Merlin's Pawns

“MEREBETH!!”

“Gah!” I dropped the pestle that had been dangling precariously from the tips of my fingers, as I poured over the large grimoire below me, onto the thin leather of my booted foot.

“Ahhhhh!” Grabbing the throbbing foot, I hopped around, muttering a quick healing spell, as the copper horn in the corner of the room vibrated with my name in a high pitched voice.

“I am coming my lady!” I shouted back into the horn, before slamming the large tome before me with a resounding “thunk.” The Siamese cat on the other side of the book, whose silver gray body was wrapped around my hour-glass, peered up at me with her bright green eyes in annoyance.

“Oh don’t give me that look, Tasha!” I hurriedly fumbled with my apron strings knotted behind my back as I eventually pulled the stained cloth away, hanging it on the corner of the closest bookshelf, overflowing with large dusty tomes like the one on the table before me.

“You were supposed to tell me when the time ran out so that I would not be late!” I grabbed fistfuls of potion bottles and scraps of trash, scurrying around the room in a hasty attempt to right my grandfather’s lab. “Now, the Queen is hungry, and you know how she gets when she is hungry.  Ohhh!” I lovingly flicked the naughty kitty’s ear as I passed once more to grab the hefty book, “I just hope she doesn’t drain one of her maids, they can be so hard to replace, and you,” I pointed a wagging finger at the kitty’s pink nose, as she settled her little face against her paws in an effort to continue her nap, “you are a terrible familiar, perhaps I should trade you in for an owl, or a dove? What do you think of that?” Tasha’s only answer was to open her mouth in a wide toothy yawn, her pink tongue curling in the process, as she stretched her paws before her, splaying them wide before curling herself more comfortably around my hourglass.

“Wretched cat,” I muttered before pulling a thin dagger out of my wrist sheath and grabbing a jeweled goblet from its tray. Walking over to the tall iron cage nestled in the corner of the room, I reached through the bars, grabbed an arm, and dragged the huddled pile of rags, bones, and flesh towards me until the limp arm was almost fully extended outside the bars. Curling the dirty fingers of the hand into a fist, I tied a thick scrap of fabric around the upper arm before I punctured the vein in the center of the inner elbow.  No sound came from the pile of rags inside the cage, as the head of stringy brown hair, lolled against the bars, eyes closed in its sun-lined face.  As the blood spilled forth from the wound, I lifted the arm over the goblet, letting the dark liquid fill the cup to the brim. Whispering another healing spell over the wound, I untied the fabric and folded the arm back in. Placing the goblet back upon its tray, I tried to ignore the vibrating horn on the wall where my name, mixed with a few other choice words, was still issuing forth.

Surveying the room, to make sure I had cleaned up enough, I asked Tasha to keep watch over the room, and made my way into the already crowded hall of the very busy castle.  Despite the cat preferring her naps to helping me stay on time, she was otherwise a very good familiar and a great comfort.  Guarding my grandfather’s lab, and everything in it was only one of her many tasks.  Even though our prisoner was almost to the end of his life, and would soon be returned to his origins of dirt, there were many valuable things in Merlin’s lab. As his granddaughter, he was teaching me everything he knew, and had just given me that new book to work on last night, and I had spent the entire night pouring over it, trying to get a head start on the spell he expected me to have mastered by the end of the week.

As I carefully dodged servants in the hall scurrying about on their daily tasks, mingled with merchants and men on business to the court, I continued to go over the finer points of the spell in my mind.  Most of the books my grandfather had me work through had been all too easy, and although I had begged for something harder, it wasn’t until my seventeenth birthday last week that he finally agreed to let me try something more challenging, a spell that could affect a group of people rather than just one or two.

Rounding a corner, I came to an abrupt halt into a little alcove on the west side of the castle that held a statue of Apollo chasing after the nymph Daphne. The statue was placed conveniently in front of a tapestry depicting one of Arthur’s many great battles, and also hid a private door leading to the Queen’s chambers known by a select few.  Unfortunately the secluded nature of this alcove also encouraged amorous liaisons like the one before me now, causing me to nearly spill the Queen’s breakfast.  The tangle of limbs, hair, and bunched fabric, made it hard to be certain who was involved and when my very loud throat clearing still did not separate the couple, I did the next best thing. Picking up the goblet in one hand, where my body heat would hopefully keep its contents warm, I place the tray between me and the moaning writhing mass of limbs, shoving them out of the way, where they tumbled from their perch on the wide ledge of the statue’s base, onto the floor.

“Ugh, get a room!” I stuck my tongue out at them before quickly shimmying behind the heavy fabric of the tapestry, pushing open the thick oak door I came upon next with my shoulder.  Shoving the slab closed with my foot, I quickly strode down the short hallway, placing the goblet back on its tray before entering the queen’s chamber via another thick door.

“Merebeth!” she exclaimed, the minute my figure darkened her doorway. She was getting the finishing touches placed on her dark hair and dress by her ladies’ maids, and even though they were still fussing over her, she shooed them away, barking at them to move faster. The moment the last slippered foot disappeared around the corner, I was by her side, and the goblet was in her outstretched hands.  She gulped the contents greedily, as I pulled a handkerchief out of the basket of linen set on her wardrobe table. When she finished she snatched the cloth from my hands, with bared red teeth, and proceeded to blot her stained lips and chin. Tossing the cloth in my face she turned once more toward the mirror, twisting her body back and forth as she examined her reflection, smoothing the velvet of her dress down across her already flat stomach as she sucked it in further and tugged the edges of her lace bodice lower exposing the mounds of her tiny bosom.

“What took you so long?” She didn’t wait for my answer, as she continued in her nagging sulky voice, “You should have been here first thing this morning, before my maids got here. I could have killed one of them! Ugh!” she stomped her tiny foot, as I handed her goblet back to her, now refilled with freshly poured water.  She swished the water about in her mouth, before tilting her head back with a gurgle. I knew any response I had would be useless, so I did not even bother attempting to come up with one, as I waited patiently for her to finish cleansing her mouth so I could take the goblet back to Merlin’s lab. 

Queen Guinevere was a vampire, of our making.  Arthur did not always listen to Merlin’s council, and my grandfather needed to have a permanent bee in his ear. So, when he heard that he pined for the daughter of King Ryon of Ireland, he set his plan in motion.  With help from a vampire friend from Rome, and me, he inflicted the young princess with a deadly illness before her wedding.  He then told her father, that he could cure the young girl, but that the cure came with a price. She would be immortal, but would need to survive off the blood of humans. Valuing an alliance with England’s new warrior king more than his daughter’s happiness Ryon made the deal, and Merlin’s friend made the change. Now, Queen Guinevere, counts on my grandfather and I to keep her steadily supplied with blood from the worst criminals that can be found in the dungeon and we keep her secrets.  In return, she provides the seduction and advice needed to prompt Arthur into taking the right paths of kingship. So, far it was a win-win. Well, almost…

The Queen was in the middle of her third swish and spit, when another figure emerged quietly through the secret door that was well hidden behind some decorative wall silks. The Queen gave a muffled squeal of delight through her puffed water filled cheeks before spitting the contents out in her wash basin, running the back of her hand across her still red lips, and jumping in the strong arms of the tall black haired young man before her.  Their lips quickly met and amid a series of giggles, shrieks and the slapping of roving hands were well on their way to resembling the couple in the alcove when another voice followed by a loud knock sounded at the large front door, used by most, that served as entry into her chamber.  The Queen and the young man flew apart, as her husband proceeded to ask for entry into her chamber from the other side of the door.  I was already halfway through the secret door, attempting to avoid watching the tonsil match, when the voice of the king had me casting a quick glance over my shoulder to see the beseeching gestures of the Queen as she attempted to shoo the reluctant Lancelot toward the secret door.  He had obviously too much wine before he came because his flush face had erupted into giggles behind his hand, and he moved with the languid grace of man half asleep. Rolling my eyes as the Queen’s face turned from beseeching to murderous, I grabbed Lancelot by the collar, slapped him with a silence spell and all but dragged him through the door into the narrow hallway, where it took much fumbling and whispered curses on my end to free my skirts from under his feet, as his too warm body pressed rigidly against my own. Once I managed to pull him by his sweaty palm out the other door back into the alcove, that was fortunately now vacant, I removed the silence spell from him, where he promptly burst into a fierce volley of curses, his good humor now gone. Kicking the door we had just passed through, he paced in front of the statue, running fingers through his thick black curls, anger snapping in his dark green eyes. 

“Damn it! Why must I always run? She said she had told him about us!”

He then stopped before me; nose inches from my brow as his massive frame hovered over me,

“You can do magic, why can you not take care of this for us?  Give Arthur a spell so that he will understand and let us go?”

My fingertips tingled with energy as I had the sudden urge to dig them in his chest, giving his heart a good jolt of well-deserved pain, “Have you not thought, perhaps that she does not want to go?”

I knew in that moment that I had probably pressed my luck too far, as I smelled the sharp tang of wine on his breath. Knights were sensitive creatures, making them volatile under drink, and often unpredictable.  Fortunately, Lancelot knew what I was capable of because whatever was written on my face, caused him to take a step back, dipping his head to look at the tops of his boots. A few dark curls fell across his brow, reminding me that he was only a few years older than me, despite the many horrors of life he had witnessed, and battles he had fought.

“Ah little witch,” his voice was not unkind as he shook his head in sorrow, “you know not what love is.”

With that he turned on his heel, disappearing into the throng of people clogging the hallway. I stood there a moment, hands on hips, lips twisted as I wondered what could be done about this predicament.  The affair between Lancelot and Guinevere was getting out of control.

A warm furry body, pressed against my calf, and the rumble of a purr pulled me from my thoughts as I looked into Tasha’s bright green eyes peering up at me.

I sighed, “Where to, love?” and followed her flicking tail as she led me through halls and up staircases until I reached another chamber door.  Gazing at the familiar iron filigree as it wound across the door before me I looked down at the feline sitting patiently at my feet.

“Are you sure?”

She nodded her head, before rubbing her body across the bottom of the door. Calming my ratcheting heart, I knocked softly a few times before turning to walk away.

“No one home,” I breathed in relief, but my steps were quickly halted by the bristling, yowling ball of fur in my way.  “Oh, all right!” I groaned, stomping back to the door and giving it a firmer knock.

“Enter!”

Pushing the door open, I stepped into the warm comfortable space that was the King’s study.  The young monarch was standing next to his desk, riffling through a stack of parchments when I approached him. His head remained bent, fair golden shoulder length locks, forming a soft curtain around his face. Finding his quarry, he straightened up holding out a folded bit of parchment in my direction.

I didn’t manage to quell the gasp that escaped my lips when his face finally came into view, for he had a large red imprint of a hand across his cheek. Despite now having an explanation for why he had returned to his chambers so quickly, I couldn’t help but ask, “Sire, would you like, um…for me…to ah…”

I pointed to the mark on his cheekbone, right above his fair beard, my finger aching to reach its desired destination despite my self-control.

“Oh, this?” he waved a hand toward the red mark, “sure, if you want.”

I nodded, nervously licking my lips, as I pressed three fingers to his cheek, unable to take my eyes of his piercing blue ones as I muttered the incantation. It was a wonder I remembered the words at all, amid my drowning, and I quickly withdrew my fingers from his face, stuffing them in the folds of my skirt.

He smiled softly at my behavior before thrusting the folded parchment between us once more. 

“Here,” his voice sounded unusually shaky, “your grandfather asked for me to find this and send it to him as soon as I could. Please tell him I would have gotten it to him sooner, but could not find him.  Fortunately I spotted Tasha in the hall, and asked her to find him for me.”

I nodded, my mouth felt dry, as though it was filled with sand.  I should have explained that as my familiar, Tasha would only know where to find me, but I couldn’t unhinge my jaw enough to speak.

Swallowing thickly, I tugged the parchment out of the King’s reluctant fingers, shivering as I felt his crystal blue eyes on my back when I left the room.  He was till staring after me, as I glanced over my shoulder before closing his door behind me, a ghost of a smile playing with the edges of his full lips.

Gasping for air, I finally gathered my wits about me, closing my eyes; I concentrated on my grandfather’s whereabouts.  Feeling his energy, I followed the thread of magic, back down to his lab.

Upon entering I handed him the folded parchment that was now stained with my nervous sweat before collapsing on the large chair, hiding under silks and furs, in the corner of the room.

“Ah, there you are my child! How has your morning gone? I see you have been eagerly working on the new spell?”

I gazed lovingly at the grizzled man standing over a small boiling cauldron, lit from below with witch fire.  The same kind face, with the wisdom of the ages lining his face, peered at me through the steam of his new potion, waiting my answer.

I offered him a weak smile, before resting my head against the tall back of the chair beneath me.

“Fine,” I groaned.

“Come, come Merebeth, what troubles you?” He stuck a long-handled copper ladle into the mixture stirring it about before pouring it carefully into some empty vials. I instantly recognized the metallic scent of the formula that was given to our special prisoners that kept their blood supply up for the Queen.

“The lovely triangle going on between Lancelot, Guinevere, and the King, is getting out of hand, Grand-pere, and I do not know how much longer I can stand covering up for that little wench!”

Merlin gave me a stern glance before returning to his project, but he was nodding his head, “Yes, I have noticed that matters have worsened over the past few months, Lancelot is growing bold, and Guinevere careless.”

“I just wish we could do something about it! Can we not make a potion to force Guinevere to hate Lancelot, but love Arthur, more? You know be the Queen he actually deserves?”

“You mean like you, ma Cherie?
I felt the heat creep across my cheeks at his words.  I knew that I could not hide my regard for the King from my grandfather for long, but I did my best to try.  It seemed as if I had not succeeded for long.

“Well,” Merlin placed the final stopper in the last vial, before opening the King’s note, and read it with a furrowed brow that soon smoothed across his alabaster skin, as he smiled in satisfaction. Muttering a few words the paper was consumed in flames, its ashes promptly scattered by Merlin’s breath.
“Fortunately, I have a plan.”

“You do?”

He smiled kindly before pulling forth a fresh sheet of paper, scribbling a quick note on it, folding it, and then placing it in the capable beak of his hawk familiar, Percival. The elegant bird quickly disappeared out the window, into the bright cloudless day.

“I had Arthur send me a list of Lancelot’s gaming debts. Apparently there are many, and he has become so destitute and frivolous in his spending that he has become an embarrassment to his peers.”

I was barely aware of my body leaning forward, eager for Merlin’s plan.

“I have just sent in a favor to an old fey friend of mine. If she accepts the request then she will provide Lancelot with a love he can be proud of and the money he needs to earn back his honor among his friends.”

“So, that’s it?” The disgust was thick in my tone, “he threatens to ruin everything we have worked for and you are going to reward him?”

Merlin smiled fondly at me, as he gathered his dark green robes about his sturdy old body, sinking into the chair opposite mine. He patted my hand tenderly with his gnarled one, before removing a pipe from the small table between us and stuffing it with his favorite grass. “My dear, Lancelot needs a distraction, and Guinevere needs to learn a lesson. This is for the best.”

“Hmph,” I eyed him warily as I tugged a book off the precariously tipping pile next to my chair, settling it my lap, as I tucked my feet beneath me, “what he needs is his head removed.”

Merlin smiled around his billowing pipe, “Perhaps later, my dear.”

The next day, word arrived from Merlin’s friend, agreeing to his request, and the next month became almost unbearable.  Lancelot had become the laughingstock of the Round Table, so he left to sulk in the woods where he was miraculously approached by three beautiful maidens who bid him come dine at their mistress’ table. True to her word, the beautiful fey, seduced the brash knight, vowing to love him, and showering him in gifts of coin, clothes, and food.  As soon as the Queen caught wind of Lancelot’s fortune that left her bed cold she went on a slight rampage, draining no less than ten of her maidens, and a few other servants as well. Despite keeping her supplied with double the amount of blood, Merlin and I had to inflict the castle with a mild plague to cover her tracks. One hot afternoon, after disposing of yet another body, I collapsed into my favorite chair, too tired to clean the blood from my hands.

“Grand-pere?” I yawned, struggling to keep my heavy lids open, as they fought against two nights of lost sleep. “Will this be over soon?”

Merlin’s grey head was bent over another piece of parchment, his dark blue eyes, darted across the page, soaking in its message with a smile.

“I believe so,” the paper crumbled once more to ash in his palm before he looked up, “Merebeth, make haste to the Queen’s room. Lancelot is on his way to break the news of his engagement to Guinevere. I need to you be sure she does not try to drain him as well.”

“Great,” I groaned, rising to my throbbing feet, and rubbing my gritty eyes. Hastening to the Queen’s chambers, muttering a healing, cleaning, and energy spell, I made no pretense at secrecy as I barged into the room, for the screaming had started when I was still quite far down the hall.

“Please my lady!” I came up behind the screaming Queen, her quivering naked back was to me, her fair skin flushed with splotches of rage, as I wrapped my arms around her waist, pining her arms to her side.

She barely paid me any mind, as Lancelot, backed out of the secret door, one hand holding up his torn tunic, another raised in defense against the heat of the words she hurled his way. As soon as the door closed behind him, I spun her around, shaking her by the shoulders.

“My Queen, what is the meaning of this? Do you want the entire castle to come running?”

I looked into her brimming hazel eyes, as tears streaked down her cheeks.  Blood trickled down her chin where her sharp fangs had undoubtedly extended during her rampage, and she had bitten her lip. The unabashed pain in her eyes melted my heart slightly, as I wrapped her robe around her shaking shoulders. I quickly realized from her scented room that she had been attempting to seduce her lover back.

Rolling my eyes at the absurdity of the situation, I coaxed her to the couch where I sat next to her, placing her head in my lap, I pierced my wrist with the sharp edge of my nail, letting her feed from my wrist as I smoothed her hair, and dried her tears.  She whimpered like a child as she sucked greedily from my wrist, and once I felt her heart beat calm, I gently pried my arm out of her grasp, rubbing her temples in soothing strokes.

“Do not worry, my Queen, you still have a husband who adores you. Lancelot is nothing.”

She sniffled loudly before sitting up, her eyes raking over my face in sincerity.

“You are right,” she said through hic-upped breaths, as she ran her fingers along the silk edges of her robe. “He will pay for his disrespect to me.”

Grimacing, at her words I pondered where to push, but realized that this was all a part of Merlin’s plan. Guinevere had been hurt, but she had not yet learned her lesson.  Leaving her to her sulking thoughts, I made my way back to my room, thinking only of my soft pillow, when I nearly ran into the King, leaning against the wall halfway down the hall from his chamber to the Queen’s.

“My lord!” I quickly hid my embarrassment in a low curtsey, which Arthur waved away with a hand.

“No, please, Merebeth, don’t.” His hand, gently cradling my elbow sent heat coursing through my veins, until it settled into a dull ache in the pit of my stomach. Rising from my curtsey, I offered a nervous grimace before continuing on my way.

“Merebeth,” I froze, realizing that he had just used my name twice, and my heart leapt with excitement, soon quelled by his next words. “Will she forget him soon?”

I turned back to look at the King, hope etched across his fine features as he pushed off from the wall and took a few steps towards me. I nodded dumbly, licking my lips free of their usual fear at what his heady musk scent that radiated from him, often did to melt my bones.

“I believe she will, sir.”

He offered a soft smile, his right cheek dimpling in a boyish way as he nodded, “Good.”

“Wait, you knew about her and---“

“Lancelot?” he finished for me.

I gulped, wondering how much damage her little tryst had done, and how we were going to fix it.

“I’ve known for a while,” he clasped his hands behind his back, rocking back on his heels as he cocked his head at me thoughtfully.

“What are you going to do?” I kicked myself inwardly at my sudden rash outburst, and held my breath for his answer.

“Nothing,” he shrugged, his curls brushing against the soft velvet of his tunic, “she loved me once, and I have faith in Merlin that,” he sighed deeply, “all will be well in the end.”

“Oh,” I mumbled, looking down at my foot as I made circles on the stone floor, “right.”

“But, you Merebeth, are an invaluable jewel,” I looked up quickly and was face to face with the hollow of his neck, pulsing slightly from waves of his heartbeat, “I would be lost without you.”

I stood wide-eyed staring dumbly as the silky threads of his beard lowered into my view, and he brushed a tickle of a kiss across my cheek.

Somehow, although, I later do not remember doing so, I managed to drop another courtesy, mumble my gratitude and flee to my room, where I laid curled in my bed, holding my cheek, worried that the mark of his lips would suddenly dissolve if I did not hold it in place.

The next few days happened in a blur that I still barely remember. Guinevere accused Lancelot of dishonor by seduction, and a trial was held.  Lancelot, maintained his innocence by calling on his new consort, who before the noose was tightened around the knight’s neck, finally came parading with her stunningly gorgeous handmaidens down the street. She vouched for his honor, Lancelot was set free, and Guinevere was publicly humiliated and had finally learned her lesson. Knowing that she was no longer the most desirable maiden in the land, was a large piece of humble pie for her to consume.

Things have not been the same between her and Arthur since, and he still does not know that she is a vampire, or that she is under our control.  She is learning to control her urges more, and there have been fewer accidents, but she is still short tempered.  There also seems to be another issue that even the great Merlin was not able to predict. She has not been able to conceive, and the kingdom of Camelot will soon need an heir. Before rumors spread and other women come to dethrone our Queen to take her place, my grandfather and I have our work cut out for us.

Merlin’s friend from Rome, who turned Guinevere, arrives tomorrow, and as I clean the lab in anticipation for his arrival I have my usual chat with Tasha.

“Please, feline, for the love of all that is holy, don’t mess things up for us.  I see what you have been up to, lately. Finding me and taking me to the King when he has not asked for me. It has been making things very awkward as of late, and wherever you have hidden those fertility spells, you best find them quick.  We have a royal baby to make.”

Blinking up at me with her bright green eyes, Tasha let out a throaty meow, that sounded more like a chuckle, before curling herself around my hourglass, and tucking her nose under her tail for a nice long nap.

 

 

 

The Book of Thoth

Photo credit:  See-ming Lee via Flickr  

Photo credit:  See-ming Lee via Flickr

 

The pounding in Richard’s head was incessant. With a groan, he felt something hit his forehead. It only took a moment for him to realize that it was his own hand. Working his fingers to massage the delicate skin of his brow, he mentally berated himself for having that last shot of Jaeger last night. Or was it technically this morning? That was a big mistake.

Coffee, he needed coffee and he needed it now. He wasn’t quite sure how he managed to untangle himself from his sheets and the limbs of the girl sleeping next to him. Stacy, Sheila, Shannon? His groggy mind tossed around names as he stumbled into his kitchen. Ugh, it was too early to try and remember her name. He knew it started with an “s,” or at least he was pretty sure it did. Scratching his bare chest, he blinked the sleep out of his eyes. The grains felt like large pebbles instead of the tiny pieces they were, and he popped a k-cup into his Keurig. Just as the rich aroma of his favorite blonde roast filled his post party cluttered kitchen, the banging in his head seemed to somehow transfer to his front door.

“Alright, alright! Owwww!” Richard somehow made it to the door, swinging it open, “Do ya mind? It’s---“ he blinked into the fluorescent light of his building’s hallway before focusing on the two people standing in front of him. He actually had no idea what hour it was, or even the day. “Well, there’s never any good time to bang on anyone’s door.”

“Christ Almighty,” gasped a female voice that echoed in the hall.

“Nope, you just missed him, ‘bout 2,015 years ago, but thanks for calling, ‘bye.” Richard moved to slam the door in the wide eyed face of the petite woman in front of him, but the man beside her slapped his palm against the particle board wood, preventing it from closing.

“Mr. Mason, we’re with the FBI—“ both the man and woman quickly flipped open badges in Richard’s face, “---I’m Special Agent Wilson and this is my partner, Special Agent Carney. May we come in and have a few words?”

Richard sighed, letting the door swing open before he turned to head for the kitchen as he scratched his bare bottom, “I guess.”

Agent Carney cleared her throat as her heeled steps clattered on the floor behind him. “Um, do you think you could, ahem, cover yourself?”

Richard pulled his full mug from the machine and threw a few spoonfuls of sugar in it. Swirling the spoon around in the mug, he turned to look at the woman who was standing awkwardly in the furthest corner of his tiny kitchen, staring pointedly at a brown water stain on the ceiling.

“Well, Agent Carney---“ Richard leaned back against his counter, crossing his feet at the ankles as he blew on his coffee, “you’re in my house invading my personal time. I think I should be able to dress however I see fit. Or not.” He issued a tight smile in her direction that she barely caught when she lowered her eyes a fraction before lifting them once more to the spot on the ceiling. From the looks of her ill-fitting suit, dirty blonde hair pulled back into a severe pony-tail and sensible black shoes, she probably didn’t get to see many naked 22 year olds. He thought about making his pecs dance for her but considered that might be going too far.  He didn’t need a woman swooning in his kitchen, he already had one in his bed.

“Hey, hot stuff, just cover up a bit so my partner can do her job, ok?” Agent Wilson was staring at Richard disapprovingly, his hands hiked up on his hips. Richard was instantly reminded of his father and a corner of his upper lip curled slightly in a snarl. His dad used to stand in the same manner, with the same look of condescension clouding his brown eyes and wrinkling his brow.

Richard grabbed a dish towel and draped it across his hips. Despite his lean 6 foot 3 frame, the towel didn’t quite wrap around, but some careful tucking would keep it in place if he didn’t move.

“Happy?”

Agent Carney’s grey eyes flickered in his direction once again, while shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. “You only have one?”

“That’s clean, yeah, there’s a whole roll of paper towels on that shelf behind you if you’d care to wrap me up. But really doll, I’m not into the whole mummy fantasy.” He quickly hid his smirk in his mug as he took another sip.

A large sigh from Agent Wilson as he shook his bald head gave the blushing Carney a good distraction. “Look can we just get on with it?”

Agent Carney nodded to her exasperated partner as she bit her bottom lip, steeling herself to the task at hand. Richard wondered at her age. She didn’t look fresh from the academy, but she didn’t look more than 27, either. He was unsettling her. At one point, the thought would have thrilled him, but unsettling people, especially women, was getting a little dull.

“Right.” Agent Carney cleared her throat once more before looking at Richard. “We need your help.”

“That much is certain.” Richard took another sip from his coffee, wiggling his eyebrows at her as he lowered the mug, but this time she powered through her speech.

“When you were at MIT, you and your three best friends formed a hacker ring called ‘The New Kingdom.’ After your group crashed the DOW, stole files from the new database set up to manage the nation’s healthcare and rigged the last presidential election, you disbanded. While we are grateful not to be looking over our backs anymore, it seems as if your friends have become active again.”

“Agent Carney, you’ve been misinf---“

“I’m not done.” Agent Carney shook her head, lips tightening into a thin line as though the worst was yet to come. “Your friends seem to be looking for something, something they can’t find and they are destroying the security of cyber intelligence worldwide in their quest to find it. Their correspondence suggests they think it’s hidden in Egypt somewhere, but what we can’t figure out is why they have been slowly destroying the financial and security systems of small countries in their quest to find it.”

“Egypt?” Richard scoffed, “I’m sorry, but you lost me right after ‘you disbanded.’ I left that group for a reason, I don’t do any of that stuff anymore. I’m sorry, but I can’t help.”

“Son, you mean to tell me that after graduating high school at the age of 12 and MIT at 16 that that brain of yours just stopped working?” Agent Wilson was looking up at him from beneath his bushy grey eyebrows. Once again, an image of Richard’s military father flashed before his eyes. He never could figure out how a man shorter than he was could still look up at him like that.

“I’m sorry guys, but I---“

A shuffling noise and a stifled yawn drew all eyes to the doorway of Richard’s room.  His mystery girl from last night appeared wearing one of his white t-shirts, her black hair tumbled past her shoulders in messy waves. Richard’s heart felt tight at the sight of her. He couldn’t believe her name was slipping his mind. Her olive skin seemed to glimmer in the shaft of sunlight pouring in through the tiny window in his kitchen, as her lithe frame padded across the small space toward him.

“Hi Peggy, hi Mike.” She fluttered a few fingers and a bright smile in their direction. Richard’s skin felt hot and prickled with adrenaline. She knew them?

“Setne,” Agent Carney nodded in her direction, a look of relief washing over her face.

“Good morning, ahem, Agent Daher.” Now it was Agent Wilson’s turn to sound uncomfortable.

His red face was soon blocked from Richard’s view by a pair of almond shaped brown eyes looking up into his. She pressed her hips into his groin, kissing him, reminding his body just how much fun last night was. A sputtered cough on the other side of the room broke through the haze in his brain as Setne pulled away. She remained inches from his face, looking imploringly into his eyes.

“You’ll help, right?”

Richard swallowed hard, trying to regain control of his faculties. The more his mind flashed through images of the night before, the more he wondered why he had said “no” to the agents standing awkwardly in his kitchen. Then a gruesome memory followed the images of last night’s fun.

“No” Richard shook his head before planting his hands on Setne’s hips and shoving her to the side. “I left that group for a reason, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own.”

Setne turned from him, nonplussed by his refusal and swept a small group of empty beer bottles off the counter and into the sink. Richard cringed at the crashing, shooting her a glare, as she pulled a loaf of bread forward and proceeded to pop two pieces into the toaster. She seemed completely at home, as if, other than last night, this wasn’t the first time she had been in his home. He realized that it probably wasn’t.

As the tiny space filled with the scent of cooking bread, Setne bustled about getting everything she wanted for her breakfast and asking the other agents if they wanted anything. Richard’s mouth hung open in bemused shock. Just who did this woman think she was?

Once the agents had politely refused her attempts to feed them, she returned to the topic at hand.

“Look, we’re sorry about what happened to your mother, it was unfortunate.” She didn’t even give Richard a chance to respond, not that the topic of his mother’s kidnapping and murder was really breakfast conversation. “Did you guys tell him about Egypt?”

“Well, we started to, but…” Agent Carney’s defense trailed off.

Setne offered a dazzling smile that seemed to calm Carney’s nerves before pressing on.

“Yes,” she turned narrowed eyes at Richard, “we managed to capture one of your old friends and he keeps going on and on about Egypt, sand, pyramids, and sarcophagi….”

She threw an exasperated hand in the air, before grabbing a knife and buttering her toast with a little more energy than necessary. Richard felt a small stab of satisfaction when she ripped a hole in the middle.

Through gritted teeth, Setne continued, “We just can’t figure out what Egypt has to do with this book they seem to be looking for. We’ve been watching them for months now, and neither they nor any of their associates have made any plans to visit the country or make contacts within it. We also don’t see why a bunch of hackers would have a need for a book.”

Richard shrugged a shoulder with an air of carelessness, “Maybe they need a bed time story. Hackers get scared of the dark too, you know.”

Setne leveled the knife in his direction, eying him down the length of the dull blade. He had no doubt she could probably kill him in twenty different ways with that thing. He had a feeling she was more than FBI. Her movements were too sure and controlled as well as graceful. The fun and easy going image she had presented last night had been quickly shed while talking business. “You know what they’re after, don’t you?”

Richard spread his hands wide with another shrug.

“Well, it’s a shame you don’t. I guess we will just have to work on young Morrison a little longer.”

“You’ve got Skitter?” Richard bolted out of his languid slouch, not caring when the towel plummeted to the floor.

Setne licked at the jelly that had dribbled down the side of her palm, her eyes focused on Richard’s now tense frame. Agent Carney and Wilson, who had been leaning forward, swept up in the tete-a-tete before them, now inched closer.

Setne smiled knowingly. All it took was mentioning the group’s youngest member, and Richard would be caught.

“Picked him up last week,” she said with nonchalance, “He doesn’t care much for isolation, does he?

“Oh no,” Richard breathed. He felt the heat of anger spread across his chest. “No, no he doesn’t.”

Jeremy Morrison, or Skitter, as the group had fondly called him was an autistic genius. He didn’t have the best social skills, but his way around computers, especially encryptions was unparalleled.

Richard pushed away from the counter, stalking towards his bedroom, his angry steps reverberating through the thin floors. The downstairs neighbors would be pissed. He’d probably get kicked out if they complained again. Suddenly he didn’t care.

“Where are you going?” Agent Carney asked all eyes were now on him. Setne looked triumphant, Wilson and Carney concerned.

“To change!” Richard called out over his shoulder before slamming the door on them. He yanked open drawers and began angrily struggling into his clothes.

“You’re going to take me to Skitter!” he shouted at the door.

Agent Wilson looked at the girls incredulously, shaking his head at the outburst. “How’s he supposed to change when he wasn’t wearing anything?”

Setne rolled her eyes as she popped the last bite of toast into her mouth while Carney snorted, a smile playing on the edges of her lips.

 

 

By the time Richard entered the white-walled holding cell, where Skitter was kept, his blood was positively boiling. The sixteen year old boy was curled into a fetal position on an empty cot, reciting King Richard III.

“…O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me! The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight. Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh…”

Shakespeare was the one thing that could soothe Skitter, and he was always partial to the history plays. Richard smirked at the irony before him, shaking his head. Softly, he began reciting the rest of the monologue with Skitter, and together, they finished the rest of the play.

Skitter hadn’t looked at Richard the entire time they spoke, but as the last word fell between them, he finally lifted his pale blue eyes.

“Hiya kiddo. How’re you holding up?” Richard asked from his cross legged position on the floor. In a flash, Skitter launched himself at Richard, flinging his arms around his neck in a bear hug.

A flow of babbling words erupted from the scrawny kid and despite the chaotic message it didn’t take Richard long to figure out what Skitter was saying. When he, Josh, and Celia had first started the group, they had given all of their jobs themes based on lessons in their other classes. If someone overheard them talking about a hack, most would assume they were discussing a school project instead. History was often one of the easiest subjects to use for covering their tracks, but the legends and myths of various cultures made it even easier. After five minutes, Richard knew everything, even the information he had left the group over.

“Skitter,” Richard placed his hands on the boy’s shoulders, pushing him back to look into his child like face, “Ready to get outta here?”

With a loud sniff and a rub of his sleeve across his nose, Skitter nodded.

“Ok then.” Richard popped his head out into the sterile hallway, and with a glance to the guard on duty asked for Agent Daher. He had found out on his drive to the FBI’s New York headquarters that Setne was with the CIA. This was her three ringed circus and she was the master.

By the time she entered the room, now dressed in an expertly cut pantsuit instead of his t-shirt, Skitter had begun repeating random words again.

“The waters of Coptus…kill the mummies, defend the sand, the pyramids hold the keys to the waters. The waters hide the book…the Book of Tho—“

Richard broke in, “Skitter, calm down, shhhhhh…how does Henry IV start?”

As Skitter began a fresh recital, Richard turned to a bemused Setne, his hands on his hips.

“If you want my help, I want three things.”

“Oh, only three?” Setne laughed short and low.

Richard gave her a quelling look. “Yeah. Skitter gets to go and you don’t press charges, I want the murder of my mother re-opened and it needs to stay open until it’s solved, and lastly…” Richard’s lips curled in disdain as he delivered his final ultimatum. “I want immunity from any further technology related activity I conduct.”

Setne frowned as she considered the options. She paced back and forth in the tiny cell, casting glares at both of the men.

“Look,” she took in a deep breath, “I don’t have the power to grant all of those requests. I can meet the first, but your father has already been charged with your mother’s murder, and I can’t promise you the third without getting higher approval.”

Skitter’s recital was getting louder and he was now jumping on the wafer thin mat of his cot. His energy and the repetitive thumping raised the tension in the room.

Richard crossed his arms, “Did I mention we have a 24 hour time limit? Look, my friends stole something from me, and in the process of selling it on the black market got my mother killed. Yeah, my dad was a controlling asshole, but he worshipped my mother. He would never would’ve hurt her. However, if you want the Book of Thoth, then you’ll have to meet my demands. In 24 hours, its contents will be accessible by multiple buyers, and you’ll have utter chaos on your hands.”

Setne stopped in front of Richard, looking him over carefully. “And how, do you propose to get this program back?”

“Skitter told me everything I already need to know. You give me a computer and access to the government’s network, and I do mean the entire network, 12 hours, and I’ll recover the program.”

“Well now,” Setne tilted her face up, her lips hovered before Richard’s. All he had to do was tilt his head forward a fraction of a centimeter and that mouth would once again belong to him. He swallowed thickly, steeling himself against her charms. “That brings your demands up to six.” Her breath smelled like cinnamon, and it was warm across his bottom lip. Richard remained frozen.

“Fine.” Setne stepped back, breaking the spell, and walked toward the door. “Let’s get to work. Gregory…” She motioned to the guard and gave him orders for Skitter’s release. The moment the boy heard the news of his imminent exit he jumped off the cot and, sailing past Richard, followed the guard down the hall.

“And he didn’t even say goodbye.” Setne tsked, “Some friend.”

Richard scowled at her. “Tick-tock Agent Daher.”

Setne motioned him to follow her and they turned to walk down the hall in the opposite direction from Skitter and the guard. They soon came upon a set of heavy oak doors and after swiping a badge and pressing in codes, they were omitted into another long corridor with grey commercial carpeting and closed office doors lining each side of the hall. Another turn spit them out into a large room, partitioned off with cubicles. Setne smiled and greeted various people they passed, but after a few more heavy doors with tighter and tighter security, the number of people they came across waned. Finally, after stopping in a break room for some surprisingly good coffee and a handful of donuts for Richard, they entered into a large room full of computers.

The room was empty and the monitors black, but Setne logged into the nearest one as Richard pulled out the ergonomic chair.

“So,” she leaned over his shoulder as his fingers flew over the keyboard, instantly working his way through every data base the government had. “Are you going to explain to me what we are looking for and what the connection is with Egypt?”

Without his fingers breaking their stride and his eyes continuously scanning the screen, Richard explained how each of their hacks were given themes often rooted in history or mythology.

“Okay,” Setne’s voice held a layer of skepticism, “What are we looking for.”

“I am looking for a program, broken up into pieces and hidden within the United States government’s infrastructure of databases. The program is called The Book of Thoth and is named after an Egyptian god who was believed to have created the first language and wrote the secrets of the cosmos and life in a book.”

Setne leaned forward further, scrutinizing the screen that was now filling with more windows, covered in various codes. “I’m guessing this program doesn’t contain the secrets to the universe.”

Richard felt prickles of irritation erupt across the back of his neck. There was no way he was going to spend the next twelve hours with her hovering over him like that. If what Skitter had said was true, the book had been very well hidden and he was going to need every minute and every ounce of focus he had.  He might have achieve god-like status in the world of cyber intelligence, but a hack like this required usually required more than one person.

“You know what I could really kill for right now?”

Setne straightened up, eyeing him carefully, wondering what his next request would be. Richard kept his eyes on his work.

“I could go for some Twizzlers, Red Bull, and beef jerky.  Get me the good stuff, though, none of that Slim Jim shit.”

“Sure,” Setne sounded peeved, “Whatever his royal highness requires.” The minute the door closed behind her, he smirked as he pulled out a thin USB from the inside of his shoe. He quickly plugged it into the back of the computer’s hard drive and created a hidden file from it. He needed to make sure his work was copied and saved automatically.

As the rest of the hours progressed, he routinely sent Setne out on errands for her to get him random things. Each time she’d huff away, but when she came back, she peppered him with questions. He was beginning to wish he had feigned not being able to talk while working. But, she eventually got the story out of him.

The Book was a special program that powered a chip which could be surgically inserted into the brain of an individual that would then send signals that could enhance or suppress certain functions of the brain. Richard had created it based on his neurosurgeon mother’s discoveries. After stealing it from him, his friends had apparently hired another hacker to hide it, but he too had been murdered.

“But why would---“

Her question was cut short by a commotion outside the door of their room. She had been leaning back in a chair with her bare feet kicked up on the desk next to Richard as she massaged him for information. She had already uncovered the Egyptian connection and found out that the names of certain pyramids and temples were code for specific databases. The mummies were security in the form of viruses set to protect each database from being mined for the program, and the sand was coding that Richard had to shift through and work in order to bypass the mummies and access the parts of the program held in sarcophagi.

With gun drawn, Setne tip-toed toward the door. Through the haze of his concentration, Richard heard the safety release on her gun. As she slowly turned the knob of the door, shots rang out on the other side, and the double doors were shoved open. Setne was knocked onto her back and tear gas flooded the room. Richard’s eyes began to burn and water as the smoke traveled to his lungs. The irritating chemicals made each breath scraped his insides with the sharp intensity of razors. Gasping, his body doubled over with wracking coughs and he slid out of his chair, falling onto all fours. Shouts could be heard and the swooshing of fabric as agents entered the room, fully armed and wearing gas masks. Richard could hear Setne’s angry threats as another agent explained that Richard was wanted for arrest and her boss had a few words for her. With watery eyes Richard held his breath and crawled under the desk, promptly removing the USB, stashing it back in his shoe. Seeing a small gap of light from the open door, he struggled to hold his coughs in, army crawling toward the opening. Just as his hand extended over the threshold, he was grabbed beneath his arms, a black cloth thrown over his face, his wrists and ankles zip tied. He was immediately lifted and carried off. He choked and sputtered, the cloth getting stuck in his mouth as he struggled for fresh air. Before he knew it, he felt weightless before he landed chest down on a hard surface. His captors had been silent the entire time and after he heard the sound of a van door sliding shut and the felt the ground beneath him jerk and rumble forward, the cloth was lifted from his head.

The faces that entered his view were that of Josh and Celia. Josh was dressed in black combat gear and was clearly one of his captors, Celia was dressed in a blouse and trousers. Since he had never seen her out of her favorite Gap jeans, he knew she must have posed as someone who worked in the building.

“Hiya, Richie! I brought help!” Skitter’s enthusiastic voice rang out from the driver’s seat as the van took a corner sharply. Richard rolled across the floor as Josh and Celia gripped parts of the interior for support.

“Damn it Skitter!” Josh groaned, “Try to be more careful, would ya? We don’t want them following us!”

“They probably already are,” said Richard, hopefully, as Celia cut his bindings.

“Nahhhh, trust me, we’re good. It’s all taken care of,” responded Josh. “And, look.” He handed Richard a laptop with a wifi card protruding from its side. “Now you can finish what you started.”

“Now, why would I do that?” Richard placed his palm down on the laptop, caressing its smooth surface. Despite the day’s events, he was always seduced by the latest in technology and this laptop in particular called to him.

“Well, I’m sure you’d like your program back, wouldn’t ya? And, if you help, I can give you the case file on your mother. It’s under some pretty tight security clearances.” Josh smiled at Richard. This was the second time today he felt had.

“Yeah, and Agent Daher is not as innocent as she looks.” Intoned Celia.

Make that the third.

“Fine.” Richard groaned, opening the lid and getting back to work. “Just one question.”

“Sure.” Offered Josh.

“Who did you sell it to?”

“The Iranians, the Russians, and Syria.”

“All at once?”

Josh nodded his head sheepishly.

“And a few other smaller countries…” Celia’s voice came out in a bit of a squeak.

“Shit, I can’t think of any better countries who need the power of creating custom sociopaths.” Richard disarmed the last mummy virus, “You know that wasn’t the intent of this program.” He pounded the keys, retrieving the sand from the sarcophagus the mummy had been guarding.

The van finally slammed to a halt, causing everyone to pitch forward. Seeing his opportunity, Richard bolted toward the door, flinging it open. The old metal screeched in protest and the sound echoed across the twilight air. Realizing that they had stopped across from the Hudson Pier, Richard sprinted toward the railing, not slowing for the cries of his friends behind him or the pounding of their feet as they chased him. Richard wasn’t as much of an athlete as Josh and it wasn’t long before his footsteps got closer. Still a few feet from the water, Richard chucked the laptop in the river with a satisfying splash. The momentum of his sprint caused him to slam into the railing, the force shoving the air out of his lungs in a loud whoosh.

“Damn it Richard!” Josh’s volley of curses rented the air.

Celia finally caught up with Skitter in tow. “Oh Richard, why?”

“That’s not what it’s for,” replied Skitter, cutting off Richard’s attempted defense.

“You’re right, Skitter,” sighed Richard, staring out into the darkening waters. “That’s not what the water is for.”

Skitter shook his head, “Your Mom would be proud.”

“See,” Richard turned to his old friends before clapping Skitter on the shoulder. “He’s the only one of us who makes sense.”

 

As the President walked into the room followed by his joint chiefs of staff, Setne was glad the table hid the crossing and uncrossing of her ankles. This was it, her big moment. The disaster of two days ago were a distant memory and paled to her bright future that flashed across her mind. Sure they had lost the hackers, but when a USB had arrived by air express yesterday, containing all of the key strokes from Richard’s work she knew she had been saved. Once the President had settled in his chair, she was called upon to give her presentation. With clamoring heart and sweaty palms, she inserted the USB into the computer connected to the projector. After typing in a password that came with the package, she clicked on the little icon in the corner of the screen.

A window popped up, filling the projected space. Setne frowned, this didn’t look right. As her hand reached for the mouse, noises of an intimate nature spilled through the speakers and a split second later a home film began to play. Images of her and Richard moved across the screen.

Setne froze. Public humiliation in front of the President? She would have preferred death.

Raising Supernatural Hell

il_570xN.327815608.jpg

 

RIIIINK-AH-DINK-CLINK-CLINK, RIIINK-AH-DINK-CLINK-CLINK

I slid my plate across the metal bars of my cell over and over, their ringing melody annoying my guard for the past hour.  I suppose that I should be fortunate that my cell was so far removed from any of the other prisoners.  I don’t need any more enemies or eyes witnessing my escape.

Finally, my latest guard decided that shouting profanities in guttural German from his post was not enough and the angry clomp of his spit shined boots wove a threatening beat into my melody. I increased the sound of my song until the young man rounded a corner and his mouth, mid-“Ach mien Gott!” fell into a slack “O” of surprise when he saw me.  I stood before him barely clothed, shivering in my bright red underwear that stood out in stark contrast to my pale skin. My black bra was covered effectively by my mass of strawberry blonde curls tumbling to my waist.  I must have looked nearly nude to the young soldier, and although I disdained his native tongue, my escape required it.

“Please,” I whispered in German, widening my blue eyes, and shifting my feet slightly so that my hips moved as I chattered, “they took all of my clothes. Do you have a blanket?”

His eyes seemed entranced by my hips, and as he licked his pink lips I could almost see the lustful images that were passing now behind his hazel eyes, “The-the-they took your clothes?”

With a weak nod, I bit my lower lip and hunched my shoulders against the cold I knew permeated the room, but was thankful I couldn’t feel.

Puffing his cheeks out as he blew a great breath, he reluctantly tore his eyes away from my figure before turning to sprint down the hallway.  I imagined him poking his head out the other end in a frantic, but thorough, check to see if anyone else was coming. Within seconds his boot steps hit staccato notes upon the stone floor as he sprinted back to my cell. With a large thick blanket, most likely borrowed from his own cot, flung over his shoulder he fumbled with the keys in the lock as he tried to concentrate his shaking hands on getting the door opened.  His tasks was made longer by the occasional hungry glances he cast in my direction.

Aside from my shivering I stood completely still and hung my head with arms wrapped tightly around my chest. Once the lock slid free, and the door scrapped open across the dirty grey floor, I waited until I could see my reflection in the boots that came in my view. Not wanting to see the lust in his eyes that was rolling off of him in waves, I concentrated on the task at hand. The minute I felt the warmth of his breath on the crown of my head, I grabbed the blanket draped over his left shoulder and quickly wrapped it around his neck.  With a sharp tug, I twisted the ends around my wrists until I had a good grip as I yanked him forward and sent my knee into his groin. His “oomph” was soon silenced as I stuffed a clump of the blanket in his mouth.  Grabbing his surprised face and placing a hand on each cheek, I tilted his head until the satisfying snick of breaking bone, rang happily in my ears.  I instantly dropped the man’s face and hopped over him as I made my way to my cot.  I pushed up the wafer thin mattress and dug my dress and hair pins out of the hole I had stuffed them in.  By the time I had finished fastening the last button, I was already at the end of the hall, the guard’s pistol banging against my hip as it rode in my pocket. By the time I had reached the other hall, I had my hair repined and looking almost presentable.  I was wishing that they had not taken my shoes the moment I encountered the stone wall looming before me under the only window, 10 feet up.  I really missed the practicality of a good pair of heels.

With a shrug, I dug my fingers and toes into the cracks in between the stones of the old building and scaled the wall.  My only hope was that when I finally reached the window, it would not be barred from the outside.

“Honestly,” I muttered as I hoisted myself up, “I thought the Nazi’s were stupid putting only one guard on me, but if they don’t have bars on this window in this abandoned hall----well----“

Looking out through the window, I smiled, “----yeeeeep, pretty stupid. Ha!” I breathed, before sliding the old sticky window up, and curling my body over the sill, “---so much for being the superior race!”

After losing my balance, tumbling over the edge of the sill, and knocking the air out of my lungs as I landed on the grass on my back, I stared at the white fluffy clouds in the blue sky above me. I raised celebratory tight fist in the air, “Never doubt Russian cunning!”

I rolled over and pulled the gun out of my pocket, cocking the piston as I plastered my body to the wall.  For the next few moments I sidled along; eyes and ears open for the guards that I knew were patrolling the grounds of Hitler’s “supernatural research center.”  My eyes rolled involuntarily as I thought those words.  If that man thought he could honestly win the war with the backing of the supernatural community by kidnapping them and turning them into lab rats--Yeahhhhhhh, probably not!

I ducked behind a mixed cluster of tall and squat flowering bushes, thankful that his prison for us was located in an old castle with over grown grounds.  The crunch of booted feet sprinting past me soon faded as shouts of alarm sounded.

I guess the guard had been found.  With a grumble to myself over compromised timelines, my search around the perimeter of the building for a suitable opening in the fence, was once again halted when I spied a fluffy white tail and strong legs furiously scratching dirt out of a hole.  As I crept closer my suspicions were confirmed when I saw the bottom half of a grey and black patched furry back.

“Dimitri!” I hissed.

The large fluffy beast burrowing a hole under the building let out a quick yelp of surprise before a narrow face, with a dirt splashed quivering nose, and large pointed ears turned in my direction.

“Dimitri, wha---oomph----ewww, don’t lick me you know I hate that!”

One minute I had a large pink tongue stroking my face the next I had the strong, but lanky, arms of a red headed young man wrapped around my shoulders as he towered over me.

“Anastasia! How did you escape? Why didn’t you wait for me? I promised I would come!”

Pushing the wolf pooka to arm’s length; I looked into his worried blue eyes, “You trying to play the Prince Charming again, Dimitri?”

He laughed good naturedly as he let go, his fingers lingering on my shoulders a moment too long.  I swallowed thickly, and turned to head toward the fence, hoping against hope that the faery had not seen the blush that had crept across my cheeks. We had known each other for several years now.  After I helped raise the Seelie Queen’s son from the dead, Dimitri, the strongest warrior of the wolf pookas was my payment. Being a necromancer of the supernatural has its advantages when you need extra muscle because the Nazi’s are trying to track you down.

Once we reached the fence, we made sure our bodies were concealed by the thick trees as I rattled the chain and looked up at the spiked wire running across the top.

Alright, wolfy, you wanted to dig,” I snapped my fingers with a playful smirk, pointing to dirt edging the bottom of the fence, “now dig!”

“Someday, Anna, you will let me be Prince Charming, yes?”

But before I could answer, he had tossed me a charming little wink and was once more a very large wolf, digging his way under the fence.

Angry shouts, and gunfire behind us told me, as bullets embedded themselves in nearby trees, that the guards had found my open window and Dimitri’s hole.  Busted!  As a bullet narrowly missed my arm, I shoved Dimitri’s furry rump under the fence, and fired a few rounds of my stolen gun toward our pursuers.  Five rounds later the gun was empty, but the guards were still in pursuit.  I dropped to the ground and wiggled under after Dimitri.  A hand clasped around my ankle amid more angry shouting, but Dimitri’s snapping jaws quickly deterred my new parasite and he let go.

I scrambled to my feet, and followed Dimitri as we wove through the thick trees. Thankful for the immortal capability of quick healing I ignored the jabs of pain my feet and shins experienced as I stumbled over thick branches and sharp rocks. Within ten minutes we reached a shallow ditch beside a dirt road where Dimitri had cleverly hid his motorcycle under some large branches and patches of forest grass.

“Well done, Dimitri!” I flashed him a thankful grin, as he tossed me a bag with an extra pair of shoes, and jacket. Dimitri matched my grin with one of his own before clamoring on the now exposed bike. I slid on behind him, wrapping my arms around his waist and burrowing my face in the hollow of his upper back created by his shoulder blades as he gripped the handle bars.

I was anxious for him to fill me in on everything that had happened over the last three days, since Hitler’s men took me, but for once I was glad that the motorcycle’s loud rumbling made it impossible to talk.  I splayed my hands, and staggered them across the chiseled lines of his chest and stomach. I needed time to think.  We had become close over the past few years, too close. Surprisingly, despite the fact that my last words to him were hurtful; he was here, saving me when I needed it most.  I had regretted my words of bitterness that I had spewed like so much poison upon him when I last saw him, for their desired effect of him hating me and leaving forever obviously did not work.  I sighed, rubbing my nose in his back, smelling his wild herbal faery scent, a smell no human man would ever have.  I just hoped that the cowardice that had convinced me to push him away the first time would not prevent me from apologizing this time.

 

I was extremely reluctant to leave the warmth of the first hot shower I had had in days, but my curiosity and rumbling tummy forced me to make it a quick one.  Dimitri refused to tell me anything until I had taken a hot shower, and promised a steaming mug of tea and a pirozhki when I got out.

As a small lump rose in my throat I shook my head, and gathered my dirty clothes off the linoleum floor of the hotel bathroom.  I realized that boy knew me too well.

I stepped out of the steaming bathroom and promptly sat down to the hot meal.    A sense of security warmed my heart as I noticed that the pooka had already finished the glamour on the door.   Anyone who came near it would suddenly remember something else more important that they needed to do, and leave us in peace in our stolen hotel room.  I wiped my fingers, as the warm pirozhki settled with heavy satisfaction in my stomach, and propped my now healed feet up in Dimitri’s lap.  With a sigh, I settled back in the hard chair, sipping on my chamomile, waiting for his intel.

He had been unusually quiet as he sat across from me while I ate, and the serious expression he now wore, as he casually rubbed my sore ankles and shins, made me nervous. He must have sensed my worry, in a way only the fey can, for he winked a blue-green eye as a small smile tugged at the corner of his lips. He was waiting for me to say something.  I steeled myself against the unpleasant conversation bubbling in anticipation between us and plunged in.

“You came back.”

“I did,” his untamable auburn curls bobbed as he nodded.  His movement added a sense of levity to the serious set of his jaw.

“I told you to go home and never return. I released you from your bond to me.”

“You did, but surely you knew I was not going to go,” his head cocked to the side as his jeweled toned eyes blinked slowly at me. Even in human form his movements mirrored his canine other half.

“I was mean to you.”

He shrugged as though that meant nothing, and I suppose to a faery it doesn’t.

“You love me.”

“I---“

“You would feel better if you would just admit it.”

“Well—“ I sputtered, the heat of embarrassment and shame at being called out flushed from my chest clear to my hairline, “You have not said you love me!”

His chuckle rumbled through his narrow chest with a slight growl, “I bound myself to you, what more proof do you need?”

“Only by order of your Queen!” I scoffed, attempting to pull my feet from his lap.

He held me firmly in place as he leaned forward, exposing the raw honesty—so rare in a faery—twinkling through his eyes.

“I requested to be bound to you, the Queen could have chosen anyone, but I asked and she honored it.”

“Why?”

He continued rubbing soothing circles on my ankles, “Because, after working with you on helping the Queen, I fell in love with you Anna.  As the only one of your kind, it seems as though you are to be hunted just as much in death as you were in life. I could not bear it, should any harm come to you.”

I instantly felt a warmth spread through my chest as his words sunk in. It was as though a wall of ice that I had not realized surrounded me was slowly being thawed—by him. He was right, though, the day my parents died by the hands of Rasputin’s men, I died as well.   Fortunately, as our bodies sunk below the dirt they shoveled over us, Rasputin forgot one thing in his betrayal. The amulet he gave to me when our family was once close had magic. It was an ancient magic that, upon my death, transformed me into another creature. I became a necromancer of the supernatural.  I’ll remain immortal until I pass along my gift to someone else willing to die and carry on my tasks.

“I’m only 17, you know, at least,” I looked at the dregs of my tea in confusion, before meeting his bright eyes again, “I was only 17 when I died. I have not aged, and I have never known love?”

I could not even say the word without turning it into a question. Dimitri offered a helpful smile as he picked up my shoes from the floor, sliding my feet into them and buckling the straps.

“Now, you know what it is, yes?”

I twisted my lips together in thoughtfulness, before finally giving in, “Yes, Dimitri, I love you.”

He flashed me a wide grin before hopping up, “Good! Now we can go stop Hitler!”

“Hold on one second!” I shot up from my seat, grabbing the lapel of his jacket, and tugging him to a stop. We were nose to nose as he tilted his head forward with an innocent hang dog expression, “What?”

“Say it,” I ground out.

“I love you too, Anastasia Nikolaevna,” his whispered words sent a thrill down my spine quickly followed by a sharp tingle that reached my toes the moment he crushed my lips with his own soft full ones. As my arms coiled around his neck to pull him closer he grabbed them gently, curling his strong fingers around my wrists, before breaking from our kiss with a satisfying smack.

“Trust me,” his voice was ragged as though he had just run a marathon, “I would love to continue this conversation, but you would kill me if we don’t leave right now.”

“What?”

But he was already stripping the door of its glamour, and throwing one over us both, he flung the door open and tugged me by the hand down the hall.

“What exactly is going on, Dimitri?”

“Hitler wants you to raise Rasputin.”

“I know, that’s what he said when they captured me, but I refused and they locked me up.  Tonight, being the anniversary of his death, is the only night they can raise him, so without me it’s impossible.”

“Right, well,” by now we had stepped out into the murky darkness of night, and since we were out after curfew, I was extremely thankful for his glamour, “It seems as though Hitler has found himself another necromancer.”

“He what?” I squeaked, coming to a stunned halt.  Dimitri was busy pulling his bike out from behind a large dumpster, it too was effectively glamoured.

Just then a small troop marched by on their curfew rounds, their stiff arms and legs swinging in perfect sync. Dimitri froze at their approach, his wolf form rippling in the air around him, as the red and black patches on the soldier’s uniforms flashed by us, mocking us in their vile superiority. Preferring not to pay attention to the symbols of hate, I turned my attention to a very tense wolf pooka whose curled lips issued forth a low growl.

“Down boy,” I breathed, putting a steading hand on his arm, “later.”

Once the troop had rounded the corner and were out of sight, he jerked his head in a nod before swinging his leg over the bike. I quickly slipped on behind him, “What do you mean Hitler has another necromancer?  I’m the only one who can raise Rasputin!”

Dimitri snorted, balancing the large piece of machinery under us, “True, you are the only necromancer who can raise the supernatural, but Hitler has found one who can raise humans.”

“You mean he doesn’t know there is a difference?”

Dimitri’s auburn curls brushed his collar as he shook his head, “Apparently, not.”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” I whispered and crossed myself before wrapping my arms tightly around the fae’s torso again as he kicked the bike to life.

“He’s about to raise a demon!”  My worst fear was lost in the wind that tore by us as we hurtled toward the city’s peasant’s cemetery.

 

Under the guise of faery glamour we arrived at the peasant’s cemetery in mere minutes, but we soon saw with heavy hearts that we were fashionably late.

Several official vehicles lined the road.  I could only see five soldiers, rifles at the ready in front of a simply marked grave, but I was certain there were more.   As we hid behind the bramble covered iron fence, I saw Hitler’s stiff back, as he waited with patient hands clasped behind his back.  His feet were planted firmly beneath him, hip width apart, and he looked every inch the military dictator he was, complete with the fear and bitterness needed to drive his desperation.  Next to him knelt a small balding man, as he drained the blood of a chicken in a cup, preparing his ritual.

“Dimitri,” I whispered, “How many are there?”

Nose twitching, Dimitri raised his face to the twinkling night sky, as he sniffed the air.

“Thirty soldiers….sniff, sniff…..one dictator…sniff….and ewww….” He whined low as he winced behind his hand now covering his nose, “….one very dead sorcerer.”

With a vehement swear under my breath, I muttered, “He’s up then.”

“Yeah, well, half-way up at least.”

“Right,” I whispered, pulling the pins that held up my braids down, as the low sounds of chanting filled the once peaceful cemetery.   It didn’t take long to realize that the ground below us was too soft for my heels, so I pulled them off before placing them in the bike’s side bag. I simultaneously pulled out two doubled edged daggers. Kissing both blades, I murmured their required blessings before rejoining Dimitri, who had now shifted into a wolf whose large paws were padding soundlessly along the fence line.

“Can you take out the ones hidden, while I start on the ones out?”

He nodded his large head before slinking off through the trees toward the fence’s back entrance.  I was confident that he knew where the hidden soldiers were and could find them faster than I could, plus I was counting on his ambush to provide the distraction I needed.

Clamoring over the top of the iron fence, I managed to use a tree that was growing against it as leverage for a silent landing.  Without Dimitri nearby, my glamour was now gone and I hoped that the chanting that was getting progressively louder and frantic would drown out my footsteps. I was about two feet away from the figure of the necromancer, whose back was to me, with arms raised in the air inside his drawn pentagram. Hitler’s focus was fortunately on the now moving mound of dirt that looked as though a very large worm was writhing about beneath it. Before I could take one more step, I felt the barrel of a pistol at the back of my head.  As the soldier behind me drew breath to sound an alarm, a loud tearing sound interrupted the necromancer’s chants, quickly followed by screams of pain, gunshots, and the general chaos of men being attacked in the middle of the night by an invisible wolf.  I spun around and shoved my elbow into my assailant’s chest.  As shots were fired in our direction, I heard Hitler call to his necromancer, “Fortsetzen, fortsetzen, don’t stop!”

The man’s voice, now less sure of himself, continued with a quavering consistency.  After twisting behind the soldier who had grabbed me, I allowed him to take a few bullets to the chest. Once he fell, I remained crouched behind his body and a wide bush, peering below its high skirted branches to see Hitler issuing orders to regroup his men.  He must have thought I was dead, and I was hoping he hadn’t recognized me amid the fray because the human necromancer and two sets of rotting arms clawing their way out of the ground were all that remained. Rushing over to the old man, in his rumpled banker’s suit, with the ritualistic blood painted on his face in stripes, I gripped his shoulders and shook him firmly.

“Please, wake up! You must stop this now!”

His eyes flew open, and their hazy whiteness showed me he was far too gone into the spirit world to stop now. Not wanting to hurt him there was nothing I could do but I still gave him one last good shake.  It was pointless, but I could not help but be angry at him.  He did not know that he was about to bring forth a demon from hell in the corpse of a sorcerer, not the man himself.

I spun around on my bare heel and was instantly confronted with the decayed presence of Rasputin.  His empty eyes stared back at me from his head that was tilted in an un-natural angle due to his hanging.  With a hiss he lunged for me with his maggot riddled hands, but I dropped quickly, rolling out of the way.  Normally, re-animated human corpses were too slow to be of any threat, and only fully animated supernatural corpses could be as they once were, but a demon bodied supernatural?

I ducked, kicked, and slashed out with my blessed daggers as Rasputin’s putrid body, parried and blocked my moves.  It was disconcerting enough to watch his skin knit together as the human necromancer’s chant gave him life, but it was even worse as every blow I struck to try and slow him down, barely seemed to affect his balance. Even so, as I jumped over a crumbling tombstone, I knew he needed human blood before his ritual would be complete and then he would be stronger than any mortal or immortal upon the earth.  I sprinted toward the gate with him quick upon my heels, knowing that if I could possibly get him to attempt to cross it, I might also get him impaled upon it so I could finish it off. 

The cemetery had gradually quieted down again, which meant Dimitri had finished his job.  I mimicked the short pack call of a wolf to call in his support. Without fail, he came bounding out of the tree line, flying across the tops of the crumbling tombstones with sure steps that never faltered.  Taking a deep breath, I eyed the sharp spikes of the iron fence before me before using the branches of a nearby skinny tree, and the baroque scrolls of the fence’s gate to part scramble, part hop my way over the fence.  The ripping fabric of my dress echoed in the still air.   The demon following me still smelled like sewer, but was looking less undead by the minute.  Rasputin attempted to bust through the gates to pursue me on the other side, but Dimitri had now caught up, and grabbing his rotted coat tossed him against the fence.  Rasputin extended his chipped and rotting fingernails until they were claws and swung at Dimitri, but the wolf skirted out of the way before quickly diving back in for another nip.  One well place swipe to Dimitri’s muzzle turned the white snout red with blood.  Rasputin was now being back up against the fence by the fight, but I couldn’t chance him getting another more fatal shot in. I gripped the narrow hilts of both daggers in one hand and grabbed a fist full of stones at my feet, feeling the pressure of the dirt squeezing beneath my nails.

“Hey!” I yelled, throwing the stones at the back of his head, “you rotting carp! You made me get dirt in my nails, you better make it worth it!” I threw a few well-placed stones that ricochet off his bare but dirty skull as he turned to face me with a hungry gleam in his eye.  “Come on! What are you afraid of? Huh? Come get me!” I taunted, grabbing and throwing fistfuls of dirt and rocks in his eyes as Dimitri continued nipping his heels before moving away from the swiping hand.  Finally the demon had enough of our taunts, and as he attempted to fly over the fence with new arms stretched towards my neck, Dimitri jumped once more, latching on to his still regenerating ankle, and pulled him down upon the spikes of the fence.  Shrieking and hissing his unholy profanities, the demon struggled to remove himself.

Standing right below his face, I wanted his attention, “Rasputin!”

He turned his snarling face toward my own smiling one, “Hi!”

I waved and before the fear could enter his reptilian yellow eyes, I had sliced his head off with my daggers as though they were scissors.

His head promptly thumped to the ground, rolling to my feet where it once more shriveled upon itself like a raisin. The hair of his beard was once more matted and stringy, his eyes were sunken and empty, and the empty spot of his nose had a bright green slug poking its curious head out with its stubby little antenna waving about merrily.

A loud squelching noise above me told me that Dimitri had already removed the body, so I picked up Rasputin’s shriveled head by the beard, my heart filled with relief at the crises averted.

“So,” Dimitri smiled broadly, “I hope you’re not too tired.”

“Why do you say that?” I chuckled, following him back into the cemetery to lay the old sorcerer’s bones to rest under a spelled fire.

“Well,” Dimitri tossed the body into the open grave once we reached it, I tossed the head in after it and began the soft low chant to spread the fire, “Hitler is still on the loose, and we,” he wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, “have a conversation to finish.”

I wrinkled my nose as I stared at him over the sharp blue and black of my fire that would ensure Rasputin never rose again.

“Mouthwash.”

“What?” He laughed, eyebrows tented over his merry sea colored eyes.

“You chomped on a dead man’s rotting leg.  You’re going to need a whole bottle of mouth wash before you touch these lips!” I puckered my lips at him suggestively, making loud kissy noises.

“Oh really?” His grin turned wolfish and his nostrils flared, as he slowly crossed one foot over the other, edging his way around the fire.

I quickly blew him an air kiss before spinning away shrieking in delighted giggles as he chased me through the cemetery weaving around the toppled tombstones. Making his own loud kissing noises, Dimitri’s words were barely discernible through his wild laughter, “Come on Anna, I thought you loved me!  Just one kiss!”

We never worried that our raucous laughter and shouts could wake the dead, for they all slumber eternally by my hand.