This is the continuing story of the Succubi called Storm Clouds…
Chapter 23 edits this week with thanks to my heart and my hero for their help and thoughts…
Storm Clouds 155
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 and called out, “Is anyone there? Answer me!” He didn’t hear anything and so moved deeper into the space, the light from the hallway which showed him the way out and to safety slowly dimming 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, axe in one 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 here. He couldn’t leave her, which gave 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.”