Mors Funebris, Ch. 3 P. 5- Rewrite

Mors Funebris Chapter 3 Part 5 Rewrite.

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“Really, it’s a simple choice Lady Mara.” Cue said with an ingratiating smile. “Just agree to help me with the disposal of Arawn’s Extremus Gun, and I’ll give you the information Arawn needs to eliminate Grendel.”

“How is that supposed to be helpful?” Mara demanded.

“Simple Really,” Cue shrugged as he turned away from her, “No Grendel, no need for the Extremus Gun.” He said casually over his shoulder.

“Oh, let me guess, I’m supposed to make my decision right now, this instant?” Mara replied, her voice heavily laden with skepticism. Cue looked back at her with an amused look.

“No, it can wait.” Cue replied. Then he stopped smiling as he looked at her with a severe expression. “But don’t take too long!” Cue growled.  Mara flinched

“Why?” she asked, nervous. He stared at her with a smirk growing on his face. 

“Arawn likes to think of himself as a Master Chess player, and in a way, he is.” Cue leaned his hips back against a water pipe and idly traced a finger in the dust atop it.

“What with all of his planning and scheming on this planet for the last several centuries. He has managed to do what I thought to be impossible: He maneuvered both the Tocs and the Ogs back to your world.” Cue chuffed.

“However, the timing of your arrival has proven to be most unfortunate for him,” Cue smiled like a tiger, “It may not be obvious to you. But, recently he’s been dealt a significant blow to his power. That, coupled with his soft spot for daughters,..” Cue said then stopped and frowned.

“Or perhaps I’ve said too much?” Cue asked, seemingly to himself. Then he looked back at Mara.

“If you allow my offer to pass unanswered,…” he blinked as he looked away momentarily and sighed dramatically. “You may very well be the agent of his Doom.” Mara sighed and gave him a doubtful look. She then opened her mouth…

“Remember!” Cue said suddenly, his eyes flaring wildly, “It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” He finished and looked expectantly at her. Mara bunched up her eyebrows in confusion

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” Mara replied, not understanding him in the slightest. Cue sighed and rolled his eyes with exasperation.

“Children these days!” Cue said as he tilted his head back and placed the back of one had onto his forehead. Then he looked over at her several times, clearly expecting her to say something. When it became clear she wasn’t, he stood up and placed himself in front of her.

“I’m trying to spare you future pain, Mara.” He said quietly.

“What is that supposed to mean?” she asked him warily. Cue smiled.

“Soon, you will have to make another, bigger, choice my dear.” He huffed. “One with consequences that will affect you for far longer.”

“What choice?” Mara asked him suspiciously as he looked back at her insouciantly.

“You will face the choice between saving the life of someone you will come to love, or someone you will want to love you.” He finished cryptically. Mara opened her mouth to ask him to clarify, but Cue cut her off with a shake of his head.

“Now here’s the piece-de-resistance.” He grinned evilly. “It won’t matter either way you choose. Because either way, will lose what little innocence you have remaining.” He said smugly. THAT got her attention and her amusement.

“I’m a demon!” she scoffed. “I’m not,…”, she began to protest, then froze. ‘innocent’ she wanted to say, but couldn’t quite make herself for some reason. Cue smiled triumphantly as he watched her. Almost as if he could hear her thoughts.

“Don’t sell yourself short, Lady Lilim!” Cue replied, with a knowing wink. “Of course, you are! In your own dark way!” he laughed once,

“Even the vilest of demons are, like say for instance,” he motioned with one hand, “…this one.” He continued as the image of a Baphomet appeared before her.

‘Belphegor.’ Mara realized with a shudder when she recognized that particular one. Cue noticed it.

“All right, all right!” he continued as he motioned his hand again, dispelling the image of that particularly obnoxious Baphomet. “I admit that neither they, nor you, have much left.” He smirked. Then he began to whisper.

“But we both know that however small that amount is, you cherish it.” Cue said. Mara found that she wanted to deny his claim. Yet she knew she couldn’t, not without making herself into a liar.

“Yes.” He nodded knowingly. “When that last,…little,… amount,… is gone.” He paused for effect, and lowered his voice deeper still. So low that she could barely hear him.
“It will be lost to you,….forever.” He breathed, as he looked back at her for a long moment. Mara found it impossible to break eye contact.

“So. What will it be?” he asked her suddenly as he stood himself fully erect. Mara finally managed to look somewhere, anywhere other than at him! She then walked a pair of steps away and just stood there, staring at nothing; deep in thought.

‘It seems like he makes such a small request.’ She pondered as her eyes bobbed about in contemplation. ‘All I have to do is ‘misplace’ Arawn’s Extremus gun. Where is the harm in that?’ She frowned slightly as she thought about it.

‘But the price!’ she thought as she pursed her lips. ‘To break my word not only to Arawn! But also, to my mother!’ she quailed fearfully for a moment. Then that fear stopped when she remembered something from her past.

‘What was it, Father said once? That you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs?’ one part of her thought, in reasonable tone.

‘But it’s not just eggs! I’d be breaking honor!’ Another, harsher, part of her shot back.

‘If I did, then I could go home.’ She realized, which stopped her doubts, ‘probably within a day or two.’ She thought as tears of homesickness welled up in her eyes. ‘As opposed to staying here for who knows how much longer?’ She recalled with a shudder of distaste.

‘Wait a second!’ Mara thought, as a part of her realized that there was a flaw in his reasoning. Unfortunately, when she turned to look back at him and ask for clarification, there was no sign of him. He’d simply vanished without a trace.

‘Damn it!’ she thought, her fists tightening in frustration, her tail lashing wildly left and right.

She stayed standing there in that tunnel junction room for several long minutes. Until finally, she began to shiver with a mounting frustration. As she did, her control began to crack and crumble. Mara’s eyes widened fearfully when she realized she had begun to lose control of herself.

‘A Lilim has to maintain her control!’ Mara remembered in her Mother’s voice. ‘If she doesn’t, then someone else can control her!’ she agonized.

“What should I do?” Mara asked aloud to no one, not expecting an answer.

‘Why must life be so difficult?!’ she huffed as she folded her arms and clamped her fingernails down painfully into the skin of her upper arms. Several seconds later that pain managed to penetrate somewhat through the wall of frustration that threatened to overwhelm her.

“I hate this!” Mara shouted suddenly, as she dropped her hands which then tightened into fists. “I am a LILIM! Arawn should be asking me for my help! Not treating me like a scullery maid!” Mara shouted as she began to rage in earnest.

“Dammit!” she shouted her voice loud enough to echo through the nearby corridors, “I’m so tired of being alone here.” she said as she began to pant and pace in the corridor.

 “Why do these fools treat me like I’m a pariah?!” she breathed fiercely, as she recalled all of the snubs she’d endured since her arrival. Yes! She had expected there to be some hostility from the non-Monsters of this world.  But what she didn’t expect, was the same reactions from what she considered to be her own kind!

“I’m so tired of the local Monster’s hostility!” Mara cried as she ceased her pacing and stood in one spot with her arms crossed resentfully. She began to shiver once more as her control began to falter. Then her head bowed forward until her chin touched her chest, as her better sense tried to argue with her.

‘Because you are a danger to them both, humans and monsters.’ She tried to remind herself. ‘You did nearly kill Juanita.’ A deep part of her spoke. As it did, she began to feel her legs beginning to weaken from the stress.

‘You are a Lilim. The original, most dangerous of all succubi.’ She thought as she clenched her eyes shut.  She knew it was a truth, yet part of her still fought against it.

 “It’s not my fault that I was born a Succubus!” Mara yelled. Suddenly she fell to her knees. Slumping over, she slammed a hand upon the cold and unyielding concrete floor.

 “I’m so damned tired of this,…this,… world!” She wailed quietly as she bunched up a fist and started pounding it onto the floor.

”I’m so….so,… tired of that idiot male-Arawn!” she huffed, “And,…and,…his innumerable frowns! Why must he be such a dullard?” she sobbed as her fist pounding slowly wound down.

“Why should I be nice to these ingrates?”  She said as she smacked her fist down again once, this time softer.

This time, her fist remained on the floor. After a second or two, she gently allowed herself to topple over. Then she curled herself up into a fetal position. Automatically she pulled her wings close to her body and wrapped her arms and tail around her legs. The way she used to as a child, in an effort make herself feel safe again.

As she did, her long denied tears welled up behind her eyes. Until finally she allowed them free reign. When she did, they came forth in a torrent. A rivulet of tears ran down her face. Then they dripped off and came to rest upon the uncaring coldness of the concrete floor.

“AAAAaaaaahhhhh!” she cried aloud, unable to deny herself anymore.

 In her misery, Mara then did something that she’d not done since she was a toddler: She placed the tip of her spade-ended tail to her mouth. When she felt it connect, a forgotten memory of her mother, rose unbidden from the depths of her mind.

‘Big Succubi don’t suck their tails, Mara!’ Her mother frowned as she shook her head disapprovingly. ‘Stop acting like a child!’ the Great Maou admonished.

“Mama PLEASE!” Mara beseeched the memory of her Mother, crying akin to a lost waif, hoping against hope that her far too-distant mother might hear her and come to her aid once more.
“Please Mama, I…I…I…” she sobbed as best she could. Until finally she simply couldn’t speak anymore, instead only sniffling and blubbering incoherently. Thus, Mara might’ve continued for who knows how long?

Then something happened.

Mara felt a touch.

It was only a tentative touch at first, but then it began to stroke her gently on one of her wing’s surfaces, almost as if someone was attempting to sooth her.
Caught off guard. Mara’s blubbering stopped instantly as her eyes sprung open in surprise.

Fearfully holding her breath, she turned her eyes to see who, or what, it was that attempted such a comforting gesture.

Mara’s eyes widened in shock, when she saw the source of that touch. It was a hand, a dirty one, but nonetheless a hand!

As she watched the rhythmic motion of that tiny unkempt hand, Mara felt herself comforted slightly. It felt so akin to her long absent mother’s touch!

Swallowing her tears, and biting her lower lip. Mara dared to shift her head ever so slightly. She gave out a gasp of surprise when she realized how small the hand was.

One that could only belong to a child.

‘One of the nightbreed cubs?’ she thought automatically. Yet she knew that couldn’t be right, as the Nightbreed parents forbade their children to explore the tunnels underneath the Iron Foundation. Mara focused her eyes and studied the child closer.

‘No, she’s not a Nightbreed.’ Mara realized. This one was so unlike any of those, as even the worst took pride in their appearance. This one appeared to be more akin to a dust mop, what with her raggedy, dirty clothing. Even though the child was covered with filth, Mara could make out a pair of long tapering pinkish ears. Ears that extended out from the depths of a mop of snarled and matted hair.

Just then, Mara made out a pair of strange seeming eyes staring back at her. Looking closer, she could see that those eyes appeared purple with a yellow center.

‘What pretty eyes.” She thought, as she and the child make eye contact, at that moment the child seemed surprised and smiled briefly, but then a look of wariness passed over her.  Not once did the child cease in her slow stroking of Mara’s wing.

For a timeless moment, Mara kept her peace as she returned that stare with the one who sought to comfort her. Until finally, Mara felt the urge to speak. As she did, a question formed in her mind.

 ‘Boto?’ Mara thought. The child before her blinked, stopped her stroking and then grasped at Mara’s wing tightly.

‘Mama?’ Mara heard the child’s voice replying in her thoughts. It was a simple lone telepathic word. Yet it also came with a welter of emotions that threatened to overwhelm Mara’s senses.

‘Wait! That’s right!’ Mara remembered then. ‘The Vadhagh communicate through telepathy.

Struggling her best against the foreignness of another person’s thoughts, Mara came to realize that Boto’s inquiry held a vast sense of desperation, longing, and a tiny measure of hope. Mara licked her lips as she examined the feelings and thought-forms she received from Boto.

‘She wants her mother.’ Mara realized then, as she frowned with concern. ‘That’s why she came to me. Because she felt my need. She came so that she could comfort.”

“She and I are alike. We are connected in that we both are lost and alone in a strange world, without the comfort of family.’

Acting without thinking, Mara immediately reached out and gently covered Boto’s hand with her own.

Boto stiffened, and gasped audibly at the touch. Yet, she didn’t pull away.

After a moment, Mara pushed herself up to a sitting position. Then she slowly, but firmly, reached out to draw Boto within her arms and wings.

After a moment’s reluctance. Boto allowed herself to be pulled within the refuge of Mara’s arms. Once there, she remained tense, ready to bolt. But after several soothing sounds uttered by Mara, along with thoughts of peace, she relaxed.

Mara continued doing her best to calm the orphaned child, and eventually Boto was reassured enough to snuggle herself into the warmth of the Succubus’ arms. Finally she lay her head down across Mara’s bosom.

‘???’ Boto thought/asked from her safe spot within Mara’s lap. This time Mara felt a different flavor of question/emotion. One that stirred something protective from within the depths of her soul.

‘Will I leave her?’ Mara realized. Her reaction was instantaneous.

“NEVER!”  She spoke aloud fiercely. Boto then looked up and held Mara’s eyes with her own, hoping.

‘??’ Boto thought/asked her once more, this time with a different inquiry. But Mara didn’t need to translate it. She already knew.

“I promise.” She vowed. Boto smiled in response, tentatively at first and then fully. Then she began to cry silent tears. Which Mara found herself matching tear for tear.

At first, they were tears of solace, then tears of mutual welcome, then tears of comfort as a bond formed between them. Then after a minute more, Mara became aware that Boto had fallen asleep.

‘She feels safe.’ She realized as a maternal smile formed on her face.

“Sleep well my little one. I shall watch over you.” Mara said softly, “Always.” Boto murmured something unintelligible then, as she snuggled herself deeper into her embrace.

Mara felt herself start to fade as she breathed in contentedly, feeling a wave of warmth fall over her. With a yawn, she laid her own head atop Boto’s.

‘Just for a moment.’ She thought…

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Slowly, Mara felt herself awaken. When she opened her eyes, the sight of cold horizontal pipes appeared, leaving her confused.

‘Where am I?’ she wondered, as a small yawn sneaked its way out.

Lifting her head and looking around, she slowly became aware of where she was.

‘Oh. I’m in the access tunnels.’ She thought in puzzlement. ‘Why did I fall asleep here?’ She frowned.

Mara then noticed that despite the coldness of the tunnels soaking itself into her back and bottom, her chest and arms remained warm. Looking down, she soon saw why as a broad smile lit up her face.

‘Boto.’ She thought happily as she gazed down upon the stinky bundle of treasure held within her grasp. Mara allowed herself a moment to simply take it all in, to study the trusting Vadhagh child.

‘Her breath tickles.’ Mara almost giggled, when she heard Boto’s almost silent snoring.

‘Why do I feel like I’ve accomplished a great thing?’ she thought as Boto slept blithely along, completely unaware of Mara’s sudden wakefulness.

‘She’ll be hungry soon.’ She realized, as a look of concern crossed her face. Then she frowned as she looked over at the food tray. It was still sitting where she’d left it.

‘It’s probably spoiled by now.’ She judged with a deep sigh. Boto protested then slightly in her sleep, which caused Mara’s breath to catch in her throat. After a second or two, Boto moved her head up and opened her eyes. Mara smiled again at the sleepy look she received.

‘?’ Boto inquired/thought, as she languidly blinked her eyes. Instantly, Mara became aware that Boto asked many questions. But one in particular came out the strongest.

“You’re hungry?” Mara asked her softly.

‘Hungee.’ Boto thought/spoke as she nodded tiredly. 

“I’m afraid the food I brought down for you; has probably gone bad by now.” Mara replied as she glanced over at the untouched tray. Boto followed her gaze and wrinkled her petite nose after a brief ‘sniff’.

“Which means that I’ll have to take you upside.” Mara whispered softly, as she glanced upwards. Boto’s eyes flared in alarm for a second.

“It’s all right!” Mara reassured her quickly. “I promise that I won’t let anything bad happen to you up there.”

Boto stared warily at Mara for several seconds. Then she frowned when her tummy rumbled, indicating how hungry she was. When it did, Boto looked down at her belly and then back up to lock her gaze with Mara. She nodded once.

Carefully, Mara shifted herself in preparation to stand. All the while she kept one eye on Boto, alert to any changes that might indicate she was being pushed too quickly.

As she began to stand erect, she’d pause every time Boto tensed. Then she continued once she relaxed.

After several patient minutes, Mara managed to get herself fully erect without too many of her muscles protestations. Then she shifted Boto into a sitting position onto her shoulders.

Mara gave off a squeak of surprise when Boto reached out with her tiny hands and began to curiously run her fingers gently up and down the lengths of Mara’s horns.

‘She seems to like how they feel.’ Mara smiled as she enjoyed the unique sensation of tiny fingers gripping and then sliding over the keratin.

‘I think I do too.’ She realized, ‘No one’s ever done that before.’

When she was satisfied that Boto was both secure and comfortable, she then began her long ascent up into the higher reaches of the Iron Foundation.

‘This is going to take a while.’ Mara judged as she crouched herself down in a corridor doorway, mindful of the need to prevent cracking Boto’s head on a lintel.

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With a sharp gasp that whistled through a set of overly clenched teeth, Annwyfn Arawn, AKA ‘Doctor Iron’, jerkily woke up.

Blinking furiously, he leaned back from his hunched-over position. After a few seconds, he stared down at the blotter that sat in front of his computer screen. For several seconds he stared uncomprehendingly at the large wet stain that had appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

‘What?’ He wondered. Reaching up with one hand, he began to tentatively examine his face. With a pursing of his lips, he encountered a corresponding wet spot that started at the right side of his temple all the way down to his chin. ‘Saliva’, he concluded with annoyance.

‘I have fallen asleep again.’ He decided, annoyed with himself.

With a heavy sigh, he began to push himself away from his desk. But then stopped when he encountered resistance underneath the casters of his rolling chair.

Looking blearily down all around himself. He grimaced when he noted that he had surrounded himself with numerous papers on all sides in. An audible groan escaped his lips when he realized that these massive mounds of papers were arranged in a makeshift order of need that he couldn’t recall.

‘Bills…, invoices,… contracts,… memos,…  and printed email correspondence. All of them needing to be checked and annotated correctly.’ Arawn sighed as he closed his eyes in frustration.
‘It was never this complicated when I was captaining a spaceship.’ He misremembered.

A small growl of resentment welled up within his chest, as he began to stare balefully at the Labors that awaited him. He then covered his face with one palm as an old saying rose unbidden from the depths of his memories.

“Empires may arise and Empires may crumble, but paperwork remains forever.” He spoke audibly to no one present, not even to his ‘Not-brothers’.

Opening his eyes resolutely, he breathed in deeply to steel himself for several more tedious hours of paperwork.

Starting with the occasional grimace that occurred in tandem with a barely audible ‘pop’ from his back. Arawn raised his arms and then stretched himself backwards. All in an effort to work out the numerous muscle cramps and kinks that he’d accumulated during his nap.

‘Sleeping in a chair is not conducive to a proper rest’. He decided.

After several moments of tension, Arawn relaxed, then winced when he finally became aware of a severe tension headache determined to penetrate his skull.

‘This has not been a good evening.’ He deemed as he rubbed at one temple with a hand. Then his face froze, when he noticed the dazzling light show that had begun to illuminate his office window a few minutes prior.

‘Correction.’ He decided. ‘Not a good…. morning.’ He sighed as he stared at the eastern Sun that had begun to peek itself out over the rim of the Chino Hills. He stared at it until his eyes began to water. 

‘If I ignore it long enough, will it go away?’ he asked rhetorically as he shut his eyes firmly. He soon received an answer.

“BZZZT!” came the grating sound of his intercom. Arawn’s eye sprang open, as he punched the answer-call button too heavily.

“What is it Ms. Augustine?” he groaned.

“Good morning Sir.” Came the scratchy-sounding voice of his aide-de-camp and personal secretary.

“Good morning’, he growled audibly. “Is it important?”

“May I come in?” Ms. Augustine’s voice asked with a mildly reproving tone. Arawn grimaced and sighed.

“No!” He began, “I would prefer that,…” he was interrupted by the sound of his office’s paired entrance doors opening. Arawn looked resentfully up at the newcomer and the cart she pushed in front of her.

At first glance, the woman who pushed that cart appeared to be more scarecrow than a human woman. She was dressed in a no-nonsense dark grey business suit and knee length skirt. Her head a crown of mousy brown hair that framed a pinched seeming face.

‘Scarecrow, yes.’ Arawn thought instantly at the sight. Then he closed his eyes and sighed

‘Be fair, that is what you required of her.’ He chided himself.

Propelled by her stick thin arms, was a metal cart loaded with many a cardboard folder stuffed with reams of paper. Precariously perched atop them all, was a covered metal food tray. 

On the cart’s front end was a laundry hook that carried a recently dry-cleaned business suit, still covered with a clear plastic bag. A suit that matched Arawn’s currently rumpled and stained one.

Within a few seconds, she walked quietly across Arawn’s office, then came to a stop just inches from the edge of his desk.

Arawn stared balefully at her for several seconds as he bit back several curses. Unimpressed with his anger, Ms. Augustine silently stared back at him with her arms folded, waiting expectantly.

“Why do you bother asking, if you never listen to my reply?” Arawn said finally, still glaring.

“I am merely performing the duties that both you and my creator assigned me.” Ms. Augustine replied neutrally. She then moved over to his desk’s “out box’ and picked up its contents.

“Hmph!” she snorted disapprovingly when she noticed how small that pile was.

“What?” Arawn glowered. Ms. Augustine gave him an annoyed looked as she turned away and then deposited that small pile into the appropriate spot on the cart. She then began unloading the cart.

Arawn whimpered when he realized just how much larger the amount of work that awaited him was.

When he opened his mouth to complain, a knock came from one of the open doors. Both he and his secretary turned to look.

“Uh, Doctor Iron?” came the sound of Alonzo’s voice, as his head poked in on one side of the opened doors. “The doors are open, is it safe?” he asked. Arawn closed his eyes in resignation, sighed once and then motioned for him to come in.

“You may as well. As I am near desperate for a diversion at this point.” Arawn replied tightly as Alonzo came in and walked to the front of Arawn’s desk. But before he could speak.

“Take a seat Mr. Belushi and await your turn.” Ms. Augustine stated firmly, as she gave Alonzo a commanding look. Alonzo looked back for a second, and blanched. He immediately sat down in one of the surrounding chairs and kept himself silent.

“Foolish of me to assume that I was in charge.” Arawn spoke dryly, as he made eye contact with Alonzo. Alonzo smirked.

“You most certainly are,” Ms. Augustine stated as she continued to transfer items between her cart and Arawn’s desk. “But in order for you to do so properly, you need all of the tools at your disposal.”

Alonzo Belushi kept his peace as he noticed that Arawn’s normally tidy desk, began to overflow with a variety of items. Mostly they consisted of paperwork and envelopes. Yet three or four, were boxes covered in strange looking writing.

Through it all Arawn remained sitting in his chair as placidly as he could manage. Finally, Ms. Augustine finished her tasks, then placed that covered food tray directly in front of Arawn.

“Breakfast I assume?” Arawn asked her. Augustine nodded once. Arawn then eagerly reached for the tray cover. She laid her hand atop his, preventing him from uncovering it. Arawn looked at her.

“I recommend you indulge in some Dragon’s Rest first.” She said.

“Why is that?” Arawn asked peevishly.

“You have a long day ahead of you. You will need to be at your best.” Ms. Augustine replied as she picked up a black leather clad planner, and began to pore through her notes.

“How long of a day?” Arawn asked her wearily.

“You have an appointment to speak with the Council in two hours, then with the Board of Directors after that, after which you will need to speak with a representative of the Mayor. After that, you will be interviewing the head of a paranormal mercenary group. They call themselves the,” she paused to look closer at her notes,  “The Illuminatus Squad; they are seeking employment with your,…” she continued and then stopped when she noticed that Alonzo was waving at her, trying to get her attention.

Both she and Arawn turned to him.

“Sorry about that!” Alonzo apologized, “Your standing orders, Sir!” he paused as he nodded an apology at Ms. Augustine, “Arawn did tell me to inform him immediately if and when Mara was successful.”

“Boto?” Arawn asked, eager to distract himself. Alonzo nodded. Ms. Augustine fumed, but kept silent.

“Excellent! Where are they?”

“Currently both of them in the cafeteria, as Boto is doing her best imitation of a bottomless pit.”

“Excellent.” Arawn replied with a slight smile. “I will need to talk to them both,…” Arawn began and then stopped.

Alonzo became confused as he expected his boss to continue. Instead, Arawn stiffened and started to move his eyes left and right, up and down, momentarily focusing and then shifting to another spot.

‘I’d swear he’s talking to several someone’s.’  Alonzo thought as he looked around himself, but  he couldn’t see anything or anyone else nearby. He leaned over to Ms. Augustine.

“What is he,…?” he began. But that was when she raised a hand and waved at him to stop. She then glanced over at Alonzo as she made a ‘shushing’ sign with one finger in front of her mouth. After a minute, Arawn ceased looking around and then focused his eyes on Alonzo.

“My apologies for my rudeness.” He nodded. “But I was just in a telepathic communication with a pair of colleagues.” He said. Alonzo looked confused.

“Quintus and Secundus?” Ms. Augustine asked.

“Indeed.” Arawn nodded, “Quintus believes he has come up with a possible solution for the situation involving Tertius’ and Quartus’ terminal conditions.”

“Who or what are they?” Alonzo asked.

“They,” Arawn began firmly, “are other colleagues of mine; who are both currently in a medical coma. Put here because of injuries they sustained from Grendel’s last attack.” He finished, and then turned to Ms. Augustine.

“You will need to know that Quintus’ solution involves the Sidrat.” He said simply. In reaction, Ms. Augustine’s face darkened considerably. Alonzo, still confused, looked sharply between them both, but kept his peace.

“That!” she began, “is a dangerous proposition!” she frowned fiercely, her eyes blazing.

“Nevertheless, I intend to hear him out before I pass judgment.” Arawn shot back, and then cleared his throat as he returned his attention to his Chief of Security.

“Once more, my apologies. I will explain everything to you shortly. Come along please.” He said as he began to walk towards his office door, motioning to Alonzo to follow. He barely got in a step before he stopped. Stopped by Ms. Augustine’s hand pressing firmly against his chest.

“Ms. Augustine!” Arawn shouted angrily, “I wish to,…” he began.

“Mr. Iron!” she shouted back, equally loud. “You have numerous duties to attend to in the here and now! Primarily, is your duty to yourself. I INSIST that you engage in a bout of Dragon’s Rest, before attending to anything else.” She demanded. Arawn kept his mouth open to shout back, stopped as he assessed the situation and then closed it without a remark

“Anything involving the Sidrat is not a choice to be made lightly.” She intoned to him challengingly. “Get some rest first.” She insisted. The pair of them engaged in a short, yet brutal staring contest. Eventually, to Alonzo’s eyes, she won.

“What you say does make sense.” Arawn admitted wearily, “I will do as you recommend.”  He stated as he reached out a hand towards Ms. Augustine, who now held Arawn’s dry-cleaned suit in front of her.

“Uh Doc?” Alonzo stated, raising his voice. Arawn stopped and looked at Alonzo.  Ms. Augustine looked at him with an amused smile.

“Whatever a Dragon’s Rest is, I get the feeling that you’ll be out of commission for a while. There is something else I’ll need to speak to you about, preferably alone.” He said meaningfully, looking at Ms. Augustine.

“Can it wait for another five to ten minutes?” Arawn asked, as he suppressed a yawn.

“Uh,…yes?” Alonzo sighed in annoyance.

“Then I will attend to you then.” Arawn replied firmly as he snatched the suit from Ms. Augustine’s outstretched hand.

He then silently opened the door to his executive ready room, entered, and then firmly closed the door behind him.

Alonzo clenched his fists angrily as the door clicked and locked shut. As he did, Ms. Augustine walked over to Arawn’s desk and began to tidy things up.

“What am I missing?” Alonzo spoke loudly. Lady Augustine smiled indulgently as she continued to arrange various items on Arawn’s desk.

“You’re still new here. Aren’t you?” She asked. Alonzo looked over at her with a raised eyebrow. When he nodded, she began.

“Dragon’s Rest is a form of Battle Magic.” She explained.

“That doesn’t answer my question.” Alonzo stated with a frustrated roll of his eyes.

“Think of it as a spell that allows him to ‘borrow time’. It allows him to get a few hours of sleep in only a few minutes. Or at least it does from our perspective.”

“That sounds like a great talent to have.”

“Indeed, but even so it comes at a cost.”

“How so? A lot of magic power?”

“Mana.” Ms. Augustine corrected him pedantically.

“Mana, yes.” Alonzo huffed.

‘Too much like Arawn.’ He decided.

“Dragon’s Rest is similar to drinking caffeine. It allows the caster to ‘borrow’ against future rest periods. Master Arawn will be refreshed for today, but  he will need an extra night or two worth of rest to make up for it.”

“Oh.” Alonzo replied, as he stepped back and pondered that information.

After a bit he then began to contemplate the sight of Arawn’s secretary as she continued her work. After a few moments, he decided to use his inborn Hunter’s talent on her.

Soon, a look of puzzlement and wonder appeared on his face.  She raised an eyebrow when she noticed it.

“Speak freely.” She replied neutrally.

“You’re not human.” He said. She glanced at him with a half-smile.

“Indeed, I am not. Your talent serves you well.” She said as she stopped and looked at him full on, then rested an elbow onto the cart. 

“What else can you detect?” she challenged him. Alonzo looked at her with surprise.

“You’re not offended?” he asked. She shook her head.

“I expect nothing less from our Chief of Security.” She smiled.

“With your permission?” he asked as he stood up. Augustine nodded once. Alonzo then stood in front of her and extended a hand, not quite touching.

He frowned as he concentrated. Augustine looked back at him patiently, not saying a word. Finally, he spoke.

“Not only are you not human,…” he continued as he raised an eyebrow. “I would surmise that you’re not even alive,… exactly.” He said in puzzlement. Augustine smiled slightly.

“That is about as correct as anyone has ever managed.” She nodded, “Tell me more.”

“I want to say you’re a Golem, but I’m not sure that I could.” Alonzo pondered, trying to find the right words. “I’ve never encountered an entity like you before.”

“That’s not surprising, as I doubt that there are any other of my kind still in existence.”

“Ok, I give up.” Alonzo stated as he threw his arms up in exasperation. “What are you?”

“I’ll give you a hint. I was created by Doctor John Dee in the year of our Lord, 1600 Anno Domine.” She stated enigmatically. Alonzo thought about it for a few seconds. His face froze and his eyes widened.

“You’re a homunculus?” he asked, incredulous. He then began looking studying her closer, his mouth agape. Augustine curtsied with a demure smile.

“Correct.” She replied. “As far as I’m aware, I’m the last one.”

“How many more were there?” Alonzo asked, fascinated. “If you don’t mind my asking?” he hastily added. Augustine looked over at the closed door to Arawn’s ready room for a second.

“It seems we have a few more minutes to spare.” She said aloud. Then she returned her attention to him.

“There were once over a score of my fellow homunculi.” She replied, amused for some reason.

“All created by Mr. Dee?”

Dr. Dee, yes.” She said firmly with a slight frown.

“Ah yes, Doctor Dee.” Alonzo echoed. “No offense meant.”

“None taken.”

“What happened to the others?”

“He created them to assist in his role as spy to Queen Elizabeth. Such a profession is, by its very nature, prone to short lifespans.”

“Oh, that makes sense. Then,…” he began as he made a thoughtful duck face.

“Why am I still in existence?” she asked rhetorically. “I was created to fill the role of Secretary to the good Doctor.” She replied, “Such an indispensable position, has afforded me much in the way of protection from all of my masters.”

“With Doctor Iron being the latest?”

“Indeed. I have served both Masters and Mistresses since I first became aware of my existence.”

“Don’t you ever wish to become something other than a Secretary?”

“Why should I?” she asked, seemingly amused by the notion. “I cannot help but notice that normal humans flounder their way through life. All attempting to be something they know they’re not. Only a few accomplishing anything of note during their short existence. “

“Well what about other matters?” he asked her cryptically.

“I assume you refer to sexual activity?” she said pointedly. Alonzo jerked in surprise and blushed slightly.

“Uhhh,…well.” He stammered.

“Let me be frank.” She said as she rolled her eyes. “I have no libido. Nor do I desire to have one. Despite appearances, I am not a female.”

“Not a female, yet you,..” he began.

“Resemble one? Yes. My form is plastic.” She explained. “I can take whatever form my Master desires that I do.”

“You can shape shift?”

“To a limited degree, yes. I have also assumed a male form, a childlike form and on several occasions assumed a more demonic one as well.”

“Why such an unappealing form?” Alonzo asked, as he indicated her current form.

“Master Arawn felt that an attractive person would be too,…” she paused in thought for a second, “distracting for him.”

“So, what do you get out of this arrangement?”

“I serve.” Ms. Augustine replied quietly, not comprehending.

“No! No! No!” Alonzo said, waving his hands. “I suppose what I mean, is that even with a Master/Slave relationship, the Slave gets something for their efforts. What do you get?” Alonzo asked her pointedly. She opened her mouth to reply.

“Why do you wish to know Alonzo? Are you eager to steal my secretary away from me?” Arawn asked jovially as he reentered the room.

“What?!” Alonzo asked, utterly surprised by the change in Doctor Iron. From the rather disheveled and tired looking person he had been a few minutes ago, now stood an almost different person.

His disheveled mop of hair was now both clean and combed. His ragged looking beard; properly trimmed. The dark bags underneath his eyes had vanished. He seemed to have a spring to his step. Hell, even his smell had improved.

Arawn looked at Alonzo’s gaping and smiled.

“Dragon’s Rest.” He explained as he handed his dirty clothes to Lady Augustine. She took ahold of them by her fingertips and transferred them to a waiting laundry bag. She sniffed once as she cleaned her hands with a handy pump dispenser of sanitizer.

“Uhhh,…yeah.” Alonzo blinked.

“I understand that there was something else you wished to report to me?” Arawn prompted him, as he began to flip through the stacks of reports that were piled upon his desk.

Alonzo waited silently for a bit as he watched his boss go through his correspondence. Every now and then Arawn made a grimace of distaste. Finally, he chose one particularly thick folder and opened it

“Ah!” he exclaimed, “Quintus’ written proposal!” Arawn smiled as he then began to scan through the folder’s pages rapidly.

“Uhmm, Yes. Yes I do.” Alonzo reported finally. “I’m sorry Ms. Augustine, but I feel that this is something that only should be heard by Arawn.” He stated firmly.

Arawn’s hands froze. His head shot up and stared at Alonzo in surprise. He sighed as he glanced over at his still waiting secretary.

She nodded back at Arawn and gave a brief nod to Alonzo as she propelled the cart back out through the doorway. Once the doors were clicked shut, Alonzo began to speak.

“I believe that I’ve found evidence to indicate there is a mole in your organization. Someone fairly high up.”

“That is disconcerting.” Arawn replied somberly. “Any idea who yet?” Alonzo shook his head.

“It’s too early to tell. But I’d prefer that you keep this information close to your chest for the time being. I have several scenarios I’d like to run by you later. All in an effort to ferret him or her out.” He replied, Arawn looked worriedly at Alonzo for several seconds as he digested the news.

“Very well then.” He replied finally, “when you are ready, tell me what you desire, and I will comply.”

“Thank you.” Alonzo nodded, “Now, about Mara and Boto.” He prompted.

“Indeed” Arawn asked, cocking his head. “What would you say concerning their current level of personal interactions?”

“They seem inseparable.” Alonzo paused and hummed, “It’s almost as if they were made for each other. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d need nothing less than a crowbar to separate the pair right now.”

“That is not an item I would recommend anyone brandish around a Succubus.” Arawn said as he stopped and thought about something for a second. Then, he came to a decision. He turned to his desk and activated his intercom.

“Ms. Augustine, please come back in.” he ordered. Within a few seconds, she had returned and stood dutifully before him.

 “It appears that you were correct in suggesting that Mara be assigned in retrieving Boto. Apparently, she does have a greater potential for empathy that I originally deemed.” He stated as he glanced over at Alonzo once.

“However!” he continued as he raised a finger. “I still have one last test for her, before my doubts are to be assuaged.” He said directly to Ms. Augustine.

Alonzo waited patiently as an unspoken conversation continued between the two, he could tell there was one just by the panoply of facial expressions that passed over the pair. Finally, Augustine nodded once as she folded her arms resentfully.

“Now, before I begin my explanation to you Alonzo.” Arawn stated as he turned his attention to Chief of Security. “Is it safe to assume the Vadhagh tribe, and their matriarchs are aware of Boto’s current status?”

“They are. They seem satisfied. For now, at least.” Alonzo added. Arawn nodded and then licked his lips.

“I am still not sure concerning Mara’s level of maturity.” Arawn began and then sighed. “One of the tasks my Mistress, the Great Maou, assigned me was to do what I could to aid and continue Mara’s education. More precisely- her overdue growth into adulthood.”

“Oh, she’s definitely an adult.” Alonzo replied dryly. Arawn rolled his eyes.

“AHEM! Physically, yes. Of that there is no doubt.” He sighed patiently. “I was referring to her emotional maturity.”

“Ah yes, Her Royal Brattiness.” Alonzo smirked, thinking back to the last several days of her temper tantrums.

“Indeed.” Arawn smiled. “Once you deem that she and Boto are fit for company. Have them come up here to my office. I will need at least an hour to prepare for them.”

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>< 

Later that day, as the afternoon sun blazed into the other side of Arawn’s office, he heard Alonzo’s coded knocking upon his door.

‘And so, it begins.’ Arawn thought. “Enter!” he called out.

Looking out and over his now cleared desk, he observed Ms. Augustine open his office door to allow Lady Mara to enter. He kept his expression neutral when he saw that she was still dressed in a drab Iron Foundation workers jumpsuit.

Though he almost did smile when he observed Mara happily carrying the Vadhagh child on one hip. As the office doors closed, Arawn traded a nod with Alonzo who chose to remain outside.

When Arawn shifted his attention to take in the pair more fully. He noted that Boto seemed ill at ease. She chose to clutch at Mara tightly, not once looking or moving her head away from the Succubus. He aslo noted that despite her seeming enthusiasm, Mara seemed quite fatigued.

‘My apologies for what will happen next.’ He observed silently.

“Lady Mara.” He stated coldly, as he arose from his chair and came around his desk. Boto looked at him once fearfully and then buried her head into Mara’s chest with a whimper.

“It’s OK Boto!” Mara whispered automatically into the child’s ear. “Everything will be fine.” She said as she petted the Vadhagh child’s matted hair. Boto quieted down.

“Yes Arawn?” Mara frowned at him after a second, as she unthinkingly laid a protective hand onto Boto’s shoulder.

Arawn paused, then pulled out one of the chairs in front of his desk.

“Sit.” He commanded her. Mara looked resentfully back at him for a moment, her wings drawing in slightly. She didn’t move.

“I said, SIT!” he shouted loudly then. Mara’s eyes sprung open indignantly as she began to form a retort. But that was when Boto let out a small yelp, then began to cry.  Mara’s eyes blazed red then as she wrapped a protective wing around the child.

“DO NOT!” she began fiercely, and then stopped when she turned her attention to the child.

Turning herself away from Arawn, she then began to offer some soothing words along with several comforting strokes of her hand to the now scared child.

Arawn quietly endured several minutes of the occasional icy glare from Mara and the intermittent fearful look from Boto. Eventually, Boto calmed down enough to allow Mara to place her atop a couch far from Arawn and his desk.

Mara then returned her attention to Arawn.

“Do not upset her again.” She commanded him in tones that would brook no denial. Arawn returned her gaze for several seconds, and then he seemed to wilt.

“My apologies.” He returned with an appropriate bow of his head. After taking him in for several seconds, Mara gave him a nod.

“Why am I here?” she asked him tightly, her eyes boring into his.

“Will you please sit?” Arawn asked gently, as he indicated the chair before her. After a moment, Mara gave him another glare, then came over and sat herself down. She then glanced over her shoulder to give Boto a reassuring smile. Which served to calm Boto once more.

“Mara,” Arawn said, interrupting, “I have received correspondence from your Mother.”

“So?” she huffed resentfully at him.

“It is addressed towards you.” He replied.

“What?” she gasped, her black-sclera eyes going wide in astonishment. “You told me that you’d been cut off from her! Something about Grendel stealing the Chalice?”

“Indeed, he has. But what I do have in the here and now, is this.” He explained as he opened a desk drawer and placed an oblong stone object upon his desk, close to her. As she leaned forward, a look of puzzlement crossed over her face.

“It looks like a messenger dildo.” She began, “But it’s made of stone not the usual wood.” She finished.

“Precisely.” Arawn replied. “The stone was deemed necessary as it is approximately twenty-eight thousand earth years old.”

“What? I don’t understand?” Mara said, shocked, as she looked up at Arawn in confusion. “You said it was from my Mother? She hasn’t been alive that long!” she cried, and then stopped to think about it. “I think.” She added.

“Patience.” Arawn began, holding up his hands. “I shall explain.” He stated.  Mara sighed out her frustration. Then she gave him an impatient nod.

“Since the Gateway is still uncontrolled, any message sent either way through it has the potential of being lost somewhere in time.” He began, and looked at Mara questioningly.

“Fine I understand that.” Mara nodded with a slight growl. “Continue.” She frowned.

“This message.” Arawn said as he gestured to the stone dildo, “Was sent sometime from Royal Makai in the last 24 hours. BUT,” he emphasized, “it arrived somewhere into the Mojave Desert approximately twenty-eight thousand years ago.” He finished.

“Then how do you know it was sent to me?” Arawn gave her a quick glance, and then moved his right hand to hover over the dildo for a moment.

Mara observed him mouth a quick cantrip. When he’d finished. The stone dildo sprang upwards into an unsupported vertical, which naturally captured Mara’s completely undivided attention.

After it did, it began to emit an image upwards and over its ‘urethra’-end. Mara’s eyes opened wide when she beheld the baleful countenance of her Mother, the Great Maou looking back at her.

“Mama?” she said in shock. Then she went silent as her Mother’s image glowered. Whatever Mara had intended to say next, stuck in her throat.

“I am most disappointed with you!” The Great Maou hissed angrily.

“eep.” Mara said then as she shrunk herself back into her chair.
‘Uh-oh!’ Mara thought, ‘She must’ve found out about that herd of goats.’ she quavered.

“Annwyfn Arawn you have much to answer for!” the image of the Great Maou snarled, getting seemingly larger. Mara blinked in shock. Then she realized that her mother hadn’t gotten larger, she’d merely leaned closer to the recording crystal. Nervously she stole a glance over at Arawn.

‘Wait! She’s not cross with me.’ She smiled relievedly. ‘She’s cross with,…him?’ she wondered. Then, she was surprised that Arawn hadn’t so much as batted an eyelash at her mother’s displeasure.

“Consider yourself lucky that I cannot reach you from here!” her Mother continued raging, as she made a strangling motion with her hands. Arawn calmly laid out a finger and tapped lightly on the end of the stone dildo, causing the Great Maou’s image to freeze.

Bewildered, Mara turned to stare blinkingly at Arawn. He noticed her look and smiled wryly.

“She is actually fairly calm in this instance.” He quipped.

“I don’t recall ever seeing her so angry before.” Mara whispered, dumbfounded. “What in Makai have you done to irritate her so?” Arawn casually sat himself down onto the edge of his desk and leaned back.

“You, it seems.” He replied, as he held up a hand, asking for restraint on Mara’s part.

“There are two message on the,…er,…’dildo’.” He smirked as he glanced at the stone object.

 “The first one. That one,” he gestured at the snarling visage of her mother, “was for me. The second, much shorter one is meant for you.” He said as he got up. “Apparently.” He added as he began to walk away.

“Wait, wait, wait!” she called out as she grabbed ahold of his arm. “You don’t know?”

“You were specifically addressed, and I am not in the habit of eavesdropping onto private conversations.” He replied, as he looked pointedly down at his arm. She let go of him reluctantly and then looked back to check up on Boto. She was still fine.

“If you don’t mind,” she began, “I’d like to have you stay here. She does seem particularly angry tonight.”  She stated nervously. Arawn hesitated. “Please?” she asked him plaintively. He sighed.

“As you desire.” He nodded then and then chose to sit himself down in the chair next to hers. He then motioned to Mara to activate the dildo. She did so in short order.

“Mara, my daughter.” The image of her mother, along with her voice, changed dramatically From the previously crazed banshee glare, now came the now soothing tones that Mara had long missed from the days of her childhood.

“I have heard your cries for help.” The Great Maou began.

“What!?” Mara said in shock. Then subsided when she saw her Mother raise a restraining hand as if she expected such a reaction. Mara quieted herself.

“Yes, I know it comes as a shock, but I have indeed heard your supplications. That is why I went to the time and expense to create this message.”

“By now, Arawn has already received his instructions,” her mother’s smiling image darkened considerably for a moment as she frowned. “Now it is my turn to address you.” She continued, her face loosening up a bit.

“Obviously, Arawn,” her mother all but spat that name out, “has overstepped his bounds and mistreated you far in excess of what I’d instructed him.” Her mother paused as she breathed in deeply, held it for a second, and then breathed fiercely out, her nostrils flaring.

“I will not countenance such maltreatment against one of my own. I hereby have ordered him to return you home alone forthwith. Whatever mistakes you’ve made in the past, can be dealt with in the future- HERE.”

“I now give you twenty-four earth hours from the moment you have received this message; to make suitable preparations to return alone through the Gateway.” The Great Maou, paused for a moment, and then continued.

“Do not allow Arawn to stint on the Mana necessary to insure your safe passage. Tell him that I will hold him personally responsible for any mishaps that might occur to you along the way.” The Great Maou warned her.

“I love you my daughter, I look forward to seeing you soon.” Her mother stated as her image winked out

Mara found herself grinning wildly at the news.

“Oh, this is just simply wonderful!” She cried, clapping her hands with delight as she jumped to her feet.

“Boto!” Mara cried out excitedly, as she turned around and started walking towards where she’d last seen her. “We’re going someplace better,…” she began and then she stopped in shock when she saw that Boto had disappeared.

“Boto?” Mara asked quietly once, as she looked left and right. “BOTO!” she cried out frantically.  “Where are you?!” she yelled as she began trotting around Arawn’s office hurriedly looking underneath tables and behind filing cabinets, determined to find the now missing Vadhagh child.

“Arawn? Did you see where Boto,…?” Mara began as she turned to him. She was outraged and angry when she noticed that he was sitting in his chair, staring straight ahead with his hands clasped in his lap. 

“ARAWN!” she yelled indignantly. “What are you doing?” she demanded. Arawn casually turned his head and looked silently at her. “I can’t find Boto anywhere!” she cried in exasperation! “Help me find her!”

“I am afraid that that would be of little use.” He replied.

“What is that supposed to mean!?” Mara yelled venomously, as she stalked herself over to him, her fingers outstretched claw-like.

“Repeat if you would, your mother’s precise words concerning your return.” Arawn replied calmly.

“What are you blabbering about? I’m supposed to go home!”

“Indulge me.” He replied neutrally. Mara’s eyes flared dangerously at his impertinence. She closed her eyes and clenched her fists angrily.

“FINE!” she growled. “I hereby have ordered him to return you home,..!” she began, angrily enunciating each word, and then she came to a stop as her breath caught in her throat.  Mara swallowed once, and then blinked as awareness of what precisely her mother had stated.

“Alone.” She whispered as she fearfully licked her lips.

“Alone?” she croaked, “No! No,no,no,no!” she continued as she began to shake her head back and forth in denial.

It was in that moment that she finally caught sight of Boto. She was hiding behind one of the office bushes; peering back at Mara through the foliage. What she saw then, chilled her to her core. For now, Boto’s normally colored eyes of purple and gold had darkened to an angry black and yellow.

“Boto?” Mara cried in dismay. “I know I said that I would never leave you!” she said in frustration.

‘Liar.’ Boto thought/felt back at her angrily. For just a moment, Mara could feel Boto’s feelings. They were full of resentment and angry desolation.

“Arawn?!” Mara yelped as she turned to him, her eyes brimming with tears. “What am I supposed to do?”

“You now have a choice to make Lady Mara.” He began, seemingly nonplussed at what had just happened.

“Either you obey your Mother and go home alone.” He paused, “Or you defy her and stay.”

“Isn’t there some way that I,…that I,…?!” She cried as she approached, and then knelt before him.

“I know what you are asking.” He began quietly, “You wish to know if there is any safe way for you to bring Boto along with?” Mara nodded desperately.

“The short answer is: No.” he paused, and licked his lips. “Or that is to say, the possibility of her successfully accompanying you, is almost next to nothing.”

“But surely there’s a chance!” Mara demanded. Arawn shook his head. Mara opened her mouth to speak but Arawn waved his hands for silence. It took her a short while, but eventually she got herself under control.

“That dildo,” he began as he pointed to the stone one on his desk, “Is keyed to YOU.” He emphasized. “and to you alone. Consider it akin to a fish hook. Once you activate it inside the Gateway, you would be pulled along with it towards your Mother. Towards her time and her place in the continuum of your birth world.”

“Surely I could hold onto Boto magically,…?” Mara began.

“No.” Arawn said with finality. Mara glared at him fiercely as he continued.

“Gateway travel is disorienting to anyone, for reasons that I will not go into now.” He said stolidly, as he looked her straight in the eyes.
“Even the Gods with their own insane levels of Magic, have lost their senses when they travel through the kind of Gateways as ours.”

“Such a loss of control leaves them vulnerable. Now you, even as powerful as you are, would face the same outcome.” Arawn sighed deeply, as he paused for a moment. Finally, he found the right words of explanation.

“Boto would inevitably be torn from your grasp, somewhere along the transition. Assuming she survived, she would inevitably end up in another time in your world. More likely she would end up in the time of one of your mother’s predecessors.” Arawn stated grimly. Mara gasped in shock at the thought.

“Furthermore,..” Arawn began.

“There’s more?” Mara asked, looking askance at him. Arawn nodded somberly.

“Even assuming none of that were an issue, there is still another problem. Gateway travel is dangerous for the weak, the injured, and for immature individuals. The reason being is that in-between the planes of existence; in the Void there exists Predators. Predators of a kind that can be likened to the sharks of this world.”

“Sharks?” Mara uttered quietly, swallowing once.

“Indeed,” he nodded. “Those voidic-predators can sense the vulnerable as they travel in their realm, much in the same way that sharks can smell blood from a goodly distance away. Boto could simply disappear from your arms after you took one-step into the Gateway. Never to be seen again.”

“How can you know that?”

“Because it has happened to me before.” He sighed, “In ages past when I carried some of my wounded battle-comrades through a Gateway. Almost to a man, or woman, they never came out.”  He frowned in remembrance. Mara found herself speechless. Arawn turned and faced her directly.

“Thus, you must now make a choice.” He whispered.

“Return home without Boto and never see her again. Or remain here with her and risk your Mother’s wrath.” Arawn stated finally. Then he chose to remain silent.

Mara shot to her feet and began to stalk around his office, her stress levels rising sharply as she did. Several times, she walked into a display table and shoved it mindlessly out of her way. Arawn, for his part, never interceded on behalf of any of his trophies.

After a short while he noticed that Mara had stopped in one corner near the door to his executive suite. She was staring at something.

Turning, he saw what.

It was Boto, she was hiding behind another decorative plant. She was staring back at Mara with tears running down her cheeks.

“Boto.’ Mara whispered as she reached a shaking hand towards her. Boto turned away and seemed to shrink into herself. Mara’s hand dropped to her side. She then backed away, stung by Boto’s rejection.

“I want to go home.” Mara cried to herself once, sniffled, and wiped at her eyes. Finally, she turned and made her way to Arawn’s desk and carefully picked up the stone dildo and held it in front of her face.

She closed her eyes and began to shake with the stress of her warring desires. Tears of frustration began to well up out of her eyes and run down her cheeks as her spade-ended tail began to lash itself back and forth furiously.

All of a sudden, she stopped her thrashings. She calmly turned around and faced towards where Boto remained hiding. Mara opened her mouth.

“Never.” Mara said shakily, as she raised the dildo in two hands and began to twist it like an oversoaked rag.

Within a few seconds, the dildo began to crack with a loud snapping. As it did, a number of sparks of energy began to emit outward from it, leaving a smell of magical ozone in the air.

“The Order Take You Mother!” Mara screamed loudly. At that moment, the dildo broke in half with a loud “SNAP!”, and then the two halves began to crumble into dust in her hands.

As it disintegrated, Mara’s legs began to shake. Shortly she fell to the floor, crying furiously as she curled herself into a fetal position. She wasn’t alone there long, as Boto rushed over to her and embraced her tightly.

“Mama!” she cried audibly, demandingly. Mara ceased her own crying for a moment as she hugged the Vadhagh child to herself.

After a minute, Mara came to herself and looked up. She became aware that Arawn was standing next to her.

“Uhhhm yes.” Mara said then, uncertain of what to say. Arawn extended a hand, which Mara hesitantly took as she pulled herself to her feet. Arawn indicated that she should sit herself down. She did, and after a second, he pulled a chair over to sit next to her.

Boto, chose to sit on one of her knees, pointedly putting herself between him and Mara. Arawn looked bemusedly at the child for a second and then turned his attention to Mara.

“Well, I guess this means you will be staying longer than either of us had anticipated.” He said. Then he did something with his face that Mara had never thought she’d witness.

He smiled, happily.

“Are you smiling?” Mara asked, shocked.

“Indeed.”

“Why?” she asked nervously.

“Because it appears that I was wrong.”

“Why would that make you happy?”

“You. I underestimated you.” He said as he pointed at her. “I fully expected you to abandon Boto.”  He admitted with a guilty frown. Mara pursed her lips angrily at him, her wings expanding out.

“Did you really?” she demanded, her chin jutting forward defiantly.

“At first I did, yes.” He admitted with a sigh, as he looked abashed. “You did lose a kingdom, did you not?” He replied, Mara blinked guiltily and looked away.

“Yes, I did.” She reluctantly replied. “Thinking back, I can probably come up with a few reasons why.” Arawn chuffed and smirked, then covered his mouth with one hand.

“Is that funny to you?” she growled.

“No,” he denied, shaking his head. “Once again, you surprise me. That admission of yours demonstrates that you have something that few Lilim possess.”

“What’s that?” she demanded, somewhat insulted.

“Humility.” He smiled, “That is something I never detected in Druella when I met her that one time.” He replied, Mara opened her mouth to shoot an insult back, but then stopped and thought about it for a second, blinking furiously.

“Did you just give me a compliment?” she asked him, suspicion in her voice. Arawn’s smile widened.

“Yes, I guess I have.” He nodded, seemingly to himself. “Humility and an ability to empathize with someone you are not intending to seduce, for sexual purposes at least.” He said as he indicated Boto, who continued to ignore him. Mara looked at him confused.

“Which means,” he continued, “I do believe you have it within you to be a good ruler someday.” He finished.

“Well that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Kingdom’s just don’t drop out the sky here, do they?” she laughed. Then stopped at what he said next.

“Not as such no. However, I was thinking of taking on an apprentice.”

“What is that supposed to mean? An apprentice?” She demanded, suddenly unsure, yet somewhat hopeful. She swallowed when he didn’t say anything, just continued to look at her.

 “Me?” she asked finally. Arawn nodded.

“Why?” she asked, incredulous at the thought.

“Well, one of the things your Mother asked me to do before your arrival. Was to see to your continuing education and edification.”

“What makes you think I’m worthy of your trouble?” Mara asked, Arawn smiled and pointed at Boto again.

“How?”

“You chose her. Over everything else, over your wants, your needs, and your desires.”

“She’s important to me. More than my own life, I realize that now.” Mara replied automatically, as she looked adoringly at the Vadhagh toddler for a moment, and then hugged her tightly. She smiled when Boto hugged her back equally as enthusiastically.

“In my opinion, being an administrator of any kind is akin to being a parent. More often than not, it can be just as thankless. But in the end, it is worth the effort.”

Mara thought about what he said, and discovered that she had some doubts.

“Will it be easy?” she looked at him worriedly.

“Not in the least.” Arawn shook his head.

“I’ll probably make mistakes.” She pointed out.

“Undoubtedly.” He replied, “Are you willing to own up and deal with them?” he asked.

“I suppose.” She replied nervously, suddenly worried at what he was offering.

He then extended a hand towards her. She looked at it for a second without taking it. After a long moment he dropped his hand and stood up.

“It will turn out to be one of the most difficult things you will ever experience. I will be driving you to do better every minute of the day. I will seldom let up with any of my expectations of you. You will face humiliations daily and upbraiding from me, in quantities that will inspire creative methods of my destruction in ways you have yet to imagine.” He promised, gravity lacing every word.

‘He’s been through this before.’ Mara gulped when she realized the verity of his words. As she contemplated his statement, something occurred to her. She then looked back up at him.

“It sounds like a challenge, for us both.” She replied, “But I do have one demand.” She said firmly. Arawn looked at her quizzically and then nodded.

“I’m HORNGRY!” she shouted up at him. Which caused him to flinch away from her.  Boto yelped once, but didn’t run off. Mara glanced apologetically at her once.

“I am well past the NEED to feed! I am a Succubus!” She said fiercely, panting impatiently. Then she got ahold of herself, and calmed herself slightly.

“Are you offering to help?!” she demanded, her eyes blazing.  Arawn bowed his head as he avoided eye contact, then he smiled.

“About that.” He began as he got up and interposed a chair in between him and her, “Ms. Augustine, for all she is worth, came up with a solution that never occurred to either myself or Alonzo.”

“What is it?!” she demanded as her mouth, and other parts of her anatomy, began to fill with liquid at the thought of an overdue satiation.

“Are you familiar with the Television show called: Galaxy Quest?” he asked cryptically.

“Yes!” she cried. “Juanita made me watch a few episodes. It’s ok, I suppose. What of it?” she asked annoyedly.

“I am also aware that a younger LIlim, such as yourself, needs a more ‘untainted’ source of Spirit Energy, so as to avoid undue,…” he began.

“WILL YOU GET TO THE,…” she began to yell, which made Boto cry again. After breathing in to calm herself, Mara managed to get herself under control.

“Get to the point?!” she said much more quietly.

“There are hundreds of Galaxy Quest enthusiasts, who occasionally come together to meet in something called: “A Convention”.” Arawn began, “At Juanita’s behest, I have inspected one of those conventions personally. Almost to a tee, every male who attends them is a virgin.”  Arawn finished, grinning like a Cheshire. Mara blinked once.

“Virgin?” she smiled, surprised. “How virginal?” she asked, intrigued despite her suspicions.

“From a rough guess, every single male Questian, could inspire a herd of Unicorns into a bloody melee.”

“Really?” she asked skeptically, her tongue probing the inside of her mouth thoughtfully.

“I performed a number of interviews with some. Almost every one of them claimed to be ‘successful’ sexually.” Arawn smiled knowingly.

“Eventually all of them admitted that the only female they’d ever kissed prior, was their own mother.” He finished. Mara forced herself to look away as she began to grin madly at the thought of so much untainted spirit energy.

“I take it that there is a Galaxy Quest Convention going on nearby, now?” she asked as steadily as she could manage.

“Indeed, there is.” Arawn replied as he extended a hand to her. She stared at his hand for a long second, then up to him. She smiled.

“I’m in!” she replied triumphantly as she took his hand tightly and shook to seal the bond.

Unknown to them both, Cue had observed the entire proceedings from a higher plane of existence.

“Mortals.” He sighed, rolling his eyes with exasperation.

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