Mors Funebris Finale, Part 8 of 8


Mors Funebris Finale, Part 8 of 8

Et Morte Perit

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Mara leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes.

‘Damn,’ She sighed. ‘that was satisfying. Yet why do I get the feeling I overlooked something?’ she wondered. ‘More than likely,…I did.’ She realized, as she slumped forward and buried her face in her hands.

“How are you holding up?” Secundus asked her suddenly.

“I’m feeling utterly overwhelmed.” She replied wearily, not lifting her head. “It’s like I’m in well over my head.”

“I’m not surprised.” He replied. “The last couple of days would’ve overwhelmed anyone.”

“Not Arawn.” She muttered. “He’d have figured out a way to fix all this.” She finished as she peered out at him between her fingers. Secundus smirked and looked away.

“What was that about?” She demanded, as she hunched back in her chair and frowned.

“Don’t put him on a pedestal.” He began, “He was always second-guessing himself.”

“What?” Mara exclaimed. “But he was always so self-assured.”

“Pah! That was an act.”

“An act?” she exclaimed in dismay.

“Yes.” He nodded. “Have you tried playing poker yet?”

“Uuuuhmm. Does strip poker count?”

“Not quite no.” He grinned once.

“I’m referring to standard poker. Where you need to bluff your opponents, because you don’t want to lose.”

“No, not yet.” She admitted. “I take it that Arawn did play it?”

“Back in the Frontier days, yes.” He admitted as he leaned back in his chair.  “He won many a game against Dona-Barcelo, Lottie Deno, and Madam Moustache.”

“Uhhh, who are they?” she asked, confused.

“Infamous Female Poker players of a century ago.”

“So why did he gamble against women?”

“They had the biggest pots, and reputations.” Secundus smiled. “This was when he was just setting up the Iron Foundation. He needed money, fast. So,…gambling was usually the quickest, and most productive route.”

“I doubt I could’ve played a decent hand against any of them.” She remarked.

“Don’t sell yourself short. You’ve already gambled, and won big.”

“What do you mean?”

“Cue.”

“Oh.” Mara squeaked, as she dropped her eyes from his. “That.” She whispered.

“You made a deal with him. Didn’t you?” He asked. Mara breathed in deeply, and then let it out in one big whoosh.

“Yes, I did.” She admitted, with a guilty smile. “During that fight with Grendel.”

“Mind if I ask, what happened?”

“Remember when Grendel was choking you, one-handed?”

“Uhhhh, hard to forget.” He replied dryly.

“That was when Cue appeared in the middle of the room, behind Grendel. He froze time and asked me, ‘if I wanted to make a deal?’. I did.”  She finished. Secundus sighed.

“Deus Ex Machina.” He complained. Mara simpered. “What were his terms?”

“That if I agreed to an open request of his in the future. He’d help me out in the here and now.” She finished. Secundus gaped at her.

“That sounds dangerously vague.”

“I KNOW!” Mara snarled as she slapped a hand onto the desk. Then she sighed. “But what was I supposed to do? Let you die? Time was of essence.”

“Well to be honest, I’m going to die anyways.” He replied peevishly.

“That’s not fair!” Mara shot back. “How was I supposed to know what else needed to be done?”

“You didn’t.” He admitted, raising his hands in surrender. “So, I assume he ‘whipped up’ some substitute Extremus rounds?”

“No!” she replied. “Those three? Were the real deal.”

“What?! But how? All of them were used up!”

“Not exactly. Back when he and I first met; back when Arawn was ready to shoot me that first time?”

“I remember something like that. Second hand.” He nodded.

“Arawn fired off three rounds. Cue ‘saved’ them somehow. Don’t ask me how.”

“That would’ve,…” Secundus began incredulously, then he stopped and sighed. “That would’ve taken a phenomenal amount of Mana!”

“It might explain, why he took so long to show up again.”

“Yes, it probably would.” Secundus agreed.

“So, will you continue with your tongue lashing now?” Mara asked, half-serious.

“No. That’s not my job.” He replied.

“Oh?” she asked archly. “Whose is it then?”

“As Director? Yours.” He sighed.

“Hold on! Didn’t you and your fellow Not-brothers, chew Arawn out all of the time?”

“Yes.” Secundus nodded. “But who are,..Ahem!” he coughed. “Who were, we all again?”

“Oh, yeah.” She realized. “Him.”

“Yes, parts of his personality- personified. Pah!” He finished, blepping. “Damn I hate alliteration.”

“Hah!” Mara giggled at the sight of him leaving his tongue out. After a second, her giggling began to get higher in pitch.

‘She’s about to lose it.’ Secundus decided silently, as he felt Mara’s emotions start to boil over.

“Would you care for some advice?” He asked quickly. That distraction worked as she stopped her laughter and slowly turned to stare at him.

“Maybe. What do you have in mind?” She griped.

“After I go? Find someone you can trust. Someone who can be brutally honest with you.”

“I did. With Juanita. She’s gone now.” She replied morosely.

“Any idea where she is?”

“Not on earth!” Mara whined. “This one at least!”

“Is she dead?”

“No.” Mara growled angrily as she shook her head. “She’s bound to me. If she was dead, I’d know.” She breathed rapidly. Secundus opened his mouth to ask another question, but she cut him off.

“It feels,… as if something is blocking her from me! I don’t know what! Damn it!” Mara continued as she felt her frustration transform into a full-blown rage!

“AAAAAHHHHH!” Mara screamed furiously, as she jumped to her feet and grabbed the Chalice in both hands. Then in one smooth motion she raised it high over her head.

Then, just as she was about to smash it onto the desktop, Secundus jumped to his feet and reached out a beseeching hand.

“Mara!” He yelled. Mara froze, and after a second she turned her blazing eyes over to him.

“Yes?!” she demanded hotly.

“Please don’t do that.” He begged.

“Why?” she asked crossly, as she began to lower the Chalice down. She transferred it to one hand and shook it at him. “Because I might break it?”

“Actually? No.” Secundus said quietly. “Instead, Primus’ desk would break first.” He pointed out. Mara stopped and looked at the Chalice, then pursed her lips.

“Oh Yeah.” She began, “That’s right, I forgot.” She huffed as she casually tossed it onto the blotter.

Both there watched as it fell rolled off the desk’s edge. It hit the floor sharply with a sharp ‘clang’, then it began twirling, and finally swiveled to a stop. Mara hissed, closed her eyes, and clenched her hands.

“OW!” She cried suddenly, wincing. She began massaging her scalp in the area between her horns.

“Tension Headache?” Secundus asked.

“Yes.” Mara whined.

“For what it’s worth. Primus always got one, a few minutes after communicating with your Mother.”

“Thanks for the warning.” She complained, as she opened an eye and peered balefully at him. She flinched and winced again when her desk phone decided to start ringing.

“Aachk!” Mara cried out, as she covered her long-pointed ears with both hands. Secundus quickly stepped in and picked up the receiver.

“Who the hell is calling so late?” She hissed.

“Hello?” Secundus called out, and after a moment, “is there anyone there?” he asked, as he tapped the button for ‘speaker-mode’.

“Sssshhhh!” the caller shushed. “Not so loud!” whispered a familiar voice from the phone’s speaker.

“Alonzo?” Secundus asked, puzzled. Mara gaped, caught off guard.

“I said! Not-So-Loud!” Alonzo hissed quickly. “Gimme a second!”

Secundus rolled his eyes, as Mara covered her mouth to hide an incipient smile. A few seconds of silence passed.

“All right, it seems to be safe! But I can’t talk for long!” Alonzo continued.

“What’s going on? Are you all right?” Mara asked, as she smirked knowingly.

“Yes! Yes! I’m fine! More or less.” Alonzo huffed quickly.

“What do you mean?” Secundus asked, concerned.

“Look! I can’t talk long! She might find me!”

“She?”

“My fiancée!” Alonzo explained. “Horus was right! At first, she was pissed enough to rip me a new one” He began to explain, then paused.

“And now?” Mara prompted after a couple more seconds.

“I swear to God, she’s trying to fuck my dick off!” Alonzo answered.

“Oh, Ok. Uhhhh,….” Secundus began awkwardly. He looked up and noticed that Mara, her headache forgotten, was now making faces as she tried to stifle her laughter.

“Is there anything we can do to help?” he offered.

“Nah, I don’t think,…OH!” Alonzo exclaimed suddenly. “I’m terribly sorry! You have a wrong number. There’s-no-one-here-by-that-name! Goodbye!” Alonzo muttered in a rush, as the connection cut off.

Secundus made a duck-face as he looked over to Mara. She started laughing over the sound of the dial tone.

“I’m guessing,… this means, that Alonzo will be calling in sick for the next few days.” He remarked, as he replaced the receiver in its cradle. The dial tone cut off.

“You think?!” Mara giggled sharply, her whole body shaking.

“Well, it’s good to know,…” She began. “That someone is having a good day,…” she continued, as her laughter swiftly became a sob as she clutched at herself.

Quickly, she stopped and stiffened. Then she released her hold on herself. She swallowed once and began to breathe in deep breaths.  

‘Damn it Mara! You really need to vent that stress.’ Secundus noted as he watched her.

“Well, your conversation with your mother seems to be a mixed bag.” He commented, in an effort to change the subject. Mara froze, and after a moment she looked over at him.

“Yeah, I suppose.” She stated tiredly, her whole body sagging.

“Well,” He began as he glanced at the office wall clock. “My departure time is still a few hours away. Is there anything I can help you with, before then?” He asked. Mara blinked and began chewing her lower lip as she thought about it.

“Yeah, I think there is. Follow me.” She stated finally, as she bent over and picked up the Chalice. Then she headed towards Arawn’s apartment.

“What do you have in mind?” Secundus asked, puzzled. Mara didn’t reply, other than to give him a neutral glance. She opened the door and quickly disappeared inside. Secundus followed her into the darkened apartment.

When he entered, he stopped and looked around. After his eyes adjusted, he noticed that she was now staring out the plate glass windows, into the night time sky. The night was ablaze with the countless lights of Los Angele’s buildings and traffic.

Mara glanced once at his reflection in the glass, then she looked back out into the distance, her face unreadable.

Weaving his way around the room’s furnishings, Arawn’s bed being the biggest obstacle. He took another couple tentative step forward. Glancing back at the bed, he saw that his old Haori, and Hakamah, were still draped over a corner.

“Halt.” Mara ordered him suddenly. Surprised at her tone, he did. She didn’t say anything at first. Instinctively, Secundus decided to wait for her to begin speaking. After a few minutes, she did.

“Stars.” She remarked, once, but didn’t elaborate.

“What about them?” He prompted.

“When I was growing up in Royal Makai, I heard about them. But I never saw any. Until I was given a kingdom.” She smiled in remembrance. “Then I learned that many Dark Mages engaged in something called: Astrology.”

“Yes.” He replied neutrally. ‘What are you getting at?’ he wondered.

“I thought the notion was silly. How could tiny points of light in the sky; Control a person’s future?” Mara chuffed and rolled her eyes.

“But every one of those Mages, swore by it.” She huffed. “Then I came here.” Mara said as she pointed at something out in the night.

“Over there, you probably can’t see it. But I can.” She breathed. “Is Griffith Observatory. Juanita showed it to me.” She smiled sadly.

“That’s where I learned that there are some people who base their entire livelihoods. On just studying stars.” She stated wonderingly.

“Astronomers.” Secundus mentioned.

“Yeah!” Mara grinned. “How,…’cool’,..is that?” she asked. “Did I say that right?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Good.” She whispered.

“I want to be an Astronomer.” She confessed wistfully. Secundus opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, she continued.

“But I can’t.” she stated sadly. “I’m Director now.”

“I,..uhhh…” he began, then he stopped, unsure of what to say.

“Will it always be like this?” She asked him suddenly, as her eyes followed the trajectory of an overhead airplane.

“What do you mean?”

“Commanding. Being Director.” She stated, licking her lips. “Will I forever be wondering if what I’ve done; is enough?”

“Honestly? Yes.” Secundus replied. Mara sighed, then she leaned forward until her horns bonked onto the window noisily. She jerked back and grumped.

“Are you still upset with your Mother?” he asked. Mara turned around to glare at him. She hesitated. then looked back out into the night.

“She was ruthless. Even with me. Her own daughter.” She muttered. “And yet now,…?”

“Yes?”

“I can almost understand why.” She said to herself. “Almost.” She added.

“I believe I know what you’re thinking about.”

“And what am I thinking?” she demanded.

“You’re comparing yourself with Primus. You’re wondering ‘Will I be able to fill Arawn’s shoes?’. Also, you’ve probably come to the conclusion, that you’ll never be as good as he was.” He finished.

“It’s rude to be a Thought-Thief!” Mara growled angrily, as she rapidly stomped her way over. She came to a stop uncomfortably close, and jerked her chin up at him.

“I’m not thieving your thoughts.” Secundus huffed. Then he sighed and forced himself to take a polite tone. “I’m just saying, that you’re making an unfair comparison between him, and yourself.”

“How am I being unfair?” she demanded. “He was better at everything! He never seemed to break down.”

“Yes, he did. Quite often in fact.”

“What?! No way!”

 “Do you know WHY; Primus made his bedroom here? Of all places?” He asked. Mara frowned, and shook her head.

“It wasn’t because, that he could work late into the night.” Secundus replied. “It was because he needed a place to cry. To vent his frustration, his anger, to howl out his rage.”

“What? Why didn’t he let it show?”

“Because he understood that being a Leader, means not letting your weakness show in public. Particularly during a crisis.”

“This bedroom was HIS refuge. The place where he could be himself. To let his guard down.”

“Why are you telling me this?” she demanded hotly.

“Because you need to do the same! Particularly now.”

“Don’t patronize me!”

“I’m not, I’m trying to give you some good advice.” He shot back. “Have you made mistakes?”

“Plenty.” Mara sighed. “My kingdom for one.” She muttered.

“And it will probably haunt you forever, yes?” He asked. Mara nodded.

“Good!” He replied. Mara stepped back and looked at him askance.

“I know what I’m talking about.” He smiled mirthlessly. “Because you’re not going to let it happen again. Correct?”

“Indeed not!” She stated automatically. Secundus saw her eyes starting to tear up.

“But what if I fail? What if I destroy what Arawn made?” She asked tremulously. “I’ve lost so much! I couldn’t bear losing the Foundation too!”

“Mara, you could do everything right. And still lose.”

“Still.” She squeaked.

“Well, if you do lose the Foundation? Then remake it. But don’t try making it like he did. Remake it your way.”

“That sounds dangerous.”

“It is.” He admitted. “But that’s still better than ignoring a problem. Or blaming all of your failures on others. Nothing gets accomplished, other than letting your enemies win.” He stated. Mara looked at him, tears falling from her eyes freely. He continued.

“Mara. Every leader makes mistakes. Primus did, many, many times. Just try to remember that in the future. Okay? It’s inevitable. You will be defined by what you screwed up. However, you will be remembered for what you did to fix those screwups.” He stated as he spread his hands apart.

“The main thing to shoot for, pardon the pun,..” He began. Mara smiled once. “Is don’t be him. Be yourself. Know what you want, and go for it.” He stated finally. Then a long pause occurred as she mulled over his advice.

“Thank you.” She said relievedly, as she looked at him with new eyes.

“Do you know what you want?” He asked. Mara smiled again.

 “Yes, I do.” she said as she nodded once, and took a step closer to him. Secundus backed away automatically.

“I want.” She said again, as she moved to his left and forward, another step closer. He stepped back away once more.

“Arawn.” She said one last time, as she took another step closer to him. Secundus backed away one more time, and then stumbled when he felt the mattress behind his knees.

“I can’t help you with that. He’s gone. Remember?” he said, confused.

“I know.” Mara said as she reached out a hand, and placed it flat against his chest.

“So, you’ll have to do.” She said quietly as she gently, but firmly pushed him backwards.

“Wha,…!” he yelped when he felt himself fall backwards onto Arawn’s bed. But before he could move or react, he found Mara straddling herself over him.

“Mara? What are you doing?” he demanded from his inferior position. Mara paused in her unbuttoning of her blouse and peered down at him.

“Do I have to spell it out?” she said quietly.

“Why?” was all he could think of to ask then. She closed her eyes and thought about it.

“During the old ways, before my Mother, it was the tradition of Mamono females; to send their males off to war,” she began as she continued to unbutton her blouse.

“To remind them of what they were fighting for.” She explained, as she undid the last clasp and doffed the last of her upper coverage. She moaned in relief as she stretched her bat-like wings out.

Despite the dimness of the outside lights, Secundus gulped at the sight of her body’s glory, scars and all.

“Considering what you’re about to do. This seems appropriate.” She remarked as she reached down, took ahold of one of his unresisting hands and placed it atop one of her breasts.

“Wouldn’t you agree?” she asked with a hesitant smile.

“Yes.” He said hoarsely, as he felt his hand automatically grasp at her.

“Good.” She muttered as she leaned forward and kissed him once tenderly. Secundus paused, then he began to kiss her back Secundus soon matched her fervor.

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Yes. They did indeed end up making love.

The first time, they did so gently.

Gently, because each carefully explored the other. Both of them were self-conscious of their scars.

The next time, they did so passionately.

Passionately, because by then they had learned what the other wanted.

The final time, they did so savagely.

Savagely, because by then they knew what the other needed.

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Afterwards, as they lay exhausted in each other’s arms, the inevitable pillow-talk commenced. Secundus lay on his back, his arm hanging lightly across Mara’s shoulders. While she kept her head atop his chest, to listen to both his breathing and his heartbeat. For the last and only time.

“Wow!” he said finally. “I didn’t know that could happen.” He remarked happily.

“What?” Mara smiled knowingly.

“That Succubi could also give back, Spirit Energy.”

“Of course, we can.” She grinned in the dark. “How else could we extend our prey’s torment?” She replied wickedly. Secundus chuffed with laughter once. Silence reigned for several minutes between them. Each not wanting to ‘spoil the mood’ for the other.

Eventually, Mara’s mouth bunched up as she thought of something.

“Secundus? I’ve got a question I’m hoping you could answer.” she asked.

“Yes?” he replied. “What’s on your mind?”

“There’s one thing I don’t understand. What is it with this world’s Chief God?”

“What do you mean?”

“Speaking theoretically, what if we reversed the current process with the Gateway?”

“You mean; Have Earth absorb the world you came from?” He suggested.

“Yes, exactly that.” Mara nodded. “I know for a fact that the Chief God of my world? She’d pitch a major fit.”

“Indeed, she would.” Secundus affirmed.

“So, why isn’t this world’s Chief God doing the same? Surely she would know about it and fight it?”

“He actually.” He explained. “And as near as Primus could ascertain; The Chief God of this world? Doesn’t give a damn. About anything.” He finished.

“WHAT!?” Mara jerked in surprise and pulled away. She rolled up to a sitting position and looked at Secundus in disbelief.

“Are you serious?!” She gaped.

“I’m afraid so.” He shrugged.

“How can you say that?!” She demanded; half outraged half dismayed. “That a God of any sort, would just,…Not Care!?”

“This world’s History speaks of rampant Divine Neglect.”

“How? Do you have any examples?”

“Many. The first that comes to mind is what the Humans called: The Holocaust.”

“That sounds ominous. What was it?”

“About a half century ago, on the other side of the Earth. Approximately Eleven Million humans, were put to death for nonsensical reasons.”

“Eleven Million? And they have the nerve to call us Mamono, monsters!” Mara huffed, outraged.

“That’s not the worst of it. Six of those millions?” He began, “were of a particular group known as: Jews. They were deemed as ‘racially inferior’, by the ruling class.”

“So, what does that!? Have to do with their being put to death?” Mara shot back, appalled.

“According to the ruling class at that time? Everything. But, as always with madmen, they had their own self-serving logic. The point I’m trying to get at: According to the Jews; they are and were: The Chief God’s ‘Chosen People’.”

“So, what did the Chief God do to intervene on their behalf? Anything?”

“Not a thing. Despite their prayers. That’s why so many died. Not just the Jews, but also others deemed ‘inferior’ for one spurious reason, or another.”

“Humans!” Mara spat out disgustedly.

“Indeed.” Secundus agreed.

“Are there any other examples?”

“The history books are filled with them. The Black hole of Calcutta, the American Indian genocide, the African Slavery Diaspora,…”

“All right! All right! I get the point!” Mara shouted as she covered her ears. But why? WHY doesn’t this Chief God care?”

“No one knows. Many have attempted to make contact with it. But apparently, HE refuses to answer. Even his own prophets, have made countless excuses for it.”

“Disgusting!”

“Quite,…wait! Didn’t you corrupt one of His Angels? Sissy was it? Have you tried asking, her, him, it?”

“Her actually, and yes I have asked Sissy. She never gives me a straight answer.”

“Well, there you have it.” Secundus shrugged. “Do you have any other last-minute questions?”

“Yes, I think I do.” Mara paused as she tried to formulate her thoughts. “It concerns Grendel.”

“What about him?”

“I remember him saying something about Arawn killing his mother.” She mentioned. “Surely that was why he hated Arawn so?” She asked as she bit her lip. “I mean, I’m not exactly fond of my Mother right now. But if anyone killed her, I’d be out for that person’s blood too.”

“I understand where you’re coming from. But try not to read too much into it. You have to understand where Skin-Walkers get their power from.”

“Which is?”

“Betrayal.” He paused.

“In order to become a Skinwalker, their initiate is recruited by a secret society that requires the evilest of deeds – the killing of a close family member, most often a sibling.”

“You’re kidding.” She scoffed.

“I’m afraid not.” Secundus replied sourly, his nostrils flaring. “In fact, the more a family member trusts, or loves the initiate? The more power that can be gained from their betraying them.”

“Wait! I don’t think I like where this is going.” Mara swallowed. Secundus grimaced. “His mother?!” She yelped. He nodded once, not looking at her.

“Yes, his outrage wasn’t so much, that Primus killed his mother. But because of the power he was denied, from his betraying her himself.”

“eep!” Mara squeaked.

“It gets worse.” Secundus continued. “In 1878, Primus, led a band of Hunters to hunt down a large tribe of Skinwalkers. Eventually, they stumbled across Grendel’s lair back then. It turned out that Grendel had set up a chamber, for the sole purpose of raping/torturing his mother to death.”

“But why did Arawn kill her?”

“Because she was the Chief of that Skinwalker Tribe.”

“oh.” Mara whispered, shocked.

“Definitely not the kind of ‘Dark Mage’, that should carryon into the joining of the two worlds.” He sighed. Mara didn’t answer then. And thus, the two remained in silence for a long while.

Until finally, both Mara’s and Secundus’ eyes drifted over to the nearby digital clock. [2:30] it read. He sighed when he saw. But before he could say anything.

“Take me with you.” Mara demanded suddenly.

“What?” Secundus wondered. “What do you mean?”

“When you leave in the Sidrat? Take me with!” She begged him tremulously, as she grasped at his head with her hands.

“But you would die too!” He pointed out; his eyes locked with hers.

“I don’t care!” Mara stated, on the verge of tears. “So many have lost their lives for this foolishness. What’s one more?”

“I care.” Secundus replied as he clutched tightly at her. Mara hugged him fiercely back.

“Live for me.” He asked into one long pointed ear.

“I,..” Mara hesitated.

“Please?” he begged. Mara choked back a sob before answering.

“All right.” She replied resentfully.

“Thank you.” He breathed. Then he added. “When I depart? Promise me that you’ll keep the Chalice close to you.”

“Why? Why would that be so important?” she grumped as she turned her head up to face his.

“To help you remember. I ask, because when the gateway is solidified between these two worlds? Time will probably change, and Earth’s history will alter. The nearness of the Chalice should ameliorate the effect on you.” He instructed. He felt Mara tense up against him.

“What do you mean?” She demanded. “Mother promised me that she wouldn’t modify Earth’s history.” She replied. He sighed.

“She promised that she won’t,…actively do it, yes.” He explained. “She’s powerful, but she can’t control everything. There’s a good chance that all Primus has accomplished to this moment? Will be forgotten. I fully expect that your mother, will want to take credit for it all.”

“You’re probably right.” She agreed as she squeezed her eyes shut tightly.

“But! If you are able to remember?” He continued. “Then that would mean, he (Arawn) will have a chance at immortality. The better kind.” He smiled languidly in the darkness.

“Yes.” She nodded. “And you as well.” She pointed out. Then she felt him tense up.

“Chikushō!” He growled, as he pulled away from her. She let him go with reluctance.

“What’s wrong?” she asked as she raised her head, and peered back at him. “Oh.” She replied when she saw the embers glowing underneath his skin once more.

He shifted to get up, Mara smoothly rolled herself over so as to allow him.

Mara watched him from her vantage, as he got up and reached out for his Katana. Then grasped ahold of the Tsuka. He concentrated for a moment, and his Aura began to flare. After a few seconds, the embers in his skin faded. He released his hold on it and sighed.

“That’s the last of it.” He muttered as he then silently, yet hurriedly dressed himself in his Haori, Hakamah, Tabi, and Zori.

‘It’s good to have them covering my skin again.’ He smiled. ‘I wonder what my Master Soujoubou would say, if he could see me now?’ he wondered as he tightened his obi.

When finished, he stepped silently to the door, grasped the handle, and paused. He almost glanced over his shoulder, when he felt Mara’s eyes boring into his back.

‘If I look back at her, I’ll stay.’ He realized, as he swallowed once.

“Goodbye Mara.” He whispered tenderly instead. And with that, he stepped quickly through the door.  Mara’s face fell as he closed the door behind him.

Mara curled herself into a ball on Arawn’s bed. After a few seconds, she replied.

“Goodbye Secundus.” She murmured as her pent-up tears began to flow once more.

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A few minutes later. Secundus paused outside the Alien Time Craft.

“Hello Old Friend.” He called out, as he placed a hand on its Demi-organic exterior. “Ready for one last; Final trip?” He asked it. After a second, he thought he heard a semi-mechanical ‘oomph’ resonating from deep within the craft.

Smiling fondly, he activated the entrance sequence and entered.

Inside, he looked around one last time at all of the control switches, display panels, and various flashing lights.  Setting his shoulders, he stepped over to the central console and began the activation sequence.

“Dematerialization sequence in ten seconds.” Secundus announced to no one, as he flipped the final activation toggle. Then he stopped and realized what it was he had done.

‘Habit.’ He thought as he checked, and rechecked, the settings on the control console. Right on cue, the dull screeching sound of the alien time capsule’s engines began its chrono-flex.

‘Vworp! Vworp!’ they went in a manner that made his gut crawl.

“Time vortex achieved.” He muttered once, as he eyed the Time-Rotor’s synchronous pulsing, and rotation.

“Navigation activated. Locating Gateway,…target locked.” He frowned in concentration, “…approaching Threshold,…” he continued, as he gazed at one screen and then another, then back.

The Sidrat shuddered once, as contrary cosmic forces met and fought momentarily.

“Threshold achieved.” Secundus smiled. Then he frowned.

“Scanning for Donnie’s pocket nuke.” He sighed despondently, as he actuated the Sensor relay.

“Located.” He hissed, as he set the navigational system appropriately. “Overriding Safety Protocols.”

[TARGET LOCKED….INTERCEPT IN 65 SECONDS] Announced an alien voice.

“Here we go.” Secundus said sadly, as he crumpled into himself. “Brave Heart Secundus!” He told himself once.

“Mind if I cut in?” called out a voice from nowhere.

“What?!” Secundus yelped, as he searched frantically around the interior for the source of that voice. After a few seconds he saw who it was. It appeared to be a tall middle-aged male with a balding head, dressed in a fashion similar to Secundus.

But unlike he, this newcomer’s Haori right side was tied over the left. He smiled when Secundus made eye contact.

“Surely you know? Search your memory.” The stranger stated mysteriously.

“Wait!” Secundus said as he did just that. “Oh!” he said in realization when he found the correct engram set. “Cue.” He said despondently.

[TARGET LOCKED….INTERCEPT IN 40 SECONDS] Came the Alien Voice again, both Secundus and Cue ignored it.

“Try not to be overwhelmed.” Cue snarked.

“What do you want?” Secundus huffed.

“I thought that since you had some spare time. You might like to play a game. You know, liven up your dreary existence.”

[WARNING! TARGET LOST!] The alien voice spoke in alarm.

“I may have a few seconds left.” Secundus grimaced, as he glanced meaningfully at the navigation/targeting console. “Hold on.” He said as he made a course correction.

[TARGET REACQUIRED….INTERCEPT IN 65 SECONDS]

“I’m afraid that I have only a minute to spare.” He shot back.

“Hours, days, minutes, years, whatever!” Cue said exasperatedly. “I’m always getting those mixed up.” He sighed.

“Time for an adjustment,” he began as he raised an arm and snapped his fingers. When he did, all of the Sidrat’s time indicators slowed down to a crawl.  “There we go!” he finished.

[TARGET LOCKED….INTERCEPT IN 60 SECONDS] The alien voice spoke in a normal tone. Secundus jumped slightly in surprise and reexamined his control console.

“Better?” Cue smiled.

“What did you do?” Secundus said in surprise, as he leaned back from the console and gave Cue a befuddled look.

“I altered the subjective time-flow. We should have plenty of time for a game. Your choice.”

“Why would I want to play a game? With you of all entities?” Secundus growled.

“Ooooh. Now! Now!” Cue said in mock hurt as he waved a finger. “That’s no way to talk. Especially when I’ve been thinking of granting you a wish.”

“A wish?” Secundus replied drolly. “Cue? What are you really getting at?”

“It’s simple really. Play a game with me. If you win, I’ll grant you a wish. Anything you want.”

“And if I lose?”

“Then you’ll die piloting this mass of spare parts, straight into Donnie’s nuke. Just like you planned.” Cue said as he waved a hand at the Navigation console.

“Well, considerably sooner. Rather than later, as you mortals all do.” He smiled “Eventually.” He added. Secundus grimaced and looked away as he thought about it.

“I suppose.” Secundus sighed patiently.

“That’s the spirit!” Cue said as he clenched a fist in front of his face. “Go for the Gusto! Q’apla!”

“Ka-what?” Secundus asked, confused.

“Never mind!” Cue replied as he stuck out his tongue.

“What game do you have in mind?”

“I believe it’s an Earth tradition; to challenge the personification of Death to a game of chess.”

“I think you’re right. What form?”

“There are so many. You choose.” Cue said with a flourish of his hand, as an 8×8 board of white and black panels appeared in the air between them.

“Dragon Chess.” Secundus decided instantly.

“So be it.” Cue replied with a flick of his fingers. Then the Chess board expanded to a 10×10.

“What level of difficulty?” He added. “Basic?” he asked, as a full set of Dragon Chess pieces appeared on the Board, including the Champion and Jester. Secundus opened his mouth, but before he could…

“Intermediate?” Cue continued, as four more 10×10 boards appeared around the central board.

“Advanced?” Cue said again, as sixteen more boards appeared. (Four more boards each, for the four surrounding boards that circled the central one.)

“Or, we could ratchet it up to Eleven.” Cue grinned.

“What do you mean?” Secundus asked, perplexed.

“Gods Level.” Cue said as he snapped his fingers.

Suddenly, to Secundus’ surprise, hundreds, no, thousands more boards appeared in the small space between he and Cue.

Secundus squinted as he tried to take them all in. But as near as he could tell, all of the boards stretched down beyond the microscopic. His eyebrows shot up when he noticed that each board, no matter how small, had their own complete set of playing pieces.

“How many pieces are there?” Secundus goggled as he tried to make some sense of what was before him.

“As many individual living creatures exist in the Multiverse.” Cue replied casually.

“That,…” Secundus swallowed, “kind of match,… would take a while.” Secundus whispered slowly.

“It already has,” Cue yawned. “a lesser infinity thus far.

“Uhhhh, for the sake of brevity.” Secundus paused as he tried to wrap his mind around the concept. “I’ll go with Basic.”

“Fine.” Cue frowned, disappointed. Then he sighed as he lifted up his hands, both bunched up. “Pick who goes first.”

“I’ll go with,…” Secundus mused as he shifted his eyes between Cue’s fists. “That!’ he said as he quickly reached out with both of his hands and tapped both of Cue’s.

“Oooh.” Cue grinned. “Smart Feller.” He smirked, as he opened both hands. A white pawn lay upon each palm. Secundus gave Cue a droll look.

“Let’s begin.” Cue grinned as he placed both pieces onto the board.

“Pawn to White Queen’s four.” Secundus said as he moved his first piece.

“Pawn to Black Queen’s four.” Cue countered.

And so, it went for a short while. Inevitably each lost a piece. Though Secundus lost more than Cue did, until at one-point Secundus seemingly made a fatal tactical error.

“Tch Tch! You’ve lost your Queen.” Cue smiled. “Would you care to concede now, Mr. Grumpy?”

“Hardly.” Secundus muttered, as he made his next move.

“King’s Annwyffn-Separate.” He stated, as he lightly touched the top of one pawn. It was one that had nearly reached the far end of the board. When he did, it split into three pieces. As it turned out, one of the only spaces available, was the far end.

“Hey!” Cue cried out, “I’d forgotten about that.” He complained.

“Rather ironic, under the circumstances.” Secundus quipped.

“Indeed.” Cue frowned. “Promotion then?” He conceded. “Your Queen back?”

“Not quite, I’ll go with the Invocation instead.”

“That’s an odd request. You’ll permanently lose your Queen, and all of your Annwyfn pieces. Are you willing to sacrifice so much?”

“Yes.” Secundus leaned back and crossed his arms.

“Very well then. Which Eternal-piece do you desire? Champion or Jester?”

“Jester.” Secundus said curtly.

“EAU MY!” Cue sniffed. “You’re quite the daring fellow! Aren’t you?”

“I’ve nothing left to lose.” Secundus shrugged, an innocent smile on his face.

After that, it was Cue’s turn to frown. As slowly, piece by piece, Secundus made full use of not only the Jester. But also, his remaining pieces, scant as they were. He managed to capture many of Cue’s pieces.

Then Suddenly,…The Jester,…vanished, just as Secundus was about to make a particular desirable move.

“Tawagot.” He muttered. Cue grinned triumphantly.

“Oopsy! That’s the Jester for you! I guess that leaves you vulnerable. Doesn’t it?” Cue snickered..

“So, it appears.” Secundus replied, crestfallen.

“Would you care to concede?”

“No, I think I’ll draw this out.”

“Really? I predict I’ll have you in check, within 6 moves. No matter what happens.”

“Perhaps.” Secundus sighed mysteriously.

“Perhaps?!” Cue exclaimed. “And they say that I’M arrogant?” He said, mostly to himself.

 “Hmmmmm.” He mused, as he stared at Secundus. “I have to admit, you DID surprise me with that Annwyfn move. I am curious to see the source of your confidence. So curious, that I’ll give you a free move. Fair?’

“Thank you!” Secundus said eagerly, as he made one final move. “Gotcha!” he said as he leaned back and grinned fiercely.

“What?” Cue said as he looked at Secundus, then he peered down at the board. “WHAT!” he shouted as he started looking up and down, left and right, then diagonal, all over the board. “IMPOSSIBLE!” Cue shouted in shock.

Finally, after several more seconds, Cue’s eyes stopped scanning the board and turned slowly to take in Secundus; who spoke before Cue could even open up his mouth.

“Stasis!” Secundus hissed, then laughed.

“I can see that.” Cue growled. “More importantly, WHY?”

“I knew that there was no way for me to win.” Secundus forced down a smile. “Not against the likes of you. After all, we both know that the House- always wins.”

“Then why bother trying?” Cue demanded angrily.

“Because the first thing Primus taught me when I first awoke: That my life will be a trial.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“You’re an immortal Cue, I’m not. Life is a trial for us mortals. Thus, we do what we can, to ensure that that trial? Never Ends!”

“You’re right, I don’t get it.” Cue frowned. Then he lifted his arm up and snapped his fingers.

[TARGET LOCKED….INTERCEPT IN 60 SECONDS] repeated the Alien voice from the Sidrat console.

“Spiteful.” Secundus laughed as he returned his attention to his console.

“Aren’t you angry?” Cue shouted in annoyance.

“Why should I be? I didn’t lose.” Secundus chuffed.

“Neither did you win!” Cue pointed out.

[TARGET LOST]

“Neither did you.” Secundus shot back, as he quickly made another course adjustment.

[TARGET REACQUIRED….INTERCEPT IN 45 SECONDS]

“No, I guess I didn’t.” Cue admitted, shocked. He huffed once and then asked.

“If you had won? What would you have wished for?”

“That Primus and Takana? Be allowed to live happily ever after.” He said quickly.

[TARGET LOCKED….INTERCEPT IN 30 SECONDS]

“What? Nothing for yourself? You and Mara seemed to have something good going.”

“She deserves better.” Secundus sighed. Cue made a pout worthy of a toddler.

“Do you have ANY regrets?” Cue demanded loudly, his face pale and sweaty.

“Just one.” Secundus admitted as he locked eyes with Cue momentarily. “I regret, that I will never see the World that Arawn helped to create.” He stated firmly as he returned his attention to the console.

[15 SECONDS}

“I didn’t lose, but neither did I win.” Cue muttered to himself. “So, what now?” he continued. Secundus ignored him.

[10 SECONDS]

Then, suddenly Cue smiled.

“Secundus!” Cue shouted. Secundus glanced at him.

[5 SECONDS]

“Before I depart…” Cue began.

[4 SECONDS]

“A word,…” Cue continued.

[3 SECONDS]

“Of advice,…” Cue said as he reached up a hand.

[2 SECONDS]

“Never!” Cue grinned and paused.

“What?” Secundus demanded at the last.

[1 SECOND]

“Say Never!” Cue shouted as he dramatically snapped his fingers.

Simultaneous with the sound of that snap, a nova like Light flashed along with the sound of sheering metal that was overwhelmed by…..

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