ONCE upon a time, when men still believed gods and goddesses walked the earth, Hecate, Great Goddess of Night, was granted dominion over the crossroads of man. The dark goddess took her charge seriously, for not only did she stand watch over mortal roads and byways, Hecate guarded the crossroads between dreams and reality . . . between the corporeal and the ethereal. Her dominion was the place from which all dreams, and the magick they create, originated. Thus, the Goddess of Night became Goddess of Magick as well as Goddess of Beasts and the Ebony Moon. Ever vigilant, Hecate called to her service a monstrous beast of olde. Willingly the beast swore to be the goddess’s Guardian of the Crossroads and to do her bidding. This creature was the perfect melding of man and beast; son of the Titan Cronos, he was a being like no other. As reward for his fidelity in answering the goddess’s summons, Hecate gifted her Guardian with the heart and soul of a man, so although his appearance was monstrous, Hecate felt secure, entrusting him with the protection of the boundaries of the magickal crossroads, which the goddess christened the Realm of the Rose, as well as the Priestesses of the Blood, who served Hecate there. For centuries, the Guardian stood faithful, following the dictates of his sacred trust, for he was as honorable as he was powerful and as wise as he was mighty . . . . . . Until one Beltane. The Guardian knew his duty. But alas, even a great Guardian can grow weary. Our beast did not err because of cruelty or greed; his only mistake was in loving unwisely. He broke trust with his goddess, and in a flash of rage, Hecate cast a spell over her Guardian and the Realm of the Rose. The realm would have no High Priestess, and the Guardian would sleep eternally unless the beast was awakened by a woman who carried the magickal blood of Hecate’s priestess and was wise enough to see the truth and compassionate enough to act upon it. And so the Realm of the Rose despaired and the Guardian slept while their goddess waited . . .
“I’ve been having those dreams again.” Nelly straightened in her chair and gave her what Mikki liked to think of as her Clinically Interested Look. “Would you like to tell me about them?” she asked. Mikki shifted her eyes from her friend. Would she like to tell her? She uncrossed and then crossed her long legs, ran her hand nervously through her hair and tried to settle into the wingback chair. “Before I answer that question, I want you to answer one of mine first.” “Fair enough,” Nelly said. “If I tell you about my dreams, how will you be listening? As my friend or as my shrink?” The psychiatrist laughed. “Please, Mikki! We’re at a coffee shop, not my office. You’re definitely not paying me a hundred and twenty dollars an hour to sit here with you. And let’s not forget”—she leaned forward and exaggerated a whisper—“you’ve been my friend for years, but you’ve never been my patient.” “True, but that hasn’t been because of my lack of issues.” “Oh, definitely,” Nelly said with purposeful sarcasm. “So you gonna tell me, or do I have to use my secret shrink tricks on you to get you to divulge?” “Anything but that!” Mikki raised her hands as if to fend off an attack. Then she shrugged her shoulders. “Well, they’re the same as the others.” Noting Nelly’s knowing look coupled with her raised eyebrows, Mikki sighed and rolled her eyes. “Okay, maybe they have changed some lately.” “Could you see his face this time?” Nelly asked gently. “Almost.” Mikki squinted and stared at a spot above the cozy brick fireplace in the corner of the coffee shop. “Actually, I think I could have seen his face this time, but . . .” “But?” she prompted. “But I . . .” Mikki hesitated. Nelly made an encouraging sound. “But I was so preoccupied I couldn’t make myself concentrate on his face,” she finished in a rush. “Preoccupied with . . . ?” Mikki stopped staring at the hearth and met her friend’s eyes. “I...