Mors Funebris Ch. 3 P. 6

Mors Funebris Chapter 3 Part 6

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“Make it stop!” Mara cried shrilly as she bent over forward in her distress. “You’re killing me!” she hissed, as her face continued its arc down towards the unyielding plane that awaited it.

“KLONK!”  came the inevitable sound of Mara’s forehead impacting the hardwood surface. When it did, her shiny platinum hair bounced then splayed itself out in a crown around her head.

Each of the four people surrounding her, jerked in surprise at the display. After a couple of tense moments, they all heard Mara’s anguished response.

“OOOoooowwww!” she whined sharply as she slowly lifted her head up and lightly placed the fingertips of her right hand to her now reddened forehead.

“That huuuurrrrtssss!” she whined tight-facedly.

“Why?” Alonzo asked her slowly, “Did you do that?” Mara squinted at him through pain-filled eyes and frowned.

“Isn’t that what humans do? To indicate frustration?” she sniffled. After no one spoke, she added. “I don’t understand this! Curly never seems to feel any pain.”

“Curly?” Alonzo asked, “Curly who?” Mara looked at him confusedly and explained.

“Curly and his brothers, Larry and Moe. You know?” she said as she continued to rub at her forehead.

“Oh!” Alonzo huffed, his eyes widening in realization. “Aaahhh!” he continued as he looked away guiltily. “Ummmm, yes? Uuuuhhhhmmm, No. Not exactly.” He wavered. Then he shut his mouth after noting that Juanita, Ms. Augustine, and Arawn were looking at him questioningly. He then looked guiltily at them.

“Mara told me that she desired to learn more non-verbal human gestures.” He began with a wince.

 “I suggested that she watch some Tee-Vee shows.” He explained to them both, “I’m guessing that she chose, Three-Stooges?” He asked the Lilim. Mara just nodded weakly.

“Sorry.” He apologized weakly to them all.  Mara, wh by then had leaned back in her chair, appeared to be staring at the ceiling, as she kept one hand on her forehead.

“In the future Mara,” Ms. Augustine injected, “Try to remember that most Humans only do such antics lightly. Mostly to prevent themselves lasting damage.” She paused, thought about it, and then added. “Only trained professionals, like the trio you watched, can make it seem real.” Mara didn’t reply as she shot Alonzo a resentful look.

 “If we could,…?” Arawn began, as he wisely chose to keep his amused smile hidden behind a hand.  Just as he did, Juanita couldn’t resist the temptation anymore.

“Nyuk nyuk nyuk.” Juanita muttered just loudly enough for everyone there to hear, and then she chuckled. Both Alonzo and Ms. Augustine laughed with her.

“Fuckers!” Mara hissed as she glared at each of them in turn.

“Language!” Arawn injected with a disapproving frown towards Mara, who gave him a sullen look. He then directed that frown at Juanita.

“Now!,…If we could return to the subject at hand?” he said sternly. Eventually everyone quieted down. Satisfied, Arawn nodded at Mara to begin.

 “I don’t understand the logic of what you’re proposing!” Mara enunciated in exasperation as she ceased rubbing her head.

“It’s simple really, if you take the time to,…”Alonzo started, then stopped when Mara cut him off with an impatient wave of her hand. Arawn observed that the borders of her red-tinted irises had begun to expand outwards, indicating her growing ire.

“Mara!” he said sternly, “Relaxing Breaths!” he commanded her. Mara shifted her ever-increasing angry look over to Arawn. He met and responded to her glare with a castigating stare.

After several seconds of stare down, Mara flinched. Then she blinked a couple of times uncertainly.

Finally, accepting defeat, she then closed her eyes and began to concentrate upon the relaxation technique Arawn had taught her some time ago.

‘Breath in through the nose for four heartbeats. Hold it for seven heartbeats, then breath out- eight heartbeats.’ Mara thought to herself as she did just that.

‘Human society can be so damned confusing!’ she thought to herself, as she felt her frustration begin to mount again. ‘Stop!’ she commanded herself, ‘that’s counterproductive.’ She decided.

After several breath cycles, she realized that she had managed to achieve a measure of calmness. Opening her eyes, she turned to look at Arawn. She nodded her readiness.

“Start from the beginning.” He stated. Mara grimaced slightly, but she did as he commanded.

“What he said was; that you’re planning on sending your Not-Brothers,” she began as she pointed to Arawn, “Onto a ‘secret mission’.” She whispered as she resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

“But you’re not going to keep the mission a secret?” She said tightly.

“Correct.” Arawn answered with a nod.

“Why?” she huffed as she gripped the conference table’s edge tightly.

“To maintain a particular secret.” He replied.

“That doesn’t make any sense!” Mara cried as she started to feel her exasperation flare again. Then without prompting, she closed her eyes and began the relaxation technique once more.

“Mara.” Arawn whispered at her sternly. “Try to stay focused, you must master your emotions, else,…” he began.

‘Or else my emotions will master me? Yes-I-know!’ she shot back angrily. ‘You’ve only said it what? Two thousand times in the last month!?(M)’ she thought, then regretted it when she realized she’d spoken in Arawn’s ‘Mind-Speech’.

‘Ahem! (A)’ Arawn replied with a disapproving frown.

Oops. (M)’ she added with an apologetic grimace, as she shrunk back into her chair.

All during this silent interchange, Alonzo kept shifting his attention back and forth between Arawn and her, while Ms. Augustine kept her expression neutral. No one noticed that Juanita kept rolling her eyes sarcastically.

“Now!” Arawn said aloud, “Begin again.” He ordered her sternly as he folded his arms. Mara let out a loud sigh of resignation and then began to recite the facts once more.

“You’re going to be sending your Not-Brothers,” she began again and starting bobbing her head, “Quintus, Quartus, Tertius, and Secundus, off onto a mission to,…” she sighed heavily, “The Future.” Mara breathed in deeply and then continued.

“In an effort, to procure some kind of,… ‘Healing Energy’.” Mara said as she looked over to Arawn.

“Yes?” she asked him. He nodded and made a ‘more or less’ waving-motion with one hand.

“And you want me? She paused to huff angrily as she pointed to herself; “To announce this to the Council?” she finished. When everyone else there nodded his or her assent. Mara vented her fury.

“I don’t understand!” she whined. “Why announce to everyone a supposedly secret mission?”

 “The core of the matter is, I have to send Quartus and Tertius off to a Future. Mainly because the local temporal options for their recovery have been exhausted.” He continued.

“Yes, I’m aware of that.” Mara shot back. ‘I’ve lost count of how many time’s it’s been mentioned.’ She thought to herself crabbily.

“BUT!” he emphasized, “That reason would be considered too-outlandish to be taken seriously.”

“The problem is: IF I sent them off without a somewhat plausible reason; then those who have been attending them would become suspicious. Eventually they would begin speculating wildly with their peers. Then inevitably they’d latch onto something, anything really. No matter how unorthodox.”

“But those people are sworn to secrecy. Medical ethics and the like.” Mara pointed out, as she remembered another point.

“Indeed.” Alonzo nodded, “But people are people. As such, they will engage in the inevitable rumormongering.”

“The point of Alonzo’s proposal is two-fold.” Ms. Augustine injected. “First to ‘head off at the pass’, any of that speculation. Second, to track down who is saying what.” Alonzo nodded his agreement, and stepped in.

“This is because somewhere out there, someone has been paying very close attention to information leaking out of the Iron Foundation. Then, they are sifting out pertinent details to use to their advantage.”

“Wait!” Mara said, as she began to comprehend, “I think I’m getting this. You want to,…” she stuck out a tongue as she thought about it, ”What is it called again?” she asked herself. Then she jerked in realization.

“‘Control-The-Narrative?”

“Correct.” Arawn nodded, pleased, Mara felt a smile of embarrassment form on her face.

“This is where your most important part will come in.” 

“How?” Mara asked, still unsure of what he was getting at.

“You will be the one making this announcement to the Council. Eventually, you will meet with individual Council members. When you do, you will give each of them a slightly different reason for their departure. Arawn said, waving his hand in circling motion.

“But what’s the point in,…?” Mara asked and then stopped. She started blinking as she thought about it.

“Oh.” She said, as a smile began to form on her face. Arawn nodded approvingly

“I see you begin to understand.” He replied indulgently.

“Yes, I think I do.” She paused and licked her lips. “By giving each of them a different story, if anyone passes on their particular knowledge…, then you’ll have an idea which person- is doing the leaking.” Mara finished. Arawn slapped his hand lightly onto the table in front of him and then pointed to her.

“Precisely!” he grinned. “And thus, bring us one step closer to catching our ‘Mole’.” He finished as Mara sat back in her chair and smiled thoughtfully.

“Fair enough.” She sighed, “But why do you want me to do the presentation?” Mara asked. “Why not do so yourself, or have Alonzo do it?” she said as she nodded at the Security Chief.

“Because I wish to take advantage of you.” Arawn replied placidly as he leaned over in his chair and rested himself onto one elbow. Mara’s face froze for a second as she felt a momentary thrill.

“Eh?” she said, half-hopeful. Even with the amount of Spirit Energy she’d been garnering from all of the ‘Cons’ she’d been attending, she still felt deprived.

‘A succubus cannot live on virgins alone.’ She remembered in her mother’s voice.

 “Not like that!” Arawn laughed, as he shook a finger at her like a metronome.

“Or, to be more precise, I am attempting to take advantage of this world’s predilections to underestimate the intellectual capability of a blonde-haired woman.” He finished. Juanita snorted in disgust then.

“Wait.” Mara grinned knowingly. “I know what you mean.” She sighed. “That’s something my Mother taught all of us LIlim. That Men, always seem to associate blonde hair with a lesser intelligence.” She said as she and Juanita shared a knowing glance.

“Now, if I went to the Council and told them what you are about to. They would assume I am up to no good and ignore what I have to say.”

“Of course.” Juanita muttered softly. Arawn ignored her. Mara piped up.

“But since I’m a Blonde, I’m not smart enough for subterfuge.” she smirked dryly. Everyone glanced at Juanita as she made a gagging gesture with her mouth and a finger.

“Exactly.” Arawn stated as he nodded to Ms. Augustine. Who then slid over to Mara a large manila folder.

“What’s this?” she asked as she picked it up and squinted at its contents. She frowned, then conjured up a set of reading glasses and began poring over its contents.

“The various explanations of why, where, and how, my Not-brothers are departing, and more importantly- which Council Member I want you to give them to.” Arawn replied. “Alonzo has shown himself to be quite imaginative in their creation.”

Mara looked up from her reading and looked over to Alonzo. He shrugged once, as a slight blush crept across his face. She returned to the list.

“Seeking the Holy,…what,.. Grail? What is that supposed to be?” She asked, as she scratched at a horn. She then began to mouth what she read further down.

“What’s this one? A Stargate?” Mara said as she gave Alonzo a perplexed glance. “I don’t comprehend what most of these are referring to.” She complained. “I’ll need context to make them sound plausible.”

“Since your presentation with the council isn’t until late this afternoon, why don’t you have Alonzo tutor you in private” Arawn grinned, determined to needle him.

Alonzo swung his head and gave Arawn a frightened look. But before he could voice a protest.

“Yes Alonzo, I’m sure we can plunge into the depths of the matter, together.” Mara purred, eager to get the young, strong, healthy, human male alone for a short while.

“oh please!” Juanita muttered in disgust.

“UH,…Boss?” Alonzo began nervously, fully aware of the inherent danger of solitude involving a horny Succubus. He then said something that caught Mara’s attention.

“You do realize that the Council won’t simply allow your ‘associates’ to depart without a fight? They’ll be sure to demand something in return? A concession or three.”

“That is a good point.” Arawn frowned thoughtfully for a second as he leaned back in his chair. He then looked speculatively at Mara for a long moment.

“I hereby authorize you to do your best and negotiate for some more favorable terms from the Council.” He stated. Mara sighed despondently at the thought of the extra work.

“Ms. Augustine, would you please attend Alonzo and Mara’s meeting? She will need to know what limitations I would have apply, prior.”  He stated, causing Mara to wilt with disappointment and Alonzo to brighten. Ms. Augustine nodded neutrally once.

“That sounds like a lot of responsibility to expect me to shoulder.” Mara said resignedly.

“Consider this an opportunity for you to gain some valuable negotiation experience.”  Arawn stated as he got to his feet and turned to leave the conference room.

“Any advice?” Mara piped up, just before he exited. Arawn stopped at the door, thought about it for a second and then looked back over his shoulder.

“Yes.” He said firmly, “Try not to secede your Mother’s Realms. I cannot imagine the resulting conversation your Mother and I would have to have at that point.” He said as he left the room.

“thanks.” Mara muttered sarcastically under her breath.

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Later, after setting up an appointment time. Mara decided that she deserved a short break. So, she decided to go down to her apartment.

In the hallway outside Arawn’s office, she frowned at the sight of her Minder/Bodyguard, Huey. a male Red Oni-demon.

‘You’d think that if the Council could trust me to be Arawn’s Apprentice, they wouldn’t require him to stick around me.’ She thought sourly as she nodded at him. She then did her best to avoid looking at the bulge, the Extremus Gun created inside his jacket.

As Mara started walking down the hallway, he followed behind her at a respectful distance. All the while keeping alert to any threats to, or from her. As she approached the entrance to the stairwell, she got that sense of discomfort that began whenever he was near her.

Even though he always remained mostly professional, there was something about him that didn’t sit well with her. But she couldn’t tell what precisely.

‘It’s like he’s always watching me a little too closely.’ She decided as she snuck a glance towards him over her shoulder. Their eyes met momentarily and he looked away first.

‘Looking at my tail again.’ She mused with a half-smile. ‘I wonder if I should try seducing him?’ Indeed, she would’ve welcomed a change from her now routine Spirit-Energy harvesting from the seemingly endless numbers of virginal Sci-Fi conventioneers.

‘Oh, what the hell?’ she decided as she came to a quick stop in the hallway, then whirled her head around and caught his eye with hers.

“Huey?” she began, “Since we’re together so much, perhaps we could go and get a cup of hot chocolate sometime?” she said as she smiled alluringly.

He stopped and looked alarmed for a second. Then after few nervous moments, he began to smile tentatively back at her; which gave her a moment of hope. He seemed to remember something, just before a wave of fear washed over his face and he looked away.

“Please forgive this one Lady Mara, but I do not think that would be appropriate behavior on my part.” He stammered, dashing her hope away.

“Never mind then.” She replied with a dismissive snap of her tail as she resumed her walking. After a momentary pause, Huey followed.

‘Hmmmm, it’s not me he’s afraid of.’ She realized with a frown.

Despite its novelty, she chose to eschew her use of elevators. Mara preferred stairwells for two reasons. Elevators didn’t do much good for her level of exercise and by extension her figure. The other being, her fellow riders’ discomfort noticeably increased whenever she boarded.

‘It’s not just that I’ve got wings and a tail to deal with.’ She thought as the sound of her shoes echoed on the bare concrete of the stairwell, ‘The downfall of being the only Succubus in existence here, apparently.’

The muffled tapping of her stylish shoes continued, as she made her way down and then out into the wood-paneled hallway of the next floor down. Her destination, the now much larger set of rooms that she shared with her ward- Boto.

She shut her apartment’s door quickly to ensure that Huey remained outside. Then, she immediately banished her conservative outfit with a gesture. Whereupon it materialized several feet away, just shy of the laundry hamper.

With a heartfelt sigh, she allowed herself to stretch freely in the nude. She extended her wings until they lightly scratched both sides of the room with a wing claw.

‘Aaaah,’ Mara sighed contentedly, as she shrugged her wings back into place. ‘Much better!’ she smiled at a freedom she appreciated more now, than she had growing up in Royal Makai. She then moved over to her exercise area to begin her stretches.

As she stepped upon her exercise mat, she had to kick a couple of her panties away. Looking around, she noted that the rest of her apartment was in dire need of straightening up as well.

‘Too messy.’ She judged. Messy because Arawn forbade a Maid being assigned to her. Instead, he had insisted that Mara learn how to pick up both after herself and Boto.

‘Perhaps I can combine exercises?’ She mused, as she closed her eyes and concentrated. After a few short seconds, she manifested herself a pair of black tendrils from the small of her back, mid-point between her wings and tail.

‘Demonic-Energy-Tendrils,’ Mara smiled with satisfaction as she opened her eyes and began to admire her most recent achievement.

‘It’s good to have garnered enough essence to manifest at least one pair.’ She mused as she looked over her undulating coils. Then her eyes caught sight of the rest of her apartment.

‘Nothing for it then.’ She huffed as she concentrated on using her Black-Tendrils to help with her morning’s chores. They were still new enough, that she had trouble with putting away anything weighing more than a couple of pounds.

“Grrr!” she snarled in frustration when one particularly heavy book, slipped out of a tendril’s grasp.

‘Oh, the hell with it!’ she decided as she allowed her tendrils to sink back into her body. She then resumed cleaning the old-fashioned way, with her hands.

After a bit, she stopped at the entrance to Boto’s bedroom and stared inside.

‘Nothing to do here.’ She decided as she looked around. Boto didn’t care to own much. But what she did own, she chose to keep it neat and organized. Mara looked on enviously from the perfectly made bed, to the dust-free surfaces of Boto’s dresser.

The only sign that there was a little girl living here, was the Tea-set sitting atop a square child sized tea table. Along with two dolls occupying a pair of its chairs.  Mara stepped inside, then crouched herself down to get a better look at them.

“Mrs. Burroughs.” Mara said aloud, as she stared at the toy Boto had named. It was a doll nearly as large as Boto herself.

‘She’ appeared to be nothing more than a non-descript human woman, wearing a slightly tattered dress. For some reason known only to Boto, she had carved a small indentation into the center of the doll’s forehead.  While Mrs. Burroughs, if she had an opinion of Mara; wisely chose to keep it to herself.

 Mara decided that she had little, if any, problem with that one. As she did with the other. Grimacing, she turned on her heels and inspected it closely, not once feeling the urge to touch it.

“Seward.” Mara whispered distastefully as she tried to guess what exactly this doll was supposed to be or represent. As best as she could tell, it was a disgusting cross, or a melding, of an overly large cockroach and a typewriter.

Yet, here it was. One of the few possessions Boto had chosen to keep. As such, Mara couldn’t quite get herself to throw it away, no matter how much it repelled her.

Mara then extended her newly acquired ‘Empathy’ and did her best to detect something, anything really, malevolent about it.

That Empathy, was a fringe benefit of yet another one of Arawn’s teachings to Mara.

‘Mind-Speech.’ She thought as she continued scanning the doll. ‘Or what humans call telepathy.’ It was something Arawn had felt necessary to impart, in order for Mara to better able communicate with the Vadhagh child.

Mara was glad that Arawn had done so. As it and the fringe benefits from same, had given her another set of tools to use. Mostly, she used them in dealing with this world’s people and their endless snares and complications.

“Nothing.” She concluded with as she sat back onto her rump.

It was nothing more than a disgusting looking doll Boto had managed to dredge up somewhere. It came from someplace that neither her, not Arawn, nor anyone else for that matter had been able to deduce.

Shaking her head, Mara got to her feet and exited Boto’s room, then closed the door.

As she continued her cleaning, she did her best to rid her mind of the sight of Seward’s way-too-many-teeth.

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When she got to arranging her bookshelf, she carefully picked up her copy of: “The Monkey Wrench Gang” and contemplated its cover. A recent memory stirred within her at the sight.

‘Why did you have me read this Arawn? I don’t intend to sabotage anything!’ she had whined.

‘Perhaps not Mara,’ he had replied, ‘but you need to gain an insight into those who do.’

She grimaced at the thought, and then placed it alongside previous assigned readings such as, ‘The Art of War’, ‘The Book of Five Rings’, ‘101 Tips for an Evil Overlord’, and the next on her reading list, the strangely named: ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’.

What is a motorcycle anyway?’ she wondered as she picked it up.

Looking up, she found herself distracted by the sight of her body in a wall mirror. She bounced once, then smiled at the resulting firm jiggling that it created.

Still got it.’ She grinned as she began to explore the sight of her luscious curves. Then that smile faltered, when she realized how long it’d been since someone else had touched them.

‘I wish I had someone around to appreciate me more often. She pondered, as she cupped her breasts and then gently squeezed them. Which had the effect of making her groan slightly with the pleasure.

Someone more reliable than just the ever-changing Science Fiction enthusiast.’ She continued as she teasingly flapped her wings once, then she lashed her tail a couple of times.

Then she tilted her head as something occurred to her.

‘Pleasure runes?’ she frowned as she contemplated her unblemished skin. ‘Technically, I’m not old enough. But this isn’t Makai.’ She sighed. Then finally, she decided to get around to her most important task.

“What to wear to the Council?” she asked herself aloud. ‘Something business like, yet distracting.’ She decided as she conjured up a garment with a magical gesture, and examined herself in the mirror.

‘Too much cleavage.’ She frowned, and then made another gesture which produced another outfit, then continued through several more, ‘Not enough cleavage,’,.. ’not enough leg’,…’chilly’,…, and so it went with outfit after outfit…

Eventually, she decided upon a simple outfit akin to the one, her sister Mari, preferred: A nearly transparent white blouse that enhanced her bust, yet still covered her somewhat appropriately. Along with a wide brimmed sunhat that covered her horns- just so.

When she stepped out in the hallway, Mara didn’t need Empathy to detect the surge of lust she inspired in Huey. She kept her pleased smile hidden as she continued her journey down to the Foundations’ main atrium.

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As she stepped out onto the tiled floor of the Atrium, Mara looked up and frowned at the brown/grey mist that hovered over the overhead skylights.

‘The Smog is thick today.’ She thought as she stuck out her tongue at the sight. Huey, wisely chose to blend himself into the background.

After she stopped at the Atrium snack bar, Mara allowed herself a bit of a local luxury drink, ‘The Hot Chocolate’.

‘Steaming Hot Deliciousness more like’, she decided. Then she smiled at the sight of the mini-marshmallows. She liked the way they melted, as it reminded her of other yummy-gooey white stuff.

Then she ambled her way over to “Night-Cubs”. It being a ‘day’-care devoted to the children of the Iron Foundation’s Nightbreed.

Once outside it, she peered in through the plate glass-door, hoping to catch a glimpse of her adoptive daughter, Boto.

As she did, she garnered the attention of one of the Cub-Minders: Baucus. An aging, paunchy Grecian Satyr who had lost his children to Christian zealotry untold ages ago.

 He nodded and waved at her, then pointed in a direction. Mara followed his lead and soon caught a momentary sight of her quarry. Mara smiled her thanks and then moved along the outside windows. Doing so to avoid upsetting some of the charier Cubs.

Looking again in the direction that Baucus had pointed, Mara spotted Boto easily.

Easy, since she was the only one with such a delightfully pinkish skin tone. That and the fact that she was one of the few without a covering of fur or scales. Mara smile widened when she saw that Boto was having a ‘Tea-Party’ with her new friend, ‘Cossette’.

Just after her eyes locked onto her, Boto froze. Then she turned her head to look directly to Mara.

‘Mama/inquiry/curiosity?’ Mara thought/felt, from her.

‘Just checking/reassurance/Love.’ Mara smiled back as best she could manage in Arawn’s mindspeech.

Then, she felt a flood of warmth when she felt, actually felt, Boto returning her love along with a smile. Boto waved once and returned her attention to her Tea Party.

“Lady Mara?” came a distracting voice. Mara turned and saw whom it was. It was Cosette’s mother. Appearance wise- she seemed to be a thin-seeming human woman dressed all in white. Yet, Mara knew that she was a Rougarou.

“Fantine.” Mara nodded in greeting when she remembered her name. “How are you?”

“As well as can be expected.” She replied in a Gallic accent, “Would you care to join us?” Fantine said as she gestured to a nearby table around which a number of other Nightbreed Mothers sat.  Mara nodded her assent and followed.

As she followed Fantine over, Mara recalled that even though she’d been kind enough to instruct her in the proper use of a hairbrush and a child’s hair; The Rougarou mother still maintained a level of polite coolness towards her.

‘I’ll take what I can get.’ She thought as she looked around the group of Earth-Monsters.  Judging by the sudden silence her appearance caused. Mara decided to sit herself at the far end. Off in an unobtrusive spot.

She kept silent, as the conversation eventually started up again. Which surprisingly turned out to be akin to the usual conversations she’d grown up with in Royal Makai:

Who was sharing a bed with whom, now? Which child needed a proper disciplining? Along with which ones whined too much. Inevitably, there was the usual griping about the restrictions from attacking and/or devouring humans.

“So much prey in this city, and we’re not allowed to touch a single one!” Said Mercy Brown (a vampire) as she complained over a large cup of synthetic blood. She then sipped and made a face at the taste.

“Tell me about it!” said Fantine, “How are we supposed to insure our children are properly fed? If we cannot even harvest a comatose victim?” she grumbled as she looked pointedly at Mara.

Stopping mid-sip with her drink, Mara’s eyes widened when she realized that Fantine had directed that question at her!

“Oh!” she yelped, as she looked around the table. Yes, every other set of eyes there looked at Mara expectedly.

“I assume you’re referring to those two patients down in the ICU?” Mara grinned nervously. Fantine nodded curtly once, as every other woman there shared a look.

‘Oh my!’ Mara thought worriedly as she realized her sudden predicament. ‘What should I say?’ she pondered for a second, and then she froze as a naughty thought occurred to her.

‘Well Arawn did say I should take advantage of every situation presented.’ She smiled wryly.

“About that!” Mara said aloud, as every woman (and near-woman) at the table turned to her and listened expectantly. Mara began to lift her cup to her face.

Then she frowned as she placed the cup down onto the table in front of her without taking a sip. As she did, she noticed that the rest of group was watching her every move.

Smiling inwardly, she looked over her left shoulder and stared at nothing for a second, almost as if she were checking for eavesdroppers. She then switched shoulders and did the same again.

She didn’t quite look at the group as she leaned herself forward conspiratorially. She felt a surge of power, when everyone else there leaned forward automatically.

“You didn’t hear this from me!” she warned in a whisper, and noted that her fellow tablemates were practically salivating then. All waiting eagerly to hear her ‘news’.

“Those two men in the ICU?” she continued, “There is going to be an announcement coming out about them soon.” Mara paused, and then cleared her throat.

“Ahem! ‘Officially,’ they’re going to be ‘released’ to another facility’s care for some experimental treatment.”  Mara breathed in through her mouth for a second, as she savored her power once more. She then quickly glanced over her shoulders again.

“But what is actually going to happen, is something different.” Mara began

“What!?” panted Hitty the Kushtaka, her whiskers twitching eagerly. Several of the other women there shifted in their seats, as if readying themselves to pounce.

“Let’s just say that the cafeteria’s meat selection might,….change,…in both freshness,…and taste,…soon.” Mara replied conspiratorially as she leaned back in her chair and finally took a sip.

Mara didn’t hide the grin that now sprouted across her face. A grin matched by every other person there. Looking around, she couldn’t help but notice that all of the teeth there were pointed. While some were serrated.

“Oooh!” Fantine smiled contentedly, thinking about the change in menu. Several other women were obviously doing the same, as they licked their lips.

‘I’ll have to tell Arawn.’ Mara realized, ‘I don’t know if he’ll be upset about this or not.’ She deemed as she made an excuse to depart. She was hoping to meet with Secundus before his departure.

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“HA-HA-HA-HA!” he chortled, when Mara told Secundus about the conversation. “Oh, that is a quite good!” he smirked as he panted to catch his breath.

“Do you think Arawn will be upset?” Mara asked, suddenly nervous.

“He just learned it!” Secundus grinned as he looked up and off to one side. “He thinks it as funny as I!”

“Though he is somewhat annoyed. He now has to explain to the head of the Hunters, why he suddenly burst out laughing.” He said as he covered his mouth with one hand. Mara smiled her relief as she sat herself down in the Sidrat’s interior.

Glancing around, she couldn’t help but shudder at the feel that alien architecture inspired in her. Secundus ignored her as he continued shaking in his mirth.

“So,” she began, “how are things proceeding?” she asked as she gestured around herself.

“About as well as can be expected. Quartus and Tertius seem to be stable for now.” Secundus replied, his tone going somber.

“So,…uhmmmm.” He said as he raised a hand for emphasis. He then paused, sighed, “Yeah!”, he said as he dropped his hand quickly and looked away.

“Yeah.” Mara echoed him, suddenly sorry for spoiling the mood. Of all Arawn’s identical looking not-brothers, she enjoyed the company of Secundus the most.

Quintus was always too busy to mutter more than a few monosyllables in her direction, and Arawn was always focused on teaching her one ‘important lesson’ or another. The other two had said nothing to her; being in their healing-comas and all.

Daringly, she inched herself closer to Secundus, and was happy to see that even though he noticed her doing so, he didn’t shy away. Happy mostly because he didn’t seem to be repelled by her. As so many of the other folk of the Iron Foundation were.

A contented smile formed on her face, as she thought back to the first Galaxy Quest convention she’d attended after becoming Arawn’s apprentice.  A convention that the Council only grudgingly agreed to, after an impassioned appeal from Arawn.

At first, she was all ‘gung-ho’ as Juanita called it, to simply latch onto the first male she bumped into. But that soon proved counter-productive. As that that male ran off, thoroughly frightened by her boldness.

Then, her ‘minder-team’ of Juanita, Alonzo, and Secundus, suggested she try a different tact.

‘Though people come to these in the hope of getting laid,” Juanita smirked knowingly, “they start off by dressing in costumes and adopting a persona for the occasion.”

“You mean a ‘Con’, is sort of like a big costume party?” Mara had asked astutely.

“Essentially,…yes.” Secundus smiled as he thought about it. Alonzo and Juanita nodded in agreement.

“That’s excellent!” Mara had cried enthusiastically, “I’m all about parties!”

It had been confusing at first, but she eventually caught on to the ‘polite fiction’ necessary for her to adopt.

In the case of her first Galaxy Quest con, she had to be some sort of alien. Which wasn’t that difficult, what with her horns, wings, and tail. Eventually, her minders agreed upon the notion that Mara adopt the guise of a Royal Princess.

“Acting in the role of a Goodwill Ambassador to,…” Alonzo had stated.

“Promote Peace, Love, and Understanding- Between the Makai Hegemony and the Galaxy Quest Confederation.” She recalled Secundus injecting. Then she smiled at the memory of the laughter that ensued.

‘It worked!’ she remembered as a warm glow flowed over her. ‘The alien persona excuse, allowed me to walk around without a glamor.’

She received many compliments about the quality of her ‘outfit’ and accoutrements. She smiled when she recalled the countless questions about how she managed to keep them attached, even in bed.

For each and every question, not matter how insistent the asker, she always managed to find a way to distract them.

Slowly at first, but then as word spread, an ever-increasing number of people showed up to her hotel suite’s door.  All of them, both male and female, were eager to ‘negotiate’ a favorable treaty with her.

 ‘What did Juanita call it? A gang-bang?’ she recalled.

Alonzo and Juanita took turns to help keep the crowd from getting too rowdy. While Secundus surreptitiously monitored her, to ensure that she didn’t drain her lovers too much as she’d nearly done with Juanita months earlier.

Thus, these constant practice sessions, eventually improved her control over the ravening Succubus-Hunger. Which softened the Council’s fears concerning her.

Well a little bit at least.

‘Is this what my Mother’s existence was, prior to her Awakening?’ she often pondered after. Then she pouted as her thoughts turned to the Conventioneers she’d been bedding.

‘Essence from an inexperienced virgin isn’t enough. It’s just too,…bland.’ She grumbled. ‘I could really go for some Flavorful essence!’

After ‘working’ with him over several conventions. Mara noticed that Secundus seemed to have flavor aplenty. As he was always quick with a joke and could always be counted on, to treat her like an equal.

‘Unlike the other men here, both human and not, who STILL shun me!’ She frowned.

“Oh yes!” Secundus said suddenly, shaking her out of her reverie.

“How did Boto’s trip to the Zoo fare?” he asked, honestly. It took Mara a few seconds to get her thoughts back on track.

“She seemed to enjoy herself, though she didn’t seem to like all of the animal’s boredom with captivity.” she replied, “I can’t say that I blame her.” Mara sighed knowingly.

“Too much like real life, eh?” he said with a sympathetic smile. Mara glanced at him for a second.

“Yes.” She admitted, then she changed the subject. “Oh there’s something else! Could you do me a flavor?” she asked. It was only when she noticed his confused expression. That she realized her Freudian slip.

“Excuse me!” she said just a little too quickly. FAVOR! I meant to say ‘favor’!” she said as she tried to hide her embarrassment.

“Certainly,,,.” He replied, confused. “What?”

“Uhhmmmm.” She tried not to whine, “I had a momentary problem with that Disguise-Spell you taught me.”

“Really? What happened?”

“Everything seemed to be going fine, and then suddenly, everyone around us went quiet and started staring at us.” Mara recounted nervously.

“Then the next thing I knew. They stopped staring. Then they went about their day as if nothing had happened.”

“Was this around high-noon?” He asked, mulling.

“No, it was late afternoon, almost sunset.”

“That is odd.” He frowned. “I’d offer to do a quick inspection of the spell’s dweomer. However, I’m rather short of Mana right now. You can guess why.” He apologized.

“That’s all right.”

“If anything, else, you might try carrying a pair of Citrine stones with you.” He suggested. “Properly bespelled, they’ll act like mana-capacitors.”

“Ok.” Mara replied quietly as Secundus nodded once, and then lapsed into silence. A silence that went on for several more increasingly uncomfortable seconds.

Finally, “I’ll miss you.” Mara blurted out, and then looked away. Secundus looked at her for a moment.

“I will miss you too.” He smiled, “But it is not like I will be gone for long. It is not that far into the future we are planning on going!” he said, just a little too loudly.

“I know.” She replied softly, pursing her lips as she met his gaze and locked eyes. Secundus allowed it to continue for a bit too long. Then he looked away.

“About twelve or so years into the future, on the eve of the Millennium in San Francisco.” He continued, “Find the target individual and be there when he regenerates. Then siphon off some of that regeneration energy,…” He stopped and sighed.

“What could go wrong?” he said finally, and then his face froze. Secundus closed his eyes as he bent his head over and covered his face with a hand.

“I cannot believe I just said that.”

“Neither can I.” Mara smirked as she patted him on the back a couple of times, and then left her hand there. He didn’t seem to notice.

“Hopefully fate did not overhear me saying that!” he said as he held himself upright. As he did, Mara shifted her hand onto his shoulder. Secundus froze for a second, and then turned to look at her hand. She didn’t move it away.

Secundus looked up at her and held her eyes. Mara held his gaze for a timeless moment, and then squeezed his shoulder lightly. Secundus started to lean towards her.

She mirrored him.

It was then, that the Sidrat’s controls gave off a loud hiss and a snap. Secundus came to himself and jumped to his feet.

“Uh well!” he began, not looking at Mara. “It appears that I will have to give this another diagnostic before we depart!” he said just a little too loudly, as he began punching buttons at random and pulling levers. Not once did he pay close attention to anything.

“Secundus.” Mara whispered softly, feeling a little hurt.

“Sorry!” He yelped, “Duty calls!” he said as he hurried away from the control console and deeper into the depths of the Sidrat. Mara watched him depart. Then she stared longingly at the archway he had exited through.

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

Later that afternoon, in the secure Ariifact-Vault underneath the Iron Foundation.

“Well I guess this is goodbye for now.” Arawn stated to Quintus, as he stood in front a large green container that stood off to one side of the room.

“Keep ahold of the fort.” Quintus replied somberly in return. He turned his attention to Alonzo, “Time is of the essence now, so please do not take too long for your farewells.” He instructed to Alonzo as he nodded to Arawn. Quintus then motioned to Dewey, the Blue Oni Bodyguard. Then the pair of them entered the strangely humming green cabinet.

Arawn remained outside with Alonzo, who stared at the cabinet and kept shaking his head slowly.

“Is something the matter?” Arawn asked.

“I can’t believe it.” Alonzo replied. “That the Council so easily approved this little ‘quest’ of yours. Yet one of their demands was that I come along, to keep an eye on your associates.”

“To represent the concerns of the Hunters,..” Arawn began.

“With Dewey doing the same for the Nightbreed.” Alonzo interrupted. “It’s almost as if the Council doesn’t trust you in matters Temporal.”

“Indeed.” Arawn said dryly. “I cannot imagine why.” He said as he turned away with a peeved expression.

“And the most amazing thing? Mara managed to convince everyone that Huey would be the best Minder to ‘guard’ her.” Alonzo smiled as he made some air quotes with his fingers.

“Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?” Arawn replied with a smirk.

“Pardon?” Alonzo asked, befuddled.

“Who Shall Watch The Watchers?” Arawn translated dryly. Alonzo laughed.

“Indeed!” he smiled. “And then there’s this!” Alonzo beamed as he pointed at the humming Green Cabinet. “An honest to goodness, brand-new working Time Machine.”

“Hmmm,” Arawn frowned. Which got Alonzo’s attention.

“Is there something wrong?” he asked, concerned.

“Well, not precisely,…’new’. No.” Arawn admitted sheepishly.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Alonzo demanded quietly as he crossed his arms. “I take it this isn’t exactly a ‘Cadillac-version’ of a time machine?”

“No.” Arawn replied slowly, “to be more precise. This capsule is an unauthorized copy of another, much more advanced, race’s ‘Cadillac’, as you put it.”

“WHAT?!” Alonzo growled as his eyes flared. Then he closed his eyes and counted to ten. Arawn waited patiently for him to continue.

“How ‘precisely’,” Alonzo continued, mimicking Arawn, “would you describe this?” he demanded as he gestured to the cabinet. Arawn refused to meet Alonzo’s eyes.

“I would describe it as a generic knock-off.” He replied. Alonzo began shaking angrily.

“ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT THIS IS,…IS,…A GREMLIN!!!?” Alonzo yelled resoundingly, referring to the vehicle produced by AMC.

 Quintus, alerted by the ruckus, poked his head out of the cabinet. He then saw who was shouting. Then he ducked back inside.

“No.” Arawn replied quietly, “I would characterize it more as” He hesitated, “…a….’corvair’.”Arawn admitted finally. Alonzo stared at him in disbelief for the better part of a minute.

“You’re not inspiring much in the way of confidence from me, Doc!” he whispered finally.

“In my defense,” Arawn began as he finally met Alonzo’s eyes. “Time Machines are not as easy to obtain as a rental vehicle.” 

Alonzo then jerked a finger into Arawn’s face with a snarl on his lips. Then he froze, thought about it. Then relaxed as he dropped his finger.

“All right” He admitted. “Fair Enough!” He then held Arawn’s attention by glaring into his eyes.

“I fully expect to get Triple-Hazard-Duty-Pay for every one of MY hours spent on this fiasco!” he growled in a tone that refused any argument. Arawn looked back at him and sighed as he made a quick mental calculation.

“Done.” He said simply, as he tried not to wince at the preliminary total.

“Ok, let me run over this one more time. To make sure I’ve got this right before I go.” Alonzo grumbled. “This,… Time Machine?” he sighed deeply as he shook his head in disgust and pointed at the green cabinet.

“Sidrat.” Arawn corrected him. Alonzo gritted his teeth in reply, but he didn’t say anything for a moment.

“Is supposed to take several of your ‘associates’,” he continued.

“My not-brothers.” Arawn corrected him again.

 “To,…the Future’?” Alonzo continued with an annoyed sigh.

“‘A’ Future.” Arawn injected.

“Whatever!” Alonzo huffed as he threw his hands up dismissively. “All so that you can take advantage of another non-human’s ability to heal himself.”

“Timelord, he is a Timelord. They have a tendency to expel their own Spirit Energy willy-nilly when they try to heal themselves. Similar in ways that teenaged male humans do after they have reached puberty.” Arawn lectured. Alonzo stiffened and closed his eyes tightly as he listened to Arawn’s monologue.

“Doctor Iron?” Alonzo began as he opened his eyes a moment later. “What is the technical term for humans again?” he asked in a sweet tone.

“Homo Sapiens-Sapiens.” Arawn replied automatically, baffled by the request.

“If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that you’re a member of Homo Correctus Pedanticus.” Alonzo growled back. Which caused Arawn to screw up his face in puzzlement, not getting the implied insult.

“Well anyways,” Alonzo began as he took a step towards the large Green Cabinet, and sighed as he unfastened the harness to the Extremus Gun, “Here you go.” He continued as he handed the harness and its contents over to Arawn.

“I wish that they had chosen someone else to accompany my others instead.” Arawn sighed as he accepted the artifact.

“As do I.” Alonzo replied with a half-smile on his face. “Once I get back, my fiancée is probably going to rip me a new one.”  He sighed mournfully.

“How long should this trip take?” he asked, his voice rising almost into a whine.

“Subjectively? A week to ten days at most.” Arawn replied, “For us that remain? That may vary. There is no reason why you should not have returned within a few minutes.”

Alonzo’s eyes crossed momentarily as he thought about it. “Still, I wish they’d not chosen Huey to carry the gun while I’m gone. There’s something about him that doesn’t sit well.”

“I am forced to agree with you.” Arawn replied as darkness clouded his face. Alonzo caught it.

“Is that his real name? Huey?”

“Negative.” Arawn replied, “But it is best for me to not announce his real one. As he is under the Monster Equivalent of a witness protection program. To be fair, he has given me somewhat decent, but not outstanding service, ever since I accepted his services.”

“Still, hmmm.” Alonzo replied, as he heard Quintus call out to him from somewhere deep inside the Green Cabinet.

“In case we never meet again.” He smiled wryly as he held out his hand to Arawn.

“Who knows Alonzo?” Arawn replied as he took Alonzo’s hand and shook it, “He may yet surprise us both, what with his new responsibilities.” He concluded.

“That is what I’m afraid of.” Alonzo shot back as he entered the now overly large verdant escritoire. When he did, the panel door shut itself closed with a mechanical whine.

After another second, the room around him began to echo with the sound of a screechy/wheezing reverberation, reminiscent of an Elephant bellowing in Musth.

As it cycled through several iterations, the Green Cabinet faded from view. As it faded, so did the unusual sound. Finally, after the cabinet had disappeared, silence returned.

“Gods Speed.” Arawn said as he turned and exited the room.

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