This is the continuing story of the Succubi called Storm Clouds…
Chapter 31 begins this week, we’ll get back to Tom and Nina soon I hope…
Storm Clouds 191
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 every one 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.
“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 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, to 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 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.”
“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 cam 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, finding 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… Did have a nice smile though… 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 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 …