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TOC Files 22: Bridge of Time 2/2

Title: Bidge of Time
Series: The TOC Files.
Word Count 8293
Summary Alan finds himself transported to another world and meets an old friend in a new guise.




Walking alongside the litter, Alan let his eyes take in the city. It was like something out of Aladdin; the architecture, the people, the clothes. Thinking that this "incident" might become immortalized, he stood straighter and took his role to heart. He also tried to think of it as just another mission. He had to bring Galen back and make sure that everyone with him made it back as well.

As they approached the gates of the palace, he heard laughing coming from inside the litter. Normally, he wouldn't have cared, but as they were supposed to be mistress and slave, it was very out-of-place. Knowing he couldn't very well yell out loud, he could only do so in his head. For Chissakes, will you pipe down! Everyone can hear you! The laughing stopped.

A few moments later he heard Morgan's voice. {We heard you. There's no need to yell. I think you'll need some lessons in control.} There was a pause. {Thanks for the warning.}

Proud of this major accomplishment, one done without his even knowing, Alan grinned. Quickly realizing that a smile was out of character, he resumed his stoic appearance. He wondered what Ryan would make of this. Then he heard his laugh. {This is so weird.}

{You're telling me.} his brother agreed. {Just imagine if we knew how to do this before. Our lives would have been totally different.}

{Okay, here we go.} They entered through the palace gates.

{Take in all the guards and defenses} Morgan told them. {You never know what might come in handy.}

{That's second nature.} said the brothers almost in unison.

The litter was carried across the courtyard to the main steps. Galen was there as well as a young man who could only be the caliph. Ryan moved around and stood on the opposite side in order the flank the "princess" when she stepped out.

The caliph looked a little intimidated by their presence at first and Alan saw Galen try to hide a smile. He offered his assistance to Morgan as she stepped out. "An honor, your Highness. I am Haroun, the Caliph of Baghdad. Had I known of your arrival, I would have met you at the docks."

"Thank you, but as this is not an official visit, I thought discretion was called for. As you can see, I brought only these three slaves with me and they are loyal to a fault."

"Good. Good. Right this way." As they walked up the steps, Haroun saw Galen and remembered his manners. "Your Highness, allow me to introduce Galen, the court sorcerer."

Galen bowed. "A true pleasure, Highness. One of your beauty is rare in this world."

"You flatter me, Master Galen. If one were to believe all the stories, your magic is otherworldly."

The two exchanged knowing smiles then Galen watched as Morgan and Haroun continued up the steps, her two watchdogs on either side. There was something about them that didn't ring true. They had the air of soldiers. His thoughts became more pleasurable as the slave girl walked past. Now that's someone I wouldn't mind getting to know better. He followed her up the steps at a distance.

Shannon could feel his eyes on her, boring into her back. God, how she wished to turn around and give him a piece of her mind, but that would ruin everything. She just wouldn't give him any opportunity to catch her alone. She hurried to catch up to the others.

Once inside the palace, Haroun became more the host than the fawning boy. "I have arranged for your rooms to be set apart from any others so that you may have privacy. From what Galen has told me of you, I didn't think you would be comfortable in the harem."

"How kind of you to make such special arrangements," said Morgan, knowing full well that Galen had managed it so they could visit and speak privately.

"Quarters are nearby for your slaves for when you need them."

Ryan listened with one ear as he took in his surroundings. Such wealth, such elegance. The part of him that had been Cameron James moaned in agony. There had been nothing that Cameron had loved more than money and the power it bought. He cleared his head of such thoughts. Cameron is dead and will stay dead, he told himself. He had to keep in mind why they were here and the fact that he was a "slave". Well, maybe he could indulge a little bit later in private.

They arrived at their quarters and the caliph opened the double doors. Morgan walked in and examined the opulent room as if trying to find faults. There were rich carpets on the floor, silk hangings, and couches covered in satin and brocade. The room was scented with jasmine, possibly from the walked private garden just outside. "It is. . . adequate," she said after a pause.

"Very good. Should you need anything, send one of the slaves." With a slight bow, Haroun left.

Once he had gone, they all dropped their roles. "I think I have a crick in my neck from keeping my head bowed," remarked Shannon as she turned back it back and forth..

"Here, let me." Ryan walked over and began to massage her neck. "Goes against the grain. Being subservient, I mean."

Alan smiled. "I've never known Shane to be quiet this long. I also never thought I'd see this."

"Remember, we must always be on guard. Galen can easily infiltrate this room," said Morgan. "I can usually sense when he's near or using his powers around me. Thing is, I don't know if you can. Until we find out, we still must be careful not to reveal too much."

"And if he does something we don't approve of?"

"You must try to ignore it. We can't let him know of our reason for being here."

"So we go with the flow and learn what we can along the way, right?" asked Shannon.

"That about sums it up for now," agreed Morgan.

"As long as I'm not left alone with Galen. He looks at me like I'm a possible conquest."

"He doesn't know you," remarked Ryan with a laugh. "You'd set him straight."

"But she can't," said Alan. "She'd blow our cover. A 'normal" female slave would be flattered by the attentions of a powerful man."

"I guess I could always go through with it for the good of the mission," she mused.

"I don't think so," declared Alan.

"I think showing a streak of defiance might intrigue him," put in Ryan. "Makes you more of a challenge." The others stared at him. "Well, you said he reminded you of the way I used to be."

"He does have a point," agreed Morgan. "Galen does not give up easily on something he wants. He won't force you, however, he'll try to charm you."

"Voice of experience?" questioned Alan.

"Let's just say I've seen it happen." She turned to Shannon. "Just avoid being alone with him."

"You don't have to tell me twice."

They kept a careful eye on Galen for the next few days, but he did nothing to prove his local reputation. He practiced his "magic" and studied local lore in his rooms, located, ironically enough, in a high tower. They knew that while he was there, it was safe for them to communicate telepathically and practice their "lessons". In addition to telepathy, they each learned that they could use telekinesis in varying degrees though Ryan yearned to be a shape-shifter.

Morgan could tell Shannon wasn't putting her whole heart into it. "Shannon, you have to concentrate. The slightest distraction could be ruinous."

"I know. I'm sorry, but I can't seem to concentrate on anything recently. I just feel so. . .lethargic."

"You do look a little tired. Why don't you try and get some rest. We're going to need you in top form."

"Okay." She stood and swayed a little.

"Why don't I walk with you?" offered Alan. She glared at him. "Not that you really need it, of course, but you might want to avoid Galen."

"In that case." She walked back into the palace with Alan.

"I think she's more than just tired," said Ryan. "She's so unlike herself. I can't even get a rise out of her."

"That is bad," agreed Morgan. "We'll just have to watch and make sure she's not ill."

Once at their suite, Alan directed Shannon to her bed. "I hate feeling like this," she complained. "Thanks for helping me."

"You know I would," he replied as she lay back on the bed. "You just try and get some rest. We need your biting remarks to keep us on our toes, especially Ryan." She smiled as he tucked the blanket around her before he tip-toed out of the room.

He returned to the others in the garden and saw they were no longer alone. Haroun was there as well. He quietly took his place next to Ryan. {What's going on?}

{I think he's trying to come-on to her. Wants to take her on the town.}

Haroun tried to convince Morgan to join him as he visited the surrounding villages. Thinking her to be a typical, pampered, and sheltered princess, he said, "I'm sure you don't have anything like this where you come from."

How right you are. She didn't want to leave Galen "unattended", yet didn't want to bring attention to herself. She could tell Haroun was trying to impress her as a possible suitor. Maybe she could learn about Galen from him. "Very well. I would like that very much."

"Wonderful. I was planning to leave in a couple of hours. Will that be enough time for you?"

"It should be."

"I'll send someone to you when I'm ready. Until then." He left them.

"You're really going to go?" asked Alan.

"Yes, and you're coming with me. Ryan, I'll need you to stay with Shannon. Keep an eye on her in case she's more ill than we thought."

"Will do."

"Keep an eye on Galen as well," said Alan. "Something isn't right here. He doesn't seem to be the ogre everyone's painted."

"Anything else? Do I need to make a list?"

"Just watch yourself."

"Same with you."

* * * *

Morgan and Alan met Haroun by the entry to the courtyard. He was surprised to see she had brought along one of her slaves. "There's no need for you to bring him," he said. "I am bringing enough men to guard the both of us."

"I never go anywhere without someone whose first loyalty is to me, Who knows what could happen?"

"Very wise, Highness." He helped her into the litter and Alan took up position beside it as the procession left the palace.

Alan felt there wouldn't be too much danger to either of them from Haroun, as he fancied himself in love with the "princess", but he still had to continue his role-playing. Part of him wished he was the one staying behind with Shannon and part of him was glad to be the one getting to see some action.

The people lined the street to watch as they passed through. They truly did seem to like the young caliph, maybe even adore him. Haroun fairly glowed with the adulation. {And you didn't enjoy your own parades?} questioned Morgan.

{I'd like to think I did something to earn that. I'm sorry, but I can't see him doing anything but sitting on his duff, indulging in his expensive tastes.}

{Perhaps it's more or less related to protection. Keeping out invaders and such.}

{Could be. I still don't think we're seeing the real Haroun.}

They continued on to Haroun's country palace, Alan keeping a close eye on the young caliph's personal guards. They looked more like pirates and marauders than guards. The Captain of the Guard looked particularly unsavory. Where did Haroun find these guys? If any of them make a move towards Morgan, I won't need an excuse.

They stopped at a small fishing village where Haroun was greeted as a hero. A man with a young girl approached cautiously. "I am Achmed, one of the village elders. My daughter would like to give the princess some flowers she picked herself."

Morgan heard the request and opened the curtain. She smiled warmly and thanked the girl. The girl smiled shyly in return. "She is a very beautiful child. She is sure to break a few hearts when she is older," Morgan told Achmed.

"Thank you, Highness. She is a blessing."

Haroun became impatient and wished to continue on to the palace. Morgan thanked Achmed and his daughter once again before the procession continued.

As they passed through, the villagers stared at Haroun with something akin to hero-worship. He was their protector. He would stop the evil Galen from killing them all while they slept. As for the princess, she was said to be beautiful beneath her veil. Perhaps they would make a match. After the procession had moved on, the villagers were left to their own speculation.

Haroun's country "cottage" was rather impressive and not much smaller than the one in Baghdad. It stood high above the village and backed onto the sea. As Alan helped Morgan out of the litter, Haroun came around and offered to show her to her suite. She agreed and Alan followed closely behind.

* * * *

That night at dinner, Haroun made sure that the best dishes were prepared for his guest. If I could make her feel that there might be the possibility of a romance between us. . He looked to the wall where the slave stood keeping watch over the princess. If I could only get rid of him, but he never leaves her side. I have to work on a way around that. He returned his attention to the princess and engaged her in polite conversation.

Morgan smiled, knowing that Haroun was trying to impress her with all the finery. Why else would he? Hoping she would tell her "father" what a wonderful man he was? How much the people loved him? He must have hopes that she would fall for his dashing figure and apparent wealth. She caught the look he gave Alan and tried to hide a laugh before resuming conversation.

Alan tried to remain alert as he stood statue-still and watched them eat. It's a good thing I've already eaten. He saw Haroun steal a glance his way and tried to look intimidating. Haroun quickly looked away.

The conversation began to drone on and Alan found himself thinking of Achmed, the village elder with the adorable daughter. His vision blurred for a moment and then he was in the woods! He was checking the underbrush for a goat of all things! He wasn't in the woods, but he was seeing through the eyes of someone who was, probably Achmed. It was a weird feeling: being there yet not being there.

Achmed found the goat that had gotten tangled in some vines and set it free. The animal scampered off towards the village. Hearing voices, he hid behind some trees until he learned what was happening. A group of about seven men entered the clearing. He couldn't see their faces that well but knew the emblem on the jerkins was definitely that of the caliph. He watched quietly as they changed into the uniform of Galen. Something was very wrong here. He would have to speak with the other elders.

He quietly moved to go, but stepped on a twig. One of the men turned and headed directly for him. There was no way out. He was dragged out by his shirt collar. "I saw you in the village, didn't I?" asked the man who seemed to be in charge.

"I won't tell anyone, I swear! Please!"

"Oh, I know you won't." The man nodded and one of the other soldiers stabbed him.

Still connected, Alan felt the pain, collapsing to the floor, trying to breathe. Morgan rushed over and knelt beside him. He looked at her and tried to talk. He coughed and stopped breathing altogether.

Tears flowed down Morgan's cheeks. How could such a thing have happened? Was the food poisoned? I seem to be all right. Maybe Haroun just wanted to be rid of Alan. Maybe--

With a deep inhale of breath, Alan returned to life. Morgan smiled and slowly helped him to stand. "Allah be praised," Haroun declared. "Never have I seen the like."

{Nor will again} commented Morgan so only Alan could hear. {Are you all right?}

{I will be if I could get a whisky. I have something to tell you.}

{Wait till we're in our rooms. Follow my lead.} She turned back to Haroun. "I will be going to my rooms now."

"But your meal?"

"After what just happened, you are lucky I don't leave now."

"What do you mean?"

"Poison. I think you tried to kill my bodyguard. We will return to Baghdad tomorrow and then I will leave for home."

When they reached the suite, Alan fell onto a pile of cushions, worn out from his experience. Morgan waited before asking what happened. He told her of what he had seen. "That's a rare accomplishment, Alan. Only a few of the Blood can do it, and you, of only partial Blood, did it without trying."

"This whole thing clears Galen and points the finger at your boyfriend."

"I think 'suitor' is a better word. And yes, it does clear Galen. I had the feeling it was someone else when we heard those stories. He could be cruel when on the trail of something, but never for the pleasure of it."

Alan was about to ask a more personal question when they received a telepathic message from Ryan. Shannon was worse. Much worse.

* * * *

With his "mistress" gone, Ryan had no duties and was free to roam the palace--within reason, of course. He checked on Shannon, saw that she was sleeping peacefully, then left to explore. Being from the Far West, he received many stares and he knew they were whispering behind his back. The fact that he was with the "princess" was an added benefit.

He was in the gardens practicing when he heard something. He looked around, but he was alone. The sound came again and he realized it was Shannon. Something was wrong. Ryan rushed back to the room to find her fitfully tossing in her sleep. From the basin near the bed, he soaked a soft cloth in cold water and began to pat her face with it, murmuring what he hoped were comforting words. She slowly calmed down and fell back into a deep sleep.

He picked up one of the water jugs and quickly went to fill it from the courtyard fountain as he had seen the slaves doing earlier. He didn't want to waste time later in case Shannon had another "episode". He returned to the room and placed the jug in a cool corner for later. He then took up a vigil at her bedside.

Ryan was having a nightmare. The faces of those he had tormented in what seemed another life were haunting him and moaning. He woke with a start. It was Shannon. He reached forward and put his hand to her face. Se was burning up! He rushed for the jug and poured the water into the basin. He again began to wipe her face but it was having no effect. Ryan usually thought himself a calm and rational man, but now he was beginning to panic. Yes, he had treated Shannon poorly in the past, but he had come to respect and care for her. He wouldn't let her die in a strange place and time. What to do? He'd notify Alan and Morgan of his predicament.

{Alan, Morgan, you guys hear me?}

{We hear you.} answered Morgan. {What's going on?}

{It's Shannon. She's burning up with fever and I've tried all I can think of to break it.}

{We've got to get back!} declared Alan.

{We can't rush back tonight without arousing suspicion. We're planning to leave in the morning anyway. Ryan, go to Galen.}

{Galen? Are you sure?}

{Yes. We have evidence to clear him. Besides, healing is his specialty.}

{If you say so.}

{Remember, use a little Arabic and some Latin if necessary. Just don't use modern English. We'll be there in the morning.}

Ryan tucked the blanket around Shannon before running to the tower Galen used. As he neared the lab, he could feel some sort of mental barrier trying to force him back. The one thing that kept him from turning back was the picture of Shannon in her fever. He forced himself to keep moving.

He reached the room just as Galen was packing a satchel. He turned when Ryan entered. "Took you long enough to get here. I hope we're not too late. I think I have everything to break your friend's fever." He smiled at Ryan's confusion. "I saw her in your mind once you passed through the barrier. that was very impressive, by the way. C'mon." He strode out of the door and Ryan followed.

Galen went straight to their rooms and immediately felt Shannon's forehead. "Good thing you didn't wait much longer." He noticed the cloth and water. "Tried to keep her cool, did you? That will help with the discomfort but isn't a cure." He brushed Shannon's damp hair away from her face. "You and your friends are a long way from home, aren't you?" He pulled a vial out of his bag. "So am I, but my exile is self- imposed." He lifted Shannon's head, put the vial to her lips, and made sure she drank. "There, that should do it. We'll try again in a few hours."

Ryan tried to look as if he didn't understand a word Galen was saying. Perhaps that way he would speak more freely and say something incriminating. He had to admit that the man knew what he was doing. He didn't look at Shannon like he had that first day, yet it wasn't totally clinical either. Maybe it was because of their association with Morgan.

"Could you get some fresh water?" Galen asked, holding out the jug to reinforce his request.

Ryan went out to the fountain and filled the jug. He felt relieved now that there was someone watching over Shannon who knew what he was doing. Morgan and Alan said he wasn't responsible for the atrocities done in his name, but that didn't mean he was any less dangerous to the mission. He still had to watch what he said.

He returned with the water and Galen held out a cup. "Here. You look like you need it."

Ryan set down the jug and took the cup. He sniffed it and smiled. Wine. He sipped it slowly. He nodded his head in thanks. After all, how many slaves were allowed to drink the good wine, let alone with the "Sorcerer" Galen? He drank it all then took up a position where he could watch Galen. The last thing he remembered was Galen smiling. "I think we all could use some sleep."

* * * *

Galen looked at the two sleeping slaves. He regretted having to drug the man, but he didn't want him watching over his shoulder. Besides, he looked a little haggard himself. The woman seemed to be resting comfortably and he'd give her another dose of the elixir in a few more hours. From what he'd seen of her, the girl didn't look like a slave. Granted, house slaves were chosen for their looks, but her whole demeanor was too noble for a slave. She carried herself too proudly for a slave. He wondered if Morganna had chosen them specifically. He sat back and prepared to watch over her. He would have to get some answers before Morganna returned. He didn't fancy a fight with her.

* * * *

Shannon woke feeling weak and disoriented. Where am I? What's going on? A face appeared over her. It was a handsome face in a roguish sort of way. Galen! It all came back to her. From the looks he had given her in the past, she knew he had certain ideas regarding her. She tried to move away from him, but there was no room. "Don't worry, Miss Flynn. It's thanks to me that you're breathing at the moment."

Shannon tried to speak. How could they have left her alone with him? Behind Galen she could see Ryan unconscious on a pile of pillows. "What. . ?" she croaked.

"Oh, he's not dead. I wonder what Morganna said to make you think I'd kill indiscriminately. He just needed some sleep and I gave him some assistance. He made it rather hard for me to work, constantly looking over my shoulder." He helped her sit back and handed her a cup of water. "From the way you speak, I'd say you were from 20th century Ireland." He grinned at her discomfort. "I can see you're wondering how I divined that knowledge. You talk in your sleep."

She glared at him. "Why, you--"

"Ah, ah. If it weren't for me, you could be dead--or near-death--right now. I cured your fever, Miss Flynn."

"They never would have let you near me."

"They almost didn't. Your friend over there tried to do everything he could to avoid asking my help. All I can say is something happened to change their minds." He stopped and a slow grin spread over his face, a look Shannon recognized. "It seems that we will soon find our answer. Morganna has returned. I wonder what cut their trip short? Haroun must have pressed his suit a little too hard."

* * * *

Alan was anxious to get to their quarters to check on Shannon and Ryan. There had been no word since last night and Ryan hadn't responded all morning. Besides, he still had some reservations where Galen was concerned.

Haroun dismounted and approached the litter to help Morgan. She ignored him and looked at Alan. Playing the humble slave, he averted his eyes and offered her his arm. When she stood, she faced Haroun with all the haughty disdain she could muster. "As soon as can be arranged, I will be leaving Baghdad." With that, she turned her back and strode into the palace.

Alan tried to hide his impatience as they walked through the halls. After all it wouldn't do for a princess--or her slave--to rush. The sight that welcomed them as they opened the doors looked like something out of a gothic novel. The villain loomed over the heroine while the hero was unconscious in the corner. A look of profound relief crossed Shannon's face and her shoulder's relaxed as all the tension left her body.

Galen grinned. "Have to cut your little trip short, Morganna? Did Haroun make one too many passes?"

"He did make a few, yes. he tried to impress me with how much his people love him. Oh, and then, over a luxurious dinner, he tried to poison me."

"What?" Galen was shocked. "The little weasel--"

"Why. Galen, you do care," Morgan said with a smile. "We just used that as an excuse to get back here."

"Time to come clean, Morganna. I know you came here to get me. Miss Flynn spoke in her delirium."

Shannon shrugged in her direction. "Okay. I did come here to bring you back," Morgan said.

"Why bring these people into it?" He looked over at Alan who was helping a groggy Ryan to his feet. "I take it those two are from the future as well?"

"A bit further than Shannon. I spent my year with them and thought they could help."

"And Daddy allowed this? That's not like him."

"He fought until I pointed out something that made him unable to refuse."

"There's only one thing that can do that." He looked at the three humans. "How could I have missed it?"

"You weren't expecting it so you didn't look for it," said Morgan. "Brianna could sense it when she held Shannon's hands. She said Alan and Ryan would be weaker, but after what happened last night, I'm not so sure."

"So those are their names. Tell me all, Morganna. You know I don't like secrets."

Morgan gave a derisive snort and watched the two brothers as they walked over and sat by Shannon as if to offer protection. "All right. I guess you deserve to know." Morgan gave him the complete story from the time she met Alan up to the present moment. "But don't think this changes anything. You're still coming back with me."

"You're really determined, aren't you? We'll see." He turned to Alan. Now that he knew about the man, Galen still couldn't believe he hadn't seen it from the beginning. "You saw the Captain of the Guard kill that man?"

"I was that man--at least for a short time. It was him all right."

"But does Haroun know about it?" asked Shannon.

"He must do. Mufasa is a bully, doing dirty work for others. There's no way he'd go against Haroun and lose what power and position he has," said Galen.

"So, he must have waited until the time was right, used you as a scapegoat. That way he could play the hero to your villain," said Ryan.

"That theory supports all the stories we heard about you on the way here, as well as the looks people gave us."

"Stories? What kinds of things are they saying about me?"

"That you've had villages put to the sword for your own pleasure," said Shannon.

He turned to Morgan. "And you believed them? Surely you know me better than that."

"I've seen how prolonged periods of power affect people and I guess I thought it had changed you as well."

"I thought I could help them, you know, nudge them in the right direction. I thought I could earn their respect. I didn't want them to fear me."

"All it takes is for one to fear you and spread nasty rumors," said Alan. "We've seen it happen."

"But why? I only wanted to help."

Shannon smiled. Despite coming from such an advanced race, he was still so naïve in some ways. "Haroun saw you as a threat to his control over the people. They would have turned to you for guidance, leaving him out in the cold. He knew you were too powerful to face head-on, so he decided to turn the people against you, making himself out as the hero."

"Now that we know the truth, do we beat him as his own game?" asked Alan.

"I think we definitely need to do something. We can't let him get away with torturing these people," declared Morgan.

"They will never listen to me," said Galen. "He's poisoned them against me."

"But they've come to love the Princess Kalila," said Ryan. "They'd believe her."

"But what can I say? That he brought my slave back from the brink of death? I didn't witness it. As for tying Haroun to the razing of the villages, the only witness that the men were his and not Galen's saw it through an out-of-body experience. I don't think they'll believe that."

"You do have a point," agreed Ryan. "So how can we get him to confess?"

"Can the hologramatic projectors that Gil added to the machines show people other than the wearer? If so, you could project an image of Achmed, Mufasa will think you're his ghost come back to haunt him."

"Great idea! His guilt will force him to break down and hopefully he'll name Haroun!" said Alan.

"Why should you be the one?" asked Ryan.

"'Cos I think he hates me more. You should have seen some of the looks he gave me."

"We shouldn't make plans until we know for certain the machines can do it," said Shannon. "They didn't come with directions, after all."

"It shouldn't be too hard to figure out," commented Alan. "Gil showed us how to use them."

"Fine, but just in case, use your own."

* * * *

Morgan felt that she should carry through on her threat to leave so Ryan found himself making his way through the city to Ali's house. He had a part to play in their plan that would bring about Haroun's downfall.

He knocked on the door and Ali ushered him in. "I was wondering if I was going to see you again."

"The princess would like to leave Baghdad as soon as possible and wishes you to take her."

Ali was confused. "The 'princess'? You're leaving already? But Galen is still at the palace."

"Yes, the 'princess' is leaving. We've learned that it is Haroun who is behind everything, not Galen. He saved Shannon's life." Ryan explained all that had happened.

"So you're hoping Mufasa will break and turn on Haroun?"

"That's the plan."

"Too bad I'm going to have to miss it. That promises to be a good show."

"I don't see why you can't join us. I'm sure your crew could just sail far enough out of port so they can't be seen, wait a while, then turn back once everything starts."

"When does the 'princess' plan to leave?"

"At the next available tide."

"All right. I'll gather the crew and explain everything to them. I'm sure they'll all want to help."

"Great. We'll see you at the ship."

* * * *

Haroun pulled Mufasa aside the minute they returned to the palace and asked to be filled in on how the "visit" to the village had gone. "We were witnessed changing uniforms by one of the elders but took care of him."

"Good. You made sure everyone thought you were acting under Galen's orders?"

"Yes, my lord." He hesitated. "Sir, may I ask why we left earlier than planned?"

"The princess was convinced that someone was trying to poison her. Her slave collapsed last night and I could have sworn he was dead. All of a sudden he started breathing again."

"I don't think he ate anything. The kitchen slaves were saying how strange he was. Perhaps he fainted from hunger."

"But that wouldn't make him stop breathing."

"I've heard that they hold strange beliefs in his country. Maybe he has learned how to stop his breathing for a time."

"You're saying that she ordered him to do it so she could leave?" Haroun had never been treated in such a fashion. He did not like it. "She plans to leave today."

"Should I do anything, my lord?"

"No. She will leave the way she arrived: in a hired litter with her own slaves to carry it."

"We could lose the support of her father. Now is not the time to alienate anyone in power."

"Blame her. She'll regret she ever spurned me once other lords pledge allegiance to me. I will make her pay for it then."

"Yes, my lord." Mufasa bowed and left.

Haroun looked out over the courtyard. Where was Galen? He usually greets me upon my return. Could he have found out? He experienced a rare moment of dread. He soon dismissed the idea as ridiculous. The man never leaves his rooms in the tower. No, he is still in the dark as to how the people think of him. He smirked. Soon the masses will turn against him, especially after the stirring speech I plan to give.

* * * *

The travelers made their way through Baghdad the same way they had come--with plenty of stares and no fanfare. They met Ali at his ship. "Do the men agree with the plan?" asked Morgan. "Any problems?"

"A few are upset that they'll miss all the fun, but on the whole, they think it the best way to go."

"Great. We'll change into some appropriate clothes and head to the palace courtyard to hear him incite the rabble."

Disguised as dock hands, the five walked back through the city, mingling with the rest of the crowds as they headed towards the palace. They got as close as they dared to the base of the steps and waited for Haroun.

He stepped out amidst the cheers of the crowd, Mufasa following. He took a stand near the center of the portico and waved to the crowd. The people cheered and greeted him as their hero. "Welcome. I know you are all worried about the mayhem and death that has invaded our city and its surroundings. I have done my best to stop this, even having my personal guards help patrol the city. I have even figured out who the possible culprit might be." He played the crowds, knowing exactly when to pause.

Morgan and the others watched in disguise. "You have to admit, the man knows how to hypnotize a crowd."

"That's what they said about Hitler." Alan turned to Ali. "Don't ask. So, when do you want to go ahead with this?" The plan had changed to confront Mufasa with more than one "ghost".

"Galen will let us know. I think we'd better take our positions." They spread themselves throughout the crowd, making sure that Mufasa would be able to see them.

"Who is this villain, you ask?" continued Haroun. "He is a man who came to us as a stranger and we welcomed him with open arms. His promises to help and teach us were said just so we would accept him. Oh, yes, he started doing exactly that, using his great powers to help, but it didn't take long for the truth to show!" The crowds shouted in agreement. "Before too long, many of our villages were robbed of what few precious items they possessed then razed to the ground. Many brave souls were killed. What kind of person would do this? A coward! What kind of man does not appear to defend himself? A coward!" The crowd was in a frenzy now.

"Perhaps because there is no need for a defense," said Galen as he appeared on the portico. His eyes found Alan in the crowd and gave an almost imperceptible wink.

Alan activated his projector and soon an image of Achmed was seen by the crowd.

Mufasa stood by Haroun's side, ready to defend him from the sorcerer. He feared Galen and hated himself for it. How can he stand there, calmly ignoring the crowd clamoring for his blood? Ah, but the story went that he wasn't human; he was from some other world and possessed strange powers. Wondering if Galen had any allies in the crowd, he looked at all the faces and saw a dead man! He looked again, but it was gone. He turned his attention back to Haroun and Galen.

{He saw me} said Alan. {Did you see the look on his face?}

{We'll soon be ready to show the others} Morgan replied.

Galen seemed to have the upper hand now. He stood there, calm and collected, while Haroun ranted. "Say what you will," he said once he had the chance. "If I were so desperate to hide the truth, wouldn't you think I'd be nervous? I would be jittery, sweaty, and willing to point my finger at someone else? Why, I'd be acting just like you."

"But you would never act the way we'd expect you to," said Haroun, trying to keep the crowd on his side. "What reason would I have for killing my own people?"

"You want your people to think you a hero, and in order for there to be a hero, there must be a villain. You created your own and used me to take the blame." Haroun tried to laugh it off. "You had Mufasa and select guards dress in livery with my crest to make sure the villagers thought they were acting on my orders."

"What a ridiculous accusation. Mufasa, have you nothing to say?"

The Captain of the Guard did not hear him because he was reliving a nightmare. The spirits of those he had killed were in thecrowd. He would see them and then they would disappear. Perhaps because he wasn't reacting the way they wanted him to, they began to float towards him, calling him a murderer and demanding a confession.

Amazed, Ryan watched as Mufasa swung his arms about as if swatting away flies but there was nothing there. Mufasa then fell to the ground and cried out something like "Leave me alone!"

{Do you know what's going on?} his brother asked.

{I was going to ask you the same thing. Maybe Galen and Morgan are doing something}

{Perhaps it was his own guilt}

{You mean after we gave it a little push}

{Exactly}

The two brothers made their way towards Shannon, who was staring straight at Mufasa, unmoving, unblinking. Ryan made to touch her arm but heard Galen's powerful command. {Don't touch her! Any loss of concentration will ruin the illusion}

{You mean she's the one who's making him act like he's just gone insane?} asked Alan. {Wow. That talent could be useful}

Ryan was a little hurt. {OK, you each have your own special talent. What's mine?}

{I never knew anyone could pout telepathically} teased Alan. {I found mine by mistake. I'm guessing Shannon found hers earlier today when she and Morgan were off on their own.}

{It looks like we might be nearing our objective} said Galen.

Mufasa was near hysteria now. He kept screaming to be left alone, but his voice was edged with terror. Finally, he broke down. "Yes! I killed you! It was on his orders!" he howled as he pointed at Haroun. "I've done what you wanted, now go away!"

Alan grabbed Shannon aas she swayed coming out of her "trance". "Nice job," he told her.

"That was a very weird experience. Weird, but cool."

"It worked and that's the important thing."

Ali rushed over to Mufasa and disarmed him before he regained his senses. After the scene they had just witnessed, the rest of the guards put up no fight. Haroun made one last attempt to defend himself. "How dare you do this to me! Once the sultan hears of this--"

Galen started laughing. "Oh, that is too rich, Haroun. Do you take me for an idiot? I contacted the sultan who sent an emissary to witness everything."

Haroun then noticed the man in the elegant robes as he moved away from the shadows. "But how?"

"So many questions. I thought the answer obvious: I had help."

Alan took that as their cue and they started forward. He took great satisfaction at the stunned look on Haroun's face. He gave a deep mock bow then moved aside as the others arrived. By the time Morgan arrived, there was no hiding his fury. "She's a fraud! A harlot! She's no princess!"

He made to strike her but Galen grabbed his arm and seemed to hold him back with no effort. "She is a princess. You should be able to tell that just by looking at her. You set your sights way too high when you aimed for her." He shoved Haroun away.

The emissary stepped forward and announced that he would help set the city and its environs to fights until a new caliph was appointed. He then had the guards take Mufasa and Haroun away.

"Still defending my honor?" Morgan questioned Galen. "You know that's not necessary."

"I just thought it the brotherly thing to do. Excuse me if old habits die hard."

"Hold on. You two are brother and sister?" asked Alan. "How come you didn't tell us?"

"I didn't think it was all that important. I wanted Father to know I could do this without sentiment getting in the way. Besides, I thought it would be better if I did it."

"And you wanted us along in case you couldn't go through with it," said Ryan.

"Well--"

Morgan's explanation was cut short as shouts were heard coming from the soldiers escorting Haroun. "This cannot be happening again," declared Alan as they ran towards the commotion.

"What happened?" demanded Galen of one of the guards.

"Haroun, sir. He just shoved his escorts aside and ran towards the docks. The others went after him. I'm to continue on with Mufasa."

"Good." He continued on after the others.

* * * *

Ryan had taken the lead and felt the thrill of the chase. It was a wonderful feeling. Previously had only felt something similar while manipulating from behind the scenes. He had usually been the pursued in such a chase. All else seemed to blur as he concentrated on Haroun. He could have sworn he could even smell the man's fear. That spurred him on. He spotted Haroun and pounced, bringing him to the ground. After a short struggle, Haroun surrendered and Ryan sat back to wait for the others to catch up.

* * * *

Alan spotted the other guards as they turned down a narrow alleyway. Haroun must have doubled-back or they missed the turn-off to begin with. He followed and found Haroun sitting back against a wall being watched over by a wolf. A wolf? What was a wolf doing in the middle of a busy city?

{Waiting for you to catch up} came Ryan's voice.

Alan looked at the wolf. {Ryan? I see you found your talent}

{Wishes do come true. Thing is, I'm not sure how to change back}

Alan grinned and watched as Haroun was taken away yet again. "Okay. I'm guessing that all you really need to do is picture yourself in your own body. Of course, it's only a guess."

The air around Ryan shimmered and the outline of the wolf blurred and changed. Soon the human body of Ryan sat there on the ground. "That was some experience. Wonder if I can do other shapes as well?"

Alan lent his brother a hand. "Who knows. Perhaps Morgan or Galen can tell you."

They walked back down the alley to where it intersected with the main road. There they met Shannon, Morgan, and Galen. "The guards told us you were here," said Shannon.

"Let's hope Haroun won't do that again," said Alan.

"He won't," said Galen.

"You sound sure. I've known that confidence before only to have it dashed to the ground," said Alan.

"Galen conjured up some manacles," said Morgan. "He won't get out of those."

"The guards said that there was a wolf guarding Galen when they arrived," said Shannon. "Did you see it?" A look passed between the brothers and they smiled. "What am I missing?"

Galen took in their grins. "I think you all have found your special talents."

"Really? The wolf was you?" Shannon asked Ryan. "How?"

"I don't really know. I didn't even become aware of the change until later." He explained his thoughts during the chase.

"That was it," said Galen. "Gradually your thoughts led your body in the change. The ease with which it was done amazes me. It takes most quiet moments of high concentration to make their first change. I know that's how it was with me."

They met Ali who was on his way back to his ship. "That was some spectacular you put on," he remarked. "I'm sorry I believed in all those tales he spread about you," he said to Galen.

"I did nothing to dispel them. In fact, I think I helped them with my attitude in public. Perhaps Morgan is right. I'm not ready to live among these people. It's time to go home."

"You'll all be leaving, then?" asked Ali.

"I think it's for the best," said Morgan. "We've done enough here already."

"You were a great help, Ali," said Shannon.

"You won't be needing a ride back to Basrah, will you?"

Alan looked at Morgan who shook her head slightly. "No, but thanks for the offer." They all shook hands and Ali continued on to the docks. "So, should we set our machines to take us back to the portal or do you have 'other means'?" he asked.

"I think your machines will be best," said Morgan. "Galen and I can handle it from there."

The three TOC members set the coordinates to the portal in their machines and made sure Morgan and Galen were within the generated field before they activated them. The glow of the portal welcomed them and they all walked through.

* * * *

Alan stretched and yawned. The sun was just rising over the stones. had he fallen asleep and dreamed it all? It seemed so real. He looked about and saw that he wasn't alone. Shannon and Ryan were there as well. If they had come to the circle when he was asleep, they would have waken him, not fallen asleep themselves. He stood and looked down at himself. These were not the clothes he had been wearing last night. He walked over to the others and shook them awake. "C'mon, guys. Rise 'n' shine."

Shannon and Ryan slowly woke and looked at him with bleary eyes. "It did happen, didn't it?" asked Shannon.

"The three of us couldn't have had the same dream," commented Ryan.

"Why did Morgan leave us here?"

"Maybe the council demanded it. They weren't too keen on our presence to begin with," said Alan. "I think we'll be seeing them again sometime. Who knows where."

"Or when," agreed Ryan.

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