This is an ongoing story about the Succubi, that I am writing week-to-week on A Succubi’s Tale. Updates are every OTHER Monday beginning May 19th, 2014, and after a chapter is posted, it will be added to this page.
For later chapters than the ones posted here, check the main page of the Tale for the Monday posts which have the newest chapters!
(Story is up to date on this page to Chapter Thirty-Five posted on August 11th, 2014)
“How did she die?”
The question hung in the air over the people surrounding the cold steel table upon which a body rested, covered in a white blanket. The medical examiner pushed his thick glasses up his nose with a latex-gloved finger before replying in a disinterested voice, “Looks like a mugging. Stabbed in the back eight times, then whatever she had on her was taken. She was found beside a car in the Summer Hill Mall parking lot.”
The man who had asked the question rubbed the day’s worth of stubble on his chin, “Eight times? Sounds like something more than a mugging Doc. No mugger than I know of would spend the time to stab his or her victim that many times. Too easy to be seen or get caught.”
Doc looked back at him before shrugging, “You want facts Tom. That’s all we have here. Nothing else to say about her. Eight wounds with a knife or similar object. No sign of other harm to her. Before you ask, no signs that she was raped either.” He turned away from the table and stripped off his gloves, “Just the usual senseless crime in the big city.”
After Doc left the room, Tom stared at the body for a while. It didn’t make sense. Why her? She was nobody. Nothing special. She probably had a family, and he would have to see them next.
That was the part he hated most of all; having to walk up the lawn or path or whatever, knocking on the door, the person opening it for a moment with hope in their eyes that their loved one would be there waiting. But instead they would see a middle-aged brown-haired, brown-eyed man in a rumpled suit flash a badge, ask to come in and then, a little while later, leave the home with wrecked lives in his wake.
He sighed and grabbed the clipboard that held her ID… and came to an abrupt halt in his thoughts.
There was nothing there: no name, no address, no other ID. Nothing.
He was mulling over the procedures for filing a Jane Doe report when a woman’s voice broke into the room from behind him: “We’ll look after her from here, thank you.”
Turning to look over his shoulder from his right he answered, “She’s a Jane Doe. My file. You have…”
He found himself looking at a woman about his height. She had short blonde hair in a bob cut, blue eyes, slim build. Cute in her own way, he supposed. She was holding a folded piece of paper in her hand: “…paperwork. I’m here to claim my Sister.” She handed him the paper as two burly men in dark suits entered the room behind her.
Tom didn’t bother to open the paper. There really was no point. They would not have managed to get into the room without having the paperwork to do so, nor would they be able to leave with the body if they didn’t. He watched her go over to the table, lift the top of the sheet from the body, then with a nod say to the men, “It’s her.”
They wasted little time after that. Within moments they had moved around both himself and the blonde before taking hold of the table and rolling it out the door.
As she turned to follow the men pushing the table from the room, Tom called after her, “I’m… sorry for your family’s loss.”
She hesitated in mid-step before replying without looking at him, “Are you really? Or are you just parroting the words that your regulations say you should say, officer?”
Tom found himself unable to bring himself to say that it wasn’t just words, that he hated his job, that he hated not being able to find the ones who did these things and bring them to justice. Instead, he replied, “Not all words are lies, Ma’am.”
Her answer gave him pause, “No. No they are not. But neither are they all truths, either.”
He watched her open the small blue purse she held. For a moment, she seemed to be considering her next actions carefully, as if she was about to reveal something that she was not sure she had the right to. A small white card appeared in her hand a moment later. She looked at it before placing it on the countertop to her right, “If you want to attend her services, they’ll be at that address. Tomorrow. Nine in the morning.”
With that she pushed through the door, leaving Tom in the room alone with his thoughts, the buzz of the lights, and the card on the table…
And the question in his mind of whether or not he would or wouldn’t…
Tom picked up the card and stuffed it into his inside pocket of his jacket without looking at it. That decision could wait for the moment. Pushing through the door that led out of the room, he turned down the hallway and entered Doc’s office.
Doc’s office was not what you would expect from a medical practitioner. Every other doctor you would ever meet had their diplomas on one of the walls, books neatly placed on bookcases, files waiting on the desk, all of the stereotypical things you would expect. Doc was not the norm. Doc’s office consisted of a wall of filing cabinets on one side, his mass-purchased steel desk opposite to that, and, on the wall to the right, a single photograph in a frame.
That photo was of a young Doc with his arm around a cute redhead with blue eyes. They looked happy together. Tom always wondered about that picture and what happened to make Doc the old crusty pain in the ass that he was today.
Doc was sitting behind the desk, a bottle of some cheap dime store beer to his right, his concentration on a file in front of him as he wrote something there in the chicken scratch that was common to doctors around the world.
Tom took the chair on the other side of the desk and said, “It’s early for having a beer Doc.”
As he put his pen down and reached for the bottle, the answer was, “Nightshift rules, Tom. Whatever helps you make it through the shift.”
Tom frowned but didn’t push Doc on this. Doc was one of the few people who still tolerated him. Not quite a friend, mind you, but at least Doc would listen. He said in return, “Our Jane Doe was claimed. She was rolled out of here a few minutes ago.”
Doc just about choked on his beer, “Claimed? I wasn’t told? Who released her?”
Tom blinked, “Err… I did. She had paperwork and…”
With a slam of the bottle on his desk Doc growled, “Gimme the paperwork, Tom.”
It took a moment for him to draw it from his suit before handing it over, still folded up. Doc opened the paper and then shot him a look, “Did you look at this Tom?”
A shake of his head was the answer…
Doc tossed the paper at him as he reached for the phone on the desk, “Nice paper. No work.”
Tom blanched as he looked to see that the paper was… empty. Blank. Nothing.
Just like Jane Doe herself.
It took a short time, but it became clear that whoever had claimed the body had gotten out of the building unopposed and unseen. Even more frustrating was that parts of the surveillance cameras in the building would randomly turn off and then back on again leaving gaps in their coverage.
Doc pointed a finger at Tom, “You have any ideas?”
Tom didn’t hesitate, “Nothing. Didn’t give me a name or anything. I figured that a woman and her muscle wouldn’t get down here without clearance, so I didn’t think to challenge her.”
With a grunt, Doc turned back to the phone, dismissing Tom… which was fine with him.
He stood up and walked from the office heading towards the elevators. After pressing the button for the main floor, Tom fished out the card the blonde had left on the counter. He almost expected it to be as blank as the sheet of paper she had given him. Why didn’t he look at it? He should have. At the least he should have asked for her name or Jane Doe’s name. Something.
Finally the card was in his fingers and he considered the address printed there in a cold formal font…
S. Realm Enterprises, 69 69th Street. We make dreams.
The bell sounded as the elevator doors opened.
Tom had an appointment to keep in a few short hours, and some answers to get from that woman over this…
Tom didn’t go directly to the address on the card. No, that wouldn’t be proper if there was a funeral there–especially not at four in the morning. First he went back to the small unremarkable apartment that he called home. He had lived in the place for just over 12 years now.
Exiting the subway he crossed into the first rays of the sun pushing their way into the concrete jungle that was his city. A sort walk with the warmth of the sun on his back brought him to his small apartment. It was a simple basement apartment that he could slip in and out of at all hours and not bother the people that he knew were his neighbors but whom he had, in all truth, failed to get to know.
Moving down the twelve steps from the street to his door he fished out his keys and then rammed one of them into the lock. For a moment he dwelled on the past and why the place meant as much to him as it did.
That could be summed up with one word.
With a grunt to push the memories away, Tom opened the door to discover a small grey calico cat, the last living thing in his life to connect him with her. She purred questioningly at him and he replied out of habit, “Yeah. I know. Look like crap and smell like it too, right?”
His answer came in a flick of the cat’s tail, and then it walked away, no longer interested in him for the moment. Much like he was with the world today; for some reason that didn’t matter right then.
The floor creaked as he tossed off the clothes he’d worn that morning. A quick shower and shave to look semi-respectable, and then he fished around in his hall closet, he found his funeral suit, shoes and tie and changed into that.
It didn’t take long. Before leaving again, he tore open a tin of cat food, filled the old porcelain dish that was the cat’s and left some drinking water before leaving again, catching a cab and heading off to… Somewhere else again…
The cab came to a rough stop as Tom heard the cabbie grunt, “69 69th Street bub. Nine-fifteen for the fare, plus the tip.”
Tom looked out of the window with some surprise. 69 69th Street was… odd.
This was one of the more fashionable, modern parts of town, with gleaming steel and glass buildings, corporate logos plastered all across them. The typical chain stores with their signs screaming at people to buy something within their doors…
But not 69 69th Street… no this place was, well, calm… quiet…. unassuming. Among all of the rushing around, this building was a throwback to earlier times in the city, a brownstone four story building set back from the curb a short way. The windows gleaming in the sunlight made whatever was within invisible for the moment.
Tom paid the cabby and then started towards the wrought iron fence that marked the edge of the property. As he walked along the cobblestone path towards the front doors, an odd thought came to him: this was like following the yellow brick road. Amused, he wondered whether or not that woman that he met in the morgue was named Dorothy. He also noticed that, to either side of the path he walked, there were a series of park benches and trees for shade in the small space that had been carved out…
He then registered the fact that there were no people sitting on them or milling around. If there was a funeral to be held here or at least a remembrance of someone shouldn’t there be people here waiting to enter or at least trying to comfort each other? Or did he mishear the time of the gathering, being either too late or too early for it?
Either way he was here, and time was ticking away.
Taking the four steps to the front door, he noticed the bronze nameplate of the company by the door and the little buzzer and speaker to call for assistance.
Which he pushed.
The speaker crackled and a somewhat distorted female voice asked, “Yes? Can we help you?”
Tom was going to start with the usual lines that all police gave, but then remembered the conversation he had with that woman and said, “I would… if it is possible, like to pay my respects to a sister that passed away…”
There was a short pause and then the voice replied, “One moment please and someone will let you in…”
It was a short wait — perhaps five minutes — before the thick wood door was opened and, to his surprise, the blonde who gave him that blank note in the morgue stood there. She didn’t seem at all surprised to see him, although, for a moment, she brushed her hands to smooth out the black silk dress she wore before greeting him with, “Good morning. Please do come inside.”
Tom shot her a look, but accepted the invitation and stepped over the landing…
…and just about lost his breakfast as he did. For a moment, he thought that he was going to leave a wet chunky spot on the carpet, but then the feeling passed and he found himself looking at the blonde as she shut the door and locked it again.
He coughed and then was about to read her the riot act, arrest her, and take her downtown when he realized that they weren’t alone… and there was a funeral or wake or something going on.
The immediate area around him was filled with couples milling around, talking in hushed tones. Several of them were looking towards him and the blonde with looks that ranged from disinterest to bemusement to… desire?
The blonde gave a little cough to get his attention and added with a nod of her head, “Will you join me in the sitting room, please?”
Tom was torn for a moment between hauling her away and getting more out of her, but finally decided that it all looked legit in his eyes. Making a scene at a funeral would not go over well, and he wasn’t sure but he thought that a few of the people in attendance were city officials… high up ones.
Very calmly, Tom replied in a low voice, “Lady. You have no idea just how much trouble you have created. Where’s your sister? I’m going to have to take her back to the morgue. She was attacked and there is an investigation going on. You can’t…”
The blonde shook her head and then with a nod, offered, “Please, just come over here into the waiting room with me? We can discuss this there and I’ll try to answer your questions.”
Tom finally gave a grunt of agreement and followed her away from the crowd deeper into the building.
She led Tom towards a white trimmed doorway in the wall that opened into a good-sized room. It was not your typical business waiting room with year old magazines and hard, cold, plastic chairs. No, this place was classy. Cherry wood furniture, bookcases filled with what looked to be expensive writings, a large ornate rug in the middle of the room, and a small fireplace in the wall that was unlit for the moment.
Taking a seat in what looked to be a Victorian high-backed chair, she waited a moment before asking, “Would you like a seat?”
Tom shook his head, “No, thanks. Lady, you are in all sorts of trouble.”
Turning to him she said, “I’m sorry for misleading you, but there was little time and I didn’t have a choice in the matter.” She smiled a bit, “My name is Camilla Addison. I’m sorry that I didn’t introduce myself when we first met, but I wasn’t prepared for you to be there. Might I know your name as well?”
Tom offered in return, “Thomas Selleck.”
Camilla placed a hand over her lips and attempted to not giggle as she managed to get out, I’m sorry. It’s just that…”
Tom nodded and allowed a small grin, “Yeah, I know. My mother was in love with the television show, but my dad wouldn’t let her name me Magnum… It’s an ice breaker at parties, however, when I have a fake moustache on…”
She placed her elbow on the arm of the chair and then put her head against her hand, “I’m sure it would be Thomas.”
He turned serious again, “Miss Addison, you understand that you have broken several laws with what you have done and I will have to arrest you for them.”
She just smiled, “I don’t think there will be a problem.”
Tom was getting frustrated and it began to show, “A missing body, a theft, and you think there won’t be a problem? Why would that be, Ma’am?”
Camilla explained, “I am sure that whatever is needed to make that issue disappear is being looked after as we speak, Thomas. My… group is not without it’s resources and connections within city government and the powers that be in your city.”
He paused to consider that and then said, “Group? Are you suggesting that you are part of the Mafia or something illegal?”
The oddest smile came with the words, “Not the Mafia, and nothing that your rules would see as illegal as such, Thomas.”
He had the feeling he was being played with, much like when his cat would tease a mouse before killing it. The frustration grew as he answered, “We should continue this discussion downtown ma’am.” Tom was not happy with the situation and found himself falling back on his training to try to take control of the situation– if he had even been in control of it at any moment since he had met Camilla.
She shook her head and replied, “I think that will not be where we need to go next, Thomas.”
He gave her the obvious reply, “And just why would that be ma’am?”
A new voice came into the room behind him, “Just because.”
Tom spun around and just about fell over from shock…
Standing there, in a red dress, was Jane Doe… very much alive and, from the look in her eyes, not exactly happy with what was going on.
It was her. One hundred percent Jane Doe, complete with mid-length curly red hair and green eyes. He found himself thinking that she looked better in the red than under that white sheet in the morgue. Tom’s next coherent words were, “What the hell is going on?”
Jane replied coldly, “That’s a good question isn’t it?”
Camilla shot her a look, “That’s enough. Show some manners when we have a guest here.”
The reply was a snort of derision.
Camilla tapped her right hand on the arm of her chair before she sighed, “Have a seat, Thomas. She’s not who you think she is.”
He took the chair to her right still in shock. He was absolutely sure that this was Jane Doe. That he had seen her on the slab. Dead. But there she was, angry and looking for trouble. With a sigh Tom ran his fingers over his chin as he attempted to gather his thoughts. In doing so, he managed to reply, “Must be the end of the world. Dead people walking the streets.”
Camilla reached out a hand to touch his arm and explained, “Identical twins. We always had a problem telling the two of them apart. Finally got to the point where we made them get tattoos…” A short nod in Jane’s direction, “Mind you, her sister was not as frustrating to deal with.”
The glare in Jane’s eyes made it clear that she didn’t like Camilla. Nor, Tom thought, that she thought much about him, either.
Tom couldn’t believe that she was right. This was the Jane Doe in the morgue. The face, the hair; It was her, all right, he was sure. Identical twins? Weird things did happen, but this was just out of the ballpark. Still, he found himself asking her, “So what’s your name, then? Can’t be Jane, can it?”
For an instant, she seemed to be considering her answer very carefully. The look of barely contained anger didn’t change for the seemingly endless moment before she came to a decision. Uncrossing her arms, she put them behind her back and then shifted her hips a bit before answering, “You can call me that, if you like.”
Tom wasn’t sure at first if she was playing him or not. When someone was being evasive they looked guilty, nervous, unsettled. Jane looked as if she was ready to snap someone in half if they weren’t careful what they said or did.
But somehow calling her Jane felt right. Whether or not it was her real name was another question. He figured that he could get something out of Camilla or that, when he took the two of them downtown, there would be some real answers given. Still, he couldn’t do that right this minute, and so he glanced at Camilla, “Are you all this helpful when it comes to answers?”
Camilla chucked, “Ask a direct question and you’ll likely get a direct answer Thomas…”
He pondered that as he looked at Jane standing there, unconcerned with him, the police, or. it seemed, anything else.
Save the anger within her that was almost like a black cloud hovering over the room.
Seeing that she wasn’t leaving, he took that to mean that she would answer more questions from him. Tom decided that it was in his interest to get some basic information out of her, so he sorted out the questions he wanted answers to, picking out the ones that were quick and meaningful. Then he said, “Jane it is, then. What’s your sister’s name? The one who was lying in the morgue who Camilla and the goons took out last night?”
Jane didn’t flinch as she answered, “Patricia.” And not another useful word came from her after that to ant of his questions. But it was obvious that there was a great deal of hurt in her eyes, hurt that was feeding her anger. Tom found himself deciding that as odd as the story was so far, there didn’t seem to be a lie in it he could touch. It was also obvious that Jane was hiding something from him that he would need to figure out.
Rubbing his chin, Tom mumbled to himself, “Magnanimous women will be the death of me I’m sure.”
Jane smirked and offered, “You never know what the future brings. Patricia didn’t.”
Tom managed to bite back what he wanted to say, which was that she should get off her high horse and try to be less of a bitch and more of a human being. He found himself looking at Camilla and thinking, “I wonder how she’s related to her?”
Camilla saw him look at her and began to explain, “Jane… has been out of the country for a while. She came back early this morning after we sent word a few days ago that Patricia had gone missing. She arrived shortly before you did Thomas, and…”
Jane finished the sentence, “I was told she was dead. A wonderful way to return to family isn’t it?”
Tom couldn’t argue that point either.
Camilla told Jane firmly, “The detective is here to look into what happened.”
Jane actually rolled her eyes before giving him a dismissive wave with her right hand, “So you are here to investigate why she was killed then? Or are you here just to make waves in our lives?”
Tom gave her a hard look as he answered, “You want tidal waves lady? Just setting aside what happened to your sister, what you people did in the morgue is a no-no. She was taken from the morgue improperly. There is an investigation going on about that. It’s not my problem but I’m here because I am involved in it. Now, your sister is my case, and maybe I can figure out what happened and why and find the one that did this. That’s why I’m here. I have to start somewhere and…”
He looked at Camilla, “…You were good enough to leave me the clue to this place at least.”
Jane gave a little snort of derision, “Police. Useless beyond words.”
He managed not to growl out the words, “Lady, I don’t know where you were and I don’t give a damn either. This isn’t some two bit country in the middle of nowhere. Patricia is my case to solve, and I’m going to. I’m not going to let this just slide by into the unsolved case files, and you know why?”
Jane just watched him in silence until he answered with a smirk, “I have my reasons.”
Camilla chuckled at his words before saying as she clapped her hands softly, “Touché…”
Tom was about to start asking some pointed questions of them both when there was a soft cough from the hallway. Standing there patiently was a man of the cloth. He looked like the sort of man that you’d like to have as your uncle: a kind face; eyes that held the glimmer of mirth and joy he carried with him; the stature of years of listening, understanding, seeing and helping; a life filled with the joy of doing good work wherever he was needed to be.
He carried a small, old book that Tom took to be a Bible in his left hand — a hand well weathered with time and doing the work of his life. But it was also clear that his hands were the source of comfort as well as guidance where it was needed. He didn’t command the room with his size. No; that, it seemed, was not his way. It was more his easy smile and welcoming stance but, most of all it was just the calm understanding that surrounded him.
He smiled pleasantly to them all before saying, “We’re going to be starting the service in a few moments. Would you care to join us?”
To Tom’s surprise, both women replied in soft voices with deference to him, “Of course. We’ll be right along.”
He nodded at the reply and then said to Tom, “You are welcome to join us as well, mister…?”
Tom stood up and then offered his hand, “Selleck. Thomas Selleck.”
The twinkle in the pastor’s eyes became a little more mischievous as he accepted the hand and gave it a firm shake, “You need a mustache.”
Tom chuckled, “Thanks for the tip. I’ll get right on growing one in the morning.”
The minister laughed in return, “Excellent. We need something to smile over. Patricia would be mad as all get out if there wasn’t some joy here today.”
Then. with a pat of Tom’s shoulder and a wink, he disappeared down the hallway. Tom watched him leave before he commented to the two women in the room, “Seems like a good man.”
Camilla had stood up and offered, “The best. Come on. He’ll be disappointed if the whole family isn’t there.”
Jane turned away with a last scowl at Tom before vanishing into the hallway. He looked at Camilla and said, “Well, I suppose she’s on my not friends list.”
She slipped her arm around his and said, “Well, maybe I can be on your friends list instead?”
He replied to that with, “Tell me the truth after this. Explain to me what the hell is going on and you go to the top of the page Camilla.”
She seemed to be thinking about that for a long time as she stood beside him. Then, mysteriously, she said, “The truth just is Thomas. You just need to be able to see it for what it is.”
As they left the room, Tom found himself wondering what kind of service it would be…
They followed the crowd toward the rear of the building. As Camilla led the way, Tom attempted to fit what he had so far into some kind of explanation of what was going on.
That wasn’t turning out to be simple.
What he had so far was a dead body that was going to be out of his reach soon; a woman who took that body illegally and didn’t seem to be concerned about the problem with the law she now had; and a sister of the deceased who was an identical twin, one who he hoped wasn’t going to take the law into her own hands.
Tom sighed and mumbled under his breath, “A beautiful day in the neighborhood.”
They passed through a white marble archway and into what seemed to be a courtyard behind the building. The first thing Tom noticed was that there were trees, lots and lots of trees. Looking up, he found that, with the exception of a small open space in the middle that showed the blue sky above, there was no view up, out, or around the place. It was as if the buildings surrounding the brownstone had vanished and had been replaced by trees. He expected to hear the sounds of the city coming through the greenery, but, instead, all he caught was the occasional low conversation from people here and there as they milled around, and the sound of wind making tree branches rattle in the air.
Camilla replied with that odd smile she had, “It usually is.”
Looking around, Tom saw that there were rows of chairs placed from the back of the brownstone towards the middle of the space. Tom figured something like fifty or sixty people could fit in the space comfortably. Then he saw it: a casket made of cherry wood, with a fine, ruddy patina, past the rows of chairs ahead. Camilla maneuvered Tom along the side to the line of mourners giving their respects. As the two of them came closer to the casket, Tom was surprised by what was there.
A grey calico cat curled up beside the casket on a small chair. He looked at it for a moment, noting that some of the people would stop by the cat, offer a few quiet words, and then move off to find a place to sit. He was about to ask why the cat was there when it was their turn to pause.
Tom watched as Camilla twined her fingers together and bowed her head before beginning to whisper to the casket. He didn’t catch all of what she said. Just the occasional words… “Hope… someday…. remember… missing you already… be fine.”
Tom simply looked at the casket and closed his eyes after a moment. He didn’t speak the words but just thought to himself, “Rest well Patricia. Not giving up.” Then they moved away in the next moment. But Tom stopped to give the cat a gentle scratch behind its right ear and received in return a low purr. Tom recognized it as the same purr his cat made when it was content. It raised up its head and then looked at him with a pair of odd blue eyes before it’s tongue darted out and licked the palm of his hand once.
Camilla said with some surprise, “I’ve never seen her do that with anyone but Patricia… Usually she’s a lot meaner.”
Tom answered as he drew his hand away, “Just good with cats I guess.”
A young man serving as an usher came over and guided them towards the last row of the chairs and then indicated where they should sit. After getting settled, Tom asked Camilla, “How big is the family anyway?”
She replied again with that smile, “We’re all here.”
Then Tom saw Jane pausing at the casket for a moment. When Jane went over to the cat, there was a low hiss and Jane glared at the cat before walking away to take her seat. Tom leaned over and whispered to Camilla, “I see what you mean about the cat.”
Somewhere around them all, a chime sounded. Then another. And Another. To Tom’s ear it wasn’t quite wind chimes, but something very old and meaningful which seemed to catch everyone’s attention making the conversations come to an end and the attention of all turn to where the casket lay. As the chimes ended, the mourners rose, Camilla nudging Tom to his feet with her elbow.
Then the minister walked down the center aisle accompanied by a woman with long wild raven-colored hair that reached most of the way down her back. She was wearing a flattering black dress and a wide brimmed black hat that covered most of her face from Tom’s view. But he was able to pick out the woman’s red lips and slightly tanned skin. It was obvious that everyone but he knew who this was from the nods and whispered words of sympathy.
“Odder and odder,” Tom thought as he watched the scene. He wasn’t sure who this woman was, but there was no doubt that she was important. Patricia’s mother? She seemed too young. More questions and mysteries to pick at…
With some help from the minister, the woman found her place in the front row, and after a word with her and a nod, he left her there and took his place beside the casket and the cat.
Placing one hand upon the casket he began to speak, “It’s good to see all of you here today; some I haven’t seen in a while, some met for the first time today. And in being together, here and now, we fulfill something important: our longing to be with family. But we should remember that we should not be together only in times of need, but in times of joy as well.”
He looked about them all, his eyes stopping on a few as he continued, “If there is nothing else to be found again today, the finding of family, of understanding, of seeing what should have been seen… that is what you can all take from here today. But that is not the only thing that Patricia would have wanted from us today now, is it?”
His hand rubbed against the wood, “She would have wanted us to remember the good she had done., the joy she had brought into our lives, the memories and, yes, the promises made for the future, would she not? She would not wish us to think of revenge, of anger, of seeking out a measure of flesh in return for her. Let not the darker thoughts cloud the judgment each of us has. There are other, better ways.”
His gaze paused to look at the raven haired woman, “Rebirth will happen. Whether it is happening today, or will happen tomorrow, a century. or a millennium from now, it doesn’t matter. She will return someday. That much we do know. And, with that moment, the family will be together again once more.”
He turned his eyes to look at Jane, “As much as we miss Patricia, we should never forget that. Ever.”
Opening the book that he carried in his other hand he explained, “Patricia and I had a discussion once. It focused on this passage.”
Looking to the book he spoke clearly to them all, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Closing the book he then continued, “We should remember what matters. That in the end love does matter, does make a difference, does make the impossible… possible. Each of us, with the love that we share in our lives, makes that possible. Patricia knew that. Believed in that. Made it happen in her own way… and in doing so, she proved the words true to us all. If there is something that should be remembered as we leave here, to return to our own worlds within the world around us, it is that is above all.”
He then closed his eyes, “A moment of quiet for Patricia…”
Tom closed and bowed his head in respect to the minister’s request and waited for him to speak again…
But he didn’t.
Instead, Tom heard the sound of the wind chimes begin again off in the distance a short time later and then to his surprise, the people around him stood, gave a final look to the casket and the minister, then departed. Tom remained seated with Camilla as they did so, watching them all leave, including Jane.
But then he noticed that the raven haired woman was still at the front with the minister standing by the casket. He asked Camilla, “Why aren’t they going?”
She explained, “There is one more thing to do, but that is something she and he do alone when everyone is gone. It’s hard to explain to someone that doesn’t believe in what our family does.”
Tom leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, “Your family is full of mysteries. I’d like one of them to be answered before I leave.”
The next voice he heard wasn’t Camilla’s.
“Would you care to join us Thomas?”
Opening his eyes, he found himself looking at the raven beauty he had only glimpsed earlier. She was, to be blunt, stunning: full lips, deep green eyes, but, within the beauty, the love of a mother, of a sister, of something intangible. Tom was taken aback by her, and then she favored him with a warm smile as she spoke to Camilla, “If you both want to join us, you know where to find us, my dear…”
Then she turned away to return to the minister, take his arm and walk away from them towards the trees…
Tom didn’t move as they walked away. Then he asked Camilla, “How does she…”
Camilla cut him off with a giggle, “She knows. She always knows. Just the way things are when you are around her.”
That seemed to make sense in a way. It appeared that everyone at the service knew her, deferred to her, so it would follow that she was well informed. And then Tom remembered the preacher he had met moments before. He might well have told her his name.
It all made sense finally.
With a grunt, he stood up and offered his hand, “Well she’s invited us. We’d better not turn her down then right?”
She nodded, “Uh-uh. Wouldn’t want to be on her bad side after all this time.” They walked past the casket and then turned onto the path that began just past the first tree there. Tom noted that it was of red cobblestone, but oddly smooth. Normally walking on them for a woman in heels would be a challenge, but there was nothing uneven about them: No gaps, nothing save a smooth path that wound in front of them around and between the trees there. Still Tom was ready to catch Camilla if she should trip or stumble.
Tom commented, “Long and winding road isn’t it?”
She answered with, “Life usually is when you think about it.”
The path ended at a small clearing and in the middle of that space was a silver and white gazebo. The supporting structure was of the silver, as were the steps. The white was the latticework between the silver and around the sides of it all. Tom asked, “What is this place exactly?”
She replied, “A place to remember those that have gone until they return once more Thomas.”
Standing outside was the minister, and standing at the top of one of the short set of stairs was that woman, working on something hanging from the roof. As they came closer, it was apparent what she was doing.
She was hanging a wind chime on a white ribbon suspended in mid-air there, among what looked to be hundreds of them. Every chime was silver in colour with some sort of white writing on the face of it. Tom noted that there was no single ribbon colour at work holding them all in place. Red, black, blue, yellow, it didn’t seem to have a rhyme or reason to it, just a mass of colours all ending at the same metallic silver and white.
She finished tying the ribbon and then moved away from it. As Tom watched, that chime began to swing a little bit and then touched the chime next to it. He assumed that there was a wind in the gazebo that was causing one chime after the other to start to sway and begin their sounds in the air.
The odd thing was, as the woman stepped down and away from the chimes, they tolled in a clockwise pattern around the gazebo, ending where they began at the chime she had just placed there. But when it was struck, Tom didn’t notice that it didn’t make a sound…
She took the minister’s arm, and the pair walked to Tom and Camilla, stopping just in front of them.
Tom assumed he would be able to ask a question of her first, but instead the woman began, “I have spoken with the Mayor, and as of this morning all of your other cases have been removed from your docket, Thomas. Save for Patricia; as of this morning she is your only case.”
Tom couldn’t help the stutter, “But… But… How?”
She didn’t quite smile so much as allow the corner of her mouth to arch a bit. “Just cause Thomas. Just cause…”
The shock in Tom’s voice was very apparent, “Who exactly are you? What gives you the right to be able to order things in this town?”
She replied in the same calm voice, “You have our card do you not? We make dreams Thomas. We have done a lot of good in this place for a lot of people. Those people owe us favours… I called in a few of them this morning.”
She continued in a matter of fact tone, “You are supposed to be the best at solving difficult cases. The other ones are all simple ones that can be handed off to those in your department that need the experience in solving them. Secondly, you are involved in this case Thomas. Quite deeply now aren’t you? Finally, and most importantly Thomas, you have shown more concern about Patricia than anyone else has. Therefore, you are part of our family now Thomas.”
Thomas frowned, “What exactly does it mean that I am part of your family?”
She smiled, “You go where angels and devils fear to tread…”
For the first time Tom managed a chuckle, “Do that every day ma’am, that’s going to be nothing new.”
She turned to Camilla, “Answer his questions, Daughter; all of them. Give him what he wants.”
She nodded, “Yes. I will.”
And then the woman began to walk away with the minister. Before they had moved too far away, Tom called out, “What’s your name?”
She paused in mid stride and with an oddly pleasant smile replied, “Tera. My name is Tera.”
And then she continued on her way, leaving Tom more confused than ever…
After the pair walked away, Tom just stood there, watching them. She was an enigma. Tom didn’t like those. He liked to put people into categories, that made it easier for him to connect them to other people in ways not normally apparent. So far — and Tom didn’t like this — every person he’d met had been put into a category he called “Hell If I Know.” Shaking his head, Tom returned his attention to Camilla, “Okay, I have questions, you have answers. So, what the hell is going on around here?”
Camilla had walked to a park bench nearby and after brushing off some leaves that covered it. sat down and looked at Tom. “That’s a big question Thomas. You want to narrow it down some?”
It seemed odd that she would ask for a more direct question, but Tom could play that game. He sighed and pinched his nose: “Right. Let’s start with something simple, then. What is your family’s last name?”
The answer was not what he expected: “We don’t have a last name.”
Tom was getting frustrated again, but managed, “Okay, no last name? That doesn’t make any sense, Camilla. You have to have one.”
She folded her hands into her lap. “I did have one; not anymore. There is no need for one. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, Thomas, but … for us, it does…”
He mumbled, “Also makes for lots of fake I.D.s.”
She raised a finger in the air: “I have never changed my name since Tera gave me her gift.”
Tom dismissed that and continued, “Who is she exactly, this Tera? How is it that she has so much… power?”
This answer was also a surprise, “She’s the Queen. That’s the why. The how is more … involved.”
He stumbled over his words just slightly, “The Queen? So she has diplomatic immunity, I suppose here. You know, I’ve never heard of a queen named Tera before. But then why does she operate out of a normal building and not an embassy? And where is her security? A head of state doesn’t just walk down the street everyday.”
Camilla smiled, “Tera does. She is the Queen, but she refuses to take on the trappings of one. She would rather be with the world instead of being separated from it. Pomp and ceremony, to her, only means that you don’t care about the people who call you their ruler, or other things, so she spends her time in the world, easily accessible, and never once has she refused a request if someone has asked to see her.”
“But her connections?”
“She’s been around for a very long time Thomas. Did you know that she was one of the founders of this city?”
Tom shot her a look. “This city is over 500 years old, Camilla.”
She nodded, “Yes. Yes it is. Interesting contradiction, isn’t it?”
Tom paced for a few moments trying to fit that into his worldview. It was impossible. No one could be that old. That woman definitely wasn’t. There was a piece which was missing, something important that Camilla wasn’t saying and he hadn’t managed to ask. Then he said, “Well she looks good for being 500. But you must mean a previous queen named Tera, and she’s something like the twentieth one or something.”
Her answer was a shrug, “Or something like that.”
Then he turned to another subject, “Tell me about Patricia then.”
Camilla sighed, “She was, is, one of Tera’s Daughters like I am. She became one before I did. She lived in the city with three children she adopted with her … husband for the last 17 years: two boys and a girl. They’ve left the city with their father. They are quite safe where they are.”
Tom sighed in reply: “You know that he’s a suspect, right?”
Camilla shook her head: “He’s not. I can guarantee that.”
“You can’t know that.”
She just smiled again, “Tera knows. He couldn’t lie to her and if he tried she’d know.”
“Handy to be a living lie detector.” Tom managed a smirk. “Still, I want to talk to her husband and the kids, Camilla. I can’t just accept her word on him.”
“It won’t get you anywhere Thomas, but I’ll make sure you meet them.”
Tom nodded: “Thank you. Now, did Patricia have any enemies?”
Camilla actually looked confused for a moment. “Why would a loving wife and mother have enemies? They lived their lives together, Tera let them be and didn’t ask them to do anything save live their lives and look after their children. They did their time in Hell, Thomas. They survived, Tera found them and gave them what they wanted most of all. Why would someone hate that?”
Tom’s answer was blunt, “Extortion perhaps. Kidnapping. Money. Anything is possible.”
Camilla put her hands over her nose for a moment: “None of that is a good enough reason for her passing, Thomas.”
Tom walked to her and placed his hand on her shoulder, “I know. It never is.” He took a long pause before he asked, “Why weren’t her husband and kids at the ceremony?”
She explained, “In our ways they don’t appear at the memorial service. They are, at the moment, burying Patricia.”
“Here?” Tom was very confused now.
She nodded, “Where else?” Then she waved a hand in the direction of some trees behind him, “Well actually, over there a way.”
Tom threw up his hands in frustration, “Look, this is nuts! You can’t bury someone in the middle of the city.”
“Who said we were in the city Thomas? At what point did I suggest that you were there?”
“Sorry Camilla. That’s bullshit.”
Her next words sent a shiver down his back, “You haven’t been in the city since you walked into our world.”
“What exactly do you mean by that, Camilla? Your world?”
Camilla stood, taking Tom’s hand in hers, “Come on. Tera said to show you everything.” She started walking away from the gazebo to a clear spot in the grass around them.
In protest Tom pushed her for an answer, “What are you talking about? Where are we going?”
A pointed look and the words, “To open your eyes.”
Before Tom could react, Camilla made a motion in the air with her hand, and, in the next moment Tom found himself standing at the base of a lush, green mountain, hundreds upon thousands of gray stone markers surrounding him. This was impossible, he knew. There was no way that this was real.
Tom turned to her and exclaimed, “What the hell?” and found himself looking at Camilla transformed. There were short black devil horns in her hair, her dress was shiny red latex where it had been cloth, a long, black, spaded tail moved in the air behind her… and there were tears in her eyes.
Tom started to panic, then. All of the stories he had been told from childhood about devils and evil, about hell and damnation came rushing into his thoughts.
She still held his hand tightly in hers. “This is all real Thomas. Don’t panic okay? I will not harm you. Just try to get your bearings and calm down okay?”
He tugged at her grip, trying to dislodge it, but she held him firmly. Putting a hand against her chest, he tried to pull away, grunting out, “What the fuck are you?”
“Tom! You need to calm down! Please!”
He didn’t. The fear welling up within him, his thoughts of the gun under his jacket and the thought that he might have to shoot her. His free hand moved away from her and reached for the weapon.
“Let … GO!”
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught her tail whipping around and braced for when it struck him, knowing that he was damned…
Closing his eyes, Tom’s thoughts turned to Beth, there had always been a hope in his mind that they would be reunited someday. Tom waited for what he had been told was the fate of those that consorted with demons: pain, fire, brimstone, eternal suffering…
That didn’t happen.
Everything turned quiet, Camilla’s hand still holding his as he felt something brush over his suit and then move away. Then she said, “Open your eyes Thomas. Please?”
He didn’t. She got nothing in response.
She let go of him and continued to talk, “Thomas, I’m going to explain some things to you. I hope that you will listen to what I am saying, because you really need to.”
He heard her step back, “The first thing you need to know is that you are in our Realm now. You can’t get back to your home without me. You have no idea how to.”
That made him open his eyes and look at her. Managing to push the fear of devils and demons down he managed, “I’m in Hell, aren’t I?”
She frowned, “No. You aren’t. It’s complicated, but you aren’t, and you aren’t damned like your legends say you should be. ”
Her tail moved in the air behind her, tossing something to the ground in front of him. Looking at it, Tom could see it was his gun. Or it has been once. The barrel of it was now bent backwards. She smiled thinly, “You can’t hurt me or anyone here with that.”
His heart was still pounding, “You are evil. You just are.”
She sighed and put a finger of her right hand over her lips, “If I was evil, then I would have killed you when we first met, Thomas. If we were evil, we would not have shown you as much as we have. If we meant to do evil, we could have easily caused havoc across your world with little effort.”
The logic of that statement made him pause, “You still haven’t shown me anything that makes me believe that you aren’t evil.”
Her answer was, “Haven’t I?”
She laced her fingers together, then put them under her chin, “You’ve seen that we have been accepted by a man of the cloth. You’ve seen that we have a great number of people who care enough to come to a funeral for one of us. You…”
“I have only your word on that; nothing more.”
A shrug, “Sometimes thats all you get.”
“I. Want. Out.”
“You can’t get out. You are up to your neck in this and it’s your own fault Thomas. If you would have left well enough alone, if you had simply not poked your nose into places, you would be still so very ignorant of reality. But you couldn’t. Why?”
“None of your business.”
“Spill it, Thomas. There is something that is driving you. Something that you can’t let go of.”
“No. It’s personal.”
“Thomas, tell me. You need to. You have to see that even through that thick skull of yours.”
He didn’t want to say, not at all. Tom had managed to keep it deep insidem or so he thought. Now, suddenly, unbidden the memories started to return to him, and he breathed one word.
It started innocently enough: two people in a crowd, making their own way through the universe. That was, until the universe gave them each a nudge towards the moment they would meet for the first time.
Tom had finished his first day as a beat cop and was on his way home. It was the third week of spring, the weather was nice and he, being short on cash until his first paycheck, was in the Eighth Street Station to catch the train home.
Then he saw her.
In the mass of people milling around, the waves of grey and black that marked those of business and formality, a woman in a bright canary-yellow dress made her way towards the edge of the platform he stood upon.
She was, as Tom would tell his friends the next day, cute. Nothing else really mattered past that. She stopped to wait for the train at the edge of the platform ahead and to the left of where Tom was. He couldn’t help but look her over.
She had short, almost pixie-cut, brunette hair with the occasional streak of blonde in it, a button nose, nice full lips painted with pink lipstick, pink nails. Of course, the heels she wore matched the dress; you’d expect that. She wasn’t a looker, but, in truth, Tom never was one for the supermodel type. He preferred women who were independent, smart, and good company. He noted that she carried a small yellow purse and a copy of a newspaper in one hand, her other hand strategically placed to keep her dress from blowing around in the wind when the train arrived.
The train came into the station, stopping in its place before the doors opened and Tom and this woman in yellow entered the car. There was a bench seat free at the front of the car on which Tom, entering the car further ahead, took a seat, waiting for the train to continue on.
The doors closed and, with a lurch, the train began to move. He closed his eyes and sighed a bit thinking about that woman and wondering what her name was.
As the wheels of the train screeched around a corner, he heard a perky voice ask, “Umm… Excuse me, would you have some room for a girl with worn out feet?”
Opening them again and looking up, he found himself looking at Miss Yellow Dress. Standing up, he offered her the seat beside him, “Please, have a seat Ma’am! Wouldn’t want you to stand there.”
She smiled and gratefully took the seat beside him. Then, turning to Tom, she said, “The worst part of my day is the subway ride. Have to switch eight trains to make it home and to work everyday.”
Tom asked in confusion, “Eight? Hell of a ride for anyone. Why not live closer to work?”
She laughed, “My cat would never let me move. Silly thing; sometimes I wonder if she owns me or I her.”
Tom chuckled, “Well cats are like that – Independent – but they’ll come when they want to be fed.”
The two chatted for a time, the train moving between stations as they shared little bits of information about themselves. She was impressed that he was in the police. She was involved with a charitable foundation. He talked about his first day — the mistakes, what he had learned on the job that he didn’t in the police college — she about the day she spent at the general hospital downtown, visiting sick children and reading them stories, all of the small things of their day.
The train lurched to a stop again. Tom looked up to note that his stop would be next. Standing up he said, “It’s my stop next. Wish that we could talk more, but thank you, Ma’am, for the time you have given me. It’s been the highlight of my day.”
She favored him with a smile, “It was my pleasure.”
For a moment they just looked at each other as the car swayed from side to side, then a sharp shake passed through the car and she fell against Tom with a small gasp of surprise.
Tom found himself looking at her surprised eyes, his thoughts full of whether she was seeing someone, if she was interested in him, really, or just being polite in talking with him.
But he somehow just knew that she was – for him at least – perfect.
She giggled musically and with one hand gave his arm a squeeze, “I have a feeling that you are very good at sweeping a girl off her feet…”
Tom laughed, “Well, you’ll have to let me try to see, won’t you?”
For a moment, Tom thought that he had pushed too far. She had this odd smile and, as he found out later, that meant she was bemused and, more importantly, interested in him.
She straightened up and then opened her purse to take out a lipstick tube, which she used to write a series of numbers across the paper before offering it to him. “Maybe, if you’d like, we could meet for a movie on the weekend?”
Tom paused for a moment before taking the offered paper from her fingers, “I’d be honored to. Could I call you tomorrow? I have some friends waiting for me at the pub and…”
She nodded, “And of course you should be there. Have fun, and we’ll talk tomorrow, call me whenever…”
The lights of the station appeared around them and Tom moved towards the exit, feeling her eyes still on him as he did. The train slowed down and came to a stop, the doors sliding open.
As he stepped through, he turned to her and said, “I didn’t catch your name.”
She chuckled, “You didn’t ask. I’m Bethany.”
He grinned and tipped his cap to her, “Tom.”
With that, he left her sitting there in the car, but didn’t leave her life. Tom had already decided that he would see her again soon.
Tomorrow came and Tom did call Beth… a lot.
She would make a joke of it at their wedding the following year. She knew, she would explain, that Tom was seriously interested in her when she heard his Sergeant yelling at him to get to work.
Nine times over the day.
Finally, the weekend arrived, but they didn’t go to a movie. Instead Beth asked Tom to meet her at Central Park next to boulders at the south entrance. Tom was leaning against one of the smaller ones when he heard her voice, “It’s too nice a day to be inside isn’t it?”
He found himself looking at Beth in a bright yellow sweater and blue jeans, carrying a picnic basket in her hand. She gave him a peck on the cheek and added, “And I make a heck of a sandwich.”
Tom was taken aback for a moment at her kiss. He wasn’t sure if he should wrap his arm around her and was about to ask a question when she took hold of his hand and led the way into the park.
She continued to talk as they went on, “I really wish that there was a park on every corner. Would make the city such a nicer place to live don’t you think?”
He smirked, “I see. You just want us guys mowing lawns so that you know where we are right?”
A squeeze of his hand in hers, “I have a really good idea of where you are right now silly…”
They found a small rise in the park next to a grove of trees and, in a short time, the two of them were sitting on a yellow blanket sharing the meal that Beth had brought with her.
Tom was chewing on a deviled egg when a question came to him, “Why all the yellow?”
She looked at him with bemusement. “I like yellow. Yellow makes people happy, the children like it when I spend time with them and, most importantly, the yellow hides all of the cat hairs pretty well!”
Tom chuckled, “Smart, practical, and has a wicked sense of humor… How did I get so lucky?”
Before Tom knew what was happening, Beth had moved from the far side to sit beside him and then lean against him slightly as she took a sip of water, “Oh hush you. Stop asking dumb questions and tell me that you like me will you?”
He put the sandwich down and turned her to look at him, “Like? Beth, honey, I fell for you hard.”
The next few minutes were ones that Tom would dream about in the years to come. A long, tender, perfect kiss from the one who had his heart, and there wasn’t a thing that he wanted to do except hold her and love her.
And she him.
The wedding came one year to the day from when they had first met. Beth had told Tom that she didn’t want a huge over-the-top wedding, simply because they couldn’t afford it. Tom had to agree and was prepared to have a civil wedding at City Hall and then just be off on their honeymoon together.
It didn’t quite work out that way …
Within one short week after the wedding date was announced, Tom’s precinct and Beth’s office pooled enough money together to get Beth a wedding dress and Tom a decent tuxedo. They also managed to arrange a ceremony at the park where the couple had first dated and, to match that event, a picnic for all that attended.
The entire thing was a whirlwind, as the couple never knew what had been planned for them. Beth didn’t make it out of her apartment before her girlfriends bushwhacked her, and Tom was gang-tackled by his buddies. They were each blindfolded before leaving for the park, not seeing again until they were both at the altar.
They worked the blindfolds away, and then Tom found Beth standing beside him in a white wedding dress with a bright yellow train. Beth saw Tom in a white tuxedo, a yellow carnation in his lapel. Both of them heard the crowd yelling surprise as the minister began to speak.
They were both asked the traditional questions, to which they both said yes. Then they exchanged the rings that they had spent a year saving for. And then, finally, to the throwing of rice, Tom lifted Beth’s veil and finally kissed his new wife.
Life was good … finally … For a while …
“Thomas, talk to me.”
Camilla stood there, looking quite concerned. Tom found himself looking at her, not with the panic he had at first, but, instead, with an odd curiosity.
He let out a snort, “I’m good. You wouldn’t understand.”
“That you lost someone close to you? That you where hurt? Still are? Always will be?”
Tom didn’t answer that. He could, but he felt like she was getting into something that she had no right to. So instead of answering, he turned away from her and looked at the landscape around him.
The rows and rows of grave markers made it clear that this was a place of rest for those who had passed on. For a moment, he wondered how someone like Camilla could be killed, and then shoved that thought away.
It wasn’t something that he needed to think about.
Camilla frowned, “You haven’t got a lock on pain, Thomas. No one does. Not ever.”
He thrust his hands into his pockets, “Alright, I’ll assume that you are telling me the truth and that you aren’t going to kill me.” He heard her coming closer. Passing him, she nodded as her tail moved from side to side behind her. “Why me?”
Her tail stopped, “That’s not for me to tell you. If you want to know, you’ll have to ask Tera about that.”
He managed a smile, “Passing the buck or thinking that I can’t handle it?”
A shrug, “Both.”
He walked up to her, looking at how she had changed. She was still the girl he had met not that long ago, just with some optional extras added to her. If he overlooked those, she was still a woman… No. That was wrong. She was what she was, but she didn’t lie to him … that one thing made her trustworthy.
“Alright. I’ll talk to her later. Camila, what … why are you?”
She rubbed her hands along the side of her dress, “We aren’t all evil, nor are we all good. We make choices just like you do. Sometimes they are good ones, sometimes they are bad ones, but we choose to do and be what we are.”
She winked, “Thanks… Been working on that for centuries, actually.”
“Now how about the unvarnished truth?”
She nodded, “In short, I believe we are in limbo between light and dark, that both want us and both are afraid of us. You can think of us as wildcards, Thomas, but there is one thing, one promise that we have made that we can’t forget … people like you have to make your own choices, decisions, and actions …”
He put a hand up: “I didn’t choose to be here.”
“Oh yes you did. You chose to come. You chose to knock on the door. You chose to see what you could find out. All of that was your choice.” She waved a hand, “All of this followed because it had to; you would have never accepted a lie…”
He thought about that and came to the decision that she was right. He wouldn’t have let this lie, ignored it, moved on. That wouldn’t have happened because it was not his nature to do that.
“Besides giving me the breadcrumbs to find you, why did you pick me?”
Camilla shook her head, “Can’t say.”
A question came to him, “Tell me something. Are there angels and all that other stuff?”
“Yes. Angels, devils, dragons, faeries, and more are all real. It’s just that your world has forgotten about the wonders around it … most of the time.”
“So what are you, exactly.”
She looked almost embarrassed, “Beings like me are Succubi, Thomas. There are Incubi here as well.”
He arched an eyebrow, “I’ve heard of those.”
“No. You have heard of something like us, not us.”
“A Succubus or Incubus kills through sex. We don’t. We gave that up ages ago just to be able to be who what we are right now; independent beings that serve no one.”
Tom thought that over, “Okay, so you split away and you do what you want.”
A slight nod.
“That’s dangerous, Camilla. No rules means nothing to control you.”
A smile, “But there is: one very important thing, Thomas. We know the past. We won’t go back to it again.”
Tom wiped a hand over his eyes, “You know that this is all too much to take in.”
Her hand was soft and gentle on his shoulder, “You are, really, one of the few people that can handle this, Thomas. Most people would be screaming and running in circles at this point.”
“What makes you think I won’t?”
“Curiosity … You want to know the secrets. Your mind is wanting to know answers to questions you have had since the day you were born. Most of all, you won’t let yourself back down from a fight, Thomas.”
Tom thought that over for a while. It was true that he was wondering about a lot of things … more than he wanted to be. But three things came to the forefront. He had a mystery. He had a job to do … and he had a promise to keep.
He looked her straight in the eye, “I need a partner in this; someone who knows the lay of the land; someone who will watch my back.”
She nodded, “You always will in our world.”
He offered his hand, “I … I will trust you Camilla. I trust that you will watch out for me.”
She took his hand, “I promise. I want a promise from you, too: wherever this goes, whoever did it, whatever it takes, you won’t walk away.”
They shook on it and then Tom asked, “Where are we? Fill me in.”
“You are in what you would understand as our cemetery.” She pointed towards the mountain covered in fog at the edge of the markers, “It continues far up the mountain, almost to the very top. Everyone whom we can return home is here. Some never return and we are less for that. Otherwise, from the first of us to the last of us, our bodies rest here.”
Then she pointed into the distance to Tom’s right where three figures collected themselves around a marker, “Her family is up there.”
“Let’s go. I want to talk to them.”
It took them a good fifteen minutes of walking before Thomas got his first good look at Patricia’s family. Her husband was talking to their children, trying to explain to them, Thomas assumed, what had happened and why their Mother would not be returning to them.
The husband was a short blonde man, unassuming, someone you wouldn’t look twice at in the street. He wore a darker suit, in comparison to the children. Looking at the children, Tom was struck with the realization that neither of them had horns or tails.
“Why don’t the kids have horns and a tail like you — or their father, for that matter?”
“They haven’t decided if they want to be like us. So they are simply children with their own ideas and goals. If they decide to become like us, then they’ll have to go through the ceremony and be picked by a Tail.”
“Picked? By a Tail? How does that work?”
She shook her head, “I’ll explain later. Not in front of the children. We protect them from what we are so that they can make up their own minds…”
With that, Camilla’s horns and tail shimmered and vanished, but her clothing remained transformed. As they came within earshot of Patricia’s family she added, “I’d thank you not to talk about it please.”
Tom nodded, but resolved to ask Camilla more questions about their rules later. After all, rules were meant to be broken in the eyes of some people … Reaching the father, Tom offered his hand, “My sympathies upon your loss, sir.”
The other man stood and paused for a moment before taking the offered hand, “Thank you. Name’s ‘Brent.’” The grip was firm but not overwhelming, although Tom had the distinct feeling that he was being judged at that moment by this man.
A nod, “Tom. I’d like some of your time.”
Camilla went to the kids, soon hugging them and drawing their attention away from Tom and their father. She gave him a nod, and Tom took that as his chance to start his questioning, assuming that Brent agreed.
Brent spoke to the kids, “Okay you two, go with Auntie Camila; her friend wants to talk to me. Now be good, right?”
A chorus of, “Yes Father”, and then Camilla and the kids began to walk towards a path leading away from the grave markers.
Brent then rested a hand on the marker which Tom now saw had Patricia’s name on it, “I’ve been told that you are looking into my wife’s death. I’ve been told that Tera asked you to do this. That true?”
“She did, I was investigating before I knew about what you people are. She’s hard to say ‘no’ to…”
A chuckle: “She’s the Queen. Rarely pushes people, mostly suggests and guides when needed. But she has always let people choose to disappoint her or not.”
“I’ve disappointed myself.”
Tom was not exactly surprised by those words. Survivors usually blamed themselves for things that happened to their loved ones. Some couldn’t handle the pain and didn’t stay in the world, taking what they thought was the easy way out. Others became vigilantes, trying to take an ounce of flesh or more from the person, persons, or thing that took what they loved away. Tom’s concern was a being of power losing control and wrecking havoc.
A being like Brent.
Tom started where he needed to, “Why? What could you have done?”
Brent placed his right fist into the palm of his left hand, “I could have been with her. I could have stopped it.”
“So why weren’t you?”
For a moment, just a moment, a shadow fell over Brent’s face as he replied, “Because I was stupid enough to get trapped in a ward set by a mage.”
A pair of black horns shimmered into view at Brent’s temples and his black tail formed behind him, that tail almost lifeless, not moving as Tom had seen Camilla’s do almost constantly.
“Summonings are a bitch. Any idiot with the right book and a fragment of knowledge can summon us into their world. They can summon anything. The stupider ones go and summon beings that they can’t control and then in a panic they summon another being to try and save their worthless hides.”
“Which were you?”
A snort: “The latter. The ass summoned a Darkweaver: ugly horrid tentacle thing that likes to hide in shadows and kill the unwary that get too close. The ass summoned it thinking that he would use it to kill a rival. He didn’t expect that it would try to eat him instead.”
Brent rubbed his fist twice, “So in the middle of that happening, he grabbed his book and tossed out a summoning spell with no focus. I was unlucky enough to be nearby and got dragged into it.”
Tom held up a hand, “You haven’t said where you were.”
“You remember that house that burned to a crisp on the lower west side the same night that … that Patricia left me?”
A nod was Tom’s answer. That was in the papers. A two story, hundred year old house went up that night. One body was found in the mess, the morgue didn’t even bother trying to identify it; there was not a lot left.
“I was the closest supernatural being to him, so I went from being at home with the kids to standing in the middle of a bloodbath. The mage didn’t last five seconds after I got there. The Darkweaver then turned its attention to me and I had to kill it…. Otherwise it would get loose in the city. Couldn’t let that happen.”
He laughed, “Because the Queen forbids it. She says that we’ll never get recognition for what we do, but someday it will matter. So I cornered it in the basement, lit some hellfire in the floor to surround it and then burned the place to the ground.”
Brent didn’t flinch at that, “Burn it or let others die, me first, then whomever got in its way. Arson was the quickest way to stop it. So I did it. You can take me to jail for that if you want.”
Tom pushed on, “You have more important things to deal with. And two kids to look after.”
The tears that formed in Brent’s hurt eyes were something that Tom had seen before.
Brent wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, “I couldn’t leave until I was sure that thing was dead. I stayed in the flames watching the place turn to ash because I had to be sure it was gone. When the fire department had the flames under control and I couldn’t sense anything else there, I portaled out back to our home. When I came through I … I felt her die.”
This was confusing to Tom, “How could you do that?”
Brent started to play with a silver ring on his right hand, “She was more than my wife. She was … is… my Eternal as I am hers. When something happens, something really bad, we know…”
Tom took that at face value, “Why didn’t you go to her?”
Brent gave him a look, “I did, dammit! I portaled as close as I could and ran to her, but the mall cops were there trying to save her and I couldn’t reveal myself, not even to save her. Then your people arrived and it was far too late to do anything more …”
Tom could see the anger in Brent’s eyes, “If I had left, if I had just assumed the fire would have done its job, if I wasn’t so focused on that … thing … I might have felt her in trouble and gotten there sooner, taken her back here and our healers might have saved her …”
Tom felt like he was walking on eggshells, “You won’t believe me, but I know what you mean. Do yourself a favor … get yourself together and real quick. You have two kids that need their father right now. If you forget them I’ll slap you myself so that you remember.”
The dangerous look in Brent’s eyes vanished at the mention of his children, “They have no idea what’s really happened, or it hasn’t hit them yet … what the hell am I supposed to do now?”
“Be a father. Be their father. At least you have that to comfort you Brent. I wasn’t that lucky …”
Brent looked off in the distance where Camilla and the children had vanished behind a small rise moments before, “Luck? I’m all out of that. All that’s left is …”
“Is getting on your feet, making sure those kids of yours know that you are going to be there for them, and that their mother loves them. Not loved.”
A nod, “They know. They’ve always known that. It was the first thing we said when we found them.”
Tom’s reply held a question he had, “Adopted. Camilla told me but not why.”
“One of the things that marks us is that we can’t have kids. Legend has it that as part of the price for being free, the pound of flesh that was taken in return was that we would never have our own. But like any being that deals with contracts, a loophole was found. They never said that we couldn’t adopt them.”
Tom smirked, “Nice. Good deed in place of a bad one. So you got your freedom and then took it upon yourselves to … what? Take kids you wanted to fill a void in you?”
Brent’s tail, for the first time, rose into the air and then pointed itself at Tom, “No. We go through the same steps that you would to adopt them. We don’t cheat and we don’t pick. Every single one of them is loved by all of us. We’ll protect them, let them choose their own way no matter what.”
“And if they choose not to be like you?”
Brent’s tail drooped a bit, “Then they choose that. We stay with them in your world as long as we can. At least until they have their own lives to lead. Then we fade away from them.”
“That hurts doesn’t it?”
Brent sighed, “More than you know. We still watch over them, watch them grow old and then … then we mourn them… It’s a lousy life when you have to watch your kids pass on before you do.”
Tom asked the obvious question, “How old are you, really?”
“Going on three millennia.”
Brent chuckled, “Pretty much. Seen a lot, loved just one, and now I don’t know what the future brings to us.”
“You hoping that the kids follow you?”
Another nod, “Have to. But I won’t push them, not an inch. They’ll know when the time is right and then … then if they want it, its theirs freely.”
“And if not?”
Brent’s tail and horns shimmered and vanished again, “Then it will be like a dream to them and they’ll continue in their lives never knowing the truth. But I will, and I’ll still be their father.”
Tom considered that; knowing that even beings of power believed in free choice was a small comfort. He wanted to continue to a question about Patricia. But before he could, Brent started walking off in the direction of the kids.
“Sorry Tom, I know that they are safe, but I don’t want to be away from them.”
Tom caught up with him in a couple of strides, “Would you tell me what Patricia did for a living? That might give me a place to start.”
Brent nodded, “Nothing. She stayed home, looked after the kids and that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.”
He reached into a pocket and then handed a card to Tom, “You won’t believe it.”
Tom looked at the card and didn’t believe it. There in black and white was proof that the universe had a wicked sense of humor. The card read, “Brent B. The Daily Times. Gossip.” It was so weird that he asked, “So tell me then, who’s the mayor seeing?”
Brent’s eyes actually had a spark of mischief in them, “If I told you, you’d fall over from shock.”
Putting the card away, Tom sighed, “Probably. I don’t believe the porn star rumor myself.”
Brent had a look like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, so Tom asked, “You make enemies over your job?”
That question brought Brent to a sudden stop and then he shook his head, “Nah, they wouldn’t do something like this over something so trivial.”
As the two of them crested over the hill, the answer wasn’t what Tom expected…
“It would be easier to list the ones that aren’t …”
There are two sides to every story. There is a dark side and a light side to the universe. This was the way things were from the beginning.
But, in one part of it …
… the Dark was …
It watched those who call themselves Succubi and Incubi with distaste. Such beings did not do the things that they should, did not make souls choose the wrong thing at the wrong time in hopes of damning them utterly.
The balance was, the Dark knew, tipping ever so slightly towards the light. Its power would, given time, wane …
This was something that could not be allowed to continue.
The pawns that had been placed into motion had removed one piece from the board of play. It was not enough to alter them all. This was disturbing because, from what the Dark knew of them, it expected those that it wanted changed to fall towards damning of their own accord.
But instead of seeing great numbers of them doing so … nothing was happening as it should. Oh, there were some who were turned slightly, but the ones who mattered didn’t budge from what their Queen had declared to be her–and through her, their–destiny.
The Dark looked at the other pawns in the game, knowing that at least one would have to be sacrificed for its plan to succeed. But which one?
Emotions born of Dark were effective for making beings lose themselves. Be they anger, revenge, envy, fear, or similar things, they could be effective in tipping the balance.
Seeing that one pawn in particular wanted a kind of revenge, Dark slipped into the world and made its way towards that one who, it believed, would be affected by persuasion whether aware of it or not.
It found the pawn sitting on a park bench looking at a newspaper. It was almost child’s play to alter a story deep within the pages to leave a clue for the pawn to follow. The story that had to do with a fire in the city that appeared to be arson, a story Dark changed just a bit.
While there had been no evidence of what caused the fire, a mention was added about a witness who claimed to have seen a man enter the building and then leave just before the fire started.
A small, almost insignificant, change, but to the one who was reading it … it would make that person question what he or she had been told and who had said the words.
The article was read, the paper crushed and then left behind on the grass as the pawn stormed off in the direction of a certain brownstone building.
The Dark made that paper burn in an acid-smelling flame before leaving that pawn and appearing to one of its own, special ones. It arrived at an old run-down trailer park on the northern edge of the city, not too far away, but far enough that the crawling evil within the walls went unnoticed by those who could sense it.
But the usefulness of this corrupted human in the Dark’s affairs was ended. There were loose ends to tie up, and this was one of them.
It was elementary for the dark to pass through the walls and be through them. Within was a place that the light had not seen for ages. The windows were boarded over, the light switches ripped from the walls. Nothing that could produce light remained within.
The man within the walls reveled in the blackness there.
That was his downfall and his tie to the Dark …
He was sitting cross legged in the middle of the trailer’s largest room. That space was bare: no carpet, no furniture, nothing that would be expected in a place where one would live. He was an albino, the glow of his white skin at odds with the surrounding blackness; the back of his bald head tattooed with an ancient rune of power in black. His hands were on either side of a black ebony dagger thrust into the floor; the hilt of it pointed towards his body.
The Dark whispered thoughts into the man’s mind, shaping his thoughts in ways that would serve it one final time. The pawn smiled thinly as he gripped the dagger with both hands and worked it loose from the floor. Standing up, he picked up a black robe, wrapped it around his form, and then pushed the door leading to the outside world open and left.
The Dark remained there.
The door did not close completely. A thin wedge of light forced its way within the dank, evil place. It pushed across the bare floor until it revealed a thick red chalk line there.
And just past that …
… something awful.
Sitting there on the floor was a glass jar; its silver lid had more runes upon it. But what was in it was heartbreaking.
Within the jar was a spaded white tail, The remains bleeding and weak, but not dead. The tip was poking and prodding at the lid, trying to remove it. It paused for a moment and seemed to look directly at the Dark before it returned to pushing against its prison.
The Dark chuckled before making the door close, plunging the tail into the blackness once more, and then leaving the place and the creature within it behind …
For a time, the tip continued trying to escape the prison that held it. It had seen, felt, and heard the plans for its kind. There had to be a way to get out and return to those who needed to know.
But it was in vain. There was no exit, no chink in the armor, nothing that it might use to be free and leave this accursed place. Knowing that each and every attempt was just drawing more life from it, the tail curled up into the bottom of the jar and fell silent, waiting, hoping for a chance, a mistake, something that would set it free …
… it hoped that would be soon.
The Dark pushed the Tail from its thoughts. It was sure that there was no way to escape the trap and, even if there were, that being would cease to be soon enough.
There was one final destination for the Dark, one last thing that needed to be done to make its plans come to fruition. Returning to the city, it arrived at a basement apartment, turned into a black mist, and entered the place, silent and unseen.
The apartment was dark, save for the occasional ray of sunlight that found its way through a window. It was a somewhat messy place; the owner had been in a rush earlier that day.
The Dark ignored all of this and instead focused on the one thing it had come here for. There,sleeping in the middle of the room, was a small, grey, calico cat. It lay upon an old yellow wool sweater that almost seemed to glow in the shadows.
Drawing closer, Dark smiled to itself over the sense of loss, the crumbling of will, the falling into despair that this cat’s death would bring to one pawn in particular. It reached out to snuff out the life, to push one last pawn over the edge into despair and loss that would close off any possibility of hope for the creatures it aimed to mold to its plans.
The cat shifted slightly, asleep, as the Dark formed a hand to crush the life from the creature. But, even as it almost had reached the cat’s neck to kiil it …
… the Dark screamed in surprise.
From somewhere, a flash of light glinted off something sharp … and the Dark realized that part of itself which it had made solid was in tatters and unusable.
Sitting in the shadows was a being that the Dark did not expect to be here, a creature that should have left for another place, another realm. But it did not. It was here.
This was intolerable.
All that had been to this point should have meant that this worthless life would be easy to remove from the board. Instead, this creature was being guarded—and guarded well—against harm.
Dark could feel some of its being dripping from it’s shattered and partially severed hand. This was something it had not experienced in eons: actual physical pain. Not able to do what it had meant to, the hand vanished back into the Dark’s shadowy form. Looking towards the being that had attacked, it said dangerously, “You will pay for this … somehow.”
The voice that answered was firm in its resolve: “Perhaps. But you will not harm her. Not now. Not ever. Leave before I take another pound of flesh from you. Leave the way you came or I will…”
There was a cold smile in the next words: “… make you.”
Seeing that this was a lost cause, the Dark turned in a swirl of inky black smoke and then vanished back through the crack from which it had entered.
The cat had not awakened through all of this. She mewled softly in her sleep and curled up into a tighter ball of fuzz and fur.
From the shadows came the hand of the being that had stopped the Dark. It was covered in purple fur with pink nails, an occasional black streak within the purple. For a moment the hand stroked the cat softly, then it withdrew back into the shadows …
… and the room was quiet once more, save for the muffled sounds of the cat sleeping.
Tom leaned against a tree watching as Brent played with his children next to a small fountain with a soaring angel in the center. He was puzzled by what the fountain was supposed to mean, and that showed on his face. After all, who would expect an angel motif in a place that didn’t seem to have a lot of angel-looking beings in it?
Camilla came around from behind the fountain, carrying a small box in her hands. When she came close to Tom, she asked if he had eaten anything. When he didn’t answer, she simply put a wrapped sandwich in his hands and, with a nod of her head, directed him to have a seat at a picnic table nearby.
After getting settled, Tom watched as she began to pick at a salad. As he unwrapped the sandwich, he asked, “Something bothering you?”
She paused and then began, “What bothers me, Thomas, is that I have lost a Sister. I suffer for that. But that’s nothing compared to Brent and his children.”
Tom picked out a slice of tomato, “How bad is it for Brent?”
She poked the fork into the salad with some force, “If he didn’t have the children, I am sure that he would … be no more.”
Tom considered that as he took a bite, “He’s still here. So are the kids. And you. He doesn’t strike me as the type to put a bullet to his head and end it all. Sorry, Camilla, I’m not going to dwell on that.”
“Heartless, aren’t you Thomas? Or is that just a means to protect yourself?”
Tom reached into a pocket of his jacket and tossed a small notebook onto the table between them: “Haven’t the time to dwell right now Camilla. Brent gave me a list of people that had something against him. I can look into the ones who are people. You game to grill the ones who aren’t?”
She turned the notebook around and opened the cover. After a moment she whistled: “I would not have guessed at any of these.”
Tom wiped his lips with a napkin, “How bad are the names you recognize? The ones I do are lousy, but I can take most of them from the list. I’m looking for a killer, and most of them are playboys, play-toys and thrill seekers. They don’t qualify.”
Another bite. “Three of them I’ll have to grill.”
She considered him, “At least your list is a short one. From this side I can see ten times that many creatures and things who would have loved to be the one to have done this…”
Tom shook his head, “Not love, Camilla. Need.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Tom explained, “Some people would love to get an advantage over someone else. That’s a wish, a hope and nothing more. Then there are those that need to get that revenge or whatever else they see it as. They have the power to do so, and more so, they wouldn’t be stopped by anything to get it. That’s need.”
She started back at the beginning of the list again, her fingers tracing down the names. Then she said, “Two that we can get to; one that I would not touch with a ten foot pole and an army of hellhounds behind me.”
Arching an eyebrow, he asked, “That bad?”
She shrugged, “Worse. We’ll need help to see that one.”
Tom considered his sandwich, “You know something? I am more inclined to believe that whoever did this is on your turf rather than mine.”
Raising her fork, she explained, “It can be that someone, as you say, on our turf started this, but you don’t understand how things work in your world. You see, Thomas, while some creatures like us can exist there and interact with your people, there are so many more that need an anchor, something or someone to believe in them and give them purchase in your world. Without that they can’t do anything physical.”
Confused, Tom just nodded for her to continue.
“Magic is thin in your world now. Creatures that once thrived in your world now can’t exist there. Oh they can look in, try to whisper thoughts and ideas into people’s minds and see what happens, but, without someone who believes, like a wizard, mage, or witch… they can’t actually do anything there.”
“Then how do you all manage to be there?”
She smiled, “Sex is a powerful thing. Love more so. If you are intimately connected with both of those, then crossing over isn’t a hard thing to do.”
He nodded slowly, “Base desires and overwhelming needs are the gateway to the soul or something?”
They were quiet for a time until Tom said, “I need to get back, get on and see those names. Can you check your list and … ?”
She shook her head, “No. You are stuck with me for the moment, Thomas. You can do your investigating there and then we’ll both see what happens.”
He frowned, “Are you telling me that I am going to have to go with you to see what you are afraid of seeing?”
“Afraid doesn’t mean I will not go there. But here’s the thing: you are a detective. You know how to ask questions and, moreover, you see more than I do. I think that you asking the questions of them will get us further than I can alone. Besides which, you have one power over them that I don’t.”
Tom looked shocked: “Power? I got nothing.”
Camilla gave a small shake of her head, “You have free will. You have the ability to choose. Most of the creatures we will have to see do not have that luxury. They are connected to other beings in ways that make them what they are. You however … you don’t have that flaw.”
He sighed, “No. I have the flaw that makes me always do the right thing.”
She munched on her salad, “That’s not a flaw. It’s a gift.”
A small smile, “Some gift.”
She just prodded her salad, “Better than most. Count your blessings Thomas.”
Tom chewed on that, and on his sandwich before asking, “Tell me something. Why is it that you always speak to me so formally? It’s always Thomas, not Tom. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard any of you use nicknames or shortened names, for that matter.”
“Manners count, Thomas.”
He gave her a look, “Well I can understand that, Mom always said that having a civil tongue was timportant, but…”
She shook her head, “No buts about it. You can get further with a kind word than with a foul one.”
Tom’s smile was just this side of wicked, “You can get further still with a kind word and a two-by-four.”
“Oh so you have met Tera before, then?”
A similar smile appeared, “You sound a lot like her when she’s in a mood, you know.”
Tom stuck the last of the sandwich in his mouth and mumbled, “Probably why she liked me.”
Taking the list back from Camilla, Tom reviewed it again trying to decide who he would try to see first. Running his finger down the list he tapped one name, “Okay. I think I want to start to get on the bad side of the big names in the city.”
Camilla put her fork down and opened her purse. Taking out a small business card, she handed it to him, “Take this. Some places, your badge won’t get you far. This will open those doors for you.”
Tom considered the card. It wasn’t made of paper. It was a solid piece of silver made into a business card. Written on it was a short line of gold text: He’s doing me a favour. And then a single handwritten letter “T”.
“You can’t be serious.”
Camilla finished the last of her salad with the reply, “Try it. But only as a last resort, okay?”
Deciding that this wasn’t a card to be thrust into a pocket to be crushed, he took out the billfold that held his badge and placed the card into the pocket on the other side of it. Snapping it shut, he replied, “Well, it might as well be next to that piece of tin, to keep it company.”
Camilla picked up what was left of the meal they had shared and tossed it into a bin nearby. Motioning to Tom, she led him to Brent and the children where she said her goodbyes to them. She spoke with Brent quietly for a moment before turning to the kids and giving them a long loving hug.
Tom knelt down to look into the kids eyes and said, “Look after your Dad, okay, kids?” The answer was just a shy nod from them both before they ran over to their father and hid behind him. Tom stood up and offered his hand to Brent, “Do her proud right?”
Brent shook the offered hand with a firm grip, “I will. Watch your back out there, Thomas. Not all things are exactly what they seem.”
Releasing his grip, Tom said, “Rarely is. But sometimes you see exactly what is there, Brent.”
He then turned away and walked to Camilla: “Let’s go. Time’s a-wastin.”
It was a short walk until they were out of sight of Brent and the children. Then Camilla’s horns and tail reappeared as she drew a pattern in the air. Moments later and a portal appeared.
“I don’t think I will ever get used to that.”
She laughed, “Be happy you don’t have to deal with a Tail.”
“Seriously: what exactly does that mean?”
Camilla just smiled as they passed through the portal and it closed after them, leaving a small whirlwind of dust in their wake.
Leaves fluttered around in the afternoon breeze moving here and there aimlessly until finally they came to rest on the green lawn beneath them. The chairs had long been taken away, the place where people had gathered to say goodbye was a plain open space once again.
Then, with a flash of light, a portal opened there, once again making the leaves spin and fly around until it vanished, revealing two figures standing there. Tom and Camilla had returned to the place their journey had begun earlier that day.
Tom looked around, “Looks like they all left without us.”
Camilla brushed some leaves from her hair, “What needed to be said was. Tera would have thanked them, comforted some of them, and reminded them that life needed to be lived.”
“She’s a theologian, too?”
A small giggle, “She is who she is.”
Tom paused for a moment to look at the scene around him, still not quite believing all that he had seen before offering his arm to Camilla, “We’d better get going.”
She held up a finger towards him to wait and then, to Tom’s surprise, her body and clothing shimmered. If looked as if she was underwater for a moment and then it vanished. Camilla stood there, no horns, no tail, and now wearing a blue sweater and jeans.
“You must save a lot of money on clothes with that stunt.”
As she took his arm, a wink and the words, “Well fashion is important to a girl you know.”
Together they walked side by side from the backyard, through the ground level, and out the front doors of the brownstone building.
As they passed through the front yard, they could see Tera, sitting on a balcony, high up on the third floor of the building. She was in the same dress she had worn for the ceremony that morning, looking concerned with what was going on and why someone would threaten her own. She rested on a wrought iron chair, a small table with some papers upon it beside that.
She watched as Tom and Camilla hailed a passing cab and then entered it. Tom was the last to enter, pausing for a moment to look back at Tera.
He touched two fingers to his left temple and then nodded to her. Tera’s reply was the raising of the tea cup towards him and a nod in return. As the cab left, she continued to pick apart what she had learned from those that had attended this morning, and, even more so, those that had not.
Someone was threatening her own; that was concerning, but, moreover, the reason why escaped her for the moment. Still, she had found someone to search the mortal realm, and she had placed with him someone who could help to protect him.
She hoped that wouldn’t be necessary …
As she sipped the cup of tea in her hand, a voice broke her thoughts: “Why are we doing nothing?”
Placing the cup on the table, she answered, “We are doing something. The old ways are long gone: we cannot simply strike without aim. Our kind is better and smarter than that. Come here, Daughter … It is not seemly to hide in the shadows and seethe in anger …”
A snort of derision was the only answer until Jane came into view. She walked past Tera and stared off into the city around them. Crossing her arms over her chest, she began to rant, “You place your trust in a human, someone who has no idea what he faces. You ask one of your own to look after that human and, moreover, you tell her to submit to his will. How can you do this?”
“I can …”
“That is not an answer.”
“Of course it is, Daughter. It is the very first lesson I learned, so long ago. I can believe in others. I can trust in others. That is the first lesson in knowing yourself and what you can do.”
Jane gripped the railing until her knuckles were white, the anger within her so very clear as she twisted her hands against the cold steel. Looking over towards Tera, she remarked, “I don’t believe that Brent told us the truth.”
“I know he has. For what reason would be lie about his Eternal? Just because you do not understand does not make his words false…”
“You have trust, Tera. I do not. I buried my twin today. I have lost a part of myself that … I should have known she was in danger and helped her … I couldn’t. I want someone to pay for this. I want to be there to strip skin from bones and cause an eternity of suffering for this.”
Tera’s sigh was long and sad, “Have you forgotten all that you have learned Jane? Are you really so willing to fall into darkness for this? You are still young in our ways, but you know well that what you ask for… cannot be.”
Jane didn’t look towards Tera, “I should have been there.”
“You could not, Daughter … You were not in a place to help her. No one was. She was targeted by someone or something that wants something from us.”
Jane continued to fume, “Then strike back against them… all of them… Tera, just send out the Syreen. They are hunters. They will find the ones responsible and make them pay.”
Tera picked up the cup, “All right, Daughter. Who shall we send them against? The humans for being here? Those beneath who wish us harm? Those above who cannot understand us?”
A sip of the tea and then, “Being vague would mean that you condemn all around you to the same fate, a fate that they do not deserve. The ones who did this? They will be found and then taught the error of their attack on us; but only when I have proof, and not a moment sooner.”
That made Jane pause for a moment, her thoughts putting what Tera had said together with something she had read that morning. Looking to the grass below, she whispered, “I saw a story in the newspaper today. It mentioned the place where Brent had been. It said that a man had been seen leaving the place before the fire started.”
Tera shook her head slightly as if to say no, but then she brushed a finger over her lips before answering, “That would mean someone else was there, obviously. Then the question to be asked is: what was he there for and what, if anything, does he have to do with what happened there?”
Another whisper from Jane: “Or Brent is lying about what happened.”
Jane heard the cup settle upon the table and then… silence.
That silence extended for a time and then, to Jane’s surprise, she felt a hand take hold of her right wrist and begin to pull her into the building, the tea cup on the table tumbling into space as she was forced inside and out of sight of the surrounding world.
When she turned around, she saw Tera standing there with her red horns and tail visible. The tail pointed at Jane as harsh words passed through the air: “If you see an error in my ways, Daughter, say so. If you feel that I am wrong, prove it. If you have a better idea, show me. If all you have is opinion and anger, you do me and your Sister not a single bit of good.”
Tera closed the distance between them, pressing Jane against the wall behind her in fear of her Queen’s wrath. She closed her eyes, waiting for the strike of a hand against her cheek and the words of displeasure she knew were to come.
But instead, she felt a brush of fingertips against that cheek and then, for a moment, all she could do was listen to Tera’s words as her body refused to move under that touch …
“How do you think I feel, Jane? How do you think I feel when one of you is harmed? How much more do I suffer when one of you dies? How much worse is it when that is for no good reason? You talk of the pain you have for Patricia’s passing in your heart. As her mother, do you not think I share that?”
Jane couldn’t look at her. For the first time since she had become one of Tera’s she felt ashamed for disappointing her. A tremble in her voice revealed her fear as she asked, “Mother… have… have I disappointed you?”
She found her head turned towards Tera, and could not resist the power behind that. Tera’s voice was soft again, “You have not disappointed me Daughter… Am I worried? Yes. Do I fear for you? Always. But you have not disappointed me. That would take far more than some anger towards me.”
Jane’s eyes fell upon Tera, seeing a soft smile on her lips and the love of a mother in her eyes. She felt Tera’s fingers stroke against her skin and then, unbidden, tears began to fall across that cheek, wetting the fingers that remained there. Jane managed a sob, “I …”
The sob was answered by a soft hush and the words, “Do not let the need for revenge or the hate that comes with it cloud your judgment …”
Jane whimpered the truth, “I can’t, Tera … I just can’t …”
“I know… I’ve been there before…”
She felt a tail wrap around her legs, and then she was in Tera’s embrace, the tears coming without end …
… and Tera just telling her to let it all out …
The cab ride was a quiet one for Camilla and Tom. When he started to ask her a question, she would either shake her head slightly or give his arm a little poke with a finger trying to get him to stop asking the question. Tom understood why she wouldn’t want to talk about her kind, or world, or anything else that was related to things normal people wouldn’t understand. But he couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t talk about her job, her life in the city, or anything else except the weather.
He noticed that she seemed to watch the driver intently for some reason he couldn’t figure out. This driver was a short, slightly pudgy man with a bald spot in his dirty brown hair. Tom also noted–by looking in the rear view mirror–that he was wearing mirrored sunglasses and seemed to be chewing on something.
Tom filed that information away and then returned to watching the city pass by. His thoughts turned to where they were going and, more importantly, the person that he… they were going to meet. It wasn’t really someone he wanted to see, but then there was no choice in the matter. He had to start someplace, and this was as good a place as any other.
The cab eventually stopped in front of an old, broken-down-looking warehouse on the south side of the city. It was placed on the edge of the piers near the shipping port there, a place that Tom didn’t know that well …
… but he knew of the people they were going to see.
The cab left after Camilla paid the fare. She was very insistent on getting a receipt for it and, when Tom asked her why, the answer was: “I am on company time, after all. They can pay for it.”
After the cab had left he asked, “What was the problem in the cab?”
“You couldn’t know, Thomas, but the cab driver was a troll.”
“Okaaay. Are you taking about things that live under bridges and ask for a toll to cross?”
“The same. They figured out that cab driving would fill in their role in life. That particular cab, and company, are owned by trolls. Have to be careful around them,Thomas; those that know about them also know they can obtain useful information from them.”
Tom rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, “It’s a real different world looking through your eyes.”
She tilted her head to the right, “Sorry, Thomas, but there are many things out there that you are not aware of and need to be. I said I would watch your back for things I know of … just doing what you asked of me.”
Seeing the practicality in that view, Tom nodded and then looked towards their destination, “Right. Welcome to the seedy underbelly of our fine city. In here, you will find an assortment of motley characters who would be happy stabbing you in either the back or the chest, whichever happens to be closer to them.”
“How nice … I shall have to send them a pie sometime …”
Tom just looked at Camilla: was she kidding? Then he realized that she was putting up a good front for him so that he wouldn’t worry about her. Taking the lead, he replied, “Let me do the talking here,okay?”
She just nodded and followed one step behind and to Tom’s right …
Opening the door and entering the warehouse, the pair found themselves in a small open area with a low railing surrounding it. It was large enough to have a couple of chairs by the door, a water cooler next to that, and–taking up almost all of the rest–a single large old wooden desk that faced the door. Beyond the railing, the interior of the warehouse was shaded in darkness, save for the few places where overhead lights burned with a low buzzing sound, illuminating the rows and aisles below.
Behind the desk was a red-headed young man. He wore a pair of overalls with the name “Billy” stitched onto a patch over his heart. He was more interested in the newspaper on his desk than the people who had entered, and, for a few moments,he just continued to read it and ignore them.
Seeing a bell on the desk, Tom struck it once, the sound being swallowed up in the depths of the warehouse. Billy looked up then: “Yah? You here ta pick somethin’ up?”
“We’d like to speak to the owner, please.”
“He tain’t in. Mebby be here next month ‘n’ you’ll have more luck.”
Tom was about to get a bit rough when he heard Camilla move behind him and then, to his surprise, the sound of the water cooler bubbling as water was taken from it. He turned to see Camilla taking one of the seats and sipping at the paper cup she now held in her hand. Tom had a small smile on his face then as he answered, “Well, that’ll be fine. My associate will wait here and I’ll just step outside and tell the SWAT team to start coming in.”
With that, Tom turned and strode to the door. His hand had begun to turn the handle when he heard a new, gruff voice behind him, “Y’all don’t need be getting out of hand here, ‘tective. The boy’s jus’ doing his job.”
Tom’s smile became larger when he had turned back and saw the newcomer. He greeted him with a chuckle: “Nice to know that I’m remembered, old friend.”
From the shadows appeared a man who didn’t fit the voice. He was dressed to the nines in a three-piece black suit that looked to be worth a small fortune on its own. A slender man, he looked almost frail, but Tom knew that under that exterior was a fighter. Dusky-haired, his piercing grey eyes belied an intelligence that many missed in dealing with him. He passed through a gate and then stopped in front of Tom, offering his hand: “Nice ta see ya Tommy. Been what? Five years?”
Tom took the hand in his and gave it a firm shake, “Seven. You left the force and turned into a man about town, Bill. Just don’t run in those circles.” Tom released the hand and then motioned for Camilla to join them. He explained, “This is Camilla. She’s new.”
She smiled and offered her hand, “Very nice to meet a friend of Thomas’.”
Bill took the hand and, to Tom’s surprise, kissed it in the old-fashioned way before releasing it, “I’m sure Tommy dun’ know how lucky he is. C’mon in; Lil’ Billy can watch the store while we talk.”
After passing through the gate, Tom struck up a conversation: “That’s Billy? Really? How old is he now?”
“Eighteen. Smart lil’ bugger. Mebby smarter than me at that age. Boy’s been running this place for the last coupla years. Proud of ‘im.”
“You should be. Wish I would have known that I would have found him here, wouldn’t have been such a hard ass.”
“Good for the boy. Builds character ‘n’ all that crap. Sorry Ma’am.”
Camilla laughed softly, “No offense taken, I promise.”
The three of them walked the length of the warehouse until they stopped at a large,glassed-in office space. It looked like the typical business office: computers, filing cabinets, rows of desks within cubicles. As they passed through, the occasional “Good morning, Sir” was greeted with a nod or a gruff “Mornin’” from Bill. The three entered a large office that had a nameplate on the door declaring to the world that“Mr. Shipping” was within.
Bill took his leather chair behind the desk as he motioned to Tom and Camilla to have a seat on the leather sofa nearby. After cracking his knuckles, Bill asked: “So what’s gotcha in here, Tommy?”
“I’m looking into a murder. Happened a couple of days ago. I hate to say it, Bill, but you are one of the people under investigation.”
The look of surprise was followed by: “Funny. Now, fer real; why ya here?”
“I’m not joking, Bill. The wife of a reporter was killed last night. Stabbed in the back;brutal, ugly mess. The investigation so far points at a small number of names,and you are on it.”
Bill rocked back in his chair and then tapped his right hand against the arm of the chair before saying, “Ya mean that rag reporter that goes around pokin’ into other people’s business, right?”
Tom nodded, “Read about it?”
A grunt. “Ya. Decided that going to the funeral wuz no good. Me and that hack dun’like each other. Pissed me off coupla’ years ago. Still am.”
“Have to tell me about it. You know the drill.”
Another grunt: “Right. Traci died after Billy was born. Didn’t think about anything but Billy till he got out of school. Managed that coupla’ years ago. Billy gave me a yellin’ to and told me ta get out there and find somebody cause I wuz a mess. Wuz right. Had put everythin’ into the business for so long after I left the force. Couldn’t stay in the force cause of … ya know.”
Tom nodded, “Still don’t believe that was your fault, Bill. Never have.”
He smiled, “I remember. Never forgot, either. Met a girl. Nice, proper, classy. Was doin’ well and finally I was gonna pop the question to her. Was in that old barbershop on 22nd–you know the one–talkin’ to the barber about why I wanted ta look purty, and in the next chair wuz that hack. Spilled the beans in his rag the next day. Took her to a nice place that night and, when I asked her, the newshounds were there, snapping pictures and shoving questions at us. Made a mess of it. Pissed me off. She ran off and I took a swing at him, knocked him to the floor, gave ‘im a busted nose, and that got into the papers, too.”
Tom sighed, “You always had a short fuse, buddy.”
“Yeah. Spent the next year suing the rag, him, coupla others. Called in some favors and made his life … rough.”
Bill leaned forward in the chair and brushed the top of his desk before answering, “I wanted him to know that I was pissed. So some of the boyz from the docks followed him and tried to scare him. Didn’t work. Tough bastard.”
“Did you kill her?”
The look of hurt in Bill’s eyes spoke volumes before the words did, “Nah. Tommy, I couldn’t, wouldn’t ever raise a hand to hurt a lady. Any lady. If one of the boyz did this. they know that I’d hurt them and then, if they lived, they’d be in jail where friends of mine would make sure that they’d never get out alive.”
Tom looked over at Camilla to see that she had a look of shock and disbelief in her eyes.
Bill continued, “Ma’am, ya need to understand that, in this business, you have to look tough and be tough or they walk all over ya. I am a hard ass, I can be a bastard and more, but I got honor in me. Some stuff is sacred.”
Camilla asked, “Did you ever see her again?”
Bill looked at the desk, “Still talkin’ to her. She’s shy, pretty ’n’ stuff; see her in quiet places so that she dun’ have that happen again.”
“But you did not give up? Even after two years?”
Pointing to his head, Bill replied: “Too hard-headed, Ma’am.
Camilla smiled, “Not that … you love her so … Do not give up on her, please.”
“Only if she gives up on me, Ma’am”
Tom broke in, “Bill, have to ask you something. Of all of your people, is there anyone that might have done this?”
Billy’s voice came into the room from behind, “Me. Y’all better talk to me, too.”
Tom turned to look at him, “Hello, Billy. Come on in and have a chair; maybe you can explain exactly what you mean?”
Billy leaned against the door jamb looking not at Tom, but Camilla. She turned to face him and then asked, “Something wrong, Billy?”
He looked away and then said, “Nuthin’. You look like someone.”
“Want to tell me about it?”
Camilla stood up and walked over to Billy. She took his right hand in hers and then started walking out of the room with Billy in tow, saying as she did, “We’ll be outside.”
Once she had him out of the office she asked, “You want to find someplace quiet to talk?”
She could see the blush on his cheeks as he mumbled something and then started walking out of the office and then out a door to the outside. It led to the pier behind the warehouse. Ships would often be tied up there, loading and unloading, but, for the moment, there was nothing and no one around. Billy guided her to a wooden bench against the warehouse wall and, after brushing off some dirt there,said, “Sorry t’ain’t cleaner.”
Camilla just smiled and took the offered spot, “Nothing to be sorry about, Billy. I promise I won’t break.” She straightened out her dress and watched him pace back and forth for a few minutes before she asked, “You are not to blame, are you?”
“No. No, Ma’am I didn’t. I coulda. Know enough bad people on the docks to have that happen. No. Wouldn’t”
“You are your father’s son.”
“Am, Ma’am. All he has is me and this place. Nothin’ more. I told him ta meet someone ’n’ he did, but that guy screwed my old man up. Now he’s afraid of stuff and won’t try again.”
Camilla was quiet for a time and then said, “Who do I remind you of, Billy?”
A sigh: “Sort of look like Mom in the pictures.”
“Come here, please.”
Billy resisted for a time, trying to be brave in front of a woman, not wanting to look weak, but finally he sat down beside Camilla before putting his hands over his eyes, “Ya know the thing, Ma’am? When it happened, I did want ta kill that guy for it. He’s got a wife, a family, and he messes up what we coulda had.”
“Your Mom wouldn’t be happy with you if you did. Your father brought you up right and I think you would never disappoint him. So why are you both so violently opposed to Brent? Why would your father be a suspect in this?”
Billy put his fists together and then rested his chin on them before managing the words, “They say he killed a woman when he was a cop, Ma’am. He couldn’t prove he didn’t, they couldn’t prove he did. So they gave him a pink slip and showed him the door.”
Camilla stroked her hand against Billy’s arm, “Thomas seems to think that your father is innocent. But he has to ask the questions and get answers to clear him, you know. The same is true of you. But you know something?”
He looked at her. “Wha’?”
“You believe in souls, Billy?”
“I do. I believe that when someone does something wrong, their souls turn black and that blackness shows on the outside. I haven’t seen anything from your father or you that makes me believe that you did this.”
A sniffle, “Thank ya, Ma’am.”
She shrugged a bit, “Not any good in a court, you know.”
“Dun’ matter. Someone believes in what Dad said. That means somethin’ to me.”
Camilla’s hand stroked his shoulder as she asked, “If you want to help your father, then can you do us a favor?”
He looked at her, “Depends on tha favor.”
Camilla told him.
Jane was confused.
This was something new for her, to put it mildly. She was impulsive, brash, and made the occasional ass of herself, but she was never confused … unless she talked to Tera. The simplest conversations always seemed to make her look at what she was and who she was instead of whatever it was that started her on a rant in the first place.
She had expected Tera to punish her in some way, or to try to make her change her mind. Something, anything that would show some anger from within her … but Tera didn’t. All she did was comfort her, talk to her, and in the end, after all of the words were out in the open between them … Tera just asked her what she wanted to do.
Jane’s answer was simple, she thought: “Find who did this and hurt them.”
But then she heard Tera’s thoughts and found them so much more satisfying, “Why hurt them when you are doing something so much worse. You can show them that they won’t win.”
For a moment, Jane was flabbergasted that she didn’t see things that way. It made sense, really: why just hurt someone when you could do so much more in so many other ways to show them that they made the biggest mistake of their lives?
So she now found herself standing on the curb outside of the place that Brent had set ablaze, looking for answers. The police had put their yellow tape around the border of the remains, but now it was in the hands of the fire department, and their investigations were inside, looking for the source of the fire, among other things.
Jane understood why she was here. There was something of a loose end to all this, and she needed to close it, or find where it led to. Tera had told her to find out what she could and then meet with Camilla and Thomas when possible. She still didn’t think a lot of him … or her … but she would look here for clues and would do as she was asked to …
… because she couldn’t let them win.
Looking at the people milling around and the security stopping people from poking around where they weren’t wanted, Jane came to the decision that she would have to use the thoughts and emotions of those around her to get inside and see what happened there for herself.
With a sigh, Jane closed her eyes and focused on the people within to see if there was someone she could use … and she found her.
On the main floor of the burned-out building, John Tanner was sitting cross-legged, staring at the main hallway and trying to piece together what this place once looked like. He was an Engineer in the department, recently transferred into the arson squad, and this was his first investigation. He had once been a regular firefighter, but after a three-alarm blaze, during which a building fell onto his company, he was shifted to arson investigations to give him time to recover from his wounds … both mental and physical.
Physically, John was your stereotypical fireman: muscular, clean shaven, blonde hair closely cropped, per regulations. He wore his cherished department windbreaker, blue jeans, and hiking boots. Not exactly regulation, but they said he could be comfortable, so he thumbed his nose at the regs while he could.
Putting his clipboard to one side, he stretched his back, the popping sounds reminding him that sitting on the floor was not doing good things to him. He was resigned to being in this job from here on out, mainly because, to be honest, he was scared to death of being buried alive again by bricks, wood, and fire.
A tap on his right shoulder made him turn around.
Standing there was the one person he didn’t expect to see today. Her name was Jenni: she was part of the department’s public relations office, and she was, to be blunt, his crush. He had known her for almost a year now and still didn’t know exactly what it was about her that attracted him. Maybe her short red hair? Her girl next door looks? Her laugh? He just couldn’t ever put his finger on what it was about her that he liked so much. But more importantly right at that moment …
… she had coffee with her.
Maybe it was the coffee?
Taking the cup from her hand, he took a sip … and decided that it wasn’t the coffee (God, it was awful).
Putting it on the floor beside him, he asked, “So what brings you into the ashes, Jenni?”
She shrugged, “Oh, P.R. mostly. The press want to write up what happened, who’s to blame, how the budget should be cut back, the usual stuff.”
“Right. Been on that path before, haven’t we?”
“Almost every other week.”
She walked away then, looking around the room and poking her nose here and there before asking, “Anything like a clue to what happened?”
He smiled, “Oh, I know exactly what happened.”
She turned to him with a look of surprise: “What?”
“Can’t you tell? There was a fire and the place burned down.”
Rolling her eyes, she called back as she exited the room, “So helpful. I’ll have to see that you get a medal of honour for that, you dumbass.”
John’s chuckles followed her out the hallway as she vanished from his sight.
Moving down the hallway, she eventually made her way into the basement before stopping at the bottom of the stairs and gazing into the darkness of it. For a time she remained there, unmoving, almost like a statue, before her form shimmered and Jane stood there in Jenni’s place.
Jane found herself of two thoughts. One was that John seemed nice enough; maybe one day he and the girl she had pulled from his thoughts would be together. The other was that she found herself oddly attracted to him for some reason she didn’t, or couldn’t, put her finger on at that moment.
Jane pinched her nose and then drew with her hands a pattern in the air. She was hoping to divine something of the magic used here. Every type of magic had a pattern that could be traced to the being, talisman, or other mystical thing that had created it. The hard part wasn’t the finding: here, in this place, there was so much of it embedded in the walls, floor, and space between that she was choking on it.
No, the problem was that, if there were any traps left behind, they might go off when she prodded them. Jane wasn’t worried about that, she had learned a great deal from visitors to the Realm, and felt that she was prepared for whatever might be still here in this place. Sure enough, Jane’s overconfidence in her abilities made her miss one small, simple spell that was triggered when her own magic touched it.
Upstairs, John was sketching a diagram of the fire’s source, and had decided that the next place to have a look was the basement. The scream from the basement that made him snap his pencil in half and sent him moving in that direction as quickly as he could …
He rushed down the stairs calling out Jenni’s name, hoping that she was alright in spite of the scream he had heard. What he found was not what was supposed to be down there.
It was the stuff of nightmares.
The basement was on fire. He didn’t stop to wonder what started it or why, because crumpled in the middle of the room was Jenni. The flames were raging around her, soon to be licking at her body if he didn’t get her out of there quickly.
She wasn’t moving and she didn’t answer him when he yelled at her to get up and get out of there. The fire was raging and crackling in the space, and he knew that waiting any longer or going for help would mean it would be too late to do anything for Jenni.
Gritting his teeth, and ignoring the pains in his legs that were screaming at him to top moving so fast, he covered his face with one arm and ran through the flames to collapse beside Jenni in the middle of the burning room.
She was curled up facing away from him, but was breathing, he took that as good news, at least. It took only a few moments to wrap her up in his jacket and then sling her over his shoulder.
But even as he acted quickly, the fire got worse; the walls started to burn and the ceiling began to crumble around them.
John tried his best to push the fears down so that he didn’t freeze. He couldn’t let that happen.
Struggling to his feet, he concentrated on putting one foot after the other, his focus on getting up the stairs and out of that place before the whole place came crashing down around his ears.
The wooden boards of the stairs creaked as he put his weight on them, the flames now running up the railings trying to close off the path to safety in front of him. To his horror, as he made it halfway up them, the fire became a wall, closing off the exit and trapping them.
Unless he ran through them.
The fears grew and he remembered the feeling of helplessness, the crushing weight of the debris that had almost claimed him once before. But then he heard Jenni coughing, and that made him take the risk and rush through the inferno.
Outside of the building, the flames were pushing out of the wrecked structure, the surrounding news crews taking pictures of it, the fire fighters on the scene calling for backup to fight the blaze once again.
In the middle of the confusion, John burst through the front door, smoke coming off his clothing and off of Jenni’s body. He ignored the offers for help, pushing his way through the crowd to his car, parked nearby. Placing Jenni on the ground beside it, he opened the trunk to remove an oxygen tank, intending to place the mask on her and help her to recover.
Pulling the jacket from her, he froze in confusion …
This wasn’t Jenni. Not quite. It looked like her, she was dressed like her, but there was one thing that didn’t fit John’s reality …
… she had two small green horns sticking out of her hair…
After Camilla left, Tom spent the next thirty minutes grilling Bill over what he had done, what he was doing, and whether anyone in his company might have taken it upon themselves to attack Brent and his wife. He came to the conclusion that, while Bill wasn’t directly involved in what happened, Tom could not dismiss the possibility that someone who worked for Bill had done the deed … or that Bill was hiding something from him.
That bothered him.
It wasn’t that he didn’t believe what Bill had said; it was the sheer stupidity of Bill blowing up and going off on a tirade over the injustice that he perceived had been done to him.
Tom didn’t enjoy pushing his old friend that way. Worse was trying to break all of his explanations and reasons why he wasn’t responsible for what had happened. Most of the reasons made sense—most of them—but one exchange just about pushed Bill over the edge, and that worried him.
Tom sighed and paced in front of the offices again. He was sure that the workers inside were looking at him oddly, but he didn’t care: Bill was not quite cleared; that one piece of evidence would damn him in court if it came to that.
Tom hoped that it wouldn’t.
It wasn’t much evidence, but it was enough that fingers could be pointed, witnesses found, and, in the end, Bill could be sent to jail for a long time. But when you are seen threatening someone with death, and promising to harm his family … that is too much to ignore.
Bill had explained that he was madder than hell. That something had snapped inside of him when Brent was nearby. “Something ’bout that guy rubs me the wrong way. He’s just so damn smug, knows all of the secrets, stuff that you don’t want out. I dunno how he does it, but he knows where to be and what to look for. Damn frustratin’. He’d be a great spy. Wonder if he is one.”
Tom continued to pace around for a while. He didn’t know where Camilla had gone; he assumed she would return to the office when she was done talking to Billy. He assumed that she would, at least. She seemed like a responsible woman, if a bit irritating. It hit him, then, why Bill would be driven crazy by Brent.
Tom wondered if that was part of those people’s nature.
He watched Bill’s staff run their errands in and out of the office, most of them ignoring his pacing as he waited for Camilla to return. In his mind, Tom was putting together the questions that needed to be put to Bill next. He was, after all, and by his own admission, someone Tom needed to grill for information.
Coming to the end of one of his walks down the corridor, he turned without looking and walked head-on into someone: a short, blonde, Asian someone. She stood in front of him, a pile of files and papers surrounding her scattered on the floor. For a moment, her dark brown eyes regarded him, and then a flush of embarrassment passed over her and she knelt to the floor, beginning to gather what she had dropped moments before.
Tom knelt with her: “I’m sorry, please, let me help you.”
She didn’t reply, save for a slight nod, her focus for the moment on the mess around her rather than Tom beside her.
After a few minutes, Tom handed her the last file and, as she finally looked at him again, said, “I’m Tom.”
The blush was still there as she replied, “Tenshi. Please forgive my clumsiness.”
“It was my fault; should have been paying attention instead of being a hazard to women.”
That made her smile just slightly, “I … thank you for the help.”
“You’re welcome. Have you been with Bill long?”
Clutching the files to her chest as she stood she managed, “A year now. Please excuse me. I must attend to my duties …”
She then rushed off again on whatever errand she was on, leaving Tom standing there alone again, pondering what she had said to him, and, more importantly, why she was so shook up over what had happened.
Camilla came into view soon after, her heels clicking on the concrete floor of the warehouse. Tom noticed that Billy wasn’t there, and he wasn’t too pleased about that. He had been intending to grill Billy next, thanks to his father’s admission, but would now have to hunt him down and corner him. Filing away the thoughts on his old friend, he called out to Camilla, “Where’s Billy? Have to talk to him.”
“No, you don’t. He’s not to blame for this: he nor his father.”
Tom rubbed his chin a moment, then said, “You got a feeling or something?”
She looked around, then nodded and explained, “Let’s just say that my … ‘feelings’ … are pretty accurate.”
Turning away, he replied, “You’ll have to explain that to me sometime. Soon would be great. You know, before I have to toss them both in jail.”
Camilla looked at him curiously, then followed behind. Tom seemed to be in a rush to get out of the warehouse, and she found herself running a bit to keep up with him. Then she asked, “Do you have something to charge them with?”
“Enough to charge Bill: making threats. He was foolish in front of a lot of people. That’s a big no-no in things like this.”
“Passions of the heart can make us all say silly things we don’t mean at the moment they are said.”
“Passions can and have killed in the past, you know.”
Camilla had finally caught up to him, and, as she walked beside, started to lecture Tom a bit, “Those are not passions. Those are misguided beliefs and desires that pull one away from what is important, pull one inward, toward oneself. It is easier to fall to darker desires and temptations than it is to hold onto the more important things within.”
“You know, I don’t understand all of that stuff. I’m just a simple man. I haven’t got the time to deal with theories and wishes. I deal with facts. Give me some of those and I’ll be able to deal with ‘em.”
“All right, then. Fact: Bill said that he would never harm a lady. Fact: you agree that he would not either. Therefore, he cannot be the one to have done the deed nor order it done.”
“Okay; see, that’s not a fact. That is conjecture.”
“Is it? I don’t think so. I have …”
“A feeling? You said that before. What does that mean?”
The pair exited the warehouse, but Camilla did not speak until she was quite sure that no one else would hear them talk.
“I … We … know people by their souls, Thomas. When I touched your hand, I knew that you were a good man. I also knew that you have a troubled past and that you have lost someone close to you.”
Tom’s look was a mix of shock and concern, but, before he could say anything, she continued: “I did not look deeply into you. I did not look into your memories; I could have, but, because I respect you, and you did not give me permission, I did not. All I knew was that you cared about what happened to Patricia, for whatever reason you had, and so …”
“And so that was your lure to get me involved in this …”
“You did not have to.”
He stopped walking: “You know, I feel like I was pushed into this. That you and Tera conspired to get me involved and make me stay in it.”
“No. We did not. I gave you the card. I gave you the chance to walk away. You decided that you needed to find out more and you came into our world. Do not confuse the sight of an open door with walking through it. You had the choice. You made it.”
Tom wanted to rant at her, but her logic was sound. He did poke his nose in, and he was deep in it now. With a sigh, he asked, “How much do you know about Bill and his son?”
“Enough to know that Bill has not killed anyone, ever. I can say the same for Billy, as well.”
“Okay, explain that … in simple words so that my mind doesn’t break.”
Camilla laced her hands together and explained, “If you are dark, or have been touched by the dark, if you have killed or done something that serves the dark and makes it gain power, you are marked, in your soul. If I touch someone like that, I’ll know. The same is true of someone who has been touched by the light, but it is different.”
“Weird. Sort of sounds like you are a divining rod.”
She giggled a bit and pointed at her forehead: “Divine I am not. Or at least I do not appear to be.”
Tom couldn’t help the smile, “Right. I forgot about that.’
“What most people are, generally, are shades of grey. That’s normal, and what we expect. But there are always exceptions to that rule. If either of them had killed, they would not be grey; they would be dark. I don’t sense that in either of them.”
“So, you give them a pass?”
“I give them more than a pass: there is nothing in them that even hints they are involved. But …”
“I asked Billy for a favor.”
That stopped Tom in his tracks. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he asked, “What kind of favor?”
“I can’t say.”
“Oh come on. He’s a suspect in spite of your feelings about him. You can’t just go and trust someone because …”
“I can and I did. In the end I gave him some comfort and, in response to that, he agreed to do something for me. He will. He’s as honourable as his father.”
“Did you tell him anything more than what Bill knows?”
“No. We did talk about his mother a while. He misses her. He does not want to lose his father as well.”
Tom stared off into space for a time before ending the conversation with, “We don’t have the evidence to clear Bill. Right now, he’s the only suspect we’ve got.”
“Then we should find more.”
Tom smiled again, “Right. Look Camilla, I know that you … work … differently then we do. I get that. But you have to see that we have rules and laws here and I have to enforce them. That means that without a piece of paper, a videotape, a confession … hell, anything at all that points me away from Bill, I’m going to arrest him real soon.”
“You will be wrong then.”
“I’ll have to live with that.”
“You will not be able to. I can see that.”
“I know. But that’s part of the job. Sometimes, I think that I sold my soul for the job.”
With that confession, Tom whistled for a cab. It didn’t take long for one to pull up to the curb. He opened the door and let her go in first. As she did so, Camilla told him, with a serious tone in her voice, “You cannot sell that which is held by another, Thomas.”
He climbed into the cab, gave their destination and, as the taxi drove them away, Tom’s memories came back to haunt him again … as they always did.
As they departed, Billy watched from one of the windows in the upper floor of the warehouse. He liked Camilla, liked her a lot. After they had left, he stood there by the window, watching the traffic pass by, and thought about what Camilla had asked him to do. He didn’t know why exactly he had agreed to it, maybe it was just wanting to do something when, so far, there was nothing he could do for his father.
With a sigh he rummaged in his pockets until he found his phone, opened it, and made a call.
“It’s me. Yah. No, no they didn’t arrest Dad. I … trust them. Have to trust someone, don’t I? Anyway, I need somethin’ done … today.”
Billy turned away from the window and walked off into the gloom around him, doing what he hoped would help his father in the end …
Jane awoke to hissing. For a moment, she thought it was a snake or something similar; she startled and tried to move, but then heard a voice.
“No, don’t move. Just lay there a minute, whoever you are.”
It took another moment for her memories to come rushing back to her; then she recognized the voice. It was John, that guy that she had talked to before … before everything went black. From the sound of his voice, Jane assumed that she didn’t look like that girl who was on his mind when she first met him.
In the next moment, she tried to move her hands towards her face and the source of that hissing sound, which she now realized was an oxygen mask. A firm hand pushed her hands back down, and she opened her eyes to see John standing above her: “Look. Just stay there and don’t move.”
He looked around for a moment and then, to Jane’s surprise, flicked one of her horns with a finger, the “thunk” of that echoing in her mind for a moment. Jane started to panic; if someone could see her horns … His next words to her didn’t help a lot, either.
“I know you’re not who you look like. I called Jenni. She’s at her office. You aren’t her. You look like her, but you aren’t her. Now, listen carefully to me: if you try to run, people will see you. Jenni is on her way down here right now. If someone sees you, there will be questions that you probably don’t want to answer. Besides, you have smoke inhalation, you’re weak, and you aren’t going to get very far. Now, nod if you understand me.”
Jane did so.
“Okay. You’re in the back seat of my car. You have an oxygen mask on, and you are under a blanket so no one can see you right now. Just stay there and I’ll get you out of here, all right?”
Another nod, then Jane closed her eyes again.
The next time she opened them, the oxygen mask was gone, but the blanket was still there, and she was still moving. Sitting up gingerly, she held her head in her hands while she managed a question: “Where am I?”
“Still in my car; I’m trying to decide what to do with you.”
Jane then looked up and found herself looking at … Jenni; with horns … green horns. The only thing she managed was a soft, “Damn” before she fell back into the seat with a thud.
“So tell me: What’s your name, anyway? You know mine already, so I’ll skip the introduction.”
“Jane … Jenni … I can see how I could be confused. No, wait, you were Jenni when we first met. Now, you are Jenni with horns.” He looked in the mirror at her, “So. Are they real? The horns, I mean. And is that what you look like or is it all makeup or something?”
Jane’s first instinct was to lie and tell him that was all it was. But then she recognized the problem with that lie: he’d ask to see the horns come off or the makeup be pulled away. Then another thing came to her: she had been out cold for a while. He could have checked and seen that it was all real. Lying to him would be a mistake.
So she said the only thing she could say at that moment: “You’d never believe me even if I tried to explain it to you.” Gaining a little bit of confidence, she added, “So. What are you going to do, then; police or something?”
John smiled thinly, replying with a flat, “Or something,” as he continued to drive, leaving them both with their own thoughts …
Jane’s were spinning around one thing: it would be disastrous if beings like her, the ones that were thought of as being legends, were discovered to be quite real. Her next thought was that Tera was going to kill her … or, even worse, be disappointed in her, and that thought was much worse than the first one she’d found. But the one that she held onto was: how she could get out of this mess she found herself in?
She looked out the window of the car and watched the city passing by. She didn’t say anything else for the moment, in part because she wasn’t sure that John wouldn’t hurt her, but mainly because she needed to get focused again and try to make herself not look like Jenni any longer.
John’s thoughts, on the other hand, were slightly more focused. He wanted to know exactly what the hell was going on. The shock he felt when he touched those … horns? … on Jenni’s … no, Jane’s … head told him that something was seriously wrong here. He didn’t believe in legends or tales of the beyond. No, what he believed in was logic and proof. Thing was that here he had proof that there were–and even now he found this impossible to believe–demons in his world. That still didn’t sit right with him.
Then he made a decision and turned the car to follow it. He needed a doctor: someone to tell him if Jane really was what she seemed to be or if it was just a fluke or some cosmetic surgery or something like that. He found himself liking that possibility, as that idea would fit into his world a hell of a lot better than the other one, which kept prodding him as being the truth. Looking once more in the mirror, he said, “Better put your seatbelt on. You’re going to be there for a while.” John made a hard right and continued to drive, occasionally looking in the mirror at Jane.
Jane did so, not so much out of caution, but to try and lull him into what she hoped would be a false sense of security. The pair didn’t say another word to each other for the rest of the drive, but Jane was curious about where they were going and what John was planning.
Their destination was clear when he made a left and drove down a ramp into an underground garage. They dropped down four floors and then came to a stop in front of a garage door. John pressed a button on an intercom and just said his name to it. The door rolled up, they entered, and Jane looked behind to see the door close again.
After parking in one of several spaces there, John helped Jane out of the car. “Don’t try to run. You can’t get out, and there are cameras watching us. Just stay calm, all right?”
Jane didn’t feel calm, but she nodded her head in understanding when he took a hold of her arm and guided her away from the car.
Two sets of double doors, one short elevator ride, and Jane found herself in an examination room. After she was offered a chair there, John left the room and Jane heard the door lock behind him as he left.
Jane tried to figure out a way to escape before he came back, but there were no windows, no exits but the one they had come through. She tried to teleport from the room … but nothing happened.
With a sigh she walked over to a small mirror that hung on one wall and looked herself over. The horns she recognized as her own, but everything else wasn’t her. She found herself missing the familiar eyes, face, and body that she had known for centuries … and wondering if she would ever see them again.
John hadn’t returned, and she found herself trying to figure out what trap she had sprung back in that house. It was a magic trap, obviously, a powerful one if it had locked her into this form and taken away her powers … She couldn’t change her appearance, couldn’t teleport, couldn’t cast a spell or use her powers of seduction …
Or could she? Running a finger over her lips, she considered whether or not she should try to seduce John, try to confuse him long enough to make her escape. It seemed like an option.
Then the door opened, and John walked in with someone else …
“Well there she is, Doc. What do you think?”
Jane turned to see John standing there with another man, who was obviously “Doc.” This older man with thick glasses and a gruff voice answered, “Well, she’s alive, John; something I don’t see a lot of anymore.” Then he walked over to her, looked her over for a minute, and then said, “So, you want to tell us who you are and why you look like someone he knows? Oh, and, if you want, tell us how it is that you have horns on your head?”
Jane shrugged, “He knows my name.”
Doc nodded, “Right. Jane. You have a last name?”
She shrugged again, “Call me Jane Doe.” She paused and then, remembering the description of the person whom Camilla had met when claiming Patricia, bit her lip. For a moment, she considered thanking him for looking after her sister, but decided that would be too much information to give them. Then she said, “You’ve seen enough of us, haven’t you?”
Doc pulled back a bit from that comment and softened his approach slightly: “Look, just because I work in a morgue doesn’t mean that I’m not a doctor, okay?”
She rubbed her hands together a moment and then said, “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”
Doc then turned around and pushed John out the door. Then he tossed a gown to her. “Get dressed in that. I’ll have a nurse in here to examine you in a few minutes.”
Jane watched him leave, watched the door close, and heard it lock again, and then she smiled.
Outside the room, Doc and John waited patiently for a nurse to arrive to actually perform the physical. Regulations were that such things had to be done by a woman–for various legal reasons nether of them cared to try to figure out. It was a lot less stress to just do it and avoid the investigations, should they come.
The sound of footsteps on tile made them both look to see a redhead in a nurse’s uniform come around the corner. Doc nodded at her, “Good day, Patti. Sorry to keep you here at work, but I need you to do something for me.”
She gave a nod, “Sure, Doc. What’s going on?”
He pointed a finger in the direction of the room that Jane was in, “Do a physical on the woman in there, please. Her name’s Jane Doe.”
She looked at Doc oddly, but nodded and walked away from the pair, who turned to the other side of the corridor and entered Doc’s office. Doc opened a drawer of one of the filing cabinets and pulled out a bottle of whisky. When he offered it to John, the reply was a shake of his head.
Doc, nonetheless, opened the bottle and poured some into a coffee cup, “So, you got a mystery, don’t you? She tell you anything yet? I mean, other than a name that can’t possibly be her name?”
“Nothing much. I mean, she looks like Jenni, but it’s not her. I know that for certain, because Jenni is at headquarters. Otherwise, I don’t have a damn clue what is going on here, Doc.”
There were two quick knocks, and Doc didn’t even look up as a muffled voice came through the door, “All ready for you, Doctor; report is in your inbox, the door is locked, and she’s safe there. If you don’t need me, I’m running late and want to take off.”
Doc called out, “Go home, Patti. Thanks.”
They both heard the sound of her walking away. Doc finished his drink, and then the two of them left the office, Doc grabbing the report as he led the way. Opening the folder, he mumbled to himself about height, weight, and other various things. Then John asked, “What about the horns?”
Doc stopped in mid-stride, “There’s nothing here about horns.” He looked at the edge of the folder, cursed, and ran down the hallway.
They opened the door to the examining room to find Jane lying on the table, a sheet over her body, face turned towards the wall. Doc walked over and touched her on the shoulder. She rolled back towards them …
… and it wasn’t Jane.
It was Patti, a blessed-out expression on her face as she sighed, softly…
Doc took hold of her shoulders, shook her and yelled, “What happened, Patti?”
What happened was Jane.
As Doc and John realized that she was gone, Jane was exiting the building wearing Patti’s nursing uniform. Quickly walking to the curb, she hailed a cab and drove away, a satisfied smile on her lips as she recalled what had happened with the nurse moments before …
The taxi carrying Tom and Camilla pulled up to a small newspaper stand on the corner of Broadway and Lakeshore Boulevard. From the outside, it didn’t look remarkable in any real way. The sides of it were old sheets of plywood nailed together ages ago, hooks and shelves holding various magazines and newspapers, attempting to get the attention of the passersby, that they might have a look and see what was offered.
The pair got out of the cab and it left, leaving them looking at the person who was running the stand. A frail-looking man sat on a milk crate surrounded by his wares, a pair of dark glasses over his eyes and a white cane in his right hand, a working man’s pair of jeans and a sweater keeping him warm in the breeze around the place. Camilla asked Tom, “This is a suspect?”
Tom nodded and mumbled, “Sort of,” then just walked over to the stand. Without saying a word, he reached out a hand towards one of the more adult magazines that sat on a shelf just behind the proprietor. His fingers were about to touch the pages when a gruff voice barked, “Listen buddy, you pay and then you play with yourself. Not the other way around.”
Tom chuckled, “Not my style, Charlie. So, where’s your wife?”
“Well, I’ll be darned; the fuzz himself. You haven’t been around here in years, cop.”
“You’ve managed to keep your nose clean, so I haven’t had a reason to bust you. Now your wife, on the other hand … what has she been up to? Anything that I should know about?”
Charlie pointed a thumb to the building behind him, “Not my business and you know it. She’s got her thing, I got mine. If you want to know, go ask her. And leave the magazine here or pay for it.”
Tom dug into a pocket, pulled out a twenty, and put it into Charlie’s hand, “Still don’t know why you stay with her.”
“Love makes you do stupid things, kid. Now git! You standing here is messing with my business.”
Tom tucked the magazine under an arm and then motioned to Camilla to follow him. They approached a tall glass-and-steel skyscraper with a nameplate that read “TFX Incorporated” above the main doors. Camilla didn’t say anything to Tom until they were in the elevator, but then the questions started …
“What’s going on, Thomas?”
“Welcome to TFX Incorporated, the country’s biggest purveyor of porn magazines, videos, and toys of all descriptions, with a side business of laundering money for the mob–at least they did in the past. I haven’t heard anything illegal about them for about three years now. They got their fingers burned back then; the CEO paid a huge fine and then was pushed out of the company in favour of his wife.”
“Who is that?”
“You just met him: Charlie Drake. Took a lot out of the guy and he cut himself loose from the company to keep out of jail. Plea bargains and so on.”
“Is he really blind?”
“Nope. I’m sure he was trying to look up your skirt while we were talking. He’s not a bad guy, really; circumstances took him down this road and so, now, the place is run by his wife.” Tom looked at his watch, “About now, she’ll know we’re coming up to see her.”
“What’s she like?”
Tom answered by handing Camilla the magazine and saying, “That’s her on the cover. She’s got an exhibitionist streak in her a mile wide.”
Camilla looked at the magazine in amazement. On the cover was a platinum blonde Barbie doll of a woman who looked as if she had been dipped in black liquid latex and then allowed to dry. For a moment, Camilla tried to remember if any of her Sisters looked like this, but she drew a blank. Then she realized that not even a pink tail would be that over-the-top in her appearance for whatever reason there was.
They did, after all, have a reputation.
Then there was the sound of a bell, and the doors opened to reveal the company lobby. To one side, a young blonde girl in pigtails sat at a clear plastic desk that revealed she was wearing a schoolgirl’s outfit, if over-sexualized. She was chewing bubblegum to complete the look. To the other side of the space stood eleven men in three-piece suits, holding briefcases and cell phones, their eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. And, in the middle of the room, only a few short steps away from Camilla and Tom, the woman from the magazine stood.
She had traded in her black latex come-fuck-me look for her hair in a bun, a red, woman’s business suit–if well-open at the front to display her chest quite clearly–and a miniskirt that stopped only a finger’s width below outrageous, paired with cruel-looking red heels.
Tom looked over his shoulder at Camilla, “Say hello to Ginger.”
Camilla couldn’t help the words that came out as the elevator doors closed behind them: “If that’s Ginger, I don’t want to meet Mary Ann, thank you.”
Tom gave a slight nod to the blonde behind the desk and a grunt, “That’s Mary Ann.”
Camilla rolled her eyes but didn’t say anything else.
Ginger closed the distance between them and then with a cruel smirk on her lips purred, “Hello Dick; are you here to put me in cuffs, or are you looking for a hot three-way with your doll?”
Tom could almost feel the burn coming from Camilla at those words, but continued, “Sorry, slut. Business is business and I can’t afford the ticket to ride.”
“Well I could give you a freebie, I like the babe with you … She must be a lot of fun when you get her screaming …”
Camilla just continued to remain quiet while the two talked, her eyes looking Ginger over, but nothing more.
Tom just smiled, “You have no idea, Ginger. Now, you want to call off your dogs so we all can have a nice chat in your office?”
She shook her head, “Nuh-uh, Dick. The boys tell me that I need them there to make sure you don’t weasel stuff out of me.”
Tom was about to press her a little harder when Camilla moved in front of him: “Oh come on, Ginger honey … If you are nice to us, you might get something from me in return …” Then she reached out a hand to stroke Ginger’s right forearm.
Camilla paused in mid-stroke and her eyes hardened. Then she focused all of her attention on Ginger, ignoring Tom for the moment.
Ginger’s eyes fluttered and then she purred, “mmm … Like what?”
Camilla moved closer, one hand now pressing the small of Ginger’s back as she purred in response, “Your pussy is all wet and needy right now, isn’t that right, slut? You would love me to be on my knees licking your twat and making you cum so hard, wouldn’t you?”
Tom moved to break the two women apart, but a sharp look from Camilla brought him up short for the moment. Something was happening, but he didn’t have any idea of what it was.
Ginger shivered as she caught her breath: “You … you make me cum and then the Dick can ask his questions … nnnnn … not before …”
A lick over Ginger’s right earlobe: “Call off your boys, slut, and I’ll have you cumming for hours …” At the same time, Camilla shifted a hand to slip under Ginger’s skirt, her fingertips drawing against her shaven, panty-less pussy.
For the barest instant, as Camilla’s fingers slipped inside, Ginger’s eyes turned completely white and she spoke in an unsteady voice, “Fuck off, boys. Don’t need you.”
The assembled men looked as if they weren’t going to leave for a moment, and then approached Ginger, Camilla, and Tom. Tom was reaching into his jacket for his gun when he heard Camilla’s voice change …
“That’s a good idea. You all need to do what she told you.”
Then, the group of lawyers turned away stiffly before scurrying into the depths of the office. Camilla then looked at Mary Ann and purred, “Mary Ann, sweetie … You stay right there and finger yourself until we return … and nobody gets in to see Ginger …”
Tom’s worries shot up another notch at Camilla’s voice. It wasn’t the pleasant sunny voice he was used to. It had changed somehow into something that reached deep inside of you and took hold of your thoughts. Shaping them. Changing them.
But while they were effecting everyone around him, Tom was only barely aware of something being wrong. He didn’t find the need to do what Camilla was telling the others.
Camilla then told Ginger, “Now, my hot wet slut, take us all to your office.”
Tom followed the two women past the reception area, down a long hallway, to a pair of doors that, when opened, didn’t reveal so much an executive office as a private sex room. Once inside, he closed the door, locked and then leaned against them watching what was happening.
Camilla guided Ginger to a leather chair next to the door, making her sit in it before straddling her legs and trapping Ginger beneath her.
He was about to ask Camilla what was going on when she put a finger to her lips to keep him quiet, then returned her attention to Ginger: “Are there cameras in here, slut? Is there any way that anyone can see what is going on?”
The answer was a long whine of “noooooo.”
Then, to Tom’s surprise, Camilla’s black horns and tail appeared, as her clothing turned to the latex-like material he had seen before back in her world. She gave Tom a wink and then cupped Ginger’s chin with one hand before putting a finger over her prey’s lips, “You are a horny little slut, so wet and needy that your pussy aches for release … All of those thoughts in your silly little mind are draining away, slut … You can’t help it, because you are a weak little slut that needs someone to tell her what to do …”
Worried that something was terribly wrong, Tom reached under his jacket again for his weapon. He still was not totally sure of Camilla, but he was sure that he didn’t know what she was capable of.
Ginger’s moans became louder as the smell of arousal began to fill the air. She started to pant in need, and the occasional mewl of lust and desire escaped her mouth before Camilla pressed her lips against Ginger’s tightly, her hands now entwined in her subject’s hair.
Tom watched almost mesmerized as Ginger’s body shook and shivered underneath Camilla. And then, to Tom’s shock, Camilla’s body shimmered and seemed to melt for an instant. In the next moment, there were two Gingers there in front of him: one of them in the latex suit from the magazine he had given Camilla, but with the same black horns and tail he had seen Camilla with earlier.
The original Ginger was no longer in her business suit, but nude, save for a green metal collar around her neck. But what were truly unsettling were the white eyes that stared up almost lifelessly and the little whispers of, “I Obey” that came out in a needy voice. The latex Ginger turned to Tom and said, with Ginger’s purring voice, “Sometimes sex is the best weapon, isn’t that right, Dick?”
Tom had, by that point, finally gotten his gun out of its holster and was pointing it at the floor. “Camilla, just what is going on?”
She remained where she was and began to stroke the real Ginger’s cheek, “What’s going on is Ginger’s innermost fantasy. She’s so in love with herself that she’d do anything to be able to fuck herself. So …” Her fingers took hold of Ginger’s hair and pulled her to the floor beside her. “So she is in the middle of her fondest wish: submitting to the only person that she sees as strong enough to control her and bring her to heel.” Another pull of hair and Ginger was forced to look upwards, “Isn’t that right, slut?”
The answer was a whine of need and Ginger’s stroking of fingers over the latex-covered legs of her new Mistress.
Tom still wasn’t convinced, “Camilla. Step away from her. This is wrong, and I can’t let you continue.”
She looked at Tom, her hand still holding Ginger’s hair, “Oh no. There you are wrong. You see, Ginger has all sorts of secrets to share. Like Mary Ann, outside: she’s very interesting so far as bimbos go. But the most interesting thing is how Ginger is aware of what I am, Thomas. That is something I would like to know.”
Tom considered that, “What do you mean she knows what you are?”
“Somehow she has knowledge of our kind. Someone told her about us. I know that because, when I touched her, the first thing she thought was: ‘a Succubi.’ How would she know what I was unless one of my kind had touched her before, or, perhaps, someone has told her about us …”
She gripped Ginger by the chin, making the thrall look up as her long black tail swished back and forth, “… and I want to know which of those it is. She will tell me what I want to know.”
Jane had been very quiet since she left in the cab. At first, she had been quite pleased with herself: she had managed to get away from John and his friend, and she didn’t do any real harm to the nurse in order to do that. But she knew full well that she hadn’t been as neat and tidy as Tera would have wanted. She had been taught that it just wasn’t well enough to make an exit; it was important to cover one’s tracks, too.
Jane knew she really hadn’t done that. She wasn’t worried about the cabbie: he was, after all, a troll, and so the sight of her horns resulted in a raised eyebrow and nothing more. And directing him back to their home in this world wouldn’t be a surprise, either; the trolls had been there often enough that simply asking to be taken home would result in her being taken there.
No, the problem was that John and his friend had seen her . . . with horns, too. She looked at herself in the rear view mirror of the cab for the umpteenth time. It wasn’t her: not what she should look like, not who she was. But her grey horns were there, and that gave her a little comfort, at least.
She rubbed a finger against one of them and wondered how she had been forced into this form, why she couldn’t shift from it but could still use her powers to persuade others to do what she wanted them to.
It was confusing, and that bothered her more than anything else. For an instant, she cursed the fact she was a grey tail and all that meant. She had been moody before she became a succubi, but, since then, her Tail had also made her very cool towards others. That wasn’t a plus most of the time; she hadn’t found an Eternal, and she blamed her Tail for that problem.
She sighed and pushed that thought from her when she realized that the cab had arrived back at the brownstone she called home. Then she realized that she didn’t have any money to pay for the cab ride. Knowing that the troll wouldn’t let her leave within paying she explained, “The Realm office will pay your fare. Come inside and the Receptionist will take care of it.”
The troll—a short, squat man with a long, black beard—just grunted, turned off the cab, and got out. Jane followed a moment later and they entered the building. And there she was: the succubi they all knew only as “The Receptionist.” She was in her usual place, not by the main doors, but at the bottom of the staircase that led to Tera’s office. She had a red tail and horns like Tera’s, raven hair too, but in a short cut rather than Tera’s longer mane. Her green eyes were puzzled as Jane approached. For a moment, Jane was worried that she wouldn’t be recognized; that would be very bad for her.
They looked at each other for a moment, and then, without a word, the Receptionist opened a drawer in her desk. The troll was handed an envelope, then a dismissive wave sent him away. Jane didn’t move from where she stood, knowing full well that angering this succubi would mean nothing but bad things for her.
The Receptionist calmly observed, “Jane, you’ve changed.”
This was the part that Jane worried about more than anything. If she was refused now, there was no way she would ever be able to see Tera or the Realm or anyone else she knew again. And that made her eyes glisten as the thought of being alone sent a shiver up her spine.
“Where is your tail?”
“I … I can’t change from what you see.”
The Receptionist’s tapping of a fingernail against the surface of her desk was worrying. Jane knew that was a sign that a decision had been made about her; good or bad, she didn’t know, but she knew that, whatever else happened, that wouldn’t change.
“Was it your fault?”
“I was overconfident … and stupid.”
The tapping stopped. “At least you learned something. Make sure you tell Tera that …”
Then the Receptionist turned away, her focus now on some papers on her desk. Jane rushed by and climbed the stairs, hoping that Tera would be as understanding …
She opened the door and was about to speak when she saw Tera sitting in a red leather chair next to a ancient phonograph player that rested upon an oak table next to her. Tera had her eyes closed, resting her head on her right hand, and seemed to be listening to the music that was drifting through the room. Jane considered interrupting, but thought better of it and gently closed the door behind her, then rested against it to wait and watch Tera…
The music came from a large, ornately decorated horn hovering above the disc that was being turned by the player, an odd, scratchy-sounding reproduction of music coming from it. Jane, being used to the more modern and better sounding players of the day, could never figure out why Tera would rather listen to music in this way than others. She probably never would understand it, she realized.
Jane, having nothing else to do, listened to the music as well, and thought about everything that had happened so far to her: the loss of her twin, the frustration in not doing anything to make someone pay for that, how she felt so powerless against the world and, moreover, how Tera could possibly manage to keep from extracting revenge on whoever did this. Then Jane remembered that she didn’t know as yet who was responsible, and that just made her frustrations come to the fore once more.
When the recording came to its end, there was a scratch that repeated every few seconds. Jane saw that Tera didn’t make a move to stop the player. After about a minute of this, Jane couldn’t stand it any longer, walked to the player and reached for the stylus to remove it.
“Let it be, Jane.”
The tone of Tera’s voice was firm and, to be honest, frightened Jane more than she would have liked to admit. Tera opened her eyes and regarded Jane standing there for a time, saying nothing. All that Jane had to accompany her in this moment was the scratching noise and nothing more.
Then Tera asked, “Tell me exactly what happened to you, Daughter …”
Jane took her hand away and then told Tera everything that had happened to her, from the moment she left Tera to the point she once again returned to her. When she was done, Tera still hadn’t moved at all, but there was a certain amount of tension in her body that Jane could easily see.
“I believe that I told you that it was important not to leave a mess behind you, Jane, whatever else might happen. Now you have at least three humans who know that you are different, one of whom you have touched and controlled in order to escape. And what is more unfortunate is that you now look like someone they know, and so will likely have that person involved in this as well very soon. Sloppy, Jane, quite sloppy, you know…”
Jane looked at the floor and managed, “I know. I’m sorry, but I didn’t expect that things would go so wrong.”
Tera then stood up and began to circle Jane, looking her over from the top of her horns to the bottoms of the shoes she wore. Tera did this twice and then asked, “So, you cannot change from this form at all? Have you tried?”
“Yes … I have.”
“What does your Tail have to say about it?”
Jane cupped her hands over her nose and mouth before answering, “She hasn’t talked to me since … since Patricia died …”
Tera stopped in mid-stride at that admission: “And you felt that this was not important to mention? What were you thinking? You know full well that your Tail is important to you and the both of you need to talk to each other! Why didn’t you tell me this?”
“What could be done? She’s not talking to me, not answering at all. It’s like she’s decided to turn her back on everything and everyone … including me! How am I supposed to tell you that, Tera?”
She walked up to Jane and rested a hand on her shoulder, “You start with the words, ‘I have a problem and need some help.’ Jane, you aren’t alone, you never are … you just need to see that and understand that.”
Tera drew her left hand through her hair and then explained, “I have never seen this sort of thing before, Jane. It is, obviously, dark magic, and so that will have to be investigated to see why it is doing what it is. Besides not being able to shift your form, is there anything else that …”
“I can’t teleport. I can control people. That, at least, does still work … the rest of it I haven’t tried.”
“That’s bad enough.”
“I know. I’m … I’m sorry, Tera … I really am …”
With a wave of her left hand, Tera continued, “At least you are here and we can try to figure out how this all works and why it does what it does …”
She looked over Jane once more and then said, “Go down the hall and change into something less nurse-like before somebody comes by and decides that they need medical attention, Daughter …”
Jane nodded and moved to the door. She took hold of the handle, but, before she opened it, she said, “Tera … I know now how incredibly stupid I was … I am … I am sorry …”
Tera smiled wistfully, “To know oneself is to know the universe. Go on. I’ll be here when you look more presentable …”
With that, Jane left the room. Tera turned away from the door and regarded the phonograph player as it continued to make its scratching noise over and over again. She made no move to stop it, but instead just watched the record turn around and around endlessly. Finally, her tail moved around from behind her and with a flick against the stylus, brought the sound to an end.
She then moved over to the doorway that led to the balcony where, not so long ago, she had tried to make Jane understand what was important and what wasn’t. The sigh that escaped her reflected the frustration she felt with the young ones in her Realm. Some thought they were indestructible.
Tera understood the mistakes of the young: she had been young a long time ago … Time and time again, she tried to explain to them, to freely give them knowledge that would serve them well in their lives … she could not wrap her mind around why they wouldn’t take that which was freely given to them …
Elsewhere, the Dark was becoming increasingly frustrated.
It continued to watch many of the pawns in this game from its perch overlooking the worlds, a place where the evil within it was reflected by the utter blackness of the fabric of worlds that had created it, that spawned what the Dark called its home. It thrived upon the darkness that was in all beings, the smallest piece of evil that made them do things that would, the Dark knew, lead to its own power growing further and expanding over the places and creatures that it did not yet wholly control.
Such as Tera and her kind.
That was the point to all of what it had set into motion there. To make them, all of them, move over the line of what they believed to be “Right” and make them do Wrong. Whether out of scorn, hate, or some other dark emotion, it did not matter: the end result would remake them all into something that the Dark could use to further its own plans.
Plans that increasingly angered the Dark because they did not proceed as quickly as expected. Still, the one pawn was moving into place and that would provide a suitable diversion; of that the Dark was sure. It had trapped another in amber, to be held in place for a time. There was little chance that Tera would realize what the solution was or how to defuse it.
As it considered Tera, it attempted, for the umpteenth time, to open a portal into her Realm and was simply … not able. The Dark was able to go anywhere it wished, to see into places that were barred to all others … but not into that Realm. The why of it escaped the Dark even now, for there was no reason it could see for its inability to enter and taint that world as it had so many others. Its meagre understanding of that plane of existence was fleeting, at best. But the Realm existed, and thus there should a way in.
Finding the key was only a matter of time.
As the Dark continued to pick at whatever was protecting it, one of the other portals showed the image of the pawn that the Dark had used in the past, and its attention turned towards watching that unfold. It was an image of the severed Tail, hidden away until the moment when it would become very useful in bringing the last part of the Dark’s plan to fruition.
Or would have save for the voice that told him, “If you keep picking, you might be unpleased at the result.”
Without looking where the voice came from, the Dark replied, “There is a way in. I will find it.”
“Or you will discover the folly of your ways. Which is better? Finding out why you are wrong, or betting taught that? You have always been so single-minded, haven’t you?”
“You are nothing here. I can easily remove you from existence if need be.”
“Oh, I don’t think so. You do remember what I did to you before, don’t you?”
The slight ache in the Dark’s forearm was a clear reminder.
“Taunting will only result in more pain and suffering for all of them … and you, eventually.”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps it will result in you missing something …”
The Dark turned to look at the interloper and found her standing in front of one of the portals, blocking what was there from its view. It approached her, raising a hand dangerously at the same time: “What are you hiding from me?”
She was shrouded in shadow … again. The Dark was never able to see who she was exactly, even after so many eons of having to deal with her and her interference in its plans. She won some, it won others, but in the end, at least from the Dark’s reckoning, neither of them had actually gotten the upper hand in their ongoing fight.
“That would be telling, would it not?”
For a moment, just a moment, the Dark paused. This creature was insufferably placing itself in front of plans that had taken years to develop, and it would have to be removed at some point … soon.
“You cannot stop me.”
“I don’t have to stop you exactly … I just have to make things more … abrasive for you, don’t I?”
Then it realized what the creature had been doing, and spun back around to see the portal watching the severed tail was … gone.
The Dark roared in anger and turned back to take out its frustrations on this damnable creature …
But it was gone, as well. And, with it, the one piece of this plan that the Dark absolutely needed to watch.
For a moment, her words came back to it once more, “I just have to make things more … abrasive for you, don’t I?”
Seething with anger, the Dark knew it now had to become personally involved in that world to find out what was happening there.
Black fog rose around the Dark and it faded from its world with the beginnings of a plan in its thoughts.
Back in Tom’s world, across the street from where he and Camilla were dealing with Ginger, the Dark’s most precious pawn waited for them to leave the building, waited in an alleyway that partially hid him but allowed a clear view of where they were nonetheless. He stroked a finger against the dark blade he carried and imagined the scream that both of his victims, soon to be sacrificed to the Dark, would cry as they fell to him.
It was difficult to be inconspicuous in the bright of day, the police patrols had driven by and looked him over, but a small spell to make them lose their curiosity over him had worked, leaving him still in his place watching the building and the odd man in the newspaper stand in front of it.
For a time, he considered attacking there, as well, possibly as a distraction to occupy his targets and leave them open to him. The thought was daring and unwise, most likely, but it would leave a mark one way or the other.
Then, from behind him, the shadows of the alleyway seemed to turn into smoke and roll silently towards him. For an instant they collected into the vaguest of human-like shapes before sinking into the clothing he wore and vanishing once more.
Suddenly, he stiffened, and his eyes turned completely black before he abruptly turned away from his watch and disappeared into the shadows of the city …
The Dark had, for the first time, done something that was beyond the rules. Never before had it taken control of a pawn so directly. For that was, first, draining on it, and, second, made it vulnerable. A gamble to take, but then the stakes were high enough that it needed to have control of the one piece of the game that was irreplaceable.
Perhaps it would have reconsidered if it had seen back into its own shadowy would and known what was happening there.
She had reappeared there and was looking at each and every one of his portals and what they contained. She moved from spot to spot learning what the Dark had in motion and making note of each thing very carefully.
At the last portal, the one that showed the brownstone building that was the doorway to the Realm she paused. For a moment, just one, she thought about using her claws to make that portal unusable. A simple scratch upon the surface would destroy it forever.
It was a tempting idea.
Perhaps the Dark would be worried … perhaps not …
But then, it wouldn’t know what she did until it was far too late.
“Step back, Camilla. I can’t let you hurt her.”
The answer to that came in a cruel smile and the words, “I haven’t hurt her yet, Dick. Oh, she wants it and loves it, though. She has a fantasy of having her ass whipped until she can’t sit down for a week. You know that dream makes her dripping wet every night?”
Tom watched as Camilla, in Ginger’s form, raised her right hand toward the ceiling and a long black riding crop appeared there.
“Camilla, stop. Think about what you’re doing. This isn’t you.”
“Oh, but it’s her.”
The whip came down hard on Ginger’s rear and a long red mark was left behind … but Ginger herself didn’t say a word. Not one. Tom was, to be blunt, uncomfortable with all of this. The sex part of it didn’t bother him, but the abuse? That was going against what he believed in.
“You’re going to have to stop, Camilla.”
“No. This is what she wants, Dick. Not what I want or you want. Now, go and have a drink from the office bar or read a paper or watch, or wait outside. I don’t care because she doesn’t. All she knows is that the one person she can submit to is debasing her and making her be the person she is inside. A meek little fucktoy that needs a firm hand to guide her.”
Tom wasn’t buying it and he moved towards Camilla, “Sorry, but you aren’t going to do this.” Tom didn’t want to pull his gun and use it on her. That was a last resort as far as he was concerned. He closed the distance and then took hold of Camilla’s wrist, stopping her from using the crop again
She looked up at him and her eyes glowed green, “Thomas, please trust me on this. This is the fastest way to get what we need from her. Don’t interfere with what you see.”
Tom’s grip became a little firmer, “Abusing people is wrong, Camilla.”
“It is. But then she isn’t a person right now, and so she doesn’t qualify. Would you like to hear it from her own lips? Would that make it acceptable, then?”
Ginger’s voice was wrapped in need as she begged, “Slut has been a bad girl. She needs to be punished. Mistress has to punish Slut.
“That makes it worse.”
Camilla’s tail wrapped itself around Ginger’s neck and tugged her close to one side, pushing Tom slightly as she moved. She took hold of Ginger’s hair again and pulled her face to look up at her, “Good Slut. You can lick my shoes.
There was no delay from when Camilla let go to when Ginger was on her hands and knees doing exactly that and mewling in pleasure from it.
Tom’s disgust with the whole situation came to a boil, and he shoved Camilla’s hand away from him. He turned away from the scene and moved towards the door, pausing there as he gripped the door handle, “Tell me something, Camilla. Is this what succubi do? Hurt others? Leave them empty shells of themselves? Are you going to suck away her soul next and kill her?
To his surprise Camilla answered that with, “There is a difference between what you see and what there is, Tom. Please, look back.”
He did, and he saw Camilla as he had always known her, sitting on the chair, but with Ginger still on the floor in front of her degrading herself. Camilla’s tail was wrapped around Ginger’s neck directing her movements.
“If someone gave you your heart’s desire, wouldn’t you take advantage of it? This is what she wants, Thomas, and neither you nor I have the right to judge her. She needs this, has needed it for some time now. She’ll gladly answer anything for this to happen without hesitation.
“I don’t like this, Camilla. Tell me something: do you like it?”
Camilla didn’t hesitate, “No. But that doesn’t matter, does it? Some sacrifices have to be made to get the answers we need.”
Then the scene shifted again to what it had been moments before, a slave groveling at the feet of a cruel Mistress.
“Get the point, Dick?”
Tom nodded slightly–“Still doesn’t mean that I have to like it”–and left the office, shutting the door behind him.
Camilla was silent for a time after Tom left. It was difficult to explain the world that she lived in to humans. Tom had managed to accept most of it, but this part of being a succubi or an incubi, the part of it where realities shifted and sometimes not for the best, was a problem. The problem in carrying it out came in getting too involved in the fantasy and having that stay with you when the moment was gone. Camilla knew already that she was going to feel dirty after it was all over, but she tempered that disgust with the knowledge that it might, just might, get her the answers she needed.
She rubbed her free hand over the mark on Ginger’s ass, “Now, you worthless slut, you will answer every one of the questions asked. For every one you answer truthfully, I will reward you with another cropping that you need so badly … And, if you are very good, I’ll let you finally cum like the needful cunt you are.”
Her hand came down hard, “Understood?
The answer was just above a whisper and was filled with need: “Yesssss, Missstresss.”
Camila held the crop in the air and began asking her questions.
“What do you know of the Succubi?“
“They are what is wanted.”
Camilla paused at that answer. It didn’t sound like something that Ginger would say on her own, which was troubling. She took the crop and placed it lengthwise against Ginger’s folds, pressing it against the flesh, “Wanted for what, slut?”
“To be claimed again by those they no longer serve.”
It took a great deal of control for her not to grab Ginger by her collar, and she managed in a curt voice, “Who wants them?”
Ginger didn’t respond to that. Camilla placed one hand against Ginger’s cheek, a green glow appearing there and moments later Ginger began to shake and mewl, but didn’t speak. Camilla’s fingers stroked slowly, “Slut… I am going to take you to the edge of cumming. Your pussy is going to ache and your mind is going to splinter apart piece by piece until you answer my question. The sooner you do, the better it will be for you … Otherwise, I am going to leave you a mindless shell here on the floor and then, oh then I’m going to find Mary Ann and do the same thing to her, slut.”
The answer was barely a whisper, one that Camilla would have missed save for the ragged breath that was taken before the words came out: “Please. Mistress doesn’t know why.”
Camilla drew the crop up and down as she tried to make sense of what had been said. Mistress doesn’t know why? But at the moment, Camilla was the Mistress here, wasn’t she
“Tell Mistress why she doesn’t know.
“Mistress does what she is told to do, just like slut.”
The cold shiver of realization of what Ginger had been trying to say made her stand up and run for the door, leaving Ginger curled up in a ball on the floor, her fingers pumping frantically in and out of her sex trying to overcome the hold that Camilla had over her
To Camilla’s horror she heard the sound of a gunshot outside the door and went into a panic. She shifted back into her normal form, save for her horns and tail, which still were visible as she drew open the door and shouted, “Thomas!”
Moments before, Tom had left the office and closed the door behind him. It really bothered him how Camilla could do this. He supposed that most of his misgivings were because he was very old school in his thinking about relationships and sex. It had always been his belief that you found the right person for the right reasons, acted honourably, loved her, married her, and then were happy together.
He didn’t understand why people would want to suffer or be abused by others. It just didn’t make sense when he first heard of it and today … well, that hadn’t changed all that much.
He looked over to where Mary Ann sat at her desk typing away at a computer. Ignoring her, he moved towards the leather chairs and sofa on the far side of the room, hoping to find a magazine that didn’t have artificially enhanced women on the cover but did have some real articles within the pages. Looking at the table there, he sighed a bit as, of course, the only things to be seen were the current and past issues of the company’s flagship magazine, and nothing more.
Giving up on that idea, he dropped into a chair facing the office he just left and looked over the lobby. Lots of mirrors around–probably for Ginger to preen in, he thought. The doors through which the goons had left were closed … and Mary Ann … she was suddenly standing to the right of him in that stupid schoolgirl outfit, a slightly vapid smile on her lips.
“Hello Mary Ann.”
“Hiya, ‘tective! You need something while you’re waitin’?”
“No, thanks. Nothing here that interests me.
She had a hurt look for a moment and then traced a finger over the curves of her breasts that showed over the top of the white shirt that she was wearing, “Nothin’? Nothing at all?”
Tom closed his eyes and sighed, “Nope. You have nothing that I’m interested in.”
To his surprise, Mary Ann patted his hand, “Wells, if ya want something, let me know, okay?”
He didn’t open his eyes, but instead tried to make sense of everything that had happened so far: thoughts of possible reasons, ideas of who was on the list next. But then, for some reason, his thoughts turned to his past and the one woman he had ever truly loved. He found the image of her forming so very clearly in his thoughts; he could see her, almost smell her perfume
Sitting up, he coughed for a moment, and then heard a voice …
“Are you having allergies again, Thomas?”
That voice. Tom opened his eyes and saw standing there a woman with pixie-cut brunette hair with some blonde in it, a button nose, the pink lips he remembered so very well, wearing a black off-the-shoulder dress, and he heard the voice that he thought was gone forever.
“Hi, Thomas …”
It was her. Beth. And all of the feelings that he had kept bottled up inside for so long started seeping up again. He asked in a hurt tone, “How?”
“Don’t worry about it, Thomas. I’m here now and that’s all that matters, isn’t it?”
Tom found that it did matter, more than anything he had cared about in a long time. He got out of the chair and smiled almost stupidly, “Of course. I’ve missed you, honey …”
“I’ve missed you, too, Thomas.”
Her hands moved to straighten his collar: “You look good. Been looking after yourself?”
Tom found her voice soothing, and having her there just made the tension in his mind and body vanish, leaving only her voice as the one thing that mattered at that moment to him.
“No. Been missing you and … why did you have to go?”
“I’m here now, so you can forget about that, can’t you?”
Tom felt a little fuzzy then, like his thoughts weren’t connecting properly, like there was something that he should be remembering about Beth, but which wouldn’t connect in his mind. All he could do was listen to her voice and nod on occasion to her words.
“Why don’t you tell me what you are doing here, Thomas. Why are you and Camilla here?”
“Looking into a murder, but you don’t care about that.
“Oh but I do, Thomas, I really do. Tell me about it.”
She slipped into his arms and for a moment he enjoyed having Beth in his arms again. It felt right. Just like the very first time he held her and they spent the night … together?
Tom’s eyes widened as he held her close and realized something. Beth couldn’t possibly know who Camilla was. That meant she couldn’t possibly be here. That meant … this wasn’t Beth.
His thoughts cleared enough for him to ask as he looked at her again, “How do you know Camilla?”
There was a look of confusion from her, “You introduced us? Remember? I’ve known her for years!”
That shook him from the stupor he was in and he turned away from her, “You’re not making any sense, Beth. Something’s wrong.”
She spun him back around to face her, her voice becoming more insistent, “You … introduced … us … Thomas.”
A wave of nausea came over him with her words and he closed his eyes to get that under control. The nausea went away and he found that his thoughts cleared, making him remember something.
She was wearing black. Beth never wore black. It was the colour she had hated more than anything else in the world. She’d rather go naked than wear black, she had once told him … and she never called him “Thomas.” Not ever. She didn’t like the formality of it, she told him. He would forever be “Tom” to her.
That snapped him clear of her hold over him and he acted out of instinct. Grabbing her by the arm, he pulled her down onto the floor, straddling her and pinning her there in the next moment. The anger pushed everything from his mind about Beth and he thought clearly at last: “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m Beth! Can’t you see, Thomas?
He pulled his gun from its holster and placed the barrel against her throat, “You look like her. You aren’t. She only wore yellow. You’re wearing black. She called me Tom. You’re calling me ‘Thomas.’ And she never met my partner. You’re a poor copy of her; should have realized that when you first appeared. What the hell are you? Show me or I swear I’ll put a bullet in you.”
Beth—no, this poor copy of her—continued to struggle, the fear on her face evident and then, to Tom’s surprise, she smiled. Then Beth’s smile was gone and an evil grin had replaced it. And behind that grin was Mary Ann struggling to free herself from where he had her trapped
“You fuck! I’ll tear your heart out and eat it!
Tom had figured out by now that she was something not human. This only made him angrier than he had been. He had foolishly assumed that there was some kind of honour among those that weren’t human. Whatever Mary Ann was, she didn’t have any. The next thought was of Camilla and her promise to him: not to pry into his life, to let him make his own decisions. He realized that it wasn’t just a promise, it meant something to her.
He found that it meant something to him as well.
“You are so dead, cop! They’ll never find your body when I’m finished with you!”
His thumb pulled the hammer back on the gun, “Let’s see how you do with a bullet in you.” He moved the barrel from her neck, and pulled the trigger leaving a clean hole in the floor beside her right ear and it bleeding where the bullet grazed her. The look of shock in her eyes that accompanied the sound of the shot echoing in the office gave Tom some satisfaction.
Whatever she was, she could be killed by a gunshot, it seemed.
He put the barrel against her throat again, “Talk or the next one is going to make it hard for you to breathe.”
“Bastard! I’ll rip you apart!”
He heard Camilla’s voice behind him, “Thomas!”
He took a quick look. Camilla was standing there in a panic. He found that comforting, somehow: “Camilla. Get over here and help me before I kill this … thing.”
She ran towards Tom trying to hide the fear that had been in her eyes when she burst through the office doors and thanked the stars that Tom was still alright.
Tom looked at Mary Ann, no longer just the image of a bimbo, but now a twisted version of one, one that had hate in her eyes and was obviously more than she appeared. As Camilla came closer, he told her, “The goons will be here in a minute. That gunshot will bring them running.”
Camilla’s smile was sure, “No, no they will not be, Thomas. I can promise you that they are … busy at the moment with other thoughts in their minds.”
He gave her an odd look and managed a smile, “Kinky ones?”
Camilla allowed herself a chuckle, “Very. You would be shocked.”
He turned back to Mary Ann, “So, what is she?”
Camilla’s tail struck out and slapped against Mary Ann’s cheek before she answered, “She’s s Siren. Mesmerizes her prey and then feeds them what they most desire to get what she wants.”
“Bitch. You’ll never get out of here alive. We’ll turn you both into thralls and you’ll…” Tom’s hand against her cheek stopped Mary Ann’s voice and put shock into her eyes.
“I don’t hit women, but in your case you aren’t a lady, are you?”
She didn’t answer except to look at Tom with death in her eyes.
“Camilla, what do we know?”
“Nothing useable, save for Ginger being a pawn of Mary Ann.”
Tom considered that for a moment. If that was true, then Ginger didn’t have control over this place any more than her husband did. It also explained what happened to him and why Ginger was so over sexualized from the woman she had been when he had first met the pair and took them to jail for a minor incident in the past.
“Okay. So, then, what do we do?”
Camilla’s voice was cold, “She talks to my Tail.”
The look in Mary Ann’s eyes became one of fear and she struggled trying to get away, becoming more violent in her movements, seemingly not caring if she hurt herself.
“What the hell does that mean? Why is she freaking out?”
“She knows what it means Thomas. That’s what matters.” Camilla’s tail struck Mary Ann’s cheek once more, making her stop moving as she looked in fear at Camilla. “You can talk to us right now, or you can talk to her. Make a choice.”
“If I talk, I’m dead. If I don’t talk, I’m just as dead.”
Thomas took hold of her chin, forcing her to look at him, “Pick one. Which is worse?”
The voice that came over Tom’s shoulder was smooth and seductive, its tone wrapped in dominance …
“I think I am.”
Jane returned to Tera as soon as she had changed into something less fetish-like. That amounted to a black sweater, blue jeans, and low heels, an outfit which made her look as low as she felt.
It still shocked her that disappointing Tera would affect her so much. It wasn’t like she was one of Tera’s favourites; she wasn’t Rianna, or Branwyn, or any of the Daughters who had a direct family connection to her. She was … just Jane … just plain Jane. Or at least she would be if it wasn’t for this spell that held her in this form and handicapped her so badly. Now she looked like someone else with a pair of horns stuck to her head.
Why did it matter so much that Tera approve of her? Why did Tera really care that much about what she did? She was just one of many who were part of the Realm …
The Realm … Jane cursed herself for ever leaving it. Why did she follow her twin away from there? Why did she ever pick up and join in this futile quest?
She pushed all of that aside and made her way down the hall towards Tera once more.
But, before she got there, she found someone blocking her way.
It was a small grey Calico kitten with a pair of orange wings on his back, floating in the air in front of her … and he was holding a sign in his front paws: So? What the hell happened to you?
“Leave me alone, Aries. I haven’t got the time to talk to you.”
But he didn’t move. He just hovered there in mid-air, his blue eyes looking at her and just waiting. Jane wanted to just get past him, to get to Tera, get her punishment or whatever else she was going to get and get it over with … maybe she would just get sent back to the Realm for her own protection or something and then she could crawl under a rock.
The sign changed: No, you have the time. Talk.
Jane leaned against the wall and looked at him. Aries was one of the AngelKitties; every Succubi in the Realm had one—except Tera, of course. Tera had two: her own purple one and a white one that was given to whomever was the Queen of the Succubi in the Realm. Legend had it that the white AngelKitty didn’t have a name, or wouldn’t tell it’s name to anyone but the Queen, and that it was, in fact, the AngelKitty which Tera had given to the first Queen, her mother.
But that was only legend.
“Fine. I screwed up. I got caught in a trap and now I am screwed. Are you happy now, Aries?”
The message changed: No. But at least you’re admitting that you are a fool. That’s a start.
Jane couldn’t help herself and let a small laugh escape her, “Thanks. It’s good to know that I’m measuring up to your expectations of me.”
Again it changed: Better. Now that you aren’t so pissed off at yourself, how about getting your mind around fixing your problem and then fixing whoever did this to you?
She sighed and put her hands over her eyes, “Aries, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know how to fix it. I’m not … Tera’s not sure that she can fix this. So what do I do?”
He didn’t do anything for a minute, save moving his tail back and forth behind him. Then the sign flipped over: Find yourself.
Then he fluttered up to her close, gave her a kiss on the nose, and flew away down the hall, away from Tera’s office. Jane watched him leave and tried to figure out what he was trying to tell her … but that was nothing new with Aries. Jane rarely understood him and, even after all these centuries with him as her companion, she still didn’t understand why he continued to stay with her.
After one last sigh, Jane took the last few steps to Tera’s door and walked in, ready to face the music once more.
The music wasn’t playing any more. Tera had turned off the record player and was leaning against her desk. Jane wondered idly if she had been in that same pose since she walked out of the room or if Tera was just trying to make her nervous. She was that already; Tera didn’t need to make any effort to have that happen.
Tera remained standing there, looking at her, arms crossed as her tail pointed at a chair next to her, “Daughter … Please sit down.”
It was probably the one thing that Tera could have said that would make Jane’s heart pound. She had never been called daughter by Tera. From the stories she has been told by other succubi who had heard that word, it usually meant that, whatever they did, the Queen didn’t approve. Jane dropped into the offered chair without saying a word and braced herself for what was coming next.
Tera began, “I do not have an answer for you. Why this happened, I cannot say, but–and it is a small but–I think you have the solution to this.”
The surprise was evident in Jane’s answer: “Tera, I have no idea what you are talking about! I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t plan for this … It’s not my fault!”
A single raised finger quieted Jane and then Tera continued, “I did not say that you would know the answer, Daughter. I said that you have the solution. There is a difference between the two.”
“What’s the difference?”
“The difference is that an answer is not a solution and a solution is not an answer.”
“Tera, forgive me, but your answers, especially the riddles, give me a migraine honestly.”
“Shows that your mind is working, Daughter. That is, really, a good start. Now, why don’t you use that mind of yours and tell me the one thing that you did that you hadn’t done before when this happened?”
Jane put her hands to her face in frustration, “I went to the place. I sensed someone in there, I changed form to this woman’s to have him lower his guard and get past him to the basement. I met him, flirted a little, and then went downstairs and shifted back and …”
The pause was a long one before Jane said, “… and I was thinking about him and that he was cute and I’d like to get to know him.”
Tera smiled, “So the ice queen melted?”
“Who told you that?”
A dismissive wave: “Oh, just about everyone who knows you well back home.”
“I don’t have the time to care about someone. That’s got nothing to do with me or anything about me, and I am not frigid!”
The smile didn’t change, “Jane, not being with someone since you and your sister came to us does not mean that, but it does mean that when you become infatuated with someone your mind wanders and you leave yourself open to something happening that you are not guarding against.”
Jane just sat there for a while not saying a word. Tera couldn’t possibly know what she was thinking or feeling for that matter. It had to be a guess …
… but Tera was right. Jane had thought about him and not kept her eyes open and now she was paying for that stupidity.
“So, now what?”
Tera picked up a small red beret on her desk and tossed it to Jane, “Now we go and find the man you are thinking about, get the two of you together and try to see what happens with that magic in you when he’s there.”
“This is a lousy disguise, Tera.”
Tera snapped her fingers and Jane’s clothing changed into a full length red dress to match the beret, “No, it’s not the best, but it is good enough to cover up your horns and tail. Well enough that we can see that boyfriend of yours and figure this out.”
Jane crossed her arms in disgust, “He is not my boyfriend.”
“Of course, Daughter, whatever you say … Now get up and move your tail before I pull you out of here by it.”
Jane moved quickly after that, following Tera as she left her office. From the way she moved through the building, Jane knew full well that Tera had made a decision and now was focused on seeing that happen.
As they passed the receptionist, a set of keys sailed through the air and Tera caught them. Jane stopped and looked at the succubi behind the desk, who shrugged slightly: “It’s my job.”
The sound of Tera’s heels clicking away held back any thought of an answer to that as Jane ran quickly after her into the world outside. She followed Tera past the gates and to a small red convertible that was parked just outside of them.
The pair got in and then as Tera put the car into gear and drove away, a thought came to Jane: “Tera, where are we going?”
It was a satisfied smile that crossed Tera’s lips as she drove through traffic, “Oh, we’re going to your boyfriend’s apartment. Rumor has it that he’s sitting there trying to get a hold of that woman you look like.”
Jane put her hands up to her face, “Tera … please … he’s not …”
“Yes Daughter … I know … I know …”
Tera’s laugh didn’t really make Jane feel any better; how could she, since now she had to face John? This time she knew that Tera wouldn’t just let her escape him like she had before.
The drive passed quickly, more so than Jane expected or was prepared for, really. The car came to a stop in front of a gleaming modern skyscraper by which, surprisingly, Jane was impressed. Not for the building itself, but by the fact that John lived there.
Why that was exactly, she wasn’t sure.
A short time later, Jane watched Tera knock on an apartment door, which then opened to reveal John holding a cordless phone in his hand.
A look of confusion passed over his face as he said, “Jenni? I’ll call you back, okay? Something just came up.”
As John shut the phone off, Tera reached out a hand, plucked it away from him, and said, “Would you mind terribly much if we came in? I think you and my daughter have something to discuss.”
His answer was a slight nod, to which Tera responded to by pushing Jane past him and then walking into the apartment herself.
John’s only thought as they passed him and he closed the door was, “Okay, if that’s her Mom, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.”
In spite of the oppulant appearance of the building, John’s place was… well not that showy, to be honest. Looking at the sparseness of it all, Tera was struck that John, whatever else he was, didn’t spend money on anything that wasn’t essential.
John walked up to the two of them and asked, “Okay, I know her name is Jane; yours is?”
“Pretty much, yes.”
He managed to not stare too much at her, and returned his attention to Jane, instead, even as Tera began to look over the small library of books he had collected over the years jammed into an old wooden bookcase.
“I don’t know if I should yell at you or ask if you are okay.”
Jane had found a couch that looked like it had been around since the time of polyester leisure suits, sat herself down, and looked at him from there.
“I don’t know.”
John frowned and wondered what, exactly, was wrong with her.
Tera pulled a book from the shelf, “Good answer, Daughter.”
The frown on John’s face was telling: “Doesn’t tell me anything.”
Tera turned from looking at the pages, “Perhaps that is the point?”
The frustration was evident in his next words: “I’d love to know what that point is, if you don’t mind.”
Tera turned a page, “Sorry, but that’s not why we are here, my dear … We’re here because Jane has a problem.”
“What is it?”
She smiled, “You really should be talking to Jane, should you not?”
He looked back to Jane, “Are you okay?”
Jane didn’t hide her feelings, “No. I’m not. Something happened in that basement. It’s done something to me that we can’t understand and it … well, it crippled me …”
He managed a knowing smile, “I think I can relate to that. How bad is it?”
Jane was going to explain, but Tera held a finger to her lips and Jane answered him with, “Bad enough.”
He shot them a look, “For God’s sake, can’t you give a straight answer?”
Tera chuckled, “Have to be asking the right questions, my dear …”
He hadn’t expected that, “What are you trying to tell me?”
She continued to read the book she held and came closer to him, “Nothing that will harm you, at least.”
For the first time since the women had come in, John’s sense of danger moved up a notch, “I can defend myself.”
Looking up, Tera’s green eyes glinted, and John found himself unable to look away from her.
“Sit down, John.”
He couldn’t help but do so, and then he found himself looking up at Tera as she stood over him, her hand on the armrests of the chair he sat in.
“Just relax, John … Relax … be calm … and open your thoughts to me …”
As darkness fell across his mind, that became very easy to do. Not even Jane’s cry of “No!” was enough to stop it from happening …
The thing about the Dark was that it was too confident. It thought that it had all of the answers and that no one could oppose it.
That was almost true.
She could, and did . . . regularly.
It had become almost an obsession for her now. There were so few who would challenge the Dark when it appeared, and so it fell to her to do so. It wasn’t a chore or an imposition; it had to be done, and she had seen enough of the Dark and what it was capable of to know that the best thing to do was what she did: drive it mad with anger and make it stop thinking.
Losing the one portal did that. Then letting it stew in its anger had made it get involved intimately with mortals and their world. She wondered if, this time, it would actually learn something from the experience or not.
Making the portal vanish was child’s play for a being like her. If the Dark ever figured out just how powerful she was, it might actually pause to think twice about the plans it had against Tera and her kind.
The thought did make her smile as the portal showing the severed tail reappeared among all of the Dark’s other ones. She stood there for a time, tapping a single pink fingernail against the surface and trying to decide what would be the most unpleasant thing she might do.
She could destroy this portal—the thought had been there before—but she had her own plans, and, for those, this one portal needed to remain, at least for the moment, in spite of what it showed.
The tapping stopped as she placed that hand against the surface and whispered to the awful image that it showed, “It will not be long. Promise.”
And, unlike some beings, she kept her promises.
She turned away, coming to the decision that, for once, just this once, she was going to make the Dark know what it was to lose something valuable.
What followed was the sound of fingernails raking across portal after portal, each of which turned white against the darkness, throwing light into a place which despised it. She didn’t ruin every single one of them, but, when she was done, she had left the Dark but three portals.
She thought that she just might be able to hear the scream of anger from it from three universes away when it returned to see what she had done here, and that thought made her smile slightly.
She glanced once more at the portals that remained, satisfied that this would be a problem for it, that it would have to spend effort and time repairing the damage if it could, and that, thankfully, might give the others needed time to figure out what was happening and where.
As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t actually get involved in the battle or make choices for those involved. It was, after all, necessary that all beings make their own choices, no matter how wrong or ill-advised they might well be.
Still, she had one thing that the Dark didn’t have: trust. Trust in others, trust that they would make good choices, but, most of all, trust in that one person that saved her life so long ago and, in doing so, changed her own universe for the better.
She would always owe that person for that gift.
She passed into the ether, on her way to where she needed to be. If the Dark could get involved with mortals, she could as well … to a point. But first she needed to talk to someone who needed to understand that some paths were not worth following.
Following the path of one who owed the succubi—and Tera, in particular—her life … that was the most foolish thing that it had ever done.
And it would soon learn.
As for the Dark, possessing one of its pawns was distasteful. But there was little choice. That damnable creature had cost it its watch over the tail. The one thing that would, if its plans went to completion, cause the barriers to fall before it and thus have what it wanted most.
But having to deal with a corporal form? That was something that it did not enjoy in the slightest. Emotions, thoughts, images from this pawn were getting caught between its own thoughts and, as well, it knew that its own thoughts would be mixing the other way.
But the important thoughts, the ones that it needed for itself, those it kept under lock and key, or so the Dark would believe. The problem was, as it always was, that nothing is ever completely closed off when beings merge, even if only for a short time.
Fingerprints leave smudges, after all …
It took the Dark some time to return to where the tail was kept. The wards around the place made it impossible for someone to appear there without seeing the place first and entering at one specific spot. From the outside there were traps and obstacles that it knew would stop any magic user from getting close.
But this pawn was tuned to the place, and the wards would fall before it. Even so, the time … the time was taking far too long for the Dark’s liking.
And so time passed, the Dark fumed, and the universe turned …
“I think I am.”
Tom looked behind him expecting to see Camilla there, and she was … sort of.
It was Camilla, but her tail and horns were grey instead of black and her hair had changed color from blonde to purple. Tom couldn’t stop the words that came out: “I liked the blonde and black better, Camilla.”
And Tom paused. He was pretty sure that Camilla didn’t smirk.
“It’s a long story, Tom, and right now we haven’t got the time.”
And that was wrong, as well. Camilla never called him “Tom.” Mary Ann tried to get away again, and Tom was forced into flipping her over, straddling her, and then locking her wrists together with handcuffs before sitting on her legs. Having some control of the situation, he looked at Camilla and said, “We’ve got the time. You want to let me in on why the style change? Got tired of your hair color or something?”
She ran her left hand through her hair, pulling on it slightly, “Okay, short version: I’m Camilla’s bad side; I’m a bitch; I’m nothing like her, and you don’t want to screw with me. That good enough for you?”
“I’m never going to understand this, am I?”
She smirked again, “Oh, I dunno … You’d make an interesting Incubi … I can put in a good word for you if you’re up for it.”
Tom shook his head: “Thanks, but I have enough issues with my life as it is. The universe isn’t what I knew it was, there are people—like you—who are legends, and I am supposed to deal with that. Oh yes, and I am acting under the command of the Queen of a race of beings that exist on sex and pleasure and I have no idea why I should be, but I’m doing it anyway.”
She nodded, “Tera does have her ways, doesn’t she? At least she isn’t using that pitchfork of hers on you. Mind you, some like that sort of thing…”
“So what do I call you? ‘Not Camilla’ or ‘Punkie Brewster’ or what?”
She leaned down so that they looked into each other’s eyes: “You really want to know who I am?”
Tom didn’t finch: “I trust Camilla. She’s proven herself. I don’t trust you.”
She nodded: “Good; backbone and will. I can see why Tera wants your help. You may call me ‘Nina.’”
“All right; ‘Nina’ it is. Tell me something, seriously: does every one of you have an ‘a’ at the end of your name?”
She laughed, “No … Just some of us do. Congratulations, Tom; you just endeared yourself to me. Camilla will be pleased to know that. Make sure you tell her when you see her again.”
The smirk vanished and she looked past Tom to Mary Ann on the floor beneath him, “You mind getting off her? She and I have … a past.”
“Good or bad?”
“I won’t kill her, at least, not just yet.”
“If I don’t?”
“Then I’ll have to move you, Tom. You don’t want me to, I promise you.”
Tom got up and moved to the side. Nina reached down and pulled Mary Ann to her knees by the handcuffs before grasping her chin. “Hello, bitch. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. How long has it been?
The fear in Mary Ann only allowed a quiet whisper of an answer, “Babylon.”
“That’s right. As I remember it, you came into my temple and tried to turn my followers, didn’t you? You corrupted them from the top down and, in the end, you were responsible for how many deaths?”
“I don’t know.”
“I do. I remember them very well. You watched as they fought, four hundred eighty-six of them falling to your promises of riches that were hidden from them. And when it was over, what did they find inside the walls?”
Mary Ann closed her eyes, “Because everything they gave you, you returned to them … and more. You … you cared about the cattle and …”
Tom didn’t see Nina’s hand as it struck Mary Ann, sending her sprawling across the floor.
“They are not cattle, you worthless bitch! They are more than you will ever be or ever could be. You can’t understand that, can you?”
There was no answer, and Nina pulled her once again to her knees by the handcuffs: “Here’s the deal. You tell us what’s going on and who’s in charge, and I won’t kill you today. You lie to me, and I’ll start taking you apart one piece at a time …”
She extended her left hand and, to Tom’s shock, a silver sword appeared there, flames dancing along its blade. Tom thought he could hear the sword … growling?
She placed the edge against Mary Ann’s neck: “You know what this is. You know exactly what will happen if I strike you with it. Camilla wouldn’t; she follows the new ways. But I don’t. So make up your mind, right now, and tell me why you are here and what you have done to Ginger.”
Tom coughed, “Nina … You said you wouldn’t kill her.”
She didn’t look at Tom: “Oh, this won’t kill her. It will, however, take away what makes her special. What she is, she won’t be anymore.” A cruel smile appeared, “And since she is so enamored with being immortal …”
Mary Ann closed her eyes, “You are a fool. I serve powers greater than you. You’ll never leave this room alive if you harm me.”
“Oh I’ve already harmed you. Now I’ll cripple you …”
And she pulled the blade back and then swung it towards Mary Ann’s neck …
What happened next was something that Tom would never quite be able to explain.
The blade came down and struck on her right shoulder, then passed through her body and came out at her waist … leaving not a mark on her. Mary Ann still breathed, still was alive, but the look of disbelief in her eyes that she had been struck was matched by the satisfaction in the look that Nina had …
… and what the sword now held upon its blade.
Tom could clearly make out what looked like a twisted, ghostly image of Mary Ann’s form wrapped around the blade, with the flames licking against it and a silent scream of pain on the ghost’s face.
Nina didn’t look at Tom, she just held the sword in front of Mary Ann, “You have very little time, bitch. I’d say about three minutes before you aren’t immortal anymore. Maybe ten and you’ll start aging, and we both know what happens when you do.”
She looked at a clock on the wall, “Three minutes. Talk.”
Tom wanted to intervene. This was torture and he knew it. But he didn’t know what would either help or harm in the situation he found himself in. He didn’t expect that he would be able to disarm Nina, nor did he have any way to fix whatever Nina had done.
Tom hated being helpless … it reminded him of Beth and …
… he just turned away and kept his thoughts to himself.
To Mary Ann’s credit she held out for an entire minute. She just looked back at Nina, but when Nina drew a finger along the shaft of her sword and then licked a wisp of Nina’s ghostly form from her fingers, she caved in…
“Ginger is nothing. She was a convenient way to gain power. She didn’t care about anything save her own beauty and screwing her husband. It was child’s play to alter their minds and take him out of the picture.”
Tom heard this and asked, “What did you do?”
“I made him get involved with the mob, you asshole. I made sure that he was stupid about it. I saw to it that they would find out what he was doing, make him transfer everything to Ginger and then you so helpfully took him away, leaving Ginger to my tender mercies. Didn’t take a week and she was a hot little slut that would do anything for me to degrade her and …”
Nina interrupted, “Nice story. Now, how about why you did it in the first place?”
Mary Ann gritted her teeth, “I needed power.”
She didn’t answer that question. Tom had a thought, “You needed power for a purpose. You seem to have a past with Nina and her kind … is that why you needed this … power?”
The look she gave him spoke volumes.
Tom sighed, “Peachy: a war between omnipotent beings. I should have stayed in bed.”
Nina placed the point of the sword just in front of Mary Ann’s lips, “Who are you working for.”
“Give it back to me first!”
“No. You give me the information and I’ll give it back to you. Better hurry. You’re running out of time … rapidly.”
Mary Ann finally broke down and said in a whisper, “The Dark. It’s the Dark …” Then she screamed, “Now give it back!”
Nina stood up and then wiped the length of the sword with her fingers, balling the ghost into her hand before tossing it casually at Mary Ann. It fell into her body producing a sigh of pleasure from her lips and then a look of defiance on her face.
Which Nina promptly removed with another strike of her hand against Mary Ann’s cheek which resulted in her falling to the floor unconscious.
The blade vanished in a flash of light and then Nina then stood up and looked critically at Tom, “Tell me something. Other than you being human, is there anything special about you?”
Tom shrugged, “Cats like me.”
She looked at him for a long, long moment.
“That would be telling. Come on, if she is working for the Dark, then we need to get out of here right now.”
And then she pushed past him making for the elevators without another word, Mary Ann on the floor out cold and Ginger in the other room pleading for her Mistress to come back to punish her again …
Smoke. The first thing he smelled was the smoke. Then he noticed the flames licking up the walls of the warehouse, the beams falling from the ceiling, and the yelling from behind him.
And then, as he watched three men rush past, John had a horrible realization. He was back at the fire. Not a fire; no, the fire … the fire where he was injured, the one that haunted him every day. He felt and then saw the fire axe in his hands and knew exactly what was going to happen next. He would rush after the rest of his company, follow them into the hell around them and search.
There would be … What would there be?
That part he never could remember exactly, when no one could tell him what happened, between this moment when they last saw him and the next, when they found him underneath the remains of the structure.
He hesitated there a moment longer, the others vanishing into the smoke, and then, twisting the axe in his hands, made his way forward, the smoke becoming thicker, the sound of his breathing loud in his ears as the respirator cycled back and forth, keeping him alive. Coming to a locked door, he kicked it open and then drew back as more smoke poured out and around him, making it almost impossible to see.
But did he see … something? Did he hear something?
There was no choice: he was going in there and searching. He had to be sure.
John pushed his way in while calling out, “Is anyone there? Answer me!” He didn’t hear anything, and so he moved deeper into the space. The light from the hallway, which showed him the way out and to safety, slowly dimmed as the smoke thickened more and more. But that didn’t matter. He had to search, had to help. That was his job and, no matter what else, he was going to do it.
He spent almost five minutes searching, the odd layout of the room confusing him. It seemed like an office, there were desks around him, but the space was too large for a simple office. Still, he pressed on, moving back and forth, calling out and listening even as he searched, his axe in his hand and the flashlight attached to his helmet probing into the smoke around him.
And then John saw her.
A woman crumpled to the floor, covered in black soot and grime. Her figure was indistinct. He knew it was a woman, but her features–hair, eyes, skin tones, what she was wearing–were all a blur.
But that meant nothing to him.
He knelt down beside her and checked: she was still breathing, but unconscious. The problem was that he had no idea if she was seriously injured or not. He found his spare mask and, after hooking it up to his air supply, placed it over her face. Her breathing improved, but now he was stuck there. He couldn’t leave her, which left him one choice: reporting on his radio that he found a survivor and then triggering the beacon built into it to call others to assist him.
He was about to do that when he heard the first shriek of the ceiling starting to come down. John’s only thought was to protect the woman however he could. He dragged her under a desk and then pushed himself under it as well, his body over hers.
The noises stopped for a moment, everything was silent around him, and then, just as he was about to look out from underneath the desk, there was the sound of a train wreck as the world came down around them both.
Then all was quiet again.
Except this time, standing amid the rubble, there was Tera, her dress pushed around by the smoke and fire, her arms crossed over her chest, and a look of concern on her face. She considered the pile of rubble that now held John and the woman, her long red tail moving slowly, catlike, behind her.
“Well … that explains a lot.”
From the smoke and fire, Jane came into view to the other side of the rubble. “Damn it, Tera! We don’t have the right to do this!”
Tera considered her for a long moment and then explained, “We need a clue, Daughter, an idea of what has happened. He has that clue in him; we just have to pry it out.”
Jane stormed up to Tera and then poked her into the chest with a finger, “You tell us to respect others, to help them. This does neither!”
Tera looked down at the finger pressing against her, then took hold of Jane’s hand before gently moving it away.
“His mind is blocked from what happened here, Daughter. He knows he came in, he knows he found someone in here, but he remembers nothing of who that woman is. She’s the key to this in someway and we need to know.”
“It’s not a good enough reason!”
Tera looked bemused, “Oh it is … It most certainly is.” She then reached around behind Jane and took a hold of something there, making Jane gasp in surprise. Tera then showed the tip of a grey tail to Jane, a tail that was connected to her body. “Daughter, you look like yourself.” Then Tera, that enigmatic smile still on her lips, released Jane’s tail.
Jane felt behind her, touching her tail in surprise and then running her hands over her horns. “How?”
“That is, of course, the question, isn’t it? Why should things be fixed here? It doesn’t make any sense … or … perhaps it does.”
Tera walked over to the pile of rubble and then pointed a finger at it, “The answer is in there, isn’t it? Who is the woman he rescued? Why can’t he remember her? How was that done? Most of all: why would all this make it necessary for your physical appearance to be changed?”
Jane didn’t answer the questions. She didn’t have the answers.
Tera then began to twirl her finger in a slow circle, “While these are his memories, they are not immutable. We can alter them, to a point, or, get a better look at them, can’t we?”
Jane rubbed her temples: “Yes, Tera … That’s Succubi 101 in the Realm, isn’t it?”
Tera continued to work at the rubble, bits and pieces of it vanishing at her touch, “What was your grade, Jane?”
Jane mumbled, “B Plus.”
Tera smiled in spite of herself, “Well, at least you passed.”
“I passed because a certain Queen made me work at it harder than anything I have done before.”
“Are you complaining?”
“Tera … I’m not. Honestly.”
“Oh, I’m not mad at you Jane, perish the thought. No, what I am, however, is very confused at this moment.”
Jane looked to where Tera was focusing and saw something that she didn’t, couldn’t expect to see. There, in the rubble, was John, but the woman that he had saved … wasn’t.
“Tera, what’s going on?”
“We missed something while talking, Daughter. Something happened here, and we didn’t pay attention to it when we should have.”
Jane’s look was one of confusion, so Tera continued: “Something, or someone, took that woman away after the ceiling collapsed, and we missed it.”
“That’s the question, isn’t it? Why take her away? Why make him forget about all of this? What was the point of it?”
Tera rubbed her fingertips over her temples and sighed: “We’ll just have to start all over again and, this time, not look away.”
In the next moment, the collapse of the ceiling happened again, John saved the woman and all was quiet once more. But seconds later, the two succubi saw what came next.
A black shadow fell over John and the woman, covering them both and then vanishing, taking the woman with it and leaving John behind … alone.
“Tera, what was that?”
“Something I hope you never have to face: the Dark.”
“Tera … Why would it care about either of them?”
“Oh that’s easy. It wanted the woman; it didn’t care about John. But taking her and leaving him with these memories would have been worse. So it damaged him, made him forget about what he actually did, and then continued on with its plan.”
“Tera … you are being evasive.”
“I have an idea of who the woman is, Daughter. A pretty good one, but I don’t like where that idea is leading me.”
“Who is she?”
Tera ran one hand through her hair and sighed, “It has to be Patricia.”
Jane just stared at Tera in disbelief …
Tom followed Nina out of the office and watched her hand slam against the call button for the elevator. “You know,” he deadpanned, “putting your hand through that wall won’t make it get here any faster.”
Nina shot him a look and began to pace, “Tell me something, Tom: what was the story that scared you the most when you were a child?”
Tom had to think about that for a moment, “The Boogieman, I think.”
She stopped in mid-pace: “Okay, then you can think of the Dark as him on steroids, if you want.”
“He scares you?”
“Me and just about anyone that knows about it.”
“Hang on; he’s an ‘it’?”
Nina waved her hand at Tom, “No one is really sure. ‘It’ seems to be the best way to describe it; likes mayhem, destruction, and violence above everything else.”
“So, why you?”
Nina laughed, “Oh it’s not me that it’s interested in. It’s all of us. Tera’s told us about it, told us not to get involved with it, and, no matter what, we don’t allow it back to our home.”
“How’s that working for you?”
Nina smirked, “So far, so good. But it’s a persistent bastard.”
Tom pinched the bridge of his nose, “So what you are telling me is that an omnipotent being is responsible for killing Patricia?”
Nina punched the button again and started to pace once more, “No, someone killed Patricia either under the influence of the Dark, or for it, thinking they would be rewarded with power or something else.”
Nina sighed, “And they likely are under the Dark’s control somehow, still acting for it, and are possibly looking to be the cause of something else happening.”
“Wonderful. This just gets better and better.”
She turned back to Tom and, with a hard look in her eyes, said, “If you want out, go see Tera and tell her that.”
“I’m not a quitter. I complain, moan, and curse, but I don’t walk away from a fight.”
Nina’s answer was, “And you have no idea why Tera asked you to look into this?”
Tom smirked, “I figured she liked my looks.”
The doors to the elevator opened and Nina grabbed Tom by the shoulder dragging him inside before punching the button for the ground floor. After the doors closed, she continued, “The thing is, Tom, I think you are involved because the Dark uses humans for its own gains.”
“And you don’t?”
Nina waved her hand at the ceiling, “You want me to claim that we’re pure and lily white? Sorry, Tom, I can’t do that. Yes, in the past, a long time ago, we weren’t nice; we didn’t care, either. Once upon a time we had humans as pets, toys, and worse; we would twist them into whatever we wanted them to be.”
Tom flinched at the tone of her voice, but still asked, “So, what changed?”
Nina’s hand dropped to her side, “One human, just one, showed us that there was a better way and we took it.”
“Have I met this person?”
Nina laughed, “Oh no, no you haven’t … Trust me, you would know if you had.”
Nina looked wistful, “You’ll have to ask Tera about that sometime …”
Tom filed that away for later before prodding her, “Okay, so back to me being involved?”
She nodded, “You’ve been told that some beings need humans to do their work for them. The Dark needs willing humans, or at least humans that it has touched, to do its bidding.”
“Still doesn’t explain me.”
“You know human nature better than we do, Tom. You see more than we do. It used to be that we would just take control of someone and force them to talk. You saw what Camilla did, right?”
“She hadn’t done something like that in about a thousand years, Tom. Oh, she was brave about it, but it tore her up inside to have to do it.”
“So, what we have to face are people who might be … mind controlled or something, acting for the Dark without knowing it, and best of all, you really can’t be sure until you come in contact with them?”
Nina sighed, “The Dark isn’t stupid, so it’s placed some red herrings to draw any investigation away from it. Lots of humans to comb through for an answer and …”
Tom waited, but Nina just started tapping a finger against her lips as the elevator descended. After ten floors, Tom slapped her tail with his hand, which jolted Nina, so that, in the next moment, Tom found himself pressed up against the wall, a very angry Nina looking at him.
“Why … did … you … do … that?”
Tom pushed Nina’s hand away, “I lost you for a minute. You drifted off into thought, and I wasn’t sure that something wasn’t wrong with you. My cat doesn’t like it when I swat her tail; figured you would act the same.”
Nina ran a hand through her hair and tugged on it, “Nice. I was thinking about what Patricia was missing when she was buried. Something important wasn’t there.”
Tom pushed, “Like?”
“Her tail; it had been severed from her body, and we couldn’t find it when we buried her.”
Tom was confused, and the look on his face spoke volumes.
“Okay, Tom, quick lesson about succubi and incubi for you. Beings like us are, in fact, two beings in one body. In our case, Camilla is the dominant personality most of the time. I am what we call a Tail. I reside in her tail, oddly enough, and I can see and feel everything that she does. But, normally, I don’t appear.”
“So, why now?”
“Because I saw who you were pinning down to the floor, and I wasn’t going to miss the chance to get a measure of justice. And, if you had left me alone with her, I would have killed her.”
Tom shrugged, “I figured as much. You aren’t anything like Camilla, really.”
Nina’s tail swished behind her, “And?”
Tom smiled, “And, as you said, you are a bitch to those who have done you wrong. But, so far, you haven’t been to me. So, like I told you before, you still have to prove yourself to me.”
Nina reached out a hand and stroked it against Tom’s cheek, “It’s because Camilla likes you, and I have to admit that I find you … interesting …”
Tom closed a hand around Nina’s and drew it away, “Sorry, Nina. My heart belongs to someone else.”
Nina sighed, “So does your soul, Tom. So does your soul.”
Tom’s face soured, “Why is it that you all have to be so damn cryptic?”
Nina looked away from Tom, “I apologize, but that’s how our kind is. I’ll give you a hint, though, that you should keep in mind … You want a direct answer? Give a direct question.”
Tom gripped the railing behind him and looked away from her. Neither of them said anything for a dozen floors, but then Tom asked, “Tell me about Tails, Nina.”
She didn’t turn around, but Tom could see her body tense, “Tails are the succubi or incubi of the past. If you can recall your myths, you might remember that we can be very evil, very dominant, and most of all, we have, on occasion, claimed souls.”
Tom frowned, “That’s not exactly comforting, Nina.”
She shrugged, “It’s not important. What matters is that we exist in order to keep the young aware of what they might be if they do not learn, and if they go off the path, or worse. We are there to help them.”
Tom considered what she said, but before he could ask more, Nina added, “Your next, obvious question is, I think: ‘Do you have a soul?’”
Tom nodded slightly, “Seems to be a reasonable question to ask at this point.”
Nina smiled, “We both do. Very much like yours, really …” Nina looked over her shoulder, “Would you like to know what I can see in yours, Tom?”
He didn’t have to think about his answer, “Not really. I suppose that it’s not that important.”
As the bell sounded to announce their arrival on the ground floor Nina sighed, “See, that’s the biggest problem in the universe, isn’t it?”
The doors opened before Tom could ask what that meant, and they found themselves staring at a group of security guards who were waiting in the lobby, their backs to the elevator doors.
Tom reached for his weapon, “Got any ideas? I left my holy hand grenade in my other pants.”
Jane threw her hands up in disbelief, “How could it possibly be Patricia?”
Tera shrugged, “The facts are quite plain, Daughter.”
“My sister is … was … a mother. She loved her children and her Eternal. That’s all she was.”
Tera smiled softly, “Being a mother, no matter how or why, is not a little thing, Jane. You’ll understand that someday.”
Those words brought Jane up short as she remembered her sister holding her children, playing and laughing with them … and she regretted what she had said, “I meant that Patricia wasn’t a threat to anyone, Tera. There was no reason for her to be attacked.”
“There you are wrong, Daughter, and I should have been more aware. Most of our kind are … involved … in some way. Those that are not are not always aware of everything that goes on when they are away from the Realm.”
“Tera, you can’t put the blame on yourself.”
“Every mother does when her children are hurt …”
Tera then began to list off the facts she knew: “We can be certain that Patricia was targeted by someone or something. Her tail was severed from her body. That means that someone knew the way to kill us. Then the question becomes: who would be foolish enough to suffer our wrath … or would want us to seek revenge?”
Jane said nothing, waiting for Tera to continue.
“There are very few beings that have tried to control us; fewer still who have survived. Still fewer continue to try and try again, using whatever means they think will be enough to push us over the edge.”
She held up a finger and then continued, “The Dark cannot act in the material world itself. We also know that it uses the darker emotions to gain a foothold in our world and bend beings here to its will. It collects puppets and then plays them to make what it wants to happen … happen.”
“That still does not explain how you can connect what happened here. I haven’t seen anything that proves you are right, Tera.”
She sighed softly, “I haven’t explained everything as yet, Daughter.”
Jane rubbed a hand over her forehead and waited … again.
“Patricia was not involved in our work here, that’s very true. However, she did, occasionally, assist Brent in his work, or, very rarely, would help in Realm business.”
Jane’s hand stopped, “Are you saying that you put her in danger?”
“No. I am saying that she was led here for a reason and the Dark took advantage of that. Perhaps it planned to murder Patricia by fire and then leave no trace of her body for us to find, and thus cover up the taking of her tail. But our hero got in the way and then it had to try and cover its tracks.”
Jane’s head was spinning at the idea, “But why was she here, and why did the Dark let her go?”
“Those are the questions to work on, Daughter.”
“Tera, what about John?”
“We remove this block on his memories, so that he can see that he saved someone. We don’t hide what happened from him. All of this was in his subconscious mind, so it’s unlikely to intrude on his thoughts once it has been released. I only hope that it won’t be completely clear to him.”
“What about me?”
“If this works, then the hold on you is no more. If not … well, then things become a lot more complicated, don’t they?”
“Wonderful. Just … wonderful.”
The memories they were looking into vanished and reality replaced them: John sitting in the chair, seemingly asleep; Tera standing beside him, her right index finger touching John’s left temple; and Jane across the room from the two of them watching unhappily.
And still not looking like herself.
“Nothing’s changed, Tera.”
Tera tilted her head to the right and looked at Jane, “I haven’t actually done anything yet, Daughter. You young ones are so impatient at times … Stop and smell the roses; you may discover things you have overlooked in your rushing about.”
Jane’s response was to put her head into her hands and moan softly.
“So. do I or don’t I, Daughter? Or are you going to do it?”
“No. No Daughter. There isn’t a maybe or could be or might we here. He is … damaged–quite badly to be honest. He is, at the moment, a tool being used for someone else’s gains.”
Jane looked up and she wasn’t happy, “I am not responsible for that.”
“No, but, in another way, we all are. If we had given in to what it wants, become its puppets, then he would not be where he is right now, would he?”
“We can’t protect everyone. That’s impossible and you know it.”
Tera turned away from Jane and looked at John, “Perhaps. But is it right to ignore such things when they are in front of you? What right does it have to do this to anyone? Most of all, what right does it have to try to force us into doing something that we have turned our back on?”
“I didn’t make that choice, Tera. You did.”
Tera looked at Jane once again, but this time there was sadness in her voice: “So, you would rather act in the old ways, then? Are you so enamoured with that time?”
“We were strong Tera. We could, easily, reach out and destroy our enemies. There was nothing to fear. There was …”
“Nothing. There was absolutely … nothing. You just don’t understand, do you?”
Tera walked away from John and stood over Jane, her red horns and tail visible now, “Are you so eager to give up your soul, Daughter? Lose all you are? Be yet another puppet? Really? Truly?”
Jane tried, she really tried, to look Tera in the eyes, but found that she couldn’t bring herself to.
“I’m playing devil’s advocate, Tera … You are so sure that you are right about everything. How can you be?”
Tera pointed a finger in John’s direction, “I am right because what is sitting there in that chair is so very, very wrong.” She then pointed at Jane, “I am right because you are in a trap that you can’t escape and he is the only solution that can fix this.”
Jane was silent, her eyes closed in thought before she answered, “Will he remember … anything?”
Tera took hold of both of Jane’s hands and led her to John’s side, “That depends on you, doesn’t it?”
She smiled, “Daughter, can you admit to yourself one single truth? Tell me one thing about yourself that you know to be the truth that you have not admitted to anyone else.”
Jane tried to answer Tera. The first thing that came to her thoughts wasn’t really the truth, and she knew that Tera would know that. So it was with the next things that came to mind. But then, finally, she told Tera her truth: “She’s gone, Tera. I’ll never see her again, never hear her voice, hug her … I’m … I’m alone.”
“Do you honestly believe that?”
Jane clutched at Tera’s hands, “Who is there that cares about me? My sister, the only one that I knew who loved me … I’ve lost her. I am alone. That’s my truth.”
Tera shook her head sadly, “You are alone because you cannot find the way to allow anyone inside, Jane. You have so many walls around you because … because you want revenge on the person who took your sister from you. So you are alone, right now, because you want that revenge. You think that will give you closure.”
Jane just stared at Tera, the words not coming to her, no idea how to answer her queen’s assertion.
Tera then looked at John, “But you let him in. You won’t admit it, but he’s there inside of you. He’s in your thoughts and …”
Jane shook her head, “I can’t. I have to …”
“You have to let go of revenge. You have to give yourself a chance, no matter how small, to be as happy as your sister was.”
“I don’t deserve that.”
“You don’t deserve to be an emotional wreck.”
Tera’s tail pointed at John, still sitting there quietly and unmoving, “You asked what he would remember. That’s something you’ll have to figure out, Jane. Open his mind, take away what the Dark put in and let him see that what happened. When he comes out of this … then what happens next is up to you and him alone.”
“I’m not prepared for this, Tera. I haven’t the control or the ability you have.”
“No, but you do love him, don’t you?”
The word escaped Jane before she could stop it, “Yes.”
Tera smiled and then guided Jane to sit on the armrest next to John, “Then let that be your guide and try.”
Storm Clouds 185
Tom pushed Nina to the side of the elevator and out of sight of the guards, motioning for her to hold the elevator doors open. He stood opposite to her and tapped his gun against the elevator’s railing: “Four guards, one at the desk, three standing. Lousy odds. Got any ideas?”
Nina pressed the door button with her right hand and thought a moment, “Can’t kill them … can we, Tom?”
The look he gave her was one of disbelief, “You actually think I would do that?”
“No. You wouldn’t … but I would … if I had to.”
She took a quick look at the guards, “Well, two of them are the Dark’s pawns. As far as I’m concerned, killing them would be a mercy. The other two are innocent …”
“Nina, you can’t just kill for no reason. That’s …”
“It does, Tom. Regularly. It had Patricia killed for no reason.”
Tom took a long hard look at Nina, “You are not It; neither am I.”
Nina nodded in approval, “When we forget that, it wins.”
“So, what’s the plan?”
Nina’s tail swished slightly, “How about I give them something they’ll never forget?”
“Why does that tone bother me?”
Nina’s smile was a thin one: “Can I hurt them, just a little?”
Nina’s answer came in a shriek from the guards as they fell to their knees and then onto their sides clutching between their legs … while Nina looked at Tom with a smile he knew was much less innocent than it appeared to be.
“Scratch that. I don’t want to know.”
Tom looked towards the guards: “Really.”
“You’re no fun.”
“I’ll bet you’re a ton of fun at parties, too.”
Nina’s innocent smile became a smirk, “You are coming to my next one, Tom. Promise.”
“Great. Can hardly wait. Come on, time’s ticking.”
Nina’s tail and horns vanished into thin air, “More ways than one, Tom. Go.”
The two left the elevator and entered the lobby, making for the exit. Nina’s heels clicked loudly on the floor as she ran slightly ahead of him.
“Why all the rush to get out of here, Nina?”
“We screwed with two of the Dark’s toys. That means we’re officially on It’s shit list. And knowing it, that means any kind of trap that It’s got around here is coming our way.”
Tom looked around, seeing only the guards on the floor, while the rest of the lobby was empty. “Something’s wrong. This place should have all kinds of people around. It’s never this empty.”
Nina didn’t look back, “Feels like a setup doesn’t it? Probably is.”
“Great; just great.”
Nina kept her focus on the doors ahead of them, “Move your ass, Tom. Think later …”
They were about halfway to the exit when it happened. It wasn’t just that the lights went out, it was as if the entire world was pulled out from under them and was replaced by complete and total blackness. Nina turned and grabbed Tom by the arm as he stumbled and the two skidded to a stop. “Shit! Tom, get behind me, cover my tail.”
Tom moved behind Nina and had the weirdest feeling when her tail brushed against his back. He couldn’t understand it, but … somehow, he felt like he had felt something like it before.
“What’s going on?”
Nina was silent, looking around them before she answered, “Seems like Its trap was designed to scare the crap out of people and hold them in place until some of Its minions could deal with the problem.”
“Experience. There are stories about something like this happening in the past. Looks are deceiving sometimes and in this case I think they are. If It was here right now, we’d be in a world of hurt.
Tom lowered his gun slightly, “Which means what?”
“Which means the exit is likely still in front of us, but we can’t see the floor or anything else.”
“But the floor is there.”
“Has to be, right? Otherwise how are we still standing here?”
Tom nodded at that logic, “Okay, Professor Nina: what now?”
Nina’s tail wrapped itself around Tom’s waist, “Now I keep moving and you watch behind us. Whatever happens, don’t let anything get near my tail.”
Tom remembered what Nina had said about their tails and nodded, “Count on it. Get us the hell out of here.”
They moved slowly—much too slowly for Tom’s liking—but this was Nina’s world, not his. Nothing happened for what seemed like hours until Tom thought he saw something move in front of him and shot at it, the gunshot loud in the silence around them.
“Something came close. Couldn’t tell what.”
“And that’s definitely a bad thing.”
“Sarcasm just isn’t your style, Tom. Right. Moving faster. Keep up.”
“Never fast enough for me.”
They moved on, nothing else happening until Nina bumped into something with a thud and complained about it, “Damn it. Okay, found the wall. Door’s got to be here somewhere …”
That didn’t sit well with him, but he didn’t say anything, instead just following her movements, until Nina moved suddenly and a blast of light pushed at the darkness around them, before being swallowed up by it.
“This way out. Come on, Tom, move your …”
Tom’s attention was diverted to the light and the exit so he didn’t see part of the darkness… solidify… and then move in a rush towards him.
Whatever it was struck Tom in the chest and shoved him into Nina, knocking the wind out of them both. The next thing Tom knew, both he and Nina tumbled onto the pavement outside. He scrambled to his feet and moved to help her.
She was in trouble. Tom had gotten clear, but she was halfway inside the building, with something pulling at her legs and drawing her back inside, while her tail swatted at the blackness around her.
It looked like tar… or oil … or … it was hard to describe something that was the deepest black oozing out of the building. But one thing was very clear to Tom. Whatever it was had Nina … Camilla … both of them.
Nina clawed at the concrete and yelled at him, “Tom! Get the hell out of here!”
He closed the distance between them and shook his head slightly, “Sorry, Nina. Can’t do that. Can’t leave my partner.”
The look in her eyes was one that Tom had never expected: fear. “This time, you have to! This is something you can’t deal with! Get the hell out of here!”
Tom, to his credit, didn’t. Instead he took hold of Nina with one hand and started shooting into the building at the same time.
“No! Not losing both of you!”
Whether it was Tom’s bullets, Tom’s anger, or something else, he would never be able to figure out …
… but whatever it was just let go of Nina, rushed back inside the building and then slammed the door closed.
The two looked at each other …
“Persistent bastard, eh?”
“Obviously not as persistent as you.”
… and then the sound of metal shrieking made them look up as they both scrambled to their feet.
“Shut up and close your eyes!”
Anyone watching would have seen a window washing platform fall onto two people that had been unfortunate enough to stumble on their way out of the building and get in the way.
What they wouldn’t have seen was a purple puff of smoke and the smell of lemons in the air as Nina and Tom bampfed away …
Three simple little letters, but put them together and things get … complicated.
For Jane, it was truly complicated. Not that what Tera placed in front of her wasn’t possible; she had been in the minds of others before. The problem was in what would happen after. Would John hate her? Would he even remember her? Would he remember that she … liked him?
She found, to her surprise, that it mattered to her. Pushing a lock of John’s hair back to where it should be, she tried to rationalize her thoughts about him. Why did she find herself caring about him? What was it that made her do so? Why did she care about anyone? She never had before, never became close to anyone, really … except Patricia. That brought a sigh from her that made Tera arch an eyebrow … but say nothing.
Jane always put up a tough front when dealing with other beings, tried to be the sister who others didn’t mess with or cross. It wasn’t because she needed to be that way, not really. She did so because she needed to protect Patricia, because she was the older of the two of them … by ten minutes, but still she was.
When Patricia revealed to her what Tera had offered, Jane didn’t believe her. She told her twin that she was being told a fairy tale, a lie, that all of it couldn’t possibly be real. The most troubling thing was the calm, knowing smile that her sister had throughout their argument. When Patricia left and never answered any of her messages, Jane had no choice: she went through all of the things that were left behind and came upon a simple business card, then went to see Tera and demand that she give her sister back to her.
She had met Tera in that little brownstone. She still remembered the look the Receptionist had given her. It stayed with her because it was something she had never seen from anyone: pity. She thought that barging into Tera’s office would throw her off balance and Jane would have the upper hand. Now she knew better, but then … oh, how arrogant she was. She pushed the door open and only managed to take one step inside the door when she was brought up short.
That wasn’t because of Tera; she barely noticed her. It was her sister. She stood there in the middle of the room, looking like a mirror to Jane as she always did … except she didn’t. Jane stood frozen to the spot as Patricia walked to her, her white, heart-tipped tail moving behind her, a pair of white horns in her hair and … angel wings … She had angel wings, too …
Jane’s mouth was open, but nothing came out. She couldn’t believe that what her sister had told her was real, that angels, devils, and all of the myths of their childhood were not myths; they were real.
As cold as Jane was, Patricia wasn’t. Whether that was because she was the little sis, or it was just the way she was …
… Jane missed her so much and regretted so much more.
Her sister took a finger and pushed Jane’s mouth closed again before hugging her tightly, her wings wrapping around them both, and her tail … it was wrong that it wrapped around her right leg, and yet there was something … right … about it all …
… and Jane just cried more than she had ever in her life before.
“Shhh … It’s okay … I’m here, silly.”
“You left me!”
“I asked you to come with me. You didn’t believe me.”
“I … I can’t believe in fairy tales, Sis. I have to be strong for you, to protect you, to …”
… Jane found herself looking into Patricia’s eyes and wondering how they became so blue …
“You don’t have to believe in fairy tales. You have to believe in these tails …”
And Jane felt her sister’s tail give her thigh a soft squeeze.
Then, for the first time, she heard Tera’s voice, “You chose not to join your sister, Jane. Like her, you have free will, and you made your choice.”
When she looked at Tera, finally, she wanted to lash out at her for taking Pamela away, to force her to reverse everything and let her take her sister where she belonged: home, with her. Not here, not … “I want my sister back! You did this! You …”
“I did nothing except open her eyes to what could be. She accepted the impossible … You, it seems, haven’t.”
Jane pulled away from her sister, but refused to let go of her hand as she moved towards Tera: “I demand that …”
“What gives you the right to demand anything?”
“She’s my sister.”
“And she decided that she wanted this, freely.”
Patricia squeezed her twin’s hand, twice—which, in their childhood code, meant ‘shut up, stupid’—before she spoke: “Tera … she does not understand, that’s true. But she is a good soul, and she means well.”
“Meaning is not doing, Daughter, and …”
Jane couldn’t help herself, “You are not our mother! Our mother …”
The next words from Tera still hurt as she remembered them: “… died when you were born. You never had a real mother, neither of you … and no one will ever be able to replace her … I know … better than you can imagine.”
There was hurt in those few words, more hurt than Jane had within her, and she gripped her sister’s hand tighter than she ever had in her life.
“Ow! Sis! Chill out!”
Jane reflexively let go of Patricia, but then grabbed for her hand again with both of her own: “Sorry, Sis, really.” She then walked to Tera, her sister beside her.
Tera rested in an old high-back chair, watching the two sisters approach: “Where do we all go from here, then, Jane?”
Jane closed her eyes, “I think … I … I apologize.”
Tera placed her hands in her lap, tilted her head to the right, “For what … exactly?”
Jane was going to say “for being impolite” and nothing more, but decided that wasn’t the truth; “I’m sorry for not listening to Patricia. I should have put my fear aside and at least seen what she was talking about.”
“But it is, as you said, impossible.”
“Maybe I’ve forgotten how to believe in the impossible.”
Tera smiled. A smile that Jane would always remember, “We don’t do the impossible. We make dreams.”
Jane looked at her sister, “Then, I’d like my dream to be true.”
“What’s that Sis?”
Tera interrupted, “It won’t be easy. You understand that?”
Jane’s answer was simple in that moment, but now she realized that it meant so much more … “Wherever it is, we’ll be together …”
After that memory washed over her, Jane impulsively cupped John’s cheeks in her hands and then kissed him as she dove back into his memories once more, this time alone.
The room was full of smoke and she heard the ceiling being to crack and split. Then John’s arms around her and the world fell around them both. Before, how it really happened, Patricia never had the chance to do anything to help him.
But Jane could. From here on, things would be different.
Jane looked into his eyes underneath the pile of rubble. She swallowed the lump in her throat and managed a weak, “Hi.”
He groaned, the wreckage from the building on top of him, “What are you doing here, lady?”
A cough, a shaky one: “Looking for Mister Right. Are you he?”
Back at the nondescript brownstone at 69 69th Street, an odd event occurred, one that, even if Camilla had known about it at the time—wouldn’t have surprised her, to be honest. An old, beaten-up pickup truck rumbled up the street and parked directly in front of the path leading to the front door before Billy unfolded himself from the cab and stood there, looking at the place. He had actually dressed up—at least for him, he did. After all, putting on a new shirt and a clean pair of pants, to him, was dressing up.
He hesitated there for a while, thinking things over and looking at the place. It was much too classy for someone like him to be seen there. But he had been asked a favor. The thing about Billy was that he acted gruff and tough on the outside, but, inside, there was still the young kid that worried about every little thing he did and if his father would approve of it.
He was still standing there when he heard a woman’s voice, “Can I help you?” Turning, he saw that the question was asked by a woman with short, platinum blonde hair, dressed really nice, a quizzical look in her eyes, standing on the sidewalk and carrying a tray of coffee and what looked to be donuts.
“Um … dunno, Ma’am. I was looking for Camilla.”
“I believe she’s out of the office at the moment, would you …” As she said this, she struggled with what she was carrying and, just before she dropped everything on the ground below, Billy had moved around his truck and caught everything … including her.
Billy wanted to let go of her… and he really should have … but she looked at him and he couldn’t look away from her. She was really pretty and … stuff.
She didn’t say anything for the longest time either, just looking at him, and he at her lips, and … gosh she had a cute look when she was startled, and he just didn’t want to let go of her. Finally he did, very hesitantly, and then she shook her head as if to clear it or something, Billy honestly wasn’t sure.
“Thank you. The office would be madder than a swarm of bees if they didn’t have their coffee and snack.”
Billy managed an embarrassed smile, “Yeah, I get that a lot where I work. They don’t let me get the coffee anymore … say that it’s safer. Don’t blame them for that.” A bit of a sad look passed over her and Billy shook his head, “Not mad about it, Ma’am. Makes sense as I’m all thumbs, anyway.”
She considered that, “I think you sell yourself short. You did pretty good in helping me.”
“Ya were in trouble Ma’am. Wasn’t thinking about other stuff. Just helping ya.”
Billy had the weirdest thought as if she was testing him or checking him out or something. But that was dumb: she was classy and smart; he wasn’t, and he really did know that inside of himself.
“Well, you did help …” She paused, of course, because he hadn’t said his name.
She smiled—a real smile, too, not one of those fake ones that the people back at the waterfront gave him—and he didn’t know what to make of it.
“Billy. Nice name; I like it.”
Billy knew he was blushing now, he just had to be, what with the heat on his cheeks and the butterflies in his stomach. “Um … thank you, Ma’am.”
“You know, if you want, you’re welcome to come inside and wait for Camilla, if you want to, that is. There’s lots of space in reception and I’m sure it won’t be a problem.”
Billy looked away, “Not really meant to be in a place like that, Ma’am. Not my place and, besides, I’ll stick out like a sort thumb.”
She laughed—actually, she giggled—and, for a moment, Billy was hurt inside. He thought she was laughing at him, that he fell for her game and now was the butt of the joke like he always was. He started for the pickup, aiming to get out of there before anything worse happened, but found she had put her things in the box of the truck and taken hold of his right hand with one of her own.
“Not laughing at you, silly. Please look at me?”
Of course he couldn’t pull away from her, that wouldn’t be good manners … and she did say please, after all.
When he did, she looked at him and only him, “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you. I didn’t mean to, and I am really and truly sorry if I did.” Billy found himself looking at her small, dainty hand resting on top of his huge, meaty one and wondered why he didn’t want her to let go of it.
“Um. It’s ‘kay, Ma’am. No hard feelings or anything.”
“Tell you what. Why don’t you come inside with me? I’ll pop my stuff off inside with the Receptionist and we can wait for Camilla to come back. I know that no one will mind you waiting inside.”
Billy thought about this, sort of—it was kind of hard to think, considering that she was still holding his hand and worrying about him. “I … I don’t want to be trouble, Ma’am.”
She smiled and patted his hand once, “Donna. My name is Donna, and I really won’t mind if you use my name instead of calling me ‘Ma’am’ all the time.”
“Wouldn’t be proper to do that, Ma’am.”
She shook her head, “It’s only improper if you aren’t given permission to do so. And I have, so …” She looked at him, and looked, and looked more earnestly still until Billy finally gave in.
“’Kay, Ma …” Billy managed to smile, if sheepishly, “… Donna.”
“Thank you. If you want to carry the coffee for me, I’ll take the donuts, and then we can find a place to sit and wait for Camilla. How’s that sound?”
Billy turned and handed her the donuts before picking up the tray of coffee, “Ya know, I might spill the coffee.”
“You won’t. I trust you.”
Billy was rather proud of himself as they entered the building, and he even managed to hold the door open for Donna and not drop the coffee, either. For the first time in a while, that little voice in the back of his head that kept telling him he wasn’t good enough didn’t say anything.
That one single thing would, eventually, change Billy’s life …
Storm Clouds 186
The Dark was not omniscient. It was intelligent: It schemed and planned, It moved pieces around a board of its own choosing … most of the time. However, the one whom it battled against regularly knew how to make it even less connected to its plans. When that one had destroyed Its view of the only piece that mattered, there was nothing to be done except what It had done.
It had taken control of a pawn. There was no choice in this; but in doing so It isolated itself from all of its other pawns. It was like having cotton in your ears and dark glasses on. You might have heard something, but not clearly. You might have seen something, but not know what it was perfectly.
This was, for It, intolerable.
But what was more intolerable was that It could not simply be where It wanted because It needed this pawn to gain access to the place, to form a new eye, and to have again what it needed most of all: information.
The accursed of the Realm, they understood that more than any other beings, and that was their advantage, an advantage that the Dark wanted for itself. That was Its purpose behind all that had led to this point: to have what they knew, and to be able to use it.
This was the thing that It could not understand. They had to know … everything. This was the worrisome thing, for the question was what they knew about It most of all. What weakness could they use against It? Could they … end It? For one of the few times in eons, It felt something that could be described as being fear, although It would dismiss that as being part of the pawn It held at the moment and not itself. If It was omniscient, or even more than minimally self-aware, It might have realized its folly … perhaps.
The travel took, according to the pawn’s perception, well over an hour, but Its prize had to be in a place where they would not easily find it. The small, out-of-the-way trailer park, along with the one lodging of the pawn that was in it, surrounded by misfortune, grief, and helplessness, masked Its prize and protected it.
The Dark was comforted by all of the dark emotions that surrounded this place, gaining some power from it and giving a fraction of it to Its pawn. This was the agreement: the pawn wanted power; the Dark was willing to give it … for a price.
The Dark was still amused by how little the pawn understood about the agreement. Eventually, It would see that the pawn understood fully. For now, It needed him, and so it fulfilled what he desired without actually giving more than what he could have gotten on his own. Humans were, It well knew, so easily distracted.
The pawn removed the traps, broke the sigils, and lastly turned the key it held to open the door and reveal the space where the prize was. And, in doing so, it failed completely to notice the shadow that had followed It from the moment It had taken over Its pawn …
From within the shadow that fell across a nearby tree, a purple hand with pink nails rested itself against the bark. For a few moments one finger tapped against the bark as if the owner of that hand was considering something, or more accurately, planning something.
Considering who this was, it wasn’t surprising that she was here and watching It carefully. The tapping stopped as she felt the viewing portal begin to form and waited patiently for would happen next.
There was a snap of energy that only those of magical ability would ever notice and then there came a rumble as the trailer itself vibrated, then stopped. Then the curse came from within. It never should have left the door open really; It was becoming sloppy and, in that, more dangerous. Then she watched as Its pawn was thrown from the trailer and the door slammed behind him as he lay stunned on the grass.
She considered removing the pawn from the field, to stick another pin into It’s hide and make It more angry than before. But she had a use for him, as well, if not yet, so she left him alone and continued to watch from where she was safely hidden. The problem was that she didn’t know exactly what was going on within the trailer, and that stayed her hand.
Within the trailer, the Dark was pleased that the tail was still in its jar, trapped, and held from her kin. It lifted the jar from the floor and looked inside, shaking the jar slightly before gloating. “There you are, still safe and secure. You have no hope except to give in to me. Do so, and I’ll end your pain. What hold does your precious Realm have on you now?”
The Dark finished ranting and then the tail in the jar … moved. The tip rose out of the coils of itself like the head of a snake. It pushed against the lid just once before the heart shaped tip turned to look at the one holding it. A moment passed, as if it was not looking at the Dark, but through it. Then a tired woman’s voice answered it, “No. I will not give you what you want. You have done everything save end my existence. Do so, if you dare.”
The tip turned away, almost dismissively, and then sunk back out of sight, seemingly having said its peace and finished with It.
“What if I gave you new life?”
A pause, then the answer: “I know your tricks and your boons are nothing but traps.”
“Then I’ll find an innocent and force you to join with them.”
“Please do try.”
The Dark paused at that. The tone was not dismissive, but was instead challenging. It understood how Tails were joined, or It thought It did; the information was so tightly guarded that only hints and theories were really known outside of their world.
“You are not Tera. You cannot trick me.”
“No. I’m not. But I am of her Daughters. Do your worst, if you dare.”
“Why not turn to me, to where you came from?”
The laugh this time was certain and strong. “You never made us. You only wish you did.”
The Dark shook the jar once violently and then set it back on the floor: “You will, all of your kind, bow to me.”
The tail answered: “Better luck next time. Now go away and leave me be.”
Everything the tail did and said was exactly how everyone of their kind had responded to It in the past. Denial, resistance, and then they just turned away from It because they could. But this tail couldn’t. It had trapped it, imprisoned it, and It held all of the cards in this case. But still It was denied, refused, and, more angering of all, laughed at for Its efforts.
The Dark turned It’s efforts back to making the viewing portal again, for some reason it didn’t form the first time, and so It focused itself on making it again. Again it formed and then collapsed. Twice more It tried, and then the portal formed in the far corner of the space the tail was held in. As the place was unprotected now, It moved towards It’s own place in the darkness to confirm all was well before commanding the pawn to again protect the place. It gave the tail one more look and then swirled away into nothingness.
And then the Dark made a mistake. It left the door wide open and unprotected. In the silence that came after It left, there was the sound of something running through the grass outside … and then it stopped. Then a small, grey calico cat peered inside the trailer, as if checking out the place.
When the cat saw the jar with the tail in it, its eyes narrowed and then it leaped inside. It took but a few seconds to rush to the space under the viewing portal, scratch three times on the floor there, and then flee outside once more. As the cat ran back outside the pawn began to stir. The cat saw this and, before the pawn regained all of his senses, darted into the shadow of the tree, where a pair of purple hands caught and then pulled the cat out of sight.
Before the pawn could gather his mind and sense for her being there, she vanished, taking the cat with her. She promised a favor for help and this she would do … unlike a certain arrogant being of darkness.
It had pawns. She had friends. Something the Dark would never be able to understand …
The Dark, in the meantime had returned to its lair, the remnants of what once had been it’s means of watching its plans unfold. It would take time, much time, to repair the damage, and there was no doubt that she was planning something. The destruction she had left in her wake was not important in the grand scheme of things, however. All that mattered was that one tail It held. Losing the view of It’s pawns was less important, after all; pawns could be replaced, if need be. They were nothing compared to the prize It wanted … no, needed.
It regarded the mirror, and the tail sitting there, with some satisfaction. This one piece of the plan could not be allowed to be free to return to her kind. It knew well that, should what it had done come to be known … the repercussions would be universe shaking.
At least, that was It’s plan.
It was very good at building traps, and to trap Tera and her kind would be the pinnacle of It’s work. To have them all in It’s control would feed the Dark for eons to come. So, It had been planning and scheming for eons before this, looking for a means to enter their Realm, to influence, to take everything apart from within. But every time It tried, something stopped it at the edge. No matter how it tried, whether by possessing, inhabiting, or means even darker, nothing it tried allowed It to pass through. Why could others enter and not It? What held It at bay, and how? This was the question that needed to be resolved, regardless of the cost.
The cost had been high. It seemed as if it would be even more so. But the rewards where tempting and many, and so it continued on it’s path towards …
It’s thoughts were stopped by a partial image in one of the broken mirrors. The image was unclear but it appeared as if one of Tera’s had been in It’s grasp and then tried to flee. It watched as they and … some other being … had been killed by It’s protections.
The Dark would have to punish some of Its pawns, but that was acceptable to have caused Tera more grief at the loss of another of her kind. Perhaps enough that, taunting her or others of her kind, would make it easier for It’s plans to come to fruition.
It returned back to the pawn near the tail and had it set the traps back into place, giving it a measure of power for doing so. It needed this one for a time longer, not much more, but long enough to be sure that this went correctly.
Once the pawn was finished, the Dark moved to leave—It had others to teach how wrong they were not to obey It’s wishes—but paused a moment. If It had been human, It might have explained that it felt as if someone had walked on Its grave. Instead, It felt … uneasy. It scanned the place, looking for a reason to do so, but found nothing. Dismissing it as being echoes of the pawn It had possessed, It vanished.
It had two pawns to deal with, and so It did.
Storm Clouds 187
“Where the hell are we?”
The frustration in Tom’s voice was very evident for two reasons: one was that Nina hadn’t told him what she was going to do, and the other was … she blindfolded him, again not telling him she was going to.
“You’re safe, Tom.”
Tom considered that. On the one hand he wasn’t crushed by a window washer platform, so there was that point for her. He was, however, sitting flat on his ass, didn’t have a clue where he was, and wasn’t happy about it. “This has to be a definition of the word that I haven’t been acquainted with before.”
He could hear the smirk in her voice, “What? You don’t like learning new things?”
“I have issues with not being able to know what the heck is going on, Nina.”
He felt a hand—he assumed it was Nina’s—on his arm, “I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version: you are in a place where, if you could see, it would probably break your mind, and I don’t want to have to explain that to Camilla … or Tera, for that matter.”
“I’m not that fragile.”
She laughed, “Maybe. And maybe you need to trust me like you do Camilla.”
He thought about that, only for a moment, “She’s …”
“… proved herself to you. Yes, I got that. I just saved your bacon … and eggs … and hash browns … so how about you give me the benefit of the doubt and …”
The break in Nina’s rant was disturbing
Tom didn’t like it, “And what?”
Then Nina, more seriously than any time Tom had heard her before, said, “Tom, be quiet and don’t say anything no matter what happens.”
The grip that Nina had on his arm tightened, as if she had seen something that was a threat. Tom began to move his hand to the blindfold to remove it, but he felt what seemed like Nina’s hand, or tail, or something, bat his hand away and she hissed “Shhh!”
Then things got … weird.
There was a … presence. Tom couldn’t see it, didn’t know what it was, but there was suddenly someone … or something … else nearby. Nina’s grasp relented and she seemed almost overwhelmed when she spoke …
“I’m sorry. I know he’s not supposed to be here. I didn’t have anywhere else to go that I could think of.” Tom listened for an answer trying to figure out who was there, but he didn’t hear a single word spoken by anyone other than Nina. “He can’t see where he is. He won’t be able to tell anyone.”
The presence came close. Almost touched Tom, but he didn’t flinch from whatever it was … whoever it was. There was light, or he thought there was, around him, around them … and he wasn’t afraid of it. He should have been; there could have been a threat. But it didn’t feel like it. It could have been dangerous, but that little voice in the back of his head that told him to duck before something bad happened … didn’t.
“No, he isn’t. I mean … he could be … Couldn’t he?”
Tom was trying to figure out what that meant when he felt something brush against his cheek and a voice echoed in his mind softly, “I’ll see you again, Thomas.” He heard Nina gasp—again he wasn’t sure why—followed by a whisper of, “I promise … always.”
Then the presence was gone and Nina spoke with an odd tremor in her voice, “That’s never happened before.”
Tom didn’t say anything—he wasn’t sure he could—so he did the next best thing. He pointed at his lips and then turned his head towards Nina’s voice and starting mouthing words.
Nina seemed sad, “Sorry, Tom. You can talk. They’re gone.”
“Who … or what, was that?”
“Can’t say right now. Not allowed to.”
“Is this a thing with your kind, Nina? Riddles and hints? Not giving out information?”
“You aren’t supposed to know. Only our kind does and it’s something we don’t talk about.”
Nina actually laughed, “Oh, it’s a big one. Even bigger than Tera’s age. Don’t ask because I won’t be telling that, either.”
“So, now what?”
“Now we’re continuing on, and then you can take off that blindfold.”
Tom didn’t know what to make of that, either, and then be felt his stomach lurch and twist just like it did when he passed into what Camilla called their Realm before a warm breeze blew through his hair and he heard the sound of birds around him.
“Okay. We’re home now, Tom. You can take it off.”
Tom removed the blindfold and found himself standing in a well maintained courtyard, the grass trimmed to within an inch of its life, the flowers in their beds in precise rows, and not one leaf from one tree falling from a branch.
“Nice gardening. Who’s place is this?”
“Mine. Haven’t been home … for a while.”
Tom considered her as he stuffed the blindfold in a pocket, “Don’t come home much?”
Nina was looking at a building: a simple side-split home in orange brick with a dark brown wood door in front, the door itself oddly marked with what looked to be a symbol that reminded him of the shape … and color … of Nina’s tail.
“Not since I died. Want to come in?”
Tom didn’t know how to answer that and, when he didn’t, Nina just took his hand and pulled him towards the front door.
“Remember I said that I’m a tail? We need to talk about that, I don’t have a lot of time left to do so, and you’ll need to know some stuff when Camilla comes back.” She took hold of the doorknob and, as she turned it, added, “And you can never, no matter what, tell anyone about this. Or I’ll kill you, Tom.”
In spite of his confusion, Tom didn’t doubt she would.
Tom found himself looking at a home that hadn’t been lived in for a long time. Little motes of dust floated in the sunbeams that came through the windows. The light revealed protective sheets covering furniture, the true forms shielded both from dirt and from prying eyes.
This actually made Tom think about Nina more than anything else. All Tom knew was that she was part of Camilla, but he really didn’t know anything else about her. Tom didn’t like mysteries, and here was one of the most complicated ones he had ever seen.
Nina didn’t say anything for some time once they entered the house. Tom watched as she seemed to be transfixed by the stairs that led to the second floor, and by a particular chair in the sitting room next to the door they came in through. Tom glanced around, looking for some sense of who lived here, but, where there should have been pictures, all that remained were nails in the walls and the space here and there on a table where it was obvious a picture should be, but wasn’t.
When Nina just didn’t say a word as she moved from place to place, Tom asked quietly, “How long haven’t you been home Nina?”
She shook herself before answering, “Oh, at least a few centuries, probably longer. Time really means very little to me anymore.”
Tom was going to make a flippant comment, but stopped as Nina pulled a black sheet from a sofa sitting next to the bay windows of the sitting room. She dropped the sheet to the floor and then turned to Tom, “You might as well sit down, Tom.”
He shook his head, “Ladies first. You can have that end, I’ll take this one.”
He watched her settle in, her legs drawn underneath her and then took the other end of the sofa and sat facing her, “Manners, sure; one of my better points.”
Nina chuckled at that. Tom was pleased that she did. What followed next wasn’t as amusing …
“I think I’ll start by asking what you know about the succubus myth.”
“They take people’s lives, and souls. They are evil. Those are the highlights.”
“I’m a succubus. Or was, once.”
Tom frowned, “You’ve killed, then.”
Nina didn’t look pleased with herself, “Yes. Many times. I’ve done things that are awful, horrible, and evil.”
Tom just looked at her, saying nothing, and, when he didn’t, Nina continued to talk, her hands in her lap with her looking at them and not Tom as she did so. “I cannot make up for all of the things I have done, Tom. I know that I can’t. I can’t bring them back, I can’t do anything to make the past not happen.”
Again, not a word from Tom; just his eyes on her; nothing more.
“I exist as I do now to atone for what I did. I am a reminder to Camilla that … if she isn’t aware of what she does … she’ll …” Nina’s voice trailed off, the rest of the sentence leaving Tom never sure of what she said, if she said anything.
“Camilla doesn’t strike me as the kind to do that. Neither do you. You’re a pain-in-the-ass, Nina, no doubt …”
Nina looked at him and smiled, “Thanks. I’ve had a long time to perfect that.”
“… but stop the self pity, will you?”
The shock on Nina’s face was very plain to see.
“It doesn’t suit you and you are tougher than that. Don’t sugar coat it for me; if you want to dump on me, then do it. Otherwise, we’re playing a game, Nina, and, frankly, neither one of us has the time for it.”
Nina nodded, then stood up and walked out of the room leaving Tom alone for a few minutes before she returned carrying a picture frame. “Here.”
Tom looked at it while Nina settled back in and talked, “That’s me. The real me, or at least the me that existed when I was here. To be honest, I’ve forgotten what I look like. I think that’s part of being a Tail. You lose who you were for who you are joined with.”
Tom looked at the picture, then at Nina before setting it face down on the sofa: “Let me see you.”
“What do you mean?”
“The myths say you can look like anyone. Is that true?”
“Then let me see you: the real you.”
“Tom, I can’t do that.”
“Why? Are you scared, or is it something else?”
“My life is done, Tom.”
“Doesn’t seem to be from my point of view. I can talk to you, so either you are a figment of my imagination or you are here. Which is it?”
“You keep saying that. Explain it to me as Nina, not as Nina in Camilla’s body.”
“I … can’t.”
“No, you don’t want to. There’s a difference. Look, you said you are running out of time. Just do it, Nina. Camilla won’t mind.”
“How do you know?”
“Easy. She’s not the kind to hold a grudge.”
“She will, Tom.”
“Then I’ll explain it to her.”
Tom picked up the picture frame and handed to Nina, “Show me who you really are.”
“Looking for Mister Right. Are you he?”
The question wasn’t one that John had expected. To be honest, he didn’t expect her to be with things enough to be able to ask anything at all. Normally, there would be screaming or yelling, tears, pain …
… and that’s when the pain pushed through the adrenaline and he gasped loudly in surprise: “This isn’t the time for a date, lady.”
She squirmed beside him—whether she was trying to get out from under the rubble or not he wasn’t sure—“Stop … moving.”
The tone, even through the pain, was firm, and Jane stopped before pleading, “I … want … OUT!” Jane had one secret that he hadn’t shared with anyone save her sister: she was very claustrophobic. The fear that came with being crushed into such a small space made her feel as if all of the weight of all of the rubble was on top of her … she was starting to find it hard to breathe …
“Nowhere to go. We’re both stuck here until they dig us out or something worse happens.”
Her laugh was raspy. “You are such an optimist, aren’t you?”
His answer was not, however: “I’m optimistic that they might not have to amputate my leg.”
Jane had forgotten that this was all in John’s memories and that she was trying to help him. For an instant, she began to change, so she could use her power to simply bampf the two of them out from under the wreckage and to safety. Then she could heal John’s leg and …
… and completely mess everything up. She had to stay, had to allow his memories to move forward into the space the Dark had taken.
She hoped that she could do that.
“They won’t have to.”
“How do you know?”
“You seem like a cane kind of guy to me.”
He did, at least, chuckle a little bit at that: “My old man voice sucks.”
Jane managed to turn her head enough to look at him, or at least look at where the sound of his voice was: “I’m … Jane.”
There. It was done. He would know her name and this moment would connect with when he rescued her from the brownstone in what his memories would call the future from now.
Jane didn’t want to think how messed up that was going to be.
She wasn’t sure if he was looking at her, but, for the longest moment, he said nothing. Another groan—dammit, she didn’t want him to have to suffer through all of this again—and then, finally: “John.”
“Yes? Well, John, when we get out of here, you owe me.”
“I owe you?”
“Lady, you are something else, you know that?”
“Damn right I am. I’m pissed off at this building.”
He sighed, Jane imagining that if he could, he would he shaking his head as well: “If you want to blame someone, how about yourself?”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
Jane thought quickly, she really didn’t have a plan, then told the truth: “My Sister comes here. I was looking for her. Next thing I know, you’re here and we’re under a desk.”
“Better than being under a wall or worse.”
“This is bad enough.”
John was quiet … and then something beeped: “That’s my beacon. They’ll be able to find us.”
“What’s the rush? You have a date or something?”
While Jane appreciated the levity, she explained, “I’m claustrophobic.”
He grunted and then took in a sharp breath before he answered: “Me, too, actually. This isn’t a lot of fun for me, either.”
Jane didn’t believe him, “You are so full of it. Is that some kind of fire department training you learned?”
“No, really; I am.”
The tone in those four words told Jane he wasn’t lying to her.
“Sorry. I mean …”
“S’okay. It’s something I don’t think about often. Better, really, as this sort of thing”—he tapped the rubble—“is what they call an ‘occupational hazard.’”
“You are crazy.”
“Thank you. I also like ballroom dancing, curling up with a book, and coffee.”
“Are you hitting on me, John?”
“Me? You’re the one that started asking.”
It took the fire department just over two hours to dig their way through to them. While the beacon did tell them were John was, they found it was just as easy to follow the argument that came from under the rubble. That continued as they were pulled out and put on stretchers …
“And another thing, you are the most frustrating pain-in-the-ass I have ever met.”
“Lady, you need to look in a mirror … seriously.”
“So do you! Better, you need to shave, have a haircut, and learn some manners, you dumb ape!”
The fighting continued as they were carried out of the building and then placed into an ambulance … together. The fighting only stopped when they both were jabbed with needles to knock them out when the paramedics had enough of it all.
But, after they got to the hospital, Jane would wander into his room and berate him for being lazy, not to mention trying to get out of the date that he owed her.
When he could walk—with a cane, mind you—John turned the tables on Jane and walked to her room to chew her out for being stupid enough to get caught in the fire in the first place. This went on for a time, until Jane was discharged, but John would have to remain to recover for a long time, they said.
He found, to his surprise, that he walked the same path to the room where Jane had been several times a day without thinking about it. He claimed it was just exercise and the nurses accepted it, even if they didn’t believe it.
When he didn’t see her for three days, John found that he … missed her.
On the fourth day, after another walk around the floor, he came into his room and found Jane leaning against the window, her body silhouetted there.
She started to walk towards him, “I wanted to see how Mister Right was doing.”
Leaning against his cane, John was going to reply with sarcasm, but stopped himself, “You look … nice.”
She walked up to him and looked into his eyes, “Thank you. They told me that you are not improving as they thought you would.”
“And how, exactly, did you get that info?”
Jane touched his hand, the one that held the cane: “I told them I’m your girlfriend. They believed it because we argue so much.”
John looked down at her hand, then back at her again, “Lady, you aren’t my girlfriend.”
“I can be.”
“Don’t need pity from you or anyone else!”
John was surprised at how strong Jane was. He found himself bouncing on the edge of his bed in the next moment, Jane standing in font of him, both of her hands on his thighs, looking at him with … really … really green eyes: “How about we start over? Hi. I’m Jane. I like reading in bed, I’m lousy at making coffee, I’m a lousy dancer, but I’m stunning in a little black dress.”
As she said the words, Jane couldn’t understand why she was being so forward with him. He was a pain … he drove her around the bend … he had wonderful eyes, though … still, he was a pain … but he did have a nice smile … dammit, this was all so confusing …
John smirked, just a little, “Are you, now?”
Jane continued, “As I understand it, you have a fireman’s ball coming up in three months. The guys at the station tell me that you never go.”
The smirk became a smile, “Been looking for Miss Right. You her?”
“On how fast you heal with me kicking your ass every day and how good a teacher you are when it comes to dancing.”
“Only while I kick your ass, John.”
“That a promise?”
The kiss certainly was … but Jane didn’t keep the promise about the shoes.
When John woke up the next morning, Jane was sitting nearby drinking a cup of coffee and watching him.
“What are you doing here?”
“I told you. I’m going to kick your ass and you are going to teach me how to dance.”
John sat up and looked at her, “Are you always this stubborn?”
John knew the answer to that question, but he didn’t give her the satisfaction. Jane stood up and tossed her cup into a waste bin before she tossed a calendar at John, which landed on his lap.
“So, it’s less than three months until that dance.”
“I’ll never be …”
Jane stood next to John, looking down at him with frustration in her eyes, “Why? Why are you so damn negative, John?”
He shrugged and pushed the calendar to the side, “Because that’s how things are, Jane. The docs have told me that I won’t walk right, won’t be right. There’s nothing that they can do to help.”
Jane took a spot on the bed beside him and then placed a hand on his bad leg. “They don’t know everything. How about having a little faith that miracles can happen.”
“I gave up on the tooth fairy when I was eight.”
“I’ll be sure to tell her that. She’ll be miffed.”
John was going to laugh, but there was something in Jane’s voice that gave him pause … or was it the warmth he felt through the bed sheets from her hand touching his leg. His eyes went from her hand to her eyes before he continued: “You are the eternal optimist, aren’t you?”
This time it was Jane’s turn to pause. He couldn’t possibly be. Could he? “… Someone has to be.”
John complained and grouched throughout the day as Jane pushed him through his physical therapy. He didn’t feel like he managed anything by the end of the day and told Jane so very clearly when she got him back to his room. She poked a finger into his chest and told him that she would see him after dinner.
John really didn’t know what to expect, and, when Jane came back, he decided that he wasn’t going to lose her… even if she drove him crazy every single day. It wouldn’t be easy, but he wasn’t going to let go of her.
Jane stood there, wearing a little black dress looking like a million dollars. She wasn’t joking when she said that she was stunning in one.
“Nothing to say?”
“You promised no stilettos.”
“I lied. Deal with it.”
“That’s going to be really hard to do.”
It was Jane’s turn to smirk, “Oh, I hope so.”
She crossed the room to him and helped John to stand up with her. For a moment, time stopped and he wondered about finding a black tux for her next dance lesson.
“How bad a dancer are you?”
“The worst. But I’ll learn.”
The half dozen prods of her heels onto his slippers put the exclamation point to that.
“You really do have two left feet, you know.”
“Be happy they aren’t hooves, smartypants.”
“Oh I am. Trust me. Now, from the top, and this time step with me, not on me.”
Jane’s smile was nice. He found himself wanting to see it every morning …
The Receptionist was, as always, at her desk. If you asked any of those in the Realm if they ever saw her not being there, the answer, after a time, would be a slightly confused “no.”
Not everyone understood what her place was, though there were many opinions. Some thought she was just there to manage things. However, what those things were was never really well explained. Some thought she was there for her looks, but they never said that to her, or even anywhere within several dimensions of where she was.
As for herself, she knew why she was there. In the end, that was all that really mattered.
She had greeted Donna, and did smile when Billy introduced himself, as awkward as it was. She herself did not have time for such things, but the young did, and that was the important thing.
She noticed the almost pleading look in Donna’s eyes when she presented herself and Billy. It would have been impossible not to see it, even for one of the less observant of the Realm.
“Ummm … I’d … Well …”
The fidgeting was cute, to be honest, and normally she might have made the two of them sweat things out for a time. But she was a good judge of character and there were two obvious things she saw. One was that Billy might to bolt for the front door because he was embarrassed, for Donna more than himself. The other was that he would defend Donna. Having him run wouldn’t have done either him or Donna any good at all, and making him think that she was being mean to Donna wouldn’t be much better.
So she smiled—which shocked Donna—and greeted him: “It’s nice to meet you, Billy.”
Billy honestly didn’t know what to say, but did manage a quiet “Hello, Ma’am,” before he drew a bit closer to Donna.
The Receptionist had an odd smile as she continued: “Thank you for helping Donna.”
Donna gave her a look and then explained: “She has cameras to watch the front doors, Billy.”
That wasn’t true, but it was a good excuse and so she nodded.
There was another uncomfortable pause, which there shouldn’t have been. But she wasn’t going to tell Donna what to do and Billy was deferring to Donna. Finally Donna asked: “Is the lounge being used?”
“No, not at the moment. I believe most of the … staff … Is in the coffee room waiting for a certain person to return?”
There was a moment of panic in Donna’s eyes: “Oh. Oh!”
The young were fun to tease at times, really …
After they had left—which was not before Donna left a cruller and a cup of tea with her—she settled in to do some paperwork. There always was paperwork to be done. For the umpteenth time she allowed herself a small snort of derision at the two beings that had made such things part of the universe.
It was when she was reaching for her tea that she looked towards the front doors of the building … her building. While to anyone’s perception she would still be at her desk, in truth she was … elsewhere. On another plane of existence, in the same space where the brownstone stood in the city, there stood an archway, stone with wisps of ethereal, eternal mists, clouds, and fog around it. Within the archway were a pair of seemingly fragile wood doors that could seal off whatever lay behind them from prying eyes.
At this moment the pair of eyes were that of the Dark, regarding the archway again and again, as It had countless times before, trying to find a way in.
“Are you quite finished?”
It turned to see the Receptionist there, leaning against the doors looking almost bored … and she was a red tail, just like her Queen.
“I will pass.”
She walked from one side of the arch to the other and then rested her right hand just above one of the door handles before turning towards It and crossing her arms over her chest.
“No. Would you like to try again?”
“You cannot keep me out forever.”
She chuckled as her tail brushed against the door.
“I have all the time in the universes.”
She shook her head and then looked at It again, “You know, I have a lovely tea and cruller on my desk which have a far better chance of succeeding than you do.”
“Perhaps I should destroy your home there.”
“Oh, please try. As I recall, that will make the hundredth attempt. You know, at two hundred, I’ll be sure to send a lovely potted plant as a consolation prize.”
“Wouldn’t you rather be Queen instead of serving her?”
For a moment, a very long one, she didn’t answer that question. She seemed as if considering the offer, in exchange for what the Dark wanted most of all.
In the next she was standing in front of the Dark, just out of It’s reach, a silver broadsword in her hands and the tip pressed against It’s chest. The flippant attitude was gone, and her words were calm … much too calm. “Are we done? Because then I can cut you in half, again, and scatter your remains over a dozen universes. How long did it take last time to pull yourself together?”
The Dark answered her by vanishing.
The Receptionist rather enjoyed her tea and cruller.
And, on her desk, a small photograph of a newborn Succubi with her red tail wrapped around a feminine hand, held her attention and made her smile until she returned to her paperwork once more …
… and that smile didn’t leave her for the rest of the day.
Tom picked up the picture frame and handed it to Nina, “Show me who you really are.”
Nina’s reply was short and angry as she snatched the picture from him, “Fine.”
As Tom watched Nina … wasn’t Nina any more. In her place stood an almond-skinned woman, blue-eyed, with long, chestnut brown hair cascading down her back in two long braids, the ends just touching her waist, the ends framing the point on her body where her long grey tail rose into the air. Tom could see … everything. She wore not a stitch of clothing, her feminine curves exposed, offering her form to any that cared to look upon her. It wasn’t Camilla, not even close. The only thing that carried over was the grey horns and tail. They didn’t change at all and, for some reason, Tom felt relieved by that.
Clutching the picture to her chest she asked, “Happy now?”
“I’d rather that you weren’t naked, but otherwise? Sure.”
Nina traced a hand over her curves and smiled, “Embarrassed? Why? By now you must know that we are sexual beings, this shouldn’t surprise you. You asked to see me as I was …”
Tom interrupted: “Are … as you are, Nina.”
She threw up a hand into the air and paced angrily: “You don’t seem to get it. This me, the original me, does not exist anymore. I don’t … shouldn’t … be here like this. It’s wrong.”
Tom walked over to her and took the picture again: “Then why does this place still exist? Why does it still stand here if you shouldn’t?”
“Because … Because, sometimes—and it rarely happens—when we are home and I’m in control, I come back here.”
“Why? To mourn? To look back and do … what? Stop dancing around the truth and lay it out for me. Why?”
She cupped her hands over her nose and mouth, the answer muffled: “You are such a pain in the ass, Tom.”
“Talk, Nina. Tell me so I get a clue about all of this.”
She turned, the light from the window casting both shadow and light across her body, her braids moving from side to side, sometimes brushing against her tail as they did. When she didn’t respond, Tom asked: “Tell me something.”
“Why no purple in your hair?”
She smiled wanly: “Because purple wasn’t a colour they could make then, and brown was. Not that anyone back then really cared, anyway.”
Tom sat the picture down on the couch: “I’ve gotten used to the purple. Not sure the brown works for you.”
“Vanity is unbecoming, Tom.”
“Neither is self-pity, Nina.”
She closed her eyes and sighed: “The Goddess, me, the one who bestowed fertility upon the lands, was seen for that and what she provided. She … I … held gatherings where my worshipers would come and … well …”
Tom allowed a small smile: “I get the picture.”
She looked at him: “No, you don’t. They would appear and ask for my blessings upon them and I would see to it that their chances of having a child were one hundred percent. I would lay my hands on them, and then watch as their passions, needs, and desires were ramped up to the point that they would drop to the temple floor. Their moaning and screams of pleasure would echo through the temple and into the waiting crowds.”
“It must have been great for a being like yourself.”
Nina traced her fingers over the curve of her thighs and shivered: “It was amazing, Tom. I fed for days on it all.”
“Did you ever hurt them?”
Her hands stopped as she glared at him: “No. Damn you, you know that I never …”
“I know nothing, Nina. I know what you told me, and I know what happened in that office.”
“I told the truth. I have not lied to you.”
“Have you exaggerated or otherwise bent the truth?”
“What are you getting at, Tom?”
“Simple. I’ve told you, I trust Camilla. I do not trust you, at least not completely. I need some proof.”
Her eyes glowed brightly blue: “If I wanted to, I could reach into your mind and soul, bend you to my will, make you my servant, thrall, lover, or anything I wanted to.”
Tom pressed a finger into her chest: “Yeah, I get it. I get the threat. Is it a threat?”
“Fuck you, Tom. Fuck you completely.”
“Better. Now that we’re past the self-pity part of the show, you want to actually tell me why it is that you want to forget who you are?”
“I failed. I couldn’t stop what happened then, I couldn’t kill the one that was responsible for it because of you now.”
“Don’t put the blame on me for your past, Nina.”
She turned away from him, one of her long braids slapping against his arm as she did so: “I don’t. I blame myself.”
“How about you get over blaming yourself?”
“I am a footnote, a very small one, in history, Tom. Had things gone as I thought they could have, the world of today might be a much different place.”
She didn’t turn around: “Forget it. It is the past, like me, and it’s better forgotten.”
Tom closed the distance between them and then did something unexpected. He wrapped his arms around her waist, his hands resting just on the curve of her stomach, she putting her hands over his in the next moment.
“That’s the not-whole thing, isn’t it: being forgotten?”
She sighed in his embrace: “That’s part of it. Everything that I did then is gone. I’m not remembered for what I did then, that’s true.”
Tom thought for a while, just holding Nina and then asked: “You told me that you … took … a soul before, that you did something evil. None of this sounds like you did.”
“I was older and wiser then. When I was young, long before Tera became Queen, I was … I was not lily-white Tom.”
Tom felt her body tense, her tail winding itself around his legs and squeezing slightly: “Taking a soul is … addictive. It’s the highest of highs, the most powerful orgasm you can imagine. It’s all taking with nothing given in return. Nothing is left expect ashes. And you just don’t care. All that matters is the next feeding, the next soul, and you do anything to get it.”
Tom’s grip became a little tighter: “What made you change your mind?”
She laughed: “Have I? How do you know that I’m not right on the edge of getting you on that couch and fucking your brains out? Are you so sure that I wouldn’t take you, Tom?”
“Because you told me that my soul is owned by someone else. And you can’t, as I understand it, take something that can’t be given.”
Nina leaned her head back, her hair now brushing against Tom’s chin: “I thought you weren’t listening. I’m glad you did.”
“I’m a detective. It’s my job.”
“Alright … Mr. Detective … I’ve admitted that I am a killer. I’ve confessed to my sins. So, now what?”
Tom turned Nina to look at him, one hand touching under her chin to make her look at him: “Now? Now I tell you something that you’ve never heard. I forgive you for your past.”
“Because I can. Because you aren’t Nina then, you are Nina now. And … and I trust you.”
Nina looked away, then rested her head upon Tom’s chest: “It’s been a long time since someone has.”
“Yeah, well you are a hard-ass to everyone, so that’s not a surprise. And if you change at all, I’ll lose all respect for you.”
Nina sighed: “You know … I really want you, Tom. She does, too.”
“Me? I’m nothing special; I keep telling you that.”
“Do me a favour?”
“Can you believe, for a moment, that you are worthy of being wanted?”
“Was wanted … once. I’m not sure I’m ready to be wanted again … or want to be.”
“And you talk about me fretting over the past?”
“You are … truly … frustrating, Tom.”
“I get that a lot.”
“So … what now? Showing me some ink blots?”
“You’d likely just tell me they all look like positions in the Kama Sutra or something.”
“I’m more of a practical sort. I’d rather demonstrate them—repeatedly.”
“I don’t want to know.”
Tom allowed his hands to slip off her waist and he took a step back: “I’m not.”
She looked over her shoulder at him: “Are you? Fine, if that’s what you want to believe.”
“Look, can you please just get to the point of all of this? I’m getting tired of all of the dancing.”
She crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at him: “We’re here because I need you to understand what all of this means.”
“End of the universe?”
She laughed, a thin one: “If it was only that simple. Remember the Dark? It wants us to be slaves and go into every universe and corrupt everything for it. We could do it, Tom. Make no mistake it would be a cake walk for us.”
He nodded: “Sex?”
She tilted her head: “That’s only the beginning. It’s the taking of souls, the changing of them, the turning of them. That’s what it lives on. Every single one that it snares gives it more power, more presence.”
“I don’t get the connection to the murder.”
She moved her tail in the air “Remember you were told that her tail was missing?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“That tail has to be found … before it merges that tail with someone that doesn’t deserve it.”
“Still don’t understand.”
Nina stretched out her right hand and the tip of her tail moved to rest upon it: “There are only some that are offered to join with a tail for a reason. They are right for the tail that chooses them.”
“Okay. But …”
“If the Dark forces a tail to join with someone—and I don’t know if it can or not—then it might have a doorway into our world. That’s something we can’t allow.”
“You are talking like that missing tail is alive.”
“She probably is. She didn’t return to the Lake of Fire. Neither of them did.”
He pointed in the direction of the door: “If we’re done, we can leave.”
“We’re not done, Tom. There’s one thing I want to tell you, then we’re leaving.”
Tom just looked at her, not saying a word.
“Understand Tom that you are now, and forever, stuck with us. Not just me and Camilla. You are stuck with all of us in the Realm. You’ll never be able to look at your world, your life, anything in the same way ever again. We’re shown you things that you’ll never be able to forget, and if you talk about them, you’ll be called ‘nuts.’”
Tom grinned, slightly: “That’s nothing new.”
Nina smirked: “And that’s probably why we get along as well as we do.”
She picked up the picture and walked out the room with it, returning soon after, still looking like her old self, but wearing a silver wraparound dress. And her hair was purple again.
“I’ve noticed something about your kind,” he deadpanned.
“You can’t wear the same thing twice, can you?”
“Give me a hand. I need to put the cover back on the couch. And don’t say that to Tera. She’ll shove a pitchfork in your ass.”
“Thanks for the purple.”
It took them a few minutes to cover things up and then Tom led the way to the front door, opening it for Nina. When she didn’t take the invitation, he turned to see her looking back into the house once more.
“It’s a sad place, Nina. It shouldn’t be. Neither should you.”
She sighed: “Past is prologue, Tom.”
“Tell me one last thing.”
“What’s the tail’s name?”
She looked as if she was going to say the name, but then stopped, turned and walked out the door.
He just shook his head and closed the door behind him as he followed, not saying anything more.
Her not answering his question hurt in a way that he hadn’t been hurt since … that day.
The calendar hung from the wall by a single red thumbtack. A series of red slashes were drawn through several of the dates on it, but not all of them. There were still many more to go.
Jane stood there looking at it and then began counting the days left, turning the calendar over as she did so, finally coming to the date marked with a blue circle. She noted that there were still two and a half months to go before the dance. One way or the other, she was going to see to it that John made it there.
She turned away from the calendar and looked at John as he hobbled into the room. She knew he was making progress—slow, but steady. He didn’t see it that way. That had to change.
“I’m thinking about going to the dress maker tomorrow and getting something special made.”
He shook his head: “I’m not going to make it. Docs say that they won’t let me out for another six months, and it’ll be another year of therapy before they know …”
Jane stalked towards him, her heels clicking on the tile floor: “By the end of this week, you’re going to be walking better. By the end of next week, you’re not going to be walking with that cane. The end of next month? You’re going to be running on a treadmill.”
John shifted, putting more weight on the cane as he did so: “So, if you’re right, then by the end of this week, you’re going to be slow dancing like a pro. By the end of next week, you’re going to be ballroom dancing. And next month? I expect the cha-cha and some tango.”
Jane stopped just in front of him: “Deal.”
John shot a look at her: “What?”
“It’s going to happen. I’ve taken time off from my job. I don’t have to go back for three months. I’ve gotten permission to be with you every day and get your ass in gear, John. You aren’t getting out of the date.”
“Who says so?”
“Jane, I’m not. I’ll take you wherever you want: any place in town, it’s yours; just say. But we aren’t going to that dance.”
She poked a slim finger into his chest: “Why? Is this some kind of macho man thing that you firemen do? Can’t be seen as anything less than perfect?”
John didn’t answer, which told Jane all she needed to know. She moved her finger underneath his chin, making John look at her: “Tell me what you are thinking, John. You’ve been fighting me every step of the way. Why?”
He moved his free hand to take Jane’s and lower it from his chin: “Truth is, I don’t understand why you are sticking around. You’re … damn it … a dream. You probably could have a dozen men wrapped around your finger, doing whatever you want. And you’re here. Why?”
Jane didn’t look away; her eyes held on John’s: “There’s a difference between lust and love, John. I know the difference. I know who’s real and who’s a fraud. I know … things. I know you aren’t sure that I’ll be here every day. I know that. I understand that. Thing is, as frustrating as you are …”
The pause was a long one, Jane trying to put her truth out in the open, but John interrupted: “If you tell me you love me … be sure. You can’t take that back.”
Jane nodded: “Someone special once told me about the first time she met her Eternal.”
John arched an eyebrow. He could hear the capitalization in that word, hear how Jane put so much emotion into it.
“She told him to be careful who he gave his soul to; he would never get it back.”
John nodded: “Sounds right … seems right.”
Jane sighed: “I know what I know, John, but I won’t say the words right now. Still, I promise you this: at that dance, on that dance floor, when the floor is ours and ours alone … I am going to be sure, and you are too.”
John looked at his cane: “How long?”
“Two and a half months.”
“A lot can happen in that time.”
“I hope so.”
He looked at her again: “Me too.”
She smiled: “Let’s go. The exercise room is open. We’ve got a lot to do today.”
He had thought that Jane would be just watching and encouraging him as he had done for the past week and a half, but today … today was different. When they entered, there was no one else there. Jane closed the door behind them, and then picked up a nurse’s cap that was sitting on a table by the door.
“Where’s the help?”
“Not going to be here today. It’s the weekend: they’re all off, but we’re not. So, I’m going to be the one pushing you. I’ll be back in a sec.”
With that, Jane walked away from John and entered a back room. She emerged a few minutes later in a t-shirt and shorts, the cap in her hair and running shoes on her toes.
John couldn’t help thinking about what she would look like in a nurse’s uniform and had to turn away, the embarrassment on his face quite clear.
“Out with it.”
“No, tell me what you’re thinking, John. I want to know.”
John looked at her: “You’ll just walk out on me.”
“I said I’m not leaving.”
He sighed: “I had … an image of you looking like a nurse just now.”
She smirked: “And?”
He looked away: “You know, I keep thinking about you in that black dress, and now I have a fantasy about you looking like a nurse. You really are trouble, aren’t you?”
Jane walked up to him, pressing her chest against his back, wrapping her arms around his waist. There was a purr in her voice that reached down deeply inside of John: “I’ll keep that fantasy in mind. It’ll be worth your while.”
“God. You are evil, aren’t you?”
She kissed the back of his neck: “Not evil … mischievous.”
Six hours later, John was aching all over as the weights came down for the final time.
“You are a slave driver. I haven’t hurt this much since the academy.”
Jane was looking at a clipboard: “No pain, no gain. You managed about ten percent more today. You’re getting better John.”
“Can’t keep going like this every day.”
She put the clipboard down: “Oh … I think I can find an incentive for you.”
“Do I really want to know?”
Jane didn’t say anything; instead she helped John to stand, then walked with him over towards the showers: “Go; take a shower; come out when you’re done.”
Throughout the shower, John worried. He worried that Jane was going to do something stupid when he came out that would embarrass them both. The thing was—and he found himself not wanting to admit it—he had flashes of fantasies about Jane that got to him … badly.
He didn’t get out of the shower until the water turned very cold. When he did come out, Jane was standing there, tapping her foot: “It’s about …”
John had only wrapped a towel around his waist and Jane got a really good look at him. He looked away, embarrassed that he didn’t use the robes that were there.
Jane ran her tongue over her lips: “Oh … it’s … fine. Just … fine.”
She pointed at a small stack of clothes and then moved towards the shower: “I’m going to use that shower Go get changed. I won’t be as long as you were.”
John had the distinct feeling that Jane knew exactly why it took him so long in the shower. “It’s … the water is freezing.”
She snorted, grabbing a small bag as she marched past him: “That’s why I won’t be long.”
She wasn’t, and, when she came out, her hair was in a ponytail, a fuzzy orange sweater was hugging her curves, and … to be honest, the rest of what she was wearing didn’t register to John.
She smiled: “Cat got your tongue?”
He picked up his cane: “Cat’s got nothing on Jane.”
She slipped her arm around his and they walked from the exercise room back to his room.
“So, no black dress for your dance lessons tonight?”
“Not going to be dancing tonight John.”
“What are you planning?”
“You and I are going to have dinner in your room, and then we’re going to talk. If we’re both lucky, we’re going to be spending the night together.”
John didn’t know what to say about that … but found himself thinking that Jane was wrong: she wasn’t mischievous. And that little spark within him, that one that he’d kept locked away where no one would be able to get to it … glowed a little brighter.
It matched a spark within Jane herself.
On the way back to his room, John wondered what the mystery meat was for dinner this time. Hospital food wasn’t the greatest. He wondered what Jane was going to have. He wondered what she wanted to talk about.
When they approached the room at least the first two questions were answered. The answer was that they weren’t having hospital food. Somehow Jane had gotten delivery: pizza. It smelled like really good pizza, too.
He definitely would have to keep her.
“Tell me there aren’t any anchovies.”
The look of disgust was good enough for John. So was the pizza.
It was about the time when they were each on their second slice when she asked him: “Tell me what you think about me.”
John chewed on the slice, then: “You’re a pain in the ass, you’re driven, you set yourself to doing something and you don’t let go of it. You can be grating, irritating, and a slave driver. You push others until you get your way.”
Jane’s expression was unreadable to him, but then most women were. Before she could say anything, he pressed on: “You give a damn about others more than yourself. I saw you helping the nurses out. I saw you spending time with those two kids across the ward. I know at least one nurse you helped out when she couldn’t pay her rent this month.”
“How do you know that?”
“I was told by her that my girlfriend was wonderful and that she owes you a favour. She, and honestly everyone else you have met here, thinks you’re wonderful. But then, that’s obvious. You are … better than wonderful. But that brings up a question.”
“And that is?”
“What secret are you hiding, Jane?”
Jane took another slice and chewed on it for a time, considering what her answer should be. She couldn’t tell John that she was one of the Succubi. At least not yet. Then it struck her and she told him a different secret: “I have a sister. We’re identical twins.”
“Okay, I know that’s not a real secret. The secret is that my sister has a family: two adopted kids and a husband. And I … I’m jealous of that.”
John took a slice to occupy his hands and to keep from saying anything more. He’d made an ass of himself by asking the question. He didn’t want to make it worse.
Jane poked a finger through the bacon bits that were scattered in the pizza box: “I don’t, haven’t had a relationship. Part of that is my job, a lot of it is that I have guys that throw themselves at me and I don’t want any part of it. I’m jealous of her having a place to go home to, someone that she wants to go home to and not just a cat waiting at home.”
Then she looked very deeply into his eyes: “You believe in love at first sight?”
He swallowed: “Never felt it before. Lust, maybe.”
She nodded: “Exactly. Lust is obvious, it pokes you in the eyes. Love isn’t. It sneaks up behind you and then slaps you upside the head.”
John reached across the table and tapped Jane’s forehead with a finger, then sat down again without a word.
Jane looked at him for the longest time. She then grabbed the last slice and looked at it before tearing it in half and offering part to John: “It’s sneaking up on me. What about you?”
He took the slice from her hand: “The same. Course, there are some questions that have to be answered before I’m sure.”
“How much closet space you need, whether you hog the entire couch, how lousy a driver you are, whether you like breakfast in bed or not. You know … important stuff.”
Jane had that smirk as she bit into her slice: “Half the closet, I share the couch, I’m a better driver than dancer and yes … I do like breakfast in bed … with the right one there with me.”
John smiled as he finished his part of the pizza: “So … where are you planning to spend the night?”
Jane pointed at the empty bed on the other side of the room: “Over there. I’ll warn you right now: if you snore, I will throw things at you.”
“I’m a heavy sleeper.”
Jane had that smirk again: “Oh, I hope so.”
While Jane gathered up their dinner and put things away, John went through his evening routine. There was an odd moment when he was brushing his teeth and he noticed Jane at the door watching him.
His arched eyebrow, his mouth was full of toothpaste after all, was met with her commenting: “That’s one point for you. Good dental hygiene.”
After washing out the toothpaste he replied: “That’s important? Really?”
She had that smirk again: “Damn right. Makes kissing a lot more pleasant.”
John didn’t quite know how to answer that. He did spend a lot more time brushing than he usually did, though. When he came out, he found Jane wearing an oversized shirt and not a lot else. At first, he was going to tell her that she was evil again.
But instead he asked: “You’re sure you want to be here?”
Jane didn’t say a word. Instead she helped him to his bed, gave his right hand a light squeeze and then walked over to the far side of the room where the light switch was.
After she turned the lights out and settled in for the night across from him, Jane finally replied: “Only way if I’m going to find out if you’re Mister Right for sure.”
He lay in bed pondering that until sleep overtook him, and then John … started to snore.
But then, Jane’s snoring wasn’t any better than his.
Bill was in his office watching the clock as the red numbers ticked away the time until the day’s work was done. He hadn’t seen his son, Billy, for most of the day, and it wasn’t like Billy not to check in. Bill knew full well that Billy did more and worked longer than anyone else in his business; he had his finger on the pulse of the company and kept things running smoothly, even if he didn’t see just how vital he was.
Still, when Billy asked for permission to take the afternoon off, Bill didn’t hesitate, didn’t question it. If Billy wanted to do something, and it was important enough for him to take time off his duties, Bill wasn’t going to refuse him.
As the clock reached quitting time and he heard the office staff gathering up their things to leave, he started to worry. Billy hadn’t called; normally, he would. It wasn’t like him not to keep in touch. There was something going on, and Bill feared the worst.
He called out: “Tenshi! Come in here, will ya’?”
There was the sound of a filing cabinet closing, and then, in the doorway, there appeared a short, blond, Asian woman. She clutched a small stack of folders to her side and asked in a submissive tone: “Yes, Sir?”
“I do not know where your son William is. There have been no phone calls or messages from him, sir.”
Bill strummed his fingers over the top of his desk before pushing his chair back and snatching a briefcase that waited close by: “Not like him. Shoulda’ called or somethin’. Make sure ya’ leave the answering machine on in case he calls. I’m going home. I’ll check for messages.”
She nodded, then stood to the side as Bill left his office.
He added, just before he turned the corner and moved towards the exit: “An’ don’t ya’ stay late, either, Tenshi. Get home. That filing can wait ‘til tamarrow.”
“Yes, sir. Goodnight, sir.”
Tenshi didn’t leave. She spent the next hour carefully putting away the files she had. She had to wait, anyway.
They always made her wait.
He always made her wait.
As she closed another drawer, her thoughts spun around the situation she found herself in. If it wasn’t for the debt her family owed, she would never be doing what they asked her to do. Bill was an honourable man. So was his son. But that didn’t seem to matter to them.
Nothing she honoured mattered to them.
The shadow that blocked out the light from the office startled her and she turned to find … him … again. It was always him: a dishonourable man with dishonourable intent living a dishonourable life. The colour of his skin reminded her of the legends her family told of those taken by dark spirits to do their bidding.
Again, she wondered what could have tempted him to be … this.
“Have you news?”
“His son is missing; I do not know where. He left after the police came to see his father. He spoke with one of the detectives, a woman; I do not know what they spoke of.”
The man frowned and then produced a knife from beneath the robes he wore, the silver clashing against the white of his skin and the black of his robes: “Sloppy. You’re supposed to be watching the two of them.”
Her brown eyes narrowed: “I cannot watch them both all the time. I was unfortunate to encounter one of the detectives.”
The knife began to trace a pattern over his palm: “Are they suspicious of you?”
“No! They both left; nothing was said!”
“That had best be true for your own continued existence.”
She said nothing to this. The penalties for failure, she had heard, were as brutal as any nightmare she could imagine and more.
The knife stopped moving, and he looked at her with eyes so black she thought her life was being sucked into them, her breath catching in her throat: “The son is no longer your concern. I will deal with him.”
A coldness creeped up Tenshi’s spine as she asked: “What does that mean, exactly?”
The answer echoed the cold she felt as the black eyes looked clean through her: “His life is inconsequential. But he has value as a pawn in a larger scheme.”
She turned away from him, not wanting to see him any longer: “Please. Do not touch him. He is an innocent in this. Please.”
The smirk was awful, the words full of despair: “Who can stop me—you? You forget your place. We will have to remind you … soon.”
“I know my place. I serve without question.”
He waved the knife at her, the tip flashing in the light: “See that you do. You are still human, but there are suitable dark beings who would dine upon your life, soul, and mind.”
She shivered at the warning, knowing it was not an idle one: “What would you have me do?”
The knife vanished under the robes: “Continue the plan. Other pawns have been ordered to move tomorrow. Have the trap set.”
She did not hesitate: “Of course.” She even bowed to emphasis the point.
He turned away, dismissing her, but, before he vanished into the shadows of the office, he added: “And be sure to be suitably shocked when he is arrested for murder … and the son turns up in the river.”
The office turned quiet once more after he had left, and she was thankful for that. It always seemed like, when he left, any life where he had been was sucked away with him. She dropped into a chair and stared at the stack of folders still to be filed, still waiting to be put into their places.
She shook her head at the realization that she herself was just like one of the files. Put into her place, to be taken out from time to time to be examined and then, eventually, discarded. As she took a deep breath to calm herself, something in the office fell and startled her. Turning to look in that direction, she couldn’t see anything obvious, but, assuming that he had returned, she called out: “Did you forget something?”
The lack of an answer was more than a little concerning. The lights in the office were, for the most part, dimmed or turned out; the only spot of light was around the space where she had been working. A few short strides took her to where the light switches were, but, before she could flip the lights on … she heard a cat meow. Out of the shadows came a small, grey, calico kitten. She adored cats: her parents had several, but, since she left them and arrived in the city, she never had a pet. She knelt down and offered her hands to the kitten, calling out to it in a soft voice: “Come here, sweetheart. I won’t hurt you.”
The kitten crept out into the light and warily considered her. She understood this; she remembered an injured cat her parents had taken in, how it kept its distance from her, from all of them, until it was sure that they weren’t going to hurt it.
“There’s nothing to worry about. The bad man is gone. It’s just me. I promise.”
It took some time, but, eventually, the kitten came close to her before it paused and sniffed at her hands. Tenshi expected the cat to dart off, hiss, or something just from her being in contact with it. Instead, the kitten brushed itself against her hands before slipping underneath them and pushing against her stockings … and it began to purr.
Tenshi recalled that they had forbidden her to have a pet, especially a cat, but her mood was foul over what he had said. She touched the kitten’s back, its tail twining around her fingers as the kitten began to pace back and forth against her. Petting it gently, her thoughts went back over what he had said to her.
The kitten squirmed around a bit and then turned to look at her. Tenshi was struck by just how blue the kitten’s eyes were. She had never seen such blue eyes on a cat, any cat, before. If she didn’t know better, she would think there was intelligence behind those eyes. Gathering the kitten onto her lap, she began to scratch the kitten’s head and started talking to it. She couldn’t tell anyone about all of the things that were happening around her, but she could tell this simple creature. After all, it was a cat, and cats couldn’t tell any secrets. “You know, it’s been a really bad day. It all started when …”
As Tenshi spoke, the kitten looked off into the shadows as her head was being scratched, shaking it on occasion. Tenshi never noticed the flash of purple that appeared in the shadows for an instant, before vanishing once more.
She had a lot to talk about, and the kitten wasn’t planning on going anywhere. Ever.