ENLIGHTENMENT
PART THREE

By Fritz Baugh

Previously
Once upon a time in Romania, two teams met while investigating the same vampire lord. One team was the world-famous Ghostbusters--Dr. Ray Stantz, Dr. Egon Spengler, Winston Zeddemore, and Dr. Peter Venkman. The other team was the far-less-famous (by design) "Inquisitors" --Liz Hawthorne (the wizard Lady Enlightenment), Father Diego Portenza, Barney Lupin (the werewolf Nightclaw), and Lilly Peacecraft.

Boy (Ray) met Girl (Liz) and some sparks started to fly.

A few weeks later, the Ghostbusters and the Inquisitors met again, along with the Prince of Warlocks Phineus Eventide, his familiar Tarantula, and the Archmage of the Winds, Zandrik Fallagar. Together, they defeated the Zodiac Lords, with the help of Eventide's noble sacrifice; he asked Fallagar to look after his cat.

More sparks also flew between Ray and Liz.

But after that victory Ray went back to New York with his fellow Ghostbusters, while Liz was sent on a new assignment by her bosses, the leadership of House Guernicus of the Order of Hermes.

Neither was far from the other's thoughts, but it's three years later. Both are shocked at how much has changed.

Liz finds out that the Ghostbusters have broken up; Ray is at Stanford, Venkman is a Hollywood agent, Winston is flying a commuter airline in Montana, Janine is in an unhappy marriage to a man she doesn't love, and Egon is holding a lonely vigil at the former Ghostbusters Central.

Ray finds out that Liz has spent the last three years at the shard realm inhabited by Archmage Fallagar, trying to discover his secrets. She's come back seeking the help of the Ghostbusters against the army of undead camped outside Dragonsfall covenant.

But with no Ghostbusters to call upon...will Ray and Liz alone be enough? Or do the forces of fate have other plans?

July 25, 1979
Suffolk County, England
Elizabeth Lucille "Liz" Hawthorne, Age 18, regarded the ten-story tower before her. It stood near the small town of Orford, and among the residents of the somewhat strange old place was Liz's first cousin once removed, Tegan Fielding.

It wasn't Liz's first visit to the place; she'd dormed at Rein•Hagen during the previous six school years, and had returned to Truro during the summer months, but on shorter school vacations she'd resided here with "Aunt" Tegan.

"The tower was built in the early Thirteenth Century." Tegan had explained during Liz's first visit, six years before. "When it was built, there were actually two towers, but the west tower was destroyed during the War of the Roses. The feudal lord who ran the place was killed, and over the centuries it's basically become an apartment complex."

Of course, with what Liz learned about her cousin two months ago--that she was Lady Persuasion of the Order of Hermes--she wondered if there was a lot more to that story.

Tegan met her outside the tower. "Did you have a good visit back home?"

"Yes." Liz nodded. "Though it was difficult keeping what's going on from Cheryl. She could tell I was excited about something." Liz shook her head and rolled her eyes. "She thinks I have some new secret boyfriend I won't tell her about, and that's 'really' why I broke up with Adric."

"I guess in a way that's true, metaphorically." Tegan chuckled. "When you become a full wizard, the decision to tell her the truth becomes yours. Until then, I feel it's more prudent to not tell anyone who doesn't already know, such as your Mother."

Liz nodded. "Oh, I'm not disputing the decision, Aunt Tegan. Just regretting having to lie to my sister."

"To paraphrase something you recently noted, a Quaesitor's first duty is to the truth. Your unease at lies speaks well of you."

The two went into the tower. After depositing Liz's belongings in Tegan's apartment, and having a small brunch, Tegan took her to a part of the tower Liz had never been to before.

"This is the ninth floor." Tegan led Liz to a door. "When the towers were first built, the only access to the west tower was from the east tower, from doors on the third floor and the ninth."

"So even though the west tower was destroyed, the doorways are still here." Liz surmised. "There are no balconies outside. What would the purpose be of keeping the doors, unless they just didn't want to bother?"

Tegan smiled approvingly. "I told you the west tower was destroyed. Well, my apprentice, that was a lie." She reached into her jacket and produced a golden key. She inserted the key into the waiting lock, and turned it--producing a loud click and a play of sparks.

Tegan opened the door. Liz gasped. Before her, a bridge in the same dark stone as the tower led to a second tower, virtually identical to the first.

"In 1459, the Hermetic covenant of Nigrasaxa staged a fake battle, making sure it was credited as a skirmish in the Wars of the Roses. During the fake battle, it appeared that the west tower was destroyed--but it wasn't. It was hidden just out of phase with the rest of the world, in what Hermetic theory calls a regio."

"Why?" Liz asked, overwhelmed.

Tegan led her across the bridge, stopping to close and lock the door to the east tower behind her. "The west tower was the residence of the magi of the covenant. It had been decided that it was time for the Order to hide itself--and supposedly destroying the wizard tower was part of that."

An old man was sitting at a desk inside the doorway of the west tower, snoring loudly.

"Eric?" Tegan asked.

The old man jumped up and cried "Gah! Dammit, Persuasion, don't sneak up on an old man like that!"

"I 'snuck up' by opening the door and entering while you were fast asleep." Tegan rolled her eyes. "Locked out of your lab again?"

"I'm not locked out!" Eric exclaimed. "I just...er...chose to sleep here. The air's better."

"It'd help if you stopped mixing those noxious potions in there." Tegan retorted. "Your familiar has a very sensitive nose."

"Well, yeah, and that's the other reason I'm out here." Eric coughed. "Damn thing's mad at me. Figured I'd better let him cool off for a little bit--a skunk in a snit fit is not a pretty thing. Only horrible smell he can stand is his own."

Liz chuckled. The thought of the strange old man being chased by a skunk like some kind of demented Pepe LePew cartoon was endearing.

"Eric--mind your manners." Tegan grasped Liz's shoulders. "This is my apprentice, Elizabeth."

"Holy Hells, Persuasion! I thought you told me she was your cousin or something, so naturally I thought she'd be some hideous hag like you!" He grabbed Liz's hand and kissed it. "Zephyranthes, Magus Solificato. It is an honor to make your acquaintance!"

"The same, Master Zephyranthes." Liz replied.

Eric snorted. "You're not my apprentice, no need to stand on formality--just call me Eric."

"Okay...Eric."

"Are any of the others in?" Tegan asked.

"Yeah. Should I let them know you're back?"

"If you will. When will the convo hall be available?"

Eric shook his head. "Not 'til Monday. There's a dentists' convention renting it this weekend."

"Then I will introduce Elizabeth to the rest at that time." Tegan nodded. "This way, Elizabeth."

The door that Aunt Tegan had opened sported a curious symbol--a square with an "X" over a circle.

The room was filled with books on one wall. Another was adorned with star charts. The third wall sported shelves were filled with what looked to Liz like the chemistry sets she used in class back at Rein•Hagen. There were also several other devices in the shelves she couldn't recognize.

A large table dominated the center of the room.

"This is my sanctum, and my laboratory, Elizabeth." Tegan explained. "Almost all members of the Order have them--it's protected by both spells and over a thousand years of tradition. By the time we're finished with your training--which usually takes three or four years--you'll know this place as well as I do, and have a fairly good idea what your own sanctum and laboratory will look like."

Liz breathed deeply. "It sounds like we should get started, Aunt Tegan."

Excerpt From Lesson IX
"The Order traces its root to the cults of Thoth in ancient Egypt. There's some debate on whether Thoth was truly a bird-headed incarna, or a powerful human magus, but whatever his origin and true nature, he inspired the later tales of Hermes, worshipped by the Greeks as the god of commerce and magic." "The Cult of Hermes in Greece was subsumed into the Cult of Mercury when the Greeks were conquered by the Romans; the Cult of Mercury stood strong throughout the Roman Republic's rise and transformation into the Roman Empire. It cast grand rituals designed to strengthen the Empire; according to legend, thirty eight rituals capable of literally shaking the world were codified, and then lost when the barbarian hordes overran Rome and the Western Roman Empire fell, taking the Cult of Mercury with it."

"After the fall of Rome..." Persuasion continued. "Magic entered a Dark Age, just like the rest of the world. The survivors of the Cult of Mercury scattered, and became smaller enclaves, mistrusting each other, their powers diverging and being practiced in secret."

"Among them was a descendant of the line of the Magistri Terrae, masters of earth magic, a passionate man known only to history as Guernicus. He was renowned in the Eighth Century as something of a crusader for justice, after chasing down and rendering judgment on those that had murdered his pater."

"He was invited to a great convocation of magi descended from the Cult of Mercury. They swore an oath, and thus, in the Nine Hundred and Fifth year of the Age of Pisces, or 767 in the reckoning of the Christian calendar, Guernicus and eleven others formed the Order of Hermes."

"The twelve Founders each became leader of a House devoted to their own concepts of magic. Ten of those founding Houses still exist, while in the intervening centuries two fell, but five more rose and joined the Order, which now stands at fifteen Houses."

"Our Founder was a skeptic--he thought, absent a strong authority monitoring the other wizards, the Order would dissolve into backbiting and go up in flames--possibly literally--within a generation. The political leaders of the Order basically made him put up or shut up--and thus, Guernicus became the first Quaesitor, and his House essentially became the 'internal affairs division' of the Order of Hermes." Tegan smirked. "And since it's been over twelve hundred years since then, and the Order survived two civil wars, the Inquisition, and the Sorcerer's Crusade, I'd say it worked."

Excerpt From Lesson XLII
"This is the day, Elizabeth." Lady Persuasion said, a note of excitement apparent in her voice. "Your arts will be opened, and you will soon truly be able to use Hermetic magic."

Liz, lying on the somewhat cold and uncomfortable table, nodded.

"The Gift is a rare trait, often--but not exclusively--passed along bloodlines. It allows you the potential to use quintessence, and thus learn to use magic. There are some lesser kinds of magic--goetia or theurgia--which can be taught even to the unGifted, but true magic--magia, the Hermetic system--can only be learned by those possessing the Gift."

Persuasion gestured, and a play of purplish light began in Liz's eyes. Not the first time it had happened, but this time, it was stronger, and her whole body began to tingle. "In essence, Hermetic magic is based on a noun/verb system." Tegan explained. "A Technique--a Latin verb--and a Form--a Latin noun."

"There are five Techniques: Creo is 'Creation'. It creates something, or brings an already existent quality closer to perfection. Opposing it is Perdo--'Destruction'. It destroys, or makes something less perfect."

"Intellego is 'Perception'. It brings you knowledge. Muto is 'Mutation'--changing something to give it a quality it does not naturally have. And last, but certainly not least, is Rego--'Control'. Controlling moves it, either toward or away from a specified location."

"The classic ten forms include Animal--animals; Corpus--the human body; and Herbam, plants. They are sometimes lumped together as 'Animae'--'Life'. There are four classic elemental forms: Auram, Air; Ignem, Fire; Aquam, Water; and Terram, Earth. Mentem is 'Mind'. Imagonem is 'Images', and illusions. And standing above them all is Vim--the Form that lets you manipulate the force of Magic itself."

"So each basic spell combines one verb and one noun: throwing a fireball is 'Creo Ignem'. Controlling a person's mind is 'Rego Mentem.' Plants wither and die with a 'Perdo Herbam' spell. You perceive the flow of magical energy with 'Intellego Vim'. And you can turn a cat into a dog with 'Muto Animal'."

Liz heard the incantation for several more minutes...

...and then...

...it was like the world shattered around her...

...the shards danced and whirled...

...fifteen of them...

...they fell back into place...

...the world reassembled...

...but it was larger. Richer. And...she could change it.

All she needed to know now was how

"Well, now that's an interesting development."

Liz shook the fog out of her head, and realized she was looking at Lady Persuasion from about five feet away from the table. From the cold floor. The...um...very cold floor...

Persuasion picked up Liz's brassiere and Rein•Hagen sweater from the table. "A spontaneous spell immediately after opening is rare, but not unknown. I would suspect that Rego and Corpus will be affinities of yours..."

Aunt Tegan smirked. "You'll have to work on refining it, of course. Though I could see how it would help your sleep preparations as is..."

Liz could feel herself turning bright red as she folded her arms over herself. Oh God why am I naked please just kill me now...

"And that, Apprentice, was...as a notable Mundane once said...the end of the beginning."

Palo Alto, California
June 8, 1994
The Eighteenth Day of Gemini in the Fourth Year of the Age of Aquarius
Ghostbusters Omnibus Timeline Year Twelve
"You really dig this gal, don't you, Doc?" Mariko asked.

Ray sighed, and bit into his pen harder. "Well...I mean, yeah. Is it that obvious?"

Mariko chuckled. "Only to someone with eyes."

They were in Ray's beat-up Mustang, a car he'd bought when he moved to California and (truth to tell) paid way too much for, as he'd been known to do when a car caught his fancy. Ray and Mariko had just finished their shopping at the local S-Mart; a couple bags of new clothing for the newly arrived wizard lay in the trunk.

"You gotta understand, Mariko, I...well, I don't really have a whole lot of romantic history." Ray admitted. "I mean, I spent most of my adult life hanging around with Peter Venkman and Egon Spengler, who are each, in their own way, babe magnets. Peter put the moves on pretty much anything with ovaries until Dana finally tamed him, and like a star Major League batter, he made sure he had enough times at bat that even though he struck out 80% of the time, he still had female companionship."

Mariko laughed. "I love that analogy--my older brother plays baseball back in Japan. I gotta remember to use that on him."

Ray continued. "And pretty much every woman that wasn't on Peter's radar, and a lot of the more...eccentric ones, well, Egon could draw those to him like bees to honey. And unlike Peter, he didn't even try--until Janine came along, all that attention more annoyed him than anything else."

Ray took the pen out of his mouth. I gotta stop destroying these innocent pens like this. "Me, Well...Back in the town I was raised in, Morrisville, there was a lady I fell for hard back when I was kid. Elaine Fuhrman. She was beautiful and sweet and everything I thought I wanted in a woman. But we lost track of each other for a while when I went to college."

"Then in '84, I went back to Morrisville to serve as Grand Marshall in the Winged Puma Parade."

Mariko laughed at that.

"I didn't name it." Ray shrugged. "Anyway...the Ghostbusters had become a big deal at that point, so the old home town wanted to soak up some of that attention. I caught back up with Elaine, and we kept in touch that time, even dated a time or two when I had the time, but..."

Mariko waited a few seconds after he trailed off. " 'But'?"

"But I was busy in New York. She refused to move out of Morrisville, insisting that she was a small town girl at heart. It's like she enjoyed telling all her friends she was the girlfriend of a famous Ghostbuster, but didn't want to actually be my girlfriend."

"Things came to a head when we got shut down in '86." Ray groaned. "I realized that maybe I should just stay in New York, and she said maybe that was for the best too. I mean, shit, I wasn't famous anymore, right?" Ray said, a bitter tone in his voice. "Why would she want me around now, just because I could be?"

"Ouch." Mariko shook her head.

"Well, and by then, I was dealing with another complication." Ray swallowed hard. "Nobody outside the guys knows about this one. In '86, before we shut down, the four of us went to Mardi Gras. Peter insisted, because we'd been in the area the year before but got stuck on a case and missed it. I met this beautiful woman in old-time clothes, by the name of Elizabeth Metairie. I fell for her hard."

Ray sighed. "Turns out she had been dead for over a hundred years by that point. Elizabeth had been on a ship that had sunk on Mardi Gras in 1853, and were doomed to reenact their deaths every year." Ray shook his head. "We helped them succeed in reaching shore, and resolving their fetters so they passed on peacefully, but...Elizabeth had to go with them." Ray rolled his eyes. "Of course, starting about a year later, it became a running joke with Peter like 'Uh oh, Class 3 or Class 4 that's a woman, watch out for Ray'."

Mariko was silent.

"So that was basically it until 1991, when we were in Romania and met Liz and her friends." Ray smiled slightly. "She literally walked right past Peter to talk to me, and I don't think Egon even registered on her radar. She said she'd followed some of my work, and complimented the new intro I wrote for the 1989 printing of Tobin's Spirit Guide. I even got to tell her a little later how I actually met J.H. Tobin, which she found fascinating."

"Yeah. My idea of a dream date." Mariko deadpanned.

"We...met up again not long after, when some really really bad stuff went down in England." Ray continued. "She told me a little about her family, especially her sister and her nephew. I mentioned my brother and sister and how they hate me. We both realized we were afraid that we'd screw up a 'normal' life."

"There could be worse things to have in common." Mariko admitted.

"And then she up and had to leave on business for the Order she's part of." Ray shook his head "And then she needed our help, but I'm all that's available."

"What are you going to be able to do for her all by yourself?"

Ray's face became harder, more determined, in a way that Mariko had never seen before. "Anything I can."

Mariko made an approving noise. "Women whose names start with the letter 'E' seem to be your kryptonite, Doc."

They pulled into the complex.

"What's that beat-up truck outside your place?"

Inside the Apartment of Ray Stantz
"You!" A high pitched voice squealed as Liz opened the door. "Miss Elizabeth!!!"

"LIZZIE?!" a much huskier voice cried.

The squeakier voice belonged to a sixteen year old girl, who was quite a bit taller and more...mature than she had been the last time Liz saw her. The burly guy beside her, on the other hand, looked much the same, including his tacky green and yellow plaid pants.

"Barney! Lilly!" Liz cried, overwhelmed by the surprise. The three shared a heartfelt group hug.

"Huh." Barney quipped. "No one expects the Inquisitors reunion!"

The three broke the embrace after a minute or so. Liz felt her eyes misting up; Lilly wasn't so restrained. "Good grief, Lilly...look how much taller you've gotten."

"I'm so happy to see you, Miss Elizabeth!" Lilly replied. "But I didn't know you'd be here!"

"We came looking for Ray." Barney explained. "So this mean you and Ray are finally shacking up?"

Liz sighed. Jumping to such a lurid conclusion was so in character for Barney. "That's an awfully personal question."

"That's an awfully evasive answer." Barney countered without missing a beat.

"I've only been here about five hours." Liz rolled her eyes.

"Well, Hell, that's more than enough time." Barney said brightly. "Maybe even enough for two or three..."

"Barney! You do remember Lilly is right there?"

"Pshoot, she's in high school now." Barney noted. "Between that and living with me for the last three years, there's nothing she hasn't heard before..."

Never mind the fact that Lilly's face was now bright red.

Tarantula was nearby, back arched.

"Oh! That's Master Eventide's cat, isn't it?" Lilly said, eager to turn the conversation to something else. She picked the black cat up, and stroked her chin. Tarantula relaxed a little--until Barney leaned in.

Tarantula hissed at him.

Barney barked back.

"Tarantula...these are my friends, remember?" Liz reminded the cat.

The cat meowed uncomfortably.

"No 'mass hysteria' here..." Liz chuckled ruefully.

"LIZ!!!" a tenor male voice called. "YOU ALL RIGHT?!"

"Everything's fine, Ray!" Liz called back. "We have more company!" A few seconds later, Ray and a young Japanese woman neither Barney nor Lilly recognized entered the room.

"Whu..." Ray sputtered. "Lilly?! Barney?!" Ray chuckled. "No one expects the Inquisitors reun..."

"Already did that joke" Barney interrupted. "Hello, what have we here?" He was giving Ray's companion the eye.

"Mariko Fuyuno." She introduced herself warily.

"Arsene Lupin IV" Barney said with a flourish, grabbing her hand and kissing it.

"Two words: Bull. Shit." Mariko replied. "You're no more a French thief than I am the spirit guardian of Mount Fuji."

"Well, I won't know that for certain until I climb you."

"Hah! You'll need to spring for an expensive dinner and some sparkly trinkets before that even gets on the radar, Pal!"

"Not even with these pants?" Barney asked, fluffing the pockets.

"Gonna take more than those pants to get into mine." Mariko said.

Liz, Ray, Lilly, and Tarantula were all looking confused at this point.

"Okay, you're right--my real first name's Barney." Barney said, bowing to Mariko. "And I pronounce the last name 'LEW-pin' instead of 'lew-PAWN' "

"And I'm Lilly Peacecraft." Lilly said, curtseying. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Fuyuno."

"Oh, Gods..." Mariko chuckled. "You remind me so much of my little sister Yuki it isn't even funny." She gave them another look. "Wait a sec...a Ghostbuster, a wizard, a black cat...you two aren't a vampire and a werewolf are you?"

"No!" Lilly cried. "I'm not a vampire!"

"Oh, wow." Barney said, a massive grin spreading on his face. "You really are good!"

"Okay, okay..." Ray coughed, hoping he was coming somewhere close to breaking the spell. "We need to sit down and compare notes."

"But first..." Liz noted. "I really need to get some clothes on."

An hour later, Liz was dressed in a simple shirt and shorts, and Barney and Lilly had been brought up to speed on the day's events.

"So then who are these two?" Mariko asked.

"Barney, Lilly, myself, and one other man--Father Diego Portenza--were a group of, well, you might say 'ghostbusters' with a small 'G'." Liz explained. "We worked together for a couple of years until a big case back in 1991, after which Father Portenza went back to Rome and I went to the covenant of Dragonsfall, as previously mentioned."

"Lilly and I went back to Vegas, where we came from in the first place." Barney said. "I used the money the Padre gave me as severance as my seed money, and hit it big at the slot machines."

"You're...rich?" Liz asked.

Lilly nodded. "He's not kidding about that."

Liz frowned. "Then why in the world are you still driving that old junker pick-up truck?"

"What?' Barney said indignantly. "Give it up now that I finally have the money to maintain it?"

Ray chuckled a little too loudly. "About time somebody else understood. Peter always gave me grief about buying a broken down Cadillac both times we needed a car. But damn it, they're just so cool."

"Two?" Liz asked.

"Oh yeah, the original ECTO-1 in '83, then the second one in '88." Ray answered. "We called it ECTO-1A until the tag on the original expired, when we just reregistered it as ECTO-1."

"You mean you didn't get a new license plate just because you changed all the junk on the roof rack?" Barney asked facetiously.

Liz sighed, and looked at Lilly. "So...why are you here now? I doubt it's coincidence."

Lilly nodded, but looked a little uncomfortable. "It's...it's because of me, Miss Elizabeth."

"Lilly, you really don't have to keep calling me that." Liz noted.

"Ever since the...event..." Lilly swallowed. Ray, Liz, and Barney all knew she'd played an integral but unintentional part of the events that unfolded on the night of the Summer Solstice in 1991. "It wasn't long before I met you all that I started to hear all the voices, the voices of the spirits. But after the event, it all stopped. It was quiet again. Until a week ago."

Ray and Liz looked at each other.

"I could barely hear them at first, but then they got louder. And they were scared. Something was happening on the Other Side...and the voices said we should go find Doctor Stantz."

Ray was lost in intense thought for a few seconds. "Any reason they singled me out? No mention of the other Ghostbusters?"

Lilly shook her head. "No...they just said finding...er..." Lilly blushed a little. "They said 'find the man your magical ally favored...through him you will find her.' "

Ray coughed, holding his hand over his mouth to (hopefully) hide his own blush. "I'd say score one for that prophesy."

Barney made a Butt-Head laugh. "You said 'score'."

Tarantula hissed at him again. Barney barked at the cat again.

"Behave." Liz said firmly.

"So...to sum up." Barney said. "Wizzo's asleep, his spooky house is about to be overrun by skeletons, and we're it as far as backup?"

"Sounds pretty much it, yeah." Ray agreed.

"Lovin' this." Barney continued. "Two people and a cat aren't exactly the 101st Airborne, even if one is a werewolf and the other is a wizard."

"Three people and a cat." Ray corrected. "A wizard, a werewolf, and a Ghostbuster."

"Ray..." Liz said, hesitant at first. "I'm really glad you want to help, but...I'm not sure that's a good idea. Barney and I have our powers--but you don't have any of your equipment."

Ray stood up, an enigmatic smile on his face. "No, what I said earlier was that Peter and Winston didn't have any equipment." He walked over to a closet, fished a key out of his pocket, and opened the closet door after unlocking it.

Hanging in the closet was a khaki flight suit that was slightly darker on the cuffs and collar, sporting the Ghostbuster logo on the right shoulder and Ray's last name on the chest patch. A utility belt and a pair of ecto goggles hung with it. On the floor, a proton pack and two ghost traps stood ready for use.

"I built this stuff, no way in hell I was leaving New York without it." Ray explained. "Just did maintenance and a systems check on it last week--it's as ready to go as it was the day I shot the Architect with it."

"Remind me not to have you anywhere around my house when I have work done." Barney joked.

Liz grabbed Ray and hugged him. Any extra worry having him along would cause her would be more than counterbalanced by knowing that one of the guys who'd saved the Earth from several gods, demon lords, and Great Old Ones was going to be on her side. Our odds of pulling this off just quadrupled

June 9, 1994
Apartment of Ray Stantz
It had been a restful, if somewhat tense night. Barney and Lilly had stayed in a motel; Ray had slept on his couch to allow Liz his room.

"The return stone is ready" Liz had announced at breakfast.

Now almost ten AM, she, Ray, and Barney were ready to leave.

Liz was dressed in a dark blue track suit, covered by a maroon jacket with boots in a matching color--they approximated the colors of Liz's usual outfit. Ray and Mariko had to improvise based on Liz's spotty suggestions, but she'd approved of what they'd arrived with--she was particularly approving of the jacket. "I may just keep that afterwards." she’d said.

Barney was in his tacky pants, some beaten-up boots, and a dirty t-shirt. He'd once explained to Liz that this particular ensemble was one he'd used a werewolf "rite"--a sort of hedge magic ritual, in Liz's estimation--to "dedicate" the clothing. They would mystically adapt to his changes in shape.

Ray was in his proton pack, with the ecto goggles circling his head and a PKE Meter (the Model 2) slung to his belt. He'd ultimately decided he didn't feel "right" wearing his flight suit, since this wasn't a Ghostbusters operation. Instead, he was in a slightly ruddier jumpsuit with a pair of green work gloves, and grey boots of a similar style to the ones he'd bought Liz.

He was still "representing" just a little--the jump suit's zipper was open to reveal his Ghostbusters t-shirt.

Lilly and Mariko stood close by; Mariko'd already agreed to help keep an eye on Lilly. Ray'd left them with a list of phone numbers to call if they didn't hear from them by the Solstice.

"Ready?" Liz asked.

"Ready." Ray replied, arming his thrower.

"Should I wolf out?" Barney asked.

"Not yet." Liz answered. "We'll need to get you a casting token first--otherwise, the Aegis of the Hearth will impede you. You'll be fine in Homid form, since it's your natural form, but anything else will trigger the anti-magic defenses."

"Great." Barney said brightly.

"Be careful!" Lilly said.

Barney and Ray nodded one more time, each taking hold of one of Liz's arms. Tarantula was on her shoulder.

Liz held up the return stone. She concentrated...seeing the covenant in her mind...

Please let us not be too late...

The world around the foursome dissolved into violet mist, taking them to an unknown fate.

To Be Continued
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