Starting Chapter 40 this week… As things happen to Jane and John, Tera and her Dear One face the music. Or at least the first few notes…
Storm Clouds 216
Time passed ever so slowly in the room. Someone who concentrated might be able to follow the dust motes as they floated here and there among the bookcases, tables, and chairs. Someone not so inclined to watch them might be held by the image of a woman straddling a man on one of the chairs, her fingers laced into his hair and their lips crushed together in a deep kiss.
One might also notice that neither of them was moving. But there was one other in the room who was. She was stalking back and forth, her long, red, heart-tipped tail swaying pensively as she walked, her eyes scanning intently from the carpet below her to the two intertwined and then back again as she paced.
Out of what some might mistake for frustration or impatience, she would tuck a wayward lock of hair back behind one of her ears from time to time. In fact, it was neither of those emotions, but rather, her pondering over what she knew and understood …
… and when Tera, the Queen of the Succubi, put a puzzle together and the pieces fit? That spelt issues for someone.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a familiar presence entering the apartment building, so her pacing came to a stop and a warm smile played upon her lips. She had been wondering when he was going to appear, and it seemed that this moment was the one that mattered.
His timing, as always, was impeccable. But then, he was especially attuned to her.
Counting to twelve, Tera walked over to the apartment door and then waited another three beats before opening the door and looking out into the hallway. The elevator dinged, the doors opened and she waved to the one standing there, his hands quite full. “Coming! Just a moment, my heart!”
The man in the elevator, who Thomas would recognize as the pastor from the funeral he attended not so long ago, nodded his head in lieu of a wave: “All fine, Dear One. I’ll manage.”
Quickly making her way down the hall, Tera replied: “Manners will not allow that, you know. At least allow me to be of some use?”
He chuckled: “We’ve talked about this before, Dear One. You sell yourself short. You are more than useful and, one of these days, you’ll see that.”
She scrunched up her nose as she took a small bag from under his arm: “Family trait, you know.”
He nodded once, blushing a little: “Yes … quite so.”
Moving to walk beside him, she slipped her arm with his and they moved towards John’s apartment. As they walked, they slipped into the banter they always shared.
“I’m sorry for being late.”
“Not late. You are exactly on time, as always.”
“How are you managing, Dear One?”
“Oh … managing, my heart.” Of course, she didn’t want to worry him.
“I see.” Of course, he saw right through that.
The next words that passed between them were ones that each knew didn’t need to be said, for they had known each other, it seemed, forever. Tera’s heart would always be so, as would she for him as his Dear One. That was just how things were, and nothing in the universes could change that fact. After they entered John’s apartment, he handed her one of the styrofoam cups he held. As he closed the door he asked: “And where is your Eternal, Dear One?”
Tera smiled as she traced a fingertip around the rim of the styrofoam cup: “Oh, he’s off and about looking after something.” She looked at him and nodded once: “But he is with me and I am with him.”
The look he gave her was somewhere between understanding and trepidation: “Of course. That was not my concern.”
Her finger stopped moving as she tilted her head to the left: “But you are concerned.”
He nodded, taking the lid off his tea: “I am worried about you, Dear One. You are troubled, have been for some time. I can see it in your eyes … your Eternal and I might be the only ones that possibly could have seen it, of course, but it is there.”
Tera was silent for a time, then admitted: “I think the Dark has been messing with things it should not. So I am … hoping … to fix that damage.”
“I see. And the two over there?”
“They are the thing that needs to be made right once more.”
He took a sip of his tea: “Playing matchmaker, Dear One?”
She took the lid off her own tea: “Oh those two are matched, my heart. I’m just trying to set things right once more.”
“Dear One, are you sure you are doing the right thing, or are you possibly … inadvertently … just maybe … doing the Dark’s own work for it?”
Tera paused, her tea almost to her lips: “Memories have been changed, my heart. The reason for that I do not know. Yet the Dark has altered the memories of some of the succubi. It has also changed the memories of innocents. It is trying to set something up to Its benefit. Jane is one of them. John, the dear man she is with at the moment, is the other.”
“Are you sure?”
Tera’s tail moved slowly behind her: “I know Eternals when I see them, my heart. In that I am sure. What happens after that is in their hands.”
“Which means we wait.”
“You need not have to, my heart. I’ll wait.”
He winked: “And have you talking to yourself? I shudder to think what your dear Tail will have to say about that.”
Tera smiled a warm, knowing smile: “You are, of course, quite right, my heart.”
He walked over to the couch and settled in: “What would you like to talk about while we wait?”
Tera took a spot on the other end of the couch, curling her legs underneath her as she did: “I have a theory … more of a thought, perhaps.”
He looked at his tea: “Why do I have the feeling, Dear One, that we’ll need more tea?”
She laughed: “Because that is how it always works when we chat, my heart. And, next time, I will bring the pie to share.”
He tipped his cup towards her: “So. Tell me what’s bothering you.”
She tilted her head to the right: “There is quite a lot that is bothering me. To be truthful, there has been for some time. I think that the time which the Dark has spent in trying to get into the Realm has made it desperate for some kind of success.”
He furrowed his brow: “It is a persistent entity; that much is obvious. And yes, your … resistance … has been a thorn in Its side.” The innocent look she gave in reply just made him chuckle as he sipped his tea, waiting for her to continue.
She considered the cup she held, then continued: “To be honest, it’s been a bother to me as well, in more ways than one, but we won’t dwell on that part of the story, as we’ll come back to that a bit later to try and tie the threads together.”
“Which means we start with … ?”
“We start with the question of what, exactly, is It intending to do with the tail that is missing.”
“You assume she is being held?”
“I know she is being held. I am just not sure exactly where she is at this moment. I know that she is nearby … somewhere … but otherwise I am not sure where. I sense she is trapped or bound in some way. That means It must have a plan for her. Whether by influencing her, forcing something upon her, or other means, It has but one goal, and having a Tail would give It something It never had before.”
He nodded: “A key.”
“Yes. There are only a few entries into the Realm for those not …” She paused here, considering her next words, worrying that “like us” would sound more than a bit conceited, but he finished the thought for her.
“… like you, Dear One. I know better—we know better—and you need to keep that in mind.”
She nodded in reply: “Of course. Like us, my heart. There are some with that key. Some others, like you, are offered a pass to the Realm, at the right time for the right reason. But all of us, even myself, have to pass by the gates, all of them, before stepping foot in the Realm.”
He smiled: “And, of course, that final gate, the one that none shall pass without permission, is the last bastion.”
She sighed, wistfully: “Yes. But we won’t dwell on that point, my heart. Let’s try and keep focus on our missing tail for the moment.”
He gave a sidelong look at the pair on the chair as he wondered: “Can I assume that they are both part of the story?”
“Quite so. She is the sister of the one whose tail is held, obviously. He is, I am sure, her Eternal. When we had the funeral, it struck me that she was there, but he was not. The question then was … “Why?” Speaking with her afterwards, it was clear that the Dark did something to her, and, I think, vice versa.”
“So, you have two souls no longer connected.”
“Yes, but that’s just where it begins. She, our dear Jane, is impulsive, quick to anger, and more importantly, would do anything to have revenge for her sister’s passing. What would she do if she believed that her only family, the only one she loved, was gone?”
He shook his head: “Oh, I have a good idea. There was something wrong about her; I had chalked it up to grief and did not push her. I should have.”
She set her cup down on a small side table, some worry in her eyes as she looked at him: “No guilt, my heart—not for either of us. There was enough grief to go around for everyone. We both missed it, but we are both now aware.”
He allowed those words but replied: “Then I expect you not to have guilt, either. It is not becoming of you. Queen or not, it is not becoming of you or your soul, and I will not allow it.”
She laced her fingers together, placing them in her lap: “The guilt I think I have dealt with. It was slowly turning into anger … or it was until Jane came back and I saw she had a problem. That problem made it clear that there was a … discrepancy that needed to be repaired.”
He considered his tea: “Now that your anger is gone, Dear One, you need to keep it away … the Dark is counting on using it against you.”
She looked towards Jane and John: “Something happened in the two weeks that she was out of touch. When she came back, she claimed to have been overseas for some time, but that made little sense, as they were inseparable. There was something missing in Jane. Again, it seemed like the loss of her sister was the answer, but it goes further than that. He was missing. They were missing.”
“So, that’s when you put Tom and Camilla onto things?”
She nodded and picked up her tea again, taking a sip: “There was something that happened in the world here, driven by forces bound to rules that apply here. Something else happened outside of this world, where other rules apply. Having the two of them dealing with this will give me a new perspective on what It wants.”
He chuckled: “There’s something more, Dear One.”
She smiled over the rim of her cup: “Perhaps … perhaps not. We shall see.”
He raised his cup in reply: “Yes. We shall. But the story isn’t over yet. You are holding back a few things. I can tell.”
She paused, just before taking a sip: “Two things: All four of them are connected to what happened. Two of them are what It has focused upon.”
He frowned: “So they are all at risk. But which two are the ones It has focused on?”
Tera’s tail pointed at Jane: “She is one, obviously. I believe that Thomas is the other. They both have suffered great losses. They can both be influenced by It making an appeal to their darker emotions.”
“What happens when one … or the other … or both … is freed?”
“That, my heart, is what I am intending to find out with Jane.”
She sighed: “I am trusting that his belief in doing good is strong. Camilla will help in that. So will Nina … assuming that Thomas will let them in to help.”
He considered her words, then asked: “But what about our missing tail? How does she fit into this?”
Tera looked into her cup as if reading tea leaves, though there were none: “What would one do if one could bring a lost love back? What would one give up? What would happen when the truth was revealed?”
“That, I think, would depend on the truth, would it not?”
She looked up: “Yes. Yes it would.” Then she looked back down at her cup once more.
He sighed: “Dear One, it does you no good to keep things bottled up inside you, nor can you get them past me without me noticing.”
“There are two problems with sharing the truth in this case, my heart. One is that the truth will not set anyone free. The harm in the truth being known would only play into It’s hands. The truth I speak of is meant for one soul only and it is one that I do not have the right to share.”
“If not you, then who?”
Tera looked at him: “The one that cannot speak.”
She stood and began to walk around the room, still holding the cup in her hands: “The second reason for not sharing is that I may—and yes, I know this sounds impossible—I may be completely wrong about what I believe the truth to be.”
He leaned back in his chair, a small twinkle in his eye: “You, Dear One? Wrong? If so, I do believe I will have to check on whether the laws of the universe have been changed recently.”
Tera laughed softly: “I’ve been wrong many times, my heart. The thing is that I hide those mistakes well enough that they are not seen for the mistakes they are.”
“You are avoiding the point, Dear One. It isn’t that you are wrong nearly as often as you believe … except when you think you are hiding these things from your Eternal or me. It is that you are far too hard on yourself when those around you are hurt. You make it your focus to deal with that, to take it upon yourself. Sometimes, you do have to allow others to stumble.”
A sigh, quite a long one: “Cannot do that, my heart. Call it … a very deep fault. Perhaps it is the one that the Dark has figured on to be how it wins the war.”
He placed his cup on the table and then walked over to her. Resting a hand on Tera’s shoulder he explained: “It is not a fault to care. We have talked about this many times before. It is a fault to take on too many things, to not share with others who can help with the burdens. And I would bet my socks that this is exactly what the Dark will use to defeat you.”
Tera patted his hand lightly: “As you know, that sharing is something not easily done.”
He smiled: “True … for both of us. Now, there are plans to be made, and in this case, Dear One, your heart is going to help.”
She began to shake her head, to refuse. She couldn’t possibly allow him to do so.
“Ah! I am sorry, but no, Dear One. There is no getting out of this. You need more help than what you have now, and if you don’t let me help you, then I will go on my own. So please, tell me what you have in mind next.”
“You really will not like it, my heart; not at all.”
“I’ll be the judge of that, Dear One.”
Ten minutes later found Tera sitting on the couch, rolling her cup between her hands and looking at him as he paced back and forth as she had been before he arrived. She had explained her plans, what she intended to do and what the cost would be.
He finally stopped pacing and looked at her: “I do not like this at all, Dear One.”
“I did warn you.”
“So you did. It is a dangerous plan. It can go wrong at any of a dozen turns. Worse, if it does go wrong, then the Realm is lost. However …”
He furrowed his brow: “However, misquoting Einstein, ‘I, at any rate, am convinced that you do not throw dice.’”
She was puzzled; the twist in her tail, which he knew well, spoke to her thoughts as much as any words would: “Meaning what, exactly?”
“Meaning that, though your plans appear to be risky, somehow you have a fairly good idea that it will turn out well.”
She traced a finger against her lips, as if sealing them, a thin smile there as she did so.
“But what is missing from this equation is that you are not going in alone. I won’t have it. You would risk yourself to save the Realm. Someone needs to be there who will risk the universe to save you.”
She looked him in the eye: “I worry that I may have to do something of which you do not approve, something that would disappoint you.”
He didn’t waver: “You could never disappoint me, Dear One. Never. And I will stand beside you no matter what … including no matter if you tell me not to.”
She opened her mouth to speak … but then closed it, smiling.
He smiled back and nodded once: “Did you ever meet Einstein in your travels, Dear One?”
“Yes. I was fortunate to hear him play the violin once. His connection with music was … breathtaking. Even if he didn’t see his talents for all that they were.”
He chuckled as he took the other end of the couch once more: “Your words remind me of a certain red tail that I know who has the same problem. She needs to see that in herself every now and again.”
She tilted her head to the right: “I have no idea what you mean, my heart.”
He shook his head: “Yes, Dear One. Of course you do.”
Billy wasn’t sure if Donna actually had to go and visit every single person in the building. Actually he wasn’t sure if they actually did visit them all or not, but there were a lot of people that she had introduced him to, and he knew there was no possible way he was going to remember all of their names. Funny thing was, the only name that he wanted to remember was Donna’s. He wasn’t sure why it mattered so much, but he was bound and determined not to forget.
He always hated going around with his father and meeting with people that mattered to their business, or to his father. They always treated him as if he was being tolerated, and they were always formal and cold, seeming like they only did so in order to not offend his father.
Donna’s co-workers weren’t like that. He wasn’t sure if they were always that interested in other people, or if they were now only because he was with Donna, or because he was helping deliver the coffee and donuts. Whatever the reason, there wasn’t one person that he met who didn’t greet him warmly. The hugs from the women were embarrassing, but Billy managed to get through that without making a fool of himself. Even the men weren’t trying to break his hand during the many handshakes, which is what normally happened to Billy. They treated him as an equal—which, again, was something that didn’t usually happen for him.
Billy, being overwhelmed as he was by what was happening, didn’t notice the look that Donna gave each person that he was introduced to. The look was, if one was paying attention, almost pleading for approval.
By the time the tour ended, he figured that he certainly must have met everyone in the building. As they passed by an office on the upper floor, he noticed Donna frown, just a little, and that bothered him. “What’s up?”
“Oh. I was hoping you might meet my …” The pause was very noticeable, even for Billy, and he was about to ask about that when Donna continued: “… boss. Her name’s Tera.”
Billy was still bothered about the pause: “Don’t like her?”
Donna shook her head, her short platinum blond hair moving in an odd wave, which Billy found very interesting: “Oh gosh no! I love her bunches!”
Her answer brought Billy up short. She didn’t seem like the kind of lady that would use the words “gosh” and “bunches.” For some reason, he felt she was putting on a show or something. “Really?”
Donna stopped and turned to look at Billy. She placed her right hand on his chest and explained: “She’s wonderful, Billy. She’s done so much for me. I owe her a lot, and I’ll never be able to repay her.”
He looked at her hand, then into her eyes: “Lots of people tell me that, but they do it ‘cause they fear the people they work for.”
Donna scrunched up her nose, which Billy thought made her look awfully cute: “Not me. I love Tera like a sister. We’re all …” Again she paused, which was odd, but then she continued: “… a family. I know that sounds weird, but that’s the only way I can explain it.”
Billy had come to the conclusion that there was something odd about the place where Donna worked. There was something odd, but what it was, in the end, didn’t seem to matter as much as meeting Donna did, so Billy nodded: “’kay. I can see that. This place is kinda’ weird, but if that’s how you think about things, then … ‘kay.”
Donna smiled, and Billy thought that it was a good thing to see her smiling.
After going down a flight of stairs that took them past the Receptionist—and Billy still found himself not wanting to make her mad—Donna led him down a hallway that he was sure they hadn’t been through before. He actually wasn’t even sure if the hallway had been there when they had entered the place and first met the Receptionist. This place was built weirdly, and he had been turned around so many times that he wasn’t sure what direction he was facing. Not that it mattered that much: he was fine with walking with Donna and talking to her, anyway. But he had expected to arrive in what Donna had called the “Lounge,’ and, as they walked, he worried about making a mess there. This building was amazingly well kept and clean, and he just knew that he would drop something somehow and make a mess somewhere. Luckily, he thought, that hadn’t happened so far. So it was a surprise when she opened a door and he found that that the Lounge wasn’t their destination.
Instead, the opened door revealed what looked like a neatly kept lunch room, large enough for a dozen or more diners, with a big picture window to one side that looked out over what seemed to be the backyard of the place. Though Billy wasn’t exactly sure how it was that so many trees would be there.
“After you, Billy.”
He shook his head: “Sorry. Manners say that it’s ladies first.”
Donna smiled: “How about together? You’ve been following me around, me leading the way. I’d much rather have you walking with me. You don’t have to hold hands if you don’t want to.”
Billy blushed, but managed: “That’s kind of forward, isn’t it?”
Donna smiled: “A little bit … maybe.”
With a flick of her shoe she held the door open for them: “Now you don’t have to hold the door, and we can go and find a place to sit and share my coffee and bagel.”
Billy held up the bag that he had been carting around with him: “Bagel? Not a donut?”
A short walk across the room and they were both sitting at a table over by the window, Donna facing Billy: “Bagels are a good thing to have when you want to think about something.”
“I don’t get it. Sorry.”
She opened the bag and took the bagel out, placing it on top, then opening the coffee and sitting it beside the bagel: “You have to work at eating a bagel. It’s a bit of a struggle to tear it into pieces to nibble on. It’s a bit of work to chew on. Because it takes a while, you get a change to think about things.”
The look on Billy’s face made it clear that stuff like what Donna was talking about was a little over his head: “Like what?”
She picked up the bagel and tore it into four pieces. Taking one of those, she broke it in half and then gave Billy one of them: “Oh, all sorts of stuff.”
He looked at the bagel in his hand: “Like?”
Donna held her piece a bit away from her lips as she answered: “Like if you might like me as much as I like you. Like what you like to do for fun. Like if you might ask me out to dinner.” As the last word left her lips, she popped the bagel in her mouth and started to chew on it.
Billy was brought up short and stuffed his piece into his month to occupy himself while he thought. She was really classy, and that meant that she’d want to go out somewhere expensive. That wouldn’t be a problem: Dad had always paid Billy well for the work he did, and he had saved a lot over the years. But he didn’t have a suit, didn’t run around in those sort of places. After finally swallowing the bagel he explained: “Do like you. But you’re so classy. I don’t know what you like to do for fun, and the place I like to go for dinner is the burger joint on 11th and Main—not exactly the sort of place you’d want to be in.”
Donna stood up, and Billy didn’t have any other choice but to look at her standing there in a classy blue dress. When she didn’t say anything, he closed his eyes and really tried to remember what she looked like, knowing that he’d never see her again—that little sweep in her hair, the twinkle in her eyes, that chunk of bagel that she was chewing on that pushed out her cheek and gave her a dimple. Darn him for being honest. He opened his eyes and watched her chew. She had that bagel in her mouth. Then it hit him that she wasn’t mad, she just had her mouth full.
Donna picked up the coffee and took a sip, swallowed, then said: “Billy, I don’t always dress like this. This is what I wear to work. It’s like your overalls or uniform or whatever you wear where you work. I look classy because that’s how it is appropriate to look here.”
She put the coffee down and walked around the table, taking a seat right beside Billy: “I’m just as happy to wear an old T-shirt and jeans and running shoes.”
Billy gave her a look: “Can’t imagine that.”
She laughed: “I clean up good. Like you do, okay?”
Billy shrugged: “Okay.”
She folded her hands onto her lap and looked at them: “You know, a lot of the people here think that I’m shy.”
He looked at the tabletop: “Dunno about shy. Think yer cute though.”
“Could say the same about you, too.”
“Not cute. Cute isn’t a guy thing.”
Donna pursed her lips and blew out a long breath: “Billy, if a gal says you’re cute, don’t argue.”
He looked at her: “How am I supposed to talk? Usually no one sees me or stuff. Haveta’ be honest, Donna. Don’t talk to a lot of cute girls that I … like.”
“Because you’re shy?”
She smiled, which made Billy happy: “Maybe, between the two of us … maybe … we can work on that.”
“Wadda ya’ have in mind?”
The next part Billy didn’t expect: “I like walking, looking at the ships as they come into the harbour. I like movies—old ones, not the new stuff, the more B-grade the better. And what I like most of all is watching those sorts of movies with a greasy burger and fries from Ben’s at the corner of 11th and Main. But only when Jack is cooking; Adam burns the buns and I can’t stand that.”
Billy was shocked to put it mildly: “You eat there?”
“Yup. Never do dinner, but I do lunch, and, sometimes, midnight snacks.”
Billy mulled that over as he took another piece of the bagel, tore it in two and handed Donna half: “Always thought that Jack was kind of an ass. Never went in when he was there. And you are going to be mad at me.”
Donna looked confused: “Why?”
He had a lopsided grin as he started to chew on the bagel: “I like the burned buns.”
Donna slapped his shoulder lightly: “Oh! You! How could you possibly!”
Billy just continued to chew on the bagel and chuckle to himself as Donna ranted over that, liking her more and more by the moment and feeling a lot better about himself as he did so.
It was after about an hour of walking through the Realm that Tom noticed something. It wasn’t all of the beings walking around with horns and tails; he had gotten used to that surprisingly fast. It wasn’t the looks that he had seen from some of them; he understood the why of the looks of lust or curiosity or even temptation came in his direction. Nina was in the middle of turning a corner when Tom said, “I have a question.”
“Oh? If it’s about life, the universe and everything, I think there’s a book that has that answer in the Library. I think it’s one of Tera’s favourites, actually.”
“Nothing that grand … just something odd I’ve noticed.”
Nina stopped walking and looked at him, her tail swaying behind her, the sunlight glinting off her silver dress: “You’d better be specific. There’s a lot of ‘odd’ in our world.”
Tom nodded: “Yeah, noticed that. What’s odder is that it all seems to fit, in a way.”
“So? What’s bugging you?”
“Where’s your police department? I haven’t seen any references to one.”
Nina pointed off to her left and when Tom looked he noticed what seemed to be a castle of some kind standing a fair distance away: “See that? Want to guess what it is?”
Tom rubbed his chin: “Normally, I would reckon that was Tera’s place.”
“But Camilla said that Tera doesn’t go for that.”
“Correct. Tera only rarely can be found there. That’s for show, for those that expect to see a Queen in her castle.”
“So it’s a symbol of … of what, exactly?”
“It symbolizes one very clear point: that the words of Tera and her Eternal govern us. But it also symbolizes, in her refusal to be there, that she does not believe that she needs to lord her authority over us.”
“So, she’s Queen in name only and nothing more?”
Nina frowned deeply: “Oh no. She’s our Queen, but she will only allow one being to call her that. She gave that one the right to do so for reasons that are between the two of them. To everyone else, she’s Tera, and, honestly, that’s more powerful.”
Tom looked at the castle, far past the nearby rolling hills, the occasional bit of mist or cloud shimmering nearby: “In what way? It seems more casual, more open.”
Nina walked up to Tom and said, with a slight shake of her head: “Tom … I’m really disappointed in you.”
When she didn’t say anything else, just looking at him, Tom sighed and shook his head: “I get the point. It’s worse to disappoint someone you know than it is a faceless title you never see.”
She smiled and twined one of her braids around her right hand: “That’s part of it. Remember Camilla told you that, if Brent had been lying, Tera would have known? That’s another part of it. But the most telling thing is that, when she’s standing there, looking at you, and says, ‘I’m disappointed.’ Believe me, those words are something no one wants to hear from her … not after all that she’s done for everyone.”
“Okay, I get the picture. Pissing off Mom would …”
Nina shook her head: “Tera’s not … Mom.”
She looked into the sky, seeming to be looking for something … but for what, exactly, Tom wasn’t sure: “It’s … complicated … in a lot of ways.”
“Okay. So if you don’t think of her as your mother, then … who is?”
“That’s yet another story.”
“Your world has a lot of them, you know.”
“We also have an fantastic library, vibrant art, passionate culture, and our midnight get-togethers by the Lake are amazing.”
Tom shook his head: “You know the most amazing thing?”
“The most amazing thing is that you speak of all of this as completely normal, and it feels normal. Well, except for some of your kind who aren’t exactly my type.”
Nina’s look was not hard to read, not with the question that came: “What is your type?”
There was a slightly far off look in Tom’s eyes: “No; doesn’t matter.”
Nina frowned at the emotions that were starting to boil inside of Tom: “Tera has said that there is someone, somewhere, for everyone. The trick is bringing them together.”
Tom nodded his head in the direction Nina had been walking: “Yeah. Sure. Let’s go.”
Tom’s attitude surprised Nina, but she didn’t press further on that, nor come back at him with a snip of her own. That part of Tom’s story she’d find out, or Camilla would, eventually. For the moment, she turned and continued to walk, knowing without looking that Tom was there beside her.
They crossed an intersection, and Tom was treated to the sight of a carriage being pulled by two pony-girls, with their Mistress—a Succubi that Nina recognized as Rachel, a rather strict personality that some submissives were attracted to—riding inside.
“Getting back to your question about our police: we are all, in a way, our own police here. We help each other if needed, protect one another, and otherwise keep each other from going down a path that leads to nothing for us.”
“A collective, then?”
Nina nodded, still looking at Rachel as she went on her way: “For example, the succubi in the carriage? Her name’s Rachel. She’s a very strict domme; she controls the lives of her submissives in every way and means.”
“And the thing is, she knows the lines she cannot cross. She knows what her pets desire and gives them that, pushes the boundaries from time to time with them. But if one of us felt something wasn’t right, we could find out what was going on. And, honestly, it’s better that one of us did. Otherwise …”
“Otherwise Tera might be disappointed.”
“Yeah. It’s about the most powerful reason not to do harm you can think of. How can you disappoint someone who would do anything for you, who has offered you something precious, and who trusts you with the power to do almost anything?”
“You know the answer to that.”
“Sort of. You’ve left a lot of questions around your answers. You keep dancing around the point, trying to avoid it. Why?”
Nina sighed and pinched her nose: “Because the thing about being a survivor is that you remember all that didn’t make it. You also remember the second chance you were given.”
“The first time I met Tera, it was when she had come into her power as the Queen. So many of us that had done wrong were called, one by one, to see her. I expected to be banished at the least; my end was almost certain for all of the souls that I had taken.”
“You’re still here.”
Nina smirked: “Yes. Don’t let anyone tell you what they think Tera will do. They’ll always be wrong. I was … so, so wrong.”
“So, what did she do?”
Nina crossed the street as she called out: “She hugged me. I broke down in tears, I told her everything that I had done. Then she just said, ‘Do better this time.’”
Tom paused in crossing the street when Nina had said. ‘Do better this time.’ The words where haunting and struck very close to home. Before Nina could turn around and see the look he had, Tom ran across the street and caught up to her.
Tera was going to have a lot of explaining to do … someday. For right now, the question of where the hell Nina was going mattered more.
“Got another question.”
“Why are we walking? Faster to just jump over there or whatever you call it.”
“It’s called bampfing by some—Tera, in particular, calls it that. As for the “why”? We are going to meet someone important and just appearing in front of them without warning would not be … good.”
“Wouldn’t call them ominous, exactly.”
Tom strode a little faster than Nina was and touched her hand: “Nina. Slow down. Talk. Who is it, why are you so worked up over it?”
She looked down at Tom’s fingers, then into his eyes: “Remember when Camilla said that she knew some names, some beings that she thought might be a threat?”
“Yeah. She also said that she wouldn’t go near them without … hellhounds or something.”
She pointed towards a low building made of blood red bricks that stood a short distance away: “We are going to go talk to one of them, it will be me as Camilla won’t be enough to make this work, she’s never actually commanded … them.”
Nina shook her head: “Oh no, that wouldn’t be enough. They would be laughed at. No, we are going to borrow something from Tera that isn’t seen often and, when it is, that is on very rare occasions.”
Tom huffed dangerously: “Nina …”
She came to a stop suddenly, looking down a short piece of sidewalk that ended at a gold and black door inlaid into a red brick wall. There were no windows to be seen, no other way in save that door and nothing more.
Nina looked at Tom: “You have that card Tera gave you?”
Patting his chest, Tom nodded: “Yeah, keeping company with my badge.”
Nina approached the door and knocked twice. After a moment, a panel slid open and a low voice pronounced: “Nina … and a human. Why would you bring a human here? You know it is dangerous for them. You may enter, Nina. He cannot.”
Tom dug out his badge, flipped it open and showed the silver card from Tera to … whatever it was. There was a long silence, then the door opened to shadows and sounds that Tom couldn’t quite place … though, somehow, he felt as if he had heard the sounds before … in his nightmares.
Nina stepped through the open door, offering her hand as she did so: “Stay with me; don’t drift off. Some of the things in here don’t react well to humans.”
Tom slid his badge back where it belonged: “Makes two of us.”
The door closed behind them without a sound.
Jane refused to believe John when, two weeks later, he told her that she snored.
“I … do NOT … snore.”
John was panting when he replied: “Yes … you do … like a jet … on takeoff.”
“First, I don’t. And, second, how would you know what that sounds like, anyway?”
John had to think about that. The only reason why he even brought up the point about her snoring was that she was musing about moving in with him. He wasn’t sure about that and was looking for a way out … or at least a way to slow her down a little.
He slowed the treadmill down enough to manage a real conversation with her. She’d been pushing him again—for the best, he knew—and he could honestly say that, without her being here, he’d be a lot worse off than he was.
For a moment he wondered why that particular thought seemed like a sense of déjà vu … As if he’d been through this before, and things didn’t turn out well. Shaking that thought off, he continued to walk—not jog, and definitely not run—as he replied: “Considering that my apartment is right under the flight path to the airport, I think I have a good idea what it sounds like.”
“Well at least no one will hear me when I rant at you about being late … or lazy… or, for that matter, sleeping in when you should be doing more important things.” The look Jane gave him was the one he knew well enough by now. It was a mix of “Just try me” and “Why haven’t you?”
After wiping his face with a towel, John decided that the best thing to do was get right to the point, no matter how things were going to turn out from here. “Jane. I need to take a break.”
She looked worried: “Are you hurting? What’s wrong?”
He stepped off the treadmill and she was right there, helping him as always, without complaint, as she promised. He realized a long time ago that she mattered to him, but neither of them had pushed things beyond that save for the occasional threats about moving in together just to see how long it would take before they drove each other nuts.
“I’m fine. I just can’t talk to you like this.”
She helped him over to a chair and then pulled one over for herself: “Okay, talk.”
He hoped for the best as he began: “You do snore. No let me finish, there’s a reason why I’m starting here. See, I’ve never been able to sleep through the night; there’s always been a nightmare that’s woke me up. I’ve never been able to remember it exactly, but I’ve become used to it waking me up.”
Jane had taken her seat, placed her hands in her lap and was looking at him intently. Still, he pressed on. Some secrets had to be shared, after all.
“I’ve woken up every night to the sound of you snoring away. I’ve thought about tossing a pillow at you every night, actually had one in my hands many times, and I’ve been on the edge of throwing it at you.”
Jane smiled: “Maybe you should have.”
John reached out a hand and put a finger over Jane’s lips: “Not a word till I’m done, okay?”
She nodded and he continued: “You know, it’s a weird thing for me. To see you across the room, the light from outside letting me see you there asleep in the night. It’s hard to explain, exactly, but you aren’t quite the same person then.”
Jane bit the inside of her lip at his words. She worried that he had seen her horns, or tail, that he knew that she wasn’t exactly human, and a sick feeling started in the pit of her stomach. After all she’d hoped for, he was going to say the words that would mean that her plan didn’t work, that things were going to be as they were.
John’s voice broke through her thoughts then: “You put up … a front, Jane. The real you isn’t all here right now, somehow. I want to know the real you, the you that you don’t want everyone to see or know.”
He looked down, then pressed onwards: “See, the thing is that, as stupid as I am, I know that I do like you. More than like you; I just feel like I’ve known you before. That doesn’t make any sense, it doesn’t to me, but I look at you in the middle of the night and … it’s familiar to me.”
He looked up at her: “Even the snoring.”
She smiled. She couldn’t do much else, really.
“So, here’s the deal: I don’t have much to offer, I don’t know what the future is going to bring. I do know that I don’t want to lose you, and I’m hoping that you, somehow, feel the same about me. Actually, that’s not exactly true. I know you do—God knows all of the signs are there—but we’re both dancing around what we want like two scared teenagers.”
They were both silent for a while, then Jane answered: “I’ve been doing the same thing. Not every night, but there are some nights when you are asleep that I’m lying in bed watching you and … wondering … hoping.”
John shook his head slightly, but Jane continued: “There’s been something about you, too. It’s not rescuing my ass or anything to do with that. It’s the dreams I’ve had about you, John … a lot of them.”
Then she smiled: “And, for the record, you snore, too, you big dummy.”
He rolled his eyes: “Okay, I know I do. The guys at the station have told me that for years.”
“And … so you lied to me about the snoring. Shame on you, John.”
John sighed: “Yes, I did. I admit that I thought that telling you the truth would turn you off and you’d leave.”
Jane shot a look at him: “We’ve been through this. I’m not leaving, not unless you tell me to my face that you want me to go, and make me believe you mean every word.”
“That’s the problem.”
“Not getting you, John. Explain, please.”
“Tell me what you remember from … oh … about two days ago when the guys from the station were here.”
Jane thought a minute, then: “Three of them came in to see you, first time I met those three, they weren’t at the station when I was trying to find out about you. They seemed nice enough.” In spite of those words, Jane didn’t tell John what she had seen in their thoughts about her, knowing that doing so would be … unwise, at best.
“And that’s all?”
Jane hesitated a long moment, then made up her mind: “I know they were all trying to make moves on me, John. I’m not totally stupid.”
To say John was shocked was an understatement: “Okay, I didn’t say you were stupid … except when we were under that desk … I still think you were stupid to be in there.”
“That’s your opinion. Personally, I thought it was a great way to meet Mr. Right.”
John crossed his arms and looked at Jane: “I’m still not completely convinced I’m Mr. Right.”
Jane pinched her nose: “You know, we really need to get you over that problem of yours as much as your walking problems.”
“That’s never going to happen. There’s not a thing that will …”
John trailed off because Jane had tilted her head to the right, the most evil smile on her lips that he had ever seen appearing there. She stood up and walked towards him, her hips rolling in a way that she’d never done before as she did so. “Oh, I think I can convince you. See, I haven’t, totally, been honest with you, John. See, the thing is that I haven’t, really, ever shown you just how much I want you … how much you are in my thoughts and dreams … how, every time you aren’t looking, I’m thinking things that would make you rock hard, wanting to bend me over a bench and do all kinds of dirty things to me.”
John was finding it hard to find his voice, but managed: “Jane, what’s come over you?”
She didn’t stop walking towards him, finally straddling his legs and resting there. She didn’t feel like she weighed anything, and his hands were suddenly moving to cup her curves as she wiggled her hips against his fingertips.
He nodded as she traced a fingertip against his cheek: “Yeah.”
“Truth is that I am a hot little number who has been saving herself. There hasn’t been one man that’s turned me on, been in my thoughts, made me think about him every moment … until I found you.”
“That’s … just because I rescued you. You’ll …”
Jane’s finger was on his lips again: “No, I won’t. There’s a belief my kind has that, when the right two souls touch, there is nothing that can tear them apart. That’s part of who we are. We believe there is one for each of us that there is that one we call “Eternal.” When we find that one, we … just know.”
John listened, but found that it was hard to keep his eyes open. He blinked and shook his head, but Jane’s finger remained on his lips and she kept looking to his eyes. She had nice eyes, really nice, clear, sparkling eyes that he just couldn’t look away from.
“I never believed in the stories. I never thought I would find my Eternal. That wasn’t for me. I wasn’t like the rest of my kind. I should have listened better, because, if I did, then I would have done this sooner. Made you understand. To see what you need to see, John.”
Her voice seemed far away now, strange, echoing. John thought he saw something moving behind Jane. Something thin, but then Jane’s eyes held him again and the thought slipped away. It wasn’t as important as looking into her eyes again.
“I’ll show you … everything. But, for right now, I’m going to make sure you never have that worry about me leaving you again. That thought isn’t good for you.”
She moved her finger away, at least he felt the pressure on his lips vanish. But then her lips kissed his. The sensation of her lips … they were so pillowy soft, having just the right texture, shape, scent, and taste as her tongue slipped in for a moment, then darted out again. There was … something … strangely familiar and revealing in her kiss, like there was something that had been missing inside of him, taken away. He hadn’t known it was missing, but now, now he knew that it had been missing for so very long, and deeply so.
The kiss broke and reality snapped back into focus. John blinked and looked at Jane, who had her eyes closed and was smiling. He found himself captivated, watching, seeing something change within her, somehow.
Finding his voice, John asked: “What just happened, Jane?”
She opened her eyes and then mussed up her hair: “Some call it rapture … enlightenment.”
John noticed there was something that was reflecting the light of the room in Jane’s hair but dismissed it as a trick of the light: “I think I’m enlightened … and I’m sorry.”
Jane placed a hand on his chest: “You’ll make it up to me. I’ll think of something.”
“Why does that worry me, Jane?”
“Maybe it’s because neither one of us has been in love before. I’m not talking about lust. It’s too easy to be in lust with someone; too simple a thing. It’s a lot harder to be in love, having that one, true love that they talk about but you never believe in.”
“That’s pretty deep.”
“I got it from someone I know. She’s … sort of a theologian … sort of a big sister … sort of many things.”
“But what are you?”
Jane touched her forehead to his: “Yours. And you’re mine.”
There was a cough and they turned to see one of the nurses standing at the doorway: “Sorry to interrupt, but the shift is changing. Need to know if you are both going to be here for a while.”
Jane put her right hand on John’s chest, almost possessively, as she answered: “We’ll be here for a while longer. I’ll get him back to the room … after he takes a shower.”
The nurse shook her head as she closed the door: “Right. Don’t forget to turn out the lights.”
Jane didn’t wait outside this time. She walked in with John, closing the door behind them and locking it.
“What are you up to?”
Jane was leaning against the door, her hand on the light switch: “Close your eyes.”
John did, he heard the snap of the switch and when he opened his eyes there was only pitch black to be seen. While he couldn’t see anything, he did hear the rustling of clothes and then the padding of feet around him. The sound of water spraying came next and then he hear Jane’s voice close to his ear.
“Tell me what you’re thinking right now.”
“I’m thinking you’re here, with me, in the shower … and you’re naked.”
He felt Jane’s hands rest on the waistband of his shorts: “I am.” Then he felt her chest press into his back, her breath hot and wet against his cheek: “I’m here, in the dark, where I can do anything I want to you and you won’t know what I am going to do … I could stay here, pressed against you.”
Then she seemed to vanish into thin air, no longer touching him and John waved his hands about him trying to find her.
Her voice came from his right next: “Or I could tease you, whisper all of the things I want to do to you. Tell you exactly what you are thinking right now, all of the things you’d love for me to do, or love to do to me.”
John had never experienced something like this before. It was all Jane’s voice, tempting, teasing, whispering to him, and she had his complete attention. She had more of it when he felt her hands on his shorts again and they being pulled down his legs, then winding up in a puddle around his feet. He felt Jane’s hands steady him and then guide him free of his clothes, before her hands took hold of his shirt and pulled it up and over his head, then heard the sound of it falling into a puddle somewhere in the room in the next moment.
“But you don’t want me to tease you John.”
Her hand … he thought it was her hand … wrapped itself around his shaft and started stroking him slowly as she continued to speak: “I know you’ve been aching for me … how often you’ve been in here … stroking yourself … thinking about me … needing me … wanting me.”
John’s answer was in a whine: “Yesssss … God, yes.”
He wasn’t prepared for the long, slow, wet lick of her tongue, the hum as she kissed her way along and then … stopped … her hand still continuing to stroke slowly.
“You’d love to have me, right now, right here, wouldn’t you? Press me up against the wall, the spray covering us … laying on the floor, me riding you, the water pouring over my curves, your hands cupping me. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“Jane … please … I can’t …”
He gasped in surprise as she rimmed him slowly, sucking deeply and then slipping up and down before breaking free with a pop.
“You won’t. Oh, you’ll come achingly close … so close you’ll scream … but you won’t; not yet. I’ll make sure of that. You’ll see.”
The she was gone again, leaving him achingly hard and gasping. The spray from the shower then poured over his head, soaking him completely. Her hands started to roam over his back, sides, chest, thighs. A sound of something being squirted, then her hands returned, a washcloth, he thought, in one hand, her other following along as she washed him … slowly.
He started to move his hands, to reach out and draw her close, but something slapped at his hand even as he felt her hands still sliding over his body.
“Ah … no. You just stand there. You will return the favour soon enough.”
He wanted to ask why the lights were off, why they were in the dark, but, before those thoughts made it to his voice, they were blotted out by her hands soaping his shaft and by her voice as she did so: “All slippery and wet … and hard now. And here I am … all wet, too.”
She pressed the cloth against his chest, and then she rubbed a leg against his own: “You’d better clean me up before we get all dirty again.”
He took hold of the cloth and at the same time held her hand: “Jane … you’re …”
Her voice was a purr: “… bad? Oh, I’m evil, John. But I’m all yours. Touch me.”
He did. It wasn’t quite a command, but the thought of touching her was overwhelming. He started by drawing the cloth against her neck, over one shoulder and down her arm before moving up again, over her chest and down the other. She whimpered when he didn’t move to cup her chest next, inside running the cloth against her flanks, over her waist and then across her stomach.
“Tell me what you want, Jane.”
She was breathless: “Everything.”
He didn’t give that to her, not quite yet. The cloth moved down one thigh to her toes and then back up the other before he paused. He moved closer to her, cupping her rear, kneading her skin. She pressed her chest against his, her skin slipping against the soap that covered his body. She nuzzled her lips against his neck and moaned needfully for him.
His hands moved up towards the small of her back, expecting to hold her there, draw her close …
… but … something … was in the way.
Time had passed quite pleasantly for the pair as they were waiting for things to unfold. While Tera couldn’t interfere—or rather didn’t want to—in what Jane and John where going through, she was keeping watch over the events the pair were reliving and, occasionally, commenting about them, or other things. It was, in truth, the other thing that was holding much of Tera’s attention at that moment: “So, what do you make of it, my heart?”
He was reading a very old text, peering at the words through his glasses as he did so: “I make of it that it is garbled, unclear, uncertain, and, perhaps most irritating of all, the author has no sense of punctuation whatsoever.”
She leaned back on the couch and smiled: “Well, to be honest, the one that wrote that mess likely was doing so after having more than enough to drink and the scare of her lives.”
“And this is the earliest record of the Dark, is it?”
“The earliest one I know of. There might be others, but I have not found them as yet. Miriam has been looking for me on occasion.”
He smiled: “And?”
She looked perplexed, which for Tera was something rare: “And?”
“And when are you going to tell the brightest yellow tail of the Realm that she …”
Tera took a sip of her tea, then replied: “Oh, I think she knows … or at least suspects. After all, I have been giving her more and more responsibility; although she and Irving really do need to put up signs when they are … busy … in her office. You have no idea how many times I could have opened the door when I was walking by and flustered the two of them to no end.”
He chuckled as he returned to the text he held: “I can guess. But I also know that you are proud of them both as well, Dear One.”
Tera tipped her cup towards him and then took another sip.
He tapped a finger against the old parchment: “As for this: there are some interesting passages about why It is and how It is. It is the picking out of what is useful in this moment that makes things more complicated.”
“That is the thing, is it not? Somewhere in all of that alcohol-induced haze that passes for a story, there is a truth, but to find it … I’m not sure where it is and what to do with it should it be found.”
He leaned forwards and placed the text on the table: “Not if, Dear One: when, and soon, if I come to understand your plan and what needs to happen.”
She nodded, being serious for a moment: “All plans start with the first step, you know. I know that I am at least several dozen steps behind at this moment. However, that does not mean that all is lost.”
He adjusted his glasses: “Excellent. Now, if my Dear One would allow her theologian self to come out for a time. I have some questions.”
Tilting her head to the left, she replied: “I shall need a moment to get some glasses. Possibly put my hair in a bun as well.”
He chuckled: “I think not.”
She sat up again: “I think that the text is, as a whole, meant to divert one’s attention from the truth. Something about the words feels wrong, as if the writer had been made to put the words in against her will and then, when she could act freely again, she put the truth in where she could.”
He considered the text again: “A puzzle? Word scramble? Text within a text, then?”
“You yourself said that the text makes little sense.”
“True. Perhaps it is how one approaches the text that tells the story.”
“In what way?”
He turned his attention back to the text once more: “I will let you know, Dear One, when I find it.”
Tera was rolling her cup in her hands when she suddenly looked in the direction of Jane and John: “It appears they are finally to the point, my heart.”
“Which one would that be, Dear One?”
“The one where she reveals who she is to him. Why she is doing so in a dark room, I have no idea.”
He furrowed his brow in response: “A dark room, you say?”
“Yes. She turned out the lights and … well, Jane is one of the more talented of the Succubi, you know, when it comes to using touch.”
He nodded, but also replied: “But, it is the Dark. And …”
Tera looked at him and then shook her head: “Well, that is not exactly the most original way to spring a trap, is it?”
“Originality is not, as a whole, from what you have told me, one of the things It is known for.”
She smiled, thinly, which then turned quickly into a frown: “So that is what happened. Clever … much too clever.”
He considered her words: “What shall we do?”
“I know what It did. I know where things went wrong and … we are going to have a problem, my heart.”
Peering over his glasses to her, he asked: “Problem, Dear One?”
“This is the part where I did not wish you to be involved. This will be dangerous. Now that I know what happened to them, what It did, this can go one of two ways. Either they overcome what happened themselves, or I am going to.”
He removed his glasses, folding them up carefully and placing them into an inside pocket of his coat: “Not alone.”
Placing her cup on the table, Tera stood and walked over to him: “Never alone, promise. But you must promise not to leave your chair until it is safe.”
He chuckled: “Safe is an interesting term, Dear One. Would you care to be more specific?”
She smiled and kissed his forehead softly before touching his hand: “My heart will know. He always does.”
Tera then turned towards John and Jane, still unmoving and entwined on the couch. As she and her heart both watched, a black fog began to surround the two lovers, their forms becoming indistinct in the murkiness that surrounded them. Tera looked back over her shoulder: “With luck, the Dark will not try to stick Its nose in here to try and keep them in check. It likely is occupied with other things at the moment, which means that one of the minions will be making an appearance.”
He did look concerned, but stood, took two strides to stand with her: “And how do we defend against that possibility?”
Tera nodded in the direction of the fog: “I will keep an eye on that. Should we have a visitor, would you mind terribly greeting them?”
His eyes showed concern over the request: “I am not sure what you mean, exactly, Dear One.”
Her voice was warm, clear, and truthful: “I only ask that you greet them, my heart. You need not do anything more than that.”
He nodded, still unsure: “Just greet them?”
Tera frowned slightly as there was a knock at the door.
He rested a hand on her shoulder: “I’ll see to them.”
Tera clutched at his hand, giving it a squeeze before he turned and walked towards the apartment door. She watched as the fog began to grow from where it encompassed Jane and John before lacing her fingers together and stretching her arms.
Her tail swisched slowly behind her as she focused her attention on the scene in front of her, knowing that her heart was watching her back.
“And here … we … go.”