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Rise of the DarkWalker Chapter 5

I stumbled through the underbrush, wondering where the hell Weijia was taking me. She’d set a pretty harsh pace, too. Moving across open ground, I’d have kept up with ease, but moving though the groundcover left me tripping and stumbling like a toddler learning to walk.

“Where are we going?” My breath leaped from my lungs in short, rapid bursts.

“My clan. The Shaman will be able to help you with the lichen on your stomach.”

I stopped. “You’re taking me to an enclave of trolls? Don’t they hate humans?”

She turned with a sigh. “No, Carter. I’m taking you to my tribe. We’re all half-bloods.”

I used the time she paused to catch up. “What’s the hurry?”

“Do you wish to be chained again?”

“Do bears speak Krogan?”

“What?”

“The answer is no.”

“Then why not say so?”

I hung my head and resumed walking. “That’s what you get for trying to be poetic. Dumbass,” I muttered at myself.

“Did you say something?”

The tone of her question told me she hadn’t heard my mumbling. “No. How much further?”

“We’ll arrive near sunset. Can you keep up?”

“Sure. As soon as we get to a path, or something.”

“Paths would make it easier to track us.”

That didn’t make sense. “Wouldn’t one make it harder to follow us? Heavily travelled versus forcing a trail through the woods and all that.”

She glanced to the sky and then back the way we came. Turning to me, she shook her head. “The path will make it easier to track us, but we’ll move faster on it.”

A flock of birds exploded into the air, chirping and screeching. I looked to my right where they’d taken off from in time to see a couple trees collapse with crashing thuds. Without waiting for input from my companion, I turned and bolted in the opposite direction from the destruction.

I raced past trees and bushes. Hurtled a stream and ducked under a low hanging branch. The path was crossed without a thought. A sapling provided enough support to allow me to whip myself behind a boulder without slowing. A root, or rock, or something ended my running.

I belly flopped down an embankment. Dirt, leaves, twigs and other debris went down my shirt. I slid into a wide, yet shallow, brook. I was soaked, scraped up, and a lot cooler.

The water turned out to be rather refreshing. I lifted my face from it and cleared the liquid from my ears in time to catch the last of Weijia’s words.

“ —ter! Why did you run off?”

I blew water from my lips, trying not to think of what was upstream and pissing in as I lounged in the brook. “I ran from whatever was knocking down the trees.”

“Why? You’re the Walker of Worlds.”

“One, I don’t know how to use my powers, nor what they might be.” I stood and sluiced some water from my body. “Two, if it’s big enough to knock down growing trees, it’s big enough to run from.”

“But, you killed Belial.”

That should have been my first clue that Weijia wasn’t necessarily on my side, but the trembling aftereffects of my sprint and the breeze chilling me in my wet clothes caused that to pass by unremarked. I sloshed through the water and held out my hand. She helped me climb the slippery bank, and I pulled off my shirt. Holding it out between my hands, I spun it in a rope and then folded it over, twisted it more. Water squirted from the wrung out deer hide, but it remained damp.

I sighed and tossed it over my right shoulder. I noted her watching me closely, but thought nothing of it. “Please tell me I at least ran in the right direction and we’re now even closer to your clan.” She shook her head and pointed back the way we came. “Damn it.”

 

***

 

As it neared sunset, the surrounding woods grew thicker. The trees grew closer together and seemed to have distorted faces. ‘Pareidolia and an overactive imagination equals rough night sleeping tonight.’ The denseness caused a premature twilight to fall. As we hiked, I gradually became aware the noise of the forest became quieter.

The drumming of a woodpecker seemed to become the wail of a scared child. I stopped and listened intently, but only heard the hammer of the bird’s beak as it searched for insects. I scratched my head and then resumed walking.

A fog rose from the ground and rolled steadily through the woodlands. Indistinct whispers came to me on the breeze.

“Weijia, do you hear that?”

“What?”

“Sounds like a group of people whispering nearby.”

We halted and she listened. After several minutes, she shook her head. “I don’t hear anything.”

I raised my eyebrow, but continued on. The ground became softer with each stride. It was like I trudged through mud. When I took my next step, my foot sank into something warm, wet and fetid. The rank odors of sour milk and rancid meat hit my nose. I recoiled from the sensation of squirming maggots around my ankles and fell to the forest floor.

My heart lurched when I discovered the earth was dry and nothing was on my foot.

“What the fuck is going on?”

“Are you okay, Carter?” Weijia came over and knelt beside me.

“Has anything seemed odd to you?”

She shook her head. “The fog may seem a little spooky if you’re not used to it, but all is normal.” She pushed to her feet and offered me her hand. “Come on. We’re not too much further away.”

I accepted the hand up and the apple she tossed to me. I bit into it with a crunch. I wondered where she’d found the red fruit. ‘Oh well. Doesn’t matter.’ The flesh was both sweet and tangy. It reminded me of a Winesap. I absently glanced down to take another huge bite and discovered bloody teeth with chunks of hairy skin. I launched the disgusting thing away with a cry and puked.

I coughed and spat, trying to clear my mouth of the horrid taste of vomit. I shrugged her hand off my back when she touched me.

Standing upright again, I pinned her with a glare. My body was hot. “What the fuck is wrong with you, woman?”

She backed up. “Carter?”

I closed the distance between us. “Why would you give me something like that?” Each of her steps backwards were answered by one forward from me until her back was against the trunk of a black walnut.

“Something like what?” Her voice was high. “Carter, what’s wrong?”

I pointed at the remnants of the apple I’d been eating. “That!”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you don’t like apples.”

“Does that look like a fucking apple to you?”

“Y-yes?”

“Are you kidding me?”

I was so close to her face and yelling so hard, flecks of spittle landed on her cheeks. She cried out and cringed away. “Whu-what did I do? Why’re you so mad at me all of a sudden?”

“Look. At. That.” I all but bit the words out as I jerked my finger at the discarded fruit.

Shivering, she turned her head to see what I pointed at. “I don’t know what you want me to see. It’s just a half-eaten apple.”

I whirled to pick it up and stopped in my tracks. The only thing on the path was an oddly lumpy red spheroid with rough white pieces exposed where I’d bitten pieces away. There was no sign of the teeth or the skin. “What the fuck is going on?”

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. Chapter 17

Agents Markham and Jensen looked around the cave. There was no sign that anyone other than Rob and Jennifer had been there. Jensen was a brunette woman with dark brown eyes that sparkled as if she wear constantly amused. Markham was a bald man with a deeply lined face. He was only 37, yet the stress of the job had him looking much older. They had been partners for seven years and communicated almost silently. At her partner’s nod, Agent Jensen raised her radio to report. Just outside the cave, a small branch crackled as if someone had lightly stepped on it while trying to sneak up on them.

Agent Markham indicated that he was going to investigate, drawing his weapon as he did so. Agent Jensen nodded and drew her own firearm. Markham stealthily crept to the cave opening and peered out. Strain as much as he could, he couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary outside. He pulled a long breath through his nostrils, but couldn’t smell anything either. He turned back to his partner and shook his head. He didn’t see anything. Jensen blinked. When her eyes reopened, her partner was gone. Her jaw dropped and she ran over to the opening of the cave.

She looked out and stared around. Some instinct had her keep silent. It was probably the same one that had her heart racing like an excited horse. Her breathing was coming fast and hard, yet shallowly. Black spots passed before her eyes and the cave felt like it was going to collapse on her. She had her gun pointed out, moving it here and there, jerkily searching for a target. She was so freaked out by Markham’s sudden vanishing act that she wouldn’t have been able to hit the ground had she aimed there.

A branch shook lightly, drawing her attention. The green of the brush’s leaves was a light brighter than she had remembered. She gently pushed aside the roughly barked branch, ignoring the green leaves. Before she could see what had made the branch move, she was abruptly hit in her face with a steam of warm liquid. The hot, greasy, coppery odor told her it was her partner’s blood. Squeezing her eyes shut, she recoiled. She never saw the thick, brown hand that snaked out of the brush and yanked her in. The brush shuddered, then was still. In the distance, birds chirped unconcernedly. A tan doe and white-speckled fawn dipped their heads to drink from the nearby stream.

Rise of the DarkWalker Chapter 3

I opened my eyes to blinding light. Squinting them shut, I raised my hand to shield them. A rattle of a chain sounded as my movement came to an abrupt halt. The sunlight on my face almost blinded me again when my eyes flew open. I pushed the pain to the back of my mind as I blinked my eyes rapidly to clear them. I needed to see what kept my hand from moving. A moment or two later, I made out why: I was chained to stakes, my arms spread in a cruciform fashion. ‘By all the hells…”

“…What the actual fuck?” I yanked on the shackles. “Why am I chained?”

“You attacked Lady Orwen, Carter.” Robilar stood over me, blocking the sunlight from touching me.

A flash of my unprovoked assault went through my mind. With it, the memory of feeling like another was in control of my body. My jaw throbbed as my head ached. “What the hell did she hit me with?”

“Her fist.”

I slowly shook my head. “Not just her fist. She held a spell.”

“I do not know.” He glanced over his shoulder and then back down at me. “Why did you do it?”

“Another controlled my movements.”

He shook his head. “That’s not possible.”

“Why not? Wen was possessed by Belial.”

“You’re the Walker of Worlds. You can’t be demoniac. Your nature precludes it.”

“Maybe I’m not really him.”

He uttered a tired sounding chuckle and knelt beside me. “You’ve already forgotten what I am?”

I carefully shook my head. “No.”

“Then you know how silly you sounded.”

“Bite me.” I closed my eyes rather than continue to look over at Robilar. “Walker, or no, something was controlling my body. It was like I was literally outside of it, looking on.”

“In all of my long years, I’ve never encountered anything that could.”

My eyes popped open and I turned my head to him so fast my neck cracked. “What? How can that be? You said you knew me in the future.”

“I did, or do. But, I’ve not come back to this point before. Remember my limitation?”

“Yes. Yesterday you said you couldn’t travel back to a point in the past after you’d already hit it.”

“True.”

“Alright then, how is it that you don’t know about this?”

“In prior lifetimes, we’d meet long after you were the full-fledged Walker. This is the first timeline that I sought you out before that date.”

“So what happened to make you come here?”

“I told you yesterday. The Lamp of Allah-ad-din.”

“Actually, you said your purpose was to make sure Drago didn’t get his hands on it. I’m asking how will being here at this time, help you to do that.”

Before he could respond, Corath touched his shoulder and whispered in his ear. He nodded, rose and followed the Wild Elf, leaving me to lay on the ground, still chained. I lay my head back with my eyes closed. I was grateful this was a springtime sun and not a summer one. ‘How long are they planning on keeping me chained?’

 

***

 

I woke at the sound of my wrist manacles being unlocked. Weijia smiled and placed her index finger over her lips, telling me to keep silent. I sat up as she freed my legs.

“Corath and Robilar are asleep.” Her whisper barely reached my ears.

“What are you doing?” I made sure to speak at the same volume.

“Setting you free. You’re supposed to be our leader, not our prisoner.”

“I did attack Lady Orwen.”

“You said someone was controlling you.” She rose and offered her hand. I took it stood on shaky legs. “I believe you.”

“Where’s the Princess… Queen, I mean?”

“She headed to a nearby temple to pray for guidance from Kellün.”

I followed Weijia as she guided me away from the camp. “I don’t think she’s going to have any success.”

She glanced over her shoulder. “Why not?”

“Remember when she tried to heal me and was unable to?”

“Yes. You got really upset about that, too.”

“I wasn’t upset by not being healed. It was because of what she said, that Kellün wasn’t responding to her prayers.”

“Why is that significant?”

I thought back to the BattleHammer rules for clerics and Warpriests. “A god will refuse to answer a cleric or Warpriest who has betrayed that deity’s tenants.”

“Keeper Dearbhaile said that Lady Orwen was pure. Doesn’t that mean she hadn’t?”

“Yes.” I stepped over the trunk of a fallen tree. “There’s one other time, that I know of, where a god won’t answer prayers.”

“Which is what?”

“When a god is fallen.”

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. Chapter 16

Jennifer looked around the training room. With the exception of the colorful mats on the floor, it was pretty bland. The walls were a stark white and the ceiling matched. Rob pointed to the opening behind him.

“Ladies locker room. You will find a gi in your size. You’ve already been scanned.”

“I have a question, Worth.”

“Yes?”

“How did you know I would agree to join?”

“I know all, remember?”

“Right, you’re god. How could I forget?” she said sarcastically.

‘I’ve been too lenient with you mortals lately.” He grinned when she rolled her eyes. She shook her head and headed into the locker room.

 

She looked around, not really impressed with the interior. It looked like every other locker room she’d been in. Rows of metal lockers stood side by side like soldiers at parade. They were a non-descript utilitarian grey. Each had a copper nameplate near eye level for an average sized woman. Before each row of lockers was a long wooden bench. The benches were a varnished white pine. The floor was a rough textured tile that she could feel through her soft leather boots. As she advanced further in, she was first greeted by the stench of sweat and dirty gym clothes. This was followed by a variety of flowered scents that when taken in all at once, wasn’t all-together unpleasant. She knew these were the body washes and shampoos the others used after their workouts.  She came to a locker with her name engraved on the nameplate. She reached out and lightly touched the beautifully flowing script.

 

Jennifer Steel,

Agent of the F.S.I.A.

 

The letters were etched fairly deeply into the metal. The way the letters streamed into each other felt marvelous. She allowed her hand to slide downward, enjoying the feel of smooth, cold steel. When her hand reached chest level, a beep sounded. Her hand had continued further past, so she stopped and raised her hand to that point again. Three beeps sounded this time, followed by a warm green light playing over her hand. From within the locker, there was a hollow click and the door swung open. She pulled it completely open and a light clicked on. There were two shelves about eighteen inches apart near the top of the locker, and an empty hanger dangling from a crossbar. She peered at the top shelf. On it was a turquoise jacket, pants and belt, carefully folded. On the bottom shelf was a grey sport bra and a pair of grey spankies, athletic underwear. Next to the underwear was a roll of white tape. She dressed, finding that the gi fit perfectly and was incredibly light and smooth. It had to have been made from silk. She grabbed the tape and headed out, barefoot, to the training room.

 

Rob was already there, dressed similarly except his gi was black and trimmed in red. He was doing some moves like a dance. But, he then snapped out a few kicks and punches in rapid succession. He dropped to the ground, sweeping his right leg around in a circle, then whirling back to his feet. He twirled through the air, kicking out first one leg, then landing on it and thrusting out the other one. He continued this for several moments before halting and smoothly moving into a series of rapid punches. She walked up behind him, causing him to spin while throwing a fist towards her face!

Rise of the DarkWalker Chapter 2

I stalked outside, leaving Adora to jog in my wake. All I found, to my intense displeasure, were Robilar, Corath, and heaps of dead demons, their remains beginning to steam and stink in the early morning sunlight.

“Damn it.” I stopped before the two men and scowled at them. “Did you fuckers have to kill all of them?”

Robilar’s chuckle sounded tired. “We didn’t come close to killing all of them.”

“About twenty minutes ago, the demons broke free, and ran.” Corath wiped at ichor on his face, but only smeared it. “We have no idea why.”

I slammed my sword into its sheathe, cussing under my breath. So much for that idea.

“Where’s the Keeper, Carter?” Whatever he saw on my face caused Robilar to blanch, and back away. “Sore subject. Never mind.”

“I’ll not never mind.” Corath marched up, and poked my chest with his finger. “You have a lot to answer for, human.”

I growled, and reached for my sword. I met Adora’s warm, calloused, hand instead. “Now is not the time, Corath.”

“Tha—”

My blade pointed at his larynx, and a ruby droplet formed at the tip. “Utter one more word. I dare you.”

The Gorauch clamped his mouth shut so fast he bit his tongue.

“Smart man,” the Chronomancer said.

“Robilar!”

“Y-Yes, sir?”

“Ha-How did you do that?” The Lady’s voice cracked as she spoke.

I ignored Adora for the time being. “Can you track demons?”

“I can do better than that.”

I sheathed my sword again, and folded my arms over my chest. “Go on.”

“I can bring one from the past, to the present.”

“Do it.”

Robilar nodded, closed his eyes, and furrowed his brow. He took a deep breath, and held it. Sweat rolled down his cheeks as he rolled his arms through the air like Dearbhaile has when we played in the river at the beginning of our journey from Lady Soo-jau’s palace. Wonder what the Vaush-Tauric is up to?

A glowing white rectangle appeared before the Chronomancer. His eyes flew open, and he thrust his hands into the light. A mighty yank, and one of the wingless bat-like demons with rippling, angry red muscles, and a clear, glistening and viscous fluid to roiling down its body tumbled free, rolling across the ground.

Before it regained its senses, I had it lifted in the air with my right hand wrapped around its throat. “Hello, Ugly. You’re going to answer some questions for me.”

It screamed, and chittered in rage, slashing at me with its sharp claws. When they raked over my forearm, I squeezed.

“Carter, don’t kill it, yet.” Robilar’s voice was a hoarse wheeze. “I’m not going to be up to Pulling another for some time.”

I growled, and hammered the demon to the earth like I was a professional wrestler executing a choke-slam. Where I got the strength, I didn’t know at that point. The demon had ceased its squirming, stunned from the impact with the ground.

Adora’s rough hand touched my shoulder. “Carter, allow me to question it? I speak Infernus.”

“Really?” I glanced at her over my shoulder. “Alright. Make it quick. We’re losing time.”

The demon rolled to its belly and tried to scamper away. My foot in the small of its back sent it flat again, putting an end to its attempt. The Princess, or Queen, technically, chittered at the daemon which made the sound in return. A few minutes of back and forth made my head hurt worse.

I stepped away, focusing on the smoking ruins of the keep. The fiends had used some magic which had melted stone like tallow. An ungodly scream ripped through the air, causing all the hair on my body to feel as if it all wanted to run. I spun around so fast I must have looked like a top, even though it was a one-eighty. Made me dizzy as hell, too.

A silvery-white glow engulfed Adora’s left hand. The bat demon’s right shoulder oozed a greenish smoke. She chittered something loudly at the creature which then shook its head. Her radiant palm clamped down on it. It shrilled. I thought it was pain, but there was an odd note to it. The Princess… Queen… released her grip. The fiend panted. A glint shone in its eyes. She spoke to it, but it cut her off, much louder.

I strode over and caught her hand as she went to touch it again. A thousand bees stung me simultaneously and acid dripped from their stingers. I felt a jolt in the center of my chest and found myself looking up at the sky with no clue how I got there.

My field of vision grew darker for a moment and then I realized I was surrounded by Adora, Weijia and Robilar. “What happened?” I attempted to sit up, but my abdomen felt as if someone had beat it with hot hammers. “Fuck me.” I tried to scream it, but the pain left me breathless. To be honest, I don’t know if I made a sound other than a groan.

Adora took my hand in hers and fire raced up my arm. I recoiled and rolled to my hands and knees, scrambling away about five feet. I tried to rise, but it was as if someone else controlled my limbs.

“Carter? What’s wrong?” Concern hoarsened her voice.

A crimson bolt shot from my up thrust hand. She leaped away and it hit a tree which exploded in flames. A hissing cackle erupted from my mouth, tearing at my throat. I found myself flying through the air as whoever controlled my body leaped to attack her again.

A black aura engulfed her fist. ‘Oh, shit.’ Her hand suddenly vanished from my sight and the lights went out.

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. Chapter 15

Out in the hallway, away from the others’ sight, Rob turned to Jennifer and pushed her lightly against the wall. He had an intent look on his face, no sign of humor. “What the hell was that in there, Jennifer?”

‘Shit, he’s using my name. This must be serious,’ she thought. “What do you mean, Worth?”

“This is no time for games.”

She could hear his breath coming out of his nostrils. She wanted to laugh about it, but the pulsing vein in his jaw told her maybe now wouldn’t be the best time. “Maybe a clue?” she said in an attempt to be diplomatic.

“The swat on my ass,” he said through clenched teeth.

She blushed as she replayed that event in her mind’s eye. She grinned, eyes going wide, and showing teeth. “I got caught up in the moment?”

That adorable grin defeated him as always. “I have a request: Don’t do it again?” he sighed.

She shook her head, brow furrowed. “Oh no. Definitely not.”

He stared into her eyes for several long moments as if trying to gaze into her soul, then smiled. “Good. Thank you, blue eyes.”

She sagged against the wall as the tension drained from her body. She hadn’t been sure what was going to happen next. He was simply too unpredictable. It looked like she wouldn’t have to disappear from another guy’s life yet. “My eyes are hazel.”

He grinned, face lighting up. “Not under these lights.”

She smiled. “You’re weird, Worthington.”

His grin widened into a full blown smile. “Yeah. It’s part of the reason why you’re so attracted to me.”

She lost her smile. “No, I’m not.”

“Of course you are. But that’s okay. It happens to everyone, eventually.” He sighed, “Oh the perils of being as pretty as me.” That caught her unawares, making her laugh. He had been messing with her again. Rob reached out and gently squashed the tip of her nose with his finger. “Beep.”

Outwardly, she smiled at his actions, but inwardly, she wanted to cry. It always happened this way. She’d meet a guy that she enjoyed spending time with, but wasn’t attracted to, and they’d look for more. After a bit of time, she’d disappear. She was sure it hurt their feelings a little, but it would hurt them a lot less in the long run. She decided to hang out with Rob one more time before vanishing from his life. She recognized the signs of him falling in love with her, but didn’t want to hurt him: he’d already been through a lot.

“Hey, Kirei-chan. Pay attention!”

“Sorry,” she said. “What does “chan” mean?”

“I erred earlier when I called you Kirei-kun.” He smirked. “When a male uses the honorific “kun” for a female, he’s stating a level of intimacy with her. Usually, they are lovers. I should have called you “Kirei-chan,” which would actually be more accurate. Because we are friends.”

“Oh.”

“Follow me.”

“Where are we going?”

“Training room,” he said with a sinister grin.

She raised her eyebrows. “What’s with the grin, Worthington?” He laughed aloud. “Don’t hurt Kirei, Worth,” she said in a small voice.

“Come on. Has Worthington ever hurt his Kirei?”

His Kirei?”

“Indeed,” he rumbled.

“Oh.” She shook her head. “No, he hasn’t. Kirei is just being sure. Worth likes being mean to Kirei.”

“That’s different. Worthington wants to make sure Kirei doesn’t get used to him being nice to her. Because that would be boring.”

“Indeed,” she said, giggling.

Rob lightly swatted at her butt. “I warned you about using my words. Only I get to.” She blocked his hand with both of hers behind her, laughing with her tongue poked out. He smiled. “Okay, Kirei. Let’s get going.”

Rise of the DarkWalker, Chapter 1

We smelled the town of Dunskillen long before we saw it. The area was thick with the acrid odor of smoke and the sick, sweet scent of rotten meat. As we got closer, the breeze changed intensifying the cloying stench. Thinning trees gave us sight of the skyline filled with smoke. I nudged Dearbhaile to behind me. I drew my sword and Robilar did the same.

“Wen, scout ahead,” Corath said. I cocked my head at him. “None of you are as stealthy as Elven.”

I conceded his point with a shrug. The Gorauch disappeared into the distance.

“What should we do, Carter?” Lady Orwen said.

“Ready yourself for battle. We could be attacked at any moment.”

Keeper Dearbhaile moved slowly to the center of the circle again, with her lips compressed in a thin, white line, clearly upset, but she held her peace. The sun rose higher in the cloudless sky, pounding down on us. Sweat rolled down my face, and soaked the top of my buckskin pants. The moisture served to aggravate the moss in my belly. The maddening itch mounted in my mind. I squirmed and gripped my sword hilt tighter. My abdomen burned with the urgent need for me to scratch. I groaned, and clenched my jaw. I jumped when a cool hand landed on my back.

“Are ye alright, Carter?”

“Not really.” My voice sounded raspy even to me. “This damned Tianarri moss is driving me bugshit.”

Dearbhaile leaned back, blinking. “Bugshit?”

“What does bugshit mean?” Robilar said.

“Crazy. The desire to scratch is maddening.”

“So scratch.” Robilar chuckled. “What’s hard about that?”

“He cannae. He be infected with Tianarri moss.”

“Wen returns.” Lady Orwen called.

“I’ll fill you in later, Robilar.”

The Gorauch approached at a shambling run. The way his limbs flopped about, as if not under his control, caused a knot to form in my belly, pushing out the urge to scratch. My heart kicked into overdrive as I locked onto his approach. I threw a glance over my shoulder to my Rishka. Seeing she was safe, though intent on the approach of the white-haired Elven, I turned back. I raised my sword while I did so.

“Carter?” Lady Orwen said. My name was the signal Wen waited for. He launched himself into a sprint at me, eyes ablaze. “He’s possessed!”

“Wen!” His brother shouted. Time slowed around me. I moved to intercept him. “No, Carter. He’s my brother!”

Corath’s voice sounded slow, deep, and drawn out. The controlled Elven’s steps decelerated as if he were running through molasses, then halted. I broke into a run, and raced passed Wen. As I did, I caught whiff of decayed vanilla: a L’Arc demon had him. I hoped what I learned about possession during game sessions was accurate and the demon’s body would be nearby. ‘Kill the body, kill the possessor.’

I found the L’Arc standing at the edge of a wall, staring at Wen’s back. This one was different from the others. Its shoulders were broader and it wore blackened gold plate mail. The others were stunning, beautiful, statuesque and nude women with flawless milky skin, raven hair, large bat wings that unfurled from their shoulders and slender black tails. This one had scars over its face, eagle wings and stubble over its jaw. This one must have been one of the males. ‘Wow. Either Belial, or his dad, are sexist bastards. They have the females running around naked, yet they cover the males in heavy armor.’ Not that I wanted to see this demon without clothes. Time resumed its movement. The demon registered my presence, eyes wide. As its mouth dropped open, I ran it through with my sword.

“Carter!” I spun around at Dearbhaile’s scream. The others were under attack. I raced back to my friends. Halfway there, a rush of wings caused me to halt. The sky was blotted out by the shadows of about twenty L’Arc demons. I didn’t wait for them to land before scything into them. ‘Stupid demons.’

I heard my love scream again. I looked over. A large, muscular humanoid with greenish-black skin stretched tight over his frame had her neck in an immense clawed hand. He flipped his middle claw in the air, then vanished with a boom. I howled my rage to the heavens. A crimson fog descended over my eyes. I slashed, and chopped, sliced and hacked at any demon that was near me. I stopped when I realized Corath’s brother stood before me.

“Greetings, Carter Blake.” Wen’s mouth moved, but the hoarse, graveled and sweet voice belonged to Belial. Now I knew who had my love. “I have your woman. If you want to see her again, come to the former tower of Wizard Cora.”

I pointed my blade between Wen’s eyes. “I’m coming for you, Belial.”

He laughed. I bellowed and cleaved his neck with the sharp dryad weapon. Wen’s head fell from his body, still laughing. I kicked it away, and shut my eyes. I visualized the opulent room where I’d last seen Wizard Cora. I saw again the torches as they burned in brackets on stone walls, rich tapestries hung here and there. I remembered seeing the thickest rug I had ever encountered. I was able to picture the entrapment sigil drawn on the floor underneath. The sounds of the battle faded until all was silence. I felt a pressure on my body not unlike that time I’d went scuba diving in the summer when I was nine. I remembered marveling at the knowledge of all those tons of water surrounding my body, waiting to crush me, yet knowing my soft form was capable of withstanding it. I pushed that memory away and refocused on the summoning chamber. How did the outline of that tower look? I intended for nothing to slow my run on the demon’s new headquarters.

The pressure vanished. I opened my eyes, and saw the chamber I’d been visualizing. How the hell did I do that? I shrugged away the question. I’d worry about the riddle later. I readied my sword and went to the door. I placed my ear to it. I heard nothing, so I opened the door. The hallway was also lit by torches. I surprised one of the short humanoid wingless bat-like creatures I’d encountered during my escape from Belial’s fortress. The thing’s angry red muscles rippled as it moved, causing a clear, glistening and viscous fluid to roil down its body. Nictitating membranes flicked across its oil drop eyes when the demon discovered me standing in the room. I reacted first, slashing my blade across its throat. Blue ichor splashed my front as the creature collapsed. I continued on.

Down a second hall, I spotted another of the demons standing guard outside a big wooden door. I slipped along, until I was about a meter away. I hope Ugly doesn’t turn my way. The fiend did, and chittered something at the top of its voice, raising a spear. The door was yanked open. A L’Arc spilled out, shield leading the way. At the same time, a blackish green demon with oversized claws appeared beside me. This was either the one that took my Rishka, or was similar. Either way, he had my full attention. I lunged at him.

A clawed hand intercepted my sword and redirected the weapon to the side. I was hit from behind and shoved towards an incoming swipe from the other hand. My chest was slashed open and I found myself behind the L’Arc. I thrust my blade into her back, right between her wings. The sword went in as if she were warm butter. The bat-like demon thrust its spear through the L’Arc’s body and into my left bicep. I screamed, and was behind the thing without my sword. I felt as if my hands were guided by another as I gripped its head and put it in the path of the black demon’s stab. I shoved the smaller demon forward, further impaling it on the other’s claws which sliced my face. I growled, and tried to ignore the burning of four cuts traveling from my forehead to my cheeks. I didn’t understand how the demon missed my eyes, but I was glad he did. Damned thing tried to blind me!

He went for my eyes again. I grabbed his wrist. Blasted demon was a hell of a lot stronger than me. All I managed to do was slow the approach of those lethal claws. Once more, I had the feeling that another guided my hand as I punched the demon in the base of his neck. The force on my right hand let up. I rammed the clawed hand into the demon’s own eyes and brain. The demon fell to the floor. I bent at the waist, panting. The adrenaline seeped out, allowing me to feel my wounds more. I leaned against the wall. I gritted my teeth, then bit my tongue to keep the blackness at bay. Dearbhaile needs us, you pussy. Get going!

My left arm burned like fire. I pushed the pain back enough so I could enter the open door. Belial stood within as if he’d been waiting for me. Belial leered at me.

“Where is Dearbhaile?” I yelled.

“She’s… being taken care of.” He laughed. “You’re all alone Carter Blake. No Moment of Prescience, no Dearbhaile to rescue you. This time, I’m going to kill you.”

“Before, I might have needed them. I’m not the same person who surrendered to you to be your slave. I’ve grown.” I raised my sword, tilted my head to the left and right, making my vertebrae crackle. “Let’s dance, monkey.”

He snarled, showing off his black teeth, and charged. Our blades clashed, sending shockwaves through my arms. I tightened my grip, and pushed the steel against his snow white one. I knew he was stronger than me, and wanted him to push back harder.

The half-demon shoved hard. I ducked and at the same time, released my weapon which flew through the air behind me. As I hoped, his arms went over my head, leaving him flat footed. His sword arm was across his chest, and I was in perfect position. I punched him in the groin as hard as I could with both fists. All the air left his lungs in a rush. His grip slackened on the white sword which dropped. Mind blank, I snatched the longsword from the air, spun 180 degrees, and after spinning the weapon to a better grip, slammed the length into him.

The pure white blade sank into the half-demon’s chest like a hot knife into warm tallow. His jaw dropped as if he couldn’t believe what had just happened to him. I released the hilt of the sword which was heating fast. I stepped back and Belial crumpled to the ground. Seconds later, the wound caused by the white blade split open further, spilling out a flood of squirming maggots. I jumped back, trying not to puke in revulsion. The maggots soon evaporated, leaving a pulsating, silver blood-covered sapphire sphere. The sphere, as it pulsed like a beating heart, grew larger before my eyes, draining -something- from Belial’s corpse. The corpse looked more and more desiccated with every passing moment. Soon, a hollow husk was all that remained of Belial. The sapphire sphere pulsed faster and faster. Cracks formed in it, violet light streaming upwards. The sphere shattered into little pieces, leaving a huddled form lying on the ground. As the violet light faded, the form began to move.

The form soon showed itself to be a man curled in a fetal position. He rose to his feet and stood before me. He was about eighteen centimeters shorter than me and about the same in kilograms lighter. He had short brown hair, friendly brown eyes and a faint smile. To my discomfort, he was also nude. Before I could say anything, he looked down at himself, shook his head and caused clothes to appear on his body. He wore a faded blue chambray shirt tucked into sun lightened blue jeans stuck into travel battered leather boots with a pair of crossed gun belts slung low on his hips. Large revolvers with sandal wood grips were in the holsters. A faded bandanna was tied around his neck. He glanced back at me with his hands out to the sides as if asking for my approval of his dress. I noticed I got his eye color wrong. It wasn’t brown after all, but a faded blue color. He looked like the way I always pictured Roland Deschain of Gilead, from Stephan King’s The Dark Tower books.

I folded my arms across my chest and frowned. He looked back down at himself and shrugged. His clothing shimmered, and then changed again. When he looked up at me again, he had dark gray eyes, cinnamon colored hair in a ponytail and a Van Dyke beard. He wore a black three-piece suit with a lavender shirt. He was broader across the shoulders than I and a little narrower at the hips. His grin seemed to ask my opinion of his appearance this time. I shook my head, causing him to shrug again. This shrug seemed to say, “To hell with it.”

His cinnamon hair darkened to the color of fresh coffee, his shirt flashed to white and his eyes showed crimson for a moment before settling on hazel. He grinned at me again, wiggled his fingers at me in a wave and vanished in a flash of black tinged violet light.

I walked over to where the mysterious stranger had been birthed from a sapphire shell and picked up the sword I had used to kill the half-demon Belial, son of Lucien the Demon King and Zatanna the Lich Queen of Amcorath. The sword was no longer pure white. The blade had a faint outline of violet which only showed up when I moved the sword a particular way. The weapon also no longer sent waves of cold through my body, but felt warm to my touch. I turned to join the larger battle outside and discovered Lady Orwen standing in the doorway with a worried look on her face.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure, Carter, but I think he was Samhaine.”

“So?”

“He ruled the Pits before Lucien. It’s not good that you just freed him.”

I growled. “I was not about to allow Belial to get away with his crimes, Princess.” She blinked as she leaned away from me. I don’t think she was aware of it. I sighed and headed towards the door. I didn’t care for the look of wariness on her face, but bit my tongue. My head throbbed. “We need to find Keeper Dearbhaile.”

“Corath has already searched the tower. He found no sign of her. Carter, I think Drago has her.”

My jaw tightened. I stared at the floor for a few seconds as my heartbeat accelerated again. I gripped the hilt of the white blade so hard my knuckles creaked. I peered at Lady Orwen from under my eyebrows. “Looks like I’m going after her.”

“Where will you search?”

“Let’s ask a demon.”

“I don’t think any will be talkative, Carter. If we can even capture one.”

“I’ll make one talk.”

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. Chapter 14

“So, tell me about this crush you have on Rob, Danni.”

Danijela smiled. Her eyes sparkled before she closed them. “My crush on Mr. Worthington was merely my cover. It wasn’t real.” Rob muttered something. “Would you repeat that a little more clearly, Mr. Worthington?”

“No.”

She chuckled. “Smart man.”

Jennifer scratched her head. “Wait a minute. You said Rob has a butt a woman could sink her teeth into. I remember the look in your eyes then. That wasn’t a cover.”

Danijela chuckled. “Indeed. I always was a sucker for a nice ass.” She then slapped Rob’s rump, hard. His eyebrows shot up. Jennifer grinned and also slapped his butt.

“Hey now.” He glanced at the two women on either side of him. “If y’all keep that up, we won’t get anything done today.”

The women looked at one another, eyebrows raised, faces reddening, and burst out laughing. They bent at their waists, clutching their ribs. Rob watched for a moment, differing expressions at war on his face. Finally, he grinned, threw both fists into the air, and shouted, “Yes! I made you both laugh.” He turned and walked to the center of the Operations Center.

Stevenson met him part way across. He lowered his voice. “You have to see this, Rob.”

Rob’s right eyebrow quirked upward. This had to be big. Sam never used his first name. He followed the analyst without saying anything further. The young man sat in his swivel chair and called up an image on the monitor. It was the interior of the cave where Jennifer had spent the night. A dark shape was huddled near the ash pile left from her fire. Suddenly, the shape rose to its feet, revealing itself to be a gaunt man in a tan leather duster. Long, stringy hair covered his face. As they watched, he began to blink in and out of sight. Every time he returned to sight, he was closer to the camera. Within seconds, he was right in front of the camera. In a voice sounding like it came from a mouth filled with rotten garbage, came, “Ah! Ah! Ah!” In the next instant, it appeared that he had eaten the camera. The feed dissolved in a spray of static. The monitor suddenly leaped forward as if something within was trying to jump out. Stevenson leaped back and to his feet as the monitor landed on the floor. The men stared down at the screen.

“Um, w-what j-just hap-happened?” Stevenson stammered. His eyes bulged, and his fingers dug into his cheeks, pulling furrows into them. He flinched when Rob grabbed his shoulders. ‘Christ! His skin is like ice!’ Rob thought.

“Hey, Sam. Look at me,” he said softly. The younger man looked at him. “Tell me about the Fibonacci sequence.” He knew that was Stevenson’s favorite integer sequence and it would get his mind off of what just happened.

“The Fibonacci sequence is named after Leonardo of Pisa, who was known as Fibonacci. Fibonacci’s 1202 book Liber Abaci introduced the sequence to Western European mathematics, although the sequence had been described earlier in Indian mathematics,” Stevenson began.

“Very good, Sam. Keep going.” Rob turned to discover Danijela and Jennifer standing behind him. He wasn’t surprised. He took them by their arms and lead them a little way away. He quietly filled them on what had just happened. “I don’t get it. Do you think that was what had been following you, Kirei?”

She shrugged. “I have no idea. I never saw anyone, or anything, remember?”

The director interrupted. “Mr. Worthington, I will have an agent investigate this. In the meanwhile, you should begin Ms. Steel’s training.”

Rob sighed. He hated leaving things to other people. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Don’t call me ‘ma’am’. I’m only ten years older than you.”

“Would “Yes, sir” suffice?”

Danijela threw a stapler at him. “Cheeky bastard.”

Rob laughed as he ducked. “Let’s go, Kirei.”

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. Chapter 13

The mysterious man slunk into the cave. The bats ceased their rustling, sensing something unnatural about this being. The mice huddled tighter together in their burrow. The mysterious man ignored the rustling of bat wings, the click of tiny mice nails on stone, even the terrified squeaks of the cave’s denizens. He walked back and forth from the remains of the fire, to the few logs in the scattered pile. After several minutes of doing this, he knelt down in front of the ash pile. He then lay down in the exact spot Jennifer had slept in.

Jennifer Steel: Agent of the F.S.I.A. Chapter 12

A blond-haired, blue-eyed woman dressed in a beige pantsuit stood before them expectantly. Her chestnut hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail. She was shorter than Jennifer but seemed more imposing than the much larger Rob. A tentative smile slowly grew on Jennifer’s face as she stared at the tiny woman. Adrenaline dumped into her body, causing her heart to thump rapidly. Her skin tingled as the blood shot through her veins. Her eyes sparkled and flashed with happiness. She stepped forwards and pulled the little woman into a hug. “Oh, thank, god you’re okay, Danni.”

Danni patted her friend’s back. “Of course I am, my dear. Thank you for your concern. Though unwarranted, it is greatly appreciated.”

“I found your laptop, but it’s back in my car. I didn’t look inside.”

“Keep the computer. The Karo syrup will clean off rather easily. None was able to get to the insides because of the covering created by Mr. Stevenson. It should work perfectly. The password, incidentally, is the first 14 numbers of the Fibonacci sequence.”