautious of us, afraid of what we could do. They didn't fight us, though. Partly that was fear and partly because we did live alongside them, aiding them when they needed it. We felt, sometimes, that we were making progress with them, especially Stonehenge- we'd built a meeting place that wasn't torn down when it was found out.

“It was very important to us to have a place to be together.

“That era ended when the Romans invaded. They had some sorcerers of their own; oracles, mostly. They were kept under constant supervision and distrusted immensely.

“The conquerors knew we could drive them out of this land, but they also knew we would need to gather together to do so. There were many of them and comparatively few of us. So they did what they had to do.

“They ambushed us wherever we were. Hiding did no good; we would be found by their ‘pets.’” Pritchard spat out that word, pausing to stroke Llewellyn behind what Ichabod supposed were his ears. Continuing, he said, “As it was, most of our countrymen were happy to see us go. They were unaware that they'd be subjects of an empire so they didn't help us.

“A small number of us managed to conceal themselves from the oracles and hid for a time. They came together and decided to lay down rules for how they would live in a society where they could be hunted down and killed at any time.

“One of the first things they did was create Orylyn. The name means ‘a safe place’ in a druidic dialect. It was hidden with layers of magic that were widely spread out so if a spell were cast in their spheres of influence, it would be ignored.

“They vowed to be apart from the ‘tourists’ and not get involved in their affairs. When witch hunting began in earnest, we would steal babies from their cradles and raise them here, among their own kind. Some of us believe we should continue these practices and leave this life of hiding behind, to make a second Atlantis, if you will. Some others want to rejoin the tourists. Others…”

***

“…Others just want to regain our lost way of life.”

The Hessian was once again at his master’s side. Instead of two days it had been eight hours between tasks. He had been by a river waiting for the night to come again when he had gotten another pull. It was different than any other he'd experienced, even those from the militant Oneidan leader from 1853. That was the last time anyone had managed to dig up any of his bones.

This time, he'd had to catch someone without killing them. That was more of a challenge than anything else he'd been assigned to do in centuries.

The man had been wandering around the grounds where he'd made his earlier kills. The Horseman hadn't had any idea of what this man was doing. He had a wand and some potions and seemed to be sweeping the grounds for magic traces. If he had his head, he would have laughed. He didn't leave magic contrails; he had it inside of him and it never would leave. This man would never find him if he was looking for a sign of his presence this way.

He had sent out Daredevil to distract this man. Daredevil had more of a visible aura then he did; horse ghosts were much rarer than human ones. His gamble paid off; the fool had actually gone and followed his beloved mount. He had been so frightened when he got up to Daredevil - he had obviously never been near a horse before - the Hessian had no trouble ambushing him.

There had been a glimmer of another individual, but that had faded too quickly to be sure if it was a person, a ghost, or something else. Ignoring that, the Hessian had dutifully taken the prisoner to his master, where he was now fettered against one of the trees. The shackles the prisoner was wearing had some spells in them that prevented magic from being cast, so the others in the clearing weren't worrying about anything. The Hessian had his hand on the hilt of his sword and was waiting for the next command.

His master, he had learned, was called Kevin Sirica. This captive had called him that once he had been brought to this clearing, along with many curses that would undoubtedly cause Ichabod to faint had he heard them. Kevin had taken the verbal daggers in stride, letting his captive wear himself out. He'd been yelling for several hours; the sun had set and stars were shining. Now that the prisoner was done and doing his best to fill his lungs again, Kevin had begun to speak.

The Hessian didn't understand most of what was said by this man. Most of it seemed to be philosophical or political, and he had little interest in those areas. Some, though, he did care for, particularly what Kevin had just started to talk about. The ways of life they wanted to have and how they wanted to live…that resonated within him on many levels.

“We did tell you to stay away. Was our warning not clear enough for you? Have all your years in ivory towers blocked your senses?” Kevin strode forward until he was face-to-face with the prisoner. “You know, we’re willing to do whatever it takes for us to live. What would you do to kill us?”

The man spoke again, rage in his voice. “Anything.”

Kevin laughed. “Liar.” He walked back to the group he was leading. “You couldn't lift a finger against us. You'd trap us and try to get us to see your ways of life without harm to us. Even if we stole your babes you wouldn't hurt us.” There was a small intake of breath at that. Humor was in the next bit of speech, “Don't worry, my friend. If we want babies we'll get to them before you do. We don't want those who know nothing. We want to steal the one you have who knows enough to teach us.

“There are over two dozen of us here, all at least as powerful as one of your ‘graduates.’ We know who you've got; that’s why we've taken this demon who captured you.” The Horseman detected a bit of pride in that statement. “You've stuck your heads so far in the ground you can't even conceive of magic elsewhere.

“We looked, we learned, we found out there was still someone who practiced the old ways even if he didn't call them that.”

Kevin paused for a moment as a handful of people entered the clearing. The Hessian couldn't see their faces but heard the chuckles; obviously it was funny to them for this man, who represented torpidity, to be captured and displayed in their midst. He resumed speaking.

“We took this demon he bound to himself to get him to come to us. This ‘Ichabod Crane’ did follow, but we didn't think he'd wind up in your towers. A bit of bad luck there for us. But as it is, we can make up for that.

“We know you've got him. We’re going to storm your precious little school and get him to come with us, to teach us how to live in the old ways again. We will be true mages again, and there is nothing you can do to stop us.” He paused. “Horseman...”

The man didn't even have time to blink as the Horseman’s sword swished through the air and imbedded itself in the trunk of the tree.

Kevin stared at the head before kicking it aside. He walked to the center of the clearing; people stepped aside, creating a path for him.

Once there, he waited for a few moments to see if anyone else would appear. Once he was satisfied that no one would, he spoke again. This time, though, it was filled with fury that he could barely contain.

“All of you know what these people have done to us. You know what they would do if they knew we were here. They'd hunt us down like dogs and brainwash us to conform to their simple little world.

“They have a practitioner of the old ways in their lap right now. They know he’s powerful and they'll do their best to make him one of their own before they'd ever give him to us.

“We need him. He is the last person alive now who still knows how we used to do things. We've learned a lot from our scryings but that can only go so far.

“The only way he'd ever stay with us is by his demon. The only reason he'll stay with these people is because of his demon. Well, we have the demon, one of six, and we will use him.

“Tonight we break out of our chains. We will free ourselves from the tyranny of those ignorant of the world. We shall take Ichabod Crane from them, if not willingly, then by force.

“We ride tonight to Orylyn.”

Cheers rang through the assembled crowd. The Hessian noted them, but didn't care about that.

One of six? He knew humans becoming demons was unusual to say the least, but he hadn't given it much thought. He'd always assumed it was because the Tree was a portal to the nether regions.

What was special about Ichabod’s magic? He used what Katrina had taught him; she had used European magic. Didn't these people?

He didn't have time to wonder about those, though, as he had to call to Daredevil and ride with the other mages to the place where he'd killed the children, and past that, to the school where his lover was, unaware of what was in store for him.

***

Running so fast and for so long his lungs were practically on fire, John Botter was terrified and glad; terrified at what he had seen and heard, and glad that the shimmer had worked.

He had used the shimmer almost immediately after seeing the demon take the other scout. The spell was recently developed and slightly difficult to use, but it had been successful. He'd managed to turn into a shimmer and watch the congregation of the Wild Children in their clearing.

He had sped back to Orylyn until the spell wore off, and had run the rest of the way. It had taken ten minutes of hard running to get to the school, but the pain in his chest faded when he got inside.

He had used the emergency ‘port spell by the door to get to the announcement system. His people had to be told of this threat.

***

Alberto Belvidere continued to stare out into the night. He didn't like sentry duty but it was his turn and he didn't have the heart to protest, so here he was. He took another drink out of his flask and waited for something.

He was thirty years old and had been living at Orylyn for twenty-four of them. He'd been found in the gutters of Florence by one of the scouts, Zoran Ludd. He hadn't had a great deal of control or power; he'd been able to keep himself warm at night and not much else. He knew his mother had been a prostitute and had left him when he was weaned.

At Orylyn, he had found a place he was able to call home. He had learned histories of the famous mages, magical theory, what he could do with his power, and the proper way for a mage to live.

He had finally found his mother five years ago. He never had borne any animosity to her for her actions; she hadn't known what else to do. She had been near death and he had helped her along the way to the next life. Her life in this realm had been hard and full of fear. His might have been that way if that scout hadn't found him.

He was forever indebted to this place and would gladly lay down his life for it.

His familiar, Jake, walked up to the chair Alberto was sitting in and whined quietly. Reaching down, he scratched behind the beagle’s ears. He'd gotten a lot of heat from the other ‘familared’ mages for choosing a dog instead of something more traditional, but Jake was a good companion and far less enigmatic than most familiars on the grounds. Kathy, especially. Thinking of Cherry’s cat brought a smile to his face. She was due for kittens in a couple of months…that girl just didn't know how to refuse an offer…

Just then he saw movement in the tree line on the edge of the forest. He knew it wasn't a trick of his eyes, so Alberto brought out his telescope and looked.

It took him a moment to find the source of the movement but far less than that to sound the alarms.

It was a horseman, a headless one. He was on a huge steed with a long-sword drawn. Following him was a horde of other riders, all on horses and all carrying spells.

Alberto cursed under his breath as the riders approached. It must have something to do with the new person who had come in just two days ago. They should have killed him then; he must have been a Wild Child. Those renegades deserved whatever they got from the tourists.

He told Jake to wake the students as he pulled out his own spell bag. He didn't know what to do in this situation. He'd been taught what to do but the sheer terror he felt forced clear thought out of his head. All he could think of was how inadequate he was to protect his home, his fellow mages. Nothing else was in his mind. He knew he couldn't do it on his own; he would need help. Pritchard. Pritchard would know what to do.

***

That statement was usually true. In this case, though, it didn't apply.

“…After the three of us had settled into New York, Katrina started to teach me about potions. That was the first time I used magic that I was aware of…”

Crane had been talking about his views on magic for quite some time Pritchard hadn't been keeping track. He shook his head; this man would have been a wonderful addition to the school in his younger days. He would be a wonderful addition even now.

Though the circumstances of him coming here were odd, to say the least, Pritchard didn't think any arrival could trump Gloria Kislev’s. She'd walked to Orylyn when she was eight. She'd slipped away from her family in the middle of the night and the trek had taken her almost two weeks. She had taken measures to ensure her family wouldn't think she was dead or worse; she left them an enigmatic message every few months. She always said she was far happier here than she ever could have been with her blood family.

Llewellyn was now bored with the petting and decided to stretch his wings. He crawled out of the arms holding him and launched himself into the air.

Ichabod stopped mid-sentence in surprise. He had seen the wings on the dragon but still was astonished regarding its ability to fly. He stared in wonder as the small creature climbed through the air, dove, and climbed again.

Pritchard cleared his throat; he'd seen this display before. Llewellyn liked the attention this particular show got from people.

“Erm…My apologies.” Ichabod was now even more uncomfortable. “I'm sorry, what was I talking about?”

“Potions.”

“Ah.” Ichabod paused, and then continued his recitation. “I had used magic before, but I hadn't been aware of it. I had been able to see well at night, and my forays into chemistry were more successful than they should have been.

“My first lessons were routine, I suppose, but after a short time I wondered about how the potions worked. One for healing required milk from a white goat. Was it the goat that mattered? If so, why did its coloration have any influence in the effects of the potion?

“I didn't ask Katrina about this; I knew she wouldn't have any answers. Instead I started to experiment on my own to find out the answers for myself-”

Pritchard didn't have the chance to learn what, unfortunately, as the alarms suddenly started to clang.

Ichabod almost fainted at the surprising noise; it was shriller than any scream he'd ever heard, even from within the Tree. He stayed conscious against his wishes, though, and was rewarded with a message from thin air.

“Orylyn has been breached. This is not a drill. Evacuate and get as far away as you can; you'll be collected later. Orylyn has been breached…”

The message repeated itself over and over. Ichabod had no idea that the people here would be so secure in themselves that they wouldn't put up defensive wards around their home.

Pritchard was unaware of Crane’s confusion but could feel Llewellyn’s panic. He called to the dragon that landed on his shoulder. They turned to look at Crane.

“You can't stay here either. We've got to leave; you'll come with us.”

Ichabod was eager to leave but not at this moment. He was about to protest when he felt something again.

Christiaan. He was close. Still far from Ichabod but close enough to be sensed. Ichabod glanced at Pritchard, who was gathering up a few books and scrolls with his dragon chittering in his ear. Ichabod remained frozen in the chair, still amazed at how far Christiaan had been taken from his death-place. He'd never been farther away from it than New York City; he was uncertain if he would fully die if he left the Hollow.

Pritchard turned to Crane, still sitting in the chair. He was about to speak when he noticed the acute relief on the other man’s face.

“What is it?” Pritchard had no idea what this man could do and wasn't sure if he wanted to find out what was going on in his head.

Ichabod turned to Pritchard, resolve filling his voice. “I need to see the attackers.”

Pritchard was aghast at the mentioning of the idea. “We can't do that. We need to leave before they get to us…”

“No. They stole something of mine and I intend to get it back.” Ichabod stood up from the chair and Pritchard could see just how intent this man was upon facing the attackers, and he saw the opportunity he'd wanted for most of his life. To be rid of the Wild Children was a dream of his, and to have the aid of this mage was almost too good to be true.

Ichabod didn't know of that and even if he had he wouldn't have cared. He ran from the office, Pritchard and Llewellyn following, in the direction of Christiaan.

***

Unaware of his lover’s concern for him, the Hessian was strangely delighted to be here at this moment.

He was in a battle. A real battle, the first since his death. His spirit was singing with joy. He'd never thought he'd experience this again, yet here he was.

He'd killed two fighters already. They were witches like Ichabod but not as cautious. They had charged at him blindly, and had been killed with ease.

Not so easy to deal with were the dragons. Twelve of them were in the air, each with a rider. Arrows were shot from them and fireballs were tossed.

A missile of some kind hit him in the chest, knocking him off Daredevil. In retaliation, the Horseman threw one of his axes. The rider was knocked off his mount and summarily killed by one of the people who had taken the Hessian captive.

More fighters from both sides were coming. The Hessian didn't care. He was free of the bindings and trappings time had placed upon the world and was in the eternal realm of battle.

Though his surroundings hadn't changed except for the peripheral details, the Hessian was well aware of his own differences. He didn't need to worry about his death anymore; he could focus on killing.

He would have roared and grinned if he could have. A sword was protruding from his chest. The Horseman turned and ‘looked’ at the person who had attacked him, the quickness of his turning pulling the sword from his hands. He was much younger than most here. The Hessian was a bit surprised at that. As it was, he pulled the sword from his chest, twirled it in the air, and caught it before advancing at the boy. The Hessian reveled in their fear - one of the few truly magical things he could do, feeling emotions and magical auras - and became practically drunk upon it, almost regretting cutting him down.

He searched the battlefield for another opponent. There were enough to keep him occupied, true, but none very close to him.

He walked back into the battlefield, musing on the price he'd paid for this set of skills. He'd lost his life for this, but it was almost worth it…

He stopped walking. The Horseman ‘looked’ again, but not with a face. He couldn't see in this way even if he had his eyes.

The magic level in this field had just tripled, yet there was no discernable difference in the number of people out here. Straining, he searched again.

A bright light suddenly filled his awareness. Ichabod…

His lover had found him. The Hessian would have left the battlefield and greeted him, but that desire was superceded by another command. That was to spirit Ichabod away into the woods to where the Horseman had killed the spy just a little while ago.

He was grateful that he wasn't asked to kill his lover. They were bound together and for one to die was to murder the other. The command would have been so against his being the Horseman most likely would have been destroyed by the conflicting demands

. That didn't concern him at the moment, however. Daredevil was called to and mounted and ridden to the new people on the battlefield.

***

Ichabod murmured a thanks to Pritchard, who had just teleported them to the battlefield. Orylyn was huge and the office he'd come from was almost the exact center of the place. It would have taken quite some time to get to the outer walls, where the battle was.

Ichabod blinked - his own teleports didn't cause light and he'd been unprepared for this - and wished he hadn't.

There was gore everywhere; dead bodies lying like leaves of autumn on the ground. It was quite loud and surprisingly bright, as flame-based spells were cast with alarming frequency. The light forced every detail of all the dead into Ichabod’s mind, the loudness etching the dying cries into his brain.

After less than twenty seconds of seeing the spectacle, Ichabod slumped to the ground in a dead faint.

Pritchard dropped to attend to Crane, to see if he could help in any way. Before he could even lay a hand on the foreign mage, he was interrupted by hoof beats. He looked up into the face of nothingness - a demon without a head.

He stood and backed up a pace, unmindful of Llewellyn’s cries of panic.

The demon dismounted and picked up Crane with the same level of care a mother would have for her child. The demon made sure that his hostage was seated in the saddle before remounting and riding away.

Amazingly, the rest of the Wild Children on the field followed. They didn't even finish their battles; they dropped their weapons and ran.

Orylyn’s forces were divided. A large portion simply stayed and cared for the fallen. A small group chased after the fleeing would-be conquerors. Pritchard was one of them.

***

The first thing Ichabod was aware of was movement, the feeling of being carted along helpless, like a twig in a river. He could feel something warm under him. Ah, so he was on a horse.

The second was the sounds. Wind rushing past him, undercut with the occasional thump of returning to the earth after a jump. There was nothing else he could hear.

He knew of only one horse that could travel this fast, so Christiaan must have taken him from the battlefield. Finally feeling confident enough to open his eyes, he did so.

It was still night. He hadn't been out long, which was a good thing under the circumstances. He was indeed on Daredevil; there was no mistaking the pace at which he was riding. Ichabod turned to see his lover’s face, not expecting any specific expression. That was what he got. Instead of Christiaan’s face, he saw the forest and the sky. This was almost worse than the battlefield, but in a very different way. He had seen this sight only a handful of times, and, just like every other, he prayed for it to be the last.

Christiaan seemed to be intent on taking him somewhere deep into the woods. Ichabod could leave his lover’s arms, going somewhere other than here, but he had waited too long to find the Hessian to leave him now.

He remained. Christiaan was holding him quite gently, under the circumstances, but this did little to soothe the fear growing in him.

He couldn't help but think that less than six days ago these same arms had held him tenderly, kept him safe…

Such thoughts continued to run across his mind, as he was taken farther and farther into these strange woods.

Some time later ten, twenty, thirty minutes, he couldn't tell Christiaan apparently found the place he was searching for. It was a large clearing, lit by the moon. His lover dismounted, impassively but carefully taking Ichabod with him to the ground. The Hessian didn't let his lover go, opting instead to keep him pinned to himself by an arm over Ichabod’s chest.

Ichabod looked around for a moment, and then saw someone enter the clearing. It was a woman, not young but not yet old. She was staggering. Ichabod wondered why, until he saw her leg. A dagger had been thrust into her left thigh, and was still there. He strained for a moment to reach her, to aid her in her plight, but Christiaan was far stronger than he.

As he couldn't reach her, he called out, “You shouldn't remove that yet. It’s stopping the bleeding from getting more serious.”

She looked over at Ichabod. She was obviously in a lot of pain, but dropped to her knees and scrabbled over to him. “Ichabod Crane…I implore thee…”

Ichabod was astounded at this. Who was this woman to come to him like this, to ask him for help when he didn't even know her name.

Unaware of Ichabod’s confusion, the woman kept talking. “…Help us! We have been hounded for centuries, you, of all people, would know, please, aid us in our hour of need…”

“Wait, wait.” Ichabod broke into her speech. He couldn't make any movements more eloquent than a shake of his head. “Who are you? Why do you think I can help?”

“Oh, my name is Frances Sativa.” Frances then glanced behind her, seeing some of her cohorts enter the clearing. She made frantic ‘come here’ gestures, though they weren't needed to entice her compatriots to draw closer. She turned back to Ichabod. “You know how we used to live. The ones where you came from have driven out the old ways of thinking and seeing, but you still know them. We need you to teach us what they are, to help us find a way to live in the way we once did.” She looked up at him, her eyes wild with hope.

Ichabod’s brow furrowed. “How you used to live? I don't understand…I don't know what you mean by ‘old ways.’ Are they a philosophy, or a -”

He was sharply cut off by someone whose apprehension had been diminished by the sight of Frances speaking to the demon and the one who would save them. “The old ways were a philosophy, but more precisely, they used to define us and how we lived.” He spoke with conviction and assurance. “I am Edward Roebuck. Ichabod Crane, without you we will never be able to return to the old ways. We've lost them; we've forgotten what they were. We do know that they are what is right and proper for us, for witches and mages, and we need you to teach them to us.”

Ichabod was flabbergasted. He had lived through four centuries, two world wars, and the deaths of almost all those near to him, but had never seen or heard anything like this. The surprise found its way into his voice. “I don't know what you’re talking about.”

“Surely you jest, Ichabod Crane.” A new person was speaking. For whatever reason he had, Christiaan tightened his hold on his lover. The man speaking was short and slightly balding, and Ichabod noted, with some curiosity, the large burlap bag attached to his belt. “I am Kevin Sirica and I am the leader of these people. We call ourselves the Wild Children. For years beyond even your demon’s reckoning we have been hounded and killed for nothing better than the way we want to practice magic. We know you have suffered and would do anything to stop such suffering from happening to others.

“You use magic the way we once did but have forgotten how to do. For you to teach us such things would provide us with a way to remain free of the structured ones. You and your demon would be great and powerful, revered and exalted.

“We just found you two years ago and have been trying to find a way to bring you to us for that time. We couldn't approach you directly, as that would give us away to them. We needed a way to bring you to us instead…” He stopped, looking at Ichabod, waiting for his words to sink in.

Ichabod paused for a moment, then glanced at the bag. He took a closer ‘look’ at it, trying to see if it had any sort of aura. It did; in fact, it had a very special one that was immediately recognizable.

Kevin saw Ichabod’s features harden and his eyes narrow, as did Francis. “Ichabod Crane? If we have said anything to-”

Whatever else she might have said was cut short. A detonation of heat and air and light caused everyone in the clearing, up to and including Christiaan and Daredevil, to be thrown back and blinded.

Kevin and those in front of Ichabod had been flung to the ground. He was the first to recover. He looked up and saw Ichabod filled past bursting with rage and magic, the latter spilling out of him onto the visible spectrum. His hands were balled up into fists, both of which were glowing. Before Kevin could throw up a shield or ward, he was targeted again with all the force in Ichabod’s grasp.

A tree across the clearing stopped Kevin’s flight. He didn't fall to the ground, as Ichabod held him where he hit, almost five feet up. Four spikes of force pierced Kevin at ankle and wrist, serving a dual purpose of pain and restraint.

Ichabod walked, very calmly and very deliberately, towards Kevin, who was trying to writhe but could not. No one blocked the mage’s path for fear of their lives. His eyes blazed with magic and fury. He spoke. “You thief, you rapist. You come and spirit away someone who has done no harm to you or yours and you expect me to aid you? Why should I not kill you, all of you, right now?” He held out an arm and was about to cast another spell when he was pulled out of his trance-like state by a hand at his wrist.

He turned to see his phantom lover ‘staring’ at him. Ichabod’s feelings shifted their focus from his captive to his lover. “Why are you stopping me?” The Hessian could have provided a nonverbal answer but didn't move so much as an inch. “He stole your head, just like the other two did. Why should I not kill this one?”

The Hessian pointed at the bag at Kevin’s waist with his free hand. Ichabod sighed, “If that’s what will get an answer out of you, so be it, but all here will see.”

The bag suddenly loosened its holdings on the belt, slipping down, the opening widening enough for its contents to escape. A skull filled with sharpened teeth flew through the clearing to the Horseman’s free hand. Ichabod’s wrist was let go and the Skull was placed upon the Hessian’s neck with great care.

To see a living being regrow lost tissue is not disturbing. The process takes too long for it to be that. To see a demon do so, however, is much more disquieting. They can regenerate anything, from a finger to a head, in moments.

***

Christiaan hated this, the pain, the reminder of his death. The last two times he had done this, once in 1799 and once in 1857, had not been in front of many people. Now dozens were seeing him in his most vulnerable state. His mercenary past and ways of thinking kept warning him to get on his feet, to stop this screaming. He could not. In the same way a child will cry if injured, his wails of pain would not abate until the regeneration was complete.

He drew himself up from the ground, seeing these strange woods for the first time with his eyes. It was older than the Western Woods but somehow less wild.

Christiaan turned to look at Ichabod. When his lover latched onto one feeling or idea, everything else left his mind. Such was the case now; his anger forced his disgust at the regeneration to where it would not matter. The anger also found its way into his voice. “You can talk now, so tell me.”

“They want to live the way they want, Ichabod. They do need our help.”

“How could they, if they would go so far as to rape you like they did?”

“Ichabod.” It was Christiaan’s turn to feel rage, but it wasn't white-hot like Ichabod’s. His was blue and colder than winter. “They had no other way to get to us. Would you...” He trailed off, unable to express himself. Unconsciously switching to his native language, he tried again. [All these people want is the peace to live life the way they see fit. Tell me you cannot sympathize with that. Don't you remember what we went through? What we still go through?]

“Regardless of their current plight, they had no right to do what they did.”

[They had every right. The rights of the oppressed are often ignored; I remember you telling me that at great length many years ago.] These words hit their mark: Ichabod’s anger shrunk a bit upon hearing them. Christiaan continued, [I know they raped me. I cannot forgive them for that. I do know, however, I shall not lift so much as a finger against them.]

“Why...” Ichabod’s question was cut short by a cry. All present in the clearing turned to see the source. Even Kevin craned his neck as far as it would go.

A young boy, not even twenty, ran into the clearing. He stopped to gasp for breath, but spoke a moment later, his panic forcing the words out. “They followed us from the battlefield. They’re coming now, they’re ready to kill…” He trailed off, as he saw Kevin pinned to a tree and Ichabod Crane standing with his demon. Jaw agape, he could say nothing more.

Ichabod sighed. “This is not the time or place to worry about them.”

Before anyone could react, a translucent shield was thrown up around the clearing. It was about a foot thick and ten feet high. It was more difficult to destroy than a glacier with a match.

Almost immediately after, another smaller shield was erected between the Wild Children and the Hessian and Ichabod. The only difference other than size was that this one was soundproof.

Christiaan took the opportunity to speak first. [Before you say anything, I assure you that you would be willing to fight for these people. Though they did violate me, I shan't contribute to the hate and violence they have suffered through.]

“Suffered? If they have enough power to steal you why can they not defend themselves against those of Orylyn?”

[The weight of numbers. All the Wild Children that live are here now. Count. It’s less than eighty.]

Ichabod’s anger was slowly draining out of him but could run in as fast as before. “That can't be all.”

Finally calm enough to speak in English, Christiaan continued to try to rally his lover to their cause. “It isn't. It’s that they might have been us, years ago. Don't you remember…” He paused for a moment, unsure of the point he was trying to articulate.

Ichabod’s anger was clear on his face and forced an answer out of his lover.

“Don't you remember hearing of Matthew?”

Those six words were some of the most powerful Christiaan could have used.

***

Pritchard had been a long-distance runner in his youth, and was at present grateful for it. Some of the other younger faculty members were out of breath at this point. He didn't blame them. They had been running from the battlefield for quite some time - if asked, estimates would range from seven minutes to three-quarters of an hour.

Llewellyn had been flying ahead, calling out directions that were incomprehensible in the specifics but clear in the general to the fifteen mages following him, when he suddenly turned and zoomed back to his human. Pritchard didn't stop his movement forward; he would find out why Llewellyn had returned soon enough.

He didn't wait long, as a translucent barrier suddenly came into view. Pritchard and the people with him clattered to a halt out of surprise. A few tried to break the shield; nothing happened to them or the wall. Others simply looked through it.

It glowed faintly, providing enough light to see the people on the other side. The view was distorted but they were clearly the Wild Children. They weren't acting like savages, though. Pritchard stepped up next to the wall to get a clearer view of them. The renegades weren't eating their wounded; they were tending to them. They had on clothes, not rags or dirt. What was more surprising than those revelations was the number of people on the other side of the wall. A rough count was about fifty. The stories had made them seem to be innumerable, a force that couldn't be dealt with by simply attacking them.

But now, seeing them tend to their fallen, they seemed almost regular, almost like his own people.

His reverie was quickly shattered. A woman had seen him and his company approach, and had in turn gone over to see them. She wasn't very old, maybe thirty. She stopped at a couple of paces from the wall and stared at Pritchard for a moment. Then she spat at them. The wall prevented the liquid from hitting them, but that would have been unnecessary; the point was made well.

She noted, with some satisfaction, the disgust and surprise on Pritchard’s face, then turned and went back to her comrades.

A moment later, at Pritchard’s request, Llewellyn flew over the wall to report on the people there. Less than three minutes later he came back crying about the demon and Crane speaking to each other.

Pritchard swore under his breath. He had known Crane was powerful, but to speak to a demon without fear was a feat few had ever accomplished. He made a note to ask him how he did that, if the chance ever came up.

“We should do something.” Kislev had come from the battlefield; her clothes still had Wild Children’s blood on them.

James Chubbock turned to her. “What would you propose?”

She huffed. “Well, perhaps we could teleport inside. None of them would expect us to do that. Or we could…” She trailed off when she saw one of the men inside the wall was walking over to her. All present on her side looked back at him. He had the same hair color as Kislev, and similar facial features.

He stopped a few inches from the wall. He said nothing for a few moments, then hesitantly asked, “Gloria?…Is that you?” “Who are you?”

“I'm your brother, Kyesha. Don't you remember?” This Wild Child was surprised and somehow hurt by the lack of recognition. “I was six, you were eight, you left without telling us why…” It was his turn to trail off as his sister stared blankly at him.

Suddenly Gloria snapped her fingers. “Yes, yes, I did have a brother called Kyesha.” Her mood switched from recognition to anger without any stops. “Why are you with those people? Why didn't you come to Orylyn with me?”

Kyesha blinked and backed up a pace. “Is that all you can think about?”

“What do you mean?” Her sibling’s surprise was mirrored in her own voice.

His face turned to a grimace of anger. “You left your family almost twenty years ago and all you ask about is why I'm with these people? I thought that-”

“For God’s sake, you’re living with a group of degenerate freaks. You have no idea how true mages are supposed to live. Look, you even associate with the tourists freely! Do you realize how easily your meddling could kill us all?” This tirade was punctuated with many hand gestures and a few shouts.

Kyesha spoke calmly but his feelings were clearly visible. “Why should I join you and yours? You have no concern for how people feel, just if and how they use magic. Yours is not the only way to live, Gloria. If anything, we have more claim to the title of mages than you do. We use older types of magic that our forebears used; you've got no understanding of the world around you anymore. Look at me? Look at you! You come here with our blood on your hands and expect us to be kind to you? And you call us freaks? You have no concern about your family or where you come from.”

“Of course I care. How dare you ask a question like that?”

Kyesha seemed to burst open with feeling. “You abandoned us without even a note, you practically kill your mother by grief, all we hear are small notes that Gloria is alive, she could have been raped and tortured for all we knew! Papa died from cancer three years later; he started to smoke after you left. Momma followed him, not that you'd care. I was left in an orphanage for two months until Kevin found me and took me to live with true mages, not those that don't care about where they come from.” He shook his head. “I wish I could say I was happy to see you, but I don't want to lie.” He turned his back on his sister and her people.

“Kyesha…” Gloria walked to the wall and put her hand up on it. “I…I’m sorry…I didn't think that…”

Kyesha spun around, tears brimming in his eyes. “Is that all you can say? ‘I’m sorry?’ Will that help? Will it bring Papa and Momma back? Will it make up for the grief you caused to me? It can't, Gloria.”

Gloria spoke softly again, “I'm sorry.”

“Is that all you can say now?” Tears were beginning to force themselves out of his eyes. Kyesha was doing his best to hold them back but it was too much.

“I'm sorry.”

“Why…” Kyesha stopped mid-sentence. “I wish that was enough, Gloria.” He walked up and put his hand on the opposite side of the wall. “I wish it was enough.”

***

Kevin gritted his teeth against the pain. He had been hurt before, but not for this amount of time this consistently. He was willing to bear it, though.

He was the guide of the Wild Children. He knew he was no messiah or god, or even an angel or demon. He was a man fighting for his people.

Throughout his entire life he had seen his people persecuted for no reason other than that they wanted to live without the borders that those in power dictated. He had taken it upon himself to be the one to rally those like him, to be their voice to the world. It hadn't been he who had found the demon or Ichabod Crane, but he had been the one to come out and capture them. Despite the pain, he managed to give a small smile. Those in Orylyn had seen the power of the Wild Children firsthand.

Another thread of pain rippled through his body. Once again he tried to squirm, and once again he was held in place by the spikes of force.

The situation’s direness suddenly occurred to him. What would happen when the rest of Orylyn’s world got news of this? Kevin hung his head; the weight of the world seemed to descend on his shoulders. There had been many deaths in the past few months, and all had taken their toll upon him. In the past couple of hours, there had been more killed than in the past two years. He could only hope that one day he could hear of this battle being told to young ones by the survivors…

He was so full of pain, both of body and mind, he didn't hear himself hit the ground. He did feel the impact, though he felt the lack of pain from the spikes more. His back was still up against the tree. He leaned back against it and started to inspect his wrists. The skin was unbroken, but blood was starting to collect where the spikes had been placed. He started to rub them, but stopped almost immediately, as direct pressure caused minute, centered agony.

He looked up to see Ichabod standing over him, face full of rage but eyes tempered by curiosity. The demon stood behind him, with his head in place. No one was within ten feet of the pair. A black horse with its reins in the hands of the demon only added to the strangeness he was party to.

Ichabod bent down to Kevin’s eye level, and then reached out and took his wrists in his hands. Kevin tried to flinch away from the new source of pain, but he had nowhere to go.

A strange white light came from Ichabod’s hands and spread out to cover Kevin’s wrists. Kevin stared at them, remembering what had happened just a little while ago, but this light was softer. The agony of the touching disappeared almost immediately. Ichabod then bent down to do the same for Kevin’s ankles.

Kevin just stared at his wrists; they had been mended. He hadn't known that such non-invasive healing spells existed.

Once Ichabod had patched up his ankles as well, he stood up and stared down at Kevin. It was understood that Ichabod could kill Kevin as easily as he had healed him.

Ichabod stared at Kevin for a time, and then spoke. “I owe you nothing now, though I would like to know why you felt justified in stealing Christiaan.”

Though surprised by the fact that the demon had a human’s name, Kevin replied, “We stole your demon so you would come to us.”

“Why didn't you simply ask me for aid? I would have given it.”

Kevin shook his head, still cradling his wrists. “We didn't know if you would have helped us willingly.”

This was just as strange to Ichabod as hearing the convoluted history and politics of Orylyn.

Kevin looked up at Ichabod, pleading with his eyes and voice. “We needed to be certain you would help us. It was a gamble we weren't willing to take. We know that you bound yourself to that demon-” he gestured to the demon standing behind Ichabod, Christiaan, wasn't it? “- And you would come looking for him if we took him away.

“We needed your help so badly we were willing to die for it.”

***

Pritchard stole another glance at the siblings, who had moved farther away from his group to speak a bit more privately. Amends were being made, that much was clear.

He took another look at the impassable wall, wondering who had made it. It was most likely Crane, but what sort of spell could make this?…

His train of thought disappeared when a door-sized hole appeared in front of him.

Before he had a chance to say or do anything, he was pulled along the ground by what felt to be tendrils of force. He was swept along past the wall, Llewellyn flying at his side, as ever, past the Wild Children who simply stared at him - they were sitting on the ground talking to each other, he was going too fast to hear what they were saying - and kept going until he stopped in front of Crane. And the demon that had carried Crane off the battlefield a few hours ago; the leather armor was unmistakable.

And a Wild Child sitting on the ground who broke the silence first. “Why is he here?”

Ichabod looked at Pritchard, then at the man on the ground. “You requested to speak to their leader to discuss a treaty. This is he.”

“True, but I didn't think their leader would be this person.” He spat out the words, and their clarification. “He led the raiding party on our old settlement almost thirty years ago. I was eight. That was the last time we had anything near a permanent home.”

Pritchard was aghast. “I didn't lead a raiding party against anyone. We were sent by our elders to find lost children and take them to live with us, to teach-”

“Lost children?” The Child stood up to better accentuate his tirade. “We weren't lost. We were raised in the way mages are supposed to live, with their families-”

Both men were cut off by the demon suddenly speaking. Its voice was thick and heavy with a German accent.

“You, Sirica, you requested Ichabod bring this man to make a treaty so your people would no longer be killed. You, whoever you are, you are here to create such a treaty so Sirica won't need to resort to extreme methods. Now. Make the treaty, so we can leave.”

The bluntness and obvious irritation, which was not a good thing to inspire in a demon, halted the thought processes of the two men. Pritchard started to speak, but was prevented from making any complete sounds by a scream.

It had come from this side of the wall. The screamer, a woman, rushed up to the unorthodox conference, not concerned with the privacy needed. She stopped next to Pritchard and glanced at the others there, then faced Kevin.

“They sent their army.” She pointed an accusatory finger at Pritchard. “They know we’re here and they'll kill us all, not even Ichabod and his demon can stand up to them. Kevin, we need to leave, now!”

A few hours ago, Pritchard would have been ecstatic to be able to wipe out the Wild Children once and for all. But after seeing them acting so normal, so like his own, he couldn't see them as such an absolute. Thinking of Gloria and Kyesha made his heart ache; he hadn't wanted such sorrow to come to any family, tourists or mage…

“I alerted my superiors to you when we found the student’s heads.” The demon made no reaction to that, while Sirica flinched. “If you don't want to die you need to leave this forest, this continent, now.”

Sirica shook his head. “Where are we to go? We have no quick ways to travel far, and while we can leave the forest, we’re still not out of the woods when it comes to being found. We don't have strongholds like you; we never expected a need to have one. What would you suggest we do?” Anger and sarcasm had equal parts in his words.

“Come with us.”

The two heads of their orders turned to look at Ichabod. He kept talking. “I can bring you to America with me and Christiaan. No one would think of following you there, so you could live in safety. If you come with me, then you will have gotten what you've been searching for. I can even teach you, if you like.” This last part was more of a bribe than anything else. Ichabod didn't want any of his kind to die, especially when he could prevent it.

Kevin thought for a moment, and then nodded.

The Kislevs fell into each other’s arms when the wall suddenly dissolved.

Kevin reached into his cloak and pulled out a small horn. He sounded it, calling the Wild Children to come to their leader.

Thirteen of Orylyn’s mages ran out of the clearing; Gloria ran in to stay with her brother.

Pritchard started to leave the clearing as well, but instead turned to Ichabod. “My people…” He spoke in a hushed tone, afraid that the Wild Children would hear him. “We are a tenacious lot, most of us. It’s likely that some of us would be willing to cross an ocean to get to their goal.

“I wouldn't warn you about this, but Kislev is going with you…”

“You wouldn't have warned me because of Christiaan, but you’re not sure if he can protect others?”

Pritchard nodded.

“You needn't worry about Kislev. We’re going to Christiaan’s realm. We’re not going to allow anyone to enter before we’re sure it’s safe; not even I could enter if he wishes it now. Don't worry, we'll keep them safe.”

Satisfied, though not quite content with the solution Crane provided, Pritchard left the clearing along with his own compatriots to face his people’s army.

Ichabod turned to the Wild Children and the mage from Orylyn. He pulled out a small pouch, knelt, and emptied its contents - dry dust - onto the ground in a small circle. He chanted a few words, then simply closed his eyes and focused.

The mages could feel magic brewing, more than they had thought possible for just one person…The dust was glowing, and then the light winked out, but something was spreading under their feet, past them, past the demon and Ichabod…

A shock, a jolt, a break in sight resulting in nothingness, then all the humans, the demon, and the undead horse were in the Western Woods.

Ichabod looked up at the sky. It was late morning, as it had been night in England. He nodded with a small smile, and then fainted from the exertion and the relief.

Christiaan knelt down to pick up his lover. He stood up and looked at the assembled witches.

Words were more difficult for him than for Ichabod, but he did his best. He told them that they could not leave the Hollow until he would let them, but they would find it comfortable here for the time being. Kevin understood, and, after asking for directions, he and his people made their way to a campground, and waited for Ichabod to come.

***

Ichabod woke in their bedroom. Christiaan wasn't wearing his armor now, instead opting for jeans and a t-shirt. Ichabod was dressed in a long nightshirt. His lover was sitting on the side of their bed, waiting for him to wake up.

A smile with fangs instead of teeth is unpleasant for most, but to Ichabod, it was a wonderful sight. Christiaan climbed onto the bed and kissed Ichabod firmly. He was quite surprised when Ichabod moved up into a sitting position. “Is anything wrong?”

Ichabod shook his head. “No, but... Please, Christiaan. I was so afraid of losing you, I just want to make sure you’re here.” He looked into his lover’s eyes. “I just want you to hold me.”

Christiaan nodded, and moved to hug Ichabod against his chest, murmuring nonsense words to him while he gradually relaxed.

After a while, Ichabod fell asleep, secure that he would be able to protect his lover to prevent a ‘next time’ from happening and happy that they were together again.

Christiaan untangled himself and placed Ichabod under the covers. He decided to make pancakes for Ichabod’s breakfast.

In the hallway, halfway to the kitchen, he collapsed on the floor, extinguishing the lights with a thought, and finally allowed himself the release of tears. Not being able to feel his bones within the Tree, as he could now, was a sensation he wished never to repeat. He had been scared of losing his lover as well, more terrified of that possibility than he had ever been.

He didn't feel as easily as Ichabod, so to allow himself such a freedom of emotion required a great deal of privacy.

Inanely, he realized they'd missed the contest by three days.

He cried for what was a long time to him, and when he was done, he looked out into the home he had crafted. He spoke into the darkness.

“My love, my soul, I shall keep you safe for ever.”

That was what he had said the night they had bonded themselves to each other. This was truth, for though they had been forced apart, they would always return to each other’s side. He remembered this, and all that they had done together, and he knew that he and his love would always be safe as long as they had each other.

Getting up, shaking inside from the relief he felt, Christiaan returned the lights to their previous level of illumination, and then went to make the pancakes.



Epilogue



Sitting at his desk, looking at the chair Crane had sat in almost two days ago, he couldn't help but sigh.

The other school leaders had found him and the other thirteen mages in the clearing where Crane and the demon had taken the Wild Children to America.

All of them, Jonathan Lane especially, had been infuriated at Pritchard’s inability to protect his people. Eight students beheaded, almost sixty dead from battle, and at least one defected to the renegades.

Pritchard had weathered the storm of their tirades and complaints, and then had stated why the Wild Children couldn't be found.

He explained how they had wanted to take over Orylyn by force and had captured a demon to try and help them. Their plan hadn't worked. The demon had rebelled against its captors and taken all of them back to Hell. None of them would be back to bother us again, he'd said.

Lane was the foremost scholar on demons in the network of schools Orylyn was a part of, and could attest to how hard it was to break free of one once it had taken you into its clutches. Word had been spread that the Wild Children were, for all intents and purposes, dead.

It had been a wonderful thing for the rest of the headmasters of the schools to be rid of the threat that had dogged them for decades, but to Pritchard, it seemed more a lost opportunity. To learn about magic from Crane would have benefited his people immensely. He hadn't gotten to, though. And now he never would.

Llewellyn, cuddled in his lap, snuggled against his chest and told him how he should stop worrying himself over what he couldn't alter. Yes, many were gone, but now more could be raised without the threat that had been present before.

Pritchard stroked Llewellyn’s tail, telling him that he knew that to be true, but to have lost so many mages, renegade or proper, was such a blow it was almost too great to deal with.

The pair talked for a long time, not leaving the office until the memorial service was announced. They went, and all the others there mirrored their sadness.

Though some of the rest present knew of Crane and how he had been lost to them, that concern fell to ashes when they remembered their dead.

***

Halfway across the world, a similar mourning ceremony was taking place.

Dimitri Volkov had been the one to name all those lost. The process had taken a fair amount of time, for each person was given time to be remembered.

After the ceremony, when most everyone else had taken to their makeshift beds, Kevin remained apart and awake.

He felt torn between melancholy and delight.

Many of his people had been lost, and after hearing all their names, it seemed too large a loss to recover from.

And yet…now, the threat of Orylyn, and the schools it had been in tandem with, was gone.

Just like that. Gone. In the blink of an eye, it seemed.

And without that threat in their lives, many changes could be made. A permanent home, recording their methods, perhaps they could…

For the first time Kevin allowed himself to finish that thought.

Perhaps they could have children.

He looked up at the wide-open sky, dotted with stars. He couldn't help but wonder if one day he would point out the constellations to a child of the Wild Children, properly raised by their parents.

The two states of sadness and happiness were raging within him still, and it was unlikely, given his position, that their war would ever end. Other emotions would come in from the sidelines as they were called: elation, joy, rage, anger, annoyance, resentment, anticipation, agitation, sorrow, excitement…

But now, relief and weariness conquered them all.

He took one last look at the sky, the moon, and the stars, and for a moment, felt connected to something grand.

Climbing into his private tent, he curled up under his blanket and slept.