Mors Funebris Chapter 3 Part 4
“Then I welcome you to the Iron Foundation Lady Mara. I guarantee you that your stay will be a memorable one.” Arawn replied, and then he smiled a smile that didn’t reassure her in the slightest.
“You appear to be less than pleased.” Arawn stated when he noticed Mara’s frowning response. “Do you feel that there is something wrong?” he asked her as he looked her straight in the eye.
To her annoyance, never once did her glance down at her cleavage. Mara glared back at him resentfully without a reply. What he said next, shocked her
“I give you permission to speak freely, without consequence or recrimination.” He stated quietly. Alonzo glanced over at Arawn and raised an eyebrow in surprise
“I,…” Mara began, then stopped for a second, closed her eyes and then she let out a big sigh.
“Why do you hate me?” she demanded as she suddenly placed her hands onto his desk and leaned forward; intentionally angling her cleavage towards his face.
Arawn’s gaze shifted for a second towards her chest, and Mara was secretly pleased when she saw him blush. He then started blinking furiously and leaned back in his chair, his eyes shifting back and forth.
‘Where did that question come from? And why does she persist in flirtation? Thoughts? (1)’ Arawn/Primus asked his not-brothers.
‘She is a Succubus, Primus!’ Secundus interjected, before Quintus could reply.
’ Ergo she is used to being the center of male attention. I should point out that most of the Mamono we have encountered before, were insulted by your steely ability to ‘not notice’ their physical charms. (2)’ Secundus interjected before Quintus could answer.
‘Oh really? This bit of advice coming from the one who is forever fixated on those same charms!! (5)’ Quintus replied, his annoyance at Secundus’ interruption plain.
‘Said the Order-Monk.’ Secundus replied saucily. ‘In case you have not noticed, the local Night Breed tend to not be so amply endowed. (2)’
‘Leave it to you to obsess over such!’ Quintus shot back. ‘You have been insufferable about matters sexual, ever since that Seraglio incident in…(5)’ Quintus shot back.
‘Enough of this!’ Arawn stated finally, ‘Your banter is irrelevant to her question. (1)’ He replied to them both, silencing them.
“Why do you get the notion that I hate you?” Arawn asked her finally, as he got to his feet and sat on a corner of his desk, deliberately not facing her or her cleavage.
“You’ve imprisoned me! You chained me up! You even came this close,…!” she stated, as she held out her hand and held her thumb and forefinger a half inch apart, ‘To shooting me! Why?!!” she shouted.
“I have already explain,..” Arawn began, but Mara interrupted him sharply.
“You didn’t need to make such a show of it! Putting me on display for all to see!” Mara shouted with indignation, “You could’ve done it in private!” She hesitated when she remembered that it had been only the two Oni guards, who had attended. “Well, MORE privacy!” she conceded, but still outraged.
In response, Arawn’s face went red with anger, but he didn’t answer her immediately. Instead, he silently counted to ten for two reasons. One to allow himself to calm down, and to allow Mara the same opportunity. Finally, he spoke.
“Before I can give you an adequate answer, I need you to answer me a question.” He stated quietly as he returned Mara’s baleful stare.
“What?” she growled while she rolled her eyes.
“Have you ever had any other contact, or conversation, with that ‘Cue-entity’ prior to my nearly shooting you?” he asked.
Mara was caught off guard by his question, and her first reaction was to mention that she had. Then a memory sprang into her mind.
“Also, I would recommend that you do not mention our little conversation with Arawn.” She remembered him saying, as a chill started up her spine.
“I, uuuhhh,” she began nervously as Arawn continued to stare back at her. “Uhmmm,…. No.” she stated firmly, not meeting his eyes and shaking her head.
Arawn looked at her for a moment, and then he sighed and looked away.
“So be it.” He stated quietly.
“The reason I asked you that, is because Cue is a Meddler, a Trickster. He is someone who has interfered not only with individuals, but also entire civilizations- often to their detriment.”
“So, what does all that have to do with my shabby treatment?”
“Do you recall my mentioning that some of the more egregious Night-Breed had turned to making deals with certain entities in order to survive? Baleful ones?”
“At the top of that list of entities, is Cue.” Arawn replied coolly. Which caused Mara’s breath to catch in her throat.
She found herself gawking at Arawn for a moment. But before she could get her composure, he added, “Originally, Grendel was not nearly as mighty as he is now.”
“I,…I,…” Mara replied as she started shaking and tried to swallow with a suddenly dry mouth.
“Just before I had managed to run Grendel to ground, he suddenly became much more powerful.”
“How do you know that it was Cue who did that?”
“Grendel told me, just after he demonstrated his newfound ability by destroying an entire tribe of Night Breed.” He replied dryly.
Shocked, Mara had difficulty in keeping her breathing under control. Even then, a part of her refused to accept what Arawn said. Reading her reaction, Arawn continued.
“Walk with me Lady Mara.” He commanded quietly as he got up off his desk and walked towards the front doors of his office. He didn’t look back as he opened one door and exited, leaving it ajar.
After a moment’s hesitation, Mara looked over to Alonzo for guidance.
He gently motioned her to follow. She then hurried out the door and caught up to accompany Arawn as he slowly walked down the corridor.
She kept silent for several long minutes after, as he encountered several individuals in the hallways of the building they were in; both human and Mamo,…
‘Night Breed!’ she reminded herself. Each of those he greeted seemed kindly disposed to him, and were even politely friendly with her as Arawn made introductions. Over the next few minutes, Mara stood off and took note of what the Night Breed consisted of, doing her best not to goggle at the more bizarre looking ones.
‘Apparently they are of two camps’, she concluded, ‘either they are of distinctly non-human stock like Shuna Sassi the Porcupine-girl, or they are deformed humans like Kinski with his crescent Moon-shaped head..’ she blinked.
‘How odd.’ She remarked to herself silently. ‘He seems to know everyone by name, and they act so familiar with him back.’ She thought in confusion. ‘I would never allowed that level of familiarity, if I was in charge.’
Finally, after an hour of walking her, Arawn, and Alonzo came to stand on an outdoor balcony that overlooked the interior of the building’s atrium. Arawn spoke to her.
“My motivation for that shabby treatment of yours;” he began, “was ultimately for your benefit.” He said aloud, facing outwards. Mara’s eyes went blazing red when he said that.
“WHAT!? How can you claim that?” she demanded hotly. Arawn turned and looked at her full on.
“When I found you lying half dead in the Mojave Desert, I detected Cue’s Morphic resonance all about your person.” Arawn replied with a frown.
“If you feel he’s so dangerous, then why did you aid me?” she demanded, blinking in surprise to hide her dismay.
“Because I was not sure what he had done with you. In fact, I am still not sure.”
“Either he has modified you in some unknown way, or he has made a deal with you.” Arawn paused expectedly. Mara’s ability to keep her face frozen started to fade, so she turned herself away from him and walked over to the balcony’s couch. There she sat down upon it, as she was suddenly feeling dizzy with vertigo. Silently she found herself gripping the couch’s metal railing tightly.
“Do you think that I’ve made a ‘Devil’s-Deal’ with him?” she replied archly, her anger and trepidation increasing concurrently.
“Whether or not you have, and if our current conversation is some sort of sham acting on your part, is something that I have not reached a conclusion to.” He paused, and then added, “Yet.”
“Then why haven’t used your ‘Extremus-gun’ on me?” she asked.
“Because I choose to give you the benefit of the doubt. As the Leader of this Foundation, I give everyone that I am in charge of that same benefit. Or, at least until they give me a good enough reason not to.” Arawn paused and waited for her to respond. She glanced over at him and looked at him warily, her heart pounding fearfully in her ears.
“One thing to keep in mind Lady Mara, “Arawn began once more, “It has been my experience that any deal with Cue, seldom leads to a benefit to anyone other than himself.” He finished and waited for her to respond. When she didn’t reply, he shook his head and then he sat himself down next to her on the balcony couch.
“My main reason for that spectacle involving you. Is that I am under a constant watch.” He said softly. “I am sure that if you asked your mother, the Great Maou, why she does what she does; she would answer the same as I.” Arawn’s stated. This caused Mara to twirl her head around and lean over to face him, her shapely hands contorted into fists.
“How dare you make any comparison between her and you!” she shouted hotly, her wings spreading in exasperation. “She would never stoop so low!”
“Like her, I am doing what I need to, in order to juggle the needs and desires of those I am beholden to. Humans and Hunters; especially the Night Breed. Like the Mamono who disagree with your mother, everyone here in the Iron Foundation has their own agenda.”
“What are you talking about?!” Mara demanded, confused. “All Mamono want to,…!” Mara began as she was about to say ‘subdue all humans!” However, before she could finish, Arawn raised a hand and placed a finger on her lips.
“AHEM!” Arawn coughed significantly, as he held her gaze with his. She stopped talking for a moment, confused, until she caught Arawn’s eyes glancing meaningfully over to Alonzo. Mara realized then that what secret she had nearly divulged. Arawn replied first.
“What you’re unaware of, is that many Mamono do disagree with your Mother’s method of implementing her Grand–Plan.” He emphasized. “Which is to live peaceably with all of humanity. Correct?” he asked just a little too loudly for Alonzo’s benefit.
‘Oh yes that’s right.’ Mara realized. ‘Humans react badly to the notion of being corrupted.’
“Uhhh, correct.” She said aloud. “Wait! What do you mean: the Mamono? Some of them disagree?” She said in confusion. Arawn smiled slightly.
“The Sabbath, for instance, has a different agenda than say,…the Dark Mages. The Baphomet and their familiars would prefer that the Great Maou be more aggressive in her tactics. On the other side of the spectrum, the Dark Mages would prefer the Maou act more subtly. They prefer subterfuge and infiltration.”
“Now, the Blue-skinned Demons on the other appendage would prefer your Mother to sign treaties with the enemies of the Mamono. As we both are aware, such Treaties would be written with much in the way of hard to read fine print.” Arawn stated with a knowing smile. A smile that Mara found herself mirroring for a moment.
“Obviously, your Mother needs all of their support, if she is to be successful. She has to walk a fine line in catering to all factions, yet not showing favoritism to any one group.” Mara found herself nodding in agreement then. Then Arawn said something that surprised and angered her.
“Your mother was most upset with Druella when she did what she did with Lescatie.” Arawn said off-handedly, Mara’s eyes went wide with indignation.
“Not according to what I’ve seen!” She shouted vehemently. “She practically canonized her for it!” she shouted fiercely, loudly enough to echo down into the atrium courtyard. Alonzo’s silent interest peaked when he heard her.
“She did that publically, yes. However In private, it has been another matter. Prior to my being sent to this world, your mother was still upset with Druella. Enough so to practically be spitting brimstone whenever her name came up in conversation.” He stated. Mara felt her mouth go slack in shock and dismay.
“But!” she began weakly, “But,…why? I was under the impression that it was a great victory!” Arawn leaned back and crossed a leg.
“Yes, it was a Victory, but only in the short term. In the long term your mother considers it a loss.”
“How does she figure that?” Mara replied quietly,
“Not all wars are fought on the battlefield, or in bed.” Arawn smiled, as he glanced meaningfully down at Mara’s décolletage.
“They are often first fought from behind the diplomatic table. Such as the Elador Peace Talks, for example.”
“Which failed, because of the Order’s stubbornness.” Mara pointed out.
“Indeed.” Arawn agreed, “However, prior to Lescatie the Great Maou’s wars had been fought mostly on the defensive front. As such, she made a compelling case that many of her gains in Demon Realm territory were the result of the Order’s inferior tactics; and/or desperation on behalf of the Mamono.” He explained. Mara nodded.
“Your mother suffered a serious loss of diplomatic face with Druella’s success. Why? Because she could no longer claim to any neutral countries, that the Mamono were not aggressive.”
“Additionally, there was a number of strategic losses as well. This is because Druella took advantage of many vulnerabilities that Lescatie and several of her border nations had prior.”
“Those strategic vulnerabilities were those that your mother had been planning to use to her advantage, at a more opportune time later. Unfortunately, she cannot do that now, because Druella made them plain to all and sundry.”
“If all that is true,” Mara asked, “then why does she continue to heap so much praise onto her publicly!” she said derisively. Arawn couldn’t help but notice the jealousy tinging her voice.
“I would hazard the guess that if she had condemned her, it would have made her task more difficult.”
“How?” she cried.
“She would have run the risk of appearing incompetent. That she had not been aware of what any of her daughters were up to.”
“So? I don’t see how that would be a problem. Every parent makes mistakes in watching their children.”
“Yes, but your mother is the Great Maou, the Leader of all Mamono. As such her role as Leader means she has to appear as if she has a handle on everyone under her command.”
“If it can be demonstrated that she is unable to maintain that handle, then the other Mamono who follow her, would lose confidence in her abilities as leader. Inevitably dissension would appear in their ranks.”
“Why would that be a problem?”
“For example, the more ‘pro-active’ minded factions of Mamono would have withdrawn their support from your mother and thrown in their lot with Druella instead. According to the conversation she and I had, she had the devil of a time keeping them from doing just that. Pardon the phrasing.”
“Which would’ve weakened my Mother’s position.” Mara said softly, as realization dawned on her. She looked up and saw that Arawn was nodding at her sadly.
“I see that you begin to comprehend now.” He paused. “It is the same with me. You are a problem for the reasons I stated earlier. I had to put on a show for Huey and Dewey, as I am fully aware that they are incorrigible gossips.”
“I knew that they would let everyone else under my command, know that I am ruthless enough to counter any potential dangers. Dangers that may arise from you during your time here.” He finished. Mara found herself silently contemplating all that he said. Then she realized something.
“You make it sound as if you wish for me to stay.”
“I do. After all you did mention that your mother sent you to assist me.”
“I don’t see how that I can now. If anything, my magic doesn’t seem to work here.” She said while she raised her hands and looked ruefully at them.
“You are capable of making that happen eventually. It took me a long while to adapt my magic to this world. I can teach you how to adapt yours. But first you must learn to exist in this realm. How to live here, how to get along, how to fit in. There is so much for you to experience.”
“It sounds like a lot of work.” She said forlornly. Arawn smiled indulgently.
“I assure you that it will not all be dull work. You will earn yourself ample opportunity to enjoy yourself, and your favored pleasures.”
“I think I like the sound of that.” She smiled as she covertly glanced over at Alonzo.
“Good. That is the spirit you will need in the times ahead. But I must also point out, that this world is a danger to you in many ways.”
“Even my world was.” Mara replied. Arawn nodded. The two of them, three if you counted Alonzo, stopped talking as Mara stood up in amazement at the sight of a commercial jet plane screeching by overhead.
“What?” she mouthed “is that!” she stated in wonder and then shook her head in wonder as it passed out of sight.
Finally, after several long moments of silent awe, she thought of something.
“If you felt that I was dangerous, why didn’t you just kill me?” she asked. Arawn pursed his lips for a moment before replying.
“Because I feel that your better nature and the influence of your mother, would have won out in the end and you would acclimatize yourself.”
“What do you mean by that? Acclimatize myself?”
“This world is obscene, and not just in the sexual sense.” He paused, and glanced over at the still silent, still attentive Alonzo.
“This world, this shadow-Earth has the uncanny ability to vitiate its inhabitants and anyone else who comes here.”
“I have been to many other Earths in the Multiverse, and never before have I encountered such a grievously-savage version of humanity.” Arawn sighed wistfully and shook his head.
“I have no clear idea why. Whether it is because of some unknown quantity of this world, or the baleful influence of this world’s Chief God I am at a loss to explain.”
“That would probably explain why I was so eager to drain Juanita back when she and I were,…” Mara realized thoughtfully.
“Uh yes, precisely!” Arawn interrupted as he blushed with embarrassment. Mara smiled at his discomfiture. Then she got an introspective look.
“Have you been here long enough to,…?” she asked. Arawn looked back at her.
“I comprehend where you are going with that reasoning. Yes, I too have been somewhat corrupted by my exposure to this world. Yet, I learned to compensate for it.”
“If you are to stay and learn to counter that vitiation that affects all that exist here, I must ask you that you give me your word to adhere to the rules of living in the Iron Foundation.”
“What are they?”
‘First, you must not give in to any urge as a Monster to kill anyone; or at least not anyone who has not attacked you prior. If you do, there will be an investigation. One that will not go well for you if you are found wanting.” He stated somberly. Mara nodded her assent and he continued.
“Secondly, when you do get your magic working again, you must not use your charm spells on anyone.”
“WHAT?” she cried, “then how am I supposed to obtain Spirit Energy? I do have needs!” she huffed, her wings shaking with agitation.
“Calm yourself, please.” Arawn replied, “You should not have any problem in that regard when it comes to your own natural charms!’ he said, waving a hand at her to indicate her curvature. Mara resisted her sudden urge to bare her teeth at him.
“What this world, and most of its civilizations expect in any of their relationships, is a certain amount of something called: Consent.”
“Consent?!” she cried in dismay, “Did this world get conquered by the Order while you were alone here?” she whined.
“Not precisely no. In fact, I have noticed that many of the needs and mores here, are almost identical with your world’s Order. Enough so that I would not be surprised if they had not been in contact at some time in the past.”
“Consent first, FINE! I agree.” Mara replied through clenched teeth. “Are there any more silly rules and standards?” she griped. She wilted when Arawn nodded.
“Many more, but for now I just need you to acquiesce to those two first. Juanita, Alonzo, and I will tutor you in the remainder as the days go by.
“You and Alonzo, I can understand, but why Juanita?” she asked.
“I have my reasons.” Arawn evaded. “I will require you to report to me at least once every third day. When you do, I will ask you the same question.”
“What have you learned?”
“Yes.” He affirmed. “Such will give me insight in how we can tailor any further lessons.” He replied. Mara sat back into the balcony couch and thought about it. She then looked over at Arawn and nodded her understanding.
“So, Lady Mara. Will you give me the benefit of the doubt? The only guarantees I can give you is that your life will be difficult yes, but what you will be going through is what I feel that you will need to experience.”
“The way you say it, makes it all sound ominous.”
“Yes, I am afraid that I do. But remember, you are free to give up at any time.”
“And be put into stasis? I think not.” She pouted, while giving him a sidelong glare. Finally, she spoke. “I agree to whatever standards you wish to impose.” She sighed with a huff.
“It is settled then!” Arawn stated happily as he got to his feet. “I will now leave you to the tender mercies of your bodyguard, Alonzo.”
Alonzo, who up until that point had kept silent, did a double take and began to speak.
“Doctor Iron?” he asked, baffled. “Why now? I thought that you were going to,…?” Alonzo hesitated and then trailed off when he saw Arawn’s frowning at him.
“I feel that you giving her a tour of the Iron Foundation and its buildings would be a good opportunity for the both of you to get to know one another, and your respective limitations. After all, either you or Juanita will be in attendance of her until the Council decides otherwise.” Arawn stated as he looked directly at the Marine.
“Uhhh, yes Doctor.” Alonzo began, “What would you have me do?”
“Oh, the usual for any newcomer.” Arawn began, waving a hand dismissively, “Get her checked in, find her some suitable quarters, schedule her orientation, et cetera, Yada, Yada, Yada.”
“Uh yes Doctor.” Alonzo replied, he then looked nervously over at Mara. She seemed amused by his discomfort.
‘Oh my. You and me alone together eh?’ She pondered aloud. Letting her impetuous nature take hold, she smiled sweetly at him while she slid the tip of her tongue over her lips. Alonzo swallowed once, and he began to perspire when he noticed just how fascinating her tongue was then.
“Uh,… Doctor?” He said, seemingly transfixed at the sight of Mara’s succulent lips.
“Is something the matter Guardsman?” Arawn replied, his mouth twitching a bit to smother his amused smile.
“There is still the matter of the Extremus-Gun.” Alonzo replied, as he forced his eyes away from the sight Mara’s lips and tongue.
“Ah yes!” Arawn replied, tapping the side of his forehead with his fingertips. “The Extremus-Gun! I had forgotten about that.” He paused and thought about it while he scrunched up his face.
“Tell you what! I will hand it over to you after Mara has been cleared for general access. That will give me time to figure out a way to break the news to Juanita, concerning her new duty assignment.
“Give me a few hours and leave Mara in the hands of either Huey or Dewey. By that time, I will be ready to give you the gun, along with its handling and care instructions. Fair enough?” Arawn asked.
“Well, I uhhhh,….” Alonzo began, his eyes shifting between Mara and Arawn.
“Good!” Arawn barked with an amused smile, “See you then!” He announced as he strode off. Alonzo flinched when he felt Mara take ahold of his arm with hers, and laid her head on his shoulder.
“Oh Alonzo?” she purred, while she smiled up at him. “Arawn mentioned quarters? I don’t suppose mine will come with a bed? Preferably a big one with lots of room?” she grinned suggestively at him. Alonzo’s sweat began to flow freely down his head and neck then.
“Uh, it might,” he replied as he tried to and failed at, getting his arm free of Mara’s grip. “Shall we begin?” he asked, lifting a hand to indicate the direction they needed to go.
Mara nodded and giggled in response.
Several hours later, Arawn was working away at his computer answering emails and forming directives. Occasionally he consulted with his Leannan Sidhe (Stinker-Hell) to verify the truthfulness of each report.
It was just as he was making a phone call, was when he heard his office doors slam open.
Looking up, he espied Alonzo stagger in and slam both doors shut behind him with his foot. Arawn’s eyes silently followed Alonzo’s course as he limped himself over in the direction of the liquor bar. He came to a decision.
“I am afraid that something has come up Mayor Bradley. May I please call you back?” He asked. “Thank you.” He replied politely, as he hung up.
Arawn then leaned forward and placed his arms up onto his desk. Resting his elbows on the surface he then casually placed his chin atop his fists, watching Mara’s guardsman with a mixture of curiosity and amusement.
Once Alonzo made it to the liquor bar, he grabbed a bottle at random, opened it, and almost lifted it to his mouth to drink from it directly. He hesitated for a second and came to a decision. With his other hand, he then reached out and over for a brandy snifter and half-filled it.
It was only as he lifted the glass up to his lips, that he remembered where he was. Shifting his eyes over to Arawn, he asked a silent question with a raised eyebrow.
Arawn replied in an equally silent manner by lifting a hand and waving his fingers in a ‘go-ahead’ circular motion. Alonzo didn’t hesitate as he drained the glass in one go, and then half-filled it again.
This time he didn’t drink it. Instead, he limped over to one of the seats in front of Arawn’s desk and settled himself roughly into it with an audible ka-womph!
Arawn remained stoic as Alonzo began rapidly sipping from his glass, shaking with agitation.
‘Quintus?’ Arawn/Primus asked, ‘Is Alonzo sporting a few more grey hairs than he did hours ago? (1)’
‘I believe he may very well might. (5)’
‘Remind me to increase his pay. (1)’
“So, how did it go?” Arawn prompted him, his face deadpan. Alonzo’s wild eyes shifted towards Arawn and eventually focused on him. He licked his lips and opened his mouth.
“I,” he began, “have put up with a lot of weird shit during both my time as an active duty Marine, and a Hunter.” He smacked his lips a couple of times and shook his head disbelievingly. “But this,…!”
“FUCK!” Alonzo spouted suddenly, causing Arawn to blink and flinch.
“What do you mean then?”
“She,…Is a handful!”
“Just metaphorically speaking?” Arawn asked innocently. Alonzo glared back at him.
“Yes.” He said succinctly. “I’ve got my own woman to stay true to Doc!”
“I know, I apologize, do continue.” Arawn replied. Alonzo nodded in response as he calmed himself down. Once he got himself under control, he began his story.
“After you left me alone with her, I gave her the ‘nickel-tour’, as you put it. She was like a kid at Disneyland for the first time. She was always wanting to go off and explore.”
“That does not sound so bad.”
“Yeah, but most kids aren’t looking to find an out of the way spot for some ‘private’ time together. Her words.”
“Ah, indeed!” Alonzo huffed, “Oh yeah, it went well at first. I introduced her to everybody she needed to know. I walked her through the paperwork for her access badge, got her some identification, got her a room, introduced her to the CQ. Location of the supply rooms, et cetera.”
“But there’s this….I don’t know, ‘Aura’ of sensuality that just bleeds off of her. It seemed like every damned time we went somewhere, we ended up in a situation heavy with innuendo.” Alonzo raised a finger and twirled it a bit.
“For example, she enjoyed the elevators immensely. But every time we were in one, the muzak was either playing Aerosmith’s ‘Love in an Elevator”, or DiVinyl’s ‘I Touch Myself’. I kid you not.”
“She managed to ‘accidentally’ bump into the elevator’s hold button at least a half-dozen times.” Alonzo half growled in exasperation. Arawn smiled knowingly, Alonzo ignored him.
“Damned thing of it was, she was hitting on every single person I introduced her to. Not just a simple flirting, oh no! I had to practically peel her off every one of them, she was so friendly!”
“Well she is a Succubus after all.”
“Yeah, I know, I’ve encountered a couple of them before. But DAMN!” Alonzo huffed. “Don’t even get me started about the Chow Hall.” He said, as he sagged back into his chair and noisily gulped the last of his liquor.
“What about that? I had heard that there was a bit of a ruckus earlier.” Arawn mentioned. He raised an eyebrow. “Her?” he asked as Alonzo rolled his eyes.
“Let’s just say, that I recommend the Chow Hall ban giving Mara any more bananas.”
“I do not comprehend.”
“She ate hers without using her hands.” He replied. Arawn furrowed his brow in confusion. Alonzo saw it and explained.
“She peeled them all, using only her lips and tongue. And of course, while she was doing that, she JUST HAD to make eye contact with every dude in the place!” Alonzo half-shouted in exasperation. Arawn then smirked, coughed and began to laugh.
“Oh sure laugh now!” Alonzo griped. “You weren’t the one who had to deal with the aftermath! Practically every dude in the place, both human and Night Breed, got horny enough to start fighting! All just to sit closest with her.”
“Thankfully that fight ended when the attached one’s women showed up. Now THAT was an awkward moment for them I can tell you.”
“Thankfully not for me. I surmise that this might end up being a regular occurrence if we’re not careful.”
“Ah, good point.” Arawn sighed, “I do not suppose she mentioned to you, that she was hungry?”
“Well yeah! That’s why I took her to the joint!”
“You are aware of what Succubi normally feed upon, correct?”
“I think so! Something you call Spirit Energy. Which according to Hunter’s lore means they absorb human souls.”
“Not precisely, no. Others have referred to it as ‘life-force’. Humans constantly produce that energy throughout their lives. Though males tend to produce a lot more of it than females.” Arawn instructed.
“Ok, so what does that have to do with her oral fixation problem?”
“Well her problem as you put it, is that Monsters don’t produce enough of their own version of Spirit Energy. So, they rely on feeding on humans to supply their nutritional needs.”
“Yeah, I learned about that years ago: Apparently different monsters feed on different humans parts, Berbalangs eat human skin,… Vampires favor human blood…, Ellisons go for human snot,….”
“And Succubi need human semen.” Arawn injected. Alonzo jerked and looked at Arawn with his eyes widening.
“WHAT! I never heard that!” he gaped.
“Come now, is it really shocking? Succubi look good for a reason; they do so in order to persuade human males to ‘donate’ semen to them.” He smiled at the sight of Alonzo’s discombobulation.
“Now that you are aware of that, I was hoping that you might have an insight concerning us locating her a local source.” Arawn mentioned. Alonzo sat back in his seat and thought about it.
“Well it’s just a thought,” he began after a short while. “If she needs semen for nutritional purposes, we could always have her became a star,…” he continued but then Arawn interrupted him.
“In the porn industry?” he asked. Alonzo nodded.
“Well San Fernando Valley does have a bustling porn industry.” Alonzo finished. Arawn sighed.
“I had contemplated such earlier. Unfortunately, that may not be a good idea.”
“Why is that?”
“It may very well affect her in a negative manner. This is because Succubi tend to pick up a lot of the semen donor’s traits and mannerisms.” Arawn replied. When he noticed Alonzo’s look of confusion, he went on.
“It has been my experience, that many porn stars are already broken both mentally and spiritually, long before they take up such a short-lived career. Besides, male porn stars would charge her for it. I may be wealthy, but I am not that kind of wealthy.”
“I wasn’t aware that they charged that much for a money shot.”
“Less the expense for that, than the cost of their silence. Prices for such would go up accordingly.”
“Well, if it’s the cost you’re worried about, she could always try being a stripper every now and again.”
“Or a prostitute?” Arawn added. Alonzo nodded.
“I will admit, that is an option. However, the local pimps would not care for the competition she would engender. Appearance wise alone, she would be quite formidable. If she charged anything less than top dollar, then her clients would become suspicious. “
“Additionally, the last thing Mara needs is to pick up a Serial killer for a John. Southern California does have more than its fair share.”
“Oh yeah, that’s true.” Alonzo grimaced.
“Not to mention the media attention the Iron Foundation would garner, if I or you needed to bail her out of jail. I would prefer to keep my Foundations reputation unsullied.”
“Yeah, Damn!” Alonzo winced and shook his head. Arawn smiled humorously. Alonzo was silent for a while as he thought about it.
“So, let me see if I’ve got this right Doc?” Alonzo began finally, raising and counting off on his fingers,
“You need me to find Mara a group of heterosexual males” he ticked off a finger, “who are willing to anonymously donate their semen to Mara,” he ticked off another finger, “preferably free of charge,” he added another finger.
“Well most young adult males are rather free with expelling such.” Arawn added. Alonzo ignored him.
“And who are ‘pure, innocent, quivering virgins’?” Alonzo asked sarcastically while air quoting with both hands.
“Yes.” Arawn replied slowly, looking unsure of himself.
“In southern California, no less?” Alonzo continued while somehow managing to keep himself from rolling his eyes.
“Affirmative.” Arawn replied, looking embarrassed.
“That’s quite the tall order.”
“I have complete confidence in you and your abilities.”
“Well I don’t know Doctor Iron; my fiancée and I have been spending a lot of our free time together. We’re Planning for our wedding. What you’re asking for sounds a lot like my having to take time away from her and it. She won’t like that, not one bit.” He replied, as he began to open his mouth to tell his Boss to take a long walk off a short pier.
“If you can find me an appropriate source, I pledge to pay for your wedding costs.” Arawn injected. Alonzo’s face froze, and then he looked over at Arawn.
“All of it?” He asked. Arawn nodded. Alonzo got a thoughtful look on his face.
“And the honeymoon?” He added. Arawn hesitated, and then he noticed the resolution in Alonzo’s face. Arawn sighed.
“Yes.” He replied. Alonzo’s face started to split with a smile.
“I can guarantee you that if my woman learns of that offer. She’ll want something extravagant, something dreadfully expensive. Indeed something that will mean a lot to her.” Alonzo warned.
“Lady Mara is my ward and I need to look out for her best interests. It would mean a lot to me if you could find her a reliable source of Spirit Energy.” Arawn explained.
Alonzo the human stared at Arawn the Annwyfn for a long moment in silence, contemplating the challenge. Arawn returned his gaze in equal silence and an equal amount of determination. Finally, Alonzo reached out a hand. Arawn took it with his, and they both shook hands, sealing the deal.
It was then that Arawn noticed Alonzo had a look of triumph cross his face.
‘Oh Faex!’ he thought. His remaining not-brothers snickered in the depths of his mind.
“Now, about that Extremus-gun.” Alonzo prompted.
“Oh yes of course, this way please.” Arawn stood up and then indicated where both of them should go. Arawn then stopped when he noticed that Alonzo remained standing in front of his sat.
“Is there something wrong?” he asked.
“Considering what Mara is like. I don’t suppose you’ve developed an Extremus-Bazooka yet?” Alonzo asked him innocently. Arawn gave him a tight smile and looked around quickly to see if there were anyone nearby. There was no sign of Stinker-Hell.
“Not yet.” Arawn replied in a whisper.
An hour later:
“Now remember Alonzo,” Arawn instructed. “Use these bullets sparingly. Once they are used, they are gone forever. I cannot make more.”
“I got it Doc.”
“HEY DOCTOR IRON!’ shouted a voice, as the sound of a pair of office doors crashed open behind Alonzo. Both Arawn and Alonzo turned to look.
“IS IT TRUE?!!!” screamed a voice familiar to both Arawn and Alonzo.
“Hello Juanita, how are you doing?” Arawn asked the Chocolate skinned Night Breed, as she stomped her way into his office and went over to him, all the while shaking one of her fingers in his direction.
“Don’t you ‘Hello Juanita’ me!” she began as she came to a halt in front of him and recommenced yelling into his face.
“Is it true that you assigned me to ‘mentor’ that fucking Succubus killer bitch!” she raged, her arms flailing about.
“Affirmative.” He replied once she paused to take in a breath. Her eyes widened in outrage as she took in an even deeper breath. She didn’t disappoint his expectations of her drama ability.
While she raged and screamed her indignation. Arawn folded his arms patiently and inwardly smiled indulgently. As such he tried his best to endure her diatribe until she tired herself out.
‘This should not take too long, as she is still recovering from her sexual encounter with Mara’ (5) Quintus decided, at first.
‘Great Maker!’ he amended five minutes later, ‘She must be part Terminator, she is so relentless! (5)’ he decided.
‘Indeed, we have had enough problem dealing with those. Stand fast! (1)’ Primus determined when he noticed something. ‘She appears to be slowing down, ah yes there she goes! (1)’
“Juanita Banderos!” Arawn shouted. Which caused her to stop short in mid inhale, and she started hiccupping.
“Your childish temper tantrum will not get you off of the hook for your unprofessional behavior!” he thundered.
“What (hic) unpro (hic) -fessional (hic) behavior?!” she demanded.
“The behavior that occurred instead of your attending to Mara’s needs until she regained consciousness! I did warn you to not allow her free of her restraints, DID I NOT?!” he thundered.
In response to Arawn’s bellowing, Juanita was cowed enough to stop hiccupping. Also, it brought that rarest of the rare to appear on her face: shame.
She cowered back and started blinking as she looked all around herself; everywhere but in the direction of Arawn.
“Uhm yeah’ she said finally, “I,…uhhhh,….as I recall you did say something like that,” she admitted.
“I take it that I’m to be punished?” she asked. She wilted when she saw Arawn nod.
“All right, I admit I fucked up,…” she began.
“Funny you put it that way, Juanita. You fucked up by fucking her.” Alonzo laughed.
“Triple-hijueputa!” she snarled at him. Alonzo opened his mouth for a rejoinder, but before he could utter another sound…
“ENOUGH!” Arawn shouted vociferously, getting both of their attention. “Both of you be silent!” he continued. Both Alonzo and Juanita looked momentarily cowed as Arawn shifted his attention between the two of them.
Finally, he stepped closely to Juanita, who looked warily back at him.
“You disappoint me.” Arawn said softly to her. Alonzo was surprised when, the very first time in the months he’d been working for the Iron Foundation, he saw tears begin to appear in Juanita’s eyes.
“You nearly died because of your lapse in judgment.” Arawn began in a hoarse whisper. “And what I find worse, is that your lapse could have caused other people to die as well.” He frowned. Juanita’s control slipped, as a guilty sob escaped from her lips.
‘I’ve never seen her cry before!’ Alonzo thought in amazement. ‘My goodness, she does look up to him like a father!”
Arawn looked down at Juanita for several more seconds in baleful silence. Finally, he spoke.
“Look at me,” he began. She obeyed after a moment, “Will you now work to redeem yourself?” he asked her. She looked at him for a second, then she nodded curtly.
“Good.” Arawn paused. “Your punishment will not involve your chanting a mere few ‘Hail Mary’s’, and some ‘Our Fathers’. I will leave the religious redemption to the judgment of your priest.”
“What I will have you do, is take on the role of guardsman to her, as Alonzo has already agreed to do.” Arawn said as he gestured to her male counterpart. Juanita’s eyes blazed and turned to fix on Alonzo.
“Was this your idea?” Juanita demanded of him. “To humiliate me some more?”
“Whose idea it was, is irrelevant!” Arawn said before Alonzo could reply. Arawn then reached out a finger and pointed it towards Juanita.
“Right now Mara needs you as a mentor, but also I need your humiliation. It is something that I feel that I can count on.” He finished. Juanita looked up at him in hurt surprise and confusion.
“The reason being. I know that you will not let her get the better of you a second time. Will you?” he stated, not asked. Juanita blinked furiously for several seconds and then stopped. Finally, a smile began to form on her face.
“Ah, I think I see that you comprehend now. Am I incorrect?” he asked.
“No sir.” Juanita replied with a shake of her head.
“Good.” Arawn said succinctly.
“But what I don’t understand. Why do you want me to be a mentor to her as well?”
“Because I feel that she needs many things in order to survive in this world. First and foremost, she will need your experience.”
“My experience?” Juanita asked incredulously.
“Yes, as a Female Night Breed.”
“I think I understand where you’re coming from. But one problem.”
“She’s a princess, right?” Arawn nodded. “I’m not even close to that. Am I supposed to say ‘Yes, your highness’ and all that shit?”
“Not even once, no matter how much she objects. If she has a problem with it, send her to me and I will set her straight.”
“Wait a minute, Doctor Iron!” Alonzo interrupted then. “From the sound of things, I get the notion that you want us to cure her of her entitled mentality.”
“That is precisely what I desire.”
“What exactly do you desire of her?” Alonzo asked.
“I want her to grow up and become a more mature Succubus. As it is now, it appears that despite her parent’s best efforts to the contrary, she is a spoiled brat. Remember what she said concerning her kingdom.” Arawn pointed out.
“Her kingdom?” Juanita gasped. “Are you telling me she’s in charge of a kingdom?”
“Was in charge.” Arawn said, and then went on to explain what he and Alonzo had learned of Mara.
“Oh. My. God!” Juanita exclaimed with delight when Arawn finished. “She lost her kingdom, because she was a party animal? WOW!” Juanita began snickering.
“Ahem!” Arawn coughed, and Juanita stopped laughing. But she kept smiling every now and then.
“If I’m to become her guardian, will I get access to the Extremus-gun like Alonzo will?”
“What?!” Arawn exclaimed, startled. “How were you able to discover that agreement?”
“I have my sources.” She replied. “And you’re not answering my question.”
“Hmph!” Arawn replied, disgusted. “Very well then, pick it up and tell me what you think of it.” He said as he went over to the table that he and Alonzo had been at when Juanita barged in.
He picked up the heavily bespelled gun and presented it to her. Eagerly she reached out for it. However, as soon as she took ahold of it a sizzling sound occurred. Juanita cried out in pain and dropped it to the floor. It hit with a metallic clatter.
“What the Fuck!?” she yelled as she clenched at her hand. Inspecting her palm, she was surprised to see a number of heat-blisters had suddenly appeared.
“What gives Iron?!” she demanded as she shook her hand in a vain attempt to make it stop hurting.
“Give me your hand.” Arawn commanded her. Reluctantly she did so, and after he took ahold of it, he muttered something under his breath. Within a few seconds, Juanita’s hand was restored to its state prior to touching the gun.
“It still gets me every time I see that.” Alonzo said admiringly. Juanita snatched her hand back, and glared at Arawn.
“The reason you are unable to hold it Juanita,” he began, “is not because you are a Night Breed, but because you have killed before. A certain level of innocence is required to handle it safely.” He explained.
“You’ve killed, yet you can handle it just fine!” she pointed out.
“I am its creator.” He said simply by way of explanation. “I will assign you another firearm if you wish. One not quite so powerful. But only if you will agree to being a mentor to Mara.”
“All right! All right I agree to being her mentor!” She replied with a frustrated tone in her voice. “Though I imagine that she won’t like what any of us have in mind, when it comes to her being forced to grow the fuck up!”
“She’ll probably throw a temper tantrum.”
“I would not be in the least bit surprised.”
“Who gets to decide what is an appropriate punishment, if she misbehaves?”
“I would prefer that all three of us agree to a course of action now, concerning Mara’s future path to maturity.” Arawn replied, then he noticed Juanita’s smile turning into a grin.
“What are you thinking of?”
“Oh, I’m thinking of spankings.”
“I would advise against such. Knowing her and her background, she would probably see it more as a reward.” Arawn replied and sat back for a moment, as he recalled the memory from his first month at Royal Makai. He came back to himself and continued.
“Nothing quite so drastic.” He decided. Juanita pouted.
“Not even a ruler across her knuckles?” Alonzo suggested. Arawn frowned his disapproval while Juanita shuddered quickly.
“Fuck that shit, Al!” Juanita hissed, “There’s no way I’d allow that to happen to anyone else, not even her!”
“I must state that any form of corporal punishment is unacceptable.” Arawn stated flatly. “Despite that limitation, I’m sure that between the two of you, you will come up with something both appropriate and creative.”
“What about positive reinforcement?” Alonzo asked, “She’ll want to earn the right to liberty. Which is a freedom that her current access level doesn’t allow for, not anytime soon.”
“What level is she at now?”
“Tier One. Probationary. It allows nothing more than her staying within the Foundation’s perimeter.”
“I have an idea.” Juanita said. Arawn and Alonzo turned to her. Arawn motioned for her to continue.
“Boto. Have her retrieve Boto.” She suggested. Arawn looked surprised and then thoughtful. Alonzo furrowed his brow in confusion.
“Boto? What’s a Boto?” he asked.
“Boto is a whom.” Arawn began to explain. “A she to be precise, a Vadhagh child who survived Grendel’s massacre of her tribe.”
“Vad Hag? Who are they?”
“Do you recall the pair of females who attended to Mara after she awoke that last time? Those two are Vadhagh.’
“Yeah, I think so, they were an odd pair. Never once did they speak. Why is that?”
“They are capable of speech, but they choose not to.”
“Then how do they communicate? Sign language?”
They do not speak because they are in mourning. They are naturally telepathic.”
“I’ve never heard of that kind of Night Breed before.”
“That is because they are not Night Breed, nor human. They preexisted humanity by hundreds of thousands of years. They existed long before the first Night Breed stepped foot upon this world.”
“Why haven’t I heard of them before?”
“Their encounters with humanity have made them wary. Also, there were never many of them to begin with, as they tend to live extremely long lives by human standards.”
“Even so, I should’ve heard of something about them.”
“Actually no. The Atlantean’s distrust of their telepathy is one of the reasons their kind were mostly killed off ages ago.”
“As such, they went into hiding. That tribe that Grendel massacred? He effectively made them extinct, He did so by killing off all of their remaining men-folk.”
“Fuck!” Alonzo replied, dismayed. “That….BASTARD!” he shouted, shaking with angry empathy.
“And this Boto? What’s up with her? Where is she and why does she need retrieving?” Alonzo asked once he got his anger under control.
“Now Boto,” Arawn continued, “she arrived here with the convoy that carried the bodies of her tribe members.” Arawn paused when he saw Alonzo’s unspoken question.
“The survivors requested that I take the bodies of their dead here, to dispose of them appropriately. I have worked with the Vadhagh in the past; they trust me sufficiently to assist them with their funeral practices.”
“Unbeknownst to everyone. Boto was found half-alive, clinging to the body of her mother.” Juanita couldn’t contain herself anymore. She sniffled and turned away. Both men glanced at her sympathetically.
“She was hysterical upon being discovered and lashed out to prevent her capture. In the confusion, she managed to escape and made her way down into the tunnels and catacombs beneath this complex. Where she has stayed ever since.”
“How long has she been down there?”
“Approximately a week after Grendel’s attack here.” Arawn said.
“Wait a second. Even with all of your resources at your disposal, none of you have been able to retrieve her?”
“Negative.” Arawn replied sadly. “She will not even let me approach her.”
“How does she survive?”
“I ordered that someone leave her some appropriate food on a daily basis. It disappears, even under heavy surveillance. I assume that she is eating it, because there have been reports of her being sighted since.” Arawn finished. Alonzo turned to Juanita and asked.
“Why do you think Mara should be the one to retrieve her?”
“I don’t.” Juanita replied with a sneer. “I think instead, that it will keep her occupied and focused on a goal. A task akin for Hercules.” She half-smiled. Arawn nodded thoughtfully, his lips in a hard thoughtful line.
“And you’re all right with this?” Alonzo asked, astounded.
“Yes. The reason being is that as a Succubus Mara might be able to connect with her in ways that no one else has. And perhaps, she might even learn some empathy in the process.” He finished. Alonzo sighed in response and began biting one of his thumbs.
“Mara is also, as you stated, quite the charmer. Supernaturally so. She may have just what it takes to retrieve her. Do you have any objections?” Arawn asked, Alonzo thought about it for a bit, and then shook his head.
“No.” he said simply.
“Then it is agreed. Mara will earn her liberty by retrieving Boto. I will inform her of this decision.”
A couple months later. Mara was still working on retrieving the Vadhagh child refugee. True, she had made more progress with her than anyone else had.
But the closest she could ever get to the poor waif, was no more than a dozen feet. Any attempt by Mara to narrow that gap, inevitably resulted in the child bolting away.
This particular day, found Mara unsettled more than usual. She was frustrated beyond measure for many reasons. Chief amongst them was her still unfilled, constant need for Spirit Energy.
‘Famished.’ She thought as she wended her way down the circular stairway that descended into the gloom of a dry cenote, carefully making her way past the lower levels that most of the Night Breed preferred to call home.
’It’s not fair that I’m starving for Spirit Energy, in a place filled with it!’ she whined to herself.
Eventually, she left the stairway and began marching through the lowest tunnels that criss-crossed underneath the support structures of the Iron Foundation. Occasionally, she had to duck her head pas an overhanging cable or steel pipe, as she continued carrying her burden, a tray of food specially designed to entice the Vadhagh child.
‘I don’t blame the Monster women of this world for being so possessive of their males.’ She mused with a resentful sneer crossing her face.
‘Though it’s too bad Lude already has himself a woman.’ She huffed. ‘I do like the way his head horns twirl.’ She thought forlornly, thinking of his resemblance to the Human’s Devil.
’At least Shuna Sassi will speak to me once in a while. I do find her quills to be intriguing. Rumor has it they’re poisonous, though I doubt they’re of aphrodisiac quality.’
‘I know I’m not supposed to flirt with any male who has a mate! That’s only fair. But the few who aren’t attached, avoid me just because of my little ‘incident’ with Juanita!’ she frowned.
‘Juanita!’ she growled, ‘She’s so hostile! She knows my name is Mara; so why does she keep calling me, Princess Cameltoe?’ she grumped.
Occasionally, she passed through a tunnel fire door. A door meant to help limit the spread of fires, should they occur. Most of the time, they opened with a simple nudge from her hip.
‘Has it really been two months?’ She wondered wearily, feeling morose at the amount of time that had passed. ‘Yet I’m still no closer to retrieving Boto, and thus gaining Liberty. Maou I’m so Horn-gry!’ She fumed, ‘I need something fresher than that ‘Sperm-Bank-Semen Arawn’s been doling out!’ she made a face when she recalled its nasty taste.
Then she gave out a small cry of dismay when she ‘bumped’ into another door. But unlike all of the previous, this one stayed firmly shut.
“Wonderful.” Mara the Lilim muttered, as she stood upright and stared at the door that blocked her way. As she did, her spade-ended tail started lashing left and right, signaling her frustrated annoyance.
‘Mom Damn It! Who is the asshole who fucked with this door? It worked fine yesterday!’ she thought as she shifted her burden over to one side. She did so to free up her left hand.
‘I’ll bet its Annastajia’s work! That bitch and her endless stream of pranks!’ she grumbled. ‘Putting depilatory cream in my shampoo! Altering my eyeshadow makeup to glow green once its warmed up!’ she swore underneath her breath.
“I mean come on!” she said aloud as she started looking around for an easy spot to set her tray of food down on.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t find one. Instead, she tried shifting the tray into one hand, so that she could try and turn the doorknob with the other. With only a little bit of rattling, along with a muttered imprecation, she managed to set everything up while not spilling anything.
Shifting her weight onto her right side and turning slightly, she was able to reach out and firmly grasp the annoying door handle for a test turn. Despite the better angle that her position afforded her, the offending doorknob refused to allow her access to the hallway beyond.
“Aaah!’ she growled as she closed her eyes and grimaced in mounting anger. As she did, a number of stress-tears started to form in her eyes. Involuntarily, her mind recounted all of the social violence she had had to endure in the last couple months.
‘Sitting down at table filled with Night Breed women, and they all stop talking, or they get up and go someplace else, leaving me to eat alone.’ She pouted.
‘Snide comments when they know I can overhear them. It’s not my fault that I’m as beautiful as they’re ugly! I’ve told them many times that I’m not going to steal their men, but they won’t believe me.’ she thought as her breathing started to increase rapidly, signaling that her stress was beginning to overwhelm her.
‘And so many other events, tricks, and accidents! And every time I think to complain about it, I’m told that I just need to be patient because its ‘Hazing’! PATIENCE my tail!’ she raged.
“I’m ready to tear someone apart!” she said aloud there at the last, as the metal bowl and metal tray started to rattle in her grasp. Which got her attention.
“NO!” she said firmly, “I will not break down.” She told herself, and then despite her best efforts to the contrary, she sniffled once.
As she began taking a series of deep heaving breaths, Mara the Thirty-seventh daughter of the Great Maou, did her best to fight back the crying spell that threatened to overwhelm her resolve.
Back in Royal Makai, Mara wouldn’t have even considered crying about such minor inconveniences. Being junior to so many elder Lilim, she more than expected to be the butt of some jokes.
However, the events of the last few weeks had not been anything close to what she would have considered ‘normal’. Normal because when all was said and done, the other Lilim were still family.
“I have no family.” She half-sobbed. “I’m all alone here.”
‘Hell!’ she decided, ‘Donnie’s world must be my world’s Hell!’ she thought dramatically. It took her an ever-increasing amount of self-control then, to keep from lashing out at something, anything.
“Calm down Mara,” she told herself as she retook a firm hold of the clattering food tray with both hands.
“I can endure this. What do I need to do?” she asked herself as she continued with her calming breaths.
Eventually she settled herself down, for now at least. But she could feel the stress lurking at her edges, waiting for an opportunity to pounce.
She started looking around the leeway of the door, to see if there were any suitable spots on the floor, or tubes, to set the tray down without spilling it.
Alas! Even with an extended look, all she could spy through the gloomy darkness, were the innumerable pipes, conduits, and junction boxes.
None of which would have been appropriate, if even for a moment. She didn’t want to leave it on the floor, what with so much dust and grime it held.
‘Well, there’s nothing for it then!’ she decided as she let out an audible sigh of frustration. Carefully, she pressed the tray of food up against the door, and braced the other side of it with her body and tail. She then reached out a free hand to the knob.
First, she tried it with one hand, and then she switched to the other. Pursing her lips, she then took a hold of the knob with both hands and tried twisting it that way. It resisted her at first, and then she felt it click on an internal mechanism. Quickly she rapidly retook a hold of the tray.
She heaved out a breath of triumph, as FINALLY she was able to open the door with her hip.
Then that feeling of triumph stopped, when the door jerked slightly once and then stopped on something unknown. That something fell noisily to the floor with a metallic clatter. Whatever it was, had the effect of preventing the door from opening more than a few inches.
Despite her best efforts to peer around the door, Mara was unable to see what it was that blocked her way.
‘Not wide enough to squeeze through.’ She growled underneath her breath. She then tried kneeling down and reaching her arm around the door’s edge in an effort to feel and maybe dislodge it. However, after several more seconds of fumbling she couldn’t find anything.
“All right then!” she barked once as she stood up to her full height, desperation and anger building in her.
She raised a hand above her head, as her black-sclera eyes began to burn red with her inherent mystical energies.
“Paten Tibus!” she incanted rapidly, her perfect set of teeth flashing in the dim light. To any witness who might have been there, Mara the Lilim would have been a remarkable sight. Regal in her power, she magicked that annoying door, that caused it to burst open with a single loud crash. Dimly she heard the satisfying sound of metal screeching and then snapping behind that door!
“It’s good to find that there’s something I have control over!’ she smiled. Then she sagged and fell to one knee, panting from her effort.
“Faex.” She muttered, unconscious of her using Arawn’s favored imprecation. It was a word she’d overheard countless times from those dreary lessons of his.
“I shouldn’t have used up so much mana.” She admonished herself with a frown. After a minute more of rest, she shakily got to her feet.
‘But it was worth it.” She smiled. “So damnably worth it!” she said as she carefully rebalanced her food tray. She then kicked open the now loose door and continued on her journey, walking towards her intended destination with a confident set to her shoulders.
Alas, the use of her magic had caused every single light bulb in the tunnel to burn out. But that didn’t inconvenience her. For she could see in the dark as well as humans could in the light.
Her smile broadened when she remembered that talent of hers annoyed Alonzo no end. It seemed that every time they were down here together, he could count on banging his head hard enough to leave a lump, but Mara always emerged unscathed.
The only sounds audible in that moment, other than the faint whirring and clanking that emanated from the pipes surrounding her; were the muffled sound of her footsteps. Muffled because of the footwear she’d been assigned to wear, something called- ‘sneakers’.
‘Sneakers!’ she giggled to herself as she continued. ‘I have to admit that they do make it easier to walk like a Kunoichi, at least before I step into a water puddle.’ She mused to herself as she came close to her destination.
After a minute more, Mara finally arrived: a tunnel crossroads. To a casual observer, it didn’t seem to be any different from the other intersectional corridors that peppered the catacombs of the underneath.
Yet this spot was different. It was the one place she knew Boto had come to favor. Coming to a halt in the exact middle, she stood and looked around for a moment, then she called out.
“Boto!” she spoke softly, “I’m back. I’ve come with some more food for you!” she sing-sang. One thing she did learn, was that Boto seemed to like the sound of Mara’s voice. According to the appreciative Vadhagh, Mara sounded much like Boto’s mother.
“The Chow Hall cooks said that this is the kind of ‘grub’ you’re sure to like! Even though it doesn’t look like any kind of insect grubs I’ve encountered before.” she cajoled to no one visible. She waited for a few seconds, as she listened carefully.
After another minute of not hearing anything, she carefully sat the tray of food down onto an end table she’d hauled down previous. Silently she removed the lid to allow the food’s aroma to waft its way to Boto’s nose.
Backing up a dozen feet, she sat herself down onto the cold concrete floor to wait for her charge. Soon she grimaced in response to the acrid scent that permeated the room.
“Hufu and vegetables!” Mara whispered with a grimace. ‘A Tofu variant specifically bred for the Vadhagh/Herbivore’s palate and their nutritional needs.’ Mara recounted, remembering the maker’s explanation,
‘Not that I have any desire to taste it.’ She concluded with an amused/disgusted look crossing her face.
Mara’s face lit up when she heard the sound of a foot scraping across the concrete floor behind her. Smiling in triumph, she slowly turned her around so as to not frighten away her intended quarry.
That smile vanished when she saw who it was behind her.
“CUE!” she shouted as she jumped to her feet and backed away from him in alarm.
“Hello Lady Mara.” Cue calmly said from a few feet away from her. As soon as she caught sight of him, she instantly recognized his outfit: a set of work overalls just like hers, along with a set of matching sneakers.
“It’s been too long since we’ve had a chance to speak Princess. I feel that we’re overdue with that conversation I promised you.” Cue replied, smirking his characteristic smile.
“It took you long enough!” she hissed indignantly back at him, her fists clenched, her teeth flashing.
“Temper, temper, my dear!” Cue replied as he waggled one of his fingers at her. “There’s no need for you get your panties into a,..oh wait that’s right! You don’t wear panties, do you? My bad!” he leered as he tapped himself on the forehead once.
Mara’s resentment grew into an outrage at that remark.
“What. Do. You Want?” she demanded tersely, her nostrils flaring. Cue’s smile grew.
“Oh, my poor little dear!” he patronized, “Why on this insignificant round earth are you feeling so hostile? Has Arawn been filling your pretty little head with stories about me?”
“Funny you should mention the word, round. According to him, you’re the reason why this world isn’t flat anymore!”
“Me?!” Cue widened his eyes in mock outrage, his mouth agape. “It wasn’t my fault that this world’s Chief God decided to remake this world into a globe. You can place the blame for that, squarely at the paws of Bubastis the Cat Goddess!”
“Oh really?” Mara squinted at Cue as she folded her arms skeptically. “So now you’re claiming that Arawn lied about the chaos Bubastis caused, after you increased her power?” she demanded.
“Well not exactly lying no.” Cue conceded as he waved a hand dismissively.
“So, what if she’d been knocking bits and pieces off of the Antediluvian Earth? That’s what cats do! It’s part of their nature.”
“It was more than just ‘bits and pieces’,” Mara pointed out.
“Ok fine!” Cue huffed, “Mountain ranges, island chains, a couple of continents; potato-poh-tah-toe! It’s not like anyone ever really missed Atlantis! Besides, I’m not here to talk about that!”
“Then why are you here?”
“I’m here to collect on the debt you owe me.”
“What debt?” she shot back, confused and annoyed.
“Oh, you’ve forgotten already? Children these days!” Cue sighed dramatically, shaking his head in exasperation. Mara sighed and rolled her eyes in frustration. Cue smirked and continued.
“You owe me your life.” He said levelly. “Or do you not remember my giving you the correct reply to Arawn’s coded demand?” he finished with a smile, every one of his teeth gleaming with an oily sheen. Mara winced.
“Yes, you did save my life.” She whispered with a frown. Try as she might she had to admit to that. “But why did you wait so long?”
“The reason for that, is that Arawn made it difficult for me to come close to this place. It’s only down here in the catacombs that I was able squeak in. Even now, I was only able to do so because he’s become complacent.” Cue replied as he started walking around the room poking at various items.
“If I had to hazard a guess, I’d suspect that he’s still suspicious of you. Oh, and well done for your not mentioning our conversation to Arawn by the way. That’s probably the main reason why you’re still alive.” He added nonchalantly.
“Well, it’s not like he makes it easy for me to talk to him. Arawn does seem to have it in for me, what with his endless lists of duties and lessons he gives me. Every one of my nails are broken now!” she grumbled peevishly, as she lifted up her blunted fingernails. Cue smiled sardonically and gave her a mock-sympathetic look. Mara saw it and spoke.
“What do you want?” she asked petulantly.
“Oh, it’s not much my dear. But it’s something only you can do for me.”
“What is it?” She asked, suspicious.
“Arawn’s Extremus-gun. I want you to dispose of it for me.”
“What?! Why? What is it to you?!” she yelped, surprised.
“it is a dangerous artifact!” Cue snarled, then he stopped and calmed himself.
“I don’t know how Arawn managed it, but its manufacture was beyond the pale for this world and its limitations. It shouldn’t even exist! Yet there it is, lying around like a cosmic ace in the hole!” he hissed. Then he noticed Mara’s look of confusion. He muttered something she couldn’t hear, and then he glared at her.
“It has the ability to kill just about any entity in this plane of existence.” He explained. “It may even be powerful enough to stop a God, perhaps even a Chief God! As such its very existence is an abomination!”
“The way you talk, you make it sound like its powerful enough to harm you.” Mara pointed out. Cue shot his head around and bored his eyes into her, his lips quivering.
“It might.” He whispered evasively through clenched teeth.
“If its so powerful, how am I supposed to destroy it?”
“You’re not, I just need you to,…to ‘misplace it’. I’ll give you the details how later, just before the opportune time.”
“Why don’t you dispose of it yourself? I’ve seen you touching it, in fact you even were able to remove its bullets.”
“Yes, I did.” Cue admitted, his lips pursed as he shook his in remembrance. “And that’s the main reason why I’ve been away for so long. The effort I expended in doing that, drained me. It took me this long to regain my powers.”
“Drained? Regained? According to Arawn, you’re supposedly omnipotent.”
“Well there’s omnipotent, and then there’s omnipotent. I’m currently on probationary status with my brothers and sisters in the Cue continuum.” He explained. “Again.” He added with a shrug. He then turned his head and looked at her.
“So, what will it be? Will you help me or not?”
“Well,…I suppose I could. But that would mean I would have to break my word to Arawn. As much as I don’t like him, I don’t dare do that.” Mara replied as she turned herself away from him and stared off into the distance. Unlike humans, Demons were compelled to keep their word. They paid a dear price if they didn’t.
“I can understand your hesitation, Mara.” Cue said reasonably. “It’s admirable of you to keep your word. So, let me sweeten the deal for you then.” He paused. Mara had to keep herself from flinching when she felt Cue’s breath on the nape of her neck, as he spoke into one of her pointed ears.
“I’m,…listening.” She croaked.
“I can tell you where Grendel is. He’s closer than either you or Arawn thinks.”
“What?! How can you know that?”
“I’m Cue, I know many things. Now keep still and listen.” He admonished. Mara shut her mouth.
“Think of it your Highness! You could go up from these tunnels and give that information to Arawn; Fulfill your Mother’s orders to assist him.” Cue purred. Mara gasped at the thought.
“I could go home then.” She realized.
“Yes!” Cue smiled. “You could go home, return to your world and resume your life as it was. No more of this mindless drudgery, no more your cleaning out infirmary bedpans, no more of you having to put up with the endless pranks and jokes from the lesser monsters of this world.”
Cue paused and leaned closer to her. Mara didn’t pull away this time. She knew that every word he spoke was true. She was so tired of being disrespected by everyone here.
“Only this time, you could go back with the knowledge that you helped both Arawn and more importantly, your Mother! The Great Maou would be soooo proud of you then.”
“How do you figure that?” she demanded hoarsely.
“Think of it this way.” He raised a hand with one finger pointed up.
“Yes, Druella gave your mother a nation. But it was just one nation. She will never be able to produce another, what with her being too busy with the nitnoid details of running Lescatie! But you my dear!” he breathed into her ear in a way that gave her goosebumps.
“You could be instrumental in handing over to the Great Maou! Your mother: An entire World.” He rumbled deeply.
“A world filled with not just one,….but hundreds of nations. All to be hers.” Cue continued whispering slowly into her ear, every syllable a drumbeat pounding into her mind. Suddenly she noticed that her mouth had gone dry. She licked it automatically in response.
“You don’t have to decide now, my dear. It can wait just a bit longer. But don’t take too long!” Cue’s voice hardened. Then he smiled again when he noticed that his words were having an effect on her.
“Events are coming together. If you allow this opportunity to pass. Then it will go away, and I’m afraid that you will soon be faced with a much more difficult dilemma.”
“In that dilemma you will have to decide whose life is more important to you. You will have to choose between someone you thought you loved, over someone you thought you detested.”
“And it won’t matter either way you choose, because you will lose what little innocence you have left.”
“I’m a demon, I’m not,…”, she began to protest, ‘not innocent’ she was about to say.
“Don’t sell yourself too short, Mara!” Cue interrupted. “Of course, you have some innocence within you. Even the most wicked of demons do. You don’t have much, I’ll admit.”
“But I also know that you treasure what little you have left. And when that last tiny amount is gone. It will be gone forever. Never to be reclaimed.” He paused for a short while.
“So. What will it be?” he asked her when she didn’t reply.
Mara couldn’t reply then, as all of her thoughts were in tumult. She trembled with the knowledge of what he said, as a deep part of her knew that he was speaking the truth. She turned to look at him to ask for some clarification.
But as soon as she looked, she saw that he was gone. Casting her eyes about wildly, she realized that there wasn’t a sign of him anywhere in the corridor.
She stayed standing there in that tunnel junction room for several long minutes. Unsure of herself, agonizing about what course she should choose.
‘Break my word to Arawn. Or not?’ she wondered, torn with indecision.