The engines were idling and the lights were still on. On the police truck, the driver’s side spotlight was merely a finger of light pointing off at nothing in particular in the moonless night sky.
Dawn would soon be approaching as a lone figure examined the scene before her. Idling vehicles and unconscious and unresponsive men splayed around them. The men in brown uniforms wore some sort of metal star on them. The lone figure had to assume that they were some sort of guardsmen. She also saw that some of the men in orange were still in restraints. But nearly all of the men in orange had some sort of taint to their aura. Prisoners?
More to the point, the lone figure could detect faint amounts of demonic energy on the men in orange. Her attackers had been here and availed themselves of the men spirit energy from the men in orange.
With the oppressive heat and dry, barren terrain, this world seemed so hostile and alien to her. Moreover, with one notable exception, everyone from her realm that had made their way over here was out to either kill or capture her.
She wasn’t sure any of the humans she came across would be any different as she cautiously approached one of the downed men in the brown uniform. Although she couldn’t decipher it, the nametag read L. Reyes.
The solitary figure was aware of another significant issue- after reading the script on the deputy’s nametag and badge, she realized that couldn’t read or communicate in the language of the humans in this realm.
With some trepidation, the solitary figure reached into her garments and produced a sheet of paper the size of a dollar bill. Long ago, legend claimed that a wandering Hakutaku sage aided her clan with the design of this particular talisman, which was designed to mimic the specialized touch of the sagacious minotaur.
It was very difficult to produce in any quantity, which is why the lone figure wanted to use it sparingly. She was hoping to use it on one of her attackers to learn of their plans and act accordingly from there, but not being able to freely move or communicate in this realm would put her at a tremendous disadvantage against her adversaries.
After a moment’s hesitation, the figure got down on her knees next to the unconscious deputy and gently placed the Talisman down on his forehead. After she absently dabbed her finger across her tongue and ran it across the talisman’s strange markings, it began to glow an eerie shade of blue. Realizing that was her cue, she leaned forward, cautiously touching her forehead against the unresponsive lawman’s with the glowing rectangle of parchment in between the two of them.
As soon as she did, she knew that his name was Leo Reyes, he was in his early thirties, he was married with a four year old daughter and had moved out here from San Antonio a few years ago because he thought country living would be better for his young family. The men in orange were prisoners from a local jail brought out the help fight a particularly bothersome brushfire.
She knew the deputy’s whole life story in the blink of an eye before something made her pull away and gasp. The last things he saw before losing consciousness- a few women who were not-quite human dressed in clerical vestments, another not-quite-human woman with a scarf or mask over the lower half of her face and a wicked looking blade at the very tip of her tail, a snake-like woman with a human torso and pale blue skin, a tall albino woman with reptilian features……
Not only were they already here, it looked as though they were already closer to finding the princess than she was.
She had to calm herself and consider her options. Exhaling softly, she was combing through both her own thoughts and Deputy Reyes’. The deputy’s belt.
Something useful was there. Her first instinct was to go for something that was partially encased in leather called a…..Go-Lock? To her, it simply looked like an inert piece of polymer and steel, but she knew it also filled Reyes with a quiet sense of both wonder and dread. She wasn’t sure why, but the number 40 was significant as well. The Go-Lock was something he and the other men in brown were issued, but it was also something he hoped he could avoid using unless the situation was truly dire.
It wasn’t the Go-Lock that would be of the greatest use to her, though. It was something else.
Less than Lethal Option.
She was drawn to an oval-shaped leather pouch on his holster. Inside was a cannister slightly smaller than a human fist. The figure couldn’t help but smile when she was able to remove it and saw an illustration showing a fox on the small canister.
FOX Stream 5.3 Law Enforcement Formula
Oh Yes. That would do quite nicely.
She realized the second man in brown would also have a cannister of his own. After relieving both of the unconscious deputies of their department-issued pepper spray and handcuffs, she placed the items into a little cloth she had set down on the ground a short distance away along with a small bottle of ink sealed with a tiny cork, a small brush and some paper rectangles bound together- each roughly the size of a dollar bill. Satisfied with her haul, she began wrapping the cloth around the items and tying the four corners together into a knot before slipping a small but sturdy wooden baton through, creating a makeshift bindle.
With a tiny whirlwind of luminescent blue smoke, the lone figure was enveloped before it disappeared almost as quickly. In her place was a dark fox with a half dozen tails, no doubt the regulars of the Whet Whistle would recognize her if they were there to see her. Although she considered this a worthwhile haul, she couldn’t afford to waste any more time. The figure was filled with a renewed sense of urgency as she bounded away from the cluster of vehicles and unresponsive men. There would be no failing the princess a second time.
“Mari-hime! A moment, please!” a voice like bells called out. I knew that wasn’t my name, but I somehow reacted to it as though it was.
I’m not sitting on the tailgate of a three quarter ton truck in the west Texas desert, stargazing with a beautiful, otherworldly woman in white who may or may not be a powerful succubus princess anymore.
One glance and I can see that I’m in another world. Specifically in some sort of garden abutted by floating rocks and ringed by softly glowing violet obelisks with cryptic insignias in them. I seem to be reclining on some sort of seat that seems as though it’s made up of floating black ink, although it doesn’t leave a single mark on my snow-white dress as I get up. The mass of black inky materiel seems familiar somehow.
Turning, I see a stunning young woman with silvery- almost lilac hued- hair dressed in light purple off-the-shoulder kimono-like garment. Her hair seems to be covering her left eye, but that’s not her most noticeable feature.
Radiating out behind her like peacock’s feathers are a half dozen vulpine tails and atop her head is a pair of vixen’s ears. Although her manner of speaking is very halting and formal, she seems quite familiar with me. Or whoever she thinks I am. Before me are some books similar to what I saw in Mari’s satchel the last night. The script is completely foreign to me, yet I feel as though I’m already familiar with their content but have the urge to read even more and sift through each page in greater detail. I quickly glance at my arms- instead of being thick, hairy and tanned from many a haul across the west Texas desert, they are slender, soft and pale. I can also see that I’m wearing a modest but form-fitting white dress. My arms absently reached up around my head and I can feel the brim of a large white hat. As my hand brushes up against a horn jutting out of my temple, I can feel an almost electric shiver going down my spine.
Note to self- Arch-Succubus horns are super-sensitive.
I’m not looking at the night sky somewhere in El Portal County, Texas with a talkative arch succubus princess because it seems as though I AM the talkative succubus princess. How the fuck did this happen? I doubt it’s some sort of Freaky Friday scenario where she’s now spending her days as a solitary truck driver in rural Texas, going out for beers every once in awhile before coming home and sleeping alone. Especially when she said her powers were at a low ebb for whatever reason. This must be home.
Her home, at least.. With an almost dismissive wave of my hand, the smaller obelisks stop glowing. Somehow, I manage to simultaneously panic and speak calmly to the beautiful fox-girl in a calm and reassuring tone. “What is it —-?” I think I just said her name, but it’s indistinct to my ears.
The fox girl bows. “Two of your subjects request an audience with you.” she indicates, sweeping her hand towards a succubus in what looks like some sort of clerical vestments and a serpentine woman with pale blue flesh on her upper body.
“Of course! I would be delighted…..” I can hear myself say in Mari’s voice.
“F-forgive the intrusion, princess.” the one in the clerical uniform said quietly as both of them approached.
“There is no intrusion, my dear. A princess should always make time for her subjects.” I say reassuringly as I reach out and gently caress her cheek.
“Princess Mari….” the serpentine woman speaks up, her tone more poised and confident than the succubus priestess. “I have been blessed with a loving husband and many wonderful daughters, but lately I sensed something….amiss….”
“Ah, but you’re already more enriched than myself. I have no mate or children of my own.” Mari’s voice said to the serpent woman. “What more could you possibly need?”
“I love my husband so very much and would do anything for him, Princess. And lately I’ve sensed that he’s discontent, although he won’t say anything to me regarding it.”
“Why would he be discontent?” Mari/I ask.
The blue-skinned serpent woman paused and bit her lower lip as though pondering something.
“He wants a son.” she finally said. “With all the conflict and strife in the human realms, I imagine the two of you wouldn’t have much trouble finding an orphan to raise as your own.” I can hear myself suggest in Mari’s gentle and almost regal tone. “Oh….but I could almost see your daughters already fighting over who gets to make their new little brother their most precious and beloved husband…”
“My husband wants me to bear him a son.” the serpent woman said stoically. “He told you this himself?” Mari/I ask.
“No, but I’ve lived with him long enough to know certain tendencies about him.”
“Then you know that’s not possible, I’m afraid.” I can hear Mari tell her brusquely.
“But….you’re a daughter of the most noble Demon Lord!” the one in vestments almost pleaded. “If anyone can do it, surely it’s you.”
I can feel Mari shake her head solemnly. “Such things are beyond my mother’s abilities, let alone mine.”
“Are you sure?” the succubus asked.
“I’m afraid so.” I answer in Mari’s voice as I notice that the reply seems to have broken the serpentine woman’s heart. I can only dwell on this for a moment as the fox-girl’s ears twitching repeatedly while she stands quietly next to me. A split second after looking up, a shrill voice echoes from above.
“SHE’S LYING!!” Looking up, I can see a pale woman with leathery wings and some reptilian claws and talons closing in from above after leaping off one of the floating islands overhead.
“Mari-hime!” the fox girl cries out as she steps protectively in front of me.
Before I can react, she licks her middle and index fingers and reaches into her sleeve before scores of dollar bill-sized pieces of paper with some strange sigils burst forth from the sleeves of her kimono-like garment. The vixen shouted urgently to her creation in her native tongue, either properly summoning it or giving it instructions. In an instant, they coalesce to form a serpent about the size of a panel van and immediately knock the attacking dragon woman to the side.
The dragon had recovered quickly and was now belching a bright emerald flame at the giant animated paper snake.
“Forgive me, princess…” the succubus priestess says quietly as she produces something that looks like a large ribbon with some sort of runes inscribed on them. Before she can carry out whatever she had in mind, her arms are ensnared by dark tentacles that I now can see are emanating from around my/Mari’s body. The sight of the tentacles are unsettling, yet I’m able to manipulate them as easily as I am my own arms and legs.
“What is the meaning of this?” I shout, my voice tinged with a rare display of anger. “I am your princess, yet you dare attack me!?”
Someone else closes in from above. In a movement almost too swift for the naked eye to catch, a metal blade effortlessly slices through the tendrils binding the succubus priestess’ arms, freeing her.
“Funny you should mention that- I, for one, don’t recognize your authority over me… princess.” A haughty voice jeered.
I can see that it belongs to a statuesque woman with pale blue skin, almost white hair, black feathery wings, a crimson shield almost shaped like a heart and black metallic boots, armor and gauntlets.
One glimpse of the fox girl and it’s clear that she’s struggling to keep the attacking dragon at bay. Before the dark winged valkyrie can turn her blade towards me, my vixen compatriot peels a few pages from her paper serpent proxy and forms a makeshift paper sword before lunging at the aggressive valkyrie. Although the sword is much more durable than it appears, she’s effortlessly kicked aside by her winged adversary.
No sooner does the fox-girl hit the ground than I see the paper serpent she had been using to keep the dragon woman at bay bursting into bright green flames. Another set of inky tentacles shoot out from where I stand, knocking the corrupted battle angel aside while my vixen subordinate struggles to get up.
Whatever’s happening, things are going south so much faster than I could’ve ever anticipated. Instead of taking some time to leisurely stroke my thighs or feeling up my perky breasts in this new form, I realize that among my abilities, I can shoot off something akin to fireworks using just my fingertips. A distress signal to summon ‘the others’ elsewhere on the grounds, although I’m not quite sure who they are.
As soon as the darkened valkyrie has been dealt with, the last of the hastily erected paper serpent golem created by the fox girl is being consumed by emerald flames before the pale dragon woman flies through it. A different set of black tendrils thrust out to deal with the new threat when they suddenly go limp and turn into brittle ash.
Something is on my leg- partially wrapped around it. It’s another ribbon-like whip like what the succubus priestess was carrying. Only I can see that she’s still recoiling in shock by the soft-spoken blue serpent woman. Looking to my left, I can see that this ribbon-whip is wielded by a different succubus, clad in revealing garments that looked as though they came from the far east.
“My apologies, your majesty.” the succubus said quietly through a cloth mask concealing the lower portion of her face as she pulled the the sigil-laden ribbon whip back. She then performed a series of almost perfectly executed backflips, keeping her distance from my position.
“You? You’re from Zipangu? Vamore has no quarrel with your realm, so why do you attack me!?” I ask my newest assailant.
She can’t quite bring herself to look at me upon hearing that question but says quietly “I have my reasons…”
“You’re coming with us, princess!” the albino dragon snarls as she lunges towards me, refocusing my attention.
She’s strong, but also loud and overconfident. I can feel myself easily sidestepping her as the tries grabbing me. I feel as though I have an array of charms or defensive spells that would be useful in my situation, but for some reason I can’t summon anything right now.
But surprisingly, I do have brute strength at my disposal despite my slender and demure appearance. I give the dragon woman a hearty swat with my tail after she misses me- almost like a matador taunting the bull that’s challenging him.
My vulpine companion struggles back to her feet. Five assailants, probably with more waiting in the wings and I’m now unable to summon the tendrils of Dark Matter that accompany or summon any useful charms or spells. I begin scooping up my satchel along with one of the books. No telling how far away the others are to help. Something is amiss and we need to get as far away from here as possible.
“Come, ——! We’re going to the Library!” I say, wrapping an arm around her.
The dragon has recovered and is charging us again.
Another slip of paper, this one closer in size to a postcard, is now between the slender fingers of the fox girl. I can’t help but notice that she’s ran her fingers over the tip of her tongue.
“Tachisaramasu!” She yells as the paper glows blue.
I can’t tell if she threw it or it flew out of her hand, but it catches the albino dragon square in the chest and with a deafening explosion, sends the bellowing dragon woman rocketing backwards almost too fast and too far to be seen by the naked eye. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that another ribbon-like whip closing in on me. The succubus priestess has now recovered and worked up enough nerve to rejoin in the attack on me. It appears as though the whip is going to land squarely on my neck and apply more runes when I see an arm in a purple sleeve hold itself up diagonally. The weighted ribbon whip wraps itself around the vixen girl’s right sleeve- by design on her part. The dark priestess’ eyes narrow as the fox-girl extricates herself from the enchanted weapon unaffected by ripping off her sleeve. I don’t why I know this, but I somehow understand that those runes need to be applied to the target’s flesh to be completely effective.
As the priestess tries jerking back the ribbon-whip, she stumbles a few steps backwards as the vixen readies two more talismans. Both of us can see that the black winged Valkyrie and ninja succubus are now quickly closing in on the two of us.
“They’re getting away!” the serpent woman calls out, having some idea of what our next move is.
There is a place called the Library. I don’t know very much about it, but Mari apparently does. With more and more assailants crawling out of the woodwork, my best bet is to head there with my dark-haired vulpine compatriot. This cannot be accomplished by running or even flying, but rather, something akin to teleportation. Not the devices from earthly sci-fi works, but rather it’s brought about by a silent spell or incantation.
Once upon a time not too long ago, I remember going to a concert in Midland- not as a sensual arch-succubus with incredibly warm, smooth creamy skin, horns, bat wings and feminine curves, mind you. Just a mouthy and very mortal redneck who had a few too many. Long story short, there was alcohol involved and I started getting lippy with security. The cops showed up and- again, long story short- I continue getting mouthy and belligerent before the tasers came out. Even through my drunken fog, I remember the snapping noise, the electricity coursing through my body and collapsing into a convulsing mess on the ground. I was in agony and 99% certain I had pissed myself in the process. Seriously- who needs a twelve step program when you can carry with you for years to come the memory of the night you got drunk at a dive bar and were then tasered by the cops before soiling yourself and getting carted off to the drunk tank?
Except this was a million times worse.
Holy shit, it fucking hurts so much. Something dawns on me. If I’m supposed to be an all-powerful arch-succubus princess then what the fuck just happened to me? There’s no tasers in this fantastic realm of floating rocks, glowing violet obelisks and beautiful, magic-wielding fox-eared maidens. Even if there were, I’m sure that Mari could shrug them off.
Did my attackers discover some sort of countermeasure to effectively use against a lilim? Is this what it’s like to get struck by lightning? I begin reasoning that the sigils on the ribbon-whips applied to me have everything to do with this since the pain seems to linger persistently on the leg where the quiet ninja succubus applied the rune.
Everything goes red, and the only sound I can hear is my vulpine compatriot repeatedly calling out Mari’s name. I’m dimly aware that we made it to the place called The Library, but I’m not sure at what cost.
“OW! GODDAMNED MOTHERFUCKING COCKSUCKER!!” I bellow suddenly at the top of my lungs in a most decidedly unprincesslike manner as I bolt upright from the bed of the Ram.
Catching my breath, I realize that I’m not in some strangely beautiful and alien garden. Scanning my surroundings, I realize that I’m back in much more familiar surroundings. Although daylight has arrived, the sun still hasn’t quite broken free of the hills on the eastern horizon. For a moment, I thought I had dreamed the whole encounter with the self-described lilim princess Mari, but I saw with me in the bed of the truck the satchel that she had been carrying. However, it’s owner was nowhere to be seen right away.
Shit! I can’t remember the last time I had a dream that vivid and bizarre. It seems unusually specific for a random dream. No doubt about it- this had to have been triggered by the extraordinary events of the last 24 hours. Was this dream perhaps something that Mari herself had managed to implant in my head? Getting up and stretching, I heard a familiar padding coming from behind me. A much more sedate Tazzy was walking up, most likely looking to score breakfast.
“Hey buddy….any idea where our guest went?” I asked the cattle dog as he sat expectantly in front of me.
No reply save for panting and a hopeful gaze from him as his tail gently thumped the earth. I ruffled my hand through the fur on his head, being sure to give his ears a quick rub.
Before I can feed Tazzy or myself, there’s still the matter of our unexpected guest and where she went exactly.
It occurred to me that I had often talked a good game about enjoying living out in the desert wilderness, but with my penchant for sleeping in and working odd hours it had been awhile since I had gone for a stroll in the surrounding hillsides. Of course, the recent triple digit temperatures didn’t really do much to encourage me to go out. I found myself wondering if Mari’s assailants had caught up to her. However, if that was the case I’m sure I would’ve heard some sort of commotion during the night no matter how buzzed and sleepy I was.
As it turns out, my search for Mari was astonishingly short-lived. Tazzy led the way as I climbed the hill immediately behind the office. Sure enough, there she was with her back to us. For someone on the run from about a half dozen demihuman women capable of stripping her of her powers, Mari didn’t seem overly concerned about her safety. The girl seemed to lack what we referred to in the Army as “Situational Awareness”.
“Oh Jacob! You were absolutely correct about this realm being so very harsh, but beautiful at the same time!” Mari announced happily, her back still to me. On the page next to the one she’s working on, I can see a rocky hillside with symmetrical gashes torn out of it- she has already sketched some of the most recent excavation area.
“Heh- You ain’t kidding. I haven’t even shown you Big Bend yet.” I muse before realizing how lewd that might sound. Mari didn’t seem to take offense but was looking back over her shoulder at me with a quizzical expression on her face.
“I…..it’s a National Park a little ways from here.” I explain. “It’s got mountains, desert, wildlife and a big river runs through a canyon in the middle of it….”
She nods politely- I’m not really doing a good job of upselling Texas’ largest National Park.
“Hey…uh…look- Mari….” I sigh. “I had this strange dream last night.”
Her penstrokes slow noticeably as she takes her eye off of the artbook and stares off into the distance. “I see.” she pauses. “Am I to assume that I was in it?”
“Yeah- I mean…in a way- I think I WAS you….” She turned around to face me.
“My apologies, Jacob. I did try reciprocating when I went through your memories and was learning your tongue. I wanted you to have some idea of what had happened to me prior to my arrival in this realm.” She sighed. “However, I can only assume that didn’t fully take effect until after you began sleeping.”
I didn’t think it was even possible, but Mari looked even more alluring in the daylight. Her floppy white sunhat ringed with roses still looked immaculate, as did the white dress that hugged every one of the curves on her body. I made eye contact with her and as my gaze was held captive by her black sclera, I somehow had the undeniable feeling that this woman before me was capable of making my innermost fantasies come true….even if it would come at a price. I sensed that before me was nothing less than a being of pure lust and desire.
“H-how about you?” I asked a little nervously after picking up my jaw from the ground. “Did you sleep all right?” She nodded as she turned back to whatever she was working on in her book.
“Fortunately I don’t require as much sleep as humans do. But I’ve been awake for a bit and have been looking for scenes and landscapes to depict in my book since sunrise.”
“So you’ve been out here drawing landscapes all morning?”
“Mm-hmm. Ever since the sun came up, which was something to behold in and of itself.” The lilim nodded excitedly. I looked over her shoulder and saw that they were quite detailed and very good.
“So how did you end up here? What happened, exactly?” I ask.
“One of my compatriots and myself were inexplicably attacked by some of my subjects…”
“You mean like a palace coup?”
“Not really- although it was quite obvious some of them had marital training, my assailants seem to have been operating clandestinely and it’s unlikely their endgame was to oust me.”
“OK…but what about that…uh…thing on your leg?”
“It’s a rune of some sort that they managed to apply to me during their assault.”
“I know- I kinda there for that. Well….kind of. But what does it do exactly?”
“It seems as though its primary function is to inhibit my powers…”
“But….I saw you levitate and learn English in less than 20 seconds by kiss-” I corrected myself “By….lip contact with me.”
“You may not believe me, but I’m capable of so much more….”
I actually did believe her. Even finding herself lost and alone in what is no doubt a strange land to her, she still had a very assured and regal presence to her without being outwardly overbearing or arrogant.
“Jacob? You look as though you have something you wish to tell me…” she says, interrupting my train of thought.
“Your friend…..the one you said you’re looking for. Could you describe her?”
“Ah! Dear Ahmi. Well- she’s an inari from a noble clan that resides in a disputed territory off the shores of Zipangu and is very well versed in magic. One of my more enthusiastic disciples, too. We share almost everything. Her technique could use some refinement, but both the skill and raw power are undeniably there….”
“What’s an Ee-nari?” I ask.
“It’s a powerful fox demon revered as a deity in some foreign cultures.”
“A fox deity?”
“Mm-hmm…” The wheels in my head are turning.
“Hang on a sec…..does she have more than one tail? And can she alter her appearance?” Damn it- why didn’t I think of this sooner? The five tailed fox snapped by my Game Warden friend’s trail cam the other day and the talisman wielding fox girl in my vivid dream- in all likelihood, one and the same.
“Yes- she can.” Mari said, a tangible eagerness creeping into her voice. “You have seen her, haven’t you?”
“Not exactly” I caution. “But I think I know someone who has.”
“The sooner I find dear Ahmi, the better. And……what’s with that look?” she asks as she sees me fidgeting.
“I was thinking you might be hungry and want some breakfast.” I offer.
Satisfied she was at a point where she could stop, Mari held up a finger and nodded as she began gathering up her things before carefully setting her book down on a rock and breaking down the little easel. Everything looked as though it fit pretty snugly in that satchel she carried around.
“That would be marvelous.” Mari beamed as she slung the weighty-looking satchel over her shoulder and proceeded to follow me back to the trailer.
“Jacob?” she spoke up after a moment. “May I ask you a few questions?”
I hesitate. I have no idea what constitutes ‘a few’ in her mind’s eye, but I ready myself for her inquiries as we begin heading back.
“Please….wait!” the centipede woman called out as she struggled to keep up with the others in the rocky, arid terrain. Kaarmerys could do little to conceal her disdain.
“Can’t we just leave her?” the pale dragon asked the echidna through gritted fangs.
“Lady Kurohime’s kind doesn’t do particularly well in climates such as these.” Liselia told the dragon sternly.
“I would assume that you’d be a little more understanding of her circumstances given your condition.” the kunoichi chided the dragon.
“Well you assumed wrong, then.” the pale dragon hissed at the succubus assassin. “You’re not addressing some dainty Shirohebi handmaiden…”.
“Lady Kaarmerys…” the Echidna admonished the dragon.
“We can always come back for her.” the dragon said defensively, going out of the way to refer to the centipede woman only a few paces away in the third person.
“We’re not coming back for Lady Kurohime because we’re not leaving her behind.” one of the amazonesses spoke up to Kaarmerys. Liselia nodded in concurrence.
The centipede woman was looking increasingly distressed at the tone of the conversation about her that was taking place without any commentary from her.
“We wouldn’t have gotten this far without Kurohime’s contributions and in all likelihood, we may need her still.” the kunoichi observed flatly.
Neither Kurohime or the two Amazonesses had accompanied the others to their incursion to Mari’s garden in Vamore. “Fine…”
“Priestess Vonnelyn, Preistess Suutrana- has the Lilim shown any sign of movement?” Liselia asked the two succubus priests tersely.
The two of them were kneeling on the ground and looked up from an unscrolled parchment that was being held in place by rocks on each corner. The Dark Priests exchanged concerned glances before Suutrana addressed the echidna.
“The Lilim doesn’t appear to have gone very far from the approximate location indicated earlier.” That revelation made Liselia’s next decision fairly easy. Although she was used to hot and arid climates, the same couldn’t be said most of the others that had accompanied her.
“Very well. We shall rest here until dusk before we resume.”
“But-” an agitated Kaarmerys began to protest before Liselia cut her off.
“Kaarmerys….” she anticipated this reaction from the restless dragon woman. “While the others are resting and keeping me appraised of the Lilim’s whereabouts, I’ll need you to fly ahead and scout the area. Perhaps see if you can find any additional provisions.”
The truth of the matter was that they were pretty well stocked as far as provisions went. However, the excitable dragoness lashing out at the others was proving to be counterproductive. Best to let her venture ahead a ways while distancing herself from the others and hopefully cooler heads will prevail by the time she returns. For her part, Kaarmerys had some idea of what was going on. However she did not seem to object as she acknowledged the echidna with a quick nod and took off flying towards the northwest.
The questions did not let up by any stretch as we headed back. We got to the point where she wanted to know the significance of the two, red overlapping ‘T’s on my faded, grimy Texas Tech ballcap.
“What do you call this place?” she asks.
“This town? It’s called Bachelorsville.”
“How did it get such a name?”
I’m actually kinda glad she asked, since it’s an opportunity for me get into a little bit of local lore.
“Well- once upon a time when this land was first being settled by pioneers, there were stories of a U.S. Cavalry commander named Col. Horace Bachelor leading a detachment to come to the aid of settlers who were under attack by Apache indians. As a show of gratitude, they supposedly named the new settlement after the heroic Colonel.”
“But it turned out those stories were bullshit. The Apaches never made it this far east and there’s no records of a Col Bachelor from any of the old forts around here.” Mari’s tail was now swishing back and forth in anticipation.
“The more likely version is a little….well….boring, but it has to do with some local geography.”
“How so?” she asks. “You see those two rock formations over there?” I point to two craggy hills that are somewhere between five to seven miles to the northeast as the crow flies. Mari nods.
“Those are called the Two Sisters- now see the one a little ways to the right?” In this case, ‘a little ways’ was roughly three miles from the Two Sisters. “I do.”
“That one is called Bachelor’s Peak- it was said that the Two Sisters were admiring the Bachelor from a distance. The settlers started building along the base of Bachelor’s Peak and that’s how the town got its name.”
“So what else can you tell me about this place?” “Here? Specifically?”
Mari nodded. “Well, the nearest town with a traffic light is 80 miles away, the nearest interstate is more than 150 miles away, the nearest Wal Mart is over 200 miles away by road….in Mexico. “
I pause as I realize I’m using points of reference that are probably quite foreign to her.
“The point is, it’s pretty isolated.”
“Then what do you do for food and communications out here?” Mari asks before gently clasping my elbow with her free hand. “…..and companionship?”
“For companionship, I’ll admit that….I’ve um…..done rather poorly.” I decide a quick shift in topic was in order before she pressed the matter any further. I jerk my thumb back towards the office where I park the truck. “But for food and communications, I can always take the truck into town. You caught me on my way back from the market and having some drinks with my friends the other night.”
“But it looks as though there’s nobody else around for several Spanviijte’s.” she observes.
“Several….what?” I ask.
“Oh….Spanviijte’s…” Mari says absently as she casually unfurls her wings to their furthest length. “It’s a unit of measurement- roughly forty of these….” she moves her wings back and forth for emphasis, although she doesn’t get airborne “…..could fit into one Spanviijte. And sixty spanviijte’s in a Royal Votoet….”
“Got it.” I wasn’t really up for a lesson for whatever passes for the Metric system in the demonic realm that Mari hails from, but the wings are certainly interesting. “Do you know what that means, Jacob?” Mari asked excitedly.
“You mean besides the fact that I live in the middle of nowhere?”
“That’s just it!” she gushed as she effortlessly scaled a rocky outcropping just behind us. By my guess, it loomed about 10 feet above where we had been standing. Despite her sunhat, she was holding her palm horizontally on the base of her forehead as though she was shielding her eyes from the sun’s glare while scanning the horizon in each direction.
“A human and his mamono lover could do as they please out here! No rules, no interruptions, no inhibitions! No war or strife! No taboos or a judgemental society to condemn them for being in love! Just this desolate, beautiful landscape to bear witness to their unconditional devotion for one another.” Mari begins doing this happy little shimmy as she’s telling me all of this, using her palms to cup both of her cheeks.
“I guess that’s one way of looking at it.” I shrug as I resume trudging back to the trailer.
As I look behind me to see if Mari is following, I’m startled as I turn and see a dark shadow racing along the ground suddenly enveloping me. It’s Mari- she’s gliding down off of the rock with her wings spread and back to the sun, swooping right in on me with a wide grin. For a second, she looks like something out of a Bram Stoker novel. I reflexively stumble a few feet backwards.
“Shit! She was just play-acting as this confused, free-spirited traveller so I’d let my guard down!” is my first thought as I absently reach for a rather empty spot along my belt before realizing that I left the .357 back in the truck.
Mari hit the ground and took two running strides towards me before slowing up. However, instead of piercing my heart with the pointed tip of her tail or biting down on my jugular with her fangs like I thought she might have done a moment ago, she eagerly clasps my hands as she continues.
“The only limit is your imagination! That’s the beauty of it, wouldn’t you say?” she gushes.
Good Lord- she really does have fangs. I thought I caught a glimpse of them in the darkness last night, but dismissed it as a trick of the low light and my overactive imagination. Now I can see them as plain as day. Sharp-looking, predatory canines- not quite like a vampire, but still noticeable.
Yet- that doesn’t detract from her allure in the slightest. Despite the bat’s wings, horns and fangs, she didn’t seem to lose that happy, buoyant demeanor- even if she seemed a bit flighty and preoccupied at times. However, Mari notices my apprehension when I’m not forthcoming with an answer. “Well…..I guess.”
“Jacob? Are you still frightened by my appearance?”
“N-not quite….it just takes a little getting used to, that’s all.”
“Would you say I’m beautiful?” she asks.
Gotta think about that. I mean, outside of fishing for a compliment the obvious answer was ‘yes’.
When I was nine, we went to visit my uncle on his farm just outside of Amarillo. A massive storm system moved in that weekend- clouds blacker than night destined to disgorge rains and twisters upon the unfortunate cities and towns in its path. As a kid, I remember standing transfixed as the wind picked up and the skies darkened while the storm bore down on me in the open prairie. The next thing I know, my stoic and calm uncle is screaming at me while grabbing me and throwing open the door to the cellar. It was terrifying, but indescribably beautiful.
A bit like my visitor.
“Ahh…..Jacob. You still have so much to learn about my kind.” Mari continued, snapping me out of me reverie.
“I suppose I could alter my appearance slightly for your benefit, but in the long run that would accomplish nothing.”
Before I can ask her what she meant, I’m staring at a very human-looking Lilim. The horns, wings and tail are nowhere to be seen and her black sclera has given way to white with almost violet pupils. If I hadn’t already seen her in her lilim form, I would think that it was a human woman standing before me.
A strikingly beautiful human woman.
“H….how did you manage to do that?”
“Oh Jacob….” she chuckles knowingly as the horns, black sclera, tail and white bat wings suddenly reappear. “This is hardly the first time I’ve ventured into human territory. Usually when I do so, I have to use illusory magic in order to disguise myself with a more human-appearing visage.”
“You can still do that?” I ask- a little surprised as I nod towards her leg “That thing isn’t preventing you?”
“Yes- apparently the runes don’t affect some of the more rudimentary forms of magic that I’m capable of using. Believe me when I tell you that the list of things it’s preventing me from accomplishing is much longer.”
When we got closer to the trailer, Tazzy was plodding along to meet us. Apparently I still owe both him and Mari breakfast.
Except he doesn’t seem to be looking right at us. His ears have perked up and he seems to be following a little black form that’s headed our way, making its way along some rocks adjacent to the trail.
It’s the cat from last night. Except now in the daylight I can see that it has two tails.
Mari’s hardly says anything as the cat walks past me, regarding me with nothing more than a curious glance. The Lilim then holds out her left arm, and as if on cue the twin tailed feline jumps up and walks up her arm before perching on her shoulder. “Friend of yours?” I ask.
“My familiar.” She scratches the cat’s chin before addressing me. “Unfortunately, it seems as though one of the many things this blighted sigil has accomplished is to greatly diminish the link between my familiar and myself. But if nothing else, she can serve as an extra set of eyes. A bit like your canine companion, I suppose.”
“Nowhere near as noisy as Tazzy.” I say as my gaze shifts between the black cat and my dog.
“What purpose do all of these carriages serve?” she asks, looking at some of the construction and oilfield service trucks parked in the quarry’s lot as we descend closer to the trailer.
“Those are all trucks….”
“Like your Buffalo?” she asked, drawing upon my memories of the MRAP I was in when it was hit by a roadside bomb.
“Wasn’t mine- it was the Army’s.” Would’ve been my insides they would’ve been spray washing out of the Buffalo’s interior if the friendly neighborhood Sunni insurgents had a more competent bombmaker in their rolodex at the time. “But yeah….Sort of. Except each of these here trucks serve different functions.”
“How so?” “Well….” I begin to explain “Out here in Texas, we have something called oil that’s refined to make fuel for cars and trucks like these. Except the oil is deep underground, so it’s a very labor-intensive process to find a good spot, dig, drill and set up a well to pump it out of the ground.”
Mari blinked. “So each of these trucks serves a different role in the whole process.”
“What are they doing here, though? You said that this locations serves as a quarry, didn’t you?”
This girl is no dummy. She’s learning pretty quick. “Right- out of all these vehicles here, only three belong on the quarry. Two dump trucks and a quarter ton pickup. But as for why these other trucks are here- that’s a little more complicated. Basically, the price for oil has gotten really low to the point where it’s not profitable to drill for it right now. So instead of abandoning these ongoing projects, alot of these companies are just idling their equipment and trucks until the price of oil goes back up.”
“Why is that?” I chuckle. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to bore my guest to death with tales of OPEC speculation or Saudi Arabia artificially depressing the price of oil as part of a long-term economic gambit. Still, we’ve been close enough to the Permian oilfields to get some occasional ancillary business during the boom times of the cycle.
“It’s mostly bullshit.” I muse. “Cyclical bullshit that benefits us every once in awhile, but still bullshit. Basically, the companies are paying me to watch their equipment for awhile instead of shipping everything back to Houston.”
“Is this Hew-Stun far away?”
“Very far away. ” I tell her. “Many many ‘’’many’’’ Spin-Widgets from here.”
“Spaanwijdtes” she pouts as she corrects me as I open the door to my trailer and let her in.
For better or worse, I guess it was time to show Mari my humble abode.