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    Cy-Fox
    Latest Entry

    Prologue

    cyborg (noun) - a hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal limitations by mechanical elements built into the body

    OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2017

     

    Patterns repeat, this is a fact, perhaps the prime fact within the universe. Twenty-three years ago, Field Marshal Amadeus Prower had been pacing down a hospital corridor. Back then it was at the Central Command Medical Center in Mobotropolis. He remembered the day very well, a cold October that made his face and especially his empty eye socket ache. In contrast here, it was still October but hot for the brief time he moved from his staff car to the reception area of Zenith Defense.

     

    Zenith Defense occupied a former United States biodefense facility in the Nevada desert and ostensibly housed what remained of the 1970s period equipment that was left over when the lab, Wildfire, had shut its doors due to belt tightening and reprioritization in the Reagan years. Its functions had largely been taken over by both the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta but also through several military biodefense organizations, chiefly the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick. Briefly Wildfire was reactivated in the early 2000s after bioterrorism fears stemming from anthrax being sent through the mail but when the crisis passed, the giant that Dr. Jeremy Stone had created was put back to sleep again.

     

    It would be well over eighty years before the facility had gotten a buyer. A Keplerian fox, Dr. Moddex Everest had made the purchase through his corporation. Amadeus had little reason to be suspicious of the other fox, though perhaps if he gave the whole idea more scrutiny, he might have had some small questions to concern himself with. Overseeing the Keplerian Republic’s military since its foundation in 2085 after he personally overthrew King Frederick Acorn, he could have scrutinized a native Keplerian defense contractor popping up out of the woodwork five years later and starting full-scale production a mere two years later. A native Keplerian, a young one who was born likely in the last few decades of King Frederick’s reign having both the acumen and the credentials to amass all of this.

     

     

    But he didn’t scrutinize Everest, especially now. For here within the medical section, two levels beneath the ground were where their sole patient was resting. Or at least that was what his physician insisted he would be doing. Prower had met her once before, though she was much younger the last time. There was intensity to her glare when he had first made his way onto the floor. At first, Amadeus was confused about the hostility that she had shown. But then he caught a glimpse of the identification badge clipped to her labjacket; Dr. Maria J. Robotnik, M.D. Maria, Gerry Robotnik’s granddaughter.

     

    “I am Field Marshal Amadeus Prower-“ he had started saying. The blonde-haired woman raised her eyes up to meet his and he suddenly felt the October cold and ache from long ago return.

     

    “I know very well who you are, Fältmarskalk,” Robotnik grimaced in her Swede accented English, keeping her eyes dead center on him. She lowered the tablet she was holding down and then slipped it into the left pocket of her coat.

     

    “I’m here to see my son, Doctor.” Prower’s ears rose as he brought the tone of his voice to the matter-of-fact style he reserved for the press.

     

    “Lieutenant Prower is shut down,” Robotnik placed her hands on her hips and straightened her back. “He has a very important set of surgeries coming up. The lieutenant's mind has already had a rough night as it was since arriving planetside. I don’t want to tax him any more than what he’s taken already. Fältmarskalk or father be damned, if there is even the latter.”

     

    A low rumbling growl rose from the fox’s throat as he took a step closer. He was tempted to raise his voice if it wasn’t for both Vice Admiral Seetan and Admiral Bolton moving up to each side of him. Seetan, a black furred wolf-like Keplerian regarded her with his heterochromatic red and green eyes.

     

    “Please Maria; I of all people know what Miles has been through up there. But if he is in fact facing more surgery, especially the kind you and Everest described to me earlier, he should see his father.” The wolf explained.

     

    “He can’t even say it without a mouthpiece.” Maria countered.

     

    “Now that’s hardly fair Doctor, you haven’t even given him a moment-“ Bolton, a grey cat-like Keplerian started to protest but Amadeus raised his right hand up and waved it with a soft growl of surrender.

     

    “I can defend my character without assistance, Admiral. Thank you.” Amadeus sighed quietly and lowered his eye to the floor. “I can assure you, Maria. I want to see my son, I need to. Especially in the wake of what has happened now. Dr. Everest said there is about a seventy-plus percent chance of success, but I have already lost one half of my family before. I don’t want to risk the other half, especially not without seeing him first.”

     

    The trauma surgeon continued to smolder at him with her gaze but then started to nod. “Fine, but only you and you will take precautions before going into the intensive care bay.”

     

    “That’s fine.” Amadeus raised his head up. “Thank you, Maria.”

     

    Precautions had consisted of washing hands, securing his boots with nonconductive sterile covers, putting on a blue disposable gown, gloves, a face mask and shield. Whether it was all necessary, he wasn’t certain, but Maria had only gloved and gowned. She of course had the covers on her shoes already, likely from being the more sterile of the two. The elderly fox made his way along with her through a set of sliding double doors and slowly approached the single bed with a light on overhead.

     

    Several monitor rigs sat on stands all around Miles Prower’s body. Some were standard medical equipment but there was also computer equipment and even a red tool cart one would expect in a machine shop. The gold and white furred fox’s eyes were closed and had protective patches over them. Two things stood out, the fox’s arms were completely robotic and there was a flat trace running on the ECG monitor. Wasn’t that typical for someone clinically dead?

     

    “Why has his heart stopped? When did that happen?” Amadeus asked.

     

    Maria looked up at the monitor and shook her head. “It hasn’t stopped. He has no heart, and what you see on the exterior is cloned. He is robotic in almost all respects, even in mind. Until we perform this transfer of course.”

     

    “How did this happen?” The fox asked.

     

    “I would expect you to have more answers on what brought about the attack more than I. But as far as Miles’ injuries to put it short, he tried to protect me from one of those robots.” Maria explained.

     

    Amadeus lowered himself onto a nearby stool and sighed quietly. He looked at Miles and then lowered his eyes.

    “In a way, this is my fault.” He lamented. “Pressuring him into national service like that. Putting him on this path, into harm’s way to get injured like this. If his mother was still alive, she wouldn’t speak to me, I’m sure.”

     

    “Grandfather had to talk you into letting him stay with us.” Maria said, crossing her arms.

     

    “Actually no, it didn’t take very much for me to agree.” Amadeus countered, looking up at her. “If you would like, I can tell you everything unless that keeps you from doing what’s needed.”

     

    “My place is at his side.” Maria replied, moving around the bed to take another stool, sitting down beside him. “Besides, I’ve had questions for some time.”

     

    “Very well then,” Amadeus looked at the human. “But I will start a few years back, before he was born, so that you get the full story.”

     

  1. BigPuppyStuart
    Latest Entry

    Will be continually updated.

    Gai'talar has various styles of clothing and more modern clothing is often seen alongside traditional garments. Each profession and each race has its own garments even if they don't have a strict uniform.

    Universal clothing: Some garments cross cultural boundaries

    Monk robes: These simple robes are worn by the lower level clergy and are nearly uniform in appearance and only diverge when the priest rises in rank. At higher ranks regional variations become present. A Northern Hesken of high rank will have a garment much the same as the low level priests but will have more color and embroidery where as a Valparet of high status in the church will have  more expensive materials and a miter style hat or helmet. Despite styles being different at high rank the initiates and main body of the clergy wear nearly identical garments of brown or black fabric. The only real difference is some races such as the Skitritch and the hesken wear knives with their holy vestments. Since knives are so ubiquitous in both cultures this is not seen as unusual.

    Wizard robes: While in no way uniform in appearance and style, wizard robes are widely recognized through out the world. These can range from simple to intricate and flashy but are recognized and given respect. Paradoxically some wizards won't wear their robes in public because they want to be treated like everyone else and don't want to be denied alcohol in some cities as some regions will limit or deny wizards alcohol because reality bending magic and a booze fogged mind seem like a dangerous combo. 

    Wizard robes are also practical as travel garments because they can keep you warm in the cool night air and bandits will turn and run if they leap out and see a garment that mean the person they are attacking can melt their faces off. This means that some people have taken to wearing them even if they aren't wizards but the mage's guild strongly disapproves of this and so some people refuse to do it.

    Wizard robes can also be worn over other garments, disguising what you are wearing underneath can be adventitious in combat as the enemy doesn't know what armor the wearer has underneath. This is useful for lightning focused wizards as they will send electrical current through metal armor, causing any attack to get shocked.

    Kilt/ Various kilt like garments: Kilt like garments were present before humans came to the world. The real difference between Kilts and the kilt like garments is that kilts are in Plaidd and the gai'talar equivalents are in different patterns or plain cloth. These garments have shown up in several cultures so no one species claims ownership. Lutrondae and Lontracant have a version that is made of netting as they use it to carry fishing nets arcross land or on their travels.

          

    Hesken Clothing: The Hesken sense of fashion is somewhat defined by the local climate. The further toward the equator the lighter and thinner the clothing becomes. Some hesken sailors and laborers  at or close to the equator completely skip shirts so as to deal with the heat better. This has given the further south hesken a reputation among the more formal races as being slovenly or lazy even though they work just as effectively as Hesken anywhere else.

    The Standard clothing of Hesken Laborers is a short sleeved tunic or shirt with an open neck that can be drawn closed  with a string. These shirts are worn tucked into the pants so the hems do not get caught in machinery or on nails. The Shirts can have collars but most often don't. They always wear a belt to hold the shirt cloth under their waistband and to secure the knives that almost all hesken carry. These knives are usually worn above the tail, out of the way of any work they need to be doing. The pants have pockets at the sides and back avoiding the need for belt pouches but if the profession demands it pouches would not be out of place. Male and female hesken Laborers wear the same clothing and women to not have a different cut or style to males so it is a one garment fits all approach adopted for both cost saving and the fact that gender neutral clothing is something hesken have been doing for centuries. Women may wear dresses from time to time but it is either when they are not working or it is demanded of them by their employer. Employers of other races sometimes demand Hesken women wear dresses to fit with the employer's sensibilities, but this is usually for non physical labor such as secretaries or receptionists. Even when wearing a skirt or dress Hesken women carry the heavy bladed work knives. The fact that they are often armed and the physically strongest known species means that sexual harrasment is rather low against Hesken women no matter what they wear.

    DWlYqGfVAAAwdmh.jpg.75880ac4268a0c5dfc7f5a2ce404ce0b.jpg

    Traditional Hesken clothing worn in colder climates is a long medium weight tunic that is belted around the hips. They can be both long and short sleeved and are usually dyed a solid color with spots like the hem of the sleeves and the neck carrying embroidery usually with patterns that identify what region the person is from. Plain versions that don't convey such information are also worn to avoid territorial rivalries or for the sake of simple privacy. Also people not from the northern reagions wear the plain ones since they are not from anywhere that has a pattern associated with it. Most races don't think this simple tunics are enough protection from the cold so if they wear them they also wear jackets over them, while hesken don't since they do well in the cold. These tunics hang over the tail but some individual cut them so that there tails can poke out from slit or hole and be visible. 

    The Pants worn with these garments have no pockets and are usually tied to at one side secure them. The tunic hangs over the pants and covers the sides so pockets are not practical. To make up for the lack of pockets belt pouches are worn on the belt that secures the tunic at the hips. The usual is they are tied at the left side opposite where they usually wear their knives or swords so when they are undoing their pants it does not look like they are reaching for a weapon. The belts are also usally buckled at the sides as hesken usually build up belly fat in the warmer seasons to get them through winter so they don't want a buckle digging into the bottom of their stomachs. There is even a saying associated with this " Buckles in the middle" is a euphemism for someone who is thinner than they should be or has lost a lot of weight. 

    In the cold seasons of the north is one of the few places hesken wear shoes and these are usually heavy boots with metal over their toes and covering the Achilles tendon. These boots are durable and can double as armor in times of battle and as weapons. Despite their ample proportions Hesken are know for kicking in combat and their martial arts have some impressive kicks associated with them these boots with metal and sometimes spikes, cleats or studs can become fearsome weapons.

    These garments are considered gender neutral so anyone who is traveling or being active will wear these garments. They started as men's clothing but quickly became standard for anyone. Dresses and skirts are still considered women's clothing but with he the deep seated ideal of equality of the sexes men wearing women's clothing is considered odd but completely allowed in Hesken society.

    Ulvaltar, the Hesken's cousin species wear similar garments with the addition of animal pelt jackets and more leather used in the construction of them. Ulvaltar also prefer drabber colors where as hesken like to stand out unless they are hunting. Bright colors mean they are less likely to be shot at by hunters and are making it obvious they aren't hiding. Ulvaltar prefer to not stand out and want to be able to hide easily at any moment so their tunics are often brown or other forest colors. Hesken hunting clothing is much the same.

    DWbdAOzVMAAwAr3.jpg.b71f512eb690440178523bca1522a0a7.jpg

         
     




  2.  

    Fan script of Nightcrawler showing up on "The Gifted"

    by

    Stripes Waterkat

    **This is a fan work. ALL IPs belong to their respective owners. **


     


     

    Scene opens with the Struckers in their room at the mutant hideout. While Caitlin is working on 'dinner', of what she can with their limited supplies, and Reed is looking threw more papers, Lauren stands and heads out of the room,

    "I'm going for a walk." she says, taking out her phone.


     

    "Don't be long, dinner will be up soon." Caitlin injects.


     

    "Can't wait." Lauren replies in a deadpan tone.


     

    Lauren heads out of the room and down the hallway, tapping away on her smartphone. Once she reaches the common area, she stops and starts looking around, waving a hand in front of her face and grimaces a bit, "Uhg, what smells like sulfur and rotten eggs?". She then starts feeling very uncomfortable, like a dark shadow just passed over her, watching her. She begins to shiver a bit, litely shaking from the anxiety, looking up quickly, thinking she actually saw something pass over head. She slowly turns, looking to one corner of the room, darkened by the shadow of the setting sun. She begins to steps closer to the corner, feeling a presence and seeing a pair of small, slim lights coming from the darkened corner. Curious about what might be in the corner and the little glowing lights, she moves even closer. Once she is about five feet from the corner, the slim lights shoot open to golden glowing eyes. Lauren screams instinctively and jumps back, throwing her arms in front of her, ready to use her force fields to protect her from whatever is there.


     

    Everyone else come running when they hear her scream. Her parents, Reed and Caitlin, are the first to arrive. Her mother places a hand on Lauren's shoulder, looking highly concerned and says to Lauren,


     

    "What's wrong?"


     

    "There's something in the corner!" Lauren says with a panic, pointing towards the darkened corner. Both Reed and Caitlin look and see the glowing eyes watching them,


     

    "What is that?" Reed says, trying to figure out what's there.


     

    After another few moments, Proudstar, Marcos, and Blink show up to see what's going on. Reed looks to them and then points to the corner of the room where the glowing eyes are,


     

    "There's something over there watching us." he says. Blink goes over to see what it is. Everyone watches as she lets out a yelp of glee and giggles,


     

    "Oh my god! Kurt!" she says.


     

    "Kurt!? Kurt who!?" Reed demands, not liking his family scared by whoever it is. Blink looks to Reed with a smile and then back to the corner,


     

    "Come out of there. You're scaring them." she says and giggles again. The eyes close up and they hear a pattering of feet and hands crawling up the wall. Then, leaping over Blink's head and after doing a couple twists and tumbles in the air, Nightcrawler lands in front of the Struckers with the classic superhero landing.


     

    (Nightcrawler is dressed in either a tv version of his classic black with red 'vest' or the modern, pre Battleworld, one piece, grey and red with gold trim which I really like. And no damn body scaring. He's not a religious zealot who feels the need to carve symbols into his flesh.)


     



    Reed pulls Caitlin and Lauren back, and a few of the random mutants, unfamiliar with Nightcrawler, jump back as well, as this blue 'thing' with a blue tail comes lunging out of the shadows. He stands before them, tall and confident, with tail swaying and a mischievous grin on his face, looking like a great prank just went off. The Struckers look both stunned and intrigued by this 'creature' while Blink, Proudstar and Marcos are a custom to Nightcrawler's antics. Nightcrawler looks to Lauren and then bows to her, leaning over at the waist with one arm over his stomach and the other out to the side like a performer finishing an act,


     

    "Mein apologies liebling. I did naut mean to frighten you." he says. From the sidelines, watching Nightcrawler's intro, Proudstar pipes up,


     

    "Yes, you did". Nightcrawler looks to him with a mock glare,


     

    "Zush you." he says.


     

    "Its one of his personality traits, "Proudstar says, "He's a practical joker". Nightcrawler looks back to the Struckers, extending a hand to Reed,


     

    "Kurt Vagner or Nightcrawler of ze X-men." he says. Reed is a little off put by Kurt's three fingers, as most people are at first, but shakes it firmly after a moment. He was about to berate Kurt for scaring Lauren, but being he apologized and appears to be friends with the others, he let it go,


     

    "Reed Strucker, and this is my wife Caitlin and daughter Lauren". Blink gestures with an open hand towards Lauren,


     

    "She is one of our newest residents, being able to project force fields" she says. Lauren nods to Blink and then looks to Kurt,


     

    "Yes and so is my brother Andy, but he's not here cause he decided to abandon us" she explains, sounding both angry and hurt by her brother's actions. Kurt nods to her with a bit of a frown, hearing about Andy,


     

    "It ist zometimes hard for young mutants to understand vat ist going, boz viz zemzelf und ze vorld around zem. I am zure you vill be able to bring him home. " Kurt says, trying to cheer her up. "It ist goot to zee ze next generation of mutants popping up, hopefully, zey vill naut haf to grow up in fear one day." he continues, turning to Caitlin and takes her hand in his, lifting it up to his face,


     

    "Und herr Strucker ist a lucky man to haf zuch a beautiful fraulin by hiz zide," he says and gives her hand a soft kiss, "Und ve can use all ze human allies ve can get". Caitlin smiles and gently pulls her hand from Kurt's and looks to Reed,


     

    "Quite the charmer." she says. Kurt looks over to Blink when he hears her coming his way. When she passes by him, she smirks and then smacks him on the butt,


     

    "Hay!" he yelps. Blink turns to him and smirks,


     

    "You liked it." she chuckles, then looks to the Struckers, "That's another of his personality traits, charming the ladies." she says, heading into the open space of the common area with Kurt following behind, his arms outstretched towards her like he's begging for something,


     

    "Can I help it ze ladies find me dashing und exziting?"


     

    Once Blink and Kurt are several feet away, Caitlin looks back to Reed again, looking quizzical,


     

    "Are you familiar with him?". Reed looks to Nightcrawler, as he does a handstand on the side of the couch and then flops down on it's cushions, then back to Caitlin,


     

    "We didn't have to much information on the X-men and less on this one, but I can tell you he's one of the "A" listers, top rank. I really never thought I would see him in person, unless it was in a cell with a control collar on."


     

    "DAD! That's horrible!" Lauren calls out, her face red and her eyes tearing up a bit.


     

    "Yes, I know." he says looking to Lauren, "I am not proud of what I used to do, that's why I'm here with you now." he returns, looking back to Caitlin,


     

    "I do know of his primary ability thou, which is why its so hard to keep track of him." he continues. Caitlin looks to Kurt again and then back to Reed,


     

    "What is it?"


     

    "I hope you'll get to see it. From what I've read, " he starts and can't help to chuckle a bit himself, "and seeing it from this side of things now, its actually quite amazing as mutant abilities go."


     

    The Struckers head over to where Blink, Marcos, Proudstar and Kurt are talking. All they hear at the moment is Kurt rambling about something in German before Blink cuts him off,


     

    "Kurt! Enough! Where are the X-men?" she says quickly, frantic to know, "Are they alive?". Kurt smiles and sits up and then back flipping onto the back of the couch, landing in a crouched position. Lauren giggles at Kurt's acrobatics, he smiles and nods back to her, he likes to entertain. He quickly looks back to Blink and throws his arms out to his sides and announces,


     

    "Zey are!". Hearing this everyone cheers and whoops, hugging each other and giving sighs of relief. John Proudstar steps up,


     

    "Where are they?" he asks firmly.


     

    "Zey are... dizlocated at ze moment." he says, trying to figure out how to explain.


     

    "Dislocated?" Marcos asks, "What does that mean?". Kurt looks to Marcos and smirks,


     

    "Being zat your English ist better zen mein, I vould zink you vould know. Dizlocated means to be displaced from your home.." he starts and Blink cuts him off again,


     

    "Kurt!"


     

    "Vat?" he says and laughs. Marcos grumbles and crosses his arms. "Ok, ok. You may know zat ze X-jet vas shot down ofer Scotland a few monz ago.." he starts again,


     

    (a scene of the X-jet on fire and going down into the ocean)


     

    Caitlin covers her mouth with a gasp, hearing this. "Ve all zought ze X-men vere dead. Kitty und I vashed up on Muir Island und nurzed back to healz by Moira McTaggert."


     

    (a scene of Kurt and Kitty on med beds with Moira looking them over and then back to Kurt at the mutant hideout)


     

    "Ve put togezer anozer X-men group ve called Excalibur to try to keep ze profezzor's dream alive. Ve just learned zat ze X-men did zurfive und ve came back to reconnect viz zem. Once ve got back togezer und zettled at a temporary place, Scott zent me to check on you guys zince zey heard of eferyzing zat haz been going on around here. I am zorry about ze ozer base, I vent zere first to try to find you und found it destroyed. It took uz quite avile to track you here". John looks to Lauren, and Kurt follows his gaze, then looks back to Kurt,

    "That's a long story." he says.  (see season 1)


     

    "Kurt. Can you show me... "Blink starts and then stops to look around for something, "Damn, I left my tablet up on the table when Lauren screamed." she says, pointing to a table on the upper landing.


     

    "I vill get it." he says and with a flash of purple light and a burst of purple smoke, Kurt disappears and reappears on the railing up top. A couple of the other mutant teens near the table stumble back and land on the floor when he appears, "Apologizes for mein zudden appearance, just need to borrow zis." he says and picks up the tablet and disappears in another burst of light and smoke. The teens look at each other in disbelief,


     

    "Tha... that was Nightcrawler." they say to each other and race up to the railing and look over, seeing him on the back of the couch again, handing the tablet to Blink, as they take off for the stairs.


     

    Reed looks to Caitlin again and smiles, "That's his primary ability, teleportation. He can jump from place to place at will."


     

    "I agree, quite an amazing ability. It would be a great help to have someone else that can get everyone out of harms way in a ... blink." Caitlin says. Kurt looks over to Caitlin and gives a half bow from his crouched position on the couch. Lauren waves her hand in front of her and grunts softly,


     

    "That's where the rotten eggs came from." she says. Kurt nods to her with a bit of a sulk,


     

    "Ja. An unfortunate zide effect of ze dimenzion I teleport zrew. You vould naut vant to live zere nor vould it make a goot place to fizit."


     

    Blink brings up a map on her tablet and then hands it back to Kurt for him to point out where the X-men are. He seems to slide the map for quite awhile before tapping on a spot and then handing it back to Blink. John and Marcos look on as well,


     

    "Bermuda?" Marcos ask in disbelief, "Are they on vacation?"


     

    Kurt shakes his head, "Nein, zey are still recofering und vorking on a new jet. Scott does naut know how zey vound up zere und Kitty und I on Muir Island. Zeir injuries vere just az zefere az ourz, but it ist a goot place to recofer till zey can find out vho shot zem down."


     

    "I am just glad they are still alive. We could use their help." John says, "Did they send any messages?"


     

    Kurt nods, "I am going to hang here viz you guyz for a veek or two, make zure you guyz are stable und zen I haf to get back to Muir Island. Scott vants you to stay in charge here. It vill still be quite avile till ze X-men are at a hundred percent und ve need you to continue vat you are doing here".


     

    John nods with a smile, "We will be grateful for your help, Nightcrawler, while you are here."


     

    Nightcrawler leaps over to the table where Blink is sitting and rolls into a hand stand, one hand out to the side, holding his position with just his one arm, looking at Blink upside down, "Anyzing you need me to do." he says with a bright smile and she smiles back to him.

    End scene.

     

  3. Kindar
    Latest Entry

          Unfortunately their reacton didn't last long. Isaac made another speech on Denis being an unholy monster and then ushered the crowd outside. Only the blonde remained, not having moved from her seat. He lowered his head and tried to get some sleep, this was the first time he hadn't been beaten until he passed out.

          Denis opened his eyes when he heard the door open. He didn't move his head, just lifted his eyes and watched Clyde walk across the room.

          "Why don't you go join the celebration?" Clyde said to the blonde.

          "I can't," she answered, "the Reverend said it's to be watched at all time."

          "That's why I'm here," he replied with a charming smile, "he wants me to replace you so you can go enjoy yourself."

          "Are you sure? You know that only a woman can tame his instincts."

          "Yeah, but he's drugged and chained, how much trouble is he going to be? Go enjoy yourself Isabelle."

          She thought about it for a moment and then wrote something down on the clipboard on the table. Clyde accompanied her to the door, closing it behind her. He waited a minute and then locked it.

          "How long does it take for her pheromones to stop affecting you?

          Denis lifted his head and studied him for a moment, "the reverend didn't send you, did he?"

          Clyde walked to him, "what do you care?" he said and ran his hands through Denis' chest fur, "man your fur's soft."

          Denis moaned; he couldn't help reacting it had been a long time since he'd felt any kind of sensual touch. His cock didn't react, but it felt so nice. "Does he know you're gay?"

          "The old man can go fuck himself," was Clyde's bitter reply, "He's an idiot. He can't see the power you embody." He traced Denis' arm muscles. "I've heard stories of how strong a werewolf can be. With that kind of strength I could do what ever I wanted. I want you do give me that strength."

          Denis was panting from the feeling of Clyde's hands roaming on his arms and chest. "I can't do that," he said after enjoying the man's touch a little more.

          "Why not?" Clyde asked, biting on Denis' nipple through the brown fur, making the werewolf shiver and moan in pleasure. "I'd be one of you, I'd have to help you escape or I'd end up chained up too."

          "It doesn't work that way," Denis said once he'd caught his breath, "I can't make other werewolves."

          Clyde took a step back and looked at Denis, "I guess I can't be surprised you'd lie about this after the way we treated you, but I've read all of the old man's research. I know everything about how you can make a werewolf; saliva works." He moved in and kissing him hard. Denis didn't even fight it; he kissed back using plenty of tongue. Clyde's mouth tasted wonderful.

          The man pulled out, "Wow, you're a good kisser."

          "It's the muzzle and tongue," Denis answered between breaths.

          "Yeah? Then I can't wait 'till I can do that too."

          Denis sighed and shook his head, "You're not going to become one."

          "You really don't have to lie, I know that being bitten is enough to be changed." He snapped his finger, "but that goes directly into the blood stream. I guess I'm going to have to ingest more of your bodily fluids." He said eyeing Denis's flaccid cock.

           Denis looked at him, shivering in excitement, "You're serious?"

          "Yeah, I'm going to get a lot more from you sucking your cock than kissing you."

          Denis' whole body was vibrating in anticipation at the thought of a warm mouth on his cock; except for that cock, it didn't react at all. Her smell was still strong in the room. "Fine, it won't do you any good, but if you want to do it I'm really game. But you're not going to get anything until I can get the woman's smell out of my nose."

          "The ventilation system should take care of that." Clyde replied.

          "Well, it sucks; the smell's barely gone down. Are you wearing underwear?"

          The man frowned, "of course I am."

          "Good, take them off and wrap them over my nose."

          "What? You can't be serious."

          Denis growled in annoyance, "do you really want to wait until her scent's out? what if she runs into the old man and is sent back here? You really want to sacrifice your chance?" He didn't care what he had to say at this point, Clyde had excited him and he was going to get off.

          Clyde took a look at the door and then pulled down his pants, and then took off his underwear. Denis smiled and his cock twitched a little at the sight of the man's hard penis. Clyde placed the underwear on Denis' nose as instructed and he breathed deeply the smell of precum and male musk. His cock responded immediately. It grew hard and leaked.

          "Wrap it over my upper muzzle so I can hold it in place with my mouth, I don't want this falling of in the middle of things." Clyde did as told and then went down on his knees.

          Denis gasped and almost lost hold of the underwear when Clyde licked the precum off his cock because the pleasure was so strong. God he'd missed this. He looked down as the man placed the tip of his shaft in his mouth and sucked on it. He thrust in, forcing him to take more. He didn't want to take his time, he needed release, and he needed it now! Clyde got the message and didn't argue. He took more of the cock in and bobbed up and down.

          Denis didn't last long, after weeks of not even being able to get excited he let go under five minute with a loud growl. Clyde held on to the werewolf's hips and swallowed as much as he could, but some still dribbled out the side of his mouth.

          With the orgasm over Clyde let go of Denis' cock, who slumped down in exhaustion, letting the chains support his weight. He opened his muzzle to pant and the underwear fell to the ground on the small puddle of precum. Isabelle's smell, now faint, enveloped him again and his cock slowly went down.

          Clyde put his pants on, leaving his underwear on the ground, while Denis caught his breath. They looked up at the same time and studied each other coldly.

          "Are you going to get me out of these now?" Denis asked.

          "No," Clyde replied as he picked up the underwear, "not until I see some sort of change. Until then you stay right where you are."

          Denis snorted, not surprised.

  4. A Sam and Sam Investigation Story

             Samantha put the book down when she heard the knock on the door. She had been reading a dissertation on the magical working of enchantment for the last two hours. Before that she had gone through her collection of Popular Magic, anything to pass the time. It seemed to be the only things she had been doing all month; the private investigation business was slow these days.
             "Come in." She said.
             A man, in a business suit entered. He looked around nervously and kept changing his hold on the portfolio he carried. Samantha knew her office was nothing impressive, a bookcase, some pictures on the wall and the desk, from behind which she was getting up. The man seemed surprised at seeing her, something she expected.
             The name of the agency was Douglas Investigation. The phrasing was consciously ambiguous, letting the clients think the investigator was a man. She had learned from her first year that people were reluctant to employ a woman investigator, but if she could get them in the office they were usually too afraid of offending her simply to leave. She admitted to herself that it was unfair to use other's discomfort to get work, but she had to pay the bills.
             He walked to the desk, wiping the sweat off his hand before presenting it. "I'm Brian DuMornay, can you help me?"
             She placed the dissertation back in the book case. "I'm Samantha Douglas, if you tell me the problem I'll be able to answer you." She said taking out a paper pad and pen.
             "My wife has been kidnapped." He placed his portfolio on his thighs, holding on to it like he was drowning.
             "I see, when did it happened?"
             "Three . . . Three days ago."
             "The police?"
             "They're investigating, but I don't know if they're going to really do everything they can." His shoulders slopped down a little. "I didn't get a very good impression of them."
             She raised an eyebrow in surprise. "What makes you say that."
             He swallowed hard, hesitating before answering. "She was kidnapped by an Arcane." He continued without giving her a chance to speak. "Please tell me that you'll help. You've got to help, I've seen too many investigators who refused. I don't know what I'll do if you refuse. The last one I saw said that you'd take it. Please tell me that you'll take it."
             She reassured him with a smile, now understanding his mistrust of the police and his despair over finding help. Very few Mundanes wanted to get involved in Arcane business. "Please calm down, if you tell me more I'll be in a better position to give you an answer. Take a deep breath and tell me what happened, to the best of your recollection."
             "It happened Monday night I'd just come back from work when I heard loud noises in our bedroom, like things being thrown on the floor. I ran to see what had happened, but when I got there I could only see something big with wings jump out the window carrying my Maria. I . . . I got to the window to see them drop about ten floors before its wings caught in the wind and they flew away."
             She let him rest a few seconds. When it was obvious that he'd finished she asked: "Do you know of anyone who'd want to hurt you through your wife, or hurt her?"
             Pale, he shook his head in negative.
             "Can you give me a better description of the winged creature?"
             "It seemed to be bipedal, I can't say how high, but he looked big, it wasn't wearing any clothes that I could see."
             "Did you see its skin color, or if it had an unusual sign?"
             He shook is head. "No."
             She took some notes. "Do you have a picture of your wife?" He gave her a 4 X 6 portrait. "Can I keep it?"
             He nodded weakly.
             She looked at the portrait. The woman on it was good looking, brown hair with a slight curl, grayish-blue eyes and fair skin with just enough makeup to enhance her looks without looking artificial.
             Never being able to use makeup herself without ending up looking like she had used paint, Samantha had to admire the gentle effect it had on Ms DuMornay. She put the picture on the desk, beside her notes. "I'll need you to give me her description, what she was wearing, unusual traits and anything you think might help me to find her."
             "She's five feet six, one twenty pounds. Her hair is dark brown, her eyes blue-gray. She has an astrological star tattooed on her back. She's Mundane, but she loves anything that has to do with the Arcanes. I don't know what else I can say."
             "What was she wearing when she was kidnapped?"
             "I don't know for sure. She usually wears a brown, knitted, shirt her mother gave her when she's at home."
             She finished taking notes and looked through them again. "Provided we can agree on my fee I'm willing to take the case. You understand that because it involves Arcanes I have to charge extra."
             He shrugged. "Money isn't a problem."
             She made quick calculation on what she expected to need. "It will be two thousand dollars now, that will be used to buy protection and tools that might be needed. My daily charge is one hundred dollars. If that meets with your approval I can start right now." The man wrote her a check.
             Seeing that it was for five thousand she gave it back to him. "It's more than I asked for."
             He looked at it on the desk with an empty expression. "If you find my wife, it'll be worth every penny . . . and if you don't I don't think I'll be needing it anymore."
             She looked at him understanding the seriousness of his feeling. "All right, I'll consider the extra an advance." She got up and escorted him to the door. "Now the best thing you can do is go get some rest. You'll want to look better for your wife's return."
             He thanked her as she closed the door behind him.
             Samantha walked back to her desk, thinking about that poor man, who'd obviously lost everything he held dear. It warmed her heart to see someone who genuinely loved his wife; she'd seen too many couples break up in the name of money. She had almost stopped believing that love was a real emotion and not something people made up to get something from someone else.
             She copied the address and phone number off the check and picked up the phone. The man's last comments had left her uncomfortable.
             "I'd like to talk with father Maxwell please." She said when answered. Father Maxwell the most devoted listener she knew. Herself, and others within the congregation, often went to him with their problems. He would offer advice, not as a priest, but as a man with years of experience.
             "Hello," someone said a few seconds later.
             "Father Maxwell, this is Samantha Douglas."
             "Ah Samantha, how are you today?"
             "I'm fine, thank you for asking. I'm calling about my client. His wife has been kidnapped and he took it pretty hard. I'm afraid of what he might do to himself if she can't be found. I was wondering if you could talk with him."
             "You sound as if you believe he might kill himself if something goes wrong."
             "Yes."
             "Don't you think he'd be better served by seeing a psychologist?"
             "What he needs is a shoulder to cry on. You're the best person I can think of to help him."
             "I'll see to it." She gave him Brian's address. "Do you think you will find her?"
             "I don't know. It mostly depends on what the kidnapper wants from her." She hated to sound pessimistic.
             "I see. I'll still see you in church on Sunday?"
             "Of course. Have a good day."
             She hung up and looked out the window. She knew she couldn't blame all Arcanes for what one of them had done, but at this moment it seem to her like Arcanes were constantly preying on Mundanes for one reason or another. She sighed, magical beings were no more responsible for the pains of normal folks than the Gods were. She had to admit it sometimes felt good to blame someone for all her problems. That done she took out her check book and wrote one for her landlord.
             "Hello Miss. Douglas." Said a woman as Samantha was locking the door.
             She turned to her. "Good day Madame Loraine, what's in the cards for us today?" Madame Loraine was a tarot reader. She was good enough to have clients coming from all over the United States for readings. She had the office next to Samantha's.
             "I'd stay indoors if I were you. According to the cards the next few days will have many things happening."
             "Hopefully, one of them will be success in this case." Madame Loraine delighted herself in giving advice of all kind. Unfortunately she had a tendency of being as vague as her cards.
             Smiling, Samantha said goodbye and walked down the stairs. Her occupation required her to be sitting most of the time. She tried to use her legs as much as possible. She put the check in her landlord's mailbox and went to her Jeep. Her one exception to her walking rule was when she had a case.
             She drove to the police station. There she made her way to a particular desk. She sat down before a man before being noticed.
             "Hey Rocco! How's it doing."
             The man lifted his head and smiled. "Hi Sam. They have me doing so much paper work that I'm rarely on the streets anymore." He threw his pen on the desk and stretched. "I can't do this anymore. Do you want a cup of coffee?"
             "Sure, as long as it's not from inside this station."
             "Come on, the coffee shop in front has a great cappuccino."

             The coffee shop had once been a bar, whose windows had been broken so often the owner had them bricked off. When the police station moved in the clients stopped coming. It was forced to close. Over the following years the building saw many businesses trying their luck. From a library to a tattoo parlor, even an arcane shop had given it a try. None of them had survived. Now it was a coffee shop. Samantha hoped it would survive. It had a calm atmosphere, quiet music and diffuse lighting.
             They took a booth. Just as their order arrived two police officers got up to leave. They stopped.
             "Hey Arcane, what are you doing away from your desk. You might get in someone's way," one said carefully placing his cap.
             "Up yours Wallosky," answered Rocco, giving them the finger.
             They left talking together. Samantha heard a few insults thrown their way.
             "Why do you keep taking this Rocco?"
             He looked at his cup. "It's the only way I have of being a cop."
             "Get even with them once in a while. I don't know, throw them a curse, something minor, but annoying." Rocco was a mage with great powers. Samantha constantly found it amusing considering his unassuming looks and behavior.
             He looked at her smiling, and then shook his head. "I don't know how. Even if I did it's illegal to hex someone. It'd mean my job."
             "Then join Security."
             At that he laughed out loud, spilling some coffee. "Damn. Do you know what Arcane Security of any kind is about?"
             She looked at him. "No," she said hesitantly.
             "It's all about posing. About who looks the most powerful. They couldn't even find their ass without some sort of specially made spell. That's not what I want. Anyway, what did you want to see me about?"
             "I wanted you to check for any reports made on the sighting of a big, winged, bipedal being."
             "I don't recall anything, offhand."
             "What about the man who came to see you guys three days ago. He's wife was kidnapped by this being."
             "If it involves anything arcane, everyone at the station makes doubly sure it doesn't cross my desk. It might take a few days, but I'll see what I can find."
             "Do you have any ideas on what it could be?"
             He looked at her, surprised "Don't you?"
             "Yes, but I'm only someone reading a lot. You actually do magic."
             "Not these days. OK, how big was it?"
             "I don't know for sure. From what my client said probably over seven feet tall and muscular."
             "I doubt that's a shifted mage then."
             She looked at him not understanding.
             "When someone is shapeshifted by magic the physical mass can't be changed."
             "That's right, I remember now. Magic can't create mass, only modify it's shape."
             He nodded. "If your creature was human at the start, even if he was seven feet tall, there wouldn't be enough mass to create the being you described. He'd have to be over five hundred pounds."
             "What else could it be?"
             "Let's see. A demon, but they're very hard to control when they're that big. Could be a gargoyle. If it's that it could be a lot easier to find out; there aren't that many of them in the city . . .. Wait a minute, I just though of something. It might be a mage after all. If he uses a spell of flight and an illusion to cover his shape, it would have work."
             "That doesn't help me narrow down the possibilities."
             "Sorry."
             "OK, who could have access to those ways, and any other ways you can think of?"
             "It's illegal to summon a demon. So is selling an inscribed summoning, making it an expensive spell. A witch wouldn't touch that kind of spell with a broomstick. A wizard might, but only out of curiosity, not to get after someone. A necromancer is definitely capable and most would be willing; they don't care much about their souls. I don't know about the dark priests, but it's a possibility.
             "To create a gargoyle would require an Arcane with a passion for sculpting. It's the only way to imbue life in inanimate rock. Without the intervention of magic, it would take about a century for the gargoyle's sentience to emerge. A mage could easily speed this up, even bond the creature to himself. If a gargoyle gains life on its own, it will be free spirited and stay away from humans.
             "The flight spell and illusion could be bought for a few hundreds dollars each. Although the flight spell might cost more, depending on how much weight it's able to carry. Any arcane shop will carry them."
             Samantha sat back and let escape a sigh. "Thanks."
             "I'm sorry if it doesn't make your job easier."
             "At least now I know what to look for. Tell me, if I have to go against one of those creatures, what should I use?"
             "Against a demon a blessed bullet would hurt it a lot. A gargoyle is made from rock, so it's affected by magic that affect rocks. The mage is vulnerable to anything a mundane is, unless he has a protection spell cast. Over all I'd say your best bet is magic."
             "And me a simple Mundane. Thanks anyway." Samantha got up.
             "I'll look around for more info on the kidnapping."
             She wrote her client's name on a napkin and gave it to him. Before she could leave he caught her and gave her a kiss on a cheek, making her blush.

             She spent the rest of the day inquiring around, trying to find out if anyone had bought certain spells. The day wasn't very productive. None of the places she visited sold summoning spells, not even in the back rooms. Very few people had need of both a flight and illusion spell. Those who did turned out to be an actor playing a flying dragon and a birthday gift for a dying child.
             She went to bed totally drained. She didn't even take the time to undress and turn the lights off. Her cat, Mortimer, curled up besides her accompanying her to sleep with his purring.
             She woke with a start, shivering. She went to check the heating system and found the system had failed, again. She had it looked at three times in the last month. She hoped the problem would be found before the autumn night became much colder. Now awake she went around the house, turning off the lights.
             She ran back to the bedroom when she heard Mortimer yell in distress. She got there in time to see, through the now open window, a large winged being taking flight. He fit the description Brian had given her. Like him she couldn't tell the color of it's skin. She closed and locked the window and did another round of the house, making sure all the windows were closed and securely locked. She then took out extra blankets and went back to bed. Mortimer jumped beside her, making sure that she was between him and the window.

             The next three days were spent going around the darker places. Mainly small, out of the way, arcane bars and making contact with sellers of illegal spells. Nothing came out of it. No one she talked to would touch a summoning spell. The penalty was to high for them. None of them liked the prospect of being transformed into a zombie.
             Then came Sunday. After mass she seeked out father Maxwell. She found him speaking with the young man who had given the sermon. She gave him time to finish before approaching.
             "Now," Father Maxwell said once the acolyte had left, "What advise can I give you."
             Samantha blushed. "Is that the only thing I do when I come to see you?"
             He smiled. "Not really, but I usually give some anyway, so what is it?"
             "First, how is Mr. DuMornay doing?"
             He remained silent for a few seconds, thinking. "As well as can be expected, all things considered. When I talked to him he was withdrawn and depressive. I called his family so that someone's with him at all time. Other than bringing back his wife I don't know what else can be done."
             "When he hired me he paid me more than I had asked. Since he wouldn't take it back I though I would consider it an advance. Now to continue my search I'm going to have to use some of it. I don't know if I should."
             "He gave it to you, you should use it."
             "What about his state of mind when he did it?"
             "Maybe, but I saw where he lives. He won't miss it, if that's what you're afraid of. If it helps you find his wife I'm sure he'll be happy you used it. You don't have to worry, just do your best."
             "Thanks."
             "That's what I'm here for."

             She stopped by her usual Arcane shop. She looked around for any new books before asking for the items she wanted. The owner, whom she knew, wasn't there so she had to endure an unknown salesman who tried to sell her dozens upon dozens of things she didn't need.
             Finally, she was able to leave with only what she wanted; a locator, and a charm. She knew she would be counting the pennies for a while. The locator would let her find Mrs. DuMornay. The charm was protection against spells in general. She put the charm in her pocket. She tried it on, but it didn't suit her. She didn't like wearing jewelry, any way.
             She leaned against her jeep, closed her eyes and brought up the picture of Mrs. DuMornay in her mind. When the image was clear she opened them and looked at the locator. It remained motionless. She knew it didn't mean anything, she did another test.
             She thought of Mortimer, his face solidifying easily in her mind. The black face with white speckles, the ripped ear he had lost six years ago, his eyes, one gold and the other green. His image made her smile, as usual. The locator needle started to spin, finally pointing in the direction she knew the house was.
             As She feared Mrs. DuMornay was by magic. She put the locator on the seat. She looked around the deserted street. She was wondering how to bypass the spell that hid Mrs. DuMornay when she noticed a shadow over her. Looking up she saw something large falling towards her. She barely moved away in time when it tried to grab her. She rolled to the ground, grabbing her gun and pointing the creature, but it was already climbing, showing only a black silhouette against the sun.
             She didn't waste bullets trying to hit it, but went for the locator. She formed in her mind the image, as vague as it was, a large being with wings. The locator spun around and settled on a more or less Northeasternly direction. She tried to see the flying being, but he wasn't visible anymore.
             She hopped in the jeep and drove off. She made her way in the direction the locator was giving her, driving one hand. She needed to keep physical contact with the locator. She zigzagged her way through the city eventually stopping at the edge of a destroyed area.
             Before her stood a city wasteland, about a hundred city blocks of unlived, and almost unlivable space. Everything was in shades of gray. The buildings, the few left standing, the debris, even the sky looked gray here. This, she though, was the reason for the mistrust of Arcanes.
             In the eighties gang wars became more frequent. When Arcane gangs entered the fray it led to the '86 war. An entire year of constant gun fights and magic devastation. Only the surveillance by Mundane police and Arcane security prevented it from spilling into the entire city. By the end of the year no one was left alive. Only those desperate enough dared to come live here. The city said the they would rebuild. They even tried it a few times. There were rumors that this place was haunted. She'd never stop to think about it. Seeing it she could easily believe them.
             Taking a deep breath she held up the locator. It pointed straight for a church about a hundred yards from where she was. She decided to go on foot. The jeep could probably take the terrain, but she didn't feel like risking its suspension. Pocketing the locator she made her way across the debris. The streets weren't visible anymore under all kind of debris. She made sure to keep the church in her sight constantly.
             It took her a full hour, sometime having to go around toppled buildings, or through them. Wherever she moved she could hear things scrambling away. She tried not to think about what they could be. She'd read that places where magic battles had happened tended to create new kinds of creatures.
             She reached the church, a big one, she leaned against a wall. It had survived the battles by the thickness of its walls, or the grace of God. She took the locator and formed the image, It pointed to her left. She walked around the church and did the same thing, this time looking in the distance. It pointed her.
             She slowly turned, watching the needle. It constantly pointed the same direction, the church. She found the entrance, a large double door in perfect shape. It opened soundlessly.
             The entry hallway was tall, still and felt majestic, even if it had been stripped of everything but the walls. It made her uncomfortable. She knew it would have horrified father Maxwell, to think that someone could have desecrated a church in such a way.
             Coming from the nave she heard a woman's cries and moaning of pain. She quickly, but quietly, walked to the entrance of the room. To her left farther down the room, behind pews, she could see the winged back of a blood-red creature, whose lower back was pumping up and down in rhythm with the cries. She took out her gun and aimed carefully, wishing she had something other than ordinary bullets loaded.
             "FREEZE!" She yelled.
             A barely human, horned face popped out and looked at her in what seemed to be surprise, remaining still. After a few seconds, during which neither it nor Samantha moved, a slender hand grabbed it by the beard, yanking hard.
             "Don't stop," said an unseen female voice.
             The creature went back to its thrusting, to the obvious delight of the woman under him.
             He casually looked at Samantha. "Whatever you want, you might as well put the gun away and wait until we're finished."
             Realizing what was going on Samantha left in a hurry, blushing. She waited outside, away from the sound and trying not to think about what they were doing. The girl, barely looking eighteen, came out a good half an hour later dressed like a prostitute, all smile.
             "He's all yours dearry," she told Samantha, looking at her enviously.
             Samantha went back into the church. Not seeing him she cried out. He lifted his head from behind the pew and rested it lazily between his crossed arm.
             "What can I do for you, other than serving as target practice, I'll be happy to be of help."
             Somehow it wasn't the kind of reaction she expected. "Who are you?"
             "I'm called Sam." He studied her. "Did I meet you before? Anyway look, you don't look like a priest. If you're here to banish me say it now so I can end this cleanly and quickly."
             "I'm here regarding a kidnapped woman."
             Sam shook his head violently and waved his hands before him in denial. "Whatever they told you I'm not involved in this one." He stopped moving. "You're that investigator who's been asking around about summoning spells."
             She ignored him. "This tells me you are." She took the locator out.
             "That thing's telling you the she's here?"
             She didn't like where the conversation was going. "It's telling me that you're the one who took her."
             He exhaled in one thunderous laugh. "If it's telling you that, then it's obviously broken. You'd better have a talk with the enchanter responsible. Anyway, those things aren't very accurate. You were probably thinking of someone else and got me instead."
             This is what she'd been dreading. The locator had worked with the information she had provided. Sam obviously fit the look of the kidnaper, but he wasn't necessarily him. She'd hoped he would have panicked and admitted everything. No such luck.
             "I'll be leaving then."
             Sam straightened. "Can I do anything to help?"
             She looked at him dubious. "Why would you want to help?"
             He shrugged. "Well, for one thing, tonight's entertainment is gone. I'm bored and you're cute."
             "I'm not making any kinds of deals with you, or anything similar."
             He chuckled. "Don't worry, I'm not one of those. I'm only looking for something to do."
             She thought about it. "Well, if I think of anything I'll call."
             Samantha left the church, trying the locator again. It kept going back to Sam, inside. The locator was giving her the closest being that fit the image. She closed her eye, trying to remember something new about the creature. Nothing came. She suddenly felt lifted off the ground.
             She yelled, and kept on yelling panicking. She was held by a rocky creature, a gargoyle, a calm part of her mind told her. It kept her close to its chest, preventing her from seeing anything else. She fought to get out of its hold, but she wasn't strong enough.
             She saw a flash of red in her peripheral vision and the gargoyle dropped her. In alternating sight she saw the ground, getting closer, the gargoyle beating its wings to put out a fire clinging to its body and Sam falling towards her. He caught her while she was pointing to the ground, noting every detail, strangely devoid off fear. Their collision together knocked the breath out of her. The fear came pouring in. She cried, holding on to him until he gently put her on the ground.
             She moved away from him, drying her tears.
             "What happened," he asked her. "I heard you cry out and by the time the time I came out the gargoyle was flying off with you."
             "It grabbed me on the way to my jeep." She turned toward him, and turned away with a gasp.
             "What's wrong?"
             "You're naked."
             "So?"
             "Could you get dressed?"
             "I don't have clothes."
             Samantha took off her vest and gave it to him. "Use this to cover yourself."
             Sam looked at it on all side. "I won't be able to fit in this, and my wings will rip the back."
             "Just cover that." She said, pointing his midsection without looking.
             With an amused smile he studied the situation and tied the sleeves in his back. "I'm done."
             She turned around wearily, unsure if she could believe what he said.
             He smiled at her. "I didn't know you'd be so sensitive about that. Most places I hang in don't seem to mind."
             She blushed, but did not respond. She looked to the sky, while searching for the locator in her pockets. "DAMN!" She said, coming up empty. "I lost the locator."
             "That thing? I don't see how you can mind. It wasn't very good."
             "Look, I don't need your sarcasm right now OK? It cost me most of the money I had. Now I wont even be able to find the woman I'm looking for. If you want to be helpful why don't you go after that gargoyle? I'd like to know why it's after me."
             Sam took off with a nod.
             Samantha sat down, leaning against something that could have been a car, once. Calming down she realized that if the gargoyle was the one who had kidnapped the woman, it was probably trying to prevent her from finding her. That didn't explain why it had only tried to capture her, rather than kill her, and what it had been doing at her house, unless that was Sam. She'd have to ask him.
             He landed next to her. "I can't find it anywhere. It's probably hiding in a building somewhere."
             She looked at him with a resigned look. Quickly she averted her gaze. "Would you please straighten the vest."
             Sam looked down. The vest had turned around during the flight. "You know, your human sensitivity is charming and all that. If we're to work together you're going to have to get over the sight of me naked. I have no use for clothes." He said adjusting the vest. "Done."
             She looked at him. "What makes you think that I want to work with you?"
             "You asked me to go after the gargoyle, didn't you?"
             She rested her head in her hands. She didn't need this kind of aggravations.
             Then a though struck her. "If I buy you an Arcane locator would you be willing to help me?"
             He sat down beside her. "Sure, but why would you want to buy me a locator?"
             "It's a lot cheaper than a Mundane one, I could afford it."
             "That's fine, but I won't be able to use it."
             "Why shouldn't you, you're Arcane."
             He laughed. "Hardly. I'm Demonic."
             She looked at him dubious. "I always though Demons were Arcanes. Hell, I though that there were only Mundanes or Arcanes."
             "Humans come only in those flavors. You also have Demonics and Angelics."
             "Demons and Angels. I thought that those were also humans."
             "Most start that way. Once they get on our side they become entirely different."
             She thought on that a while. "You said that you'd seen me in one of the bars. How come I didn't see you? I would have remembered someone looking like you."
             "I was slightly out of sight."
             "Hiding?"
             He shook his head. "Busy."
             She looked at him. "Did you follow me home that night?"
             He looked back, his mouth twisting in a wry expression. "What would make you think that?"
             "A winged being tried to get in my house during that night. It left when I realized it was there."
             He let go of a deep chuckle. "If it would have been me you would have known. I would have done whatever I'd gone there to do, and not cared if you were there or not."
             She got up and dusted herself off. "Come on, lets go back to the jeep. I'll show you what I found when we're at my office."
             Sam followed her example, and unfolded his wings. "I'll give you a lift to your jeep."
             "I . . . I don't think it's a good idea."
             "Come on, I won't bite, or do anything indecent to you. We're working together. I have to do my part." He stretched his hand to her.
             Hesitantly she placed hers in his. He lifted her in his arms and took off. She held him tightly, afraid of being dropped. Held this close she noticed a few things that didn't register when he saved her. He smelled a little of sulfur, like an after shave. His skin was smooth, without body hair, save for his hair and beard. The same red as his body. Even his horns were red.
             He landed beside the jeep and got in the back, the only place where his large frame fit comfortably. She drove to her office, self-conscious of the Demon in her jeep. She did get a few strange looks, but she made her way without any difficulties.
             In her office Sam looked around before sitting on the old sofa beside the door. She gave him her notes to read while she checked her messages.
             "You don't have much." He told her once finished.
             "I know, but I have something more now. A friend of mine left a message saying that there had been a few sightings of gargoyles. Some of them carrying victims he reports. It would seem that my client's wife wasn't the only one kidnapped."
             "I can ask around about that. That is, if you don't mind us working together." He gave her an inquisitive look.
             "That's fine."
             "Good. Is there an access to the roof?"
             "The stairs are at the end of the corridor."

             The Arcanium was the place where Arcanes who inspired fear, simply by their looks, or by their feeding habit, came to relax. Most of the clients could easily be identified as Arcane. The werewolves, skeletons and ghouls were among the most visible today.
             Sam made his way to a darken booth and sat down in front of a lich. It looked up from its book, and put it aside.
             "Hello," it said in a hollow voice. "What owes me the honor of your presence?"
             "I need some information."
             The lich waited for the waitress to place a drink in front of Sam, and leave.
             "What kind?"
             "A gargoyle as been kidnapping people around the city." Sam took the large cup and breathes some fire on it. The liquid caught in a long yellow flame. He took a deep swallow.
             "It's not one of mine."
             "Who else has one?"
             "What would be the payment for that information?"
             Sam lifted his shoulders. "What do you want?"
             "Your name could be useful."
             "You'll be waiting for a long time for that one. I don't give my name to anyone."
             The lich thought about it a while. "Then I could probably use your help with a rival."
             "Would it have to be right now? I'm busy at the moment."
             "I'm in no hurry, death has taught me patience," the lich wrote the names down before leaving.
             Sam sat down at the counter. "Have you heard anything about the kidnapping done by a gargoyle?" He ask Jade, the bartender.
             Jade finished drying a glass. "Might have."
             Sam waited. It became obvious that Jade was waiting for something more the demon swung his hand in front of Jade's face, catching and unseen object. He opened his hand, and a gold coin sat in his palm.
             "Is it real?" Jade asked, controlling his impulse to grab it.
             Sam placed it on the counter. "It is. Straight from a Spanish galleon I sank three or four hundred years ago."
             Jade looked at the coin, cautious. "My father told me never to believe what a demon said."
             "Good advice, but it's still real and yours." Sam put his hand over it before Jade could take it. "Once you've told me about the kidnapping gargoyle."
             Jade squirmed, the gold out of his sight. "I don't know about the gargoyle. I heard enough about the victims." He was trying to see the coin between Sam's fingers.
             "My hand'll come up when you've told me. So you might as well stop trying to peer through it and talk to me." He picked Jade by the collar.
             "OK, OK . . . I heard the victims came from all over the city, rich or poor. Doesn't seem to make a difference. They do have a few things in common." He tried to move Sam's hand. Sam shook him. He stopped "All right. The victims were all slender, five six, five eight in height, brown skin, dark brown, curly, hair. That's all I know." Sam let go of him and left.
             On the flight back to the office he was thinking about what he had learned. The description fit Samantha's, and the gargoyle had tried to take her. This would be fun.
             He never saw the gargoyle coming. One instant he was flying the next he was plummeting to he ground, rocky arms around his neck. Before he could remove it from his back he collided with the street. The impact left him dazed.
             "This," said the gargoyle, lifting him up, "is for nearly melting me. I don't get involved in your business. I'd appreciate you staying out of mine." It threw him in an alley.
             Hitting the building did not help Sam regain his senses; nonetheless he tried to get back to his feet. The gargoyle landed beside him and he made an attempt at striking back. It moved aside and struck him in the back.
             "I'm not given any choice about what I'm doing. You'd better heed this warning," was the last thing Sam heard before fainting.
             When Sam woke up there was a crowd at the entrance of the alley. He got up slowly, letting the dizziness pass. His back felt sore, but his wings weren't broken. He took flight, not minding the crowd.

             He barely remembered to put the vest back on. He even though about not putting it on at all. He decided Samantha wasn't the one responsible for his anger. He sat down on the sofa, wincing as pain traveled through his back.
             "What happened to you?" Samantha asked upon seeing him. He was covered with scratches.
             "I had an impromptu meeting with the gargoyle. It didn't appreciate my saving you. I have some new information."
             "That's good." She got up and gave him a package. "I got this for you."
             He took a bundle of cloth out of the bag. "What am I suppose to do with that?" He held out a large shirt and pair of pants.
             "Wear them of course."
             He opened the pants and looked inside. "Why would I need to?"
             "To cover that," she said pointing, "unless you want to keep using my vest?"
             "I'd much rather," he said, getting up, yanking the vest off and throwing it at her, "I don't need to. I'm perfectly comfortable in earthen climates. If you have a problem with it we might as well discuss it right now. I'm not sure I'll be happy working with you if I have to wear this only on your say so."
             Samantha concentrated on stopping the reflex to look at what had been uncovered. "Look, humans don't go around naked. We wear clothes, it's called decency."
             "I'm not human, I don't have to play by your rules."
             "That's fine with me, the door's over there. If you want to work with me you're going to wear them, you're scary enough as it is."
             He looked at the pants and shirt, frowning, and then at her.
             "It's final, no clothes no work."
             "Well," Sam said with a wry smile, "Dad said I'd never get anywhere if I didn't try something different once in a while." He threw the shirt on the sofa and put the pants on, solving the problem of his tail by cutting a hole in the back. He then worked the shirt on. Samantha had bought one specially made for winged persons, but his wings were too big for the slots.
             Trying to wear the shirt he ripped the back. His horns caught on the collar and ripped it also. Once his arms were in the sleeves he could feel the seems start the break. He couldn't move without ripping it even more and he felt strangled.
             "This won't work." Samantha told him.
             "No kidding." He answered trying to get out of it. Finally he simply ripped it off. "Look, I'll wear the pants, but there's no way I'm putting on another shirt. Anyway, I can't think of something that could frighten a human that the shirt would cover, unless you want me to wear a hood with that?"
             Samantha smiled. "The pants will do fine. Now, what did you find out from your friends?"
             "From one I got the names of those who have gargoyles, one or many. From the other I learned that all the victims look like you."
             "What?"
             "Between five six and five eight, slender, brown skin and dark brown, curly, hair. That fits you pretty well."
             "Yes. That explains why the gargoyle tried to get me. What about the names?"
             "They are: one Armand Lajoie, one Amanda Rockford, one Stenford Broak and one Jonathan Maximilien Trojian." He told her from memory, the paper having been lost when the gargoyle attacked him.
             She wrote them down and then, seeing the time. "At least we have something to go on now. I'll start on them in the morning. You can crash on the sofa if you want to."
             Sam looked at it. "Who do you take me for? It's not because I'm a Demon that I destroy things simply to pass the time."
             "Not destroy, crash on, you know? Sleep on?"
             "Oh, I don't need sleep."
             "Then I'll see you in the morning."

             The morning saw Samantha on the phone and Sam reading a book. She had to wash her vest a few times to get the sulfur smell out if it.
             "I'd like to speak to officer Rocky Trojian please. Rocco! I need you to give me some info. To start with, you never told me your dad had a gargoyle. I see, OK, I'd like you to get me some addresses. Yes they're in the city. Armand Lajoie, Amanda Rockford, Stenford Broak and your dad. I have to talk with them. Thanks"
             She wrote down the information he gave her. "I'm going to see Rocco's father. I'll be back in a flash." She told Sam in leaving.
             On the way there she called to let them know she was coming, using Rocky 's name to make sure his father would see her. The estate was enormous. At an hour from the city, the land easily covered twenty acres. The mansion itself could be mistaken for a castle.
             She was received by aerial servants and escorted to a study on the second floor, where she was told to wait. She took that time to study the room. When a man, in his fifties, entered she was looking out a window at the interior courtyard.
             "I am Jonathan, I was told you needed to see me."
             "I'm Samantha Douglas, I'm a friend of your . . . .."
             "Son, I know. That dubious standing would not have let you past the gate. You also mentioned something about a gargoyle." At those words the door opened by itself and an eight feet tall statue entered. "Geoffrey," Jonathan said as a matter of introduction.
             Samantha gulped, "Nice to meet you." She didn't get closer. Geoffrey nodded.
             Jonathan sat behind the large desk. "You are here to ask about my involvement with the kidnappings that have been happening over the city. I will tell you I am not, nor is Geoffrey, involved. I do not know, nor do I care what happens to the Mundanes."
             She looked him straight in the eyes. "That's comforting though."
             Jonathan chuckled. "What do you expect? The Mundanes are afraid of me and don't want me around. I moved as far as I could allow myself. I am now returning them the favor. Now, what else do you want to know?"
             She sat in the chair facing the desk. "Don't you know?"
             "Yes, but I found that giving Mundanes answer to questions they have not asked yet unnerves them."
             "I can't see why." She told him with irony. "Rocco, I mean Rocky told me a bit about gargoyle, but I always thought that they were winged creature. Did you have its wings removed?"
             "No. I had Geoffrey created this way. I needed a bodyguard, not a show piece."
             "I see. Do you know the other gargoyles' owners, Armand Lajoie, Amanda Rockford and Stenford Broak?"
             "I do know them, although I did not know Stenford had one. He never looked patient enough to wait for one."
             "Patient?"
             "Yes. If one is well prepared and has all the ingredients the creation of the spell to accelerate the awakening of a gargoyle will take at least a few years. Surely my son told you about the time needed for a gargoyle to awaken to sentience. In the case of Geoffrey it took me three years."
             "What about the other two, what kind of gargoyles do the have?"
             "Winged, both of them."
             Jonathan was about to say something more when a crystal ball started to glow. "Geoffrey, there is someone uninvited in the yard, remove him."
             The gargoyle opened a window and jumped out.
             Jonathan got up. With a courteous wave of the arm invited Samantha to the open window. "Would you care to see Geoffrey in action?"
             She looked out, to see Geoffrey and Sam battling it out, in silence.
             Samantha sighed. "Sam, what are you doing here?" and then yelled the question.
             "Following you." He said, dodging a punch. "Unless you've forgotten," Dodging another one, "There's still a gargoyle . . . .." He blocked a kick. "That's enough." Sam took off. "As I was saying you still HAAAAV . . . .." Was all he could get out as the gargoyle jumped, caught his legs and dragged him back to the ground.
             Samantha turned to Jonathan. "Could you call your gargoyle off, I know him."
             He looked at her, shocked beyond belief and looking a little terrified. "You KNOW him? Sweet lady, what are you DOING involved with a demon? I do hope you had enough sense not to conclude any deals with that creature."
             "Of all the patronizing . . .," she didn't even have time to finish the though before erupting in anger. "Where do you get off telling me how to live my life? Sam's a colleague and he saved my life. You're the one saying he doesn't get involved in Mundanes' affairs so fuck off." She turned to the window. "Sam! I'm leaving!"
             "It's about time," he answered to himself, connecting a punch that sent the gargoyle flying through a wall. He flew beside the window. "Your gargoyle needs some beefing up."
             He landed beside the jeep and waited for Samantha to get there. She slammed the door over what he tried to say.
             He climbed in the back "You're in a foul mood, what's eating you?"
             "WHAT IN ALL HEAVEN ARE YOU DOING HERE?"
             "Protecting you, There's still a gargoyle on the loose"
             "You're a demon. Why should you care what happens to me?"
             "We're partners."
             "Well fine. Then this partnership is over. Get out of my Jeep."
             "Look we can . . . .."
             "I SAID GET OUT!"
             "Fine, if you need me I'll probably be at the church or the Arcanium."
             She drove off without listening to him.

             An hour later Sam was slouching on the Arcanium's bar, playing with an empty glass.
             "Something wrong?" Asked Jade.
             "I'm bored."
             "Weren't you working with that detective?"
             "She threw me out."
             "Well you can always go back go maiming and raping."
             Sam chuckled. "I've been doing that for as long as I can remember, It's no fun anymore. That's why I was looking for something different to do this time around."
             "I see. If you don't want violence anymore then you probably won't be interested in the hiring I heard about."
             He shrugged, "what's it about?"
             "From what I heard, collecting things around the city. I only heard that Limely was looking far a few Arcane gangers for a job. If you're interested, its tonight at the old Balters Building."
             "Gangers hey? You think they'll mind having a demon around?"
             "Now that you mention it, probably, but that never stopped you before."
             "Only this time I'm not looking for an easy fight." He looked at his hands. "You know anyone who could whip me up an illusion talisman before tonight?"
             "Its possible, but it won't come cheap."
             "You know money's not a problem. I have enough gold, and I know a few rich men I can kill for some quick paper cash if he wont take gold. The illusion has to feel real to those around."
             "I'll ask around."
             "I'll be back before sun down."

             An hour before sun down Sam walked back in. He felt better, still unsure if he wanted to do it. He needed something to do. Was he willing to sacrifice the way he looked to get it? He didn't know.
             "I have what you wanted" said Jade. "He wants five of your gold doubloons."
             "That's what he wants? Or what you want? I'll give you one."
             "Come on, you know that's not enough. He'll never take less than four."
             "Tell you what. I'll give you two and this." He placed a wallet on the counter. "There's about three thousand dollars in it."
             Jade took it and counted the money. "What happened to the owner?"
             "He was lunch." He took the amulet, looked at it dubiously and put it around his neck. He tried to concentrate on a few illusions to test the limits of the amulet, but he couldn't bring himself to do it.
             Jade looked at him. "It isn't working?"
             Sam didn't answer. Lets start simple, he though. Clothes, he'd need clothes that would let him pass himself off as a ganger. Pants and a jacket, both made of leather appeared. All ganger had symbols on their clothes. Unfortunately Sam didn't know what would be appropriate. Thinking it better than nothing he put a demonic face on the back of the jacket and flames on the pants.
             Looking at himself in the mirror at the back of the bar he had to admit the clothes were good. Unfortunately he still looked like a demon wearing human's clothes. He worked on his skin color, keeping it as red as he could. He ended up looking sunburnt. It might not be appropriate considering the season. At least he still felt comfortable. The face and wings were the hardest part. In the end he looked human, tall and with a deformed face, but he looked human.
             He felt miserable, which in turn made him feel angry. This was the worst thing he'd had ever had to do. Made even worst by knowing he had done it willingly. When he left the Arcanium he looked mean. He looked forward to killing someone.
             The building where the meeting took place was old and ill kept. He entered through a large opening that had once held door. Inside Arcanes of all types moving around, staying in small groups with the same emblems on their clothes.
             A man climbed on a table an yelled for attention. "I'm happy you could make it." He said once everyone had calmed down. "I need about forty persons for the job, which will amount mostly in creating havoc for the Mundanes."
             "How much does it pay?" Someone yelled in the crowd. "Why?" Yelled back another.
             "If you need a reason to disturb the Mundanes you're among the wrong people. As for the money, it will be enough since you can keep anything you get, other than what I need."
             "Just make sure the Ravens aren't involved," said a werewolf.

             "Or what?" Answered a black, winged, man behind the werewolf.
             The werewolf turned and bared his fangs. Several of the Ravens made their ways to their leader.
             "Stop this. I don't need a fight here."
             "Fuck off Limely. It's time those Ravens finally learned who's the boss around here."
             Limely murmured a few words and pointed the Raven leader, who started melting.
             "There Rake it's done. Now can you pay attention to what I'm saying?"
             "You Monkey!" Rake prepared to pounce on Limely. Sam caught him by the neck and threw him through a wall.
             "Will all of you shut up!" Everyone quieted down. "I don't give a shit who I have to kill here. I intend to learn what's this job is. If you're not interested leave before I throw you out." A few left, including the Ravens and werewolves. Sam turned to Limely. "And you. I want to know what's the job is, right now."
             Limely looked at him, unmoving. "Who are you?"
             "What d'you care?"
             "That was impressive, if not stupid. Could you be a Mundane?" A few around chuckled and other looked at Sam with predatory glares.
             With a quick gesture Sam threw an arrow of flame and pierced Limely's hand.
             "You fucker." Limely cried out in pain, grabbing it to put the fire out.
             "That answers your question?" Limely straitened and started on a spell. "Try it. I'd rather do your job, but I'm in a bad mood today and I'll be happy to take you on just to work off some anger."
             Limely stopped. "Well, maybe you're right. I'll use you for the main work with a few others." Limely bandaged his hand and split the work.
             The worst of his rage worked off Sam quietly listened as assignments were given. Half the group had to get spell materials. They were either extremely expensive, rare, under guard or, in some case all three. The others were there to create disturbance for the police and security.
             "You," Limely told Sam and the two others with him, "are going to get the most important ingredient." He took out a picture of Samantha. "Mark will drive you to her house and you get her. She must not be damaged."
             Sam smiled as the others nodded.

             After her argument with Sam, Samantha contacted the other gargoyles' owners. Amanda was the only she could meet. The other two were away on business. Amanda turned out to be a charming woman. She loved to impress people. Her gargoyle was built in gothic style and was very ornamental. It mostly stood around and acted as a waiter.
             When she got home it was already dark. She entered her house only to find it as cold as it was outside. She checked the heating system. It didn't want to start. Calling the repair service didn't get her anywhere They were already closed. That's what she got, trying to save a few pennies.
             She decided to forgo her usual shower and went to bed fully clothed. If she was lucky the heating would start by itself during the night. Then, if she woke up, she might take the time and luxury of a shower.
             She woke up slightly when cold air struck her face. She noted that she was too warm under her blankets and took them off. Another wave of cold air went over her, waking her more, enough to notice people talking in low voices over the buzz of the heating system.
             She couldn't understand what was being said. Now completely awake she didn't want to take any chances. She silently took out the gun she kept in the nightstand, checked to make sure it was loaded and got up. As she took a step toward the door, a giant in leather opened it and walked in. Reasonably certain he wasn't a burglar so she shot him in the knee. He reached her, the wound not bothering him in the least. He knocked the gun away. He threw her on the bed. Holding her down forcefully, he tied her hands in her back with an electric cord. He carried her over his shoulder, unconcerned by her kicks, up to a van where a man, looking like a pimp, turned toward them.
             "I'll put her to sleep," he gestured a spell and touched her forehead.
             Samantha tried to move away, but the giant held her firmly. She went limp, the spell making her sleepy. Suddenly it stopped and she found herself awake. letting them think the spell had worked Samantha remained still. She tried to understand what had happened. She remembered the amulet in her vest's pocket. It must have kept her protected.
             They drove for what seemed like hours while she tried to figure out where they were going. She repressed sneezing. The air in the van was stuffy with the smell of sweat and brimstone. When they stopped the giant picked her up and dropped her on a wooden surface, about a hundred paces further.
             A finger moved across her cheek. "What do you plan to do with her?" said the giant.
             "That's none of your business." Answered someone farther away.
             "Well, she's cute. I think I'll lay her before leaving." He told the other, moving his finger down her body. She concentrated on holding still, hoping she wouldn't panic.
             "NO!" Yelled the other voice, moving closer. "She mustn't be violated, my boss needs her virgin." The finger left her body.
             She flinched on hearing this. She froze hopping no one had noticed. They kept talking; she guessed she was safe, for the moment. Virgins were needed for only two things; handling unicorns and sacrifices. She didn't think they needed a handler.
             "She's for someone else? I can't wait to see what'll be done with her."
             "You're not going to see anything."
             "You're kidding right? I plan to be on the front row. Hell, I might even join in, that he wants to or not."
             "You've got it all wrong. He's not planning anything of the kind. What he does must remain secret, so you can't come."
             "If she's that important I want to renegotiate my fee," said someone else.
             "I can't let you come. He won't allow it."
             "Yeah?" said someone else. "I'm going too. I happen to recognize a few of what's collected here. I won't leave that to you, or him until I've been assured it's safe."
             "It is safe. I promise you that he has only your best interest in mind," said the man.
             "That stuff is used to make destructive spells. I'm going to make damn sure I know where it's going before letting you have it."
             "Fine. Fine. I'll let him deal with you." He said in a resigned voice.
             Samantha was picked up and carried back to the van. She risked a peek. The giant and two gang members were sitting around her, in the back. Everyone, but one gang member, remained silent during the trip, which lasted a few hours. The loquacious partner kept on talking about one thing and another for the entire trip. She used the time to slowly loosen the cord holding her hands.
             When they stopped the giant was the last one to exit the van. He dragged her closer to the door. "Let me stretch a bit and I'll bring the girl."
             "All right, but you better not do anything to her, or I'll make sure you suffer for a long time."
             "Yeah yeah."
             She watched behind half closed eye lids. Everyone moved off in what looked like a cavern. The giant did some stretching exercises. She figured she had only one way to escape. She prepared herself and struck the moment he was close enough. Unfortunately he easily caught her foot, before she could connect with his groin.
             "You know Sami. Next time you want to do something like this, make sure you don't warn the intended target in advance with your posture."
             Without the posturing and yelling his voice was familiar. She looked at him in surprise. "Sam?"
             "The same" He placed a hand on her chest and looked inside the van. "I guess I should tie you again," taking the cord. "Can't let you escape." He tied her hand securely.
             She tried to get out of it. "What are you doing?"
             "What I'm supposed to do. I can't let you get away, can I?"
             She sighed. "Look, if you're doing this because of what I said I'm sorry. But between you and that condescending mage I had to blow off some steam. I'm sorry it was at you."
             He looked at her. "Why would I be doing this because of you? You made it clear you didn't want me around so I found something else to do. I do like the irony though, if not what I have to look like." He took her in his arm.
             "But . . . But they're going to kill me." She wiggled around, trying to break out of his hold, but he was too strong.
             "That's my guess too. I have to say that I'm curious to see who's going to be summoned."
             She stopped moving and gulped, becoming paler. "Summoned?"
             "Yes. The sacrifice of a virgin is always the most important part in the summoning of a demon or dark God. The rest of the stuff that was stolen is also involved in a summoning."
             "Is there any way I can convince you to drop me and give me a hand in capturing the guy behind all this? I thought you liked me?"
             "I do."
             "Then, let me go."
             He smiled. In this place it wasn't the most pleasant thing to see. "I think you're confusing me with a human."
             She slumped in his arms. "All right then. I know you said you're not that kind. What if I make you a deal?" Sam stopped moving. "You untie me, let me down and promise not to deliver me to them and I'll take you on as a partner. Half and half."
             He looked at her. "Not much of a deal. What am I suppose to get out of it?"
             "I'm not involving my soul in this." She said vehemently.
             "I see." He thought a bit. "The only other thing I could want is you virginity."
             "No way, NO how."
             "That's what I thought." He moved for the door.
             She did all she could to remain calm. Panicking wouldn't help her. "Out of curiosity, what are you getting out of this?"
             "Something to do."
             "What about after that?"
             "What do you mean?"
             "What are you going to do once this is done?"
             "I don't know. I'll find something else."
             "If you work with me you'll almost always have something to do. Every time I'd get a job you'd be involved in it."
             He stopped a few paces from the door. "Tell you what. I'd be willing to take the deal, but I reserve the right to ask for your part of the bargain at a later time."
             "As long as it's something I find reasonable."
             "That's convenient. What do we do now?"
             "They're expecting you to deliver me to them right? I'll play unconscious and we'll see what happens next. Are they armed?"
             "The gangers have guns. Limely relies on his magic."
             Samantha checked her pockets. "All right, let's go."
             He opened the door and was greeted by one of the gangers
             "'Bout time you got her. Fell asleep?" The doorman smiled devilishly. "Or maybe you had your fun? I can understand. Being as big as you are, you would scare off most of the girls. I can't blame you for taking your pleasure where you can, whatever other might say."
             Sam stopped him talking by squeezing his throat. "Where to?"
             The guy massage his throat a few seconds. "That way." They walked a few paces before he started again. "I looked around while waiting for you. There're statues by the door. A dozen of them. I've never seen ones so well made. They look so real. By the way I'm Robert. Everyone calls me Yak. You got a name?" Sam stared at him. "Don't want to talked about it hmm? I can understand," replied Yak, "with all the powers a name can give to a mage. I tried that kind of magic a while back. It's not for me. I'm more in the simpler kind, little things you know? Small illusions. A bit of protection, that kind of things."
             Sam looked at him. "What's you're full name Robert?"
             "Uh? What? Oh, it's Robert Brogan."
             "Well, Robert Brogan I COMMAND you to be silent." Robert looked at him surprised, then smiled. He opened his mouth to say something. No sound came out. "Count yourself lucky that I didn't knock you unconscious to make you silent."
             Passing the statues Robert had mentioned, Sam examined them with a casual glance. Like he'd said they were life like. They all looked somewhat alike. He guessed those were the kidnapped victims, probably held in stasis by magic.
             He reached the door handle and received a shock on touching it. "Youch. What kind of sorcerer wards a door against the people who are supposed the get in?"
             While Sam was holding his hand and working to prevent Samantha from falling Robert got close to the door. Hesitantly he touched lightly the handle. Nothing happened. He placed his hand on it and looked at Sam.
             "What are you looking at me for?" He was working at controlling his temper. He'd just realized the ward wasn't against intruders, but Demonics. "He probably worked it so that it stopped after the first shock. How should I know. Just get the door open."
             Inside the two gangers were beside an old man, leaning over a book, their backs to them. The room was a large cavern, converted in a laboratory. There was equipment everywhere, magical and scientific. In one corner the gargoyle was standing.
             "Put me down and drop him," murmured Samantha.
             Sam let her legs fall to the ground. With his free arm he knocked Robert back in the wall. Samantha was on him, taking his gun and aiming it at the three turning men. "No body move."
             Limely looked at them. "You're working with her?"
             "I am now. She made me a better offer." He let the illusion vanish and stretched his wings to their full length.
             The old man turned and looked at them eyebrows arched in surprise. "I'm nowhere near ready for him," he said, looking at the things around the book on the table. "You'll have to stop him until I'm ready," he ordered the two besides him, while he gathered what he needed.
             They looked at each other, unsure of what to do. Sam's demonic form did not inspire confidence. Limely started casting and the other got his gun out. Samantha shot the one with the gun in the leg.
             Limely's spell, and Sam's flame arrow, activated. The air shimmered around her and the gun started to melt. Samantha dropped the gun, disgusted. The burning arrow hit Limely through the chest and knocked him back into the wizard.
             "No, no, no. I told you to keep him away," said the wizard, pushing Limely away and casting a glance over his shoulder. The wizard turned and looked annoyed at the scene. "You, stop him," he told the gargoyle.
             Sam turned in its direction. "Go take care of the sorcerer." He told Samantha. he turned to the gargoyle. "As for you, I've been meaning to thank you for the beating you gave me."
             The wizard was placing his ingredients, his back to her. She inched her way to the ganger's gun. The ganger had let go to hold his wounded leg. She took it and aimed at the wizard's back. Realizing that she'd never shoot someone in the back, she changed her aim for a bottle containing an amber liquid and shot it instead.
             The wizard moved away in surprise and looked at her. "Why did you do that?"
             "Hands up and move away from the table," she replied.
             He shook his head. "You realize that without the blessed amber I can't cast the spell anymore."
             "I said, move away from the table."
             "Don't you see that I'm doing this for you? With this I could have finally lifted the curse that's over all your heads." He took a step toward her.
             "Don't."
             "Why are you helping that creature? Its kind is responsible for all our problems."
             "I suppose that my sacrifice was also to help me?"
             "One death, yours, could have saved all the others. Don't you think it's a fair exchange?" He shrugged, seeing that Samantha wasn't softening toward him. "I guess that remaining here doesn't serve any purpose anymore." He looked at the gun. "By the way, the safety's on."
             Unable to stop the reflex she quickly checked, when she looked up the wizard was gone. She turned around and saw Sam reducing the gargoyle to broken rock and sand. He dusted himself off and looked at her.
             "He vanished before I could reach him. Damn it Sam!" she turned around.
             Surprised he looked around. San didn't find anything wrong behind him. "Oh. There, you can look."
             "You know how I feel about that."
             "It's OK, I'm dressed."
             Samantha peeked, Sam was wearing a pair of form fitting and suggestive jeans.
             "Where are they from?" she asked him suspicious.
             "They're illusionary. That way I'll be modest, and you happy. I won't have to feel like my dick's being squeezed to a pulp ever again." Samantha blushed. "With the sorcerer gone we won't be able to know what he wanted with you, and all the others. I don't think he knows" Sam said pointing the ganger, who was trying to make himself as small as possible in a corner.
             She shook her ahead and looked behind him. "The gargoyle might have known."
             "I did a thorough job with it. I don't think there's a mage anywhere who could get a word out of it."
             "Then all that's left to do is to call the police, get those people out from their spell and get Mrs. DuMornay back to her husband."
             "Would you mind waiting before contacting the police? I'd like to go through those books." He pointed the bookcase against the wall. "They might give us an idea of what he was trying to accomplish."
             "I'll start by getting Rocco here. Was there a cellular in the van?"
             "I think so." He said absentmindedly, taking books off the bookcase.
             Outside the room she took the time to take a good look the people frozen along the walls. She found Mrs. DuMornay, although she was tanned, unlike on her picture. She snapped her finders in front of her trying to get a reaction. She even pushed her a little, but nothing happened. Hopefully Rocco would know how to get them out of it.
             In the van there was indeed a phone. She had to call four times, giving the answering machine time to hang up between each call, before she got a half awake Rocco on the line.
             After telling him what had happened, leaving any mention of Sam out for now, she realized she was unable to tell him where she was. He reassured her. He would divine her location and be there soon.
             "He'll be here in a while. He has to locate us first." Samantha said when she came back. "Found anything?"
             "Not much. Most of the books here are what I'd expect to find in a sorcerer's library. He has quite a few on summoning, and this." He held up the book he was reading. "It's about Human legends. It was opened to this one."
             "What does it say?"
             "It more or less says that in the beginning of humans everyone was Arcane, until someone tried to take over the Demons. In retaliation they stripped most Arcanes of their connection with magic, making them Mundane. I never heard of this. I think that's what our sorcerer was showing Limely when we got here."
             Limely was now a burning corpse that Samantha tried to avoid looking at.
             "Whatever. Once Rocco gets here the job'll almost be finished."
             "I'll be at the church. Just come join me once you've given the wife back."
             "You're not staying?"
             "I'd rather not be around when your friend comes. He's Arcane and police. I think he'd fell obligated to try to arrest or banish me. That could get messy. I wouldn't want to start our first day of partnership by having to kill a friend of yours. It would put strain on our relationship."
             "All right. How about coming at the office tomorrow instead?"
             "Which tomorrow?"
             "What?"
             "The sun's about to raise. Do you mean the day after today, or the day when work starts."
             "You lost me with that. Just be there around noon."
             "Bye."
             Samantha sat down exhausted and waited for Rocco to show up.

  5. The Lord Tiranis, An Origin, Part3 (2nd third) (an excerpt)

    Tiranis is a world of humans and furries, of super science and super powers, of ordinary people and extraordinary ones.    

    Stories of the Past is a series of stories exploring the history of the city of Tiranis, as well as the world it exist in or sometimes people of importance in it.

    This is excerpt is about 1000 word of a 8,500 word chapter.

    You can read the full story, as well as other stories set in the world of Tiranis by joining my Patreon at the 1$ level: https://www.patreon.com/posts/17449735


          A story of the past   

    El was about to tell Leech to contact the other teams and have them regroup here when he saw Stevenson put the pipe he'd gotten on his shoulder and step in the middle of the road.

    "Stev-"

    A bright flash of light blinded him for a moment, then he saw spots. He moved before his vision was clear, grabbed the man by the collar and pulling him out of the road.

    The pavement exploded from the high caliber bullets that impacted it.

    He could see the grin on Stevenson's face. "It worked."

    "Are you trying to get yourself killed?" El peered around the corner. The spots were mostly gone and the machine had its arm raised. A the end of a collection of tubes he hadn't noticed before, all smoking. Its head was gone. The end of the neck still glowing from the heat.

    Stevenson put the pipe on his shoulder and took a step in around the corner. El grabbed him and pulled him back, just as the pavement exploded again.

    "Stay down, you idiot."

    The man looked at him, offended. "I'm not an idiot. I'm smarter than the lot of you combined."

    Milton snorted. "Keep telling yourself that."

    Leech growled. "Will you two shut up? I swear it's like you live in one of Suff's sitcoms."

    The firing stopped.

    "That's a .9 caliber Gatling," Vee said, looking at the furrows in the ground. "I doubt even I can survive that."

    Stevenson tried to push his way between the lynx and bull but El stopped him.

    "How come it's still standing?" the man asked. "I blew up its head."

    "It's a machine," Jennifer said, "Why would you think the head did anything more than look good?"

    "It's a head," Stevenson said, like he was talking to a child. "Heads are where the brain, eyes ears and other stuff goes. Everyone knows that."

    She sighed. "I swear, how did you even qualify to join this group?"

    Stevenson glared at her. "You showed up in my lab with two soldiers and drafted me, so you tell me." He shoved her into El, and used the distraction to step onto the street.

    The lynx wasn't gentle when he pushed her off him. He could hear the whine of metal against metal as the Gatling started up. Stevenson was going to get himself killed this time.

    There was a flash of light, a form ran past him to tackle the human. There was the sound of metal, crashing down and then an explosion in the middle of the street, more or less where he'd seen Stevenson standing.

    "That thing has two arms!" That was Leech. "Are you looking to get yourself killed?"

    "You're wrong." Stevenson. "It only has one arm, now."

    El's vision had cleared enough he could see the lion on top of the human on the other side of the street. There was a one-meter hole in the pavement.

    Leech looked at him. "Can I kill him? It's clearly what he's after."

    El managed to smile, trying to blink the rest of the spots away. "Sorry, Arnold is hoping to get them back alive."

    "Is he going to blame us if the Dutch kill him?"

    "Only if we can't prove we did everything we can to keep them alive."

    The lion sighed. "I hate this job."

    Gears whirled, metal whined and everyone hunkered down. When no Gatling fire came, El and Jennifer peeked around the building's corner. The ground shook as the machine took a step forward.

    El cursed.

    "You're surprised?" she asked.

    He ignored her. If he didn't do something to stop that thing, they were all dead.

    When it took another step he opened the ground under the foot as it landed and closed it over. It didn't even titter. It pulled it's foot up and the ground exploded and it pulled it out.

    El cursed again.

    "Get out of my way." Milton pushed Jennifer away. He peeked around the edge, made adjustments to the metal and concrete box he was holding, then threw it in front of the machine. He crouched and put a finger in each ear.

    El looked at the older man, trying to understand what he was doing. The machine took a step and the ground shook. It took another and El opened his mouth to ask what the professor was waiting for.

    The explosion shook not only the ground, but the building protecting them as well as El's very bones. He felt the concrete above them break out of the wall and pushed everyone away.

    The piece of concrete hit the ground, sending dust flying, but El didn't hear the impact. He looked at it, trying to understand how it could have fallen silently. That's when he noticed the ringing in his ears.

    It was like when he'd decided to experiment with his power without the scientist's supervision. It had been a few months after Ellie's death and his near execution. He'd lost his trust in the scientist, even if they'd saved his life. They hadn't done it because they thought he hadn't deserved to live. No, they'd only cared about the fact he had displayed a second power, and they needed to study him. If only they'd known what El had realized then.

    A thunderstorm was raging that night, and El had felt not only the rainfall, and the air moving, but something else, high in the atmosphere, but also outside, around the camp. He'd gone out, mentally reaching for that new sensation, grasping at it, and once he had it he pulled with all his might.

    The lightning struck a foot in front of him, burning him and blowing out his eardrums. He'd lain there, laughing like he was insane as the sheer power he'd felt. His body wouldn't respond to his command, but he didn't care. There had been so much power in that lightning, and he could feel hundreds of them forming in the clouds. Each one his to control. If the brass ever decided he had to die, he would show them the folly of trying.

    The pain hit him then and all laugher or thoughts of blowing anyone who wanted to hurt him vanished from his mind. Everything hurt, the raindrops felt like knives, cutting him open. He needed to get back to his tent, out of the rain. But he couldn't move.

  6. Kindar
    Latest Entry

          "Seth!" I yelled at the top of my lungs kicking the door off its hinges. The first thing I saw was the couch so I tenderly placed Walter's body on it, then I fell to my knees and cried.

          The trek back here took longer than my search because my balls hurt so much I couldn't run. I didn't even consider stopping to relieve the pressure; I deserved the pain for getting Walter killed.

          After a while the tears stopped enough for me to realize Seth still wasn't there. I cursed under my breath and headed to his lab. I would have loved to stomp there, but my balls wouldn't let me.

          I found him at his workbench, working on something small. I pulled him of his seat and held him against the wall.

          "Damn it Seth, didn't you hear me calling you?"

          Seth's eyes were unfocussed and his fingers were moving before him like he was still working on something. I dropped him and went to the kitchen where I knew he kept more joints. I had to go through half the cupboards, most of which ended up with ripped off doors, before I found a box of them.

          Seth was back at his workbench when I came back and I had to go through his pockets to find the lighter. The first few puffs were shallow as he kept working, the next ones deepened and he grabbed the second joint out of my hand. After that he was able to light them himself so all I could do was pace while I waited for him to be high enough to notice the world.

          That took ten excruciating long minutes.

          He grabbed his stomach and bent over. "Man, I'm famished. How long have I been working?"

          I didn't give him time to reach for his watch I grabbed him by the collar and lifted him. "I want you to call them."

          "Huh? Call who?"

          "The wish catcher guys you used to work for."

          "What? I don't know how, I don't have anything to do with them anymore."

          I pulled him close and glared at him. "Don't fuck with me Seth. I know they wouldn't have let you go without giving you a way to contact them, so you're going to go find it and then you're going to call them, do you get that?"

          "Yeah, yeah, I get it. I'll look for . . . Man, what happened to your arm?"

          I shook him to get his gaze back to my face. "Focus on what's important Seth. That call is all that matters, not my arm, just that call." My arm was now covered with bleeding scabs as every time I moved it the dried blood broke. It looked pretty bad, and didn't' smell all that great either.

          I let him go and followed him to his bedroom, where he started looking through a file cabinet.

          "Why do you want me to call them anyway?"

          "I need them to lock me up and throw away the key."

          "Why'd you want them to do that?"

          "Because I killed Walter."

          Seth started at me. "You what?"

          "You heard me. I killed him, D.E.A.D. dead."

          Seth grabbed the phone and dialed. "This is Seth Burnsteng. I have a wisher here who says he killed someone. No, I don't think he's dangerous, he's turning himself him. Yeah, that's him. Well, that's what he said. Ok, we'll be waiting for you."

          I'd heard what I wanted to hear so I headed to the living room. I picked up Walter and cradled him in my arms as I sat down to wait, constantly apologizing to him for getting him killed. I could feel Seth on the side, but he wasn't important right now.

          "I thought you said you killed him," Seth said after a minute of silence.

          "I might as well. I shouldn't have gotten him mixed up in this and I should have kept on going with him to look for that woman. If I'd done that he would still be alive."

          "You didn't do this," Seth said with such certainty that I found myself baring my teeth at him and growling. He took a step back and I went back to focusing on Walter.

          Seth made another call.

          "It's Seth again. You're going to have to bring more people, the Actress is here. No, not at my place but somewhere in the area, she's the one committed the murder. Yes I'm sure; I still remember the bodies she left in the eighties. Yes, he's been in a fight with her. Yes, I think he'll still want you to take him in."

          Seth sat on the other end of the couch and wisely kept quiet.
          
          * * * * *
          
          The cot I was lying on was cold and uncomfortable. My arm was bandaged and numb, my balls were in so much pain that even breathing hurt and my stomach had been screaming at me for the last two days.

          The cell I was in could have been the same one they put me in before for all I knew. I didn't care; I just wish they would turn on the force field and forget about me.

          Instead I got a doctor checking on my arm every day. He said that he was sure they would be able to reattach my skin back to my arm. I didn't care about that, as far as I was concerned what they should be doing is ripping every inch of my skin off so I'd feel the pain Walter felt.

          Someone also brought me food three times a day, but I didn't eat any of it. I didn't want anything to lessen the pain I felt. I hadn't even jerked off since finding Walter; I didn't deserve any kind of relief.

          I was going through the hundredth way I could have saved Walter when someone stopped in front of my cell. The doctor had already changed the bandages on my arm this morning and it was too early for the lunch tray

          "Hello Mister Benton." The voice sounded familiar, strong and commanding, but also soothing; like someone's grandfather.

          I glanced at him and recognized the man who'd questioned us the previous time I was here. I turned on my side, with my back to him; my arm and balls protested.

          "What do you want?" I asked bitterly.

          "I wanted to thank you for helping us find the Actress. She disappeared eleven years ago and if not for you she might have gone on killing with impunity."

          "And how did I help you do that? I don't even remember where that damned cave is."

          "We found it by backtracking where you had been using the tracker that we implanted in you."

          The surprise made me sit up and then bend over as my balls really complained. I glared at the older man. "You put a tracker in me?"

          "Yes, you and your friends, except for Mister Marcozy; we couldn't find a way to pierce his skin."

          "Wait a minute, if you've known where I was all this time how cone I've been walking free all this time?"

          "Because at no time were you a prisoner, Mister Benton. You didn't kill anyone in your escape and once outside you kept a low profile so we had no need to retrieve you, or your friends.

          "And now that the actress is on her way here your arm should be fixed up soon."

          The mention of my arm made me look at it and brought visions of Walter's corpse.

          "Is something wrong? I thought the news would lighten your mood, not darken it."

          "If you really want to do something for me, find a way to bring Walter back."

          "I'm sorry, but there are things which are beyond us."

          "That's what I thought." I lied back down and curled up. "Just turn the force field back on and leave me alone."

          "I won't do that, Mister Benton, you're not a prisoner."

          "I'm a monster," I said softly blinking as tears fell, "and a murderer. I shouldn't be allowed to be free."

          "No, you are neither of those things."

          "What am I then?"

          "You are a young man who went through a horrible experience, but it's my hope that something good can come from it."

          "What good could ever come from someone's death?"

          "You've seen what a Wisher can do now, so maybe you can work with us to stop the others like her, to make sure no one else suffers like you did."

          I didn't say anything, I didn't know what to think of the offer.

          "All I ask is that you think about it; your life isn't over and you certainly shouldn't be spending it in this cell." He turned to leave and then stopped. "Oh, and Seth asked me to bring you this," he placed a watch the table by the door and then left.

          * * * * *

          The dinner time crowd was thinning when the man entered the diner. He put his hat and overcoat on the rack and tucked his briefcase under the booth's table. The waitress gave him her best smile and admired his muscular frame as she brought him the menu. The man ordered the special and asked for the paper. He read it slowly as he ate.

          He smiled to the waitress when she refilled his cup and politely turned her down when she started flirting; she was pretty enough, being a petite brunette and close to his age, but she wasn't his style.

          Time passed, people came and went while he continued to read the paper and ordered the occasional piece of pie. When he finished the paper he folded it and set it aside before looking up for the waitress.

          The woman who came to his table was older, in her mid fifties and had light brown hair, cut short. "Can I get you a refill, Hun?"

          "Yes please," the man said with a smile, handing her his cup.

          "Did your wife kick you out?" She asked him putting his full cup down.

          "What? No, what makes you think that?"

          "The cook told me you got his just after dinner time and you've been reading that paper all evening. I'd expect a good looking man like you to have someone he'd be in a hurry to go back to."

          "Actually, I was waiting for someone."

          "Who?"

          "You, Anna. Would you mind sitting down?"

          She raised an eyebrow before looking around, most tables were empty and the other waitress could deal with the few customers at the counter. "Why are you waiting for me?" she asked as she sat.

          "Because I need your help." He wrapped his hands around his cup and looked at it for a moment. "I did something horrible - I didn't mean to, but someone is suffering because of it." He looked at her. "I need you to undo my last wish."

          She frowned. "Wish? I don't understand Hun, how can you making a wish hurt someone? And how could I help?"

          "Please Anna, don't insult my intelligence, I know exactly what you are. In fact it was so easy to figure it out that I'm amazed no one else has yet."

          "I'm a woman who's getting to old to be a waitress?"

          "You're the one who's been granting wishes."

          Anna started to laugh, but the seriousness with which he was watching her made here put her hand over your mouth to stop. "Oh honey," she said once she got the giggles under control, "if I could grant wishes would I really work here?"

          "You look exactly like you did when you started working here ten years ago."

          "I exercise regularly and my hair color has been coming out of a bottle for longer than I've been working here."

          "Since you started here there's been an increase in unusual things happening in the city. I've also gone through the archives of the people chasing me and they've been able to figure out that everyone who had their wish granted had dealt with people in the service industries a few days before it happened. I'm willing to bet you were at all of those."

          Her expression softened as his hardened; she wrapped her hands around his. "Oh honey, I don't know what's happened that hurt you so much, but wishes don't come true. Even if they did, I'm sure there'd be some kind of rule that prevents them from just being undone."

          His eyes tightened. "So you're not going to help me."

          "I can't help you Hun, If you did something, you need to take responsibility for that and fix it."

          "Fine." He stood and threw a couple of twenties on the table. He grabbed his coat and hat and stormed out of the diner.

          He pulled his cell phone out of a pocket once he was across the road. "You should have helped me," he mumbled as he kept walking and dialed a number, "now I'm going to have to show you that we're just too dangerous to have around."

          The flash of the diner exploding momentarily sharpened his shadow on the ground and the shockwave almost made him loose his balance.

          "I promise you Anna, I'm not going to stop until you've undone this."

  7. Kindar
    Latest Entry

          Part 5: Resolutions
          
          I don't remember anything about the run itself, but when I stopped I was in the school gym. I was too busy fretting over what I was going to do about killing a man to wonder why I'd come here, I mean I'd just damned myself to Hell, how was I going to get out of *that*?

          "Are you ok Jayson?"

          I stopped my pacing to look up at Coach Warner standing across the room. My first thought was to run out, but he was blocking the door.

          "Jayson, what's wrong?" He started walking toward me and I backed up until I was against a weight rack.

          He wasn't blocking the door anymore. I could run past him and flee, but my legs weren't listening to me. I couldn't stay here, I couldn't let him find out what I'd done and damn him by association.

          He placed his hands on my shoulders.  "Whatever it is Jayson, you can talk to me." His touch was gentle and I could see the worry and caring in his eyes. For a moment I wanted to tell him everything, I even opened my mouth before I regained my senses and pushed him away hard.

          He backpedalled and by the time he'd regain his balance he was almost back in the door way. "Damn it Jayson, I'm trying to help."

          "You can't help! I'm damned and there's nothing anybody can do about it!"

          "You're not damned Jayson. Trust me; I know a thing or two about these things."

          He took a step in my direction and I screamed. I grabbed a weight plate off the rack and threw it in his direction to force him to stay away. Only after it left my hand did I realize it was a twenty-five pound weight, that I'd thrown it with all my strength and that I'd aimed it directly at him. Time seemed to stretch into infinity as I realized I was about to kill another man.

          Coach Warner caught the weight in one hand and placed it on the floor. "You need to calm down Jayson." He crossed to room again.

          The shock of what he'd done kept me frozen in place. He'd caught the plate. That thing should have gone through him and then two or three walls after that with all the strength I'd put in the throw.

          He wrapped his arms around me and held me tight. "Tell me what's got you so scared."

          The way he was holding me against him felt so good, warm and safe. "I killed someone," I said softly. He didn't tense up at the news, he just kept holding me.

          I started crying.

          He let me cry for a few minutes. "How did it happen?"

          I told him everything; the attacks, Maggie and Marvin protecting me and what I did to the man I'd killed. I didn't stop crying while I talked.

          At some point he let go of me. I don't how long I'd been crying, but the front of his shirt was soaking wet. "I need to go take care of something," he said looking me in the eyes, "I want you to promise me you'll stay here until I get back."

          I nodded and he left. I kept standing there for a while, unsure of what to do. There were all those weight machines I could use to keep myself busy, but I didn't feel like using them, I was too tired. I sat down in a corner, brought my knees against me, folded my arms over them and rested my head.

          I was woken up by voices in the corridor, Coach Warner speaking with someone else.

          "You're the one who got me into this so you're going to help out," the coach said.

          "I was not given a choice," the other replied in a deep and vibrant voice, "he requested you personally."

          "You could have said no."

          "Not quite, I owed him this favor."

          "I'm not saying you should have said no, I'm actually liking it here, but he needs your help. You know I'm more of a sword and shield kind of guy, that's not what he needs."

          They entered the room and the coach's friend surprised me, from the voice I'd expected someone tall and broad shouldered like him; instead he was shorter than I was and didn't look muscular at all in dress pants and baggy shirt.

          "Jayson," Coach Warner said as I stood, "I'd like you to meet Al, he's," there was a moment of hesitation, "a friend of mine."

          "Thor has told me some of what happened to you," Al said standing straight and commanding. I gulped. "What I need to know from you is why it came to this."

          I tried to answer, but I found myself staring at the floor instead.

          "Thor, would you leave us alone please?"

          "Sure thing, I have to make a few calls anyway. I'll be in my office if you need me."

          "Jayson, please look at me," Al said a few moments later. I did and found myself gazing into his eyes. They were grey like storm clouds and I could have sworn that just like clouds the colors were shifting.

          "Now, tell me why someone who has the training to fight let it come to the point where you lost control."

          "I don't know how to fight," I said weakly.

          "Thor has told me that you are a trained martial artist."

          "It's not the same thing. In class it's controlled, my opponent knows the moves I'll make and what to do against them. In the tournaments I do worry about hurting someone, that's why I don't fight as hard as I could, but at least I know that we're all trained. Out there, I don't know what to expect."

          "So killing that man was an accident?"

          "No," I said with shame, "I got angry that he hurt Maggie, but once I started punching him my anger became about being pushed around and not able to do anything about it as well as all the other things I can't do so I won't stand out."

          "That can't, or won't do?"

          "Same difference; unless you haven't noticed this town isn't exactly tolerant of anyone who's different."

          "I have just arrived. I have not had the time to observe."

          "Trust me, in this place if you don't fit within a mold they consider normal you're shit out of luck."

          Al gave me a small smile and then looked around. His gaze stopped on each machines in the room and I could see him judging them and not being impressed. Finally he went to the Lat workout machine.

          "Thor has also mentioned that you believe you are damned."

          "Well yeah. I killed a guy. That's a straight line to Hell."

          "I was under the impression that your god was a forgiving one."

          "I can't ask him to forgive that," I said looking at my blood covered hands, "What I did is just too horrible." It hit me that I hadn't even thought about how I was going to face my parents.

          "Before the thoughts you are currently having depress you so much you cannot do anything productive come help me." Al's commanding tone snapped me out of it and I joined him by the machine. He was crouched down placing the pin in one of the lower plate in the weight stack; he pointed at the bar above my head. "Please grab it and pull."

          I did and at least three hundred pounds of weight went up.

          "Pull it until it is as high as it will go."

          I followed his instructions, and then he kicked me in the stomach. The kick had more strength then someone his size should have and I lost my balance, falling back over the bench and letting go of the bar. I hit my head on the floor and the ringing mixed with the clang of the plates reaching bottom.

          "What was that for?" The ringing quickly subsided as I stood and the pain was a dull throb. I completely forgot about it when I saw that Al's hand was under the fallen plates. "What did you do?"

          He pulled his hand out and wriggled his fingers. "I have demonstrated that I am not easily hurt."

          I looked at his moving fingers and the strength of the kick came back to me. "You're a parahuman." I stated.

          He seemed to think about it for a moment and then had a knowing smile. "If that term helps understand the situation, then yes, I am one."

          Something else occurred to me. "Coach Warner is one too!" Al didn't say anything he just looked at me with that smile. "But what does it mean?"

          "It means that if you let me I am capable of helping you."

          "How?"

          "The training you need is in dealing with the unexpected. You are aware of this, but have not looked for help in this regard, presumably because you fear what the people you ask would think due to the mind set in this locale."

          "So?"

          "So, I am not from here, nor do I share the local attitude. I have seen to the training of many warriors and I can help you overcome this weakness so that you will not have to fear needlessly hurting someone else again."

          I looked at him dubiously. "Ok, but why are you even offering to help?"

          "Because Thor asked me to."

          "Except he's only here because you sent him."

          He leveled his gaze on me. "You overheard our discussion."

          "I have pretty sharp ears," I said with a smile, enjoying the feeling of having put one over him.

          "An old acquaintance asked for a favor to repay a favor and I agreed, sending Thor here to look over you."

          "But why?"Al didn't answer me. "The attacks." He nodded. "The coach was supposed to protect me? But he never did anything?"

          "If Thor had felt you needed more protection than you already had he would have intervened."

          "Do you know who's behind it?"

          "No, I was not provided with that information."

          "Then how about why?"

          He was silent for a moment, studying me. "I do not know, but I am starting to have suspicions."

          "Are you going to tell me?" he shook his head. "Arrrg! Why won't anyone tell me anything?" this was infuriating.

          "Because you are a child and we are the adults."

          I spun on my heels and glared at him hand closing into fists. I wasn't just some kid he could speak down to, I was sixteen.

          "You wish to strike me," he stated as if he'd read my mind, "what is stopping you? Why are you not doing it? Do you believe I cannot take it?"

          The sneer in his tone is what made me lose control, my fist flew at him and he caught it in a hand. Then I was flying over him to land on my back with my arm outstretch and his knee on my throat.

          "Consider this your first lesson in the unexpected; not everyone you will try to strike will be unable to avoid the blow."

          He let me go as Coach Warner knocked on the door frame. "Can you guys be disturbed? Jayson's friends are here to see him."

          "That is quite alright, I am done with Jayson for the moment."

          "Good." He left and moments later Maggie and Marvin ran in.

          "Maggie, your arm?" the sling over it was the first thing I saw, then I noticed the cuts and bruises on her face.

          She looked down at it. "Oh, it's nothing, you know me I was just climbing a building and fell."

          Climbing a building? Falling?

          "Hi," she said looking at Al, "I don't know who you are, but do you mind leaving us alone?"

          "Not at all," he answered, "Jayson, talk with Thor when you are done with your friends, he will let you know when to come see me. Please follow me Thor."

          Coach Warner rolled his eyes before following Al.

          Marvin checked that they were out of earshot. "Why did you run off like that?"

          I looked at my feet. "I couldn't stay there after what I did."

          "Because you fought him?" Maggie asked.

          "No, because I killed him."

          "No you didn't," she said

          "Of course I did. I beat him to a pulp; no one could have survived that."

          "They took him out in an ambulance," Marvin said, "I'm pretty sure they don't bother doing that when they're dead."

          I stared at them. He wasn't dead. I hadn't killed him. I heart flew in relief, and my knees failed. The next think I knew Marvin was keeping me standing.

          "Don't pass out on us, wouldn't look good for the hero to faint."

          I hadn't killed him.

          It took a few moments for my legs to be steady under me.

          I hadn't killed him.

          "What happened after I left?" I was eventually able to ask.

           "I carried Maggie to my car and went to the closest phone booth. I called 911 and waited out of sight to see what the cops were going to do."

          "What they did," Maggie continued, "was look the scene over, call the Ambulance and then everybody left."

          "How did you know I was here?"

          "The coach called me, he said he'd found you here shaken up and bloody. He said that you'd been in a fight and that we should come quickly. Who was that?" Maggie asked.

          "That's Al, he's a friend of the coach. He said he can help me defend myself."

          Marvin looked at me. "You don't need any help defending yourself, did you see the number you did on that guy? I don't even understand why Maggie wants us to look out for you."

          The memory of the fight made my stomach churn and I forced myself to remember that he wasn't dead. "I don't want to ever do that again."

          "But why? You're a natural at this."

          I felt like hitting him, but he wouldn't survive it; or maybe he would with that Norse thing of his, but I really didn't want to fight him.

          "Maggie, why don't you explain things to him? I have to go talk with Coach Warner and then head home. I've missed dinner and my folks are going to worry."

          The door to the coach's office was open and he was sitting behind his desk.

          "Where's Al?" I asked after looking around the office and closing the door.

          "He went home."

          I sat down in one of the chairs facing him "Why didn't you tell Maggie and Marvin that you know about them?"

          "Because it isn't something they need to know. Being a hero here requires anonymity, if they realize I know it'll just add one worry over everything they have to think about."

          "Did you know about them before I told you?"

          Coach Warner shook his head. "I knew someone was looking out for you, but that was it. It never occurred to me that Margaret would be one to take to the fight."

          "Marvin?"

          "The vibs I got off him made me suspect he was a parahuman, but he didn't seem the type to do anything with it."

          I shrugged; I hadn't known him before he got forced into the part of hero.

          "Al said you'd know when I should train with him."

          "He was thinking that you could train with him instead of going to your Karate class."

          * * * * *

          "Jayson Mortimer," mom said in a stern tone the moment I opened the door, "where have you been? Dinner was two hours ago."

          "Sorry mom," I said as meekly as possible, "I met one of Coach Warner's friends and then I found out Maggie got hurt."

          "Maggie's hurt? What happened? Will she be ok?"

          "Yeah she'll be fine, she broke her arm," I smiled a little at having diverted her anger.

          "That's good, I'll keep her in my prayer tonight, but that's no excuse not call us to tell us you'll miss dinner."

          "I know, I'm sorry mom," I smiled mischievously. "Maybe if I had a cell phone it would be easier for me to let you know that stuff."

          She looked at me. "I don't think so; you're far too young to get one of those."

          "Plenty of guys at school have them."

          "And plenty of *young* people at your school smoke; it doesn't mean I'll let you do that too. Now come on, I'll reheat your dinner and then you can go to your room, you have school tomorrow."

          I nodded, I hadn't expected her to agree to it, to be honest I wasn't even interested in one but it was something else for my mom to focus on instead of my lateness.

          "Mom, what would you think if I stopped going to Karate class?"

          "Stop? Why do you want to stop going? I thought you liked it."

          "I do, but the coach's friend I met, he knows martial art too, and he could teach me, but I don't really have time to do both, and he wouldn't charge anything."

          Mom looked at me dubiously. "He's willing to do it for free? Are you sure he doesn't have some ulterior motive?"

          "Come on mom, he's the coach's friend. Coach Warner would never let him do anything bad."

          "Maybe, but I think I'll want to meet him before I agree."

          "Sure mom."

          I introduced them a few days later and she liked him, on the way home she said that he had an old style charm to him, whatever that meant.

          Al's training method was weird. Him and me would fight and at random times Coach Warner would throw a box at me. In the box could pretty much anything, a vase, a five pound dumbbell, a beach ball or even eggs. The only way I had to know what was in it was to read the description on the box as it was flying at me while Al was trying to beat the crap out of me. He didn't pull his punches and he was much better than I had imagined.

          He said it would teach me to pay attention to my surrounding while not losing my focus. I don't know if it did that, all I know is that I broke a lot of their dishes during that first month of training.

          On the twenty third of February my birthday came and went without too much fanfare; I turned seventeen. Maggie, Eddy, and yes, even Marvin were the only ones I invited. As much as I tried to hate the guy Marvin was very likable, he was funny, pretty intelligent, and good looking; his trenchcoat hid how muscular he was.

          Most of his jokes were at the expense of the Norse gods and that caused the one moment of discomfort during my birthday. I had to explain to my mom that he wasn't trying to convert anyone; his jokes were just that, jokes. She didn't get entirely comfortable about it, but Marvin did manage to get her to laugh.

          My parent's gift was a driving course.

          * * * * *

          "Hey guys," Maggie said as she sat down next to us, "have you heard?"

          Me and Marvin looked at her. "About what?" I asked. We didn't see Eddy that often during lunch time anymore. He was spending more and more time with his girlfriend. He'd introduced her to us and for a while she ate with us. She was pretty nice, but definitely from a different social circle. He still did his best t hang out with us, but travelling in the higher class took up a lot of his time, and with March break coming up they were busy planning their trip to Aspen.

          "There's a lawyer in Denver that's trying to get the Good Samaritan law over turned?"

          "What's that?" Marvin asked.

          We both stared at him.

          "Man," I said in a lowered voice, "if you're going to be in the super hero biz you really should know about that law."

          "So explain it to me."

          "The law was setup back in the sixties to prevent villains from suing heroes over damages they received." Maggie explained. "Now it's been extended to also protect the heroes from lawsuit for collateral damages caused from fighting a villain."

          "So a hero can do anything when fighting a villain and not worry about it?"

          "Well, not anything, Excessive force can still override the Samaritan law; that would be based on the perceived danger to civilians, but the hero would have to prove his case in court."

          "What about civilians who get hurt in the fight?"

          "Unless they can prove negligence on the part of the hero they'll have to rely on their insurance."

          "So how is that lawyer trying to overturn it?"

          "He claims that it's unconstitutional; that Mister Terror is entitled for full compensation for not being able to work his normal job because Thunderclap put him in the hospital for 2 month while stopping him from robbing a bank."

          Marvin looked at me for help, but I shrugged, there was no way I was able to keep all those parahumans straight even if I wanted to. I knew Mister Terror was some sort of second string villain who could make people afraid, but I had no idea who Thunderclap was.

          "Anyway, I'd be surprised if it'll even make it to court, no judge in their right mind would ever even consider it."

          Maggie was right; two days later the case was thrown out.

          March break was marked with Fist and Viking stopping an attempt on Blue Jay's life by Bloodhound. Being a parahuman signer she was Maggie's favorite and the three of us had gone to her concert in Houston; Marvin even let me practice my driving on the way.

          The concert was uneventful until after the intermission. In the middle of her first song this guy dressed in a leather dog costume jumped down from the rafter and started tearing up the stage. Blue Jay wasn't a hero, she could only create a nimbus of blue light around herself and objects, still she did all she could to keep his attention on her while the musicians ran off the stage. When Bloodhound did manage to get his hand on her he shook her about and then threw her at one of the supports for the lighting gear, only to be caught by Viking. Marvin and Maggie had pulled a quick disappearing act as soon as bloodhound appeared.

          The fight was quick compared to those you see in the movies, but compared to real parahuman fights it dragged on for ten minutes. In the end Maggie had to throw a grenade and Viking had to amplify the effect with magic just to stun bloodhound; that gave Maggie time to shove a rag soaked in Ether, finally rendering him unconscious. Blue Jay tried to get them to stay on stage while she finished her show, but they declined and disappeared backstage.

          What surprised me the most through all that was how calm the crowd had been. The people in the first rows moved back, but no one panicked. They were worried and fearful; they knew enough to realize this wasn't part of the show, but even those who left did so calmly. I thought about helping out, but I didn't have any way to hide my identity.

          Maggie and Marvin missed the two songs Blue Jay performed after they were able to get the stage to working order. They had had a hard time finding a place to change out of their costume since a lot of people used the time as second intermission. I distracted them through most of the third song by apologizing over and over for not helping out.

          In the motel room where we spent the night Maggie couldn't stop talking about how she'd gotten to meet Blue Jay, even on the drive back the next morning she was still beaming. When we got home we learned that the fight had been recorded and every news show was showing it. One of the news anchor called Viking and the Fist 'misfits' and within a week everyone had adopted it, making it, much to Marvin's concerns, their team's name.

          A lot of stations tried to track them down for an interview, but they managed to avoid them while continuing their occasional patrol. And while a few reporters hung around longer trying to find them. The news stations moved on to someone else within a few days.

          * * * * *

          The mood at school changed after spring break, this was the last stretch before summer vacation; everyone studied a little more and partied a little less. No one wanted to fail their year, even Billy was now leaving me mostly alone since he didn't want to be held back another year.

          Maggie spent most of her school days studying so she'd have her weekends free to patrol. Marvin didn't seem to be worried about studying at all. I wasn't worries about my grades either; I knew I was going to pass all my exams without having to cram and I didn't have a need to be the best like a lot of the others at the school did.

          Coach Warner did convince me to practice my running; he challenged me to place second or even first without giving away I was a parahuman. That made me very nervous, I'd spent my time making sure I didn't attract attention, and now I'd be putting myself extremely close to the spotlight, and even in it. I thought about saying no, but he'd been there for me and I didn't want to let him down.

          I was on the track every afternoon before my training with Al and every other chance I got. I needed to get perfect control over my speed, if I was going to be noticed I couldn't afford any accidental bursts.

          I placed third in the trials we had in mid April. I was aiming for second place, but I lost my nerves just as I caught up to Melanie. I'd never been faster than her before; wouldn't people start wondering how I'd done it. Maybe there would be a drug test; could parahuman abilities be detected that way? Next thing I knew the race was over. Coach Warner didn't show any signs he was disappointed I hadn't beaten her, but I felt like I'd let him down anyway.

          So now I was training even harder; that's why I didn't notice I had an audience until I finished my five minute mile. Randall Mitchell was leaning against the doorframe, watching me intently. I ignored him while I cooled down, it wasn't the first time he's been watching me; it was creepy, but he never did anything.

          He blocked my way when I headed to the lockers. "Good to see you finally pushing yourself Mortimer."

          "I didn't know you were a fan of Track, Mitchell. Now if you don't mind I need to change and go home," I said as I tried to pass him.

          "Oh, I do mind," he replied pushing me back.

          "Didn't Bill warn you about bugging me?"

          "That bully's an idiot. The only reason I hung around him was because I thought his bullying would be what made you accept what you are." He swung at me.

          "And what's that?" I asked as I dodged it, "the low man on the totem pole?" I punched him in the stomach. It felt good to finally hit someone back.

          "Is that all you got," he said wheezing for a few breath. He straightened and took a deep breath. "Ok, lets see what you've got." He rushed me.

          He swung, I blocked, he swung again and I dodged. He wasn't a good fighter, but he had strength behind his blows. When I saw my opening I struck him in the shoulder.

          He staggered back and smiled at me. "Is that it?"

          That blow should have sent him back much farther. We exchanged more blows before I was able to kick him in the face.

          "That's more like it," he said shaking his head. He gave me a vicious smile as he wiped the blood of his cheek. The cut I'd inflicted closed itself as I watched. Another parahuman? Was this school some sort of parahuman training ground?

          I started hitting him harder with each strike, but he barely felt them. In contrast his punches had more and more strength behind them. None of them connected, but I could feel it each time I blocked. I gave it everything I had and he barely reacted to it.

          "What's it like being just like everyone else?" Mitchell asked as he grabbed me by the collar and threw me against the wall.

          I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder as it connected with the brick and more pain as I crumpled to the ground. I sat up to watch Mitchell walk toward me with a satisfied expression on his face.

          He looked down on me and lifted his fist. "Time to end this; it's been great knowing you loser."

          Before he could bring it down a hand wrapped around his wrist and held it in place. Mitchell turned to look at Coach Warner as he tried to pull out of the grip.

          "What do you think you're doing Randall?"

          "Whatever I want," he answered. He lifted the coach over himself and threw him to the track. Coach Warner landed, rolled and was back on his feet in a crouch.

          Mitchell took a step toward him but stopped and looked at me. "Don't go anywhere," he said before heading back to the coach.

          I tried standing while they fought, but the moment I started putting my legs under me my head started spinning. When I gave up Coach Warner walking toward me, dragging Mitchell by a leg; he dropped him a few feet away.

          "How are you feeling?"

          "It hurts, al lot."

          "You have a nasty gash on your forehead."

          "It hasn't healed yet?" I asked touching it and wincing in pain.

          "I think Randall's some sort of leech. He stole your parahuman abilities."

          I thought about it for a moment. "He's going to wake up soon if he heals as fast as I normally do."

          Coach Warner nodded and went inside, coming back with a roll of duck tape. He taped Mitchell's arms together behind his back and then wrapped them in tape from the wrist to the above the elbow. He also taped his ankles together before calling the police and an ambulance.

          I was taken to the hospital amidst the police cursing about having another parahuman in town. I ended up with a sling to hold my arm still, stitches for the cut on my forehead and some pain killers. It meant I couldn't run in the next race at school, I couldn't even run just for the fun of it since every time my foot hit the ground my shoulder hurt.

          Al did decide it was the perfect time to work on avoiding hits.

          Much to the doctor's surprise my shoulder was fully healed in only two weeks, but it wasn't until mid May that I felt I was back to full strength.

          Being as close to 'normal' as I could get made me realize that I did cherish my abilities; I hadn't really thought about where they'd come from, no one really knew although they were hundreds of theories out there. Now I realized that they were a God given gift, and I couldn't spend my life ignoring or hiding them. I didn't want to attract attention, but Maggie and Marvin were both heroes and still managed to have a normal life.

          Still, I needed to get someone's permission before I started on a hero career.

          "Mom, can I talk to you?" I asked as she walked by my room with the laundry basket.

          "Of course Honey, is everything alright?" She put the basket on the floor and sat next to me on my bed.

          "Yes, I just have to tell you something."

          "Ok, what is it?"

          "It's about me, and it's pretty big." I had to pause to figure out how to say it. "It's probably going to change how you and dad think about me, but I want you to know that it's still me, I'm still your son and I hope you're still going to love me."

          She hugged me and kissed my head. "Oh Honey, I already know and I still love you."

          "You do? How?"

          "Jayson, I'm your mother," she said with a smile, "mother's have a sense about these things."

          I just looked at her, she knew?

          "It doesn't matter to me that you prefer guys over girls, love is love and will always be proud of you for loving someone."

          Wait, what? "How could you have picked up on that? I've always been careful not to let it show."

          She chuckles and waved at my room. "You need to work on your subtlety."

          I looked at the posters of athletes and martial artists I had on my walls. "I don't get it."

          "Where are the women? The pinup girls that every teenage boy is putting up on their bedroom walls, and then there's Maggie."

          "What about Maggie? I haven't done anything to her."

          "Exactly, she's turning until a beautiful young woman and yet you're happy just being her friend. That meant you were either blind, or gay, and I know you're not blind."

          I had no idea what to think, I was so sure I'd hidden that secret from them. "Does dad know?"

          "I think he suspects, but he hasn't said anything."

          "Do you think I should tell him?"

          "Whenever you're ready to tell him, he'll be ready to listen."

          I nodded.

          She moved in front of me and held me by the shoulders. "You don't have to be afraid, you'll always be our son; we will never stop loving you. That it be about the boyfriend you'll eventually find or anything else you decide to do in your life, we will support and encourage you. You are the most precious thing in our life."

          As she said that I could see tears falling down her cheeks. I hugged her tightly. "Thanks mom."

          She dried her eyes and picked up the basket, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

          I had just come out to my mom, and she was ok with it. I had never even though about telling her I was gay, I knew it was something that would come up one day, but I'd figured it was still years away.

          I smiled as I realized a weight I hadn't noticed until now was lifted off my chest.

          She was ok with me being gay.

          And in a roundabout way she'd given me permission to become a hero.

          * * * * *

          The school year ended without any other major surprise, I told dad I was gay a few days before graduation and it shocked him, He tried hard not to let it affect how he saw me, but it took him time to come to terms with it.

          It was no surprise that Maggie graduated at the top of her classes, me and Marvin were somewhere in the middle, and Mitchell didn't. After he attacked me he was transferred to a center for dangerous parahumans. The one small surprise was Bill, somehow he managed to graduate.

          After the graduation ceremony Marvin, Maggie and me went to the mall to celebrate; we're already worked it out with our parents, this was just for us. We had just left the restaurant when we heard the disturbance at the other end of the hall.

          "You've got to be kidding," Marvin said, "someone's trashing the place on graduation day?"

          "Maybe they figure the Misfits are too busy partying to intervene," I said.

          "Whoever they are, they're about to find out we're never too busy to kick some butts," Maggie said looking around for a place to change. "Are you joining in?" she asked me.

          I shook my head. "I still don't have a costume, remember?" I'd been trying to find an identity since the talk with mom. Marvin's suggestions had been to put on any old mask, but I wanted something that felt right.

          "You two go have fun, soon enough I'll be able to help out."

          With a nod they headed toward the noise while I stayed where I was. The crowd around me split into two, those heading toward the commotion and those heading away from it. At this rate it wouldn't take long for me to end up alone.

          Something caught my eye over the crowd. It was in the display window of a store. I waded through the crowd until I was close enough to see it was a half mask resting on a shelf; it was a cat's mask, with ears and even whiskers. The holes for the eyes were covered up with holographic lenses of cat's eyes. I walked in what turned out to be a novelty store and put it on; it was made of cheap leather with an elastic to hold it on my head and the visibility was quite good.

          I looked at myself in a mirror and I couldn't stop myself from smiling; it was definitely a cheap mask, but it looked right on me I added a black wig and I looked like . . . well, not like me that was for sure. I put the two price tags with thirty dollars behind the counter and made my way to the fight.

          "Stop moving so I can turn you into dog food," someone growled ahead. The crowd got thicker and I had to elbow my way through it. Once people got a look at me they gave me room.

          I made it to the railing to see the fight was on the level below; Viking and Fist were fighting Bloodhound. I paused for a moment as Bloodhound caught Viking's sword and flicked it away. Viking raised his shield just in time to take the blow that came next, but still went down to one knee.

          I jumped over the railing, landing in a crouch and catching everyone's attention.

          I looked at Bloodhound without getting up "here doggy doggy," I said softly before springing toward him.

          This was going to be fun.

          * * * * *

          EPILOQUE

          The older man entered the younger one's office closing the door behind him. "You wanted to see me sir?"

          "Yes Albert, I need you to inform the Combine that I won't need their services anymore."

          "Yes sir, I'll inform them we are terminating the contract."

          "No, we are severing all ties to them."

          "They will not be pleased with that."

          "That's not my problem. Point out to them that after ten month the target's still alive."

          "Multiple parahumans have been running interferences."

          "Why should I care? I paid them to take care of the problem, not to make excuses. I'll take care of this problem myself."

          "Very well sir, anything else?"

          "No, that's all."

          Once he was alone the younger man took a folder from a drawer and read through it. In it were the names of many men, and a few women as well as a list of their accomplishments. He took one out before putting the folder away.

          "I need you to get me in contact with Adrian Price," he said in his intercom.

          "Sir," the woman on the other end replied after a moment, "Mr. Price is currently in Atlanta."

          "And?"

          "In prison, awaiting trial."

          He took a deep breath to avoid snapping at her. "And that's a problem how?"

          Five minute later his phone rang.

          "Adrian, how long until you've solved your current predicament?"

          "A day or two, sir. Everyone's in place now. As soon as Whip is adequately distracted we'll be done."

          "Good. Once you're out I need to you locate and retrieve a new employee."

          "Yes, sir. What is his name?"

          "Joshua Hunter, you can start your search in Africa."

  8. Jeremy

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          Jeremy looked around the meeting room, as he was being wheeled in, and started worrying. Were they going to try to take away his ship again? He frowned, no, that wasn't right. This room was too big, there were too many people, it wasn't a meeting room on Kelser. Was this when he had been accused of murdering those two taournians? No, that couldn't be right, he'd been seated to the front, not an elevated balcony, like he was now.

          He stopped moving, and a female moved in front of him. "Are you certain you want to be up here, grandfather? You should be down there, you were part of it."

          He snorted, which probably looked silly on a male his age. "I just helped a little," his voice was weak, and trembling. "It's their time, I don't want to intrude."

          The female took a blanket out of her bag, and spread it over his legs. "There, you won't get cold now."

          "Thank you Tamirik, that's very nice of you."

          Her smile dropped, just a little, and Jeremy cursed internally.

          "I got it wrong, didn't I?"

          "I'm Shimilion," she told him, "I'm Asheter's daughter."

          Asheter, that named sounded really familiar, where had he heard it before, then it came back to him. "That's Alix's son."

          She smiled at him.

          "That makes you Alix's grand daughter." He patted her hand. "That's good. You should probably sit down now, they're about to start." He could tell, because a holographic projection of the table, and its occupant had just appeared in the air, at their level, much larger than normal.

          She sat next to him, and he noticed that there were many other kelsirian on either side of him. For a moment he worried that he was in the wrong section, but before the panic could set in, he remembered they were his family.

          The people around the table started talking, and their voices were projected so he could hear them, not that he was paying attention to what they were saying, this was just ceremony, the important event had happened an hour before, behind closed door. That's when Paradise had become the only human settled planet to become a full member of the Federation.

          This show was for the vids. They never liked the simple signings, they wanted something bigger than life. So every current members were now giving speeches, probably about how an asset the new member was going to be. What he wanted to hear, was the taournians. He really wanted to find out what they were going to say, considering they had allied themselves with the humans, and had tried to ruin Paradise.

          Oh, the humans had been livid when they found out that the Leafers weren't just surviving, they were thriving, building trade with the kelsirians, and anyone else willing to do business with them. Paradise had turned out to have very fertile soil, and the area near the black storm proved particularly good to grow coffee.

          They hadn't been able to say anything when they found out they had been conned into believing the planet was mostly inhospitable, since they had turned around and spun a story about how the planet was rough, but habitable.

          And now, with Paradise being inducted, more human colonies were breaking away from their government, in the hopes of joining the Federation.

          Jeremy yawned and looked around. Why was everyone looking at that projection? He wondered. He thought about asking the male to his right, but he was watching intently, so he decided not to bother him. He just settled in his chair comfortably, and watched, maybe he'd figure out what it was about.

          * * * * *

          "It's time to leave, Jeremy," someone whispered in his ear. He opened his eyes, not having realized he'd fallen asleep, and before him was a hand, covered in chocolate brown fur. He took it, was pulled up, and found himself gazing into deep amber eyes. He sighed, it had been so long since he'd been able to lose himself in those eyes.

          "What are you doing here?" he asked. "Shouldn't you be on the bridge?"

          Gral tilted his head at him.

          That wasn't right, Jeremy realized. Tamirik was captain now, she'd taken over when he'd retired, and he'd become the captain when Gral . . .

          Jeremy pulled away slightly, and looked at his Heart's face. He looked younger than he remembered, younger than the first time he'd met him even. Jeremy turned, and looked at where he had been sitting. In the hover chair, his body looked like he was sleeping. He raised a hand, it looked young, no wrinkles, no blemishes.

          Gral wrapped his arms around him. "You really lived up to being my little warrior," he said. "Tutecamongartin tried to bring you home three times, and you fought him each time."

          Jeremy could hear the pride in Gral's voice. He tried to recall the last time he'd been sick, didn't he remember a male standing there, completely black? Yes, he thought he did, and he also thought he remembered feeling angry, and a little bit afraid of him.

          "Why are you here?"

          "Tutecamongartin didn't want to have to deal with another fight with you. He though you might be more receptive if I was the one asking you to come home."

          Jeremy turned to face Gral again. "Home?"

          Gral nodded. "The Gods honored you."

          Jeremy's eyes grew wide.

          "You didn't think they wouldn't, did you?"

          Jeremy wanted to tell his Heart that he hadn't, but it had been one of his deepest worry, that he'd never be honored by Them, and therefor kept away from his Heart.

          "There wasn't even any argument, not that I was going to let any one of Them refuse you. So, my Heart, a you ready to come home?"

          Jeremy looked at him, eyes wet, but looked behind him, at the projection, where Patrick was now standing and talking. His gaze dropped to the kelsirians seated on either side of his body.

          "What about them?" he asked.

          "They are going to go on living, until the Gods honor them."

          "Will I see them again?"

          "Possibly, that'll depend on what they decide to do."

          "Do?"

          Gral nodded. "The life after the Gods have honored us is what ever we want it to be."

          "And what is our life going to be?"

          Gral smiled, and stepped to the side. Behind him, there was an open doorway, hanging there, in the middle of the lane. In the doorway, he could see the Viper's Bane's bridge.

          "It's going to be space, hunting down pirates, being in the way of the taournians, and the humans."

          The male in the pilot's seat turned, and smiled.

          Jeremy's heart swelled. "Toom's there."

          "Of course he's there. He's been waiting for you to come home as much as I have. Most of the crew's there." Gral stepped through the doorway and extended a hand to him.

          Jeremy took it. "How long will this last?"

          "As long as we want it."

          "What happens afterward."

          "Once we're tired of the hunt, we come back."

          Jeremy looked at him, worry in his eyes.

          "Don't worry, we'll come back together. We will never be apart again. I exacted that promise from Them."

          Jeremy nodded, and stepped through the doorway, which then disappeared.

          * * * * *

          As the ceremony ended, and everyone stood and applauded to welcome the new Federation member, Shimilion noticed that grandfather didn't stir. She touched his cheek, when he didn't move she placed a finger against his neck. Not feeling a pulse, she shed a tear and kissed his head. "Goodbye grandfather, Good hunting."

  9. It was the first commercial space launch in years, but the purpose was purely scientific. No one on board was going to make 'Colewalder and Phip Propulsion', 'Pentadyne industries' or any of the companies involved in this any money. On board were 3 scientists and 3 civilians how where going to orbit the planet for 6 months and test the living accommodations aboard the new exploratory vessels that where being produced in the new rush toward the stars. They were basically comfort testing the vessel while ground crews monitored them and the equipment remotely. These 3 civilian volunteers had been hard to come by, society at large was still skeptical about going back into space after the failed efforts 25 years ago left a batch of 10 prospective colonists to die of system failures on their nearest planet. it had taken a month to get there and a month for a rescue vessel to reach them but by then it was too late and the world had watched. So while many people wanted to try again it had been hard to find people who were willing to drop everything and give it a go.

    But they had found 3 and each had their reasons. There was a former accountant who had just quit his job and decided he wanted to go to space. There was an unemployed photographer who had walked in with all the cash he had and signed up, and there was a young woman who decided that furthering space colonization was more important than marrying and settling down. Those are all the details they gave out to the reporters anyway. The Truth was that there was more to them than they let on. They all secretly thought about how they came to be here as the engines rumbled to life and they were pressed against their seats.

          Renard Flemoux had been standing outside of his highrise office building. He was looking down and felt he had no choice but to jump. He had somehow lost track of millions of dollars and spent months tracking it down. Now that he found it he knew how hopeless it was. The money had been taken by the Coo who happened to be the Ceo's son. The thief had done it in such as fashion as to have plausible deniability and lined up some scapegoats. One of whom was Renard Flemoux his reputation would be ruined and he would most likely go to jail. So now he was standing outside of his office building looking down. He was still frozen but felt like down was the only way out. He had brought his briefcase for some reason. He didn't know why. He was standing there still feeling the wind on his fur and wondering if it would hurt. He heard a window off to his left open he looked over to see a bear in a business suit, rolls of fat poking over his suit collar. He had no idea who that was he thought it was probably someone who worked at the business that they shared the floor with.

    " Just stay right there, you don't need to make any rash decisions, i am going to come over just stay right there for a minute." The bear said in a comforting tone then popped back into his own window.

    Renard looked down and thought about jumping before the bear got there. His heard pounded in his ears and he could hear the wind whipping in his ears as if he had already jumped. The it all stopped, his heart beat, the wind, the sound of traffic far bellow. All these things cut off as if by a knife and filling that sudden void was the gentle notes of a flute. He turned around to see a 20 something raccoon in a well worn hoody standing behind him and gently playing a sweet melody on what looked to be a homemade flute. Instead of a tinny whistle the notes were clear and and sweet and were piercing Renard's heart like a dagger, all the heart pounding fear and despair was pushed aside by the tender notes. He had a sudden urge to look down but when he did he didn't see a place to end his life he saw little smears of color that were people going about vivid and interesting lives, his eyes darted around and he took the city in with a sudden new wonder. His eyes suddenly caught the far off forests and the trees so distantly swaying. He vividly began imagining all the birds flitting between the trees and singing with no care in the world. His eyes wandered up the hills and mountains till he caught sight of the mountain top space port that had been refurbished for the rumored second go at space flight. His eyes kept going up and he stared into the blue sky. The melody of the flute filling him and making him feel like he was being carried upward toward the stars hidden by the blue veil of the sky. He knew that his future lay not plummeting toward the ground but hurtling toward the sky. The music suddenly stopped. He turned to thank the flute player and compliment him on his beautiful playing but he was gone. There was no sign of the young raccoon. Just a blank ledge. Actually there wouldn't have been room for another persona anyway. he was taking up the whole ledge. He was standing just outside his open window. The flute player would have had to be in his office but he remembered him being on the ledge behind him. No matter. It was time for a new plan. He turned back and waited for the wind to pick up then he opened his briefcase. All the papers and the documents flew out into the wind, some of them were sensitive but Renard no longer cared. The door to his office burst open and the bear, huffing with effort, Renard looked back still shaking his briefcase out.

    " Oh sorry if my dramatic resignation gave you the wrong impression, the only suicide i am committing is career suicide." He stepped off the ledge and started filling his briefcase with the things on his desk he wanted.

    " Wait, what?" the bear huffed. He was well dressed and was probably high up at the company next door.

    " Oh my boss's rich brat of a son stole some money from the company and was setting up some of us little people to take the fall, so fuck em' i am quitting and sending out all the evidence to... well pretty much everyone." He said all of this while tapping commands into his palm top, sending the relevant info to everyone in the company and even a few news stations. He cheerfully removes his tie and offers the panting bear his chair.

    " Have a seat, don't worry about breaking the chair, i am done with it. I would toss it out the window if it weren't a hazard to any below." Renard said casually. The bear sat and the chair made for Renard's slender fox frame creaked as the large bear sat down. He was starring wide eyed at Renard as he detailed a brief account of how the skimming had been done.

    " Anyway sorry for scarring you, you seem a decent sort, not everyone would even lift a finger to stop a suicide they would have just watched." Renard explained as he shut the briefcase around all the things he wanted.

    " Well now i am going to tell my boss to go fuck himself then i am going to space, tata." He walked out the door leaving the bear in the nice suit starring goggle eyed at him as he caught his breath. The bear raised his hand and waved and said

    " Uh, good luck and have a nice day." in a confused voice.

    Renard had run into his boss in a hallway and explained The boss's son had been embezzling and that he was a fuckwit, the boss was a fuckwit and that he hoped to never hear from them again. He didn't wait to let the astonishment slip from his boss's face he just strode to the elevator and made his way down. There he called a cab and had it take him to the train station where he caught a train up into the mountains and into the space center where he volunteered. After 8 months of training he was strapped into a launch vehicle.

    He was grinning with pure simple joy the whole time the extra Gs slamed him back into his seat as he hurtled toward the sky. He wasn't on a grand tour of the universe or anything but he felt like he was on his way to contributing to something larger than some CEO's pocket book. He hoped whatever happened, what ever part he played he would contribute to society as a whole. Next to him the almost awkwardly tall and gangling  figure of a cheetah sat pressed back into his own chair. He was also thinking of how he had come here.

        Pauly Canmendy had been out of work for nearly a year. He was backed up with debt and only had a hundred buck to his name which were all in his pocket as he tracked down a man who would end it all for him. He had read on some forums about services for clients with exotic tastes. He read on and found one of the providers was near by. He had arranged to meet that provider. He sat in his tiny apartment bedroom and waited for that service provider to come up. He was hoping that the provider could "accidentally" arrange so he didn't come back from the experience. He Had sent out some vaguely worded emails who's meaning would be clear afterward.

    " I am taking a trip and if all goes well i won't be coming back" It read. When he turned up missing he hoped no one came looking. He had paid off his rent, his loans and everything and was left with the hundred bucks in his poket. He had closed most of his bank accounts but left one open because by that time he had run out of energy to tie up loose ends. He thought about doing it now just to have it done with but he couldn't summon up the energy. The Buzzer rang announcing he had a visitor. He checked the time and saw it was right on time for the service provider. He Hit the door control and let the provider in and minutes later he heard a knock at the door to his tiny apartment. He opened the door to let his end enter.

    Inside came a Tanuki, maybe 6 feet tall decently muscled but with a belly that hung out below his plain white shirt he wore under a leather vest. Unlike the picture he wasn't decked out in a bondage harness, chaps and a leather collar but his outfit was much the same in tightly fitting bluejeans and white shirt that was stretched with his girth. He supposed some people would have found his type wildly attractive but Pauly felt nothing at all. He came in wearing a cocky grin that was vaguely predatory but as soon as he entered and looked Pauly up and down it melted off his face. At first Pauly was wondering if he was disappointing in his prey but the look that replaced it was of gentle pity and compassion. He clearly felt sorry for Pauly who now that he thought about it wasn't hiding his dejected expression.

    " Ok, so i want you to do your thing, but i don't want to come back from it, here is a hundred..." he began explaining in a dead voice but was cut off when he felt strong arms grasp him and pull him against the big belly. He thought it was about to happen and he couldn't wait for the darkness to take him away from his troubles. Then he noticed the Service provider's hands weren't griping or pulling him toward his doom. The strong arms were wrapped around him in a hug. Pauly felt the tanuki place his chin on top of Pauly's head. He thought about Objecting, to struggling to demanding he do his job and end it all. But it had been so long since anyone had given his a hug. He just sat there and let it happen while his eyes misted. The Big tanuki began rocking him gently and Pauly's eyes began to blur and close. He knew he wasn't falling asleep but seemed to go straight into a dream.

    He saw his Apartment building receding as he slowly pulled back into the sky. He saw the whole continent lush and green, then farther he saw the whole world covered in oceans the most vibrant blue he had ever seen, white clouds dotted the planet he pulled back farther and passed the moon then the small objects that drifted around it. Then he seemed to pick up speed and was rushing passed stars and for the barest moment he saw all the planets and moons in them he felt himself hurtling passed vast distances of space until suddenly he felt his feet touch the ground.

    He was starring up at an alien sky, no atmosphere clouded the view of the luminous clouds of gas and dust that hung in the sky like dancing clouds of fire and ice. Stars shown in the small clear patches of the sky and they glimmered like piles of diamonds dumped on a jeweler's black velvet cloth. The Planets sun was up and slightly behind him and he watched his shadow creeping as time flew passed seeming to slither over the rocks that were red and blue-green with Iron and copper oxides. The far off hills were all dotted in stunning patterns of these oxides and seemed to mirror the colors in the sky. Time seemed to jump and he saw buildings spring up, first simple prefabs, then buildings made of native rock, then a small town with people walking about in suits. Those people weren't like any species pauly had seen back home. He realized he was seeing a colony spring up. He could almost smell the collective excitement. The Hope and the years of struggle to get there. He liked it. He wanted it. He Needed it. He remembered the rumors of his own world's push into the stars and knew he needed to be part of it.

    He awoke, or at least came back to himself, he was laying on his bed and wondered if it was all a dream but he saw the fat tanuki sitting next to his bed counting out money. He saw he was peeling of hundreds as he counted, it wasn't Pauly's money. The fat tanuki placed the wad of cash down above of pauly's phone which was displaying directions that must have been programed in by the Tanuki. Under the phone was an application form for civilian service in the science division of the multinational space agency. The Tanuki set the bundle of cash on top of the form.

    " Application fees." The tanuki said not turning to look but feeling Pauly's eyes on him. " You can only take a small bag, i suggest the Ferickson pro 5 and any lenses for it. It is most versatile but has good quiality for it's size."

    " Uh i know, i am a photographer." Pauly says. He got the impression that the big Tanuki guy was mother henning him.

    "Right, well take pictures that are out of this world." The Tanuki returns then gets up.

    " Hey man, can i get your name?" Pauly asks. he was sure he had seen the guys name when he had contacted him to end it all but that felt like it had been so long ago.

    " Uh, its Stopher."

    " Well thanks Stopher, for the shift in perspective." pauly says and hold out his hand. Stopher takes it and shakes it.

    " Think nothing of it. You might want to ask some of your friends to watch the stuff you don't take." The Tanuki says then just Vanishes with a 'Shwaa' sound. Pauly immeadiatly takes this moment to make a few phone calls. After a few minutes and saying " I'm going to space!" more times then he can count he packs a small bag and his Ferickson and heads out the door With the forms in hand. He runs into some people in the hallways on his way to the stairs and anyone who asks where he is off to he answers with.

    " I'm going to space!"

    A bus ride and a train up into the mountains he is in the application center with only a few other people. He Fills out his forms and idly chats to some of the examiners as he does so. He is just so glad to be cheerful he lets anything spill out of his mouth. He talks about the things he saw in his dream, he with ought knowing how rattles off coordinates, and features. He is so busy with the forms he doesn't notice one of the doctors frowning as he listens. This doctor slips out of the room and doesn't come back until Pauly's is finished filling out the forms and forks over the application fees. He is just sitting in the waiting room and and tweeting out selfies of himself with things in the waiting room. He hadn't felt like being stupidly excited in a long time and wanted to bask in it. He was so absorbed in this he didn't notice the doctor comeback in and emphatically  point toward him and whisper into someone else's ear.

    " he knew they were there and we hadn't even finished decoding the data, it took 13 minutes after i asked about it and he was right, there is an extraterrestrial colony at the coordinates he was babbling about. I want him in the program any program. just keep him around."

    When told he had been accepted he grabbed the doctor in a hug and took a selfie the pic showed his grinning face and the startled looking doctor, written with all caps.

    " I AM GOING TO FUCKING SPACE!"

    Pauly Now sat grimacing but still extacik as he was squished into his flight chair. He was thinking about all the things he wanted to photograph. Hell he would take pictures of a toothbrush as long as it was in space and he was about to be somewhere where everything was in space. Namely space.

    "sssssppaaaaccceee" he muttered out against the extra Gs.

    The Female Shiba inu in the seat next to him gave him a quick glance as she expressionlessly sat and absentmindedly calculated their distance of the ground by dividing the stated velocity from the pre-flight briefing against the time she counted. She was as excited as the other two but kept that excitement in the back of her mind. She was Former military so had an air of professionalism that the other two civilian testers lacked. She admitted their wide eye wonder was amusing and endearing. She was also glad to be off the ground. She concentrates on the mission and does not let herself be distracted by her past. She simply counted. The Shutter felt didn't take her by surprise.

    The Launch assist stage Separated and made its way back down. It would land at the dessert complex one continent over from where they launched. After a small pause she felt the engines of the Main Vehicle start up. A flash of something made her look over. A monitor had turned on and it was showing a veiw from one of the external cameras. What she saw on the monitor shattered all the discipline she had.

    There on the monitor lay the planet curving away beneath them. She had a moment of of speechless awe. She had come up here to escape but now she was looking at the wide expanse of the world and she felt that her reasons for coming here had been misguided. She should have been thinking about this. The tall cheetah who she always thought was a bit of an Idealistic idiot always going on about space and how cool it was had realized something she hadn't. Namely that this was amazing and worth it for its own sake. She Felt a shortlived moment of shame but then dismissed it because she was changing her mind with new information. She was learning and there was no shame in that. She forgot to  track the stages of their mission and just looked over at the monitor.  She was so Absorbed that the voice over the com telling them they could unbuckle and move about the cabin Startled her slightly.

         

       Everyone took advantage of this, the fox accountant tentitvally at first and the cheetah photographer with enough enthusiasm to send him self bouncing of the bulkhead. He seemed unphased by it and soon made his way toward the monitor that stood in for a window. They were in a passenger compartment that could hold 6 but the other 3 seats had been removed for this test, instead being replaced by 3 crates secured to the deck. The Scientists and crew where in the cockpit. Instead the company had put 3 crates of micro satellites that were also being tested. They were self deploying so theoretically you could just shove the crate out an airlock with the lid off and they would sort themselves out. Half way through their test stay the crew would test these by deploying a crate in different manners. The passengers were most likely just going to watch. Right now the crates were providing an anchor for the Fox accountant to hold onto as he got used to the micro gravity. The Accommodations they would be staying in had variable gravity provided by plates of some kind of new material that could provide up to 1.5 G of gravity.  There was only enough of the stuff to put in the living quarters.

    The Door to the cockpit opened and out came one of the pilots to check on everyone. He was in the latested generation spacesuit which had been adapted from a Military design of full body armor so it looked a little intimidating despite being painted blue and white. The Helmet was molded to follow the muzzle of the wearer and made of high impact ballistic plastics and fiber molds. Thankfully the eyes had been left visible through a clear visor, unlike the base it was modeled after. The Orignal Red Knight Arms M7A2 hazardous environmental combat suit was an intimidating monstrosity and some effort had been made to make the non combat pressure suit model look less arch. It had only been partially successful. The Pilot peered at them all.

    " Everyone doing alright? No Chunder blunders to scrape off the walls?" he asked cheerfully.

    " Who can vomit at a time like this?" the cheetah asks gleefully as he floats slowly in a pinwheel fashion.

    " Oh lots of people actually. It is one reason we asked you to leave your helmets off for the ascent." The pilot says.

    " Why is your suit different from ours?" Renard asked as he gently let go of crate he was hold onto to float gently in place.

    " Oh, yours are newer, they were made from scratch to look more friendly, this stuff is retooled combat gear, one of the Partners in of "Colewalter and Phip" has an arms company so this is their first attempt at space suits. Yours are their 3rd. Cheaper, more comfortable and most importantly doesn't make you look like a storm trooper."

    " Cheaper?" the Fox asks, the cheetah is too busy playing in the micro gravity to pay attention.

    " Well a lot of the cost of these come from the armor plating which is kinda overkill for most of what we do. Your suits have the amount of protection needed for non combat stuff."

    ( To be continued )

  10. Demons

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    Chapter 18

          She's standing in the doorway, on the other side of the room, looking around at her defeated people on the floor. The disappointment is clear on her face as she steps into the room. Six women in heavy armor follow her in and place themselves three on each side. They're holding high caliber rifles.

          My stomach cramps and I lean against the wall. "What have you done to me?"

          "I've poisoned you. All the weapons were coated with a cyanide derivative. It's worthless against demons, but quite effective against you. I expect you'll be dead rather soon."

          I have no trouble believing her. My insides feel like they are on fire and my stomach keeps churning painfully.

          "I'm surprised he hasn't killed you, let along that he accompanied you all the way down here. What exactly are you going to do with our soul stones?"

          "They are not yours," Claws growls.

          Amanda gasps and I look up.

          "You can talk? There were two...?" She glares at me. "You told me you killed him."

          I smile. "I lied." the look of disbelief on her face makes me laugh, then I double over in pain. It takes a moment to regain my breath. "You should be pleased," I gasp. "I followed your example." My stomach contorts itself, and I throw up.

          for a moment I can't move, so I have no choice to look at the sickly green goo streaked with black stuff spreading on the floor. I wipe my mouth on the sleeve of my trench coat and use the wall to help me stand. My limbs are shaking, I feel weak, but somehow, I also feel better.

          "That's disgusting." Amanda looks up at me, and I smile again. "Now. You're going to give me my stones back and we're going to end the both of you quick and painlessly."

          Claws growls and his fingers extend into long claws.

          "I don't think so," I reply, my voice steady. "We're leaving, and anyone who stands in our way ends up like them." I indicate the bodies on the floor.

          She frowns. "How come you're looking better?"

          I shrug and lifts my hand up, extending the darkness to make it more visible. "It might have something to do with this."

          "Kill..."

          But Claws' already next to them, and three of the women go flying through the broken wall. one of the other aims at me and I put my hand over my face, extending the darkness to cover my upper chest and hardening it as much as I can.

          The bullet impact send me back against the wall, and my hand hurts, but it stopped. I peek over my shield. Claws as punched the other three to the ground and he's stalking Amanda, who is backing toward me.

          I shake my hand, and the darkness melts back in. I push myself off the wall and walk to her. Before she realizes I'm there I punch her across the jaw. She crumples to the floor and I walk over her.

          "You are leaving her like this?"

          I look over my shoulder and shrug. "I'm not killing her." then I add. "Neither are you."

          "She has hurt you, she should pay."

          "Without the stones, she can't do anything. That's going to hurt her enough." I leave the room and Claws follows me.

          "She should hurt more, for what she did."

          "I don't care. She isn't going to do anything to me anymore, that's all I care about." I make my way to the stairs, go up to floors and exit.

          "Is there a way outside here?" Claws asks.

          "No. There's a cafeteria. I'm famished. However I managed not to die from that poison, it's taken it out of me."

          I follow my nose to it. There's always someone there to cook, since people work her around the clock. I go in and the half dozen people eating look up at me, then gasp as Claws follows me in. I head to the counter and I hear the others scramble out of their chairs and out of the room.

          "Do you want something to eat?" I ask Claws.

          The demon watches the cook run out the opposing end of the counter and then out of the room. He shakes his head. "I am not hungry."

          I go around the counter and rummage through the fridge and throw four steaks on the cook top and they sizzle. I add a few herbs to them and eat them as soon as they are done, accompanying them with two cokes and various vegetables.

          Once I'm done I sigh in satisfaction and I clean my plate and bowl. Claws looks at me with a puzzled expression.

          "You eat like a human."

          "It's the only way I know how to eat. I've never felt the urge to chase humans and eat them."

          He nods, then looks at the door. I hear them too.

          I smile. "I guess it's time we left."

          * * * * *

          We're walking down the road. Claws says that following it will take us out of the city. We left broken bodies after broken bodies in our wake as we left headquarter. We didn't encounter Jason, and I'm disappointed. I would have liked to give him a piece of my mind about what he put me through.

          The night is cool, and dark. Clouds hide the moon. Claws again looks like a human with a hood covering his head so the few people we walk by don't pay us any attention.

          When the sky begins to lighten so does the density of the houses. Once the sun is above the horizon, there are only a few houses in the distance around us.

          Claws stops. "My people are in that direction." He points in perpendicular to the road.

          "How far?"

          "If I run, I will reach them by the time the sun sets."

          I nod.

          He looks at me. "You should come with me."

          I chuckle. "And do what? I'm not like you."

          "Part of you is."

          "And the other part is human."

          "If you don't come with me, what will you do?"

          I look down the road. "I'll follow the road. See where it leads."

          "It leads to another city."

          "Then that's where I'll go. Maybe I can see if I can be human."

          "You aren't human."

          I shrug. "If I can pass as human then."

          "Will you continue hunting my kind?"

          I think it over then sigh. "I can't let them kill humans, so I may have to."

          "You don't owe humans anything. You don't need to protect them."

          "It's all I know."

          "Come with me Derick. We can show you another way."

          The use of my name surprises me and his red eyes are pleading. I shake my head and start walking. "I hope you have a good trip home Claws in the Darkness."

          I can feel his eyes on me for a long time. When I don't anymore I look over my shoulder and I can't see him. I set my gaze ahead and wonder what that new city will be like.

  11. Kindar
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          Marlot straightened up with a start and looked around momentarily confused. He'd been sitting next to Trembor's bed for hours, nodding off every so often. He looked at the lion lying there peacefully with a tube running out of his good arm.

          He'd followed the ambulance to the hospital. When they tried to prevent him from accompanying him in the evaluation room because he wasn't family he told them. He didn't care about the consequences; he wasn't going to be separated from him. He told them they were mates. The supervising medic, a gorilla, gave him a long look before telling him to go wash up before joining them.

          Trembor broke a leg in the fall so they put it in a cast. His shoulder injury wasn't severe, but the bullet was still in so they had called a surgeon. Every time the Medic touched the lion during the examination Marlot had to fight off the urge to shove him away. He knew that all he could do was watch, but he couldn't stop the need to protect Trembor, to be the one who made him better.

          They moved the lion to a room and gave him a mild pain killer so he could rest. All Marlot could do was wait. They'd promised him the surgeon would be over as soon as he was done with his current operation. He kept wishing it was now, so he could take his love home. To avoid falling asleep again he took out his pad and started up his report.

          Marlot looked up when the door open, expecting to see Bahamel's head poke through. Instead a mature lioness walked in, followed by a younger version of her and then two cubs, around six. They smiled at him and then went to stand on the other side of the bed. A moment later a lion entered the room.

          Marlot put his pad down and stood. There was no mistaking the family resemblance between him and Trembor, but that wasn't why he stood. The male was obviously the Patriarch, and the sense of power he read in his body language made him feel like he was back in front of the town councilors again.

          The lion studied him with piercing eyes for a moment and Marlot couldn't help swallowing. When he spoke with was with a deep voice he kept low for the benefit of his sleeping son. "The officer said you were the one who killed the male who did this to my son."

          "Yes, sir," Marlot tentatively took the hand the lion offered.

          "Thank you," the lion said, shaking it, "if there ever anything I can do for you don't hesitate to ask. You avenged my son; that almost makes you family."

          There was a chuckle from the bed, "a little more than 'almost' dad."

          "You're awake," exclaimed the younger lioness before draping herself over Trembor and hugging him.

          The lion took a sharp breath, "watch the shoulder sis."

          She let go of him as if he'd burnt her, "oh! I'm so sorry."

          The two cubs took that as a signal it was now ok to climb the bed and sit at the end of it. The older lioness placed a hand on his, "how are you doing?"

          "I'm ok mom, I can barely feel the bullet."

          His sister's ears folded against her skull, "sorry," she said again in a soft voice.

          "What did you mean by that?" his father asked.

          "He's the one," was Trembor's reply.

          His mother and sister's face lit up in delight while the cubs frowned, "but he's not a lion," said one.

          Marlot didn't have time to react to that, or even worry about their reaction. Trembor's father pulled him in a hug. "Welcome to the family. My name's Torim, but you better get used to calling me 'dad'."

          "Yes sir," was all Marlot was able to say.

          "Why don't you two go hug your new uncle," Trembor told the cubs.

          "Can we get his pad number?" ask the one who had been silent until now as she stood and extended her arms to the wolf.

          "No," Trembor said, "I'll explain later," he added to Marlot when the wolf looked at him, hugging one cub and then the other.

          After that he had to give a hug to his mother, Arina and sister Elin. When that was done he excused himself and left them alone. He leaned against the wall opposite the door and tried to get his hands to stop shaking. He'd been ready to defend himself when Trembor announced their relationship to his family, not to be so easily accepted.

          "I thought they might chase you out of there." Bahamel said, "How'd it go?"

          Marlot looked at the bear sitting a few feet away. "It went ok," he said, composing himself.

          She watched him for a moment before asking, "do they know?"

          "About what?"

          "You and Trembor."

          Marlot stared at her and then instinctively looked for an escape. He stopped himself from running. "How did you know?" he asked instead.

          She smiled sweetly at him, "I'm not blind, you two all but screamed 'I love you' when you got him to focus on your case. Then there's Cristan, you killed him for hurting your partner; you're normally more professional than that."

          Marlot nodded and sat next to her. "Have you figured out where he got the gun?"

          "It's too early, Ballistic's going to look it over, run the serial number against those we are missing. If nothing comes up we're going to have to send it to the military for them to check it against their inventory. By the way, I'm pretty sure he was the rapist. We found a box of souvenirs near where you killed him. I wouldn't be surprised if has something from every one of his victims." She handed him Cristan's PRT card. "Do you want us to keep the body for you?"

          He took the card and looked at it for a moment before reaching for his pad. "Eat it, or burn it, I don't care," he said, remembering it was still in Trembor's room.

          She nodded and hugged him. "I'll donate it to the shelter. Don't wait till you need to see me on a case to drop by next time wolf." She stood and walked away.

          Marlot looked at his hands, they weren't shaking anymore, but he wasn't comforted. Bahamel had noticed. Who else knew? He'd been so careful about how he acted around Trembor; or at least he had thought he had been.

          He leaned back in the chair and chuckled. Did it matter anymore? There had been three medics present when he'd told Trembor he loved him. He had no idea how many people had been there when he told the medic in the emergency room he was his mate, and now Trembor's family had accepted him, just like that. No one had struck him down for loving another male.

          He smiled and allowed himself to believe that Trembor had been right; there really was nothing wrong with being who they were.

          * * * * *

          Marlot parked the car in its spot in front of their office and quickly got out of it to open the other door. Trembor gave him a slightly exasperated look before letting the wolf help him out of the car.

          With Trembor leaning against it Marlot took the crutch out of the trunk. As he placed the lion's arms over his shoulders he noticed a daschund in her thirties getting up from the steps leading to the office door.

          "Are you Investigator Blackclaw?" she asked timidly as she walked to them. Her petite size and behavior made her seem younger than her scent indicated.

          "Yes, I am." Marlot answered.

          Trembor noticed the worried glances she gave him as she looked at Marlot. She opened her mouth to say something, but stopped herself, looking down to the ground. Marlot was confused at her behavior, but the lion had seen it multiple times in his sister when she had to admit something she'd rather not be witnessed.

          He took the crutch out of the wolf's hand. "I'll see you in the office when you're done here," he told him as he placed it under his good arm.

          "What do you think you're doing?" Marlot asked, grabbing the lion's good arm.

          "I'm giving the two of you some privacy," he smiled at Marlot's worried look and placed his hand on his cheek, "I'll be fine. It's not even twenty feet to the door; no one's going to attack me between here and there."

          Reluctantly Marlot let him go and watched him hobble up the steps.

          "I'm sorry," the daschund said, "I didn't mean to get in the way."

          Marlot sighed in relief when the door closed behind the lion. "It's alright," he said looking at her again, "he's right I've been getting over protective since his hospital stay." She wore a conservative gray business suit, "what can I do for you?"

          She dug through her purse and pulled out a cash card, which she presented to him. "I wanted to give you this."

          He looked at it without taking it, "why?"

          "I found out that you killed the man who rrr . . .," she tried to get the word out, but couldn't, even after multiple time.

          Marlot didn't need to hear it to know what this was about. He closed her hand on the cash card and held it in both of his. "How long ago?" he asked.

          "Th, three years," she answered, "this is part of my savings, I want to help you pay for his PRT."

          "He wasn't worth that much," Marlot told her. He'd actually been surprise at how low the male's PRT had been considering he had owned a successful business. He had known his crime would reduce it, but not so much. He had had to check with the PRT Administrative office to confirm the amount was correct.

          "I don't care," she said firmly, her eyes wet, "You've made it that I can sleep again. I want you to have it."

          Marlot could hear the misery in her voice, and got the feeling that he was the first person she had told what had been done to her. "Alright, I'll take it, but only on the condition that you go see a councilor about what happened to you."

          "I can't," she said weakly.

          "You have to, if you don't he's always going to haunt you." She looked at him with fear. "I know one, her name is Dauro, promise me you'll talk with her."

          She hesitated a moment and then nodded.

          He let he hand go and took out his pad. He brought up the councilor's information while he waited for her to take out hers. When she nodded he sent it to her, and took down her pad number in return, making a note to contact Dauro to arrange to pay part of the sessions.

          He took the card, and then he hugged her, before watching her walk away.

          He smiled at Hela'han as he entered, but didn't pay attention to what she said; Trembor was standing, leaning against their desks.

          "Shouldn't you be sitting?" Marlot asked as he hurried to the lion.

          Trembor rolled his eyes, "I'm fine. Who was she?"

          "One of his victims, she gave me a reward for killing him, but I going to use it to pay for the councilor I got her to go see."

          Trembor smiled, "you're a sneaky wolf." He grabbed his hand and pulled him close. "I love you," he said before wrapping his arms around Marlot and kissing him.

          Marlot froze for a moment remembering the door was open and Hela'han was on the other side, and then forced his worries away so he could enjoy it. He heard her give an amused chuckle and then the door was closed quietly.

  12. Tristan

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          Epilogue

          
          Alex stepped off the cargo ship and it took off as soon as he was at a safe distance. He put down the case he'd been holding and looked around, the place wasn't exactly what he'd expected as a port, three boarded up building and a beacon.

          A man walked up the path toward him. His gait was relaxed, but the way he moved showed he was comfortable with the weight of the large gun at his hip, and his hand stayed near it.

          Alex could understand the hidden caution, he didn't look like he had when he embarked on this expedition to find Tristan. He wasn't the teary eyed youth who had still been crying for Jack to come back when the security men showed up. He'd lost that layer of fat most desk jockey had and gained some well defined muscles. The scar on the left side of his face gave him a slightly menacing look.well defined muscles. The scar on the left side of his face gave him a slightly menacing look.

           "Seems like they were in a hurry to dump you off and get going," the man said in a gruff voice.

          Alex shrugged, "they were just dropping me off as a favor; they're on a tight schedule."

          "I'm Jacoby," the man said offering his hand, "what passed for a port master around these parts. What brings you to our little corner of the universe?"

          Alex looked at the hand but didn't take it. "I'm looking for someone," he replied, "but this might be the wrong place." This didn't look like the kind of place Tristan would come to, it was too peaceful.

          "You never know, who're you looking for?"

          "Just a Samalian I used to know."

          "Are you looking to stir up trouble?" The man eyed him critically.

          Alex wasn't visibly armed, he preferred keeping them in his shoulder pack unless he was expecting trouble, but there was no denying he was a merc. He shook his head, "no, I'm just looking to catch up."

          "Well, must be some catching up you're looking to do to come this far. The only Samalian we have is the tech.

           "Tech?"

          "Yeah, he lives in a cabin some ways out of the town, when ever someone has trouble with something they go see him and he fixes it."when ever someone has trouble with something they go see him and he fixes it."

          "That could be him," except for the part about helping others it sounded like something Tristan would be able to do.

          "In that case you want to take the path till you reach the town, and look for Eli's saloon."

          "He's there?"

          "Not now, but by the time you get there he will be."

          Alex thanked the man and picked up the case. As he walked along the path he thought back on how he'd ended up here.

          Like the alien had said the company's security had come looking for him. Once they made sure he wasn't contagious they brought him back to the company and put him in a small room, where they would come question him.

          At first the questions revolved around who Tristan was, how he knew him, how he'd gotten hold of his ID. After telling them multiple time he didn't know anyone named Tristan they showed him Jack's picture and told him that was him. His heart skipped a beat, but he wouldn't believe them. he accused them of lying to him just to justify kidnapping him. He told them over and over that Jack would never do the things they claimed he had.

          So they asked him about Jack. He was reluctant at first, but they convinced him that if he was right and that Jack wasn't the man they were looking for knowing more about him would help them find the right culprit.

          He started by describing him only as a friend he was helping out, but he wasn't able to keep how he felt from showing in his voice. So they questioned him about how they met, and then the questions became more and more personal, making him stammer and blush and he tried to not answer them.

          When they asked how he had enjoyed being fucked by an animal Alex just lost it. He told them to go to hell; that he wasn't going to be subject to their insinuation and insults. They tried to force him to reveal more about his relation with the alien, but he finally had had enough and remained silent no matter with they threatened him with. Or what they did to him.

          After a few weeks they didn't bother questioning him anymore. He'd get meals and be let out twice a day, and that was it. He didn't have any illusions that someone would come save him. Luminex was a wholly independent entity, as long as it didn't interfere with the government it could do what ever it wanted. Maybe if one of Alex's family member, or just a friend, were to come requesting his release something might happen, but the only friends he had weren't humans and they wouldn't want to risk angering such a large company. He didn't have any family, at least none that would miss him.

          After close to two month he'd come to believe that they had just forgotten about him; and then out of the blue and without being told why, he was released. He was even allowed to go back to his old position. He found out that while he was locked up the company had gotten a new president. No one talked about what had happened to the previous one.

          The new president came to see him after his release. He apologize for the way he had been treated and inquired if he'd need anything to help him get over what had been done to him. Alex told him he needed time and the man told him to take as long as he needed. He assured him that when ever he was ready his old job would be waiting for him.

          Alex took that time to try to find information on Tristan. He searched on every public database, but other than a few notes here and there about how he was a criminal who had been incarcerated in some of the worst prisons he couldn't find anything. He realized he needed to get to some of the databases not accessible to the public. He needed to go through someone with more clout.

          So he went back to work and when ever he had a moment he used the company's system to try to unearth whatever he could, but even after a few months he had nothing substantial. His lack of success was getting him down. All he wanted to know was exactly who it was he had shared his bed with.

          The call to present himself at the President's office made him apprehensive. Maybe the research he'd been doing had been noticed and couldn't be allowed. He didn't expect the company approved of an employee looking for a criminal using their resources.

          Instead he was welcomed with a smile by the President. They he asked them how he was settling back into his job and talk about work for a few minutes. The President then told him he was aware of the searches he'd been running, and that he wasn't in trouble because of them. He then handed him a file and told him that all the information he wanted was in it. He also warned him to be absolutely certain he wanted to know what was in it before opening it.

          Alex had asked him why he was doing this, and the president replied that Tristan had affected both their lives in some fashion so he felt he should help him in his quest to understand who Tristan was.

          It took Alex three days to work up the nerves to open the file. Before he finished reading the first page he had thrown up. There had been a detailed description of one of Tristan's first recorded crime, which left six bodies horrible cut up. It was a week later that he forced himself to read the rest of it.

          He wasn't able to sleep properly for days after that.

          How could he have fallen for someone that horrible, how could he still want him in his life even after reading about all these crimes. He tried to ignore how he felt, but he couldn't, Jack leaving had left a hole in his heart and even learning what kind of being he really was hadn't closed it.

          Since the only link he had to him was the Defender he started looking into it; wondering if it was even really what Jack had claimed. He contacted a variety of experts on alien species until he found one specializing on Samalians. He arranged a meeting and brought the Defender. He learned that not only was the object what Jack had claimed, but it was authentic, not a reproduction. He also learned stories about the Defenders, and the place they had in Samalian society. It was during one of those stories that he decided he was going to go looking for Tristan.

          He left the company and sold everything he owned. He then started looking for someone who'd be willing to take him to Samalia. It was so far that none of the regular transports were willing to do it. He eventually found a seedy looking man with a ship that was heading in that general area. He paid him almost half the money he had to convince him to drop him off there.

          The trip wasn't pleasant. It wasn't a cruise ship, so he was expected to work. He didn't mind it, but the crew was even seedier then the captain had been. Most of them kept looking at him like he was a piece of meat, and he kept hearing whispers about what the new guy was expected to do to earn his place on a ship. About halfway one of the crewman decided to carry through with one of those and tried to rape him, in front of everyone.

          He defended himself and at some point during the fight he found himself holding a gun and shot him. He was as stunned as the others when it happened, lying there on the ground, his shirt and pants ripped off. He had a look of horror as he watched the other man fall, a hole in the middle of his chest.

          Once he realized what had he had done he expected the others to kill him. Instead, after a moment of surprised silence they cheered and money was exchanged. He was shocked when they pulled him to his feet and congratulated him. Then the captain assigned Alex the man's duty.

          It was a year before he made it to Samalia.

          During that time he was taught how to fight hand to hand properly, how to fire a gun and how to out drink most grounders. He made some friendship during that time, but when he stopped to think about them they felt odd. He would trust these men with his life in a fight, but he never opened up to them, and they never asked him about his past; they life entirely in the present.

          The planet wasn't what he expected, Jack's descriptions had been exaggerated, it was much more technological then he had said. Most Samalians he met were nice, but they couldn't help, finding one specific Samalian, who hadn't been on planet for years proved to be impossible. He did end up with a few leads, the spaceport tended to accumulate gossip, and some had heard stories of Samalians on the wrong side of the laws roaming the stars.

          With those stories Alex hired himself on the next ship that left, and traveled from plane to planet, taking what ever jobs he could find when he was running low on money. When he realized he'd turned into a merc he had been on the move for two years, had gotten the scar on his face and had accumulated a small criminal record. He was surprised to find that he didn't care.

          The first Samalian he found turned out to be an enforcer for a criminal organization. He had heard of Tristan, but didn't know where he was, the last he'd heard a job had gone bad and he'd been caught, but that was almost ten years old. He gave him the name of a few people who might know more, and a warning to watch himself if he ever found him.

          The next three years were spent tracking anyone who might know something about Tristan and then following those leads. This planet had been the last one on his list, the one he thought was the least likely to be the right one. But he had gone to all the others and hadn't found anything, either they had been completely false leads, or he'd gotten there too late.

          The town was, unimpressive; maybe thirty buildings loosely spaced without any noticeable order, none of them more than two floors in height. The saloon was easy to find, in what could be considered the center of town. When he entered it there were only five people there, including the man behind the bar.

          He was the only one to look in his direction. "Hi, been a while since I've seen a new face in here. What can I get you?"

          "Do you know how to make a Madorian Tea?" Alex asked he barman while looking at he Samalian. He did have the speckle of light colour in his fur, but entire colour scheme was a shade or two too light.

          "I've never heard of it, but I can try to if you tell me what's in it." The barman replied as the Samalian happened to look up from the data pad he was reading and his eyes met Alex's for a moment before they went back down.

          Alex turned to the barman and shrugged, "Don't worry about it I'll have something local instead." Even though he had only really seen them once, Tristan's eyes had remained burnt in his memory; the cold and uncaring way they had looked at him as he told him that everything he had though had happened had been a lie. The contempt in them as Alex told him he loved him and pleaded for him to stay and the cold deadliness in them as he pushed him away. As much as he had been hoping to find Tristan, seeing those eyes again made him doubt the wisdom of being here.

          He watched the barman mix some alcohol in a small glass. While the colours mixed to settle in a vivid purple he tried to decide if he wanted this meeting after all. He drank it in one quick swallow; tasting the flowery sweetness mingling with the burning of alcohol. He looked at the bottom of the glass, regretting drinking it so fast as the alcohol burnt away the taste.

          He put the glass down and picked up his case. He walked to the Samalian's table and put the case on it. The Samalian looked up at him, and frowned for a moment. Alex remained silent while the alien sniffed the air, he stood straighter and his ears perking up as he recognized his scent. Alex kept himself from showing any reactions as Tristan barely stopped himself from touching the space between his pectorals.

          "Hi," Alex said, "I'm here to help you keep your promise." He said as he opened the case to revealing the Defender.

  13. Welcome back to our ongoing Interviews with individual members of the Orr Family of Timeline HDK-154. Today we have Alexander Orr.

    As with all Individual Interviews, this one follows a pre-established set of questions.

    If you have questions That were not asked here, please feel free to leave them below and We will add them to the list of Viewer asked Questions.

    What is your name:
    Alexander Orr, Well, I can actually say this now. Detective Alexander Orr. I passed the exam last month and got my shield this morning. Is this what the interview is about? Ahh, okay, I hope the others were well behaved during theirs then.

    Where were you born:
    I was born in San Francisco, California. At the Coastal Woman's Hospital.

    Do you have any family:
    Of course I do. There's my dads, my seven brothers, three uncles and two great uncles. I see my immediate family regularly, except for Aaron, he hasn't been around as much as any of us would like since joining the army. Dominic and Dietrich come by when they can, I think Dietrich is going to be moving to the city, he talked about opening a gym last time he was here and if there's one place that can always use another gym it's this city.

    Where do you see yourself in 10 years:
    It'd be nice to be captain by then, although ten years might not be long enough to achieve that. But I'd be heading there.

    What is your goal:
    Ultimate goal? Police Commissioner. No, it wasn't always my plan. Before I joined the force I figured I'd be happy just being a detective, but with what I've seen since then, I'm thinking I could do some good in that position.

    What obstacles have you had in your life:
    I've had to deal with corruption within the department. That wasn't pretty.

    How have you overcome them:
    I'm sorry to say I had to turn to my family for help. I wasn't strong enough to resolve it on my own. My uncle helped me a lot through it. Damian, he's the one I went to for help.

    What are you most passionate about:
    I'm going to come across as a stereotype, I just know it. Justice is what I'm passionate about. That's why I became a police officer to start with, to be on the front line and make sure the bad guys were caught.

    Do you have a pet peeve:
    People who blast their radio in their cars. I have no issues with someone liking their music loud, but the rest of us shouldn't have to suffer through it. I'm not kidding, at one point I was carrying a decibel meter to see if I could catch one of them with their music above the city's noise ordinance. Unfortunately I didn't.

    What relationship-romantic or otherwise-has been the most significant in your life:
    It's a good thing you added the 'otherwise' in there. I'm not much for romantic relationships. I gave that a try a few years ago and it didn't end well. He'd agreed to an open relationship, and I came home to him every night, but after a while he got angry with me anytime I didn't come home immediately after work. I ended it, and haven't tried it again.
    I guess I'll have to say my family. I'm pretty close to my dads and my brothers.

    What has been your greatest accomplishment:
    Getting my badge the hard way. It was offered to me in the aftermath of the corruption scandal, but I turned it down. It wasn't easy, but I knew what my uncle would have thought of me if I'd said yes, and as difficult as Damian can get some time, I value what he thinks of me.

    Your greatest failure:
    Not having the guts to say no when I was given that first payoff.

    What do you consider your greatest strength:
    Does anyone actually answer this question? I mean, who will answer this honestly? Really? They did? How do you know they were honest? Wait, you verified it? What, you had then followed? Did you put them to the test? Wait, do you work for uncle Damian? Is this something he-he didn't? okay.

    Your greatest weakness:  
    I could say my lack of backbone, but I worked through that one, trust me. I might like my gun too much. I know, you're looking for a moral weakness, or something like that. Trust me, you can't buy me off, not anymore. Asses, I'm an ass guy.

    How do you compensate for your weakness(es):  
    Oh, I don't.

    Are you well-liked? Why or why not? If not, would you want to change that? What changes would you be willing to make:
    I'm a cop, I've made my share of enemies. Taking part in bringing down a corruption ring within the force didn't make me many friends either, so I guess I'm going to have to say that except for a handful of people, no, I'm not really liked within the force. Outside of it? It isn't easy to keep the two completely separated, but yeah, outside of work I'm well liked.

    What one thing is essential to having a good day? Or Describe your hypothetical best day ever:
    Easy reports to fill out. Those days when I can get out by dinner time are glorious.

    What is your decision-making process:
    Gather the evidence, analyze it, remove anything that might be tainted and judge the rest.

    Who do you admire most:
    When I was younger it was Commissioner Anita Hyacinthe, ever since I met her at one of the galas my dads took me to I thought she was an amazing woman to have managed to make her way there and hold on to the position for all these years. Now, I have to say it's my brother, Patrick. He works for Damian. I've known that years, but I didn't realize what that meant until recently, and his job isn't an easy one.

    Which Deadly Sin would you be:
    First off, I'm not religious, second, Lust. I'm willing to bet my entire family has answered that. He didn't? what did he say? Oh, yeah, okay, I can see that.

    Who is your role model:
    The commissioner.

    What is your favorite book:
    The life and times of Al Capone. No, it isn't that strange, it's a very solid look at how law enforcement worked back then.

    What is your weapon of choice:
    The Winchester Atlas handgun model 632. Possibly the greatest gun ever made. I wish. The department still uses Colts, although I've heard there's talk that they're testing the Smith and Wesson cartridgeless model.

    Do you have any spiritual belief/s:
    No, I don't.

    If you could be in a Disney movie, what would your role be:
    I would be Chief Inspector Renard, in Robin of the Hood, who else would I be? You haven't seen it? Come on, it's a great movie, it's a modern retelling of Robin Hood, if you couldn't tell. It came out like four or five years ago.  Robin is the chief's son, Marian the mayor's daughter. No it isn't silly at all, well, okay, the singing might have gone overboard, but the story is really good.

    Which emoji describes you the best:
    I have my very own emoji, here, let me show you. My dads made it for me, it's animated and everything.

     

  14. Kindar
    Latest Entry

    Chapter 41

          "How is everyone?" Martin asked.

          Most were okay, in the process of healing themselves.

          "What about them?" Colby asked, pointing to the three unconscious lackeys.

          "Tie them up, we'll bring them with us." Martin leaned against a wall. "We can't leave them here."

          Denton joined him. "What are we doing about this place?"

          "Nothing." Maximilian's shirt had a dozen small cuts.

          "Is that safe? The Orrs know about it. they're going to come back."

          "Even if I thought a place like this could be destroyed, I wouldn't try it. I don't want to risk the God's anger."

          "Okay, so we don't blow it up. I wasn't suggesting that. But we can't let the Orrs just have access to it. They can't have anything good planned for this place."

          Fred stood and lumbered to them. "They're going to drain it. They don't care about the God. They want the power that's here. Damian was only pissed about being here because he was trapped. He loved the power and what it let him do." With a sigh he sat back down.

          "What do you remember?" Denton asked.

          "Everything I did." Fred looked up to Martin. "Sorry about choking you."

          "Wasn't you. Don't worry about it."

          "Did you know what he knew while he was in you?"

          Fred shook his head.

          Denton sighed. "So you don't know if he had a partner or not."

          Fred looked up. "I don't think he did. At least if you're referring to the symbols. At some point he was trying to think of ways to immobilize me so he could use one of the others to carve symbols on me."

          "You know what they would do?"

          The lion shook his head.

          "At least it's good to know he worked alone." Denton leaned his head back against the stone. "I think I could sleep for a week."

          "Lets not." Maximilian shook him. "We can sleep on the jet. Right now we need to leave. I have an idea on how we're going to keep the Orrs out, as well and anyone else."

          "Guards?"

          Maximilian shook his head and lead them in the tunnel. He turned to his son a hundred yards out of the cave. "Fred, I want you to work with the others to come up with a Phrase to bring down the tunnel from the entrance to here."

          Fred peered into the distance. "That's going to take some work. The tunnel's about a mile long if I remember."

          "That's why i want you to work with the others. Dent can help with what he knows."

          "Max, it can't be done."

          "I don't want anyone ever getting in here again!"

          Fred backed up and raised his hands. "Max, you're talking about one mile of cum. There's only eight of us. I don't care how much the God likes us. We can't produce that much cum. we'd be here for a few days to do what you want."

          Maximilian glared at the lion, then deflated. "Your right, sorry."

          "The best I can offer is to put a destructive Phrase every few hundred yards. There's no guaranty it would bring down the entire tunnel, but it would at least create multiple cave-ins."

          Maximilian rubbed his face. "Alright, lets do that."

          The only help Denton was able to provide was some of the cum. he didn't know the sigils well enough, and as Martin had explained, they needed to be perfect for Phrases. Each Phrase was activated when they were far enough, and they had to run the last few hundred yards when that phrase caused the rest of the tunnel to start crumbling.

          They were coughing and covered with dusts when they reached the jeeps. It was dark outside so they dumped their five captives in the back of them and laid down on the ground. Colby was the only one with enough presence of mind to arrange a watch.

          Much too quickly for Denton's taste the sun was up, and they were driving back to the airfield. The captive were locked in the bathroom. Then everyone was sleeping.

          * * * * *

          Denton's worries over the church proved unfounded. Leroy and Yanik had setup everything in their absence so that the Adoption was legal. The church couldn't find anything tying Denton to the Society until they met up a few weeks ago.

          It didn't give Denton his job back, but at least he no longer had to worry about whatever the church did to people who broke their so precious edicts. He'd have to find something new to do, but Maximilian was going to help with that.

          The first thing Denton did to get his life back on track was buy a new phone. He got his contacts and programs back on it and called William, arranging to meet him. He figured the wolf was due to top him this time.

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    Standing on the platform of Slateston Cove station, Gideon Cross watched as the porter carefully arranged the number of suitcases on the rickety trolley. The train station was pretty deserted. There were only a handful amount of passengers that had travelled with them from Crownsbridge, which suited the cougar just fine. Humming a random tune for himself, the cougar took a pocket watch out of his tweed jacket and studied the time.

    “When did Atlas say he’ll meet us again?”  The cougar who was standing beside him spoke up.

    Leonidas Cross, or Leon as he preferred to be called, was Gideon’s identical twin brother, older by twelve minutes. Like Gideon, Leon was tall, with strong, broad shoulders and intelligent green eyes. He was slightly more slender than his younger twin but they both cut quite the stalwart figure.

    The only thing that differed them was their hairstyle, and the mechanical arm that was in place Leon’s right arm, partly hidden beneath his deep green travelling coat and shirt sleeve.

    “Five thirty. He said he’ll be meeting us here.” Gideon replied to his twin as he slipped the watch back to his jacket. He turned around just as a Peregrine Falcon, who was a couple of years younger, called for his name.

    “All set, Mr. Gideon,” said the Peregrine, gesturing to the porter who had secured their luggage as he took a last big drag from his cigarette and removed the stub from his beak with a puff of smoke.

    Gideon nodded. “Thank you Flint.”

    “We just need to meet with this Mr. Atlas, then?” Flint asked.

    “Yes. He should be here by now.” Gideon hummed. “Funny name, Atlas, don’t you think?” He mused. “You sure he doesn’t have any first name or surname to go with that?”

    Flint shook his head. “All of his letters were signed as ‘Atlas’, except for the first letter which was signed as ‘R.D Oscar’, Mr. Gideon.”

    The cougar nodded, humming as he contemplated the letters which had came to their office for the past few weeks. This ‘Atlas’ was certainly a mystery. He turned to his brother when the older cougar nudged his shoulders.

    Leon gestured to the figure that was slowly approaching them. “You think that’s him?”

    Turning around, the three men could see a timberwolf making their way towards them. The canine was definitely handsome and well made, with neatly trimmed white fur that was flecked with dark greys and black which gives off the impression of brushed silver. His hair had been neatly slicked back, and his tall, athletic frame was impeccably clad in a tailored, dark blue and black suit.

    “I think that’s him.” The cougar replied slowly, his mind recalling the last letter which they had received from their mysterious correspondence. “His description fits.”

    The wolf’s striking pale blue eyes shifted from Leon, Gideon, and then to Flint, before settling to Gideon for a long moment.

    “I see you’ve taken the Chief’s offer after all.” The wolf finally said, flashing the two cougars a small, but charming sideways grin.

    “The Chief?” Flint voiced.

    The wolf nodded. “I work for Rodger Oscar.”

    “So, you’re Atlas, I presume?” Leon addressed the canine, who inclined his head.

    “Yes… and I presume you’re Leonidas Cross?” He asked, turning to Gideon.

    “No, I’m Gideon, his brother.”

    “Ah. My apologies.”

    “Just call me Leon, please.” The other cougar replied, stretching out his paw for a handshake.

    Atlas did not take it however. His gaze lingered on the mechanical paw construct, eyebrow raised.

    “Arlemanian manufacture… seems like Daedalus & Sons’ design with custom modifications.” The wolf murmured as he lifted Leon’s paw to have a close look. Leon stared as Atlas continued to mutter. “Industrial grade steel alloy with high quality chrome plating… this is quite new too. Certainly a prototype, and dare I say if it’s powered by high capacity, battery powered dynamo instead of a miniature low pressure combustion system?”

    Leon nodded, feeling dumbstruck by Atlas’s spot on analysis.

    “My, my, you seem to have quite the connections, detective.”

    “This is a gift from my client actually…” Leon replied, suddenly wary of the grin Atlas was giving him. “How did you know all that?”

    “Oh, I dabble in mechanics, Mr. Cross.” The wolf replied simply with a wave of his paw before he turned his attention to Gideon. His piercing blue eyes seem to be sizing up the younger cougar twin.

    “I’ve never expected you to be quite the strong figure, doctor.” He seem to like what he saw as he nodded. The corner of his muzzle quirked up.

    Gideon simply inclined his head. “Just Gideon Cross, please. I’m not an active medical practitioner, not anymore at least.”

    Atlas gave him a small, unreadable grin. “Quite. I read you were quite the talented wrestler in your alma mater. You know, we would be happy to welcome a brilliant doctor as you are, especially in your expertise in diseases.”

    “We?” Gideon couldn’t help but stare. Just how much did this Atlas know about them?

    “We are always open for new citizenships… and of course there are spots for strapping private investigators as yourself.” The wolf said, still sporting the unreadable grin.

    Gideon stared. He wasn’t sure what to make of Atlas’ comment. The wolf now had his attention to the Peregrine standing a bit ways behind Leon however.

    “And you’re Mr. Jarred Flint I presume? When you told me that you’d bring another I never thought you’d bring your secretary with you.” This was directed to Leon.

    “Flint here has experience in the field.” Leon answered. “You don’t need to worry about him.”

    The wolf hummed and nodded. “I see, I see. Well then, if everything settled, follow me.”

    Without even waiting, the silver furred wolf turned and moved towards the station building, leaving Flint blinking in surprise. The cougar brothers raised an eyebrow before they followed the wolf with the Peregrine and the porter in tow.

    A fancy looking sedan was already waiting for them as they made it outside. A gryphon in a form-fitting greyish blue uniform, adorned with silver fittings. The gryphon was also wearing black leather gloves and a peaked cap was standing at attention. He snapped to attention and quickly opened the door for Atlas to enter, before moving to let the guests in.

    The uniformed chauffeur finally settled into the driver’s seat once the luggage has been secured in the trunk, turning to look at the wolf sitting behind him.

    “To the harbor, Mr. Atlas?”

    “Yes, but go directly to the pier, Santos.” The wolf answered as the car started. “You remember your instructions?”

    The gryphon nodded with a grin. He seemed to be quite happy about the situation for some reason. “Yes, sir.”

    “Good.” Atlas said, before turning his attention to his guests. “You mind if I smoke?”

    Gideon would not rather breathe in the smell of cigarette in an enclosed space, but Atlas had pulled out a stick of unknown brand of cigarette as he said those words, so the cougar simply nodded his head.

    “Sure, go ahead.”

    There was a few moments of silence as the silver furred wolf flicked his lighter and lit the cigarette. Flint looked like as if he wanted to take a smoke but he held himself. The unknown brand did pique his interest however.

    “Atlas, I will sound impudent, but if you don’t mind me asking...” Leon spoke up. “Is Atlas your given name or surname?”

    The wolf stared at the cougar, exhaling thick, sharp smelling smoke. A low chuckle came out from his lips.

    “It’s simply Atlas.”

    Gideon hummed. “And you intend to keep it that way, I presume?”

    Atlas’ pale blue eyes glinted. “Maybe… if you ask nicely enough then, perhaps.”

    The cougar gave the canine a wry smile.

    “Duly noted.”

    The wolf raised an eyebrow, looking amused as he shook his head and took a few more puffs of his cigarette. “Well then, I’m sure you’ve read the files I’ve sent you?”

    The two felines nodded. It was Leo who spoke first. “Yes, but I’ve got to say, the files, well…  even with the facts laid out… is just quite impossible.”

    Atlas inhaled, and slowly exhaled the smoke, giving the two cougars a cryptic smile. “That’s the essence of Prometheus, Mr. Cross. Oscar—the Chief—chose the impossible, and the impossible became possible.”

    Prometheus... A secret metropolis built under the cold, icy depths of the Altosian Ocean. A full fledged city built by the Columbian billionaire industrialist, Rodger Oscar. The tycoon wolf had disappeared from the media six or seven years back, and all of his enterprises were slowly being sold to other companies one by one. His disappearance prompted many rumours about himself.

    A financial column in the Daily Postal had speculated that Oscar had gone and somehow gotten bankrupt and thus why he sold his remaining businesses to keep up with the finances, and had been lying low. The Inquirer wrote that they had a reliable resource informing that Oscar had gone off sailing with his private yacht with friends and family one day, and never returned. Whereas Vox Weekly got wind of the news that Oscar had debauched himself on drugs and alcohol and had died from overdose like so many other famous people these days.

    Never Gideon thought that Oscar had gone and built a living, breathing, and thriving underwater city with a population of five thousand and growing. No doubt the tycoon had went on his yacht with friends and family to move into Prometheus instead of being lost at sea like the Inquirer implied.

    However, even with the pictures and documents that Atlas had shown him, Gideon and his brother still had a hard time wrapping his mind around the fact that city like Prometheus could exist.

    “And tell me again why it’s not public knowledge? The city and Oscar, I mean.” Leon went to ask.

    Atlas replied with a surprising amount of finality. “It’s not ready for the public eye, Mr. Cross, and it will never be… unless we weed out the parasites.”

    “Parasites.” Leon repeated.

    “Yes. Parasites, Mr. Cross.”

    The older cougar looked at Atlas to prompt the wolf for more explanation. However, none came as Atlas contented himself to enjoy his cigarette.

    Letting out a dissatisfied huff, Leon turned to his twin brother for help. Gideon shook his head, knowing that Atlas wouldn’t tell them, for now. The wolf seemed to be the type to not divulge any information he didn’t deem necessary. Furthermore, Atlas had given them more than enough information to go by.

    In his correspondence letters, Atlas had described the growing dissent among the factions of Prometheus’ citizens. Small protests had broken out in its streets, and there had been a number of “accidents” in various factories. Recent development saw a few construction projects halted because a number of heavy duty equipment were found irreversibly damaged.

    Rodger Oscar had suspected that someone had been deliberately sabotaging the development of the city and riling up the citizens. As Prometheus was supposedly a secret utopia, Oscar did not want to draw attention from law enforcement on the surface, naturally. So, he needed a private detective to sort out the problem for him who could keep things hush-hush.

    And he had chosen the Cross & Cross Investigations, for some reason. Perhaps it was because their agency was relatively not that well known just yet. Big time agencies like Grayston could attract unwanted attention from the government.

    “The Chief is looking for someone who can be trusted, reliable and discreet. I trust you won’t disappoint him.” The wolf had written in one of his letters.

    So basically, the tycoon wanted them to investigate the problem, find the instigator, find out their reasons, and bring them to Oscar without causing too much havoc, and then job done. Nothing more, nothing less. As an incentive, Atlas had deposited a very large sum of money to each of their bank account.

    Honestly, the money wasn’t really needed to push Gideon and his twin to take the case. The prospect of going into an impossible underwater city was enough incentive. Still… a few hundred thousand bucks could be handy in the future.

    Despite how simple their job sounded, Gideon suspected that there was something that Atlas wasn’t telling them. He and Gideon had sensed that the wolf was the kind of client who wouldn’t divulge information if it wasn’t deemed necessary for them.

    No matter. Life as private investigators was always full of complications, and they would have to suck it up.

    The drive to the harbor was spent in silence, and the sleepy town of Slateston Cove went by quickly. They arrived at the harbor, which was called Havenstone Quay, in less than fifteen minutes. The harbor was a rather fancy affair, adorned with a single, modern white building that was three stories high, and adorned with tall windows.

    Santos drove the limousine towards the side of the building, and past the gates after the security guard waved him in. Atlas must have been a regular to be allowed in without any security checks.

    The car drove through the pier where ferries and luxury yachts alike were docked bobbed slightly in the choppy waters. He quickly parked inside the available private parking lots and helped the passengers out.

    Gideon was ever glad to get some fresh air.

    “Through here. Santos will handle your luggage.” Atlas quipped, leading the other three towards the outer piers, where a large motor yacht was docked.

    Flint let out an appreciative whistle. “She’s a real beauty alright.” He remarked.

    The yacht was a modern construct, with a long and streamlined silhouette, painted in deep blue and white. Gold trims adorned its oval shaped portholes and windows. A golden plaque on the bow identified the name of the yacht: The Windward.

    The yacht’s crew were already waiting for them on the pier, and they gave Atlas a small salute as he approached.

    “Afternoon Mr. Atlas.” The captain, who was a rather imposing Grizzly Bear rumbled with a polite smile.

    “Captain Rufus!” Atlas replied brightly. “How are the preparations? Are we good to sail?”

    The bear nodded to the wolf. “Weather’s fair, sir. Although I heard there will be strong winds later tonight.” He said. “We should be able to reach the island safely however.”

    Gideon turned to the wolf. “Island, Mr. Atlas?”

    “The only gateway to Prometheus.” The timberwolf answered him. “We are sailing to Enclave Point.”

    “Wasn’t that one of Oscar’s private islands?”

    “You would be correct.” Atlas nodded.

    “And… how long until we reach the island?” Flint went to ask, watching as Santos heaved their luggage into the yacht with the help of the ship’s stewart.

    Captain Rufus turned to the Peregrine. “If the weather’s permitting, we should reach the island by tomorrow noon.”

    Flint whistled. “That far off?”

    “It is some two hundred miles off Hesperican coast after all.” Captain Rufus replied.

    “Right then.” Atlas nodded. “If you have no more questions, let’s get going.”

    ******

    The Windward was sailing at the speed of fifty five knots across the waters fifteen minutes later. Atlas had generously given the detectives and Flint cabins to rest and refresh until they reach Enclave Point tomorrow.

    The cabin was rather tiny, but it was quite luxuriously appointed with modern tastes; fine wooden panels, soft plush bed, with an ensuite bathroom attached. The cougar had felt more refreshed now that he’s washed and had changed something more comfortable.

    Closing the door behind him, Gideon made his way across the hallway and up the staircase to the upper deck. Across the anteroom which housed the staircase landing, he could see that Flint had availed the open balcony to enjoy a smoke, and a camera hung from a strap around his neck. Leon had made himself comfortable on the lounge, deeply engrossed with the automobile magazine held between his paws.

    He had been getting particularly interested with automotives as of late. Gideon could not really tell the reason behind his brother’s new hobby, but he suspected it might have something to do with Leon’s new boyfriend, who took auto racing as a hobby.

    It’s a wonder how his twin brother managed to get companions with exotic hobbies.

    Meanwhile, Atlas was just coming from the direction of the small bar at the corner of the lounge, holding two glass of ice cold amber liquid. The timberwolf had dressed in a far more comfortable shirt and vest, with a few buttons undone, giving a nice peek of his well muscled chest.

    “Whiskey?” The wolf offered one of the glass to Gideon. Evidently, he had caught the cougar’s gaze as he was giving Gideon a rather salacious grin.

    “Thank you.’Gideon accepted it, returning Atlas’ grin with a stiff smile of his own, and quickly took a sip. “Mmm… this is really good.”

    Atlas chuckled. “Prometheus-grown rye whiskey. I’m glad you find it to your liking.”

    “No, really?” Gideon couldn’t help but stare at the golden hued liquid. It doesn’t look that much different from the other whiskeys he had drank before, but it does have a unique taste which he couldn’t quite point out.

    “Yes.” The silver-furred wolf nodded. “I had the entire bar stocked with drinks from the city, particularly from my favourite bar.”

    “Ah, I see.” Gideon turned to look at the small bar, which was manned by a rather spiffy looking brown rat in burgundy uniform and bowtie. The rack behind him was filled to the brim with various liquors. Hard to believe Prometheus could produce so many brands.

    “I think you’ll enjoy the club as well,” said Atlas as he stood closer to the cougar, “it is your kind of club after all, Mr. Cross.”

    Gideon gave him a pointed look as he sipped his whiskey. “Just what do you mean by that?”

    The wolf simply raised an eyebrow. The corners of his muzzle quirked as he drank his own glass of whiskey. There was a slight purr in his voice. “I believe you know the answer to that question, detective.”

    Before Gideon could ask the wolf to elaborate further, three chimes of a bell could be heard from somewhere down the corridor, drawing the guests attention away. The bell chimed again three times, and then another three times.

    “What was that?” Flint, whom had returned into the lounge, voiced the question.

    “That would be the dinner call.” Atlas spoke up, rising from his seat. “The dining room’s this way. Would you all kindly follow me?” He spoke, not bothering to wait as he disappeared to the anteroom.

    Feeling like he have no other choice, Gideon downed the rest of his whiskey before he followed Atlas, with his brother and Flint in tow.

    * * * * * *

    They were just finishing a hearty lunch when The Windward arrived at Enclave Point on the next day.

    The island was basically a huge slab of rock, Gideon thought as he gazed at Enclave Point from the balcony of the yacht. The entire island was made of solid black rocks dotted with very few vegetation. The only thing that stood out was the paper-white sand beach which circled the entire island, and the glass, concrete, and steel building which dominated one side of the island. The pier was connected to the building, which seemed to serve as this island’s harbor.

    Atlas’ yacht wasn’t the only boat docked on the island too, Gideon noted.

    “Welcome to Enclave Point.” Atlas announced with a flourish as they were lead down to the pier on a ramp. Same as yesterday, the wolf was dressed rather casually and hadn’t bothered with a jacket despite the cold, buffeting winds. In fact, Atlas looked like he was in his element with the cool, clear cloudless skies and the freezing waves crashing into the rocky cliffs of the island.

    Flint hummed as he took a few pictures of the pier, the beach, and also the building with his camera. “Nice little retreat you have here.”

    “The Chief had spared no expenses to make sure every guests feel welcomed of course. Now come along. Try to keep up!”

    Feeling not a small amount of excitement but also a dash of apprehension, Gideon followed the timberwolf up through the illuminated stone steps and towards the building looming above them.

    A large blue banner lined in gold welcomed visitors into the building. Atlas lead the detectives through a large revolving glass door which opened into a wide hall, covered in marble tiles, sculpted columns, and ornate brass fittings. There were quite a few visitors inside the port’s entrance hall.

    Travellers from various parts of the continent, it would seem as Gideon caught snippets of Arlemanic, Gallian, and even Rosvenian among the chatter of Bretonian. There were also a number of personnel, mostly wolves, in stark white vest over bluish-black uniforms.

    “Prospective citizens of Prometheus with their guides. Special invitation from the desk of the Chief.” Atlas explained.

    “And how does Mr. Oscar select his prospective citizens?” Gideon asked as Atlas led them past the hall and down the sweeping staircase that opened into a wide, glass paneled hallway that showed the clear blue cloudless sky outside.

    The wolf was sporting his small grins again. “Sorry, Oz-Corp trade secret.”

    “I’ll find it out sooner or later.” Gideon tried to match Atlas’ grin. This seem to spark something in the wolf as Atlas hah’d. He was looking at the cougar before him in a new, appreciative light.

    “As persistent as you are, I’m sure you will, Mr. Cross.” He murmured.

    Gideon raised an eyebrow and turned his attention away from the infuriatingly charming wolf to his surroundings. He could see various posters and banners promoting venues and products of Prometheus. There were even advertisements of a metro system! He wondered how trains would work down there.

    There was a snap and whirr as Flint paused to take several pictures, before he caught up with the others. The Peregrine couldn’t stop grinning as they continued further down the hallway and towards a checkpoint which was manned by a dozen or so security guards.

    “They’re with me.” Atlas told the guard, who let the three pass through.

    Gideon noticed that they were now at the edge of the building. A wide balcony opened to the floors below, dotted with another set of stairs. He could also see a handful of people using the elevators.

    Atlas motioned to one of the empty elevators. “It’ll be quicker this way. My nautilus is docked further down.”

    “Nautilus?”

    “How else would you reach an underwater city besides a submarine, Mr. Cross?” The wolf replied, pressing the call button for the elevator, which curved, decorative metal gates slid open.

    Without further comment, the two men stepped into the elevator. Atlas pressed a button, and the elevator slowly descended, going past the lower level foyers… and then, the docking bays came into view.

    The nautilus docking bays were essentially multileveled halls with coffered, vaulted ceilings. A number of spherical submersibles bobbed on the open waters, tied to their piers with their pilots waiting for passengers to board.  

    The elevator went past two of these bays before it stopped on the third one.

    “Nautilus Bay C.” The elevator announced as the gate doors slid open and the occupants stepped out.

    Nautilus Bay C was much, much smaller than the other two bays above it, but it was no less luxurious. It had the similar coffered vaulted dome ceiling, but the grid patterns were gilded with what looked like gold leaf, and were decorated with more sophisticated light fixtures.

    There were only five submersibles docked on the stone-tiled piers. Each of them looked different from one another, but they they retained the basic spherical shape.

    Flint took quite a few pictures as they followed Atlas towards the second submersible from the left. Gideon, who had been rather distracted by the polished, streamlined pillars that were shaped into a wolves whose muscular arms were raised seemingly to support the vaulted ceiling, turned to look at the strange, undersea vehicle.

    Atlas’ submersible was a compact-looking vehicle, larger than the other nautilus in this docking bay. Atlas’ nautilus was clad in reflective, silvery plates, with streamlined fins that were equipped with headlights and other fixtures which Gideon couldn’t identify.

    And, to their surprise, Santos was already waiting for them by the nautilus. Must have taken an employee’s route. Gideon noted that the chauffeur had changed out from his driver’s uniform into something more naval themed, still double breasted with dark blue hues and silver fittings. He had removed his hat however.

    “Everything ready, Santos?” Atlas asked.

    “Primed and ready for a dive, sir.” The gryphon smiled back, holding the wolf with his leather gloved paws as Atlas climbed into the submersible.

    “Good.”

    “Watch your step, sir.” He said as he helped Gideon to climb into the nautilus.

    It was almost like stepping inside a luxury sports-auto, Gideon mused. The interior of the nautilus was entirely covered with leather padding and decorative brass panels and tiny strips of light, with plush red seats that was arranged around the driver’s seat so the passengers could have a clear view from the opening up front.

    Gideon sat himself on the passenger seat right across Atlas, while Leon and Flint took the seat behind them.

    “Comfortable?” asked the wolf as Santos settled into the driver’s seat and immediately fiddled with the controls, which consisted of several levers and a small panel of buttons and indicators.

    “Yeah, I am.” Gideon couldn’t help but grin.

    “Good.” Atlas nodded as he pulled a strap across his lap from the edge of his seat and secured it down. “Just in case we ran into a turbulent undersea currents or other kind of accident.” Atlas explained. “But don’t worry, the nautilus is perfectly safe. Accidents rarely happen, Mr. Cross.”

    Gideon gave him a tight smile. The prospect of having an accident underneath the sea inside this tiny sphere was not a pleasant thought, but he nodded either way.

    There was a hiss as a large, curved glass screen descended down from the folds of the hull, enframed by a series of concentric semicircles. It soon covered the opening they had used to enter nautilus. The entire frame locked into place with a series of clicks and hisses as Santos worked on the console.

    “Alright, here we go.” The gryphon proceeded to pull the larger levers, and the nautilus rumbled to life almost immediately. The passengers watched in anticipation as the entire sphere began to descend. Bubbles flowed past the screen as they began their descent through a tunnel of sorts, lined with aquatic-themed murals and indicators of how far they were diving.

    10 Fathoms… 18 Fathoms… 26 Fathoms...

    “This thing is pretty fast.” Flint remarked as they went past the 42 Fathom mark.

    “It is.” Atlas nodded. “FN Series Nautilus by Voyagetronics. They’re one of our leading luxury nautilus construction companies.”

    “Oh, I see.”

    The nautilus continued to dive deeper and deeper until it slowed down as a tunnel, spreading horizontally into the darkness, appeared before them. Atlas piloted the submersible towards the tunnel, which opened into the sea.

    They weren’t that deep that sunlight could still light the waters around them in a soothing blue hues. Occasionally, Gideon could see a couple of fish swimming past, and a few manta rays. However, the light around them slowly grew dim as the nautilus continued to dive deeper and deeper.

    Santos was keeping his focus to the controls, carefully piloting the nautilus towards their destination. Gideon couldn’t help but tense up as the waters turned darker and darker.

    “Ah, there we go.” The gryphon announced, pulling the two detectives’ mind out of their musings. Santos had flicked a few switches and the headlights flashed up, illuminating the darkness ahead.

    “We should be close now.” Atlas informed, leaning over his seat as he kept his eye on the radar screen on the side of the controls. He then leaned back, and let his icy blue eyes wander from Gideon to Flint, who kept their eyes peeled to the glass screen ahead.

    Not a moment later, the murky darkness suddenly seem to melt away. Before their eyes, a massive metropolis seem to loom from the depths. The city literally shone like a brilliant gem in the gloom, shining in an almost ethereal, cerulean glow.

    Atlas’ muzzle quirked into a smile as he took in the three passengers’ gobsmacked appearance. “Gentlemen, welcome to Prometheus.”

    Gideon couldn’t help but gape as he took in the entire view of the city, and also the sight of marine wildlife swimming almost lazily among the buildings. He could see some wild sharks, a few stingrays, a couple of sea turtles, and…

    “Mr. Gideon…” Flint seemed to gasp. “Is that…”

    “I believe we are looking at a Humpback Whale, yes.” Leon answered. He could barely believe his own eyes as the massive cetacean lazily swam through the gaps between the buildings.

    Just how big is this city?

    Gideon watched in amazement as the nautilus began to weave between the buildings, over and under the many, tubular, glass encased walkways that connected one building to another. Citizens of various species were walking back and forth inside the walkways. Some, mostly children, pointed and waved at Atlas’ nautilus in excitement.

    Still in an amazed stupor, Flint waved back at the children. Leon was busy taking the sight before him to notice, as was Gideon, who had noticed that there were a few other nautiluses swimming about.

    As they passed by one particular building, the detective thought he caught sight of an ice rink through an expansive glass dome. On the other building, a full fledged shopping arcade showed itself through a series of large, transparent windows. The neon sign outside the towering structure shouted out: “Zenith Emporium - The Number One Shopping Destination Under The Sea!”

    It wasn’t the only brightly lit sign attached to the building. Various illuminated billboards and flickering neon lights casted colorful undertones to the undersea skyline. There were so many that it almost rivalled the show billboards in Capitol City’s Times Avenue, and Gideon was trying to see all of them at once.

    On one of the fancier towers with gilded ornaments, a bright yellow neon sign flickered: “Savoy-Prometheus - Luxurious Suites, Excellent Food, and Breathtaking Views!”  On another building, a large circular sign with a highly stylized "V" that glowed bright purple shouted, "Excotic Cocktails and Extravagant Vices, only in CLUB VAGABOND." Far above the Club Vagabond sign was another neon sign that simply read, “BOREALIS”, wrapped around a semicircular platform, entirely wrapped with glass and illuminated with bright lights from within. It seemed to be an upscale restaurant of sorts from what Gideon could see.

    “This is quite surreal…” Flint breathed, craning his neck to see a large tower crowned with an illuminated “Oz-Corp Innovations -  Building a Better Future Together”.

    Gideon wished he had another pair of eyes right now. Prometheus was definitely becoming more than what he had thought.

    “It’s beautiful isn’t it?” Atlas mused as the nautilus swam past a large sign that was promoting Nereus Investments. “What you see here is Mr. Oscar’s dream realized… ah, and there’s where you will be staying.” He gestured to a pair of towers located a few ways away.

    The towers were shaped with soft, curving contours, and crowned with what looked like gigantic stylized fins. The massive green and white neon sign spelled out “Triton Plaza,” in thin, sophisticated letters.

    “Looks like a really fancy place to stay.” Leon chuckled.

    “Quite right there.” His brother agreed as his gazed at a nautilus that lazily swam past them. His attention was then diverted to a strange looking vehicle that had zoomed out from a building to their left. It looked like a cross between a submarine and a subway train.

    “What is that?”

    Atlas followed Gideon’s line of sight. Leon and Flint also had followed suit. “Ah, that’s the Prometheus Metro. A joint project by Oz-Corp Innovations and Voyagetronics.” The timberwolf explained. “It’s a popular mean of transportation by the citizens of Prometheus. Nautilus travel is akin to having a yacht in this city, you see…”

    “I kind of noticed that.” Leon remarked dryly as he leaned back to his chair. “All of this... is a lot to take in, however.”

    “I agree, Mr. Leon,” said Flint, pressing his face to the glass to get a better look at what appeared to be a garden that they were passing by.

    “You’ll get used to it, Mr. Cross.” Atlas chuckled.

    “And here we are. Prometheus Central.” Santos announced, pulling the nautilus towards a great domed building with a dozen or so tube-like frames jutting out from one side of the intricate facades.

    Gideon could see a handful of nautiluses, and quite the number of Prometheus Metro coming in and out of the tube structures.

    Gideon watched as Santos reached for the small device by the panel and spoke to it. “Metro Control, this is the Orion Prime, identification: Foxtrot-November-Two-One-Eight-Seven. Requesting permission to dock at Nautilus Bay Cygnus, over.”

    “Nautilus designation Orion Prime, identification: Foxtrot-November-Two-One-Eight-Seven, you are cleared to dock at Nautilus Bay Cygnus.” The radio spoke back. “Welcome back to Prometheus, sir.”

    “Thank you Metro Control.” Santos replied back and began to pilot his nautilus into one of the tubes that was set a few ways away from the others. Just as they went past the first ring, the submersible shook slightly as something seemed to clamp to the sides, and the submersible began to glide smoothly into the grand building. Gideon could barely see the intricate and highly detailed facade of statues and geometric shapes before the entire nautilus was swallowed into the building. There was a bump as the nautilus came to a halt and then, slowly, it began to rise up.

    The nautilus broke through the surface in a rather gentle pace. It bobbed slightly as Santos flicked a switch, pushed a couple buttons, and pulled the lever. With another flick of the switch, the glass hatch opened with a hiss and the passengers began to file out, helped by the ever helpful gryphon chauffeur.

    “Welcome to Prometheus, sirs.” Santos said in a rather cheerful manner.

    “Thank you.” Gideon inclined his head to the feline before he turned to Atlas. “A private nautilus docking bay huh?” He remarked as he stretched his feet, looking around the well lit chamber they were in.

    Solid concrete piers lined the side of the wide chamber that bordered the water. Besides Atlas’ nautilus, there were two others docked a few piers down. The entire chamber itself was lined with murals and pillars, crowned with a pure white granite dome.

    “Working as Mr. Oscar’s right hand man does have its perks.” Atlas replied, lighting another smoke. “Come through here.”

    The three followed Atlas through the large double doors at the end of the chamber and emerged into an immense hall that was topped with two, massive barrel vaulted glass domes and tall glass screens. Gideon could easily see the Promethean undersea skyline almost from every side as he followed Atlas down the sweeping marble staircase. Gideon couldn’t help but wonder how these glass could have withstood so much pressure.

    Announcements echoed through the massive concourse as they made their way past the crowd of Prometheans heading to and fro the various archways and staircases.

    “Attention, passengers: the train for Hesperides Gardens will be arriving at Platform 3 in five minutes. Attention, passengers: the train for Capitolium Heights has arrived at Platform 10. Please mind the gap. Next train for Capitolium Heights will arrive in ten minutes…”

    “This is the Prometheus Central, where you can get to every point in Prometheus in the quickest way possible, whether by the metro or your personal nautilus.” Atlas explained.

    Flint looked around the concourse with awe. “This place is truly a marvel.”

    “It is, isn’t it?” The timberwolf beamed.

    “Just a question,” the Peregrine went to ask, “Are avians allowed to fly here?”

    Altas lets out a small laugh. “Well, this city was built with many open spaces for the airborne citizens. The walkways are designed to be wide and large enough for comfortable flying.”

    Leon shook his head in awe. “Incredible.”

    Flint nodded with a grin. “Flying underwater… now that’s something alright.”

    “Well then, let’s get you settled to your hotel room.” Atlas said again. “I’ll guide you there, and perhaps... Santos,” he turned to the gryphon. “See if there are any messages from the chief for me.”

    “Right away, sir.” The gryphon inclined his head and quickly went away.

    “Alright. The Triton Plaza shouldn’t be a long walk from here.” Atlas spoke as he led the detectives towards the other side of the hall. “Unless if you’d like to get there quicker, we can use the metro.”

    The cougar twins hummed and turned to look at each other. “Well, I think we can agree that some walking might be more beneficial.”

    “Yes.” Leon nodded. “I’d like to stretch my legs after sitting for so long.”

    The silver furred wolf nodded. “No time like the present. Alright, follow me.” He motioned with his paw.

    Atlas lead them out of the station building, which opened into a wide, glass enclosed boulevard that gave a breathtaking view of the city. Real trees and lined the centre of the street, illuminated by many lights and interspersed with various travel-themed bronze sculptures.

    Dozens of Prometheans walked to and fro, and Gideon could see some of the avian citizens taking advantage of the vastness of the boulevard to take flight. He turned to Flint to see if the Peregrine would be airborne but Flint seemed to be content to walk and take the sights on the ground level.

    The boulevard then branched into three, smaller streets that connected with the nearby buildings. Atlas lead them to the street to the right, which opened into a short, wide building. Gideon couldn’t help but stare as he saw two sharks in safety harness and protective suit standing outside the glass encased walkways, apparently doing some maintenance work on the side of the building.

    The walkway opened into a long and wide, multileveled hall with wide, sweeping staircases leading to the upper levels. A huge dome gave view of the towers that was connected with the building, while various shops and establishments were situated on either side of the building. Colorful banners hung from the skylight while various advertisements were placed around the streets.

    A large chrome plated sign propped over a wide, decorative fountain and lit by soft purple and gold lighting by the entryway spelled out: Orchard Avenue. The purple banners which were spread around the hall also welcomed visitors to this Orchard Avenue in slender gold letters.

    Announcements echoed through the speakers strategically placed throughout the long square, shouting out advertisements among others.

    “Now you won’t have to fear going to the dentist again! Quicksilver Dental guarantees painless and fast dental service and also perfect teeth! Visit Quicksilver Dental in your closest Medical Pavilion today!”

    “How long does this place go?” Leon whistled, craning his neck to look ahead. “I almost can’t see where this building ends.”

    “The Orchard Avenue is the hub of commerce in the city.” Atlas explained. “Comprised of several buildings and a couple of towers, so it’s a few city blocks long. Some of the high end hotels are also accessible from here.”

    “Ah, I see.” Gideon nodded as they passed by a billboard promoting some dental health product. “And I see you have your own security force here.” He added, nodding to the two burly officers in black uniform with gold highlights, complete with shades, sidearms, and batons.

    Atlas turned to look. “Ah, Prometheus doesn’t really have it’s own security force.” He said. “We have several security contractors working under the City Council to keep the peace. Those men are from Warren Securities. They’re under contract with the shareholders of Orchard Avenue.”

    Gideon blinked. “Several? How many security contractors do you have?”

    “Oh, around five or six.” Atlas replied. “Anybody can open any kind of business in Prometheus, Mr. Cross. As long as they are not deliberately killing or harming the citizens.”

    The detective nodded. “I… see.”

    “Seems like a lot of risk for me.” Flint remarked from the back. “And you said these Warren Securities is under contract by Orchard Avenue… so I guess Mr. Oscar has a couple of them working for him under contract?”

    “Risks are a given, Mr. Flint. I’m sure you are well acquainted with them.” The wolf replied. “And you would be correct. We are currently hiring Perseus Defenses and Morrison-Reyes.”

    Flint hummed and nodded, giving no further comments. The Peregrine set his eyes on the many advertisements instead.

    “High quality products at half the price, only at Oz-Central!” The announcement echoed through the hall. “Now with our brand new Electronics Department! Come and see our new fangled products by our very own Oz-Corp Innovations!”

    A thought strikes Gideon. “Am I right to guess that this Oz-Corp is Rodger Oscar’s own company?”

    Atlas gave him his cryptic lopsided smile. “Wouldn’t you know, Mr. Cross?”

    Gideon rolled his eyes.

    “Evolving. Energizing. Invigorating. Evolution for a better future! Pick your Fortis today! Visit Oz-Central Pharmaceuticals for your Fortis needs.”

    “That’s… an interesting ad.” The cougar remarked.

    “No kidding.” Flint piped up. “This ‘Fortis’ is everywhere Mr. Cross.” He pointed to a billboard showing a generic, stylized lion holding out a paw. And above the open paw a ball of brilliant blue light seem to arc electricity. Words written above the billboard said: “Energy at your fingertips,” and directly below the image of the paw, in big, bold letters was, “All new Fulmens!”, while “Fortis by Zenith Solutions,” were written in smaller letters below the billboard.

    Right across the board was a similar advertisement, but instead of a ball of lightning, it was a ball of flame, and “All new Incendio!” was written instead of “All new Fulmens!”

    Not far from them, on a rather fancy stand, another advertisement shouted: “Fortis -  Invigorate Yourself Today! Brought to you by Oz-Corp Innovations.” Looking closer, Gideon could see that there were several small diamond-shaped vials filled to the brim with strange golden colored liquid.

    A small amount of crowd had gathered in front of the salesman, who was demonstrating something. Gideon couldn’t see what was being demonstrated due to their position, but it had marveled the crowd from the number of “Ooh’s” and “Aah’s” and not a small amount of cheers.

    “What are… Atlas, what are these Fortis, exactly?”

    The wolf chuckled. “A brilliant finding by Oz-Corp Innovations and Zenith Solutions. It’s… best if I show you, actually.”

    “Why not tell us?’ Leon prompted as they turned on the corner and got into an elevator which took them to the third level.

    “It involves some scientific gibberish which I doubt you’ll understand, Mr. Cross.”

    “Try me.” Gideon spoke up with a challenging grin. He was met with Atlas’ cryptic grins once again.

    “All in good time, Mr. Cross. All in good time.”

    Gideon huffed and nodded as the elevator opened its doors and they filed out. He could see there were many kind of restaurants located on this floor.

    Atlas didn’t let them linger however as he quickly led them towards another undersea walkway, passing by the view of nautiluses swimming above them. Gideon also saw a giant squid swimming close to the glass walkway, seemingly curious by the lights.

    The wolf continued to lead them through the glass covered tunnels, past a couple more buildings, and also a wide, airy plaza full of flowering shrubs, trees, and many art deco fountains. Atlas was quite helpful by pointing out what these landmarks were called, and also some of the more important shops and offices.

    They reached Triton Plaza through another glass enclosed boulevard. It was basically a mall complex with access to apartment and hotel accommodations run by the establishment itself. Although it was smaller than Orchard Avenue, Triton Plaza was still sizeable in its own right.

    The multileveled atrium overlooked a huge wall of windows that gave a wide, panoramic view of the city, while a large, diamond shaped skylight showed the two towers which loomed above the atrium. On the ground level, two vestibules were located just opposite each other across the hall, furnished with marble top counters and receptionists alike.

    Atlas lead them towards the reception lobby on the left which was labeled with, “Triton Plaza Hotel”. The receptionist, a vixen in a smart dark turquoise uniform with silver trims and a matching scarf-piece, gave them a practiced, brilliant smile with a welcome on her lips, before she saw the wolf who was leading the small group.

    “Oh, Mr. Atlas!” She exclaimed. “How may I help you?”

    “I understand there was a reservation from Rodger Oscar’s office under the name Cross?”

    The vixen went to look under the counter, rifling through a list. “Ah, yes. Reservation for Mr. Leon Cross.”

    “That would be me.” The cougar raised his paw.

    “Very well. Everything seemed to be in order,” said the vixen with the customary smile as she produced a form. “Just sign here, and here… and here are your keys. Rooms 2403, 2405, and 2407.”

    Leon received the keys from the receptionist after he gave the form a once over and signed it. It appeared to be a contract of sorts, which is odd, but it details the usual nonsense about the management won’t be liable to any missing items or injuries etc., etc.

    “Thank you. And uh… how much so we have—”

    The vixen shook her head. “Oh, you wouldn’t worry about that, sir. Base expenses has been covered by Oz-Corp Hospitalities.”

    Both Gideon and Leon blinked in surprise.

    “Oh, how generous.”

    “We hope you enjoy your stay at the Triton Plaza Hotel!”

    They left the reception counter and followed Atlas who had made a beeline towards the elevators that was situated to the side.

    “You should know,” Atlas began as they filed into the elevator, “that it is very rare for the Chief to show monetary generosity.”

    Gideon hummed thoughtfully. “I guess we’re pretty lucky, huh?”

    The wolf tilted his head, eyes looking at the cougar standing across him intently. “Perhaps…”

    Gideon found Atlas’ stare quite unnerving. The wolf’s pale blue eyes never wavered, even when the elevator went upwards, its glass wall showing the undersea panorama outside. With a slight frown, Gideon stared—or rather, glared—back to the silver furred timberwolf.

    Green eyes and blue were locked in an unrelenting staring contest, before Atlas chuckled and shook his head, breaking the eye contact. Gideon simply raised his eyebrow at the timberwolf, who simply gave him one of his half smiles.

    The cougar frowned at that. Just what Atlas is getting at, he’d never know.

    For now, at least.

    The ding of the elevator drew Gideon out of his thoughts. They had stopped on the third floor, and a lone Akita Inu with a cream and white coat, dressed leisurely in suit and tie came walking in with a piece of telegram from the looks of it. The canine was reading the contents as he pressed the button for the fifth floor.

    Whatever the Akita was reading seemed to have upset him as he quickly crumpled the letter, and—

    “Holy—!”

    Flint had jumped back as the Akita’s paw suddenly lit up in bright, crimson flames, burning the telegram in a flash. The flame died out as soon as the paper turned to ash, but strangely enough, the canine didn’t seem to be hurt by it, and the paw didn’t seem to have suffered any burns whatsoever.

    “Ah, sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.” The Akita intoned apologetically, completely misinterpreting Flint’s shocked look.

    “I-It’s fine.” the Peregrine replied with a dismissive wave.

    The Akita smiled and nodded, before he exited on his destination floor, and then the elevator continued to sail towards the higher floors.

    All eyes were turned to Atlas for explanation. The timberwolf chuckled, leaning on the curved glass wall, taking out a fresh stick of cigarette, which he slipped into his mouth. With a snap of his fingers, a small, bright crimson flame danced between his paw digits, which he brought close to the cigarette.

    “This, gentlemen, is what we call Fortis.” He said as he let the flames dance between his fingers before he extinguished the flames with a flick of his wrist. Atlas grinned wolfishly at them. “Or, it is what I like to call... the gift of Prometheus.”

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    It was Night Shift, and once again, Aric found himself sitting behind the main Operations console of the bridge. The young cougar had found it funny that there were called “Day" and “Night" shifts considering there were no distinction between night and day in the perpetual darkness of space. But the crew had taken to call it Day and Night Shifts since the cycle was based on Standard Imperial Solar Cycle, and the name had stuck.

     

    The bridge, darkened with minimal amount of lighting as it was standard during the Night cycle, was devoid of its usual eighteen crew members operating it. Instead, it was manned by a skeleton crew of four, five if you included the Captain who was currently absent.

     

    Yawning, Aric stretched his arms, trying to pop the kink out of his shoulders as he idly gazed about his surroundings. His eyes fell on the large, looming view of the planet Velos and its three moons from the bridge's wide viewscreen.

     

    Of course, he couldn't really see Velos' emerald green hued surface as the RSS Arcturus was orbiting above the dark side of the planet. Only faint trail of lights from the small number of tribal settlements below them stood out from the intense darkness of space. Aric was just glad he was back on the ship after a strange, and physically exhausting mission.

     

    It began soon after their commanding officer, Captain Dominic Marshall, reported their discovery of the Corona Tonitrus star system and the Terran-Grade Planet orbiting the bright yellow sun. Imperial Command then gave them instructions to investigate the planet and report their findings. Their leonid Captain then choose a small team of six officers; two Ensigns, two lieutenants, his trusty commander, and himself to go down on the planet scouting and information gathering mission.

     

    As per protocol, the team had kept themselves heavily cloaked and hidden as scan results showed that the planet had a sentient, indigenous inhabitants who were still primitive, thus not fit for a proper first contact scenario.

     

    Velos itself had been a rather strange planet for the most part. Everything was bathed in various shades of green, blue, and yellow. Even the sky was emerald green. The environment was pretty harsh, with strong winds and a perpetually cool temperature. The entire planet was made of mountainous terrain with equally large bodies of water, and abnormally large vegetation. The flora on Velos possessed vivid, neon-like colors in various shades of blue and red. The trees towered even the tallest trees in the Imperial homeland, with tough silvery bark and vivid yellow or orange leaves. The wide variety of fauna they'd encountered were equally fascinating. The airborne species were covered in feather-like fur for the most part, while most of the land based ones were covered in thick, fatty hide and fur.

     

    But none were as interesting as the Velosians which the team found on their second day.

     

    The Velosians—a temporary name given to the dominant, sentient indigenous species—were quite eye catching. Their form was of a humanoid mammal, with thick midnight blue fur, four sets of piercing yellow eyes, large ears, and prominent underbites that showed their sharp tusk-like lower canines. They stood on two powerful legs, which allowed them to move with surprising agility and ease, and possessing large, dexterous arms with deadly sharp claws. Aric had seen one of them cutting several of the thick silver trees down with its claws like it was nothing.

     

    It didn't take the team of five officers to start their study of the new species' culture and how their society worked. In terms of cultural advancement, the Velosians were largely primitive in terms Imperial standards. They lived in large tribes and possessing bronze-age level of technology. They were quite advanced for their era however. Their team had found one of their cities on the third day, and it was pretty breathtaking. Magnificent stone temples rose from the mountainous skyline, towering over a sprawling city made of mortar and stone slabs, arranged in a very neat grid. It was no doubt that the Velosians had mastered masonry and was well developing sophisticated means of transportation, judging from the wind-powered wheeled carts darting around the cobblestone streets, and the complicated pulley and leverage system which were used in one of the new temples that was being constructed.  

     

    It also had been quite the shock when they discovered that the Velosians were a mono-gendered race. Based on discreet scans on several Velosians they had passed, every single one of the large eared, feline-like aliens seemed to be males. It was further enforced when they witnessed a large group of the blue furred aliens going bare before proceeding with an odd sort of ceremony, giving a very good view of their reproductive glands. Each of them had a pair of dark, fleshy copulatory organs that were very prehensile, conical in shape, with large, visible orb-like growth on their base that would later emerge from their furred sheaths.

     

    However, further scans revealed that a number of the Velosians have an extra pair of organs within their bodies. It didn't take much of Aric's imagination to discern the function of this extra organ once he take a good look at the details of the scan results. That explained the mystery of the existence of Velosian younglings he had seen a few times.

     

    The scouting team also soon realized that the ritual and ceremony they had been witnessing were some sort of a bizarre union ceremony. Aric almost couldn't believe his eyes, and was flushing brightly when the loud ceremony he and a Lieutenant was studying started to escalate and get really heated. Much to Aric's embarrassment, he found the sight to be very intriguing, even though he didn't want to admit it.

     

    Captain Marshall had later concluded that they had came during the Velosian's “mating season" as the ceremony was happening city wide, mostly congregated around specific temples. That explained the perpetual musky odor which Aric could smell from miles away, and why the Velosians were wearing virtually nothing to cover their genitals.

     

    The young cougar had never been so relieved when they boarded their camouflaged shuttlecraft and left the atmosphere. The sight of the starship's sleek, streamlined hull, which was shaped like a dagger of sorts, was a very welcomed sight. The starship practically gleamed from the light of the yellow star which Velos was orbiting, illuminating the large white and bright red letters which spelled: RSS ARCTURUS SV-9.

     

    He had enough of the planet's cold environment, biting winds, the perpetual scent of sex, and hearing the Velosians' mating howls and yowls all night long. Their ceremony had lasted for days and showed no signs of stopping. Aric was already craving for warm bed, real food, and some peace and quiet by the time they departed from the planet's surface.

     

    But it would seem that his troubles weren't over. Somehow, there was this persistent, musky and earthy sort of smell that clung around him and the members of the scouting team. It refused to dissipate no matter how much the cougar scrubbed and bathed himself clean. The same problem persisted with other members of the scouting team. Captain Marshall had it the worse, since he had ventured directly into the city (under a very heavy cloaking technology which would mask his biological signature and scent for a short time) and thus was in close proximity with the Velosians.

     

    Doctor Seinn, their resident physician, had theorized that being so long on the planet and so close with Velosians had layered their bodies with the Velosians' scent, who were pretty much in heat when the team decided to investigate. After conducting a few harmless tests, the pale feathered gryphon bluntly told them that the odor would probably last for a couple of days, and promptly gave them some powerful anti odor soap and antiseptic before giving them future appointment schedule and pushed them out of the medbay.

     

    The soap didn't really help much with Aric's odor problem.

     

    “Man, did you even shower, Aric?"

     

    Aric gave a startled jolt as his attention was brought back to the present. He sent an annoyed huff at the wolverine who was grinning teasingly at him. The mustelid's dark brown and black colored fur looked pale from the light coming from the holographic screen on Aric's station.

     

    “I did. Four times. I even put on tons of cologne..." The cougar let out a groan, giving himself a sniff and grimaced. Even with the cologne, he still smelled like he had been rolling in the damp soil and Velosian gunk. The smell wasn't overly unpleasant… but still… He shook his head. “Shouldn't you be on your own station, Ralf?" He gave the Wolverine a slight nudge to shove him away.

     

    The mustellid Ensign shrugged. His cybernetic left arm whirred softly as it moved. Aric could see the mechanical parts showing under the wolverine's form-fitting duty uniform. “I need to check on the Security Station either way." He replied.

     

    The cybernetics, which had replaced Ralf's entire left arm and most of his chest, the left side of his face, and his eyes, were quite the sight when they first met at the academy as roommates. They were a result of an interplanetary shuttle accident, as the wolverine would explain. Ralf Lenner hadn't expect Aric to consider his cybernetic limbs cool, however. The wolverine seemed amused and somewhat elated that someone found his half cyborg-like state un-freakish, as he later explained to his really embarrassed roommate.

     

    They became fast friends after that.

     

    “Right, right." Aric nodded. “I should check on the Comms too." He said, straightening his form fitting black and gold trimmed uniform as he stood up.

     

    “Yeah, you do that." Ralf replied as he bent over the Security and Tactical Systems console, which was just next to the one Aric had occupied. “I hate night shifts…" he yawned.

     

    A huffy snap came from the other occupant of the bridge, who had been otherwise silent. “Then you should've taken the day resting, Ensign Lenner. Don't you think Ensign Torssen and me aren't more tired than you?" He said, nodding his head at Aric for a moment before he was glaring at Ralf again.

     

    Ralf rolled his eyes, shooting the uniformed grey wolf a slightly envious look. “I dunno how you can keep running on high levels of energy twenty four-seven, sir. You smelled as bad as Aric here either way." He wrinkled his nose comically.

     

    Damon Braun was one of the lieutenants Captain Marshall recruited for the scouting mission. As a senior member of the Science division, Lieutenant Braun had a pretty keen eye. Coupled with his strong sense of smell and hearing, the wolv been the one to notice the tell-tale signs of civilization. His discovery quickly led the team to see their first sighting of the Velosian natives, and it was his eye of detail that led them towards the Velosians' complex of temples and settlements. He had followed Captain Marshall under heavy cloak to get into the city, getting important scans that could only be obtained on a much closer distance.

     

    As a result, Braun had the same musk clinging to his body, even when the odor wasn't as thick as the captain's. The lupine seemed exceptionally annoyed by this, evident from the constant scowling and wrinkling of his nose, and his bad mood.

     

    “Just shut your trap and return to your work." Came the wolf's bark, stomping towards the auxiliary Science station, passing by Ralf in the process. The wolverine's eyes glazed over for a moment, staring blankly at the wolf's figure before he snapped himself out of the temporary daze.

     

    “If I hear you complaining, you're going to clean every single latrine on deck seven. Is that clear?" Braun hissed, eyes narrowing at the wolverine who fidgeted under his glare.

     

    “Yes, sir." Ralf replied with thin, pursed lips as he swiveled his chair around and concentrated on the screen of his station. He sighed and shook his head, turning to Aric who was standing right beside him. “He's even smellier than you. If I didn't know better, I'd thought you guys had been going at it in the closet." Ralf snickered in a lower tone, winking suggestively to Aric.

     

    The uniformed cougar flushed crimson and hit the wolverine on the back of his head with a random book he found from the side of the console.

     

    “And I here thought Oshiro was more perverted than you." Aric responded dryly. “Guess I was wrong. No offense, sir." He quickly shot the otter who was currently manning the Flight Controls. The otter gave Aric a nonchalant shrug and a grin.

     

    “Non taken. Just call me Oshiro, Aric." The otter said with a genial smile, swivelling on his chair. “And I don't mind, really. Feels good that there's at least someone who's more lewd than me. At least you're good lookin'." He grinned widely at Ralf and wiggled his eyebrows. The cybernetics-clad mustelid let out a groan, cheeks flushing crimson.

     

    Aric couldn't help but snort in amusement as he made his way towards the Communications station.

     

    It was no secret that Roger Oshiro had a wandering eye and doesn't discriminate on who or what he chooses. Backed up with roguish good looks and an equally charming personality, it wasn't surprising that there were many rumours that the otter had slept with practically everyone in his year at the academy and then some. Aric didn't find it particularly far-fetched. He'd seen how the otter flirt effortlessly with some of the crew members. He'd even made the usually stoic Commander Hadrian flush beet red, which was quite a feat.

     

    Nevertheless, Lieutenant Oshiro was a really chill officer and was fun to work with—even with a tendency to spout inappropriate jokes now and then. As an Ensign in the Operations Department, Aric sometimes got paired with the otter whenever he was tasked to man the co-pilot console during the night. It was somewhat surprising to see the pilot on the Night Shift at first, as the Lieutenant was usually stationed during the day shift with the rest of the main crew.

     

    Aric soon learned that as a pilot, Oshiro practically had to be behind the wheel nearly every time. The otter had laughed when Aric asked if he had felt dragged down by his duties and practically told him that he loved piloting, especially for “this big bad beauty" as he had put it affectionately. Aric swore he saw Oshiro running his paws over the Flight Control Station in a really loving way and whispering sweet nothings at one time. It was a really awkward sight.

     

    Ralf still had that noticeable flush on his cheeks as he turned to look at the pilot. “I can only wonder how you and Lieutenant Braun can keep yourselves up and still take on the night shift. That's all."

     

    “Really, Ensign Lenner? Have you forgotten something?" Braun spoke up from behind his station, rolling his eyes.

     

    The wolverine frowned, racking his head but his fatigue had impaired his ability to think through and came up with a blank.

     

    “We're both Iolian-born." Oshiro started, gesturing to Braun and himself, “World-born colonists like us have adapted to our planet's harsh conditions and much, much longer day-and-night cycle." He then indicated to Aric and Ralf. “So it's natural for Iolians to be able to stay up longer and last longer than any other Spacer, Colonist, or Earth-born."

     

    “Can't put it any better." The wolf lieutenant replied with a nod. “So, you can go suck it up, and get back to work Ensign. We've got a job to do."

     

    Ralf grumbled something unflattering under his breath and went back to his duties. Unfortunately, Braun's sharp ears could pick up nearly every noise, even the faintest of whispers. The wolf practically glared at the wolverine, eye twitching.

     

    Ralf shrunk under the Lieutenant's intense gaze, the cybernetics that replaced his eyes whirring softly as it shifted to look at anything but the ticked off wolf. Before he could stammer up an apology however, there was a familiar whooshing sound coming from the elevator doors, followed by a pleasant beep. The next second, it hissed open, bathing the entire bridge with the elevator's bright light as the occupant stepped out.

     

    “Captain on the bridge!" Aric announced, the words rolling out of his mouth automatically as the robust, tough figure of their leonid Captain entered the dimly lit bridge.

     

    Aric's heart seem to skip every time he saw Marshall walk in. Powerful muscles under smooth white-blonde fur moving under the form-fitting duty uniform, the smooth waves of his platinum mane that was always neatly trimmed and combed, and that brilliant pale blue eyes which exudes a commanding, but warmth that just spoke volumes of his years as a Captain. Aric couldn't help but admire the Captain ever since he saw him.

     

    The cougar knew what he felt, of course. He was no stranger to his own preferences. Aric had a couple of boyfriends in his time at the academy and several one-time romps, but he had felt so intensely for his superior officer. He had tried to repress those feelings of course. Marshall was way out of his league. The Captain was a decorated war hero and a well known Captain of the Imperial Armada. The lion was at least a decade older than him, but had proven to be a very good company from the few times he had been working on the bridge. They'd even got on last name basis instead of the formalities, and it was enough for Aric. Truly, Marshall was the best Captain the Arcturus could have.

     

    “Status report, Lieutenant Oshiro." Marshall uttered somewhat groggily to the otter as he moved to the Captain's chair, situated in the exact centre of the bridge on an elevated platform. Aric was somewhat surprised that the Captain was in a slight state of underdress. Usually, the lion appeared orderly and immaculate. The white and gold trimmed Captain's Jacket he was wearing was left unclasped, showing the slightly wrinkled form-fitting black and gold duty uniform he was wearing underneath. He had even forgot to tuck his trousers under his boots.

     

    It was evident that Marshall was tired. There were dark circles under his eyes, which appeared slightly red.  His usually neat mane was somewhat in a state of disarray. No doubt the lion had slept in and rushed to the bridge.

     

    And of course, the musk that was the 'souvenir' from their outing to the planet right below them was as thick as ever. Aric could practically smell the strong, masculine odor the moment Marshall entered the bridge. Combined with the musks sticking to himself and Braun, the Captain's scent felt intensified. Breathing it in made Aric's head slightly woozy, and his body feeling oddly warm... comfortably so. Looking at the dazed state of the rest of the night crew, he wasn't the only one feeling it.

     

    “The... Arcturus is keeping orbit as you requested. Our cloak is holding, and there are no lasting engine failures after that last solar storm." Oshiro reported after he got over his daze, his voice faltering slightly as if he was trying to compose his words.

     

    “Alright… what about Engineering, Lenner?" The lion turned to Ralf, who was perched on the Security station.

     

    The cybernetically augmented wolverine responded promptly, though his eyes were somewhat glazed. His nose was twitching. “Engineering reports that we could leave the system by the end of the solar cycle, sir. The... antimatter cells are refilling in good speed and we should be able to achieve Stardrive Factor-5 without any trouble… Sir."

     

    Marshall nodded. “Good, good." He replied, nose wrinkling slightly as he detected the musky odor in the bridge. “Ugh, remind me to wear hazmat suits next time we land down there…" He said, trying to sit up straighter on his chair. “I really need to get my chronometer fixed. Blasted thing went off half an hour later from what I've set it…" he shook his head. “Torssen, make a note to Lieutenant Commander Jameson to have a look on the systems in my quarters tomorrow noon. He should be free from his Engineering duties by that time.”

     

    “Noted, sir." Aric nodded with a slight grin to his muzzle, turning back to the station and retrieved his pad to send the Chief Engineer the memo.

     

    “Are there any comm links from Imperial Command, Ensign Torssen?" the Captain added, swivelling on his chair to give the cougar his full attention.

     

    Aric tried to ignore the fluttering feeling which had crept up his throat as he tore his gaze away from the Captain's icy blue eyes and shook his head. “Nothing so far, sir. No transmissions intended for the Arcturus as for now." He reported, tugging on the collar of his duty uniform. Several beads of sweat were trailing down from his brow and down his cheek. Since when did it get so warm in here? He thought as he dabbed it with his sleeves.

     

    Marshall rubbed his tired eyes, but nodded gratefully. “Right, thank you. Any reports from the Sciences?" He turned to face Braun, who was still standing on his station a bit ways behind the Captain's chair. The light grey and white furred wolf gave a single nod.

     

    “Complete scans of the planet had reached 83% and going up. The drones should be finished by next morning, Captain." He reported slowly. Aric could hear the wolf's somewhat drawn breathing.

     

    “That's good. Oshiro, plot course to Tarsus V system. We will leave at 1100 hours. Make sure your replacement pilot could follow your instructions clearly." Marshall instructed, rubbing his forehead. Somehow, he had went to unzip his uniform halfway down his torso, and Aric could see a bit of the lion's well formed chest muscles, as well as the trails of sweat which was running down his chin and neck. The Captain wasn't wearing anything underneath his suit it would seem. He wondered if the lion was wearing anything down there...

     

    “Torssen, could you help me with the astrometrics?"

     

    Oshiro's voice snapped Aric from his reverie. He blinked, dispelling that strange line of thought from his head. “O-oh sure." He said, shaking his head, frowning as his cheeks flushed red. Where the heck had those thoughts come from?

     

    The cougar stood, scratching his neck idly as he walked past the Captain to reach the auxiliary flight control console, usually occupied by an Operations co-pilot. His steps slowed down when he caught a whiff of a very strong, and very compelling sort of musk. His pale green eyes caught with the Captain's electric blue ones. He didn't even realize the Captain was staring back at him, having breathed in the odor coming from the cougar, seemingly lost in a daze.

     

    Aric blinked and slowly turned towards the co-pilot's seat and sat down, not even sure what was happening as his paws moved through the screen, assisting Oshiro in charting their course to the Tarsus V system, which was 14 lightyears away. The journey would be easily achieved in half an hour by a comfortable speed of Stardrive Factor 5 or 6… but there would be the issue of the gravitational wells in the way. And there's the newly formed Gavarian Supernova which could very well disturb their path. Perhaps they'd need to port into the number of spaceports for detours. It'll be a longer path for sure.

     

    Sighing, Aric went to recalculate the safest route towards their destination with Oshiro. Somehow, he found it hard to concentrate. As he looked to his left, he could see the pilot was having the same problem. The otter kept tugging on the collar of his uniform. His fingers would falter as he tapped away at the holographic screen.

     

    Aric turned his attention back at hand, but mind kept running back to the image of the Captain's sculpted chest peeking from his semi-unzipped suit, and how tantalizing the lion had smelled. Without even realizing it, a tent was slowly forming in the cougar's trousers as the alien musk slowly muddled his mind to focus on one thing, or rather, one specific bodily function.

     

    He jumped when he felt a pair of strong paws brushing down his arms and a hot breath on his neck. Aric whirled around, pupils dilating when he locked his gaze with Marshall's. The lion was hovering close to him. A low purr escaped from the large, powerfully built lion's throat as he lowered his muzzle in, brushing across the crook of the Ensign's neck.

     

    “C-Captain!" Aric yelped, shuddering as he felt the lion's hot breath prickling his skin and fur, squirming as he felt the larger feline's paw trailing down his body, feeling around his form. He could whiff out the thick musky odor coming from the Captain, making his mind fuzzy, and feeling really, really warm. He moaned when Marshall dragged his tongue over his exposed neck and chin. Everything else seemed insignificant right at that moment. He wanted, no needed the lion, Aric thought as the Captain began to unzip his uniform down, trailing licks on the side of his face.

     

    Dominic Marshall, Captain Marshall to his crew, and Dominic—or Dom— to his friends, was a lion of honor and principal, but even a tough lion such as himself was not immune to the calls of instinct. Particularly when a potent, intrusive and mind numbing odor full of sex pheromones had latched on one's body and senses. The only thing that was going through his mind was the intense need to breed the young cougar before him.

     

    Oh, he recognized the feline of course. Aric J. Torssen. A brilliant Operations Ensign transferred from the battleship RSS Chevalier along with a number of other officers, and also the cougar who had caught his attention from day one he stepped into the ship. He knew the Ensign was crushing on him, there was no doubt, and he longed to touch young Torssen's smooth fur and hold him in his arms… But the feline had seem to be rather oblivious with his own feelings, as Marshall thought, but he wasn't the type to back down so easily. One of the reasons he often placed Torssen in several night shifts was just so they could spend some time together, without seeming intrusive and stalkish. The lion was content to slowly build the cougar's trust, and they had become comfortable with each other. It was enough for the time being.

     

    But none of that mattered as in his muddled, emotionally and hormonally high state, he wanted the cougar now.

     

    Marshall licked his lips as he was satisfied feeling around his cougar officer's body with his paw. Letting out a rumbling purr, the lion turned the co-pilot's seat to face him, earning a surprised yelp from Torssen, and promptly mashed his lips, tongue, and fangs, with the smaller feline's own muzzle. The young cougar didn't even resist as Marshall forced his tongue into his mouth, his own lips smacked and sucked needily at the lion's. He could feel Torssen pushing his own body to his touch as he slipped his paw under the uniform and undershirt. The young feline was definitely a hard worker as he felt the firm muscles underneath a lush expanse of smooth fur. Torssen, was a fit, young male, there was no doubt about that as he snaked his paw down through the belt line.

     

    However, it wasn't only the two felines that were affected by the alien musk.

     

    Ralf squeaked in panic and surprise when Braun suddenly tackled him from his seat and to the hard, cold floor. He hadn't even notice the large wolf sneaking up behind him, or realizing that Braun had been eyeing him pretty intently for the past ten minutes. The sight of the Captain and his friend making out and groping each other was pretty mind jarring.

     

    But it wasn't as shocking and as fear-inducing when a particularly large wolf who was evidently on heat pinned you on the floor, and was grinding his ever growing bulge to your face. The wolverine got a face full of the musk that had clung to the wolf, and also the lupine's own bodily scent. His eyes watered and glazed over, the cybernetics whirring slightly as they tried to refocus his gaze. Ralf gasped from the weight that was pressing on his chest, squeaking when he saw Braun had unbuckled his belt and pulling down the zipper of his trousers. His canine hard-on flopped down directly to the wolverine's face as Braun slipped down his briefs, making Ralf to breath in more of his ripe, masculine scent.

     

    The mustelid let out a low moan as he felt his own member harden. He couldn't really comprehend what was happening around him, or why it was happening. Lieutenant Braun was panting hard. Drool was dripping down from his muzzle as he straddled Ralf with his crotch, showing his hard canine-hood in its erect glory. The wolf didn't know what hit him, but he had an overwhelming urge to breed the wolverine as the pheromone-charged odor invaded his brain and senses.  

     

    Ralf was shaking, both in fear and anticipation as he inadvertently inhaled more of Braun's scent. The musky odor was quickly overpowering the young wolverine's mind as his eyes slowly went hazy. Though it didn't stop his body from jerking when a paw grabbed the bulge on his pants and gave it a squeeze. Ralf let out a surprised yip, only to be cut off as Braun stuffed his cock into his open maw. Blinking through watery eyes, he craned his neck to see Lieutenant Oshiro fondling him right behind Braun, and was in the process of freeing his lower regions from its confines.

     

    Back to Marshall, the leonid Captain grinned as he squeezed his subordinate's hardening member inside the black fabric of his pants, earning a high pitched squeak while the cougar's trembling paw fingers clumsily fumbled with the belt buckle. The potent scent of arousal was palpable as the metallic clasp was unlatched, loosening his pants. Marshall rumbled a chuckle as he pulled the trousers down, revealing the sizeable bulge pushing through the elastic fabric covering his manhood, which was soon discarded, freeing the hard, equally barbed member.

     

    The cougar was panting and moaning as Marshall pushed him into another lustful kiss, shuddering from the pleasure when he stroked the younger feline's hard on. He broke the contact between their lips so he could push the pesky standard-issue grey colored undershirt over Aric's head, and over his shoulder. He left it at there, not even bothering to remove the unzipped uniform. Aric's golden tan fur and white underbelly appeared pale and darker under the bridge's dim light. He could clearly see the Ensign's well formed pecs and defined abs. He wasn't as big as Marshall, not even close, but the cougar had a really nice bulk to him. Aric Torssen was a young, fit, and virile male indeed.

     

    “I love studly officers, Torssen." He purred, licking the cougar's exposed neck and nibbling the Ensign's twitching ear. He could feel young feline flush under the compliment, paws reaching tentatively to unzip his Captain's uniform. His smaller paws roamed through his mound of strong, leonine muscles. The result of years of hardwork and determination.

     

    Aric could only watch dazedly, cheeks still flushing as the Captain unbuckled his own pants, dropping them down along with his boxer briefs to the smooth, glossy flooring. He kicked them aside, not bothering to remove his boots as he proceed to hop on top of the seat, making it creak from the additional weight.

     

    His hard, barbed manhood prodded the edges of the cougar's muzzle. Pre dripped down to the young officer's bare, white furred chest. It was much bigger and thicker from what Aric was used to, and was oozing with heavenly musk. The cougar didn't even realize he had wrapped his lips around the Captain's manhood until the salty taste of the feline's precum rolled down his throat.

     

    Marshall let out a content purr, pushing his cock deeper into Aric's muzzle, sucking his breath as the cougar rolled his sandpapery tongue around his shaft and sensitive barbs, coating them with his warm saliva, as he slowly went deeper. The Ensign's movements were too smooth and skilled for a first timer, Marshall noted with a slight pang of disappointment. Though… that meant he could go all out on the younger feline, he thought with a slightly feral grin as he gripped the cougar's head and drove the rest of his shaft deep into Aric's mouth, hilting his throat.

     

    “Mmph!" The cougar choked as the sizeable cock was forced through his throat. He willed himself to relax, exhaling slowly so that he could adjust on the length and the girth. His nose felt ticklish as it was pushed to Marshall's bushy crotch fur, smelling ripe of sweat, fur, and distinctively leonid musk which practically oozed masculinity. The scent alone sent Aric moaning as he gulped around the barbed shaft as Marshall began to rock his hips, holding his head in place.

     

    Meanwhile, Ralf was a writhing, moaning mess as he was already half naked. His was down to his undershirt, with his uniform suit practically hanging on his right sleeve when Braun had rather impatiently shed his clothing with the help of Oshiro. His mouth was starting to go sore as it was stretched to the limits, trying to accommodate Braun's sizeable girth. The grey wolf was growling heatedly as he jackhammered his knotted cock into the mustelid's maw. The other reason he was writhing, not in discomfort but in pleasure, was the fact that his own member and ass was given the most heavenly service by the otter who had commandeered his nether regions.  

     

    The whole situation felt surreal for the cybernetic-covered Ensign as he groaned through the cock, trying to accommodate the girthy meat as much as he could. He bucked when Oshiro gave a rather sharp jab to his tailhole while the otter himself had engulfed Ralf's full length into his maw. The warm, slick muzzle that closed around his manhood and the cool wet finger that pressed and prodded against his tailhole was really driving Ralf to his limits. He was really new to the barrage of sensations, and he was loving every second of it. The level of pleasure he was receiving proved to be too much however, as he cried through a mouthful of cock as he ejaculated his load directly into Oshiro's muzzle.

     

    The otter didn't waste a single drop as he happily gulped the wolverine's potent spunk, giving the engorged member a helpful squeeze to milk out more of the sticky, hot goodness. His saliva slicked finger was driven deep into the wolverine's tight, and very much virgin ass. He could tell just by how much the mustelid squirmed under his touches. Smacking his lips, as he licked the half hard member clean, Oshiro withdrew his muzzle, looking at Ralf's plump ass cheeks with lustful, clouded eyes, and drove his muzzle in. Effectively eliciting another pleasured gasp from the cybernetically enhanced bear-like mustelid.

     

    This… is certainly a nice dream, Aric thought, wincing as the numerous, tiny, spines around Marshall's cock grazed the soft flesh of his throat over and over, spilling salty pre which rolled down his tongue as Marshall face fucked him mercilessly. The musk which invaded his sensitive nose pushed him deeper into his own, carnal needs. The cougar began to lap around the cock, bobbing his head along with Marshall's hip movements, hungering for more of the tantalizing taste of the lion's pre and scent.

     

    With a pleased purr, the larger feline increased the intensity of his movements, slamming his member into the cougar's mouth and hilting it deep down the younger feline's throat. Aric was openly moaning now, grasping the lion's exposed hips for support. The force of Marshall's pounding was strong enough to make his head hit the leather backed chair repeatedly. It creaked and groaned in protest from the combined weight and the force Marshall was applying in his movements.

     

    Gods above, this isn't really happening... is it? Aric thought through his lust clouded mind as he eagerly savored the taste of the larger feline's manhood buried in his muzzle.

     

    Marshall was beside himself in bliss. He would've came then and there as the cougar's mouth was expertly squeezing and driving pleasure to his throbbing rod. That tongue of his certainly was good at pleasuring his meat. But he didn't want to give the Ensign that satisfaction just yet. He had yet to fill another hole, he thought with a large grin.

     

    “Fwah?" Aric blinked dazedly when Marshall suddenly pulled out, leaving his mouth sore, full of spit, and tasting heavily of pre. The cougar glanced up at the pale-blonde lion, only to gasp when the much bigger feline suddenly lifted his legs—not entirely bare as he still got his boots attached—up to his shoulders. His eyes widened when his sluggish mind finally picked up what Marshall was going to do, and clenched his eyes shut, preparing to be drilled with the maned feline's meat.

     

    He certainly didn't expect a wet, slobbery appendage to attack his ass crack however, as he opened his eyes again, and flushed at the sight of the Captain lathering his pucker with his large, rough tongue.

     

    “C-Captain...mmh…" He panted out when Marshall continued to tease his hole, prodding the soft, pink, fleshy ring with his tongue. He continued to tease the cougar's tailhole before he pushed in, driving it deep within Aric's rectal walls. The young cougar let out another string of moans, tail twitching slightly from the small jolts of pleasure which shot along his spine when Marshall tasted his rump, coating it with a generous amount of spittle.

     

    Purring loudly, the maned feline slowly pulled himself out from the cougar's rear, smacking his lips audibly as he lowered his subordinate down, but not by much. His arms were still grasping Aric's leather covered feet, holding them in position as he aligned his large, barbed manhood with the dribbling, wet tailhole. Aric himself gulped as he felt Marshall pressing lightly against his pucker, readying himself of what's coming.

     

    “Hgnngh!" His eyes shot wide open when the leonid Captain practically shoved his cock inside his rear, stretching his rectal walls wide. The Captain was definitely way bigger than what he was accustomed to… it certainly felt as if he was being fucked for the first time again.

     

    Moaning from both pain and ecstasy that coursed through his body, Aric's body slumped against the chair as Marshall pounded his ass mercilessly. The feline's cock was hilting deeper and deeper into his rear, the numerous tiny barbs sending shivers up his spine. His own cock was starting to leak pre from the amount of pleasure he was receiving. It bobbed and twitched as his body jerked when the Captain drove into him over and over. The young cougar let out a yowl as the Captain's cock jabbed against his prostrate, sending a fresh wave of euphoria that left him see white spots on his eyes.

     

    Ralf let out an audible choke as his head slammed against the floor by a particularly hard thrust Braun gave him. The wolf on top of him howled when he reached his orgasm. The wolverine Ensign's mouth was rapidly filling with hot, salty, slime like liquid, and he instinctively swallowed the whole lot of it. However the sticky load of goodness kept coming to his mouth and he couldn't swallow it any longer. He jerked his head away from the cock, choking audibly, spluttering as Braun's semen smeared his face as it continued to pump. Ralf gulped the rest of the cum inside his mouth and panted, shuddering as Oshiro was slowly stretching his tailhole wide open with his deft fingers.

     

    He breathed out a sigh of relief when the fingers retracted from his anus, leaving him with an oddly hollow sensation as he tried to wriggle away. His muddled mind still trying to comprehend why he was enjoying this so much. His cock twitched needily as he felt Braun's weight leaving his chest, and was left with the sight of Oshiro who was bare to his fur. Without his uniform, Ralf could see that Oshiro took a really good care of himself, and he's pretty well endowed. He flushed when the otter pilot caught his gaze and gave him a glazed sort of grin, before he flipped the wolverine over his belly and raised the Ensign's rump to the air. Ralf whimpered as he felt Oshiro draping himself on top of him, prodding his stretched tailhole with his slick, tapered manhood.

     

    The cry that the wolverine emitted was like the sweetest sound to Oshiro's ears as he speared the virgin ass with his rod. The tightness and warmth were just perfect. The otter murred to himself, looking at the grey wolf who was giving him a stink eye for 'stealing' his prey. He merely smirked, and waved his rudder-like tail to the hunk of a wolf, lifting it up as he drove into Ralf again, eliciting a moan, presenting his own pucker for the horny wolf whose dripping member was standing full mast, hard.

     

    Braun didn't waste time asserting his dominance over the cheeky Lieutenant.

     

    “That's it Torssen… roar it all out…" The Captain murmured huskily as he increased the intensity of his thrusting. He was loving every second of it. There was a particular pleasure he felt seeing the writhing, moaning muscular form beneath him. Aric's claws were digging to the leather seat as Marshall mercilessly pulverized his tailhole. The cougar's back arched as he let out a yowl of pleasure, cock twitching and throbbing madly. No doubt aching from release. From the tightening and loosening sensation around his rapidly moving shaft, Marshall could tell that the younger feline was getting close. He promptly began to hammer Torssen's firm ass with renewed intensity, stimulating Aric's pleasure points hard, hilting his cock all the way to the base with a rather wet smack over and over.

     

    The cougar finally came with a loud roar, followed by weak, panting mewls. It was music to Marshall's ears as he looked down to Torssen. His seed was splattering across his red face and chest at the angle he was being fucked in. The sight was incredibly arousing for the lion. The tightened pressure around his cock was driving the lion to his limits however.

     

    It didn't take long for him to cum. With an equally loud roar, Marshall shot jet after jet of hot, potent spunk down the cougar's hole, filling the younger feline as his cock throbbed and the torrent of semen slowly died down to an ooze.

     

    Aric felt distinctively full as the white spots danced across his vision. That orgasm was just… nothing like he had ever felt before. He licked his lips, tasting the tangy, salty taste of his own semen. His own junk was resting on his toned belly. A loud panting moan caught his attention and he glanced sideways. Now that the Captain blocking his line of vision with his hulking, muscled figure, he could see—to his surprise—that Ralf, who was caked with a lot amount of cum, was being screwed by Oshiro, who in turn had Braun burying his bone on the otter's ass.

     

    He couldn't really process what he was looking at for long, as Marshall returned to his field of vision again. The lion grinning widely and lustfully at him, all of his fangs showing, and his soiled, barbed manliness standing at full mast. Somehow, the sight of the powerful male before him made him hard again, and it made the Captain's grin to grow wider.

     

    “Ready for round two, Ensign?"

     

    *******

     

    Aric slowly woke to the sensation of warmth and soreness. His head was pounding as he blinked his eyes open. The sky was dark, as it was customary on space, but there was a lighter hue shade from the polarized windows. He frowned, staring at the windows in confusion. His cabin doesn't have any windows… nor does his cabin have a really comfortable bunk. His bed felt larger than usual, come to think of it, and he definitely didn't have a fur lined blanket… he thought as he felt around the warmth that wrapped around his chest. It felt like an arm. A really muscled, fluffy arm… Oh.

     

    Oh.

     

    Oh gods…

     

    He cursed inwardly as memories from last night slowly crept up to his sluggish brain. His face reddened considerably. That explained the soreness around his thighs and his jaw. He didn't really remember much, but he did distinctively remember the feeling of Captain's member buried in his ass...  and also him driving own cock inside the Captain's sculpted rump...

     

    Had he and the Captain really fucked each other that hard?

     

    “Mmmh… Ensign?"

     

    Aric froze. He hadn't felt the lion that was practically draped around him stir. It was then Aric realized how both of them were completely nude, and smelling heavily of sex, with dried cum sticking to their fur.

     

    “Ensign?" The tone was slightly more firm from before.

     

    Oh gods… he's done it. He fucked a Captain! A lowly Ensign fucking a freaking senior officer on duty no less! No one does that! His mind was reeling from the thought of how many regulations he broke by one night. The thought made his ears flatten to his scalp. Damn it to oblivion… This is it. His career as an officer of the Imperial Armada is gone. What would his parents think of him now?! He was going to be punished for insubordination, stripped off his rank, kicked out from the ship and the armada, and sent to a penal colony planet to labor for the rest of his life and, and—

     

    “Torssen? Aric, are you alright?"

     

    The gentleness of the voice derailed Aric's increasingly hysterical train of thoughts. The young cougar sucked in breath and slowly turned his head, peeking over his shoulder. Marshall's brilliant blue eyes were looking at him with concern, and was that trepidation?

     

    “Y-yes Captain?" His voice wavered slightly. Was the lion going to reprimand him? He thought with increasing dread, trying to ignore a tiny part of his mind that had taken that his butt was pressing against the Captain's flaccid member. Even when soft, he could feel how big it was—Stop that!

     

    “I… erm," Marshall coughed, sounding out of characteristically awkward. “I… Ensign Torssen. I wish to apologize for my unbecoming behaviour last night."

     

    Okay, he wants to— Wait what?!

     

    “What?" Aric's throat caught as he turned his body to fully face the Captain. Under the dim light from the distant Velosian sun showing the chiseled features of the white-blonde furred lion. He looked decidedly apologetic and embarrassed.

     

    “Last night, I didn't know what got into me." He began, sounding grave. “I forced myself into you. I-I know we weren't ourselves last night, and in the heat of the moment I forced myself to you until you pleasured me yourself. It was unbecoming of a Captain like me. I hope you can forgive me, Ensign."

     

    Aric was at loss. Did he seriously just… Just as he thought he was going to get the boot. He shook his head, and took a deep breath, before exhaling, trying to formulate his words.  “A-about that, Captain…" He trailed off. “I, er, wish to apologize for my actions too, Captain. I, er… shouldn't have mounted you like that, after what you did to me…" he flushed crimson. One particularly steamy memory resurfaced to his mind. “And uh… you didn't actually force yourself to me, sir. I kinda let you to take the reins and things just… escalated from there. I-I did enjoy it though." He added hastily.

     

    The captain's form seem to relax. A small smile began to grow on his muzzle. “No need to apologize, Ensign. We were both in the wrong, to a degree, and… I'm glad you enjoyed it. I was afraid I might have scarred you despite what happened." He scratched his head.

     

    A warm feeling fluttered across Aric. He was reminded how he admired Marshall. He found himself leaning in closer to the much bigger feline, burying his head around the lion's short mane. “You didn't, sir. I really enjoyed it… even if the pheromones did a number to our senses." He chuckled.

     

    “Ah." The lion chortled, evidently relieved as he wrapped his arm over the cougar's back. “Then there's that… We'll have to have Doctor Seinn to look into it some time." He thought with a light hum. “Now I'm quite worried about how the rest of the scouting team was faring…"  

     

    The cougar nodded in understanding, flushing slightly. He also wondered what happened to the other three in the room? He managed to get some random flashes of Ralf, Braun, and Oshiro, but none of them made sense. Everything was still hazy.

     

    “Hmm… would you prefer if we refer each other by our first names?" Marshall spoke suddenly, drawing Aric's thoughts back to the present. “When in private of course. Last night really shed some barriers away."

     

    “I… wouldn't mind that, sir." Aric replied, grinning happily.

     

    “You can call me Dominic, or Dom. Whichever you prefer." The lion rumbled pleasantly, rubbing circles around Aric's exposed back.

     

    The cougar nodded with a wide grin. “Alright, sir— I mean, Dom. That'll take sometime getting used to. I guess you can call me Aric."

     

    “Much appreciated, Aric." Dom chuckled, lowering his head slightly as he cupped Aric's chin with his other paw. “You don't mind if I ask you to stay in my quarters for some more hours, would you?" He said, licking the cougar's chin and lips.

     

    “I don't mind that." Aric purred happily, content with staying longer with the bigger, muscular lion for a couple more hours… and perhaps something more. Officers who got night shifts weren't expected to report to their duties until the midday cycle.

     

    “Er, by the way… what happened to the rest of the night crew, and how did we get into your quarters?" He couldn't help but ask. “My mind is drawing a blank on the most part." he admitted.

     

    Dom had to think for a few moments, trying to recall as much as he did. The musk-induced sex session had drove their bodies into a kind of inebriated state after all. Hell, he woke up to something akin to a mild hangover. “I think I carried you to the elevator which deposited us directly to this room… where we had our final run." Aric flushed crimson, which sent Dom into a fit of chuckles.

     

    “As for Ensign Lenner… I believe the last I saw him was pinned between Lieutenant Braun and Lieutenant Oshiro… though I couldn't be really sure, and I don't have any inclination of where they went to after we left.”

     

    Aric gaped. The thought of the wolverine being rutted by the big wolf and the otter was just… He gulped, feeling his own cock hardening at the image. “I think they would have moved like us… perhaps." He chuckled, shaking his head. “I guess we just have to steer clear away from Velos for the time being to avoid any… accidents like this."

     

    The leonid Captain shook his head with amusement, and kissed Aric's forehead lightly. “I'll make sure to write the necessary reports and warnings. But for now, let's just enjoy the moment."  He added, reaching down to rub the cougar's hardening manhood.

     

    “Yes, let's just do that." Aric agreed shivering from the touch, burying himself deeper into the embrace as he ran his paws through Dom's massive, sculpted arms, purring in content.

     

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    Pilot Tetra Infinity
    ~by Ryan Cook
    (2016 revamped from 2011 version)



    It was the year 2880, on July 23rd. The Synthesis Stone had activated itself again, in an attempt to reset and refresh the reality of this world for mankind to try again and survive. 

    Two genetically modified pilots, Pamela and Telegorio, were rescued by their home ship, the Alpha, and are assigned to find the whereabouts of the ongoing and repeating catastrophe that has struck their Earth in an infinite loop. Two more pilots, who serve as the supporting back-up aid for Pamela and Telegorio, are the former investigator-combatants involving the crisis. Their names are Rosto, the human pilot, and Negoya, the specialized artificially intellectual Android pilot that contains a special component built from the same material as the Synthesis Stone. Rosto is to support weaponry, ability, and aid to help on their battles whenever need be, in real-time. Negoya serves as the analyzer, both in and outside of dogfights, and is the original prototype model to the Alpha Astral-Ace Androids, while being the only one with the synthesis stone's special component embedded to the back of his head, which has been known to have a connection to the crystal that has been causing the global eruption of the Chronomatosis Apocalypse.

    In order to throttle with this resolve, the Headmaster of the ship of their crew, Valame, ordered Pamela and Telegorio to set out on the raid and search for where the Synthesis Stone is currently located before it sets itself off again and ends up elsewhere within the planet after a certain amount of time. While doing so, they are to combat against many of the forces that are against them, registering them as foreign foes, and are out to destroy the pilots and their ways of destroying the crystal in a desperate space race-war to stop the stone from destroying the current contents' state of the Earth again, only to leave more remnants ready to further flood it with its own, “cloned 'corpses'” that can be apparently controlled by the crystal itself. However, this pseudo-physical destruction and restoration cycle of Earth with no progressive advance on the calendar, can only be resolved properly, and while Negoya keeps in touch with Pamela and Telegorio about the information and data of the situation, they also search for a solution that can truly put an end to this loophole that Pamema and Telegorio sought out to execute. 

    Fairly late in the middles of the battles long before facing the stone, the two pilots along with their aids, Rosto and Negoya, come across their corpse-”cloned” counterparts, who were pilots (though physically as dead beings) with the same abilities and attack patterns as them, including the burnt-looking giant spaceship, the Alpha. However, as they were in shock, the two simply thought of them as mere copycat enemies, but which were in fact, their “failed experiments,” as in former beings of their exact selves that died in the catastrophic armageddon blast by the crustal, and are living mistakes that attempt to “teach” Pamela and Telegorio by killing them to the best of their abilities while the two tactically try and fight to survive, both strategically and swiftly. They were learning to overcome their skills, by counteracting their “dead clones'” attacks even just surviving barely through several of their blasts. After barely and miraculously defeating them to their conquer, they continue to travel according to what Negoya says through their transcommunicaions in their battleships. In lieu of helping them navigate closer to where the signal is coming from, this meant that they are heading closer to where the notorious crystal, The Synthesis Stone, actually is.

    By the time they had survived many more various battles of the enemies controlled by the crystal and the living forces that blindly oppose the Tetra pilot team, Telegorio and Pemela discovered an animate being that is the originator of the Synthesis Stone when they had found it and saw it transform. It was called Xiuhtecuhtli (“Xiu” for short), as a mechanical, materialistically-manifested technological deity that destroyed their Earth and reconstructed it over and over again without retaining anyone's memories from before, but rather, resuming everything that was last done for the past 260 Hours locked in that loop. (4 days and 20 hours, constrained within that time frame between July 19 to July 23, 2880 A.D.). This was the cybernetic, crystalline creature's way to abuse time itself in that particular method due to his main motive to “refine and idealize the learning of the living beings that inhabit the planet in order to make them “make less mistakes” and come closer to manifesting its vision for a “Perfect World.” However, when Pamela and Telegorio know that such ideals including perfection doesn't exist, they decide to confront and combat it head-on to the best of their efforts while Rosto and Negoya prepare to stay as attentive as they can like never before. They were doing everything they can do survive from the colossal being's massive attacks, but as the pilots manage to succeed with their teamwork, it ironically leads to the destruction of Xiu as to realizing its proof of making “no mistakes,” by having the pilots not be destroyed by Xiu itself, but ultimately emits one final blow to destroy & reset Earth.

    The core of the crystal begins to glow brighter and brighter, rapidly until it blows up, just as Negoya warns them to fly out of the way as far as they can. The cyber-spiritually connected Android to Xui, who is Negoya, reacts and resonates, absorbing the auras of the explosion in an attempt to fly faster and save Pamela and Telegorio with its extra energy from the destruction and symbiotically transfers its event memory data to both of the pilots as their genetically modified components allow their minds to connect and embed the storage on their chip data. After that has been finished to save the events of the current battle-run and in order to know what to do next, the world gets destroyed right below them and in the moments notice of wiping them all out as the pilots fly away from the bright explosive sphere from the core as swiftly and evasively as they possibly could. After having the Psyche-Persevation program from itself already encapsulated sturdily into Pamela and Telegorio's subconscious data, they did every means to escape rapidly, but the explosion caught up to them as they got closer with each other by the ships near by and “hold on together” above the ethereal atmosphere that hovers the planet near space, wiping them out and the Earth once more. This time, the Synthesis Stone had finally been eradicated, and the planet can resume its existence in a newborn pursuit and to preserve all progress of all life forms.

    When Negoya and their aid-pilot, Rosto, awaken, the two other pilots were laying crashed on lush ground, and are still unconscious, apparently asleep but not dead. With Rosto worried, he checks their heartbeat after going inside of their small ships' entrance to where they are sitting still, and thankfully they were still beating, a sign of relief for Rosto. While they were bodily reset but rescued in essence by Negoya's program action, Rosto wonders what happened as he cannot remember the events prior to the conflict that went about from the most recent cycle that was under the crystal's control at the time. Rosto was dumbfounded by some of the debris around their environment, surrounded by green and rocky, bright brown dirt. Negoya, who is worn out and exhausted, begins to explain everything to Rosto in a concise manner, and he accepts the contents of the events said to him. Negoya urgently yet calmly tells him to take the motherboard memory chip from the Android, in order to prevent any possibility of a materialized super-entity from wrecking their world again, now at the hands of Rosto to either preserve Negoya's chip that allows synchronization of its powerful remnants, or destroy it at the other risk of erasing its log and preventing knowledge of detailed future research about it from the original model. He had a choice between the two crucial options. Rosto crushes it, and Negoya, with its last powered moments, emits a serene, gentle smile on its screen with its eyes happily closed, shutting down and speaking his sentence of gratitude, bidding its farewell and falls back, crashing into pieces, dead but fulfilled as an Android that has resolved its role for the pilots.

    Rosto picks each of the still-asleep pilots to their crash-landed station ship, Alpha. He picked Pamela up first, and just as he came towards the entrance door, the already-awoken yet shaken headmaster, Valome, asked him what happened, and Rosto replied: “Everything's alright now. The two are unconscious from the miracle-landing after a big battle, but they'll be alright after they get enough rest inside our home ship.” Just as Valerie picks Pamela up handed by Rosto, Valome stops for a moment after having spotted the broken and laid Android from afar, and asked, “That's...Negoya! It has died, hasn't it?” Rosto gently and poignantly responded “Yes...but it told me every event that had happened, and yet it has died a happy robot, knowing what it did right for the two fighter pilots right here, and even the world we live in along with its final wish that I had did for Negoya, telling me to kill its chip.” Valome said “Hmmm, yes...and I thought Androids didn't have feelings, even pre-programmed to enact as such...there is life everywhere...” Rosto nodded and finally stated “Well it was an artificial intelligence!,” and chuckled mildly, then proceeded to finish the job by picking up the other fighter pilot, Telegorio, and as they pursue and clean up, reality now continues and the world accepts its status.

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    An old sci fi tale I began and couldnt continue, now its time to go on I think. First chapter previously published here, then the continuation will be here first if people would like it to continue.

     

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    “Con, scanner control. We have station on screen. Range thirty-two. We have their narrow beacon locked on"

    “Thank you. Anything else on the scan?"

    “No Sir"

    The captain smiled for the first time in many days. This was not an easy mission, or a safe one. Ever since the Vilani had attacked Terran space six months ago, though, safe was a relative term.

    “Comms, send our transponder code.  XO we can secure from hyperjump"

    “Aye captain."

    The XO gave a small frown, worried in spite of himself. The captain was tired, he knew that. All of them were tired. Still…

    “Captain, suggest we maintain battlestations until we have entered ground battery range of the moon."

    “Worried Spinks?"

    “Cautious, Captain."

    “The Vilani haven't shown themselves out here yet. Waldmann Station is well concealed. I think we have it covered."

    “Aye Captain."

    The commander bristled a bit at that. There was just enough reluctance, and a hint of reproval in the standard phrase. Spinks was an experienced officer though…

    “Very well. Keep them at battlestations."

    “What about the freighters?"

    “Maintain jump formation for now. Tell the Riyaku Maru and the Ashanti to begin preparations for docking though."

    “Aye Captain."

    The XO grabbed an annunciator, aware that the short grey hairs on the nape of his neck were prickling. He hated it when that happened, his sixth sense for danger always had been right. There was nothing here to worry about though. The Captain had told him so. And yet…

    The old man is being mighty cavalier still.

    “All hands! Maintain Condition one. Shuttle crews report to flight bay."

    He could sense the disappointment like a current. Six more hours at battle stations, if they were lucky. Better that than dead though. Still…he would be happier if the freighters were on their disengaged side. Which posed the question…where was the threat axis. The station?

    “TSS Ramillies, CA-113 calling Station 53 Orionis One. Confirm."

    The headset remained resolutely silent for what seemed an age, and his prickling began again, more insistent. He was about to click on the transmit button again when a cracking noise came through.

    “TSS Ramillies acknowledged. This is Station 53 Orionis One. We have your transponder and your beacon confirmed. Your codes are accepted. Welcome to Waldmann station Ramillies."

    Spinks smiled then a little, catching his Captain's mood. They had done it after all, picking their way through Vilani patrols to the deepest station the Terran Confederation possessed, way out on the Spinward edge of Vilani space. An outpost buried in a moon orbiting a gas giant around an unremarkable sun, it could just prove the lynchpin for their fight to break out into the Galaxy past their foes.

    It didn't matter that their foes were humans too. Human had been fighting human since the first Homo Sapiens picked up a rock. Once the men of Earth overcame their surprise and shock at finding the Galaxy already occupied by humans like themselves, they set about the serious business of making an empire of their own. Regardless of what their rivals may think.

    There was more to it than that of course, and he knew the debate still raged on Earth decades later. Mankind was prepared at least theoretically for encountering alien races once they colonised space, and endless speculation had preceded the event. The XO had to laugh at the many variations on little green men the scientists had come up with to prepare their expeditionary forces for an encounter, only to find the one thing nothing could have prepared them for. Humans,  essentially indistinguishable from Terrans, though with a language not like any on Earth. One thing was hauntingly familiar though, for their uniforms bore a symbol recognisable to any Terran; a dragon, blacker than space itself.

    The meeting had gone well enough, but things deteriorated rapidly and predictably once it became apparent that the Vilani assumed the men of Earth would be their latest subjects.

    Spinks knew then that their little expeditionary force was more than a resupply run to a remote station. It was the first serious attempt to survey the region. That made it important; more suitable worlds, more room for Earth's people. The Vilani would just have to make way.

    It was also an attempt to look for more evidence to understand some of the mysteries that the existence of fellow humans had roused; who came from where, and when?  One intercepted communication from a Vilani outpost had sealed the deal. A reference to Dragon's Gate, and a location past 53 Orionis. Explorers had been dispatched on wilder goose chases, he supposed. But as an experienced officer, Spinks didn't like them. They tended to end up with a dead goose or a dead chaser.

    “Con, scanner control. I'm picking up something unusual. It pops up for a second then disappears."

    The Captain swivelled around in his chair. He liked order and predictability did Captain Salonen. This was not it.

    “Can you isolate it?"

    “Trying sir. Some sort of transient energy reading."

    “Where is it?"

    “As best as I can tell Captain, it appears to be coming from the Lagrange two point ahead of the Moon."

    The two senior officers exchanged glances. Something odd at the Lagrange point was not an accident.

    “Scanners, can you isolate?"

    “No Sir."

    “Go active. Use Lasers, Meson scanners, all of it. Quarter that spot."

    A sense of tension descended on the bridge then, like a blanket of disquiet. The Captain reached for his own headset and keyed the mic.

    “Scout crews board your ships, and prepare for immediate launch. Spool up your jump drives ready for when you clear."

    The XO glanced across, his expression set in a frown. He had given up scratching his neck now; the feeling had gone beyond anything a scratch could fix.

    “The freighters Captain?"

    The commander nodded.

    “Have them do a thruster burn and assume station in high orbit masked by the Ramillies. Then have them spool up their jump drives if they have enough in their capacitors and…"

    “Con! Scanning Control! Multiple targets, looks like they just jumped in,  dead ahead! I count ten…twelve targets. Signatures consistent with Vilani warships. They are powering weapons systems…missiles away! Multiple Vampires, estimated run time four minutes and closing!"

    “Sound the Attack alert! Warn the freighters, and tell them to jump back to Gilan. Warn them…just warn them. It's a fucking trap!"

    The Terran ships appeared to move almost slowly from a distance, as the inexorable rules of celestial mechanics determined their fates. Stuck in a gravity well, with the moon and the gas giant drawing on them with invisible claws, and heading directly towards an enemy fleet on a matching orbit, they had no choice. No amount of evasive thrust would help. And yet, they had to have time, time for their jump drives to recharge and escape.

    The Captain gritted his teeth, sawing off the cigar clamped between them. He was a good officer, and an excellent navigator. He knew the reality.

    They would not have the time.

    “XO, use all batteries to protect the Ashanti."

    “Not the Riyaku?"

    “No point. They are stuck on the engaged side between us and the enemy. We can't help them."

    A momentary flare from the screens told the bridge crew how prophetic those words were. Several missiles locked on to the Riyaku Maru and hit her amidships. Pieces began to fall off as the structure failed.

    “Incoming missiles!"

    “Track and engage with point defense systems. Orient the ship to protect the freighter as long as possible."

    “Do we power up the main gun?"

    “Might as well. If we're going down, might as well take one or two with us."

    The bridge began to shudder now, as missile strikes started to hit home against the heavy cruiser's armoured hull. It could take more punishment, but not indefinitely. They would need at least fifteen minutes to spool their jump drive, far far too long.

    “Oh God!"

    A sudden bright flash momentarily obscured the viewscreens, as the man structural spars on the trapped freighter succumbed to physics, followed by the engineering section dislodging and detonating in a silent holocaust. The shockwave disabled half their point defense guns, adding to the disaster.

    On the disengaged side, the second freighter, Ashanti, tried desperately to charge its jump drive fast enough to avoid the same fate. It's captain maneuvered recklessly, drawing close to the side of the Ramillies, using the cruiser's bulk as an impromptu shield. His crew saw the explosions from missiles striking home on their companion, knowing what they meant for their friends, but they could not help. Their big brother was buying them time to raise the alarm.

    On the bridge control was breaking down as systems failed one by one and compartments succumbed to vacuum. Damage control was holding for now, but not much longer. Then an unwelcome piece of news.

    “Con, scanner control! Ashanti has been hit"

    The Captain sighed  as he watched the viewscreen, the second freighter falling out of its orbit no longer under control after a flight of missiles got past the minimal screen the Ramillies could still provide.

    “Damage Control?"

    “Jump drive now inoperable. Reactor core damaged, becoming unstable. Hull breaches between frames forty seven and fifty, sixty six and seventy three, and one hundred to one hundred and five. Central fire control on backup system."

    The two senior officers exchanged a look, the XO bleeding from a head wound received from an exploding control panel. They both knew the score; it was over.

    “Are the scout ships ready?"

    “All four reporting ready for launch and jump drives nearly ready. Do you want to wait and use them for rescue?"

    The Captain looked sadly at his friend.

    “No David. You know the score; we need them gone now, and we need them to raise the alarm. Download the mission log and order them to break and head for Terran Command at Glian. One of them has to get through."

    Spinks gave the orders, grunting in satisfaction as he saw the four little ships that carried all their hopes break from the underside of the cruiser.

    “Abandon ship?"

    “Yes XO. It's time."

    “Too late!"

    As Spinks initiated the alarm, he saw a bright shimmering flash from the nearest Vilani cruiser. They had begun firing their particle accelerator, as if they were in any danger of losing now. A couple of pods may get away, but not many. For the bridge crew, it would be all over soon.

    “You know, I always hated space."

    The captain looked at him wistfully, a half smile on his face.

    “No shit?"

    “Yeah. Never got used to it."

    'Well…at least they might name a cruiser after us, so in a way, you'll be in space forever."

    Their laughter was interrupted by the failure of the main spar under the impact of a massive explosion, and the heavy cruiser disintegrated in a fraction of a second creating a brief glorious sunrise for those nearby to admire.

    By then the only admiring eyes left alive belonged to Vilani.

    *****

    The young equine knelt on a straw mat, eyes closed. He was not asleep, though to an untrained eye it might appear so. He was meditating, as he had been trained to do in the last year as he prepared for his stallionhood.  A stallion needed calm, and control, in order to do his duty to his herd.  Tremelle believed in duty, it was what gave his life purpose when so many things proved hard to understand.

    Like the visions he had whenever he tried to meditate, freeing his mind of cares and thoughts to better receive the wisdom of the Old One, Grandfather. Instead, when he sat like this and sought the peace and tranquillity his friends found, he saw things that troubled him. Balls of fire in the sky, like the sun god that crossed the heavens, but huge and incredibly bright and close. Then smaller spheres of brown, or blue, or green. And metal things that streaked between them like a Lykka bird, fragile and beautiful.

    Most disturbing of all though was the times when he looked inside those metal things, curiosity drawing him in whether he wanted to or not. The minds he touched, so alien and yet he could understand them, and feel their thoughts. Once he had even spoken to one of them, when he tested his mind during one of his meditations. The creature was terrified, and he tried to calm it with his mind but seemed to make things worse.

    He had stayed away from the silver things ever since. He still remembered the creature though, and what it looked like, and that haunted him even now. It had been an image from the Elder's scrolls come to life. One of their forebears.

    A human.

    Tremelle was more troubled by that than anything else. The prophecies had echoed through the generations, of how the return of one of their forebears would bring the return of Grandfather, and the final war between Him and his Children. Death and destruction awaited, and the equines world would never be the same again. He had spoken to no one of his visions, not even his father, though that was a dangerous thing to do. For his father, the herd stallion, had the gift of Sight too, though he had never described seeing what Tremelle had seen. That his father might have concealed it from him scared him. That his father might not be able to do what he did scared him even more.

    For several reasons, Tremelle wanted nothing more than to simply be a normal equine. It was his one wish, even as he watched his brothers grow up to become well regarded stallions of his father's herd and take mares as mates. He wanted to be like them more than anything, and yet his prayers to Grandfather had not been answered. The visions still came, as did the other things.

    The feelings for his fellow stallions, like his friend Parem for instance. 

    As he tried to concentrate, a vision of the beautiful white stallion came into his mind, his body glistening as he washed in the river. Tremelle could almost reach out and touch those flanks, and the plump sheath that drew his gaze always. Without meaning to, he sought out his friend, whispering to him as he bathed.

    You are so beautiful Parem…

    He was startled as the stallion gave a sudden jerk upright, his eyes wide and mane shaking as he scanned the riverbank for intruders. Tremelle felt his uncertainty, the fear in his mind and he tried to soothe him, sending feelings of calm and safety until the young stallion resumed his bathing. With a sigh, Tremelle opened his eyes and returned to the meditation room.

    Well that was another disaster…

    “Son, why aren't you meditating?"

    Tremelle gave a surprised nicker at the sound of his father's voice. For a big stallion, Danek could move quiet as the night.

    The young stallion bowed, as was customary to the herd stallion, even if he was his father.

    “Father, I have finished. I…I am ready father, if you are."

    The older stallion walked up to his son, regarding the colt with affection. He had grown so much in the last two years, thought Danek.

    And yet he is still the same young colt who I would take for runs on the plains, and protect from wolves in the night when he woke up terrified. The years have gone so quickly.

    “You are ready for your stallionhood ceremony, son, but are you ready for the rest?"

    “I am"

    The colt's fixed expression and slight frown made him sigh quietly, and shake his head a little.

    “Yes, and no my son. I can tell you are ready to do your duty, but not like it."

    “Father, I…"

    The herd stallion held up one hand, quieting his colt with a gesture. His hand reached for Tremelle's mane, stroking the colt as if trying to calm him with a touch. It seemed to work; the youngster's ears straightened, and his tail flicked high where it had been flat against his haunches.

    “I know this isn't what you wanted son. Yes, I know, more than you think."

    He held the colt steady as Tremelle began to protest, then stopped as his father's words sank in.

    “You are not the first to prefer their own sex, believe me. And though I need you for this, I know the sacrifice you are making. It is a necessary one though. Times are becoming tougher, for all of us. The wolves are raiding more ruthlessly and more often, and we cannot resist them if we remain a series of individual herds. We need this chance, and you will help. I know I can count on you son."

    “Yes father."

    Tremelle tried to let obedience and resignation fill every syllable, but some resentment must have leaked out, for his father gave a frustrated whinny and stepped back, eyes blazing.

    “She isn't exactly hard on the eye colt, even if she lacks a cock. Mersylla is a beautiful mare, and will make you a good mate, even if you need to keep some unmated stallions on the side for fun."

    Now Tremelle was shocked.

    “Father!"

    “As I told you, don't think you are the only one ever to enjoy a stallion's company…now you are heading to your stallionhood, I think we should have no more secrets between us yes?"

    The youngster stared at his father, sudden understanding creeping into his memories. The many friends, the many nights away from their hut, the dark looks from his mother when Danek came home in the darkness. His father's friend Alatheus, a paint stallion, always smiling, always wrestling the other stallions, always with a plump sheath hinting at arousal…

    “So, now you know son…you should tell me the rest."

    Tremelle suddenly returned to earth with a thud.

    “The rest?"

    “The visions. I know you have them, I have seen the signs. Your brothers cannot, strong and noble stallions both but they do not have the gift. Even mine is limited, I can see things close and the minds of those who are unskilled. Not you though son; I could never see inside your mind, even right now standing a foot in front of you. You have the gift, stronger than me. And I know you are a Seer, I can tell. There are few of us enough, but we are needed. You will make a good herd stallion one day, even perhaps taking over from Mersylla's father when his time comes. That is also why I need you, Tremelle. You have the strength, and the gift, to become the right hand of the most powerful herd leader in our lands. You can help me unite the herds and face the wolves. You can help me avert disaster.

    “Disaster…it may be too late for that father from what I have seen…"

    Tremelle suddenly realised what he had said, as his father's widening eyes registered the  meaning.

    “What have you seen colt."

    “Nothing father, nothing at all I…"

    The stallion suddenly gripped Tremelle roughly, pulling him up by the mane as the colt struggled but failed to break his grasp. The colt stood shaking, staring into his father's eyes, seeing the uncertainty and alarm.

    “What have you seen colt!"

    “Humans"

    Danek released the colt with a deep sigh, his head falling to look at his hooves. His tail swished slowly, betraying his thoughts.

    “As if we didn't have enough problems. Well son, pray to Grandfather that your gift is faulty. Either way, we need to fight back against the wolves. Let's just hope there is something left to hold on to when we win."

    With a gentle nudge in the back, the herd stallion pushed his young son towards the door, and the waiting herd gathered for his stallionhood ceremony. He would put on his adult loincloth, and take his ceremonial dagger, and recite the oath of loyalty to his herd and the herd stallion who ruled over them. Then he would try to look happy while his friends congratulated him on his stallionhood and his impending mating to the most beautiful mare on the plains by all reports. Duty called.

    As he stepped out of the temple hut, he felt something else calling though, and looked up towards the sky. Night had just fallen, and the stars were out in force, vivid points of light against the velvet black of the sky. The twin moons had risen, casting a silver glow on the herd camp, and he looked towards them seeking out something he couldn't quite understand.

    As his vision flew to the sky, he realised what it was. One of the silver birds, scarred and blackened, but still soaring high, looking down; and he realised with shock that it was looking down on him, and his lands, right now.

    And inside he saw a human, like the ones he had seen before. But this one was here.

     

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    This day’s certainly going well, Andrew thought, as he pulled himself up onto the rocky shore.  First, a bright sunny day suddenly turned cloudy, then the radio died, followed by the GPS losing signal, and then while he’d been distracted trying to get that working again, he’d managed to run his boat full speed into a rock that he could have sworn hadn’t shown up on the map before the GPS conked out.  Just dandy.  So much for a nice relaxing day of getting away from the office.  At least I managed to grab the flares before the boat went down.  And I paid for the insurance on the rental.

     

    Picking up the small bag of equipment he’d salvaged from the wreck, he gazed at his surroundings.  He’d ended up in the middle of a group of tiny rocky islands and outcroppings rising out of the sea.  Some were bare, and some had seagrasses and mosses growing on them.  But dominating the view was a (relatively) large island at the edge, upon which the remains of a stone tower or lighthouse stood.  The roof of the tower was completely gone, with a jagged edge slicing diagonally across the remaining stones.  A solitary large window remained near the edge of the cut.  Debris from what had once been the roof lay next to the tower, along with two smaller, similarly ruined outer buildings.

     

    No point in staying around here.  At least that looks dry.  Andrew began making his way across the rocks to the central tower.  As he walked, he realized it was growing colder.  The sun tried to poke through the clouds in a few places, but the weather remained stubbornly overcast.  He began contemplating the less-than-ideal proposition of spending the night on the island by the time he reached the base of the tower.

     

    As he entered the tower, he gazed up.  It was rather different than he’d expected.  The tower was practically hollow – very little in the cavernous bottom floor.  A spiral staircase wove around vine-covered support columns keeping the upper floors from crashing to the ground.  The gray stone walls of the tower were curiously bare, even for a tower as exposed as this one.  Almost as if the bottom of the tower was little more than an empty base for whatever lay at the top.

     

    Carefully making his way up the crumbling steps, Andrew scrambled through a rotted-away trapdoor in the roof of the chamber.  The musty air of the tower gave way to the smell of the ocean once more, as he emerged into the ruined upper portion of the tower.  Although covered in a mixture of dust, salt, and moss, the remnants of the large room made it clear that it had once been ornately decorated.  Several ruined tapestries hung from the walls of the room, with ornate, polished stones hanging in between them, acting as mirrors.  The room seemed to have once lead to even higher chambers, but they had long since given way to the elements and collapsed down the side of the tower, spilling debris into what remained of the middle chamber.

     

    Andrew sighed briefly, realizing that the tower would provide him with protection little better than the rocks below.  Maybe one of the outer buildings had a smaller room that wouldn’t lose heat so fast?  Before going, however, he decided he might as well fire off a flare or two from the remaining window.  They would be visible further than from the ground, after all.

     

    He crossed to the window, taking the opportunity to look more closely at the tapestries. Each was woven with fine threads, and numerous symbols he didn’t recognize (Although, he admitted to himself, I'm so tired that I probably wouldn’t recognize English at this point, and languages were never my strong suit) with crests containing stylized birds in the center.  Pedestals (or, in some cases, the remains thereof) were positioned in front of each tapestry.  On one pedestal, in front of an ornate green and gold tapestry featuring some sort of bird of prey in its crest, lay a small wooden box.  Similar boxes lay near the other remaining pedestals, but broken and splintered.

     

    Curiosity overcoming him, he opened the box to find, to his surprise, a nearly-pristine mask.  It covered half the face, with the nose portion extended to mimic a beak.  The brow was furrowed, with colors and markings mirroring that he would expect to see on a hawk or an eagle.  Picking it up to look closer, it felt unexpectedly warm.  Reasoning that it was simply the materials making up the mask, he turned it over in his hands.  It looked like it would fit.  Maybe this trip wasn’t for nothing after all, he thought.  Turning to one of the mirror stones, he used his shirt sleeve to wipe away some of the dirt and grime, so that he could see his windswept, soaked reflection.  Well, this isn’t perfect, but at least it’ll give me an idea of how this might look.

     

    Placing the mask on his face, he was surprised to find that it fit almost like a glove.  He hadn’t even realized there was no strap to hold it over the back of his head, but he didn’t need it.  It was almost like the mask had been custom-made for his face.  It even blended into his beard.  He admired the way the mask glinted off the hints of light playing across the mirror.  Was the sun finally coming out?  He made a few poses in the mirror, some very extremely serious and some curling his so-called biceps.  Ignoring a sudden itching sensation, he extended his arms out like wings.  And starting thinking.  And feeling.  And closing his eyes and imagining what it might be like to take to the air.  To feel oneself gliding on currents of air.  That would certainly be---OW!

     

    Andrew was snapped out of his daydream by a sudden pain in his feet.  Wondering if he’d stopped too long and his feet were simply protesting from the long walk, he bent down to adjust his shoes, but stopped as he noticed his itching hands.  <i>Brown?  Why are they brown?  They’re covered in…fur?</i>   He looked closer.  No….feathers!  Tiny feathers!  But….what?!  Jolting upright, he stared into the mirror and realized that patches of feathers were starting to grow on his cheeks.  Pulling at his shirt, he realized the unexpected feathers were covering his chest as well…and spreading.

     

    Quickly putting two and two together, he reached for the mask and tried to rip it off, but it would not budge.  In fact, his efforts to remove it were really starting to hurt even worse than the pain in his feet and the itching sensation that was now rapidly spreading across his body.  He tried to feel for the lines where the mask met his face, but was horrified to realize that the lines no longer seemed to be there.

     

    Before he could process this completely and begin to panic, a massive jolt of pain from his feet and a ripping sound forced his attention elsewhere.  His shoes had split, revealing that his feet had shifted and mutated into giant yellow bird-like feet.  Kicking off the remains of his shoes, he reached down and felt his new digits.  His toes had fused together, leaving only three talons on each foot. 

     

    Turning his attention back to his hands and chest, the feathers had grown to cover not only that but most of his arms as well.  He stared at them in blatant disbelief, before another massive bolt of pain from his back and his posterior caused him to double over in agony.  He could feel bones and flesh shifting, and hear fabric tearing, as a massive tail began to push its way through a rip in the seat of his jeans.  More pain came from his shoulders and back.  Was he growing wings?  Wings?!  Despite the pain, and the horror, and the panic, he began to think about the possibilities of flight with wings.

     

    As he imagined soaring through the air, the pain started to ease, diminishing to the point where Andrew was able to, shakingly, stand up again, adjusting his jeans so as not to bunch up around his…tail.  Okay, that’s gonna take some getting used to.  He watched as his half-formed wings suddenly unfolded themselves, and rapidly grew out into a magnificent wingspan, stretching well outside the mirror’s window on himself.  He also saw the last remnants of the mask fuse into his face, reaching up and feeling the material morph into soft feathers.

     

    Andrew stared into the mirror stone, and back at him stared an anthro hawk.  His eyes, hair, and beard all seemed to have survived intact, and he could recognize most of his face beneath the feathers.  He ran his fingers across his chest, marveling at his more muscular figure and the varying colors and patterns of his new feathers, contrasted with the yellow in his beak and feet and the blue remnants of his jeans.  He also marveled at the feelings of brand-new body parts – he had wings!  They felt strange, and heavy, but also powerful.  And they were part of him.  He could move them almost like his arms and legs, creating a strange yet familiar sensation.  As he worked through the new sensations, he realized that he hadn’t just gained a new body – he had gained new instincts.  He realized he knew *exactly* how to fly!

     

    A beeping from the floor snapped him out of his reverie.  He bent down, careful not to crush his tail, and pulled out the GPS device from his bag.  Oh, so now you’re working?  It showed that he was, in fact, only a few miles from the coasts of home.  It also showed him in the middle of the ocean.  I wonder why nobody’s found this place before?  I guess I can’t rule out magic at this point.  And only a few miles?  Feels like it shouldn’t be too hard to make it.  Not sure how I’m gonna explain this, but I’ll figure something out.  Extreme plastic surgery?  Tarred and feathered?  Unexpected dreams fulfilled?

     

    He secured his bag around his waist and turned towards the ruined wall, noting that the sun had finally broken through the clouds.  He basked in the warm rays of sunlight for a few moments.  Then, he took a few running steps, jumped, and soared into the air.  Freedom!

     

     

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    Alex Wright
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    Prologue

     

    249th Year of the Emperor

    Gortas prowled the deck of the Ledsham, anxiety causing him to unconsciously flex his hands as he paced. The Ledsham was not a very large vessel, far better suited to be a river ferry than an sea fairing vessel. It's captain was a lot like the ship, aged and not quite fit for the task at hand. Gortas scowled, remembering how all of the other captains had refused his offers for passage. Most of them denied him simply for being draconian, others because he was an alchemage, and others still because of the retinue of other draconians and the orcaean they had with them. He had to admit that their destination wasn't exactly an easy place to navigate either. Of all the islands off the west coast of Glaia, Ishvalara was probably the most inhospitable place he had ever heard of. Reefs surrounded a shallow and rocky bay, the vegetation of the mountainous terrain was sparse, and the sun was unforgiving this far south. Not much detail had been gleaned of the island, as most crews seemed wary of attempting a landing along the shores. And yet, by necessity alone, that was their destination.

    Draconians idled around the deck, there would be no work until they got to their destination. Each of them had a different expression: fear, doubt, frustration, despair. The knew their duty was one in which they were not likely to return home. Every one of them had volunteered, and they all knew the price of failure. Gortas turned in his pacing towards the bow of the ship, glancing quickly at the orcaean who occupied the small forecastle there. The female stood stock still, as if she were listening for a sound nobody else could hear above the waves and wind. He knew of her people of course, the wandering tribes of the Fragmented Isles. What he did not understand was their magic, and that bothered him. As a master-scholar of alchemagic, it was his goal in life to understand and comprehend all matters of the arcane. Shamans of the wandering tribes were secretive though, and few enough spoke to outsiders. Any questions posed by outlanders to shamans of the tribes were deflected or given evasive answers. He knew only from firsthand experience the sheer amount of power that a shaman could bring to bear. He considered it on par, if not greater, than the alchemagic he and his people used. What he had found interesting was that the two magics were entirely compatible. In fact, the expedition depended on that very point.

    She had come into the Draconian lands looking for the wielders of alchemagic. She gave only her name, Shareena, and shared with them the visions she had seen in her meditations in solitude. In her visions, she had witnessed the return of the Althenar, beings possessed of the talent and magical might to cause calamity. Most of the council had disregarded her words, calling her a raving lunatic. Gortas had seen the wisdom in pursuing the truth of the matter, and thus had partnered with Shareena. Through a use of combined spirit magic and alchemagic, they had discovered that her vision would come to pass regardless. All they could do was delay the inevitable for a few years. That would give them more than enough time to determine a protracted solution. For now, the plan was to place a massive Spirit Seal on the island of Ishvalara. They had planned and studied such a procedure for as long as time allowed them. In those four months, they had fought over every exacting detail from the alchemagical circle and sigils to which spirits to call in to power them.

    Now, a fortnight out from the mainland, their goal was in sight. The island of Ishvalara lay before them. From here they could see the island was just one large expanse of black rock. Steam rose from the waves in several places that they could see. A great sense of foreboding quickly washed over those on the ship. This island was desolate, entirely removed from their world, yet here it sat as a testament of everything grotesque. The only trees which appeared to grow on the island had no green leaves, most like scraggly bramble than anything else. Whitecaps crashed against hidden rock and reef and the cacophony created an unpleasant undertone to the whole scene. Gortas gazed at the island with trepidation. There were only two outcomes to all of their planning, success or death.

    "Three days," said a soft voice behind him.

    He twisted around sharply, he had not heard Shareena's approach over the crashing waves. "Three days?" he inquired.

    Shareena nodded, "Three days until the first of the Althenar appear. The spirits are all restless. They too depend on us, you realize. Our binding must be in place before the end of sunset three days hence."

    Gortas looked sharply toward the island. Three days would push them to complete all of their work on time. Even in practice it had taken three days, no less. They would have to land within the next hour or two if they were to make the deadline. The sun had passed its zenith a few hours ago. He gripped the rail as a shudder ran through the ship. Something had likely struck it from below. He could feel the slight strain on his senses as the alchemagic he and the others had applied to the hull activated to repair any damage that had been done to the structure. A dull orange light flowed over the hull once, and disappeared. He glanced to the helm, where the captain stood with a look of grim determination. "Irherar, how long until we make land?"

    The captain's gaze shifted to the island briefly, "Two or three hours, if we avoid all of the rocks. Twenty or thirty minutes if not."

    Time. It was all coming down to a matter of time. "Make for land, as quick as you can. We will handle the ship."

    The old castore nodded. He knew enough not to question the decision. The ship changed course to head directly for the island. Gortas motioned for the other four to join him on the deck. Each took their specified location, and raised their arms to point at another. Alchemagic pulsed a brilliant red hue through their formation, scorching the proper runes and geometric designs into the deck of the ship. The magic hummed like fire in their veins, reaching outwards to force its change upon the world. Their runes and sigils were meant to contain and focus the raw potential into its intended purpose. Words flowed from their mouths to help guide the purpose and maintain the flow, "Eicmimi ack a aceiamqcok. Eicmimi ack eoy kcimqmogqaiy. Gou accqk eii acemiy!"

    The magic flared, following the lines of the geometric designs, and began its descent around the hull of the ship. Like liquid fire it flowed over the beams and struts, radiating from the five alchemages. As the entire ship became encased in the blazing brilliance of the magic, it sunk into the beams, causing them to glow from within. The ship lurched once, striking a reef below them. Planking cracked as a hole appeared in the forward hull of the ship, yet no water seeped in. The wood seemed to warp and reform back into place as easily as it had been broken, the red inner glow tracing patterns throughout. Another jerk wracked the ship, larger than the prior two. A loud snapping sound came from the mast of the ship. Once more, the red glow flared to life around the splinters of wood as the magic forced the wood to reconstruct itself. They weren't gaining speed against the foam and waves, they merely cut across all of the obstacles in their path. They came out into the shallow bay several minutes later, with the ship none the worse for it. The red glow dissipated from the beams and planks of the vessel, and the alchemages dropped to their knees. The spell had been costly, but well worth the expended effort.

    A dinghy was sent over the side of the ship, and three of the draconians slipped over the side to accompany it. Gortas and the other draconian, along with Shareena and the castore started passing supplies from the ship's hold over the side and into the dinghy. They didn't have much to take ashore, just those items which would allow them to fulfill their task. This included casks of acid, some brittle steel, firewood, chalk, and other accouterments of alchemagic. Shareena had not requested any additional supplies for her part, her succinct reply had been that shamans required no materials with which to cast their spells. As the dinghy had been packed with supplies, the draconians had moved into the warm water. Gortas and Shareena shared a look on the deck of the ship before they plunged over the edge and into the water as well.

    They landed on a short beach of black sand which was hot under foot. As they pulled the small skiff ashore with the supplies, the material on their clothes dried stiff due to the amount of salt from their short swim. It abraded and chaffed their skin, but they had no time to focus on comfort. All that was required for their seal was a large open area, essentially any part of the large island would suffice. The group sorted all of the materials to be carried among themselves and set off towards the interior of the island. Steam billowed from several vents around the group, filling the air with the foul smell of sulfur. This would be the appropriate place to entrap beings who could bring such destruction upon the world. A butte jutted out of the black landscape, likely just a remnant of one of the island's once-active volcanoes. They could not have asked for a better setting, the land around the butte was flat and clear.

    Gortas nodded to the others, "This shall be the place. We shall place the seal upon the rock face, the key upon the ground. Kastilley, you will be the tip of the Spear. Ravok, you are going to be the end. Arrias, Oronaia and I will form the shaft."

    Shareena's gaze flickered back and forth across the face of the rock, lingering on points within. She mumbled something to herself and nodded, "Yes, a good of place as any, alchemage. I shall begin my preparations."

    She sat with her feet folded up onto her opposite knees, a position many of her people used for their meditations. A soft and harmonious humming filled the air, seeming to reverberate off of the sheer stone cliff in front of her. Gortas studied this for a few seconds. As far as he could tell, she was humming to become more in tune with the natural spirits of the area. He left her to finish her work as he and his people started theirs. Unlike the pentagram postings they had used aboard the Ledsham, here they would use the Spear. The pattern was intricate and designed to enhance and intensify the magic sent through its structure to the point of being several times stronger than normal. There were dangers, as there were with any magic. If they overloaded the Spear's patterns with too much magic, the structure of the pattern could collapse and the magic would enter their bodies in its amplified form. If they misspoke, the same could occur. Any number of things could go wrong at any point in the proceedings, and they would all perish because of it.

    The geometry of the Spear was laid out using the acid. Runes and sigils were drawn with crystal styluses specially designed not to be corroded by the powerful acid they were using. As they laid out the pattern, each draconian infused his or her alchemagic into the sigils. Each sigil seemed to drink in the energy being fed to it, which would then glow with the dull red or orange of an inner fire. Chalk was crushed and added at various points around the geometric patterns. Its effect was immediately apparent as various runes around the pattern flared or faded as it was placed. It would enhance or detract from the patterns depending on its position in the geometry. Because of the incessant wind, some water was mixed with the chalk to ensure its adherence to the diagrams around it. They worked slowly and carefully; any deviation from the predefined layout could be costly later in the casting. Each and every section by necessity was thoroughly checked for errors by a second person before moving on. Nothing short of perfection would allow the magic perform correctly under the strain of energy that would be flowing through it later.

    By the time the pattern was finished, the sun's disk had hit the edge of the horizon. Full dark was only about half an hour away, and hunger ravaged the stomachs of the draconians. Salted pork was pulled out of packs, the only food they had on hand for the next few days. Even Gortas grimaced at the prospect of three days without proper food. Shareena stood abruptly, stating simply, "We must start."

    The draconians nodded to each other and moved into their pre-assigned positions. As they took up their places in the Spear, they added the last runes to their stations. Runes describing their names in the alchemagical language were scrawled along the perimeter of their place in the pattern. As each one finished, their segment of the array pulsed with the red-orange of alchemagic. When all five had finished forming their names in the geometry, the pattern flashed once, and the red-orange blazed brilliant yellow. Shareena moved into her place, between Gortas and Kastilley, who stood closest to the rock face. They had already added her descriptors into the receptacle at her feet, and it flared once in bright blue before settling into a blue-green. Her descriptors were not in the alchemical language of geometry and sigils, but in the flowing pattern of script which the wandering tribes used in their rituals.

    Shareena started, her intonations flowing from her lips in a haunting melody, "Éusteicht kuem ineus, buetáukke see im igus áut. De chibhiur i dhéininn muud i cheingik ir see eíche. In derchi i thiginn cunn, uid suúd i bheidh ig i dheureidh gich ge bhfuuk see siek. Tá i fhues igit ár spruecinni igus ár beikií. Uirr mé is de chibhiur keus in tisc see. Gich ár driíechti i thibhiurt duut, i sunseir. Gich ár driíechti i thibhiurt duut, buetáukke nádúr. Gich ár driíechti chun tú, uentich cunn."

    The pattern at her feat flared into blazing blue light which flowed rapidly outward throughout the entire pattern. As the spirit magic touched sigils and the geometry, it mingled with the inner red-orange fire and melded into purple. As the wave of magic washed over the bare rock face, orbs of light in various colors emerged, coalescing above the ritual space. These twirled and danced as the melody continued from Shareena's lips. The alchemages began their part of the ritual, the quiet and droning intonations which would forge the wild magics and sacred geometries into one working, and allow the rite to move forward. Each intoned in time with the others, providing a quiet but undeniable tone to the singing rhythm of the shaman, "Gqeqyok ag miaiciak, ycimqkiiqk yoagck. Gqeqyok ag Kqaiy Miyeok, kqmaqkii eawayqmamqk. Qa iuqwqoy yqmmqyok qccqk, gcaie kcw eiikeqm cckeoic im kiqmok. Kqmaaeowoy ag owmqyoy miaiiamqcaik, mikmayiamc eckkim. Cyaqcok ackmiqk qqiqcok ack mqcq, eoy qiica ack ciaii. Kiiqimoi eic cyaq miyecii, mcwwqmoi iu oce yoagc."

    Magic flared around the alchemages, their red-orange merging with the blue of the spirit magic. Geometric designs flared brighter and the sigils burned fiercely as waves of magic continued to flow outward. Each wave of magic rebounded off of the outer edge of the pattern, shifting back into the pattern and causing the entire structure to continue to flare brighter as each new wave pulsed through. The spirits above whirled faster and faster, feeling the excess of energy below them. They moved down into the pattern and whirled around the edges, causing a whirlwind of magic to flow into the center of the pattern, right to where Gortas stood. The entire pattern at his feet became brighter than any had previously thought possible. They had not attempted to include any spirits in their practice attempts. Now, however, there was nothing left to lose. Glaring light caused all of the participant's eyes to water. None of them had expected this much energy to be pouring through the pattern. Gortas and Shareena had predicted excess energy, and had included a way for excess energy to escape the Spear by converting it into light, but never had they expected this much. If the pattern overloaded because it couldn't convert the magic fast enough, they would likely all perish in the blaze of uncontrolled magic. Nevertheless, they all kept their chants in perfect time following the lead of Shareena.

    They did not realize the passing of time. Not one of them cared. They were deep in the magic now, and any distraction could prove fatal. Thus it was that full dark came and went in the crooning and droning of words. Their energies interwoven to a point where it was impossible to distinguish one from the other. Spirits continued to gather and weave themselves into the pattern, alchemagic continued to coalesce into multi-colored spectrum frantically pulsing with light. Magic flooded against the sheer rock wall in front of the pattern, etching itself deeper and deeper into the face. It was carving out the seal according to the instructions provided by the geometry of the key below their feet and the careful invocation of their words. Magic filled the spaces carved away from the rock with brilliant purple, and the Spear continued to glow brighter below it. Night drew its inky blackness over them once more, and still not one stirred from their confines within the magic below.

    As the sun rose on the third day, their magic could be seen from several miles as a bright purple light in the sky. The magic was holding itself now, and yet the haunting song continued with the droning intonations. Voices were going raw and still they could not dream of stopping. It was only when the sun dimmed unexpectedly that Gortas even looked up while chanting. He gazed in fear and wonder as the sun went black. Nothing was normal about the means either, he was certain this was no eclipse. They were out of time, the Althenar had arrived. Only a red haze was left around the dark sphere that had appeared. Almost as immediately as it had appeared, the entire structure of magic around them pulsed and flared. Lines of purple magic arced upward as they forged a connection between the Spear and the being which had appeared in the sky above them. Song and chant ended, there was no more direction they could give their magic that would affect the outcome of the next several moments. The world seemed to lean in all around them, waiting on the outcome.

    Purple magic flared against the darkness, tendrils encircling the great black mass started to pull it down towards their seal. A shudder ran through the entire island, an earthquake triggered by the massive amount of energy being released from its surface. Several of the vents around them released a fresh wave of the sulfur laden steam. Streamers of energy continued to wrap themselves around the Althenar in the skies above the island, pulling it faster and faster towards the seal. If the Althenar were to be let loose, there was no telling what destruction would be wrought on the world at large. No records had survived the last sighting of an Althenar except for the stories that had been convoluted and passed down the generations. Another tremor rumbled through the island, stronger than the first. Gortas had expected that as more energy was released from the structure at their feet, the more violent the tremors would become. There was nothing that could be done about them now, all of them knew the dangers of even attempting to layer another spell over the one that was currently coursing through the pattern.

    What none of them could have predicted was that even with all of the power flowing through the magical construct was that it would not have been enough to contain the entire mass of the Althenar. Much of the magic that had contained itself in their structure had already wrapped itself around the sphere, and yet there were still areas which were open to the sky. Thus it was that when part of the exposed area flared brilliant white, none of them had anything they could do to combat the release of energy. It arced out over the oceans to the east, streaking across the sky in a radiance far greater than that of the sun. There was nothing they could have done to prevent it from reaching the continent even had they the magic to do so. After what seemed like an eternity, the purple tendrils of their spell had finally pulled the Althenar to within range of the seal on the sheer rock face at the point of the spear. Light flared from the rock face, from the key in their sigils below, and from the ribbons of magic which still encircled the destructive being.

    Part of the Althenar began sinking into the rock face while another massive tremor rocked the island. They could hear the splintering of rock above them, but none had the magic to counteract what came next. Sand and gravel came sliding through the Althenar as if it wasn't a presence which was physically in their world. Kastilley, standing as close as he had been to be in position as the head of the Spear had no place to move as the thundering of a landslide could be heard tearing down the slop of rock above him. He gave a quick sad smile to Gortas, who tried to withdraw himself from the pattern. So it was that the first of their number fell to the Althenar as more massive rocks started falling through. It was quick, the boulder which landed on Kastilley was large enough to have caused instant death. Spacing in the pattern allowed the others to avoid the rest of the tumbling rock, but Gortas heard a soft gasp escape from Oronaia behind him. He knew that she and Kastilley had been close, but perhaps they had been closer than he had thought.

    The Althenar was halfway into the solid rock when several of the purple tethers pulling it seemed to fracture and dissipate. It was already caught in the seal, and nothing it could do now would change that fact. Gortas knew they were all doomed though, for as the Althenar turned, a small section its black exterior came into view. It flared into its blinding white radiance once more. Ilthanian, my love...I will not forget you...

    Everything evaporated around Gortas' awareness. There was no light, no heat, nothing to discern which direction was which. Blackness was all that remained, and into this blackness he faded. On that island, a black orb slowly faded from existence into black rock with none left to witness its demise. Leagues away a plain lay in ruins, nothing but smoldering ash and crystallized sand. Spirits howled their sorrow to a people who were no more. A draconian bowed his head and wept, for he could feel that his heart was no longer on this world. The world was safe from the Althenar, but the price had been far too high.

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    • Oh my... Well I actually was expecting something like that to happen...
    • Oh my God, that is going to be interesting....  
    • thanks you. No, it is not the end, there are 2 other books planned for this, unfortunately, they are in the pre-planning stage at best and at this time I don't know when I'll get back to them (I have at least a dozen novels to write before I can start considering putting this in the lineup.)
    • This ended surprisingly well... That was very good... But epilogue? Is it the end? So soon? 
    • I may have to adjust this when ever I rewrite the story into a full length novel (There will me more space so it might be easier to do) but when I was writing this, my thought on it was that Jayson's big fear until this point, one of the reasons why he refuses to become a super hero, is that he will hurt someone because of his strength, and here, in his anger no only does he do that, but he kills him so on top of that he broke one of the strongest commandment. I didn't reread this before posting it, so it's possible I didn't address that aspect of it properly before this moment.
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