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The only one whom I actually allowed to have my work on his website is Armaell who invested the time to compile them into pdf.
“One event causes another, till eternity.”
- The Journey to the Afterlife
***Kingdom Newerth, Capital City***
“Why should I pay a criminal for telling me where his hideouts are?” I ask in confusion. The more I learn about Seria, the more questions I have. And I have a strong feeling that it will only get worse.
“You are seeing it in the wrong light. Just imagine it as paying a foreign intelligence service for their info. Countries do that all the time in exchange for certain favours. In this case, the favour is a hefty sum of money.” Seria points towards the left. “Second road, left. Then we are there.”
I manoeuvre around two wrecked cars which weren't yet removed from the street. Using my car to get around the destroyed Tandeen district may not have been the best choice in my life. I flick my eyes to the now empty houses. In the centre of the battle zone, the destruction is almost complete, but by moving closer to the outskirts of the prohibited area the destruction lessens drastically. We are currently searching an area which shows almost no signs of battle.
If it wasn't for the occasional abandoned car, nobody would suspect that there was a battle at all. Except for the blood stains. The clean-up crews still have a lot of work to do, but at least the main streets are almost free of bodies. Such a waste of lives.
“Stop here,” Seria informs me and I stop. Then I use the car's radio to inform the DF of our position. A raspy, male voice answers and confirms that reinforcements are close.
Once that's done, I get out and follow Seria who went ahead. She studies the map, turning it, tilting her head.
“Is there a problem?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “No, I am just thinking about the best way to approach this hideout. It's the most promising one. That's why we stopped a little farther away. We don't want to wake up those... things.”
I study her face. She is carefully concentrating her attention on the map, avoiding to look at me. I frown. “Then why did we stop at the previous five hideouts after we shared the coordinates with the DF?”
She folds the map neatly and pulls on the neckline of her clothes to hide the map in her cleavage. “Because the hideouts were on the way. And because we had to ensure the validity of the information we got. Why did your brother refuse to move the DF after gaining such information? I would have expected the whole army to move in to check every location.”
She is right. “I am not as deeply involved in the DF as my brother. There may be logistical problems. His reasoning that he would have to leave other parts of the district unguarded isn't false. I heard my father cursing several times, complaining about the lack of people, and the area we have to cover.”
I think back on the conversation I had with my brother over the radio. It was short and precise, like always when we talk to each other. The fact that we are half brothers always left a rift between us. My mother also never managed to fulfil her role and always managed to make it clear that her own children always come before Perseus. Though I would like to think that we can tolerate each other, even though his behaviour towards women ticks me off.
Seria tilts her head, looking at the sky. Then her attention returns to me. “Logistical problems? Sure. Marcus, your eyes are stuck. Quit staring.”
I force my eyes towards her face and smile. “In my defence, I didn't think about what you think I thought. I am simply of the opinion that going by your previous fighting records, putting the map there,” I point at her boobs, “provides probably the least safety for such a valuable document.”
She looks down on her chest, then back at me and squints her eyes. “Well played.”
Without further consideration, she turns away and stalks towards our destination. She guides me along a narrow side street, leaving the main road. On the other side of the block, all my senses scream that something is wrong. Reaching out, I stop her. Then I step in front of her so that her scent doesn't interfere with my senses.
It's remarkable that she adapted so quickly to the knowledge about my ability. She even thought about approaching our target against the wind. The corner of my mouth twitches upwards. That will make her even harder to track in the future.
I breathe in deeply through my nose and my mouth, using my tongue to taste the miasma which is filling the air.
“Something wrong?” Seria asks from behind me.
“Definitely,” I answer and pull out my cell phone, dialing the number for the provisional DF-HQ. It doesn't even ring once before it clicks, informing me that the call was answered. I don't give the one on the other end a chance to talk. “Marcus here. Tell Perseus and his people that the position I last reported from is hot. We need a few divine here. Don't send anyone under demigod rank. They are just cannon fodder for those things.”
“Understood. The staff and the general will be informed immediately.” Whoever answered my phone hangs up and I return the phone to my pocket.
Seria is looking at me with raised eyebrows, so I elaborate. “I smell those things. Several of them. The stench of chaos and spirit is overwhelming. And I smell death and rotting corpses. Many. The only time I remember such a smell was when I got too close to a mass grave after a small village was hit by a spirit attack.”
My eyes wander up and down Seria's body. She is wearing a grey tunic with wide trousers, traditional style. Easy to move in and more sturdy than the modern, silky stuff which got torn when she helped me to save my brother and Adea.
“Should we go and take a look?” Seria asks, eyebrows still raised.
I nod and take the lead. This time I follow my nose instead of Seria's directions. The stench guides me out of the alleyway, across the street and into a small garden. I take the fence with a single leap and approach the house which seems to be an old hotel. But instead of towards the house, the now unmistakable tracks of residing mana lead to an overgrown area in the garden. The area is covered with plants and bushes. The growth looks close to an untouched forest, confirming that this place wasn't taken care of for years.
Fighting my way into the bushes, I find an old stone pavement with a recently cleared out trapdoor. There are broken branches all around the entrance. I allow Seria to inspect the trapdoor while I message our exact position to the DF.
“I think I don't want to go down there. Can we blow everything up from up here?” She asks, sniffing at the door. “Gods, that smells awful, what's down there?”
Wrinkling my nose, I confirm my previous assumptions. “Those things, rotting corpses, death and evil magic. Why is there even a hideout like this in the middle of the town?”
Seria grabs her hair, inspecting it with concern. “If I go down there, the stench won't come off even after several showers. And magic isn't evil, the users are. And according to Don's documents that's one of the city's old drainages. The rainwater has to go somewhere.
“A ladder should go down ten metres from the entrance. Then, a short distance down the narrow tunnel is a cistern which is supposed to hold the water. The cistern is big, about fifty metres in width and a hundred metres in length. The ceiling should be ten metres high. Perfect hideout as long as it doesn't rain too much. The documents say that this is the only entrance, unless you can crawl through ten centimetre pipes to get in or out.”
I snort. Whoever wrote that report definitely suffered from paranoia. But that helps us now. “So if we go down there and take a look, nothing can get past us. We just have to stay at the entrance?”
Seria's eyes widen. “Or we stay up here, don't crawl down into that pit, and wait until the DF arrives? And if anything comes out of that hole, we behead it.”
“Where is the fun in that?” I bend down and open the trapdoor. The miasma from earlier wafts out of the hole and I have to fight the instinct to retch. Seria jumps backwards, waving her hand in front of her face. “By everything that's holy!”
Grinning, I jump down and summon a magelight. I land with a splash in shallow water and mud. Blue light fills the narrow tunnel which doesn't even allow for two persons to stand side by side.
The stench of rot, death and excrements is so strong that I even attempt to breathe through my mouth, protecting my nose. But the horrible odour attacks my sense of taste, leaving me only with the ability to choose between two bad options.
After taking two steps into the tunnel, I hear Seria landing behind me and I turn around. “This place is flooded. Doesn't seem like a comfy hideout if the water is coming in, even though it didn't rain in the last week.”
Seria whines. “My shoes! And that's not water!”
I bring the magelight closer to the ground and have to admit that she is right. It's blood. Someone was very busy down here. Steeling my resolve, I pour more power into the magelight and walk down the corridor, creating splashing sounds with each step.
Just a few metres further, we arrive in the cistern where I force my magelight to shine even brighter. Despite all the power I pour into the spell, the light seems to be sucked away, penetrating the darkness for only a few metres.
What the light reveals makes the hairs on my neck stand on end. The walls are painted with runes of blood. A few metres into the cistern is a dry island with a big magical circle painted onto the ground, also in blood. I immediately recognize the workings of a portal spell.
And there are bodies, piles of them. Men, women and children were carelessly thrown on top of each other, to power the spell with blood magic.
“Crap!” My voice sounds loud through the cistern, even though I spoke very quietly.
“You have a serious case of critter infection in your city. I've never heard about spirits like that, but if they have enough intelligence to create a portal, then they promise trouble. And boy, those things are ugly!” Seria's voice sounds loudly behind me. She speaks as if her eyes are able to penetrate the darkness.
And then the dark which isn't penetrated by my magelight moves. All of it. There must be dozens of them down here!
An ugly, vaguely zombie-like thing flies out of the dark and I block its claws just in time with a barrier. My barrier reverses the kinetic energy of all approaching objects, which results in the zombie's unspectacular return to where it came from.
Seria raises her hand and a mote of white light shoots at the circle on the ground, carving it up and rendering it useless.
I raise my second hand to start weaving more wards and barriers into the first one, adding layer over layer as the cistern lights up with magic. Whatever these things are, they can cast spells and have no qualms in using their ability.
Magical attack spells waver over the sphere of defence which I created around Seria and me. Some dark energy sparks through my defensive web and Seria dispels it with a wave of her hand, pushing the spell away from us by releasing a wave of pure mana. “Sneaky bastards! Set up something against rune curses!”
I do as told and create a small opening in our defence as Seria throws something like a life-curse at our enemies. I've never before seen someone use life magic as a curse, but whatever she did was effective.
The magical energies between us and our enemies are woven so tightly that direct observation is impossible, but the resulting wailing crescendo of pain goes hand in hand with a lessening of the magical power which is thrown against us.
Both of us retreat back into the tunnel and towards the exit. The things don't follow and we hurry back to the surface, their wailing screams still echo from the hole in the ground when we are back in the light. But it's getting dark. Maybe half an hour, then those things will try to come to the surface, assuming that they really don't like the light.
“What did you throw at them?” I ask, slamming the trapdoor shut. Not that it will stop them for more than a second when they do decide to follow us.
“A healing hex which jumps from person to person, using their own energy to heal them. They looked mighty sick and unhealthy. Of course the hex is set to heal damaged nerve tissue first,” Seria answers, trying to clean her shoes in the grass.
I start laughing. “How cruel does someone have to be in order to devise a spell like that. It sounds like it was originally devised for torturing prisoners.”
Seria smiles and twirls her hair between her fingers, smiling. “It was, but it also seems to work great on those zombie things. The ones down there looked much worse than the ones who attacked the students. We might have to deal with more than one lair.” A smile steals itself onto her face. “At least I understand now why they call you a fortress.”
That makes me shut up. “Or they only send out the new, healthy ones, while the sick are working on the circle. We still have to find out how they turned the civilians.”
We are interrupted by a small army of DF soldiers showing up, including my brother. They swarm around us, their eyes fixed on the entrance from which we can still hear the howls of pain.
Perseus walks up to me, my father and my mother close behind him. That surprises me since my father normally doesn't involve himself with DF matters. He gave most of his responsibilities to Perseus.
I nod in greeting at them. “You are coming just in time. The situation down there has to be contained...” I quickly fill them in and forgo the fine speech, using the last minutes of light to prepare them not to take the situation lightly.
Once that's done, Charles pats my shoulder and nods towards Perseus and his men. They listened in on the conversation. Armoured with the knowledge of what to expect, they descend into the hole and moments later the sounds of fighting start.
“Well done. Thank you for using your exceptional tracking skills. There is no telling what could happen if they open yet another portal. I'll order more troops into the city, even if it means less security for other towns. This situation has to be controlled at all costs.”
I purse my lips. “Well, I didn't find their hideout alone. Seria was a great help!”
“And my shoes suffered the price. The blood will never come out,” Seria complains and drops her shoes into the grass. They are normal everyday shoes, but their pattern and colour scheme matched Seria's hair. At least before she walked through ankle deep blood. “I would rather go barefoot than submerse my feet in gore until I get home.”
Clarity chuckles, “The DF is setting up a provisional base with cleaning facilities. You two can get cleaned up there. We will take it from here. The spirits are changing their behaviour, so we have to study this lair and learn everything we can.”
Since both of us aren't presentable, we excuse ourselves and follow one of the soldiers to a small camp which formed around one of the intact buildings. I am a little peeved when Seria disappears into the closed off women's area to shower.
Sighing, I hurry to get myself cleaned up. Then I return to the spot where Seria and I split up. Not finding her there, I assume that she needs more time, so I head back to the site in order to give my parents a more detailed update of what we encountered.
Clarity and Charles are greatly worried about these new developments, just like me. In the end I realize that I spent a lot of time discussing the new situation with them. Perseus and his crew cleaned out the lair some time ago and everyone who's left are guards and scientists who are picking the whole place apart.
A look at my clock tells me that I haven't seen Seria since one and a half hours. I have to escort her home. Concentrating on her scent, I follow her trail back to the showers where we separated. As I assumed, she isn't there. It would make no sense for her to stand around and wait. Surely she went exploring.
I follow the trail which leads to the canteen for the soldiers where it mingles with something that I recognize as Perseus's mana. Quickening my steps I follow their trails towards the trailers which double as living quarters for the DF commanders.
There I catch them in front of the general's trailer. Perseus's trailer. He has the door opened and his hand on Seria's back. She is smiling at him in the same stupid way all women do once they spend time with my brother.
I wish she would smile like that at me. Why is it always him who gets chosen in the end? Don't they realize that they are just another conquest to him?
Perseus raises his hand to Seria's cheek, stroking it. Then he trails his fingers down her neck and her expression relaxes even more. He whispers something and his fingers wander along her collarbone towards...
My heart cringes and I raise my voice, anger welling up inside me. “Perseus! Seria!”
The strange, fluffy atmosphere between them breaks. Perseus's head flicks towards me and Seria's complacent smile is wiped from her face. Light flashes in her eyes and her expression changes to pure, uncontrolled rage. Her hand comes up and grabs the finger which trailed her collarbone, bending it backwards with a snap! The action is followed immediately by a good hook into Perseus's side. My brother folds over as he is taken completely by surprise.
I am simply too stunned to react to what just happened.
Perseus straightens himself, using the trailer to steady himself. Seria retreats her hand, pulling two fingers out of his chest. That's when I realize that she didn't hit him with a fist. She rammed her fingers between his ribs and into his lung!
Perseus spits blood on the ground and covers the wound with his hand, then he sits down on the ground.
“If you ever try to manipulate my mind again, I'll rip out your heart and eat it!” Seria hisses with a voice which could make hell freeze over. Then she catches herself with a shuddering breath.
Blood wells up from Perseus's mouth as he casts a healing spell. “You will pay for that.”
I approach them and pull Seria away from Perseus, sending out a thin thread of magical energy. There are very faint traces of his magical energies on her. They didn't penetrate her defences, but were used in another way. By manipulating the right nerves in the skin, someone can cause trouble to the victim's brain in countless ways. That's most likely what happened here.
My mind returns to the ball, when my brother touched Seria the first time. That time she also seemed startled by him, but she managed to pull back and stepped away from him. Then I think back to other events, other women. Some of them I even liked. My head swivels towards my brother who is looking up to me. My big, older brother, who I suddenly see in a whole other light.
I hit him, feeling a set of teeth breaking out of their sockets. Then I get in a second and a third strike, smothering him good. At last he releases his aura. So do I, and the force of my fourth strike rips the trailer to pieces and sends the wreck into the destroyed house behind it. But I didn't do anything to my brother. With the power he is using right now, I would have to level the city to get to him.
“Coward! Why are you hiding behind your aura? Afraid that you can't take me?” I ask.
He opens his mouth, but then our parents appear between us. They teleported directly towards us. Charles raises an eyebrow, looking around and taking in the scene while men from the DF shout and run around, seemingly believing that we are under attack.
My father looks from Perseus to the trailer, then to my bloody fist and to the blood on Seria's hand. His eyes glow in a silver hue, so he is using his ability to divine what happened here.
My mother looks uncertainly at me and Seria, then towards Perseus.
Charles curls his lips downwards and points at Seria. “I assume that you felt the proof of his actions on her?”
I ball my hands to fists. “Yes!”
Father snorts and his expression turns sour. “Go. We will deal with your brother, even if it hurts me that I apparently failed as a father.”
I turn and grab Seria's upper arm, pulling her with me. There is no need to see what my father will do to Perseus. “Come. We don't want to be here when my parents snap.” I lead her away from the tent city, towards my car.
We don't speak until we arrive. Once there, I place Seria on the passenger seat and get into the vehicle myself. Then I start the engine and manoeuvre us through the streets.
“How did he know?” Seria asks after a long silence.
I huff. “My father has limited abilities as a seer. Sometimes he can catch a glimpse of the future, but never clearly. What he can see perfectly though, is a short time into the past. As long as he arrives just a few minutes after the deed is done, there is no lying to him.”
Seria pulls some of the paper tissues from the drawer in front of her and cleans her bloody hand. Then she throws the towels out of the window and repeats the process with my hand, forcing me to drive one-handedly during the process. Her healing magic prickles over my skin.
She isn't completely done when I stop close to her shop and wait for her to get out. “I am sorry.”
She sighs. “Not your fault. I messed up. Thought I could defend myself, but he didn't use a charm, did he? It was purely physical, stimulating my nervous system, right?”
I smile and look at her in the dark. “Yes.” Some strange light shines in her eyes and I come closer. When Perseus ticked her off, I already thought that I saw her eyes flashing with golden light. There is a sea of golden stars floating inside her pupils. It's faint, but I can see it from close up in the dark. Beautiful.
Is she losing control?
Misunderstanding something about me coming in close, she suddenly closes her arms around my head and presses her lips to mine. My lips are parted by her tongue, and her hand snakes around my body, releasing the safety belt.
Somehow she manages to open the door on her side of the car and pulls me outside with her, not taking her lips from mine. When she closes the door and locks the car I finally get my mouth free. “Seria, it's okay. You don't have to.”
“But I want to!” She pulls me with her and into the shop, which is closed. Jimmy and Patricia already went home.
“You just had a bad experience. To do this right now would be seriously messed up.” I try to explain that she might not be totally in control of herself right now.
While I ramble, trying to find the right words, she locks the shop and pulls me up the stairway to her apartment.
The apartment floor is a single, large room which is segmented in several areas with a bed, kitchen and a study. Another door obviously leads to a bathroom. I feel the magical energy of her wards and runes filling the entire place. They are everywhere, floor, walls, even the ceiling is warded. Is she afraid that some country would try to spy on her?
Seria closes the door and starts throwing off her clothes until she is only in a black bra and laced, black panties. I keep stuttering, but not because I don't want her, but because the whole situation doesn't feel right.
Suddenly her eyes flash in golden light and her pupils turn slitted... oh... bad! “Seria? You are still in there? You aren't going to lose control, are you?”
“Shut up and be a man!” She grabs my shirt and pulls it apart, popping off the buttons with no effort at all. Kissing my chest, she presses her naked form against me.
Rubbing up and down like a cat in heat, her quick fingers are, in no time, inside my trousers and have my pants down.
She slides to her knees and unceremoniously buries my entire length in her mouth, cupping my balls in her hands. I lean against the door while she slides me in and out of her mouth, sucking. When I almost can't hold it any more she cruelly lets go and kisses the tip.
Smiling, she walks over to the kitchen table, using her legs as weapons to fire my imagination. Then she bends over, resting her upper body on the table and undoes the laces of her panties. With her backside presented to me and her glorious legs standing wide, she pushes two fingers between her folds and moans. “Don't tell me that this doesn't give you ideas?”
Panting, I follow and grab her hips. Then I push into the goddess who offered herself to me. What follows is quick and hard with no mercy. But I think that's what she wants right now.
She moves herself against me, answering my thrusts until our bodies shake with need and she tightens. I bend over and bury her upper body between me and the table. With my arms around her, I force her hips against me and feel throbbing fire explode from my groin.
“Hahaha.” She gasps, laughing. “I already feared you would leave me hanging and I would have to search for someone else.”
I growl. “What? You can't.” I pull her closer and force myself deeper inside.
She shudders. “Yes, that's the spot!”
Cupping her breast in my hand, a stupid grin appears on my face and I turn her around to kiss her. “Tell me how you want it.”
Her eyes flash golden and she closes her legs and arms around me. Then she whispers into my ear. “Hard on the floor, slow in the shower, and then in the bed until neither of us can stand. And tomorrow... the students can teach themselves.”