Mors Funebris Chapter 3 Part 8
“It was human once.” He explained, as he looked over the empty spot where the creature had been.
“Long ago.” He finished, which left Mara gaping in shock.
“Human?” she said, or she tried to at least.
“Huhm?” She managed instead. The knowledge that that Thing had once been human, left her mind awhirl.
“The immediate danger has passed,” Arawn said grimly. He then dried his tears with a hand.
“However, there is another danger to take into consideration.” He stated as he removed a radio from his belt, and turned it on.
‘All hands. This is Doctor Iron. I am declaring an A.P.B for Grendel! He was last sighted, leaving the Main Atrium, possibly towards the east. He is to be considered Armed and EXTREMELY Dangerous!,…’ Arawn stopped when he noticed Mara had laid a hand on his shoulder. He looked at it, then to her.
“Mara?” he asked, concerned by this unusual behavior. “Are you alright?”
“Sorry.” She murmured as she removed her hand. “I’m just a little fatigued right now.” She said as her head lolled. Then she stumbled into some debris when she took a step, and nearly fell over.
“Mara?” Arawn asked again, his voice rising slightly as he turned and faced her. Her eyes crossed as she raised a hand to wave away his concerns. Slowly she gave halfhearted wave.
“Mara, please?” he said as he reached out a hand towards her.
“I’m FINE!” she said crossly, as she tried to slap his hand away, and missed.
“Lemme,…lone.” She muttered, as she began to sag. “Uhhmmm juss,…” she panted once, “ juss,…dzzzie.” She finally managed to say when Arawn put a supportive arm around her shoulders.
“Mara, please sit.” He said softly, concernedly.
He then firmly, but gently guided her to a sitting position. She tried to resist at first, but found that she was too tired. Once she had plopped herself down, Arawn sat alongside her. Mara then tiredly placed her head on his shoulder. Which surprised him.
‘Most uncharacteristic behavior.’ he thought, startled by her unusual familiarity. ‘Labored breathing.’ he asked. He then placed his free hand onto her forehead to check her temperature. ‘Clammy.’ He frowned, concerned.
“Mara, are you feeling cold?” he asked. After a moment’s delay, she nodded slowly.
“cold.’ She murmured.
“Your symptoms are concerning to me. I will call EMS to come and retrieve you.” He said as he did just that. After he finished apprising dispatch, he turned and noticed her expression.
‘Hmmm, this glare is lacking her usual intensity.’ He deemed.
“Oh, don’t be so fussy Arawn!” she said when she noticed him looking back. “I’m not a baby.: She paused lazily, “I’m perfectly capable,… of walking on my own,… two feet. I just need,…need to rest,…a bit.” She yawned as she shifted herself to lie down.
“Don’t move.” Arawn stated, “They will be here in a few,…” He began then stopped as his eyes caught sight of Mara’s blackened wing-wrist wound.
‘I had forgotten about that! Is this connected to her sudden lassitude?’ he wondered.
“Mara?” he began as he reached out a finger and lightly tapped the blackened hole on her wing-wrist. “Did you feel that?” he asked, his concern rising.
“Feel,..wha,..?” she murmured . Arawn stiffened as his face paled. He grabbed ahold of her wing-wrist and squeezed it, firmly!
Mara still didn’t react.
“Great Maker!” he said, alarmed, as he jumped to his feet. His heart began to beat faster with a mounting concern.
“MARA!” he said gruffly, “That bolt that I removed? How did you get it?!” he half-shouted frantically. It took him a couple more times before she reacted.
“Oh,..that…?”she replied slowly. “yeah,…” she paused to breathe in deeply a couple of times. She leaned back to look at him and nearly fell over. He deftly caught her. Then he lay her gently on the ground. She smiled as she stretched out.
‘Feels good.’ She decided dreamily. “nap,…time,…”
“MARA!” Arawn shouted at her, which earned him a glare.
“Wha,..?” she asked tiredly.
“The bolt! The bolt! Where and when did it impale you?” he demanded forcibly. When he didn’t get an immediate answer, he yelled at her again. Finally, she roused enough to speak.
“fir fall.” She lazily pointed back at the Atrium.
“Fir fall?” he asked, confused. “Oh,… fire fall!” he realized as he looked in the direction she pointed to. At that precise moment, another section of burning ceiling collapsed and fell to the floor. Mara flinched at the sound.
“cubs,…” she murmured, and then her head lolled when she passed out.
Following his hunch, Arawn rolled Mara onto her side, and began to examine the rest of her back. Carefully, he took ahold of a wing and gently unfurled it. He gasped at what he saw.
“May the gods strike me down for being a fool!” he shouted in self-recrimination. ‘First, second, and far too many third-degree Burns!’ he grimaced, as his anger with himself mounted. He came to a decision.
After a quick securing of his equipment. Arawn carefully began to position her for a carry.
‘Careful! Careful,,… do not overbalance her!’ he admonished himself, as he began to shift Mara into a firefighter’s carry. It took him longer than usual due to his fatigue, but he managed to stand up.
“Faex!” he cursed in frustration, when both of her wings plopped down alongside. Annoyed with himself he carefully lowered her to the ground. Then he secured her wings. He failed to lift her again, due to his growing fatigue.
‘Damnitus!’ he cursed again. ‘Great Maker! I am spent with no reserves to draw upon.’ He panted, as he sat next to Mara. regretted the lack of his Not-brothers.
He contemplated the sight of Mara next to him. Then the spot where he’d found her with the Cubs. Then he noted the speed of the advancing line of fire.
‘It has accelerated. There is insufficient time to wait for EMS!’ He decided, as he set himself to do something he hadn’t done for a long while.
Quickly, he tapped into his Psi-skills, and accessed his Qi channels. Within a few seconds, strength surged through him once more. Allowing him to put her atop his shoulders with ease
‘This will cost me dearly. But Mara’s needs are more important right now.’ He decided grimly. Then, once he got his bearings. He began a double-time slog, careful not to set himself into a bouncing gait. Which could damage the unconscious Lilim.
It was slow going, due to the lack of light and far too much smoke. Suddenly, he heard his radio crackle itself awake.
“Iron, this is Dispatch. Do you copy?” the radio crackled. Arawn deftly reacquired his radio without missing a beat, or disturbing his precious load.
“Dispatch, this is Doctor Iron, go ahead!” he replied.
“Iron. Priority Update!” Dispatch replied. “EMS delayed to your location due to arrival of Night-cubs. Arrived. Over!”
“Understood!” he shouted into the microphone. “Update! Patient status-enroute! Burn-team needed, Stat. Over!” he shouted again as he continued running the best he could. It was difficult to do, as he had to dodge both debris and people now.
“Five to ten minutes!”
“Roger! Injury Status?” Dispatch asked.
“Major burns, bilateral dorsal, possible sepsis/hypovolemia.” He panted.
“Copy! Burn team, standing by.”
“Copy!” Arawn shouted as he snapped the microphone key off. Then he focused all of his efforts on getting Mara to the Infirmary’s ER as quickly as possible. Thankfully, he was now far enough out from ground zero, that the haze had started to clear.
‘We might just make it!’ Arawn thought hopefully.
But Fate has a wicked sense of humor. For as soon as he finished that thought,…
“Arawn? Why are you carrying me?” Mara asked confused, her voice in a motorboat stutter by the pounding of his feet.
“I am taking you to the Emer,…” he began
‘Put me down! I can walk.” She said testily.
“MARA there is no time! I estimate seconds till you feel pain again!”
“Maou Damn IT ARAWN, I tell you that I’m fi,…” she said furiously, and then stopped as she started to feel some intense prickling on her back.
Her eyes widened and her mouth turned into an ‘O’, as that prickling began to rapidly spread and flare.
Arawn took several more steps, and turned his head to see what caused her sudden silence.
“ow?” She whispered disbelievingly. Then she blinked a couple of times.
“Ow.” She uttered as she began to tense. Arawn heard her beginning to pant.
“OWWww!” she began to whine, as she began to flail about, which caused Arawn’s grip on her to slip.
“Mara!” Arawn shouted, as he did his best to increase his pace. “Try not to move around!” he warned as he repositioned his grasp. Mara bit down hard on a knuckle in an effort to fight the pain. It didn’t do her much good.
“It’s getting woooorrrrse!” she said around her knuckle, clenching her eyes shut tightly.
She then did her best to fight the urge to cry out. Arawn made it a half dozen steps before,…
“NNNNNGGGGGHHHH!” She moaned loudly through gritted teeth, biting hard enough now to draw blood. Arawn plodded twice twice, and Mara’s control evaporated.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!” She screamed as loudly as she never had before. Mara felt her mind trying to draw away from her body, in an effort to save her sanity.
“MAKE IT STOP!! MAKE IT STOP!! STOP!!” STOP!!” STOP!!” she continued, as she began writhing furiously and striking out with her fists, which caused Arawn to stagger momentarily. He managed to compensate, and correct himself.
Unfortunately, that was when the spade end of Mara’s tail, smacked him in his face. Distracting him just as someone large, stepped into his path.
“OOOOFFFFF!” Arawn expelled involuntarily, as both he and Mara tumbled into and over the oafish idiot. Arawn found himself looking at the ceiling.
Unhurt, Arawn shook his head to clear it. When he had, he noticed that he’d collided with a Sasquatch, one with half its fur scorched away.
It was now sitting on the floor nearby, silently blinking in puzzlement at its status change. Bending concernedly over it was an attending Orderly, who gave Arawn a dirty look.
Arawn dismissed them both, when he heard Mara’s pitiful bleating. She had rolled a further few feet along their direction of travel. Still somewhat addled by his collision with the Sasquatch. Arawn stumbled his way to her.
Once he got near, he tried to reach out a restraining hand several times. Every time, it would get knocked away by one of her convulsing arms, legs, or wings.
“Mara!” he cried silently in helplessness. He was unsure of how best to assist her without risking damage to either of them.
Hearing his cry, she opened her pain filled eyes and fixated on him
“KILL ME! She yelled desperately. Which shocked Arawn to his core. Unable to comply, he began to back away. As he did, Mara reached out a hand and latched onto one of his.
“Kill Me!” she pleaded, tears forming in her eyes. “I can’t take it anymore!”
Arawn felt himself go cold and made a decision. It would be dangerous. Shaking away her hand, he stood up, set his shoulders, and raised a fist above his head.
Mara calmed slightly, as she saw him raise his right fist. Yet, even then he hesitated.
“Please.” She whimpered quietly. It motivated him.
She smiled at the sight of his fist coming down towards,….
Either a moment or a lifetime later, Mara opened her eyes.
‘Whut?’ she asked, confused.
‘Where am I?’ she asked again as her eyes began to dart back and forth. She couldn’t see much, due to the glare of the overhead lamps.
‘Someone’s tugging at my clothes.’ She realized. Then moved her head to see who it was.
‘Oh?’ she almost smiled, when she noticed that it was a strapping young male who was doing the tugging.
For some reason he had chosen to cut her clothes off with a pair of scissors. Normally she’d have been receptive to that kind of foreplay. But something didn’t feel right about it.
“What’s go,…?” she began to ask.
Tsunami like, her pain slammed into her.
AAAAAHHHHHHH!” She shrieked.
“She’s awake!” shouted a voice. “A little help here!” it continued. Within a second or two, she felt several pairs of hands grabbing at her! Pushing her down! All were unwelcome, since it made her pain worse!
She lashed out in an effort to make them let go.
“Aaah! Fuck! My eye!” Said a feminine voice.
“Dammit! She’s strong!” Came another. Right then Mara’s leg encountered something cold and heavy. So, she pushed at it. A loud clattering ensued as that something impacted the floor with a metallic ringing.
“Orderlies! Give us a hand!!” Said the first voice. Then several more hands and arms managed to get ahold of her. Still she struggled, as she continued to vocalize the pain that started to chew off parts of her soul.
Then, her breathing was constricted, when she felt some unknown thing cover her nose and mouth.
‘Can’t breathe!’ She thought as she twisted her face away, dislodging it. But then another pair of hands restrained her head, along her temples. Then that thing returned, constricting her breathing once more.
“NOOOO!” she vocalized through her agony, her rage igniting.
“Mara! Breathe!” Arawn commanded her. Mara’s eyes sprung open at the sound. It was he who had that held that damnable thing!
‘LET ME BREATHE!’ she tried to yell. She then tried to bite at his fingers, in an effort to get him to let go.
“INHALE!” he commanded her. “It is akin to Essence!” he spat. “INHALE!” he shouted again, locking his eyes with hers.
As she tried to bite him again, she sucked in a lungful of funny tasting air.
“Yes Mara, take it in!” he said. Mara exhaled and was about to try to bite him once more, when…She realized that her pain had begun to subside.
It wasn’t much, but she savored the difference.
Her instincts connected the dots. So, she automatically sucked in several more breaths. As she did, she noticed that her pain had begun to diminish to a dull roar, and continued to reduce.
“How is she still awake? She should be out by now!” Asked an unfamiliar female voice. Arawn didn’t reply, he just kept his focus on Mara.
“You are doing well Mara, just keep breathing.” Arawn nodded as he continued holding the anesthesia mask in place. He smiled with relief as he felt her finally start to relax.
As the number of minutes increased, Mara felt her pain finally fall away to barely noticeable.
As it receded, so too did her urge to stay awake.
After a few more minutes, she turned her head and looked up at Arawn through increasingly heavy eyelids.
‘So far away.’ She thought as she finally surrendered and closed her eyes.
“All right. I think that should be,…just about enough.” She heard Arawn say through the darkness. He was quiet for a moment.
“Horace? Is your team ready?” He spoke again, this time further away.
‘Horus?’ Mara thought fearfully, as she forced her eyes open one last time. Right then she saw a dark-skinned hand land onto Arawn’s shoulder. Then it firmly pushed him out of the way.
“We’ll take it from here, Iron.” Came a stern voice. Shifting her ever increasingly heavy eyes, Mara saw that ‘Horus’ was not a God-Falcon, like she expected.
Instead, he was a thin-faced, clean-shaven human male. She found herself fascinated with the sight of one of the most unusual looking noses she’d ever seen before.
“You go ahead and run interference with the politicians. I’ll send word if we need anything.” Horace muttered as he looked down at Mara with an experienced eye.
‘I think that’s called a Roman nose.’ she thought lazily. Horace glanced to his right. ““Get her intubated.,” he ordered someone. Then he sighed tiredly.
‘Intubated?’ Mara murmured the funny sounding word. She liked the way it sounded.
”We’ve got a long road ahead of us.”
‘Masturbated?’ Mara chuckled quietly, as her eyelids finally became too heavy to keep open.
Like every previous time Arawn awoke, he stared at the ceiling above his bed for the longest time.
‘Too many tasks, and not enough hours to do them all. I wish my not-brothers were here to help fill the gap.’ He thought, and then he threw back the covers and sat up.
He then turned and contemplated the sight of a foot-tall slightly glowing crystal tetrahedron. It was sitting atop a table situated in the center of the room.
‘Thankfully, I was able to adapt one of the Sidrat’s spare chronal compensators.’ He smiled, and then stood up to get ready. As per a long-standing habit, the first thing he did upon rising, was to walk over and peer out the nearest window.
Despite it being an early Saturday afternoon, the city outside was shrouded in near darkness.
Not because of the smoke that still rose from parts of the Iron Foundation, but because the ambient light had shifted to the near-infrared.
Just on the other side of the window pane, was a bird seemingly frozen in mid-flight. In reality it was slowly creeping along, chasing an insect. A patient observer could’ve seen the insect being slowly engulfed by the bird’s beak.
‘Cobalt blue back, tawny belly.’ Arawn smiled as he peered closely at it, ‘Barn swallow,…Hirundo rustica. It has arrived early this year.’ He deemed, then he turned away.
After he had showered and dressed, he then stood next to the slightly glowing crystal, and readied himself.
‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.’ Arawn thought, as he steeled himself for the disagreeable task, he knew awaited him.
As he inhaled deeply and held his breath, he placed a hand onto the top of the crystal and deactivated it.
As the crystal’s inner glowing started to fade. So too did the outside ambient light, begin to brighten to the normal Los Angeles smog-tinged blue sky.
Unseen outside the window, the Swallow shot off. Its next meal firmly emplaced within its crop.
“Erk!” Arawn gasped painfully, as a wave of nausea passed over him. He staggered and clenched at the now dark crystal, to keep himself from collapsing. Within a few subjective seconds, the flow of time in his room matched the rest of the world’s once more.
Arawn remained where he was for the better part of a minute, panting. Once he had steadied himself for company. He stood up, straightened his clothing and then partially opened his bedroom door.
As he stepped away, he heard a knocking on the door jamb. He turned and saw that his overly-thin, but still somewhat feminine secretary, Ms. Augustine, was peeking her head inside.
“Is it safe?” she asked him cautiously.
“Relatively speaking, yes. What is it?” Arawn replied testily.
“You wanted me to inform you of any news concerning the council.” She began.
“Indeed.” He nodded. “What has happened this time?” he asked. Ms. Augustine, sensing it was truly safe for her to enter, ducked her head out. After a second she re-opened his door with a cart in front of her.
“Artemus.” She said quietly as she stopped the cart next the Arawn’s work table, and transferred a covered food tray to its surface.
“Great Maker! What has that mangy cur of a Werewolf been up to now?”
“I will give you the details, as you break your fast.” Ms. Augustine insisted firmly. Arawn’s eyes flared angrily, wishing to argue. But he knew the futility of it.
He sighed resignedly, and sat himself down. After he lifted the cover off of the try, he frowned at what lay before him.
“Is this your idea of a joke?” he demanded. “Oatmeal, fruit slices, and orange juice? Where is my English Breakfast?!” He demanded testily.
Ms. Augustine sighed audibly. ‘It is going to be one of those days, again.’ She thought.
“Chef reports that our food shipments have been delayed due to the disaster. She has decided that since most Nightbreed are carnivores, they should have first priority for any meat or meat-byproducts.” Ms. Augustine replied, as she continued flipping through the cart’s collection of file folders.
“Then where is my coffee?!” Arawn sighed petulantly, as he glared at his orange juice.
“You are an omnivore, Master Iron. You can easily handle this temporary privation. Besides, you should be cutting back on saturated fats anyway.” She chided him.
“Coffee is NOT a meat product.” He pointed out firmly.
“All active Emergency crews and Medical staff; Are to be given precedence for coffee. As per your directive.” Ms. Augustine smilingly replied. Happy to score a point. Arawn’s shoulders sagged.
‘Oats are for horses.’ He thought as he frowned peevishly for several seconds. Then he began eating reluctantly.
“Artemus?” he said in between bites, in an effort to change the subject.
“He’s been doing his best to take advantage of Grendel’s latest attack. He’s started fanning the flames of resentment against your perceived inability, to counter our foe.”
“Well they should be resentful. I know I am.” Arawn replied, pausing thoughtfully between bites.
“Yes, but you need a way to counter his arguments.”
“Do you have a suggestion?”
“Indeed,” she nodded, “Unlike Humans, Nightbreed are more impressed with actions, not words. Give them a display of your power.”
“Did I not do so with the Gakkanath?”
“Yes, but only a handful of them witnessed that. You need to do something more public.”
“Where is he currently?” He asked, as he finished the last of his oatmeal. Somehow managing to not gag at the aftertaste.
“In the Council chambers doing what he does best. Spreading verbal poison.”
“Very well then,” Arawn stated as he got to his feet. “Perhaps now will be,…” he began. But he was interrupted by the sound of a cracking noise. Both he and Ms. Augustine’s head turned to look at the source: the crystal tetrahedron.
“FAEX!” Arawn complained as he stepped over and began to examine it. “Blasted inferior technology!” he hissed.
“Hasn’t this technology worked out well for you for what? The last century and a half?”
“Yes, it has.” He admitted. “However, real Time-lord technology is largely self-repairing. This is not.”
“Is it broken?” Ms. Augustine asked, concerned.
“I do not know. I will have to run a diagnostic first.” He answered as he produced his toolkit. Ms. Augustine laid a restraining hand on his arm. He looked at her with annoyance crossing his face.
“That will have to wait.” She said levelly. “Artemus takes priority.”
“You are correct.” Arawn replied reluctantly as he put his toolkit away. Silently he motioned to Ms. Augustine to follow him as he left the room. She did.
Soon, as they made their way through the remaining, relatively undamaged halls towards the council. As their footseps echoed in the near empty hallways, Arawn skimmed through the latest situation reports. Occasionally he asked his aide-de-camp a question.
“The Council, If I show up there unexpectedly. What do you think will happen?” He inquired.
“Honestly? If you rely solely on words. Artemus will probably maneuver for a vote of no-confidence. Honestly, I have no idea if he has enough votes for it to be successful. However, if he wins then he becomes Council chair. Upon which, his first action will probably be to dissolve the Council. Thus allowing the more aggressive Nightbreed, to return to their old ways.” She pointed out.
“Which would give the Pro-active Hunters the excuse they have been waiting for. To eliminate any and all Nightbreed.” Arawn concluded, disturbed at the notion
“Indeed.” Ms. Augustine nodded somberly.
“Then, logically, I must expend even more of my energy reserves with something flashy.”
“I’m afraid so. How are you holding up?”
“I wish my not-brothers were here for me to draw upon.”
“Ah.” She replied, understanding what he didn’t say. “Speaking of which, have you received any word from them?”
“Negative. I can sense that they are still alive in the future. But something appears to be blocking any further communication between us.”
The pair of them remained silent for the rest of the trip to the council chambers. Once they arrived, he had Ms. Augustine enter first. To ‘test the waters’, as he put it.
Arawn then gave himself five minutes. Mostly to steel himself for the tasks he knew awaited him within.
‘The Council. They who create more problems than they fix.’ He thought uncharitably when he entered. Once inside, he winced at the cacophony that greeted him.
‘Pandemonium, and not the Maou’s version.’ He sighed, as he came to a halt next to the speaker’s podium. There, no one took notice. Mostly because every other member of the Council: Hunters, Nightbreed, and Other-kin, were too busy furiously arguing with one another.
‘Should I call for Security?’ he pondered. Then he observed a dominance display between a Goatman and a Wendigo, one that had already resulted in damaged furniture.
‘Or perhaps a SWAT team instead?’ He smirked as he raised his arms and waved them, to get the attention of everyone there. When that failed, he tried clapping his hands, and then stomping his feet.
‘Not working.’ He frowned.
Gritting his teeth with frustration, Arawn resorted to something drastic. Activating both his Blast-Punch and his Shield-Buckler, he then brought both his hands together over his head.
The result were, in his opinion, both dramatic and satisfying. As the discordant mystic energies came together in an unignorable, ‘Thunder & Lightning’, (very-very-frightening) show of light, and sound that reverberated into the furthest reaches of the chambers.
As a result, every head turned and faced him. Their conflicts momentarily forgotten.
A moment was all Arawn needed.
“I Thank You All for Attending!” Arawn uttered commandingly, his voice echoing in the sudden silence.
When he lowered his hands. He noticed that his fingertips were lit with a number of small fires. He lifted them to his face and casually blew them all out, one by one. All the while, he deliberately ignored the surprised stares from afar.
Absentmindedly, he began wiping his hands on his jacket, staining them with carbon black.
‘Not that kind of show!’ Ms. Augustine silently complained, wincing, as she stood off in the wings.
“Will you all please be seated!” Arawn didn’t ask his audience. At first, no one moved. But as he continued to stare balefully at them, one did. Slowly, then at an ever-increasing rate, every other member of the Council sat themselves down.
Many only doing so after giving their respective foe an angry glare, along with the occasional muttering under a breath.
“Thank you.” Arawn replied dryly.
“Now!” he began, as he started slowly walking back and forth across the Council stage. As he did, he felt every set of eyes following him, including those who had the ocular equivalent.
“Undoubtedly, all of you are fatigued, and ill-tempered from having to deal with the events of the last day and a half.” He continued.
“As am I!” He emphasized. “I have been up for most of that time, dealing with the various State, Local, and Federal disaster response teams as best I can.”
“Since I still need to attend to them, I will be succinct. I ask that all please restrain your questions, until after I have laid out the facts as I know them.” He stated as he made a gesture to someone in the wings.
All heads turned to view that someone. She flew out to the stage, and came to land on the podium next to Arawn. Who then bowed to her and nodded his thanks.
It was Stinkerbell, the proto-gothic Leanan Sidhe with the gift of discerning truth or falsehood. Arawn had had the forethought to request her presence, with the mind to forestall the inevitable charge of his lying.
Off in the wings, Arawn smiled to himself when he caught Artemus’ eyes flaring with a frustrated anger.
“Yesterday,” he began once more. “Friday, April 29th, 1988, at 9 o’clock in the morning. The Iron Foundation, and by extension the United States, suffered its deadliest terrorist attack since 1973.”
“Undoubtedly, all of you have heard the same declaration from the various News Media. Soon, with their help, I will make an official statement concerning our own dead and unaccounted for.” Arawn sighed regretfully.
”Of which, our current numbers are now nearly twice the death-count of the 1973 terrorism related deaths.”
“As to the identity of our cravenly attackers? Our suspicions have proven to be true. I have just received word that Grendel, and his factions, have claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attack.”
After he finished, nearly everyone in the chamber jumped to his, her, or its feet; or equivalent. They all began to shout their demands once more, directing them all towards him. It took Arawn several more minutes to get them to quiet down.
“Fortunately, their endgame was thwarted by the efforts of our Security Forces. Which include the all-volunteer Iron Guard, and the newly hired Illuminatis Squad. With one or two notable exceptions, most of them have discharged their duties with Honor and Equanimity.” He pointed out, causing a low susurrus of complaints to spread.
“Unfortunately, as before, when Grendel encountered those capable of fighting back. He immediately turned tail and fled, leaving his troops behind to cover his escape. Unlike before, some were captured alive.”
“I hereby request that both Hunters, and Nightbreed. Please try to restrain themselves from seeking revenge. Or, at least until such time as those captured have been properly,” Arawn paused meaningfully, “’debriefed’.” He finished.
A good portion of Arawn’s listeners smiled humorlessly then. Even though he had included Hunters in his plea. All there were aware; it was the Nightbreed, he was referring.
“Now, to continue. Rescue operations are proceeding apace, as aid continues to flow. Our human victims are in the process of relocation to the various surrounding city and county Hospitals.”
“While most of the lesser injured Nightbreed, are now either going to, or are at the Foundation’s variegated Field Hospitals. I wish to assure all of you, that they are all now receiving the best care available. Naturally, the worst cases are receiving treatment here, in our largely untouched Infirmary.” He finished. But then,…
“The Cubs! What about those who suffered needlessly!” Artemus demanded when he sensed an opportunity to grandstand.
He then jumped atop a desk and stood aloft for all to see. He then began to howl loudly, mournfully. Several of his surrounding sycophantic Lycanthropes, added their throats in solidarity.
‘Spare us your Crocodile Tears.’ Arawn thought, as he kept his face a solid mask. He patiently waited for his turn to address the overly dramatic Were.
“I assume you are referring to the Night-Cubs?” Arawn demanded once their howls had died down.
“YES!” Art slavered dramatically for all to see. “More importantly! I demand to know what role your bed-warmer had in their deaths?!” He sneered.
All went silent in that chamber at the Were’s implication. Arawn stiffened and stared coldly back at Artemus.
“I assume you are referring to the LADY Mara?” he emphasized with a glower.
“I am!” Artemus affirmed gleefully.
‘You do not care about the cubs.’ Arawn judged correctly, ‘You just desire power. I will not allow this insult to slide. Lest the Nightbreed be dealt a fatal blow.’ He fumed, as he finally allowed his anger to surge forth.
Suddenly, Arawn’s eyes blazed white with an argent fire. Simultaneously, he extended one hand, claw-like, in Artemus’ direction. Then closed his hand around nothing.
As he did, Artemus let out a surprised ‘Yip!’ when he realized that he couldn’t move. Arawn then lifted his hand up, and Artemus rose up into the air! He wriggled furiously against his invisible bonds. Little good it did, despite his enhanced werewolf strength.
Arawn casually drew the Lycanthrope through the air towards the stage. Then, surprisingly, he gently let the Were go a foot shy of the surface.
Artemus stumbled as his hind paws struggled to find a purchase on the polished wood floor. Which elicited a round of mocking laughter from the chamber.
It was at that point, that Artemus realized that he might’ve pushed Arawn a little too far. However, he knew that he couldn’t back down, without serious consequences.
Artemus voiced a low growl as he turned and faced Arawn. Towering over the small-seeming human, he lowered himself into a crouch, arms akimbo with teeth and claws at the ready. Finally, he raised his hackles in a challenge..
In response, Arawn stared nonchalantly up at the much larger werewolf, and then gave off a derisive snort. He stepped up closely to Artemus, Bared his teeth and growled as best he could manage.
Almost instantly, Art swung at him with the claws of his right paw at full extent. If Arawn had been a mere human, his head would’ve been cleanly taken off.
That was just one of the many mistaken assumptions Artemus had made concerning Arawn.
Moving rapidly, Arawn darted underneath Art’s arm, brushing the Werewolf’s fur with his suit. Then he shoved the heel of his right hand up under Art’s jaw, knocking his head up towards the ceiling, distracting him.
Simultaneously, he dove underneath Art’s left arm, then circled himself around that arm’s paw, and firmly took ahold of it with his left hand.
Continuing his spiral, he lifted Art’s forearm along his center and lifted Art’s elbow upwards. Which resulted in a hilarious display. For several seconds, all in the grandstand watched in shock, as Art danced a forceful jig around Arawn. Then, he thrust Art’s arm forward as if he were casting out a fly-fishing rod.
Before another second ended, Art was eating the dust off the wooden floor. As Arawn forcefully shoved his face into it. Yet, even then Arawn still wasn’t done expressing his displeasure.
He then knelt by the shoulder of the now flattened Werewolf, and extended Art’s arm up and out. Preventing its use. Then he transferred that paw and locked it into the crook of his elbow.
Arawn hesitated for only a moment, to insure he had a secure hold on the struggling Were. Then calmly, he set his weight along his hips, and twisted himself rapidly.
This caused Art’s arm to twist painfully beyond its normal extension, and the Werewolf started to howl in agony.
For a moment, Arawn paused and considered ending the display there and then.
‘Bed warmer?’ he remembered angrily, and continued his twisting motion until all present, heard the sound of Art’s shoulder and elbow dislocating noisily. Artemus’ agonized baying echoed into every corner then.
“YIELD!” Arawn roared over the much louder sound of Art’s pain-filled yelping. Artemus began kicking and clawing at the floor with the rest of his paws in a futile effort to get away.
After a patient moment of no reply, Arawn began to twist himself further.
“I YIELD!” Artemus cried suddenly.
Automatically, Arawn let go of the Were’s arm and casually stood up. He walked around the prone Werewolf and stared down at him expectantly.
Artemus, seeing him, rolled over to expose his belly and neck to Arawn in complete surrender.
‘Well that should take care of him for a short while.’ Arawn thought with satisfaction, as he deliberately presented his back to the now thoroughly cowed Werewolf.
He stepped forward and faced the Council chamber as he smoothed out his clothing. Behind him, Art painfully kneeled and bowed his head towards Arawn. As he patiently awaited the time it would take for his arm to heal.
“NOW.” Arawn began as he looked out over the collection of shocked Hunters and utterly surprised Nightbreed.
” Where, were we? Oh yes.” Arawn breathed.
“Lady Mara’s involvement with,… OUR children.” He emphasized with a baleful frown.
“Of the twenty-six Cubs who were either partially or heavily, injured by the explosions, including the subsequent scurrilous attack from the squad of Grendel’s goons,,..” He paused and then wilted.
“Unfortunately, I am saddened. Truly saddened that I have to say, that two of them have indeed succumbed to their injuries.” He finished.
Right then, every Nightbreed in the Council bent their heads, or equivalent, and let out a respectful dirge.
After a moment’s surprise, Arawn joined them as best he could. Once the howls concluded, he was pleased to see that no few Hunters had joined in as well.
“Now, in answer to Artemus’ libelous accusations.” Arawn began, breaking the silence.
“Whether or not the Lady Mara and I are lovers, Is irrelevant! However, for the record. She and I have not now, nor have we ever planned on becoming so.” He finished and looked meaningfully at Stinkerbell.
She caught his look, and began bobbing up and down in the air for all to see. Affirming that he’d spoken truthfully.
“FURTHERMORE!” he bellowed as he raised a finger for emphasis. “LADY MARA LILITU! Our,…” Arawn paused suddenly, unsure of what to say next.
‘What would be an appropriate sobriquet?’ he pondered quickly. But nothing came to mind. Then, just as he was ready to move on, he noticed Juanita in the audience. She was staring expectantly back at him. As Stinkerbell flew around him, he felt an inspiration.
“Our,… Iron Maiden,…!” he stated, then his face froze briefly, ‘Where did that come from?’ he asked himself. Nevertheless, he pressed on.
“Is the primary reason why most of our Cubs are recovering in the infirmary! As opposed to their LYING DEAD IN THE MORGUE!” he thundered. Looking around, he could see that everyone seemed shocked by that revelation.
“Hear My Words!” he continued raging. “And I quote: “Let your cry come to me! I will give you an answer, and let you see great things and secret things of which you had no knowledge.” Arawn declared passionately.
“Lady Mara did indeed go to the Atrium. Doing so in search of her adopted daughter, Boto! Of whom you are all aware.” Arawn paused to peer back at the members of the Council. Half looked away with an abashed look.
“Instead, she came across twenty-six traumatized Nightbreed Cubs. I ask you. Do you know what she did with them then?
“Did she take her own and leave the rest behind? Like somebody else would have done? You know of whom I refer to.” Arawn pointedly spoke to a contingent of Nightbreed. They refused to look back.
“NO!” Arawn shouted. “No,” he continued quietly, “When they needed her, when WE needed her. She stepped up and did her best to bring them all to safety.”
“But not only the twenty-six cubs. In addition, one of their minders. He who had been shot and left to die by Grendel’s goons.”
“Baucus.” Arawn stated quietly, as he bowed his head.
“That kindly old Satyr. Everyone knew him. How fat he had become in life. She carried him. She carried him! That little slip of a girl.” Arawn exaggerated. “She carried him.”
“Alas, to no avail. I have also been informed that he succumbed to his injuries an hour ago.”
“But she didn’t know that would happen. So she helped him anyways.”
“But that’s not all! She walked through fire! Literally! To bring our cubs home to their mothers.” Arawn paused, as he noticed that nearly everyone there looked at him with various degrees of incredulity and skepticism.
In response, he turned to Stinkerbell once more. But she was already bobbing up and down again.
“Nooooo! As you all can tell, I am not exaggerating! For no sooner than she had begun her self-appointed task of herding the Cubs elsewhere. Anywhere away from the ruins of their facility, than did the Atrium begin to collapse around them all.”
“She saw the danger of flaming debris falling down from above her. So what did she do? Her first instinct was not only to shield her daughter from harm, but also the rest of the cubs.” Arawn said quietly, as every ear strove to hear.
“Akin to a Dragon protecting her vulnerable brood. Mara used herself as a shield to protect them all!” he shouted.
“Though I am afraid. At a great cost to herself.”
“Currently, she is now in one of the Infirmary’s operating theaters, fighting for her life! Under the personal care of the respected Dr. Wagih ‘Horace’ Sulayman.”
“You ask: How do I know this?”
“You ask, and I will answer. Because I carried her there myself. I will tell you something else. She was suffering from burns so intense, so painful. That she had begun begging me to kill her.” He finished quietly. Arawn didn’t need to see that Stinkerbell was still bobbing up and down. He could see his audience’s reaction instead.
“Now, I ask you all. How painful does it have to be for anyone here to desire the same?” He demanded in a rising tone so forceful that spittle began to fly. He then calmed himself.
“I have not yet received a prognosis from our good Doctor. So, if you do not mind, in the future! Assuming Mara gets to have one! I would appreciate it, if you would make at least a show of offering her some respect!”
Arawn then paused to wipe at his face. Just as he was about to say something more was when his pager went off.
Arawn turned away and looked at it for a second. Then he turned to address the Council Chamber.
“Now. If you would all please excuse me? It being an election year and all. It appears that the current President of the United States. Has finally felt the urge to act like a leader. For the very first time in his misbegotten career, apparently.”
“Good day.” He added firmly, as he stiffly walked off the stage. Leaving behind a mortified audience.
Return = Pain.
Arawn looked up at the sound of the door to the Recovery room opening.
He frowned concernedly at the sight of the obviously fatigued, Dr. Wagih Kosmi Hahn Sulayman; Senior Hunter of the Council, and second in command of the Iron Foundation Infirmary.
“Horace.” Arawn greeted him with a nod.
“Iron.” Dr. Horace acknowledged, returning the gesture. Horace tiredly removed his bloodstained gloves with a snap. Then he threw them into a waiting disposal container.
Horace began to yawn repeatedly as he removed his blood-stained scrubs.
“I’ll be with you in a second. Thank you for making the time.” He said as he started washing his hands at the nearby scrub station. Arawn patiently waited.
When he turned to look at Arawn, his eyes focused on the overly large cup Arawn held in one of his gloved hands.
“Is that,… COFFEE?!” he asked, his eyes flaring hungrily. Arawn, seeing his reaction, handed it over without a word. Dr. Horace eagerly grabbed it and leaned back to guzzle it noisily.
Arawn smiled wryly when he observed twin streams of blackened liquid dripping down both sides of Horace’s neck. At one point Horace stopped to breathe.
“Thanks.” He replied gratefully. Then he grimaced as the taste caught up with him.
“Damnation Iron! Take a little coffee with your sugar?” he complained with a smile. Then he continued, “Sorry for that. The O.R. coffeemaker is broken.”
“I will have maintenance take a look.” Arawn replied, as he made a mental note. Horace nodded and resumed his guzzling. After he was done, Horace let out a belch and wiped his face and neck with the sleeve of one arm.
Then, Horace froze. He looked dubiously at the coffee cup and over at Arawn.
“Did you drink from this?” He asked warily. Arawn shook his head.
“Good, I ask, because a problem has cropped up. There’s an infection that apparently only affects those who were involved with that ‘Gack’ character you fought earlier.”
“Gakkanath?” Arawn asked.
“Yeah that.” He waved. “Got any problems?” he nodded, pointing at Arawn’s gloved hands
“Good. Stay on top of your hygiene, and let someone know if you feel any intense burning. That’s the first symptom.” Horace said, and then went silent as he stared off into space. After several seconds of quiet Arawn sighed.
“Progress report?” he prompted. Horace jerked and then looked at him.
“Sorry. Away with the fairies.” He explained, blinking. “There’s a lot on my mind.” He sighed.
“I need to sit down.” He sighed again, as he settled himself onto one of the nearby Hospital-Standard-Uncomfortable chairs. He smiled relievedly, when he stretched out his legs. After a moment, Arawn joined him.
As Arawn watched, Horace reached into a shirt pocket and pulled out a small cardboard container. Arawn’s face froze when he saw that it was a cigarette box.
Then he began to sputter as Horace removed one and put it to his lips, and tried to light it with his Zippo. Despite several attempts, the lighter’s wick wouldn’t catch.
“Damn it!” he complained, “I filled this last night.”
“Horace! You know that smoking is not allowed,…” Arawn began angrily, then stopped when he noticed that Horace was glaring balefully back at him over his cigarette.
Horace made a show of closing his Zippo and putting it away.
“Iron, we are well outside the supplemental oxygen zone!” He barked back, “Besides that coffee! THIS!” He frowned as he waved the unlit cigarette, “Is the closest I’ve come to a meal, THIS DAY!” He growled. Then he forced himself to lean back and take in a calming breath. Arawn glowered back silently.
“Yeah, I get it ‘I need to quit,’..” Horace peevishly began as he licked his lips. “I’m about to commence with the more delicate procedures. So, this is NOT the best time for me to start dealing with nicotine withdrawal!” He snarled, as he held up a pair of shaking hands.
Arawn met Horace’s stare with an equal measure of anger and frustration. Both were overwhelmed with recent events. In that moment, Arawn found himself tempted to answer his Chief-Surgeon’s insolence with a Blast-Punch.
Then that moment passed, and sanity prevailed. Arawn looked away first. Horace wilted and looked guilty. Neither would meet the other’s eye.
Finally, Arawn sighed and came to a decision. He snapped a pair of fingers in Horace’s face. Who jerked with surprise, when a small flame sprung from Arawn’s thumb-tip.
Horace peered curiously at it for a moment. Then he shrugged and pressed the cigarette end to it. When Arawn saw Horace start puffing, he extinguished his thumb with a quick blow of his breath.
Horace gratefully took in a lungful and held it for a second. Then he exhaled a big plume of smoke with a heartfelt sigh. Surreptitiously, Arawn activated a minor zephyr spell to carry away any second hand smoke.
“Thanks Iron.” Horace replied gratefully as he began to relax. The pair of them then shared a moment of comradeship. Horace took another drag before starting.
“Before I begin, I’d like to know.” Horace said, “How personal is it between you and her?”
“That question is not only irrelevant. But unprofessional as well!” Arawn replied as levelly as he could manage. He and Horace stared back at each other for several seconds. This time, Horace looked away.
“All right. I’ll let it go.” He grunted.“We’ve got several problems with Mara’s current condition.” He cautioned. Then he began listing them.
“First. We can’t keep her under for very long. It appears that she has an incredible resistance to anesthesia and analgesics.”
“Second,” he hesitated, “When she is under, weird shit starts occurring. I’ll elaborate more on that in a moment.”
“Third, that Gakk infection? She has it, and it’s come down on her rather hard.
“Fourth, I need to explain what concerns me the most. Her mental stamina.” Horace paused. With an effort, Arawn forced himself to remain unmoving.
“As it is now, in order to get her anesthetized properly. We have to resort to the equivalent of a horse killing dosage. Even then, she doesn’t stay under for long. Maybe 10,…15 minutes, tops.” He sighed. “Which isn’t nearly long enough for what I’m about to attempt next. Which is saving her tail.”
“Now, when she is out,…” Horace faltered, trying to find the right words. ”You’re not going to believe what I have to say next.”
“Try me.” Arawn replied. Horace snuck a glance at him to see if he was being serious. He was.
“In the last hour and a half, I’ve had to reprimand no less than three people for,…” Horace sighed, “Less-Than-Professional-Conduct.” He snorted. “All three of them were attempting to ‘involve’ themselves with Mara.”
“What? Explain.” Arawn demanded, surprised.
“We had to prevent them from having sex with her! While she was unconscious!” Horace growled, frowning. “One of whom was the Anesthetist himself.”
“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen, Iron. There I was, sectioning off a graft from Mara’s wing, and I see some movement off to one side. I look over, what do I see? The anesthetist. Pulling his penis out of his scrubs.”
“The next thing I know, he’s trying to maneuver it into her mouth. In front of us all! Yet after I yell at him to stop. He starts acting like he didn’t know what he was doing.” Horace said, and then held up a hand.
“Please, don’t ask me what the attending nurses were trying to accomplish.” He shuddered.
Then he turned to look at Arawn straight on.
“I don’t suppose there’s anything about her, that you feel I should know?” he said as he leaned forward and started to massage the bridge of his nose.
“Well she is a demon.” Arawn began. Horace barked out a laugh as he gave Arawn a quick cold glare.
“You don’t say?” he replied sarcastically as he leaned back in his chair. He sucked at his cigarette and blew out another plume.
“I’ve worked on a lot of folks during my time, Iron. From the frailest of humans, to the toughest of Minos. I think I know a Demon when I see one.” He smiled humorlessly. Arawn growled irritably. Horace casually ashed his cigarette with a thumb. As they fell to the floor, Arawn eyes flared at the sight. But he kept his peace.
“So, what makes this demon so special?” Horace continued.
“She is a succubus.” Arawn added.
“What?!” Horace chuffed as he turned and fixed Arawn with an outraged glare. “You didn’t think to mention this, BEFORE you left her alone with us?” Horace barked. Arawn frowned.
“Her ‘condition’ has been general knowledge since just after her arrival.” Arawn replied coolly. Horace looked at him incredulously.
“If I recall correctly, that was the time-frame I was in South America. I was working with Doctors without Borders. I’d not gotten back for at least a couple of weeks after.”
“Oh.” Arawn replied, embarrassed. “It appears that I need to make some improvements to the Foundation’s Personnel Notifications.”
“You think? Shit!” he exclaimed as he tried to take another drag from his cigarette. Then he stopped when he discovered that it had burned to the end.
“Fuck!” he griped angrily as he threw the butt onto the floor, and spitefully ground it beneath his shoe. Arawn’s right hand twitched a couple of times.
After Horace failed to shake out another cigarette from his box, he looked inside.
“Damn it! I’m out.” He complained as he crossed his arms and began to fume. “No way to get anymore, this time of night.”
Bowing to necessity, Arawn took pity. Horace was about to resume talking, when he noticed Arawn raising his right hand up into the air.
He watched, curious, as Arawn began flexing his fingers. Almost as if he were attempting to grab onto something invisible. Suddenly, a small colorful container appeared within his grasp.
Arawn then silently handed it to him. He was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a cigarette box. Of a variety he’d never encountered before. He shrugged his shoulders, and took a drag after getting one lit from his now functioning Zippo.
“Sweet Isis, Mother of Horus!” he exclaimed happily. “That is smooth!” he smiled. Suddenly, he felt refreshed, almost energetic.
“Isis? Horus? I thought you were a Copt?” Arawn asked, as he pointed to the cross-tattooed on the inside of Horace’s right wrist. Horace looked at it and smiled.
“I am. As has my family ever since the first century.” He said proudly at Arawn. “That phrase has been handed down since the days of the Pharaohs.”
“Oh.” Arawn replied with a small smile. Horace took a closer look at the box’s surface.
“What’s this brand name? Coffin-Nails!” he said incredulously as he flipped the box over repeatedly.
“Where in the hell did,…?” he began to ask, and then stopped.
“Never mind! You can tell me later.” He waved his hand derisively, to stop Arawn’s inevitable long-winded explanation.
“The other problems?” Arawn prompted.
“Yeah that.” Horace sighed. “Remember Joel? He’s the one who was nearly eaten by that thing in the Atrium?”
“I recall, yes.”
“He’s got a mildly severe case of that infection I mentioned earlier. He’s had it ever since he came in. It’s only recent, that we’ve gotten it under control.”
“The main problem with; whatever that ‘bug’ is? It amplifies the pain of every injury it infests. Which is probably the main reason why Mara can feel all of her third-degree burns.”
“Great Maker!” Arawn replied, horrified at the thought. ‘Am I a carrier?’ he wondered, as he looked at his hand. ‘Further investigation required.’ He decided.
“Yeah.” Horace grimaced angrily. “The injuries on her wings alone,…” he started, then shook his head.
“Luckily, we have found a functional disinfectant. However, it takes repeated applications to be effective. Also, every use of it escalates the pain dramatically. Unfortunately, it’s now a choice between inflicting a drawn-out suffering on her, or a spiked agony.”
“Which brings me to our fourth problem. Her mind.”
“At this time with the strongest analgesics we have. We’ve gotten her pain down to a dull roar. Even though she’s holding up as best she can, it’s still wearing her down.”
“You know I’ve worked on the Terminator version of the Nightbreed, right?” Horace inquired. Arawn nodded.
“The Pukwudgies? They are the toughest critters I’m aware of. They can withstand pain that would blow a human’s mind. Like many other folks, they deal with their pain by falling into a dissociative fugue. They just come out every once in a while to check things out.”
“But even the Puks can’t withstand an unending stream of it. If their mind stays away too long, their body begins to shut itself down. Eventually, they die.” Horace ended by jerking his hands up in frustration.
“I see it happening with Mara. She keeps pulling away for longer and longer intervals.” Horace suddenly got up and turned to face Arawn directly.
“If she hasn’t already, she’ll soon pass the point of no return. I need,… NO!” Horace shouted angrily. “SHE needs relief!” he emphasized. “I have exhausted what 20th Century medical science has to offer. If you have something up your sleeve, Iron. Give it to me. NOW!” He half-yelled, his eyes blazing.
“Do you?” He begged. Arawn broke eye contact as he pondered about it for several seconds. Finally, he looked at Horace.
“I believe so. Her kind needs to eat Essence.”
“Human life force, Soul Energy.”
“Right.” He said half-dubiously, “Is there any particular variety her kind prefers?”
“Yes, Human semen.” Arawn replied with a straight face. Horace gave Arawn a disbelieving look. After a lengthy pause as he thought about it, he spoke.
“I take it that is why the Anesthetist,,…?” He inquired.
“A survival instinct on her part. She unknowingly manipulated him to obtain what she needed.” Arawn deadpanned.
“I’m guessing that she’ll need more than her ‘usual’ dosage? Particularly since she’s so heavily damaged?”
“Indeed,” Arawn nodded, “how much time can you spare, before you consider it too late?”
“The sooner the better.”
“You’ve got two.”
An hour later, just as Horace had managed to track down some self-identified asexual orderlies, Arawn returned.
“That was fast.” He exclaimed.
“I was motivated.” Arawn replied as he handed Horace a foot-long grey cylinder. It gurgled slightly when he took ahold of it. Horace frowned when he took a close look on the cylinder’s label.
“A sperm bank eh?” He smirked. “I wasn’t aware that any were open this late.”
“None are.” Arawn replied quietly. Horace was surprised at the implication of those two words. He lifted up a finger and opened his mouth to demand an explanation. Then he stopped as he thought about it and dropped his finger.
“One of these days, we’re going to have to sit down and have that long overdue talk. I’ll pay for the drinks.” He whispered.
“I look forward to it.”
“Anything else I should know?”
“I have infused the semen with a tincture of the Black Lotus Flower. I think it should prove sufficient to prevent consciousness on her part, for the next 10-12 hours.”
“Black Lotus? Isn’t that dangerous?”
“For a human? Extremely so. The flower’s inherent toxicity has the potential of causing one to ‘fall into darkness’.” Arawn replied cryptically.
“But since she’s a demon,…?” Horace pondered aloud.
“Since Mara comes from darkness. That hazard is moot.”
“I can work with that.” Horace smiled relievedly, “Any recommended routes for administration?”
“Enteral should be sufficient.”
“Tube up her nose? I’ll see to it.” He paused, “I’ll keep you apprised of her condition, one way or another.” He promised, as he made ready to reenter the O.R.
“Horace!” Arawn called out. Horace stopped and looked expectantly at him.
“That ‘personal’ question you asked me prior? I have become fond of her. To the point that I feel that she is akin to a daughter.” He said quietly.
“Please do not tell anyone.” He whispered.
Horace pondered, then nodded once as he silently turned away, all the while thinking of his daughters and what he’d sacrifice for them.
Then, an alteration.
Her safe place changed.
Hearing returned with welcome sounds.
Roaring waves crashing onto a beach.
‘Odd.’ She thought, for the first time in a very long while.
A memory came unbidden, of Mara and her friends, enjoying.
And so the seed was planted, and her curiosity began to burn.
Mara summoned the last dregs of her courage.
Slowly, haltingly, she opened her Sanctuary’s door. Ready to bolt at the first sign of torment.
She opened her eyes, and stared in disbelief at what hay before her.
From her left to her right, there was a line of ocean waves crashing onto the beach upon which she found herself.
As she watched, a salt-tinged breeze ruffled her silvery-white locks.
She felt a slight chill when one of the more determined waves reached out and tickled her toes.
‘This isn’t the infirmary.’ She thought, perplexed.
‘How did I get here?’ she fretted as she looked all around herself, then she looked down.
‘Why am I in a beach chair?’ she wondered.
Then a note of uncanniness crept into her. There was something, ‘not-right’ about this place.
‘It’s too quiet.’ She worried.
She looked around again, this time intently.
Then it came to her.
‘There aren’t any seagulls.’ She declared. ‘Nor anything else, no sea weed littering the beach. No flies to swat. Not so much as a single shell.’
‘There’s just the sand, the sea, and the surf.’ She noted. After looking up, she noticed something else.
‘It’s daytime. But there’s no sun, or clouds to block one. Just endless blue sky.’ Normally, such a strange set of circumstances would’ve left her apprehensive at the least.
Yet she felt calm, for the most part.
She did experience a sense of unreality. When, as she watched one particularly swollen wave coming in slowly come to a halt as it began to crest It remained poised at its peak, frozen in time. Its droplets hovering in mid-air.
Mara recoiled at the uncanny sight. Yet when she looked around, she noticed that the sound of the surf still continued unabated.
Her eyes shot back to the fixed wave, half-expecting it to do something, anything really. But it stayed unmoving for several more seconds.
Then suddenly, it resumed and crashed noisily in front of her.
‘That. Was. Weird.’ She gaped, as she sat and waited for the following wave to do the same. Yet it, nor any other, did.
Exploring her other senses, Mara noticed that the pain from her burns remained at a near tolerable level. She frowned with a vague distaste when she found that all of her wounds still seeped pus.
‘No dressings?’ she thought, annoyed.
Then, in the back of her mind, she became aware of an urge.
She contemplated and examined it from every side, just like Arawn had taught her to. Then she realized what that urge was.
“A decision.” She said aloud. “I need to make a decision, and soon. But what?” she wondered.
At that moment, in her right ear she heard the sound of thunder coming from far away. Yet, it also felt to be too close for comfort.
She turned to her right, and looked down the beach. Then flinched at the sight of what lay beyond.
Off in the distance was the Iron Foundation complex. It was encircled by a raging thunderstorm!
Mara cowered at the almost constant reverberations of thunder. All crackling, and exploding between the dull grey steely buildings. She felt a sense of foreboding, that only more pain and despair awaited her within those sterile walls
Yet despite all that, she was transfixed for the longest while with its ugliness. Until, finally, she somehow managed to peel her eyes away.
Then she observed something to her left. What she saw there left her gaping in wonder.
“A castle!” she laughed delightedly as her eyes roved over it, taking in every detail. On one side was the sea crashing into its lower flanks. On the other was a pleasant forest that hinted of long leisurely walks and teddy-bear picnics.
The castle itself looked so ancient it appeared to have long ago fused with the rock of the underlying eminence. Overall, it was a splendor of timeworn turrets and salt-smoothed stones.
“I love it!” she giggled in delight as she got to her feet. Then she stepped forward a couple of paces to get a better look. That was when she started to hear music mixed with the sound of the surf.
She stopped and tilted her head to hear it better. After she repositioned her head, she realized it was coming from somewhere near the castle’s base.
After she took another tentative step, Mara thought she could hear someone singing in tune with the music.
With another step she began to discern the lyrics.
“I think I’ve heard this before!” she realized. “But from where?” She started to sing and sway herself to it.
“Come on and dance,”
“Come on and dance,”
“Let’s make some romance,”
“The night is falling and the music’s calling.”
“But we’ve got to get down to the Swing Town,…” she mouthed. Then her eyes widened when she recognized the memory.
“I remember it now!” she cried in delight. “That’s the first human song I danced to! It was at my first Galaxy Quest Convention.” She sighed joyfully. Then she noticed something else.
‘My pain! Is it fading?’ She wondered, as she looked at the wounds on her wings. She gaped when she saw what was happening.
“My burns, they’re going away!’” She exclaimed. As she watched, every one of her gaping wounds and blackened burns, were slowly healing before her eyes.
While the larger were in the process of contracting. The smaller ones had already vanished, leaving behind only her original unblemished skin.
Mara danced a quick jig, as tears of relief and joy sprang into her eyes. She then took another step towards the castle. As she did her pain faded almost to nothingness. Simultaneously, the music got louder.
As she looked ahead, she noticed that at the base of the castle there was a large cavity. It was so large, how could she have not seen it before? There were people dancing to the music within. Men, women, even some Mamono!
One of them saw her and waved invitingly!
“Oh! What a wonderful party!” She cried, “I feel like I could dance forever!” She cried happily, as she prepared to take another step.
“Never!” a familiar voice called out from behind her. She stopped and blinked in confusion.
Before she could do anything, that voice came again.
“You said, Never!”
Mara turned and looked over her shoulder. She was shocked to see who was behind her.