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Jennifer Steel Chapter 18

His fist came to a halt inches from her face. His index finger flicked out and tapped her nose. “You know better than to sneak up on me, Kirei-chan.”

She wrinkled her nose in that cute way she had. “Sorry. I was entranced with your awkward dancing. Do you have seizures often?”

“It’s called a kata, as I’ve told you before.” He scowled.

Jennifer smiled. “You keep straining like that and you’re gonna crap yourself.”

He couldn’t help it, he started laughing. It was so much fun being around Jennifer. After a few seconds, he grew more serious. He looked her up and down, taking in the turquoise karategi and the tape in her hands. “Couldn’t figure out what to do with the tape, eh?” She shook her head. Rob plucked the roll from her fingers. “This is to help protect your joints, Kirei-chan. Hold out your hand.” She raised her right arm and he began to wrap the adhesive tape around her wrist and hand. When finished, it looked like she had a fingerless tape glove on her hand. As she flexed her hand, getting used to the new feeling, he told her to raise her other hand. Moments later, he had her left hand done as well and had moved down to her feet.

Jennifer sat on the floor to make it easier for him to wrap her feet and ankles. She stared at him when instead of rising to his feet after the taping was done, he began to caress her leg. He grinned at her and slid his hand further along her calf up to her thigh. When he lightly squeezed the back of her thigh with his thumb and index finger, she squirmed away, giggling.

Rob rose easily to his feet and held his hand out to her. She took it and allowed him to pull her to her feet. When she stood this close to him, her heart started to beat a little faster. He smelled so good; leather from the sheathe, Brut aftershave and a clean, masculine scent that seemed to be all his own. ‘If only I knew what he was thinking,’ she thought. ‘Then I might-’ She pushed the thought away. It wasn’t the time or place for thoughts like that. Rob positioned her so that she was a few feet away from him. She enjoyed his strong hands on various parts of her body: her legs as he adjusted her stance, her arms so they were ready to defend her and her waist as he tried to get her to relax. ‘I’ll never tell him that I find it hard to relax when his hands are on me like this.’

Rob shook his head. “It’s gonna hurt if you don’t loosen up.”

“I’m loose, let’s go.”

He nodded. “I’ll start slowly. Don’t worry about countering, or blocking. Just duck each swat. When we have increased to a sufficient speed, we’ll move forward, okay?”

“Ready.”

He delivered a long slow swing at her head. It came in so slowly, that she put up her arm as he’d taught her two weeks ago and lightly punched his chest. He raised his eyebrows and she scowled at him, daring him to say anything. Instead, he fired his left hand at her faster than she could see. His open hand tenderly touched her right cheek. She blinked as he grinned. ‘Point taken, Rob.’ Instead of continuing with the lesson, he instead stroked her cheek, lightly trailing his fingertips along her jaw and caressed her lips. ‘His fingers are so gentle. I like the roughness of his callouses. It’s manly.’ She looked into his eyes, trying to mask her thoughts. His pupils were dilated, making his eyes look black. Her breathing came a little quicker. He stepped forward and she took and answering step backward. He stepped forward and she retreated a step once more. They did this twice more, Rob’s grin growing each time.

“Kirei-chan,” he crooned. “Why are you retreating?”

“I’m not. I’m advancing to the rear.”

He paused, the words slowly trickling through his Jennifer filled brain. When they finally sank in, he guffawed. Once again, she had caught him off guard with her wit. She gazed at him, amusement and…something else dancing in them. He approached her again, but this time the wall of the training room was behind her, leaving no place for her to retreat. He stood so that his chest was brushing against hers. She tilted her head up to gaze into his eyes.

“Worth, what are you-”

He tilted his head down and slanted his mouth across hers, catching her with her lips parted. His mouth moved against hers, kissing her with an intensity she had never felt before. When his tongue slid into her mouth and lightly touched her own, she automatically wrapped her arms around his neck as she began to caress his tongue with her own. ‘He’s been eating blueberries,’ she thought briefly. His lips were firm, yet soft. Demanding, yet giving. His scent filled her nostrils as she held him tightly to her. Her pulse thrummed in her veins as she melted against him.

Rob pulled back a bit and began to rain feather light kisses along her jaw as she tried to catch her breath. He kissed his way around to her ear, nibbled it for a second, or two, then moved down the side of her neck. She held him tightly to her, nuzzling the side of his neck. Her breathing was short and shaky as adrenaline raced through her. She ran her hands through his hair, enjoying the silken softness of it. He nibbled the side of her neck before lightly biting it. Jennifer gasped as heat flooded her belly and spread outward. Shortly, Rob’s mouth returned to her lips. She pushed him back a bit and playfully kicked his shin. “What the hell, Worth? What are you doing?”

He chuckled. “You have to use every weapon at your disposal.”

She scowled, eyes narrowed. “Oh really?” She then kicked his shin a bit harder this time. It wasn’t enough to hurt him, she didn’t want that. He hopped up and down on his left leg, clutching his right shin and rubbing it.

“Ow, ow, ow! What the hell, Kirei?”

As he hopped, she stepped forward, gripped his right arm, pivoted into his body and flipped him over her shoulder with a judo throw he’d taught her last week. He slammed to the mat, hard, with the air knocked from his lungs. She stood over him, her hands on her hips. “How’s that for using every weapon at my disposal?”

He started laughing. Before he could formulate a response, Danijela’s voice sounded in the room.

“Mr. Worthington, we have a situation near Fort Avenue. Take your new recruit and investigate.”

“Roger that, Danni. What are the particulars?”

“According to the reports, it seems a wild dog attacked a jogger near the Koba Café. Local Leo’s are on scene. Be careful, you two.”

“Change up, Kirei. I’ll meet you back here in five minutes. There will be a tactical vest in your locker.”

“Roger that, Worth.”

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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.

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 11

Rob paced the operations center. “Have you found her yet?”

Stevenson shook his head, “Negatory, sir. Give me a little more time. She’ll pop up on camera shortly.”

Rob sighed and resumed his pacing. The director walked into the center and watched for a few seconds. Her eyes crinkled at the corners as her mouth curved slightly upward. When he turned to her, the director immediately straightened her face, but he still saw the twinkle of merriment in her eyes. “Still wearing the carpet bare, Mr. Worthington?”

He sighed and ran his fingers through his rumpled hair. He scanned the room, eyes not staying on any object for longer than an instant. “Jennifer isn’t showing up on any of the cameras, Director.”

She nodded. “Ah. So, you are worried about Ms. Steel. Do you believe her to be incapable of surviving?”

Rob’s forehead wrinkled and his brow drew downward. “What? Of course I don’t believe that! She is my friend, though. Not only that, but the supernaturals weren’t supposed to be able to contact her yet.”

“Yes. You have made a good point, Mr. Worthington. In that case, why don’t you use your considerable tracking skills to locate Ms. Steel and bring her back?”

Rob’s eyes widened. “Are you certain? What about the test?”

“Under the circumstances, I think it would be permissible to name the test as null and go with your original recommendation that Ms. Steel join.”

Rob smiled and turned to hurry out of the Ops Center. The director allowed him to get almost out of the room, before stooping him. “Mr. Worthington?”

He poked in her back in, eyebrows raised. “Yes, Director?”

“Bring our friend back safely.”

“Indeed.”

 

Rob strode the warm brown hall to the armory. He wanted to be properly outfitted in case Lilith was in a bad mood. Carter tended to have that effect on her. Rob shook his head. He did not envy the Walker of Worlds. The man had the power to slay deities and freely travel between universes, but he also had the responsibility of watching over trillions of lives across the same. That’s way over my pay grade. But there had been a time when it hadn’t been. Flashes of a different world and a woman with silver eyes played in his mind’s eye before he pushed them away. ‘Anila,’ he thought before pushing that away as well.

Arriving at the armory door, he placed his hand on the cold palm reader and leaned forward. A small green light waved over his retina as a blue one did the same to his palm. A computerized voice stated that he was cleared to enter.

“Of course I am. I wouldn’t be here otherwise,” he said.

As always, the computer did not respond. He grinned, thinking about what anyone would say upon hearing him talking to the computer. The heavy steel door slide up into a recess, allowing him entry. The backlit walls were lined with rows and rows of weapons. The rows closest to the doors were modern firearms from the Colt .25 pistol all the way up to the M72 light Anti-tank Weapon and FIM-92 Stinger missile system. Rob ignored them and headed further in. The next section held various martial arts and medieval weapons. He strode past bows, cross bows, javelins, swords and shields. Pole arms, blowguns and throwing weapons held no interest either.  Presently, he came to the very back of the armory. He stopped before a seemingly simple wooden door. This door however, was like the weapons within: magic.

Rob knocked three times on the door, paused, knocked twice more and waited. Soon a bright azure light played over his body. When it faded, the door swung open. A chill mist wafted from within. He shook his head. No matter how many dehumidifiers were placed inside, a mist always formed. He figured it must have been due to the magic being kept within.

The two-handed sword Glamdring hung on wall. Next to it were Icingdeath and the double-edged Blade of Evil’s Bane. On the opposite side of the room were the katana Tenseiga, the purple flesh covered broadsword Soul Edge and the mace Sharur. Gungnir, Mjolnir, Tonbogiri and the Runestaff hung from the ceiling. Rob strode past display cases holding the Sword of Truth, Mace of Cuthbert, Hammer of Kharas, the Dagger of Time, Soul Reaver and the Sword of Omens. He stopped before a dark wooden case in the shape of a pentagon. It had mystic symbols carved over the entirety of its surface. Despite this, it felt smooth and slightly slippery under his hand. He raised the lid and was hit with a wave of cold air. Rob ignored the arctic blast and fully raised the lid. He waved the vapor away impatiently and looked with reverence at what was within.

It was a blue crystalline bastard sword. The blade was a double fuller, lenticular design. The cross-guard was curved slightly towards the blade, the grip was of onyx and wrapped with golden wire in a chain link pattern, the pommel was a clear gem. Legend held that if this sword was used for evil, the gem would capture the wielder’s soul on his death. The sword rested on a bed of crushed red velvet next to its scabbard. The scabbard had been made by hand by Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. He had made it from the wood of an Elder tree and wrapped in the skin of a Nukekubi, a vicious human-like monster whose head detached from its body. Legends didn’t say who created the actual sword.

It was the third most powerful weapon in the armory, yet it was his favorite. The crystal sword fit him like it had been made for his hand. He reverentially lifted the blade and held it up to the light. The harsh white light of the fluorescent tubes was softened and diffused by the azure blade. He smiled as he stared at it. It had been two years since he last held this weapon. As he exited the armory, he passed a large sword embedded in a block of granite. Looks like the director finished with Excalibur.

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. Chapter 10

Jennifer sat on the cold stone floor of the cave. Further in than she wanted to go, she could hear small animals scurrying around. The smoke from her bonfire kept larger animals away. The fire crackled and popped as she stared into the orange and white flames. The heat dried her eyes and made her cheeks prickle, but she didn’t want to move further back. She blinked her eyes rapidly, trying to keep them moist. A cool wind swept into the cave and swirled the smoke into her face. She coughed hard, and spat excess saliva into the fire. After several minutes of staring into the fire, she yawned. Seconds later, she raised her arms out from her body in a stretch, closing her eyes as she yawned again. Her eyes heavy, her head began to sag forward. She jerked her head up, only to have it slide forward once more.  Soon, her head rested on her knees and gentle snores filled the air.

A large white wolf slunk over to the sleeping woman and sniffed her. It showed its teeth for a moment, lapped her cheek, then flopped down. The lupine rested its head on its paws, and watched the cave opening.

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. Chapter 9

Rob glanced at the carbon fiber face of his Black Seal MTM watch. Jennifer had been gone for over two hours. It was only supposed to take forty-five minutes. He sighed and looked at his friend. The blond woman smiled back and shook her head. “It’s too soon, Rob. You know the deadline is three hours,” she said in a cultured British accent.

“No one has ever taken that long!” He rubbed his forehead. He was developing a headache.

“You worry too much. You know she can do this. You wouldn’t have recruited her otherwise.”

“I worry too much? Have you forgotten about Mary?”

She shook her head, curls flying. “No. She was an aberration, remember. There was no way for you to know she was a half.”

A rumble of laughter came from the senior man. “Other than the nihilism, you mean?”

“Nietzsche was a human. Hard to get more nihilistic than him.”

“Okay. Fair point.”

A yellow light began pulsing. A second later, a small siren began to “wheep” softly. A young man hurried up. He carried a tablet computer in his hands and had a hands free communicator in his ear. “Mr. Worthington, we have a problem.”

“What is it, Mr. Stevenson?”

Stevenson swallowed hard. He hated to be the bearer of bad news. Especially the kind like this. “Um, the Walker of Worlds is there. He spoke with Ms. Steel and he knows she has his sword.” As he spoke, Stevenson sidled closer to the door. He didn’t want to be around when Rob blew up.

Rob sighed and ran his fingers through his dark hair. He shook his head, and looked down at the floor. “Just what we don’t need. Now I have to go in.”

The blond woman touched his arm. “You do and she gets disqualified. Those are the rules.”

Rob sighed. “Damn it.” He looked up, but didn’t see the Ops tech. “Stevenson!” he barked.

The young man poked his head cautiously back into the room. “Yes, sir?”

“Give me a sitrep.”

He nodded and tapped the tablet a few times, then pushed his finger towards the 15 foot viewing screen to Rob’s left. Rob and the blond woman turned and watched Carter confront Lilith and Jennifer running off. Rob sighed again. He hated when things went off the rails like this.

“Alright. We will continue to wait. I recommend that we terminate the countdown under the circumstances.”

The blond woman nodded. “Agreed. Mr. Stevenson, make it so.”

The young man tilted his head and tapped again at the tablet. “Done, Director.”

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. Chapter 8

Jennifer slowly came to, dimly aware that her legs were cold. Damn it. I kicked the blankets off again. She hated when she did so. Why do I end up kicking off my blankets every time I hang out with Rob, and why is it so irritating? She reached to punch her pillow, which was feeling oddly hard, and came fully awake when her hand hit the cold stone.

“Ow. Fucker.”

She sat up in a hurry. A quick look down her body had conflicting emotions running through her. One the one hand, she was dressed; in a shift, it appeared, but still dressed. The worst part was the knowledge that someone had undressed her to put this on her. She felt…violated. Goddamnit, I’m gonna fuck up whoever took liberties with me while I was out. Her eyes went wide, and she reached between her legs. No soreness, but… What the fuck?! She leaped to her feet. Where’s my fucking panties?!

Jennifer whirled around and saw that one candle had burned down and been replaced with a fresh one. The shift was a finely woven fabric of some type and belted with a golden rope around her hips. On her feet were a pair of soft leather boots that came up to mid-calf. Her sword was laying on the bed in a dark leather sheath. She picked it up and examined it. The baldric was belted for someone much larger than she was. After several minutes of fiddling with the straps, she figured out how to loosen and tighten them. She slipped the baldric over her right shoulder so she could draw the sword with her right hand, and tightened the straps. When it was comfortable, she headed out the wooden door near the recliner.

Outside, she found herself in a soaring pine forest. She stalked along a path, cussing under her breath, vowing to tear the clothes thief a new one. Crickets made their reedy music, and a tawny wood owl screeched in victory as it caught a field mouse. She marveled at its beauty for a moment, and then lifted her face, letting the light and shadow dance across her skin. Bees hummed in and out of a cluster of wild rose bushes. A quick bend at the waist to inhale their perfume before hurrying on, and delighting at the sound of her boots crunching pine needles underfoot. Not too far away, she could hear a creek chuckling as it tumbled over different levels of rocks. It wasn’t long before it became visible through the trees. Jennifer decided to walk towards the creek. As she walked, she startled a pair of rabbits. She didn’t get to see much as they streaked out of sight, just a flash of long ears and twin streaks of brown fur. She felt a smile spread across her face as she continued. She’d never seen wild rabbits before. Not paying attention to the path, she brushed up against the rough bark of an immense pine, and getting sticky pine tar on her bare arm. Brushing the white tar only succeeded in spreading it further along her arm. She scowled at the mess, hating the tacky feel of it. A noise above her caused her to look up and forget all about the pine tar on her arm. A pair of grey squirrels chased each other through the tree branches, leaping boldly from limb to limb, sending a shower of needles and twigs down on her. She found herself giggling like a little girl at their antics. Why am I giggling? I’m supposed to be pissed.

Something about the forest path – what, she didn’t know – pulled the anger out of her, leaving her more at peace. What the hell is going on with me? For some reason, even that worry faded away. A soft, warm wind began to blow across her face and playfully toss her hair across her eyes. While she walked across the rich, loamy, black earth, long blades of grass caressed her bare legs. Birds resumed twittering in the treetops. The insects never bothered to stop their humming.

The ground became softer and wetter as she approached the banks of what turned out to be a wide river. Soon, Jennifer came to the edge of the running water. It was a beautiful blue, perfectly reflecting the clear sky above. As her gaze roamed the stretch of waterway, she could see that the river grew swifter about fifty feet further down. She made her way to it, the sound of a waterfall building in volume as she got closer. She soon found herself on a rocky outcropping far above a plunge pool, with a white, frothy cascade of water diving all the way down to it. A cool mist landed on her skin, beading up and then running down her limbs as far below, a deer drank from the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. A flat boulder rose up from the center of the plunge pool, its sun-baked surface drawing her on like a cat to a sunny window seat. She absently wiped spray from her cheeks as she contemplated her sudden desire to dive in to the pool below.

Jennifer leaned towards the waterfall, her lips parted, breathing faster and shallower. Her cheeks were flushed, and she wore a big grin of anticipation. She practically vibrated with excitement. Her lips shone as she unconsciously  continually licked them. I’m gonna do it! She took three giant steps backward, stopped, and then raced forward and dove off the outcropping of rock.

“Yaaaaa-hoooooo!” she yelled as she fell.

She arched her back, swept her arms forward and executed a perfect swan dive into the plunge pool at the base of the waterfall. Ignoring the sound of thousands of gallons of water thundering into the pool, Jennifer pushed to the surface, taking a huge breath as she broke it. She threw a triumphant fist into the air, laughing giddily at the same time.

“Yes! That was amazing! I wish Rob had seen that!”

Now why the hell did I say that? She mused, dropping her arm.

She swam to the boulder in the middle of the pool and pulled herself up onto it. She slid her fingers through her wet hair, slicking it back. She then lay back on the sun warmed boulder and looked up at the clear blue sky. She enjoyed the gentle heat of the sun as it warmed her and pulled the moisture from her skin and drenched clothing. The scent of the water saturated air, combined with the smell of rich earth and green, growing things further served to relax her.

Suddenly, the wind began to pick up, kicking a fine spray of grit over Jennifer’s body. At the same time, the light hairs on her arms and the nape of her neck stood straight up. She felt dizzy as if she had twirled in place. Chills danced up her spine and down her arms as she unknowingly bit at her lower lip and cleared her throat. Her mouth went dry as she sat up and looked around her. She could see nothing, but her legs were growing tense as if she wanted to start running. She stood, tears falling unnoticed down her cheeks. She abruptly turned and dove into the water, swimming for the shore. Oddly, the water felt colder and thicker as if it wanted to keep her from reaching the safety of the shore. She finally scrambled from the water and backed away from the water which suddenly seemed dark and sinister. Jennifer wrapped her arms tightly about her body as she shook uncontrollably and gasped for air.

A cold, white mist grew above the surface of the plunge pool. The animal and insect sounds faded away. The smell of earth grew stronger as the mist grew thicker. Jennifer back around a tree and continued to watch. A bank of fluffy, greenish-black clouds formed near the center of the boulder she had sunned herself on just moments ago. The clouds began to spiral up and into a vaguely humanoid form. A bolt of lightning struck the center of the clouds, leaving a bluish after image on her vision and the smell of ozone in her nostrils. Jennifer was surprised when she wasn’t deafened by thunder. Air, superheated by the lightning bolt seconds ago, exploded outward, nearly deafening her. She cringed, having never been so close to a lightning strike before.

Blinking away tears of pain, and the after images of the bolt, Jennifer looked back at the boulder in the center of the waterfall’s plunge pool. Standing confidently on the rock was a statuesque, curvy woman. She had long, thick rich red-orange hair, long sable lashes, and ice blue eyes. Her face was perfectly symmetrical and flawless. She had firm, up thrust breasts, a line outlining her abdominal muscles, and a defined “V” shape where her abs descended to her pubis, which had no hair. There was a very evident inward curve to the outline of her body at her waist and a sharp flare outward at her hips. She had muscular, yet feminine legs and delicate feet. Poking up above her shoulders were a folded pair of bat-like wings, the fingers of which were black.

“Come here, child,” the creature said in a soprano voice.

Jennifer unconsciously checked that her sword was loose in its sheathe by lifting it a bit with her thumb and letting it drop back. I have three options: I can run, I can go talk to her, or I can attack. After a few seconds of deliberation, she gave a heavy sigh and approached the creature with dragging feet. She nibbled on her bottom lip as she approached the bank of the pool of water. The winged creature snapped her wings out, showing an impressive span. She flapped them slowly at first, then more rapidly. She gently rose into the air, the downdraft causing wavelets to ripple away from the boulder. Shortly, the creature was settling gracefully to the ground before Jennifer.

“What are you?” she said in a strained voice.

“I am Lilith, the Mother.”

“Mother of what?”

Lilith gave a small smile. “All.”

Jennifer’s right eyebrow arched upward. “Are you trying to get me to believe that you are the Eve from the Christian bible?”

Lilith shook her head. “No, Jennifer, my dear. I’m informing you that I am the one all Abrahamic religions call Eve. You may believe what you wish.”

“Rob says religions are make believe.”

“Rob? Is he your mate?”

“Oh god, no. We’re just friends.”

Lilith chuckled. “Have it your way.” She suddenly got serious. “I have a favor to ask of you.”

“What kind of favor?” Jennifer asked suspiciously.

“A helpful one. Now listen: Not too far from here is a gem. It is in the shape of a clenched fist. It looks like it is made from a blue-white diamond, but it is really a different kind of mineral; one not found on your world. I need you to get it and hand it to me.”

“That’s it?”

Lilith nodded her head. “That’s it.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“I can give you your heart’s desire. The one you won’t even admit to yourself.”

Long association with Rob made her say, “The question is: Will you do so?”

“Yes, I wi—”

“Don’t trust her Jennifer!” a man’s voice thundered.

Jennifer and Lilith turned to the new comer. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man with long and thick black hair. He had dark eyes, high cheek bones and a wide jaw which was covered with dark stubble as if he hadn’t shaved that morning. Thick arms were folded across a massive chest, clad in a silvery, purple-green colored, form-fitting armor. Across his forehead was a band of the same color of his armor. He looked regal, deadly, and intimidating. When Lilith saw him, her face contorted into a snarl of black rage. Her breathing picked up as she shook. “Carter!” she spat.

“L’Arc,” he responded, his eyes flinty.

“What are you doing here?”

“My job.”

Jennifer blinked and the mysterious man appeared, sword raised to chop, behind the winged female who vanished from sight. She reappeared several feet away, facing him once more.

Jennifer began to slowly back away. She had no idea who this Carter individual was, but she had no desire to get between him and the winged woman. Lilith growled and hissed, but made no move to follow. Jennifer backed into a tree, causing the sheathe of the white sword to knock against the trunk. Without taking his eyes off Lilith, he spoke to Jennifer. “Don’t lose my sword and only use it if you have no other recourse.”

Jennifer turned and fled, running nearly blind through the woods.  She ignored the brush scratching her bare legs, the tug of mud on her boots and spider webs breaking over her face. She leaped over a foul-smelling stagnant pond, startling squirrels  – which leaped up tree trunks – and a red fox that scurried into a hollow under a mighty pine tree’s roots. Fallen evergreen needles crunched underfoot, releasing their clean scent into the air. The light was fading, creating new shadows and dark patches around her. The wind sighed between distorted trunks, carrying the sickly odor of wood rot. She ran faster, ignoring the briars that caught at her shift, and the damp leaves griming her skin.

Her headlong rush was brought to an undignified end moments later when her foot slipped in some dark mud. She belly-flopped on the ground and slid partly into a stream, getting scrapped by the rocks and wet from the cold water. The sudden impact drove the wind from her lungs with a pained grunt. She immediately rolled off her wounded middle to her side. She curled around the stinging pain, trying to get it under control. Her breath shuddered painfully in her sore lungs. After several painful moments, she rolled to her belly again and pushed herself up on her hands and knees. Her limbs trembling with the effort, she pushed herself upright. She pulled up the soaked shift and hissed at the sight of the scrapes on her legs and the developing bruise on her abdomen.

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. (chapter 4)

On the other side of the door, lit only by her flashlight, was an almost empty room. Dusty cobwebs clung to sheet-covered objects. A table, split in two by the weight of a fallen chandelier, lay in the middle of the floor where it had died. The faint odor of decayed mouse turds floated up, disturbed by her footsteps. A floorboard creaked wetly under her weight.

The beam of light swept over the walls, revealing peeling, faded wallpaper, and lathing strips poking through the plaster like the ribs of a starving man. A nearby door hung drunkenly from one hinge. Jennifer slowly walked further into the room, nerves stretched taut.

Glass crunched underfoot, causing her to start. She paused to catch her breath. The sound of a blade being sharpened reached her ears. It seemed to be coming from the next room. She cocked the hammer back on the USP, and carefully slipped passed the door.

The dancing light revealed a grandfather clock in a far corner, a cold fireplace, rodent chewed chaise lounges across from the cold hearth, and a pair of antique rocking chairs on either side of a sagging bookcase with moldy books. She stepped closer, and heard a music box tinkling softly. She moved the light around, but couldn’t find it.

A baby began to cry further in. Her heart dropped like a stone in her chest as it became the sound of a young child shrieking in terror. The beam of light shot around the area in jerky motions as she frantically looked for the source. The child’s voice morphed into the screams of a young woman.

Jennifer raced into a hallway and up a rickety set of stairs when the screams became the voice of an old man gasping for air. At the landing, a door slammed shut with a horrific boom, cutting off the noises. She whipped the gun around, biting back a gasp of fear. Her stomach was hard as a rock. She slowly headed down the short hallway, trying the differing doors. Each was locked.

“Danni?” She whispered.

Near the end of the corridor, she spotted a dusty mirror. She brushed away some of the dust, and glanced at her reflection. A pallid, and sweaty countenance stared back at her. She took a deep breath. ‘Get a hold of yourself, girl.’ She took another breath, closing her eyes. A stealthy sound from behind her made her eyes open wide.

A shadowy figure slipped down from the ceiling. As if it realized it was being watched, it looked into the mirror. A black-haired, pale-faced man with black circles under his eyes stared at Jennifer. His eyes flew open and his mouth opened. A horrible rasping sound came from him. It sounded like he was being choked under water.

The noise galvanized Jennifer into movement. She whirled, screaming. The USP thundered three times, tearing apart the darkness with flashes of lightning as she fell to the floor. The dropped flashlight rolled on the floor, illuminating the hallway.

It showed… nothing. The hall was empty except for her dusty footprints.

“Remember, Utsukushī*, trigger discipline is the second most important thing to remember when handling a gun.”

 

*beautiful

Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. (Chapter 1)

Jennifer pulled up to the rusty gates of the abandoned amusement park and shut off the engine of her tan Isuzu Rodeo. She gazed through her windshield at the dark land. A derelict rollercoaster, with a couple of cars frozen at the peak of a drop, was silhouetted against the moon. Her eyes trailed the forlorn ruin, noting the sections of missing track. She shook herself and glanced around outside her truck once more. There was no sign of her friend. ‘That’s odd. Danni is more punctual than this. I’m the late one to our meeting places.’
She pulled her phone out to check the text requesting the meeting here again.

‘Jen, meet me at the old FunZone Amusement park at 8pm. I have something you’ll want to see.’

The cell chirped, and the screen when dark. “Damn it. I forgot to charge. Grrr,” she said. She leaned over to the glove box and felt around. Her fingers slid over crumpled parking tickets, napkins, a dried out doughnut, and the cool metal of the handgun her friend Rob had given her. He’d called it a USP Tactical and said it was easy to hide. She leaned over and attempted to look into the glove compartment, but it was too dark to see inside. She reached out and opened the passenger side door. The dome light came on as the sound of crickets entered. The gun blocked her view of the inside, so she pushed it aside. No charger. ‘Shit. I must have forgotten to grab it on my way out the door this morning.’
Jennifer sighed, and pulled the door shut. At the same time, she slammed the glove box shut. She got out and glanced around. The wind moved through the woods, shaking tree branches, and making shadows dance in the moonlight. Still no sign of her best friend. An owl hooted, making her jump. She leaned against the truck, her hand over her racing heart. A rhythmic squeaking caught her attention. When she glanced back to the interior of the amusement park, something darted by. The sudden movement in her peripheral vision caused her to turn to look, as her breath caught in her chest. Her gasp turned into a brief coughing fit.
She regained control of her breathing, and opened her truck once more. She reached under the seat and grabbed the flashlight. As she turned it on, she registered what she’d done, and smacked herself on the forehead. ‘I could have used this when looking for my charger. Dummy.’ She shone the light in the direction of the movement, and became aware the crickets no longer made a sound. The flashlight swung in short, quick arcs, following the motion of her eyes. She took a slow step back. The crunch of gravel underfoot seemed like miniature explosions to her sharpened senses. A wolf howled, startling her. She screamed and dropped her light which broke on the ground.
‘Shit.’ She squatted, gathering the pieces in the moonlight. ‘Get a hold of yourself. If you can handle being attacked by a couple of hood rats, you can handle a wolf howling in the distance.’ The hood rats in question had intended her to be their initiation into the local order of the Four-Nines, a ruthless gang of drug runners. She’d surprised the young girls by being more vicious than they, and as they put it, “Not fighting fair.” Two on one was fair game, though, it seemed. As Rob had taught, a quick knee to the groin of the closer girl had persuaded her to lose interest in continuing. A short jab to the voice box had made the other one lose interest as well, also as he’d instructed.
Jennifer reassembled the flash, and flicked the switch. Nothing. ‘Did I put the batteries in right?’ She removed the top and reversed them. This time the flashlight came on. At the same time, something heavy thumped onto the roof of the truck. She whipped the light up to see what made the noise. The air left her lungs in a rush as an enormous black wolf was revealed. The animal’s eyes glowed yellow in the beam. The wolf’s upper lip curled up, showing gleaming fangs as it snarled at her. Woman and wolf stared at each other for an unknown amount of time. Their standoff ended when she took a slow step back. The sound of gravel being compacted under her foot caused the wolf to spring at her.
She screamed, and threw her arms over her face, certain she was going to die.