Mors Funebris Finale 2 of 8
Solve Et Coagula
The morning following the revelation of Juanita’s binding, was akin to just about every other morning at the Iron Foundation.
To the countless Humans who lived, and worked, outside the periphery of the Foundation’s buildings, all appeared placid and uninteresting.
Yet beneath that thin veneer of blandness that Arawn worked so hard to maintain; there existed a state of affairs that would’ve made the editors of Fate Magazine, or Fortean Times, ‘cream their jeans’ had they been aware of even a tenth of it.
Yet to Arawn, Juanita’s binding was just another routine incident for him to deal with.
The morning’s light found him glowering at a stack of paperwork that his secretary, Ms. Augustine, recently deposited onto his desk.
“Hmmm.” He breathed as he contemplated some nonproductive, yet creative, methods of dealing with it.
“Don’t you dare!” She warned him, when she noted his expression. “Don’t you dare teleport it elsewhere, it took me the longest time to retrieve yesterday’s batch.” She complained.
“Teleportation, is inevitable. Due to a consequence.” He remarked dryly, not once taking his eyes off of the stack.
‘Is it leaning over?’ he wondered as he cocked his head.
“What consequence?” she demanded.
“The consequence of a lack of coffee.” He sighed deeply, as he lifted a hand from underneath his desk.
Then, he lightly slammed an empty coffee mug onto the desktop in between them. For a second, both he and Ms. Augustine held a dual, staring /frowning match.
“I am not a waitress.” She declared finally. “I am your secretary. There is nothing in my job description, that requires me to fetch you that vile drink.”
“Vile? Since when is coffee, vile?” He demanded incredulously.
“Since the Pope blessed it.”
“Which Pope?” Arawn puzzled, confused.
“Clement the Eighth.” Ms. Augustine shot back quickly.
“Clement?” He hesitated. “That was nearly four hundred years ago.”
“What if it was? I still remember it, like it was yesterday. I prefer not to be beholden to anything Papish.”
“Papish? Now you sound like Mr. Dee.” Arawn smiled, deliberately trying to needle her.
“That’s DOCTOR Dee!” she said heatedly, her eyes blazing. “So, what if I am? He created me, so naturally I inherited many of his likes and dislikes.”
Arawn opened his mouth to retort, but that was when one of the entrance doors to his office opened. Both he and Ms. Augustine turned their heads to look.
After a second of seeing no one in the doorway, Mara peeked her head in and gave them both an apologetic smile, her head horns bobbing in unison with her head.
“Come in!” Arawn invited as he motioned her in. After he did, Mara stepped in fully, closely followed by Juanita.
Mara was spiffily dressed in a pencil skirt and business blouse. But Juanita was dressed casually in a t-shirt and cutoff jeans, her loose black hair flowing down to her waist.
“If you’ll excuse me?” Ms. Augustine haughtily replied and then left without waiting for an answer. Arawn dully noted her lack of feminine adornments as she turned and left.
‘Quite the contrast.’ He decided, comparing Ms. Augustine’s departing form with the incoming duo as they made their way to his desk. They both bounced eyes pleasingly well, as they made their way to his desk. For a second, and only a second, Arawn had himself a moment of humanity.
‘I wonder.’ Arawn mused idly, as he imagined what Mara and Juanita might’ve looked like lying entwined together naked in bed, ‘An intriguing visual.’ He determined, doing his best to keep his outward expression as neutral as the Foundations.
‘Great Maker.’ he thought to himself, ‘What are the chances? Both of them have offered themselves to me at one time or another.’ He swallowed quickly. ‘The more time goes on, the more tempted I am to take it up.’ Then he got ahold of himself.
“Well, you certainly are bright eyed and bushy tailed this morning Mara.” Arawn complimented, doing his best to cover his sudden surge of sexual desire.
As Mara came to a halt and stood before his desk, she gave him an amused smile, with just a hint of teeth between her lips.
She paused for just a second too long before speaking, and gave Arawn a knowing look. One that made him uncomfortable when he realized that all Succubi, Lilim especially, could detect a man’s naughty thoughts.
“Yes, as a matter of fact I am.” She replied happily, as she gave Juanita a quick glance. “I’ve done as you’ve instructed, and I reported to both the Nightbreed and Hunter heads.”
“So, what did you tell them? More importantly. How did they react?” He asked.
“I told them,…”Mara began and looked over at Juanita once. Juanita, for her part, acted out of character. She blushed and smiled as she leaned her head onto Mara’s shoulder. When she did, Mara wrapped an arm around her waist and hugged her close, hip to hip.
“The Truth.” Mara finished and smiled happily.
“You did what?!” Arawn demanded after a moment’s pause, his mouth hung open in shock.
“I told them everything.” Mara began, with a relieved smile on her face.
“I did not expect you to do that. Why did you?” Arawn asked, as he tried to get a handle on the situation.
“Well, like you said down in the Dojo room. Liars need good memories.”
“A successful liar does yes. Most are not.” Arawn observed as he leaned back in his chair.
“I figured that.” Mara replied, she then glanced behind herself to look at the couch. Arawn caught that glance.
“Please sit. I assume the explanations are going to take a while?”
“Yes. Though I have to inform you, that I’ve got both good news and bad news.” She shot back as she and Juanita relaxed on the couch together. When they did, Mara automatically wrapped her tail around Juanita’s thighs, which elicited a smile and a short giggle from her.
“Then we shall deal with both, in turn.” Arawn replied dryly as he raised an eyebrow at Juanita’s uncharacteristic cheer. “Proceed.” He ordered.
“Well, I first approached Artemus.” she said and then paused.
“Before I begin, I have to ask. How can a werewolf stay in lupus form without a full-moon overhead?” She inquired. Arawn spread his hands, looked upwards to the ceiling and sighed.
“Because Artemus is not precisely a Werewolf. He is actually a ‘Were-Wolfen’. He does transform under a full moon, but only,” Arawn smiled, “into a human.” Mara goggled.
“So that lupus form? It’s his natural state?” Mara asked, surprised. Arawn nodded. “Wow. I had no idea this world had so many varieties of monsters.”
“Indeed, it does.” Arawn replied smugly. “Do go on.”
“It was hard to gain an audience, eventually I had to ‘throw my weight around’. When I did get in to see him, he was understandably upset even before I explained what happened, and why.”
“And now?” Arawn asked.
“And now? He’s ecstatic.” Mara smiled. Arawn waited for her to continue. When she didn’t he blinked once, slowly.
“I beg your pardon. Did you say that he is ecstatic?” Arawn wondered.
“Yes, I did. Now, this is where the bad news comes in.” Mara replied, as she bit on her lower lip nervously.
“How can his being in a good mood, be Bad News?” Arawn asked, mystified.
“Well,” Mara hesitated and gave Juanita a nervous look. Juanita then patted her lightly on the shoulder, which seemed to give Mara the strength she needed. “He wants Juanita and I to have an official ceremony.”
“A ceremony? What kind? Retribution? Trial by combat?”
“No, he wants us to have a wedding ceremony.” She finished. Arawn opened his mouth and paused. Then he mouthed the words: ‘Wedding Ceremony.’
“So, what is the problem with that?” he asked incredulously.
“He wants us to do it in public. For all in the Iron Foundation to attend, and celebrate.” Mara finished, feeling happily embarrassed. “His reasoning for it was that, due to all of the tragedy of Grendel’s attack. Everyone here needs to have something to commemorate.”
Arawn froze for several seconds and thought about it. As he did a smile began to form on his face.
“I would have to agree.” He nodded. “Weddings are indeed times of joy, for most societies that is.” He observed. Then he looked to Juanita and saw her biting her upper lip.
“I take that you are ambivalent about this?” He asked her. Juanita sighed, lifted her chin proudly, and then punched Mara once in the shoulder.
“Ow!” Mara winced, and gave Juanita a rueful look.
“Yeah, I guess I am.” Juanita replied, as she gave Mara a half-smile. “It’s not what I expected, when Mara asked me to trust her.”
“Any regrets?” Arawn asked.
“Nope!” Juanita shot back, then grinned. Mara gave her a thoughtful squeeze with her tail.
“But the problem is Arawn.” Mara continued, “Is that he wants a BIG public spectacle. I’m not too familiar with Earth-Money, but I get the feeling what he has in mind is going to be expensive.” She pointed out. “I don’t make THAT much.” She fretted.
“Well considering the circumstances.” Arawn began as he steepled his fingers and began to slowly tap his fingertips together in sequence. “It would indeed do well to improve the moral of the Foundation. Expensive? Yes. But I believe that the Foundation could cover the costs easily.”
“Wait a second!” Mara faltered, “Didn’t you tell me earlier, that the Foundation is in dire financial straits?”
“Yes, I did say that.” He acknowledged with a nod. “But that was before Grendel’s attack. Since then, after your display of courage and near death. Many of the Nightbreed contractors ‘suddenly’ remembered their honor.” He smiled warmly
“That, coupled with an increase in charitable donations, along with the Federal Grants and Loans? The Foundation’s finances have finally returned well into the black.”
“Black?” Mara wondered.
“A bookkeeping term. Black ink is used for net gains. Red ink is used for net loss.” He explained.
“Oh.” Mara said, intrigued.
“We can discuss details of the ceremony later. Ms. Augustine will undoubtedly be happy to help in that regard. She does seem to have a fascination with weddings, for some reason.” Arawn stated thoughtfully.
“Now, as to Dr. Horus. How did he react?”
“Eventually? Quite well actually. He was shocked at first, too. Surprisingly, he was quick to accept it. Which caught me off guard. He’s so conservative, I half-expected him to be totally outraged by the notion.”
“Yet, I take it he was not?” Arawn stated slyly.
“No. In fact, he showed Juanita and me, pictures of his youngest daughter and another lady.”
“Let me guess, Fatima and Qabool?”
“That’s right! You know?”
“He and I have spoken about those two for some time. He is quite proud about the pair.” He smiled. “And nervous as well.”
“Because of what I told you earlier.” Juanita injected. “Homophobia is still a problem here, and especially in his home country.”
“Unfortunately, I have to agree with Juanita.” Arawn sad sadly. “I predict that same-sex unions will not be legal here in the United States, for at least another twenty to thirty years.”
“Does that mean that we can’t have a legal wedding?” Mara asked, downcast.
“No, I am afraid not.” Arawn replied. “However, legally speaking, there are options that allow for an alternative.”
“For instance, the elder partner can apply for adoption of the younger.”
“What? Who would want to do that?”
“Well for example, there are several Hunters here in the Foundation, who are in the same situation as you two.”
“What! Who?!” Mara and Juanita demanded in unison then. Arawn smiled as they looked at each other after. “I wouldn’t have expected a Hunter to do something like that. Most of them are too strait-laced!”
“Do you remember Ellen Venandi and Jo Chasseuse from the meeting yesterday?” Arawn asked smugly.
“Yes.” Mara nodded. Arawn smiled widened.
“What!?” Juanita exclaimed, utterly shocked. “Those two?” she goggled.
“Indeed.” Arawn nodded happily with a slight grin. You will find that Hunters are more open-minded than the rest of the human population. Particularly when it comes to earning a partner’s trust.”
Both Mara and Juanita found themselves unable to reply.
“Well, I guess that settles that.” Arawn stated. “How are you for free time?” He asked.
“What do you mean?” Mara asked, unsure of why he was asking.
“I have a promise to keep. You kept your side of the bargain. Now I need to begin teaching you my signature abilities.”
“The Blast and Shield thingies?” Juanita interjected with a grin. Arawn’s glanced over to her.
“Indeed.” He said quietly with a nod. Then he returned his attention to Mara. “Do you still desire to learn them?”
“Yes.” Mara said as she set her jaw and breathed heavily out through her nose.
“So be it. Then I would suggest that you meet me in the Dojo, immediately.”
“But what about your paperwork?” Mara asked, as she pointed to it.
“It can wait!” Arawn growled as he waved a hand dismissively at the pile. Then he stopped, frowned, then he looked in the direction of Ms. Augustine’s desk where it lay through the wall. Almost simultaneously, his desk intercom sprang on.
“Doctor Iron!” Ms. Augustine’s annoyed voice rang through it. “This morning’s paperwork is already overdue!”
Arawn froze in place, then he switched on his intercom toggle with a repressed oath.
“Very well then.” He replied resignedly to her. Then he turned to the now bemused Mara and Juanita.
“Meet me in my Dojo in one hour.” He sighed in a low tone.
“A-HEM!” came Ms. Augustine’s outraged voice through the intercom. “Four hours!” she shot back.
“Two hours!” he replied.
“Three at the very minimum! And no teleporting any of it away!” she insisted.
Arawn gritted his teeth as his right hand began to twitch. Both Mara and Juanita jerked in surprise when they noticed that his right hand began to glow from within.
“Three hours then.” Arawn relented in a gravelly voice, then signed off.
“I wasn’t aware that Ms. Augustine was telepathic.” Mara remarked.
“She is not.” Arawn replied dryly. “She is my Secretary.” He stated as if that explained everything. “Off with you two,” he said wearily to the two ladies. “I have penance to pay.”
Three hours later, Mara and Juanita arrived at his Dojo and he invited then in. As before he was dressed in his Gi and Hakamah.
“You’re looking much more relaxed.” Mara remarked. To which Arawn merely smiled.
He sat himself down onto middle of the springy floor of the Dojo and then indicated that Mara should match him. Confused, Mara silently did as he requested.
“Normally,” Arawn began as he closed his eyes and took in a deep calming breath. “This kind of training would take months, if not years of mentorship.” He clarified.
“We don’t have months.” She pointed out. “Not if I want to do battle; using them.”
“Correct.” He replied with a nod, as he reached out a hand towards Mara’s face.
“What are you doing?” she demanded as she leaned back to avoid his touch. Arawn looked to her and sighed.
“There is way you can get that training in mere hours. It is called: Mindscaping.” He explained patiently.
“What’s that?” Juanita asked, intrigued as she sat herself down next to Arawn and Mara. Arawn frowned at her momentarily, then shrugged.
“It is an enhanced version of the mind-speech that you and Mara have been,…’enjoying’ with each other,” he said with a bemused look on his face, “I have heard it described as being akin to ‘Virtual Reality’.”
“Is it anything like, Dream-sending? Where you invade someone else’s dreams?” Mara asked warily. Arawn raised an eyebrow at her. “I’ve heard rumors about you doing that.” She explained with a glance towards Juanita.
“Ah yes, I have done such.” He admitted with a nod.
“Participation in both, Dream-sending and Mind-scaping is strictly voluntary. In Dream-sending, either party can end the session any time they wish. However, Mindscaping is different. In that anyone invited within can only leave under a set of prearranged circumstances. It held many uses for my people, the Annwyfn, Quick training in skills for one thing. But it also has therapeutic options as well.”
“Wait!” Juanita smiled, “I remember living an entire lifetime in a dream. Can that also happen in your Mind-scaping?”
“How long will it be for Mara in waking time?”
“Two to three hours, approximately. Though Mara will need real world practice afterwards.” Arawn replied placidly.
“Let me join in.” Juanita demanded suddenly.
“I may learn something.” She evaded.
“You have never shown an interest in learning magic before.” He pointed out.
“Well, no, I haven’t.” She admitted.
“You have another motivation.” Arawn shot back. “Would this have anything to do with that particular, Galaxy Quest episode you have been obsessed with?”
“Which episode is that?” Mara interjected.
“The one in which Doctor Lazarus has to engage in a Mak’Tar Mind-Mold with Captain Taggart. He had to do so, in order to save the Captain from an alien mind parasite.” Arawn explained.
“What?! I don’t think I’ve seen that one.” Mara pouted.
“It doesn’t get shown very often, and usually only late at night.” Juanita smiled wickedly.
“Why?” Mara asked, curious as to her smile as she looked expectantly over at Arawn.
“Because,” Arawn began as he gave Juanita a cold stare, which she ignored, “It is heavily laden with Homo-erotic symbolism.”
“Oh yeah!” Juanita cried out gleefully, all of her teeth flashing in a smile. “It’s been suggested that as a result of that episode, Taggart and the good Doctor became secret lovers.”
“Oooooh.” Mara cooed enthusiastically. “I’ve simply GOT to see that one!” she said eagerly.
“AHEM!” Arawn said significantly.
“Oh yeah, right.” Mara replied. “To the lesson.”
“Are you amenable?” Arawn asked and looked towards the succubus. She nodded enthusiastically. Arawn sighed and turned to Juanita. “Then yes I will allow you in.”
“Now, remember that this training is intended for Mara. My attention will be focused on her alone. Thus. you may find yourself bored. I will give you the option to leave the mindscape early. But be warned, once you have departed, you will not be allowed back in.”
“All right.” Juanita replied with a sour look.
“So be it. Are you both ready?” Arawn asked. Mara nodded. Arawn then reached out a hand to touch the faces of both women. He closed his eyes. He then lightly pressed his fingertips into the skin of both their faces.
“Your thoughts,” he began to speak in a monotone. “To my thoughts.” He continued. “My mind, molds itself to your minds.” He finished, and remained silent.
‘The exact words that Dr. Lazarus uses in his Mind-Molding.’ Juanita thought as she managed to stifle her nascent giggling. Nothing seemed to happen for at least a minute. Then Arawn drew his hands away and then settled them back into his lap.
“Did something go wrong?” Mara asked with a perplexed look on her face, as she opened her eyes and looked around.
“Not at all. The Mindscape session has begun.” He smiled as he rocked backwards and then stood up smoothly, as his Hakamah gently shushed around his ankles.
“It doesn’t feel like anything is different.” Mara remarked as she got to her feet and stretched her wings out. Arawn smiled enigmatically and then walked over to the Dojo entrance door and opened it. When he did, a strong cold wind blew in and chilled both women there.
“What the!?” Juanita shouted in surprise when she noticed that there were snowflakes blowing in with the breeze.
She got up and went to inspect the snow that had already began to pile up, and then froze in mid-step when she saw a polar bear amble inside the room. Once inside, it came to a stop and started wrinkling its nose as it surveyed the interior.
“Holy Shit!” she said, frightened by the enormous creature. She was so close she could see its nose was dripping wet.
“Do not be afraid. It will do you no harm.” Arawn said, amused at the sight. “It is nothing more than a Simulacra; an enhanced memory of mine. This particular ursine, was one that I encountered during the Symmes Polar Expedition of 1829.” He said as the bear stopped sniffing and then stood up to its full ten feet. Then without any warning, it dove itself at Juanita.
Juanita screeched once and then crab walked backwards, but not before the bar had come down upon her with all fours.
But instead of pinning her down, all of its paws went through her without harm. As if it were a ghost.
It then began to gallop around the room, completely oblivious to her and anything else. As Juanita watched in shock, it stomped noisily around the room a couple of times, then back out the open door. Which Arawn closed after it had passed through.
“So, it’s not real then?” Mara asked with a laugh directed at Juanita’s still quivering form.
“For Juanita? No, it is not.” He said as he scooped up some snow in his hands and began to pack it into a ball. He then rapidly took aim, and threw it at Mara- who didn’t bother ducking away.
She let out a surprised yelp, when it impacted her chest with a small ‘thud’. Then that yelp rapidly became a shriek when the snowball found its way down into her cleavage.
“For you? It is.” Arawn said with a grin at the sight and sound of Mara’s sudden dancing, as she began to try and dislodge the very annoying and very cold snowball. Now it was Juanita’s turn to be amused.
“Ha Hah!” she laughed at the sight of Mara’s predicament. “Need some help there?” she asked sweetly. Mara glared back.
“I’ll be fine.” She hissed as she dug most of the now dripping ball from her chest canyon.
Then she cast a mischievous grin towards Arawn. With a quick hand gesture, she conjured up a much larger snowball from the large pile of snow. Then with another gesture, she propelled the levitating snowball rapidly towards him.
She was most surprised to discover that instead of impacting, it merely passed through him.
“This is my Mindscape Mara. Thus, everything here is subject to my rules.” He smirked triumphantly, as he mirrored Mara’s hand gesture and added a flourish. This resulted in the massive snowball’s trajectory reversing itself- directly back towards her.
“Aaah!” Mara shrieked as she cowered herself into a defensive ball. After a second she dared to look up and over an arm, then saw that the snowball had come to a halt, hovering in mid-air a foot away from her face.
“Now, if we may begin?” He asked her. Mara rapidly nodded once. At which point the snowball and every other bit of snow vanished without a trace. He then turned his attention to Juanita.
“Juanita. Consider yourself invited to wander about the premises.”
“Here? Where is here exactly?” she demanded.
“Are you familiar with the term- Mind Palace?” He asked, she frowned as she thought about it.
“Wait, I think so! That’s a memory enhancing technique you once tried to teach me. Why do you mention it?”
“Do you recall what I tried to teach you about, concerning it?” He evaded.
“That it’s a way of recalling memories and experiences?”
“Correct. I mention this, because I realize that since my attention will be focused on Mara- you will inevitably become bored. Thus, I offer you hospitality. Mi mente palacio, es su mente palacio.” He smiled.
“What?” Juanita asked, confused, then “Oh!” she said and then smiled as comprehension washed over her.
“Please remember that anything and anyone you encounter here, will be an artifact from my perspective.” He instructed.
“Thus, these are my memories and experiences. If you stand close to anyone or any actions, you may experience some of the feelings that I experienced when they occurred.”
“Furthermore, you will be able to interact only with passive objects such as doors, windows, furniture. But you will be unable to interact with any ‘living’ people. Understand?”
“I think so.” Juanita nodded, intrigued. ‘First thing to look for- Iron’s private thoughts!’ she thought to herself merrily.
“I also ask that you please respect my privacy.” He warned.
“You got it Doc!” she agreed a little too quickly. “How can I tell which ones to avoid?”
“They will be clearly marked.” He instructed with a skeptical frown.
“What if I want to get out?” She smiled widely.
“Just walk through any door marked ‘EXIT”. You will wake up in the Dojo alongside Mara and myself. But I remind you again: Once you have departed, you will not be allowed back in.” He said patiently.
“Ok! Ok! I get the point!” Juanita huffed, as she settled herself onto the floor and began to watch Arawn and Mara.
“Now Mara,” Arawn began, “we will begin laying the foundation for the appropriate mindset for you to conjure a Blast-Punch.” He paused.
“Do you remember what the three essential steps for any conjuration are?” He asked. Mara squinted her eyes and looked to one side in concentration.
“That would be 1) Gather Energy. 2) Shape the Energy with your thoughts and feelings, and then 3) Release the Energy in the intended direction or Place it on a locale.” She answered finally.
“Correct. Are you also familiar with the: Bi-lateral Theory of Mana Circulation?” he began.
“I think so.” Mara replied as she bit onto her lower lip in thought. “I think that’s where stored Mana is supposed to flow from your Sinister to your Dexter isn’t it?” she asked.
“Affirmative.” He began with a pleased nod. “You may also recall which appendage I use for the Blast-Punch, and which I use for the Shield-Buckler.”
“Yeah, I do.” She replied, “What’s the poi,,…?” she began. Then her eyes lit up. “Oh wait!” she realized.
“You always cast Blast-Punch with your right hand!” she smiled. Then she stopped and thought about it. “That suggests that you’re capable of capturing incoming mana with your Shield-Buckler, wouldn’t it?”
“A valid deduction. You are correct.” Arawn replied, impressed. “It is a partial base for Darvon’s Astral Oscillations Mandate.”
‘What are you even talking about?’ Juanita sighed inaudibly. ‘What does all that even mean?’ she thought as she felt her eyes cross.
‘Boooooorrrrriiiiinnngggg!’ Juanita frowned as she felt her eyes glaze over. She had continued to stare at both Arawn and Mara for what seemed a very long time.
‘He wasn’t kidding!’ She griped to herself as she suppressed another yawn. ‘All Mara has done for the last hour, is sit with her eyes closed. Meanwhile Arawn keeps telling her to empty herself and ‘realign her chakras’. Whatever the hell those are!’
Oh, The hell with this.’ She decided as she quietly got to her feet and walked across the Dojo floor. After stopping near the main entrance door, she reached out and opened it rapidly- half hoping that a gust of cold air would blow in.
‘Shit! No such luck.’ She thought dourly when she saw that the outside, was the same temperature and hallway that had been there when she came in. A time that seemed like yesterday now.
Scuffing her feet along the carpeted floor, Juanita ambled off down the hallway, not really paying attention to where she was going. After a few minutes, she crossed a windowed skybridge between two buildings. Then she looked left to see sunshine shining in. That was when she realized that the sight of the sun’s blazing seemed to make her happy for some odd reason.
Then she jerked with surprise after she glanced to her right and saw that it was raining furiously under a night sky.
“Woah!” she exclaimed as she looked back and forth several times. Every time she did, she noticed that her mood shifted between happy on the sunlight side to contemplative on the night side.
‘Weird.’ She thought. ‘These must be Iron’s emotions.’ She realized. Then she heard the sound of some voices coming around from the next building over. She rapidly picked up her step to see who it was.
Peering around a corner, she found herself smiling at the sight of Dr. Horus and Iron discussing a medical matter, as they walked down the hallway towards her.
“Hey Horus! How’s it going?” she called out automatically. Then she was a bit irked when the good Doctor didn’t so much as look in her direction. Instead, he kept up his side of the conversation.
“Hey Doc!” she called out again irritably, and then froze when she realized her mistake.
“Oh yeah, that’s right. You two are just memories. I can’t interact with you.” She sighed in frustration. So, opting instead to follow along with the pair, she decided that she could at the very least eavesdrop on their conversation.
When she got close to Horus, she realized that she felt Horus’s respect for Iron, along with some puzzlement. Then she experimented. She moved close to Iron, and noticed that Iron’s feelings were a bit more mixed.
Trying another tack, she accelerated out in front of the two and came to a halt. After a few seconds, she braced herself and allowed Iron and Horus to walk through her.
‘That was disappointing.’ She thought when they had. ‘Just emotions.’ She mused, as she looked over her shoulder towards the pair who were still moving down the hall away from her.
That was when she noticed Artemus the Werewolf. He was padding through a hallway crossing. The sight of him normally made Juanita cringe just a bit, but this time she felt a barely controllable annoyance, that bordered on rage.
“Holy Shit!” she exclaimed. “Iron’s really pissed at him. Probably for good reason too.” She decided. Then after another few seconds, she espied a pair of lab techs in a conversation with Iron.
After a few minutes, she found herself bored with what they had to say.
‘More shop-talk.’ She complained. Then she went on to find some other folk. After the next half hour, Juanita gave up trying to find something interesting to find. Instead, she sat herself down onto a hallway bench near the accounting department.
‘Oh, sure it was fun at first.’ She sighed, ‘But now it’s just creepy! It’s like I’m an invisible person!’ She huffed when she tried to trip a passerby, and failed.
Then after a second, her eyes widened when she saw a door she hadn’t seen before. It was a large metal door marked: “Private” in big bold yellow letters.
“Hmmmm.” She mused as a wicked smile formed on her face. She hurried herself over and stopped in front of it. She looked quickly left and right to insure no one was watching.
Once she was satisfied, she reached out to contact the door handle. And that was when she thought she heard a little girl’s giggle come from somewhere nearby.
Quickly turning her head in the direction of it, Juanita saw for just an instant, a strange looking child running around a corner.
‘Odd.’ She thought, ‘I’ve never seen a niñita in this section of the complex. What’s she doing here?’ She wondered. Then she shrugged her shoulders and dismissed the thought.
With a sharp jerk she opened the door. Juanita’s heart began to beat an excited tempo about whatever lascivious details, that door surely had hidden behind it.
A couple minutes later, she came back out with a big pout on her face.
‘Paperwork! Nothing but contract details.’ She huffed as she rolled her eyes in despair. Then her eyes froze in their sockets when she saw that strange-seeming niñita again.
She was across the hallway this time. Gazing at her, Juanita got the strangest notion that the child was watching her.
Juanita impulsively raised a hand and waved at her. Her mouth dropped open in surprise when the child waved back. Then when Juanita took a step towards her, the little girl grinned and slammed the door shut with a resounding bang.
“Hey!” Juanita shouted in confusion. She rushed towards the door and pushed on it. But it was shut. She tried the handle, but it was locked.
“HEY!” she shouted, as she banged on the door three times loudly. Then suddenly, the door opened partially on the third knock.
“What?” Juanita exclaimed confusedly, then she pushed the door wide open and stepped in. Once inside she was dismayed to see that there wasn’t anyone there.
‘Just an empty storage closet.’ She mused. ‘Where did she go?’
“Hola!” she called out and waited for an answer. But none ever came. Once she went back outside, Juanita got an interesting thought.
‘Hey! Why don’t I check out Iron’s office? He’s bound to have a whole bunch of memories there!’ she smiled again. With that she started hurrying her way over.
After a few tense minutes, and a couple of wrong turns, she found herself inside his office.
‘Where to snoop first?’ she wondered, tapping her chin with one finger.
‘His desk?’ she thought as she stared at it. ‘Or perhaps,…’ she mused as her eyes swung to the door to his personal suite.
Within a few seconds, she was standing in front of the suite’s door with her hand on the handle. But before she opened it, she was surprised to see another door right next to it.
‘That’s never been there before.’ She realized.
This too was marked in big bold letters: ‘“EGRESS – DANGER! AVOID AT ALL COSTS!!”
“What in the hell is an Egress?” Juanita asked curiously, as she changed course. Then, just as she was about to touch the handle to the door, a small hand came out of seemingly nowhere and tapped lightly on the back of Juanita’s hand.
When she did, Juanita felt a slight electrical shock sting her. It didn’t hurt, but it was enough to make her snatch it back.
“Naughty!” came the sound of a little girl’s scolding voice.
Juanita was too surprised to say anything at first. Instead, she just turned to the newcomer, as she rubbed at the back of her hand.
She found herself stunned by the sight of the strange seeming girl she’d seen earlier. Right then in that moment, Juanita managed to get a much better look at her.
She was a wiry waif of a child, with a long mane of jet-black hair that went down to her waist. Her deep olive complexion was just a shade lighter than Juanita’s. She was dressed in light grey-onesie.
‘Odd, she looks familiar. But I’ve never met her before.’ She thought as she took in the new one. Where before her face had held an innocent smile, now she held a glare that blazed back at Juanita with no small amount of disapproval.
“Snooping is an incorrect behavior!” the child admonished while shaking a reproving finger at her. “You would not have been allowed into here, if you did not agree to respect his privacy!” The little girl scolded her fiercely.
“Sorry Iron!” Juanita replied automatically in an insincere tone. “I just got bored.”
“That is not an appropriate excuse.” The child grumped as she stamped one foot on the ground in frustration. Then she said something that surprised Juanita. “I am not Iron.”
“What?” Juanita asked in surprise. “But Iron said that I wouldn’t be able to interact with any of his memories here. So, what are you? Something else?” Juanita asked.
“Well, yes I am a memory.” The little girl huffed and folded her arms. “But I am a special memory.” She elaborated. “Not a single day goes by that Baba does not think of me.”
“Baba? Who’s Baba?” Juanita asked, getting more confused. The little girl flipped her long hair over one shoulder and sighed patiently.
“Baba.” The child huffed and then began to recite in a patient tone. “Is the honorific my people use, or I should say- used, to call our male parental unit.” She finished. Juanita blinked in confusion at first, then a light went on in her head.
“Oh! You mean your father?”
“Yes, that is what I just said.”
“Which people would that be?” Juanita asked, trying to get some clarification.
“Can you not tell?” The strange seeming girl asked. Juanita shook her head in negation. The girl looked surprised.
“I am an Annwyfn.” She informed her.
“An Annwyfn?” Juanita gaped. “Oh my Gu,….uhm.” she hesitated, catching herself. “My Mara!!” she finished. “I’m sorry. Other than Iron, I’ve never met one.”
“I am not surprised.” The girl replied. “Other than Baba, we are extinct.”
“Baba who?” Juanita asked, confused once more. “Wait!” she asked, holding up a hand. “I feel that I should introduce myself first.” She began.
“Hello, my name is Juanita.” She smiled as she held out a hand towards the strangely familiar looking girl. The girl looked confused by her doing so.
“What are you doing?” the girl demanded as she warily backed away a step.
“Uh, my people introduce themselves by shaking hands together.” Juanita began awkwardly. The little girl just continued to stare back at her without saying anything.
“Then why initiate physical contact?” the girl asked suddenly.
“I don’t know, I think it has something to do with showing that we’re not carrying a knife or a gun.” Juanita stumbled. The girl continued to stare back at her for a couple more seconds.
“That sounds logical.” The girl replied as she tentatively held out her left hand. Juanita hesitated, then she reached out with her own left hand and grasped the girl’s hand tenderly, then she shook it once. The girl allowed it without taking her eyes off of Juanita’s the entire time.
‘Wow Her skin is so warm!’ she realized once she let go. “See? I mean you no harm.” Juanita smiled.
“Your name. What does it mean?” the girl demanded neutrally.
“My name? Why should it have a meaning?”
“Every name contains a story.” The child said cryptically.
“Uhmmm, It’s been a long time since I thought about it. But I think I remember the Doc saying that Juanita means: ‘God is gracious.” She spoke.
“Which god?’ the girl demanded.
“The god of my people.” Juanita shot back.
“The god of your people. What is its name?”
“I would rather not say.” Juanita frowned, feeling annoyed by her cross examination.
“Why?!” the girl barked forcefully, as she began to lean forward and frown menacingly at the much larger Juanita.
“Well, if you must know!” Juanita replied harshly, “it’s because I promised my lover to never say his name again!”
“Ah!” the girl gasped in surprise as she rocked back on her heels. “So, you do have a set of standards.” She remarked mostly to herself. “That is well.” The girl smiled finally.
‘Oh!’ Juanita thought then, ‘I think I just passed a test.’ She realized.
“Now I will introduce myself.” The little girl said as she reached out with her right hand this time. “I am Yeye, of the Ambaye Anasubiri Annwyfn.” Juanita automatically grasped her hand, but this time it was Yeye who shook. Juanita winced at the amount of strength she had.
“It means: She Who Waits.”
“She who waits?” Juanita asked, ‘That sounds familiar, but from where?’ she asked herself. “Waits for what?” she asked aloud.
“I wait, to be born again.” Yeye answered sadly, as she seemed to wilt. Then she looked away.
“What’s wrong?” Juanita asked. Then she got a spurt of inspiration. “Are you saying you were alive once?” Yeye didn’t reply, she just continued to look at something to her right. Then after a few seconds, she nodded her head a couple of times and began to sniffle. Then her body began to shake with repressed tears.
“Awww.” Juanita said as she kneeled down and laid a comforting hand on Yeye’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
Yeye jerked in shock at her touch. Then unexpectedly, she turned and wrapped her arms around Juanita’s shoulders, and hugged her close. Juanita hugged her back maternally.
She wanted to say something to Yeye. But she held off, as an instinct told her that it wasn’t a good idea yet. She chose to hold the little Annwyfn child/spirit/memory in her arms and let her snuffle.
After what seemed the longest while, Yeye began to pull away. Juanita let go, but not without some reluctance.
“Thank you.” Yeye said in a quiet voice. “It has been a very long time since I could hug someone.”
“If you’re Iron’s memory, shouldn’t he be able to hug you?”
“He is unaware that I am more than a memory now.” Yeye told her, “Please do not tell him!” she begged. “It would make him sad if he knew!”
“Oh my!” Juanita said, shocked.
“PLEASE!” Yeye begged, her eyes wide in distress. “It would spoil so much!”
“All right! All right I promise I won’t tell him!” Juanita reassured her. “Iron must have loved you quite a lot to have adopted you.”
“He did not adopt me!” Yeye replied indignantly. “He is my father! He sired me!”
“What?! I remember him saying that he’s incapable, due to some curse.”
“He sired me before that had occurred.”
“What?!” Juanita asked, surprised. “How long ago was that?”
“Approximately a billion Earth years.”
“A,.. billion?!” Juanita said, shocked. “Really?” Juanita demanded. Yeye nodded.
“WOW!” she exclaimed, “I knew he was old, but I didn’t know he was that old.” She mused. “There’s so much I don’t know about him.” She said mostly to himself.
“Was that why you were snooping around his office; invading his privacy?” Yeye asked.
“Well I wasn’t,…”Juanita began to protest. Then she saw the look on Yeye’s face and then stopped. ‘Lying is a sin, Juanita.’ She reproved herself.
“Yes.” She admitted finally. “I was snooping. Doctor Iron is the closest I’ve come to having a father,..a real father. There’s so much I don’t know about,…that I want to know about him.” She admitted.
“Oh.” Yeye replied as she cocked her head to one side as she thought about it. “He thinks about me a lot, whenever you are around. So, I would surmise that this makes us sisters, in a way.”
“oh.” Juanita replied in a small voice, shocked. Yeye continued.
“Then perhaps I should show you more about Baba. If you are willing, that is.”
“I’d like that very much.” Juanita said with a smile. Yeye smiled back.
But then she hesitated. “Do you promise to never tell anyone about what you learn?”
“I don’t know if I can keep that promise.” Juanita admitted. “There is someone I swore to, to never keep secrets from.”
“Who is that?”
“My mistress, Mara.”
“Is she: The-One-Who-Walked-Through-Fire?”
“I don’t know what you mean, but it sounds like her. She risked her life to save a number of Nightbreed cubs.”
“Oh. Then yes. Baba is very fond of her as well.” Yeye then looked at Juanita expectantly.
“Ok. I promise.” Juanita swore. Yeye smile widened dramatically and offered her a hand. Juanita automatically took it. Yeye grasped her firmly.
“Ah!” Juanita gasped, reminded of how strong the tyke was. Then as she released Yeye’s hand, she saw something odd.
“Hey! I just noticed. You have six fingers on your hand!” She observed.
“Affirmative.” Yeye said matter of fact, as she held up both of her hands. Juanita saw that both of them held six fingers each. “All female Annwyfn did.”
“But why doesn’t Iron have six fingers?” Juanita asked. Yeye looked amused by Juanita’s question.
“Because he is a male Annwyfn.” She replied, as if this made perfect sense.
“Uh, yeah.” Juanita shot back, blinking her confusion.
“Obviously you have much to learn about my Baba. Do you still wish to learn?”
“Yes.” Juanita replied, nodding her head.
“Then follow me.” Yeye whispered conspiratorially, as she grasped ahold of Juanita once more. Then she began to run. Juanita was soon surprised both by how fast Yeye could run, and how easily she was pulled along.
At first Juanita thought Yeye was about to bring them both headlong into the window of Iron’s office. She tried to resist, but Yeye’s hold was implacable. Just before they impacted, Yeye said something under her breath and made a gesture with her other hand.
Juanita saw a flash of a large silver circlet appearing across the window. But before she was aware of it, both she and Yeye had passed through into,…
‘A hallway?’ She thought as the pair of them came to a stomping halt.
“Where are we? What did you just do?” Juanita asked as she looked around and noted a series of similar looking doors. Unlike the uniform drab doors of the Iron Complex, these doors looked more upscale.
‘Real wood paneling.’ Juanita noted. ‘These halls were made by an artist.’
Doors lined both sides of the unfamiliar corridor. Then she noticed that each door had both a set of numbers, and a flat-key access.
“Wait a second. Is this a Hotel?” she asked as a smile spread across her face. Yeye silently looked up at her then she nodded once. She began tugging Juanita along with her hand, trying to get her to follow. Juanita relented and allowed her.
“Nice place.” She remarked, as she admired the finely carved wooden paneling lining the walls.
At one-point, Yeye let go of Juanita’s hand. Taking advantage of the release, she leaned in and cupped an ear to listen in on one of the doors. Juanita grinned when she heard a steady rhythm of someone bouncing on the mattresses inside.
After a second, Yeye motioned her to follow as she continued to amble down the hallway. As she did, she looked at each of the door numbers in turn.
After they passed several more doors, Yeye stopped in front of one. Unlike the others that were firmly shut. This one was slightly ajar.
After a second of staring at it, she glanced over at Juanita once with a speculative look. Then she came to a decision. Yeye gently but firmly pushed the door wide open, but didn’t go in. Curious, Juanita stood next to her and peered inside.
What she saw, surprised her. Inside was Doctor Iron dressed in an unusual outfit, and he was within a woman’s embrace. He seemed to be nuzzling her chest.
‘Oh, my goodness!’ Juanita thought in surprise. ‘Iron! So, you really do like girls!’ She almost giggled aloud at the sight. Then she froze when she realized that Iron wasn’t perving on the woman’s breasts.
‘No.’ she gasped silently. “Is he crying?” she wondered aloud, as the sound of his tears and sobbing reached her ears. Juanita took another step closer and felt the memory-empathy kick in.
‘He’s in pain, deep pain. And she is soothing him.’ She realized. ‘I don’t know who you are lady, but I love you.’ She empathized as she witnessed one of Iron’s more private moments.
She stood there in shock and surprise for several seconds, until it all became too much for her to bear any longer. Turning around, Juanita walked several feet away, sat down and shivered, overwhelmed.
‘Wow!’ was all she could think right then. ‘That’s Iron and he’s falling in love!’ She blinked in shock, speechless by what she had just experienced. After a minute she noticed that Yeye was standing next to her with a somber expression.
“What is this place? Who was that woman? Why is she all purple?” She began to ask rapidly. Yeye held up a hand and Juanita stopped talking.
“It is called the Covet Corner Hotel.’ Yeye whispered. “It is a special place where people find that particular someone; who is their soulmate.” Yeye stopped and looked back at the still open door. Juanita noticed that there was a tear running down one of her cheeks. Then she said something that surprised Juanita mightily.
“Her name is Takana.” She sniffled.
‘Takana!’ Juanita gaped in shock when she recognized it.
“She was nice. I really wanted her to be my Mama.” Yeye sniffled again. Juanita reached out and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. Yeye automatically leaned into her and hugged her fiercely.
“He was so happy with her.” Yeye murmured into Juanita’s ear. “It began to look like my wait was finally over.” Yeye said with a sob.
“What happened?” Juanita asked breathless, as her own tears threatened to flow.
“She got hurt. He was told that there was something about how his being near her, was killing her.” Yeye sniffled.
“But that was a LIE!” she wailed angrily.
“How do you know?” Juanita asked. Yeye drew back and wouldn’t look at her.
“I cannot tell anyone.” She muttered as she rubbed at one eye. “Please do not ask. It is not allowed.” She said in an adult’s voice.
“All right.” Juanita surrendered.
“I want to go someplace else.” Yeye announced suddenly and then began walking down the hallway rapidly. Juanita swiftly got to her feet and quickly caught up to her. After walking in silence for several more hallways, Juanita was inspired.
“Did Iron ever have any good memories? Happy ones you like?” she wondered aloud. Yeye stopped and paused as she thought about it. Then she turned to look up at Juanita as a wide smile formed on her face.
“Yes, he does.” She said with delight, her eyes alight. Then those all too familiar eyes got a mischievous crinkle to them. “I can show you more, much more.”
“Race me!” she challenged, then she bolted. Juanita paused for only a second, before she began chasing after the nimble footed child.
“Hey!” she laughed, “Slow down!” she demanded as she rounded a corner, only to be answered with a girlish giggle echoing from somewhere ahead. There were several more twists and turns in the corridors, and suddenly there was another silvery circlet through which Yeye leapt into. Juanita managed to plunge through as it began to contract.
Juanita was utterly surprised by what awaited her next.
“WOAH!” was what she stated upon arrival. It was the only thing she could think to say then. The sight of a ringed planet similar to Saturn, covering half of the sky up above her, as she should stood upon a plain covered with purple grass. All about her was a cloud of black butterflies flitting from plant to plant.
Yet, the planet was all that she could focus on at first. She just stood there in shock, while she craned her head up, back, and over at the immensity of it.
‘Why am I not falling into it?’ She wondered as she began to get dizzy at the sight. Somehow, she kept her balance as she continued peering at the multiple colors of strange clouds swirling, twirling up on the surface of the gas giant.
“Juanita!” came the sound of Yeye’s voice. “This way!” she heard her calling. It took every ounce of control to tear her eyes away from the behemoth, but she managed. Somehow.
When she finally turned around, she saw Yeye again. But this time it was a much smaller version of her, almost a toddler. She was being carried on the shoulders of,…
“Iron?” Juanita whispered, puzzled. “When did you get so young?’ she laughed.
But Arawn didn’t answer. Instead, he just continued walking with a very young Yeye on his shoulders.
‘A crew cut?’ Juanita wondered when she caught with him. ‘Like a Marine’s.’ She smiled.
The much younger Yeye was rubbing her hands in his hair and smiling as she felt the texture of it in between all of her fingers. When Juanita got close enough, she felt the sheer happiness he held then, as he thoroughly enjoyed the sensation of his daughter’s hands exploring through his hair.
Then she noticed that Iron was dressed in a one-piece outfit similar to the first one Yeye had on. Walking alongside him was a woman the same height and build as he. If not for the six fingers on her hands, Juanita would’ve guessed her to be another version of him.
“A/R-awn. This behavior is unseemly.” She complained at him. “She is making a mess of your hair. You should put her down. Make her walk and allow her to gain strength.” The woman frowned disapprovingly.
“I will do no such thing, A/K-ren.” he replied. “Our daughter is processing unusual tactile information. Do you not witness that she is enjoying the sensation?”
“Baba Hair!” Yeye/toddler interrupted then with a happy squeal as she continued rubbing and sifting his hair. A/K-ren sniffed disdainfully and turned her attention to the direction they were walking.
“This memory is the one my Baba thinks of, to make himself feel better when he is sad.” Juanita heard the original Yeye say from over her shoulder. She turned and saw her standing nearby, while looking wistfully at the scene.
“What a cool dad you’ve got.” Juanita complimented. “Does he have any more memories like this?”
“Yes. He does.” The older Yeye said, would you like to see more?”
“Sure.” Juanita smiled. Yeye giggled again, waved at Juanita to follow and ran off.
Juanita eagerly followed her through another silvery circlet.
They came to rest within a utilitarian set of rooms.
Looking around, Juanita noticed that it appeared familiar and strange at the same time. The room in which the pair of them stood, appeared to be the equivalent of a living room. There wasn’t a couch, but rather a number of small cushions littering the floor. One wall seemed to consist of a floor to ceiling screen of some kind of TV.
“It’s an apartment.” She decided after looking the place over. Then she noticed that Yeye was walking through the doorway to another room. Juanita stepped over and followed her inside. Therein was a bed with the younger Iron asleep atop it. Lying atop of him crosswise, was the Yeye/toddler, also asleep.
“A/R-awn.” Juanita heard the voice of A/K-ren coming from the room’s doorway, Iron opened his eyes. “you must leave for duty soon. You run the risk of earning more demerits if you are late.” She scolded him.
He tried to move, then he stopped as he seemed perplexed about something. Then he raised his head and noticed his daughter. Juanita felt his surge of paternal pride as he smiled at what he saw.
“Did you not hear me?” A/K-ren said harshly then, aggrieved. “You must leave soon!” she hissed. “Wake our child and move her!”
“There are things more important than demerits.” He implored her in a whisper.
“Foolishness!” A/K-ren responded with a roll of her eyes. Then she threw her hands into the air as she turned away. “So be it! Let the punishment be on your head then!” she cried dismissively.
“Aaaahh.” Juanita cooed, as she felt her heart melt at the sight.
“I will not awaken for at least another half-hour.” Yeye informed her.
“He always put you first, didn’t he?” Juanita asked her guide. Yeye turned to her and nodded with a grin.
“Now, do you feel the flux of your energies within your core?” Iron asked a much older Yeye, as he kneeled alongside her.
Juanita saw this, the latest Yeye standing in a relaxed pose with her eyes closed. She had her hands pressed together in front of her. She nodded once.
Looking around, Juanita noticed that Yeye and Iron were standing within a stone quarry. All about them were straight edges of greyish rock hewn from the surrounding cavities. Cavities and gaps that soared high overhead them both.
“Good.” Iron continued. “Now, allow a part of them to move outward from the core. Think of a yeast-cell budding.” He instructed.
“Yes Baba.” Yeye murmured tensely as her eyebrows furrowed in concentration. He noticed it.
“Do not try to force the bud along. Allow it instead.” He suggested patiently.
“Yes Baba.” Yeye said after a pause, as she visibly relaxed herself.
“Good.” He whispered. “Now lift your arm and spread out your right hand. Think of the palm of your right hand as an exit. The energy-bud will seek to float out through it.” Yeye nodded once slightly, as she lifted her arm. Juanita also noticed that Yeye’s hand was now pointing outwards. Out towards a section of the quarry that held a large number of gravel piles.
Watching, Juanita noted that Yeye visibly tensing up several times over the next minute. But every time she did, she made herself relax.
“Is the energy-bud within your hand?” He asked her quietly at one point. Juanita noticed that her hand had begun to glow with an inner light.
“Yes.” She murmured.
“Now, this is the difficult part. You must tease the energy-bud outwards through your palm. Remember. Do not force it out. For it is naturally perverse. Float it out.”
“Yes Baba.” Yeye hissed through her teeth, eyes still shut.
“Now…”He continued, “Center yourself, relax, and when you are ready,…nod once.” After a few more seconds, Yeye relaxed and then, with her eyes still closed- she nodded.
“Float.” Iron whispered gently,….”Float.” he repeated once more after several seconds. Juanita noticed that the air seemed to grow heavy with,…something.
“Float.” He whisper/barked with a flat finality, and in that moment, time came to a halt. Juanita noticed the glow in Yeye’s hand flare briefly enough to make her wince, and then…
Instead of the normal roar of a Blast-punch discharge. Yeye’s hand made a,”phhbbbt.”
“Aaaah!” Yeye complained as she opened her eyes and turned her hand to look at it with disappointment. “I apologize for my failure Baba.” She said gruffly.
“That, is not a failure.” Iron smiled. “That is progress. You are far ahead in your advancement. More so than any other Annwyfn of your age group.”
“I thought I had it this time.” She pouted in disappointment.
“You did have it.” He countered. “It is merely less than you expected. Now you have a baseline from which to work upwards from.” He spoke. This teased a slight smile from her.
“Thank you, Baba.” Yeye replied, mollified. “May we continue?”
“Your mother will be upset if we tarry much longer.” Iron said as he automatically looked over his shoulder at something.
“When is she not?” Yeye huffed.
“Now. Now!” Iron reproved her. “Your mother is punctual to a fault. It is best to be tolerant of her needs.”
“Yes Baba, I apologize.” She said insincerely. Iron merely looked at her sternly for a moment and then an indulgent smile spread across his face.
“Perhaps this one time then.” He relented.
But it wasn’t just memories of Yeye that Iron enjoyed.
There were others.
“By Grabthar’s Hammer!” A teen aged version of Juanita echoed out at one point, as she sat cross-legged on top of a rickety mattress. A mattress that sat atop a bed in a worn-out motel room. “You shall be avenged!” She continued, utterly mesmerized by the spectacle on display in front of her.
Nearby, Iron quietly observed Juanita, as they both sat in front of a miniscule B&W television.
The older Juanita watched, bemused, as she took a trip down her own ‘memory-lane’. The teenaged Juanita turned to Iron and demanded. “¿Qué significa ‘avenged’?” (What does it mean ‘avenged’?).
“Significa venganza.” He replied patiently. (It means, revenge.).
“Oh.” She replied. “¿De qué es esto? She asked as she pointed at the TV (“What is this?)
“Es de television americana.” (It’s from American Television).
“Hmph!” she snorted. Then she returned her attention back to the screen. “Supongo que es un poquito agradable.” She said off-handedly after a few more minutes. (I guess it’s a little bit nice.).
“Crece en ti.” Iron replied with a smile. (It grows on you.) The younger Juanita stayed quiet for a long while, until finally the episode came to an end.
“¿Qué se llama de nuevo?” She demanded, as the credits began to roll. (What is it called again?)
But she was interrupted by an announcement by the local News Anchor.
“Búsqueda de galaxias.” Iron replied as he got up and turned off the television. (Galaxy Quest).
“Hmph.” The teen-Juanita huffed once more as she crossed her arms and tried to look uninterested. After a few seconds, she looked over her shoulder and glared at Iron.
“¿Nunca más?” she demanded, with a quick glance towards the tv, as it continued to buzz and make the occasional spark as it cooled down. (Any more?)
“Hay varios cientos de episodios, más.” He shot back, as he suppressed a grin. (There are several hundred more episodes.) This seemed to mollify the younger Juanita.
“Entonces, ¿qué pasará si me voy a vivir contigo?” She asked airily. (So, what will happen if I go live with you?)
“Por un lado, no te perseguirán.” Iron replied, shaking his head. (For one thing, they won’t be chasing you.)
“Eso es bueno.” She remarked, (That is good.) then she tiled her head and gave Iron a sidelong look. “¿Comparto tu cama?” she asked with a wicked leer. (Do I share your bed?)
“Positivamente no.” (Positively not) He replied with a stern frown. “Sin embargo, se le pedirá que mantenga ciertas reglas de comportamiento.” He finished, as he mirrored her arm crossing. (However, you will be required to maintain certain rules of behavior.)
“¿Hay otros monstruos como yo también?” she demanded suddenly as she dropped her arms. (Are there other monsters like me too?)
“Hay muchos otros monstruos, sí.” He replied, as he relaxed his arms. (There are many other monsters, yes.) “Pero no hay otros chupacabras ahí. Serás único.” (But there are no other Chupacabra there. You will be unique.)
After a few seconds, he added. “¿Cuál es tu decisión?” (What is your decision?)
“Quiero dormir en eso.” She replied as she repressed a yawn. (I want to sleep on it.)
“Muy bien entonces.” Iron began as he got to his feet, (Alright then) and then turned to leave. “Estaré en la habitación de al lado.” He informed her as he stepped to the motel room door and began to open it. (I’ll be in the next room.)
“Asumiré que si todavía estás aquí mañana por la mañana. (I’ll assume that if you’re still here tomorrow morning? ¿Desearás ir conmigo? ” He asked, as he paused and spoke over his shoulder. (That you will want to go with me.)
“Como sea, Doc.” She replied with a dismissive wave of one hand. (Whatever, Doc.)
Iron’s face froze and then he gave her a stern expression.
“Primera regla. Me llamarás Doctor o Doctor Iron. Nunca Doc.” He huffed with a frown. (First rule. You will call me Doctor, or Doctor Iron. Never, Doc.) Without waiting for an answer, he closed and shut the motel room door behind him as he left. But just as the door shut, he saw her stick out her tongue at him insouciantly.
“Gran Hacedor. Ella va a ser un puñado.” Iron spoke to himself, as he stepped over to his own door. (Great Maker. She is going to be a handful.) Then he smiled and shook his head as he laughed once.
“You had no idea what you were in for, Doc!” the older Juanita laughed at him then.
Then there was one memory that shocked Juanita to her core. It was the amount of pride she sensed in Iron- when he had secretly attended her graduation ceremony from the Los Angeles Paramedic school. That time when she graduated there, with honors.
“Well done, Juanita!” he said quietly in the wings of the theater, smiling widely at the sight of her receiving both her diploma and the award. His tears of paternal pride and joy, left her speechless.
‘I had no idea he had come there.’ She thought in awe as she felt her own eyes match his own in mistiness. Then she decided that she was curious about something else.
“Why?” she asked Yeye then. “Why does he help everyone else so much?” she wondered.
“I think I know why.” Yeye answered mysteriously as she created another silver circlet.
“You’ve got to show me how to do that.” Juanita remarked. Yeye answered with a wink as she stepped through.
They came upon a beach strewn with detritus and flotsam. Juanita walked gingerly over the surface of the sands, trying her best to not step on any of the still wriggling creatures.
‘I know they’re just memories. But I’m not gonna take the chance!’ she decided when she stepped over one particularly gruesome looking horror. It looked like a cross between an octopus and a toad.
“BABA!” she heard Yeye yell from somewhere ahead. Juanita paused and looked up towards her. A younger version of Yeye was holding something in her arms. It was a near match to what Juanita had just avoided stepping onto. Juanita repressed a shudder.
“Yes Yeye!” came Iron’s answering call as he stepped atop a sand dune. This time he was dressed more in some military-esque tog. He was holding a telescope in one hand, and some kind of walkie-talkie pressed to an ear.
“What is it?” he demanded.
“Help me Baba!” Yeye cried out as she lifted the squiggling horror in her hands. “They are dying! I am trying to get them back into the water, but there are so many!” She said as she looked tearfully down and around her.
“What is this!?” came the sound of Iron’s mate as she crested the same sand dune. “Drop that thing immediately!” she ordered Yeye with a fierce frown. “You do not know if it is poisonous or venomous!” A/K-ren demanded. Yeye glared back at her mother and pouted.
“Baba! Please!” she implored Iron once more. “Help me get them back into the water.”
“No Yeye.” A/K-ren replied sternly. “This is not our mission. We are to report on any storm damage on our assigned section of the jetty. Nothing more!” she reminded her family. Yeye refused to look at her.
“Baba, I know you can do it. Just some telekinesis.” She implored him.
“Why should I do this?” A/R-awn demanded from her. “Time is a scarcity; we do not know when the next storm wave will hit.” He instructed.
“Only a few seconds.” Yeye continued.
“Why should we even bother with the foolish effort?” A/K-ren demanded. “There are thousands of the creatures dying upon this beach! It would take precious hours to help them all!”
“I am not asking for them all.” Yeye admitted. “Just what we can spare.”
A/R-awn paused in his surveying. A/K-ren noticed it and her face reddened with rage.
“Surely you are not considering this? It would be imprudent!” she raged.
“You are correct my mate.” A/R-awn replied finally. “We cannot help them all. We simply do not have the power.” He admitted. This seemed to calm her, as she smiled. She then gave Yeye a satisfied glance; who wilted visibly.
“However,” he continued as he concentrated with a frown.
When he did, one of the countless invertebrates upon the beach, floated upwards from the sand and hovered near his face. “Yet what little we can do,….” He mused, as he nodded to the creature weakly squirming in front of him.
“Would mean,…” He said with finality, as he made a sweeping gesture with his hands. There, in a wide arc around him hundreds more of the stranded creatures floated upwards.
“Everything.” He stated with a gravity. As he finished, he made a flicking gesture- and all of the levitating creatures were propelled outwards into the sea.
After that, he continued marching down the beach without a word. But Juanita felt his satisfaction then, when he looked towards Yeye, who rewarded him with a smile.
“This is but one of two of his memories,…” Yeye said to Juanita, “that my Baba thinks of when he helps someone.”
“What’s the other one?” Juanita asked.
“Oh no.” Juanita gasped, when she realized where she was. The room was an alien one. As were the machines that stood vigil over the bed in the corner. Juanita couldn’t read any of the script that adorned them.
Yet, as a paramedic, she recognized their function.
“Life-support.” She whispered, as she turned to look back at the reticent child. Yeye wouldn’t look at her then, she just kept her gaze fixed on the floor.
Juanita stepped forward and took in the sight of a much thinner and paler, Yeye lying upon the bed. She was covered by a sheet, and there were tubes impaling her body in various spots. A pair of devices sat attached to her head and her chest. One of her hands was covered by one of Iron’s, as he sat in a chair alongside her.
At the head of the bed were a pair of what could be medical doctors. But both of them appeared to be statues to Juanita’s eye. They were so motionless.
“There is nothing more that can be done for this child.” The male automaton reported in a voice that did not originate from a human throat. It was a cold emotionless voice. “The child has malfunctioned beyond our ability to repair.”
“Is there nothing more to be done?” Iron echoed in a shaky voice.
“Negative.” Chimed in the female automaton. “Does this unit have your permission to disconnect?” she asked as she reached out a milky white hand to a large control on one of the medical panels.
Iron turned a glaring eye to her. “NO!” he growled. “You shall not!”
“Continuing life support is not logi,..”
“I do not care about LOGIC!” Iron said heatedly as he jumped to his feet. “You will NOT disconnect her!” he bellowed. The female android looked to the male android and they communicated briefly silently. Then the two of them bowed their heads.
“We must attend to the others who are ailing.” They spoke in perfect synchrony. “There are no other medic-units to spare.”
“Go Then!” Arawn breathed. “I will attend her.” He said hoarsely. In response the med-automatons turned and hovered away without a further word.
Iron then sat himself down, and tenderly took ahold of Yeye’s limp greyish hand once more. Looking at him, Juanita felt her own tears overflow her eyes. She didn’t need to be in range to feel his anguish.
“A/R-awn.” Came a familiar sounding voice. Iron looked up resentfully.
“A/K-ren.” He replied coldly.
“Why do you persist in this folly?” A/K-ren demanded as she stepped into view. “The medic-units have stated the obvious. It is time to move on.”
“She is our daughter.” A/R-awn hissed as he gripped his daughter’s hand tightly.
“She WAS our daughter. This,” A/K-ren replied harshly as she gestured in Yeye’s direction. “is just an empty shell now.”
“I can sense her! She is still here!” A/R-awn hissed vehemently up at her.
“She is already dead. Let her go.”
“I cannot!” He said forcefully. “I will not!” he added shakily.
“Her demise is inevitable. You do not have sufficient mana to make a difference. Neither will you accomplish anything with this display of paternal devotion.” A/K-ren said unpityingly.
“I CAN TRY!” he wailed as he jumped to his feet and glared fiercely as he got up into A/K-ren’s face. She refused to back away.
“I can try!” he swallowed, then he collapsed down to his knees.
“I can try.” He whispered to himself. A/K-ren was unmoved by it all. Instead, she just sniffed and shook her head in disgust.
“You are pathetic, A/R-awn.” A/K-ren said dismissively. “I should have listened to my creche-sisters and not initiated our mating.”
Juanita saw A/R-awn bite off the reply that came to his lips. A/K-ren continued.
“Your incessant intervention with lesser species, has accomplished nothing. You have wasted the time of our daughter existence with pointless displays and indulgences. Perhaps if you had been stricter with her, she would be with her class mates now instead.”
“Perhaps.” He agreed, beaten.
“Are you declaring a divorce?” A/R-awn asked with his eyes closed.
“Affirmative.” She replied. “I dismiss thee.” She said quickly with a grimace, half expecting him to fight.
“I am dismissed.” He replied resignedly.
A/K-ren’s eyes flared angrily with her first loss of emotional control. Juanita felt A/K-ren’s humiliation that Iron wasn’t going to fight her divorce. Then A/K-ren shook herself and sneered down at him.
“Never speak to me again.” She said chillingly. A/R-awn nodded once. Then she turned to go. But before she went, she made one last jibe over her shoulder. “You are an Aberration.”
Then she turned and left the room, never once looking back. Several minutes passed before A/R-awn shakily stood up and resumed his vigil next to his daughter. Then he carefully retook her hand and blinked away his tears.
“I can try.” He spoke again to no one. “I can try.”
“Oh Iron, I’m so sorry.” Juanita said as she turned away and found her original Yeye waiting nearby, waiting with a despondent look on her face. Juanita automatically kneeled down and embraced the child. Yeye just leaned into her and buried her head into Juanita’s hair.
“This is where I died.” Yeye said after a long pause. “He stayed with me for days, up until the end.” Juanita couldn’t think of anything to say then as she felt Yeye’s tears on her shoulder.
After a while Yeye drew herself away and Juanita reluctantly let her go. Yeye wiped her nose with her wrist, then she looked at Juanita square in the eye.
“Mama was incorrect. I was not, ‘just an empty shell.’ I could sense him there with me.”
“I’m sorry Yeye. You deserved a better Mommy.” Juanita said then harshly. Yeye gave her a half-smile.
“Affirmative. She was also incorrect concerning the cause of my demise.”
“What? How?” Juanita asked, baffled.
“It turned out that all Annwyfn children, were incapable of growing up. Eventually, we all died.”
“So that’s why there are no other Annwyfn anymore?”
“Do you know how?”
“We were improperly designed.” She stated passively. “Our designers were,…’smug’,…concerning their abilities. In their arrogance, they overlooked the manifold flaws in our genotype. Worse, once they discovered them, they chose to conceal it.” Yeye frowned angrily.
“Inevitably, that information came out. Baba was enraged when he learned. It was shortly after, that he committed the act that earned him Retribution.”
“Retribution?” Juanita echoed.
“His Immortality.” Yeye whispered.
“What was it that he did?” Juanita asked. Yeye opened her mouth to answer, but then she broke off. She turned her head and looked off into the distance one way, and then turned her head and listened to,…something that Juanita couldn’t hear.
“What is it?” she asked. Yeye didn’t answer at first. Then she faced Juanita.
“I must now return you to the Iron Foundation engram.”
“What? Why now?”
“Baba has started looking for you there.”
“Oh!” Juanita huffed in frustration. “He must be getting close to ending Mara’s training.” Juanita thought aloud. “Just my luck, I was hoping to learn still more.”
“We have a problem, and I have a possible solution.”
“What’s the problem?”
“If we appear together in the Iron Foundation engram now, Baba would notice. He would have too many questions.”
“So, what do you suggest?” Juanita asked.
“I can both teach you how to move between engrams, and fulfill your desire for more memories of my Baba.”
“That sounds cool.” Juanita smiled, then caught Yeye’s somber expression. “Let me guess, it comes at a cost?”
Yeye nodded once. Juanita sighed and smiled sardonically.
“Do what you gotta do.” She replied. Yeye automatically reached up with a hand and touched Juanita once lightly on her forehead, using the tip of one of her fingers.
The results were- overwhelming.
Juanita gasped in shock as an avalanche of images, experiences, sounds, and sensations flowed into her mind… …Iron witnessing the birth of a star,…then its destruction,…his blasting away a Great Darkness that had poisoned a planet,…negotiating a peace treaty between two warring alien races,…teaching fire to a primitive tribe of,…motivating a government to,…commanding a strange looking spaceship through silent wars,… the passionate kisses of a dark goddess,…striking a fool’s bargain with an Arch-Demon,…
Then Juanita fell to her knees when Iron’s memories turned darker…….his prolonged torture by ancient horrors,…the extended pain of healing after,…his exile…staring up at a building that went into the heavens,…meeting a zebra/spider woman,…creation of a not-brother,…swearing an oath to a beautiful woman/demon who looked a lot like Mara,…
…then when Juanita was sure that her mind was about to burst,….
Juanita found herself on her hands and knees, staring at the cold hard pavement underneath her. There was a trail of saliva beading from her mouth down to the floor, she was panting furiously as it felt like the room was circling around her.
After several seconds, she managed to roll herself back onto her rump. Within moments she had her equilibrium again.
“Are you all right?” Yeye asked concernedly from a short distance away.
“Affirm,..”Juanita hesitated, then caught herself. ‘You’re not Iron.’ She thought. Then she shook her head and forced out a smile. “Yes.” She said firmly as she pushed herself shakily to her feet.
“You initiated a transfer of selected memory engrams, did you,…?” Juanita started to say, then caught herself. She tried again. “Didn’t you?” She finished with her own voice. Yeye nodded once.
“They’re fading.” Juanita said as she tried to keep ahold of them, but it was akin to scooping water with a sieve.
“They will come to you again. When you begin Mindscaping on your own.”
“But I don’t know how to Minds,….” Juanita began to protest.
“Yes, you do.” Yeye interrupted her with a smile, “Now”. Juanita stopped in confusion, then she thought about it.
“Yes, I do.” Juanita realized. Then she realized something else. She turned and walked over a few paces. There before a wall, she made a gesture and spoke a WORD. A word that came to her naturally.
‘Supernaturally actually.’ She decided.
A wide silver circlet appeared in the air before her.
“To the Iron Foundation engram.” She stated knowingly.
“Goodbye Juanita.” Yeye said from behind her. Juanita turned, looked, and found her.
“Thank you Yeye. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“You already have.” Yeye smiled as she made a show of hugging herself. “It has been too long since I got to do that.”
“Will I ever see you again?” Juanita asked.
“Perhaps.” Yeye answered cryptically.
“What do you mean?”
“If you can help Baba complete his mission. Then perhaps he can go and learn the lie about Takana. That way, I can be born again.”
“I shall. You have my word.” Juanita whispered as she lowered her head and crossed her heart. Then she knew it was time to go.
Juanita lifted her head and hand to wave goodbye, but Yeye wasn’t there. Sighing heartfully she turned to the circlet, and resolutely stepped through into…
One of the Iron Foundation’s drab hallways. Looking around, it took her a few seconds to realize where she was.
‘Oh! Just outside the door to Iron’s dojo.’ She realized. After a pause to get herself together mentally, she opened the door quietly and entered.
She soon caught sight of the pair on the springy floor. Iron had positioned himself next to and behind Mara.
She stood still in a relaxed stance. Her eyes were closed, her wings drawn in, and her hands pressed together. Both Mara and he, were in a position that Juanita recognized instantly.
‘Iron and Yeye. Now, Iron and Mara.’ Juanita realized, as she sat down and kept herself silent so as to not disturb the pair.
“Now, do you feel the flux of the energies within your core?” Iron asked Mara as he stood alongside her. After a second, Mara nodded once.
“Good. Now, allow a portion of those energies to move outward. Visualize a yeast-cell budding.” He instructed the Lilim.
“Yes Arawn.” Mara murmured tensely as both of her eyebrows and her wings tightened in concentration. Iron noticed.
“Do not try to force the bud along. Allow it to flow instead.” He suggested patiently.
“Yes Sir.” Mara said after a pause, as she visibly relaxed herself. Her wings sagged into their natural position.
“Good.” He whispered.
“Now lift your arm and spread out your right hand. Think of your right hand as an exit. The energy-bud will seek to float out through it.” Mara nodded once slightly, as she did just that. Her hand was now pointing towards the section of wall that held the wooden swords, that Juanita had pointed out earlier.
Watching, Juanita noted that Mara visibly tense up several times over the next minute. But every time she did, she made herself relax.
“Is the energy-bud within your hand?” He asked her quietly at one point. Juanita noticed that her hand had begun to glow not with an inner light, but with something akin to a gleaming darkness.
‘What in the nine hells?’ Juanita wondered, ‘that’s different!’
“Yes.” Mara murmured.
“Now, this is the difficult part.” Arawn continued. “You must tease the energy-bud outwards through your palm. Remember, do not force it out. It is naturally perverse. Allow it to float out instead.”
“Yes sir.” She hissed through her teeth.
“Now…” He continued as he stepped away from her a step. “Center yourself, relax, and when you are ready,…nod once.” After a few more seconds, Mara relaxed and then, with her eyes still closed- she nodded.
“Float.” Iron whispered gently,….
”Float.” he repeated once more after several seconds. Juanita noticed that the air seemed to grow heavy with,…
‘Ionization.’ Juanita realized.
“Float.” He whispered with a flat finality, and in that moment, time seemed to come to a halt. Juanita noticed the dark-glow in Mara’s hand flare briefly enough to make her eyes cross, and then…
Instead of the normal roar of a Blast-punch discharge. Mara’s hand discharged a semi-fluid black tentacle, a small one. It dissipated into a shadowy mist before it had extended six feet. Then disappeared into nothingness.
“Aawww!” Mara complained as she opened her eyes and turned her to look at her hand with disappointment. “C’mon! Is that all I can do?” She demanded gruffly.
“That is not a failure.” Iron asserted. “You are progressing more rapidly than others of your age and skill have done.”
“I thought I had it this time.” She pouted in disappointment.
“You did have it.” He countered. “It is merely less than what you expected. Now you have a baseline from which to work upwards from.” He spoke. This teased a slight smile from her.
Then he raised an eyebrow. “We appear to have a witness to your accomplishment.” He remarked dryly as he turned his head to face Juanita.
“Still here?” He asked in surprise.
“You sound surprised Doc!”
“I am. You have managed to avoid temptation from the memory traps I set. Well done.” He complimented her.
‘What the hell are you,…?’ she thought in confusion, then it hit her. ‘OH!’ She realized, ‘The egress….’she recalled. But somehow, she managed to keep her expression neutral.
“Well, now that you have had the chance to explore my memories. What do you think?” he asked. Juanita wanted to say so much about him then.
About how much she admired his devotion as a dad. About so many other things too. But then she remembered her promise.
“You’ve got a lot of boring memories Doc.” She lied.
Later, after Arawn had released the pair from the Mindscape. Juanita invited Mara to lunch. Together they began walking down to the Main Atrium.
Lunch because, after all they had been only a couple of hours in Arawn’s Mindscape. Along the way Mara noticed that Juanita was strangely quiet.
“Why are you so silent? Was Arawn’s memories really that boring?”
“Sort of,…” Juanita murmured absentmindedly and then she came to a halt. Mara stumbled past and then turned to her with a questioning eyebrow.
“What’s wrong?” she wondered. Juanita sighed.
“Do you remember that phrase Iron mentioned? About his motivation to save you from the land of death?”
“I think so, why?”
“What was it again? Say it please?” Juanita pleaded. Mara looked at her confusedly, but after a second she shrugged and thought about it.
“I think he said, Yeye Ambaye Anasubiri.” She recited.
“That’s it!” Juanita said as she pointed a finger.
“What about it? Did you find out what it means?” Mara said eagerly.
“Yeah,…” Juanita whispered with a sad smile, as tears came to her eyes. “I did.”